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FBI Basement Office

 

“Hey Scully,” Mulder called out but when his partner didn't respond he looked over his shoulder to see if she was paying attention.

It was a Tuesday afternoon and heavy rain had been pelting the small windows all day. Mulder was sitting at his desk buried in reports following leads for their next case while Scully spent most of the day in the annex using the slide projector to put together a report she was giving in Quantico the next day.

“Earth to Scully,” he tried again and this resulted in her eyes flicking away from the slide viewer long enough to glare at him. Mulder smiled and sat back from his desk determined now more than ever to get her attention. “I have a science question.”

He caught the sideward glance she cast at him but that wasn't enough.

“You’re a fan of experiments right?”

She made a non committal sound but still didn't turn.

“And you’d agree that when designing an experiment there are multiple factors that should be taken into account to protect the data from false positives, or false negatives.”

Finally she sat away from the viewer and turned on her stool to face him, her arms crossed over her chest, one eyebrow arched as she still tried to decipher his intent.

“Defining a problem, determining objectives, generating a hypothesis, conducting an experiment, analysing data to interpret results all the while removing outliers. Then secondary verification ideally through independent third party to ensure validity and integrity-”

“Mulder, what are you talking about?”

He grinned. “Have you ever done Bloody Mary?”

Scully rolled her eyes and even her head jerked with the ferocity of her exasperation.

“That was a serious question, Scully.” He pushed out of his chair and approached where she was sitting. He leaned against the table and gripped the edge with both hands.

“Bloody Mary, in a mirror?” She was back looking through the slide viewer.

“On Halloween, Yeah.”

“Of course I have.”

“And?”

“And what?” She sat up and looked at him with a crooked smile.

“Did she appear?”

Scully scoffed. “If she did, don't you think I’d be dead?”

“Catoptromancy is a proven-” he began but she cut him off.

“Proven?”

“There are tonnes of recorded events of divination through mirrors. In Ancient Rome, the priests who used catoptromancy were called specularii,” he said as if invoking religion into the conversation would win her over when, as usual, it riled her up.

“Is there an actual point to this conversation Mulder?”

“I’m glad you asked Agent Scully!” He hurried back to his desk and picked up a file. “I have a report here of two deaths in a university campus and in both instances the students had invoked, through catoptromancy, Bloody Mary the night previously.”

Scully sighed and her hands dropped to her lap.

“In fact it was exactly twenty four hours after the invocation that the students were killed.”

“Killed how?” She held her hand out for the file but he held onto it, reluctant to hand it over to her yet.

“One was found hanging from the shower rail, using the drawstring from a window blind as a makeshift noose.” He glanced at her over the top of his file then quickly looked back to the notes. “The other one was found like Sylvia Plath, head first in a gas oven.”

“Mulder, neither of those deaths sound unexplainable.”

“Well, that is debatable. Neither of them showed any signs of depression or suicidal ideation. One of them was even planning a trip home for the holidays and had made arrangements to carpool with a fellow student the next day.”

“Suicide can be sudden and violent, there isn't always a slow ramp up to the event.”

“One was on track to graduate summa cum laude with an economics degree and had already achieved an internship with a trading house in New York.”

“Sounds like a high pressure position.” Scully said. “The kind of pressure that might lead someone to make rash decisions.”

“Scully,” he said and dropped his hands by his sides. “There is something to investigate here.”

She held her hand out for the file and he chewed the inside of his cheek before releasing it. She opened it and flipped through a few pages and he watched her carefully.

“Hmm,” she said, then frowned and Mulder lifted his eyebrows in anticipation.

“You see something?”

“There is a significant amount of dopamine in their toxicology reports.”

“Yeah, the coroner reported that it was due to student recreational drug use, though interviews with friends stated neither of the deceased were habitual users that would result in that level.”

“Dopamine is a neurotransmitter for cell communication. Too much or too little can result in signs of aggression or poor impulse control.”

“Poor impulses? You mean like not being able to resist killing yourself?” he said with a raised eyebrow and a disbelieving smirk.

“We’d need to see previous iterations of medical reports before-”

“Well, it just so happens,” Mulder said as he went back to his desk and picked up another file. “That the first victim had an annual check up at the campus medical clinic.” He rifled through the piles of files to the one he wanted then carried it over and held it out to her.

She frowned and opened it to read through before responding and he resumed his position against the table to watch her again. He chewed on the corner of his thumbnail as she scanned the file and when her frown deepened he couldn't stop the knowing smile that spread across his face.

“You see something?” he asked again, knowing that she did.

She looked up at him and studied his face for a moment then let her shoulders slump and huffed a breath out of her nose.

“I have a lecture tomorrow in Quantico.”

“There is a flight at four we could catch, which would leave enough time for your lecture, and autographs from your adoring fans afterwards.”

She continued to stare. Not quite a glare but definitely a stare then nodded her head once, closed the file and handed it to him.

“You get approval from Skinner and make all the bookings. I need to finish preparing.”

Mulder smiled and grabbed the folder. He hurried back to his deck to fill out the 302, knowing full well she had finished preparing for that lecture days ago and was only fussing over minor details. Not that it mattered. He had a case underfoot and nothing was better than this very moment. Schrodinger's case he liked to call it. When it was both approved and unapproved. Until Skinner actually reviewed his 302 request, anything as possible.

 


 

Quantico Training Academy

 

“To sum up...what is necrosis?”

Scully walked across the platform away from the projection she was just pointing at to the podium. She gripped the sides and leaned towards the small mic as she spoke. The room was about three quarters full, housing approximately one hundred and fifty medical students, and one lone FBI special agent sitting in the back looking lost and more than a little intimidated. She smiled inwardly. When she spotted Mulder walking into the lecture room just before she started two hours ago, she didn't think he would last, and yet there he was, still alert, still engaged, if a little green around the gills. The image projected behind her of a dissected eyeball was likely attributing to that off colour he was sporting.

“It's very clear...necrosis is a series of morphological changes, due to intracellular protein denaturation, enzymic digestion and disruption of plasma membrane and intracellular components which elicit inflammatory reaction.”

She noted a bunch of students furiously taking notes, some listening with dictaphones and others simply paying attention. When she was a student she was some combination of all three but mainly just absorbed everything around her. As she looked around the room she felt like she could spot the ones that would make it, and the ones that would struggle. What was even more clear were the ones that were already struggling.

This lecture was one in a series of introductions to pathology. A service provided by Quantico to eke out potential recruits, find the ones that might be interested in pathology outside of the nation's medical field. By the time the series was over, Scully was sure she would have a few potential names to give forward to the recruitment team.

“Next time we will discuss Coronary Artery disease. Ischemic heart disease and how we define it. This is one of the most important conditions any doctor must know.” She paused. Allowed her words to sink in, give them the gravitas they deserved then nodded. “Any questions?”

Mulder slumped back a little in his chair when she started taking questions from the pool of eager students in the room. They raised their hands, or just called out their queries and they leaned towards her when she responded. They hung on her every word and it was almost impossible not to.

She owned the stage up there. Prowling across it to be sure everyone paid attention. He had little to no idea what it was they were talking about but he was rapt watching her deliver it. As the questions died down and the students started to filter out, he watched a few of them move down to her with notes and books, asking her to verify their thoughts until finally she was left alone and started to pack up her things.

He lifted himself from the seat he had occupied for the last two hours and stretched his long weary limbs before he ambled down to the podium and leaned against it with one elbow.

“Well Doctor Scully, I don't know about you, but I learned a lot!”

Scully looked up and smiled then finished gathering her notes and added them to the box with her slide reel, slips of acetate, medical textbooks and binders.

“What did you learn?”

“I learned that necrosis occurs when too little blood flows to the tissue.” She looked up sharply with a look of pure surprise on her face. “Also that some people enjoy slicing and dicing way more than others.”

Scully chuckled and tried not to show the wave of pride she felt warming her cheeks. She focused on making sure she had everything in the box then moved to lift it.

“Here, let me,” he said and reached for the box she was picking up from the podium.

“I can get it,” she said, her hands still in the hand holes on either side of the box.

“I know,” he said and tugged the box anyway into his arms.

“Do we have much time before we need to leave?” she asked as she led him out of the lecture room through the rear door towards the office space she shares with other pathologists that worked here.

“About twenty minutes.”

“Great, I need to make a call, and then I’ll be ready.”

He followed her through the corridors to the small office. She gestured for him to put the box under the desk as she picked up the phone and dialled a number. He hovered by the door, made himself busy reading various posters on the wall, one a large annual calendar of events that highlighted the dates for her other lectures, one a month for 6 months. One a large skeletal system with comedic names drawn in with sharpie over the usual medical terms for the bones. He smiled when he recognized her curved script labelling the skull as “Arnold Skull-zenegger” and the vertebrae had been labelled as “Albert Spinestein”.

“Okay, okay, look I’ll be out of town for a few days on a case, but when I’m back we can meet for lunch or something,” she said and he turned to see her holding the phone between her ear and shoulder as she wrote on a post-it.

Mulder watched as she lifted one hand up to her hair, curled it behind her ear and laughed softly into the phone. That wasn't a laugh he had heard before. He leaned back against the wall and folded his arms across his chest. Scully straightened, caught the phone from falling and laughed again then glanced up at him and he was sure he caught the tinge of a blush on her cheek. As if she had forgotten he was in the room. She turned away, coughed lightly and he noticed how she squared her shoulders.

“Yeah, I got it. Sounds good, I’ll talk to you then.” She hung up the phone, spent a moment writing something else down then folded the page and slipped it into her pocket before she took the top post-it off the pile and walked over to the calendar he was leaning against. She placed a hand on his arm and pushed him aside, ran her hand along the calendar to find a date a week from now and placed the post-it on it.

“Ready to go?” she said and she grabbed her jacket from a hook at the back of the door then turned on her heel and left the room without waiting for him.

Mulder glanced down at the post-it. “Meet with Matt.” it said and he wasn't sure but he thought her writing was way curvier than it usually was when she left post-its for him around the office. All of a sudden the “Gone to Quantico” or “Grabbing lunch, back at 1” notes didn't seem so special.

He hurried to catch up and wondered how he could work into a casual conversation, this suddenly riveting topic that was Matt. In his car she took the file from the back seat and proceeded to read through it as he navigated his way out of Quantico, onto the highway and towards Dulles.

“What did Skinner say when you spoke to him yesterday?” she asked without looking up as she rifled through the pages in the folder.

“He was…” Mulder glanced over at her but quickly turned his eyes back to the road. “Agreeable.”

Scully slowly looked up from the file and out the front window, took a breath then turned her head to face him and studied his profile for a moment. He was trying very hard to look natural, like he was watching the road and didn't realise she was boring a hole in the side of his head with her stare. He felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end and wanted to swallow but knew she would see it so he let that nervous saliva collect in his mouth.

“Agreeable?”

“He agreed that it was worth looking into the circumstances that led to the students' deaths.”

“Suicide.”

“Potayto, potahto!” He risked a glance at her but she was still watching him so he quickly turned his eyes back to the road.

“You filled out the 302 accurately?”

“Scully!” he exclaimed, mock insulted. “Are you insinuating that I would falsify government documentation to further my own investigative agenda?”

“No. I’m not insinuating it.”

She turned back to the file but he caught the edge of her mouth curving up in a smile. She was in an exceptional playful mood. Her lecture seemed to go really well, from what he could tell. At least everyone seemed to be engaged, asked questions, a bunch of them approached her at the end. She was smiling when he met her at the podium. Was it because of the lecture? Or...Matt.

“So the lecture seemed to go well,” he said and glanced over again.

“Yeah,” she said and closed the file on her lap as she shuffled a little on her seat to face him more. “It really did. They were very engaged.”

“You were very engaging.”

“You didn't need to attend the lecture, Mulder,” she said and looked down at the hands on her lap.

“What? Miss the chance of seeing you strut your stuff on stage?”

“Strut my stuff? I was giving a lecture about cellular necrosis.”

“Yeah, it was amazing.”

“Shut up Mulder.”

“Well the students seemed to like it.”

“A few of them did, yeah,” she admitted with a chuckle and he saw her blush a little. “Did you see that small one in the front row?”

“Small?” He glanced over at her and quickly flicked his eyes down her diminutive body.

“Relatively, I mean,” she added with an eye roll. “Compared to the rest of the students.”

“The one in the pink sweater?”

“Yeah.” Scully chuffed a laugh with a sigh. “She was...wow...she was hanging on every single word I said.”

Mulder smiled. He knew that feeling. “Reminds you of someone?”

Scully chuckled and settled back in her seat. She put her elbow on the window and rested her fist against her temple. She often thought about the students she met. What led them to the moment when they sought out a mentor in forensic pathology. What direction their lives would take when they graduated. It never failed to take her on a journey down memory lane, as she examined all the other options she never took.

She looked at Mulder struggling with a bag of sunflower seeds, trying to open them with his mouth. She reached over and took them with a little tug, opened them and added a few into the open palm of his hand. It didn't matter what options she examined, what signs, what warnings, what choices she saw along the way, she wouldn't change anything in the path she chose.

She watched Mulder try to toss a seed in his mouth, miss and let it fall onto his lap. He tried again, missed again and cursed. Third time he tried, he caught it in his mouth and smiled triumphantly. She shook her head and put the rest of the seeds into the console between them and resettled back in her chair. It didn't always feel like the right choice. But it definitely was.

“So it’ll be about ten o’clock when we land, eastern time, eight, local.” He said after a beat. “By the time we taxi, get our luggage, pick up a car and get into town it will be closer to nine or ten.”

“Investigation starts tomorrow?”

“I’ve arranged to meet the chief of police and the coroner in the morgue tomorrow morning at 8.”

How did they take your enquiries?”

Mulder cast her a sideways glance. “Agreeably.”

Scully smirked. “That's a first.”

“It's been five years Scully, we were bound to meet a friendly bunch eventually!”

“What aren't you telling me Mulder?”

“Nothing.” He frowned. “It's all in the file, everything about the case is right there.”

Mulder tapped the closed file that still sat in her lap.

“These students clearly committed suicide.” She picked up the file. “The coroner's report is very thorough. More thorough than I would have expected for a university suicide.”

“The nature of the death isn't unexplained, the circumstances leading up to it are what warrant investigation.”

“Bloody Mary?”

“Well historically Bloody Mary has to be done on Halloween night. So if it is Bloody Mary then we have a double x-file on our hands.”

“I never asked you…” she said and leaned back in her seat but turned to face him. “Have you ever done it?”

“Bloody Mary?” He looked over at her with raised eyebrows. “Hell no. I’m no fool.”

Scully chuckled and looked back out the front window. “Chicken.”

“Exactly.”

“I didn't peg you to be superstitious.”

“It's not a superstition. It's an urban legend,” he said and held one finger up in the air. “There is a difference.”

“Urban legends are simply stories circulated as truth, to control the youth, share warnings and impart fear and caution as a form of control.”

“You don't believe any of them?”

“The hook one has some basis in truth,” she admitted with a half shrug

“The guy with the hook for a hand with the bees?”

“No,” Scully chuckled. “But that proves my point. The legends change according to the message or the moral tale that is relevant to the generation or the society in which it is being told.”

“Which hook one?” he persisted, needing to know which one she thought was true.

“The guy with the hook, and the teenagers in the car.”

“Oh they hear a noise, and he goes out to check it,” he said smiling.

“And then she hears the scraping…” Scully reached out and dragged her nails along the dashboard making Mulder's smile turn into a grin.

“Is it the hook guy?” he asked in mock fear.

“So the girl hears the scraping…and she can't find the guy who went to check the noise, she gets scared, the scraping gets more frantic, she moves over to the driver's side.”

“Let me guess, the car won't start.”

Scully laughed and nodded her head. “Or it's stuck in the mud, whatever works for the region. The scraping gets louder and closer, like it's on top of the car.”

Mulder chuckled and gripped the wheel tighter, loving how her voice wove the tale, not unlike the lecture she gave earlier.

“Eventually she gets the car started.” Mulder made an exaggerated swipe of his forehead with his arm. “She drives home or to the sorority house, or the police station, whatever. They find a hook on the handle of the car door, but the scrape marks on the roof look different.”

“Oh no!” he said, and his hand covered his open mouth.

“They go back to the spot where the teenagers were parked…”

“What do they find Scully?!”

She chuckled. “They find the boyfriend hanging from a tree where the car was parked.”

“Let me guess, the scraping was from his feet on the roof of the car.”

“Ding ding!” she said and tapped her nose.

“So what was the lesson to be learned from that cautionary tale?”

“Don't park late at night in a secluded location?”

“Maybe don't get out of the car when you hear a strange noise.”

“Anyway my point is, the tale changes depending on the message, the society, the generation.”

“Generation?” Mulder looked over. “You don't think teenagers are parking anymore?”

“I think teenagers have more access to more areas nowadays and have no need for it.”

“Well that's a crying shame.” He shook his head and focused on the road as he navigated through the airport to find a slot in long term parking.

“You were a fan?” she asked.

“You weren’t?”

Scully scoffed. “Why do you think I’m so good at stakeouts?”

Mulder pulled into a parking space then killed the engine and turned to look at her. She glanced back with a smile, awaiting a quip or smart remark of some kind, but Mulders face was blank and for some reason all possible comebacks seemed to be stuck in his throat. He climbed out and grabbed their luggage from the trunk as she gathered the files and laptop from the back seat.

 


 

Dulles Airport Gate 15

 

In the airport they checked in but found their flight was delayed for an unknown time. They moved from the gate to a bar and settled into a booth. They both ordered coffee and perused the large laminated menus. When the waitress came back with their drinks and took their food order Mulder sipped his coffee and leaned into the burgundy leather behind him with a sigh. Scully flipped through the case file pages without really reading any of it and Mulder reached over to close it.

“I was reading that,” she said with a weak protest.

“Were you really?”

She grimaced but looked away. She eyed up the other patrons in the bar, most of them likely bound for the same flight they were and wondered how many of them were flyin home or on work or on holidays.

“Tell me another one.” Mulder's voice was soft and he looked up at her through hooded eyes and a slight smile.

“Another what?”

“Scary story.”

Scully smiled and shook her head. “Don't you know them all already?”

“Tell me one of yours?” He sipped his coffee again. “Tell me the one that kept you up at night?”

She paused, as if pondering his request. There was one. Even thinking of it now gave her shivers. She reached across the table and took his beer out of his hand to take a long drink of it, then slid it back towards him and leaned forward on the table with her hands clasped together in front of her.

“It's a common one.”

“Tell me.”

“Babysitter alone in the house.”

Mulder chuckled. “The call is coming from inside the house?”

She grinned and nodded.

“Tell me.”

“You already know it.”

“C’mon Scully, you said it yourself, the story morphs and changes depending on who is telling it and why. I want to hear your version.”

“I’ll tell you the version Missy told me.” He nodded eagerly and settled into the chair to listen. “A young girl is babysitting alone in a house that is a little remote.”

“Of course.”

“She puts the kids to bed, and is downstairs watching a movie. The phone rings. It's a wrong number but they get chatting.”

“To the wrong number?”

“It was the seventies!” Scully chuckled. “But she hears one of the kids cry and hangs up...she goes to check in on the kids and they are sleeping. She comes back to the movie and the phone rings again...it's the same guy.”

“Oh no!” Mulder whispered, charmed by her telling of the story.

“They get chatting again but this time the wrong number guy is aggressive, saying he will come round and be there soon so she hangs up. The phone rings again, she won't answer it, but it could be the parents checking in, so next time it rings she picks it up.”

Scully leaned back from the table to make room for the waitress to place their food down. Mulder barely moved, his eyes stayed on her the whole time and when the waitress left he pushed his burger aside and urged her to continue.

“Go on, what happened?”

“It's the guy again, and he says he’s very close.” Scully picked up her fork and started to stir the pasta salad around the bowl. “He says she should check on the children.” She looked up when Mulder made a gasping sound and smiled. “She hangs up and calls the police. But she is too scared to check on the children.”

“Worst babysitter ever!”

“With the cops on the phone she walks through the house to the kids room to check on the kids but there is a thumping on the back door.”

“The police?”

“She hopes so,” Scully said with a wave of her eyebrows. “When she goes to answer it there is no one there, but then the phone goes dead.”

“Jesus, babysitters are not paid enough for this.”

“So when she goes to call the police again the phone rings, it's the guy again, and he says she should check on the children. She hangs up and the phone rings again, it's the cops, this time they tell her she has to get out of the house.”

“The call is coming from inside the house!” Mulder said in a spooky voice.

Scully nods. “The police arrive and find an escaped madman had broken into the house and was upstairs the whole time.”

Mulder shook his head with a chuckle and pulled his burger closer. “It's a classic.”

“Missy told me that one, a few nights before my first time babysitting. She said I had to be careful when I answered the phone.” Scully continued to stir her pasta, a wistful smile on her face.

“What happened?” he asked, knowing there was more to the story.

“On the base, the phones also worked like radios, you could connect them together and make calls around the base without connecting to the main system, or make calls to different phones in the same house.”

“Oh no,” Mulder put his burger down and chuckled.

“Bill and Missy were upstairs and I was after putting the kids to bed. I was downstairs studying.”

“Of course you were.”

“Missy called the downstairs phone and Bill stomped around in the attic.”

“Oh my god!” Mulder was laughing now. “What did you do?”

“I ran upstairs and grabbed the kids and raced over to the Henderson's across the road.” Scully chuckled at the memory. “They got in so much trouble.”

“I bet.”

“I’m not sure I’ve ever been so scared in my whole life than I was that night.”

“What age were you?”

“Twelve, thirteen.”

Mulder looked at her for a moment. Even at that age, and likely half the size she is now, she ran upstairs to protect the children from a so-called intruder.

“Amazing,” he said with a shake of his head.

Scully smiled and ate her food, trying not to show as much pride as she felt. That story still got the hairs on the back of her neck on end and goose bumps up her arm, but the pride she felt when her father praised her quick thinking never went away.

“It's no wonder you weren't too afraid to do Bloody Mary in the mirror,” he said with a soft shake of his head as he bit into his burger.

“That and it's not real,” she said without looking up.

“Sceptic.”

“Sucker.”

Chapter Text

Vista motel Tucson AZ

Mulder fumbled across the bedside table for the phone to stop that incessant ringing. He switched on the lamp and squinted from the sudden brightness then pressed the call button to answer the call.

“Hello?” His voice was hoarse and sleep deprived as he sat up and looked at the clock. The red digits were clearly visible and seemed to mock him at 4.07am.

“Agent Mulder?”

“Yeah.”

“This is Chief Watson, have you arrived in Tucson?”

“Yeah, we flew in a couple of hours ago...is there a particular reason you are calling me at 4am?”

“We have another death.”

Suddenly wide awake Mulder stood off the bed and walked over to the adjoining door. His side was wide open, hers was ajar.

“Where? And who?”

“A student at the same university.”

“How?”

“Well...that's the thing.”

Mulder knocked lightly on the door and pushed it open. Her room was dark though he could see case file pages strewn across the bed.

“What?” Mulder said, getting frustrated with the responses this cop was giving him at this hour of the morning as he crossed the room to nudge Scully and wake her.

“He was hung.”

“In his dorm?” He covered the mouthpiece and called her name. “Hey Scully, wake up.”

“No, in Kennedy Park, on the west side of the city.”

“Okay, send me the location, we’ll be there as soon as we can. And Chief Watson, don't move anything!”

He finished the call and reached down to Scully and placed a hand on her shoulder. “Hey sleeping beauty, wake up, we have a body.”

As if those words were her trigger she sat bolt up and looked at him with wide eyes. Her pjs were simply a tank top and a pair of shorts and she had just tugged the top sheet over her to sleep.

“What happened?” she asked and was already crossing the room to her luggage as Mulder tore his eyes off the expanse of Scully-legs he had in front of him made his way back to his room, all of a sudden very aware that he was only wearing a pair of boxers.

“Chief Watson just called, they have another body.” He stood in the space between their doors, one hand on the frame, his lower body conspicuously hidden behind the door, and watched her toss clothing onto the bed.

“Suicide?”

Mulder shrugged. “He said the student was found hung in a park on the east side of the city.”

Scully turned to face him with a frown. “Hung? In a park?”

“Let's get out there as quick as we can and check out the scene before they dismantle it.”

Mulder stepped fully into his room and grabbed his own clothes. He knew what she was thinking.

A few minutes later a soft rap on the adjoining door brought his thoughts back to the present and he grabbed his tie from the case and draped it around his neck. Scully was standing between the doors, applying a layer of moisturiser to her face in an effort to rid her of the sleepy look he knew he would spot on her all day but no one else would. As usual she would look impeccable, despite getting maybe four hours sleep.

“One sec,” he said as he grabbed a pair of socks and his shoes. He sat on the end of the bed to finish getting ready, taking time to double knot his laces as he looked at her surreptitiously with his head bent.

Scully grabbed her gun, attached her holster to her centre lower back, then slipped her badge into her blazer pocket. It wasn't unusual to be up at this time. It wasn't unusual to be climbing into a car at this time. As she buckled in, she glanced at Mulder who yawned and shook his head. She realised nothing about this was unusual and she loved it.

“You need me to navigate?”

“Yeah, please.”

He handed her his phone with the address and directions, and she grabbed the map from the glove box to find out where they needed to go. Half an hour and one wrong turn later, they arrived at the park and both flashed their badges to gain entry. Once through the entrance of the park they followed the police lights off the main road to a small secluded car park by a man made lake. Temporary lights had been mounted to illuminate the area under a cluster of trees in the centre.

“What's the chief’s name again?” Scully whispered as they approached the police tape.

“Chief Eric Watson.”

He held up the tape and ushered her in, one hand on her back, as he guided her towards the small huddle of people beneath the tree. From here they could see a young man hanging from a twisted rope that was looped around branches of a tree.

“Agent Mulder?”

A tall man, broad and fit turned as they approached and held a hand out to him. He wore a pair of jeans that looked like they had been sprayed on over thick muscular thighs, and the only clue that he was law enforcement was the small logo on his chest of the light fleece he was wearing. Mulder guessed he was mid forties and with his thick locks of blonde wavy hair, he figured he often passed for younger.

“Yeah, this is my partner, Dana Scully.” He watched as they shook hands, his engulfing hers. “Was anything touched?”

“No, sir.” He nodded at Scully and held onto her hand a moment longer than necessary. “Eric Watson, chief of police.”

Scully nodded and smiled then took her hand back and rummaged through her pockets for some gloves.

“Is there any reason you think this might not simply be a suicide?” Scully asked as she stepped closer to where the body was and pulled on a pair of latex gloves.

“Based on the rope,” Eric said and he took a step closer to point at how the rope was twisted around the branch. “See how it has rubbed the bark off the branch?” He pointed up at where it was looped around the branch and she noticed several strips of bark cleaned from the branch. “This only happens when you drag the rope over the branch with a heavy weight on it.”

“Indicating he was hoisted up rather than hung?”

“Exactly.”

Mulder walked over and looked up at it himself. He followed the tail of the rope and stepped back from the tree.

“Watch where you step,” Eric said and pointed at a small pile of what looked like shattered glass.

“Car window?”

“No, this glass isn't tempered, it looks like a small mirror, maybe a side view mirror on a car, or a hand mirror.”

Mulder nodded. “If he was hoisted up then it would have been from this point back here,” he said as he took a few steps back and looked around where he was standing.

“Yeah, and we have tyre marks, but this is a popular spot so…”

“A popular spot?” Scully asked and she looked up to where Mulder was standing a few metres away before turning back to face Eric.

“For young lovers to find some privacy,” he said with a half smile.

Scully whipped her head around and looked at Mulder who was crouched low examining the tarmac closely.

“Have you identified the body?” she asked.

“Not yet, we haven't touched anything. CSI has taken ample photos though and we’re ready to bring him down at your order.”

Scully nodded and stepped back, looked over her shoulder where the CSI team were waiting and gestured for them to come over and get started. She assisted in lowering the body and getting him onto a gurney. CSI agents pulled identification out of his pockets and handed it to the chief of police.

“Michael Thorn. Student at the University of Arizona,” he said as he held the student ID up so Scully could see. She jotted the info down in her notebook and nodded then crouched down to get a better look at his wounds. The rope marks around his neck were consistent with hanging, but there were multiple contusions, finger scrapes along side these burns which made it clear that he was not a suicide.

“May I?” she asked as she stood and Eric passed her the students wallet. She flipped through it, and found a library card, video rental card, a half punched loyalty card for a coffee shop she presumed was on campus, and a business card that looked like it was for a nightclub or bar. There was little or no money in it, but as a student perhaps that wasn always the case and his bank card looked brand new and never used.

“I’ll perform the autopsy,” she said as she folded the wallet up and placed it into an evidence bag.

“You will?” Eric said and looked at her with a frown. “Albert Jayne is the coroner on this case.”

“I’m a qualified pathologist,” she said as she looked up from her notes and caught an impressed expression on Eric's face before it quickly disappeared and he nodded sharply.

“That saves me from making a call to wake Al. And he’s a grump first thing.”

Scully offered him a tight lipped smile then turned and went over to where Mulder was talking to CSI about photos they had taken already, and she heard him direct them over to the park entrance and take more.

“Mulder,” she said, drawing his attention as the CSI group went in the direction he was pointing. “We have an ID. Michael Thorn, university student. We should check around campus, see if he was here with anyone.”

He nodded and reached up to scratch his chin as he looked back at the tree from where the body was lowered.

“What are you thinking?”

“If he was here alone, which was doubtful, then anyone in the car with him would have seen whoever was standing here hoisting him up into the tree.” He looked around the small car park. There were no lights but also no cover, the cluster of trees in the centre being the only real tall foliage around.

“Unless he was hoisted up after whomever he was with left, or if whomever he was with was the one who hoisted him.”

He nodded slowly. That didn't follow the story but it made sense.

“I’m going to the morgue to do the autopsy.”

“It's too early to go to the campus yet. I’ll go talk to the chief of police about the other suicides in more detail.”

He was about to walk past her but she put a hand on his bicep to stop him. “There’s something you’re not telling me.”

“Is there?”

“Yes.” Her hand squeezed him and she frowned. “What is it?”

“I’ll know more when we meet after the autopsy,” he said, hoping it would be enough.

She didn't like being left in the dark, having to beg for scraps of information like she was on a need to know basis. At the start of their partnership it annoyed her no end. Then she got used to his games, and the challenge he presented her before each case, but now she wondered if they were reverting. This wasn't a challenge he was putting in front of her, this was a clear refusal to share information.

She released his arm and went over to the CSI team who were loading the body into the back of the van. She climbed into the passenger seat and left without a second glance at Mulder. He watched the van pull away then walked over to the chief who was standing by the tree.

“She’s your partner?” Eric said as he too watched the van drive away.

“Yeah, five years now.”

“Five years? I bet she runs rings around you.” Mulder frowned and Eric turned at the lack of response. “Sorry, I didn't mean any disrespect. I meant she is...incredible.”

“She’s the best agent I’ve ever worked with,” Mulder said, hoping by adding her title into the conversation the chief would understand to keep it professional. He didn't like it when men reduced her to single adjectives when she was so much more.

“I bet.”

“I plan to go to the campus later and talk to faculty advisers, his friends and people he knew.”

“Find out who he was here with you mean?”

“Yeah.” Mulder put his hands on his hips. “You sent me the casefile for the other two students.”

“You read that those files were closed, right?”

“Yeah, but I think there might be something else in this.”

“You’re talking about Bloody Mary?” Eric said with a scoff.

“You’re familiar?”

“With the Halloween game?” Eric nodded. “But it doesn't have anything to do with why those girls killed themselves.”

“Are you familiar with the spate of suicides from 1942?”

Eric frowned and put his hands on his hips as he turned to face Mulder more fully. “What do you know about them?”

“Just what I read in the police files.”

“All of those cases were closed.”

“I saw that.”

“Is that why you came here?”

Mulder looked over at the tree where two CSI members were carefully removing the rope from the tree and bagging it for evidence. “We came here to investigate these deaths. I believe the cases were closed prematurely.”

“Do you have anything to indicate that?”

“The third student suicide in as many weeks...is that not indication enough that something is worth investigating?”

Eric shook his head slowly. “Student suicides are not abnormal, unfortunately.”

“In such quick succession?”

“It's midterm exam time.” Eric slipped his hands into his fleece pockets and hunched his shoulders. “We see a spike in arrests, aggression on campus, shutting down parties, attacks...and yeah, suicides.”

“We both agree though that this incident was not a suicide.”

Eric huffed. “No, it's not.”

“We’re here looking into the other suicides, Agent Scully is conducting the autopsy, would you be willing to hand over the investigation to the bureau?”

Eric looked at him for a moment and Mulder felt the scrutiny. “As long as you keep me in the loop all the way through, then yes, you should lead.” He put his hand out and offered it to Mulder to shake.

Mulder shook it firmly. “Where is the morgue?”

 


 

Tucson City Morgue

 

Scully pulled off the mask and walked over to the high stool against the counter to sit for a moment as she took her final notes. There was nothing unusual about the autopsy. It was exactly as she would have expected an autopsy of a senior college student to be. A liver with a little more damage than normal. Pizza half digested in his stomach. Secretions in his trousers which she sent for testing, along with blood and tissue samples.

There were no visible signs of injections, or external signs of trauma except for the wounds around his neck. She collected all tissue from under his nails and sent that for testing too but expected it to be his own cells they would find.

The only surprising thing was the lack of evidence. He was hoisted into that tree, and he wasn't a willing player, based on the injuries around his throat where he clearly tried to claw the rope away. But there were no other signs of a struggle. No injuries to his arms, legs, or face where he might have put up a fight. His toxicology levels might solve that puzzle but she didn't think he was that drunk based on the smell of his clothing, or from his mouth.

Scully dropped her head back and took a long breath in then released it slowly. When she heard the soft thud of the bay doors closing she looked up to see Mulder crossing the room with a cup of coffee in his hand.

“Hey, thought you could do with a jolt of Joe.”

“Thanks,” she said as she took the cup and tasted it gingerly.

“How’d it go?”

“The only thing of note is the lack of fight he seemed to have put up.”

“Apart from his throat.” Mulder walked closer to the body and leaned over but held his tie against his chest as he took a closer look at the neck injury. He grimaced at the sight then backed up and turned to her.

“I’ve sent evidence from his nails for testing, as well as blood and tissue. But it could be tomorrow before we get those results back.”

“I have a list of his classes, his faculty advisor, and RA,” Mulder said as he patted his pocket.

“Okay, I need to get changed.”

She finished her notes, took one last sip of her coffee and handed it back to Mulder before she left the room and went to the changing area.

Mulder took a seat in the stool she just vacated and picked up her notes to read through. When the sound of the door opening drew his attention he looked up to see a tall man walking in as he closed the buttons on a white lab coat. He was startled when he spotted Mulder and frowned.

“Who are you?” He took another couple of steps towards Mulder. “What are you doing here? This is a restricted area!”

“I’m special Agent Fox Mulder,” he said and pulled his badge out to show him. “I was here with my partner Doctor Scully who was performing the autopsy.”

“Autopsy?” The man took a few more steps forward and then noticed the body on the table. “What is going on here?”

“We’re investigating a series of Student deaths. We’re working with the Chief of Police, Eric Watson. Are you Albert Jayne?”

“Yes,” he said suspiciously.

“Ah, we were planning to come and talk to you. Chief Watson said you would be more available after lunch.”

“Right, yeah, my mornings are usually quite busy.”

“Would you have time to talk now?” Mulder indicated the changing rooms. “My partner Doctor Scully is just changing after the autopsy and should be ready shortly.”

“Yeah, of course, let me just call Eric.”

“Of course.”

Mulder stepped away from the counter where the phone was, to offer some privacy and walked across the room to look at the various jars and containers on the shelving there but took surreptitious glances back at the coroner as he paced.

He was as tall as Mulder, perhaps a couple of inches taller. Closer to the same size as the chief. Mulder briefly wondered what they put in the water down here and if it would let him gain a couple of inches if he stayed. He was slimmer than the chief but looked athletic. He wore a full length lab coat and a scrub top, but had sneakers and jeans on underneath. He had neatly cut black hair and looked like he hadn't shaved in a few days. Mulder lifted a hand up to his own chin to scratch the bristles there and wondered how some men got past that itchy phase of beard growth.

Albert put the phone down and turned to Mulder, a grim expression on his face.

“Eric said you are leading the investigation on this murder.”

Mulder nodded and approached the table where Scully had completed the autopsy. “Yes, my partner's notes are just there, though she will complete an official report with final test results when they are available.”

“Where did she send the samples?”

Mulder looked around as if he would see a box with a label. “I presume the local FBI lab.”

Albert nodded and bent down to examine the closure sutures Scully had applied to the y-incision. Just then the changing room doors opened and Scully walked out. As Mulder predicted, she had removed her blazer and carried it folded over one arm. She had her hair tied up and her glasses on her face and she approached the table with a curious look at the stranger examining her work.

“This is my partner, Special Agent Dana Scully,” Mulder said, like a master of ceremonies, one arm gesturing towards her.

“Special Agent?” Albert stood up. “I thought you said she was a Doctor.”

“She is. Both.”

Albert raised an eyebrow and nodded once as Scully walked around the table to stand next to Mulder.

“Albert Jayne?”

“Yes.”

“You conducted the autopsies on the two suicides last month?”

“Yes.” He was guarded and Scully noticed it immediately.

“Excellent work. Very thorough.”

His guard dropped a little and he nodded again. “Tragic events.”

“Your report noted a high level of dopamine in both bodies.”

“Yes,” Albert said as he moved around the table to a filing cabinet where he rummaged and found the files he was looking for and nodded when he confirmed the results.

“How was it ingested?” Scully asked. “There were no traces in their stomachs, and I didn't see any notes on nasal or esophageal damage due to inhalation on either of the autopsies you completed, and neither did I find any on this one.”

“No, there was none.”

“And there is no way that level of dopamine could have developed naturally?” Mulder asked but both Albert and Scully looked at him. Scully shook her head.

“Dopamine doesn't work like that. It's a neurotransmitter. A lack of dopamine would be common enough, there are plenty of supplements or natural remedies to raise it but not to these levels,” Scully said.

“But even if these kids were taking ten times more than a daily dosage of those supplements it wouldn't amount to the dopamine levels that were detected.”

“Students aren't beyond mixing their party favours,” Mulder said.

Scully shook her head again. “We would have found evidence in their digestive system if they were taking these drugs orally. Based on the levels in their systems, it must have been relatively close to death.”

“I agree. I noted as much in their reports.” Albert said and pointed it out on the file in his hand. “Inhalation I think is the only way but again, it would need to be incredibly potent, high levels, which likely would leave some evidence in the nasal cavity.”

“We’re not even sure if it means anything yet.” Scully said and crossed her arms over her chest, her coat still folded over one. “Let's see what comes back from the tissue samples from this one.”

Mulder nodded. “We need to get to the campus to meet with the faculty advisor.”

“Thank you for your time today Doctor Jayne.”

“No problem.” He smiled and Mulder was instantly stuck by the change in his demeanor. His whole face lit up, his eyes shone, his lips parted and revealed pearly white straight teeth. The smile alone seemed to take years off him and he was already looking younger than Mulder would have expected a coroner to be.

He put his hand on Scully's back and guided her out of the lab to where he parked the car. He started the engine then turned to her with a slight frown.

“Was he a bit weird?” He nodded his head in the direction of the building they just left.

“Doctor Jayne?” Scully shrugged non committedly.

“Yeah, he was...odd.”

“Talk about pot calling the kettle black,” she muttered and brushed some lint off her knee.

Mulder rolled his eyes and put the car into reverse. “He was odd. What was that smile at the end?”

“Smile?”

“You didn't see the smile?” He glanced at her, his voice full of incredulity.

“I saw him smile, it was a smile, was it a weird smile?”

“It was...odd.”

“Quit profiling the coroner, Mulder.”

 


 

Vista motel Tucson AZ

 

Scully pulled off her heels and walked over to her bed where she fell starfish across the top of it with a weary groan. It had been almost sixteen hours since they walked out of the motel that morning and she felt every single one of them in the balls of tension that currently resided at the base of her neck and top of her shoulders.

“Hey Scully,” she heard from the other side of the adjoining door then Mulder's footsteps as he came closer. A soft knock preceded the hiss of it opening over the carpet and she just grunted. His chuckle wasn't enough to make her turn and look at him, but when the bed dipped she moved her head, her hair draped over her face but she could see enough to see he had taken off his tie and unbuttoned the top of his shirt. She grunted in acknowledgement of his presence but that was all she had the energy to offer him.

“I was thinking,” he said, and she moaned. “We should get some food, then go back to Kennedy park.”

“Huh?”

He was sitting on her bed, his back against the headboard, his legs stretched out, crossed at the ankles and his hands on his lap. He reached over and moved her hair off her face then leaned down on his elbow to get closer to her.

“We should eat, rest up a bit, then go back to Kennedy park. Where the body was found.”

“You think the killer will come back?”

“No, but I’d like to see it at night, get a feel for what it looked like last night, and understand what cover might have been possible.”

“Mulder, can't you just do that during the day?” she whined. The mere thought of putting shoes on again was abhorrent right now.

Mulder chuckled. He put his chin on his hand and shook his head. “I think seeing it in the dark will help us get a better read on the scene.”

She knew he was right but she couldn't agree outright without letting him know how much she didn't want to wear shoes.

“We’ll stay in the car,” he said. “You don't even have to put shoes on.”

She narrowed her eyes at him and huffed a breath out of her nose. “Fine, but I want a shower first, and food, and maybe a nap.”

“Deal.” He clapped his hands and hopped off her bed, leaving her jostled and moving. “You go sort out the shower, I’ll sort out food.”

He walked back into his room and she took a moment longer in the stillness of his wake before she went to her bathroom.

Mulder ordered food from the first option the leaflets on the table presented to him then quickly showered, eager to be horizontal for a while before they went out to the park. He could hear her in her room moving about the place after her shower. Her phone rang once and he heard her talking for a little while. One corner of his mind wondered if that was Matt calling but he quickly buried that thought and rummaged in his case for clothes. He pulled on a pair of jeans but had no energy to dress further and instead just lay on his bed and waited for the food to arrive.

When he heard the adjoining door open he looked over and saw her crossing the room in a pair of jeans and a tshirt as she rubbed the tendrils of her hair with a towel. She sat on the bed, leaned against the headboard and stretched her legs out in front of her, mirroring the pose he made on hers earlier.

“What did you order?” she asked as he flipped through the channels on the tv. He was lying on the bed too, but lay much lower than she, his head on the pillow.

“Burgers.”

She hummed, not so much for his choice of food, but for the relief of not having to make any decisions. She was bone tired. She got off his bed and draped the damp towel she’d been using over the back of the chair by the table then sat back down with a sigh, and tried not to let her eyes linger on the trail of hairs that tracked over his stomach and disappeared below the waist band of his jeans. 

“Tired?” he asked, though he knew the answer. She hummed in response and looked away from him before she was caught staring. “Sore?” He said when he noticed her rubbing the back of her neck. She hummed again and he smiled. “Need a neck rub?”

She looked down at him with a sideways glance and grimaced. “Not yet.”

Mulder frowned. “Not yet?”

“Let's see how the excursion out to Kennedy park works first.” Mulder chuckled and turned back to the tv. “I’d hate to waste a neck rub before a stakeout.”

“You could always take a second neck rub?”

“And waste one of my finite amounts of back rubs?”

“Wait, it's a back rub now?” he half lifted his head off the pillow.

Scully smiled. “For making me stakeout Kennedy park for the hook man, it better be.”

“Hook man?”

“That's what we’re doing here, isn't it?” She looked at him, one eyebrow arched, her lips in a thin smile.

“What makes you say that?”

“The two suicides, both linked to Bloody Mary,” she said and held up 2 fingers as she counted. “The death in the park last night, seemingly linked to the urban legend of the hook man story.”

“Well-”

“And then there are the deaths in 1942," she said and studied his face for his reaction. 

“How…”

“Isn't the real question you should be asking ‘Why?’”

“Why?” he propped himself up on his elbow and rolled towards her.

“Why didn't you tell me about them before we left DC?”

“Oh, that ‘why’.” He had the good sense to look chastised and avoided her eyes for a moment.

“And your reason would be…”

Mulder pushed up further and rested with both hands on the bed behind him. “None of the cases from ‘42 were open, or unsolved.”

“But all of them could be linked to urban legends.”

“Yeah. the first one in particular, the car crash, there were several witnesses that reported seeing someone in the back seat of the car before the crash.” Mulder sat up and pulled himself back against the headboard so they sat side by side. “The others were connected to the vanishing hitchhiker, the jigsaw window, high beams, bloody Mary, Candyman, the madman...They could all be connected to events, before their deaths.”

“Post hoc, ergo, propter hoc.”

Mulder smiled. “After, therefore, because,” he translated and got off the bed at the sound of the knocking on the door. He got the food, tipped the driver and carried it over to the bed and sat crossed legged at the end. He divvied up the packages, handed her a burger and a can of ginger ale, then opened a large bag of fries between them. They ate in silence for a few moments then Mulder put his burger on the torn up bag it came in.

“I’m not saying every one of those deaths was caused by whatever urban legend encounter they had, but the coincidences are pretty contrived. So many in a short space of time, and within the same zip code?”

Scully frowned. “Mulder, if you look for coincidences hard enough, you will find them everywhere.”

“This is more than manifestation of coincidences, this is a contrived pattern of inexplicable occurrences, resulting in multiple deaths, which I think warrants investigation.”

“I agree.”

“You do?”

“Yes.” She bit her burger then put it down next to his. “Which makes me wonder why you didn't come to me with this information in the first place?”

Mulder looked at her with her mouth slightly agape.

“It's been five years, Mulder!” She wanted to get off the bed and pace but dammit if she wasn't bone tired. “Five years. When are you going to start trusting me?”

“Hey!” He sat up and frowned. “I do trust you. I only trust you.”

“So why the secrecy?”

“It wasn't secrecy, it was…” he fumbled looking for the right words. “It was obviously a mistake. I thought, with all the cases being closed, solved, that you would dismiss them-”

“I can't continue to fight uphill like this, Mulder.” she said softly. “I thought we were past this.”

“We are. Scully, we are.” he moved closer, shuffled up the bed and sat next to her. “God, I’m an idiot, I got carried away hunting for a case, I got caught up in proposing the case to you, I just-”

“It's fine Mulder, forget it.” She reached for a fry but before she could put it in her mouth he grabbed her wrist.

“No, it's not, I’m sorry.” He moved his hand from her wrist to her hand and tugged on it until she looked at him. “Scully, I’m sorry.” She watched him for a moment then nodded her head, a silent acceptance of his apology.

He squeezed her hand, then released it and shuffled back to where he was sitting before though his appetite was gone now. Once the trash was all cleared up he stood by the end of the bed and dusted his hands off his ass.

“You want to head out to the park now?” she asked, knowing he was about to change their plans in lieu of their conversation and just call it a night instead. But she knew that would likely end up with him driving out to the park alone later.

“If you want…” he said, not quite meeting her eyes.

She smiled, climbed off his bed and went towards the adjoining door. “Let me get my sneakers. Meet you in the car.”

***

Kennedy Park

After an hour or so exploring the scene Mulder nudged her arm and gestured back to the car. It was parked across the car park, outside the crime scene cordon and faced the lake. The guard keeping watch at the park entrance told them that he had already turned away a dozen cars of people looking to park.

“Let's hang out a little while longer,” he said as they climbed in.

“You reckon the hook man will turn up?” Scully said with a slight smile.

“Nah, we’d have to be making out for that to happen,” he said with a waggle of his eyebrows and even kissed the air with a smack of his lips.

She scoffed and he gave her a sideways glance with a smile as he reached for the radio and found some music. He settled back into his seat and looked out at the still darkness of the lake before them.

“Scully…” he said with a soft cough to clear his throat as he prepared to ask her a question.

“Chief Watson.”

“Huh?”

“Chief Watson told me.” She rolled her head against the headrest to face him. “Isn't that what you were going to ask me? How I found out about the deaths in ‘42?”

He nodded.

She rolled her head again, this time to face out the front window. “He called me while you were in the shower.”

“Oh?” he wasn't sure what he was more interested in, the fact that Watson called her with this information, or that he called her at all. “He called?” He couldn't help the slight wave of relief that it wasn't Matt that called, though he wasn't quite sure why. 

“He asked about the autopsy, and told me about the conversation you both had when I left the scene.”

Mulder nodded his head. “Asked you about the autopsy, huh?” He put his elbow on the window and chewed on his thumbnail and wished he had some seeds.

“He was wondering if I found the same tox report as Jayne did in his two autopsies.”

“Hmm,” Mulder said without commitment and continued to look out the window.

“What?”

“Nothing.”

“What Mulder?” she looked over at him.

“Just seems odd that the chief of police wouldn't know that a toxicology report would take about 24 hours to process.”

Scully chuckled. “You think he was calling for some other reason?”

“I dunno, you were the one talking to him.”

She didn't respond to that but instead turned to look out the front window when a movement in the rear view mirror caught her eye. She whipped her head around to look but saw nothing. Mulder turned too.

“You see something?”

“I thought I saw…” She scanned the parking lot behind them but saw nothing. “Maybe it was just the trees.”

Mulder glanced at her and put one hand on the door handle. She grabbed his other arm to stop him from moving.

“No, wait.”

“What?” he asked and looked out the window again. He tried to see what she saw but he saw nothing.

“This...something feels wrong.” The hairs on her arm stood up and there was a tingle on the back of her neck.

Mulder looked over at her with a frown. “I’ll just go out and check-”

“I’ll go too.”

She grabbed her gun from the glove box and Mulder pulled his from his hip. They each put a hand on the door and Mulder nodded in three short beats before they opened their doors. They rounded the back of the car and met back to back. Covering multiple directions at once they fanned out and checked the area.

“See anything Scully?”

“All clear.”

“Same here.”

They came back to the car, each of them still looking out into the darkness.

“Just the wind?” she said and Mulder lifted one eyebrow. It was still warm, despite the late hour, and there was barely a breeze.

“What was it you saw?”

“It looked like someone walking or jogging behind the car.”

“Bit late for a jog...also the fact that it's a closed crime scene.” He looked over at her and watched her scan the horizon. “Let’s get back in.”

They climbed back into the car. Scully immediately turned around to look over her shoulder, and checked the mirrors.

“So, tell me about the phone call with Chief Eric Watson!” he said with a smile, hoping the conversation would distract her enough to settle her nerves.

“What's to tell?”

“Did he ask you out?”

“What?” She whipped around to look at him.

“He’s gearing up to ask you out.”

“No he’s not.”

“He is.” Mulder fiddled with the radio again and resettled back in his seat when he found a classic rock station playing Elvis. “Twenty bucks says he asks you out tomorrow.”

“He’s not going to ask me out.” She scoffed and waved her hand at him. “I’m working here, he’s working.”

“So!” he said with a laugh. “You think people who work together don't go out?”

“Not successfully,” she said with a sneer.

“Speaking from experience?” Mulder felt his heart pause in anticipation of her response. He knew he was on dangerous ground. Way too close to revealing something he had no intention of revealing.

“Not a good one,” she admitted before she could stop herself and then turned away to hide the blush she could feel creeping up her cheeks.

“Well, maybe Eric will change all that.”

“Shut up Mulder.”

“Twenty bucks Scully. Tomorrow.”

She rolled her eyes but continued staring at the window. She hated it, but he was probably right. She thought Eric was going to ask her to dinner when he called earlier. The reason he used to call in the first place was diaphanous at best and he meandered around the conversation without conviction. She ended up telling him she had another call coming to end it then went into Mulder's room for dinner.

She was annoyed.

At Eric for thinking it would be ok to ask her out while she was working a case.
At Mulder for realising he wanted to ask her out.
At Mulder again for bringing it up and not just letting her handle it without his interference.

“Let's get out of here,” she said when she was sick of looking out into the darkness, seeing only her reflection staring back at her.

Without a word, Mulder started the car and drove out of the park.

Chapter Text

University of Arizona

 

Mulder moved his notepad to the side and dropped the pen onto the loose pages as the door closed behind the fifth student they had interviewed that day. Scully seemed to be still taking notes but as he leaned over and looked at what she was writing he realised it wasn't notes on the interview but on possible next avenues of investigation.

“We’re not getting anywhere here, huh,” he muttered and crossed the room to the small makeshift coffee station

They had set up an interview room in one of the small offices on campus, and were systematically working through all the friends and acquaintances of Michael Thorn. And it seemed like a never ending list. They had been at it for almost four hours and so far had learned nothing. He didn't have a girlfriend. He didn't play sports. He was studying software engineering, and spent all his time in the labs between classes. He lived in a dorm but rarely used it. His roommate didn't even know he was missing until the police informed him.

The friend list was short, but the acquaintance list was longer than Mulder thought he could handle. No one saw him leave the lab. No one thought he had a car. No one knew who he might have been with. No one admitted to being parking with him or having any idea who he might have been parking with. It was dead end after dead end and besides frustration, Mulder felt bad for the kid.

“This kid…” Mulder said as he came back to the table and put a cup of coffee in front of her. She nodded her thanks and sat back to take it in. “It's like he doesn't exist outside of that computer lab.”

“He was studious.”

“But part of the college experience is growing into adulthood, life experience, learning to be social, interact, finding your limits.”

“He was here to earn a degree in Software Engineering.” Scully sipped her coffee and put it onto the table. “He was focused.”

Mulder looked over at her. “Med school?”

“I was focused.”

“So you didn't go parking?”

“I wasn't that focused,” she chuckled, then sat forward and picked up her notes again. “Looking at his class transcripts this kid was insanely focused. He was working on three different patents for computer technology. His faculty advisor said he was the best she had worked with and was sure he was going to get poached by one of the tech companies before graduation.”

Mulder hummed but shook his head. “I think we’re looking at this all wrong.”

“How so?”

“Maybe the kid wasn't killed because of who he was.”

“But where he was?”

Mulder nodded. “I don't think he was a specific target. There is no connection between him and the other two girls.”

Scully leaned forward to speak but before she could open her mouth her phone rang. She reached for it to check the caller ID and Mulder noticed how her frown deepened before a slight red tinge came up her neck to her cheeks and she stepped away from the table. He heard her answer the call with a stern “hello” before she left the room.

He looked down at his notes and realised they had eight more interviews to go, and that was only if no one gave them new names to add to the list. It was going to be a long day. He went back to the coffee station and freshened up his coffee. By the time he got back to the table, Scully came back into the room. She sat at the desk and shuffled through her notes.

“Everything ok?” he asked as he sat next to her again.

“Yeah,” she said, her tone curt and clipped. “So who do we have next?”

“Maria Carson. Classmate. She’s on the way, should be here any minute.”

“Good.”

She picked up her notepad and started taking notes again.

“Maybe we should rethink this…” Mulder said with a sigh as he sat back in his chair and locked his fingers together behind his head. “If we look at it through the deaths in ‘42, there is more there to work on a pattern, other than the legends.”

Scully slowly nodded her head non-committedly.

Mulder wheeled his chair over to another desk where he had left several folders when they arrived. He flipped them each open to a bio page on each victim from ‘42.

“It could be some event that connected them, a location, a contact…”

“They wouldn't have found that commonality then?”

“Well all the cases were closed relatively quickly. No foul play was suspected. Even the crash with the witnesses saying someone was in the back seat, there was no one else in the car when it was cut open.”

“None of those cases were fully investigated?”

“There were apparently no reasons to investigate further. All tragic, but explainable events.”

“How did you connect them?” She turned in her chair to face him.

Mulder was hunched over the files, seeing nothing he hadn't seen before. He glanced up when she asked him that question but returned his focus to the files again.

“I was tracking a series of deaths and missing people on Route 86 and came across a few of the deaths from ‘42.” He looked up and dug a couple of fingers into each eye socket to rub them vigorously.

“So other than the...legends...connection, you didn't notice any other pattern?”

“Not yet,” he pulled his fingers out of his eyes and waited for the spots to fade as he turned to face her. “Though I haven't fully examined the circumstances around each death, other than the legend.”

Scully looked like she was about to stand when there was a soft knock on the door and it opened to a young girl carrying a backpack and an arm full of binders.

“Sorry, is this the right room? My name is Maria, I’m looking for Agent Mulder?”

Mulder stood and approached the girl with his badge out. “Hi, I’m Agent Mulder, this is my partner, Agent Scully.”

“Please, come in, take a seat,” Scully said and gestured to the chair on the other side of the desk. “Can we get you a drink?”

“No, thanks.”

“Thanks for taking the time to talk to us,” Scully smiled and hoped the girl whose nerves were clearly shaken would relax enough to share information.

“Sure.” She looked at Mulder who stepped back from the desk they were sitting at and leaned against the one behind it.

Scully leaned forward and smiled. “You were a classmate of Michael Thorn?”

“Yeah, well we were partners.”

“Partners?”

“Lab partners, we were working on a project together for the end of year grade.”

“What was the project?”

“Well…” She looked around the room as if preparing to break a confidence though it was empty. “It's kind of confidential...though I guess that doesn't matter anymore, I won't be able to finish it without him.”

“How confidential was it?” Mulder asked and tried not to show the frown he was feeling. The faculty advisor said Michael worked alone. No one thought he had friends, girlfriends, or partners. How did this girl work with him without anyone knowing?

“No one knew about it.”

“The advisor-”

“No one knew. We worked offline, we shared notes on the intranet, we barely saw each other, except for class, and Michael rarely came to class he didn't need to.”

“What was the project?” Mulder asked again and he approached the desk to sit down in the chair beside Scully.

“It was an indexing algorithm to file, search, and access information on the internet.”

Mulder nodded slowly and for the first time wished at least one of the Lone Gunmen were here to help him understand something on a case. “Can you-”

“It's a search engine. Like Yahoo, except...good,” she said with a derisive tone.

“So you knew Michael pretty well?”

She shrugged and shook her head a little. “Not really. Like I said, we worked offline. We left notes on the pc in the lab and on the intranet. We rarely met up.”

“Did you know if he was seeing anyone?”

“No idea.”

“Did he have any reason, you know of, to be in the park that night?”

“No, and frankly, I’m shocked he was found there.”

“Why?” Mulder leaned forward.

“He wasn't a fan of...fresh air.” She squirmed a little on her chair. “Look, I’m studying software engineering, I’m the only girl in my class of over seventy students...as you can imagine, it's not super fun being the only girl there.”

Scully nodded and tightened her lips a little. “I can understand how you feel.” Mulder pulled back from the desk and let her lead again.

“Michael was nice enough not to care if I was a girl,” she said then added with a scoff. “Hell I’m not even sure if he noticed. He was consumed by the code.”

“Code?”

“The work, the software puzzle.” She put her hand on top of the piles of binders on her lap. “Everything he cared about could be parsed into ones and zeros.” She looked up to Scully again and shrugged. “He barely left the lab, he did so only to sleep, and eat. Bathing wasn't high up on his list of priorities. He didn't drink or party. I’m not sure how he would have met a girl to go parking with. I’m the only girl ever in that lab, and I definitely wasn't parking with him.”

Scully nodded and smiled at Maria who was looking at the binder in her lap again.

“Is it true he was hanged?” Maria asked and glanced up at Scully who nodded. “And he didn't do it himself?”

“Do you think it's possible he would have committed suicide?”

Maria lifted one shoulder in a half shrug. “Yeah, I mean...our work is hard, stressful, he never seemed to...let go.” She pondered her words for a few minutes. “He wouldn't be the first one,” she muttered.

They let her words hang in the air for a moment and when Scully looked over to Mulder he shook his head a little. She leaned forward towards Maria and placed a business card in front of her. “If you think of anything else you can contact us here.”

Maria took the card and slipped it into her pocket and nodded. “Okay, thanks.” She stood up and walked to the door, turned back with a nervous wave then left the room.

Mulder resumed his position, leaning back in his chair, his hands behind his head. “This kid...how he ended up hanging from a tree in a park known for lovers is beyond me.” His hands came through his hair and he rubbed them down his face. “He barely spoke to anyone, he had no friends, he had no reason to be out there.”

“Maybe he was alone,” Scully said.

“It's not possible...there would have been some evidence of any system he jury rigged to hang himself in that manner.”

“Theory?”

Mulder shook his head. “I’m...stumped.”

Scully started and looked over at him. “No hook man? Lovers lane killers?”

Mulder smirked. “Those stories don't track with the evidence collected.”

“Wow…” Scully put her hand on her chest. “Be still my beating heart.”

Mulder rolled his eyes. “Shut up.”

“Looks like my work on the x-files is done, finally you are needing evidence to believe.” She dusted her hands off themselves.

He chuckled as he leaned towards the notepad and looked through the rest of the names. Another one down, seven to go.

 


 

Blooms Diner

 

Mulder pulled his tie from his neck and dragged it through his collar. He wrapped it round his hand and bunched it into his jacket pocket then draped the jacket over the back of his chair. Scully was fanning her blouse at the neck and when the waitress placed two menus and two glasses of iced water on the table she took one glass and took a long filling drink.

“That was a day,” he said as he looked away from her slender neck as she drank, one drop of water escaping the corner of her mouth and presenting him with a route to follow.

“A day full of interviews is infinitely worse than a day full of autopsies,” Scully said with a sigh as she put the glass back on the table, less than half full.

“At least the morgue is air conditioned.” He reached up to undo a couple of buttons on his shirt and fanned it out from his chest too.

“Interviews are made worse when it feels like no progress is being made.”

“We should talk to the friends of the girls.”

Scully nodded and lifted her glass for another drink when she saw Mulder smile. “What?” she asked as his smile widened further.

“Looks like you’re about to owe me twenty bucks.”

Scully flushed and glanced over her shoulder where the chief of police was walking towards them. “God dammit,” she muttered and looked back to her hands that gripped her glass tightly.

“Hello,” Eric said when he got to their table. “I was passing by and saw you two in the window,” he gestured over his thumb at the large painted window by the door and Mulder smiled knowing full well it was unlikely they were seen by a passer by. “How did it go today?”

“Loads of interviews, little progress,” Mulder said when it became clear Scully wasn't going to speak up.

“Those days can feel like the longest.”

“We were just saying that, weren't we Scully?” She glared at him and lifted her glass to her lips to avoid engaging in this conversation.

“So what's the next step?” Eric asked and he leaned on the back an empty chair in front of him.

“Reviewing the previous deaths,” Mulder replied, though he lowered his voice so as to not be overheard by other patrons in the diner. “The two girls, as well as those in ‘42.”

“I see, so a long evening of research ahead of you...both,” Eric said and glanced at Scully.

Mulder looked over the table at Scully who was studiously studying the menu.

“We’re about to order, would you like to join us?” Mulder said and gestured at the seat Eric was standing beside but before he could sit down Mulder’s phone rang. “Excuse me.”

Mulder pulled his phone out of his pocket and walked away from the table to take the call. Scully glanced up at Eric who gestured at the chair.

“Do you mind?”

Scully shook her head. She had hoped that she made it clear earlier when he called, that she wasn't interested in anything other than a professional relationship discussing the case, and there was no need for them to talk other than that. He hadn't actually asked her out, but she could tell he was leading up to it.

“Were you working today?” she asked when she noticed he wasn't wearing his uniform.

“Yeah, I finished a couple of hours ago.” He ran his hand down the soft cotton of his plain navy tshirt was fitted against his broad chest. “I don't like to wear the uniform during off hours. As soon as my work day is over, I change.”

She couldn't help but let her eyes follow the journey of his hand over his chest and to his lap. She wasn't interested, she told herself, but she wasn't blind.

When Mulder came back he tugged his jacket off the back of the chair. “That was the faculty advisor, he said he finally got access to Michael's notes that were on the computer in the lab.” He pulled his jacket on and Scully started to scoot her chair back from the desk. “He’s printing them all out, I’m just going to pick them up.”

“I’ll come with-”

“No, you stay. I’ll pick them up, you get something to eat, meet you back at the motel later, we can review the notes then.”

“But-”

“Seriously, no point in both of us missing out on food,” Mulder said and put a hand on her shoulder to stop her from standing. “You’ll be fine getting back to the motel from here?”

“I can take her,” Eric said.

Mulder nodded then glanced at Scully with a grin and left. Scully watched him disappear and clenched her teeth. She wasn't sure what possessed him to think it was ok to leave her here like this, other than some unfounded notion that he thought he was helping her. Helping her with what exactly she couldn't be sure. Get laid? Hardly. In five years she had never shown him an inclination to get laid while on the road working on a case. Or...at home while not on a case.

Scully frowned. Was that it? She purposefully kept her private life out of the basement when she first joined him in the X-Files, and then, somehow, there was no private life to keep away. There was just the X-Files. There was just Mulder. And now he was pushing her into having dinner with another man.

The waitress sidled up to the table with her eye on something else across the room. She had a pad and pen out ready to take their orders.

“What can I get you?”

Eric picked up the menu and scanned it, and Scully knew he was waiting for her cue. She glanced at the offerings and wondered what would be the quickest thing to make, and eat.

“I’ll just have the soup of the day.”

“It comes with a side salad.”

“Sure,” Scully said without any real interest, other than finishing this transaction so she would be closer to getting back to the motel.

“What about you hun’?” she asked and turned to Eric.

“Turkey Club on rye. And a cup of coffee.

“You got it,” she said with a click of her tongue, as she wrote on her pad and walked away.

When she left Scully picked up her glass of water and sipped it. Eric settled further into his chair and pushed Mulder's water glass aside.

“Sounds like you didn't make any progress from when we spoke earlier.”

“No, the interviews were not entirely fruitless.”

“You got something?”

“Nothing concrete, but some leads to follow.”

The waitress arrived with his coffee and Eric took some time to add creamer and sugar before he tasted it. Scully waited with bated breath for Eric to continue the conversation from the phone earlier. Where he asked her questions not pertaining to the case, but focused on her.

“So tell me how you leave medical school and join the FBI.”

Scully sighed, this was a common question, she had a response ready but this wasn't a date, and she didn't want to prolong whatever it was that was happening now. “I was recruited after working in pathology for a year or so.”

“You enjoy it?”

“Working for the FBI?” She frowned and her head tilted a little to the left. “Yes. Immensely.”

Eric smiled. He sipped his coffee again without taking his eyes off her. “I’ve worked with a lot of FBI agents, but none of them were quite like you,” he said suddenly.

Scully paused. She didn't expect that.

“Sorry, if that makes you uncomfortable,” he said, though she could tell he wasn't sorry. “I found in my line of work there is no point in hesitating.”

“How long have you been chief of police?”

“About six months.” Scully frowned and he smiled at her reaction. “I grew up in a small town about 85 miles north of here. I plan to move back there but I want to take with me as much policing education as I can.” He sipped his coffee and watched her reaction. “I worked in Chicago for a few years and came to Tuscon to take on this position when it became available.”

Scully looked over his shoulder at the kitchen and wondered how long it took to reheat soup. He was busy giving her his full resume but she didn't remember asking. She wanted to ask why he thought it was a good time to be telling her all of this. Why he thought she was interested in hearing it. She took a moment while he was telling her about his work in Chicago to actually look at him, not just a passing glance that she had offered him before. His physique was striking. He was tall and broad. His fitted tshirt showed off a muscular chest to tapered waist. His jeans hugged his hips, wrapped large thighs and she couldn't see because he was sitting down, but she could tell they wrapped a firm ass.

It had been a long time since she had been out on a date. Longer since she had brought a date home. Or anyone home. She let her eyes wander over his chest again and wondered if he had any hair on his chest. Mulder had a light dusting across the top of his chest and a small trail disappearing into his jeans. Scully frowned. She shook her head to rid herself of that thought and leaned back in her chair.

Thankfully the waitress arrived with their food and she could focus on something else for a while. They ate in silence for a few moments then Eric dusted his hands off and leaned forward.

“You’re not used to forward people offering you this kind of attention, are you?”

“I’m used to getting attention I’m not interested in,” She said with one raised eyebrow and Eric smiled.

“Am I making you uncomfortable?”

“If I was uncomfortable I would have left.”

Eric smiled again, this time wider and it reached his eyes and Scully tried not to react. “I believe you.” He sipped his coffee. “You’re not involved with anyone?”

She shook her head and tasted her soup.

“It's been a while.”

She looked down at the spoon and lifted more soup to her mouth to taste.

“I can see in your face what I used to see in mine.” Scully glanced up and Eric continued without waiting for her to say anything. “When I was in Chicago I was relentless with work. Nothing else mattered. Nothing could distract me. I let a lot of people come and go from my life without much thought and it wasn't until six months ago when I realised I had my priorities all wrong.”

“When you came to Tucson?”

“When my cancer went into remission.”

Scully felt the spoon in her hand slip through her fingers and clatter off the lip of the bowl, the edge of the table then fall to the floor. The waitress swooped by, picked it up and put another on the table beside her then left and Scully felt only the breeze of her absence.

“Dana? Are you ok?” Eric asked and she knew all the blood must have drained from her face. He reached across the table and put his hand over hers but she quickly removed it and her fingers raised to scratch the small raised scar at the back of her neck.

“Yes, yeah I’m fine.”

She looked over her shoulder for the waitress and gestured for the bill then took cash out of her jacket and put some bills on the table.

“No, Dana, I got it.”

“It's fine. I need to get back.”

“Let me take you.”

“No thank you, I can get a cab.” She stood up and took her jacket from the back of the chair. “Thank you, goodbye,” she stuttered out, avoiding his eyes as she hurried out onto the street hoping against hope that there would be a cab on the street.

She didn't want to wait in case Eric followed so she picked a direction and walked until she could hail a cab and get back to the motel.

 


 

Vista motel

 

Mulder grabbed the binder and white paper bag from the passenger seat and climbed out into the oppressive heat. He cursed Arizona temperatures again for the umpteenth time as he fumbled through his pockets looking for his room key. Once inside he put the binder and bag on the bed then peeled off his shirt. He dropped it by the bathroom door where it fell in a damp, limp, pile and was quickly followed by the rest of his clothes.

The shower he took was long and cold and his body thanked him for it. He patted most of his body dry with a towel then pulled on a pair of boxers to let the rest air dry in a blissfully chilled room. He opened the white bag and took out a burrito. He tore off the top of the covering and bit into it with a sigh then fell back across the bed, his feet planted on the ground and sighed.

By the time he finished his food and opened the binder to start reviewing the notes he glanced at his watch and realised it was late. One look at the adjoining door and he saw the light was off in Scully's room. He wasn't sure if she hadn't come back from dinner with Eric yet, or if she had come back and had gone to bed. He looked at his watch again. It had been three hours since he left her in the diner. It was unlikely they were still there. But it was early for her to be sleeping, even by Scully standards.

If she had lain down for a rest and ended up sleeping longer than she meant, then she would not sleep tonight, and he would be greeted with a grumpy Scully in the morning. That thought alone was enough to get him off his bed and moving towards the adjoining door, though he pulled on a pair of sweats before he knocked.

“Scully?” He knocked again and this time opened the door. Hers was closed firmly, and he tried to remember if they had left it like that, or perhaps the cleaning staff had closed the doors. “Scully?” He said again and knocked on her door, then hesitated only a moment before he pushed her door open.

It took him a moment to adjust to the darkness in her room. The curtains were closed, the lights were off and he saw her sitting in the small chair by the desk across the room.

“Hey, Scully...what's going on?” He took a few steps into the room but paused when he sensed something in his gut. “Scully?”

She didn't move, or look up. She didn't make a sound.

He crossed the distance between them in a few long strides and crouched before her. He wanted to turn on the lamp beside her but didn't think she wanted that.

“Scully, what's wrong?” He tentatively reached out and touched her hands that were connected on her lap. “Scully...you’re starting to scare me.”

He needed to see her, see her eyes, her expression. He needed to understand what was happening so he damned her immediate comfort and reached over to the lamp and turned it on.

The first thing that struck him was the lack of tears, on her cheeks or in her eyes. Then the lack of blood, her pale skin reminded him of how she looked when she was in the hospital, and the few months after she had the chip installed in her neck.

“Hey, what happened?” He tightened his grip on her hands and tugged them off her lap until her eyes flickered up from her knees to his face. She frowned as if just now registering what was sitting before her.

“Mulder.”

“Yes, hey, what's going on?”

“Hmm?”

“Why are you sitting here in the dark?”

“Oh...I was just resting.”

“Scully…” He frowned and squeezed her hands again making her look down to where he was holding her.

“Sorry Mulder, I’m just tired.” She took her hands out of his, rubbed her face then stood, forcing him to move back and walked around him. She went into the bathroom and he heard the tap running. He wasn't sure if he should leave her be, or wait for her to come back. But he figured crouching in the corner of the room wasn't the best option.

He stood up and shucked his sweats as he waited for her to return. When she did, her face was freshly washed, red cheeks, wide eyes, tendrils of her hair wet and clung to her neck.

“Did you get the notes?” she asked, her voice strong, clipped.

He nodded. He wanted to ask her about what happened at the diner after he left, but sensed that was not a good subject to broach right now.

“Yeah, I got the notes, I was just about to start sorting through them when I came looking for you.”

“Okay, let me get showered and changed and I’ll join you.”

Mulder recognised a dismissal when he heard one, though he still wasn't great at obeying them. This time he felt like it would be the best option. He nodded and quickly walked out of her room, leaving her adjoining door partially open.

He grabbed a tshirt from his bag and pulled it on while he sorted out the notes and waited for her. He could hear the water running while she showered. He wondered if he made a mistake in leaving her at the diner. He was teasing her about the cop asking her out. Teasing her when he made her stay and have dinner. If anything had happened...if he did anything to her…

He shook his head. She was more than capable of looking after herself. She was the strongest person he knew, and he included himself in that assessment. Whatever upset her, whatever happened after he left the diner, whatever put her in that almost fugue state...Mulder frowned. Few things rattled her. And even when they did, she rarely let it get to the state where she ended up like that. At least not when he could see.

When he heard the water shut off, he busied himself making sure the notes were sorted and turned only when he heard the door between their rooms open. He offered her a smile but she didn't reciprocate. She was wearing a pair of leggings and a sweater, had her hair tied back and was cleaning her glasses on a small cloth as she took the seat beside the desk.

“What have we got?”

They spent a couple of hours working through students notes that looked like they had been taken by someone with split personality disorder. The chaos of his thoughts was hard to follow. When Mulder thought he had a pattern, he would lose the thread and have to start all over again. Scully tried arranging them by date but there was no discernible pattern that way and soon she gave up that angle too.

“Now I know how Sisyphus felt,” Mulder said as he dropped his pen onto the table and rubbed the heels of his hands into his eyes.

“Maria, the lab partner.” Scully said and she pushed away from the desk too. “We should ask her to come into the office tomorrow and review these notes.”

“Yeah, good thinking.”

“I’m going to call it a night.” She stood up, brushed her hands down her front and dusted them off.

Mulder watched her cross the room and had a sudden urge to call her back, make her stay a while, stay when they weren't working, watch some tv, see how she really was. She seemed focused while they worked on the notes but singularly focused, not interested in hashing anything out and instead worked almost as if he wasn't in the room.

“Hey Scully,” he said and stood up off the end of the bed where he had a bunch of pages spread out. “Did you get a proper dinner earlier? I have some nachos here if you’re hungry.”

Scully, with one hand on the adjoining door, stalled and felt her shoulders slump. She thought she was going to make it back to her room without addressing what happened. Get a good night's sleep. Or any kind of sleep. But spend some time getting past it so tomorrow she could start afresh. Slowly she turned to face Mulder and when he saw her face he faltered.

“Did something happen?” he asked, unsure if he really wanted an answer.

“No Mulder, nothing happened. Other than the fact that you ditched me.”

“Ditched-”

“Yes, ditched me. Or set me up, and frankly I’m not sure which is worse.”

“Set you up?”

“Did you think I needed help getting laid?” She took a step towards him and placed her hands on her hips.

“No! Scully I-”

“Don't you ever...ever put me in that situation again.” She glared at him, each word enunciated cleanly, and her furrowed brow only enhanced her ire. “I’m working here, like you, and if I want to get some, I’ll get it. I don't need you, or anyone else, setting me up like that.”

“Scully, I’m sorry.” He took a step closer to her but she stepped back and turned away. She grabbed the door again and pulled it open.

“Goodnight Mulder,” she said without looking back.

“Scully…”

She walked into her room, closed his door and her own and left him standing in the middle of his room, mouth open, arms limp by his sides.

“Shit,” he muttered and bit the inside of his cheek. He dry washed his face and fell back onto the bed, only now realising how wrong he had been about that whole situation.

Chapter Text

Vista Motel 

 

Scully hung up the phone and sat on the bed for a moment longer willing her body to relax and her headache to fade. But it seemed today was not her day. She swallowed a couple of headache pills then went to the adjoining door and knocked.

“Mulder,” she said, loud enough for him to hear but not so loud it rattled her pounding head.

Within seconds he answered the door. He wore the same sweats and tee he was wearing while they worked yesterday, but his hair was dishevelled and his eyes were squinting from the light he just switched on.

“There’s been another death,” she said, her eyes not quite meeting his.

“Okay, I’ll be ready in a few minutes.”

Mulder closed the door without speaking further though he just leaned against the door for a second to steady his nerves. He had sat up most of the night cursing his poor attempt at covering up what he was feeling. He had worked hard at ignoring what he was feeling for her, pushing anything that managed to break the surface lower than it was before. Even going so far as to encourage her connection to Eric, encouraging her to explore that, because as soon as she became connected to another man, he knew he would be able to turn away. He knew he would have to turn away. And that would be better for her. Because being connected to him would bring her nothing but misery. As the last five years had already proven. He pushed himself away from the wall and dressed as quickly as he could, not wanting to leave her waiting for him.

Scully dressed in a pair of black slacks and a slate grey fitted shirt. She didn't have time for make up so simply rubbed some moisturiser on her face, tied her hair into a ponytail and hoped the last vestiges of night time darkness would disguise how weary she probably looked.

When she got out to the car Mulder was leaning against the hood twirling the keys in his hand. He wore a suit but without the jacket and his tie was already loose. He held out the keys to her as she approached.

“You know where we’re going,” was all he said and he avoided her eyes as he said it.

Scully nodded, took the keys and got in without a word. She already had her belt buckled before he climbed in and took off as soon as he was settled. She knew his gesture of letting her drive was simply a way of giving her control, but it didn't ease her tension. She concentrated on driving and ignored everything that curdled in the pit of her stomach.

“A student was found in the basement of a fraternity house,” she said after a few moments of silence. “He was found strangled by a plastic coated washing line.”

Mulder nodded. Scully glanced over and saw him rub the corner of his eye with his fingers. She decided to leave him to his thoughts, and reverted back to the unfamiliar silence instead. She drove to the university, then across campus to the fraternity houses and parked behind the cordon next to the coroner's van.

They both climbed out and flashed badges to get through the front lines and into the building where they were met by Eric who was standing by the stairs down to the basement, giving orders to some junior officers.

“And make sure to canvas all frat houses on this street,” he said as he turned to Scully and Mulder. “Sorry to have to call you in again in the middle of the night.”

Mulder nodded in acknowledgement of the apology. “How was he found?”

“The frat house has laundry machines in the basement. Another student found him a couple of hours ago.”

“A student was doing laundry in the middle of the night?”

“Apparently they work nights at the 7-11,” Eric said and he gestured for them to follow him down the stairs into the basement.

What would normally be a dim room with a bare bulb hanging from the ceiling, instead was brightly lit up by multiple CSI lamps placed strategically for maximum effect. One wall was lined with several washers and dryers while the other was covered with wire rack shelving for hanging clothing. There was a row of small windows along the top wall facing the rear garden of the house and the only other entry point was the stairs they just used.

The body was hanging from a washing line that was usually draped across the room for bigger items like sheets. His feet were inches from the ground and the rope was pulled taut around his neck and around the beam above.

“Nothing was touched?” Mulder asked as he pulled on a pair of latex gloves and bent down to examine the space between the victimes feet and the ground. There were shards of broken glass on the ground, like the victim dropped a glass or something of a similar size.

“No.” Eric said and he stepped back a bit to give him room, inadvertently stepping into Scully. “Oh Sorry,” he said and grabbed her arm to steady them both.

Scully nodded and moved away, towards the row of windows to examine them more closely.

“How many people live in this frat house?” Mulder asked as he looked around for the rest of the glass item that was broken.

“Eleven.”

“How many of them were home tonight?”

“Most of them were out at some event on campus, but we’re awaiting a time of death to narrow that down.”

“Let's get a list of calls coming to and from this line,” Mulder said and pointed at the cordless handset that was lying on the ground underneath the victim.

“We’re collecting that now.”

“And get the phone bagged for prints.”

Scully stepped closer to the body and stretched up on tiptoes to get a look at the victim's face. She almost lost her balance and put a hand on Mulder's shoulder to save herself. He covered her hand with his own to offer more support but when she saw what she needed she settled back on her own feet, took her hand back and stepped away from him. Mulder stood and found he was almost eye to eye with the victim.

“Time of death is likely at about 1am,” Scully said with a glance at her watch. “Discolouration near the ligature marks, and burst capillaries around the eyes have also discoloured.”

“If it's 1am, then we have three students in the building.”

“This kid is about five foot six?” Mulder guessed but didn't look round for confirmation. “He just about fits, with sag from the rope, and the distance between the floor and the roof...how tall were the other students that were home?”

Eric frowned. “I’ll have one of the officers collect that info.” He paused for a moment. “What are you thinking?”

“If this wasn't a suicide, based on the available space, I’m willing to bet not many of the other students would be able to be hanged down here.”

“You think he was targeted specifically?” Eric said.

“I think it's worth looking into.” Mulder turned to face Eric and frowned when he saw he was looking at Scully who was reaching up with one gloved hand to tap on the small windows.

“Those windows are fixed, they don't open,” Eric said to her. “Besides, no one would fit through them.”

“You’d be surprised,” Mulder muttered as he pulled off his own gloves and stepped back to peruse the rest of the room.

Scully checked on each of the windows then came back to stand near the body. “I presume all the photo coverage has already been taken,” she asked as she neared Eric who nodded. “Then let's get him down from there and transported for an autopsy.”

She pulled off her own gloves too and moved towards the stairs but Eric touched her shoulder to stop her from ascending.

“Dana…” He said softly. “I’m sorry if I said something to upset you earlier, that certainly was not my intention.”

“You didn't.” She put one foot on the bottom step but the hand on her shoulder tightened.

“Perhaps-”

“Pardon me,” she said and pointedly glanced at his hand.

Eric let his hand linger a moment more then released her and she climbed the stairs. He slipped his hand into his pocket and turned to see Mulder looking over a slight frown on his face, with a smattering of concern when his eyes flickered over to the stairs.

Mulder looked away. He wanted to ask what had happened in the diner after he left but that felt like the wrong move. If Scully wanted him to know, which she clearly didn't, then she would tell him. Instead he made himself busy examining the scene.

Upstairs Scully pulled out her phone and dialled the coroner's number. After the last autopsy took him by surprise, she decided calling him would be the best tact. She was speaking softly into the phone when Mulder appeared by her side and waited patiently for her phone call to finish.

“Are you going with the body again?” he asked when she slipped her phone into her pocket and turned to face him.

“Yeah, I just got off the phone with Doctor Jayne. He’ll meet me at the morgue.” She fished the car keys out of her pocket and held them out to him. Mulder opened his hand, palm up but rather than place them there she dropped them from a height.

“I’m going to join in on the interviews of the students who were in the house at the time of the murder,” he said though she didn't seem like she was listening. “Hopefully we’ll have info from the phone calls soon.”

Scully nodded and moved aside as the CSI team carried the body through the doorway. They were on either side of the hallway and the gurney moved between them. Mulder watched her closely. She looked tired. But she looked more annoyed. He could tell she had a headache the way her eyes narrowed, her brow creased, her jaw clenched. He wanted to check in with her but wasn't sure how to broach that conversation in such a public setting. Hell if they sat in the car alone he wasn't sure he’d know how.

“I’ll talk to you later,” she said over her shoulder as she followed the gurney and Mulder watched after her until she left the house.

 


 

Tucson City Morgue

 

Scully pulled the drape over the body then reached for her clipboard and filled in her final notes. Behind her Doctor Jayne labeled the samples to be sent off and filled out his own notes.

“So you agree, this was not a self inflicted event?” Scully said, her voice hoarse from overuse after spending a couple of hours dictating notes into the tape recorder over the bay.

“Yes, the ligature marks, the scratching on the neck, all indicate he was not a willing victim.”

“Time of death I’ve estimated to be at 1.30am”

“I concur.”

Scully nodded as she signed the bottom of her report and handed it to Jayne who signed it too. “I’ll have the full notes typed up later today and email you a copy.”

“Thanks.”

Jayne boxed up the last of the samples and put them on the tray to be sent out, then came back to where he had been working and sat on one of the high stools.

“How long have you been with the FBI?” he asked casually as if they had been conversing this whole time and not simply making notes during the autopsy.

“About six years.”

“All that time working as a pathologist too?” Scully nodded, unsure what direction this conversation was going to take. Jayne made a low whistle and shook his head. “You must enjoy it, if you stick around.”

“I do.” Scully spoke with conviction. “In fact, I need to get back to it. The autopsy might be complete, but the investigation continues.”

She picked up her notes and waved at Jayne before she turned and went to the changing rooms. She showered quickly, changed, then hurried out to the lobby to call a cab but paused for a moment to wonder where she should go. Would Mulder be at the university? Working from the precinct? Or perhaps the local field office? Her thumb hovered over the first speed dial. She took a deep breath and looked up to settle herself before pressing the dial.

Then she saw their rental car parked against the curb outside the morgue.

Perhaps it was a different car, she wondered as she stepped closer and squinted as if that would help her see it more closely. It was definitely their rental car.

She pushed the door open and walked down the path towards the car. She crouched to look in the passenger window and saw Mulder lying in the reclined driver's seat, his arms folded over his chest, his head lolled towards the window, his mouth open, soft snores emitting from it with every exhale.

She smiled at the sight of him, and the unopened bottle of ginger ale in the cup holder that she knew he purchased for her. She opened the door and sat in and he only woke when she closed the door after her.

His eyes blinked rapidly as he tried to become accustomed to his surroundings and he smiled when he saw her sitting there.

“Hey,” he said and sat forward to bring the chair up to the normal position.

“What are you doing here?” she asked.

“Waiting.” He lifted one shoulder in a half shrug.

“How long have you been here?”

“While.”

Scully smiled. She pointed at the ginger ale. “Is that for me?”

“Yeah.”

She lifted the bottle, opened it and took a long drink, not realising how much she wanted it until she tasted it. She stopped drinking to take a couple of breaths then took another long drink.

“Thirsty?” Mulder asked as he watched her quench her need.

“Yeah,” she said, panting slightly. She lowered the bottle and screwed the cap back on. “Wow, I really needed that. Thanks.”

“Welcome.” He rubbed his face vigorously with both hands and let out a deep sigh.

She put the bottle back in the cup holder then reached behind her for the seatbelt. “How did the interviews go?” she asked as she settled into the seat.

“Fruitless. No one heard or saw anything.” He reached for his own seatbelt and fastened it. “We did eliminate them all as possible victims though. None of them could have been hung from that location.”

“So you’re ruling out crime of opportunity?”

“I think it took planning. To set up the rope, and select the right victim.”

“What about the phone?”

“Still waiting on the info from incoming and outgoing calls.” Mulder looked over at her. “Find anything in the autopsy?”

“Confirmed time of death to be about half one.” She looked out the front window and let out a deep breath. “He put up a fight. He had bruises on his arms, defensive slashes containing shards of glass. His hyroid bone was snapped, indicating a particularly violent strangulation.”

Mulder hummed with acknowledgement. He rested his elbow on the window sill of his door and pinched his lower lip in thought as he took in that information. When she took a breath and slowly released it, he turned to face her.

“Hey,” he said softly and waited for her to turn to him. When she did, she rolled her head along the rest and looked at him but her eyes remained just a touch lower than his. “I’m sorry,” he said plainly.

Her eyes flicked up to his but quickly went back to his cheek.

“I realise now I put you in an awkward situation,” he continued. “I honestly didn't think it would turn out that way. I thought… I thought...” His voice faded away and he waited a moment for her to react but she was still and quiet. “I would never want to compromise you professionally, or...or in any way.”

“It's fine, Mulder.”

“No, Scully…” he reached over for one of her hands and took it onto his lap between both of his. “I’m truly sorry.”

She nodded her head and looked down to where he held her hand. “We’re fine, Mulder.” She squeezed his hand and finally looked up to his eyes and saw them fill with relief.

The moment was shattered by his phone ringing and he almost wanted to ignore it and bask in her focus for a while longer. She smiled and squeezed his hand before she took hers back and freed up both of his to grab his phone.

“Mulder,” he said curtly, his eyes still on her. “Yeah...what?” He moved his phone to the other ear and reached for the keys to start the car. “Okay, we’ll be right there.”

Mulder gunned the engine as he shoved the phone into his breast pocket. “That was...Eric, he said they just got the phone records, and the last three incoming calls all came from within the same house.”

“What?”

“The last call started at 1.15 and ended at 1.25.”

 


 

Vista Motel

 

“I don't understand it, Mulder,” she said as she pushed open her door and walked into her room. She kicked off her shoes before she made it to the bed and sat down with a sigh. “It has to be a clerical error.”

“The report was run multiple times, the calls originated from inside the house.” He followed her into the room and sat next to her but flopped back onto the mattress whereas she lifted one foot up to her knee and started to rub and ease some of the tension out. “There were multiple phone lines in the house, so it's not totally impossible.”

“But the report said the calls came from the same line, not different lines.”

Mulder sat up and leaned back on his hands and watched as she gave her foot a massage. “All phone lines have the same entry point into the house. It's conceivable-”

“Conceivable?” She questioned and glanced at him sideways as her hand worked the ball of her foot more vigorously.

“That the call was rerouted through another line,” Mulder said, ignoring her soft jibe. “Or, that the caller simply was in the house.”

“And went unseen?”

“Yeah, the three students that were home all said they were in their rooms from about eleven, here, let me,” he sat forward and brushed her hands away from her foot as he took her foot off her knee, pulled it onto his lap and started to rub her foot. “And they didn't come out of their rooms until the other roommate found the body.”

Scully looked at his hands on her foot and watched how his thumbs worked the tight knot under her toes. She tried not to sigh partially in fear that it would come out like a moan, and also not wanting to distract him and make him stop.

“The victim was at the event with the rest of the frat,” he said as his fingers moved down towards her heel. “He left shortly after midnight. It was a fifteen minute walk home. There is a period of time between getting home, and being found that are unaccounted for.”

“He was still wearing the same clothes so he hadn't changed for bed,” she said and bit her lip as his thumbs dug into her arch.

“So he was home for a little over an hour and hadn't changed his clothing.” He placed her foot higher on his lap and gestured at her other leg for her to lift her other foot onto his lap. “One of the students apparently cleaned the kitchen up after dinner that evening and nothing had been moved.”

He tapped her knee with the back of his fingers and made the gesture again. Slowly she lifted her leg and he took it onto his lap too. He started to rub her other foot, small tight circles on the ball of her foot, down to her arches, along the outside of her foot and her heel as he spoke. “There was no sign of forced entry, no one heard or saw anything.” He didn't mean to take over this foot rub, but he was watching her fingers work through the soreness on her feet and knew he would be able to offer her way more comfort and then once he got started he wanted to do a thorough job.

“They didn't even hear when the victim came home, so that doesn't mean that the killer didn't get into the house,” Scully said and cursed how her voice sounded like she was slightly out of breath. She couldn't take her eyes off his hands and how they moved on her feet. His darker skin against her pale. His long fingers engulfed her foot almost completely.

“Or he was already in there when the victim came home,” Mulder said then his hands froze on her feet and he tightened his grip. “Or he came home with the victim.”

“From the event?”

“Was there any sign of sexual activity during the autopsy?” he asked as one of his hands moved up to her ankle.

“The CSI team reported there were traces of pre-seminal fluid in his underwear but it's not clear if that was when he was home, or if it occurred during the event.”

“Wasn't the event a computer LAN party?” he asked as two of his fingers tapped out a rhythmless beat against her ankle bone and she couldn't concentrate.

“Yeah, some video game thing,” she managed to say.

“Unlikely then that he was sporting wood at that event, unless…” Mulder chuckled and shook his head.

“What?”

“Well if they were playing a tournament, and he was kicked out early, then he might have kept busy while he waited for a reset.”

Scully rolled her eyes and leaned back on her hands as he settled her feet on his lap more comfortably and continued to rub them, though his ministrations were softer now, almost caressing.

“The call came from inside the house,” she muttered and tried to focus on anything other than the warm tingling sensations she felt every time his fingers moved against her skin. “That story involved an escaped mental patient stalking a babysitter.”

“In most cases yes, other times a drifter.”

“Other than the call seemingly originating from inside the house, other elements of the story do not add up.”

“It's the same as the kid hanging in the park.” He said and he turned a little on the end of the bed to face her a little more but kept a secure hold on her feet and continued to rub them, though almost mindlessly. “He was hanging from the tree, but we never found a car with a hook in the handle.”

“And Bloody Mary...well…” Scully smiled. “She just doesn't exist, so there’s that.”

Mulder chuckled and tugged on one of her big toes at her comment then fell back against her mattress with a groan as he flung his arms over his head. “What are we doing here?”

She immediately missed the warmth of his hand on her feet but took the opportunity to extract them from his lap. She got off the bed and padded over to the mini fridge where she got a bottle of water and poured them each a drink.

“We’re investigating a series of unexplained deaths.” She handed him a glass of water, he took it and held it on his chest but didn't sit up or take a drink. “So far we have 4 possible deaths, 2 of which are suicides.”

“Suicides?” He lifted his head and arched an eyebrow at her.

“We haven't seen anything in those incidents to negate the original assessment of suicide.” She crossed the room to put some distance between them and leaned against the small desk by the door.

“Scully!” Mulder sat up and some of the water sloshed over the rim of the glass onto his lap. “Shit,” he cursed softly and rubbed at the wet patch the water left on his trousers. “I know you don't believe those girls committed suicide.”

“I believe-”

“And I know you believe-”

“Mulder-”

“C’mon Scully,” he stood up and walked over to where she was leaning against the desk. He put the water on the desk behind her and placed his hands on his hips. “I get it, it's a weak connection but you can't honestly believe those girls committed suicide.”

“All evidence points to suicide.”

“What about the dopamine?”

“That is as of yet unexplained,” she admitted.

“Did you get the results from the victim in the park?”

“Not yet.”

Mulder nodded then stepped back, pulled at his trousers and brushed his hands on the damp spot. He reached for his belt buckle and started to open it. Scully’s eyes widened as the thick leather came out of the metal clasp and he reached for the button on his trousers.

“Hungry?” She said suddenly and moved away to reach for the menus draped over the counter by the TV.

“Yeah, ladies choice, I’m gonna grab a shower,” He said as he walked towards the adjoining door. “God dammit,” she heard him mutter as he pulled at his pants again.

“Jeez…” she rifled through the menus not really seeing the choices and just grabbed one at random. “Sure, Greek.”

By the time Mulder came back she had ordered food and showered herself. It was getting late so she had just changed into a pair of running shorts and a tank top and was sitting at the desk typing on her laptop. He wore a pair of sweats and a tee and rubbed a towel vigorously over his head.

“Scully,” he said, a wistful tone in his voice that she recognized as preceding a rogue thought that usually involved one of them being injured, stranded or both. “Come into the bathroom with me to do Bloody Mary.”

“What?” She looked up at him with a look of askance on her face.

“C’mon.” He slung the towel over his shoulder, and gestured for her to follow him into the bathroom.

“Mulder-”

“C’mon Scully,” he said and waved his arm for her to follow.

With an exasperated sigh she pushed out of her chair and crossed the room. He stood in front of her sink and stared at his reflection. She came into the room and he reached behind her to close the door. He tugged her arm to make her stand beside him so they both faced the mirror.

“We look like a modern American Gothic painting,” she said with a half smile.

Mulder looked at her reflection and smiled then reached down and took her hand in his.

“How do we do this?” he asked, his voice diluted with excitement.

“We have to say it three times,” she said, suddenly struggling to keep her breathing steady, even, calm.

“Eyes open?”

She nodded.

“Ready?”

She nodded again.

He squeezed her hand and watched her in the mirror as they both chanted the name. Scully felt her pulse quicken. The hair on the back of her neck stood up and she felt goosebumps on her arms raise as they chanted it a third time. She heard Mulder hold his breath and felt him squeeze her hand.

They both stood stock still in the bathroom waiting for what she didn't know, until she couldn't hold it in anymore and laughed.

“Scully!” he chastised. “You’re breaking the spell.”

“Mulder, nothing is going to happen.”

“Wait, let's try it with the lights off.”

He reached behind her and flicked the switch which plunged them into pure darkness. She felt a shiver up her spine and couldn't prevent it from making her arms and torso shudder.

“Cold?” Mulder asked her though he was a disembodied voice in this darkness. “Or was that the spirit of Bloody Mary!” he said and squeezed her shoulders making her scrunch her shoulder up with a squeal.

“Mulder!”

“Right, this time, Scully, close your eyes...and open them only after the third chant.”

“Fine.”

Mulder's hand moved down her arm and took her hand in his again, this time interlocking their fingers as they started to chant Bloody Mary again. As they said her name for the third time, Mulder lifted her hand and held it against his chest. She could feel his heart hammering in his chest and it made her smile. She opened her eyes but couldn't see anything still.

“Mulder?” she whispered.

“Yeah?” he replied, whispering too.

“It didn't work.”

“No.”

They stood in the bathroom in silence for a moment more, then he let out a long breath that she thought sounded disappointed.

“Maybe we need to do it on halloween.”

“I’ll hold you to that.”

He squeezed her hand and she knew he was smiling. She almost loathed to reach out to turn on the light but as he started to lower her hand she moved towards the door to turn it on when there was a loud knock on the room door. Scully startled and lept back. Mulder gripped her arms and held her against him. Both of them were panting. She could feel her heart desperate to escape the confines of her ribs, or was it his hammering against her back she couldn't tell.

“Jesus christ!” Mulder cursed through gritted teeth as his fingers dug into her arms.

“It's just the food delivery,” she whispered and her voice alone seemed to calm him enough to loosen his grip.

He chuffed a sharp laugh and dropped his forehead to the crown of her head. “Unless Bloody Mary is too polite to appear, and now knocks.”

Scully moved her elbow back to gently connect with his side before she reached for the bathroom door and opened it. Mulder kept his hands on her arms until she stepped out of his reach then let them fall to his sides and slap his thighs. He took a few steadying breaths then followed her out into the bedroom. He sat on the end of the bed and fell back onto the mattress, a soft laugh still on his breath. He didn't honestly think it was going to be Bloody Mary, but when that knock sounded his heart dropped and nearly exploded through his chest.

“Scully, we need to try that again. There are so many factors to take into account. Candle lit room, halloween, full moon. Each of these elements…” Mulder’s voice faded away as he realised she was taking longer than expected to collect food from the door.

He looked over and saw her standing by the door, her arms folded across her chest. The door slowly moved open and he saw Eric standing on the other side staring at him.

Mulder sat up abruptly. Then stood off her bed. Scully looked over her shoulder at him and he couldn't even begin to understand the look she was giving him. He had been so far off the mark last time he left them alone but didn't think hanging around this time was the right thing to do.

“I’ll, um…” he jerked his thumb over his shoulder at the open adjoining door.

Scully watched him walk towards his room but he turned back to look at her before he walked through. With a slight nod of his head he asked her if she was ok. She nodded back and offered him a tight smile. He pulled the door over as he stepped into his room, but left it ajar.

“Eric...what are you doing here?”

“I wanted to talk to you.” He looked over his shoulder again at the spot on her bed where Mulder had been lying. “Did I interrupt something?”

“We were working.” He arched an eyebrow but Scully didn't take the bait. “What can I help you with?”

“Dana, it appears I have overstepped my placement.” Eric's features softened. “I may have come on too strong.”

“It's fine, but I’m working. I’m going back to DC in a few days.” She looked down at her feet and took a breath then looked back up at him. “Regardless, I’m not interested.”

“In me, or in anyone?” he said and she didn't miss how his eyes flicked over to the door Mulder just walked through.

“Does it matter?”

“Dana…” he reached out and put a hand on her arm, but all it did was make her think of when Mulder held her there mere moments ago. “When I mentioned my cancer, you...reacted. Are you a survivor?”

“That's frankly none of your business.” She brushed his hand off her arm.

“Dana-”

“Eric, please.” She frowned and shook her head. “I’m really not interested in seeing you in any way other than professionally. I’m certainly not interested in discussing my health. I’m focused on working this case, and getting back to DC without anyone else dying.”

Eric leaned against the door frame. “You’re incredibly strong,” he whispered. “You don't have to be.”

“Thanks. I’ll keep that in mind.”

Behind Eric a kid climbed off a moped with a large delivery bag and looked around before he approached her door.

“Delivery for Dana Scully?”

“That's me,” she said. She reached over to the desk and grabbed her wallet from her bag to get some money. She handed the cash over, took the bag and grabbed the door to close it.

“Dana,” Eric said, one hand on the door to stop her from closing it. “Can we talk about it?”

“There is nothing to talk about. You can call me or Agent Mulder if there is any progress on the case.”

“Dana-”

“Good night Chief Watson.” She looked at his hand on the door until he moved it then she closed the door and locked it.

Scully placed the bag of food onto the table and took a moment to calm her nerves then picked up the bag and went towards Mulder's room. She knocked lightly on the door and pushed it open. Mulder was sprawled on the bed, one hand tucked behind his head, the other resting on his stomach, idly scratching the hairs that disappeared under his sweats. He was watching a ballgame on the TV but it was muted and for a second she wondered what he heard of her conversation with Eric.

“Hey,” she said and lifted the bag of food.

“Oh, hi.” he shot up and moved over on the bed to make room for her. He dragged himself up the mattress and rested back against the headboard.

“Hungry?” she asked as she climbed onto the bed next to him and mirrored his pose.

“Starved.” He smiled and eyed up the bag on her lap. “What have you got?”

“Greek. Souvlaki.”

“Oh, exotic,” Mulder teased as she unrolled the bag and handed him one wrapped package.

“It might have been a panic order.”

“A panic order?” Mulder peeled back the corner of his food and took a big bite. “Why?”

“Weariness. I didn't want to spend time trawling over all the menus, so I just grabbed one.”

“Well, we’re in luck…” He said around another bite. “This is amazing.”

“It's meat, bread, sauce, of course you love it.”

Mulder grinned and nudged her with his elbow. He turned to face the TV and tried to swallow the questions wrestling around his brain along with the lightly spiced chicken and vegetables in his mouth. He heard parts of her conversation with Eric but not enough to fully understand what had happened.

They finished their food and Scully wrapped up the trash. She placed the bag over by the door then to his surprise came back to his bed and sat down again. He swallowed around a lump in his throat and decided to barrel ahead with the questions he didn't manage to swallow.

“Are you ok?” he asked after another moment of silence passed. He didn't look up at her, or move to touch her though he wanted to place a hand on her shoulder, her hand, her leg, anything to let her know he was there.

Scully took a breath. “I’m fine. I’m a bit pissed off, but I’m fine.”

“What happened?” he asked, throwing caution into the wind.

“He is persistent, that's all,” she said with a shrug.

“What happened at the diner?” he clarified.

Scully glanced over at him. “You mean when you ditched me?” He looked chastised again but she half smiled. “Nothing really happened. I wasn't expecting him to corner me like that, or you to encourage him.” She nudged him with her elbow. “He kind of blindsided me.” Then she added when she saw a strange look on his face “with his words, what he was saying.” She looked at her hands on her lap. “I just wasn't expecting it, I wasn't prepared for it.”

“What did he say?” God he wanted to staple his mouth shut, stop himself from asking questions but he couldn't help himself.

“He just said he shifted his life priorities, and wasn't afraid any more to...to make connections with people...since his cancer went into remission.”

“Oh...Scully.” He couldn't restrain it anymore, he reached over and covered her hand in his.

“It's fine, I’m fine.” She said, though her voice was a little higher than normal. She took her hand out of his grasp and moved two fingers to press into one side of the bridge of her nose, a spot Mulder hadn't seen her touch like that in quite some time. “I just wasn't expecting it.”

He reached up to take her fingers in his hand and squeezed them.

“I told him I wasn't interested in anything, I was only interested in a professional relationship.” She ducked her head and shook it. “He thought I was being coy, or whatever.”

Mulder sensed he was in danger of overstepping or taking the brunt of her ire if he misspoke so he went against his instinct and said nothing.

“Anyway, it's done now. I’m pretty sure he got the message.”

A silence fell over them but this time Mulder sensed it wasn't as heavy as it had been before. He let them both bask in it for a few moments before he said anything to break it. Then after a while he took a breath and slowly released it.

“I was thinking…” he said and she glanced over at him. He gave her fingers a squeeze then climbed off the bed and walked over to the desk where he had some notes spread out. “The two girls that tried to summon Bloody Mary, died exactly 24 hours after the fact.”

Scully smiled. She recognised what he was doing and she was grateful. She looked at her watch.

“So you’re saying by eight forty two tomorrow night...we’ll be dead?”

Mulder looked over his shoulder, lifted the report and came over to sit on the side of the bed and show her. “According to the report, out of the nine girls at the party, five of them performed the summons.”

“Summons?”

“You prefer séance?” he said with a shrug. She smiled. “So why did only these two girls apparently kill themselves?”

“We’ve already discussed the external pressures both of those girls were suffering from. It's not outside the realms of possibility-”

“That perhaps the other girls were also affected but it manifested in other ways?”

“That's not what I was going to say.”

“But it's worth looking into isn't it?”

She nodded.

He looked down at his notes again and tapped a page. “I have their class schedule here, I think in the morning we should go meet with the others.”

“Okay, I should have results from the lab by lunch time, on dopamine levels and other toxins from the nasal cavity.”

Unconsciously, Mulder scratched his nose with the heel of his hand and she chuckled.

“I’m going to bed.” She slapped her thighs and stood off the bed. “G’night Mulder.”

“Hey Scully,” he said with a crooked smile and she turned to face him one hand on the door jamb. “What if this is our last night on earth?”

“Then I better go call Eric and see if he’ll come back,” she said and wagged her eyebrows once before she stepped through the door with a laugh.

“Not funny!” he yelled after her but it just made her laugh more and he couldn't help but smile. It was good to hear her laugh again.

Chapter Text

University of Arizona

 

Mulder fixed his tie as he followed Scully through the dorm corridor to the room at the end of the hall. It wasn't his first time in a female dorm, but it had certainly been more than a decade. And he didn't remember the female student population looking at him then, the way some of them looked at him now. Scully stopped in front of the room they were looking for and he careened into the back of her. He put a hand on each of her shoulders as he righted himself.

“Sorry,” he muttered and he reached up to fix his tie again.

“Are you ok?” she asked and cast him a sideways glance.

“Yeah, sorry.”

Scully knocked lightly on the door and looked at him sideways as he kept his eyes downcast. When no one responded, she knocked again and checked her watch. It was quarter to nine. Eloise Durham had a class at nine thirty and they were hoping to catch her before she left her dorm.

“Looks like she’s not here.”

“Maybe she left for class early, or went to the library?” Mulder offered but even as he spoke he lifted a fist and knocked harder on the door.

Across the hall another dorm room opened and a rumpled looking student stuck her head out. “Hey, what's with all the noise?” She said, her voice hoarse, eyes squinted against the bright lights in the hallway.

“We’re with the FBI,” Mulder said and flashed his badge. “We’re looking for Eloise Durham.”

“Eloise? She’s got class at half past. She should be in her room.”

“You know her schedule?”

“I’m the RA,” the student said and tapped the small sign on her door. “I know all the girls' schedules on this floor.”

“We tried knocking, can you let us into her room?” Scully asked.

“Um, I dunno,” she looked unsure and glanced up and down the halls. “Don't you need a warrant or something?”

“Not if you let us in,” Mulder said and he smiled. “We don't want to search her room, we just wanted to check and be sure she’s ok.”

The RA leaned back from the door, seemed to size them up for a moment then nodded her head. “One sec.”

She disappeared into her room and Mulder looked at Scully with a triumphant smile. When the RA reappeared she had pulled on a university sweater and tied her hair back into a ponytail. She had a large bundle of keys and crossed the corridor as she shuffled through them to find the right one.

She opened the lock but Scully put a hand on her arm to stop her from opening the door. “We’ll take it from here,” She muttered as she moved the RA aside and took her gun out from her holster. Mulder did the same and took up position on the other side of the door. Scully knocked on the door once more and called out “FBI, we’re coming in.” Mulder pushed the handle down and opened the door swiftly as Scully stepped in and he covered her.

“Oh my god…” Scully uttered and she bent her arms to point her gun to the ceiling. Mulder, a step behind her, did the same when he saw what was before them. The RA who leaned in from the corridor screamed.

A female body was sprawled naked across the bed, blood pooled around the top of the mattress and soaked through her pillow from her slashed throat. Across the wall over the bed, painted in her blood, was the phrase Aren’t you glad you didn't turn on the light?

Mulder looked around the room. It was a shared room, the other bed looked unused or recently made. The posters on the wall, notes and books on the desk, blue hoodie on the end of the bed, indicated there was another student living on that side of the room.

He pulled his phone out of his pocket to call in a crime scene as Scully walked out of the room and spoke with the RA.

“I need the name of the other student who lives in that room,” she asked the girl who was still reeling from the sight in the dorm room.

“What happened?” the RA cried. Scully took her arms and led her back into her own room.

“I need you to calm down, get the name of the student that lives in that room too. We need to be sure she is ok.” Scully spoke slowly, calmly, maintaining a sense of composure. The RA seemed to respond to her voice and soon was taking big gulping breaths in an attempt to calm down.

“Maria, Maria Carson lives here with Eloise.” The RA took a few more deep breaths. “She has an early morning computer lab session on Thursdays, she would have been out of the room before six this morning.”

“Did you see her last night?”

The RA shook her head. “Not really, I saw her go into her room at about seven, but we had a mixer in the rec room and she didn't show up.”

“How many people were at the mixer?”

“Most of the people from the floor were there… about fifteen?”

“Was Eloise there?” The RA shook her head.

“She was there for a while, she went back to her room at about eleven.”

“Was Maria at the mixer?”

“No, she never came to those things. She was incredibly studious. College classes, library. Faculty meetings and studying in her room, that was all she ever did.”

“Was there anyone at the mixer that wasn't from the floor?”

The RA tried to think but seemed to be struggling to focus. “No, I don't think so.”

Scully nodded. She could see the RA starting to crumble again and took a step back. “Can you contact the faculty advisor for this dorm? Tell them to come down here asap.”

The RA nodded and turned to reach for the phone. Scully left the room and returned to where Mulder was crouched beside the victims bed. He looked up as approached and shook his head.

“Mulder, the roommate,” she said and he stood up to turn to her. “It's Maria Carson.”

“Michael Thorn’s lab partner?”

Scully nodded and she picked her phone out of her pocket. She dialled the university security number and awaited someone to pick up. “This is Special Agent Dana Scully with the FBI, I need an officer to go to pick up a student.”

Mulder walked over to a wall where there was a collection of polaroid pictures pinned to a corkboard. It was clear both roommates were friends, based on the pictures of them hugging, smiling, and dancing in various places around campus, though none of them were recent pics, maybe from the first semester.

He wandered over to the other side of the room and noticed Maria’s books were neatly stacked. A collection of computer language manuals, medical textbooks, latin translations and a book on myths and legends. Her notes were colour coded, her bed made neatly, precisely, compared to the other desk which was piled haphazardly with books, notes, loose pages. Notes scrawled every which way in pen, pencil and marker but with no obvious pattern of study.

When Scully hung up the phone he walked over to the body again and crouched next to the head. “There are no footprints or interruption of the blood splatter.” He stood up and pointed at the writing on the wall. “This looks like it was smeared with gloved fingers.”

“We definitely have a positive ID on the victim?”

“Based on the photos on the wall over there,” he said and indicated a collection of polaroid pictures some of them labelled with names.

Scully put on a pair of gloves and leaned over the body. “Cause of death is obvious, but time of death looks to be approximately midnight.” She stepped back and peeled off her gloves. “The RA said Eloise came back to the room at about eleven, and Maria left at six this morning for a computer lab.”

“Let’s hope the security finds her in the lab.”

“Check it out,” Scully said as she moved a few tendrils of hair aside that were caked with blood and plastered across the pillow where she saw a cracked hand mirror under the victim's head.

“Why would she have a mirror in bed?” Mulder asked as he leaned over Scully to get a look.

“Maybe she was doing her makeup?”

“Unlikely.” Mulder hummed a tone of frustration as he backed away and tried to look at the room from another angle.

Scully nodded and looked around the room. Mulder coughed slightly, as if he was having trouble with the next thing he wanted to say.

“Spit it out, Mulder.” She crouched by the door to examine the lock.

“I called Eric.”

“Good,” Scully responded without looking up. “It doesn't look like there was any forced entry.” She crossed the room to the only window. It was closed and locked from the inside with no sign of forced entry. “Or here.”

“So whoever it was, knew one of the girls.”

“The RA said the only people at the mixer were students from this floor.”

“We’ll need to question them all.”

Scully nodded. “I asked the RA to contact the faculty lead.”

“We finally have a tangible connection between these events.” Mulder put his hands on his hips and looked around the room. “Eloise was one of the girls at the party with the two girls who seemingly committed suicide. Maria was the lab partner of Michael Thorn who was found hanging in the park.”

“Full circle back to Maria Carson.”

“We should look for a connection with the student hanging in the fraternity,” he muttered, almost to himself. “We really need to talk to Maria again,” Mulder said as he stepped out of the room. Scully followed and closed the door behind her.

 


 

Tucson City Morgue

 

Mulder pushed through the heavy door and held it open as Eric walked in behind him. They both approached the autopsy table where Eloise was covered with a large sheet. There was no sign of Scully though Mulder spotted her glasses on the counter next to a clipboard.

“Looks like she’s finished. She might be changing,” he said and he indicated the changing rooms across the room. “I’ll just let her know we’re here.”

Eric nodded, and turned to lean against the counter as he reviewed the notes on the clipboard. Mulder went towards the changing rooms, mainly to let her know they were both there, he didn't want her to walk into the morgue and be ambushed by Eric again. He walked into the changing rooms in time to see Scully reach into the locker.

“Oh,” he said feebly when he saw she wore only her slacks and a bra and was reaching into her locker for her shirt. He shielded his eyes from seeing too much as he walked further into the room. “Sorry.”

He heard her chuckle and the rustle of her clothes as she kept dressing. “Are you all done?” he asked after a moment.

“Apart from dressing, yes.” She finished buttoning up the shirt and tucked it into her slacks before she fixed the fastener there too. “I’m decent Mulder, you can look.”

“Sorry,” he said with a slight blush as he removed his hand from his eyes.

“Maybe next time don't come into the ladies room.”

“We finished the interviews at the dorm.”

“We?”

“Myself and uh, Chief Watson...he’s outside now,” he said and pointed over his shoulder with his thumb. “No one saw anything suspicious, everyone seemed to recognise everyone else at the mixer. No one saw Maria and the time span the RA gave us for Eloise matched other witnesses' recollection.”

“Did you get to talk to Maria?”

“No, I was waiting for you, she seemed to relate to you better when we spoke to her last time.”

Scully hummed in agreement though had no doubt he could interview her successfully if he needed to.

“Did you get the results from the other autopsies?” he asked as he fiddled with the waist tie of her scrubs that were draped over her locked door.

“Yeah, as expected, there were elevated dopamine levels in their system, but the nasal cavities tested negative for any substance.”

“Do you think dopamine has something to do with what's happening here?”

“I’m...not sure,” she admitted as she took her shoes from the locker and slipped them on, standing up four inches higher than before making Mulder smile. “It's an oddity. I’ve sent the results to an endocrinologist at Johns Hopkins, and also asked a neurologist to review them.”

“Anything in this autopsy?”

“Nothing, clean thin blade, approximately eight inches long, swiped right to left across her throat. No other marks or contusions on her body. She was likely asleep when killed and didn't know what happened.”

“Small mercies,” Mulder muttered and he scuffed his toe off the bottom of her locker.

“It's worth noting though that she bled out quickly, I believe we will find anticoagulants in her system. We need to determine if they were prescribed or added for a purpose.”

“Why would a young girl be taking prescribed anticoagulants?”

“There are a number of reasons, she could have a blood condition, lupus, DVT. We would need to review her medical records.” Mulder nodded. “I’ve already placed a call for them to be sent over.”

“Good. Are you ready?” he nodded his head towards the exit. “We should go talk to Maria again.”

“Where is she?” Scully took her gun and holster out of the locker and clipped them into place, then slipped on her blazer and checked her badge.

“She’s being monitored at the campus security office.”

“Let’s go.”

They both walked out of the changing room and Mulder was almost surprised to see Eric still standing there. He had forgotten he was waiting and tried his hardest not to change his demeanor when all he wanted to do was put his arm around Scully and shield her from whatever may be about to transpire.

“Hey,” Eric said as they came through the door. He pushed away from the counter and slipped his hands into his pockets. “How did the autopsy go?” He nodded at the covered body on the table.

“Samples are ready to be sent off, and I’ve sent previous samples to Johns Hopkins to some colleagues there too.”

“Great. Progress is going slowly,” he said.

Mulder nodded. “We’re about to interview Maria Carson again. She seems to be connected to multiple incidents.”

“Do you need to take her to the precinct?”

“No,” Mulder waved his hand. “I think it's best if we keep her out of the police station for a while longer, and see if we can get her talking. She might not know what she knows.”

Eric frowned. He glanced at Scully who nodded at what Mulder said.

“Okay, we have the witness reports from the university this morning. We’ll get them all collated and shared out as soon as possible.”

“That would be very helpful,” she said and smiled. “We better get going.”

Mulder took the keys out of his pocket as if it was an obvious trigger. “We’ll check in after the interview.”

“Thanks,” Eric said and moved aside as they brushed past him.

 


 

University of Tucson

 

The interview space was in a small break room. One wall was lined with food and drink vending machines. The other had a sink, microwave, and counter space. The walls were painted a faded mint green which clashed with the faux wood linoleum on the floor. The window was graded with a metal mesh and let in little light or air.

“Maria, hello again,” Scully said with a warm smile.

Maria looked up. She had been crying. Her eyes were red and swollen, her cheeks stained from fallen tears, her lips still wobbling as she tried to regain control of everything rampaging through her.

“How are you? Did you get a drink? Something to eat?”

“No, I’m ok,” she said. “Do you know what happened to Eloise?”

“We’re looking into that now.” Mulder spoke softly. He sat on the chair across from her and shifted back to make sure she had all the space she needed.

Scully sat closer, and placed both hands flat on the table. “Can you tell me about last night?”

Maria shook her head and fresh tears started to fall. “I was in my room for most of the night. I have a lot of make-up work to submit after what happened to Michael, and our project is pretty much getting scrapped.”

“Did you leave your room at any time?”

She nodded. “I got an email from the library, a book I’ve been waiting to check out came back in, so I went to collect it.”

“What time was that?”

“About half ten.”

“At night?” Mulder asked. “Is the library open all night?”

“Yeah, it's 24hours, especially busy this time of year with finals coming up.”

“So you left for the library at half ten.”

Maria nodded. “I took my bike, it's only ten minutes away.”

“When did you get back?”

“About half past eleven.”

“It took an hour to pick up the book?”

“No, they didn't have it. There was some computer error. It took the librarian a while to figure out what happened.”

Mulder and Scully exchanged glances. “So what happened when you got back to the dorm?”

“Well I got back to the dorm and found the ribbon on the door,” Maria said.

“Ribbon?”

“It was a signal we used to use when one of us was sleeping in the dorm.”

“With a partner?”

Maria shook her head. “No, just sleeping. There is a strict rule about having males in the dorm.” Maria rubbed her eyes. “We used the ribbon to let the other know to be quiet, not turn on the lights...oh my god,” she said, fresh sobs wracking her chest.

“Walk me through it,” Scully said, her voice calm, serene but strong. “You got back from the library...and saw the ribbon on the door.”

“So I knew she was sleeping. She had a morning class…” Maria took a few steadying breaths and covered her face with both hands. “I opened the door, I went to my bed, I undressed and climbed in. I went to sleep.” She moved her hands from her face. “I got up this morning at 5, and went to the showers then straight to my lab.”

“It was still dark?”

Maria nodded. “I didn't go back to the room. I left my shower caddy in the bathroom, I usually do anyway, it's way more efficient, and if anyone wants to steal my cheap gel then I don't care.”

“When was the last time you saw Eloise?”

“Around dinner time, before she left for the mixer in the rec room.”

“Did she have a boyfriend? Or mention anyone following her, bugging her?”

“No,” Maria shook her head vigorously. “She never did, she had a boyfriend at home…” Suddenly she covered her face again. “Oh my god, someone needs to call him!”

“Do you have a name?”

“Jason...Fulridge or Fulrig or something.” She shook her head. “He goes to USC.”

“We can find him, let him know,” Mulder said with a glance at Scully who nodded slightly and he knew she was on the same wavelength as him. This boyfriend moved near the top of the “People of Interest” list.

“Maria…” Scully began and Mulder knew she was about to take a difficult angle of questioning. “When you went back to the room after the library, did you hear anything?”

Maria closed her eyes and took a few steadying breaths. “I could tell she was asleep.”

“How?”

“I could hear her breathing, snoring. I wondered if she had a cold or something, her breathing seemed...laboured.” Maria scrunched her eyes closed. “I remember thinking she must have been drinking at the mixer, there was a smell of...whiskey or bourbon in the room. It wasn't super strong but I could smell it.”

“Anything else?”

“I got into bed and fell asleep pretty quickly...that's all I remember.”

“This morning, when you got up to leave...do you remember anything then?”

Maria opened her eyes, and shook her head. “No, I have a routine, I have my morning timed perfectly. It takes me eleven minutes from getting out of bed to leaving the building.”

Mulder tilted his head and frowned. “That's very specific.”

“I have several labs and classes that start very early. I like to sleep as long as I can.”

“Maria, the library email that said your book was ready, can you send that to me?” Mulder asked and he took a business card out of his pocket and slid it across the table at her.

“Yeah, sure, but the librarian said it was a mistake. Looks like it was triggered by a different book when they scanned it back into the system.”

“That's ok, if you could send it along, that would be really helpful.”

She nodded with a slight frown then looked up at him. “Are you going to trace it? The IP address would be part of the email configuration, if you look through traceroute command you can track the packets which will-”

“We just want to check the email against the library system,” Mulder said with a frown. As a computer science student he should have known she would guess why he wanted the email. He was hoping the Lone gunmen would be able to trace it specific to the source and not just the library.

“Right yeah...you probably have analysts for that kind of thing,” she said as a slight blush coloured her cheeks. “Sorry, I get a bit carried away with that stuff.”

“That's ok,” Mulder said with a smile.

“Did Eloise have any run-ins with anyone on campus?”

Maria shook her head. “No, not that I know of.” She frowned then and sat up. “She did go to that sorority party...she was thinking about pledging and in the end decided not to.”

“Do you know why?”

“I’m not sure...I think maybe after what happened to those two other girls…” her voice faded away.

“Go on,” Scully urged.

“I think maybe she thought it was just too much added pressure to always be a perfect sorority sister. Maybe that's why those two other girls killed themselves.”

Scully frowned and glanced at Mulder who sat back in his chair to give her the floor.

“Did she say something about those incidents?”

“Not really,” Maria said and looked down at her lap where her fingers were connected. “She said that it was a silly thing to lose your life over, that's all.”

“What do you think she meant by that?”

“Like a sorority would change your life, improve your grade, help you get laid.” Maria rolled her eyes and huffed a breath through her nose with derision. “Then they played that bloody mary game and I knew it was a waste of time.”

“You did?”

“I mean Eloise did.” Maria glanced up between them both and quickly looked down to her hands again. “She decided it wasn't for her,” she finished with a shrug.

Mulder watched her carefully and realised the fresh tears that were starting to fall now were coming as if on cue. He sat forward enough to brush his elbow against Scully’s.

“Maria, did you think about pledging?” he asked with a soft voice.

“Me?” She laughed. “No, god no. They’re not too fond of computer science girls in that sorority.”

“Oh?”

“Also I’m not into self humiliation and girl bonding or sisters for life and all that crap.”

“Right. Was Michael in a fraternity?”

“Michael didn't have time for a fraternity.” She rolled her eyes again. “He didn't have time for anything other than the project we were working on, and now that is gone to shit too.”

Mulder nodded his head slowly. “Did you go to the party that night?”

“Party? No.” She shook her head and fixed her eyes on him. “I pretty much live in the computer labs. Or the library. If I’m not in one of those places, I’m in my dorm.”

“Do you know Oliver Diaz?” he asked and wondered how she would take the sudden change in topics.

Maria was shaking her head before he finished talking as if she knew what he was going to ask. “No, no I don't think so, though I do give grinds to some students for extra money.”

“Do you have a list of students you were mentoring?”

“Yeah I keep a file on my computer, to make sure I get paid for all the hours I do.”

“Can you send me that file?” Mulder asked and when she nodded he leaned back a little. “Ok, thanks for talking with us today Maria. We’ll get one of the campus guards to take you back to the dorm.”

She nodded and her eyes became full of tears again though Mulder was feeling less sympathetic now. He caught Scully’s eye and stood to leave. She followed silently and when they were outside Mulder instructed one campus guard to escort Maria back to the dorm, and spoke to the lead guard to set up a stakeout and monitor her movements.

“What are you thinking, Mulder?” Scully asked as they stepped outside and walked towards their car.

“I don't believe her.”

“That much I got.”

“I think she is lying about being at that party. I think she might have had something to do with what happened to the two girls. I think she might have had something to do with Michael in the park, and Eloise in her dorm.”

“How?”

“That...I don't know.” They reached the car and he opened her door for her. “We should talk to the other girls at that party and confirm if she was there, if something happened.”

 


 

Alpha Delta Pi Sorority house

 

Mulder parked the car on the curb and killed the engine. He looked over at Scully who was about to climb out of the car.

“Hey Scully, were you in a sorority in college?”

“Me? No.”

“Why not?”

“Pre med and med school does not lend itself to enough free time to join and engage with sororities.” She opened the door and put one foot out on the road. “Also I think Ahab would have killed me,” she added with a smile as she climbed out.

“Why?” Mulder said as he scrambled out of the car and caught up with her as she made her way up the meticulously mowed lawn.

“Melissa.” Scully spoke as if that was reason enough but when she looked up at Mulder's soft frown she continued. “She joined a sorority in college, then spent a year engaging with said sorority instead of her studies, then dropped out and travelled the world to find herself.”

Mulder chuckled. “And he blamed the sorority?”

“Well he factored it into the blame.” They reached the door and Scully knocked. “What about you?”

“No, there are no fraternities in Oxford. Not as we know it. There are other groups but they are invitation only, and they don't hand invites out to stray yanks from the colonies.”

Scully smiled and turned to the door as it opened. “Hello, I’m Special Agent Scully with the FBI,” she spoke curtly and showed her badge. “This is my partner Special Agent Mulder.”

“The FBI?”

“We’re investigating a couple of incidents around campus. Can we come in?” Scully said as she already started to step in the large ornate doorway.

The student who had opened the door stepped back and ushered them through a large foyer into the living room with multiple couches facing a massive marble fireplace, a grand piano sat snugly in a bay window, and one wall was completely lined, floor to ceiling, with books.

“What incidents are you talking about?” The student was petite with shoulder length brown hair. She wore a sweatshirt with the sorority logo emblazoned across the front and a pair of skimpy shorts. She had a book in one hand that Mulder recognized as Dune having read it multiple times in his youth. He was surprised to see this one was as dog eared and well worn as his own copy.

“There was an incident in Kingsley dorm last night.” Scully let her eyes wander around the room. “Are you the only person home right now?”

“No, some of the other sisters are upstairs in their rooms.”

“Can you collect everyone and bring them down here?”

The student nodded. She hurried back to the foyer and took the arching staircase to the upper floor. Mulder let out a low whistle as he wandered over to the piano and tinkled a couple of the keys.

“Wow, this place…” he looked around the room and waved a hand at the bookshelf. “I thought my college looked posh but damn, this place takes the cake.”

Scully chuckled. “What were you expecting? A hovel?”

“I mean, I watch the movies,” he said with a shrug.

“Animal house doesn't count,” she said as she examined the bookshelves more closely. It was an eclectic collection of books ranging from study text books to graphic novels. Every genre was represented, though some books looked new, and others well loved.

Mulder scoffed at her response and joined her at the bookshelves.

“Maria said they didn't like computer girls in this sorority, but there are a good few computer language books here,” Scully said and pointed out that section.

“And that student who answered the door was reading Dune.” He glanced at her. “Classic sci-fi novel,” he clarified unnecessarily.

“I know, I’ve read it,” she said with a chuckle as she stepped away from him to read more of the book's spines.

Mulder's response was cut off by the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs. They both turned to see the first student they met and four other girls come into the room. Scully smiled and stepped forward and Mulder stepped back.

“Hello, I’m Special Agent Scully with the FBI,” She showed them her badge again. “I’d like to ask you a few questions about an event you hosted on the 17th of last month.”

The girls all looked at each other, unsure of how to respond. Scully reached into her inside pocket and took out a polaroid she had taken from Eloise’s dorm room. “Do you know this girl?”

“That’s Eloise, Art Major.” one girl said. She had short blond wavy hair and exuded an air of confidence that Scully could tell she wasn't feeling. She had taken a step forward and the rest of the girls looked to her to respond.

“Was she at that event?”

The blonde girl nodded. “She joined us for dinner, and she hung around after for a while, but she left before midnight.”

“Do you know this girl?” Scully showed her another polaroid, this time of Maria.

The blonde girl nodded again. “That's Maria, Computer Major.”

“Was she at the event?”

The blonde made a face like Scully suggested the event was held on the moon. “Em, no. Definitely not.”

“Why definitely not?”

“First of all, it's invite only. It was a fun night to get to know potential pledges in an informal setting, to be sure they are a good fit for us, and we are a good fit for them.”

“Eloise was invited, but Maria was not?”

“Correct.” the blonde girl waved around the room. “We only have so much space where we can comfortably host our guests. Each sister is permitted to invite 2 potential pledges.”

“Did you see Maria that night?” Scully asked.

“No.” the blonde looked around at the group surrounding her and they all shook their heads. “None of us did.”

“Sierra Holte and Francis Bly were at the event?” Scully asked and she noticed the blonde girl flinch. Mulder stepped forward and stood next to her.

“Yes, they were,” the blonde said.

“Can you talk me through what happened that night?” Mulder asked and the blonde girl looked stricken for a moment.

“It was a dinner party, then we played some party games...you know like would you rather, twenty questions, those kinds of things.”

“Go on…” Mulder urged with a smile.

“We started playing truth or dare, it was all really harmless.” the blonde swallowed. “They both went into the bathroom together, turned off the lights, lit a candle and did bloody mary, you know?”

Mulder nodded.

“They were in there for less than a minute.” She looked around at the other students who all nodded in agreement of her assessment. “One of them screamed, I...we...don't know who… and we raced over to see what happened but then they opened the door and came out of the room.”

“How did they look?”

“Fine!” the blonde exclaimed. “They were fine.”

“What happened then?”

“The party just kind of winded down, and we called it a night.”

Mulder waited. Silence was his best tool in these types of interrogations. And sure enough, the blonde reached up to touch her own cheek, her eyes had a far away look in them.

“They went home...everyone went home. I was on clean up duty...I found…”

“What did you find?”

“The mirror in the bathroom was broken?”

Mulder frowned. “Smashed?”

“Cracked.” She looked over her shoulder at the bathroom door. “It still is, we haven't gotten funding cleared to fix it yet.”

“Can I see it?”

The blonde nodded and walked towards the bathroom. Mulder and Scully followed her and the rest of the students followed them. The blonde opened the door with a key.

“We keep it locked, we don't want anyone cutting themselves. The insurance is already really high.”

Mulder took the door and opened it fully. He ushered Scully in and stepped in behind her. He smiled at the students and closed the door after them. The bathroom was big enough to have a corner shower, a toilet, and marble sink built into an ornate counter. There was a large mirror with lights around it on the wall over the sink, with a crack splitting it in half, diagonally from corner to corner.

“What are you looking for, Mulder?” she said in a stage whisper, knowing full well the students were definitely listening outside.

“Check this out...” He said as he put on a latex glove and ran it along the crack in the mirror.

“Careful!” Scully warned but it was too late, he cut his finger on the sharp glass edge.

Mulder hissed and pulled back his finger. He was about to shove it in his mouth when Scully grabbed his wrist and pulled it down. The cut had ripped the glove and sliced his finger but it was a minor injury.

“What's that stuff?” he asked as he pointed at his cut finger.

“Blood?”

“No, the black powder.”

Scully lifted his finger more into the light and saw a light dusting of black powder on it. “Dust?”

“Are you kidding?” Mulder scoffed and leaned down to get a better look at his finger too. “Have you seen the rest of this place? I bet you could perform surgery on those floors out there.”

Scully moved his hand away from her face and looked at the mirror more closely. “It's all along the crack in the mirror.”

“What is it?”

She shook her head but reached into her pocket and took out a small baggie for evidence.

“Do you always have a stash of those on you?” he asked with a smile.

“The alternative is you sticking your finger in it to smell or taste it, so yes.”

Mulder nudged her and showed her his cut up finger. “Too slow today.”

Once she had enough of the substance in the bag she sealed it and put it back in her pocket. “Cover that cut. Let's get out of here.”

“One sec…” Mulder said as he crossed the small room to where the window was partially open. He opened it further and looked outside. Flower beds and a rockery lined the side of the house. “We should get this dusted for prints.”

“Before we go filling out all that paperwork, let's first figure out what this substance is, then...then we should think about getting it dusted.”

Mulder nodded. “Okay.” He peeled off the latex glove and balled it up. He looked at his finger and was just thinking about sticking it in his mouth when Scully shook her head at him.

“Don’t. I have a first aid kit in my room.”

Mulder smiled sheepishly and shrugged. He balled his fist up and followed her back out to the foyer.

“Can you keep this room locked?” Scully asked and the blonde girl nodded. Scully gave her a business card. “You can reach me here, don't hesitate to call if you or anyone else remembers something.”

“Okay, sure.”

“Thanks.”

 


 

Vista Motel 

 

Mulder sat on the corner of her bed while she rummaged through her case for a small first aid kit. He held his finger up to the light. It was a small cut but deep and was still bleeding. His hand was stained with dried blood and he poked at the cut, pulled the sides apart as if it held some mysteries inside.

“Stop that,” she said without looking up and he made a face at her back. “I saw that.”

Mulder smiled. He dropped his hand to his knee and looked over at her. She finally found what she was looking for and pulled it out with a triumphant smile.

“Come into the bathroom Mulder,” she said and walked in that direction.

“You want to try summoning Bloody Mary again?”

“Just bloody Mulder, so we can clean you up properly.” She opened the kit on the side of the sink and ran the cold water tap. “Wash,” she commanded as she pulled out some antiseptic wipes and bandaids.

Mulder diligently washed his hands and hissed at the sting of the cold water and soap on his finger. He jutted out his bottom lip and looked at her but she wasn't offering him any sympathy.

“Come here,” she said, as she held her hand out for him. He put his hand palm up on top of hers and she pulled it into the light. She examined the cut closely, pulled the skin this way and that to be sure there were no shards of glass in it. “I think you can keep the finger.”

“Good. It's my trigger finger.” He jerked it back and forth in front of her face in a trigger motion and grinned.

She wiped it with the damp antiseptic wipes and he grunted at the flash of pain. She didn't even glance up but he was sure the last wipe she made was a little harder across the cut. She put a small bandaid on it and shoved his hand back to his chest.

“Next time…” she started as she cleaned up the waste and closed the kit.

“Don’t rub my finger along the edge of a broken mirror?”

“Bingo.”

Mulder smiled. He went back out to her room to access her laptop.

“I’m going to talk to the gunmen about the email from the library.”

“I’m going to the local field office and send the sample we collected from the mirror for testing.”

“Meet for dinner?” He asked as he swivelled sideways on the chair to see her leave her blazer behind, but pack a briefcase with what she needed.

“Yeah,” she grabbed the car keys from the desk and paused by the door. “It'll be a couple of hours. Call me.”

Mulder waved and turned back to the laptop. He flexed his finger a few times to loosen the bandaid and get used to the feel for it before he accessed his email. He found Maria had already sent him the email so he picked up his phone and dialled the gunmen's office.

“Hello?” came the cautious greeting offered by Langly, who was clearly disguising his voice.

“Langly, it's Mulder.” He loved to say his name on the phone. Langly got flustered and coughed then sent a shock of feedback through the line. Mulder held the phone away from his ear and chuckled.

“One second…” Langly said and Mulder heard a few clicks and beeps before he came back onto the line. “Mulder, what's going on in Arizona.”

“How did you know I’m in Arizona?”

Langly chuckled smugly. “You think you can leave the state and we wouldn't know?”

“Are you tracking me?”

“We don't need to track you. FBI travel logs are a matter of public record.”

“Not while on an active investigation they’re not.”

“So we have a preview,” Langly said and Mulder could see him shrugging, his feet on the desk, his long blonde hair resting on his shoulders with some obscure band blazoned across his tshirt.

“I need you to track an email for me.”

“You can do that yourself with an IP look up.”

“I think the person who sent it might have disguised where it was sent from.”

“Send me the email,” Langly said and Mulder heard the chair squeak as he sat forward. Mulder had already added the gunmens email to the forwarding mail and just clicked send.

“I just sent it there now.”

“Okay, one second…”

Mulder heard the keys clacking and Langly hum a tune he didn't recognise. Another burst of feedback came through the line and Mulder groaned.

“Jesus, can you not do that...I like my ears working.”

“Mulder?” Frohike came on the line. “How is Arizona?”

“Hot.”

“How is Agent Scully?”

Mulder sighed. He walked into that one. “Impatiently awaiting results of samples and this email trace.”

“Email trace?”

Mulder heard a scuffle and envisioned Frohike crossing the room to badger Langly into hurrying up with the task.

“Whose email are we tracing? A suspect?”

“No, a student.”

“Looks like it came from a university library server,” Frohike said.

“Originated there?”

“It looks like…” Langly said but then paused. “Wait…”

Mulder listened to the clacking of the keyboard and the lack of humming from Langly, indicating something unexpected had appeared in his trace search.

“What is it?” he asked, unable to contain his patience.

“This email has been around the block, it's bounced off multiple servers, the packets have been forwarded through multiple hops…”

“Limit that timeout,” Frohike ordered. “Check the host list.”

“I did! See?”

“What do you see, guys?” Mulder implored, frustrated by his lack of understanding of what they were talking about.

“Okay,” Langly said and took a breath as if trying to summon the knowledge on how to explain this to a child. “The email was sent from the library server, however, the library server email was triggered by a command which was routed through multiple servers on the university campus.”

“Can you tell where it originated from?”

“The command for the email trigger was sent from a dorm...looks like the IP is assigned to Kingsley dorm.”

“Great, can you send me this info?” Mulder asked. “And make it in a way that I can understand, and explain it to Scully.”

“I can call Agent Scully,” Frohike said. “And explain it to her in detail.”

“One of these days I’m going to let you try Melvin,” Mulder said with a chuckle.

He hung up and looked at the library email again. It wasn't a smoking gun, but all the evidence was starting to connect to Maria in one way or another.

 


 

FBI Field Office

 

Scully looked at the page in front of her and frowned. She glanced up at the screen then back at the page and tried to make sense of what she was seeing. She moved back to the computer and worked on the keyboard to pull up a histogram again and moved it around to be sure she was fully understanding what she was reading.

“Problem Agent Scully?”

She glanced up and saw the lab technician crossing the room towards her.

“No, no problem, just an unexpected result.”

The technician looked at the screen and frowned. “It's just gunpowder.”

“Yeah but I didn't expect to find it in a mirror.”

“There are traces of stannous chloride but the overwhelming substance that was tested is basic gunpowder.”

Scully nodded again, lost in thought when her phone rang.

“Scully,” she responded without taking her eyes off the results page in her hand.

“Hey Scully, It's me, I have something here from the library email trace.”

“I have something here from the substance found in the mirror.”

“Come pick me up, we need to go back to the university. And I’ve sent a crime scene team to the sorority house to check out the bathroom.”

“Good. I’ll see you soon.”

 


 

University of Arizona

 

“I called Eric, and he said he’d meet us at the security office to go over what we found,” Scully said as she turned into the campus.

“How do you want to approach this?” he asked. “The email was a ruse to get Maria out of the room. I think she sent it as an alibi.”

“But she was at the library, security footage shows that.”

“And when she came back to her dorm Eloise was already in bed.”

“So you think she came back and killed her then went to sleep?”

Mulder shrugged.

“We didn't find a murder weapon, there was no blood splatter on her side of the room. The shower drain was tested and there was no blood there either.”

“We also don't have a clear motive,” Mulder said.

“Clear… or any.”

“She was ostracized from the sorority, possibly made fun of by the two girls.” Mulder said and looked out the window at the beautiful campus. “Her lab partner was possibly holding information back, hogging credit. Her roommate was drifting away, the photos on the wall were all from a couple of terms ago but nothing recent.”

“That's all conjecture, Mulder.”

“Do you think the gunpowder was in the mirror by accident?”

“No,” Scully said carefully as she pulled into a parking space outside the security office. “Likely it was put there to make the mirror break, to scare the girls, who were playing the game.”

“By whom?”

“Hopefully the CSI team will get back to us with an update.”

“If…” Mulder said and he unfastened his seatbelt and turned to face her more fully. “If we find out that Maria put it there and triggered the mirror to break…”

“It doesn't prove she had anything to do with their deaths,” she finished his sentence for him.

Mulder nodded. “I have the crime scene reports from both of their scenes and there was nothing untoward in them.”

“Nor from the scene in the park.”

“Or the scene in the basement.”

“Did she even have a connection to the student in the basement?”

Mulder shook his head. “I’m still waiting for her list of mentees. “ He slumped back in his chair and closed his eyes with a frustrated sigh. “What if…” he began and Scully felt the corner of her mouth curl up. “What if Maria harnessed some sort of ability to convince people…”

“Like Modell?”

“Yeah, but not her convincing them, but…”

“Bloody Mary?”

“One version of the legend states that whoever successfully summoned her can guide her into performing tasks.”

“Mulder-”

“Wait… Scully…” Mulder sat up suddenly and grabbed her arm as the spins and whirs of his mind sped up and something clicked into place. “Mirrors...there were broken mirrors at every scene.”

Scully frowned and thought back to each scene and report that had gathered so far and nodded.

“Bloody Mary appears in the mirror.”

“You think she was at each scene?”

He looked at her, his eyes wide, his mouth slightly open and nodded slowly. His hand tightened on her arm and she looked down at his fingers.

“I think Maria found a way to harness her, and then sent her out to do her bidding against people she believed wronged her.”

A sharp knock on the window behind Scully made them both jump and they turned to see Eric bending down to look into the car. He waved awkwardly and stepped back as they each climbed out of the car.

“What's going on?” he asked.

“We have some new information and need a detail put on a student,” Mulder said and preceded them into the security office.

Chapter Text

Vista Motel

 

It was close to seven pm when they both made it back to the motel, exhausted, starved, grimey, and frustrated. To feel something so close, but ultimately intangible brought out a cranky side in both of them so the drive from the university was silent until they got to the motel.

“You want to get something to eat?” Mulder asked though his tone wasn't expectant.

“I want a shower,” she said as she stood at her door and slipped the key into the lock. “Anything else after that is optional.”

“Twenty minutes?”

Scully nodded then disappeared into her room. Mulder walked into his own room and shed his clothes as he made his way to the bathroom and started the shower. He perused the menus on the desk while he waited for the water to heat up then quickly rang in an order of Thai food.

In the bathroom he was glad to see the steam from the hot water fogged up the mirror. After spending the evening looking through all the recent crime scenes, and then comparing them to the reports in ‘42 he was more sure than ever that the mirrors had something to do with it. He showered quickly, not wanting to spend more time than needed in front of the mirror, even if it was fogged up. He dried off and slipped on a pair of shorts when there was a knock at the door. He rubbed the towel over his hair, leaving it ruffled and sticking out every which way as he answered the door to collect their food.

At the adjoining door he listened for a moment then knocked on it and pushed it open. Scully was standing at the far end of the room, a towel wrapped around her body as she rummaged through her case for a change of clothes.

“Grubs up,” he said as he went over to the desk and stood with his back to her to offer her some privacy.

“One second,” she said over her shoulder as she carried her clothes into the bathroom.

Mulder started to unpack the food and tried to get his mind to slow down and vere off the path of evidence reports he had been elbow deep in all evening.

“Do you want to start with the chicken or the pork?” he asked but instead of a response, he heard her yell out in shock or surprise.

Mulder didn't hesitate to mull over which it was. Instead he vaulted over the bed and pushed the bathroom door open. She was standing in front of the mirror holding her hand up to her chest, a pool of blood collecting in her palm from a long gash cut across the soft padding at the bottom of her fingers.

“What happened?”

“I...uh…”

“Scully, what happened?” He peeled her hand back from her chest to see the cut more clearly then looked at the mirror and saw it had cracked across the bottom third in a straight horizontal slash. From the angle Mulder stood at, it looked like her reflection was slashed across her throat and he swallowed around a lump in his throat.

“I was just...standing here, and the mirror cracked.”

“Did you touch it?” He looked at her hand which was still bleeding. He turned on the cold tap and gingerly moved her hand under the rushing water.

“I was...no, I didn't.” She jerked her hand away from the water but Mulder held it there until the blood was cleaned and he could see the cut more clearly.

“How did you cut your hand?”

“I was reaching up to my shoulder, I was… I didn't touch it, Mulder,” she said and looked at him with a frown.

“Okay, let's get this cleaned up.”

He took her out to her bed and perched her on the corner then went to her case and fished her medikit out. In a complete role reversal from earlier, though his cut was way less severe, Mulder crouched before her and held her hand out into the light where he could work on the cut more easily.

“This is going to sting,” he said as he applied the antiseptic wipes to clean the wound. Scully clenched her teeth but didn't make a sound. “Sorry,” he muttered but kept wiping until he had it fully clean.

He took some bandaids out and placed them strategically across her cuts which all lined up to a single line, as if a defensive wound against a slashing blade. Once covered he went back to the medikit to take out a slim bandage and wrapped it around her hand over the bandaids.

“There,” he said and cradled her hand in both of his on her lap. “Sore? Do you need a pain killer?”

She shook her head. “No, it's fine. I just don't understand how…”

Mulder nodded. He stood up and went back into the bathroom to examine the mirror more closely. There was evidence of the same black powder they had seen in the other broken mirror.

“C’mere Scully, look at this?”

She walked over to the bathroom door but was reluctant to step through.

“The same powder.”

Scully frowned and stepped in closer but still stayed back and almost shielded herself from the mirror with the door.

“I wonder if it's on all the mirrors around here?”

Her eyes darted around the room and she caught Mulder's reflection in the mirror then stepped out of the room again, unable to take a full breath while in there.

“Hey,” he said and followed her. He put one hand on her shoulder. “You ok?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m just...I dunno.”

“Did you see something in there?” he asked gently, the hand on his shoulder moving down to her bicep.

“I saw...I don't know.”

“Scully,” he implored her to continue, to tell him what she didn't know she saw.

“It looked like a shadow behind me.”

“Your shadow?” he asked carefully.

“No, someone else, someone taller, broader.”

“Just a shadow?”

She nodded. Mulder wanted to put his arm around her, but settled just for squeezing her arm. He looked over her chest where there was a slight splatter of blood from her hand. She was still wearing the towel and hadn’t managed to change yet.

“Hey, let's eat.” He went into the bathroom and grabbed her clothes. He put them in her arms and pushed her towards his room. “You go change in my room, I’ll pack up the food and follow you in.”

Scully nodded and moved to his bed where she dropped the tshirt and shorts she was planning to wear. As Mulder collected the containers of food again, he waited long enough for her to be changed and slowly pushed the adjoining door open again.

“Are you decent?” he asked with his eyes closed and his eyebrow raised.

“Yes.”

He opened one eye and scanned the room. She was sitting cross legged at the head of his bed, one of his pillows gripped tightly against her chest.

“One of these days I’ll cheat and keep my eyes open.”

“One of these days I’ll let you,” she countered as he got onto the bed next to her.

Mulder huffed out a strangled laugh and tried to concentrate on not spilling mu-shu pork all over his bedspread as multiple images flashed across his mind. He passed her one container and a pair of chopsticks then a small bottle of gingerale and settled in to start working on the chicken dish himself, knowing full well she would request a swap soon.

“Yesterday, when we did the thing in the bathroom,” Scully said between mouthfuls of pork and noodles.

“You make it sound so sordid.” He chuckled.

“That was...twenty four hours ago,” Scully continued, ignoring his quip.

Mulder was silent.

“The time span for the girls-”

“Scully,” Mulder began and he lowered his food container. “Nothing is going to happen to us.”

“Well, either you believe it, or you don't, Mulder,” she scoffed. “You can't pick and choose what parts to believe and what parts to ignore.”

“Sure I can.” He lifted a juicy piece of chicken to his mouth and bit down. “I believe catoptromancy is a form of divination that was used centuries ago with varying degrees of success. I believe Maria has tapped into this divination technique and harnessed it to eke out her own objectives against people who have wronged her.”

“Eric said the student in the basement was a friend of hers.”

“Friend?”

“Possibly with benefits.”

“According to the RA she wasn't that kind of girl.” Mulder said then glanced over at her when she didn't respond and saw a strange look on her face. “What?”

Scully shook her head with a little smile and held out her food container to him. “Swap.” She took his chicken and ate it for a while then sighed. “Everyone is that kind of girl in uni, Mulder.”

Mulder chuckled. “Are they?” he nudged her. “Were you?”

“Well, I didn't have time for dates and relationships.”

“Right,” he nodded sagely. “Pre med, med school. Busy, busy, busy.”

Scully chuckled and tried not to let her cheeks redden any more than they had done already. “If the student in the basement was connected to Maria, we need to find out the details there.”

“The other students in the fraternity house confirmed they knew each other, but not how.”

“Or they were not willing to divulge,” Scully said as she chased a piece of broccoli around the container. “Did they have any classes together?”

“No, she was computer science, he was marketing.”

“Perhaps a campus club or society,” Scully offered, giving up on the elusive vegetable and putting the near empty container on the bedside table.

“By all accounts she was a total bookworm, no room for extra curricular activities.”

“There must be some connection,” Scully mused and she looked over at Mulder's bathroom with a wary eye.

Mulder caught his glance and wished he had thought to close the door. Instead he put his hand out for her food container and cleaned up the trash, tossed it out on the courtyard and fell back onto the bed beside her again. He lay lower than before, his head on the pillow, one hand behind it the other on his stomach.

“The more we uncover the connection Maria has to all these victims, the more convinced I am that she is controlling something to make these incidents happen.”

“Controlling Bloody Mary?”

Mulder turned his head to look up at her and caught a sardonic smile curve her lips.

“You saw something in that mirror, Scully,” Mulder said softly and her smile faded. He sat up and turned to face her. “You saw something.”

“I didn't see Bloody Mary.”

“You saw...something.” He put one of his hands over both of hers that were connected on her lap. “Maybe it wasn't Bloody Mary, maybe it was Maria, maybe it was a trick of the light. But that mirror cracked, across your hand.”

“It looked like it slit my throat,” she said with a whisper and Mulder nodded. “You saw that too?” He nodded again. Scully frowned and looked away. “I’ll be honest Mulder...that was...disconcerting.”

His hand tightened on hers and he pulled himself up on the bed to sit next to her, leaning his shoulder against hers then tugged her hands onto his lap.

“Yeah,” he said with a sigh as his fingers interlocked with hers, tightened, loosened and tightened, over and over.

“If...and I mean if...she is controlling it somehow,” Scully said and she watched their fingers move smoothly against each other. “Why would she break my mirror?”

“You were leading the questioning, she sees you as a threat to her?”

Scully hummed. “What about your mirror?”

“It's not broken, I just had a shower.”

“I want to…” She looked over at the bathroom door and started to move off the bed but Mulder tightened his grip on her hand to stop her progress.

“Wait,” he said. “Are you sure?”

Scully looked over her shoulder at her and nodded. “C’mon.”

She tugged his hand and they climbed off the bed, Mulder scrambling to get off without letting go of her hand. She led him into the bathroom and pushed the door closed behind him. Mulder reached for the light but she squeezed his hand to stop him.

“No, leave it off,” she said and pulled him closer to stand side by side facing the mirror.

“You want to...chant?”

Scully looked at him in the mirror and nodded. “Ready?” He nodded back and they started.

“Bloody Mary,” They spoke in unison and Mulder's eyes darted from her face to throat where he could see her pulse racing. “Bloody Mary.”

Her hand tightened its grip on his and he squeezed back. He saw her starting to frown as if she saw something. He looked up at their reflection in the mirror again and just as he opened his mouth to speak the name for the third time, a dark shadow crossed behind him. He pulled her hand to his chest as he turned on his heel and wrapped his other around her, protecting her in his grip.

A sharp crack of the mirror behind him made him flinch and he felt a slashing sharp pain across his back. Scully yelled out and pressed her face into his chest as his arms wrapped tighter around her and he twisted her towards the door and out of the room.

Once in the light of the bedroom he pulled her away from him and looked down at her.

“Scully, Scully, are you hurt? Are you ok?” His hands roamed over her arms, ran down her sides and turned her round to pull up her tshirt and check her back. “Scully, are you ok?” He turned her quickly to face him again and cupped her face.

She nodded silently. She was pale, her eyes were wide, and her mouth was open as she took one ragged breath after another.

Mulder pulled her in close and hugged her tightly. She buried her face into his chest again, her hands gripped his shoulders. He cupped her head against him and his other arm wrapped her torso.

“Jesus,” he muttered into her hair. “What the fuck…”

“What happened?” she whispered, her warm breath soft against his skin.

“I don't know…” He loosened his grip on her but she stayed snugly against him. He looked over towards the bathroom and from this angle could see a crack along the mirror, a little higher than the one in hers. He started to move away from her but she gripped his shoulders tighter. “It's ok, I just need to see…”

He put his hands on her arms and moved her to sit on the end of her bed then stepped back and walked to the bathroom. He flicked on the light, and saw the crack was another horizontal one from one side to the other. On closer inspection he could see more gunpowder along the crack and the sink unit below it. He checked the rest of the room, tried to find the source of the moving shadow he saw but found nothing.

When he came back out to the bedroom, Scully was sitting up a little straighter, and combing her fingers through her hair as she took a couple of deep breaths.

“Hey, you ok?” he said as he came over and crouched in front of her. He put one hand on her knee, the other on the bed beside her.

“Yeah...I…” She took a deep breath and slowly released it. “Got a bit of a shock.”

“Yeah, you and me both,” Mulder scoffed and he squeezed her knee then pushed himself up to stand. He turned to look into the bathroom again and Scully gasped.

“Oh my god, Mulder,” she exclaimed and he whipped round to face her, ready to attack whatever she had seen.

“What!?”

“Mulder, your back,” She gripped his shoulder and turned him round so she could see his back. “It's cut.”

“Huh?” he said and tried to look over his shoulder at his back.

“Your back is cut, there is a long slash across it.”

Scully moved him into the light and pushed him so he was bent over a little. There was a sliced wound from just below his left shoulder blade to his right side, not quite straight. It was still bleeding and every time he moved and twisted to try and see it, it bled more.

“Stop squirming.”

“What is it?”

“It's like the wound on my hand, I think from when the mirror cracked.”

“How?”

“I don't know, but you need stitches.”

Mulder groaned. “Really? Proper ones? Or those paper ones?”

“Proper ones.” Scully guided him back onto the bed. “Wait here.”

She hurried into her room for the medikit and came back to sit beside him.

“Lie down,” she asked and urged him onto his front. Mulder folded his hands under his cheek and lay down with a beleaguered sigh. “Hold still.”

“It's not that bad,” he argued as he tried to look down his back over his shoulder.

“You can't even see it.”

“It doesn't really hurt,” he said just as she opened an antiseptic wipe and dragged it over the wound. “Fuck!” he cursed and arched his back in a futile attempt to get away from her.

“Sorry.”

She put a hand on his shoulder and soothed him but continued to swipe his back and clean the wound.

“Jesus Scully, fuck,” he spat through gritted teeth.

“Sorry, sorry, sorry…” She gave him a reprieve and blew gently over the wound and he sighed. “I think we should go to the emergency room.”

“I think we should go to the university.”

“University hospital?”

“No, the dorms.”

“The dorms?”

“If Maria is controlling this somehow, and she made both of these events happen, then there may be some signs of what or how she is doing it in her dorm?” Scully didn't want to admit it, but she agreed it would be interesting to see Maria right now. “Maybe...we patch this up and go to the dorms on the way to the emergency room?”

“This needs more than a patch, Mulder,” she said as she leaned over him to take a closer look.

“But temporarily?”

“Okay, okay...hold still.”

She grabbed the reel of butterfly stitches and carefully pinched the wound to press the stitches on. He winced and moaned the whole way through but Scully persisted in adding as much as she had. Once the stitches were applied, she added some large dressings and finally asked him to sit up so she could wrap a bandage around his back and chest which she fixed with a hook clip.

“How does that feel?” she asked as she crouched before him and inspected her work.

“Good.”

“Pain?”

He shook his head. She narrowed her eyes at him and didn't believe for a second he wasn't hurting.

“Maybe this incident will mean you will start wearing proper evening attire again,” she scorned gently as she leaned on his knees to stand up.

“What?” He protested as he stood up, twirled round and held his arms out. “You don't like seeing the goods?”

“If you keep showing off the goods, where is the mystery Mulder?” she said with a smile as she cleaned up the first aid trash. “I’ll just go get changed and we can go to the dorm.”

Mulder nodded and went over to his own case to grab some clothes. He pulled on a pair of jeans and gingerly slipped on a long sleeve blue grey henley top. He had his socks on and was wincing as he leaned over to tie the laces on his sneakers when she came back into the room.

“Here, let me,” she said as she hurried over to help him.

“It's fine, I got it.”

“Let me.”

She brushed his hands away and quickly tied the laces on each of his sneakers then put her hands on his knees to push herself onto her feet.

“Thanks,” he muttered and carefully stood.

“Starting to feel it?”

He grimaced and nodded a little. “But I still think we should go to the university first… just to check in.”

Scully nodded. She grabbed the keys from his desk and he grabbed his gun and holster. Then they hurried out to the car as much as he could hurry. He winced against the seat as he fastened his seatbelt and again everytime the car moved or turned a corner. When they got to the university he was paler than before and a slight sheen of sweat had broken out on his forehead.

“Mulder, you should wait here.”

“No, it's fine. C’mon.” He put his hand on the door handle but she pulled him back.

“Wait Mulder, you’re hurting.”

“I’m fine, we’re just checking it out, it’ll be a few minutes, then we can go to the emergency room and get the good drugs.”

“Mulder-”

“C’mon, quick.”

He opened the door and climbed out and Scully hurried to catch up with him as he walked towards the dorm. She could see some blood stains already seeping out through the bandages and his shirt when they stepped into the lights of the dorm building lobby.

“Mulder, your back, it's still bleeding.”

“C’mon Scully,” he urged. Something was driving him on. Pushing through the pain. Something he knew he would find in the dorm room. He needed to see it.

She put a hand on his lower back as they stepped into the elevator and he gripped the bar along the side wall. Once it deposited them on the right floor he moved as quickly as he could to the room Maria had been moved too since the murder in her old room. He stood on one side of the door and Scully on the other. He nodded to confirm her readiness then reached for the door and knocked on it when she took her gun out.

“Maria? It's Agent Mulder,” he said and they both listened for a response. “Maria?” He knocked again. He checked his watch. It was ten o’clock.

“Maria?” Scully tried and she knocked too. Mulder shook his head and made a gesture to indicate he was going to try and open the door. Scully nodded.

He reached down and turned the handle but it was locked. He shook his head sharply at Scully then stepped back to kick the door in but Scully put her hand up to stop him. She pushed him aside, lined herself up then kicked the door just by the lock and it swung open.

Mulder pressed his palm against the door to prevent it from swinging closed as Scully stepped in. This room was bigger than the last one but all the windows were blacked out making it a pit of darkness. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust and when they did she saw a figure standing in the middle of the room.

“Freeze!” She shouted. “Federal Agents! Hands up!”

Mulder was by her side in a flash, his gun out and pointing into the darkness. Scully stepped further into the room but the figure moved and she tracked it.

“Mulder! To the left!” Mulder moved towards the wall and slapped his hand against it as he tried to find the lightswitch. His fingers slid along the smooth surface on the wall and he frowned at the sensation, it was not the surface he was expecting. When his fingers felt the switch he flipped it on and they were both immediately blinded by the white light.

Scully who was following the figure, her eyes wide open, winced and pulled back at the flash and blinked rapidly to try and refocus. The shadow, still a black figure in her blinded sight, moved towards her.

“Freeze!” Scully yelled. “I’m armed, stop or I’ll shoot!”

Mulder turned to see and tried to focus but the light was burning his eyes causing them to water. As the figure loomed closer, Scully pulled the trigger twice then watched the figure drop to the ground with a sickening thud.

“Scully?” Mulder called out.

“I’m fine, I’m fine!” she said and forced her eyes to stay open.

Mulder stepped forward, and as his eyes adjusted to the light he realised the room was lined with mirrors. Every wall covered in various sized and styled mirrors leaving no space of wall left that wasn't reflective. On the ground Maria was lying with a rapidly expanding pool of blood spreading from her torso.

He approached carefully, and checked for weapons. When he didn't see any he crouched. He looked up to Scully who was now able to see fully again and nodded that she had him covered. He rolled Maria over onto her back and was shocked by the wide smile she was wearing.

“Maria, Maria, can you hear me?” He put his gun back in it's holster and pulled up her shirt to see the bullet wounds on her stomach. He pressed his hands onto the wounds and checked for her pulse.

Scully grabbed her phone and called for medical assistance then crouched beside Mulder and started to administer first aid herself. Maria’s smile widened and her lips started to move. Mulder leaned closer to listen to what she was saying.

“Veni, videre, salvare, veni, videre, salvare,” she said over and over and Mulder leaned back. He looked at Scully who was focused on applying pressure to Maria’s wounds and almost missed the shadow that whipped across the mirror on the wall behind her.

Maria’s voice got louder and she lifted her head as she yelled out “Veni, videre, salvare!”

Mulder saw the shadow move on his right side and a split second before he could react he heard a crack of breaking glass.

“Scully!” He yelled out. She looked up. He dove across Maria to grip Scully and pull her aside. He rolled her underneath him and covered her entire body with his own, his arms wrapped around her head as every mirrored surface around them exploded sending shards of glass flying out across the room.

When the room plunged into silence again, and the brightness dimmed, he carefully moved off her enough to look up and see what happened. Every mirror in the room had shattered, some completely emptying shards of glass all over them, others cracked in straight lines or web patterns but none of them were intact.

“Are you ok?” he asked into her hair. He still covered her, held her close, and made sure she was covered entirely by him.

She nodded her head though she wasn't sure if she was ok. All she could feel was Mulder's weight covering her, protecting her.

Carefully, with slow movements Mulder leaned off her. He put his hands on the ground and pressed away then got to his knees and eventually stood. He looked down at where she was still cowering before reaching his hand down to help her to her feet.

The tinkling of glass as it fell off them made him worried about cuts and scrapes but he realised there were no shards big enough to do any major damage.

“Mulder!” Scully exclaimed as she turned to crouch by Maria but she remained untouched by the glass as if some forcefield kept it off her. She checked for a pulse, it was there but it was weak then got back to giving her first aid until the medics arrived.

Mulder stepped back and looked around the room. There was no surface of the floor that wasn't covered in glass except for a clear shape where he and Scully had cowered, and a small area around Maria.

“Veni, videre, salvare,” he muttered and Scully looked up. “You know what that means?”

“Come...watch? And save?”

“Come, see, save,” he corrected. He looked at Maria. Her lips were still moving but no sound came. “It's what she was saying before…” he looked around at the mirrors.

“What does it mean?”

“I think she was...summoning help?”

Scully frowned. She couldn't think about that right now. She watched Maria carefully, pressed two fingers to her throat to measure her pulse and prayed that the medics would arrive soon. When they heard the sirens outside, Mulder rushed out to escort them in, then he and Scully stepped aside as they started to work on Maria.

 


 

St Michael’s Hospital

 

Eric was on the phone as they both approached and he quickly hung up before they got to his side. He put his phone into his pocket and turned to face them both, his hands on his hips, his brow furrowed in a deep frown.

“Agents,” he said sharply and Mulder glanced at Scully to see if she picked up on the tone or if he was being paranoid. By the thin appearance of her lips and narrow angle of her eyes he knew she heard it too.

“How is she?” Scully asked.

“In surgery.”

“We need to talk to her.” Mulder spoke calmly and placed his hands on his hips.

“She may not make it out of surgery.” He looked between them both. “Am I to understand correctly, that you opened fire in the university dorm, while blinded by light and not fully aware of what you were shooting at?”

Mulder frowned.

“Maria said she was in her dorm room working on a project when you broke through the locked door and shot her.”

“She was speaking?” Mulder said and he looked at Scully who looked back at him.

“Before her surgery. She said the light was on, and she had some mirrors set up in her room for an experiment-”

“Experiment?” Mulder scoffed. “We followed protocol. We announced our arrival. We waited for a response. We checked the door, and in fear for her safety we proceeded to enter.”

“Could you see clearly who you were shooting?” Eric asked and he looked at Scully who frowned lightly.

“There was a figure approaching,” Scully began. “I commanded it to stop, I warned I was armed, I commanded it to stop again and when it continued to approach I fired two shots.”

“Could you see clearly who you were shooting at?” Eric crossed his arms over his chest and took a step closer to her.

“I could-” Scully began but Mulder put a hand on her arm to stop her.

“What's going on?”

“The victim Maria Carson, a student, is lying in surgery right now, and the last thing she said to me was that she was studying in her room, when you broke in and shot her.”

“That's ridiculous!” Mulder said and he waved a hand at Eric who was looking at Scully with a grim expression on his face. “The victim? She was perpetrating the string of murders across the campus. We were on site to interrogate her, likely to arrest her.”

“With what evidence?” Eric yelled back and took a step towards Mulder.

Mulder straightened to his full height on instinct. “She was connected to every other victim, she had motive, and we found one of her alibis was fabricated.”

“None of that is actual evidence.” Erid jabbed a finger towards Mulder. “I need official statements on what happened at the dorm that resulted in the shooting of a student by an FBI Agent.”

“We will submit complete and detailed statements on the event,” Mulder said and struggled to keep his voice calm as his eyes stared into Eric’s and held his gaze as long as he could to keep it off Scully.

“As soon as possible,” Eric said and he dropped his hand and walked away.

“Jesus…” Mulder muttered. He had a collection of snide comments to make on the tip of his tongue but the look on Scully’s face made him swallow them all.

“I couldn't see her,” Scully said quietly.

“What?” He put a hand on her arm and pulled her out of the main corridor to a nook against a supply room.

“I couldn't see her,” she said again and stared at a point on his chest by his collarbone. “When I took the shot, I couldn't see who it was.”

“You announced yourself, you announced you were armed, and that you would shoot. You told them to stop moving… you did everything right Scully.”

“I didn't know it was her.”

“Scully,” he put his hands on her shoulders then moved them up her neck to cup her face and made her look at him. “You did everything right. If you didn't shoot…” He remembered the explosion of the mirrors around them and how the glass fell all over him. “If you didn't shoot, who knows what would have happened.”

“Exactly, maybe nothing!”

“No, Scully,” he implored. “She was attacking us. She was going to kill us. Of that I am 100% sure.”

Scully closed her eyes and took a steadying breath and nodded, her head rocking in the soft cradle of his hands. He wanted to lean in and kiss her forehead, pull her in for a hug but felt the public setting of this busy hospital corridor, and the fact that he knew Eric was still lurking nearby made him pull back.

“We should talk to the medical staff, get a prognosis and see when we might be able to talk to Maria.”

Scully nodded. She fixed her ponytail and dusted off the front of her clothes, and looked up to Mulder who was turning away from her to find the medical station.

“Mulder,” She grabbed his shoulder. “Your back.” A strip of blood across from one shoulder blade to the other had soaked through his dressing, bandage and clothing, leaving a gruesome spectre in its wake.

“Huh, it's fine,” he said and tried to brush aside her concern.

“No, it's not, come on.” She grabbed his arm and directed him to the emergency room.

 


 

Vista Motel

 

It was close to midnight before they made it back to the motel and Mulder was getting more and more loopy as the painkillers they gave him started to filter into his blood and the sedative effect took hold. He was smiling wide and leaning on her as she guided him towards his room.

“Scully...you’re the best. Did I tell you that lately?”

“Not enough,” she muttered as she tried to open his door. He draped himself over her back and wrapped his arms around her shoulders.

“Your multifaceted skills are always saving my ass,” he whispered into her ear causing her to shudder from the timbre of his voice as it slid through her.

She finally heard the latch spin and pushed the door open. Mulder stayed draped over her as she walked him into the room. He was laughing against her neck and showed no signs of loosening his grip on her.

“Glad to be of service,” she muttered as she struggled to turn and close the door after them, dropped his prescription on the table then brought him to his bed. “Lie down Mulder,” she said but he just nuzzled in closer and held her tighter.

“Hmmm,” he hummed softly. His lips brushed her neck and made her break out in goosebumps all over.

“Mulder, lie down,” she commanded a little stronger but he still didn't let her go.

She turned away from the bed and leaned back in the hopes he would let go and fall onto it, but instead he tightened his grip and pulled her back with him. He landed in the middle of the bed and she sprawled over him with a soft squeal.

“Mulder!” She tried to roll off him but he held on tight. “Your back Mulder, you need to get off your back.”

He rolled to the side and held her against him as he sighed with satisfaction as if this was how they would sleep. Scully chuckled, she patted his arm and urged him to release her but he grunted in displeasure when she tried to move his arm.

“Comfy,” he muttered and buried his face in her hair. “Sleepy.”

“Good, you need to sleep. But...I need to move,” she said.

His limbs were getting heavy, but loose and she was able to extract herself from his grip. She moved aside and stood off the bed to look down at him. He was balled up on his side, his legs dangling over the edge of the bed. She untied his laces and pulled his sneakers off from the heel. She tugged off his socks next and left them on the ground too.

“Mulder, you need to take that top off,” she said when she saw the back of it was caked with blood.

He grunted some form of disagreement but she pulled on his arms and made him sit up enough to pull his top off over his head, carefully lifting it off his back as she removed it completely. She looked down at his jeans and contemplated taking them off too but decided he slept in his jeans on his couch at home enough to likely not feel too uncomfortable wearing them in bed right now.

“Pull up the bed, Mulder,” she said as she moved to the side of the bed and urged him higher onto the bed near the pillows. “Watch your back...lie on your front, there you go.”

“Scully,” he said and lifted his hand out for her to take. She slipped her hand into his and he pulled it to his chest. “Stay.”

She looked over his back, the stitches that had been put in place were both internal and external. The nurses had wiped up most of the blood around the wound but there were traces of dried blood down his back and stained the waistband of his jeans. She wished now she had taken his jeans off, they would be stiff and uncomfortable.

“Okay Mulder, okay,” she said and rubbed the top of his back tenderly. “I’ll be back in a minute.”

He didn't loosen his grip on her hand but she managed to slip away. She went into her room and changed out of her clothes into her pjs of a pair of shorts and a tank top. She used the bathroom, washed her hands and face, brushed her teeth and took a long drink of water.

In his room she went into his bathroom to wet the corner of a hand towel then climbed back onto his bed and gently washed the blood from his back. She got as much as she could then pushed his hip to make him roll onto his side.

“Mulder, you need to take your jeans off, they are stained with blood.” He grunted but didn't move. “Mulder, c’mon, help me.”

She moved him more onto his back and unfastened the button then fiddled with the zipper until she could pull it down. Her hand brushed over his groin and in a flash Mulder went from being sleepy dead weight to sitting up and grabbed her wrist.

“What's happening?” he said, his eyes half closed, his hand holding her wrist tightly.

“Take your jeans off Mulder,” she said and she eased away from him.

“Scully what? Scully why?” his eyes closed over and she could see he was starting to sway and fall back asleep.

“C’mon, Mulder, your jeans have blood on them.”

“Okay… okay.”

He fell back onto the bed with a grunt and a wince and lifted his hips to push his jeans down. Scully helped and focused more on keeping his boxers in place then tossed his jeans aside and helped him roll back onto his front again.

“Scully,” he said again softly and held his hand out to her again. She was reluctant this time, knowing what he was expecting but the invitation was too tempting not to take. She moved around the bed and switched off the light, closed the bathroom door then turned back to him and put her hand in his. Mulder slipped it under his chest again, kissed her knuckles and snuggled into his bed and she lay down next to him with a weary sigh.

Chapter Text

Vista Motel

 

Mulder woke up to a tingling pain across his back but a tingling warmth fluttering down his front from his cheek, which he realised was pressed to the top curve of her breast, his chest which was leaning against her torso, his groin, nestled snugly against her hip, and his leg, draped over one of hers and under the other.

He kept his eyes closed, took in a long slow deep breath and held it for a moment. He felt one of her hands cupping the back of his head and her face rested against the top. Her other hand covered his which was low on her stomach, under her tank top, heavy against her warm skin.

Everything from the night before was starting to come back to him. The mirrors in both their bathrooms. The event at the dorm. Eric’s confrontation at the hospital. His stitches and medication then losing some of his usually contained reserve as he got more and more handsy with her. He tried not to smile but if it resulted in him waking up like this, curled around her, having her hold him, grip him against her, then maybe the emergency room visit was a small price to pay.

But whatever he was feeling right now, he didn't want to curl up next to her with anything but the bare naked truth between them. The more naked the better, he thought with a smirk and he started to figure out how to extract himself without waking her.

“Morning,” she muttered and Mulder started at the sound in the cool silence of the morning.

He rolled his head against her breast to look up at her and she leaned back a little to reciprocate the gaze. He smiled then pulled his eyes away from her sleep rumpled face before he did something she might regret. Fuck knows he definitely wouldn't, he thought.

“Morning.”

He slowly extracted his hand from beneath hers on her stomach, his fingers dragged across her skin and left a trail of goosebumps in their wake. He tried to sit up and move away but the pain in his back spiked and he winced.

“Your back?” She sat up and urged him to lie on his front so she could see.

The bandages were all still in place, clean with no seepage. She moved her hand across the skin around them and hummed in concern at the heat she felt there.

“I have painkillers for you.” She moved away from his side and Mulder let out a long breath. She hurried over to the desk to open his pills, got him a glass of water then gave him the right dosage.

“Thanks.” He swallowed the pills and took another long drink of water to wash them down then moved to sit on the edge of the bed. “You sleep ok?” he asked, as vestiges of their conservation from the night before came back to him.

“Yeah, ok,” she said, admitting to not the most restful sleep but not wanting to dwell on it. “We should get back to the hospital-”

She was cut off by the sound of her phone ringing in the other room. She hurried through to answer it and Mulder looked around his room at his discarded clothes. He moved to his case to find more clothes to wear and turned when he heard her coming back into the room. She was still on the phone, but the soft tousled sleepy look she wore moments before was replaced by a deep frown, thin lips and worried eyes.

“When?” She shook her head as she approached him. “But she came through the surgery ok?”

He realised now something had happened with Maria. Scully saw the question in his eyes and slowly shook her head.

“Who found her?...ok, we’ll be right there.”

She hung up the phone and looked up at him. “Maria was found hanged this morning. She used cords from the blinds to hang herself in the bathroom.”

“Herself? Suicide?”

Scully nodded. “That's what Eric said.”

“In the bathroom…was the mirror broken?”

“I don't know. We should get over there.” Mulder nodded and took clothes out of his case.

“Can I shower with this?” he said and jerked his thumb over his shoulder, and down his back.

“Not yet, no, you should just take a sponge bath,” she said as she turned to go back to her own room to change.

“A sponge bath, was that an offer?” he called after her but she just waved her hand at him and kept walking.

 


 

St Michael’s Hospital

 

Eric met them outside the room and looked between them as they approached. His face was rigid, pale and closed of all emotion.

“We’ve processed the scene,” he said and he led them through to the bathroom where Maria was found. “In here.”

Mulder stepped in first and his eyes immediately went to the mirror. Just like in both of their hotel rooms the mirror had a crack from one edge to the other though this time it was vertical, from top to bottom and when Mulder moved into position behind where Maria was still hanging from a beam in the room, the crack lined up exactly with the cord she used.

“Jesus,” he muttered and pulled his eyes away. “Scully, come take a look at this.”

Scully hesitated by the door then stepped into the room and walked over to where Mulder was standing.

“See it?” he asked without clarifying what he meant but he didn't need to.

She saw it. How the crack lined up with the cord. Just like how the one in her bathroom lined up against her throat, or the one in his bathroom lined up with Mulder's back. She tried her best to suppress the shudder she felt building up along her spine but Mulder saw the tail end of it and put a hand on her forearm to offer her his strength.

“You agree it's suicide?” Eric asked.

Mulder looked over at him. No he didn't. He thought whatever arrangement Maria had made with whatever entity she was using to exact her revenge had taken it's final payment. He glanced at Scully who had paled considerably since they got there and slowly nodded and he moved his eyes back to Eric.

“Yes.”

Eric nodded too, almost seeming relieved that this had reached an end, even if that end felt unfinished, unsatisfying, uncertain.

Mulder moved his hand to Scully’s back and guided her towards the exit. “We’ll prepare our statements from the incident in the dorm last night,” he said. “And file our reports in a few days from DC.”

“You’re both going back to DC?” Eric asked and Mulder didn't miss how his eyes moved to Scully but she remained stoic by his side and didn't look up.

“Yeah,” Mulder confirmed. “We’ll try to catch a flight this afternoon if we can.”

Eric’s lips disappeared into a thin line as he watched Mulder guide Scully out of the room, one hand on her shoulder, the other on the small of her back. Mulder glanced back at him as he hit the elevator button but Scully kept her eyes forward, then lowered them as they stepped into the elevator and faced forward.

 


 

Dulles Airport

 

Mulder hefted her bag off the carousel and looped the strap over his shoulder. He ignored the shooting pain across his back and reached for his own bag too.

“Mulder!” She admonished and took his bag off him. “Your back, you’ll rip your stitches out.”

“It's fine.”

“Yeah sure, till you come banging on my door to stitch you back up.” She tugged the strap on his other shoulder but he wouldn't let her take it.

“No Scully, it's fine.”

“I swear Mulder, if you do rip a stitch…”

“What?” He teased as he leaned down to her. “You wouldn't let me suffer would you?”

“I just might,” she muttered and turned to head for the parking garage.

She had been quiet since they left the hospital. While she packed up her things and argued with the motel manager over the extra payment for broken windows, he rang the airline and got them a flight home within a couple of hours. She feigned sleep for the duration of the flight but he could tell by the way she was so still with even breathing she wasn't actually sleeping.

She was a mover when she slept, she twisted and turned, snuggled and sighed and he loved it. It was the best part of flying. When she would start off curled against the window and end up curled against him, he would ignore his own weariness to bask in her closeness for as long as she offered it.

In his car he settled in against the seat and fixed his seatbelt then glanced over at her. He started the engine and started the long journey into Georgetown to her apartment.

“Hey,” he said when they got onto the highway. “You ok?”

“Yeah, I was just thinking about Maria.”

“How so?”

“It just all feels so…”

“Unfinished?”

“Unsatisfying.” She looked over at him. “What do you think actually happened?”

Mulder glanced at her but quickly turned his eyes back to the road. “I think...Maria Carson used catoptromancy to harness some...power...and hurt people, make it look like they hurt themselves.”

“How?”

“I found some books in her dorm. Latin books, myths and legends, medical textbooks.”

“And you think she used these to learn...catoptromancy?”

“It's the only explanation I can come up with, the only one that makes sense, the only one that fits all pieces of evidence we collected.”

Scully hummed and looked back out the window. Mulder wanted to say something else but her phone rang and cut off his thoughts. She took it out and answered it without looking at the caller ID.

“Scully...Oh, Hi Matt.”

Mulder whipped his head around to look at her but quickly turned back to the road. Matt? Fuck, he had forgotten about Matt, he realised.

“No, I just got back into DC, we’re on our way in from the airport...No, I can't this evening...yeah maybe tomorrow.”

Mulder tried not to listen but with her sitting a mere two feet away from her it was impossible not to. He could even hear some of Matt’s side of the call. He heard the word lunch, he heard the word dinner, he heard soft laughter.

“Okay, I’ll call you and we can sort something out...yeah, bye.”

She hung up the phone and Mulder watched her look down at her in her hands with a soft smile.

“Hot date?” he asked before he could stop himself.

“Hmm?” she looked up at him as she put her phone into her pocket. “No, no, just a...colleague.”

Colleague? Mulder wondered if that was the whole truth. He didn't think she looked at the phone like that after hanging up on him.

“I spoke with Skinner earlier,” he said in a swift change of subject. “He said he set time up in the morning for a debrief.”

“You think Eric filed his report yet?” Scully frowned at the thought of being disparaged in a report for the shooting at the university.

“No, and I don't think he will.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m not sure he knows what to make of the whole thing.” Mulder shrugged and shook his head. “He was in a rage last night, but this morning he seemed confused.”

“It was a confusing series of events,” Scully said.

“That it was.”

They fell into an uneasy silence as Mulder navigated off the highway and through the city streets and finally pulled up outside her apartment. He killed the engine and climbed out of the car with her. At the trunk he tried to lift her bag but she put a hand on his arm and stopped him. She took her own bag and rubbed his lower back.

“It's fine, I can take it from here.”

Mulder nodded. Now with no reason to walk her in he found himself standing by the driver's door, his keys twirling in his hands as she crossed the lawn to her door.

“See you in the morning?” he called out, unable to fully let her go just yet. She nodded and waved then disappeared inside.

 


 

FBI Basement Office

 

Mulder swung the door open and tossed his notes onto his desk as he rounded it and dropped into the chair with a sigh. Scully who was right behind him saw him sit then wince and lean forward to protect his back.

“Careful,” she chided as she walked to the edge of the desk and leaned against it. She put a hand on his back, smoothed it gently over his injury as if testing his dressing. “Did you take your painkillers?”

“No.” He shook his head and sat up, forcing her hand off his back. “They make me loopy.”

Scully smiled. “You don't want to be loopy?”

“No, not while I’m working. I’ll take a double dose at the weekend,” he said with a chuckle. “I don't think Skinner would handle me being handsy and full of hyperbole as well as you do.”

Scully laughed and patted his shoulder. “He took the debrief really well.”

Mulder nodded. He reached for his notes and moved to the cabinet to file them away. “How about you?”

“How about me, what?”

“How do you feel about it? The debrief? Final report? Police statements?”

Scully looked away. She wasn't sure how she felt about it. She was glad to be home. She was glad it was over, everything else she was still processing. She didn't mention how she hadn't looked in a mirror since she got home. How she draped a sheet over the standing mirror in her bedroom. How she smeared lathered soap over the mirror in her bathroom. How she hadn't slept a wink the night before and spent the whole time staring at the covered mirror, waiting for something to happen. She definitely didn't mention how she was almost disappointed when nothing did.

“I think it's another case, with a difficult ending, but that's par for the course.”

Mulder nodded slowly. He came to stand beside her and put his hands on his hips. “Difficult is one word that works.” He looked at his watch and saw it was close to 1pm. “Let’s break for lunch.”

“Lunch?” she said and looked at her watch too. “Oh, crap, no I can't.”

“Oh?”

“I’m meeting someone for lunch, I’m already late.” She grabbed her jacket from the hook behind the door and disappeared. Mulder watched after her, listened to the elevator arrive and leave and slumped back into his chair with a sigh, and another wince.

Matt.

By the time Scully got back from lunch he was knee deep in distractions. Or case files if she asked but he knew the truth. Distractions. He had finished their case report and expense sheet. He had completed his own statement for the police report on the shooting at the university dorm and left it aside for her to review if needed.

As she slipped her jacket off and hung it up on the hook he sat back in his chair. He didn't mean to stare, but he couldn't help it. Her cheeks were a little flushed and her eyes glassy. He wasn't sure but he thought she stumbled as she moved to take her seat.

“Good lunch?” he asked.

She glanced up and blushed and his smile widened. Was she drunk? She definitely had a drink at lunch.

“Yeah, it was nice.”

Mulder nodded and narrowed his eyes as he watched her shrewdly. She coughed lightly, her eyes darted around the room as she tried to focus on one thing but couldn't decide what.

“Scully?” he asked and her eyes came right back to him. “Are you drunk?”

It wasn't an accusatory tone in his voice, it was filled with amusement and Scully smiled.

“Not drunk...tipsy maybe!”

“Wow…” he teased her and shook his head in mock disappointment. “On a work day? In the middle of the week? What would Margret Scully say?”

Scully barked out a laugh and leaned back in her chair. “She would be pleased to see her daughter taking advantage of a two for one cocktail offer.”

Mulder smiled and waved his pencil at her. “Go home Scully, take the rest of the day off and don't let those cocktails go to waste by hanging around here all afternoon.”

“No, I couldn't,” she said with a wave of her hand. “I want to finish up the expense sheet-”

“Done.”

“And the case report-”

“Done.”

“And my statement for Eric.”

“I sent mine in already, it's right there, if you need it.”

“You did all that?” She frowned as he nodded with a wide smile. “Didn't you go for lunch?”

“I grabbed a wrap,” he said with a shrug. “Go Scully, enjoy the day.”

Scully looked at him carefully. He seemed relaxed, almost eager for her to leave. Almost too eager as if he was trying to get rid of her. She expected him to be a little tense after she skipped out on his lunch invitation and went to meet Matt. It wasn't a date, it was lunch with a colleague, discussing the progress of her lectures in Quantico, and his companion lectures in the University of Virginia.

She knew he thought it was a date, and she let him. After the fiasco with Eric in the diner, how Mulder set it up and ditched her as if she was incapable of arranging her own dates, she wanted to let him think her lunch with Matt was a date. And when Matt convinced her to share a 2 for 1 cocktail it turned into buying three rounds of mojitos and she found herself wobbling back to the office and giggling in the elevator at the thought of Mulder's reaction.

“Okay, I think I will.”

She stood and packed her bag, scanned the room to be sure she had everything then snagged her coat from the hook.

“You’re not driving right?” he asked as she reached for the door.

She shook her head with a crooked smile. Then waved and left.

Mulder found himself listening to the elevator arrive and leave again. He wanted to know everything about her lunch date. Every second, every utterance, every morsel of food and drink that passed her lips. He wanted to curl up on the couch with a bottle of wine and convince her to tell him everything. Then he could be sure if Matt was worth worrying about.

Alternatively he could wait her out. See how many dates with Matt he would hear about. Listen to them get more and more serious then get to the stage where he was waiting to hear about her wedding.

Mulder groaned. Leaned back to face the ceiling and covered his face with his hands to reign in his rampant imagination. It was lunch. With a colleague. Was it even a date? He realised he wasn't going to get any work done in the basement office, and felt like he had already done a full day's work with all the paperwork he kept busy with.

He picked up the phone and dialled Skinner's number. Confirmed receipt of the expense sheet and the filled case report then packed his stuff up and went home.

 


 

Mulder’s Apartment

 

Getting home at 3pm on a Thursday afternoon was an unusual situation for Mulder. He had gone for a run. He’d showered, careful to keep his back dry, and changed. He called the gunman and dissected the Arizona case again in great detail, too much detail and left him with a growing headache. He wandered into the kitchen and thought about making food but nothing appealed.

Back in the living room his eyes went to the computer and he thought about hunting leads on the case in Maine he picked at this morning but he had already spent a couple of hours on it and didn't think he would make any more progress until the local PD sent over the files he requested. He looked at the TV and his eyes fell on the haphazardly piled stack of videos next to it but even they didn't draw him in.

He took a few steps into the bedroom and started picking up clothes from the floor, the damp towels from his shower and even went so far as changing the bed sheets. When that room was clean he brought his cleaning energy into the living room and soon had the coffee table clear of clutter, and his desk organised enough to be actually able to work on it. Finally in the kitchen he wiped surfaces, though the room was so little used there wasn't enough mess to keep him busy for long.

He fell onto the couch and lifted his feet onto the newly cleaned coffee table, picked up the remote and started to channel surf. He felt a heaviness settle in his stomach. He didn't usually get to this point of idle surfing until much later in the night. Hell, he didn't usually get to this level of surfing on a week night ever.

He tried not to think about it. But there was no stopping the rampaging thoughts of drunk Scully wobbling into the office, her cheeks warm, her eyes shining, her smile loose. This trip to Arizona was tumultuous. Her mood after the lecture was high, and she took part in the storytelling and even played Bloody Mary with him, though that didn't end well. He grimaced at the memory of her face when her mirror cracked, and then again when his mirror cracked. It was almost as bad as her face when she called him on ditching her at the diner with Eric.

Mulder let his head fall back onto the couch and draped his arms over his face. Just when he thought they were getting back on track, or better yet, making progress to something else, something softer, no sharper, definitely sharper. It was like drinking a glass of orange juice after brushing his teeth. An all consuming sensation that he could feel in every nerve in his body and caused him to shudder. Though with Scully it was pure raw desire that rattled through his body and made him wish he had the balls to step up and make a move.

He wondered what she was doing right now. Sleeping off her midday buzz? Enhancing it? Maybe she called Matt and went out to meet him again.

“Fuck.”

His voice was low but resonated around the empty, recently cleaned room. Mulder chuckled sadly at the sound and reached for the remote to turn off the shopping channel and find something more distracting. In a few hours he would order a pizza. A few hours after that he could climb into bed. Then tomorrow he will go to the office. Ask Scully to lunch. Ask her to go for a drink. Ask her if she wanted to kiss him. Ask if she wanted to fuck.

Mulder chuckled again. And then he would ask her if she wanted to move to Montana and live on a ranch. He figured he had just as much chance of getting that to happen.

Irritated now, Mulder flicked off the TV and reached for his phone. Maybe the gunmen had something he could chew on and keep busy with. Anything would be better than this. He dialled the number, cursing them for not letting him store it in his speed dial. After a few rings Frohike picked up with the usual gunman greeting.

“Hey, it's Mulder.”

“Hey Mulder, glad you called, I have a theory about the case in Arizona.”

“Yeah?” Mulder settled back into the couch, happy to let Frohike spin whatever yarn he was about to share and keep his mind off Scully, and whatever Scully might be doing right now. Whoever. Mulder screwed his eyes shut to ignore that thought, and focused on what Frohike was saying.

A knock at his door sounded and he looked over at it, as if he expected it to open. He wasn't expecting anyone but perhaps that knock was on his neighbours door. He waited, focused on Frohike again but then there was another knock on the door so he climbed off the sofa and walked over. He leaned to look through the peephole and saw Scully on the other side.

“Frohike, I gotta call you back.”

He hung up without waiting for a response then looked through the peephole once more as if to be sure it was her. She had changed out of her work clothes, and wore a plain white v-neck tee half tucked into a pair of faded jeans. He stepped back, took a shaky breath then pulled the door open.

“Scully, hey,” he said and leaned one arm high on the door frame.

“You’re home,” she said simply.

“Yeah.”

“I thought you’d be at work.”

“Then why are you knocking on my door?” Scully smiled and moved her eyebrows once. “You wanna come in?” he asked and pushed the door open. She nodded and moved into his apartment unnecessarily bending her head to go under his arm. He closed the door and followed her into the living room. She kicked off her sneakers, and sat on the centre of his couch with a sigh then propped her feet on his coffee table and sighed again.

“Make yourself at home,” he said and moved to sit next to her, forced to sit right up against her because of the position she picked.

“This place looks different,” she said and she looked around the room with a slight frown as if trying to figure it out. “Wait...did you clean?”

“What? No.” Mulder looked around the room again and realised he had definitely gone too far with his cleaning spree. “It's always like this.”

She jabbed him in the ribs with her elbow and smiled.

After a moment of silence, Mulder coughed lightly then spoke up. “What brings you here Scully?”

“I was at home, on the couch, and I realised I owe you something.”

“Owe me?” Mulder looked down at her with a frown.

She leaned away from him and made a show of rummaging in her pocket for a moment then pulled out a crumpled twenty dollar bill.

“I owe you twenty bucks.”

“Do you?” He took the note from her fingers and straightened it out then held it up to the light as if checking it's authenticity.

“You were right. Eric asked me out.”

“He did?” Mulder wasn't sure he wanted to wander down that alley of conversation again.

“He asked me out the next morning on the phone when he told me about the older case files.”

“Ah.” Mulder said. “And then I...ditched you later that day in the diner.”

Scully grunted in acknowledgement and shook her head. “I’m glad you finally agree that you did ditch me.”

“Sorry about that,” he said and hoped they wouldn't go through that argument again. “So he did actually ask you out huh?”

“Yep,” she said, making the end of the word pop.

“And you said no?”

“Yep.”

“Because you worked together?”

“Nope.” Still making her words pop and he smiled.

He was relieved to hear that the working relationship wasn't the reason for her refusal to go out with Eric. Then another reason occurred to him and he frowned.

“Because of Matt?” he said carefully.

Scully smiled and laughed softly. “No. Definitely not because of Matt.”

“Who is Matt?” he asked, unable to stop himself. His fingers worked the bill against his thigh as he tried to smoothen out the crinkled note.

“Matt, is a colleague. Didn't I tell you that?”

“Yeah, a colleague. Like me.”

Scully laughed again, this time a little louder, a little more mirth in the sound and Mulder wanted to shake her and demand she tell him why she was laughing.

“Like you?” She nudged him again. “No, not like you.”

“Oh.”

“Mulder, no one is like you, you’re one of a kind.”

“Great.” He frowned. “I think.”

“Matt is a pathologist, he sometimes works in Quantico. He is doing the same lectures as me except he is hosting them at the University of Virginia.”

“Oh.”

“We’re basically glorified recruiters for the FBI, we’re swapping notes, and comparing feedback.”

“Right.”

“Mulder, did you think-”

“No, I didn't think anything. I think I thought I shouldn't think.” He winced at his lack of command of the English language. “After what I thought about Eric, I thought it was better not to think those thoughts.”

Scully smiled, took a deep breath and slowly released it. “You should think some thoughts, just not those thoughts.”

“What, um, what thoughts should I be thinking?” Mulder was sure he was going to sweat through his tshirt. He felt warm, constricted, heavy air breathing in and out of his lungs. He had no idea what direction she was choosing with this conversation and he had no idea how to proceed.

“Thoughts about me are ok, just not thoughts about me with other men.”

Mulder barked a laugh out and covered his mouth to try and stop another from following. “Trust me Scully, thinking about you with other men are not thoughts I want to think.”

“Why?”

“Well...it's your private life right?” he said, though it came out like a question as if he was unsure if that was the right response. He wasn't sure where they were going with this conversation and part of him wanted to race away from it, back to neutral ground, back to when they were talking about Bloody Mary and the hook man.

Or quit this teasing bullshit and kiss her, his mind screamed and it was almost strong enough to make him move his arm from his lap to her shoulder and pull her against him.

“Yeah, it is.” Scully spoke after a brief pause and he had to think back to what he last said to understand her context. “But that's never stopped you before.”

“Well, let me take this twenty dollars,” he said and waved it in front of her face. “And buy you dinner.”

“I’d like that.” She patted his leg and snuggled into the couch deeper, like she was planning to stay a while.

Mulder reached for the phone. “Pizza ok?” She nodded. He dialled the local pizza place, ordered their usual then tossed the phone back on to his desk. “You want a drink? Or is that buzz from lunch still working for you?”

Scully smiled. “I could take a drink.”

Mulder jumped up and hurried out to the fridge. He brought back two bottles of beer, opened one and handed it to her, then opened the next and held the bottom out towards her. She clinked her bottle against it and they both took long drinks.

“I chatted with the gunmen earlier, they found three more instances of deaths that could potentially be linked to urban legends.”

“In Arizona?”

“Yeah. There was one student killed in the dorm fifteen years ago but it was ruled as a suicide.”

“But you disagree with that assessment?”

Mulder nodded. “The mirror was broken, there was gunpowder in the crack.”

“The mirror?” Some of the mirth was gone from her voice and she sat forward a little.

“Yeah, I sent the gunmen some of the glass shards from Maria’s dorm. And I found transcripts of some of the books she had in her dorm, so Langly is looking into the text to see if there is anything there that might explain how she did it.”

Scully nodded and her eyes quickly scanned the room for reflective surfaces. Mulder watched her eyes linger for a moment on the art he had hung up on the wall across the room and knew immediately what she was thinking of. He reached down and covered her hand with his and gently squeezed her fingers.

“When I got home yesterday,” she said, her voice low, “I covered the mirrors in the house.”

“Why?”

“I guess I wanted to make sure…” she sat back again and rolled her eyes with a crooked smile. “I just didn't want to tempt fate.”

“She believes!” he whispered. “Be still my heart…” He squeezed her fingers then released her hand and lifted his beer for a drink.

“A temporary lapse in my otherwise impeccable judgement,” she said and nudged his ribs with her elbow.

“Impeccable.”

Scully tipped her head to look at him with a smile and he looked down at her. He realised how close they were and how simple it would be to lean in, press his lips to hers and finally kiss her. Her eyes flicked to his mouth and he couldn't help it when his tongue came out to wet his lips. When she looked back up at him and her lips curved into a slow smile he lost the ability to breathe.

“Scully…”

“Yeah?”

“Can...I kiss you?”

“You want to kiss me?” she whispered, the question hanging in the air, the intention, the tease, all making his blood swiftly flow to one spot.

“If you don't let me kiss you right now I'm going to lose my fucking mind…” he spoke on a shaky breath as if unable to believe the words were coming out of his mouth but had no power to stop them.

Scully’s smile spread further across her lips and made her eyes shine more than the cocktails she had at lunch and Mulder felt a pressure in his chest slowly start to release. He leaned in, his hands tightened on his beer bottle and he pressed his lips to hers.

He was immediately struck by how soft they were and he wanted more, so much more. He leaned in further, parted his lips, ran his tongue against hers until they parted on a sigh and he plunged his tongue into her mouth with a grown.

He wished he had put his beer down, wished he had taken hers out of her hands, he wanted to touch her, feel her hands on him. He leaned back, broke the kiss with a soft pop and looked at her. She was smiling, her lips parted, her breath coming in short sharp pants and it melted his heart.

“Feel better?” she whispered.

He slowly shook his head. “No. I feel worse.”

Her smile faltered. He glanced down and took her beer out of her hand and put it and his own drink on the coffee table then turned back to her. He draped one arm along the back of the couch, his hand rested on her shoulder, his fingers tenderly stroked soft circles into her warm skin. His other hand went to her knee and slowly ran up her thigh to rest on her hip.

“I’m a mess.” He whispered softly, his words barely audible even though there was no competing sound. “I’ve been thinking about kissing you for longer than I should admit. I thought it would be better if I ignored that urge, pushed my feelings away. Push you towards other options...other men.”

“Eric?”

Mulder nodded. “I figured it would be better...easier.” He scoffed softly and closed his eyes as his head shook again. “I was very fucking wrong. It wasn't easy.”

“Shhhh,” She said and she leaned in and kissed him. When she felt his fingers tighten on her hip and on her shoulder she leaned forward to deepen the kiss, brushed her tongue against his lips and he opened his mouth with a sigh. She found his mouth warm, wet, inviting, his tongue still at first came to life when she sucked on it gently.

His hand moved up her arm over her shoulder, brushed her neck and cupped her face as he leaned into her and started to devour her and to his utter surprise and delight she reciprocated. She gripped his shoulders, pushed him back onto the couch and moved to straddle him. Mulder whimpered when she sat on his lap, his hands moved to her hips and he pulled her against him.

“Mulder,” she moaned as her hips moved against him and he dropped his forehead to her shoulder and groaned back.

“Scully, is this happening?” he said, then lifted his head and suckled on one of her earlobes. “Tell me to stop, Scully god,” his voice was hoarse with need, his breath panting against her ear made her move her hips harder against him.

Her hands ran into his hair, grabbed fistfuls of it and pulled his head back as she lifted up onto her knees, away from his lap and looked down at his face. His eyes were wide, his mouth agape. She searched his face for something, she wasn't sure what.

“This is happening,” she whispered. “I don't want you to stop.”

“Thank fuck!”

He gripped her hips and pulled her back down onto his lap. They both moaned but he covered her face in wet open mouth kisses until he ran his tongue into her mouth and tried to explore every corner of it. When her hips started to move again he encouraged her with his hands and it wasn't until he felt his hips thrust up into her that he realised how close he was to losing it.

“Scully,” he moaned, and moved his hands to scoop up her tshirt so he could put his hands on her skin, the soft satin warm skin on her back. Mulder moaned into her mouth as he ran his hands up to her shoulders, then hesitated only a second before he brought them higher and lifted the tshirt over her head.

He tried not to gasp, or stare but he couldn't help it. He leaned back to look down at her chest. Her bra was a simple pale blue cotton tshirt bra but he thought he had never seen anything so beautiful. He leaned his head down and kissed the top curves of her breasts that were threatening to spill out of the bra cups and moaned against her chest when it moved against his face as she inhaled sharply.

He moved one hand down her back and slipped it into her jeans to cup her ass, as his other hand moved between her shoulders to hold her against him.

“Mulder,” she moaned, his name a sigh on her tongue and Scully almost jerked away from him at the sound of it. She hadn't heard a sound like that come out of her mouth in a long time. No matter what angle she tried herself, what added extras she used, she never managed to extract those sounds, even when she moaned his name.

“Scully…” He tugged her bra cup down and covered her nipple with his lips then flicked his tongue over it.

“Oh!”

He flicked it again then sucked it into his mouth with a moan and he pressed his head against her as her hips jerked against him.

He tugged the other bra cup down and did the same and her hips moved again. While his lips learned everything they could about her breasts his hand moved to the front of her jeans and he popped the button. She gasped, and he wasn't sure if it was because of his hands or his lips so he kept going with both in the hope he could hear that sound again.

He pulled down her zip as much as he could with her legs splayed over his lap but it was enough so he could slip his hands in and cup her.

“Mul-'' she gasped but bit the word off when her teeth jammed onto her bottom lip. She lifted off his lap to make room for his hand and he took the hint. He moved his hand to slide into her panties and they both moaned at the skin on skin contact this time.

“Scully, fuck…” She was wet and swollen, filled with desire for him and when he moved one finger past her folds to touch her entrance she moved her hips and he slipped right in. “Oh god!”

He buried his face into the crook of her neck, kissed it where it met her shoulder and held her tightly as her hips moved against his hand. He added another finger, and his thumb reached to brush her clit.

“Mulder, yes,” she panted against the crown of his head as her hips sped up.

“Keep going Scully, please,” he begged, urging her to keep fucking his hand as he was contricted in his movements because she was still wearing her jeans. He didn't care if it meant he would come in his jeans. He would keep her entertained until he could get it up again if he had to but nothing in the world should stop what was happening right now.

He moved his mouth off her shoulder to capture her nipple again. He crooked his fingers against her front wall, stroking that very spot that made her shudder and his other hand tightened on her ass and encouraged her movements.

“Oh, oh god, oh…” she chanted into his hair.

“Yes!” he whispered against her breast when he felt her inner walls start to flutter against his fingers. His thumb quickened against her clit. “Fuck Scully, you’re so hot.”

“Mulder,” she panted and lowered her head as she tugged on his hair to tip his head up to crash her lips against his as she came.

He swallowed her moans, encouraged her hips, sucked on her tongue and squeezed her ass for the full duration of her orgasm. When she started to come down he slipped his fingers out of her, moved his hand out of her panties and slipped it into the back of her jeans to cup the cheek of her ass.

She dropped her forehead onto his shoulder as she struggled to catch her breath. He peppered the side of her face with soft kisses as his hands stroked her ass and pulled her against him making her moan.

“Mulder,” she whispered.

“Mmm?”

“The other day,” she said, and he could tell she was smiling by the playful tone in her voice. “When I said you shouldn't put your fingers in places…”

Mulder chuckled. “Yeah?”

“You shouldn't listen to me.”

Mulder’s chuckle turned into a laugh and he kissed her neck.

“Next time though-”

“Next time?”

“You should take off my jeans.”

“Next time, I want to take off more than your jeans.”

“I approve that approach,” she said with a chuckle and she leaned back a little to look down at his face.

He looked up in wonder at her flushed skin, her parted lips, her glassy eyes, her tousled eyes and he couldn't wait to kiss her again. He leaned in but just as his lips touched hers there was a knock at the door.

“No!” he cursed and tried to ignore it but Scully pulled away.

“Pizza.”

“I don't care,” he said and he tried to kiss her again but the knocking at the door sounded again and he moaned. “God dammit.”

Scully moved off him and he grunted. He looked down at his lap. His tented jeans told a story all of their own and he tugged on them as he stood in an effort to maintain some dignity. When he heard Scully chuckle behind him he looked over his shoulder at her and shook his head with a frown.

“This is your fault!” he cursed as he hurried to answer the door when there was another knock. “Coming, coming,” he yelled out as he grabbed his wallet from the dining table then tugged on his jeans again and pulled his tshirt over the protuberance.

He pulled the door open, paid for the pizza and closed the door as quickly as he could. Scully chuckled as he carried the food over to the table and she lifted the two beer bottles to make room. He stepped over her outstretched legs and took his seat again with a sigh. He looked over at her and took in her self satisfied smile as she sipped her beer and handed his bottle out to him. He took it wordlessly and sipped it.

“So…” he said as he lowered his hand, and let the bottle dangle from his fingers between his legs. He looked down at her jeans and saw she had fixed them closed. Her tshirt was still somewhere across the room, though she had pulled the cups of her bra back over her breasts. “That was…”

“Fucking incredible,” she finished for him and sipped her beer again.

“Yeah,” he said with a sigh.

“You hungry?” she said and her eyes flicked from his lips to the pizza, to his lap and back to his lips.

“No.”

“It'd be a shame to…”

Her eyes flicked around again and he wondered what she was going to say. Let the pizza go cold?

“...let that go to waste,” she said eventually and her eyes landed on his lap.

Just when he thought his cock was starting to soften, it surged right back to full attention and his breath caught in his throat.

“Shame.” was all he could manage as he noticed she started to move. He felt her press his shoulders again but this time he fell back to lie on the couch and she followed and draped herself over him. She pressed her hands into the cushion either side of his head.

“And this time…” her hand moved down to his hip and ran up his side under his tshirt, over the ripple of his ribs.

“Yeah?”

“You should definitely take this off,” she tugged on his tshirt and he leaned up enough to pull it off over his head. She tossed it away then leaned back and started to tug on his sweats. “And you should absolutely take these off.” She shimmied lower on her legs then stepped off the couch to pull them down entirely but before she could climb back onto him he sat up and gripped her hips.

“And you should take these off…” he popped her jeans open again and this time pulled them down until she could kick her legs free then he fell back onto the couch and brought her with him.

She was lying on top of him and felt his warm skin all over. His hands roamed over her back, her ass, her sides, cupped her breasts, gripped her shoulders, pulled her against his cock.

“This...us.” he said and she lifted her head out of the crook of his neck to smile down at him. “Us. New us. Different us.”

“Same us,” she said and tilted her head a little. “ Same us, different angle.”

“Angle?” he said with a crooked smile and lifted his hips into her to make her smile back.

She moaned softly so he did it again and this time moved his hand into her panties, onto her ass and rolled her against him. This time her moan was more guttural and her eyes fluttered closed so he did it again and again until she was writhing on top of him.

“Mulder,” she moaned and he saw her bite her lip. He leaned up to kiss her, rubbed his tongue against her teeth until she released her lip and he shoved his tongue into her mouth as his hands gripped her panties and pulled them down.

Somehow, without breaking their kiss she helped him get her panties off completely but when her fingers went to grip his boxers they had to separate to rid him of them. He moaned when his cock sprang free and bounced against his stomach. She didn't have his boxers off completely when one hand continued to drag them down his legs and the other hand moved to grip his cock.

Mulder inhaled sharply and half sat up as she worked his shaft in slow loose strokes. “Scully, shit,” he gasped and his hand moved to grip her wrist though he didn't pull her off him. When she finally had his boxers discarded she climbed back on to straddle his legs and her other hand moved to his cock to join in the motions there.

“Scully scully scully scully,” he chanted and fell back onto the couch then sat up abruptly and pulled her hands off him. “Stop, shit.” he closed his eyes and clenched his jaw then felt her kissing his neck and nearly lost it.

“I want you inside me,” she whispered and his eyes flung open to look at her face and see if she actually said that or he imagined it.

She pushed him back into the couch and moved further up his lap. She twisted her hands to grip his wrists instead and held them against the arm of the couch above his head as she lowered her hips and grinded her folds against his cock, coating him in her arousal as she kissed him deeply.

“Are you ready?” she asked and he scoffed a sharp laugh then nodded but as she lifted her hips and one hand gripped him to line him against her entrance, he half sat up.

“Shit wait!” he said and circled her wrist to stop her. “Condom, I should get a condom.”

“Oh...yeah,” she looked down between them. “It's been a while for me...I’m clean.”

Mulder’s brain froze. Fuck he wanted to be buried inside her without any barrier but was she suggesting what he thought she was?

“Are you? Um...clean?” she asked.

Mulder laughed again. “Fucking squeaky clean,” he said with a grin. “It's been a while for me too,” he added with a half shrug. “Are you sure?” he asked, his voice lowered to a whisper and he caught her eyes, needing to be sure too. “We can-”

“I’m sure Mulder, I’m sure. Are you?”

He nodded. He loosened his grip on her wrist and moved his hand to her hip and squeezed. Their eyes connected and he held his breath as she slowly slid onto him.

“Oh christ,” he grunted and clenched his teeth but before he could prepare himself she lifted off him and slowly lowered onto him again.

“Mulder,” she moaned out his name, letting her head fall back and just basked in the sensation of pure fullness. She felt her body stretch and move around him and every stroke into her filled her further. She kept a glacial pace as she moved her hips taking him in as deep as she could, then pulling off until only his tip was in her entrance.

“Scully, christ, I can't hold it.”

“Wait for me, Mulder,” she moaned and the hand on her hip moved to her front to encourage her to move faster. His thumb brushed her clit in ever quickening circles and soon her hips followed suit.

She braced herself off his shoulders and leaned forward enough to take him in even deeper and they both moaned.

“Scully,” he warned. “Now, fuck!”

“Yes, oh god, oh, oh,” she chanted as she moved like a blur above him.

Mulder struggled to keep his eyes open. Everything in him was moving south, swelling in his cock racing to break free in what felt like was going to be an explosion he might not be able to contain. But he wanted to see her. Needed to see her come when he was buried inside her, feel her break apart around him, hear her moan and pant.

“Now Mulder,” she cried out and Mulder felt a bolt of lightning shoot through his body and reverate inside hers.

“Oh god,” he grunted as his hips pushed up into her, eager to be as deep as he could as his cock spasmed, emptied into her and continued to pound against her inner walls as she convulsed around him, until she was a trembling, quivering mess and fell on top of him, panting and laughing.

Mulder closed his eyes and soaked it all in for a few minutes and took stock of everything he could feel. Her body against him, around him. Her breath on his shoulder. Her heart hammering in her chest, against his. Her laughter, soft, enticing, filled the room. Eventually when their breathing slowed and some blood came back to his brain Mulder blinked his eyes open and kissed the top of her head.

“I said it's been a while,” he uttered. “But I don’t remember laughter being the traditional response.”

Scully laughed more then slowly sat up and looked into his face. Her smile was wide and she curled her hair behind her ears.

“It's a laughter of relief,” she said with one flick of her eyebrows.

“Relief?” He frowned lightly and tried to smile around his minor wave of confusion which only made Scully smile more.

“Relieved we’re good at that, at this,” she said and she clenched her inner muscles around his softened cock.

Mulder’s frown disappeared and he smiled. “Did you think we wouldn't be?”

“I hoped we would be.”

“Hoped?” His hands moved off her hips and up her back and when he met the barrier of her bra he glanced down then slipped his hand over to the clasp to undo it. “Thought about it often?” he asked as he slowly dragged the straps down her arms and took it off her completely.

She nodded her head and smiled as his hands moved over her ribs and he cupped her breasts, gently squeezed and ran his thumbs over her nipples. She sighed and her eyes slowly closed over.

“Yeah,” she panted the word out, half in response to what his hands were doing, half in response to his question.

“I never doubted we’d be good at this.” He squeezed her breasts a little harder, then pinched her nipples a little rougher and she moaned then rolled her hips against him. “Not for a second. I only doubted that you would let me.”

“Let you?” She leaned forward, cupped his face and ran her thumbs over his cheeks. “Mulder…” She kissed his lips tenderly. “I’ve been craving you for longer than you could ever believe,” she whispered then kissed him, this time more thoroughly and he was lost in her all over again.

Her tongue lapped his, her hands moved over his ears into his hair and his hands started moving again on her breasts. She circled her hips against him, slowly grinding and moving against him until she felt him stirring inside her.

“Oh,” she said and broke the kiss to look down at him with a wicked smile. “An impressive recovery Mulder.”

“Can you blame me?” he whispered and his eyes roamed over her as his thumbs brushed her nipples again.

Scully chuckled. Mulder gripped her shoulders and pulled her down to kiss her gruffly then rolled them on the couch so she was against the back of it. He pulled her leg over his hip and drove into her. He wasn't fully erect yet but he was growing inside her and he made sure every stroke into her rubbed on her clit. Her chuckling stopped, and her breathing became ragged.

His hand cupped her ass, his fingers moved along the crease between her cheeks and held her in place as his hips sped up. His mouth moved against her neck and he bit down as he felt a particularly powerful surge of desire course through him. Finally his cock was fully hard and this time he was the one who was laughing with relief.

“Harder,” she panted against his ear and gripped fistfuls of his hair.

He pounded against her harder on her request, trying to retain some level of control. He couldn't believe he was so close to coming again, so soon after what felt like a life changing orgasm mere moments ago. Now he was on the brink, ready to explode without preamble, without her, without restraint.

“Scully, come for me, fuck!”

“I’m close,” she said, a promise he needed her to fulfil in seconds. Sooner even, he realised as he felt that familiar tightening in his balls, his cock strained and pulsated, grew inside her then spasmed and jerked as he came hard with a guttural moan and jagged jerks of his hips.

His own movements were so erratic he couldn't tell if she was convulsing with him but he couldn't stop his own progress, his own ending.

“Scully!” he urged, his hips still moving against her. “Scully!”

“So close Mulder,” she cried out. He pushed her into the couch, pulled out which made her gasp then swiftly moved down her body and buried his face between her legs. “Oh god!” she howled.

He went straight for her clit, sucked it into his mouth, flicked it with his tongue and suckled on it gruffly. Scully gripped his head and held him against her as her hips jerked against him. He hummed around her clit and finally she broke with a wail.

He started to slow down but didn’t release her until her panting subsided and she started to squirm away from him. He kissed her inner thighs, the soft curve of her belly, up to her breasts where he suckled on her nipples, kissed the curve of her breasts, the long slender column of her throat, the soft skin under her ear, her lobes, along her jaw to her mouth where his kisses became greedy. Scully chuckled when he broke away from her and looked down at her with a smug smile.

“What?” he asked.

“Guess you were hungry after all,” she said.

Mulder grinned and dropped his forehead to her collarbone as he chuckled. He nestled into her with a contented sigh and her hands brushed over the top of his shoulders in slow tender circles around the light bandages he still had in place there. She kissed the crown of his head and sighed.

“I’m dead,” he muttered. “I’m too old for two shows in quick succession.”

Scully grinned and kissed his head again. “I thought you did a good job.”

“Just good?” he asked and tipped his head up to look at her.

“Pretty good.” She lifted her head to kiss him and he hummed against her lips. “But you need to move, I need to pee.”

Mulder grunted, then kissed her again before he pushed away from her and moved to sit up on the edge of the couch. He reached for his tshirt and handed it back to her then dry washed his face and ran his hands through his hair. Scully was thankful for the shirt, pulled it on then climbed off the couch and hurried to the bathroom.

When she was gone, Mulder pulled on his sweats, then grabbed them each a fresh bottle of beer and opened the pizza box. It was still warm enough to not need reheating.

In the bathroom Scully used the toilet, washed her hands all while avoiding the mirror then took a deep breath and looked up. She stared at her own reflection, almost waiting for something to happen then took a moment to stare at the mirror and flashed back to everything that happened over the last week. Broken mirrors, scary stories. She shook her head and looked away. As she came out of the bathroom she passed Mulder who was going in.

He used the toilet, washed his hands then looked up at his reflection and couldn't stop grinning. He covered his face with both hands, then pulled at his cheeks, this way and that. No matter which way he pulled his grin was unmistakable. He cupped his hands under the tap, splashed water on his face then patted it dry with a towel before he went back out to her.

“Pizza is still good,” she said around a mouthful and grinned as he sat down and kissed her neck just under her ear.

She was still wearing only his tshirt. He spied her bra, panties and clothing in a pile by his TV. He picked up his beer and took a long drink then grabbed a slice and ate alongside her.

“This pizza is phenomenal,” he said and took another bite.

“Biased.”

“Huh?”

“Everything tastes like that after great sex.”

“Great sex?” he said and wagged his eyebrows at her.

“You disagree?” she challenged.

“Fuck no!” He responded quickly and made her laugh.

They ate in silence for a few moments then as she reached for another slice she chuckled. “I can't believe you tried to set me up with the Chief of Police.”

“It wasn't like that!” He protested again and his head fell onto the back of the couch.

“Did you think he was my type?”

“Did you see him?” Mulder rolled his head towards her and gave her an incredulous look. “He is everybody's type. Hell if I thought I had a chance…” Mulder bit his pizza again and Scully poked his side with two fingers.

“What is your type?” she asked in a playful tone and turned on the couch to drape her legs over his lap. His hand came to her shin and his thumb rubbed her gently in a similar motion to the caressing gesture from the foot rub he gave her the other day.

“Short, redheads, with a propensity to question everything I say.” He bit his pizza crust and grinned at her then squeezed her shin. “What about you?”

“What about me?”

“What’s your type?” He finished his crust and turned his body to face her a little more, but kept his hand on her leg, higher now as it caressed her thigh.

“Tall, brunettes that can’t open their mouths without spouting out some crazy theory or another.”

“How fortuitous,” he said and leaned towards her. She met him half way and kissed him on the lips.

Mulder pulled her against him and hugged her tight. He inhaled deeply, soaking it all in, soaking her all in then pulled her onto his lap to hold her more securely.

“This,” he whispered against her ear. “This right here is exactly my type.”

Scully smiled and tipped her head back to look at him. She nodded and kissed his temple “Mine too,” she whispered back and dropped her head to his shoulder and hugged him back.

The End
Skinfull 2021.