KEYWORDS: Casefile, MSR
SPOILERS: Through VS9
ARCHIVE: Two weeks exclusively on VS10, then Gossamer
and Ephemeral. Others are fine, just let me know.
DISCLAIMER: Mulder, Scully and Skinner belong to
Chris Carter, 1013 and Fox. No copyright infringement
SUMMARY: "Contretemps (kahn'-tra-tahm) - Etymology:French, from 'contre' (counter) + 'temps'(time), from Latin 'tempus': An unforeseen event that disrupts the normal course of things; an inopportune occurrence." American Heritage Dictionary, 2000
FEEDBACK: Gratefully accepted.
AUTHORS' NOTES: Many thanks to Sally and Judie for masterful beta (say THAT three times fast!) and moral support, and to Michelle for never flinching when toughlove is required. I couldn't have done it without you!
The dream always started in the same place: his long fingers trailing fire from the base of her throat, then down between her breasts, moving so slowly that she wanted to scream. They circled her navel, pausing to gently tweak the small golden ring that pierced it... lower still... oh, so lightly, the anticipation driving her mad... And finally--
Beep! Beep! Beep!
It always ended in the same place,too. You'd think with so much practice, her sex-starved subconscious would get it right. Start five minutes earlier, and she could wake up with a smile on her face. Just one damn time...
Amy Carson slapped blindly in the direction of the sound, knocking over a box of tissues and a glass of water before she managed to connect with the off button.
She stood under the shower's needle spray for ten minutes longer than she could really afford, just to take the edge off. Nothing like a bracing cold shower to flush the cobwebs... and not just the ones in her head.
At 6:25 exactly, she was wrestling open the door of her 1999 Volvo, juggling a travel mug full of lukewarm coffee and a khaki canvas satchel jammed with textbooks destined for the university bookstore. She certainly didn't need the money, pitiful as resale prices always were, but she had relished the act of clearing out her bookcase. It was her own little graduation ceremony. Out with the old, in with the new. Besides, she was going to need the space.
She tossed the satchel onto the passenger seat and dropped gratefully behind the wheel. She was fitting the mug into the console cup holder when all sensation below her neck abruptly vanished.
Blanked by shock, her mind barely registered the soft rustle of movement in the back seat. A back seat that had been empty only seconds ago.
Patrick McNamara Building
FBI Field Office
Monday, 4:50 pm
Mike Demarco made one final search of his center desk drawer and shoved it closed for the last time. Two cardboard boxes crammed with miscellaneous personal items already occupied the trunk of his car. It was fascinating how much junk could accumulate in five short years.
Well, not so short, really. He had been working toward this transfer since he graduated from the Academy, and these last six months had been the longest of his life. His wife of ten years had found a younger, less career-oriented version of himself and departed for greener pastures the day after their tenth anniversary. The very next day, his SAC of six years had been replaced by a woman who hated Demarco on sight and hadn't cut him a break since. Only the prospect of this transfer to fibbie Mecca had kept him sane.
There was only one drawback. He was losing the best partner a man could have. Built like a linebacker, with the IQ of a Rhodes scholar and the heart of a lion, Gerry Spencer was going to leave a hole in his life that would be damn hard to fill.
"You have one hell of a shit-eating grin on your face there, partner."
Demarco looked up and his smile widened. "Ex- partner, to you." He grabbed the meaty paw Gerry was extending and gave it a firm, double-handed shake. "I'm gonna miss you, buddy." He surprised them both with the honest emotion in his voice.
"Yeah, like a bad tooth." Gerry was looking everywhere but at Mike. It was obvious that saying good-bye was hard for him, too. He cleared his throat gruffly and gave Mike a friendly punch in the arm. "Just wanted to stop by and see you off. When you're Director Demarco, remember the little people who helped you on the way up, ok?" He turned on his heel without waiting for a reply and never looked back.
Mike Demarco picked up his briefcase and walked to the door. Unlike Gerry, he did look back, scanning the room one more time. With a smile that could have meant any number of things, he snapped off the light and closed the door.
27118 Northline Road
Allen Park, MI
Mike parked illegally in front of his house to shorten the distance he'd have to haul the boxes. When he'd gotten them stacked on the porch, he returned to move his car to an empty spot in the next block.
The spot was smaller than he'd thought, and it took a little finesse to maneuver his gas hog of a Buick into it. He was half out of the car when he remembered his cell phone. As he reached for the glove box, something hot bit at the back of his neck. Bee sting, his mind supplied helpfully as it ordered his right hand to swat at the injury...
...except that he couldn't move it. He couldn't move anything. As gravity pulled his body to the right and down onto the front seat, he realized he couldn't breathe. And suddenly nothing else mattered.
Tuesday, 11:00 am
"Scully, you gotta see this." Mulder crooked two fingers in her direction without looking up from the computer screen. She got up from her chair and walked around behind him.
"What have you got?" She leaned down to see what he was looking at, and her face was mere inches from his ear when she spoke. His startle reflex nearly tipped over the chair.
"Sorry." She stood back a bit and gave him an apologetic wince. "I thought you heard me coming."
"You scared the crap out of me."
"What did you want to show me." She shrugged into her jacket and began to button it up.
Mulder turned around and looked at her. "Was it something I said, or are you just chilly?"
"I've got an autopsy to do. You didn't hear me on the phone?"
"You were on the phone?"
She finished buttoning and picked up her briefcase. "You need to get more sleep."
"So I've been told. Where are you going?"
"Quantico. Mel Harmon wants a second opinion on an autopsy. I'll be back in a couple of... " He was looking at her so intently that she felt her face heat up. "What?"
"And there's something strange about the body?" He was all but wagging his tail.
"Down, boy. You know Mel as well as I do. She's never been one to accept 'undetermined' as a cause of death, and this one has her stumped. I'm sure it's nothing that would even register on your radar."
He grinned and stood up, rolling his sleeves down. "You'd be surprised what registers on my radar these days."
"Mulder, stay here and finish what you were doing. If any flukeworms wriggle out of the chest cavity, you'll be the first to know."
He looked at her for a moment, then shrugged and sat back down. "I'll keep my hip boots at the ready."
Scully stopped at the door and turned to fire a parting shot, but her mercurial partner's attention was already refocused on the computer screen, to the exclusion of everything and everyone else in the room. She smiled to herself and closed the door quietly behind her.
The young woman on the table before her, violated now for the last time, had died of asphyxia. There was no doubt on that point. Scully stripped off her gloves and looked up to find Mel Harmon watching her with both eyebrows raised in anticipation.
"So, what did you find?" The tall, willowy brunette had watched the examination in silence, but Scully had felt Mel's eyes tracking her every move.
"You heard my comments. I agree with your conclusions, Mel. Asphyxia without apparent cause."
The woman came quickly around the table and stopped a foot from Scully. "I'm not interested in the provable observations you put on the tape. I want to know what you think. Don't you have a feeling about this?"
It was so close to what Mulder would have said in the same situation that Scully had to smile. "If I didn't know better--"
Mel's hands came up, warding her off. "This is not about looking for a paranormal explanation when a perfectly mundane one exists. There is no explanation that either you or I can find-- mundane or otherwise."
"Not one we've discovered, but you know as well as I do--"
"--looks like she just crawled into the trunk and stopped breathing," came Mulder's soft baritone from the direction of the door.
Scully rolled her eyes heavenward for a moment before she turned around.
He was leaning rakishly against the door frame, arms crossed over his chest. A lovely picture that made her forget how much she hated being snuck up on.
"What are you doing here, Mulder?"
"Just watching my partner's back." He pushed away from the wall and came toward her in graceful, lazy strides, his dark eyes never leaving her face. "And a damn fine back it is." He winked, and she blushed.
Mel cleared her throat pointedly. Mulder looked up and smiled. "Hey, Mel. When did you get here?"
Mel was one of a rare handful of people with whom they felt comfortable just being themselves. It was one of the reasons Scully enjoyed her company so much. Mel's banter with Mulder was always fun to watch, even though Scully had always suspected her of harboring a bit of a crush on him. Mulder seemed oblivious, but Scully could often hear truth in Mel's teasing words. Like now.
"I'm just invisible, as usual," Mel quipped. "And I even changed my perfume for you." She gave him a wink and headed for the door.
Mulder's teasing smile turned genuine. "Mel, you don't have to go. I can wait until you're finished here."
"We're finished. Besides, I have some research to do. I'll let you know if I turn anything up." She snapped off a jaunty salute and closed the door behind her.
"Mulder, what are you doing here?" He was directly in front of her now, and she had to cross her arms to keep from reaching out to touch him.
"Skinner called to see if you were back. I told him I'd give you the message."
"So, what was the message?"
His eyes exuded that languid sex appeal for a moment longer, then he straightened and took a half step back. "There's been another death. In Detroit. Body found in the trunk of the victim's car. No visible cause of death. Only this victim happens to be an FBI agent."
Scully pulled off her lab coat and tossed it at the bin. "What's the connection between a 22-year-old college student in Georgetown and an FBI agent in Detroit?"
"Aside from being killed on the same day with the identical M.O.? That's what we've been assigned to find out." He gave her a pat on the shoulder and headed for the door.
"They want you to profile." The knot in her stomach was immediate.
"And you're slicing and dicing," he tossed over his shoulder, then stopped in the doorway to turn and smile at her. "Just like old times." He slipped out the door before she could react.
"That's what I'm afraid of."
Casey's Bar & Grill
Mulder found a quiet booth in the back. He ordered for both of them and sat back to wait for Scully.
He'd expected an argument over his choice of eating establishments. A greasy burger and fries washed down with cold beer might be his idea of a banquet, but it far from Scully's. She'd hesitated for a moment, then smiled. 'Sounds good.'
His surprise had been genuine. 'Scully! You turning over a new leaf?'
She'd leaned over and whispered in his ear. 'Just keeping you on your toes, Mulder.'
She'd also given him a smile that made his palms sweat and his voice squeak. 'I knew you were a closet carnivore.'
She'd rolled her eyes. 'I'll meet you there after I wash off the formaldehyde.' He could never convince her that she was the only one who could smell it.
The waitress had just brought the beverages he'd ordered when he spotted Scully coming toward him. She eyed the pitcher of beer as she took her seat across from him.
"Mulder, I'm doing an autopsy first thing in the morning."
He picked up her icy mug and filled it. "And I promise you'll be in bed by nine." He waited for the eye roll. "Besides, beer is good for you. I read that somewhere. Keeps you hydrated." He set the mug down in front of her and refilled his own, then held it up for a toast. "To Anheuser Busch."
She shrugged and clinked her mug against his before taking a sip that immediately turned into a long pull. Mulder grinned at her over the rim of his mug.
She looked up at him and raised both eyebrows. "What? I'm just replenishing my fluids."
Their food arrived at that moment, and he almost forgot to eat in his fascination with watching Scully. She alternated between impressive bites of burger and mouthfuls of ketchup-dipped french fries at a pace that would do a lumberjack proud.
"Slow down, Scully. My Heimlich is a little rusty."
She washed down a mouthful of burger with a deep drink from her mug. "Don't watch me, Mulder. Eat."
He ate, but he didn't stop watching her.
Half an hour later, the waitress came to clear the table, bearing a fresh pitcher of beer to replace the empty one. Scully looked at it in surprise.
"We finished the entire pitcher?"
Mulder smiled as he refilled her mug. "It was a small pitcher, Scully. And you're replenishing your fluids, remember?"
"And you are trying to get me drunk." She scowled at him, but picked up the mug and took a sip.
"No, I'm trying to get you to relax." He reached across the table and took her hand. Scully immediately looked around to see if they were being watched, but he just tightened his hold. "Nobody's looking, and I don't care if they do."
She did relax a bit, curling her fingers around his. "I don't like the idea of you profiling, Mulder. You know that."
"It's not going to be that way. This is just plain old-fashioned detective work for a change." He gave her fingers a gentle squeeze. "Besides, I've got you to watch my back."
She squeezed back, smiling faintly. "I can't watch your back unless you're with me, keep that in mind."
He smiled a promise to her. "There's no place I'd rather be."
2118 M Street NW
Wednesday, 9:00 am
He had left Scully at Quantico waiting for the second victim's body to arrive from Detroit. The plane was going to be late, and there had seemed no point in both of them wasting an entire morning pacing the autopsy bay. Scully had suggested that he go ahead and conduct the interview they had scheduled for later in the day. She would meet him back at the office to compare notes.
Mulder drove slowly down a tree-shaded street flanked by elegant brick row houses, looking for a place to park. The first spot he found was more than a block past his goal, so he had time to take in the view as he made his way back toward Amy Carson's home. It was obviously a very pricey neighborhood, he noted. Particularly for a college student.
The weathered brick, white-shuttered residence had a eucalyptus wreath on the front door beneath a polished brass knocker. He gave it a quick rap and waited.
He was about to knock again when a young woman came jogging up the sidewalk. She stopped when she saw him, and he quickly flipped out his ID. "Fox Mulder, FBI. Are you Lindsay Marsh?"
She nodded and came forward. "They told me you were coming to talk to me." She stepped around him and opened the door. "Come in. I'll be with you in a few minutes." She closed the door behind them and jogged up the carpeted stairs to his right.
Mulder surveyed the room from his position just inside the door. It was as elegant inside as out, soft grey walls and tasteful window treatments, furnished in the manner of an English country house. His mother would have been at home here, but it felt wrong for two college-age girls.
"I have a class at 10:30, so we have to make this short." The young woman came down the stairs two at a time. She had brushed her hair and washed her face, but she still wore her jogging clothes.
He nodded and followed her into the sunny kitchen. Once again, it was elegant and fashionable, like a page out of a decorating magazine. She grabbed a bottle of Evian from the refrigerator and sat down at the table, gesturing for him to take the seat opposite her. "I'd offer you some coffee, but we don't drink it." She held up the bottle. "You can have some water, if you like."
Mulder shook his head and sat down. "No, thanks. I'm fine." He studied her for a moment, then pulled out his notebook. "You and Amy were roommates?"
She nodded. "For the past three years. We're in... we were in... the same major. Psychology." She took a long drink from her bottle and leaned back in her chair, observing him with casual interest. "I've already told the police everything I know."
He referred to his notes. "You said that Amy wasn't involved with anyone special. Did she go out casually at all?"
Lindsay almost choked on her water. "Amy? Hardly. If it wasn't directly related to her studies, she couldn't be bothered. If you look in the dictionary under 'driven', you'll find Amy's picture."
Mulder smiled. "And you didn't share her dedication?"
"Not to the exclusion of everything else, no. Unlike Amy, I do have a life."
He leaned forward, resting his arms on the table. "You don't seem particularly upset by the death of someone you lived with for three years."
Lindsay gave him a wounded look. "We weren't all that close, and I resent your implication."
Mulder shrugged. "How did you two come to share this house, then?"
"Our mothers have been best friends since childhood. They bought this place for us after our freshman year." Her smile had the glint of mischief. "I guess my behavior was some cause for concern. They must have hoped that Amy would be a calming influence." She laughed shortly. "It didn't work."
"You were both Psych majors. Have either of you done any internships in mental hospitals or clinics?" He wondered if she might have encountered her killer this way. "What was she planning to do with her degree?"
Lindsay looked stunned for a moment. Her mouth fell open and she pointed at Mulder. "You! I knew I'd heard your name before." She got up suddenly and dashed out of the room.
Mulder rose quickly to follow her, his hand going automatically to his weapon, but she returned almost immediately with a wire bound notebook.
"Here, look at this."
It was a kind of journal, written in a theme book with perforated pages. Mulder began to flip through the book, but Lindsay stopped him.
"No, right there." She pointed to the middle of the page.
Written in the curly script of a girl still searching for her identity were two words that made his mouth drop open.
He looked up to find Lindsay grinning at him. "She was quite a fan of yours."
By the time he got back to the office, Mulder had convinced himself that it was nothing more than a coincidence. Lindsay told him that Amy had applied to the FBI Academy just weeks before her death. She had wanted to be a behavioral profiler, Lindsay said, and had studied the careers of several FBI profilers in preparation for her admission interview. Mulder's career, in particular, had interested her. Hence, his name's appearance in her files.
A coincidence. Eerie, but still a coincidence.
The door opened and he looked up. Scully was coming toward him with a cardboard takeout tray in her hands. Mulder sniffed appreciatively at the greasy, charbroiled aroma of burgers and onions.
His eyebrows rose. "Who are you and what have you done with my partner?"
She placed the tray on his desk and flashed him a warning look. "It was a drive-thru and it was on the way. And I haven't had anything to eat since last night." She fished two sandwiches out of the bag and dropped one in his lap. "Don't be cute or the next one will be tofu and bean sprouts."
"I'm not complaining! I'm very pleasantly surprised." He unwrapped the burger and saluted her with it before taking a large bite.
She pulled up a chair and began to unwrap her own sandwich. "Did you find out anything from the roommate?"
She'd caught him with his mouth full, but it gave him a moment to do some mental editing. "Turns out our murder victim applied to the FBI three weeks ago. She was going to be accepted, too. I checked."
Scully stopped in mid-bite. "You're kidding."
"She wanted to be a behavioral profiler, too. How's that for a coincidence?"
She put down her sandwich. "How do you know that?"
Mulder popped the last bite of burger in his mouth and wadded up the wrapper, aiming carefully for the wastebasket to avoid looking into her eyes. "Her roommate showed me some papers, stuff she'd been researching for her interview. It was all there."
When he looked back at Scully, he found her watching him closely. "Mulder, was there something else?"
He had no idea why, but he really didn't want to tell her about his name being in the girl's papers. Yet hiding it from her made it seem much more important than he knew it was. And every second he sat here waffling was making it worse.
Irritated with himself for making so much out of nothing, he made his decision. "No, that was it. What did you find out from the autopsy?"
She eyed him a moment longer, then shrugged. "Nothing new, I'm afraid. Same unexplained asphyxia, same M.O. His body was found in the trunk of his car, parked in front of his house. A Detroit field agent interviewed the victim's neighbors. No one saw anything suspicious."
"I'd like to see a copy of that report."
Scully gave him an odd look, then reached over and picked up a document that was directly in front of him on the desk. She waggled it under his nose and laid it back down. "The Detroit agent's field report. It came over on the fax just before I left to meet you at Quantico. You haven't read it?"
He'd been too preoccupied with deciding how much of Lindsay Marsh's interview to share with his partner. "Oh, you mean this report?" He picked it up and began to read. Halfway down the second page, he looked up at Scully. "The body was found by a man walking his dog?"
"Yes, the dog wouldn't stop barking at the car. Its owner got suspicious and knocked on the victim's front door. He said he saw the boxes on the porch and thought maybe one of the neighborhood kids had crawled in the trunk while Demarco was unloading it and gotten trapped. When no one would come to the door, he called police."
"What would we do without nosey neighbors?" He resumed reading. "The body was found around 8 pm. That's a good hour before sunset, which means the victim was killed and his body was placed in the trunk in broad daylight. On a busy street." He looked up at Scully again. "Pretty neat trick."
"You have a theory?"
"I have an irresistible urge to catch a plane."
Scully bowed her head and sighed. "Detroit, here we come."
27118 Northline Rd
Allen Park, MI
Wednesday, 6:11 pm
Michael Demarco's suitcases were stacked next to the front door along with two cardboard boxes stuffed with what looked to be the contents of his desk. Sealed and labeled boxes were stacked in every room, destined for the trip to D.C. The only piece of furniture still in place was the bed he had intended to occupy the night he was killed.
"It doesn't look as if he made it inside, does it?"
Mulder stood in the middle of the room, hands on hips. He shook his head. "Those open boxes were found on the porch. Whatever happened, happened outside." He jerked his head toward the door. "Let's go talk to some neighbors."
They split up to save time. Scully crossed the street and Mulder started with the neighbor immediately to the west. It was dinner time, and the man who identified himself as William Grant was clearly less than pleased to see another inquisitive FBI agent at his door.
"Look, I'd like to help you out, but I already told the guy last night everything I know." He was holding a dinner napkin in his hands and did not invite Mulder inside.
"This will only take a few---"
An earsplitting shriek from somewhere inside the house stopped Mulder in mid-sentence and caused the man in front of him to curse under his breath.
"I'm sorry. I really can't help you, and my kids are gonna dismantle the kitchen if I don't get back there." He jerked his head toward the sound and closed the door in Mulder's face.
Mulder glanced across the street in time to see Scully receive a similar greeting. When the door closed in her face, she turned and shot a glare at Mulder before heading to the next house.
When he came out of the last house on the block nearly an hour later, he found Scully standing on the sidewalk, arms crossed over her chest.
"Mulder, if this is what was going on last night, it's no wonder no one saw anything."
She looked tired and irritable, a dangerous combination under any circumstances, but potentially lethal for the partner whose idea it was to come on this apparent wild goose chase. He hadn't found anything worthwhile himself, and it was obvious Scully hadn't, either. Knowing he was taking his life in his hands, he opted to inject a little humor into the situation.
"It doesn't have to be a total loss. We can stop by Tiger Stadium and--"
They both jumped. A boy of about ten or so was standing directly behind Mulder, tugging on his jacket.
"Hey, yourself," Mulder responded with a grin.
"I heard you talking to my dad." He pointed down the street, presumably toward his house.
Mulder crouched down, resting his arms on his knees. "Who's your dad?"
"William Grant. We live next door to the FBI guy that got killed."
Mulder looked up at Scully who had the fingers of one hand pressed to her lips, hiding a smile. He turned back to the boy. "And your name is...?"
"Jason Grant." He was clearly pleased with the attention Mulder was paying him. "Nobody believes me."
I know the feeling, kid, Mulder thought. "Believes you about what?"
"I saw the man who did it." The boy crossed his arms over his chest and lifted his chin. "He disappeared right in front of me."
Detroit Metro Airport
"Mulder, this is my room and I want the television off. Unlike you, I can't sleep with Godzilla ravaging Tokyo in the background." She rolled over so her back was to him and punched her pillow for emphasis.
He clicked the mute button. "Are you still ticked at me?" When she didn't answer, he leaned over her shoulder to get a look at her face. "You are not asleep, Scully. Talk to me."
She rolled over and scooted up against the headboard, sighing dramatically. "I am not ticked at you, Mulder. Maybe 'worn out' would be more accurate."
"You're 'worn out' at me?" He raised his eyebrows.
Scully gave him a weary look, then dropped her head back against the wall with a soft thud. "Sometimes, yes."
"In a good way?" He was shamelessly fishing, and it earned him an eye roll that made him smile. "Okay, not in a good way."
"Not in this case, no." She sat up and turned around to face him, tucking her legs beneath her. "Mulder, the boy imagined it, or he made it up. His own father told you what an inventive liar he is. Just because you empathize with him-- and don't try to tell me that's not part of it-- doesn't make him a reliable witness. He did not see a man disappear into thin air."
"I never said I believed him, I just said it would explain a lot if the killer had the ability to come and go without being seen."
"Think about it. If the killer could make himself invisible, why would he have let the boy see him at all?"
Mulder shrugged. "Maybe it was a mistake. Or it could be that the invisibility is just an off-shoot of whatever it is he's really doing."
She opened her mouth to respond, then closed it and simply stared at him for a moment. "Do you even try to hear how crazy you sound sometimes? These are straightforward homicides, Mulder. I'll admit that the manner of death has been hard to pin down, but it will be pinned down. When you go off on a tangent like this..." She reached over and gave his hand a gentle squeeze. "Mulder, I worry about you."
He squeezed back. "I know that, Scully. And I'm not crazy, all evidence to the contrary."
She smiled at that. "Not everything is an X File, Mulder. I just don't want you to get distracted by this and end up getting hurt."
He raised their joined hands to his lips and planted a gentle kiss on her knuckles. "I promise to keep my eye on the ball, okay? Now, I'll give up Godzilla if you let me rub your back."
She stroked her chin sagely, considering his offer. "Let me see if I've got this: my choices are either lie awake to the sounds of Raymond Burr and cheesy Japanese dubbing, or enjoy blessed silence and a backrub." She waggled her eyebrows at him in a perfect imitation of his favorite leer.
"Scully! You--" His surprised delight was cut short by the chirp of his cell phone. They both looked at it, then at each other. Mulder groaned and crossed the room to snatch it up from the desk.
He listened for a moment, then closed his eyes. Scully was standing in front of him when he opened them again. "What's her condition?"
Scully gripped his arm, questioning him with her eyes. Mulder nodded as he listened to the rest of Skinner's news. "Yes, sir. We'll be back in DC by 11 am. We'll see you then."
He ended the call and placed the phone back on the desk with exaggerated care.
He took a deep breath and took her gently by the shoulders. "Mel Harmon was attacked an hour ago. She's in critical condition."
She put both hands to her lips. "Oh my God."
Mulder pulled her to him and brushed his lips against her hair. "Scully, it looks like the same M.O."
She pulled back and looked up at him. "Same M.O. as what?"
He didn't answer right away, and her eyes widened. "As the two victims? Mulder?"
He nodded. "This time, we have a security camera video tape. He was interrupted, which is why she's still alive."
He could see her shaking off the shock, shifting back to the safety of professional distance. "Can he be identified from the tape? Could Mel I.D. him?"
"She hasn't regained consciousness." He was stroking her arms, comforting himself as much as her.
She leaned into him again and just nodded against his chest. They stood that way for a long time. Finally, Scully raised her head and looked up into his eyes. He took her face in his hands and kissed her lightly.
"We're going to find this bastard. I promise you." He could feel her shivering as he bent close and spoke softly against her cheek. "Now, come back to bed."
He drew her down with him and held her until she relaxed into sleep. Then he got up carefully and took her laptop into the adjoining room. With only the light from the display screen to work by, he began to type.
Thursday, 7:31 am
Scully woke to the muffled hum of Mulder's electric razor, her nose buried in his pillow. The bathroom door was ajar and, judging by the amount of steam still escaping around it, he hadn't been out of the shower more than a few minutes. She peered at the clock radio on the nightstand and groaned. He had let her sleep, and now she was running late. She slipped out of bed and grabbed her suitcase on the way to use Mulder's bathroom in the connecting room.
Her laptop was sitting on his desk, the screensaver flashing the time in pastel 3-D numbers. She had shut it off last night and left it on the desk in her room. He'd probably been up all night, she realized, working on the profile.
We'll find this bastard, Scully. I promise.
Torn between the need to hug him and an urge to shake him silly, she shut down the computer and headed for the shower.
George Washington University Hospital
Thursday, 11:16 am
Mulder leaned against the wall outside the ICU, watching Scully through the glass double doors. She'd gained admittance with her medical credentials. Not even their FBI badges had worked this time. Investigation or no, the patient was accessible for next of kin only.
They'd called Skinner for an update from 35,000 feet over Pennsylvania. He told them that the video showed very little of the actual attack, only that the killer had been in the back seat of Mel's car. There was a struggle that was interrupted when a car pulled into the spot across from Mel's. According to the witness, a man got out of the car, stepped behind the concrete support pillar next to the car, and vanished.
No matter how he looked at them, the pieces simply refused to form a coherent picture. An unknown murder weapon, used by a killer who seemingly disappeared in full view of at least two witnesses, a killer who wasn't afraid to attack in a high-security facility like Quantico. Two victims with the FBI in common, but in a way that seemed impossible for the killer to know about. There were precedents in the X Files for each of the factors in this case, but all of them together presented a--
Scully was standing in front of him, her hand on his arm. He'd been so deep in thought that he hadn't even seen her come out of the ICU.
"How is she?" He looked over her head, back toward Mel's room.
Scully followed his gaze. "She's in a coma. They're not sure if it's due to the head injury or the anoxia. Her respiration was depressed, and there's no way to know for certain how long her brain was without oxygen."
"Just like the first two victims."
Scully nodded. "But this time, the victim was found and resuscitated in time. Neither of the first two victims was struck on the head. Mel must have fought with him."
"Let's hope she got a look at his face in the process."
* * *
A.D. Skinner's office
Skinner waved them to their seats and came directly to the point. "I'm aware that you are both friends of Agent Harmon. I need to know if this is going to compromise your ability to pursue this case."
Scully answered first, her voice steady and sincere. "I would feel the same way whether I knew the victim or not, sir. I'm outraged and I'm angry, but I won't let that affect my judgment." She looked over at Mulder who nodded his agreement.
Skinner studied his agents for a long moment. "If at any time you feel differently, I want your word that you will tell me before someone gets hurt."
"Yes, sir. You have our word." Scully answered for both of them.
"Very well." He pushed three folders across the desk. "I've put together a task force and the two of you will be heading it up. You'll want to review the updated files before your kick off briefing at two o'clock. I expect to see your field report on my desk no later than one." He reached for his phone and punched viciously at the keypad. The meeting was over.
They sat at Mulder's desk and began to read, each selecting a file and commenting to the other as they came across new information. Mulder had grabbed Demarco's file, and Scully had Amy Carson's. Mulder was watching her over the top of his folder, nearly holding his breath with hope that his little sin of omission wasn't about to be exposed. He should have told her, dammit. He-- Too late. He saw her posture stiffen, then she looked up at him in shock.
"She knew you, Mulder?"
He managed not to cringe at her tone. "Knew of me, yes."
Her eyes flashed fire. "And you didn't see fit to share that information with me?"
His hands were out in front of him, warding off the verbal blows, before he realized what he was doing. He pulled them back immediately. "I'll admit, it was a little unnerving to see my name in her journal, until I recognized it for what it was."
"And what might that be?"
"Scully, she was trying to get into the Academy and had done some research, though not enough to realize that using my name would gain her no points."
Scully seemed to consider that. Her posture eased slightly and her eyes lost their feral glow, but he knew better than to drop his guard quite yet. "It's a coincidence, Scully."
"You're looking for a connection among the victims. Isn't that, by definition, a search for coincidence?"
"Significant coincidence, yes. This doesn't qualify."
"In your opinion."
"Tell me how my name in her journal has any relevance to her death." He crossed his arms over his chest.
Scully put down the folder and did the same. "That's not even the point. You withheld information. I thought we got past this a long time ago."
Her voice was calm and steady, but the disappointment in her eyes made him want to bang his head on the desk. Instead, he took the only rational course open to him. He apologized.
"You're right. I'm sorry."
She actually smiled. "Okay, who are you and what have you done with Mulder?"
"I'll tell you after the briefing. Right now we have twenty minutes to type our report and get back to Skinner's office."
The briefing was routine, devoted mainly to assigning roles to the team members and introducing them to one another. Mulder distributed copies of their report, described the approach he would take in producing his profile, then turned the meeting over to Scully. She presented her autopsy findings, meager though they were, and answered a few questions.
Less than an hour after it began, the meeting was adjourned.
Mulder was packing up his papers as the rest of the task force filed out of the room when Skinner approached him. Scully had been on her way to the door, but returned to Mulder's side.
"Agents, I'm not going to waste your time or mine by telling you how important this case has become. I just want to remind you that the scrutiny you'll be working under won't be mine alone."
Mulder shrugged. "This is not new information."
Scully was less cavalier. "Sir, what are you telling us?"
Skinner pushed his glasses out of the way and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I'm saying that every move you make will be dissected. This isn't the time to indulge in a paranormal fishing expedition."
Mulder hesitated for an instant longer than necessary, and Scully shot him a warning glance. He nodded, acknowledging her. "Yes, sir."
The A.D. seemed uncharacteristically hesitant himself. Mulder and Scully exchanged a look, and Scully prodded gently. "Sir? Was there anything else?"
He cleared his throat. "Just prior to the briefing, I came into possession of Michael Demarco's personnel file. It included a personal essay listing his qualifications and his reasons for wanting to transfer to the ISU. He mentions your name, Mulder."
It felt so much like a physical punch in the stomach that Scully had to concentrate on not doubling over from the impact. She looked at Mulder and found him avoiding her eyes.
"You need to add it to the case file." Then, speaking directly to Mulder. "Watch your back." Skinner turned and left the room without waiting for a response.
Scully kept her voice level with some effort. "I don't think I need to point out that your name in Amy Carson's file just stopped being an insignificant coincidence."
Mulder placed his armload of papers back on the table and leaned one hip against it. "I never said it was completely insignificant, and I'm not saying that now. But tell me this: even if the killer could have known that both victims knew my name, what would it mean?"
"I don't know the answer to that, but I think it would be foolish to ignore the possibility that the Bureau and you are factors in both the killings, and in the attempt on Mel's life."
Mulder was shaking his head before she reached the end of her sentence. "But they didn't have the FBI in common. Tell me how the killer could have known that Amy Carson wanted to be an agent? She was the first victim, and I think she proves that the FBI can't be the connection."
It was a valid point. One she had no way to refute with the evidence at hand. "Okay, for the sake of argument, let's say that it's all a series of amazing coincidences. That leaves us with the way they were killed."
Mulder nodded. "Exactly. Identify the murder weapon, and we'll find the murderer. So, on a very basic level, how do you suffocate someone?"
"Either remove the oxygen from the air, or block the body's ability to use it. Gas, drugs, toxins, manual constriction of the breathing passages, smothering, strangulation, damage to the respiratory center in the brain--"
"But any of those would leave physical evidence."
Scully continued as if he hadn't interrupted. "--that would block the autonomic nerve impulses. All of which we checked for, and none of which were found." Mulder seemed lost in thought all of a sudden. "Mulder?"
"Didn't Mel say something yesterday about some research she wanted to finish?"
"Mulder, I'm certain her office has been searched."
He smiled. "Not by us."
* * *
Mel Harmon's office was on the third basement level at Quantico, down the hall from the autopsy bays where she spent most of her time. Mulder stopped just inside the door, scanning the room with his eyes. Scully walked to Mel's pin-neat desk and began pulling out drawers.
"No envelope in the middle of the desk marked 'Open me, Dana'?" Mulder's voice at her side made her jump.
"Mulder, if you don't stop cat-footing up on me like that, I'm gonna hang a bell on you."
He moved past her to the counter against the far wall, his expression serenely innocent. "Have a spot in mind?"
She rolled her eyes and jerked open the shallow center drawer. A notepad lay right on top, and it contained a list of websites in Mel's spiky scribble. A name halfway down the list made her breath catch. "Mulder, look at this." She held the note up so he could read it.
Mulder was bent over something on the counter. He called over his shoulder without turning around. "What have you got?"
"A list of websites she was looking at. One of them is Roush Laboratories."
He turned around and she waved the list at him. He shrugged. "Maybe she was job hunting." He stepped aside to show her what he was doing. Mel's laptop was open and booting up.
Scully came around the desk to stand next to him, arriving just as the password prompt appeared in the center of the screen. "Shit."
Mulder looked at her, one eyebrow raised at the swear word. "I don't suppose Mel shared her password with you?" She raised hers back at him, and he nodded. "I didn't think so." He closed the lid and scooped the laptop under his arm. "I think I know someone who can figure it out."
* * *
They stopped by the Gunmen's on their way back to the office, hoping to get into Mel's laptop and find her notes. Langly all but grabbed it from Mulder's hands in his eagerness to show off. Twenty fruitless minutes later, he was the picture of grim determination.
Mulder stood watching over Langly's shoulder. "Should we come back later?"
He glanced back at Mulder. "No, man. Just hang for a few minutes more. I got it covered."
Frohike stood next to Scully, shaking his head. "I'll give him a few more minutes, then it's my turn."
Langly snorted, but his typing sped up noticeably.
Byers wandered in from the kitchen wiping his hands on a chef's apron that covered his pristine suit from collar to knees. "There's half a pot of chili leftover from lunch, if you guys are hungry." He strolled up to Langly and looked over the man's shoulder at the computer screen. "Any progress?"
Scully expected her partner to jump at the offer of food-- her own stomach was grumbling, and she knew he had to be starving-- but he was looking at Byers with his mouth half open, as if he'd just thought of something. "We're looking for a murder weapon. How would you boys like to do a little contract hacking for the FBI?"
Langly shoved the laptop aside and stood up, but Frohike . "Ah ah ah, Stringbean. The master's touch is required."
While Mulder put away two bowls of Byers' chili, the littlest Gunmen kung-fu'd his way into the Roush Laboratories "Special Projects" site. He couldn't get into the active projects, but the historical files were wide open. Twenty minutes of illicit browsing later, they hit the jackpot.
Scully quickly took Frohike's place in front of the computer. As she read the weapon's description, Mulder put down his chili bowl and leaned over her shoulder.
"Mulder, what are the odds that we just happened to stumble onto the murder weapon?" She crossed her arms and leaned back out of his way so he could work the mouse.
Frohike looked indignant. "If you think we just 'stumbled onto it', I'm making this look too easy."
Mulder smiled. "Maybe our luck is changing."
"If this device," Scully gestured at the screen, "has actually been developed, it could very well have produced the cause of death found in the victims."
Mulder scrolled down to the bottom of the page. He drew Scully's attention to the facility noted as the project's home base. "Next stop, Wilkes Research."
A Division of Roush Laboratories
The Wilkes Research center was a long, two-story cement structure that looked more like a bunker than an office building. Dark glass windows no more than eighteen inches high ran the entire length, like gun ports.
The security guard at the front desk smiled cordially at their approach. "Good afternoon. What can I do for you?" His expression cooled considerably as they introduced themselves and displayed their ID's.
They went through the perfunctory 'no we don't have an appointment' and 'there isn't anyone available' routine, working their way up through the ranks until they reached someone in authority, albeit by phone. The security guard accepted the receiver back from Mulder and listened for a moment. "Yes, sir." He hung up.
He slapped two visitor's badges on the counter and spun the register around for them to sign. "Second floor, down at the end. Suite 203, Dr. Lindell." He gestured toward the open staircase to his left.
Suite 203 was a sunny, corner office with a view of the center courtyard fountain. Dr. Lindell rose to greet them. "Andy Lindell. It's a pleasure to meet you both." He motioned them to two well-padded leather chairs facing his desk, waiting for them to be seated before resuming his place behind the desk. He folded his hands on the desk in front of him. "I understand you're here about one of our research projects?"
Scully pulled out a notepad and pen. "Your company had a government contract through Roush Laboratories to develop a weapon that would have produced an effect very similar to what we found in a recent unexplained asphyxiation. I was hoping you could tell me more about the project and whether any prototypes of the device exist."
Lindell sat back and his smile lost some of its luster. "You do come right to the point. I imagine it would be a waste of time to ask how you obtained this information." He nodded at their silence. "The project you're referring to was rejected by the contractor and abandoned."
Mulder leaned forward. "And the contractor would be...?"
"It was a government contract, but I imagine you know that already." There was a hint of challenge in the man's eyes.
Scully put down her notebook. "Why was the project abandoned?"
"The device was intended for self-defense, though it had obvious potential as a lethal offensive weapon. Our research was geared toward neutralizing its offensive capabilities while retaining the benefits of instant incapacitation." Lindell offered a rueful smile. "We were unsuccessful. The device relied upon the user's discretion, and that is not a factor we could control."
Scully had one more question, knowing in advance what the answer would be. "We'd like to see any records of the tests you conducted."
"We never reached the testing stage. It was all theoretical."
"So, you're saying the device itself was never produced." Mulder's question was as perfunctory as her own.
"Could we speak with the project manager?" He tried again.
The man tapped his chest with one hand. "Well, that would be me, actually, but I wasn't involved in its closure. I had just been promoted to research director and I left the details to my staff."
"That's quite a coincidence, you agreeing to see us about what turns out to be your own project." Scully couldn't resist a glance in Mulder's direction. If he had heard the extra emphasis she'd placed on the word 'coincidence', he gave no indication.
"Not at all. Until early this year, I oversaw every weapons project." Lindell stood, signaling the end of the interview. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have an appointment."
Scully got up to leave, but Mulder remained in his seat, looking up at Lindell. "Can I ask where you were day before yesterday, between five and nine pm?"
Something flickered in the man's eyes, just for an instant. Scully was quite certain that Mulder saw it, too.
Lindell seemed to give it some thought. "At that time, I expect I was still at Heathrow Airport."
Mulder's eyebrows went up. "You were in London?"
"Yes. I can't imagine why you need to know, but I was there for six days on business. I can provide proof, if you need it."
"No, that won't be necessary," Mulder stood. He took a business card from his vest pocket and handed it to Lindell, "but we will need the names and addresses of everyone who worked on that project. Call that number and someone will come by to pick it up."
Lindell accepted the card. Grudgingly. "I'll have to consult with our legal department."
Mulder smiled. "Of course."
Lindell escorted them to the door and closed it firmly behind them. Mulder's strides seemed even longer than usual as he guided her out of the building. The man was obviously in a hurry to tell her something. As soon as they reached the parking lot, Scully stopped and waited until he turned around to look at her.
"Mulder, do you think Lindell is the killer?"
"He's lying about the weapon not being produced. If he doesn't have it himself, he knows who does." He took her arm, leaning down to speak in her ear as he moved toward the car. "And I'm beginning to wonder how anyone could have access to the device without Roush knowing about it."
They got into the car and Mulder put the key in the ignition. Scully put her hand over his and he turned to look at her. "So, you do think there may be some connection to the FBI. And to you."
He shrugged. "Maybe."
It was interesting, she thought. For three days she'd been trying to get him to agree with her on this. Now that he seemed to be doing just that, she realized that what she'd really wanted was for him to prove her wrong.
She hadn't been back to her apartment since they'd returned from Detroit, so she had luggage to haul as well as the two bags of groceries she'd picked up on the way home It was nearly an hour after she trudged in the door that she noticed the message light flashing on her answering machine. She pressed the play button, and a tinny rendition of Mel Harmon's voice froze her in place.
'Dana, I've got a lead for you on the murder weapon. Kimberly tells me you two are out of town until tomorrow, so I'll get the data together and stop by to see you in the morning, okay?' There was a short pause. 'Your partner's gonna LOVE this!'
Scully stood with her hand on the button and her eyes closed until long after the cheery voice faded into silence. The time stamp on the message was 7:21 last night. In all likelihood, Mel had called just before she left for home, mere minutes before she was attacked.
It was like a voice from the grave. And given Mel's condition...
She needed to talk to Mulder. He had said he'd stop by the Gunmen's on his way home to pick up the laptop. He needed to know about Mel's message. More than that, Scully needed to hear his voice.
She picked up the phone and punched in his cell phone number, thinking it was possible he might still be with the boys. Voice mail picked up, and she dialed his apartment instead. His machine answered on the third ring.
As she dialed the gunmen, she felt the first tingle of alarm. Frohike answered and she asked for Mulder.
"He left here over an hour ago, without so much as a 'thank you', I might add. The boy's manners are slipping."
"Did he say where he was going?"
Something in her voice must have tipped him off, and his entire demeanor changed. "Home. What's going on?"
"I haven't been able to reach him, and I'm a little worried." She felt a little foolish, too, but her sense of foreboding was getting stronger by the moment. "Did you find anything on the laptop that he might have gone to check out?"
She could almost hear his frown. "Nothing you didn't already know, except that your friend managed to get into some of the same sites we showed you and Mulder. And she didn't do anything to hide her tracks."
"And shortly afterward, someone tried to kill her." She was just thinking out loud, but Frohike must have heard an accusation in her voice.
"Aw,man! You think they're after Mulder now because of what we did?"
She heard his distress but didn't have time to give it more than a passing nod. "Frohike, I'm going over to his apartment. If you hear from him, call my cell right away."
Mulder's car was nowhere in sight when she pulled up in front of his building, and his apartment windows were dark. She dialed his cell phone on her way into the building and listened to the ringing all the way to the elevator. Voice mail picked up again.
As she approached his apartment door, her vague sense of foreboding became a thudding dread. There was no reason to think he was in there-- hurt, or worse-- but knowing the illogic of it didn't stop the images from filling her mind.
The lock operated smoothly, tumblers clicking softly into place as she turned the key. She called his name automatically as she pushed open the door and stepped inside.
She moved quickly through the apartment, flicking on lights as she went. He clearly hadn't been here since they left for Detroit.
The sound of a car door slamming out front drew her to the window. Mulder's car was now parked directly in front of the building. Standing next to it, looking up at her, was Andrew Lindell.
By the time she raced down the stairs and burst through the front door, he had vanished.
Scully watched from Mulder's living room window as the forensics team worked on his car. Skinner was standing by the trunk, supervising the process, and he kept looking up at her. Probably making sure she stayed put. He'd threatened to handcuff her earlier. She had already been on her way to Lindell's home address when she called Skinner to report what had happened. He had ordered her back to Mulder's apartment and sent the police to Lindell's. Not surprisingly, no one was home. They had an APB out for him now. And for Mulder.
She turned so quickly that she nearly lost her balance. Skinner reached out and steadied her with both hands. She hadn't even seen him come toward the building.
"I got a call just now from the Baltimore PD. Lindell was stopped about ten minutes ago coming out of a restaurant in the Inner Harbor."
She did a quick time/distance calculation in her head. "That doesn't mean he wasn't here."
Skinner shook his head. "He was with a group of people who all confirmed they'd been with him since 6 o'clock." His grip on her shoulders tightened. "Scully, he couldn't have been here."
She closed her eyes and breathed, stifling the urge to scream in his face. "Sir, I know how this sounds. Believe me." She met his gaze with calm directness. "Andrew Lindell has Mulder. I've never been more certain of anything in my life."
He released her and stepped back. "Scully, we don't even have proof that a crime has been committed. We've done all we can legally do."
It was pointless to argue. Skinner was right. The FBI had no recourse.
But she did.
"Yes, sir." She took a breath and kept her expression neutral. "If you don't need me here, I think I'd like to go home now. You'll call me if there's any news?"
He studied her face, then nodded. "Of course."
She managed to resist breaking into a run until she was out of his sight.
The pain in his head was so intense that it was all he noticed at first. He slowly became aware that his face was pressed against cold, damp concrete and his arms were pinned beneath him. It wasn't until he tried to roll over that he discovered the rest.
The lower half of his body seemed to be missing. At least, that was the conclusion his scrambled brain was trying to draw. He tried to redirect its efforts to remembering how the hell he got in this condition.
"Welcome back, Agent Mulder. I was about to give up on you."
Strong hands grabbed him by the shoulders and flipped him onto his back, sending the room into a series of nauseating spins. He clenched his teeth and breathed through his nose until it began to slow down.
"How are you feeling?"
He knew he shouldn't ask-- knew it would just give his captor an opportunity to gloat. Knew that the fear in his voice would only bolster the man's sense of power. But he had to know. "What did you do to me?"
"Amazing effect, isn't it? Without harming you in any way, a single application to the spinal column cuts off all neural transmission below that point. It's the same result one would achieve by severing the spinal cord, but minus the physical damage."
The voice was familiar. Mulder blinked a few times to clear his eyes and finally managed to focus on the man's face... and those puzzle pieces he'd been struggling with began to snap neatly into place. The man crouched at his side was Andrew Lindell. "I guess we can assume you lied about the weapon?"
"There's no simple answer to that question, I'm afraid."
Lindell laughed. "That FBI ego knows no bounds, does it? Has it escaped your notice that you're in no position to be giving orders?"
"Fuck you." Mulder's wispy voice took some of the bite out of his bravado, but it felt good to say.
"I appreciate the offer, but you're not my type."
Mulder's eyes refused to stay in focus, and the effort was increasing the pain in his head to stupefying proportions. "What do you want?"
Lindell reached behind him and pulled up a small wooden stool. When he raised up out of his crouch to sit on it, his knees popped and he chuckled again. "My legs aren't as young as they used to be." He rubbed at the offending joints, then leaned forward to look down at Mulder. "Reassurance, Agent Mulder. I want you to convince me that I've finally got the right players in this little melodrama. Then I can move on."
"Move on to what?"
"The future, Agent Mulder. Back to the future."
* * *
8 miles north of Crofton, MD
June 12th, 10:20 pm
It had taken the Gunmen less than an hour to put together the list she needed. She'd reasoned that Lindell must have taken Mulder somewhere private where he felt safe. She hoped that meant a property he owned, somewhere nearby. They turned up four, including his principle residence. She'd crossed off the condo in Panama City, Florida as too remote, and his home in Bethesda as too obvious.
That had left two investment properties: a small office building in Reston, Virginia and a single- family home in Crofton, Maryland. The home was vacant, according to utility company records, and it seemed the most likely prospect.
Frohike's map, drawn painstakingly by hand, lay on the seat next to her. They had wanted to come with her. All three of them. She'd been touched, but firm in her refusal. Then Frohike had surprised her by urging her to tell Skinner. She'd patiently explained that the Bureau couldn't help her, not given Lindell's alibi, and not even Skinner would believe what she suspected. Until she could provide proof, she was on her own.
Frohike had seemed ready to stop her by force, so she offered a compromise. She asked them to wait for her call. It would take her roughly two hours to reach Lindell's house in Crofton. Figure another half hour after that to search for Mulder, and she should be able to call them with an update by 11 pm. If they hadn't heard from her by then, they had her blessing to call in the cavalry. That had mollified them enough for her to make her escape.
Now, two hours and six minutes into her drive, she found the turnoff indicated on Frohike's map and left the main highway.
It was a semi-rural area and the mailboxes along the road were spaced several hundred feet apart. The houses were set far back on wooded lots. As the numbers approached the one she was looking for, she pulled over and parked on the gravel shoulder. The rest of the way, she would travel on foot.
Lindell's house was set even farther back than its neighbors. When she was close enough to see the building clearly, she stopped behind a large tree and scanned the scene.
The house was long and low, a ranch-style with a two- car attached garage at one end. It looked as if it had been abandoned for some time. The gravel drive continued around the side of the house to a taller structure that was nothing more than a silhouette in the darkness.
She moved as silently as possible along the edge of the trees until she could see the back yard. The second structure was approximately fifty yards behind the house. It had a double-wide overhead door on the front and an entrance door on the side facing her. The entrance door was partway open and there was a faint glow coming from inside. She drew her weapon, pulled out her flashlight and made her way toward it.
* * *
"You're telling me you've killed the same two people more than once." Mulder had the uncanny sensation of standing in Scully's shoes, asking this question of himself. It gave him a whole new perspective.
"Yes, that's exactly what I'm telling you." Lindell spoke slowly and patiently, as if he were dealing with a particularly dimwitted student.
"And you killed them because they were a danger to you."
"Not were a danger. Would become a danger. At least, that was my conclusion based on the facts in my possession at the time."
"And this time machine--"
"Temporal bridge. Time machines are science fiction movie props."
"Temporal bridge, then. You invented the bridge to--"
"I'm willing to make allowances for your condition, but you are trying my patience. I told you, I did not invent either device. I'm an opportunist, Agent Mulder. Not a mad genius." He cast a weary look heavenward. "Time machines and mad scientists. How clichÈd."
Mulder took a deep breath, careful not to move his head any more than absolutely necessary. "I actually don't give a shit about the details. Why don't you just tell me whatever the fuck it is that you want?"
Lindell grabbed Mulder's chin with one hand and squeezed. His voice was dangerously soft as he leaned in close, speaking directly into Mulder's face. "You do like to take chances, don't you?" He let go roughly as he moved back, giving Mulder's head a painful shove in the process. "I want to know what led you to me. Not in this case, but in the one you'll be assigned to five years from now. It took me awhile to understand how far back I'd have to go, and I wasted a great deal of effort killing your team members too late. No matter what I did, I still ended up trapped in the lab, about to be arrested. But then, I didn't uncover your contribution until the last bridge."
Scully would give this smug asshole a run for his money. 'My little physicist', Mulder mused, knowing she'd kick his butt into next week if he ever said that out loud. They'd actually talked about time travel one summer night a few years ago, over a bottle of Merlot on Maggie Scully's back porch. It was the only time he could ever recall taking the skeptic's side in one of their debates. He wished now that he'd done less drinking and more listening.
"You're talking about events that haven't happened yet. Pretty convenient way to avoid having to prove anything, isn't it?" Hearing such Scully-like words come out of his own mouth once again made him smile.
"You think this is funny?"
"Not at all. I'm wondering why you seem so desperate for my approv--"
Mulder saw the backhand coming, but there was nothing he could do to avoid it. The impact rocked his head to the side and set off rockets behind his eyelids that echoed the explosion in his head. When he could see again, Lindell was leaning over him. The man's face was red with rage and his lips were moving, but the sound wasn't getting through.
Then the light started to fade along with the sound. All he could hear was his own breathing. Loud in his ears. Rasping in his throat.
* * *
She stopped next to the door and listened for a minute, then slipped quietly inside. The door opened onto a small room with two doors on the opposite wall. One obviously led to the main room. The light she had seen from outside was coming from underneath the second door. She was reaching for the knob when she heard footsteps approaching the other side of the door. She moved quickly back through the entrance and outside. She stood with her back pressed against the exterior wall, weapon drawn. Waiting.
She heard the interior door open, more footsteps moving across the room. Then a second door opened and closed, and the sound of footsteps disappeared. A moment later, she heard the sound of an engine starting and the metallic rattle of the overhead door being raised and a vehicle moving out onto the gravel drive.
Scully edged silently back to the open door. She looked cautiously outside in time to see the red glow from the departing vehicle's tail lights already halfway down the drive. She watched long enough to satisfy herself that the car was gone, then she turned back to the door from which the suspect had emerged. It wasn't locked, and she opened it.
There was a light on somewhere below. She saw a steep flight of stairs descending into what appeared to be a basement storage area that smelled of dust and grease. There was no sound. She pulled the door open.
Scully began to move down the stairs toward the source of the light. At the bottom of the stairs and to the right, she could see a door. The light was coming from a slot in door.
The door had a metal bar across the front, fitted into braces on the wall. Scully leaned down to the slot and tried to see inside the room. Her narrow field of vision revealed a pair of Mulder-sized feet clad in black dress shoes. They weren't moving.
She removed the bar and pushed the door open, ducking back against the wall for a moment to wait for a reaction from the room's occupant. There was none, and she poked her head around the door frame to get a good look into the room.
"Mulder?" He was lying on his back. She holstered her weapon and knelt next to him, her hands trying to touch him everywhere at once. "Mulder, it's me."
He was completely unresponsive, his skin cool and clammy, and his pupils noticeably unequal. She pulled out her cell phone and thumbed the emergency button as she brought it to her ear. Her free hand was in constant motion over his body.
It took a moment before she realized the call wasn't going through, and she looked at the readout. No signal. She cupped his cheek. "I can't get a signal down here. I have to go upstairs and call for help. Mulder, can you hear me?" She studied his motionless face, desperate for a response. "Mulder, tell--"
The sound of a hammer being cocked brought her head up but froze everything else, including the breath in her lungs. Andrew Lindell was pointing the gun not at her, but at Mulder.
"I don't think I could miss from here, do you?"
He came forward slowly. "Your weapon, please." He held out his left hand, keeping his own gun aimed at Mulder. Scully retrieved her SIG and dropped it in Lindell's waiting hand. "That's better." He pulled up the chair and sat down, crossing his legs and resting the two guns casually in his lap. "I have to admit to being relieved to see you. You just saved me a substantial amount of time, a commodity I can ill afford to waste."
"What do you want with him?" She kept her eyes on Lindell while her hands continued to monitor her partner. He had yet to stir, and his stillness was more frightening than the lunatic in the chair.
Lindell smiled. "Information."
"And you think this is the way to get it?"
He raised the gun from Mulder to her. "I think I have very little to lose by killing both of you at this point. Consider that your incentive."
"What do you want?"
"Your attention, for the moment. I'm going to tell you a story that Agent Mulder here seemed to have a hard time following."
Scully studied his face. He was the man she'd met earlier in the day, and yet he wasn't. His hair was longer, his face thinner. His eyes... The jolt of recognition-- of the situation, not the man-- felt like a physical blow. "Who are you?"
Lindell raised his eyebrows. "Very good. Perhaps I've been dealing with the wrong partner all along."
* * *
A.D. Skinner's apartment
Crystal City, VA
June 13th 12:19 am
"Agent Scully is in trouble."
The voice on the phone was familiar, but he couldn't place it, not ten seconds out of a sound sleep.
"Who is this?"
"Melvin Frohike. She's gone after Mulder. We tried to stop her but--"
He was instantly on full alert, firing questions as he pulled on the first clothes he could grab. Every answer he got kicked his alarm up another notch, but he forced himself to listen without interrupting. He wrote down the directions, the same ones Scully had been given three hours ago. He even managed to offer a tight-lipped 'thank you' before he hung up.
He punched in the FBI operations number and waited.
Three goddamned hours.
* * *
She had never in her life needed Mulder's input more than she did at this moment. Her hands hadn't stopped moving over his body, trying desperately to rouse him as she wracked her brain for a way to keep them alive. Frohike should have called Skinner by now. If she could keep Lindell talking until the cavalry showed up--
It took everything she had to hide her reaction when her fingers brushed Mulder's ankle and recognized the shape of his backup weapon. Her heart in her throat, she refocused on finding a way to get to it.
But Lindell had reached the end of his patience. He stood up and took a step toward her, gun raised. "I see you have no more to contribute than your--"
--for a split second, the amplified voice from above froze them both. Then time slowed to an agonizing crawl as the words registered--
"Come out with your hands up. The building is surrounded."
The silence that followed was louder than the sound that had preceded it. Scully saw Lindell turn toward the door, the gun wavering. She reached for Mulder's weapon without taking her eyes from Lindell. Her fingers closed over it with aching slowness, as if her limbs were moving through molasses.
--Lindell turned back toward her as she pulled the gun free and began to raise it--
--his hand came up, the muzzle pointed at her head as her own aim zeroed on his chest--
--the shots were nearly simultaneous, and beneath the echoing reports, she heard Skinner's voice shouting her name.
* * *
Skinner was halfway down the basement stairs when gunfire erupted from below and his instincts took over. He flattened himself against the wall, as did the three agents behind him. A man fell backward from a door at the foot of the steps and crumpled to the floor, blood spreading from a neat hole in the center of his chest.
"Agent Scully!" There was no response. He quickly covered the remaining distance to the door, halting just outside to call her again. "Scully, it's Skinner." He gestured for the other agents to follow him, then poked his head carefully around the door jamb.
Scully was crouched over her partner's body, both arms braced forward, hands gripping a snub nose .38 that was still aimed at the center of the doorway.
"Scully, it's Skinner." He pitched his voice in the most normal register he could manage and raised both hands, but she was already turning to Mulder.
"Where are the paramedics?" She was fully focused on her partner now, assessing his condition with trembling hands.
Skinner shouted up the stairs that the scene was secure and to send the EMT's down. Then he joined Scully. "How is he?"
She looked directly at Skinner for the first time. "I don't know."
Skinner looked back at the body he'd stepped over a moment ago. "That's Lindell?" He looked back at Scully, but her attention was on Mulder.
The rattle of equipment descending the stairs drew her attention. "In here!" She moved quickly out of the way so the EMT's could reach Mulder, reeling off what she knew of his condition and watching every move they made.
Skinner stood quietly next to her while Mulder was stabilized for transport. There were questions he needed to ask, but they would have to wait.
It wasn't until after Mulder had been packed off to the hospital with Scully at his side that the EMT's went back down to retrieve Lindell's body, and twenty minutes after that before Skinner accepted what his eyes were telling him.
* * *
Anne Arundel Medical Center
Scully had no idea how long Skinner had been standing in the doorway before she noticed him.
"How's he doing?" He gestured toward the bed as if she might not know who he meant.
Scully released Mulder's hand and let it rest on the bed. "He fell asleep a few minutes ago. The paralysis is nearly gone. Just some residual numbness that will dissipate over the next twelve hours if he follows Mel Harmon's pattern. The concussion is another matter, of course, but the meds have reduced the swelling." She smiled. "He's going to be fine."
Skinner nodded, but there was clearly something more on his mind.
"Lindell was picked up at his home an hour ago."
"And?" She could feel his tension.
"And there's not a mark on the man."
She nodded. "That's because he's not the man I shot. I think that man was a... version of Lindell."
The A.D.'s reaction would have been comical, but for the circumstances. He stared at her for a moment, then came into the room and sat down in the chair next to hers. His mouth opened and closed a few times before he spoke. "What are you saying?"
"The man you have in custody had nothing to do with either the murders or Mulder's abduction."
"But you said Lindell was the killer."
"Sir, the only way to prove what I believe is to compare the DNA from the man I shot to Lindell's."
Skinner was leaning forward, resting his forearms on his knees. He studied his clasped hands for a moment, then looked up at her. "The man you shot has disappeared."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean the body vanished from the basement while we were getting Mulder into the ambulance. There's not even a bloodstain on the floor." He took a deep breath. "Are you absolutely certain it was Lindell that you shot?"
She looked back at Mulder. "It doesn't matter." There was no way to prove anything now. In a few days, she would have a hard time believing it herself. She turned back to Skinner. "I'll have my report on your desk in the morning, and there will be nothing in it to implicate Andrew Lindell. You might as well let him go."
"Scully..." He hesitated for a moment, then shook his head and stood. "I'll check back with you later tonight."
She rose and touched his arm. "Sir, I haven't thanked you for coming after us." She knew Frohike must have called Skinner well before their agreed upon time. She owed him a thank you, too, and a big hug-- after she let him squirm a bit for breaking his word.
Skinner looked uncomfortable, as he always did whenever matters veered toward the personal. "Call me if you need anything." He was gone before she could respond.
A soft sound drew her attention back to the bed. Mulder's eyes were open. Barely.
"Hey, Mulder. How ya feelin'?" She leaned over and brushed her fingers over his cheek. His eyes closed again at her touch. "It's okay. You need to rest. Just go back to sleep."
He hoisted one eyelid to half mast. "It was Lindell, Scully."
"You were eavesdropping."
He managed a sleepy smile. "You sounded like me."
"Don't let it go to your head." She pushed the hair back from his forehead and watched his eyes slip shut once again.
"It was him," he murmured. He was asleep in the next instant.
There was a time when she could have convinced herself that the man she killed was not who she thought. That it was just someone who resembled Lindell. Someone with deep psychological problems, a vivid imagination, and a very convincing story.
Someone whose dead body just happened to vanish without a trace.
Scully sank wearily into her chair and let her head hang back, trying to loosen the kinks. Unanswerable questions tended to tie her in knots. For Mulder, of course, they were catnip.
She pulled her chair close to his bed and took his hand. His fingers curled over hers, even in sleep.
I can't wait to hear your take on this one.
* * *
A.D. Skinner's office
Two weeks later
Skinner pushed his glasses up with his index finger and thumb to pinch the bridge of his nose. Then he closed the case file he'd been reading and folded his hands on top of it as he looked up at his waiting agents.
"I get the impression there's a lot of information missing from this report." He fixed his eyes on Scully.
She glanced at Mulder, then met Skinner's gaze. "We've included everything that can be substantiated by the evidence. The man who assaulted Agent Mulder is still being sought. He remains unidentified."
Mulder shifted in his seat, and Skinner looked at him.
"Did you have anything to add, Agent Mulder?"
Skinner studied their faces, then nodded. "Very well."
Mulder and Scully got up to leave.
"One more question, Agents." They stopped and turned to face him. "If-- just for the sake of argument-- we knew that someone had the potential to become a serial killer. Could he be stopped? Before he kills?"
Scully considered that for a moment. "Mulder's assailant believed he could change the future. Maybe what he changed was himself."
She could feel Mulder's eyes on her as she led the way to the elevator. When the car arrived, they stepped in and she looked up at him. He was smiling down at her. Grinning, actually. "Mulder, what?"
He bent slightly and planted a kiss on the top of her head. "My little physicist."
The doors opened on the basement at that moment. She gave him the scowl he had earned, but let him see the smile in her eyes.
"Tofu and soy, Mulder. Dinner's on me."
She strolled out of the elevator and headed for their office, leaving her grinning partner behind to enjoy the view.
* * *
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