Title: Tingles
Author: WildwingSuz
Author's Page: https://www.fanfiction.net/u/1810316/
Category: X-Files
Genre: Mystery/Humor
Completed: 12/06/2012

Rating: PG

Summary: Mulder and Scully must trust the psychic powers of a ten year old girl to stop a child kidnapper.


Author's Notes: Another in my own personal Season 8 universe, along with Hidden and Andukha. Also one that I started in 2008 and finished in 2012 after a writing hiatus of nearly five years. Most of this was written in one mad day when I got nothing done but 8,000+ words of this story (and a little pre-Thanksgiving baking).

Spoilers: The whole show up to Je Souite, after which it's A/U; here in my little world Requiem never happened and the X-Files just go on and on, though our intrepid duo is together in every sense of the word and even cohabitating.

Summary: Mulder and Scully must trust the psychic powers of a ten year old girl to stop a child kidnapper.

NOTE: This is being uploaded as one solid file, not broken into chapters.

No beta readers were harmed in the making of this fic.


I

"Did you see this morning's paper, Scully?"

"How could I have after how late we got up? And how did you have time to read it?"

"Bathroom. I keep telling you, keep your reading material in there and you'll always have time."

She glared briefly over at her partner, who lounged comfortably in the passenger seat of her Camry. Of course he had the seat all the way back with his long legs so that she actually had to turn her head nearly halfway around to see him. "So what was in the paper that was so fascinating?"

"You know about the child disappearances outside Columbus?" She nodded, frowning. "Well, I read this morning that one little girl got away when he tried to snatch her and gave a partial description," he said.

"I'm glad to hear that, but what does that have to do with us?" she said, stopping for a red light and looking at him with one brow up. "I suspect that you're not just making idle chit-chat here."

He grinned over at her. "Astute as always."

"That's why I make my living as a G-woman, as you so succinctly put it," she deadpanned back, turning forward and hitting the accelerator as the light turned green. Just then another car flew through the intersection against the light in front of them, causing the eight or so cars around the intersection to slam on their brakes, the sound of tires squealing and metal impacting on metal filling the air. Scully was one of the first to hit her brakes and, a moment later, felt a jolt that knocked her back against the seat and swore out loud, knowing she'd just been rear-ended. "Son of a bitch!"

"You all right?" Mulder was leaning forward, one hand on her arm.

"Fine, you?"

"I'm all right, the airbags didn't even go off."

"Dammit, we don't need to be late to work," she said even as he was dialing his cell. "Lucky I was turning towards the front and saw him coming or he might have hit us instead of a low-speed rear-ending."

"This is Special Agent Fox Mulder of the FBI. I was just involved in a hit-and-run caused by a car with a D.C. plate, license number AIE-363, now heading north on 9th street west of Independence Ave."

After he hung up, Scully stared at him. "You got the plate number?"

"I was looking towards you, and saw it clearly," he said, releasing his seat belt. "Well, let's get this insurance information trading over with."

Leaving her to call Skinner and let him know they'd be late, she thought wearily, but then that was nothing new.


II

Although he had suspected that Skinner would be livid that they were late for the monthly department meeting, Mulder was pleasantly surprised when their boss simply inquired after their health and then bid them be seated at the conference table.

But afterward, when the other agents had been dismissed and the three of them were alone in his office, his pleasure quickly evaporated. "Agent Mulder, you bring me a thin-as-paper case for approval and then you've got the audacity to be late?" he frowned across the conference table at them.

"We were in a car accident, sir, and Agent Mulder got the license plate number which allowed the local police to capture the driver that ran the red light," Scully said immediately.

"Calm down, Agent Scully, you don't have to jump to his defense every moment," their boss said, taking off his glasses and setting them on the table, then rubbing the bridge of his nose with one hand. "I'm well aware of the situation; Kimberly slipped me a note shortly before you got here. But I think it's one hell of a coincidence."

The agents glanced at each other; that had not occurred to them. "Maybe we should go down to the precinct and talk to the prisoner," Mulder said slowly, and the other two could see the wheels in his head spinning. "You may have a point, sir."

"Be that as it may, first I'd like to hear why you think you should get the kidnapping in Ohio case. Which I am familiar with from the news, by the way."

"Well, when we got here I didn't take the time to go downstairs and get the casefile I prepared yesterday, so I'll give it to you in a nutshell." Mulder held up a long, slender finger. "One, the first child to disappear was from West Virginia while the other six were from around Columbus, Ohio, so it's a case of kidnapping across state lines. Two, the girl that escaped not only got a partial description of her attacker, she's also known to, uh, know things beforehand which means that she could be precognitive. Third, I spoke to the detective in charge of the case and he said that the local FBI hasn't taken an interest so it would be ours free and clear."

"If I ignore number two I can grudgingly agree that you should go look into it," Skinner said gravely, and it was all Scully could do not to giggle like a schoolgirl at the way he said it. "But you have got to keep expenses down; the accounting department is breathing down everyone's necks. You break or lose it, you buy it. No reimbursements for that sort of thing no matter what or how. You two got that?"

Both nodded, Scully adding in a "yes, sir" for good measure.

"All right then, agents. Daily reports as always."

Out in the hallway Mulder mimed wiping sweat from his forehead and grinned down at Scully. "That was a close one."

"You could have skipped mentioning the precognitive part," she scolded gently. "Skinner always takes it better without the supernatural angle."

"He'd also think I'm sick if there isn't something unusual about a case I'm interested in," he said as they stood outside the elevators waiting for the car to arrive. The down button had been pushed before they arrived but no one else was around; likely someone had decided that the stairs were a better bet. "He let us have the case even without the paperwork, didn't he?"

"True," she muttered as the bell dinged and the doors slid open to an empty car. Since it was barely ten a.m. that was unusual, and she remarked on it as they got in. "Where is everyone, Mulder? If nothing else it's coffee break time, and the smokers are usually heading for the exits like rats from a sinking ship."

He shrugged, punching the button for the basement. When the doors closed he hit the Stop button and turned to her, taking her in his arms and pressing her back against the rear wall. "Have I told you how much it turns me on when you stand up for me, Scully?"

She had both hands braced against his chest, staring wildly up and around the elevator car looking for cameras or other security/recording devices. "Mulder, they could be watch—"

Her words were chopped off as his mouth descended on hers, but for once his hands behaved themselves, not moving from where they were wrapped around her waist. Although he kissed her deeply and enthusiastically, he was careful not to smear her lipstick too much, hopefully not beyond repair before they reached the basement. Though they had been living together for months he still couldn't get enough of her and felt his desire for her increasing by the day. If she hadn't felt the same way towards him it would have been a rough situation but for once he was positive she did, and didn't fight his strong feelings for her. He ended the kiss long before he wanted to, knowing she had a point but he had been unable to resist her any longer after the way she'd immediately and obstinately stuck up for him.

Though her hands remained on his chest over his suit jacket and shirt, within moments they had gone from pushing to kneading. When he lifted his head and opened his eyes it was to find her smiling softly up at him, deep blue eyes sparkling. "You make me forget where we are," she sighed, lifting one hand to rub a smudge of lipstick off of his mouth with her thumb. Luckily she was wearing a more sedate color today; had it been her favorite Laura Mercier Cherrywood Red they might have been in trouble. "If we hadn't just got here I'd say let's take an early lunch."

It was remarks like that which reassured him that she felt the same way he did. "I say we take an early lunch anyway," he winked, then moved back and pushed the Start button so the car began to move again. She peered into the reflective surface of the metal panel that the buttons were on, carefully rubbing away the smudges outside her lip lines and grumbling mildly to herself.

When the doors slid open in the basement there were five people waiting in the hallway, two maintenance and three clerks from the look of it, about the only other personnel they ever saw down here. One of the janitors had a cigarette tucked behind his ear, and two of the clerks were carrying empty coffee cups. "What the hell happened?" the taller, burlier of the two maintenance workers frowned as the agents exited the elevator. "Where's this thing been?"

Mulder shrugged as the others headed into the vacant car. "Dunno. Got stuck for a minute, I guess."

Scully was grinning as they walked away down the hall to the X-Files office; that answered her question as to where the smokers had been.


III

"Turns out the jackass who caused all the fender-benders this morning was nothing more than a garden-variety drunk driver, sad to say," Mulder announced as he entered their office later that day, already shrugging out of his trench. "Out clubbing all night and didn't even remember getting in his car. But it certainly could have been a lot worse. What have you got there, Scully?"

He had gone to check out the driver who had caused the accident that morning while Scully stayed behind to work on their newest case. She was sitting at her "desk" studying a stack of printouts and looked up at him as he walked over. "Tickets to Columbus, for one thing," she said, pointing to the two small folders on the corner of his desk. "We'll pick up a rental car at the airport, it's about forty minutes to Lancaster. I already called and spoke to the local PD and they're expecting us around four. I think that's all."

"Good deal, Scully. So all we have to do is stop home for our travel bags and we're all set to go?" he said, picking up the tickets.

"Pretty much." She closed the folder she'd been studying, pushing it aside all-too-casually as she rose. "I'm ready to go when you are."

While she went over to get her coat Mulder took a surreptitious look at the file she'd been studying. It was an old X-File from the 1960s and all he could see were the words "precog child". It was so yellowed and ragged otherwise that he couldn't make out much else as he walked by. Still, it made him smile as they left the office.


IV

As she figured she'd end up doing, Scully had to wait while Mulder packed an out-of-town bag from his clean laundry. Though they cohabitated now, they still each did their own laundry and kept their finances separate to keep arguments at a minimum, which seemed to be working. Leaving him to mumble and pick over his unmatched socks she went downstairs and booted up her computer since they had plenty of time to get to the airport.

A short time later Mulder came downstairs, lugging his soft-sided suitcase and old gym bag, which had seen better days yet he still brought with him on every case. "Whatcha doing?" he said as he dropped his bags by the front door and walked over to peer over her shoulder.

"Just some research on Lancaster and the surrounding area. Ready to go?"

"Almost." He watched while she shut down her iMac, which he called a Space Egg, then stood and stretched. But when she brought her arms down he was there, pulling her against his hard body again; he was persistent if nothing else. "We still have at least half an hour before we have to leave."

"Mulder… we're still technically on the FBI's time," Scully said reluctantly, settling her hands on his broad shoulders. "We shouldn't be… mmpphhh!"

His kiss stopped her half-hearted protests and when they finally did leave the brownstone it was with much more speed than they'd entered it. Half an hour had not been enough time, as it turned out.


V

Jeff Duncan was a tall, burly man, still in fighting trim after a high school football career that might have sent him to the pros except for a shoulder injury, Mulder knew from reading his dossier. He now worked as a waiter at one of the area's fancier restaurants and went to school part-time, studying to be an accountant of all things. His wife Hannah was nearly as tall as he, probably 5'8" or better, with a soft but statuesque figure but a clearly suspicious and perpetually-annoyed attitude. She was a full-time medical receptionist who brought in the bulk of their income, and had a pinched look around her eyes that he suspected was from stress. Their four children were stepstones, ranging in age from the oldest girl at ten to a toddler who took a liking to Scully and clung to her dark navy blue skirt like a land-based limpet.

"Come on in, please, have a seat," Jeff said, ushering the two FBI agents through the toy-cluttered living room and into the dining room after introductions. "If Ryan's bothering you, Agent Scully, one of the other kids can get him."

The oldest girl started forward but Scully reached down for the little boy, saying, "Is it all right if I pick him up?"

"Oh sure! Unlike most kids his age he loves new people, kinda like a puppy dog," Jeff grinned. His wife was frowning as she followed them into the equally messy dining room but he didn't seem to notice; Mulder thought that with her sour attitude he was probably used to it. She sent the two middle girls off to play and he noted that they didn't argue, though they did seem fascinated with the two new adults as much as the baby was.

Scully swung the hefty toddler into her arms with a grunt, the child squealing with happiness. He reached one pudgy hand for her hair but, anticipating a yank, she caught his wrist and blew a raspberry on the back of his hand. This caused a fresh eruption of baby giggles that had Scully smiling as well as they all sat down around the large wooden table.

Mulder met her eyes over the child's head and smiled back at her, glad that she had made peace with her infertility. Shortly after getting together they had agreed to table the discussion of children since the IVF had failed. Without any more of Scully's ova available she felt that there was no hurry, sadly enough. They'd agreed that there would be time for children, no matter how they got them, after they were done with the X-Files.

In the meantime she seemed to be enjoying the Duncans' one and a half year old son who, Mulder couldn't help but admit, was a cute little bugger with large brown eyes and a mop of thick chestnut hair. While she was so distracted he decided to begin. Turning to the ten year old he enquired, "You're Megan, am I right?"

Though she seemed a bit shy, the girl sat up straight and nodded. She was tall for her age, which was no surprise looking at her parents, and already beginning to show curves that promised her mother's figure. She had wavy mahogany hair that hung loose and sooty-lashed light blue eyes with dark-ringed irises which were startlingly beautiful. Mulder found that interesting since both parents had brown eyes, but it was neither here nor there for purposes of their investigation. And, he remembered in an aside, it was two parents with blue eyes that weren't supposed to be able to have a brown-eyed child, not the other way around.

"Do you want to tell me what happened? In your own words?" As he said it, Mulder glanced at the parents. The father was half-smiling, clearly encouraging her, but the mother was still frowning, beginning to look angry. Megan's eyes darted to her mother and he could see her mentally editing herself already.

"Me and my friend Nadine was walking home from school day afore yesterday when we noticed this car parked with its engine running in a, um, a driveway ahead of us. We dint see nobody around, so we kept walking past it. Then… I, uh, I kinda heard something, and this man jumped out at us, but I, uh, grabbed Nadine and we turned and ran back to the school, and called the police. I didn't see him too good so I dunno 'zactly what he looked like."

"Tell them what kind of car it was, honey," Hannah said in a stern, no-nonsense voice that Mulder was sure got the kids to obey instantly. "And what you saw of the man."

"No, Megan, that's not important now since you already told the police," Mulder injected before she could do more than open her mouth. "Now, what you just told me differs somewhat from the story you and your friend told the police when they got to your school, doesn't it? Why don't you tell me that version?"

The girl's clear eyes shifted to her mother again, who was glaring at her daughter. She hesitated, then Jeff spoke up. "Hannah, let Megan tell it the way she wants. I know you don't like it, but you can't make her pretend it didn't happen. Nadine saw what she did, too."

Mulder felt a frisson of excitement deep in his gut, the feeling that he was really onto something special. He had felt this with Clyde Bruckman, Modell, and Tooms among others and had never been wrong. He glanced over at Scully to find her holding the baby quietly, letting him play with the delicate watch strapped to her wrist. Their eyes met briefly before she turned to look over at the mother.

"Mrs. Duncan, if you wouldn't mind, my partner and I would really appreciate a cup of coffee, or tea if you don't have any," Scully said in a friendly but no-nonsense manner. Mulder flashed her an appreciative glance before turning his attention back to the hovering mother, who clearly didn't want to leave.

"Sure," the other woman said shortly, getting up and stomping away from the table. Mulder kept his eyes on the little girl, but wondered how the father felt about his wife being sent off. It certainly didn't seem to bother him.

"Okay, Megan, go ahead," he said encouragingly, leaning over the table with one elbow braced on it, the other hand on his knee, smiling. He was careful to use open, relaxed body language to help get her to open up to him.

"Well… when me and Nadine was walking towards the car, I started getting this weird tingly feeling all over, kinda like when your foot goes to sleep and you have to stomp it back awake," the girl said, looking down and fidgeting with an edge of the table. "It's the same kinda feeling I get when we're going to the doctor or dentist, or somethin' else I don't like. Not a happy feeling like when we get surprises or presents."

"Gotcha so far," Mulder smiled.

"The closer we got to the car, the worse it got, so I stopped Nadine and told her we shouldn't go past it. The back end was halfway across the sidewalk so we was walking right towards its back door," she said earnestly, gesturing with both hands to help explain and looking over at Mulder. "Nadine wanted to keep going, she said she wasn't scared of nothing, but I, um, I knew something bad was coming, I just knew that there was a bad man who wanted to hurt us in the car, so I grabbed her arm and made her run back the way we come."

"So you didn't really see the man in the car?" he asked quietly.

"Not really. But I hadda say I did cause everyone was freaking out when I said I felt him wanting to be bad," the girl sighed, glancing over her shoulder at the kitchen doorway that her mother had disappeared through. She added in a half-whisper that he just barely heard, "It was a man, though, and not a lady. A really bad man who believes in… fairy tales."

"That is a huge help, Megan, you did really good," Mulder made a point of praising her. He then turned to her father, who appeared to be beaming proudly. "Dad, can we talk to you alone for a few?"

"Sure. Megs, why don't you take Ryan and so see if Mommy wants help with starting dinner," he said. "I'm really proud of you, kiddo. I know it's not easy to tell the truth sometimes."

The little girl beamed across the table at him as she went to Scully and took the baby from her arms, setting him down and taking his hand. "Thanks, Daddy," she said, the two heading off to disappear into the kitchen.

"This must be really difficult for her, between knowing someone was going to hurt her and you and your wife acting so differently about her story," Scully said in a non-confrontational voice, simply stating fact. "You seem to be handling it well, though."

"I'm scared shitless," Jeff Duncan admitted, heaving a sigh and running one hand through his thick brown hair. "Megs is my life, as are all my kids. I don't know what I'd do without her."

Just then the mother reappeared, carrying a pair of large yellow porcelain coffee cups that curled faint wisps of steam into the air. One of the other girls, the second oldest Mulder thought, was behind her with a small plastic tray featuring Winnie the Pooh which contained a sugar bowl and tiny cream pitcher that matched the mugs, and spoons. Once everything was on the table and all four adults seated, she sent the child away and glared over at Mulder. "So did you get the fantasy story out of her?" she demanded. "The one with no helpful information for the police?"

He was taken aback momentarily, but after dealing with the likes of Krycek and the Smoking Man, one angry mother bear was just another day on the X-Files. "We need the truth, Mrs. Duncan, no matter what it may be," he said firmly as he cupped his hands around the mug in front of him. "And as I told your husband on the phone, we come from a division within the FBI uniquely suited to deal with what may seem to be unusual or odd occurrences or situations. That's why we're here. If there wasn't something unusual about your daughter's story then you'd have regular FBI."

"Maybe not a bad thing," she snapped, still glaring. "Megan has been treated differently since she could talk because of this 'tingly feeling' she reports. I don't think it's anything other than anticipation or fear, depending on the situation. Maybe intuition. But I don't want her life depending on it."

A shriek rose from somewhere else in the house, then a wordless shout and a thud, but neither parent seemed to notice.

"From the sound of it, that's what saved her and her friend," Scully said without antagonism, tracing the rim of her cup with one neatly manicured finger. "Whether it's intuition or true psychic ability—which, unlike my partner here I'm not completely convinced of—it should not be ignored or suppressed."

There was a beat of silence, during which they heard the sound of faint sobbing, and then running feet. Moments later a small form burst into the room and flung itself at Hannah. "Mommy Mommy Mary said I can't play with her Barbie dollhouse unless I give her my Frankie Stein Monster High doll and I don't wanna give her up she's my favorite and—"

"Laurie, you go tell Mary to play nice or I'll come in there and take her dollhouse away!" the mother said sternly, peeling the eight-year-old off of her and setting her on her feet. "Now you guys be quiet until our visitors leave or everybody goes to a corner until dinner! Got it?"

The dark-haired little girl raced out of the room yelling, "Mommy said I don't have to give you Frankie Stein, you gotta…be…"

As her voice faded away Mulder smiled over at the mother, who did not seem to be amused. His smile faded as he said, "Regardless of how any of us feel about her 'intuition', Mrs. Duncan, Megan needs to be protected. The man who—"

"What, are you saying that she's still in danger?" the mother cried, gripping the edge of the table with both hands. "Jeff, the cops said that he wouldn't come after her again after she got away!"

"Calm down, Hannah, and listen to what they have to say; the FBI specializes in kidnappings, unlike our local P.D.," he said sternly, showing the first sign of annoyance with his wife. Then he turned back to Mulder. "What do you suggest we do to keep her safe until this bastard is caught?"

With precision timing another scream came from the depths of the house, this one joined by the rising wail of a toddler which caused Hannah to leap from her chair and hurry through the living room. Jeff shrugged at the two FBI agents. "They play nice for a while, but it never lasts long. Especially when Ryan gets into their stuff."

"I have three siblings, so I understand," Scully said, smiling close-mouthed at him. "I don't think my brothers and sister and I ever stayed as quiet as your children have since we've been here."

A few moments later Hannah reappeared carrying the hiccupping toddler, whose face was tearstained. "Dammit, I knew getting Mary that Barbie dollhouse for her birthday was a mistake!" she snapped at her husband. "They're all fighting over it and she smacked Ryan's hand when he broke the balcony off, even though it snaps right back on."

"Can we table that discussion until the agents have left?" Jeff said with clearly long-suffering patience. Hannah glared back at him as she sat down, switching the baby to her shoulder where he laid his head against her neck and blinked sleepily at Mulder with a faint smile. "Anyway, you were saying, Agent Mulder…?"

"Yes. Your local police may think that Megan is in no danger but we don't agree. There's a theory that many psychopaths get frustrated over 'the one that got away' and will try again, and one of the reasons we're here is to make sure that she's safe," Mulder said. He had already figured out that telling the parents that he wanted to use the girl as bait to catch the kidnapper was not going to work and between he and Scully, had worked out another plan. He was sure that the girl's psychic forewarning would keep her safe during their trolling for the kidnapper but doubted that her parents would agree. "We could take her into protective custody until he's caught but I don't think that's good for anyone, most especially her. Besides, we don't know how long it could be."

"The 'one that got away' theory?" Hannah repeated, patting the baby's back gently. His eyelids were drooping and Mulder was fascinated watching the little guy doze off to sleep. "Isn't it more likely to believe that he knows she's being watched and won't try again for fear of being caught?"

"There's also the thought that it's a challenge for him," Scully said quietly, then sat up a bit straighter. "Mrs. Duncan, six years ago I was abducted by a psychopath that Agent Mulder and I were chasing. I got away from him, but less than three years later he escaped from prison and came after me again despite knowing that I'm a federal agent and was probably being watched as one of his previous victims."

Both parents were staring over at her with mouths open, Mulder not far behind. He'd never heard Scully share the Pfaster story with anyone outside of law enforcement before. "Oh my God. What happened? You're here," the mother stated the obvious.

"He broke into my apartment and I shot him," Scully said briefly, and Mulder admired how she didn't lie yet didn't tell the entire truth either. "I would rather not having something like that on my conscience regarding your daughter, Mr. and Mrs. Duncan. Let us help keep her safe."

"What do you want to do," Hannah said in a flat voice, obviously not happy about capitulating but finally understanding that it was the best thing for her daughter.

"We're going to keep her, and all of your children for that matter, under twenty-four-hour survellence," Mulder said, "with your permission. We just need to know their normal day-to-day movements."

"Great. Ryan's in daycare at the college when Jeff's there, or with his mom when we're both working," she said irritably. "All of the other kids go to the same school, at least."

"I don't think he'll go after the little one," Mulder said thoughtfully, looking at the toddler sleeping peacefully on his mother's shoulder. "All of the children taken so far are between eight to twelve. But we need to keep an eye on your girls. Can you show us the layout of your house, especially their bedrooms?"

When they returned from a tour of the house (Hannah pausing to put Ryan in his crib in a closet-sized nursery) Mulder picked up his coffee cup and drained the dregs. "Agent Scully and I are going to come up with a plan and we'll give you a call later to let you know what we'd like to do," he said as they stood around the dining table. "In the meantime, keep all your windows and doors locked and if the children go out, don't let them out of your sight. Thanks for the coffee," he added over his shoulder at the mother as they walked towards the door.

She didn't reply but then he hadn't expected her to.


VI

"I think the kids will be safe when they're with their parents now that we've put them on alert," Scully said, lifting a forkful of baked chicken to her mouth.

Mulder nodded, his mouth full of some of the most delicious bacon-wrapped pork fillet he'd ever had the good fortune to taste. Scully had been aghast when he'd ordered the dish but he rarely indulged his love of bacon and so ignored her. After swallowing he added, "We should get the local cops to put a marked unit out front overnight to scare away our perp just in case, but we'll take the school hours. How does that sound?"

"Sounds like the best we can do. Mulder, do you really think he'll come back? Or should we be concentrating on helping the police catch him?"

"Something tells me he's not going to let her go, Scully," he replied, scooping up a forkful of garlic mashed potatoes. They had indulged a little and gone to a nice restaurant instead of their usual greasy-spoon diner and he intended to enjoy every bite. He was happy to pay for their meal instead of putting it on the Bureau's dime if it meant decent food for a change while they were traveling; tomorrow morning they could have runny eggs and burnt hash browns at the motel's attached diner to make the bean-counters happy. "I think the cops' task force will do just fine without us. My money's on that psychic little girl," he added just to needle her and see what she'd do.

His Scully didn't disappoint. The eyebrow went up and she paused in scooping up a forkful of brown rice. "You're that sure?"

He nodded. "I am. I just know it, Scully, like I knew with Clyde Bruckman, like I knew that Modell could 'push'."

"Sounds like you're a bit psychic yourself, Mulder," she said, narrowing her eyes at him. Oh, how he loved it when she gave back as good as she got.

"Don't I wish. No, I think it's more experience in knowing what I'm seeing," he replied easily. "In all the cases we've investigated there've been far more fakes than real psychics, but I do know the real deal when I see it."

"Regardless, I'm going to treat that little girl as if she can't see it coming," Scully said, polishing off the last of the chicken gravy on her plate with a scrap of wheat roll. "Now, where's that dessert cart? If we're going to eat in a nice restaurant for a change then I'm going to indulge as well."


VII

"Class, this is Miss Scully, she'll be sitting in on our class today and helping me out. You'll be respectful and polite to her, won't you?"

"Yes Miss Maddow," the classroomful of nine and ten year olds responded almost as one.

"All right then. Please bring out your math books and turn to page eight…"

Scully moved from where she'd been standing on the side of the classroom by the door and over to the teacher's desk in the corner, where she sat down and pulled a stack of papers over to her. Knowing that the kidnapper could very well try to snatch the girl while she was at school, Scully had decided to keep a close eye on her while Mulder was parked within sight of the front door for the duration of the school day. Though they would have preferred to stay together, both agreed that it wouldn't hurt to have one of them inside.

She picked up a red pen and the answer key and began to grade yesterday's pop quizzes. Since the teachers knew who she was and why she was there Scully had gone in early and offered to help the teachers that she sat in with instead of just being a large warm lump sitting off to one side staring at a child. They had all gratefully accepted her offer, and she had tasks ranging from being a hall and lunchroom monitor to grading papers to helping set up a Thanksgiving display in one classroom. She was happy to do it, having heard stories from her brother Charlie's wife Carrie, who taught high school, about how overworked and underpaid teachers were.

To her surprise the day flew by. She was glad she'd offered to stay busy because it was never boring as she'd been afraid. Perhaps not quite as exciting as chasing a mutant through the back alleys of D.C. but on the other hand, not quite as dangerous either although she was careful of the kids in the lunch line who looked hungry enough to bite.

Mulder met them out front in the family's minivan. He'd left the rental car at the Duncan house so that they could bring the kids home safely—and, though the parents weren't aware of it, to use Megan to troll for the kidnapper with her sixth sense. They had kept her back from the others when they'd dropped them at school that morning and discussed it with Megan, who thought it was an exciting idea. Since the kids normally walked back and forth it was quite a treat for them to get a ride and they piled into the van laughing and smiling at the two agents, Scully in the back and Megan in the front passenger seat. Once everyone was buckled in he turned and looked at Megan. "You ready?"

The girl nodded, her bright, clear eyes serious. "I'm ready, Agent Mulder," she said with a touch of importance. "I'll let you know if I feel anything while we're driving."

The other two girls ignored her, busy showing Scully what they'd done in school that day. It was deliberate, her distracting the younger ones so they didn't notice that their sister was actively looking around and not paying any attention to them. Though it had been ascertained that they had an idea that their sister had almost been taken by a Bad Man, it was far less important than impressing and showing off for a new person in their lives.

Mulder drove slowly along the streets to the girls' house, keeping an eye on Megan. But though she stared out and glanced over at him once in a while, she didn't nod her head which was their signal that she had felt 'something'. He even drove around the block twice with no luck, glad that Scully was doing a good job ooh-ing and aw-ing over the younger girls' papers and drawings.

But finally he had to pull up in the bungalow's driveway, and as soon as he did the front door opened and Hannah stepped out. "What took so long?" she called, clearly impatient and annoyed.

"We went around the block a couple of times," Mulder explained, irritated, as he got out of the van. He understood that she was worried for her children, yet her clear distrust of he and Scully was getting on his nerves.

They stopped on the porch while the children continued into the house, Megan with one last wave at Mulder. "We're going to go talk to the police and see how their investigation is coming along, but if you need us we've both got our cell phones," Scully told her. "What time is your husband coming home?"

"Three-thirty, and then I have to bolt to work," the taller woman grumbled as they swapped sets of keys. "I hate working afternoons, it really screws with my schedule. Normally once the kids are out of the house in the morning I go to work and then get home at six. This coming home at nearly midnight is going to kill me."

"With any luck it won't be long, and I'm glad your employer didn't mind your changing shifts on such short notice," Scully said, trying to pacify her.

"Yeah, well, everyone wants the morning shift, I was lucky to get it to begin with," Hannah said. "If they don't let me go back you'll both be hearing about it."

Jesus, what a bitch, Mulder couldn't help but thinking as they walked away from the house, the front door closing without so much as a goodbye. Even being worried for her kids shouldn't have her acting like that towards us.

"She's a grumpy one," Scully remarked as they got into the rental car. "Although if I was working full-time and raising four young children I might be, too."

"You?" Mulder stared over at her for a moment. "No, Scully, you would never take your family for granted like that, have them be nothing more than something to be annoyed with all the time. You don't complain much about the things I do despite how much of a pain in the ass I can be. I can only imagine how you'll be with our children someday—just as fantastic of a mother as you are a lover and an agent."

The top of her chest between the sides of her blue button-down shirt and her cheeks had turned pink, which he just loved. It wasn't often he was able to make Special Agent Dana Scully, M.D., blush. "Jesus, Mulder, put me on a pedestal much?" she said as he backed out of the driveway. "I don't know that I can live up to all that."

"You already do," he said simply as they drove away.


VIII

Later that evening, as they were settling down in the motel room they shared even though the Bureau was paying for two, Mulder's cell phone rang. "Oh shit, I forgot to call in our report in to Skinner earlier," he said, going to the dresser where it sat burring.

"Ith not him, I dith it," Scully called from the bathroom where she was brushing her teeth.

"Mulder."

"Agent Mulder, Megan just told me that she got her tingly feeling," Jeff Duncan's urgent voice came through the tinny earpiece. "She was in the sunroom doing her homework."

"Is the marked unit still out in front of your house?" he said immediately.

"Yes, should I go get them?"

"No, stay put, bring her into the main part of the house and make sure all the windows and doors are locked but try and act normal other than those precautions. We'll be right there, we're only ten minutes away," Mulder said, glancing over to see Scully come flying out of the bathroom already unbuttoning the top of the men's-style pajamas that she had just donned. "If you hear or see anything unusual call 911 right away, otherwise hang tight until we get there."

He was glad he'd let Scully have the bathroom first so all he had to do was put his shoes back on and button up his dress shirt and he was ready to go. The tie, he figured, was not of utmost importance.

When they arrived at the Duncan house every light in the place was blazing and Jeff stepped out on the porch the moment their headlights swept across the front of the building. "Megan said she felt it all around the back of the house; she wanted to walk around by the windows to see where he was but I wouldn't let her, I made her stay in the dining room where there's no windows," he blurted out in a rush, obviously upset.

"Let Agent Scully and I take her back there, I'm sure he's gone by now but just in case she'll be safe with us," Mulder said, pushing his light trench coat aside to show his holstered gun. He hadn't bothered to put his suit jacket back on either.

He was glad that the mother wasn't around as he and Scully followed the ten-year-old to the back of the house. The sunroom was what had been a patio beside the back door before someone had enclosed it, and now it stuck out from the house with banks of casement windows on three sides. A pub table and four tall chairs stood in the middle, Megan's interrupted homework still waiting undisturbed. "I was sitting there and I started tingling," the girl told them, pointing to the table. "I looked outside but it's getting dark and I couldn't see nothing."

"Are you up to coming outside with us?" Scully asked her. "How do you feel now?"

"I'm okay, just a little scared is all. No tingling at all."

"Let's go walk around in the yard," Scully said to Mulder over the girl's head as they headed for the back door, which was just outside the sunroom in the rear hall. "Maybe we can see if, uh, anyone was back there."

"There's a light for the outside," Megan said and before either could react, she flipped a switch next to the door and the backyard lit up from a bright halogen bulb mounted on one corner of the sunroom. It illuminated a small, cheap playset and partially-collapsed sandbox, the rest of the yard strewn with toys. "If it's nice outside Mommy lets us play out here after dark… well, she used to."

"Yeah, not a good idea now," Mulder agreed. He wished that she hadn't turned on the light because it had, without a doubt, chased away anyone skulking nearby that she could have sensed and they might have caught. "Do you have any idea where he might have been, Megan?"

She shook her head as they stood together outside under the light. "I didn't have time to think about it. I felt the tingly and ran and got Daddy."

"Well, let's walk around and see what we see," Scully suggested. The three of them turned to the right and followed along the first two sides of the sunroom with her in the lead, and then she stopped so suddenly that both of the others almost plowed into her. "Mulder, look at this."

"Megan, stay there," he ordered, glancing down at the girl. She nodded, looking a little afraid, and took a step back. "What is it, Scully?"

She unobtrusively gestured to a patch of flattened grass a foot or so away from the third wall of casement windows. It was clearly trampled, bent down but already springing back up slowly. "Someone was here. He must have stood there and watched her," she said in a low voice.

"Not for long, not if the grass is already moving back into position," Mulder said equally sotto voice. Then, in a deliberately normal tone, "Okay, Megan, why don't you go back inside while Agent Scully and I look around some more? It's getting chilly out here and we don't want you to catch a cold." Though it was late May and the temperature probably in the mid-sixties he couldn't think of another excuse to make the girl go inside so they could talk freely without scaring her any more.

They both watched her leave until she was safely inside with the inner wooden door closed behind her. "Shit," Mulder said forcefully but keeping his voice low as they waked the perimeter of the yard. "I hate being right."

Scully nodded. "He is still after her. And if he was bold enough to come right up to the house even with the unit out front, who knows what he'll do."

"We could always call out the tracking dogs."

"Too late, in my opinion. He probably had a car around the block or something and he's long gone."

"Yeah, you're probably right. Well, I think we have things well in hand so far. Or do you think we should spend the night here, maybe have one of us sleep on the couch?"

"No, I don't think he'll come back tonight. And with the house lit up like this he'd be crazy to."

Mulder shook his head. "Don't you love it when people listen to you?"

As they walked back across the yard, dodging the rusty playset and scattered beach toys near the sandbox, Scully nodded. "I know. Well, hopefully we'll have better luck tomorrow."


IX

But that wasn't to be. For the next two days they followed suit, Scully spending her days in the school while Mulder skimmed through magazines while waiting in the van. One night Jeff invited them in for a meal when they stopped by to check on the family before going out to dinner but before they could even open their mouths, Hannah snapped that there wasn't enough. Scully found herself actively disliking the woman, though she tried not to make snap judgments about people that she barely knew.

On the third day Scully had run out of things to do for the teachers and was, like Mulder, spending the day reading albeit in a corner of the classroom rather than in the van parked on a sidestreet. It startled everyone when her cell phone rang suddenly into the quiet of the classroom during study time right before the end of the day, and with a muttered apology she hurried out into the hallway pulling out the antenna. It was Mulder.

"Scully, a uniformed patrol thinks they sighted his car, the one that Megan identified, a couple of blocks over from the Duncans' about fifteen minutes ago. Since it's almost time for the kids to get out, why don't you walk them home while I go check it out?"

"Yeah, that should be fine. I'm beginning to think we scared him off for good," Scully sighed, looking up and down the empty, echoing halls covered with bright colorful posters above the industrial-grey lockers. "I was hoping we'd catch him before he grabs another child, but we're coming up on the next one if he follows his pattern."

"Yeah, every five days so far, so today's the day," Mulder agreed, sounding as heavy-hearted as she. "Well let's not give up entirely here, Scully. You never know, maybe we'll get lucky with the car."

"We can only hope. All right, call me when you know anything, I'll stay at the Duncans until you get there," she said, and they hung up.

As she had been for the past two days Scully waited to one side of the main doors for the two younger Duncan girls, having walked from Megan's classroom with her. "Agent Scully, how much longer are you coming to school with me?" Megan asked as they stood to the side of the flowing mass of children exiting the building like the fallacious story of lemmings pouring over an Arctic cliff.

"I don't know, sweetheart. Until we catch that bad man, or we know he's been caught," Scully said honestly. "We're not going to give up until we know you're safe, Megan, don't you worry about that."

"I'm not. But Mommy and Daddy have been fighting about this and, well, I feel kinda bad," she said, glancing up at the taller agent through her long, dark lashes. "If I hadn't—"

"Megan! Don't you dare!" Scully crouched next to her at eye level, ignoring the pang in her knees from the sudden movement and glad she'd worn slacks. Putting her hands lightly on the girl's shoulders and holding her eyes she said, "None of this is your fault, none of it, do you hear me? Any problems that your parents are having they had before this happened, it has nothing to do with you. Got me?"

"Okay," the girl said, looking both a little afraid of Scully's vehemence and relieved at the same time. "I just don't like hearing them fight."

"All parents argue, and it's rough on the kids who have to listen to it," Scully said with understanding, remembering some of the whoppers her parents had had over the years, especially after her father had retired from the sea and gotten a desk job. "I know you must feel helpless, but it's not your fault in any way."

Just then Mary and Laurie came up to them and Scully stood upright, groaning under her breath and swearing that she'd put in more time on the Stairmaster when this case was done. "Okay, girls, ready to go home?" she said, leading the way down the stairs as the flood of children had dried to a trickle. "We're going to walk today, Agent Mulder had to go somewhere but he'll meet us at the house."

The three girls walked in front of her and discussed Britney Spears' new single versus last week's release by The Spice Girls while Scully was mostly tuned out of their conversation. She was wondering if they might really catch a break and had actually found his car as the four of them approached a tall hedge that ran down the side of a sloping driveway almost right to the sidewalk.

All of a sudden Megan stopped dead in her tracks and Scully had to skip a half-step to the side to avoid running her over. Dropping her schoolbooks, the oldest of the three girls grabbed each of her sisters, Mary by the arm and the smallest by the shoulder of her polo shirt. "Agent Scully, he's here," she cried, backing away and dragging her sisters with her as they began to cry in fear and confusion. "I dunno where, but he's here, I can feel it!"

Without hesitation Scully reached back to unsnap her holster, moving ahead of the girls and staring at the hedge in dawning horror when she saw a movement to her right, ducked, and was suddenly thrown sideways onto the lawn of the house they were passing, pain blossoming on the side of her head. Belatedly she realized that the bastard had been crouched between two parked cars to their right, not the bushes ahead and to the left. The hedge had been a perfect red herring to draw her attention away from where he really was.

"AGENT SCULLY! HELP!"

Shaking her head to clear it, ignoring the pain blooming throughout, Scully sat up and looked back the way they'd come to see a tall man in a dark, hooded jacket with Megan over his shoulder, just moving into a run. The other two girls were shrieking on either side of her, their hands clutching at her clothing, but Scully knew that she didn't dare let the abductor out of her sight or that was the end of Megan Duncan. Despite the pulsing pain in her head Scully staggered to her feet, kicked away her heels and shook off the other two girls, then took off after the kidnapper at full speed shouting, "FBI! I'm armed! Stop or I'll shoot!"

Even as she yelled it out of habit, Scully knew that she didn't dare even draw her weapon, not with the girl in his arms. The best she could do at this point was keep up with him and hope that someone saw them and called the police.

Megan was fighting, kicking and screaming, doing a good job of slowing down her abductor, Scully saw as she raced along half a block or so behind the pair. Every step sent a jolt of pain through her head and she felt dizzy and unsteady but she didn't dare slow down, in fact pushed her body to the max and even managed to gain a few feet as he turned a corner ahead of her.

Then she spotted someone approaching from the other direction, running at them, and knew by the way he moved that it was Mulder. She also realized that she was hearing the rising wail of sirens even as the running figure in front of her made a sharp right turn and darted up a driveway between two houses. She saw Megan suddenly go flying off to one side as the kidnapper kept running and heard Mulder yell, "Make sure Megan's okay, I'll get him!"

She saw the girl come to a bouncing stop on the wide lawn of a house and ran to her, falling to her knees beside the girl and pressing her to lay flat. "Don't move, Megan, you could be hurt," she gasped for breath, ignoring the pounding of her head in concern for the girl. "Stay still."

"I'm okay, Agent Scully, are you?" the girl said, looking up at her with concern. "You've got blood on the side of your face."

"I'm all right, it's you I'm worried about."

"He threw me on the grass," Megan said. "I get hurt worse playing soccer."

Just in case Scully ran her hands over the girl, checking her for injuries and not finding more than a few bruises. The thick spring grass, apparently uncut so far this year, had cushioned her fall and, she thought, it was clear that the girl knew how to tuck and roll. "All right, try to stand and see how you feel," Scully said, still trying to catch her breath around the pulsing pain in her head. It didn't help that the sirens were coming closer, and then she noticed that people were standing out on their porches watching though no one came near them.

Just then Mulder came walking back out from between the houses, pushing before him a tall, thin figure with his arms cuffed behind him, the hood of his dark sweat jacket thrown back to show a narrow, bruised face with blood trickling from one corner of his mouth. "Got 'im, Scully!" Mulder shouted grimly. "You two okay?"

"We're fine," Scully said, both she and Megan standing up as a pair of patrol cars pulled up to the curb, an ambulance right behind them. Mulder shoved the perp towards the street as she led the girl over to the EMTs, insisting that Megan be checked out before all else. Before they were done with the girl her father and the two younger children showed up and there was a lot of happy crying and shrieking that Scully had to back away from, the noise hurt her head so much.

Finally she let the paramedics sit her on the edge of the vehicle and one swept her hair back from her temple, tsk-ing over whatever he found there, while the other took her vitals. "You've got quite the cut, Agent, though thankfully it's shallow," the EMT messing with her hair remarked. "What did you get hit with?"

"I don't know, but my head hurts like hell," she admitted, touching her forehead gingerly with her free hand. "Luckily I saw him coming out of the corner of my eye and ducked or it would be a lot worse, I think."

"A butterfly bandage should do it, but you'll want to see your doctor as soon as you can," the paramedic said, reaching back into the ambulance for supplies as the other removed the blood pressure cuff from her arm, looking satisfied.

"I'm a doctor," Scully admitted. "Can I prescribe myself some morphine, stat?"

Both paramedics laughed. "I'll give you something strong for the pain as long as you're not driving," the one working on her cut said.

"She's not," a familiar voice said as Mulder came around the side of the ambulance, looking down at her with concern. "How you doing, Scully?"

"About as good as could be expected when I got cold-cocked," she grumbled.

Mulder looked at the paramedic who was gently cleaning dried blood from around the cut. "Does she need to go to the hospital?"

"Not right now unless she wants to, but she should see a doctor within twenty-four hours," he said.

"I'll make sure she does," Mulder said. "Scully, you all right to ride to the station in one of the patrol cars? I'd like to go with the detectives to check out the perp's address and see what we can find out about the other victims."

She waved, then winced as the movement brought a fresh wave of pain. "Go ahead, I'll give my statement and then have someone drop me at the motel if you're not back by the time I'm done," she said. "Go see if you can find those other kids."

He leaned over and took her hand, squeezing it briefly. "I'll do my best," he said.


X

Scully was laying on the bed with a cold washcloth over her eyes and gently removed it when she heard a key in the door, blinking even in the dim light. Due to her headache, still pretty bad despite a couple of Percocet, she only had one lamp lit on the far side of the bed. It was about all the light she could tolerate even hours after she'd been hit.

"Hey you, how you feeling?" Mulder said as he came in, closing the door quietly behind him. "I thought you'd be asleep by now, it's nearly midnight."

"I dozed a bit, but my head hurts too much for sleep," Scully admitted, sitting up slowly and setting the cloth on the nightstand beside the bed. She was in her pajamas, but laying on top of the covers since the temperature was comfortable in the room. "It'll probably be better tomorrow, the first twelve hours after a blow like this are usually the worst."

"Ouch," Mulder said with sympathy, setting her shoes just inside the door. "Found those on the lawn where you got hit, and found five kids alive and unhurt in the basement of one Frank Dumont's house over in Grove City, about half an hour from here. We did find one more, I'm sad to say, who didn't make it." Mulder heaved a sigh as he sat on the edge of the bed by her feet.

"Oh my God, all but one? We thought they were all dead," Scully said, sad for the one who didn't make it but relieved to hear that so many had been rescued. "Any idea about why he was doing it?"

Mulder grimaced. "He was a cannibal, Scully, as far as we can tell. And we think he might have been playing out some kind of Hansel and Gretel fantasy from what the kids told us, those who weren't so scared out of their minds that they could talk to us. But they should all be home safe and sound by now."

"Well, one more bastard off the streets," Scully said with some satisfaction, leaning forward carefully to squeeze his shoulder. "What do you say we sleep in a little tomorrow before you take me to the hospital to be checked out? I'd rather not fly until I have my head examined…" At Mulder's wide grin she added, "That didn't come out quite right."

"No, it's usually the kind of thing we say about me," he agreed, scooting over carefully on the bed until he could press a gentle kiss to her lips, then getting up. "I hope you don't mind if I pass out, I'm beat."

"Not at all. I'm going to take another pill and see if I can get some sleep, too."

By the time he came out of the bathroom after his evening ablutions she was out like a light, curled on her side under the covers with the unhurt side of her face burrowed into the pillow. He crawled into the bed carefully and curled around her, just barely letting his body touch hers and easing his arm around her waist, though he left his other arm bent beneath his head. It seemed that he couldn't sleep without touching Scully any longer, but that was just fine with both of them.


Epilogue

"Mulder, look what we got in the mail!"

He turned away from the slides he was sorting as Scully came through the office doorway carrying several pieces of paper. She handed him a 5" x 7" photo, then a pair of handwritten letters. The picture was of the Duncan family, or at least some of them—the first thing he noticed was that the mother was missing, second that the children had grown amazingly in the few months since they'd last seen them. All five of them had huge grins on their faces, the father most of all. Megan's clear blue eyes gleamed, and the little boy in her lap was laughing in delight.

"Read the letters," Scully urged, taking the photo from him and going to tack it onto the corkboard.

Dear Mr. Agent Mulder and Mizs Agent Scully,
Daddy wanted me to write and let you know how good we're doing. He said that we owe you a great dett and we shuld never forget how you and Agent Scully saved me. I'm doing reely good in school and so is everybody else. Laurie and Mary say hi and Ryan would if he could talk.

Mommy went to live someplace else but it's okay, we get to see her every weekend and we like staying with Gramma after school. She makes lots of cookys. Now there's no more fights all night long.

I have to say goodbye now but I'll wirte you every chance I get.

Your friend,
Megan Duncan

"Isn't that adorable?" Scully smiled, having read it again over his shoulder.

"Cute," he agreed, flipping the other paper to the top.

Dear Agents Mulder and Scully,
Since we just had our new family portrait done I thought it was a good time to have Megan write and say thank you for saving her. She made the honor roll and now I'm sure she will get over her near abduction completely some day. She still has nightmares, but always wakes up telling me how you both saved her.

I'm sure that Megan will tell you about how her mom moved out but the separation is for the best. Watching the two of you work as a team really brought home to me how far apart we had grown, and I have you to thank for that as well so that we didn't go on being miserable. We're all much happier without her in the house.

Megan is trying to teach Ryan to say "Mulder" and "Scully" but I'm not sure how successful she's been. You two are her heroes, and I'm glad she has you both to look up to. She used to want to be a veterinarian, but now she wants to be a FBI Special Agent when she grows up.

If you're ever in the area again, please don't hesitate to stop by. We would love to see you both.

Sincerely,
Jeffrey Duncan (1 semester away from being a CPA, at long last)

Mulder turned to smile at his partner. "Well, how do you like that. For once we get to find out how things turned out," he said, handing both letters to her. "I'll keep an eye out for a case in Columbus; I certainly wouldn't mind seeing them again."

"Me too," she agreed, then gestured to the slide carousel with the letters before carrying them over to her desk and putting them in a drawer. "So, what do you have for me on this fine Friday morning? A flight to Outer Bumfart, Alaska to delve into the mystery of the yeti or just your run of the mill serial killer?"

He grinned at her. "Actually, Scully, we have no cases this weekend," he said with satisfaction. "I was doing some filing. We can just hang around and veg. Maybe take in a movie."

"Wow, that's more of an X-File than anything we've ever investigated!" Laughing, they went about their day.

finis

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