He let himself into his apartment. He was exhausted, both mentally and physically. He’d caught the first morning flight home. He might as well have taken the red-eye. He certainly hadn’t gotten any sleep.
His eyes seemed to have barely closed when the nightmares had begun. They had started normally, with Samantha’s body floating away and him paralyzed on his knees unable to take the gun in his hand, but it had switched to Red almost immediately, her red hair falling away from her face. It had changed then, he was finally able to move, to race to her. That was new; he’d never been able to move before.
But when he’d reached her, she’d laughed at him, turning away. He had tried to pull her back but she had just looked at him until he released her. She’d moved into the arms of a man. When he’d looked up, Daniel had been laughing at him as well.
Mulder had jerked awake then, and lay there staring at the ceiling. It had been a dream, only a dream. She’d told him about her relationship with Daniel and it was over. He believed her, besides that wasn’t the problem anyway.
He had finally drifted off a few hours later. The second nightmare had been different, Red strapped to a table with needles and tubes in her body and she was screaming, crying out for him. He couldn’t reach her, he couldn’t move and then she was gone.
He’d awoken screaming her name and it had taken him a while to calm down from that one. He hadn’t attempted to sleep again. He’d taken a shower and gotten to the airport a couple of hours before the first flight.
Now he was home and it wasn’t any better. She was in danger because of him. He should have known; he shouldn’t have had to have Diana tell him something like that. He wanted to crawl into a cave and never come out. Maybe that way he wouldn’t draw them to Red and she would be safe.
He hadn't even made it to his couch when the pounding started on his door. Now what?
He jerked the door open and the three men piled into his apartment. “What? Are you stalking me now?” He asked but he sounded defeated.
“You’re a real shit you know. How could you have run off like that without a word to her?” Frohike snarled at him.
Mulder didn’t have to ask who he meant, looking away.
“What the hell were you thinking? She freaked man!” The little man continued.
Mulder’s head shot up. He looked immediately over at Byers, his eyes questioning, pleading.
“She was . . . upset.” Byers spoke cautiously.
“How upset? Is she okay?”
“She was better, I think, after we talked to her. We didn’t tell her what you were doing.” Byers tried to reassure him.
Better? God, what had he done? But she wasn’t safe with him. Shit!
“Are you gonna call her?” Frohike demanded.
“I don’t - “
“You can’t do that to her.” The little man stepped closer to him.
“Come on man, she’s in love with you. You can’t - “ Langly stopped when Mulder’s head swiveled toward him.
“What?” Mulder blinked at Langly. In love? No, no woman like her would fall in love with him. But Langly had noticed something? Langly? Again Mulder glanced over at Byers. The bearded man nodded.
“What are you going to do Mulder? What happened?” Byers asked with sympathy.
“We can’t . . . it’s not safe for her to be with me. Maybe if I disappear they’ll forget about her, leave her alone.”
“Why isn’t it safe? Did they catch you?” Byers asked quickly.
Mulder shook his head. “I blew it. I was helpless.”
“The coordinates were right, weren’t they?” Langly asked.
Mulder closed his eyes. “Yeah, right on the money, but so were they. There was no time . . . “ He shook his head.
“So they still don’t know about Dana.” Frohike said, it wasn’t quite a question.
“They know. They’ve been watching her. They know about her relationship with me. They could take her again, or kill her to make sure she doesn’t remember.”
“Where did you hear this Mulder?” Byers was watching him closely. The man was in pain, maybe not physical, but pain nevertheless.
The three men stopped all movement, staring at him.
“Okay, I fucked up. Could you give me a little time? I need to decide, I need to think.” Mulder shook his head.
“Mulder, you okay?” Byers’ hand rested on his shoulder.
“No.” He gave a sick sort of chuckle. “Look, I just need a little time.”
“Okay, we’ll get out of your way.” Byers nodded to the rest of them.
“Don’t take too long, Mulder. She deserves to know what’s going on.” Frohike stood his ground.
After a moment Mulder nodded to him. At that Frohike turned and followed the other two men out of the apartment.
Mulder let himself fall back against the door jam, too weary to make a decision. He slid down into a squat and let his head fall back. She wasn’t in love with him; at least she wouldn’t be for long. He should be used to that by now. He had to keep her safe. If it meant never seeing her again . . . oh god. He shuddered at the thought.
He didn’t know how long he stayed crouched there, but he had to use a chair to get back to his feet. He had to talk to her. He trudged out to his car and drove the familiar route to her parent’s home.
She threw the door open when he rang the bell, taking him into her arms. “Mulder.”
He held her, he couldn’t stop himself. It was probably the last time and he couldn’t force himself to let her go.
When she finally pulled away and looked up at him, he allowed it. “Come on in. We don’t have to stand here.”
“Uh, could we go out?”
“Sure.” She smiled up at him and touched his face. She’d been so worried about him.
He watched her walk away to get her purse and fought the urge to weep. He straightened up when her father walked into the foyer.
“Mulder.” He shook the younger man’s hand. “Are you okay?” Captain Scully was looking at him closely, too closely.
Captain Scully hesitated, “I understand your job calls for a great deal of confidentiality and I appreciate that; however, if at all possible, I would like for you to give Starbuck a little warning. She’s still finding her way back.”
“Yes sir. I apologize for - “
“Son, no need to apologize to me. My daughter is very fond of you, even to some degree dependent. She was . . . frightened by your disappearance. She hasn’t shared her experience with us. I’m not sure she’s capable of that, but she has talked with you.”
“Then you know what I’m talking about. We don’t want her hurt any more.”
“No sir, neither do I.”
Her father smiled then and nodded. They both turned as Dana joined them in the foyer. “You two going out?”
Dana smiled at him, “Yes. Don’t worry; I’ll call if we’re going to be late.” She kissed her father’s cheek, then took Mulder’s hand.
He seated her in the car, then got in himself and buckled his seatbelt. Before he started the car he turned to her. “Are you okay?”
“I am now. I was, I was a little shaken when you disappeared.”
He nodded, “I’m sorry about that.”
“Is it something you can talk about?”
“Not here, let’s go . . . have you eaten?”
She shook her head.
“Okay, what are you in the mood for?” He kept his voice light. He was good at keeping his emotions under wraps after all these years.
Her brow furrowed and she tugged his right hand from the steering wheel. Well, maybe not as good as he thought, but then there had never been anyone like her in his life.
“What about your place, we could order a pizza.”
“Uh, no. I know a place.” He saw the fleeting hurt in her eyes, but attempted to steel himself from it.
He drove to a diner he’d been to many times. It wasn’t crowded; it never was. He escorted her inside and took the back booth, away from everyone else. After the waitress took their order and left the table she took his hand, forcing him to meet her eyes.
“Mulder, what’s wrong?”
“I should have called you, before I left.” He responded.
She nodded. “I wish you had.”
He looked away for a moment. “I talked with the guys. Frohike . . . Frohike let me have it.”
She smiled a little at that. “He’s very protective of me.”
“Yeah, he is.” He fell silent then and her worry grew. “He said you were . . . upset.”
She nodded. “They were very reassuring, and I got some good news after I talked to them.”
“Yeah? What?” Anything to change the subject. He was in no hurry to leave her, since it was the last time.
“My old supervisor called. Becky contacted him and he asked me to come in.”
“Did you?” Maybe if her real life could get back to normal she’d be okay.
“Yes. He was very nice, happy to see me. We talked about what it would take to get me back up to speed. He offered to let me work, as an assistant, until I can get recertified. I wouldn’t be able to do autopsies on my own, but I could get experience, work my way back.”
“That’s great. Sounds like things are falling into place for you.”
That didn’t sound like him. What was wrong? Why were they here instead of at his place? Okay, sex wasn’t the only thing between them, she felt a connection to this man, a . . . a rightness that transcended any other relationship she had ever had. Something was bothering him and she needed to know what it was. She needed to help him like he had helped her.
“That’s, uh, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. Your life.” He studied her hand where she held his.
“I think it’s great that you’re going back to your career, catching up with your friends.”
“Mulder, what - “ Her chest felt tight. She hesitated, then decided to take the plunge, “Your trip, was it about your sister?”
“Dana, I - “
She blinked at that. He always called her ‘Red’. “You’re upset. With me? Are you on a case or, or is it because of what I told you about Samantha?”
Before he could answer, the waitress brought their meal. Dana wanted to trip her as she left the table, but that would only have delayed the woman. Mulder seemed to be focused on the food.
He put his burger down, “I’ve . . . Red I’ve made some decisions.”
“That sounds . . . ominous.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be mysterious.”
“Well you’re pretty good at it.” She tried to smile, but her fear was growing.
“Spooky.” He shrugged.
“Mulder, please, talk to me.”
He sighed. “You don’t want to eat?”
She shoved the food away and he looked down, then pushed his own food to the side.
“Red, I want you to have a life, a normal life. You know, job, friends. I want you to be able to forget what happened to you. I think if I were out of the picture that would be easier for you.” He looked away as her eyes widened. “I’m going to be leaving DC.”
“What do you mean you’re leaving? You’re just going away? What the hell does that mean?“ Her voice shook slightly on that last word.
“I’ve been with the Bureau for years. I’m not doing good work, I’m not fulfilled. All I’ve wanted to do, the reason I joined the damned Bureau, was to find Samantha. I want to focus on that full time. I’m going to go away, see if I can be there when they finally decide to return her. I . . . Red, I can’t do this any more. I don’t even want to. If I can keep the government from taking these people . . . take them somewhere safe until they can remember - ”
“You want to just go off on your own and hope you stumble across a . . . an event like when I was . . . “ Her voice trailed off at the look in his eyes.
“Yes. That exactly, but I don’t plan to stumble across sites. The guys are studying the phenomena.”
“You want to go off alone. Without . . . without me.”
“You’ll be better off.”
“Better . . . And you get to decide that? I get no say?”
“Red - “
“If you’re leaving, maybe you should call me Dana.” She saw the pain in his eyes but her own pain was just as deep this time. When he didn’t speak she turned away, there was no reason to let him see her cry. If he wanted to leave her . . . She stood up from the booth and turned toward the front of the diner. She didn’t see him reach out to stop her, or see him let his arm drop back to the table.
“Mulder, are you really sure about this?” Byers asked one more time.
“What’s not to be sure about? Samantha could be returned.” He looked away from the expressions on their faces. They knew him, almost as well as she did. He didn’t want them to see his pain. He had to leave her; He didn’t know what they knew, what they understood, but these guys would keep an eye on her. Maybe, maybe with him out of the way ‘they’ would leave Red alone. She could have a life, a family. He opened his mouth, then closed it again. The thought of her with her own family had taken his breath away.
After a moment, Byers sighed, “Okay, we can set up the funds, but you’re going to need a base. And if you’re able to get more than one person at a time, you’re going to need help.”
“I’ve bought a van. Can you help me outfit it so that I can handle - “ Mulder started.
“Mulder, you’re still going to need help. What if some of them are injured?” Frohike shot back.
“They aren’t. The bruises fade in a few hours and they’re in the best shape of their lives. A nice little side effect.”
“You’re going to need help. You cannot go off alone and do this Mulder. You’re not invincible.” Frohike wasn’t going to let this go.
“I proved that last time, didn’t I?” Mulder tried to divert the man.
“Is that what this is about? You weren’t able to save the ones - “
“That’s right, I wasn’t able to save them, any of them. I haven’t forgotten.”
“Or forgiven yourself, Mulder.” Byers looked over at him.
Mulder turned his back on him. “I need to pick up the van. It should be ready.” He started toward the door.
“Are you really going to leave her?” Frohike cut right to heart of it. Mulder’s step faltered, then he continued. The sooner he got away from here, the sooner he could start learning to live without her.
He sighed at the knock on the door. There was no one he wanted to see tonight, at least no one that would show up. He’d cut that last tie with her. He closed his eyes at the pain even the thought caused. The knocking grew more insistent. Shit. He rose and headed for the door, pulling it open, ready to tell whoever it was exactly where to go.
He wasn’t expecting Bill.
“You want to tell me what’s going on?”
“Excuse me?” He demurred. Bill?
“You’re leaving her. She’s devastated and I’m here to find out what the hell you think you’re doing.”
“Bill, I - “
Bill lifted the six pack he was carrying. “Let me in and then start talking. I’m not leaving until you do. You never explained what happened to her or how you found her. Get comfortable.”
“Bill . . . “
Bill walked around him and headed to the couch. The large man made himself at home and opened his first beer.
“I can’t - “ Mulder didn’t follow him.
“Yeah, you can and you will. What happened to my sister?”
Mulder sighed, okay he wasn’t going to be part of this family, but he had enjoyed knowing this man. He had even seemed to have his respect for a little while. It was going to be hard to lose that, but at least then Bill wouldn’t be bothering him anymore. And he certainly wouldn’t want him anywhere near his sister.
He joined Bill on the couch and picked up his own bottle.
Bill just stared at him as he finally wound down. Mulder glanced over at the coffee table, anything to avoid that look. The pizza lay, half eaten and totally forgotten in the box. The second six-pack, delivered with the pizza had gotten more attention. He knew Bill was on his sixth beer. Hell, he was his fourth, very nearly a personal best.
“You really believe it. You honestly believe aliens from outer space took my sister, and yours.”
Mulder sighed, “Yeah, I do.”
Bill rose abruptly and Mulder wondered if he should offer to shake hands. Instead of heading toward the door, however, Bill moved toward the bathroom. Not a bad idea Mulder realized. Bill didn’t speak as they passed each other when Mulder replaced him in the toilet.
Mulder stopped in surprise when he returned to the main room. Bill was still there, back in his same seat, but the empty bottles were gone as well as the pizza box. Mulder quietly resumed his seat at the other end of the couch.
“Do you have any proof?”
“Hard, physical evidence? No. Maybe if I’d taken your sister to a doctor, gotten samples, trace evidence I could have. Hell, maybe that’s one of the reasons I was out there in the first place, but . . . Bill she was completely traumatized. A lot worse than when you saw her that night. I couldn’t do it to her. I couldn’t cause her any more pain. I know what I’ve seen, what I saw that night, but proof . . . no.”
“Couldn’t cause her any more pain. What do you think you’re doing now?”
Mulder winced, “It won’t take long for a woman like her to find someone else, someone right for her.”
“She thinks that’s you.”
“It’s not. I could get her taken again or, or killed.”
“Killed? What are you talking about?” Bill leaned forward him now. The beers in his system didn’t seem to have affected him at all.
“They’ve watching her because of me. They know that I would try to help her get to her memories.”
“Is this why they call you Spooky?”
Not a question he had expected, but he shook his head with a wry smile. “The nickname came before. I suppose having the X-Files helped it along.”
“So why do they call you that?”
Mulder took a breath and got comfortable. “They recruited me to be a profiler. With my degree in psychology, they wanted me to try to get inside the minds of murderers, rapists, terrorists, all their bad guys. Turns out I’m good at it. I saw connections others didn’t, I made what they called leaps in logic. The things I saw, they were so obvious to me, and they turned out to be right most of the time. That’s when they started calling me Spooky.”
“So it was a compliment.”
Mulder shrugged, “Maybe, it never felt that way.”
“The two beers left are yours.” Bill pointed toward the coffee table.
Bill nodded and picked up one of the two remaining beers, then leaned back. “Tara doesn’t want me to re-up.”
Mulder blinked at the change in subject. “She wants you to leave the Navy?”
“She didn’t put it that way, but she said she wasn’t sure how she felt about a husband who was gone for months out of the year. I don’t know if it’s a deal breaker, but I got to thinking about Mom. She did have a lot of time alone and responsibility for all of us with Dad gone. He missed a lot of our growing up.”
Mulder kept quiet. He had no advice to give. His father had missed a lot too, without the excuse of a military career.
“I’ll have twenty years in. I could retire, get a pension and still be young enough for another career. I just don’t know what I’d do.”
“Twenty years? You’re, what 38?” Mulder did the quick calculation.
“Will be. Kind of late to get married and start a family, so I want to do it right.”
“What are you going to do?” Bill leaned back and took another swig from his bottle.
Oh. Nice segue way. “I’m not completely sure. I want to find these other returnees before the government does. Maybe I can reunite them with their families. The ones . . . the ones that are picked up by the military aren’t seen again. They trade one captivity for another. If I could get to them first . . . “
“That’s what you tried to do when you were gone last week.”
“It didn’t work.” Bill reminded him unnecessarily.
“I wasn’t prepared. I’ve bought a van. Some friends of mine are outfitting it. I’ll do better next time.”
“Alone?” Bill asked quietly.
“What would you suggest?” Bill looked away. “Would you want your sister out there somewhere with a loon that watches for lights in the sky and then picks up people from the dirt and hides them? I’m going underground, Bill.”
“She’s not ‘Red’ anymore.” Bill said sadly. “She’s ‘Dana, the closed off’ again. She didn’t have time to get past Daniel, but this is how she acted. She pulled back from everything.”
“I thought. . . .”
“Oh she gets up every morning, she goes to work. My sister won’t admit to weakness when she’s awake.”
“What does that mean?”
“Nightmares. She won’t talk about them. Mom told me. She calls out for you.”
God, a knife in the gut would be less painful. Mulder looked away. “She’ll get over me.” He gave a flat chuckle. “Everyone does.”
“You want to explain that?”
“No.” Mulder shook his head.
“How will you live? I don’t imagine it’s going to be lucrative. Rewards?”
“No. Money’s not a problem.”
“Money’s always a problem. Why, you rich?” Bill blinked as the man looked down. “Are you?”
“Well, I’m okay.” Bill waited, “uh, my grandmother and my father had a, a falling out. She decided to skip him in the will. I had a scholarship to the university and a fellowship at Oxford, but I didn’t have to work. I could concentrate on my studies.”
“So you could go a few months without working?”
“A few years, actually.”
Bill nodded, but didn’t continue that line of questioning. That wasn’t really his business. If Mulder could look after his sister financially that was between them.
Mulder sat quietly. If Bill had further questions, he’d answer them.
Bill sighed, “Well, you did what I asked. You explained . . . everything, I guess. I can’t tell you how to handle this, but,” the man shrugged, “I can see you’re hurting as bad as she is. There ought to be a solution. You’re supposed to be a bright guy. Why don’t you study on it?” At that Bill rose, taking the last swig of beer. “Where’s your phone?”
“Uh, there.” Mulder pointed.
“I need a cab. I’ll wait downstairs.”
Mulder nodded, the man had no reason to hang out with him any longer.