Actions

Work Header

Whose Song is That Remembered

Chapter Text

Holden barged into Bill’s office. “You'll never guess who was at the site.”

Bill gave him a look that should have been universally understood to mean ‘I’m on the phone right now,’ but one could never tell with Holden fucking Ford.

"Dr. Dana Scully," Holden proclaimed.

“Mike, can I call you back?" Bill said. "Something's come up that is apparently urgent. Thanks." He hung up, giving Holden a pointed look and exaggerating the release of the handset. "What are you talking about?"

"In Massachusetts," Holden said. "Dr. Dana Scully was there."

"I thought she left the Bureau.”

"She did,” Holden said, eyes wide, excited as a kid on Christmas. “She’s back! In the field, even. That’s why we haven’t seen her around here, because she’s not teaching anymore.”

“She’s back?” Bill lit a cigarette, brow furrowed.

“For this case, at least.” Holden perched himself on Bill’s desk as if he owned the thing. “It went well, by the way. The skull’s in great condition. For… um… well, I mean, it’s all intact, except for the jawbone. And no body yet, but we’re all pretty sure it’s a Cloth Heart.”

"Where's Wendy?" asked Bill.

Wendy casually peered in from the bullpen.

"You're uncharacteristically quiet," said Bill.

"Just processing," said Wendy. "Holden spent the flight home telling me all about about Agent Scully's storied past. It's a lot of information for one day."

"I'll bet," said Bill.

Holden looked between the two of them in the way he did sometimes when he wasn't sure what they were talking about. "So, I had an idea. And Wendy agrees with me."

"Oh?"

Wendy had taken a prim seat on Bill's couch now, and she tilted her head. "It couldn't hurt, if all parties agree."

"What is it?"

"Well, the Martha’s Vineyard investigators think the skull was carried away from the body by animals. It’s definitely in the right time frame, but thirty years means the body itself is probably kind of scattered.”

“Uh huh,” said Bill, marvelling over how breezily Holden could talk about the decades-old remains of a fucking eight-year-old girl.

“So, if we had a better idea of where the original dump site was, that could help us narrow the search. And since John Roche is dead, the best way to get any more information would be to interview Fox Mulder.”

Bill took a drag on his cigarette and eyed Holden warily. "You want to interview Fox Mulder.

"Yeah."

"The guy's nuts," said Bill.

“That may be so, but he also spent more time with John Roche than anyone else. If anything was left out of the files, the only two people who would have that information are Mulder and Scully. And mostly Mulder, frankly. So... we ask her, and then we ask him."

Bill eyed Holden some more, then turned to Wendy. “He gave you the whole story?"

"It certainly seemed thorough," said Wendy. "And you know Holden is nothing if not thorough."

Bill sighed. At the end of the day, with both of them watching him, he couldn't come up with a good enough excuse to say no. "Fine, as long as Dana Scully signs off on it."

"Great," said Holden. "I'll get Gregg to find her in the--"

"I'll call her," said Wendy, rising to her feet. "I have her number."

Dana Scully's feet barely touched the floor of the car.

That's an exaggeration, obviously, but it felt true. She sat stiff and quiet and tiny in the front passenger seat as Bill drove, red hair in a sharp cut, hand occasionally fiddling with the tasteful gold cross around her neck. That had surprised Bill a little, especially after Wendy's ringing endorsement of her, but he supposed it takes all types.

The four of them talked at length about the Cloth Hearts case, a series of child murders in New England dating back decades. John Roche had been captured not through any primitive form of profiling, or even any real police work. He had simply been startled in the home of his last would-be victim when her parents returned home early.

Roche confessed to killing thirteen young girls, though Mulder and Scully later found evidence that he killed sixteen. They identified and recovered two of the victims, but Number Sixteen remained a mystery. They all quietly— or not so quietly, in some cases— hoped this old child’s skull found at Martha’s Vineyard was her.

Obviously, John Roche was of great interest to the BSU and their study, but unfortunately, he was dead. “If I had known back then what I knew now, maybe I could have consulted with you guys,” Bill said.

Scully took a moment before answering. “I wasn’t exactly comfortable asking people for help with it back then,” she said. “Considering our main source.”

The Cloth Hearts murders had been long closed, with Roche’s confession of thirteen matching up with thirteen missing girls and thirteen bodies found. Each of the murdered girls had been dumped in her nightgown, with a heart cut out of the cloth. But then Fox Mulder, who was a few years behind Bill at the academy, and whom Bill thought was one of the most promising young agents he’d ever seen, had a dream. Mulder claimed to have walked in his sleep to a park in Manassas, driven his bare hands into the earth, and dug up a hitherto unknown Cloth Heart victim. This led to him tracking down John Roche's old car, and discovering a grand trophy: a book with cloth hearts pressed between the pages. Hearts cut from nightgowns. Sixteen in total.

The digging up some random victim with his bare hands was weird, but the idea of being led to a victim through a dream was not out of the ordinary for Fox “Spooky” Mulder. He had a reputation for belief in all sorts of outlandish things, and his behaviour was even worse. He admitted to using mescaline, consulting with psychics, and consorting with crackpots and loons. It didn’t take long for that sort of thing to show in his work. Over the course of his promising career, Mulder assaulted his unit director at least once, found himself running afoul of local police on several occasions, killed or wounded numerous suspects in a manner Bill could only describe as completely fucking reckless, and, finally, stabbed a teenaged boy through the heart with a wooden stake. A vampire, he said. Completely fucking serious about it.

"Thank you so much for arranging this, Dr. Scully," said Holden. He was in the back seat with Wendy, and Bill could almost feel the eager half-smile on his face.

Scully looked back over her shoulder. “I’d adjust my expectations if I were you, Agent Ford. You might not get the information you want out of him."

"He not a talker these days?” Bill asked.

"Oh, he'll talk to anyone who'll listen," said Scully. "I just mean that he might not say anything you want to hear."

"Well, I know that he's been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia," said Holden. "And I'm aware that sometimes communicating with people like that can be a challenge. But I'm sure he's well medicated now.”

"He is," said Scully. "He's completely lucid. But if you want to hear about John Roche, I'd highly suggest you ask only questions that pertain to John Roche."

"We've found that building rapport is very useful in interviewing," said Holden.

Scully turned sharply and looked over her shoulder. "He's not a murderer."

Tell that the vampire kid, thought Bill.

"I didn't mean--" Holden started.

"Please, Agent Scully," Wendy said gently. "Holden's just excited."

In the rearview mirror, Bill saw Holden shoot Wendy a bewildered look.

"You know how important closing the Cloth Hearts case would be to everyone," Wendy went on. "It's a seminal case for our unit, and your work on it has been nothing short of brilliant."

Bill's eyebrows almost rose. He'd never heard Wendy be so... laudatory to someone before. Not even to Holden when they first told her about the study, and the way Holden acted after that, you'd think she'd given him a Nobel Prize.

Scully was quiet, still gazing over her shoulder at the other agents. Then she turned back, and steadied the white box she balanced on her lap. “After all this,” she said. “I just don’t want him to get hurt. Please don’t give him any false hope.”

--

For about seven years, Mulder had been residing in a mental hospital in Maryland. Pulling up, it looked pretty swanky-- a beautiful colonial building, well-kept grounds. Of course, the "hospitals" Bill visited for work were usually of the penal type, and nobody wanted to waste a bunch of money on the inmates. He realized he did, in fact, have to adjust his expectations a bit here. This was strictly a social call.

The three of them waited on a little bench in a hallway as Scully talked with the nurse at the front desk. Holden sat in the middle, ramrod straight, not-quite-fidgeting in a way that Bill, and probably only Bill, recognized to mean he was nervous.

"Do you think he's going to be able to tell us anything?" Holden asked, showing doubt for the first time since he had floated his latest brilliant idea.

"Probably not," said Bill, lighting a cigarette.

Holden gave him one of his hurt looks. He turned to Wendy.

"If he's as lucid as Agent Scully claims, I'm sure he'll tell us everything he can," said Wendy. "My concern is his mental state at the time that he was speaking to Roche. If he was already delusional at that point, then it wouldn't be much of a primary experience."

"I think if anything points us in the right direction, it'll be worth it," said Holden. "We have part of a body, which is more than we had before. Think of it, Bill. To finally bring home the last Cloth Heart victim? Imagine what that would mean. To the FBI. To the families."

To your album of newspaper clippings, Bill thought.

They were ushered into another hall to wait, while behind glass doors, Scully greeted ex-FBI agent Fox Mulder. He was dressed in the same plain pyjama set as the other patients, tall and shaggy-haired and scruffy. He lit up when he saw Scully, and engulfed her in a tight hug.

Then he sat, his face lighting up even more when he opened the care package she had brought him. Cookies, it looked like, and a package of sunflower seeds. He said something the agents couldn't hear through the glass doors. Then he put his face against her stomach, and she gently stroked his hair. It looked like a mother comforting her anguished child, far more so than friendly colleagues or even lovers.

Bill had heard the rumours, of course. There were far worse rumours that the most promising of the FBI's first female agents could have had dogging her, though. It was an open secret that she had been sent to Mulder’s unit to babysit him, a total waste of her potential, but she had risen to the challenge and earned a formidable reputation of her own.

"Who's that?" Wendy asked. Bill and Holden turned to where she was looking.

Through another set of glass doors, gazing into the same common room as they did, stood a man in a dark suit. Thick lines on his face, grey hair, and smoking.

"Who?" Holden clarified.

"That man," said Wendy. "I feel as if I've met him."

"I've never seen him before in my life," said Holden.

The cigarette smoking man seemed to feel their eyes on him. He glanced their way, and then left-- through some other exit, apparently, since they had come from the lobby.

"I've seen him a few times," said Bill. "Usually skulking around Gunn's office."

"Who is he?" asked Holden.

"I've never been introduced, and I don't want to be." Bill snuffed out his own cigarette. "He gives me the heebie jeebies."

A raised voice in the common room-- but a happy one, apparently. Mulder was standing now, messily eating one of Scully's cookies. Scully turned to the doors and waved the agents in.

"They'd really like to talk to you," Scully said as they pushed their way in.

"Bill!" Mulder beamed. "Long time no see! How you been, man?"

Chapter Text

“I’ll leave you to it,” said Scully.

“You’re not staying?” Mulder frowned, verging on a pout even more obvious than one of Holden’s.

“No, this is Agent Ford’s case now. I’ll leave it in his capable hands. Dr. Carr and I are going to get lunch.”

Wendy stood out in the hallway, pocketbook clutched elegantly in front of her.

Mulder stared at Wendy a moment. “Oh,” he said, mouth pulling up in a knowing smile. “Well, have fun.”

Scully gave him a fond but exasperated look, the kind of look Nancy used to give Bill, a long time ago. “I’ll see you next week, Mulder.” She went to him, and he wrapped her in another very intimate hug.

Bill thanked Scully as she walked past, then found himself on the receiving end of Mulder’s intense, dark gaze. Holden stood by Bill’s shoulder, gawking openly the way he often did when around a particularly notorious subject.

“Good to see you again, Fox.” Bill reached out for a handshake.

“You too, buddy,” Mulder grinned. “You still a Celtics fan?”

“Only when the Lakers are asking for it.” Sports were usually a pretty good icebreaker, and Mulder had always been a very regular guy in that respect. It had always been easy to get a drink at a sports bar with Mulder. But after half a minute discussing Larry Bird’s remarkable point average, Bill decided to give Holden (who had been looking between the two of them in distress) a break. “This is my partner, Special Agent Holden Ford.”

“Hello.” Holden stiffly held out a hand.

“Holden.” Mulder shook his hand warmly. “Jesus, look at you. They get younger every year, eh, Bill?”

“You’re telling me.”

“What are you, like, 25?” Mulder asked in a tone that was meant to be rhetorical, complete with a wink. That didn’t stop Holden from starting to answer, but Mulder didn’t give him time. “Come on guys, take a seat. You want any coffee?” He kept talking as he led them to a table by the window. “You can smoke in here, Bill, it’s fine. They don’t mind. Hey, Anna.”

Holden kept opening and closing his mouth, trying to get a word in. Ha, thought Bill.

A middle-aged nurse came over, giving that almost-an-eyeroll universal to a woman having to humour some man. “What is it, Fox?”

“I would never dream to treat you like a waitress, but I have guests today.”

“Yes, I can see that.”

“Do you think we could get some coffee? Bill, you still take it with cream? Lots of sugar?” He looked at Holden. “This guy and his sugar, right?”

“Please,” Bill lit a cigarette, with a nod of thanks to the nurse.

“How about you, kid?” Mulder kept that gaze on Holden. “You old enough for coffee? Maybe some Coke? Tab? I have to say, the 7-Up here is especially good.”

“Uh…” Holden’s voice was uncharacteristically quiet. “Herbal tea, please?”

“Herbal tea. Really.” Mulder gave Bill a look like that explains it. He turned back to Anna. “Two coffees and an herbal tea, please.”

“You already had coffee today, Fox. You know you have to watch it.”

“But I have guests.” Mulder gave her a pretty shameless set of puppy dog eyes.

She stifled a laugh and left.

Holden had opened his briefcase and gotten his notebook ready. “Agent Mulder—”

“Help yourself to some cookies, guys. Scully brought them for me.” Mulder set his care package on the table. “Not these, these are mine.” He stuffed the bags of sunflower seeds into the pockets of his robe.

“She doesn’t strike me as the baking type,” said Bill, taking a cookie.

“Uh, no, Scully didn’t make these. There’s this bakery not far from Quantico. Roll Call. We used to go there, back before I was persona non grata at the Bureau.” He smirked. “Though I guess I kind of always was persona non grata, eh Bill?”

Bill shrugged. “We had some good cases. Remember that drug ring in Ohio?”

“Yeah, you’re right. That Cavs game was great. Remember Bill Fitch’s round head?” Mulder and Bill shared a laugh.

Holden frowned impatiently. “Agent Mulder—”

“Call me Fox,” Mulder said affably. Then, almost under his breath: “I’m not an agent anymore.”

Holden chewed on his lip. “I’m sure Special Agent Scully told you why we’re here. About our study?”

“Oh, yeah,” said Mulder. “Sounds right up my alley. You know, Scully and I dealt with a few of these kinds of killers ourselves, back in the day.”

“Yes, I read about those cases.” Reticence and impatience gone, the real Holden shone through, wide-eyed and morbidly eager. “Luther Lee Boggs.”

“He was a piece of work.” Mulder noisily opened one of his packets of sunflower seeds.

“He would have been on the top of our list if he hadn’t been executed,” Holden breathed. “And the Kindred— sex killings carried out by members of an insular religious community.”

“That one had an interesting twist,” said Mulder. “They— that whole community— were hermaphroditic aliens.”

Holden blinked.

Bill didn’t step in. He just let Holden absorb that while he took a drag on his cigarette. It’s not like the kid shouldn’t have expected something like this.

“Really,” Holden finally said.

“They could switch between male and female. Like those frogs, you know? Wild stuff. Bet you wish you could’ve interviewed them, huh? But they all went back to their home planet.”

Holden seemed, for once, at a loss for words.

The x-files he had been permitted to read had, of course, been heavily redacted. (Well, Holden read them, Bill didn’t bother.) The only reliable parts of those files were Scully’s precise reports, summing up yet another bunch of crimes committed by yet another bunch of freaks. The Kindred case was just a collection of unresolved serial murders, like the many already cluttering up the BSU’s filing cabinets.

“We’re focusing on human subjects for now,” Bill told Mulder. “There’s still so many mysteries about the criminal mind. We’re not ready for frog aliens yet.”

Mulder smirked at Bill as he crunched down on a sunflower seed. Then he dropped the shell in Bill’s ashtray.

Holden flinched, in his own way, at the sight of gleaming wet saliva.

“So what do you want to talk to me for?” Mulder asked. “I might have been reckless out in the field, but I don’t think I fit the criteria for your study. At least I hope not.”

“No,” said Holden, smoothing down his tie. “We’re here about John Roche.”

Mulder crunched another seed. Looked away from both of them.

“Didn’t Dr. Scully tell you?” Holden asked.

“Yeah,” Mulder said sulkily. “But I was sort of hoping she was funning me.”

“But you understand why we’d be asking about him, right?”

“Oh yeah,” said Mulder. “He would have been the perfect subject for your study. Well-Spoken. Insightful. Human.” He shot Bill a wry smile. “Unfortunately, you can’t talk to him, because I killed him.”

“The son of a bitch had his hands on a little girl,” said Bill. “I’d have killed him, too.”

“I don’t think you would have taken him on a solo road trip when he was supposed to be in custody, though,” Mulder shot back. “It was my fault. So it’s only fitting…” he trailed off, glancing over at where some other patients sat around a children’s board game. “It’s pretty egregious, isn’t it, that they let me keep working for so long after that?”

Bill let the silence settle, while Holden fidgeted slightly beside him. Anna returned with their drinks— styrofoam cups of unappealing coffee and tea.

“Thank you Anna,” Mulder simpered.

“Hey,” she said, looking directly at Bill. “Take it easy on him, okay?”

“We’re not interrogating him,” said Bill. “It’s just a social call.”

She glanced pointedly at Holden, then glared at Bill. “Yeah,” she sneered, and strode off.

Holden shifted, cleared his throat. “Agent… Mr. Mulder, we’re just here to find out if Roche gave you any more information that might lead us to his last victim.”

“No,” Mulder said forcefully.

“The report on his death is pretty sparse,” Holden continued. “And whatever you tell us will be off the record. So anything he said—”

“He was a liar.”

“He told you the exact location of Number Fifteen,” Bill said. “And that turned out to be true.”

Mulder sipped at his coffee, scowling.

“It doesn’t even have to be direct information,” Holden prodded gently. “Maybe he said something you… subconsciously… over time…”

Mulder met Holden’s gaze. “You mean my dreams.”

Holden blinked again. “I do?”

“That’s how he manipulated me. John Roche was able to get into my dreams, and back then I dreamed about Samantha a lot.”

“Samantha… was that your sister?” Holden clarified, leaning forward, eager.

“Yeah. My sister.” Mulder likewise faced forward, opened up, apparently as eager to talk about it as Holden was eager to listen. “She was abducted from our house while our parents were away. I was twelve and she was eight. I saw the whole thing happen, but I was paralyzed.”

“You were in shock,” Holden said, perhaps trying to be sympathetic, but sounding cold and clinical.

“I was paralyzed,” Mulder repeated. “Anyway, I dreamed about that night a lot back then.”

“I can imagine,” said Holden.

“Can you,” Mulder said drily. “Do you have any brothers or sisters, Agent Ford?”

Holden blinked, like he was bewildered as to why that would be relevant. “No. I was an only child. I… uh…” He hesitated, and did not glance over at Bill. “I always wanted a little brother, though.”

Mulder’s mouth pulled up, but he neither smiled or frowned. “You’d be a completely different person if you had a little brother.”

Now Holden did glance at Bill, his face that familiar blend of offended, confused, and intrigued.

“You have younger brothers and sisters, right, Bill?” Mulder asked.

“Two of each.” Bill tapped his cigarette on the ash tray.

“So. You get it.” Mulder’s eyes unfocused, staring at the centre of the table. “I had dreams about the night she disappeared. All the time. I remembered them better after I started hypno-regression therapy, back when I started working on x-files. That’s when I recovered the memory.”

“Recovered the memory?” Holden looked up from where he had, for some reason, been writing notes.

Bill suppressed a sigh. Dr. Scully had warned them to not stray too far from the subject of John Roche, and he should have known Holden would stray directly into Mulder’s subconscious. Before they could take the opportunity to get deep into whatever this psychobabble was, Bill cleared his throat.

“John Roche was just a regular guy,” he said, as gently as possible.

Mulder shook his head. “He got into my dreams somehow. He led me to Number Fourteen, just to kick the whole thing off. I woke up and I had already dug halfway to her. There’s no way to explain that.”

“You were familiar with his case,” Bill offered. “Maybe you figured out he’d had other victims, and subconsciously pieced it together. And he probably read about Samantha in an interview you did.” The Agent Mulder he had known, like Holden, never turned down the chance to talk about himself.

Mulder smiled. “Scully sang from that same book, Bill. But he had details he couldn’t have read anywhere. He saw them in my dreams.” Mulder drew back, lounging in his seat. “I think that’s why he was able to get his victims out of their rooms. He waited until they were sleeping, then got into their dreams and lured them out the window. My theory at the time was, maybe he did that to Samantha and me.”

John Roche was a vacuum cleaner salesman. And back in the ‘50s, appliances like vacuum cleaners were very big ticket items, luxuries. A housewife and her husband would spend days deciding which one would be the best investment. A salesman could be in someone’s house for hours. Roche took that opportunity to stake out the houses and the kids, and he picked his victims very carefully.

When he found a victim he liked, Roche would return when he knew the parents would be away— theatre tickets stuck to the fridge with magnets, or a calendar marking dinner at a neighbour’s house. When he could, he made sure there wasn’t a dad in the picture. Two of his victims were from military families where the father was out on tour, and in one case the father was away working on an oil rig. Three others were widows. None of the victims had older brothers, or even a teenaged sister around looking after them. They were usually the oldest themselves, if not the only child.

Roche was pretty meticulous, and he didn’t need psychic dream powers. All he needed was an unlocked bedroom window and a soft, quiet surface, like a garden— thirteen of which he described with relish when he was captured.

Holden scribbled a few more notes, looking thoughtful. “So you can’t remember anything he might have said about his last victim? Number Sixteen?”

“Nothing more than what’s already in the file,” said Mulder. “He was a liar, anyway.”

Holden nodded. “We’re finding that a lot of our subjects are pathological liars. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence.”

“They’ll lie about stupid shit, too,” added Bill. “Just to make themselves look dangerous. Or interesting. But so far none of them have taken blame for a murder they didn’t commit.”

“It’s just another way to fuck with you,” said Mulder. “I think if you guys do this long enough, eventually someone’s going to like the attention. They’ll start making shit up to keep getting it.”

“Well,” Bill conceded. “You’re probably right.”

"But you believed him," said Holden. "When he said he killed your sister. You didn't think he was lying then?"

"It's like I said, he got into my dreams."

"But the details must have correlated to something, right? Something physical?”

"Sort of. He remembered selling my parents a vacuum cleaner, and it turned out my mother still had it in the basement. He got the exact model right. And I showed my mother the sixteenth cloth heart, but she didn't recognize it. It had been so long... I don't think I can reliably say what kind of nightgown Samantha was wearing, either. And my mother had already had her stroke by then. She had been through so much. They never let up on her."

Holden started to ask— They? but Bill nudged him.

"I took Roche back to Martha's Vineyard,” Mulder went on. “He said he wanted to see the house, and he'd tell me exactly what happened. He told it to me in such detail that you'd think he must’ve been there. He acted it out. But it wasn't the right house. I took him to a house my father bought years later. It was miles away from where Samantha was abducted." Mulder shrugged. "So that's how I knew. He was a liar, and he had gotten into my dreams."

“Don't you think it's possible the houses had similar enough layouts?” asked Holden. “Wouldn’t they have been built around the same time?”

"That's what he said." Mulder popped another sunflower seed in his mouth, spoke around it. Holden looked like he was trying not to make a face. “But as we've established, these guys are pathological liars. He was just trying to fuck with me. And he used the opportunity to get away from me and find another victim. That's all he wanted. He'd say anything to get his hands on another little girl.”

Bill shifted in his seat. This was always Mulder’s explanation for how Roche evaded his custody. He used a vision of Samantha to get Mulder to sleepwalk out of their motel room, giving Roche time to pick his cuffs and abscond with Mulder's gun and badge. He used the same badge to abduct a little girl from her school. Mulder had to kill Roche to save her.

The whole thing was just fucking sad, really.

"That's true," Holden said, taking a moment to digest everything. "A lot of them will lie to get what they want. And I suppose in his case, he didn't have much to lose."

Mulder shrugged.

"Mr. Mulder, tell me... when John Roche was captured, he claimed thirteen victims. But when you found the cloth hearts, there were sixteen. Why do you think he lied about the number?"

"He said thirteen was more magical."

Bill couldn't help but scoff. Mulder gave him a what can you do kind of shrug.

"Do you think there's only sixteen?" asked Holden. "Do you think there's a possibility that there's more?"

"I've thought about that," said Mulder. "I've gone back and forth on it. Honestly, you guys would know better than I do. Do you think he could have killed more girls before he started taking the cloth hearts?"

"It's possible," said Bill. "It may have taken a while for him to perfect his M.O., so to speak. And we're finding that a lot of these people have huge red flags from childhood. Cruelty to animals, that kind of thing."

"Well, I don't know about that," said Mulder. "It never occurred to us to ask about his childhood. But we do know that the sixteenth heart is the oldest one. The nightgown would have been made between 1945 and 1952, so it’s the earliest victim by at least a few years. I think if he had more victims in this pattern, he definitely would have kept a trophy."

"So you think Number Sixteen is the only un-identified victim left?" asked Holden.

"I do."

"And do you-- do you have any thoughts on where she might have been dumped?”

Mulder looked thoughtful for a second. “I think she might be in Martha's Vineyard. Or eastern Massachusetts, at least. The best lies have a seed of truth in them, after all. But to be honest, she could be anywhere in his sales territory. It was pretty big. Those guys spent a lot of time on the road back then. I think he went down as far as North Carolina.”

Holden nodded, scribbling dutifully.

"I gotta ask," Bill started. And then hesitated. "Listen, Fox, tell me to go fuck myself if this is a rude question."

Mulder huffed a laugh.

"But after all this time locked up here... and with all the, you know, treatments..." Bill made a gesture.

Mulder didn't look offended at all. "My inevitable chemical adjustment. Yes. Ask your question, Bill.”

"You ever change your mind? Think Roche was telling the truth about your sister after all, and just fucking around for some extra laughs?”

Holden stiffened slightly, but Bill was pretty certain that he was no closer to finding a polite way to ask this question than Bill was. Anyway, the Mulder that Bill remembered was more or less impossible to offend. He knew exactly how crazy he looked, and that never stopped him from sticking to his convictions. Bill didn't see any reason that would change now.

Mulder held Bill's gaze, his eyes deep and dark and far away. He blinked, and shook his head. "No, I know he was lying. He didn't take my sister."

Bill nodded, and left it, but Holden leaned forward. Oh, shit, Bill thought. He'd forgotten that Holden didn't know something crucial.

"You speak with such certainty," Holden tried to flatter, and to be honest, he did have a face and voice that usually worked to flatter narcissistic thrill killers. “May I ask... and tell me to..." Holden swallowed. "Do you have another theory about what happened to your sister?"

"I know what happened to my sister," Mulder said, matter-of-factly.

"Oh?"

Mulder shrugged. “Aliens took her."

Holden paused, even longer than with that dreams bombshell.

Bill rubbed a hand over his face. Now they'll be here all day, exactly as Dr. Scully had warned them.

A slow smile grew over Mulder's face as he watched Holden try to process it. He looked like a cat that got the canary.

“Aliens,” Holden finally said. "That’s… interesting."

Mulder almost giggled. “You have your work cut out for you, Bill. Do you really take this kid around to see Manson and Berkowitz?”

"God help me, I do."

“Aliens, Agent Ford,” Mulder said. "Your ears are working fine."

"Like... little green men?" Holden asked, wide-eyed.

"That's what I thought at first. It's more complicated than that." Mulder looked between them. "He really doesn't know?" he asked Bill.

Bill shrugged.

"I don't know what?" Holden asked, even wider-eyed.

"I just thought somebody would've told you about me," said Mulder. "And the x-files."

"Well, I was given some of the x-files, the ones pertinent to our study," said Holden. "And yes, I've heard about you by reputation, of course."

"So you know they call me Spooky."

“I thought that was just because of the vamp—” Holden, for possibly the first time in his life, caught himself. “I wasn't sure if it was polite to repeat it."

Mulder laughed again, eyes bright. “Nice to know they're memory holing me as much as they can. Makes sense, I'd probably do the same thing. I'm glad at least a few of the x-files didn't get torched."

"None of them got torched," Bill assured him. "They're just highly classified."

"Figures," Mulder picked at the sleeves of his robe. "I'll just give you the crib notes, kid. It's got nothing to do with your study, anyway, and I wouldn't want you to get in trouble with your director.” He straightened up, clasped his hands on the table like a news anchor, and looked Holden dead in the eye. "My sister was taken by a consortium of secret agents, utilizing advanced extraterrestrial technology, as part of a conspiracy between the elite of our world and a race of extraterrestrial beings to create alien-human hybrids.”

Holden took that as well as Bill thought he would. His eyes went wide, and he swallowed down a choke, and glanced at Bill. Bill only shrugged. In another room, someone shouted in a different language.

"How-- how do you know all that?" Holden asked.

"Well, I saw it, for one thing," said Mulder. "I was there. I was supposed to be looking after her that night. Then there was this bright light and the house was shaking. I tried to get my dad's gun, but the door flew open and... like I said, I was paralyzed. She was paralyzed too, I think. And she was floating... and then she was gone. Without a trace. No footprints, no marks on the door. Nothing."

Another long pause as Holden tried to figure out what to say next, notably not scribbling in his notebook. "Did you hear anything?" is what he finally settled on.

Mulder stared at him for a moment. "The noise is hard to describe. I heard it later, working on the x-files. Covert alien technology, the same kind of hovercraft that crashed at Roswell, it has this sound. Besides that, I heard a voice in my head."

"Oh," said Holden.

"It wasn't like that," said Mulder. "I've never heard voices in my head, before or after.”

"What did it say?" Holden hedged.

"It told me to not be afraid. It said Samantha was going to be safe."

"Did you believe it?"

Mulder went quiet, gaze drifting far away again. "I wanted to believe it," he said, softly.

He kept staring in the distance for a while, until another patient stomped in from a different room. He was the one who had been shouting, and he kept it up, ranting to no one in particular in what Bill thought was Russian.

Mulder snapped back from wherever he had been. "Shut up, Alex!"

Alex, who had thrown himself onto a chair a few tables away, turned his vitriol on Mulder. He shouted more forcefully, and whatever he was saying, it was definitely an insult.

"Yeah, yeah," Mulder said. Then, unexpectedly, he shouted back in Russian, until Alex shut up and hunched away, glaring daggers.

"Don't mind Alex," Mulder turned back to the agents. "He's a kitty cat. An angry, stupid, annoying kitty cat. What were we talking about?"

"This secret consortium,” Holden said haltingly. "That took Samantha."

"Oh, yeah. Well, I didn't know about that for a long time. I thought it was just regular aliens, little green men, like you said. But when I discovered the x-files, the more I learned about unexplained occurrences, and the role the government had in covering them up.”

“What— how—” Holden looked like he struggled to put his thoughts in order. “How did you learn these things?”

“You follow enough threads, you get the whole picture eventually. You should know that, Agent Ford. And anyway, I had some help. Leaks. A lot of guys talked to me whose name I never got.”

“How could you not get their names?”

“Well, they would meet me in places where nobody would catch us. I had several anonymous encounters in men’s public bathrooms.” He winked at Holden, then when Holden stiffened slightly, eyes wide, Mulder shot Bill an amused little smile. “This whole thing with Roche happened right in the middle of it all, before I found real proof about where Samantha ended up."

“Where did she end up?" Holden asked.

"You know, maybe we should just get out of your hair," said Bill. "We only came to find out if you knew anything more about Roche, and it doesn't sound like you do, so we don't have to--"

"No, no," whined Mulder. "Please. I don't get many visitors."

Bill sighed.

"After Roche, Scully and I were able to find that Samantha had been taken by one of the secret agents involved in the project. He raised her as his own daughter on an Air Force base in California. She even had a different brother and everything." His gaze unfocused again for a while, but then he drew it back to Holden. "But they were abusing her, doing experiments."

"The-- the man who was raising her?"

"Yeah," said Mulder. "A lot of people are in on this thing, you know. A lot of people at the top. You probably know some. You can't trust anybody."

"Not even Scully?" Bill asked.

Mulder considered. "Oh, Scully," he sighed. "She tried her best with me. They came after her for it. Damn near drove her out of the Bureau. They killed her sister. They killed my parents. They killed all our friends."

Bill had heard that both Scully's sister and Mulder’s father had been killed in (separate) burglaries. Mulder’s mother had taken her own life, tortured by years of tragedy and a hard recovery from her stroke. He couldn't begin to imagine who these friends of Mulder's were supposed to be.

Holden cleared his throat, and asked the question that had clearly been plaguing him for a while now. "Who's they?"

Mulder's eyes flickered around the room, and settled somewhere past Bill's shoulder. Bill had the uncomfortable urge to turn and check if someone was watching them.

"It doesn't matter," Mulder finally said. "They're everywhere. And they've won. No sense getting you on their shit list, too." He smiled, and looked to all the world like he was discussing a ball game.

Holden uncomfortably fiddled with his notebook, clearly at a loss. “Thank you," he finally said. "So I suppose that's how you think Samantha died? These experiments?"

Mulder looked almost surprised. "Oh, no. She didn't die."

"I'm sorry, I misunderstood,” said Holden. “Do you know where she is now?"

"She's starlight," said Mulder. "That's where she ended up. She ran away from the experiments, and she was taken by benevolent extraterrestrials called walk-ins.”

"Extraterrestrials that... were making the hybrids?” Holden furrowed a brow.

Mulder looked at him with amusement. "There's more than one kind of alien, Agent Ford," he said, like duh.

“Oh,” Holden nodded. “Right. The hermaphrodites.”

Mulder smiled indulgently. "Walk-ins are benevolent extraterrestrials that take the place of tortured souls on earth."

Bill repressed a sigh.

"I didn't make them up," Mulder said, with a very slight tone of annoyance. "They've been known in New Age circles for some time. You know how sometimes people— well, actually, in your line of work you might have met a few. Say a woman is victimized and tortured by a maniac, but she manages to escape. Now, a lot of times, she'll change for the worse, she'll be angry and traumatized. But sometimes, you get this remarkable survivor who comes out of it stronger. Better. At peace. They don't seek revenge. You ever met anyone like that?"

"I don't think I have," Holden asked, looking deeply confused.

"Well, they're out there," said Mulder. "You must've met some, Bill."

"Yeah, I guess." Bill lit another cigarette, and bemoaned ever allowing Holden Ford to meet Fox Mulder. He really had to get better at saying no. "Some people are just made of stronger stuff. No real rhyme or reason to it.”

"Walk-ins give them peace," Mulder rebutted. "When someone can’t go on anymore. The walk-in takes the place of their soul. They're enlightened beings, no desires, no conditioning, no resentment. But with children... the walk-ins can't countenance children suffering. For kids like Samantha, the walk-ins take them entirely, body and soul. They transform them into starlight, and take them home. End their suffering."

“Let me see if I'm understanding correctly,” said Holden. "When a child goes missing, and their body is never found, that means they were... turned into starlight? By these benevolent aliens?"

"Yes."

Holden asked the million dollar question. "But what about all the murdered children we do find?"

Mulder nodded gamely. "I've wondered that, too. Why some kids and not others. But why Samantha in the first place? For the experiments? Why didn’t they take me instead? I can't mourn every child, Agent Ford. But I had one sister, and I..." he trailed off.

And he needs to believe, thought Bill. "How do you know all this, Fox?" he asked. "About the starlight?"

Mulder gave him a look like it was obvious. "She told me. She visits in my dreams sometimes."

"Right," Bill nodded. The dreams. Well, at least it had a kind of internal logic to it. That was more than he got out of most of these psych hospital conversations.

"She lived to be 14," Mulder said wistfully. "And now she's starlight, and she never feels any pain or suffering. When she visits me, it’s… it’s beautiful.”

Holden stared at his notebook, blinking rapidly. "So I suppose... you don't think there's any possibility that Number Sixteen, wherever she is, is actually Samantha?”

"No," said Mulder. "I mean, I hope you find her, whoever she is. Her parents are probably dead now, but if she's got any siblings..." he shrugged. “I know she's not Samantha. Samantha's safe. And I'm done with all this. It ruined my career." He made a vague gesture at his head. "Ruined any chance I would have at a family of my own. Damn near ruined Scully. So, you know. I'm not poking anymore. I'm sorry I couldn't be more help with Roche.”

"I understand," Holden said weakly, obviously not understanding at all.

“It’s no problem, Fox,” said Bill.

“Whoever Number Sixteen is, it’s not my sister,” Mulder insisted. “Samantha’s safe. And I'm happy with that.” He smiled serenely at them.

--

When Bill and Holden returned to the reception area, they were told that Wendy and Dr. Scully had left them a message. The two women had decided to find their own way back to Quantico, so Bill and Holden didn't have to wait for them.

Bill made an over-under bet with himself about how long it would take Holden to start his pontificating. The part of him that bet on before we even get to the car won.

"Whew," said Holden. "That was something else. I mean, he really believes it. I was half-expecting a kind of ploy. Like Berkowitz, except not, because.. well, because Mulder's not a murderer."

Cold comfort for the vampire kid, Bill thought again.

"But he's really convinced." Holden buckled himself into the passenger seat, head tilted, thoughtful. “Wendy should have come in with us. She would have loved that. I’ve never seen a case of schizophrenia that was so… not lucid. What word am I looking for? Coherent. Besides the insanity of it, his story has linear consistency. That's pretty impressive. And his memory was so clear. Who’s Bill Fitch?”

“Basketball coach. And maybe you haven't met enough schizophrenics," Bill said wryly as he got the car on the road. It had started to rain and the windshield was fogging up. He wiped at it with his sleeve in a huff.

"Maybe," Holden conceded. "Still. How sad. But also, how fascinating that the human mind can create such an intricate fantasy, wholesale, just to protect itself from trauma. I wonder if he saw something else that night. I mean, maybe he actually saw John Roche hurt Samantha.”

"I'd really rather not think about it," said Bill. "That was a phenomenal waste of time. I told you there'd be nothing new."

"You don't think it was useful to talk to him?"

"Useful for what?" Bill asked. “He’s not John Roche. And even if we wanted to talk about the reckless deaths he caused, he never set out to kill anyone on purpose. He never did it for fun. He has nothing to do with us.”

Holden went quiet a moment, brow furrowed. "You don't think it's tragic that an FBI agent ended up the way he did? You said yourself that he was one of the most promising agents you'd seen."

"Yeah, of course it's tragic. But that's just life. You fly too close to the sun, you get shunted into the basement with the FBI's most unwanted. You kill a pizza boy because you think vampires are real, you get sent to the loony bin.” Bill clumsily lit a cigarette on the car's lighter.

"The basement?" Holden sounded puzzled, like, he worked in the basement, so obviously it was a place of high honour.

"Why are you so interested, Holden?” Bill asked. “I know you’ve been adrift since Atlanta, but you can't fix anything for this guy. He tanked his career all on his own. He's got nothing, and there's nothing anyone can do for him. Except maybe find his sister."

Holden didn't respond.

"Oh, for fuck's sake," said Bill. “Even if you could, what good would that do?"

"You don't think he'd want to know?" said Holden.

"Holden, Fox Mulder is a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic. He lost his job because he stabbed a civilian through the heart. He's got himself wrapped in a nice little bubble of delusion and it is, at least for now, keeping him out of trouble. Why fix what's not broken?"

Another long pause. "I feel like I'd want to know."

"Yeah, well, you're not him. Sometimes not knowing is better. Which I feel you should've learned today. Scully told us to stick to Roche, but you dove right in, enabling all his delusional alien crap."

“I was trying to show him empathy,” said Holden. “Be on his side. Like we do with our subjects.”

“For one thing, he’s not a subject,” said Bill. “For another, I don’t know that either of us can actually feel true empathy to someone who’s kid sister disappeared while he was babysitting her. There’s no way to remotely understand how that feels, unless it actually happens to you.”

“I could try,” said Holden.

“You could try,” Bill replied, in a tone that meant that he would fail.

Holden, predictably, did not pick up on that tone. After a moment of quiet, he simply squared his shoulders. “I understand what you’re saying Bill. But we’re going to do it. We’re going to find her. Number Sixteen. Samantha Mulder. She’s out there.”

Bill took a drag on his cigarette, and didn’t say anything.

Chapter Text

Wendy wasn’t in the basement when they got back, and she didn’t return that afternoon. But the next day, she gathered Bill and Holden in her office. After reviewing the bare facts of the visit, she asked: “Did we learn anything worthwhile concerning John Roche?”

"Not really," said Bill.

"I disagree," said Holden. "Agent Mulder was so adamant that his sister had been taken by some shadowy cabal, it only made it more obvious to me that he witnessed something happening to her.”

“He claims he saw the abduction,” Bill said. “All he could actually back it up with was bright lights and spooky noises."

"He probably did see it," said Wendy. “He was in the house at the time. Imagine witnessing your own baby sister get snatched up by a predator. It would be incredibly difficult for a twelve-year-old to process. If he wasn’t actually present, there’d be a million better explanations he could come up with than extraterrestrials.”

Holden nodded emphatically, looking between Bill and Wendy.

“You know, it’s fascinating,” Wendy went on. “How his subconscious created an incredibly complex compensatory fantasy completely out of thin air. I've never seen one quite so lavish before. Even the ones that were just lies.”

"Okay, so he saw something,” said Bill. "That makes sense to me. But if it actually was Roche, wouldn't their experience later have jogged his memory? Made it look more like a person instead of little green men?"

“A consortium of secret agents, Bill," Holden corrected. "The little green men came later."

Wendy narrowed her eyes, considering Bill’s question. “I don’t think it would have jogged his memory if the compensatory fantasy was preferable to the truth. Even when facing him in person, part of him did want to believe Roche had killed his sister. But perhaps a larger part of himself didn't want to accept that, either. Is it settled fact that Agent Mulder had to kill Roche? Maybe doing that gave him a convenient excuse to not have to deal with it anymore."

“Yes,” Holden breathed.

“He had already done a lot of crazy shit before then,” Bill said. “If he has to admit that John Roche killed Samantha, he has to admit all that other stuff is phony, too.” He gave Holden a meaningful look, but Holden only stared back at him with those big eyes.

"I would be curious to know what sort of imagery he grew up with," Wendy mused. "Did he read a lot of pulp fiction? Did he see a lot of science fiction serials? B-movies?”

“He took me to a classic double header at the drive-in once, when we were on a case,” said Bill. “The Day the Earth Stood Still and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” Privately, Bill thought no film should have a title of more than three words. Cool Hand Luke. The Manchurian Candidate. What’s so hard about that?

“Hmm,” said Wendy. “Well, I don't think he came up with the image of his sister floating off into bright lights all on his own."

"Almost sounds religious," Holden mused.

"That's true," Wendy said. "I'd be curious to know if he grew up with any religion, too. Maybe losing Samantha shattered his faith and warped the imagery."

"Either way, it's still benevolent spirits from beyond," Holden said, looking pleased with himself, like he'd just made a hilarious joke.

“Did you learn anything on your end?” Bill asked Wendy.

“What do you mean?”

“From Agent Scully. She have anything else to say about John Roche?”

"I don't know," said Wendy. "We didn't talk about it."

Bill almost asked, then what did you talk about?, but Holden jumped back into the conversation before he had a chance.

“I think it was fruitful,” he said. “Agent Mulder definitely saw Samantha being forcibly removed from the house. John Roche is our best suspect. He was confirmed to be in the area at the time, and he was active fairly soon after.” He stood up to leave.

“If you want to really close the case, you have to confirm that the body is her,” said Bill. “If they ever find the whole thing. And that means getting Agent Mulder to identify it.”

“Not if we can match her dental records,” said Holden.

“I thought they were still trying to track those down,” said Bill. “1953 was a long time ago. People weren’t as thorough with record-keeping then.”

Holden did that not-cough thing he did, and fiddled with his tie. “I’m sure they’ll turn up.”

“You’d need the jaw bone to turn up, too,” said Bill. “Holden, for the sake of the case, I think we all need to prepare ourselves for the chance that Number Sixteen isn’t Samantha Mulder.”

Wendy gave him a considering look, but didn’t really show any reaction.

Holden’s mouth curled up in a smug little smile. “Why, Bill, you think Martians got her?”

“I think there’s a lot of other explanations in between,” said Bill. “The skull might not even be Number Sixteen to begin with.”

Holden’s smile slowly faded. “You’re right. I’ll try to rule out some other explanations for Samantha Mulder.” He left the room without any proper goodbye.

Since closing the case of the Atlanta Child Murderer— for a given value of closing— the BSU had been operating under new mandates. Bill and Holden mostly consulted, poring over case files faxed to them by frazzled local cops, talking a lot on the phone, and sending back profiles.

Sometimes they had the opportunity to actually travel to the place in question, but those trips were getting shorter. Gunn wanted them to replicate their success— again, for a given value of success— in Atlanta, and his strategy seemed to be quantity over quality.

Their prisoner interviews kept going, but Wendy oversaw most of those now, with Gregg and their other new hires. Holden had almost thrown a tantrum when he realized what was going on, but with some notable high-profile exceptions, Gunn felt that Holden’s talents were better used elsewhere. He sent them to some panicked city, they’d crank out a profile, Holden got to be the press-friendly baby face of the new FBI for a day or two, and then they’d be on to the next one.

Their profiles so far weren’t the slam dunks that Gunn and Holden seemed to think they would be. Holden thought they were providing excellent profiles, and Bill had to agree. But even when they produced leads, they didn’t get to stick around and see it all the way through like they had in Atlanta. Any given murder case could take years, if not decades, after all, and serial murders were no exception. A lead didn’t equal an arrest.

And frankly, a lot of times their excellent profiles didn’t even result in a lead. Or they did, but the local police ignored it for whatever bullshit reason they had.

Holden was antsy, Bill could tell. He’d huff on plane rides home, staring out the window and frowning. He’d sulk through team meetings, put out by all interviews he didn’t get to do.

Bill didn’t really have any space to criticize. He was antsy with Nancy gone, too. Didn’t know what to do with himself. The short trips they took were a relief— for 48 or 72 hours, to be somewhere else, staying in some hotel where he didn’t have to think about how he was going to feed himself that night, or whether the laundry service would send his shirts back, passive aggressively un-ironed.

It would help, Bill reflected, if he and Holden knew whether anything they were doing personally was of any damn good for anyone.

Weeks became months. Trips out of town became fewer and further between. The Atlanta Child Killer case stayed steadfastly closed. There had been no more movement on the mystery skull found in Martha’s Vineyard. No more body parts, and no recovery of Samantha Mulder’s 1953 dental records. Holden didn’t bring it up again.

One day, Bill went to find Holden in the original part of their space, where Holden had taken over Bill’s old office. He nodded at Gregg, who was dutifully typing away his newest interview transcript in the bullpen.

“He in there?” Bill asked, when Gregg shifted his headphones aside.

“I think so,” said Gregg. “But I haven’t seen him for hours.”

Bill knocked on the door. After a moment, without a reply, he went on inside.

Holden sat on the far side of the couch, engrossed in reading some file. He looked up, startled, as Bill came in. “Oh, hey, Bill.”

“Hey,” Bill said, taking in the walls.

The greeting cards from Kemper were still there, for some reason, tacked up by the door. He should’ve thought of that, after Holden’s little misadventure in California. He should’ve taken them down before he moved offices. At the time he thought, well, they’re Holden’s property. That was dumb.

That was the least of his worries now, though. There was, if Bill were to be succinct about it, shit all over the walls.

Photos and newspaper clippings; mug shots; old, hand-written internal memos; and all other sorts of investigative relics covered all four walls of the office. There was even string on pushpins attaching elements, like in the movies.

“Well,” said Bill. “I see you took that suggestion to be thorough about Samantha Mulder seriously.”

Holden brightened up. “Of course.” He stood awkwardly, like he wasn’t sure what to do with the files in his hands. He gestured vaguely at the mug shots lining one wall. “I’ve pulled records for every active child predator in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island in the 1940s and ‘50s. You were right, Bill, the records aren’t as thorough as they could be. But this was the best I could do. Some of them had some gaps where they could have done it, but their MOs were different. Different victimology, mostly. None of them targeted such wealthy families.”

“Yes,” Bill hedged. “But just because Number Sixteen was found in a wealthy area doesn’t mean she came from there. Whoever killed her could have brought her from somewhere else.”

“I know,” said Holden, leading Bill to another portion of the wall. “I’ve been looking into missing children reported in that time, too. Again, I had the same problem of record-keeping. But the only things we know so far about Number Sixteen are that she was most likely Caucasian, and she was between 8 and 12. All the unsolved missing girls I could find were either too young or too old to be her.”

“Holden, this is… a lot of work,” said Bill.

Holden nodded. “I still have to tackle the records from upstate New York, which I know will be an undertaking.”

“When did you have the time to do this?”

“Oh, there’s been plenty of time between consultations,” Holden said hurriedly. He gazed at his board with pride. “The more I piece together what was happening in the area at the time, the more it becomes clear that John Roche is responsible for Samantha Mulder’s death. There are no other options.”

“Of course there are other options,” said Bill. “You’re just jumping to the most dramatic conclusion.” He came up with something off the top of his head. “Fox sleepwalks as an adult. Maybe it ran in the family. Maybe Samantha went sleepwalking in the street and some poor guy ran her over. Maybe he panicked and buried her.”

Holden gave him a look. “That seems unlikely, Bill.”

"You know, there's a chance this skull isn't a missing child at all," Bill offered. “That would explain your lack of missing person reports. It wouldn't be impossible that a girl died from natural causes and the family buried her themselves. Some of those old island farms have family cemeteries on them. Maybe they just didn't do a good job."

Holden narrowed his eyes. “That’s a really brilliant insight. Thanks, Bill.” His voice was as bitter as it ever got. “I’m sure the initial investigation looked into that.”

“Hard to tell what the hell the initial investigation did or didn’t do,” said Bill. “It’s all been redacted to shit.” He gestured at the portion of the wall with the original Samantha Mulder case files. He knew it was them, because they were all half-covered with heavy black marker crossing out information, rendering them more or less useless.

“Yes. It has.” Holden nodded again, looking serious and troubled, staring at the black-lined memos on the wall. “They were trying to cover up their incompetence. It’s obvious it was John Roche. He was in the area at the time. He sold them a vacuum cleaner. It fits his pattern.”

“Mulder says he sold them a vacuum cleaner, and he only knows that because Roche told him.” Bill gave Holden what he hoped was a sympathetic look. “Holden, I know you were just a kid back then, too, but there were only about three different kinds of vacuum cleaners someone could buy. It was probably the most popular model that year. Or even just a lucky guess.” He looked across Holden’s work again, and went for broke. “It doesn’t fit his MO. Her window wasn’t left open. And none of the other victims had older siblings. John Roche was meticulous. There’s no way he would have bothered if there was any chance an older brother was around.”

“There’s always an exception to the rule, Bill,” said Holden. “Maybe the presence of an older brother triggered something else in Roche, something violent. Maybe that’s what Mulder saw, that traumatized him so badly.”

Bill noticed a drawing pinned up on the side of one wall, next to one of the heavily redacted memos. Marker on loose leaf paper, crude and childish.

"What's this?" he asked.

"Uh..." Holden glanced over where Bill was pointing, too far for Holden to hastily snatch it down. He took an abortive step forward, realized that made him look even worse. “It's just a doodle, Bill.”

Bill frowned at it. It was a poor drawing, but still clear: a flying saucer, two lines representing a mysterious alien ‘beam of light,’ and a stick figure floating in between.

"This isn't one of your theories, is it? Tell me this isn't one of your theories."

"Of course it isn't," Holden said.

"Then what is it doing up here?"

Holden stared at him for a moment, unblinking. "I just thought... well, if it’s not John Roche… there’s only one other option. Technically.”

"No," said Bill.

"I don't believe it, Bill," Holden insisted. "It’s just... the more I think about it, the more it becomes apparent that we can't rule it out."

"Okay," Bill barked. "Let's talk about things we haven't ruled out. Because you're missing some other suspects, Holden."

Holden squinted at his board. "Who?”

“The vast majority of murder victims aren’t killed by random strangers, Holden, and you know that. They’re killed by people they know. They’re killed by family members.”

Holden stared at him blankly for a moment. “You’re not suggesting Agent Mulder killed his own sister?”

Bill took his time lighting a cigarette.

“Bill, that’s insane,” said Holden. “There’s nothing to point to it being Agent Mulder.”

“Yeah, exactly,” said Bill. “How convenient when he’s the only witness. No footprints, no sign of forced entry. There wouldn’t have to be if it all happened in the house.”

Holden shook his head, eyes all but bulging. “It couldn’t have been him.”

“Why not?” asked Bill. Before Holden could come up with an answer, he barrelled on. “I’m not saying Fox murdered her on purpose. He was 12. Maybe it was an accident. Maybe they were playing with the dad’s gun. Maybe she choked on some candy and he couldn’t save her. The parents come home, and stage it like an abduction to protect Fox and save face.”

“How could they get away with something like that?”

“They were rich as hell,” said Bill. “The dad worked for the State Department. They were connected. Easy peasy. I mean, look at how marked up these files are, Holden. They treated this case special, and kept it quiet. They didn’t want the truth to get out, because his dad was part of the old boys’ club.”

Holden shook his head. “I don’t believe Agent Mulder would do that. He clearly loved her very much.”

“I said it could have been an accident. Has nothing to do with how much he loved her. And why couldn’t the guilt make him snap? It makes more sense that he made up all this alien crap to protect his own conscience than to forget John Roche. If it was you, wouldn’t you be mad as hell at the person who took your sister?”

“Of course,” Holden looked affronted.

“Well, if that person was you, wouldn’t it make you go kooky?”

Holden only frowned.

“Anyway,” said Bill. “He’s not the only family member that could’ve done it.”

A look of incredulous comprehension slowly moved over Holden’s face. Maybe, after so long delving into the minds of deranged serial murderers, he was just now realizing that a parent could kill their own child. “The father? William Mulder?”

Bill shrugged.

“In cold blood?” Holden looked aghast.

“Or an accident,” said Bill. “Or a fit of rage. Maybe he drank. Maybe he was molesting her. Maybe he bumped into her and she fell down the stairs. I have no idea. It could literally be anything.”

“Then what about Agent Mulder’s memory? He saw her get taken out of the house.”

“Yeah, right,” said Bill. “He has a recovered memory of bright lights and flying saucer sounds.”

Holden gently put the files he had been holding on his paper-laden, but neatly organized, desk, and sank down into the chair.

Bill sprawled out on the couch. “I don’t know why you’re so invested in this, Holden,” he asked, after what seemed an appropriate pause. He fidgeted awkwardly, trying to figure out how to phrase it. “Is it because you see yourself in him? You— you think you’re going to end up like him?”

Holden didn’t appear to hear him for a moment. Then he turned away, staring stubbornly at the original Samantha Mulder case notes.

“You think I’d let that happen to you?” Bill finally asked, throat unexpectedly tight.

“I don’t see that you’d have much of a choice, Bill,” Holden mumbled.

“Ah, kid,” Bill tried. “I know you had a tough time a while back, but it’s all squared away now, right? Everything under control?”

Another pointed, silent pause.

“I know that case in Atlanta was kind of a head trip, but it had a happy ending,” Bill tried. “We got the guy, didn’t we?”

“We got a guy,” Holden said weakly.

“You can’t let this kind of stuff get to you,” said Bill. “You can’t win ‘em all.”

Holden looked around the room slowly, taking in the fruits of all his work, the photos and maps and meticulous organization. He shook his head again. “If it’s not John Roche… it can’t be Agent Mulder. I just don’t believe it, Bill.”

“You don’t want to believe it, because that would mean you didn’t solve it,” Bill muttered under his breath. “John Roche is still on the table. All that stuff I said, it’s just an alternate theory. It sounds more plausible than the Great Gazoo, don’t you think?”

Holden finally turned to face him. “The great what?”

Bill considered Holden. He looked tired, his shirt slightly and uncharacteristically rumpled, the lines under his eyes deeper than usual. He didn’t look quite as bad as he had down in Atlanta, when he was holding himself together on nothing but Valium and stubbornness, but he still looked pretty worn out.

The kid just wanted one solid win. Something so that he could go home and sleep well and not feel like a waste of space. Bill felt he couldn’t really begrudge him that.

“You wanna have dinner tonight?” he asked.

Holden blinked. “Really?”

Bill shrugged. “You know I never have plans anymore. Your place, though? Mine’s kind of a dump right now.” If Bill had taken to eating canned food directly over the sink and leaving his underwear on the floor since Nancy left, he wasn’t going to be ashamed of it. But there was no need to be inviting coworkers over to see it, either.

Holden started tucking papers into files, putting everything in its right place. “Yes, sure Bill. That sounds great. I’ll go right now and get ready. I’ll pick something up at Avanti’s. Pasta. Maybe some dessert. Would that be okay?”

“Sounds great. I’ll bring the beer.”

“See you in an hour?” Holden was out the door with such haste that if Bill had any doubts about how bereft the kid was feeling, they were long dead now.

Chapter Text

Holden spent less time alone in his office, and more time in the new bullpen over by Bill and Wendy, focused on consultations and steadfastly not talking about Samantha Mulder or Number Sixteen.

Great, the old Bill would have thought, naively. He’s gotten it out of his system. But the new Bill had learned to be a bit more vigilant. Holden was like a kid sometimes. He needed attention and a nudge in the right direction, or he might go snooping somewhere he shouldn’t, just for the mental stimulation.

They had dinner twice a week, usually store bought, though Holden surprised Bill now and then with something home cooked. Holden usually tried to steer the conversation towards work, and Bill had to make an effort to steer it anywhere else. The sparse emptiness of Holden’s apartment — not that Bill was in any place to judge — only drove home for Bill how essential it was that Holden be distracted.

He couldn’t let Holden become so consumed with work that he went to pieces again. For one thing, how would it look for his unit? Bill was supposed to be in charge, and part of that was not letting your subordinates crack under the pressure. Fox Mulder had been in charge of his own unit, which was probably one of the reasons he went so far off the rails. (That’s one of the reasons Mulder was usually only spoken of in hushed tones these days. The whole thing was an embarrassment. Somebody with real authority should have been looking after him, not a junior agent sent to benignly babysit and report back on Mulder’s doings.)

One Monday, over a month into this new arrangement, they sat in their main meeting area, the two of them and Wendy, discussing an interview she had done with Gregg. Bill discreetly took Holden in. The kid looked fine— better than he had a few weeks ago, anyway. But dinners and TV at his place twice a week were starting to get a little stale.

Holden needed something to do with his time outside of work, and it’s not like he could take the kid bowling. He tried to get him to go to a football game once, but that plan was dead in the water the moment he suggested it.

Back in the day, on the road, they would have diners and bars and local cops inviting them to things, but they didn’t have anything like that now. Holden didn’t seem to have a group of young guys to hang out with in Virginia, and no girlfriend anymore, apparently. Bill vaguely remembered meeting Debbie at dinner, though he’d argued so much with Nancy for the rest of that week that it sort of blocked everything else out. Then Holden just never mentioned Debbie again, and Bill was the one to go collect him from the prison loony bin.

Bill was pretty sure he was the only person Holden had to look after him at all.

Bill realized, with a start, that he was Holden’s Dr. Dana Scully. It was almost like something out of the Twilight Zone when Dr. Dana Scully herself entered the basement at that moment.

“Dana,” Wendy said with a tone of surprise.

“Dr. Scully,” Holden said, while he and Bill stood from their seats.

“Agent Ford,” she said, giving Wendy and Bill both a businesslike nod. “I take it you haven’t heard the news, since you haven’t been flooding my office with messages.”

Holden looked like a dog who heard something in the distance. “What is it?”

Scully set a hefty file on the table. “They found more remains, almost an entire skeleton. And a nightgown. It’s a Cloth Heart.”

Holden grabbed at the file with zeal, and flipped through it like a housewife with a new Sears catalogue. “Is it her? Is it Samantha Mulder?”

Scully didn’t look surprised that Holden was so eager for that particular answer, which made Bill think her statement about him flooding her office with messages hadn’t been hyperbole. “We don’t know,” she said. “We couldn’t find her dental records. And there was only a fragment of her jaw.”

Holden spread photos out on the table, eager as a kid with finger paints, re-creating the skeleton of an unfortunate McCarthy-era 8-year-old. It wasn’t the full skeleton, but it was most of it, enough to bring to mind the girl that once possessed it.

“What’s this?” Bill asked, pointing to a small scrap of fabric that didn’t seem to match the nightgown.

“We think she was wearing ribbons,” said Scully. “Or at least one. It takes about two years for hair to decompose in soil, so after it was gone, it would have been easy for any other ribbons to be lost. There’s been a lot of development in the area, so the soil was moved around over time. It looks like the skull was pushed up, which let animals get to it. Most of the body was two miles from where the skull was found.”

Bill felt like he’d been punched in the gut. For some reason, knowing that this girl was wearing ribbons was fucking him up. Maybe it finally made Number Sixteen real for him. Hell, maybe his own kid sisters wore ribbons like that once, not that he’d remember. Maybe he was just human, and there were only so many murdered children he could think about in one day.

He sat down heavily and rubbed at his face. Next to him, Holden pored over the pictures, bright-eyed and eager.

“I can’t believe how much of the nightgown is still intact,” said Holden. “Mulder said his mother couldn’t tell from the heart whether it was her nightgown, but maybe with this whole thing… and the hair ribbon. This is exactly what she had on when she was taken. Isn’t it remarkable, Bill?”

Bill only lit a cigarette in response. Wendy caught his eye, and she tilted her head at him. He looked away.

“Did you get a chance to examine the body yourself, Dr. Scully?” Holden asked.

“Yes.” She looked as closed off as ever, arms crossed in a practiced stance. “I went there this morning. You’ll see my report along with the local ME’s. But the bones don’t really tell us anything new, except confirming her age. John Roche mostly killed by strangulation, and we wouldn’t be able to see that at this point.”

“He cut a heart from her nightgown,” Wendy said carefully. “And it matches the trophy. What else needs to be known?”

“Her identity,” Bill muttered.

“Yes,” Holden nodded. “Her identity.”

“Agent Ford,” said Dr. Scully. “If you’re planning on bringing this news to Mulder, I have to say that I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

Holden gawked, and Bill wasn’t that far behind him. “Why not?” asked Bill.

“I don’t think it’ll help anything,” said Scully.

“But what if it’s her?” asked Holden. “Without her dental records, the only way to identify her is to have him do it.”

Scully hesitated a moment. “I don’t think it will help anything,” she said again.

Holden looked bewildered. He turned back to the photos, adjusting the way they laid out, spacing them a little bit more perfectly.

“But he’s going to find out about the body sooner or later,” Scully said. “It’s better coming from you or me, and if you’re so eager to do it, I’d rather it be you.”

Holden blinked up at her. “Agent Scully, of course, if you’d like to tell him—”

“No.”

“Or if you’d like to come with us—”

“No.” She shook her head, sharp red bob swishing. “But tell me what day you plan to go.” She hugged herself a little tighter and turned to leave. Hesitated.

Wendy stepped towards her, almost put a hand on her shoulder.

Scully turned back to the agents. “Take the entire file with you when you see him. Especially my report. He won’t believe you without it.” Then she stepped briskly out into the hallway. Wendy followed her.

Holden looked to Bill, face bland. “We’re about to bring home the last Cloth Heart victim.” When Bill didn’t answer, Holden frowned. His brow slowly furrowed. “Do you think she was upset?”

“Of course she’s upset,” said Bill. “This thing drove her partner to actual madness. And our best case scenario here is that a little girl was murdered.” He sucked on his cigarette and felt like a black hole had opened up inside. Regardless of how great it would be to close the case, a part of him had been really hoping this girl wasn’t a Cloth Heart victim. Sometimes children just died, no sinister nothing afoot. Why couldn’t that ever be the case here?

Get a fucking grip, he told himself. He hadn’t survived this long in his career by shaking his fist at the sky and asking why.

“But she’s usually so… clinical,” said Holden. “And rational. That’s what everybody says about her.”

“This is personal,” said Bill. “Her and Mulder are close.”

Holden only stared at him.

“Holden, if it was my kid sister’s desiccated skeleton on the table, and you had to tell me about it, wouldn’t you be upset?” Bill asked. You know, as a friend? he didn’t add.

Holden’s brows were now fully scrunched. “You’ve never talked about your sisters, Bill. I don’t even know their names.”

Bill scowled. He made a show of checking his watch. “I have to make a phone call.” He went back to his office, and missed his old office, the one without any windows.

They booked a visit later that week, on Friday, pre-cleared with Dr. Scully for whatever reason, and drove on out to Maryland. It was dreary and wet, the sky clouded over with grey, which Bill figured was appropriate. Not that there was ever any good weather for telling a family member they’d found their missing child, and the missing child was dead.

Holden was, for lack of a better word, chipper. He patted the considerable Number Sixteen case file on his lap, as Bill took his time turning off the engine. “Let’s go, Bill.” He tugged at the handle on the passenger side door.

“Wait,” Bill said, suddenly seized with the need to stop Holden getting out of the car with an arm across his chest. “Close the door.”

“What is it?” Holden blinked at him, but gently closed the door.

Bill jerked his chin towards the other end of the parking lot. One of those sinister black town cars. The grey-haired old man they’d seen before leaned against the car, smoking a cigarette. He was too far away to see his face, but Bill could swear he was staring right at him.

Holden looked around the parking lot like an owl: eyes big, head jerking back and forth obviously. “What’s wrong?”

“That guy,” Bill hissed, almost whispering. “He was here last time. No, don’t look at him.”

Holden glanced over as discreetly as he could, which was not discreet at all. “Who, the smoking man?”

“He hangs around Gunn’s office,” Bill almost-whispered. “And he hangs around here. He weirds me out.”

Holden turned back to Bill, tilting his head. “I’ve honestly never seen him anywhere except here.”

“Maybe you’re not as observant as you think you are,” Bill muttered.

Holden’s jaw dropped.

“Let’s just…” Bill made a helpless hand gesture. “Pretend we’re talking about sports.”

Holden looked at him like he’d lost his mind.

“Fine,” whispered Bill. “Let’s just sit here quietly, then.”

Holden rolled his eyes and heaved a heavy sigh, like an impatient teenager. He didn’t say anything, but radiated the sentiment of “And they call me the crazy one.”

They waited almost ten agonizingly long minutes for the cigarette smoking man to leave. Bill considered himself a seasoned smoker, but he never savoured one for that long unless he was covering for something. Especially if he could just get in an empty car by himself and smoke while he drove.

Holden was about to sigh himself flat as an old balloon by the time the sinister black town car drove away. Bill watched it go in the rearview mirror while Holden fidgeted beside him. “Can we go in now, please, Bill?”

“Yeah,” Bill said, his throat dry. He didn’t have the time to explain to Holden how hunches and gut feelings worked— not Holden, with his unquestionable instincts! But every time he’d ignored those gut feelings he lived to regret it, and so far his gut feeling was to avoid that cigarette smoking guy as much as he could.

Holden was already at the hospital door by the time Bill got out, lit a cigarette, and locked the car behind him. He hurried up when Holden disappeared inside without him, but luckily the kid was only impatiently standing in the waiting room when he arrived.

“Hold this,” Holden said, then rushed off to the restroom.

Bill got them registered as visitors and finished his cigarette. Holden returned and took the file back from Bill with what Bill could only describe as grabby hands.

Anna, the nurse who had seen to Mulder on their last visit, came to walk them to the common room. “He’s okay now,” she said. “But he had a bad spell the last few days.”

“What do you mean?” asked Holden, no doubt already worried about Mulder’s ability to identify their body.

Anna paused, keeping the agents between two sets of glass fire doors. She seemed to consider whether to tell them whatever she had to say. “I’m not exactly sure what’s going on. Somehow, Fox has been able to trade his medication for ketamine. My money’s on one of the nurses, but I haven’t been able to prove it yet.”

“What does that do?” Holden’s brow furrowed deeper. “Is he lucid?”

“He’s lucid now,” said Anna. “But he spent the last two days dissociating. It’s always very calm with him. He just stays in bed. Right now he’s… well, at times like this, he’s even more committed to his beliefs than usual.” She gave Bill a meaningful look, and left them at the entrance to the common room.

Bill blocked Holden’s path. “That’ll explain his dreams,” he said.

“Huh?”

“Ketamine gives you hallucinations in the right dose,” said Bill. “The way she’s talking about it, it sounds like he saves it up and takes it when he has enough. More than enough, even, to spend entire days like that. That’s why his dreams about his sister feel like she’s visiting him, because they’re not really dreams.”

Holden nodded thoughtfully. “That makes sense.”

“If he just had this experience yesterday, he’s going to be even less inclined to identify this body as his sister,” Bill said gently. “I think we need to be prepared for that.”

“I understand, Bill,” Holden said, maintaining Bill’s eye contact. “I wouldn’t bring it to him if I wasn’t sure it was her. Where else could she be?” Just like he’d forgotten the entire conversation he’d had with Bill on the subject.

They entered the common room in the midst of some type of drama. A bedraggled blonde woman was sobbing and screaming, while a small team of orderlies tried to usher her out of the room.

Mulder sat on a couch nearby, talking a steady stream to (or at) either the woman or the orderlies. Another man clung tightly to his side, keeping one of Mulder’s arms in a death grip. It was Alex, the hateful Russian, glaring out at the room with one ear pressed into Mulder’s shoulder.

“You won’t find him!” the woman wailed as the orderlies finally bundled her out of the room. “You never stop looking, but you won’t find him! You won’t!

“You tell ‘em, baby,” Mulder called after her.

Holden stared big-eyed in the woman’s direction as he and Bill walked up to Mulder.

“That’s Sharon,” Mulder said to them, in lieu of a greeting. “Her brother Max was an abductee, too. They took him right off a passenger jet, just before it crashed.”

“Is he starlight as well?” Bill couldn’t help but ask.

“I don’t think so,” said Mulder. “We’re pretty sure Max was taken by grey aliens.”

“So many factions,” mused Bill. “It’s like March Madness up there.”

“Sometimes,” Mulder smiled. “Little less fun, though. To what do I owe the pleasure, agents?”

Bill glanced over at Holden, who was now staring pretty obviously at Alex. Alex glared back, and didn’t move from his spot cuddled up against Mulder.

Mulder followed Holden’s gaze. He jiggled his shoulder. “Come on, Alex. Scram. I gotta go talk to these guys.”

Alex muttered under his breath, glaring hatefully at Holden, and didn’t budge.

“I’ll play cards with you later. Okay? I promise.” Mulder gently pried Alex off him. Bill realized that Alex’s left arm ended before his elbow. His sleeve was tucked into the pocket of his robe.

Alex grabbed at Mulder with his good arm. “Federál-nyj,” he spat, still glaring at Holden.

“I know,” Mulder said, gently pushing Alex away again. “But I was one too, for a long time. You sit and think about that.”

Mulder ushered the agents a few steps away. They all glanced back. Alex peered over the top of the couch at them, narrow-eyed. He looked exactly how Mulder had described him: like an angry, stupid kitty cat.

“Okay, well, he’s gonna keep staring,” said Mulder.

“Is there anywhere private we can go?” asked Bill.

“They won’t let me see guests outside of the common areas,” said Mulder. “They don’t have the staff to provide security for that. But there’s what we generously call the library.” He lead them to a window corner, semi-secluded by a few low, sparsely stocked bookshelves. “You can go anywhere with the books at your local library.”

They settled in, and Bill looked out over the common room again. Alex was still spying on them from the couch.

Holden awkwardly put the thick case file on the table in front of him. Didn’t say anything. His certainty and boldness now seemed muted in the prospect of actually asking Fox Mulder to give up his entire life-and-career-ruining world view.

Anna, unprompted, brought them some drinks-- coffee with cream and sugar for Bill, and two herbal teas.

"Uh, Anna," Mulder started.

"Not today, Fox," she said. "I'm not in the mood."

"Hmm," Mulder mused, watching her with respect as she left them to go scold Alex.

"I do appreciate a woman that doesn't take any shit," Bill said, ripping open a sugar packet for his coffee.

"Me, too," said Mulder. "So what brings you two back to my neck of the woods?"

Holden cleared his throat, picked up his tea, then put it back down without taking a sip.

"What's that?" Mulder asked, gesturing at the case file. "Looks juicy. You guys want my take on a case? Only nobody's come out to ask me to consult on anything. I keep begging Scully to let me in on a case, but she's become immune to my begging."

"She didn't tell you about why we were coming back?"

"No, she comes to visit me on Saturdays, and then I only found out you guys wanted to visit me this morning." They had arranged the visit on Wednesday, two days earlier, but Mulder would have been in his ketamine hole at the time. Anna must have been so familiar with his little stunts that she knew he'd be back to normal by the time Friday came around. Fox Mulder had more than just Dr. Dana Scully looking after him, Bill mused. He had a whole team of caregivers.

He felt suddenly miserable, and he lit a cigarette.

"She didn't, uh," Holden broke himself off to clear his throat again. "She didn't call you?"

"We don't really talk on the phone," said Mulder. "Except to reschedule her visits. Or just small talk." He leaned forward. "You never know who's listening on the phone. You should never, ever trust a phone line. No matter who says it's secure. I mean, you’re FBI. You know.”

Holden nodded sincerely. "Thank you for the advice." He finally took a sip of his tea, then set it aside and nudged at the case file again. "Um... we do have a case for you. We have something you need to look at."

"Is it about John Roche?" Mulder rolled his eyes. "Because it's like I said, I already shared everything I knew about that asshole."

"It is and it isn't," said Bill. "Holden here will walk you through it."

Holden shot Bill a quick, dark glance. Then he straightened up and put on his big boy face. "Agent Mulder, we found a body in Martha's Vineyard. John Roche's first victim, Number Sixteen. We were unfortunately unable to identify—”

Mulder grabbed the file from Holden, and opened it with such force that pages and photos flew out everywhere. Bill hastily made sure none of them went walkabout.

"Where was she found?" Mulder asked. "Where on the island?"

"Uh-- Men-- Menemsha," Holden sounded out awkwardly.

"Menemsha. In Chilmark." Mulder leafed through the case files haphazardly, immediately focusing on the photographs. Chilmark was the town where he had grown up, Menemsha a small fishing village within.

"Um... yes," said Holden.

"It makes sense," Mulder muttered, still feverishly sorting through the files. "We knew from the cloth that Number Sixteen was killed in the '50s. That's been confirmed, right? That's how old the body is?"

"Yes," Holden repeated.

"And she was eight years old." Mulder said it like a fact, not a question, and didn't wait for an answer. He sorted the photos out in an array, the same way Holden had, bringing to mind the image of a girl.

Bill stood and cleared his coffee off the table to make room, and gestured for Holden to do the same with his cup.

“Menemsha was smaller then,” said Mulder. “I mean the whole place was rural, but Menemsha was like a park. It’s building up more now. They shot Jaws in the fishing village. It’s getting more tourism. They found her because of construction?”

“That’s what it looks like,” Bill said, his heart sinking.

“You could walk to the fishing village from our house,” Mulder said, almost to himself, voice pitched low. He finished placing the photos just the way he wanted them, and stared intensely at them.

Fuck, thought Bill. The look on Mulder’s face was the worst look you could see on the face of a murder victim’s family member: hope. It was a perverted kind of hope this time, hope that went in the wrong direction.

Bill had been around the block enough times to know that the whole thing was six of one and half dozen of the other. Families would demand that they uncover the truth because they needed to know, and then as soon as they knew, wish they could go back to not knowing. Damned if you do and damned if you fucking don’t.

Mulder was looking very, very hopeful. He touched the photos gently— the little hand, the hem of the nightgown, the place where hair should be.

“She had ribbons,” he said, his voice breaking. “Look at it. It’s still in a bow. She had those braids— you know how they braid it on top? French braids, I think it’s called.” He gestured at his head. “My mother did her hair before my parents went out. Two little ribbons in bows.” He touched the photo of the ribbon again, gently, reverently.

“So it’s her?” Holden asked, on the verge of one of those self-satisfied little smiles. “We couldn’t identify her, but if you can give a positive ID…”

Mulder didn’t seem to hear him. He stared unblinking down at the photos, fingers carefully tracing the little dead girl’s collar bone. “Uh— did Scully examine her?”

“Yes,” Holden said. “Here.” He helped Mulder look through the mess of disorganized pages on the table, and found Scully’s pathology report, neatly attached to the Massachusetts’ medical examiner’s.

Mulder eagerly pored over Scully’s report, holding it close to his face, brow furrowed, taking in every word. He looked between the report and the photos, reaching out one hand to gently trace the collarbones again.

Bill felt like biting his nails. He looked over at Holden, who beamed guilelessly back at him. If Bill was the praying type, he’d have prayed that whatever happened next wouldn’t be an absolute shit show.

“It’s not her,” Mulder suddenly announced.

Holden’s face didn’t even fall. He just blinked, like he had misheard. “Pardon me?”

“It’s not her,” Mulder repeated, voice breaking again. He sniffled and blinked hard. “Samantha broke her collarbone when she was six. We had a rope swing in our backyard. It was her left collarbone. I don’t see a break here, and Scully would have found it.” He looked between them imploringly. “Scully is really, really good at her job. If there was anything to be found here, she would have found it.”

“Okay,” Holden said gently, still looking confused. He reached a hand out towards the photos. “But maybe… I mean, it was so long ago.”

“No,” Mulder said, raising his voice. “It’s not her. I was going through this whole doctor phase when it happened, and my dad told me that when someone breaks a bone, you can see it on the skeleton forever after that, like a scar.” He turned to Bill, eyes wide and frantic. “That’s right, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, that’s right,” said Bill, heart in his stomach. “A medical examiner can tell the difference between an old fracture and a new one.”

“So Scully would have found it. This isn’t my sister.” Mulder shook his head rapidly, eyes going hard with adrenaline and anger. “For a second, I…” He covered his face with his hands in a look of pure despair.

“Holden,” Bill started, gently, trying to usher his young partner out.

“Maybe it’s still— it could still be her,” Holden attempted. “If you can help us find her dental records, maybe we can still identify her.”

Mulder’s hands fisted into his hair. “I was fucking twelve years old, man. I don’t know where her dental records ended up. They should have been in the original case file, but I never saw them.”

Bill knew for a fact, and so did Holden, that Samantha Mulder’s dental records were not in her original missing person case file. Perhaps whoever had redacted huge swaths of that investigation with thick black marker had also quietly gotten rid of the only means anyone would have of properly identifying her corpse.

“Her collarbone is fine. It’s not her. It’s someone else.” Mulder stood, sending his chair crashing down. Holden jumped back like he’d been shot at. “So why don’t you go and find out who she is, huh?”

“Okay, Fox, we’ll get out of your hair,” Bill said as gently as he could. He started gathering up the case files, and tried to catch Holden’s eye, but the kid was only staring at Mulder in shock.

Mulder stared right back. “Why did you come here?” he demanded.

“We— we thought— we thought it was her, and we needed you to identify her,” Holden sputtered.

“I told you what happened to her!” Mulder shouted. Other patients were gawking at them and whispering, and in some cases, shouting nonsense of their own, now. Orderlies and nurses were starting to try and restore order, though they didn’t intervene with Mulder yet. Just kept a wary eye on him.

“I—” Holden kept trying to interject.

“You won’t find her,” Mulder said, throwing his hands up the way a lot of people did around Holden. “You’ll never find her. So stop fucking looking, okay?”

“Okayyyyy.” Anna the nurse appeared at Holden’s side, making him jump again. “Let’s all just calm down, alright Fox?”

“I wanna talk to Scully,” Mulder muttered, pacing around behind his table, but still maintaining dark, angry eye contact with Holden.

“I’ll call her for you,” said Anna. “But you have to take a breath, okay?”

Bill finished hastily stuffing all the files back into their folder. He tugged at Holden’s elbow. “Let’s get out of here,” he muttered.

Holden resisted being tugged away. “Agent Mulder, I’m… I’m so—”

“I don’t wanna talk to these guys anymore!” Mulder shouted. “Get them outta here! I wanna talk to Dana Scully!” He jerked away from Anna as she tried to touch his shoulder. “I wanna talk to Dana! Scully!”

“Okay, Fox, we’re leaving,” Bill said, raising his voice, but not to Mulder’s level.

Mulder quieted down, and stopped shooting Holden deadly glares. His shoulders shook and he swallowed these tight little noises that Bill really didn’t want to hear.

“Let’s go,” he hissed, pulling Holden away.

Holden followed him meekly. They passed the couch, where Holden suddenly jerked in surprise. He’d made eye contact with Alex, who was now sprawled out languidly and grinning at them. They left the room to the sound of Mulder’s muttering, and that Russian fucker’s satisfied laughter.

When they got past the glass doors, Holden, still white-faced and wide-eyed, turned back. Bill turned with him, for one last look— he didn’t imagine Mulder would want him to visit again.

Far on the other end of the common room, Mulder had curled up next to a window, hugging himself, gazing mournfully out. His shoulders still shook, and he occasionally wiped at his face. It was a really good spot, Bill thought, for looking up at the sky. On a clear night, one might be able to see some stars.

But not tonight.

They drove for a long, silent stretch before either of them said anything.

“Well,” Holden started. “That was… unexpected.”

“Was it?!” Bill finally snapped. “How fucking obtuse are you? I told you to be careful. I told you to be prepared for the possibility that Number Sixteen wasn’t Samantha Mulder. And I’m pretty sure I told you that Mulder’s delusions were the only things keeping him out of trouble. Why do you always have to go poking?”

Holden looked scandalized. “What was I supposed to do? There’s no other way to close this case, Bill. And there was no other way to identify Number Sixteen.”

“You fucked that guy up.” Now that Bill had raised his voice, it was hard to un-raise it. “You gave him hope for a second, and then it all went to shit. He was dangling on a fucking precipise, and you shoved him right off. And for what? So the great fucking Holden Ford could close a fucking case?”

“I thought it was her,” Holden’s voice shook slightly. “Everybody thought it was her. There weren’t any other explanations, except— except aliens. And you didn’t believe that theory either, Bill.

“It doesn’t matter if you or I believe it. It’s how he was getting by. It’s called coping, Holden. People have been doing it since the beginning of time. Psychology genius like you should know that. They’d lose their children and they’d say it was goblins, or elves, or fucking fairies. Second star on the right and straight on’ til morning.”

“…What?”

“Do me a favour,” spat Bill. “The next time you feel the urge to vacation in someone else’s pain, go watch Brian’s Song and leave the rest of us out of it.”

Holden flinched, eyes and mouth round with indignation. “Vacation…!” He broke off and glared out the window. “That’s not— that’s not what I do.”

“Well, fine then,” Bill weakly, starting to feel a little bad. He’d been conflicted about this whole thing. He didn’t want to shatter all of Mulder’s life-sustaining delusions; he didn’t want to have to tell an old colleague that his kid sister had, in fact, been murdered by some pervert.

But, if it had been Samantha, then it would be another case closed, which would always be worth it. Bill wouldn’t have to know that there was yet another nameless child out there, tortured and dead and maybe unmourned. He wouldn’t have to walk around with the knowledge that there was one more family who never got to bury their daughter, who never found out what happened to her. He’d give anything to not have to know that.

And worst of all, John Roche went to his death with a smirk on his face, pleased as punch that he was the only person who would ever know the true identity of Number Sixteen. It was enough, on a bad day, to make Bill sick.

They drove in silence for a while, the air tense. Holden breathed heavily beside him, and Bill started to worry.

“Are you… are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Holden said, but his voice was small and tight.

“Do you have your…?” Bill’s mouth got heavy, like it always did when he tried to talk about these things outside of teasing or insults.

“Yes, I have my medication,” Holden spat. “I’m not going to have a panic attack just because you yelled at me, Bill. I’m not a child.”

As if that’s the only thing that happened, thought Bill. “We can pull over if you want.”

“No,” Holden muttered, voice even tighter. He tried to turn further into the window, staring steadfastly away from Bill.

“Open the window if you have to,” Bill offered.

There was an uncomfortable moment of silence. Then Holden cracked open the window, and took a long, noisy breath.

“Look, Holden,” Bill said after a long and very awkward pause. “I know you were just trying to help. And of course I want justice for Number Sixteen as much as anyone else. And that drive, that’s what makes you a good agent. A really good agent. But for your own sanity, you have to accept that sometimes, the truth is just beyond us. Just like Ada Jeffries. Just like in Atlanta. Sometimes you have to take the loss.”

Another stretch of silence. Bill drove on endless, flat, straight road, while Holden sat rigid and still. When it appeared that Holden was not about to hyperventilate after all, Bill lit a cigarette. Holden turned his face to his cracked open window, stared out at the sky, and didn’t say anything.

“Dinner tonight?” Bill offered. After a pause, he continued. “We can go to mine. I got new furniture.”

“You did?”

“Yeah, uh… you know, to stage the place. Nancy and I decided to sell it. Split the proceeds. No need for me to be in a big place all by myself.

“Oh.”

“Gonna find an apartment, like yours. As long as it has a little room for Brian when he visits.”

Holden said nothing, still staring out at the sky.

Bill coughed uncomfortably. “So it’s all kitted out now. And I have a guest bed, too. It’s a twin. It’s for Brian. But if you wanted, you could, you know. Crash. It’s big enough.”

Holden turned and regarded Bill for a long while. “I don’t need you to keep tabs on me all weekend.”

“I wasn’t saying that,” Bill said, hackles rising. “Jesus, kid, you want to eat dinner with me tonight or not?”

“Okay, yes. I’d like that, Bill.”

“You can drink and not have to worry about getting home,” Bill added defensively.

“I understand, Bill.”

“Good.” Bill nodded. “We’ll get pizza and beer on our way in.”

Silence again. Bill considered turning on the radio, but even that felt awkward.

“I really believed it was her,” Holden finally said. “I really, truly did. Or… or I…”

“You wanted to believe,” said Bill.

Holden nodded, gaze dropping to hands resting timidly in his lap.

Bill took a drag on his cigarette. “Yeah. So did I.”

THE END.