Title: Ancient Mariner
Summary: Mulder and Scully investigate a series of maritime kidnappings with overtones of alien abduction. Their search for the truth leads them to consider their relationship to one another and the nature of a soulmate.
Author's notes: At conclusion. If you like music with your fic, my suggestion is Matchbox 20's "Bent." Suggested casting also at conclusion (pure self-indulgence). Ignore if you like to fill in the faces on your own.
"Cut it out, Ray!"
"Aw, c'mon, Mal. It's me."
Mallory slaps the hand away from her knee and looks away from the boy beside her, down the strip of moonlit sand. The lighthouse at the jetty is a long way away, its single eye casting a steady beam over the waters around it. The sky is inky black and a large, honeyed moon sits low on the liquid horizon, spilling creamy velvet that undulates on the surface. Waves tumble headlong coating the flat, wet sand with a wash of foam that teases the edge of the frayed Army blanket the two are sharing only a few yards from the water's edge.
Ray's hand slides further up her thigh and under the edge of her cotton sun dress. Mallory knows she shouldn't encourage him, but he's cute. His brown eyes are gleaming and his buzz cut can't hide the fact that he's a hottie. And she does rather like the way his hand feels as it slides just a little higher up her leg. It's not like she's a virgin. She is 17 after all, and Ray did take her to a really nice restaurant. Not Wendy's or some crapola place like that. Still, it isn't like he owns her or anything. He isn't even officially her boyfriend.
"Stop it!" she declares at last, deciding she isn't ready to do this. She pushes Ray's hand away and hears his disappointed groan.
"Jesus, Mal. What's your problem, babe?"
"I don't have a problem, *babe.* Except you. You're a horn dog."
"You didn't seem to mind last weekend." The lanky teen reaches out and fingers the silky, blonde strands that cascade around the girl's face. Mallory pouts her prettiest.
"That was then. This is now. And I don't want to fool around right now." She leans over her legs and smoothes the short skirt's fabric down over tanned thighs with two hands. Practicing the new stretch her gymnastics coach taught her, she reaches for the ocean.
The beach is beautiful at night. Day visitors never see it this way. They always leave by dusk. That's when the locals emerge to reclaim their territory. Locals and summer people. God, Mallory hates the summer people, especially their kids -- bunch of stuck-up, citified, private school types who think the East End is designed just for them.
"Earth to Mallory. Whadya thinking about?" Ray's hand slides up her back and Mallory shrugs it off.
"Are you PMSing or something? My sister says girls get nuts when that's going on."
"Your sister is a freak show who wears black 24-7 and dyes her hair pink, Ray."
"Fuck you." She feels Ray rise to his feet beside her.
"Where ya goin'?"
"I gotta pee."
She watches him make his way down a hundred feet of sand before disappearing into the scrub pine edging the beach front. She sighs with exaggeration and shakes her head to herself. High school boys. Always thinking with their dicks.
A sudden chill raises the hair on the backs of her arms and her neck. Mallory looks back to the ocean and gasps. A tall, slim naked figure of a man is emerging from the waves in front of her. Where'd he come from? She tries to rise to her feet and discovers, much to her horror, that she's frozen in place. Her heartbeat accelerates. The guy approaching could be innocent, but naked? No, that isn't right. Anxiety rises cold in the pit of her stomach as the figure makes a slow beeline for the blanket. She calls towards the pines, "Ray? Ray! You better get out here. Fast!"
The naked figure now stands at the edge of the olive drab wool, looking down at her. Mallory breathes heavily, blood coursing through her veins, eyes wide. Where's Ray? Who is this guy? Why is this happening to her? Tears well up in her blue eyes and she starts to cry. Then she gets angry. Didn't Mrs. Dubin always tell them to be ready for anything? Shit. She didn't want to be raped. Or worse.
She finds a small bit of courage. "Please, Mister. Don't hurt me. My boyfriend has a gun. Please, mister. Leave me alone."
The figure says nothing. In the moonlight, Mallory can see his pale eyes blinking in a slow, rhythmic pattern that capture her attention. His eyes. They are gray and -- old, somehow, although the man seems middle-aged. But his eyes. Mallory finds herself relaxing as she watches them. What is he doing to her? Her mind battles to stay in touch with her surroundings, to find Ray, to remember to look for an escape route. She can't. Not with those eyes on her, calling to her...
"Har'n tu olmed," the figure chants in a monotone. "Har'n tu olmed."
Incredible as it seems, she understands the words, although she knows it isn't anything she's ever heard before. 'Come to me.' That's what he's saying. That's when the light begins to peel open his chest, casting her in its brightness.
"Har'n tu olmed," the figure intones again and again.
And she cannot resist.
Tuesday afternoon in the basement. Peaceful. Welcome.
Meeting at 9, lunch at noon, paperwork 'til five, then home. Most field agents complain about the slow pace of an office-bound day, the boring rhetoric and stats; but Dana Scully appreciates days like this. They are normal, although she isn't sure she knows what the word means anymore.
Seven years of tracking aliens, long lost siblings, global conspirators and assorted and sundry monsters have turned "normal" into a perverse caricature of itself. There was a time when her life was simpler. That ended the day she accepted an assignment to work with Fox Mulder. Though her role has changed, she often wonders at her own willingness to continue on this path.
She sighs, pushing an auburn lock behind her left ear while she sits down at his desk, form in hand. Long ago, they agreed she would handle their expense reports. Mulder simply has no patience for the mundane details of casework. It boggles the mind. The man can profile a criminal on scant evidence, raise questions no one would think to ask, answer them himself, then write a monograph of such precision it's practically erotic to law enforcement types. Yet, he can't or won't maintain a balance sheet.
At least she's gotten him to start organizing their fieldwork receipts. Granted, his version of organized means that the top center drawer of his desk is crammed with varied evidence of their travels. Scully's task is to make sense of the contents and prepare a credible request for reimbursement of funds.
She looks at the blank form waiting to be filled with legible numbers and precise listings of the whys and wherefores of every out-of-pocket dime spent while in service to Uncle Sam. Her eyes turn to Mulder's drawer and she pulls it open with a gingery touch, as if paper snakes might jump out at any moment.
She gathers the charge slips that will show up on the reviewed agency account. Further inspection reveals some scattered hulls and a few untouched sunflower seeds, a matchbook from 7-11, the paper cover of a straw overwritten with phone numbers, a half-used Post-it pad, two pencils -- she pauses and looks upwards at three Ticonderogas stuck into the ceiling tiles above her head before resuming her inventory -- a news clipping about tsunamis on the Eastern Seaboard, a program from Camden Yards, a rubber doll whose eyes bug out when you squeeze it, a computer disk marked "TRNSCR," a Waterman pen, a day-glo orange Magic Marker, colored paper clips and a cheap calculator. Great.
Fifteen minutes of sorting the relevant from the ridiculous and she grabs the Waterman, filling the empty waiting boxes in a neat script that belies her medical training. Calculations are reviewed twice for accuracy. This isn't what she imagined life in the FBI would be like when she signed up so long ago. She's just about to sign her name when a covered Starbucks cup appears beneath her nose. She pulls back and grabs it without a word, a wry smile crossing her lips.
Lifting the brew to her mouth, she closes her eyes and takes in the first hot swirl of fluid through the small opening in the lid. The tang of espresso laced with chocolate and whipped cream slides over her tongue and down her throat, warming her inside. She drinks tea as a rule, and mocha lattes are on her list of delicious-but-dangerous foods. Pure indulgence. Still, this is Mulder's usual recompense for shirking the report. She sets the cup down on the desktop and laps the last trace of coffee from her upper lip with a dab of her tongue.
"Am I forgiven?" a warm baritone purrs into her ear.
"I'm not so sure, Mulder," she replies with affected coolness.
She feels his breath beside her cheek and her own hormonal reaction to his closeness. He's leaning behind her, his right forearm braced against the desk, his left somewhere in back of her, but not touching her. He knows better than that, but he's pushing it. She allows herself the luxury of this nearness for a few seconds then reaches into the drawer, grabbing the matchbook before pushing back in the desk chair.
"Whoa!" he exclaims as she swings around.
She hesitates for only a moment before fixing her sights on him. Charcoal suit, white shirt, dark silk tie, new haircut and wire-frame glasses. On anyone else, common. On Mulder? She has to admit she savors the way his good looks register on her each day.
He's watching her, a chagrined look in his eyes as he spots what's in her hand. "I kept that so I'd remember the Slurpees," he explains as she tears off a match.
"Slurpee, Mulder." She closes the cover. "One." Strikes the match. "Yours." She allows the flame to flare for a moment or two, then blows it out. She watches the smoke curl and spiral in the air, then looks to her partner, lips still pursed. She has his full attention now. In an undertone she asks, "So, that's why there are matches in your desk?"
"What do you mean?" he replies, eyes lifting in a lazy line from her mouth to her eyes.
"Sure you're not sneaking the occasional drag?"
A look of mock pain graces his features. "Scully, I'm hurt you'd think that. Oh, I- I still get the urge once in a while, but my memory of life as a tobacco beetle hatchery is still quite intact. Anyway, you know how addictions work."
"I know it's a daily choice."
"Just for you."
"Umm-hmm," she responds, tilting her head at him, a thin edge of sarcasm coloring the contralto of her voice.
"I do plan on sticking around for a while, so you better get used to my bad habits."
"Like I have a choice?" she gibes.
"You do, you know," he says with more seriousness than she expects.
Picking up the expense report, she stands and moves to where he leans against the file cabinet and hands it to him. He takes it and she steps in closer, the pages in his hand curling between them. She knows she's standing too close, the edge of her jacket brushing into his. Close enough to smell the soap he used this morning mingled with the scent of laundered cotton, the afternoon's perspiration clinging. Close enough to observe the widening of his pupils, black ringed with hazel-gold; the flare of his nostrils as he breathes her in; and his Adam's apple dipping as he swallows down his response to her proximity.
"Next time, Mulder," she states with some intensity, "a mocha latte won't cut it."
His brows knit together and his mouth drops open a notch. Then, he gives her a slow smile. His right hand slips beneath her jacket to rest against her waist, branding her where his fingers circle. He drops his voice and his head to her, murmuring, "Really? And what *will* it take to satisfy you?"
The heated memories in their shared gaze have no place here, yet they arise in vivid, unspoken detail. That they should be standing here, flirting in the open while surely being surveilled, is arousing but risky and unprofessional. Then again, when had that ever stopped Mulder?
She eases her desire to taste his mouth by inhaling, straightening her shoulders and replying after releasing her breath, "A yogurt muffin would be nice." She steps past him and hears his soft chuckle at her back.
Managing a professional and personal life with Mulder is as precarious as it is pleasurable. They've had to learn to manage more than cases. Time is always an issue, and propriety. Emotional baggage also plays no small part in their emerging dynamic. In the end, however, it's the work -- always the work -- that structures, defines and balances them.
Mulder drops a stack of correspondence into the mesh basket at the corner of the desk and her reverie is curtailed, the tension in the room diffused. Grabbing a letter opener, she begins screening correspondence. Mulder logs onto his Bureau e-mail and scans the dozen or so posts that sit waiting.
"Frohike wants us to stop by," he tells her. "Says he's got a new device to show us."
"Boys and their toys..." she mumbles without looking up.
"And my Canadian contact says Sasquatch sightings in the Toronto outskirts are up 30 percent since last month."
"Hey Scully, did you know that more people believe in Big Foot than in the Loch Ness Monster? Oregon State and the University of Aberdeen hooked up and did a survey--"
She's only half-listening, her brows furrowed as she takes in a letter written on expensive paper with fountain ink in an elegant hand.
"Anything interesting?" he asks.
Scully looks up to find Mulder removing his eyeglasses. "Maybe. This is a letter from someone out on Long Island asking for your help." He nods, then sits back waiting for her to read:
"Dear Mr. Mulder,
Over the last two weeks, five women have disappeared and reappeared off the shores of the Island's East End. In each case, the woman vanishes without a trace, only to wash ashore a day or so later, barely alive. They have no memory of their lost time --"
She looks up and spies the glow of anticipation in his eyes.
"-- and all of them speak about a bright light before blacking out. Our local authorities have no leads, but I suspect foul play of a non-human nature."
She pauses again and this time she finds Mulder's head dropped back onto his shoulders, his eyes closed.
"I understand that you follow such things, so I am imploring your help.
Cordially, Miss Olivia Van Helden Sag Harbor, New York"
Without moving, he says, "Lost time and bright lights, Scully. Sounds like alien abductions to me."
"More like one too many at a Martha Stuart soiree."
His eyes open and without scoffing says, "So, you've *been* to the Hamptons." She laughs softly.
"Mulder, the victims have been recovered. This isn't an FBI matter."
"No, but it's an X-File."
"*Might* be an X-File." Her hesitancy bears the stamp of fatigue. September has been difficult and she's worried about him.
He wags a brow at her. "East End, Long Island, Scully. Playground of the rich and famous. Who knows? Maybe you'll see some hot celebrity strolling the sands."
She chuffs at him. "With my luck, it'll be Rodney Dangerfield in a Speedo. Thank you very much, but no."
Her attempt at sarcasm fails to faze him. Instead, he leans over the desk and catches her eyes. "Come with me," he says, his voice sliding over her like molasses. "I'll take you for a walk on the beach."
She regards him from under her lashes for five seconds. "You know, they have a name for what you're doing, Mulder."
"Bribery." Her tone is somber but her eyes are smiling.
Detective Nick Guarino leans his burly 6-foot 6-inch frame over the narrow ledge at the nurse's station and picks up the chart on Mallory Lowell. He's no medical expert, but he knows how to read a chart after 19 years on the force. From the indicators regarding the girl's vital signs, it's a pretty sure bet she'll come through her ordeal intact. As for any psychological impact, there's no shortage of therapists in the area if she needs one, that's certain.
"Hey, Diane. How's it going?" His deep voice rumbles as his eyes lift to watch the full-figured brunette entering the nurses' station.
"It's going just fine. How's DeeDee?" His eyes return to the chart.
"Good, good. Just happy school's back in session keeping Linda out of trouble." Guarino sets the chart back in its place and looks back up.
The nurse's face is full of concern and more than a little worry. "We got enough of that to go round," she says.
Guarino nods, once. "Got that right. How's Mallory doing?"
"Better today. Breathing on her own and Dr. B thinks she'll be able to go home tomorrow."
"That's good, real good."
"Was Linda upset?"
"She'll be okay."
"Yeah. She and Mal will be back at the outlet mall spending money before you know it."
Guarino chuffs at her and in one fluid motion, smoothes down his dark moustache and rubs his chin. "Has she said anything since she became conscious?"
"Not much, but," Diane leans in and her voice dips in volume. "Do you really think it's a good idea having her talk to those FBI people?"
"FBI?" His eyes squint at her.
"I thought you called them in on this."
Guarino shakes his head. "Where are they now?" he asks gruffly.
"In her room-- Nick?" she calls after the figure moving down the hall with deliberate intent. The telephone buzzes and she shrugs before answering, "Floor Two Nurses' Station."
Guarino stands in the doorway of Room 248, his large frame filling the space. Inside, next to the window, Mallory Lowell is sitting up in bed; her streaked, blonde hair piled up on her head with a large-toothed, purple clip. She looks pale, worn out. But she's awake and speaking with two official-looking folks that stand near the bed. Guarino takes a quick read: FBI.
The woman has her back to him and is speaking in soft tones. She's petite in stature with a head of cropped, red hair. Her tailored, black pant suit looks trendy and her suede high-heeled shoes, new. A female fed. Probably plays by the book. Her counterpart is tall, lean, what most women would call good-looking even with that nose. His suit is pricy, but he slouches against the window frame watching the woman and Mallory as they chat. College boy, too smart for his own good, though his age and his attitude suggest experience.
Guarino shifts his weight with a shuffle of his feet and the man looks over at him. "I'll be right back," he says. His left hand reaches into his jacket as he approaches and he pulls out what Guarino acknowledges as a legit FBI badge.
"I'm Agent Mulder." He extends his free hand and Guarino takes it, surprised at the strength in the slim-fingered grip that clasps his massive hand. They release and Mulder gestures with his head to the woman, who now stands facing them. "That's Agent Scully, my partner. We're investigating the kidnappings that have been going on here for the last few weeks."
"Well, seems like everybody's been recovered, so I don't understand why the feds would involve themselves."
Agent Scully joins them. "We don't mean to interfere with local police business, Detective..."
"Guarino. Nick Guarino," he says shaking the woman's hand.
"Of course. We'd just like to ask Ms. Lowell a few more questions, if you don't mind. Her story might help us prevent this from happening to someone else."
Guarino scratches the back of his head. "I suppose there's no harm as long as Mallory is up to it and I stay." They cross back to the bed with Guarino in the lead. He stops at the foot of the bed. The gruff face softens as he addresses the girl. "Hey honey. How are you today?"
"Hi, Uncle Nick. Okay, I guess."
"You scared us."
"You? *I* was scared."
"Well, you're safe now. Your mom coming today?"
"What else? She's been a pain-in-the-ass."
"Mind your mouth."
"Sorry, but she's so annoying."
"She loves you and she was sick with worry. Don't give her a hard time."
"Whatever." The girl rolls her eyes at him.
"Mallory, these agents want to ask you some questions. Do you mind?"
Mallory's eyes brighten. "No, I don't mind. At least they don't look at me like I'm crazy or something. Like that nurse."
"What have you said?"
Mulder interrupts, approaching the other side of the bed. "Which is what I'd like to go over again, if you don't mind."
"I don't mind. It's like I told you before. Ray and I were on the beach..."
Mulder pulls a pad from his pocket. "Raymond Weill."
"Yup, that's Ray." He nods at her reply. "We were just chillin' and then we had a fight and he went into the woods to pee." Mallory stops and looks at Scully.
"It's okay," Scully says. "Just tell the detective what happened next."
"Well, I thought I heard something and when I looked back at the water, I saw this guy coming up at me. I tried to get away, but I felt frozen. I called for Ray, but he didn't answer and then..."
"Then..." Mulder prompts.
Mallory looks at him. "Then it gets weird."
Mulder takes a step closer. "Weird, how?"
"He was chanting or something. And I-I just lost track of everything. Next thing I know, I'm here."
"Did you recognize what he was chanting?"
"That's another thing. It was some foreign language I never heard. But I understood what he was saying."
"Which was what?" Mulder's eyes have narrowed a bit.
"I know it sounds crazy, but he kept saying 'Come to me, come to me' over and over." The agents exchange a look.
Mulder returns his attention to the teenager and asks, "Mallory, you said earlier that you remember a bright light and then losing track of time. Do you remember if any tests were performed?"
"What are you talking about?" Guarino growls.
"It's okay Uncle Nick. No, I don't remember anything like that. Honest. But-- oh!"
"What is it?" Scully asks.
"I just remembered something." Mallory's eyes grow wide with remembered terror and she begins to shake.
Scully moves to sit beside her on the bed and takes her hand in her own. "You're safe with us. You can't be harmed here."
Mallory stares at Scully, then looks up at Guarino and last, to Mulder. "About the light..." she begins.
Mulder leans forward. "The light? From the sky?" he asks.
"No," she replies with a slow shake of her head. "Not the sky."
Guarino interrupts. "Mallory, what you trying to say, honey? Was it a car, a boat on the water?"
Mallory continues to shake her head, her voice soft and distant, as if she sees the man before her again. "Not a car. Not a boat."
Scully squeezes the girl's hand. "Can you show me where the light was?"
Mallory pulls her hand from Scully's and closes her eyes. She takes in a deep breath and gives a shuddered sigh. Opening her eyes, she lifts a slow hand towards Scully and points... to the center of her chest.
Guarino exits the tiny hospital at a good clip, keys, coins and apparatus jingling as he moves. He feels Mulder and Scully trailing. Damned feds. Always thinking they're superior to cops. He turns when he reaches the squad car curbed at the brick sidewalk and confronts Mulder.
"I was hoping Mallory would verify some of our facts this morning, but then you started in with your mumbo-jumbo and blew my chance."
Mulder remains nonplused, but Scully bristles. Hmmm. Mulder's voice refocuses his attention. "All the women taken experienced time displacement and talked about a bright light before losing consciousness. Those are classic elements of an alien abduction scenario."
"Hold on, agent," Guarino says in a dead calm voice, his eyes squinting against the midday sun. "What kind of dog- and-pony show do you think you're gonna run here? Look, Mallory is my sister's little girl and I'm not about to have you adding to everyone's distress. I've got enough problems without you spreading alien abduction crap."
"Actually, I'm not convinced it *is* alien abduction crap," Mulder rejoins, which garners an arched brow and a suppressed smile from Scully. The lawman reaches in through the open, passenger-side window of the car to grab a manila folder off the front seat.
"This is what we've got so far. You'll see it's solid police work," he tells Scully as he hands the file to her, surprised the Bureau would keep a wacko like Mulder on the payroll. Must be some VIP's kid.
"Is it possible to talk with the other abductees?" Mulder asks.
"I could arrange that, although we've done so already. What do *you* hope to find?"
"A connection that may have been overlooked."
Guarino is miffed at the agent's presumptive attitude, but cooperation is key. "Just let me know what you need."
"Appreciate that. How'd you account for the bright light?"
Guarino's thumbs hook into his belt loops. "Searchlight from a boat is what we figure, given that all the kidnappings occurred offshore and at night. Maybe a car."
"But no witnesses," says Scully, her eyes on Mulder.
"Except one," he responds, meeting her gaze.
Guarino watches the exchange, knowing that more is being said than the simple words he's hearing. Figures. Most partners develop an unspoken code, but only after years of successful experience. From the way these two watch one another, it's clear they've worked together for some time. What's more, they trust one another's assumptions. Their dissimilarities may explain the subtle tension he feels between them, but it might be something else, too. Something more basic to human nature.
Scully's brows furrow as she flips through several pages. "There may be someone else, Mulder."
Guarino clears his throat and two sets of eyes converge on him, necessitating response. He's chagrined he hadn't mentioned it sooner. "Dr. Julian Oracoff. He's the one who found Mallory." He pauses. "And several of the others."
"Three out of five," Scully states and looks back to her partner.
The man swears he can feel unspoken dialogue. He decides to trust his instincts on these two, at least until he's had a chance to check their backgrounds. He reaches into the vehicle for the radio. The static-charged voice of a dispatcher answers his call. "Jerryl, this is Nick. I want Raymond Weill brought in for requestioning," he barks into the unit. "And get me the number for Dr. Julian Oracoff at Southampton."
"10-4," the dispatcher crackles.
He returns the device and looks back to the agents who stand waiting. "Okay?"
"Fine," Scully replies. "I suggest you be up front with us, Detective, or you may find yourself with another victim on your hands."
Guarino shifts tactics to reclaim his authority. "Tell me something, just how *do* you know about the other stories? I just gave you the file."
Mulder pulls the letter Scully read to him in D.C. from his outside pocket. "One of your townspeople asked for our help."
Guarino takes the proffered paper from Mulder's hand. With lips drawn tight he reads, head wagging from side to side. He lifts his eyes and gives a definitive, "Figures," with an exasperated sough of air.
"What does?" Scully asks, taking the letter back.
"Olly Van Helden wrote this letter." Guarino plants his fists on his hips and lifts his face to the sky. He returns his gaze back to Scully. "Look, I owe you folks an apology for having come all the way out here from Washington on no account."
Mulder's face scrunches up, "How's that?"
"Olly. That's Olivia Van Helden, by the way. She's... well... let's just say she's different."
"Sounds like my kind of person," Mulder interjects with a small smile.
"What do you mean 'different?'" Scully says with a sidelong glance at Mulder.
"She's is a bit of a local legend. Comes from old Dutch money and even older East End family."
"So?" Mulder tosses in.
"She has a rather vivid imagination. Believes in crystals and that sort of stuff. Runs the "Mystic Bookshop" on Main. Sure-fire recipe for breeding what I'll kindly call a kook."
"You have a problem with that?" says Mulder, his surprise genuine.
"I do when it drags a couple of feds all the way from Washington to Sag Harbor. Say, why *did* you come from D.C.? We have a local field office in Yaphank."
Scully speaks up at that. "Ms. Van Helden felt that my partner's expertise in paranormal phenomena might be useful in this matter."
Guarino's presuppositions about Scully's stability are shaken. "Expertise in paranormal phenomena, huh? As in aliens and voodoo and that sort of thing?"
"That's right." Her tone is serious, defensive of her partner who stands at her side in silence, although the line of his jaw relaxes at her words.
"Look," Guarino begins, looking to his left and his right before replying. "I'll grant you a lo-ong leash as long as you make progress. But, I better not hear you've gone back to badger Mallory or-- Speak of the devil," he mutters, interrupting himself. His gaze focuses across the street.
Hurrying down the sidewalk is an older woman of stature. She's tall, reedy, wearing a flowery calf length skirt and a loose blouse, over which is thrown an unbuttoned artist's smock. Thick, gray hair cascades around her shoulders and a large-brimmed rattan hat puts her face in speckled shadow. Birkenstocks clap against the soles of her feet as she makes her way across the street headed towards them with obvious intent.
"Van Helden?" Mulder queries in a low tone.
"The same," Guarino answers.
The woman's agitation is palpable as she strides towards the trio. Without acknowledging the detective, she walks up to Mulder and meets him at eye level.
"You must be Agent Mulder," she says and he nods. "Thank goodness you've come. Now, maybe something will be done to stop this madness." Her voice is mid-ranged, crisp and resonant, though tinged with age. Her diction is impeccable and her manner bespeaks an authority that brooks no argument.
"Now, Olly--" Guarino begins.
"Don't 'now Olly' me, Nicky," she says, shifting her keen gaze to the lawman. "You and I both know that something fishy is going on around here."
"And I doubt you'll find it on the local diner's menu, either," Mulder quips, a smile tugging at his mouth.
Olly's shoulders ease and she turns back to him, eyes softening at his open expression. "What I mean is that more women are going to be taken if you don't stop him."
Her gaze intensifies as she murmurs, "The Marimorph."
Guarino notes the sudden change in the agent's expression. His amusement downshifts with lightning speed into interest, signaling his belief in Olly's absurd suggestion. Mulder's lips form an unspoken "what," but she's already answering.
"An ancient humanoid from the depths of the sea, Agent Mulder. Come to find his literal soul mate on the surface before returning to his watery home. You may have heard of his homeland." She pauses for effect before whispering, "Atlantis."
Mulder exhales and his head pulls back from where it has leaned towards Olly. "Atlantis," he repeats before looking over her shoulder at Scully, who stands listening just beyond them. He's about to say something, but is broadsided by Guarino's voice at his side.
"Okay, that's enough. These people have come a long way at your insistence, obviously *and* unnecessarily. I've got an investigation to run and maybe we can get to the bottom of this with some federal muscle behind it. I promise you, we'll find the guy. Don't worry. Just you be careful and watch yourself."
Olly turns to Guarino and draws herself straighter. A look of disdain is in her eyes, but she maintains her temper. "If I didn't know you from when I fed you cookies off my back porch, Nicky, I'd be insulted. But, I thank Detective Guarino for his concern over a poor helpless old woman, such as myself. I'll be fine, thank you." She casts a meaningful glance at Mulder, then moves down the sidewalk with purposeful strides.
Olly's commanding presence lingers in her wake. Guarino's cheeks color at being chastised, his chagrin compounded when he spies Scully's eyes on him. He clears his throat and looks down at his shoes before looking back at them. "I'm, uh, sorry about that. I told you. She's eccentric. I wouldn't set store by anything she says."
"I'd still like to speak with her further, if you don't mind," Mulder states, his impatience clear as he takes two steps backwards in Olly's direction. "I don't think my mumbo-jumbo can outdo hers, anyway. Right?" Mulder holds out his hands to them and flashes them a winsome and unexpected smile. He turns on his heel, takes a few steps, then turns back. He calls to Scully, "Why don't you speak with Dr. Oracoff and call me when you're done?"
Guarino looks at Scully who nods, then watches her partner until he's out of sight. The unflappable exterior may fool some, but she can't disguise the heat in her gaze, which he's certain could melt his sterling shield. It's been some time since he's had a woman's eyes follow him the way Scully's do her partner, but he remembers how it felt. Oh, yeah.
As for the case, it won't hurt to use Uncle Sam's money to fund his investigation, at least until they grow weary of Olly's game, whatever it is. The feds might be useful after all.
At the Precinct
Mulder strides through the doorway of the stationhouse. The blast of air conditioning that hits his face is welcome. The Mystic was closed when he'd gotten there and he realized, irritated with himself, that he didn't know Van Helden's home address.
He shows his badge to the dispatcher. "Guarino?"
She points to a corridor. "Downstairs."
The odor of urinals, dried sweat and institutional food greets him at the bottom of the stairwell. He's been in jails of varying types and this one, at least, is clean and bright. It's still a jailhouse. Why anyone would ever risk losing their liberty is not a mystery to him. He knows the threat of incarceration is not a deterrent in the mind of the hardened criminal.
The narrow, fluorescent-lit hallway diverges at the base. The left wing houses three holding cells. He turns right and walks through an open arch into a narrow corridor along whose length runs a plate of one-way glass. Inside, he sees Guarino sitting at a table with a scared-looking teenager. He thumbs "Open" on the intercom beside the closed door. The kid is talking.
"I told you. I don't know what happened to her. I went into the woods and then Mallory was ... just ... gone." So, this is Raymond Weill. Mulder taps on the door and watches Guarino cross to open. He disengages the intercom and waits until he's admitted without a word. He approaches the boy and sits down opposite. Ray takes a swig from the soda can on the narrow wooden table and sets it down, his eyes on Mulder.
"Raymond? I'm Agent Mulder with the FBI. I'm hoping you can help us figure out what *did* happen to Mallory."
Mulder meets the boy's eyes dead on. He doesn't detect malice there, only false bravado and a trace of fear. He shifts into observatory mode, senses realigning to pick up all the subtle nuances. He notes the clothing: khaki- trousers and golf polo, scuffed topsiders. Work clothes, most likely. His buzzed hair is typical of his generation and he sports a gold stud in his right ear. Peer-driven. Heterosexual. Just your average kid. Ray's right foot is tapping toe-to-heel-and-back in an endless rhythm beneath the table.
"Listen, I didn't do anything wrong," the boy says. "We were just talking and fooling around a little bit."
Mulder's certain 'foolin' around' these days is very different from his own adolescent experiences, but he's listening not just to Ray's text, but to the emotion lurking below. In this case, he hears nothing more than male hormones speaking.
"And Mallory wasn't being especially friendly, was she?" Mulder gives the boy a conspiratorial look, which seems to settle him.
"No. She wasn't. But I figure, what the heck? Girls expect you to try something."
"Yeah," he admits grudgingly. "Look, I was ticked when she said no, but I wouldn't hurt her. Ever. You gotta believe me." Mulder does, but he's certain something else isn't being said.
"Tell me, Ray. What happened next? After Mallory said no."
The boy's eyes shift away, then back. "Nothin'. I went into the woods to take a leak."
"And you didn't see or hear anything unusual?" Mulder hears a stifled sigh behind him. Guarino's patience is limited.
"I- I don't know what you mean."
The metal slides on the bottom of Mulder's chair scrape hard against the linoleum as he pushes back and stands. Hands on hips, he turns from the table and walks towards the mirrored glass. He observes Ray's reflection shift in his seat. For a moment, it seems as if the boy is about to say something, then reconsiders before taking another swig of soda.
Mulder casts a sidelong glance at Guarino, leaning against the closed door beside him. The man's eyes meet his and his cheek muscle gives a twitch. Mulder suspects what the boy is hiding, but needs Ray to say it for Guarino's sake. He watches the image of the detective as he steps forward and in a quiet voice says, "Ray, Mallory has already told us what happened. We just want to hear *your* version of things."
"She told you--" he stops mid-sentence.
"Son, if there's something you're not saying, I suggest you tell us now." He tilts his head towards Mulder, who turns in place and walks back towards the table, his face a cool mask. "The federal government doesn't take kindly to aiding and abetting criminals."
"I told you, I don't know--"
The boy recoils and gasps as Mulder's hand slams the aluminum can against the wall, where it clatters into a corner, foam spraying gray cinderblock as brown liquid puddles on the floor. The agent's hands press flat against the table and he leans across its width, staring down at the adolescent. "Cut the crap, Ray," he snarls. "You know exactly what happened to Mallory, don't you?" His voice rises with each statement. "Maybe you were part of it. Maybe you helped set it up, huh?"
"No, I- I swear," Ray sputters. "I'm telling you the truth. I didn't hurt her."
"I figure you for 17 or 18, right?" Mulder focuses on the boy's eyes as he bites off his words. "You'll be charged as an adult. Trust me, Ossining is *not* a nice place, although a pretty boy like you shouldn't have any trouble finding a 'protector.' Should he?" He pushes off the table and walks towards the door, as if to leave.
"Wait a minute," Ray calls, his voice laced with panic. Mulder halts. "I did see something." Mulder turns, and he and Guarino move closer. Sitting back down opposite the boy, Mulder smoothes his tie and gives Ray his best official G-man glower.
The boy sighs then says, "There was a guy. He came outta nowhere, I swear. I heard Mallory calling me. She sounded scared, so I went back to the beach and he was just standin' there, next to the blanket."
Guarino pipes up. "Why didn't you say something about this before, Raymond?"
"I dunno. I was scared."
"You were scared," Guarino parrots, voice rising in disgust. "We've been going crazy trying to nail this guy and you know what he looks like? Jesus."
"I don't remember, exactly." Ray's eyes plead with the detective's. Mulder watches agitation override timidity as the real story gets told. "The guy was naked and I thought he was going to attack her. I wanted to help, but I couldn't move. I couldn't." Ray drops his eyes and looks away from both men. "I messed up. Mallory could've died."
Mulder's tone softens, "Help us now, Ray. What did he look like?"
The boy looks back to the agent and leans in. "Tall, thin white guy. It was dark but he must've been carrying a flashlight or something cause I could see Mallory's face. She was really scared."
"Then what happened?"
Ray waits a few seconds, then says, "He was strange. I mean he looked normal, you know, but then..." he pauses.
Guarino presses, "What then, Raymond?"
"There was this light. A mad weird light. I thought it was a flashlight or something like that," he repeats.
"But it wasn't," Mulder adds.
"I couldn't tell for sure, but it looked like it was spillin' right out from this guy's chest. I don't remember anything after that, I swear. I woke up right there in the woods the next morning and went straight to school. My mom thinks I stayed at a friend's house. Then I heard Mallory was missing and Detective Guarino came to find me and I got nervous. I was just happy when they found her. I figured everybody would forget the whole thing."
Mulder sits back in the chair and sighs, running a hand over his mouth. He stands abruptly and turns to Guarino. "You can verify his whereabouts for the other abductions?"
"Send him home."
Mulder exits the room, with Guarino on his heels. In the outer corridor, Guarino says low, "You believe him, don't you? That crap about the light?"
"Yeah, I do. I also believe, as Ms. Van Helden said earlier, that something fishy is going on around here. I need her home address."
Guarino cocks his head at Mulder, eyes narrowing. "I'm yanking you in, Agent Mulder. You're on a short leash now. A *real* short leash," he says.
Darden Hall Southampton University
In the warmth of a late summer afternoon, Scully wanders academic corridors, searching for Room 401. Labs peek out from open doors beckoning to her with the lure of a siren's call. She pauses at the doorway to the small office labeled "Julian Oracoff, Ph.D.," then enters. Muted strains of Debussy filter from hidden speakers. Travel posters touting the names of exotic locales and extreme sports cover one wall. Photographs dot another, images reflecting a tall, slim man with blond hair and an enigmatic smile posing with different official-looking types. One photo shows him in a tuxedo holding a plaque. He's handsome. Another wall displays credentials, real and honorary, from European and American universities.
His bookshelves, however, are what attract her most. The first is filled with volumes of scientific texts from many specialties, along with a sampling of philosophy, ancient art, anthropology and music. The other holds a dazzlement of shells, brilliant in color, amazing in diversity. Scully picks up a gigantic hinged oyster, its mottled cover covered with spikes, reminding her of the San Diego beaches of her childhood. Another looks like a miniature conch, striated with brown and cream and gold, its interior awash in palest blue. She turns it around and around in her fingers.
"Lovely, isn't it?" a voice sounds far behind her.
She spins around, shell in hand, startled at having been caught touching someone's personal belongings. She's even more startled to find the man attached to the voice standing just behind her. Her perceptions must be off. "I apo- apologize," she sputters, taking a step back.
"No, I'm glad you like them. She recognizes Oracoff from the photos, but his physical presence impacts with greater force. Her composure slips for only a moment before her professional demeanor snaps back into place and she pulls her ID from her jacket.
"I'm Dana Scully from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Dr. Oracoff. We have an appointment."
"Yes, my G.A. told me about it." He picks up a fan-like shell, bands of amber, purple and gold spanning the delicate carapace. "This is *my* favorite," he says, his voice wistful as he holds the translucent piece up to the window, setting it aglow with inner fire. "Its commonly known as the Northern scallop, but its true name is 'Sirrimantu,' the ancient symbol of nobility. When the Atlanteans set sail in their ships of gold, these adorned their hulls." His voice is raw silk, soothing yet provocative, with a quality she can't define. Without warning, the hairs on the back of Scully's neck tingle and she gives a slight shiver.
"Are you cold?" Oracoff asks, moving to the window with casual grace. "Blasted a/c. I hate it. He unlocks and angles out a window, letting in fresher, warmer air. He gestures with his hand, "Please, have a seat, Agent Scully."
He sits behind his desk and all at once, he is all- business, his eyes assessing her even as she does the same. "This is about the women I found, isn't it?"
"Yes, it is. You discovered three of the five abductees. That's a rather significant coincidence."
"I know. It's awfully suspicious, isn't it?" He chortles and drops his head for a moment before reclaiming her gaze. His eyes are intense, grey shot through with darker flecks and long lashes that curl at the edges. "But, I'm a naturalist, after all. My research is conducted on these shores and that's where the women were found. I've taken lie detector tests that prove my innocence. I hope I don't have to prove it again. Not to you." The way he says the last sentence is warmer than required and Scully finds herself distracted by his focused attention, even as she relegates him to the category of Suspect and Not-Mulder.
"How long have you been teaching at Southampton?" she queries.
"Only since the beginning of the Millennium," he says. His response is odd, but no more so than any number of things she's heard her partner say. "I came to the campus on a research grant for the year."
"And your research topic?"
"The effects of global warming on the preservation of antediluvian artifacts on the Atlantic Barrier Shelf."
Scully cocks her head. "Thesis work can be a challenge."
"What was your dissertation on, Dr. Scully?"
So, he'd done some digging prior to her arrival. Suspicion mounts, but the questions in her mind dissipate as quickly as they rise, a disconcerting fact she cannot explain. "My degree is in medicine, but my senior thesis covered some of Einstein's ideas."
"Albert was one of our finest minds."
"I met him once. He was beyond brilliant. He offered the world the secrets of time -- immortality revealed -- but they still don't understand."
"There are more things in heaven and earth, Dana Scully, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.'"
"I believe that."
"You sound surprised about it."
"Yes, well," and she pauses, recalling her experience at the Buddhist temple and how it has expanded her vision of the world. "I've always thought of myself as a scientist first. I set stock in its hard factual approach to any problem. But, I've had certain... experiences... that have challenged my adherence to its principles."
"It is only when we realize what we do not know, Doctor, that we begin to gain wisdom."
Their eyes meet and once again, the strange tingling at the back of her neck reaches cool tendrils down her back.
"Dr. Oracoff, I was wondering..." she starts.
"I'd love to join you for dinner," he finishes.
She arches a brow at him. That wasn't what she was going to ask, but she finds her mind becoming clouded, unable to remember the pointed questions she had planned. Instead, she says, "Isn't that a bit presumptuous?"
"Only if you don't like the idea. Please."
She considers him, then adds, "Fine. I'll call my partner and have him join us."
His disappointment is obvious. Scully keeps her expression neutral, but she's flattered by his response. "You'll like Mulder, I think. He's interesting. Like you."
Julian leans forward over his crossed arms resting on the desktop. "My dear Doctor, Agent, Dana Scully, if Mulder is anything like me, he'll hate me on sight."
Van Helden Residence
Mulder's walk from the lockup takes him past quaint shops and a long, wide thoroughfare that leads to the wharf. Turning right onto a winding street, he scans the numbers of the large vintage houses until he finds it: 212 Waterbury Lane.
He stands at the picket gate, eyeing the three-story, white clapboard colonial tucked behind an English garden lush with roses, foxglove, dahlias and other flowers. His mom had been a gardener. Odd, how she crept into his thoughts. He's caught unawares by a sudden flash of planting seeds and pulling weeds, Samantha tugging at the hem of his mother's dress. They are images consoling and chilling.
Swinging open the gate, he passes under an ivied trellis, over flagstones leading to a street-level entry. He pulls the cord on the door-side ship's bell that announces his arrival and the tone lofts in the air, along with the drone of insects, the scree of gulls and the muffled sounds of a harbor town doing business.
The heavy door opens to reveal a young woman with dark hair and large, darker eyes. Mulder asks for Ms. Van Helden and is ushered inside. He follows the girl through silent rooms until they reach the back of the house. Stepping through what looks to be a rear exterior door, Mulder finds himself in a sizeable conservatory, sunlight seeping through algae-filmed glass. Copious plant life overflows the space and he's surprised to see butterflies fluttering among the greenery. The room is humid and he loosens his tie, attempting to ease the stiffness in his back by shifting his head from side to side.
Olly arrives and when their eyes meet, she smiles at him. "I'm glad you came." She gestures to one of a pair of deep-cushioned rattan club chairs that grace the small slate patio at the center of the greenhouse. "You must be tired. Please, sit down. I'll have Mariana bring something cool to drink."
Mulder sighs. He *is* tired. And curious. "Thank you," he replies and sinks into the deep cushions. Olly gives instructions to the serving girl, then comes to stand beside the empty, matching chair opposite Mulder's. "This is an interesting house," he tells her.
"Yes. It is. Built in 1862, just before the War of the States. Sag Harbor was abolitionist in nature, but it was also a Tory stronghold during the Revolution. It's a colorful history."
"And you know a lot about it."
"I know a good deal about a great many things, Agent Mulder."
Mulder sits forward, leaning his forearms on his thighs. "Like who's abducting these women?"
Olly looks away and closes her eyes. She sighs to herself then opens them, returning her gaze to Mulder. "What do you know about the Lost Continent of Atlantis?" Her question is serious, disarming him with tolerance.
"I've heard the myths, the legends. Atlantis was an island kingdom destroyed by a cataclysm that submerged it beneath the Atlantic. Its existence has been debated since Plato, who described it as a utopian civilization. The Nazis laid claim to the legend during World War Two, claiming it as the source of its genetic superiority. Other researchers have attempted to prove its existence without success, the most notable being Edgar Cayce, who gave psychic readings while in a trance-state. He produced hundreds of pages of information regarding Atlantean culture."
Olly nods. "And what do you know about its people?"
"What should I know?"
She moves to the entry, taking an ornate tray from the girl he saw earlier. "Thank you, Mariana," Olly says gently. "You may go for the day." Mariana disappears. Olly is quiet as she sets the tray down on a small wrought-iron table and pours mint tea into a frosted glass. She hands it to Mulder, then straightens. He is again struck by her demeanor, her grace, and the intelligence that surrounds her. She is a beautiful woman, still. She reminds him of another woman he admires--his partner.
"The Atlanteans *were* a noble race," says Olly. "They lived and worked at all manner of trade, just as we do. Their technology was as sophisticated as ours. Some say more so. They traded with the ancient Egyptians, providing blueprints for the pyramids in exchange for the secrets of immortality. They were thinkers, artisans, engineers, scientists. They were also hermaphroditic."
Mulder's eyes widen, his curiosity bumping up a notch.
"Yes," Olly continues, noting his interest. "All life as we know it, in its earliest stages of formation, are. Some say they were also extraterrestrial in origin. I don't know about that."
Mulder swallows down a mouthful of tea, assessing the woman standing before him. Well-read and well educated, comfortable with money and its privilege, nurturing, imaginative. Her likelihood as a suspect is minimal. "You're saying the Marimorph is hermaphroditic?"
"No." Olly sits, holding one hand within the other on her lap. "The Marimorph is only the masculine entity of the creature. In their original incarnation, the Atlanteans possessed specific masculine and feminine entities co-existing within a single humanoid morphology. When the Great Cataclysm sundered the continent, it submerged, as you say. Those unable to reach the sheltering protection of its self-contained cities were, themselves, torn asunder by a force that split them apart physically, mentally and spiritually. The surviving creatures, confounded and helpless, dispersed throughout the landforms of the earth."
"That means the entities..." He tilts his head at her.
"Disjoined, becoming separate male and female creatures, yet each only half of the whole."
"Can they recognize one another?"
"In part. The feminine entity is called a Perimorph, a woman of subtle beauty and creativity, with no memory of her origin. Possessing humanoid anatomy, she lives out lifetime after lifetime coupling with human males to produce rare, hybrid progeny of great intellect. History books are rife with their names."
"Some suggest Tutankhamun, Confucius and Edison as just a few Atlantean-human hybrids. The masculine entity is the Marimorph. He is also humanoid in anatomy, brilliant, cunning and seductive. He, unlike his counterpart, remembers every lifetime as well his origins. He is driven by nature to seek his literal soulmate."
"Dates a lot, does he? I'm sorry, I don't mean to be glib."
"You're an interesting man, Agent Mulder. You listen as if you believe me, yet I sense hesitation."
He quirks his head to one side. "I'm just thinking about what my partner would say of all this."
"You could say that."
"The auburn-haired woman with the piercing blue eyes? The one I saw with you?"
"Yeah, that's Scully."
"A woman who keeps her counsel. She's of help to you."
"Yes. Yes, she is." He pauses before adding, "though I don't always see it that way." He gives Olly a self-effacing smile.
"It can be difficult to recognize what's best for ourselves, what links us to one another, how lines of fate and time cross paths in their mobius-like movements."
Mulder nods, contemplating her words. His cell phone chirrups, interrupting his internal discourse. "Excuse me," he says, reaching inside his jacket for the unit. "Mulder."
"It's me," Scully says. "Where are you?"
"Olly's house. Where are you?"
"On a one-lane road, stuck behind a truck full of ducks."
"Quack-quack, Mulder. I'm turning onto Preston now."
He smiles at the vexation and tease in her voice. He stands, holding up a finger to Olly and walking a short distance away. "Did you speak with Oracoff?"
"Yes, I did. We're meeting him in town for dinner."
"Eight o'clock. Some place called The American Hotel."
"The American Hotel," he repeats. "Should I check us in?"
"Can we afford it?"
"Let me find out. Only the best for you, you know."
"Right. Where are you? I've got a map."
"212 Waterbury Lane. Meet me here."
"I'm there." He hears the phone line go dead. He returns to Olly who stands, an odd expression on her face. "My partner's meeting me here. I have to go."
"You'll do no such thing," she tells him. "I'm sorry to have eavesdropped, but I couldn't help but overhear. You need accommodations and The American is booked. I have six bedrooms. Please, allow me to offer you a place to stay."
Mulder shakes his head. "No, thank you. I-- We couldn't-- impose."
"Nonsense. It's no trouble and I like having guests. Besides, it will mean less paperwork when you get back to Washington, won't it?"
Mulder remembers Scully's attitude earlier in the week. He also harbors a nagging suspicion that Olly isn't telling him everything she knows. "Alright," he agrees.
The clang of the ship's bell announces a visitor.
Olly excuses herself and Mulder hears Scully's muffled voice. Unintelligible dialogue ensues. At last, the two women emerge.
"It's arranged," states Olly. "You'll both stay here. Care to see the rest of the house?" Scully looks at him, a mixture of question and amusement in her eyes. He gives a small shrug in return.
"Certainly," Scully replies.
Olly takes them on the short tour, pointing out items of historical and architectural value. The women fall into easy conversation and Mulder hangs back, enjoying his view of Scully relaxing under the kind attentions of the older woman. The house is fascinating, filled with history and items reflecting the nautical nature of the town. An antique sextant, an impressive collection of scrimshaw that reminds him of his dad's collection, dozens of sand dollars heaped into a heavy basket, and pieces of driftwood are scattered amidst the eclectic furnishings. And everywhere, there are crystals of varied sizes, shapes and colors. It's a queer, but cozy environment.
Olly leads them up a wide staircase at the entry. Midway between the second and third floors, Scully says, "This is amazing." Mulder has preceded them, but she and Olly pause to look at an enormous window at whose center sits a stained-glass image of a bay surrounded by trees. "Is this--?" She looks at Olly in question.
"Yes. Louis Comfort Tiffany made that. It's a replica of his piece, 'Oyster Bay.' He crafted it for the previous owners of this house with the stipulation that it always remain intact and in place. Do you appreciate art, Agent Scully?"
"I do. You have some interesting pieces."
"I do, indeed. And guests," she adds.
The women join Mulder, who waits on the landing. Olly stands facing the agents and says, "I have two singles and a double on this floor. Will you be sharing?"
Her assumption causes Mulder to look away and to stifle a smile. Scully keeps her composure and replies, "The singles are fine, thank you."
"I hope I haven't offended. I pick up on vibes. It's the crystals, you know. A shared room seemed right for you, but--"
"The singles will be fine," Mulder repeats, his eyes on Scully, who refuses to meet his gaze.
"Fine." Olly face grows anxious. "You have an appointment at The American, yes?"
"Yeah," Mulder says, noting the change of expression.
"I overheard that, too, I'm afraid. I also heard the name 'Oracoff.'"
"Do you know him?" Scully asks.
"Julian Oracoff?" Scully nods. "Yes. I know Julian. Is he in trouble?"
"Not if he's telling the truth," Scully replies.
The American Hotel
Julian Oracoff glances at his wristwatch and sits back in his chair. The agents he's meeting are late and he's miffed at being kept waiting. He picks up the crystal goblet resting beside his hand and holds it aloft. The jewel-toned liquid captures the candlelight, its rubied glow refracting in the wine. He brings the glass to his lips and sips the vintage with reverence before replacing it on the table.
He looks forward to seeing the woman who visited him earlier today. Her choice of occupation makes no sense, in his mind. Law enforcement types are a notoriously practical lot. But Dr. Scully seems discerning. She's intelligent and perceptive, and with her vivid coloring, quite attractive.
He casts his gaze around the room, observing the few occupants dining in the post-season quiet. The room's appointments are tasteful and he likes the service: attentive, but discreet. He's accustomed to urban living and prefers the academic climate of the Ivies, but location is everything and his research demands his presence in this locale, far from city lights.
He notices Scully as soon as she enters the room. She's changed her clothing. The somber pantsuit has given way to a sleeveless, dark blue sheath with a scooped neckline and a fitted bodice that enhances her petite form. She sees him and follows the maitre'd to the table. Julian rises at her approach.
"Hello again, Dr. Scully. You look lovely."
"Thank you," she replies before taking the chair beside his.
"I thought your partner was joining us."
"He's making a phone call. He'll be here shortly."
"Too soon, I'm afraid," Julian states.
She smiles, a bit self-conscious, and he realizes she's unaccustomed to being flattered. It's refreshing. He imagines she must keep her femininity under close wraps working as a federal agent. Pity. Women are such interesting creatures.
"I've taken the liberty of ordering wine for us. May I pour you a glass?"
"I'm sorry, no," she replies. "Agent Mulder and I are still, technically, on duty. But, please don't hesitate on our account, Dr. Oracoff."
"Please call me Julian and I'm hoping I may call you Dana." She nods once and he tops off the glass he's been nursing. "This is a Pinot Noir from Pindar. It's a local label, but quite good. The North Fork is fast becoming the Bordeaux of New York."
"Do you know this area well?"
"Well enough for my purposes."
A voice intercepts asking, "Which would be what, exactly?"
Julian hears the suspicion in the voice and turns to look up into a pair of intelligent hazel eyes. He already knows that this is Fox Mulder, Dr. Scully's partner. As suspected, he hates the man on sight. He'd been hoping for someone much older, paunchier and cruder than the slender, handsome agent that stands beside the table. He stands to meet the man's eyes, level with his own and extends his hand.
"You must be Agent Mulder. I'm Julian Oracoff."
Mulder shakes his hand and he sits across from Scully, Julian between them. "My work, agent, is to teach marine biology and do research into the life forms found in the shoals off the Atlantic barrier reef."
"How do you do that while on land?"
"I have use of a small submersible the university provides."
Mulder glances across the table at Scully.
"Does anyone ever go with you on these underwater junkets?"
"They're called research expeditions and yes, occasionally students go with me."
"Where is it now?"
"At the University's launch, near the public dock."
"And its usage is always tracked?"
Julian smiles, unperturbed by the subtle grilling. "Always. There's a ship's log, as well. You will find all in order, Mr. Mulder."
The two men watch each other, their reactive chemistry palpable. Just then, the waiter approaches with menus in hand. They peruse the placards for a minute. Julian notes Mulder's well-concealed discomfiture with the 4-star prices and French descriptions. Their expense allowance is probably a pittance, Julian thinks, but he wants to impress the lady and isn't afraid of Uncle Sam's wrath. He holds up a hand and says, "Do you like seafood? If I may suggest..."
"By all means," Mulder says, his tone polite, but his mouth set.
Julian orders oysters and foie gras, endive salad and grilled salmon; all in impeccable French. Mulder meets Scully's eyes over the vivid African daisies that adorn the centerpiece. Their shared expression suggests a well-honed routine. Julian's guard goes up as Mulder turns his attention to him. Scully maintains a serene expression.
"Scully tells me you're only here until January," Mulder states.
"Yes, although my research could call me away from teaching at any time."
"Yes. My thesis on antediluvian artifacts."
"I meant to ask you earlier," Scully says. "Antediluvian, as in Noah's Ark?"
"Actually, I'm interested in a much earlier catastrophe. One that redefined the face of the Western Hemisphere and took from us a golden civilization."
"Sounds like something I heard earlier today," Mulder mumbles.
"Sounds like a story I heard once in a lullaby," Scully quips in a dry tone.
Mulder smiles at her. Julian chuckles, "Did I say over the rainbow?"
"Then where?" she asks.
"Under the sea."
Mulder adds, "Yeah, Scully, with the Little Mermaid."
Julian stiffens. "The ignorant often ridicule that which they do not understand."
"So, enlighten me." Mulder's tone is edged with sarcasm.
The waiter interrupts with appetizers. Conversation ceases for a brief time as delicacies are consumed. Julian leans towards Scully and says sotto voce, "Did you know oysters are an aphrodisiac, Dana?"
"Many foods are considered to be conducive to the production of hormones and endorphins within the body, yes."
Julian's eyes twinkle as they meet hers, "Such as?"
"Such as...asparagus, walnuts, pine nuts, grapes." Her eyes flick to the glass of wine before him and back to his attentive gaze.
"Really?" he says, leaning his chin on his hand as he listens, enjoying the spark in her eyes and the shape of her mouth as she speaks.
"Yes. And spices like ginger, nutmeg, vanilla and of course," she pauses and smiles, "chocolate."
"Ahh. So that's why gentleman bring chocolates to beautiful women?"
"Well, the scientific explanation is that it releases endorphins that create the same sensation as being in love."
"Don't forget green M&Ms." That was Mulder. Scully looks across the small table to her partner with raised brows and a look of incomprehension. He's sitting back in his chair with only his right hand resting at the table's edge, fingers drumming the white linen.
"Green M&Ms, Scully. The latest substance to induce a frenzy of wild passion." His tone is light, but his fingers betray his insecurity.
"An ad hoc university study in Texas verifies that people are using green M&Ms as sexual stimulants. Every one knows you have to eat those first when you open the package."
"But," he says leaning forward into the table with both hands pressed flat against the surface. "Getting back to our *original* discussion..." he says with soft, but deliberate intent.
Julian is pleased he's disturbed the agent with his attentions to the woman. He's quite certain that testosterone is goading Mulder to this petty sniping and equally certain that what Mulder really wants to do is exhibit typical human male territoriality by shoving him against the wall and saying, "Back off, pal." Still, Mulder refrains and Julian admires his restraint.
The agents eye one another for a few, silent moments and then Scully asks of her partner, "You said you heard something earlier today. From whom?"
"Olivia Van Helden." Julian's chin and interest lift despite himself, a fact not unnoticed.
"Do you know her?" Scully asks the professor.
"She owns a bookstore. I buy books." She nods and drops the topic, much to Mulder's surprise.
"So then," Mulder begins while casting a pointed look at his partner and back to Julian, "You don't really know each other."
"No. What did she tell you?"
"She has a theory that sounds a lot like yours about an island that was submerged in the ocean after a great cataclysm."
"Atlantis," Julian offers.
"Yes. Then you *have* chatted."
"We've discussed that topic, among others."
"You know about the Marimorph."
Julian's posture doesn't shift, but he takes in a deep, quiet breath and releases it. "Yes, I know about Marimorphs and Perimorphs and the Great Cataclysm. Are you suggesting such creatures actually exist? Or that such a creature is responsible for the women that have been taken?"
Mulder prepares to say something, but is cut off by his partner saying, "I think what my partner is suggesting is that someone may *believe* he is such a creature and is perpetrating these crimes in a delusional state."
Mulder's eyes narrow. "Tell me something, Dr. Oracoff. Ms. Van Helden tells me that the creature is *driven* to abduct these women, hoping to discover his soulmate and return to the sea with her."
"That would fit the mythology. Atlantis is believed to still exist deep beneath the surface of the sea, it's portals opening but once a year for a brief span of days during the passage of the autumnal equinox. Only then can its long-lost nomads re-enter and rejoin with their kindred. Some even suggest that the storms that plague the Atlantic at this time of year are a direct result of those portals opening."
"So the portals are closed again?"
"By the end-turn of the Romans' seventh month."
"And you believe that the creature seeks its soulmate?"
"The idea of a soulmate has long-existed."
"As a fanciful notion," Scully enjoins. "Physical scientists attribute it to biochemistry, anthropologists to mating rituals and psychologists to deep-seated mother separation issues."
"Ahh, but for the Marimorph, dear Dana, the soulmate is its sundered self seeking reunion."
Mulder grumbles, "I'd say his version of a one-night stand is a bit severe."
Julian eyes the man with an icy stare. "I believe-" he begins, but never finishes because Detective Guarino is striding towards their table.
"We got us another victim," he tells them.
Mulder looks at Julian, whose face remains impassive and unaffected by the news. He meets Scully's eyes and they rise in tandem.
"I'm afraid we have to go," Scully tells Julian.
"I'll take care of the bill," Julian says.
"Thanks," Mulder says with some satisfaction before he follows Guarino and Scully from the dining room, his hand at the small of her back.
Julian notes the possessiveness of the gesture. There's subtext here. Mulder's jealousy is transparent. He believes the woman belongs to him.
Onboard Police Cutter 678
Spray off the dark water kicks up into Mulder's face as the police cutter makes its way across Peconic Bay. The moon is concealed by clouds, incongruous in the night sky, backlit by silvered light. Mulder leans into the prow, breathing in the tang of salt air. The feel of moving water beneath his feet triggers memories of days long gone. No one who grows up on a sea island ever takes the ocean for granted or leaves it behind. You are always, essentially, separate from the mainland, shaped by the brine that surrounds you.
They are heading towards Southold, on the opposite side of the immense bay that spans the distance between eastern Long Island's fish tails. Scully comes from behind to stand beside him.
"Allison Jorge," she begins, her voice raised a notch to be heard over the hum of the engine and the steady, rhythmic splash of the cutter as it rebounds off the water. "Age 34, teacher and mother of three. Husband called the police after she didn't come home last night and failed to show up at school this morning. No known issues of marital discord or enemies. She was found by a woman walking her dog on the beach. Southold PD say she's barely hanging on, so they've choppered her to Stony Brook Medical Center."
Mulder purses his lips and nods without looking at her. "He's stepping up the pace, Scully." He turns towards her. Her trench is buttoned tight, collar turned up against the mist. Gusts off the water whip her hair across her face. He finds himself wanting to brush the stray strands off her cheek, but pushes the thought aside. "And I think I know why," he says.
She waits. He knows she's prepared for either a legitimate profile of a kidnapper or the esoteric meanderings of his mind. Her willingness to hear him is something he never fully understands, but needs as much as the air that dampens his skin.
"He's on a time-limited schedule," Mulder begins.
"What do you mean?"
"Oracoff said the equinox is a critical date for the creature," he says.
"The Marimorph?" He gives her a half-smile and nods.
"You said it yourself. Whether this creature is real or imagined, we're likely to see another abduction before the weekend."
"The end-turn of the Romans' seventh month."
"That's just double-talk for September." She nods. "I suggest we keep an eye on Dr. Oracoff's movements."
"You suspect Julian?"
"Scully, that guy was shoveling so much shit he could have fertilized Kansas."
"Mulder-" she chides, her annoyance surfacing.
"College professors don't make the kind of salary Julian seems accustomed to spending."
"People have other sources of income besides their jobs. And the man has taste. That doesn't make him a criminal."
"No, just fascinating. Or so it would seem." Mulder leans closer to her ear. "What's with you? You seemed a million miles away tonight."
He hears the subtle warning in her voice, but presses on. "He lied about knowing Olly and you just sat there." Scully looks away without responding, which irks him all the more.
The boat shifts as it curves towards the lights that wink from shore. Scully loses her footing and pitches forward, clutching at the lapels of Mulder's trenchcoat. He places one foot forward to maintain their balance and a steadying hand under her elbow. She looks up at him, an irritated purse to her mouth. "What do you expect from me, Mulder? I'm here, aren't I? I'm doing my share of the work."
"How? By exchanging precocious remarks with the good professor? I know what he wants." She glares at him. He knows he's being peevish, but he can't help himself.
"Mulder, I'll agree that he's seductive, but I'm not a schoolgirl. I'll buy that his non-reaction to Guarino's announcement was odd, but that doesn't prove anything. I'll even accept that he seems to have more information that the average person about the habits of mythological sea creatures, present company excepted. But, don't stand there and tell me that Julian Oracoff is a merman looking for love."
"In all the wrong places, Scully."
"You think he's searching for his soulmate, whatever that means?"
The hand that grasps her arm tightens in increments. "Don't you believe people can be meant for one another?" His attempt at depersonalization can't disguise his true question. She drops her head, then lifts her face to his again.
"Maybe I thought so, once. Real life has proven me wrong time and again." He sees the pain of past mistakes in her eyes, hears the regret in her voice.
"No, I-- I don't suppose either of us has made the best choices in that regard."
She cocks her head at him, eyes narrowing. "Whatever it is that brings people together, Mulder, it's hard work that keeps them together, not some mystical force."
"That's all I'm expecting, Scully." He regrets the sarcasm that tinges his voice the moment Scully drops her hands away from him. She shrugs off the one at her arm and turns on her heel, heading towards the enclosed bridge where Guarino navigates the boat. Mulder knows he's said the wrong thing at the wrong time, exactly the wrong way.
Southhold Police Precinct
A Suffolk cop meets them at the police launch and drives them to the station house. Guarino leads the way through the bullpen to a desk where a young black detective sits typing a form.
The cop looks up, pinch-faced in the fluorescent lighting. "Guarino! What brings you to visit us 'simple folk' on the North Fork? I thought you preferred the paparazzi crowd."
"You're handling the Jorge case."
"Yeah. These the feds?" he asks, standing.
Guarino points to them in succession. "Agents Mulder and Scully are up from Washington."
Niebler shakes their hands, then sits on the corner of his desk.
"DC feds. This must be bigger than I thought. Of course, considering everything that passes through this end of the island, anything is possible."
"What do you mean?" Mulder inquires.
Niebler crosses his arms over his chest. "Most people think Long Island is homogenized white bread. Truth is, it's a hodgepodge. And crime doesn't know city from sticks. Sure, we got petty stuff like any other town, but the DEA sits on our doorstep on a regular basis looking for offshore shit trying to enter the 495 crack line to the Apple. All right under the noses of quiet suburbia."
"You going somewhere with this?" Guarino interrupts.
"Shoptalk, Nick. What's your problem? Besides, we got a possible ID on the kidnapper and an APB on the wire."
"Who gave the ID?" Scully asks.
"Hispanic girl. Lives in Bungtown. Says she saw a guy drag Allison Jorge out of the water." He leans in and drops his voice, causing them all to step closer. "Funny thing, though. She says she didn't see a boat and the guy had no suit and no gear."
"We'll want to speak with both women," Mulder states.
"The victim is in critical care at Stony Brook. I don't know how much you'll be able to get from her. As for the witness, she was pretty upset and it was late, so I took a statement and told her to come back in the morning. My sketcher will be here, too."
"Sure," Mulder concedes.
"You could have told us this over the phone," Guarino complains.
"Bite me, Guarino."
The hallway is shrouded in shadow, muted light filtering through the stained glass panel between floors, casting luminous shades of blue-green, crimson and dark gold onto the burnished oak floor. Scully leans against the open door frame and allows the colors to infiltrate her mind. Blue is cool, calming. Red is warm, seductive. And gold? Gold is the divine calling to her. She closes her eyes.
Fieldwork leaves her weary now. What once was stimulating and worthwhile, now feels rote and unappreciated. Long days and longer nights are spent on the road, living out of a suitcase, prying into the private lives of others, peeking under the rocks of humanity to shed light on the dregs. Her well-worn role as skeptic and scientist is becoming more difficult to fill as she embraces extreme possibilities for herself. She has seen too much, heard too much, done too much to deny it. The accumulated weight of loss, deception and impending doom grinds into her bones. Science still provides parameters that keep her sane, but it cannot fill the spaces that grow emptier inside her with each case they pursue.
The double bind is stifling. She no longer wants a "normal" life. She'd be content, for a time, then bored. She knows this. Besides, the only man she can see herself with is still as likely as ever to run off on a moment's notice to chase God-knows-what because he's afraid he'll "miss something." Mulder. Yes, she loves him. And his devotion has been obvious to her for a long time.
Time and the extreme events since her trip to Africa have altered their partnership in ways she could not have predicted. And while she has always been attracted to her partner, she has never allowed herself to acknowledge the depth of that wanting. Until now. Perhaps, it is Spender's observation about her willingness to die for Mulder, but not to love him that pushes her towards a consummation she craves and fears.
"Planning to sleepwalk tonight?" She keeps her eyes closed, allowing Mulder's voice to slip around her shoulders like softest pashmina. She feels him move past her and when she opens her eyes, he's there, leaning against the opposite side of the doorjamb. Like bookends, they flank and fill the wider-than-normal doorway.
He's bare-chested and the legs of his flannel pajamas drag around his bare feet just a tad, brushing her foot. The fabric is a dark, subtle plaid. Why she notes this makes no sense to her, except that it distracts her from the elastic waist that dips around his narrow hips. She wonders about the anatomy beneath the cloth. Wonders and wants. She reminds herself to not react, just breathe, breathe, breathe.
His big toe comes to rest beside hers as he crosses his legs and his arms, getting comfortable against the frame. He rubs his back against the wood, like a cat.
When she speaks again, her voice is calm, much to her own surprise. "Is there something you needed to talk to me about?"
"Not really. I was going to get a glass of water. Am I interrupting something? A meditation, a prayer?"
She sighs. "No, I was just watching the colors in the glass." She gestures to the windowpane with her chin and he twists his upper body to see it. "It's beautiful, isn't it?" She watches the shadows that flicker and dance through the multi-hued panes, spilling onto the floor.
"To risk sounding clich, you are." The words may be clich, but the attitude behind them is genuine.
Her eyes dart to his and she discovers he's turned back and is watching her. "Is this your apology?" She knows she's being difficult, but his words on the cutter still sting.
"Can't a guy just appreciate a beautiful woman when he sees one?"
"What do you want, Mulder?"
"You." The word is simple, straightforward, without any trace of innuendo, as if he had said "a sandwich" or "new running shoes." That stops her, cold. She takes a breath and tries to find a witty response to his simple confession. Words fail in the rush of blood into her veins and the flush that overtakes her.
Her silence must make him uncomfortable because he's talking again. "I promised you I'd be more up front with you, so I'm trying, Scully. I know I behaved badly tonight and yeah, I do apologize. I suppose I can't blame you for enjoying a little flattery. It's just that, ummm, I want to be the one distracting you."
His unexpected honesty robs her of reason. His toe slips over the instep of her foot, sliding up and around her ankle as it blazes a slow trail up and under the satiny cuff of her pajamas.
"Mulder-" she says, gentle rebuke in her voice. The foot stops at once, replanting itself beside hers. She thinks she can breathe again, until he moves, pushing himself away from the frame and leans in, towards her.
She doesn't look at him. She can't. She wets her lips and concentrates on the expanse of his chest--muscle and hair and skin filling her direct range of sight as he stands so close. He's showered and his clean scent invades her olfactory senses. She pushes backwards against the jamb, her hands at her sides, but he moves closer.
"Look at me," he says, his voice soft against her hair. She shakes her head. She doesn't know where his hands are.
"No." Her pulse is racing and she battles her need to be touched and to touch him.
"Look at me, Scully," he pleads. "Please."
She lifts her face, the back of her head bumping against the jamb. She steels herself against the hunger in his eyes. She's aroused, but still angry. Focus. Yes, that's it. She's always focused on the work. That's what counts. They should talk about it. Later.
His head dips down, down. His mouth nears hers at a slow, slow, slow rate. Then stops, his lips bare millimeters away from hers. "Seems we have a choice here," he says, the movement of his mouth as he speaks casting puffs of air against her mouth.
"What's that?" she manages to say. Meanwhile, the ache between her thighs grows impatient, insistent.
"I could go back to my room, alone. You can go back to your room, alone. Or..."
"We can share a bed in your room. Or vice versa. I'm easy that way." He's sniffing her, now; breathing her in. Sniffing her! And damned if she doesn't find it erotic as hell.
"We're working." It's a feeble excuse, but it's the only one she can think of at the moment.
"No. This is more what I'd call playing. You remember how to play, don't you? Share toys, make nice."
"I think I remember that," she murmurs.
"Never doubted you for a minute," he says, the tip of his nose rubbing against hers.
She wants to kiss him. But this. This is... nice, too.
"Very nice," he whispers back. She's said that aloud.
"Mulder," she barely manages to say.
"I need you--" she begins.
"I need you, too, Scully." His lips press dry and warm against her temple and every nerve ending in her body goes on alert.
"No," she hears herself say. "I need you to listen."
"Mmm-hmm," he murmurs, his kisses moving across her eyelids and the bridge of her nose. Resistance becomes more difficult with each contact and if he puts his hands on her, she'll be undone.
"Mulder, please stop." His face pulls back from hers, desire and hurt confusion in his eyes. Her head lolls to one side and she drops her eyes. "You can't say things like you did tonight and then do this to me."
Without a word, he steps away. She drops her head and looks at her feet, which never moved the entire time. She hears the snick of his bedroom door. She looks back up at the stained glass panel.
"Damn you," she whispers in the dark.
Van Helden Residence
Mulder wakes in pre-dawn darkness, his arms thrown around the pillow beside him. In his dreams, the pillow has warmth, soft skin and auburn hair. In reality, it's only a pillow. He pushes it away in disappointment and sitting up, throws his legs over the side of the bed. His hand slips beneath the waistband of his pajamas, trying to remember her dream image. It's pathetic. He's nearly 39 years old and masturbating over a woman who desires him, but won't let him make love to her. Nature wins over logic and he brings himself to climax, breath exhaling around her name.
He cleans himself and rises, body stiff with sleep that has provided little rest. He stretches, appreciating the sweet ache in his muscles. The air is chilled but welcome after the flush of sexual gratification, self-initiated or not. Crossing to one of the large, mullioned windows, he extends an arm against the window molding, the other hand pushing aside heavy Irish lace to look out over the rooftop of the conservatory and the neighboring houses. He spies oceanfront only a few blocks away.
Throwing on a pair of sweats and running shoes, he jogs down to the beach. Narrow-slat redwood fences are already in place, erected to protect the salt marsh habitats and sand dunes that lay in wait for the annual storms that pummel the area in autumn. Green surf pounds a flat silver shoreline, its foam-crested waves flecked with emerald kale, broken bits of shell and the desiccated husks of horseshoe crabs.
Pink sky and weak sun peek through cloud layer for a brief time before the drab day lightens the taupe sand and gray-blue ocean. He's seen the Pacific, San Diego style--deep blue stretching to eternity, sun-bleached beaches dotted with starfish and conch and the hulks of black rock jutting from the sea like ancient teeth. Not so the Atlantic, especially as cool weather approaches. It pleases him, his preference determined by youthful memory and a penchant for the melancholy.
He runs. Thoughts rise as the steady pumping of his legs forces oxygen into his sleep-muddled brain to make sense of things. Make sense of last night. He knows he's pissed Scully off with his behavior at dinner and his comments about Julian. But, more to the point, it was probably his comments about the work that upset her most. He isn't exactly sure how he hurt her, but he regrets his hasty words nonetheless.
He is certain of only one thing. She wanted him. He knows it from the very way she denied him. Yet, she still keeps distance in her mind, even when their bodies are so close. He wants her body, of course. But even more so, he wants her mind, her soul, her heart. He wants it all. When hasn't he?
The Taurus snakes through morning traffic heading into Southold. Scully told him at breakfast that Guarino was accompanying her to Stony Brook to see what Allison Jorge might tell them. Their conversation had been terse, limited to the case, with no mention of their 'almost' assignation. He dislikes the brooding silence between them.
The car radio sputters and Mulder scans through several stations before stopping at the voice of a newscaster, "...weather advisory from the National Weather Service is being issued for Eastern Long Island and Southern Connecticut." A cutaway sound byte tells him about Tropical Storm Giselle scouring up the Jersey shore.
Mulder peers up at the sky through the windshield at increasing cloud cover. A single raindrop slaps the glass and he grimaces. He hates rain. He especially hates working in the rain. But, what he hates most of all is working in the rain without Scully.
At the Southold precinct, he finds Detective Niebler enjoying his morning bagel and coffee. Mulder catches his eye over the folder he's reading. Niebler looks up. "How ya doin'?" the man asks with a good-natured smile. "Coffee?"
Mulder holds up a hand and remains standing. "I'm good. Where's the sketcher?"
"Upstairs. Where's your partner?"
"On her way to see Allison Jorge with Nick Guarino."
"Ha." Niebler shakes his head. "Man, that guy needs a vacation." He chuckles to himself.
Mulder likes the easy-going cop. "Maybe I'll join him," he commiserates, flopping into the hard chair opposite Niebler's desk.
"Ahh," Niebler replies with a knowing smile. "She's pissed at you."
"Look, it's none of my business, but I've been there. Hey, I married my partner and now she works out of Mattituck. I miss working together."
"It's not what you think."
"The hell it ain't."
Mulder likes Niebler, but his personal life is just that. He keeps his face neutral and leans forward to grabs the manila folder on the desk marked "Jorge, Allison - 92800." Mulder scans a page or two, then lifts his eyes. "So, what do *you* think is going on here?"
Niebler runs a hand over his mouth and walks to a wall map of the East End. The twin forks jut their fin tails far from the main island. Long Island Sound lies north, the Atlantic Ocean south and east. Peconic Bay fills the space between the forks with Southold and Sag Harbor watching each other across the water, while Shelter Island and its ferries span the gap.
"Looking at the history, the victims *do* all live on the bay." His finger blazes a trail around the inner perimeter as he rattles off, "Sag Harbor, Noyack, North Sea, Jamesport, New Suffolk, Southold."
Mulder's eyes narrow as he follows. "And the abductions began on..." He checks the folder. "September 15th, after Labor Day and a week before the equinox."
"So? What's the equinox got to do with it?"
"It's a significant date to the UNSUB. I'm thinking he's given himself a two-week time frame to carry out his plan. I'm just wondering if there isn't some shared event that triggered the series."
"It's possible. Labor Day around these parts is a big deal. Lots of end o'season barbecues and parties."
Mulder puts down the folder and approaches the map. He taps at a spot. "Sag Harbor a popular place?"
"Sure. It's touristy, especially on a holiday."
Mulder nods. "I think it's time we see how our witness is faring."
"Let's go," Niebler replies.
They climb to the third floor and walk to a small room where a woman sits with a sketchpad shading in the face of the suspected kidnapper. The girl that sits beside her is small, dark-skinned, with a single heavy braid down her back. Mulder recognizes her from the day before. It's Mariana.
He rounds the table and his eyes widen when he takes a look at the emerging sketch. He's about to speak, when the girl sees him. "I see him," she says in a hushed tone. "Is dark, but he look familiar."
"This man?" Niebler points to the sketch. "You've seen him before?" Mariana nods and looks back at Mulder.
"With Miss Olly," she says. "He come to the house a few times. She very worried. I very worried for *her.* Then last night, I am walking Cuco on the beach and I see him again."
Niebler asks Mulder, "You know her?"
They exchange glances and Mulder nods. "You could say that," he replies before turning back to the girl. "Mariana," he says in a soft tone. "Tell me what you saw."
She points to the sketch, her voice more confident. "I see *this* man coming from the ocean, carrying a woman. I think she is dead. I think he will see me, pero, he don't. He put the woman on the beach and goes back to the ocean. Then he is gone."
Niebler interjects, "You said that last night, too. What do you mean, gone? He swam away?"
She looks at Niebler. "No. I tell you, pero, you don't listen. He is gone. *He disappear.* I don't see him again. E vero. He must be dead, too."
"Whadya think?" Niebler asks.
The agent holds up the portrait and says, "I think I'm finally getting lucky."
"Huh? You recognize him?" Mulder nods. "Who is it?"
"A Southampton college professor."
"Not my jurisdiction, but Southampton is cool with us."
"Don't bother. This one's mine." Mulder hands back the sketch and turns, heading towards the door.
"Where ya going?" Niebler calls after him.
Mulder doesn't turn when he rejoins, "Fishin'."
Conservatory, Van Helden Residence 9:30 a.m.
"There now, that's better, isn't it?" Olivia Van Helden lifts the clay pot from the planter's bench and places it on the shelf sitting at eye level. She grabs a second pot and proceeds to examine the small, bright orange blooms for signs of parasite or blight. Satisfied with the visual inspection, she pours cool rice water over the semi-exposed roots. Barber's "Adagio for Strings" drifts through the moisture-laden space and Olly stops for a moment as a poignant passage tugs at her. She closes her eyes and listens, the music's emotional character affecting her.
"I thought you preferred the Romantics."
Olly starts and spins in place to find Julian Oracoff standing not three feet away, an inscrutable look on his face. She sighs.
"You startled me."
"I apologize. Where's your housegirl? I'd like some tea."
"She called in sick today." Julian nods and steps forward to scrutinize the orchids in Olly's hands.
"Laelia cinnabarina. A lovely specimen, Olivia, although I prefer the softer coloration of the Ghillanyi."
"Of course, the Cinnabarina has a vivid character that appeals to some."
"Julian, stop." He looks her in the eye.
"Do we have a problem?"
"Yes, *we* have a problem."
He sighs and moves away from her, pushing through the overgrown ferns that flank the walkway to the seating area. He lowers himself into the cushions of the club chair and extends his legs, allowing his head to drop back onto his shoulders.
Olly follows, uncertain how to begin. Julian's eyes are closed and he looks elegant, reclined in the chair. His pale linen blazer offsets darker gabardine trousers and hand-sewn calfskin loafers. Olly recognizes the attitude of wealth. The Van Heldens date back to the earliest Dutch settlements in the area, but she's never allowed either lineage or good fortune to distance her from those around her who were less fortunate.
She stands over him and says with some authority, "We need to talk." Julian's eyes are slits as they regard her. He waits a few moments, then pulls himself upright.
She pulls the matching chair over to his and sits opposite, nearly knee-to-knee. "Julian, you must stop now." He's silent. "Someone is going to die and I won't be party to that."
He studies his manicured nails. "Olivia, you worry too much."
"Do I? And what should I say to the FBI who are staying in this very house? I'm not a deceitful person."
Julian looks at her, gray eyes made lighter by the soft illumination that infuses the space. "What have you told them?"
"Nothing that implicates you. But I cannot, I will not, protect you forever."
He leans forward and takes her hands into his. Looking into her worried eyes, he says, "Olivia, you know you're the only one who understands. I can't help myself."
"You *must* try," she tells him in a plaintive tone. "When will it end?"
"When I find her," he states. He pushes back his chair and, dropping Olly's hands, rises. He walks across the patio and turns. His words are deliberate. "There is... a presence in this area. I can't pinpoint it, but *she* is here. I feel it. I will find her, Olivia, and we will reunite in the sacred waters as we must."
Olly stands and approaches him. "I'm sorry, Julian. I simply can't be a part of this any longer." She moves past him, heading towards the entry to the house.
"Who will believe you?" he calls after her, causing her to stop and face him again. He takes a few steps towards her. "Yes, who? That fool Guarino? The government's watchdogs? No one will listen."
"I wouldn't be so sure about that."
His eyes narrow. "Besides, you'd be considered an accomplice for not coming forward sooner."
"I've thought about that, but I don't care."
"But you *should* care, Olivia." Julian's voice drops in timbre and pitch. "You *should* care because you must realize that I cannot allow anything or anyone to interfere with my quest." His hand moves slowly to the unbuttoned collar of his shirt. Olly tries to discern his purpose, but finds her eyes locked on his.
"Your quest is becoming a dangerous mission," she tells him. "When I first found you, dazed and shivering in here after that first time, I helped you because I felt sorry for you. And then, later, because I believed you. You *are* driven to these acts, but I never expected it to go this far or affect so many. I will tell, Julian. I will tell Nick Guarino and agents Mulder and Scully what I know about you."
His voice is soft, hypnotic, slow when he whispers, "You'll tell no one." Her eyes drop from his to where his shirt lay unbuttoned, bright whiteness filling her range of sight. Then darkness.
En Route 11:45 a.m.
The ground is sodden with rain when Mulder leaves the precinct, cloud cover thick overhead. It's nearly noon, but the darkening sky fails to reflect it. Yesterday's warmth is gone. A cold, sudden gust presses his leather jacket against his back. He watches the wind whip through a birch, twisting perfect yellow leaves from their moorings into a mini-vortex on the sidewalk. He pulls the door of the car closed with a solid thud and points the Taurus east towards the Shelter Island ferries.
His cell phone rings. "Mulder."
"I have good news and bad news, Mulder," Scully says without any trace of humor. "Which do you want first?"
"To quote a nice, Long Island girl, Scully: 'hit me with your best shot.'" He keeps his tone light, hoping to ease the tension that hums through the unit.
"Allison Jorge is still unconscious and her doctors don't know when that will change."
"What's the good news?"
"That is the good news. The bad news is there's a major storm moving into the area."
"I heard that on the radio. How is Allison Jorge being unconscious good news?"
"Because we got back to town early and I had a chance to do a little more digging. Allison Jorge is married to Wilson Jorge, a free-lance journalist for the Sag Harbor Times. I spoke to Mr. Jorge and he wanted to know if I thought it was coincidental that all the women abducted had been in Sag Harbor on Labor Day."
Mulder perks up. "Were they?"
"Yes, they were. All in attendance at a lecture hosted at the Mystic Bookshop, Mulder. Guess who the speaker was."
"The Naughty Professor?" He swears he can feel her grudging smile.
"I'm reading you the promo advertisement. 'Science and myth merge at our next Mystic roundtable when Dr. Julian Oracoff, professor of marine biology and environmental science at Southampton University reveals the mysteries of Atlantis.'"
"That puts him in direct contact with every victim prior to the abductions, Scully. And I just saw what looks like a portrait of Julian from our eyewitness on Jorge."
"I'm heading to the campus right now to arrest him."
"I have his address. I'm going there for further evidence."
"We don't have a search warrant."
"But we have probable cause. Put Oracoff in the tank and meet me there with the papers." Silence ensues for several, long seconds. Then come Scully's words.
"You were right, Mulder."
"Hey, it was your catch that tied it together."
"Guess that means you're not working alone."
His throat aches and his eyes soften. "Don't even suggest it," he murmurs. He thumbs the phone off and opens the map of Eastern Suffolk on the seat beside him. The mist on the windshield consolidates into droplets and he switches on the headlights and the wipers just as the skies open again.
The required ferry crossings and drive through Shelter Island and its southern companion would be pretty if the sun were shining or if he cared. One or the other. As it is, he's restless as he always is just before a bust. The roads are slick, traffic reduced to a crawl through the small towns that flank Route 114. The swi-ka-slap, ski-ka- slap of the wipers keeps time in his head, a slow counterpoint to the fireflash of neurons sparking in his cerebrum.
Julian's cryptic remark about the Roman's seventh month still nags at him. The creature has abducted one woman every three days since the fifteenth. September is the seventh month in the early Roman calendar and 'end-turn' suggests the thirtieth as the final day the Atlantean portal will be open. Mulder hypothesizes that Oracoff will abduct another woman on that day in a last ditch attempt at communion. But calendars have changed over the centuries.
He finds himself on autopilot while he drives, his inner eye searching personal databanks of information remarkably accessible to his eidetic memory. Images of ancient calendars: Mayan, Chinese, Egyptian and Gregorian rise in Technicolor glory, each fading into the next until the Roman calendar appears. He holds the image of that particular calendar while snippets of text play like subliminal audio tapes: kalendae, lunar, 10/355 and an obscure mnemonic phrase, "Fifty Mules May Jostle the Ostler," which reminds him that except for February, March, May, July and October, all the remaining months have twenty- nine days. Twenty-nine.
Today is the 29th of September.
Apprehension tingles like spray over his skin as Mulder realizes another abduction will occur before midnight. Scully is on her way to arrest him. Good. Or maybe not. The professor's undue attention to her may be nothing more than fascination, but Mulder isn't convinced it's not more devious than that. He reflects on his partner's safety and nearly turns west towards Southampton when he hits Route 27, then cans the idea. He's just escaped the doghouse for not granting her credence. Besides, she's with Guarino and will have plenty of backup. She can take care of herself.
He turns eastward toward Montauk with Scully on his mind. The houses thin and the rain eases. Sand dunes mark his left and the vast stretch of the sea, his right. Mulder switches on the radio, searching for something besides weather updates. Giselle promises to be noteworthy based on the damage being reported from southern latitudes. The gloom of the day and the news depresses him and he pauses as the dark acoustics of a guitar capture his ear...
...shouldn't be so complicated...
But it always is. Mothmen, mermen, madmen. What difference does it make? In a world of universal invariants, they are just random elements, with Scully as the ultimate, unstable isotope. She withholds and gives herself with equanimity, a tantalizing paradox of belief and denial, virtue and sin.
...started out clean but I'm jaded...
With no hope of a reprieve and no desire for one, either. Fucking Sir Galahad he's not. He's just a man trying to be strong but sensitive, close but unstifling, carnal but pure. Jesus, Scully. He's not *him* either.
...can you help me, I'm bent...I'm so scared...this is how we will end...
He snaps off the sound and takes the appropriate turnoff onto a private road. Topography changes and he's riding atop a rising crest that drops off to his right. He finds the mailbox for No. 4416 standing as sentinel at the top of weathered wood steps that disappear down the side of the cliff. Pulling the Taurus into dense overgrowth on the opposite side of the road, he leaves the car and heads down the stairs.
The bungalow is small, nondescript and in need of a fresh coat of paint. Considering Julian's expensive taste and fancy manners, Mulder is surprised, but only for a moment. The house is shielded from view by the rising cliff and dunes surrounding it, making it a perfect refuge for someone with something to hide.
Mulder's sneakers sink into the sand as he rounds the back of the cottage. He sidles along one wall until he stands poised by the corner at the front of the house. He checks for evidence of an occupant, then steps out onto a small deck.
The front door is flung wide, open to the sea and the sand. What draws his attention, however, is a figure at the water's edge some 30 yards beyond. Julian Oracoff stands naked, his back to Mulder, his feet in the surf. He spreads his arms wide, palms turned upward. A few, still moments pass and they return to his side. He wades into the surf grown rough with the impending storm. All at once, he dives without warning. Mulder watches for a head to emerge just beyond the foamy waves that pelt the shore. He waits... and waits... and waits. Finally, a small splash alerts him to a spot far beyond the breakers, beyond any place where a human being should be.
Mulder is a strong swimmer but as he assesses the odds of anyone being capable of swimming that far, that fast, a small thrill ripples through him. He pulls himself away from watching the distant figure to enter the house. A single large room with a small kitchen and bath set to one side comprise the entire living space.
He searches for evidence, coming up empty until he reaches a heavy pine table nestled into a rear corner, beneath plate glass windows overlooking the side and back of the house. The surface is covered with books, papers, rolls of what look to be sea maps, a spyglass and other assorted items indicating research and study into maritime pursuits.
Mulder pulls latex gloves from his jeans pocket and dons them before shuffling through the pages. He unrolls a map and discovers one marked with odd handwritten runes beside what appear to be longitude and latitude indicators and sextant markings. A glint of gold catches his eye and he pulls a gold nameplate from between the sheets, holding it up before his eyes. It reads "Mallory."
He bags the necklace and continues to explore, his interest diverted by the unusual assortment. He thumbs through several books, pausing here and there to take in a passage about Egyptian hieroglyphics or a few words from an Aramaic-English dictionary. His cursory perusal stops upon finding a slim sheaf of paper hand-bound on one side with grassy twine, strange runes embossed on the fragile cover. He recognizes the material as papyrus. Between the bindings are sheets filled with strange marks and drawings of machines that seem familiar somehow, despite their alien appearance.
So engrossed is he that he fails to notice the figure that enters the house on silent footsteps. The creature approaches and at last, a sixth sense tells Mulder he is not alone. He turns to meet the eyes of Julian Oracoff, hair slicked back, body beaded with seawater, a faraway look in his eyes.
Mulder moves to grab his weapon, then takes a step backwards in mute silence, stunned as his eyes drop along the man's form to find in the center of Julian's chest a third eye, open and blinking.
"Gar'n far vinesh. Sindu orrishma v'tosh," Julian intones.
"Oracoff, listen to me," Mulder says, his gaze returning to look into the creature's human eyes. "You don't have to do this. I can help you."
"V'tosh," is the creature's response, shaking his head. "V'tosh." He advances towards Mulder, central eye blazing.
Sag Harbor Precinct
News of Giselle fills the radio waves. The rain and wind that precede her grand passage across the East End swell and abate at uneven intervals. The streets are filled with residents scurrying to prepare for power outages often triggered by such weather.
Cover breaks for a few minutes and a tangerine sky peeks through smoke-blue clouds, their undersides stained with sunset's glory. Scully pulls into a vacant spot in front of the neo-Georgian faade of the station house and exits the car. Her mouth is set in a tight line, her focus and concern evident. She climbs the stone steps with purpose in search of Detective Guarino.
"Agent Scully?" a familiar voice calls from behind. Scully turns at the top of the stairs to see Olly climbing to meet her. The older woman approaches and stops several steps below the petite agent, to better meet her eyes. "Have you heard from Agent Mulder?"
"No, not for hours."
"I'm very worried for him. Do you know where he's gone?"
"Julian's." She heads off Olly's reply. "We know about his connection to the bookshop and the abductees, Olly. I'm not sure what your part in this is, but I think it's time you told me."
Olly's gray eyes grow troubled and she places a hand on Scully's arm. "He can't help himself. He doesn't mean harm, but the Marimorph is driven by a biological imperative and I'm afraid he'll stop at nothing."
"You're saying Julian is the Marimorph." Scully's skepticism colors her words.
Scully's eyes narrow as she takes in the fact that Olly believes this story. "Do you know where he is?"
"Not at the moment, no." Scully can see the conflicted emotions in the woman's eyes and while she doesn't understand her reasons for protecting him, she understands the feeling behind the action. "He... came to see me this morning. I told him I'd tell you about his complicity in the abductions. He overpowered me."
Concern for the older woman flashes across Scully's face. "Did he hurt you?"
"Not physically. I'm not sure what happened, to tell you the truth. I can't seem to remember."
The truth resonates deep within Scully. Of course. How could she not have seen it before? All at once, the concept of lost time begins to make sense, as do her own befuddled thinking and uncharacteristic passivity in Julian's presence.
"He wasn't at the university," she tells the older woman. "I was there today and they told me he didn't have classes."
"No, he wouldn't be there today. It's the 29th -- the last day."
Julian's words about the time frame for the portals spring to mind. Scully leads Olly up the remaining steps, guiding them towards the illuminated entry. "I need your help."
"I'll do whatever I can."
"Find Nick Guarino. Tell him we have evidence tying Julian to at least one abduction. Tell him I have a search warrant for his house and I'm heading there now."
"The Marimorph is a clever creature, Agent Scully. He'll escape you any way he can. Probably by water."
"Tell Guarino that." Olly hesitates for only a moment, then grabs Scully by the shoulders.
"I will. You find Mulder. He's in danger."
Scully remains calm, her inner anxiety contained only through years of practiced experience.
"I know," she says.
Several unsuccessful attempts at reaching Mulder's cell have Scully's radar on full-sweep. She's accustomed to being out of touch for long stretches of time, but Olly's words disturb her. Headlights flash on the 4416 carved into the wooden mailbox post 20 feet ahead, and she pulls the rental off to the shoulder.
She kills the engine and checks her weapon before leaving the vehicle. The private road is nothing more than a narrow strip of asphalt cut into the side of a high cliff. Without streetlights, the crescent moon that peeps from behind swift-moving clouds provides scant lighting. It's colder than when she started out and the thin jacket and linen trousers she's wearing do little to warm her in the wind that blusters around her small form.
Descending the steep stairs, she knuckles the side entry with a heavy hand. Through the window beside the door, she observes Julian's approach. She's nervous, concerned for Mulder's safety. She must ascertain his whereabouts before slapping the cuffs on Julian.
Julian's expression upon seeing her is one of surprised pleasure. "My dear Dana," he begins. "How wonderful of you to visit me, although I suspect from your expression that you're not here on a social call."
"Where's Mulder?" she asks in a low, steady voice.
"Your partner? I really don't know." His words seem genuine, but she doesn't trust them. He steps aside and gestures for Scully to enter. She does so in silence, turning when she reaches the center of the room.
"Have you been unable to reach him?" Julian inquires. Scully doesn't answer, but steps towards the kitchen and looks there and through the open bathroom doorway. Julian doesn't object, which heightens her mistrust.
"You know, Dana, I'm very glad you're here tonight. I couldn't have planned it better. The weather is regrettable, but not unexpected. Storms often accompany the aperture's closing. It's a warning of sorts." He goes on, his voice a soothing riff in her head, its mesmerizing quality distracting her.
Why is she here? Mulder, she reminds herself and pushes herself to speak. "Mulder was meeting me here."
"Really? Well, I'm sorry to inform you that he won't be able to make that appointment." Julian smiles. And from that, Scully understands that Mulder's life is in jeopardy.
If he's even alive.
Mulder wakes with a pounding headache and a stiff back. He's gagged and bound, his wrists and ankles secured by thick rope. He's sitting on a damp cement floor, his cheek resting against a rough wooden wall. Pulling himself into an upright position, he looks around. The scent of wet sand and ocean and metal assails his nostrils. He's in a shed of some kind.
Grimy moonlight filters through a small, four-paned window above his head. He looks at the assortment of tools that fills the small space, looking for something that can slice his bindings. Then he spies it: a scythe poised on a rusty nail.
With controlled exertion, he inches his body to where the tool hangs. It's in a precarious position, just above him. He has to maneuver himself into a kneeling position to gain leverage and the effort is exhausting. His mind keeps fighting him, telling him to sleep, to sleep, v'tosh.
That's what Oracoff kept saying, Mulder realizes, although he has no idea how he recognizes the word. Sleep, however, is not an option. Raising his wrists above his head, against the serrated edge, he rocks them with tentative strokes against the blade. The cutter teeters on its iron perch, threatening to drop its curved, honed edge atop the fettered agent. He must have patience but all he can think is, "Scully will be here soon." The soft buzz of the blade and the faint odor of burnt fiber waft in the dark.
"Stop right there." Scully fixes her weapon on Julian, who remains in place. His eyes betray not fear, but amusement.
"Really, Dana. Is this necessary?"
"Just be quiet." Her external demeanor is calm, even as she feels her mind growing clouded. What is wrong with her? Julian is speaking again and she focuses on his voice.
"I realize you have tender feelings towards your partner out of loyalty or camaraderie or even sexual attraction. But we're beyond that at this point. You have a greater purpose and tonight you will fulfill your destiny."
"What do you mean, destiny?" She must stay alert.
"Your rightful place in Atlantis."
His continued serenity in the face of her authority and her weapon are congruent with grandiose delusional thinking, making him a dangerous wild card. Yet, even as her mind grapples with Julian's insanity and her need to find Mulder, she's lulled by the timbre and cadence of his words.
"My place," she repeats with a shake of her head, hoping to clear the fogginess that escalates without reason.
"Yes. United with me in the sacred waters, we will transfigure, our separate identities coalescing into a single form -- our true form --that will enable us to travel to the depths of the ocean where we will find haven
again." Julian steps forward, but Scully reasserts her grip on her SIG, which had dipped as she listened to his fantastic theory.
"Stop right there," she warns, a frantic edge in her voice.
Julian sighs and looks at her as if she were a stubborn child. "There's no point in this."
His superior attitude and the growing helplessness she feels irks her. Anger cuts a fiery swath through the miasma in her brain and she battles for clarity. "Is this what you told the others?" she challenges. "This fairy tale?"
"You mean the women I honored? They've all been returned, alive, relatively unharmed."
"Allison Jorge is in critical care. If she doesn't make it, you'll be facing murder charges as well as kidnapping, to say nothing of threatening a federal agent."
"Federal-- you're referring to Mulder?" She cocks her brows at him. "He isn't dead, you know, just disabled."
"What do you mean?"
"He's unharmed, if that's your concern, but he won't be interfering."
Her anxiety edges down only a notch. Her thoughts shift from Mulder to Olly. Has she reached Guarino? Her thoughts shift again to Julian and his motives. She feels distracted and cannot focus. She slips her hand into her pocket, reaching for her cuffs.
"Why these women?" she asks.
"I sensed something in the book shop, the day I met them."
"I wasn't there. Explain *that.*"
"My intuition isn't foolproof. But you are connected to them somehow, and the sea. It's a part of you."
"The human body is 95 percent water. It's a part of all of us."
"No," he says, eyes squinting. "It's more than that. You resonate, much like someone else I know..." His attention lapses and Scully seizes the chance to step forward.
Focus returns with a vengeance and he grabs the cuffs from her fingers and tosses them aside. She gasps and backs off only inches, but it's enough distraction for Julian to snatch her weapon as well. He points the gun at her and backs her towards the table until her hips press the edge.
She curses herself for carelessness. Agents are taught early on to watch hands. She tries to remember basic defensive arts but cannot, and her lack of focus alarms and dismays her. She watches Julian's hands now for signs of intent.
"It's time to go," he informs her, gun still in his right hand while his left unbuttons the denim shirt he wears and the light envelops them.
Once the first cord is severed, Mulder loosens the remaining bindings. He undoes his gag, taking in a deep breath, then spits out the taste of cotton and copper. The rope burns on his wrists sting, his knees ache and his head hurts. "Gettin' too old for this shit," he mutters to himself. He glances at his watch -- 8 p.m.
He stands, groaning from the stiffness, sensation restored to his limbs in a painful blood rush. He pulls at the door's rusting iron handle. It doesn't budge. A second, fruitless attempt and he slams his left hand against the weathered doorframe. The splintered surface stings his palm as he peers out the window to see the back of Oracoff's house twenty feet away. The lights are on and questions swirl in his mind. Is Scully there? Is she safe? Does she have back up? Is Oracoff in custody? Or, knowing the creature's intentions and his tranquilizing effect on his victims, is *she* the one in danger?
He pushes aside the trepidation licking his heels and grabs a shovel that leans in a corner. Turning his face away, he bashes through the glass with the flat spade. Climbing out is awkward and he tumbles to the ground head first. He rises and stumbles as he makes his way towards the house. The side door is unlocked and he enters an empty room, the front door still flung wide. His breathing is quick and his brow furrowed with worry. A quick perusal confirms his darker suspicions. On the table lie Scully's cell phone and her gun. He picks up the weapon and shoves it into the waistband of his jeans. He turns and steps towards the front door, stopping when he spies her jacket and shoes in a small heap beside the entry.
Dread flows like a river as he steps onto the tiny porch. That's when he feels a warm wetness on his outer left thigh. He looks down and sees the dark stain of blood seeping through the ripped denim. He slips his thumb through the jagged tear to assess the wound and presses into a gash of some depth. He winces as he gauges its length at five inches. Damn.
There's no time to dwell on it. Giselle is beginning her pass over the Forks. The wind whistles in his ears and the heavens are nearly opaque with flat clouds, except for a sliver of sky at the horizon where a pale sickle moon hovers above black water. An impending, early moonset adds to his distress.
Peering out over the water, he notices something else. Two figures are knee-deep in the surf, heading out to sea on foot. He recognizes the tall, slender form as Oracoff. The smaller, feminine form being tugged along is his partner. Anxiety transforms to anger.
He races towards the ocean, stripping off jacket and tee shirt as he goes. At the water's edge, he yanks off his sneakers and socks and strides into the wild surf. "Scully!" he calls to the pair that is at least fifty yards beyond him, but the wind swallows his cry. Cold bites through the heavy denim and his feet sink into the sandy floor. He strides through the breakers that tumble and pitch around him, a fierce undertow sucking at his legs.
Low tide. The ocean floor descends in a slow-gradient as he trails the receding figures that have, somehow, increased their lead on him. They must be nearing the barrier shelf, where the land drops off into the abyss. Once past the raucous waves, Mulder dives into waist-high water and begins to stroke towards the pair. His body temperature adjusts to the chill Atlantic waters and he pours his energy into reaching Julian and Scully. After several minutes of steady pulling, he stops, his feet just able to touch bottom as the water surges above his shoulders.
"Scully!" he calls again to the man and woman now within earshot. His voice carries and they pause. Oracoff turns, holding Scully against him as he keeps her head above water. She is listless in his grasp, face turned downward. Mulder navigates until he is only a few yards from them. "Scully," he calls again and her head lifts towards the sound of his voice. Oracoff turns back towards open water, dragging Scully with him.
"Oracoff! Stop, you bastard, or I will shoot you."
He complies and turns to reface Mulder, who stands with the water at his chin, weapon held above the surface. Julian holds Scully before him like a shield, her face level with his as they both watch Mulder.
"Scully?" Mulder queries, watching her eyes and taking hope from the spark of lucidity he sees emerging there. Darkness falls as the moon sets and the rain begins to fall.
"Do you really think you can stop me?" Oracoff inquires in an affected manner. "Aside from your useless weapon, you're human --with inadequate biology, an inferior mind and a complete lack of appreciation for this woman and her potential."
Mulder's fear for Scully's safety is magnified tenfold as the water swirls around them and the rain escalates. He'd attempt a shot if he could get a clear line of sight. Meanwhile, his soul wrestles with the creature's words.
"Getting a little personal, aren't we?" he tosses off with as much glibness as he can muster.
"Mulder!" Scully calls, her voice faint but assured. Mulder still maintains his bead on Oracoff in spite of the night, the weather and the prospect that the weapon may not fire after submersion.
"Are you okay?" he asks her.
"She's perfectly fine, Mr. Mulder. Just like the others. Only she isn't going to be returned."
"What are you talking about?"
"Dana is going home tonight. To her rightful home."
"To Atlantis. Is that what you're telling me?" Mulder's sarcasm is tinged with curiosity. "You think she's your soul mate?"
"Mulder, he's insane," Scully says in a quiet voice.
"I know what he is, Scully, and he isn't going anywhere."
Oracoff interjects, "I suggest you head back now, before the storm worsens. The undertow is shifting. I wouldn't want to be held responsible--"
At that moment, Scully pushes against him, hard, attempting to escape his clutches. Her timing and unexpected behavior gains her freedom, except for the vise-like grip Oracoff keeps on her wrist. The sound of an approaching boat can be heard above the wind and rain.
"Guarino," Scully calls to Mulder.
"What?" Oracoff snarls and pulls her back towards him. She thrashes against him and he wails in anguish, "You would betray me?" His hands grasp her shoulders and he plunges her beneath the surface.
Mulder ditches the gun and dives forward. Coming up from underneath, he forces himself between the two. Oracoff releases Scully as they break the surface and she pushes free, choking and gasping for breath. Mulder tries to pin the creature's arms behind him, but his hands slip along slick skin. He feels a sharp tug on his legs and has but a moment to grab a lungful of air before being yanked beneath the dark water.
He struggles with Oracoff who holds his torso, face down, in the vise-like grip of his legs below the surface, his hands pinned behind his back. Mulder twists and turns, but cannot gain leverage. His lungs ache, his eyes burn and his head pounds. The first trickle of cold seawater fills his mouth and the faces of Scully, Samantha and his mother flash through his mind as the dark edge of unconsciousness slips forward.
All at once, the pressure around his waist is gone, as is Julian. Instinct kicks him to the surface and he's gasping for air, surrounded by a circle of white light. A motorboat chutters close by and he squints into the brightness.
"Mulder?" Guarino shouts from deck. "Scully!"
Mulder scans the choppy surface around him, panting and coughing. Rain pelts the water, sending spray back up into his face even as the rain batters him from above. He spies a flash of movement and the sound of moving water to his left. He gulps and pivots in place, his footing gone. He expects Oracoff. Instead, Scully swims past. She stops and turns back to him. "Come on," she says in a breathless rush and he follows.
They are still ten yards out from the side of the boat, when he feels the current shift. It isn't natural. And it's very strong. "Scully!" Mulder cries and she stops again, treading water. He feels the upsurge of cold current wrapping around his legs, pulling him away from the boat, away from the light, away from Scully.
"Mulder!" Scully yells, but her voice is distant in his ears as he is sucked into a slow-turning liquid vortex. "Mulder!" he hears again, closer. And then she's there with him, holding on to him, keeping his head above water.
They battle the current, their strength ebbing in a steady stream as they keep one another surfaced. He feels Scully's grasp on him weakening and his left leg is throbbing. He's lost all sense of direction, knowing only that he must keep awake, keep kicking to the surface. They must stay alive.
The life preserver that splashes to his right is a welcome sight. Mulder reaches out and seizes it, holding onto Scully with his left arm. He draws her forward and she grabs onto the large orange ring. The water still drags at them, but inch by inch, they feel the tug of the rescue line bringing them closer to the vessel, until they are alongside the drop ladder with Guarino and Olly helping them up and onto the foredeck.
The rain stops and streaks of starlit indigo emerge between the thinning clouds. They collapse, side by side, onto a hard-molded bench that juts from the inside wall of the boat. Guarino approaches, blankets in hand. His grave expression reveals how awful they look. Mulder wraps one around Scully's trembling frame. He drops to one knee to tuck the second around her legs. He looks up into her eyes and says, "We gotta get you dry."
"Y-you," she stammers back in a whisper, tremors wracking her body.
He'd been warm in the water, adrenaline pumping, but the cooler air following the storm front nips at his clammy skin and the wound in his leg burns. A tight shiver overtakes him. "Here," Guarino says, removing his squall jacket and handing it to Mulder, who doffs and zippers it with a grateful nod. "Oracoff?"
"I dunno," Mulder replies, looking up at the detective. "I lost him."
From the opposite end of the boat, Mulder hears Olly calling for Oracoff, over and over. He peers through the gloom to see her clutching the sides of the skiff, leaning forward, over the water. She's removed her storm jacket and the dark turtleneck and jeans she's wearing cling to her narrow figure. Her dark gray tresses curl black around her shoulders and in the half-lit space, she seems much younger than the seventy-odd years she's spent on terra firma.
Guarino turns towards her with a shake of his head. "I don't see how he could have survived."
"I wouldn't be so sure."
Guarino turns to question Mulder's cryptic response, when a sudden splash causes both men to turn portside with a start.
"Olivia," says Guarino meeting Mulder's eyes. They rush to the side. The detective casts the spotlight in a wide sweep across the ever-moving surface. They spot Olly, making steady headway towards the vortex that continues to spiral in a slow turn just beyond the reach of the boat.
"Olly!" Mulder yells. "Come back! You'll never find him," he shouts. He looks back at Guarino, who is removing his gun holster.
"I'm going after her," Guarino says, heading back to the drop ladder. Mulder grabs the spotlight, focusing its beam on the elderly woman who strokes away from them with unusual agility and vigor. He grapples for balance as the boat is captured in the outermost edge of the maelstrom and he's pitched against the side of the boat.
Regaining his balance, he looks at Guarino who stands poised to dive, but seems frozen in place. His expression is one of disbelief as he stares at the water. Mulder shifts his gaze to where he remembers Olly being and exhales his breath in a rush.
The sea is growing lighter.
In an ever-widening circle around the boat, dark water is shifting tone. Black turns greenish-gray, then deep emerald. Mulder grips the side of the boat and calls out, "Scully, you gotta see this." He glances back at her, but she is huddled beneath her cocoon of blankets. He turns back, unable to resist the lure of the spectacle unfolding before him.
The verdant waters continue to transmute, green morphing suddenly into aquamarine and turquoise combined. And then he sees it -- a glowing form rising from beneath. Olly sees it too, he surmises, because she stops swimming and simply waits.
The luminous being rises, refracting light through the water in arcing ripples of gold that scatter as they disperse into the surrounding brine. It breaks the surface without sound or effort close to where Olly treads water. She reaches a tentative hand out to it and a luminescent limb mirrors her action. Fingers, or what Mulder assumes are fingers, touch her hand. He is mesmerized, unable to look away.
The image turns vaporous and he squints, then blinks several times before he realizes he's staring through a thick haze that rises and settles all around them with eerie swiftness. He strains to see the watery pair, but they are cloaked in a mantle of mist. The lights off the boat reflect back only impenetrable whiteness as fog billows over the deck.
Mulder closes his eyes and drops his head onto his arms in weariness. He knows they will never see Julian or Olivia again.
The azure sky is cloudless and sunlight skitters on the surface of the bay, fracturing into brilliant shards wherever it alights. Sailboats point their canvas wings into the wind like so much origami on the harbor, enjoying the brisk winds that trail in Giselle's wake. The occasional motorboat putters out from the marina.
Scully stands at the edge of the dock, taking in the tranquil scene that belies the prior evening's chaos. She remembers confronting Julian, then losing consciousness until she heard Mulder's voice calling her name. Then she was in the sea, being held against her will and battling for her life, and his. Their rescue is a blur. She was diagnosed with minor hypothermia and held for observation overnight. Her blood chemistry was unaffected and her heart betrayed no irregularities. Even so, it will be some time before she feels truly warm again.
She wraps her arms around herself, fingers plying the softness of the alpaca ruana that drapes around her in fawn- colored folds. Mulder's extravagant and unexpected gift gives her pause. He can irritate her to insensibility with his arrogance, his propensity to embrace myth over fact and his subtle manipulations. He can also dazzle her with random acts of kindness, leaps of intuition, and the more overt expressions of his feelings for her. He'd needed sutures for a nasty gash on his thigh, but she'd yet to hear him complain about it. She senses his presence behind her without seeing him.
"Coast Guard still hasn't found any trace of them," he says in a straightforward manner.
"They're gone, Mulder. And we're done here."
"I gave Guarino my report, our report." She nods as she follows the swoop and cry of terns and gulls that beset an incoming trawler. "At least they're together."
"In death?" she says, considering how easily they might have ended up like Olivia, like Julian, like the cargo heading into harbor. Her tone must betray her cynicism.
"In life, Scully," he refutes. "I know what I saw and yeah, I think they realized their destiny together. I know you don't believe in the idea of a soul mate, but there *are* animals that mate for life, you know. The wolf, the gorilla, even swans and geese."
"That's instinct, not choice." Deepening intimacy with Mulder is proving as difficult a task as she always imagined it would be, wounded psyches held captive behind protective walls. The glimpses into what might be, however, keep her on course towards a future she cannot imagine without him. "Still," she adds, her voice softening, "I *do* think we're where we're supposed to be, to learn what we're supposed to learn."
"That's pretty Zen for a scientist." She can see his amused smile in her mind's eye.
"Did you know the word science comes from the Latin word 'scire,' to know? That's all science is. A way to know something--a method."
"And what does science say about the possibility of soulmates?"
"It says nothing, Mulder, because there's no way to prove it.
But..." she adds as an afterthought, then pauses.
"But?" His tone is laced with curiosity.
"I suppose that assuming everything can even be explained by science is a presupposition that begs further inquiry."
"Are you saying the idea of soulmates is a possibility?"
She hesitates a moment, then says, "As a choice, Mulder. Not instinct."
She feels him step closer behind her, the weight of his hands on either side of her shoulders. They stand just so for several seconds and then she turns to face him. He drops his hands and she looks up. His eyes are serious, greener than usual with the refracted blue of the water and sky around them.
"You promised me a walk on the beach," she reminds him in a soft voice.
"So I did. Still interested?"
She grabs his hand. "Always. I just need another minute."
"I'll be waiting," he says, then turns towards the car.
She allows the loss of his presence to impact and watches him retreat. She considers their words. The idea of a soul mate is romantic, but highly unlikely, in her mind. Whatever it is that draws two people together has more to do with common interests, shared goals and plain old chemistry than some mindless karma. She thinks of Mulder. Soulmate? She shakes her head and chuffs at the thought. Then she turns and looks seaward once more.
She's in love with him. He knows this. Has known for some time. Still, he doesn't press her for more than she is ready to give and she's grateful for his abiding patience. Whether destiny has fated them to be together, she cannot say. What she does know is that this case is over and there's a seven-hour drive back to D.C. ahead of them. Maybe she'll offer to make him dinner when they get home and maybe he'll say yes. After that, is anyone's guess.
She looks back over the water and wonders if Atlanteans are happy.
Author's NOTES: When I began writing fanfic, those who wrote casefiles awed me. I could never achieve such a thing. That's what I told myself. Then came "the invitation" from VS8 and I said <gulp>, okay. Imagine my surprise when the muse granted me this. I owe many thanks to many people. First and foremost to my betas, amazing Musea, for their love, generosity and respect. To Audrey, for fidelity, friendship and faith; Thea, for teaching me craft; Patti, for being this Angel's angel; Marsha, for keeping me smiling and AM out of the Delete box; Bonnie, Cameo and Diana for being you and for being there. To Laurie Haynes and the rest of the IMTP (staff and writers), for all you did to make this a reality. Thank you all.
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Fox Mulder David Duchovny
Thanks for reading!