Title: The Firestorm
Author: The IMTP Producers
Keywords: Case file, MSR, M/S/Sk friendship
Spoilers: Fire, VS9
Archive: Two weeks exclusively on VS9, then
Ephemeral. Others, please contact any of the
producers for permission.
Disclaimer: Mulder, Scully and Skinner belong to
Chris Carter, 1013 and Fox. For the moment.<g> No
copyright infringement intended.
Summary: “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire” takes on
a whole new meaning when Skinner joins Mulder and
Scully on a case.
Feedback: A note in the IMTP VS9 guestbook would be
Authors’ Notes: This special producers’ offering is a
team effort written by Vickie Moseley, Susan Proto,
Sally Bahnsen, Theresa Filardo and dtg. Many thanks
to Dawn for her spot-on beta delivered at light
speed, and to Suzanne and Michelle for their timely
suggestions. If you have even half as much fun
reading this as we did putting it together, it will
be time well spent!
The Firestorm by The IMTP Producers
Clifford Heights, IL
Early June, 2002
Kara Brooks looked around her newly painted bedroom
and sighed. She’d just been moved from the only home
she’d ever known, and Kara was still having trouble
reconciling herself to it. She tried to imagine what
it was going to look like once she’d unpacked all of
her belongings. The robin’s egg blue was a soothing
shade that coordinated perfectly with the bright,
royal blue carpet. Kara loved the feeling of her toes
sinking into its plush, deep pile. But no matter how
lovely it might be, it still wasn’t “home”.
She stood up and opened another cardboard box. She
couldn’t believe how many boxes were scattered around
the room. “When the heck did I get all this junk
anyway?” she asked herself aloud. When she finished
digging out the top layer of crumpled newspapers, she
discovered the box of stuffed animals that had always
graced her bed. Her mother used to joke that there
was barely enough room for Kara amidst all of her
“loveys”. She wondered if she should bother taking
them out of the box. After all, she was a teenager
now, and she wasn’t sure it was still cool to have a
bevy of stuffed animals lodging on her bed.
She heard a knock on her door. “Kara, are you
hungry?” It was her dad.
“No,” she replied. “Not right now. Maybe later.”
“Okay, well, we’re gonna call in for a pizza in a
little while, okay?”
“Sure, Dad. Sounds great.” She knew her tone said
otherwise. Her dad must have heard it, too, because
he opened the door.
“Kara, are you okay, hon?”
“Yeah, I’m good. Just a lot to do here, that’s all.”
“Well, Bonnie and I offered to help -”
“Dad, I know. But I gotta go through this stuff
myself and decide where I want it all, ya know?”
“Yes, but if you’re going to sit in your room all day
getting bummed out over having to unpack
everything…” he began, but stopped when he saw her
withdraw even more. “Okay, okay. I’ll leave you alone
for now. But when the pizza comes, I expect you to
join the family, understand?”
She nodded and watched him finally leave, closing the
door behind him.
“Family?” Kara muttered aloud to herself. She’d never
heard him refer to them as a family. Sure, her dad
had invited her to join him and Bonnie for a meal,
but never to join ‘the family’. “Oh, yeah… we’re a
family,” she whispered to herself.
Now the question was, did she believe it?
She returned her attention to the box of gray, furry
elephants; brown-spotted puppies and soft, multi-
striped snakes. She smiled at the small, gray seal
pup that her mom had bought for her at the aquarium
gift shop on their last vacation together. It had
always been one of her favorites; it held a good
memory for her.
But now she had to decide what to do with all of the
junk in these boxes.
“God! I don’t want to do this now!” she cried out in
Being thirteen years old and figuring out stuff was
hard enough without adding a new house, new school,
new friends, and a new stepmother into the mix. In
all honesty, Kara liked the house. Her room was
bigger than the one she’d had at the old house. And
she did get to paint it whatever color she’d wanted.
And she knew school wasn’t going to pose a problem.
Sure she was a freshman at Clifford Heights High
School, but she was taking all advanced courses and
she was sure that she’d be able to keep up with her
studies. That had never been a problem, even when
she’d had to get through the time her mom was in the
hospital. When she was dying. She’d still managed to
ace all of her classes.
Friends. Well, that was a bit more of a cause for
concern. Kara had always been seen as an egghead and
therefore not cool to hang around with. She’d managed
to nurture one friendship with Anna Lynn Collins, who
was as big a nerd as Kara. The two girls hung out
together and got along well. Best of all, no one
bothered them, for which Kara was very grateful. It
wasn’t uncommon for those who were deemed uncool to
be bullied by certain cliques at her old school. She
hoped to avoid that at Clifford Heights.
Okay, then there was the matter of her stepmother. It
wasn’t that Bonnie was a bad person; she was actually
a very nice person and her dad was obviously very
much in love with her. But she wasn’t her momma, a
fact that had been heavy on her mind for the last
year, ever since Bonnie had come into their lives.
From the time her dad had started dating Bonnie to
the moment they’d said their “I Do’s” at St. Mary’s
Church, Kara could not escape the thought that Bonnie
might actually take her momma’s place. It was crazy;
Kara knew it was crazy because she loved her mom and
always would. But Kara liked Bonnie; she liked having
a woman to talk to about…women things. She was more
than grateful for Bonnie’s assistance when
‘womanhood’ had hit with a vengeance that first time.
Kara still blushed with embarrassment at the idea of
asking her dad to buy her “personal care” products.
And now they were in the new house, and Kara had to
decide which of the things from her old life to
include in her new one. Hard decisions for a
thirteen-year-old. She wished her momma were here
She left the box of stuffed animals and moved to
another box. Not finding what she was looking for,
she opened yet another carton, and then another.
“There you are,” she said, relieved. Kara pulled out
the carefully-wrapped item, and removed the
newspaper wrapping. She looked at the silver photo
frame and breathed warm air onto it. She buffed it
with her cotton sleeve and smiled as she saw its
shine reappear. Kara set the framed photo of Lisa
Brooks on her nightstand. “Welcome to your new home,
Then Kara scrunched up the strewn, crumpled
newsprint and jammed it into the wastebasket. She
looked over at her mom’s photo and stared at it.
And stared at it.
Downstairs, Kevin and Bonnie Brooks were in the midst
of a somewhat heated and sadly familiar discussion.
“Kevin, I think you’re overreacting.”
“You didn’t know her before. She was never like
“Like what? A thirteen-year-old girl who’s going
through enough physical and emotional changes to send
any normal human being into a straight jacket?”
“No! It’s just that she’s never been this withdrawn
“Kev, she’s got a lot to deal with. She’s never
exactly been Miss Popularity, has she?”
Bonnie cut him off. “Listen to me. She’s a good kid.
C’mon, how ridiculous is this? I’m supposed to be the
evil stepmother complaining about the stepchild, not
defending her! What’s wrong with this picture,
He had to smile at that. “Okay, maybe I am being a
worrywart over nothing. You know what? I’m starving.
Let’s call for that pizza now, okay?”
Bonnie nodded and dialed the number on the pizza-
shaped refrigerator magnet that had come in their
“welcome” kit. After calling in the order, she said,
“Why don’t you go up and let Kara know I’m gonna have
dinner whipped up in about twenty minutes.”
Kevin laughed. “Emeril, eat your heart out!” He
turned and started up the stairs to his daughter’s
Kara was gazing so intently at her mother’s
photograph that when her door opened and her father
called out to her, she nearly jumped out of her skin.
“Kara! What the hell are you doing?”
“What?” she asked, her voice filled with confusion.
“Jesus Christ, Kara! We just moved in for God’s
“Daddy, what’s wrong?” she cried out as she saw him
rush over to the wastebasket.
The crumpled wads of newsprint were aflame in the
basket, sending glowing bits of paper floating lazily
to the carpet at her feet.
J. Edgar Hoover Building
Six months later
Monday, 4:40 p.m.
One minute, forty-five seconds from portal to portal.
Down the hall to the elevator, up three floors, then
twenty-three paces to the A.D.’s office door. How
many trips did it take to start earning frequent-ass-
chewing miles? And what did it say about him that he
had this level of detail in his head?
“Mulder? If you go in there with that look on your
face, you’ll guarantee us an extra ten minutes on the
The picture that popped into his head had nothing to
do with their boss’s floor covering. Visions of a
recent Saturday afternoon in front of Scully’s
fireplace and a well-earned complement of rug burns
put a grin on his face. “Nothing like a few extra
minutes on the carpet with the one you love.”
The elevator doors opened onto a small crowd of their
fellow agents, cutting off her snappy comeback, but
Mulder saw the smile before she turned her face away.
Kimberly looked up and smiled as they entered. “He’s
waiting for you. Go right in.”
Scully and Mulder exchanged glances. Kimberly’s
greeting was generally a pretty fair indication of
her boss’s mood. Whatever he’d called them up here
for, it wasn’t something he’d been ranting about to
his assistant. That could mean that the report Mulder
had turned in Friday afternoon, the one Scully had
been so concerned about, had made it past the first
Mulder leaned down and put his lips close to his
partner’s ear. “You owe me a buck.” He gave her an I-
told-you-so wink and turned to Skinner’s door,
pushing it open as he knocked.
“Come in, agents.” Skinner glanced up quickly, then
returned his attention to the folder in front of him.
Mulder tried to assess the A.D.’s mood. ‘Awkward’ was
as close as he could come, and his burst of optimism
took a sudden downturn. Scully apparently felt it,
too, judging by the look she gave him as they took
The man wasted no time getting to the point. “I’ll be
accompanying you on this next case. Let’s just get
that out of the way so we can move on.” He folded his
hands and looked directly at Mulder.
His statement was greeted with stunned silence.
Mulder was actually at a loss for words. His partner
“Sir, may I ask why?”
Skinner pinched the bridge of his nose with two
fingers, then readjusted his glasses and refolded his
hands. “Expenditure validation was, I believe, the
term that was used. What it boils down to is that
your creative record-keeping has finally surpassed my
tap dancing ability.” He turned his focus to Mulder.
“It was either agree to accompany you on the next
case personally, or allow your favorite bean counter
to go in my place. Which would you have preferred?”
Mulder found his voice. “And what is this supposed to
accomplish? Teach us not to have that second snifter
of brandy after dinner? What the hell do they think
we’re doing out there?” He was leaning forward, both
hands clenched around the arms of his chair.
Scully touched his arm. “Mulder–”
“We already have our names in the roach motel hall of
fame. I’ve replaced three cell phones out of my own
pocket this year alone, not to mention the suits that
haven’t survived their first trip into the field. I
know I don’t need to tell you of all people that what
we do is a little outside the norm. So, what’s this
really about? Another lame–”
Skinner held up one hand and Mulder stopped. “It’s a
formality. Let’s not read anymore into it. I’ll
verify that your expenses are valid, and that will be
the end of it.” He opened the case file and pulled
out a stack of photographs. “A postal employee in
Clifford Heights, Illinois is recovering from burns
suffered when his backpack caught–”
Mulder heard Skinner stop in mid-sentence, but his
focus was elsewhere. The silent debate he was engaged
in with his partner required his full attention.
Scully’s eyes flashed a parting shot and she turned
to face their boss. “Yes, sir?”
“If I could have your full attention?” The corner of
his mouth was twitching in what, on anyone else,
Mulder would have seen as a smirk.
“Yes, sir.” They answered in unison, and this time
the smirk almost got away from Skinner, but the stern
mask quickly returned.
“The victim was burned over sixty percent of his
body by what at first appeared to be a letter bomb.
He insists that his entire pack burst into flame as
he was leaving the last house on his route. Not just
the contents, the canvas bag as well.”
Scully reached for the photographs and began to leaf
through the stack. “Why couldn’t it still have been a
letter bomb of some kind?” She leaned to her right
and held the photographs so Mulder could see them.
“I can see why this would fall under Federal
jurisdiction, but why assign it to us? What makes it
an X file?” That was usually Scully’s line. He saw
her glance up at him, stifling the same smirk he’d
seen on Skinner a moment ago.
“The victim claims that the letters in his hand
ignited at the same time.”
Mulder looked up. “Spontaneous combustion with two
separate points of origin?”
“The initial forensic evidence would seem to bear him
out. There’s also the fact that the house he was
leaving when the incident occurred has had four
unexplained fires in the six months since the new
owners moved in. The only common factor in all of
these incidents, including the attack on the postal
employee, appears to be the owners’ thirteen-year-old
daughter, who seems to have been present each time.”
That got his attention. “Has the girl ever shown any
telekinetic ability before this?”
Scully dropped the photographs in her lap. “Who said
anything about telekinesis?”
“At the moment, it’s as plausible an explanation as
any. Unless you prefer spontaneous combustion?”
“Mulder, the evidence is inconclusive. That does not
automatically open the door to something paranormal.”
Skinner cleared his throat, and both agents turned to
face him. “We leave for Chicago tomorrow morning.
Clifford Heights is an hour’s drive south. I’ll pick
Scully up at 6:30. Mulder, we’ll be by for you at
Scully stood up and handed the photos back to him.
Mulder remained in his chair.
“Was there something you wanted to say, Agent
“Sir, will this trip answer any questions regarding
the… legitimacy of our budget, or–”
“Or will I be tagging along on future assignments?”
Skinner’s jaw tightened, and Mulder could swear there
was another smirk in there somewhere. “Not if I can
help it.” He closed the folder and held it out to
Mulder. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
Scully opened the door and turned to wait for her
partner. Mulder tucked the folder under his arm and
followed her out, closing the door behind him.
The Brooks Household
Monday, 4:54 p.m.
Kara sat in the center of her bed, waggling her
number two pencil between her fingers. If she moved
her hand up and down at just the right speed, the
stiff yellow piece of wood and graphite would begin
to look rubbery. After about five minutes of zoning
out on the “flaccid” pencil, she finally dropped it
onto her open textbook. It bounced once, then settled
into the crack between the pages.
Word problems. It wasn’t that she disliked Math. It
was just that the problems never seemed to relate to
anything useful. She stared at the open page which
displayed a color photo of an Amtrak train zooming
across the great plains somewhere in America. It was
always a train, wasn’t it? Who cared if two trains
raced from New York to Boston? If anyone really
wanted to get somewhere sooner, they should have
taken an earlier train.
She sighed heavily and noticed a smell just on the
farthest edges of her perception. It was not quite
sweet, and it carried a hint of garlic and herbs
along with it. Mmm… food. Her tummy reacted with an
elongated creaking sound. She glanced down at her
assignment: five more problems to go. Kara wondered
if she had time to finish those before…
“Kara, dear, would you be able to take a break and
set the table for me?” Bonnie called from downstairs.
“Be right down!” she groaned, loathing the choice
between pointless story problems and chores. She
didn’t like her options.
It was nice, though, to be able to reclaim the role
of “daughter” again. At least she was no longer the
one juggling both homework and cooking until her
father came home from work. Bonnie seemed to be
getting into the Holly Homemaker thing. “Let’s see
how long it takes her to get tired of it,” Kara
As she hopped off the last step and rounded the
corner into the kitchen, Kara was hit with the full
olfactory onslaught of Bonnie’s experimentations. She
gasped at the hanging sting of onion acid in the air.
She had to smirk as she let her mind return for the
briefest moment to her homework upstairs. If Bonnie
were to use three more vegetables and two more cubes
of tofu in her “Bonnie’s Special Veggie Surprise”,
how much more time would I have to spend in the
bathroom from all the fiber intake?
“What’s that, K?” Bonnie asked. Kara hadn’t realized
she was muttering under her breath.
“Oh, smells great, Bonnie. Um, what did you want me
to do first?”
Her stepmother turned from the sink, wet hands
cupping a dripping mound of soaked beans. She blew a
stray clump of curly brown hair from her forehead and
pointed her chin in the direction of the hutch. “Why
don’t you start by setting the table? I think we’ll
eat in the kitchen tonight.”
Kara strolled over to the china closet and found her
Dad’s Aztec-patterned dinnerware, the ones he had
bought especially for his weird culinary excursions.
When he was feeling brave, he used to invite Bonnie
over to try out Emeril’s “hot dish of the week.” The
plates were his special guest-ware, because he wanted
the “perfect canvas” to present his masterpiece. They
seemed fitting, seeing as how Bonnie was in an
She grabbed three plates, some napkins and
silverware, then carried everything over to the
Bonnie glanced over her shoulder as she piled the
beans onto a bed of green leaf lettuce. “Oh, no,
dear, use the everyday Corelle dishes. This is
nothing fancy we have to bother over.”
Kara bit back an urge to argue. Did she want her to
help or not? What difference did it make which dishes
they used? She held the plates a moment longer,
feeling a little defiant, almost setting the table
her way anyway. Instead, she pursed her lips and
said, “Fine,” and carried the Aztec guest-ware back
where she found it.
It was a funny thing, Kara realized. They had never
used the everyday plates before the wedding. Since
Bonnie had been living with them and had settled
herself into their lives, it felt weirdly intimate —
like telling someone what kind of deodorant you use.
People weren’t supposed to know stuff like that. And
guests weren’t supposed to see the everyday dishes.
Now Bonnie was telling her, in her own house, to use
them… just like it was any normal weekday evening –
– nothing special. She wasn’t sure, but when Kara
thought about it, she almost enjoyed that idea.
She found the white Corelle plates in the cabinet
next to the refrigerator, and was about to pull one
down, when her finger snagged on a rough spot, right
on the edge of the plate. She jerked her hand back
from the sharp pinch, pulling down the plate in the
process. It crashed to the floor and seemed to
explode in a hundred pieces all over the linoleum.
Bonnie gasped, and Kara flinched, expecting the usual
barrage of anger thrown in her direction. Instead,
her step-mom rushed over to her; agitated, yes, but
more concerned than anything. “Kara, are you all
right? Let me see.”
She presented her cut finger like a little girl. She
half expected Bonnie to kiss it, the way she was
“I’ll be right back with a Band-Aid and some
antiseptic. Run it under some water to clean it out.”
Kara did as she was told, a little shaken just from
the noise of the crashing plate. She noticed one of
the larger pieces of debris — the one that actually
had the chip that cut her. She remembered that
accident as well. She’d been washing the dishes for
her *real* mom, helping her because she *wanted* to.
The little bump against the porcelain sink had
sounded like she broke the whole plate. Her mother
instantly began yelling at her for her clumsiness.
Kara knew she’d had a bad day at the doctor’s. That
was the reason she was helping. She tried to remind
herself while her mother unloaded on her that it was
the stress talking, but she’d finished the chore in
And now, the plate had actually broken but Bonnie was
showing nothing but concern for her, like her mom
used to before she’d gotten so sick. Before Kara had
had to grow up too early and become the caregiver.
Her stepmother returned and nursed her wound. “You
OK? You know, it can happen to anyone. Let’s clean
this up before your father gets home.”
Bonnie grabbed a dustpan and they were both sweeping
up the tiny pieces when a whiff of something foul-
smelling wafted past their noses.
“My tofu!” Bonnie yelled in distress, and dropped the
dustpan, scattering the pieces again.
At the same moment, Kara heard the front door open
and her father called into the house, “I’m back!” As
she bent down toward the mess on the floor, she heard
him walk through the dining room.
“Whew! I must have just saved this! Funny, nothing
seems to be burned…” Bonnie mused, but got cut off
by a very angry sounding man.
“What the hell!”
Suddenly a flurry of motion swept through the
kitchen. Kara vaguely processed the image of her
father diving across the kitchen for the fire
extinguisher and flying back into the dining room.
Bonnie followed after him, and Kara heard her scream.
A smoky smell filled the air, and it definitely
wasn’t Bonnie’s bad cooking.
Kara felt dread sink into the pit of her stomach, for
she knew it was happening again. She slowly got up
and inched around the corner of the doorway to peer
into the dining room. White foam splattered the
floral wallpaper and covered a smoldering rectangular
object on the wall. Her father put down the red tank
and wiped at the wall, revealing a singed wooden
frame, and a very charred, slightly melted image
behind the cracked glass.
She knew that photograph well: her father in a brand
new blue suit, his hands resting on the shoulders of
his two “best girls.” One wore her white chiffon gown
and held a large bouquet of daisies. The other in her
first formal gown, powder blue with short sleeves.
Kara loved that dress.
She could see the image of his and Bonnie’s wedding
day with her eyes closed, which was the *only* way
she’d ever be able to see it now, for it was forever
stained with burn marks from the flames that her
father had just extinguished.
He turned toward her slowly. “Kara, I don’t know what
you’re trying to do here, but it’s got to stop now!”
“Kevin, she was with me the whole– ” Bonnie stopped
in mid-sentence. She glanced quickly at her
stepdaughter. Kara could see her processing the
information behind saddened eyes. She hadn’t been
with her the whole time. So, she was taking her
Kevin Brooks slapped his hand against his thigh in
frustration, wiping sticky foam over his suit-pants.
“Her bedroom, the videotapes. . . now this?”
Kara was jolted by the anger in his voice. She opened
her mouth once, then ran upstairs, slammed the door
shut, and flung herself onto the bed.
“It wasn’t me…” she whimpered into her pillow. She
stared blurry-eyed at her mother’s picture. “Momma, I
wish you were still here.”
Monday, 10:35 p.m.
Mulder was attempting to stuff another pair of black
socks into the already straining-at-the-seams side
pocket of his two-suiter while juggling the phone
between his right shoulder and ear.
“I’m telling you, Scully, he made this whole thing
up,” he said with as much conviction as he could
muster while grunting at the uncooperative footwear.
“Why, Mulder? Why on earth would the man make up a
story like that? Besides, you know as well as I do
that Accounting has been on the warpath lately. I’m
surprised we haven’t been brought before the OPR on
some of your expense reports! So how can you say
Skinner is making this up? Do you think he’s just
bored behind that desk and wants to come out and
“I think he suspects something. I think he’s on to
There, it was out in the open. Mulder could
practically *feel* the little frown line forming
between her eyebrows.
“So why not just come out and ask?” she countered.
“Why all the game playing?”
“Because he wants to be sure,” Mulder shot back. At
that precise moment, the socks slipped into the
pocket and he was able to zip it shut. Another sign
that he was right about their boss and his sudden
interest in what went on out in the field. At least
to Mulder it was.
“I just think you’re being . . .”
“If you say ‘paranoid’ that’s TWO back rubs you owe
me,” he interjected before she could finish her
“I was going to say ‘overly concerned’,” she replied
“Same thing. Two back rubs. Payable upon demand.”
“Sure, fine, whatever.” Her voice had the quality
that came from being strained through gritted teeth.
“I still think you’re making too much of this.”
“Then explain to me why I’m sleeping on my couch,
without my favorite ‘blanket’ and that same ‘blanket’
is going to be across town, sleeping in her awfully
big and cold bed tonight?”
“Because our boss is picking me up at 6:30 and you at
7:00,” she reminded him.
“I could have been out before he got there,” he shot
Her snort was most unladylike. “Mulder, you have
never managed to wake up before 7:30 any time we’ve
“Face it, Scully. You’re thinking the same thing.
Skinner is going to be watching us like a hawk. We
have to be very careful.”
She sighed, and he knew she was about to change the
subject to something he wouldn’t like. “It’s fire,
Mulder,” she said quietly.
A shiver went down his spine. “I know.” He couldn’t
have said more if he’d tried.
“Are you OK with this? I mean, with Skinner there and
“I managed to get Thor out of that building, Scully,”
he reminded her. It still caused a little pang in his
heart to think of the huge, loveable mutt, even if he
couldn’t recall all of their time together. Maybe
some memories were better left buried.
“When you found Thor, the fire was out, Mulder. This
time the fires seem to be ongoing. And spontaneous.
We won’t have any warning. I just don’t like the
thought of you–”
“If you’re there, I’ll be fine,” he said with more
confidence than he felt.
“I’ll be there, but Skinner will be, too. And he’ll
“See! You do think he’s up to something! You just
don’t want to admit it,” Mulder taunted.
“Whether he’s ‘up to something’ or not, we have to be
very careful. We’ve managed to keep this from him so
far, and I want it to stay that way.”
“I know, Scully. I know. I’ll promise to be on my
best behavior. I mean, how bad can it be? It’s not
like I have to room with the guy.”
She chuckled lightly into the phone. “He’d be asking
for another room the minute you started to snore,”
“I do not snore!” he exclaimed, putting on his best
‘I’m offended’ voice.
“Yeah. Must be that other guy I sleep with,” she
“Scully, keep this up and I’m coming over…” They
both knew he was only half kidding.
“Sweet dreams, G-man. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Back at ya. Hey, and Scully?”
“If I do have to room with Skinner, would you shoot
me? I usually get private rooms in the hospital.”
“Good night, Mulder.”
404 Millbrook Lane
Clifford Heights, IL
Tuesday, 12:20 p.m.
There were certain privileges that came with being an
Assistant Director in the FBI, Mulder knew. A big
office, a polished oak desk, a personal assistant
who could be summoned with the flick an intercom
And it apparently also included the power to
commandeer the front seat of a car and take over the
Sometimes protocol sucked, Mulder mused to himself
from his assigned spot in the back seat.
“Scully will be my navigator, Mulder,” Skinner had
announced. “It’s a documented fact that you couldn’t
navigate your way out of a paper bag.”
Squished into the tiny space behind his boss, long
legs alternately slung into the space behind Scully
and then back to his own side where his size-13 feet
were jammed underneath the seat in front. (It would
seem that being an Assistant Director didn’t extend
to having enough influence to obtain a bigger rental
car.) Mulder had even toyed with the idea of sticking
his toes up so they would form a hard lump underneath
his boss’s rear end, but he’d opted instead for the
more constructive activity of flipping through the
case file to familiarize himself with the police and
fire reports before they arrived at the Brooks’
Telekenisis. Mulder’s skin positively tingled with
the thought of pursuing such a possibility. It was
only the fact that Skinner was tagging along like a
bad impersonation of someone’s kid brother that had
thrown cold water on his excitement. Well, that and
the obvious problems inherent whenever Mulder and
fire came into close proximity. But he’d been okay
with that, knowing Scully would be at his side. *His*
Currently ensconced in the Brooks living room, Mulder
glared silently at his boss.
It should have been him sitting beside Scully during
the long drive from Chicago, not Skinner. Just as it
should be him now, leaning back in the two-seater
couch, ankle crossed over knee and elbow brushing
against Scully’s as he conducted the interview. Not
Skinner! A.D. Skinner, the observer. Mr. “Its-just-a-
If eyeballs were bullets, Skinner would be a dead
Mulder forcibly reined in his hostility. No use
dwelling on what couldn’t be helped. Maybe if he just
ignored Skinner, pretended he wasn’t there, he might
be able to handle this unwanted invasion of his
investigative privacy without resorting to violence.
Sighing quietly to himself, Mulder sat up straight in
the chair and pulled a notebook and pen from his
They had dispensed with the formalities earlier and
been led into a very comfortable living room
furnished in the American version of an English
country house: elegant dark oak tables, faux open
beam ceilings and floral print overstuffed furniture.
A large bowl of potpourri waged a futile battle to
hide the lingering smell of smoke and burnt timber
that hung in the air.
No matter how hard he tried not to stare, Mulder’s
gaze kept returning to the blackened hole in the wall
beside the dining room table. The affected area
looked as if an acetylene torch had been held against
it until the wallboard turned to charcoal. He
wondered what could have ignited that would allow the
damage to be so contained.
When Scully started to speak, Mulder turned his
attention back to the two people sitting diagonally
across from him. A man and woman who held their
bodies too rigid, whose strained expressions told him
that they would rather be doing anything else other
than sitting here talking to the FBI.
“Mr. Brooks, as my partner explained when we arrived,
we’re here investigating an incident that nearly
killed an employee of the U.S. Postal Service in your
front yard. Do you recall the incident?”
Kevin Brooks huffed a humorless laugh, “It’s not
something we’re likely to forget in a hurry. But as I
told the police, Bonnie and I were in the kitchen. We
had just sat down to lunch, so we really didn’t see
anything.” He leaned over and laid a reassuring hand
on his wife’s arm.
“Do you normally come home from work to eat lunch?”
Mulder asked, keeping his expression bland and non-
“I work from home. My office is out back.”
“What do you do, Mr. Brooks?”
“I’m an electrical engineer.”
Mulder nodded thoughtfully, leaned back in his chair
and made a note in his book.
Scully picked up on Mulder’s cue and resumed her line
of questioning. “Did either of you hear anything?”
“Of course. The man was screaming for help not twenty
feet from our front door,” Kevin answered testily.
“What did you do?”
Kevin shrugged, “We went to see what the hell was
going on. When I opened the front door and saw that
man rolling on the ground with his clothes in flames,
I yelled out to Bonnie to call 911.”
“Did you do anything to help the victim?”
“I grabbed a blanket off the back of the couch and
tried to smother the flames.” Kevin’s brown eyes lost
focus, his expression dark and serious as his
thoughts seemed to turn inward, perhaps reliving the
horror of watching a man burning to death in front of
“Mr. Brooks, where was your daughter at the time of
the incident?” Mulder asked.
Kevin Brooks snapped back to the present as if he had
been doused in icy water.
“What?” He couldn’t have sounded more outraged if
they’d asked him to consider selling his daughter
into the white slave trade.
“We have eye witness testimony that puts your
daughter at the scene just before the postal worker’s
bag ignited,” Mulder said, holding the man’s angry
“What the hell has that got to do with anything? Just
what are you implying?”
Scully gave Mulder a look that told him she wondered
where he was going with this. When it became obvious
that he wasn’t going to answer the man’s question,
she said, “We’re interviewing all witnesses, Mr.
Brooks. We are not implying anything about your
daughter. If she is able to help…”
“Leave her out of this!” Kevin snapped.
Mulder saw Bonnie take her husband’s hand and entwine
her fingers with his, rubbing soothing circles over
the knuckles with her other hand. Scully was
watching, too, he noted. It was the same gesture she
often used to comfort him, and Mulder could see the
shared memories in her eyes. How at the end of the
day they would lay in each others arms, safe and
protected for a few short hours from a world that
sometimes felt as if all that existed in it were
unimaginable horrors. Mulder knew that his partner
wasn’t conscious of the angry look she was shooting
in Skinner’s direction. If it wasn’t for him, they
would be sharing a bed tonight as usual. She was as
upset about this as he was.
“Kara didn’t see anything. The police have already
questioned her. They’ve questioned us. *We* didn’t
see anything. I don’t understand why you’re here.
What do you want from us?” Bonnie turned pleading
eyes to her husband.
Mulder studied the couple for a second, trying to
make sense of the defensive stance they were taking.
He wondered what his boss was making of this and
glanced quickly at Skinner. He tried to gauge the
expression on his boss’s face, but the A.D. was
giving no indication of what was going on in his
Scully spoke up again, her voice calm and soothing.
“Mrs. Brooks, we are simply trying to get to the
bottom of this. A man is in the hospital with burns
over sixty percent of his body. We need to find out
what caused this, and to do that we have to talk to
anyone who might have seen what happened.”
Breathing deeply, Bonnie Brooks nodded and gave
Kevin’s hand a gentle squeeze.
“I believe you’ve been the victims of several house
fires yourselves over the past few months.” Mulder
said, uncrossing his legs and leaning forward.
“Who told you that?” Kevin asked, slipping his hand
out from his wife’s grip and folding both arms across
Scully flipped through her note pad, the pages
rustling loudly in the still room. “We have four
reports from the fire department documenting their
attendance at four separate fires here. The police
report also says that neighbors mentioned several
smaller outbreaks around the home. What do you think
is causing them, Mr. Brooks?”
Mulder didn’t miss the way Kevin dug his fingers into
the flesh of his upper arms, a small muscle twitching
along his jaw line. Nor did he miss the flash of fear
that sparked for just a second in Bonnie’s eyes.
“Mr. Brooks, can you think of anyone who might hold a
grudge against you, or your wife and daughter?” This
Mulder had wondered when it would become too much for
Skinner to remain the silent observer.
“A grudge? You think someone is doing this
deliberately?” Kevin’s hostility receded a little,
genuine surprise coloring his words.
“It’s a possibility we need to consider,” Scully
“What about your line of work?” Skinner asked, “Any
disgruntled clients, bad debts?”
One field trip in how many months and suddenly he
thinks he’s Magnum, PI. The A.D. was really starting
to get under Mulder’s skin. Not content to simply
take over the car, the driving, and his partner, now
the man was muscling in on his investigation. There’s
gotta be a way of ditching him, Mulder thought as he
stared daggers at his boss.
“No. No unhappy customers and no bad debtors.”
“Any problems with the neighbors?” Mulder asked,
determined to reel this investigation back into his
“None. Mostly, we all keep to ourselves. We say hey
every now and then, and we talk about the weather,
but that’s about it.”
“Can you think of anyone that might want to hurt you,
Mrs. Brooks?” Scully asked.
“No, nobody. We’ve never had anything like this
happen before, it’s only since we moved here. The
first fire got started on the day we moved in. There
hadn’t been time to make enemies.”
“Is there a history of this happening with the
previous owners?” Scully asked.
“I wouldn’t think so. The house wasn’t in great shape
when we bought it, but there was no sign of fire
damage. We’ve pulled up carpets and put new ones
down, and painted the house inside and out. I’m sure
we would have seen *something*,” Bonnie answered.
Mulder scribbled in his notebook, then looked up and
asked, “How has your daughter settled into her new
neighborhood? Is there any possibility that these
fires might be directed at her?”
“Of course not. She’s thirteen, for God’s sake, what
the hell kind of a question is that?” Kevin’s eyes
burned and his nostrils flared as his anger started
to climb again.
Ignoring Kevin’s outburst, Mulder pressed on. “Any
problems at school? How are her grades?”
Kevin ran a hand over his face, sighing loudly before
answering. “Kara is a good kid. An ‘A’ student. When
her mother passed away nearly two years ago it was
really hard on her…”
“I…I’m sorry. Mrs. Brooks,” Mulder turned to
Bonnie, “you’re not Kara’s mother?”
Kevin answered for his wife, taking one of her hands
in both of his before doing so, “Bonnie and I married
seven months ago. When Lisa, Kara’s mom, died of
breast cancer, Kara took it pretty hard. It wasn’t
easy for either of us, but we got through it.
Together. Kara took on the role of homemaker. It
seemed to help her cope.” Kevin shook his head and
chuffed a soft laugh. “She would always make sure
there was a meal on the table at night, that I had
clean clothes to wear…she’s a good kid, Agent
Mulder. I can’t for the life of me imagine her making
“How did she react to you marrying again?”
“Kev, let me answer that.” Bonnie smiled at her
husband. “When Kev and I first started dating, I
could detect a note of resentment from her. But as
time went on and she realized I was in for the long
haul, she started to relax. We got along fine, we
*do* get along fine. I try to be there for her, and I
think she appreciates having another woman in the
house to talk to. I don’t try to take the place of
her mom; I couldn’t be what Lisa was to her, I know
that. We take one day at a time, and I really think
she is starting to accept me as part of the family.”
Scully asked, “Mr. Brooks, would you agree with
A slight hesitation, a quick lick of his lips, an
almost imperceptible twitch of his eyebrow, but
Mulder noted them all. “Kara likes Bonnie. We don’t
have anything to worry about there.”
“How do you account for the fact that Kara has been
the only one present at all the fires that have
broken out around your house?” Mulder asked, deciding
a change of tack was in order.
But before either of the Brooks could answer, there
was a soft popping sound followed by a hiss and a
crackle. A bright orange light ignited in Mulder’s
“Oh my God!” Scully and Skinner raced to where Mulder
was sitting. The A.D. began stamping his foot on the
flames as the small notebook Mulder had been holding
lay burning on the floor.
“Shit!” Mulder jumped to his feet, too, but his focus
was on his arm, frantically batting the flames
licking at the sleeve of his jacket.
“Here!” Bonnie helped Scully wrap a throw blanket
around Mulder’s hand and arm, effectively smothering
“Get me some water, hurry.” Scully said to Bonnie,
not bothering with the niceties of “please and thank
“Mulder, sit down.” But Mulder had other ideas. He
stood, hunched over his injured left hand, cradling
it in his right and cursing softly.
“Sit, Mulder. Let me take a look.” A bucket appeared
at Scully’s side. She took it and carefully lowered
Mulder’s hand into the cool water over his hisses of
Mulder sat on the edge of the chair, right forearm
leaning on his knee and left hand submerged in the
bucket between his legs. His whole body felt as if
all its nerve endings were centered around his
burnt hand. It both throbbed and stung, intense heat
resonating from fingertips to wrist. The pain sent
his stomach into nauseous spasms.
“Agent Scully, is there anything I can do?” Skinner
was crouched beside her, eyebrows pulled into a tight
frown, voice strained with concern.
“Yes, help me remove his watch. Be careful of any
clothing that might be stuck to the skin. Don’t pull
on it if it is.”
Skinner gently pried Mulder’s watch loose, stifling a
gasp as a small strip of skin came away with it.
“Should I call 911?” Kevin Brooks asked, a slight
tremble to his voice.
“NO! No. It’s okay.” Mulder said, eyes darting
between Kevin and Scully.
But it was obvious he was anything but okay. His face
was pale, the features drawn and pinched, and his
lips were pressed so tightly together they almost
appeared bloodless. Scully reached up and pressed two
fingers to the pulse point in Mulder’s neck, frowning
at what she found.
“We need to get him to the Emergency Room.” Then
turning to the Brooks, who were helplessly looking
on, “Where’s the nearest hospital?”
“It’s Clifford County Medical Center. I’ll draw you a
map.” Kevin Brooks hurried off to find a pencil and
paper, obviously glad to have something constructive
“Bonnie, could you get me a clean sheet? An old one
will do. I need you to wet it with cold water. And I
need some ice in a plastic bag.”
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” Bonnie’s apology followed
her out of the room as she left to find the sheet and
Scully turned back to Mulder, her expression deeply
concerned. He sat hunched forward in the chair, head
now propped on his right hand, teeth biting into the
fleshy area under his thumb.
Ignoring the fact that their boss was squatting right
beside her, Scully reached up and cupped Mulder’s
jaw. Gently stroking his cheek with her index finger.
“How are you holding up, partner?”
“‘m ‘kay.” But he couldn’t help a low groan as the
intense pain in his hand drove all pretense of being
“fine” right out of his head. “I think I need to get
out of here, Scully. I don’t feel so good.” Mulder
swallowed thickly as his stomach gave him a not-so-
gentle reminder that it wasn’t doing too well either.
“Here you go, Agent Scully.” Bonnie Brooks handed her
the wet sheet and a bag of ice.
Carefully, Scully pulled Mulder’s hand from the
bucket of water and wrapped it lightly in the cool,
wet sheet, wincing at the red, blistered skin
covering his fingers, palm and wrist. She laid the
bag of ice across the sheet.
Scully turned to Skinner, “Sir, can you help me get
him to the car?”
Skinner hooked his left arm under Mulder’s right and
helped him to his feet, stumbling slightly when
Mulder’s knees seemed to give a little. “Easy,
Mulder. I’ve got you.”
Scully supported his left arm, making sure the wet
sheet and ice didn’t slip and that his hand was
elevated above his heart.
“I’ll get the door.” Kevin went ahead of them, making
sure the path was clear.
Back in the living room, Bonnie stood alone. Arms
hugging her chest as she watched the three FBI agents
leave her home. Her eyes strayed to the ruined
notebook lying on the floor, reduced to nothing more
than a small pile of ash. She scanned the dining
room, eyes coming to rest on the blackened wall where
their wedding photo had hung. She thought of the
various other fires that had broken out around the
house during the past six months. “God, why is this
happening?” She pleaded quietly to herself.
Footsteps thundered down the stairs. A stifled sob,
then a blur of red and blue clothing whizzed through
the dining room and disappeared into the kitchen.
“Kara?” Bonnie called after her stepdaughter, but the
only answer she received was the creak of hinges and
the sound of the back door slamming shut.
Skinner had helped get Mulder out to the car, then
had stood back and watched while Scully helped her
partner situate himself in the front seat. He had
sensed their awkwardness; her need to touch him was
as obvious as his need to be touched. This was the
first opportunity they’d had to hold on to one
another legitimately in front of him. Helluv an
excuse, he thought to himself. The careful distance
the two of them continued to maintain in his presence
only reinforced his recent decision to have a talk
with them about their…situation.
After his agents drove off, the A.D. turned and
started to walk back to the house. A flash of color
drew his attention to a tree behind the house. There
was a tree house near the top, and he realized that
he’d just seen someone moving around in it.
Skinner moved to the large oak and called upward.
“Hello? Who’s up there?” He wasn’t surprised by the
lack of a response, but the idea of having to climb
up the somewhat rickety-looking ladder didn’t sit
well with him either.
“Kara? Is that you?” Once again, silence prevailed,
and Skinner played his trump card. “Kara, I know that
it’s you up there. If I have to, I’ll climb up to
speak with you, but I don’t know if your ladder is
going to hold me. So how about making it easy on the
old guy and come down here so we can chat?” He waited
a moment and added, “Honey, I just want to talk to
The small, almost mousy-looking child peered out from
the treetop framework, and appeared to be debating
what to do next. Finally, as if deciding to face the
inevitable, she backed out of the doorway and climbed
down the ladder.
“Thank you, Kara, for coming down to speak with me.”
She remained mute, standing with her head down. “Do
you have any idea what’s going on?”
She shook her head without saying a word.
“Kara, I bet it’s pretty scary to have to move to a
new neighborhood after living all those years in your
old one. Probably a little frightening to have to
start a new school, too, I guess.” He waited for a
response, a small reaction at the very least, but got
“Kara, I have to ask you– what’s going on? How come
there’s been all of these fires lately?”
At this the child looked up, and her eyes searched
his. Finally, she said, in a small, almost weary
voice, “I don’t know. I don’t know how they start or
“Is it possible, Kara, that you– ”
She cut him off immediately. “–No! I haven’t done
anything! It’s not my fault! It’s not– Oh, no!”
The young teenager’s eyes widened; fear evident all
over her face. Skinner’s eyes turned to what had
caught hers, and immediately jumped to his side as
heat and flames danced uncomfortably close to his
“Jesus!” he yelled out, but once he was a safe
distance from the fire, he quickly ascertained the
A damned rose bush just burst into flames, he thought
He moved quickly to look for something to put the
fire out, and noticed a garden hose that lay near the
foundation of the building. He squeezed the trigger
nozzle, and was relieved to see water spout out. He
pulled the hose along with him and sprayed the bush,
effectively putting the fire out almost as quickly as
it had started.
Skinner took a deep breath and allowed his heart rate
to return to normal. Damnedest thing, he thought. At
that moment it dawned on him that he was standing out
there alone. “Kara? Where are you?” He received no
answer. “Damnedest thing.”
He looked up and once again perceived movement, only
this time it was by the back door. “Kara?” he called
“Please don’t talk to my daughter without her
stepmother or me present, Mr. Skinner. You’ve upset
her greatly.” Kevin Brooks’ tone matched the stern
look on his face.
Skinner wondered, exactly when had Mr. Brooks
appeared at the back door?
Tuesday, 6:20 p.m.
After his aborted interview with the girl, Skinner
had attempted to get back on track with her father
and stepmother. The atmosphere had become decidedly
chilly and, although the Brooks grudgingly took him
through the house and described the fires they’d
experienced, it became abundantly clear that he had
worn out his welcome. He’d eventually decided that a
cooling off period was needed, and called a taxi to
take him back to wait for his agents. His cab pulled
up in front of the motel just in time to see Scully
kneeling next to the passenger side of the rental
car, talking softly with her partner. Skinner paid
his fare and moved quickly to join them. Scully
started to rise when she saw him, but he motioned for
her to stay where she was.
“You stay here and keep an eye on the patient,
Agent.” As he turned to go register their rooms, he
couldn’t help the small smile that found its way to
his face. This was not going to be easy on any of
them, he mused to himself, not easy at all.
“Hurts like hell, doesn’t it?” she asked, once
Skinner was out of earshot.
“You know, Scully, you’d make a helluv an FBI agent,
what with your astute powers of observation,” he
replied with obvious weariness. “I still can’t
believe this happened.”
“At least it’s not your right hand.”
“God, Scully, it really does hurt like hell. You sure
the doc said it wasn’t too serious?”
“Just have to watch for infection, that’s all. So as
soon as we get you settled, you’re going to take your
nice little pink pills and lay down and rest for a
while.” Her expression brooked no nonsense. “No
“Okay. Right now, the idea of a nap actually sounds
She murmured some sounds of sympathy but quieted as
she saw Skinner leave the front entrance of the
motel. “Well, now the fun really begins, doesn’t it?”
she mused aloud.
Skinner returned to the car and climbed into the
driver’s seat. He handed Scully a keycard, then put
the car into gear and drove them around the back. As
he pulled into the parking space, he remarked, “I got
us a first floor, Mulder. Scully, yours is the corner
“Corner?” asked Scully.
“Us?” piped up Mulder.
“Agents, I’m traveling with you so I can make
recommendations regarding cost-cutting measures on
your trips. Did you honestly think I was going to get
us three separate rooms? Besides,” he muttered,
almost as an afterthought, “I figured Mulder would
need a nursemaid to watch for a fever or something.”
Once Scully found her voice, she said, “Let’s get our
things inside,” and she got out of the car. Skinner
popped the trunk, and she hauled out her and Mulder’s
“I can carry my bag, Scully.” She handed it to him.
“Drop your things off and then come to my… our–”
Mulder hesitated and looked at his superior with a
hint of disbelief, and then continued “–room so we
can discuss Skinner’s findings.” He then turned to
his boss when he realized that he was essentially
giving the orders. “Um, assuming that’s okay with
“Mulder, this is still your case to run.” He gestured
to both of them. “I’m here as a third wheel, an
observer. But I do have something to discuss with you
regarding the Brooks family. I think it might be very
relevant to the investigation.”
“Very well, sir. I’ll be there momentarily.” Scully
then looked briefly at Mulder, and silently urged him
to “hang in there”. He nodded slightly in response,
and she left to drop her bag off and freshen up.
Mulder then followed Skinner to their room. He
wondered how in hell he was going to deal with being
roomies with his boss; it was certainly a far cry
from rooming with his partner. They entered the
small, somewhat antiquated room and dropped their
bags on their respective beds. Both men sighed at the
short length of the full-sized beds, resigned to the
necessity of keeping expenses in line for their
friends in Accounting.
Mulder tried to unzip his suit bag but was having
difficulty manipulating the zipper with only one
hand. As he became more and more frustrated with his
limitations, he began muttering under his breath.
“You got a problem, agent?” asked Skinner.
Mulder stopped momentarily and then looked at the
Assistant Director. He nodded and simply pointed to
his “problem”. Skinner nodded and quickly unzipped
the suit bag so Mulder could hang his extra suits up
in the closet. He then pulled out the underwear that
was at the bottom of the bag and placed them in a
drawer. The shaving kit bag was moved to the bathroom
“How’s the hand, Mulder?” asked Skinner.
“Throbs a bit,” he answered honestly.
“You scheduled to take anything for it yet?”
Mulder checked his watch and shook his head. “Got
another hour or so before I’m due, unfortunately.
Don’t worry; I’ll survive.”
Skinner shook his head slightly and muttered
something about “having enough practice at it” when
he heard a knock at the door. He walked over and let
Scully into the room.
“Sorry I took so long. I had to call the front desk.
Our lovely accommodations include my very own petting
zoo,” she said irritably.
“Petting zoo?” both men echoed.
“There was a mouse in the bathroom. She and her
family will be removed while they find me another
room. They’re checking to see what’s available,” she
“Hard to believe that they have to ‘check’ what’s
available in this rat trap…um, no pun intended,”
commented Skinner. Mulder and Scully both smiled at
the remark; even Skinner broke into something akin to
“Well, sir, why don’t you fill us in on your
information?” suggested Scully.
Skinner nodded. “Well, something rather odd happened
while you were at the ER,” he began, somewhat
hesitantly. He then filled them in on the incident,
doing his best not to color the facts with opinion.
The reaction was immediate.
“Are you all right, sir?” asked Scully, assuming her
“Yes, Scully, I’m fine.”
“Do you think the girl is somehow responsible?” she
“No,” replied Skinner quickly. “No, actually, I
don’t. She just looked too surprised for me to
believe that she actually had a hand in setting that
bush on fire.”
“But there’s precedent for just this type of
behavior, sir. Remember Cecil L’ively?” Scully began,
then noted Mulder’s slight shudder at the memory she
had just evoked. She touched his arm in gently. “I’m
“It’s okay, Scully. But to be honest, I don’t think
it’s the same thing.”
“Mulder, she’s got to be the one setting the fires.
She’s always present,” Scully insisted.
“No, Scully, I don’t think it’s her,” interjected
“The father. He’s an electrical engineer, people. And
he works at home. He very well may have a hand in
this. I’m not sure how, but the man’s background
suggests that he could have the expertise to rig up
some kind of incendiary device.”
“But why? I mean, I can understand a disturbed
teenager seeking the attention. She just lost her
mother and her father remarried, all within the last
two years. What possible reason could the father
“I suspect it goes back to the mother’s illness.
There would have been large medical bills to pay.
Since the man is self-employed, it’s possible that
his insurance was inadequate to meet all of those
“He’s doing it for the insurance?” she asked. “I
don’t know, sir. I find it hard to believe that the
man would go to the trouble of selling his old house,
buying a new one, and then constantly setting fire to
it. It seems to me that’s an awful lot of effort for
comparatively little return.”
“He most likely sold the old house to help pay off
the medical bills. Their former house was apparently
a real showcase, Scully.”
Mulder was observing the exchange silently, but with
“I’m reasonably certain that you have a theory, Agent
Mulder. Would you care to share it with us?” asked
Mulder looked a little surprised at being addressed
directly. “Sorry. To be honest, I don’t think it’s
either one of them.”
“Mulder? How can you say that?” asked Scully. “If
this isn’t a repeat of Cecil L’ively, I don’t know
“I don’t think you can discount the father as a
possible suspect either,” offered Skinner.
“I understand what you’re both saying, and I haven’t
rejected anyone at this point. It’s just that it
doesn’t add up when I put either of those two into
the equation,” explained Mulder.
“So? Who do you think it is? Surely not the mother?”
“Depends which one you mean, Scully.” Mulder watched
as two pairs of eyes rolled simultaneously, just as
he’d anticipated they would. “Let’s just wait and
see, okay?” he countered. “I think I’m ready for a
pain pill, and taking that catnap sounds like a
really good idea,” he announced with a yawn. The
trauma to his hand was catching up with him.
“I guess I should go see if they found me another
room… though I should really check your hand out to
make sure there’s no infection, Mulder.” She was
aiming for her cool, professional tone and not quite
“Why don’t *I* go and see if they’ve found you a room
Agent Scully? In the meantime, you can check
Mulder’s hand,” offered the AD.
“Oh, thank you, sir. That would make a lot of sense.
Thank you. Thank you very much,” she said, though she
realized it was probably one or two times too many.
Skinner looked at her with a curious expression,
shrugged his shoulders slightly, and left to go to
the front office. As soon as the door closed, Scully
immediately moved to Mulder’s side. “You know, this
is going to drive me crazy.”
“You? I’m the one who’s rooming with him, Scully.
Besides, you promised to shoot me if I had to room
with him, remember?” Mulder smiled and tried to
stifle a yawn, but he wasn’t successful.
“Doesn’t look like I’d be getting any tonight
anyway,” she said with a grin, but when she leaned in
to kiss him, she brushed against his injured hand.
“Damn,” he hissed.
“Oh, Mulder, I’m sorry. I’ll get you a pain pill.”
She rose, got the painkillers and some water. “Take a
nap. You’ll feel better when you wake up.” She
quickly planted a kiss upon his lips and was about to
get up when she felt herself grabbed and dragged down
on top of him.
“Mulder, your hand!”
“I’ve got my hand way over there, Scully,” he said,
indicating the protective posture he had assumed.
“And if Skinner walks in on us?”
“Well, then maybe he’ll realize we’d appreciate it if
he took the other room and left you in here with me,”
he retorted with a small chuckle.
“Oh, yeah. I’m sure that would be the first thing
Skinner would offer to do– after he drummed our
sorry asses out of the FBI, that is.”
“Well, at least I wouldn’t have to play ‘musical
roommates’ any longer,” proclaimed Mulder.
“Oh, stop whining and get some rest. If any one of
us is in the ballpark with respect to a possible
suspect, I have a feeling that means we’ll be paying
another visit to the Brooks’ home all too soon.”
The pale blue wall silhouetted Kara’s shadow as she
lay in bed, huddled under the multicolored afghan her
mother had made for her so long ago. It had been
knitted from all of the remnants of her past
projects, and it served as a reminder of all the
sweaters and blankets her mom made for her and her
dad. “Momma,” she murmured in her sleep. Tears ran
down the teenager’s cheeks as she dreamed of times
Gentle fingers tried to wipe away evidence of sadness
on the child’s face without waking her, but Kara woke
up with a start. “Who’s there?” Kara looked around,
but saw no one. She felt her heart race at the
possibilities, and sat up straight in her bed.
“Please, if anyone is here, answer me!” She paused
momentarily and then called out, “Bonnie?”
Suddenly, a gust of wind swept through the room
accompanied by a brilliant flash of light. “Who’s
there? Please, who’s there?” she pleaded with a
Kara felt a light probing touch on her face, the
tears that continued to fall seemingly absorbed by
something unseen. She thought she should feel afraid,
but the gentle touch was actually very soothing. Kara
closed her eyes and allowed herself to be washed in
the comfort of it, unlike anything she had
“Momma?” she whispered aloud.
Kara felt warmth pressing against her forehead…a
“Momma, I miss you so much. I want to be with you,
Momma. Please, take me with you.”
Kara felt a sudden chill and she cried out, “Don’t
leave me! I’ll stay here, but don’t leave me yet!”
The chill was instantly replaced by a sweet warmth,
as if loving arms were embracing her. Kara nuzzled
into that warmth and fell peacefully asleep.
Tuesday, 11:00 p.m.
“Agent, is that absolutely necessary?” Skinner lifted
his face from the pillow and waved in the general
direction of the television.
Mulder immediately muted the sound. “Sorry. It’s the
only way I can sleep. Do you want me to turn it off?”
Skinner rolled to his side and propped himself up on
one elbow. He gave Mulder a speculative look. “If you
can live without the sound, I can live with the
light.” He punched the pillow into shape, stretched
out on his stomach, and buried his face in the crook
of his arm. “Get some sleep.”
“Yes, sir.” Mulder settled back against the headboard
and tried, without much success, to find a position
for his hand that didn’t make it throb like a
toothache. As pathetic as it sounded, all he wanted
to do was sneak down to Scully’s room so she could
fuss over him. He pushed the thought away and
concentrated on the silent flickering screen.
An hour later, his erstwhile roommate was snoring
softly, and Mulder was ready to climb the walls. He
glanced balefully at the brown plastic bottle on the
nightstand. Childproof caps. He couldn’t get a pill
out if his life depended on it.
But Scully could open the bottle for him. What better
excuse for a trip down the hall? Except that it
wasn’t a hall, it was an outside walkway. And he
couldn’t get his shoes on without help, let alone tie
the laces. He considered the possibilities for all of
twenty seconds before climbing carefully out of bed.
He was almost to the door before he remembered the
pill bottle, and crept quietly back to get it. His
hand had just touched the doorknob for the second
time when Skinner’s voice froze him in his tracks.
“Where are you going?”
He felt like a teenager sneaking out of the house
after curfew. “I, um– I need some ice. For my hand.”
It was the best he could come up with on such short
Skinner sat up and squinted at him, then grabbed his
glasses from the nightstand and looked again. “You
won’t get much ice in that little bottle.”
When had the man developed this propensity for
smirking? It was beginning to get on his nerves. “Oh.
Right. Guess I was half asleep.” He headed for the
dresser and exchanged the pill bottle for the ice
“You’re going outside in your bare feet?”
While Mulder was casting around for a suitable
response, Skinner reached for his shoes and began
putting them on. “I’ll get it.”
“No, no– that’s not necessary, I’ll just–”
“Sit down, Mulder. I said I’ll get it.” And with
that, he took the ice bucket and was gone.
Skinner reappeared a few moments later with a full
load of ice. He put it down on the dresser, picked up
one of the unused pillows and stripped off the
pillowcase. “Can you take the bandages off yourself
or do you need some help?” He snagged the plastic
laundry bag from the closet and began to fill it with
“I’ll just hold the ice against it like this. It’ll
“You’ll get the bandages wet.”
For the next few minutes, Mulder sat in embarrassed
silence while his boss gently unwrapped his hand and
placed the makeshift ice pack against it.
“Do you want a pain pill?” Skinner jerked his head
toward the plastic bottle now on the dresser.
Ah, the damn bottle that started all this. “No, this
is fine. Really.” Oddly enough, the ice *was*
That earned him another speculative look. “If you
change your mind, wake me up. We’ll redo the bandage
in the morning.” He put his glasses back on the
nightstand and got back under the covers.
“Thank you, sir.” He was beginning to feel more than
a little ashamed of the dark thoughts he’d been
sending Skinner’s way all afternoon. “I’ll be fine.
Scully can put a new bandage on tomorrow.”
The A.D. raised his head and gave Mulder a look that
was once again too close to a smirk for comfort. “I’m
sure she can.” He rolled over with his back to his
‘patient’. “Good night, Mulder.”
“Good night, sir.” If he didn’t known better, he’d
have to wonder if the man might not be on to their
little secret. Yes, it was going to be an interesting
couple of days…
Wednesday, 8:40 a.m.
They were on their way back to Clifford County
Medical Center, this time to interview George
Bostleman, the injured mail carrier. The man’s
physician had refused their request to see him
yesterday, citing traumatic shock. The police
interview had done enough damage, he’d said. The
F.B.I. would have to wait until Bostleman was
stronger. Otherwise, they would have been here
yesterday rather than in the Brooks’ living room
getting Mulder’s hand barbequed.
Breakfast had consisted of burned coffee and stale
bagels with a strangely reticent Skinner. He’d
insisted that they handle the interview without him,
claiming to have a number of phone calls to return.
Scully had found his behavior very puzzling until
Mulder shared last night’s events with her after they
got in the car.
“Mulder, are you out of your mind?” She gave him a
look that said she’d already answered her own
question. “What were you thinking?”
“Obviously, I *wasn’t*.”
The contrition in his voice was sincere, and she
turned back to him with a much softer expression. “I
wanted to see you, too, Mulder. But it was a foolish
risk. That’s why we need to make a new rule–” at his
knowing grin, she continued, “–and *stick* to it
this time. No fraternizing in the field.” She pulled
into a parking space and shut off the engine.
“But look at the money we could save by just getting
one room.” Mulder added his patented eyebrow waggle,
and wisely prepared to duck.
She shot him a look. “Let’s stick to business for the
remainder of this trip, shall we?” But her eyes were
Mr. Bostleman was sitting propped in his hospital
bed, his blistered face, and arms glistening with
ointment. His attention was focused on the
television, and he didn’t look at his visitors until
“Mr. Bostleman? I’m Special Agent Mulder with the
Federal Bureau of Investigation. This is my partner,
Special Agent Scully. We have a few questions, if you
feel up to it.”
“Oh, I’m up to it, all right. The cops in this town
seem to think I’m imagining things. I’m hoping for a
slightly more open mind from the Feds.”
Mulder glanced quickly at Scully . The corners of her
mouth twitched dangerously for an instant before
her cool, professional mask returned. “Yes, Mr.
Bostleman, I think you’ll find Agent Mulder in
particular to be quite open minded.” When she looked
back at Mulder, her eyes were positively dancing with
“Uh, yes, Mr. Bostleman. What is it that the police
think you’re imagining?” Mulder shot back a look that
he hoped would convey just how amusing he thought
this all was. Scully’s expression remained impassive,
but the merriment in her eyes actually kicked up a
“Well, to start with: they don’t believe there’s
anything unusual going on in that house. Hell, any
fool in town can tell you these new people are very
strange.” At the “any fool in town” comment, the
postman made a sweeping gesture and winced as the
movement stretched the burned skin. “Their neighbors
told me that there have been a half-dozen unexplained
fires since the Brooks moved in.”
Scully called him on that one. “Our information makes
it four fires, Mr. Bostleman, not six.”
“Four, six, what’s the difference? Besides, they
haven’t called the fire department every time, if
that’s where you’re getting your *information*.” He
almost sneered the last word.
Buddy, you do *not* want to get into a verbal
fencing match with this woman, Mulder thought. “So,
what is it that you think is causing the fires?”
The man turned his attention back to Mulder. “I think
these people are in deep financial difficulty and
they’re making it look like there’s a poltergeist or
something in the house. Setting little fires so that
when the big one finally *happens*, they won’t be
under suspicion. They got a pretty large insurance
windfall coming if they torch the place, but only if
no one suspects them of arson.”
“What makes you think the Brooks are in financial
trouble?” Mulder had been resting his hand in his
overcoat pocket, but hanging down like that was
making it throb again. He quickly tucked it into his
jacket in a Napoleonic pose.
“Hey, what happened to your hand? Was it *another*
fire?” He gave Scully a triumphant glance before
eyeing Mulder carefully. “Did you get that in the
Mulder ignored the question. “I asked why you think
the Brooks have money problems.”
Bostleman shrugged as much as his injuries permitted.
“It’s not hard to figure out when you deliver them a
mitt-full of bills every day of the week. And not
just bills, *past due* bills. Lots of them, from
two hospitals and a shitload of credit card
companies, not to mention three or four collection
agencies. My sister-in-law, Ruthie, works at the
Publix supermarket. Said Mrs. Brooks was in there a
few weeks ago trying to charge her groceries with a
Visa Gold card. Not only got declined, but the credit
card company made Ruthie take the card away from
“That doesn’t necessarily add up to arson.”
“No, ma’am, it doesn’t. But there’s just an… *aura*
around that house. I can feel it whenever I’m there.”
Predictably, Mulder jumped in. “An aura? Is this
something you see, or just a general feeling?”
Scully shot him a *don’t go there* look. “Mr.
Bostleman, can you tell us what happened when you
“Not much to tell. I dropped off their day’s crop of
bills and picked up a couple of outgoing pieces.
Before I made it ten feet from the mailbox, every
piece of mail I had on me went up in flames. I
dropped the pack and ran, but the letters in my hands
set my coat on fire. By the time I got it off and
rolled on the ground, everything above my waist
looked like this.” He raised his arms slowly and
gestured at his torso and face.
“Was there anything unusual about the mail you picked
up from the Brooks?”
“No, ma’am. Nothing out of the ordinary. Just a few
letter-size envelopes. No wires, no suspicious white
powder. Nothing. The daughter was at the door to get
the mail from me. She handed me the outgoing mail and
shut the door. Didn’t even come out when I started
screaming my head off.”
“This *feeling* you said you had about the house.”
Two pairs of eyes turned to Mulder. “Can you describe
Another careful shrug. “Creepy. Like someone’s
standing behind you but you can’t turn around fast
enough to catch them there.”
Scully nodded and wrote a few lines in her notepad.
“Thank you, Mr. Bostleman. That’s all the questions I
have for now.” She looked over at Mulder. “Agent
“Not at this time.” He placed a business card on
Bostleman’s tray table. “If you think of anything
else, call the number on the card.”
They were halfway out the door when Bostleman called
out, the strain of his injuries finally apparent in
his subdued voice. “I’ll give you the same advice I
gave the police: Believe me, don’t believe me–
that’s up to you. But watch yourself.” His burst of
adrenaline depleted, Bostleman closed his eyes and
sagged back against the pillows, asleep before his
visitors could respond.
Clifford Heights Police Station
Wednesday, 12:15 p.m.
Scully’s cell phone had rung as she and Mulder were
getting back into the car after their interview with
Mr. Bostleman. It was Skinner, wanting to rejoin the
party. He had made no progress trying to work from
his motel room and suggested they try the local
police department’s resources. The Chief of Police
had been more than accommodating, handing over his
own conference room, barely bigger than a supply
closet, but equipped with a fax machine and modem.
Scully glanced at her partner sitting next to her
when she heard the growl. Mulder’s famous stomach.
Better than an alarm clock when it came to
determining lunch time. But as she looked at his
unconcerned face, glasses perched on his nose, going
over the credit reports on Kevin Brooks, her ears
heard the sound again, coming from a different
direction. She looked across the small conference
room table and just caught the embarrassed look on
their boss’s face.
“Sorry,” Skinner mumbled.
Mulder was too engrossed to hear anything, but Scully
shot a quick look at the clock on the wall, noting it
was a quarter past 12. That made it an hour past
lunch to their East Coast appetites.
“Mulder, I think it’s time we feed the A.D.,” Scully
said calmly, but her eyes were sparkling with her
“Hmm?” came the reply for her partner. He still
hadn’t bothered to look up. From the moment they had
arrived at the police station, Mulder had been buried
in every scrap of paper he could find about the
Brooks family and the other fires. He’d been calling,
faxing and downloading local newspaper accounts for
over two hours and even her stomach was starting to
protest a lack of real food.
“I’m hungry. Let’s stop this and get some lunch,” she
said slowly, as if trying to talk her partner off a
He finally looked up, seemed confused that she’d
interrupted him. This time, he noticed when his
stomach made the now familiar sound.
“Let’s get some lunch,” he declared, as if he were
the first one to think of it.
“Great idea,” Skinner said dryly.
“Yeah, wish I’d thought of it,” Scully shot back,
smiling when her boss tried hard not to chuckle.
They walked out of the police station, which was
situated just off the main street of beautiful
downtown Clifford Heights, and headed for the car.
Mulder turned abruptly in the other direction.
“Where’s he . . .” Skinner started to ask, but Scully
was way ahead of him. She looked in the direction
Mulder was heading and groaned loudly.
“Mulder. No!” she cried out and ran after him,
catching up to him in just a few steps.
“Scully, it’s right here. We don’t have to drive;
we’ll be able to get back inside and get some work
done. We can even get the stuff to go and get back at
it,” he reasoned, not slowing his pace one bit.
“Mulder, I will not have greasy wrappers littering
the same table top I’m trying to write notes on,”
Scully shot back. Then she tried to touch his hand,
but remembered the bandages and let her arm drop to
her side. “Please. Can’t we try to find someplace–
“You rode through this one-horse town just like the
rest of us, Scully. There is no ‘anyplace else’ here.
Unless you want a stale sandwich from the same gas
station we got our stale bagels from this morning?”
By this time Skinner had caught up with them and even
figured out their destination. “Hey, look! They have
“And Two for Two fries,” Mulder pointed out
Scully looked for any chance of escape, but realized
she was doomed. “Sure, fine, whatever,” she sighed
and trod grudgingly toward Clifford Heights newest
eating establishment–a shiny new Burger King.
She watched in horror as Mulder ordered a Whopper and
two fries. Skinner ordered just one Whopper, but
added cheese. It appeared to be an unspoken agreement
between the two of them that they’d split the two
fries between them. It was her turn. “Grilled chicken
sandwich, no mayo, and a glass of water, please.”
The waitress, an older woman at least 70 if a day,
winked at her. “Keep that girlish figure, honey.
Their eyes start to wander before you know it.” The
older woman nodded in the direction of Mulder and
Skinner. “And you’re one lucky little lady with those
“Don’t I know it,” Scully said with less enthusiasm
than the comment would normally warrant.
By the time she sat down, after getting her water,
Mulder was struggling to figure out a way to pick up
his sandwich without the mayonnaise-slick tomato and
lettuce squirting out the bottom. He was just about
to get ketchup all over his bandage when she pulled
the sandwich away from him, dug her pocketknife out
of her purse, and cut the sandwich into more
manageable quarters. He smiled his thanks and went
back to eating.
“So, what have we got?” Skinner asked, breaking the
“This isn’t the first occurrence of unexplained fires
breaking out in Illinois,” Scully started, putting
her sandwich down and taking out her notebook.
“Alton, Illinois, late 1920s. A young girl’s family
was terrorized by unexplained fires that broke out
almost constantly. The girl was thirteen years old,
was emotionally disturbed by family accounts. When
she passed puberty, the fires stopped. No reason was
“I think I saw those movies,” Mulder said with a grin
as he popped a few more fries into his mouth.
“They’re heeeeere,” he mimicked.
Scully shot him a look. “We still don’t know all the
chemical changes a body goes through when it reaches
puberty, Mulder,” she chided. “I would think that was
the one explanation you’d jump at.”
“Close, Scully, but I really don’t think it’s like
the Alton case. In that case the girl had been
’emotionally disturbed’, as you put it, for years.
And the fires were usually small in nature, although
you are right; they were going on almost continually
during the year it happened. As a matter of fact, the
family started placing buckets of water every few
steps around the house to put them out as they broke
out. The fire department just threw up it’s hands
after a few months.”
“So why is this different?” Scully asked, sipping
from her water.
“It just doesn’t feel like it’s that easy,” Mulder
said with a shrug.
“I think I’m beginning to agree with you, Agent
Mulder,” Skinner said, with an almost surprised look
on his face.
“But sir, I thought you were going with the father
setting the arson fires, using his electrical skills
to set them off?” Scully turned to him with a raised
“How could he have started Mulder’s notebook on
fire?” Skinner countered. “That’s been bothering me
since it happened. Kevin Brooks had no access to that
notebook. It was in Mulder’s pocket or in his hands
the entire time, and the analysis of the remains
showed no sign of accelerant.”
“But why not think it’s Kara, as Scully just
explained?” Mulder asked, holding back a grin. C’mon,
Walt, you can do it, he mentally encouraged.
Skinner was quiet for a moment, thinking. Finally he
looked over at Mulder. “Her eyes. I looked at that
little girl when the rose bush caught fire and there
was fear in her eyes. She didn’t know what started
that fire, and she was afraid of it.”
“It could still be puberty,” Scully countered.
“Remember what it was like as a teenager. Your body
betraying you at every turn. You wake up one morning
and your face is broken out, your hair won’t comb
right, your feet are too big and you stumble a lot,
your legs are suddenly too long for your body . . .”
“I feel like that every morning, Scully,” Mulder
interjected. She rewarded him with a smirk. “I think
you’re on to something, sir. I don’t think it was
“Then who?” Scully asked, sitting back and crossing
her arms, ready to duke it out, if necessary.
“Kara’s mom,” Mulder said, wiping some ketchup off
his tie one-handed.
“Bonnie?” Scully asked, her forehead knotted in
“No, Lisa. Kara’s natural mother.”
“Back from the dead?” Scully asked with a smirk.
“Not everyone has all the loose threads tied up when
they die, Scully. We’ve seen this before, at an Air
Force Base not that far from here.”
“Mulder, that was a murder victim. And I’m still not
entirely convinced that the ghost of Rebecca Barnes
helped solve that case. Besides, there is no murder
here. Lisa Brooks died of cancer.”
“Maybe she still has issues,” Mulder said with a
Skinner looked from one agent to the other. “Well, I
think until we have some way to prove that, we better
get back to checking out the evidence we can prove,”
he said, picking up his tray and carrying it to the
“What? No dessert?” Mulder whined, but picked up his
tray and followed suit.
The Brooks Household
Wednesday, 6:05 p.m.
“I really love this arrangement you made today in
school, K.,” Bonnie commented as she admired the pine
needle and orchid centerpiece.
Kara shook a colander full of fresh string beans
above the sink, and shut off the faucet. She tore off
two paper towels, brought everything over to the
table and sat next to her stepmother.
“Thanks. It was a Japanese flower-arrangement
workshop. We have workshops like that all week before
this weekend’s ‘International Picnic.'” The two began
taking string beans one by one from the colander,
snapping the ends off onto the paper towels and
tossing the results into a glass bowl.
“So what kind of food should we bring to the picnic?”
Bonnie asked, trying to jump-start a new project with
her stepdaughter. Perhaps taking more of an interest
in her social activities would bring them closer.
“Don’t want a hibachi,” the girl said with some
solemnity weighing her voice down.
“No fires, that’s for sure,” Bonnie said warily. “We
don’t want to have to bring buckets of water with us.
Unless you want to show off with a wet t-shirt
The girl gasped and blushed bright red. “You! You,
wouldn’t…” then she saw that Bonnie’s face was beet
red as well, trying to hold back her giggles. The two
of them broke out into a laughing fit instantly. “I
have… nothing to show… for it anyway,” Kara
continued between deep breaths and laughter.
“Oh, you’ll get there,” Bonnie encouraged in a more
serious tone. “Don’t worry, you’re perfectly normal,
K. I didn’t start ‘blooming’ until I was seventeen.”
They resumed snapping the string beans, giggles
breaking out every so often.
“So, really, Kara. What should we bring for the
picnic? A new recipe?”
“Actually, we had to sign up for a country to
contribute to. There will be several tables there in
the field, something like food-stands for different
“Did you choose Germany, for your Dad’s origin?”
“Well, that’s not very international…”
“No, but our family right now is from the US. I mean,
you, me and Dad,” she mumbled quietly, a little
embarrassed at revealing such a personal feeling
toward Bonnie. She really didn’t do that too often.
When she looked up from her pile of green pointy ends
she saw that Bonnie still had some tears from the
laughing fits, making her eyes glassy. Wait a
minute… that wasn’t the laughing doing that.
“That’s really nice to hear, Kara. I think it’s a
Kara responded with a wide grin, and grabbed another
handful of beans.
Bonnie cleared her throat and shook her curly locks
slightly before she changed the subject back. “So,
you have anything in mind? We’re committed to
bringing something now, since you had to sign up.”
“I figured we could make something that reminds me of
home. Momma used to make this spicy fried chicken.”
Bonnie shifted slightly in her seat. “Is that
healthy?” she said, a little strained.
“C’mon, how often do we go to a picnic? Besides, we
always used to have that at big family events. I’m
sure Dad still has the recipe,” Kara prodded.
The older woman nodded her head.
It was quiet for a while as they finished up the
vegetables. Kara could feel a little creeping
sensation up her spine. There was suddenly some kind
of tension in the air. Had she said the wrong thing
by praising Momma’s recipe? But it was true; she did
feel like Bonnie was family. Even with all the
longing she had felt for her mother popping up here
and there. She couldn’t forget her, and she would
never stop loving her, but Bonnie really cared for
her, too. And she really liked the feeling of having
a mom again, in the flesh.
She thought back to that moment in her room when her
momma’s kiss and hug felt so real. She was so sure it
wasn’t a dream. But how could she tell? Dreams felt
real sometimes, and it did happen in her room, while
she was falling asleep.
It really wasn’t a choice she was making. She just
needed someone to talk to. Bonnie was taking that
role for her now. She had to tell her how she felt.
And the tension felt as if it were growing thicker
with every second she let pass by.
“Bonnie?” Kara gently began. Her stepmother looked up
at her, waiting for her to continue. “Do you think
it’s okay to call you something else? I mean,
‘Bonnie’ sounds like I’m talking to a friend, which
“I am your friend, K,” Bonnie responded, and put down
the last of her string beans to cover Kara’s hand.
“Yes, but…” Kara fought to keep her emotions in
check. “You’ve really, um, gone out of your way to
take care of me and… it’s not like I want to forget
her… EVER… but…” Bonnie’s grasp loosened a
little. Kara continued, “…I used to call her
‘Momma.’ I was thinking, maybe, if it’s okay with
you, that I could call you ‘Ma.’ You know, something
a little shorter.”
“Oh, Kara, of course you may!” Bonnie got up from her
seat and embraced her stepdaughter tightly. They both
held onto each other that way for a while. It was
comforting, it was warm and nice…
…And it was ruined when the orchid centerpiece on
the table suddenly burst into flame! Bonnie pushed
Kara away from the table and grabbed one of the fire
extinguishers they now kept in strategic places all
over the house.
The flames ate at the stems of the flowers, making
them seem to melt. Kara panicked as her mind began to
replay all of the fires she had seen in the last
months. It was like a slide show, flashing before her
eyes. So many of them… and all of them trying to
burn out symbols of the new life she and her father,
and now Bonnie, all shared together.
The tension in the room seemed to double. Kara was a
little surprised. She’d gone through so many
spontaneous fires lately that she was almost numb to
them. Sure, the initial shock was intense, but it
felt like there was something else — a lingering
spirit about the room…
Kara raced up to her room and slammed the door, the
sound of Bonnie calling after her muffled behind the
wood panel. She sat on her bed and waited. And
Anger and distress and sadness were building up
inside her — a jumble of emotions as she waited for
that presence to appear. And it did, but very
cautiously, like it was standing in the corner,
“Momma.” the girl said with a quavering voice.
“Momma, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I still love you!
Please, Momma, let us be a family. I still love–”
her words cracked in her throat, tears inched down
Brooks Household, Kitchen
Wednesday, 6:28 p.m.
Bonnie unwrapped another disposable sponge and filled
the cleaning bucket with water. Dealing with the
foamy mess of a newly-extinguished fire had become
She began by removing the remains of Kara’s Japanese
centerpiece, now nothing more than a melted plastic
pot with some sticks jutting out from the burnt foam
As she started to wipe the mess off the table, she
heard the front door close. Kevin was home. She could
hear him pause in the entrance hall and curse under
his breath. He recognized the smell that accompanied
another combustible outbreak, as they all had learned
to do. Next she heard the keys in the glass bowl,
then the heavy, exhausted footsteps through the
dining room. She continued her work.
“I can’t believe this,” he grumbled in frustration.
“She’s doing it for attention, you know. That’s got
to be it!” His voice became louder as he went on.
“Kevin, just stop it!” Bonnie snapped, splashing the
soaked sponge into the cloudy water.
“I don’t know what to do anymore, Bonnie! I’ve been a
good father to her! This is just revenge for the fact
that we moved away. I have no other ideas!”
“Well, you can start by talking instead of yelling!”
“I AM NOT YELL – – ” Kevin gritted his teeth, then
lowered his voice. “One of these days someone is
going to get killed. There’s only one thing left to
do.” He went over to the wall-mounted phone in the
kitchen and began dialing.
“Who are you calling?”
“The FBI agents.”
“Kevin, your own daughter!?”
“She has to be stopped! I can’t do anything anymore.
She just won’t–”
A shrieking scream cut through their argument. It
stopped Kevin’s heart. He let the receiver drop and
it swung by its cord as the two parents raced to the
An orange glow filled the staircase and smoke hid the
ceiling from view, as if a bad storm were brewing
inside the house. It was, and the heat of the storm
was centered around Kara’s bedroom door. Kevin pulled
the sleeve of his sweater around his fist and banged
on the door.
“Kara, open the door, baby! Kara, we have to get you
out of there!”
All they could hear was Kara hiccupping and sobbing
inside. Every few seconds a high-pitched squeal would
escape. Kevin banged on the door harder with
increasing urgency, but it was no use. The strength
of the door was otherworldly, and he could do nothing
to save his baby girl.
He coughed and shouted in frustration. Bonnie pulled
at his arm to get him downstairs, away from the
“We have to call for help or she’ll die in there!”
“No! I have to save her! I’m her father!”
“And now, I’m her mother. I’m calling for help.” She
left his side and ran down the stairs, covering her
mouth against the thickening smoke as she went.
When she got downstairs, the phone was still dangling
from its cord, and she heard a faint voice calling
from the receiver.
“Mr. and Mrs. Brooks? Kara? Hello? Can anyone hear
me? Hello. . .?”
Bonnie grabbed the phone, “Hello?”
“Mrs. Brooks, thank God!”
“Agent Scully, please hurry, there’s a fire! Bigger
than before and we can’t get to Kara! She’s trapped!”
“We’re already on our way.”
Bonnie hung up the phone. It probably wouldn’t matter
in a few minutes. She stumbled over to the staircase
again, crouching below the growing clouds of smoke.
She called up the stairs, into the obscurity, “Kevin!
We have to try from the outside! The agents are on
It took a moment before her husband’s heavy footsteps
tramped down the stairs. He sought her hand and they
rushed out to the front yard together.
Wednesday, 6:40 p.m.
Clifford Heights wasn’t a particularly large town, so
the three agents arrived at the house in record time,
even managing to beat the volunteer fire department
to the scene. Skinner pulled haphazardly to the curb
and jumped out of the car.
Mulder had to reach awkwardly across his body with
his right hand in order to open the passenger door,
so Scully climbed quickly out of the front seat to
help him. Both agents then made a dash for the
Brooks’ front door.
Skinner was banging his fist urgently against the
wood. Just as Mulder and Scully joined him, Bonnie
Brooks opened the door, crying hysterically.
“She’s in her room. We can’t get her out! We can’t
get her out!”
“Where the hell is the fire department?” asked
“We called; they said they’d get here as soon as they
could. Another emergency across town… Oh, God! Help
me, get her out, please!” she cried.
“Do you have a ladder?” Skinner had grabbed Bonnie
gently but firmly by the shoulders, speaking intently
into her face.
“We can’t get her out!” she cried again, oblivious to
the A.D.’s question.
“Mrs. Brooks! A ladder– do you have a ladder?” He
shook her slightly and her eyes snapped into focus.
“Ladder? Yes, yes, out back.” She brushed by Skinner
and rushed out to the backyard, pointing frantically
at the rickety treehouse ladder. “This is all we
have. Will it do?”
Skinner gave the ladder a swift appraisal and hoisted
it over his head. “Show me Kara’s window!” Whether
the thing would support him or not was a question
that would be answered soon enough.
Bonnie pointed to a window on the side of the house,
and Skinner sprinted for it with the panicked woman
right on his heels.
Meanwhile, Mulder and Scully had dashed into the
house, where they immediately heard Kevin Brooks’
screams coming from the second floor.
Scully spotted a fire extinguisher on the coffee
table to her left and grabbed it before heading up
the stairs with Mulder right behind her.
“Kara! Kara, please, sweetheart, open the door!
Daddy’s not angry! Please, just open the door!” They
found Kevin Brooks screaming desperately toward
Kara’s door as the flames danced around it, blocking
his path. Scully pointed the extinguisher nozzle and
sprayed the foamy white substance along the floor and
at the door, emptying the container in moments. The
fire raged on unabated.
“Is the door stuck? Is that why she’s not coming
out?” Scully shouted above the roar of the flames.
“I don’t know! A few minutes ago I was able to get
over to it, but I couldn’t turn the handle. It felt
like it was jammed or maybe locked. I don’t know! But
now I can’t get near it because the whole damn
hallway is on fire!” he cried out in frustration.
Brooks turned back towards the door and pleaded with
his daughter. “Kara, please, open the door!”
Scully turned to ask Mulder where the hell the fire
department was, but he was nowhere in sight. “Mulder!
Where are you?”
Their situation was all too similar to the L’ively
case, and she wondered for an instant if Mulder was
reliving the fear he’d felt that night. She could
only imagine what he must be feeling.
Then suddenly he reappeared, awkwardly hauling a
wastebasket filled with water that spilled over the
lip with every step. “Move away, Scully. Let me try
this.” His grip was precarious, trying to spare his
injured hand, but he managed to toss the contents
toward the bedroom door.
Miraculously, it made a path large enough for him to
pass through, which he quickly did before Scully or
Brooks could react. He pushed against the door once
with little success and then, bracing himself, plowed
his way through on the second try.
He was momentarily relieved to find the room filled
with smoke but free of flames, until he tried to take
a breath to call for the child and the acrid fumes
seared his throat. He choked and immediately got down
on his knees, balancing on his right hand. It was
impossible to crawl and cover his mouth at the same
time, so he opted for forward movement and tried to
take shallow breaths.
“Kara? Kara, it’s okay. Where are you?” Mulder called
out, trying to keep his voice as gentle as possible.
The smoke was overwhelming and blinding. He had to
find the child quickly, or they’d both be dead in
Images of the hotel fire years ago flashed through
his mind as he crept through the choking darkness. He
hadn’t made it to the children that time, though the
arsonist had. And this was far worse than that night
“Kara, please, say something so I can figure out
where you are!” he called out again.
“Here,” she whimpered.
“Again, Kara. Where are you?”
“Here. I’m over here,” she cried out a little more
loudly, then began to cough helplessly.
Mulder crawled toward the sound of the child’s voice,
eyes streaming from the smoke. He could hear Scully
calling frantically from the hall, but he couldn’t
draw in enough air to make his voice carry that far.
He crawled around the end of the bed and bumped
directly into the girl crouched low on the floor.
“Kara! Grab onto my coat and stay low. We’re going to
get out of here. Do you know where the window is?” He
peered through the thick smoke, searching for the
“I think it’s that way, but I can’t see!” She pointed
over his shoulder.
Mulder could now hear sirens in the distance but the
sound of shattering glass was even more welcomed, as
was the resulting draft, which made it easier to
breathe, but not to see.
“Kara! Kara, are you in there?” It was Skinner’s
voice, and Mulder crawled toward it, dragging Kara
“Sir! I’ve got her. We’re coming!”
Within a few feet, Mulder’s hand encountered broken
glass from the window and he turned to Kara. “Stand
up, Kara. We’re here.” They came slowly to their feet
and Mulder reached toward the draft with his right
hand. He stepped forward and felt a strong hand grasp
“Okay, Kara, time to get you out of here,” Mulder
said to the child. “Here she is, sir.”
Skinner reached in and lifted the child up over the
small, jagged pieces of glass that remained in the
window frame. He began the slow descent, using one
hand to hold onto the ladder, and the other to
support Kara as she followed him down the ladder.
Mulder looked at the ladder and tried to figure out
how the hell he was going to manage this. His hand
was throbbing again, and he knew he’d need the
support of both his hands to get himself safely onto
the ladder. Once he got to the point where he could
start descending, he’d be okay. It was maneuvering
himself out of the window that gave him cause to
“Well, here goes nothing,” he muttered to himself. He
pushed one leg out the window and began to turn. “Oh,
damn!” he cried out. He’d grabbed onto the ledge of
the window with both hands for support, and the pain
shot through the injured hand from the impact. At
that point he realized the damn thing was going to
hurt no matter what he did, so he gritted his teeth
and forced himself out the window and onto the
ladder. Once outside, he managed to descend without a
Once Mulder reached the ground, he turned to find the
area surrounded by volunteer firemen and a squad car.
Bonnie was standing, holding her stepdaughter, while
Kevin was speaking with a member of the local PD.
Skinner stood nearby as Kevin answered the questions
posed by the cop. Scully saw Mulder and rushed toward
“Are you okay?” she asked anxiously.
“Yeah,” he replied and immediately began coughing
“Oh, yeah. You’re fine.” She gathered him in her arms
and began gently leading him toward the rescue
One of the EMTs met them and sat Mulder on the bed of
his rig. He placed an oxygen mask over Mulder’s face
and instructed him to take deep breaths. He felt
better almost immediately and tried to remove the
“Oh no you don’t, Mulder. Leave it on for a few
minutes, or you will find yourself making yet another
trip to the emergency room,” admonished Scully.
He nodded in response and then, rather than attempt
to speak through the mask, merely pointed toward the
“Kara’s fine, Mulder, though she’s obviously upset.
But physically, she’s fine.”
Just as Scully gave Mulder her assessment of the
situation, as if on cue, Kara screamed loudly, “No,
please, let me go!” She twisted out of Bonnie’s
embrace and ran directly into the house, leaving her
stepmother frozen with shock.
Almost instantly the flames that had mere seconds ago
threatened to engulf the structure simply winked out,
leaving only puffs of smoke wafting from the doors
and windows. The firemen stared open-mouthed. A fire
that extinguished itself was completely impossible.
And so they stared.
Bonnie recovered almost immediately and ran after the
teenager. Kevin and Skinner both tried to stop her,
but Bonnie would have none of it. She escaped their
grasps and ran into the house. As she entered the
front door, she heard Kara coming down the stairs.
“I’m sorry. I had to get it.”
“Get what, sweetheart?”
“My momma’s picture. I couldn’t leave it up there. I
had to get it.” She paused and looked around her, as
if just now realizing where she was. “Jeez…pretty
stupid of me, huh?” she asked breathlessly.
“No. Not stupid, Kara. Maybe a little impulsive, but
not stupid.” Bonnie reached out, and Kara tentatively
placed the silver-framed photo into her stepmother’s
hand. Bonnie used the hem of her tee-shirt to
carefully wipe the frame, polishing it to its former
“It looks none the worse for the wear, does it?”
Bonnie asked as she handed it back to the teenager.
Kara agreed, and fingered the frame with tenderness.
“Maybe we should get ourselves back outside into the
fresh air. It’s a bit of a mess in here, isn’t it?”
Kara looked around her again, nodded, but then said,
“But it’ll be okay, won’t it Bonnie? We’ll be able to
come back and live here, right?”
Bonnie’s expression couldn’t hide the surprise at
hearing her stepdaughter’s words. “You want to come
back here?” she asked incredulously.
“Yeah. I like it here, Ma,” she replied shyly.
“I don’t understand…with all of this craziness
going on…” She hesitated.
“It wasn’t me; it was my momma. She was the one that
wasn’t sure. She was the one who thought I’d
forgotten her. But she does understand now. It’s
okay. She knows I really do love her, and that you
and Dad are both okay with that.” Kara finally
managed a small smile.
“Oh, Kara, it really is, you know. Neither your dad
nor I would ever want you to forget about her.”
Bonnie reached over to embrace Kara. “And you’re
right, kiddo, for a place that was up in flames just
a little while ago, it doesn’t look like it’s in too
bad shape. I think with a lot of elbow grease, this
place is going to become our home again.” The two of
them walked out the front door arm in arm.
Thursday, 9:12 a.m.
“Is this everything?” Scully dropped a stack of
shirts onto the bed next to Mulder’s open suitcase.
“Scully, you don’t have to do this. I can–” Then he
proceeded to prove otherwise by dropping the shaving
kit he had been balancing on his one good hand.
She flashed him an indulgent smile. “So I see. Would
you rather have Skinner pack for you?” Mulder winced
at the prospect, and Scully nodded in agreement.
“That’s what I thought.”
He retrieved the shaving kit from the floor and
placed it on the bed. “First aid in the middle of the
night and tying my shoes for me was weird enough. I
drew the line at zipping my pants, although he did
Scully’s expression was priceless. Then she began to
giggle, which never failed to get Mulder going right
along with her. They were soon holding each other up,
tears running down faces crinkled with mirth.
They hadn’t even heard the door open. Skinner was
back from checking them out of the motel. He stood
just inside the door with his hand on the knob,
seemingly frozen by the vision before him. The solemn
X-Files division, dissolving into mild hysterics.
They straightened up immediately.
“Yes, sir.” Scully found her voice first. “I was just
helping Mulder pack.” She sidestepped so he could see
the suitcase and clothing on the bed, then turned
back to complete her task.
Mulder busied himself with opening drawers and closet
doors, checking for anything left behind. Skinner
watched from the door.
“I can finish that for you, Agent Scully. Don’t you
have to pack your own things?”
Mulder wasn’t sure he could maintain a straight face,
so he carefully avoided meeting Scully’s eyes. She
shook her head, apparently feeling the same urge to
snicker that was tickling his own throat.
“It’s no trouble. I’ll just be another minute.” She
literally stuffed the last items into the case and
zipped it shut, with a little assistance from
Mulder’s good hand. “There.”
She seemed to be avoiding eye contact with Skinner,
too. “I’ll meet you at the car.” She nearly ran from
the room, leaving Mulder struggling to keep his
Skinner stepped quickly out of the way to let her
pass. When she was out of earshot, he turned back to
Mulder. “I don’t suppose there’s any point in asking
what that was all about?”
Mulder could feel the flush in his face. “It was…
we were just–”
His boss held up one hand and shook his head. “That’s
okay. I’m sorry I asked,” but there was a glint of
amusement in his eyes.
In desperate need of a diversion, Mulder gestured
toward the pile of sooty gabardine in the corner. “I
don’t think this is quite what accounting had in mind
when they sent you out here, sir. I would have only
wrecked *one* suit.”
Skinner gave him a rueful smile. “They wanted me to
‘validate the expenditures’. I think I’ve done that.”
His expression sobered. “Mulder, is this the way it
always is? Leaving a case with so many questions
“You don’t buy my theory?”
“That the fires were caused by Kara Brooks’ dead
mother? That there won’t be any more now because Kara
has convinced a ghost that she’s still loved? I guess
I’d have to say that I don’t accept that as the most
Mulder smiled. “You sound just like someone else I
“I’ll take that as a compliment.” He picked up his
own packed suitcase and grabbed Mulder’s from the
“Sir, you don’t have to do that. I–”
“At ease, agent. You can get the door.” He shouldered
his way past Mulder and headed for the door. “And you
can write the expense report for this trip.”
“Two suits and a toasted notebook? Piece o’ cake.”