She was in the hospital again.
Millicent brought her a copy of Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, and she found she still had enough strength left to throw it at him. The book slapped him across the face, and she reveled in his shock as if she had reached up to hit him herself, something she had wanted to do for a long time.
There was something terrible inside Millicent. No one else saw it but her, and she was glad she wouldn't have to see it for much longer.
She was dying again. They told her this would be the last time.
The door opened with a noise like a vacuum seal being broken. The hospital room was clean and impersonal, no flowers or cards along the counter under the window. Missy had died in a room like this.
Scully pushed the guilt away before it could latch on to her. This case had nothing to do with her sister, and she needed to remember that or she would become as inflexible as Mulder, who saw everything through the filter of Samantha's disappearance and resisted any idea that went against that initial imprint.
A television set mounted near the ceiling displayed an afternoon talk show that muttered at a low volume, but the girl in the hospital bed wasn't watching. Her eyes were closed, and her arms were crossed over her chest, as if she were cold or angry. She looked smaller than she should have been at fifteen, tiny and frail as an old woman.
"Alice Katzke?" Scully asked, holding up her badge.
Alice didn't move.
"I'm Agent Scully; this is my partner, Agent Mulder." Mulder merely nodded, not displaying his ID but somehow assuming legitimacy through her. It wasn't standard procedure, but Alice wasn't looking at them anyway. "We're from the FBI--"
"Come back later," the girl told them, her voice raw.
Scully opened her mouth to protest, but Mulder reached out and placed a light hand on her arm.
Like most x-files, this case was one he had found, and of course he wanted to do it his way. Mulder's arrogance was nothing new, but his sudden lack of patience with her made his domineering nature all the harder to take. His resentment had first surfaced in that hallway outside the Connerville morgue. She'd been telling him that lightning could be the only possible cause of death, and he'd looked down at her like he wanted to twist her arm behind her back until she cried uncle.
If she had known then that things would only get worse between them, she might have left him there, releasing him to work unchallenged. But she'd stayed and watched as Mulder's resentment changed slowly into disappointment. Not just with her, but with the world he lived in. He seemed to be taking each loss even harder than usual, as if he were to blame for all the injustice they witnessed. Last week it had been Lucy Householder he couldn't save, and somehow, in the midst of that tragedy, the girl he had rescued went unnoticed by him.
Scully turned to leave the room, wondering what Mulder had picked up from this girl that he would obey her so readily, but then victims always were quick to gain his attention.
Mulder was convinced this was another abduction case, another child who'd been taken from her home by persons or things unknown. He saw it as another chance to prove himself, to make up for the times he had failed, but Scully knew the truth. It didn't matter how many children Mulder returned home. There would always be the one little girl he couldn't find.
Behind her, Mulder finally reached for the door she held open.
Walking so close to her that his tired sigh stirred her hair, he followed her into the hallway.
They went down to the hospital cafeteria and drank horrible coffee.
"Why are we here, Mulder?" Scully asked. The coffee was poisoning her mouth, making her purse her lips and wish for something sweet. Lately the x-files left her feeling the same way. She knew Mulder was here to ease his conscience, but they couldn't do anything for the poor girl in the hospital bed. Alice Katzke was dying, poisoned by her own hand and a bottle of Drano, and she didn't seem to want their assistance.
Mulder was tracing a wandering route on his napkin with a finger. He became passive-aggressive when frustrated. It was his way of punishing her, making her work for his attention, something she didn't even really want right now.
"An x-file in Fox Run, how could I resist?" He sipped at his coffee, his fingers pinching the Styrofoam cup. "I know you read the file, Scully."
"Mulder--" She hated the way his name sounded when she was irritated with him. Her voice made it a harsh word, almost a curse. If she had the courage, she would admit that she hated him, but still, after everything, she couldn't be that brave. There was something in him that she needed, though she found that dependence on him easy enough to hate; especially when it seemed he didn't even see or hear her, like now.
Scully had questioned this case from the start. Alice Katzke was a habitual runaway with a number of suicide attempts behind her. The girl wasn't crying foul, and Mulder was the only one convinced a crime had taken place. The police were barely involved beyond the missing persons report filed on the 22nd, but that report had been called up by a search Mulder periodically ran in the NCIC database, and when Scully came into the office the next day she found Mulder had them booked on a flight to Chicago.
Alice had returned home the day before their flight, but Mulder had insisted on following up on the case. It wasn't until they checked in with the local PD after their arrival that they learned Alice was in Fox Run Hospital after another suicide attempt the day before. The poisons she'd ingested were still doing damage to her system despite the stomach pumping she'd received upon admittance to the emergency room, and she didn't have much longer to live.
"This isn't an x-file," Scully said. She had said the same thing back in the basement. Her opinion hadn't changed. Of course, neither had Mulder's.
"It has superficial similarities to many of the abduction cases in the files," he argued. "We're here to see if the connection goes any deeper. She was taken from her home, Scully. Even if this isn't an x-file, a crime has taken place. Alice still needs our help."
And that was the whole of it. Mulder was incapable of ignoring a child in danger. It had gotten to the point where a girl could attempt suicide three times, and he would still look for another explanation for her behavior.
She hated Mulder's empathy and determination today, hated that he, who never gave up, had given up on her. She pushed her coffee across the plastic tabletop and leaned forward.
"She's troubled, Mulder. This is the third time she's attempted suicide. She's nobody's victim but her own." But Scully knew Mulder saw more to it than that. In his world, women were victims. They never destroyed themselves. They were brought to destruction.
Mulder carefully folded his napkin into a tight square, then dropped it into his coffee. "There's evidence that supports an outside involvement."
"She's never tried to name one," Scully insisted.
"Maybe she thought no one would believe her," Mulder said calmly, giving Scully a look that seemed to imply she should understand how that felt.
Scully didn't want to understand. She wanted to drop this case and go back home. "She's a chronic runaway with a record, Mulder. She's been diagnosed as clinically depressed, but she won't receive treatment. She won't talk about what happened to her, and even her parents just think she took off with friends.
"She wasn't kidnapped," Scully said, a little louder than was necessary.
Mulder seemed puzzled, like he didn't understand what she was saying.
"She wasn't abducted," she told him, lowering her voice. The hospital cafeteria wasn't the place for this fight.
"That's just what they want you to think," Mulder said without even a hint of humor.
"They?" Scully repeated before she could stop herself. "Mulder, you're--" She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, tilting her head back, like her mother always told her to do for nosebleeds. It didn't help; she could almost feel herself choking on the sticky rage that trickled down the back of her throat.
"Just because no one knows where she was doesn't mean she was abducted," Scully said, opening her eyes again.
"No one has yet to give a satisfactory answer as to where you were those three months, Scully. You can't even say. Maybe you just ran away from home, too." He frowned at her.
She grabbed the sleeve of his coat and gave it a violent twist, jerking him toward her so their eyes met. She looked directly at him, letting him see her anger. Her heart was pounding, and she wanted to shake him, hit him until his lip split open. She wanted him broken and stuttering. He had no right to talk to her that way.
"Scully--" he breathed, "I'm sorry. I--" With his other hand he tried to touch her where she gripped his coat. She let go of him immediately.
"Don't touch me." She stood up and kicked the chair out of her way when it got caught on the buckled seam of the linoleum and refused to move any further. Pushing through the swinging double doors, she stopped in the empty hallway and covered her mouth with her hand.
She had been returned comatose and half-dead, poisoned by the unstable DNA in her cells. No one knew where she had come from, and no one expected her to live. Her mother and her sister had her taken off of life support, cutting her loose from the machines that were keeping her alive, and when she'd finally woken, she'd found her body barely recognizable, swollen and clumsy. That had been done to her. Someone had done that to her.
Her hand still over her mouth, she hiccuped a sob that echoed through the narrow hallway like a slap. She cried about this at night - it was her last secret, and Mulder had forced it from her.
The cafeteria was in the basement, and as she stood there she could feel every story in the hospital as it pressed its pain and hopelessness down into her.
The doors at her back swung open and slow footsteps moved to stand behind her. She wiped her face with her hands, knowing her makeup would spend the rest of the day smudged, and that every time Mulder looked at her he would be reminded he had made her cry.
"If she was taken, Scully, we at least need to get her to admit that much."
She could hear the rough sound of him smoothing his hands down the wool of his overcoat and knew that he played with his sleeves when he was nervous. He cleared his throat, and for a moment she was tempted to turn around and see if he was crying for her, crying because he had hurt her, crying because she was human after all. Human, and just as breakable as Alice or Lucy. The thought angered her. She had always been human, but she had to be abducted first for him to see it.
"Alice doesn't want to talk about it; you don't want to talk about it. No one wants to talk about it, Scully, but there are men out there who are using women like you, and we have to stop them."
Scully started walking toward the stairs, not wanting to be caught in the elevator with him even for the few seconds it would take them to get to Alice's floor.
This time the television was off. Alice was sitting up in bed and staring out the window. She looked slightly Asian with her small nose, prominent cheekbones and delicate neck. Her short black hair stood up in ragged spikes, revealing unpierced ears.
"It's going to snow," she said in her raspy voice.
Scully glanced out the window where a few grey clouds lurked above the trees; she was surprised it wasn't already snowing. She'd forgotten to bring gloves, and her fingertips were still recovering from the biting air outside. The coffee had warmed her some, but she still felt half-frozen.
She turned back to Alice, who was now eyeing her warily. Mulder was doing the same. She ignored him.
"Alice, we need to ask you some questions," Scully said gently.
Alice was still looking at Scully, but the suspicion was gone, replaced by an eerie blankness that reminded her of Mulder on his bad days, when he would simply sit at his desk and not even get up for lunch.
Mulder was pulling up a chair beside Alice's bed. "Alice, my partner and I are investigating missing persons cases that follow a pattern similar to what you have experienced these past few years. If you could answer some questions for us, we might be able to determine whether or not your situation is connected to these other disappearances."
In private, Mulder used the term "multiple abductees," women who disappeared for days, sometimes weeks at a time. They were unable to hold down a steady job and had no close friends or family. Sometimes they weren't even missed until they didn't show up for work or pay the rent. They were jumpy, suspicious creatures who either refused to talk about their experiences or who went on and on about alien captors and invasive medical procedures.
Unfortunately, except for the claims of alien involvement, that also described a lot of abuse victims, the clinically depressed, and those suffering from certain mental disorders, such as schizophrenia and OCD. As a psychologist, Mulder knew these things. That he chose instead to believe in aliens and government conspiracies made him no different than the victims he empathized with. They were both looking for meaning in events that seemed to have none. Scully knew this about him, and she couldn't let him slip into that world. She couldn't let him take this girl there.
"Could we ask you some questions?" Scully said, trying to be patient, but she was still angry at her partner, and that anger was leaking into her voice. Mulder might get passive-aggressive when frustrated, but Scully just became aggressive.
Alice shrugged. The gesture seemed to pain her, and some of the blankness receded from her eyes.
"You've been reported missing three times, Alice. Where were you during those absences?"
Alice went back to looking out the window. "I don't remember," she finally answered, speaking slowly. She seemed removed from the conversation, not quite in the room.
Scully tried again. "Did you stay with someone while you were away from home?"
After a minute it became obvious Alice wasn't going to answer.
"Did you choose to leave your home under your own will?" Mulder asked, leaning forward, arms balanced on his thighs, his hands clasped between his knees, listening with his entire body.
It was a strange way to phrase the question, and it clearly disturbed the girl. Her hands came out to play with the edge of her sheet. Around each wrist, in a band about an inch wide, was a tattoo of what looked like a flowering vine. The ink was an oddly beautiful cornflower blue, and the design was almost primitive in its angular nature.
Alice noticed Mulder staring at the tattoos. "I didn't do this," she said, turning her hands palm up. It gave her a Christ-like appearance, beseeching and confused.
"Who did?" Mulder whispered.
The door suddenly popped open, and Alice jammed her hands under her armpits, but not before Scully saw the skin on the underside of her wrists. Though partially obscured by the vine pattern, pale scars were still visible, the result of an earlier suicide attempt. She realized the girl must make it a habit to keep her hands hidden.
Mulder was already standing to face the intruder. No nurse would open a door that violently unless there was an emergency.
"Alice," gasped the new arrival, sounding out of breath, like he had run the whole way. He appeared to be in good shape, so it was strange that he'd be panting so easily. He wasn't wearing a coat, and Scully wondered where he'd come from.
"Get out of here, Millicent." Alice glared at the boy, her hands still tucked out of sight.
He looked nothing like a Millicent. Tall and blond with big hands and strong arms, he was built like a quarterback. He also looked older than Alice by at least three years.
He glanced at both Mulder and Scully, but his gaze lingered on Scully in a way she found invasive.
"Leave," Alice growled.
Millicent couldn't have been more than eighteen, but the resolve on his face looked like more than an eighteen-year-old boy would have been capable of. Mulder took a step closer to Millicent, and Scully wasn't surprised to see that the boy was slightly taller than her partner.
"I don't think she wants you here," Mulder said.
Millicent looked over Mulder's shoulder to gauge Alice's expression. She was clearly angry. It was the most emotion she'd shown since Mulder and Scully had arrived. "Alice--"
"Go," she insisted.
Mulder moved as if to take Millicent's arm and escort him out, but the boy backed off and left the room without any further assistance.
"Who was that?" Mulder asked Alice.
"No one," she said, her face turned toward the window again, her voice having lost most of its clarity.
Scully looked at Mulder and tilted her head toward the door. The girl was obviously tired. They weren't going to get anything from her now.
Mulder nodded, but stepped up to the head of the bed before leaving. "I'm going to leave my card with you, Alice. If you think of anything you want to tell me, you can call me. My cell phone number is on the back. I'll put it right here on your nightstand." His voice was soothing and calm, much more pleasant than Scully's stern tone, and she wondered why he hadn't led the interview. Alice might have said more if he had, but he seemed hesitant around her. Almost as if he were trying not to get too attached.
For the second time that day, Scully waited for Mulder while she held open the door to Alice's room. He came up behind her, briefly touching her on the elbow as he took hold of the door.
Scully stepped out into the hallway and started to turn so that she could speak to Mulder as soon as the door floated shut. She wanted to ask him what he thought of Millicent, but Millicent was still there, leaning against the wall beside the door. He straightened as soon as he saw her, and Scully backed up a step in response. Mulder frowned at her, but once he noticed Millicent, he redirected his disapproval.
"How is she?" Millicent asked eagerly. "She won't talk to me anymore."
"And who are you exactly?" Mulder asked him.
"Millicent Baym," he said, sticking his hand out in an overly friendly way that reminded Scully of the first time she'd seen Alex Krycek. "I'm Alice's neighbor. We've known each other forever."
"So you're friends?" Scully asked skeptically.
"Sure," Millicent said. "But lately...." He shrugged. "She hasn't been feeling very well."
It was an ingenuous thing to say, making him sound like a kid that was simplifying something he knew he didn't fully understand.
Mulder jerked his head up briefly in a gesture of agreement. "So, what do you think about her tattoos?"
"She's always doing weird stuff like that."
"Like what?" Mulder encouraged.
"Well, once after she'd been gone for a while, she came back with her head shaved and her nose pierced," Millicent told them.
"When was that?" Scully asked him. Alice's hair was still short and choppy, only about an inch or two long. It had made her dark eyes seem strangely unprotected.
Millicent made a face to indicate he was doing some serious thinking, and Scully found herself aggravated by his personality swings. One moment he was completely serious, the next he was acting like a melodramatic twelve-year-old.
"It was about two years ago," he said. "Her hair never really grew back the same after that. She took the nose ring out though. Said she couldn't stand the way it felt, all cold and metallic." He looked directly at Scully when he said this.
Scully blinked at him. It occurred to her that he hadn't even asked who they were.
"Why do you think she does these things?" Mulder was asking.
"She's been like this ever since Marie died," Millicent explained. "Her parents think the strain was just too much for her."
"Marie?" Scully asked, not recognizing the name.
"Her sister, older sister. They were very close. Marie disappeared the summer after our freshmen year. She was missing for a couple of weeks before they found her body...." He trailed off and looked down at the floor, and for the first time his grief seemed genuine.
"Thanks for your help, Millicent," Mulder said. "We're going to go talk to her parents now, but maybe we'll see you later." Mulder didn't ask any questions about the older sister, and Scully got the feeling he'd already known about her.
"No problem." Millicent's grin was all white perfect teeth, his grief gone. "They'll both be home at four."
Mulder nodded and reached out to guide Scully toward the elevator. She slipped away from his hand. "What do you think of the fair Millicent?" Mulder asked in a low voice.
Scully glanced behind her. Millicent was still standing by Alice's door, watching them. A shiver skittered through her, and she jabbed at the call button to cover her discomfort. "I don't like him, and he didn't seem surprised we were here," Scully pointed out.
"Maybe he knew we were coming," Mulder suggested.
"How? We're FBI, Mulder. We don't investigate suicide attempts," she said, trying to rouse his suspicion.
Mulder simply looked bored. Why was it so hard to induce his paranoia today? She depended on him to be overly sensitive to matters of conspiracy. One of them had to be.
She tried again. "He didn't ask who we were, Mulder. It was like he already knew."
Mulder nodded slowly, playing with his sleeve where she'd crushed it earlier.
"That boy's friend just tried to kill herself for the third time, and the FBI's here, and he doesn't want to know why?" Scully prodded.
Mulder finally seemed to be getting interested. "The police asked. The doctors asked." He let go of his sleeve and looked at her. "I bet Alice's parents will ask too."
Scully felt some terrible knowledge creeping up on her. "Alice never asked," she said calmly. Somewhere between the cafeteria and Millicent's entrance she'd regained her control.
"I noticed," Mulder said, a little smug, as if that had something to do with his abduction scenario. Scully thought maybe it did.
For a moment there was peace between them. Scully didn't want to move.
The elevator arrived.
While Mulder drove, Scully looked over the police report on Alice's disappearances, suicide attempts and petty crimes over the past three years.
At twelve, Alice Katzke disappeared for three weeks in late August of 1993, returning to her family with a shaved head and a nose ring and mute on the subject of where she'd been. A few months later, in December, she swallowed a dozen of her mother's prescription sleeping pills and hid in her sister's room.
"Millicent was the one who found Alice when she tried to OD," Scully remarked. "No one else had even known there was anything wrong."
"Interesting," Mulder said, pulling off his gloves and digging into his pocket for a sunflower seed.
In 1994, Alice skipped summer camp and instead spent the two months as a missing person, returning in late August with tattoos around her wrists. The following January, she attempted suicide for the second time, slitting her wrists right through the blue vines painted on her skin. She was fourteen. An anonymous 911 call alerted the paramedics and police. She was found locked in the basement bathroom.
"That's strange," Scully said. "I would have thought she got the tattoos to cover up the scars on her wrists, but it looks like it was the other way around."
Mulder grunted noncommittally and rolled down the window to spit out some shells. The blast of cold air made her frown at him, but he was too busy with his seeds to notice.
Alice's most recent disappearance had been three days ago, on the 21st. A neighbor had called in to report an unfamiliar car outside the Katzkes' and movement in the bushes on the side of the house. A squad car was dispatched. When the officers knocked on the door of 15206 Illini Street, Isaac and Lorna Katzke woke up to find their daughter gone.
Scully read aloud the newest addition to the report: "Alice Katzke returned home early in the morning on November 23rd. That same afternoon she attempted suicide for the third time, drinking a toxic mixture of cleaning supplies that possibly included drain cleaner, ammonia, automatic dishwashing detergent and bleach."
It was now November 24th, and because of the damage caused by the poisons, Alice wasn't expected to make it to December.
Scully scanned the account. It didn't say how they had found her, but this was just a copy of the preliminary report. The final paperwork wouldn't be compiled for a few days, but she wondered if Millicent's name wouldn't be mentioned regarding the rescue attempt. Scully closed the file and watched the houses pass by for a while. They were big, made for families.
"Why didn't you tell me about Marie?" she asked.
Splitting a seed open with his front teeth, Mulder shrugged. "I don't think it's related."
Her fingers bent the folder, leaving creases in the thick brown paperboard. She tried to make them stop.
"I don't think we have enough information to be making that decision," she said, knowing she could only speak for herself. Mulder might have more than enough information. She'd never know until he pulled out a piece to support his theory or invalidate hers. Working with him was like climbing a flight of old stairs. She never knew which step was going to break under her weight.
"Fine," Mulder said, "but I don't think it's related."
"Why don't you tell me what happened, and we'll see what I think," Scully suggested tightly. She wasn't about to let him bully her, not after the way he had acted in the cafeteria.
Mulder tugged at the strap of his seat belt before he answered her.
"On the evening of July 26, 1992, Marie Katzke left her house, telling her mother she was going shopping with friends. She didn't come home that night. When questioned, her friends said she'd never even met up with them at the mall. Two weeks later, her body was found in a wooded area outside town. She had been strangled, and there were signs of sexual assault. There were no witnesses, and no one was ever charged. She was fifteen years old." He spoke carefully, as if he wanted to make sure he wouldn't have to repeat a single word.
"Now, why don't you think it's related?" Scully asked, surprising herself with the question. Disagreeing with him had become reflex, and it had been a long time since she'd actually stopped to listen to his side of things.
Mulder seemed a little startled himself, and he took a while to gather his thoughts. Finally, at a stop light, he looked at her and shook his head. "I just don't think it's related. A year passed between Marie's death and Alice's first disappearance. Nothing happened in that time."
"Nothing in this police report at least," Scully said, gesturing with the folder. "We haven't talked to her parents or seen her school or medical records yet, and even so, whatever happened to her might not be on file."
The windshield was getting foggy. Mulder turned on the defroster. "I think something else triggered the change in Alice's behavior. I don't think it was her sister's death."
"What, then?" Scully dropped the folder between them on the console and tucked her fingers under her thighs. She might have to buy another pair of gloves if they stayed here much longer.
"I think it was the first disappearance itself. If she was taken against her will and held for three weeks, that could easily affect her behavior and radically alter her personality." Mulder slowed the car. "What's the address again?"
Scully freed one hand to flip open the police report and then started checking the house numbers. "There on the left," she said, pointing, "the green one."
Mulder parked across the street from the Katzke's, a two-story house with a big chestnut tree out front. Scully got out of the car, putting her hands in her coat pockets immediately, but the slick lining felt even colder than her fingers did. She drew her hands up into her sleeves and turned to make sure Mulder had the file.
He was still in the car, pulling on his gloves. The black leather made his slim hands seem bigger, thicker; strong, but still gentle and kind. She watched him flex his fingers to stretch the leather. Grabbing the folder, he swung out of the car, drawing his coat up around him so he wouldn't step on its hem.
Scully found herself strangely captivated by his simple movements. She knew him so well that sometimes she forgot how attractive he could be, how graceful. She had meant to find something flawed in him to renew her anger, but instead all she could see was the way he pushed his door closed with the tips of his fingers, how he brushed the lint from his coat, how he turned to wait for her.
Forcing herself to look away from him, she noticed Millicent and the spell broke. He was standing in the driveway next door to the Katzkes', leaning over the hood of a shiny red Toyota Tacoma and rubbing it with a cloth. He looked right at Scully as he worked the rag in tight circles.
Feeling vulnerable, Scully took her hands from her pockets and moved around the car to meet up with Mulder, putting her back to Millicent in the process. "Look at him," she muttered. "It's below freezing out here." A gust of wind blew her hair against her lips, and she brushed it away.
Mulder's eyes darted above her head then came down to look at her again. "He makes you uncomfortable, doesn't he?"
The question irritated her. There was something disturbing about Millicent, but Mulder was overstepping the boundaries of their partnership by mentioning it. She was supposed to be unshakable.
Scully started across the street, but Mulder caught up with her, carefully placing himself so that he blocked her from Millicent's view, but even with Mulder's body as a buffer she could still feel the pressure of Millicent's gaze.
"Hi," he called out.
Mulder waved, and Scully nodded her head just enough so that she couldn't be accused of ignoring him. Mulder put one hand in the small of her back to guide her up the porch, and for once she was glad of his possessiveness. She would rather have Mulder staking his claim than Millicent owning her with his eyes.
Mulder rang the doorbell while Scully reached up to smooth her windblown hair back into place.
"Scully, where are your gloves?" Mulder asked, noticing her bare hands.
"I must have left them at home."
"We'll have to stop and get you some new ones," he said, just as the front door opened to reveal a man wearing hospital scrubs and running shoes. Alice's father was a nurse at Fox Run Hospital.
"Isaac Katzke?" Mulder asked.
"Yes?" the man answered cautiously. He had a long nose, and his square jaw was covered with the beginnings of a beard. He looked younger than Mulder, but his bristly brown hair had a few streaks of grey in it, and his hazel eyes seemed like they were having trouble staying open.
"I'm Agent Mulder. We spoke on the phone? This is my partner Dana Scully. We'd like to talk with you about your daughter, Alice."
Scully fumbled her wallet open with numb fingers and showed her badge to Katzke, who examined it carefully. He also checked Mulder's ID before stepping back to let them in.
"I'll try to answer your questions," he said as he led them down the hall, "but I don't know why the FBI would be interested in Alice." He hesitated, then turned to look at them. "Has she done something?" The question seemed to upset him, as if he had betrayed his daughter by even asking it.
"No, not at all," Mulder was quick to assure him. "We think someone might have done something to Alice. The pattern of her disappearances may be related to some other cases we're working on."
"What kind of cases?" Katzke asked.
Scully was curious to hear Mulder's response, if he would tell the whole truth as he saw it, but her partner simply replied, "Kidnappings."
Isaac frowned, but didn't ask any further questions. "I'm making dinner, so you'll have to talk to me in the kitchen. I'm due back at the hospital in forty-five minutes, and my wife's coming with me to sit with Alice. It'll have to be quick."
The kitchen was a soft yellow with a white tile backsplash along the counter. There was a skylight in the ceiling, all but useless with the day's sky, but the room was still comforting. Isaac Katzke returned to the stove where he was warming up some soup. The feeling was returning to Scully's fingers, and she wiggled them, thinking how nice a hot bowl of soup would be.
"My wife will be down in a moment," Isaac said, stirring the soup. "She's resting."
Mulder nodded. "Mr. Katzke, has Alice ever given you any indication that she wasn't leaving home willingly?"
Alice's father stopped stirring. Tapping the spoon against the pot, he laid it down on a saucer and turned to face them. With his arms crossed over his broad chest, he looked more like a lumberjack than a nurse. "Alice doesn't talk much anymore, and she never talks about the times she was gone. We've tried to send her to therapists, but she won't talk to them either. We don't know--"
There were footsteps on the stairs, and a woman with Asian features came into the kitchen. She was about the same height as Scully and had dark skin with carefully plucked eyebrows. She was beautiful but broken; her black hair dull, her dark eyes flat. Grief seemed to squeeze her until simply breathing was a chore.
Isaac turned to greet his wife. "Lorna, this is Agent Mulder and Agent Scully from the FBI. I told you they'd called, remember?" He motioned to his wife who was shuffling over to the kitchen table. "Agents, this is my wife, Lorna."
Lorna barely looked at them, instead playing with a butter knife that was lying by her soup bowl. Scully watched her run a finger down the dull edge of the utensil. This woman's daughter had taken a razor blade and cut across both wrists. Three times she had tried to take away the life her mother had given her. Scully wondered if Lorna Katzke felt her daughter was punishing her, condemning her own mother for loving her. Lorna looked up at Scully, but there was none of that in her eyes. She only looked empty.
Scully suddenly craved her mother. She wanted to see her, to talk to her, to make sure her eyes weren't dead like Lorna Katzke's. Her cell phone was in her pocket. She could duck out to the front porch, call her mother and tell her she loved her.
Mulder's fingers were cupping her elbow. He'd taken off his gloves. "Scully."
She opened her mouth and made a little gasping sound. "I'm fine," she breathed automatically, not even sure if that's what he was asking. It must have been. His fingers slipped away.
"Does Alice have any friends that she spends a lot of time with? Anyone she might stay with for an extended period of time?" Mulder asked Isaac.
Mr. Katzke looked at his wife. "I'm not home enough to know, but Lorna teaches at the high school. She knows a lot of the kids around here. Honey?"
"Alice doesn't have any friends," Mrs. Katzke said, speaking very clearly, as if there was some chance she would be misunderstood.
"What about Millicent Baym?" Scully asked, having gotten back into the direction of the conversation after her strange bout of homesickness.
"He's just Millicent." Lorna gave a weak smile as if it was obvious. "You know, the boy next door. He's like a big brother to her."
This made a certain amount of sense, but it didn't account for the unease Scully felt in his presence, or why he would be out waxing his truck in below freezing temperatures.
Obviously dissatisfied with the direction of the conversation, Mulder cleared his throat and brought them back to the subject at hand. "Mr. and Mrs. Katzke, we are sorry to bring this up, especially now, but there's a chance your daughter has gotten involved in something dangerous. She is not being charged with anything, but we think there may be a connection between her and a group we're investigating. If she has had contact with them, it's not surprising that she wouldn't want to talk about it. Do you have any ideas where she might have been when she was away from home?" Mulder asked, trying to be persuasive and sympathetic at the same time.
"We had her going to a counselor after Marie...." Isaac looked up at Mulder, who nodded, letting him know it was okay, that he wouldn't have to explain.
"And she seemed to be doing really well. She was okay for about a year...but then she disappeared--" He paused and glanced over at his wife for support, but Lorna clearly had no strength to give him.
"In August, 1993," Mulder prompted. He had the file open in his hands, but Scully knew he didn't need to check it. He remembered things like dates and places. This was just a show for the Katzkes, so they could see how thorough he was. If they only knew how much he kept from her, his own partner. She got a sudden, irrational urge to tell them and destroy his credibility.
Isaac nodded. "Yes, some of her things were gone from her room, clothes and money. We were worried something might have happened, but the police said it looked like she'd left under her own free will. Chicago's only about an hour from here. It's possible she hitched a ride or left with friends." He made a face, like that last idea suddenly didn't seem so feasible.
Lorna continued where her husband left off. "She was gone for weeks and when she returned, her head was shaved, and she had a nose ring. She was twelve years old. Who kidnaps a twelve-year-old girl and pierces her nose?" Her voice was getting loud, and she was pressing her thumb against the edge of the butter knife again.
Isaac took the soup off the stove and put it on the table, then directed them to the hall. "I think you'd better go. Lorna--" He sighed, and it was like hearing a giant fall. "We've lived through three years with Alice doing this. Hearing it might not be her fault...it's difficult, looking back, wondering if we could have done something...more."
"We understand," Scully told him. "We'll be in town for a few more days. Would it be possible for you to release Alice's school and medical files to us?"
"Yes, I can do that tonight while I'm at work. Agents, thank you for looking into this. If Alice needed help..." Isaac couldn't finish, and he herded them down the hall in silence, Scully taking note of the photographs that lined the wall.
There was a recent family portrait by the stairs: Mom, Dad, and Alice, who was wearing a pretty flowered dress with long sleeves, her hands hidden behind her. She was smiling, but it had obviously been the photographer's idea. Scully looked around to see if there were any pictures of Marie.
Mulder was giving Isaac two of their cards. She noticed he sometimes did that if he thought someone might be more inclined to contact one of them over the other. It was a heady feeling knowing he had a stash of her business cards in his wallet, like having him admit there were some things she did better than him.
A small photo on the bookshelf caught her eye. It was a framed snapshot of Lorna and a teenaged girl hugging each other, both of them with huge silly grins. They were standing in front of a picnic bench covered with a red and white checked tablecloth and a lot of food. The girl was much taller than Lorna, with long brown hair and strong, tanned arms.
Isaac noticed Scully's interest in the picture. He picked it up and showed it to her and Mulder. "That's Marie, Alice's sister. They were three years apart and very different, but they got along really well. Marie played volleyball and ran track. The most exercise Alice got was walking to the library, but they enjoyed being with each other and sharing the things that made them happy." If he noticed he spoke of both his daughters in the past tense, it didn't show. He put the picture back down.
Scully thanked Isaac for talking with them, then stepped out onto the porch. Next door, Millicent's truck was gone.
It made her nervous in a different way now that he wasn't in plain sight, and she wondered where he might be, if he was watching from a window somewhere or parked down the street, waiting for them to leave. She didn't turn around to check, just walked straight to the car and waited until Mulder got there to unlock the doors. She decided that the next time they rented a car she would ask for an extra set of keys. It was ridiculous for her to wait out in the cold like this.
She stamped her feet a little while Mulder tried to get the keys out of his pocket without bringing along a handful of change as well. After spilling out a few coins, he finally took off one glove and got a hold of the keys.
Opening his door, he hit the power locks, and Scully climbed into the car, touching her nose with one hand to make sure it was still attached since she could no longer feel it.
Mulder started the car, but made no move to pull away from the curb. Instead he replaced his glove and got settled in his seat, pulling on his coat where it had bunched up under his legs.
Waiting for him, Scully turned the heat on and adjusted the vents. The air coming through was still cold, but the heat would kick in soon. She set the fan to high so that she'd know the second it did. Mulder gave her an aggravated look and closed the vents on his side. She did this with the air-conditioning too, and she knew Mulder hated it. It was one of the things he let go though, just like she tried not to complain when he mumbled along to the radio and got half of the words wrong.
Mulder took his bag of sunflower seeds from his coat pocket and dropped it into the console's cup holder. "What's for dinner?" he asked, clapping his gloved hands together once in an effort to be cheerful.
Scully had been cold all day and felt like eating something warm and heavy. "Steak, a baked potato with sour cream, soup and bread," she said. "Chocolate mousse pie for dessert with coffee and whipped cream."
"Scully?" Mulder looked aghast at her proposed menu. It was true she normally didn't eat much red meat, and she couldn't remember the last time she'd put real sour cream on her food, but she felt she deserved it after today.
She must have seemed disappointed because Mulder was quick to approve. "No, no, a steakhouse sounds good, Scully, just not your normal fare."
She turned away and spoke to the window. "I haven't had anything to eat all day except for that rubbery bagel on the plane and that coffee at the hospital. I'm hungry." And cold, but the heater was finally doing something about that.
Mulder looked like he wanted to apologize, and she hoped that he wouldn't. She was capable of telling him to stop for lunch, but sometimes it was just easier to wait until Mulder made that decision for them. He could get antsy if she wanted to stop and eat in the middle of an investigation. He'd still stop, but he wouldn't be happy about it, and he'd barely take time to chew. She'd spend the whole meal feeling like she had ten seconds left in a pie-eating contest. Scully knew her options, and sometimes going hungry was the easier thing to do.
Now that the heater was warming up, Mulder turned the fan down to low, opened up the vents on his side of the car and pulled away from the curb. He was like a pilot, always adjusting one control or another. He loved the cruise control. When they were on open road he'd set it up and then lean back in his seat, tormenting her by steering with only one finger. She trusted him though, or she wouldn't let him drive.
They were heading back toward their motel, which was in the commercial part of town. Fox Run was small, but it was still the Midwest, and she'd spotted at least two steakhouses on the short drive from the motel to the hospital that afternoon.
Mulder pulled into the crowded parking lot of a dark brown building. It was square, with a high peak on the roof, but it still managed to maintain a squat appearance. The sign outside said "Alligator Grill," and a snapping neon alligator flashed on and off below it. Scully hoped Mulder didn't try any Crocodile Dundee jokes. She wasn't in the mood.
The restaurant was relatively busy for a Thursday evening, and they had to wait for a table. Scully took a seat on the padded bench against the wall, and Mulder stood next to her, peering up into the vaulted ceiling where a stuffed alligator hung from the exposed beams.
"What if that fell on someone?" he asked, grinning down at her.
"It'd probably hurt," she said absently.
"How much do you think that weighs?"
Did he think she knew everything? She glared up at the dead alligator whose mouth was frozen open in a menacing snarl. There was an equation for it. If they cut it loose and timed its descent, she could find its velocity based on the distance it fell; then if they measured the exact force it would exert on the hapless person standing beneath it, she could calculate its mass. She didn't tell Mulder any of this. "Forty pounds," she said.
This seemed to satisfy him, and he turned around to read the specials written on the greaseboard behind her. He was standing too close, and the crease of his pant leg brushed against her knee. She shifted so that she could see past him into the bar instead of being forced to stare at the precise stitching on his charcoal grey suit jacket.
The hostess stepped into the waiting area, carrying two vinyl covered menus. "Mulder, party of two."
Scully stood slowly, giving Mulder time to back up, but he was seemingly engrossed in the description of the Surf and Turf platter and wasn't moving.
"Our table's ready," Scully said, her face turned to the side, her cheek nearly brushing against his sleeve.
Mulder had his wool coat draped over one arm, but Scully had retained hers because the door to the steakhouse kept opening every few minutes, bathing her in a new blast of cold air each time. Now Mulder touched her shoulder and slid his hand over to her collar, indicating she should take off her coat. She turned to let the garment fall from her shoulders as Mulder guided the sleeves down her arms.
The hostess waited for Mulder to hang up their coats on the rack by the maitre d's station then led them to their booth in a large room with a high ceiling. In the center of the room was a stone fireplace.
Their server came by with ice water and place settings, and Scully pushed the water away, too cold to drink it. Cracking open the huge menu, she looked over the specials.
She was somehow less hungry than she had been back in the car so when the waiter returned, she only ordered a bowl of clam chowder, hoping she might have room for dessert later. She wanted coffee.
Handing her menu to the waiter, she was surprised to hear Mulder asking for a garden salad and a glass of Sprite. She looked at him in the dim light of the restaurant. His face was drawn, and his shoulders were slumped. It was his standard posture when he was depressed and felt like no one was listening to him.
She regretted her behavior in the hospital. She should not have made him so frustrated, but it was too late to apologize. He would only shrug it off. There was something childish about Mulder that wouldn't let him accept an apology. He listened, but it was as if the words had no meaning to him, the incident already scarred into his memory. Mulder himself rarely apologized. That he had done so immediately in the hospital cafeteria convinced her he hadn't intended to be so cruel. He'd been trying to make it up to her ever since with his attentiveness and small touches.
Now he was staring past her into the murky restaurant, his face cupped in his hands. He hadn't eaten all day either, and now just a salad. His disappointment was draining him.
Their food appeared, and the waiter gave Scully a warning that her bowl was hot. As soon as he left, she held her hands against its tall sides, enjoying the warm sting it brought to her skin. The chowder was hot enough to burn her tongue, but she ate it anyway, desperate for its warmth. She looked up to find Mulder poking at his salad, more in experimentation than interest.
"Want to try my clam chowder?" she asked him, reaching for a packet of Saltines.
Mulder shook his head and prodded his lettuce as if he were concerned something was hiding under it.
She would push him just enough so he'd know she had noticed his lack of appetite. "Did you want to eat somewhere else instead? You should have said something."
Their eyes met in challenge.
"This is fine, Scully," he said, biting into a tomato wedge solely for her benefit.
"As long as you're sure." She held his gaze for a moment then looked away, taking a sip of her ice water. The chowder had a lot of pepper in it, and she was finally beginning to thaw. She hadn't felt her toes since they'd landed at O'Hare and had to spend half an hour waiting around in the parking garage for their rental.
Letting Mulder return to his hunger strike, she stared into the fireplace. The bright flames that curled around the metal logs were gas. The fire gave off more light than heat, but there was still some measure of comfort derived from its presence. It wasn't real, but it looked like it was. Sort of like their partnership lately.
Mulder sat across from her, just like he always did. Tonight he was pretending to eat. Scully finished her chowder and watched the fire. It looked real, and it served its purpose, who was she to say it wasn't working?
Scully drove back from the steakhouse, not liking Mulder's unresponsive mood. He had a habit of steering the car toward whatever he was looking at, so she always got a little worried when he started staring off into space. She was never sure what he was seeing, if it was the road or something else.
He hadn't protested when she'd asked for the keys, just handed them over and then slunk through the parking lot ahead of her. Not wanting to spend any more time in Mulder's sullen company, she had decided against getting dessert.
Parking in front of their rooms, she popped the trunk and got out of the car. Their first case had taught her not to leave anything important in her motel room. Unfortunately, during their second case she'd learned not even the car was safe. But since it was more often that their motel rooms were broken into than their car stopped by tight-lipped men in black, she'd taken to keeping her briefcase and laptop in the trunk.
She got her laptop case out and set it at her feet while she searched the front pocket of her leather attache for her room key. Slamming the trunk closed, she noticed Mulder was sitting in the car with his hand on the door handle. He looked frozen, most likely in thought, but if he sat there much longer he really would freeze.
Giving him a questioning look through the window, she walked past him to her room and unlocked the door. The room was small but clean, with a double bed, a dresser with a TV and a small table by the window, which looked out on the parking lot. The bathroom even had a tub instead of just a shower. She'd turned the heat on earlier when they'd checked in, and now it was nice and warm.
Scully set her laptop and briefcase down on the table and turned to close the door. Mulder was still in the car. Crossing her arms over her chest, she leaned against the doorjamb and wondered if she should go pry him out.
Mulder suddenly pushed his door open and stepped out, slightly more animated than he had been. He was carrying Alice's file.
Before she could ask if he was all right, he interrupted her: "Can I borrow your laptop?" he asked, already brushing past her and into her room.
So he had been thinking then. Probably had some new theory he would research until he had enough information that he could blow it totally out of proportion.
"Yes," she told him, "but I need to use it tonight."
He looked at her like he was trying to decide if she was just being difficult or actually had a valid reason to use the computer.
"I told my mother I'd e-mail her," she said, knowing Mulder wouldn't push. The last few months had not been easy for anyone, and her mother deserved to know her one remaining daughter was still safe.
"Sure," Mulder said, his face clearing of suspicion. "Just come over and get it when you're ready, okay?"
It would have been easier for her if he just returned it when he was through, but she knew if Mulder got caught up in something, he might not surface for hours. On the plane, as soon as the pilot announced it was safe to use electrical devices, Mulder had started playing Windows Solitaire and didn't stop until they were approaching O'Hare and he had to put the laptop away. It was a wonder the battery wasn't completely drained.
"Fine." She pulled the computer from its case and handed him the wall jack. "Don't change the desktop colors," she warned.
To her surprise, Mulder smiled. "Last time I changed something you didn't even say anything. I'm betting you still haven't noticed." Grinning, he backed out the door, laptop and folder under one arm, power jack dangling from his fingers. Scully closed her door and drew the chain. She'd take a hot bath and then reclaim her laptop, no matter what Mulder had become embroiled in.
Half an hour later, Scully left the steamy bathroom to put on a t-shirt, a pair of jeans, a US Navy sweatshirt and a pair of thick woolly socks. Her hair was still wet, but she was only running next door and back. She crammed her feet into her slippers, grabbed her room key and stepped outside.
The sky was still clear, and above her the stars shifted like restless snowflakes. Scully hurried to Mulder's door and knocked, moving from foot to foot impatiently. She could actually feel the cold concrete through her slippers. The scraggly welcome mat on the stoop did nothing to keep the chill from her feet. If anything, she imagined its cracked plastic felt like permafrost, springy and cold.
Mulder was taking his time coming to the door. Scully put a hand to her head. She should not have gone outside with wet hair.
When her partner finally opened his door, he had the pinched look he got whenever he stared at a computer screen too long without his glasses. Letting her inside, he closed and locked the door while she went over to where he had the laptop set up on the table.
"Dial-up's been spotty," he said. "You might not get back on if you disconnect. Why don't you just stay and use it here?"
He was still in his suit. He'd taken off the jacket and draped it over the chair, but his loosened tie was still around his neck. Mulder hated ties. It was unusual to see him wearing one past five if he wasn't working.
"I have to take a shower," he announced, not waiting for her answer.
Scully watched as he grabbed his toiletry bag and ducked into the bathroom. Running a hand through her curling hair, she sat down at the table and kicked her slippers off, tucking one leg up under her. The computer's screen saver had kicked in, and a big X wobbled back and forth, slowly blushing through the rainbow.
That must have been the changes he had been grinning about. She had the screen saver set to 15 minutes so it wasn't often that the computer was idle long enough for it to come on. She smacked the space bar to kill the see-sawing X. The screen cleared to show an open Netscape window, and a grainy image of an arm with pale blue numbers tattooed below the wrist.
Scully pushed her chair away from the table. Why was Mulder looking at pictures from the Holocaust?
She felt ill. Mulder's room wasn't as warm as hers, and her hair was still damp. She got up and grabbed one of Mulder's towels from the sink alcove by the closed bathroom door.
Rubbing her hair with the thin towel, she walked back to the table. From this angle, she could see the edge of something white poking out from under the laptop. Draping the towel around her neck, she lifted the computer and pulled out two Polaroids.
Blue vine tattoos.
One picture showed the back of Alice's hands, the other showed the inside of her unscarred wrists, the vine pattern still intact.
On the computer, the pale arm bared its terrible history to her, blue ink like faded old eyes.
Scully took the wet towel from her neck and dropped it to the floor near her feet. Where was Mulder going with this? They'd recently encountered a Nazi scientist that had been involved in the death camp experiments. He was also somehow connected to Mulder's father and the British man at Bill Mulder's funeral who had warned her she was in danger. But Alice's tattoos couldn't have anything to do with that. They were just tattoos, even if they were in the same blue.
She picked up the Polaroids again. They were dated August 28, 1994.
The shower stopped, and a minute later Mulder came out of the bathroom, a towel wrapped around his hips. She looked up at him, the pictures still in her hand.
"The color reminded me," he dragged a hand across his mouth then gestured to the computer, "of the numbers tattooed on their arms. It was the same blue."
Scully sat down in the chair, her strength gone. Mulder knew so much, had so many details stored away in his mind. He couldn't help but make these kinds of connections, establishing links between things that wouldn't normally be thought of as similar. She propped up the Polaroids against the laptop and stared at its screen. Mulder was pulling clothes out of his suitcase. He'd asked Millicent about the tattoos. He thought they were important.
Her partner had returned to the alcove by the sink. If she turned her head slightly, she could see his reflection in the mirror.
"What do you think it means?" she asked him. He was using another towel to rub his hair dry. His eyes were closed, and she watched him, waiting for his answer. She was surprised to see how thin he'd become, as if the pain of the last year had consumed him until he was little more than muscle and bone. His shoulder had healed, but the bullet wound was still quite noticeable. She couldn't remember if she'd ever apologized for shooting him.
He dropped the towel he was using for his hair. The towel around his waist hit the floor a second later. Caught up in her concern, she looked away too late. How had she missed his decline? He hadn't been keeping it from her; she just hadn't seen.
She looked at him again. He'd put on boxer shorts and was pulling a white t-shirt over his head. He looked at her in the mirror, watching her.
"Tell me what you first thought when you saw those pictures together," he asked her.
"Victor Klemper. The work he did," she said, though "work" wasn't an adequate word for what he had done, the atrocities he had been a part of. She thought of the German tending his orchids and the blue flowers around Alice's wrists.
Mulder nodded and turned away, coming out of the alcove with grey sweatpants on. His feet were still bare. Scully curled her toes inside her wool socks. He couldn't be warm enough like that. He was going to get sick.
She watched as he pulled the other chair over so he could sit next to her. Picking up the pictures of Alice's tattoos, he laid the Polaroids on the table in front of her and pointed at the vine curling across the inside of Alice's wrist. "I think if we were to look close enough here, we'd find letters or numbers hidden in the pattern."
"Maybe she had them put there," Scully suggested, not liking where this was leading. "It could have a personal significance, like her birthday or the name of a boyfriend."
"She slit her wrists directly through her tattoos, showing no respect at all for them," Mulder said, drawing a finger across the tender skin on the inside of her arm, mimicking the movement Alice had made with a razor.
Scully moved her hand away, half-afraid Mulder's touch would leave a scar too. "So?"
"You said yourself it was odd," he reminded her. "If she wanted them, why did she deface them like that?"
"She was trying to kill herself," Scully pointed out. "I doubt her tattoos were very high on her list of priorities."
"Okay, but she didn't have to slit her wrists," Mulder said. "I think she was trying to get rid of something written there. She wouldn't answer any of our questions, but when I asked her about those tattoos, she said, 'I didn't do this.'"
"Are you saying she's got a serial number? If whoever took her wanted to keep track of her, don't you think they'd have a better way? Like an implant?" Her mouth said it without her permission and panic whipped through her as she thought of the microchip taken from her neck.
The strange piece of metal was in her briefcase now. Sometimes in the car, when their conversation lapsed, she imagined she could hear it, rattling around in its glass vial like a tiny spy. She hadn't told Mulder yet.
"I thought you didn't believe in implants, Scully?"
She didn't answer him, because how could she say she believed in the implants, but not in the agenda, or even the existence, of the group behind them? Her extended silence prevented their discussion from becoming an argument, and she sighed in relief. She didn't want to fight.
"Many abductees report finding foreign objects in their bodies. Duane Barry, for example." Mulder paused as if in regret, and Scully felt the world collapsing on her - Duane Barry, implants, abductions. If she stopped to put it all together, it would make too much sense, which is why she avoided thinking about it. Then cases like these popped up and Mulder rushed after them like a lawyer after an ambulance, and she was again immersed in the very things she didn't want to deal with.
"It's possible she does have implants, I haven't seen any x-rays, but she's only fifteen, Scully. She's probably pretty easy to keep track of. Maybe the tattoo is for her benefit. To remind her she's theirs. Maybe it's someone's idea of a joke. I don't know, but I think someone has been abducting Alice Katzke and using her as a test subject. They've taken away her credibility by creating a myth around her: She's a lonely girl, a runaway, someone with no respect for her body or for her life. She's depressed and suicidal. And it all seems true, doesn't it, Scully?"
She felt fried, on edge. If he kept talking, there was a good chance she'd just break down and tell him everything just to make him stop. Her memories would spill from her, and he would take them, mentally comparing her abduction, her implant, against the rest of the files in the basement. Her life would no longer be hers; it would belong to him too.
When she spoke next, she had to make sure it was Alice she was talking about. "Maybe because that's all she is, Mulder, just a scared little girl who can't cope. Maybe there's a history of abuse that's driving her to act this way. We don't know, but automatically assuming she was abducted and experimented on by a consortium--" She broke off, aware that she had made that assumption on her own.
Mulder picked up one of the Polaroids. "What if these horrible things have been happening to her since she was twelve, and she hasn't told anyone because she thought no one would believe her?"
"She should tell someone. How does she know no one would believe?" Scully said, aware that what she was suggesting for Alice was something she couldn't even do herself. "We can't help her if she doesn't let us," she finished.
"Who have you told, Scully?" Mulder asked quietly.
She shook her head slowly.
Mulder stood and placed a hand on her back, rubbing between her shoulder blades. His fingertips toyed with her damp hair. "You could tell me," he said to her. "I believe you."
His unexpected kindness made her head droop. She criticized the way he followed cases, but the traits that made him a risk in the field were also the same things that made him such a good person. She put her elbows on the table and dropped her face into her hands. The Polaroids stared at her.
He rubbed a bit lower on her back. "Did you e-mail your mother yet?"
"No, I--" she sighed and lifted her head. "I didn't get the chance."
He nodded toward the computer. The X was back, cycling red, orange, yellow...all the colors of the spectrum...green, blue...and for a brief moment it was the exact color of Alice's tattoos.
"Why don't you do that? I'm going to watch some TV and then go to bed." One more gentle rub and he left her side.
Scully stared at the screen saver, trying to mentally compose a safe e-mail to her mother. Her job just wasn't suitable for family viewing. Some days it even made her a little queasy. She tapped the trackpad, and Netscape returned. Behind her, the TV turned on with a static pop. She could always talk about the weather.
Typing in the address for Hotmail, she waited for the page to load. The arm with its gruesome serial number waited with her. She thought it might have been better if there had been a face to that arm.
Hotmail was taking too long to load. She looked over at Mulder who was stretched out on his bed. Showtime's selection of quality late-night soft porn was on with its usual thin plots and women in even thinner nightgowns. Mulder's hair was drying fuzzy and straight, and she was sure her hair wasn't much better. She couldn't imagine how her life had gotten to this point - Mulder in sweats and a t-shirt, just out of the shower and watching some horrible made-for-USA movie from his motel bed. He was her porn-watching partner, and she was sitting in his room, waiting to e-mail her mother. This was as close to normal as she got these days.
Shaking her head, she returned to the computer. She could complain about the airport, that was something her mother would understand.
Mulder changed the channel to a documentary on snakes, then to an infomercial for Spray-On Hair. Netscape informed her that there was no response from the server.
"Maybe Skinner would like a case of that," Mulder commented, nodding toward the Spray-On Hair.
"What color do you think?" she asked absently, retyping Hotmail's address and trying to remember the color of what little hair the AD had left. She could always access her Bureau account, but it was monitored, and she didn't like using it for personal correspondence.
"Brown," Mulder decided.
She realized she wasn't angry with him anymore. And just in time to go to sleep. She smiled. Netscape timed out. She swore at the guy who owned Hotmail.
Mulder propped himself up on an elbow and looked over at her. "Hellmail giving you trouble?"
"When doesn't it?" Scully complained. "I don't think it's ever worked on the first try." She finally made it to the log-on screen. Mulder was back to the porn, an improbable story about a woman who worked in a shoe store having an affair with a guy she met in the park. They were currently trading witty remarks in the stockroom while the woman stood on a stepladder and the guy looked up her skirt. Scully was sure it was going to descend into raunchy sex at any moment. She couldn't believe Mulder was watching it with her in the room.
Her mother had already written her: It's cold here. Queequeg misses you. Charlie's going to be home for Christmas.
Scully wrote back, repeating the part about the cold, saying that they were in Fox Run, Illinois and that it was great about Charlie....
"This guy's quoting Eliot, except he's getting it wrong," Mulder mumbled.
Scully glanced up at the television set. What kind of pornography quoted Eliot? The same couple was now sitting on a bench in the park, and Scully finally recognized the movie. It wasn't porn; it was an art film she'd seen late at night on cable herself. Her relief was so great she found she wanted to tell someone, but that too fell under the category of things she couldn't write home about, and Mulder would only find it amusing that she considered his hobby to be so distasteful.
From what she could remember, the movie wasn't very good, and the little sex it contained was completely uninspiring, a lot of vague shifting under the sheets and one brief shot of the guy's ass, which did nothing for her. She wondered if Mulder would be disappointed at the lack of sex, or if he knew what he was watching after all.
Sending her message and logging off, Scully shut down the computer and unplugged Mulder's cell phone from the modem. "Where's your recharger?" she asked, waving the phone at him.
"The dresser," he said vaguely.
It was actually in the dresser, next to the Gideon Bible and the SIG Sauer Mulder sometimes wore in an ankle holster. She set his phone to recharge and picked up the laptop. "Goodnight, Mulder," she said, pausing at the door.
"Breakfast at eight?" he asked, leaning up on his elbow again.
She nodded, her eyes watering from the late hour. Turning off the overhead light for him, she opened the door.
"Night, Scully," he said softly.
Her room was cold. She pulled off her jeans and replaced them with flannel pajama bottoms, but left her sweatshirt and t-shirt on. Turning off the lights, she crawled into bed.
She felt lonely, lying there by herself, and wondered if that was why Mulder slept with the television on, to provide some company, a reminder that the world extended beyond his bed, that he wasn't alone.
She considered turning on her own TV, but the murmur of Mulder's seeped through the wall, and she found it was enough of a reminder. Her partner was next door.
Scully sat at the table in her room and stared out the window while she waited for Mulder.
The parking lot was filled with dirty American-made cars, stubby Japanese compacts and one very shiny Mercedes. A family of four was wrestling their things into a rented minivan.
The sky was a dull grey, but it still hadn't snowed. It was too cold. It would have to warm up first, and there seemed to be no chance of that. Scully was buying gloves today. She couldn't spend the rest of the case with her hands tucked up her sleeves like a little girl.
Mulder walked by her room, and he must have been surprised to see her curtains open because he stopped somewhat suddenly. She smiled at him through the window, and he smiled back, pointing at her door.
It was her signal to get moving, but she didn't want to get up. If she got up, she'd have to go back to the hospital, she'd have to watch Mulder as he tried to rescue a girl who didn't want his help. She'd have to pretend not to be upset, pretend not to worry about him, pretend that everything was just fine. It was easier just to sit there and stare out the window, watching the parking lot for snow.
Mulder made an impatient gesture and widened his eyes at her to remind her he was waiting.
Standing up, she checked that she had her gun and badge. They were only getting breakfast, but just a few months ago Mulder had almost been killed in a hotel kitchen, so apparently the presence of daily specials wasn't going to save anyone.
She opened her door. "You in some kind of a hurry?" she teased him.
"I want biscuits and gravy," he announced, tilting his head. She was unsure if he considered that to be an answer.
After drawing the curtains closed again, Scully stepped outside and locked her door. They walked along the front of the motel and around the corner to the restaurant, staying under the overhang like it would protect them from the cold. Mulder wasn't wearing his gloves, and the tips of his fingers were already bright pink.
The restaurant was simple and warm. It wasn't struggling to uphold a jaunty atmosphere, which was a good sign the food could stand on its own merits and didn't have to be buoyed up by laminated placemats with local trivia.
Mulder led them to a table away from the couple with the baby in a high chair, away from the two women sharing a plate of strawberry pancakes. It was normal for the agents to speak about their cases together, murders or missing children, and sometimes they forgot how horrible these things were to the people with normal lives who sat all around them and spoke about their coworkers or the condition of their car over meals.
"So what are we doing today?" Scully asked after they'd ordered. She was pleased that Mulder actually had gotten the biscuits and gravy. Thinking back over the past few months, she realized he hadn't been eating, not since he'd risen from the rock of the New Mexico desert. She was ashamed that it had taken her this long to notice.
"I thought I'd go to the high school and speak with Alice's counselor, maybe try talking to Lorna Katzke again."
Scully took a sip of her coffee. It was perfect, rich and flavorful, not at all like the sludge at the hospital. "And what am I doing?" she asked, anticipating his Divide and Conquer approach.
"I'd like you to check on Alice," he said, choosing his words carefully so that it didn't sound like an order. "See how she's doing, if she feels like talking."
Scully doubted that Alice would have anything to say today that she couldn't have told them yesterday. She peeled back the flap on the plastic tub of half-and-half and poured some into her coffee. Usually it was Mulder that dealt with the kidnapping victims. He became possessive of them in a way that discouraged others from coming between him and the subject. The fact that he was suggesting she talk to Alice made her think he had something in mind for the two of them.
She decided to ask. At worst he wouldn't answer her. "Why me, Mulder?"
He averted his eyes. "You know why," he said.
So she did. The mystic sisterhood of abductees, comparing implants and abduction stories. Just because Mulder liked to share his pain didn't mean she wanted to. She had nothing to say to the girl anyway, nothing that would give her any comfort at least.
Scully drank her coffee and fought down the victim inside her that cried for Mulder's attention.
"I'll go to the hospital and talk to Alice's doctors," she said. Mulder nodded, looking relieved she hadn't exploded at him. What he didn't know was that she was losing the energy it took to fight him off. She was going to give in, and he would soon know all her secrets, but until that day, she was going to be as unyielding as possible. "Alice might not be able to talk."
Their food came, and Scully put down her coffee cup, aware that her unfeeling observation had probably just greatly reduced the likelihood of Mulder eating his breakfast.
Scully dropped Mulder off at the curb, suppressing the urge to ask if he had remembered his homework. By the time she'd pulled back out onto the street, he'd already disappeared into Fox Run High School.
At the hospital, they allowed her access to Alice's chart, and as she stood at the nurses' station reviewing it, Isaac Katzke appeared at her side. He'd just come from Alice's room.
"How is she?" Scully asked. The chart had told her more than she wanted to know, listing the clinical signs of impending death: renal failure, hepatic failure...it wouldn't be too long before her heart and lungs gave out, too.
Isaac's eyes were red, his shoulders slumped. Scully didn't know which was harder to take, reading about Alice's death or seeing it in the girl's father.
He rubbed his eyes. "She was talking to me a little. She just got her latest dose of morphine. It helps the pain, but it makes her tired. She won't be awake much longer."
Scully nodded and returned the chart to its slot. This was always the hard part, asking to intrude in tragedy.
Isaac seemed to understand her hesitation. "Did you want to see her?"
"Only briefly. I've got a few more questions to ask her." She felt there was something more she should give this man who was losing his daughter. "Thank you," she said, wanting to show some gratitude for his forbearance, but not knowing the words. Katzke gave her a tight smile then disappeared into the employees' lounge.
Scully stared at the shiny hospital floor and wondered again why Mulder had sent her there, if he truly thought she would be more effective dealing with Alice, or if it was because he couldn't take any more loss.
Her father hadn't understood why she would want to work for the FBI rather than practice medicine. Maybe she could have finally explained it to him. As a doctor, she couldn't have done anything for Alice Katzke, but as an FBI agent, there was a chance she could still help, if not Alice, then others like her.
Pushing open the door to Alice's room, Scully looked in to see her lying on her back, her face turned toward the window. "Alice, it's Agent Scully."
There was no reply. Stepping inside, Scully glanced over the room. The visitor's chair had been moved and was now on Alice's right, near the window. There still weren't any flowers or stuffed animals, but there was something hidden under the bed. Crouching down, she pulled it toward her and picked it up. It was a paperback copy of "The Bell Jar."
Standing, she moved around the bed to sit down. Alice was watching her with eyes that looked even bigger because of her dilated pupils and shorn hair. One hand rested above the covers, her fingers clutching at the fabric of her hospital gown. Her fist lay in the middle of her chest, and Scully could hardly believe that small hand was approximately the size of the heart beneath it. It had to be too small to keep anyone alive.
Scully glanced at the book in her lap. It reminded her that Alice's hands, at least, were big enough to take her own life, regardless of the size of her heart.
"Is this your book?" Scully asked, holding it up. It was worn and musty smelling, like it had been in a used bookstore for too long. There was a dark red rose on the cover, petals the color of old blood.
Alice was breathing fast and shallow. She would be put on a respirator soon. "No," she said, her voice low. "Millicent brought it for me. I threw it at him." She smiled a little.
Scully shook her head, suddenly remembering the Super Bowl video Mulder had brought her when she was in the hospital, how he had returned her cross with reverent hands and gleaming eyes. "Do you want me to take this with me when I leave?" she asked.
Alice didn't answer, and Scully slipped the book into her coat pocket.
Maybe it meant something, something other than the fact that Millicent Baym was a sick little bastard.
Alice's eyes were closed. Scully thought she'd fallen asleep, but she started speaking again. "He watches me. He'll know if I talk to you."
"Who watches you, Alice?" Scully said softly, almost afraid the girl would change her mind and stop talking.
"Millicent does," Alice said, looking directly at Scully with a gaze that suddenly wasn't dulled by drugs or indecision. "He knows why I'm like this. He keeps stopping me."
"Stopping you from what?" Scully asked, frightened by the unexpected animation in the girl's eyes. It was a manic energy that made her want to draw away.
"From killing myself. He's not supposed to let me die. He told me that after I slit my wrists." She relaxed her fist and let her hand fall down to her lap. The pucker of the scar was surrounded by the torn blue vines of the tattoo. "He's mad at me because I finally won. It's why he brought me that book."
"Why isn't he supposed to let you die?" The question was hard to ask, but Scully was afraid the answer might be worse.
"He's supposed to watch me."
"Why, Alice?" Scully said, trying to straighten out a conversation that had already taken too many twists.
Alice was staring at her hand, flexing the fingers. Her short nails were bitten and the cuticles torn. There was a burn scar across her knuckles. "He's supposed to watch me," she repeated.
Scully sat back in her chair. Alice had started out fairly lucid, but her mental state was deteriorating. The drugs could have been affecting her thought processes, but Scully had a feeling it was the subject matter that was upsetting her rather than the narcotics.
"Alice, did you run away from home?"
"No." Her voice was harsh but weak. The gleam in her eyes had faded. She was falling asleep.
"Were you taken?" Scully urged, hoping for one more answer before Alice dropped off.
What she got was, "Trains."
On her way to the high school, Scully stopped at a downtown department store to buy some new gloves. They were black leather with a Thinsulate liner. She had been fooling herself if she thought she could get by with anything less. Even with the gloves, the steering wheel felt like an icicle.
She was still enjoying the feel of the new leather when she came to a railroad crossing. The gates were down and the red lights flashed off and on leisurely. Stopping the car to wait, she watched as a cargo train crept by, slowing down as it passed through town. A line of cars started to accumulate behind her.
A few minutes later, as the last of the graffiti-stained boxcars passed by, Scully found herself looking at a silver passenger car so clean and shiny it couldn't possibly have spent any time at an open train yard.
The striped barriers raised again, and the lights stopped flashing, but Scully was still staring after the silver car. She realized what was bothering her - it didn't have any windows.
It took an impatient honk from the driver behind her to get her moving again.
Fox Run High School had been built in 1971. Or so Scully read on the plaque in the lobby. It wasn't much of a surprise; the yellow flooring and cinderblock walls gave it away.
Walking by the guidance office, she noticed Mulder through the glass doors. He was sitting in one of the horrible plastic chairs, his long legs stretched out and effectively blocking the path to the secretary's desk.
Scully pushed open the door. Mulder was flipping through an SAT practice booklet and didn't look up.
"Get sent to the principal's office, Mulder?" she asked, sitting in the seat next to him.
He looked at her as if trying to figure out where she'd come from, then scowled. "I've been waiting more than an hour to talk to Alice's counselor. And I have to stay here or I lose my appointment to some punk freshman." He threw the SAT booklet onto a table covered with colorful pamphlets about the usual high school worries: drinking and driving; AIDS; STDs; teen pregnancy; depression and suicide. A few of them slid to the floor. Mulder didn't notice. "What are you doing here?"
"I've already spoken with Alice. I thought I'd come see if you were done here. Obviously you're not."
Mulder leaned toward her. "What did Alice say?"
Scully stood up, put off by his interest. "I don't think this is the place to discuss it," she said, tipping her head to indicate the bored secretary and the spike-haired goth boy sitting across from them.
"Okay, tell me later," Mulder agreed easily.
She wanted to let it go at that, but she knew he wouldn't be able to do his job if she kept this from him. She looked behind her at the freshman who was clearly in another world as he picked black polish off his nails. Sighing, she sat down again and tried to pretend she didn't notice Mulder's concern over her erratic behavior.
"Alice told me she hadn't run away from home."
Someone came out of one of the offices down the hall and left using a back door. Mulder checked his watch.
"Did she say what happened?" he asked.
"Trains," Scully said, remembering the shiny boxcar and a face hovering over her with a bright light and a green mask--
Scully shook her head. Now Mulder looked really worried. He touched her elbow and ducked his head to get a better view of her face. She stared resolutely at his shoes; he needed a new pair.
She lifted her head. It felt too heavy. "Just ask the counselor about Millicent too. Alice mentioned him. He's involved somehow." She had a headache. She wished Mulder would stop touching her.
"Millicent?" he repeated, confused.
"I know it doesn't fit in with your conspiracy theory, but why don't you just humor me." The book in her pocket pressed against her thigh. She was going to snap.
"Scully, calm down."
She pulled away from his hand and stood up again, aggravated that he was trying to comfort her. She had to get away from him. He knew too much about her.
Mulder said her name softly, "Scully, I'll check him out. Why don't you go talk to Mrs. Katzke. She teaches French in room D-24. It's her prep period so she doesn't have a class right now. Okay?"
She felt dizzy and couldn't quite concentrate on what he was saying. As Mulder reached out to touch her arm, she realized this was a panic attack, just like in Dr. Pomerantz's office when she'd been under hypnosis. She'd seen things then, confusing pictures that flashed in front of her so quickly she couldn't tell what they were before they disappeared.
"I don't want to talk about it," she said to Mulder, whose fingers were so light where they wrapped around her wrist that she could barely feel them, but she knew they were there; she could see them touching her, extending up into her coat sleeve. He was reaching for her. She wanted to drop to the floor and let him hold her. She wanted to run until the pictures in her mind could no longer keep up.
"Scully, it's okay. Go talk to Mrs. Katzke." He squeezed her hand then released her. His words were a reprieve. She would do her job. She wouldn't think about this now.
She left the office, pushing against the door and its stiff hydraulic arm. Behind her she heard the secretary telling Mulder that the counselor could see him now.
The silent hallways calmed her, the soles of her boots making a steady tapping sound as she walked. Her panic receded, and the strange images in her mind faded away, replaced by thoughts of the job, of her responsibility toward the Katzkes.
The door to D-24 was closed. Through the narrow window above the doorknob, Scully could see Lorna Katzke sitting at her desk, staring at the cup of coffee she held between her hands. Scully knocked softly and opened the door. The teacher started and turned her blank gaze toward Scully, giving no sign she recognized her.
Scully stepped into the room and shut the door. "Mrs. Katzke, it's Dana Scully." She held up her ID; it was a reflex so essential to her being that she sometimes worried what would happen to her if she no longer had her badge as validation.
"My partner and I spoke to you and your husband yesterday."
Alice's mother turned her eyes back to her coffee.
"I was wondering if I could talk with you for a moment," Scully asked her.
"I don't see why not," Lorna said, glancing at a pile of vocabulary tests at her right elbow. "I'm not getting much done anyway."
Scully moved closer to the desk. "I talked to Alice this morning, and she gave me some indication that someone had taken her away from home, that she hadn't run away. Has she ever given you any reason to think she wasn't leaving the house voluntarily?"
Lorna bit her lip and fussed with her coffee cup, turning it in a circle. "She might have said something after the first time."
Scully waited for her to go on, knowing she couldn't nudge Lorna too much or she would feel pressured and wouldn't speak.
"I thought she was making excuses. She came back unharmed, with her head shaved and her nose pierced. She said she hadn't ran away, but even she didn't sound like she believed it." The coffee cup went through another rotation. It was dark blue with Le Petit Prince written on one side in white; the other side had an illustration of a boy standing on the curve of an empty planet, tending a single red rose.
"Did she ever mention people or places you weren't familiar with?"
Lorna gave a dry laugh. "Alice doesn't talk much. She never has. Not like her sister. Marie was very popular, had a lot of friends. She was involved in all sorts of school activities."
Scully forced a smile, aware Lorna was retreating into easier memories. She was about to interrupt her reminiscing, but the woman was saying something that caught her attention.
"--Marie had a crush on the next-door neighbor boy for the longest time."
"Millicent Baym?" Scully asked, feeling her stomach clench.
"Yes, they were just starting to date before she...." Lorna shrugged, as if death were easier for the shoulders to handle. "He went away to a military academy out east after that, but he was only gone a year or two. He tries to look after Alice, but Alice...she says everything's fine."
Scully turned away from the weird smile on Mrs. Katzke's face. In her mind she could heard Alice saying, "He's supposed to watch me."
Out of the corner of her eye she saw someone looking in at them through the window in the door. It was Millicent. Scully mumbled an excuse, a thank you and an apology and tried not to look like she was rushing from the room. The hallway was empty. A door at the end of the hall was falling closed on its hydraulic arm, admitting an icy wind into the building.
Scully unbuttoned her jacket as she walked, permitting better access to her gun. She had no intention of firing her weapon in a high school, but the feel of it under her fingers was reassuring. Millicent seemed to be everywhere at once, and he looked at her the way Pfaster and Incanto had, like she had something he wanted.
She poked her head out the door. The outside walkway was empty as well. Pulling her head back in, she frowned as the door slowly squished shut.
"Where's your hall pass, little girl?" Mulder asked, coming around the corner.
"It's in my holster," Scully told him. She gestured behind her to Mrs. Katzke's classroom. "Millicent just peeked in on me and Mrs. Katzke and then disappeared out this door."
Mulder nodded and crossed his arms in front of his chest. "Yeah, well, guess who works in the guidance office third period?"
"Millicent? But I just saw him in this hallway a moment ago," Scully said, mentally reviewing the distance between the guidance office and where they were standing.
"Maybe there's two of him," Mulder suggested.
Scully couldn't help the shiver that made her shoulders twitch.
Mulder put a hand on her back and led her toward the door. "Come on, Scully. It's time for lunch. I'll buy you a taco or something."
It was actually a couple of White Castle hamburgers and an order of greasy French fries that Mulder kept stealing. Scully wasn't hungry, and she only picked at the tiny hamburger. Breakfast hadn't been that long ago, but she'd been right when she predicted Mulder wouldn't eat. He was making up for it now, having already eaten six hamburgers and most of her fries.
The White Castle was within driving distance of the high school and halfway through their meal, the place had become flooded with students. She'd just gotten elbowed by one of them when Mulder put down his soda and asked her, "How are you doing, Scully?"
Rubbing her arm, she looked up at him. "What?"
"You were upset earlier." He was speaking carefully, obviously trying his best not to insult her.
"I'm fine," she told him, knowing that wasn't exactly true. She tried to distract him with a subject change. "Mrs. Katzke told me that Millicent and Marie had been dating before she died," she said, playing with the straw of her soda.
"Mm-hm," Mulder said, eating another fry and turning around to gauge the length of the line at the counter. He'd eaten his last hamburger, but he still looked hungry.
"And you still don't think Marie's death is related to Alice's disappearances?" Scully asked him, drawing his attention back to her. She pushed the rest of the French fries over to him. He pretended not to be interested but took them anyway.
"What's the connection, Scully?"
"Millicent," she said coldly.
"What, you think Millicent's been abducting Alice? According to the counselor he's a model student, never misses school. He's on the honor roll." At this Mulder made a face. "He's a little weird, but criminal?"
"What about Marie's death?" she questioned.
"Scully, the police investigated him as a possible suspect. He was at home with his parents for most of that night, but because the medical examiner could only give the time of death to within a few days, Millicent willingly submitted to testing to further clear himself of any involvement. There was blood found at the crime scene that didn't belong to the victim. Millicent wasn't a match."
Scully felt disappointed by this, as if it invalidated her reaction to Millicent. In Mulder's mind it probably did, which would explain his disinterest in the boy.
"That doesn't mean he's not involved with this," Scully insisted. "Alice told me that he watches her. She said it three times. He told her he wasn't allowed to let her die, that he was supposed to watch her."
Mulder was giving her a so-what look. Wiping her hands on a napkin, she pulled the book from her coat. She needed Mulder to be suspicious of Millicent, otherwise she would be alone in her paranoia. She tried not to think about how Mulder probably felt like this all the time.
"He brought her this in the hospital," Scully said, holding up Plath's novel. Reading the cover, Mulder dropped his French fry in surprise. She was sure it was a point in her favor, but Mulder retrieved his fry and resumed his normal bored expression.
"Insensitive, sure, but he's a teenage boy."
Scully felt her headache returning. She tucked the book back into her pocket. "It seems like more than that. Malicious, almost."
"You think we should investigate this boy for kidnapping based on a few off-color remarks and his bad taste in gifts?" Mulder was smashing the cardboard from his lunch and placing the flattened sleeves on their tray. His hands stilled as he waited for her answer.
"Better him than an unknown agency we have no evidence of. Where's your conspiracy, Mulder? Because I don't see it."
Mulder stood up with the tray. On his way past her, he leaned down and whispered angrily, "You never see it."
Scully grabbed the edge of the table and squeezed. They were fighting again, and for no good reason as far as she could see. She wasn't even sure which one of them had started it this time. Mulder dumped their trash and then left the restaurant. Scully followed him. He had stopped just outside the door.
"Mulder, you can't blame conspiracies for everything. Maybe Millicent was abusing Alice. His girlfriend was raped and murdered; that could have affected him more than anyone might have imagined--"
She didn't stop. "Alice is a disturbed kid. She told me she hadn't run away from home, but maybe she didn't see it that way. Maybe she thought she was escaping him--"
"Scully," Mulder said harshly, but it wasn't a rebuke; it was a warning. Scully realized she'd been raising her voice with each word. She looked around, trying to find the source of Mulder's unease. There was a good chance someone had heard her.
Behind her and two cars over was a red Toyota pickup. Millicent Baym was sitting in the driver's seat, drinking a soda. He appeared to be watching them argue.
"Now what's a popular guy like Millicent doing eating lunch alone?" Mulder wondered, striding off in Millicent's direction. Scully looked around the parking lot to determine the size of their audience. Most of the cars had FRHS student parking stickers on their bumpers, and Millicent wasn't the only one sitting in his car and eating. The White Castle didn't have many tables; the seats Mulder and Scully had just left were already filled.
Scully looked back to the red truck. Even from this far away, Millicent's eyes had a glittery look to them, again reminding her of Krycek, of the way he had looked outside Mulder's apartment building the night her partner had tried to shoot him. But Krycek was an assassin and a spy. Millicent was only seventeen, and Scully wanted that to be too young to be so dangerous.
Mulder reached Millicent's truck, and Millicent turned away from Scully to roll down the window. She could just barely make out his greeting: "Agent Mulder."
Scully played with the keys in her coat pocket. She could only see the back of Millicent's head, but Mulder's face was all too visible. His smile was the cool one that Scully had learned to avoid. It meant he knew something, and if his prey wasn't polite enough to confess, he wouldn't mind sharing his knowledge. That look had gotten him into trouble on more than one occasion. She couldn't hear what he was saying, but his tone was the one he used for superiors and psychopaths.
Scully didn't understand what he was doing. Just a minute ago Mulder had seemed ready to join the Millicent Anti-Defamation Squad. Or had he just been arguing with her for sport?
She'd almost made up her mind to go over and chaperone the conversation when Millicent turned around and grinned at her. It was a pleasant enough smile, except it never reached his eyes. She felt sick.
On the evening news, the neighbors always said the same thing: "He was such a nice boy, so polite." They told themselves that the quiet boy next door must have grown up to be a monster - but what they didn't want to admit, what made them lie to the reporters and pretend they hadn't seen, was that they'd known all along. They'd watched him become a monster, and they'd said nothing, done nothing to stop it.
The choice had been made for her. Scully got out her keys, unlocked the driver's side door and slipped into the rental. Locking the door, she turned the car on so she could warm up. She would allow herself to hide just this once. Just this once she would let Mulder do their job alone.
The heater wheezed and blew out cold air that tasted like motor oil and hamburgers. Scully shivered and pulled her gloves on with shaking hands. She did not look over at Mulder again.
The radio gave her a reason to keep her eyes down and her head bowed, and as she skipped from one station to the next, her hair slipped out from behind her ear and fell forward to further cover her face. She stopped at an oldies station that was playing Nat King Cole.
There was a tapping at the passenger-side window, and she felt her lunch try to hop up and meet her heart. It was only Mulder, but her breath wouldn't come back. She hit the power door locks and pulled her seat belt around her waist.
"Scully, are you all right?"
She didn't look at him, afraid her eyes would give her away.
"I'm fine," she said, knowing he didn't believe her.
On the radio, Nat King Cole was still singing about love. Mulder reached over and turned him off. A flash of red attracted her attention, and she glanced in the rear-view mirror to see Millicent's Toyota leaving the parking lot.
"Follow him," Mulder urged.
Scully put the car in gear and followed the bright red truck. With its rally lights and roll bar, it was easy to keep in view. It was also higher than the rest of the traffic, so she was able to keep back far enough that he wouldn't accidentally spot them.
Millicent turned into the high school parking lot. Scully pulled over to the curb and left the engine running.
"This isn't a case, Mulder," she said dully.
"No, it's not," he agreed, surprising her. "It's an x-file."
Scully waited, not wanting to ask.
"It's a case no one wants because it doesn't make any sense. There's no clear crime, no obvious suspect and no discernible evidence. It's what we do." His voice lowered and broke, and she was afraid to look at him. She depended on him to be the dedicated one. If she saw the loss on his face, she might not be able to follow him anymore. It was bad enough hearing it in his voice.
"It never seemed to bother you before," he whispered.
"It's always bothered me," Scully said, wishing he didn't sound so defeated. "There are people being hurt by this, whatever it is, and that bothers me."
"As long as we agree," Mulder said softly.
"On what?" she demanded, not having forgotten their disagreement about Millicent.
"That there's something going on."
"There is," she admitted, but agreeing with him felt like surrender.
Mulder turned the radio back on. "Let's go back to the motel. I want to check my e-mail."
Scully looked behind her then pulled back out into traffic.
At the motel, Scully got her laptop out of the trunk and handed it to Mulder. She expected him to go to his room and use it, but he followed her into hers.
Hooking up the computer to the AC jack and his cell phone, he took off his overcoat, loosened his tie and sat down at her table. The laptop went through its usual whirrs and beeps as it booted up.
Mulder took off his jacket next, and there seemed to be a remote chance of him not stopping there, but taking off his shirt and pants as well, as if he were so uncomfortable he could not spend another minute restrained by his clothing. Scully stood by the door and watched him fuss with the cuffs of his shirt, unbuttoning them and rolling them up his forearms. He settled down then and left the rest of his clothes as they were.
Scully was exhausted and found she could barely keep her eyes open. She felt tingly and lightheaded, as if she had just barely escaped from being shot. Adrenaline was still rushing through her and her hands felt unsteady. Pulling off her gloves, she tried to shove them into her coat pocket but encountered the book she'd taken from Alice's hospital room. She removed it, noticing its edges were becoming soft from being in her pocket. One of the corners was creased, and she smoothed it out with her shaky fingers.
Shrugging her coat off, she laid it on top of Mulder's on the extra chair and then sat down on the end of her bed with the book. Its cover was a fleshy pink, similar to the old Crayola color, but dirtier, like unwashed skin. The longer she stared at it, the more unpleasant it became.
Scully looked over at her partner. He was busy with the laptop and wasn't paying her any attention. Unlacing her boots, she kicked them off and let them fall to the floor with two heavy thumps. She turned the reading lamp on, then scooted up the bed until she could lean back against the headboard and read.
She woke up when Mulder leaned over the bed to cover her with the extra blanket. She was still clutching "The Bell Jar" to her chest, but she had a feeling she'd lost her place.
Mulder returned to his chair and resumed pecking at the laptop's tiny keys. He was wearing his glasses, and the evening light from the window reflected off the lenses, hiding his eyes. She shifted, and the blanket rustled. Mulder turned to look at her. Seeing she was awake, he pushed his chair back and crossed his arms over his chest.
"I had the photographs of Alice's tattoos scanned and sent to the lab," he told her, taking off his glasses. "Danny says there's a 58.2% possibility that the numbers '109849' are incorporated into both tattoos on the inner wrists."
Scully didn't move from where she was lying. Mulder had turned her lamp off, and it was dark on her side of the room. "Those Polaroids?" she asked, shifting her head on the pillow so that her voice wasn't so muffled. She felt too warm, like she had a fever.
Mulder held the pictures up. "They were taken at the police station after she returned last August. They're the only record of the tattoos before she cut through them. Reconstructing the pattern now would be too difficult."
Scully stretched her legs out under the blanket. "Polaroids have very poor resolution. They're grainy, and their color differentiation leaves much to be desired. I'm sure Danny told you that too." It wasn't meant to be criticism; she just wanted Mulder to understand that she knew he wasn't telling her everything. He had a habit of adjusting evidence so it sounded more solid than it really was. Danny would have a fit if he knew what Mulder did to his carefully calibrated results.
Mulder ignored her. "Why did you mention trains when we were in the guidance office?"
"Alice said something about them," Scully replied, focusing on the digital clock at the bedside, watching as its display shifted to accommodate each new minute of the hour. It was 3:17. She couldn't look at him. He'd sense her fear.
"What did she say exactly?"
3:18. "She told me she hadn't run away from home. I asked her if someone had taken her. She said 'trains.'" Scully herself could barely say the word, it made the slideshow start up again - the faces leaning over her, the cold metal table and where were her clothes? She pulled the blanket up over her ears and tucked it under her chin.
"They used trains to transport the Jews to the concentration camps," Mulder said softly. "That boxcar buried in the quarry in New Mexico -it had a pile of bodies with smallpox vaccination scars. I think the consortium is using the railroad as a means of transporting test subjects."
Scully pulled the blanket around her tighter, as if it could block Mulder from her world. She didn't want to hear this. "Mrs. Katzke said that after her first disappearance, Alice tried to tell her it wasn't her choice."
"We should go back and ask Alice about the trains," Mulder proposed, as if Scully hadn't even spoken.
She wanted him to leave her room. If she got up and acted normal, maybe he'd go. But she couldn't get out of bed. She had a sick feeling she'd only sink to the floor if she did. "Fine."
Mulder seemed to catch on that she wasn't warming to the train idea. "Want to hear what I learned from the school counselor?"
Did she want to hear? The clock turned to 3:20.
Mulder started talking without waiting for her answer. "I didn't get anything too exciting. Alice is a quiet kid, C+ average, just getting by academically. The counselor says she's bright but unmotivated; not like her sister at all."
"That's what Mrs. Katzke said," Scully murmured, thinking how she hadn't been as outgoing as Missy, how people told her she wasn't at all like her sister, like that was a bad thing.
"She wouldn't say much about Millicent, which isn't surprising because she knew I had no right to be asking, but she did tell me that he spent his sophomore year at a private school."
"It was a military academy," Scully said, glad she finally knew something he didn't.
Mulder started shuffling through some papers he had in front of him. "So, that would have been fall of 1992 through summer of 1993. Which means he left after Marie's death and returned before Alice's first disappearance."
"Does that mean anything?" Scully asked.
"Just thinking out loud, Scully. Are we cranky? I'd suggest you take a nap, but you already did," he teased, giving her a fond smile.
Throwing her blanket off, she sat up and frowned at him. "This case is a waste of time, Mulder. We can't even establish that a crime has been committed. And this nonsense with trains--" She saw a silver passenger car, its windows blacked out, its sides dented.
He looked at her with sharp eyes. "What are you remembering?"
"Nothing," she snapped, realizing that was the wrong response as soon as she said it.
"Did you notice that part of the time she was missing in 1994 coincided with your own abduction?"
"Mulder, this has nothing to do with me," she protested, aware her voice was too loud, afraid she was going to start crying. She put her feet on the floor and leaned over for her boots. Jamming her feet in her shoes, she laced them up almost too tightly.
"No, Mulder, I don't want to talk about it." She pulled her pant legs down over the top of her boots, keeping her eyes on the floor.
Mulder stood up and slammed his hand down on the table. "Well maybe I do."
She looked up at him, ready to receive the anger on his face, ready to shame him for that anger, but he seemed closer to tears than to violence. "Maybe I need to talk about it," he whispered, turning away from her. "But you won't talk to me, so I have to find people that will."
He put on his jacket and reached for his overcoat, but stopped when he found Scully's lying on top of it. He stood there for a while as if he had not been expecting this at all. Eventually he picked up Scully's coat and brought it over to her.
"I'm going to the hospital to talk to Alice. Do you want to come with me?"
No, she didn't want to go with him, but she couldn't let him go alone, either. She stood up and reached for her coat, but Mulder wouldn't give it to her, holding it open for her instead. Scully threaded her arms through the sleeves, and he straightened the collar for her. She was getting so tired of fighting with him. If she knew how to stop, she would. Mulder put his own coat on and grabbed his cell phone and the laptop on his way out the door.
Scully picked up her room key from where she'd tossed it on the dresser. In the mirror was a woman dressed all in black, her greatest secret quite evident in her eyes: She was scared.
Scully put a hand to her face. She'd thought she'd hidden it better than that. Mulder had to know. Everyone probably knew.
Scully stopped at the nurses' station to check on Alice's condition, and Mulder hovered next to her, looking over her shoulder. She glanced up at him as she flipped through the charts. The knot in his tie was still loose and it gave him a sleepy, rumpled look.
She went through the charts again but couldn't find Alice's. She was almost ready to step around the counter and look for it herself when Alice's doctor came up behind them.
"Agent Scully, I was just going to call you." She started flipping through the charts in her arms. "You wanted to be kept informed of Alice Katzke's condition, right?" she asked, though it was clearly a rhetorical question.
The doctor singled out a chart. Reading over its notations, her distraction cleared, and she spoke with more reserve: "At 2:15 this afternoon, Alice suffered a poison-induced seizure. She stabilized, but did not regain consciousness. She's in a coma now, and we don't expect her to wake."
Scully nodded to show she understood, and Dr. Cullen returned to her rounds, leaving them alone.
"So, what now?" she asked Mulder.
"Maybe she kept a diary?"
"Maybe," Scully replied, trying to figure out what this emptiness was inside her. Relief maybe, or guilt. Alice had finally escaped, but they still didn't know from whom.
"We'll have to talk to the Katzkes tomorrow about going through her room." Mulder put his hand on her back, ready to lead her away, but Scully resisted, upset at the thought of them digging through Alice's private things. The girl wasn't even dead yet. Somehow that made it worse. Her in-between state didn't allow for mourning, and it was too late for hope. All they could do was wait.
"Her parents aren't going to like that," she said. She wouldn't tell him that she liked it even less.
"That's why we're going to wait until tomorrow," he said soothingly, like he could hear what she wasn't saying.
Scully didn't think a night's sleep was going to make this easier on anyone. "Maybe we should go back."
Mulder reached out for her again, in approval. "We can stop and get dinner on the way."
"No, go home, back to DC. We can't do anything more here."
Mulder started to answer, but paused, his attention moving over her head. There were footsteps behind her, and she turned to see Alice's parents standing together in the hallway. She was ashamed that the couple had seen them disagreeing, but then, over the past few months, who hadn't?
Worried they'd heard her statement of defeat, Scully greeted them with a weak smile. Mr. Katzke had his arm around his wife's waist, and she looked like she would fall without it.
"Agent Mulder, Agent Scully," Isaac addressed them. "My wife and I would like to thank you for taking the time to come down here, but there's nothing more you can do for us. We appreciate your interest, but we'd like you to end your investigation."
Lorna seemed somewhat triumphant from where she leaned against her husband, like she had coached him in this speech, and he had performed admirably. Scully felt a little envious of Lorna's ability to manipulate her husband. Mulder rarely fell under the influence of her subtle coaxing, and it was even rarer that he gracefully conceded to her outright requests.
"We understand that this is a difficult time for you," Mulder was saying, "and we know that it doesn't seem like our investigation will benefit Alice, but it could give you some resolution and may provide others with the same sense of closure."
He was appealing to the human need to know why, to make sense of the senseless things that happen, but Lorna Katzke already thought she knew why. She'd spent too long thinking of her daughter as a suicidal runaway, and now she was resisting the suggestion that she could be anything else. Scully watched her as she shook her head and pressed in closer to her husband.
Mulder didn't push. Scully knew he saw the father as a weak spot, and given the chance he'd come back to prod at it later. Right now he let them go, nodding goodbye as they escaped him. Scully wasn't fooled. Mulder wasn't giving up. He probably already had three ideas how to continue the investigation without their assistance.
She wondered what would happen if she told him her story. If that would that be enough for him, if he could stop looking here and leave these poor people to their grief.
It wouldn't be enough, but that was only part of why Scully wouldn't tell him. She was his partner, and she couldn't do her job if he looked at her and saw a victim. She'd rather suffer his contempt than feel his pity.
"Did you want to see Alice?" he asked her suddenly.
"No," she said, puzzled. "Why?"
Mulder shrugged and headed for the elevator. Scully followed him, looking back over her shoulder to Alice's room. The girl was in a coma, why would he think Scully wanted to see her? To say goodbye?
She caught up with him at the elevators. "Mulder, are we done here?" It came out a little whiny, but she was tired and couldn't adequately hide her frustration.
"We'll see tomorrow," he said, stepping forward to push the elevator's down button again, although it was already lit. The act put another foot of space between them, which she was sure had been his real intention. Mulder wasn't one to fuss over slow elevators.
"What happens tomorrow, Mulder?" she asked, wanting him to admit that nothing happened tomorrow, that tomorrow was just a hope that never coalesced.
She wasn't surprised that he didn't answer her. The elevator next to them arrived with a labored ding, and the doors slid open to reveal Millicent, wearing a puffy ski coat and no gloves. He had a red scarf wrapped around his neck, and Scully imagined choking him with it until he confessed his part in this disaster.
"I see you've heard about Alice," he greeted them, unzipping his coat in an almost sexual way. Scully wanted to step forward and get in his face, but he was taller than Mulder and getting that close would only emphasize her lesser height. She stayed where she was.
"Such a tragedy when a young girl feels like she can't talk to anyone, when she sees suicide as the only solution to her problems." He sounded like an after-school special.
"What was her problem, Millicent? Did you know? Could you have helped?" Scully realized she was talking about Alice in the past tense at the same time she became aware she was straining toward Millicent like a dog at the end of its leash.
Millicent shook his head slowly. "Agent Scully, I think it's obvious that Alice wanted to die. She was troubled."
Mulder moved up behind her, so that Millicent was forced to address them as one unit. Ostensibly, Millicent was talking to her, but his gaze kept shifting up over her head to check Mulder's reactions. For some absurd reason, it made her feel taller.
"I don't know what you hoped to find here--"
"She told us about the trains," Mulder announced.
Millicent paled. Scully felt her dry lips pull apart slightly as her mouth dropped open in shock.
"She told us," Mulder repeated.
Millicent's bravado failed him as he stood in front of the elevator. He finally seemed just seventeen, insecure and struggling to be respected as an adult. Watching Millicent stare at the floor, Scully felt like a federal agent again, a woman with a gun and the law behind her. And Mulder. He was standing so close she could almost feel his chest expand when he breathed.
Millicent rallied, throwing his shoulders back and fixing his eyes on a point somewhere between Scully's and Mulder's. "Alice had nightmares about trains. I don't know what she told you, but I wouldn't put much faith in it. She was on narcotics. Those can cause hallucinations, can't they, Dr. Scully?" Other than the waver in his voice, Millicent had regained his cool.
It put Scully on the defensive. "I never told you I was a doctor."
"Someone must have told me," Millicent said dismissively, and now even the waver was gone. "I'm going to go sit with Alice, talk to her. They say there's a chance people in comas can still hear you. I don't want her to be lonely." He left, walking down the hall toward Alice's room.
"She wouldn't want him with her," Scully whispered.
"Want me to get him kicked out?" Mulder asked her. It was supposed to be a joke, but she had a feeling he'd try his best if she agreed to it.
"No, that wouldn't--" The events of the day caught up with her, and she turned to look up at her partner. "Mulder, what did you say to him in the White Castle parking lot today?"
Mulder made a thoughtful sound. "I suggested he might want to stop staring at us, that federal agents tend to take that as a sign of a guilty conscience." His lips bent into a small smile.
He had done it for her. Scully wrapped her arms around herself. She felt tender inside, like she'd been hit, or hugged quite tightly. It was that same sinking swelling feeling that tears brought, a helpless ache deep in her chest. It made her weak.
She wasn't supposed to let Mulder take care of her, though her reasons were so old she couldn't even remember them. She turned away from him and back to the elevators. Their car had come and gone. She pressed the down button again.
"It didn't help," she said. "He's still watching."
Mulder glanced over his shoulder, as if he thought Millicent might be tucked away in some dim corner, eyes gleaming with terrible secrets, watching them.
On the way to the motel, Mulder stopped at a take-out deli. Scully stayed in the car and watched her breath fog the chilly window. It wasn't even five o'clock and already it was completely dark outside. She checked again that the car doors were locked, unsure of when exactly she'd become afraid, only knowing she'd had plenty of opportunities to learn her fear.
Mulder came out of the shop, carrying a white paper bag. She hit the power locks for him.
He handed her the sack and got in the car. "Diet Coke, turkey on whole wheat, no mayo, and there's some pasta salad in there that looked like something you might like."
She took the bag and settled it on her lap. "Thank you," she said, too weary to resent his kindness.
They were about a block away from their motel when Mulder announced, "I think Millicent's working for the consortium."
It sounded ridiculous, but despite that, she had considered it a possibility as well. "How would a seventeen-year-old boy come in contact with the consortium, Mulder?" she asked, trying to talk herself out of believing. It was clear that Mulder was already convinced.
"You're forgetting the consortium is a family business," he reminded her. A flash of his own father's involvement surfaced in his eyes, reminding her why he was here, fighting this fight. "Maybe his father brought him in. He spent that year in military school; he could have come into contact with them there."
"They're recruiting awfully young, then," Scully commented, watching the street lights flick by.
Mulder pulled into the motel lot and parked in front of their rooms. "Well, it makes sense, Scully. He'd be in a position to keep an eye on Alice. He came back to Fox Run so that he could--"
"Mulder, there's no evidence of any of that," Scully pointed out.
"What about his reaction when I mentioned trains?" Mulder insisted. "He knows something."
She huffed. "That doesn't make him a consortium watchdog, or prove this group is using the railroad for criminal purposes."
"Not by itself," he agreed, "but with the circumstances surrounding Alice's disappearances, from what I saw in New Mexico...and with your own memories; it's enough to look into."
"I told you, I don't remember much," she said, releasing her seat belt.
Instead of arguing with her, like she expected, he gave her a sad look and cut the engine.
She got out of the car, carrying their dinner and her briefcase. Mulder followed with the laptop. "Let's eat in my room, Scully," he called from behind her. She changed her course to wait by his door while he found his key and unlocked it.
Mulder tossed the laptop on his bed, and Scully flinched as it slid across the bedspread and came to a stop near the edge. She put her case down and set the deli bag on the table, opening it up to look inside. The sandwiches were wrapped in wax paper. She took out the one marked roast beef, and Mulder's bottle of iced tea. She stared at the tea. It was diet.
"Mulder, how long are we going to stay here? There's no case, just...just a lot of loose ends."
"We'll talk about it tomorrow," he said. He was hanging his overcoat in the closet, and his back was to her. She picked up the bag with her food still inside it, grabbed her briefcase and moved to the door.
"Then goodnight. I'll see you tomorrow." She slammed the door behind her. Over the rattle of his window, she could hear him call out her name.
In her own room, she chained the door even before she set her dinner down or took off her coat. When she was sure Mulder wasn't going to come after her, she got comfortable, taking off her coat and boots and replacing her dress slacks with a pair of jeans. She would at least wait until after she ate before she crawled into her pajamas and got into bed.
Turning the TV on to the evening news, she sat down to eat her sandwich and dread Mulder's tomorrow.
Her cell phone was ringing.
The disembodied numbers of the alarm clock read 2:03.
She groped around on the nightstand until she found the smooth plastic of her phone. "Scully."
"Oh. I thought I'd be getting voice mail."
She sat up in bed, annoyed. "Who is this?"
"I'm sorry, this is Dr. Santos, from Fox Run Hospital. I was calling to inform Agent Scully that Alice Katzke passed away this morning at 1:28 am as a result of Multiple Organ System Failure. There was a note in her chart to inform you of any changes. I didn't realize this phone number would be answered so late, I'm sorry."
"No, it's all right," Scully said. "Thank you for calling." She hung up before the doctor could apologize again.
Alice was dead. Scully lay in bed for a moment, feeling a little dead herself. A car door slammed somewhere outside.
Throwing the covers back, she sat up and swung her legs over the side of the bed. The movement made her dizzy, and she had to hold her breath against her stomach's unrest.
Pushing her feet into her slippers, she got up and pulled on her overcoat. She couldn't stay here any longer. It would kill her.
Her coat was long enough that it almost hid the fact that she was wearing men's-cut flannel pajamas. Putting her room key in her pocket, she unchained her door and opened it.
It was snowing. The parking lot was just starting to lose its grit and dirt under the flakes that swirled through the halo of the streetlights. It couldn't have been snowing for long, but it was coming down in a steady fall of white ice, and the world would soon be covered in its inconvenience.
Scully closed her door and just watched the snow for a moment. It was going to make getting a flight out of there hell. She stepped over to Mulder's door and started knocking.
He came to the door after her seventh knock. His hair was pushed off his forehead, and his sweatpants weren't on straight. She'd woken him up. He squinted at her, then past her. Seeing the snow, his face lost its pinched look, though it returned when his attention moved back to her.
"What is it, Scully?"
She crossed her arms over her chest. It didn't look like he was going to let her in his room. "The hospital called. Alice died half an hour ago."
He closed his eyes and ran a hand through his messy hair.
"I want to go home," she blurted out, suddenly feeling like a child in her pajamas and her slippers, begging. She was glad she had worn her coat instead of her robe, but she should have gotten completely dressed. Mulder couldn't argue with a suit and heels, but there was too much room for weakness in pajamas and slippers.
Mulder's eyes opened, and his hand slid from his hair and down the back of his neck. "Scully, I told you--"
"It's tomorrow, Mulder, and I'm going home. It's snowing, and the airport's probably going to close if we wait any longer. It's time to leave." She waited for his refusal. It didn't come.
He rubbed his eyes. "Okay, Scully. Go pack. I'll get us reservations."
She didn't move for a moment, struck with the terrible thought that he might only buy her a ticket or send them both to Missouri instead of Washington.
"We'll go home," he told her. For you, his eyes said.
She backed away from his door, putting some space between them, then left before he could say it out loud. They could get by like this as long as certain things were never said.
Back in her room she kicked off her slippers and dropped her coat on the bed. Pulling her garment bag from the closet, she started packing away her suits, saving a pair of jeans and a soft wool sweater for the plane. She knew she was running away and that made her even more anxious to leave.
She was just coming out of the bathroom with her make-up bag when her cell phone rang again. She answered it.
"Our flight leaves at four."
Shutting off her phone, she sat down on the edge of her bed and covered her face with her hands. They'd lost another one.
Flight 120 to Dulles was full. The snow must have frightened all the visitors out of Chicago. Mulder and Scully sat together on the side of the plane that only had two seats in each row.
Scully thought it might have been easier if they had been separated, or if there had been someone sitting next to them. At least that way she wouldn't have to pretend everything was okay in this silence between them. She had never intended to make Mulder choose between her and an x-file, all she wanted was to go home, but he had done this for her, and it meant she owed him something. She was afraid of what he might want to collect.
Next to her, Mulder was studying his boarding pass, turning it over and over in his gentle hands. The date on it was November 26, 1995. The significance of it came to her uncertainly, a feeling like she'd forgotten someone's birthday.
Mulder ran his thumb along the ragged edge of the stub where the ticket had been ripped off. He spoke without looking at her, "Tomorrow, it will be 22 years since Samantha was...." He stopped there, and she wondered how he had planned on finishing. Abducted, taken, traded? It didn't matter what word he used; she was gone.
Mulder tucked the ticket into his coat pocket and rubbed his face. "I miss her," he whispered, dropping his hands and turning to stare out the window.
Scully took his hand from the armrest and held it in her own. He sighed once, but said nothing else. The crease in his forehead brought his eyebrows down in a frown. It was a familiar look on him, his grief, the moment right before he started crying.
He was wearing a jacket over a black turtleneck and jeans. The waistband of the faded denim gaped a little at his hips, missing the weight that was once there. The black cotton of the turtleneck accentuated his thinness and the dark circles under his eyes, and she looked away before she saw even more of his destruction.
Scully knew he wouldn't let this case go. In the weeks to come, after she'd gone home for the evening, he would take out Alice's file and stare at the scans of her tattoos. He would research the numbers on Alice's wrists, investigate the Baym family tree for familiar faces, follow Millicent's paper trail for the year he attended military school and every move he made afterward.
He would spend his nights in the basement, putting together the pieces they'd gathered here, trying to make some sense of them. Mulder wouldn't give up, and she couldn't ask him to.
She followed his gaze out the window. The plane was flying through utter darkness. There was nothing out there except for the lights on the wing, and it was easy to believe that there was no earth below them, that they were flying to the end of the world. She closed her eyes against her dark thoughts and tried to pull her hand from Mulder's, but he wouldn't let her go. His hand flipped over and now he was the one holding on.
He turned to look at her and she recognized her pain in him. He had somehow taken it from her as his own. "Did you ever think about it?" he asked. "After you were returned? Like what Alice did...."
His eyes were filled with the teary gleam he got when his suffering became almost too much to bear, and she knew she could not be totally honest with him. She couldn't let him see the cracks that ran through her; she had to be solid for him, unbreakable.
During those lonely nights after her stay in the hospital, after her mother and sister had left her and she was back at her apartment again, suicide became her contingency plan, something she thought of in the dark when that three-month hole in her mind seemed like it would swallow her with its gravity.
Even now, the mystery of her abduction got to be too much for her at times, but she couldn't let him doubt her resolve. She was finishing this, that much was true.
"I'm stronger than that," she said. "I couldn't do that to my mother. I couldn't do that to you."
By the time she'd finished speaking, Mulder was gripping her hand so tightly she thought he'd never let go.