Category: MulderTorture, FamilyAngst, Profiler Story, Continued A/U Series
Keywords: Married with child
Rating: PG13 for language
Summary: Mulder consults on a case that hits a little too close to home.
Archive: Yes to Susan's Garden, MTA, Ephemeral, and any site that's received my prior, written permission.
Disclaimer: Recognizable characters belong to 1013 Productions and FOX, Inc.
Introduction: This is the 16th part in the series. If you're not familiar with the Abah Alternate Universe but suspend your beliefs and accept that through the course of this series:
1. Mulder suffered from chronic physical challenges due to a serious bout of bacterial meningitis years ago
2. Walter Skinner, (who ends up getting married to Maggie Scully,) became a 'father figure' (a/k/a 'Abah')to Mulder because he provided much needed emotional support.,
3. Mulder had a rather fragile relationship with MaMulder before her death.
4. Mulder recalls the original 'Abah' (a/k/a Jack Stein, a/k/a CSM) who provided much emotional support during his childhood
5. Mulder found Sam alive.
6. Mulder had survived more trauma than any hundred men had a right to, not the least of which was during Chapter 15, The Greatest Gift. In this last chapter, Mulder was beaned by a baseball at a Red Sox/Yankees game and during a dreamlike (a/k/a comatose) state felt none of debilitating effects of the meningitis.
7. Mulder and Scully, Skinner and Maggie, and yes, baby Sarah Mulder, too, have gone through a whole lot of other trials and tribulations that are too numerous to outline now...
Then again, you may just want to read the preceding stories to fill in any giant plot holes, which would please me enormously! However, regarding canon...let's just say, CC has his vision of what happened and I have my own.
The reason I offer you this final synopsis is that this will be the final chapter in the Abah series. I've loved writing for this series, since Chapter one was the first fanfic I'd ever posted. However, given that 1013 Productions and David Duchovny have chosen to go in new directions with the stories they choose to tell, I figured it was time to retire the ol' boy. So, I offer you Abah 16: The Awakening and hope that you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing the series.
I thank you in advance for all of the lovely kind words of support you've sent me throughout the years on these stories.
Special thanks to: Vickie Moseley... See? Though I didn't give you your miracle...I still managed to do what you wanted... Thanks my friend for nudging me to get this done... Oh, and in that same category of A #1 nudges, my thanks to Rachel Vagts... this one's for you, too.
You can find the series archived at Shirley Smiley's MTA site (Welcome back, Shirley!)at: http://www.muldertorture.com/
and (eventually...) at Susan's Garden:http://susanproto.freeservers.com/
Abah 16: Awakening
By Susan Proto
The changes had occurred so gradually, that Scully didn't even realize the differences until she thought it might have been too late. One day she looked over at Mulder and wondered, where had her husband gone?
Several weeks ago they'd returned home from their extended weekend in New York on such a high. Mulder survived yet another hospital stay, but hadn't seemed any worse for the wear. In fact, he'd seemed almost ebullient. The entire trip home found him talking and describing the dream-like state that had given him his first taste of normalcy in so many years.
And yet, just shy of three months later, Scully realized that the vitality that was there only a few short weeks ago was now missing. And she hadn't even noticed it disappearing. The animated conversations decreased till soon there was silence. Verbal chatter was replaced by muted signing.
When had Mulder stopped using his voice and begun to rely solely on his hands for communication? Scully thought back to the last time she'd had an oral conversation with him and realized it was weeks ago. He'd stopped speaking aloud in public as well.
As she dressed for work that morning, Scully noticed, inside the little-used bedroom trashcan, the hard-plastic green box that held her husband's hearing aids, devises that were so often met with ambivalence. She picked it up out of the receptacle and felt it rattle. Slowly, Scully opened the box and saw the pair of aids that lay inside.
Her first thought was that they'd fallen into the bin by accident, but then she had to wonder. How long ago had he stopped wearing them? Why hadn't she noticed?
She snapped the box shut and laid it down on her night table, while at the same time she reached over to slip on one of her shoes. She'd been working extra hours to provide needed coverage for the last of the summer vacation as well as those she'd owed from spending the extra time in New York while Mulder recovered sufficiently to travel.
As she reached over to grab her other shoe, Scully suddenly heard small feet running into the room. "Mommy!" cried out young Sarah with a smile that all too resembled her daddy's.
"Good morning to you, too!" she responded in kind. Their daughter never failed to provide a moment of joy, though Scully probably wouldn't have minded skipping the colic stage. "What are you and Daddy doing today?"
"Don't know," the toddler answered.
"Well, I'm sure you two will do something fun today. Did you eat breakfast yet?" When the youngster shook her head, no, Scully said, "Well, go tell Daddy and I'm sure he'll fix some for you."
Sarah replied, "'Kay, Mommy," and took off out of the room. Sarah rarely did anything less than full-speed ahead. She definitely had her father's drive and energy, thought Scully, though she was certainly her mother's daughter in many ways as well. The child was showed incredible organizational skills as she meticulously put her stuffed
animal collection away in their very special spots. Definitely a Scully trait.
When she walked into the living room, Scully could see her family through the archway into the kitchen. She couldn't help but be taken aback by what she witnessed. Father and Daughter were rapidly signing to one another and though Scully knew Sarah's signing skills had progressed to an impressive level for one so young, she hadn't realized that it became her daughter and husband's exclusive mode of communication.
When Sarah was younger, Mulder had always spoken to her as he signed, and Sarah always responded in kind. But not now, not this morning. In fact, their level of expertise appeared to leave Scully in the dust. She had a great deal of trouble following the entire conversation, though she was able to get the gist of a breakfast menu.
"Got breakfast squared away?" Scully asked, her hands remaining at her sides.
Nodding her head furiously, Sarah announced, "Daddy's gonna make me waffles!"
"Waffles? Oh, yummy, but I know what I want for breakfast," she replied with a big smile, bending down to scoop her daughter up. Scully showered Sarah with kisses as she pretended to 'gobble' her up, and reveled in the child's bursts of giggles and laughter.
Next, Scully turned to her husband and asked, "What's on your schedule today?" She made sure she looked straight at her husband so he could read her lips, but her hands were full holding their now-wriggling toddler.
"Go for bus ride; maybe library," he signed with his hands.
"Why? Want me do something?"
"No, nothing specific. We're supposed to go over to Mom's and Walter's for dinner this weekend. It's Walter's birthday, so maybe you could pick up something for him?"
Scully found herself getting more and more irritated by the second, and she wasn't sure why. No, that wasn't true. She was very much aware of the reasons behind her annoyance. She couldn't understand why her husband had suddenly reverted to signing Pidgin English, instead of using his speaking voice and clarifying it with the sign language.
Scully felt as if she was being kept in the dark about something, and it frustrated her to no end. Yet, for some reason, she felt uncomfortable saying anything to Mulder about it at that moment. It worried her, their sudden lack of communication. Yet she couldn't help but wonder if it was really all that sudden? She had to really think about when they'd had their last serious conversation together, and it disturbed her to realize it wasn't that long after their return from New York.
The exhilarated high appeared to have morphed into a despondent low. Had her husband suddenly become depressed? More importantly, had she? How could she have not noticed the change in him, or the change in their relationship over the last several weeks otherwise?
They needed to have a serious talk, but she knew this was not the time. Unfortunately she had obligations to meet at Quantico and she had to leave. Scully was determined to get to the bottom of this. It felt as if she'd lost contact with her husband, and it left her feeling bereft.
She suddenly realized what was bothering her most; she missed her husband. They needed to find one another again and soon.
"Mulder?" she touched his shoulder to get his attention. He turned and what she saw startled her. It was a look of, not despair, but one of almost resignation. It frightened her, and she needed to find out why.
"We need to talk, and soon. Maybe tonight when I get home? After Sarah goes to sleep?"
He nodded, not needing to say anything more.
He missed her, too.
They arrived at the class a few minutes early. As was her usual routine, Sarah was still asleep from the bus ride over, but Mulder was sure she'd awaken once the room filled up with students. It wasn't so much the noise, as there was very little of that, but more due to the energy level that permeated throughout the room. And Sarah became very much a part of that. The teacher and students alike marveled at the small tyke's ability to pick up on the intricacies of signing so quickly.
Mulder, on the other hand, took it all in stride. Any child of his and Scully's, he determined, would have to have unique abilities, and this was only one of many, he was sure. So, like the proud father he was, he participated in class and beamed at his daughter's innate ability to communicate with everyone.
As he observed the teacher introduce new signs, Mulder's mind wandered over to his brief conversation with Scully that morning. He knew, when she'd asked what their plans were for that day, that he should have told her then that he'd been attending classes three times a week at Gallaudet University for the last ten weeks, and that Sarah was in fact one of the star pupils. He knew he should have, but for some reason felt he couldn't.
Why? Why was it so hard to share this with her? He had no problem including Sarah in this world, so why not Scully?
This world, -his- world, versus -her- world.
And suddenly he realized why he was feeling so ambivalent of late; he was living in limbo between two worlds and wasn't sure if he wanted to any longer.
He managed to make a stop at the mall on their way home from the university to pick up a present for his father-in-law's birthday. Walter had always been a closet computer game nerd, and Mulder found the computer version of one of his personal favorites, Stratego. He figured Walter would enjoy developing military strategies to beat the game.
As he made his purchase, it never ceased to amaze Mulder how differently people treated him when he was out with Sarah by himself as opposed to when he was accompanied by Scully.
Alone and with Sarah, people appeared to view him as competent, capable of dealing with life, and more than able to care for his daughter. Granted, they may have stared an extra second or two, given the cane that remained hooked onto the collapsible stroller's handlebar and the definite unsteady gait he walked with. But when push came to shove, and he needed service, he was able to make his needs known, and people spoke to him. Directly to him.
He knew his speech was deteriorating and once he'd returned from New York, he finally made the decision to no longer subject himself to the irritation of wearing the useless hearing aids. Damned things seemed to be the cause of more ear infections than they were worth. As a result he relied more and more on sign language. Given the large population of deaf people in the surrounding college community, more and more people in the service industries were aware of the need to be at the very least somewhat aware of rudimentary sign language. Mulder found his need to speak less and less, and used his voice only when absolutely necessary.
He didn't like speaking since he could no longer hear what he sounded like. He didn't like giving up that small piece of control, so he chose to use oral speech as little as possible. So far, he'd been able to manage. Even Scully had seemed to accept this latest development, at least until that morning.
It had apparently hit her that morning that something had changed, and Mulder wasn't sure how to go about explaining why it was a necessary transition. Hell, he was still trying to work that one out for himself.
How does someone explain that they're tired of being treated as helpless, when it's neither party's fault? When they went out together, with or without the baby, as soon as people discovered Mulder was deaf, they immediately directed all of the conversation toward Scully. It was certainly never her choice, but she immediately took on the role of interpreter. However unintentional, that situation still placed him in the role of a helpless victim, and he was sick and tired of it.
In fact, it wasn't until he'd returned to DC that he realized just how different his life had become from the one he experienced in his dream. It took him that long for him to see just how much he'd come to hate the role of an incompetent invalid that society automatically placed on him.
So, tonight was the night his feelings would come to light. Mulder wasn't sure whether Scully would accept his newfound rebellion. He was worried that she would see him as giving up rather than just accepting his life for what it was. How was he going to convince her that acceptance wasn't a bad thing? How was he going to make her understand that he no longer wanted to straddle two worlds?
Dinner was hectic as always. Sarah had taken a nap so she would be awake when Scully arrived home from work for a late dinner. The hours she'd been putting in were longer and longer, given that she was filling in for still vacationing medical examiners and forensics teachers at the Academy.
Meanwhile, besides attending signing classes, Mulder was using his time to do research for articles that he submitted to the Lone Gunmen's magazine under his pseudonym of M. Luder. He had plenty of time for this, as he hadn't been called in to consult on a FBI case since his return from New York. Surprisingly enough, he didn't miss it. Mulder was more than content to play househusband and stay-at-home Dad for Sarah.
It gave him the chance to visit with his sister, Sam, whenever she had a break at the hospital, which allowed her to play the doting aunt to Sarah. Mulder was even getting used to the idea of his sister having a fiance, one Eric Benton, for which Sam was extremely grateful.
One of the major results of this new freedom from stress was a marked decrease in the number of seizures Mulder experienced. Though he still suffered from an occasional petit mal, he hadn't had a grand mal seizure since his return from New York. Mulder joked that getting knocked up the side of the head from the 'beaning' probably did more good than harm. To date, no one could argue.
Dinner was relatively quiet; Scully was exhausted from yet another twelve-hour day and needed the time to unwind. Both Mulder and Sarah recognized that and held their own, quiet conversation. Scully watched in fascination.
Mulder felt more than saw her staring in their direction, looked at her, and asked in sign, "What?"
"When did she learn all of those new signs?" she asked.
"What?" asked Scully, confused. Mulder finger spelled the word 'practice' to clarify it for her, to which she replied with a nod of her head.
Just then the lights flashed at the same time the phone began ringing. Mulder asked, "Want me get phone?" Scully nodded and began clearing the dishes from the table. As Mulder was still busy reading the teletype message, she gathered up their daughter to get her bathed and ready for bed.
"One of these days our daughter will realize that baths were meant to be soothing and relaxing, and not the time to practice her 'Animal House' moves in water!" Scully chuckled as she plopped herself on the couch. "She's in bed waiting for you to give her a good night kiss."
When his expression remained as solemn as it had been when she first reentered the room, she asked, "Who was on the phone?"
"Walter," using the name sign he'd created specifically for Abah.
"Everything all right? Mom?"
"What is it then?" she asked.
"New case," he replied with a sigh and then signed, "Kiss Sarah sleep."
She watched him leave and wondered just how bad this latest case was if Walter was calling Mulder at this late hour. Even more importantly
was her curiosity at Mulder's lack of enthusiasm. Normally he'd be champing at the bit for a new case. He appeared not only disinterested, but his expression bordered on anger.
Almost thirty minutes passed when Mulder came back into the living room. He tried to tiptoe in as Scully had fallen asleep on the couch. Her head was teetering to one side, and a small pool of saliva formed on her lips and cheek where it dribbled down. Unbeknownst to him, however, he'd found the one creak in the living room floor that was loud enough to wake up the dead, so she woke with a start.
"Sorry," he signed quickly.
"Wasn't you," she replied. "It's the darn floorboard." Mulder nodded his acknowledgment and then went to pour himself a cup of coffee. He poked his head back out into the living room, got her attention, and asked, "Want coffee?"
"Hmm, yes, please," she nodded in reply.
Mulder carried one covered travel mug in and then went back into the kitchen to retrieve his own cup. By the time he sat down, the doorbell rang.
"Your turn," he signed when he'd noticed the blinking light. When she looked curiously, Mulder signed, "Walter."
"Oh, shit," she muttered. If Walter were coming directly over to the house to discuss a case that could only mean they were seeking some serious profiling skills from her husband. She wasn't sure how keen she felt about that probability.
Skinner settled into the chair that stood opposite the couch and was brought a cup of coffee by Scully. She sat down on the couch next to Mulder.
"How's Sarah," he asked.
"Fine. Walter, what's going on?" demanded Scully, as she cut to the chase.
Mulder's hands remained silent, but the harshness of her tone took Skinner by surprise.
"We have a serious situation," he began.
"Where?" she asked.
Mulder remained quiet.
"Right in our own damn backyard," the AD replied.
"Where?" she repeated.
"At the University."
Abruptly, Mulder stood up, walked over to the dining room table, and slammed his hand down, hard in frustration. "NO!" he shouted.
Scully jumped at the realization that it was the first time in weeks that she recalled hearing him use his voice to communicate.
"Mulder?" she asked quizzically, as she wasn't sure why he appeared so distraught.
"I'm sorry," replied Skinner, "but we didn't know where else to turn. We need your help."
His expression hid not one iota of his distress, and he pleaded in sign, "Abah, please. No."
"There's been two deaths already. The boys in VCU feel it will increase, but they're at a standstill with regards to a profile of the UNSUB. Mulder, they requested that I contact you."
The look of anguish was now replaced with a smirk. Skinner couldn't help but join in, given the common knowledge that there was never any love lost between Mulder and the VCU.
"What's been going on?" Scully asked innocently finding herself ignorant of the current situation at Gallaudet, though it was obvious that Mulder was more than aware.
"Two Gallaudet students were found murdered in their dorms over the course of the last three weeks," explained Skinner.
"Copycat killings from February before?" Mulder questioned in sign.
"Apparently not. The motivation behind those was robbery, while these
don't lend themselves to that cause," and before either of them could ask how he was so sure, he added, "Their wallets were untouched, and two out of the three had quite a large sum of money in their possession."
Scully nodded and then asked the next obvious question, "What's the M.O.?"
"Strangulation. He ties the victims up and then strangles them."
"Why?" asked Scully.
"Good question," responded Skinner who then looked directly at Mulder and said, "We're hoping a talented profiler can come up with the answer."
The next sound heard, a deep sigh, was one of definite defeat. He looked so forlorn as he asked hopefully, "Tomorrow?"
"No, Mulder, I'm afraid they've asked that you meet them tonight at Quantico. That's why I'm here, so I can give you a lift."
All he could do was nod in acquiescence. As much as he didn't want to become involved in this case, Mulder knew he didn't have a choice. He'd wanted to keep that aspect of his life separate for a little while longer, but he knew that wasn't possible now. He really was their best option in finding that maniac before he struck again.
Heads popped up from piles of scattered files when they heard the door open. The murmuring began until finally someone acknowledged Mulder and Skinner's entrance out loud. Skinner nodded and Mulder walked over to the SAC, George Cunningham.
Skinner had already briefed the former agent on Cunningham; he was recently promoted and obviously wanted to establish himself in the eyes of his superior. That's one of the reasons Mulder's name had come up, repeatedly over the last two weeks. Cunningham indicated that he knew Mulder's reputation, but wasn't sure if the rest of the team would cooperate with the outside consultant. When the second victim had been found, however, Cunningham made the decision to bring him in the well-known consultant. He did not want a repeat of the crucifying law enforcement went through by the media last February. The SAC felt it better to bring in reinforcements early, so at least he could tell the media circus they were doing everything possible to prevent this situation from escalating.
Mulder offered his right hand to SAC Cunningham and with his left hand signed, 'hello.'
"Hello, nice to meet you Mr. Mulder," Cunningham replied in a voice that was so overly articulated and loud, that it distorted the SAC's lips. "I've heard a great deal about your skills as a profiler, and I'm very grateful that you've agreed to help us out."
Mulder was savvy enough to assume what Cunningham's little speech was merely a ruse to cover his own doubts, though he wasn't a hundred percent sure. He looked at the man in charge and saw in him something no agent ever wants to see. Fear. Mulder wasn't sure what Cunningham was more afraid of, the job at hand or of him.
Skinner watched from a discreet distance as Mulder tried to explain verbally, as succinctly as possible, and as clearly as possible, that Cunningham only needed to speak directly to him in his normal speaking voice in order to be understood.
Cunningham nodded his head up and down like one of those little bobbing dolls found on car dashboards; Mulder simply looked away exasperated. Skinner could feel the frustration pouring out of Mulder. He didn't want to be here in the first place, and now Cunningham was turning out to be a first class idiot. Skinner sympathized with his son-in-law, but also knew there was little more that he could do about it.
Just as they were about to begin the briefing, the door opened again and in walked a well dressed, distinguished looking man talking as he signed with a second, more casually dressed younger man.
"May I help you?" asked SAC Cunningham.
"I'm Corelle. James Corelle. I've been assigned the task of being the official liaison between your office and the university," he responded with his hands at his side. He looked around the room for some kind of affirmation, when his eyes landed upon Mulder.
"Fox?" he asked with surprise in both voice and sign. "What are you doing here?"
"Hi, Jim," Mulder greeted in sign and then added with little humor, "Surprise."
"Yes, it is. I didn't know you worked for the FBI."
"I consult, sometimes."
"I see," though in actuality he did not. Privately, Jim Corelle couldn't help but wonder how a man with as many debilitating conditions as Fox Mulder could ever work for the FBI.
The other person who looked on in total confusion was Walter Skinner. He had no idea as to how his son-in-law knew Corelle, but it was obvious to him that they were quite familiar with one another's acquaintance.
"Hello, Mr. Corelle, I'm Assistant Director Walter Skinner," he said offering his hand in greeting. The university representative returned the handshake and then Walter asked, "What is it that we can do for you, Mr. Corelle?"
"Please, call me Jim," he responded both orally and in sign. "This is Kevin Henley, and we're both here to offer you any assistance regarding information about Gallaudet, in addition to being available to interpret as needed. Though with Fox here, that may not prove to be necessary."
"Mr.__, um Jim," Skinner hesitated momentarily, "how do you know Mulder?"
Corelle's first response was an expression of surprise. "Why from class, of course. He's progressed far beyond my wildest expectations given that he's only been attending for the last - what is it, Fox? About nine, ten weeks now? But the one that's really surprised me is that baby of his. I mean she's asleep usually for the first half of the class, but when she wakes up, those hands automatically start moving. Sarah is something else; the speed with which she's able to learn new signs is unbelievable."
Mulder smiled for the first time that evening; his pride couldn't contain itself.
"Sarah? Mulder, what the hell have you been doing with my granddaughter?"
"Granddaughter?" echoed Kevin Henley both orally and in sign.
"Mulder is married to my stepdaughter," explained Walter. Those not aware of the relationship nodded along with those who were. "Mulder? What class?"
Looking a bit uncomfortable, Mulder quickly signed, "Later, Abah."
Walter nodded in acknowledgment of his son-in-law's wishes and then said, "Well, now that the family history is taken care of, I'm still not sure why the university sent you over here."
"You have to understand something about Gallaudet, Mr. Skinner," responded Kevin. "They are a very close-knit student body, who tend to be a bit distrustful of the hearing world in general, and law enforcement in specific."
Corelle nodded in agreement and added, "Especially since the murders from last February, the students have become very tightlipped and wary of anyone in law enforcement. The general feeling was that the second murder could have been avoided if the police had done their job more thoroughly. The prevailing sentiment is that because the student body is deaf, they were treated with less priority than the hearing community."
"Surely you don't believe that, Mr. Corelle," retorted SAC Cunningham.
"It doesn't matter what I believe, sir. What matters is that you must gain the confidence of the students with whom you're going to interview to get as much credible and useful information as possible. Kevin and I are here to see that happens."
"Time to begin," Mulder signed abruptly. He knew that from the short amount of time he'd spent on the Gallaudet campus, Corelle's point needed to be taken seriously.
"Fine," agreed Skinner, Corelle, and Henley.
"What?" voiced a confused Cunningham and echoed by the other agents present who did not understand Mulder's signed declaration.
"'Torry," Mulder responded in both modes of communication. "Jim, Kevin," he continued in sign only, "Interpret for me?"
"Why?" Kevin signed back, "You have oral language."
"Please?" his hands pleaded.
Kevin and Jim nodded though they did wonder why Fox needed the use of an interpreter. He was capable of speech, though both men realized they hadn't heard him talk in class over the last few sessions.
Besides, if nothing else, they'd get to see the inner workings of the FBI, and the both figured that would be worth the price of admission.
It was well almost two in the morning before Mulder returned home. Skinner agreed to pick him back up at eight that morning so they could get back to work. Mulder insisted that he needed to visit the crime scenes in an effort to get better understand under what conditions the UNSUB acted.
As he dropped his jacket onto the chair and hung his cane on the coat rack, Mulder stopped for a quick drink at the fridge. He grabbed the bottle of diet iced tea and for a moment wondered when his body started to betray him even more that he had to start drinking sugar-free tea. He shook his head at the unfairness of it all, and then turned to go to the bedroom to check on the baby.
He always checked on Sarah before he went to bed. It was just the way of things; he couldn't recall making a conscious decision to make that his nightly routine, he just did. He walked in carefully, feeling his way along the furniture so he wouldn't accidentally trip over anything and wake her up.
She still lay in the position that was so common in her infancy. She lay on her stomach with her knees curled up under her and her hands grasped her pillow from underneath. Since neither he nor Scully ever slept on their stomachs, he wondered absently if Sarah's preferred position was a permanent thing or a baby habit that gradually fades away. No matter, he thought, as long as she sleeps through the night and is free from the nightmares that plague her parents. He pressed his fingers to his lips and then gently pressed them down on her cheek.
The light in the master bedroom was on, but Mulder could clearly see Scully was in bed. Whether or not she was asleep was anyone's guess, as she was turned away from him. He realized she must have left the light on intentionally for when he got home. When she turned over to face him, the act was even more appreciated, since thanks to the light shining on her face, he was able to observe her lips.
"You're home. What time is it?" she asked.
"What time are you leaving tomorrow? Or should I say this morning?"
"Pick up at eight."
Scully looked at him but didn't respond. He shrugged his shoulders slightly and went into the bathroom. He stripped down to his boxers and threw the rest of his clothes into the hamper, brushed his teeth and finished washing up. Mulder shut the bathroom light and crawled into bed with his wife.
Neither one moved toward one another. They knew they had to talk; though their relationship had been changing gradually, neither realized how much until last night. There was a sudden shift in their roles and how they interacted with one another, yet neither of them were sure as to exactly what the roles were or where they were heading. It was that 'unknown' factor that proved to be their main concern, but they were both tired and each had a full day tomorrow. They would talk; but it would not be now.
Both turned over and closed their eyes on the pretense of going to sleep.
The alarm went off at the same time as the lights began flashing. Scully brushed her arm against her husband's to reach over and hit the snooze button. He opened his eyes in time to see his wife looking at him thoughtfully.
"What?" he asked.
"Just admiring the view, that's all."
He smiled at that; how long had it been since they'd teased one another? "I like see too."
She grimaced slightly at his reply, and that hurt him. Neither knew why, but each realized it had something to do with why their bantering and teasing one another had decreased in recent weeks. As much as they needed to delve into the reasons, both knew there was no time. Maggie and Walter were due momentarily, Walter to drive Mulder to the site and Maggie to pick up Sarah, who chose at that very moment to awaken and demand attention.
Scully climbed out of bed to deal with Sarah, while Mulder found his way into the shower.
By the time the Skinners arrived, all of the Mulders were dressed and ready to go. Maggie decided to follow Walter in her car so she could take the baby back to Baltimore if both Mulder's and Scully's schedules involved a late night. The baby had more than a few changes of clothes at her grandparents' home, and she felt almost as home there as she did in her own bed. Maggie and Walter felt that if they didn't have to worry about the baby's welfare, both parents would be better able to concentrate on their jobs and get home to their child that much sooner.
At least that was their hope. Too bad the killer had other plans.
They didn't need to go to one of the older sites; the killer struck again and gave them a fresh crime scene to view. Mulder and Skinner arrived at the Gallaudet campus a little after nine. Given the usual hell people encountered traveling on the beltway, they'd actually made fairly decent time.
The Cogswell Dormitory contained 150 rooms. This was the first of the recent murders to occur in the same housing facility that had been the scene of last winter's crimes. The initial buzz among the residents was that it was just like the previous murders that had occurred in that dorm, but in reality they appeared to be quite different. However, no amount of talk by the police and security personnel were going to change the minds of the students. They were scared, and many of them could be seen holding discussions about finding new residences.
Skinner pulled the car up as near to the dorm as possible. Mulder's stamina had been slowly building up since he was released from the New York hospital a few months ago, but given the stress of the case Skinner wanted Mulder to avoid as much excess exertion as possible. The AD got out of the car and came round to the passenger side. He opened the rear door and got Mulder's cane out and handed it to him. The former agent picked his legs up and out of the car and leaned on the cane to stand up.
To the casual observer the scene must have looked utterly chaotic. Skinner tried his best to focus on the task at hand. Though he felt the anxious mood of the people gathered around the site, he wasn't sure exactly what was being said amongst them.
Hands and fingers flew in all directions. The silent chatter filled the air, and Walter Skinner had only a clue of what was being said. His son-in-law, on the other hand, was absorbing the scene like a blotter does with ink.
"Mulder, what's going on?" Skinner asked aloud, but when he received no response he repeated himself. But first, he tapped his son-in-law's shoulder to gain his attention. "What's going on? What are they all saying?"
"Nothing," was his succinct reply.
"Seems there's an awful lot of signing going on for nothing," muttered Skinner.
Mulder couldn't bring himself to explain the true nature of the conversations. He wasn't sure how Walter or the other law enforcement personnel would react to the fact that the conversations centered on the students' feelings of helplessness, as well as their condemnations of the apathetic approach the police always seem to take when crime victims are members of the deaf community.
Best to just keep that quiet for now.
Skinner flashed his badge while Mulder remained close at his side, until he entered the victim's room. At that point, Mulder was on his own. Soon after, Kevin Henley arrived and received clearance to enter the room. He was about to walk over to Mulder to offer his assistance when Skinner stopped him.
"Wait," Skinner directed as he signed the one word, and then continued orally, "until he's had a chance to examine the crime scene. Then he'll be ready to talk with us."
Kevin nodded and stood back to watch the process. When he'd first met Fox Mulder, he hadn't any idea as to what he did for a living. All he knew was that he was interested in taking some graduate courses at the university, but he needed to become more proficient in sign before that could be a reality. Never in his wildest imagination did Kevin think Fox would be investigating murders and such. He didn't know whether to feel admiration or horror. More than likely, it was a combination of both.
Approximately forty minutes passed before Mulder joined his Skinner. When he saw Henley, Mulder asked how long he'd been there.
"Half hour?" Kevin signed. Mulder nodded in acknowledgment. Kevin then asked, "How can I help?"
"Not sure. Need to have place pictures so I look more. Need study. This sucks, Kevin." Mulder's frustration was evident in both his facial expression and the vehemence with which his hands formed the signs.
"Like the others?" asked Kevin.
"Yeah, strangulation probable cause of death," confirmed Mulder. He took a moment to look around him and then asked, "Have roommate?"
"No. Single room. Senior."
Mulder smiled at this; he understood that it was considered a rite of passage to live in a 'single' in college. It angered the former agent to think that a maniac who obviously planned this boy's murder down to the last detail could suddenly cut down this poor kid who had his whole life ahead of him.
He needed to study the all of the crime scenes more. He needed to interview the victims' friends, and teachers, and families. He needed to get a feel for who these boys were.
The photos were developed quickly, and Mulder hung them up in his characteristic fashion on a wall of the makeshift office he was using at Quantico. He categorized them along with photos from the previous murders in an effort to try and find similarities in the scenes. Anything that would give him a clue as to how this lunatic's mind worked. If he stared any harder at the photos hanging in front of him, he'd be jumping right into them. He felt something on his shoulder he jumped. "Shit!" Mulder cried aloud.
"How come that's the only thing you ever say anymore?" asked Scully. There was no anger in her tone or expression; there was just a sense of resignation.
"Mulder, you don't talk anymore."
"I talk," he signed vehemently.
"No. You communicate. You express yourself. You sign." She stopped and looked earnestly at her husband and repeated, "You don't talk. You haven't talked in weeks. I don't understand."
He did. But he also knew this was not the time for that conversation. "Dana, I have work. We talk later. Promise."
"Here." She dropped a bag on his desk.
The bag remained untouched as Scully left to return to her own office.
He said it aloud.
The meeting was called for 4:00. It would most likely turn into a working dinner, which Mulder fully expected. He felt in his pocket for the small pillbox he carried around where ever he went.
Agents gathered in what quickly became known as Mulder's office. The circular table was large enough to accommodate the six men that gathered round it. The contents of Mulder's notes basically hung on the walls, leaving the table free of excess notes and file folders.
"What have we got so far?" asked Skinner.
Jim Corelle sat next to Mulder and acted as his interpreter. Skinner found it difficult to hide his surprise that Mulder suddenly relied upon a sign language interpreter. He'd always managed by reading lips and picking up on whatever sounds he could through his hearing aids.
'When had Mulder stopped wearing his hearing aids?' he wondered. It seemed odd to him that neither he nor Scully had mentioned that new turn of events to him or Maggie.
"Sir?" called out the young agent for a second time.
"Jorgensen. I'm sorry. Yes, please continue," he managed to say just as he caught Mulder's eyes.
Mulder saw the confusion and the unspoken questions in his Abah's gaze, but he let it go for now. It wasn't the time. There was a lunatic on the loose and his capture had to be their first priority. There would be plenty of time for discussion later. Plenty of time.
"We have the young man's personal history detailed in this report, Sir. The name is David Kellerman. He'd just turned 23 this past month. He majored in Theater Arts in the School of Communication. He was very involved in the various theater productions held at the university as well as a Little Theater group that performed in a community theater."
SAC Cunningham mumbled a little more loudly than he intended, "No shit?"
"What problem?" signed Mulder to Corelle for the purpose of having Corelle translate.
"Fox would __."
"Not Fox. Mulder, please," corrected the former agent in sign. While he was performing in the role of a student, he had no objections to being called 'Fox.' But this was business, serious business, and he wasn't about to allow any of his unusual nomenclatures have an effect on his ability to command respect from the team.
"Sorry," Corelle signed in complete understanding. He turned back to the Agent in question and stated, "Mulder asked what the problem was?"
"No, problem," Cunningham responded, "just that it's a little odd to me that a deaf kid would be majoring in acting, you know?"
Though Corelle was more than ready to explain the finer points of Gallaudet's renowned Theater Arts for the Deaf Department, Mulder indicated quickly that it was not the time or the place to do so. "Leave it. Much work."
Corelle nodded in acknowledgment and explained briefly that it was not an uncommon career for the deaf given the expressive nature of sign language. Cunningham remained silent, as he realized he'd probably just committed a major gaffe. Skinner's piercing gaze managed to confirm that thought.
Skinner directed Jorgensen to continue his report.
"He was involved in no less than a half a dozen student activities and was very active in the community as well. He was an active member of Saint Augustine's Church, which has a large deaf membership. He did volunteer work at the Boys and Girls Club and worked with the deaf and hearing students doing everything from playing basketball to helping with homework to teaching sign language."
"Is he from the area originally?" asked Skinner.
"No, no his family resides in Mahopac, New York."
"I take it they've been notified," stated Skinner. Jorgensen nodded affirmatively. "Will they becoming here to identify the body?"
Once again Jorgensen nodded in the affirmative.
"What have we learned about from the scene? Is the MO the same?" asked Skinner.
"It appears to be," responded Agent Cunningham.
"Explain," directed Skinner.
In an attempt to get back into the good graces of the AD, Cunningham began detailing, as carefully as possible, all of the similarities noted at today's crime scene as compared with the other two.
"Well, first, all of the victims were male between the ages of eighteen and twenty-three. They were students at Gallaudet University and were all deaf-mutes _."
"What?" Mulder practically sliced his left palm as he drew his right index finger across it to sign his amazement.
"What now?" asked the exasperated Cunningham.
"Deaf _MUTE_?" Mulder echoed the older agent's words in sign.
"Sorry," retorted the agent, who soon grew more annoyed at yet another correction, "I've obviously said something else wrong, but I'll be damned if I know what."
"The reason Mulder's a little distressed is the term deaf-mute is no longer used," explained Corelle whose calm tone belied the irritation he felt as much as the man seated beside him. When noticing the confusion on his face, Corelle continued, "It insinuates that the deaf are incapable of speech, which some take a step further as a way of questioning their ability to communicate at all. The community is simply referred to as being 'deaf'. Even the sign for the term has changed.
"In the past, the sign for deaf was this," at which point Corelle placed his right index finger on his ear and then brought it to his mouth. "The current practice is to use this sign."
Corelle then proceeded to point to his ear with his right index finger, but rather than bring it down to his mouth, he brought his whole right hand down, with his palm flat and facing downward towards his left hand which was in the same position. As he brought his two thumbs together, Corelle explained, "This sign literally means 'hearing closed.' It's a helluva lot more accurate than saying the person is incapable of speech."
"Oh," was Cunningham's response. After a moment or two he said, "The next commonality between the three victims was they all lived on campus in the dorms. In addition to that they..."
Mulder closed his eyes in order to tune him out momentarily. He figured if there was something really important, Jim would indicate as such with a nudge. Mulder was already aware of everything in Cunningham's report to date anyway; deaf-mute, indeed! Mulder thought to himself.
He found himself wondering when the hell he'd become so militant? It wasn't as if it made a hill of beans difference whether Cunningham called him deaf or a deaf-mute, did it? Mulder couldn't understand why he'd made that assumption; after all hadn't Cunningham heard Mulder speak aloud prior to Corelle's arrival?
"...And all of their feet were tied as well, most likely to prevent escape," droned on Cunningham.
"As well?" signed Mulder.
"Yes," interpreted Corelle both orally and in sign, "in addition to their hands."
Mulder nodded. This was important, but Mulder wasn't sure why yet.
Corelle continued to interpret Cunningham's words that described the similarities of the crime scenes. Once again, there was nothing that Mulder wasn't already aware of.
They were all still missing something. What was the killer's motive for murdering these two, no, three young men? Mulder asked himself. What did the UNSUB hope to gain. There had to be something the UNSUB felt would be accomplished by committing these crimes, since there appeared to be so much thought given to them. But what was it?
The meeting broke up at around six-fifteen. It was decided that the men could use a dinner break and a few minutes to decompress a bit from today's crime scene that remained very clear in their minds.
While everyone else stood to grab a bite, Mulder remained seated. In just a short period of time, there were only two men remaining in the room.
"Mulder, let's go take a break," urged Skinner.
"No, something wrong."
"Wrong? Of course there's something wrong; there's a crazy person out there killing innocent people," he retorted.
"No, something missing. I feel it, but don't know what is."
"It will come to you, Mulder, it always does, right?"
"Too late for three already," Mulder reacted angrily.
"Fox, stop. You're only human, remember? C'mon, we need to eat."
"Not hungry. You go."
"But you haven't eaten today."
"Scully brought lunch. Sandwich."
"Oh? And did you eat it?" When Mulder didn't answer, Skinner repeated his intentions. "We're going out for dinner."
"Abah, those boys," he signed.
"I know. Those boys need you to help find their killer, but you can't do that while fainting away from hunger. Let's go."
Mulder grudgingly rose from his chair, grabbed his cane, and followed his father-in-law out the door.
Apparently miracles need to come after a balanced meal.
At the end of her workday, Scully went directly to Maggie's home in Baltimore to have a late dinner and to pick up Sarah. She'd already checked to see if Mulder needed a lift home but was informed that he was still in consult with the VCU team. Somehow she managed to keep her concerns to herself about her husband overworking; she knew Walter would do his best to watch out for him.
Soon after she'd arrived, Walter phoned to let the family know that he and Mulder were planning on having dinner and then working for another couple of hours afterward.
"How late do you plan on working?" she asked.
"As long as we need to and Mulder is able to."
"He needs to take his medicine," she reminded.
"Dana, you really think after all of these years he needs to be reminded to take his meds?" Walter asked, not unkindly.
"No, of course not. It's just that," she hesitated.
"What is it?" questioned Walter.
He noticed her hesitation in answering, but when she responded, "Nothing, Walter. Nothing that can't wait," he decided not to probe any further. They both knew that Mulder wouldn't rest until the case was solved; it was best for him to continue working under the watchful eye of his Abah.
Just as Dana and Maggie were bringing food to the table, the doorbell rang. "Sit, Mom. I'll get it." Dana walked over to the door, peeked through the peephole, and was surprised to see Samantha on the other side.
"Sam? This is a surprise."
"Do I smell food?" she responded as she brushed by Dana while removing her jacket.
"Samantha? Is that you, dear?" called out Maggie.
"Oh, Maggie, tell me you didn't make your Irish Stew today."
"Okay, I won't. But I did just heat some up that was in the freezer. Would you like to join us for dinner?" asked the young woman's surrogate mother. Ever since Teena's death, Samantha had found herself growing closer to the woman that had long ago adopted her older brother. And now that Sam had all but severed her relationship with Jack, the bond between her and Walter grew stronger as well.
Dana was still reconciling herself to this latest change in the family dynamics, though the animosity between the two women waned long ago. The seeds for friendship were growing stronger each day, especially as they all worked together in planning Sam's upcoming wedding.
"Where's Eric?" asked Maggie.
"Oh, he's working. Nasty case," Sam answered.
"The Gallaudet one?" asked Scully.
"Yes, as a matter of fact. He's been doing a lot of the grunt work. He told me last night if he hauled one more file out or searched for anymore newspaper clippings about past problems there, he was going to scream."
"I can imagine. You know your brother has been brought in on it," Scully informed.
"When? Eric never mentioned it."
"Walter came over last night and told him about it; he didn't start working it until last night. There was another one, you know."
"Eric called around noon to tell me. He didn't tell me Fox was working the case though."
"If he's not in the field, he wouldn't have known," suggested Scully.
"No, I suppose not," Sam agreed, "Is he okay with it, Dana? I mean, this one's got to hit pretty close to home, don't you think?"
Scully shrugged her shoulders but answered, "He's got Walter with him. That should help." She wished she'd felt as confident as she sounded.
"Okay, now where's my niece?" asked Sam brightly.
"Sleeping far too long if she's going to sleep tonight," Maggie said. "Why don't you go wake her up for dinner, Sam. She'll be so happy to see you."
Sam nodded, but as she rose from her chair, Scully stood up too. "I'll walk in with you, Sam. I haven't seen her all day either." Once again, Sam nodded her assent and the two women walked toward what had become Sarah's home away from home.
Just before the door was opened, Sam turned to her sister-in-law with an expression that said she wasn't about to abide any bull.
"Okay, so what's going on?"
"I don't know what you mean," replied Scully so tentatively that even she couldn't believe herself.
"Oh, please. You've been on edge from the moment I walked in, and I don't think it's me. Is Fox really all right working this case?"
"No, of course it's not you," Scully answered shaking her head slightly for emphasis. "And to be honest, I'm not sure what's going on in Fox's head at the moment."
"What do you mean?" asked Sam, confused.
"God, Sam, I don't know. That's the problem; I don't know."
Concern covered Sam's face. It was rare for Dana Scully to show weakness to those she felt exceedingly close to, but for her to show her concern to Sam made the darker haired woman extra worried. As well as the two of them had been getting along, there was still a need to learn how to give and accept one another's trust.
Maybe the time for allocation had finally arrived.
"Talk to me. Did he say anything to you about the case that's upsetting him?" Sam asked.
"No. Not a word."
"Well, then what's triggering your worry?"
Now Sam was thoroughly confused. "Just what?"
"When's the last time you saw him, Sam?" Scully asked.
"What?" responded Sam in bewilderment over the sudden change of subject. "Um, I think it was last week. I had the afternoon off and came over with lunch for the three of us. Why? He seemed fine to me, if that's what you're wondering about."
"What did you talk about?"
"I don't know; I suppose the wedding was the hot topic of conversation."
"And what did Fox say about it?"
Sam had to pause to remember, and after a few moments passed, she started chuckling. "Well, to be honest, I don't think I allowed him to get too many words in edgewise."
"Did he say anything, Sam?"
Sam reacted quickly, without really giving Scully's question thought. "Of course he said something. Dana, what are you talking about?"
"What did he say?" Scully asked, her voice quiet.
Sam wanted to reply, but for the life of her she was having trouble recalling anything specific, until finally she said, "Well, we talked about the need for him to get his tux cleaned, and that you needed to get your dress fitted."
"What did he say about it?" she pressed.
"C'mon, you want me to remember the exact dialogue?"
"Yes, yes, I do." Scully felt pangs of discomfort in her stomach. She knew she was making Sam feel uncomfortable, and for all Scully knew, she could have been totally off base in what she was thinking. But she had to find out; she had to know for sure.
"I can't recall anything specific."
"That's because he didn't say anything."
"Dana, don't be ridiculous. We conversed. He didn't just sit there."
"You had a conversation, but he didn't say anything, did he?"
"I don't understand what you're asking," replied Sam.
Scully stood quietly before she spoke. "Sam, the last time I remember hearing Mulder use his speaking voice to utter more than a curse word was during the week we'd returned from New York."
"New York? Dana, that's over two months ago. Almost three!" she exclaimed in surprise.
All Scully could do was nod in reply.
"I don't understand."
"Me, neither. All I do know is he's been signing exclusively; he doesn't even talk around Sarah anymore."
"How do they communicate?" Sam asked.
"Sarah uses sign language, too. Sam, the two of them sign faster then I'm able to keep up with. I'm not sure how, but I feel so..."
"So... what? How do you feel?" Sam asked gently.
"I feel so left out."
"Maybe that's how Fox has been feeling, too."
"Dana, I can't even begin to imagine what it must feel like to be unable to follow a conversation without taking my eyes off of the speaker or respond without someone having to interpret everything I say because my speech is unintelligible."
"Sam, he's had a hearing impairment for the last several years. Why would he suddenly give up oral language now?"
"His hearing has been deteriorating. You know that. The hearing aids have been ineffectual for a while now, and his speech... Dana, his speech has begun to degenerate into gibberish as well."
Scully listened to the words her sister-in-law spoke, but she had a difficult time processing them; she had an impossible time accepting them.
"He seemed to be in such a good place when we left New York. Meeting those ballplayers made him so happy. I worried that the accident would have caused a setback; he had a concussion for crying out loud. I was afraid the seizures would increase, but none of that happened. In fact, over the last couple of months he hasn't had one grand mal that I know of, and he seems a lot calmer. Unless I try to talk to him, that is.
"All of a sudden," Scully threw her hands up in frustration, "My husband has forgotten how to talk to me."
Sam looked thoughtful and asked as gently as she could, "Could it be that you don't know how to talk to your husband?"
A mortified expression overtook Scully's face. "Sam, that's ridiculous. All I want is for my husband to use his voice since it's within his power to do so. But right now, it's as if he's given up. He's quitting on me and acting just like a .... Oh," gasped Scully.
Sam knew why. "Like a what, Dana?" When Dana refused to answer, Sam finished the thought for her. "Like a cripple...like a crippled, deaf man. That's what you were going to say, wasn't it?" she asked softly.
Scully couldn't answer her, even though she knew Sam was absolutely correct. She knew her husband was deaf; why did she find it so difficult to voice that fact now?
"Suddenly, I feel like I don't know who my husband is," she whispered.
"Oh, Dana, I suspect my brother is trying to find the answer to that very question."
Jim Corelle and Kevin Henley ended up joining them for dinner. Walter had been hoping to get Mulder alone to talk, but when the two volunteers entered and asked if they wanted company for dinner, Mulder had embraced the idea enthusiastically.
If Walter didn't know better, he'd have sworn that Mulder didn't want to be alone with him.
Now, as they sat in the steak house, Walter chatted away amicably with Corelle while Mulder conversed with Kevin. He tried to keep track of his conversation with Corelle, but Walter's eyes invariably were drawn back to the succession of signs being formed at lightening speed between the two deaf men.
"He's amazed us all, you know," said Jim softly, knowingly.
"What? Who?" asked Skinner, still staring at his son-in-law flying fingers.
"Fox. He's come so far in such an incredibly short time."
"Jim, you're going to have to forgive me, but I'm still not up to speed as to what's been going on. You mentioned earlier that Fox has been attending a class?" asked Skinner as he now gave his undivided attention to his dinner companion.
"Yes, he didn't tell you?"
"No, no he didn't," Skinner responded as his eyes were once again drawn to Mulder and Kevin.
What struck him the most was seeing the animation in Mulder's face. The last time Mulder had shown that much expression was when he'd returned home from New York. He tried to describe the entire experience to him, but both men knew it was nearly impossible for the younger man to be able to make his mentor fully aware of how much it meant to Mulder to feel a sense of normalcy again, however fleeting it was.
'It wasn't a just a dream, Abah,' he'd tried to explain. 'I felt what it was like to be normal again; I could walk and run and talk and hear. People looked at me for me, not like some poor cripple. I missed that, Abah. I missed feeling normal so much; I think it was a gift to have that feeling back, even though I knew it couldn't last.'
Walter recalled the look of sadness his son-in-law had when he'd said those last words. Was that the turning point? Was getting knocked out by a baseball the only way Mulder could experience what it was like to be normal?
If he didn't focus on their hands, Skinner could see it now. His face had expression; his eyes danced, his mouth formed a smile. "Jesus," he mumbled louder than he'd intended, "he looks __."
"Happy," Corelle finished the thought for him.
Walter turned and faced the man sitting to his right. "But why, Jim? Why all of a sudden does he look happier than he has in months?"
"Walter, that's easy." Walter's face held a question mark. Obviously it was not easy for him. "He's finally found a way to be himself. He doesn't have to pretend he's something he's not."
"I'm sorry, I still don't understand."
"We, as hearing people, have no idea what it's like to live in a world of silence."
"But he did hear once. He knows what it was like. He can speak. He knows how," the AD said with controlled vehemence. It should have come as no surprise to him that Mulder sensed his father-in-law's agitation and turned his head to see why. But it did, and Skinner looked away, red-faced.
"All the more reason for Fox to feel lost," continued Corelle. I would venture to say that he's made a decision. He's not going to pretend to be the man he once was."
"But that hasn't changed," declared Walter earnestly.
"Of course it's changed, Walter. He's lived in the hearing world as hearing person. Now he lives in it as a deaf man. How can you not expect him to have gone through a change? It's hard enough trying to understand and make sense of the world with all of our senses intact. Try to imagine what it's like to make sense of it without the ability to differentiate sounds, speech, tones of voices, and inflections.
"My God, Walter, he's been trying all this time to still do it all, but he can't. It's physically impossible for him to do it, and he's finally coming to accept that. The hard part will be for his family to accept it, too." Corelle chuckled a bit and added, "Of course, Sarah has. Helluva little signer that kid is," he added with a smile.
Walter smiled briefly and then looked back at Mulder who no longer engaged in conversation with Kevin, but rather, was looking carefully at the two men opposite him. What he saw on Mulder's face wiped away the smile on Skinner's face.
Anxiety? Confusion? Fear?
"Fox," Walter began as he slowly came to an understanding that he could only hope the rest of his family would realize, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
"It's okay, Abah," he signed, with the first genuine smile he'd seen in weeks.
The agents and consultant returned to the bureau office for a couple of more hours before calling it a night. Mulder was tiring and both Corelle and Skinner noticed that he'd experienced a couple of petit mal seizures. "Let's go, Mulder. Time to revitalize," Skinner said.
He shook his head and signed, "Want to work, little more."
"No. It'll keep till tomorrow," replied the Skinner. When he saw Mulder attempt to protest, he pasted his best AD expression on his face and said, "The subject is closed. Let's go."
Mulder knew he'd lost the argument, but in all truth he was tired, so he didn't continue the discussion. What he was not looking forward to was rehashing it all with Scully.
In truth, that had always been their modus operandi in the past. He would arrive home after a difficult day of trying to gain a handle on an UNSUB in order to formulate a profile. Scully would ask him questions, which had always allowed him to replay the facts over both to himself and to her. Often she asked question that had answers, which had never occurred to him. It had always been a way to decompress as well as review the day's findings.
This case, however, was different. This one was too personal. Too much his own and he didn't know if Scully would be able to ask the right questions to help him on this one. What concerned him more was that he didn't know if she would be able to handle the answers.
Had Walter realized that Scully stayed over in Baltimore with the baby, he would have never just dropped Mulder off at the Georgetown address and leave. But that was the case, and as a result Mulder was able to get in a few extra hours worth of work without fear of disturbing his wife.
Mulder studied the files of each of the victims and noticed for the first time that Eric Benton was one of the agents responsible for collecting the data on the victims. He smiled at the notion of Eric Benton becoming his brother-in-law. After so many years of wondering if he'd ever see his sister again, the fact that Sam was going to marry and create a new extension of their family left him with a feeling of awe that was beyond any words he could use to describe it.
They'd been through so much together, the Scullys, the Mulders, and his two Abahs. As much as he despised the path the Smoking Man took in their adulthood, Mulder no longer denied Jack's role in his childhood. Mulder realized that without Jack Stein's caring interventions, he probably wouldn't have survived his youth. If the physical abuse William Mulder dispensed hadn't killed him, certainly the emotional abuse would have. The fact that Jack was there more often than not to protect him was reason enough to acknowledge his role.
But it was Walter who saved him in his adulthood. It was Walter who gave him the strength to work toward going beyond his physical capabilities and strive for independence. Mulder was still in awe of the Walter Skinner's evolution from a mere boss who all at once was fair but tough and dispensed rules and regulations, to become a man who accepted without judgment and loved him unconditionally.
The time passed quickly and seconds turned into minutes and the dawn was only a few hours away. He needed to clear his head of all the facts and data and focus in on the details that were most relevant. And for Mulder that always meant it was time to get into the head of the killer. It was time to discover who this madman really was and what drove him to kill his victims.
"Now, call Eric Benton, quick!" Mulder demanded after he dropped his cane and having practically galloped into the office.
Skinner followed right behind and had to ask him to turn around and repeat himself. He'd missed the signing.
"E.R.I.C." Mulder finger spelled quickly. "Now you call."
"Yes, we'll get him over here. I'm sorry, but I didn't think it necessary to get him here at 4:30 in the morning, and the next time you decide to call my house at that ungodly hour, you'd better think twice, Agent!"
Both men stared at one another as they held their breath. Then, simultaneously, the two men burst into laughter. It had been a good long while since Mulder had seen Walter bluster about, and the fact that he'd inadvertently referred to him as 'Agent' showed just how much they'd reverted back to their former roles.
It felt good.
The three other men in the room looked at one another with some confusion, but it was apparent that this was an inside joke of some kind, and none of them felt it in their best interests to ask for an explanation.
A call, however, was placed to Eric Benton.
"Hey, bro," Eric greeted in sign when he walked through the office door. Mulder smiled at the communication and replied in kind. "Hey, be proud of me. I've been practicing." And though he'd signed only every third word, the effort was there and for that Mulder was grateful.
"Good job. Keep do it, okay, _brother_?" The emphasis on the endearment didn't get past Benton, and he smiled at the good-natured acceptance Mulder showed over his impending union with Samantha.
He nodded and then asked the obvious question, "So, what can I do for you, Mulder? You know who the killer is?"
"Not yet, but good idea of why. Need more information to prove. Victim family. Deaf, too?" Jim Corelle, who had arrived moments before Eric, translated just to be certain there was no miscommunication.
"Um, sorry, Mulder. I don't remember off the top of my head. It's not in their files?"
A shake of the head was easily understood by all of them.
"I'll have to go back into personal notes then. I interviewed the parents of the first victim. I do recall the mother was deaf. I don't believe the father was.
"My partner interviewed the second victim's family. I'll have to check with him. AD Skinner, I think someone from your team contacted the third victim's family, if I'm not mistaken," offered Agent Benton.
"Agent Jorgensen, I believe you were the one to make initial contact with the family?" asked the AD.
"Yes, I'd called to notify Kellerman's family of his death," confirmed Jorgensen.
"And were the parents deaf or hearing?" asked Skinner.
"Well, sir, to be honest, I don't know for sure."
"I don't understand. Explain."
"Well, I never actually interviewed the parents in person," replied Jorgensen tentatively.
"Yes, but you spoke with the parents on the phone." When Jorgensen's expression resembled that of a deer caught in the headlights, Skinner probed further. "Agent, it was my understanding that you made contact with the victim's family. Am I or am I not correct in this assumption."
"Well, yes, sir, it's just that, well, I spoke with the housekeeper, sir."
"The housekeeper?" Skinner was incredulous. "The housekeeper? Do you mean to say you never made direct contact with the victim's parents?"
"No. I never did, but I believe the SAC met with them. I'm sorry," the young agent apologized.
"Cunningham, did _you_ meet with the parents?" Skinner demanded.
"Yes, sir. I met the parents at the morgue this morning where they identified the body. I did not interview them at that time, though, sir. They were very bereft, and I didn't feel it appropriate, sir," explained the SAC carefully. He wanted to avoid having the AD run him into the ground as he'd done to his younger subordinate.
"Understandable, but by some chance did you notice if either parent was deaf?" asked Skinner irritably.
"No, sir. I mean, no, sir, neither one appeared to be deaf."
"Very well, and do we have a number or an address to contact them so that we may interview them?" Skinner asked somewhat exasperated.
"Yes, sir," Cunningham responded as he rifled through his notes. "Mr. and Mrs. Platt are staying at the Ramada. They'll be leaving tomorrow."
"Who?" asked Mulder quickly.
"Victim name Kellerman?" asked Mulder who was momentarily confused.
"Yeah, um, Stanley Platt is the victim's stepfather."
"Father deaf?" asked Mulder. "Other family members deaf?"
"I just said __," Cunningham began.
"No! Birth father," Mulder elaborated. "And other family members. Important!"
"I'm not sure. I'll have to look into it."
"Do it!" signed Mulder urgently.
"All right, I will," answered Cunningham with annoyance.
"Agent!" Skinner called out sharply. "You will address Mr. Mulder with nothing but the utmost respect, and that includes your tone of voice. He may not be able to hear it when you speak disrespectfully, but I can, and I will not tolerate it. Understood, SAC Cunningham?"
"Yes, sir," he replied, allowing a moment or two to pass before he turned to Mulder and said, "I'm sorry. No disrespect intended."
"Okay. Remember, we same team," signed Mulder in reply. Corelle translated it and to the relief of everyone apologies seemed to be accepted all the way around.
The meeting broke up and Mulder went immediately back to looking at the photos of the crime scene and more specifically at the victims themselves.
He looked carefully at each photograph, those taken at long range and those close up. He observed all of the very similar settings, as there were very few differences in the layouts of the university dormitories. The posters hanging on the wall may have been different, but the basic design of the rooms remained the same.
Next he focused in on how the victims were posed after their deaths. Mulder was positive that the victims were placed in the positions they were found in by the killer. There was almost a serene, relaxed appearance to the poses, so the profiler was more than certain that the UNSUB took extra care in arranging his victims to look as natural as possible.
But why? Whenever an UNSUB takes that much care with a victim it's to send a message. But Mulder wasn't sure what that message was, and it concerned him because he knew time was no longer on their side. When he'd looked at the close up photos of the victims' hands, he noted that each subsequent victim's hands were more and more mutilated. Patience and care were quickly becoming an unnecessary byproduct. The time between murders decreased and Mulder felt for sure that the killer was escalating. The message wasn't getting through, and Mulder knew that the killer wasn't going to stop until everyone understood his intent.
Cunningham and Jorgensen interviewed the Platts later that afternoon. The couple did not have anything of consequence to offer the agents with regards to who they think could have murdered David. Linda Platt was obviously overcome with grief and frequently dissolved into tears as she spoke about her son.
"He was an honor roll student all of his life. He worked so hard to keep up with his peers and was determined to find his way in the world. He was a gifted actor and I'm sure that he would have succeeded not only in the Theater for the Deaf, but in the mainstream as well.
"David was so active in deaf rights. He's worked since his freshman year to make the world more accepting and understanding of the deaf. My son was a good person, agents. He was a son any mother would be proud of."
When asked if her former husband, David's father, shared her feelings, Linda Platt said, "Robert wasn't as accepting of David's situation as I was. It's one of the reasons we ended up divorcing. Robert found it hard to think that his son wasn't perfect, and he had a very difficult time dealing with it. "That's not to say he didn't love David. I think he did, in his own repressed way, but he couldn't show David. He couldn't show me either, and I having to take full responsibility for both raising and nurturing our child.
"Raising a deaf child takes a lot more energy than raising a hearing child. Just making sure the environment they're playing in is safe from hazards is enough to make a grown woman weep. And I did, more times than I care to count. So, I decided that if Robert wasn't going to be a part of his son's life, then he wasn't going to be a part of mine. We divorced when David was ten years old. I have to give him credit, though. He keeps in contact with him, letters and such. He visits him on his birthday and holidays... Oh God, I have to call him. He doesn't know," she cried out.
"We'll contact your ex-husband for you, Mrs. Platt," offered Agent Jorgensen.
"Thank you. I don't know if I could tell him. Like I said, I know he loved his son in his own way. This will be hard for him," she admitted.
The agents allowed a few minutes to pass so Mrs. Platt could regain her composure before they asked, "When did you and Mr. Platt meet?"
"I met Stephen about, what, six months later?" she asked as she turned to her husband.
"Yes, hon, I think that's about right," he answered before turning to the agents and elaborated. "We both joined 'Parents without Partners' around the same time. What with all the traveling I do for my business, it really was divine providence that I attended my first meeting when you did, wasn't it, sweetheart?" Linda nodded in agreement.
"How's that?" asked SAC Cunningham with little interest other than to cover all corners, end the interview, and get the hell out of there.
"We're both parents of deaf sons," he replied.
Mulder jumped a little when Skinner tapped him on the shoulder. The AD offered him a sandwich and Mulder accepted it without comment.
"Eat, please," Skinner signed.
"Stop it, Abah."
"Stop what, Fox? Stop caring about you? Stop worrying about you? Why don't you just ask me to stop breathing while you're at it, because I could do that just about as easily as the other things."
"Abah, I know you care. You worry. Don't. I'm fine. Want to stop UNSUB, that all."
"We will, but you have to take care of yourself too. Besides, Scully would kill me if she didn't think I was watching out for you."
Mulder had to smile at that, because he knew just how true it was. The smile faded though, and Skinner caught on to that all too quickly.
"Fox, what's going on between you and Dana?"
He hesitated for a moment before he signed, "Don't know." When he saw the skeptical expression appear on his father-in-law's face he repeated, "Really. Don't know." Mulder sighed and then said, "Not Dana. Me. This time, it is all about me."
"I don't understand, Fox."
"Me too. Don't understand, but I work on it. I promise, Abah, things a little broke. I fix. But not now. Have to catch killer."
"I hope you know what you're doing," Skinner said earnestly.
"Me, too, Abah, me too."
Soon after the dinner break, the agents, who now included Eric Benton, joined Jim, Kevin and the other team members in a meeting to disclose the latest information with one another.
Mulder informed the group that he was in the process of formulating the profile, but he was hopeful that tonight's meeting would give him the information he needed to solidify it.
Eric Benton advised the group that he contacted his partner and that only the mother of victim one was deaf, but the parents of victim two were both hearing. He also reported that in each of the families, there was a younger deaf sibling.
"Well, we had our interview with Mr. and Mrs. Platt this evening, too," announced Cunningham. "You wanted to know about the birth father, Mulder, right?" Mulder nodded, and the agent continued. "Mrs. Platt was pretty forthright in letting us know that Robert Kellerman wasn't too thrilled about his son being deaf. She said he couldn't handle not having the perfect son, so he split. They divorced when the kid was ten."
"Absent father?" asked Mulder and Corelle translated.
"No," responded Cunningham, "apparently not. Mrs. Platt said he maintained contact through cards, letters, and visited on birthdays and holidays."
"So, the father was a part of the victim's life? But he wasn't all that accepting of his son's handicap?" asked Skinner.
"No, apparently not. But the mother was pretty adamant about the idea that Robert Kellerman loved his son, and that his death would be hard on him. Jorgensen tried to contact him," he began and then turned toward his young partner, "you didn't have any success in reaching him, did you?"
Jorgensen shook his head. "I just got a recording. I left a message for him to call me at my cell number. If I don't hear from him by the time we're done, I'll pay him a visit."
"Where does he live?" asked Skinner.
"Local boy. He's got an Arlington street address."
"Anything else relevant?" asked Skinner.
"Nah," replied Cunningham. "I think Jorgensen and I'll go pay a visit to Robert Kellerman. Ya gotta wonder when was the last he saw his kid."
All of the agents nodded their heads in agreement; the consensus appeared to be that the senior Kellerman was a prime suspect. All except for Mulder who still felt a piece of the puzzle was definitely missing. He confirmed that doubt when he said, "Don't think he's the one. Doesn't fit profile."
"Look Mulder, the guy resented not having a perfect kid. He was in contact, but from the sound of it not a totally involved parent. I would guess he probably resented the hell out of his wife's new husband and the fact that husband number two did accept the kid more than he did. It fits, it fits," retorted Cunningham.
"Not act of revenge," Mulder tried to explain. "Different. Too much care given. Act of protection."
"Look, we're going to head on out and see if the guy at least has an alibi, okay? What could it hurt?" asked the SAC tersely.
"Nothing at all," interjected Skinner. "It wouldn't hurt to cover all of our bases, Mulder."
Mulder gave the slightest of nods, but he knew instinctually that Robert Kellerman was most certainly not the killer. The answer to who it was, however, remained a mystery.
Not a minute after Skinner gave credence to Cunningham's plans Skinner's cell rang. He opened the connection and listened intently scribbling notes down quickly; before long he disconnected it and announced to the group, "I need you to get to that address as soon as possible. They've just discovered another victim."
"Shit!" exclaimed Mulder aloud. Several heads shot up at hearing the clarity of the profiler's voice.
"Okay," Skinner quickly responded, "we'll all head out to get a look, except for Agent Benton. Eric, I'd like you to follow up on Mr. Kellerman and see if he has an alibi." Turning to his son-in-law, Skinner declared, "Mulder, we'll get him."
The expression of frustration spoke volumes as to what the younger man was feeling. "But when?" he signed angrily. "How many more will be killed?"
Mulder grabbed his cane and stalked out the door, determined that the answer would be zero.
Someone had made a phone call and as a result the media people were crawling all over the place. Radio and newspaper reporters jockeyed for prime spots, while the television reporters vied for the best areas to catch those in the know going to and from the crime scene.
Skinner walked protectively next to Mulder; he never knew which of the old timers would be present and recognize Mulder as the agent who once was a DC media darling. Mulder was in no condition to speak to the press now, and Skinner wanted to do everything he could to avoid that possibility.
The agents managed to enter the dormitory undeterred and began examining the crime scene. Mulder donned the latex gloves and walked his circuitous route around the room of one Jason Leeds. He took note of the photos that adorned the victim's desk as well as the posters that spoke of deaf pride.
He also noticed the pile of bumper stickers that proclaimed, 'Never Forget! DPN Lives On!' Mulder looked at it curiously, as he recalled seeing the acronym around the student union and knew what it stood for. He himself had been approached to join that particular group, but he decided to defer membership until he was a fulltime student. There was something about it, however, that caused him to want to follow up on it. He placed one of the stickers into a baggy and gave it to one of the officers nearby to seal it for him.
Next, he checked the textbooks that were stacked by the computer on the student's desk. He saw books on business administration and economics. But in addition to those, he saw texts on sociology that held titles, which dealt with the ramifications of the hearing majority on deaf culture.
Finally, he carefully leaned over the still form that was carefully posed on the bed. The profiler tried to picture what the victim looked like in life. He imagined this man to have been a vibrant, energetic man, who dared to break the rules every now and then. Mulder found himself wishing he'd had the opportunity to know the young man who lay dead on his dorm bed. The victim was someone who had a plan for his future; Mulder felt himself immediately saddened by the sudden end of those dreams.
Over sixty minutes had passed since they'd first arrived, when Skinner made the first of several suggestions that it was time to move on. After the third brush off, Skinner blurted out in frustration, "You're taking this one too personally, Mulder."
The AD jumped a bit when his former agent practically hissed back, "Damn straight, I am." Skinner left him to his own devices, and when another twenty minutes passed, Mulder indicated he was ready to leave.
The two men, followed by Jim Corelle, headed out to their cars, having completely forgotten about the media frenzy that was about to greet them.
"Shit," Mulder spoke aloud for the second time that day.
"Just say no comment," Skinner urged as he grasped the free arm of his son-in-law and began to make their way through the obstacle course of media hounds.
"Excuse me! Excuse me! Agent? Agent Mulder! Fox Mulder, please can you give us any idea of how close you are to catching this killer?"
Mulder's eyes had caught the words of the person who called his name. He noted a familiarity in the reporter, and quickly realized she was one of the veterans, a reporter with whom he'd dealt with over the years. He'd also dealt with her the last time he was called in as an FBI consultant. The baby kidnappings was a horrifying experience, but he remembered this reporter had been particularly respectful of the victims, their families, and him.
Mulder first nudged Jim who walked nearby and indicated silently that he'd need an interpreter. Next, he veered off the path Skinner was trying to lead him on and walked toward the reporter. She was one of the older reporters on the beat; she was obviously old school. Mulder marveled at how she managed to remain unjaded by the news hounds that seemed to do just about anything to get a story. He admired her ability to persevere and then smiled as he reminded, "I'm no longer an agent, Ms. Greerson. I'm just a consultant, remember?"
"Of course Mr. Mulder. Please, no offense intended."
"Thank you. Please, can you give our viewers any information that would put them at ease? Are the police and FBI any closer to capturing this madman who's preying on our children?"
Mulder smiled to himself as he saw the reporter 'pour it on' so to speak. As much as she was seemingly sensationalizing the story, he also knew she would not press him for details that he was not ready to give. She'd accept any tidbits he offered and then put the required 'spin' on that, but he trusted her to do nothing that would jeopardize the case.
"We are looking for similarities in the victims; anything they have in common that might cause someone to want to harm them. We are looking for someone who has knowledge of the campus and of the student body. Be assured, we are working hard to bring this case to a close. There may be no one working this case that wants to see this murderer pay for his crimes more than I. We're asking the public to please call a special number if they have any information they believe will be helpful. One of the other officers will give you the number. Thank you."
The reporter reacted to Mulder's concluding the interview in just the manner he expected to have. "Thank you, Mr. Mulder for your time." She then turned to the uniformed officer that followed and announced the information hotline number. She then went about retelling Mulder's pronouncements with the necessary embellishments to make it 'newsworthy' for the six o'clock news. But in no way did she add or detract from the meaning of Mulder's words. That remained the same.
It was the words, however, that inflamed one particular listener. He turned the volume up on the television to be sure that he caught every one of them as interpreted by Jim Corelle. It was a damned shame, he thought to himself, that someone's time had to be wasted putting words into a man's mouth who was more than capable of forming his own. He was enraged at the notion that this man refused to conform to the majority of the people who did not know how to sign. Then to have the unmitigated gall to take up the time of that other man, just so he would have someone to put words in his mouth since he was too damned lazy to try to learn to speak like the majority of the world.
This Mulder guy was just like them, he concluded, and he needed to be stopped just like the others. He couldn't allow them to continue. It wasn't good for the society at large and it wasn't healthy for the deaf kids either. If no one else was going to take the bull by the horn, than by God, he was. And he'd already succeeded in reducing the population of renegade influences by four.
He now had to be rid of a fifth.
By the time he stumbled through the front door, Mulder was ready to collapse into bed from exhaustion. Between group meetings and working on his own, the time passed quickly. He'd spent the last four hours reviewing the photos as well as the files to get a better idea of what was motivating this particular UNSUB to commit such heinous acts. He walked directly to the master bedroom, where he found his wife laying in bed.
"Hello, stranger friend," rasped Scully sleepily.
"Hi. Late. You sleep," he replied, smiled and then added, "I sleep."
"Any progress?" She watched him shake his head in dejection, and asked, "Walter told me there was another one. He's asked me to go over the autopsies." He nodded slightly, almost tentatively, which made her wonder about something. "Are you okay with me doing the autopsies?"
She saw the hesitation; it was almost imperceptible, but she saw it, even though he nodded his head again.
"Why don't you want me to do them?" she asked in spite of his affirmative answer.
"Want you to cut," he insisted. "Tired. Talk tomorrow, ok?"
"Okay, but Mulder, you know we have to talk eventually. I mean really talk, because quite frankly, I'm not sure if I'm more scared or more angry about what's going on between us."
"Am sorry, really. Dana, not you. Me. It's all me. Patience, please? We talk when this shit over. Promise."
"I want all of this shit to be over, Mulder. I need it to be over. I miss my husband," she admitted.
"I know," he replied and with a sad smile he added, "I try to find him."
Scully insisted upon letting him sleep and told her stepfather that under no circumstances was he to pick Mulder up before ten o'clock. "He's exhausted, Walter; he didn't get home till almost two-thirty in the morning. How the hell is he supposed to function on no food and no sleep?"
Walter knew better than to respond to her; he agreed that he would pick him up at ten o'clock, sharp. She thanked him for his foresight and hung up to fix her husband a decent breakfast, or at the very least one that he would force down his throat to appease her.
"Good morning," she said when he appeared as she was just scrambling the eggs.
"She's staying at Mom's." The disappointment in his face was obvious.
"I'm sorry; but between the my regular assignments and the addition of the Gallaudet autopsies, I knew it would be easier on all of us for her to stay over at Mom's."
He nodded his understanding and picked up the pillbox that sat on the counter. Scully handed him a glass of juice and he washed his medication down with a swig. He then sat down at the table and found a plate of eggs in front of him moments later.
When Scully didn't sit down to join him he looked at her and asked her if she weren't eating.
"I ate already, but whereas you've showered, I have not, so that's next on my agenda. Walter is picking you up at ten o'clock, so you'd better snap to it, G-Man."
He smiled at the familiar endearment, and though it hadn't been accurate in years, Mulder knew she said it with love. "Will do, Scully."
She traded smiles with him, then quickly changed direction and moved to lean in for a kiss. Mulder delighted her as he reciprocated enthusiastically.
Maybe things really were going to be all right.
At nine forty-five the lights blinked on and off to signal the doorbell. Scully was in the shower, so Mulder got up and answered it figuring Walter was a little early.
When he began to pull open the door, Mulder suddenly felt it pushed into him quickly and heavily, and as a result it threw him off
balance and knocked him to the floor. He felt a pinch in his right arm, and then, for a brief minute or two, felt himself being lifted up.
His feet dragged behind him while he felt himself hoisted up and into the back of a car. Mulder didn't recognize it, nor did he recognize the man who drugged him.
All he could do was wonder and try to make sense of it, until he passed out.
"I'm coming, I'm coming," called out Scully as she finished buttoning up her blouse. She opened the door to find a flustered and very irritated Walter Skinner.
"I'm sorry I'm late. Damned traffic on the beltway; so help me, whoever designed that thing should be drawn and quartered!" he
"What are you talking about?" asked Scully.
"The traffic. I'm talking about the damn traffic that prevented me from getting here by ten o'clock. It's now going on ten-thirty and believe me, I'm not thrilled with how it's going to look for an assistant director to be late for his own meeting."
"I don't understand," Scully said softly, tonelessly.
"Dana, look, we've got to get going. Where is he? You're not going to tell me he's not ready yet?"
"I don't understand," she repeated.
Walter stopped short and took a closer look at his stepdaughter; he didn't like what he saw. "Dana, where's Mulder?"
"He's not here," she replied with disbelief. "I assumed he left with you while I was in the shower. He's not here." She drew her hand to her mouth and cried out, "Ohmigod! Abah, where is he?"
"Stop. Sit down; I need to call this in."
Walter placed the call to the number at Quantico where they'd been holding their meetings. Agent Cunningham picked up, to whom Skinner immediately asked, "Is Agent Benton there?"
The next voice he heard was Eric's. "Hello, sir. We were expecting you at ten, sir, or were we mistaken about the time?"
"No, Eric, listen to me, please."
Eric knew as soon as the AD addressed him by his given name that something was wrong. He also heard it in the man's voice and realized immediately the reason behind the anxiety that was so evident.
"Yes, sir, I'm listening."
"Mulder's missing. Someone picked him up this morning, probably sometime around ten o'clock. Oh God, he was expecting me, so he must have just opened the door."
"Sir, we'll find him," Benton replied.
"Yes, well, we need to do a bit of refocusing. This has got to have something to do with this case; I just know it does. The fact that he appeared on television yesterday and turns up missing today is too damned coincidental. I want all of the files on the table by the time I arrive. We're going to be going over them with a fine toothed comb. Meanwhile, I'll have the locals canvassing the area to see if anyone witnessed anything."
"Yes, sir. We'll be ready for you."
Mulder came to, but found that not only couldn't he hear, he couldn't see either. He took stock of himself and discovered his feet were bound together as were his hands. His arms were stretched behind him, and his shoulders felt extremely sore.
He tried to thrash about to get someone's attention, but after a few minutes he gave up. It was too disorienting to move about in the silent darkness. Finally, in frustration, he cried out.
Mulder jumped at the touch he felt on his knee. He tried to escape the hands that moved about him, but when he felt the unknown fingers travel toward his eyes, he remained still. He needed to see where he was; who was keeping him captive.
The bandana was removed and Mulder blinked his eyes several times to regain his ability to focus. He raised his shoulder in an attempt to wipe his face; his eyes were tearing as a result of the sudden brightness.
"So, Mr. Mulder, what do you have to say for yourself?" asked the tall, well-dressed man.
Mulder stared at him; he needed to discover why he was abducted before he spoke.
"What? Cat got your tongue, Mr. Mulder? Are you surprised that I know who you are? No, of course you're not. You're quite famous, you know. You were on every newscast between last night and the morning news shows. So, you think you know who the murderer is, do you?
"Well, let me tell you, Mr. Know-it-all deaf man, you know nothing! You can't know it all, because you refuse to take part in this world. You hide behind your deafness, and if you continue to do that, you're never going to amount to anything. You're never going to be able to function in this world without someone always at your side, telling the world what you _really_ mean!"
Mulder tried to loosen the bindings on his hands; suddenly he felt as if he'd lost all ability to speak, as he'd been using sign exclusively for the last couple of months. But the profiler in him knew that he had to get the man talking; Mulder needed to learn as much about this man as he was willing to expose, though instinctually he knew exactly who the perp was. He had to stall this man's actions for as long as possible or he wouldn't stand a chance of surviving.
An hour had passed already as they huddled around the table, each holding a cup of coffee in one hand and a file in the other. Eric Benton had joined the smaller group of agents at the request of AD Skinner. "Okay, you're next up, Agent Jorgensen. Report the findings of your review," ordered Skinner.
"Well, sir, it sounds pretty much like those of the first three victims. This victim was a high achieving student who attended Gallaudet University. He was in his senior year and maintained a 3.7 GPA. He was active in many of the university programs as well as community outreach. His family lives in the New York City area and was very supportive of him."
"What groups did he belong to?" asked Skinner.
"Oh, some of the same ones Victims 1, 2, and 3 belonged to. The Student Council for one, as well as the Community Outreach Project. Oh, and he was a member of something called DPN."
"Wait a minute," remarked Benton. "That sounds familiar. Why the hell would that sound familiar?"
"DPN stands for Deaf President Now," explained Corelle. "Up until 1988, Gallaudet had always been run by a hearing administrator. When the previous president, Jerry Lee, decided to retire and move on to private industry, the student body started up a movement to have the Board of Trustees appoint a deaf president. Our kids did some major protesting. It took the resignation of yet a second appointee, but the students finally got through to the board.I. Jordan King, who is deaf, has been in the position ever since."
"So, if they got what they want, what's the point of being a member of this DPN group now?" asked Jorgensen curiously.
"It's taken on the larger issue of deaf rights. The group has been very proactive in helping to establish laws and guidelines to maintain equality for the deaf and hard of hearing," clarified Corelle.
"Okay, okay...but that's all very interesting, but can we get on with the matter at hand?" Cunningham interrupted.
"I thought that's what we were doing, sir," replied Corelle through gritted teeth. Cunningham had been rubbing the university rep the wrong way from the moment he'd met him, and this time was no different.
"Okay, that's enough," demanded Skinner. He turned back to Eric who was furiously rifling through the files. "What are you looking for Agent Benton?"
"I'm not sure, sir. I know that I've seen that acronym before, but I'd never been aware of the group per se, so I don't__. Wait! This is it!" Benton cried out excitedly.
"What did you find, Eric?" asked Skinner as he allowed his anxiety peek through.
"The report has a list of items that were picked up as evidence at each scene. At the last one, Mulder bagged a bumper sticker with the saying, "Never Forget! DPN Lives On!" Well, having looked at the files of the other three victims, it looks like they were all members of this group."
"So, they have something in common?" commented Jorgensen.
"Well, yes," interjected Corelle, "but I'd say just about all of the Gallaudet students are members of DPN. Some obviously are more active than others, but I don't think it's something that's terribly unique here."
"We need to find the common thread; this isn't exactly it, but there's something about this that Mulder picked up on. Otherwise, why would he have chosen to bag it? Hell, he was probably a member, right?"
"Well, Fox is only part time at the moment, so he may not actually be a member, but I'd be surprised if he wasn't at least aware of the group," replied Corelle.
Mulder continued to work the coarse ropes that bound his bloodied wrists behind his back, and his shoulders ached like hell. As he manipulated his hands he watched his captor very carefully. He needed to keep constant eye contact so that if he spoke and gave any hint as to who he was or why he took him, Mulder would be able to recognize it.
It must have been getting later in the day. The sun appeared to be setting and, and Mulder's body was beginning to feel the stress of the situation. He knew he was due for his medication around dinnertime and hoped his kidnapper would allow him to reach into his pocket and take the pills.
"So, Mr. Mulder," his captor began, "why do you think you don't have to be a part of our society? What is it about you and your kind that think it's perfectly acceptable to expect the majority to learn your language, yet you think you're above learning ours?
"What do you think you're gaining by behaving like a separatist? What's the point? How do you ever expect to be a productive member of the main society if you can't even communicate with the majority of its people?
"I am so sick and tired of you and the rest of you outsiders telling good people that they're wrong to want to fit in. You have some nerve, you know, trying to turn impressionable kids into people like you. Well, I can't allow it to happen anymore. I won't allow it. You don't give me a choice. Do you understand me? You leave me no choice!"
"An' wha' abou' my 'toice?" Mulder asked, his voice taking on a raspy quality from disuse.
"What?" the mystery man gasped. "You can speak?"
"Ye't. I can 'peak. An'ter me. Wha' abou' my 'toice?" he repeated.
"What the hell are you talking about? What choice do you mean?"
"Whe'dder to u'te 'tign language or not. Whe'dder to u'te my voi'te or not.
"Why should you have a choice?" he yelled.
"And why 'chould you?" retorted Mulder. "Why can' you learn to 'peak 'tign language? Why do I ha'b to be 'de one to 'pit into your worl'?"
"Because you live in this world, buddy. And if you expect to make anything of yourself in this world, then you damn well better learn how to fit into it!"
"I''m doin' ju't 'bine, 'dank you. I' ma'wied an'd ha'b a beauti'bul daughter. So he'p me under'tand why you di' it. Why ki'l 'dem? Wha' di' it accompli'ch?" Mulder implored.
"They couldn't leave well enough alone," he began in explanation. "I couldn't let them try to brainwash him anymore than they already had. I couldn't allow it anymore. David kept emailing him and sending him these articles. Then he got his friends to write to him, too. I didn't want it to get to this point, but they didn't leave me any other choice. They forced me to do it, don't you see?"
"Ye't, I 'tee," Mulder answered quietly, as the man confirmed the profiler's suspicions.
The blond haired man averted his gaze slightly and spoke more softly, "I feel terrible for Linda. I know that this is so hard on her."
"How could you do 'dat to her?" Mulder asked.
"I didn't want to hurt Linda. I never, ever wanted to hurt her, but the sonofabitch didn't leave me a choice. I had to."
"But you 'till ki'ld Da'bid Ke'yerman, you're own 'ton," responded Mulder incredulously.
"What? I never considered the little bastard my own."
"But 'Tanley, he wa't 'till 'Yinda' 'ton."
"And what about _my_ son, Mr. Mulder. What about Ian Platt, who suddenly wanted to learn sign language instead of go to his speech class because of that no good sonofabitch stepson of mine? Well, I'm sorry, but I couldn't let that happen. I couldn't let him turn my son into one of their mute drones.
"I never wanted to kill David. I tried to avoid that you know. I mean, first it was that Harriman kid and then the Cooperman boy. But David didn't take the hint. He just kept harping on Ian. For Christ sake, Ian's only sixteen years old! He has his whole life in front of him, and I was damned if I was going to let that no good bastard turn my kid against everything we'd worked so hard for.
"But even with David out of the way, the propaganda never stopped. That Leeds kid had the nerve to call the house after David's body was found! Can you believe that? He told Ian that David would have
wanted him to continue down the right path. Ian was very close with David, so I couldn't very well let that little weasel play my son's emotions like that!"
"'Tanley, you can't 'top u't f'wom becoming independent' t'inkers. You can't 'top u't f'wom learning how to become our own per'ton. You don' ha'b 'dat 'wight, 'Tanley," Mulder declared emotionally.
"He's my son, Mr. Mulder. I love him very much and I will do everything in my power to see that he achieves anything and everything he wants to achieve in this world. Ian is a smart, inquisitive young man who has a future if he doesn't choose to throw it away. If I have to remove obstacles for that to happen, then so be it," Platt declared with little emotion.
"O'dder peo-ple are not ob'tacles. Don' you un'er'tand wha' you did? My God, you kil'd your wi'pe's 'ton, 'Tanley. You kil'd four young men. Four inno'tents who had 'deir whole li'bes ahead of 'dem. Wha' ha'b you done, 'Tanley?"
"I've done what I need to do to protect my son, Mr. Mulder. And I will continue to do so. You, of course, have made this circumstance quite different from the others."
"How?" asked Mulder. "How di'p'went?"
"You talked to me, Mr. Mulder. You've been able to give me insights that the others did not. The others never spoke a word."
The door to the office slammed open so hard that it caused the others to jump in their seats. Skinner looked up and scowled slightly when he saw whom it was that strode into the room with a determined expression, the likes of which he'd seen only a handful of times.
"Go home," admonished the AD. "Stay with your family. We'll let you know when we find out anything,"
"No, I don't think so, sir," she replied formally. Agent Scully had arrived, and from that moment on everyone in that room knew it.
"Agent Scully, it isn't appropriate for you to be here," declared AD Skinner.
"With all due respect, sir, at the moment this is the _only_ appropriate place for me to be. My child's grandmother is very trustworthy and more than capable of watching her. I, on the other hand, know my husband best and would therefore be the most logical choice to look over his notes so I could see where he was going with regards to his profile," she replied in a tone that completely matched the AD's.
Scully stood, using all five foot three inches to the best of her advantage over the seated six footer. Both pairs of eyes glared at one another, but it was a given as to whom was going to win that battle of wills.
"Agent Benton, please pass Agent Scully Mulder's profiling notes."
"Thank you, sir," she acknowledged softly as she sat down with the others.
Scully read through the illegible scrawls while the other agents continued reporting the case facts of each victim. The men's voices were beginning to give way to their frustration and professional discussion began escalating into disparaging comments.
Oblivious to it all, Scully continued to read. She'd begun making her own notations of Mulder's notes, and as time passed it became more and more apparent where her husband's suspicions lay.
"He knew what?" asked Skinner, quickly picking up on her excited tone of voice.
Scully looked up, unaware that she'd even spoken her discovery aloud. "He knew who the killer was."
"We all know who the killer is, Agent Scully," remarked SAC Cunningham. "It's Robert Kellerman."
"No, it can't be," stated Benton. "Remember? You all headed to the Jason Leeds crime scene, while I followed up on interviewing Kellerman. This is the first chance I've had to even bring this to the table, but Kellerman couldn't be the killer. He was hospitalized with a gallstone attack on the very day the first victim was killed. He was operated on two days later. The man was in no condition to commit any of these murders."
"Shit," muttered Cunningham. "Then who the hell is doing this?".
Scully said quietly, "Mulder never thought it was Kellerman. It was never about revenge, but about protection. The other deaf family members was the key. The younger siblings needed to be protected. This was all about protection, gentlemen."
"So who?" asked Benton.
"The stepfather. We have to find Stanley Platt. He was protecting his own son."
"But he doesn't even live around here; he's from upstate New York!" countered Cunningham.
"He travels a lot to this area on business, Agent. He has the time and the means. And I would venture to say that he's still in the area and saw our profiler in residence on the television news last night," explained Scully.
"I want you to call and confirm the Platts are still checked in at the same hotel, Jorgensen," directed Skinner.
Jorgensen placed the call and then said, "Yes, sir, they're still registered."
"Gentlemen, let's go," commanded Skinner. As Scully rose to join the men, Skinner said, "Agent Scully, I __."
"__Don't even consider saying what you were about to say, sir. I am going with you. End of discussion."
"All I was going to say, Agent, was that I want you to drive with me."
Scully smiled, for she was certain that was a last minute save on the AD's part, but she wasn't about to contradict him and have him lose face among his men. She could always rub it in later on home turf.
"Very well, sir. I drive," she said and then turned on her high heels and led the way to the bureau garage.
"Where'd Mi'tis P'watt?" asked Mulder, who was getting lightheaded from the pain of being held in the same position for several hours.
"I sent her home. There was no reason for her to remain here; I told her I had more business to conduct so she was free to go on home without me. The woman's in mourning; she wasn't about to remain here in a hotel room."
"P'watt, 'dey're lookin' for me. 'Dey're goin' to 'bind me, you ha'b to know 'dat."
"No. No, they won't and the boy will be safe now," said Kellerman unreasonably.
"But you're goin' to jail! How does 'dat he'p your 'ton?"
"Who said I was going to jail, Mr. Mulder?" asked Platt calmly. "I'm not going to jail. After I take care of you, I'm going to walk out of here and continue to protect my son."
"You're c'wazy, P'watt. You can't get away wit' d'is."
"I can. I have to."
The agents knocked loudly on the room 434, but received no answer. The manager stood nearby to open the door in case they needed help in gaining entry. Skinner nodded towards the young woman who held the master keycard and watched as she slid it into its appropriate slot.
Upon entering the room, Skinner noted that it was made up for the day. "They're not here. Where the hell could they be? He hasn't checked out yet, has he?"
"No, sir. The wife checked out yesterday morning, but Mr. Platt is still listed in our registry," informed the hotel manager.
Eric Benton looked around the room and saw that clothes remained in the drawers and suits hung in the closets. "How many new registers since yesterday morning?"
"I don't know offhand, sir. I could check for you."
"Yes, yes," encouraged Scully excited. "Eric, you're a genius!"
Skinner, and even Jorgensen caught on to Eric's thinking, but Cunningham remained in the dark. "I thought you said the killer was Platt. Now you think it's someone who checked in since yesterday?"
"No, Cunningham. Follow me on this one, okay?" said Benton with a little more sarcasm than he'd intended, but let out nonetheless. "Platt kept his old room, but when his wife checked out, he registered a new room."
"But he's got a room," replied Cunningham. "What the hell does he need two__. Oh, shit," he exclaimed sheepishly as the light finally dawned on the agent. "We'd better get those room numbers and start knocking, huh?"
"Yes, Agent, I'd say that's exactly what needs to be done."
There were forty-six new registrants the previous day, and an additional fifty-nine that morning. Of the forty-six registering the previous day, all had checked in. Of the additional fifty-nine, all but seven had checked in to that point.
The agents decided it was more prudent to focus on those who checked in yesterday, as they figured that the perp would want to 'prepare' the room with whatever materials he needed to carry out the crime.
It took close to an hour to check on less than half the rooms. Several times they required the use of the manager's master keycard when they'd received no answer to their knocks. All of the agents were becoming frustrated in their search, but no one more so than Scully.
"C'mon, Mulder, show yourself already," she whispered to herself.
They continued the search.
"Well, Mr. Mulder. The time has come to say good-bye," declared Stanley Platt.
"Aw, bu' 'Tanley, we're ju't gettin' to know each o'dder," stalled Mulder.
"I know enough, Mr. Mulder. I know that you would rather exile yourself to a world of cripples instead of choosing to be a part of the real world where you can make something of yourself."
"You're w'ong, Mr. P'watt. You are 'toe w'ong."
"Well, it doesn't matter to me what you think. You won't have a say in the matter, now will you?" Platt picked up the silk tie and proceeded to tie it loosely around Mulder's neck. Though he thrashed as much as he could, Mulder was unable to shake the madman off. As he felt the silk close in more and more around his neck, Mulder screamed at the top of his lungs, "HE'P! He'p me!! He' me!!"
Platt quickly grabbed a small hand towel and stuffed Mulder's mouth with it, exclaiming, "You are a treat, Mr. Mulder! You're the only one who's ever tried calling for help. It won't help though. I've found that these walls are pretty sound proof. Lucky for me, isn't it?" Platt asked with a maniacal smile plastered on his face.
Mulder continued his attempts at thwarting Platt's movements, but found himself weakening quickly. The silk tie fast became a formidable noose around the profiler's neck and Mulder fought valiantly but lost his bid to remain conscious.
Scully urged Skinner to swipe the keycard more quickly. "Hurry, Abah," she whispered, unaware that she'd used the private endearment for her stepfather out loud.
Skinner did as he was told when he realized that he too felt this was the room they were seeking. Neither of them understood why, but both accepted the fact readily and positioned their firearms at the ready when Skinner slammed open the door to unit 687.
"Mulder!" cried out Scully as she ran towards him. The others searched the room and every nook and cranny but it was obvious that Platt was not there. "We need an ambulance. He's not breathing. Help me, please. He's not breathing!"
Eric bent down quickly and began rescue breathing on his future brother-in-law, while Scully began the compressions. He couldn't help but wonder how the man was going to survive yet another ordeal.
"Cunningham, you go to back to room 434 and see if he's there. Jorgenson, you go to the front desk and see if he's checked out already, or if he tries to. I've got our backup on standby, but I'm calling them in now to surround the building. If he's still here, we'll get him.
Skinner made the call to the backup team after having called for emergency services. It was only minutes before the paramedics arrived, but Scully and Eric were fast becoming exhausted as they worked on Mulder by continuing the CPR.
The paramedics arrival meant that Benton was freed up, however reluctantly on his part, to go and act as backup to Cunningham while Skinner went downstairs to meet up with Jorgensen. Scully remained ever vigilant at Mulder's side.
"Ma'am, he's wearing a medic alert bracelet. Do you_?" began the EMS technician, but she cut him off immediately.
"He has a chronic seizure condition. He's on Tegetrol twice a day for it. He most likely hasn't had his second dose yet," she explained.
"Any other meds?"
"Accupril for blood pressure and aspirin for the heart. In addition he's on minute doses of antibiotics as a preventative for chronic ear infections."
"Okay, I'm gonna call this in, but once we've intubated, we'd better be prepared to wrap and run, Eddie," he said to his partner.
Eddie nodded and proceeded to prepare Mulder for transport while the first paramedic called into the hospital for instructions. "That's affirmative, Georgetown. Ringers, wide open. Be advised the victim has not begun spontaneous respiration. We'll be ready for transport in approximately three minutes, Georgetown. ETA is five minutes."
Scully watched as the IV was inserted and he was lifted onto the gurney. She walked by its side, watching for any sign that Mulder started breathing on his. She followed them into the waiting ambulance, while the others searched for Mulder's attacker.
The agents spread out to their appointed places waiting for any sign of Stanley Platt. None of them could believe that he could have been so blatant as to simply walk out into the sunset, but that's just what happened. Benton and Cunningham spotted him leaving his room 434 and followed him down to the lobby of the hotel.
They hooked up with Skinner and Jorgensen, who watched as the perpetrator walked up to the counter to pay up his bill. The AD moved over casually to the counter in anticipation of an arrest. Skinner wanted all the proof they could get to make this case airtight.
"Hello, sir, may I help you?" the clerk asked.
"Yes, I'm ready to check out," said Platt calmly.
"Very well, sir. May I have your key card, please?" Platt handed over one card and the clerk asked, "Will you be paying for that with cash or credit, sir?" When the man responded 'credit', the clerk punched in the appropriate keys and produced the appropriate documents for his signature. "It looks like you're all set, sir."
"No, I'm sorry, my kids were in room 687, and I'll need to pay that one up as well. But take it off of my credit card; I'd rather pay cash for that one."
"Of course, sir. May I have your key card?"
As soon as she completed the transaction, Skinner gave a small, imperceptible nod that was noticed only by the chosen three. Agent Benton approached the perp from the left while Skinner remained on Platt's right.
"Mr. Stanley Platt?" asked Benton.
"Yes," he replied looking confused. At the sound of the AD's voice, Platt whipped his head around and heard the charges.
"You're under arrest for the murder of Mark Harriman, Stuart Cooper, David Kellerman, and Jason Leeds. You are also under arrest for the kidnapping and attempted murder of Fox Mulder, special consultant to the FBI," stated Skinner.
Benton took over and continued reading Platt his rights. "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. If you cannot afford an..."
All the while he was being read his rights, Platt's face held an expression of total confusion. It was as if he couldn't quite believe that he was being punished for something he felt was so totally and unequivocally justified.
By the time they'd reached the hospital, Mulder began spontaneous breathing. Now the oxygen, anticonvulsant, and antibiotics flowed but Mulder remained unconscious. The doctor assured Scully that her husband's vital signs remained strong, and that he was confident that her husband would regain consciousness shortly.
So, Scully waited.
Kevin Henley stopped by the hospital room to visit. It was the first time Henley and Scully had met, and she had to ask him who he was. He signed his reply.
"Friend from university."
"From the case," she stated more than asked.
"Yes, from case and from class."
Scully's expression couldn't hold back the surprise. "Sign language class?"
"Yes. Fox very good. Don't tell him, but Sarah better," he communicated with a bit of a conspiratorial grin.
"Sarah." It wasn't a question anymore; it was now the explanation that allowed all that had been going on in their personal life make that much more sense.
Walter arrived with Maggie and Sarah in tow shortly after Mulder had regained consciousness. Sarah, delighted to finally see her dad again after too many days, signed excitedly with him. The remaining three adults watched in fascination.
Not a word was spoken between father and daughter, yet the bond that was inextricably formed between them was more than obvious. Scully couldn't help but feel a pang of jealousy; she was once as close, no, closer to Mulder than that. Yet of late, she felt she was losing him, and the frightening thing was she didn't know to what she was losing him to.
Now, watching Sarah and Mulder communicate with one another, she had a better idea of what her foe was. Only problem was, she wasn't sure if she had the right to do battle with it.
"He's being held in psychiatric lock-up, awaiting evaluation," Walter explained. "The guy's story was that all of the victims were trying to convince his own son to give up talking and stick with signing. He says their claims of not being 'one of them,' unless he signed exclusively was their way of blackmailing his child. He wanted their influence to stop, so he killed them."
"But why did he take Fox?" asked Maggie. "He never even met the boy, did he?"
"No," Mulder signed. "Saw me signing on TV. Thought I was part of conspiracy."
Suddenly all eyes shifted to the smallest Mulder as she demanded, in sign, something to eat. Laughing aloud, Mulder responded, "Throw Sarah some food. She get cranky."
Maggie smiled in agreement and as she reached for the toddler, she said, "Just like someone else I know, Fox Mulder. Life father, like daughter?"
Putting on his best, 'who me?' expression, Mulder said his thanks for watching Sarah for them and that he hoped he'd be cut loose tomorrow.
"Tomorrow? Mulder, I don't think so," Scully responded in exasperation.
"Why not?" he asked.
"You were down for the count for several hours, Mulder, that's why. I suspect they'll keep you for at least twenty-four hours, though more likely it'll be forty-eight hours, and you're not going to give them one argument, are you?" she asked rhetorically.
Mulder knew better than to argue with her. At least at that moment.
"I think the father needs some food thrown at him, too, don't you, Walter?" asked Maggie in an effort to divert both of her children off the subject of hospital stays.
Nodding in agreement, he responded, "I'll be back later, Fox. Do you want me to bring back a couple of sandwiches for you?" asked Walter of both.
"Yes!" Mulder said enthusiastically.
"Mulder, you've just regained consciousness!"
"Scully, stomach growling, 'Feed me! Feed me!'"
She threw her hands up into the air and nodded yes, gratefully.
Walter had dropped off the sandwiches and left the couple to eat their dinner. He'd explained that he was returning to Quantico as he wanted to make sure SAC Cunningham dotted every letter 'i' and crossed every 't' in the final report. Obviously, the AD didn't trust Cunningham to spit across the street, so he was reluctantly off to the office again.
The couple ate their meal, neither speaking nor signing, but both taking furtive glances at one another throughout. Finally, when both had finished the last bite of their sandwich and the final drop of their drink, their eyes locked and both knew it was time.
"I need to understand," she said.
"I know," he signed.
"What's going on, Mulder? Why do I feel like I'm losing you?" she asked softly.
"_You_ are not losing me; I was losing me."
"I don't understand. When we got back from New York, you seemed so happy. But, then it all changed and I don't know why. I don't know what I did_."
"_NO!" he interrupted immediately. "You did _nothing_ wrong, nothing!" he signed adamantly.
"Then why? Why did you stop talking to me? Why did you sneak off and start taking a class without ever telling me? Why was our daughter the only member of this family privy to those plans?" she cried out, her voice breaking at the end.
"Don't know. Sorry."
"Bullshit," she said glaring. Scully certainly now had her husband's attention. "You know that's bullshit, because you do know. But Mulder, I'm still in the dark. Damn it, what is going on?"
His hands remained still and he looked away. Whether Scully realized he was trying to collect his thoughts or whether she believed he was trying to avoid the situation, he wasn't sure. But he knew he had to make her understand.
He had to make himself understand.
And, much to her surprise, he spoke aloud in an attempt to make them both understand.
"I di' come home f'wom New Yo'k happy. I' been gi'ben an inc'wedible gi'pt. I got to 'wemember what no'mal 'pelt like. Bu' 'toon I 'weali'de 'dat a d'weam is not 'weality. I needed to 'tart 'peeling what no'mal was 'por me, as a de'p man.
"Dana, I 'pinally 'wealized 'dat's what I am, but I wasn't 'ture if I was 'weady to ac'tept 'dat. I'd ne'ber 'daught of my'tel'p as a de'p man. I was a man wit' a hearin' lo't. Big di'prance, 'wight?" he chuckled slightly at his self-deprecating attitude.
"I go' ti'ed of being 'dat hea'wing man wit' a hea'wing lo't. I didn' want to be a c'wipple anymo'e. I didn' want to be looked at wit' pity. I wanted people to look at me, 'Cully. 'Dey didn't look at me; 'dey looked at you to interp'wet. I became ex'te't baggage. I needed to t'wy 'tome'ding new.
He stopped talking and remained quiet for a few minutes. Scully tried to think of something to say that would reassure them both that all would be well, but she felt at a loss as to what that was.
Finally, he 'broke the silence', but in sign only.
"Afraid?" her eyes opened wider as she echoed his thought. "What were you afraid of?" she asked tenderly.
He looked into her eyes and hoped she understood. She had to understand, he thought.
"I got tired of feeling like stranger in my life, but I was afraid to be a deaf man in hearing world."
"You, Mulder? Or me. You were afraid that _I_ couldn't accept it."
"Yes," he admitted reluctantly. "But I was having hard time accepting for me too. Figure harder for you."
"It was hard for me, Mulder. It still is, but that doesn't mean I can't deal with it. We've always been able to deal with things together. When did it all of a sudden become you instead of us against the world?"
"Never meant to exclude you but Dana, understand, please. I feel this way for years now. Not your fault, not my fault, but truth. When return from New York, feeling that I different from everyone got so, _more_ intense. When I go to Gallaudet, not excluded anymore.
"God, Scully, felt more like students than my family."
Scully felt the hurt but struggled to keep it off of her face. If she were to understand Mulder's feelings, she had to maintain her game face so as not to discourage him from talking.
"How long have you been taking the class?" she asked.
"About ten weeks. Three days a week."
Somehow she managed to suppress the shock at the length of time Mulder had withheld that information and asked, "And Sarah? How was that received?"
"Well," and Mulder chuckled for the first time in a while, "they doubt she sit quietly. Never imagined she start signing. I never thought, but Scully, she's amazing. Sarah's hands fly!" he added proudly.
She couldn't help but join him in feeling pride for their dexterous daughter. "She's a smart little girl; she takes after her father, you know."
"And mother," he added. He remained pensive for a minute or so and then began again.
"There was time, I was lone wolf. I was 'Spooky' Mulder, but it, for most part, my choice. But this, this never my choice.... Now, I tired of feeling different. When I walk on campus I not.
"Not easy. I sign little, but everyone speak ASL and I don't. But I pay attention, and I practice, and damn, Scully! I good at it! It all visual, so I remember ASL faster... faster than French," he added with wry humor.
They both smiled at that. It had been a running joke between them that if Mulder ever had to ask directions to a men's room in France or Quebec, he'd be reduced to asking, 'Ou et le Jacques?'
"I like being part of community that was same as me. Finally, I feel normal. I recaptured feeling from NY," he communicated in a combination of sign and finger spelling.
"That must feel good," she acknowledged. He nodded. "So where do we go from here, Mulder? I have a feeling it doesn't stop here; there's more, isn't there?"
Once again he nodded, more slowly this time. He looked up, eyes glistening slightly and confessed, "I can't do this anymore."
"Do what, Fox?"
He looked up at her, more nervous than either of them would have ever expected. "This. End up in hospital beds. I can't profile any more. I won't," he signed adamantly.
She looked incredulously at him and opened and closed her mouth a couple of times before the words actually formed. "And you think I would disagree with this decision?"
"I don't know."
"Oh, Fox, no! How could I not agree with this decision given all that you; no, make that all that _we've_ been through? I want you to do what makes you happy, and if doing something other than consulting for the bureau makes you happy, then so be it."
"I know that; I'm not sure if when I try to find me, I'll really lose me in the process."
To anyone else that remark might have seemed convoluted, but Scully understood its meaning completely. For all of those years, Mulder's identity had been so completely tied into his role of FBI agent, and then even after his illness he worked a almost as many VCU cases as a consultant than he had in all the years he headed the X-Files. The decision to finally give up something that so totally encompassed his life was not an easy one.
But it was a necessary one, and Scully was wise enough to know that.
"You will always have those experiences as a part of you, Mulder. There's no chance that you could ever leave them totally behind you; we both know that. But sometimes it's time to move on, and now is your time. _Our_ time," she concluded.
Mulder nodded slowly, swallowed, and then spoke aloud in a whisper. "I'm 'torry I didn' talk to you abou' 'dis. I know I 'chould ha'b, but, 'Tully, I 'weally didn' know what to 'tay. I 'pelt li'e I been 'wunning in 'tircles. I was af'waid you wouldn' under'tand.
"But I didn' gi'b you a chan't, an' for 'dat, I am 'torry," he concluded.
"To be honest, I don't know that I would have understood in the beginning. The process was painful for us both." He nodded in agreement with that. "I suspect it was also necessary for us to truly accept that change was needed." She smiled and reached for his hand to give it a squeeze.
"So, have you made any decisions as to what you do want to do?" she asked, ever pragmatic.
"Decisions about what?" asked the deep baritone as the rest of the family walked through the door. They returned just under the wire for the nightly visiting hours, and Maggie wanted to be sure that Mulder had a chance to see Sarah before her bedtime.
"My future," signed Mulder.
"Future? Is there a problem?" asked Skinner quickly as he handed off Sarah to the outreaching hands of her mother.
"No, Abah, no problems. None," replied Mulder quickly. "Made a decision."
"What kind of decision, Fox?" asked Maggie. The look on her face told them all she was well aware something important was going on, so Mulder and Scully knew not to hold back on their explanation.
He began signing, at first cautiously, but as he took more time to explain the actions, he became more and more enthusiastic. "Well, I figured I'd brush up on my clinical psychology so I could, maybe, join a practice or even start my own in deaf community. But then, I talk with students over at university, and more I thought that I help deaf kids learn to cope more.
"Think I go back for school psychologist's degree. And then, maybe someday, I teach a course at university." He caught his breath as his hands stilled and then, with a shyness that bordered on cautiousness asked, "What you think?"
His eyes searched not only his wife's, but Maggie's and Abah's as well.
"You'd be doing that full-time?" asked Walter, knowing full well that Mulder and Scully would pick up on his insinuation.
"Yes, Abah. Full-time. No more consulting for the bureau," he responded with determination.
Walter's reaction to the proposal was not immediately evident. Maggie, on the other hand, had no problem with voicing her opinion of the plan. "That's wonderful, Fox. Absolutely wonderful. You've always enjoyed being around children. It's a superb idea," she said as she glared at her husband, practically defying him to disagree with her assessment.
Walter smiled at the way Maggie always found it in her heart to protect Fox no matter what the battle. This one was no different, but out of the kindness of his heart, and fear for his life, he decided to keep his feelings a secret no longer. "Of course it's a wonderful idea, Mulder. The bureau will miss your expertise, of course, but I have to think there's going to be some pretty lucky kids out there one of these days."
"Thank you, Mom, thank you, Abah," he said and then turning to Scully his eyes reflected his need for her approval as well.
"I think that's an excellent idea, too. Like Mom said, you've always been wonderful with kids. And speaking of which," Scully said as she placed their daughter in the bed with her father, "our child can sign almost as fast as you and definitely runs rings around her mother." She caught his smile at the truth in that statement. "So, when are they offering another sign class so this Mommy can catch up to her kid?"
"You want to take it? Really?"
"Mulder, if it's going to be your chosen mode of communication, then yes, I certainly need to learn to read it. You've had to fingers spell practically every other word to clarify the signs for me. I'll still be able to talk while you lip read, but I need to read your signs, right?"
He nodded and she could see the joy and relief on his face when she'd so quickly accepted his decision to primarily use signing. "Thank you, Scully. Thank you for loving me this much."
"Oh, Mulder. You know I feel the same way about you, right? Always have, always will."
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