MINDWORK

An X-Files story

by Rachel Smith Cobleigh


Mulder pressed his nose down into her hair, inhaling the scent of her. Scully leaned against him, nestling her head in his chest. He groaned softly, his hand moved up to her--

Mulder's eyes flew open, and he sat up, trembling.

He was sweating heavily, and his hair was damp. He glanced up at the softly glowing clock on the desk. 6:56 a.m. The sofa cushions were strewn around him and the floor, and the blanket he had been sleeping under was twisted around his legs. He ran his hand through his hair, and squeezed his eyes shut.

"Scully," he groaned. He opened his eyes and disentangled his legs from the coverlet. Swinging them to the carpet and groaning, he pushed himself to his feet. He walked over to the bathroom, stretching out the kinks from his muscles. Pushing aside the shower curtain, he twisted the dial, holding one hand under the faucet, waiting for the water to warm up. He stopped, shook his head slightly, a wry smile on his face. Not bothering to wait for the warm water, he just stepped into the cold, refreshing spray.


Special Agent Dana Scully walked into the basement office of the J. Edgar Hoover FBI building that she and her partner of four years, Agent Fox Mulder, shared. In the basement, because they pursued FBI cases that the mainstream of the Bureau shunted away as 'unexplained'-- stored under the designation "X-Files". They had witnessed, solved, and suffered through countless numbers of these strange and sometimes gruesome cases for the last four years, together. It was Mulder's brilliance and imagination, and her technical and medical knowledge, that had discovered and caught serial killers, biological mutants, and other still-unexplained phenomena. Among all the departments in the Bureau, the X-Files had nearly the highest success rate for the number of cases solved. They made an amazing and formidable team.

Through all of this time, their friendship and mutual trust had been built and strengthened. They both trusted each other implicitly, and no one else. They had each, in turn, strengthened and supported the other numerous times. When the strain of continually being forced to perform forensics on mutilated, deformed, and gruesome creatures, and finding hideous things growing in, around, and on them, or being faced by horrible killers on almost every case, Scully needed her partner's shoulder to lean on. She could close her eyes for a few moments, letting him hold her up, while she regained some peace and could open her eyes again.

When Mulder's search for the truth about what happened to his younger sister more than two decades earlier, or the constant abuse that he took for his unorthodox methods, wore on him too much, he also needed the shoulder to rest on. He and Scully had succeeded many times in getting too close to sensitive information, and more than once, had gotten themselves shot, poisoned, beaten, or all three combined in some form or another.

While they had worked closely together for so long, stayed in countless hotel rooms across the country, slept in each others' apartments, and knew more about each other than anyone else did, they simply remained close friends and trusted partners. Their partnership was admittedly intimate, they worked so closely with one another, but only in the way of friends. The people around them weren't blind; they were known as "Mr. and Mrs. Spooky" for a reason, and rumors circulated around the Bureau constantly. Maybe there was more between them, maybe not. But whatever the final verdict of the outsiders was, neither Scully nor Mulder had ever confronted any deeper feelings for each other. They were professional partners, and good friends who had come to depend upon one another more than either ever had upon anyone else.

Scully dropped her bag on her desk and sank gratefully down into her chair. She hadn't slept too well last night.

"You're late."

"Morning, Mulder," she replied wearily. Mulder looked up from an opened folder draped across his legs, which were propped up on his desk. He eyed her closely for a moment, then cracked a sunflower seed in his teeth.

"You sleep okay last night?"

"I'm fine, Mulder. I stopped by Skinner's office on the way down here..." she said, changing the subject. She had tossed and turned all night. Crazy dreams. "...which is why I'm late."

"Mmm. What did our fearless leader want?"

"He gave me a case file," she replied, digging around in her bag. She pulled it out and handed it to her partner. She stood up. "I'm going to get a cup of coffee."

Mulder flipped open the folder and glanced at the photo laying on top. His eyes widened considerably.

"Somebody have a hot night?" He asked, scrutinizing the picture. Scully smiled slightly and patted his head.

"Skinner had some interesting things to say about this one. Just a second," she said and darted out for her morning cup of coffee. Mulder held up the photo of the man and woman lying on a rumpled bed. They didn't look dead--in fact, they looked as if they were sleeping quite comfortably. He couldn't see any marks of a death struggle anywhere on them, and their faces looked peaceful. From the picture, and the looks of the bed, they were lovers. Scully came back into the room, sipping her coffee.

"Were these people dead, Scully?"

"At the time of the photo? Yes," she said, sitting down next to him and reaching into the folder for a sheet of information.

"They don't look it."

"One of several strange things about this case--which is why Skinner gave it to us. This case, well, the one in the picture, in particular, was originally not FBI material. It was just a local investigation that came up against a wall."

"A wall?"

"You might have noticed that there are no marks of a struggle on the bodies. The room didn't appear to be broken into--the lock was still intact when the cleaning woman went to fix up the motel room."

"Ah--an affair," Mulder said, flipping through the pages.

"Well, actually...that's another of the strange things. Every acquaintance that was questioned about the two people involved swore that they didn't have any relationship beyond friendship. Family members, co-workers, bosses, friends, everyone. In the other cases--"

"Wait, this isn't the only occurrence. Look: four other couples."

"I know. Five in total. All with no previous history of an intimate relationship. Of the five occurrences, each one seemed to shock all of their friends. So many people kept saying that they couldn't believe that the two people were found, dead, with each other. And, like I was trying to say before," Scully eyed Mulder pointedly, "in four of the five cases, either one or both of the partners had a relationship with another person."

"An outsider."

"Right. See, in this one," Scully pointed at the third file, "both of them were engaged to other people."

"So what links these five cases is that everybody thought that the two people involved didn't have an intimate relationship. I hate to drop this on you, Scully, but there are probably tons of couples out there who are hiding it from all their friends, too."

"Perhaps," she said, leaning back in her chair. "But I'll give you ten to one that most of those couples haven't died from a seeming heart attack in the prime of their life, after a sexual encounter, and in a locked room."

"Bet they came close, though," Mulder murmured, chewing on another sunflower seed. Scully rolled her eyes and waited for him to finish glancing through the file.

"What do you think?"

"I think Skinner wants to keep his two best agents as simply his two best agents," Mulder replied, looking up at her, his eyes twinkling. Scully arched an eyebrow.

"You're suggesting that A.D. Skinner gave this case to us simply to scare us into staying only partners?" Scully said, a slight smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. "I suppose that he somehow got the impression that we were starting to veer off the chaste path?"

"I love it when you do that."

"Do what?"

"Arch your eyebrow," Mulder said, eyes fixed on her. Scully stared back at him. He was looking at her intensely. They sat, frozen.

Suddenly, he squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head, as if to clear it. Scully let out a breath she hadn't realized she was holding. She quickly brought up her coffee mug and took a gulp, trying to hide her burning cheeks. There was a fluttering in her breast. She decided to concentrate on breathing evenly and took another gulp of coffee. The images in the dreams were coming back. She squeezed her eyes shut.

"I'm sorry," he said, almost inaudibly. "I don't know what came over me."

Scully opened her eyes and looked at him. His eyes were squeezed shut, and he seemed to be fighting something, breathing tightly. He was holding on to the armrests of his chair, his knuckles almost white. Suddenly, he let out a ragged breath and opened his eyes. She was looking at him with a mix of confusion and concern.

"Mulder? It's okay...what's wrong?" Scully put down her mug, quickly pushing back her own turmoil of feelings. "You look a little pale and tense--are you feeling sick?" She reached out to feel his forehead, but he jerked back, violently, and shot out of his chair.

"No...don't touch me!" He started to pace around the small room, then suddenly stalked out the door and ran down the hall. Scully stood up as he left the room. She knew she couldn't follow him. Whatever it was that was bothering him, he would tell her in time...she just had to wait, to be there for him when he came back. She started to pace the room, her coffee getting cold. How much help could she be, when she felt a turmoil raging inside of her, also? It didn't make any sense. The dreams kept coming back.


Sheila Banks sat on the curb, reading a Harlequin Romance. The heroine was lamenting about having two gorgeous men chasing her, and how much pressure was on her to make the right choice between them. Sheila looked up from the pages of her novel and watched as the tall FBI agent who lived in the apartment house across the street came jogging around the corner, his shirt stained with sweat. He stopped next to the stairs and flopped down on the edge of one. He let his head drop, trying to relax and regain his breath.

He was harder than the others had been. He was fighting her with everything that he had in him. She couldn't understand it. When she had first seen him and his petite, red-haired partner, she had known that they were close. After watching them for a few weeks, she saw that they needed a little bit of guidance, just the like the others. They were too buried in their work to notice one another. It seemed that everywhere she went, she found people who needed help to see each other. Now, Sheila had taken it upon herself to help this couple, too.


Mulder sat on the front steps of his apartment building, breathing hard. He had gone running to get out the tension that kept building up in him. Images of Scully, in his dreams last night, kept hounding him. He had run farther and more strenuously than ever before, yet still his muscles were tense. He felt like he was fighting against something... what? That he found his partner affected him more than she was supposed to? She was pretty--not the most beautiful woman that he had ever met, but she had such strength that he had never known anyone else to have, and she stayed with him, put up with his wild theories and moods, trusted him, respected him, protected him. She was his closest--no, his only real friend.

He could remember her smell, the softness of her red hair...such beautiful hair. He closed his eyes, his chest pounding. He tried to relax, to calm his breathing. This was ridiculous. He'd been attracted to his partner since the first moment he'd met her, but her friendship was what he treasured most. He'd supposed that it was natural, the attraction. She was young, single, red-haired--what was it with him and red hair? He'd never had any particular affinity for it before--and he worked closely with her for hours every day. He'd been in relationships before, but none of them had been too satisfying. He had found that Scully was different, and he was content to confide in her, to comfort her, and to spend most of his waking hours with her. He didn't want to spoil their relationship by trying to become her lover. The intimacy that they already shared was so much more special. What had come over him?

He shook his head to clear out the cobwebs and looked up, trying to occupy his mind with something else. A movement across the street caught his eye. A young girl was staring at him, a small book in her hands. She suddenly seemed to realize that he was watching her, for she shook herself, stood up, closed the book, and began to walk away down the street. He watched her round the corner and disappear from view. Something about her struck him...perhaps it was the fact that she had been sitting on the curb staring at him, and not just staring. She looked like she was concentrating on him--aw, Mulder, give it a break, he thought. He was such a paranoiac--if he remembered correctly, he'd told Scully that he was "bonified paranoiac," as if that made it all right.

Scully. She put up with his paranoias, comforting and strengthening him when he most needed it. He stood up, weary, and went up to his apartment.


Mulder sat on the couch, his feet propped up on the coffee table. He rewound the videotape for a few seconds, then played it forward again. Bigfoot stumbled around the brush and out of sight. Mulder froze the frame, and leaned forward slightly to stare at the screen. He was scanning the picture for some minute clue when a soft knock sounded on the door. He had known that she would come here when he hadn't returned to work.

"Come in!" he hollered, not taking his eyes off the screen. Scully had her own key, she let herself in. She walked towards the sofa and stopped behind it, not saying anything. Mulder stared at the mass of brush in the corner of the screen. Did he see something hidden in there?

Scully dropped her briefcase, with the morning's case file on top, on the cushion next to him, then walked into the kitchen. Mulder switched off the TV set and picked up the folder.

"Why don't you take off your coat and stay a while?" He said loudly, opening up the folder. Scully peered around the edge of the doorway.

"Have you had lunch yet?" She asked, knowing what his answer would be. He looked up at her.

"Did you notice that each of these couples seemed to work in large cities, and were trained professionals? Here, look: these two are newspaper reporters, these were partners at a large interior design firm in New York City, a pair of police officers, two doctors at Chicago General, another pair of doctors. Scully, these people aren't just your everyday 'let's-have-an-affair' kind of people. They were prominent, respected, successful. They had a reputation to uphold, their jobs depended on it," Mulder said, a note of excitement in his voice. Scully eyed him.

"I'm going to heat up a couple cans of clam chowder," she said, turning away into the kitchen. Mulder frowned. He picked up the folder and walked into his kitchen. Scully was twisting a can opener around the chowder. Mulder smiled to himself and wandered over to find a pot for her. He rummaged for a bit in the cupboard, reading the file closely.

"Oh...look at this: a few friends did notice that the people were acting strangely for a couple of days, before they were found dead. Hmmm," Mulder stopped rummaging, and looked up at Scully. "They actually seemed to be avoiding each other?"

She squatted down and found a pot among the jumbled pile in the cupboard. She straightened back up and went about heating up the chowder. Mulder pushed the cupboard door shut and straightened up next to her. He leaned on the counter and flipped to the next casefile.

"I don't know, Scully. I'm not sure if this is an X-File, or if it's just Skinner pulling a fast one on us. What's today's date?" Mulder suddenly asked, twisting around to look at the calendar.

"Huh?" Scully looked at him, blinked. "Mulder?" He turned around and looked at her, smiling.

"Not April Fools'," he said, grinning at her.

"Mulder, it's October."

"Oh, right. Thanks. I'm just picturing Skinner sitting in his office, thinking how much you and I match the victim profile, and assigning this fluff piece to keep us within the Bureau protocol," he said, tapping the file. Scully paled slightly and turned back to stirring the chowder. Mulder stopped, looked at her. Something more than this case was bothering her. He leaned down slightly, rested his arms on the counter, and tried to catch her eye. She busied herself with the pot for a few minutes, and he went back to studying the files in front of him.

Mulder finally looked up, watching her stir the chowder. She was silent, her mouth turned down slightly. He frowned, sure something was wrong. He reached up to touch her cheek, but she turned away, going to get glasses for them. He straightened up as she pulled the glasses out of the cupboard.

"Scully, what's wrong?" He asked. She stopped, holding the glasses in front of her like shields. She took a deep breath.

"It's odd, isn't it, that this is almost a mirror-image of this morning?" She asked, brusquely. She twisted the stove dial roughly and turned off the heat under the pot. Mulder watched her ladle out the chowder in silence.

"What happened this morning, Mulder? Do you want to tell me why you ran out of the building? Why you never came back?" She looked at him, and he could suddenly see the tiredness behind her eyes.

"You didn't sleep well last night, did you?"

"Don't change the subject," she said, shoving the ladle into the now-empty pot. Mulder dropped his eyes. He couldn't tell her. This was the one thing in their relationship that he didn't feel comfortable talking with her about, and he doubted she would be very comfortable with it, either.

"It's...personal," he replied lamely. Scully eyed him for a moment, then went over and dropped the pot into the sink. Mulder picked up his bowl and glass of water and walked back into the den, the folder tucked under his arm. Scully came in with her food a moment later, and sat down on the far side of the couch. She picked up the folder that he had placed on the seat between them.

"Let's get to work, okay Mulder?"

Mulder slurped his chowder in response.


CHICAGO GENERAL HOSPITAL, PSYCHIATRIC WARD

OCTOBER 16, 10:15 A.M.

"Dr. Johnson? Earl? What about him?"

"Well ma'am, we're investigating his death, and death of his associate, Doctor--" Scully glanced down at the casefile, "--Estasia Guaerno. We'd just like to ask you a few questions concerning what you knew about them, and the events that occurred shortly before their deaths."

"Events? From what I know, they were found dead in a...a hotel room, I think. I wasn't there, so I don't know of any specific events. I only worked with them," the nurse replied, fingering the stethoscope around her neck. Mulder stepped up behind Scully, his hands pushed down into the pockets of his overcoat.

"What Agent Scully means is: did you notice any strange or unusual occurrences on this ward the last night they were working here?"

"Strange occurrences? Well, ah...you see, I just don't want to leave a bad mark with them..." The nurse trailed off, uncertain. Scully frowned slightly.

"Bad mark? What do you mean?" She asked. The nurse nervously pulled at her stethoscope. She dropped her eyes for a moment.

"They had a huge fight right in front of all the patients and nurses on the ward, about an hour before they left that night. I'd never seen either of them so angry before." she replied, looking back up at them.

"What were they fighting about?" Mulder asked. The nurse seemed to realize that she was acting strangely, for she clasped her hands together quickly to hold them still.

"I, I don't remember, exactly...see, I don't want to remember them badly for it--they were both such wonderful doctors!"

"Were they emotional people?" Scully asked, eyeing the nervous woman.

"No. No, they were both clear-headed, I had never seen either of them become emotional. No. It was just so out of character for them both. It surprised all of us nurses, and the patients were noticing, too..." the woman replied, quieting for a moment. "There was one other thing that stands out in my memory about that night, though. There was a young woman in the ward--a patient. I think that Earl was her doctor...yes. The whole time she was here, she kept staring intensely at both of the doctors. I remember it, because she used to insist on sitting out in the hallway next to her door--I watched her for a few minutes one morning--her eyes never left Earl. It was almost eerie, the way she was looking at him. Maybe she thought he was handsome or something--he wasn't too bad, actually," her cheeks colored a little at the admission, "but later on that afternoon, when I was coming back on after my break, this woman was staring at Dr. Guaerno. I kept watching her, and the two of them were the only ones she looked at like that."

The nurse paused to take a breath, then glanced over to one of the doors across from where the three of them were standing. "Maybe she knew the fight was coming...maybe she knew what was going to happen to them. Annie--that's one of the other nurses--told me that she thought the girl was psychic or something, the way that she was staring."

Scully raised her eyebrow at this last statement and turned to see her partner's reaction. He was staring at the floor with a deep frown on his face.

"Mulder?" Scully twisted slightly, trying to catch his eye. He blinked suddenly and looked up at the nurse.

"What was this girl in the psych ward for? Was she treated?" He asked, looking over towards the door where the nurse had indicated.

"Ah, just a sec...let me look..." she said quickly, going behind the desk. She thumbed through a stack of folders and lifted one out. "Ah...she was only mildly delusional, but enough so to warrant a five- day stay here, under observation. She was released, let's see...two weeks ago," she replied, looking up at them.

"What sort of delusions?" Mulder asked, leaning forward. The nurse eyed him strangely.

"If I can ask, what does this patient have to do with an FBI murder investigation? She couldn't have murdered them, since she wasn't released until the next afternoon--after their deaths."

"Hmmm," Mulder said, ignoring her question, "can I see the file?"

"I'm sorry, sir. Patient files are confiden--"

"Carol! Can I get your help for a second to move a patient?" A nurse down the hallway called.

"I'll be right there, Jean!" She replied, quickly dropping the file back on to the stack. She gave Mulder a wary look as she left the small area. He did his best to look innocent and unassuming. Scully glanced over at his "I'm-just-about-to-start-whistling-'It's A Small World After All'" pose and rolled her eyes.

As soon as Carol had disappeared into the room down the hallway, Scully pushed him out of the way and darted around behind the desk. His eyebrows shot up for moment, then he followed her over. She flipped open the girl's file and quickly began skimming its contents.

"Banks, Sheila. Nineteen years old, admitted October first, 1996," she read off quickly. Mulder came up behind her and looked over her shoulder.

"Mm. Look--treated for mild schizophrenia and delusional behavior, centered around--"

"--romantic relationships and sexual intimacy," Scully finished.

"Looks like a normal teenager to me, Scully," Mulder said, leaning down to see the bottom of the page. Scully shook her head.

"Mulder, normal teenagers have raging hormones, not raging lunacy."

"Hmm. No wonder I couldn't get anyone to date me in high school," he said quietly. Scully shook her head.

"No, look, Mulder. This girl thinks she's Cupid, basically. It's not her own romance...it's other peoples'. She kept asking the psychiatrist and the nurses if they were happy with their sex life."

"I knew there was a good reason I didn't go into practice, Scully," Mulder murmured, reaching down to flip to the next page in the file. He glanced over it, ran his finger across a few lines. He shook his head slightly.

"She liked reading Harlequin romances--I think that stuff could drive anyone nuts," he said, turning his head to look over at his partner. "Scully--" he stopped and looked at her. Her eyes were shut, she wasn't breathing. He could feel her muscles tense, and suddenly realized that he was leaning over her, their bodies pressed together. He could smell her perfume, feel the way his body curved around her smaller one. The images flooded through his mind...

"No...!" he whispered, fighting to move away, fighting to move at all. Scully stood, frozen, beneath him.

"HEY! What you doing!"

Carol had returned.

"Get! Get out! Securiteeeee!" She howled, grabbing at Mulder's arm. She yanked him backwards, furious. Scully turned around slowly, raised her arms as the hospital security guards came rushing over and pulled her and Mulder out from behind the desk. They were escorted roughly down into the lobby.

"FBI! We're FBI!" Mulder shouted. The guards ignored him and pushed them outside, let go of their arms.

"Get in your car," one of the guards growled. Mulder reached into his coat to pull out his badge. The guards reached down for their guns, Mulder stopped moving.

"I'm just reaching for my I.D.," he said quietly.

"Get out of here," the guard said softly, drawing his gun. "I don't care if you're with the Secret Service, medical files are confidential and you were found in an area not open to the public."

"We're not the public," Scully said angrily. Mulder shook his head, touched her arm. She spun around and stalked across the parking lot towards Mulder's car. He frowned at her retreating form and turned back to the guards. They stood, watching him closely. Sighing, he turned and jogged across the lot to the car. Scully stood on the passenger side, silent, her mouth flattened in a thin line. He looked over the roof at her while he unlocked the door. She looked back at him, frustration and what...fear, maybe? in her eyes. She slid into the seat and sat, stony-faced, staring out her window. Mulder took a deep breath and sat down behind the wheel. He looked over at her for a moment, then turned the key in the ignition. She didn't move.

The four security guards stood watching, as they pulled out and drove away.


STURBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS

OCTOBER 17, 7:30 P.M.

Scully sat at the small round table in her hotel room, flipping through the photos in the casefile and the recently-faxed sheets of information about Sheila Banks. She'd taken the liberty of using Mulder's laptop to download the information from the FBI databases while he was out picking up their Chinese take-out. They had been out all day talking to the Sturbridge police chief, and had basically gotten the same descriptions of the two people involved--professional partners, the woman engaged to someone else, the chief was completely shocked when he'd found them dead, together. Mulder had gone outside with one of the other officers to inspect the car that the pair drove around in. On a hunch, Scully had asked to see the daily police log for the past two weeks.

She had found Sheila Banks in the records. The young woman had come in to file a restraining order on her father. The officer behind the desk knew of it, and assured Scully that everything had been taken care of. The girl was fine, just emotional.

"Emotional? How so?" Scully had asked. The officer just shook her head.

"Something's a little bit wrong with her head, I think. Her parents had some problems a couple of months ago, and sent her to a specialist someplace to get her help," the woman responded.

"Chicago?"

"I don't know--I only heard bits and pieces about it," she replied.

Scully had gotten copies of the request form and had pulled all the information that she could from the police officer about the girl. By the time that Scully had amassed a small pile of complaint forms and records on Sheila Banks, Mulder had come back into the station, yawning. They had gone to find a hotel and unpack.

She glanced across to the open doors that connected their two adjacent rooms. She couldn't remember how many times they had left those doors open whenever they had connected rooms. The times that their rooms were separate, strange things seemed to happen. She smiled and shook her head when she thought of the time when he'd woken up in her room, draped on the chair, claiming that Alex Trebek had let him in. Maybe he really was a ticking time bomb of insanity...

She looked up when she heard him unlocking his room door. He came in, dropped his keys on the bed, and walked through the connecting doorway, a white bag of take-out in one hand, his cell phone in the other, and a manila folder tucked under his arm.

"...yeah, thank you, sir. It's all right here. Yeah. Okay, you too."

He put the bag down and dropped the phone in the pocket of his overcoat. Scully peered into the bag as he took off his coat and sat down across the table from her.

"So...why did it take you half an hour to pick up this food?" She asked, pulling out one of the cartons. Mulder pushed the manila folder across the table to her.

"This. That was Skinner--he just called me to let us know that the information on these officers' deaths was coming in. He faxed the sheets and photos to the local police station, and I stopped down to pick them up. Before I got the Chinese, of course." He smiled and leaned forward. "You should've seen the kid's eyes when I pulled the money out of my wallet and he caught sight of my I.D. I gave him this stern look and said, 'Thanks for keeping the food warm, kid' and he just whispered 'Yes sir, you're welcome sir!'" Mulder reached into the bag and pulled out his food, his eyes twinkling as he dug in to the egg noodles. Scully smiled slightly and shook her head.

"That is when I enjoy my job," he said, forking up a mouthful. Scully took a bite of her own food and looked down at the contents of the opened folder before her.

"Another couple, two police officers from this town, found at the man's apartment by his roommate, at approximately five-thirty this morning, dead. Cause of death thought to be a stress-induced heart attack."

"Must've been a really hot night, huh Scully?"

"Wait a second," she said suddenly, scanning the document again. "That's odd..."

She mumbled something to herself, and suddenly started shuffling around the papers on the table. Mulder frowned slightly.

"What's odd? What are you looking for?"

"The other autopsy reports--here," she whipped a folder out from underneath a stack of Sheila's complaint forms. "Are these...? Yes! Whoa! This throws a twist into things!"

Mulder sighed dramatically.

"Mulder, look at this: according to each of these reports--why didn't I see this before?--no seminal fluids were found in any of the women's bodies!"

"No...fluids? So, what you're implying--no, saying--is that these couples never--"

"--actually had intercourse," she completed, looking up at him. He was silent for a moment.

"So unless it's just an amazing coincidence that every single one of these guys was into 'retaining his chi', we aren't just looking at a simple series of affairs that had each ended in a literal shower of sparks."

"'Retaining his chi'"?

"No ejaculation."

"Oh."

"It's an idea found in some of the more obscure Oriental sects, stemming from the belief that--"

"That's okay, I don't really want to know."

"Suit yourself," he smirked, forking up another mouthful. He tilted his head to see what she had been working on when he came in. "Scully, what're these sheets, here?" He asked, pulling the information on Sheila Banks out of the case folder. He looked at it for a few moments, then looked up questioningly at her. She put down the sheet on the newest couple and looked at him.

"Mulder, I think this girl is the key to what's going on here," she said, watching for his reaction.

"Scully, we don't even know what's going on here," he replied, eyeing her strangely.

"Look, we now have six dead couples, no clear connections between them besides that facts that a) they're dead, b) they don't seem to have actually completed intercourse, and c) none of them were likely to have involved with each other before. That still leaves the extreme stress and subsequent heart attacks unexplained. Not to mention the fact that someone dying of extreme stress doesn't look so peaceful at the time of death. I think the girl is the connection," she sighed, swirling her fork a little. "I'm sure of it. I just can't prove it, yet."

"That's supposed to be my line." He shook his head and leaned back in his chair. "You think that a teenage girl who might, through a very slim possibility, be psychic, and who probably has delusions involving Harlequin romance characters, be the key to this series of deaths involving six intelligent couples who are spread across the country?"

"And what do you believe, Mulder? That these couples were abducted by aliens for bizarre sexual experiments?"

"The thought has crossed my mind, yes."

"Gimme a break, Mulder."

"Okay, I'll admit that there's no evidence of extraterrestrial involvement anywhere, Scully. But there's also no evidence that this delusional teenage girl has anything to with it, either."

"She has been to both places, right before both couples were found dead."

"No...not before both couples were found dead. She's been living in this town all her life. She was sent to Chicago for treatment. Repeatedly."

"She could've been sent to Boston, Mulder. Why Chicago? It's pretty far away."

"Maybe Chicago was better prepared to help her. You're reaching, Scully."

"Now that's my line. Why are you so against my ideas when they're extreme possibilities, but you'll theorize one yourself and consider it immediately valid? I have just as wild an imagination as you do, Mulder --I just choose to express it in a more mature manner!"

"Look, you're my sounding board, so why can't I be yours, Ms. Mature?"

"You're not a sounding board, you're a smug FBI agent who's taking potshots at everything I throw up in the air."

"I must admit, I'm a good shot."

"You're a jerk, Mulder."

Mulder looked down at his carton. Scully sighed and decided to try a different tack.

"Don't...don't you at least think it's a little odd that the doctors who were in contact with her in Chicago died, as did the police officers who lived here?"

"No," he replied, somewhat subdued. "What about the other couples, Scully? Sheila Banks has never been to Montana, or Kansas, or Oklahoma. What happened to them? You said yourself that these occurrences could've been caused by a massive electrical shock or mental stress."

"I...I just have this feeling, Mulder. When the nurse, Carol, started to describe her."

"You've been acting a little strange lately, Scully," he said, his forehead furrowed in concern.

"Me? You're the one who's acting like he's being attacked by something! You still haven't told me why you took off from our office yesterday morning!"

"I told you it was personal."

"Personal? Mulder, if it's causing you pain, you need to get help!"

"What, and you're the one who's qualified to give it?"

Scully opened her mouth to reply, then closed it again. She put down her fork and dropped her head down to the table. Mulder was quiet for a moment, then he reached out and put one of his hands on her arm.

"Scully? Scully, look...I didn't mean to snap at you. You're a doctor, you just might be qualified to give it. Ah...I don't know..." he trailed off. Scully raised her head to look at him. She looked so tired. He gave her arm a squeeze and sat back, silent, for a moment.

"It's just that you've been acting so out of character these last few days. I've never known you to willingly break the law, and back at Chicago General, you were the one that darted behind the desk. Outside in the parking lot, you were angry...maybe even moody--" Scully opened her mouth to retort, but he raised his hand and continued. "--I can only say it knowing that I get moody, and that you still put up with me. But for you, it's strange. You're usually so level-headed and in control of your emotions. You just haven't been yourself." He stopped, not knowing what else to say. Scully smiled a little.

"I know...I haven't been feeling too well the last couple of days."

"You look unraveled."

"You look pretty threadbare yourself, Mulder."

"Thanks. Now eat your Chinese while it's still warm."

"Yes sir."


OCTOBER 18, 7:50 A.M.

Sheila pulled a newspaper out of the rack at the I Once Was a Tree bookstore and glanced across the front page. The lead story made her freeze in her tracks.

"Oh no...!" She whispered, frozen. The man behind the store counter glanced over at her.

"Okay, miss. That'll be seventy-five cents. Is that all?" George asked, ringing up the total on the register. When she didn't reply, he looked over at her. She'd come in a few times, mostly to buy romance novels.

"Miss?"

Suddenly, the girl started frantically unfolding the main section and scanning through the sheets, looking for something. The rest of the newspaper fell down into a pile at her feet.

"Oh...those poor people!" She said, reading out loud. "'Two nights ago, Sturbridge Police Officers Catherine Gershwin, twenty-seven, and Joshua Andersen, twenty-eight, were found dead in Andersen's apartment, apparently from stress-induced heart attacks. They were found by Andersen's roommate, Angelo Nicollini, at approximately 5:30 a.m. yesterday. No evidence has been found to indicate foul play. According to friends of the two officers, Gershwin and Andersen were not previously involved with one another. It came as a great shock to everyone, says Police Chief Jonah Wittenburg.'" She looked up at him, her face white.

"Yes, miss. It is a tragedy. Two good, hard-workin' officers. Mm-hmm. A tragedy," the man said. Sheila's fingers wrung the edges of the paper, crinkled them. Her eyes were wide with pain, tears formed at their corners.

"No, no...you don't understand!" She whispered, holding out the wrinkled sheet towards him. "They loved each other! True love! How could they die?" She gasped a little and stepped out of the pile of papers around her feet. She walked up to the counter and laid the sheet down on it. "I knew they were meant for one another the moment I saw them! So beautiful together!" Her eyes had a faraway look in them.

Suddenly, she snapped back. "They were in love!" She whispered fiercely. George stepped back from her intense gaze, and looked down at the crinkled sheet of newspaper spread across the counter.

The bell tinkled over the front door. Sheila spun, eyes wide. She gasped, and dove around behind a bookshelf on the other side of the counter. George looked over towards where she had hidden, then looked up to see who had just come in.

It was a man and a woman, and from the looks of them, they weren't from around town. The man was tall and was eyeing the shelves, looking like he was planning something illegal.

"Mulder, I'm sure this is a clean bookstore," the woman said breezily, glancing around at the displays and books. The man grinned and elbowed her.

"Why, of course it is, Scully! Can't you recognize small-town wholesomeness when you see it?" He grinned at her. The woman eyed him.

"Yes. The question is, can you?" She smiled and flipped her red hair, turning towards the counter. Her eyes narrowed. The man turned to follow her gaze.

Mulder and Scully stood, staring, at the pile of newspaper on the floor, and the big, crinkled sheet laying on the counter. The man behind the counter blinked, looked down at the mess around him, and suddenly grabbed the wrinkled sheet. He darted out from behind the register and bent down to pick up the pile on the floor. They walked over, and the man straightened up.

"Just an irate customer." George said, glancing over towards the bookshelf near the counter. "Can I help you two?" He asked as he went back behind the counter with the newspaper. Mulder nodded.

"Yeah, we'd like to buy a newspaper. Also, I was wondering if you have any--" the woman poked him in the side, he glanced at her, then said smoothly, "--if you know where we can find some Harlequin romances."

Scully muttered something unintelligible and turned away to get a newspaper. The man behind the counter was looking at Mulder as if he had three heads and a pair of antennae. After a moment, he pointed towards the side of the store.

"Over there. All the romances and stuff." He eyed Mulder for a moment, then leaned forward and lowered his voice. "If you're lookin' for something else..." he jerked his head towards the back of the store. Suddenly, the small, red-haired woman came sailing over and smiled tightly at him. She dropped a newspaper on the counter.

"I believe this is seventy-five cents," she said, looking at him. "That'll be all."

George looked at Mulder questioningly. Mulder smiled innocently at him and dropped a dollar bill on the counter. Scully picked up the paper and walked towards the door. She stood next to it and waited for him to get his change. George dropped the quarter into Mulder's hand, looked over at Scully, then back at Mulder, and rolled his eyes. Mulder turned and walked towards her, grinning.

After the bell had tinkled and the door had closed again, Sheila stepped out from behind the bookshelf.

"Those two. Now those two have been the hardest. They look so lovely together, though," she said, clasping her hands together. George looked over at her.

"I wouldn't want to be him, that's for sure," he muttered. He looked over at Sheila. Her eyes were closed. He shook his head. Strange people came into this place around this time of year. Tourists liked the area because of the foliage. Oh well, this far into October was late for the leaves. Maybe these weirdos just hadn't caught on yet.


They sat outside of the bookstore in Mulder's car, taking a few quiet minutes in the morning to eat a hasty breakfast and catch up on the morning's news. Scully was in the driver's seat this morning, since Mulder wanted to find out who had won the Bulls-Suns game and read the obituaries before they went to interview the family members of the recently deceased pair of police officers.

Scully peeled the plastic wrap off from around her bagel and reached into the bag for the package of cream cheese. After feeling around for a few moments, she lifted up the bagel store bag and dumped it's contents on the front seat. Mulder looked over at the mess next to him and shook his head.

"What'd you forget this time, Scully?"

"A knife," Scully replied, scowling at the innocent package of cream cheese lying on the seat. Mulder flipped open the glove compartment in front of him and pulled out a grimy-looking plastic pen casing.

"A utensil for all occasions! Here," he said, holding it out to her. Scully eyed it skeptically.

"Don't you ever clean out your glove compartment?"

"Why should I? The longer I leave everything unwashed, the higher likelihood I have of creating a warm and nurturing home for a new strain of fungi or something that might evolve into a higher life form! Just think, first contact with another sentient species, Scully! I could never give up a chance like that!"

"Just read your paper, Mulder. I'll smear the stuff with my finger," Scully said. Grinning, Mulder dropped the casing on the seat between them and went back to flipping through the Sports section.

"If you use the casing to smear it, and then we throw it back into this nurturing home, here, the little guys will have something to subsist on, Scully."

She threw a balled-up napkin at him.

Mulder picked up the offending napkin, looked at her thoughtfully.

"I wonder what caused that 'irate' customer to tear apart a newspaper in there."

She didn't know.


"Oh, why won't they leave?!" Sheila whispered, her fingers pressed against the wall as she peered around the edge of the window into the parking lot. The two FBI agents were sitting in their car, eating and reading the newspaper. They seemed quite unconcerned with doing anything quickly. The red-haired woman was eating her bagel slowly. Sheila was supposed to be at work! If she had to wait in the store any longer, she would be late. Her manager didn't like her anyway; and this would be a prime excuse to get rid of her.

If she lost her job, her parents would throw her out.

Sheila inhaled deeply and closed her eyes.


After a few quiet minutes, Scully had finished her bagel, and Mulder was trying to fold the Sports section back into shape. She looked up in the rearview mirror and dabbed at the corners of her mouth with a napkin. Mulder gave up with the semi-folded section and threw it into the back seat. He looked down at the front page of the paper on his lap, the pictures of the two officers smiling back up at him, under the glaring caption. Scully glanced over at him as she stuffed all her napkins in the bag. After eyeing him for a moment, she reached back over the seat and pulled her briefcase into the front.

Just that movement towards him was enough to send Mulder's concentration off of the story in front of him and onto his partner. He looked over at her, reaching over the seat, and something held him, frozen, staring at her body as she slid back down to the seat next to him and straightened her skirt. She leaned the briefcase against the steering wheel and snapped it open. His eyes traveled over her. Here he was, sitting less than a foot away from her, his eyes fixed on his partner's--rather shapely--legs. She pulled a folder out and snapped the briefcase shut.

"Mulder, I never sho--" Scully started, as she looked over at her partner. He was looking at her...legs. She frowned and looked down at them. What was so strange about them? Did she have a run in her nylons? She looked back up at him to ask, but stopped. There was something in his eyes, something...her chest started to pound. She could feel her fingers tightening on the folder she held in front of her, and her slightly-twisted skirt that was up higher on her thighs than it was supposed to be. She tried to whisper something, anything, but his eyes were holding her still. Somewhere in the back of her mind, a small red flag was waving itself frantically around, begging for attention that she couldn't give it. He moved closer and started to move his mouth down towards hers. She felt oddly afraid, looking up at him. She started to lean closer to him, and suddenly, she saw a flicker in his eyes, could see pain in them.

"Mulder..." she whispered, her entire body tensing. Suddenly, his squeezed his eyes shut and his face contorted with pain. He pulled himself back and flung his eyes open, looked out of the front windshield.

That young girl was running out of the bookstore.

Scully let out her pent-up breath, she felt oddly drained, exhausted. Mulder succeeded in shoving his door open, and started to leap out. He fell back against the seat, released a ragged breath. A second later, he kicked the door open as wide as it would go and leaped out of the car.

"Mulder, what--?" Scully reached over towards his empty seat. He drew his gun and took off running towards the corner of the bookstore that the girl had disappeared around. Scully let go of the folder she was clutching so tightly and dropped it onto the seat. She shoved the briefcase off of her lap and opened her door. She got out as quickly as she could, fought a sudden wave of dizziness. Pushing herself away from the car, she ran across the parking lot, towards the corner the of the store.

Mulder ran around the corner of the building, his gun held out in front of him. There was no one. He didn't see the girl anywhere in the whole area that was in front of him, only small tourist shops and parking lots spread around. There were no bushes for the girl to hide behind. He heard footsteps behind him and spun, his gun pointed at the sound. It was Scully, leaning against the brick wall of the store. He lowered the gun, let out a long breath. She closed her eyes and rested her head against the wall. Holstering his gun, he walked slowly back over to her, stopped about a foot away. She just shook her head weakly and pushed herself away from the wall. There were dark circles under her eyes.

"Mulder, I think I need to--" She started, but her suddenly- exhausted body gave out. He quickly caught her as she fell, and they sunk the rest of the way down the wall together. She leaned her head on his shoulder, and he closed his eyes, let his head fall back against the wall.

"I'm sorry," he said quietly.

"Shhh. It's not your fault, or mine."

"We have to find her."

"We will."


Even though the attack/encounter that they had had with Sheila had drained both of them, neither wanted to rest. There was too much at stake. After taking a few minutes to wait for the dizziness and pain to go away, Scully and Mulder had borrowed an area phone book from the bookstore clerk and found her parents' home address. Her mother was the only one home. Sheila was at work, she said. Down town at the Buggy and Carriage Inn--she was a cleaning woman. The two of them hastily thanked the woman and drove off to find the Inn.

When they arrived and asked to see the girl, they were told that she hadn't come in to work that morning, and frankly, the manager was sick of her irresponsible behavior. If they saw Sheila, they were to let her know, in no uncertain terms, that she was fired. Mulder asked a few questions, but the manager could tell them nothing useful about the girl. About all they found out was that he didn't like her. The two of them then drove back to her parents' house, but the mother had left.

They had driven around town, but there was no sign of the girl anywhere. Scully hadn't really expected to find her, anyway, but Mulder said that searching Sheila's favorite haunts was worth a try. By noon, they'd given up on the drive and planted themselves half a block down the street from her house, deciding to wait until someone came back home.

Scully pulled out all the information on Sheila that she had taken from the police station and downloaded from the Bureau databases and handed the stack across to Mulder. He started reading through all the complaints, restraining orders, and the psychologists' casefiles on Sheila Banks, while Scully watched the house and the surrounding area. No movement anywhere.


4:40 P.M.

"You were right. I've seen her before, Scully," Mulder said, putting the last of the sheets back into the folder. "I wish we had a picture of her, though. I'm pretty sure I've seen her before."

Scully was looking out of the driver's-side window. She had been watching the elderly woman across the street prune her bushes and trowel around in the flower bed that surrounded the house. Peace and quiet. She hoped to be pruning her own tulips when she reached that age. If she reached that age. No more dissecting decaying mutants and fungi- infested malignant tumors. A fleeting thought of what her partner would be doing when he was seventy slipped by. She smiled and turned to look at him. He was looking at her, as if waiting for an answer.

"Oh. Did...did you just ask me something?" She asked, glancing down at the folder in his hands.

"I was wondering if you'd like to find out what my theories are on exactly what the aliens did to these couples," he replied. She just looked back at him. He grinned. "What had you so engrossed in the scenery?"

"I was just wondering about what you'd be doing after you retired from the FBI--that is, assuming you survive that long. What were you trying to ask me?"

"Actually, I was wondering if you'd found a picture of this girl. I think I've seen her before."

"Before this morning?"

"Yep. She looked familiar, but I couldn't pin it down."

"Have you figured it out yet?"

"Mm-hmm. Look," he held out a sheet to her. "Here, her older sister, Kim, lives down in Frederick, Maryland," he said, looking pleased. Scully looked at him questioningly.

"What? When were you in Frederick?"

"Not recently. But Frederick is only twenty minutes outside of Washington D.C.!"

"So...you're saying that Sheila could have been in D.C. recently, which would explain how you've come into contact with her. Can I just ask one question?"

"What?"

"When?"

"About four hours after I took off and left you at the Bureau. After I got back from jogging. There was a young woman sitting on the curb outside of my apartment--across the street. At first, I thought she was looking at me strangely, but I just dismissed it. A lot of strange people running around D.C."

"Mm. Definitely. And I think you out-do them all."

"Thank-you."

"You're welcome," Scully said, smiling. After a second, though, she frowned and looked up at him. "Why did you 'take off', Mulder?"

He stopped smiling and looked down at the folder in his hands. After a long moment, he looked up without saying anything. Scully sighed. A pair of headlights pulled around the corner and onto the street. They both watched, silent, as the car pulled into the Banks' driveway. Mulder dropped the folder on the seat and put his hand on the door handle. Scully reached out and touched his arm. He turned towards her slightly.

"I'm okay," he said quietly, and pushed open the door. He got out, and Scully came around the side of the car to meet him. They walked down the street as Sheila's mother got out of her car and disappeared into the house.

"See anyone lurking in the bushes?"

"No."

"Okay, you watch the garage--I'll go up and ring the doorbell," he said, moving up the front walk. Scully walked up a few feet and stood at the base of the front steps, watching for any signs of movement. A few seconds later, Mrs. Banks answered the door.

"Hi, I'm Agent Fox Mulder, and this is my partner Dana Scully, we're with the FBI, and we were wondering if we could have a moment of your time," Mulder said, motioning Scully over. Mrs. Banks looked past his shoulder through the screen door at Scully.

"What's she doing?" She asked, and reached over to flick on the front porch lights. It was getting pretty dark out. Mulder turned to look at Scully as she came up the steps.

"She was just checking to make sure your garage was secure."

"And why wouldn't it be? I just locked it. Oh, what...are you investigating that case about that serial killer who was strangling young girls and leaving their bodies in their families' garages?" Mrs. Banks asked, raising her eyebrows. Mulder looked at Scully, who shook her head.

"No, Mrs. Banks--"

"Call me Pam."

"Pam. No, ah...Pam, this is about your daughter, Sheila."

"Oh my God! He strangled her!" Mrs. Banks burst into tears. Mulder looked at Scully, then turned back to the crying woman.

"Mrs. Banks? Ah...I mean, Pam? Sheila's...fine," he said softly, "She's not hurt. She--"

Mrs. Banks looked up, tears stopped.

"Why, that scheming little slut! She got caught hookin' again, and she's down at the slammer?! I'll have her hide!"

"M--Pam, that's not it, either. Sheila's not in any trouble with the police...can we please come in?" Scully asked calmly. Mrs. Banks suddenly looked up, smiled brightly.

"Oh, why of course! I'm sorry!" She pushed open the screen door and ushered them inside. "How rude of me! I'm so sorry...here, sit down. Would you like a cup of coffee? Tea? I have some Orange Passion, Mint, Cranberry-Cinnamon, and some regular Lipton, yes?" She clasped her hands together and waited for their choices. Mulder sat down on the overstuffed couch and smiled benignly.

"You wouldn't happen to have any Apple-Cinnamon, would you?" he asked, as Scully shook her head. Mrs. Banks lit up.

"Oh! You like tea! Why yes, I believe I have some Apple- Cinnamon! Let me go look!" she said cheerily, and bustled off into the kitchen. Scully came over and sat down next to him.

"Since when do you drink Apple-Cinnamon tea?"

"Since I wanted to find a calming, herbal blend," he replied, looking around the room. Scully suddenly smiled.

"Ah! That's what you'll be doing! Cultivating herbs in your back yard!"

"What?"

Mrs. Banks poked her head through the doorway.

"Oh, honey...I forgot to ask what you wanted to drink," the little woman said. Mulder grinned and poked Scully.

"Try the Orange Passion," he whispered. Scully just looked up without smiling.

"A coffee would be fine. Cream, no sugar, please?" She answered.

"Of course, dear," Mrs. Banks replied, and went back into the kitchen. They were quiet for a moment.

"You'll be growing bitter herbs."

"Mulder, stop acting like a teenager!" Scully whispered.

"Stop being so boring!"

"Mulder, I'm not being boring! I'm being a professional and doing my job!"

"Scully, you need to loosen up a little," he said, poking her. She stood up, angry.

"Stop it! You want me to loosen up, but you can't tell me why you've been acting so strange lately. And you want me to loosen up?"

Mulder frowned. "How many times are we going to go over this? I told you it was personal!"

Scully leaned down and whispered fiercely, "Mulder, something happened this morning, and we never talked about it. I'd say that was pretty personal. I want to know what's going on with you!" Mulder stood up, his eyes burning.

"You've been acting pretty strange lately, too! What about you?"

"Me? I'm tired, I'm being dragged around the country by a partner who believes that aliens abducted a bunch of people, tortured them, and then murdered them, and you think I'm acting strangely?"

"What, now this is a personal attack on me? Get some focus, Scully!"

"I AM FOCUSED! You're the one who's poking me like an idiot with the mental level of a twelve-year-old!" She hissed, stepping up to him.

She's gorgeous when she's mad, flitted through his mind. Her red hair fell back from her face, like a flaming halo, and her blue eyes were burning, boring into him. He stood and looked down at her, fighting the incredible urge to just haul off and kiss her.

Scully noticed his eyes. Oh, for heaven's sake, you dolt! Of course you noticed his eyes! Nice eyes...brown...no, hazel, intelligent, caring...nice eyes...wow... What was it that he'd done to make her so angry? She just wanted to reach up and pull him down to her...

"Oh! Oh my goodness!" Mrs. Banks cooed, standing near the doorway with two steaming cups. Scully lept back, one hand pressed against her chest.

Oh, darn it! The old witch is always getting in the way!

Mulder squeezed his eyes shut. Old witch?

Mrs. Banks bustled over and pushed the mugs into their hands. She had tears at the corners of her eyes. She smiled dreamily at them and clasped her hands together.

"Oh, are you two a couple? Do they allow that in the FBI?"

Scully blinked.

"A...ah...a couple?" It took her a moment to find her voice. And her head was spinning.

"No. We're not," Mulder said quietly, opening his eyes. Scully squeezed her mug and looked up at him. He looked tired, but there was a light, an urgency, in his eyes. "Mrs. Banks, where is Sheila? This is a matter of life or death," he glanced at Scully, "we need to know."

The little woman looked frightened all of a sudden.

"Why?" she whispered. "What has she done?"

"We have evidence that leads us to believe that she has killed six couples in that last three months."

"You have WHAT?"

"Mrs. Banks, where is she?"

The woman shakily pushed between them and lowered herself to the sofa.

"I...don't...know," she whispered. Suddenly, she looked up, her eyes wide. "Please, please don't hurt my little girl! Her father...her father...he--" she burst into another flood of tears and threw her face into her hands. Scully whipped a tissue out of the box next to the sofa and handed it to the crying woman. She bent down.

"Pam? What about your husband?" She asked softly. Mrs. Banks looked up.

"It's not Sheila's fault, see? Please don't hurt her! Her father did, he did...he did things. She's just a little girl!" She burst into another flood of tears. Mulder crouched down in front of her.

"Mrs. Banks, where is Sheila?" He asked, as quietly as he could. Mrs. Banks sniffed into the soaked tissue.

"I don't want him to find her!"

"We won't let him hurt her," Scully said reassuringly. "We need to find her so that she doesn't hurt anyone else." Mulder looked up at his partner's face, lined and pale. Mrs. Banks blew into another tissue. They were all quiet for a moment.

"She called me at work. She's leaving town tonight with Jody."

"Jody?"

"Her boyfriend. Nice young man. He loves my mashed potatoes."

"Where does he live?"

"Ah...I think," she wiped her nose, "Over by the highway, near the Village."

"What's his last name?" Scully asked.

"Oh, let me see...Richardson. That's it, Jody Richardson," she replied. Scully put down her mug on the coffee table next to them.

"Jody Richardson," Mulder repeated to himself.

"Thank you for all your help, Pam," Scully got up, squeezed her partner's shoulder for a second. He looked up and nodded.

"Thank you for the tea, Mrs. Banks," he said, standing up.

"Oh you're welcome, you're welcome," the little woman replied, smiling. He tried to smile back, as he followed Scully outside.


"Mulder--"

"Scully, look. I know what you're going to say, that you want us to talk. But I think we're racing against the clock here."

They reached the car, and Mulder went around to the driver's side.

"Mulder, what if we confront her and--"

"Throw me the keys."

Scully dug around in her pocket for a second, then threw the keys over the roof. Mulder unlocked the doors and they both got in.

"What if we get to her and she tries to--"

"We have to find her, Scully. Before she kills another couple," Mulder said, starting up the car.

"Mulder, listen to me."

"We haven't got time to sit here and talk, Scully. Those two kids could be taking off right now," he said, starting to pull out.

"Mulder!"

He stopped moving.

"What?" He asked quietly. Scully looked at him for a second, in silence.

"Mulder, we could be the next couple."

He turned to look at her for a moment, then looked out the windshield.

"What do you suggest?" "Send in the local law enforcement," she replied. "We can stay away from her, and let them go in. I'm not saying this as a coward, Mulder. If we go in there, we're going to be a liability."

"Scully, have you considered what just happened in there?" He asked, turning to her. "Where was Sheila when it happened? If she was planning on leaving town with her boyfriend, she wouldn't be hanging around us, waiting to be caught. I believe she was across town, with him. And if I'm right, then standing at the edge of the police line isn't going to prevent her from being able to...exert her influence."

"But you don't know that. She could've been sitting someplace in the house, for all we know."

"We would've seen her, Scully."

"Not if she planted herself in there while we were aimlessly driving about town looking for the local hickey-stop."

"What, so this is my fault?"

"I don't want to fight, Mulder."

He was silent for moment.

"All right, how's this: we call in the local guys, explain the situation to them--"

"Right. 'Hi, we have a sexually-delusional teenager on our hands-- oh, did I mention that she was psychic?'"

"Just lay off for a second and listen to me."

"Mulder, she knew we were in the house with her mother. Why didn't she start doing something while we were sitting in the car for five hours? I never felt anything the whole time."

"Nothing at all? You mean sitting for five hours in a car alone with me doesn't do anything to you, Scully?" His eyes were dancing.

"Now you lay off it. You're not exactly helping the situation."

"I'm not sure I'm sorry. So what's your idea?"

"We just tell them not to allow any couples, or potential couples, if there are any in the police force here, to go in together. That we're looking for Sheila Banks and Jody Richardson. They go in, pull them out, put them in custody. We call back to the Bureau and have someone else tie up the case."

"That'll take too long, Scully. Sheila could have claimed her next victims by then."

They looked at each other, silent, for a moment. Mulder took a deep breath.

"There's only one way to stop this girl, Scully, and it's not by putting her into a cell in the local jail for the night. Like you said, we have no idea what her...range is. I don't want to spend the rest of my life wondering if she's going to eventually end up killing us."

Scully looked down at her hands, then back up at him.

"You want to...talk to her, don't you, Mulder."

"Before she got to us, Scully, I think she was just trying to make people happy. I read all of those psychological casefiles, and I didn't see a murderous teenager. I saw a young girl who thought that people in love lived happily ever after."

"Or happily ever hereafter, Mulder."

"No...I wouldn't be surprised if she doesn't even know that all of those couples died, Scully. No."

"You said 'before she got to us'. What changed?"

"She's in trouble now, Scully. She lost her job, and she feels like we're threatening her. She was that 'irate customer'--she must have seen the paper this morning. I think what she's been doing to us lately has been more in self defense...as a sort of...distraction, so that she could get away. Almost as if she didn't want us to know that she was playing Cupid," he said, looking over at her. Scully sighed.

"You know...I have to admit...you might be right. It's nuts, though. Even if we do find her, what are the chances of being able to talk to her? We're going to have to take her into custody anyway--she's responsible for twelve deaths, possibly more. Even if you talk her out of using her...abilities...to influence anyone else, she could go back to it again later. We would have to keep a close watch on her, maybe even keep her in a padded cell for the rest of her life."

"She could just get professional help."

"Mulder, you saw her files. She's been to half a dozen different psychologists. What makes you think you'll have any more effect on her than they did?"

"Our lives depend on it."

They were both quiet. Scully finally nodded, then rubbed her forehead.

"I still want backup from the local police."

"Definitely. You okay?" Mulder asked, concerned. She was looking a little bit pale. She turned and smiled up at him.

"I'll be fine when this whole thing is over. Let's get moving, and find this girl."

"Right."


5:30 P.M.

Mulder squinted at the old wooden sign on the grass that read "Olde Sturbridge Village" as they pulled around the corner.

"...I don't see it, is it on the left over here?"

"3A...5A, next building, I think," Scully scanned the apartment complex, looking for the number '21B' written over a door. The car jumped over a speed bump, jarring them both.

"Guess they really want us to drive five miles per hour..."

"Thanks a lot, Mulder. You really couldn't see a huge speed bump painted bright yellow stuck in the middle of the road?"

"I wasn't looking at the road, sorry," he replied, glancing around at the buildings.

"Ah! There it is! Jody Richardson's apartment! Pull over here-- there's a space."

He pulled the car into the parking space and cut the engine. Scully was checking her 9mm. She unbuckled her belt and turned to look at him.

"You ready?"

"You know I am," he replied, unbuckling.

"How long until the backup arrives?"

"No more than five minutes, Wittenburg said."

"Okay, let's go."


Sheila watched from behind the curtains as the dark blue car that the two FBI agents drove pulled up in front of the apartment building. She looked around the dark apartment, silently cursing her chicken-livered boyfriend. That stupid Jody had run off when he found out that FBI were in town. He had left a note on the kitchen counter--he was going to be gone for a while, but she wasn't to worry. He would be back when they were gone.

The two agents emerged from the car. Their weapons were hidden on them, she was sure. She quickly moved away from the window and down the narrow hallway, knowing that they would come in after her when they found the door unlocked. They would never find her hidden above the attic.


They stepped up to the door, their guns drawn. Mulder knocked, twice. There was no answer. He tried the door knob--surprisingly, the door was unlocked. He glanced back at Scully, she nodded. He pushed the door open slowly.

The apartment was dark, except for some late evening sunlight coming in through the windows over the sink. Mulder moved the rest of the way inside, eyes searching the darkness. He heard nothing, no movement upstairs.

"Sheila? Jody?"

He walked into the hallway, gun held out, wary. He could feel Scully behind him, moving stealthily. They reached the end of the hallway, he moved off to the left, she to the right. "Sheila, are you here?"

"Sheila, we just want to talk to you."

He kicked a door open--a bedroom. He scanned the room, noting that it seemed to have been vacated in a hurry. He kicked open the closet door. Nothing. He could hear Scully calling out Sheila's name farther down the hallway.

A couple of minutes later, they met back in the kitchen. Mulder holstered his 9mm and walked over to the sink to look out the window. The setting sun showed behind the trees, but there was no sign of anyone behind the house.

He looked down, noticed a note on the counter. He read it aloud.

"'Shel, I'm gonna be back in a few days. Bo said the feds were around, so I'm splitting. See ya soon, Babe,'" he read, picking it up. "Looks like Sheila Banks might not be the only person involved in this."

Scully walked over to the refrigerator and opened the door, peered inside.

"Hm. Someone here eats a lot of yogurt," she said, reaching in. Mulder put the note back down and walked over behind her. He looked in to see an entire top shelf filled with yogurt cups. He grinned.

"Ah, better sex in a week."

Scully spun around.

"What?!"

"Old wives' tale, Scull. 'Sweet curds'--yogurt, is supposed to increase libido...along with a couple of other exotic things," he grinned down at her. She arched an eyebrow.

"You seem to know quite a bit about sexually-related ancient beliefs, Mulder."

"And you thought I only read the magazines for the skin, eh?"

She shook her head and backed out of the way as he leaned over to push the door closed. In that movement, he brushed against her, and suddenly felt her close to him. They both froze, super-sensitive to the other's body. He felt himself moving up to her. Her eyes wide, she put her hands on his chest, fighting to push him away, but her arms felt weak, powerless.

He reached out and touched her hair, strain evident on his face-- but something else, also. She trembled. She saw a flickering in his eyes, and then he brought his face down closer to hers. She could feel the muscles in her neck tighten as he brought both hands up to hold her face. The muscles in her back tightened painfully. He smiled. Her eyes widened with fear--he lowered his head, the smile spreading further up his face. Her heart pounded--she was petrified.

"Don't fight it," he whispered, and then his mouth closed over hers. She panicked and tried to pull away, but his fingers only tightened around her face. 'My God, I can feel his tongue!' ran through her struggling mind for a second, and then she realized his words. She let him. She closed her eyes and could feel the tension dissipating from her muscles, and she suddenly found herself pressing against him, moving with him.

She could feel him smile against her lips, and she smiled back, briefly, savoring the taste of him. Her hands moved of their own accord, up, up to his broad shoulders, over his collar, around his neck. In acquiescence, he bent down, closer to her, slightly. She smiled, enjoying the moving of his hands in her hair, pulling her up to him, felling a hunger in him that ignited her own. She pressed herself against him--

CRASH! The kitchen door splintered, crashed open! Shouting, then a female scream pierced the air.

Scully could feel bodies rush by them, the breezes slipping over the slight sheen on her skin. A lone thought flitted by: she should let him go... She didn't want to pull back, to lose his taste, but her mind had been jarred away. She reluctantly started to pull away, and felt Mulder doing the same. Lips parted, her breath shallow, she tilted her head down and rested her forehead on his chin. His hands moved down to her neck, holding her hair against her skin. She could feel the rise and fall of his chest as her hands slipped back down. She grasped the lapels of his overcoat.

Sounds of crashes and shouting carried down the hallway, then a single voice barking orders. Someone was reading the Miranda Rights at the top of his lungs. They stood silent, both leaning on one another for support. A few moments went by, then the barking voice and bodies were coming closer to them.

Mulder gently squeezed her arm and then pulled back, releasing her. She opened her eyes.

Sheila Banks, handcuffed, was being escorted down the hallway towards them. She was smiling at them, a light in her eyes. She said nothing, only smiled, as the officers led her out the door.

The last officer came down the hallway a few seconds later, eyeing the two agents. He was wearing a badge, and he tugged on it as he stepped into the kitchen and came up to them. He wasn't smiling.

"And who, may I ask, are you?"

"FBI, Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully," Mulder replied, fishing out his ID. The officer's eyes narrowed when he saw it.

"You two are the ones that called us in for backup?" He stood eyeing them for a moment.

"You did an incredibly efficient job here, Officer--" Mulder waited for a name.

"Police Chief Jonah Wittenburg, Sturbridge Police," he stated, his eyes cold. "If you two hadn't been standing here, so...preoccupied, you could've picked her up yourself. What in the skies were you two doing, right in front of her?"

"Right in front of her?" Scully was confused. The man glared at her.

"How could you two let her pull a gun on you like that and then stand there making out? No wonder this whole country is going to pot. What do you people think this is, an excuse to play hickey while the suspect stands six feet away and watches? I don't care if you're FBI or not, you'd better have a darn good explanation for this, or I'm going to have your butts hauled down to the station for neglect of duty. I'm sure your A.D. Skinner would love to find out about that."

Mulder glanced over at Scully for a second, then looked back at the enflamed man.

"It's, ah, a long story," he grimaced, realizing how lame it sounded. Wittenburg glared at him.

"Yeah, I'll bet it is. And you'll have all the time in the world to explain it to me down at the station." He held out his hands expectantly. Neither of them moved. "Look, either you give them to me now or I book you for obstructing an officer. Now."

Scully sighed and took her gun out of its holster. She made sure the safety was on, removed the clip and the bullet in the chamber, and put the gun in his hand.

"I'm not required to turn my weapon over to you," Mulder bristled.

"Now. You've got one mark against you already."

Mulder set his jaw. Scully sighed.

"Mulder, just give it to him. You can get it back later."

Without dropping his gaze, Mulder whipped out his gun and cleaned it. He slapped it into Wittenburg's empty hand.

"Now move. Out."

Wittenburg escorted them out to the car and down to the police station, scowling the entire way.


STURBRIDGE POLICE STATION

DETENTION ROOM

7:30 P.M.

"No, sir. It is nothing like what Chief Wittenburg was suggesting, sir." Mulder was pacing the small room, his cel phone pressed to his ear. Scully sat at the table in the center of the room, doodling small scribbles on a notepad. Some of them looked vaguely like hearts. She felt silly, as if she was turning back into a teenager. Putting the pencil down, she looked up at Mulder, watching him pace back and forth.

She smiled slightly to herself. She was having fun watching Skinner make him squirm. Mulder always acted so in control, so smug. Sitting back in her chair, she thought about the position they had been caught in. No matter how one explained it, it still sounded terribly incriminating. At the moment, Mulder was trying to convince Skinner that what they had done had saved their lives.

He had been right, Scully realized. That was probably the reason why each of the other couples had died from stress--they had fought too hard. As much as giving in seemed like a blow to her pride, she knew that they had had time on their side. The police were coming too soon for anything truly regrettable to happen. Wondering briefly what Bureau policy was in a case like this, she closed her eyes for a moment, remembering. A small smile tugged at the corners of her mouth.

Mulder glanced over at Scully, frustrated. She was sitting in the chair, eyes closed, a smile on her usually-serious face.

She was so beautiful when she smiled.

Scully opened her eyes and saw Mulder looking at her, eyes twinkling. She doubted he was hearing a word that Skinner was roaring over the phone into his ear. Suddenly, the squawking stopped. Mulder didn't seem to have noticed. Scully cleared her throat and he jumped, realizing the Assistant Director wasn't speaking any longer.

"Oh, ah, yes sir."

Skinner sighed; a long, drawn-out, exasperated sigh. It occurred to Mulder that whatever Skinner had just said, 'yes' was not the correct answer to it. He waited for the man to announce a indefinite suspension for unprofessional behavior while on duty.

"Look, I really don't care what you and Agent Scully do on your personal time--as long as it doesn't detrimentally affect your work--"

"Sir, Agent Scully and I have a completely platonic, professional relationship."

Scully raised her eyebrows.

"Uh huh. And what happened today was just an effective way to save your lives," Skinner harumphed. "I thought I'd heard it all already, with your half-cocked UFO-coverup conspiracy spiels that you somehow manage to accumulate increasing validity for. Now you're--to put it plainly--kissing your partner for the sole purpose of keeping her alive?"

Mulder mumbled a 'yes'.

"Let me speak to Agent Scully."

Mulder handed the phone to her and turned to look out of the small window in the door. Wittenburg glared through it at him. He turned back to watching Scully.

"Yes sir?"

"Have you written up a report yet, Agent Scully?"

"Yes, sir. I've filed it with the station, here, and Agent Mulder has a copy to include in our records."

"Fine, then. Fax me a copy immediately."

"Yes sir."

"Oh, and Scully..."

"Yes?"

"Get that partner of yours into bed, soon. He's going to need it when I see him tomorrow."

Scully grinned. She could picture Skinner's face. Why not push it just a little? It couldn't hurt their situation any more than it already was.

"Ah...'into bed', sir?"

"Don't...go...there, Agent...Scully," he said, sounding muffled.

"Yes sir." The phone clicked off. She handed it back to Mulder.

"What'd he want?"

"A fax of our report."

"That's it?" Mulder looked skeptical.

"Yep."

Mulder knocked on the door to signal the guard to let them out of the room.


Wittenburg handed them back their weapons and accompanied them to the door. Neither of them said anything to him and he tugged on his badge for a moment. Mulder was frustrated that they had accomplished so little. Sheila had been taken away before Wittenburg was satisfied with his paperwork and lecturing to let them go. He had shuffled the papers around, demanded to speak to Skinner, and generally had just made a nuisance of himself. Mulder had wanted to speak with the girl, but she was gone. The report faxed, Wittenburg had pushed them towards the door, his animosity evident. Scully was tired; she allowed herself to be pushed along. When they reached the door, Wittenburg cleared his throat, looked a little hesitant.

Mulder gritted his teeth. What did this annoying little man have to rail against them now? He had heard enough loaded assumptions about their relationship in the past two hours to bring him to the point of violence. The thought of soundly decking the self-righteous little police chief was becoming more and more appealing by the second.

"I, ah, have a message for you. From the Banks girl. She asked me to tell you this before you left: 'It took you a while, but you finally understood.' Oh, and she wanted to be invited to the wedding."

Mulder made a low sound in his throat and Scully put a restraining hand on his arm. She turned an angry look on the man.

"Let's go, Mulder," she said, and turned, guiding him out the door. Wittenburg pushed his hands into his pockets and smiled as he watched them leave.

"I wasn't lying, you know!" he shouted after them.

They ignored him as the door swung shut behind them.


8:45 P.M.

They found a small diner near the hotel and ordered a late supper. Throughout the meal, both of them were uncharacteristically quiet, and somewhat tense. Scully was acutely aware of Mulder's movements across the table, and she felt uncomfortable. She missed their usual over-dinner banter, the discussion of the case, their easy relationship. The waitress had courteously taken their orders and brought the food, but Scully noticed that the girl was definitely avoiding the table. The lack of conversation made for a strained situation. She really couldn't blame her.

Scully poked and nibbled at her food. She was hungry, but she couldn't quite bring herself to eat. It wasn't the food--the fish and chips were fine. She stole a glance now and then at her partner, carefully avoiding eye contact. He seemed to be having no trouble devouring his meal. It figures, she thought. No matter what is happening, he can eat without trepidation. It was one of his more endearing qualities. She used to think that he made glib remarks just to drive her crazy, but the more she considered it, she realized that those same remarks were what allowed him to be able to eat a meal after just having seen a bloody and grisly scene.

She poked a bit at her fish, took a sip of her Coke. This is getting painful, she thought, when I have to consciously consider each movement to eat. No, this was ridiculous. The two of them had been close friends and partners for almost four years now, they had spent thousands of hours together. They were both mature adults. She looked up at him--he was looking at her. They both quickly looked down at their food again.

She sighed and put down her fork.

"This is ridiculous. Mulder, look at me."

He looked up at her. They eyed one another for a moment.

"What's bothering you?"

He raised an eyebrow in surprise, as if he considered the question entirely irrelevant.

"What do you mean, 'what's bothering me'? What's got you poking at your food and obsessing over whether or not to take another sip of soda or to dip your fry in the ketchup? Just eat, Scully. We can talk later."

"What's that, your life's motto?"

"I suppose. I don't want to start a deep and time-consuming conversation here, right now. I want to get back to the room and crash into bed. Skinner's probably sharpening his knives right now, waiting for his favorite piece of meat to come sheepishly walking into his office tomorrow, and I'd like to be ready for him," he said, matter-of-factly. Scully grinned at his perception. He knew.

"Besides," he nodded his head over towards the kitchen and the waitresses. "This place is closing in about ten minutes."

Scully looked over at the clock, alarmed.

"Eat up, Scully," he grinned, popping a fry into his mouth.


10:15 P.M.

"You can't be serious! I don't think aliens had anything to do with this, Mulder. Sheila Banks was just a seriously messed up young woman."

Scully pushed the door to her room open and stalked inside. Mulder came in behind her, his eyes shining mischievously.

"But no one's ever encountered anyone with her...unique abilities. Isn't it just slightly plausible that she could have acquired this psychic ability from abduction experiences? That extraterrestrial sources might consider it more efficient to induce human copulation by using one of us as the tool, thereby diverting our attention away from any non-human involvement and subsequently allowing them to study our behavior without anyone becoming aware of their existence?"

She sighed and sat down on the bed. "And cockroaches are really alien surveillance equipment. You'd at least think that if these beings were so intelligent, they'd use something that looked more appealing. Most people flatten cockroaches at the first chance they get, so it just seems like an incredibly inefficient way to watch us," she stated, pulling off her shoes. She got up and started ushering him out of her room. They both reached for their respective doorknobs on the connecting doors when Mulder suddenly turned towards her.

"You have a good point, Scully. Maybe cockroaches aren't all they're using..."

"Go to bed, Mulder."

They both were swinging the connecting doors closed, each smiling on their own sides.

"Good night, Scully."

"Good night, Mulder."

Click.


Copyright 1997 Rachel Smith Cobleigh


Author Notes and Acknowledgments

This story rose as a challenge from my mother: it seemed like such an obvious storyline that I was surprised when I couldn't find any other stories like it in the Fanfiction Archives. Perhaps I just didn't look hard enough. I'd like to thank each of my proofreaders and, most importantly, the Lord, for without His grace I'd have never been able to finish this! It was my first attempt to write a longer story and the thin plot and cardboard villainess show that awkwardness rather painfully...but hopefully there's a kernel in there somewhere to enjoy. I keep this story online to keep myself humble. :-)

DISCLAIMER: The characters and situations of the television program "The X Files" are the creations and property of Chris Carter, Fox Broadcasting, and Ten-Thirteen Productions, and have been used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended.