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You He Did Not Fail

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Deputy Director Dana Scully stands with her arms crossed in the large conference room of the Los Angeles field office, watching as her assistant Mark plugs her new laptop into the overhead projector system. She peers over his shoulder trying to get a sense of the process, wishing she could have figured it out herself. Scully doesn’t like looking like she needs anyone’s help, especially in front of subordinates, and especially from a man — even if it is a man who works for her. 

Agents file in, murmuring quietly amongst each other around the center table, extricating their own government-issued laptops in preparation for her presentation. Annoyingly, a pang nervousness blooms in her stomach. This is her meeting — her case — and as of three months ago, she is the number three agent on senior staff. Despite whispers that she was promoted for the optics of gender diversity, Scully knows better; she’s been here just two years, and in that time has played a critical role as the region’s — perhaps the country’s — most well-regarded pathologist, serving simultaneously as a doctor, a scientist, and an investigator. She’s led and closed two high profile serial murder cases in 18 months, which isn’t something even the Director himself could say. 

Granted, serial killers — with their predictably non-supernatural trail of hard evidence — had been far easier to track down than the perpetrators to which she’d become accustomed. They didn’t shape-shift; they didn’t squeeze themselves through chimneys. After the X-Files, solving plain old violent crime feels like running a 5k after years of running marathons. 

And so yes, her nervousness annoys her. It’s irritatingly illogical that she feels the need to impress the agents who now report to her — most of whom she hasn’t found particularly exceptional. She runs her tongue over her lower lip and sighs audibly.

Mark looks up abruptly, sensing her displeasure. He’s been with the FBI for just under three months, since Scully hired him to work as her assistant. He’s six years out of college but has the energy of an undergraduate, is extremely efficient, well organized, and about ten times more tech savvy than she would ever be. But she sometimes worries he takes the job a bit too seriously; his previous work as an NBC Studios executive assistant must feel comparatively lightweight now that his new boss has him proofing Powerpoints of bloody murder scenes.

He’s staring at her, expectant. She closes her eyes and shakes her head apologetically. “I’m sorry. It’s not you.”

“Okay,” he says, unphased, and turns from her. “You’re ready to go here,” he indicates the computer screen bearing the presentation title slide and hands her a file folder containing a roster of attending agents. She smiles her thanks and he jogs to the back of the room to dim the lights. He jogs everywhere, never walks, and she appreciates that sense of urgency. 

After graduating from Stanford with bachelor's degrees in Anthropology and American Studies, Mark Taylor spent four years on the fringe of the entertainment industry before coming to work for Scully. She liked him immediately at his interview; he was respectful and eager, spoke concisely and with impeccable grammar, and he was young enough to still think he might do some good in the world. Despite her orders to stick to an eight-hour day, he always got into the office before her and left after she did, regardless of what her schedule was like that day. He is 6’2”, wears trendy suits and clean, solid-colored ties, nice shoes, and always has some sort of sweet smelling product in his well-groomed, sandy colored hair. She is 75% sure he’s gay. 

Scully stands beside the podium, not quite behind it yet as it’s still three minutes to nine, glancing over the roster. She’d called in for consult two agents from Albuquerque who had worked on a similar case five years ago — though it was “similar” in the loosest sense of the word. She makes a mental note of their names for later.

Scully has eight victims total: four couples murdered over a year and a half, all solidly in the upper class demographic, having come from as far south as San Diego and as far north as Thousand Oaks. All victims were shot in the head while sleeping; nothing was taken from their homes and no sexual element was apparent. While each homicide case was unusual in that no clear motive was discernible, the cases hadn’t been linked to a single perpetrator until recently; they spanned multiple jurisdictions and forensic evidence didn’t match anyone in the system. Eventually a detective in Ventura County had spoken with a colleague in San Diego at a conference, and they found out they were both working cases where strange symbols were found carved into a nightstand at the crime scene. Neither knew if the symbols had been there before the murder, but after calling around, two more cases in Southern California were connected by the nightstand carvings, bringing the body count to eight. 

Yet there was no distinguishable modus operandi — at least as far as Scully could see. Victims ranged dramatically in age, physical appearance, their careers, and lifestyle — even in sexuality: one of the four couples was lesbian. She urgently needed a profile. 

She’d called Skinner to ask for a behavioral analyst on loan from Washington, knowing that even if by some chance her former partner was still doing profiling work on the side, Skinner wouldn’t be so tactless as to assign him. She scans the second column on the spreadsheet looking for “HQ” and then slides her eyes left for the agent’s name. Special Agent Daniel Hayes, it reads. She doesn’t recognize the name. She hopes he’s good.

At 8:59 only one seat remains vacant. The tented card bearing the names of the attendees reads ‘SA Daniel Hayes.’ She wonders if something has gone wrong, and no one will be making it from Washington after all. Her eyes flick to the clock at the back wall, then she shrugs it off internally. She could have Julie, her appointed second on the case, go over everything with him whenever he arrives. She jots down a reminder on the roster with her pen, then clears her throat and moves to welcome her team. 

She’s on slide #65: a graphic crime scene photo of the final set of victims. She’s explaining that DNA from this scene matched the same male profile collected at the other scenes, and that ballistics matched the weapon to the one used in the other murders. “As with the previous three murders, no neighbors reporting hearing gunshots or any other suspicious noises.” She hears but doesn’t see the door open and snick shut. Not wanting to draw attention to the latecomer, she takes only a quick glance up as a lanky frame enters in shadow and flops into the empty chair at the back of the table. In her periphery she sees him swivel to face her. 

Her breath catches in her throat for a fraction of a second, and heat shoots like a bolt from her gut to her cheeks. No, she thinks, it can’t be. She swallows hard, insists to herself there’s no way, and moves on — though later she catches herself anxiously fidgeting with the cross pendant on her necklace. 

Another twenty minutes and she’s wrapping up. Mark has already snuck over to the light dimmer on cue as though he’s a stagehand waiting for a call from the stage manager. He must have memorized the presentation. He’s probably too good for this job, she thinks. When the lights come up, her eyes narrow momentarily as they adjust to the room. Mark begins handing out binders he assembled containing evidence, resources, and team member positions. She deliberately and stubbornly refuses to look in the direction of her ghost. Is she actually afraid it might be him? That’s ridiculous

Or maybe she’s afraid it won’t be.

“Questions,” she prompts after a sip of water, her eyes focusing on the window in the back left corner of the room. There is an uneasy silence. “Well, if I truly covered it all, we can proceed with breaking into teams. You’ll see on your schedule that I’ll be meeting with teams individually in my office throughout the day, starting with those from the various county labs. Incidentally please give the technicians a day to get organized and sync up before—”

Someone clears their throat and speaks with a voice rough from disuse. “I uh, know I came late to the party, but I do have a question about the carvings shown near the last victims. Slide 65.”

At his voice, Scully freezes. A cold sweat breaks out over her palms. 

“Was the meaning of those symbols discussed?” he asks.

Reflexively she opens her mouth to answer but finds no words emerge. Jesus, she is so paralyzed that she can’t even bring herself to look up.

To her great relief, Julie answers after a pause. “The carvings appear on the nightstands of all four couples, and we have yet to determine their meaning. I’m sorry, are you the profiler from Washington?” In spite of herself, Julie shoots her boss a discreet, sideways glance. 

“Yes,” Mulder says. “For now, at least.” He responds to Julie but his eyes are locked on Scully, who shows him only her profile. "I apologize for my tardiness. I was assigned last minute and this was the earliest flight I could get,” he mumbles hurriedly, then shuffles uncomfortably in his seat. “But those symbols look like Elder Futhark — or maybe something derived from it.” 

“Sorry?” Julie replies, cocking her head. The other agents who had begun packing up stop to listen. 

Mulder is looking over the photos in the binder. “They uh, look like some are inverted, or maybe stylized, but I’m pretty certain. It’s a runic alphabet,” Mulder elaborates. Half the agents stare at him confusedly, the other half rifle through their own binders to take a second look.

“Um, alright, we should begin looking into that,” Scully finally manages with unfocused eyes, closing her laptop decisively. Everyone takes this as the signal to finish packing and get to work. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Mark approach Mulder and shake his hand, then hears Mark explain to him that the behavioral analyst is scheduled to meet with Deputy Director Scully at 11 immediately after the labs get their orders. “I’m sure she’ll go over what you missed then,” he says assuredly. Without seeing, she feels Mulder’s eyes are still on her. 

Scully self-consciously runs a trembling hand through her hair and worries her lower lip between her teeth. The fine strands of hair at the base of her neck are wet with nervous sweat. Her internal monologue runs wild and rapid. Why would Skinner do this? Why would Mulder agree?  

She manages to unhook her laptop and slip it into her bag, but drops a file folder, spilling its contents all over the floor. 

“Excuse me,” Mark says quickly, already walking toward Scully. He kneels down next to Scully, who shields her reddening face behind the podium.

“I’ve got this, you go ahead to your office. I left a yogurt and a cup of Philz with oat milk on your desk,” he says, giving her a reserved yet triumphant smile.  

She looks up at him, delightedly surprised. Philz is everyone’s favorite coffee place, but there’s only one location in LA and it’s far out of her way.

“Believe it or not they moved, and now they’re actually in my building on the ground floor,” he explains while restacking her scattered papers, “It opened five days ago and I think I’ve already spent half my paycheck there,” he jokes. 

Scully’s mind is already wandering off as she stares blankly at the floor. Mark’s forehead creases. “Are you ok?” 

She startles at the question. “Yes," she exhales. “Yes, sorry, I heard you. Um, thank you for that.” He nods and continues to reorganize the file. She likes that he doesn’t feel the need to lavish concern on her. He’s always all business and never takes anything personally. It’s exactly what she needs. 

When she stands and straightens her dress, she sees the room has been vacated by everyone but Julie. Thank God.

“You’ve got ten minutes before the first breakout,” Mark calls after her and Julie as they walk toward the door. 

Scully stops abruptly. “Julie, could I bring you in for these meetings? It would be good to have you there.” 

“Yeah, of course.” 

Scully looks at Mark and he nods, acknowledging he’s heard. 

“I’ll walk you to your office,” Julie offers.

Relief floods through Scully. She’s been dreading the thought of walking out into the hall alone — or at all — and she has the faint suspicion Julie has picked up on that. As they exit, Scully keeps her eyes downcast, their heels clicking in step on the tile floor. 

Julie Owens quickly became Scully’s favorite colleague in LA. She’s young, only 28, and is objectively attractive: bright green eyes and wavy blonde hair always tied in a high ponytail. She stands a mere inch taller than Scully. Scully had an immediate affinity with her — this petite woman in a sea of men, and a scientist, no less. Julie holds an advanced degree in Biophysics from Yale, reads medical journals for fun, and has zero social life to speak of. She is everything Scully could want in a friend — which, admittedly, isn’t exactly what they are. Julie probably thinks of her more as a mentor. But Julie stops by to chat almost daily, and they have even gone for drinks after work a number of times. More relevantly, Julie is the only person who has an idea — however vague — about the life Scully left behind when she moved to LA.

Scully hazards a glance up and catches sight of the bright green coffee cup in Julie’s hand. “Seriously? You went to Philz and didn’t get me anything?” she quips in a half-hearted attempt to sound lighthearted. Then she pauses. “How did you even have time for that? Mark just told me they moved practically across the city from your place.

Suddenly Scully remembers she has her own cup of Philz coffee waiting on her desk — from Mark. She thought she may have picked up on something between the two of them, but Scully was more certain he was interested in men.

Scully looks at Julie, who averts her eyes and nervously tucks a loose strand of hair behind her ear, her cheeks sporting a tinge of pink. Interesting, she thinks. 

Julie changes course, lowering her voice. “The profiler from Washington,” she whispers. “There’s no way that’s—” 

“Yesss,” Scully hisses, indicating she does not want to talk about it in the hall with other people around. 

“Jesus fuck,” Julie mutters to herself, shaking her head. “Who let that happen?”

As they take the next right into Scully’s office, Mark jogs up behind them and holds the door open over their heads. He takes his seat behind his desk in the outer office. Scully notes the lack of typically friendly banter between Mark and Julie, and watches him shuffle the papers on his desk in no discernable fashion to avoid making eye contact. 

She examines Julie, who is staring guiltily at Mark’s bright green coffee cup while anxiously picking at her lower lip. Scully’s eyebrow raises; her certainty over Mark’s sexulaity drops from 75% to 35%.

It catches her off guard, but Scully feels a giddy thrill at the thought of Mark and Julie getting together. She can’t help the small smile that tugs at the corner of her lips. For one blessed second she even forgets about their out-of-town guest. 

Scully makes for her inner office and Julie follows after her quickly, closing the door behind her. 

“Ok, Dana, about the coffee—”

Scully huffs out a laugh and crosses her arms. “Hey. Two young, intelligent, attractive people working in such close quarters? It’s shocking it didn’t happen sooner.” Unbidden, her memory projects a flash of Mulder’s hand cradling the back of her head, her hair slipping through his fingers.

Julie looks scandalized, as though she was planning on making a perfectly innocuous excuse for how she and Mark ended up together this morning. “Look. I would have said something, but it’s new. Well no, it’s— not new actually because it’s not anything. I didn’t even think he was straight until last night, I mean you’re the one who said— and then—”  

Scully cuts her off, putting up the flats of her palms. “Don’t. You don’t own me an explanation.” She pauses. “Though I wouldn’t mind hearing about it later,” she concedes as she takes a seat behind her desk. 

“Have you talked to him recently?”  

Scully’s brows knit. “To Mark?” 

“No, to Mulder.” 

Scully inhales. “No. I haven’t talked to him since before I left Washington. And as you know, it was not on the best of terms.” Julie nods, her face unreadable. 

The intercom buzzes and Mark comes over the line. “Deputy, everyone is present for your first meeting. Should I send them in?” 

“Please,” she replies.