------- 2 --------
Back to the present,
He tells the story,
The air conditioner clicks on suddenly, startling both of us, and on my back I can feel the chills of artificial air circulating the room.
Fox takes a deep breath and shakes his head, closing his eyes for a moment to try and regain his thoughts. It occurs to me, now as I watch him fight off regret and self-blame, that this must be more than simply painful for him to talk about. It must be more than excruciating—more than horrible. Especially so since I know Fox---and I know his brain. Especially since I know he is doing more than telling this story. He is reliving it. He is reliving every moment and every memory. He is reliving her laugh and her smile, and her tears. He is reliving a time in his life he doesn’t ever talk about to anyone. Remembering the last years of a woman whose name is never allowed to be uttered in his presence—not by me, not by anyone but him.
A woman I have never met, but have been jealous of for the last five months of my life. A woman I only know as “Scully.”
“A puncture wound,” he says, suddenly, interrupting my thoughts with soft words he means for me to understand. When I do I nod, but I do not speak.
“She was out for about ten minutes,” he says, slowly. “And every fucking minute of it was excruciating. I thought she was going to die, I thought…”
He pauses, runs a hand raggedly through his hair, then continues, “Anyway, I called 911 and they checked her out. Gave her an OK. Said it could have been an allergic reaction to an insect bite or the scratch of a rusted nail. Bullshit, I had thought. I didn’t buy it…She didn’t want to blow it out of proportion. So we were at odds---like usual—and we argued about it, until I finally threatened to spend the week singing a thousand bottles of beer on the wall unless she went to a doctor.”
He lets out a light, reminiscent chuckle at that, and I try to force a smile at that which I can’t understand. What was she like? I can’t help but wonder. Did she roll her eyes at him a lot? Did she laugh? Did he? What kind of person was she, to make him into the kind of man that lived and thrived upon her well being? What kind of person was she, when they laughed together, when they took that picture of the two of them, playing ball?
“So Scully went, without me---like she had insisted----and the doctor told her it was a puncture wound—very small, but definitely from a needle, considering the ugly track mark that was left behind from a sloppy incision…the traces of some sort of substance left on her skin…” He shivers at that, then goes on, “when tests were run, Scully found out that she had been injected, apparently with some sort of hormone inducing drug-----an excess of estrogen and accelerant----it had caused an adrenaline rush that made her faint, it would give her headaches and an occasional cramp or two, but otherwise, as Scully had told me ‘it was oddly harmless. Puzzling.’ I had thought so too. So we went back and scoured the scene—looking for hypodermic needles that she might have stepped on by accident. We found nothing.”
He stretches and I un-cross my legs, leaning back into the couch with rapt interest in this story.
“I tried not to think about it during the next few days, but it bothered the shit out of me…” He manages a weak half-smile, making sure I’m still with him, and continues, “But Scully told me to let it go. She was fairly adamant. Even though she was getting miserable headaches and stomach aches…. ‘let it drop,’ was all she said. ‘I’m fine.’ Was all said. I should have known better. Three days went by until finally, on the evening of that first---“ he stops to point at the newspaper beside me, “that first massacre, Scully went in to do an autopsy and just didn’t come back out…”
Five and a half years earlier
“uh huh… uh huh….yeah…”
Scully glanced up from her laptop and regarded her partner as he rolled his eyes and nodded, dully. His gaze shifted and caught hers, and his eyes rolled skyward again. She turned and leaned against the back of her chair, shooting him a raised eyebrow, and his hand came up to open and close rapidly---mimicking a duck quacking. She closed her eyes wearily and shook her head.
“uh huh… yes sir. I understand, sir. Of course, sir.”
“Can I kiss your ass, sir?” Scully added playfully, under her breath.
Mulder bit his lip to fight off a smile and his eyes widened at her, as if to say, ‘did I really hear you say that?’
Scully returned the look with a smug glance, silently replying, ‘you know you just did.’
Mulder shook his head in disbelief and hung up the phone, giving her one of his many ‘guess what we have to do that you’re not going to like?’ looks. Scully sighed and rose to her feet, stretching her arms, groaning, “Oh god, what now?”
Mulder shrugged and leaned back against the desk. “Autopsy,” he said, dryly. “Then a meeting with Skinner---unless your autopsy runs late, in which case it’s me and Skinner. Unless your autopsy can wait till tomorrow, in which case I have errands to run and it’s you and Skinner.”
Scully quirked an eyebrow at him and folded her arms, wearily. “You mean he doesn’t care?” she asked, confused.
Mulder shrugged again. “He just said one of us. Both of us would be nice, but one of us would do just fine.”
Scully nodded knowingly, leaned back against her smaller desk, and she eyed Mulder for another moment longer. Silence gave way to the low creaking of the air conditioner, and both partners narrowed their eyes in mock competition. Mulder jutted his chin at her, grinning. Scully took a long, deep breath.
“Alright G-man,” she finally said, moving forward. “All or nothing—no best two out of three crap. Winner gets to miss the meeting. Odds or evens?”
Mulder matched her poise and cleared his throat. “Odds,” he told her with a grin, extending his hand.
“Shocker,” she teased, wryly, extending her own hand.
“You’re going down,” Mulder vowed, closing his palm in a fist.
“Wrong again, crackpot,” Scully joked lightly, closing her hand in a similar fist to his.
They watched each other for a moment, eyes connecting on a level all their own. Scully bit her lip and Mulder fought down the racing of his traitorous heart. It was getting harder and harder lately, trying to control what he felt…
She took a breath, then, “Once, twice, three, shoot!”
Both threw out a simultaneous hand, fist closed, index finger extended.
Mulder let out an exaggerated groan and Scully grinned victoriously. Her head waggled slightly in self satisfied smugness, and her arms folded lightly across her chest. Her posture screamed “I told you so,” and she eyed him as she made her way out, leaning into his shoulder just long enough to tease, “G-man loses again. Let’s hear it for science.”
And then she slipped away before he could make a lunge to grab her.
“I’ll be in the morgue if you need me!” sounded her smug, content alto from the hallway.
He rolled his eyes.
“Say hi to the stiffs for me, willya Scully?”
A poke of his head through the open doorway revealed Scully’s flushed cheeks and tiny little grin, her head cast downward in a failed attempt to hide her amusement, as the elevator doors closed behind her.
Mulder smiled, feeling warm all over, and closed his eyes.
Four hours later
Assistant Director Skinner’s Office
“So, Agent Mulder, if you’ll just debrief Agent Scully on the major parameters of this case, I don’t see any reason why the two of you can’t fly out tomorrow.”
Mulder nodded and stared down at the folder in his hand, alternately flipping the pages and watching the AD. His brow wrinkled as he skimmed line after line, and finally he flipped the case file closed. Ghosts, strange claims, people running, mel-pel from an old abandoned mansion. Just the usual…
“Sounds fine,” Mulder said, decisively. “I’ll be sure to----“
But before he could finish, his cell phone rang, shrilling wildly from inside his coat pocket. Skinner eyed him warily, pursing his lips. Mulder shrugged sheepishly and forced a discreet smile towards his superior. Great timing, Scully, he thought, trying to avoid Skinner’s accusing glare. Just great. His tiny Nokia rang again, and he quickly slipped his finger inside the folds of his jacket, yanking out his tiny black annoyance, flipping open the bottom half.
“Mulder,” he sighed, dully.
“Agent Mulder?” came the unfamiliar voice.
Mulder closed his eyes and shook his head, rubbing his temples. He blinked once, then twice, and replied, “speaking. Can I help you?”
The agent on the other end cleared his throat, then managed a stammer before he spoke, “Agent Mulder, you need to come down to the morgue immediately.”
Mulder was up in a shot, heart pounding, head swimming. What could have possibly----oh no… Every time he got a call like this, it meant…. Oh noooo…His chest suddenly felt heavy and he had a sinking feeling---as if part of him was missing. No… no, no, no… He thought, horrified. Oh god… something’s happened… Oh god, Scully..
Skinner frowned and leaned forward, questioning, “Agent Mulder, what is it?”
Mulder ignored him, trying to muster up the strength and state of mind to ask the question he was dreading. The question that he was starting to have a sinking feeling about. His left hand clenched and unclenched tightly, releasing and rereleasing stress and fear that he knew Scully would scold him for feeling. He closed his eyes and slowly managed, “Is… is it Scully? Is Scully alright?”
The man on the other end took a quick breath. “Well,” he replied, nervously, “see, that’s the ah… problem, ah, Agent Mulder…Agent Scully, she’s ah…”
Mulder shook his head impatiently and squelched the urge to pound his hand into something. Skinner stared at him silently, waiting, watching, and his hands gripped the edge of the desk. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that something was very, very wrong.
“Spit it out!” Mulder all but screamed, his wits end fast approaching.
The other man cleared his throat again and finally blurted, “The morgue’s a disaster Agent Mulder. It’s been trashed but… but nobody saw anybody enter or exit. We…we think somebody broke in. But… Um, we don’t know because Agent Scully was the only one there and she’s ah… she’s gone…”
Mulder’s heart stopped.
“What do you mean, she’s gone?” he bellowed into the phone. Skinner’s eyes widened.
“I mean she’s gone,” the man answered, sufficiently subdued. “Nobody knows what happened. She’s just…gone…”
Back to the present,
He tells the story,
The tea’s cold now, I vaguely realize, curling my fingers around the edge of the handle. I start to turn it slowly with my thumb and my index finger, and the watery ring I’ve left behind on the coffee table expands and reforms on the wood. I should’ve used a coaster, the nervous ten year old in me thinks, for the briefest of moments.
But then the woman takes over again.
And I realize that his story is starting to freak me out. Big time. More than big time, actually----though mind you, in the past five months I’ve probably seen more horror and depravity than big breasted sorority girls in cheesy vampire flicks. Not that I really understand exactly what it is that’s freaking me out, not that I have a grip on why I feel so nervous right now, but still.
I have a feeling that this conversation is going to give me nightmares for weeks.
Fox looks at me, pausing slightly in the telling of his tale, and leans back into the couch.
“So I went down to the morgue, like they asked me, and it was a mess.” He closes his eyes to remember, and my hands fall away from the coffee mug.
“I remember thinking… it was my fault. Somehow, I should have known—or been there…” I shoot him a sympathetic glance, and he sucks in a breath, then continues, “but I kept my wits as best I could---and I called her cell. When there was no answer, I called her apartment. Still nothing. So I scoured the building---probably pissing off a great number of people---and finally, I called the gunmen. I asked them to look for anything---any clues----any phone calls that had been made to her. Anyone who may have looked her up or called her cellular account. I even had them check her email.”
I run a hand through my hair and furrow a brow, trying to understand just where he is going with all this. It’s all so strange sounding---so paranoid and incredible. And if he were anyone else I might accuse him of lying to me. Of putting me on.
But not this man. I’ve seen too much in the past five months with this man to distrust him---to think he would lie to me. I feel with my heart and my soul that he wouldn't.
Maybe that makes me crazy. Who knows?
“So what happened?” I ask, quietly.
He lets out a bitter, painful sounding chuckle and pulls his right leg onto the couch, lazily. I watch as his gaze shifts so that he is staring at the picture on the counter. His face softens—as if he truly believes she is looking back at him----and then he looks back at me.
“I had spent so much time throwing my weight around the Hoover building that it never occurred to me that I should check her apartment,” he says, with a shake of his head.
My mouth drops. “You’re kidding,” I admonish, almost managing a smile.
He shakes his head again. “Nope,” he responds, softly. “After about an hour or so—give or take traffic, I got over there. She was asleep on the couch---like she had been taking a nap. At first I was relieved---I called the gunmen to let them know----but when I went to wake her, it became pretty obvious that she was not just sleeping…”
About an hour and a half later
Mulder knelt gently by the couch, reaching a shaky hand to touch the forehead of his slumbering partner. His fingers brushed across her ear, over the back of her russet, sunset hair, and finally came to rest upon her right temple, gingerly.
“Holy shit, Scully,” he gasped, lowering his hand to grip her right shoulder. She was burning hotter than a barbeque grill.
He shook her gently, once, twice, then moved his hand towards her lower bicep. He shook her again, but there was no response.
“Scully, come on.”
Reaching up securely with both hands, he gripped her arms and turned her over, flipping her onto her back so that he could see her face. His hands shook and his breathing became ragged, and his eyes widened as he took in her appearance. Her normally healthy, ivory smooth pallor was flushed and sweaty, her brow beaded with perspiration. Her eyes were squeezed shut, her breathing deep and uneven, her hands sprawled over the arm of her couch like a discarded towel. Mulder’s expression turned to horror.
Not again, he thought, watching her nervously… oh god, not again…
He shook his head definitively, trying to control his shaking hands, and yanked his cellular phone out of his pocket. Think, he forced his brain, still staring at his partner as if she were already dead. Think, goddamn it!
“It’s ok, Scully,” he told her, breathlessly, trying to swallow his fear. “I’m gonna get you to a hospital. You’re gonna be fine. Don’t worry…”
Nervously, Mulder stared at the touchtone keypad of his phone—weighing his options as carefully as he could, given the circumstances. Call or take her myself… call or take her myself….It was like standing at the edge of a bridge and determining whether or not he would jump. What was the right thing to do?
He examined the numbers, swallowing, and focused on ‘911’ as anxiety welled its way into his throat like a lump or a heavy rock. Like a fast moving slideshow, the events of the last time he had called 911 for help flashed through his head with blinding clarity. The ambulance… the gunshot… Losing her—again.
It was more than he could fathom. He stared back at her.
“Alright, Scully,” he finally decided, bending down to lift her limp body into his arms, “that’s it. We’re blowing this pop stand.”
His hands swiftly bent underneath her knees, then her back, and he lifted her easily. She whimpered, and one arm fell sideways, dangling like the cog of a grandfather clock. Securing her weight, he looked down to smile at her lightly, wondering if she could hear him.
“See what you get for…” he adjusted his arms and bent slightly, “for… beating your crackpot partner at ‘evens/odds.?’ Nothin’ but trouble, Scully. I’m telling you…”
His voice came out shakier than he would have liked, and to his dismay, she didn’t move. She didn’t even blink. Not a whimper or a groan. Nothing. He watched her and took a breath, taking quick strides towards the door with his heart in his throat. Hang on, he thought. Hang on…
Swiftly, Mulder reached the door and leaned against the wall, bracing his weight and hers against the molding next to the apartment entranceway. Her body shifted left, sharply, and he turned right to compensate. He let out a groan and reached for the door handle, lightly commenting, “great time to get the flu, Scully. My sword and trusty white steed are still in the shop.”
There was no response.
He bit his lip and managed to turn the knob, yanking the door open as he winced against Scully’s light—but not feathery---frame. He took a deep breath and moved---carefully balancing his partner----walking forward until he crashed…
Right into Frohike.
“Mulder!” Byers gasped, taken aback, “I---“ he paused and focused on Scully’s limp form. “What happened—what’s going on?”
Mulder shook his head and tried to shove past them, balancing his partner in his arms like a 5 foot 3 paperweight. “Not now,” he growled. “Just help me get her to the hospital.”
Mulder took a step and Langly moved into his path----stopping him with a shake of his blond, scraggly head. Mulder gritted his teeth and stared at his friend, confused and angry, and desperate as hell. Langly stood, unflinching, and his eyes briefly focused on Scully’s pathetic state, softened, and then hardened as his gaze came to focus on Mulder’s.
Mulder swallowed angrily. “Move. Out. Of. My. Way,” he managed, putting barely concealed hostile emphasis on each word.
Langly shook his head again. “No can do,” he said, gravely.
Mulder shot him a murderous glance and then shifted his gaze upon Byers, then Frohike. Both looked away guiltily, clearing their throats with something strange on their faces---something Mulder couldn’t place. It looked like fear---like guilt and fear, though he couldn’t discern it in his current state.
All that mattered was Scully.
“I have to get her to a hospital, goddamn it,” he gritted then, seriously considering putting Scully down so that he could shoot his way out of the building—if that was what it was going to take.
“You CAN’T,” Langly replied, standing his ground even though he knew Mulder was in a precarious state.
Mulder took a breath, narrowing his eyes. “Why the fuck NOT?!” he demanded, looking from one gunmen to the other, cradling Scully in his arms like a porcelain doll.
“Because there IS no hospital anymore,” Frohike answered with death and terror in his voice, and so much fear in his expression that Mulder nearly dropped his partner where they stood…