Balancing Act

Debra Fran Baker

dfbaker@panix.com






***Prologue***



October 14

Cherry Hill, NJ



"May I help you?" A short man in his mid-thirties opened the door to the condominium. He had thinning brown hair, the beginnings of a paunch and sad eyes. His face showed signs of a bone-deep exhaustion.

"FBI, sir. I'm Agent Mulder, and this my partner Agent Scully." Dana Scully and I showed him our credentials. "Are you William Browne?"

He nodded. "Please, come in." Browne led us through a living room cluttered with toys and books to the kitchen. "Please excuse the mess. My mother had to go home yesterday and I'm still learning how to cope."

"We understand, Mr. Browne. We're sorry about your wife." I took a seat at the kitchen table. The house was in the condition that I'd expect for a recent widower with four children under twelve. A nagging voice in my head reminded me that it should have been five about now, but Browne wouldn't have been a widower then.

"Is this about Kerry? And those other women?"

"Yes, sir." Scully pulled out a notebook. She was hiding behind her professional persona again.

"We are going to catch that monster, Mr. Browne." I put every ounce of certainty I could in my voice.

"Call me Liam."



***Chapter One***



October 13

Washington, DC





"Walter, how can you send us out again? We only got back last night, Mulder is injured and I've already missed Columbus Day with my family and tonight's . . . you know."

Walter Skinner took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. He glanced at my left arm, which was wrapped in a bandage.

"I did my best, Dana. They wanted you to fly directly to Cherry Hill last night. Hell, they wanted you to leave in the middle of the case."

"Makes perfect sense to me. After months, suddenly they need Spooky to save their asses." No, I'm not bitter. "Scully, you want to drive to Jersey or should I?"

Walter shook his head. "You two are flying to Philadelphia *and* you are staying at a decent hotel. I got that much out of them."

I grinned. "We should use you as a travel agent more often."

"I don't come cheap." Our eyes met and held each others for a long time.

"Gentlemen?" I could hear the smile in Scully's voice. "Why don't I confirm our reservations with your assistant, sir?"

"Yes, I think that's a good idea." Skinner smiled. She patted my arm as she left the room.

The door closed behind her. Moments later, I was standing wrapped in my lover's arms, and he was kissing me thoroughly.

"I missed you, Fox."

"Missed you, too. Love you." It's still hard to say those words. I think Walter knows that because of the way he smiled when I said them. I held him as hard as I could with my good arm.

He gave me a quick kiss. "Love you, too. Damn." He let go of me. "I had plans for tonight. With you."

Tonight? What was tonight? Scully had made a point of it, too. He must have seen the confusion in my eyes because he shook his head.

"Some perfect memory. Fox, what's today's date?" Oh. *That.*

"I don't celebrate it anyway. That sort of stuff fell by the wayside after Sam."

His jaw clenched. Sometimes Walter picks the oddest moments to be angry. "Then it's past time you did." I backed away from his growl, even though I knew he wasn't angry at me. "Damn them," he whispered as he took hold of my shoulder. "Fox, when you and Dana get back from New Jersey, *we* are going to celebrate your birthday properly. And we will continue to do so."

"Yes, sir." He squeezed my shoulder gently and turned toward his desk.

"It's in here somewhere . . . Here it is." He took out a small box wrapped in silver paper and handed it to me.

"This will be a start, anyway. Happy birthday, Fox." I held the gift in my hand. "Go on, open it."

Walter gave me a snowglobe with a model of the Challenger. I couldn't help it; I grinned. For a man of excellent taste, he has a gift for inspired kitsch. His face lit up.

"You like it?"

"You know me so well, Walter. Wait'll I show Scully! *This* is going to have a place of honor on my desk." I turned it upside down so I could watch the snowfall again.

Walter smiled and kissed me again. "God, I love your smile. I'm going to miss it tonight."

"Maybe the motel has a video phone." I was going to miss him, too.

"Fox, I had no choice." His phone rang. "Yes, Kimberly? . . . Da . . . Send him in as soon as Agent Mulder leaves." He looked at me. "Damn. I wanted more time. Look, Fox, if there is any problem, anything at all . . . "

"I'll be fine, Walter. Lonely, but fine." I hoped.

"I mean it. I can be in New Jersey any time."

"Right. That'll keep us a secret. I'll see you when I get back, Walter. You owe me a birthday dinner."

"Damn straight."

I kissed his forehead and left. He was not happy, but I wasn't worried because he wasn't angry at me.

Scully was as amused by the globe as I'd thought she'd be. She didn't say anything, but I could see it in her eyes.



***Chapter 2***



Radisson Hotel

Cherry Hill, New Jersey



"When you call Walter, tell him the local office came through for us. This is a *nice* place. I can't believe we have *Jacuzzis* in the bathrooms." Her eyes were shining.

"Before we enjoy them, we'd better call the locals."

"Damn." She smiled anyway. "You call Walter. I'll call them."

I nodded, and went through our connecting door.

I looked at my watch. He'd still be in.

He growled at me, of course. He doesn't like it when I'm two hours late, but there were delays and then we had to wait in line to rent the car, and we hit rush hour on our way out of Philadelphia. It took us almost an hour to make the 30 minute drive. The locals were going to be pretty pissed, too.

"Let them be pissed, Fox. You are there because they asked for you. All you need to do is try to catch the sick bastard, and come home. To me."

"Yes, sir!" I cannot describe what his words meant to me. It was as if they'd crawled through the telephone lines and taken residence in my heart.

"Take care of yourself, Fox. And tell Dana the same thing. Relax tonight."

"Good night, Walter."

"Fox."

Scully came stalking across to my room. "Those idiots. Those officious, unimaginative, incompetent idiots. They wanted us here. They begged Walter to send us here before you had time to feed your fish. And now they say that we aren't needed; that if we can't be on time, we shouldn't be here."

"Do they have any ears left or did you chew them all yourself?"

"Mulder . . . " She took a deep breath. "When I asked if we should come by anyway to get more information, they told me we had it all. Mulder, have you looked at the report?"

She knew I had. And I could see why she was at the boiling point. It was sketchy at best - descriptions of the bodies, but no real autopsies, no other clues or fingerprints. No interviews with the families.

"First thing tomorrow morning, Scully, we mutiny."

"You bet we do, Mulder. I'd be willing to bet at least one, if not two, more pregnant women die because of them. And I told the ASAC so. And I told him what I wanted to see in the morning. And when he demanded to speak to you, I told him that we were partners and speaking to me is speaking to you."

I lay back on the bed and whistled. "Does he have next of kin to notify?"

"We'll find out tomorrow morning." Sometimes, Scully has a beautiful smile that lights up her face. This one was . . . well, I learned a long time ago that the female of this pair is more deadly than the male. And she's also a better shot. "But tonight . . . come on, Mulder. It's your birthday, and we're going to celebrate. Out of that suit."

"Scully! I'm not that kind of girl!"

"Mulder! We'll go out to dinner at some yuppie bar, a Thursdays or a Monihans or something, in civilian drag, and forget the FBI exists. Maybe we'll even pick up a couple of boys."

"Oohh. Give me a minute, okay?"

She nodded and disappeared into her room.

The bar/restaurant was crowded, but Scully refused to use her title to get seated faster, or even to let me flash my badge. She told me to find a seat at the bar while she spoke to the maitre' d. It wasn't a long wait - fifteen minutes later, they were calling our name.

"Scully. Mr. and Mrs. Scully, party of two!"

"Does that make me Mr. Dana Scully?"

She just smiled and let me tuck her hand under my arm as we followed the hostess into the room.

The menu was exactly the way I'd expected it - full of pictures of bar-type food. I pretended to study it, but food was the last thing I wanted.

"Hi. I'm Kevin? I'll be your server tonight?" Kevin was a dark- haired kid with blue eyes and the body of a football player in the rugby-shirt and Docker's uniform, and he spoke as if he were asking questions instead of making statements.

We drove that kid crazy that night. Scully was actually an accomplished flirt, and me . . . it's a game. It flusters men and makes little old ladies happy and gets us better service from waitresses. And it doesn't take much - a look, a tilt of the head, a lick of the lips, and they are yours. So, we took turns with him. Nothing overt, of course. Nothing that would send him screaming from the restaurant, but enough that he kept staring at us - could we both be trying to pick him up? In front of the other? Scully had an evil grin whenever he approached the table.

"Scully, I've been thinking about the case."

"No work, birthday boy. Not here, and not now. What looks good on the menu, Mulder?"

I shrugged. She nodded. "Yeah, well, you can't go too far wrong with bar food. They even have buffalo wings. Too bad you hate bleu cheese."

I could repeat what she said during dinner word for word, but I couldn't tell you what it was about. Scully kept up a line of chatter about her family and movies and gossip about other agents that had me laughing and so thoroughly distracted that I ate a good half of my dinner. It wasn't bad, either - some kind of fish, I think. I just got what she did. Saved me from having to choose.

Then the drums started and half the restaurant was singing to me, and our pal Kevin was carrying a small cake with a candle on it. Scully just grinned at me. I had my revenge, though. I made her eat the cake while I opened her presents. She got me two ties.

"You've been getting boring in the tie department, Mulder. I thought these would help."

"You're the one who got me the boring ties in the first place."

"There's a difference between appropriate and boring."

"I can't wear the Winnie-the-Pooh to work."

She smiled, and touched the dark blue silk. "I took one look at Pooh staring at that shooting star and thought of you. You could wear the starfield tie. It's fairly subtle."

She got her credit card back from Kevin and drove us to the hotel, where she took out the extra piece of luggage she calls her first aid kit and checked my injuries.

"You're healing nicely, Mulder. I'll leave the bandages off tonight if you promise not to pick, and redress them after your shower tomorrow. I still don't know how you managed to get claw marks all over your body."

"It wasn't my fault that b.."

"I don't want to hear it, Mulder. Whatever it was, we left it behind in Wyoming. Give my love to Walter when you call him." She squeezed my shoulder as she left for her own room.

He was waiting for the call. We didn't say much - I teased him a little about Kevin and told him about Scully's ties - but it felt good to touch base. I might as well be in a long distance relationship for all the time we spend together.

I could hear Scully moving around her room. After a while, her light went off. I got out the files that we did have and began to look them over again and again. I rearranged papers and the few photos we had, but nothing came to me.

So I did it again and again. The interviews were hopelessly incomplete. It was impossible to correlate the victims, except that they were all women and all about five months pregnant, and the unknown subject, the UNSUB in Bureauspeak, had ripped the fetuses from their wombs. The women were found in various dumpsters around the area - none close to each other. The fetuses were nowhere to be found. There was a mention of notes, but no copies of them. The autopsies were incomplete. I ran the information in my mind over and over again, looking for some sort of clue, for some shred that the locals had thought to include.

I turned off the room light, and lay down on the sofa by the TV, instead of the king-sized bed. I turned the set on, muted so it wouldn't disturb Scully through the unlocked connecting door. I didn't need to see the files any more for them to dance in my mind. The dead women implored me to find the man who'd defiled them. The babies who'd never lived to cry urged me on. And there was nothing I could do. I thought about running, but it was October, the hotel was on the main strip and there were no sidewalks. My stomach tightened. This was one reason I ate less than usual on cases. Why I slept less than usual on cases. Why sometimes less than usual equaled as close to nothing as I could manage. By some miracle, the fish stayed down and I drifted off by the light of the TV.

"Daddy!" Who was screaming?

"Mulder? Mulder, wake up!"

"S-scully? W..where are we?" I was curled up on an unfamiliar couch.

"In New Jersey. You were having a nightmare." She brushed the hair from my forehead. I was soaking wet. "Do you remember anything?"

I forced my mind back. "Blood. Blood and Bibles and . . . I don't remember more."

Scully sat back on her heels. "You were calling for your father."

"My father? I've never called for him before. Have I?"

"Not when I could hear it."

"I don't remember seeing Dad." I rubbed my head. "What time is it?"

"It's 2 AM."

Five hours to get through. Damn. "I don't suppose Walter will be awake."

"I'm sure he wouldn't mind if you called."

I thought about it. Sometimes hearing Walter's voice is enough to settle me for the night. I shook my head. "I'll be okay, Scully."

"You want to bunk with me? There's a couch in my room, too."

"I'll try again here."

"Mulder . . . I do have Xanax with me."

"Scully . . . "

"I'll be right next door . . . " She kissed my forehead and went back to her room. I took off the sweats. Scully'd seen me in my boxers before. It wouldn't shock her, and it was better than being damp.

Those next few hours stretched on forever. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw the blood and the women and the fetuses. I thought of reading, but I was worried it might put me to sleep. So, I watched infomercials and tried not to think about the case. Or a blue monkey - the one in the old story. People are handed a box and are told that so long as they don't think of a blue monkey in the next hour, the box will be filled with gold. No one ever gets the gold.

The hotel gym opened at six. I got on the treadmill and ran as long as I could. The demons chased me, as demons will. Sometimes they are little grey men, sometimes they smoke, sometimes they have green eyes that cut into my soul, or long brown braids. This one had the face of a man I'd never seen.

By seven, I was energized, showered and dressed. I even wore the star tie - it went with my charcoal suit. When Scully knocked on my door, she was dressed to intimidate - power suit and the highest heels she owned. Dressed in grays and black, I could fade in the background.

She insisted we have breakfast first, so I politely drank coffee and stirred scrambled eggs around my plate.



***Chapter Three***



Cherry Hill Municipal Building



"You will have all permissions ready to go before we get back. Am I clear?"

"Agent Scully . . . "

"Do you want our help or not? Or should Agent Mulder and I go home?"

"Agent Mulder . . . " The ASAC looked at me in desperation. I just grinned and folded my arms.

"Well?" I was very glad she aimed that look at him, not me.

"We'll do our best, Agent Scully." I believe he was shivering. He topped her by at least a foot, was twice her weight and was maybe her father's age, but she had him shaking in his boots. There are times I think she got around the Bureau's height restriction because no one noticed how short she actually was.

"Good." She picked up the folders for the victims' families. "We'll be back after we do proper interviews." She turned on her heel and left. I followed.

There was no one home in the first place we visited. There was a for-sale sign in the front yard, and the house looked like it was a model for a housing development - neatly kept and furnished but no one lived there. On the second floor, I could see a baby's crib mobile in a window.

I looked at Scully. "He never went home. He's staying with friends or his parents until he sells the house and he can afford to move. He sent his mother to pack his clothes and give away hers. There's a fully furnished nursery. The file says there were no other children."

"There's no other address or phone number in his file, Mulder. We'll have to track him down at work. Idiots." She stared at the mobile for a moment and walked back to the car.

I shook off memories of a different house and got behind the wheel.

"Who's next, Scully?"

"William Browne. His wife was the second one killed. He has other kids, so I don't think he's moved."

* * *

Liam Browne seated us in his kitchen and, without asking, put up a pot of coffee and poured a box of cookies into a bowl, which he put on the table before he sat down.

"Why has it taken so long for the FBI to be involved?"

Scully and I looked at each other in confusion and anger.

"Mr. Browne . . . "

"As I said at the door, please call me Liam."

Scully nodded. "Liam, I'm Dana. The Philadelphia office has been involved in this case since shortly after Mrs. Browne died. Are you telling us that no one has either interviewed you or kept you informed?" Her eyes flashed.

"I've heard *nothing* since I identified Kerry's body, and the municipal police won't even answer my phone calls. So much for professional courtesy." He broke the cookie he held in his hand.

I thought back to his file.

"You're a police academy instructor, right?"

"Yeah, in Trenton. What's going on?" Trenton, New Jersey's capital city, was maybe twenty minutes away.

"We'll find out. I promise you, Liam. We'll find out." Scully's smile was not at all pretty. "Now, please tell us what you can remember about Kerry's last day."

"Coffee's done. How do you take it?" We let him take his time filling mugs and a milk pitcher and bringing it all to the table. "I can't stall any more, can I?"

I shook my head. "I know it's difficult, Liam."

"Damn, I miss her. She wasn't classically beautiful, you know. Not like you." Scully ducked her head. "But she was the most beautiful woman in the world to me. She was . . . she was bright and kind and so good. I think thirty years ago, or fifty years ago, she would have been a nun. She loved going to church. We met at church." He rubbed his eyes. "She . . . she loved kids. She loved teaching them, and she was a good teacher. The best. And she loved having them. She wanted a dozen."

Scully's face was tight. I wanted to touch her hand, but she wouldn't let me. She'd just tell me she was fine.

"Go on, Liam." Her voice was tight, too.

He looked at her. He must have caught something because he closed his eyes. "That day. What had she done that day? She got up early as usual and got the kids ready for school and day care. I made breakfast and the lunches. I like to cook; she hated it. Anyway, I left for work. She took the kids in the minivan to school and day care and she went on to the high school where she works . . . worked. Damn, it's been months." He took a sip of coffee. "She was supposed to go shopping after work. The older kids had a sitter and the younger kids were at day care until five."

"Where would she shop?" I put my cup down.

"One of the malls. I don't know which one. She needed clothes; said she was tired of her old maternity clothes. Kerry hated buying new clothes and maternity stuff is expensive as hell, but she was looking forward to this. Said she was looking forward to the time for herself. And she was going grocery shopping afterwards. Kids eat up everything."

"Was she supposed to be by herself?"

"Yeah, Mr . . . Mulder. She liked it that way."

"Just Mulder. Did she buy anything?"

"I don't think so." He ran his hands through his hair.

"No credit card records?"

"No, and I know she was going to save the cash for the food."

Before we could ask any more questions, a baby began to cry.

"Excuse me. Mikey needs me." He left the kitchen and climbed the stairs.

"Well, Mulder?"

"I don't know yet. Except that we now know more than the local cops *or* the Philly guys do, and that's from one interview."

"I'm going to hang these inept fools out to dry. They don't do their jobs right, and then they want *you* to bail them out. They can kiss their careers goodbye."

"Scully, where's your loyalty?"

"Right where it belongs, Mulder. With Liam Browne and a man hurting so much he can't bear to go home. And with two other widowers." That ASAC wasn't going to know what hit him.

Liam came in with a little boy who looked about eighteen months old in his arms. The child was rubbing his eyes. He looked at me and at Scully, and then turned to cling to his father.

"Sorry. Mikey hates to be alone at the moment. And he's not fond of strangers. I'm worried about what's going to happen when I have to go back to work." Liam carefully sat down with Mikey on his knees.

Mikey didn't know how lucky he was. His father wouldn't reject him one day and hug him the next; wouldn't spend half of Mikey's adolescence in alcohol induced rages and the other half in coldly calculating dismissal. His father wouldn't think of him as "merchandise." Even this tragedy hadn't made Liam into a man like my father.

I smiled at the little one. He blinked his eyes. They were clear and blue, with thick dark lashes and dark hair. I reached out to touch it, after looking at Liam for permission. It was so soft.

"Kerry was black Irish. Mikey looks just like her." Mikey smiled at me and held out his arms.

"May I?"

Liam nodded.

"Come here, big guy. Oh, you are big, too." I settled him down on my lap.

"Mulder, you're a natural." Scully grinned.

"Do you have any kids, Mulder?"

"Nope. I'm a born uncle." And if that woman in the coffee shop was my sister *and* she was telling the truth, I was one in reality, too. But since I'm not likely to see them, they might as well not exist.

Both Liam and Scully looked confused at what I said, but didn't press.

"Is there anything else you can tell us, Liam?" I dangled my hand in front of the baby, who laughed and tried to capture my fingers.

"Wha..? No. She never picked up the kids. I got phone calls wanting to know what had happened. The next day, someone found her in a dumpster by a fast food place, her belly . . . " Liam buried his head in his hands.

"Dada?" Mikey started to cry.

"Mikey, Dada's just fine."

"Let me hold him."

I gave the little one back to his father. He sat rocking the child.

"Mr. Browne? Liam . . . I hate to ask this of you now . . . "

"Yes?" His voice was strained, and he didn't look at Scully.

"I don't trust what anyone has done until now. Do we have your permission to disinter your wife so that I may autopsy her?"

"You?"

"I'm a pathologist."

"She's the best around, Liam. If there are any clues left to find, she'll find them."

Liam sat for a moment, patting Mikey.

"Yes, you may. Anything to catch that bastard."

"Thank you. We'll do our best."

Mikey still in his arms, Liam showed us to the door.

"If I think of anything more, I'll call you."

"Thanks. And we'll keep you informed." Scully wrote our cellphone numbers on a card and tucked it into his shirt pocket, since his arms were full of baby.

I kissed Mikey good-bye and we walked down to the car.

"You really are good with kids."

I shrugged. I like kids. We climbed into the car.

"Mulder?"

"Yeah, Scully?"

"What did you mean by calling yourself a 'born uncle'?"

I turned the key. "Organisms have offspring in order to insure that their genes continue to the next generation. Human offspring require long-term care. The presence of childless adults means that there would be a pool of potential care givers if the original parents were killed. Meanwhile, it is evolutionarily reasonable to care for a sibling's children since they share almost the same genes. Therefore, I was born to be an uncle."

"There are gay men with children, Mulder."

"I'm sure there always have been."

"You'd be a good father."

I didn't answer her. One learns how to parent from one's own parents, and the lessons I learned were not ones I cared to pass on.



***Chapter Four***



We found the other two families. They'd at least been interviewed by the Philadelphia office, but not very well. We got some interesting information to correlate - information that did not exist in the files we were given. One was the fact that all had gone shopping on their last day.

Scully was fuming again by the time we returned to the municipal building. The ASAC, Steven Goldberg, wanted to talk to her until he got a good look at her face. He may have been incompetent, but he was not a fool. He got out of her way.

She went straight for a phone.

"Kim? This is Agent Scully. Is AD Skinner available?" The ASAC turned pure white.

"Sir? I'd like to report some gross negligence . . . "

"Agent Mulder? Is she really talking to Skinner?" One of the junior agents looked at me.

"AD Skinner has the highest respect for Agent Scully."

The man blinked for a moment, but I know my face had no expression. It's one of my best tools.

"Were you able to trace Mr. Martin?" I decided to get down to business.

"Mr. Martin?" He looked confused.

"The husband of the first victim. Their house was empty."

"Oh. No. Do you want me to get on it, Agent Mulder?"

I looked at my partner, who was still listing complaints. The man followed my glance and scurried away to his computer.

I sat down with the notes from the interviews. The same story over and over again - a young pregnant woman disappeared sometime during a shopping trip and turned up dead the next day in a fast food dumpster, her baby torn from her body. The fetuses were not found anywhere. There were several malls in the area, and more shopping centers, and no McDonalds or Burger King or whatever had been used twice. Their cars were found abandoned miles away, the seats stained with the owner's blood, but no useful fingerprints.

I turned these facts over and over again in my mind. Pregnant. Shopping. Fast food. Fetuses. Which were important? What clue was I missing? What would make this fit? Did they stop for a bite before shopping?

"Agent Mulder? Agent Mulder!"

I woke up from my trance, blinking. "Yes?" It was my scurrying friend.

"This fell out of the folder this morning. I . . . well, I'd rather give it to *you*." He stole a glance at Scully.

It was a note, a bloody note wrapped in a plastic bag.

"It was found with the second body. The others may have been lost in the dumpsters."

"No one . . . what is your name, Agent?"

"Matt Stein. I'm sorry about that." He looked at Scully, who was just setting the phone down. "After last night, we were told not to cooperate with the . . . you know."

"Why was no mention of this made in the report?"

"I don't know. It's some sort of Bible reference." Stein gave me a pair of latex gloves so I could take it out of the bag. It read "Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee."

"King James Version." Scully looked over my arm.

"Is that important?" Stein looked confused. "It's a standard translation, isn't it? I mean, something most Christians use?"

"Agent Scully, this is Agent Stein."

She nodded at him. "It was the most popular Protestant Bible for a long time. It's still the most popular among Fundamentalist groups. Catholics prefer a different Bible."

"I can't blame them. The other Bibles seem so dry compared to the KJV language." I stared at the note.

"So the UNSUB is a fundamentalist Christian of some sort?" Stein bounced a little. "At least, he's probably some sort of a Christian."

"It's an Old Testament quote, from Genesis, so it's not necessarily a Christian who left it."

Stein looked me strangely. "It doesn't seem like a Jewish thing, to put a quote from a Christian translation on a dead body."

"How do you mean?"

Stein frowned. "Most Jews aren't religious, so they wouldn't use a Bible quote anyway. Those that are probably wouldn't put a Bible quote on a dead body. If they were to do that, they'd either use a Jewish translation or do it themselves or just leave it in Hebrew."

I nodded. I still had to figure out what the quote meant. The other notes were long gone. "Thanks again, Agent Stein." He nodded at both of us and went back to his computer search.

"At least one person here has some sense." She sounded grim.

"What did Walter say?"

"Walter is fuming. He's starting a full investigation." She looked extremely satisfied. "Hungry, Mulder? It's about lunch time, and I have an afternoon of autopsies ahead of me."

"Where do you want to go for lunch?" She chose a diner, which meant I spent a half hour playing with crackers and the soup of the day, which was at least fun, and she could steal my fries. Or think she was stealing them - I order them for her.



Cooper Hospital



Then I watched her cut apart some dead women. There were only two of them, because we still couldn't track down one family and the other refused permission. One was Kerry Browne. I could see Mikey's black hair, but four months in a sealed casket had destroyed everything else.

I watched her lay open the woman's womb again, cutting the dark stitches the previous coroner had made, reopening those wounds. I had a flash of other hands - fleshy, masculine hands - and a different instrument, and a glimpse of dark blood.

I must have gasped.

"Mulder, what's wrong?"

"I'm fine, Scully. I just need to get some air."

She looked at me but just nodded as I bolted from the room. I leaned against the wall in the hallway, and tried to stop shivering.

"Agent Mulder?"

"Wh . . . Mr. Browne." He had Mikey in a stroller. "What are you doing here?"

"Kerry's . . . " He closed his eyes.

I nodded. "Agent Scully's in there now. She's . . . in good hands."

"Agent Scully doesn't seem the type for this sort of work."

"She's the best at what she does - in or out of the autopsy room." I knelt to tickle Mikey.

"You admire her a lot."

"She's one of the two people I trust most in this world. My . . . lover is the other." His eyes widened at this. "We're partners, Mr. Browne. We're best friends. We're practically brother and sister."

*And she's entirely available if you feel up to her standards, and are ready to date an armed woman - with a somewhat overprotective "brother" who is also armed. When you are ready to date at all.*

Liam clearly had worshiped his wife and was nowhere near ready to look again.

"I . . . see. How long will she be in there?"

"She just got started. She's usually thorough. Maybe a couple of hours. Do you want to find some coffee or something? Kerry will be . . . treated respectfully, I can assure you."

He nodded. We found the hospital cafeteria, and I played with the baby while he talked. He told me about meeting Kerry and their courtship and marriage. The baby cooed and smiled at me, and tried to say "Mulder," and when he needed to be changed, I did it. He sat happily in my arms and let me feed him bits of muffin. Liam asked about Scully and I told him how brilliant she was and what a good shot she was and that I wouldn't be alive today if it weren't for her. He needed to talk to someone who didn't know Kerry at all. I could see the catharsis working on him. I didn't know what he felt about Scully, but then he wasn't ready to feel much besides grief yet.

It was no effort at all on my part to not talk about my own personal life. I don't think he'd have heard anyway.

Scully found us still there two hours later. She lifted an eyebrow at the sight of me snapping Mikey's overalls but didn't say anything much. Liam got her a cup of coffee.

"Agent Scully . . . did you find anything?" She'd put a file on the table.

She nodded. "I think I found out a little more about what the killer used, and even some scraps of clothing. Kerry fought. You should know that - Kerry fought."

Liam closed his eyes for a moment. "Thank you. I kept asking before, but no one could tell me. It doesn't make it easier, but it's something I needed to know."

"I . . . .said a prayer for her when I was finished and put her together again."

He nodded. "I'd better be going. The kids should be back from school soon and I need to be there for them. I'm going back to work next week." He smiled at me and put Mikey back in his stroller. I could hear "Bye-bye, Mullah!" all the way out the door.

"Did she fight, Scully?"

"Yeah. Her fingernails were full of skin and threads, and the original cuts were jagged, as if she were twisting away."

"None of that . . . "

"Was in the original report. I know. Incompetents." She was too tired to get angry. "Of course she fought. It was her life and her baby." She took her hair out of the ponytail. "Mulder, how are you? You ran out of the room pretty fast."

"I'm fine, Scully." There was that look again. "What tool did he use?"

"A Swiss Army knife. The cuts are consistent with the long blade. I used my own for comparison."

"A real Boy Scout."

"No Boy Scout would do that sort of good turn, Mulder." She finished her coffee and pulled her hair back again. "Back into the breach. You might as well stay here. Kerry's autopsy report is in this folder." I nodded and watched her walk slowly out of the hospital cafeteria.

She was still exhausted from Wyoming. I could see it in her eyes. If any of the people here had been even barely competent, she wouldn't need to do any of this. And maybe she wouldn't have had to cut open Mrs. Anderson, who'd only been dead a couple of weeks.

My arm itched, but I ignored it. Instead, I focused my attention on the report. Scully has atrocious handwriting, but I've had years of practice reading it. I asked her once if it were a special course she took in medical school. She told me there was, but she'd tested out of it.

Kerry had fought, but the UNSUB had bound her hands - there were burns from the tape, and even *they* had to note down that she'd been found that way. There was bruising on her face and a broken nose that had not been noted. She'd died from blood loss from her Swiss Army knife c-section/abortion. He'd hacked her open. For a moment, I had to fight to keep the coffee down. I was happy that Mikey had eaten my muffin. And then I had another flash of something warm and wet, and all I wanted to do was scream. Instead, I sat in that cafeteria and held my arms to my chest. I got a look or two, I suppose, but I attracted less attention than if I'd gone with my first impulse.

I don't remember all of the next two hours. I know I got some more coffee, and I know I read the report several times and took a lot of notes, and I know I kept thinking about that Biblical quote, but it doesn't seem to be enough to do to spend two hours. Scully looked even more exhausted when she found me a second time. She drank from my cup before she even said anything.

"I would have gotten you your own, Scully."

"I know. Mrs. Anderson didn't have anything incriminating in her fingernails. The UNSUB must have bound her hands first. He's learning from experience."

"Lord, I *hate* a smart serial killer." Scully smiled. My good turn for the day was complete.

She handed me the second report. "Let's go back to the hotel. I need a Jacuzzi before dinner."

"Okay, but I'm driving." She just nodded.



***Chapter Five***



Radisson Inn



I could feel the blood pouring over my hands, followed by the lighter waters, the waters of life as they flowed from the screaming woman. It was rich and warm and cleansing, cleansing me and her and the innocent one. Her screams were changing now. They were louder, deeper . . . they were coming . . . coming from . . . me. Strong arms were gripping me gently, firmly and it was warm, as warm as the blood . . . no!!!

"Fox. It's okay, Fox. It's all right. I'm here. I'm here. Shh." The arms were rocking me. I felt lips on my head. The screaming stopped and I opened my eyes to an unfamiliar room. I could see Scully in her robe, looking worried. The arms gripped me tighter. Whose arms? I saw black coat sleeves. I began to panic again.

"It's all right. I'm here." Walter. It was Walter's voice. He was here. He was holding me. I was safe.

"Walter?" I twisted around on the couch so I could bury my head on his shoulder.

"Yes. It's Walter. Shhhhhhh. It's all right." He began to stroke my hair. "It's okay. Everything will be okay, Fox. I'm here." My heart slowed to normal as I held him tighter.

I relaxed into him. It's hard for me to do this. It's something I'd learned to not need since I was a child. My dad would come to my room and look disappointed. *His* son would not react that way to a mere dream. Sometimes he'd scold me, sometimes he'd make me dress and sit up with the television, sometimes he'd say nothing and take away the nightlight and leave me alone in the dark. My mom never came to me at all. Sam would at first, but Dad found out and that stopped.

Walter doesn't think twice. I need him, he's there if he can be. This time it felt like magic, or even one of Scully's miracles. Scully was still there in the room. That was okay, too. Walter or Scully equal safety.

"Mulder? Do you want some water?"

I nodded against Walter's shoulder, and pulled myself away. I raked my hair away from my face. It was soaking wet from sweat. Scully poured some water into a glass and handed it to me. She must have noticed that I was still shaking, because it was only half-full. I took a careful sip.

"Thank you."

"Do you remember anything?" Walter got up to take off his trench coat, and Scully took his place next to me, with a gentle hand on my shoulder.

I stared into the water glass. It was cool in my hands, and hard. I focused on how different it was from what the dream had given me, the heat and the softness.

"Mulder?"

"Fox?" I could feel Walter settling in next to me, how crisp his shirt felt next to my skin. I began to shiver. I couldn't hold onto the glass anymore.

"Cold. I'm cold."

Scully felt my forehead and looked into my eyes. "He's in shock. Get him into the bed."

I let them take me to the bed and tuck me under the covers. Scully said something about getting a towel and disappeared, while Walter climbed into bed with me. He was warm.

"Good idea, Walter. Better than raining sleeping bags, isn't it, Mulder?" She began to towel my hair.

"Walter sings better. Ow, stop pulling. Walter, make her stop."

"I need to get your hair dry. There, that'll do." She patted my hair and began to rummage through my bags.

"Do you seriously think I could have stopped her?" My head was buried in Walter's chest. I could feel his chuckle.

"I'd like to have seen him try. Here, put this on." She tossed me a sweatshirt, and sat down on the bed next to us to feel my forehead. "Your color is better, and I think your temperature is normal."

It takes an extraordinary person to calmly sit on a bed where two men were embracing like the lovers they were and think only about medical matters.

"I feel better."

"Fox . . . are you up to telling us what that was about, or do you want to wait until morning?"

I considered. I wasn't about to forget it, but maybe talking would help. I pulled out of Walter's arms and sat up on the bed. It was chilly, so I put on the sweatshirt. Walter sat up with me and held my hand. Scully just looked on calmly and attentively.

They listened without comment as I described the dream - the struggling woman, the screams and prayers, the blood and fluids and how they felt, the texture of the knife in my hand. When things got rough, I held his hand tighter, and when I came to the blood and found it hard to breathe again, he rubbed my back while she squeezed my shoulder. When I finished, I buried my head in my hands and sobbed. Scully kept her hand on my shoulder.

"He's exhausted, Walter. He nearly died in Wyoming when Bi . . . that thing went after him, and he hasn't had a night's sleep in over a week. And now . . . now he's trying to crawl into a madman's head again. I don't like this."

"Neither do I. I can feel his bones again." I hate being talked about, but I didn't have the energy to form words. "It's all right, Fox. I'm not going to take you off the case." I nodded to show I'd heard and hugged my knees. I could feel his hand in my hair.

"If the people here only knew what they were doing, it wouldn't be so bad."

"You look exhausted yourself, Dana. Why don't you go back to bed? We'll talk more over breakfast."

"Good idea. Walter . . . I'm glad you showed up."

"Good night, Dana."

"Good night, both of you. Mulder, sleep." And she was gone.

"Fox, mind if I undress?" He was still wearing his suit pants and dress shirt - he was even wearing a tie.

I shook my head. "J . . . just don't take too long." Moments later, he was back in bed. I kept to my side of the bed, happy just to know he was there. He reached out to me for a moment, and then pulled back.

"No wonder you're cold. You have no insulation at all. I had to fall in love with the world's most beautiful scarecrow."

"I don't scare anything. Walter . . . why are you here?"

"I decided that the incompetence around here warranted a special investigation. You think you can get to sleep again?"

"I'll try."

He nodded, and kissed me on the forehead. Before I settled down again, he was fast asleep and, somehow, I joined him there, and finished the night with only vague memories of the intervening nightmares.



***Chapter Six***



Walter was already awake and looking at me. He likes to watch me sleep. I don't know what attraction a drooling scarecrow with a big nose holds for him, but he likes to watch me sleep. Walter, now - when he's asleep, all the furrows in his face smooth away and all those muscles relax and I can watch that for hours.

"Morning."

"Good morning, Fox. I hope you're awake enough for this." And he leaned over and kissed me quite thoroughly. When he was finished, I grinned at him.

"Hi to you, too. If I wasn't awake before, I am now."

He laughed. God, I love his laugh. I think I'm the only person who gets to hear it. It's big and powerful, just like him.

"If we had the time and you were up to it, I'd really show you how to wake up. But we don't. I've already spoken to Scully. As soon as we're ready, we'll go down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast." And he kissed me again.

Ready didn't take much time. Twenty minutes later, we were seated at a table, looking at menus.

Scully had her usual fruit and cottage cheese; I dithered and settled on scrambled eggs and bacon, fries on the side. It's easy to play with scrambled eggs. Walter surprised all of us by ordering, and I quote "One soft-boiled egg, cooked for four minutes and two slices of rye toast, butter on the side. A banana if you have it and a small orange juice. And coffee, of course."

He surprised me even more when our breakfasts arrived and he calmly exchanged mine for his.

I looked at him.

"How long has it been since you ate something more substantial than sunflower seeds?"

"I had dinner with Scully last night."

"Mulder, *I* had dinner. *You* built that mountain from Close Encounters with your mashed potatoes."

"Scully!"

"Dana told me all about it. And I do have a right to know. Now, then. You are going to at least try to eat some of that egg and toast." He glared at me until I cracked the egg and sliced off the top.

"One bite, Fox." I grimaced but Scully was glaring at me, too. And Skinner was starting to eat my breakfast. I salt and peppered the egg and crumbled a little toast in it, but then I ran out of toys and had to eat some of it. One spoonful.

"When did you get in, Walter?" Scully dug into her cottage cheese.

"Only a few minutes before I got to your rooms. I used my badge to get your room keys and thought I'd surprise Fox." Two spoonfuls. It was getting easier. I peeled the banana.

"It didn't turn out that way." Scully tried to steal Walter's fries, but he didn't let her.

"Get your own, Agent Scully. I plan to eat these." She smiled and signaled the waitress, and actually ordered her own potatoes. I tried to get more egg out of the shell, but there was none left. There was toast, though. I buttered it and took a bite of banana.

"So what are you going to do with the local agents?"

"I thought I'd walk in and look menacing while you did all the talking."

She nodded. "Well, I do have them properly cowed. However, something tangible needs to be done."

I looked at my plate. Walter's plate. Whatever. The egg was empty, and one piece of toast was gone, and half the banana. I'd even managed a couple of sips of juice. I sent testing thoughts to my stomach and found it was full and happy to be so. I pushed the plate away and picked up my coffee.

Walter didn't even glance at the plate. He and Scully kept discussing their plans as he scarfed down my breakfast. Even if I didn't intend to eat it, it was mine. Except for the fries, which were Scully's. At which point I laughed to myself. I figured out Walter's nefarious plot.

"Finished, Fox?"

"You know, Walter, some might construe what you did as bullying or even harassment."

"Yeah, but you ate more than I expected. And I had to eat your choice of breakfast."

"Tomorrow, I'll order pancakes instead."

"Good. I like pancakes."

"Maybe I'll want them." I wanted to kiss him right there, but I didn't dare touch him at all. Big, strong, macho FBI agents don't fondle their bosses in public. Neither do skinny, whiny, closeted FBI agents.

"I'll let you have half."

He signed for the bill and we went off to terrorize the muni building. It was amusing to see the locals sidling over to me for protection from both Walter and Scully. I sat on a desk with my arms folded and watched as my partners ripped into them. Neither used profanity; neither raised their voices. They just stated the facts of the matter with controlled anger - Scully going into detail about the missing data and the fact that one family was unwilling to have a second autopsy; Walter stating what he expected from an FBI office; both making sure they knew that the next death would be on their shoulders.

Matt Stein gave *me* a sympathetic look. I just smiled at him. So far as I could tell, he had nothing to feel guilty about - he'd done whatever competent fieldwork had been done, and he'd worked to get the autopsies. Walter caught me smiling and frowned.

"Okay, people. Let's see if you can redeem yourselves. Agent Scully found traces of fibers and skin under Mrs. Browne's fingernails. The lady was a fighter. Good for her. The field office should be finished - at least I hope your labs know what they are doing. Send someone there as soon as possible to pick the results up. We don't want to waste the first solid clues we have."

The ASAC had the presence of mind to send Stein out to Philadelphia. Someone else was detailed to take us all to the various dumpsters where the bodies had been found. Not that we expected to find anything with this ice cold trail, but we could hope.

Nothing. He used two McDonald's, a Wendy's and a Burger King. They were miles apart. The only thing they had in common was that none had twenty-four hour drive-through windows, which meant that none had twenty-four hour staff, so no one could see the UNSUB dump the bodies. This said that he had some common sense. They were even miles from where the victim's cars had been abandoned.

When we got back, I spent the rest of the morning playing with maps while Scully analyzed the forensic findings and her own reports, and Walter began investigating the investigators.

There was nothing. I drew lines from the abandoned cars to the appropriate fast food restaurants. I drew lines between the fast food places. I drew lines between the abandoned cars. I even tried to find something located centrally from either place, and all those places, and since three of them were miles apart on the same strip, that didn't work at all. I ended up taking all those maps with the meticulous color coded lines and balling them up in a fit of frustration. And then I shuddered.

Scully noticed and sat next to me.

"You okay, partner?"

"Tell me that you have something, Scully. I have a bad feeling."

"We have something, all right. What's the bad feeling?"

"Someone's going to die tonight. He'll be checking her out this afternoon, and she'll be in a fast-food dumpster by morning."

"You think so?"

"It's been a couple of weeks. It's time. What do you have?"

"Blue polyester fibers. No match for the DNA, though, which means he's not in the data banks."

"Someone who's never been in trouble, or at least not in recent years. Blue polyester . . . like a uniform?"

"Yes. There shouldn't be that many people with such a uniform."

"We won't find him tonight, though. Damn."

"Dana, you have something?" Walter came toward us.

She told Walter what she'd found. He motioned to Stein, who walked over, fear in his face.

"Yesss, sir?"

"Stein, start looking for blue polyester uniforms. Call restaurants, security guards, supermarkets . . . whoever might have a uniform." Stein nodded and went back to his phone.

"Only one here I trust, besides you two."

I looked at him with surprise. "You *trust* me, Walter?"

"Only in comparison, Fox." But he was smiling. "Lunch, people. Stein! Where's the closest diner?"

New Jersey is the diner capital of the world, it seems. We had a choice of where to go. So we just pointed the car at random.



***Chapter Seven***



Morningside Diner



Lunch was not a replay of breakfast. After Scully got her chef's salad, diet dressing on the side, I ordered a cup of vegetable soup and toast. Walter smiled as he chose something huge that won him a Scully look of disapproval.

We talked about the case during lunch. Walter wanted to talk about his own investigation but clearly couldn't. He nodded when I told him what I thought would happen. Walter *always* believes me. I don't know why, but he does. I'm glad Scully doesn't. If she did, my world would tilt on edge.

Walter never said a word about what I ordered. He just calmly finished the half I left over. So far, I'd eaten more that day than I had since Monday night. Maybe it was Walter; maybe it was that it was easier to eat some of a small amount than of a large one. It was an odd feeling.

The afternoon was more of the same. Matt Stein managed to track down the final husband. He was indeed living with his parents. In Michigan. He was willing to let us interview him over the phone. I hate doing phone interviews. It's too easy to hide that way, and I never get a decent fix on the person. However, Sean Grazi told essentially the same story and even gave us permission to exhume his wife. He said that he wanted to just get on with his life. Stacey had been the first one killed, it had been six months and he needed to put it behind him.

Matt Stein also came up with a list of people using blue polyester uniforms. The ones that stood out were the security guards - two companies used similar uniforms. But there were also fast food and food court workers who wore similar outfits.

"I'm sorry I couldn't narrow it down further." He actually looked apologetic.

"Agent Stein, you did excellent work." Walter smiled at him and then glowered at the other agents.

I buried myself in the files again. Stacey Grazi didn't add much more to the story. One more just-showing pregnant woman snatched while going shopping. But I kept adding things together, letting the thoughts go through my mind, coordinating them with the one note we had: "In sorrow shall you give birth."

"Scully, what does that verse mean to you?"

"What verse?" She was reviewing the autopsy data again.

"The one from Genesis."

"It's Eve's punishment for eating the apple. After this, she and all her descendants will have labor pains. Also, she will have to obey her husband."

"The apple. Original sin, right?"

"Yes. When Adam and Eve ate the apple, sin came into the world."

"Which is somehow transmitted from mother to child?

"Yes. And baptism washes you clean."

"Baptism washes you clean. If you don't get baptized, then what?"

"It depends. There used to be a place called Limbo for unbaptized babies and for people who died without hearing the word of Christ, but now it's gone. If you've heard it and you reject it, you're in trouble."

"You mean, I'm destined for Hell, Scully?"

"You weren't baptized? Of course, you weren't." She looked apologetic.

"Nope. My parents had a deal. I'd be raised in no religion at all."

"Hmm." Scully looked at me. "I think an argument can be made that you were raised by wolves."

I growled at her. Stein grinned.

"But, Scully, could being ripped out like that save their souls?"

"I don't know, Mulder. I wish I did. It's not in any Christian theology I know about. It sounds horrible."

I went back to my notes. Stein found me a legal pad, and I began what I hoped would be a profile of this person. And I waited. Eventually the phone would ring, and we'd know we'd failed, at least as far as one family was concerned.

A phone did ring. I jumped, and Scully picked it up. "Scully."

"No, Mr. Browne. All right, Liam. We don't have anything new to tell you. I'm sorry. We will tell you. Dinner tonight? Both Mulder and me? I'm sorry. Not now. Not in the middle of a case. My boss is here, anyway. If you want."

"Mulder, there's someone who wants to talk to you."

I frowned, but took the receiver.

"Mullah."

"Mikey? Hi, Mikey."

"Mullah muffin!"

"Yes. Muffin."

"Bye-bye, Mullah." *click*

"You seem to have a fan club, Mulder." I grinned.

The afternoon crept by. Stein found more people who wore blue polyester uniforms, and Scully took the car to the hospital to autopsy Stacey Grazi. I was trying to draw lines and correlations again. Finally I took all of those useless notes and crumpled them loudly.

That got everyone's attention.

Matt Stein got to me first. "Are you all right, Agent Mulder?"

I nodded then shook my head. I could hear muttering in the background. "Damn prima-donna nutcase. Why doesn't he just chase Big Foot some more?" My injuries hurt. Scully had said they were well enough to not bandage anymore.

"Agent Mulder?" I looked up at Walter, and ran my hand through my hair. "Agent Mulder, can I talk to you in private?" Without looking back, he walked into the office he'd appropriated. I followed him, kicking at my chair as I rose.

"Yes, sir?" I closed the door behind me.

Quietly, he gestured toward a chair. I took it, and then found myself wrapped securely in Walter's arms. I started to shake. He stroked my hair and held me until I calmed.

"It's getting to you."

"It's the waiting, the knowledge that nothing we can do now will stop another killing."

"I know."

"When she dies, it'll be our fault."

"No. It will be his fault. You have to believe that, Fox."

I broke away, stood up and started to pace.

"I can't. I'm here, and she's my responsibility, and I'll never know who she really was."

"If we can do this right, Fox, it will be the last one. Hold on to that."

"Oh, God. When will that phone ring?"

"If she's like the others, she won't be missed until her husband comes home from work. That could be hours."

"Yeah. I know. I know. I can't stay here. Walter, it's almost six. Scully's probably about done. Why don't we pick her up and go out somewhere for dinner?" I wasn't hungry, but it would get me out of there.

"You want to ask Stein to go with us? He's the only one worth something here."

I thought about it. Did I want to make the effort to make Walter and me look normal? "No. Just family." He smiled and squeezed my shoulder.

"Stay here."

He left the office and moments later returned with our coats and things. As I got into mine, he called to make sure Scully was finished and ready to go. And then, after bestowing a scowl around the main room, he left, with me following in his wake. I did give a wink to Stein, though.



***Chapter Eight***



Thursday Night



We went to one of those faux-Tudor steak restaurants. Walter didn't bat an eye when I waved away the menu. Scully looked concerned, but one look from him quelled her. When the waiter came, I just excused myself. He was gone when I returned, and there were plates of salad on the table.

I nodded at them as I sat down. We tried to chat about

inconsequential things. I maintained that the Yankees' season was an X-file; Scully claimed the real X-file was how they managed without Strawberry. Walter said none of it was strange, not even when Maris' record fell twice to two different players in two days.

"Skill, Fox. Skill and the knowledge that it's a team sport. Nothing magical at all."

Every beep of a cell phone made me jump. When Walter's finally chimed, I nearly spilled the table. Scully put a hand on my shoulder.

"Skinner. Yes. We were expecting this. What? Agent Mulder, of course. When did it happen?" Skinner's face became tight. "Agent Mulder is very good at what he does, but he doesn't perform miracles. Now, when did it happen? Okay. Keep us posted." He closed the connection.

Scully quirked an eyebrow.

"Idiots."

"When was she missing?"

"A Mrs. Cohen, five months pregnant with her first child, never came home from shopping tonight."

I suddenly could not hold on to my water glass. Everything looked very far away.

"Mulder! Walter, help!" Before the words were out, Walter was kneeling on the floor in front of me.

"Fox, you're white as a sheet!" I was too busy trying to breathe to say anything.

Walter knelt down beside me. Someone, I don't know who, asked if I was all right.

"I'm fine. I'm really fine."

"Mulder, are you certain?" Scully clearly didn't believe me.

"Yeah. Just need to get my bearings. Don't worry."

"Miss? Would you mind bringing us some water?" The woman nodded to Walter and left.

"What am I going to do with you, Mulder? You barely ate anything today, and you ate nothing yesterday."

"I've done that before. I was fine."

She took my pulse. "You're in shock again. I don't understand. You were expecting the news. You were jumping out of your skin all afternoon."

"I was hoping I was wrong. I was hoping we had more time."

Walter was back in his seat. He held my hand. "You knew better. I wish . . . "

"Mulder, I'm worried about you. You must have lost ten pounds in the last week, you're still fighting an injury, and I don't know if you've slept since we left Washington for Wyoming."

"I'm fine, Scully. I slept at home. Sort of."

I could see the two of them looking at each other.

"Mulder, I don't know what to do. I've never seen you look so bad outside of a hospital."

"I'm not going to the hospital."

She shook her head. "If I had my way, you would be. But we do need to take care of you. You have to eat something."

"Scully . . . " I blinked at her.

"I know, Mulder. I'm not going to nag you. But you can't survive on two bites of food."

"Walter?"

"Do you think I'm going to argue with Dana?" He kept stroking my hand. I realized he was tracing the bones. I pulled it away.

The waitress returned with the steaks. I got a whiff of them, and felt vaguely nauseous, but controlled it.

"Miss, could I have some mashed potatoes, please? With gravy on the side?"

"Of course, sir." I winked at her, and she smiled. Walter shook his head, but Scully seemed to approve. She returned a few minutes later with a generous bowlful.

"Do you think they'll find her tomorrow?" I drizzled gravy on the potatoes and picked up a forkful.

"Someone will. They'll be dumpster diving at all the fast food places in the morning." Scully studied the bite on her fork.

"Make sure no one moves her until we get there."

"Until *I* get there, Mulder. You are staying put tomorrow."

"Scully, I *have* to see it. You know I do." The room began to spin again.

"Fox?"

I closed my eyes until things settled down. "I'm fine. I just . . . she's still alive right now. He has her, but she's still alive, still pregnant. He's not going to kill her for a couple of hours. He needs to pray, I think."

They stopped eating their dinners.

"Fox? Are you sure?"

I opened my eyes. "He's trying to save their souls. Original sin . . . it's from the woman. It's the woman's fault because she ate the fruit. And she forces men to sin. And they have babies to continue the line of sin. So, he takes the baby before it's born. He baptizes it in its mother's . . . its mother's . . . " I pushed away the potatoes.

"Mulder, that's no Christian doctrine I've ever . . . " She looked at her half-finished steak, and resolutely took another bite. Walter looked faintly green, but he followed her lead.

I pulled my own plate back and put a forkful of potato in my mouth, and worked it around, and swallowed it. I was sweating with effort. I tried another. They both sat quite nicely where they should. I debated risking another. I went for it, and eventually finished half the bowl.

"Walter, what do you say we forgo dessert tonight?" Walter nodded at Scully and signaled the waitress.

A half hour later, I was wrapped up in the bed in Walter's hotel room and writing down the profile that had finally come together. Too late for Mrs. Cohen, though.

Walter picked up the first few pages. "You seem to have decided he is a security guard."

"Yeah. The uniforms are right and he may get rotating assignments to different malls, which would explain why no one shopping center was targeted."

"None of the husbands knew which mall, anyway."

"Stein got hold of credit card records. Stacey Grazi charged for some baby books in a bookstore in a Rt. 73 mall; Mrs. Anderson bought a new maternity dress in a mall on Haddonfield Road."

Walter nodded. "Thank God for Stein."

"Yeah."

"Religious fundamentalist upbringing. Middle-aged. Never married, no children. Straight. Are you sure?"

I shrugged. "Ninety percent sure. Notice that the women he's killed are all young and attractive, and obviously sexually active. I think the Madonna/Whore attitude is working overtime for this guy."

"Wants to get the baby out of the place of sin. You said that at dinner. It's still twisted."

"What serial killer isn't, Walter?" I put the pad and pen on the night table. "Do we have any sunflower seeds?"

"Wasn't your partner supposed to buy some on her shopping trip? Let me call her." He picked up the hotel phone. "Dana? Where are you? Did you get the seeds? Yeah, that should hold him. See you soon. You know the room number." Click. "She picked up several large bags."

"I guess I really am eating like a bird."

Walter sat down on the bed and took my hands. He began tracing the bones again. "That's too true to be funny, Fox." I pulled them away again.

"I'm fine, Walter."

"You nearly fainted at the restaurant twice. You're eating nothing. You're having nightmares. You are not fine. If I could, I'd take you off the case entirely."

"No!"

He shook his head. "Relax. I'm not going to do that. We need you here. I'm not even going to try to chain you to a desk tomorrow. You need to see the scene. And I'm not going to nag you to eat. But you are going on vacation after this."

"Walter!"

"With me. I'm due for one, too, and no one will suspect anything if I choose to go only when my biggest pain in the ass is also gone." I smiled, and Walter's face lit up. He pulled me into his arms and kissed me gently and thoroughly. "I love you, Fox. Let me worry about you."

I buried my face in his shoulder. "Love you, too."

I don't know how long we sat like that, just holding each other. For however long it was, I felt safe and warm and protected. Nothing could get through him to me, not then. I treasure those moments. Only Walter and Scully ever make me feel safe. Make me feel like I deserve to be safe, not kept safe because it serves some other end. One day I'll let them know it. Sometimes I wonder how it feels to grow up as something other than merchandise. On the other hand, I managed to survive all of it without becoming a serial killer myself.

"Walter? Mulder? May I come in?"

"Come in!" Walter loosened his grip and sat further away from me, but I didn't let him lose contact.

Scully had a couple of bags of groceries - the seeds, a couple of boxes of crackers, some fresh fruit and ice cream. When I reached for that to see the flavor, she hit me.

"Hands off! That's mine."

"You're going to eat a whole pint of cannoli ice cream yourself?"

"Yep. And if either of you gets ideas, remember I'm armed and a better shot than both of you put together. *This* is barely enough." She grinned.

"What happened to 'Mulder, eat something. I'm worried about you.'?"

"Would you actually eat this?"

I shook my head. She looked at Walter.

"It's all yours, Dana." He reached for an orange instead, and I got a bag of seeds all my own. Walter also handed me the ice bucket and told me that if he found so much as a shell in the bed, he'd carry me back to my own room.

Scully found my notes and looked them over while eating her ice cream - straight from the carton. "So we should find security guards? Okay. Tomorrow, we'll get Matt Stein to do more legwork. We can find who they assigned where and when."

"Anything on TV tonight?" They both shrugged. Scully pulled out her laptop and connected the modem to the phone line.

"I'm e-mailing Matt now. That way it'll get done faster." There are rumors that Scully has no life. She does indeed have a life - she has a long-term, serious relationship with her computer. She can do things on the Internet that not even the Lone Gunmen can imitate.

I found the remote control. The hotel had Cartoon Network, so I was set for the evening. Walter read his reports, I ate my sunflower seeds and watched the Scooby gang. Scully communed with cyberspace. It was all rather cozy and relaxing, and I found myself drifting off.



***Chapter Nine***



The next thing I knew, the lights were out and Walter was climbing into bed next to me. I could feel him settling down on his side.

"No hugs?"

"Fox? I thought you were asleep." He moved closer and gathered me in his arms.

I pushed away. "Last thing I remember, the bad guys were pulling off their masks and Scully was scowling at a mailing list."

I felt him nod. "That was a while ago. No dreams?"

"No dreams. This is nice."

"Yeah. Go back to sleep, troublemaker."

"Don't wanna sleep. Wanna make love with you." I began to kiss his face.

"Oh, God. I want to, but . . . are you up for it?"

"Ate half a bag of seeds. And check for yourself."

He chuckled and placed his hand on my crotch. "Yes, yes, you are. It's been so long . . . let me do the work this time."

"You're the boss."

"How come you only remember that when we're in bed?"

I just smiled. His hand was doing wonderful things.

He was the way he always was - slow, gentle and generous. It was a revelation to me. Before he became my lover, if anyone had bothered to ask, and almost no one did, I would have said I liked it rough and hard, that I wanted bruises the next day.

I thought that was what I needed, what I wanted, especially from other men. I thought that was what I deserved for not being the son Bill Mulder wanted, even as I rebelled against him in other ways. I never had any problems finding partners who would give me this, either. Even Phoebe - especially Phoebe - was happy to do what I asked.

As for pretty Krycek - he liked to get it rough, too. We were a perfect pair, beating each other up in the guise of sex. Good thing I didn't see Scully every day while I was with Krycek. Some days, the bruises were all too obvious. There were times I could hardly button my collar, my neck hurt so much. Maybe his disappearance saved my life. I don't know.

Walter never listened to that. At first, with Modell and Bowman in my head, pushing me to believe that Scully was dead, and living on Scully's tranquilizers, I was too out of things to protest. I didn't see him again, not that way, for weeks afterwards. He let me go. He let me find my way back to him.

It wasn't easy. I spent nights lying on my couch, thinking about the way he loved me, the way he took care of me, the way I felt in his arms. I missed him, but I had to convince myself that being with him was not a sign of weakness. He never pressed, but I knew he was waiting patiently. Walter could be surprisingly patient. Thank God, or he'd have killed or fired me years ago.

And when I finally picked up the phone and asked if I could see him, he was there. He came to me and took me back to his apartment, and for the first time in my right mind, I made love to him. He let me do it the way I wanted to, but this time, when I saw the bruises on those broad shoulders, it hurt. Walter didn't deserve such treatment.

Then he took me in his arms and began the first of his lessons. By the end of it, I knew that there was more to sex than pain and more ways to remember loving than bruises, as I lay bonelessly in his bed, and he smiled that wonderful smile. He showed me in ways that words could not that I was worthy of hugs and kisses and caresses. That I was worthy of love. This night in New Jersey, he showed me again.

He undressed me, shushing me when I tried to help. Then he began stroking me. I shivered under his warm fingers as he ran them down my side or behind my neck. He wouldn't let me stroke him back. "It's all for you, Fox." And he kissed me on the eyelids. I was so aroused it hurt.

He found my nipples in the dark and began to suck on them, barely nipping at them with his teeth, as I moaned and arched. He chuckled again, and kissed his way down my body until he reached my aching, straining penis.

He took me in his mouth. I could feel the warmth there and his tongue as it licked its way around. I got close, so close and then he stopped as I hoped he would. He kissed my mouth passionately and then turned me over, placing a pillow underneath me. I cushioned my head in my arms.

He explored my back with his hands and his mouth as if he'd never done it before. With each touch, each kiss, each lick and soft nip, I shivered a little more as desire built within me. When he finally plunged his tongue between my buttocks, I nearly jumped. He stroked me until I settled again, and resumed. My entire being was focused at my anus, with Walter's tongue stimulating it just the way I needed it.

"Please, Walter . . . "

"Soon, Fox, soon." He left me for a moment, and fumbled for something on the bedside table. I felt cold lubed fingers where his tongue had been. "I'm sorry, Fox. If I'd known, I would have warmed this first."

"''s'okay." He prepared as thoroughly as always, kissing my back every time he added a finger. I was moaning by the time he decided I was ready. I heard the condom wrapper tear and then felt him behind me again. Slowly he pushed. I gasped at the burning that no amount of prep could remove, and then relaxed as he was in me. I could feel my body adjust to him. We got this chance rarely enough that each time I was tight again, so it was always like this.

Then he began to move, and I could hear his groans and sighs as he created pleasure for both of us. He hit my prostate and I howled and began to move with him as much as he allowed; as much as my condition allowed. He reached around me and grasped my penis, now as hard and aching as it had ever been, and began to stroke it in his own pounding rhythm, which became the rhythm of both our hearts. There was something odd in the back of my mind, but I couldn't concentrate on it. I could feel the orgasm growing inside of me from that double stimulation, and I could hear Walter's breathing grow faster along with mine, and then, with his normal exquisite timing, we both exploded almost at the same time - first me, then him.

He collapsed on top of me - even then taking care not to put his weight on me, and stayed inside of me until he softened enough to pull it out without pain. Then he rolled me over and held me in his arms until my breathing was normal again.

"I love you, Fox. With all my heart." He whispered those words into my hair.

I believed him. No one had ever made me feel more cherished, more deserving of happiness than he did when he made love to me.

"Love you, too, Walter." I tightened my grip around his body and kissed his neck, his shoulders, his chest, anything to show him the way I felt. I depend on his strength - not the strength of his body but of his soul - to keep me balanced now. To help me remember that I am, indeed, worthy to be cherished and loved and to love and cherish back again.

He must have had wipes by the bed, too, because I could feel him cleaning me up before we both drifted into sleep on our own sides. I hoped that this time our love making would keep the nightmares away.

"Die! Evil witch! Die!" She was lying there in her blood, muttering her curses even as I stabbed her over and over again. Her blood was warm on my hands, the baby I saved was on the ground. See, Daddy? I'm killing the evil woman. Die, witch, die!

"Fox! Fox! Wake up! It's me, it's Walter! Fox!" I blinked, and there was Walter lying next to me in the light from the bathroom, and I was pounding him again and again, and the images, the horrible images in my mind were still clear as crystal and I knew I'd never forget them and I collapsed on the bed in a ball. I couldn't help the tears this time. I was too tired and too underfed, and all I could see was that dying woman and the baby too small to live.

"It's going to be all right, Fox. It's going to be fine. I'm here . . . you didn't hurt me and I'm here." I flinched away from his touch. I felt unclean. I didn't want him to defile himself. "It's okay. Whatever you want, Fox. Whatever you need."

I forced myself to sit upright, my arms wrapped around my knees. Walter wrapped the blanket around me, but I shivered anyway.

"I'm going to call Dana. You're not well." He moved to the phone.

"No. Let her sleep a little longer. Walter, I have to tell you about the dream. I don't want to, but I have to."

"I'm listening." He let go of the telephone and settled next to me in the bed, carefully not touching me.

"I was him. I was the UNSUB, the sick mind out there." I shivered harder, but shook my head when Walter moved closer. "I watched for her in the mall. I watched for them all, the pretty ones, the young ones who made me think evil thoughts. Women are evil, they brought sin into the world, and they make me think of sin." I buried my head in my hands.

"You've been too close to this case. You're imagining things."

"They made me lust after them, and that's evil. Oh, God, Walter. I've never lusted after a woman. Not even the one or two I've slept with. I could feel my-his desire for them, all mixed up with how evil and wrong it was. And there she was, so enticing in her tight dress, the baby just showing, the baby I could save from evil. I remember thinking that so clearly. She was carrying packages. I offered to help her . . . I was just going off duty. She said yes . . . and I took her. I took her to my place . . . a secret place. It was all jumbled there. I remember, she had her hair tucked into a hat, a beret or something, and she cried when I pulled it off. Her hair was so pretty, too - fiery red just like . . . .just like Scully's. Only I didn't know Scully, so I didn't think that.

"And I cut away the dress and the shirt underneath and the bra and panties and stockings, and I panted because she was working her evil on me again. And she was begging me not to hurt her, not to touch her, that she was married and pregnant and something about her husband and then she started saying something I didn't understand over and over and over again. She was cursing me, I knew it, because I was going to ruin things by not succumbing to her evil and by saving her baby from it. So, I ripped open . . . Oh, God!"

I got up and ran to the bathroom, and emptied my stomach of the little that was there. Walter was right behind me. He silently handed me a towel and a glass of water. I sat down on the bathroom floor. He draped a couple of bath towels over me, but I was still cold.

"You don't have to say any more, Fox."

"Yes, yes, I do." I took a deep breath. "Then I'll be clean again. I ripped . . . I used my knife and . . . I saved the baby. I saved it from being born to evil. I wrapped it in a clean cloth. The woman . . . the woman kept crying and cursing, saying long things in a language I didn't know. The other women, they'd at least prayed to God, to Jesus, but this one must have been a witch because she kept cursing. So I stabbed her and I stabbed her and I stabbed her . . . and you woke me up and dragged me out of there, but I can still feel her blood on my hands . . . "

Walter knelt beside me, and held up my hands. "There is no blood on these hands, Fox."

"Yes, yes there is. I haven't caught him, so her death is on me." The towels were not warm enough. But Walter was. I let him wrap his arms around me.

"No. It's on him. Only on him. And whatever drives him to do this thing."

I couldn't believe him, but I was clean enough now to touch him, so I leaned against him and he held me and rocked me and stroked my hair until I was a little calmer.

"I didn't hurt you?" I touched his chest, where a bruise was forming.

"Maybe a little . . . Let's get you back to bed. You're freezing." He helped me off the floor, and half carried me out of the bathroom.

I let him put me on the bed. "I need to get a handle on his motivation. Damn, I wish I could get him out of my head!"

"I know, I know. You will, Fox. You're the best at what you do. Later." He covered me with the blanket and the bedspread. He joined me there, wrapping those strong arms around me.

"Don't tell Scully about this. She'll only worry."

He chuckled into my hair. "And face her wrath when she finds out?"

"Good point." I buried my face in his chest.

"She worries about you anyway. She loves you, too."

"Waste of time for her. Should find nice straight Catholic man . . . Liam Browne, maybe."

"Who?"

"Nice guy. Husband of a victim. Cop. Kids."

"Kids."

"Yeah. I could be crazy Uncle Mulder. I'd make a good crazy uncle."

"I'm telling Scully about this nightmare at breakfast."

"Okay. This time I'll order the egg." I was finally getting warm. I felt safe there, wrapped in Walter, even as he chuckled himself to sleep. I didn't sleep . . . I just worried about that dream and what it seemed to tell me. Eventually, he moved and I got dressed in exercise clothes, wrote him a note and went to the gym, where I spent an hour on the treadmill purging the rest of the filth from my soul.



***Chapter Ten***



Cherry Hill Municipal Building



Usually, I'm the one everyone looks at when I enter a bureau office. This time, I might as well have not have been there, which suited me just fine. I stood behind the real centers of attention and watched.

"Agent Goldberg, you are hereby suspended pending a hearing. Go back to Philadelphia and hand your bureau chief your gun and badge immediately. I will continue my investigation into your competency from here. Go!" Goldberg turned bright red and left the room, trailing the remnants of his career.

"As for the rest of you . . . consider yourselves on probation." No one can glower like Walter.

"Director Skinner?"

"Yes, Agent Stein?"

"Who is going to be in charge now, sir? You?"

"No. I have my own investigation to run. Agent Mulder is, of course, profiling the UNSUB. Agent Scully, who is junior only to Agent Mulder and myself, will be ASAC." He turned to her and nodded.

Scully blinked. Walter had made no mention of this over breakfast. The other agents looked at her expectantly. So did I.

She took a deep breath. "Thank you, sir. People, the vacation is now officially over. A woman was probably killed last night. That should not have happened, and she *will* be the last one. The first order of business will be to find her body. Agent Stein, do you have a list of the local fast food restaurants?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Divide the list up between each team - do it by location. Folks, I hope you have good dry cleaners because you're going dumpster diving. Agent Stein, you will stay here and give Agent Mulder whatever assistance he requires. Who is your partner?"

"Agent Jimson." Stein indicated a tall young woman next to him.

"Agent Jimson, you will assist AD Skinner. The rest of you - report to me after every dumpster. Get to work, people."

Ten minutes later, the teams were all heading for their cars, clutching the addresses of a dozen McDonald's and Burger Kings and Goldberg had scurried out of his former office with his box of belongings. Scully, a dangerous look in her eyes, watched him go. She then politely asked the two of us to join her in *her* office.

She sat down behind the desk, leaving Walter and me to stand in front of it. There were no other chairs. I was going to sit on the desk, but Walter shook his head at me. Scully steepled her hands together.

"Did I pass your test, sir?" Her voice was cold.

Walter nodded. "With flying colors."

"When did you plan on this . . . surprise?"

"Last night . . . and Fox didn't know, either."

"Then why does he look so smug?" She glared at me.

"Assistant Director Dana Scully. It has a nice ring to it. And while you rise to the top of the heap where you belong, I can point to you and say that you used to be my partner." I had to smile.

"What are you talking about? Walter?" She dropped the cold act.

"Relax, Dana. You and Fox will be partners for a long while yet. But, when the time comes for me to leave that office, I want it in the best possible hands. Yours." He grinned at her surprise.

"But, sir . . . .I'm not . . . .Mulder is . . . Mulder is senior to me. He's the head of the department."

I did sit on her desk. "Scully, try to imagine *me* as assistant director. Just for a moment."

She closed her eyes. "Oh, my God. No."

"Hey, I wouldn't be *that* bad." A look passed between the other two. "Okay, maybe I would."

"You don't mind this, Mulder?"

"Mind? To see you where you belong? I'd miss you in my cave, but I wouldn't hold you back."

"But why the secrecy, and why now? You could easily have taken over yourself, Walter."

"Not and investigate this office *and* take care of my own work from DC. I had to pick someone to take over from that incompetent. Scully, I've been seriously thinking about you for my job ever since you discovered the virus in Barryville."

"But . . . " Scully was flummoxed. It sounds cruel, but I was enjoying it.

"I needed to see how you would handle authority in the field, and I wanted to see if you could think on your feet. Perhaps I shouldn't have surprised you like that, but you handled it about as well as anyone I've ever seen, and better than most. Certainly, you more than met my expectations. This investigation is yours, Agent Scully. The first of many."

Scully nodded. Her face was became perfectly calm and collected. "Thank you for your confidence in me, sir. Since this investigation is mine, I will run it as I see fit."

"Of course. Even with Agent Jimson's help - and thank you for that, by the way - I have more than enough to do. Excuse me, please?"

"Thank you, Walter." She smiled at him. He squeezed my shoulder as he left the room. "As for you, partner . . . " She turned those eyes on me.

"Scully, I swear I didn't know anything!"

"Relax, Mulder. I believe you."

"You do?"

"Always. So. I'm in charge. Good. I have some specific instructions for you."

"Already?" I didn't like the sound of that. "Don't let power go to your head."

"Take off your jacket and roll up your sleeve so I can check your injury." Grumbling, I did as I was told. "That looks good. It's healing nicely. We'll leave off the bandages. I can't believe you escaped that bear."

"It wasn't a bear, Scully. You know that." She looked at me.

"Whatever you say, Mulder. Mulder, you're almost a skeleton. You must have lost fifteen pounds over these past two weeks." Her hand on my arm was cool and clinical.

"Stress diet. Does wonders for my girlish figure. Scully, you know better."

"Mulder, you want to go to the scene? Work that 'spooky' magic?"

"I have to."

She nodded. "I know. Well, you have to eat something."

"I ate breakfast." Most of it, anyway.

"You ate a single poached egg and half a slice of toast."

"And apple juice. You're just pissed because you had to order your own fries again."

"Right, Mulder. We'll see."

There was a knock on the door.

"Come in."

"Agent Scully? Oh, you're busy." Stein turned a bright shade of red.

"Agent Stein, this is . . . exactly what it looks like."

"Mulder!"

"Agent Scully was examining an injury I incurred during our last case. You are aware she's an MD?" I showed him my arm. The laceration was still vivid. He winced. I rolled down my sleeve and put my jacket back on.

"How did . . . never mind. Agent Scully, I have that information you wanted."

"Good. Get a couple of chairs and we'll look it over in here. Oh, and bring Agent Mulder's sunflower seeds." I went to help.

"So, Agent Mulder, what exactly is going on?"

I looked at him. "Going on where?"

"Between AD Skinner and Agent Scully?"

"Skinner and Scully?" I stood there in amazement while Stein opened the office door.

"Just put them down in front of the desk, gentlemen."

"I have to get my notes. I'll be right back." Stein ducked out of the office.

He was back almost immediately with them, my seeds and a bowl for the shells. I'd told her by then. I was amazed at how quickly she'd regained her composure.

"Let's see what you have, Agent Stein."

He'd done very well. He'd found the security guard company that handled those malls, and narrowed the field down to a number of men who worked as fill-ins for security guards who couldn't get to their regular jobs or who handled emergencies.

Scully beamed at him. "Excellent police work, Agent Stein. Call the locals and arrange to bring them in for questioning."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Have you had a chance to look at Agent Mulder's profile?"

"Not yet. I thought you were going to do some more work on it, sir." He looked at me.

"I've had some more insights. It ties into his father. His father was a religious Christian fundamentalist, with very non-standard interpretations. Sometime after his son was born, the mother left - probably deserted them. Not dead, because he resented her for leaving. He raised his son to think that women are all evil. They brought sin in the world, and they used their bodies to corrupt men. But the UNSUB is attracted to women - very attracted to them. Which means women are working their evil wiles on him and his weak flesh.

"Fathers rule a boy's life, you know? You spend your childhood worshiping them like heroes. They can do anything, know everything, have the power of life or death. You believe what they tell you, even if next week it's all different. Some of us are blessed by our fathers, Scully, like you. Some of us are damned by the men who raise us, even as they take our love for them for granted." I rubbed my eyes.

"He may or may not have a fetish for pregnant women. There have been no signs of sexual attack on any of the bodies, right, Scully?" She was looking at me with worry in her eyes. I don't know what Stein was doing, but I suspect he was concerned, too.

"I saw no signs myself, and the coroner saw none."

"There were none. He will not succumb to their evil. He will save their babies." The images from the night before were coming stronger and stronger. I began to shake. All I could see was that tiny, unformed baby on the floor, covered with its mother's fluids. "He will keep them from their sins. Baptize them in her . . . blood washes away sins. Living water washes away sins. All sins. My sins . . . " The words came out, but they weren't mine.

"Get AD Skinner in here *now*, Agent Stein. Move it!" I could hear the other chair fall over as Stein ran from the room.

"Mulder, it's me. You're not there. You're not him." Her hand was on my shoulder, but, like her voice, seemed to be from very far away. All my senses were focused on the blood on my hands and the dead baby. I was there, I was holding the baby and it was not dead yet and the woman was screaming and saying those words and . . . .

I felt strong arms wrap themselves around me as I rocked on that chair. Walter was there, anchoring me again, keeping me tied to the then and there. He was safety in the storm and I clung to him for dear life. In return, he held me tightly until I was back in myself.

"His heart's beating a mile a minute, Dana."

"I'm not surprised. He looks terrified. Mulder, everything's fine." I felt a gentle touch on my hair. I don't know how long we were like that before I could let go of Walter and breathe normally.

"What was that about, Fox?" Walter was kneeling in front of me, holding my hands. I pulled them free and began to move around the room. "Last night's dream?"

"Not a dream. I was there. I held that baby . . . it moved, Scully. It moved. Too small to live more than a minute or two, but it moved."

"Oh, God, Mulder. You're in this too deep."

"No. I was *there.* I know how that baby felt. I have to wash my hands." I ran out of the office to the men's room and scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed, until I was raw, until the pain took over from the memory of the baby and the blood.

And Walter was there, too. "Scully thought you might need this." He handed me a bottle of hand lotion, which I just held for a moment, unsure of what to do. So he took it from me, poured some into his own palm and began to rub it gently into my skin. I let him do it.

"Feel better?"

"Feels good." He smiled. "Thanks, Walter."

He took a deep breath. "Fox . . . we got a phone call from one of the teams. They found the body."

I closed my eyes.

"Fox, you can stay here."

"No. I have to go. I need to see . . . her. But . . . can you come with me? If you think Scully won't mind, I mean."

"Actually, Scully said that the only way you were going was if I was going with you. I think this is a bad idea, but you'd get there somehow whether we let you or not." He grinned.

"When do we leave?"

"As soon as you wash your face and comb your hair."





***Chapter Eleven***





Wendy's

Rt 73

Cherry Hill, NJ



The local cops were already on the scene, wrapping the dumpster with yellow tape. The two agents who'd found it were standing nearby, talking to a cop.

Scully got out of the car first, credentials at the ready. The guy in charge looked at her strangely.

"Where's Goldberg?"

"He's out. I'm in. Agent Dana Scully."

He grinned and stuck out a hand. "Dan Matson. I'm chief here. You have to be better than he was."

"You bet your ass she is. I'm her partner, Agent Mulder."

"Good to meet you too, sir. And this is?"

"Walter Skinner. I'm investigating Goldberg. I'm just along for the ride."

Matson nodded and turned to Scully. "Your agents found the body just about twenty minutes ago. Coroner hasn't been here yet, so the body hasn't been disturbed."

She nodded. "I'll go take a look at it. When the coroner gets here, tell him that I'll be doing the autopsy myself." She motioned to Stein, who was carrying her camera.

"*She'll* be doing the autopsy?"

"Yeah. She's a real hands-on kind of lady." Matson gave me a look. "My partner is the best pathologist in the FBI." He nodded, his eyes wide. I followed her to the dumpster, Walter on my heels.

The body was lying face down on the fast food garbage. Scully took as many pictures as she could of it, and then enlisted Walter and Stein to turn it. I was going to help, but both she and Walter motioned me away. Good thing, too, because the first thing I saw was her face. The world went black.

Next thing I knew, I was lying on the ground, with something soft under my head, and what felt like a coat over me.

"Fox! Thank God! Dana! He's awake! What happened, Fox?" Walter was sitting on the ground next to me. He wasn't wearing his overcoat. .

"It's her. It's the woman from my dream. Her face is burned in my memory."

"Are you sure?"

I nodded.

"Mulder, you blacked out on us. You are going to stay right there until the ambulance comes."

"I'm fine, Scully. It was just a shock. I *saw* that woman."

"You can't be certain, Mulder."

"She was stabbed, right? In the chest."

Scully's eyes were wide. "Yes. Yes, she was. None of the others were stabbed. But you could have seen that . . . "

"Dana, Fox talked about stabbing her last night."

"I'm still not happy . . . Mulder, you are going to stay right there until I can get your blood pressure checked. And *then* I'll decide *if* you can get back to work and on what terms. So far as I'm concerned, you can work just as well from a bed. And, Walter, I expect you to back me up."

"It's all up to you, Dana. I put you in charge."

"Bullies. Both of you." So why did it all feel so good?

The coroner and the ambulance for me arrived at the same time, and they took us both to Cooper Hospital. I didn't want to go, but since we were all heading in the same direction, I let them take me. Scully went with the body to the morgue, Walter went with me to the emergency room.

The intern there *clucked* at me and my rib cage. Walter let him, too.

"I hear you fainted, Mr. Mulder."

"I got a shock. Which I do *not* want to talk about."

"Well, your heart rate is up, and there are definite signs of exhaustion. Have you been sleeping?"

I looked at Walter. He shook his head. "No less than usual. I don't sleep much."

"Insomniac?"

"Yeah."

He noted it. And then he took some blood. Just then, Walter got paged. I managed to convince them to let me go downstairs with him - even if Walter had to push me in a wheelchair.

We got there just after two young men. One was wearing casual pants and a windbreaker, with a colorful crocheted circle pinned on his head; the other was in a dark suit and coat with a black velvet skullcap.

Scully was speaking to them. They didn't notice me.

"Can I help you?"

The man in black indicated his friend. "This is Shmuel Cohen. I'm his brother-in-law, Yosi Feinberg. We were told you found Shoshana?"

"I'm Agent Scully. We found a body who might be Mrs. Cohen. We'd like Mr. Cohen to identify her."

The two men looked at each other. "Agent Scully . . . is . . . are there other bodies nearby? In the same room?" Cohen looked panicked.

"Yes."

"Shmuli, it's okay. You're allowed to defile yourself for Shani." Feinberg looked at him.

"But what if it isn't? What if it's some other poor girl?"

Scully looked confused. "What's the problem?"

Feinburg looked at her. "My brother-in-law is a Cohen. A member of the Jewish priestly caste. He's not allowed to be in contact with dead bodies unless they are close relatives. A wife counts, but the . . . body may not be his wife."

Scully pondered. "Can you go in instead?"

Feinberg shrugged. "No problem. I'm not a Cohen. And I've seen dead bodies before."

"Agent Stein, will you take Mr. Feinberg in to the morgue while I discuss arrangements with Mr. Cohen?"

Stein nodded and escorted the man into the room.

"If it is Shani, when can I have the body?" He looked at Scully with red, painful eyes.

"I don't know. After the autopsy."

His grief turned to rage. "Autopsy! No! I do *not* give permission for an autopsy! Didn't that monster defile her body enough!"

"Mr. Cohen, I'm afraid it isn't up to you. Your wife is a murder victim, and it's required by law."

"I don't care about secular law. God's law says no."

At that point, the morgue door opened. Feinberg looked decidedly shaken. Stein had a hand on the small of his back.

"I'm sorry, Shmuli. It's . . . it's Shani, all right. No question."

"Oh, no. Why her?" Cohen reached out to the other man. Feinburg hugged him tightly as Cohen sobbed on his shoulder.

Walter guided Cohen to a row of seats. While Feinberg and Stein joined them there, he pushed me over. "Now, what's the problem with autopsies, Agent Stein?"

"It's against Jewish law, sir. There may be ways to deal with this. Have you called the hospital's Jewish chaplain?"

"Good idea, Agent Stein. Please do so." He nodded and went to a hospital phone.

"Come, Shmuli. Sit. We need to talk to the agents so they can find the bastard." Feinberg made him sit down in one of the chairs. Cohen looked wild but coherent.

"Mr. Cohen, I respect your beliefs, but we truly need to find your wife's killer, and for that we need all possible information."

"I understand, miss . . . Agent Scully. Do you know who will be performing it, if the rabbi permits?"

"I will be. I'm a pathologist."

He took a deep breath. "Assuming . . . would you be willing to abide by what the rabbi says?"

"We'll see. I'll do my best. Mr. Cohen, I will treat your wife with the utmost respect."

Stein returned. "The rabbi's in the hospital. He's on his way now. He *is* Orthodox."

"Mr. Cohen, I know this is a bad time, but may I speak with you for a moment?"

He finally saw me. Of course, he saw a skinny guy in a hospital gown and robe, sitting in a wheelchair, not an FBI agent, but he saw me. "Who are you?"

"I'm Agent Mulder, Agent Scully's partner. I'm the profiler on this case. I need to know a few things about yesterday. Please excuse my appearance."

"Are you sick?"

"I had an accident. I'll be okay. Please, may I talk with you?"

"What do you need to know?"

"Your wife went shopping yesterday?"

"Yes. She decided it was time to get some maternity clothes. Her other clothes were too tight. We get these things, baby things, at the last minute, or it's . . . bad luck." He began to cry. I thought about the empty house with the already decorated nursery. At least Cohen wouldn't be going home to that. Feinberg patted him on the back. He took a couple of deep breaths.

"Do you know where she was going?"

"Yeah. There's a mall on Haddonfield Road. She was going to get a new dress for Shabbos and do some Shabbos shopping. We were going to be home for Shabbos for the first time in weeks with all the holidays. Our first holidays together . . . We'd been at my parents and at her parents . . . I have to call her parents. There's so much and she's . . . "

"Are you sure she went to that mall?"

"Yeah. It's where Tova, my sister, shops. But Tova has the baby now, so she can't shop so much."

Just then, a tall, thin man dressed similarly to Feinberg appeared. "Which of you is Agent Scully?"

"I am, sir." She put out her hand, and the rabbi took it, but didn't look happy about it.

"I'm Rabbi Yaakov Klein. I'm the Jewish chaplain here. There was a tragedy?"

"My wife, Rav Klein. I'm Shmuli Cohen."

"Baruch atah dyan emet. Blessed is the True Judge. One day, those words will comfort you, Mr. Cohen." Cohen nodded, but looked unconvinced.

"Is there a problem?"

"Agent . . . I mean Dr. Scully wants to perform an autopsy on Shani."

"She was murdered, Rabbi. It's necessary, and the law requires it. It's the best tool we have for finding the murderer. And if we don't find him, he'll kill someone else. He's already killed four other pregnant women."

"Pregnant? Gevalt! The baby?"

"We don't know where the baby is, but it's in all likelihood dead." The rabbi turned white.

"Shani was only five months along."

"You don't know . . . what a monster! You must find this man. Mr. Cohen, I'm sorry, but she's correct. In this case, there must be an autopsy. Dr. Scully, would you be willing to abide by certain conditions?" He put a hand on Cohen's shoulder.

"What are they?"

He began to tick them off on his fingers. "Whatever you remove from the body must be kept, and eventually interred with the body. That includes all blood. If you must keep samples, tell me and I will make certain they are buried with the body when possible. Keep it refrigerated. Don't worry how it looks, it will be a closed casket. All Jewish funerals are. There must be ritual guards, but they will stay outside the morgue and not bother you - they'll just be saying psalms. I'll take care of that. How long would a thorough, the most thorough and complete, autopsy take?"

"Several hours."

"Could we have the body by Saturday night or Sunday morning?"

Scully thought. "Yes. Certainly by Sunday morning. Tomorrow morning if you prefer. And I will follow your directions."

"So we can bury her on Sunday. This is good. You only have to make it through Shabbos." He turned to the boy.

"I have . . . to make phone calls."

"Of course. Come, you'll go to my office, and we'll talk about what comes next. Do you have a place to stay for Shabbos?"

"He'll be coming with me. I'm married to his sister."

"Before you go, sir? I have one more question, Mr. Cohen. Do you know the name of the mall?"

He gave it. I nodded and thanked him.

"Dr. Scully, if you have any questions, please call my office. I'll be there until about three."

"Thank you, sir."

The rabbi led the two men away.





***Chapter Twelve***

Cherry Hill Municipal Building



"I'm not surprised you're anemic, Mulder. I am surprised they let you out of the hospital."

"He charmed his way out of it. He promised up and down that he'd take his supplements . . . ."

"I *am* taking those horse pills!"

"He promised he'd *eat* properly and get some rest and even let them prescribe him sleeping pills, which prescription I filled over his protests later."

"I'm not taking them. You know I hate sleeping pills."

"And like a fool, I promised to make sure he did as he was told. As if he ever did." Walter glared at me. "If . . . when he faints or gets dizzy again, he's to be taken back to the hospital, where he will be admitted."

"Scully, can't you do anything about that?"

"If I had my way, he'd be in a hospital bed right now." She gave me one of her looks.

"Scully!"

"However, we need him here. Oh, God, is this how you feel every time you send him out too soon?" She stared at him with pain and sympathy.

Walter nodded and squeezed my shoulder. We were in Scully's office, so he could risk a little contact. "If the bad guys don't get him, the Bureau will. Why did you have to be so damned brilliant, Fox?"

Finally someone was talking to me. "Just luck. I'm fine. I'll be a good boy and take my supplements." I tried to glare back at them, but it doesn't work for me. I just look pouty.

"You'll do more than that, Mulder. You are going to consume calories. Your choices are real food or Ensure. I know you've had Ensure."

"Tastes just as bad coming up as going down."

She nodded. "Real food does include your seeds, since at least they're high in calories. You're not up to a steak right now, judging from that lovely shade of green. So, how does beef consomme sound?"

I thought about it. "Doable. I think I could manage noodles, too." They both sighed audibly. "I don't *like* being sick. I just can't make myself eat right now."

"Don't push it. We'll put the soup in a thermos and you can have a little every so often. But you will finish it." She picked up her phone. "Agent Stein? I have an errand for you." She told him swiftly and precisely what she wanted from him, received confirmation and hung up.

"You do that well, Scully. Command looks good on you."

"Walter is still going to be babysitting you. You were back here before I was finished with Mrs. Cohen, who, by the way, will be buried on Sunday, along with whatever samples I know for certain I won't need. Did you find anything more?"

"We have three or four possibles. These agencies have a high turnover, so there are several men who began working for them just before the murders began." I sat back in the chair.

"You're assuming that the UNSUB is new to the agency."

"Actually, I'm assuming that the UNSUB is new to the area. This guy moves around a lot. He's done this before."

"He's killed pregnant women before? We would have heard about it."

"No. He's killed, though, for the crime of attracting him sexually. The first time probably happened by accident, but he decided he was right. And then he just left town. And for some reason, no one suspected him. He was the son of a local preacher, maybe, and had a reputation as a good boy. So, he went off to college or the army and no one suspected a thing. And he got away with it in the army - maybe in Vietnam?" I looked at Walter.

"It's possible. Things happened there."

"Yes. He was a vet. But this started before he was drafted. He got back to the states and since then he's been doing this stuff, going from town to town. And in the last town, he found a woman who resembled his mother and she was pregnant. He didn't kill her, but he was freaked because he was attracted to her, since pregnant women are mothers, not whores and therefore should have turned off their dangerous magic." I sat back and closed my eyes. A cup of water magically appeared in my hand. "He also doesn't know what mama looked like - daddy didn't keep any pictures, but she's there in his memory. So, he ran away again. And this time, he came here and *noticed* all the pretty pregnant women who were still using their evil wiles." I took a drink.

Scully nodded. "So now we see if any of these men are minister's sons who come from a small town with an unsolved murder of some woman?"

"Yeah. That should eliminate at least one. The one who isn't a preacher's son."

"It's a start. I'll get Stein on it."

There was a knock on the door. "Speak of the gopher . . . " Scully and Walter glared at me as Walter went to open the door. It was indeed Matt Stein, bearing a steaming mug of something. He handed it to me. I gave it a sniff. Beef bullion.

"Thank you." He nodded.

"Agent Stein, I have another job for you. Find the hometowns of the men you have now, and see if they have unsolved murders." Stein took out a pad and wrote down Scully's words.

"Look for teenage girls - either stabbing or strangling. Probably strangling, but maybe post-mortem stabbing." He looked at me and added this to his list.

"Scully . . . did you learn anything during the autopsy?"

She took a sip of water, and pulled out a notebook. "It was easily the most thorough autopsy I've ever done. I wanted to make sure that the victim would never have to be exhumed.

"Mrs. Cohen was young and healthy and seemed to be having a trouble- free first pregnancy. Judging from the size of her uterus and placenta, she was about five months along." She stopped suddenly and rubbed her face. "She had everything. That bastard . . . "

"Agent Scully . . . if you need to wait . . . "

"No, sir. I'm fine. He used a small-bladed knife to open her uterus and remove the baby. He cut the umbilicus with it as well, which was why the placenta was still present."

"It was a Swiss Army Knife. One of those hunter's models with the saw. Her blood was warm. The fluids were warm. They baptized the baby." I rubbed my hands together to get rid of the blood. "Daddy would be pleased, but she keeps saying these words over and over again. The witch." Something warm was holding my hands still. I looked. It was Walter's hands. I couldn't feel the blood anymore. Scully gave me one of her looks, while Stein stared.

"Mulder . . . I found a note in the body cavity. Wrapped in a zipper bag. It said, 'Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.'"

"M'chahshefa lo t'chayeh." Now it was my turn to stare.

"Excuse me, Agent Stein?"

"It's a quote from my bar mitzvah reading. It's practically the only one I know, but I know this one. Mishpatim . . . in the book of Exodus." He turned to me. "Agent Mulder . . . I don't know how you know this . . . but the thing she said over and over again . . . did it sound like 'Shema Yisroel'?"

I thought. "It was just gibberish . . . no, Israel. I heard Israel."

"Mrs. Cohen was a religious woman. She'd say the phrase 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord is One' before she died. This is too . . . "

"Spooky, Matt?"

He grinned at me. "Yeah. I guess that word fits." He sobered. "I don't know what to think. We need to find the UNSUB, and Agent Mulder's . . . whatever they are . . . seem to be true, but no way would they be admissible."

"That's why we're going to rely on good old fashioned police work and on Agent Mulder's profile. Mulder, once you finish that soup, why don't you and Agent Stein find those small town murders?"

"You're the boss, partner." I tossed off the broth.

She smiled. "Yes, I am. And you'll find a lot more of that broth waiting for you. Try to finish as much as you can. It might settle your stomach for real food. Send in Agents Henderson and Bernstein while you're out there. And, Agent Stein . . . if Agent Mulder looks sick . . . sicker . . . notify me or AD Skinner immediately. Anemia is quite serious."

"Yes, ma'am."

We sat down by his computer. "Do I really look that bad, Matt?"

"Actually, Agent Mulder . . . "

"Just Mulder."

He nodded. "Mulder, you look like death warmed over."

"Flatterer. Let's look for a murderer. And pour me a cup of that soup, please."

It was in a thermos on his desk. It was also exactly as much nutrition as I wanted to deal with just then. Stein motioned to Henderson and Bernstein, and they reluctantly left their paperwork and walked into Scully's office. A few minutes later, Walter left with one of them in tow.

Golden Door Security had kindly sent us copies of their employees' applications. Stein swiftly found the four main suspects. When I looked at him, he grinned. "The alphabet is your friend, Mulder. I worked my way through college as a file clerk."

"Alphabetizing. Hmm. Something I should try when I get back home to my basement. You take those two, and I'll take these, and we'll see who finds our particular preacher's son."

Small town police departments can be pretty closed mouthed, and the charm Walter complained about doesn't seem to work with cops or over the phone. I spent half the time on hold. And it turned out to be almost a waste of time.

"Yes, *Agent* Mulder, we *do* have a file on a young lady who was killed about twenty-five years ago. Course, I wasn't living here then. Sorry. Joseph Robert Henry? Sorry, name doesn't ring a bell. Preacher name of Henry? Agent Mulder, we got twenty churches here in Mason's Crick. I can only tell you there ain't no Reverend Henry in the First Methodist Church."

I got the same answer when I called Apple Grove about Robert Baxter. I could tell that Stein, despite his greater store of diplomacy and tact, had exactly as much luck as I did.

"Now what?"

"Now we call eighty churches and ask if they had a pastor or a preacher named 'Henry' or 'Baxton' or whatever twenty-five or so years ago. If we're lucky, we'll get someone who'll remember him or his son. If not . . . the church closed down years ago and no one knows anything."

"I'll get lists of the churches from the Internet, and hope they haven't missed any."

"Ask in the first few that you call."

"Mulder . . . if no one remembers, what do we do?"

"I'm sure Agent Scully's got that covered. Meanwhile . . . any more of that broth?"

"Nope. You finished it all."

"My system is going to go into shock. Maybe I'll be up to pizza tonight."

He grinned. "Let's start calling churches, Mulder. It's getting toward dinnertime."





***Chapter Thirteen***



Olive Grove Restaurant



"So, finally, after Mulder and I talk to dozens of churches, we get someone who knows one of the suspects' fathers. She remembers Crazy Joe Bob Baxton, who would get up in church on a Sunday and start preachin' and speakin' in tongues. That part was okay, since it's a Pentecostal church and that's how you know it's the holy spirit in you." He paused for a bite of ravioli.

I took over. "The problem with Crazy Joe Bob Baxton was that he plumb hated women. Not that he was one of them gay boys or nothin', but he thought that St. Paul was right. And that women were the source of all sins. Eve, you know. You're all evil." I leered at Scully, who threw a piece of bread at me.

"Just eat your spaghetti, partner."

I looked down at my bowl of naked pasta. It looked back at me, but I twirled a few strands around my fork anyway. Stein took advantage of my distraction.

"So, anyway, Joe Bob's wife left him at some point - it's not clear whether he was antiwoman before she left, but he certainly was afterwards. She left him with a son, Bobby, whom he raised all by himself. Bobby was a quiet kid, not too bright, who pretty much did what he was told and believed everything his father told him. Never really got into trouble. Dated a couple of girls. His father died of a heart attack at about the time Bobby finished high school. Bobby joined the army right after, which everyone pretty much thought was a good idea since Joe Bob didn't leave him much. Yeah, some girl disappeared around that time, and turned up dead, but no one made any connection."

"Fits your profile perfectly, Fox." Walter smiled at me, so I smiled back. He has wonderful eyes. They're warm and clear and they can see right into my soul, and when they do they actually like what they see.

"Mulder?" I felt a hand on my shoulder, and blinked.

"Scully? What . . . "

Stein was looking at us open mouthed.

"Agent Stein . . . "

He pulled out his wallet and showed us a picture of a man about his age with a dark beard and a rather nice smile, holding hands with another man, also smiling. "This is my cousin David and his very good friend Miguel. They've been very good friends for several years. I didn't see anything just now."

My partner, my lover and I all exchanged glances. I nodded. We could trust this man.

He took a sip of wine. "From Mulder's profile and . . . the other things that have been going on . . . I'd say that Bobby was our man. There's only one problem."

"And what would that be, Agent Stein?" Scully took her hand off my shoulder.

"We can't find Bobby. He quit the agency this morning and seems to have left his apartment as well. The agency swears it hasn't spoken to any of the potential suspects, but somehow he seems to have gotten word."

I pushed my food away. "He knows. He's known from the beginning, or at least since he killed Shoshana Cohen."

"How could he know that, Mulder?"

"Same way I know how it feels to have a woman's blood . . . " I began to rub my hands together. They were hot and sticky with living fluids that only I could see or feel. Walter reached across the table and gently separated them, holding them apart.

"There's no way you could know that, Fox, because there is no way you could be there."

I shook my head. "I *was* there. I can still hear her, over and over and over again. Shema . . . ekat. I can still feel his fear - he truly thought she was a witch casting a spell on him. And he was . . . oh, my God! He was with . . . he was in my mind when . . . I know where he is." It came to me in a flash of insight. That was what I had felt in my mind that night. I tore my hands away from Walter and jumped to my feet. Three pairs of hands caught me. "I have to go. I have to stop him. He'll find someone else. He knows how, he doesn't need the uniform. Let me go!"

"Mulder, where would he go to find his next victim?"

"A shopping mall." Why was she asking such obvious questions?

"Right. And they are *all* closed now. No one has reported any pregnant woman missing, so I think it's safe to leave it until morning. Tomorrow is soon enough to catch him. And we *will* catch him, Mulder. I promise you that." Scully keeps her promises. I hung on to that as I sat back down and started fidgeting with the pasta.

"Eat some more of that if you can, Mulder." I nodded, but I knew I couldn't swallow anything more. Walter looked at me, and called for a waiter, and told him to bring me another cup of chicken broth. I sipped at it while the conversation veered to other subjects. All I could see were the file pictures of the murdered women. I couldn't finish the broth, either. Too much like other fluids.

I know Walter noticed this, but he didn't say anything. Scully gave me one of her looks, and Stein looked worried.

I just shook my head, and told them to finish up and get some dessert. Scully made me promise to have ice cream. So I sat and stirred it into mud while they ooh and ahhed over cheesecake.

Back at the hotel, Walter fell asleep almost immediately - we had one fast cuddle and he was gone. I envy him that. I lay there myself for a long time, letting the case dance in my head. It was probably a mistake, but I don't know if I could have stopped it.

Walter was snoring. Matt was back home with his family in Philly. Scully was either asleep or communing with cyberspace. I had to leave.

He was out there. I knew it. He would find someone else, and kill her tomorrow, or he would leave and Kerry Browne and Shoshana Cohen, who still wasn't buried, would not have their justice.

And I knew where he was. I could see it in my mind - the cold, concrete walls, the cleaning tools, the traces of five women gone forever. I just had to find it.

I gave Walter a soft kiss. He stirred, but didn't wake up. I found my clothes and his car keys by the light of the bathroom and left the room as quietly as possible.

The desk clerk nodded at me. I decided it would probably be smart to leave a message, just so Scully wouldn't kill me when I got back. Wasn't much, just that I was after Bobby.

Good old Lariat - the Bureau's favorite rental agency. I think they get most of the Tauri of any given year. There was an X-File in that.

I got in the car, and sat as a wave of dizziness hit me. Maybe this wasn't so smart. No. I had to go. There was a predator out there, and I'd be damned if I'd give him a chance to escape.

I started it, made certain I had both guns and drove off to where I *knew* he was. As I pulled into the quiet roadway, I wondered at the trust Scully and Skinner put in me - the car started, I had my guns and they were loaded. Maybe they thought I was too sick to ditch them?

The Haddonfield Mall wasn't that far away. We'd driven past it often enough during the past few days. I only had to back track a couple of times to find it. Luckily, New Jersey is the home of the jughandle, so u-turns were fairly simple.

The parking garage was closed, but not locked. That was enough to tell me I was right. There was one car there - an ancient Ford, huge and solid metal. It was Bobby's, and he'd had it since he'd left his hometown.

Where was that storage room? I directed my flashlight beam around the huge space.

There. The little room just past the office.

My footsteps echoed. I wondered if he could hear me; if he were waiting for me; how stupid I was actually being.

The door was unlocked. I opened it.

"You're that queer, aren't you?" He had shaggy blond hair, bloodshot blue eyes, plaid shirt over Walter-sized muscles and blue jeans fastened under a very unWalter paunch. He looked straight at me.

"Excuse me? I was looking for the manager's office?"

"You're that queer. I know you are. In the vision the Lord sent me after I took care of that witch."

I stepped in to the storage room. He'd set up a cot and there was the remnants of a fast food meal, and I didn't want to think about the bucket in the corner of the room. There was a drain in the concrete floor. Easy to get rid of the blood.

"Where are the babies? You dumped the mothers like so much trash, but you took the babies. Where did you put them?"

"I almost threw up when I got that vision. God damn Sodomites, you will burn in Hell just like that witch and the other whores. How could you let another man touch you like that?"

"Then we're even, Bobby. I *did* throw up when I saw what you did. What did you do with the babies?"

"I gave them a decent Christian burial, and you aren't going to profane them by digging them up."

"You think those babies are in heaven now?" I moved closer. He backed away.

"You got AIDS, don't you?"

I stopped. "What?"

"All you fags got AIDS, and I know it makes you skinny, and you are as skinny as the Jews my daddy liberated after the war."

"Jews like Shoshana Cohen?"

"Who's that?" He backed away further as I moved forward.

"You killed her yesterday, you bastard! Her and her baby while she was praying! You killed a woman while she was praying!"

"That wasn't praying. It was in some devil tongue. I killed a witch!"

"You killed a woman. You killed five women, five mothers or mothers- to-be, five wives."

"What do you know about women, faggot? Look at you in your faggot clothes, thinking about touching and kissing another man? You don't know anything about having wives."

"I know you don't kill them. I know you don't take your Swiss Army Knife and rip open their pregnant bellies and take out babies too young to live. I know that whatever I did with my lover, no matter how sinful it was according to your God, it doesn't come close to what you did."

He was up against the wall now. "Don't you come any closer, fag. Don't you give me any of your germs."

I reached for my gun, but before I could get it, he grabbed my coat and turned me around, twisting my arm behind me. He put the other by my neck. I noticed he was careful not to touch me.

"Empty your pockets, faggot. I don't need to cut you to kill you, and I won't get any of your germs if you don't bleed."

"Ever think I might enjoy a little strangulation now and again?"

"Empty your pockets, and throw it all on the ground." I complied. My badge, my main gun, my wallet, Walter's car keys, some latex gloves, a package of sunflower seeds, my cell phone - I dropped them all on the concrete.

He used the belt from my coat to tie my hands, and my necktie to tie my feet together. At that point, he discovered the ankle holster, and I lost that gun, too.

"Let's see who you are, faggot." He picked up my credentials. "FBI? Since when does the FBI hire fags?"

"Ever hear of J. Edgar Hoover, Bobby? I'm in a long tradition there."

"J. Edgar Hoover was a great man. Don't spread those commie lies about him."

"He was a great man. My father worked for him. Do you think Hoover would approve of what you've done?"

"You be quiet, faggot." He kicked me.

"He wouldn't, would he? Hoover wanted to protect American mothers and children."

"Shut up! Stupid faggot, probably betraying his country, unChristian . . . " I curled up on the floor in a vain effort to avoid his fists and feet. I know I felt at least one bone break. Then I heard the sirens.

He stopped beating me and grabbed one of my guns just as the door to the storage room flew open.

"Freeze! Get away from him!" Scully's voice. I twisted around as best I could so I could see her.

"No woman tells me what to do. Get away from me, you witch!" He aimed my weapon toward her.

"I'm not going anywhere, Bobby. If you do not drop your gun and step away from my partner, I'll pull this trigger." Her voice was cold as ice.

Walter was standing behind her, his hands on his own gun. I could feel his eyes on me. If Bobby shot me or her, he was a dead man. I knew it.

"He's a fag, you know? Him, and that fag behind you. I'm the only real man here."

"Real men don't kill pregnant women. Drop the gun, Bobby, and maybe we'll get you life." That's my Scully - always leave them some hope.

"Life?" He wavered and raised the gun again. "No!"

I could almost feel the bullet as it entered his body and he dropped to the floor. She'd taken one shot, clean, straight through his heart.

She was on her knees next to him the next moment. "He's dead." Then she began untying me, while Walter motioned in some local cops and a couple of EMT's.

"How is *he*, Agent Scully?"

"Bruises, contusions, but no blood."

"OWWW" She touched me just above my left foot.

"His left ankle may be broken. He's also in shock."

Walter squatted next to me.

"That was easily one of the stupidest things you've ever done, Agent Mulder."

"I couldn't lose him. He'd . . . he'd kill again. No one . . . no one listened."

"Why do you think we're here? How do you think we followed you?" His voice was hard, but I could see something else in his eyes. I'd seen the same thing in Scully's.

"Why? How?"

"Most of the murder victims came from here. Where else would it be? Where else would you be? We didn't really need the note you left with the front desk, but at least you did that much. I know you tried to tell us, Fox. I know we should have listened. But next time, wake us, okay?" He couldn't say anything else, not then and there, but I heard the words anyway.

"Me, too. Scully! That hurts!"

"It has to be immobilized, Mulder. What did the bastard do? Step on it?"

"Yeah. He didn't want to shed any blood . . . " Suddenly, I felt very tired. Only Walter's hands kept my head from hitting the floor. He held it until I was transferred to a gurney, and Scully and I were loaded into the ambulance.



***Chapter Fourteen***



Later that morning

Cherry Hill Municipal Building



"Mulder! How . . . "

"It's only a broken ankle, Scully. They had to let me out." I hobbled into her office on my crutches, Walter walking behind me to make sure I didn't fall.

"Translation: They were going to keep him for a week's observation and fattening up, but let him go since I promised both I and a medical doctor would keep an eye on him." He helped me sit down.

"He also reamed me out thoroughly while we were waiting. Agent Scully, I am very sorry for running away and not telling you *why* I had to do it."

She rolled her eyes. "Until the next time. That cast should keep you earthbound for awhile, at least. Anyway . . . It's over. We found blood traces on the storage room floor. Unsealed concrete is basically a rigid sponge. It's impossible to clean thoroughly, and Bobby didn't bother to do more than hose it down. He may have used a drop cloth for the actual murders, since we didn't find much other bodily fluids. There were no traces in his car. He must have put the victims in *their* own cars and abandoned them after dumping them, and then hitched a ride back to his own car. Plus we found traces on his Swiss Army Knife, which is definitely the murder weapon. I'd say we found our killer, sir."

"Good job, Agent Scully."

"We also found the babies. They were buried behind his home, each with a little white cross. I've been calling the victims' families to tell them the news. Those who were home were relieved. I was unable to reach either Mr. Cohen or Mr. Browne. Mr. Cohen is currently staying with his sister, but no one seems to be home, or, at least, they aren't answering the telephone. Agent Stein tells me they won't until it's dark tonight. We did leave a message to call here as soon as possible. We did the same for Mr. Browne." She sat down next to us. She looked exhausted.

"You look worse than me, Scully."

She smiled. "I just need some sleep."

"We all do. There's isn't much more you can do today. I'll drive us all back to the hotel." Walter took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes.

Stein poked his head in the door.

"Agents? There's some people who want to see you."

Scully rolled her eyes. "Sure. Send them in."

"Muller! Muffin?" Liam Browne entered, pushing Mikey in his stroller and surrounded by three other kids, ranging from three to seven.

"What are you doing here, Mr. Browne?"

"Liam, please. My kids just wanted to see the people who were getting the bad guy who hurt mommy."

The oldest, a boy, turned to Walter. "Are you in charge?"

"Willy!"

Walter just smiled. "No. Agent Scully was the one in charge of this investigation. *My* name is Walter Skinner."

The boy looked at me, but I already had Mikey on my lap calling me "Muller."

Liam shook his head. "Agent Scully is the lady right over there."

The older girl's eyes grew round. "*You're* in charge?"

Scully just smiled. "I have some very good news for all of you. I've left you messages and everything. What are all your names?"

"The older boy is William, Jr, but we call him Willy. The girls are Joanne and Katie. Kathleen, but she's definitely a Katie. What's your news, Agent Scully?" He smiled at her. For a moment, his rather plain face was handsome.

Scully's smile was dazzling. "The best possible. With Agent Mulder's help, we determined who the . . . bad guy was and found him last night."

"Is he in custody?"

She shook her head. "Unfortunately, in the course of the arrest, I was forced to shoot him."

"Did you kill him?" Willy was clearly in awe.

"I'm afraid so. But we are certain he was the perpetrator."

"Thank you, God. And thank you, Agent Scully. Dana. I shouldn't keep you . . . you look exhausted. All of you do." Scully tried to get out of her seat, but he shook his head. "I'll take the kids home and call the family. I feel like I'm coming out of a nightmare."

Scully nodded. "I felt the same way when my sister was killed. Liam . . . if you should need to talk . . . here's my cell phone number. I . . . think I'd like to talk to you again."

Liam smiled. "Maybe. I . . . might like that in a little while. Come on, kids. There are Happy Meals waiting for you." He strapped Mikey down in his stroller and herded them all out.

A few minutes later, Stein knocked again. "I've seen them out. Agent Scully, do we have an address for Mr. Cohen's sister?"

Scully nodded.

"Then why don't I go to their house in person? I'm sure they'd want to hear this. And they'll want to take charge of the baby; bury it with the mother or something."

"Good idea. Agent Stein, I'm going to put some commendations in your jacket for all you've done for us. If you ever want a transfer to DC or a recommendation for other reasons, please call on me."

"Thank you, Agent Scully."

"The same goes for me, and for your partner. The two of you were the stars of this office, and she was invaluable during my investigation. You're a good man, Stein." Walter shook his hand.

I smiled. "My commendations aren't worth much these days, Matt, but you deserve a medal for just putting up with me."

"Thank you, all. This has been one of the strangest cases . . . I'd better go. They should be home from shul about now. Are you leaving here tomorrow?"

"In all likelihood. Why?"

He brushed the hair away from his face. "Mrs. Cohen will probably be buried tomorrow. I think, maybe, we should go to the funeral. Jewish funerals are short, so you'll have time to make the flight."

"Good idea." Walter nodded. Stein left. Soon after, Walter gathered us together and took us back to the Radisson.

Walter was reading files next to me when I woke up from the nap.

"How are you feeling, Fox?" He put the papers down and gathered me into his arms as gently as he could.

"Like I just did the stupidest thing in my life . . . again."

"I don't know how a man so brilliant can . . . I'm sorry. We went through that already."

"It's okay. I deserve it. What I don't deserve is you or Scully." I buried my head in his shoulder.

"Don't you ever say that." He stroked my hair.

"You really do love me, don't you?" I could feel the tears coming.

"I'm in love with you. Believe me."

"I do. I love you, too." I reached up to kiss his lips. As he responded, I found myself growing erect, something I would have thought impossible after what I'd been through.

"Walter?"

"Are you up to it? We'll do whatever you need."

"Yeah. I need . . . I need to affirm something after all the . . . horrors. I need to make love to you."

"You haven't asked that in a long time. Yes. Always."

The cast made things awkward and the bruises made things

uncomfortable, but we managed. And when I buried myself deep inside him, when I rested my head on his broad and beautiful shoulders as we lay on our sides, and when my orgasm came crashing through both of us, leaving me limp and exhausted, I felt loved and protected.

Walter turned me in his arms when we were finished.

"Better, Fox?"

I nodded. "Yeah. Oh, God, Walter, I love you."

Walter just smiled and held me closer.

"Oh, and Walter?"

"Yes?"

"I'm *starving*. Any way I can get some real food?"

He laughed. I love to hear him laugh. Then he sobered and held me even closer. "All you want, Fox. All you want."



Copyright 1998 Debra Fran Baker and NightRoads Associates


Back to X-Files Page.
Back to Fanfic Page.
Back to Main Page.