Special agent Mulder made his way sulkily through the corridors of the Hoover building towards the stairs that would lead him down to his and Scully's basement office. He bypassed the elevators at the end of the hall, ignoring the inquiring gaze of a couple of agents milling by the double doors and turned left towards the stairwell, pushing it open with a little more force then was strictly necessary. The heavy fire door clicked closed behind him and he was immediately grateful for the quiet solitude of the bare concrete construction. The steps of his dress shoes echoed loudly in the confined space as he stomped his was down, slightly favoring his right leg.
These stairs were hardly ever used. Most people preferred the convenience and speed of the elevators but after his meeting with Assistant Director Skinner, Mulder needed to burn off some of his agitation and the stairs had the added benefit of no witnesses.
"Damn him…," the agent muttered to himself as he pushed the door at the bottom open and descended the last few steps into the basement proper. It was noticeably cooler and darker down in this hallway, reflecting Mulder's current mood perfectly. His long fingers reached into his right pants pocket and pulled out his keys, finding the correct one and angrily stabbing it into the keyhole. With a savage twist he unlocked the handle and shoved the door open, not caring that it smacked into the filing cabinet behind it. Mulder shrugged out of his suit jacket and threw it carelessly onto a pile of papers stacked in a corner, knocking some esoteric item to the floor but too preoccupied to care. The young agent paced a small circle around his cramped office, running an agitated hand through his dark hair, the other hand propped against his hip.
"Damn that man…," Mulder said again in exasperation, slightly more loudly this time in the relative security of his office. He huffed in annoyance and slipped around his desk, yanking the chair out from under it and flopping down into it. His hazel green eyes landed on the x-file sitting open on his desk and he could feel his blood pressure climb again as he recalled the meeting he had just had with his boss over this exact file.
"Is this all you have to go on?" AD Skinner asked as he scrutinized the 302 before him, not even bothering to make eye contact with the younger agent sitting before him. Mulder paused, sensing that this might not be the easy sign off he originally thought it would be. He shifted in his chair and rubbed the palms of his hands on his knees.
"At the moment sir yes, but I believe it's enough to warrant an investigation," he stated calmly as he waited for the larger man to finish reading the paperwork before him. Skinner took one last look before casually tossing the unsigned form back across his desk towards his most troublesome agent.
"Well I don't," he stated firmly as he leaned back in his chair and focused his full attention on the younger man. His reply was so abrupt that Mulder had to take a moment to process a response.
"Sir, I respectfully disagree," He began as his quick mind started building his defense. Skinner interrupted with a snort and the younger agent suspected it wasn't surprise over Mulder disagreeing, but more likely about the 'respectfully' part. He bristled and sat up straighter, readying himself to do verbal battle, once again defending his work.
Skinner had been overseeing the X-files department and it's two agents for little over two years now and in that short time, Mulder and he had butted heads many times. Mulder was the kind of man that didn't take authority over him or the curbing of his actions well. He was passionate and driven and tended to bulldoze over anything that stood in his way and his quest for the truth. Unfortunately that was usually Skinner, the very picture of an immovable object. The Assistant Director was ex-military and respect for authority and discipline were deeply ingrained in him. Everything that Agent Mulder seemed to lack.
Skinner remembered the first time he had ever called Mulder into his office, shortly after being assigned the X-files. Mulder had been stalking a man he claimed was a liver eating, extreme contortionist that was well over 100 years old. Skinner, unsure as to how best to handle the younger agent, had first tried the concerned friend approach, suggesting Mulder should take some time off to reduce the stress he must be under that was causing him to act so inappropriately. Mulder's casual, unconcerned response was clearly an attempt at humoring him and subtly displayed his disregard for Skinner's polite management style. Skinner could see the younger agent had absolutely no fear of him. He had pulled away then and stood up, towering over the seated agent and had walked around his desk. Coming to the decision that he needed to nip this in the bud right now and establish his authority over his agent immediately if he was ever going to have a chance at controlling the younger man, Skinner dropped the buddy-buddy routine and in a firm no nonsense tone of voice, forbade him from going anywhere near the suspect. His approach was direct and to the point and it was the method he decided to adopt from then on with this brilliant but out of control agent.
Mulder had gotten just a hint of what he could expect from his new boss that day with the Cigarette man looming behind him, always in his shadow, but it wasn't till the X-files had been closed and Skinner had put Mulder on wire tap surveillance duty, an assignment generally known as a punishment, that the younger man finally realized what he had gotten into with this ex military assistant director.
It was when Mulder had been called once more into Skinner's office to answer for his desertion of his assignment and actions down in Puerto Rico, that Skinner had been enlightened to the line that the Cigarette man had crossed by illegally wiring tapping Mulder's phone. It was at that moment that Skinner had crossed a line himself, stepping over it to stand with Mulder, leaving the black lunged bastard on the other side. Skinner had chosen to side with Mulder, throwing the Smoking man out of his office.
Both men were aware of the shift that had just occurred and Skinner could tell he had earned the respect Mulder had been withholding since he had started working under him. When the younger agent had quietly asked if he should make the arrests both knew that he had enough evidence for, Skinner calmly ordered him back to the surveillance with the comment that they needed more to go on. The message was plain as day. Mulder was still being punished. Skinner may have chosen to stand with Mulder but he was not going to let the younger agent get away with anything. There would be consequences for his actions. Skinner would stand with him, but he would also stand in front of him when Mulder needed it. This was one of those times.
All those memories flashed through Skinner's mind as he waited for Mulder to make a valid point as to why it was necessary to send two agents to a remote forest in the middle of the pacific northwest. He listened as Mulder made his case about a possible serial killer stalking campers and hikers deep in the forests of Oregon and how the killings were painted with just a shade of the unknown. Strange sounds, lights in the night sky, and sightings of a possible hitherto unknown creature.
Skinner sighed and took off his glasses, rubbing at his eyes as Mulder trailed off, waiting for the older man's reply. It was times like these that Skinner wished Scully was here. The other half of the partnership was more rationally inclined and had a unique way of cutting through all of Agent Mulder's eloquently worded bullshit to get right to the point. She also had a calming affect on both men that had diffused many an argument between the two of them. Too bad she was attending an in town medical conference at the moment.
Both men looked at each other, each silently trying to figure out what was going on in the other's head.
Skinner leaned sideways in his chair and rested his left elbow on the armrest, propping his chin in the palm of his hand. He could still see the bruise on Mulder's right temple just under his hairline and the slight limp as the dark haired agent had entered his office hadn't gone unnoticed either. It had only been four days since Mulder had been released from the hospital after his latest escapade and Skinner was worried that the younger man's lack of self preservation was becoming more and more of an issue that needed to nipped in the bud immediately before Mulder found himself in a situation that no one could save him from. Although he didn't like to admit it, the younger agent had grown on him and he was genuinely fond of the trouble magnet, even if he was making Skinner lose whatever hair he had left at an accelerated rate.
Decision made, Skinner sat straight in his chair and picked up a pen and began making marks on a report he had previously set aside, his body language dismissive.
"Permission denied Agent Mulder. I do not want you pursuing this any further," he said as he made another mark. He didn't have to look up to know that the younger agent was glaring at him in affronted disbelief.
"But sir….," Mulder tried to interject but Skinner cut him off.
"I said no, Agent Mulder. I don't see the need to repeat myself," he stated firmly as he looked up, pinning his subordinate with an uncompromising stare.
"May I ask why?" Mulder countered, a hint of insubordination creeping into his tone. Skinner inwardly steeled himself. 'Here we go," he thought silently to himself.
"Agent Mulder, you were only just released from the hospital a few days ago and have yet to fully recover…," He saw Mulder open his mouth to interrupt but skinner beat him to it.
"…I have spoken to your doctor's so don't give me any of that 'I'm fine' bullshit." He watched as Mulder snapped his mouth shut at the stern tone and looked down at the floor. It was a habit of his that Skinner had picked up early on whenever the younger man was being reprimanded. He tended to break eye contact and look down, momentarily taking a mental step back from the situation to regroup and come up with a better strategy to prove his point. Sometimes it was an act of submission, succeeding the point to the other person. And sometimes….it was just an act.
"I was declared fit for duty," Mulder argued, looking back up and meeting the other's eyes.
"Limited duty," Skinner countered. Mulder shook his head at his boss's continued unreasonableness.
"Okay fine, Limited duty but duty non the less," he argued, gesturing agitatedly with his right hand. "I don’t see what the issue is here…," he began but was cut short by the sound of Skinner slamming the pen he had been holding down onto the desktop, causing a startlingly loud noise.
"The issue Agent is that I have given you a direct order to drop this case and your continuous insubordination is getting on my last nerve," Skinner retorted, the volume of his voice raising even as he tried to control it. Mulder quickly looked down again and Skinner instinctively knew that this time wasn't an act. Mulder was backing down but only just.
"Sir, I believe this case requires further investigation," Mulder replied while he struggled with whether or not to make eye contact. Skinner had this distinctly 'spooky' way of peering right through him that made him nervous and always seemed to put him on the back foot.
"I've already said all I'm going to say about this. This case can be handled by the local authorities," Skinner said more calmly as he returned his attention back to the budget paperwork on his desk, body language and tone dismissing the younger man. "I suggest you find something else to focus your energy on Agent Mulder, before I find something for you." He heard Mulder huff in irritation and stand up, the not so veiled threat of wire tap surveillance enough of a deterrent for the younger man to bite his tongue and back down for now.
Mulder didn't say anything as he left the office, pointedly not closing the door behind him. Skinner kept his eyes on his report till he was sure the other man had gone. He stopped writing and cast a quick glance towards his door before allowing a frustrated sigh to escape. He set his pen down and leaned back in his leather office chair, running a weary hand over his bald head. Why did he ever agree to take on the X-files?
He spotted the unsigned 302 Mulder had left sitting on the other side of his desk. Casting one more quick glance at the open door, he reached over and snagged the file. He re-read the details of the case and snorted at the absurdity of it. He tossed it to the side of his desk on top of an ever growing stack of papers. There was absolutely no way he was going to authorize a 302 to look for…
"...Bigfoot?" Scully asked slowly as she looked up from the x-file she had found Mulder mulling over when she had entered their shared office and cast a disbelieving stare at her taller partner. "You want to go hunting for bigfoot?"
"It isn't actually clear what is doing the killings, only that several people had been found with injuries that could only have been committed by a person, or persons with incredible strength, and that a large unidentified, upright walking creature with an approximate hominid physiology with hair covering it's entire body, has been sighted in the area recently, usually only a day before a body was found," Mulder rattled off as he looked at her from behind his desk, fiddling with a pencil.
"So…Bigfoot," she stated as she looked at the file again. She just knew that it had been a bad omen when the head speaker of her conference had come down with a bad case of food poisoning, causing the abrupt cancellation of the rest of the conference. She should have just gone home and enjoyed the next three days off but had decided to stop by the Hoover building to check up on her partner. It had only been four days since he had been released from the hospital following their last case. Scully suppressed a shudder, recalling the…
"Sasquatch," Mulder interrupted as he leaned back in his chair and propped his feet onto his desk, crossing his ankles.
"What?" Scully questioned, brought back to the present by Mulder's teasing tone.
"The correct term is Sasquatch," he explained as he smiled at her. "The Native Americans have stories spanning thousands of years referring to a large hairy wild man that roams the woods, foraging at night and only communicating through grunts and whistles. Some tribes even believe the sasquatch has the ability to turn invisible, which could account as to why no one has ever been able to get more than a glimpse of the creature before it 'vanishes' into the forest, barring a few instances of course."
"Did you know some tribes have been known to guard visiting women when a sasquatch has been spotted on their land, believing the creature to see the human female as a potential mate?" Scully retorted back, just as deadpan.
"I did," Mulder responded, pleased. While for the most part Scully didn't believe in any of the things they investigated, she respected the work and his own belief enough to make the effort. Scully ducked her head slightly, fighting her own smile that threatened to show whenever she happened to surprise Mulder. He always looked at her so fondly in those moments…
Scully cleared her throat and handed the file back to her partner who took it and flipped through a couple pages.
"I've got to admit Mulder, I'm surprised Skinner signed off on this one," she commented as she reached down and picked up her purse, looking through it for her phone. She was going to have to call her Mother to watch Queequeg again if they were gong to be headed out of town. She didn't see Mulder's slight hesitation.
"Well, regardless of the validity of a potential cryptic creature perpetrating these atrocities, Skinner realizes that people are being murdered and that someone needs to stop it." It was a truth hidden in a lie, and Mulder felt like a heel for doing that to her. Skinner had agreed that it should be looked into, just not by the F.B.I. He didn't look at her as he stood up and walked over to his discarded suit jacket, slipping it on.
"Good enough for me," Scully replied as she stood up, phone in hand ready to dial up her Mother. "So when do we leave?"
Mulder locked the rental car before hurrying around it to follow Scully up the steps of the police station and out of the cold drizzle that seemed a permanent fixture of the northwestern United States. The two agents shook out their coats as the desk sergeant on duty eyed them curiously.
"Can I help you," she inquired as she took in their professional suits and demeanor. The tall lanky man stepped forward and reached into his dark over coat, pulling out a small leather wallet that he flipped open to reveal a Federal badge and ID.
"Yes, I'm Agent Mulder with the Federal Bureau of investigation, this is my partner Agent Scully," he said, introducing the smaller red head beside him. "We're looking for Chief Fuller? We spoke over the phone, he should be expecting us.
So these were the two F.B.I agents Carl had been talking about. The desk sergeant nodded and directed them to a cramped but organized office towards the back of the station. The agents found Chief of police Carl Fuller sitting behind a mound of paper work doing his best to whittle down the stack before him.
"Chief Fuller?" Mulder inquired as they entered the wooden paneled office. The other man looked up and took the two agents in at a glance.
"Agent Mulder isn't it?" the older man said with a smile as he stood up and stepped around the desk to shake hands with the two agents. Mulder was surprised by the man's height. He must have been a good three inches taller than himself and he found it a bit disconcerting to have to look up to meet his gaze. This must be how Scully felt.
"Yes sir, and this is my partner Agent Scully."
"Hello agents and welcome," the chief said as he took Scully's hand in greeting. While his handshake had been firm with Mulder, the larger man was much more gentle with the other agent.
"Thank you sir," Scully said as he released her hand and gestured them both into the mismatched set of chairs in front of his desk. As both agents took their seats, Chief Fuller made his way back around his desk and sat down, moving the stack of papers he had valiantly been trying to get through to the side.
"I must say, while I appreciate the assistance, I'm a little surprised that the F.B.I. would be interested in this," He stated as he ran a hand through his salt and pepper hair.
"Normally we would leave it to the local law enforcement such as yourself chief, if it weren't for the more unusual instances coinciding with the deaths," Mulder explained. Fuller looked at him, puzzled.
"You mean…the sightings?" he asked almost as if he was sure he must be mistaken. When Mulder nodded his head in the affirmative, Fuller shook his own in disbelief. "Agent Mulder, those are just rumors, stories fabricated by intoxicated locals with too much free time and not enough good sense. Surely your not suggesting these people had been killed by bigfoot are you?"
Mulder opened his mouth to respond but Scully quickly intervened.
"Sir, we are not suggesting anything, but neither are we disregarding any possible evidence, sensible or not, that may help discover the identity of the killer." Fuller looked between the two agents before nodding his agreement, impressed.
"I'm sorry agents, you're right. I guess I've been strung just a tad bit tight since these killings had started. I really do appreciate the help and I'll do whatever I can to help you in your investigation."
Mulder was impressed himself. Usually when they made contact with the local law enforcement, they were closeminded and territorial. Chief Fuller was not only welcoming, but despite his reservations over Mulder's interest in the more outlandish rumors surrounding these cases, he had quickly put his trust in the two agents.
"Thank you Chief, you can start by letting Agent Scully look at one of the victims," Mulder responded.
Skinner closed his office door behind him after thanking his secretary Kim for bringing him lunch. It wasn't part of her job description but whenever she went out for herself, she would sometimes bring something back for him. He smiled as he sat the roast beef sandwich down on his desk. Why couldn't all the people he worked with be as thoughtful and reliable as his secretary.
He sat down in his chair and unwrapped his sandwich and took a bite, surprised at the savory flavor and taking a mental note to ask Kim where she had got it. As he ate, his eyes wandered over his desk, eyeing all the different reports that needed his approval, signature, or corrections. He loved his job, he really did but sometimes all the paperwork was just a bit too much.
His eyes landed on one report sticking out at an angle from his otherwise straight pile. He recognized it as Mulder's 302 he had brought to him just the other day. Figures. Even Mulder's reports couldn't fall in line.
Skinner placed the last bite of his sandwich down and pulled at the corner of the report, yanking it swiftly and cleanly out from the stack it hand been sandwiched in with such skill that the reports on top hardly moved, like a magician pulling a table cloth cleanly out from under a full dinner setting. He opened it up and went over the details again. He had to admit it was an intriguing case, even if he didn't agree with Mulder's opinions as to the possible identities of the killers. If Mulder had approached him with this case with a little more plausibility and hadn't just had a stay in the hospital, Skinner may had begrudgingly signed off on the 302. Maybe he could make a compromise. Perhaps he could set up a long distance communication between the local force and the F.B.I and Mulder could assist the investigation from right here in D.C.
Deciding he should bring the suggestion to the agent in question, Skinner buzzed the intercom on his desk.
"Kim, could you get me Agent Mulder please," he asked as he picked up the last of his lunch and placed it in his mouth, chewing slowly to savor every last bit of it. Less than a minute later Kim's voice came back over the intercom speaker.
"I'm sorry sir but Agent Mulder doesn't appear to be in the building, he never signed in this morning." Skinner swallowed hard and the bite of sandwich went down his throat with some difficulty. Skinner coughed a few times but didn't choke thankfully.
Okay, no need to get suspicious. Mulder had just been in the hospital. Maybe he was having a bit of a relapse and had taken a sick day.
"Did he call?" He questioned, already anticipating what her answer would be but secretly hoping against it anyways.
"It doesn't appear so sir, HR has not indicated a request for sick leave." Alright, maybe he just forgot. He had suffered a slight concussion recently after all.
"Try Agent Scully please," he requested. Maybe she would know where her partner was. Skinner picked up a pencil and leaned back in his chair, idly twirling the pencil between his fingers, the knot of unease growing in his stomach.
"I'm sorry sir but Agent Scully didn't sign in this morning either," the voice said sympathetically. The pencil in Skinner's hand snapped in two, the broken piece falling to the desk to land on the open x-file.
"I'm going to kill him…," the AD muttered between gritted teeth. He knew without a shadow of a doubt where his walkabout agent was and apparently, he had dragged Scully right behind him.
"I'm really going to kill him…,"
"Sir?" The voice of his secretary startled him out of his furious haze. "Would you like me to try his cell phone?"
"No, thank you Kim, that won't be necessary," he said far more calmly than he actually felt. Whatever he had to say to Agent Mulder was going to be said to his face. "Kim, I need you to book me a flight…"