Rating: PG

Disclaimer: Not mine. I'm just playing. I'll put'em back when I'm done.

Rating: PG

Synopsis: Mulder gets involved in a nasty case and ends up in mortal danger. He also gets deprived of one of the few remaining illusions he has.

Assistant Director Skinner's office
J. Edgar Hoover building
Washington D.C.

A light drizzle drove people off the streets and the rather light traffic made the city seem like taken out of a Fritz Lange movie. Utopia with glitches. A chilly wind was blowing and the trees were starting to lose their leaves, indicating that autumn was on the rise.

Standing at one window of his office, A.D. Skinner eyed the scenery of a city he no longer had any faith in and he could not help thinking about the time when he had arrived here, all full of enthusiasm and the need to save the world. What a joke it had turned out to be. Now, some twenty years later, he had little patience left for a world that was about to go haywire. It had turned out that the majority of human kind seemed set on destroying itself and everything around it.

His job, the one he had dreamed off while being a rookie agent, depressed him more than it gave him any feeling of accomplishment. It had turned out that the very people he thought were here to save the country were actually deeply involved in destroying it.

With a heavy sigh, he turned away from the window and sat down on his chair again, placing his hands on the desktop on either side of a folder lying there. A folder with a case which he didn't want to have to deal with.

A particularly malicious killer was on the lose. His greatest interest seemed to be in finding innocent people he didn't know and had no connection to and bury them in caskets while they were still alive. He would wait until their air ran out and then he would let somebody know where to find the bodies. All in all, he terrorized his victims to death and he took great pleasure in doing so if the initial readings on him were anything to go by. Six people so far had suffered a cumbersome death at the hands of this maniac and the Washington P.D. had given up on the case and handed it over to the FBI even though the seventh victim had narrowly escaped from his would‑be grave. Unfortunately, this man had not managed to see his possible executioner and had been too damned scared to even stay in town. He had left as soon as the police had let him, thereby depriving them of their only living victim.

The Violent Crime Section had shoved it into his hands with the message that this one needed a profiler with special skills if they were to find the perpetrator before he struck again. And at present, Skinner could only come up with one profiler who was in possession of these so‑called special skills. The VCS seemed to miss Mulder's ability to see things nobody else saw and he had been told as much as that they wanted Mulder on this case.

The only obstacle in the way right now was that Skinner had a really bad feeling about this. This was not a routine case. It wasn't because he doubted Mulder's instincts or abilities. On the contrary. There was just something about the whole case‑scenario which made him uneasy and rather reluctant to involve Mulder.

A knock on the door interrupted his train of thought and he looked up to find Mulder standing there, ready to defend himself if need be. That alone almost made Skinner smile. Despite their obvious differences, he liked Mulder. He had liked him since he had met him the very first time. It was rare to meet someone with as much drive and panache as Mulder displayed at any given time. He was confident and brash in many cases and despite the obvious fact that he had an ability to worry the people around him to the extreme, he always seemed to be able to find his way into someone's heart if he really wanted to.

"Agent Mulder, come in," Skinner said, waving him over.

Mulder sat down, the look of caution still straining his features. "Sir," he said as ways of acknowledging the older man.

"Let's cut right to the chase, shall we?" Skinner suggested and pushed the folder across the desk to Mulder. "We've got a bad case on our hands here and I personally would love to see it solved as soon as possible. The VCS suggested that you were the right man for the job. Take a look at it and tell me if you are."

Mulder had trouble hiding his surprise. Usually, he wasn't asked if he wanted to take on a certain case. If it had been anybody but Skinner sitting across from him, he would have thought it was a joke. But Skinner wasn't known for having much of a sense of humor.

With a slight frown, he took the folder, opened it and skimmed over the first few pages. Then he looked up to meet Skinner's expecting glance. "I think I can handle this," he finally said.

"Good. I'll leave you to it, then. But, be careful, Mulder. This man is not someone you want to mess with. Profile him, give the VCS something to go on and hand it back to them. I don't want you involved any further than the profile. Do I make myself clear?"

Mulder's surprise grew. This was abnormal behavior for his boss. Skinner was not the overprotecting type and here he was, telling Mulder to keep his distance. But instead of making an issue of it, he nodded. "Sure. I'll just do the profile and give it to back to them. Whom should I contact once the profile is done?"

"SAC Johnson," Skinner told him, well aware what Mulder thought of the man and vice‑versa. But that was not an issue he bothered to take into consideration. It wasn't as if Mulder was going to work closely with the man. "Take your time with it, Mulder, but be aware that this guy will strike again. Innocent people are dying and we don't want it to happen to anyone else if we can avoid it."

Nodding, Mulder got up, took the case‑file and turned for the door. Before leaving, though, he glanced back at Skinner once more. "May I ask why I'm not supposed to be further involved in it than this?" he wanted to know.

Skinner eyed him thoughtfully, knowing that Mulder would see through what he was about to say, but he said it nonetheless. "Because you probably have other things to do which are equally important. Just do the profile and get back to business as usual."

A frown briefly crossed Mulder's face, then he nodded and left the office.

Skinner leaned back on his chair, folded his hands and sighed once again. How could he tell Mulder that he didn't want him involved any more than he had to be because he had a bad feeling about it? Although Mulder was a man who believed in extreme possibilities, Skinner didn't feel comfortable about disclosing his feelings on this one.

Aggravated by the situation, he pulled his glasses off and rubbed the bridge of his nose with the heel of one hand. This was a damned tricky situation and all he had to go on was a hunch. A hunch which had saved his own life more than once before. He trusted in this feeling, but he rarely had it about other people. He just felt he had to follow his instincts on this one and hoped that Mulder would see any potential danger in this case before it erupted into an uncontrollable situation. Although he had told the younger man to keep his distance, he knew Mulder well enough to know that if he got too deeply involved, not even a team of wild horses would be able to keep him away from the case. And that was where the potential danger lay.


X‑Files office

Mulder pushed the door to his new office open, dropped the case‑file on his desk and plopped down on his new chair. For a moment, he let his eyes roam over the interior of the new office, taking in the smell of the new. The office was bigger, located on the fifth floor and had a nice view. Scully loved it. He continuously found her sitting at her desk, staring out at the city, lost in thought. The thought of his partner made him look over at her currently abandoned desk and smile.

Then he turned his attention to the folder lying on the desk in front of him. This had to be one odd case if it had Skinner on the defense like that. Frowning again, he flipped the folder open and settled in to read the file. He had barely finished the first sentence before the door popped open and Scully strode in, as pragmatic as ever.

"Ah, there you are," she said and dropped her briefcase on her chair. "I have to go do an autopsy, so I'll be gone most of the day."

Mulder looked at her for a moment, wondering when in the name of creation he could get around to letting her know what he felt about her, then grinned broadly at her. "I bet you just can't wait to get up to your elbows in gore again," he told her, receiving a playfully warning glance from her as a reply.

"Jest if you must, but I'm running late. I just had to pick up something," she said, opened one of the drawers in her desk and pulled out a file. "What about you? Do you have anything to dig your fangs into?"

"Now, that's a rather grueling way of putting it, isn't it, Scully?" he asked her, attempting to look innocent.

She merely rolled her eyes at him, opened her briefcase and dropped the file into it.

"Actually, VCS has once again requested my assistance. I've got a profile to do," he added, tapping a finger onto the file.

"Good for you," she said with biting sarcasm and a smile to take the edge of her words. "By the way, my mother is coming over for dinner tonight. Do you feel like joining us?"

He nodded instantly. If there was one thing in this world he loved doing it was spending time with the Scully‑women. Margaret and Dana Scully were the essence of life to him at the moment. "Sure," he agreed.

"Good. Be there at eight," Scully told him and strode back toward the door.

"Wow, Scully," he called out, stopping her in her tracks. "Should I bring anything?" he wanted to know.

"Just yourself and your good mood," she told him, winked and was gone.

Shaking his head, he leaned back on his chair with a smile. The longer he knew her, the more he loved her. And he was too chicken to tell her. "Snap out of it," he told himself, put on his reading glasses and returned his attention to the case‑file in front of him.


The next time Mulder glanced at his watch, it was 6.30 p.m. Frowning, he raised his head and looked around, noting that it had gotten dark outside already. He again glanced at his watch, then out the window again, and his frown deepened.

"Damn. I'm late," he mumbled, closed the folder he had been reading and got up.

He had gone over the case twice and had jotted down some essential key‑phrases along the way, completely oblivious to the passing of time while he worked. The outline of the profile was already taking shape from the information he had been given, but there was something missing. He would have to talk to Johnson at the VCS to get more insight in the case. But right now he needed to get out of the office and home before joining Scully and her mother for dinner. He needed to take a shower and pick up a bottle of wine on the way. Realizing that he didn't have enough time to do it all, he grabbed his jacket hanging over the back of his chair and shrugged into it.

Just when he was about to push the chair to the desk and turn around to leave, his eyes fell on the folder again and he hesitated. This thing was going to haunt him until he had handed over the profile. One of the reasons for his high success rate was his involvement in the cases he worked on. They haunted him and that was why he endeavored to finish them as fast and efficiently as possible. Only that would give him peace of mind.

"Damn," he mumbled again, grabbed the folder and strode out the door. He would not be able to concentrate if he didn't have this damned thing with him at all times.


09.30 p.m.
Dana Scully's residence
3170 West 53 Road

Scully opened another bottle of wine and filled their glasses, once again glancing suspiciously at her partner. Mulder was preoccupied by something and she just knew it was the profile he had been asked to do. Margaret had not noticed anything and was having an in‑depth conversation with Mulder about the oddness of life in general, a topic he found as fascinating as Margaret found it strange. They exchanged stories and views on the subject, only occasionally granting Scully the chance to interfere. Not that she felt left out. It amused her to listen to and observer her mother and her partner discussing.

She settled back down and kept her eyes on Mulder, who for some obscure reason didn't seem to notice that her sole attention was directed at him. Having the chance for once to study him without having him make wisecracks about it, she gave their partnership and friendship some serious thought. So serious that she missed her mother's announcement that she would go home.

"Dana?" Margaret asked, smiling when she finally regained her daughter's attention. Despite her discussion with Mulder, she had realized that her baby girl was watching Mulder with an intensity that gave her hope for the future. Sometimes she felt that it was her goal in life to get these two together.

"Sorry, mom. I was just lost in thought for a moment. You were saying?" Scully replied, fighting against the blushing of her cheeks.

"That's okay, dear. I was just saying that I think it's time for me to get going. Thank you for a lovely evening," Margaret said and got up.

Scully and Mulder both followed her example and saw her to the door after Mulder profusely insisted that he would help Scully do the dishes, Margaret should not worry about that. Scully saw the look in her mother's eyes and knew what it meant.

After she was gone, Scully turned to Mulder, noting that he was more or less on his way out, too, and decided that she wanted to talk to him about his preoccupation. She needed to know what he was up to. "Mulder, could you stay a while? I'd like to talk to you," she said.

He raised an eyebrow but avoided making any snide comments about what her words might insinuate. He knew her well enough to know that now was not the time to make fun of her. "Sure," he said instead. "Let's do the dishes," he added and helped her clear the table.

Scully had to admit that by now it would have surprised her if he had not suggested helping her with the cleaning. It seemed natural for him to do it and she was the last to turn down the help. So they went about doing the dishes and took a moment in silence before Scully told him what was on her mind.

"What is it about this profile that's bothering you?" she finally asked while drying a plate.

Mulder glanced at her, aware that he could no longer hide things like that from her, and shrugged. "I don't know. The way Skinner reacted to it combined with the cruelty this guy is displaying, I guess. It's intriguing, but I must honestly admit that I'm not keen on getting involved. Skinner doesn't want me to, either. I don't know what his reasons are other than what I think they may be. A gut feeling that this might turn out to be dangerous."

Scully eyed him thoughtfully, trying to make sense of the gut‑wrenching feeling of alarm that rose in her at his words. "If Skinner thinks it's dangerous, Mulder, maybe you should just stick to doing the profile and leave it at that," she said after a moment.

Mulder's confused expression revealed to her that she was one step ahead of him right now. "That's what I intend to do, Scully," he told her, a little taken aback by the fact that she was actually verbalizing what he had only started to think of.

Crossing her arms over her chest, she narrowed her eyes. "I know you, Mulder. Once you get involved, you won't be able to let it go until it's over. Promise me you won't go further than the profile," she said.

Putting the last plate into the drainer, he gave her a tense look, then pulled the plug out of the sink and turned to face her. "Scully, I can't promise you that. You should know that, too," he replied, took the dishtowel from her and dried his hands on it.

Dropping her gaze to the floor for a moment, she considered the options, then nodded slowly. "I know," she consented. "But you must promise me to be careful. If you get involved further than the profile, Mulder, I want you to let me know. I want to be in on it."

"What? So you can hog all the fame?" he asked, teasing her. The look she gave him reestablished a serious mood. "Okay, okay. I promise you I won't go any further with it without letting you know. Good enough?"

To his surprise she shook her head. "No, that's not good enough. I don't want you to do this on your own. I know how engulfed you become. I want to be a part of it," she insisted.

He considered her words for a moment, knowing that he would want her there to keep him on the straight and narrow, and eventually nodded. "Okay, we do this together. But I won't do more than the profile, Scully. The order comes from Skinner and I don't feel up to it anyway. So don't worry about it, okay?"

Giving him a half‑smile, she shook her head without ever taking her eyes off him. "When it comes to you, I never cease to worry," she told him.

Grinning back at her, he handed her the dishtowel. "That's sweet," he said, smiling at her. Then he glanced at his watch. "I think I'm going to go home now. I'm wasted. I'm not used to all this good food."

"You liked it?" she asked, aware that he had. He had basically wolfed down half of the four‑people portion she had made.

"Yeah, I liked it," he replied while rolling his sleeves down before he shrugged into his leather jacket. "You're a great cook. Your husband is gonna be a lucky man."

Getting a feeling that he was heading in a general direction with this kind of teasing, she narrowed her eyes at him once again. "Gee, thanks."

With a grin on his lips, he opened the front door, then glanced back at her. "No, really. I enjoyed it. Thanks for inviting me," he told her and left.

Scully closed the front door with a smile. "You're welcome any time," she mumbled.


X‑Files office
J. Edgar Hoover building
Washington, D.C.

The profile took shape more rapidly than Mulder had thought, but he was generally stuck until he got more information on it and there was only one place he could get it.

Leaning back on his chair, he pulled his reading glasses off and frowned at the thought. And the whole time, he knew Scully was watching him.

"What's wrong?" she wanted to know. She was doing her portion of the investigation, but there was fairly little she could do to help him with the profile.

"I need to get more information," he replied, not taking his eyes of the partial profile he had been able to put together.

Scully put her pen down and regarded him more closely. "Who's in charge of this investigation?" she wanted to know, aware that he was reluctant to go after the information he needed because he knew the SAC.

"Johnson," he said after a moment, glancing up to meet her eyes.

Scully's expression revealed only too clearly what she thought of that. "Didn't Skinner think of that before he assigned you to this?" she asked, sounding miffed on his behalf. "It's not like he can be oblivious to the fact that agent Johnson has been on your case about everything since day one."

"Skinner is aware of it," Mulder agreed. "It's just out of his hands. The VCS asked him to find a profiler. Johnson was already on the case then and it's not up to Skinner to pay attention to whom I get along with or not."

"Yes, but couldn't Skinner have chosen a different profiler? Not that I discount your abilities. But if he knows how tense the relationship between you and Johnson is, he can't possibly hope to gain anything positive from this." She was truly worried about this situation. After witnessing how derisive Johnson was toward Mulder whenever their paths crossed, she found it hard to believe that their supervisor would actually force Mulder to work with the man.

"That's not the point, Scully. Johnson asked for me," Mulder told her, then made a face at the ambiguity of the situation. Johnson hated his guts for whatever reason he could think of, yet he asked for his skills as a profiler. The man had to be hard pressed to solve this case to go that far.

Scully's expression showed her utter surprise. "He asked for you?" she wanted to know and Mulder nodded. "Well, I'll be ..." she mumbled. "Is that some clever plan he has devised to get rid of you?"

"The thought had crossed my mind," he confessed. "But in general I think they struck ground and can't go on. And I do have a pretty good record of solving cases like that."

Scully met his eyes and they stared at each other for a moment. "It must have hurt him badly to have to ask for your help," she finally said.

"Yeah, my thoughts exactly. Although he didn't ask for it directly. He sent somebody to Skinner's office with the request. But now that I need more information, I can't just do the same."

"Can't you use the official channels?" she wanted to know.

"I could, but that will slow everything down to a crawl and just because we don't get along doesn't mean we should let another person die at the hands of this lunatic. So, I guess I'm going to have to get my sorry behind up there and ask for the information I need."

The disgust in his voice was obvious to Scully. Although he usually was able to ignore other people's dislike of him, Johnson was pretty hard to get around. Whenever he saw Mulder, he had a comment about something Mulder had said or done. And the tone of voice he used when he called Mulder Spooky made Scully bristle every time.

"Well, maybe I could get that information for you," she suggested.

"No," Mulder instantly said. "That's okay. I... have to learn to face him sometime. Besides, how hard can it be?" He tried to sound cheerful, but knew it didn't come across right. Getting off his chair, he sighed and headed toward the door. "See you in a bit," he said to Scully and hurried out the door.

Scully made a face and returned to reading the coroner's report on the six victims. Somehow she knew he wouldn't be too happy when he came back. Johnson would probably not withhold any information from him since it was in his own best interest to solve this case. But she just knew that Johnson would embarrass the hell out of her partner before he handed over the information.


Violent Crime Section

Mulder entered the VCS with all the apprehension one person could harbor about a place and the people working there. He usually steered clear of his former work place mainly because he couldn't pass by these people without receiving strange looks, murmured comments or outright insults. Mostly they were extremely derisive or close to it and somehow he didn't feel up to dealing with that behavior on this particular day.

And, sure enough, the moment he stepped into the open‑plan office, the comments started. He pretended to ignore them, but comments like: What's Spooky doing up here, did sting. He mainly kept his attention focused on the one person he had come here to talk to.

SAC Johnson stood by a large table covered with files, pictures and the like, talking quietly to one of his agents. Said agent nodded toward Mulder when he saw him.

Johnson turned around, the usual look of plain disgust on his face. What Mulder had ever done to him was beyond Mulder, but Johnson simply didn't like him.

"Well, well, well. Look who's reared his head from the basement," he said, then snapped his fingers. "Oops. I forgot. You've been allowed to come up for air since your office burnt out, haven't you?"

For a brief second Mulder considered punching the man in the face, but decided not to bother. He would get his revenge someday. He would see Johnson squirm.

"Ha‑ha, very funny," he said with a good‑natured smile. "I need some more information on this case or I won't be able to finish the profile," he added, cutting off something Johnson had been about to say.

"Is that so? I thought you were a genuine wiz‑kid, Spooky? Can't you make something up? Or did you forget how to read minds?" Johnson asked, his voice loud enough for everybody to hear it. It resulted in a few spread snickers behind Mulder's back.

Mulder had to fight hard to remain calm and cool on the exterior. "Do you want me to do this profile or not?" he wanted to know, finding it harder by the minute to display said calm in his voice as well. If Johnson kept this up, he would snap. And he knew that Johnson was just waiting for this to get to him. He had long ago decided he wouldn't give him the pleasure and he wasn't going to give in to his urge to strangle the life out of him now.

Johnson met his eyes for a moment, then made a face. "What do you need?" he asked, his tone indicating his reluctance to hand over any kind of information to Mulder.


X‑Files office

When the door opened and Mulder strode back into the office, Scully could tell by the somewhat set expression on his face that it had been bad. She eyed him, not saying a word. She knew from experience that he usually didn't want to talk about it.

Dropping back down on his chair after having forcefully slammed the door shut behind him, Mulder was fully aware that Scully was watching him. He just couldn't face her right now. He was too angry, too hurt to make pleasant conversation and he sure didn't want to take his anger out on her.

Scully got off her chair and walked over to stand behind his, putting her hands on his shoulders. Closing her fingers on his tense muscles, she leaned in, her lips grazing his right ear. "Mulder, you can't let them get to you. They're just jealous."

His hands clenched into fists and he closed his eyes, leaning back into her firm grip. Taking a couple of deep breaths, he knew she was right and he suddenly realized that it took a great deal of the pressure off him to hear her say those words. That she stood behind him, both literally and figuratively speaking, made a world of difference.

"I know," he agreed, his tone of voice as tense as his body. "It doesn't make it any easier, though."

"I realize that," Scully told him. "Did you get what you needed?"

"Yeah. I think so. Although what they have on him in basically nothing. They know it's a man and that's about it. I can give them the basics to go on, but in general, not even my profile is going to give them much more than they've got already. And I just know I'm going to hear for that." To his surprise, he realized that it felt good to spill the beans, to let someone else know what this did to him every time he was forced  to take this kind of treatment.

Rubbing her palms against his shoulders, she smiled a little. "Don't I know it. But you should forget about them. They're the petty ones. I swear, sometimes I feel like I'm back in kindergarten when I consider the way they behave. They're like little, spoiled brats."

Mulder leaned his head back and looked up at her, relishing her at that moment nearly divine countenance. "You're right," he agreed and sighed deeply.

"Of course I am. Tell you what. You go ahead and finish that profile of yours and I'll go running with you afterwards. How about that?" she suggested, smiling sweetly down at him.

Mulder closed his eyes, then grinned. "Okay, but only if you let me win," he replied, causing Scully to chuckle. "I need to feel good at something," he added in a suffering tone of voice.

"You've got a deal," she told him and returned to her desk. That wouldn't be a promise that was hard to keep. She could never keep up with him when he ran, anyway.


Mulder finished the profile the following morning, less than content with it, but having given it his all with the little information he had. Once it was done, he put it in the internal mail, addressed to SAC Johnson. And there was something satisfying about the fact that he wouldn't have to face Johnson again unless the man had anything to say about the profile.

After taking care of that business, he looked over at Scully, who was completely engrossed in something on the monitor of her computer. "What are you reading, Scully? Dirty stories?" he asked.

She blinked and glanced over at him, suddenly becoming aware of that she was glued to the screen. "What?" she asked, taken off guard by his comment.

"Touché," he told her.

Her frown told him that she had no clue what he was talking about and it made him grin. "You once claimed that the last time you had seen me this engrossed in something was when I was reading the adult video news magazine," he claimed and shrugged.

Staring at him for a moment, she struggled to remember ever having said something like that to him, then gave him a tense look. "You and your photographic memory," she said. "No, I'm not reading dirty stories, Mulder. I was just..." She trailed off, aware that he was laughing at her because she was defending herself. Snorting in discontentment, she folded her arms over her chest and pushed back on her chair. "I swear, Mulder, if you don't wipe that grin of your face I'm going to kick your ass."

That claim only increased his laughter and after a moment, Scully found it impossible not to join him. Giggling, she shook her head. "Damn it, Mulder," she finally managed. "I'm actually trying to get some work done here. Stop pestering me."

"Whatever you say," he said when he finally got his laughing‑fit under control again. "Sorry. I didn't mean to..." he tried to explain, but she cut him off.

"Yes, you did. Now shut up. I'm trying to concentrate," she told him, trying hard to keep the smile at bay which threatened to spread over her lips once again.

"Sure. Fine. Whatever," he replied and, still chuckling under his breath, he returned to studying a pile of files he had acquired somewhere.


One week later

A week after he had turned in the profile, Mulder started getting a little antsy because he hadn't heard anything on it. Not that he would ever expect Johnson to thank him. But unless they had decided to skip the profile and continue without it, he couldn't understand why he hadn't heard anything. But going back to VCS wasn't on his agenda. Instead he went to Skinner's office to ask if there was any progress on the case.

He opened the door to the front office, ready to state his case to Skinner's assistant, Kimberly, but found Skinner in the front office with his assistant. The A.D. looked up when Mulder stepped in, a deadly serious look in his eyes.

"Agent Mulder. I was just trying to reach you," he said, waving a hand toward the open door to his office. "I need to talk to you."

‘Bad timing,' was all Mulder could think, wondering what he had done wrong now, and followed his boss into the office. "Is something wrong?" he wanted to know.

Skinner's expression revealed concern more than anything. "You could say that, yes. It's about that case you did the profile on a week ago, agent Mulder," he said.

"Well, that's actually why I came up here. I was wondering if you'd heard anything. Because I haven't," Mulder replied, feeling more than a little concerned about where this was going.

"That's not surprising. SAC Johnson is missing," Skinner told him.

Mulder felt his heart drop. "What?" he asked and Skinner merely nodded. "How?"

"According to his second‑in‑command, agent Black, he went out on his own to check something out. He just never returned. Agent Black got worried after a while and alerted HQ. A general sweep of the area where he vanished has been done, but... no sign of him. They need somebody with insight into the case to take over. Agent Black suggested you."

Mulder's heart dropped another notch. Not only had Johnson gone and done something stupid like take off on his own – ‘like I've never done that,' he thought wryly to himself – but now his second‑in‑command wanted Mulder on the case. The self‑same case that Skinner had warned him not to get involved in. For some reason he couldn't really explain, he had managed just that and now he was being asked to do it anyway.

"And... what do you think about that?" he finally managed to ask.

"I must admit that I'm apprehensive about it, but at present there seems to be no other choice. I want both you and Scully on this right now," Skinner said, looking every bit as sorry about saying it as he felt. "I know I warned you about this case, Mulder, but I had not foreseen that Johnson would pull a stunt like that. And I don't think it's too far out to believe that our perpetrator has caught up with him. Just make damned sure he doesn't catch up with you, too."

"I'll try," Mulder replied. "We'll get right on it," he added and left the office again.


The X‑Files office

Scully looked up when Mulder re‑entered the office and she could tell that something had happened. "What's wrong?" she wanted to know.

"We're on the abduction‑case, Scully. SAC Johnson has gone missing and it's believed that the perpetrator has caught up with him. We need to get down and dirty on this one. And we need to do it now," Mulder told her, noticing how she paled at the prospect.

"Right. Let's get over to the VCS and hear what they've got to say. The sooner we get moving on this, the better, huh?" she replied and got up.

"That's right," Mulder agreed and lead the way.


Violent Crime Section

For the first time that Mulder could remember there were no snide comments when he entered the VCS. Agent Black, a skinny, tall red‑head came to meet them, shaking hands with both of them before filling them in on the turn of events.

"I told him not to go alone, but he said it wasn't dangerous. He just wanted to check out the site where the latest victim escaped from. Problem is, he didn't count on the perp being there," Black ended his explanation.

"We don't know that he was," Mulder said, looking thoughtfully down at the messy table of photos and files. "But we have to assume he was, so that's where we should start."

Black nodded. "Right. That's what I was thinking. We swept the area, but there was no sign anywhere of anything which might lead us in the right direction," he said, sounding deeply concerned. "Do you have any ideas on this one?"

"First of all we need to get some order in this pile here," Mulder suggested, waving a hand to encompass the table. "I'm not familiar with all the material and, as things are right now, I won't have time to get into it."

"I'll take care of the sorting, Mulder," Scully said, cutting him off before he could suggest it himself. "I'll go over it with a few of the other agents and piece together what's there."

"Good idea," Mulder agreed. "Agent Black, I think we two should take another look at that site. Maybe we'll find something you missed the first time around."

Black nodded, not taking offence as some others might have. The two men left together while Scully started organizing a clean‑up team, as she mentally called it. She knew it would take time and time was what they didn't have, so they had to work fast.


An old, abandoned farmhouse
North of Washington D.C.

Mulder stood still in the courtyard of the old abandoned farm, listening to the silence surrounding them. There was something in the air here which he didn't like.

"Shouldn't we be looking around, agent Mulder?" Black wanted to know.

"Yeah, we should," Mulder agreed and started moving.

What he was thinking never reached his expression. He couldn't help imagining the helpless terror it had to be to be buried alive. To lie there with a ton of dirt on top of a frail‑looking coffin lid and know that you could not panic or your air would run out at once. That it would run out no matter what. That you would die in the dark, dank‑smelling void under the ground where nobody could hear your cries for help.

He shuddered at the mere thought and promised himself and Scully mentally that he would be careful. He didn't want this maniac to get to him. Actually, he believed he would rather die than allow himself to be buried alive. With those somber thoughts, he went over the grounds with Black, looking for clues and finding none. All the while he had the odd sensation that they were being watched.

On occasion he glanced around, trying to spot any movement. But he never caught sight of anything abnormal. Eventually, he let out a heartfelt sigh and turned around to face Black. "I don't think we'll find anything here," he said to the spindly man.

Black nodded, reluctant to give up the search for Johnson so quickly. "I guess you're right. But if we don't find anything, then what?" he replied, glancing around inside the barn they had entered.

Mulder was very unhappy about this place in general. Somehow, he got the feeling that Johnson was here somewhere. With the thought manifested in his mind, he suddenly thought of something that might lead them in the right direction.

"Did you see any newly disturbed dirt anywhere?" he asked Black, turning back to face the man.

Black frowned. "Uh... disturbed dirt?" he asked back, looking a little confused by the term.

"Did you see any patches of dirt that looked like they'd been dug up lately?" Mulder elaborated, slightly annoyed that the other man didn't catch on immediately. Scully would have. Sometimes it was hard for him to accept that not everybody thought like he did. Thinking of another option, he glanced around. "Where was that grave the latest victim should have been buried in?" he wanted to know.

"Well... there," Black said, pointing to the rear of the barn.

Mulder turned around and focused on the patch of the dirt floor that looked lose compared to the rest of the hard‑trampled ground. What got to him immediately was the fact that the hole was filled in and he doubted that anybody would have bothered to do that, considering that this place was abandoned. He strode up to the patch and stared at it for a second, then suddenly broke out in a flurry of activity, searching for something to dig with. He found a hayfork, old and rusty yet still usable and started loosening the dirt.

Black stood by, staring at him as if he had lost his senses. "Agent Mulder, what are you doing?" he wanted to know, sounding utterly surprised.

"Help me dig," Mulder snapped. When the hayfork didn't do the job, he pulled his suit jacket off, rolled up his sleeves and got down on his knees to dig with his hands.

It took Black another second to realize what was going on, then he too participated nervously in digging through the tough soil.

With their combined effort it took them less than an hour to dig deep enough. Mulder once again dug his fingers into the soil and his fingertips bumped painfully hard against something beneath the surface.

"Hurry up. I think we've got it," he told Black.

Both men were covered in dirt and sweating badly. They cleared the top of the man‑sized wooden box and Mulder once again retrieved the hayfork to pry one of the boards off the top of the box. The rest they removed with their hands and found what they had been looking for.

"Jesus Christ," Black whispered, staring down at SAC Johnson, who lay lifeless and still at the bottom of the box.

Mulder leaned down over Johnson and searched for a pulse. Glancing up at Black, he nodded. "He's still alive. Call the paramedics and then call HQ," he told him.

Grabbing Johnson's shoulders, he hauled the man up in a sitting position. The man's eyes slid open and he blinked sluggishly, but didn't breathe. Mulder tried patting his cheek, hoping to snap him out of it, but nothing happened. As a last resort, he pushed Johnson forward and slapped a flat hand against his back a few times in an attempt to get the man to breathe without having to use mouth‑to‑mouth. The reaction he had been looking for became a reality when Johnson coughed and started breathing properly again. He hauled in one breath after another, gasping for the air of which he had been deprived of.

It took him a full five minutes to regain any kind of composure. But once he was over the initial shock of being able to breathe again, he slowly became aware of his surroundings. Blinking, he stared at Mulder.

"Take it easy, Johnson. The ambulance is on its way," Mulder told him. "Looks like we got to you in time, huh?"

Johnson kept staring at Mulder for a moment longer, then he groaned and tried to get to his feet. Mulder helped him up and called for Black to give him a hand. With a combined effort, they got Johnson out of the hole and he nearly passed out again from the strain.

Sitting on the edge of the hole, his unsteady hands supporting him, he stared down into the blackness for a moment, then laboriously raised his head to look up at Mulder again. "Bummer," he rasped.

Mulder frowned. "What?"

"You got to me... in time... That must... be a bummer," Johnson explained, having to gasp for breath between words.

Mulder, who was squatting next to him, put a hand on his shoulder, an odd sensation running through him. Despite all the crap he'd had to take from Johnson over the years, he could not claim to ever having wanted the man to die. Not for real, anyway. "Johnson, we may not like each other, but I don't want you dead. Especially not this way," he said after a moment.

Johnson gave that some thought, but found that his mind was too sluggish to really process the information. Instead he settled for listening to the sirens coming closer.

Eventually, the ambulance arrived and the paramedics loaded Johnson onto a stretcher and were about to wheel him over to the waiting ambulance. But he stopped them. "Hang on a minute," he nearly whispered, the oxygen‑mask covering his mouth and nose distorting his words. He reached up and pulled it down. "Mulder," he called.

Mulder walked over to the stretcher and looked down at what he presently considered a former enemy. "Yeah?" The apprehension was still there, though.

"Thank you," Johnson said. "Don't... expect me to repeat that. I won't. But... thanks. You saved my life."

Mulder nodded. "And you're welcome to it," he replied, then stepped back to allow the paramedics to haul Johnson off to the hospital for a checkup and a good night's rest.

Black stood beside Mulder, watching quietly as the ambulance pulled out. After a moment, he cleared his throat. "A.D. Skinner wants us back on the double," he finally said.

"Yeah, okay," Mulder said, but didn't move a muscle.

"That was one hell of a rescue," Black added after a moment where neither of them had moved.

Mulder glanced at him, then looked down at the ground, suddenly very tired. He didn't know how to respond to Black's comment, so he didn't.

"Well, let's get back. I could use a bath and some clean clothes," Black continued and picked up their jackets. Handing Mulder his, he then turned and walked back to where the car was parked.

Mulder found that he actually had to kick himself into gear and he allowed Black to drive them back to town because he was just too damned exhausted from digging five foot of clay‑filled dirt out of the way to save a man who would probably be back to making his life miserable as soon as he felt up to it. And that was the main reason for his present fatigue. Not so much the physical challenge of moving dirt, but the thought that nothing had changed.


Violent Crime Section
J. Edgar Hoover building
Washington, D.C.

Skinner and Scully were both present in the main office of the VCS when Mulder and Black returned. Scully took one look at her partner and advised Skinner to wait with the questioning until Mulder had cleaned up a bit.

Skinner glanced at her, then nodded. "Drive him home, Scully. I don't want to see him until tomorrow morning," he told her.

Scully nodded and hurried over to Mulder's side. "You look like you've mud‑wrestled," she told him with a vague smile.

He glanced at her, not amused. "I feel like I've been run over by a steamroller," he confessed, raising his now severely sore hands up to inspect them.

Scully regarded his frayed nails and bruised finger tips and decided she would take things into her own hands right now. "You need a bath and you need to sleep, Mulder. Skinner's orders," she said, took his arm and more or less pulled him with her back toward the exit. "I'm driving you home so you can get both and no arguments, please." She was trying to maintain a chipper tone, but knew it wasn't getting through to him. What worried her about his present condition was this odd state of depression he was in. He had just saved a man's life and seemed to feel down about it.


Once in the car, Scully turned to face him before starting the engine. "Mulder," she said, her tone of voice indicating where she was heading with this.

"I've never felt worse," he said before she could continue. "I just saved somebody's life and I've never felt worse. This case isn't over, Scully. It's just begun. Whoever this maniac is, he's going to strike again. And something tells me that he's not happy about what happened today."

Scully considered his words for a moment, then turned back to the steering wheel and stared out at the garage for a moment. "Are you afraid he'll come after you now?" she asked quietly, not looking at him.

Mulder glanced at her, then sighed. "Could we go? I really need that bath," he then said, thereby letting her know that the discussion was over.


Mulder's residence
Apartment 42
2630 Hegal Place

The sound of the shower was the only sound in the apartment apart from the quiet bubbling from the fish tank. Scully sat still on Mulder's couch, waiting for him to come back out. And while she waited, she gave this case some thought. Through the material she had helped organize, she had learned a great deal about the perpetrator and his victims. And the assumption that his victims had nothing in common was quite right. There seemed to be no general connection between them. A worrying concept at best. This man seemed to grab anybody he could get his hands on and then proceeded to bury them five foot under for some obscure reason.

Mulder turned up in the doorway, dressed in a bathrobe and gave her a weary look. "What are you still doing here?" he wanted to know and walked into the living room and dropped down on the couch next to her. "You don't have to stay, you know."

"I know. But you've hurt yourself," she told him and took his right hand in hers. His fingertips were bleeding. Not much, but they were very raw and she wanted to prevent an infection. "Where's your first‑aid kit?"

"In the bedroom," he told her, too tired to get up and get it himself. "It's amazing how digging in the dirt can wear you out," he added when she got up.

She merely smiled. "Lie down. I'll take care of your hands. You just rest. Skinner doesn't want to see you until tomorrow morning anyway, so you might as well just get the sleep you can."

He stretched out on the couch, closed his eyes and almost instantly drifted off. When Scully returned with the first‑aid kit, he was deeply asleep. With a smile, she draped a blanket over him, then sat down and examined his fingers. He didn't move and she had no idea if he was awake or not, not that it really made any difference.

When she was eventually done bandaging his fingers, she sat back and watched him closely for a moment. Either he was very good a faking sleep or – and this was what she thought – he was so exhausted that he had basically passed out.

She brushed her fingers through his hair, pushing it away from his forehead, and smiled. "Sweet dreams, Mulder," she whispered, got up and left the apartment again.


Mulder woke up with a start, finding himself in his darkened apartment wearing nothing but a bathrobe. He glanced around, wondering what had awoken him. After convincing himself that there was nothing to worry about, he let his head drop back down and draped an arm over his face. Scully was long gone.

With a sigh, he acknowledged the light throb in his fingertips and the lack of strength he felt in his hands. It wasn't every day that he used his hands to dig with, so the exercise had taken its toll on him.

He sat up, slipped off the couch and padded into his bedroom to get some clothes on. Glancing at his watch, he noted that it was 8.30 p.m. Too early to turn in, too late to do anything else. Having slept the afternoon away, Mulder realized that despite the fatigue he felt in his arms and hands, he in general felt too awake to try and go back to sleep.

"What a dilemma," he mumbled and rubbed one hand over his face.

Instead of getting dressed in normal clothes, he threw on his jogging suit, stuffed his feet into his sneakers, grabbed his key on the way out and went for a run. Maybe he could make sense of why he still felt so down over saving Johnson's life while he was running. It didn't make the least bit of sense. Mainly because life might get easier now. He hoped that Johnson wouldn't keep up his hostility toward him now that he owed Mulder and his odd view on things his life.

Grinning half‑heartedly, he ran down the street, heading toward a more passable area where he could run in peace. Taking a short‑cut, he jogged for a while, then suddenly realized that his shoelaces had come undone on the right shoe. Stopping, he crouched down to re‑tie it and was utterly surprised when somebody suddenly called out his name.

"Fox? Fox Mulder?"

Mulder raised his head, his shoelace forgotten for the moment, and stared at the man who was just in the process of crossing the street to get to where he was crouching. Frowning, he searched his mind for this man's identity and could come up with only one boy's name that might fit the face of this grown‑up. His voice didn't give away his identity. It could be anybody's voice.

Then it suddenly hit him. "Dan Harrison?" he asked back.

"Yeah. Well, that's a hell of a surprise, Fox. I haven't seen you since highschool," Harrison replied, grinning like a goon.

Mulder finished tying his shoelace and rose again. Shaking hands with Harrison, he was as surprised as his old friend to see him here. "What are you doing in Alexandria?"

"Visiting friends. I had no idea you lived here," Harrison said. "Out for a late run, huh? You still do that a lot?"

"Yeah, whenever I can. I needed to burn off some energy," Mulder explained. Something he couldn't explain nagged at his subconscious mind, but for now he pushed it away. "Are you living in D.C.?" he wanted to know.

"Nah, upstate New York, pal. I'm in the construction business out there. Got a lot of contracts here in D.C., so I fly over on occasion to check up on my investments here," Harrison said, then clapped Mulder's shoulder with a big grin. "Hell of a surprise, man," he said again. "How about having a beer with an old friend, huh? We haven't seen each other in years."

Mulder considered it for a moment, then nodded. "Sure, Dan," he said and finally managed to return the other man's grin. "It's good to see you again. You look good."

"So do you. Apart from all the Band-Aids on your fingers. What did you do? Squash a glass?" Harrison inquired, grinning broadly at his own words.

"No, nothing like that. I've been digging too much today," Mulder replied, smiling a little at how that sounded.

"What's become of you? Where'd you go? What are you doing now?" Harrison asked as they walked down the street together, heading toward a more populated area and the bars.

"I'm working with the FBI," Mulder said, reluctant to reveal any further information. Having to tell old friends what he was doing was always a sore spot. They usually thought he had lost it when he told them he was working with the X‑Files.

"A fed, huh? Great, man. You've really gone places. So, do you get a chance to use that brilliant mind of yours a lot?"

They reached a bar, found a place to sit and ordered their beers. Mulder was reminded of a happier time in his life when he thought of the fun he'd had with Harrison. The man, or rather the boy back then, had been a crazy, fun‑loving blond guy who had done whatever he could to get into trouble 24 hours per day. Mulder had been yelled at more in that period by his father than before or after, but it had been worth it.

"I've got plenty to do," Mulder said, still not happy about having to explain too much about his job.  "And you're in construction? Buildings and things like that?"

"Yeah, things like that. We do a lot of digging and building. You have to get down real deep to make one of those high‑rises steady enough. You'd be amazed at what the foundation for the Empire State Building is," Harrison said with a chuckle.

They got their beers and Harrison displayed that he was obviously used to drinking with the guys by basically downing his beer in one go.

Mulder raised an eyebrow, but made no comment on it. "So, how long are you in town for?" he wanted to know.

"Oh, I've got some business to take care off, as I said, so I guess a few days. We ought to get together for lunch tomorrow if you're free," Harrison suggested and ordered another beer.

"Sure. That'd be great. I'll introduce you to my partner," Mulder said and sipped his beer slowly while Harrison downed the next one. "Go easy on that stuff," he added with a smile.

"Ah, you've become a real federal agent, haven't you? What are you gonna do if I get too drunk, Fox? Are you going to arrest me for disorderly conduct?" Harrison wanted to know and laughed out loud at his own joke. "We had some fun times together, you and I. Remember the twins? Joan and Judy, wasn't it?"

Mulder grinned at the memory. How could he forget the twins? "Joanie and Jude," he corrected his friend.

Harrison pointed a finger at him, grinning broadly. "Still got that sticky mind, huh? Remember everything, right? Man, you could get me in trouble with some of the things we've done together. But, yeah, the twins were something else. What a pair, huh? Wonder what happened to them."

Mulder's expression became a little somber. "Joanie got married to an abusive husband. He beat her to death. Jude ended up in rehab because of it. She was on drugs for a while. I don't know what happened to her afterward. My mother talked to theirs a lot, but they moved away, so..."

"Damned shame," Harrison growled, shaking his head. Then he looked up at Mulder again. "So, how is Mrs. M? Still going strong, telling you what to do?" he asked, grinning again.

Mulder's expression became a little strained. "I don't really talk to my mother any more. My father died a while back and... well... let's just say things aren't too good."

Harrison's overly happy expression became stony. "Jeez, man, I'm sorry to hear that," he finally said, not really sure what else to say.

"Don't worry about it," Mulder said and emptied his glass. "I've learned to live with it. There isn't much else I can do." Ordering another one, he leaned back on his seat, smiling vaguely, the fingers of his right hand wrapped around the empty beer glass.

Harrison reached across the table and grabbed his wrist. "Man, I'm really sorry to hear that. But, look at you. You still made something of yourself. A fed. Man, I can't believe it. So, you get to work undercover and stuff?"

That was one quality Mulder had always remembered Harrison for. His ability to change subjects as quickly as the wind shifted. "Sometimes," Mulder admitted. "But mostly I do profiles. Help catch the bad guys that way. You know?"

"You're not a field agent, then?" Harrison asked, sounding a tad disappointed.

"Yeah, sure I am," Mulder said, grinning at the thought. "It's just not field work all the time. How'd you get into the construction business, by the way? That wasn't what you wanted to be when we were kids."

"Nah, that's true. But I got hitched. Have a wife, two kids, a dog, a car, a house. All the things I vowed I would never have. But here I am. The business belonged to my father‑in‑law and when he kicked the bucket some years ago, I took over. It's working out great. The little woman at home's happy. The kids are doing great in school. The dog's well trained. I've got it all and I hate to admit it, but I like it this way. Life on easy‑street. The money comes pouring in, I've got plenty of time for the family. We went to the Bahamas last year."

"You're married? Who would have thought that?" Mulder spurted out. That was really the last thing he had thought Harrison would do. The other man merely grinned, shrugging his shoulders.

"I heard you got married, too. Don't remember who told me. Somebody must have. How's that going?" Harrison wanted to know.

"Dan, when it comes to my social life, nothing's worked out. I wasn't even married for a year. It just didn't work out and we decided to split up," Mulder said after a moment. It wasn't something he liked to remember.

"Hey, at least you've still got your job, right?" Harrison asked and Mulder nodded to that one. "See? At least you got something to care about."

"My job and my partner," Mulder inserted before he knew what he was saying.

"A.h. I take it that partner of yours isn't a man, then?" Harrison asked, perking up already.

"No, that's for sure. Scully is every bit a woman. She's... enigmatic. The opposite of me in every way. She keeps me earthbound," Mulder said, slightly embarrassed that he had blurted that one out.

"Do I sense a little... sexual tension here?" Harrison asked with a big grin. "You got the hots for her, pal, and you haven't told her. Am I right?"

Mulder made a face and reluctantly nodded. "She's special in more ways than one. I wouldn't... I don't know. It's not like our present situation invites for anything further to happen, but if it wasn't for her, I don't think I would be around anymore."

Harrison's grin widened another notch. "You dog, you," he said with a chuckle. "I have to meet her."

Mulder was suddenly on the barricades. He shook his head, looking absolutely horrified by the idea, which he had actually suggested himself. "No. No way. Not after what I just told you," he blurted out.

"Oh, come on. It's not like I'll tell her your life's story. You've probably told her yourself, haven't you?" Harrison grinned.

"Forget it, Dan. She has no idea how I feel about her and you'll just tell her. I know you. Nobody changes that much. You'll go right up and tell her everything I've told you. You're not getting near her."

"Chicken," Harrison laughed. "You've always been a chicken when it came to women. I had hoped that you'd grown out of it, but no, huh? You're still afraid they don't want you. Look at you, man. You're good looking, you got a good job and a nutty sense of humor. What makes you even think that she wouldn't want you?"

"That's not the point, Dan. I... she doesn't know and it's better this way. Believe me," Mulder said, knowing he was blushing. He hated that tense, hot feeling in his cheeks. It reminded him too much of all the embarrassing situations he'd been in during his life.

Harrison calmed down, looking a little concerned all of a sudden. "You're really affected by this, man. You should tell her. Get it out of the way."

"And risk losing her? No thanks. I'd rather have her friendship than not have her at all," Mulder mumbled, staring down into his glass for a moment. Then he raised his eyes to meet Harrison's again, his expression a little sad. "If you knew her, you'd know what I was going through."

"I don't have to know her to see that she's got you by the balls, whether she knows it or not," Harrison said. Despite his choice of words, his tone of voice was deadly serious. "You're in deep, pal. You better do something about it before it snaps you in two."

Mulder shook his head. "I trust her like I trust no one else. She's been by my side through some pretty bad times. I can't lose her. Not now. Not ever," he said. The waitress brought him his beer and he downed half of it before realizing he was starting to copy Harrison. He put the glass down and stared at it for a moment, then looked back up to meet Harrison's grey eyes.

"Hey, I'm sorry if I hit a nerve there, Fox. Didn't mean to stomp all over you. You've had it tough, huh?" Harrison wanted to know, the concern still on his face.

"Kinda. No tougher than anybody else, I guess. – So, you're here for a few days, huh?" Mulder asked back, changing the subject which had become rather awkward to him.

Harrison nodded and emptied his glass. "Yeah, a few days. I've got a few scores to settle here and then I'm heading back home to the misses. Can't help missing her when I'm out of town. She's something else, my Carla. Out of a rich family, but boy she can drink with the best of them." He laughed at the thought of his wife. "She's a good sport in every way. I would never cheat on her. Mainly because I love her too damned much. But also because she would wring my neck and snap my spine like a dry twig if I ever even thought about it."

Mulder smiled at the mental picture that created, then glanced at his watch. "Ah shit," he mumbled. "Look, Dan, I'd love to stay and chat, but I'm in the middle of a case right now and I've got to get some sleep. My partner is going to kill me if I don't turn up on time tomorrow," he said and started to get up.

"Sounds like you're married already," Harrison said with a sly grin. "Forget about the tab. My treat," he added, then whipped out a business card. "Here. You can reach me on my mobile. Call me and we'll do lunch. And remember to bring that partner of yours along."

"Not on your life, Dan. I won't let her meet you until she knows how I feel. Which will probably be never," Mulder replied with a good‑natured grin.

"Chicken," Harrison repeated with a grin of his own, shook hands with Mulder and let him go.


Mulder jogged back to his apartment, took a quick shower and dropped down on his couch. It was the first time that he had openly admitted to being in love with Scully. Groaning, he pressed both hands over his face. "Why is nothing ever easy?"

With those thoughts on his mind, he drifted off and slept until the alarmclock nearly scared the life out of him the following morning.