She was tired and frustrated. Everyone had a cause of death damn it; no one just dropped dead especially not at this girl's age. There was nothing she hadn't already checked several times. All organs healthy, tox screen completely clean, not a bruise or a contusion anywhere. She'd already checked between the toes for puncture sites twice! Except for the "Y" incision she'd just sewn up, this Kim Barrows should get up and leave the room on her own. "Damn it!" She slammed the instrument in her hand down on the metal tray.
"Uh, excuse me."
She jumped unaware anyone else was in the room.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you. I'm looking for a Dr. Scully."
She drew herself up to her full 5'2" and wrapped her composure around herself. "I'm Dr. Scully." She saw the surprise quickly disappear from his face and tamped her annoyance deep down. It had happened before.
He stepped forward, his hand extended. She held up her own bloody, gloved hands and he stopped, letting his arm fall back to his side.
She took in his appearance, at least 6'1", nice dark hair cut a little too short for her taste. Beautiful hands, she always noticed the hands, they looked strong with long fingers. He was quiet, almost no one could sneak up on her in here with these tile floors. She liked the way he moved in his skin, very confident, almost arrogant. Well, anyone who looked like he did would have to be arrogant. She mentally shook herself to come back to the present.
She had finished peeling off her gloves and now extended her own hand to shake. "Dana Scully."
"I'm Mulder, Fox Mulder."
Fox? A nickname or was his mother psychic? She saw the slight grin on his full lips. He'd heard it all before, so she made no comment. Then she noticed that the smile had not reached his eyes. Those eyes. . . deep pools of emotion. She couldn't help but wonder if anyone had ever plumbed those depths.
"How can I help you?"
"Well, I'm here about your patient." He nodded toward the corpse beside her, avoiding looking directly at it.
"Why don't we talk in my office." She motioned toward the door leading to an office off the autopsy bay and he nodded. At her door she pressed the intercom, "Eric? I'm through in here. Thanks."
"Be right there Doc." She opened the door to her office, letting him proceed her in the door. She couldn't help it, her eyes dropped to his butt. What was wrong with her? She hated it when men treated her like that, but she couldn't stop appreciating his body. And there was a hell of a lot to appreciate.
He sat in the chair across from her when she sat at her desk. He pulled out his credentials and handed them to her.
"Psychologist? What kind of information are you looking for?"
"Cause of death, mainly." He noted her shifting in her chair.
"May I ask why?" Why this patient? She didn't know cause of death and it was eating at her.
"My patient, Keith Manners was with Ms. Barrows when she died. I'm hoping further information will help me with his treatment."
"I wouldn't mind having more information myself Dr. Mulder."
"Just Mulder. What do you mean?
"I just could use more information surrounding Ms. Barrow's death."
He nodded. "Would it help if you could speak to Keith?" At her nod, "I could ask him if he'd talk with you."
"If he would agree to that, it might be helpful." And she wouldn't mind seeing this man again.
"I'll call him as soon as I get back to my office. Here," he reached in his pocket, "my card, my cell phone number's on the back. I'd appreciate any help you can give me."
She didn't realize how she fondled the card and he kept quiet, appreciating it. Scully opened her desk drawer and withdrew a card of her own. "This has my direct line." She handed it to him and scooted her chair back.
It took him a second to realize he'd been dismissed. He wasn't ready to go, he wanted to sit here and look at her some more, but she was busy. Hell he should be busy as well, but this case had him in its grip. Reluctantly he rose.
"I'll let you know what Keith says."
"Thanks. You can get out this way." She opened the outer door to her office, which would keep him from having to walk back through the autopsy bay. And, she realized it would give her the opportunity to watch him walk away.
Damn, she had obviously turned Scott down a couple of times too often lately. Which wasn't keeping her from enjoying the view now.
She pushed the Barrows case away, handling the ever-present backlog of paperwork. The phone startled her back to the present and she removed her glasses, rubbing her nose. "Scully."
"Hi, it's Mulder." That visual brought a smile to her face.
"I just wanted you to know I'm talking to Keith. He's thinking about it."
"In the meantime, I was wondering if you would join me for a drink after work."
"I thought maybe we could get together, go over how you could approach Keith."
"Excuse me?" She repeated, trying not to laugh.
"Okay, I'd like to have a drink with you."
"Okay?" Had he heard her correctly?
"I can meet you in an hour."
"Perfect." He named a nice restaurant she was familiar with and rang off, unable to wipe the smile off his face.
He was waiting at the table for her when she arrived, and rose when she entered. She had just spotted him when the matre'd approached her. "I see my party." He turned to see where she was looking.
"Ah, Dr. Mulder. Please follow me." So he was well known. He probably brought a lot of women here. Well, why should she care, it was her tonight and she could have a good time and not worry about tomorrow.
"Thank you, George." Mulder stood until she was seated, then moved over close to her in the booth. "So that's what was under the lab coat, green goes well with your hair. What would you like to drink?"
"I think a red wine please."
"Two red wines." He turned back to her, just enjoying her presence.
They sat quietly. She was surprised and pleased that it was so comfortable just sitting with this man. Usually at this point on a first "date" if that's what this was, the man would be trying to draw her out, too insecure to endure the silence.
He smiled when the wine came and handed her the glass himself.
"To new experiences?"
"I'll drink to that." She nodded.
"May I ask the obvious question?"
She laughed, "I'm not sure which obvious one you mean, but go ahead."
"I wanted to know why."
He nodded, hearing the truth in her voice. "I hope you won't be offended, but I made a couple of calls after we met. You have quite a reputation."
"On finding out why."
"Loose ends bother me."
She found it as easy to talk with him as it had been to sit quietly with him. When she finally did glance at her watch, she looked up at him astounded. "It's after seven?"
"I hadn't realized, I'm having too good a time. Why don't we go ahead and have dinner? I mean, we're here right?"
"That would be nice."
It was well after nine when he walked her to her car. "I'll bring Keith over tomorrow morning around 10, okay?"
"You're not going to tell me anything?"
"I don't want to prejudice you."
"Prejudice me? Well, I look forward to it, Mulder." He smiled down at her, seriously considering kissing her but knew that would be a bad move. He did not want to make a bad move where she was concerned. She was very different from the women he normally dated. He had no intention of screwing this up.
She remained on his mind all evening; he had to struggle not to call her. She was probably the most intelligent woman he'd spent any time with. Well, that wouldn't be hard. He normally stuck with women whose bra size rivaled their IQ.
She found herself indulging in a long sensuous bath rather than the quick shower she normally took each evening. It didn't take a psychologist to figure out why, just one to cause it, she thought to herself.
"Dr. Scully, this is Keith Manners." They shook hands and settled themselves around the small conference table in her office. She had carefully adjusted the mini-blinds, hiding the autopsy bay from view.
"Mr. Manners, I appreciate you agreeing to speak with me. Anything that you can remember or share with me about that evening could help me with this case."
He nodded, glanced at Mulder obviously nervous, and then focused his attention on her. "I'm not sure what Dr. Mulder has told you about me."
"Nothing. He only set up the meeting."
"I see." He shifted in the chair, unable to sit still. He had to force himself to look at her. "I never, I would never have hurt Kim intentionally, but I didn't think. I never. . . I didn't realize how dangerous it could be for her." Dana sat quietly, not rushing him, letting him find his own pace. She had no idea where this was going. What was dangerous? And what could have left no marks on the body?
"You see, they've been taking me for years, since I was seven. I guess I've built up an immunity to the tests, so maybe they've increased the strength, I don't know. Anyway, when I told her about my history, instead of looking at me like I was crazy, she was fascinated. I knew they would be coming for me, I could feel it. So I mentioned it to Kim and she begged me to take her with me when I was summoned. I swear it didn't occur to me. . ." His voice trailed off.
"Keith," she put her hand over his, "I'm afraid I don't understand." She looked over at Mulder, who returned her look impassively, giving nothing away. "Who's been taking you and doing tests?"
He looked up then and met her eyes, "Aliens."
She sat still for a moment, not really frozen just not sure what her next thought should be. Surely this wasn't a hoax. Would Mulder do that? She patted his hand and rose. "Dr. Mulder, could I speak to you for a minute."
She stepped into the hall outside of her office and waited for him to join her, then shut the door.
"Is this what you do for a living? This is what they taught you at Oxford? How could you let that man walk around with those delusions? He needs to be helped, he may have killed that woman and you're just. . ." She looked up at him and saw the look on his face. "You don't believe him do you?"
"Dana." He reached out his hand to touch her arm and she stepped back away from him. He dropped his arm and she watched his shoulders sag a little. "I've worked with this man for years and. . . "
"Well he needs more help than that!" She took another step away from him and this time he followed.
"Dana, please run these tests on Kim's body."
"Please, do it for me." She snatched the paper from his hand being very careful not to allow herself to touch him when she did, then turned on her heel and headed down the hall. She was furious and her footsteps sounded it. She had allowed this man to get to her and he'd made a fool of her. He watched her until she turned the corner and was out of his sight. He stood there for another couple of seconds, then returned to her office.
"She didn't believe me." Keith was waiting for him.
"She's gone to run some different tests, now that she has more information, Keith. She'll call me when she gets the results and I'll let you know."
"Actually she thinks we're both crazy now, right?"
Mulder smiled sadly but did not respond. Keith rose from the table and they left the hospital together.
She was surprised when her door opened without a knock. It was after five and she thought most of her crew had left for the day. Only the skeleton night crew of the morgue should be on duty now.
"You haven't returned any of my calls." Mulder stood before her.
"I'm very busy, Dr. Mulder." She began shuffling papers on her desk to hide her emotions and attempt to stop her hands from shaking. He had just startled her, that's all that was wrong with her. Get a grip, Dana.
"Too busy to return a phone call?"
"I do have other cases." She was regaining control.
"Did you run those tests?"
"I ordered them." He leaned on the desk, closer to her. She fought the impulse to retreat from him.
"Well?" She looked at him for a moment, then picked up her phone.
"Eric? Sorry, I know you're on your way out. Did those tests come back on Kim Barrows? Yes. I'd appreciate it." She hung up. "They'll be right here."
He still didn't take a seat, perching instead on the side of her desk. Eric tapped on the bay door and came in when she responded. He lay a folder on her desk.
"Thanks, Eric. You can go on home now." She waited until the door was shut again before reaching for the file.
"Well?" He asked again.
"I don't understand this. There's a reduction in the lymphocyte population and her glucocorticoids are off. Her white cell count is high, not abnormally so, but high."
"These tests aren't normally part of an autopsy?"
"No, only for patients needing treatment. I almost didn't order them even when you asked."
"But what would cause this?" She studied the reports in her hand, clearly puzzled and more than a little annoyed.
"It's a symptom of prolonged weightlessness."
"Weightless. . ." She took deep breath. "Listen, Dr. Mulder . . . "
"Just Mulder, please." She had to look away from his eyes.
"Right, Mulder. I am not going to put aliens down under cause of death."
"Is there some place we could go to talk?"
"I don't see any. . . "
"Please. Dana, please just for a little while."
Damn this man! He was too hypnotic. Why was she drawn to him? This had been the worst afternoon she could remember. Nothing had gone right since she'd walked away from him in the hall. This was not like her - no man got to her this way, she didn't allow it. She'd known this man for, what? Twenty-four hours? Even with his body this was ridiculous. Those eyes . . . how did he do that? Make them that dark brown with the tinge of green around the edges.
"Fine, I'll give you one hour."
He visibly relaxed, "I'll drive. I know a place that's not far from here."
She wanted to protest that, she should drive her own car, but stopped herself and nodded. He took her coat from the rack in the corner and after she removed her lab coat held it for her.
Well he might be a kook, but he was a gentleman. How big a mistake was she making here?
He drove her to a diner, nothing like the place they'd gone the night before. He was obviously a familiar face here as well. Did the man never eat at home? But she was just as obviously a surprise. He brought no women here? Well, it wasn't as fashionable as last night's location. The neon beer signs gave it away. So why did she feel more special here than she had there?
He ordered them both burgers and fries without asking. At her questioning look he merely said, "Best in town, trust me."
She snorted but was stuck here; she might as well listen. "You never answered my question this afternoon."
"Do I believe him?" She nodded. "Yes." She started to rise and he grabbed her hand. "You said you'd give me an hour."
She settled back into her seat. "You're right, I did."
He watched her, taking in her body language. He closed his eyes and sighed. "Nevermind. We'll eat and I'll take you back."
His obvious defeat softened her mood. This time it was she who took his hand. "Talk to me, Mulder. Help me understand where you're coming from."
"I haven't talked about this to anyone in a long time. I'm not sure where to start."
"At the beginning, Mulder. Come on." He searched her eyes and then took the plunge.
"My sister, Samantha, was abducted when she was eight years old. I was twelve. I was babysitting, I was in charge. She wasn't returned."
"Mulder?" He was in pain just remembering this. She found herself wanting to comfort him, hold him. She wished there weren't a table between them, like last night. She wanted to move over closer to him, offer him warmth and support.
"It was a living nightmare for me, for my family. The police desperately wanted to charge me with murder, but there was no body, and no motive. My mother started taking me to psychologists trying to get the truth out of me."
"What about your father?"
"He took a more physical approach to finding the truth."
He stated it flatly, not asking for pity. It was a fact and an old one at that. He didn't look at her when he said it and she felt herself drawn even closer to this strange man that had entered her life so quickly and so thoroughly.
"Were the psychologists able to help?"
"No. I think some of them should have their license revoked. Then she took me to Dr. Neaman, and he quite simply saved my life."
"How?" She didn't realize she had hold of his hand again. The diner, with its picture window, stained counter and pitted tables had disappeared as far as she was concerned.
"He didn't assume I was crazy or lying. He let me tell him my memories without judging me. He's the reason I'm alive today. Suicide had begun to look very appealing. He's also the reason I went into psychology myself. I do tend to take patients like Keith, who have had these unexplained experiences. They don't have anyone else."
"How do you work with them?"
"I use a lot of hypnosis. I allow these people to remember. I don't lead them, Dana, sometimes no memories return, and sometimes they do. Either way the person deserves dignity."
They both jumped as the waitress placed their food on the table and without asking brought two more beers. They began eating in silence, her trying to assimilate what she had heard, and him fearing he'd never see her again after these revelations.
"This is about the best burger I've had lately, Mulder. Thanks. This is a favorite place of yours isn't it?"
That felt like she was offering an olive branch and he took it eagerly. "Yes, It's a comfortable place."
"You bring a lot of dates here?"
"Actually you're the first woman I've ever brought here." Aha, she'd been right. "I've probably blown their minds. I'm sure they had me down as gay."
She smiled, "Well, it's flattering to be your first."
"I believe you are." He said it so low she wasn't sure she had heard him correctly. She made no comment.
"Tell me more. Tell me how you know about those tests I ran."
"I've studied these cases for years. Through my patients and others, I've put together the different aspects of the cases. I've gone through the medical reports of the people who sought help after they were returned. Those symptoms of weightless sickness are very common. I saw Samantha floating; I was close enough to feel lighter myself. But I was paralyzed, unable to go to her even though she was screaming my name. I couldn't. . . " He swallowed, would this never be any easier to talk about?
He felt her hand close over his and he squeezed hers back in return. "You haven't talked about this in a long time."
"Not out loud. But it's always there." He looked up into her eyes and didn't see rejection or judgment, just compassion and curiosity. Not hostile curiosity, that was different from most people.
"Well, I need to think about this. It's completely outside anything I've ever entertained."
"Does that mean I might see you again?" He realized he was holding his breath and could only hope she hadn't noticed. He was acting like a damn teenager around her.
She looked surprised. "Do you want to? After the way I've acted?"
"Definitely." She could feel the color rising in her face at his regard. "I'm afraid my hour's up."
She glanced down at her watch startled, time seemed to speed up when she was with him.
"Well, if you don't have plans, I have a few more questions I could ask." She leaned back into the red leatherette booth and smiled.
"I'm yours as long as you want me."
Her eyebrow rose at that statement, but he didn't back down from it and she felt the warmth in her cheeks. How long had it been since she had blushed? Before meeting him, years. Getting to know this man was definitely going to be a priority with her.