Title: Iniquity
Author: Vickie Moseley
Consulting credit: Miss Ann Thropic
Rating: some graphic images, not for tender readers
Category: SA, MA, MT, X
Disclaimer: No copyright infringement intended.
Comments to me: vickiemoseley1978@yahoo.com

Summary: While still working on Domestic Terrorism, Scully takes a vacation and Mulder finds himself doing a profile.

Author's notes: This is a 'commissioned' work. I did it in exchange for the wonderful X-Files music video set to The Who's 'Bargain' (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EsMOswJuGF A). I could not have done this without Miss Ann Thropic. Toss me a plot that nags at you any old time, girlfriend!

Love notes: Hugs and kisses to my super beta, Lisa. Shout out to major cheerleader and main correspondent, Donna. To the gang on the new EMXC -- it's great to be home again!

Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrows Church
San Diego, CA

He knelt in the dark, rainbows of splintered light cascading down just inches from him, but never touching him. The ancient wooden beads slipped through his fingers in measured order.

First Sorrowful Mystery, the agony in the garden . . . Second Sorrowful Mystery, the scourging . . . Third -- Fourth -- Fifth -- all progressing toward the end that was the beginning only to start again. His head was bowed and he prayed that God would look down on him, would see him for what he wanted to be and not for what he was.

His hands trembled as his fingers clutched the beads. A fingernail bent with the force of his efforts but he pressed harder. Crowning with thorns . . . yes, yes. Carrying the cross -- he could do that, he could carry the cross. But the trembling became more severe until the beads rattled against the pew in front of him and the ache in his chest left him gasping for breath.

He had to leave. It hadn't been enough. He wasn't clean, wasn't able to stay more than a few moments in this holy realm. More, he had to do more to become clean.

As the altar boy came into the dark chapel and lit the candles to prepare for the celebration of the Eucharist, he stuffed the beads in his pocket and moved silently toward the door. He had work to do. Redemption. A call to God -- a call for God.

SomeTime Later, when the streetlights glowed and the warm night breezes swayed the limbs of the trees, across town a woman would creep into a small, brightly decorated room, checking to see that everything was all right.

Her screams would shatter the night.

Baltimore-Washington International Airport
Saturday, Nov. 17

Margaret Scully tapped her foot impatiently as she waited at the ticket counter. She'd just checked her watch for the fourth time and was reaching for her cell phone when she saw a flash of red walk through the entrance to the concourse.

"Dana! Over here," she called out, hoping her daughter would be able to hear her voice, much less see her in the throng of people crowding the counters. It was one of many times when she wished her Irish heritage had included a few more inches in her height. "Dana!"

"I see you, Mom. I'm just having a little . . . trouble," Dana replied, muscling her way around a group of college boys with backpacks big enough to be steamer trunks. Finally, a little disheveled, she stood before her mother and graced her with a smile. "Made it. With time to spare."

Maggie frowned and looked pointedly at the running digital display of the time behind the counter. "Actually, you're about 20 minutes late," she said evenly, but her face spoke loudly of her displeasure.

"Mom, you're always 30 minutes early for everything. We're in good time," Dana said lightly.

"Fox has been a bad influence on you," Maggie retorted. "There was a time you were early for everything, too."

"If you spent as much time in airports as we do, Mom, you'd want to spend as little 'extra' time here as possible. And don't try and blame this on Mulder. He's usually early, too."

"Speaking of Fox, what is he doing for Thanksgiving? Will he be visiting his mother this year?"

"Well, I think they're planning on having Thanksgiving Dinner together, but he has other plans. Mrs. Mulder has convinced him to sell the house on the Vineyard. The closing is set for December 1. No one has been in the house since Mr. Mulder died so that means they have less than two weeks to clean it out."

"Surely she isn't going to be cleaning? With her stroke -- "

"Of course not, Mom. I don't think Mrs. Mulder will even be out on the island. Mulder is doing it all. I offered to help. If he'd started earlier we could've had it done by now. But he said he needed some closure. Oh, we better get to our gate, we still have to go through security," Dana said, changing the subject.

In truth, she thought it would be good for Mulder to have something constructive to do with himself over Thanksgiving. Since they'd been removed from the X-Files, her partner had been alternately despondent and manic -- sulking around his apartment and the office, then running off on wild tangents that included a high speed chase across Nevada and a boating excursion that resulted in a week stay in a Bermuda hospital. Sticking him on an island with only one working ferry and making him clean out a house sounded like exactly the right punishment and just what he needed.

Not to mention, she needed a break, too. Not just from Mulder, although she knew he would see it that way. She was just as depressed sitting in the bullpen, surrounded by agents who cackled at them behind their backs.

She was sick of AD Kersh and the way he glowered at them whenever they had to go to his office. She just wanted it all to go back the way it had been, with Skinner as their supervisor and their office in the basement. But now she was forced to see Diana Fowley and Jeffery Spender making a mockery of the X-Files Division. Yes, she dearly needed time just to get away from it all.

They arrived at San Diego International Airport just before noon. Tara, Bill and almost one-year old Matty were waiting for them by the baggage claim.

"There they are," Tara exclaimed and the three ran over to give and receive hugs. Matty was in her arms, doing his best to hide his face in his mother's sweater. "Dana, I'm so glad you decided to join us!"

"Hey, how could I miss out on a 22 lb. turkey with all the trimmings," Dana said with a grin. She reached over and touched Matthew's cheek. "Matty, I'm Auntie Dana. Remember me, we talk on the phone sometimes."

The child peered out at her and then quickly hid his face again. "He's in the shy stage," Tara explained with a shrug.

"Oh, he'll grow out of that. All of you were shy -- for about a year. Then, well, I don't know what happened," Maggie said with a shake of her head.

"We figured out if we didn't make noise, you'd leave us behind the next time you moved," Bill said with a twinkle in his eye. The bell sounded behind them and luggage started to appear on the conveyor belt. "OK, what bags am I looking for here -- we're in short term parking and they tow you if you stay too long."

Bill and Tara Scully's residence
Thursday, Nov.22

Monday, after dropping Matty off at day care, Maggie, Tara and Dana had spent the day shopping for Christmas. Maggie and Dana had decided buying toys for Matty, wrapping them and hiding them at Tara and Bill's would be easier for them than shipping them across the continent.

Tuesday, the 'girls' treated themselves to a day spa. It was the first pedicure Dana had indulged in for longer than she cared to remember. It had been relaxing, more fun than she could have imagined.

Wednesday was spent grocery shopping for the big dinner on Thanksgiving. Tara's family was from the Midwest and she had some traditional recipes that Maggie never considered so it was decided they would combine traditions. By noon, as they had the car loaded up, the three women had enough food for 20, and the disposable storage containers to freeze what hadn't been consumed. After preparing much of the food in the afternoon, Tara declared she wouldn't have to cook for a month.

And finally, the big day came. Matty was fascinated, for all of ten minutes, by the parades on TV. Dana joined Bill as he sat, engrossed in the annual tradition of the Thanksgiving Day football games. Dinner was served and the table groaned with the weight of the bounty.

"I can't move," Bill declared as he pushed his chair away from the table.

"Well, I think you have to," Tara replied, nodding over to their son who was face first on his tray table, a fist full of mashed potatoes still in his chubby fingers. "KP or 'mess duty' -- your choice."

Bill groaned. "Mess duty," he sighed, rising stiffly and untangling Matty from the high chair. "Do you think he'll wake up if I give him a bath?"

"Not if you're lucky," Maggie said with a wink and a smile. "Want grandma to take on that chore?"

"Nah, Mom, thanks, but I've got it. The three of you will have the kitchen ship shape before I've got him diapered. And Tara usually doesn't let me near a towel and the good china."

"Noritake doesn't grow on trees, Sailor Boy," his wife admonished. "Heave to." She tilted her head and he dutifully carried their son up to bathe and put to bed.

"He's so good with Matty," Tara said with a tired smile.

"Which is surprising, considering how horrible he was to his brother and sisters," Maggie commented casually as she carried serving bowls into the kitchen from the dining room.

"Mom!" Dana exclaimed. "How would you know? When we came to you, you always turned a deaf ear!"

"Not hardly. You three just weren't around to witness the 'discussions' we had about his torments. The whole incident over the dead rabbit -- Bill wasn't allowed out of the house for almost a month over that one."

Dana looked at her mother in wonder. "He never apologized for that."

"Which is why his punishment went from one week to four," Maggie said sagely. "But if you remember, he also cut you some slack when you got that hamster for your birthday."

"Mighty Mouse -- you're right. He even offered to feed and water him for me when I went to camp that Summer."

"I need a tape recorder," Tara said, shaking her head. "This is all really good stuff!"

Bill was right, the dishes were done in record time. At last, the family retired to the living room.

"You know, I don't think I've seen a newspaper or a television news report all week," Dana said as she sank into the sofa next to her mother.

"That's a good thing," Maggie said brightly. "It means you were actually on vacation -- for once."

"Mom, I've taken vacations -- " she objected, just as the local news came on the set.

Tara was digging through a chest near the window. "Who wants to watch a movie -- we've got 'Paint Your Wagon', 'Oklahoma', -- oh, Mom we have 'sound of Music'!"

"Shhhh," Dana ordered and snatched the remote from her mother's hand to turn up the volume.

" . . . Police Chief Daniel Harris told our Channel 6 Becky Ramirez that the FBI have been called in to help investigate the kidnapping and murder of little Jason Chilers. The twenty-month old was taken from his home on Saturday night. His body was found in a dumpster behind Our Lady Queen of Peace Church yesterday afternoon. Chief Harris refused to go on record, but this is the third abduction/murder of a pre-school child since September. The Chief did indicate that there could be other victims of this attacker. The FBI -- "

"Dana, let's watch Paint Your Wagon," Maggie tried to capture her daughter's attention. But it was too late. As she glanced over at the screen, she saw the back of a man who was all too familiar. When the man turned and showed his profile, Dana was sprinting to the phone before Maggie could get out another word.

"Mom?" Tara asked, confused. "What's going on?"

Maggie was shaking her head and then nodded toward the screen. "A baby was kidnapped and murdered Saturday night. A twenty-month old."

Tara looked at the television just in time to see the cluster of FBI and San Diego police. On the fringe of the group stood Fox Mulder.

"Isn't that Dana's partner?" Tara asked, perching on the edge of the sofa.

Maggie nodded solemnly. The reporter finished her segment and the station switched to showcasing some early Christmas decorations at the San Diego Zoo.

"He's not answering," Dana said, coming back into the room with her cell phone plastered to her ear. "I'm calling Skinner."

"Dana, if they needed you, they knew where you were. I'm sure Fox has this all in hand."

"Mulder is supposed to be cleaning out a house in West Tisbury," Dana growled. She glanced at her watch. "Damn, it's after 10 back home." She pulled the phone away from her ear and punched in another number. After a few minutes, she sighed in relief. "Sir, this is Scully. I just saw the news." She eyed her mother and sister-in-law and stepped over to the windows for some privacy.

"Sir, I just saw Mulder on television. Something about a child abduction here in San Diego," she said, curiosity warring with barely controlled anger.

"Yes, Agent Scully. I'm aware of the situation. SAC Sanders asked for him specifically. I was on the phone to Kersh at seven on Sunday to get clearance to use Mulder."

"So why wasn't I informed?" she asked, and winced at the shrewish sound to her voice. Truth be told, she wasn't angry with Skinner at all. Mulder had been in town for four days and hadn't stopped to call. He was working on a real case, not a wild goose chase or fertilizer duty and he hadn't thought to call her to see if she might be interested, might be able to help. He would probably cover for himself by saying he didn't want to interrupt her vacation, but it still felt like a ditch. After the previous three months of ditches, she was getting sick and tired of his behavior.

"Scully, I don't know what to tell you. But let me put a call into Sanders. I understand they have a pathologist performing the autopsy, but since they found the body they're probably wanting all the forensics help they can get, especially comparing the earlier murders."

It wasn't much, but it was an olive branch. She appreciated Skinner's efforts to help them, even if on the sidelines. "Thank you, sir."

"Just give me the number where you can be reached and I'll call you back as soon as I talk to Sanders."

"Thank you, sir.

"Hey, what are we watchin'?" Bill asked as he entered the family room, clasping his hands together. "And I think I could use another piece of that mincemeat -- how about you, Mom?"

"Bill, shush. Dana's on the phone," Tara chided.

Bill looked over at his sister, who was standing by the window, staring out in the darkness. "Who's she talking to?"

"Her boss," Maggie said with a resigned breath. "Mr. Skinner."

"That son of a bitch! Did he call her on Thanksgiving?" Bill snarled. "Can't they leave her alone for one god dammed holiday?"

"Bill, please!" Tara pleaded. "They didn't call her, she called them," she added. "The news report was about a kidnapping and murder."

"So what? That happens every day!"

"This was a twenty-month old baby," Tara countered, her expression stern.

Bill swallowed and looked over at his mother for confirmation. "Shit."

"Yes," Maggie agreed.

"But she doesn't -- I mean they aren't going to make her -- Mom?"

"I don't know, Bill. We'll just have to wait till she gets off the phone."

A few seconds later, Dana joined them. "They have a pathologist doing the autopsy. But Skinner is checking with the AIC to see if they are going to need any help. He said he'd call me back."

"Well, why don't we just relax a bit and watch a movie, then," Maggie suggested. "I just love Paint Your Wagon. Who would imagine that Clint Eastwood had such a beautiful singing voice?"

"I love Lee Marvin," Tara added, casting nervous glances over to her sister-in-law. "And the scene where the bull runs through the town -- "

Maggie looked over at Dana as Tara put the video in the machine. She was holding herself perfectly still, her cell phone clenched in her fist.

When the phone trilled almost half an hour later, everyone in the room jumped.

"Scully," Dana said hurriedly and left the room to pace the small hallway.

Bill turned down the sound on the television but Tara glared at him until he put it back up a bit. He kept his eyes on the doorway. When Dana returned, she had her purse in her hand.

"Bill, may I borrow your car? I need to go over to the station house."

"Dana, this is nuts! It's Thanksgiving -- why are you running off -- "

"Bill, I don't have time for this. I'll call a cab," she said angrily, heading for the door.

"William Scully, Jr., you go apologize this instant!" Tara hissed.

"Bill, please, she's your sister," Maggie pleaded.

"And she's being an idiot!" Bill growled in return. He stood there for a moment, the steam almost visible from his ears before he turned on his heel and stomped toward the foyer. "Dana, wait a minute."

Dana had her hand on the door, the cell phone pressed to her ear. "Yes, I was wondering if a uniformed officer could pick me up? I'm at the Naval Base -- "

Bill put his hand on her arm. "I'll drive you," he said sternly. "Just let me get my keys."

He was silent for the first couple of blocks. The streets were deserted, the houses they passed were lit up from the inside, cars lined the streets as people continued to give thanks for family, friends and a really good meal. But after a while, Bill couldn't hold his tongue.

"I thought this was your vacation."

"You know perfectly well that any time you're home on leave you might get called back to the ship. This is no different, and don't try to say it is," she shot back, her anger simmering just barely under the surface.

"That's crazy! I know people, Dana. I don't live in a bubble. I know cops, for that matter. You called them tonight! The minute you saw that sorry son of a -- "

"Pull over!" she ordered. "Pull over and I'll call a cab!"

"Oh for God's sake, I can't even have an opinion about the man?" he cried in exasperation. "Dana, I'm not pulling over, but you have to see -- this obsession you have with this guy is not healthy."

She glared at him. "It's my job. I'm his partner," she said through clenched teeth.

He shook his head. "You know, I don't get you two. I call you on running after him -- it's your job. He camps out just outside your hospital door, it's not the job, he's a friend. You two need to figure out what the hell you have going, because I wanta tell you, the rest of us are totally confused!"

"Fortunately, it's none of your business," she spat out.

"Right. None of my business. I'm just your brother. What happens to you is none of my business," his sarcasm dripped from every word.

"Yeah. Just like Shelia was none of my business," she replied with a haughty raised eyebrow.

Bill's face grew tight and more angry. "Fine. You wanta bring up the past? I can tell Mom a few things -- "

"Yeah, but I can tell Tara," she said with a bitter smile.

The car was icily silent for several minutes. "Truce," Bill said just above a whisper.

She looked out the window, pretending she hadn't heard. He looked over at her for a split second and cleared his throat.

"Truce," she murmured, reluctantly.

They had arrived at the police station. Bill pulled the car to the curb and stopped, letting the engine idle. Dana sat staring out the window, her hand on the door handle.

"He, uh, he gets into trouble when I'm not around," she admitted and then turned to give Bill a look that begged for understanding, acceptance.

Bill nodded slowly. "Just make sure he doesn't get you into trouble with him," he said sternly.

She opened the door quickly and exited the car.

The police station was crowded, smelly and noisy. A few 'ladies of the evening' were lingering near the door under the watchful eye of a patrolman. Two men who looked very much alike were holding towels to cuts and abrasions on their faces and glowering at each other from across a uniformed policeman's desk. Nowhere could she see anyone who looked FBI.

Shaking her head, she walked over to the reception desk where a harried woman in uniform was answering a call. "Yes, ma'am, we're still open. As I told you, we're open all day and all night, holidays included. But I still can't get anyone over to look for your cat. You gotta call Animal Control. Yes, the number is in the book. Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving." She put the receiver back on its cradle with a tired sigh and turned her eyes to Scully. "Bail bondsman is second floor," she said in a bored monotone.

"I'm not here to bail anyone out," Scully replied, pulling her badge out of her purse and displaying it for the woman. "I'm Special Agent Dana Scully. I understand the child abduction task force is using space in this building. Do you know where that would be?"

The desk sergeant sat up straighter and nodded. "Yes, Ma'am. Take the elevator to the third floor, turn right and go to the end of the hall. You can't miss it," she concluded.

When she emerged from the elevator, Scully spied a cluster of 'suits' at the end of the hall, just outside the door she assumed was the task force conference room. They were talking, drinking cups of coffee and generally looking bored. FBI, she surmised immediately. She approached them, reaching for her badge.

"I'm Dana Scully. I'm looking for SAC Sanders," she said. If it were her case, and she wasn't still in shock seeing her partner on television -- without her -- she might have taken offense at the dour look she was given. "Sanders is on the phone. Maybe I can help you," a tall, handsome agent with dark hair and eyes said with barely concealed lust.

"Actually, I'm Agent Mulder's partner, Agent Scully," she said, placing full emphasis on her own

. "If SAC Sanders isn't available, perhaps you can tell me where I can find my partner."

The handsome agent's eyes darkened and he frowned. "He's in there," he nodded to the door at the end of the hall. "Good luck getting in. Besides, I wouldn't go in there if I were you."

"Then it's a good thing you aren't me," Scully said with more lightness than she felt and headed toward the door. She heard the muttered twitterings of 'breastfed' and 'split-tail' -- common derogatory terms for a female agent -- and pointedly ignored them as she reached for the knob. When she turned it, she found out it was locked.

She faced the gathered agents, who were all waiting to see her reaction. "Why is this door locked?" she asked tersely.

"Damned if we know . . . ma'am," said a short, stocky agent with slicked back hair. "We're supposed to have a meeting in there."

She brought her fist up as if to knock, but an agent standing just a few feet from her grabbed her hand. At her glare, he released her and stepped back. "He gets really mad if you make noise."

She tamped down her anger. "Doesn't anyone have a key for this door?"

Just then an older gentleman with a sandy blond receding hairline stepped off the elevator and strode purposefully toward them. In his hand, he held a large ring of keys. All conversation stopped and the crowd of men parted before this one man's authority. SAC Sanders had arrived.

"Alright, everyone. There's another conference room one floor up. We'll hold the meeting there tonight. I suggest all of you grab a cup of coffee and meet me up there in 10," the older man said gruffly. The crowd dispersed without a word.

"Agent Scully?" Sanders said, acknowledging her for the first time. "You made good time. But then AD Skinner said you were in town with your family."

"Yes, I am," Scully replied, watching the SAC fumble to find the right key to fit the door. "I don't understand. What is going on? Where is my partner, sir?"

Sanders stopped his actions and looked over at Scully. "Well, maybe I better bring you up to speed. Your partner has locked himself in this conference room. Apparently he decided having the other agents coming in and out was too distracting. At least, that's the commonly held theory because he hasn't really spoken to anyone in at least a day."

Scully bit her lip but kept her silence. Her earlier anger at being 'ditched' was rapidly evaporating, being replaced by concern.

"One of the agents found the door locked about an hour ago. Since this is a little-used conference room and suspects aren't even allowed on this floor, it's not usually locked. As a matter of fact, the Chief couldn't immediately put his hands on the key to the door. It's Thanksgiving, the only locksmith we could find got one too many parking tickets last year and refuses to come out tonight. We were just about to break the door in when someone found the janitor's ring."

Scully drew in a deep breath as Sanders went back to trying keys. Finally, one worked. The SAC kept his hand on the knob, but turned to Scully before opening the door. "I heard the stories from years ago, but that's what I thought they were -- stories. I asked for Mulder because I had seen the reports from work he'd done in the past -- damn good work. This . . . this is not what I expected. I have to ask you, Agent -- how can you work with this guy?"

Scully kept her peace and waited for the door to open. When the lock finally snicked into place and the knob turned, Sanders stepped back a few paces. "He's all yours. If you can get him out of his cave, tell him we're meeting upstairs. I really would like to hear from him tonight -- if it's not too much trouble." Without waiting for her reply, he turned on his heel and walked to the elevators.

Cave was an apt description of the room. She could see windows along one wall, but the darkness made them appear to be mirrors to the room. A single desk lamp, the kind that held one 60-watt bulb and had a cone shaped head to focus the light, was turned so that it illuminated a white board on the wall. Colored marker had been employed to draw lines and scribbled phrases around crime scene photos that were taped to the board.

At first glance, she thought the room was empty. After a second, a shadow near the white board moved and she saw him. Mulder was in his shirtsleeves, sleeves rolled to just below his elbows. His pants hung low on his hips, his holster in place.

As she watched, he moved into the light of the lamp. Hyperactive fingers had furrowed through his hair to the point where it appeared to have sprouted makeshift cornrows. His face in the shadows and brightness cast by the light was skeleton-like. His hands were darting among the pictures on the whiteboard; a thick marker making slashes across the surface.

She knew how he got when he was hard at work, but his concentration was so intense he still hadn't acknowledged that she was in the room. The door was open and the light from the hallway was stark, making it almost impossible to miss the change in atmosphere. But Mulder ignored her completely.

"Mulder, it's me," she said, realizing after the words were out of her mouth that she was acting as if she were calling him on the phone rather than standing not ten feet away from him. Just as she was tamping down that thought, she realized that he still wasn't acknowledging her.

"Mulder, what are you doing?" Again, even though she'd raised her voice, he paid her no heed. His actions were annoying as he continued to scribble on the whiteboard. She tried to decipher his writing but it was beyond legible.

"Mulder, stop and look at me, please," she commanded and caught his arm with her hand before he could make another mark. His other hand shot out from his side and latched onto her hand in a grip so tight it would certainly leave a bruise.

"Let go of me, now," he growled.

Hurt, more so emotionally than physically, she glared at him. "Mulder, what are you doing?"

He tussled with her for a moment until he finally looked her straight in the eye. She gasped as she saw how drawn his face looked, how dark the circles under his eyes.

"Scully," he whispered. His hand was still wrapped around her wrist in a vise-like grip. She brought her other hand up to gently pry his fingers away.

"Mulder, I've been standing here for almost ten minutes. Are you all right?"

He looked down to where she was tugging on his fingers. Immediately he released her and stepped back, apology and fear in his features. "Scully. I'm sorry." Then, as he became more aware, he stared at her suspiciously. "What are you doing here? You're supposed to be on vacation."

She dropped her eyes to avoid his scrutiny. "I am, or I was. We hadn't watched the news all week. Tonight I saw footage of the latest crime scene on the news. You were in the background." She looked up at him, letting him see the residual hurt in her expression.

"I didn't ditch you, Scully," he sighed, rubbing his temples. "Kersh called me on my cell phone. He ordered me out here. A courier met me at the airport in Boston with a copy of the file. I didn't call you because I didn't want to ruin your vacation."

She nodded as she accepted his apology, such as it was but kept her attention focused on his face. "Mulder, are you all right? What's going on?"

He dropped his eyes, casting his face in deep shadow. "I . . . I'm all right. Really. This case is . . . well, whatever you heard on the news was the whitewashed version. It's a serial, I'm positive." He looked over the whiteboard and sighed. " But I . . . I'm not getting a picture of the bastard."

"Do you have a profile started?" she prodded hesitantly.

"Started. The basics. White male, 30 to 40 years of age, yadda, yadda, yadda." He reached over to the desk where the lamp sat and picked up a yellow legal pad. Glancing at it briefly, he handed it to her. "Nothing they need, that's for sure."

"It will come, Mulder. You know that. Just give it time," she consoled.

He shook his head. "I've been to the dump sites and victim's homes a dozen times already. We've run every fingerprint we found through the database -- this guy is a ghost." He ran both hands through his hair. "He'll take another baby tomorrow -- I can feel it."

The sorrow in his voice almost broke her heart, but his words captured her attention. "Mulder, it's all right. You're tired. When was the last time you went back to the hotel and got some sleep?"

"Hotel?" he asked. "I . . . I don't think I have one," he admitted, walking over to a chair near the conference table, which she now noticed was shoved against the wall to make more space before the whiteboard.

"Mulder, where have you been staying?" she asked patiently. She briefly considered going to find Sanders, he might have more answers than her partner seemed to have.

"Scully," he huffed. "I don't need this right now. There's a cot around here I'm sure -- "

She closed her eyes and shook her head. "Stay right here, don't move." She started toward the door but stopped and turned to him. "Mulder, please don't lock me out," she added.

She found the upstairs conference room with little difficulty and was able to get SAC Sander's attention quickly enough. When he followed her out into the hallway, he had his own questions.

"Does he have a working profile?" he asked desperately before Scully had a chance to begin.

"No. And right now, he's exhausted. If I may ask, sir, when was the last time Agent Mulder slept or had something to eat?"

The SAC bristled at the accusation in her tone of voice. "Look, Agent Scully, we tried. We've been trying to get him to eat -- he takes a bite and the rest is left to go stale. We tried to get him to sleep -- last night he fell asleep in the chair in that room and we left him there because it was the first time any of us had seem him stop for even a minute. But he only napped for about two hours and then he was up and at it again. I'm the one who forced him to take a shower -- the room was starting to smell like a nursing home."

Scully swallowed her anger and chewed on her lip until the tirade came to a halt. "Sir, if I may, I'd like to find a motel room for him -- "

"Good luck with that," Sanders shot back and sighed. "No government rates left in the city. Plenty going for 300 bucks and up, though. It is Thanksgiving, you know."

"When there are no government rate rooms at nearby motels, the Bureau will reimburse for whatever is available," Scully quoted, crossing her arms.

"Provided the agent's direct superior approves of such an upcharge, yes, I know, Agent Scully. But when I put the call into AD Kersh -- "

Scully closed her eyes. "He denied the request," she uttered in a monotone.

"Not only denied it, he as much as told me to find Mulder a nice bed of nails!" Sanders exclaimed.

"He has to sleep," she said, mostly to herself.

"I even tried to get him to go home with me last night. I backed off after the third try -- I think he was going to pull his gun on me. I finally let him be. To be perfectly honest, if AD Skinner hadn't called tonight, I was going to put in a call to DC tomorrow -- and I really didn't want to do that to the guy. An in-the-field psych evaluation in his jacket is not what he needs, from what I gathered from AD Kersh."

"No, you are absolutely correct on that," Scully sighed. She thought for a moment and then drew in a deep breath. "If you'll excuse me, sir, I have to make a phone call."

She was still formulating what she was going to say when the line was connected. "Scully residence."

Luck was smiling down on her -- it was her mother. "Mom, hi, it's me."

"Dana, what's going on? Are you going to have to stay at work?" her mother asked anxiously.

"No, not really. I can examine the latest victim's body tomorrow. But we have a bit of problem and I'm not sure how to handle it." She crossed her fingers and closed her eyes.

"What, sweetheart? What are you talking about?"

"Mulder, Mom. Apparently there aren't any motel rooms in the city. He's been sleeping on a cot at the station." She was certain her mother would accept the lie better than the truth that her partner hadn't slept in four days. "I just don't think he's getting much rest here."

"Well, I can understand that! Sweetheart, let me talk to Tara a minute."

Scully waited impatiently, realizing that she was fighting only one half the battle. Once she secured lodgings -- even if that were the couch in her brother's living room -- she had to convince Mulder to actually use the lodgings to rest. On further reflection, she acknowledged that convincing Mulder might be the bigger challenge after all and was ready to tell her mother to forget it when Maggie returned.

"Dana, we have it all arranged. It won't be the Ritz, but at least he'll have someplace a little more comfortable than a cot and quieter than a police station. The sofa in Bill's study is a hide-a-bed. Tara said he could stay there while he's in town."

"What about Bill? What did he say?" Dana asked evenly.

"I raised my children better than to turn away someone in need, Dana Katherine. I suggest you and your brother remember that," Maggie replied sternly.

"That's what I thought he'd say," Scully mumbled away from the phone. Louder, and to her mother, she answered. "OK, Mom. We'll be there in a bit. I'll have one of the Bureau guys give us a ride to Bill's. Don't wait up for us, I have no idea how long it will be."

"I'll have Bill leave a key under the mat, Sweetheart. Tell Fox he's more than welcome here."

"Thanks, Mom. I really do appreciate this."

She closed down her phone and headed back down to the conference room where Mulder was working. She was pleased to find the door was still unlocked, but upon entering the room, she couldn't find him. She walked back out into the hallway and looked up and down. When that proved fruitless, she went back into the room. She was walking across the room still only illuminated by one desk lamp when she tripped over something.

Her partner.

She was beside him in an instant. After checking his pulse she determined that he had simply collapsed on the floor, sound asleep. Although not the best thing to happen, she jumped on the happy coincidence as just the leverage she needed to convince Mulder to accept her offer. She grabbed his shoulder and shook it hard. After a few tries, he awoke with a start, but was still very groggy.

" . . . church dumpster . . . " he muttered and then dropped his head to the floor again.

"Mulder, wake up," she ordered, shaking his shoulder again. With effort, she got him to a sitting position. His eyes fluttered to half-mast and he regarded her suspiciously.

"What are you doing here?" he asked tersely, and pulled away from her. He rolled over and braced himself on his hands and knees before raising the rest of the way. Once on both feet, he swayed dangerously before righting. "Scully, where's the alley?" he snapped, looking angrily around the room.

"Mulder, you were asleep. You must have been dreaming," she replied slowly, knowing he still wasn't up to speed. "C'mon, we're going somewhere so you can get some sleep."

He was moving, that much was a positive. But as they approached the door to the conference room he was becoming more alert with each step. "Scully, I can't leave. I'm close. Just get me some coffee, I'll be fine," he protested.

"Sorry Mulder, you know the rules. If you fall down, you stay down for at least four hours. You agreed to that."

"I agreed to that in a moment of weakness," he growled.

"Still, a deal is a deal," Scully shot back. "Four hours, no interruptions. Then I'll personally guarantee you can come back and get at it."

"May I at least find out if they have any leads?" he asked in the low voice he used when he was spectacularly pissed at her.

They were at the elevator and she knew it would be a deal breaker if she said no to his 'reasonable' request. "OK, but we ask and then we leave."

She was positive she heard a 'bitch' mumbled as he stepped onto the elevator, but she chose not to acknowledge it since it was said merely to bait her.

The five minutes she'd envisioned quickly turned into 45 as Sanders grilled Mulder on what portions of the profile he had finished and turned in. As luck would have it, Mulder was lucid enough to give a report after all. It was decided that the local agents would work on a list Mulder had compiled, mostly checking for similarities in the victims -- pediatricians, play groups, parks the family frequented, which was a pretty short list because of the ages.

He also told them to check the parents' employers and group activities, in case the children were targeted as a way to get at the parents. In all, they were pretty general lists and none of them would be easy to accomplish on a holiday weekend. Sanders seemed disappointed, but told Mulder to go get some rest and not to come back before noon the next day.

It wasn't until they were halfway out the door in the company of one of the younger Bureau agents that Mulder thought to ask their destination.

"You're coming with me to Bill and Tara's," Scully said succinctly as she climbed into the back seat of the Bu-car -- a black Ford Taurus.

Mulder stood with his hand on the handle of the door, not budging. After a breath, he turned on his heel and started back toward the station house. Scully hurried out of the car and grabbed his arm. "Mulder, be reasonable," she pleaded.

He looked at her with a perfect imitation of one of her raised eyebrow looks. "Scully, I think I'm being the reasonable one here," he insisted. "Your brother has hated me for years and with each passing day there are more and more reasons for his hatred -- most recently our not quite joint trip to the bottom of the world and our current punishment assignment.

"I think it's safe to say he hates me with the burning passion of a thousand suns and it's not going to get any better. Why, in the name of all common decency, would you think I would want to stay under the same roof with the man? Assuming, of course, that he actually agreed to it," he concluded, arms crossed, frown firmly in place.

"Mulder, there isn't anywhere else. There are no rooms in the inn. Kersh has denied any room they might give us at this date. Now, by Saturday night, I would say that situation would change dramatically and I would bet we could get you a room then. But in the meantime, there is room for you at Bill's. And my mother insists."

The frown immediately turned into petulance. "You got your mom involved, Scully," he whined. "Why did you do that?"

"She was in the room when I saw you on TV. She knew I was headed over to the station. And when I found out I couldn't get you a room I called her for suggestions and this is what she came up with. Now, do you really want me to call her and tell her you're refusing my brother's offer of hospitality?"

It was a low blow and by the glare in his eyes, she knew he felt the full force of it. "OK," he sighed. "But only until we can find a motel. I'm too tired to argue the point right now and I don't plan on sleeping that long, so I should be out of Bill's hair before dawn." Bill and Tara Scully's residence Friday, Nov. 23, 1998 12:15 am

It was a quarter past midnight when they finally arrived at Bill and Tara's split level. Mulder was dozing in the front passenger seat; his head thrown back against the headrest, mouth slightly open. The only reason Scully knew he wasn't deeply asleep was that he would jerk and move slightly every so often. She sighed as she got out and opened his door, knowing he was not going to be easy to get fully awake.

"Mulder," she said firmly, her mind and eye on the young agent in the driver's seat. "C'mon. I'm sure Agent Benford would appreciate getting home sometime tonight."

A yawn and a stretch preceded the opening of his eyes. Mulder glanced over to Benford, a young man just barely hanging onto his mid-twenties, and smiled. "Can you be by to pick us up tomorrow?" Mulder asked.

"No need. I plan on having Tara drive me down to rent a car first thing in the morning," Scully interjected. "Thank you, Agent Benford. We'll see you in the morning."

As Mulder unfurled from the front seat, Scully went to the back of the car and lifted Mulder's suitcase from the trunk. "Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving," she said to the young man before slamming the trunk lid shut and following Mulder.

He didn't say a word as she picked up the edge of the welcome mat and snatched up the key. He stood patiently as she unlocked the door and tiptoed into the now silent house.

Scully was happy Tara had finally convinced Bill to move off base and into their own home. It was roomier than base housing, even if it was a bit dated. The four bedroom split level gave them plenty of room to grow in the future. Tara had turned one spare bedroom into a guest room and Bill converted the room at the top of the house into his personal study. Scully directed Mulder up the stairs with a tilt of her head.

They found the foldout bed already made with an extra blanket and a set of towels and a washcloth laid across the foot. Scully set Mulder's suitcase on Bill's desk chair. "Bathroom half flight down on the left," she whispered. "If you need anything, I'm just across the hall from the bathroom, the first door on the right."

"Where is everyone else?" Mulder asked nervously.

"Mom's sleeping with me in the guest room, Matty has the room next to us and Tara and Bill are across the hall from Matty."

Mulder swallowed uneasily. "Maybe I should sleep downstairs. Do they have a family room somewhere?"

She knew immediately what was causing his concern. Nightmares were a Fox Mulder staple, but she had thought they'd gotten better. Or maybe, during the last few months, she just hadn't noticed. That thought annoyed her and made her very sad.

"Mulder, this is the farthest room from Bill, Tara and Matty. If anyone would hear something, it would be me," she consoled him, neatly evading what that 'something' would be. Early in their partnership she had become quite adept at sleeping through his minor night traumas -- and coming to his rescue when they turned into major ones.

"I'm so tired, Scully," he admitted. His eyes were drooping as he slumped down on the edge of the bed. The springs creaked under his weight.

"You just need to get some sleep. I'll see you in the morning."

As she turned to the stairs, he caught her sleeve. "Thanks for coming after me," he said quietly, sincerely, as he often had in the past.

She couldn't answer him without betraying her own overtired emotions. She just smiled wanly. He released his hold on her sweater and she headed to her own bed.

The blood-curdling scream came just before 4 am. Scully was sound asleep and it took a moment for her to figure out that they weren't in motel rooms with connecting doors. When she hit the hallway, Bill already had on the light, nearly blinding her after the darkness of her room. He was in front of her, bounding up the short flight of steps when she pushed past him. She opened the door, squeezed her way into the room and immediately slammed the door shut in her brother's face.

Mulder was no longer screaming, but his sweat soaked face still showed his abject terror. He was panting breathlessly, she could tell he was already well on his way to passing out from hyperventilation. Scully stopped her movements, knowing that any sudden actions would result in one or both of them being injured. Mulder in a full- blown nightmare was like a trapped animal and would lash out at anything within reach. She tiptoed over to the end of the bed and sat down.

Her partner's pants were growing shallower and he was visibly shaking. He was sitting up, but curled in on himself, his arms wrapped around his bent legs. The shaking turned to rocking. He was coming out of the dream but not completely.

He wasn't wild anymore, but he still wasn't taking deep breaths. There wasn't a second to waste. Scully called his name softly, evenly. When he didn't respond the first time, she tried again a little louder. On the third try, she placed her hand on his foot. He stilled instantly. For a moment he didn't appear to be breathing at all. With a sudden exhalation, all air left his body and he blinked his eyes.

"Scully?" he rasped hoarsely.

"Yeah, Mulder. It's me. I'm right here. You're OK. We're both OK," she repeated the mantra over and over in tender tones. "We're both OK."

He looked around the room and seemed to come back to himself. "Oh, god," he croaked, swallowing convulsively. "Should we have sold tickets?"

"Probably could have sold out Shea Stadium," she agreed with a slight shrug. "It's OK now. You're all right, that's all the matters."

He dropped his face to his bent knees. "Shit. I guess it's a good thing we couldn't find a motel room. They would be fitting me for a jacket with sleeves that lock in the back," he quipped, but his voice was still shaking and it ruined the effect.

"Mulder, do you want to talk about it?" she asked fearfully. Usually he rejected any offer of comfort beyond the initial contact -- which was imperative.

He shook his head and drew in another deep breath. "I'm all right, now, Scully. You should get back to bed before Bill finds his sidearm and finishes me off."

At least his voice was stronger, even if there was still a faint tremor to it. "OK, but are you going to be able to go back to sleep?" He shrugged. She moved over to the bookcase by Bill's desk and flipped on the stereo. She found soft jazz rather quickly and lowered the volume a bit so that it wouldn't be heard in the rest of the quiet house. "Will this do in place of TV?"

He smiled ruefully. "Sure. Thanks. I might read a bit."

"Well, if you like sea stories, he has all of 'em," she said after glancing at the other shelves and the books resting there. "Mulder, you need rest. I have my case, there's an all night pharmacy just up the street. A mild sedative might help you -- "

"No!" He looked sheepish after his harsh dismissal. "No, um, thank you. I really don't want anything, Scully. And don't look at me that way -- it's not just the drugs. I, um, I get trapped in the dreams sometimes when I'm sedated. Just makes it all worse, ya know."

She swallowed hard and nodded. "But Mulder -- "

"If it gets really bad, you'll know it, Scully. And I won't have much say in the matter." He wiped his hands over his face with a resigned sigh, leaving her with a sense of dread. "But we're a long way from that," he said with a wan smile and looked at her with false bravado. "You head on downstairs. I have a feeling this house rises early."

Bill was waiting for her in the hallway by her room. "What the hell is the matter with that guy?" he asked in an angry whisper.

She glared at her brother and tried to push past him into her room.

"Dana, I expect an answer! Is it safe to have him around my family?" Bill hissed.

She gave him a shove and he was just enough off balanced that he landed against the wall with a huff of breath. "He is the reason your family is safe, asshole!" she growled. "Now get out of my way."

Mulder sighed heavily as he leaned against the door and listened to their argument. When had everything spun so mightily out of his control? Oh, yeah, the minute he opened his cell phone and found it was Kersh on the other end of the line.

It wasn't Kersh's initial promise of 'brownie points', or even the thinly veiled threat that refusal of the assignment would constitute insubordination at the highest level. What grabbed Mulder by the nuts and didn't let go was the thought of little children -- toddlers -- being ripped from their homes in the middle of the night and horribly murdered.

Mulder had always been a sucker for kids, usually little girls about 8 or 9 with long dark braids. But since last Christmas, in this very town, he had become a sucker for littler kids -- maybe little strawberry blondes with big blue eyes and killer smiles. In those cherub-faced girls whose pictures on Santa's lap seemed totally inappropriate in a Violent Crimes folder he had seen Emily, over and over again. The tow-headed little boys were (and he winced at the description) 'dead-ringers' for Matthew Scully -- at least the pictures his aunt Dana lovingly displayed on her bull pen computer desktop.

Mulder hadn't even seen the files when he was running to catch the red-eye flight to take him from Boston to San Diego. His imagination had supplied enough incentive. The actual photos in the file folders, handed to him as he entered the jet way, had almost rendered him physically ill en route. He'd not slept since he boarded that plane partly because to sleep would mean to dream -- to see Emily slaughtered like a fatted calf, to see Matthew drawn and quartered. He shuddered again, and vowed that one way or another he would not fall prey to his dreams again that night.

It was finally quiet in the hallway. Bill had stormed off to the room he shared with his wife; Scully had slammed the door of the room she was sharing with her mother. That left Mulder only his overactive sense of guilt for company.

Run. He had to get out of there. His mind was spinning and he'd caused enough anger and resentment for one night. He searched the room and found his suitcase. His running shoes and a pair of shorts were in the side pocket, where he always kept them on trips to the field. Just like old times on the road and hunting mutants, he thought bitterly. Shoving to the back of his mind the pang that came every time he thought of the X-Files, he donned his shorts and shoes and noiselessly crept down the stairs and out the front door.

Christmas lights adorned the houses and lit his way along the silent suburban streets. The flap of his shoes hitting the pavement and the hissing of his breath in the cool night air provided the rhythm for his mind. It was balmy and the fresh air held just a hint of sea spray. It was incredibly refreshing and just what he needed.

He'd spent so much time in that stuffy police station with the stench of stale coffee, long snuffed out cigarettes and sweat. He had desperately needed a break -- something he never allowed himself back when profiling was all he did.

No, he needed Scully. In less than an hour she had managed to pull him back from the abyss, right his path, change the wind so that his sails were full again. He closed his eyes and pictured her as she stood before him, arms crossed, stern expression, telling him exactly the last thing he wanted to hear but precisely what he needed. She was amazing, as always, and she had the most flawless timing.

He did worry about intruding on her time with her family. Just another reason for Bill to put him on the ten most wanted. Just another notch in the 'he's ruining your life' belt. But in the end, wouldn't Bill hate him anyway? What was one more log on that particular bonfire?

He had to smile at the fact that Scully'd used all her arsenal to get him to go to Bill's house. Invoking her mother's name was almost overkill. He would do anything for his partner's mother, and she well knew it. But in the end, when Bill started complaining, would Maggie side with her daughter or her son? It would be best if Mulder found someplace else to rest his head in the very near future so Maggie would never have to take sides.

He was running up a fairly steep hill when his foot slipped on the wet pavement. Not enough to bring him down, but enough to cause him to stumble. Muscles were pulled, tendons stretched in the wrong directions. He slowed to a trot for a moment, taking in deep breaths to ease the pain. A side stitch. Damn, he hated those. But he'd run through them before.

He looked around, found a street sign. He'd made a point to run in a straight line so that he was on the same street Bill lived on, just a couple of miles away. All he had to do was turn around and run back. The last thing he wanted was to have to call the house and have someone pick him up. Bill would probably arrive with a noose if that happened.

Even though he was now going downhill, the stitch continued to give him problems. He'd have to take it easy for a couple of days. Damn, he hated that. He needed to run, to get the endorphins pumping and sweep out the monsters from the corners of his mind. But maybe if he babied it a day or two, he could managed. Shorter runs, a couple of miles. No more hills, no more wet pavements, if he could find a good path. Maybe the little park near the station house would work.

He was within sight of Bill's block when the pain hit hard. Sharp, right at the point of the stitch, it almost doubled him over. He gasped to a stop, leaned over his knees and panted through it. It had been bad. Never before had a side stitch caused his vision to blur like that. He limped the few blocks to the split-level.

Bending over to retrieve the key from under the mat actually helped, but when he straightened up, the pain came close to knocking him off his feet. He grabbed the door casing, clenched his teeth, put the key in the lock and with shaking hand, opened the door. The grandfather clock in the formal living room was just chiming 5 in the morning.

Pressing his hand to his right side, he negotiated the two short sets of steps with only minor difficulty. When he got into the room at the top of the stairs, he collapsed on the sofa bed and curled into ball, not bothering to take off his shoes. In that position, the pain receded and he was able to fall asleep in just a few minutes.

Friday, Nov. 23 10:25 am

Scully rapped on the door a second time before reaching out to turn the knob. A quick glance at her watch told her it was almost 10:30. If that son of a bitch ditched her --

The door swung open, the knob slipping out of her hand. Mulder stood before her looking wrinkled and pale. He was wearing his running shorts and shoes, but there were deep pillow marks on his cheek and dried crusts of sleep in the corners of his eyes.

"Good morning," he rasped and stepped back so that she could enter.

"Good morning to you, too. Mulder, did you go running this morning?" she asked, one eyebrow cocked and ready to fire.

"Um, yeah. Well, not this morning, exactly. I, uh, I went last night, after the . . . yeah." Not his most coherent defense, but apparently it was enough to appease his partner.

"Oh, well, it's 10:30 and -- "

"You're joking," he interrupted, his gaze darting about the room until it fell on the clock on Bill's bookcase. "Shit! I have to get to the station!"

"Mulder, relax. I've spoken with Sanders just a little bit ago. The autopsy on the last victim didn't happen this morning as scheduled. The medical examiner's office is swamped and so Sanders suggested that I could take over for the investigation. If you want to know the truth, I think it's just a little too much for the local guy -- all those babies' bodies."

Mulder reached out and touched a lock of her hair. "What if it's too much for -- "

She pulled away and headed for the door. "I got a rental car. Tara made French toast for everyone, there's some that I can heat up for you if you're interested. You need to eat something, Mulder. Besides, Tara makes fabulous French toast."

He closed his eyes and the abrupt change in topic. Slowly, he opened them again and looked at his partner, knowing she would never admit if the case were too much for her. "Sure Scully. I think I can choke down 'fabulous French toast' today. But I think I better shower first, if you don't mind."

"Oh, believe me, I was going to insist," she shot back with just a hint of a smile.

He ducked his head in acknowledgment of her verbal direct hit and watched her head down the stairs.

The warm smell of cinnamon and vanilla wafted toward him as he sat down at the table. It looked fantastic, but as he cut the first piece and lifted it to his mouth, he felt his stomach do a slow roll.

Glancing up, he saw Scully standing at the kitchen sink, pretending to be drying the last of the breakfast dishes. He knew that he was actually under surveillance at that moment, and he better keep up appearances.

He put the piece of toast on his tongue, chewed once and swallowed it almost whole. "Wow, you weren't kidding. This is excellent." He reached over and sipped gingerly at his coffee, hoping to ease the growing nausea he felt battling in his stomach. He repeated the process four more times until he was positive his belly was going to explode in rebellion.

Taking his napkin and wiping his mouth, he smiled over to his partner. "My compliments to Tara. Where are they, by the way?" He deftly laid the paper napkin over the remaining uneaten portion of the toast, hiding them from view.

"Bill took everyone to the Zoo. I told them I had to do the autopsy this morning, so I couldn't go."

"Scully, I'm really sorry you got dragged in on this. I'll talk to Sanders today, see if we can't get another pathologist -- maybe one of the guys up in LA . . ."

She put her hand on his shoulder. "Mulder, I'm fine. I've had close to five whole days with my family. To be honest, I was looking for something to do."

"Yeah, and what's better when you're bored than a good ole autopsy," Mulder smirked. He reached up and squeezed her hand where it still rested on his shoulder. "Thanks. Thanks for coming to the station last night, thanks for coming to my room this morning."

"You're welcome. But I have to admit, Mulder, I was ready to tear you a new one when I went to the station last night. We're partners -- remember? You should have called me when you got out here."

"How many vacations have you taken, Scully? And that weekend in Maine doesn't count because it was only three days. No, you deserved some down time, not connected to a medical leave. I know our current assignment on shit detail could put anyone in a coma. You needed to recharge."

"So did you," she reminded him pointedly.

"Cleaning out my father's house," he snorted. "Can't say I didn't jump at the first serial killer case that came my way."

"Well, we better get over to the station. I have the autopsy set for 11:30 and Sanders wanted to meet with you around then." Her hand slipped from his shoulder and she picked up his plate to put in the sink. He missed the warmth of her presence immediately.

"Let me get my briefcase, I'll meet you at the door," he told her. He headed for the stairs, keeping his hand on his side in deference to the stitch, but no twinge came as he took the first set of steps. Shaking his head, he searched for and found his briefcase, then turned and headed back down the stairs to meet his partner.

San Diego County
Morgue Friday 1:45 pm

Scully closed her eyes as she pulled off her safety glasses and tossed them on the counter. It was hard enough dealing with the fact that a tiny life had been snuffed out, but it was more grueling to autopsy a small child. Organs that should have been larger, and therefore more visible, were tiny and just formed. She shuddered. Not a very humane way to look at it, but it made her job than much harder.

It was horrifying enough, looking at those tiny bodies. Babies, just like Matthew. She'd had so much fun during the past week, learning all there was to know about this next generation of Scully men. Matthew was a sweet and loving child, ready with kisses and hugs, but she also saw in him that inherent Scully temper. It made her laugh to remember her mother's words from years gone by: "So help me, Bill, I hope God gives you at least One child exactly like you! That will be all the revenge I need!"

When she looked down at the body on the table, her mind couldn't stop thinking about this child. Was he playful, did he pout? Did he kiss his teddy bear goodnight when he was being tucked into bed after prayers?

Stop it, she chided herself. It did no good to travel those paths. Unfortunately, she knew Mulder was already miles down that road, putting up hazard signs along the way. She glanced at her watch. It was a quarter past one. Her stomach growled and she pulled off her gloves, dropping them in the receptacle. She would change her clothes and then call Mulder.

As she was pushing open the door to the women's locker room, her scrub pants pocket started to vibrate. She reached in it and pulled out her cell phone.

"I didn't find anything, Mulder," she said by way of greeting.

"Nothing? No fiber -- nothing?" he asked and she winced at the desperate tone his voice had taken on.

"Sorry. I went over everything. There's nothing there. This guy is fastidious. I think he might be using surgical gloves, maybe even latex. There was a rash on the arm of the last victim that looks consistent with latex sensitivity."

There was nothing but silence on the other end of the line.

"Mulder? Are you still there?"

"Um? Oh, sorry. Just thinking."

"Well, how about thinking about lunch. I'm starved. We could swing by Tara's -- "

"Uh, why don't you take the car and go ahead, Scully. I have a few things I want to check out here."

She rolled her eyes. "Mulder, are you trying to ditch lunch?"

"Scully, no, really, I just need to check a few things. Hey, how about you bring me back something -- a sandwich or something?"

"Tara has corned beef. She was going to make Ruebens today."

"Well, there you go -- just ask if she does carry out," he replied and she could hear the snap and crack of a sunflower seed between his teeth.

"OK, one Rueben, light on the kraut, mustard instead of Thousand Island," she countered. "And an iced tea. Anything else?"

"A big sign on the highway reading 'child killer, next exit'? Or maybe just a personal ad in the newspaper with his address in it."

"Mulder, he'll make a mistake -- and then you'll find him."

"A mistake means another family torn to ribbons, Scully. I have to find him before that happens."

She had no answer to that. "I'll meet you at the station in about an hour," she said quietly.

"I'll be here."

Mulder clicked off his phone and tucked it back in his pocket. With one hand he turned the pages of the file he'd just been given, with the other he absently rubbed his stomach. Where were those antacids Sanders had given him earlier? Oh, yeah, he remembered and dug into his other jacket pocket to find the small roll. Only two left? He shook his head and peeled the foil away from the remaining two tablets, then popped them in his mouth, chewing thoughtfully.

The list before him was all the known associations of the parents. At two years of age or less, it was pretty sure that aside from family connections, the victims had little chance of knowing each other. Mulder leaned back and thought for a moment. Where would a two-year-old meet and mingle? Maybe if he knew of any two-year-olds -

He went back to the parents. None of the victims' parents worked together, none of them lived near each other, none of them were even in a similar profession. A doctor married to a corporate attorney, a truck driver for the local Coca-Cola distributor whose wife was a teacher, a social worker at the Veterans Administration whose husband was an industrial welder at the Naval shipyards. About as diverse a group as anyone could assemble.

"There has to be something," Mulder snarled just as the door to the conference room opened. It was Scully, bearing food. The smell of the kraut on the sandwiches caused his stomach to do a little flip. He rubbed it absently.

"How was lunch?" he asked, trying for diversion. He knew the minute the sack hit the desk just inches from his hand that he would be expected to open the damned thing and eat. It was quite possibly the last thing he wanted to do.

"Lunch was fine, and quiet -- just the grown ups. Tara figured Matty could use a little 'interaction' with his own kind and took him to day care this morning." She opened the bag and withdrew a sandwich wrapped in plastic. "Tara had that stone ground mustard you like so much. I was very careful not to get it too close to the edge of the bread -- the cleaners never did get that stain out of your blue and gray tie, did they?"

"Ah, no," he lied blatantly. He wasn't going to tell her the real reason he never wore the blue tie with the gray diamond pattern and it had nothing to do with mustard. How could he tell her he hated that tie because he associated it with his ill-fated overnight with a convicted killer, John Lee Roche? She would drag him down to EAP so fast . . . "I think I donated it to Good Will or something."

"So, eat up," she urged, moving papers and file folders out of his way. "I saw caffeine free diet soda in the machine in the hall. I'll go grab you one."

He stared at the sandwich for a moment and then shoved it off to the side of the desk. Now, to make matters worse, he couldn't help thinking of that stupid stunt he pulled, taking Roche out of prison just to prove the killer didn't have a connection to Samantha's disappearance. Roche, who was cunning enough to lock him in his own handcuffs and then call the airlines and find the name of the little girl he'd targeted --

He had to put it all out of his mind. Concentrate on this case, he ordered himself. Picking up his list again, he ran down the names and various associations. It dawned on him just as Scully was coming back through the door with his drink.

"Day cares!"

"What? Mulder, you didn't eat a bite -- " she chided.

"Scully, we don't have day cares on this list!"

She took the list out of his hand and glanced down it. "You're right." She looked up at him. "You think they might have gone to the same day care?"

"Where else would two-year olds meet and mingle?" he asked, pulling on his jacket. "I'm going upstairs to talk to Sanders. They should be able to get me the day cares fairly quickly, don't you think?"

"But all the kids were taken from their homes, Mulder," she interjected.

"I know. But maybe the day care is where he targets them," Mulder tossed over his shoulder as he cleared the doorway.

He decided to forego the elevator; in the station house it was too damned slow. Mulder took the stairs two at a time until he hit the second landing. The pain attacked him out of the blue, a lightning bolt of agony that lanced right through his side. The side stitch -- always there to remind him lest he might be so foolish as to forget. He slumped against the wall, waiting till his vision cleared of the black spots and the cramp loosened in the muscles of his side.

It was taking a long time. He rubbed the spot above his right hip to try and relax the pulled muscle, but it didn't seem to help it much. A torn muscle or tendon -- not what he needed. Worse yet, Scully would mother hen him to death if he told her. A couple more deep breaths and this time when he took a step, it was a tiny baby step. Still painful, but at least it wasn't blurring his vision.

"Mulder, are you all right?" ASAC Sanders stood at the top step, looking down at him.

"Uh, yeah. I was just . . . uh . . . coming up to see you," Mulder said, taking the next step and biting down hard when the pain returned.

"You don't look so good. Maybe you should sit down."

"No, no, I'm fine," Mulder lied. He took a deep breath and forced himself up the steps. It was torture, but he made up the last 10 steps until he was even with Sanders. "I need you to put someone on day cares."

"Excuse me?" Sanders asked, looking more concerned than confused.

"Day cares. The victims, they were the right age for day care. I have the list of parents associations, but it didn't list day care," Mulder ground out. He couldn't help himself; he leaned against the railing at the top of the stairs. All color bleached from the walls around him and he closed his eyes and concentrated on breathing. When he felt able to stand again, he slowly opened his eyes into the very anxious eyes of the ASAC. "I need to find out if they attended the same day care," he reiterated.

"Oh, sure, I can get Monroe on that," Sanders said, reaching out to grab Mulder's sleeve when he listed to the right. "Why don't you come sit down in my office a minute?"

"I'm fine," Mulder protested. "I . . . uh . . . I just came up the steps too fast."

"This building is equipped with an elevator," Sanders reminded him.

"Too slow," Mulder replied. He tried standing up straight, but the pain intensified, so he hunched over until they made it the few steps down the hall. He collapsed in the first chair he found. After a few experimental breaths, he was able to look around the office.

"Nice digs," he commented wryly.

"At least it's not in the basement. My office at the regional is nicer, but hey, beggars can't be choosers. So, what's this about day cares?"

"It just seems plausible. It would be somewhere kids that age are found."

"So, if there is a commonality, the guy targets them, gets their address -- "

"Or just follows them home," Mulder interjected.

Sanders nodded. "OK, I'll put Monroe on it. Shouldn't take that long to call the parents. So far they've all been very cooperative, as you could imagine. In the meantime, maybe you should go get some shut-eye."

"It's barely 3 o'clock," Mulder pointed out with derision.

"And you didn't sleep for three days," Sanders countered.

"No, really, I'm fine. I want to look over the list I have again. When you get that information on day cares, would you get it down to me?"

"Sure." Sanders watched warily as Mulder rose to his feet, biting his lip. Once standing, he seemed OK to walk. When he reached the doorway, the ASAC called out. "Maybe you should take the elevator -- since you have some time to burn anyway."

Mulder snorted but nodded his head in agreement.

Scully was waiting for him when he arrived, moving considerably more slowly than when he left. She glared at him while he cautiously moved over to the chair he'd previously commandeered.

"Mulder you look like death warmed over," she accused. "What is going on?"

He chewed on his bottom lip, regretting the motion when he tasted the tang of fresh blood. "I went running last night," he confessed.

"After your . . . after we talked." Scully, God love her, always sidestepping that gorilla in the living room -- his nightmares.

"Yeah. I just had to -- "

"I understand, Mulder but what happened? Did you fall, injure yourself?" The way she said it sounded like he'd been running with scissors or playing catch with a machete.

"I got a side stitch," he shot back angrily. At her bruised expression, he softened his tone. "And it hurts when I move a certain way."

"You just need to ice it," she said with casual compassion. "We can go back to Bill and Tara's and you can stretch out." She looked away for a second before regarding him with cool blue eyes. "You could have told me this sooner."

"You've already got me 'stretched out' at Bill and Tara's," he pointed out. "Scully, it's a stupid side stitch. I get them all the time when I'm tense. But I really don't have time to go lie down and baby the damned thing. Look, I promise I won't go running again until it calms down, OK? But I need to be here. Sanders has someone running up those day cares and I want to look at the list before I go anywhere."

She bit her lip and stared at a corner of the room, anywhere but at his face. He'd pissed her off, not monumentally at least, but pissed off nonetheless.

"Look, Scully, it will be only an hour or so and I'll have that list. If you want to go back to Bill and Tara's for a while, that's fine by me. When is your mom flying back east?" Nice and easy, just like dealing with an injured animal. No -- bad thought, he scolded himself. His partner was not a lioness with a thorn in her paw -- not yet anyway.

"She's flying out tomorrow," Scully admitted begrudgingly.

"Well, then, don't you think you owe it to her to spend at least a couple of hours with the whole family? I mean, this was her vacation, too."

She gave him a look that told him she hated him when he was reasonable, but finally nodded. "Yeah, I guess so. I'll head over there now. But I'll come back with supper, and I expect you to eat whatever I put in front of you," she growled.

"Fine," he agreed easily. "See you in a few hours."

Mulder picked up the folder on the first victim. Timothy Andrew Bentley, aged 2 years, 3 months. The autopsy reported that all primary teeth were in place, but the permanent molars were still just buds. Mulder's stomach did a flip. This was obviously getting him nowhere.

"Stop identifying with the victim," he hissed under his breath. "Get in the fucker's head -- that's the only way to find him. Look at the art -- may that bastard Patterson rot in hell, but God, at least he was right about that."

This time when he picked up the picture of the cherub cheeked boy, he allowed his mind to wander. Cute kid. Innocent. Hair so blond it almost looked white. White, like an angel's. He closed his eyes and let images pass through his mind.

The knock on the door startled him so badly he jumped to his feet, ratcheting up the pain that had been simmering at his side. He roared in anguish and distemper. "What the fuck do you want?!"

"Ah . . . I-I-I . . . um . . . SAC S-S-Sanders said to g- g-g-give this to you," the hapless young agent gopher stuttered and thrust the sheets of paper onto Mulder's desk. He didn't even look back as he ran for the door, slamming it behind him.

Mulder leaned heavily on the desk, taking as deep a breath as his side would allow. He dropped to the chair, biting his lip. Slowly the pain receded to the level it had been and Mulder wiped the accumulated sweat from his forehead absently. He looked down at the paper. It was the list of day cares. Three victims, three day cares.

With more care than the movement should have warranted, he got up and went to the map of the city of San Diego and the surrounding San Diego County. With little effort, he found the addresses on the list and put a blue pushpin at each location. They weren't close together, but they were all located in the northern part of the city and county.

He needed to get out to those day cares. He thought briefly about going up the stairs to ask Sanders for a car, but decided he'd already made that mistake once that day. He reached over to the seldom-used phone on the desk and dialed the internal number. Sanders picked up on the first ring.

"I need a car," Mulder said after identifying himself.

"I can have an agent -- "

"No!" Mulder barked. "Just a car. I can find these places myself. I just need a way to get there."

"Mulder, you know that if you're right and this guy might be watching -- " Sanders reasoned.

"He's done with these places. If he were targeting kids at one day care, they would all be from the same one. I need to talk to some of the staff, get a feel for the places. And it's a waste to tie up an agent playing chauffer. I can manage this."

"Maybe you should take Scully -- "

"Her mom's going back home tomorrow. This is her vacation, you know. Really, I'll be fine. I just need to go out and take a look."

"Well, you better hurry. It's a quarter after four and most of these places get pretty busy at five. Go to the desk sergeant at the back door, she'll have the keys to a car waiting."

"Thanks, Sanders."

"Mulder, one more thing. When I sent Mathis down to give you the list -- "

He closed his eyes. Oh, yeah, the agent he'd bellowed at. "Uh, yeah, sorry 'bout that. He caught me at a bad time."

"Well, if I can talk him into staying with the Bureau, you might want to make that apology in person," Sanders chided.

"Yeah, I'll do that," Mulder promised, chastened.

"I'll have the car waiting," Sanders replied.

"Thanks. I'll be right down."

He did not relish the idea of walking to the elevator, but as he rose from the chair, something amazing happened. It didn't hurt! Whatever was going on with the torn/stretched muscle of his side, it had decided to play hide and seek for a while. Mulder wasn't stupid. He knew the first wrong move would send it back out of hiding to attack him. But for now, at least he could get to the elevator and hopefully the car with a minimum of discomfort.

Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrows
Pre-School 5:45 pm

Sanders had been right, the centers were busy when he arrived, but the directors had all been very cooperative. None of them wanted to think that the children they'd cared for had been murdered because of some association with their facility. All were connected to Catholic parishes and staffed by certified individuals. Mulder was able to obtain full staff lists for all the day cares.

Now he stood in the twilight, looking at the last day care on his list. The center was in the old kindergarten room of a grade school. The few stragglers -- parents who'd had to work late or had been caught in traffic -- were carrying or shepherding their children to their cars, making sure to buckle them properly in their car seats.

Mulder closed his eyes. What did the killer see? When he opened them, he felt the darkness closing in on him. It was just the fast approaching night. He could feel the remnants of evil in the area. Was this left behind by the killer? Like a foul stench it hung in the air around Mulder. Had the killer marked this place as well as the others?

The killer's obsession with the children was sexual in nature. The fact that each child had not been sexually assaulted did not disprove that; in Mulder's mind it only solidified it. The killer didn't touch the children. He used them, their images, their vitality, their innocence -- to touch himself.

Innocence was important to this killer. Purity of heart and soul were essential. But the evils of the flesh were strong. The pull was all encompassing, undeniable. It drove him to take these innocents, these angels and try to make them give him their celibacy -- their virtue.

He wanted their virtue. He needed their innocence. He had failed with his life, thrown his own pure soul away. Now he had to get it back and these angels were the only ones possible to lead him to redemption.

Bill Scully looked at his watch and cursed under his breath. He was late -- really, really late. He'd told Tara he was only going to the shipyards for an hour or so -- clearing up some paperwork. That was before he realized that his commanding officer was also in the office. With the ship going to sea in just a little over a month and some major repairs still waiting parts, they'd had lots to discuss.

Now, he was almost an hour late picking up Matty at day care. Day care -- the whole concept grated on Bill. His mother had stayed home and raised her children. But Tara got that job at the bookstore and seemed to enjoy it. She only worked part-time, but it was still the idea that someone else was taking care of their son that upset Bill the most.

When he'd expressed his fears to her, Tara had blithely told Bill to 'stuff it, sailor boy' and ended the discussion. She found a day care at their parish church; she had spent a day at the center. She was sure Matty would do well in their program because he was already progressing at the 90th percentile in child development. So the matter was settled.

Bill had to admit he liked the center. It was clean, neat as a pin and filled with all the activities he would have loved as a child. Water tables, sand boxes, a ball pit that rivaled any at the local McDonald's augmented by a caring staff of retired kindergarten teachers who looked for all the world like a small army of grandmothers. Bill felt it was a good decision after all to send Matty to day care -- not that he'd ever tell Tara that, of course.

He had just locked his car and was heading for the door when he saw a shadow at the corner of the building between the school and the church. A man was standing there, backlit by a distant security light. Bill squinted and rolled back in horror as he saw the guy very plainly rubbing himself -- practically jerking off -- right there in public!

Bill looked around, hoping to spot someone in authority. He reached in his coat pocket for his cell phone to call the cops. What was this pervert doing standing just a few feet from the door to his son's day care? How fast could the cops get here? Should Bill try to restrain him until they arrived? All these thoughts and a million more were flashing through his mind as he stepped cautiously in the shadows to approach the man unnoticed.

The guy turned and in an instant, Bill caught his profile as a car's headlights illuminated his face. What the fu ---?

"Mr. Scully? Oh, good, we'd about given up on you," called Mrs. Walton from the door to the center. "Helen is getting Matty's jacket right now."

Bill couldn't get home fast enough. What he'd seen as he walked into the school had shaken him to the core -- but as soon as Mrs. Walton had called to him and his attention had been diverted, the pervert had run. He had Matty with him, so he couldn't go looking for the guy. Besides, he knew exactly where to find him, god help the bastard.

Dana was in the kitchen with his mother when he got home. Tara had taken Matty upstairs to change his diaper. Bill caught Dana's eye and motioned toward the now darkened patio off the dining room. She'd cast him a perplexed look, but followed him out into the night.

"Where is he?" Bill bit out angrily.

"Who? Mulder? He's at the station house, working," Dana said defensively. Mulder hadn't been within three blocks of Bill all day as far as she knew. What could he have done? Or maybe this was about the nightmares of the night before. "Look, Bill, I'm sorry if Mulder woke you up last night -- "

"This isn't about last night. Dana, I want him out of this house. I don't ever want to see him darken my doorstep. Just keep him away from me and my family or so help me God, I'll kill him with my bare hands!"

Dana recoiled at the viciousness of Bill's rant. "What the hell are you talking about?"

Bill was breathing so heavily, Dana thought he might go into cardiac arrest. "I saw him -- tonight, as I was picking up Matty. He was standing outside the center, in the shadows. Dana, he was -- " He stopped and shook his head. "He's a sick fuck, Dana. Get as far away from him as fast as you can. I want you to transfer, immediately. If you don't -- " He stopped and drew his lungs full of air, calming himself. "If you don't severe all ties with that . . . that . . . pervert -- you'll never see Matty again. I will guarantee it."

Through the haze of his threat, Dana tried to find the heart of her brother's anger. "You saw him? At the day care? Bill, that wasn't Mulder! That was the killer! You saw the killer!"

Bill nodded. "I'm pretty sure you're right, Dana. But when I got a good look at his face -- in full light, there was no mistaking it. It was Mulder standing there, his hand -- " He swallowed in revulsion and he couldn't look at his sister as he finished his thought. "He was jacking off, Dana. Standing outside a day care, he was jacking off in public."

"No. You weren't seeing it right. He must have been in shadows, Bill, it's been dark for almost an hour now. You just think -- "

"You think I don't know when a guy is jacking off?" Bill roared, ending in a bitter laugh. "Dana, I spend six months at sea on a boat full of 19 and 20 year old males! Jacking off is a practiced art form on ship!"

He took in more air, forcing himself to calm down. "I tell you, it was Mulder." He put his hand on her shoulder. "I'm sorry. I know you . . . care about him. But Dana, he's sick. And don't you think it's possible that finally -- you told me that he had to quit his old assignment because it was too stressful. Maybe this assignment . . . maybe the guy he's trying to catch is himself."

Dana shrugged off his hand and headed for the door.

"Where are you going?" Bill called after her.

"I have to get to the station," she replied.

"Dana -- please, don't confront him. At least not alone," her brother pleaded. "You don't know -- he might become violent."

She turned and favored her brother with a bitter glare. "It's my job to deal with violent people, Bill. But Mulder isn't one of them."

"Fine," Bill said, holding up his hands in surrender. "But Dana . . . I do not want him back in this house. Is that clear?"

Dana didn't even look back; she just gave a quick nod of her head to acknowledge that she'd heard.

Friday 6:01 pm

Scully pressed the pedal of the rented Taurus just a little closer to the floor. Increasing her speed to just five miles over the limit might not make an appreciable difference in how long it took her to reach the station, but it made her feel better.

As she drove, her mind was a whirlwind of possibilities and fears. Bill's revelation that a man who looked like Mulder had been standing outside her nephew's day care -- doing something only a perverse mind would think to do on a public sidewalk had exploded a landmine in her soul. She knew Mulder walked on thin ice whenever he was forced to profile but this was something totally foreign to her and she was terrified. Terrified for her partner, terrified for their working relationship, but more than that. She was terrified for her best friend.

She plowed through a yellow light, only barely glanced as it turned red midway through the intersection. She had to get to Mulder and he wasn't answering his cell phone.

Station house 6:15 pm

She pulled into two spaces, not bothering to correct her parking. There weren't that many cars in the station lot -- the day shift was gone for the night and the night shift was out on patrol already. She dispensed with the elevator, choosing instead to take the stairs to the third floor. She ran down the hall, skidding to a stop outside the conference room door.

That was as far as her mind had allowed her to go. She stood, staring at the door, which was closed, as usual. Maybe Mulder wasn't in there. Better yet, maybe Mulder hadn't left at all that day. Maybe she would find him sound asleep on the conference room table, drooling slightly on the case folders. She prayed that would be what she'd find.

Treating the doorknob as if it were white hot, she gingerly turned it and pushed. The door swung open easily -- at least Mulder hadn't locked her out again. But the room was dark, not even the one desk lamp casting any illumination. It reminded her of a big dark cave.

She stepped in and over toward the desk, using the light from the hallway to guide her path. She was just a few feet in when suddenly the door swung shut with a spine-jarring slam.

A split second later she was shoved against that very same door, large hands pinning her upper arms, a strong and lithe body pinning her to the wood. Before she could cry out, before she could even try for a defensive counter move, he was on her.

The day's worth of stubble scraped the tender surface of her lips as he sought and gained entry to her mouth. She felt his tongue thrust past her teeth, almost choking her as he explored, no -- plundered her. His hands had moved from her arms to her breasts, squeezing them, searching for her nipples and then pinching them painfully between thumb and the knuckle of the forefinger.

How many times had she daydreamed about kissing her partner? In the car, in the office, in her bed at night before she fell asleep. All the fantasies started so innocently. She would drop a pencil on the floor, lean over to pick it up just as he did the same -- their heads would bump and he would start to apologize but instead he would lower his lips to hers -- those were her dreams, those were her anchors. That one day, in the not too distant future, they could finally explore the extreme possibility of a life together.

What was happening to her in that station house room was definitely a poor imitation of her dream.

One of his legs rammed between her legs, forcing them apart. A hand left her breast and fumbled with first the zipper of her pants and then the zipper of his. When she felt hot fingers slide beneath the elastic at the waist of her panties, she broke the kiss and turned her head just enough to find his ear.

She had to stop this. Not that she entirely wanted to. If the truth were to be told, she was excited by the prospect of a Mulder who knew what he wanted and let nothing stand in his way. But at the same time, she knew this wasn't Mulder. Sure, it was Mulder's body, but it was not Mulder's mind, Mulder's soul. And when he returned to himself, if they did let this go to the inevitable conclusion -- he would be more devastated than she.

"Mulder. Mulder stop. Please," she pleaded. "Not like this. Please."

He stiffened in an instant. She looked up and saw his eyes go from black coals to their normal hazel and then cloud over with gray.

He stumbled in an effort to get away from her. In the end, she slid down the surface of the door and he landed in a tangled heap just a few feet away. She sat there, panting, letting her breathing slow and her eyes adjust to the darkness. When she could hear past her own pounding heart, she heard his sobs and it almost broke her.

"Mulder," she sighed. "Mulder." She wanted nothing more than to go to him and gather him in her arms, but was afraid of what that would do to him.

"Go away, Scully," he whimpered. "Please, get out."

"No, Mulder. I'm not leaving." She scooted over so that she was close enough to lay her hand on his shoulder, which was still shaking with the force of his emotions. "Mulder, what just happened?"

A harsh laugh ruptured the quiet of the room. "You mean before or after I tried to rape you," he bit out, crawling further into the darkness of the corner. "Go, Scully!" he shouted fiercely. "God damn it to hell, if you've never listened to me before, do it now! Get the fuck out of this room!"

"No," she answered, finally finding the calmness that she needed so desperately to deal with this. "I will not leave. I'm not leaving you."

"You want me to rape you?" he cried out, his expression a mixture of surprise and disbelief.

"No. And I don't believe you would . . . do that, Mulder. In fact, I know you wouldn't."

"He would, if he could. That's the problem. Maybe he did or maybe he wanted to, but now he's defiled and he can't get his virtue back," Mulder rambled, thumping his head against the wall behind him.

"Mulder, stop that, please," Scully begged, again, making her tone level and her voice soft. "Please, before you hurt yourself." She put her hand against his head in an effort to cushion it, but he slapped it away and pounded all the harder.

"Mulder, stop this now," she commanded. She tried to think. She could cuff him, but he could still pound his head on the floor. She had no drugs to sedate him and she didn't dare leave him in this condition. In the dim light from the window she could see his ankle holster strapped to his leg and knew his primary weapon was certainly on his hip. If she left the room while he was like this --

"Mulder stop that!" she yelled again, this time forcing her hand between the wall and his head. When he banged back once more, she yelped, but held firm. "Stop that -- you're hurting me!"

That did it. He slumped forward, curled his body around her legs and sobbed inconsolably.

"I didn't want to, Scully. God help me, I didn't want to. But it was the only way," he wept. "I had to get him out of my head and I thought -- you -- I knew you'd make me safe from him." He hiccupped a breath. "I wasn't thinking about you -- I was being selfish -- I only wanted to be safe . . ."

"Shhhh," she answered, running her hands through his damp hair. "It's all right. I'm here and I'm not leaving. It's all right."

After several minutes she thought he was asleep but when she moved, he sat up, scrubbing his face with the heels of his palms.

She took the opportunity to get up and fetch a half full bottle of water from the table. She unscrewed the top and handed it to him. He downed the contents and handed the empty bottle back to her.

"Mulder -- "

"If you . . . if you request a transfer, I know Kersh would -- "

"Would everyone just stop this?" she bellowed. "I will be the one to decide if I ever want a transfer. Not you, not my idiot brother and not that fucking asshole Kersh!"

His eyes glistened as he grinned at her. "Scully . . . where have you been hiding that mouth?"

"I will ask the questions, Mulder," she warned. "Now, can you tell me what happened -- earlier today -- to bring this all on?"

He was silent for several minutes. Finally, he rolled to a standing position and walked on unsteady legs over to the conference table. Clicking on the light, he tapped a legal pad before motioning for her to take the chair at the table.

"I finished the profile," he said flatly. When she was seated, he squatted back down in the corner, knees drawn up to his chest, forehead on his knees.

She read silently for several minutes, noting that as the pages progressed his handwriting devolved to something more like chicken scratches, but she could just make it out. "You think it's a transient who has access to all the day cares?" Scully rephrased the last concluding sentence.

He drew in a deep breath through his nose and nodded. "He's probably with a janitorial service, maybe even landscaping. Someone who would never show up on staff lists. I have the staff lists from all the schools and there is no overlap. Hell, it could be a plumber but I suspect it's someone who is unskilled and just doing day labor."

"Like a hired hand?" she mused.

He looked up, frowning. "Yeah. Why?"

She shrugged. "When we lived at Miramar our parish priest let this guy do some odd jobs around the church and school. It was about the time the Son of Sam killings were in the papers. Missy was scared to death of the guy, said he looked like a 'mass murderer'. Of course, Bill thought that was really funny -- church . . . mass -- " Scully shook her head. "Anyway, he worked around the grounds for a couple of weeks and then one day he just disappeared. We never saw him again. He was probably a homeless vet, now that I think back on it."

"Anybody turn up dead?" Mulder asked, his head cocked to the side.

"No, not that I remember," she answered mystified.

"It's not the same guy," he replied. "I need to get the profile up to Sanders," he said, struggling to his feet.

"Mulder -- " She stopped. As much as she wanted to know what had happened when she entered the room, she also didn't want to add anymore to Mulder's stores of guilt.

"I . . . Scully, what you did -- Thank you. Thank you for . . . knowing what I needed even if I didn't."

"It's all right, Mulder. I do understand. But -- I want you to know -- "

He dropped his head, waiting for her to continue. His shoulders slumped and he looked as if he were about to be walked to the gas chamber.

"I just want you to know that next time -- you might have to be the one to say 'no' -- OK?" His mouth dropped open and she wished for a camera. Her memory of his shocked expression would just have to do.

When he started for the door, he swayed again. She grabbed his arm and sat him in the now vacant chair. "I'll take this to Sanders. I'll tell him that you need to eat and rest. We'll find a motel nearby -- there should be some vacancies by now."

He nodded, dropped his head to the surface of the table, cushioning it on his arms and she was certain he was asleep before she left the room.

She hurried up to Sanders office and turned in the profile. Sanders was just gathering his notes for the briefing of the other agents. He glanced down the pages and nodded.

"He did it. Son of a bitch pulled this one right out of his ass, but he did it," he murmured, quickly looking up when he remembered he had an audience. "Where is he? There might be questions tonight."

"Sir, Mulder is in no condition to answer any questions. I want to take him to a motel, try to get him to rest. Right now he's -- "

"I'll be at the briefing. I can answer any questions at that time," Mulder said from the doorway.

Scully spun on her heel so quickly that she almost lost her balance. "Mulder, what are you doing here?" she growled, shooting Sanders a glance when she remembered her own audience.

"I thought I was working a case," Mulder replied calmly, a plastic substitute for a smile on his pale face. "So, when is the briefing, if I might ask?"

Sanders looked from one agent to the other, paying particular attention to Mulder. He chewed on his lip for a moment before speaking. "It's at 8 pm. That's about forty-five minutes from now. So I would say that you two have just enough time to run over to the diner down the street and grab a sandwich -- to go."

"Sounds good," Mulder said, sounding way too casual for Scully's liking. He moved aside so that she could exit the room, brushing his fingertips on the small of her back as he fell in place behind her.

"Mulder, what are you up to?" she hissed.

"Scully, I apologized. I hared out. Are we making this a federal case?" he hissed in return.

She glared at him over her shoulder. "I'm not buying it. Not this time. Not one bit. That wasn't just haring out, Mulder. You scared me back there."

He refused to meet her gaze. "You know where the transfer papers are, Scully," he said in a low, menacing voice.

"Fuck you," she growled. "Now you're just trying to piss me off to change the subject. I was not afraid of you, Mulder. I was, and I am, afraid For you!"

He leaned against the wall as they waited for the elevator. "What do you want me to say, Scully? I got a little too deep. It's like when you trim your toenails and you hit the quick. It happens. It's over. I'd rather just forget about it and go on."

"Is that what Patterson would do -- just forget it so you could move to the next horrific case?"

At the mention of his old mentor's name, Mulder's expression turned to stone, but she could see the fire in his eyes. "Scully -- just leave it."

"No, Mulder, I can't. I can't because -- Mulder, my brother saw you tonight."

By his openly bewildered expression, she knew he had no idea what she was talking about.

"You went to one of the day cares -- Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrows," she prodded. "That's where Matty goes to pre-school."

"Yeah," he said, still befuddled. "It was the last one on my list. They were just closing up, only had one or two kids left for pick up. I talked to the center's director and then I came back here."

"Mulder, did you stand outside the center before you left. Just for a few minutes?" she asked.

"Scully -- I was thinking -- " His face went stark white as he realized what she was getting at. "Oh, god," he mumbled and she thought he was going to pass out.

She lowered him to the floor, looking around for anyone that might be able to help. He caught her arm and pulled her down next to him.

"Scully -- it wasn't -- I didn't -- I don't know what to -- I was thinking about why he's targeting the babies -- " He drew his knees up to his chest and started to rock, panting shallow breaths.

"Mulder," she spoke softly but urgently in his ear. "Mulder, stay with me," she cajoled. "I know it wasn't you, Mulder. I know -- I know you were just in too deep at that point."

"Oh god," he murmured again and put his head on his knees, wrapping his arms around his legs so that he formed a fetal ball sitting upright by the elevators.

"Mulder, you have to calm down. It wasn't . . . it wasn't your fault. It's OK. It's OK."

They stayed that way for a long time, Mulder's rocking slowed as Scully rubbed his back in large, steady circles. Finally, he lifted his head.

"Well, I can assume I'm off your brother's Christmas card list?" he tried for a joke.

Scully drew in a deep breath. "Suffice it to say, you won't be staying there tonight and neither will I. I'll call around and get us rooms somewhere close to the station. Then I guess I'll let Mom know where we'll be staying."

"Does she know?" The question was whispered, his eyes so deeply fearful and stricken that it tore her heart.

"No. I don't think Bill said anything -- at least nothing to Mom. I tried to explain it to him -- "

Mulder chuffed out a snort. "Yeah, just another day in the life of Spooky Mulder -- resident pervert of the Bureau."

"Look, I've had enough of being the go between for you two," she snarled. "Bill has no idea what we do. It's not his fault -- it's mine. I made it a point never to discuss my work with him because I knew he would overreact. I was right, but it has allowed things like this to happen."

Mulder shot her a raised eyebrow that almost made her proud. "You honestly think you could have prepared your brother to see -- Scully, that's absurd!"

She hid a smile in acknowledgment. Mulder might be crazy, but on occasion he showed her just how sane he really was. "I know. I'm pretty sure explaining anything to Bill would just make matters worse."

Mulder favored her with a tired smirk. "Not to mention -- next time I get shot by a Scully, the weapon will be his sidearm and Bill will be up on murder charges."

"C'mon. Let's get you downstairs and I'll see where we're staying tonight." She rose and stared to pull him up beside her.

"Scully, we have a briefing in," he glanced at his watch, "fifteen minutes."

"Mulder -- "

"We're here to catch a killer, Scully. Until we do, no child in this city is safe. I have to be there to answer questions on my profile. Otherwise, all of this has been for nothing."

She had no answer for that. But that didn't mean she had forgotten all her concerns. "You haven't eaten."

He licked his lips. "At the risk of getting my balls handed to me, could I ask a favor? Could you run down to that deli and bring me something? Soup, if they have it?"

She cocked her head. "Mulder, that's the most intelligent thing I've heard come out of your mouth all day. Sure. I'll go get us something to eat. And I'll call Mom while I'm on the way. Just save me a seat at the briefing."

Mulder waited until she had stepped on the elevator before he blew out a breath in relief. It was getting harder and harder to put on his 'brave face' in front of her. His side was killing him, his head was now pounding, he'd successfully divided his partner from her family and they still had a killer on the loose --

"Might as well go home, my work here is done," he muttered to himself as he punched the up button to call the elevator.

When he got to the briefing room, chaos reigned in high order. Agents were on cell phones, screaming to each other and Sanders was trying to get everyone's attention. When he saw Mulder, he went over and pulled him to the side.

"He's taken another kid," Sanders growled in disgust. "I had one of the newbies translate your profile into English and got it distributed. Right now we're on every day care in the city, trying to nail down who might have hired a day laborer -- "

"I sense a but coming," Mulder said chewing his lip.

"Do you know how close we are to the border? I could walk over there, grab a good taco and be back in an hour. Illegals aren't stupid, they know the churches are on their side. So when they need a little extra cash -- "

"They go see if they can work for the local padre for a few bucks," Mulder closed his eyes and nodded. "I assume that also means the local priests don't have an exact account of everyone who has knocked on the back door?"

"Not even close. And those that do -- well, there are a lot of 'Judes', 'Joses', and 'Jesus'," he said, giving the Spanish pronunciations.

"I don't think this guy is an illegal," Mulder said, shaking his head. "He's legal -- or has been here a long time. Unless the Mexican authorities were lying when I checked with them about similar cases."

"Maybe he just started this when he got across the border," Sanders suggested. "It's pretty stressful, running, no identity, trying to find work -- "

Mulder continued to shake his head. "Nope. That's not what I get on this guy."

Sanders licked his lips and sighed. "Well, we've got people out searching and all the churches are on alert to notify us of any suspicious activity."

Mulder leaned against the wall. "We won't find him. Not until -- How old is the kid?"

The ASAC snapped his fingers and one of the younger agents trotted over with a file folder. Sanders glanced at the pages before handing the file to Mulder. "Kid was not quite a year old. He's getting 'em younger."

Mulder took the file and flipped it open. He was reading along when he realized what he was reading. Before he could stop it, bile was rising fast up his throat and he just made it over to a waste can to empty nothing more than stomach acid. Sanders was beside him in a second.

"Here," Sanders said, taking Mulder by the elbow and leading him to one of the conference table chairs. "I'm having someone take you home."

"No," Mulder objected, his skin prickling with illness and dread. "I have to call Scully."

No sooner had he mentioned her name than his partner appeared at the door, out of breath and hair flying every which way. "Mulder -- my God -- Matty!"

Shoving down his own discomfort, he got up and put his hands on her shoulders, privately sharing her grief in a crowded room. She looked up at him, her eyes wide with fear. "Matty, Mulder. I didn't have a chance to call Mom -- she called me. She was hysterical. The bastard -- "

"I know. I just heard. We'll find him, Scully. I won't stop till we find him."

"Wait a minute," Sanders interjected. "You know the victim?"

Scully pushed back from Mulder and wiped her face, the armor of a perfect professional enclosing around her. "He's my nephew, sir."

"Oh, Christ," Sanders moaned, grabbing the folder and looking down at the name again. "Scully -- you know that you can't . . . "

"Sir, don't take me off this case," she pleaded, her eyes misting, but her voice firm.

"Scully -- your mom, Tara, Bill -- they need you right now," Mulder whispered to her.

She turned on him, glaring at him in anger and betrayal. "You don't honestly expect me to walk away from this, do you?" she bit out. She grabbed his arm, her eyes begging him. "Mulder, you know I need to be here."

Mulder cast Sanders a look and the older man nodded and backed away. "OK, Scully, but we have to do this clean and by the book. If you stay, you can't be anywhere where your presence might jeopardize the arrest."

"I know that," she hissed. "Just don't expect me to sit around and wait to do the autopsy."

"Look, the last two kids were taken from the same day care. This guy is getting careless -- or he thinks he's found what he wants. We need to go talk to the priest at Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrows."

Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrows Church
San Diego, CA Friday, Nov. 23 9:35 pm

"Thank you for seeing us on such short notice, Father," Mulder told the priest as the two agents were ushered into a small but nicely appointed office at the front of the rectory.

"Anything I can do, anything at all. It's horrible. I can't imagine what that poor family is going through," the young priest, Father Garcia said, shaking his head. "Father Willis is on his way over to the house, now. I understand they have family visiting from out of state. Just horrible."

Mulder cast a glance over to Scully, catching her eye. At her request, he hadn't mentioned her name, either over the phone on the way over or when they got to the door. She wanted it that way. But the anguish was there, in her eyes. He knew what she was going through all too well, and wished he could ease her pain.

"Father, I know you have a reputation for helping people who are down and out. I need to know, has there been anyone around for the last couple of weeks, someone new -- "

"I told the police everything I know just a little while ago. We're a large parish and there have been many families come to us in need -- "

"No, Father, this man wouldn't be with a family. He would be alone. Possibly recently alone, maybe he lost someone, his mother perhaps," Mulder prodded.

He could see Scully looking at him, question marks in her eyes. But how could he put into words what he felt, what had overwhelmed him when he put himself in the killer's place earlier that night?

The young priest thought long and hard. "I'm sorry. We haven't had anyone come to us lately. I mean, just Harold. But he's not an immigrant. Harold was born here in San Diego."

"Can you tell us about Harold?" Scully encouraged, leaning forward with interest.

"Harold is just . . . well, Harold. He took care of his mother until the poor woman passed on just after Labor Day. He used to be one of our altar servers -- "

"Aren't most servers young boys or girls?" Mulder interrupted.

The priest smiled. "Generally, yes. But we also have some men of the parish who still like to participate in the celebration of the Mass. Harold would have been a candidate for permanent Deacon, but, well, he just was not suited for the program."

"Why not?" Mulder asked.

The priest ducked his head. "The Deacon program requires quite a bit of study and reading. Harold -- Harold is functionally illiterate. I think if he'd gone to school now, he'd be labeled learning disabled and would get some help. I tried once, to help him, but I don't have the training -- "

"How often did Harold serve Mass?" Mulder had his notebook out, but it was more to keep his hands from shaking.

"Every weekday, at least during school. See, we have 6th grade boys who serve the early Mass, at 7, but then the 8 o'clock Mass would make them late for class, so we have one of the adults serve that one. Harold was a regular, well, until about a month ago. Then he just quit coming around. I would have been worried about him, but I saw him in Mass every Sunday. I think he might have finally landed a job."

"Father, where does Harold live?" Mulder asked, his face expressionless.

"You don't think -- I mean, Harold wouldn't -- oh, dear," the priest sighed. "I have his address. I'll get it for you." He opened a drawer on the desk and pulled out an address book. "I really don't think Harold could do something this -- "

"We just want to ask him some questions, Father. He might have seen someone around," Mulder covered.

The relief on the priest's face was evident as he handed the paper over to the agents. "I just don't want to cast suspicion on him. Harold always tries so hard. His mother . . . well, she was a very bitter woman, I'm afraid. I get the feeling she never wanted children, or if she did, Harold didn't live up to her expectations. But he did try."

Mulder nodded. "Thank you for your time, Father."

As they stepped out of the rectory, Mulder took Scully's elbow as they walked to the car. "I'm calling Sanders with the address. Then I'm taking you back to Bill's."

She pulled her elbow away, glaring at him. "Mulder -- I'm perfectly capable -- "

"Of being the biggest hard ass on the collar, yes, I know. But Scully, if we don't play this perfectly -- "

"You think a child murderer is going to get the best defense attorney on the West Coast to represent him?" she growled.

"I think if we do this right, we might get Matty home safe -- and I know that's what you want."

Tears glistened in her eyes as she nodded mutely.

"OK, then," Mulder sighed in relief. "I'll call you the minute we know anything, all right?"

The drive wasn't long enough, and yet too long by half. Mulder knew his partner was fuming, but he also knew she was professional enough to see the dilemma of her presence at the raid. When he pulled up to the curb, she got out but leaned in from the open door.

"Just -- please be careful, Mulder. I couldn't take it -- " She left the fear unspoken, as they always did.

"I'll be good," he promised. "If you get a chance, tell Tara how very sorry I am that I didn't get this bastard sooner."

"You've done everything you could. This isn't your fault, Mulder. Don't let anyone, including you, convince you otherwise."

He watched her as she walked to the door and was let in by a uniformed police officer.

In the end, it wouldn't have mattered if Scully had been present or not -- Harold Gilmore wasn't at his home when the police and FBI arrived. What they did find was the makings of a shrine -- several statues of saints and crucifixes, candles and silk flowers. In one room it looked like an altar had been arranged.

White silk roses and other flowers adorned most of the surfaces, but they were covered in a thin layer of dust and cobwebs. Only one room looked like it had been recently occupied -- a bedroom with a single twin bed, a bare nightstand and a crucifix nailed above the headboard.

"Looks like a monk lives here," one of the agents quipped.

"Basement's clear -- no sign of any activity down there," another agent reported to Sanders, who was standing in the living room while Mulder surveyed the scene.

"The priest said he thought Harold might have found a job," Mulder said, more to himself and to anyone else. He was tired, his side was killing him and on top of everything else, he felt like any minute he might have to vomit. The thought of what this monster was doing to Scully's own flesh and blood --

"Hey, Agent Mulder! I found this in the trash!" It was one of the younger agents, no doubt his first real case from his reaction to his discovery. It was a stub from a payroll check made out to Harold Gilmore.

"It's from last week," Mulder muttered.

"Mamacita's Authentic Tacos," Sanders read aloud over Mulder's shoulder. "I know that joint. It's a dive, but the food's good."

"I think we need to get over there," Mulder suggested.

Mamacita's Authentic Tacos
10:47 pm

The outside lights were off and the dining room was dark, but there was light and movement in the kitchen. There was only one car in the parking lot and its tags matched the ones on file at the DMV for Harold Gilmore. When both the front and back entrance were secured, Sanders tapped on the window, holding up his badge.

The man mopping the floor looked startled at first but when he saw Sanders, he dropped the mop and ran straight for the back door. He was easily apprehended.

San Diego Police Station
Saturday, Nov. 24 3:06 am

Mulder downed the last dregs of his cup of coffee, choking slightly on the bitter taste. His stomach had now joined his side in open rebellion. On his way to the observation room he had just walked past a uniformed officer with her 'lunch' -- reheated fried chicken from Popeye's, if Mulder's nose was correct -- and it was everything he could do to keep his stomach acids to himself. Still, he paced in front of the one-way mirror at the front of the interrogation room, hands clasped behind his back - - watching.

Harold Gilmore might have been learning disabled, but stupid he was not. The man had spent the better part of four hours tap dancing around any knowledge of the children he was accused of killing. The agents left at Gilmore's house had found a digital camera and disk of pictures of all the victims, their homes, their family cars -- even a picture of Bill Scully's house that Mulder thought looked better than many a real estate agent's MLS listing.

When confronted with printouts of those pictures, Gilmore had smiled and clamped his lips together. It wasn't a confession, but it was all Mulder needed to know they had the right bastard. Still, all the evidence in the world wasn't much help when time was of the essence. Matty had been taken almost eight hours ago and they still didn't know where he was or if he was even alive.

"He's not talking," Sanders said as he stepped into the room. "And Agent Scully just arrived."

Mulder closed his eyes against this latest pain. He couldn't see Scully, he couldn't stand the looks of terror and longing in her eyes. But he needed her so badly -- to ground him, to tell him that what he was about to do was wrong, to give him a different path to follow.

"Can you, uh, find something for her to do?" Mulder asked quietly. "Something down at the morgue, perhaps?"

Sanders frowned. "She wants to watch the interrogation."

Mulder shook his head vehemently. "No. Under no circumstance is she to be allowed anywhere near this observation room. If I have to pull rank I will. I'm the senior agent. I forbid it."

"Mulder, she's a trained agent, too -- years in the field. Yes, she's close to this, but she isn't going to interrogate the guy. She just wants to watch. We'd let anyone in her place do that."

"Not while I'm in there," Mulder growled and then raised his head to glare at the ASAC. "Are we clear on this?" It wasn't a question -- it was threat. Sanders blanched for a second and then nodded.

As he turned to leave the observation room, Sanders stopped and looked at the younger agent. "The FBI does not condone physical violence as an interrogation method, Agent."

Mulder shook his head slowly. "The last thing on my mind," he said calmly. As the door closed behind Sanders, Mulder turned his attention to the man sitting placidly on the other side of the one- way mirror. "I think this qualifies more as suicide, anyway."

Sanders caught up with Scully at the elevators. "I was just heading to the observation room. Is Mulder in there?" she asked just before Sanders hand landed on her shoulder.

"Agent Scully, I really need you to get to the morgue. We're hoping to pick up some prints, anything that might be useful -- "

"I already searched the bodies, sir. He wore gloves. It's possible that they might find a box of latex gloves at the house, but they're pretty easy to obtain and difficult to match."

"But maybe you can find something -- "

"Sir, I did a complete and thorough check of the exterior -- going over the same ground again is not going to produce any different result. Now if you don't mind -- " She moved her hand to push around him, but he caught her sleeve.

"Scully, may I have a word with you -- in private?"

The sudden request took her by surprise. "Sir, if this is about my relationship to the latest victim -- "

"Scully, please. I just need to speak with you and I'd rather not do it in the hallway. Please." The sincerity in his voice and manner went a long way in convincing her to follow him down to an empty office.

"Now, before you have my head for breakfast, I want to make it perfectly clear -- I am just the messenger. Mulder doesn't want you in the observation room right now."

She pursed her lips and drew in a lungful of air. "Did he state a reason why I shouldn't be allowed to view the interrogation -- at a distance, I might add?" It was a question phrased as an insult. Sanders took the hit and sighed.

"The suspect is not talking, Scully. I think Mulder feels he might be forced -- "

A million thoughts shot through her mind and her heart. She saw Mulder in a prison interview room with John Lee Roche smirking across the table. A hand rocketed from his side and Roche's head snapped back with the force of the strike. But that wasn't the only time he'd struck a prisoner, or a suspect.

The rumor mill at the Bureau had been quite active when she returned from her abduction and hospitalization. According to one particular story, overheard in the women's restroom across from the cafeteria, Mulder had been suspected of strangling Duane Barry the night she was taken.

Her own mother had told her of his state of mind when she had been dumped at the ER of Northeast Georgetown Medical Center. The picture she was conjuring up of Mulder in a room with a child molester and killer -- one who now held the life of her own nephew in his hands -- was not reassuring.

"Sir," she said calmly, or as calmly as she could. "I think it would be very unwise to allow Agent Mulder to interrogate the suspect alone. Bureau policy dictates -- "

"There is an agent in the observation room, Agent Scully. Mulder just asked that it not be you." Sanders looked her in the eye. "Scully, you just have to trust him on this. I have no reason to believe he was doing it to slight you, or because he doesn't think you're up to the task. I think -- I think he just doesn't want you to see what it is that he's planning."

The realization hit her in the gut. "He's going to make sure Gilmore trusts him. He's going to sympathize with him, empathize with him, form a bond -- "

"I think the bond is already there," Sanders said quietly.

Scully nodded, not daring to look the older agent in the eye. "Sir, if it were your partner in there -- "

Sanders put his hand on her shoulder and squeezed lightly. "He said you couldn't be in the observation room, Scully. But that doesn't mean you can't be somewhere nearby. Just in case."

This time she did look up and gave him a brief smile. "Thank you, sir."

Interrogation Room C
3:56 am

Mulder breezed into the room bearing two cups of coffee. He handed one to the man already seated and then sat down across from him, his back to the mirror. "Harold. I'm Agent Mulder. I'd like to ask you a few questions."

"They already asked -- and I'm not tellin'," Harold shot back with a tilt of his nearly bald head.

"No, Harold, I'm not one of those guys," Mulder assured him. "I just want to know about your work history. You've only been working at the restaurant for a few months. What did you do before that?"

The question caught Gilmore off guard. He licked his lips and then took a sip of the coffee with his manacled hands. "Um, I, uh, I had to take care of my mother."

"She was sickly, was she?" Mulder asked. "That's hard. Rough. My mother had a stroke a while back. It's hard to see them when they're sick."

"Yeah," Harold agreed quietly. "It's real hard."

"Was she sick long? I mean, I hope she didn't suffer," Mulder chatted, sipping his coffee as casually as he could. The pain in his side was nearly constant now, but he found that sitting sideways in the chair made it possible for him to remain upright and involved in the conversation -- not writhing on the floor in agony.

"She had cancer. It ate 'er up inside," Harold said, wiping at his eyes. "She would just moan and cry . . ."

"Did your father pass away recently, Harold?"

Harold's head shot up and his eyes blazed. "Fuckin' bastard!" He immediately sought to calm himself. "He, uh, he left. When I was a kid. He just -- left."

Mulder nodded again. "My folks split up when I was thirteen. Divorce is hard on the family."

"Weren't no divorce! The Church is against divorce. He just -- he got a woman pregnant and then ran off with her. Had a new kid, a baby. Left my mom. Left me. Mom always said if it had just been the floozy he woulda come back after he got tired of her, but with the brat -- " Abruptly, Harold bit his lip and studied his coffee cup. "Weren't no divorce," he whispered again.

Mulder sipped at his cup again. "When my parents split, I lived with my mom. Sometimes -- sometimes she got mad at me for no reason. I think I kind of reminded her of my dad."

Harold raised his eyes. "Yeah, that happens -- sometimes."

"I mean, I didn't even have to do anything. Just out of the blue she would yell at me. I couldn't help it if I looked like him."

"Me neither," Harold commiserated. "One time, I cut all my hair off just so I wouldn't look so much like him."

Mulder smiled. "Did it work?"

"Nah," Harold said with a fond smile. "Grew back in just as curly. Mom hated curly hair. Said it was the mark of the devil -- black curly hair. She always wanted a little blonde baby with blue eyes, like her side of the family."

Mulder closed his eyes for a second and swallowed. He couldn't think of the victims -- all tow headed and innocent. He couldn't think of Matthew, the picture on Scully's mantel and the one on her desktop.

"My mom just thought I had my dad's nose. Not much I could do to change that."

"You can break a nose -- makes it look different afterwards," Harold advised and even posed in profile so Mulder could see the prominent knot in the center his face.

"Bet that hurt," Mulder said quietly.

"For a few weeks, yeah."

"Did she -- " Before he could finish his question he saw Harold's eyes flash again and Mulder decided to change directions. "Did she ever go to Church with you -- before she got sick?"

"Our old church, yeah, all the time. She liked that one a lot. It was where she got married and where I got baptized."

"You don't go there anymore?"

"It's not a church anymore," Harold said. "At least it don't have no parish priest and no masses are said there. They're gonna build a highway right through the center. It wasn't an old church, so nobody really cared if they knocked it down. But it's sad, you know," he said with glistening eyes. "It don't know it's not a church anymore. They took out all the statues and the altar, but the paintings on the walls don't know. The glass pictures in the windows -- they don't know. They think they're still holy."

"I bet it's quiet there," Mulder encouraged.

Harold smiled happily. "Real quiet. And pretty. So pretty. It's still holy -- no matter what they say. It's pure now without people getting it all messed up all the time with their dusty shoes and chewin' gum under the pews."

"It sounds wonderful," Mulder said softly. "I'd like to see it sometime."

It happened so fast that he didn't even have time to think. Mulder turned toward the mirror, just a slight stretch of his body to signal to the agent in the observation room that something important had just been discovered. But the minute he moved white- hot pain sliced through his side and into his stomach. He cried out in agony.

Everything moved in slow motion but he was helpless to change the events.

Mulder felt himself pitching forward toward the floor.

The pain was so intense he couldn't breathe, couldn't even tell if his heart was still beating.

He heard the door to the room open and then heard a shot.

Harold's body hit the table with a loud thud.

It was the last sound Mulder heard before everything went black.

At the sound of the gunshot, Scully bolted from the unused interrogation room just across from the one Mulder was in. She saw the uniformed officer standing over the body of Harold Gilmore. Gilmore was still handcuffed, a look of shock on his face.

Mulder was on the floor, unmoving.

"Out of my way," she shouted, and shoved the officer aside, along with the other men who had entered the room. She knelt down next to Mulder and pulled at his tie, pressing her fingers to the pulse point at his neck. "Get an ambulance -- now!" she yelled over her shoulder.

Sanders made his way into the room. "Scully, what the hell?"

"I don't know. Where's the agent from the observation room? He has to know what happened."

Sanders signaled toward the mirror and a voice boomed from over head.

"Sir, Mulder just dropped. The way his back was to me, I didn't have a clear view. It looked like the suspect might have cut him, maybe?"

"There are no external wounds," Scully said, continuing her examination. When she laid her hand flat against his forehead, her eyes grew wide. "Mulder! Oh my god!"

"What? What is it?" Sanders demanded.

"He's burning up. He has a high fever. And he's not completely unconscious. He jerks if I touch his stomach. If I didn't know better I would say we're dealing with blunt trauma and internal bleeding -- we have to get him to a hospital immediately. I can't tell without further tests."

"Damn it! Gilmore was handcuffed," Sanders spit out. "How could he have done this?"

"I don't think Gilmore could have done this. I don't know what could have caused this," Scully said helplessly. "Sir -- did Gilmore say anything? Did he say where he's left Matty?"

Sanders looked at the doorway as the agent from observation came into the room. "I'm sorry, Agent Scully," the young agent said with a sorrowful look. "It was mostly just chitchat. I think Mulder was trying to get him to trust him, to loosen up. He didn't say anything important that I could tell."

"Get it transcribed, there might be something on it to explain what just happened," Sanders barked.

San Diego Mission Medical Center
4:35 am

Scully fingered the rosary in her pocket and silently recited another prayer. In the back of her mind, around the ancient words of the Hail Mary, two thoughts intertwined, each vying for attention -- help for her nephew and help for her partner.

The doctors had shooed her out of the treatment room almost the moment she'd set foot in the hospital. The last she saw of Mulder, a nurse was taking blood and hooking up oxygen.

Gilmore had been pronounced at the scene. Agents were tearing his house apart, going through any bank records they could get their hands on in the hopes of finding a place -- any place, that the man had taken his victims. So far, nothing had turned up.

She hadn't called her mother. She knew that word of Mulder's collapse was the last thing anyone needed at her brother's house. Her mother didn't need more to worry about and her brother wouldn't give a damn about her partner anyway. In some respects she understood Bill's attitude -- family comes first. But to her, Mulder was family.

"Ms. Scully?" She looked up into the eyes of an ER nurse who was standing just inside the waiting room doors.

"Yes," she said, rising. "Is there any word on my partner?"

" Dr. Chambers would like to speak with you. She's just down the hall."

Wordlessly, Scully followed the nurse into a small office off the main Emergency Department suite. She took the offered chair and tried to calm her apprehension.

Dr. Chambers was about her age, a slender woman with blonde hair that curled around her face. "Ms. Scully -- I'm sorry we booted you out the examination room. I'm Marilyn Chambers, I'm taking care of Mr. Mulder."

"I'm a medical doctor," Scully blurted out, swallowed and fought for that calm that wouldn't come. "I'm sorry. I mean to say I'm a medical doctor, I'm a pathologist with the FBI. I also hold Agent Mulder's medical power of attorney. You can tell me anything about his condition. What's wrong with him?"

"Well, from what I've seen so far, I'm going to say appendiceal perforation -- burst appendix. We're waiting on some blood work, but he has all the signs. I referred him to a surgeon and we're prepping him for the OR right now."

"Burst appendix?" Scully breathed. "That's not possible, he hasn't displayed any symptoms -- at least none that he's told me about."

"As a doctor, I'm sure you remember that appendicitis is notoriously hard to determine. I would suspect the symptoms presented in the last two days, maybe even in the last 24 hours. Regardless, you know the danger of waiting, especially if there has been a rupture. His fever is 102 and climbing."

Scully shook her head. "No, that's not possible. I was with him almost every second of the day for the last two days -- I would have known if he exhibited -- "

She broke off her sentence as she thought back over the last 48 hours.

Mulder not eating.

Mulder collapsing.

Mulder obviously sick to his stomach.

Mulder and his side stitch.

"It wasn't a side stitch," she muttered to herself. "Damn it all, why didn't I see that?"

"Well, appendicitis is very easy to miss, as I've already mentioned. Tell you what -- there's a family lounge just outside the OR on the fourth floor, take a left off the elevator. Go grab something to tide you over, coffee, cola, whatever. When the surgery is over I'll tell Dr. Lemus to find you there."

"Thank you," Scully murmured.

Mission Medical Center San Diego, CA
4:40 am

Mulder's entire body was hurting now. The pain had receded a bit in his stomach, but his back was hurting, his head was about to explode. He still felt nauseated and someone was sticking him with something every three seconds. The latest insult to his person had been the placement of a catheter. He'd always been unconscious when the stupid tubes had been inserted. This time, he would have howled in protest, if his throat and lungs hadn't conspired against him to rob him of any breath.

One thought kept him awake. He had to talk to Scully.

The church was the key. Gilmore held the kids at the church. Probably killed them there, too and then dumped the bodies in the dumpsters. It would explain why there wasn't any blood at the scene. They knew almost from the beginning that there was a kill site, but nothing had given them any indication -- no dirt or evidence on the bodies. Now he knew why -- it had all been done inside, in the old church about to become part of the San Diego freeway system.

Matty was there right now.

"Scully," he gasped out once more. The nurses and doctors kept talking over his pitiful attempt at speech, so he tried harder. He grabbed the arm of a passing nurse. "Scully . . . m' partner, Scully."

"Doctor, he seems to be saying something about his partner," the nurse said -- rather stupidly in Mulder's opinion.

"Oh, yeah, Dr. Chambers is out talking to her. She's here, she's in the waiting room," the young doctor said absently and went back to listing all the tests to be conducted on the patient.

"Your partner is just outside. She'll be waiting for you when we're done here," the nurse assured him.

"No, I need to see her," he gasped out. The pain in his stomach was back and the emergency room was starting to gray around the edges. He knew he was blacking out and there was not a damned thing he could do about it. "church!" he burst out. "Tell her church!" He was successful, he hoped, but the effort cost him. The gray edges grew larger and finally darkness engulfed him.

"What did he say?" asked the doctor, looking up from his chart.

"He said church. I think maybe he's calling for a priest," the nurse shrugged.

The doctor nodded. "Call the chaplain. Probably wants anointment of the sick. He can perform that as we prep for surgery. Gotta keep the Big Guy Upstairs happy, don't we Connie?"

"Sure thing, Doctor," the nurse returned with a smile.

Mulder roused a little while later and found himself looking straight into the eyes of an elderly man in scrubs with a mask over his face. "Doctor?" he slurred.

"No, son, I'm Father Thomas. I understand you're wanting the Anointment of the Sick. I'm here to pray with you."

"No, don' unnerstan --Scully, wan' Scully," Mulder tried but his tongue felt thick and his lungs wouldn't push out enough air to make the sounds. "Par'ner," he made one last attempt at communication.

"Son, you're partner is just outside. She's praying for you, too. God will see you through this. Now just relax, we'll pray together."

". . . not . . . catholic. . . . church," he rasped. ". . . church . . ." He closed his eyes and all sounds started to blend together and become hollow. He could hear the old priest reciting prayers but he couldn't understand any of the words. Finally, everything was silent and dark.

"Just you and me now, asshole."

Mulder blinked his eyes, but still couldn't see anything. Either it was incredibly dark or he was blind. "Is somebody here? Are you a doctor?"

A bitter laugh echoed back to him. "No, I ain't no doctor." Mulder could hear the ragged breathing as the man stopped laughing. "I'm your worst nightmare. You're dying and I'm takin' you to hell with me."

San Diego Mission Medical Center
5:45 am

Sanders entered the family lounge and scanned the area. Scully sat in a far corner, elbows on her knees, hands clasped and index fingers steepled at her mouth. He sighed heavily. What he had to tell her wasn't going to ease her worry.

"Agent Scully," he said quietly. She looked up, startled at even this minor intrusion.

"Sir. Did you find anything?" She rose from her seat and for the first time Sanders noted how tiny a person she really was.

"No, Agent Scully. I'm sorry. We have the transcript, but it didn't really tell us anything. Mulder was gaining his confidence. We still have no idea what happened."

"I do," Scully said succinctly. She waved Sanders to a chair and waited until he was seated to take her own seat next to him. "Appendicitis. His appendix ruptured. That was why he collapsed."

"You're kidding!" Sanders blurted out. "Oh, shit," he muttered. "The uniformed officer -- "

"He had no way to know that Gilmore hadn't done something to Mulder. I know. It was a hard call."

"What a nightmare," Sanders breathed out. "So Mulder has been sick all this time?"

"I think it started not long after I arrived, sir. And I take full responsibility. I should have seen the symptoms."

"What symptoms? Scully, I was around Mulder as much as you and I sure didn't see any symptoms of appendicitis! Don't people throw up and double over when they have that? I had it as a kid and I couldn't get out of my bed! He showed no signs."

"That's just it, sir. They were subtle, but in retrospect, they were there. I just missed them. He complained of a side stitch he got while running, he stopped eating -- "

"Scully, he hadn't been eating since he landed," Sanders interrupted. "This is not your fault."

She bit her lip, but said nothing more about it. "Do you have a copy of the transcript?" she asked.

He pulled a set of papers out of his inside coat pocket. "Right here. This is your copy. I know you're needed here, but if you have the time -- "

"I have nothing but time," she said with a hint of frustration. "I'll read over these. Thank you. Is there any news from the agents checking into Gilmore's bank records?"

"Aside from the fact that the banker may never let any of us open a checking account? We got a judge to order them to turn over the records tonight. There is a safety deposit box and agents are at the bank now, cataloging what's in there. We're going over his phone records, but so far that's turned up nothing. I don't think he had an accomplice -- the only calls made have been to his employer."

"So we have nothing," Scully sighed and leaned back, letting her head come to rest on the wall behind her.

"Scully, I know this is hard."

"He's a baby, sir. He's just a baby. If we don't find him soon -- "

Sanders could say nothing to that. "We'll do everything in our power, Scully. The whole city is looking for Matthew. We will find him." He stood and looked toward the doorway. "When will we know anything about Mulder?"

"The doctor figured they'd be in surgery about 2 hours. It's a clean up op -- they have to see if they can contain the peritonitis. They're flooding him with antibiotics, but he was in a weakened state -- "

"Well, let's keep each other posted," Sanders said wearily. He looked back down at her and shook his head. "Yeah." With a tired nod he left her to her thoughts.

The doctor had been fairly blunt after the CT scan had been completed. It was indeed a ruptured appendix. There had been minimal bleeding, but the infection had infiltrated the entire abdomen and the body was ill equipped to handle it. In short, it was an attack on the near defenseless. Mulder's white blood count had shot up quickly, but even those fearless little defenders would be overcome by the strength and endurance of the bacterial equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane.

If he survived the night, his chances went from slim to slightly better. It would be a long, hard battle and outside of sitting by his bedside, there was nothing she could do to affect the outcome.

She picked up the pages of the transcript, hoping to find answers that she doubted were there. A throat being cleared caused her to look up. An older priest was standing there, smiling at her.

"I understand you're here with Mr. Mulder," he said, sticking his hand out in greeting. "I'm Father Hawthorne, the hospital chaplain on duty tonight."

Scully rose and shook the priest's hand. "Yes, Father. I'm Dana Scully, Agent Mulder's partner. Excuse me for being blunt, but do you visit all the patients in the ER?"

"Oh, heaven's no. Only those who ask for me. Your partner was quite weak, but the nurse heard him call for a priest. I gave him the anointing for the sick just before they took him down to X ray."

Scully looked at the priest, trying to hide her shock. "He called for a priest? Mulder? Are you sure?"

"Well, I'm not entirely sure. When I got there he was calling for you. I assured him that you were outside, as the nurse had told me, and that you were praying for his recovery. Then he said something rather strange."

Scully remained silent, but displayed her curiosity openly on her face.

"He said 'not Catholic'. I didn't think too much about it -- some people turn to God when illness strikes. But then he kept repeating a word and he told me I didn't understand."

"Father, what word was he repeating?" Scully asked, the hair on the back of her neck rising in dread or anticipation or both.

"It sounded like 'church'. He said it a couple of times. I don't know if he wanted to go to church -- "

Scully grabbed at the transcripts. She'd only read through them once, but it wasn't hard to find the right page. She mumbled through the detail until she came to it. "Father, have you lived in San Diego long?" she asked anxiously.

"All my life," he said with a proud smile. "My father came out here straight from the boat in New York. He was from Ireland. My mother was from Los Angeles."

"Father, do you know of a church, a Catholic church, that was recently abandoned for a highway project?"

"You mean the old St. Thomas? Yes, they built a new St. Thomas out east of the airport. Beautiful building, the new church. The old one -- unfortunately there was quite a bit of asbestos in the rectory. It was a poor parish, the workmanship was not up to standards."

"Father, I need location -- a street address, please." She pulled her phone out of her pocket and started to dial.

"Ms. Scully -- cell phones aren't allowed -- "

"Yes, this is Agent Scully. I need to speak to SAC Sanders immediately. I have a lead on the whereabouts of Matty Scully!"

Undetermined Time Later

It was still dark, but Mulder now welcomed it. The presence -- the evil that had inhabited Harold Gilmore -- seemed to surround him and he didn't really want to see what it looked like. Hearing it swirling around him was enough to terrify him.

"So pretty. You know, Hell is a lot like prison," the evil said casually. "The pretty ones, oh, they quickly become favorites. But sexual pleasures -- not so much in vogue these days. Torture, that's where the real money is!"

"Like you tortured those babies, you sick bastard," Mulder shouted, attempting to block out the sound and smell of the monster sharing the netherworld with him.

"Oh, that? That was nothing! Poor Harold. He wanted to be pure again. See, once I got hold of him, once he let me in, all he wanted to do was go back to the old days. Some people have no gratitude! I mean, I got that bitch off his back -- kid had been under her thumb for years. What do I get in return -- nothin' but grief. Pissin' and moanin' -- 'I want to be pure again', 'I wanna be innocent'," it sang in a cruel, vicious voice. "Well, he sure got 'innocent' when that bullet hit his brain, I'll tell you that!" The cackling laughter filled their shared space and caused Mulder to curl in on himself in fear.

"So he killed his own mother?" Mulder uttered in disbelief, more to himself than to the thing surrounding him.

"You just don't get it, do you Mr. Psychologist," the evil laughed merrily. "According to the DSM-IV, this man exhibits tendencies toward unchecked anger and sexual depravity," it quoted in an authoritatively mocking tone. "*I'm* the reason Harold went whack-job, you idiot! It wasn't some chemical in his brain, it wasn't because his mother dropped him on his head -- it was ME! All ME!"

"I don't believe in evil that way," Mulder said quietly.

"No, you don't, do you?" came the casual reply. "But maybe you will after this."

In an instant Mulder could hear a dull humming sound that quickly grew in intensity until it seemed that a tuning fork had taken up residence in his inner ear. Then came the pain. White hot, starting at the tips of his nerve endings and licking fire up each and every one.

Horrible pain, needles of agony that became stabs and slices until Mulder was sure every inch of his skin was flayed from his body. The pain continued, pulling, tearing -- the agent felt his heart being squeezed in a vice-like grip. His brain, his head was ready to explode from the force that was pounding down upon it. He screamed in anguish but it did nothing to relieve the pain.

Suddenly, it stopped. Mulder lay still, trying to breathe, trying to regain his senses.

The evil laughed again. "Believe in me now, College boy? Mr. FBI Profiler? I've tasted you, son. I've licked you all over. And you know what - - you're pretty damned tasty! I can't wait till your all mine."

The former St. Thomas the Apostle Church
Saturday, Nov. 23
6:45 am

Seven squad cars, fourteen uniformed officers, four Bu-cars with four agents each and an ambulance converged on the empty shell of a church at a quarter to seven. Construction barricades and orange plastic fencing looked out of place so near the old white church. A bulldozer and a wrecking ball sat on the northwest corner, silently waiting until Monday to bring the building down to make way for the highway. A mere 48 hours left for the old church -- and anyone lost within it.

Scully, at the approval of Sanders, was the first one in the doors. The building was eerily silent, the plywood covering the outside of the windows blocking the sunlight and the traffic noises from the highway not more than 100 yards away. Dust and candle wax outlined a faded crucifix on the wall just above the altar, the original wooden replica of the suffering Christ now hanging in its place of honor in the new church miles away.

Scully stopped at the altar rail and listened. All the officers and agents milling about made it difficult to hear anything, but she detected something --

It was dark in the alcove. The windows that had once provided much needed light were boarded and the electricity was off in the building. Scully swung her flashlight back and forth, finally determining that she was looking at a cabinet. She stooped and opened the simple hook and eye lock and pulled the door forward. It was musty in the cabinet where old pipes had leaked. Flashing her light inside, her breath caught in her throat. In the very farthest recess of the cabinet, still wearing his fire engine red pajamas, huddled her tiny nephew.

"Matty, it's Auntie Dana," she said softly. The child was whimpering, hiding his face from the stark beam of the flashlight. "Remember me? You stole my turkey the other day." She put the flashlight on the floor, so that the light would shine inside but not blind the child. "Come here, Big Boy," she said, using the name she'd heard her brother and sister-in-law call him for the last week. "Come to Auntie Dana."

In seconds she had her arms full of small child and he clung to her for dear life. "Nanny, Nanny," he sobbed over and over again.

She patted his back and stroked his hair. "I'm here, sweetheart. I'm right here. Let's go take you to your mommy and daddy, OK? They have missed you so much!"

The paramedics wanted to check him out, but Matthew refused to budge from his baby monkey hold on his aunt. Finally, she held him on her lap and he allowed the technicians to examine him briefly. Too soon he lost patience with the lady and man and burrowed farther into his aunt's embrace.

"We can get him checked out more at the hospital, but I don't think Gilmore touched him," Scully assured the EMTs and Sanders, who was standing by. "These are the same pajamas he went to bed in. But we could use a diaper and some clean clothes."

A clean diaper and a men's white tee shirt were soon supplied and one of the EMT's gave Scully a bottle of water and a straw. Matthew, as a fan of McDonald's, knew exactly how to use the straw and soon 12 ounces of fluid was in the child's stomach. Scully transferred him to her shoulder and rubbed his back until he fell asleep.

Tara, Bill and Maggie were at the hospital, waiting for them to arrive. As soon as they entered the doors to the ER, Bill whisked his son out of his sister's arms and hugged him tight. Tara, equally eager to hold her baby, hugged both her husband and their boy. Maggie stood watching, wiping the tears from her cheeks and smiling at them. After a moment, she turned to her daughter.

"You did it, sweetheart. You said you'd find him and you did."

"I didn't do it alone, Mom. Mulder -- "

Bill had finally relinquished Matty to his wife's arms. Upon hearing Mulder's name, he spun on and glared at his sister.

"I'm still not certain he wasn't the one behind all this!"

"Bill!" Maggie objected immediately.

Dana drew in her breath and shot her brother a dirty look. "For your information, had it not been for Mulder -- "

"Agent Scully?" A nurse at the reception desk interrupted her tirade. "I'm sorry, I couldn't help but overhear. Are you Agent Dana Scully, next of kin for Fox Mulder?"

"Yes, I am," Dana said, walking over to the desk.

"They've been looking all over for you! Dr. Chambers said that you need to get up to the 4th floor, ICU, as soon as possible."

"Mulder," Dana cried out and headed for the elevators. She heard Bill call her name, but ignored it. Mulder. How could she have forgotten -- he was still in surgery when she left to find Matty. She pulled her cell phone out of her pocket -- it had been set on vibrate and in all the excitement, she'd missed a few calls. Four, to be exact, and all from the hospital.

"Oh, God, no," she prayed.

She didn't even notice someone behind her until the elevator doors opened and a hand fell on her shoulder. "Dana, where are you going?"

She was punching the number of the floor the nurse had given her. "Mom, you should stay with Bill and Tara."

"No, I'm going with you. Where is Fox? Why was the nurse looking for you?"

"It's a long story," Dana deferred.

Maggie crossed her arms. "I have plenty of time."

"OK, but just let me find out what's going on first, please."

There was a reception desk outside the ICU. Dana stopped at the desk and waited until the nurse acknowledged her. "I'm Dana Scully, I'm here to see my partner, Fox Mulder."

"Oh, Ms. Scully! Yes, just let me page Dr. Chambers. Please have a seat over there, someone will be out shortly." The nurse went about paging the doctor and Dana and Maggie went over to the chairs along the wall.

It was only a moment before the double doors opened and Dr. Chambers stepped out. "You're a hard person to reach, Agent Scully," she said with a frown.

"I'm sorry, it couldn't have been helped. I was . . . in a search and rescue of an 11-month-old baby. I had my phone on vibrate and I didn't feel it during the search."

"Did you find the baby?" Dr. Chambers asked, immediately concerned.

"Yes, yes, we did. He's fine. He's downstairs with his parents being checked out right now. The nurse in the ER must have been alerted to look for me. She's the one who said I needed to come up here. I take it Mulder didn't fare well in surgery?"

"Let's move this down the hall. I can show you his chart there." As Dana got up, Maggie followed.

"This is my mother, Margaret Scully. She's a friend of my partner's," Dana explained.

"At this point, he needs all the friends he can get," Chambers said darkly.

The tiny office was obviously used by several doctors. It had none of the usual personal touches, no family photos, no diplomas from medical schools. Only a lighted board and a computer and the mandatory box of tissues. Dr. Chambers sat behind the desk and used the keyboard to bring up Mulder's chart. She turned the screen toward Scully.

"High white count . . . low blood pressure . . ." She closed her eyes and then looked back at the doctor. "He's in septic shock."

"Yes, I'm afraid he is."

"Respiratory failure," Scully read and sucked in a breath. "I should have been here," she muttered bitterly.

"Well, you're here now. We're doing all we can, but this is a complication of the ruptured appendix. Right now we have him on an antibiotic cocktail as you can see, and pressors to bring his BP back up. He's also on a respirator."

"Did it happen in surgery?" Scully asked, not even bothering to take her eyes off the chart where she was still reading and memorizing all the drugs and treatments Mulder was receiving.

"No, thank Heavens," Dr. Chambers assured her. "He was in Recovery. But his pressure dropped and he went into respiratory arrest. We were able to intubate, but it was close."

Dana licked her lips and forced herself to remain calm, detached. "Has there been any other indication of organ failure?"

"Not so far, but it's only been a couple of hours. For now, he's stable and we can hope for the best. Quite frankly, I figured we'd have some problems because of the rupture, but it appears your partner was somewhat run down before he became sick."

"We've had a rough fall," Scully said succinctly. "I guess it's taken its toll."

"I saw in his history that he was hospitalized in July in DC and then a week later in New Zealand and then again in late August in Bermuda. I have to tell you, I envy his job. He really gets around."

"Believe me, it's not all it's cracked up to be," Scully assured the other woman. "May I see him," she added, her voice cracking just enough to show that she wasn't as composed as she appeared.

"Sure. Only one visitor at a time, of course. He's still under the affects of the anesthesia and we want to keep him out while he's on the respirator. But you can sit with him. Since you're a doctor, too, I've noted that on his chart so the nurses will let you stay longer. You'll be able to see him whenever you want."

"Thank you, I appreciate it."

"I'll let the nurses know that you're here. Why don't you give me a minute and I'll come get you."


Maggie nodded silently as the doctor left the room and then turned to her daughter. "His appendix burst?" she blurted out. "Dana, how in the world -- "

"Mom, he told me it was a side stitch he got running," Scully tried to explain, but it sounded lame to her own ears and the look on her mother's face confirmed that it was inadequate to her as well. "I know, I was just -- with Matty and everything . . ." She clamped her mouth shut and wiped hurriedly at the corner of her eye.

Maggie reached over and took her other hand. "He'll get through this, honey. He always does."

Dana nodded, but in the back of her mind she wondered if maybe this time that might not be the case.

Location unknown Time -- eternity

Mulder screamed against the pain. It didn't relieve his suffering; all it did was make him breathless. His mind kept circling back to one thought -- wasn't pain supposed to stop when you were dead?

A white light now pierced the blackness surrounding him. He was lying, stretched out, on a surface that he couldn't name. His wrists and ankles were pinned with bolts to the surface and the last time he'd allowed his eyes to open, his stomach was sliced down the middle with all manner of insects and worms crawling among his intestines. He'd slammed his eyes shut after the first viewing and vowed silently never to open his eyes again.

It didn't stop the pain. He could feel his heart pounding, could feel his lungs struggling to take in air. Air? Why was he even breathing? Why was his heart beating? If this was truly Hell . . . It came to him finally. Hell meant torment. He always thought it would be psychological torment, when he'd allowed his mind to stray down that particular path. It had never occurred to him that Hell's torment might actually be physical, but he was experiencing the proof.

If he really was in Hell.

"Doubts. I just love 'em!" The voice had been silent for so long it startled Mulder when it finally spoke again. "This is just a . . . well, let's call it a warm up. You're in the minors right now. You'll be in the Big Leagues soon enough -- when your ticker goes. Shouldn't be that long the way you're going."

"Scul-l-l-l-l-l-l-y-y-y-y-y-y!" Mulder screamed again. Now he heard large birds -- carrions -- lighting on his chest, their claws digging into his skin. They were pulling at his insides, devouring him as he lay there helpless.

"Mythology buff, are ya? Prometheus, wasn't he the one? Stole something he wasn't supposed to and ended up feeding birds for the rest of his days. Yeah, I remember him!" the voice said gleefully.

"Please," Mulder begged, breathless again. "Why? Why are you doing this?"

"You don't get it, do you? You're so smart, you think you can just toy with me and slip out of my grasp? That you could summon me but only look at me through the peephole, keep the chain on the door and I wouldn't get in? Is that what you thought?" the voice roared. The place was quiet for a heartbeat until he heard, in his own voice, "Did you really think you could call up the Devil and ask him to behave?"

Mulder clenched his eyes tighter, hoping to block out the sounds as well as the sights. "I didn't call the Devil," he murmured.

"What do you think you do, every time you try to get in their heads? Oh, you kid yourself -- it's all about the 'truth' -- the motive, the reason for their depravity. But really, all you're doing is trying to call on ME!" The voice drowned out all other senses, bounced around the space and hammered blows on Mulder's already weakened body.

"I didn't . . . I didn't call you," Mulder sobbed brokenly.

"You stood in front of a day care and played with yourself," the voice laughed merrily. "You were hoping to see, hoping to get a glimpse of what made poor old Harold such a bad guy. Well, I got news for you, sweet meat, you found me!"

"I don't . . . I don't want . . ." Mulder cried out.

"You don't want 'what', maggot?" the voice crooned.

"I don't want to be here," Mulder spit out violently. "God, Scully, save me!"

"Which one, dumbshit? God or Scully? You don't even know who can deliver you from this."

"Both!" Mulder shouted and the light blinked out and the sounds died and the blankness drew him under.

San Diego Mission Medical Center
11:45 am

The doctors had finally given them the all clear. Matty was fine. They'd considered an IV for hydration and then decided all the child really needed was a bottle and a good night's sleep. The little guy was cranky and wouldn't leave Tara's lap during the exam, but he was now sound asleep in his own car seat and everyone was eager to get home. It has been a long night for the Scully family.

Bill had been a surprised and a bit relieved that Sanders had immediately called a press conference. One reporter had asked about the rumor that an agent had been rushed to the hospital shortly after Gilmore had been shot. The senior agent assured the gathered journalists that the incidents were not related and that the agent who had taken ill was hospitalized and his condition was unknown. It was done so casually that none of the reporters thought to question it further.

Sanders had helped promised to keep the press at bay, at least at the house. The Navy was sending out an Ensign to help keep watch, but while they waited on Matty's test results, Bill had seen the familiar split-level at least once an hour on CNN. Which was why Bill was in a particularly foul mood when he had to go prowling the halls of the hospital searching for his mother and sister.

Bill had overheard enough of the rather brief conversation earlier to know that Mulder was in ICU. He'd stopped by one of the admitting desks to find that Mulder had been brought in by ambulance the day before and that his condition was still listed as critical. Probably got caught with his hand in his pocket and someone with a little sense had beaten the shit out of him, Bill mused in the elevator.

The FBI Agent who was in charge had tried to convince Bill and Tara that it was Mulder's work that had led them to Matty's location. Sure, just like the government. Bill knew the military would also cover its own ass when a loose cannon was around. Better to take care of such things 'in house' -- without the television cameras and all those pesky Senate Subcommittees looking on. Bill wasn't at all surprised at the FBI's reaction. What irked him was the fact that the SAC, Agent Sanders, refused to get off message even when Bill pulled him aside for a private chat. Stupid Fed.

Finally, the elevator doors opened and Bill found the sign for the ICU. It took him only a moment to locate his mother in the waiting area. She was sitting on the sofa, head tilted back, apparently catching a few winks. When Bill approached and put his hand on her shoulder, she startled.

"Oh, sweetheart, I didn't hear you. Is Matty all right? Are they keeping him here for the night?" she asked, wiping the sleep from her eyes.

"No, they cut us loose about fifteen minutes ago. I came up here to get you and Dana. We can leave now," Bill said firmly. He wasn't in the mood for much conversation on the issue of getting back home as quickly as possible. Besides, he'd already alerted Ensign Coffelt that they would be leaving the hospital in the next half hour. The Ensign and the Bureau agents were clearing a path through the newshounds at that very moment.

"You and Tara go ahead," Maggie said, stifling a yawn. "I want to be here in case Dana needs me."

"Dana can come home now, too, Mom," Bill intoned. He tilted his head toward a large sign posted by the door into the ICU that laid out the hours for visiting.

"Not for a doctor, sweetheart," Maggie said with a smile. " Dr. Chambers is allowing her to stay with Fox."

Bill didn't bother to hide his disgust. "Well, someone should at least tell her that her nephew is all right," he ground out angrily.

"I can tell the nurse -- " Maggie started to say but the doors to the patients' rooms opened and Dana walked through them. "Oh, here she is now."

Bill stood there, arms crossed, his previous good mood over recovering his child now forgotten in his anger at his sister. "Well, thanks for thinking of us," he sneered

Dana furrowed her brow. "I came out to see if Mom wanted to come back for a moment. How's Matty?"

"Fine. Not like you have any interest there," Bill replied caustically.

"William Scully!" Maggie hissed.

"Mom, don't bother," Dana brushed off her brother's comments.

"Look, we're leaving. Mom, I really think you should come home with us. Matty might like to see his grandmother after all he's been through."

Maggie looked at her daughter helplessly. "Dana . . . "

"It's OK, Mom. I've spent more time at Mulder's side by myself than with anyone else around. Go, Tara might need you." She placed a verbal underscore on her sister-in-law's name, the implication clear to her mother and her brother.

Maggie watched her daughter square her shoulders, just as she'd seen her late husband do a thousand times, and walk back into the ICU. The older woman spun on her heel and confronted her son.

"Bill, how could you?" she demanded.

"How could I?" he shot back, nonplussed. "Mom, there are things about Fox Mulder that you . . . God, I hope you never find out!"

"You mean that little discussion you and Dana had on the patio the other night just before she took off for the office like a maniac?" Maggie asked, crossing her arms and glaring at Bill.

"You heard that?" He winced defensively. "Mom -- what you heard -- "

"Oh, Bill, can it! You think I'm some sheltered woman, and that's all fine and good, but I grew up in Baltimore -- the streets of Baltimore, and I've seen and heard a lot more than you could ever imagine. Or even want to imagine! But that's not the point."

"Mom, the point is that Fox Mulder is a danger -- "

"He saved your son," Maggie bit out succinctly.

"He was at the hospital already when they found Matty," Bill said shaking his head.

Maggie sighed and looked away from her son, trying to find the words to convince him. "Bill, do you remember when your father took you and Charlie fishing?"

"Sure, lots of times," Bill said gruffly.

"Do you remember what he used to say that every good fisherman had to know?"

Bill licked his lips and swallowed. "He said to catch a fish you have to think like a fish. But Mom -- this is different!"

"How, Bill?" Maggie asked. She put a hand up to stop his immediate defense of his statement. "Fox is a hunter." She smiled at her own pun, but then grew more serious as she remembered the topic. "He hunts killers and horrible, awful people. How could he possible catch those people if he didn't force himself to think like them?

"I know what you think you saw at the day care the other night. But let me tell you what happened just today. His appendix burst, Bill. You remember the pain you were in when you had appendicitis. You were screaming in agony when we rushed you to the hospital but you were lucky -- it hadn't ruptured. It did rupture in Fox and he was enduring incredible pain like you have never known. Do you know what he was thinking about when he came around in the ER in all that pain? Your son.

"He kept calling for your sister, telling the doctors and nurses and even a priest the word 'church'. He'd been talking to that man -- the man who'd taken Matty, and they talked about an abandoned church. Fox knew that was where Matty was because he knew the guy he was hunting. But Bill, he was in such horrible pain I'm sure he thought he was dying. In what he must have thought were his last moments, he tried to tell them how to save your son."

Maggie watched as Bill's stern countenance softened around the edges. "So I think you should think about that," Maggie said casually. She left Bill standing there, still thinking. She walked to the elevator and Bill followed meekly. They didn't speak again until they found Tara and Matty waiting for them downstairs.

Mission Medical Center ICU
6:35 pm

The nurse came into Mulder's cubicle and changed the IV bag, silencing the quiet 'ding' that had taken up residence in the crowded room. It had played counterpoint to the gentle hiss of the respirator, and to her surprise, had lulled Scully to sleep.

"His temp is steady at 101," the nurse -- a caring older lady named Donna, assured Scully as she went about a quick check of the patient's vitals. "His BP is up a little, too. We're at 95 over 60." "Good, that's great," Scully said with forced enthusiasm.

"Why don't you take a minute to get a bite to eat, stretch your legs, Dr. Scully? I'll keep a close eye on our guy here," Donna suggested.

Scully started to object, but the thought of a warm meal and a hot cup of coffee was enough to get her mouth watering. "I won't be long," she promised, gathering her purse and slipping into her shoes that she'd kicked off at some point in the evening. .

She stood and leaned over the bed rail, close to her partner's ear. "I'm running downstairs for a minute, Mulder. If you wake up while I'm gone, I won't hold it against you." Making sure there wasn't an audience, she bent down the few inches and kissed his temple. "Rest, get better," she admonished and then took her leave.

It was bustling in the halls and the elevator. Dinner trays were being distributed, nurses and aides scurrying to and fro. The cafeteria was putting out trays of hot foods and stocking the cold bins with and salads and the ever-present hospital jello. Baked chicken over rice called to her from the hot table and she took it, along with a blueberry muffin that she couldn't seem to resist. With her cup of coffee, she paid the hostess on duty and found a seat in a far corner of the nearly deserted cafeteria.

It had been a long night followed by a long day. After the argument with Bill, she'd gone back to find that Mulder's blood pressure had dropped yet again. A different medicine had been started, but the doctor had ordered a cardiac crash cart be placed in the room on standby. Its presence on the far side of Mulder's bed had been a nagging pain in her heart and bothered her all afternoon.

She hadn't wanted to doze, but she was going on no sleep for 36 hours and her body was ready to drop. When she slept, it was fitful and she would wake certain that she'd heard the heart monitor screaming in distress. But each time she found Mulder still resting peacefully and the monitors showing no signs of impending danger.

She finished her dinner and was cleaning up the table when a hand landed on her shoulder. She looked up and found Tara smiling down at her.

"Caught ya," her sister-in-law said with a smile. "I went up to ICU and asked for you, but they told me they finally got you to come down to get something to eat. Mind if I join you in another cup of coffee?"

Scully's smile was a little strained. "I really should be getting back -- "

"His temp was down a degree to 100, his blood pressure is unchanged and the doctor is coming by around 8:30." Tara made a point of checking her watch. "Which is in about an hour and a half. He's fine, Dana. Sit, relax a minute."

"OK," she demurred. Tara picked her coffee cup up and went over to get one of her own and a refill for Scully. She came back and sat across from her sister-in-law.

"How are you feeling?"

Scully chuffed a laugh. "Just peachy," she said, stirring more creamer into her cup.

Tara licked her lips and tried again. "Dana, I don't know how to thank you -- "

"It wasn't me, Tara. I mean, yeah, I was there and I found him in the cabinet, but it was Mulder. Do you understand? Without the information Mulder got out of Gilmore -- " She turned her head and fought the tears that threatened. A soft hand covering hers made her jump.

"I do understand," Tara said quietly. "Mom told me all about it. And I want you to know -- both you and Mulder -- how much I appreciate it."

Scully wiped at her eye. "But Bill sure doesn't seem to understand."

Tara leaned back in her seat and sighed. "Dana, Bill has a hard time showing -- "

"No, Tara. I'm not buying the 'strong silent type' when it comes to my big brother. Not when he easily made it perfectly clear how much disdain and outright animosity he has for my partner. Do you realize that this very morning, after Mulder helped find Matty from his gurney on the way into the OR, Bill still implied that Mulder might have had a hand in these kidnappings?"

Biting her lip, Tara said nothing.

"Mulder could die, Tara," Scully whispered. "He could die -- it's that serious. But would even that change Bill's opinion?"

"Maybe you shouldn't care so much about what Bill thinks," Tara suggested.

"He's my brother. He sees himself as the head of the family," Scully objected.

"And last time I looked, he's a pig-headed sot when it comes to certain things and that probably won't change soon. Dana, my brother Tom still refuses to shake Bill's hand or even speak to him when we're all together at my Dad's house. We've been married 9 years now. Tom is still waiting for the day Bill dumps me for some girl he met on liberty. He told me that at Matty's christening."

"So this is just inherent Big Brother-ness and I'm supposed to ignore it?" Scully asked with a tilt of her head.

"I'm saying you have more important things to worry about right now. Like the guy upstairs who seems to need you like the air he breathes."

"You approve of Mulder, don't you, Tara?" Scully hated that her voice cracked and her lip kept trembling.

Tara smiled. "You just tell me what his favorite meal is and it will be on my table, waiting for him. He is always welcome in my home."

"Even if your husband objects?" Scully asked, a twinkle in her eye.

"I'll send Bill to my brother Tom's for the week," Tara replied, the gleam in her eye unmistakable. "C'mon, I'll see you up to the floor. Do you think they might let me in for a moment? I'd like to thank him personally."

"The ICU rules allow one visitor for ten minutes on the hour. If we hurry, I'm pretty sure they'll let you in."

The dinner trays for those patients alert enough to have them were being cleared away and there was a bit of confusion until it was established that Scully was allowed back at any time. Finally, she and Tara were admitted to the ICU with strict instructions that Tara's time would be limited to 10 minutes.

"He looks so pale," Tara said uncomfortably as they approached.

"He looked worse when I got back this morning. He's getting some color back finally."

"Dana -- all those machines -- "

"Most of them are monitors, they're telling us how he's doing without having to poke and move him all the time."

"The big thing down his throat doesn't look like a monitor," Tara winced.

Scully nodded sagely. "He went into respiratory arrest after the surgery. At first the respirator was doing all the work. But they've moved the settings down, so he's breathing a little bit more on his own. He's getting better, Tara -- honestly."

Tara swallowed and took a couple of deep breaths. Then she stepped forward, looking back at Scully for permission. Scully nodded reassuringly. Tara rested her hand on Mulder's forearm. "He's too warm," she said, shaking her head.

"The fever's going down. Remember?"

"Oh, yeah. They said it was 100 right before I went down to find you," Tara chided herself.

"You can talk to him, Tara. You'd be surprised what he'll remember from this visit," Scully encouraged.

"Fox, er, sorry -- Mulder. It's Tara. I just wanted to come up and thank you. I guess Dana probably told you that they found Matty at the church and that he's fine. Maggie told us what you did, and well, I'm so very, very grateful." Her voice choking with tears, Tara squeezed his arm. "Just know that we're praying for you and hope you get better soon." She wiped at her eyes and turned to her sister-in-law. "You let me handle Billy."

Scully nodded and moved over to Mulder's side. "I will choose, if he forces me to, Tara. And Bill won't like which side I come down on."

Tara pulled Dana in her arms and hugged her fiercely. "It won't come to that, I promise," she whispered into Dana's ear. "I love you. We love you -- both of you. Billy just doesn't know that yet."

Scully pulled back and smiled and after a second both women chuckled. "I'm glad you're my sister," Scully said finally.

Tara looked at her with surprise and then a big smile formed on her face. "I'm glad you're my sister, too." She reached down and squeezed her hand once more just as the nurse came to the door to tell her the ten minutes were up.

Mulder heard voices and felt something soft and cool on his arm. At first he thought it was Scully but it wasn't her touch. Scully touched him on the arm but usually she caressed his forehead, messed with his hair. He didn't recognize the voice, either, at first. Finally he got an image of a very pregnant Tara Scully from a year ago. He still couldn't make out the words, not that he really cared what was being said at that point. The one thing he did feel was the concern and care enveloping him, embracing him. He drifted down farther into his slumber, his heart a little lighter.

In the darkness, Mulder realized he was finally alone. The evil that had occupied this place with him was no longer present. He was relieved. But in its absence he felt so alone and so very tired.

Scully. His one thought, his salvation. He tired to remember if he'd felt her presence. He had a vague memory of someone touching him, but it hadn't been her. Tara. It had been Tara. Or someone.

Suddenly, with a hunger he'd never experienced before, he had to see Scully. He wanted to tell her that she was right all those years ago when they talked of God and evil and man's need to come full circle. He wasn't ready to join any church choirs, but he couldn't ignore the obvious anymore. Maybe he'd always believed in God -- just not in religions built by men for God.

Harold Gilmore was a victim. Mulder saw that now. He was a victim of his mother's abuse and a victim of his own inadequate education. But what really made him a victim was his complacency. He had let the evil consume him, hadn't fought it, hadn't risen above it. He opened himself up to the evil and allowed it to take control of his life.

Mulder wasn't about to let the evil get another crack at him. Regardless of Kersh, regardless of the Bureau, this was the last time he would peek into the darkness. There was too much at stake now. There was Scully. Now all he had to do was reach out and find her.

Mission Medical Center ICU
8:45 pm

" Dr. Scully, there's a gentleman out in the waiting room who insists on seeing you."

Scully looked up from Mulder's chart to see the impatience on Janice's face. "Oh, I'm sorry. It's probably someone from the Bureau. I'll go get rid of him," she said apologetically. Janice shrugged and hung up the phone.

With a quick peek in at Mulder to make sure all was as it had been when Dr. Chambers had checked just ten minutes before, Scully walked out into the waiting room. She looked around at the other people there until she spotted -- Bill? Sighing, she walked over and stood behind him as he gazed out the window.

"You wanted to see me, Bill?" she asked tersely.

Her brother turned and regarded her with a hooded expression.

"You look awful," he said bluntly.

"Was that why you came? Or were you going to tell me what a dupe I am for worrying about my partner -- the sorry son of a bitch?" She crossed her arms and was glaring at him.

"Um, sorry. No. That's not why I came." He reached down to the seat nearby and handed her a paper grocery bag. "There's a change of clothes in there, your travel bag and Mom and Tara tossed in a few magazines -- more recent than June 1993," he added, nodding to the pile of old magazines on the coffee table by the window.

"Thank you," Scully said demurely. "Look -- Bill -- "

"Sis, can we talk? I mean I know you won't leave the hospital, but can we at least go get something to eat, a cup of coffee?"

"I don't -- "

"I know they have a great paging system here," he cajoled. "I'll wait, you can tell the nurses where we're going. You look like you could use a cup of coffee."

"The nurses keep me supplied," she replied. "Bill, I really am not in the mood -- "

"I know. I know, but please?"

Maybe it was the way his eyes seemed to seek her permission that she agreed. She knew it would probably result in an argument, but that was inevitable. Better to have it out in some institutional cafeteria than at his home or over the phone. "OK. Let me tell the nurses. I'll be right back."

There was no conversation as they took the elevator to the floor with the cafeteria. Dana was an old pro at the line, so she got a cup of coffee. Bill got a full meal -- meat loaf, mashed potatoes with gravy and coffee and paid for both of them. They found a seat along the wall because the dinner crowd was filing in quickly.

After a few awkward moments spent with salt and pepper and tasting his potatoes, Bill put down his fork. "I came to, uh, talk to you."

Dana had spent the time adding cream to her coffee. "So talk," she said, not bothering to meet his gaze.

"I just wanted to say that . . . I guess I can understand the stress he was under -- the other night, I mean, and so I just . . . wanted you to know that."

She blinked at him. "That's real big of you Bill," she sneered. "Considering that the major stress in his life helped you get your son back."

"Look, Dana, I didn't ask -- and besides, how do we know that Gilmore didn't target Matty because Mulder was staying with -- " He didn't have a chance to finish that statement because Dana sputtered her mouthful of coffee right across his plate.

"What the hell do you mean?" she demanded.

"When we went to make our statements I overheard a couple of the local cops talking. They said that the way the guy took after Matty -- he might have caught on that Mulder was looking for him. So, it's reasonable to assume that if Mulder hadn't been at our house . . . "

"You pompous son of a bitch!" Dana spit out. "Did those 'locals' also mention that Gilmore had pictures of your house -- digital camera pictures that date back before Mulder even arrived in San Diego?"

Bill shoved his plate aside. "Dana -- settle down."

"I will not settle down! You just don't get it, do you? You will do everything in your power to find a way to make this all Mulder's fault. Why, Bill? Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why Mulder has to be the Boogie Man in all your little fantasies? I'll tell you why. Because you still can't accept the fact that I decided to join the FBI and some of my decisions have put myself and this family in danger. You hang all your hatred on Mulder when you really want to hang it on me!"

"Now that's just crazy!" Bill howled, and then calmed slightly when he noticed that everyone in the cafeteria was staring at them. "Dana, that is the stupidest -- what, did the pop psychologist upstairs try to convince you of -- "

The impact of fist hitting jaw resounded through the cafeteria like a shot. Bill's head snapped to the side and he almost toppled off his chair. Dana was out the door before he even knew what hit him.

She was trying so hard not to cry when she got in the elevator. Her hand hurt, but her heart was shattered and that hurt her far more. Angrily, she wiped at the tears sliding down her cheeks. She didn't want to waste any tears on that idiot. She wondered once again, as she had many times in her teenaged years, which one of them was adopted -- her or Bill?

When the elevator doors opened on the fourth floor, a panting and red-faced Bill was there, having only a second before made it up the stairs.

"Get out of my way," she growled.

It took him a moment to speak he was so winded. "Wait . . . just wait . . . a minute," he gasped, trying to catch his breath. "I just . . . ran up . . . the steps."

"Maybe you should consider working out more," she sneered and tried to step around him. He grabbed her arm and held fast. She was drawing back her fist, but he caught it easily in his other hand.

"No, Dana. That's not how we settle this," he breathed. "Please . . . can we sit down? I'll only be a minute."

"I need to get back to Mulder."

"I'm pretty sure he'll still be there," Bill said weakly and made it over to the bank of chairs in the waiting room. "Please?" he asked again as he sat down.

"Why did you run up the stairs?" she asked. To be honest, he was beet red and it worried her a little. That thought only made her madder; she didn't want to worry about him right then. She was still too angry with him.

"I couldn't let you leave like that," he said, heaving a deep breath. "Dana -- I didn't come here to start a fist fight."

"Your problem is you never expected me to put you in your place," she replied sourly.

He chuckled at that. "OK, you got me there," he noted, but his expression grew serious again. "I wanted to say -- I'm sorry."

"You honestly expect me to believe that?" she parried.

"No. I guess you wouldn't. You'll believe anything out of his mouth, but me, your own brother -- "

"Great apology, Bill -- we'll have to do this again sometime," she shot back fiercely and stood up to go into the ICU.

He caught her sleeve again, but this time his grip wasn't nearly as tight. "Dana, let me start again. Please."

She sat down again, glaring at him.

"I'm really shitty at this," he mumbled. He took another deep breath and straightened up. "OK . . . I'm sorry."

She waited. He said nothing else. She nodded, a blank expression on her face but her eyes were wary. "What? No 'but he's an asshole, Dana'? Or better yet ' but he's a sicko, and I don't want him anywhere near my family'?"

He shook his head sadly. "No. Just . . . I'm sorry I hurt you. Period."

The broken pieces of her heart started to warm and move closer together. "What about Mulder?"

"Oh, I still can't stand the guy -- but he's not my headache. He's yours. And if my little sister likes the bastard -- he can't be all bad."

Dana got a chuckle out of that. "So says your sister," she replied. "Only your sister?"

"OK, and my mother and my wife -- I'm definitely the minority opinion in my house at the moment." He reached out and took her hand. "I fully admit that I don't like the guy. But I have to respect your decision. And if you're right, and he did . . . save my son," Bill said, his voice cracking. "I guess I might have misjudged him. A little."

She had to work hard not to smile at that. "Well, I think I might have bruised your jaw. A little." She squeezed his hand. "I'm sorry, too."

The door to the ICU opened and Janice stuck her head out. "Oh, good -- you're out here. We were just about to page you. Dr. Scully, there's someone here who really wants to see you!"

San Diego Mission Medical Center ICU
Saturday, Nov. 24
9:20 pm

Scully hurried into Mulder's room, holding her breath. When she touched his arm his eyes opened slowly and he blinked lazily at her.

"Hey, good morning," she said cheerfully. "Nice of you to join us."

He blinked again. It saddened her to note that he wasn't even trying to fight to ventilator. Just opening his eyes seemed to be as much as he could accomplish. But, as usual, Mulder surprised her. He started scratching at the sheets with his right hand, mimicking the motion of writing.

"Mulder," she chided, but he did it again and narrowed his eyes. She shook her head and looked around, finally spying her purse. She snatched it up and dug through it until she produced a small notepad and a pen. She handed him the pen and held the notepad so he could see it without moving his head. He made a few scratches and then dropped his hand to the bed, obviously tired out.

She looked at the paper. One word, just barely legible even after her years of experience with Mulder's horrible penmanship.


She smiled down at him, but he was still looking at her anxiously. "He's fine, Mulder. He's at home with Mom, Bill and Tara. He was in the church, the old church that Gilmore told you about. You were right on the money."

Mulder closed his eyes in relief. When he opened them again, they were at half-mast, showing his fatigue.

"I think it's time you got some more sleep. If your breathing continues to improve, we might be able to lose this tube tomorrow morning."

He blinked twice to show his approval. His eyes were drifting shut so she stroked his forehead, right at the temple. In just a few moments, his heart rate slowed and she knew he was asleep.

"Thank you," she said, her eyes toward the heavens. "Thank you."

San Diego Mission Medical Center
Tuesday, Dec. 4
10:15 am

Scully watched with some amusement as Mulder turned up his nose at the menu. "Spring me, Scully. One more day of this soft diet and I'm going to start taking hostages," he whined, for the third day in a row.

"Mulder, you know as well as I do that it's up to Chambers and she seems to want to err of the side of caution. Besides, Bugsy, exactly where do you think you're going to go after you're 'sprung'?"

"The airport?" he offered. When he got no more than a raised eyebrow he flopped back on his pillows. "Scully, please, can't we just go home."

"Not for another week, at least. Mulder, you feel fine when you're lying in that bed, but walking down the hall knocks you for a loop. Can you envision what it would be like running down to a gate at the airport? Give yourself some time."

"So, Chambers can't keep me here that long. Our insurance will see to that. Where do we go after I am released?"

There was a knock at his door and both agents answered in unison. Tara stood in the doorway. "Up for some visitors, Mulder?" she asked.

Mulder looked over at his partner and shrugged. The last week had been spent recovering from the massive infection and he hadn't really felt like seeing anyone. Then, of course, the only person who had visited had been Maggie, promising him a good home cooked meal his first night back in DC. So he hadn't had a chance to see either Tara or Bill since Matthew's rescue. To be honest, he was a little surprised that they'd even come by.

"Sure, the more the merrier," he said casually, raising the head of the bed a bit and leaning back. It seemed a fairly 'defensible' position.

Tara entered, with Bill right behind her and little Matthew was in his father's arms. "We're stretching the rules a little, but when we explained our mission, we got approval," Tara explained. "And we're under orders not to stay long." She turned to Bill and her son. "OK, Matty. Give Uncle Mulder his present."

Mulder's eyes flew open at the new

just bestowed on him. Matty seemed none the worse for his ordeal, wiggling in his father's arms. He was clutching a gift bag decorated with Santas and reindeer in his chubby little fist. With only minor coaxing from Bill, he stuck his hand out to offer the bag to Mulder.

"Thank you, but you didn't have to do that," Mulder said, not quite knowing what to expect. He pulled the tissue paper out of the top of the bag and reached in. After a bit of tugging, a regulation Yankee's jersey shirt tumbled onto his lap.

"After everything you did, we wanted to and it's not nearly enough to repay you. It's just a little something to say thank you. Dana helped us with team and size. I hope that's all right," Tara said nervously.

Mulder looked over at his partner, awe struck. "When? You haven't left the hospital," he asked.

"Mulder, I can give that information over the phone, you know," she laughed. "So, look on the back."

He turned the jersey over to see what number was on the back. The word Mantle and a large number 7 were there for all the world to see. "Wow," he exclaimed and then held it up to show Scully. "Look at this." The wonder and happiness in his eyes more than made up for his limited vocabulary.

"Dana says you're a Yankees fan. Can't say I hold much for the American League, but I don't mind going to see the Orioles when I'm at Mom's. Maybe we could, uh, catch a game sometime when we're out that way," Bill suggested haltingly.

It was far more than Mulder expected. Bill was obviously a little uncomfortable, but appeared to be making the offer of his own free will. Mulder knew it was never meant to be -- there would probably never be a time when the two of them would go to a game but that wasn't the point. It was the thought that counted. "Yeah. Yeah, that would be great."

Tara broke the slightly painful silence. "So, we have your room made up for you. I figured you needed to be close to the bathroom, so I put your suitcase in the guest room. Dana's things are up in the study. But then, if you'd rather she was closer, the guest room has a double bed -- "

Bill loudly cleared his throat and Mulder had to duck his head to keep from chuckling. "I'll be fine by myself, but thank you, Tara. Really, I hate to put you out. I could go to a hotel -- "

"Nonsense. Family doesn't stay in hotels," Tara intoned firmly. "Well, unless you're my brother Tom. He claims he can't sleep in someone else's house, but I think it's just an excuse to leave dirty towels all over the place," she added with a wink.

Matty found Mulder's IV line and tugged, causing the agent to wince and Tara to immediately move in and take the child in her arms. "I think it's probably time to leave. Wave to Auntie Dana and Uncle Mulder. We'll see them soon!"

Mulder couldn't help but notice the pained expression on Bill's face the second time his wife used her new endearment and that just made it all the more amusing. "Bye, Matty. See you soon."

Bill nodded and closed the door behind them.

"Uncle Mulder?" Mulder asked, stifling a laugh only because of the pain he knew it would cause his still tender stomach.

"According to Mom, she's been calling you that any time Matty is around. I think she's doing it more to get Bill's goat than anything else, but I'm pretty sure you're stuck with it now."

"Well, I guess I can't complain -- if Bill hates it as much, if not more, than I do," he chuckled and winced, leaning back to stretch a bit and find a more comfortable position. "But Scully -- do you really think Bill wants me to stay under his roof? After everything he's seen and heard?"

"Bill's a hardass, but even he knows when he's outnumbered. Mom and Tara put on the full court press. And to be honest, I think he's beginning to see you in a different light. Not that he approves of our work or anything, but I think he now understands that what we do is important."

"Even when we're not profiling kidnappers? Even when we're chasing lights in the sky?" he posed.

Scully sighed. "That, I'm afraid, will probably take a little more time," she admitted.

"I don't know when I'm going to profile again, Scully," Mulder said quietly, moving the conversation in a different direction.

"Well, I hope it's not for a long time," she said, crossing her arms.

"No, I mean, I don't think I'll take any more cases like this one. I don't think I should, I don't know that I can." He started to pick at the threads of his blanket and chewing on his lip.

"No one's asked you to, Mulder," she said, stilling his nervous fingers by taking his hands in her own.

"Kersh might. This was successful. We caught the bad guy, found the last victim alive. What if he decides to stick me back in BSU instead of researching giant piles of manure?" His eyes were so distant, so full of pain.

"Mulder, if Kersh did that, we would quit," she said firmly.

"We?" he asked, raising his eyes to challenge her.

"Yes -- we. You and me. I almost lost you. If we hadn't arrived at the hospital when we did, if they hadn't taken you up to surgery immediately, Mulder, if the antibiotics had taken longer to work - - it would have ended very badly."

"In more ways than one," he muttered. She squeezed his hand and he knew she'd heard and was wondering what he was talking about. "Scully, you know how we've agreed not to get into any discussions of religion?"

"Mulder, if this is about the priest on the way to the OR, I can assure you that the blessing he gave you is completely harmless -- "

"No, no, that's not it at all. To be honest, as long as you got the message I was trying to send, I didn't mind a few prayers on my behalf. No, while I was out of it, in the coma, under, whatever -- I experienced something. I'm still trying to sort it all out."

"A bright light?" she asked, trying for a joke.

"An evil so powerful and all encompassing that I felt I would be condemned for eternity," he answered solemnly.

"Mulder," she gasped. "Mulder that was just a bad dream," she soothed.

"Scully, how can you believe in God and not believe in evil?" he queried.

"I do, Mulder. I do believe in evil. But after what you'd just done, after saving Matty when you were in so much pain -- I can't accept that God would forsake you right then. It was just a bad dream."

"I peek out the peephole at it, Scully. I open the door with the chain on and expect that it won't get in," he countered, remembering the entity's words.

She took his hands in both of hers. "Mulder, I know you. You would fight any evil that tried to take you. And you would win," she assured him. "Or I would. Because I will always have your back."

He smiled at that and turned his hands so that he was holding hers. "I counted on that, actually. And I think that's why I'm here right now."

"However," she said, growing serious. "If you ever experience that kind of pain again and keep it from me -- the devil had better take a number, because I get the first crack at you!"

"Gee, Scully, you know, I'm feeling sort of tired -- think I'll take a nap," he hastened to lower the bed and settle in.

"Scare you, don't I?" she asked, leaning in to stroke his temple.

"Evil had nothing on you, Scully," he assured her. "Wake me when it's time to blow this pop stand."

The End.

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