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Chapter Six

 

He was about to knock a third time when the door swung open, revealing a frazzled Scully who was not entirely ready for the day.

She looked exhausted.

"‘Morning," she greeted, moving back to the bathroom, allowing him to step inside her hotel room.

Mulder sat down on the bed as he listened to her rush around.

"I’ll be ready in a few minutes," she called out.

As he listened to her brush her teeth, he walked to the bathroom door saying, "Oh, Gavin called."

"What’d he have to say?"

"Jolene and Laurie both had a history of sleepwalking," he supplied succinctly, watching as she brushed peach blush over her high cheekbones. He received a hum in response.

This was a rare thing for him: to watch her put on make-up she didn’t really need. He watched as she swept ivory eye shadow in one fluid sweep over each eyelid; observed the application of mascara on her top lashes. She slid some Chapstick over her lips, the natural rose color of them banishing the thought of lipstick.

Scully studied her reflection a moment, analyzing her features to see if anything else should be done. Mulder saw the wheels turning as she considered something. Not a moment later, she reached for a small, skin-colored tube. It looked like lipstick, he thought, but she began to dab it under her eyes. She was hiding the dark circles that had begun to form there, he realized.

He’d already seen them when she opened her hotel door. No matter how much she tried to mask them, they wouldn’t go away. There was no hiding the exhaustion evident in her eyes.

Sweeping some more blush on her cheeks, adding the color she needed to hide how pale the obvious fatigue had made her, she stifled a yawn. She snuck a glance at him through the mirror, as if gauging whether or not Mulder had caught the cover-up.

Mulder knew he had to be careful or else Scully would close down.

"Scully, I need you to listen to me," Mulder began. He was speaking slowly, trying to be gentle. "I know you’ve been having trouble sleeping, which for us is not unusual, but this is different. I’ve never known for you to let it interfere like this. Last night I heard you in the shower. Scully, you were in there for two hours." He paused before emphasizing once more, "Two hours."

She halted her ministrations, but stared down into the sink instead of looking at him. "People do bathe, Mulder," she attempted to quip. Scully looked at him, but he didn’t crack a smile. Brick by brick he saw the wall going back up.

"Sorry if I disturbed you," Scully replied bitterly. "Don’t you just hate it when someone disturbs your sleep?" Spinning around, she rested her hip on the side of the counter, visibly suppressing the urge to cross her arms.

Mulder ignored the barbed reference to the many times he’d done just that to her.

"Come on, Scully," his voice was pleading, "you know I didn’t mean that. I just want you to tell me what’s doing this to you; to be honest and let me in."

Mulder knew it was the wrong thing to say before it finished leaving his mouth. He saw her close off, the wall almost complete, and he grabbed her. "Damn it, Scully, don’t do that. Don’t you dare shut me out, not for caring about you."

Scully stopped her struggles to break his grip. "That’s rich coming from you," she said in a voice laced with venom.

Mulder’s hands pulled back of their own accord; as if she’d burned him. "Fox Mulder, mister open, mister honesty." Scully barked a derisive laugh. "What kind of hypocrite are you, Mulder?" She turned her back on him. "How dare you ask anyone to be honest when you have such a fleeting acquaintance with it yourself."

Mulder knew it was fear and exhaustion talking but her accusations angered him and he couldn’t help that it tinted his response. "What is that supposed to mean? I’ve always been honest with you."

"Oh, really? You’ve always been honest with me, have you?" Mulder didn’t like the look in her eyes; as cold as they were blue. "Lies come in many forms, Mulder. Not all of them are spoken, though you’ve told your share of those, but sometimes it’s what you don’t say."

Scully was pacing and her volume was intensifying. "Tell me why you felt it necessary to not tell me. . ." She stopped her pacing and stared off for a moment trying to compose herself. Suddenly she turned on him. "How the hell could you not tell me that you knew about my ova being harvested? Why did you have to break that bit of news in front of that piss-ant bureaucrat? Couldn’t you have warned me before we met with him? Do you have any," she let out a sob and gasped for air before continued, "any idea how that felt? To find out like that, to have to hold myself together. God, that hurt. It was emotional rape, Mulder!"

Something burst in her and suddenly Scully was out of control. She spouted about the times he’d kept her in the dark, deserting her without telling her where he was going.

Mulder tried to follow but it all came so fast and his deepening anger deafened him.

". . . made my parents call me Mulder, my ass. Every two-bit tramp calls you ‘Fox.’ Reggie called you Fox. Hell, even Skinner has called you Fox. Your old college buddy was, and is, even allowed to make a joke out of it. But not good ole Scully. No, she had to be kept in-line. And, you know, it makes a kind of screwed up sense. Mulder-sense. It explains all the ditching and the women you pick up."

Mulder finally caught up with her. "Women I . . .what women?" He’d been celibate for ages. Scully was raging and he didn’t even think she knew what she was saying. She went on about Phoebe and Bambi.

"Oh, I’ll bet you and that British bimbo had a great time, while it was me who figured it all out. And Bambi. Calling me all night then dumping me when the luscious Bambi entered the picture. Then just two weeks later I walk in on you and . . ."

Further rant was interrupted by Mulder. Further rant was interrupted by Mulder. "At least I didn’t screw some deadbeat who tried to kill me. Exactly how much did that tattoo cost you, anyway?" Mulder sneered, leaving the double meaning of his question hanging in the air. The tattoo was long gone but its ghost remained indelible on his soul. Scully reared back as if he’d slapped her. In a way he had.

"No, you just fucked a delusional woman who thought she was a vampire. Does the name Kristin ring a bell, you sanctimonious slut hound?"

Mulder reacted violently; he had no idea how she knew about that encounter and he didn’t care. He was furious. He grabbed her arms roughly, stopping her incessant pacing, and trapped her against the wall. "Shut up, Scully, just shut up." She had no idea what had driven him to that woman’s bed. No idea.

Scully’s jaw jutted, challenging him to make her. They were both breathing hard.

Mulder was just about to say something when a phone rang; they both looked to the intruding noise.

He threw her arms down dismissively, scooping his cell phone from his pant pocket.

"Mulder."

 

Mulder was torn between listening to Gavin and watching as Scully brushed at some tears under her eyes. She was faced away from him, but it seemed to have escaped her that the mirror revealed her every move.

Gavin brought him back to the case with four words.

They'd found another body.

XxX

The scene was familiar to the two agents; red and blue lights flashing, reflecting off of any solid surface. A mob of cops stood over a ditch, an empty stretcher sitting to the side.

Gavin and Trisha stood idly by, waiting for Mulder and Scully to join them.

Mulder walked several yards ahead of Scully, his strides larger than usual as he did everything in his power to distance them as physically as their argument had done emotionally. Scully made no effort to change that decision, taking small steps as she took in the haphazard behavior of the surrounding officers and emergency workers.

"Hank found her in this ditch about an hour ago." Gavin didn’t exchange pleasantries, just got to the point before Mulder had even stopped walking.

"Who’s Hank?" Mulder asked. He felt Scully behind him, but his peripheral vision showed that she’d moved to stand by Trisha.

"That’s Hank," Trisha pointed to a homeless man standing by a tree, the horror in his eyes not going unnoticed. "He’s a vagrant everyone in these parts knows by name. A good man, just has had a rough life. He said her name was Lily, a homeless girl. Never really knew how old she was or her story, but knew that she was too young to be where and what he was. He said that when he hadn’t seen her around in so long, he figured she’d found a place to call home. That she was back on her feet again. Needless to say, the sight of her lying face down in a ditch crushed that idea. I asked him the routine questions: If she’d been acting unusual or not sleeping as soundly. He said yes, but that at the time he didn’t think much of it. Living on the streets can do that to a person."

Out of habit, Mulder snuck a glance at Scully, just in time to see that even she was unable to suppress the urge. They locked eyes for a fleeting second before turning their attention to the ditch.

Scully took a step toward it, looking down at the body.

"How long do you think it’s been?" Gavin asked Scully.

Scully squinted at the body. "I’d say at least two weeks."

Simultaneously, the four officers sighed. In any other situation, it would have been humorous.

"Then that changes things," Mulder chimed in. They all looked at him, waiting for him to elaborate. "If Lily was a victim of our killer, that means our UNSUB is killing these women faster than we thought. Adding her to the list means he does it in a week, tops. Which means–"

"We don’t have much time before he strikes again," Scully finished. Mulder saw her blanch at the realization.

"Excuse me." A medical worker pushed passed Scully. They all watched as he helped pull the girl from the ditch and settle her on the stretcher.

"Agent Scully," Gavin started, but Scully beat him to it.

"I’ll see what I can find."

XxX

She hated herself for what had transpired between them that morning.

He’d found interest in other women. So what? So had Jack. So had Daniel; he’d been married for Pete’s sake.

Yet, with Mulder, it had more to do with the fact that he pursued those interests in front of her, with, seemingly, no regard for her feelings. This brought her to the harsh realization that she wasn’t enough to keep his attention. Even if she knew that assessment wasn’t entirely true.

She didn’t need him to explain himself. If he asked her to go into detail about her relations, or lack thereof, with Ed, she would ignore the request and expect him to move on with his life. And she should do the same.

She knew that his encounter with Kristin had been an act of desperation. Scully had seen the pain her words had caused Mulder in the bathroom that morning, read the unspoken explanation in his eyes. But at the time . . . When she’d read that in his report, it had been on the day she’d confronted him about her not having a desk. When she’d found Ed, she saw him as a great weapon to get back at Mulder. Which was precisely why she stopped Ed before they tumbled into his bed.

Dana Scully wasn’t vengeful. And the day she became a vengeful woman, she would take it out on those who had destroyed who she used to be. But never, never would she let Mulder be the one to change her like that. Especially over something like meaningless sex.

Concerning her ova . . . His heart had been in the right place. He’d meant well, he always meant well, and he would never deliberately hurt her. She knew that. Mulder’s actions to conceal that information still cut deep, but had he told her as soon as he discovered that truth, Scully knew it would have torn her apart; he knew that, too.

One day he would accept that, when he was ready to love her–-really love her–-she wouldn’t hold anything back. That she loved him because she saw the man he was and the man he could be and the man he used to be. That she accepted him. Even now, she accepted that everyone had their past and had their reasons, even if they were bad ones, and that where they were now was what made them who they were.

She could accept that.

What she couldn’t accept, right now, was that no matter how much she examined Lily’s body, no answers could be found. She was putting everything she had into this autopsy, but her efforts were proving to be fruitless.

And she was so tired.

Waiting for lab results, she’d caught herself drifting, but would catch herself before she could even go to sleep. At one point she’d popped a No-Doz, washed down with three cups of coffee.

Although she was a powerful investigator, her strength was in the knife and she relied on that fact in every case. However, the lack of sleep was deterring her investigative and pathology skills and distracting Mulder from being at the top of his game. She knew it was unprofessional of her to be letting these dreams get to her; letting them disrupt their routine. But they even haunted her in consciousness and there was no escape.

XxX

Clutching the pantyhose she hadn’t bothered to slip back on, Scully walked heavily along the outside of the hotel. She had a headache and could feel the knots in her neck.

She was passing the glass room that held the indoor pool when something caught her eye. Pausing, she turned to take a better look. A form could be seen under the water, doing laps across the small pool. When the figure popped up for air, she saw that it was Mulder and a feeling of guilt washed over her.

Taking a deep breath, Scully opened the glass door and entered the pool area. The smell of chlorine was strong and the warm water made the room humid. She could already feel her hair frizzing up. He hadn’t seen her yet, so she began to approach the side of the pool he was on. The tan hue of his skin glistened from the water as he rubbed his eyes before opening them. Her heels hitting the pavement and echoing around them alerted him to her presence. And despite everything–-what had been said and the guilt that she knew they both felt because of the fight–-he offered a welcoming smile.

"Did you just finish up?" he asked, combing his fingers through his unruly wet hair.

"Yes," she said, tossing her coat and hose on the beach recliner.

"Jump in, Scully," he suggested, waggling his eyebrows. "I bet you look good wet."

Arching an eyebrow at him, she crossed her arms over her chest, not saying one word.

He grinned at the silent response. "At least soak your feet or something. Keep me company."

Running the idea over in her mind for a moment, she stepped out of her heels. She sauntered to the edge of the pool, sitting down so that her legs hung off into the water. Immediately, Scully began to circle her legs around in it, producing small waves and ripples.

"So, did you find anything? You were up there all day." Mulder swam up to her, folding his arms on top of the concrete and resting his head on them.

Scully shook her head, keeping her gaze focused on the water. "No, I didn’t. It’s hard to find anything when the killer doesn’t leave anything to find, Mulder. And with Lily being homeless, she was malnourished and dehydrated. It’s hard to suspect foul play as the cause of death, right now. All I can say for sure is there was no trauma or signs on chronic conditions or disease."

It was silent for a moment and she knew that Mulder agreed with her, even if he didn’t express it vocally. She watched as the underwater lights made blue and white ripples dance along the walls and ceiling; how the only things left in shadow were her and Mulder.

Finally, she looked at him and was surprised to find him looking up at her. His head rose up from his arms and he settled more fully into the water.

"Mulder," she started. "I . . . I’m sorry about this morning. I shouldn’t have blown up at you like that."

He looked to the side and bowed his head. Combing his hand through his already slick-backed hair, he looked back at Scully, tenderness in his eyes.

"I threw a few low blows at you, too, Scully."

"Yes, but I provoked them."

"Well, I shouldn’t have grabbed you like that," he countered, apologetically.

Scully didn’t say a word, a blanket of silence dropping over them for the briefest of moments.

He took a step toward her and released a heavy sigh. "I think what got to me most about the whole fight was . . . that wasn’t you, Scully. You don’t do that. The Scully I know doesn’t, anyway. I’ve always admired your ability to remain civil in even the most violent situations–verbal or physical. I just . . ." he trailed off.

Once it appeared he had gathered his thoughts, Mulder reached up a hand to wrap around her calf. He gave it a gentle squeeze before choking out, "I meant what I said this morning. I care about you, Scully. And although I think that goes without saying, just so you know, I do. And when I do things like this, ask how something is affecting you or openly express that I’m worried, I’m not doing it to pry. I’m just," he loosened his grip and gave her skin a soft stroke. "I’m watching your back, partner."

Mulder was close enough so that she could place her palm on his drying hair. Scully brushed her thumb over the dark locks and saw him close his eyes at the gesture. "I know," she whispered. Those two words conveyed more than he realized.

She knew that he watched out for her, not out of obligation, but because he cared about her. She’d always known that. But really, even though he hadn’t said it out loud, she knew that he did it because he loved her. And even though she accepted that and felt the same way, it was hard for her to surrender to that part of herself. The fragile part that made her too human for comfort.

"It’s times like these," Mulder began, "cases like these that make me think back to Pfaster." The name made her visibly shiver, but Mulder pressed on. "I remember you closing off, not telling me how or even why the case was getting to you. I remember you . . ." A pause, a sneaking glance. "I remember you breaking down when it was all over. I don’t want to see that again, Scully. I don’t know why this particular case is getting to you and I respect you enough to allow you to tell me when you’re ready, but I’m not going to just let it slide this time around. I can’t."

Squaring her shoulders, Scully brought both of her hands to fold in her lap. Mulder’s hand didn’t budge from her leg. A sigh escaped through her nose before she told him, "I’m an open book from now on, Mulder. Ask and you shall receive." The tension was so thick in the air, it could be cut with a knife, so Scully had made her attempt at bringing levity to the topic.

Mulder took it the rest of the way, leering at her before replying, "Ask and I shall receive, huh? Don’t tempt me."

Rolling her eyes, Scully brought her legs from out of the water and cautiously stood up. She grabbed what she assumed was Mulder’s towel from the ground and dried her legs.

"I’m taking a bath and going to bed," she announced, already heading for the exit. "See you in the morning, Mulder."

"‘Kay."

Her body half-way out the door, Scully heard Mulder shout, "Hey, Scully!" She spun around, seeing that he hadn’t budged from the side of the pool. "I’m sorry. For not telling you things, for hurting you. It’s not much, but it’s all I have: I’m sorry."

In a silent forgiveness, Scully bobbed her head once, a ghost of a smile pulling at her lips. She watched as he accepted it, diving back under the water to finish his laps.

 

XxX

The hot bath water soothed her muscles considerably. The knots in her shoulders were unwinding and the headache that had been forming had finally died down. After all these years, her body still wasn’t used to standing hours on end when she performed an autopsy. She’d rinsed herself off at the morgue, taking away the scent of death and formaldehyde, so her only focus now was unwinding.

Leaning her head against the wall, Scully closed her eyes. The lack of sleep the last few nights, the long day and warmth around her were making her groggy. Before she was able to stop herself, she was asleep.

And he was dying. Over and over, in every case she’d ever witnessed that possibility, he was dying.

Watching it happen was like watching a film, sitting idly by as the hero met his doom, unable to stop the inevitable. In all the times he had come back--from the boxcar explosion, when he’d been infected in the arctic-–this time he didn’t.

And then there were those moments when she had been there. When Robert Modell proved that free will was futile in his presence, her pleas worthless. This time the bullet was meant for Mulder, as he emptied the cartridge into his own skull, Modell smiling with satisfaction as she crumbled to the ground in tears, helpless.

When his profiling pushed him over the edge.

When his demons came back.

When he’d planned to end his life.

They all joined together in one hideous montage. She began to bang her fists against the ground until she could feel her flesh split and blood pour from the lacerations. Her heart began to beat in time with the pounding of her knuckles meeting tile, causing her breath to shorten.

God, it hurt.

His death hurt. Her failure in saving him hurt. Her heart trying to burst its way through her chest hurt.

And she kept waiting. Waiting for the man lined in shadows to appear and haunt her. But he never showed. The banging only grew louder.

Bang, bang, bang.

BANG, BANG, BANG.

They were so loud that she felt herself turning to the sound, bringing her back to consciousness.

When she awoke to being surrounded by now cold bath water and fizzled-out bubbles, she realized the sound was coming from behind the bathroom door. The banging was accompanied by a voice.

"Scully! Hey! Scully, come on!" The shouts of desperation were muffled by the door, but the banging echoed off the walls.

She hurried from the tub and threw on her bathrobe, throwing the door open to find a frantic Mulder.

"Jesus, Scully, I thought you’d drowned." He let out a breath and she saw his shoulders relax, slumping as he leaned against the doorjamb.

"I fell asleep." Even she heard the choke that came with those words.

"Hey," he said softly.

The look in his eyes made her chest constrict and she couldn’t stop herself from letting the relief of seeing him alive rush from her in tears. Those tears soon became tears of fear and she leaned into him.

"Hey," Mulder said again. "Scully?"

She wrapped her arms around his waist and he took her in, engulfing her body with his arms. Scully felt Mulder breathe her in, and he began to stroke her back.

"He’s after me, Mulder," she whispered into Mulder’s chest.

"What?"

Scully brought her face up to look at his. "The killer, Mulder. He’s after me."

"How? When? Scully, talk to me."

Mulder led her from the bathroom to her bed and sat her down. He kept one arm around her shoulder as she told him about the dreams. And she could feel him struggling not to be angry with her for keeping this from him.

"I didn’t think."

"No, you didn’t," Mulder agreed. Despite his almost chiding words, his hand continued to stroke her back.

"I didn’t want them to be connected. I thought I was just having a breakdown."

"Well, that would’ve been much better," he countered with weary sarcasm.

"I’d rather have a breakdown than a man making it impossible for me to decipher nightmares from reality, Mulder."

Mulder shifted and she felt him pull at the comforter. "Come on, Scully, lie down."

"I can’t go back to sleep. Don’t you understand that? It’s your theory and if I fall asleep, I may never wake up again. Mulder, please, I–"

"Shhh." He gently pushed her down onto the mattress, forcing her to lay her head on the pillow. "I’m staying with you." Scully heard him pull up the other side of the blankets and as his body slid under the sheets. His bare feet brushed against her ankles, the rough scratching denim of his jeans contrasting with the soft whispering silk of her robe. His shirt radiated the sweet smell of sweat mixed with fading cologne and chlorine.

"If you have another dream, I’ll be here to get you out of it, okay?" he whispered in her ear as he pulled her body to his.

And slowly she relaxed. Scully could feel his thumb stroking her hip bone, soothing her as well as he could. Her breathing began to even and, out of no will of their own, her eyes slipped shut. She felt her mind get hazy just before her body welcomed the unwelcome sleep.

Perchance not to dream.