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The Realm of Extreme Possibility

Chapter Text

“Scully, did you hear that?”

She held in a sigh as she glanced at Mulder. “I heard a bird.”

“Sure it wasn’t a goat?” He grinned at her, hazel eyes brimming with the colors of the forest around them, a verdant mixture of gold, green, and brown.

“Baaa,” she said, drawing a laugh from Mulder. Somehow, she’d let him convince her to give up her Saturday afternoon to hunt the Goatman, an urban legend that was half-man, half-goat, and rumored to reside right here in Maryland. According to local lore, the Goatman used to be a scientist at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center who conducted tests on a variety of animals, including goats. One of his experiments went horribly wrong, and he was transformed into a human-goat hybrid who now roamed the woods, wielding an axe to kill unsuspecting teenagers.

In fact, a group of local teens had reported an encounter with the Goatman just last weekend. And that noise Mulder had just heard was probably her own groan of frustration, because the very idea of a human-goat hybrid roaming the Maryland woods…it was ludicrous.

But today was his birthday, a birthday that only a few months ago she hadn’t thought she’d be here to celebrate with him, so how could she say no to what would essentially be a hike through the Green Ridge State Forest on a beautiful October day? Overhead, the trees rippled with red and orange leaves. It was beautiful. She was alive. Her cancer was in remission, and she was here tromping through the woods with Mulder in search of an imaginary beast.

“Look at this.” He crouched, brushing aside fallen leaves to examine the ground. “That’s a hoof print, Scully.”

She knelt beside him, ignoring the ache deep in her bones that said she was still anemic, still brittle. “Probably a deer.”

“It would be a damn big deer.”

“A buck, probably,” she suggested.

He stood, extending a hand to tug her to her feet, and she accepted it without protest, pretending it was an innocent gesture and not an acknowledgement that he’d seen her discomfort, that he still had an uncanny ability to read her better than anyone else ever had.

They walked on, but while Mulder tracked the unsuspecting deer, she turned her attention to the forest around them, enjoying the satisfying crunch of dry leaves beneath her boots and the whisper of the breeze through the trees as sunlight filtered through the canopy of leaves overhead, casting golden patches over the forest floor.

She paused to tie a red string around the nearest branch. She’d done this every hundred feet or so during their hike, leaving a trail for them to follow back to the car. Mulder had led her on enough wayward trips into the forest that she’d learned to track their steps. Her pocket was full of string.

“Want to grab dinner after we leave here?” he asked, brow scrunched adorably as he knelt to examine another deer print.

“Sure.” Her appetite hadn’t returned in full yet, but food sounded good, and it was his birthday, after all. She had a little gift for him back at the car, a companion of sorts for the medallion he’d given her on her birthday last year. “What are you in the mood for?”

“Whatever sounds good to you,” he said with a shrug.

“It’s your birthday,” she protested. “You pick.”

“How about pizza?”

“Sure.” She fought a smile. When it came down to it, his tastes were so…simple in comparison to his endless hunger for the truth. He tirelessly chased answers to every unknown element in the universe, and yet, all he required to fuel that quest was pizza, the occasional beer, and a few hours of shitty sleep on the couch in his apartment. What kind of man didn’t even have a bed?

Her kind, apparently.

“Got a craving for pepperoni and anchovies,” he said. “What do you think?”

“Skip the anchovies and add some vegetables, and I’m in.”

He nodded. “Deal.”

All this pizza talk was making her hungry. “Ready to head back, then?”

“Not quite. We’re right in the area where those girls were attacked last weekend, and these hoof prints look fresh.”

“Mulder, they weren’t attacked. Hannah’s boyfriend admitted to pulling a prank.”

“Ah, but he also admitted that afterward, he was chased out of the woods by a large, goatlike animal,” Mulder said, winking at her.

“The power of suggestion,” she countered. “He’d read up on the Goatman and was out here after dark trying to scare his girlfriend—who really ought to dump him for that nonsense, if you ask me—and he got spooked.”

“All the same, I’m going to keep poking around,” Mulder said.

“Suit yourself.” The forest seemed to blur around her, and she reached for the nearest tree to steady herself. Everything echoed inside her head, like the moment was repeating itself. She felt like she’d been here before, experienced this before.

“You okay, Scully?” he asked, turning to face her.

She nodded, giving her head a slight shake. “I just had the strangest sense of déjà vu.”

“Really?” His eyes locked on hers, steady and intense.

“Yeah.” She pushed forward, still oddly out of sorts. “It’s fine. I’m fine.”

“Okay.” He fell into step beside her, and for a few minutes they walked in comfortable silence.

From time to time, she still felt an…echo was the best word she could think of to describe it. Her consciousness felt vaguely off, and her impatience with her physical limitations was quickly morphing into outrage, because she didn’t have time for this. She’d beaten cancer, dammit. Her body needed to get the memo. Maybe next week, she should have her iron levels checked to make sure the supplements she’d been taking since her release from the hospital were doing their job.

Mulder’s hand rested against the small of her back, a reassuring gesture that she should definitely protest against, because she didn’t need his help to walk through the forest on a beautiful, crisp fall day. But she didn’t protest. She let him steady her, embarrassed that she was slightly out of breath from the exertion of their hike.

The sun was receding quickly through the trees, casting long shadows around them and bathing the forest in a golden glow. They should really turn around soon, so they had plenty of time to make it back to the car before dark. But first, she was going to power through this moment of weakness, because Dana Scully didn’t quit, dammit.

She walked faster, moving away from Mulder’s touch. Leaves crunched beneath her feet, and her breath crackled in her throat. And then the ground seemed to give way beneath her. One moment it was there, and the next, it wasn’t.

She stumbled, caught for a moment in the limbo that preceded a fall, arms windmilling helplessly before she hit the ground with a bone rattling thump. A grunt escaped her as she lay sprawled face down in the dry leaves, gasping for breath.

“Scully!” Mulder called from behind her. “Scully, are you okay?”

“Fine,” she muttered as she rolled to her back and sat up, realizing as she did so that she was not fine. Her left ankle tingled, twinges of pain beginning to radiate beneath her hiking boot, letting her know that she’d twisted it on her way down. She sucked in air, hands braced against the earth beneath her, hoping desperately that her ankle was the only thing she’d damaged.

Adrenaline had flooded her system, leaving her shaky and numb, perhaps masking other pain. Mulder crouched beside her, resting a hand on her arm, concern etched into the little wrinkles around his eyes.

“Might have twisted my ankle,” she admitted as she sucked in slow, deliberate breaths, careful not to hyperventilate. She concentrated, taking stock of her body, but nothing else felt amiss other than a few sore spots that would probably bruise, another symptom of her anemia. She bruised easily these days.

“Scully.” His gaze swept around her, something sharp in his tone. “Do you…do you see what I see?”

“What?” She blinked, relieved that the weird sense of déjà vu that had plagued her for the last few minutes seemed to have passed. Now, her senses felt razor sharp, perhaps heightened by the adrenaline rush of her fall.

She’d landed in a depression in the earth. Now that she’d rolled over, her butt was in the hollow while her elbows rested on the higher ground behind her. She cast a brief glance at her ankle—now throbbing inside her boot—before her gaze followed Mulder’s, tracing the unnatural, rectangular outline of the space she’d landed in.

“Shit,” she whispered, hands flailing for the second time in as many minutes as she grabbed for Mulder.

He lifted her to her feet, and she sagged against him, staring at the spot where she’d fallen, which by any stretch of the imagination appeared to be a grave.

Chapter Text

Mulder wrapped an arm around Scully’s waist, drawing her against him as he stared at the grave she’d fallen into. Her chest heaved as she sucked in rapid breaths, and he didn’t miss the slight tremor that swept through her body as she registered the sight in front of them.

“Looks like it’s been here a while,” he commented.

“Years, probably,” she agreed.

The earth had sunk over time to reveal the shape of the hole someone had dug there in the past, roughly the size and shape of a coffin, although he didn’t think they’d find one down there if they started digging. This wasn’t a graveyard. This was a place where someone had buried a body they didn’t want to be found, deep in the woods, undisturbed for however many years. In all likelihood, they’d just uncovered a crime scene.

“We should confirm that it’s actually a grave before we call the local authorities,” Scully said. “I don’t want to waste anyone’s time tromping out here to look at an odd-shaped depression in the earth.” She straightened, pulling free of his embrace. Her voice was strong and steady, but he saw her wince as she returned her full weight to her own two feet. She’d fallen, hard.

And he never should have brought her into the woods so soon after her cancer went into remission. Despite her best efforts to hide it from him, she was still weak, still not fully recovered. What had he been thinking? He’d never forgive himself if she got hurt because he’d wanted to hunt for the Goatman on his birthday.

“I’ll dig while you get off that ankle for a few minutes, okay?” he suggested.

She huffed. “I’m perfectly capable of digging, Mulder.”

“I know you are, but if you rest your ankle for a few minutes while you watch me dig, it might make your walk back to the car more comfortable.” He looked around for something to dig with. A nearby stick looked like it would work. It was about the length of a shovel and seemed thick enough not to break. He grabbed it and knelt at one end of the grave, beginning to scoop dirt to the side. The earth here was dry and hardpacked, complicating his task.

“Find anything?” Scully asked, still standing behind him.

“Not yet.” He scraped his stick through the dirt, careful to keep it in a neat pile within the confines of the gravesite so that crime scene techs could analyze it for trace evidence later on if it came to that.

“Hurry,” she said. “The sun’s getting low. We need to head back.”

“Okay. If I don’t find anything in the next five minutes or so, we’ll just mark the spot and have the local sheriff’s department send someone to check it out tomorrow.” He’d loosened up a good amount of dirt now, and as he prodded the stick through it, a flash of white caught his eye. “Scully!”

“Yeah?” She moved closer, peering into the hole.

He abandoned his stick and carefully pushed dirt aside with his bare hands to reveal a thin white bone. A finger, maybe. But definitely a bone.

“That appears to be a human metatarsal,” she confirmed. “All right, now it’s time to call it in.”

He stood, dusting off his hands before he pulled out his cell phone. “I don’t know about you, but I don’t have any cell service out here.”

Scully pulled out her own phone, sighing as she squinted at the screen. “I don’t either.”

“I’m pretty sure we had service back at the car,” he said.

“Okay,” she agreed. “We need to head back anyway before it gets dark.” But as she took a step, her left leg seemed to buckle beneath her.

He reached out, grasping her elbow to steady her. “You okay?”

“My ankle’s a little worse off than I realized,” she admitted.

“Shit.” They had to be at least a mile from the car, if not more. He could carry her out, though, if he needed to. She hardly weighed anything, especially these days. “Why don’t you sit down, and let’s take a look?”

She half walked, half hopped to a nearby fallen tree, leaning heavily on him. He gripped her hands as she sat, steadying her. Then he crouched in front of her. She let out a frustrated sigh as he unlaced her boot and removed it. Even over her sock, he could already tell that her ankle was swollen.

She peeled the white fabric away, beginning to examine herself with the same calm professionalism he’d observed as she examined countless other patients over the last five years, including himself on too many occasions to count.

“Is it broken?” he asked, wishing he could do more to help.

“I don’t think so,” she said, blue eyes darting up to meet his. “Probably just a bad sprain.”

“What do you need?” he asked.

“I packed a first aid kit,” she said, slipping her backpack from her shoulders. Of course, she had. His Scully was nothing if not prepared. She unzipped the backpack and pulled out a vinyl pack, which she opened, rummaging around inside it until she’d pulled out an Ace bandage. She wrapped it deftly around her swollen ankle, securing it in place before she pulled out a bottle of water and washed down a couple of ibuprofen.

“Want a piggyback ride?” He gave her his most charming smile, hoping to make her smile in return, but his offer was sincere.

“I’m sure it’ll be fine now that I’ve wrapped it.” She put her sock and boot back on and stood, taking a halting step forward, but it was immediately evident to both of them that her ankle was not fine in spite of the bandage. Nevertheless, she stubbornly hobbled forward, lips pressed into a firm line as she glanced around them to gather her bearings. “Which way did we come from?”

“Uh, you were marking the trail.”

She blinked at him, and his gut sank. Dammit. He’d known she was out of it after she experienced déjà vu. His gut had suspected she was following something that had absolutely nothing to do with the Goatman, and yet, he’d failed to mark the trail once she’d taken over. This was absolutely, one hundred percent his fault.

“I—” She looked around, pressing a hand against her forehead. “I got distracted. I…”

“You changed direction pretty significantly after you had déjà vu, and I followed,” he told her. “But I forgot to mark the trail. I’m sorry.”

“What are you talking about?” She narrowed her eyes at him. “We were following your deer tracks.”

“We were following the Goatman’s tracks until you had déjà vu,” he told her. “Then you started marching in this direction like a woman on a mission. You led us straight to this grave, Scully.”

“That’s not possible.” She shook her head, frustration rolling off her. “I couldn’t lead us to a grave I didn’t know was here. If I changed direction, it wasn’t intentional.”

“Actually, I have a theory about that,” he said, trying for once to be the rational one. “But I’ll tell you about it tonight over pizza, because we need to get moving if we’re going to make it out of here before dark.”

She nodded, glancing around them. “I have no idea which way to even start.”

“I think it will be fastest for you to sit on this log while I try to find my way back to your trail of red string. Once I’ve found that, I’ll come back and carry you out of here.”

“You can’t carry me all the way back to the car, Mulder. I’ll find something I can use as a walking stick while you look for the trail.” She turned her back on him and hobbled away, stubborn as ever.

Of course, he hadn’t expected her to sit obediently on a log and wait for him to save the day, but it had been a nice thought. She hadn’t let cancer slow her down, so naturally she wasn’t about to be stymied by a sprained ankle.

He was pretty sure they’d come upon the grave from the East, so he started in that direction. These woods weren’t that big. They would eventually stumble across a trail—either Scully’s red string or one of the official hiking trails in the area—if they walked long enough, but it was getting dark fast now, and Scully was injured. He didn’t want to make her wander through the woods after dark if he could help it.

Unfortunately, he was lost as hell. After branching out from the gravesite in every possible direction, he had to admit that they must have walked farther after her déjà vu than he’d realized. And they might be stuck for the night. He returned to the grave to find Scully sitting on the log with a long, smooth stick in her right hand.

“Any luck?” she asked.

He shook his head. “Sorry.”

She turned her face to the side, watching as the sun set through the trees. “I hate to say it, but I think we should stay here for the night.”

“I agree.” He came to sit beside her. “It’s not going to be too cold tonight. We should be fine.”

“We’ve certainly survived worse.” She gave him a wry smile. “It’s your birthday, though.”

“We’ll get that pizza tomorrow, Scully. You know I don’t like celebrations anyway. I’d rather be out here hunting monsters with you on my birthday than anywhere else, truly.”

She reached over, resting a hand on his thigh. “I know.”

“How’s your ankle?”

“Doesn’t hurt that much as long as I don’t put any weight on it.”

“We should make a camp for the night before it gets too dark to see,” he suggested.

She nodded, using the stick as a makeshift crutch as she stood. “And let’s put a little space between us and this grave while we’re at it.”

“There’s a little clearing back this way.” He gestured to his left. “I can pile some pine straw for us to sleep on. It’ll keep us off the cold dirt.”

“Sounds like our best option,” she agreed.

They spent the next fifteen minutes or so getting set up for the night. He made them a bed of pine straw that wasn’t nearly as comfortable as he’d hoped it would be, but it would do. Scully rummaged through her first aid kit and came up with one of those silver space blankets that they could wrap up in if they got too cold.

Once they were sitting on their pile of pine straw, she pulled out bottles of water and protein bars, handing him one of each. “Not much of a birthday dinner.”

“It’s more than I thought we had. Thank you.” His stomach rumbled loudly, his hunger awakened by the promise of food.

She cast a shrewd look in his direction. “This is not my first trip to the forest with you, Mulder. I’ve learned to come prepared.”

He laughed, nudging his shoulder against hers. “Someday we’ll take a nice trip to the forest, I promise.”

“Mm-hmm.” She rolled her eyes at him. “I’m not holding my breath.”

“You should take a vacation,” he said impulsively. In moments like these—stuck in yet another uncomfortable and semi-dangerous situation on their day off—he wondered why she put up with him. “Go somewhere warm and sunny. Sip fruity drinks on a tropical beach.”

Her lips turned into a frown. “I’d burn.”

“That’s what sunblock is for. Or you could sit under one of those big umbrellas.”

“I don’t want a tropical vacation, Mulder.”

“What do you want, then?” he asked, suddenly curious. “Now that you’re better.”

“Nothing I don’t already have.” The look she gave him then was almost shy. Her fingers traced the ridges on the water bottle in her hand. “I like this life, Mulder. I wouldn’t be here with you otherwise.”

He pictured the ouroboros tattooed on her lower back, remembering the fight they’d had that day, the cancer he hadn’t yet known about. “I tried to get you a desk, you know. I don’t have much pull with the guys upstairs.”

She sighed, a million words contained in that one tiny sound, a lifetime of frustration and disappointment. “It’s fine. I may not have a desk, but we both know you’d be lost without me.”

“That’s the damn truth,” he agreed.

She lifted a matchbox in those impossible slim yet strong fingers, removing a match and striking it before he could protest that this wasn’t a good place to start a fire, sitting on a pile of dry pine straw. The tiny flame flickered between them, illuminating her face. She was watching him closely, lips twitching as if she fought a smile. “Make a wish, and then blow it out before it burns my fingers.”

“Only if you sing Happy Birthday to me first.”

“Mulder…” She scoffed, her gaze darting from the match to his face. “Fine.”

She sang, her voice hushed and slightly off key, and it might be the best birthday gift he’d ever received. She rushed through the end of the song, and even so, the flame was dangerously close to her fingers. “Make a wish,” she whispered.

I hope you never leave me.

The words formed without thought, and he blew out the match, extinguishing the light that had danced over her face. Immediately, he wished he could have it back, to be able to see those sky-blue eyes as they stared into his. He couldn’t imagine his life without her, not at work or anywhere else.

“Now eat your birthday dinner,” she said as she ripped open her protein bar.

“Bossy,” he teased as he did the same.

The protein bar went down way too fast, doing little to assuage his hunger, but he wasn’t going to complain about it. If not for Scully, he wouldn’t have had anything to eat at all. He was the one who’d gotten them into this mess, and he’d get them out of it, just as soon as the sun rose to light their way.

The sky overhead was a deep indigo now that the sun had set, visible only in patches through the darkened canopy of trees. The moon didn’t seem to be up tonight, and as night fell, the forest around them grew impossibly dark and eerily silent.

He wrapped an arm around Scully’s shoulders, holding her close. She never complained, but she was still pale, still weak, not fully recovered from her cancer ordeal. He never should have brought her out here today. He’d truly thought—for once—it would be a nice trip to the forest, a fun hike as they tracked the Goatman.

A piercing shriek split the night, and Scully went rigid in his arms. It sounded like a woman screaming in terror. That grave looked like it had been here for years, but what if…

Another scream, this one louder, closer, impossibly more bone-chilling than the first.

Instinctively, his hand went to the waistband of his jeans, reaching for the gun he wasn’t carrying. Neither of them were armed tonight

Who was out here in the forest with them? Had the murderer returned with a new victim? Or was it the Goatman himself?

Chapter Text

“Screech owl,” Scully whispered. Her heart was still lodged somewhere in the vicinity of her throat, and her pulse pounded wildly in her ears, because that scream was…blood-curdling. But now that her brain had had a moment to recover, she remembered hearing one just like it before, when she was a little girl camping with her dad and her brothers.

“What?” Mulder wrapped an arm around her shoulders.

She leaned into him, grateful for his warmth and his strength. “I think it was a screech owl.”

A third scream echoed through the woods, and it hit her right in the pit of her stomach, a tingly rush of adrenaline that defied the logical part of her brain telling her it was just a bird. The night was so dark now that she couldn’t see her hand in front of her face, and that was a helpless feeling, especially coupled with the grave behind them and the faceless screams filling the night.

If only she’d thought to pack her flashlight, but she’d never imagined they would still be out here in the woods after dark.

“Who’s there?” Mulder shouted. “Does someone need help?”

His voice echoed around them, silencing the creatures of the forest. For several long moments, she heard nothing but the whoosh of her pulse in her ears and the sound of their breathing. Then she heard the unmistakable flap of wings overhead.

“An owl,” she whispered, allowing her head to drop against Mulder’s shoulder, a mixture of relief and exhaustion.

“I should know better than to question your infinite wisdom,” he said with a soft laugh.

“Well, at least you scared it off with your shouting. I don’t think I could have listened to it scream all night.”

“True.” His arm tightened around her. “Tired?”

“Not really.” She was, but she wasn’t. Her body was still burning off excess adrenaline, too wired to sleep.

“Have you ever heard of the Tuning Fork Phenomenon?” he asked.

“No.” And she could already tell it was going to be something she would roll her eyes at, but there was also something oddly comforting about listening to one of Mulder’s wild theories right now.

“It’s one of the more plausible explanations for déjà vu,” he told her, and yep, her eyes were rolling, even though it was too dark for him to see.

“Mulder…”

“Just hear me out,” he insisted. “It could explain what happened to you today.”

“Nothing happened to me! I got lost and stumbled over an old grave.”

“The Tuning Fork Phenomenon happens when a person’s consciousness is on the same wavelength as someone else’s, living or dead,” he continued, unfazed by her protest. “It causes the sensation of déjà vu, because you’re experiencing someone else’s thoughts or memories for a few moments. You’re tuned into their consciousness. It’s believed to be heightened if a person is sleep deprived or has an otherwise altered state of consciousness, such as if you’re meditating or have recently recovered from a serious illness.”

That last line hung between them in the darkness, and she tensed, pulling away from him. Her body might still be weak, but she was not wandering through these woods with her consciousness wide open for some random spirit to inhabit. The very thought was ludicrous in about a hundred different ways.

“I think you tapped into the victim’s frequency as we were walking, and she led you to her grave,” he finished, sounding almost awed by his own theory.

“She?” she asked, too tired and flustered by their situation to think of a proper argument.

“Or he, but the Tuning Fork Phenomenon happens more frequently between people of the same gender.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“I figured you’d say so, but I can’t think of any other logical explanation for the way you led us to this grave.”

“That’s because I didn’t lead us here. I just fell into it.” She moved around in an attempt to get comfortable. The pine needles beneath her poked through her clothes and irritated the exposed skin at the back of her neck.

Mulder lay beside her, a solid, comforting presence in the darkness. “Not quite on par with even our shittiest FBI-funded motel beds.”

“It’s still better than the cold, hard ground, though.” She shivered, and he must have felt it, because he rolled over, spooning her against the warmth of his body. “Mulder, is that a flashlight in your pocket, or are you just excited about me singing to you?” She shifted away from whatever was poking her in the back.

“What?” he asked, bewildered, and on second thought, whatever was digging into her was too hard to be his… “Oh, it’s your walking stick, Scully.” He pulled the branch out from between them and moved it out of their makeshift bed.

“Ah, thanks.” She moved back against the solid expanse of his chest.

“I was pretty excited about you singing Happy Birthday to me, though.” His words rumbled through her from the closeness of their bodies, and she laughed softly.

“Glad to be of service.”

“Want me to tell you a ghost story before you fall asleep?” he asked.

“No, thanks.”

“Aw, come on, Scully. We could make it like an old-fashioned camping trip.”

“Fine.” She tried to sound impatient, but she was smiling. “Show me what you’ve got.”

“Once upon a time—”

“Mulder, fairytales start with ‘once upon a time,’ not ghost stories.”

“Are you telling this story, or am I?”

“Go on,” she said, glad for the darkness to hide her amusement.

“A couple was driving on a lonely stretch of highway, late at night, and they noticed a girl hitchhiking.”

“Oh, I know this one,” she interrupted. His words brought to mind memories of campfires behind her friend Jennie’s house, contraband beer and cigarettes, games of spin the bottle and whispered ghost stories.

“Scully, you’re really killing the mood here.”

“Sorry, sorry. Go on.”

“So they came across this girl out hitchhiking, and when they pick her up, she was very polite and gave them an address in their own town.” His voice was low and soothing. “After a few minutes of driving, though, she got very quiet. Too quiet.”

“Wait, can I tell the end of the story?” she asked, glancing at him over her shoulder.

“Sure. Go ahead, Scully.”

“When the man who was driving turned around to ask the hitchhiker a question, she was gone,” Scully said. “She had disappeared without a trace.”

“You don’t say,” he quipped.

She smiled into the darkness. “The couple didn’t know what to do, so they went ahead and drove to the address the girl had given them. An old woman came to the door. She told them she didn’t know any teenagers, but her teenage daughter had been killed in a car accident up the road many years ago.”

“That’s not how my story was going to end,” he said.

“No?” She’s heard this story dozens of times as a girl, and it always ended the same way.

“Nope.”

“Fine,” she said. “Tell me the ending to your story.”

“After the girl went quiet in the backseat of the car, a bright light appeared in the sky overhead.”

“Oh,” she said. “Well, this is an interesting twist.”

“The car lost power and stopped right there in the middle of the street, but the couple barely even noticed. They were transfixed by the light. It was powerful and all consuming.”

“Mm,” she said, brushing away a pine needle that was poking into her cheek.

“As suddenly as it appeared, the light was gone,” Mulder said. “And when they looked into the backseat of the car, the teenage girl was gone.”

“Mulder, that’s not a ghost story,” she protested with a smile. “It’s an alien story.”

“Well, what did you expect, coming from me?”

“True.”

“Once they got over the shock of the light and the disappearing girl, they also noticed nine minutes had passed.”

“They lost time,” she whispered.

“They sure did.”

“You were right, Mulder,” she murmured, as relaxed and content now as she had been jumpy earlier. “An alien ghost story was just what I needed before I fell asleep.”

“Yeah?” He sounded pleased.

“You always keep me on my toes.”

“Speaking of toes, how’s your ankle?”

It throbbed dully inside her boot, but it was more of an annoyance than anything. Certainly, she’d suffered worse. “Not exactly looking forward to hiking out of here tomorrow, but it’s fine for tonight.”

“I got you,” he said. “You aren’t walking out of here.”

“We’ll see about that,” she grumbled.

Behind her, Mulder yawned.

“We should sleep.” She slid her hands over the pine straw in front of her until she found the thermal blanket she’d placed there. With fumbling fingers, she unfolded it and spread it over their legs.

Mulder wrapped an arm around her, drawing her against the warmth of his body as she pulled the blanket up to cover as much of them as possible. The Maryland woods got cold at night in mid-October, but spooned against Mulder, she was cozy and comfortable.

His right hand rested against her stomach, solid and comforting, her back against his chest, as she drifted to sleep.

The arm around her was different now, one arm beneath her knees and one under her shoulders. He was carrying her through the forest, and she was cold, so cold. Her bones ached with it. She tried to struggle, to demand that he put her down, but she couldn’t seem to move or speak. Her arms dangled uselessly beneath her, jostled by each lurching step that he took.

She looked up at him, registering the hard glint of his eyes and the rigid set of his jaw. He walked without speaking, one heavy step at a time, and then he bent, dumping her unceremoniously on the ground. Unable to move, she stared up at the canopy of trees overhead, watching them bend and sway with the breeze.

Beside her, he began to dig. She heard the metallic scrape of a shovel in the earth, occasionally dinging against rocks in the soil. He dug, and he dug while she stared helplessly into the trees, listening. Occasionally, flecks of dirt landed on her legs, cold and rough. Her red hair blew over her eyes, but she couldn’t brush it away.

Eventually, the digging stopped, and his arms slid beneath her again, lifting her into the air. He dumped her into the hole he’d dug. A grave. Her grave.

And suddenly, she was standing over herself, watching him bury her. But the red-headed woman in the shallow grave wasn’t her at all. Blood streaked her forehead as she stared up at Scully with the face of a stranger.

She lurched upright with a gasp, heart racing, eyes blinking uselessly into the all-consuming darkness.

“Scully, you okay?” Mulder mumbled.

She pressed a hand against her chest, nodding even though he couldn’t see her. She sucked in several deep breaths as the fear receded and she came to her senses. “Yeah. Bad dream.”

“Sorry.” He sat up, wrapping an arm around her. Mulder’s arm was familiar and comforting, unlike the arms that had held her in her dream.

That man. She’d seen his face so clearly. A gust of wind blew over her, and she shivered. There was something familiar about him, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. Maybe he only seemed familiar because she didn’t usually see faces so clearly in her dreams.

And the red-headed woman. Scully shivered again. She knew what Mulder would say if she told him about her dream. He’d try to convince her that she was still connected to the dead woman’s consciousness and had dreamed about the man who’d killed her.

But that wasn’t it. A dream was just a dream. It was only natural to dream about the grave she’d discovered, especially sleeping out here in the woods so near it, and even to insert herself into the dream.

“Want to talk about it?” Mulder asked, rubbing a hand up and down her back.

“No.” She lay back down beside him, but when she closed her eyes, she saw the dead woman’s face. Her red hair was longer than Scully’s, her features unfamiliar. That unsettled feeling at the pit of her stomach since she woke still hadn’t gone away. “Could you maybe just talk to me for a few minutes, though?” she asked Mulder.

“Happy to,” he said. “I was looking through one of our old files yesterday when I was researching the Goatman. Did you know a group of teenagers in 1986 reported seeing a unicorn in these woods?”

“A unicorn?” That was the last thing she’d expected him to say.

“A big, white horse with a horn that gave off a faint glow. They chased after it, but to no avail.”

“And did any of them report having taken drugs that night?” she asked.

“They did not, but I think the chances are high.”

She could hear the laughter in his voice, and she felt herself smiling in return. Her body relaxed against his as the last remnants of the dream faded. “Thanks, Mulder.”

“Any time.”

She drifted back to sleep. When she woke, the woods around her gleamed with morning light. Birds chattered overhead, and her back was cold. She was alone on her bed of pine straw.

“Mulder?” she murmured as she rolled over.

“Up here,” he called.

“What?” She blinked, rubbing her eyes as she spotted Mulder leaning out of an oak tree above her. “What are you doing?”

“Nature called,” he said with a shrug as he grabbed the next branch and hauled himself up.

“So you decided to…pee in a tree?” Had he hit his head yesterday? Because he wasn’t making any sense right now.

“Negative. I peed on the tree, and then I climbed it. Thought I might get cell service up here.”

“Gross,” she said, eyeing the base of the tree, not ten feet from where she lay.

“I’m just teasing you, Scully. I peed on one of those trees out there.” He waved off into the forest.

“Hm.” All this talk of peeing had made her aware of her own bladder. She reached for the stick Mulder had tossed out of their makeshift bed last night and gripped it, hauling herself to her feet. She leaned against it, using it to keep her weight off her left ankle as she hobbled far enough into the woods to answer nature’s call.

By the time she made it back to their camp, Mulder was climbing down the tree, a triumphant look on his face. He gripped a branch and swung down, landing with a thump beside her. “I did it, Scully. I got a signal and called it in. The local authorities are on their way.”

“Impressive,” she told him, relieved that not only would the crime scene soon be officially marked and catalogued, but that she and Mulder wouldn’t have to wander out of here on their own. “How are they going to find us?”

“They’re going to follow your red strings from our car and fan out from there, shouting until we hear them.”

“Perfect.” She lowered herself to the pine straw and passed out more water and protein bars.

They ate quietly and then sat there, sharing idle chatter, the kind of endless, mindless conversation they’d used to fill so many situations like this one, times when they had nothing to do but sit and wait. Hours passed before they finally heard a distant shout.

Immediately, Mulder was on his feet. “Over here!”

Within minutes, the cavalry had arrived, park rangers, Prince George’s County deputies, and a crime scene unit, all looking somewhat flushed and out of breath from their hike. Scully and Mulder led them to the grave. As she stared down at it, time did that weird thing again, slowing and echoing inside her head.

Déjà vu.

What was it with her and this grave? The woman from her dream sprang into her mind, bright red hair spread around her face, eyes staring blankly up at the sky overhead. Scully shivered, blinking the image away.

This time, she kept her feelings to herself, and Mulder, who was currently deep in conversation with one of the local deputies, was oblivious. It was a trick of the mind, compounded by her dream. She was sleep deprived, and Mulder had put thoughts in her head about shared frequencies and a connection with whoever lay inside that grave.

Ridiculous, that’s what it was.

She watched quietly as the area was cordoned with yellow tape. The crime scene unit swarmed around the grave, carefully marking and cataloguing everything as they began to dig.

“Ready to get out of here?” Mulder asked, resting a hand on her shoulder.

“No, I’d like to see what they find, if you don’t mind waiting.”

“I’m curious too,” he said. “But if your ankle is bothering you, just let me know.”

“It’s fine,” she told him, but she didn’t protest when he led her to a fallen tree just outside the crime scene perimeter where they could sit and watch. It was an unconventional way to spend the morning after his birthday, but at the same time, it seemed fitting for Mulder. The only thing he would enjoy more would be if they uncovered the Goatman in that grave…or perhaps an alien.

“What’s so funny?” he asked, nudging her with his shoulder, and she realized she was grinning.

“Just thinking how much you would enjoy it if they found an alien in there.” She nodded toward the crime scene.

“Wouldn’t that just be the icing on my birthday cake?” he quipped, hazel eyes dancing.

Oh, this man. She couldn’t imagine her life without him, and yet…he was absolutely impossible. She loved him for it. These years together had bonded them in a way nothing and no one else in her life ever could.

They sat together and watched the crime scene team work as the sun rose in the sky. Beside her, Mulder’s stomach rumbled loudly. She as hungry too, and she was out of protein bars, but she didn’t want to leave yet, and she didn’t think he did either.

“I’ve got something!” one of the crime scene techs called, brushing through the dirt with her gloved hands. “There are definitely skeletal remains in here.”

Scully stood almost without realizing it, and Mulder was right with her. She leaned against him as they ducked under the crime scene tape and stepped in for a closer look. Within minutes, the skeleton of an adult female had been uncovered.

“She’s wearing a necklace,” the tech said. She lifted a gold chain from around the dead woman’s neck. A pendant glinted in the sunlight, dangling between the tech’s fingers.

Scully squinted, taking another step closer, and then her breath caught in her throat. Mulder’s hand gripped her arm, steadying her.

The dead woman wore a gold cross pendant identical to Scully’s.

Chapter Text

“Climb on, Scully.” He crouched, gesturing with his hands for her to jump onto his back. “You know you’ve always wanted to ride me like a horse.”

She snorted with laughter. “Mulder, I’m perfectly capable of hiking out of here.”

“But you’ll probably make the sprain worse if you do,” he said, hoping to appeal to her rational side. “Giddy up, Partner.”

“You’re ridiculous.”

“And ridiculously hungry. Hurry up and climb on, Scully, so we can get out of here and get that pizza.”

“Fine, but promise you’ll tell me when you need a break, okay?”

“Promise,” he agreed, intending to do no such thing.

A moment later, he felt her hands on his shoulders, and then she hopped, thighs clamping around his waist as her arms encircled his shoulders.

“Light as a feather,” he told her as he hooked his arms beneath her knees, anchoring her in place. He wasn’t kidding either. She really wasn’t heavy, and they’d get out of the woods so much faster this way. Plus, he wouldn’t have to worry about her exacerbating her injury by walking on it. “Found some more hoofprints this morning while we were waiting for the crime scene techs to do their thing.”

“Deer prints, you mean,” she said, adjusting her position on his back as he started to walk.

“These prints didn’t belong to a deer. I can tell you that much.”

“How so?”

“Way too big for a deer,” he told her. “Or a goat, for that matter. But a Goatman, on the other hand…”

* * *

It was mid-afternoon by the time Mulder unlocked the door to Scully’s apartment, ushering her inside. She thumped ahead of him on her crutches, muttering under her breath to express her frustration with her current situation. After he’d carried her out of the forest, he’d driven her straight to the hospital for an X-ray, despite her adamant protests that she was a doctor and knew she was fine.

As it turned out, she was right. It was only a sprain, but he felt better knowing for sure. Besides, now she had crutches so she could stay off that ankle for the next week. After they left the hospital, he’d made a quick stop to pick up a pizza and a six pack of beer, and now, at long last, they were home. Well, Scully was home, and he was hoping to hang out here with her for a little while.

“God, that smells good,” she said with a groan as she plopped onto the couch, laying her crutches on the floor beside her.

“I vote we eat the whole damn thing.” He went into her kitchen and helped himself to plates, napkins, and a bottle opener, which he brought back into the living room.

“Agreed.” She leaned forward to take the plate he held in her direction. “Thank you.”

Neither of them talked much as they piled pizza onto their plates and began to eat. He popped open two bottles of beer and handed one to her. They’d ordered their pizza with the works, and Gino’s hadn’t disappointed. He could hardly lift his slice, it was so loaded with various meats and veggies. An onion slipped through the cheese, landing on his jeans, and he dropped it back onto the plate.

He’d devoured two overloaded slices before the gnawing hunger inside him began to ease. He reached for his beer, but Scully stopped him, leaning forward to swipe her thumb over his chin.

“You had some cheese,” she said, a smile tugging at her lips as she drew back. A strand of cheese dangled from her fingertips. She wiped it on her napkin.

“Thanks.” His gaze tracked her hand, watching as she rubbed her fingers over the napkin. Unbidden, he darted a glance at her lips, remembering that day not so long ago when he’d walked into her apartment and found her sitting right here, her face inches from his. She’d been about to kiss Eddie Van Blundht, thinking he was Mulder.

At random moments, like this one, he thought about it, about how she’d thought she was about to kiss him. Would she react the same way if he leaned in right now? Somehow, he didn’t think so. She wasn’t ready. Neither was he. In all the chaos of her cancer, they’d never discussed that afternoon.

They also hadn’t discussed the body in that grave, the cross pendant the victim wore, or the déjà vu that had led them to her. And this wasn’t the right time for any of it. Right now, they were tired and dirty from their night in the woods, both of them preoccupied with filling their bellies.

Once the pizza box was empty, Scully slumped back on the couch with a satisfied smile on her face. “Mm, that was good.”

“Tell me about it.” They did this sometimes after they’d come off a case, just stuffed themselves on food and then relaxed in the easy comfort of each other’s company.

“Got you something,” she murmured, leaning over to open the bag she’d dropped beside the couch.

“What?” he asked, not sure what she meant.

“For your birthday,” she clarified as she pulled a small, blue-wrapped package out of the bag. “It was in the car, so I couldn’t give it to you last night.” She sat up, handing it to him.

“Scully, you didn’t have to do that.” They didn’t usually exchange birthday gifts, although he’d given her that Apollo 11 keychain on her last birthday. Hopefully, she hadn’t taken that to mean he wanted something in return. It had just been an impulsive gesture, nothing more.

“It’s nothing much,” she said with a shrug.

 Curious, he ripped open the paper to reveal a polished-silver keychain with a knot of rope engraved into its shiny surface.

“It symbolizes trust,” she said softly.

His throat tightened. He didn’t need a keychain to symbolize his trust for Scully, or hers for him, but somehow, holding its solid weight against his palm, it felt more real and tangible than ever before.

“It reminded me of the one you gave me,” she added.

“It’s perfect.” His voice had gone a bit gruff. “Thank you.”

She nodded, hands twisting in her lap, and he worried that the moment would turn awkward, that they’d veered too far off the path they’d set for themselves, that path where feelings and emotions went unsaid, where they never needed to be said. But then she smiled, and he smiled back, and everything was good and comfortable and right.

Trust.

Yep, that they had it in spades.

“I need a shower,” she murmured, plucking a pine needle from her sweater.

“Yeah.” He supposed that was his cue to leave. “And a nap.”

“Definitely,” she agreed.

“You okay here on your own with the crutches? Anything I can do for you before I go?”

“I’ll be fine, Mulder, but thanks.”

He nodded, standing to clear away the trash from their meal. He carried it to the kitchen and spent a minute loading the dishwasher for her, so she could stay off her feet. The phone rang, and he heard her talking to whoever was on the other end of the line. He couldn’t hear her words, but she spoke in a brisk, professional tone, which made him think it was a work call.

When he returned to the living room, she was standing beside the couch, phone in one hand, bottom lip pinched between her teeth.

“Everything okay?” he asked.

“That was the lab in Prince George’s County. They found a red hair in the grave,” she said, a wrinkle appearing in her brow.

“A red hair?” he repeated.

She nodded. “They’ve asked me to provide a DNA sample so they can determine if the hair is mine, from when I fell into the grave, or if it belongs to the victim…or perhaps even the suspect.”

A red hair. His mind returned to the woman’s skeleton they’d found, about the same size as Scully herself, and the gold cross pendant she wore. A lot of coincidences, and for once, he didn’t have an explanation, not even an extreme one. “Huh,” he said, rubbing at the day-old stubble on his chin.

“I’m sure it came off me when I fell,” she said.

“Probably,” he agreed, but somehow, he had a hunch this was more complicated than that. He’d wait for the DNA results to come in before he started spouting conspiracies, though, because Scully generally had even less patience for his theories when they involved her personally.

“I’ll stop by the lab to submit a sample on my way to the office tomorrow morning,” she told him.

The silver keychain was warm against his palm as he waved goodbye. “See you there.”

Chapter Text

Scully entered the Prince George’s County morgue with Mulder at her heels. It had been two weeks since she’d submitted her DNA for comparison to the red hair found in the grave. In the meantime, she and Mulder had gone to Florida for an FBI team building exercise that ended in them spending another night stranded together in the woods.

Seriously, what were the chances? How many times had she had that same thought over the last two weeks, ever since Mulder’s birthday? It was all starting to feel like more than a coincidence.

This morning, the medical examiner had called and asked her to drive out to go over DNA results. She couldn’t imagine why she needed to be here in person to discuss the findings—either it was her hair, or it wasn’t—and consequently she was already annoyed about wasting her morning to drive all the way out here.

“Hey, Scully, want to go for a hike after we leave here?” Mulder asked, and despite his serious tone, she knew he was just teasing. “Maybe we’ll find the Goatman this time.”

“Pass. I’ve spent enough time in the woods with you this month.” She entered the autopsy bay, where a young man in blue scrubs stood over the skeletal remains she and Mulder had stumbled across two weeks ago.

He looked up. “Can I help you?”

She nodded. “We’re Agents Scully and Mulder. We’re the ones who discovered these remains. The medical examiner called this morning and asked us to come in to go over a few things.”

“Ah,” he said with a nod. “She did mention that. Hang on just a minute.” He went down the hall, returning a minute later with a slightly apologetic look. “She’s on a call at the moment, but she’ll be right out.”

“No problem,” Scully told him, stepping up to the metal slab on which the skeleton had been positioned. “Do you mind?”

“Not at all,” he said, indicating that she could have a closer look.

“Any luck IDing the body yet?” she asked as she looked at the remains in front of her. The necklace had been bagged and processed as evidence, leaving only the woman’s bones on the table, yellowed with age.

“Not yet. The forensic anthropologist estimates she had been in that grave for at least forty years, so as you can imagine, it’s a time-consuming process to go through missing persons reports from that long ago.”

She nodded. “Are there any identifying marks on the bones? Any clues as to cause of death?”

“We discovered a number of healed breaks including a spiral fracture in her right wrist and several previously broken ribs.”

“All indicators of abuse,” she murmured as she bent forward to examine the bones more closely.

“Exactly,” the tech agreed. “It’s hard to say if this skull fracture occurred pre or postmortem, but there’s no evidence it had begun to heal, so I’d say we could be looking at her cause of death.”

Scully blinked, remembering the redheaded woman in her dream with blood streaking her forehead.

“Sounds like we might be looking for an abusive husband,” Mulder commented.

“That’s the current theory,” the tech agreed.

“Any idea how old she was?” Mulder asked.

“We estimate that she was in her forties, possible early fifties, based on bone density.”

“She might have children out there, wondering what happened to her,” Scully said. “She might even have grandchildren by now.” It was sad, but this didn’t look like the work of a serial killer or any of Mulder’s monsters. Probably, this woman had been killed by an abusive partner who buried her in the forest to cover up his tracks.

A door along the far wall opened, and a silver-haired woman entered the room. She pushed her glasses up her nose with a smile. “You must be Agent Scully.”

“I am,” Scully confirmed.

“I recognized your hair,” the woman said. “I’m Darlene Fairchild, the Prince George’s County medical examiner. We spoke on the phone earlier. Is this your partner?”

“Agent Mulder,” he told her, extending his hand.

She took it and shook before turning to Scully, giving her a firm handshake. “It’s a pleasure to meet you both, and thank you for coming all the way out here, especially on such short notice.”

“You indicated on the phone that you’d like to go over the results of the DNA test in person?” Scully said, not even trying to keep the impatience out of her tone.

Darlene nodded. “Why don’t we go into my office?”

Scully couldn’t begin to imagine what this was about. Whether or not the hair was hers, she had no further insight into the case, which meant she was wasting her time here. She followed Darlene into her office with Mulder on her heels.

Once they were inside, Darlene closed the door behind them, gesturing to the guest chairs in front of her desk. “Make yourselves comfortable.”

“Is there something we can help you with?” Scully asked. “I confess that I don’t understand what could possibly warrant me coming out here in person.”

Darlene sat behind her desk, resting her elbows on its worn surface. “I figured as much, and I apologize for being vague on the phone, but the results were…unusual, and I thought it best for a number of reasons to go over them with you in person.”

“Okay.” Scully felt inexplicably uncomfortable with the whole situation, like she was about to receive unexpected results from a medical test. One hand went instinctively to her nose, as if it might bleed, as if Darlene was going to tell her that her cancer had returned, when in fact, the only thing Darlene could possibly tell her was whether or not the hair she’d found had come from Scully’s head.

“Well, first of all, the hair we found at the crime scene is yours,” Darlene said.

“That’s not surprising,” Scully responded, irritation rising inside her. “I tripped and fell into the grave. We could have covered this in a phone call.”

Darlene held up a hand. “Let me finish. I also ran a DNA test comparing the hair against the remains. I figured I’d save myself some time. It might match you, or it might match her, or it might not match either.”

“Okay,” Scully said, fighting the irrational urge to stand up and walk right out of this woman’s office. What was this about? And why was it making her so uncomfortable? Mulder’s hand slid into her lap, giving her thigh a reassuring squeeze.

“One possibility I hadn’t considered,” Darlene continued, “was that the hair in the grave would be a match to both you and the deceased.”

Chapter Text

“I don’t understand.” Heat flooded Scully’s cheeks as an uncomfortable prickling sensation spread between her shoulder blades. “The DNA can’t be a match for both me and the deceased. It must be a mistake in the lab. Perhaps they mixed up the samples.”

“That’s what I thought at first too,” Darlene said. “So I had them run the test a second time. Here are the results. You can see the similarities for yourself.” She pushed a folder across the desk toward Scully. “Your DNA isn’t a perfect match, but you share about twenty five percent of your markers with the deceased, meaning that she was likely a female relative of yours, perhaps a grandmother or great aunt?”

“That’s impossible,” Scully murmured as she opened the folder, holding up the slides inside. She stood and walked to the lightbox on the wall, switching it on as she examined the DNA sequences in her hands. Mulder stood and followed, resting a hand against the small of her back.

Her DNA was a perfect match for the hair found in the grave. As she slid the two slides together, they were identical, every marker lining up perfectly. Next, she compared her DNA result to the deceased, watching as an uncomfortable number of markers slid into alignment.

A harsh sound escaped her lips, as if she’d just had the wind kicked out of her. That’s what it felt like too, like she couldn’t draw breath, like her world was spinning. How could this be right? Who was the woman on that slab, and how were they related?

“What are we looking at here, Scully?” Mulder asked, snapping her out of her spiraling thoughts.

She cleared her throat. “See these markers?” She ran her index finger over several of the matching lines. “On average, any two unrelated people only share about point one percent of their DNA. If I were to run yours and compare it to mine, none of our markers would line up.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” he quipped, attempting to lighten the mood, as always. “I think we line up pretty damn well.”

Behind them, Darlene laughed.

She ignored his joke, still focused on the slides in front of her. “See how many of these match? As improbable as it is, this woman appears to be related to me, at least biologically.”

“What do you mean, at least biologically?” Mulder asked.

“Well, as far as I know, there aren’t any missing persons in my family,” she told him. “But perhaps one of my relatives gave a baby up for adoption or had an illegitimate child I don’t know about.”

“Ah,” he said.

“I’m sorry to be the bearer of such upsetting news,” Darlene said. “This is why I wanted to discuss the results with you in person instead of over the phone. I also had a feeling, as a fellow doctor, that you’d want to see the results for yourself.”

“I did. Thank you.” Scully blinked, as if it might somehow make sense of the results in front of her, as if it might somehow explain how she had DNA in common with a dead woman that she—to the best of her knowledge—had never met or even knew existed.

“There’s more,” Darlene said, her tone hesitant, and in a rush, Scully remembered what the tech had told her earlier.

“The healed breaks,” she said, turning to face Mulder and the medical examiner. “The evidence of abuse.”

“Yes,” Darlene said sadly.

Scully returned the slides to the folder and placed it to Darlene’s desk. “I’ll start asking questions in my family and see what I can turn up.”

“That would be very helpful,” Darlene told her. “And in the meantime, we’ll keep investigating on our end and checking missing persons reports. Someone knew her. Someone missed her.”

Scully nodded. “I’d appreciate it if you could keep my connection to the case confidential.”

“Of course,” Darlene agreed.

“And please keep me posted on any and all developments.”

Darlene nodded. “Absolutely.”

“Thank you. I’ll be in touch.” With that, Scully pushed toward the door, desperate to get outside and clear her head. She hesitated as she passed through the morgue, staring at the skeletal remains that somehow belonged to a relative of hers. It was impossible.

Chest tight with emotion, she shoved through the door into the blinding sunshine outside.

* * *

Mulder watched her storm out of the building, following several paces behind. She needed a moment to compose herself, and he was happy to give it to her. He was only here as a bystander, after all, having convinced her to let him tag along so that he could get out of the office and to satisfy his idle curiosity about the results of the DNA test.

He hadn’t expected these results any more than she had.

Scully strode the length of the parking lot, passing their car as if she hadn’t even seen it. He stopped beside it, giving her space. When she reached the end of the pavement, she stopped with her back to him, taking several deep breaths. Then she planted her hands on her hips and spun, marching toward him.

“This is impossible,” she said in that disbelieving voice he knew so well.

“It’s certainly unlikely,” he agreed. “You’re the scientist here. Is there any chance the DNA similarities are only a coincidence?”

“No,” she admitted quietly. “I mean, the statistical probability of me sharing that many DNA markers with a complete stranger are close enough to nil as to be considered nonexistent.”

“Well, she was buried in Maryland. You were born in Maryland, and you have family here. It’s not that unlikely that she’s related to you, is it?”

“But for me to stumble across her grave in the woods?” she asked, her voice rising. “I mean, what are the chances?”

“Not high, but it would appear that’s what happened.”

“I just can’t believe this, Mulder.” Her cheeks were pink, arms clasped tightly over her chest.

“Hey.” He nudged her with his shoulder. “Probability aside, let’s assume the woman in there is a relative of yours. Where do you want to start looking?”

She sighed, shoulders slumping as she seemed to come to terms with the news. “I should go see my mom. She’ll help me get to the bottom of this.”

“Want company?” he asked, because knowing Scully, she would want to drive straight to her mother’s house and solve this mystery as soon as possible. He wanted to help, and he wouldn’t mind the chance to see Maggie again. He’d always liked Scully’s mother, and the feeling seemed to be mutual. Maggie might be the only member of the Scully family who liked him.

“Sure,” she agreed, moving around to the passenger door of the car. “Let me just call and make sure she’s home.”

“’Kay.” He lowered himself into the driver’s seat and twisted the key. He pointed the car toward the highway, which would take them to Annapolis where Maggie lived.

Beside him, Scully brought her cell phone to her ear. “Mom? Hi, it’s Dana.” A pause. “Are you home? I was hoping to stop by.” Another pause, and she grimaced. “No, I’m fine, Mom. I promise.” She rolled her eyes. “Yes, I just wanted to ask you about something. Okay, we’ll be there in an hour or so.” She paused again. “Yeah, Mulder’s with me. Okay, we’ll see you then.”

She ended the call and sat there, silently stewing beside him. This was what she did when she was upset about something. She got quiet, and then she threw herself one hundred and ten percent into her work. He didn’t expect that she’d rest until she found the identity of the woman in the morgue and who killed her, and since they weren’t working an X File at the moment, he’d do whatever he could to help.

With any luck, Maggie would be able to put the whole thing to rest for them, but it might be difficult if they were looking for someone’s illegitimate child. His thoughts drifted to the dead woman’s necklace, so similar to Scully’s. Had this woman been a redhead too? He imagined Scully must be wondering the same thing.

He reached over to give her shoulder a quick squeeze as he drove, and she pressed her hand over his, squeezing back. Her shoulders were tense beneath his fingertips, muscles rigid with everything she was holding in.

The drive to Maggie’s seemed to last an eternity as Scully became increasingly restless beside him. Her foot tapped impatiently against the carpet, and her fingers fiddled endlessly with the radio.

Finally, he pulled into Maggie’s driveway, pulling his Taurus in behind Maggie’s station wagon. Scully unclipped her seatbelt and climbed out of the car, striding toward the door.

Maggie opened it before she’d had a chance to knock, worry written all over her face. “Dana, what’s going on? Is everything okay?”

“I’m fine, Mom,” Scully told her with a slightly stiff smile as she followed her mother into the house.

Mulder trailed behind her, slowing his stride so he didn’t step on her heels.

“Hi, Fox,” Maggie said, smiling over her shoulder at him.

“Hi, Maggie.”

“I put on a fresh pot of coffee when you called,” Maggie told them. “Is this something about work?”

“Not exactly,” Scully told her as she followed her mother into the kitchen.

Maggie set out mugs, sugar, and creamer, and they began to fix coffee while Scully explained what had happened.

“A few weeks ago, Mulder and I were in the Green Ridge State Forest on a case, and we stumbled across a grave.”

“Stumbled, as in…Scully fell right in,” he offered, lifting his mug to his lips with a smile.

Maggie’s eyes widened. “A grave, oh my.”

Scully nodded. “It had been there a while. The forensic anthropologist estimates at least forty years. Anyway, long story short, my DNA is a partial match with the victim. It’s likely she was a female relative of mine.”

Maggie’s hand flew to her mouth. “A female relative? But who?”

“Well, that’s what I was hoping you could help with.” Scully sank into a chair at the kitchen table with a sigh, sipping from her coffee. “Do you know of anyone in the family who went missing during that timeframe?”

“On my side of the family or your father’s?” Maggie sat across from her with her own cup.

Mulder took the seat between them.

“Either,” Scully told her.

“Well, let me see,” Maggie said, eyes closed as she appeared to mentally scroll through her family tree. “I can’t think of anyone off hand, at least on my side.”

“There was also evidence that she may have been the victim of abuse,” Scully said. “There were a number of healed fractures.”

Maggie took a hearty sip of her coffee and swallowed. “How awful.”

“It’s possible she was killed by her abuser, and that person may have covered up her disappearance. He may have even made an excuse for what happened to her without reporting her missing,” Scully told her.

Maggie shook her head. “It just can’t be anyone on my side of the family. I’ve attended everyone’s funeral. I can show you where they’re all buried.”

“Why don’t you run me through the family tree anyway?” Scully pressed. “She would have been born around the turn of the century or thereabouts. Yours or your parents’ generation.”

Maggie stood and walked to the countertop along the back wall where a stack of mail lay beneath the answering machine, returning with a piece of paper and a pen. She proceeded to draw a family tree, spending the next hour or so walking them through every detail of her side of the family.

“And you never heard any whispers about adoptions or illegitimate children?” Scully asked, frowning at the chart in front of her.

“No,” Maggie said. “But it’s certainly possible. In a Catholic family like ours, it would have been kept very hush hush.”

“Okay, let’s look at Dad’s family next,” Scully suggested, flipping over the paper so Maggie could write on the other side.

“Ah, the Scully’s,” Maggie said, tapping her pen against the paper. “They’re a military family. Your father came from a long line of Navy men, as you know.”

“And military vets are known to be abusive, statistically speaking,” Scully said softly. “PTSD after returning home from war combined with the machismo military culture.”

“Oh, Dana,” Maggie said. “I just can’t imagine it, not any of the men I knew.”

“Walk me through the list,” Scully said.

Maggie began to write, documenting the Scully family tree as well as she knew it. After a moment, she paused. “You know what? Your father’s brother James was married when I first met him, and I can’t quite recall what became of her.”

“Did she die?” Scully asked.

“I was definitely under that impression, but I can’t remember what happened to her. I don’t remember attending her funeral, but we might have been overseas at the time. We missed a lot while we were stationed around the world.”

“True,” Scully said with a frustrated sigh.

“You should talk to your Aunt Miranda. She knows all the Scully business.”

“Okay. I’ll do that.”

“Oh Dana.” Maggie’s hand dropped limply to the paper in front of her as she gazed at her daughter. “I can’t believe I didn’t think of it before.”

“What?” Scully asked.

“Your paternal grandmother, Katherine Scully. You’re named after her.”

Mulder felt the energy shift at the table like a tsunami had just swept through the room. Maggie had grown somber while Scully vibrated with the same unusual energy she’d channeled when she led him to that grave two weeks ago. And he knew without hearing the story that they’d hit on the right answer. After this many years in the X Files, he had a sixth sense for these things.

“I never met her,” Scully said, her expression blank. “I thought she drowned before I was born.”

“Yes, that’s the story the Scully’s wanted told. I listened to it so often that I guess I started to believe it,” Maggie said.

Scully stared at the paper on the table, jaw clenched, discomfort written all over her face.

“What really happened?” he prodded.

“Well, Katherine…I guess by today’s standards, we would say she suffered from depression,” Maggie said. “She was the sweetest woman, always so kind. I only met her a few times, but I liked her immensely. I was so relieved I wouldn’t have to dread visiting my mother-in-law, like so many of my friends did. Your father adored her.”

“What happened to her?” Scully asked.

“She was in and out of hospitals for reasons I was never quite sure about,” Maggie said. “But mental health issues weren’t really talked about in those days. Your father was very tight lipped about it, so I never asked many questions.”

“And?” Scully prompted.

“While we were stationed in Germany, we got news that she’d died. She and Gerald were out on his boat. He’s retired Navy, and they often went on weeklong boat trips. When he woke one morning, she was just…gone. The rumor was that she had killed herself, but Gerald was convinced she’d simply fallen overboard.”

“Or that’s what he told everyone, anyway,” Scully said as a muscle twitched in her jaw.

Maggie nodded. “It was so sad, so tragic. She was so young. Your father and I were just newlyweds. Katherine would have been about fifty. I was at her funeral, although obviously there was no body. I never thought…”

“That perhaps she was buried deep in the Green Ridge State Forest with a fractured skull?” Scully said harshly.

“Yes,” Maggie said. “I mean, for all I know, Dana, she really did fall off that boat…”

“I don’t think she did, Mom,” Scully said quietly.

“As far as I know, there wasn’t any kind of investigation into her death,” Maggie said. “She had obviously drowned, and there was no way to prove whether or not she had killed herself. There were rumors that she’d taken sleeping pills that might have contributed to her falling overboard.”

“Jesus,” Scully muttered.

“Dana, if the remains you found are Katherine’s, do you know what this means?”

Scully looked up, a hardened glint in her eyes. “It means my grandfather is a murderer.”

Chapter Text

Scully was grateful that Mulder accepted her silence on the ride to Lakeside Assisted Care Facility, because right now, her thoughts were too chaotic to share out loud, even with him. Her grandfather was in the end stages of dementia. In all likelihood, he wouldn’t recognize her, let alone confess to murder. He probably didn’t even remember what had happened to Katherine.

Maggie was currently on the phone with various members of the Scully family, trying to track down something of Katherine’s that could be used for DNA comparative analysis. And Scully was somehow supposed to get her grandfather to confess to a murder he probably didn’t remember committing.

She still couldn’t quite believe this was happening, that the dead woman might be her grandmother, a woman she knew only through the stories her father had told, stories of a warm, nurturing woman who’d loved her children with all her heart.

Scully had been told that her grandmother died in a boating accident before she was born. She certainly hadn’t known there had been no body to bury or that there was reason to suspect her grandfather might be a murderer.

“You okay, Scully?” Mulder asked, moving one of his hands over to squeeze hers.

“Yeah,” she told him. She hadn’t known Katherine, but she did know Gerald, although he’d never been very present in her life. He’d suffered from dementia for the last ten years, so she honestly couldn’t say she knew him well. “I just wonder…if I should have seen the signs.”

“Signs of what? That your grandfather might have murdered your grandmother before you were born?”

“That something was off, at least. I know him, Mulder. How could I not have realized he was an abusive man? A murderer?”

“You never saw them together. You couldn’t have known, Scully,” Mulder said firmly.

“I just…”

“I know,” he said, and she knew he did. He always knew. What would she ever do without him?

He pulled into the parking lot at the assisted care facility. It was plain and somewhat dated on the outside, resembling a budget hotel. A variety of fall-colored mums had been planted around the sign, adding a seasonal touch. She hadn’t been here in almost a year. She’d last visited with her mom the day after Christmas. If she’d been less consumed with her work, more present with her family, would she have seen the signs?

She led the way toward the front door as Mulder walked quietly at her side. This was so far outside the parameters of their work at the FBI. He was here as a friend, as the person she trusted most in this world.

Inside, they were guided toward the solarium at the rear of the facility, where Gerald sat in a wheelchair. He was nearing ninety, his tall frame, once so broad and strong, was now withered and atrophied. He wore gray sweatpants and a Navy sweatshirt, his gaze locked on the flowers visible outside the window.

“Grandpa?” she said as she stopped in front of him. And her anger, her outrage over what she suspected he had done faded to frustration as she met his blank stare. Was this the punishment for his crime, to be robbed of his memories? Or was it an escape?

“Hello.” His voice was hoarse and weak, and he extended a wrinkled hand. “Gerald Scully.”

“I’m Dana,” she said, sitting in the chair across from him. “And this is Fox.”

“Dana,” he repeated. “You remind me of someone. Have we met?”

“Yes,” she told him. “I’m your granddaughter. I’m William’s daughter.”

A wrinkle appeared between his brows, and he straightened, giving her a Navy salute. “William was a good man.”

“Yes, he was,” she agreed.

“Who are you?” he demanded, his voice suddenly much stronger.

She leaned forward, resting her hands on her knees. “I came to ask you about Katherine, your wife.”

“Katherine.” His volume faded away, his gaze returning to the flowers outside the window, reds and oranges and yellows stretching across the back gardens of the facility.

“Katherine,” she repeated. “Katherine Scully.”

Gerald shook his head. “Sorry. Sorry…”

“What are you sorry for, Gerald?” she asked. It felt foreign to call her grandfather by his given name, but he didn’t remember her, didn’t recognize her, and she didn’t want to say anything to jar him out of whatever memory he might have of his late wife.

His gaze snapped to hers, laser sharp. “Who are you?”

“Dana,” she told him. “I’m Katherine’s granddaughter.”

“Who’s Katherine?” he demanded. “I don’t know anyone by that name.”

Scully held in her sigh. This was a waste of time.

“Tell me about your wife,” Mulder said as he sat beside her, and she started, almost having forgotten he was here.

“She died,” Gerald said, glancing at Mulder before returning his gaze to the flowers outside the window.

“How did she die?” Mulder asked.

“Who are you?” Gerald barked.

“I’m a friend of Dana’s,” he responded. “We’re trying to find out what happened to Katherine.”

“Don’t know a Katherine. I’m ready for lunch.”

“Okay,” she said, defeat resting heavily in her gut.

“Lunch,” Gerald repeated. “I’m hungry.”

“What happened to Katherine?” she asked one last time as she stood.

“Sorry,” Gerald mumbled, and a tear slipped over his cheek. “I’m hungry. I want lunch.”

A nurse approached. “I can take you to the cafeteria, Mr. Scully. Would you like your granddaughter to join you?”

“Don’t have a granddaughter,” Gerald mumbled, staring straight ahead as if Scully weren’t even here.

“Goodbye, Grandpa,” she said, watching as the nurse pushed his chair out of the room.

“Do you think that was an admission of guilt?” Mulder asked, standing beside her.

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “But even if it was, there’s no justice here, Mulder.”

“No,” he agreed.

“He’s not fit to stand trial,” she said, staring after her grandfather, feeling equal parts helpless and angry. Something deep inside her wanted to punish him, to see him brought to justice. Katherine deserved that much.

But how did you punish someone for a crime he didn’t remember committing? Even if she tried to have charges brought against him, Gerald likely wouldn’t live long enough to see the trial.

“Instead of justice, I think you should focus on closure,” Mulder said, and she recognized the yearning in this tone. Closure was something he’d never gotten with Samantha, but perhaps it was something she could give Katherine.

“Closure,” she repeated, turning to face him.

He nodded. “Let’s positively identify Katherine’s remains, and then we can bury her with her family, as she deserves. We can provide closure for her and for the rest of her family…for you.”

“Yes,” she agreed, and she moved close enough to feel the warmth and strength emanating from his body as they walked out the door into the fresh air beyond.

* * *

“That was beautiful,” Maggie said, wiping tears from her cheeks.

Scully stood beside her in the black suit that had gotten too much use, her funeral suit, watching as Katherine was lowered into the ground. She would rest among her family and loved ones now, instead of lying alone in the forest.

Through dental records and a DNA comparative analysis with Katherine’s still-living sister, Alice, her body had been positively identified. There was no concrete evidence against Gerald, although Scully had done some digging and found that he hadn’t taken his boat out on the weekend he claimed Katherine had gone overboard.

The Prince George’s County sheriff’s department had had him evaluated and found him unfit to stand trial, and Scully had made her peace with it. There was nothing to be gained in pursuing a criminal case against him. He didn’t have much time left, maybe only months, and the majority of his mind had already departed.

Katherine’s justice lay in the knowledge among her family that she hadn’t killed herself or stumbled overboard in the middle of the night and drowned. Those who loved her knew the truth. They could mourn her. They could visit her grave. And that would have to be enough.

Scully stood quietly through the service, unsure how to feel. She hadn’t known Katherine, but she felt connected to her somehow. Maybe it was the name, or the necklace, or the fact that Scully had been the one to discover her grave. Whatever the cause, she felt unexpectedly emotional as she watched her grandmother be laid to rest.

Mulder stood beside her, one hand resting against the small of her back, and she leaned against him, telling herself that she was resting her still-sore ankle and not borrowing from his strength. But who was she kidding? They’d been leaning on each other—physically and mentally—almost from the moment they met.

The other mourners left in twos and threes. Maggie headed to her car, but Scully stayed where she was, needing a few moments alone. Well, alone with Mulder. She led the way to a nearby bench, and they sat side by side. It was a brisk November day. A cool breeze blew, and leaves covered the ground beneath her feet, courtesy of the trees that edged the cemetery.

“It’s peaceful here,” Mulder commented.

“Yeah.” She glanced over to find him looking at her grandmother’s grave, a pensive expression on his face. “I still can’t believe that of all the people in the world, I’m the one who happened to stumble across her grave. Talk about a coincidence.”

Mulder turned his head to look at her. “Remember what I told you that night in the forest, about the Tuning Fork Phenomenon?”

“I remember.” She might not buy into his more extreme theories, but she always heard them.

“Well, now that we know that the grave we found was your grandmother’s, I think it explains your déjà vu. Your connection to Katherine was heightened by your relation to her and by your own recent illness. Perhaps the combination of the two things allowed your mind to be open for once.” He said it teasingly, nudging his shoulder against his.

“Mulder,” she scoffed.

“Your consciousness was on the same wavelength as Katherine’s in that moment, and it allowed her to lead you to her grave. Admit it, Scully, as my theories go, this one isn’t even that far-fetched.”

“Yes, it is,” she protested. “There is absolutely no scientific evidence that déjà vu is anything more than a forgotten memory. Maybe I really had been there before. I grew up here, Mulder. It’s possible that I’d been hiking in those woods before, or maybe even more likely, it just reminded me of someplace you and I have been while we’re on a case. A dead person doesn’t have any form of consciousness that I could tap into. To insinuate that our minds were somehow linked by genetics or my cancer, it’s…it’s ridiculous. It’s absurd.”

Even as she said the words, she remembered her dream that night in the forest, the redheaded woman who wasn’t her and the oddly familiar man with the cold gray eyes. Obviously, it was just the power of suggestion causing her to picture them in her mind now as Katherine and Gerald, because there was no way she could have known, no way she could have dreamed about the night he buried his dead wife when she hadn’t even known yet that it had happened.

“But Scully,” Mulder argued, his eyes twinkling with good-natured humor. “It goes back through history that a person needs to be properly mourned and buried for their spirit to be at rest. It’s why so many cultures have such complicated burial rituals, to allow their loved ones to depart this earth and travel to the next. Is it really so hard to believe that Katherine’s spirit persisted here in some form…an energy, an aura, whatever you want to call it, waiting for someone to find her?”

“Mulder, it was just a coincidence. Katherine lived near here. I live near here. Probably, she was killed near here too. You and I were out hiking, and we happened to find her grave.”

“I know I shouldn’t argue with you at your grandmother’s funeral,” he said, still with that twinkle in his eye. “But we were walking south until you had déjà vu, and then you started walking toward the west like a woman on a mission. It was like someone was leading you. I could hardly keep up, you were moving so fast. How do you explain that?”

She stared at the mound of fresh earth over Katherine’s grave. “I can’t.”

“Maybe the universe was trying to give me a birthday present that day,” he joked. “Because you experiencing a paranormal phenomenon on my birthday would pretty much be the best gift ever.”

She rolled her eyes at him.

“I mean, not that I wanted you to fall into a grave on my birthday, or to hurt your ankle, or to find out your grandmother was murdered…okay, strike that whole idea.”

She laughed. He had this effect on her, rambling until he’d taken her mind off whatever was bothering her, sometimes even rambling until he started to make sense.

“But really,” he persisted. “Is it so hard for you to admit, just this once, that it’s possible I’m right? Just admit that it’s possible you experienced the Tuning Fork Phenomenon.”

He was just teasing now. He’d never needed her validation on his theories, but he’d been so solid and dependable these last few weeks as she solved this mystery, maybe she could give him this. And in fact, maybe he was right. Because the coincidences that had befallen her recently did seem almost too incredible to be just coincidence.

She rested a hand over his. “I suppose it’s not outside the realm of extreme possibility.”