Your Past is Showing

Cover

TITLE: Your Past is Showing

INFO: Written for I Made This Productions Virtual Season 8

AUTHOR: Jo-Ann Lassiter

EMAIL ADDRESS: 70302.3654@compuserve.com

DISTRIBUTION STATEMENT: Post anywhere. Thanks.

SPOILER WARNING: Up to, but not including, “Requiem”

RATING: PG

CLASSIFICATION: S, A

KEY WORDS: M/S UST; Sk/M/Sc friendship

DISCLAIMER: This story is based on characters created by

Chris Carter and

Ten Thirteen Productions. Characters used without

permission. No

infringement intended.

THANKS: To Gerry, for her usual bang-up job of beta-ing.

SUMMARY: When Scully and Mulder travel to Newark, New

Jersey to assist A.D. Skinner with a case, Mulder discovers

that he and Skinner had previously been assigned to the

same case there ten years earlier. While Mulder’s

recollection of the case is somewhat hazy, Skinner’s is all

too clear.

Your Past is Showing

By Jo-Ann Lassiter

70302.3654@compuserve.com

Prologue

Newark, New Jersey

Thursday, May 16, 1991

“Set?”

“Set,” the voice came crackling over the headset.

“On three. One, two… go!”

Eight helmeted forms, covered neck to foot in bulky navy

blue, lumbered across the field of weeds and uncut grass

toward the ramshackle two-story house.

Two figures at opposite ends of the field dropped to their

right knees and took aim at the house. “Tear gas ready!”

they announced almost simultaneously.

The man in the lead nodded. “Do it.”

As the canisters were fired, the front door burst open.

One man with a semi-automatic machine pistol threw himself

out the door, hit the porch flat on his stomach, and opened

fire on the task force. His only cover was a battered

rocking chair, but it provided enough of a barrier for him

to pick off each member one by one. He screamed that they’d

never take him alive.

The man was right. By the time it was over, he was dead.

So was everyone else.

*****

X-Files Office

Thursday, February 15, 2001

8:30 a.m.

“Don’t get comfortable, Scully. You won’t be there too

long.” Mulder breezed through the door, a large manila

envelope in his hand.

The female agent frowned. “Oh, come on, Mulder. We’ve been

out of town all week.” She sighed as she lowered herself

into her chair. “All right. What’s up?”

Her partner walked over and sat on a corner of her desk.

“We’ve been asked to consult on a case.”

Scully looked thoughtful for a moment. “The Chairman of

the Board killings?”

Mulder stared at her, a bemused smile on his face. “Mind

telling me how you made that connection?”

She schooled her face into recitation mode. “Number One:

The persons in question were all presidents of

international corporations. Two, they all died of a lobar

intracerebral hemorrhage, which in itself wouldn’t have

been suspicious, until a second and then a third CEO died

of the same cause. And, three…” She met his eyes. “That’s

where Skinner is.”

Mulder’s face broke out in a grin. “How did you know he

was there?”

Picking up several sheets of paper from the corner of her

desk, she waved them in the air. “These expense reports. I

brought them up to him, and Kim said he’d gone up Monday.

The Newark SAC’s out with a respiratory infection, and they

wanted someone high profile to take charge of such a high

profile case.”

Mulder nodded, standing. “Well, we’d better get home and

pack. We’re booked on the eleven o’clock out of National.”

“This morning?” She groaned. Why couldn’t they just once

catch her before she drove all the way in to work?

” ‘Fraid so.” He moved to the coat rack, unhooking her

coat. Sighing, she walked over and let him help her into

it. “Meet you at the gate between 10 and 10:30?” he asked.

At her nod, he touched a hand lightly to her arm. “Can I

interest you in a bagel from Katz’s?”

She brightened at his offer; the best bagels on the planet

came from that little hole in the wall shop down the street

from Mulder’s apartment. “That’d be great, Mulder. Thanks.”

He slipped into his own coat. “My pleasure, partner.” When

he held the door open, she grabbed up her briefcase and

strode out ahead of him.

They walked to the garage in silence, parting at Mulder’s

car; he always got a prime spot, since he arrived at the

crack of dawn. Scully wasn’t too much further away, but she

still envied him those few less steps she might have saved

her aching feet at the end of a hard day.

She looked back when she reached her car and gave him a

wave. He waved back, then got in and pulled out. Scully was

behind him until the first corner, where he went straight,

and she turned right. Flicking on the radio for background,

she tried to remember what the weather was like in New

Jersey this time of year.

Newark Field Office Bullpen 1:05 p.m.

“Excuse me.”

Mulder decided that ninety seconds of standing in front of

a desk waiting to be acknowledged was ninety seconds too

much. The agent on the obviously personal phone call

glanced at him, threw an irritated glare his way, then

turned his back on him.

The D.C. agent blew out an exasperated breath; Scully came

into his line of sight, and he scowled at her. “Oh. You’re

back.”

He watched her eyes take in the man making goo-goo noises

over the phone; when her eyes met his he knew she was fully

aware of the score. “I couldn’t get anyone at Reception to

acknowledge me, either, Mulder. Let’s go find the A.D.

ourselves.”

The man’s eyes bugged, and Mulder was impressed at the

speed with which he blew off someone who, mere seconds ago,

had commanded his utmost attention. Yessiree bob, a little

name-dropping went a long way.

“You’re Fox Mulder,” the man declared, as if informing him

of a momentous occurrence.

Mulder’s eyes narrowed. “Yes, I am.” He held a hand out

toward Scully. “This is my partner, Dana Scully. We’d like

to see Assistant Director Skinner, please.”

The man nodded to them. “Special Agent Eric Stone,” he

introduced himself, pushing the chair back and standing.

Scooting out from behind the desk, Stone led them down a

corridor. “This way, please.” The agent stopped in front of

a door bearing the title, ‘Conference Room 3.’ Stone hooked

his thumb toward the door. “Skinner’s in there.”

Mulder blinked at the man’s sudden return to disrespect.

He sighed and nodded. “Thanks.”

Just as Mulder raised a hand to knock, Stone spoke. “Er…

Agent Mulder?”

Mulder lowered his hand. “Yeah?”

“You probably don’t remember me, but I was here in ’91

when you caught Henry Linderman.”

Mulder furrowed his brows in concentration, trying to

recall the time frame. “Ninety-one?”

Stone nodded. “May of ’91. It was amazing. You weren’t

even here two days when you wrote the profile that nailed

the guy.” Stone’s eyes hardened. “It’s too bad you didn’t

get here a couple of days sooner, before *he*…” Mulder

followed the man’s eyes to the closed door. “…got

everyone killed.”

Mulder looked up quickly. He had heard that the

investigation had not gone well, that there had been a

bloodbath right before his arrival. But he had not heard

that the blame had been placed on the previous SAC, and

he’d had no idea that that SAC had been Skinner.

Mulder smiled wanly. “Um…” What do you say to someone

who has just paid you a compliment, but at the expense of

another? “How’ve you been, Agent Stone?” he asked, lamely.

“Fine, thanks. At least until a few days ago.” Stone left

no doubt in Mulder’s mind as to what happened — or,

rather, who arrived — a few days ago.

Mulder felt uneasy with Stone’s obvious animosity toward

Skinner. He’d come to respect his boss, and was pretty

close to considering the A.D. a friend.

“Well, it was nice to meet you, Agent Stone,” Scully said,

“but we’d better report in.” She rapped sharply on the

door. Stone beat a quick retreat, and Mulder sighed

gratefully.

At the muffled, “Come in,” Scully turned the knob and

pushed open the door; Mulder followed his partner in.

“Scully, Mulder… come on in.” Mulder exchanged a look

with Scully; Skinner sounded almost excited to see them.

“Sit down, please.” He gestured them to the comfortable-

looking chairs in front of his desk. “Have a good flight?”

The agents’ eyes met once more. Skinner *never* indulged

in small talk. “Er… yes, sir,” Scully answered.

“Good; good,” Skinner said, nodding. “Find the motel all

right?”

Mulder’s eyes widened. What was going on here? “Actually,

no,” he answered. “We picked up our rental and came

straight here. Sir, are you all right?”

Skinner seemed surprised, then annoyed by the question.

“Fine, Agent Mulder.” The A.D. straightened his shoulders,

and any hint of anxiety fled. “Have you had time to

familiarize yourselves with the case?” he asked, all

business.

“Yes, sir,” Scully answered. “I understand you’re holding

the last victim for me?”

Skinner nodded. “Victor Ramsay. President of Anchortron

Development Corporation.”

Scully flipped through her notes. “Ramsay? I don’t — ”

She looked up quickly. “Another one? Six now?” At Skinner’s

clipped nod, she asked, “When?”

The A.D.’s voice was tight. “This morning.”

“Same as the others?” Mulder asked.

Skinner sighed, nodding.

“Do you have any suspects, sir?” Scully asked.

“Not really,” Skinner said, and Mulder could almost taste

the man’s frustration.

“So what have you got?” Mulder asked.

“Not a whole hell of a lot.” Skinner pushed his chair back

hard, then stalked out from behind the desk. Mulder and

Scully followed him to the far wall, where a street map and

several assignment boards were hanging. As the A.D.

outlined the various teams and their progress thus far,

Mulder couldn’t help but wonder at the lack of several key

elements.

“What about charitable organizations?” Mulder asked when

it appeared that Skinner was done. “Environmental issues?

Were the companies damaging the surrounding areas in any

way?”

Skinner grabbed a legal pad and handed it to his agent.

“Here. Make a list.”

Mulder looked at him, then the assignment boards drew his

attention. “You should already be on these, sir. Who’s your

profiler?”

The A.D. met his eyes. “You.”

Mulder stared at Skinner. “You’ve been working this case

without a profiler?”

“Might as well be,” Skinner huffed out, and Mulder’s jaw

dropped. He had never known Skinner to malign an agent in

front of other agents. Skinner sighed and scowled in what

could only be construed as distaste. “My profiler’s Roger

Neuberg.” Skinner looked pointedly at Mulder. “Explain

anything?”

To say that Mulder was appalled would be the granddaddy of

all understatements. Neuberg definitely had to have friends

in high places, because the man, to put it bluntly,

couldn’t tell his ass from his elbow.

“How the hell did this case draw Neuberg?”

Skinner laughed, but Mulder could tell it wasn’t from

amusement. “You’re going to love this.” Mulder glanced

Scully’s way and caught her confused eye; he nodded that

he’d fill her in later. “The widow of the third victim

requested him. Once it had been speculated that one person

was responsible for both killings, she used her influence

and asked that a friend of her husband’s be assigned the

case.”

Mulder shook his head. “So you’ve been stuck with Neuberg

all this time.”

The A.D. nodded. “He’s still the profiler of record. But I

want to solve this case, and the only way to do that is to

bring you and Scully in on it.” The A.D. met Scully’s eyes

and Mulder was amazed to see discomfiture in the man’s

eyes. “Thank you for coming here, Agents. You didn’t have

to, and I want you to know I appreciate it.”

“It’s no trouble, sir. We’re glad we could help.” Mulder

was pleased — and relieved — by Scully’s statement. He

hadn’t exactly posed the trip as a question.

“Where’s Neuberg now?” Mulder asked.

“Who the hell knows?” Skinner said in an ‘and-who-the-hell-

cares’ tone. “So long as he stays out of my way.” An

inkling of a smile touched Skinner’s mouth. “Don’t take

this the wrong way, Mulder, but he’s an even bigger pain in

the ass than you.”

Mulder laughed. “That’s kind of hard to believe, sir.”

Skinner rubbed his eyes. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s me.

Maybe it’s being in this office again.”

Mulder looked quickly at his partner, warning her *not* to

ask the obvious question. “Most of the same agents still

here?” Mulder asked quietly.

“Yeah.” Skinner sighed. “I don’t know why the hell they

sent *me* here.”

Mulder wouldn’t insult him by telling him that they sent

him because he was the best man for the job. Perhaps he

was. But Skinner knew exactly why it was he was sent into

such a potentially volatile situation. Presidents of

powerful corporations were being killed, men with friends

in the hierarchy of the Bureau. No, an ordinary A.D. would

not do for this case. The HQ A.D. would, however, do quite

nicely.

Even if it meant dropping him into the middle of a war zone.

***********

Newark Field Office

Conference Room 3

5:10 p.m.

Skinner stood up and stretched, feeling every one of his

forty-eight years. Glancing at his watch, he sighed. It was

almost time for the field teams to begin reporting in. He

supposed he should get set for another fun-filled evening

of “Kick the A.D..”

Christ, but he hated this office. The chairs were

uncomfortable, the “heat” was undetectable, and the

lighting gave him a headache. Then there was the tiny fact

that everyone in this office — with the possible exception

of the third-shift janitor — hated his guts.

Well, not anymore, he amended, as his gaze fell upon the

solitary agent hunched over at one end of the conference

table. As he rubbed his aching back, Skinner wondered if

Mulder was subject to the ravages of time; the agent had,

after all, been in the same position the last time Skinner

looked over, about two hours ago.

“Mulder?”

The agent immediately straightened and looked up, puzzled

for a moment; then Skinner saw him regain his bearings and

direct his gaze toward the A.D.. “Sir?”

“How’s it going? Want to take a break?”

Mulder closed his eyes tightly for a few seconds; when he

opened them he squinted up at Skinner, then leaned back in

his seat. The A.D. smiled when he heard the bones in

Mulder’s back crackling. “Oh, God, that feels good,” the

agent moaned, rubbing up against the seat back like a

contented cat.

Skinner had to laugh. “I take it that’s a ‘yes?'”

As Mulder massaged the back of his neck, he rose and

arched his back. “What time is it?” he asked.

“A little after five.”

The agent kneaded his fingertips into his eyes. “Mm. That

sounds about right.” He looked around the empty room.

“Anyone back yet?”

As Skinner shook his head, he couldn’t keep the sour look

off his face. “Any second now,” he said, unenthusiastically.

When his agent looked a little lost for words and just

nodded, Skinner sighed. If anyone knew how he felt, it was

Mulder, yet that didn’t mean that Skinner should weave him

his tale of woe. “How about a cup of coffee?” he asked the

agent, gesturing toward the coffee pot in the small kitchen

to the right of his desk.

Mulder started walking toward the kitchen, then stopped in

mid-stride. “I, uh… think I’d better get rid of the last

two cups before I take another,” he said, smiling

sheepishly. “Excuse me.” And he disappeared into the

private lavatory which, besides the kitchen, was the

conference room’s –hell, the entire office’s — only

redeeming trait.

“Of course, Agent Mulder,” Skinner said to the air. He

strode over to the coffeemaker and eyed the carafe

suspiciously. How long had it been since he’d made that

last pot?

Well, if he couldn’t remember, it had been too long. He

poured the thick black liquid down the drain and rinsed the

pot. As he was tearing open a packet of coffee, the door

opened. “I’m making a fresh pot,” he called. “I think the

other one was about to get up and walk…” His voice

trailed off when he finally looked up and discovered that

his ‘guest’ wasn’t Mulder, but Special Agents Rodriguez,

Dalton and Cejka. “I’ll be there in a minute, Agents,” he

said as business-like as he could. He positioned the coffee

grounds in the maker and poured water into the opening at

the top. Mutterings of ‘one long coffee break’ and ‘…know

who’s doing all the work around here” reached his ears, and

Skinner felt his face flaming, though whether from

embarrassment or anger he truly couldn’t tell.

Deliberately taking his time, Skinner strolled back to

behind the desk. “Your reports, agents?” he asked crisply

when none of the men volunteered anything.

Three identical manila folders were produced from nowhere

and slapped down in unison. Taking the one nearest him,

Skinner flipped open the binder and skimmed the contents.

Neat, precise handwriting and carefully-detailed phone

calls met his eyes. Cejka’s. Opening the next one he sighed

at the barely legible and incomplete scrawlings. He

directed his gaze up at the bored-looking man.

“Agent Dalton…” he began, then stopped when he took in the

barefaced annoyance on the other man’s face. They’d played

this scene too many times already. Skinner closed the

folder and tossed it back to its owner. “Print it, type it

or dictate it. I don’t care which, and I don’t care how,

and I want it in an hour.”

“Now wait just a minute — ” Dalton’s angry rebuttal was

cut short by a Skinner who’d put up for too long with the

agent’s slipshod work.

“Do it, or find yourself another line of work,” the A.D.

said, enunciating each syllable precisely. The two stared

at each other until Dalton snatched the folder off the desk

and stalked from the room.

Skinner watched him leave, then directed his glare to the

two remaining agents. Letting out a breath slowly, he

nodded to them, easing up on the intensity of his gaze.

“Your report looks fine, Mr. Cejka, and I know yours will

be, too, Mr. Rodriguez. You can both leave.”

Satisfaction mixed with disgust tinged Rodriguez’s eyes

before he turned and left; Cejka was unreadable. He just

nodded curtly and followed his fellow agent out.

The sound of a throat clearing nearly gave Skinner

whiplash when he twisted his head around toward the noise.

Mulder stood in front of the lavatory door, hands in

pockets and eyes averted. “I didn’t mean to listen, but I

didn’t want to interrupt,” he said in an apologetic tone.

“It’s all right, Mulder,” Skinner said, gesturing him

over. “I’m sure it’s nothing you haven’t heard before.”

The agent looked offended for a moment, then returned

Skinner’s smile. “Maybe not the words, but the tone is

awfully familiar.” Mulder sniffed the air. “Do I smell

fresh coffee?”

“Help yourself.” Skinner indicated the full pot, then

flipped open Rodriguez’s report.

Mulder nodded and held out his hand. “Can I get you a cup?”

Surprised, Skinner looked up. God, he’d missed common

courtesies these past few days. “Um… Yes. Thank you.” He

surrendered his empty cup to this agent. “Black, please.”

“Right.”

Skinner watched his agent for a second, then turned back

to the report. Rodriguez had been onto something promising

when last he’d checked…

*****

Newark Field Office

Conference Room 3

6:30 p.m.

This was all too surreal, Scully thought, watching the

Newark agents interacting with her partner. They were

treating him like the second coming of God; nothing, it

seemed, was too good for Agent Mulder.

Scully couldn’t complain about her treatment, either.

While she wasn’t held in the high regard with which her

partner was being regaled, she was given the utmost respect

and courtesy. Adoration by association, she supposed.

It was painfully obvious that no amount of association

would elevate Skinner above that of “bottom-crawler,”

however. She wondered what exactly had happened here in May

of 1991 and whether Skinner had, in fact, been responsible

for the deaths of those agents. She couldn’t bring herself

to believe that he could have committed such an offense and

risen to his position of assistant director; the FBI wasn’t

in the habit of rewarding incompetence with promotion.

So why were these agents treating him so disrespectfully?

Why was he allowing it?

Her head jerked up as the latest team burst through the

door.

A female agent Scully didn’t recognize dropped a sheaf of

papers directly on top of the report Skinner had been

reading. “Our findings, *sir.*” Scully watched as the woman

turned on her heel and walked out the door, not waiting to

be acknowledged, not deigning to meet Skinner’s startled

gaze.

The A.D.’s eyes locked with hers, and Scully gave him a

slight nod, if for nothing else than to let him know that

he had at least one agent who felt respect toward him. Even

as Scully saw the gratitude reflected in his eyes, she felt

his embarrassment at her having witnessed the disdain shown

him by the other agent. Lowering her eyes, Scully returned

her attention to the reports.

A few pages later, the air beside her stirred and she

looked up to find Mulder invading her personal space. “Save

me,” he whispered, and she was just about to berate him for

disturbing her with his childish behavior when she saw that

he was dead serious.

He was clutching the legal pad with his notes like it was

the only thing keeping the wolves at bay. “They finally

getting to you?” she said in a quiet voice.

“They got to me the first five minutes,” he whispered

harshly. His eyes drifted over to their boss, reading alone

at the desk, then back to her. “Anything in there?” He

indicated the autopsy reports with his chin.

She blew out a breath. “Not so far.” Her eyes took in the

pad covered in Mulder’s scrawlings. “How about you?”

He shook his head, smiling slightly. “Nothing I’m ready to

share.”

Scully smiled tiredly. She’d returned from the morgue an

hour ago, with only an aching back to show for her efforts.

As she’d filled Skinner in on her non-findings, she noticed

that her boss’s eyes kept roaming over to where her partner

sat, immobile except for his hand, which was skittering

over the legal pad balanced on his knees. In a hushed

voice, Skinner had informed her that, except for one short

break, Mulder had been that way since she left, tucked away

in the corner, steadily filling the pad with page after

page of his thoughts on the case.

He’d worked quietly until about half an hour ago, when the

agents who’d been reporting back finally decided to disturb

him. Mulder had employed all his tried and true ‘Spooky at

Work’ tactics, but the Newark agents weren’t having any of

it. Mulder was their hero, and they weren’t about to let

the opportunity to finally express their gratitude slip

away.

Beside her, Mulder stiffened suddenly, and Scully could

see that the agents were on to his ploy, already on their

way over to hail the master profiler, savior of the Newark

office, once again.

“Mulder, we have to get going,” she said, some of the

alarm in her voice genuine. “I forgot to call the motel and

tell them to hold our rooms.”

Her partner caught on immediately, his feigned dismay

overlaid with gratitude and relief. He had a look in his

eye that said that if they weren’t in a roomful of agents,

not to mention in the presence of the Assistant Director,

he would sweep her off her feet and plant a big, wet one on

her lips. Gathering up her reports, he guided her toward

their coats.

“We’re calling it a day, sir. We have to get to the motel

to check in,” Mulder said to Skinner, the invitation to

join them heard clearly by Scully. She hoped that the A.D.

had heard it, too.

Skinner pushed his chair back and stood up. “That sounds

like a good idea. I’m going to head back, too, so why don’t

you follow me? The turnoff to the motel is easy to miss in

the dark.”

“Thanks, sir. We’d appreciate not wandering the New Jersey

countryside at night.”

clip_image002

The agents who’d been approaching Mulder had frozen in

place as soon as Mulder had engaged Skinner in

conversation. The A.D. addressed them now. “Why don’t you

all go home, too? Get a fresh start in the morning.”

A few murmurs and mumblings was all the response his

declaration garnered before the agents turned their backs

and walked out the door without so much as a, “Yes, sir.”

Scully stared after them, aghast at their behavior. She

wondered how long Skinner would put up with their juvenile

behavior before coming down on them. Turning back around,

she was surprised by the mask of quiet defeat Skinner was

wearing. As he moved toward the coat rack, however, she was

secretly pleased to find his expression steeling into one

she was more familiar with: resolve and determination.

It hit her then why Skinner had asked for her and Mulder.

While it was true that the case was most likely an X-File

and they would have been called eventually, that wasn’t the

reason Skinner had requested them. More than his need for

their investigative skills, more than Mulder’s profiling

talent, to put it quite simply, he’d needed to see a

friendly face.

***********

Act II

6:53 p.m.

Rental Car

“All right, Mulder, are you going to tell me what’s going

on with Skinner?”

Without taking his eyes off the rear lights from Skinner’s

car, Mulder nodded. “As much as I can. As Stone mentioned,

it was May of ’91. I wasn’t called in until the tail end of

the case.”

“From what I gathered listening to the other agents, it

was only the tail end because you came in and solved it.”

Mulder shifted uneasily; he preferred not to talk about

his VCS days much although his success rate was unmatched

even today — even by the two of them. “They’d already done

most of the legwork and information-gathering. All I did

was sort it out and stitch it together.”

Scully nodded. “What about Skinner? How does he fit into

the equation?”

Mulder drew in a breath and let it out slowly. “The day

before I came — it was a Saturday, I remember — they

changed SAC’s. The Thursday before, eight agents conducted

a raid on a suspect’s residence. The suspect turned out

later to have no connection to the case, but the guy was

packing like you wouldn’t believe. The agents approached

the house, and there was no cover — I went out and looked

at this place after it was all over — and there was no

cover anywhere.”

He stopped talking; he’d been at the academy with one of

the agents involved, and while not a friend, the man had

been one of very few who hadn’t ridiculed him at every

opportunity, who’d even gone so far as to be friendly

toward him. It had never even crossed his mind that

Parrow’s death had been the fault of the Special Agent in

Charge at the time: Walter Skinner.

“They were very tight-lipped about the details, but all

eight were cut down in a matter of seconds.”

Without even looking at her, Mulder could feel her horror.

“Were they wearing vests?”

Mulder nodded. “They were wearing body armor, head to toe.”

Scully drew in a breath sharply, and Mulder knew she’d

guessed. “Cop Killers?”

“Cut through their shields like they were paper.”

“And Skinner sent them down there?” The disbelief in her

voice almost made him smile. It might be annoying when

posed in regard to his theories, but never in regard to her

loyalty.

Mulder shrugged. “To tell you the truth, at the time I was

so stressed out from the job that it never occurred to me

to ask.” He glanced at Scully, their eyes meeting for a

brief second. “But given what we know of Skinner, I doubt

it was he who sent those men to their deaths.”

Scully was staring at him. “You never found out?”

“I never had reason to; the damage had already been done.

I wasn’t looking for anyone to blame.” The truth was — and

Mulder felt rather ashamed to admit it — the incident had

been filed away as soon as the case was over. Free time for

him in those days was practically unheard of. The few

moments he did have were too precious to waste on something

he could do nothing to change, something that no longer

affected his life.

Until now. Now someone he knew and respected and even

cared for was being hurt by those events. And as surprised

as he was to admit it, it *was* affecting him.

“Did you ask Skinner about it?”

The right blinker on Skinner’s car flicked on and Mulder

automatically followed suit. “I didn’t even know it had

been him until we got here. Until Stone.”

The two cars turned onto a narrow one-lane road, the

‘Fairbright Motel’ sign tucked neatly out of sight behind

an overgrown fir tree. Skinner was right; he and Scully

would have passed by without an inkling that the dirt road

they were traveling down led to their “home away from

home.” If for no reason other than leading them safely to

shelter in the wilds of New Jersey, two very tired federal

agents owed Skinner their gratitude.

Yet it went beyond that, Mulder knew. More than once,

Skinner had pulled their asses out of the fire. More than

once he’d proved that their loyalty was not displaced.

“I think I’d like to find out what happened.”

Mulder wasn’t sure which of them actually voiced it.

***********

Another Rental Car

7 p.m.

Shifting the car into park, Skinner leaned back with a

sigh. Home at last.

As assistant director, he’d been subjected to his share of

animosity, but never this constant nor unrelenting. He

never thought he’d ever hear himself thinking it, but thank

God for Mulder and Scully.

As he unbuckled his seat belt, he allowed the tension of

the past hour to flow out of him. He’d survived another day

in Newark.

Had he made an error in judgement, though, calling in

Mulder? After all, so far as the Newark agents knew, it was

the younger agent’s profile that had pulled Skinner’s ass

out of the fire nine — hell, almost ten — years ago. And

here he was about to do it again.

How much of that old case did Mulder recall, Skinner

wondered. Skinner had heard about Bill Patterson’s “Golden

Boy,” of course. Everyone had. Practically since the day

Mulder had set foot in Quantico, the rumor mill hadn’t just

sparked, it had been aflame. The guy’s solve rate was

phenomenal. And his caseload must have been tremendous,

given the number he’d brought to a satisfactory conclusion.

Skinner glanced up into his rearview mirror, watching as

Mulder pulled into the spot behind him. When Mulder quit

the ISU for the X-Files, Skinner, like everyone else, had

been astounded. How could the man throw away such a

promising career for the pursuit of a whim?

Older and wiser now, Skinner knew how, and he knew why.

Mulder had been overworked and underappreciated. He came,

he solved, they sent him somewhere else. Until today,

Skinner would bet that Mulder hadn’t even known it had been

Skinner’s bacon that he’d saved.

The A.D. smiled, thinking over the last hour. It was quite

a nice change to see Mulder as the recipient of praise

rather than mockery, even though it very obviously made his

agent uncomfortable. Scully seemed to enjoy Mulder’s

newfound popularity, too; although she’d been very good at

concealing her pleasure from her partner, the one time

Skinner had made eye contact with her, she couldn’t hide

her grin.

Even so, he was never so glad to be out of anywhere as he

was to be out of that godforsaken office. They may love

Mulder, but they hated Skinner with a passion. Should he

set the record straight? Should he tell them what *really*

happened all those years ago?

If he wanted to survive the week, he might have to. They

only question was, would they believe him?

Fairbright Motel

7:02 p.m.

Scully wasn’t surprised one bit when Skinner followed them

into the motel office. She’d seen the A.D. angry, sad,

scared and hurt, but she’d never seen him starved for

companionship. Until today, as a matter of fact, and only

because she was seeing it with her own eyes, she’d never

even suspected that he could be.

“Mr. Skinner, is everything all right?” The worried-

looking older man behind the desk addressed their boss

while they filled out the reservation cards.

“Fine, Mr. Roux. I just brought my agents over.” He nodded

toward Mulder and Scully.

“The ones from D.C.?”

Scully looked up, surprised that Mr. Roux was privy to

that information, but she was even more surprised when

Skinner’s face reddened slightly. “Agent Mulder, Agent

Scully,” he said by way of introduction. “This is Mr. Roux,

the owner of the Fairbright.”

Mulder held out a hand to the solidly-built man. “Nice to

meet you, sir.”

The owner shook his hand. “And you as well, young man.”

When Mr. Roux took Scully’s hand, his eyes twinkled with

mischief. “Mr. Skinner didn’t mention that one of you was a

lovely young woman.” Until he winked at her

conspiratorially, Scully hadn’t been sure how to take that,

but she quickly realized that Mr. Roux was having fun with

her boss — another first for her.

“Life is just full of surprises,” Skinner said, smiling,

and Scully was beginning to wonder if she was in one of

Mulder’s parallel universes. Meeting her partner’s eyes,

she found that he was every bit as perplexed as she.

“Yes, indeed,” the motel owner agreed, “and some more

pleasant than others.” Mr. Roux switched his gaze to

Skinner. “The restaurant’s open for another hour.” He left

the statement hanging.

Skinner suddenly looked ill at ease, and Scully thought

she’d put him out of his misery. “There’s a restaurant in

the motel?” she asked him.

The A.D. relaxed a little. “Best chicken, broccoli and

ziti I’ve ever had.”

Immediately, Scully’s mouth started watering. “Really?”

She looked at her partner, and then turned to their boss.

“Would you mind if we joined you?”

Skinner didn’t even try to hide his delight. “I was hoping

you might.”

Scully finished her card and handed it to Mr. Roux. “Will

we have time to take our things to our rooms?”

“Yes m’aam,” the owner said. “The dining room doesn’t

actually ‘close.’ Just the kitchen does. So as long as you

get back in time to order your meal — say, half an hour —

you can take as much time as you want to eat it. We’ll get

the dishes in the morning.”

“Oh, we shouldn’t be that long,” Scully said. She turned

to Skinner. “Sir, Mulder and I just want to drop off our

suitcases.”

The A.D. picked right up on her unasked question; he

nodded. “I’ll wait for you to order.”

Mulder handed her a key, and she followed him out the

door. “Our rooms are on the other side of the building,” he

said, getting in the car.

Nodding, she got in, then let out a yawn.

“Tired?” Mulder asked softly, starting the engine.

“A little,” she admitted, as Mulder pulled away from the

office. “Mulder…” She hesitated, wondering whether or not

she should ask.

He looked at her when she didn’t continue. “Scully.” He

smiled.

Feeling more at ease by his relaxed manner, she decided to

plow ahead. “Do you ever miss those early days when

everyone looked up to you?”

His sharp bark of a laugh was so sudden and so unexpected

that she jumped. He pulled into a parking slot and gazed at

her, his expression a mixture of amusement and

astonishment. “What?”

They’d never actually spoken of his time with the ISU, but

she knew that before the X-Files, he was considered top of

his field.

“I don’t mean do you miss the work,” she said quickly. She

knew full well that if he hadn’t discovered the X-Files, he

would have either gone insane or gotten himself killed if

he’d remained a profiler. “I mean the fact that you were

the best, the one everyone came to with their ‘unsolvable’

cases.” Every once in awhile, she remembered what he used

to be, what he still was; she let a little of that awe show

now. “Do you miss being that much in demand?”

He stared at her a moment, as if he couldn’t believe she’d

asked such a thing. “Is there a reason you’re asking me

this?” he said, finally, his curious tone underlaid with a

tinge of suspicion.

She shrugged her shoulders. “Not really. Just watching you

with those agents today… it got me wondering if every so

often you don’t wish you were back on top again.”

His eyes ensnared hers. “Maybe after being dragged through

bile by a mutant, or contracting a deadly retro-virus, or

being burned alive in a train full of alien corpses…” His

eyes were boring into hers so intently, she forgot to

breathe. “Never, Scully.”

He looked away, and her breath came out in a whoosh. “Why,

Mulder?” she asked, softly.

Her partner sighed. “I was in demand — yes. I was the

best of the best –no braggadocio intended, but I was. And

I never had a minute, I never had a *second* to myself.

There were stretches when I didn’t leave the office for a

week at a time. There was no respect involved, Scully.

There was only Spooky Mulder working his ass off to save

all the lives that would be lost if he didn’t. Well, guess

what, Scully? I couldn’t. I couldn’t save them all, and as

soon as I realized that I threw my guts up for a solid

week. And do you know what happened?”

She shook her head.

“Nothing. They still brought me cases. As I hunched over

the toilet, as I lay with a fever, as I was coughing up a

lung, they brought them to me. And I worked on them until I

ended up in the hospital.” His eyes blazed with anger. “And

they brought them to the goddamned hospital until the

doctor found out and forbade me to do anything but lie in

bed. He complained all the way to the director, and then

finally, finally, they left me alone.”

Scully stared at him. “I had no idea.”

“It’s one of the reasons I don’t like to profile these

days.”

She knew the other, more important reason: his tendency to

identify too closely with the killer, to become so wrapped

up in the case that he loses himself. “They remember you

here, Mulder. They respect you.”

He nodded thoughtfully, then looked at her and grinned. “I

guess there’s no pleasing me, is there, Scully? I should be

lapping it up, all this attention. But it’s driving me

crazy.”

She smiled at him. “That’s one of the few areas where

we’re similar, Mulder. Neither of us accepts praise well.”

She opened her door. “Let’s put our stuff in the rooms and

get back to the restaurant.”

“Okay.”

Mulder popped the trunk and got the suitcases while Scully

opened her door. “Do you want to leave yours in here for

now?”

Mulder’s eyes widened, and he let out a small cough,

probably, she was sure, from swallowing the ribald remark

his fertile brain had automatically supplied. “All right,”

he finally said, and she gave him a part-disappointed/part-

appreciative smile while he placed the luggage inside.

When he met her gaze, he shrugged and grinned

apologetically, stepping aside so that she could close and

lock the door. “Come on,” she told him, just as her

stomach rumbled. “Let’s get back. I’m starving.”

Mulder nodded and headed toward the car.

“Let’s walk,” Scully said, and he veered away.

“Nice night,” he agreed. “Cold, but no wind.” He sniffed

the air. “Smells like snow, though. I’ll bet it starts

before the night is through.”

“Oh, don’t say that, Mulder,” she moaned. “We just got

over winter.”

He smiled. “Yeah. In D.C. But not here.”

“I don’t care. I’m tired of snow.”

They walked for about a minute, then he sniffed again. “I

don’t know. Maybe I was mistaken. Maybe we’ll just get

rain.”

She looked at him. “Think so?”

“Do you want me to tell you the truth or tell you what you

want to hear?”

She considered a moment. “Tell me what I want to hear. I’m

a little tired of the truth, too.”

He gave her an amused smile, then looked up to the sky

where fat white flakes were starting to drift down. He held

out a hand and caught a few in his palm.

“Looks like rain,” he said.

***********

Fairbright Motel Restaurant

9:35 p.m.

As Mulder returned to the booth after his visit to the

restroom, Scully stood up to let him back in. Smiling his

thanks, he reclaimed his seat next to the window, eyeing

Scully’s half-eaten chicken, broccoli and ziti as he passed

by. He thought what a shame it was that she’d decided to

destroy the remains of her meal by shredding her napkin

into it; even after consuming a “super burger with all the

trimmings,” he was still hungry. He poked at the greens

still on his plate, seriously considering choking them

down. Delighted when he discovered a cache of french fries

under an abandoned lettuce leaf, Mulder popped them into

his mouth, one savory piece at a time.

Once he’d consumed them all, he looked across the table at

Skinner. He could tell by the glazed look in his boss’s

eyes that Skinner was very far away indeed. More

importantly, though, his garlic bread was untouched.

“Sir?” Mulder called softly, so as not to scare him.

Skinner didn’t budge an inch; the blank look remained

“Sir?” Mulder’s voice was a fraction louder this time.

Skinner’s expression was startled as he looked away from

the window and into the agent’s eyes. Then he blinked and

sighed. “Sorry.” Gesturing toward the winter scene outside,

he smiled sheepishly. “The snow. It can be mesmerizing.”

Mulder’s eyes darted toward the white parking lot, the

white cars, the white grass. “You mean the rain?”

Skinner stared at him a moment, then his gaze drifted back

to the window. “Awfully big raindrops, Agent Mulder.”

“Yes, sir, they are,” he agreed.

Mulder watched as Skinner carefully avoided eye contact

with him, choosing instead to meet his partner’s annoyed

eyes.

“Is he all right, Agent Scully?” Skinner whispered, as

though Mulder wasn’t sitting right next to her and hearing

every word.

Scully pushed the remains of her meal away, shifting over

in the booth so that she was a little further away from

Mulder. “That’s always debatable, sir.”

Skinner’s eyebrow raised, and his expression changed from

worried to amused. “What about at this minute?”

“Agent Scully’s sick of snow, sir,” Mulder offered.

Mulder was surprised to see the A.D. break out into a

smile. “Ah,” Skinner said, nodding. “I sympathize whole-

heartedly.” His boss looked out the window once again. “The

rain is accumulating at a rather alarming rate, Agents. May

I suggest that we head to our rooms?”

Mulder grinned as Scully rolled her eyes and shook her

head in exasperation. “Any idea how much we’re supposed to

get?” Mulder asked, scanning each face.

Skinner shrugged. “I didn’t hear any weather forecasts

today.” The A.D. looked at Scully questioningly.

She shook her head. “Me, neither.”

“Well, then, we’ll be surprised, won’t we?” Skinner

started to rise and Mulder pointed to the garlic bread.

“Are you going to eat that?”

Skinner looked down, then back up at Mulder. “You’re still

hungry, Mulder?” he asked with such awe in his voice that

Mulder supposed he should be embarrassed.

But he *was* hungry, damnit. For about half a second,

Mulder considered a sarcastic response, but that wouldn’t

gain him any brownie points–or food. “Yes, sir,” he said

in as contrite a voice as he could muster.

Skinner hoisted the plate, offering it to Mulder. “It’s

yours.”

Mulder grinned, scooping the bread off the plate and

devouring a third of it on his first bite. “Thanks,” he

said, around the mouthful.

“You’re welcome,” Skinner said in a slightly amused voice.

Scully was shaking her head, not commenting, but Mulder

heard her tsking him all the same.

Finishing off the final piece, Mulder cleaned his hands on

his still-intact napkin and rose, following Skinner and

Scully to the restaurant entrance. He waved a good-night to

Mr. Roux as they passed through the lobby.

When he stepped out into the night, a blast of snow-filled

wind struck him in the face, and he staggered back a step.

Turning up the collar on his overcoat, his eyes drifted

down to Scully’s high-heeled shoes, then to the slick, snow-

covered surface upon which they were about to travel. He

was suddenly very sorry they’d left the car back at the

rooms.

“Scully? Mulder?” Mulder looked up to find the A.D.

holding open the front passenger door of his rental car.

Grasping his partner’s arm gently but firmly, he guided her

to the car. She gave him a grateful smile as she settled in

safely and Skinner closed the door.

“Thanks, sir,” Mulder told him. “It was much nicer out

when we decided to walk.” He pulled open the back door and

slid in.

“No problem, Mulder,” Skinner said, getting in and

starting the engine. “Our rooms are fairly close together.”

Mulder and Scully exchanged a glance, and Skinner suddenly

looked uncomfortable. “I, uh, thought it might be easier if

we wanted to discuss the case.”

Mulder nodded, feeling a pang of sympathy for his

superior. He had no idea what to say, so he leaned back and

sat quietly while Skinner backed out carefully, then drove

them to their rooms.

Helping Scully navigate the slippery ground once again,

Mulder waited while she unlocked the door. Meeting the

A.D.’s curious look, Mulder explained. “We just dropped the

luggage in Scully’s room earlier.”

Skinner looked at Scully, then back at Mulder. “Of

course.” Still holding Mulder’s gaze, he reached into his

pocket and withdrew a key. “Good night, Agents.” His gaze

flicked over to Scully and then he began the slippery trek

to his room.

“Good night, sir,” they said, and Mulder wondered what the

hell all those meaningful looks had been about.

As Skinner disappeared through his doorway, Mulder stepped

inside Scully’s room and reached for his suitcase. His hand

hovered over it a second, then he asked, “Are you going to

be using the laptop tonight?”

His partner stifled a yawn. “Unh, uh.” She gestured toward

it. “It’s all yours.”

He smiled and picked it up, slinging the strap over his

shoulder. “Thanks.”

“Uh, huh,” she said, tiredly.

A sudden impulse overtook him, and Mulder had to reach

over and cup her cheek in his hand. “Do you know you’re

adorable when you’re sleepy?”

“Uh, huh,” she said, tiredly, and Mulder chuckled.

“I’ll let you know what I find out,” he said, softly,

letting go. He smiled as she let out a huge yawn.

“Tomorrow,” he added.

She nodded. ” ‘Night, Mulder.”

” ‘Night.”

Pulling the door closed, he checked that it was locked,

then headed next door. Once inside, he logged on to the FBI

database, found the casefile, read it, then downloaded it

to the hard drive; a quick call to the lone gunmen got him

access to the human resources records.

Mulder had never really given much thought to Skinner’s

career before the point where he’d intersected with

Mulder’s life. He’d been assistant director for as long as

Mulder had known him, yet logically Mulder knew that at

some point, Walter Skinner had been a field agent. He’d

assumed the man had had his share of rough cases, bad cases

and even downright horrific cases. And as Mulder dug a

little deeper into Skinner’s work background, he found that

he was right.

He also found that, while not the disobedient maverick

that Mulder may have been, his boss had bucked the system a

few times himself. The bulk of Skinner’s aberrant behavior

occurred during his early years at the Bureau, with the

balance of his career spent with an eye toward advancement.

All very predictable considering Skinner’s current

position, and all very upwardly mobile — with one notable

exception.

It was that one exception that surprised — and confused —

Mulder.

Why would a man so ingrained in bureaucracy request

control of a little-known, little-respected, and career-

killing division like the X-Files?

*****

Room 1246

1:46 a.m.

Skinner thumbed the off button on the remote, effectively

plunging the room into darkness. Through the thin motel

walls, he could just hear the sound of Mulder’s TV, and the

steady click-click of a computer keyboard. Christ, didn’t

the man ever sleep?

Lying in bed with his eyes wide open, Skinner snorted. Who

was he to talk? Since he’d arrived in Newark, the most

sleep he’d gotten in any one night was four hours. He had

to stop letting all the hostility get to him. God help him,

he didn’t think he could take it much longer. Four days

had been hard enough. He couldn’t imagine how the hell

Mulder dealt with it for eight years, let alone four days.

Feeling himself getting drowsy at last, Skinner made a

promise to himself. Now that he had someone in his corner,

he wasn’t going to take any more of the blatant disrespect

being shown him at that office.

He’d felt nervous coming in, even though he knew that he

should have had no reason to feel that way. If Robertson

hadn’t taken Skinner’s being made SAC over him so

personally all those years ago, he wouldn’t have ignored

Skinner’s orders not to raid that militant’s compound, and

Robertson wouldn’t have gotten himself killed — along with

seven other agents.

But there had been no way to prove that Robertson had

disobeyed a direct order. The only witnesses were dead.

Skinner had been very fortunate that the review board had

seen fit to believe him, even though they had still

replaced him.

That case had hung like a noose over his head until a

computer programmer, updating the office’s files to the

latest software, had discovered a hidden file on

Robertson’s old computer. Goddamned bastard had kept a

journal.

Six months later, a copy had finally filtered its way down

to Skinner. Robertson had recorded Skinner’s explicit order

to stand down and Robertson’s intention to disregard that

order; Skinner had actually felt lightheaded that such a

huge weight had been lifted off his chest.

Perhaps that was the reason he’d felt the need to have the

journal accompany him to this office where he was so

despised. Perhaps he finally wanted to clean the air and

clear his name.

*****

Act III

Fairbright Motel Restaurant

Friday, February 16

6:45 a.m.

Scully took a sip of her coffee, using the movement to

throw a surreptitious glance at each of her companions.

After greeting her ten minutes ago, both men had lapsed

into introspective silence, speaking only to relay their

orders to the bright-eyed waitress.

“Looks like it didn’t snow too much longer after we went

to bed last night,” she remarked.

“Hmm?” Mulder looked up, a befuddled expression on his

face, before realization entered his eyes. “Oh. No. It

changed to rain around 1:30.”

Scully looked at him in dismay; she wondered just how much

sleep he’d gotten last night.

“Were you working last night, Agent Mulder?” Skinner asked.

Mulder shook his head. “Just doing a little research, sir.”

“On the case?”

Another shake of Mulder’s head. “No. I… uh… needed to

take a break from it for awhile. I had something I needed

to check out.” Scully noticed how he was careful to avoid

any eye contact with their boss.

“Oh.” Skinner went back to staring out the window.

Mulder had obviously found something interesting, or he

wouldn’t be in such a contemplative mood. She could tell

from his demeanor that though it was nothing bad, it had

shaken him nonetheless. Catching his eye, Scully questioned

him with a raise of her eyebrow. A barely-imperceptible

shake of his head was his confirmation that, yes, he’d

discovered something interesting, and, yes, he’d disclose

it to her when they were alone. With a crease of her brows,

she asked if he was okay. The smile in his eyes told her

that he was.

They held eye contact another few seconds until the

waitress appeared with their meals. Sneaking a glance over

at Skinner, Scully blushed when she found herself under

Skinner’s appraising gaze.

The A.D. glanced at Mulder, then gave her a tiny smile

before giving his full attention to his Belgian waffle.

Scully leaned back in her seat and let out a breath

slowly. Picking up her fork and knife, she cut a piece of

her omelet and stuck it in her mouth, chewing thoughtfully,

wondering just when it was that the unspoken communication

that she and Mulder shared had evolved to include Skinner.

And whether or not that should worry her.

*****

Newark Field Office

9:05 a.m.

Mulder tried not to fidget while Skinner read over his

report. It was as complete as he could make it with the

information available, yet Mulder still felt that it was

lacking. He couldn’t shake the feeling that he was missing

some important piece of the puzzle.

“I’ll get agents out to those locales you specified,

Mulder. Nice work.”

Skinner’s voice startled him out of his introspection.

“I’d like Scully and myself to join them, sir.”

The A.D. pondered his request a moment, then nodded.

“Okay. You can take number three.”

“Actually, sir, I’d like to see all of them. I may be able

to glean a little more insight as to who might be next if I

can talk with them myself.”

Skinner watched him a moment. “Is something bothering you,

Agent Mulder?”

Blowing out a frustrated breath, Mulder nodded. “There’s

something I’m not getting. Something’s missing…” He

concentrated on trying to figure out what. “It’s the

killer,” he said, finally. “I can’t get a real handle on

him. I can’t get inside his head. These killings are just a

little too cold, a little too calculated for your average

serial killer.”

“Sounds more like an assassin than a serial killer.”

Mulder stared open-mouthed at Skinner before his vocal

cords caught up to his brain. “That’s it. That’s it

exactly. There’s no emotion involved. These people are

being executed. The commonality won’t be personal, it’ll be

professional. The key to finding the killer isn’t in

profiling *him,* it’s in profiling his victims.

“What about this?” Skinner held up Mulder’s report.

“It’s still valid, sir; since I didn’t have a good feel

for the perpetrator, I focused on identifying the most

likely targets by comparing them to the victims. I was on

the right track, but the wrong train.” Mulder tapped the

report in Skinner’s hands. “I’d like to do a little fine

tuning, though. Give a little more attention to the

businesses. That’s where Scully and I will concentrate our

efforts.”

“Do you want me to hold off on releasing this?”

Mulder shook his head. “No. Go ahead.” He met Skinner’s

eyes. “We’ll need a copy of the interview transcripts,

though, so we can pick up where the others left off.”

Skinner nodded. “All right. When do you propose to begin

your interviews?”

Mulder thought a minute, calculating what would be

necessary to complete his profile. “We should be ready

early this afternoon. I’m going to have Scully check more

thoroughly into the victims’ corporate backgrounds. Maybe

it’s as simple as how they got their starts.”

Mulder made a move toward the door. “With your permission,

sir?”

The A.D. nodded, and Mulder left to track down his partner.

Newark Field Office

11:26 a.m.

“Assistant Director Skinner?”

The booming voice startled Skinner, although it was the

recognition factor rather than the timbre that surprised

him. “Director?” The A.D. stood up behind the desk,

blinking in confusion at the director of the FBI and the

attractive middle-aged woman at his side. Neither looked

particularly happy. “What can I do for you, sir?”

“I understand you’ve called in another profiler.”

Skinner met the man’s eyes, frowning just the tiniest bit.

“Not exactly, sir.” At the director’s upraised eyebrow,

Skinner hastened to explained. “I asked two of my agents

from D.C. to consult on the case, because of the bizarre

nature of the…” His voice faltered as the face of the

middle-aged woman registered in his mind as belonging to

the wife of one of the victims. “…because of the unusual

circumstances surrounding this case.”

Noting the slightly grateful expression in the director’s

eyes only appeased him marginally. “Then you aren’t

replacing Neuberg?” The director’s eyes darted to the

woman, whose name Skinner now recalled as Birmingham.

“Is that an option?”

“It could be. May I ask why?”

Skinner’s gaze darted to the woman, then back to the

director. “Agent Neuberg appeared to be having a difficult

time with this case,” the A.D. said, wording it as

tactfully as he could.

The director seemed to accept that, and turned to the

woman. “Did Agent Neuberg mention that fact, Mrs.

Birmingham?”

Mrs. Birmingham squared her shoulders. She fixed her glare

on Skinner while delivering her reply to the director. “He

said that his superior was a difficult man to work for, and

that nothing Roger came up with pleased him.”

Skinner had to admit that that much was true. Garbage

presented as fine cuisine was still garbage.

“Well, Skinner?” the director asked. “Were you giving Mr.

Neuberg a hard time?”

“I don’t think so, no, sir.”

The director leafed through several papers he was holding

in his hand. “Agent Neuberg states that you dismissed his

profile outright. He also states that you were short with

him in front of other agents — he has corroborating

statements from the other agents to support that — and

that you deliberately excluded him from last night’s

meeting.”

Of course, he would have corroborating statements from the

other agents; they all hated Skinner. But what in hell else

was he talking about. “Meeting? There was no meeting last

night.”

“In the conference room. Around 6 p.m. You, your agents,

and all the other agents.” The director looked up from

where he had been reading. “According to Agent Neuberg,

he was never invited to attend, even though he is the

profiler

of record on this case.”

Skinner shook his head, sighing. “Sir, that was no

meeting. “The Newark agents were talking with one of my

agents from D.C. They’d worked together before, and they

were getting re-acquainted. It was all very informal and

spontaneous; there were no ‘invitations’ extended.”

Apparently satisfied with that explanation at least, the

director nodded. “As to the other matters…” The director

looked him square in the eyes, waiting.

Skinner decided that he may as well get it out into the

open. Perhaps then he could concentrate on the specifics of

the case, rather than on the personal emotional aspects of

this case. “Sir, Neuberg gave me nothing any first-year

agent couldn’t have come up with. His profile as to the

make-up of the killer was a textbook generalization that

fits fifty percent of the population — and it’s that low

only because he’d utilized the well-known edict that serial

killers are almost always male. After only a few hours,

Agent Mulder has given me a clear-cut idea as to where to

center our efforts.”

The A.D. took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “As to

the ‘words’ Agent Neuberg and I shared, I was out of line

for speaking to him as I did in front of his fellow agents,

and while I apologize for the method, I don’t apologize for

the content.” Straightening himself up to his full six-feet

two inches, Skinner eyed the shorter man. “He has no

business being on this case, and if you want me to catch

this killer, I’d have a much better chance with him out of

my hair.”

Just the inkling of a smile lifted the corners of the

director’s mouth, and Skinner mentally kicked himself for

using that particular analogy. It took the steam out of an

impassioned plea when your audience was trying very hard

not to laugh at you.

Mrs. Birmingham had no such compunctions, however, and let

out a guffaw that so contrasted her refined appearance that

Skinner stared in open-mouth amazement. Quickly covering

her mouth, the woman blushed and stared at Skinner in

shock. “I’m sorry. It’s just…” She turned away, but not

before Skinner saw the tears of laughter threatening to

spill

from her eyes.

“It’s all right, Mrs. Birmingham. I understand,” Skinner

told her quietly. He knew that sometimes the most minute

things could set you off when you were trying so hard to

hold it together.

Pulling a handkerchief out of her purse, the woman dabbed

at her eyes before turning back around, all evidence of

weepy widow extinguished. “He’s right, Louis. I should

never have forced Roger’s all-too-questionable talents upon

Mr. Skinner. The man may be married to my sister, but he’s

still not the brightest bulb on the tree.”

The director nodded curtly. “Very well. Neuberg’s off the

case.” He looked at Skinner. “Do you require the services

of another profiler? I know Agent Mulder is no longer

profiling full-time, and he may not–”

“No, sir. Agent Mulder’s got a pretty good handle on this

case. With your permission, I’d like to have him officially

sanctioned as the profiler of record. He and his partner,

Agent Scully.”

At the director’s questioning gaze, Skinner explained.

“Agent Scully is a gifted pathologist, and her insights

often have a direct bearing on Agent Mulder’s findings.”

“All right, Walter.” The director placed a guiding hand on

Mrs. Birmingham’s arm, directing her gently toward the

door. “Good luck.” After one last second of eye contact, he

disappeared through the door.

Skinner sank down slowly into his chair, took off his

glasses and rubbed his eyes.

Christ, you never knew who was going to pop up out of the

woodwork in this damned place.

******

Manning Research & Development Corporation

Office of Wilfred Manning, President and CEO

4:43 p.m.

“This way, please.” Mulder and Scully were ushered into a

— what could only be described as ‘posh’ — office. The

administrative assistant brought them to the front of an

imposing mahogany desk, where she stopped and addressed the

nattily-dressed man of about fifty behind the desk. “Mr.

Manning, these are Agents Mulder and Scully from the FBI.”

She nodded to the agents and took her leave.

Mulder extended a hand to the man behind the desk.

“Pleased to meet you, sir.”

It was when Manning impatiently waved to the two chairs

behind them that Scully noticed that he was speaking on the

telephone. She exchanged a glance with Mulder, who

reclaimed his hand, and they took the indicated seats.

Scully crossed her legs, pulling out her pen and notebook.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw her partner do the

same.

At the sound of the phone’s being put to rest in its

cradle, she looked up. “Mr. Manning, as you know, you’ve

been identified as a potential target–”

Manning waved his hand in dismissal. “You can dispense

with the preliminaries, Agent…” He looked from face to

face, his own expression one of annoyance. “Which is

Mulder, and which is Scully?”

“I’m Agent Scully,” Scully answered, feeling a little

peeved herself at the man’s rudeness.

“Fine. Agent Scully, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.

What do you want to know?”

At Scully’s first question and Manning’s answer, Scully

heard Mulder curse under his breath. After jotting down

Manning’s response, she glanced Mulder’s way. “Pen’s out of

ink,” he said, sheepishly. “Do you have another one I can

borrow?”

As Scully started to search through her purse, Manning

tossed a pen to Mulder. “Here, use this. I don’t have all

day.” Opening his top middle drawer, he pulled out another

pen.

“Thanks,” Mulder mumbled, and Scully could feel his

embarrassment.

About ten minutes into their interview, Scully noticed

that Mulder had grown quiet. A few minutes later, when

Manning put a halt to the proceedings — for the fourth

time — to take a phone call, Scully used the opportunity

to check on her partner.

“Mulder, are you feeling all right?” Scully asked.

He shook his head shakily. “I think… I… need to

leave,” Mulder replied, and Scully was alarmed by

the pain she could discern so easily in his voice.

“What is it?” she asked, leaning over a little closer to

him. “Tell me what’s wrong,” she asked, gently.

“My… head…” Suddenly, he bolted out of his chair,

notebook and pen falling to the plush carpeting with a

‘ploof, ploof.’

“Mulder!” Scully said frantically, as Mulder

staggered toward the door. Manning was staring at Mulder as

though he’d tracked something nasty into his immaculate

office.

Hastily dismissing whoever he was talking to, Manning

addressed Scully. “You two stop off for a couple of beers

before you came here?”

Appalled, Scully rose, focusing her attention on the man

who’d been far and away their most unpleasant interview of

the afternoon. She gave him her coldest glare. “Thank you

for your time, Mr. Manning.” Picking up Mulder’s notebook,

stashing it in her suit pocket, she felt a certain

satisfaction at leaving Manning’s expensive pen where it

lay. Then she pivoted away, striding quickly to catch up to

her partner, who was at the door, searching blindly for the

doorknob.

clip_image004

Not giving a damn about what it looked like, Scully

wrapped an arm around Mulder’s middle, pulled open the

door, and guided them through; she was worried by Mulder’s

complete aquiescence as he let her lead him out. He was

leaning so heavily on her that she was convinced he was

going to pass out.

When they burst through the front doors, Mulder walked a

few steps, gave a huge shudder and dropped down onto the

nearest step. Leaning forward so that his head was resting

on his knees, Mulder gasped, “Oh, God. Oh, Christ. Oh,

fuck.”

“No, Mulder, get up.” Scully pulled at his arms, trying to

raise him. “I’m going to take you to the hospital.” She

tugged him again, but didn’t budge him. “Mulder, please!”

she pleaded, getting really scared now.

“Scully, wait,” Mulder, breathless, told her. “I’m all

right now. Just need a minute…” He continued to breathe

so heavily that Scully was certain he’d hyperventilate.

“Relax.” She rubbed a hand across his back. “Relax,

Mulder.” His breathing started to calm. “Easy, now. That’s

it,” she soothed.

Finally, Mulder drew in a deep shuddering breath and

straightened. The tears still clinging to his eyelashes

bore silent witness to what he’d just been through. His

eyes held a remnant of fear when they looked into hers.

“That was most decidedly not fun.”

Scully reached up and very gently dried his eyes with her

fingers. “Do you know what happened?” she asked, her

fingers lingering on his closed eyelids, her thumbs rubbing

gentle circles on his cheeks.

“Unh, uh.” Mulder tilted his head up, as if reaching out

to her fingers with his face. “I’d consider going through

it again, though, if this is the end result,” he said

softly.

Scully let her hands rest on his face more fully. “You

don’t need to go through that to get to this point, Mulder.”

She felt him go utterly still beneath her hands. “I

don’t?” he asked, and she noted how his voice was still

shaky from his ordeal.

“No, you don’t,” she said softly.

His eyes opening and looking at her like she’d just told

him he’d won a million dollars shocked her to her senses.

Just what in God’s name was she thinking? They were on the

front steps of a multi-national business, about two minutes

away from a shift change, and she was…

She pulled her hands away from his face and stood up. “For

God’s sake, Mulder, you were in agony. Nobody in his right

mind would want to go through that again. Come on. I still

want you to get checked out at the hospital.”

Ignoring the look of bewilderment and then hurt on his

face, Scully helped him to his feet. “I’m fine,” he

mumbled; then, as she was about to protest, he added, “but

I’ll go.”

She was stunned. Mulder voluntarily submitting to a stint

in the emergency room? Whatever had happened to him had

scared him pretty badly.

Shoving prim and proper Agent Scully to the back of her

mind, Scully allowed her emotions to the forefront for

once. Taking her partner’s arm gently, she led him away

from the building.

When they reached the car, Mulder drew the keys out of his

pocket, unlocked the passenger door, then handed the keys

to her. Waiting until she was seated before he seated

himself, Mulder slid into the seat, reaching for the seat

belt. As he clicked the buckle home, Scully caressed his

cheeks with her fingertips.

Mulder’s head snapped up in surprise.

“Just so you know…” She let her hands trail down his

face before she let go.

After a few seconds of staring at her, he swallowed and

nodded. She almost didn’t catch his smile before she turned

away to reach for her seat belt.

******

Rodgers Memorial Hospital

Emergency Room Bay 3

9:36 p.m.

Mulder lay huddled on his side, shivering. After they’d

put him through a battery of tests, they’d plugged him into

an I.V. and relegated him back to bed, which was fine with

him, except that it was twenty below zero, and they’d left

him without a blanket.

As he and Scully had begun their journey to the hospital,

Mulder had been glad he’d agreed to go, because the closer

they’d gotten, the worse he’d felt. His headache had

returned, and they’d had to stop three times so he could

throw up.

He didn’t know what they were pumping into him, but it was

working because the urge to vomit had — thankfully —

dissipated, and his headache had lessened. He shivered

again.

If they could only remember that he was a person, not just

a patient, and bring him twenty or thirty blankets, he

could die a happy man.

He wondered where Scully had got off to. He’d been pretty

out of it when they’d arrived at the hospital, and this was

the first time he’d actually noticed her absence. Lifting

his head, he found that it sat curiously heavy on his

shoulders. He felt a kind of hazy awareness of his

surroundings. Was he in a real bed? Was he lying on top of

the covers? Could he navigate himself into a position where

he could actually utilize the damned things?

Attempting to sit up made the room shimmy and shake around

him, and he dropped back down like a rock. He lay on his

back, panting, for a few minutes, then resigned himself to

his blanketless fate and rolled onto his side, curling his

body in as much as he could in an attempt to conserve his

body heat.

As he lay pondering the fact that he hadn’t warmed himself

up by the exertion of trying to sit up, he heard his name

being called softly.

“Scully?” he murmured, not opening his eyes.

The voice was deep and masculine. “It’s Skinner. How are

you feeling, Agent Mulder?”

“Cold,” he replied, without having to think about it. His

body was beginning to shiver in earnest. “Very fucking

cold.”

In a matter of seconds, something heavy and — warm –was

draped over him. Greedily reaching for it, he pulled it up

over his shoulders, hunching down into its depths.

“Careful, Mulder, you’ll dislodge the I.V.”

He felt Skinner carefully arranging the cover around the

I.V. line. “Thanks,” Mulder said, rubbing his cheek against

the material, surprised at its roughness, but not enough to

give it up.

“You’re welcome. Better?” Skinner’s voice held the gentle

quality the A.D. only used for those occasions when Mulder

was dying, or…

“Not your fault,” Mulder whispered, getting drowsy now

that he was toasty warm.

“I shouldn’t have called you in on this,” Skinner argued,

more with himself than with Mulder.

“I’m fine, sir.” He carefully rolled onto his back so he

could see his boss, taking care to hold onto — what he now

saw was — Skinner’s coat. Blushing served to make him a

little warmer, and he reveled in it. He fingered the coat.

“I appreciate this.” Smiling sleepily at Skinner, he

yawned. “Warm now. Tired now.” He closed his eyes.

“Is it all right for you to sleep?” Skinner asked,

nervously.

“Didn’t say not to.”

“All right, then.” He felt Skinner’s hand closing around

his arm. “Get some sleep. I’ll try to find Scully.”

” ‘Kay.”

The room, and Skinner, faded away.

******

Rodgers Memorial Hospital

9:42 p.m.

Skinner walked out into the organized chaos that was the

emergency room triage. Picking his way toward the

admissions desk, he spotted Scully and quickly detoured her

way, relieved that he wouldn’t have to ask the ninety-seven-

year-old woman behind the desk for help in locating his

agent.

“Scully!” he called, just before she disappeared behind a

door.

The door opened a second later, and Scully gestured him

inside. “Did you just get here?” she asked.

“About ten minutes ago.”

Scully appeared to be calculating. “Did you see Mulder?”

she asked.

Skinner nodded. “He’s sleeping. He says he’s fine. Is he?”

Looking into her eyes, trying to gauge his agent’s true

condition, the A.D. was heartened by what he saw there.

“He’s not fine yet, but he will be.”

“What happened?” Skinner asked.

Scully started walking away, and it was then that Skinner

noticed that they were in a private room containing one bed

— and one patient. “A less severe version of what happened

to him.” She indicated the patient in the bed.

“Who is he?”

“Wilfred Manning.” When Scully noted his struggle to place

the name, she elaborated. “He’s on Mulder’s list.”

“He’s still alive?” Skinner stared in shock at the man

lying so still, hooked up to all sorts of machines.

“For now.”

“What happened to them?”

Scully sighed tiredly, and Skinner could have kicked

himself for putting her — and Mulder — through this.

Damn, but it was selfish of him to have called in these two

for what he could now see was a purely personal reason.

While there was no doubt that Mulder’s profiling skills and

Scully’s forensic ones were definite plusses, Skinner could

have — and should have — just as easily gone through

channels to request another profiler.

“Sir?” His agent’s laying a hand on his forearm jolted him

back to the present.

He gave her a rueful smile. “Sorry. You were about to

explain…”

Nodding, Scully flipped open Manning’s chart. “Lobar

intracerebral hemorrhage occurs when there is a bleeding in

the superficial white matter of the cerebrum. While he did

have a bleed, which caused cerebral edema, they were able

to repair the damage quickly, mostly because we knew

exactly what we were dealing with. Plus, we think Manning

may have become suspicious at the first sign of pain and

called for help immediately, based upon what happened to

Mulder.”

Skinner just looked at her, puzzled.

“What happened to Mulder, happened in Manning’s office,”

she told him.

Skinner stared at her in disbelief. “Why were they both

affected? Why weren’t you?” He broke off suddenly, really

looking at her now.

“No, you’re right,” she reassured him. “I wasn’t affected.

But neither was Manning — at least not at the same time

Mulder was.”

“Have you figured out how they were affected?”

Scully nodded gravely. Walking over to the closet, she

tugged on the door, and it slid open, revealing a man’s

suit jacket dangling from a hanger. She pointed to the

right breast pocket. “I think it was that.”

Skinner’s attempt at reaching for the pen was aborted by

his agent’s hand shooting out and grasping his wrist

tightly. “Don’t touch it!”

Her rebuke was sharp, but he deserved it. “Sorry,” he

said, freeing his wrist from her surprisingly-strong grip.

“Is it still activated?” Starting toward it, he checked

himself and decided to wait until he heard what she had to

say.

“I don’t know. I haven’t had time to check.” She eyed the

pen with loathing. “I only know that Mulder had possession

of that thing for ten minutes, and look what happened to

him.” Walking back over to the bed, she looked at the man

lying there. “Manning would have been in better shape if he

hadn’t had that…” She indicated the pen with her chin.

“…on his person. He’s lucky the paramedics had to remove

his jacket to treat him, or he’d be dead.”

“Is Mulder… Did Mulder suffer any damage? Any bleeding?”

His agent met his eyes and nodded. “Very little, though.

We were able to get it under control right away, without

surgery. You know, it’s funny…” She stopped in mid-

sentence, staring out into space. Skinner knew to give her

a minute to gather her thoughts. “That device wasn’t

activated when Mulder first started using it. And Manning

had been using it before that.” She pierced him with those

blue eyes of hers. “Either it activated itself at a certain

point, or someone activated it while we were there.”

Skinner didn’t like the implications that engendered. “Do

you think that Mulder was the intended target?”

Scully pondered this thought for a minute, then shook her

head. “No. I think Manning was the target. Mulder’s using

the pen was a purely random event. The killer couldn’t know

that his pen would run out of ink at that precise moment.

He couldn’t know that Manning would give Mulder his pen.”

Skinner nodded his agreement. “We’d better get that to the

lab so they can tell us how it works.” Was it controlled

remotely by someone in the building? Did it have a further

range? Was it on a timer? Was it activated by some other

method, by touch, sound, light?

Scully nodded. “I’ve already put in a call.” She glanced

at the door, then back at him. “Do you… would you mind

waiting for them here? I left word that they were to come

directly to this room, but I don’t want them to disturb

Manning. You know how carried away the tecchies can get

over something new.”

The A.D. laughed softly. “All right.”

His agent started for the door, then hesitated. “I’ll

be… I need to…” She pressed her lips together tightly.

“Go ahead,” he said, gently.

Smiling gratefully, if a little embarassedly, Scully

nodded and left to see her partner.

*****

Act IV

Rodgers Memorial Hospital

Room 2437

Saturday, February 17

6:43 a.m.

When Scully’s eyes shot open, she was blinded. Giving a

strangled cry, she shifted in the chair, until she was out

of range of the sunbeam that had attacked her. Squinting

against the light, she wondered if it was possible to be

part vampire, and then she decided that, yeah, before that

first cup of coffee, it was a definite possibility.

A soft chuckle off to her left reminded Scully of where

she was. She whirled toward the sound, her mouth already

forming its, “Mulder!”

But Mulder was holding a finger to his lips, and she

whispered instead, “What?”

Her partner’s eyes shifted to the non-sunny side of the

room, where A.D. Skinner sat sprawled, dead asleep, in the

most uncomfortable position Scully could ever recall seeing

a human being in. “Mulder, we’d be doing him a favor if we

woke him up out of that human pretzel imitation he’s doing.”

Mulder shrugged. “It didn’t seem to do you too much harm.”

“But I’m shorter. Not to mention younger–”

“Not to mention cuter,” Mulder interjected, eyes twinkling

mischievously.

Scully stared at him for a second. Well, someone was

feeling better. “I’m glad you think so,” she said dryly,

taking particular delight in having turned the tables as

his face reddened. “So, how long have you been awake,

watching me sleep?” She let her gaze drift to Skinner

momentarily. “Or have you been watching him?”

Mulder imitated her action of glancing at Skinner, then

returning his gaze to her. “Well, now that you mention it,

there is a certain boyish charm–”

“Ahem,” a deep, gruff voice interrupted, and Scully

thought she might bust a gut at the look of astonishment on

Mulder’s face — Mulder’s very red, very flustered face.

“Sir, we were just about to wake you up,” Scully told

Skinner in an attempt to give her partner a little time to

gather his wits about him.

Skinner gazed at her. “Oh, is that what you were doing?”

As she tried to formulate some sort of answer, Skinner

turned toward her partner. “Feeling better, Agent Mulder?”

“I was,” Mulder mumbled, and Scully almost felt sorry for

him.

Skinner stood up, wincing when he straightened his back.

Eyeing Scully, he shook his head. “Tell me you aren’t

feeling the effects of that torture device,” he said,

indicating the chair she was still sitting in.

She shrugged, trying to hide her smile.

“Well, I’m going back to the motel and then I’m heading to

the office.” He turned his gaze to Mulder. “Are you being

released today, Agent Mulder?”

Glancing at Scully before looking at Skinner for the first

time since Skinner had awakened, Mulder shrugged

sheepishly. “To tell you the truth, I have no idea. I

really don’t remember all that much after we got here. I

was pretty fuzzy…” He stopped, frowning. “I’m even fuzzy

about being fuzzy.”

“That’s from the injury, Mulder,” Scully told him. “One of

the symptoms is a drop in alertness.”

“Yeah, well, I can certainly attest to that,” Mulder said.

“How’s Manning?” Skinner asked Scully.

“What about Manning?” Mulder interspersed. “Was there an

attempt on his life?”

Scully nodded. “On yours, too, when you come right down to

it.” Mulder just stared at her, and after a few seconds

passed Scully realized that she’d been waiting for his

usual quick response, but it wouldn’t be forthcoming — not

yet, anyway. “We think it was Manning’s pen, Mulder. It

would explain why you and Manning were affected and I

wasn’t.”

“I should have gotten this, shouldn’t I?” Mulder said, as

if reading her mind. “I should have made the connection. It

should have been so clear to me.” His look was one of

pleading. “But it wasn’t.”

“It will be. Soon. Very soon.” She patted his face. “Don’t

worry. You’ll be making those unsubstantiated leaps of

logic before you know it.”

“When?” he asked, sounding, as only Mulder could, both

petulant and worried.

Scully sighed. “You’ve been through a lot, Mulder, and

believe it or not, you’ve been very lucky.”

Mulder lowered his eyes, nodding. “I know.” Scully had

filled him in on the causes, symptoms and treatment for LIH

when they got the case, so she was sure he was well aware

that he could very well have gone another route — he could

have died, or he could have suffered loss of brain

functions.

“Scully, how do you know I’m not–”

“You’re not,” she said fiercely. “I’ve been over your

chart a hundred times. You didn’t have any brain damage.

This… fuzziness as you call it, is mostly from the

medication.”

Mulder’s eyes darted to the I.V. line. “How much longer?”

Scully pressed Mulder’s call button. “Let’s find out.”

“Er… I’m heading out now,” Skinner said, an apologetic

look on his face. “Scully?” He motioned her over.

Giving Mulder a look of encouragement, she squeezed his

arm before walking across the room to where Skinner had

moved.

“When you get a chance, I need whatever you and Mulder

found out yesterday,” he said, his voice a near whisper.

“And if he’s up to it — if *you* think he’s up to it, I’d

like his thoughts on it, too.”

“Yes, sir,” Scully said, nodding.

“And, uh…” Skinner paused, looking uncomfortable, his

eyes settling on her partner for a moment before meeting

her eyes again.

Scully thought she would cut the man a break. “I’ll call

you as soon as I know, sir.”

His face reflecting his surprise, then his chagrin,

Skinner nodded stiffly. “Thanks,” he mumbled. Then he

turned and left quickly, almost bumping into the nurse as

they met in the doorway.

“Mr. Mulder… Dr. Scully… Do you need help with

something?” Scully watched in amusement as the nurse tried

to check out her boss without being too obvious about it.

Scully tried to hide her smile. “Agent Mulder was

wondering when he could get his I.V. line taken out.”

The nurse walked over, smiling in sympathy. “It can be

rather uncomfortable, can’t it?” She picked up Mulder’s

chart, seemingly unsurprised to find it lying on the foot

of his bed rather than outside the door where it belonged.

“I’m sure you know this already, Dr. Scully, but he’s

coming along quite well. Dr. Hallinan left orders that if

he was awake and alert and in no pain, we could remove it

as early as 7 a.m.” She glanced at her watch. “We have

about four minutes, but I think that’s close enough.”

Mulder studied the ceiling while the nurse pulled the

needle from his vein, and Scully looked out the window to

give him some privacy.

“All done,” the nurse announced cheerfully. They thanked

her, and she left.

“Am I getting out of here today?” Mulder asked.

Scully nodded. “I’m pretty sure you are, but you’ll have

to take it easy for a few days. No more interviews,

Mulder,” she told him pointedly.

Mulder rubbed his forehead. “From what you told me about

the pen, it doesn’t look like it’ll be necessary anyway.

Anything back from the lab yet?”

Scully shook her head. “Not that I heard.” She leaned back

in her chair. “Skinner said he’d let me know when they

found something.”

When Mulder yawned, Scully stood up, stretching. “You know

what? I’m going to let you sleep while I go back to the

motel to take a shower and change. When I come back, they

should be about ready to release you.”

Not until she finished speaking did she realize that

Mulder hadn’t uttered one word of protest.

She laid a kiss on her sleeping partner’s cheek and

tiptoed out.

*****

Newark Field Office Saturday

8:43 p.m.

Mulder reflected upon what a dubious stroke of luck it had

been that he’d handled that pen, that once they’d

discovered the means by which the murders had been

committed, it had been ridiculously easy to trace them to

their source.

Lawrence Dexter III, certified genius according to the

tecchies, certified disgruntled environmentalist and

suspected killer according to the FBI, was now in custody a

few doors away from the office in which Mulder lay resting

on a couch, forbidden from questioning the suspect by his

partner.

Amazingly enough, Mulder was perfectly okay with that

order. He saw no need to personally interview the suspect.

For a genius, the guy had been dim-witted enough to use his

own name and credentials at each of the locations he’d

worked. Mulder couldn’t get over the fact that they’d

actually sat in Manning’s waiting room with the man. He and

Scully had even spoken to Dexter, had apologized for

bumping him from his appointment to consult on the firm’s

computer system. It was a service Dexter had performed

regularly for MR&D and, they knew now, for the companies of

every single victim. It was also how he was able to find

out which companies used the same types of chemicals that

had killed his mother two months earlier.

Skinner had actually picked Dexter as most likely from the

list of names and bios they’d hastily put together. When

the technicians had dissected the pen, they were terribly

excited to find that it contained a highly-specialized

microchip; Skinner was excited to find that only ten people

in the Newark area had purchased the chip in the last

month. Once they had the list, Skinner had skimmed it and

immediately pointed to Dexter’s name.

As well as having the capability to conceive and assemble

the device necessary to transmit the frequency necessary to

damage a person’s brain, Dexter was an ex-marine. It was

his “Special Services” status that put Skinner on to him.

No mere egghead, he. The man had “skills.”

Once they confronted him, the man had cracked like an

eggshell. He’d readily admitted to killing the men, but he

didn’t seem to understand that he’d done anything wrong.

Why, he’d questioned, was it wrong to kill people who

killed other people? It was exactly what he’d done when he

was a marine, he’d explained, and he’d never been accused

of wrongdoing then; rather the opposite — he’d been

congratulated, even decorated.

If killing was wrong, why did his own country condone it?

Why did they teach him how to be so good at it? Hadn’t he

been fighting for mom and country? When someone threatened

his country, he’d kill them. This time someone didn’t just

threaten his mother, they’d *killed* her. He’d merely

carried out his duty. Couldn’t they see that? Didn’t they

understand? He was only doing what he was supposed to do!

Mulder sighed. Although the FBI had more than enough

evidence to convict Dexter, it was looking more and more

like they weren’t going to have their day in court — at

least not at this point in time.

“You’re thinking again.”

Eyes still closed, Mulder smiled at his partner’s voice.

Either she was getting better at skulking about, or he’d

been concentrating way too hard. In any event, he hadn’t

heard her open the door or walk up to him.

Opening his eyes, he swung his legs over the side and sat

up, offering her a seat beside him. “Anything new with

Dexter?”

Scully plunked herself down a few inches from him,

surprising the hell out of him by dropping her forehead

onto his shoulder. “Where should I start?” she murmured,

and Mulder could feel the movement of her lips against his

arm.

“Is he still looking good for an insanity plea?” he asked,

softly, hardly daring to breathe lest she should take it as

an indication to move.

“Mm, hm. But Skinner thinks it’s all a very good act.”

“Because of the Special Services thing?”

“Uh, huh.” Scully leaned back into the cushions, and

Mulder deemed it safe to take air into his lungs again.

“So what’s happening now?”

“Skinner’s requested his military record.” She placed a

hand beneath his elbow and stood, helping him to his feet.

“We’re going back to the motel to get some sleep.”

It never even occurred to Mulder to question her. Even

though he’d been ‘taking it easy,’ with the exception of

the last hour he’d been taking it easy in a chair or on his

feet. As Popeye would so eloquently put it, he was pooped.

“Skinner?” he asked.

Shaking her head, Scully aimed them toward the door.

“Going another few rounds with the locals, I imagine.”

Mulder stilled her hand as she reached for the doorknob.

“They’re opposing him?” At her nod, he commented, “I should

think they’d want to see Dexter stand trial and not get off

on some plea.”

Scully sighed. “I swear if he told them to be careful,

they’d shoot each other just so they could do the opposite

of what he said.”

Mulder blew out a breath. “God, they’re even more

infantile than I gave them credit for.” He let go of

Scully’s wrist, and she opened the door. “Should we stick

around?” he asked. “Lend some support?”

“Tomorrow, maybe.” She placed a hand on the small of his

back and gave him a gentle shove. “Tonight we’ve been

ordered to bed.”

He had to turn and look at her; she could not have made

that remark in innocence.

“Gotcha,” she said, smiling evilly.

“Scully, my heart,” he said, dramatically, flattening his

palm over the proper area on his chest.

“Mine, too,” she said, softly.

Then she gave him another nudge, propelling him down the

corridor on his two suddenly-rubbery legs.

***************

Newark Field Office Conference Room

Saturday

8:39 p.m.

“What the hell is wrong with all of you?” Skinner’s eyes

roamed over the eleven agents assembled around the

conference table. “This is real life! This isn’t some

schoolyard where you take a stand against the school bully.

Think very hard about this before you turn in those

reports. Please. This man is a cold-blooded killer, not

some poor schmuck we decided to pick on.”

“You can’t dictate what we put in our reports, Skinner,”

Dalton snapped. “We may have had to kowtow to your commands

before, but the case is over.”

“Fine. It’s over. But, please… Think very hard with

regard to what you’re about to do — about what you’re all

about to do.”

“It’s not as though our reports hold any sway with the

trial anyway,” Rodriguez put in. “They’ve got more than

enough evidence–”

“The evidence is not what’s in question,” Skinner cut him

off. “We have him dead to rights; that part is cut and

dried. The question before the attorneys is *how* to try

him: as a criminal or as criminally insane. There’s a huge

difference, as you all know.”

“Look, Skinner,” Dalton said. “I interrogated him. He

cried like a baby the entire time.”

“It’s an act,” Skinner said, shaking his head. “It’s all a

very good act.”

“Oh, come on,” Agent Falite spat. “Are you telling me that

that guy’s wetting himself was an act?”

“Yes!” Skinner yelled. “Don’t you get it? This is

precisely why he could get away with using his own name. No

one would believe anybody could be that stupid. And then he

uses the insanity angle.”

“Nope.” Cjeka spoke up from the end of the table. “Not

buying it. The guy’s a fruit. I have an uncle who’s a

permanent resident in a psychiatric home, and Dexter is a

carbon copy of him.”

Skinner looked around the table at each stubborn face.

“Doesn’t it bother you that this man has killed six people?”

“You killed eight.” Eric Stone was staring at him with

unabashed hatred in his eyes.

A little taken aback, Skinner muttered, “You don’t know

what you’re talking about, Stone.”

“Don’t I?” Stone spewed, rising from his seat. “I lost a

good friend in that raid, Skinner.”

“We all had friends that you sent to their deaths,”

Donnelly charged, also standing.

“We’re not here to talk about that,” Skinner said, in as

calming a voice as he could muster. “We’re here–”

“No!” Rodriguez bellowed. “You’re not brushing it aside

again.”

All around the table, agents were standing, shouting

accusations at him, murderous intent in their eyes. Skinner

recognized that the situation was getting out of control.

He thanked the powers that be that he was seated close to

the door. With eleven angry agents encroaching upon his

territory, Skinner started backing toward the door. He

yanked it open — and found his escape route blocked.

“What’s going on?” Mulder asked.

*****

Newark Field Office Conference Room

Saturday

8:44 p.m.

They’d almost made it.

A dozen or so more steps and they would have been out the

door. But the angry shouting coming from the conference

room by which they had been passing could not be ignored.

They’d both known who was in there and who the intended

target of that anger most likely was. Mulder had glanced at

her quickly before he’d reached for the door, only to have

it pulled open by Skinner.

“What’s going on?” Mulder had managed to ask —

And then a fist came flying at him from out of the mob of

agents surrounding their boss. Mulder took a hit high to

the cheekbone, staggering back into her arms, flailing out

in an attempt to right himself. Only Skinner’s reaching out

and grasping Mulder under the armpits saved them from

landing in a very undignified heap on the floor.

“Rodriguez, you jerk! You clocked Mulder, not Skinner,”

came Stone’s voice.

“I’ll fix that right now,” Rodriguez said, reaching for

the A.D., who was still holding onto a dazed Mulder.

“You touch him, I’ll shoot you.” Scully held her weapon in

both hands, her firearm trained on Rodriguez’s chest.

“Whoa, Agent Scully. We have no argument with you. There’s

no need for that.” He indicated her gun.

“There’s no need for any of this,” Mulder said, rubbing

his face, pulling himself gently out of Skinner’s grip.

“Thanks, sir,” he said, positioning himself between the

agents and his boss.

“Hey, I’m sorry, Mulder,” Rodriguez said. “I didn’t mean

to — ”

“No, you meant to hit an assistant director of the FBI,”

Mulder said, and that seemed to bring them to their senses.

Very slowly, they backed away, drifting back to their

seats. Scully lowered her weapon and holstered it.

“You ladies and gentlemen seem to be operating under a

misconception,” Mulder addressed them. “May I suggest that

you read the special addendum to the events of May 16,

1991? I believe you’ll find it very interesting reading.”

“We’ve already read his lies,” Stone spewed.

“They’re not lies, and they’re not his,” Mulder said.

“They’re Robertson’s.”

“Rob — He was killed in the raid,” Dalton countered. “How

could he have given an account of it?”

“I never said he did,” Mulder replied blandly.

“Then what –”

“Just read it,” Mulder said, “and if it should necessitate

a revision in your reports, I’m sure you’ll have time

before the 10 a.m. deadline.”

Scully touched his elbow, and she was pleased to see the

smile return to his eyes. He laid a hand on her upper arm,

a gesture that meant that he needed another minute;

inexplicably, she also read apology in his eyes. When he

turned toward Skinner, indicating the door with a tilt of

his head, she knew why.

She read the uncertainty in Skinner’s eyes as he

interpreted Mulder’s message; when he locked eyes with her,

she gave him a small smile and a minute nod of her head.

The possibility of a romantic evening with her partner

would have to be put on hold yet again.

The story of their life in one simple sentence.

She gathered up Mulder and Skinner, and they left the

conference room.

******

X-Files Office

Thursday, February 22

3:24 p.m.

In the end, it hadn’t made an iota of difference.

Mulder didn’t know whether the Newark agents had changed

their reports or even whether they’d read about Robertson’s

journal. He hadn’t asked.

“Hey, partner, who was that on the phone?” Scully asked as

he was hanging up.

“Skinner,” he said, hurrying to help her with the mountain

of file folders she was carrying. “Jesus, Scully, did you

say a *little* research on spontaneous regeneration?”

“Mulder, can I… Thanks,” she said, as he relieved her of

two-thirds of the stack. “Can I help it if you’ve

accumulated a ton of information on the subject?” He

followed her eyes as she took in the piles of folders on

every available flat surface. “…on a lot of subjects.”

“Hey, I’m nothing if not thorough.” Following her to her

desk, he set his accumulation atop hers.

“So what did Skinner want?”

“Oh. Uh, Dexter.” Mulder flipped open the top folder.

“They’re going ahead with the insanity plea.”

Scully sighed loudly, and Mulder looked up. “He fooled

them all, didn’t he?” she asked. “Dexter’s going to get

away with murder.”

The folder no longer holding his interest, Mulder closed

it and tossed it back onto the heap. “Maybe.”

“Sometimes I wonder why we even bother.” She sat down

heavily in her chair.

Mulder touched her lightly on the arm. “You know why.”

Continuing as if he hadn’t spoken, she said, “Why do a

good job when the criminals get off with a slap on the

wrist?” Finally acknowledging his presence, she looked up

at him just as he opened his mouth to offer his opinion.

“Oh, excuse me, this one will get sent to his room without

his supper.” She crossed her arms, her posture exuding

frustration.

“Scully,” he started in his ‘voice of reason,’ then

stopped. She was right. They broke their asses to catch

these guys, to get them off the streets, and for what? So

some court-appointed psychiatrist can ‘rehabilitate’ them?

Well, it worked just fine for Eugene Tooms, and it’ll be

just as successful with Dexter. Looking down at her just

then, he saw his emotions mirrored in her eyes, and an

overwhelming sadness washed over him.

Look what he’d done to her. Wasted away her youth,

stripped her of her innocence, robbed her of her belief in

right and wrong, good and bad.

“Oh, no, you don’t,” Scully said, standing up and grabbing

his hand.

“What?” he said, confused, stumbling over his feet as she

dragged him toward the coat rack.

“You are not going to wallow in self pity, or pity for me,

or whatever it is you want to wallow in.” She snatched his

coat off its hook and held it open for him; he stared at

her in stunned silence for a moment before the sheer force

of her indignation snapped him out of his funk.

“Scully, it’s only 3:30,” he said, finally finding his

voice. “Where am I going?”

He tried to hide his pleasure when she removed her coat

also. “*We* are going…” She stopped. “…somewhere fun.”

“Fun?” he asked, tickled. “I didn’t know you indulged in

‘fun,’ Scully.”

“I have been known,” she replied in an affronted tone, “to

bat the occasional ball, down the sporadic quart of rocky

road ice cream–”

“You madwoman, you,” he laughed, getting more into the

spirit of the moment. Maybe things weren’t as dismal as

he’d painted them after all. “So where are we going?”

“To…” She ceased all movement, thinking. “I don’t know,

Mulder,” she admitted. She gave his arm a tug, then opened

the door. “But let’s go now.”

He followed after her without giving it a second thought.

******

Epilogue

Assistant Director Skinner’s Office One Week Later 9:37 a.m.

Skinner looked up from his report at the knock on his

door. “Yes?”

His assistant opened the door and stepped inside. “This

just came for you, sir.” She handed him a sealed letter-

size envelope.

“Thank you.” Accepting the mail, he waited until the door

closed behind her before he returned to his desk and opened

it.

He let out a huff of breath as he read the contents:

Lawrence Dexter III escaped from custody en route to the

Newark Federal Court Building from the Raynham Psychiatric

Hospital. Two guards and one bystander were killed during

the escape. At the recommendation of the staff

psychiatrists, Dexter had not been handcuffed.

The End

Feedback is appreciated!

Jo-Ann at 70302.3654@compuserve.com

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