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When the Ink Dries

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There was nothing of interest to him in this drawer right now but her wrists.  The records of every event he’d ever cared about, and yet there was nothing so  interesting as her ten narrow fingers.  A lifetime of truth-seeking passion, an office built from the ground up on his convictions, a piece of furniture full of all the knowledge he was prepared to die defending while most people turned a deaf ear, and now that he was for once being given a willing audience, being asked to distill it all into a repertoire of hits and highlights, it came down to the simple fact of a woman’s hands.

He was stuck on her hands to the point of immobility, as always a stubborn constant in a forever-evolving set of circumstances and mutating alliances.  How her hands were a part of this mercurial backdrop, how they’d managed to achieve such birth and transformation, he was not sure.  The pads of his fingertips calloused over from plucking at edges of folders and his back ached from the two hours he’d spent crowded uncomfortably into the right angle provided by the open drawer and the body of the cabinet, and he hadn’t even really read a single peeling label.  

But above him, the rest of the FBI toiled with visible and repetitive fervor within the departments that had been created and chosen for them, one eye on the approaching lunch hour, their only freedom.  Below him, packed dirt agreed not to swallow the basement office that housed his life’s work.  The location had been meant as a concession and a punishment by the powers that be, a cloak of invisibility thrown over him in shame and to shame him, those powers typically ignorant of the fact that that their punishment would serve Mulder better than it would them.  There was nothing that suited Mulder’s purposes better than the ability to disappear.  

And beside him, well, beside him, the hands of his partner Dana Scully worked over the file cabinet in a burgundy red blazer, poking out from the cuffs to nimbly hop from alphabetized letter to alphabetized letter like two white rabbits out of a hat.  Under what cloak of her own had they been hiding?  With what had he so unwittingly blinded himself?  Down here in his basement office, concealed from the threats of the rest of the world, things were supposed to be clear.

This had been happening lately, bits of Scully suddenly turning up like a piece of evidence or a shiny pair of lost keys right in the drawer or your glasses right on your nose.  Things could seem new that way - sometimes delightfully so, and sometimes dangerous, like flecks of glass from vase you couldn’t remember ever breaking.  Her hands were an example of one new thing and these lovely - lovely! How was this possible - hands, they were the reason he was still standing there, back aching in an S-shaped slouch over a drawer she had to raise her elbows to reach.  He feared if he moved, she would too, and he needed time to study her, to take apart the mechanism of his own apparent obtuseness, to figure out how he had never noticed just exactly how nice her hands were before, to wonder if maybe she’d somehow changed them, gotten new ones.

A few months ago, had these hands appeared suddenly as noteworthy to him, it would have been natural to say something about it out loud.  Hey, you know, Scully, you have nice hands.  It was a simple and uncomplicated compliment for a friend, a simple and uncomplicated thing between friends to have one to offer.  But now he just stared, waiting for the next time her pinky accidentally brushed his.  He jumped every time, unnerved and thrilled and embarrassed, as if all the secrets of her heart were carried around in her tiniest finger.

“What is a British detective even hoping to learn from us?” she wondered aloud, apparently lost in her own figuring.  There was a certain kind of emphasis on the word ‘us’ he might have taken offense to, had he not been immunized to it by constant exposure.

“Skinner asked me back when you were… out.  I forgot, or I would have told you before today.  This is a lot of work for one guest.”  

His voice had started to trail off down a rabbit hole of complaint.  He didn’t like guests.  He didn’t like strangers.  He didn’t like people who questioned his means or intents.  He hadn’t liked Dana Scully, once, probably.

“Not a big deal,” she said, leaving it ambiguous as to whether she meant the impending visit of the British detective, or his reference to her convalescence.  

She leaned into the drawer to reach further back, her mouth so close to the entrance it looked like she was telling a dull pea-green robot a secret.

Scully had never been a talker, when it came to the deep stuff, the feelings.  She’d offered him her trust and her loyalty early on, and since then seemed to expect that everything else that happened between them or to them would fall under the umbrella of one or the other.  For her, nothing much needed expressing.  Or perhaps it was just that she could do it so easily, so economically with a look, that tapping into her extensive and highly scientific vocabulary seemed vulgar.

There were the looks: tender, disparaging, doubtful, and “get me a brownie.”  Eye rolls, the touch of his arm to stop him or steady him, an occasional kick under the desk.  She could speak paragraphs with her eyebrows.  He had always understood all these expressions, always received her messages and returned the input just as effortlessly (if not quietly).  

But then one day she’d made him aware that he wasn’t always going to be able to read her mind, that he’d been missing something in the code for a long time.  It had come up very unexpectedly one morning as he was going over the details of a case he was leaving her with on his way out to a mandatory break.  It was the first new thing that had turned up in the office, this bit of news, and it was nothing like the lovely hands:  This is not what I want, this is not who I am.  At least that’s what he’d understood her to be saying at the time.

They’d had a horrible fight - not in its volume or its magnitude or even its duration.  They’d called each other worse names in meaner voices before, held opposing positions until one of them dropped.  This was not like that.  It was short and quiet, but in its effect, devastating.  She’d stormed away in pretend-defiance, then done exactly what he’d asked her to do in the first place, only did it so recklessly it almost got herself killed.  Scully was nothing if not practical, logical.  He’d felt betrayed by the very fact that she’d ventured into his territory of emotional impulsivity, betrayed by that before he even got to the other, more complicated stuff.  It was so unlike her to spite herself over another person that he hadn’t been able to figure it out at the time.  He never guessed that it was something much more powerful than him that she was spiting.  

If a picture was worth a thousand words, than the one she showed him after that fight passed was a very valuable picture indeed.  An X-ray depicting brain cancer.  Inoperable.  He was speechless.

He’d guessed when she invited him in her even-est of voices to the hospital that afternoon that it wouldn’t be good, and he’d felt a sinking feeling forming right down the center of his chest, a canyon of fear that echoed his every swallow.  He’d tried to listen as she effortlessly described the composition, the sinister details, pausing for his benefit like a docent at a museum talking about an Avedon, a racy Maplethorpe at worst, while he stared at the bright light board in dumbstruck fear.  Suddenly Scully had so much to say and none of it could be true, none.  He stayed there staring for a long time after she left the room, picturing her repeating the diagnosis over and over to herself until she could say the words without emotion.  This image of her practicing, perfecting her delivery, making sure she could withstand his protests, his outrage, his unreasonableness - it was almost worse than the news itself.

That was the day he’d started carrying around a tiny Elvis figurine in his jacket pocket.  He’d bought it as a souvenir from Graceland while she was in Philadelphia the night of the fight, That Night.  A meager, but he thought endearing make-up token he’d picked up with the clueless impression that a hurricane would blow over with the harmless breeze of time away.  They had been, how far?  He looked up at the foam-tiled ceiling now as he mentally did the math… roughly sixteen hundred miles apart.  But they may as well have been in different universes.

There he was, following the tour guide to a tinny track of “Blue Suede Shoes” as she followed a dangerous stranger home.  And there he was, avoiding overpriced sodas, while she avoided the brink of an incinerator at said stranger’s psychotic hands.  He wasn’t sure whether to think of it as a death wish or a death curse but certainly the fact that she’d learned she was about to die factored in.  There never quite seemed to be a good time to give someone something you’d bought while they were processing that information.

Now, at the file cabinet, he looked down at Scully’s hands again, wedged between two files as she tried to read upside down.  The gift shop clerk had told him Elvis was meant to be a ring holder.  

“Do you ever wear rings, Scully?”

“Not much since med school.  All the hand washing.”  Yes, he should have guessed that.  Three months ago, even, he could have guessed that without asking.   As it turned out, the list of people he would give a wiggling Elvis ring holder to was very short.  So he kept it in his pocket, waiting for the right moment.  Every time he patted for his badge, he got a welcome reminder that he was lucky she was still alive.  Right now, she was alive and waving a hand in front of his face.  

“Mullllderrrr.”

“Sorry, I was…” but he couldn’t finish the sentence.  He hoped the self-effacing shake of his head didn’t communicate what he was thinking as well as it would’ve in the past.  

Her slightly annoyed countenance hung like a shiny, off-kilter Christmas tree ornament below him.  There, he thought.  She’s close.  Maybe he could do it, he could take her chin in his hand just to feel the weight of it in his palm, or maybe he could do more than that.  Maybe he was overcomplicating it.

“I said I’m not mad,” she argued, mistaking his silence as a silent treatment.  He nodded and backed away, blowing cool air on his burning fingers and strolling to the opposite side of the room.  Two steps, is she really not mad?  Four steps, would she have kissed me back?  Five and there was no more room to pace.

“So, she deals with serial killers,” she said.  Scully’s way of moving on seemed to be to… just move on.  Mulder was a guy who’d been chasing the same childhood trauma, the same vendetta his entire life.  How did they manage to get along so well?

“Patterns of repeated violence against women,” he corrected.

“I suppose we should go introduce ourselves and bring her down.”

“You know, Scully, it used to be no girls in the clubhouse.  I’ve already had to make an exception for you.”

“Make one more?” came a smoky English accent from the doorway.  

Their guest had arrived.  She had the steely beauty of an ice field, a pair of blue eyes set like hot springs in a landscape of silvery platinum.  Somehow this had not been what he’d been picturing when they said seasoned British Met officer.  Let the triteness of the surprise be on him, he guessed.

“You must be Detective Gibson,” Scully said, stepping forward to shake her hand.

“Stella’.”  

He watched Scully decide whether to give her first name and he smiled that this had something to do with him.  It was his doing that she recognized her last name more than her first.   Before their partnership, she would unquestionably have answered ‘Dana.’

“Scully is fine.”

Mulder clumsily made his way to shake Stella’s hand and the Coke can that had missed the basket earlier clanged across the floor.  He grabbed the edge of the chair to keep from tripping.  One of Scully’s eyebrows pinged like an arcade game, tuning into a round of something she was already silently accusing him of participating in.  

“We put aside the files you asked for,” he said, trying to ignore Scully and her stupid perfect, insinuating eyebrow.  She thought she knew when he had an instant crush on someone and yet had been missing him staring at her all fucking morning.  

It suddenly occurred to Mulder that he would be spending the whole week proving himself to a third party.  He had enough on his hands with Scully’s doubts.  He had wondered why they’d given Gibson to them and not some other agents.  It was unlike anyone at the FBI to want to show them off, much less to a foreign entity.  Maybe they wanted to keep him from his real work. Well, whatever the agenda, she was already digging in, making herself at home, folding her coat over the chair and sitting at the desk.  She flipped through the pile of cases they’d made for her with a light touch.

“A colleague of mine in England speaks very highly of you, Agent Mulder.”

“Then he probably knew me as a profiler.  But that was a long time ago.  This building is crawling with people who are better equipped to talk to you.”

Scully furrowed her bossy brow at his rudeness and took over.  

“We specialize in cases with… inexplicable… supernatural elements.”  She still couldn’t describe her job without pausing.

“There is no equivalent of this – unit, would you call it? - in England.  Though there are certainly detectives whose behavior I consider inexplicable.”

Mulder strained his neck to see which file Stella was reading and caught Scully exaggeratedly mouthing his name in reproach.  He settled back on his heels in a huff.  “I’m not trying to look down her shirt, you idiot,” he wanted to mouth back, but neither med school nor Quantico had taught her to lip-read worth a damn.

“We of course get our fair share of suspects who claim to be hearing voices, receiving inspiration from the dead, being possessed by demons or coerced through vudu.  We use the same word for all of them: insanity,” Stella said. “I’d like to learn more.  If only so I can argue against them more precisely.”  

“There’s a lot we can’t put in writing.  I’m afraid you won’t learn much from the files,” Scully said cooperatively.

“And what’s your background?  Were you a profiler as well?”

“Medicine.”  Scully always seemed to be expecting a little pat on the back when she said it, and he didn’t deny that she should get one.  She was awfully young to have already done the things she had done.

But Stella just flipped the file shut, looking around the office like Mary Poppins, displeased that the Banks children hadn’t tidied up.  He wasn’t used to presenting the office to anyone but Scully, who would be displeased no matter how it looked and Skinner, who never noticed.  Mulder was now hyper-aware of all its shortcomings - its claustrophobia, its messiness, its distance from everything else the building that seemed to matter.

“What about that case in Philadelphia?”  Stella prompted.  

“Ed Jerse?” Scully asked, picking up the file instantly, holding it in front of her body like a shield.  Mulder had put Ed into the pile while he was daydreaming about Scully’s hands.  It was an accident.

“I thought that would be a good place to start,”  Stella asked.

“Ed’s not a serial killer. I don’t know why he’s in that pile,” Scully said, stealing a cool glance in Mulder’s direction as she leveled the file’s edge against the desk.  Mulder noted the personal pronoun.  ‘He’ rather than ‘it.’

“I take it there’s a difference of opinion on this case,” Stella said, looking back and forth between them with sudden soapy interest.

“Well, there’s a difference of opinion on every case,” Mulder said, trying to lighten the mood. “But yes, particularly this one.”

“Jerse was drugged, hallucinating,” Scully defended.

He was another abusive asshole with an excuse, a psychopath at best.  

Mulder thought of the little Elvis in his coat pocket and said nothing, filing the thought away alongside his compliments.  

“Perhaps we can dissect the matter on the way there,” Stella said, putting out an empty hand.  Scully handed over the file in slow motion, her fingers releasing it one at a time.

Her hands.  Pressed against Ed’s chest in ecstasy.  Wielding a scissor in self-defense.

“What do you mean, ‘there’?” Scully asked.  But Mulder already knew.

“Hang on a second–” he said.

“I was hoping to interview him.”

“Detective Gibson– Stella,“ Scully said, and here,  here was the devoted partner ultimately committed to presenting a united front.  “I was under the impression you were here to study our cases and discuss them with us.”

“I was under the impression we might do more than that.”  

And then something strange happened.  Stella and Scully looked into each other’s eyes with the intensity of people who shared a secret, like they’d known each other in another life, had been lovers or arch enemies.  He would never have shared this impression with Scully, not before and not now, but that was just a matter of being considerate.  She might roll her eyes so hard she’d hurt herself.  

Stella dragged her gaze - reluctantly, he noted - from Scully over her shoulder to him.  

“Which impression were you under?” Stella asked him, cocking her chin in amusement, the queen entertaining the whims of her subjects.  

“I defer to Agent Scully,” he said with smug satisfaction. “If she doesn’t think we should interview him, then we won’t.”

“Okay.  We’ll call to make arrangements for tomorrow,” Scully said.

He looked at her, stunned, tried to ask what she could possibly thinking without asking her.  But her head was bent.  She tucked her red hair behind her white poker chip of an ear.  She licked her lips once, slowly, a nervous gesture, he thought - but then again, he knew she also did it contemplatively, or when her lips were chapped.  He was supposedly the one with an oral fixation but Scully played with her own lips much more than he did pencils or snacks.

When she looked up at him, her face was blank, exposing not so much as a hint of discomfort.  She dealt with emotions like someone cleaning chalk off a blackboard.  A simple swipe, and whoosh, whatever emotions this case dredged up for her were history.  The matter was obviously settled.  They were going to be dutiful hosts and give Stella what she wanted.  Mulder closed his eyes a long moment, swallowing a string of curses.  Of all the ways to waste a week, revisiting the worst moment in their partnership was his last favorite possible way.

“Brilliant,” Stella mumbled.  It irritated him that getting her way was obviously considered more an inevitability than a victory.

Scully gathered up the files as Stella stretched her arms one at a time into her coat sleeves, a glimpse of dark satin visible between the buttons of her pale silk shirt.  


Mulder used the time it took Stella to make her exit to gather all the thoughts that he had not yet vocalized.  He sifted through them, trying to find one suitable enough to say aloud.  When he heard the elevator doors whoosh closed at the end of the hall, he managed just one for his partner.

“Why?”

“It’s our job,” she said matter-of-factly.  “And it’s in the past.”  

Who was it, Faulkner?  Something about the past not even being past?

“You stay here,” he said. “I’ll take her.”

“Nonsense,” she said, clapping erasers together conclusively, and then grinned.

“Nice perfume, hm?” she said.  

He hadn’t noticed Stella was wearing it before, but now that Scully pointed it out, it was true, she had left a trail of it behind.  Night-blooming flowers, unabashedly romantic, capable of calling to mind a thousand tiny memories Mulder didn’t know he had.

Three years ago.  He drove through Arizona while she leaned on the car door in her sunglasses, a prismatic shadow cast across her chest as the painted desert whizzed by…

Thirteen months ago.  They ate breakfast at the counter of a diner in Duluth and she reached over him to get a napkin, brushing the dramatic curve of her waist against his shoulder…

Six months ago.  He walked into her motel room and found her napping, work clothes askew, the thick lacy band of a thigh high drifting from under her skirt…  

And five minutes ago, when she looked at him over the file cabinet.

She was waiting expectantly, a pencil balanced between fingertips like a level, as if she were posing for a new memory.

“What?” he asked a bit guiltily, though not for the reasons she clearly presumed.

“Stunning, British accent and thinks you’re a genius.  You should wear your good suit tomorrow,” she teased, completely oblivious to the menace this topic posed in conjunction with her blue eyes and a light smile.  Mulder looked at her a moment more and thought, I should be wearing my good suit every day.

 

*

 

“Mulder,” Scully said to him via in the rearview mirror, a one word request she expected him to recognize.  At first he wondered what she was complaining about, then realized he’d been shaking a knee against the backseat cup holder.   He wished she would cut him a break and not nag.  He barely fit back there.

Mulder liked to drive when he was anxious, but Scully had requested the keys, and he had felt rather unselfish as he considered the fact that any anxiety she might have on this day should take precedence.  Then she had gotten in and adjusted mirrors with unflappable drivers’ majesty, about as flustered as a lion on a sunny savannah.  If she could face someone who tried to kill her with this much courage, surely he could just sit still for a while.  He shackled the shaky leg with his hands.

“Can you put the baseball game on?”

“Maybe you should tell Stella whatever she wants to know,” Scully counter-suggested.  Him?  Why should he do it?  He didn’t think Stella should have a right to know anything.

He opened his mouth to speak, but Stella looked at Scully instead of him.

“From what I understand, you know it fairly well.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” Scully answered.  I would, Mulder thought.

“You didn’t have some personal involvement with it?”

“It wasn’t a case that I became personally involved with.  It was my personal life which became a case.”

“I appreciate the distinction,” Stella said, sounding definitively sincere for once.  

“Ed lured Scully back to his apartment from a tattoo parlor,” Mulder stated, figuring that at least that much was agreed upon.

“I was not lured.  We were on a date at a tattoo parlor.”  

As soon as Scully spoke, he remembered the distance between them That Night.  Sixteen hundred miles.

“Well, you were also on a case at a tattoo parlor,” he said, embarrassed by the unintended sanctimony in his voice.  He also liked to be right when he was anxious.  If he was being honest, he always liked to be right, and in fact, he was always right, but he was seldom proven so.

“Where he asked me out on a date.”

“So it was the tattoo and then the apartment?” Stella asked perfunctorily, checking off boxes with her voice as her two hosts sparred.  Scully glanced at Mulder cautiously and re-stated the full agenda of her evening.

“Tattoo parlor, his apartment, a bar, back to the tattoo parlor, and… back to the apartment.”

Mulder watched Stella’s face in the sideview mirror, looking for signs that she was making him listen to this out of spite… as if there were no other reason an investigator might want to hear it.  He sighed at his own paranoia.

“He was kind, charming,” Scully said with forced emptiness, the same voice she had used to describe her X-ray images.

“They often do appear that way,” Stella said, but it was unclear whether she was agreeing or appeasing.

“He didn’t appear kind.  He was kind.  A fungus was found in his blood that can cause hallucinations.”

“Right, the ergotism. Mistaken for demonic possession in centuries past,” Stella said.

“Yes,” Scully said. “In the tattoo ink. Circumstantially speaking.”

“Were you tattooed at the same shop, by the same artist?”

“Yes,” Scully said again, this time her S hissing conclusively.  No more questions.  Then why didn’t you experience psychosis?  He waited for Stella to ask it, to make Scully see it the way he wanted her to.  Maybe they could wind up on the same team here after all.  But he watched Scully’s hands tighten around the steering wheel, her knuckles going white.  He didn’t know it was even possible for her skin to get any lighter.

“Agent Scully is a woman of many mysteries,” he said, aggressively signaling a wrap-up.

“No doubt,” Stella said.  Scully turned his baseball station on as an obvious token of gratitude.

 

*

 

They got out of the car about forty-five minutes later.

“This isn’t where they had him originally.  He was moved to accommodate his psychiatric condition,” Scully said as they walked toward the facility.

“Was that your doing?” Stella asked.

For three days he had listened to her make phone calls as he said things like, “Do you always give special treatment to people who try to kill you?” and “What do you want him to be, close enough to visit?”  She had paid closer attention to the hold music than to him, repeating her badge number to the necessary parties over and over again.

“We had talked a bit…” Scully acquiesced, as if deciding how much to reveal.  Mulder felt a migraine pump into his temples as his brain tried to get ahead of her, to prepare himself for exactly how bad this was going to get.

“Were there any details about the date you think might have set him off?”  

Stella asked, coat swishing at her knees like a cape.  Scully rubbed the back of her neck under her hair.  Mulder thought of the times he had grabbed her or comforted her there in moments of trauma or tragedy, the way damp baby sweat formed under duress.  She would have been furious to have any part of her infantilized, he thought, even her sweat.

“No.  We just discussed… Childhood stories.  The circumstances around his tattoo.  We were drinking.”  Discussed.  Circumstances.  As if she could fool them, fool herself, into not thinking of her as part of this.

“Scully, you were driving,” Mulder said archly, reeling at the idea that Ed knew things about her that he didn’t.

“How did you get from the bedroom to the basement?” Stella proceeded.

“I blacked out when he threw me against the wall.  I came to downstairs, wrapped in a sheet.”  She said it just like that, just like the cancer, like she went home last night and practiced.  Did she ever think that other people might need just as much practice hearing these things?  The bile rose up in his throat.

“He seemed very vulnerable, despite his size.  I was able to subdue him,” she added, bringing Mulder’s footsteps to a full stop.  He pretended to straighten his tie as he patted his digestive tract, giving it a hard, acrid swallow.  Neither of them noticed and he caught up with just a couple long strides.

“Triangling,” Stella muttered almost to herself as they pressed the visitor’s button.  Mulder and Scully both looked at her self-consciously.

“The victim, the persecutor and the rescuer.  Killers often fancy themselves playing two of the three roles,” she said.

 

*

 

The room resembled hundreds where Mulder had conducted business, but it was only now he noticed how little oxygen they contained.  His nerves were ripening under the fluorescent light, his ears itched with the sizzling ring they produced overhead.  Stella seemed as strong and quiet as granite beside him, and her company about as comforting.  

The door clicked open and just like that, Ed Jerse entered.  It seemed a bit anti-climactic to Mulder.  No build-up, no score of ominous music.  It was just this:  a sad convict with watery eyes.  Jerse looked right at Scully, who was sitting at the head of the table, and Mulder felt his nerves peel themselves raw.  I should leave.  But instead he stared at a circle of table between his thumbs. He pressed them down into the surface until white half moons appeared in his nails.

“Dana,” Ed said in a small voice.  Someone had obviously prepared him, explained they were coming.  He sounded almost simpering, as if she had come to reunite, to forgive him.  Someday, Mulder thought with a sickening feeling, maybe she would have.

“Hi,” she said.  It was not her Work Voice, but the other one, the one Mulder seldom got to hear.  He assumed Ed had heard it.  I’ll have a vodka tonic.  No, I don’t have any tattoos.  Maybe they’re only sexy on you.  Where do you think I should get it?

Mulder felt his throat close, an allergic reaction to his own imagination.  He stirred himself to attention, catching the tail end of Stella’s explanation of her presence.  Ed nodded along seriously.

“When you say cases, you mean murderers, don’t you?” he asked Stella, his left eye twitching.  Even with the twitch and the pallor of misery, Mulder could see how Scully had found Jerse handsome.  He looked like a conflicted, tortured Superman.  If Mulder wasn’t so busy hating him, he would have felt sorry for him too.

“Do you consider yourself a murderer?” Stella prodded.  The way she blended her interrogative and declaratory vocal cues worked magnificently here, actually.  Mulder wished he were in the position to pick up a few new tricks.   But he was currently too in love with his own repulsion to do anything useful.

Ed pursed his lips remorsefully.  “I never wanted to hurt those women.  It sounds crazy, I know that.  You have to believe me.  I heard her telling me to kill them.”  

Mulder felt fury billow up to his mouth.  “What if I hear a voice telling me to kill you?  Should I?”

Stella put a hand on Mulder’s leg momentarily to silence him.  Ed looked at Scully, shook his head helplessly, subtly heaved his shoulders up and back down again.

“I liked you, Dana, I know you know that.”

Mulder studied Scully’s face, looking for signs of her own feelings.  Even at her most impulsive, Mulder didn’t think she would have stayed with him that night if she didn’t like the guy.  He wasn’t sure which possibility was more disconcerting – that she really liked Ed, or that Mulder didn’t completely understand her the way he thought he did.  It felt like hours, days were passing.  

“Just let Detective Gibson ask you some questions, okay?” Scully said finally, relieving them all of the silence.

Stella took over and Ed obeyed Scully’s command, answering the questions readily.  They talked about the incinerator, Scully fighting him off, his attempt to “kill” his own angry tattoo.  Mulder studied the thick, smooth scars on Jerse’s arm, the distorted face of his Sailor Jerry pinup.  He pictured Scully tugging on the other arm, thick as a tree trunk under her grip, trying to save Ed from himself.  His pencil snapped in half in his fingers.

“But you have not had the urges to hurt or kill women since you’ve been here, since your treatment?” Stella asked, giving Mulder a judgmental glance.  There was something funny about it, Stella and Scully stoically interviewing, while Ed and Mulder both seemed on the verge of meltdowns.  Together, the two women might weigh what Jerse did.

Jerse looked around the room suspiciously, his eyes suddenly a solid shade of indigo, his mouth a tight envelope opening.  His face became villainous and frightening when he tightened his eyebrows and tucked his chin.

“I do still hear her sometimes,” he said.

Mulder thought he saw Stella’s breath pattern deepen.  He knew that feeling, the investigative rush.  But it was a remote experience to him right now, an inaccessible one; right now he knew only pure and unadulterated rage.

“It wasn’t the poison.  It’s her, the tattoo.  But in here, she knows she has me to herself.  She got what she wanted already,” Ed leaned forward as he told Stella.

“What makes her jealous enough to speak to you?  For example, does being in the room with Agent Scully make her jealous?  Does talking to me?”

“I’m not hearing her right now.  She comes and goes.  Even that night, with Dana.  I covered her up and when we were out having such a nice time, I wasn’t hearing her, I wasn’t thinking about it–”

Mulder jumped up out of his chair and leaned over the table, grabbing Ed by the shirt with both fists.

“Of course you weren’t thinking about it.  You wanted to fuck her before you killed her.”

He glared at Ed just a few inches from his face, holding him there, bearing his teeth.  And then suddenly, the heat subsided and left his fists tingling, a dull ache in his head, mild shame in his cheeks.  He released Ed and saw Scully watching the table uncomfortably, her hands still folded in calm resignation.

“Agent Mulder, a word?” Stella said, rising from the table.  He began to follow her, slow to the realization that she expected Scully to stay there alone with Ed.

He nervously bit his lip, tried to get Scully’s reaction, but she just sat there with square shoulders, breathing as evenly as a metronome.  When the door was closed and he was alone in the hall with Stella, he spun on her.

“What are you doing?” he spat.

“Give her a moment.”

“I don’t want her in there alone with him.”  

Stella’s voice sharpened, the pitch scratchy now like a record at the higher register.

“Maybe she wants to be alone with him.  If you would stop acting like a jealous idiot and pay attention for five minutes, you might actually find out what she wants.”

Mulder peered through the little square slice of glass in the door.  Ed was crying.  Then Scully looked up at Ed, and he could see she was about to cry too.  He became lightheaded, a hard lump in his throat.  He wished he could have said this was because he hated to see her sad, which he did.  But right now, all he could think was I can’t even tell her I like her hands.  He felt very small.

“Did you bother to think how it might be for her coming here?” Stella piped up.

“Did you?”  He didn’t turn to face her.

“Yes.  But it was useful to me,” she said, letting him scoff. “I thought ultimately it could be useful to her as well.”

“You don’t even know her,” he said through gritted teeth.

She became almost inaudible. “Do you?”  

Mulder watched Scully tilt her palm-sized chin empathetically as Ed reached his giant arm toward her.  Mulder’s heart sped as he pictured Jerse’s spanning Scully’s neck and he tightened his grip on the doorknob, the adrenaline pumping hard into his fingers as they itched to turn it.  But no, she was just taking his hand.

Mulder rolled off the door and ran his hands through his hair.  He tried to do what he did at the dentist.  In an hour, he would be in the car.  In four hours, he would be on his couch.  In a month, he wouldn’t remember it.  But he wasn’t sure any of that was true in this case.  He felt like he’d be living this moment forever, a dull drilling sensation running through his body until he was old and grey.

Suddenly, the door opened. Scully briskly clicked down the hall without so much as a glance.

“I’m going to the restroom,” she said numbly, her voice raspy and echoing off the lime rind tiled walls.  He wanted to follow her, to tell her everything – the file cabinet, the desert and the diner and the lace and the Elvis in his pocket.  But he held back, put his hands on his hips, rooting himself in place to give himself time to decide.  This wasn’t about what he wanted, it was about what Scully wanted, he told himself.  He just had no fucking idea what that was.