Mulder rose when Skinner opened his door. Skinner nodded to him and moved to allow Mulder into his office. He motioned to a chair and Mulder sat.
“You asked to see me?”
“Yes sir. I’m working on the deaths in Colorado.”
“I could use some assistance on the forensics.”
Skinner looked at him for a moment. “Doesn’t Davis usually handle that?”
“Yes sir, but I would ask that you assign Agent Scully to this case.”
“Scully? I don’t - “
“She’s an instructor at Quantico. I worked with her on that case in Seattle.”
“Is she the one that was - “
“Are you sure you want such a green agent on this?”
“She handled herself extremely well, and it was her first field assignment. I was impressed.”
Skinner’s eyebrow rose. He’d never heard Mulder say something like that about another agent. In fact, Mulder had never, ever requested assistance on any case. He had no reason to refuse, and to be honest, he was slightly intrigued.
“I don’t see a problem. I’ll call Quantico. Keep me apprised of your progress. Anything else?”
“Uh, no. Thank you.”
Another first as far as Skinner could remember. Thank you? Mulder rose and left the office without another word.
Scully approached the door to his office quietly. The door was open and she could see him sitting at a table, bent over something. She hadn’t seen him in his glasses before. He looked professorial somehow, though none of her professors had been quite so young or attractive.
She shoved that thought aside. It was inappropriate; she was here to work. She tapped lightly on the door.
He looked up and she saw his eyes light up at the sight of her. He removed his glasses, laying them on the file, then rose.
She glanced around the cramped office. “I’ve never been down here before.”
“Yeah, it’s not exactly on the tour. My own little bomb shelter.
She smiled and he felt his mouth go dry. Damn, maybe this was a mistake. “I, uh, I think I have you to thank for this assignment. Did you really request me?”
“We, we seemed to work well together and I thought you might be able to help me get to the bottom of these deaths.”
She nodded, serious again. “I haven’t actually seen the file. I only got the call from Assistant Director Skinner about an hour ago. I came straight here.”
He blinked at that, she’d been anxious to come to him? “Thank you.” Mulder said it simply and after a moment she nodded. She had a lot of things to learn about this man. She would appreciate a chance to learn them.
“May I see the file?”
“Sure.” He grinned and moved aside, motioning for her to take the seat. He had a nice smile. She had no idea how rare it was to see it.
Scully took the seat he offered as he pulled up another. “What we’ve got here are seven deaths, each exactly to the day six months apart. The victims are all teenagers and their bodies have been found in the Gunnison National Forest. They’ve all come from the surrounding area.”
“Another serial killer?”
“If so, he’s good. Check out the cause of death.”
She picked up the top file. After a couple of minutes, she picked up the second one. After scanning it, she looked up at Mulder. “Did the same coroner do all the autopsies?”
“No. There were four different coroners. It’s a big forest.”
She picked up a photo of one of the victims. “How could they all . . . there’s always a cause of death.”
“You know something.”
“No. I have no profile. As far as I know, these seven kids just took a little trip to the forest and lay down and died. They’re from different high schools. If they know each other it was peripherally – maybe they saw each other at football games or something. They weren’t friends.”
“When was the latest victim found?”
“I want to do the autopsy.” She spoke immediately.
“I hoped you would. I’ve got a flight out at five thirty. I can get you on it.”
“Do. I’ll need to run home and pack. I can meet you at the airport.”
Mulder nodded, but before he could speak, her cell phone rang.
“Excuse me.” She rose and moved to the other side of the office. “Hello? Oh hi.” She glanced at Mulder, then away. “Uh, listen, I’m not going to be able to make it tonight after all. I know, I forgot, but something’s come up at work.”
Again she glanced at Mulder and he saw her swallow, her discomfort was obvious. “Ethan, we’ll have to talk about this later. I have to go home and pack. I need to get off the phone. I’ll talk to you later.” She pressed the end button and slipped the phone back in her pocket.
“Sorry about that.” She moved back to the table.
“I, uh, if you have plans - “
“This is my job Agent Mulder. It’s more important. In fact, if I’m going to make the flight, I need to get moving. Can you fill me in on the plane?”
“Sure.” She was moving toward the door.
“How long do you think we’ll be gone?”
“Couple of days at least.”
“Okay, I’ll pack for three and if we need to stay, I’ll punt. Agent Mulder - “
“Just Mulder, please.”
“Mulder. I really appreciate you giving me this chance.”
Before he could think of a comment, she was gone. He lowered himself into the chair she had vacated. Of course she had a man in her life, and plans for the evening. How could he not have thought of that? But she’d broken her plans, with Ethan, to help him on this investigation.
In any case, this was a professional relationship. He hadn’t asked for her because he’d ‘slept’ with her on the last case. He’d asked for her because she was smart and not afraid to speak her mind to him. She wasn’t intimated by him and . . . and she’d said she wanted to work with him again. Was she just being polite?
He shook that off and rose. He needed to get her arrangements made.
They had already called the flight, and he could tell the attendant at the gate was annoyed, but his badge held her at bay.
He was a little surprised at his sense of relief when he spotted her hurrying toward him.
“She’s here.” He spoke to the attendant then stepped forward to take her bag.
“Sorry.” She was nearly panting.
“No problem. Let me take that.” He took the bag from her hand and she felt his hand come to rest of the small of her back. It felt familiar, right, and she realized she’d missed it in the weeks since their last case.
Scully slipped into their seats as he secured the bag overhead. The flight was only about three quarters full, so they had all three seats to themselves. She buckled herself into the window seat. He took the aisle, placing his briefcase between them.
Once they taxied away from the terminal she seemed to have regained her composure.
“Ag - sorry, Mulder, I’m sorry to be running so late.”
“It’s okay. I’m glad you made it.” He meant it; he’d been prepared to wait longer. She lapsed into silence until the plane was in the air. He noted she seemed slightly tense, but made no comment.
When the engines scaled back, she turned to him. “Ready to bring me up to speed?”
“Don’t you want something to drink, take a minute?”
“Well, a diet Coke would be good, but I’d like to get down to work.” She unbuckled her seatbelt and lifted the armrest that separated her from the empty seat between them, then slid over next to him, placing his briefcase in her seat.
He was surprised at the action, most people avoided being that close to him, but he felt a sense of pleasure as well. Why was she so easy for him to be with?
“Do you want to look at the file?”
“Not yet. I want you to talk to me about the case, the way you did in Seattle. Tell me what you think.”
He blinked at that, but she seemed serious. He took a deep breath and began talking about the three young women and now four young men to have died over the last three years.
She didn’t interrupt, barely thanking the flight attendant for her drink. When he finally ran down, she looked at him for a long moment. “You’re not telling me something.”
“You’re holding something back.”
She’d caught him off guard. He looked down at his hands for a moment. One of her hands touched him lightly. “Mulder?”
His gaze was stuck on her hand, touching his of her own free will.
“Yeah, I am, but it’s not something I can talk about on the plane. When we’re alone, in the car, okay?”
She nodded though she didn’t understand. They had a couple of hours to drive after landing. He’d tell her then.
Dinner was being served, so they halted their discussion of the case.
He watched her remove the plastic wrap from her tray, consisting of the sandwich and fruit. “Not what you expected for dinner.”
“Look, I am sorry I messed up your - “
“You didn’t mess up anything. You may even have done me a favor.”
“It’s not important. I imagine you had to change some plans yourself.”
He seemed startled at that thought. “No, I . . . no.”
She smiled, “You haven’t left some beautiful woman devastated that you can’t be with her tonight?”
“Hardly.” He did smile then; she couldn’t know that the beautiful woman that came to mind was her.
“I’m surprised. An Oxford man should be a good catch.”
“How did you know I went to Oxford?”
Her cheeks colored ever so slightly. “I did my homework.”
“You checked me out?” He was stunned.
“Well, after our last case, I wanted to know more about you.”
“Did you like what you saw?”
She smiled. “Very much. You have an impressive record Agent Mulder. Top of your class at Quantico - probably at Oxford too, right?” The color in his cheeks answered her. “Best profiler in decades, if ever. Commendations out the ying yang.”
”Okay, okay.” He put up his hands. “You know all of my dirty secrets.”
“All of them?”
He smiled then, should he confess he’d done the same check on her? Better not, at least for now.
They talked of other things then, cases they had worked on or heard about since they had seen each other. He asked about several instructors at the Academy and had her laughing at some of his droll impersonations of the more pompous ones.
She was startled when the pilot announced their arrival and turned to him. “I can’t believe how quickly this flight has gone. I have to confess, I’m not a good flyer. You’re a great companion.”
He blinked at that, but managed to mutter something appropriate.
When they landed, he lifted her bag from the overhead and started to carry it, but she reached for it. “Mulder, I can handle it.”
“Don’t want me to be a gentleman?”
“I’d rather have you as a partner, thanks.”
She moved in front of him, but as much because he couldn’t move as his ‘gentleman’ status. She’d just spent a couple of hours with him and still wasn’t racing for the exit.
He retrieved his bag and they rode the shuttle to their rental car. Mulder automatically took the wheel and she made no comment. She let him get out of the parking lot before she pounced.
“What couldn’t you tell me?”
“This is where you start thinking I’m a fool.”
“Why do you say that?”
He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a slip of paper. “Could you run those tests on the body?”
She glanced down at the paper. “Well, yes, but why? I mean, this is an autopsy. We’re not going to do any treatment.”
“It might help lead to cause of death.”
“How? How could his lymphocytes or his glucocorticoids tell us that?”
“It’s . . . it’s a symptom of prolonged weightlessness.”
“Mulder, how on earth could the victim have such symptoms?”
He hesitated for an instant, losing her regard was going to be harder than he’d thought. “I don’t think it happened on earth.”
“I believe these victims were abducted, experimented on, and then returned.”
“By whom? Returned from where?”
Now it was her turn to hesitate. “You don’t mean Mexicans, do you?”
He managed to smile. “No, I don’t.”
She looked at him, though he had turned back to the road. “I see. You believe these kids were taken onto UFO’s and . . . Mulder, you can stop me any time.”
“I think you got it. Wanna call me Spooky now?”
“No, of course not. You . . . you’re serious.”
“They don’t put everything in the personnel file, fortunately.”
She ignored that, “Do you . . . do you have any evidence of this?”
“That’s why I wanted you here. I need, I need scientific proof. I think you could help me with that.”
“You want me to come up with scientific proof of the existence of extraterrestrials?”
“You . . . you seemed to be someone that would look at the evidence and give your honest findings. I know you don’t believe, I’m not asking for that. But if you’d give an honest assessment . . . I’m asking too much.”
She felt the air go out of him, like a slow leak in a balloon. “It was a dumb idea. I’m sorry I wasted your time and ruined your plans. Listen, if I turn around now - “
“No. I don’t want you to turn around. Seven kids have died under mysterious circumstances. That needs to be investigated. If I run your tests, and do my own investigation, will you believe me if I find a more . . . mundane cause of death?”
“Yes. If you can prove that something else killed them, I need to know it.”
“Fair enough.” She pulled out the file, turned on a small book light and began reading. He didn’t interrupt, but his relief was palpable. She hadn’t demanded that he pull the car over, or take his temperature. She read for a long time, without comment. When she did close the file, she rubbed her eyes.
“That light just isn’t adequate. Where are we?”
“We should be there in about twenty minutes. We have rooms at the Gunnison Travel Lodge.”
“Two rooms, right?” He heard the humor in her voice and felt relief again.
“Yeah. I figured that would fly better in the travel department.”
“Scully . . . “ He stopped and felt her look over at him curiously.
It was early for bed, but she’d been up since five, so she was beginning to drag. He caught her stifling a yawn. “Go on, turn in Scully. We can get started tomorrow.”
“I hate to put off seeing the body.”
“It’ll be better when you’re fresh.”
“What about you?”
“I don’t sleep much. I might go for a run.”
“Mulder? You sure?”
“Go on to sleep, Scully. See you in the morning.”
He moved down to the next door, and slipped his key into the lock as she stood in her door. He waited until she disappeared inside her room before entering his own.
He placed his suitcase on the luggage rack and sank onto the bed. He was a fool, why had he thought she’d do this? Had he asked for her just because she fit so well in his arms, or because he’d had the best night’s rest in memory when he’d been with her? It didn’t matter, she’d never want to take another case with him.
He was shaken by how depressed that made him feel. He was used to working alone, preferred it actually. So what the hell was wrong with him? This little slip of a woman should have no effect on him. When he got back to DC, he’d put this aside and never think about her again. Yeah, that would be for the best. He sighed and rose to his feet. Maybe that run was a good idea.
The knock on the door roused him, but it was coming from the wrong direction. He moved toward it and realized it was the connecting door. He opened it quickly.
“You plan this?” Were her words, but there was a smile on her lips.
“No, I mean, I didn’t even know they had, I mean . . . “
She laughed at his obvious discomfort and he stopped, realizing she was actually teasing him.
“Nite Scully.” He watched the door close in an entirely different state of mind. Rather than run, he decided on a shower and then he’d read. Maybe he’d sleep a little, knowing she was at least still speaking to him.
The hand felt cool against his face.
“Mulder, wake up. Can you hear me?”
“Sc . . . Scully?”
“Yes, it's me.” Her smile was tremulous, “Are you okay?”
“What, what are you doing in here?” He managed to sit up and realized he was only in his boxers. He pulled the covers up and didn’t attempt to rise. She was sitting on the edge of the bed anyway.
“You were yelling. I thought . . . I don’t know what I thought.” She picked up the towel he’d dropped on the floor and handed it to him.
He dried off his face and wiped down his chest. It had been a bad one, but to have awakened her in the next room . . .
“I’m okay, really. Thanks for checking on me.” She didn’t seem anxious to leave and he watched her hand return to his face, his cheek and forehead, checking for fever.
He caught her wrist. “I’m okay, it was just a dream.”
“That wasn’t a dream, it was a night terror.”
He shrugged, he couldn’t exactly get up and escort her out. “It happens sometimes.”
“Sometimes? This happens to you . . . often?”
“Scully, I’m okay.”
His eyes widened and his mouth went dry.
“Mulder, who is Samantha?”
“I don’t . . . you can go back to your room.”
She didn’t move away. “You should talk about it Mulder, or you’ll never get back to sleep tonight.”
He gave a harsh chuckle at that. “Don’t worry, I know better than to try.”
She absorbed that, he obviously had some experience with this. His cries had startled her awake. She’d been relieved to find he hadn’t locked his side of the door to her room.
Whatever he’d been fighting had terrified him. The look of anguish on his face had nearly brought her to tears. He’d been drenched in sweat, the cords of his neck standing out.
“Mulder, let me help you. That night, when you brought me back to the hotel, you stayed with me. I don’t know what would have happened if you hadn’t. Why can’t I do that for you?”
She hadn’t moved from the bed, so he slipped out the other side and grabbed a pair of sweatpants from his suitcase. He pulled them on, his back to her.
“Look, I appreciate your concern, but it’s a different - “
“You need someone, I needed someone. What’s so different?”
“It was, it was a new trauma for you. You didn’t know how to handle it. I’ve handled this for years.”
“You’ve had nightmares like this for years?”
“Do you really want me to leave?”
He wouldn’t meet her eyes, or say anything. After a moment she rose from the side of the bed and moved toward the door. As her hand gripped the knob she heard him. It was barely a whisper, “no.”
She turned back to him and saw the conflict on his face. She actually wanted to put her arms around him, but that would be inappropriate, instead she returned to the bed and took a seat at the foot, looking up at him.
After a moment she held out her hand to him and he took it, grasping it as though it were a lifeline. She tugged him over to the bed and he sat beside her.
“Mulder, please, let me give you some of the support you gave me.”
They were sitting at the head of the bed now. She’d pulled the covers up, straightening out the damp twisted sheets from his dream. The pillows were behind them, against the headboard, their legs stretching out in front of them. Her robe was belted over her pajamas and at her encouragement, he had slipped on a t-shirt so he wouldn’t get chilled.
He still had her hand, though now he seemed to be playing with it as well as holding it, though he hadn’t seemed to notice. She didn’t mind, it felt good.
On some level she was reeling from his revelations. He truly, sincerely believed in the existence of extraterrestrials. And he was convinced they had taken his sister from his custody at the age of twelve.
He had agreed to show her the files when they returned to DC.
“Mulder, you need to try to rest. Come on, stretch out.”
He nodded, “You should sleep too. Go on back to your room.”
“I will in little bit, after you’re asleep.”
“I’m okay.” And a little embarrassed at what he’d poured out to this woman. He never opened up like this and he barely knew her, even if it didn’t feel that way.
“I know. But if it was me, I’d have a little trouble getting back to sleep. I can sit over there - “
“No, no you’re fine there.” He started to rise, “Scully, this . . . this is just between us?”
“Yes Mulder. No one else needs to know what you and I talk about on a case. You didn’t tell anyone about last time.” It wasn’t a question, she trusted him.
“No, I wouldn’t do that.”
“Neither would I. Now get comfortable and when you start snoring, I’ll leave.” She smiled at him.
“And if I don’t snore?”
“I’ll think of something.”
She could feel him relax. He crawled under the covers and put his head on the pillow. She reached for the light.
“You can leave it on, read or something. It won’t bother me. Most nights I sleep in front of the TV.”
She thought about that. Did he have any idea what he had just revealed to her?
“Okay, I’ll reread your notes. I need practice on your handwriting anyway.”
He harrumphed at that and rolled over. Before she could stop herself, she ran her hand through his hair and he seemed to settle in even better.