Dark Reflection -- Part 1

By Sally Bahnsen and Dawn

INFO: Written for I Made This Productions Virtual Season 8
SPOILERS: Mild through Je Souhaite 
DISCLAIMERS: The usual. They aren't ours, never will be, 
but we can pretend, can't we?
AUTHOR'S NOTES: At the end 
FEEDBACK: Treasured, adored, and practically worshiped 
SUMMARY: The names and places have changed but the story is 
the same -- or is it? Mulder and Scully travel to West 
Virginia to investigate a disturbingly familiar case.


8:16 p.m. 
Somewhere in the woods 
Rural West Virginia

Twilight spreads across the forest, leeching color from
the trees and painting the vegetation in shadowy variations
of black and gray. No longer daylight, not yet night,
nature holds its collective breath as the last warm
tendrils of sunlight give way to the cool spill of
moonlight. Small animals wake and creep from burrow and
nest, soft rustling of undergrowth and snapping of twigs
betraying their furtive search for food and water.
Crickets' reedy high-pitched songs meld with the lower
rumble of frogs and the whirring of cicadas, creating a
peaceful cacophony.

Until another sound, piercing, desperate, and completely
alien, shatters the tranquility. Now silent, the forest
watches. And waits.


*Shock. Bewilderment. All encompassing agony -- red-hot
nails driven through bone. Can't move, can't run. Small,
delicate hands push back tangled yellow curls streaked with
dirt and tears. Blinding white light, blue eyes squinting,
watering. FEAR.*


Legs pumping, heart pounding, lungs straining for air.
Crashing through thickets and brush, slipping on mossy
stones and tripping over broken branches. Plunging to the
ground, knees skinned and bloody, palms scraped.

"jacob, help me! don't leave me! jacob!"

Not as loud now. Not as scary now. Scrambling upright,
shaking twigs and leaves from dark, sweat soaked hair.
Stumbling onward, cloaked in a numbing fog. Dark eyes
searching, seeking. Finding the amber glow of safety. Of

Small is good. Small is safe. Huddled in the corner
between the bed and the wall, arms wrapped around knees,
eyes huge. Rocking.

Time slipping. Flowing.


"Rachel? Jacob? Where are you?"


"Jacob? Jacob, what are you doing there? Where's Rachel?"
Gentle hands tugging, voice high and trembling. Mom.

"Jacob. Jacob, answer your mother!" Deeper. Louder. Dad.


A whimper at first, it grows -- a wail, then a shriek.
Endless. Mindless. Drowning out comfort, obliterating
reason, it's too late.

Once the screaming begins, it won't stop.



9:37 a.m. 
FBI Headquarters

There was a tear in her stocking.

Scully leaned against the wall, out of the flow of
traffic, and wriggled the toes on her left foot while
carefully balancing a cup of coffee in each hand. After
perhaps twenty seconds of pointing and flexing like a
ballet dancer warming up at the barre, her big toe still
poked annoyingly through the fabric, and she'd garnered
more than her share of curious stares.

Scully pressed her lips together and straightened,
resigned to endure another in the long chain of irritants
that had dogged her footsteps like a pestering child since
she'd awakened that morning. As she was startled from a
deep sleep, her arm flailed, sending the alarm clock
crashing to the floor where it died an untimely and violent
death. They'd been flushing the hydrants in her
neighborhood without giving notice, evidenced by the rusty
orange water she had no choice but to shower and brush her
teeth with. She'd donned her favorite pantsuit before
discovering leftover mud stains from the last time Mulder
dragged her off to look at phantom crop circles in the
pouring rain. And to top it all off, she'd burned her very
last whole-wheat bagel and been reduced to wolfing down one
of the sugar laden S'mores Pop Tarts she'd purchased for

Scully grit her teeth and gave her toes one more
surreptitious wriggle. This day couldn't possibly get worse.

"Agent Scully? A moment of your time, please."

Then again...

Scully performed hasty cosmetic surgery on her expression
and favored Skinner with a polite nod. He ducked back out
of sight, and she reversed direction with a sigh. Entering
the outer office, she returned Kim's smile with a
conviction she didn't feel and deposited the two Styrofoam
cups onto the small table beside the couch. Skinner was
waiting just inside his office, one hand on the doorknob
and an inscrutable look on his face. Scully crossed to her
usual chair and sat, watching her boss shut the door and
settle himself gingerly behind the large oak desk. Freshly
back to work, one arm still swathed in a sling and flash
burns from the explosion still healing, Skinner moved with
an economy that suggested lingering discomfort.

Skinner extracted a manilla folder from a pile at his left
elbow and opened it on the blotter. "I've been contacted by
the local P.D. in..."

Scully's brows drew together. "Excuse me, sir. Shouldn't
we wait for Agent Mulder?"

Skinner glanced up sharply, his dark brown eyes stern and
assessing. "I didn't invite Agent Mulder to this meeting,
Agent Scully. I wanted to speak with you privately about
this case."

Scully's eyes narrowed and her voice dropped 10 degrees.
"I see."

Skinner sighed, shoving his glasses up so that he could
pinch the bridge of his nose. "No, Scully, you don't see.
But you will. Please, hear me out."

Scully's brow remained furrowed but she inclined her head.

"Early this morning I spoke to a man named Jonas Sullivan.
He's the sheriff in Gauley Bridge, West Virginia -- a small
town about 40 miles outside Charleston. A little girl
disappeared from her home the night before last. Looked
like a straightforward kidnapping case until the only
witness to the crime started talking. An agent from the
local Bureau familiar with the X-Files division suggested
contacting Mulder. You and Mulder hadn't arrived yet, so
the switchboard forwarded the call to this office."

Scully fought the urge to let her eyes slip shut in
resignation, sensing where the conversation was headed.
Keeping her expression neutral was difficult, but not
impossible. "I assume the witness believes the child was
abducted by aliens?"

Skinner fingered the folder. "Sullivan faxed me the file.
From what I've read and my admittedly limited knowledge of
the subject, it looks like a textbook alien abduction

Scully studied her boss's face, taking in the clenched jaw
and the twitch of a facial muscle high on his left cheek.
"What aren't you telling me about this case, sir? Who
exactly is this witness?"

Amazingly, Skinner's jaw tightened further. "The victim's
11-year-old brother. The parents were at a church meeting.
He was babysitting."

Scully dropped her eyes to where her hands lay neatly
folded in her lap. A string of highly unprofessional
responses remained sealed behind her pursed lips. "This
meeting isn't really about the case, is it? You want to
know if I think Mulder can run the investigation and still
remain objective."

"He's had a difficult year, Scully. We both know this type
of case pushes some buttons for him."

Scully's head came up, her eyes blazing and her spine
ramrod straight. "Sir, Agent Mulder is first and foremost a
professional and..."

"Scully." Skinner's voice was quiet but authoritative. "He
took himself off the LaPierre case. I saw your face, you
were just as stunned as I was. Before I send him back into
the water I need to know he's not going to drown. Like it
or not, as his partner you are the best judge of his
fitness for this type of assignment. Do you or do you not
feel Mulder is emotionally capable of handling this case?"

Images cascaded through Scully's mind. Mulder's initial,
eerie sense of peace after learning his sister's fate had
been a transient balm for deep wounds not so easily healed.
When the dust settled and reality set in, she'd done her
best to help him pick up the pieces --occasionally
buffering the anger and bitterness over his mother's
suicide; more frequently holding him as he wept over the
contents of his sister's diary. He'd come a long way.
Genuine acceptance, not only of some agonizing truths but
of his inability to change them, had created within Mulder
a serenity she'd never before witnessed.

But could that fragile peace withstand the onslaught of
painful memories this case would provoke?

Scully licked her lips. "Sir, as I already stated, Mulder
is more than competent to..."

A sudden commotion in the outer office cut short her
reply. Behind the closed door they could hear indignant
treble interspersed with an equally insistent bass.
Frowning, Skinner rose to his feet just as the door swung
open to reveal Mulder, an irate Kim on his heels.

"Agent Mulder, what do you think you're doing?"

"I tried to tell him you were in a closed meeting, sir,
but he just wouldn't listen," Kim said, her eyes
telegraphing clearly that if she had her way Mulder would
be a dead man.

Mulder's bland expression couldn't disguise his fury. "And
I tried to explain that there's been a mistake. That
there's no way you'd discuss a possible X-File with the
department head absent. Isn't that right, *sir*?" The term
of respect left his lips like a curse.

Skinner locked eyes with his most troublesome agent for a
long moment before dismissing his assistant with a weary
wave of his hand. "I'll handle this, Kim."

Mulder's face displayed no triumph as he crossed the room
and dropped into the empty chair, just a brief glance of
betrayal directed towards his clearly uncomfortable
partner. He leaned back, tightly folded arms and rigid
shoulders screaming defensiveness and mistrust.

Skinner opened his clenched fist and spread his hand flat
on the desktop. "Agent Mulder, I..."

"You might be surprised to learn I have a friend in the
Roanoke Bureau. Met him during one of those ridiculous team
building seminars I couldn't talk my way out of back when I
was in Violent Crimes. We've managed to stay in touch."
Mulder's voice was frigid, his eyes the only expressive
feature in his face. "Matter of fact, I just got off the
phone with him. He wondered what my thoughts were on a
kidnapping case. He was pretty confused when I didn't know
what the hell he was talking about, since the cop in charge
had already called to request my help on the investigation."

"I just received the information within the last hour,
Mulder." Skinner's words were clipped, his tone warned
against insubordination. "I've barely had time to go over
the details."

Mulder leaned forward, his hands grasping the chair in a
white-knuckled grip. "But you had time to call my *partner*
in and discuss them with her! Unless it wasn't the *case*
that inspired this impromptu meeting of the minds. Worried
that Spooky's going to hare out, sir?"

Scully shifted to face him, lips compressed in a straight
line. "Mulder..."

He rounded on her, the rage in his hazel eyes tempered by
hurt. His voice dropped to a level that excised Skinner
from the conversation as efficiently as a surgeon's
scalpel. "So, what did you tell him, Scully?"

Scully met his gaze. The question in Mulder's eyes, the
uncertainty, could be handled so simply in another time and
place. Her fingers twining with his, her lips brushing his
cheek... Mulder was an extremely tactile person. One
amazing discovery she'd made during their evolving
relationship was how easily she could reach him with a
simple touch. Her fingers ruffling a stray lock of hair,
her thumb stroking the soft skin on the back of his hand --
even fiddle with his tie, and Mulder turned to putty in her
hands. Ever mindful of Skinner's scrutiny, she attempted to
convey the same emotions with her eyes and the barest tilt
of her lips.

"Before you burst in here, Mulder, I was about to tell the
A.D. that I feel you are perfectly capable of handling this
investigation. And that I believe you may just be that
little girl's best hope."

Mulder blinked. His eyes, formerly black with anger, turned
a mossy green. Message received.

Sucking in a deep, calming breath, he turned back to
Skinner. "Any further questions, sir?"

Skinner's eyes darted between them, a look of intense
concentration on his face. He thrust his jaw forward,
closed the folder, and held it out to Mulder.

"You'd better get down there ASAP. I'll have Kim make the
travel arrangements. Contact Sullivan from the Gauley
Bridge sheriff's office first, he'll see that you have
access to the crime scene and the family. And Agent

Mulder paused, one hand on the doorknob, the other pressed
to the small of Scully's back. Skinner stood, shoving his
good hand deep in his pocket.

"This is a small town where everyone knows everyone else's
business. Tread lightly."

Mulder's lips twisted as if to spout a patented smartass
response, but Scully's covert touch on his arm stalled it.
Mulder shot her a brief look of amusement before nodding.

"Yes, sir."

Scully followed in Mulder's wake as he took up a brisk
pace through the outer office.  She mouthed a quick apology
in Kim's direction, scooping up the two cups from the side
table where she'd deposited them earlier.

"Mu...Mulder!"  The only acknowledgement that he'd even
heard her was a cursory glance over his shoulder, his long
legs striding in the direction of the elevator, file
tapping aggressively against the top of his thigh.

Scully had received enough attention from onlookers today.
She bit back the next "Mulder" forming on her lips and
waited until she caught up with her partner at the elevator.

"Mulder."  It was low, non-threatening, not quite pleading.

"I know what you're going to say, Scully."  He gave the
call button two more hard shoves with the heel of his hand,
as if the elevator would respond to the extra force.

"Really?"  Scully, took a step back and would have folded
her arms across her chest if she hadn't still been holding
what probably amounted to lukewarm coffee.

Mulder clasped the file under his right arm and brought
both hands to his face. He scrubbed at his eyes, his voice
weary and resigned.

"It's the same old story, Scully.  Anything involving
missing children prompts psych evaluations on "Spooky"
Mulder. Will he hare out?  Can he hold it together?  Is it
too close to what happened to his sister?  What the hell
was Skinner thinking?  Have I lost so much credibility that
he finds it necessary to check my state of mind with you
before assigning me a case?"

Though his eyes reflected both hurt and anger, only the
latter colored his words.

Before Scully had a chance to answer, the elevator car
dinged its arrival, the doors opening to reveal a handful
of people. Without a second thought, Mulder stepped inside
and planted himself at the back of the crowded car.  The
absence of his guiding hand left a sinking feeling in the
pit of Scully's stomach. She knew he wasn't angry with her,
and hoped when he really thought about it he would realize
that Skinner was only looking out for him.

The doors opened on the ground floor and the last of the
passengers stepped out.  There wasn't a lot to attract FBI
employees or visitors to the basement.  And while in the
early months of their partnership Scully resented it, now
she viewed it as a blessing.  The basement was their haven,
an escape from prying eyes and whispering tongues.  They
did good work and she was proud of their accomplishments,
both professionally and personally. Over time the tag of
"Mrs. Spooky" had lost its sting, no longer feeling like an

Mulder unlocked the office and shouldered the door open.
Scully followed him in, ditching the cold coffee in the
nearest trashcan as she entered. Mulder retreated to the
corner of the office and dropped into his chair.  He
propped his feet up on the desk and laid the unopened file
across his lap.   His eyes took up an intense study of the
wall just above Scully's head as his right hand absently
stroked his chin.

All the classic signs of Mulder in a sulk.

"Skinner was only trying to help.  You've had... it's been
a tough year for you, Mulder.  There's been a lot going on.
This isn't a straight forward kidnapping case, it appears
to indicate... The witness is claiming alien abduction."

Scully's shoulders bunched as she anticipated Mulder's
reaction. He dropped his feet to the floor, heedless of the
file that slipped from his lap, contents spilling from the
manila covering. Mulder leaned forward, hands splayed
across the desktop, his body language reminiscent of
Skinner's as he'd confronted the wayward agent storming
into his office.

"I am the head of this division.  If the assistant
director feels I am unfit to handle that responsibility..."

"Mulder!  Enough.  The A.D. was acting out of concern for
you. The little I heard before you joined us gave every
indication that Skinner's intention was to assign this case
to you.  He was just making sure... "

Scully leaned over, gathering one of Mulder's hands in her
own. She watched as the rigid set to his shoulders relaxed
and his head dropped until his chin rested on his chest.

"To be perfectly honest with you, I agree with Skinner."
Mulder's head shot up and he captured her gaze with
narrowed, suspicious eyes, his hand twitching in hers.

"*Not* because I don't think you can do this, but because
I think you do this too well.  Your ability to empathize
with the victims, to feel their pain ...it's what gives you
the edge over other agents.  But..."


How could she say it without sounding as if she *did*
doubt his ability?

"Are you sure you're ready for this?  To go..."

"Scully.  I was too late to save Samantha.  I know I can't
change that.  But this little girl... she still has a
chance. *I'm* that chance. Aliens kidnapping a child? 
They'll just investigate right over the top of that, or 
bury the file so deep it will never surface. I'm 'IT,' 
Scully.  I'm the only one that will take those claims 
seriously enough to either prove or disprove them.  I have 
to do this. For that little girl. For her family.  For me."

Determination, compassion, assurance.  They were etched
into Mulder's features so deeply that Scully wondered how
she had ever doubted he'd cope.  She squeezed the fingers
still nestled in hers and briefly pulled them to her lips,
lightly kissing the rough skin across his knuckles.

"Well then, G-Man, I suggest you gather that file up off
the floor. I'll make us a cup of coffee, and we can go over
the police report before we leave."  Scully smiled up at
him and released his hand.

"Thanks, Scully."

She threw him a questioning look.

"For backing me up with Skinner and trusting my judgement
on this."

"Hey, what are partners for?"  Scully moved off to make
the coffee, feeling strangely at odds with the flush she
could feel spreading across her cheeks.

"And Scully?"


"I take two sugars, not one.  I know you've been cutting
them back," he chided lightly.

"Too much sugar is not good for you, Mulder."

"I like my coffee sweet, Scully."  He let his voice drop
an octave. "Just like my women."

He ducked behind his desk to retrieve the file and to
avoid a well-aimed projectile hurled at him from the
general direction of his partner, hiding a wide grin as he
gathered up the strewn papers.

Scully added creamer to her coffee and one sugar to
Mulder's, pausing before tearing open a second packet.

"You should be getting over the sugar craving by now. 
Have you given any more consideration to using the nicotine
patches suggested by Dr McManus?" She added the second
sugar and stirred the hot black liquid before handing it to
her partner.

"I'm not suffering from nicotine withdrawal, Scully. I
don't need patches and I'm not craving sugar.  I just got
used to drinking it sweet."

"But..." Scully's train of thought was interrupted by the
insistent trill of Mulder's phone.


Scully sipped her coffee while Mulder pulled a pen from
his breast pocket and started jotting notes on a scrap of

"Uh-huh.  Uh-huh.  Yep.  Okay, thanks, Kim."  He replaced
the receiver back in its cradle and scooped up the file
from the top of his desk.

"Drink up, Scully.  Skinner's signed off on the 302, and
Kim got us a noon flight to Charleston.  We can swing by
our apartments on the way to the airport."

He was already unlocking his briefcase and stowing the
folder safely inside.  He flipped the catches and rolled
the combination before swinging it off his desk, grimacing
as the movement wrenched sore ribs.

Scully observed the pain flicker across his face.  Was he
really up to this?  In her heart she knew he was right,
that he was that little girl's best hope.  No one else
would investigate this case with the same drive and
determination. Yet she couldn't help worrying that this
case, like so many others involving children, would take
its toll.

Mulder paused in the doorway, tapping his foot impatiently
when he realized she wasn't at his side.

"Are you coming?  Time's a-wasting, Scully.   Let's go." 
He was practically bouncing on the spot.

"Okay, okay.  I'm coming."  Scully whisked her own
briefcase off the floor from behind her chair and preceded
Mulder out the door, comforted by a light pressure at the
small of her back.

3:06 p.m. 
Gauley Bridge Sheriff's Office

"I'll be honest with you, Agent Mulder. I'm not one for
believin' in little green men."

Sheriff Sullivan tipped his considerable bulk backward,
eliciting a groan of protest from the rickety wooden chair.
His index finger tapped his lips as his dark eyes shifted
between Mulder and Scully.

Scully leaned forward, giving her partner a warning glare
on the way. "Sir, you called us in on this case. Now there
must be some reason..."

"I called you in, Agent Scully, because I couldn't come up
with anything better. Before this, my biggest problem was
getting Julia Sterns to press charges against her husband
for knocking her around when he drinks too much. Now I've
got a little girl missin' and the local feds telling me
that they don't have enough to go on, just spinnin' their
wheels. When Agent Mulder's friend mentioned that y'all
specialize in this type of case, I jumped on the

"We've read the information you faxed Assistant Director
Skinner." Mulder's voice was calm, unruffled, his body
sprawled elegantly in the chair. "Is there anything you'd
like to add before we interview the Marcussens? Are they a
close family? I take it from the police report that you are
a personal friend."

"This isn't Washington, D.C., Agent Mulder; I'm a personal
friend of just about everyone in town." Sullivan sighed and
kneaded the back of his neck. "But I guess you could say I
know the Marcussens better than most. I drove Sam and Beth to
the hospital when she saw fit to have Jacob in the middle
of a snowstorm. And I helped them find Rachel the time she
wandered off and got herself lost in the woods. They're
good, God fearin' folks, and those children mean the world
to them."

"No one is questioning their devotion to the children,
Sheriff Sullivan," Scully said, her voice firm but soothing.

"Not out loud anyway." When Scully opened her mouth to
protest further, he held up a callused hand. "Look, I may
be a babe in the woods compared to you big city fibbies,
but I'm smart enough to see that, little green men aside,
there aren't many suspects in this case. I don't intend to
see Rachel Marcussen turned into another Jon Benet Ramsey.
You get my meaning?"

Mulder sat up, both feet coming to rest on the floor, his
hands resting lightly on his knees. "And I can't promise to
respect boundaries that interfere with my ability to do my
job." His eyes flicked to Scully's, and his tone warmed.
"What I *can* promise is that I will do everything in my
power to find out what happened to that little girl, and to
bring her home safely."

Sullivan's lips compressed to a bloodless line, and his
eyes bored into Mulder's. Mulder met the scrutiny without
flinching, shoulders dropping imperceptibly when the
sheriff finally nodded and stood with a grunt.

"Let's go, then. Sam and Beth are expecting us, and I
wouldn't want to keep them waiting."

3:45 p.m. 
Marcussen residence

"Coffee, Agent Mulder?"

Beth Marcussen was a whip thin woman with dark blonde hair
and blue eyes so large they swallowed the rest of her heart-
shaped face. She'd been a bundle of perpetual motion since
they'd arrived, seating them on an overstuffed couch in the
living room, bustling off to the kitchen to make a pot of
coffee, and now serving them with restless, fluttering
hands. She reminded Scully of a lovely but fragile
butterfly, unable to settle for long in one spot.

"Thank you, Mrs. Marcussen." Mulder smiled as he accepted
the cup, pointedly ignoring Scully's disapproving stare as
he spooned in a generous ration of sugar.

"Please, call me Beth. Seems silly to be so formal with
the folks who we're countin' on to..." She pressed her
knuckles tightly to her lips to stop the flow of words."

"Mrs. Marcussen -- Beth, please sit down." Mulder's voice
was soft and gentle. The one reserved for victims and
suffering family members. "We need to ask you and your
husband a few questions about the night Rachel disappeared."

Beth's shadowed gaze darted to her husband. The antithesis
to her nervous energy, Sam Marcussen had remained still and
mostly silent in a large recliner near the fireplace. With
a tilt of her head, Beth crossed the room to perch on the
arm of the chair.

"We've read the police report and we've talked to Sheriff
Sullivan," Mulder said, acknowledging the man with a slight
nod. "What we'd really like, is to hear the events of that
night in your own words."

Beth sucked in a long breath of air and tucked a strand of
hair behind one ear in a gesture that reminded Mulder
eerily of his partner. "There's so little to tell. Sam and
I had a meetin' over at the church right after supper.
They're lookin' for a new pastor, and we're on the
search committee. There weren't going to be any kids there,
so Jacob offered to stay home with Rachel. He watches her
all the time when I go to the grocery store or shoppin'. We
were only gone an *hour*."

Beth's voice, which had become progressively more wispy,
broke. Sam placed a large, steady hand over her trembling
one and squeezed. He turned his haunted eyes on the agents.

"It was full dark by the time we came home, but there were
no lights on in the house. I thought maybe the kids were
playing some fool game of hide 'n seek, so I started
callin' for them. It wasn't 'til they didn't answer that I 
got scared."

"You found Jacob in his room?" Scully prodded.

Sam snorted, but there was no humor in it. "Not at first.
He was kinda folded up in a little ball, wedged between his
bed and the wall. Beth saw his foot stickin' out and called
me. We tried to get him to tell us where Rachel was but it
was like he couldn't hear us. Just kept rockin' back and
forth. I was so scared, I guess I got a little rough with
him. I grabbed holda his arm and shook him, yellin' at him to
tell us where his sister was." Sam dry washed his face and
ran trembling fingers through his hair. "He just started...
screaming. Wouldn't stop until the doc came and gave him
somethin' to make him sleep."

Scully sipped her coffee to disguise a surreptitious
glance at her partner. Mulder's face, though a bit pale,
was composed. "You weren't able to talk to Jacob until
yesterday morning?"

"No way he was makin' any sense," Sullivan spoke up. "We
tried to search the woods surrounding the house, but it was
near impossible in the dark. I had a team of volunteers
cover about a three mile radius yesterday. No one turned up
a thing."

Mulder gazed out the picture window at the thick forest
that encircled the small house. He gently placed his cup on
the coffee table and braced his elbows on his knees. "We'd
like to speak to Jacob, if you think he's up to it."

Sam and Beth held a silent consultation before she nodded.
"We knew you would. He hasn't said too much since he talked
to Jonas and those other agents, hasn't even left his room
except to eat. But he hasn't started screamin' again
either." She tried to smile but her lips quivered. "Jacob's
always been the brave one. Rachel was..." She caught
herself, "IS more like me, afraid of everything."

"We don't want to upset him, Beth," Scully said, mimicking
Mulder's actions with her own cup. "We'd just like to hear
the whole story in his own words. There's always the
possibility he'll remember something new."

"His room is the last door on your left." Sam stood and
led them to a hallway that ran along the back of the house.
"Just... He's a little boy who lost his sister. Please,
don't forget that."

To Marcussen, an almost curt bob of the head and a
carefully neutral expression communicated professional
courtesy. To Scully, a reflexive swallow, a tightening of
jaw muscles, and a few additional lines around the eyes
betrayed a more emotional response. She moved past Mulder,
discretely allowing her hand to brush his before continuing
to Jacob's door. When Mulder reached her side, his
expression slightly less pinched, she rapped firmly.

"Come in."

Scully wasn't sure exactly what she'd expected -- posters
of rock bands, perhaps, or famous sports figures? Certainly
not the schematic of a space station and a periodic table
of elements. She let her eyes roam the walls and surfaces
while Mulder strode directly over to where Jacob sat at a
small wooden table, his head bent over some type of model
whose pieces were scattered across the polished surface.

"Hi, Jacob. I'm Agent Mulder and this is Agent Scully.
We're trying to help Sheriff Sullivan find your sister."

Jacob carefully set aside what Scully now recognized as a
partially assembled space shuttle, and methodically wiped
glue from his fingers before shaking Mulder's outstretched
hand. He looked each of them up and down coolly.


"We're from the FBI," Scully explained, making her way to
Mulder's side.

Jacob shoved unruly brown hair off his forehead. "Local?
Or D.C.?"

Mulder's lips quirked. "D.C. Why?"

Jacob shrugged and fingered one of the tiny pieces. "No
reason. I just thought that the other agents were givin'

Something passed across Mulder's face before he circled
around the table and lifted the half-completed model.
"Looks like you're really into space exploration," he
mused, gesturing at various models of rockets and planets
scattered throughout the room. "Been following the Mars

Jacob made a face. "Yeah, even though they keep losin'
them. Four spacecraft in one year's pretty sorry, dontcha

"They do seem to need a new approach," Mulder agreed,
crossing over to sit on the bed.

Jacob swiveled to face him. "Look at the Polar Lander -- it
smashed to bits! Breakin' thrusters shut down at an
altitude of 130 feet, and it impacted the surface at about
50 miles an hour. All 'cause one missin' line of computer
code told the on board systems that she was safely on the
surface when she was still in the air. But then, what can
you expect when they've gone so cheap they've got people
workin' 80 hour weeks?"

Scully arched an eyebrow in Mulder's direction. Nobody had
mentioned Jacob Marcussen was 11 going on 30.

Mulder's lips curved as he gently steered the conversation
back on track. "We're here because of your testimony,
Jacob. Will you answer some questions for us?"

Jacob shrugged. "Already talked to the other agents.
Didn't seem like they believed me."

"Well, we're from a division of the Bureau that
specializes in paranormal phenomena -- exactly the kind of
thing you say happened to Rachel.  Would you mind going
over what happened the night she disappeared, one more

Jacob studied them with intense, dark eyes. "Mom and Dad
were at a church meetin'. Rache and I aren't allowed to
play outside when they're not home, so I was foolin' around
on the computer, and she was watchin' TV. Then all of a
sudden, the electricity cut out, so we went out front to
see if anybody else's lights were on. That's when we saw
the spaceship."

"Spaceship?" Mulder's face reflected only polite interest,
but Scully watched his hands slowly curl into fists.

Jacob nodded matter-of-factly. "Yep. Had to be. It looked
kinda like an airplane but it was movin' up, down, and all
around like a helicopter. And fast! It swooped real low
over the house, and we ran around to the backyard to follow
it. Looked like it dropped down into the trees, and we
could see the light reflectin' up. Before I knew it, Rache
took off into the woods sayin' she was gonna see a real
live flyin' saucer. I tried to stop her..."

He looked down, blinking. Scully crouched beside him and
laid one hand on his knee. "It's all right, Jacob. Take
your time."

Jacob gave her a tremulous smile before continuing. "I
would've caught up with her; I'm a much better runner. But
then there was this really bright light. It swallowed Rache
up and I couldn't see her anymore.  I tried to yell her
name, but I couldn't talk -- I couldn't even move!" He
lifted dry eyes to Mulder. "I could hear her scream for me,
but I couldn't move."

"Did you see the spaceship?" Mulder asked.

Jacob shook his head. "I couldn't see anything, just the
light. It was so white -- you'd a thought it would be hot,
but it wasn't. It was cold." He shivered. "Next thing I
knew it was gone, and I could move again. I could still 
hear Rachel screamin' but it sounded far away. I...I ran, 
I guess. I don't really remember much after that 'til my mom 
and dad came in and found me here."

Mulder pressed one fist to his lips, trading a long look
with Scully. Jerking his gaze from the concern in her blue
eyes, he stood up.

"Is there anything else you can tell us, Jacob? Anything
you want to add that you might have forgotten?"

Jacob slowly shook his head. He scooted his chair back to
the table and calmly picked up the model, though his eyes
skittered back and forth between Mulder and Scully.

"Thank you for answering our questions, Jacob," Scully
murmured, straightening up and moving to the door. "We know
it isn't easy for you to talk about that night."

Mulder pulled open the door and guided Scully through with
his hand pressed to the small of her back. He turned back
to Jacob, who was opening a small tube of glue.

"Try not to worry, Jacob. We'll do everything we can to
find Rachel."

Jacob never lifted his head, and his voice remained
steady. "You can try all you want, Agent Mulder. But I
don't think they're gonna bring her back."

Mulder backed into the hallway, unable to tear his eyes
from the crown of Jacob's shaggy head and the smooth,
deliberate movements of his small hands until he carefully
shut the door. He sagged against the wall with eyes closed,
trembling fingers leaving a trail of unruly spikes in his
hair. Scully's solid warmth at his elbow encouraged him to
crack open one eye.

"Well, that was a little too close to home." He molded his
features into a cookie cutter smile, not sure if it was for
Scully's benefit or his own.

"Mulder, if this case..."

Mulder swallowed the shock like an exceptionally bitter
pill and peeled himself off the wall. "I'm fine. And the
Marcussens are waiting."

A brush of his fingers down her arm and he strode up the
hallway toward the living room. Scully pressed her lips
tightly together and followed.



4:03 p.m. 
Outside the Marcussen Residence

"Agent Mulder, I gotta tell you, when I asked you to come
out here and take a look at this case I thought you'd help
put to rest these wild claims of young Jacob."  Sheriff
Sullivan leaned against his car with arms folded across his
chest and a frown darkening his rugged features.

"Wild claims?  You think he's making it up?"  Mulder asked
with mild curiosity.  His eyes actively scanned the
treetops behind the Marcussen's house.

"He's an 11-year-old boy who's lost his sister.  I don't
think he knows up from down right now.  I was hopin' you'd
set him straight, help him remember.  Don't get me wrong,
he's a good kid, but after what happened... well you can't
blame him for bein' a tad confused."

"Really?  He didn't strike me as the type of kid that
would be easily confused."

Sheriff Sullivan's eyes narrowed, and he pinned Mulder with
a steely glare.

"And what's that supposed to mean?"

"It means, Sheriff, that despite the recent trauma, Jacob
appears to be an exceptionally intelligent and self-assured

"Excuse us."  Scully sidled up to Mulder, took his arm,
and turned him to face away from the other man.

"Mulder..." The use of his name a quiet warning, letting
him know he was close to stepping on fragile, law
enforcement toes. "Remember what Skinner said before we

"Yeah, yeah, Scully.  I *am* treading lightly.  Do you see
him hopping up and down?"  A hint of mischief danced in
Mulder's eyes.

Scully smiled in relief.  The knot that had been growing
in her stomach since the interview with Jacob was slowly
untangling as Mulder shed the tight, troubled expression
that had haunted his face.  But she still needed to know,
to be sure.

"Are you okay with this, Mulder?" She tilted her head to
the side, searching his face for the truth.

"I'm fine.  Really.  Look, Scully, why don't you head back
into town with the good sheriff? Check in with the Roanoke
office and make nice. Ask for Tim Spencer, he'll give you
the straight story without any attitude. You could also
look up the doctor who treated Jacob the night Rachel
disappeared.  Maybe Jacob said something... anything before
he was sedated."

"What are you going to do?"

"I'll take a walk around the Marcussens' property and
check out the woods, try to come up with some evidence to
support the boy's story.  I also want to interview the
neighbors, find out if they have anything useful to add."

Sheriff Sullivan sidled closer.  "I already talked to them.
No one saw or heard a damn thing worth repeatin'."

"You have to ask the right questions to get the right
answers, Sheriff." Mulder spun on his heel and strode
toward the trees. The thick woods swallowed him within

"Is he always like that?"  Sullivan stood with his hands on
his hips, watching Mulder's retreating form.

"Like what?"  Scully asked, deadpan.

"Forget it. I'll give you that ride back to town."


Mulder picked his way through low hanging branches,
swatting at the odd mosquito as it buzzed past his ear or
settled on his cheek.

The rich scent of rotting vegetation hung heavily in the
humid air, and the soft, spongy ground squished under
Mulder's feet. The shrill chirp of cicadas competed with
the warbling cry of birds as they called to one another
above his head. And every now and then a rustle of leaves
would alert him to some woodland creature scurrying on its
way in search of food or shelter.  But the forest showed no
intention of confiding the secret of what had happened to a
little girl on a warm September evening.

Thirty minutes later, Mulder was sweaty, mud-spattered,
and frustrated. Nothing was consistent with an alleged UFO
landing site. The treeline bore no evidence of damage, no
burnt or singed leaves. The foliage remained lush, green,
and intact.

The sheriff's men had searched a three-mile radius without
noting anything unusual in their report.  How far could a 6-
year-old girl run in a matter of minutes?  The abduction
had to have taken place close to the family home.

Mulder had begun his exploration in the hope of finding
something that would corroborate Jacob's story, lend
credence to his claims. Instead, he'd come up empty. He
gave the ground a halfhearted kick and craned his neck
skyward as if the answer would fall from the heavens. 
Dropping his eyes, he scanned the trees one last time
before hiking back toward the house.

Maybe the neighbors would be of more help.

4:58 p.m. 
Millers' Residence

"It's a cryin' shame, I swear, Agent Mulder.  Dear little
thing just up an' disappearin' like that.  I don't know
what the world's comin' to when folks ain't even safe in
their own homes. The Marcussens are real good community-
minded folks.  They deserve better. Beth's on the PTA over
to the school, and her Sam's always up there fixin' this,
mendin' that -- real handy.  And little Rachel..." Louise
Miller swiped at her eyes with a tissue. "I can't believe
this has happened; it's a cryin' shame. A cryin' shame. 
Can I get you another glass of lemonade?"

"No, thanks.  Still working on this one." Mulder smiled
and held up his glass, half full.   "I really appreciate
you helping us out with our inquiries.  Can you tell me
what you remember from the night Rachel disappeared?  Did
you notice anything... unusual?"

"Well, that's the thing, Agent Mulder, I didn't.  I know
what that poor boy is sayin'.  Crazy talk about aliens
landin' and takin' little Rachel. 'Course he ain't thinkin'
straight right now. How could he, losin' his sister an'

"So you didn't see any strange lights, hear any odd sounds?"

"No sir. The night passed just like any other 'round here,
nice an' quiet."

"What about the power? Was there any interruption of your

Louise's face twisted with confusion. "Why, heck no.  We was
all watchin' the TV 'bout the time little Rachel was
s'posed to've gone missin', and we'd sure have known if the
power went out."

Mulder glanced around the modest living room.  The
television was the centerpiece of the room. A sofa and two
armchairs, including the one in which he was seated, faced
it. Photos adorned the top of the TV, pictures of Louise, a
man Mulder assumed to be her husband, and two children -- a
boy with cropped blond hair and smiling brown eyes, and a
little girl with pigtails and missing teeth.

"Are those your children, Mrs. Miller?"  Mulder tilted his
head toward the photos.

She nodded, eyes brightening and lips curving.  "Luke an'
Jessica. They're the same age as Jacob an' Rachel.  Oh my,
how Beth and Sam must be sufferin' right now."  The smile
wavered, then crumbled as she dabbed at her eyes and nose
again with the tissue.

Mulder discreetly averted his gaze, waiting for her to
compose herself before resuming his line of questioning.

"I'm sorry, Agent Mulder.  This is just so hard to
understand.  So hard to believe.  My kids are real friendly
with Jacob an' Rachel, in the same class at school an' all."

The sound of a door slamming shut and the high pitched
squeal of children's laughter rang through the house.

"I'm telling Mama!"

"No!  Luke, stop it!"

"Ha, ha.  Betcha can't catch me!"

More laughter was followed by the sound of running feet.

"Kids!  Hey, cut that out!  How many times have I warned you
about runnin' through the house?"

At the sound of their mother's voice, two young faces,
sweaty and rosy cheeked, pulled up short just inside the
living room door, chests heaving and laughter still

"Mama, tell Luke to stop ticklin' me," the little girl
whined, but there was no malice in her words.

"Luke, leave your sister alone.  Now quiet down you two;
we got company."

Two sets of eyes strayed from their mother to take up a
steady examination of the stranger sitting in their living

"This here's Agent Mulder.  He's from the FBI in
Washington DC. He's come all the way to help find Rachel. 
Agent Mulder, these are my children, Luke and Jess."

The little girl took two tentative steps towards Mulder.
"You gonna bring Rachel back home, mister?"

"I'm going to try my hardest.  Were you and Rachel friends?"

"Uh-huh.  She's my best friend."

Mulder turned his attention to the older boy.  "What about
you, Luke? Do you and Jacob hang out together?"

A nearly imperceptible shadow passed across both faces. Jess
looked at her brother with wide-eyed anticipation, lips
pressed in a tight line. The boy's startled gaze held
Mulder's for only a second before he lifted one shoulder in
a half-hearted shrug and turned to his mom.

"Can I be excused, please?  Jimmy's waitin' for me at the
lot; he's expectin' me back any minute.  I only come home
to get my mitt and ball."  He tugged on his sister's arm.
"C'mon Jess, we gotta get goin'."

Mrs. Miller shot Mulder a look that said, "What can you
do?" and bobbed her head. "Go ahead. You know the rules,
though, be back before dark!"

Jessica puffed a quiet sigh and her face relaxed.

Something niggled at Mulder's brain.  What had just passed
between Jess and her brother?

"Kids, huh?  Just one big bundle of energy."  Louise shook
her head, smiling indulgently as the back door slammed shut
again. "Agent Mulder? I sure hope you can find Rachel. 
Jacob'll be lost without his sister. Those two are like
peas in a pod, always together. Jacob doted..." She paused at
her choice of words, the tissue working convulsively in her
hands. "I mean, he *does* dote on her. We gotta think
positive, right? No wonder that poor boy's seein' aliens
and such -- probably the only way he can cope."

"I'll do everything within my power to bring Rachel back
safely, Mrs. Miller."  Mulder placed his empty glass on the
table and reached inside his coat pocket.  He offered a
card to the woman in front of him.  "If you think of
anything else, you can reach me on my cell phone or contact
the sheriff's department. Thank you again for your help."

"My pleasure, sir.  Like I said, I hope you find that
sweet little girl."

For just a moment time slipped backward, and Louise Miller
wore Billie LaPierre's face. Mulder blinked and mustered a
nod. "I hope so too."

6:47  p.m. 
New River Lodge

Scully tossed her keys onto the cheap pressboard table,
kicked off her shoes, and sagged against the wall with a
gusty sigh. The connecting door to Mulder's room hung ajar,
and the hiss of water on tile drifted through the opening.
Tucking back a strand of auburn hair turned mutinous by the
humidity, she padded into her partner's room.

"Mulder, I'm back." She pitched her voice to be heard over
the shower while rescuing a pair of Armani pants from a
heap on the floor.

"Hey, Scully. How'd it go with the doctor?"

She eyed the dried mud splattered around the hem of each
leg before folding them neatly. "He was very helpful. I'll
tell you all about it later. I'm starving, Mulder."

His low chuckle, dark and smooth as molasses, chased away
a little of her weariness. "Pizza's on the way. I'll be out
in a minute."

Pizza. Mulder considered it one of the five basic food
groups. Scully assessed the gnawing in her belly coupled
with the desire to don an old pair of shorts and a tee
shirt and decided pizza didn't sound so bad after all.

By the time the pizza arrived she'd shed her suit, and
Mulder was sprawled on her bed, his wet hair making an
annoying damp spot on one of the pillows. Scully set the
carton and a nondescript white paper bag on the table,
pausing with her hand on the lid.

"Why am I suddenly afraid to open this, Mulder?"

He sat up, palm pressed to his heart and a wounded
expression plastered on his face. "Trust, Scully. I thought
it was the cornerstone of our partnership."

Scully arched an eyebrow to demonstrate how unimpressed
she was with his theatrics. "I trust you with my life,
Mulder. Just not my stomach."

She flipped back the lid, mouth curving in a smile. Mulder
peered over her shoulder, the scent of his shampoo in her
nose and the warmth of his breath on her neck intoxicating.

"Pepperoni, bacon, and onion for me, veggies and extra
cheese for you." She could sense the smile without using
her eyes.

Tilting her head back until it rested on his shoulder, she
grinned up at him. "If there's a Diet Coke in that bag..."

Mulder reached around her to produce a white and red can.
"Never doubt it, Scully."

She nibbled her way through two slices while Mulder
recounted his walk in the woods and the interview with
Louise Miller. Under the guise of slurping strings of
cheese and sipping soda, she observed him carefully. Though
he'd obviously regained his equilibrium, she sensed
something still bothered him. His voice softened when he
described the absence of heat damage to the trees; and when
he related his brief encounter with Luke and Jess Miller,
his gaze turned distant, his manner preoccupied.


Her verbal nudge brought him back from wherever he'd gone,
and he smiled. "What about you? Did you speak with Tim?"

Scully's eyes crinkled and she pursed her lips. "Oh, I had
a very productive chat with your friend, Mulder. None of it
will help solve this case, but it was still very...

Mulder dropped his head back to stare at the ceiling with
a loud groan. "Oh God, what was I thinking?"

Scully gave him a long, deliberately speculative look.
"You know, I always have pictured you as the type to sow
his wild oats."

Mulder literally squirmed in his chair before getting up
and pacing to the window. "Have they turned up anything

She shook her head, watching in amusement as he fiddled
with the cord that controlled the drapes. "Not a thing. The
prevailing opinion is that Rachel's either lost out in
those woods or in the hands of someone who has no interest
in money."

"Spencer always was a little more open minded than most."
He snorted, turning around. "Obviously -- he befriended
Spooky Mulder."

Scully didn't bother to conceal her smirk. "Come clean,
Mulder. Did you really get so drunk that you..."

"So, what did Jacob's doctor have to say?"

Letting him off the hook, Scully made a mental note to
revisit the conversation in the future. "His name is Warren
Blake and he's a GP -- takes care of the whole family. He
describes both Jacob and Rachel as average, healthy kids."

Mulder dropped back into his chair. "Surely he's aware
that Jacob's intelligence is far from average."

"Not just above average -- well within range for MENSA.
Blake said he's been tested at 162."

His teeth worried his lower lip. "Kids with exceptionally
high IQs often have difficulty relating to their peers," he
murmured, more to himself than to Scully.

Scully's brow furrowed but she continued. "According to
Blake, Jacob is a model child. Very polite, very helpful."

"And the night of Rachel's abduction?"

Scully contemplated mentioning that very little about this
case pointed to abduction, but prudently held her tongue.
"When Baker got to the Marcussens' they'd managed to coax
Jacob out from the corner, but he was still pretty
incoherent. He said the boy kept repeating something about
a bright light and not being able to move. He finally had
to administer a mild sedative to calm Jacob down. Said he
hadn't seen him that upset since the time Rachel got lost
in the woods."

Mulder looked up sharply. "Sheriff Sullivan mentioned that
incident. Blake was involved?"

"Initially he participated on one of the search teams,"
Scully replied, puzzled by Mulder's abrupt and intense
focus. "He wound up staying back at the house when Beth
became hysterical. Mulder, I can't help wondering if what
we have here isn't a simple repetition of that incident.
Jacob admits Rachel went running off into the woods..."

"How did Rachel become lost?"

Scully frowned. "I didn't ask. Blake did say she was no
more than two or three at the time. The way he tells it,
Rachel has always been a rather accident-prone child." She
held up a hand. "And before you ask, Blake vehemently
denied any signs of child abuse. He depicts Sam and Beth
Marcussen as model parents, and assured me that although
Rachel has suffered more than the average number of
childhood traumas, Jacob is disgustingly healthy."

She watched him absently picking pepperoni off a slice of
pizza without consuming it, noticing for the first time
that he'd eaten very little. Placing both elbows on the
table she leaned into his personal space -- a little trick
she'd learned from the master.

"Mulder, are you going to eat that pizza, or autopsy it?"

His fingers froze in the act of extracting a scrap of
bacon, and he adopted a smartass grin. "Aw c'mon, Scully,
be a sport. Mom never let me play with my food."

*Deflecting*, Scully thought as he wiped the greasy digits
on a napkin and picked up his soda. Mulder used humor like
a shield whenever real life hit a little too close to home.

"Mulder, something is obviously bothering you. What is it?"

Both eyebrows soared and his eyes flew wide open. "I don't
know what you're talking about, Scully."

"I think you do. You haven't been yourself ever since we
talked to Jacob Marcussen."

The feigned innocence gave way to anger. "I already told
you, Scully, I'm fine."

"That's bullshit, Mulder, and you know it! You were barely
holding it together outside Jacob's room, and you've been
distant and distracted all through dinner." She sighed,
sliding her hand across the table and tangling her fingers
with his. "Mulder, that boy could be you. You'd have to be
made of stone not to be affected by this case."

He refused to meet her eyes, but his fingers curled to
stroke her palm. "I... It's not what you think, Scully."

She waited, the restless shifting of his body testifying
that more was coming. His voice was very soft, and very

"Scully, did you know that when Samantha disappeared, I was
a suspect?"

She could feel her jaw drop, her brows squeeze together.
Mulder ignored her discomfiture, never lifting his eyes or
breaking the slow, steady stroking of his thumb.

"True, I was hysterical -- catatonic, even. But my
father's gun was lying on the living room floor. It
wouldn't be the first time one sibling killed another, due
to anger or a game gone tragically awry. Samantha and I
were typical kids, we had more than our share of brawls.
And I was precocious, too smart for my own good, according
to some. I wouldn't be surprised if there aren't those who
still believe I killed her and hid the body somewhere."

Scully finally located her voice. "Mulder. What exactly
are you trying to say? Surely you don't suspect Jacob
Marcussen of murdering his sister?"

She wanted him to laugh. To flash her that maddening smirk
and declare, "I got you, Scully. Big time." But when Mulder
raised his head his eyes were deadly serious.

"All I'm saying right now, Scully, is that I don't think
aliens abducted Rachel Marcussen. And I really want to know
why Jacob says they did."

Scully gaped at him a moment before shaking her head.
"Mulder, there are many more plausible explanations than..."

He stood, gently drawing his hand from hers. "I want to
talk to the Marcussens first thing in the morning, Scully.
Jacob should be in school, so it will be the perfect
opportunity to ask questions without worrying about him

Scully grit her teeth. "What kind of questions? Excuse me,
Mrs. Marcussen, but has Jacob ever tried to kill his

Mulder turned away, but not before she saw the hurt on his
face. "I need to hear exactly what happened when Rachel was
lost in the woods. And her other 'accidents.'"

The mule-ish tone of his voice erased her momentary
regret. "I can't believe you're considering this, Mulder.
He's just a little boy."

Mulder crossed to the connecting door, pausing with one
hand on the jamb. "So were Jeffrey Dahmer, and Ted Bundy.
Monsters aren't conjured from thin air, Scully. They have
parents and a childhood just like you and me."

She stared at the open doorway long after he'd vanished
through it.

9:14 a.m. 
Marcussen Residence

"We appreciate you speaking with us again, Mrs. Marcussen.
Particularly on such short notice."

Mulder reclaimed the seat he'd occupied the previous
afternoon, casting an uneasy glance at his partner as she
silently joined him. They'd exchanged less than two dozen
words, all couched in excruciatingly polite terms, since
he'd retreated to his room after dinner. He knew she felt
repulsed by his suspicions regarding Jacob, and frustrated
with his inability to provide concrete evidence to back

Unable, or unwilling? Scully had a very limited
acquaintance with Fox Mulder the profiler. Other than his
unavoidable slide during the Mostow case, he'd carefully
shielded her from that side of himself -- though he
couldn't combat the "Spooky" Mulder legends that still
circulated through the Bureau. Truth was, a great deal of
his profiling ability rested in pure instinct. Yes, his
eidetic memory allowed him to assimilate and piece together
an incredible amount of seemingly unrelated data. But when
push came to shove, it was his gut *feeling* about a case --
and the killer -- that earned him his nickname.

And he had a feeling about Jacob Marcussen that wouldn't
go away.

"It's Beth, Agent Mulder. And I'll be happy to do whatever
I can to help bring Rachel home." Exhaustion ringed Beth
Marcussen's eyes, and her hands trembled until she clasped
them tightly together. "Sam isn't home. He and a few of our
neighbors are off takin' another look in the woods, just in
case..." She pressed her folded hands tightly against her
lips. "What did you want to ask me?"

"You mentioned another time Rachel was missing, when she
was just a toddler. Did she..."

Mulder's question cut off abruptly when Jacob wandered
into the living room. His brown eyes lingered on first
Scully and then Mulder before coming to rest on his mother.

"Mama, I wanna go down to Mrs. Hayes' house to see the

Beth slipped an arm around his waist and gave him a small
frown of disapproval, though her tone remained mild.
"Where's your manners, Jacob? Say hello to Agent Mulder and
Agent Scully."

Jacob ducked his head and flashed them half a smile.

"Hello, Jacob. It's nice to see you again."

Mulder struggled not to feel rebuked by the warmth in
Scully's voice. "Hi Jacob."

Jacob looked at him. Time slowed, and Scully and Beth
faded to the background as Mulder's gaze locked with the
boy's. For just a moment, he was certain he saw something
cold and calculating in those eyes, a touch of scorn in the
smile. Then Jacob blinked and turned back to Beth.

"Please, Mama? Mrs. Hayes says I can come over whenever I

Beth smiled and pulled him close, her eyes shiny. "Go
ahead then. But mind your manners, and be back before

Jacob wormed his way out of her grasp, but paused in the
doorway. "Mrs. Hayes says I can take one home if you say
yes. Can I, Mama? Please?"

Beth's smile vanished and her pale brow furrowed. "Jacob,
we've been over this a hundred times. You can't bring home 
one of those puppies; your sister's allergic! Havin' a dog 
in the house would make Rachel sick, you know that."

Jacob looked away, his mouth drawn in a thin line. "How
about if Rachel doesn't come back? Can I have a puppy then?"

His mother jerked as if struck, face twisting. "Jacob! How
can you even..." She sucked in a long, slow breath. "Rachel
*will* be back. Now go play."

Jacob's eyes narrowed, and he stole a quick look at Mulder
before disappearing through the doorway. Beth forced a
shaky laugh and scrubbed at her eyes with the back of one

"Kids! Hard to figure sometimes. I'm not sure why I kept him
home from school today. Guess it was more for me, than the
boy." She looked back and forth between the agents.
"Coffee? It's no trouble, really."

Five minutes and a pot of coffee later, Beth had visibly
calmed. Mulder set his cup down and leaned back, one arm
stretched along the back of the couch behind Scully.

"Mrs. M... I mean, Beth. Could you tell us about the time
Rachel wandered off and became lost in the woods?"

Beth frowned. "I don't see what use it could be, Agent
Mulder, but I will. Rachel was only two at the time, and
Jacob seven. Jacob was playin' in his room and Rachel was
watchin' TV -- Barney, I think -- so I went to take a quick
shower. When I came out to check on them -- couldn't have been
more than ten minutes -- Jacob was still in his room but 
Rachel was gone. I didn't worry at first. Rachel loved to 
play hide 'n seek, and the house was childproofed. Then I saw
the back door was open and I panicked. A grown man can get
lost in those woods, and she was just a baby." Her voice,
which had become progressively rougher, broke, and she
sipped some coffee. "It took a search party nearly three hours
to find her. Thank Jesus it wasn't a very cold day or she
might have froze."

"Guess things weren't as childproofed as you thought,"
Mulder remarked very gently.

Beth shook her head vehemently, eyes bright. "That's the
strangest part, Agent Mulder. I had one of those plastic
rings on the doorknob that's supposed to keep little ones
from openin' the door. Somehow she did it anyway."

Mulder nodded, glancing over at his partner, but Scully
kept her eyes studiously fixed on Mrs. Marcussen.

"My nephew is like that," she told Beth. "Into absolutely
everything! My brother and sister-in-law can hardly keep up
with him."

A feeble smile tugged at the corners of Beth's mouth.
"That's the odd thing. Rachel had never been that kind of
child; she was always good as gold. Jacob, now, he was
always tryin' to open cupboards and takin' things apart.
Sam used to call him Taz, 'cause he said Jacob reminded him
of the Tasmanian Devil."

A flicker of movement just over Beth's shoulder caught
Mulder's eye, and he stared at the open doorway while Beth
continued to expound on the challenges involved in raising
an exceptionally bright child. Convinced he'd been
mistaken, Mulder returned his attention to the interview.

"Dr. Blake mentioned that Rachel has quite an extensive
medical file," Scully was saying.

Beth winced. "Poor child is terribly clumsy. 'Course, I
can't say I'm particularly coordinated myself, always
seemed to have two left feet. Rachel's always takin' a
tumble down the stairs or fallin' off the jungle gym. Sam
says she ought to own stock in the Band-Aid company."

"Jacob and Rachel are pretty close?" Mulder watched Beth's
face intently, one thumb rubbing the back of his hand.

Beth shrugged. "Close as any, I guess. They fight, of
course, and Rachel complains that Jacob's bossy. I don't
leave them alone often, mostly 'cause Rachel doesn't like
it. She says she's afraid there'll be a fire or a robber'll
come and Jacob won't be able to protect her." Her lips
curved, but her eyes showed only sorrow. "Like I said,
Rachel scares easy."

She stood and gathered their cups onto the tray. Mulder
reached out to help, but succeeded in spilling the dregs
from his cup onto his tie.

"Here." Beth handed him a paper napkin to blot the dark
liquid, and gestured down the hallway. "There's a bathroom
right across from Jacob's room if you'd like to rinse that

"Thanks, I'll do that."

The shadowed hallway contrasted sharply with the
brilliance of the sunny living room. Mulder made a
perfunctory stop in the bathroom to splash water on his
tie, then paused outside Jacob's room, head cocked. Scully
and Beth's voices, reduced by distance to abstract
murmuring, gave him the reassurance he sought. He carefully
turned the brass knob and pushed, freezing in place with a
grimace when the wood creaked a protest. When the
conversation in the other room proceeded without a break,
he cautiously stepped inside.

An odd conglomeration, he mused, fingering a carefully
constructed replica of Apollo 8 perched beside a deck of
Pokemon cards. Books explaining the physics behind
launching the space shuttle occupied the same shelf as an
impressive collection of comics. A chart of the solar
system stretched across the ceiling above Jacob's bed, but
a poster of Michael Jordan covered one wall. From the looks
of things, the boy had already gone through a dinosaur
phase -- a model tyrannosaurus stood atop textbooks about
paleontology, and a plastic bin of assorted Jurassic Park
figures lay nearby.

More than a child, not an adult -- Mulder gnawed on his
lip and tried not to remember. He wondered if Jacob had
learned to stop asking questions, to keep silent during
class discussions. Egghead. Brainiac. Know it all. Kids
don't like a classmate who has all the answers, and
teachers quickly become uncomfortable when asked questions
they can't answer. Only discovering how to blend in with
the crowd, and later his athletic prowess, had spared him
from winding up an outcast.

But not before a few hard lessons.

Mulder sighed and ran his fingers through his hair,
turning slowly. What had he expected to find? A list of
ways to get rid of your sister? A written confession? He
fiddled with Jacob's computer, clicking on several files
that turned out to be saved games of Myst and Doom. A stack
of pencil drawings on the corner of the desk captured his
interest, and he flipped through them.

A creature that looked like a yellow and brown striped
squirrel. Obi Wan and Darth Maul dueling with light sabers.
Six puppies chasing a ball. Mulder flipped to the final
picture and stilled, eyes narrowed.

A spaceship, hovering over the ground. A little girl
surrounded by a beam of light and suspended in midair,
screaming. A boy hiding behind a tree, watching. Smiling.

Mulder stared at the drawing for a long moment, then
replaced it. He turned toward the door, mindful that Scully
and Beth would soon miss him, when something under Jacob's
mattress caught his eye. He crossed the room and dropped to
his knees, leaning in for a closer look.

Paper, glossy and colorful. He slid one hand between
mattress and box spring and lifted, pulling out a small
stack of magazines. And gaped.

"Alien Encounter." "Sightings." "UFOs -- The Untold Story."

Pulp magazines filled with
lurid tales of flying saucers
and alleged irrefutable proof 
of extraterrestrial life. Mulder, 
noticing certain pages had 
been dog-eared, turned to the 
marked spot. A chill raced up 
and down his spine, and he 
quickly checked the next 
marked page. And the next. 
He examined each magazine, 
his throat tightening and a 
headache hammering just 
behind his eyes.

Abduction experiences.

Jacob Marcussen had his own little reference library
hidden beneath his mattress.

A soft rasp, like the whisper of sneakers on carpet,
snapped Mulder's head up from the magazines. He scrambled
to his feet and strode to the door, cautiously poking his
head out. The hallway was vacant, and he could still hear
Scully and Beth in the living room. He rested his head
against the doorjamb and blew out a long breath of air
before realizing he still held the magazines in his hands.
After only a slight hesitation, Mulder lifted the back of
his jacket and stuffed them under his belt at the small of
his back. He smoothed the wrinkles from his jacket and the
frown from his face before rejoining the two women.

"There you are." Beth squinted at his soiled tie. "Doesn't
look like the water helped much, Agent Mulder."

Mulder put on a smile. "That's why I have a good dry
cleaners." He looked at Scully and tipped his head almost
imperceptibly toward the door. Interpreting the gesture
correctly, she rose and offered Beth her hand.

"Thank you for your time, Beth."

"No trouble, Agent Scully. Talkin' to y'all makes me feel
like I'm doin' *somethin'* to help find my little girl."
Her voice quivered but her shoulders remained squared, her
gaze determined.

Mulder ushered Scully through the door but paused before
following. "Beth, would you mind giving me the names of the
children's teachers?"

A thin line appeared between her eyebrows. "Agent Mulder,
you sure do ask some of the strangest questions. Rachel is
in Irene Pollard's class and Jacob has Kathy Fergus."

Mulder smiled. "Thank you. We'll stay in touch."

Scully turned to him when they reached the car. "What was 
that all about?"

Mulder unlocked Scully's door before circling around to
the driver's side. "What?"

"The children's teachers? Mulder, please don't tell me you
plan on driving over to the school to talk to..." She
trailed off, lips quirking in amusement as Mulder slid
behind the wheel and began gyrating around on the seat as
he attempted to reach his hand down the back of his pants.
"Mulder, what in the hell are you doing? You're acting like
you've got ants in your pants."

"I'd ask you to do this for me, Scully, but we're on
duty," he replied, managing a respectable leer that turned
to a look of triumph when he produced the magazines.

Scully stared at them, lips parted. "Mulder! Did you take
those from the Marcussens?"

"Look at them, Scully. They were in Jacob's room."

Her incredulity twisted into a scowl. "You spilled that
coffee on purpose, didn't you? You did it so you could
snoop through that little boy's room."

Mulder clenched his teeth. "*Look* at them, Scully."

She pressed her lips tightly together and snatched them
from his hands. After studying each cover and flipping
quickly through the pages, she lifted her eyes and pinned
him with an icy glare.

"All right, I looked. And I can't say I see anything to
justify removing private property."

"Scully, those magazines outline countless abduction
experiences in vivid detail. And he's got them marked
like... like research material!"

She rolled her eyes. "Mulder, are you suggesting that
Jacob is deliberately lying about what happened to Rachel?"

"He clearly has an extensive knowledge of abduction
scenarios, Scully, and his testimony combines all the
classic elements."

"Mulder, Jacob is obsessed with space, something you
should certainly be able to understand. He experienced a
severe trauma and his 11-year-old mind couldn't cope. So he
subconsciously created a fantasy. It's hardly surprising
that fantasy would include aliens and spaceships."

"They were hidden under his mattress, Scully," Mulder said
tightly. "It was pure luck that I found them."

Scully snorted, opening one of the magazines to a garish
illustration of a man pinned to a table by a laser beam
while bug-eyed aliens looked on. "Probably for the same
reason I used to hide my MAD magazines, Mulder. My mom
would've tossed them in the garbage if she'd ever found
them." She thrust the magazines back into his lap.

Mulder slammed his fist against the steering wheel. "Damn
it, Scully, why can't you see it? Rachel's injuries,
getting lost in the woods... She got out a childproofed
door because *she* didn't open it -- Jacob did! Yesterday
he as much as tells me she won't be coming back, and today
he's asking for a puppy! And to top it all off, he's gotten
all the details of his story from these magazines. Can't
you at least admit the possibility that he's responsible
for Rachel's disappearance?"

Scully shook her head, her expression bewildered rather
than angry. "Mulder, you were once exactly where Jacob is
now. How can you accuse another child of something so
brutal, so...so calculating?"

Mulder dropped his head onto the seatback and closed his
eyes. "Scully, when I was with Violent Crimes we
investigated the murder of a 4-year-old boy. He disappeared
while at the mall with his mother; she turned her back for
only a moment, and he was gone. We found his body the next
day in a dumpster near some railroad tracks, barely
recognizable. He'd been beaten with a baseball bat, burned
with cigarettes -- his skull had been smashed with a large

He let his head loll toward her and opened bleak eyes. "We
eventually caught the murderers, thanks to an eyewitness
who saw them leading the child away from the mall. It was
two 12-year-old boys, Scully. They had this idea, see, of
how to spice up their summer. Strangling puppies and
setting cats on fire gets boring after a while." He
swallowed thickly. "I was in the room when they confessed.
Neither one ever shed a tear."

Scully's hand crept across the seat, her fingers soft and
warm on the back of his hand. "I'm sorry, Mulder. Sorry you
had to experience that kind of horror, and sorry it will
always be a part of you. I just don't..."

"Just trust me on this, okay, Scully? Let's talk to
Jacob's teacher, find out what kind of kid he is when he's
not with Mom and Dad."

She looked into his eyes for a long moment before nodding.
"All right, Mulder. But I still think you're on the wrong

Mulder gave her hand a brief squeeze before reaching up to
turn the ignition. "I never thought I'd say this, Scully.
But this time, I hope you're right."



10:56 a.m. Gauley Bridge Elementary school

The monotonous drone of children's voices sing-songing the
well-known chant of a jumping rope rhyme drifted through
the air. Mid morning sun combined with black asphalt to
create an eerie shimmer as the heat rose from its dark
surface.  The peculiar yet familiar stench of stale orange
peel, old sandwich crusts, and dried up apple cores filled
the air, reminding Scully of her own days spent in
schoolyard playgrounds.

"Can you smell that, Mulder?  There's something about the
smell of a schoolyard that remains constant throughout time
and space." Scully closed her eyes and sniffed the air.

"Yeah, makes me think that someone forgot to take out the
trash." Mulder broke his stride only long enough to answer
her before continuing towards the large glass doors of the
school building.

Various forms of climbing equipment -- some new and
brightly colored, others worn, shabby, and giving the
impression they had seen better days -- dotted a grassy
play area to the left of the concrete path.  Scully's steps
faltered as she slowed to watch a gaggle of rosy-cheeked
children swinging, sliding, and playing tag while their
teacher looked on with a tolerant smile. A little girl with
a cap of strawberry blonde hair raced past, squealing in
delight as she evaded the outstretched hand of a little boy
hot on her heels.

*Emily would be that age now.*

Scully forced her feet to move and the soft voice to the
corner of her mind where she relegated thoughts too painful
to explore.

A small hill, covered in green, leafy trees stood out as a
picturesque backdrop to the modern red brick building. 
This school bore a close resemblance to one that she had
attended. Despite the regular moves imposed on her family
by the Navy, she had enjoyed her education.  She achieved
academic success and made friends easily, some of whom she
still managed to keep in contact with these days -- albeit
only a quick phone call or email to wish them a happy
birthday or to congratulate them on the arrival of a new

She wondered about Mulder.  It was no secret that his life
after Samantha's disappearance had been a turbulent time
full of sadness.  On those rare occasions when he opened up
to her, his comments about his childhood were usually vague
and filled with bitterness.  She knew it hadn't been easy
for him.

Is that what the future held for Jacob?  Was his fate to
be the same as her partner's, isolated and under constant
suspicion of murdering his own sister?  Scully shuddered,
the anger she had managed to suppress surging to the
forefront once again. How could Mulder suspect a little boy
of something so evil?  He of all people should understand
what Jacob was going through.

"You coming, Scully?" Mulder propped open the heavy glass
door with his hip, gesturing for Scully to precede him.

Scully marched past with a perfunctory "thank you" as she
slid into the cool foyer.  Although her head told her it
was unreasonable, she couldn't help feeling a little
annoyed that Mulder persisted with the theory that Jacob
was to blame for what happened to Rachel. She sensed Mulder
sending her questioning looks as they presented badges to
the secretary and introduced themselves to the principal,
but ignored him.

"I don't know that there's too much more to tell; we
already spoke with Sheriff Sullivan a day or so back,"
Principal Jackson said, fiddling with first a pencil holder
and then a paperweight. Short and slight of build, he
looked lost behind the huge pine desk. "And I have to say,
I'm not real keen about disrupting Irene's class again. The
students have been upset enough about this whole business." He
leaned forward, the chair creaking its irritation as he
repositioned himself.

"I'm sorry, sir. I think you've got the wrong idea.  We'd
like to speak with *Jacob's* teacher..." Mulder flicked
through his notebook, stabbing his finger at a page. "That
would be... Kathy Fergus?"  He raised his brow.

"Jacob's teacher?  Has something happened to the boy?"  A
flicker of panic crossed Jackson's features.

Mulder shifted in his chair, feeling Scully's look of
disapproval but choosing to ignore it.

"No, no, this is just routine. We're talking to everyone
who had contact with the family in the days prior to
Rachel's disappearance. We're just piecing together the
events leading up to that night."

"Well, as I told you, I don't know that I want to 
disrupt the children. It doesn't matter to them that Rachel
wasn't in their class. This is a small town, sir, and we're
all feeling her loss." Stubbornness ironed out the man's
earlier expression of alarm.

Mulder opened his mouth to reply, hesitating when he felt
the warmth of Scully's hand brush his.

"Mr. Jackson, I understand that this is hard on everybody.
When a child goes missing, it affects the whole community. 
We'll be as quick as we can, but it is important that we
speak with Jacob's teacher. We want to do everything in our
power to bring Rachel home."  Scully pulled her mouth into
a reassuring smile, widening it when the principal nodded
his agreement.

"You can wait in the staff lounge; it's just along the
corridor a ways. We have a coffee machine in there; feel
free to help yourselves.  I'll go get Miss Fergus and bring 
her to you."

"Thank you, sir."

Mulder unfolded himself from the chair and stood, pausing.
"Mr. Jackson, how would you describe Jacob Marcussen?"

"Young Jacob?  I wish I had a whole school of him.  You
know, he's never been sent to me for disciplinary
reasons. He's an extremely bright boy."  Jackson paused,
swiping his hand along his jawline. He shook his head and
snorted. "It's the strangest thing, him coming up with this
fanciful tale of spaceships stealin' his sister. Jacob's
not one to be taken with flights of fancy. He likes to stick
to the facts, always quotin' statistics on this or that.
Can't imagine what's gotten into him."

Scully resisted the urge to remind the man that Jacob had
experienced a severe trauma -- obviously this tragedy was
clouding more than just Mulder's judgement.


"Miss Fergus, thank you for agreeing to speak with us. I'm
sorry to pull you away from your class, but I'm sure you
understand how important this is."  Mulder kept his voice
low and soothing.

"I'm happy to talk to you, Agent Mulder, but I'm not sure
exactly how I can be of help."  Kathy Fergus, gray hair and
wire-rimmed glasses enhancing her grandmotherly appearance,
seated herself comfortably in the chair opposite the agents.

"I'd like to ask you a few questions about Jacob.  I'm
sure you've heard about his rather unusual testimony
regarding Rachel's disappearance.  Our main concern now is
to get Jacob to remember *exactly* what happened.  It would
help us a lot if you could give us some insight into the
type of kid he is."

Scully sat back in her chair, content to let Mulder set the
tone of the interview. Whether due to his talent at
profiling or his innate sense of empathy, her partner
possessed a knack for setting people at ease -- a crucial
component in gleaning information. As she watched him
question the teacher, probing carefully for some clue that
would point to the little girl's whereabouts, Scully felt
her anger recede. If anyone could find Rachel, it was

"Oh, Jacob is a wonderful kid; don't let anybody tell you
any different.  He's one of the best students I've ever had
the pleasure of teaching.  Sometimes he frightens me..."

"Frightens you?  How?"  Mulder interrupted, leaning
forward in his chair, arms folded casually in front of him
on the smooth formica tabletop, posture relaxed and non-
threatening.  A tiny gleam in his eye was the only hint
Miss Fergus' statement piqued his interest.

"Oh... maybe 'frighten' is the wrong word.  The things the
boy comes out with! I guess you'd say he amazes me. I worry
sometimes that he'll get bored with what I'm teaching. It
would be a terrible shame to see his intelligence wasted
because he's not being stimulated enough in the classroom. 
But you know, he's never shown any sign of boredom. He's 
always been able to amuse himself, reading books or drawing 
pictures. Like I said, he's no trouble at all."  She shook 
her head, a wry smile brightening her face.

"Some of those books he reads... If it were me, I'd need a
scientist to decipher what's written in them!  Not Jacob,
though, he understands everything he's reading, and what he
doesn't, he finds out by researchin' on the Internet."

Scully watched in mild amusement as her partner slumped
back in his chair, the scent lost.

"What type of books does he read?"  Mulder asked casually.

"It varies. Right now they're all about space; he's
fascinated by it. I'm sure he could recall every detail and
statistic on the shuttle launches, dating back to the very
first one, if someone were to ask him.  Told me once he
wants to be an astronaut when he grows up. It wouldn't
surprise me a bit if we see him commandin' his own mission
to Mars one day."  She gave a soft chuckle but her
expression told Scully she believed her own words.

"How does he get along with his peers?"  Mulder played
with his bottom lip, stroking his index finger from side to
side as he formulated his questions and processed Miss
Fergus' responses.

"Well now, that's got me a tad confused.  He doesn't mix
so well with the other kids. I can't quite put my finger on
it, but if I had to pin it down to any one particular
reason I'd say it's because half the time what comes out of
the boy's mouth is more like what you'd expect from an
adult.   The other kids tend to keep their distance, almost
as if they're scared of him."

Kathy shook her head as if bringing herself to her senses,
looking first at Mulder, then at Scully before continuing
with a half smile. "Of course that's ridiculous.  He's about
as gentle as they come. I've never seen him hurt anyone...
well..." Her voice trailed off, and she squinted her eyes
as if she couldn't quite believe her own memories.

"What is it, Miss Fergus?"  Mulder prompted as he shifted
his body forward again.

"Well, there was this one time -- I wasn't his teacher
then so this is more hearsay than anything else..."  She
drifted off, chewing her bottom lip.

"What happened, Kathy?"  Mulder's body language caught
Scully's attention.  His voice adopted a silky cadence,
gently prompting without pushing.  He'd brought his arms
back to rest on the table, leaning in slightly but staying
out of the teacher's personal space. Scully knew that look 
-- he was onto something.

Kathy squared her shoulders and released her lip. "Every
year, just before the end of school we put on a play. This
isn't a big school so we try and involve most of the
children. There's always plenty to do -- making costumes,
collecting props, singing in the chorus. It's a pretty big
deal.  We perform at the local community hall so that we can
fit everyone in; practically the whole town turns out to
see it. There's some fine little actors in the school so we
hold auditions for the main characters.  Last year, Jacob
and another boy tried out for the lead role.  They were
both very good. Luke..."

Mulder stole a quick glance in Scully's direction.  She
met his gaze for a few brief seconds, her face studiously

"Luke?  Would that be Luke Miller?"

"Yes, yes, it would.  Luke doesn't do so well in school,
struggles with his work, not so good at sports -- though he
tries real hard at both.  Jacob, on the other hand, excels
at just about everything he attempts.  We thought it would
be good for Luke if he got the lead role, so that's what
decided us in the end.  Jacob got the role of understudy."

"How did Jacob react to that?"

Scully shifted quietly in her chair, the soft fabric of
her skirt rustling gently against the vinyl covering.  She
anticipated where Mulder was going with this, her unease
with the line of questioning growing with each passing

"He was disappointed, of course, but he seemed fine with
it. Or so we thought.  Two or three days before the play,
Luke fell off his bike -- suffered a bad concussion and
broke his leg.  He spent the next week in the hospital.
Rumors started circulatin' that Jacob was somehow
responsible.  Of course, there was no truth to those
accusations, nothing to indicate that Luke's mishap was
anything more than an unfortunate accident. You know how
people can be sometimes, and kids are no different than
adults when it comes to success.  It was easy for them to
blame Jacob -- a little jealousy can go a long way in
fueling cruel rumors.  He's a good boy, Agent Mulder, Agent
Scully, and I hope I won't regret tellin' you that story." 
A look of guarded wariness passed across her face.

"We only want to help Jacob, Miss Fergus; he's going through
a very difficult time.  Our priority is to find his
sister, and at this point we haven't a lot to go on.  Jacob
may hold the key to what really happened that night."
Mulder gathered the notes he'd been collecting, folded them
into a neat rectangle, and slipped the small bundle inside
his coat pocket.

Scully caught the quick flick of his eyes in her
direction, signaling the interview was over.

"We've taken up enough of your time. Thank you for
answering our questions so candidly; you've been very
helpful." Pulling a business card from her pocket, she
handed it to the teacher. "Please, if you think of anything
else, you can reach Agent Mulder or myself at those

"Thank you. I'd better be getting back to my class.  I wish
you luck in finding Rachel.  It's a hard thing to see a
tragedy like this happen to decent folk like the
Marcussens."  Kathy Fergus offered a sad smile before
heading back to her classroom.


"Mulder!  Slow down."  There were times in her life when
Scully rued the day fate had decided that her height would
never exceed five foot, one.  Now was definitely one of
those times. She fought to match her partner's long stride
while he strode single-mindedly toward their rented Taurus.

"I want to get back to the Marcussens, Scully."  His pace

"Mulder, stop!"

Something in the tone of her voice managed to penetrate
Mulder's hyperactive thought processes.  He stopped walking
and turned around to face Scully, annoyance and confusion
battling for supremacy.

"We've just come from the Marcussens, Mulder.  Why do you
want to go back there?"

"I'm more convinced than ever that Jacob is responsible
for Rachel's disappearance.  You heard his teacher! The
other kids are scared of him; he had no compunction about
making sure Luke Miller didn't star in the school play...
Scully, he...he exhibits all the classic signs of..."

"Don't even go there, Mulder!  Jacob Marcussen is just as
much a victim in this whole tragedy as Rachel.  His teacher
qualified everything she said.  At no time did she give me
the impression that Jacob was this... this *evil* child
that you are making him out to be.  I really don't
understand what has gotten into you, Mulder. This is an 11-
year-old boy."  She felt like screaming.  What was wrong
with him?

Mulder dragged his hand through his hair, massaging his
forehead in a vain attempt to push back the headache that
had been steadily building since his illicit search and
seizure in Jacob's room. He drew a long, weary breath
before answering.

"Scully, I need you to trust me on this.  I know the
evidence so far is circumstantial, but I can *feel* it. 
Something is not right. Something about Jacob.  I want to
speak with the Marcussens about allowing an independent
psychologist to assess him. If the doctor says there is
nothing wrong, then what have we lost? There's a little
girl missing, Scully. Do you *really* believe she was
abducted by aliens?"

A silent stand-off, hazel eyes pleading with stubborn blue.

*Did* she believe Rachel was taken by aliens?  If she'd
been asked that question two years ago she might have been
able to answer a decisive "no".  Now?  She wasn't so sure. 
A year ago she'd witnessed something that had threatened to 
destroy her belief in God, to crumble the very foundation of 
her faith.  Now she could no longer deny the possibility of 
extraterrestrial life.

But beyond that, she refused to see evil in this child. 
To acknowledge that possibility threatened her basic belief
in the good of humanity more than the Consortium or a
secret government conspiracy. Rachel might be lost,
kidnapped -- Scully's mind could comfortably accept such
conclusions. But murdered by her own brother? That was a
path she couldn't tread. Not even with Mulder at her side.

"I don't know what I believe, Mulder.  But I do know that
I don't see what you see in that child.  What are you going
to say to the Marcussens, 'Excuse me, Beth, Sam, but I
believe your son murdered your daughter. Mind if I have him
evaluated by a psychologist?'  Do you seriously think
they'll agree to that?" Her fists curled into tight balls
as her voice rose.

"Scully, I would hope you'd credit me with a little more
sensitivity than that."  Mulder's voice broke from his lips
in a soft whisper. The sadness and regret she heard sent
her heart plummeting until it landed like an icy lump in
the pit of her stomach.

Scully drew in a deep breath.  "I'm sorry, Mulder, that
was uncalled for."  She gathered up his hand in both of
hers, caressing her thumb in smooth circles along the back
of his knuckles.

"I don't want this family to suffer any more than you do,
Scully.  I just want to find Rachel.  If a psychological
evaluation of Jacob will help achieve that, then that's
what I've got to do. I'm going to broach this with the
Marcussens under the guise of Jacob needing help to cope
with what's happened.  As you say, Scully, he is a little
boy. Maybe speaking with someone will be enough to help him
remember or confess what really did happen."

Scully's eyebrows knitted together as she struggled to
come up with a compromise. "Okay, Mulder, but I'm willing
to support you only so far. The Marcussens may not agree
with your suggestion, regardless of how you dress it up."

"I know that, but for Rachel's sake I've got to try."

She sighed, feeling unaccountably weary. "Could we at
least get some lunch first? That bagel was a long time ago."

Mulder shuffled his feet fretfully, then offered a weak
smile. Truce.

"You've got it, partner. But it's my turn to choose."

He ignored her soft groan.

1:22 p.m. 
Marcussen Residence

"You know, I don't see my own mama nearly as often as I see
the two of you these days." A wry twist of the lips
tempered the note of exasperation in Beth Marcussen's voice
as she pushed open the screen door.

Mulder hesitated. "If this is a bad time we could come

"Don't be silly!" Beth huffed, motioning them forward. "Go
on in and make yourself at home -- you know the way by now."

Mulder cast a quick look around him before taking a seat
on the couch. "Where's Jacob?"

Beth shrugged, brushing back a wisp of blonde hair that
escaped her ponytail. "Out back somewhere, I expect,
playin'. Did you need to talk to him?"

"No. In fact, it would be for the best if he wasn't a part
of this conversation." Mulder observed her brow furrow and
rushed on to explain. "Beth, how would you say Jacob has
been dealing with Rachel's disappearance?"

"What do you mean?"

"Has his behavior changed? Any nightmares, bouts of
crying, angry outbursts?"

Beth's frown deepened. "Well, he's been quieter than usual,
I suppose. When he does talk, he doesn't want to discuss
Rachel, or even hear us speak her name. At times it feels
as if he'd like to forget he ever had a sister, though I
tell myself it's just his way of grievin'. I wouldn't say
he's been angry, though he did put up quite a sulk at
lunchtime when I told him I don't want to hear any more
about a puppy."

Mulder nodded, his bottom lip tucked between his teeth.
"He's been sleeping all right?"

"Like a baby." She glanced away, blinking rapidly. "I
should know, since I haven't been sleepin' too well
myself." Her eyes darted back to scrutinize first Scully's
face, and then Mulder's. "Why? Is something wrong?"

"Jacob's been through an extremely traumatic experience,
Beth," Scully said gently. "We're just concerned that he
may need help processing it."

"Help? We've been doing the very best we can, Agent Scully,
but if the boy doesn't want to talk..."

"We mean professional help, Beth." Mulder took a deep
breath. "I think it would be a good thing for Jacob to talk
to someone about Rachel's disappearance. The local Bureau
has a doctor on staff who specializes in helping kids cope
with trauma."

Beth's mouth sagged open, her already large sapphire eyes
becoming impossibly wider as she pressed fingers to her
trembling lips. "A psychiatrist? What exactly are you
trying to say, Agent Mulder? Are you telling me you think
Jacob is crazy, that all this talk of aliens is..."

"NO! That's not what we're saying at all." Scully's voice,
pitched low and smooth as honey, contrasted sharply with
the dagger gaze she tossed Mulder. "We just feel that Jacob
might benefit from the opportunity to talk with someone who
can help him understand the conflicting feelings and
emotions evoked by Rachel's disappearance."

"Jacob's a good boy, a smart boy. Fact is he's head and
shoulders above the rest of the kids around here." Beth's
voice was high, pleading, and her hands fluttered over the
hem of her denim shirt, plucking at loose threads. "We've
had enough sufferin' in this family, can't you see that?
Jacob's gonna be just fine, there's no cause to think 
history would repeat itself. None at all."

Mulder squinted and leaned forward, his mind trying to
make sense of her rambling as he attempted to reassure her.
"Beth, believe me, we..."

"Where are my manners? I haven't even offered y'all some
coffee," Beth interrupted, springing to her feet.

"That's not necessary, really; we just had lunch and..."

"Please, Agent Mulder!"

The edge of panic in his name silenced Mulder, and he bit
back further protest. Beth pulled in a long, quivering
breath and marshaled a weak smile.

"I need to get us all some coffee. Just sit tight and give
me a minute."

Scully waited until the sound of cupboard doors and
running water drifted from the kitchen before rounding on

"This is wrong, Mulder. I know I agreed to back you up,
but you're pushing too hard. The poor woman is grief-
stricken, nearly out of her mind with worry over her
daughter, and you're adding to that burden."

"Scully, no one empathizes with what she's going through
more than I. But I meant it when I told Sheriff Sullivan I
wouldn't allow any barriers to prevent me from learning the
truth about what happened to Rachel. That includes her
parents' personal feelings -- and my own."

Mulder paused and cocked his head. From the kitchen,
Jacob's voice now ran in counterpoint to his mother's,
barely audible above the chink of fine china. When he
resumed speaking, he barely broke a whisper.

"Rachel Marcussen was not abducted by aliens, Scully. And
I believe Jacob knows the truth of what really happened."

"And if you're wrong?" Scully hissed. "How many years did
you spend blaming yourself for your sister's disappearance,
Mulder, thanks to misplaced guilt and blame? Is that what
you want for Jacob should your unsubstantiated suspicions
prove false? You've as much as admitted this case hits too
close to home. Can you be sure this 'instinct' of yours
isn't simply a means of distancing yourself?"

The anger passed across his face like a swiftly moving
thundercloud, replaced almost immediately by an expression
she couldn't name. "I'm not the only one who brings baggage
to this case, Scully."

Her eyes narrowed. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Mulder's eyes cut to the television set, and he stared at
the blank screen. "I saw you at the school today. I know
being around children reminds you of what They've taken
from you. I can read the pain in your eyes."

Scully's body turned rigid, even the milky skin on her
face stretched too tightly across her cheekbones. "My
inability to have children has no bearing on this case,
Mulder. I can retain my objectivity. I can do my job."

Anger, seasoned with resentment, pounded a drumbeat behind
his eyes but he adopted a nearly blank expression. "But I
can't, is that it? The cool and enigmatic Dr. Scully would
never allow emotion to dictate her actions, but Spooky, the
FBI's resident basket case falls all to pieces anytime a
case hits a little too close to home?"

"Mulder, that's not what I meant. I..."

"Here we are." Beth glided back into the room with the
familiar tray holding the coffee pot, cream, and sugar. 
She placed it on the table and motioned to Jacob, 
who was hovering in the doorway. "I thought maybe you 
should explain to Jacob about this doctor, Agent Mulder, 
since it concerns him."

Mulder's smile was forced, and never reached his eyes.
"I'd be happy to," he replied, his voice telling Scully he
was anything but. "Have a seat, Jacob."

Mulder sweetened his coffee as Jacob wandered over to 
sit at his mother's feet. The boy's dark, intent gaze 
followed his every move, making him feel inexplicably 
measured and found wanting. Scully's encouraging smile 
and soft greeting only exacerbated the sensation.

"How's that model you were working on, Jacob? Did you
finish it yet?"

Jacob turned to her, the appraising look gone and a shy
grin in its place. "Not just yet. Almost, though. Would you 
like to see it?"

"I'd like that very much, but not right now. Maybe later,
after we talk, okay?"


A dull ache radiated through Mulder's jaw, and he abruptly
realized he was clamping his teeth tightly together. Jacob
favored Scully with one more winning smile before turning
his attention back to Mulder with a lingering curve to his

"What did you want to talk to me about, Agent Mulder?"

Mulder paused to take a long draught of his coffee,
struggling against irritation and the feeling he was deftly
being had by an 11-year-old boy.

"Jacob, we'd like you to talk to someone -- a special
doctor who helps kids like you who have been through a
rough time."

Jacob's face was wide open, guileless. "I already saw Dr.
Blake and he said I'm fine."

Mulder caught himself gritting his teeth, forced them
apart. "I'm sure Dr. Blake is a good doctor. But we're
talking about a different kind of doctor who you can talk
to about what you're feeling. I'm sure you must be pretty
sad about Rachel, must be missing her quite a bit."

Jacob ducked his head and his reply was very quiet. "I
don't want to talk about that now, Agent Mulder. But when I
do, I'd rather talk to mama or daddy about it, and not some
stranger." He tilted his head up toward Beth. "Can I go
now, Mama? Please?"

Beth stroked her fingers through his hair and nodded. When
he was safely out of earshot she squared her shoulders, her
face composed and resolute.

"I'll speak to Sam about what you said, Agent Mulder,
Agent Scully. But if Jacob doesn't see the need for talkin'
to this doctor, I'm not keen on the idea."

Before Mulder could open his mouth to argue, Scully stood.
"We understand, Beth. You know where to reach us if you
change your mind."

Out-manipulated and out-maneuvered, Mulder had little
choice but to follow his partner to the door. He lingered
on the threshold, loath to admit defeat.

"Beth, I really think..."

"I'll be sure to let you know, Agent Mulder." A firm voice
and an even firmer door ended the discussion.

3:32 p.m. 
New River Lodge

The drone of daytime TV seeped through the connecting door
as Scully's fingers tapped out an update to her field
report. Mulder had sulked the entire drive back from the
Marcussens', rebuffing all attempts at conversation with
single syllable grunts. He'd stomped into his room to watch
Jerry Springer or whatever the heck was playing during the
middle of the afternoon in a one-horse town. The fact that
he'd left the connecting door ajar was small consolation.

She shut her laptop with a sigh, chin propped on a fist,
and wished that her ears didn't automatically seek and
evaluate every subtle creak and scuffle from her partner's
room. The initial screech indicating that Mulder had flung
himself onto the queensize bed had given way to a nearly
continuous whisper of stocking feet. She pictured him
stalking about the tiny room, muttering balefully under his
breath and running his fingers through his hair. Well,
maybe he'd get it out of his system and they could talk
honestly, without poking sticks at each other's tender

Scully shook her head, chuckling softly as she recalled
all the times she'd resisted a romantic relationship with
Mulder, worried that such a change would adversely affect
the dynamics of their working partnership. She'd feared
such intimacy would soften the edge, mellow his cocky
assurance of all things paranormal, and loosen her
steadfast grip on science.

Fat chance.

A different sound captured her attention, pulling Scully
forcefully from her reverie. Several quick strides, a tug,
and she was in Mulder's room, never bothering to knock.
Oprah looked earnestly into the camera and warned against
the dangers of teenage alcohol poisoning, but Mulder was
nowhere in sight.


The sounds again, unmistakable now, and her head snapped
around to the bathroom. Scully skirted the bed and pushed
the wooden door all the way open.

Mulder sat slumped with legs splayed on the chipped tile,
forehead pressed to the cool porcelain of the toilet bowl
and hands clutching the rim in a white-knuckled grip. The
sour odor of vomit and his ashen face stole the breath from
her lungs.

"Mulder, what's going on?"

She tugged a thin, scratchy wash cloth from a towel bar,
doused it in cold water, and knelt to wipe his face. Mulder
shivered helplessly, his eyes glassy and unfocused.

"Don't know...sick...stomach cramps..."

"You going to be sick again?" Scully touched the back of
her hand to his forehead, frowning at the cool, clammy skin.

One corner of Mulder's mouth turned up, though the tremors
didn't abate. "Nothing left."

"Okay, come on. Let's get you into bed."

"Know how long... waited to hear that?" Mulder tried to
leer but a particularly painful abdominal cramp twisted it
out of shape and spoiled the effect.

Scully draped one of his arms around her neck and hauled
him to his feet, lending support as he shuffled to the bed
like an old man. He stood with both arms wrapped tightly
around his belly, shivering violently, while she yanked the
bedspread and blanket back with a quick flip of the wrist.
Scully eased him onto the sheets and piled the covers on
him, stroking damp hair back from his brow. "Told you that
chili dog looked toxic, Mulder. Looks like food poisoning."

"Arms feel like... asleep," he mumbled, teeth chattering.

Scully's hand stalled. "Asleep? You're experiencing

Mulder nodded, eyes sliding shut. "Tingly. Pins 'n needles."

She frowned, tendrils of apprehension creeping up and down
her spine. "That doesn't sound like botulism. Is it just
your arms?" When Mulder didn't respond, she dropped onto
the mattress beside him and gave his shoulder a brisk
shake. "Mulder! Mulder, answer me!"

Mulder batted wildly with one hand, never opening his eyes.
"Stop it... making th' waterbed shake," he slurred.

"Mulder, wake up!" Alarmed now, Scully seized his earlobe
between thumb and forefinger, delivering a vicious pinch.

A soft moan was her only response.

Something was desperately wrong, and it wasn't a bad chili

Heart hammering in her chest, Scully fumbled the phone from
the bedside table, frantically pressing 911, her voice 
trembling as badly as her fingers.

"This is Special Agent Dana Scully. I have an emergency, I
have an agent down."

To be concluded...


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