5__________________________________________________

It was very late when Scully arrived at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport. She didn't see Mulder at first, standing off to the side, waiting for her; he walked up beside her and she stopped, setting down her single carry-on bag.

"Hey," he said.

"Mulder." She didn't let her surprise show. "I didn't expect you to come out to meet me."

"Why wouldn't I?" he asked. He leaned over and picked up her bag, and turned to walk away.

"Wait," she called, "I have to pick up my car."

"I cancelled it," Mulder answered over his shoulder. "I've already got one, and one's enough."

Scully stopped, open-mouthed, speechless. This was the final straw on this very long day. She shook herself and scurried after Mulder's retreating back.

"You cancelled it? What's wrong with you? Couldn't you even ask me first?" she burst out. She was angrier than she'd realized.

"Nothing to ask," Mulder said flatly, not turning around. "Just another messy expense account I'll get crucified for when I get back."

Scully swore under her breath. She was tired. She was hungry. She didn't need Mulder making decisions for her.

"It's nice to see you, too, Mulder," she said as she followed him, biting each word off sarcastically. "My flight was fine, thank you. No, I haven't had dinner yet. That's a very good idea. Where are you planning to take me in this one car of yours?"

Mulder stopped, and turned to face her. "Scully -- "

She looked, really looked, at him for the first time, and was taken aback at the slouch of his shoulders, at the weariness etched upon his features.

He sighed. "I'm sorry, Scully," he said, and smiled wanly. "How was your flight?"

She dropped her eyes. "It was okay." She shifted her weight uneasily from one foot to the other. "Look, Mulder, I shouldn't have snapped at -- "

"Forget it, Scully." He shrugged offhandedly, looking away, and waved a hand in dismissal. "I haven't had any dinner either. Come on -- let's get something to eat."

 

6________________________________________

"You don't like her," Fox said tonelessly after Claire had left the room.

"You're wrong, Fox. She's a lovely girl," his mother said, looking fixedly into her teacup, avoiding his eyes. "But she's very, very young." She sipped her tea. "So, for that matter, are you."

"I'm twenty-seven!"

"I am not referring to your age in years," she answered, now meeting his gaze steadily until he looked away. "Besides," she continued, "after only six months you can hardly make such a serious decision as marriage. I would feel a great deal more comfortable with this if you would just wait until Claire has finished medical school."

Fox set his jaw stubbornly. "You and Dad hadn't even gone out for a year when you were married."

"And look what happened to us!" his mother exclaimed softly, fixing him with a sharp stare. "I would at least think you'd have learned -- "

"That wasn't your fault. If it hadn't been for -- If they hadn't -- "

She held one hand up in a warning gesture, and he fell silent; even after fifteen years, Samantha was not discussed in her house. Fox stared at the floor. His mother sipped her tea. The ticking of the mantel clock seemed suddenly loud in the uncomfortable silence.

His mother put down her teacup; she reached out and placed her hand upon his. "You know I can't give you my blessing wholeheartedly. Nevertheless, I know you, Fox, and I know you're set on going through with this. I hope you'll be able to work it out somehow."

Fox opened his mouth to answer but, as he did, Claire came to the doorway, and he only sighed, and then smiled up at her.

"Mrs. Mulder, can I help you with these dishes?" Claire asked, and the older woman smiled, and shook her head.

"I wouldn't dream of it, dear," she said, rising from her seat. "There's not so much to do. You and Fox should be out taking a stroll on a beautiful evening like this." Seeing Claire hesitate, she added, "Really. Run along, you two."

Fox stood up and caught Claire's hand in his. "Come on. I'll show you the old neighborhood," he said, and pulled her toward the front door.

Coming out onto the porch, he leaned his head back and took a great sighing breath of the fresh evening air, and put his arm around Claire's shoulder and drew her close against his side.

"What is it, Fox?" she asked.

"Nothing." He shook his head. "I just needed some air."

 

7_______________________________________________

"I ordered coffee for you," Scully said as Mulder slumped into the seat across from her in the hotel restaurant.

"Thanks." He put a dog-eared manila envelope down on the table. Scully slid the menu across the table to him and he looked it over listlessly.

Scully sipped her hot coffee and studied him over the edge of the cup. The dark circles under his eyes hadn't faded with the night's sleep; he looked, in fact, as if he had hardly slept at all.

Mulder seemed to feel her eyes on him, and he lifted his head to look up at her.

"That the case report?" she asked, nodding toward the fat yellow envelope.

"Yeah."

The waitress, a chipper blonde of perhaps nineteen, came up to the table. "Are y'all ready to order?" she beamed.

"Yes..." Scully began. "I'll have the Spanish omelet... just toast, though, instead of the home fries on the side. And some orange juice, please."

"Yes, ma'am... And you, sir?"

Mulder sighed. "Omelet sounds fine for me, too."

"Would you like the home fries with that?"

"What did you get, Scully -- toast? -- No, I'll have toast too. Thank you." He sat up a little straighter and handed the menu to the waitress.

"Thank you, sir. It'll just be a few minutes," she said brightly, and walked away with a bounce to her step.

Mulder dumped a spoonful of sugar into his coffee and stirred it halfheartedly. "It should be illegal to be so perky first thing in the morning," he muttered.

"It must be something about Texas," Scully replied. "Haven't you noticed all the waitresses are too cheerful in Texas?" She smiled. "And they all have names like Belle."

"Belle?" Mulder's spoon came to an abrupt halt. "Her name is 'Belle'?"

"Sho 'nuff, y'all," Scully drawled, chuckling. "Didn't you read her name tag?"

"Seems like anytime I'm in Texas, I have more to worry about than waitresses." He glanced at the case file, and Scully reached for it. She pulled out a sheaf of papers and began leafing through them.

"Claire Marie Turner," she read aloud. "Psychiatrist, single, thirty-four years old. Missing as of Monday morning, May first. Body recovered from White Rock Lake on Tuesday the second, apparent suicide by drowning...probable date of death three or four days previous... No note. No history of depression... Not under treatment for any medical disorders..." She shuffled through the pages. "What makes you think this is an X-File?"

"Well," Mulder began slowly, "there are two things. First, there's the lake. White Rock Lake. It's on Garland Road in East Dallas, near the arboretum..." He was still pushing the spoon idly around in his coffee cup.

Scully sipped again at her own coffee and waited.

"Anyway, White Rock Lake has a number of... stories associated with it regarding supernatural events. Lights seen over the water, unexplained drownings..." He lifted the spoon from the coffee and looked at it as if surprised to find it there. He set it down on the saucer. "Rain showers that fall only in the immediate vicinity of the lake, causing an inordinate number of vehicular accidents on Garland Road..."

"Mulder, similar meteorological phenomena have been documented on or around any number of bodies of water..."

Belle reappeared with a tray and set down Scully's juice and the two steaming omelets. "Now y'all be careful. These plates are hot!" she admonished them cheerfully.

"Thank you," Scully said, and Mulder nodded.

"If y'all need anything else, you just call me," Belle finished, and left them alone again. Mulder looked after her and shook his head slowly.

Scully turned over the next page in the folder and glanced at it as she spoke. "Those are urban legends, Mulder. In New York they have alligators in the sewers. And on White Rock Lake they have mysterious lights. I suppose there's also the ghost of a drowned child, standing at the edge of the road, asking passing motorists to help her parents, whose car just went into the lake?" She speared a chunk of her omelet on her fork and put it into her mouth.

"No, not a drowned child," Mulder answered, poking his own fork disinterestedly at his omelet. "There have been numerous sightings of a woman, floundering in the lake, screaming for help - and, upon investigation, no one is found. Actually, there's a factual basis for this 'urban legend.' It's there in the file." He brightened a little, warming to his subject. "In June of 1953, a certain Cara Kelly and her boyfriend Brian Sanford went off Garland Road into the lake in his father's new T-Bird on the way to their senior prom, and Cara was drowned. Sanford said in his statement that he had swerved to avoid a dog and lost control of the car. He also said it had been raining, and a stretch of the road was wet, although there was no rain reported in any surrounding area."

Scully followed along on the photocopy of the old police report. "Is this their picture?" she asked, holding up a photo of two smiling teenagers in formal wear, posing next to a shiny Thunderbird.

"Taken by Cara's parents just before they left."

Scully looked at the faded photograph and shrugged. "Well, I'm not saying these things don't happen. Most legends are based in some kind of fact." She spotted more photographs in the folder and pulled them out; they were the autopsy photos of the drowned woman. Scully propped one up against the coffee pot and fanned the rest out next to her plate. She broke off another bite of omelet with her fork, studying the pictures.

Across the table she heard Mulder make an odd, soft little sound, and looked up to see him staring determinedly out the window, a pained expression on his face; one loosely clenched fist was pressed to his mouth.

Scully's hand paused in midair, her fork halfway to her mouth. "... Mulder? I can look at the photos after we eat, if it's going to bother you that much."

Sighing, he closed his eyes. He massaged his forehead with his fingertips. "Yeah... could you? I just..."

Scully raised an eyebrow. "Sure," she said, and set down her fork. She picked up the photos and slipped them back into the folder.

"Thanks," Mulder muttered, and reached for his coffee.

They ate in silence for a few minutes.

"So," Scully finally said, "you left on a personal errand. How did you come across this case?"

The answer was so long in coming that she looked up at Mulder to see what he was waiting for. He was staring down at his plate.

Without looking up he said, "I came out to... This was the errand." He turned his face toward the window again. "I knew her." He sighed and looked back at his plate; he prodded the food with his fork. "The women in my life have this unfortunate habit of turning up in X-Files."

"You... oh, Mulder, I'm sorry." Scully answered, glancing guiltily at the case file. "I wouldn't have taken those pictures out at the table."

He shook his head. "You didn't know." He took another bite of his omelet. "She went to Georgetown University. I was...We were friends." One corner of his mouth turned up in a rueful half-smile. "It was a long time ago."

"It's okay, Mulder. You don't have to explain." Scully had already added Claire to her mental list. After a moment's consideration, she placed her after Phoebe Green and before Diana Fowley. "What was the second thing?"

"Six of the unexplained drownings in that lake took place, under similar circumstances, in the last five years. A woman named Karen Gathis was implicated in each of them, but there's never been enough evidence to charge her with anything. She's connected this time as well."

"Have the police interviewed her? Have you?"

"I have. She's an inpatient at Green Oaks at Medical City - in the psychiatric ward. And... and Claire was her doctor."

 

8________________________________________________

Fox rolled over in bed and wrapped his arms around Claire. "I love Saturday morning," he murmured, nuzzling her neck. "It's my favorite time of the whole week."

"Why is that, honey?" she asked, stroking his hair.

"Because -- " he whispered between kisses, "I see the whole weekend stretched out ahead of me, and you -- you -- you. Forty-eight uninterrupted hours of nothing and no one but you." He hugged her tight. He was too enchanted with the notion to read the tone of her sigh.

"What'll we do today, Claire?" he asked happily. "We could go to that new museum you were telling me about. We could go to the park and feed the ducks. Or -- " he kissed her again -- "we could just stay right here..."

"Fox," she interrupted, laying her forefinger against his lips to quiet him. "Don't you remember? I'm going to lunch today with Joann and Regina. You're going to have to entertain yourself for a few hours." She smiled at him. "Don't pout like that, Fox. Getting all cute on me won't make me cancel my lunch date."

Fox sighed. "I have to go to Quantico from Tuesday till Wednesday. Couldn't you girls have dinner that night?"

"Tuesday's rehearsal, Fox. You know that," she said patiently. She stroked his hair as if he were a fretful child.

"Couldn't they live without one cello for a week?"

"Fox, honey, there only are two cellos." She kissed his forehead. "Don't be silly. It's only a few hours, anyway."

He laid his head down against her. "I don't want to entertain myself," he said petulantly.

"What happened to all your buddies you used to hang around with before we got married?" Claire asked. She had stopped stroking his hair, and there was a fine edge of frustration in her voice.

Fox blinked, surprised. "I chose you," he said simply.

"Oh, Fox," she sighed, and even he could hear the despair in her voice, "it wasn't a choice you had to make. I'd never ask you to choose." A long moment passed. "And I wish you wouldn't ask me to, either."

"But Claire," he said, feeling the old anxiety rising up in him, "it's only because I love you. That's why I want to be with you every minute I can."

Claire was silent. He raised himself up on one elbow, needing to see her face, to look into her eyes. "Claire," he said uneasily, "Claire? I love you..." He heard the plea in his own voice.

Her eyes were sad. "Oh, Fox," she murmured, shaking her head. She put her arms around his neck and drew him down; she cradled his head against her breast. "I love you, Fox. You know I do." She rocked him gently. "I love you..."

"Claire," he breathed, and closed his eyes.

 

 

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