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locking out the ghosts

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Within a few hours of Mulder's arrival in Chicago, he's calling Scully to check up on some phrase. Hiding in the light. Scully resists the urge to point out that she doesn’t like the idea of him being on this case alone if it really isn't a waste of time. She begrudgingly agrees to pick her way through hundreds of casefiles to look for the phrase. Why, she thinks absently to herself as she hangs up the phone, is it never me working alone on these cases and him checking through papers for references? Well, there was that one time in Maine, she supposes. But he was desperately unhelpful then.

She spends the afternoon flipping through casefiles, leaves at five and comes back at eight to start it up again. A half-hour in, she finds it: Jerrold Resnick, Florida, 1992. A deacon who shot members of his own congregation, claiming that they wouldn’t bleed if they were victim to the evil presence he claimed was stalking them. He told the police the evil was “hiding in the light”.

Scully calls Mulder to tell him the story, and she can practically hear him thinking through the phone line, the gears in his brain chewing up that story and spitting it out. “Scully, at the risk of you telling me ‘I told you so’, I think it’s time for you to get down here and help me,” he says when she is finished.

“I told you so,” she says, not without smugness, but also not without teasing. When he hangs up, he leaves a pleasant silence in his wake. She’s thought before that things are less awkward between them if they have something to work on, something to talk about, to argue over.

She heads straight for the airport, stopping only briefly to pack a bag, and gets on a flight to Chicago after an hour of the familiar airport dance. She arrives in Chicago a little after one. At the rental car place, she’s forced to ask for directions from the man behind the counter. “Do you know how to get to the VinylRight office?” she asks, signing her name on a form. Mulder never gave her an address.

The man raises his eyebrows. “VinylRight? You mean the place where they’re having that hostage crisis?”

Surprise flickers over her face as she repeats, “Hostage crisis?”

“Oh, yeah, some guy with a gun is holding people inside the building. They’ve got the FBI down there and everything. I’d avoid VinylRight today if I were you, miss.” The man offers her the keys to the car.

Mind racing, Scully absently says, “Thank you,” and takes the keys. She’s too late to prevent what happened with Jerrold Resnick from happening here. And Mulder, Mulder might be in there alone because she didn’t come with him. Because they both believed this case was a waste of time, no matter what she said at the Bureau.

As she climbs into the car, she tries to reassure herself. She likely wouldn’t have been able to help Mulder if she’d come up with him; in fact, she might even have a chance to save him because she stayed back and was able to look into that hiding in the light lead. He has an idea of what to expect now. And there’s no guarantee he’s in there; he could be on the outside looking in. She’s about to call him, but she revises this plan quickly: it may not be safe to call him, a phone call could get him killed if he is, in fact, being held at VinylRight. She calls the Chicago field office, rattles off her badge number and gives her status as Mulder’s partner before demanding to know what’s going on. They confirm what she already feared—that Mulder is likely being held at VinylRight—and give her directions to the site. Heart thudding like a drum, Scully navigates the busy streets of Chicago, telling herself again and again, It’s not like last time, Mulder’s smart, he may be an idiot sometimes but he probably won’t provoke his captor unless other people are at risk, probably won’t, we’ll get him out, it’ll be fine. She just wishes she believed that.

At VinylRight, the agent in charge, an Agent Rice, tells her that no one is answering the phones, that there are eighteen cars in the parking lot and one of them is Mulder’s. Scully manages to keep up a calm facade, pretends her insides aren’t tangled like a first-grader trying to tie a knot. They tell her they are going to try calling Mulder, and she says, “No. Not until we get a clear idea of the situation.”

“There’s a small cafeteria in the building. We think our guy’s got everyone barricaded there, he couldn’t have picked a better spot—one door, no windows,” says a member of the SWAT team. “We’re not going to get a clear idea of the situation unless someone in there talks to us.”

“If you make a phone call right now, it could compromise Agent Mulder,” she says back, before addressing Rice. “Sir, we need to find another way.”

Rice seems to be considering her words. Scully turns to look towards the building when, all of a sudden, rapid-fire shots explode through the building and it’s suddenly hard to breathe. She ducks behind a police car as the agents on the roof run away, sliding down a crane to the ground. Something crackles through the SWAT agent’s headset, something about shooting through the ceiling, something about an A.K. “We got to find out what the hell’s going on in that building,” Rice says. She’s looking away from him, watching the building, but she looks back at him when he says, “I’m calling your partner.”

“No,” she says, insistent. “If it was safe to do so he would have called us already.”

“Agent Scully, we don’t have a lot of options here.”

Panic coursing through her, she looks back towards the building, as if she’d be able to see or hear Mulder right through the walls. She hears the beeps of Agent Rice dialing, hears the phone ringing as he puts it to his ear. The rings seem to go on forever with no answer. Scully digs her fingernails into the fabric of her pants, trying to breathe easily. And then a brief series of gunshots from the building, and her breath catches in her throat. Seconds slowing as if stuck in molasses, lasting an eternity. The phone seems to ring forever. The phone rings and rings and rings until she hears the click of someone picking up. “Hello?” Rice says, standing and stepping away. “Hello. Is anybody on the line? We heard gunfire. Is everyone all right?”

Scully stands beside the SWAT agent, waiting, waiting. She can hear the muffled sound of a voice on the other end, but no words from this far away. “Who am I speaking to?” Rice asks. The sounds of yelling now. Rice lowers the phone, says, “I think he just shot a hostage.”

“Who?” she demands, fragments of an uneven prayer flickering through her mind. Not Mulder, she wants to say. She wants to say that it can't be Mulder, because she would know if he was dead, but you never know. She has experience in this field, and she can testify that you never fucking know.

Rice shakes his head a little to indicate he doesn’t know. “He’s still asking for his 15 minutes of fame.”

Her gaze flickers towards the building, before she says, commands, “Give it to him.”

Rice calls again to tell him that they are bringing him a cameraman, and there are no signs of aggression on the other end. Scully stands by the monitor that the footage from inside, watches the camera blink to life. It pans across the people clustered together, too fast for her to see if Mulder is among them (if he’s all right), before it lands on him directly. Him alone, at gunpoint with his hands behind his head, his lower lip split. Her eyes widen, nausea stirring up in her stomach. “You see who’s going to get hurt if you bust down this door?” the gunmen says, and it feels like he is talking directly to her. She looks back at the building, thinking, Yes, I understand, I’ll do what you want, just don’t hurt him, even though this has nothing to do with Mulder. If anything, he’ll keep Mulder alive now, as leverage, since he clearly knows Mulder is an FBI agent. But that won’t stop him from being hurt.

The “reporter” is doing a fairly convincing news report, stoking the gunman’s ego. The correct move. “Is he getting this?” Scully asks.

“Yeah,” Rice confirms. “Closed circuit’s bouncing it back into the building. He thinks he’s going to be a star.”

Mulder is looking into the camera. She swallows. She wishes he knew she was here, that she is going to get him out. The SWAT agent tells the cameraman to show them the room and the cameraman turns away from Mulder, revealing the people clustered around the counter, the people bound to the door, the clear exterior wall. The SWAT agent commands his team into position, stands to go and join them. Scully watches the man move towards the building before her gaze goes back to the screen, to Mulder.

“Lie down on the floor,” the gunman commands. Mulder turns towards him questioningly, and he snarls, “Do it!”, shoves Mulder forward. Scully’s stomach leaps. Mulder obeys, lowering himself to the floor. The gunman steps in front of the camera as the footage focuses on him. He stands proud with his gun in his hand, ready for his rousing speech. Someone from the news van announces that they are about to switch to the footage inside. Scully watches as the gunman prepares himself, as he begins speaking. “People of America… a monster walks among you.” He instructs the camera man to pan the camera over to a man sitting against the counter, a balding man in a suit who would not fit the definition of monster for most. “Get up,” the gunman commands, and the balding man complies, a frightened look on his face. Offscreen, the gunman says, “Now I’ll show it to you.”

“No, Gary!” All of a sudden, Mulder is stepping in front of the balding man, and Scully’s breath catches in her throat. Why does he have to be the goddamn martyr all the time?

“Get out of the way,” the gunman—Gary—says, and she gets the sense that there is a gun pointed at them.

“Don’t do this,” Mulder says.

“Get out of the way,” Gary growls.

“Don’t do this, Gary,” says Mulder, and just then, the lights go off. The SWAT team is about to strike. Mulder could be hurt in the crossfire. Get downMulder, she thinks desperately.

Gary is screaming for Mulder to get out of the way. “Put down the rifle,” Mulder says.

“Get out of the way now!” Gary shouts, and Scully breathes shakily, eyes glued to the screen. It is too dark to see anything but shapes, Mulder’s figure and the figure behind him.

Silence for a second, and then Gary whispering something. She can see Mulder hesitating. “Look at it!” Gary roars.

Mulder looks behind him. Scully sees nothing, hears nothing but the anxious breathing of the other man. “See?” Gary says pleadingly, nearly whimpering. See what, Scully thinks, what the hell does he want Mulder to see?

The SWAT van gears up, starts towards the wall, and Scully holds her breath, and there’s the brief flicker of light, the screaming of hostages as the van pushes through the wall, just before the footage cuts out. The cameraman taking cover. There’s the brief sound of gunfire, and Scully holds her breath.

---

Mulder sees it. Just before the SWAT team bursts in, he sees it. Just briefly, he hears the buzzing, sees the wavering gray insect in Pincus’s place. The FBI comes in, shoot Gary, swarm around the room and around the body, taking his weapons away. Mulder watches numbly. Is it possible… he thinks. It can’t be possible, but he saw it. He saw it. He looks over at the Pincus-thing, who gives him a blank look. He looks away.

Gary is on the floor, blood trickling from his mouth, Mulder draws closer, kneeling beside him. Gary looks at him, meets his eyes and whispers, “Now you know,” before closing them.

Mulder winces, blinking in the daylight as he looks away. Gary can’t be right. He can’t be. He is a madman who killed someone. He looks over at Pincus, who is being helped by an agent. The man looks perfectly normal, if not a little stressed out. But he saw him as an insect in the dark, moving and buzzing…

“Mulder?” Scully appears at the edge of the hole in the wall, haloed by the light afternoon light. Relief fills her eyes as she spots him, as she crosses to stand beside him. He gets to his feet, taking the completely unnecessary hand she offers to help him up. “Are you okay?” she asks, her voice warm at the edge. She squeezes his fingers.

Her skin against his is a relief, but he’s distracted, eyes moving back to Pincus. “Yeah,” he says softly. “I’m fine.”

---

He gives his account to another agent, watching the paramedics examine Gary, do CPR, but it’s too late. They begin putting him in the body bag just as the agent finishes up. Mulder alternates between watching Pincus get interviewed and examined, and watching them bag Gary. He watches them take him away, wondering, wondering if he was right. If If Pincus is a monster.

“You look exhausted,” Scully says, approaching him from the side. She squeezes his arm.

“No, I’m fine,” he says. He’s considering: Would she? Would she believe me if I told her what I saw? Would anyone?

“Agent Rice has the situation in hand. Let’s get you out of here,” says Scully, but he isn’t listening. He’s watching Pincus as a paramedic smooths a bandage over the wound on his head. “Mulder?” Scully asks as he walks towards the man, the monster.

“I can’t begin to thank you,” the Pincus-thing says to him gratefully. “I owe you my life. We all do.”

“Do you have any idea why he fixated on you the way he did?” Mulder asks.

“Not, not at all,” Pincus says innocently. Like he’s in shock and disbelief. “I feel like I barely even know the man. I mean, I try to be a good guy to work for.”

He is wincing as he touches the bandage, and Mulder is wondering if Gary was wrong, if he was just seeing things, he’s stressed, exhausted, it’s been a long fucking week, it was dark… “You mentioned another incident with another employee at a plant in Kansas City in 1994,” he prods.

“Yes.”

“Were you at that plant at that time?”

“Well, I wasn’t there when it happened, but yeah. Did I mention that?”

Mulder shakes his head. He can feel Scully watching him, and he remembers what she mentioned yesterday, about Jerrold Resnick. “What about Lakeland, Florida. Have you ever lived there?”

“I’ve been there. I have relatives there.” Pincus looks between him and Scully expectantly. “Was there anything else?”

Scully cuts in: “Uh, no, Mr. Pincus. Thank you very much for your patience.” She draws closer to Mulder as Pincus leaves, asks gently, “What’s going on?”

Maybe he’s wrong. Maybe he is wrong. But the connections to Florida are so improbable, and what happened in Kansas City… But anyone who he tells his theory will think him delusional. Like Gary.

“I don’t know,” he whispers, walks away.

He’s nearly made it to his car when Scully catches up with him. “Mulder, you need to rest,” she says, brushing her hand over his elbow. “What you’ve been through…”

“I’m fine, Scully,” he says, maybe a little harshly. He’s tired and he’s tired of this fucking shit happening to him and he wants to know if he’s imagining things or not. He’s tired of Skinner putting him in these situations where he almost dies, and he’s tired of thinking he’s going to die. He can taste copper in his mouth, feel the scrape of gun metal against his head. It never fucking ends.

Scully’s jaw works as she watches him. “Has anyone checked your lip?” she says softly. She reaches for his face, but stops just short of touching it.

He nods irritably. “It’s fine, just another bang-up. I’m kind of used to them, you know.” Scully grimaces, just a little, and he keeps plunging on before she can say something else. “I want to go home, Scully. We can grab a flight back to Washington and be back by this evening. It’s not even that late.”

Worry in her eyes, she lowers her hand, the side of her knuckle brushing his cheek briefly. He can’t tell if it was an accident or not. “Okay, sure,” she says quietly. “We’ll have to drive separately.”

“Fine, that’s fine.” He’s nearly bouncing on his feet. “I’ll have to go by the hotel and check out anyway. And pack. You go onto the airport and get the tickets, I’ll meet you there.”

“Okay.” Scully steps closer then, hands reaching out to land on his shoulders, and it’s not quite a hug, but he can feel her presence, her body heat, and for a moment, he allows himself to be relieved that she’s here, she came. She leans closer, whispers, “I’m glad you’re okay,” in his ear, brushes her mouth over his cheek before stepping away.

Mulder watches her walk to her car, the feeling of panic falling away, if only for a second. He has missed her. He has. He loves her. He wants to tell her about what he saw in there, tell her the things he thinks about with a gun to his head, ask her why she left that morning. He gets into the car and starts it. Maybe she’ll believe him if he tells her about the Pincus-thing. Maybe. Maybe if he can find the right angle to make himself sound sane. Maybe she can help him understand what he saw.

A few minutes in the car, and he’s already revising his theory. She won’t believe him, she never does. And besides, who would, at this stage? What he needs is proof, and he knows how to find it. If it appeared in the X-Files in Florida, than maybe it appeared somewhere else. If he can find the proof, show Scully the patterns, then maybe he can convince her, convince others, bring Pincus down before he/it hurts anything else…

A plan forms in his head as he goes to the hotel and packs, as he drives to the airport. He needs to gather the evidence, build a case. Convince Scully to investigate. He needs to be smart about this, or he’ll end up in deep shit. Smart. He can do this. If there are zombies out there, if Pincus really is a monster, he’ll be smart about the way he finds them. He can lend credibility to Lambert’s claim, give it a perspective outside of Man With Gun Who Is Killing People, help bring the monster down.

Scully watches him out of her wide, worried eyes as they share a plastic-wrapped sandwich and a bag of pretzels at the airport. Mulder bites a pretzel in half, tears at the sandwich crust. They don’t talk much. They don’t need to. He doesn’t know what he’d say. Hey, Scully, you know the guy who almost killed me? Well, I think I might believe him—except, don’t worry, I’m not going to kill anyone. They board the plane, put their carry-on into the overhead compartment. He takes the window seat and watches the city of Chicago vanish below them.

He doesn’t remember falling asleep, but he wakes up from a dream of muddled grays and blacks and an incessant buzzing like an enormous fly hovering somewhere over West Virginia. Scully’s head is on his shoulder as she snores softly into his shirt. He blinks away visions of bug eyes and alien-like faces, rests his cheek on the top of her head. Her presence is almost grounding, even 10,000 feet in the air. He’s missed her. He has.

He kisses the part in her hair just as the lights come up, nudges her awake gently. “Hey, Scully, we’re back,” he whispers.

She wakes slowly, blinking and moving herself off of his shoulder. “Mm, you okay?” she mumbles, stretching.

One side of his mouth quirks up in bitter amusement; it might be funnier if they hadn’t gone through the past two weeks. “Yeah, I’m fine,” he says. “We’re about to land. Up and at ‘em.”

The plane lands, and they are out of the airport within half an hour, a new record for them. It is around seven o’clock, the sun of early summer still high in the sky. Mulder can’t quite believe it’s already mid May; it still feels like January. He thinks a part of him has never completely left that hotel room.

They are parked in different parts of long-term parking, so Scully says goodbye on the sidewalk. “Call me if you need anything,” she tells him sternly. “I’d advise you to stay home and get some rest tomorrow; I think you should’ve taken off some more time after everything that happened last week.”

“Your advice as my doctor?” he asks: somewhere between teasing and annoying, he hasn’t decided yet. (He, of course, has no attention of going home.)

“Yes, actually.” She crosses her arms over her chest. “Get some rest, Mulder,” she says quietly. “It’s over now.”

It is absolutely not over. “Okay,” he says, practically lying. He touches her arm before turning and heading to his car. He does not go home. He goes to the Bureau, in search of answers.

Now you know, Gary had said. A monster walks among you, Gary had said. They can’t see it because it hides in the light, Gary had said. Mulder doesn’t want to believe him, but he needs to know if he should. Wants answers. Wants to prevent anything like this from ever happening again. More zombies, more mass shootings, and it never stops because the only people who ever make the connection are blown off as insane. It has to end somewhere.

---

He spends the night in the office, digging through other X-Files. He finds five variations, more or less, of the case in Chicago; seven towns, four of which are connected to VinylRight. He starts a map, connecting the cities, finds Pincus’s records and finds that he’s worked at VinylRight for ten years. It all makes sense. It’s all coming together. Every single similar incident can be traced back to Pincus. Believing that anything else is the cause of these tragedies, that Pincus’s presence at all of them can be chalked up to mere coincidence, is simply too farfetched.

Scully doesn’t believe him. Of course she doesn’t. He can see it in her eyes as soon as she comes in, asking him why he didn’t stay home, if he’s slept. He tells her his theory anyway, tries to convince her. Presents the facts. “Mulder, he was disturbed,” she says in return.

“Yeah, but did he see it because he was disturbed, or was he disturbed because he saw it?” he offers.

“He was mentally ill. This monster was a—a sick fantasy, a product of his dementia.”

He nods at her words—he can’t help it, these are the things he’s been thinking all night. The things he’s worried about in himself. “I saw it too,” he says, and watches her face shift in surprise. “Does that make me disturbed? Demented? Does that make me sick, too?”

She hesitates, just for a moment, says, “No,” as she looks away. “No, I mean, this… this kind of thing is not uncommon. You… you you through a terrible ordeal and sometimes people in close associations, under tense conditions… the delusions of one can be passed on to the other.”

“Folie à deux? It’s not that, Scully,” he says. He knows, he knows what he saw. “It’s not Helsinki Syndrome either. What I saw was real, and there may be a way to prove it.”

“How?”

“Lambert pointed out certain individuals he said had been victimized by Pincus, turned into zombies. The man he shot, Backus was one of them. If you would autopsy the body…”

“No. No, absolutely not,” she says, shaking her head.

He has to know, he has to know if he’s seeing things. He has to know if Pincus is real and dangerous and going to hurt more people. “Scully, if this is all in my mind I would be very grateful if you would prove that,” he tries. He needs her on this.

“Mulder, I am not going to serve the delusions of Gary Lambert, a madman, by giving credence to them.”

He knew it. He knew, before, that she wouldn’t believe him, but some part of him had really thought that she would. Some part of him had hoped. But whether she believes him or not, he needs to know. “Then I’ll prove it without you,” he says, getting up and walking past her. She calls after him, but he doesn’t answer. He needs to know, and he is going to find out. The door shuts behind him.

Mulder calls the Chicago field office on the way to the airport and reports that he is on his way back to further investigate Gary Lambert. Agent Rice, the guy in charge of the hostage negotiation, seems a little perturbed as to why Mulder is coming back to work so soon after the hostage situation, what his interest is with Lambert, but Mulder manages to convince him that it’s a good idea. As soon as he hangs up the phone, it starts ringing again. Scully, he assumes. He turns off his phone.

He manages to be in Chicago by lunchtime, and at Gary’s residence an hour and a half later, having sent Mark Backus's body back to Quantico for Scully to autopsy (he needs her to do this, and she can't very well deny it this way). He finds that Gary was doing the same work he was: tracking Pincus, tracking his attacks. Agent Rice seems skeptical of his theories in the same way that Scully was, but Mulder finds he doesn’t have time to worry about that. He moves to Gary’s window, looks outside and sees a hostage from the day before standing in the yard, one of the people Gary claimed was a zombie. He looks again and sees that her face is green and gray and bloated, her eyes lifeless. Just like Gary said. He turns and runs outside, Rice calling after him. He pounds down the stairs and out the door, to the street, but the woman—the zombie, wherever—is nowhere to be found.

Agent Rice thinks he's acting suspiciously, similarly to Gary Lambert; Mulder can see it. Mulder ignores him. He has proof now, he's seen Pincus and he's seen what Pincus can do. The aftereffects. He has to stop it from happening to anyone else. He doesn't go back to the field office; he follows Pincus. He keeps a tail on him throughout the day and into the night, and finds that Pincus’s day-to-day routine is more or less ordinary, outside of dropping the hostage-zombie off at her house. But that night, Pincus does something that Mulder deems worthy of attention: he goes to a house. Not his house, Mulder deduces from the fact that he doesn’t go in the front door. He gets out of the car and follows him.

Pincus isn’t on the side or at the back of the house. He must’ve gotten inside somehow. Mulder looks up and sees a broken window, confirming his suspicions. He grabs a wooden table and shoves it over to get some leverage—if he can sneak inside, he can surprise Pincus. He can catch him-it before it hurts whoever is inside.

Standing at the window, he can see a woman sitting in front of the TV inside. And the thing, the monstrous buzzing thing hovering behind her, going to the back of her neck. Mulder goes to break the window, gun in hand to shoot it, but the thing has already bitten her by the time he forces his elbow through the glass, is buzzing out of the room and towards the front of the house. He leaps down from the table, running to meet it.

He has to break down the door to get in; no open windows, Pincus must still be inside. Inside the house, he finds the woman sitting on the couch still, but her skin is the same decomposing color as the zombie from Gary’s house. He’s too late.

Behind him, he hears a thumping sound and turns, gun drawn. He goes further into the dark house, gun held out in front of him, looking, looking… He pokes his head out of the window and sees nothing but an empty yard. He hears scratching-like sounds, looks up and sees Pincus skittering up the wall. It vanishes onto the roof before he can shoot it. He purses his lips in frustration.

When he turns back into the house, the dead woman is standing behind him, holding a butcher knife in one hand and a phone in the other. “The police are on their way,” she says in a monotone voice.

Panic running through him, he says, “Ma’am, I am an FBI agent…”, lowers his gun and reaches for his badge. This can’t go the same way it did with Gary. He knows what he saw. He is not seeing things…

“Stop right there,” the zombie says, and she might sound excited or fearful or even threatening if she wasn’t dead.

“There was a monster in here, ma’am, it… hurt you,” he tries, but the zombie-woman ignores him, stabs the air with her knife and says, “You were at VinylRight, weren’t you? Gary held you hostage? You’re just as crazy as him. Crazier.”

Mulder’s stomach turns. He’s not going to argue this, he’s not going to hurt people or push them to hurt him just to prove he’s right. Even if this woman is dead. He sets his gun down on the windowsill, puts his hands up and lets the zombie hold a knife on him until the police arrive.

---

Skinner flies down to Chicago immediately. The FBI, who the police released him to, in turn release him to Skinner. Skinner barely speaks to him, takes him to an office room where they meet with the zombie, an apparent employee of VinylRight named Gretchen Starns, and the Pincus-thing. Skinner doesn’t believe him.

A night in a police cell hasn’t done him any good; he’s full of nervous energy, anger at Pincus for doing this to him. For killing these people. He snaps at everyone, makes accusations he likely should’ve saved for later. Pincus waxes some bullshit poetic about how Mulder is a hero, and he wants to handle this matter privately, but when Skinner turns his back Pincus changes form, sneaking up behind him, buzzing and buzzing.

Mulder tries to save Skinner, leaping at the monster with his gun drawn. Skinner pins him to the table, calls the local hospital and has him admitted. They strap him to a bed. They won’t let him explain. They won’t let him call Scully. They have him here, helpless to anything the monster might try, and they don’t believe him.

---

She’s on a plane to Chicago as soon as she finds out. She gets on the phone with Skinner as soon as the plane lands, insisting on clearance to see him. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea, Scully,” Skinner says regretfully. “He’s not himself, he’s not in his right mind… He tried to attack Mr. Pincus. They have him in restraints.”

“I have to see him,” Scully snaps, her fingers clenching around the room. Needs to see how far gone he is, needs to tell him she’s here for him. She never thought it would end up like this. She prays it’s not permanent. But she has to know. She has to see him.

She argues with Skinner most of the way to the hospital, but she finally convinces him to call and give her an in to see Mulder. The nurses wave her through. He’s lying behind a curtain, his shadow just visible through it. She takes a deep breath, pulls aside the curtain and takes his hand. “Five years together, Scully. You must have seen this coming,” Mulder says, like he’s trying to make those self-deprecating jokes he makes so often, but his heart doesn’t seem to be into it. She doesn’t say anything because she doesn’t know what to say. “Did you examine Backus’ body?” She nods. “What did you find?”

“More or less what we thought we’d find.”

“‘More or less?’ What is that supposed to mean?”

She sighs, running her finger up and down the side of his hand, says, “The body showed signs of decomposition beyond what we expected to find which, in and of itself means nothing, really. Time of death is notoriously hard to quantify.”

“Or that Lambert was telling the truth and that man was dead before he was gunned down,” Mulder says insistently. Maybe even a little desperately.

“No, Mulder…” she starts.

“Scully…” he says, frustrated. “When that monster… Pincus—whatever the hell you want to call it—when he attacked that woman last night, he did something to the back of her neck. H-he bit her there, or he injected something in there. There’s got to be evidence of that. You got to check for that.”

“Mulder, the case is over. There’s no more evidence to be gathered.” She meets his eyes, squeezing his hand in hers. “There’s only my hope that you’ll be able to see past this delusion.”

You have to be willing to see,” he tells her insistently.

“I wish it were that simple,” she says softly.

“Scully, you have to believe me.” He squeezes her hand this time, manages to be firm and pleading through a simple gesture. Asking for help. It breaks her heart a little. She looks down to their fingers clasped together on the mattress. “Nobody else on this whole damn planet does or ever will. You’re my one in… five billion.”

They look at each other in silence for a moment. She has to look away first, looks down at where his thumb is curled around his, some side effect from lazy thumb wars. "I want to believe you, Mulder," she says quietly. "But I..."

"Scully, do you remember what you said to me after Cassandra Spender, about ignoring the evidence and, by default, ignoring you?" There's no malice in his voice, just a question. She nods. "And do you remember on the Dara Kernof case, when you were upset at me for not believing you? Because you needed me to believe and I wasn't there?"

She grimaces a little, says, "I remember, Mulder. What are you..." as she starts to pull her hand away.

"It's the same thing." His fingers close over hers, stilling the motion. "I need your help, Scully. I need you to believe me."

He's right, she realizes; even if he isn't right about Pincus—which is still yet to be determined—he is right about this. She owes him the benefit of the doubt here, with everything that's at stake. She asked for it from him, and now he's asking for it from her.

She squeezes his hand again. "I'll look," she says. "I'll check the body, but that might be all I can do right now."

He looks so grateful that she immediately feels worse for not offering more. When she didn't believe him during the Bowman case, he ended up seeing her dead, almost shooting her. "That's fine, that's all I need," he says, rubbing her ring finger with his. "You'll see when you look at the body."

She might make fun of his confidence if the situation wasn't so bleak. She lets go of his hand, reaches up to smooth his hair. "I'll have to go to Washington," she says apologetically. "But I'll come back. As soon as I can."

"I'll be here," he says, almost gloomily.

"It's going to be okay, Mulder." She has a sudden, rushing urge to prove him right, maybe for the first time in their partnership. She leans down and kisses his forehead briefly, brushes her fingers down the side of his face. "Just hang on."

---

In Washington, she checks Mark Backus’s neck and finds exactly what Mulder said she would: a bite mark, three bright red puncture wounds. Shock courses through her as she realizes that he was right. She doesn’t know how much he’s right about, but he was right about Mark Backus. The decomposition, and now this. He is right, and she suddenly finds she’s ashamed she didn’t see it before.

There’s still the matter of him breaking into this woman’s house, of course, and the alleged assault on Pincus, but this is enough to start on. This lends enough credibility to Mulder’s theory to present to Skinner, open an investigation, begin the process of getting Mulder out of there. It’s a start.

Scully goes straight to the airport after typing up a quick memo to Skinner presenting the new evidence, flies to Chicago in the evening instead of waiting until morning. She wants to tell Mulder she believes him. She wants to tell him that she’s going to get him out of there, she wants to tell him that she is sorry.

She drives to the hospital in the nighttime darkness, forgetting somewhat about visiting hours. She assumes she can use her badge or The Power of an MD to bypass that.

The nurse has other ideas. “I’m very sorry, but it is after hours and Mr. Mulder is resting,” she says. “I’ll have to ask you to come back in the morning.”

“I’ve come a long way,” she says. Third fucking flight today, fifth in total this week, I am not leaving here without seeing him, not after spending hours upon hours on a fucking plane. “And I know he wants to see me, so what do you say?” She flashes her badge politely.

The nurse grimaces apologetically, shrugging, says, “I’m sorry. Really. It’s hospital policy.”

Scully locks eyes with the nurse, preparing herself to argue again, but something seems to shift before her eyes. To change. She sees the nurse normally one second, and then different the next; her skin gray, her eyes white and lifeless. A zombie. Just like Mulder said.

On instinct alone, she takes off running.

She can hear Mulder screaming for help as she sprints down the hall; horror rises in her throat. She pulls out her gun. She kicks the door to his room down, throws the curtain aside, sees the monster looming over him, buzzing. He’s screaming because he has no other way of getting help, of running away or fighting back. She freezes only for a split second before shooting twice at the insect. It squeals in pain, scrambling off of Mulder and towards the window, its escape. She follows, shooting at it again. It falls backwards through the window, shattering the glass on impact. She runs to the window, peering out of it, and sees nothing. Only shattered glass and an empty parking lot.

She wonders, only for a moment, if she imagined the creature, too. No, she immediately corrects, that’s impossible, you shot at it and hit it. Mulder was calling for help. You saw the nurse, the bite on Backus… She looks back at Mulder, who motions desperately towards the window with his head. She looks out again with wide eyes, trying and failing to see where the thing went. Nothing, nothing.

Her stomach turns. He was right. He is right, she saw the monster. Whatever Pincus is, he does a good job of convincing people they are not in their right mind.

“You believed me,” Mulder says in an incredulous voice behind her, still full of terror. She turns to face him, her heart pounding; his eyes are huge and dark in the dim room.

“Are you okay?” she asks softly, scrambling to his side and pulling at the Velcro restraints with her right hand, clutching the gun in her left. “Mulder? Did it hurt you?”

Mulder winces as his right wrist comes loose. “It would've if you hadn't…” His hand comes up to cup her cheek and god help her, she leans into the warmth. She yanks hard on the left Velcro until he is loose, wraps an arm around his waist to help him up. He presses his forehead into her shoulder, just briefly, before climbing out of bed.

She sees the red lines around his wrist where he's been struggling and winces, rubbing a thumb over the soft inside of it, remembering the moment when he'd done the same thing in the foyer of Pfaster’s house. “I'm going to get you out of here,” she mutters, gun still in her hand. She thinks she can still hear buzzing. She rubs the indentations again before sliding her fingers down to take his hand; he shivers, drawing closer, eyes darting back and forth between the door and the window.

Pounding footsteps down the hall, and then two nurses appear in the door. One is the one from the front desk who looks like a corpse. “We heard gunfire,” the other nurse says nervously, scanning the room with panic.

“There was something in here,” Scully says fiercely. And you didn’t listen when he was calling for help. You fucking ignored him. “I shot it. It should be gone now. We’re leaving.”

“Ma'am,” the corpse says in a stern monotone, and Scully suddenly understands why Mulder did what he did. The zombie-esque people are eerie, jarring. She wants to cringe away, to step in front of Mulder like a shield. “The patient is extremely unstable, and must remain…”

“The patient,” Scully snaps, her fingers tightening around Mulder's, “has a name, and he was being attacked in here a minute ago.” She practically is shielding him now, standing near in front of him, shoulders rigid in defense of them both. “I'm getting him out of here.”

The other nurse (the living one) speaks up timidly. “Ma'am, hospital policy…”

Scully bites back fiercer things she wants to say, says instead, “It is my belief that Agent Mulder is mentally sound, as I just saw the monster he claimed was attacking him. Now I'm taking him out of here to somewhere safer.” She wants to shout at them for pinning him to the bed like that, making it so he couldn't fight back. She remembers the feeling of being trapped, unable to run, rendered helpless and vulnerable to danger, and her stomach turns of the thought of Mulder feeling that way, being put in that position by doctors, by his boss, by the people who are supposed to be allies. Once again, he's been put in danger by those above him. She wants to hate Skinner for putting him here, but really, she hates herself for not being there for him when he needed it.

She pushes her way through the door, past the nurses, Mulder at her side. The dead nurse trails behind them, something like determination in her eyes. Mulder walks faster, his gait unsteady and uncertain, and Scully moves with him. They reach the elevator, the door closing just as the dead nurse catches up to them.

“Thanks,” Mulder says, and it sounds like a sigh of relief and a cry for help all at the same time. His hand is cold in hers, fingers quivering. He's looking at the ground.

She turns towards him, wrapping her arms tight around him and resting her chin on his shoulder. Trying to envelope him, to keep him safe. He hugs her back, so tightly she nearly can't breathe. “I'm so sorry I didn't believe you sooner,” she whispers.

Sorry she left him this time. Sorry she left him all those other times. Sorry she's put him in danger again and again and again. (Sorry for Pincus and the New Spartans and the AI and Bowman and fucking San Diego; sorry for everything terrible that’s happened over their five years together.) Sorry she wasn't there when he needed her, and she needs him as much as he needs her. They're a part of each other now. Folie à deux.

His hand is cupping the back of her head, his nose in her hair. He says nothing. Doesn't let go until the elevator door opens.

They get to her car, and she resists the urge to hover over Mulder, smooth his hair and check him for wounds. He buckles his seatbelt with a click. Scully climbs into the driver's seat, pressing her foot to the pedal. "Where are we going?" Mulder asks softly. His fingers are tapping against the glass, a nervous habit.

How many times will he be cornered and scared after having barely escaped death; it's happened three times in the last two weeks. She swallows back soothing, scared things she wants to say, and says instead, "Your hotel room."

Mulder's head thunks against the cold glass of the window. Watching the blur of red headlights and yellow streetlights in the dark of the city. He says, "If that thing comes back..."

"It won't," Scully says firmly. "And even if it does... you'll be able to fight back this time."

Mulder doesn't say anything, rubbing his chafed wrists. "I won't leave," Scully adds. "Unless you want me to."

"No." He's shaking his head, turns to look at her. "Stay. It's fine." He tries to smile, but it doesn't come out right. She reaches for his hand. Same song and dance as a week ago. They find themselves shoved into the same tight spots all too often. She rubs the back of his hand with her thumb.

They drive in silence for a few minutes, navigating city traffic. "How are you going to explain this to Skinner?" Mulder asks suddenly, and as if on cue, her phone starts ringing.

She shakes her head, teeth clenched tight. "I'm not. Not tonight. We both need to sleep. This can wait until morning."

Mulder nods again, slumping back in his seat, holding her hand against his stomach. "Thanks for coming after me," he mumbles.

"I'm always coming to come after you, Mulder," she tells the car in front of them sternly. She never wants him to think anything differently. "Always."

She can see the lights of the cars reflecting in his eyes. He keeps his eyes on her the whole way to the hotel. 
---

One room, one bed. They take turns in the shower, Scully going first while Mulder eats a sandwich at the little desk. (He has a notorious hatred of hospital food, and she really doesn't blame him.) When they trade places, she sees his gun lying out on the desk. In case that thing comes back. She moves it to the drawer of the bedside table, her preferred spot for her own when she's frightened, and crawls into bed in one of Mulder's button-downs hanging to her knees. (She didn't bother to pack a bag, just went straight to the airport. It saved considerable time.)

Mulder exits the shower minutes later, the lights from the TV flickering over his form. He climbs in beside Scully, puts his arms around her and pulls her into him. She drapes an arm over his side, a leg around his waist, breathes in tandem with him. He kisses the top of her wet head, his fingers unsteady against her back, his wrists raw. "You're not..." he mumbles into her hair, clears his throat. "You're not gonna... run off tomorrow, are you? Before I wake up?"

Her habit the last two times they shared the bed. Scully swallows, suddenly understanding why the morning after the New Spartans went the way it did. She kisses the curve of his throat, presses her face into his stubbly neck. "No," she says. "I'm not."

She falls asleep warm and wakes up warm and this time, she really doesn't roll away as soon as she wakes up. Mulder's already awake, arm around her shoulder, covers piled up on his side of the bed—he's a notorious cover-stealer. She grins, yanking the covers back to her side. He doesn't smile, but he curls into her. Body seeping through the cotton of his/their shirts. It's been so long since they've done this. One in five billion is a cheesy fucking line, but for them, she thinks it might actually apply.

Scully's in no hurry to get back on a plane. They don't get out of bed until sometime after two.

---

Scully’s called into a meeting with Skinner as soon as they return to DC. Mulder insists on coming along with her, puts on a suit and everything. He waits outside while she tells Skinner what happened, gives credence to his claims. She tries to hold back just a little—to clarify that there was, in fact, something or someone, but leave it up to interpretation as to what it was—but Skinner won’t allow it. She sighs, explains the whole thing until he believes them.

Mulder’s waiting by the elevator, pushes the button as soon as he sees her coming. “What did you tell him?” he asks.

“The truth,” she says, moving to stand beside him. “As well as I understand it.”

“Which is?” he prods further.

The elevator dings, doors opening. They step in together, side by side; Mulder reaches out to press the button again. "Folie à deux," she says, as an answer. "A madness shared by two."

The elevator doors close.