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Maelstrom

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It had just started to rain when she pulled up in front of Mulder’s apartment. Scully sat in her car with the ignition off, listening to the rain beat against her roof, folding and unfolding the paper in her hands. This could wait until Monday. It was nothing life changing, nothing critical. Nothing at all, really.

And yet.

She knocked on his door. Ten o’clock on a Friday night. Where else would she be? In another lifetime, she might be out on a date. Or curled up on a couch in front of a fire with a toddler asleep in her lap. Or working the night shift in an ER, tending to trauma patients. But that wasn’t where her life had taken her.

Instead, she was standing at Mulder’s door, with lab results in her hand and doubt in her mind, brushing the rain off her coat.

Ten o’clock on a Friday night, and he opened the door. Where else would he be? She almost took it for granted.

He ushered her in with a hand on the small of her back. He didn’t act surprised or ask why she was there. He took her coat and waited. Like it was the most natural thing in the world that she would stop by. Maybe it was.

“I finally got the tests results back on that substance from our John Doe case last month.” She’d actually gotten them back awhile ago, but she’d had them run again. Twice.

“The mystery goo?”

She nodded and said, “Still a mystery.” Mulder’s eyes widened with interest, almost impreceptible. “I don’t know, Mulder. There are compounds here that just don’t make any sense.” She handed him the paper, and he studied it, but she already knew it contained no answers.

She should have been used to it by then, the dead ends and endless questions, but she wasn’t. The scientific, rational side of her mind wouldn’t accept anything less than a logical answer. It was that side of her that kept her going, kept her interest. So she listened to it.

Eventually, when Mulder had given up on the paper revealing any secrets, he asked, “Is it dangerous?”

Scully walked to his couch and sat. The leather was warm under her palms. He must have been lying there before she came in.

“I don’t know. It didn’t show up on the autopsy, so it didn’t kill our John Doe, or any of the others, but without knowing what it is, I can’t say it's benign.”

Mulder sat next to her. Rubbed his eyes. “The rain could have washed away the evidence.”

She couldn’t deny that possibility.

Their John Doe was the latest in a string of at least seven deaths across five states, each victim covered in a weird rash and their fingerprints burned off. No positive IDs. No physical description that matched any missing persons reports in their areas. The only things tying the deaths together were the rash, the lack of fingerprints -- and the rain. Each victim was discovered the morning after a heavy rain.

Mulder had become interested in the case after hearing about the sixth victim and connecting the cases that no one had thought to connect before, given the widely varying jurisdictions. He found the goo at the scene of the seventh, in a sheltered dry spot under a backhoe on the construction site where the body was found. It was orange and viscous and had an oddly sweet smell.

“So we’re back at square one,” Mulder said. His frustration was palpable. It matched hers.

“We’ve been here before.” Countless times. She thought to herself how they always seemed to be stuck in a game of Chutes and Ladders, that the second they thought they were getting somewhere they found themselves sliding back to the bottom. “If things were easy, we’d be out of a job.”

Mulder smiled slightly at that. They sat together while the rain fell outside, harder now. Scully watched as it ran in rivulets over his windowpane.

Eventually, he said, “How many more are going to die, Scully, before we figure it out?”

She wondered if Mulder had the same thought as her: that a night like this could claim another victim. And all they could do was wait. “I don’t know,” she said. “But we will figure it out.”

Her life might have veered unexpectedly -- to the unexplained, to dark alleys, to basements, to Mulder. But she was convinced the unexplained could be explained if they fought hard enough for it. And she’d learned quickly that Mulder never stopped fighting. And she could respect that more than nearly anything. So she was okay with her life getting off course. Besides, it was becoming increasingly clear that maybe this was the right path after all. Unconventional as it was.

“I’m going to go into work tomorrow, take another look at the police reports from the first five victims. Maybe there was something we missed.” There it was, the never giving up.

She squeezed his knee. “I should get going.” Mulder stood with her, and walked her to the door.

And when Scully reached for her coat, Mulder reached for Scully. One hand tangled in her hair pulling her closer as he kissed her, the other feather-light and gentle on her hip, like he was at war with himself as to whether he should do this.

But she pulled him to her, her hands tugging at his t-shirt, drawing him in as she opened her mouth to his. She felt relief course through him as his hand tightened on her hip.

She pulled away eventually, rested her forehead against his. They stood there together, silently, just breathing. It was so quiet she could hear his heartbeat -- or maybe it was hers. Or maybe it was theirs. The storm was getting stronger outside, but there was a calmness between them.

Scully was thinking it, but he said it first.

“What next?”

With the case. With them. With life. The answer was simple, and the same for all three.

“We move forward.”

***