The Weaker Sex

It was dark down here, forgotten. Like a corner of the house no one was interested in. I knocked tentatively at the door.

Maybe my father was right. Maybe I shouldn't have tried to do this. It wasn't really my place. I should have...I shouldn't have...

A low voice coming from within the office stopped my thoughts dead. They turned frail like old rope, and I knew I could no longer trust them.

"Sorry, nobody down here but the FBI's most unwanted." It sounded like a warning.

My father was right. I was going to be eaten alive.

I took the cryptic words as an invitation and gently pushed open the door marked "Dr. Dana K. Scully, Special Agent."

The basement office was lit with fluorescent strip-lighting, and the bulbs gave off an unpleasant buzz that made me jumpy. How could she work down here?

It was empty, completely neat. Almost clinical looking. No pots of ivy or family portraits. Just cold shelves, metal file cabinets, a coffee pot, two computers and a black and white poster of Marie Curie with a quote along the bottom: "Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood."

A full skeleton stood in the corner, wearing a red beret. The hat was cocked at an angle, and it gave the bones a rakish look. Apparently Dr. Scully had a sense of humor.

Like the way she had chosen to answer the door, but that had sounded like a threat too.

She sat at a table, putting slides in a carousel. Her back was to me. She was trim, almost tiny. She wore a maroon business suit and had red hair.

I had heard a lot about her, but no one had ever mentioned red hair. Not hair like hot copper.

I approached her, my dress shoes making sharp clicks on the concrete floor. My heart rapped out a similar pattern in my chest. At that moment, fainting didn't seem entirely out of the question.

As I neared, she turned. She had obviously known I was there all along. Her face was composed but there was a hint of surprise on it. I wondered what she saw in me.

"Agent Scully? I'm Fox Mulder," I said, reaching a hand out to her. I tried to smile. I think I failed. "I've been assigned to work with you."

She shook my hand like she was only humoring me. I had expected this.

She wore contacts. I could see the invisible rim around her eyes. Tinted. No one could have eyes so blue. I hadn't expected her to be vain. Not her.

Giving me the once over, she said, "Well, isn't it nice to be suddenly so highly regarded." She turned back to her slides. I felt like a servant, hovering, waiting.

"So, who did you piss off to be stuck with this detail, Mulder?" She looked at me over her shoulder. This time it was a dare. The way she said my name sent something shivering down my spine. It could have been fear. It might have been lust. It was probably both.

I was scared. Terrified. Aroused. I should have listened to my father.

"Son, you've got to get one thing straight, women run this world. Always have, always will. They don't give a shit about us men. You're asking for trouble sticking your nose into their business," my father told me. He had lost all of his business the minute he married.

From the family room: "Bill? We'd like to eat soon." My mother. He ignored her.

"Why couldn't you have just studied chemistry like your dear old dad?"

I shrugged. He knew why.

He stood at the stove, three fingers of scotch in one hand, a wooden spoon in the other. "Taste this," he said, pushing the spoon my way.

"Needs more dill," I said, tasting the sauce.

"Dill," he mused, wreaking havoc with the spice rack.

Now a different voice called from the family room. "Fox, make Dad hurry up."

My sister Sam, the diplomat. She was leaving for Russia tomorrow.

"Dad," I said, trying not to whine. I was 28 years old, a graduate of Oxford University, and should not have had to whine to get my father's attention.

But, still, his attention was elsewhere. There were only two fingers of scotch left in his glass.

I didn't know if I was supposed to be helping my father or protecting the meal.

"Son," my father said, upending the dill jar into the saucepan with less than his usual technical accuracy.

Yesterday at school he had used more than too much sodium in his demonstration. His students had experienced first-hand how volatile the alkali metals were in water. My father got to take a week off. He was now short one eyebrow.

Just call him Mr. Wizard.

He turned to me now. Missing one eyebrow gave him a startled look. I fought the urge to laugh. "She'll mess with your mind. You'll never know where you stand with her. And never get her coffee, or she'll always expect it from you."

"Bill," Mom called.

"Fox." Samantha again.

"She'll get you by the short hairs, and then she'll squeeze."

I decided to ignore the way he was mixing his metaphors and slurring his words.

"All I want is for her to treat me as an equal," I said.

He gazed at me earnestly, drunkenly. "You're a fool, Fox. It'll never happen."

"I have to do this, Dad," I told him.

He nodded. There was no more scotch left in his glass. It was time for dinner.

I have to do this, I had said.

Now I wasn't so sure.

"Actually, I'm looking forward to working with you. I've heard a lot about you," I found myself saying. Heard about everything but the red hair and the silver pendant that rested in the hollow of her throat.

"Oh, really?" she said, looking at her slides. "I was under the impression," she glanced at me out of the corner of her eye, "that you were sent to keep me in line." She looked back at the slides. "To give me some women's intuition, as it were. To teach Dr. Scully how to feel."

She was looking at me again. Playing with me. We both knew why I was there.

"If you have any doubts about my qualification and credentials..." I started to say, a stern tone somehow invading my voice.

She silenced me by interrupting. "You teach at the Academy," she said quickly. Then slower: "Bet all the girls love you."

They did.

"You're a psychologist and got your degree from Oxford. That's a long way from home." She turned back to her bare desk and pulled out my thesis from a pile of papers in her briefcase.

It was the original copy.

She stood and without looking at the cover sheet recited, "'Using Jung's Archetypes: A new way to define and profile serial killers.' Fox Mulder's senior thesis. Now that's a credential. Rewriting Katrin Jung." Her German accent was perfect.

She rolled my paper into a tube, all 150 single-spaced, double-sided pages of it, and slapped it against her thigh. "I'm sure that got you big points with the brass." She leaned against her desk. She was relaxed. Every hair was in place.

She tossed my thesis behind her. It littered the clean expanse like an ugly beached whale.

I could feel my voice rising, my tie curling up at the edges. "Did you bother to read it?" I snapped. I was almost a foot taller than her. I knew it didn't mean a thing.

She moved past me to the slide projector. If not for the clicks of her heels, her feet hadn't touched the floor.

"I did!" she said too loudly.

I recalled the misspelling of "inherent" on the third page. I knew that she had caught it.

"I liked it," she said in what I was coming to know as her usual tone. She adjusted the carousel, clicking it into place.

Praise was not something I took well. I wasn't used to it. I said nothing.

"It's just that, down here in the basement, psychology rarely applies. The girls upstairs have already tried. Now it's my turn."

She headed in my direction. I froze although I was already standing perfectly still. She swung past me like a satellite on a parabolic orbit. She hit a switch and the room darkened. The fluorescent lights stopped their buzzing. I let out one breath. I heard a click as she pushed the door closed. I had to struggle to find the air for the next one.

To my right, the projector hummed, giving off a trail of hot hair. Behind me, I heard her shoes approach. She passed so close that she pressed me out of my point in space. Her arm nearly came in contact with my own, but she shifted slightly so that wouldn't happen.

"Maybe I can get your intuitive opinion on this." She almost laughed. I remembered my fear. There was some joke behind all this, and I was the punch line.

Her voice came out of the darkness. An alto over the projector's fan. "Tell me which archetype did this. Which serial killer. What was she thinking?" And now there was no humor in her voice.

I may have been her weak link, but we were both one up on the dead girl on the wall.

"Oregon female," her voice said, cold. "Eighteen."

She was lying on a metal tray in a room not too dissimilar than this one. Strip fluorescent lighting, file cabinets, computers. Very similar to the room I stood in now, but this room on the wall was a morgue. That scared me more than the thought of death. More than the thin naked girl lying on a table that was colder than she was.

"No discernable cause of death. Autopsy shows nothing," and I hear professional doubt in her voice. "However," she said, switching slides with a click, "there were these marks on her stomach." Strange red scratches that were puffy and raw.

"Can you ID these marks, Agent Mulder?"

I started when I realize she was addressing me, testing me. I wasn't used to hearing my name spoken with such interest. I step closer to the screen then stop to look behind me.

She was standing next to the projector, hidden in the shadows. I couldn't see her expression. I could only see her left hand where it laid on the top of the carousel, her fingers moving restlessly against the slides.

"They look like burns," I said, turning back to the picture. But they didn't, not really.

The smooth clacking of the slides. A new picture. A molecule.

"How's your chemistry?"

Not advanced enough to be dealing with this. I stare at the foreign mixture of elements.

"It's organic," I said, recognizing the carbon ring, but not understanding the complex strings branching off from it. "What is it?" I asked, showing my ignorance, my curiosity.

"Nothing that should be found in the human body," she said, not answering my question.

Suddenly she was standing across from me in the light of the projector, our shadows blotting out the form of the mysterious chemical.

"It's Bureau policy to label such cases as these as 'unexplained phenomena' and ignore them. They're down here in the basement for a reason. They're the runts of the litter, the ones that didn't produce."

She was angry at someone, quite possibly me, but I had only shown up today. Her frustration seemed older.

"This girl is the fourth person in her graduating class to die under similar circumstances, and no one knows why. You'd think someone would be interested in finding the truth. Do you know who did this, Agent Mulder?"

It occurred to me that I had no idea what these circumstances were. I shook my head dumbly. "A serial killer? The marks could be burns, a ritualistic scarring of the victim."

She too shook her head, but she was more decisive with the motion. "No, the original agents assigned to this case postulated that same theory, but it didn't lead them anywhere. This is a small town we're dealing with -- one way or the other the killer would have been found."

"She or he could have been a businesswoman or someone passing through. A visiting relative or a substitute teacher," I insisted, finding probability behind my suggestions.

"True," she said, suddenly agreeing with me in a way that made me very nervous. "The girl obviously died of something. If it was natural causes, something was missed in the post mortem. If she was murdered, there was a sloppy investigation. What I find inexcusable is the notion that there is no explanation for this crime, that there are no answers. The answers are there." One of her hands was pointing at the screen, I doubted she even knew it was doing that.

"No one's looked in the right place." She said the words like she was tired of them but felt obligated to repeat them for my benefit. What she didn't know was that I'd heard them before.

She spun away from me and slapped at the wall. The lights came back on. "We're leaving for Oregon tomorrow morning. Meet me down here at eight," she said as she walked past me again on her way to her desk.

I was nodding like a dashboard toy when she turned around again and looked directly at me. I shamed myself by taking a step backwards even though she was already halfway across the room.

"By the way, what's your cell phone number?"

"I don't have one," I said, embarrassed. Somehow I managed to meet her eyes. "I wasn't given one."

She was angry, though not at me this time. "This isn't fucking fair," she said to the wall behind me, her quietly intense voice still carrying to where I stood by the door.

"You'll have one by tomorrow," she promised me, turning back to her desk. And that was my good-bye.

My faced burned, and I was grateful my coloring didn't allow me much of a blush. I turned a few corners, climbed a few stairs. I excused my way through crowds of female agents who were leaning up against each other's desks and discussing cases.

I passed by the office door that had started this whole thing, an office I had spent a few minutes in just a couple of hours ago.

I had been called into Washington in the middle of the day. It was a fifty minute drive from Quantico and a long way to travel without knowing why.

I sat in front of a desk, my hands crossed in my lap.

"Thank you for coming on such short notice."

I really had no choice. They call; you come.

"What do you know of Agent Dana Scully?"

I hadn't known what to expect, but I certainly hadn't expected this.

"They talk about her at the academy," I said, not including myself in that statement.

"What do they say, Agent Mulder?"

Agent? I tried not to squirm in the too small chair.

"They say she can't feel, that science has numbed her heart."

How ridiculous that sounded aloud. As if science could freeze out emotion, replace it. But my students believed it.

I had heard her speak once, walked past where she was addressing a standing-room only auditorium. "What I find fantastic," she had been saying, "is that you can't believe there are any answers within the realm of science..."

I had been on my way to somewhere else and did not have time to stop and let her insult me. There had been a card by the door. "Dr. Dana K. Scully -- Unconventional Methods."

"What do they say about her work?" I was asked.

"She's a magician," I said absently, stuck in the past of two years ago.

"...The answers are there, you only have to know where to look."

Students -- they must have been students, young males ones, the faculty had lost their sense of adventure long ago -- had whistled, hooted and yelped. And they had meant it in the sincerest of ways. They were agreeing with her.

"Excuse me?" I was prodded.

"She finds the connections that no one else looked for," I said finally. "She's one of the best agents the bureau has." Something I had overheard from the pathologists one day. I carefully kept no opinion of my own on the matter.

Patricia Blevins gave me a look that convinced me that my opinion was not welcome anyway. "Is that all you've heard?" she asked.

"She caught Ed Jerse," I said, shrugging, not sure why this was important. "She found traces of ergot in blood left at a crime scene and connected it to a tattoo parlor where he had gotten a tattoo every year for four years on the anniversary of his ex-wife's death. By the time he was arrested he had killed his ex-wife, his neighbor, and two girlfriends. One every year."

"He later confessed to having killed his two-month-old sister in her crib when he was only seven," Patricia Blevins told me.

I couldn't understand such sickness -- no psychology text could teach such a thing, and my mind refused to learn it. I fought the urge to throw up.

"He was executed for his crimes. We would not have had the evidence to convict him if not for her."

It was an acknowledgment of Dr. Scully's talents, but one that Dr. Scully most likely had never heard. I sat with my hands in my lap, looking across that redoubt of a desk.

"She gets things done," said the woman on the other side of it. "Frankly, the only reason we pulled you from Quantico is because we can't send her into the field without a partner. She's a danger to herself. She got emotionally involved with the Jerse case. With you as her partner, we're hoping she will think twice about such involvement in the future."

When had I been given a choice? Had simply picking up the phone in the first place been my reply in the affirmative?

"We think you could provide her with valuable insight. And no one else wants to work with her."

Just like no one else wanted to work with me.

She spared me from the other part of the sentence, but I heard it anyway, if only in my own head. I knew my professional weakness: I was a man. Victims and suspects alike would have no respect for me. I would be hazardous as well as ineffective. I was a liability.

I looked at Blevins across her mahogany desk. I was playing with the big girls now, but only because they were using me. I was the missing half of the woman down in the basement.

The woman across from me might even have considered me the better half, but she would never admit to thinking so. Dr. Dana Scully was one of their own, and they respected that. She was an asset to their ranks. I was to be her escort, one that walked three steps behind.

The woman behind this desk was staring at me with a hungry look in her eyes. Her greying hair was arranged in a tidy chignon. She was twenty years my senior. 6,000 years my better. I had to wait until she dismissed me.


"You'll want to contact Agent Scully soon. She's expecting you."

And with that she broke eye-contact. I was dismissed.

"We're getting you a phone. I need to be able to contact you no matter where you are or what you're doing," Scully said over her shoulder. She was walking down the hallway with great purpose in her stride.

I was too intimidated to speak.

Scully stopped at a door. It looked no different than any of the rest. I would never be able to find it again. She knocked using two knuckles. It was a flippant gesture, one the person on the other side would never see.

There was a glint in her eye, perhaps that was for me too.

"Hold on!" someone hollered from the other side. She knocked again in the same way but harder this time.


Satisfied with this, she backed away from the door and put her hands on her hips. She was watching me.

I stood against the wall, trying not to take up too much space. I felt too tall to be standing out in the open like this. Like a lightning rod.

Scully, on the other hand, just naturally took up as much space as she liked and wasn't apologetic about it in the slightest bit. She was a woman. She had been brought up that way.

I watched in envy as Scully floated right in front of the door, right in the middle of the hall. I stared at my shoes. Spotless. I had spent an hour polishing them the night before.

A red-haired man in a lab coat passed by. His head swiveled when he saw Scully. "Hi, Dana," he said, his inertia not allowing him to stop.

"Pendrell," she replied icily.

"Agent Scully," he tried again, his voice raising in a hysterical arc, but his feet had already carried him off.

I stared down the hall after him. He looked helpless, like he really couldn't stop walking.

"I made the mistake of sleeping with him. He had nothing to offer me. I got tired of his hero worship," Scully explained, still not looking apologetic.

So that's what this was called? The look she gave me clearly showed she would not make that mistake twice.

The door I was leaning next to suddenly swung inward. Scully strode in, and the door closed behind her. I waited out in the hall.

"I'll get the car, sign us out," she instructed, not waiting for my answer. I went up to the desk, the combined weight of the gun at my hip and the cell phone in my jacket pocket reminding me of what I was, of who I was. It was still so new to me. I pulled the strap of my garment bag higher on my shoulder and leaned in to write the time and date and our destination.

Agents Mulder and Scully. It was on paper now. It was official. Going in search of my other half, I left the building.

My new partner was waiting for me outside. She sat on the stone wall, smoking. Sunglasses hid her eyes, but I got the feeling she was staring at me.

"You know we're the talk of the bureau," she told me, turning to look off in the distance, taking a drag on her cigarette. "We're going to start hearing cross-dressing jokes in a few days." She pursed her raisin-colored lips. "Hell, I'm already wearing the pants."

"I'm used to hearing it," I said, shoving my hands into the pockets of my slacks and shrugging.

"I never will be."

A car skimmed past, sending a gust of wind that swirled her hair and lifted my tie, and I figured I must have imagined hearing that.

She hopped down from the wall. "You've got a pretty face. Nice ass too. Let's see if you can think."

I was used to it. I had just hoped that perhaps she would be able to see past it.

Our flight was out of National. It was a puny airport with horrible parking, but it was so close to downtown that I could identify the individual buildings.

I would never tire of seeing the DC skyline. As our plane skimmed down the runway, I took in the sight of the approaching Washington Monument, its grey disc rising proud above all else.

Next to me, Scully was unmoved by the architecture. She was adjusting the settings on her watch. It obviously took more than a few nicely arranged bricks to impress her.

Looking away from the window, I pulled on the cuffs of my shirt and tightened my seat belt. I hated planes because I had no idea how they worked. My mother had tried to explain it to me once, but the words she was using to explain it made even less sense than the thought that something weighing over five hundred tons could get off the ground if it just went fast enough.

I gripped both armrests and gritted my teeth. My stomach felt like it was burying itself somewhere behind my kidneys. I closed my eyes until my organs resettled themselves for the duration of the flight.

When I finally reopened my eyes, Scully was playing solitaire on her laptop and drinking ginger ale. She maneuvered the pointer expertly and pulled a stack of cards across the screen.

I watched her play a couple of games. She kept losing.

The steward came by and asked me if I wanted anything to drink.

"Ginger ale might help settle your stomach," Scully said, looking at me briefly. Her first words since we boarded the plane.

I was about to disagree with her and say that my stomach was just fine, but I nodded instead. I didn't get motion sickness, but it would be nice to have something to hold on to besides the armrests.

Ginger ale firmly in hand, I sat back again. Scully's solitaire game was on Vegas scoring. She owed her computer $537. At the moment, she was flipping through the hand pile with a look of discontent on her face.

I sniffed involuntarily.

"Go ahead," she said.

"What?" I asked her, confused.

"Say it," she demanded. I looked at her.

She was smiling but just barely. "I assume you're keeping track of this game. I've missed something, haven't I? Overlooked it."

"I didn't want to intrude. I hate when people look over my shoulder," I admitted.

"But yet you see nothing wrong with doing it yourself? I know, you weren't saying anything, you didn't want to intrude. But we're partners now, Mulder, there is no such thing as intrusion. Remember that. It's our job to look over each other's shoulder. So give, I owe this darned thing a Caribbean cruise already."

"Black eight on the red nine."

"Voila," she said, uncovering an ace.

Scully played a few more games, but I didn't offer her any more advice, and she didn't ask for it.

I finished my ginger ale and found I felt a bit more settled. I stared out the window.

It was an hour's drive from the Portland airport to Deer Island. The road was slick with rain that had fallen before we had even landed.

At first it was all concrete lane barriers and retaining walls, but that soon gave way to trees. Maple and oak, both empty of leaves, and then evergreens as we drove further north and higher up.

I stared out my window. Pines flicked by. Firs. The soil was dark and heavy. Ferns grew out of the rock next to miniature waterfalls and stringy moss hung from the rotting trunks of half-broken trees.

It was mystical.

The gentle hiss of water against tire was making me drowsy. The heater was on, and I found myself giving in. The case folder rested on my lap. My hands still held onto it, but that was the only attention it was getting. I turned toward my partner, wondering if the forest was affecting her in the same way.

Scully was driving with her left arm out the window. Her hand rested out of sight on the roof. She brought it inside and put her cigarette to her lips.

We hadn't spoken since getting off the plane. Scully had started this silence. It was hers to break. She blew smoke out the window.

I heard quiet voices and realized the radio was on. A woman sang about cheating on her man, making a fool of him and his kind. My hands reached up to play with my tie.

More trees. A simple wooden sign that read "Goats" was stuck into the ditch next to what might have been a road.

Scully rolled her window up a little higher, put her dead cigarette in the ashtray. I tried to ignore it, but I could feel her looking at me. Why was it I always knew where her eyes were pointed?


She had turned off the radio.

The wind whistled through her open window. She was driving too fast, and I was glad for my seat belt. She was dangerous. I think I loved her for it.


"Look, call me Scully. We're working here," she said irritably, as if I were trying to perform a side-show act instead.

The lights went out. The manager came by with some candles and a warning not to burn the place down. I heard water running next door. It stopped.

I was debating whether or not I should try to read by candlelight when there were two firm knocks at my door. I brought a candle with me, and the hot wax dripped down onto my hand as I tried to keep it steady. I opened the door to find Dana Scully standing there.

"Hi?" I said.

It was raining in sideways sheets. The maple trees on the other side of the parking lot were being jostled and shoved around, as if something large and angry wanted through.

Between me and the weather was Scully. She looked perfectly calm, more or less, standing there smoking. She wore only jeans and a black lace bra. She was barefoot.

"Are you going to let me in, or do I have to stand out here until I get blown off to Kansas? I think I already saw the Wicked Warlock of the West fly by."

Her hair was in ringlets from the rain. I was staring.

"That was a joke, Agent Mulder."

I decided to let her in before she got really angry. I took a step back. After flicking her cigarette to the elements, she came inside. Shutting the door, I prolonged the luxury of not looking at her. I couldn't breathe.

"Come here, Fox."

I'd heard about this too. I hesitated. I know I did.

"Get over here," she demanded, standing at the foot of my bed, hands on her hips, one strand of wet copper stuck to her cheek.

I took a few steps forward. It was enough for her. She turned around and pointed at her back with her right hand. "What do these look like to you?" she asked, bored.

I crept up behind her, dropped down on one knee and bent in close, apparently proposing to her backside. I touched the skin on her lower back, right above the Levi's label of her jeans. Her skin was scratched and dotted with red bumps. Her jeans hung low on her hips and part of a tattoo poked over the top. Two fish swimming after each other. Pisces.

"Mosquito bites?" I ventured, trying to ignore the brilliant blues and greens of her tattoo.

"Just what I thought," she said, looking down at me. She passed a hand through my hair and then strode away from me to flop down in the armchair by the television set. I was left kneeling on the floor, candle held aloft, looking like a palace footman.

Her eyes started wandering around my room as she wrung the water out of her hair. My eyes followed hers. My half-unpacked suitcase. My shaving kit. Yesterday's wrinkled shirt and discarded tie. She raised her empty hand to her mouth before remembering her cigarette was outside.

"Why do you smoke?" I asked suddenly. Normally it would be a simple question. Nothing was simple between us. I got up from the floor, but the only place to sit down was the bed. I stood there in the middle of the room, awkward.

"Nervous habit," she shrugged. "I started in high school, quit in college, started again in med school, quit during my residency and started again sometime last week. Herbal this time. It's not the same," she muttered.

"But it looks the same," I said accidentally. This was not good.

Her eyes dissected me, pinned back my flesh as if I were a frog, and poked around in my heart. "You're right," she agreed. There was something of a smile on her face.

I jerked a little and more wax ran down my hand. I decided it was time to put down the candle. I moved closer to her and set the candle on the small table to her right. The light cast her profile against the wall.

I scratched at the wax on my skin and sat down on the heater against the wall. It was still warm, but the rest of the room was getting a little chilly.

"Do you want a blanket or something?" I asked her.

She looked to be considering the question quite seriously, but reached behind her where my shirt from yesterday hung.

I watched, mesmerized, as she put it on. The shirt was white and the black bra showed through easily. Outside there was a heavy warble of thunder and a simultaneous bright flash of lightning.

"At eight years old, he died of leukemia," she said, shrugging simply, tears rolling down her face. They glittered in the candlelight, and I decided there was something beautiful about crying. Even if I had done so too often myself.

I inched closer to her. There was a pull.

"And I won't find a cure, but maybe someone will. Some brave woman who had heard of me while she was growing up and thought, 'Dana Scully wasn't afraid of science, neither am I.'"

More tears.

More inches.

"I didn't even know him. He was just the shell of a person. No one knows who they are at eight years old, but at twelve, his death formed me."

I took the hand that wasn't pressed to her eyes.

I love you, I thought.

"I'm sorry," I said, holding as much of her as I dared.

"He was my brother," she said, looking at me, her eyes a dull grey.

I woke up early the next morning. The lights were back on and once I opened my eyes I couldn't get back to sleep.

It had stopped raining, for the moment.

I took a shower, got dressed and then ran across the four lane highway to Hump's Family Restaurant for breakfast. Scully hadn't been in her room when I knocked to ask her to join me.

I was sitting in a booth by the window when she slipped into the seat across from me. I suddenly cultivated a great interest in my spoon.

Her eyes were on me again. I could feel them travel the length of my arm and rest on the back of my hand. I could feel them touching my hair.

I was reaching to rearrange the packages of sugar when she finally spoke. "Nice tie," she said, leaning across the table to straighten it. I was sure it hadn't been crooked.

I looked down at her thin white fingers resting on my maroon silk. Her hand on my chest. She drew away once she knew she had my attention and pulled a cigarette and a packet of matches from her jacket pocket.

"Have you ate?" I asked, wondering how she had found me.

"Yes," she said, putting the cigarette in her mouth.

There was something about her that suggested to me that she had not eaten for days. She struck a match and held it to the end of her cigarette. The match burned and then snuffed itself out. Scully licked her fingers and put them to the match in a kiss.

She was restless today. Her fingers toyed with the tines of her fork, pushing at them, bending them. Her eyes looked out the window. A barge was moving up the river, being nudged from behind by a tug.

Now that her eyes were elsewhere I was the one staring. I realized she was wearing her maroon suit. We matched. I smiled slightly, wondering who had gotten dressed first. The silver choker around her neck glinted dully in the muted restaurant light.

There was no ashtray. She used my coffee cup. I contemplated my menu.

The waiter came by. He was about thirty and had probably started working here directly out of high school. His hair was greying, and at eight in the morning he already looked tired.

He did not bother to remind Scully that this was non-smoking. I didn't blame him. Dr. Scully could intimidate merely by not looking in your direction. She was still staring out the window.

I marveled and almost took a sip of my coffee. The cigarette ashes floated on top, and I put the cup back down. I reached for hers instead. She didn't stop me.

"Are you ready to order, ma'am?" the waiter asked Scully patiently. She looked away from the window. I wondered what had caught her interest there.

"A grapefruit and dry toast, whole wheat," she said, daring us to say otherwise.

"And you?" the waiter said, nodding at me.

I knew I wouldn't be able to eat in front of her. Not with those two blue eyes pointed my way. I envied her her dry toast. What a calm, collected food. I felt more like the inside of a pancake. I knew I wouldn't be able to eat.

"Two fried eggs, over-easy and hash browns," I finally said. "And dry toast," I added at the last second, trying to act like I always ate my toast dry.

Scully leaned back against the booth, nursing her cigarette. I would have thought it beyond her to be smug over toast. I was wrong. "How are you enjoying the fair burg of Scappoose, Mr. Mulder?" she queried.

"Can you judge a town by its cemetery?" I asked, very afraid of her answer.

"Yes. I rather suspect you can."

"Then it's lonely," I said, saying more than I should have.

The waiter arrived then with our food. My fried eggs eyed me with their yellow yolks. I stared back. Everyone was looking at me this morning.

"Can I get you anything else?" he asked, wiping his hands on his apron.

"Yes," said my partner. "Can I get a new cup of coffee? There are ashes in this one." Her smile was bright and as fake as the color of her eyes. She winked at me. I pretended not to see.

I hassled my eggs, poking them until their yolks ran so that I wouldn't have to put up with their greasy observation. I let my fork roam through my hash browns. I actually ate a few.

I watched Scully eat her toast. Her cigarette had disappeared. I checked my water glass and surreptitiously stirred my coffee, pulling both closer to me. Scully chewed on her toast and watched the traffic fly by.

She picked through the packets of sugar until she found the one she wanted. She tossed it at me so that it landed in my lap.

I met her eyes, not wanting in on her games. She gazed at me over the rim of her coffee cup. Somehow her lipstick was still in perfect condition.

I tried to pick up the packet with a minimum of fuss. There was a picture of the river on it and the caption: The Columbia River.

"Just what do you think's in that river, Fox?"

She lulled you, and then she struck. I couldn't tell what I was supposed to think at the sudden use of my first name. She got up from the booth and I followed.

"What would a psychologist say is in that river?" she asked. It sounded Zen. I knew whatever I answered would be wrong. I waited.

"They wouldn't know. Would they?"

So this wasn't a personal attack. It was an unspecified they.

"Does that river look happy, Mulder? With the paper mills and the nuclear power plants on its banks. With the sewage run-off and industrial waste seeping in. Does it look happy?"

I shook my head slowly.

"Then the question we've got to answer, is whether an unhappy river can kill. I'm sure you can tell me the reason why the residents would want to cover that up."

"Their jobs."

"You might not be half bad at this gig after all, Agent Mulder," she said, holding the door open for me. "Let's go."