***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.



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