Justice, Interrupted

cover

TITLE: Justice, Interrupted

AUTHORS: Dawn Zemke and Sally Bahnsen

EMAIL: bahnsen@alphalink.com.au

sunrise@avenew.com

RATING: PG

CATAGORY: X

KEYWORDS: Casefile, MSR

SPOILERS: VS9

ARCHIVE: Two weeks exclusively on VS9, then Gossamer

and Ephemeral. Others are fine, just let us know.

DISCLAIMER: Mulder, Scully and Skinner belong to

Chris Carter, 1013 and Fox. No copyright infringement

intended.

SUMMARY: How far will one man go to see justice served?

FEEDBACK: Gratefully accepted.

AUTHORS’ NOTES: Many thanks to Michelle, dtg, and Vickie

for insightful beta, and to Suzanne for both beta and

medical expertise.

Justice, Interrupted — Part 1

By Dawn Zemke and Sally Bahnsen

TEASER:

Behavioral Science Unit

Quantico

12:04 a.m.

“Gee, McNally, this letter from your mom is so sweet. It’s got me

feeling all warm and fuzzy inside.”

Sal DeAngelo ducked his head to hide a grin, watching from the

corner of his eye as Kyle McNally flipped Corey Peterson the bird.

With no major cases pending, most people had headed home hours

earlier and an unnatural quiet had descended on the bullpen.

Peterson’s smartass remarks were a welcome diversion.

“Damn computer virus.” McNally dropped into his chair and began

shutting down his computer, stabbing buttons and cursing under

his breath. “I’m still not certain who got pieces of what files. It

sent my mother a chunk of the profile I was working on. And I won’t

even go into the photos it sent Father Callahan.”

Sal clicked his tongue against his teeth, grinning. “Have you been

collecting dirty pictures from that sleazy Web site again? Shame

on you, ASAC McNally.”

“I seem to recall a few tasteless bookmarks in your collection,

Saint DeAngelo.”

“I got no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Don’t know what I’m tawking about, huh?” Kyle mimicked his

‘Brooklynese’ with sarcastic accuracy. “Why doesn’t that surprise

me?” He sighed, running his fingers through thinning blond hair.

“What are you still doing here, anyway? Please don’t tell me you’re

obsessing over the Mitchell murder again.”

“All right, I won’t tell you.”

“Saaaal.” Kyle stalked over to Sal’s desk and plucked the manila

folder from the blotter, closing it and tucking it under his arm.

“Gary Jansen is a serial murderer. He killed Monica Mitchell and

four other women in cold blood. He’s been tried, convicted, and

sentenced. Justice has been served–let it go.”

“Didn’t anything about this case bother you? Weren’t there any

pieces that just didn’t fit?”

“No.”

“Then tell me why the guy broke in through the window when he

could’ve come through the front door? Monica knew him; she’d

dated Gary for nearly eight months.”

“She also owed him money. Considering the threats he made in a

couple of those letters we found, I doubt he’d have gotten a warm

reception if he showed up on her doorstep.”

“Okay, what about the simple fact that they’d previously been

involved in a long-term relationship? He picked all the other

victims outta a hat, strangers right off the street.”

“Key word–previously. Gary and Monica had been split up for

nearly a year. You know as well as I do that it’s not unheard of for

a guy like that to hit someone he already knows.”

“The first time, maybe, or even the second, when he’s learning his

craft. But Gary had successfully whacked four other women,

paisan’. He’d gotten good at it. Why would he risk gettin’ caught by

playin’ in his own backyard?”

“He was pissed at her? Come on, Sal, how many times have we

caught an UNSUB because he just plain screwed up? You know

half of them subconsciously want to be caught.”

“He didn’t act like he wanted to be caught when he kept insisting

he was innocent.” Sal’s eyes turned distant, haunted. “Or when he

broke down in front of the judge and bawled like a baby.”

“What did you expect–he’d just been handed a death sentence.

Face the facts, Sal. We pulled several of Gary’s fingerprints off

the murder weapon. We found a shirt covered with Monica’s blood

stuffed into the back of his closet. The mode and execution of her

death match that of the other women–the signature is nearly

identical. And he was unable to produce a credible alibi for any of

the nights in question. A jury of his peers found him guilty. Why

can’t you accept that?”

Sal ran a hand over his face, then propped his chin on his fist.

“Because I looked into his eyes when he said he didn’t do it. And I

believe him.”

Kyle stared at him a moment, then turned away, shaking his head.

“I give up. I have to take a piss, then I’m out of here. If you’re

smart, you’ll do the same.”

“I just have to go through my email. I’m about a week behind.” He

opened his inbox, smirked. “Hey, McNally! Looks like I may be

the lucky recipient of one of your dirty pictures.”

Kyle flashed him the same finger he’d given Peterson and ambled

down the hall to the bathroom. Still chuckling, Sal opened the

email and began to read.

And the smile froze on his lips.

“If you think you can just dump me like yesterday’s trash, you’d

better think again. I’m not a whore and I don’t intend to be treated

like one. I wonder how the lovely Mrs. Kyle McNally would feel

about her husband if she knew he was screwing around? Maybe

she’d like a copy of this?”

And beneath the text, a photo of Monica Mitchell clad in a red

teddy, snuggled in Kyle McNally’s arms.

“All right, go ahead. Let me have it.”

Sal nearly jumped out of his skin. He quickly clicked on a different

email and pasted on a smile. “What a let down. It was a piece of

the Whitecotten profile.”

Kyle returned to his desk and began slipping files into his

briefcase. “You always have had rotten luck.”

Sal struggled not to squirm under McNally’s smile, which suddenly

felt sharp and cold. With trembling fingers, he forwarded the email

to his home computer and closed his inbox. “Think I’ll take your

advice and go home. Vickie’s had about enough of my late nights.”

“Good idea. But you’d better return the Carmichael file to records

on your way out. You know how they get.”

“Yeah. Good idea.” Sal logged off and gathered his own briefcase

with unsteady hands. “See you tomorrow.”

“I’ll be here.”

Kyle waited until Sal had disappeared into the elevator before

moving to his chair, logging onto his computer, and opening the

inbox. Being named ASAC had its advantages–including a master

password to all the profilers’ computers. He stared at the

incriminating email for a long moment, face expressionless.

In three minutes the file had been erased and he was headed for the

parking garage.

Thanks to a well-placed puncture, Sal’s tire went flat on a dark

stretch of road only ten minutes from his home. Intent on replacing

it, at first he didn’t see Kyle’s truck bearing down on him. By the

time he did, it was too late.

The growl of an engine, a blinding flash of light…

There were no witnesses.

Georgetown Medical

12:44 a.m.

The emergency room doors imploded, shattering the fragile peace

of what had been a slow night in the ER. Two EMTs, faces set in

grim concentration, shepherded a gurney bearing a man whose

gray-white skin contrasted sharply with the vivid crimson staining

his clothing and their own. On their heels, her expression a blank

mask of shock, a copper-haired woman trailed the procession,

speechless amid the volley of shouted information and instructions.

“Forty-one-year-old male GSW. Sucking chest wound,

right quadrant. BP 40 over palp; pulse 130 and thready.

Respiration rapid and labored.”

“Cyanotic, no breath sounds on the right. He’s on O2 at 8 liters

by mask, two IVs running D5LR wide open.”

Doctors and nurses flooded the trauma room, taking over as the

EMTs deposited their charge and got out of the way. Lost in the

flurry of activity, the woman hovered just inside the doorway,

fingers pressed to her lips.

“Get the lab on the horn, I need type and cross match for at least

six units, stat; a full blood work-up. And get a portable

chest x-ray in here.” The doctor in charge, a woman with streaks of

silver in her dark, close-cropped hair, barked orders like a drill

sergeant. “He needs a chest tube. Jackson?”

“I’m on it.”

“I’m not getting a pulse–we’re losing him.”

“Code blue! Connie, get her out of here.”

She resisted the nurse’s iron grip on her elbow, protest falling from

her lips without conscious thought. “I’m Special Agent Dana

Scully with the FBI, that man is my partner.” And as a final trump

card, “I’m a medical doctor.”

The nurse, a stout black woman with a kind face, hustled her

toward the waiting area. “Not here you aren’t, honey. You sit right

over there–someone will be with you shortly.” She was gone

before Scully could open her mouth to argue.

Scully stood beside a plastic chair, its backrest cracked and pitted,

for several long minutes before her legs folded and she dropped

heavily into it. The trembling began in her hands, spreading

quickly up her arms and down her legs until she shivered

uncontrollably. She felt oddly removed from her surroundings, as

though she were viewing them from the end of a long, dark tunnel.

Her only tethers to reality were the warm stickiness of Mulder’s

blood painting her hands and shirt and the terrifying barrier of the

trauma room doors.

“Agent Scully?”

Skinner’s voice jolted her out of her daze and onto her feet. She

watched his eyes catalogue her bloodstained clothing, saw the

flicker of dismay before they went studiously neutral.

“I came as soon as I heard. How is he?”

“He took a bullet to…to the chest at close range. Massive blood

loss…they won’t let me…his heart stopped.”

“Scully, sit down.”

Skinner guided her to the chair and promptly disappeared–or so it

seemed. She couldn’t drag her eyes from the trauma room doors to

look for him. He was back a moment later with a blanket and a cup

of coffee.

“Drink some of this.”

The blanket, draped across her shoulders, warmed her; the coffee,

sweet and milky, eased the shakes. She sipped it slowly, one eye

always on the motionless doors shielding Mulder from view.

“Scully, what happened?”

Her tongue felt clumsy, sluggish. “Didn’t they tell you?”

“Let’s just say I’ve heard conflicting reports. No one wants to

assume the blame for this one.”

Fury melted away the fog. “There is no conflict, sir. Agent

Glassman failed to properly secure the suspect. He broke loose,

grabbed Agent Glassman’s weapon, and opened fire. Mulder never

saw it coming.” Her voice broke but she tipped her chin up, eyes

dry.

“Agent Glassman is inexperienced. Some feel his partner should

have…”

“Agent Glassman is a fool. Even the greenest rookie should know

better than to…”

The trauma room doors burst open, discharging a rapidly moving

gurney surrounded by ER personnel and equipment. Scully had

thrust the coffee cup into Skinner’s hands and was across the

hallway before he could blink, squeezing between a doctor and a

nurse to reach Mulder’s side.

“How is he? Is he stable?”

“We’re taking him up to surgery.” The doctor, a young Asian man

who looked fresh out of residency, held the elevator doors while

Mulder was wheeled inside. Scully caught a brief glimpse of his

pale, still face before the doors began to close. “Dr. Stanton will

answer all your questions.”

She stared stupidly at the elevator for a moment, then turned on her

heel, nearly colliding with Skinner and the dark-haired doctor who

had been spouting orders in the trauma room.

“Agent Scully? I’m Dr. Alice Stanton; I treated your partner.”

Scully squared her shoulders and accepted the doctor’s outstretched

hand. “Dr. Stanton. This is Assistant Director Skinner, our

supervisor. What is Agent Mulder’s condition?”

Dr. Stanton gestured toward the waiting area. “Let’s sit down.”

When they had each claimed an equally uncomfortable chair, she

steepled her fingers and continued. “The bullet passed through the

right side of Agent Mulder’s chest, causing a dangerous condition

known as a hemopneumothorax.”

She paused and cocked an eyebrow at Scully. “Did I hear you say

you’re a medical doctor?”

“My specialty is pathology, but I’m quite familiar with the term.”

“I’m not,” Skinner inserted dryly. “What exactly is a hemo–?”

“Hemopneumothorax. To put it simply, when the bullet passed

through Agent Mulder it allowed air to be drawn into the chest

cavity, destroying the negative pressure that allows the lungs to

automatically expand and inflate. This trapped air, as well as the

internal bleeding, not only caused Agent Mulder’s right lung to

collapse, but his heart to stop beating.”

“But you got him back.” Scully’s voice trembled.

Skinner cast a sharp, assessing glance at her.

“Yes. However, he was down for nearly three minutes before we

did. I won’t lie to you, Agent Scully. It was a very close call.” Dr.

Stanton massaged the back of her neck. “We put in a chest tube

and got him stable enough to send him upstairs. They’ll repair the

tissue damage, debride the wound, suture the chest tube in place…”

“Dr. Stanton, what is Agent Mulder’s condition–really?”

“If you’re asking whether he’s out of danger, I’d have to say no. But

he’s young and strong–obviously a fighter. If he can make it

through the surgery and avoid any serious post-op infections… I

think he has an excellent chance.”

Scully pressed the back of her hand to her lips, her tightly closed

eyes unable to disguise the sparkle on her lashes. She drew a slow,

calming breath, then mustered a weak smile.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. If I were you, I’d grab a cup of coffee from the

cafeteria before you head upstairs. You’re in for a long wait.”

Scully nodded, watching the doctor walk toward the nurses’

station. She could feel Skinner’s eyes on her, evaluating the

uncharacteristic display of emotion, and tried to shore up her

defenses.

“Thank you for coming down here, sir, but you really don’t need to

stay. I’ll be fine.”

Skinner took the hint. He stood, looking down at her briefly before

speaking. “I know you will, Scully. And so will he.” He started to

walk away, hesitated. “If you need anything…”

“I will.”

She held on until he was gone–just. The tears–a mixture of fear,

anger, and relief–left her feeling both utterly spent and strangely at

peace. She shed her bloody trenchcoat, washed her face, and

collected a coffee before heading upstairs.

Mulder was alive. For now, it was enough.

************

ACT I

************

Georgetown

Five weeks later

2:36 a.m.

He crouches beside the crippled car, cursing under his breath at

the last, stubborn lug nut that refuses to give. The wrench clangs

against the asphalt and he pops sore fingers into his mouth in a

vain attempt to soothe them. A gust of wind stirs the branches of

the large oak tree and a wisp of cloud veils the sliver of moon,

turning poor visibility worse.

He eyes the wrench distastefully; pulls out his cell phone instead.

“Vickie? You were right, cara mia, I should’ve called a tow

truck…Okay, okay–no need to rub it in. Just come get me and I’ll

call someone from the house…You be careful, too. The road is

tricky in the dark…Yeah, I’ll be the good looking guy by the dead

Mazda.”

He chuckles quietly as he pockets the phone, warmed by the sound

of her voice. She’s someone he can count on, now more than ever.

He closes his eyes, gut twisting, an image of betrayal burned on his

retinas.

How could you? he asks the moon, the sky. Why would you?

He snatches up the wrench, throwing his entire body weight behind

the motion of his arms. The nut wiggles, then slowly begins to turn.

Elated, it takes him a moment to register the light splashing across

his back and spilling onto the ground around him. He glances over

his shoulder at the approaching vehicle, frowning when its engine

kicks up from a hum to a roar.

Dropping the wrench, he stands, one hand shading his eyes against

the glare. The car is moving much faster than the posted limit–not

unusual for this deserted stretch of road. He steps back, well onto

the road’s shoulder.

His mouth literally drops open with shock when he recognizes the

approaching vehicle. How many times has he ridden shotgun in

that truck, out for a beer after work or to celebrate the successful

close of a case? His feet unconsciously drift several steps forward,

his hand lifting in an automatic wave.

Until the truck veers sharply to the right, homing in on him like a

beacon. Too late, he understands, but his feet won’t cooperate,

tangling together in his panicked flight from the blinding lights…

“NOOOO!”

“Mulder. Mulder, wake up.”

Hands–one cupping the back of his neck, the other stroking up and

down his left arm. Mulder blinked, sweat stinging his eyes and

trickling between his shoulder blades, his gaze darting around the

darkened bedroom. He was unable to suppress a shudder when the

bright glow of a streetlight momentarily brought his fading dream

back into sharp relief.

“I’m all right.”

“Sure you are. That’s why your heart is banging like the drums in

that band Langly loves.”

He deliberately slowed his breathing and mustered a smirk. “An

unavoidable side effect of sharing a bed with a beautiful woman.”

Her hand slid down his arm and gently pried the sheet from his

clenched fist, her fingers twining with his. “Nice try. Want to tell

me about it?”

“You asking me to talk dirty to you, Scully?”

“Mulder.”

He flopped onto his back, drawing her down and tucking her head

beneath his chin. “No. I do not want to talk about it.”

“Do you realize how long it’s been since you slept through the

night? Mulder, if you’re not comfortable sharing this with me, then

maybe someone at the Bureau, in the EAP…”

He made a disgusted sound, something between a groan and a

snort. “Thanks, but no thanks. Scully, I’m a chronic insomniac and

I’ve been coping with nightmares since I was a kid. There’s no need

to make a mountain out of a molehill.”

“This is different, and you know it. It’s the same dream every night,

and it began after the shooting.” Scully propped her head on one

hand, tracing the puckered red scar beneath his right nipple with

her index finger. “Mulder, your heart stopped. You were…dead for

nearly three minutes before they managed to get you back. It’s not

unusual, in the face of that kind of trauma…”

“The only trauma I’m experiencing right now is the fear that I’ll die

from terminal boredom before they let me come back to work.”

When she simply stared at him, a small line of disapproval marring

her pale forehead, he sighed. “Scully, you worry too much. You

know, all things considered, I think I’m the one who got off easy

this time. I just lay there and bled–you had to watch.”

“That’s not funny.” But the rebuke was soft, and her voice

wavered.

Mulder reached up and threaded his fingers into her hair, his thumb

brushing back and forth across her cheek. “I know. I’m only

saying… I’m all right, Scully. You think I’m still experiencing

aftershocks from that night, but maybe you’re the one who needs to

let go.”

Scully covered the hand cradling her face, eyes over-bright.

“There’ve been so many close calls over the years… I don’t want to

consider how often I’ve watched your life hang by a thread. But it’s

different now. Harder.”

“Harder? Because we’re…together?”

A barely perceptible nod, teeth worrying her lip. “Not because it

hurts more. But because I can’t…compartmentalize the pain.”

Though his eyes revealed only empathy, one corner of Mulder’s

mouth twitched. The small line between Scully’s brows deepened.

“You think that’s funny? Mulder, I practically fell to pieces in front

of Skinner! If he didn’t suspect anything before, he sure as hell

should now.”

“I don’t think it’s funny. I think–I know you went through hell that

night, Scully. It’s just… I personally have never been very good at

what you call ‘compartmentalizing.’ If we follow your logic,

Skinner would have been convinced we were doing it like bunnies

as far back as your abduction.”

It worked. She struggled to hold onto outrage for a moment, lips

quivering, until a giggle slipped past her defenses. Ducking her

head, face buried in his neck, she snickered helplessly.

“Oh, God. I’m remembering all the times I told him I’d cover your

back. Gives the term a whole new meaning, don’t you th–”

A giggling Scully was both rare and irresistible. Mulder silenced

her laughter with a long kiss, then touched his forehead to hers. He

pitched his voice low, husky. “Speaking of doing it like bunnies…”

Scully shivered when his lips grazed her neck. “I have to be at

work in five hours, Mulder.”

“No problem.” His teeth found the spot just behind her left ear, the

one that turned her into a puddle of goo. “What I’ve got in mind

won’t take nearly that long…”

Georgetown

Next day

1:32 p.m.

“You know, SCREW you! We’re done!” Words spat out in a fit of

anger.

“Okay. Let’s meet her.” With one arm thrown wide in a gesture of

showmanship, the talk show host introduced his next guest.

A loud round of applause, cheering, and whistling as “she” turned

out to be a “he.”

“Heeey, howya doin’, Jairry? Hi, Jairry. Listen. Jairry,

I’m here to let you know that Chuck is not gonna be wit’ her no

more. He’s comin’ home with ME, child.”

“JERRY! JERRY! JERRY!”

Click.

Mulder tossed the remote onto the coffee table, lips curling in

disgust. If he had to sit through one more minute of daytime

television, he would not be held responsible for his actions.

Flopping against the back of the couch, he scrubbed at his face,

hands scraping roughly along his unshaven jaw. He lifted his right

arm and took a sniff, wincing as he imagined Scully’s reaction

when she came home from work to find him still sitting there,

unwashed and brain-dead.

He leaned forward, both arms resting on his knees, and cast a

guilty eye around the living room. Not only did he smell like a

pig, he was living like one too. Sighing heavily, Mulder pushed

himself to his feet, swaying slightly when the sudden change in

position sent the blood rushing straight from his head to his feet.

For five weeks he’d done nothing more strenuous than dress and

feed himself–oh, and suffer through those torture sessions

disguised as physical therapy–yet he felt as if he’d just run a

marathon. The less he did, the less he felt like doing. If he didn’t

snap out of it soon, no amount of arguing, cajoling or sweet-talking

on his part would stop Scully from packing him off to a Bureau

counselor quicker than you could say “psychoanalysis.”

Guarding the right side of his chest with his left hand, Mulder drew

in a deep breath and it out slowly. He shuffled toward the

bedroom, collecting his carelessly discarded sweatshirt from the

back of the couch, his sneakers from under the coffee table, and the

latest issue of “Eye Spy”–courtesy of Langly–from where it had

fallen down beside the couch. On his way back, he gathered up

several items of crockery and glassware that were currently

decorating Scully’s apartment like cheap china ornaments.

Depositing the dirty cups and plates into the sink, Mulder padded

out of the kitchen and headed for the bathroom.

He studied his face in the mirror, smearing shaving cream over his

jaw and cheeks. Still pale, he’d yet to regain the weight lost

following surgery and an extended hospital stay. It had been close

this time. He knew that. When first released from the hospital,

he’d wondered if he’d ever get back to feeling normal again.

Weakness had consumed him from head to toe, so crippling he’d

had to depend on Scully for even his most basic needs in those first

few days of freedom.

Now that he was up and about again, he desperately wanted to

work. To forget range-of-motion exercises and sink his teeth into

an X-File. All attempts to bypass Scully’s Nazi-like supervision,

however, had been thwarted by his physical therapist, who had

steadfastly refused to sign the forms allowing him to regain field

agent status. During his last session, she’d grudgingly agreed that

he could resume limited desk duty in a week. Not until he could

prove without doubt that he was pain-free and had regained his

prior strength and stamina would he be allowed in the field.

Mulder skillfully worked the razor through a mask of shaving

cream, leaving a path of baby-smooth skin in its wake. The

instinct of performing a task by rote took over. He let his mind

wander as he gazed vacantly into the mirror, watching his face

shift and shimmer out of focus, colors blending together, his

features morphing like reflections in a funhouse mirror. Until, for a

second, the man looking back at him ceased to resemble himself.

“What the…?”

His hand jerked, the razor slicing skin as it slipped through his

fingers. Spinning as if in slow motion, it hit the basin with a loud

clatter, splattering little globules of shaving cream on the tiles and

floor. Mulder thrust his chin forward, fingers pressed over the now

bleeding cut, stopping mere inches from the glass. No sign of the

stranger who had momentarily taken his place. Heart thumping in

his chest, he reached out a trembling hand and tentatively ran his

index finger over the mirror. Cool. Smooth. Normal. No bumps,

wrinkles, or cracks. Nothing to account for what he’d just seen.

Huffing quietly to himself, but still eyeing the mirror suspiciously,

he figured that maybe Scully was right. Maybe the nightmares

were getting to him.

He shook his head, attempting to clear the image stubbornly

imprinted on his mind–a dark-haired man with olive skin and

intense black eyes staring back at him. He was quite certain the

man was no one he knew, yet…disquietingly familiar.

Picking up the razor, Mulder finished his shave with quick, well-

practiced strokes. He rinsed the blade, left it on the sink, and

ambled over to the shower, peeling off his sweat-stained undershirt

as he went.

Once under the spray, Mulder leaned against the tile, one hand

held protectively across his chest to cover healing, still-sensitive

skin. He focused his mind on how good the hot water felt beating

down on tired, tight muscles and effectively shoved the stranger

from his thoughts.

After donning jeans and a clean sweatshirt, he pulled on his

sneakers and tied the laces. He needed to get out for awhile. Clear

his head. Being cooped up in the apartment was making him stir-

crazy–no wonder he was seeing things. Maybe he’d go to the

grocery store, buy something for dinner. He smiled to himself as

images of Scully walking through the door to a home-cooked meal

flashed through his mind. Scooping up his car keys with one hand

and grabbing his leather jacket from the coat tree with the other, he

headed out the door.

Mulder pulled the car into the stream of traffic, mentally ticking

off possible dinner menus. The first time he’d made dinner for

them both, Scully had been convinced he’d paid someone else to

cook it. He had carefully explained to her that just because he

chose not to cook didn’t mean he was incapable, feigning

indignation when she’d demanded to see evidence of his endeavor.

And why should he have expected anything less? Scully practically

wore the motto “seeing is believing” tattooed on her forehead.

He laughed quietly as he recalled her reaction to the mountain of

saucepans and dishes precariously stacked in and around the

kitchen sink. Standing by his refrigerator, cheeks pink, her mouth

opened and closed as she struggled to form an apology. After that

night, she’d never doubted his culinary prowess again.

Mulder stopped at an intersection, left turn signal blinking

insistently. He watched the flow of cars, vans, and trucks without

really seeing them, fingers lightly tapping the steering wheel to the

beat of the Rolling Stones while he waited for the light to change.

When red turned to green, giving him the all clear, Mulder gently

depressed the gas pedal and the car eased forward. A brightly-

colored blur; the high-pitched screech of tires. Mulder slammed

on the brakes, narrowly missing the small yellow convertible that

swerved, then plowed on through the intersection. A group of

rowdy teenagers waved their hands in the air and whooped in

delight as they ran the red light.

Heart hammering in his chest, Mulder ran trembling fingers

through his hair. Squealing tires. Bright lights. The roar of an

engine. A truck bearing down… Hazel eyes grew wide, then

narrowed. Pupils dilated, leaving just a tiny ring of green at the

edges.

Mulder stared ahead, unblinking, face bland yet strangely focused.

Oblivious to the horns blaring behind him.

With steady, controlled hands, he gripped the steering wheel,

flicking the indicator off with one finger. Taking a deep breath, he

pressed the gas pedal and the car lurched forward. Instead of

making the left turn that would take him to the Qwick Mart,

however, he drove straight ahead toward Connecticut Avenue,

following the signs to Route 185 just outside the city limits.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

ACT II

~~~~~~~~~~~~

4424 Eagle Court

Chevy Chase MD

4:13 p.m.

Suburbia yawned out before him, conservative and predictable.

Condominiums and townhouses stood tall and uniform along a

quiet, tree-lined street. Leaves fluttered gently into the gutter.

They rolled and danced along the sidewalk, covering lawns and

flowerbeds with a layer of brown and gold.

On any other day, he might have appreciated the subtle beauty, the

warm, secure feeling of living in a close-knit neighborhood.

Invitations to barbecues and summer picnics; children running

barefoot and laughing; kicking soccer balls and shooting hoops.

But not today. Not here.

His stomach twisted, tight and painful, lips pressing into a thin,

hard line. How could he have been so blind? Why? The question

hounded him, but there was no logical answer. The man had been

his friend, his paisano. Was he really such a poor judge of

character?

Welcomed into his home, they had shared pasta and beer, laughed

together as they retold anecdotes about their fellow agents.

Entertained each other with stories of miraculous solve rates and

exaggerated acts of heroism where they were always the stars.

He hadn’t wanted to believe it. Felt sure there must be another

explanation. But now, there was no denying the truth.

Reaffirming his resolve to set things right, he pushed the car faster,

no longer idly contemplating life in the suburbs and a friendship he

now knew to be a lie. Ignoring the buildings around him, he

steered the car down a familiar side street, toward a house he had

come to know like the back of his hand.

The car coasted to a stop beside the curb.

Across from an unfamiliar building.

In the middle of an unfamiliar neighborhood.

Mulder leaned his head back against the headrest, pushing the

heels of both hands into tired, burning eyes. His head pounded as

he tried to think through the situation. Where the hell was he?

And more to the point, how did he get here?

Swiveling his head to the right, brow creased in confusion, he

stared at the two-story duplex outside the window. A strong feeling

of deja vu sent tingling fingers of ice running over his body. He

shivered. The building seemed familiar somehow, but the feelings

it stirred up left a queasy sense of foreboding in his stomach.

Deciding that offense was the best form of defense, Mulder tugged

on the handle and shouldered the car door open. He stood on the

pavement, hand shielding his eyes from the mid-afternoon sun. A

short, cement path bridged the distance between sidewalk and front

door. A white rattan chair sat on a small porch to the left of the

door, and a pot bearing the remains of a dry, shriveled geranium

stood to the right.

He sidestepped a tired-looking “For Sale” sign embedded in the

front yard, the tiny thatch of weeds huddled close to its wooden

post bearing witness that the house had been on the market for

some time.

Wiping a small cobweb from the doorbell, he firmly pressed the

button, ears tuned for the sound of approaching footsteps. But,

other than the bell’s hollow chime, there was silence. Already

formulating his next plan of action, Mulder rapped loudly on the

wooden door, just to be certain the house was empty.

A few minutes later, puffing slightly from the effort of climbing

the side fence, Mulder stood at the kitchen window, hands framing

his face as he pressed his nose against the dusty pane of glass. A

small gap in the curtains revealed empty shelves and counters,

devoid of the usual paraphernalia that would normally accompany

a thriving household. By craning his neck slightly to the left,

Mulder was able to get a limited view of the living room. Stark

and empty. No furniture anywhere to be seen.

He puffed a small sigh of relief. There was time to take a good

look around without fear of discovery. A tall, wood fence on the

eastern side of the unit sheltered him from nosy neighbors.

As he made his way around back, he found only chain-link fencing

between the house and its attached neighbor. Muttering quietly

under his breath about lack of privacy, he decided to go for broke.

Taking a quick glance over the fence, he strode confidently up to

the back door and jiggled the knob.

Locked. Well, what had he expected?

Stepping back he peered up at the second story windows. All

shuttered against the world with tightly drawn curtains.

About ready to admit defeat, Mulder hesitated, then dropped to his

haunches when a quick flicker of yellow drew his attention.

Caught amongst a tangle of overgrown dandelions was a ten-inch

length of plastic, flapping uselessly in the gentle breeze. Mulder

immediately recognized it for what it was.

A torn strip of yellow and black tape, used for cordoning off crime

scenes.

Dread pierced him and bile rose in his throat. He pursed his lips

together and swallowed hard, fighting back the inexplicable

nausea.

Pulling the errant piece of thin plastic free, Mulder rolled it up and

shoved it into his pocket. He wasn’t even sure why; just had a

feeling it was important.

“Excuse me?”

Mulder shot to his feet and spun around, feeling like a teenager

caught soaping windows. A young woman stood at the chain-link

fence, brown hair caught into a ponytail and a baby propped on her

hip.

“Can I help you–sir?” The last was an afterthought, dripping with

suspicion.

Mulder crossed the yard, rubbing his palms against his jeans to

remove the grit. He pasted on his most winsome smile and

extended his hand.

“Hello. I’m…” For an instant it was as if his brain locked, and he

fumbled awkwardly for his own name. “…Fox Mulder.”

She studied the hand, then his face with narrowed eyes. “Well, Mr.

Mulder, I can’t help wondering why you’ve been prowling around

that house like a cat sizing up its next meal.”

He chuffed softly, abruptly conscious of his worn blue jeans and

leather jacket. “It’s not the way it might appear. I’m an FBI agent.”

She shifted the squirming baby to the other hip, one eyebrow

executing an amazing Scully imitation. “Well, at least you’re

creative. I have to admit, I’ve never heard THAT one before.”

Mulder opened his mouth to protest; settled for producing his ID

instead. She leaned in close, eyes darting between the picture and

his face, then nodded.

“I’m sorry about that,” she said, in a tone that was anything but.

“After all the goings on over the past year, I’ve learned you can’t be

too careful–just too trusting.”

“Perfectly understandable, Ms…”

“Gilmore. Wendy Gilmore. Do you mind telling my why you’re

here? I mean, I just assumed once they convicted Monica’s killer

we wouldn’t be seeing the police anymore. The house has been on

the market for nearly three months.”

“Well…you’re correct, actually. I was just…ah…checking that we’d

cleared the scene. Good thing I did.” Mulder pulled the piece of

yellow crime tape from his pocket. “Not exactly the best

advertisement for selling a house.”

“At this point I’d be willing to try anything.” Wendy pried the end

of her ponytail from the baby’s fist. “It’s been kind of eerie seeing

the place stand empty. Just another reminder of Monica’s death.”

She frowned. “I don’t remember seeing you when the other agents

questioned me.”

“I came late to the party.” Mulder pressed on when her eyes

darkened at the flip choice of words. “I really don’t know much

about the case. You said she was murdered?”

Wendy clutched the baby closer to her breast, brushing her lips

across his downy head. “She was stabbed–with her own kitchen

knife. How creepy is that?” She swallowed hard. “She didn’t

deserve to die that way. She had everything going for her–beauty,

brains…”

“Sounds like you thought highly of her.”

Wendy huffed, amused. “Agent Mulder, I love my family. But

lately the highlight of my day is sharing a dinner of Hamburger

Helper with my husband. Sometimes I even get to sit down.” As if

to illustrate her point, the baby emitted a throaty whine and kicked

his chubby legs.

“Monica Mitchell had a high-paying job, an exciting social life,

and a body that most of us can only dream of. Let’s just say I got a

vicarious thrill listening to her talk.”

Mulder’s smile felt forced. A vague, intangible disquiet had taken

root somewhere in his chest from the moment Wendy began

discussing her neighbor’s murder. An extension of the overall

“wrongness” he’d felt since inexplicably finding himself at a crime

scene instead of the grocery store.

“At least they caught the guy who did it,” he said, glancing over

his shoulder when a sudden gust of wind rattled a shutter. “It may

be too late for your neighbor, but he won’t be able to hurt anyone

else.”

Wendy’s gaze turned distant and she slowly shook her head. “I

suppose. It’s just…I never would have thought him capable of such

a thing, you know?”

“Excuse me?”

“Monica’s ex. I met the guy, talked to him several times, and he

seemed real nice. Not that I’m naïve enough to think he’d have the

word “killer” tattooed on his forehead, but I guess I thought I was a

better judge of character.”

“Her ex-husband was the killer?”

It was more a verbal expression of his surprise than a question, and

Mulder momentarily forgot his audience. Wendy’s eyes clouded

with suspicion and her voice cooled ten degrees.

“Not husband. Boyfriend. And he didn’t just kill Monica; there

were four other women, too. For someone who’s supposedly

involved in the case, you sure don’t know much. Don’t they work

with you new guys–bring you up to speed?”

“I’m kind of an independent, ‘hands on’ learner.”

She squinted at him as if gauging his sincerity. “What happened to

that other agent–the one who asked me all the questions? You

should talk to him.” When Mulder hesitated, searching for a

response, she continued impatiently. “You know–the Italian guy.

Sam…no, Sal. He said his name was Sal something.”

She removed her hair from the baby’s fist yet again, this time

provoking an ear-splitting wail. Struggling to retain her grip on the

now wriggling, flailing child, she moved away from the fence.

“I have to go. Jack needs a bottle and my husband should be home

any minute. But I guess you’ll be leaving now anyway, won’t you,

Agent Mulder?”

Mulder’s lips twitched at the less than subtle message beneath the

innocent question. “Yes, I will. Thank you for your time, Ms.

Gilmore. You’ve been very helpful.”

She backed toward the house with a shake of her head. “If you

don’t mind me saying so, Agent Mulder, you really ought to do

your homework next time you get a new case. They’re never going

to trust you with a real investigation if you don’t know what’s

going on.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

Mulder watched her until she disappeared into the house, then

walked slowly back to his car. He slid behind the wheel and

plugged the key into the ignition, yet made no attempt to start the

engine. Instead he stared at the vacant house, thinking about

Monica Mitchell and wondering why the death of a stranger left

him feeling so unsettled and confused. He scrubbed at the

throbbing behind his right eye, abruptly exhausted.

Still eyeing the house, he turned the key. With a sigh, he grasped

the gear shift, nearly groaning aloud when his gaze caught the

LED display on the dash.

5:34.

Scully would be home by now, wondering where he’d gone, why

her apartment looked like a landfill, and what was for dinner.

He was a dead man.

Putting the car into drive and Monica Mitchell out of his mind, he

hit the gas and headed home.

Georgetown

5:32 p.m.

“Mulder?”

Scully nudged the door shut and slipped her keys back into her

pocket. Shadows bathed the apartment and the television stood

mute. She moved quietly down the hallway to the bedroom, half

expecting to find him draped across the mattress, asleep. Despite

his incessant moaning and groaning about returning to work,

Mulder had yet to regain his stamina. The legendary insomniac

was now known to nod off before 9:00, and often napped during

the day.

The nightmares weren’t helping.

She paused in the doorway to the bedroom, a frown creasing her

brow. Empty. He’d obviously gone out–but where? He’d known

she would be home early tonight, had made several lewd

suggestions regarding an “appetizer” before dinner. She was a bit

embarrassed to realize just how eagerly she’d anticipated the

possibilities on the drive home.

Sighing, she put away her briefcase and changed into jeans and an

oversized sweatshirt. Shoving the sleeves to her elbows, she then

made a circuit through the apartment, collecting dirty glasses and

sunflower seed husks. Once in the kitchen, she added her findings

to those already in the sink, filled it with hot, soapy water and left

everything to soak while she raided the cupboards for dinner fare.

After several minutes both her temper and her patience had run

out, and she phoned for a pizza. Vegetarian, extra mushrooms.

That’d teach him.

She curled up on the couch with a trashy romance novel in a

hopeless attempt to soothe herself. Instead, her gaze constantly

wandered to the clock and the restless tingle in her stomach

intensified.

It was ridiculous to worry about him–absurd. He was a grown

man, perfectly able to take care of himself. The surgical scar had

faded from angry red to pale pink, injured tissues and muscle

successfully knitted together. The pain, once crippling in its

intensity, had faded to an occasional twinge, though he’d formed

the unconscious habit of guarding the right side of his chest with

one hand. And even if he’d yet to recover his optimal weight and

muscle tone, he’d come a long way from those first weeks after the

shooting, when all his clothes seemed a size too large and his jeans

rode low on bony hips.

Mulder was right–she had to let go of her own fears regarding this

brush with death. But it was so much easier said than done. She

vividly recalled his first day home from the hospital, when simply

getting him to the bathroom had been a major ordeal. Forced to

accept her support while he relieved himself, he’d wept from the

pain and embarrassment, too weak to control his emotions. She’d

tucked him into her bed and held him until he slept, murmuring

over and over that he was alive and she loved him. That everything

else was incidental to those truths.

Realizing she’d read the same paragraph three times, Scully

checked the clock. 6:09. If he wasn’t home in twenty minutes…

Footsteps, the jingle of keys, and the door swung slowly open.

Mulder slipped in, saw her on the couch, and managed a weak

smile.

“Hey, Scully. You did get home early. Reading, huh? Is that a

good book?”

She bit the inside of her cheek, too irritated to let him see her

amusement. Everything about Mulder screamed guilt–from the

hunched shoulders and babbled greeting to his complete failure to

harass her about her choice of reading material. It was pitiful,

really. She ought to be kind and go easy on him.

As if.

“Where are they, Mulder?”

His face went blank. “What?”

“Where are the groceries? That’s why you’re late, isn’t it? Because

you were out getting groceries for the gourmet meal you’re going

to cook for me?”

The emotion that darkened his expressive features was strong,

brief, and not at all what she’d expected. Guilt, yes, but mixed with

confusion and something that looked like…fear.

“I’m sorry, Scully. I know it sounds lame, but I really did intend to

make you dinner. I just…I lost track of time.”

He moved toward her as he spoke, peeling off the leather jacket

and laying it on a chair. When his face hit the light from the

reading lamp she saw lines around his eyes and the corners of his

mouth–unmistakable signals of pain and fatigue.

It doused the remainder of her anger like a bucket of cold water.

She set aside the book and reached her hand toward him. “Mulder,

come here and sit down. Are you all right? Are you in pain?”

He came willingly, sinking into the cushions with a soft grunt, one

hand pressed to his chest. “I’m okay, it’s just a headache. I…I took

a drive and wound up going farther than I intended. I’m sorry if I

worried you.”

No impatience with her concern? No jibe to stop mothering him?

Scully frowned but said nothing, tugging him down until

his head rested in her lap, long legs stretched the length of the

couch. She gently massaged her fingers through his hair,

concentrating on the area around his temples. Mulder sighed like a

weary child and turned his face into the soft fabric of her

sweatshirt, one arm slipping around her waist.

“Sorry, Scully. Was gonna make dinner. Got sidetracked.”

Short, mumbled phrases and heavy eyelids. He was drifting off

already.

“You have to pace yourself, Mulder. No matter how good you feel,

you can’t go running around like nothing happened; you’ll only set

back your recovery.”

“Didn’t mean to. Went to the store. Don’t know how…how I got…”

The words trailed off into slow, deep breaths and he grew heavier

in her arms.

Scully continued to absent-mindedly thread her fingers through his

hair while she attempted to rationalize the tingling disquiet his

words provoked. After several minutes, when it appeared Mulder

was truly down for the count, she extracted herself from his

embrace and returned to the kitchen to wash dishes.

The sink emptied, the pizza man came and went, and Mulder slept

on. All hopes for romance relinquished, Scully had plopped two

slices of pizza on paper plates and was pouring drinks when the

first soft sounds of distress drifted in from the living room.

Another nightmare.

She braced her palms on the counter, fighting the rising tide of

frustration and weariness that threatened to overwhelm her. As

distressing as the chronic nightmares were for Mulder, they were

fast becoming hazardous to her own mental health. Reserves

depleted from five weeks spent nurturing the man back to health–

sometimes kicking and screaming–she found it increasingly

difficult to be cast in the roll of therapist as well as doctor, lover,

and occasional babysitter.

Another soft moan and the sound of thrashing limbs put her in

motion. Mulder was huddled in the corner of the couch, wide eyes

staring through her at whatever personal hell his mind had

conjured. He was muttering something, but so low and garbled she

could barely make it out.

“…my friend…trusted, I…no…NOOO! Vickie! Vickieeeee!”

The name ended in a sharp cry and he doubled over, one hand

pressed to his chest as he struggled for breath.

Scully sprinted the last few steps to the couch, heart pounding.

Mulder’s behavior–the hand clutching his chest, the frantic gasps

for air–was eerily reminiscent of the moments after the shooting.

She squeezed onto the cushions, facing him, and laid one hand on

his leg.

“Mulder. Mulder, are you all right? Talk to me.”

He lifted his head just enough for her to make out features

contorted in pain. “Hurts…can’t…can’t breathe…Vickie…help me.”

Vickie? Who the hell was Vickie?

Scully grasped his chin but was unable to make his glazed eyes

focus on her own. Stunned, for a moment all she could do was

watch him pant and shiver.

He was still asleep.

Breaking out of her daze, she cupped his face between both palms

and resorted to her rarely-used Skinner voice. “Mulder! Wake up,

you’re dreaming.”

His entire body jerked as if zapped with live current and he

blinked, eyes clear but confused. She watched, astonished, as his

respiration immediately dropped to normal and he slowly uncurled,

hands coming up to tug hers from his cheeks.

“Scully? What’s the matter? Where…?”

“You were having a nightmare. Do you remember?”

Comprehension, and for an instant his open, unguarded expression

revealed fear. Then his gaze slid away to the window and she

could practically hear the bricks sliding into place as the walls

came up.

“It’s pretty fuzzy.”

Something inside her snapped and she abruptly became furious.

She yanked her hands from his and stood, eyes like flint.

“Don’t you dare hold out on me. In case you haven’t noticed, this

isn’t just a partnership anymore, Mulder–it’s a relationship. That

bullet tore my life apart as surely as it did yours, and I’ll be damned

if I’m going to let you treat me as if I’ve somehow got less invested

in your recovery.”

“Scully, it’s not a big deal. I just…”

She’d turned her back and walked halfway across the room before

he called out, voice breaking, “If I don’t understand what the hell is

happening to me, how can I explain it to you?”

She turned; studied his face. Fear. Anger. Devastating

vulnerability.

“Who’s Vickie?”

His complete bewilderment could not have been feigned. “Vickie?

I don’t know a Vickie.”

Scully retraced her steps; sank down beside him on the couch.

“You called for her during your nightmare, Mulder. Begged her to

help you. You sounded terrified.”

“Scully, I don’t know anyone named Vickie. You’re the only one

I’d call for help.”

“What was the dream about?”

Shoulder companionably nestled into his side, she clearly felt him

stiffen. “Same thing it’s always about. My death.”

Shocked, she leaned forward to peer into his eyes. “You’re

dreaming about the shooting? Mulder, why haven’t you said

anything? You need to talk to someone, to…”

“Not the shooting.” His voice was biting.

“Then what?”

A long pause. “I’m on a deserted road, changing a tire. It’s dark.

I…I think…”

She took his hand, wriggling her warm fingers between his cool

ones. “Go on.”

“There’s bright lights…an engine. I think…I think I get hit by a car.”

Scully tightened her grip, considering. “It’s not as odd as it might

seem, Mulder. Gunshot or car, it still points back to extreme

trauma. Your mind has just chosen a different image to…”

“There’s more to it than that.”

“More? How?”

He chewed on his lip, shifting uneasily. “I’m… There’s this feeling

of anger, of betrayal. When the lights come, I…” He turned his face

to the window.

Scully waited. When he didn’t continue, she touched his cheek,

gently redirecting his gaze to her face. “When the lights come…?”

“I think…I think it’s someone I know.”

“You mean it’s deliberate?”

His gaze dropped to their joined hands, but she saw the admission

in his eyes.

“Mulder…”

“Scully, I already know what you’re going to say. You’re going to

tell me that these dreams are an extension of my feelings of

helplessness during the shooting. That I need to get some therapy,

talk to a shrink.”

“You’re very perceptive.”

“But it’s not that simple! I’m a psychologist; I know all about

repressed trauma, PTSD, and this isn’t it.”

“How can you say that?”

“Because in my dream I’m not even me!”

Silence. Mulder flushed, releasing her hand and standing up. “I’ve

got a killer headache. I’m going to get some aspirin.”

“Mulder, what did you mean, ‘I’m not even me’?”

He ran an unsteady hand down the side of his face, reasserting

control. “Nothing. I don’t know what I’m saying. Scully, I really

don’t want to talk about this any more. I’m going to find those

aspirin, and then we can have dinner. I smell pizza, don’t I?”

“Mulder…”

But he was gone, and a moment later she heard the bathroom door

close. Shutting him off from her as firmly and decisively as his

words.

~~~~~~~~~~~

ACT III

~~~~~~~~~~~

Quantico

10:02 a.m.

“Can I help you, sir?”

Mulder flipped his ID open and held it up for the guard to see.

“Special Agent Mulder. I’m here to collect some casefiles.”

“Yes, sir.” The man disappeared inside the guardhouse and

returned with a clipboard and a visitor’s pass. “Sign here.”

Mulder scrawled his signature and pinned the pass onto his jacket.

The guard checked to see if the signature on his ID matched the

one in front of him. Deciding all was in order, he raised the boom

gate and waved Mulder through. “Have a nice day.”

He drove toward the honey-colored building, its architecture more

akin to a five-star hotel than an academy that taught both green

recruits and seasoned agents how to catch serial killers, rapists and

kidnappers. Mulder ignored the various items of military

paraphernalia lining the road, his thoughts centered on his yet-to-

be-resolved argument with Scully. Strained silence and small talk

had dominated breakfast, a poor cover-up for the real issues being

sidestepped. He knew his refusal to discuss his dream both

hurt and angered her, yet couldn’t bring himself to bare his soul for

her analysis. As much as he loved Scully, there were times when

her strict rationalization drove him to distraction.

Not that he could blame her for jumping to the wrong conclusion.

Outwardly he was displaying all the classic symptoms of a man

experiencing the aftermath of extreme trauma. How could he

explain to her the details of what was going on inside his head

without reinforcing her suspicions? Vivid flashes of memory that

bore no relation to his life. Winding up at the scene of a crime with

no recollection of driving there. And his nightmares…Real enough

to make him believe he was reliving an actual trauma. But whose?

No, this was different. And if Scully needed proof, then he’d find

it. Starting with Monica Mitchell’s death.

Flapping against the lapel of his jacket with each footfall, the

visitor’s pass allowed Mulder hassle-free access to the BSU

bullpen. Computer keys clacking out an erratic beat, men and

women with faces too worn and haggard for the early hour sat

huddled together, poring over autopsy reports and crime scene

photos, lab data and eyewitness testimony. So engrossed in their

investigations, they failed to notice him weaving his way between

desks and white boards towards the elevator.

“Hey! Hey, Spookster! Is that you?”

Instinctively Mulder turned, cursing his reflexes when he saw the

smiling face of his one-time colleague, Joey Marcos, bearing down

on him like a shark scenting blood. The man, a good six inches

shorter than Mulder, approached with hand extended in greeting

and a bounce in his step that was far too carefree for a man in his

line of work.

“Hey, it is you, man. How ya doin’, Spooks?” Joey gripped

Mulder’s hand in both of his and shook it with exaggerated

enthusiasm.

“Joey. Long time no see.” Mulder discreetly wiped the lingering

clamminess from Joey’s palm along the leg of his pants.

“You got that right. What brings you to this neck of the woods?

Aren’t you supposed to be off chasing little green men or

something?” He whizzed his index finger through the air making

suitable UFO sound effects.

Mulder gave him a well-practiced look of long-suffering that

involved rolled eyes and incorporated Scully’s eyebrow.

The look he kept on standby for just this kind of remark.

Oblivious to his former co-worker’s silent rebuke, Joey continued

on, “Heard a rumor, Mulder. That you were down for the count.

Looking pretty damn good for a dead guy.”

“Yeah, well, you know what they say: ‘The reports of my death

have been greatly exaggerated.'”

“So, watcha doin’ back here?”

“Confined to desk duty. I’m stuck with grunt work at the moment.

Fetch this, bring that–at least till the doc declares me fit enough to

return to field agent status.”

“Bummer.”

“Hey, you might be able to help me, Joey. I’m looking for some

information on a recent murder victim. Monica Mitchell. She was

killed in her home. Lived in Chevy Chase.”

Marcos crossed his right arm over his chest, propped his left elbow

on his clasped hand and stroked his chin. “Monica. Mitchell. Help

me out, man, you know we’re working 40 or 50 cases at any given

time. I need more information–we don’t all have your mystical

powers of recall.”

“She was fourth in a string of serial murders, killed by her ex-

boyfriend. Stabbed. She…”

“Wait a minute, wait a minute. Yeah, I got who you’re talkin’

about. The guy…damn, what was his name…what the hell was his

name…? Yeah, anyway, he swore he was innocent–find me a perp

who isn’t, right? The judge gave him the death penalty. ‘Course

he’s appealing, still swears he didn’t do it.” He gave a soft snort,

not really laughing. “Want to hear something funny–strange, I

mean? The agent who worked that case went and got himself

killed. A hit and run, no witnesses. Still…”

Joey’s voice droned on. Drowned out by the sound of an engine.

Headlights. Pain. Can’t breathe…

“Hey!” A firm hand gripped his shoulder, and Mulder jolted back

to the present. He blinked, eyes gradually focusing on Marcos’s

worried face.

“Spooks? You okay, man?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine.” A sudden sense of urgency arced through

him, making his skin tingle and his heart race. Mulder checked his

watch. “Hey, listen Joey, I gotta go. AD Skinner’s breathing down

my neck for those files. Maybe…”

“The case is closed, Mulder. ‘Fraid you’re gonna have to go diving

deep to find ’em. Better you than me, man. I hate crawlin’ around

in that rathole.”

“I know what you mean. Still it beats the alternative.”

Joey raised his eyebrows.

“Wire tap.”

“Ooh, you got it. ‘Kay, Spooks, catchya later, man. Say hey to

your pretty partner for me.”

“I will.”

Mulder continued toward the elevator, berating himself for his

carelessness. Joey “The Mouth” Marcos. Of all the people to meet.

If Scully heard about his latest little jaunt, he’d be traveling on a

one way ticket to the hotel with the padded rooms. Wearing one of

those nice jackets with the long arms that tied in back.

Two quick shoves at the call button, then Mulder stood back,

waiting for the elevator to make its way up from the basement.

Preoccupied with his own thoughts, Mulder didn’t notice the agent

with thinning blond hair who had set aside his work in favor of

tracking Mulder’s progress through the bullpen. Or realize that the

same man had been unobtrusively listening to his conversation with

Joey.

A soft rumble, a ding of arrival, and the doors slid open to an

empty car. Mulder stepped inside, pressed the button marked “B,”

then stood against the back wall.

The elevator descended on well-oiled cables, the smooth, steady

ride an antithesis to the turmoil that writhed in Mulder’s stomach.

The deeper he traveled, the stronger the urgency thrummed

through his body.

Mulder stepped into the corridor and headed toward the vault

where closed cases were filed. His breath sounded unnaturally

loud in his own ears and his footfalls echoed along the empty hall.

When he reached the door he was looking for, he stopped with one

hand on the knob, heart hammering in his chest.

What the hell was wrong with him?

By sheer will alone, he pushed the feelings of disquiet aside and

entered the room. The air smelled musty and stale. Like the victims

in their graves, this was the final resting place for days, months or

sometimes years, of hard investigative work.

He wandered along the rows of cabinets, keen eyes scanning the

alphabetically labeled drawers until he reached the start of the ‘M’s.

All five rows of them. Within seconds he found the correct

drawer. He yanked it open and started flicking through names,

stopping when he hit the jackpot: “Mitchell, Monica.” With a little

patience and cross-referencing, he’d soon collected folders for the

four related murders, as well.

Balancing the Mitchell folder on top of the stack, Mulder rifled

through the contents, eyes skimming the various documents.

Autopsy reports, findings from the Coroner and the ME,

statements from potential witnesses–all were clipped together, an

envelope marked “crime scene photos” tucked underneath. As he

sifted through the papers, he checked names and signatures at the

top and bottom of each page.

All seemed routine and in order. What was he supposed to be

seeing?

Then, from amongst the thick wad of papers, a name jumped out at

him.

The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end and gooseflesh ran

in tiny bumps along his arms.

Wendy Gilmore’s voice and puzzled expression played through his

mind.

What happened to that other agent, the one who asked me all the

questions? Said his name was Sal something…

And Joey, obviously shaken…

The agent working that case went and got himself killed.

Hit and run.

Mulder swallowed hard, fear like a physical presence peering over

his shoulder as he stared at the name in front of him. The agent of

record: Sal DeAngelo.

Weak-kneed, heart racing, Mulder flipped the folder shut. Then,

with very little thought for the consequences, he slipped the files

under his arm and left the vault. Moving catlike along the corridor,

he returned to the elevator and pushed the button. He watched the

floor indicator, willing it to move faster, foot tapping a nervous

patter on the ground and legs jiggling like a hyperactive toddler.

His uncanny run of luck continued when the elevator arrived, still

empty. Climbing aboard, Mulder licked dry lips with an equally

parched tongue. Sweat dribbled between his shoulder blades,

gluing cotton to skin.

The ride up seemed interminably longer than the one going down,

and the unconscious foot tapping resumed. When the doors finally

opened onto the BSU bullpen, Mulder tucked the files inside his

suitcoat, pasted on his best “butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-my-mouth”

smile, and strode purposefully towards the exit, making sure his

gaze didn’t waver from his destination.

He never noticed the blond man make his way casually to the exit.

Standing quietly in the shadow of an indoor plant, he watched

Mulder walk to his car and drive off.

Alexandria

11:46 a.m.

He moved through his apartment with all the finesse of a runaway

freight train. Keys hit the coffee table with a muted clank. Jacket

went flying across the living room in the general direction of the

couch, settling across the armrest and seat cushions. The soft thud

as his ID and wallet slipped from the inside pocket and landed on

the floor was completely overlooked in the frenzy of activity.

With a quick jab of his index finger, and a flick of a switch, both

computer and monitor whirred into life.

Now what? He stood by the computer desk and looked around the

apartment. The air smelled stale, musty. After nearly six weeks

since he’d spent a night here, it felt like a stranger’s place and not

his home. Cold and stark. But perfect for what he needed to do.

Mulder sat on his couch, feet propped on the coffee table and the

files resting on his bent knees. Paging quickly through the sheets

of paper he found what he was looking for.

The profile written by Sal DeAngelo. He stared at the name on the

page, ignoring the throbbing pain building behind his left eye.

Photos. Lab reports. Testimonies. Five violent deaths laid out in

excruciating detail. For nearly two hours, Mulder studied the

contents of each folder–comparing, contrasting. Looking for

something, anything to tell him why an unknown force seemed

determined to involve him in the death of a woman he’d never met.

As he moved back and forth between the profile and each case, he

found it.

A male, thirty-five to fifty, the profile stated. Highly intelligent,

yet lacking interpersonal skills. A loner, an ugly duckling with an

extreme hatred for the type of beautiful woman he’s certain will

never give him a second glance. He’s meticulous about the details

of each murder–from the type of victim to the execution. It’s all

about violating them–forced entry into the home, rape, even the

removal of valuable personal items as trophies. The depth and

proliferation of the stab wounds are indicative of the extreme fury

that drives him to kill.

Sal DeAngelo was obviously very good at what he did. His profile

fit the perpetrator of first four crimes like a glove, the details of

each scene so similar as to be nearly interchangeable. He’d painted

a vivid picture of an individual whose deep sense of inadequacy

and uncontrollable rage had compelled him to commit a series of

heinous crimes.

Monica Mitchell’s death, however, was not one of them. And

unless Mulder had completely lost his touch, Gary Jansen was no

serial murderer.

Far fewer stab wounds, their depth–except for the fatal strike

through her heart–shallow. Though a rape kit revealed she’d been

penetrated, there was no accompanying bruising or tearing.

Perhaps most telling of all, a thorough inventory had turned up no

missing valuables. Add to that the fact that she and Gary had a

prior, long-term relationship, that he’d been dating another woman

for nearly six months at the time of Monica’s murder…

“You convicted the wrong man. Gary Jansen is going to die for a

crime he never committed.” Mulder lifted a crime scene photo,

staring at the dark-haired man crouching over Monica Mitchell’s

body. “Is that what this is all about?”

Moving to his computer, Mulder wiggled the mouse and brought

the screen to light. He clicked on bookmarks and went straight to

“The Washington Post Online.” Following the links he surfed his

way to the archives, hesitating for a second before pulling up the

obituaries. He typed “Sal DeAngelo” into the search engine,

holding his breath as the computer sifted through files.

Bingo!

Oh God.

He sucked in a deep breath, a useless attempt to still the trembling

that wracked his body. “Salvatore DeAngelo, 42, died of injuries

sustained when he was struck by a car sometime during the early

morning hours on August 2, 2002.” Mulder read the sentence four

times, one hand pressed to his chest.

He’d been shot on August 2nd. While Sal DeAngelo had been busy

dying along a deserted road, he’d been lying in a hospital across

town, engaged in the same activity.

Skimming further through the listing, Mulder searched for more

details. “…an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation…

survived by his wife, Victoria…”

Vickie.

The dream. Scully’s worried voice. Who’s Vickie? His confused

response. Vickie? I don’t know any Vickie.

Mulder buried his head in his hands, fingers massaging the

nagging pain in his temple. God, what was happening to him? He

needed to know. To find out everything about Sal.

He pushed himself back from the desk, opened a drawer, and

pulled out the phone book. He had a name, and a suburb. Within

minutes, he had an address.

Scooping his jacket off the couch and the keys from the table,

Mulder headed out the door.

***************

He felt strange. Disconnected. As if his body had staged a coup,

limbs functioning according to their own, private agenda. Mulder

tightened his fingers on the steering wheel, squinting against the

headache that pulsed just behind his eyes. He passed a dry cleaning

establishment, then a bank, skin tingling with an increasingly

powerful sensation of déjà vu. For a split second he could picture

himself fumbling to hold onto several clean suits in slippery plastic

bags that slithered out of his grasp to puddle on the concrete.

Could hear himself bantering with the teller at the drive-up

window, a young girl named Rose who teased him about his

accent.

Accent?

Mulder blinked, gave a sharp shake of his head. Where had that

come from? He tore his gaze from the buildings and focused on the

road, turning right, then left, and right again.

Ten minutes later he’d exchanged the bustling city atmosphere for

a quiet, nearly deserted stretch of road lined with mature trees. As

he rounded a curve, a particularly large tree caught his attention.

His foot slammed down onto the brake with such force the tires

squealed in protest. More screeching tires, and the driver directly

behind him leaned on his horn. Mulder pulled onto the shoulder,

oblivious to the shouted obscenities and upraised middle finger of

the irate driver who zoomed past.

He got out of the car, left it idling on the edge of the road as he

walked slowly toward the tree–an oak, long dead, its branches

twisted and devoid of leaves. His gaze dropped to the ground

beneath the tree, the dirt still bearing faint impressions of multiple

tire tracks. His heartbeat doubled and gooseflesh broke out on his

arms as the world narrowed to a pinprick of light and sound.

Night air, cooling the sweat on the back of his neck as he struggles

with the wrench in his hands.

Headlights–brilliant and blinding in the darkness.

Recognition, followed rapidly by disbelief.

Betrayal.

Terror.

Heart pounding, legs tangling, falling…

Bright agony.

clip_image001

He clutched his chest, legs crumpling until he was kneeling in the

dirt. His lungs burned like fire as he gasped and panted for air.

“Mister, are you all right? Do you need help?”

The voice cut through the haze and he abruptly realized both eyes

were clamped tightly shut. He cracked them open, turning his head

toward the road. A yellow Volkswagen Beetle hovered on the

shoulder about ten feet away. The driver, a young girl who could

not have been more than seventeen, was watching him uneasily.

“‘S okay. ‘M all right. Just…just tripped.” He pried one hand away

from his chest and waved her onward, forming his lips into what

he hoped was a convincing smile.

She hesitated only briefly before nodding. “Okay, then. If you’re

sure.” Her car was moving before she finished speaking, the relief

on her face painfully obvious.

The vise across his chest was loosening, his respiration easing. He

stood and dusted off his pants, frowning at the dark stains on his

knees. Vickie was gonna kill him.

He walked slowly back and climbed behind the wheel, carefully

maneuvering the car into the light flow of traffic. By the time he

pulled into the driveway his breathing had returned to normal, the

terror of his experience on the roadside fading, eclipsed by the

need to find his files.

He tried three different keys before conceding that he’d somehow

lost the one to the front door. Ringing the bell produced no result–

Vickie must be out shopping. Whistling softly he walked around to

the back porch, retrieved the spare key taped under the picnic

table, and let himself inside.

Drawn drapes left the living room heavily shadowed and silent

except for the hushed ticking of the mantle clock. He slipped off

his suitcoat and laid it over the back of a chair, one hand gliding

along the banister as he climbed to the second floor. Four steps

down the hallway and he paused in the bedroom doorway,

forehead creasing at the rumpled bed and scattered clothing. Not

like Vickie to leave a mess–she was normally almost anal in her

neatness.

Shrugging, he continued to the room kitty-corner from the

bedroom. His room. The study.

He dropped into the desk chair and flicked on the computer.

Lacing his fingers behind his neck, he swiveled, letting his gaze

wander as he waited for the machine to boot up. The bookcase,

shelves lined with texts on law, psychology, and forensics. His

doctorate in criminal psychology from Georgetown, framed and

hanging beside the letter of commendation received after his

successful resolution of the Berkshire kidnapping. His “lucky”

paperweight, the marble surface polished smooth by the many

hours spent in his hand as he worked through a profile.

He sat forward, frown returning as his gaze continued to pan across

the room. No empty coffee mugs, no soda cans, and not a single

article of shed clothing. Everything in its place, but neat as a pin.

Why had Vickie been cleaning in here? She normally referred to

the study as “your territory,” steadfastly refusing to tidy the area

for fear of disturbing vital paperwork.

And speaking of paperwork, what about all his files? He’d been

researching a couple of profiles, but the folders no longer rested in

their customary spot on the corner of his desk. Where would

Vickie have moved them, and why?

Resolving to question her later, he pulled a floppy disk from the

drawer and loaded it into the drive, then pulled up his email

account. The mechanical voice cheerfully told him what he already

knew–he had mail. All animation seeped from his features as he

opened his inbox and retrieved the email that had changed

everything.

I’m not a whore and I don’t intend to be treated like one. I wonder

how the lovely Mrs. Kyle McNally would feel about her husband if

she knew he was screwing around?

Bright red silk and long pale legs. Snuggled in the arms of a man

he’d have sworn he knew as well as himself.

He copied the file and stuffed the disk into his pocket. Reaching

for the mouse, he froze, hand stilled by another photo–this one

perched on the far edge of the desk. Taken more than a year

earlier, at Jack Kaminski’s retirement party. The BSU’s answer to

the rat pack–Corey Peterson, Steve Pendleton, himself…and Kyle

McNally. Arms around each other’s necks, drinks in hand,

mugging for the camera.

Rage tightened his muscles to knots, caused a flush to creep up his

neck and across his cheeks. He snatched up the photo, spun, and

flung it against the wall. The impact, a spectacular crash and

shower of broken glass, did little to diminish his fury.

The voice, small and trembling with fear, quenched it completely.

“Who…who’s there?”

Contrition immediately followed. “It’s just me, sweetheart. I’m

sorry, I…accidentally broke something.”

Dead silence.

“Vickie?”

“Who are you? What are you doing in my house?” Higher pitched

now, wavering between fear and something that sounded like

anger.

He chuckled a little at the tough edge–his little wildcat. “It’s my

house, too–unless there’s somethin’ you want to tell me. I’m up in

my study.”

When she didn’t answer he heaved a sigh of frustration, got up, and

strode down the hallway to the top of the stairs. She stood rigidly

at the bottom, one hand clutching the railing in a white-knuckled

grip. Her dark eyes looked huge in a face paler and thinner than he

remembered. Even so, in a bright red sweater and short black skirt

she stole his breath.

“Whatsamatta with you? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

She squinted against the shadows, slowly shaking her head. “You

can’t…it’s not possible.” She tentatively climbed one step then two,

halting halfway up the flight.

“Who ARE you?”

He was starting to worry now. Had something terrible happened

while she was out, some kind of trauma? He started down the

steps, freezing when she drew back with a hiss.

“Vickie, cara mia, it’s me. It’s Sal. What’s wrong?”

Her hand darted to her mouth, unable to repress a strangled sob.

“Stop it! You’re not my husband, you can’t be Sal!”

The wild, hysterical tone to her voice provoked both sympathy and

irritation. He lunged down the steps between them and seized her

arm.

“You’re not making any sense. Why the hell can’t I be Sal?”

“Because Sal is dead, you bastard!” Her fists came up to beat on

his chest as she sobbed. “He’s dead and I buried him; I watched

them put him in the ground. Get out, get out! Why are you doing

this to me?”

She shoved him hard and fled down the stairs, her arm slipping

easily from his nerveless fingers. He sat down heavily, spinning

head cradled in his palms, vaguely registering the sound of weeping

and running feet. The headache, forgotten for a time, returned with

a vengeance. He dug the heels of his hands into his temples with a

soft moan.

After several minutes Mulder lifted his face to stare at his

surroundings. Where the hell was he? DeAngelo’s house? How had

he gotten here? He grasped the banister and hauled himself

upright, staggering down the steps. A voice carried from the back

of the house, a flood of words between hiccuping sobs. Speaking

to someone on the phone, from the sound of it. Alarmed, Mulder

let himself out the front door and walked quickly to his car.

He grasped the door handle and tugged, grimacing when the latch

refused to budge. Locked. Stealing a peek over his shoulder, he

reached into the front pocket of his pants.

No keys.

He patted himself down without success. Jiggled the door handle

and peered through the window, half expecting to see the ring

hanging from the ignition. Nothing.

A gust of wind set him shivering, and like a lightbulb snapping on

over his head, Mulder realized he was missing his suitcoat. He

glared at the house, feet shuffling, then jogged back and cracked

open the door. A cursory scan of the living room located his jacket

folded over the back of a chair. In a matter of seconds he’d

snatched it up, fished the keys from its pocket, and returned to the

car.

He heard the distant wail of a siren as he slid behind the wheel. His

hands were shaking so badly that when he tried to insert the key

into the ignition the whole ring tumbled to the floor. Cursing, he

ran his fingers over the mat, snagged the ring, and fumbled the

correct key into place.

He’d just shifted into reverse when the police car pulled up,

blocking the end of the driveway.

Mulder pressed his forehead to the steering wheel, stomach rolling.

He reached into his pocket for his ID, frowning when his fingers

encountered smooth plastic. What the…? He stared at the disk

until the sound of slamming car doors jolted him to action. He bent

and slipped it under the mat beneath his feet.

Then, squaring his shoulders, he opened the door and got out,

hands raised.

**************

ACT IV

**************

Hoover Building

4:39 p.m.

“Agent Scully?”

Scully turned from the filing cabinet, startled to see the Assistant

Director standing beside Mulder’s desk. She tugged the manila

folder from its slot and shut the drawer.

“Sir? Is there something I can do for you?”

“I’ve had a rather disturbing call from the Silver Springs PD. I was

hoping perhaps you could shed some light on the circumstances.”

Scully crossed the room and laid the folder on her desk, forehead

creased. “Silver Springs? We don’t have any cases pending under

that jurisdiction.”

“Nevertheless, this situation concerns you on a more…personal

level.”

At Scully’s folded arms and raised eyebrow, he continued. “I’ve

been asked to come down to the station. Earlier this afternoon, one

of their units responded to a breaking and entering call at a private

residence. The suspect was still on the premises when they arrived,

and was taken into custody without incident. He claimed to be an

FBI agent, but was unable to produce valid ID.” He paused,

watching her face. “Scully, it’s Mulder.”

Scully’s jaw literally dropped. “Mulder? Sir, that’s ridiculous, why

on earth would Mulder…?”

“The residence belongs to a Vickie DeAngelo.”

She blinked, abruptly lightheaded. “Vickie?”

“DeAngelo. Coincidentally, her husband used to be a profiler for

the BSU.” His eyes narrowed. “Or maybe not so coincidentally.

Scully, if you know something…”

Still reeling, she pasted on her poker face. “Sir, I am just as baffled

by this news as you are.”

“Then I suggest we go to the source. I’ll drive.”

She could do little more than nod and follow him out the door.

They drove in silence. Scully kept her eyes fixed on the road,

though peripherally she could see the little muscle twitching in her

boss’s jaw as he ground his teeth together. Her stomach churned

and she had to fold her hands in her lap to keep from fidgeting.

What’s going on in that head of yours, Mulder? Who is Vickie?

“Sir, you said Mrs. DeAngelo’s husband used to be a profiler. Is he

no longer with the Bureau?”

“He died a little over a month ago. Hit and run–they never caught

the driver.” Skinner studied her profile before turning his gaze

back to the road. “Scully, I was under the impression that Mulder

was recuperating well. He’s scheduled to return for light duty next

week. Is there something I need to know?”

Don’t ask me this.

“Physically he’s almost completely recovered. There’s some

lingering pain and weakness, but…”

“You and I both know the physical effects of being shot can be

only half the problem. Level with me, Scully.”

She stared at a passing minivan, a harried-looking woman at the

wheel, the back crowded with children. “There have been

some…symptoms of emotional trauma.”

“PTSD?”

“Nothing so severe. Nightmares, trouble sleeping…” She flushed.

Yes, Skinner had helped her settle Mulder into her apartment after

his release from the hospital–when he could barely walk across the

room without extreme pain and fatigue. Her partner’s need for 24-

hour nursing, however, had long since expired. “That’s what he

tells me, anyway.”

For just an instant she could have sworn amusement replaced the

concern in her boss’s eyes. Then he frowned, and she was certain

she’d imagined it.

“Has he talked to anyone?”

A pause. “No, sir.”

Skinner pulled the car into a parking space and shut off the engine.

Rather than open his door, he turned to face her.

“Scully, it’s non-negotiable. I don’t care if he sees someone from

the Bureau or a private psychologist on his own dime. He’s not

coming back to work until he’s been cleared, both physically AND

mentally.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I can tell him, if you’d like.”

“No, thank you anyway, sir. I think it might be better coming from

me.”

Skinner’s mouth twitched and he reached for the door handle. “No

doubt.”

******************

Mulder was seated at the table in a small interrogation room, head

cradled in his hands. He looked up, lifting his shackled wrists with

a smirk when Scully stepped inside and shut the door.

“Would you be shocked if I confessed this is a common fantasy of

mine?”

“I’m glad you find this humorous. Maybe if you’d been the one

riding with Skinner on the way over here you’d feel differently.”

Scully produced a key and unfastened the cuffs, her words clipped

and her movements brusque.

Mulder sat back, massaging the red marks encircling his wrists.

“They actually called Skinner? I was hoping…”

“Yes, Mulder, they called Skinner. They thought he’d like to know

that one of his agents was pulled in on a B&E. They were right.”

“Look, Scully, I’m sorry. I…”

“What the hell is going on, Mulder? Who is Vickie DeAngelo, and

what were you doing inside her house?”

His lips tightened and his eyes evaded hers, dropping to the

tabletop. “I don’t know.”

“You don’t know what? You don’t know who Vickie is, or you

don’t know why you were in her house?”

“Either. Take your pick.”

His soft admission defused her anger. “Mulder, I’m worried about

you. You need…”

“Listen to me for a minute, Scully. Something’s going on;

something I’m having a difficult time understanding myself. It’s

related to the shooting, but it’s NOT what you think.”

Scully dropped into the chair opposite him with a sigh. “Go on.”

“For the past few weeks, I…I’ve been having some disturbing

visions.”

“The nightmares.”

“Yes. The same dream, over and over. Bright lights bearing down

on me…pain…and most of all, the feeling that I’m not myself.

That I’m seeing through someone else’s eyes.

“But that’s not all. The other day, when I was shaving, I looked in

the mirror and for a split second…Scully, I saw the face of a

stranger. A man I’ve never seen before in my life. Black hair. Dark

eyes.” He hesitated. “Italian.”

Scully laid one hand over his fingers as they drummed a staccato

beat on the oak tabletop. “Mulder…”

“Just hear me out. The past few days I’ve been getting impulses,

compulsions that I can’t explain. I’ve wound up in unfamiliar

situations and places, with no recollection how I got there. But

every time it’s served to involve me in a specific case–a homicide.

One of a string of serial murders investigated by our own BSU.

I’ve seen the files, Scully. The profiler’s name was Salvatore

DeAngelo.”

She stared at him, her chest tight and her heart pounding, as a

confusing jumble of words and images clicked into place.

The residence belongs to a Vickie DeAngelo.

There’s bright lights…an engine. I think…I think I get hit by a car.

Her husband used to be a profiler for the BSU…He died a little

over a month ago–hit and run.

She shook her head, her mouth speaking reason though her brain

shrieked that something was terribly wrong, that logic could not

explain away the facts that clicked neatly into place. “Mulder, I think

I see where you’re going with this, and…”

“Sal DeAngelo died sometime in the wee hours of the morning of

August 2nd, Scully. Sound familiar?” When she didn’t answer, her

face pale and set, he plowed on. “I was clinically dead for nearly

three minutes. What if Sal DeAngelo died at that same moment?

What if our souls somehow became linked, so that when I came

back I brought a piece of his along with me?”

“Why, Mulder?” Scully’s voice turned sharp, anger a means to

conceal her fear. “Setting aside the fact that your hypothesis

violates the most basic rules of nature, of life and death, WHY

would this Sal latch onto you like some kind of…of…spiritual

parasite?”

“Maybe because he died too soon. What if there was a greater

purpose to his life–a vital task to perform, an injustice to correct–

but he was interrupted before he could fulfill it?”

“Are you suggesting he picked you to do it for him?”

“Why not? Profiling requires a specific mindset, a way of thinking

outside the box. Maybe there was a…a kinship between us, even

though we’d never met. Something that convinced him I’d finish

what he started.”

“Why do I get the sense you’re going to tell me exactly what that

was?”

“I’ve gone over the casefile, Scully; I can show it to you. They

arrested, tried, and convicted a killer based on evidence gathered

from the last crime scene. Yet the crime itself contained some

major deviations from the four previous homicides, and the man

they arrested didn’t fit the accepted profile. If Sal knew they’d

convicted the wrong man, if he was killed before he could act on

that knowledge…”

Jack Willis. Luther Lee Boggs. Melissa Ephesian. Memories

bombarded her, tightening her chest and sending chills up and

down her spine. The “craziness” Mulder was spouting wasn’t

really so crazy, was it? Then an image of him in the ER, pale and

lifeless, blotted out all other recollections.

Three minutes without a heartbeat, without oxygen. From the

moment she’d heard those words, residual brain damage had

been her greatest fear. Physical injury coupled with the post-

traumatic stress…

“Stop it, Mulder! Please. Stop.”

The strength of her emotion cut off his words and stilled his feet.

“Scully?”

“Mulder, I think you’ve immersed yourself in a fantasy to keep from

facing a more plausible reality.”

He propped his hands on his hips. “All right, Scully. Enlighten me.

What reality is that?”

She walked over and took his face between her palms. “Occam’s

Razor, Mulder. The simplest theory is usually the correct one. You

suffered a terrible trauma, and your brain isn’t about to let you

proceed as if it never happened. You have to deal with it, Mulder.

You have to talk to someone.”

He stared at her, dumbfounded, then pulled away. “Scully, did you

hear a word I said? This has nothing to do with…”

“It could have everything to do with it! Mulder, I know you aren’t

going to like this, but the AD and I are in complete agreement–you

need to see a counselor. And I…I’m recommending you see a

medical doctor, as well. You could easily have suffered residual

damage from hypoxia while you were arresting. Your tests at the

time showed no adverse impact, but under the circumstances, I

think it would be wise…”

“Let me get this straight–you want me to see a shrink AND check

for brain damage? Why not just get Skinner and sign the

commitment papers now, Scully? You’ve done it before.”

His cruelty stole her breath. “That’s not fair.”

“The hell it’s not! The fact is you’d rather believe that I’ve lost my

marbles than open yourself to the possibilities.”

“Mulder…”

“Am I free to leave? Or am I going to be charged?”

She drew in a deep breath, released it slowly. “You can go. Mrs.

DeAngelo decided not to press charges–she was more upset than

angry. Skinner had someone get your car. It’s parked out front.”

“Fine.” Mulder yanked open the door.

“Mulder. Mulder, wait!”

He kept his back to her, shoulders rigid. “What now? Are you

going to tell me I’m too mentally impaired to safely operate a

motor vehicle?”

Scully winced at the sarcasm before her own temper flared. “Of

course not. It’s just…I rode down here in Skinner’s car. I was

hoping we could drive home together.”

Fingers tightened on the doorjamb, followed by a sharp shake of

his head. “If you mean your apartment, I don’t think so. I’m going

back to my place. I need some space.”

Though his words cut her deeply, Scully tipped her chin up.

“Fine.”

He disappeared into the noisy squadroom without a backward

glance. Scully bit down hard on her lip and blinked against the

sting of tears, wondering if she’d made the correct decision.

Bewildered by how things had so quickly spiraled out of control.

Alexandria

10:18 p.m.

She thought he was crazy.

Mulder paced back and forth across the small room, turning the

basketball in his hands. He squeezed his eyes shut, remembering a

hospital room and agony so overwhelming that for a time he’d been

convinced death would be preferable to life…

The lights blazed too brightly against his eyelids; the slightest

sounds a deafening cacophony. His chest felt as if it had been

smashed to bits and then reassembled by harsh, uncaring hands.

The machine breathed for him–the rhythm all wrong, too slow, too

deep–yet he could not muster the energy to protest. He wanted to

disappear, to retreat back to the darkness that erased the pain, but

gentle fingers moved across his brow, detaining him.

“I know it hurts, Mulder. I know how tempting it must be to let go.”

The voice wavered, broke, and the fingers vanished. He waited,

latching onto the phantom touch with all his strength.

“I’m here. I’m not going anywhere. And I know you can do this.

You hear me, Mulder?” Hands slipping something around his

neck, her warm, sweet breath against his skin. Lips brushed his

cheek. “You have the strength of my beliefs. You came back to me.

Please stay.”

When had she stopped believing?

Mulder tossed the ball onto his couch and sat down at the

computer. He plucked the floppy disk off the blotter, turning it

over and over in his hands. He had no recollection of acquiring the

disk, no clue what might be on it, and yet…

It was important. The key to what had been happening to him. He

felt it in the fluttering at the pit of his stomach, the pricking of his

fingertips. Gnawing on his lower lip, he popped the disk into the

drive and pulled up the directory. Blank save for a single file.

“Judas.”

Mulder grasped the mouse and double-clicked on the icon.

He read the text twice, stared at the picture for several minutes,

then read the text again.

I wonder how the lovely Mrs. Kyle McNally would feel about her

husband if she knew he was screwing around?

His gaze drifted to the original header.

From: kmcnally@fbi.gov

To: sdeangelo@fbi.gov

FWD: Better think again

K. McNally. Kyle McNally? Why did the name sound so familiar?

Mulder moved to the couch and began rummaging through the file

folders spread across the coffee table. He found what he was

looking for on the official copy of the profile. Submitted by Sal

DeAngelo to Kyle McNally, ASAC. He stood, profile in hand, and

returned to stare at the picture on the computer screen.

“So Kyle McNally, ASAC was getting a little on the side with you,

huh, Monica? Maybe threatening him wasn’t such a good idea.

Maybe it was the last mistake you ever made.”

He dropped back into the chair, scrubbing his palms over his face.

Say Kyle McNally had killed Monica Mitchell and made it look

like the work of a serial killer. Why would he send Sal a piece of

incriminating evidence like this email? Especially when, from all

appearances, he’d successfully pinned the murder on another man?

Had the guilt finally overwhelmed him? Or was it somehow just a

serendipitous mistake?

And what about Sal’s death? Was it really a tragic accident? Or one

murder calculated to cover another?

The phone rang and he scooped it up, half of his mind still working

the problem. “Mulder.”

“Is this Special Agent Fox Mulder?”

A man’s voice–unidentifiable. Mulder straightened, tucking the

receiver between shoulder and ear.

“Who wants to know?”

“My name is Kyle McNally, Agent Mulder. I’m an ASAC in the

Behavioral Science Unit at Quantico.”

Mind racing, Mulder kept his voice low and even. “I’m familiar

with it.”

A chuckle. “Yeah, I know. I’ve studied your cases. You were a

helluva profiler.”

“I’m sure you didn’t call me to reminisce about my glory days in

the BSU. What can I do for you, Agent McNally?”

“Sal DeAngelo was a good friend of mine, Agent Mulder. This

afternoon I received a very upsetting phone call from his wife,

Vickie. I’m sure you know what she had to say, and can understand

why I found her story so disturbing.”

“I’m a little disturbed myself, Agent McNally. I’ve been going over

Monica Mitchell’s casefile.”

A short pause. “That’s understandable; it was the last in a string of

terrible crimes. Though I must say, I’m at a loss as to why you’d be

going through our casefiles–especially one that was resolved

months ago.”

“After reading the file, I’ve my doubts about that resolution.”

“A judge and jury felt otherwise. You left the BSU years ago,

Agent Mulder. I think I have a right to know why the head of the

X-Files division is suddenly second-guessing our work.”

“I guess you could say I was doing a favor.”

“A favor? For whom?”

“Sal DeAngelo.”

Dead silence. When McNally spoke again his voice had gained an

edge.

“I think we need to talk, Agent Mulder. There are some things I

can tell you about that case, things you won’t get from the files.”

“I’m listening.”

Another laugh, this one with far less warmth. “Not over the phone.

If I’m going to do this, I need to see your face.”

“I’m assuming you have a meeting place in mind?”

“Are you familiar with Rock Creek Park?”

“I know it.”

“I’ll meet you there, by the main pavilion, at 11:30.”

“Tonight? Hold on a minute, I’m not sure…”

“Look, you’re the one dredging up old casefiles and terrorizing my

good friend’s wife. You want to know more about that case? We do

it now, tonight.”

Mulder hesitated, eyes wandering to the computer screen. “All

right. I’ll be there.”

“Good. And Agent Mulder? You’re the only one I’m willing to

discuss this with. Bring anyone else, and the deal’s off.” A dial tone

punctuated McNally’s warning.

Mulder glanced toward the clock. 10:30. Enough time to call

Scully and let her in on what was happening. He punched in the

first three numbers before his brain caught up with his fingers,

stilling them.

“Mulder, I think you’ve immersed yourself in a fantasy to keep from

facing a more plausible reality.”

Scully had made up her mind–it would take a significant

investment of time and patience to convince her otherwise.

Unfortunately, at the moment he was operating under a deficit of

both. This meeting was a chance not only to confront McNally, but

also to get a better handle on Sal DeAngelo. He couldn’t pass up

such a golden opportunity.

With physical pang of regret, Mulder replaced the phone on its

cradle.

Rock Creek Park

11:28 p.m.

“Agent Mulder?”

Mulder moved from the shadow of a large pillar into a pale shaft of

moonlight. He’d spent enough time studying the photo of McNally

to easily recognize his features, but was unprepared for the icy jolt

that shot up his spine upon confronting the man in person.

“I’m Kyle McNally.”

McNally extended his hand, flushing when Mulder chose not to

reciprocate, hands tucked into his jacket.

“You said you had information for me.”

“I just want to save you a lot of time and effort. If you talked to Sal

about this case, I think you probably got the wrong impression.”

Mulder raised an eyebrow. “Really.”

“Look, Agent Mulder…” McNally placed steepled fingers under

his chin, then tapped his lips. “I don’t know how well you knew

Sal, but he was a good friend of mine. He was an excellent agent,

and a damn fine profiler. I gotta tell you, though, he wasn’t exactly

himself those last few days before the accident.”

“How so?” The headache was back–not a gradual ache but a

sudden, intense throbbing.

“Something about the Mitchell murder just…set him off. He

fixated on it, couldn’t let it go.”

“That’s not atypical for a profiler, is it? I seem to recall eating,

sleeping, and breathing a few cases myself.”

“I understand what you’re saying, but this…this was different.”

McNally shook his head with a pitying expression. “Even after

we’d caught, tried, and convicted the killer, he couldn’t move on.

Kept poring over the file, looking for something we might have

missed. I was starting to really worry about him.”

Mulder tamped down the fierce anger bubbling up inside him. “As

I said, Agent McNally. I read the file, and I can understand Agent

DeAngelo’s concerns. Your convicted killer never fit the profile.

For that matter, the Mitchell crime scene held some significant

deviations from the previous murders.”

“Hardly significant when you’ve caught the killer with the victim’s

blood on his clothing,” McNally snorted.

He was too cool, confident. Time to shake things up. “Perhaps Sal

knew more than he let on. Maybe he’d found something, some

piece of evidence that would prove someone else killed Monica

Mitchell.”

The amusement froze on McNally’s face and he turned hooded

eyes to scrutinize Mulder. “That’s absurd. Agent Mulder, I’ve tried

to be a good sport, but I think I’ve reached my limit. You’ve been

sticking your nose in files that don’t concern you. And as if that

weren’t enough, you’ve badly frightened a good woman with your

bizarre behavior. That little stunt you pulled at her house today was

cruel and in bad taste. Now if you don’t drop this unauthorized

investigation immediately, I’ll be forced…”

Mulder gritted his teeth, feeling his temper slip between his

fingers. “It has been authorized–by the man who saw through the

web of lies and deceit. Agent DeAngelo…”

“Sal DeAngelo has no authority! He’s dead, and the case is closed.

Now I’m warning you…”

Hands knotted in McNally’s jacket, he jerked the man forward until

their faces were nearly touching. “How could you do it? I trusted

you; you were like a brother to me.”

Kyle hung limply in his grip, face white. “S…what?”

He shook him, Kyle’s hands fluttering in protest. “You screwed us

both, didn’t you, paisan’? We thought we knew you, but we didn’t

have a clue. Which was harder–looking Monica in the face while

you cut her or running me down on the street like a dog?”

Kyle’s eyes nearly popped from his head. In an adrenaline-fueled

burst of strength he grasped Mulder’s shoulders, bringing a knee up

to connect squarely with his midsection. When Mulder doubled

over, clutching his stomach, Kyle stepped back and pulled his gun.

His voice shook, but his grip was steady.

“Hands up in the air.”

Mulder straightened slowly, arms laced across his gut. “It’s…it’s

over, McNally. You turn yourself in, you’ll buy yourself some

points.”

“Turn around. Put your hands on that picnic table and assume the

position.” When Mulder complied he frisked him, removing both

his service weapon and the gun from his ankle holster.

“I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing, but I’ve come way

too far to turn back now. We’re taking a little ride. Move.”

Mulder walked toward the parking lot, McNally at his side, the gun

pressed to his ribs. “You’re never going to pull this off. My

partner…”

“Shut up! One more word and I’ll end this here and now.”

The park, closed since dusk, was deserted. McNally marched

Mulder to a shiny new sedan and popped the trunk. He motioned

for Mulder to get inside, scowling when he remained motionless,

expression blank.

“What is it?”

“You got rid of it.”

“Got rid of what?”

Mulder turned slowly toward him, something in his eyes shifting

and changing until they looked nearly black in the dim light.

“The truck. Whatsamatta, paisan’? Couldn’t get the blood out?”

With a strangled cry, McNally lifted the gun in both hands and

brought the butt down on Mulder’s head. Mulder crumpled toward

the ground with a soft grunt, eyes fluttering shut. He was a dead

weight, limp and unresisting when Kyle shoved him into trunk and

locked it.

No one saw the sedan that pulled out of the parking lot and sped

off in a squeal of tires and spray of gravel.

To be continued in Justice, Interrupted Part 2

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