Walk Like a Man

cover

TITLE: Walk Like a Man

AUTHOR: Windsinger (aka Sue Esty)

E-MAIL ADDRESS: Windsinger@aol.com

DISTRIBUTION: IMTP for the first two weeks, then Ephemeral,

And Gossamer. All others, please contact the

author.

SPOILER WARNING: Fire, Fearful Symmetry, The End, CC season 7,

previous VS8 and VS9 universe.

RATING: PG-13

CLASSIFICATION: X-File, A, MSR

SUMMARY: A side trip to report on a fire in the FBI field office

brings Scully face to face with an old ‘boyfriend’ and Mulder

makes a couple of new friends of his own. Mulder and Scully are

soon hip deep in arson, riverboat gambling, prostitution, dog

hair, revenge, and death.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

PROLOGUE

September 12, 1am

George Tienne, stared briefly into the small room. There was not

much to it but a bed. A single, red bulb burned. The old Korean

woman had been there and for the amount they paid her had done as

adequate a job of cleaning up after the night’s excesses as one

could expect. In any case they were as clean as they needed to

be. This wasn’t the Hyatt after all, the man thought with a

sardonic smile. He headed for the narrow stairs.

Leaving the stairwell, he first locked the flimsy door behind him

and then turned to face the vast, shadowy cavern that was the

warehouse floor. As usual, he felt a twinge of primitive

apprehension. All that dark. Not ‘as usual’, he heard a growl.

Confused, Tienne stared in the direction of the sound and spied

three points of light, all roughly knee high, glowing from one of

the deeper shadows. Pulling a small flashlight from the pocket of

his silk suit, he pointed its wavering, feeble beam towards the

three sparks. He need not have bothered. The spots moved forward

until the figure was full in the dim light of the cavernous

space.

With a sigh, Tienne flicked off the beam and slipped the light

back into his pocket even as his heart rate slowly dropped back

to normal. “What a bad boy you are,” he said with nearly his

normal voice. “And what’s that you got there? A cigarette? A lit

cigarette? Who would ‘ave believed it.” For there was a lit

cigarette butt contrasting with the dark head and white teeth.

There were also no more growls, just an almost comical grin, until the

head lowered over a pool of what looked like water on the floor.

The slightest puff and the tip of the butt reddened and a flicker

fell to the floor. By the whoosh of flame the fluid had been

anything but water.

With an oath that was more alarm than fear, Tienne spun on the

toes of his expensive Italian shoes to run, to find a fire

extinguisher, to call the fire department. No, not the fire

department. But before he could decide what to do something heavy

and black streaked forward to latch onto the sleeve of his suit

coat.

“What do you think yer doin’! You crazy?”

Even as he cried out the flames found fresh tinder in the piles

of dust-dry packing material stacked everywhere about the

warehouse. The flames were man-size now and racing hungrily across

the floor.

In the man’s terror, he stripped off his coat, but the demon’s

teeth only took a new hold, this time into the flesh of the man’s

arm. There it hung, a dead weight that would not be dispelled.

Human screams were drowned in the fire’s roar as the flames

joyously swirled higher and higher around them both.

~~~~~~~~

ACT I:

September 13, 3pm

She should have parked farther away, Dana Scully thought as she

completed the distance between the Mississippi Visitor’s Center

and where she had parked their rental car. Easing back behind the

wheel, she was pleased to see that her companion in the

passenger’s seat slept on. She didn’t see how. Even with the seat

pushed back as far as it would go, he looked uncomfortable with

his arms and legs all in a jumble. She took a moment to examine

his face. At least in sleep the lines of strain were less. He

didn’t seem to be dreaming either, another reason to give thanks.

As quietly as possible, she turned the key in the ignition. The

motor chugged to life, not as smoothly as she would have wished.

In response Mulder turned, stretched, or tried to, and reversed

the drooping slouch so he was sitting more or less upright.

Groggily, he blinked the sleep from his eyes.

“Sorry to wake you, but since you’re up anyway do you need to

make a pit stop?”

With an effort he squinted against the glare, towards the cluster

of rest stop buildings that looked exactly like so many others

all over the country. He probably didn’t even remember what state

they were in. Not enough sleep, not nearly enough.

“Where are we? We must be close if you’re doing the bladder

thing.”

She jabbed him lightly in the shoulder.

“Ow!” He clutched at the affected area as if he were actually

injured. The broad smile took ten years off that face.

“So I don’t like to appear on the scene and immediately start

looking for a bathroom. Do you need to go or not?”

He waved her on. “I’m fine. I’m not the one who had two cups of

coffee at lunch.”

“You’re not the one who has to be able to function once we get

there.”

The grin faded. She shouldn’t have said that.

“Trying to tell me that the Energizer bunny is not what he used

to be? That I know.”

Sulking, he slid back down onto his backbone, knees almost to his

chin. Scully found her exit and headed towards town. She would

have liked to cheer him up but had learned long ago that she

might as well save her breath. Her talking about his moodiness

only made him moodier. He’d come out of it. His mind was too

active, too starved for input, to run in circles for long. If you

want a sensitive man in your life, it was the price you paid. For

this particular sensitive man, she’d sell her soul.

“Where’s Skinner again?” he asked.

She had told him before, but he must not have been paying

attention or he would have remembered. “Paris. Some Marine unit

reunion.”

“Paris? His unit served in Vietnam.”

“You’d hold a reunion in a malaria-invested swamp?”

“Why not? Can’t beat it for atmosphere. I just hope he gets back

soon. Having Kersh hand out the homework assignments makes me

nervous.”

“Skinner will be back Monday. I know that you don’t see eye to

eye with Kersh –”

“Aim lower. The man hates my guts. He looks at me like I was

something the dog just rolled in.”

Scully resisted giving her partner a sisterly pat on the head. In

his present mood he wouldn’t find the gesture either comforting

or humorous. She settled for, “He just doesn’t know the real

you.”

“That’s fortunate.”

“Skinner would probably have assigned us here anyway. We were in

Arkansas.”

A “hrump” from the passenger seat indicated that Mulder clearly

believed it unlikely.

He had a point. Skinner always had had an amazing ability to read

between the lines of their well-laundered case reports. He was

also a pro at reading body language or, in this case, of reading

voices over the phone.

Returning to his subject, Mulder grumbled, “Kersh must have gone

into my records.” Hazel eyes stared morosely out the window.

“I’ll bet that he made notes on everything I hated and when

something came up that fit the bill — bingo!” His palms came

together in a loud smack that made her jump.

“You don’t have to go near the fire. It’s really my case. You’re

–”

“I know, just along for the ride. Useless…again.”

Ouch, Scully thought. Lookin’ bad.

“Mulder, I know that it’s primarily my assignment, but I’m still

grateful to have you along. And you know that I’ll be as quick as

I can. It shouldn’t take long. They called me in because I know

what should be stocked in district level laboratories. I set up

two during my internship. And look on the bright side…if the

fire was anything like what was described in the report they sent

us, then there won’t be much to salvage. It’ll be a total loss.

One night, maybe two and we’ll be home.”

The buildings of Vicksburg’s small downtown area appeared on

their right. Where the land dipped they’d find the river, the

mighty Mississippi that they’d already crossed earlier in the day

on their trip from Arkansas. Where the smoke curled high and

black and oily, they would find the fire. Almost at the same time

that the smoke came into view, Scully could smell it. Troubled,

she shot a look in Mulder’s direction. He hadn’t moved. He still

stared unblinking out the window though his jaw had tightened. He

had to have smelled it, too, and she thought that she saw him

swallow, not once but multiple times.

After that, she was forced to pay attention to the road. Somehow

even this place with its mild winters had managed to accumulate

its share of car-mangling potholes and they were not entering the

best part of town. Maybe not the worst either, but certainly the

oldest. Within blocks of leaving the interstate she was

navigating down a narrow street. On her left, tall warehouses

which must have stored cotton for decades even before the Civil

War, blocked her view of Old Muddy. On her right were mills just

as old. Huge, dirty, many-paneled windows looked out on the

street. The warehouses and mills were mostly empty now, decaying

and stocked with pallets of goods no one needed anymore. Oh, a

lucky few of the ancient behemoths were close enough to the good

part of town to make it worth someone’s time to renovate them

into trendy outlets, boutiques, sports clubs or apartments, but

she saw none of those here. One, however, had been leased and

cheaply renovated by a certain budget-poor and space-hungry

government agency.

Scully took a shallow turn where both road and river curved as

one, and all at once there it was. Squatting on an entire block,

black with soot and charred timber, it smoked under a low sky of

the same color. She was almost relieved to see that it was nearly

as dead as a building can get. Maybe what she had told Mulder

about seeing home soon would actually turn out to be true. She

would know soon, for at the far end of the dead mass she could

make out the distinct flashing lights in blue and red, white and

yellow. There must be two dozen emergency vehicles, though even

their brilliant colors found it hard going to cut through the

smoke-polluted air.

She drove slowly past the south end of the building. They built

well a hundred or so years ago. Even as damaged as it was,

even with its roof and most of its upper floors burned through,

much of the outer brick walls still stood. Ash-covered pools were

everywhere, however, evidence that the fire department had been

here and moved on, following or trying to get ahead of, the

inferno’s hungry advance. They hadn’t kept very far ahead, but

then buildings of seasoned wood and decades of accumulated dust

burn fast and hot. At the north end of the block, the fire

department was still cleaning up the last bits of orange flame.

From what Scully could see as she pulled up behind the yellow

police tape, there was a good deal less damage here than at the

southern end.

“Local relations must not be too bad,” Mulder’s voice announced,

the sudden break in his silence startling his partner. “The

Bureau’s offices may not be a total loss.” His head was inclined

towards a sign on an intact section of the old brick wall above

where two fire fighters conferred. A blue and white four-by-three

foot rectangle was miraculously untouched except for the streams

of dirty water running down its face — Federal Bureau of

Investigation, Central Mississippi Field Office.

“Sorry. Guess we won’t be going home as soon as we had hoped.”

“When have we ever gotten so lucky?”

Not that often.

For the next few minutes they watched the elaborate choreography

of fire fighters, trucks, ladders, and hoses dramatically framed

within the high arcs of water. All the while, the lights of the

emergency vehicles cut like colorful light sabers through the

murky haze.

And always there was the smell. It wasn’t the worst Scully had

ever run into, not by a long shot. Then again maybe that sense

had dulled in her over the years. It wouldn’t surprise her

considering the hours she spent among much more noxious odors. Or

did the smell bother her so little because she saw it as another

player in the drama that she found so immensely satisfying? The

thrill racing through her body at this moment reminded her of why

she had gotten into this. Law enforcement, fire and rescue,

emergency medicine. Helping when help was needed. This excitement

was why she had considered a nice, safe family practice for only

about a minute and a half during all her years of medical school.

She found that she longed to plunge in among all those lights and

hoses. She wouldn’t even mind the soot or getting her hair wet

from the spray.

But there was Mulder. She looked over her shoulder. He hadn’t

moved a step from his place beside the passenger door, which kept

the car’s body between him and the ruin of the building. Just

then the wind shifted and a cloud of oily smoke rolled down the

street towards them, temporarily obscuring the scene to an opaque

gray. Scully felt as if she were watching the last gasps of a

fallen monster whose bones, already blackened in death, stretched

from one end of the block to the other.

Shifting her attention, she noted with satisfaction that her

partner was equally fascinated, but then he also found flesh-

eating mutants that would just as readily eat him fascinating.

She was struck again at how tired he looked. Even the complex

emotions he must be feeling couldn’t mask his obvious fatigue.

“There’s nothing much to be done here now,” she said. “It will be

at least tomorrow before we can get near this end. Why don’t you

go find us someplace to stay. Call me with the specifics.”

His gaze shifted warily, as if she had asked him to make a coffee

run.

“Mulder, admit it, you’re beat. Get some sleep. Find something a

little upscale this time. Something with ESPN and room service.

Just make sure that it’s upwind from here.”

When his expression failed to change, she dropped her voice and

looked up at him through her eyelashes. “While you’re at it, get

one of those rooms with a king-size bed.” They would get two

rooms so that everything would look kosher for the bean counters,

and because they each liked to have their own space, but no one

said anything about where they actually slept. “It’s been a long

time,” she added just in case in his suspicion and weariness he

missed her point. It HAD been a long time since they had done

more than just sleep together.

His response this time was a slight widening of his eyes, a

straightening of his spine. There was still no alteration in his

features, but his whole form seemed to have taken on a little

glow. It was enough. It would do very well. Before the sudden

intimacy became too uncomfortable she turned away, her body

humming in pleasurable anticipation.

Before either had time to say more Scully’s attention was caught

by a tall, solid male figure, striding energetically in their

direction.

For a long moment she just stared. “Shit,” she breathed. Hastily,

she turned back in Mulder’s direction as if her only intention

was to reach for something in the back seat of the car.

“You thought Kersh was after you?” she stage-whispered just

barely loud enough to be carried over the sound of idling engines

and swimming pools of water being forced under pressure through

hoses. “You were wrong. He’s after me, or both of us.”

She lingered only long enough to catch the change in Mulder’s

expression. Eyebrows raised, face subtly changing with curiosity,

he looked beyond her at their visitor. Reluctantly, she turned

back, busying herself unnecessarily with adjusting the strap on

her shoulder case.

The newcomer’s voice boomed. “Agent Scully! Scully! They could

have knocked me over with a feather when I heard they were

sendin’ you!” Ignoring her stiffly outstretched hand, the man

grasped her in a rough, enveloping bear hug that lasted several

tenths of a second too long for old friends. A single tenth of a

second, however, was enough time for Scully to feel her partner

bristling at her side, though how he had moved from the opposite

side of the car as quickly as he did she had no idea.

“You must be Agent Mulder,” said the deep voice with its affected

Southern drawl. “Heard about you.” He gave no hint of what he had

heard, however, though the tales had most likely been neither

good nor true. Neither did he extend his hand or look at Mulder

very closely. His hands were still occupied in gripping Scully’s

upper arms, an affectation he must have picked up from the

movies. “Let me look at you,” which he did with an intensity that

made Scully wish that she was wearing about three more layers of

clothes.

“Special Agent Fox Mulder,” she introduced, awkwardly, inclining

her head in her partner’s direction, “this boa constrictor is

Horace Samson. He was the mentor assigned to me during my field

internship.”

“That’s Special Agent in Charge Horace Samson to you, Scully, and

what’s this talk about ‘mentors’? We were partners.” Eyes never

leaving her face, he added, “She ever tell you stories about us,

Fox?”

“Mulder,” the current partners said together, to which Scully

added, “And that’s ‘Agent Scully’, Agent Samson.”

“Sure, sure, though don’t be none too surprised if I forget.

We’re a lot less formal down here in the swampy South. She ever

tell you, Mulder, that she had a kind of a thing for me back

then? Older agent, hero worship, all that stuff. All under the

blanket though, fraternization bein’ frowned on, but where

there’s smoke, there’s fire, they say. Ha! Ha! Get it? Smoke?

Fire?”

All this time he still had her at arm’s length as if she were a

picture he was thinking of buying. “My, but you’re looking good,

Scully. Classy, real classy. Maybe you can show the female agents

in my neck of the woods how to dress while you’re here.”

Scully extricated herself with difficulty on the pretense of

digging into her shoulder bag for the file folder that held what

little information they’d been given on this inter-bureau

assignment.

“Speaking of ‘here’, tell us about ‘here’. We weren’t sent many

details.”

Horace Samson shrugged with obvious false modestly. “I’ve been

squattin’ here for two years, ever since my promotion –”

“I mean about the building and the fire.”

“Oh, that. Bureau got a ten-year lease on this monstrosity about

five years ago. It was temporary, they said, while they argued

over funding for a permanent structure. Argue is all they’ve

done. Conditions of the lease required that we take the whole

thing. Now you could house a battalion in there, but,

unfortunately we couldn’t move into most of it because the budget

won’t support the renovations and OSHA would have a field day if

we tried to use it without, so we only use about a third. Fire

started up before midnight, up the street in the end unit that a

J.A. Lazarus Corp sublets from us. That’s just used for storage

as far as I know. As for me, I won’t miss this particular black

hole, I’ll tell you that. It’s been a maintenance nightmare.”

“And where were you last night in the hours before midnight,

Agent Samson?” Mulder asked in his driest tones.

Samson’s face darkened for a moment to a swarthy purple and then

just as quickly it pinked as he started to laugh. “Good one! Yes,

that was a good one!”

Mulder took a step away to avoid a manly slap on the back which,

from the thickness of Samson’s arm, looked capable of bruising

ribs.

“Thought for a second you were serious, but then you don’t know

about the other fires.”

“Other fires?” Scully inquired with interest. “There have been

others?”

“Two others, also old mills, all within six blocks. Someone is

starting their own urban renewal project, but that’s a whole area

of investigation that you don’t need to worry your over-paid

heads about. Our arson guys are already working with the local

arson guys. Three is no accident.”

“What shape are the labs in?” Scully asked, praying that the

rooms had been reduced to ash. It would be good to be able to

drag their tired bones home.

“Amazingly good. Water and smoke damage mostly, and heat, of

course. They’re housed in an annex, a series of those modular

units in an inner courtyard. The old building’s electrical and

plumbing just couldn’t be brought up to code. We should be able

to save a fair amount of the supplies and equipment, but not

without a lot of work.” A big grin aimed in Scully’s direction

broadened even further the wide, beefy face. “Which is where you

come in.”

Scully hoped that the SAC didn’t notice her shoulders sag in

disappointment. She hadn’t even needed to look to know that

Mulder’s had as well. “Can we get in there yet?”

“To a limited extent. I have staff moving things out now. We’ve

taken over an empty grocery store some blocks from here where

we’ll actually be separating the wheat from the chaff. That’s

primarily where you’ll be working, but not until tomorrow. If you

want to see anything today, you’ll want to change.” He eyed her

in a way that indicated that he was not simply estimating her

size. “I think we do have coveralls, boots and a hard hat that

will fit you. They’ll be a little big, but I’m sure that a woman

of your experience can manage.” The sliver of a grin that

followed the oh-so-innocent comment was enough to heat a certain

red-head’s temper to a near boil. Before she could muster an

attack, however, Samson’s attention had turned to Mulder.

“Nothing left your size though, I’m sorry to say,” though from

the tone of his voice he wasn’t sorry at all.

Scully stepped in before the two actually began snarling at each

other. “That’s no problem. Mulder has a critical report to finish

from our last case, don’t you, Mulder? As we discussed, why don’t

you go find us a couple of rooms.”

Mulder’s eyes narrowed as his shoulders bunched again but after a

moment, she saw the wrinkles in the suit jacket smooth out. He

had given up quickly, too quickly. He must be even more tired

than she thought.

“Here, now,” announced Samson, “you needn’t bother about scouring

the city for accommodations.” With that his big right hand went

to his coat pocket from where he pulled two keys. With a sudden

snap he tossed these to Mulder who, rising to the challenge,

deftly caught them despite the intentionally bad throw. These

were not the modern programmable pass cards most hotels now use,

but real keys, the kind with large and, in this case, well-worn

plastic tags. “I took the liberty of getting you some rooms. A

real bargain and right across the street from the command center

and our temporary office digs. Sorry, no Ritz this time; got to

save our mutual boss a few bucks. Course, it’s going to smell

gawd-awful being so close to the scene, but after a few minutes

bathed in the stuff, who’s to notice?” Having clearly noted

Mulder’s well-tailored suit — one of her partner’s few vanities

— the SAC asked, “You don’t mind roughing it, I hope? Good for

public relations considering that the businesses around here are

going to suffer.” Almost happily, Samson glanced over his

shoulder at the devastation. “Well, come on Dear — excuse me,

‘Agent’ Scully — let me show you what’s left.”

Scully made a mental note of the section of the building his hand

pointed towards. “Why don’t you go on, Agent Samson. I’ll follow

in just a moment.”

With a wink in Mulder’s direction that could have implied

anything, Samson headed back to what remained of his field

office. Good thing, too, Scully thought, as her partner’s right

hand had unconsciously clenched into a fist at his side.

“Never thought that jocks were your type,” he quipped with a

brittle smile. “He’s got former fullback written over every

sagging muscle.”

“Horace may have said there was smoke but that was just the dust

from my back-pedaling,” she replied, stiffly. “At its height our

‘relationship’ was about as warm as day old coffee. Coming out of

medical school, my first assignment was forensics, as you might

imagine, but I wanted field agent status. You know that rookies

are always teamed with a mentor.”

“And Samson was someone’s idea of bad joke.”

“The ol’ boy neckwork strikes again. Stick it to the little

woman,” she replied glumly, squaring her shoulders as if

preparing for battle. First, however, she took a step closer and

allowed her hand to come up stealthily between them so that she

could just touch his sleeve. “You going to be all right?” She

meant the fire, of course, not Samson. She had no serious

problems with the big lug as she knew Mulder didn’t. Even now

Mulder’s eyes had left the broad back of the ASAC. His attention

had returned to the blackened brick and timbers of what remained

of the warehouse.

“Problems? Me? Seriously, I can manage. I just don’t have to like

it in the same way that I don’t have to like disemboweled bodies,

formaldehyde, old urine, or Brussel sprouts. How about you and

that man’s sticky hands? I thought you were going to slug the

guy.”

“And I thought _you_ were. No, don’t worry about me. I can deal

with Samson. We do have a ‘history’ of sorts though not the fairy

tale he remembers. I’ve let him have his fun. If he didn’t get

the hint, however, he’ll end up with my fist in his teeth next

time he tries to feel me up.”

“That’s my girl. Subtlety incarnate.”

She laughed on cue though something in her tingled with an

unexpected brightness. ‘My girl.’ It was the sort of thing that

should have rankled but didn’t. Had he been trying to get a rise

out of her or had he meant the remark as an endearment?

But he didn’t seem to have meant either. Distractedly, he was

studying the building. More significantly, he was idling flipping

the keys Samson had given him so, somewhere in that brilliant

mind, thoughts were grounded in the here and now, even if

subconsciously.

“I guess that you’d better give me one of those keys,” she said.

“No,” he replied, drawing out the word thoughtfully, “I don’t

think so. I have a bad feeling that the dives I normally pick are

going to look like the Taj Mahal compared to Jim Bo Bob’s

selection. And then there’s the room numbers.” He held them up

for her to see.

“In addition to broadcasting to the world where we’re staying,

they’re a floor apart and likely to be on opposite ends of the

building.”

“The creep,” Scully snarled.

“I’ll see what I can do,” he said pocketing both keys.

She wanted to give him a kiss. Much as it was against their code

of no overt intimacy when anyone could see, she wanted this more

than anything. Nothing passionate, just a peck on the cheek but

he was gone, physically as well as mentally. Pausing first to

slide the driver’s seat back as far as it would go, he had folded

his lean form into the car. Within seconds he had backed up and,

with a wave and the travesty of a smile plastered on his face,

was heading down the empty road parallel to the long block of

what was left of the warehouse. She watched until he reached the

end of the block and turned right, lost from view. Without

enthusiasm, she set off in search of Samson.

Once around the corner and out of sight from Scully and everyone

involved in cleaning up the last of the fire, Mulder stopped the

car and turned off the engine. For a moment he sat as if making a

decision. Finally, he unwound slowly from behind the wheel.

Blackened beams towered above him. In many places, crumbling

walls of brick remained upright but precariously so.

Occasionally, there was a glitter from broken glass or pool of

standing water.

Samson had confirmed their suspicions. This was the first area

where the fire had been controlled, also where it had started.

Occupied with saving what they could of the offices of the

building’s most illustrious tenant, the fire department had moved

on from here rather quickly. Mulder looked for remaining hot

spots and found only a few places where smoke rose lazily into

the leaden sky. His body tensed when, to his right, a beam

shifted, charred wallboard slipped and a stream of water flowed

down to spit and sizzle momentarily on a warm area below. Nothing

more than that. Slowly, tense muscles relaxed.

He knew why he was here. True, the Lively case so many years

before had broken his near phobia about fire — it no longer

paralyzed him — but, as he told Scully, that didn’t mean that

he enjoyed being around it. Just to be sure that the demon stayed

in its cage, therefore, he took readings from time to time when

he found a place like this. He was glad to be able to report that

his reaction was no worse than it had been over the last few

years. No better either, but no worse. He could manage. True, he

was a little light-headed from the smell — even the long months

trying to recover what he could from the charred remnants of his

beloved X-files hadn’t cured him of that.

As if the strain on one sense heightened others, he thought he

could hear the gentle plop of a single drop of sooty water. His

lips actually curled in a grim smile. He was thankful for the

hyper-awareness that came with the adrenaline rush. Their lives

had depended on such awareness before and would again. It was

reassuring to know that he would still have that, whether fire

was in the vicinity or not.

Their lives… Scully’s life was what he meant. Scully of course,

had always been important, but these last months her place in his

life and his future, as heart of his heart and bone of his bone,

had taken on a new and deeper significance. That made their

mutual survival even more critical if that was possible. And so,

this need to be sure. Even his agreeing without protest to get

some sleep had been for her, for her safety. Theirs was a

dangerous life and he felt more acutely than ever with every

twinge in the morning, with every second off his running time,

his own mortality, and hers. So again, the need to be prepared…

always.

‘After all, just look at me!’ he thought. Over 40. Middle-aged.

Still in pretty good shape, but it took longer all the time to

stay that way, took longer to recover from even the little

injuries, not to mention the big ones. Was his own biological

clock telling him that it was time to settle? And what did that

mean to a person with his kind of history?

Undiscovered country, that was for sure, and something he was

going to have to work on, which meant taking the time. Meanwhile,

there was still the job, and his safety and Scully’s, fire or no

fire.

With irritation he rubbed the back of his neck to dispel a little

numbness there. And where had these serious thoughts come from?

Maybe he really did need to get some sleep.

Not eager to crawl back into the car immediately, he stood a

while longer, leaning against the bumper, thinking of nothing in

particular, when a change in the wind brought a cloud of ash down

on his head. Coughing, he reached through the open window for the

remains of a soda and accidentally leaned on the car horn.

Leaping back from the sharp blaring, he stared guiltily around.

He need not have worried. There wasn’t anyone close enough to

hear. The nearest team of firefighters was far, far down the

block. They could possibly hear a bomb go off, but nothing less

than that.

He was taking a drag on the soda straw when he heard the first

cry. Instantly, he stopping drinking, stopped breathing. Couldn’t

be. But within five seconds the sound came again, very like a

child’s cry — and it seemed to be coming from deep within the

burned out hulk of the building, maybe forty feet to his left. It

was so weak that if he had been any farther away it would never

have registered. The cry couldn’t be what it sounded like, of

course. No child could have lived through such an inferno but

Mulder, more than anyone, knew that stranger things had happened.

Again the cry, the whimper, weaker this time, like a child and

yet not like a child. A child with smoke-damaged lungs and

scorched throat might sound that way and there was a particularly

impressive pile of unburned debris in the very direction from

where the fading whimper seemed to originate.

Mulder raised his voice to call out to anyone from the emergency

team who might be able to hear but as they could never have heard

the car’s horn, they wouldn’t be able to hear him either. He

thought of the time lost if he were to run or drive from help.

Calling Scully would take as long, as his cell phone was locked

in the trunk deep in his bags. His instincts told him to just go.

But then there was the building — dirty, still hot, unstable,

unsafe. Scully would kill him.

So when had that ever stopped him?

He dove in. Actually, dove was not the right word. He had to

watch every step, had to be careful that each irregular surface

would hold his weight before going on. Still, he hurried as fast

as he could. Remembering that the cry began as a response to the

car’s horn, he called as he picked his way through the rubble,

“Is anyone here?” After waiting a moment, and despite the fear

that the charred remains of plaster and wood beams and floor

boards would come raining down, he shouted again, more loudly

this time.

The choking half-whine, half-cry came again and more clearly than

before. There was no doubt in his mind now that there was someone

here. The sound was only fifteen feet away, but each foot gained

took at least twenty seconds and that didn’t count the detours.

By repeatedly calling and receiving answers of a sort, Mulder

located the place, if not the victim. Under a metal staircase

that had survived, twisted from the heat though nearly intact, he

made out what appeared to be the remains of a cluster of desks

and file cabinets. One of the desks was of the huge World War II

executive kind made of solid hardwood that would burn slow. It

was badly scorched but in amazingly good shape thanks to the

metal staircase above that had protected it from the worst of the

falling debris. The crying originated from somewhere near there.

He crawled over one burned timber after another, heat still

rising from some, only to step into one filthy puddle after

another. Wiping his sweating face with a grimy hand, Mulder began

to seriously question his trying to do this alone. What if he

twisted an ankle here? And it was so hot, both from the humid

heat coming up from below and from either side of him, as well as

from the sun, which was blazing down from somewhere above the low

ceiling of smoke. His throat, raw both from coughing and from the

ash and dust, was making it increasingly painful to breathe.

Still he had no choice but to push on for the responses to his

anxious calls were becoming weaker.

The short distance seemed to take an interminable time to cross,

but at last he could begin hurling debris from in front of the

big desk even while he coughed and called out. Some bits were

heavier than others. A chunk of what may once have been part of a

floor strut was hot and burned his hand. Everything he touched

was filthy. Sweat dripped filth into his eyes. At least he was

receiving constant encouragement for his labors from the victim

in the form of an irregular and odd-sounding cough. So weak was

it that he could only picture a child or a thin and terribly old

person. Employing every bit of muscle he’d maintained from the

years of pounding the streets and working out in gym and pool,

Mulder levered away a final huge piece of sheet rock thus

clearing the way to the dark cavity under the desk.

The sound of the strangled coughing was instantly clearer. It

came from the kneehole, of course. As good a place to seek

shelter as any if a couple hundred pounds of wall hadn’t come

slamming down. Cautiously, Mulder bent over and reached his hand

into the blackness. “It’s all right,” he coughed in a voice so

rough that he barely recognized it as his own. “Don’t be afraid,

help’s here.” There came a rustling and to Mulder’s utter

surprise something soft and dry and unseen crossed his palm. For

a moment he stood transfixed, puzzled, and then a broad grin

transformed his streaked and blackened face. “You,” he wheezed,

“have just ruined my suit.”

September 13, 11pm

Dirty, sweaty and exhausted, Scully trudged up the steps to the

motel’s second floor. The work had been unpleasant to say the

least. Most of the salvage was dripping and filthy. Cardboard

crumbled under her hands. The other workers interrupted her

constantly asking what this or that object was and if it was

valuable enough to be worth saving. Worse had been the task of

keeping Samson at arms’ length. She’d almost decked him twice.

Good thing Mulder hadn’t been around or there would be one good

‘ol boy who would be looking for an oral surgeon.

Scully looked down at the key in her hand. Mulder never had

phoned but he had registered a room in her name, which was next

to his and connecting, though this place had never heard of a

king-size bed. He’d been correct about the original room

assignments. Samson had originally placed her next to him and

signed Mulder up for one on the far side of forever. Mulder had

taken care of the problem, however, and so could be forgiven for

neglecting to call.

It was not surprising then that Scully was now looking forward to

receiving a little TLC. For starters, a bubble bath and then a

foot massage — at the latter of which she had found her partner

to have extraordinarily skill. The former? Having Mulder in her

bath was fun but not what one would call relaxing, and most of

the water somehow ended up outside of the tub. Mulder also had

had hours to sleep so he had better be willingly to go out for

some decent food. This fifties fleatrap did not have a restaurant

and the only carryout the front desk recommended catered

exclusively to the pizza crowd. And, Scully mused as she fumbled

with her key, if he was actually able to find something green and

crisp and low fat, then she would be very, VERY grateful.

As the door opened, her nostrils were assailed by a renewed scent

of the fire. At the same instant her eyes registered the

wrongness of the room. Automatically, she took a deep breath,

holding it even as she reached for and brought up her weapon.

“FBI!” she announced..

No answer. For the first time she was able to consciously absorb

what she was seeing. What possible trouble could have found them

so quickly? An old enemy always came first to mind. In this case

what came second was a flashback to nightmare charcoal drawings

of gargoyle demons. She could still see them, pinned to the

walls, littering the coffee table, burning in the fireplace.

No, not again.

With relief, closer inspection revealed that this was not the

problem here though there certainly was some kind of a problem.

The room, which must have been dingy enough to start with, looked

like an entire kindergarten of hyperactive, fingerpainting

children had gone at its walls and furnishings but the only color

they had been given was black. Tiny blurred black footprints

textured the utilitarian rust-colored carpet. Equally marred were

the much-rumpled bedspread and walls. The depressing little

room’s one lamp had been knocked over, it’s shade marred with a

large smeary handprint. It appeared as if all of the towels from

the bathroom had been run through a coal bin and then strewn

about the room. Scully called again, louder. Still no answer. A

touch test revealed that it was not paint but something very much

like coal dust. Clearly soot from the fire.

Almost afraid to look but with her weapon still at the ready,

Scully peered into the bathroom. Involuntarily, her eyes widened.

This was worse. In addition to black ‘fingerprints’ on floor and

walls and even some spots on the ceiling, there was an inky ring

around the wet but empty tub. There was also a different smell to

add to the fire smell, something herbal and hauntingly familiar.

That was when she spied the empty bottle that had once been full

of her favorite and very expensive shampoo.

Damn!

Running a finger through tub ring showed that there were chunks

of black hair mixed in with the black and oily muck. The hairs

weren’t terribly long, but too long and too dark to have come

from her partner.

Dazed, Scully walked back into the main room. There was more hair

mixed with the dark stain on the bedspread, which was also very

damp. And there on the nightstand — Sacrilege ! — was her

hairbrush, clogged with the same black hair.

Double damn!

The connecting door to the next room was ajar. On her way she

passed the room’s one chair. A bundle of rags were tossed over

the back and they were clearly the source of the fire stench. No,

wait, those weren’t rags — well, at least they hadn’t been that

morning. It was Mulder’s suit and the lumps of ruin on the floor

were what remained of his best work shoes. Sweet Mary, what had

the man been doing?

She had reached the gap in the open door. Without opening it

further she could see into the bathroom of the next room. It was

nearly as bad as her own, bathrub ring from hell and all. It was

with a mixture of relief and irritation that she identified the

soft sound that drifted on the smoked-tinged air. Snoring. And

she knew whose.

Lowering, but not replacing her weapon Scully entered. Somehow

she was not surprised to find that whoever or whatever had

trashed her room had done an equal job on Mulder’s. The state of

the decoration, however, was less of a concern to her than

finding its occupant, and find him she did.

There was Mulder, every glorious inch of him, spread-eagled

across the sagging mattress wearing nothing but his black silk

boxers — her favorites — and a good deal of the ever-present

black soot. He was totally out as only Mulder can be when he

finally gets to sleep after days of near abstinence. The shocking

part was that he wasn’t alone. Along his side lay a large, black

lump. Scully didn’t even have time to tense before it moved. An

elegant head raised itself from Mulder’s not-so-clean shoulder

and looked calmly in her direction. A dog, a large slender dog,

half Mulder’s length. Mostly black, with brown accents and white

stockings that started below the knees, the animal was beautiful

but of no breed that Scully could immediately name.

Curious, Scully bent over the suspiciously shiny head and took a

deep sniff. She wasn’t surprised to detect the scent of her

frightfully expensive shampoo. With growing understanding, she

noted that the pads of the animal’s feet as well as its drooping

ears were wrapped in inexpertly applied white gauze which

suspiciously matched the bandage on Mulder’s right palm. On the

nightstand, in addition to the remains of first aid salve, rolled

gauze bandage and tape, was a vet’s bill. Scully whistled at the

charge. Maybe she should have gone into veterinarian medicine

after all. Mulder’s fluffy friend meanwhile had rolled lazily

over to a half-sitting position and had begun flopping a feathery

tail up and down on the mattress with remarkable energy. Scully

noted that ‘he’ made no attempt to surrender his position.

“Very well, you can have him for tonight, but, I have to warn

you, Mulder doesn’t swing that way.” With a smile Scully left the

room quietly closing the connecting door behind her. Her

expression turned to renewed exasperation as she beheld the

condition of her room. Wearily, she found an almost clean place

on her bed to sit and phoned housekeeping.

End of Act I

ACT II:

September 14, 8am

It was with hesitation that Scully cautiously opened the

connecting door the next morning. She hadn’t knocked just in case

either Mulder or his new friend was still sleeping. Both were

awake, but so intent were they with each other that neither

noticed the movement of the door. Mulder was polishing his second

best, and much-scuffed, work shoes. When you chased after X-

Files the way they did, you never went anywhere without backup —

a rule even Mulder didn’t universally ignore.

“Now you listen up,” her partner was saying. Clearly, he had

picked up the slang from their time in the South. The enraptured

canine sat before him, ears perked, and enchanted by his every

word. “If you want to hang out with us there are just a few

things you have to get straight. One, not a sound until Scully’s

had her coffee; two, no chewing on her shoes; and, three, no

making messes on the floor.” The animal whined in reply. “Yes, I

know that you were good and patient and waited for me this

morning. I’m just warning you to keep up the good work. Four, if

pizza is what we’ve got, pizza is what you’ll eat, and, five, if

I have company, you sleep on the floor.”

A very dainty ‘yip!’ for such a good-sized animal came in answer.

“Yes, and you have my permission to gnaw on any bad guy you can

find and, I promise, finding them will be like shooting pigs in a

barrel.”

“I think that’s ‘fish in a barrel’,” Scully corrected. “Pep talks

to the troops?” Her partner spun around with a broad grin.

“I take it that you two have met?”

“Last night, not that you noticed.”

“Then you haven’t met formally. Satan, say hello to Scully.”

With a step as light and springy as a dancer’s, the dog trotted

over to where she stood, sat down, and held out one white

foreleg. The gauze on its paw was no longer as pristine as it had

been the night before.

Scully liked dogs and bent down and shook the proffered appendage

with the solemnity with which it was offered. “Nice to meet

you… Satan?”

“I had to call him something.”

“Only you, Mulder. Sleep well by the way?”

“Like a rock. Want breakfast?” And there was indeed breakfast —

bagels and fruit, juice, and coffee. If this was Mulder on a good

night’s sleep, she’d have it more often. “Satan and I went

shopping,” he announced, clearly pleased with himself.

“And how did you meet your new buddy?” Scully inquired, reaching

for a cup of coffee.

He proceeded to give her the whole story and it all made sense in

a Mulder sort of way. Her eyes drifted around the wreckage of the

room. He winced.

“It wasn’t that he didn’t want to take a bath. Once he got his

wind back, some food and water, and a little painkiller for the

burns, he was pretty frisky and just thought it was a great game

to keep slipping away from me.” Playfully, he batted at the

animal who, as playfully, crouched and snarled back. “Quick

aren’t you, boy?”

Scully sighed. “Well, that explains the mess and my missing

shampoo. But my hairbrush, Mulder…”

She had never seen those bedroom eyes look more penitent. “I

wanted him to look nice for you. I was going to go out last night

and get you a new one, I really was, but after the last few days,

and carrying him out of that building, and then the trip to the

vet and the bath, I guess I just…”

“You passed out on the bed.”

He reached into a plastic grocery bag on the floor and handed her

what he found. “But I did get you one when I was at the store

this morning.”

It had a red plastic handle and plastic bristles and probably

cost five ninety-nine, but she reminded herself as she counted to

ten that it was the thought that counted. What caught her

attention was what else he had bought on his trip to the store —

two kinds of dog biscuits and at least half a dozen brands of dog

food. Mulder had the softest heart in the universe and as easily

wounded. An uneasy feeling began to mix unpleasantly with the

coffee in her empty stomach.

“Mulder, how long do you think you’re going to be able to keep…

Satan. A well-trained dog like this must have an owner, a family

that loves him. People who are worried sick about him right now.”

A shadow crossed Mulder’s face. Not a big one, just a little one.

“Of course I know that, but they did let him out to practically

burn to death in the fire.”

“Dogs get out. That can happen to anyone.”

He looked down at his new friend who stared up adoringly into the

agent’s solemn face.

“I wanted a dog for the longest time when I was a kid — Sam, too

— but Dad always said ‘no’. And I mean a real dog not like – ah,

you know – Queequeg. As he began spending more and more time away

from home, however, Mom began to see a point to it and for one of

the few times in my life stood up with us against him. He finally

agreed that when I was thirteen –” Mulder’s voice caught.

Scully knew what had happened when he was twelve.

“Of course, it never came to be. For a long time I was barely

capable of even taking care of myself. Then after Dad and Mom

split, I could have done anything and she wouldn’t have noticed,

but by then it was unthinkable. Sam had wanted one as much as I.

But if we had had one, I would have wanted one just like Satan.”

He looked her way with a sort of wavering smile. “I just wanted

to pretend, I guess. Just for a few hours. Guess you never quite

take the boy out of the man.”

No, you never do, Scully agreed to herself, and if the boy’s life

is full of pain, the man carries that burden with him as well.

With an inaudible sigh, she began struggling with the nearly

indestructible bubble packaging on the new hairbrush. It would do

for the time being.

“Satan’s nice, Mulder, he really is and I’m glad you saved him.

Thanks also for breakfast, but I’ve got to get to work. You can

make yourself useful, by the way. Lots of manual labor to go

around. They probably won’t even mind if Satan hangs around;

they’re a nice group of people. Samson’s the exception.”

“Aye, aye, Captain.” With a grin, he gave her a snappy salute as

she rose from her perch on a clean edge of his bed to head back

to her own room. “And, Scully –” She paused without looking

back. “– I did call. The animal shelter opens at ten. I’ll call

back then and see if anyone’s reported him missing.”

Curtly, she nodded before hastily escaping back into her room. A

little cold water, a little more make up than usual on the eyes,

and maybe he’d never know how close she had come to tearing up

right then.

Dogs and kids… and Mulder, the biggest kid of them all. No,

that was unfair. He was a man — the best she knew.

September 14, 9am

As Samson had said, the fleatrap motel — which had more fleas

than Satan, Scully was willing to bet — was indeed convenient.

It was only a block from the former supermarket, now temporary

district office. For nearly two hours they worked with the rest

of the displaced employees among the acrid smell of smoke and wet

cardboard, unpacking who-knew-what-unimaginable stuff that only

Scully could identify. Samson had still not deigned to make an

appearance when, just after ten, Mulder excused himself without

enthusiasm to call the animal shelter. He thus missed the SAC’s

breezy and sparkling clean appearance. Scully had just given her

report — that there was very little salvageable and that she saw

no reason why they couldn’t leave the next morning — when Mulder

and his sidekick returned. His face was a mixture of emotions.

The way he looked at Satan, however, and the way he looked at

Samson made it pretty clear to Scully that there had been no

report of a lost dog answering Satan’s description — and that he

was not overjoyed to encounter Horace Samson again.

If the ASAC noticed the hard set to Mulder’s jaw, he gave no

sign. He did, however, greet Satan with lavish affection. The dog

wriggled in delight and seemed to enjoy the game of leaping feet

into the air after an imaginary treat. Mulder just frowned, a

little hurt crease deepening between his eyes.

“Satan just likes everyone,” Scully told him in a low voice.

“And here, I thought he had some taste,” Mulder murmured.

“So where’d you meet up with this fellow?” Samson asked after a

few more games.

“Found him trapped in the area of your warehouse where you said

the fire started. It looked like he’d been there from the

beginning.”

“Honest? Then you’ve done the community an invaluable service,

Agent Mulder. Stud’s the goodwill ambassador to this entire

neighborhood.”

“Stud?” Mulder croaked.

“He answers to just about everything but that’s what I call him.

You’re a randy man, aren’t you, Stud. Half the bitches in this

quarter of the city have carried his DNA at one time or

another… and who’s to blame them, fine fellow like this.”

“But who owns him?” Scully asked.

“There’s no report at the animal shelter,” Mulder confirmed.

“Oh, someone does. He’s always clean. Like Tramp, there are

plenty who will feed a friendly stray, but not many who will wash

one.”

Scully’s eyebrows lifted in Mulder’s direction. His response was

to show no reaction.

“I’ll ask around,” Samson said. “Someone will know. Now more

important is a little complication that came up this morning. You

didn’t see anything or ‘smell’ anything unusual when you were

moving around in that part of the building yesterday, did you,

Agent Mulder?”

Scully felt a definite ‘uh oh’ radiate silently from Mulder’s

direction.

“I thought I had a survivor. A child. My mind was on other

things.”

“Absolutely. I just hope that you’re moving around won’t confuse

the arson and homicide teams too much.”

“Homicide?”

“Arson team found a body this morning in that general area. Of

course, old building like that, it could have been a vagrant. His

steno burner may even have started the fire. He could have been

smoking in ‘bed’.”

“Then why investigate it as if it were a homicide?”

“Three burned buildings, three bodies. Forgot to mention the

other two victims yesterday, didn’t I. Two might be a coincidence

but not three, and since my people are all busy chasing their

tails trying to reconstruct their current casework, I’ve asked

your boss and mine to lend me you two. More in your old line as I

understand it, am I right, Agent Mulder? We do have a lease on

the building so one could legitimately say that this last one

occurred on federal land.”

Dreams of home fading into the uncertain future, Mulder checked

out Samson’s version of their new orders and found that the SAC

was correct. He had contacted Kersh who had even paged Skinner at

his conference in Paris for his approval. They were stuck here

and Samson seemed suspiciously cozy in his communications with

Kersh. What if the man currently sitting in Skinner’s chair was

trying to catch them together? It would be something to embarrass

Skinner about not to mention what the Bureau would say about

partners ‘doing it’. He may even have hoped to catch them during

their previous case, but Mulder’s personnel file must not mention

that sleep was a rare commodity when he profiled. Hell, Kersh

might even have convinced Samson to find an excuse to run the

equivalent of a bed check. A fire alarm in the middle of the

night and a convenient camera would do it if their rooms were

separated as originally intended.

The mournful glance that passed between the partners moments

after Samson’s announcement showed that the same thoughts had run

through both their heads and that they had come to the same

conclusion. Their nights were going to be very lonely.

After that Scully went off to wrap up her part of the salvage

operation and Mulder to get a start on their new case. They met

for lunch at a little barbecue place around the corner from the

burned hulk.

As they settled at a small table on the edge of the restaurant’s

tiny outdoor patio, Scully looked around at the sparse crowd.

“Now I know why we were treated like royalty.”

The corners of Mulder’s mouth twitched. “I don’t think that the

red carpet treatment was for us — though my understanding is

that this place’s yearly expenses are practically paid for by the

FBI lunch bunch who are now laying down their VISA cards who-

know’s-where. No, we have our present company to thank for our

warm welcome.”

Satan gave them a doggy grin and a tail wag from just outside the

low row of planters that separated the patio from the public

sidewalk. “The word of his rescue has spread like wildfire. He

really is a kind of folk hero around here… though along the

lines of the Scarlet Pimpernel or Robin Hood.”

“Not Johnny Appleseed?”

“Cute.”

“And don’t sell yourself short,” Scully said, her eyes smiling at

her partner from over the top of her menu. “You’re the hero of

the day.”

Self-consciously, Mulder rubbed the back of his neck. “I guess

so. In every other jurisdiction in this country I would have, at

the very least, received a severe reprimand for disturbing a

crime scene — no matter that I didn’t exactly know that it was a

crime scene at the time.”

Scully grinned at her friend fondly. It was unusual for him to be

actually thanked for something. “Accept the flowers when they

fall, it happens seldom enough. And I am proud of you. I would

also have killed you if you had gotten yourself hurt, but I know

what the others don’t — what it took for you to wade into that

mess. I’ll just have to find a way to reward you.”

Startled by the heat in his partner’s blue eyes, Mulder pretended

to bury his face in his menu. “Scully, it’s too dangerous,” he

murmured.

Under the cover of the open menus her hand crept over the table

to briefly clasp his. “Then get what sleep you can now because

once the heat’s off – watch out,” she cooed.

Hands were back on their own sides of the table by the time their

wait staff appeared. Scully ordered a barbecue beef sandwich.

Mulder found her order interesting. Scully ordered red meat like

other people ate ice cream; it was comfort food. If she was in

need of comfort, he knew where she should be getting it.

“Sorry,” he said, gesturing towards her plate when their food

arrived.

Again, she had followed his train of thought. “It’s not what you

think. Not entirely, anyway. I really was thinking that that if

there are any leftovers your friend would prefer this to

lettuce.”

That got a laugh from both of them. One they needed badly.

Over lunch they talked about the South and the news and the

doings of Scully’s family until after they had eaten. More and

more, they tried not to talk about work all the time. It had felt

odd at first, not any longer. Over coffee they got down to

business.

“I’m going to look at the bodies this afternoon,” Scully

announced.

“Enjoy. I have half a dozen interviews with the cream of the Old

South. The first victim was a sleazy bail bondsman; the second

was a sleazy riverboat gambler — yes, they still have both

riverboats and gamblers; and the third was a sleazy real estate

developer. Seeing a pattern here? Someone’s not just practicing

urban renewal but trying to short cut the judicial system. Even

more, I don’t think anyone’s going to mind if we don’t solve this

one except perhaps the insurance companies. The only connection

between these guys — besides the sleaze factor — is that all

spent a lot of time on the local floating casinos. There are four

tied up right now, less than half a mile from here. Do you think

that a few games of Twenty-One would be considered a business

expense?”

“Depends on how badly you play,” she smiled.

He grinned back. “And here I thought you were going to tell me

that I’d need to declare my winnings.”

“That’ll be the day. You don’t even play the lottery.”

While Mulder paid the check — in anticipation of his winnings —

Scully reached into her pocket and pulled out a slip of paper.

Almost apologetically, she passed it across the table.

“What’s this?” he asked.

“They’ve hired some of the neighborhood crowd — retirees and

college students — to help with the clean up. They heard about

Stud’s — er, Satan’s — rescue and that we were looking for the

owner.” She gestured to the paper. “Three different people have

told me that that’s the block generally considered to be his home

turf. Maybe before you get tied down to a green felt table you

might take a swing by there.”

Crestfallen in a way that only Scully could read, Mulder put the

paper in the top pocket of his second best suit. He had barely

looked at it. “If Satan has a loving family nearby, then why

hasn’t he left me? It’s not like I have him on a leash.” Sensing

he was being talked about, the dog quivered all over with

excitement. Perhaps he thought that Mulder was going to slip him

some more barbecue. He’d already eaten a third of Mulder’s lunch

and half of Scully’s.

“Maybe he’s just being polite. You did save his life. Much longer

in that hot, closed place without water and he would have died.

Have you told him that he can go home?” she asked gently.

The lightness of the morning gone, Mulder stretched his body

upright. “I’ll go. Meanwhile, we both have a lot of work to do.”

September 14, 5pm

Three of Mulder’s interviews with victim family members were no

shows. The other two had little to offer, none of it

complimentary. As a result, Mulder found himself in the late

afternoon with three hours to kill before the serious casino

crowd appeared. With reluctance he pulled the slip of paper from

his breast pocket. ‘River and Appletree’ was all it said. After

asking for general directions he found that it was roughly a mile

from his present location. It was a pleasant day; he would walk.

If he got lost, he could always ask directions again.

It turned out that he didn’t need to. As soon as it was clear

where they were headed, Satan took the lead, galloping over at

least ten times the distance Mulder covered as he chased sticks

and stalked pigeons and said hello to human and canine

acquaintances that they passed. The closer they got to River and

Appletree that was just about everyone, both two-footed and four-

footed. In the first half mile Mulder heard the gregarious animal

called at least a dozen names: Duke, Prince, Blackie, the Man,

Bingo, Happy and just Dog to name a few. As they grew closer,

however, one name began to be heard more and more. Thor. “Is that

your name?” Mulder asked his companion. “Thor?” If an animal

could turn himself inside out, Thor would have.

River and Appletree did not define a very prosperous neighborhood

but it was a friendly enough place as long as the visiting ‘suit’

had Thor as an ambassador. Or was that a bodyguard? As they

passed a crumbling row house bedecked with window boxes of dying

flowers, two large Dobermans came tearing towards the sidewalk

from their hiding place under a sagging willow. They got out just

two barks apiece, and Mulder had begun to reach for the pepper

spray he always carried, when Thor showed the wrathful god-like

side of his nature. The transformation was astonishingly quick

but effective. Within seconds the attacks had dissolved and the

Dobermans had turned tail. Thor’s teeth and growl retreated, his

doggy grin returned, and all was right with the world.

Mulder studied his companion with admiration. “You can accompany

me into D.C. any time.”

They had gone only a few more steps when Thor gave an excited

bark and bounded forward, as if his legs were all springs. A door

had opened on one of the poorer apartment buildings and a thin

old woman emerged with a broom. Skin as wrinkled and brown as old

leather, hair as white as spun sugar, she had begun to sweep the

porch. She barely had to look up at the barking before Thor was

there, his entire body gyrating with happiness. Anyone could see,

however, how careful he was not to leap up on the old woman and

to keep his head high and thus be on a level where she could more

conveniently reach to pat him.

Mulder hesitated a dozen yards from the building. The happy

reunion twisted within him leaving a trail of could-have-been’s.

He should just slip away. It would be easy enough to do though he

would detour a block east to evade the Dobermans. Thor had other

ideas, however. Like a black streak he was off the porch, had

seized Mulder’s coat sleeve, and was tugging him forward. The old

woman waited for them both, the wide smile that had broken her

face into a thousand wrinkles fading slightly.

“You have something to do with bringing this bad boy home?” she

called.

Mulder forced a smiled. “He got himself in a tight place. He let

me know that he needed some assistance.”

“Bet he did.” The old lady looked down at the dog sitting at

Mulder’s side, sitting, but not calmly. Excitement was popping

out all over the muscular body. “Well, what’s keeping you. The

boy’s been frettin’ himself sick. Git on up there, y’hear!” Like

a child with a dollar burning a hole in his pocket and a candy

store at his feet, Thor looked up imploring into Mulder’s face.

Only after receiving a gentle nod did the dog take off again,

this time to leap from trash can to dumpster to the landing of a

fire escape that he climbed running. Finally, five stories up, he

disappeared inside an open window. The old woman and Mulder had

watched the whole performance, Mulder with amazement and the

woman with satisfaction.

She turned back to ‘the suit’ with a grin. “No one better ever

move that trashcan,” she said. “And you should have seen the day

that someone left the top off the dumpster. ‘That’ never happened

twice. You would have thought that World War II had started all

over again. That old boy was right annoyed.” Her expression

sobered as she viewed her companion with curious interest. “Now

I’ve never seen him do that before, ask anyone’s permission for

anything except for the boy, of course. That’s high praise coming

from Thor. You must be somethin’ special.”

Unbelievably, Mulder felt himself reddening, the hurt no longer

as tender. “The feeling is mutual. I’m very happy to have met

Thor. I was glad to be able to bring him home though it was more

like him bringing me. The ‘boy’ you’ve mentioned, is he your

son?”

“Spark? No, Spark doesn’t have a mother that I know of, nor

father. Just those of us in the neighborhood who’ve bonded

together to take care of him.” Her eyes glittered good-naturedly

seeing how this tall, well-dressed, and good-looking white man

kept looking up at the window of the crumbling apartment

building. “Why don’t you go up and see them. Thor would want you

to and Spark will want to say thank-you.”

Mulder hesitated. Being thanked always made him feel

uncomfortable. The Lone Ranger had the right idea…just

disappear into the West before things got mushy.

“You might as well go up, the boy won’t be coming down. He’s

sick.” Her old eyes still shone but with something other than

humor. “I guess he won’t be coming down ever again except for

that one last time.”

There was no choice now but Mulder knew that the experience was

not going to be an easy one. He made it to the landing. “How old

is he this Spark?”

“Who knows? Sometimes I think eight, sometimes eighty. Somewhere

in between.” She resumed her interrupted sweeping. “Top floor,

apartment five-oh-eight.”

Mulder didn’t take the steps with any speed. The foyer with its

yellowed tile and the worn stairway with its thread-bare carpet

reminded him of the old junior high school on Martha’s Vineyard.

All around him the air was alive with noises from behind doors —

TVs, radios, a baby crying, an out of tune guitar, rap music. The

smells of exotic cooking — cumin and curry — went a long way

towards covering the more pungent scents of dry rot and old

urine. He found the door to 508. There wasn’t a traditional knob

on the door, but instead a long four-inch handle. No sound came

from within so he knocked softly. Immediately, there came the

gentle tap, tap, tap of claws on linoleum and scratching on wood

about three feet from the ground. Finally, the handle swung down

and the door opened.

Of course it was Thor. A wet nose and warm breath tickled the

palm of Mulder’s right hand and then the dog was gone. A nimble

leap took the animal back onto the bed where, clearly, he had

left to answer the door.

“You’re Thor’s new friend,” came a whisper-thin voice from the

bed. The mattress had been raised and placed so that its occupant

could easily see through one of the small room’s two windows to

the street below. The window was open and there was no screen.

Clearly, this was Thor’s private entrance. The room had been

painted a brilliant yellow so that it would glow golden in the

sunlight, but other than that it was a barren, depressing place.

There was a small battered TV, though it didn’t look like it was

used much, but no VCR, CD player, CDs, computer, pictures or

books. There were medical supplies, however — IV pole, wheel

chair, and a cart with towels, large diapers, spit up bowl, bed

pan and liters of fluids. A life stripped to its biologic basics.

Unable to avoid the meeting any longer, Mulder looked down at the

figure in the bed. ‘Eight or eighty’ the old woman had said. She

had been right. The body was certainly no larger than a child of

eight, but that was because of its stick-like thinness. It was

long enough to be older. The head looked larger especially as its

scalp was covered with a shapeless woven cap of many colors. And

the face… the face still showed where the boy had once been

beautiful. All the best of every imaginable ethnic group. It was

his eyes, his eyes, the same hue as his golden skin, which were

ancient.

“You can come closer. What I have isn’t catching, not just from

talking.”

“I don’t want to tire you. Should I ask someone’s permission?

Where are your –” No parents, the old woman had said. “– your

people?”

“You mean all my grandfathers and grandmothers? They won’t mind.

I do what I want –” he paused to catch his breath, “– pretty

much of the time.” At Thor’s shifting to snuggle closer, the boy

looked down at his four-footed friend. “T-Thank you for Thor. I

was so a-afraid.” The words may have come from a tight throat but

the sentiment was from the heart. The boy’s hand came to rest on

Thor’s sleek head that lay pillowed on his chest. Mulder didn’t

know why he should be surprised but he was as he realized that

when he woke that morning Thor had been lying with his head in

the very same place only on his own chest. Now, however, the dog

looked with total adoration at this boy. The emotion was clearly

mutual.

When the boy’s attention returned to Mulder he seemed stronger

than before. “How did you happen to be at the fire? You don’t

look like a fireman or a policeman, not dressed like that.”

Mulder shrugged inside his suit. “Police is close enough. I work

for the FBI. They had offices in that building. My partner and I

are here to help with the clean up.”

Half way through Mulder’s explanation, Thor yipped nearly

soundlessly and the boy turned his head for a moment so that they

could share another one of those silent communications. “Then

you’re just passing through, you and your partner?”

“That’s right, we’re here for just a few days.”

“Must be nice to have a partner, kind of like an automatic best

friend, like Thor and me.”

Mulder almost laughed at the thought of what Scully would think

to hear their relationship compared to this interspecies meeting

of minds. On the other hand, the boy wasn’t far wrong. There were

times when life would be so much simpler and happier if all that

was required of him was to lie with his head in her lap. “I guess

that’s true, in a way. When you get along, it is like having a

best friend, the best of best friends.”

“So you and your partner get along? Is he a nice guy?”

“SHE is a very nice guy and very good at her job.” He would not

say that he would trust her with his life, not here with this

young life hanging by a thread.

Though his body barely moved even to breathe, Spark’s eyes

momentarily widened at the revelation of Scully’s sex, then the

boy seemed to turn inward, so quiet and for such a long time,

that Mulder thought he had fallen asleep. The gold of the setting

sun was flooding through the far window now. The picture of a

slip of a boy with his faithful dog stretched out at his side

would be a vision Mulder would not quickly forget. As quietly as

he could, the agent moved with soft steps towards the door.

“So you’ll be in town a few days yet?” came a whisper from across

the room. Mulder turned back. The boy’s voice had seemed as

insubstantial as a shadow as if he were half-sleep. His hand

still rested on the dog’s head.

“That’s right, a couple of days, maybe three.”

Spark coughed but without any real force. “Could Thor come visit?

He won’t be in the way. I don’t like to keep him cooped up here

with me. Besides he sees things and does things and then comes

back and tells me.”

A bitter-sweetness flooded the space between Mulder’s ribs. It

was a sad but lovely game that the dying boy shared with his best

friend. “Sure, he can come visit. I’d like that. Do you want me

to come get him?”

“You don’t need to do that. Thor will do the finding. He’s good

at locating people he’s been close to.” The boy looked down his

nose at the animal now. “Is that all you’re gonna do? Lie there?”

The dog’s head came up like a shot, all attention. “Well, go and

say ‘goodbye’ to the man.” With one bound the animal was off the

bed and half way across the room, leaping forward to plant his

forefeet just below Mulder’s shoulders. A large wet tongue licked

his face. At that instant Mulder felt a little dizzy. Everything

seemed to gray out for a moment as it sometimes does when you

stand up too suddenly. Must be related to the emotion that

tightened his chest. The moment passed as swiftly as it had come.

Gently, he took the dog’s forelegs and lowered the animal to the

ground. “You take care of yourself,” he said to the Thor and his

boy simultaneously. After that he couldn’t take himself into the

cooling evening air and away from death’s door fast enough.

End of Act II

ACT III:

September 15, 11am

Scully washed her hands for a long time at the old lab sink. She

had been more tired and she had attended to more odious bodies,

but she had seldom had to work under worse conditions. The FBI

had been given space in the basement of the oldest wing of the

local hospital to use as a temporary morgue, rooms that hadn’t

been occupied in decades. They’d displaced a lot of roach

families and every stirring of air from the laboring fan had made

her imagine worse things scurrying along the floor. Dropping her

‘greens’ inside a thirty-gallon plastic trash can labeled for

laundry, she fled the place, hoping that by moving quickly the

fleas couldn’t attach to her ankles. Her body wanted coffee

though she wasn’t looking forward to the swill from the hot pot

someone had set up on a rickety table by the stairs. A smile

brightened her face as she saw that a pleasingly familiar figure

was lounging against the exit’s double doors. She noted that her

partner had not come in, though there had been nothing to prevent

him from doing so. Mulder didn’t care for dead bodies at the best

of times, and the charred, blackened victims of fire were his

least favorite.

Her smile of greeting widened to a grin when he extended a

familiar cup in her direction. “A tall, mocha latte?” she

guessed, inhaling the fumes with pleasure. “Ambrosia, I could

kiss you!”

“Promises, promises,” Mulder drawled. “I thought we should touch

base. Is this a good time?”

“As good as any. Let’s go outside. Even if it weren’t a beautiful

day, let’s get out of here. I keep having images of rats feasting

on my toes.” As they emerged from the dim lighting into the full

brightness of day, Scully noted that her partner looked a little

gray. He appeared to need the sun even more than she.

They didn’t speak right away but sat on a bench and lifted their

faces to the warm rays. After the clammy dampness of the

basement, Scully appreciated the quiet moment. The hot, silky

liquid melted her insides as thoroughly as the sun warmed her

skin.

“You certainly came back very late last night,” she said. “I

heard you come in — when was it? — after three?” She eyed him

speculatively. “Still have your shirt?”

He returned a wan smile. “I only dropped about a hundred. I

stopped when it began to look obvious that I didn’t know what the

hell I was doing. After that I just tried to appear bored and

carried my chips and my ginger ale from table to table. That’s

when the really interesting stuff began. It turns out that

gambling is not the only game on the Lucky Lee and the Southern

Star.”

By the mournful tone in her partner’s voice, Scully steadied

herself for bad news. “What happened?”

“Nothing much except that I was asked twice if I wanted a little

action and they didn’t mean the card playing kind.”

“I see. Male or female?”

Sighing, Mulder crossed his long legs. “Both actually.”

Something in his face warned Scully that this was no time for

jokes. “And?”

“A rather odious personage offered to pay me. He thought I worked

there.”

It was a struggle not to choke. “How much are you worth?”

“Don’t be crude.” Mulder was not laughing; he should have been,

considering the normal bent to his humor. She just waited. He

would tell her in his own time.

“I went up on deck to get some air — I needed it — and this boy

of maybe twelve bumped into me.” Mulder took a breath to steady

his voice. “He then proceeded to rub himself against my —

Anyway, he had these little white cards — an address — if I was

interested.” Mulder hunched down as if he felt a sudden chill. “I

took a card, but I didn’t go, not last night, not without the

vice squad at my back.”

“I’m sorry,” Scully breathed. They sat in silence for the moment,

trying to capture in their souls the gentle sounds of water from

a fountain and the song of birds. Scully noticed that in addition

to the loss of her friend’s peace of mind, something else was

wrong. In what she thought was a change of subject she asked, “I

don’t see your shadow. I assume that Satan found his way home?”

“Who? Oh, Thor. Yes. Dog and his boy are very happy. He’s where

he should be.” And Mulder obviously meant that, but then why did

he still look so glum. Worse than glum, he was shaking and a

trembling hand came up to shield his eyes from her. Anxious,

Scully slid over until they faintly touched. The hell with it if

someone saw them!

“What’s wrong, Mulder?”

“Thor’s owner — just a boy — he’s dying. Spark is what he calls

himself. AIDS. Won’t be too long.”

The cooling coffee nearly spilled from Scully’s hand. “I’m so

sorry. Are you sure that’s what it is?”

Anger flooded up through his lean frame, but not at her. “By now

I should damn well know Kaposa’s sarcoma lesions when I see them!

Worse, I suspect that six months ago, maybe a year, Spark was

like one of the boys on the ship. He’s a beautiful child even now

and has no parents, but someone must pay the rent on the little

room he lives in and for the medical supplies I saw.”

What could she say. Scully reached between them for his hand and

squeezed it. It was chill and damp. “Are you sick?”

“At heart.”

She squeezed it again and felt a desperate returning pressure.

More silence then for a little while to let the horror dim a

little. “So where does this all lead us?” she asked. “Were the

warehouses trysting places? Were these men involved? Is someone

taking out the devils?”

“Yes, and yes, and yes in my highly educated opinion.” He pulled

a little white card out of his pocket. “This is a warehouse, too.

If I lived close by, I’d get in a supply of hot dogs and

marshmallows.” Like an animal he shook as if to dispel an image

from his mind. “What have the crispy critters revealed?”

“What you would expect. Only a couple of odd things.”

“Such as?”

She hesitated. “I’d like to wait till I look at the most recent

victim. If I find the same anomalies, then I’ll let you know.”

Mulder nodded. He didn’t push her. He was the same way. He didn’t

want to reveal his theories until he was sure either — certain

in his own mind anyway. Evidence was a secondary issue.

With a sign he stood, stretching. “Got to get back on the trail.

All this makes it hard to want to go after the ones with the

match, however.”

“Prove what the dead were doing,” she told him. “No one’s going

to push you much beyond that. The fires have to stop, though,

before some innocent person is hurt.”

“Some innocent person already has been, just not by fire.”

“Want me to stop by and see this Spark,” she asked. For the first

time in their conversation he dropped the shield completely; his

eyes were bleak as winter as he looked down at her. “I was hoping

you’d ask, but there’s no rush. He’s well taken care of.”

“Before we leave I will.”

A nod and he wandered away, shoulders stooped. She watched him go

and then returned to her own unpleasant task.

It was late afternoon before an even more subdued Agent Scully

entered the supermarket, now temporary FBI field office. Mulder

was not answering his cellphone. As usual when this happened she

had to work to unclench her jaw before the tension brought on a

headache. In deference to their changed realtionship, Mulder had

begun to at least carry the thing and keep it charged. Afraid of

running down the battery, however, he would often turn it off

when he was within reach of a phone and then forget to turn it

back on when he wasn’t.

Even though she always worried when unable to reach her wayward

partner, Scully’s anxiety was tempered this time because of the

autopsy findings she would have to report when she did catch up

with him. That part of their reunion, she would be happy to

postpone indefinitely.

Nonsense, she told herself. A simple test could as quickly prove

innocence as guilt.

A gray-haired retiree wearing old jeans and a ragged T-shirt

covered with the ever-present sooty smudges directed Scully to

the back of the store. The combined homicide and arson teams had

taken over what had once been the dairy manager’s office. The

tiny cube was the one place that had not already been claimed.

Scully’s nose twitched as she entered. The room had that old ice

cream carton smell. Not an unpleasant smell, but distracting.

At the moment, only one frightfully young agent occupied the

room. “Special Agent…Mulder? He had a visitor. Black hair, long

legs, a real looker.” The smooth face that still wore traces of

acne scars grinned.

“Thor,” Scully surmised.

“If you say so. They went out over three hours ago and I haven’t

seen either since.”

“I’ll find them.” She gazed down at the impressive pile of data.

“How’s the investigation going?”

The amusement left the young face and was replaced with an

expression of awed respect. “Agent Mulder told us what to look

for and, it’s hard to believe, but it’s all here exactly where he

said it would be.” The young man pointed proudly to the stacks

while clearly indicating that he was reluctant to defile his

hands by actually touching them. “These guys were dirty, and I

mean dirty. If they weren’t already dead, I’d take them out

myself.”

“I hope you don’t mean that,” she replied sagely. “If you just

fire your weapon, the paperwork is unbelievable.”

At that she left, more than a little pleased to see that her

partner was for once getting the respect he deserved. It was nice

to visit a place that didn’t listen to the stories.

Unfortunately, the visit hadn’t helped her find Mulder, though if

he and Thor were still together it would simplify her task

greatly when she did find him. Standing outside the empty-

windowed market, she looked up and down the street wondering

where to start. A drop of sweat trickled down her temple. The day

was no longer pleasant. Humidity had rolled in from the South and

now lay over the city like a heavy, wet blanket. Fretfully, her

damp hand took another wrap on the handle of the plastic bag she

carried. In it was a large block of paraffin that she’d purchased

at a craft store immediately after viewing the last victim.

In the end she found her partner easily enough. When the street

was quiet she heard in the distance a familiar sound. It didn’t

take much investigative insight to head in that direction. As she

drew closer, the repeated thuds of the bouncing ball were joined

by the distinctive grunts that always seemed to accompany the

exercise of male egos. After a couple of false starts — once

into an alley with no egress and once thwarted by a fenced

parking lot — she found what she was looking for. Behind a WWII

vintage apartment building that was sandwiched between two old

mills, a rainbow group of teenage boys were playing a vigorous

game of basketball — a group of boys and one tall man. He still

wore his suit but had shed coat and tie. Scully stood to watch.

She had often seen Mulder play. He was good, quick and yet

graceful.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t bare-chested as he often played, so she

was denied the sight of the strong swimmer’s muscles moving

across his chest and back. His pale blue shirt was unbuttoned

halfway down, however, giving him a romantic, roguish appearance

that would have to do.

With men of his own age and height, Mulder played all out with an

aggression she had seen burst out as anger time and time again.

With boys and teens, he dialed back the intensity, always

sensitive to their level, but never backed off enough so that it

was easy for them. If you played with Mulder, he made you work

for every point but you felt good about it at the end. All in

all, it was a relief to see him relieving the tension; he had

been way too tight when she’d seen him that morning.

As she watched, however, a crease appeared between her eyes, her

brows slowly came together, and then she frowned. There was

something odd about the play. Mulder was not laying back. When he

wasn’t making baskets or high-fiving his listless team members

for doing so, he was using his greater height, reach, and

experience to steal the ball from the other team. The boys were

sweaty, hot, discouraged and even angry. This was true even of

the ones who seemed to be on Mulder’s team, mostly because he

never seemed to pass the ball. She even saw him make deliberate

fouls more than once but none of the boys said anything, their

faces only darkened the more, not that the triumphantly capering

adult in the midst seemed to notice.

And on the sidelines, watching Mulder’s every move with doggie

glee, was Thor. But the dog was no longer Scully’s primary

concern.

All at once while putting the ball back in play from the

sidelines, a tall boy made a bad pass. Mulder went after it, his

smile a wolfish grin. One of the smaller boys unfortunately got

in the way of the charging man’s left elbow. The boy went down.

Mulder got to the ball, made the basket and congratulated himself

but made not a move to offer a hand to the boy on the ground.

Scully stepped forward but stopped as the youth got stiffly to

his feet. Her frown had deepened from disapproval to alarm.

Someone had to stop this.

As it turned out, she didn’t have to. The grumbling boys seemed

to have already broken up the game on their own.

So furious was she that she didn’t trust herself to go to him but

instead waited for him to notice her. He took his time. A couple

more lay-ups, a little fancy dribbling. Finally, he deigned to

head in her direction, a lazy smile on his sweat-drenched face.

“Right now I don’t have time to talk about that ‘exhibition’,”

she said coldly. “I need your help with another matter.”

He barely looked at her. More than half of his attention was

directed at trying to spin the ball on the tip of a finger. “What

kind of help?” he asked in a flat voice.

Scully took a deep breath. “Remember at lunch that I said that I

found some anomalies with the bodies of the first two victims. I

found the same marks on the third, even more pronounced.”

Half bent in his dribbling, he actually had to look up at her

through his damp lashes. “Like what kind of marks?”

“I think they’re bite marks, from a large animal.” She waited for

that to sink in. Not only did he not react, but his dribbling

became more rapid. “Will you stop that!”

He did and stood, his hair wet, his clothes disheveled and sweat-

stained, and the basketball under his arm. “So?”

“Do I have to say it? Thor was found in the same general area as

the third victim.” She opened the plastic bag she carried and

pulled out the block of paraffin. It was six inches square and an

inch thick. “We need to measure his bite and get an impression.

It will be crude, we won’t be able to make a positive ID but we

can rule out any obvious inconsistencies. I assume that’s

something that you want to do. You two get along so well that I’m

sure that if you worked with him –”

But Mulder only shrugged, one eyebrow lifting to his left. “Too

late.”

Scully whirled. Thor had vanished or at least she thought he had.

Then she caught a glimpse of something low and black loping down

an alley.

“Shit! Well, aren’t you going to run after him?”

Her partner’s only response was to stretch and reach towards his

back. “Can’t. I think I pulled a muscle.”

Scully stood stupefied for a long moment and then growled low in

her throat, “We’ll talk about this later,” and took off at a run

after the animal. At least she was wearing her most comfortable

shoes.

At the entrance to the alley she did pause to look back.

Unperturbed, Mulder was practicing hook shots again. Swearing,

she ran on.

Thor led her a merry chase — no, anything but a merry chase — a

sweaty, infuriating one. She now understood how the animal had

remained free without leash or presence of an owner for so long,

which certainly must be as illegal here as anywhere. Thor was

friendly as a teddy bear, unless he didn’t want to be caught and

then he couldn’t be. He must have God’s own wisdom to tell friend

from foe with such accuracy. Unerringly, Thor knew every passage

and hole in the city where he could venture but his human

trackers could not. He knew every fence that was just a little

too high, every narrow pathway choked with garbage that less

fastidious city creatures had pulled from trashcans, every blind

alley that was not quite blind — at least not for a creature

with his size and flexibility. His least endearing trait was his

habit of turning around and laughing at his tracker with his

doggie grin while his tail wagged merrily.

So Thor was the one having the merry chase. Only the hope that he

would give up at any moment and lie down, paws in the air in

order to have his stomach rubbed, kept Scully in the race long

after she should have given up.

Footsore and filthy, Scully wearily trudged back to the

neighborhood court where she’d last seen her partner. He was

gone. Two of the boys had returned, however. One was making long

and ineffective attempts at the basket, the other was the smaller

boy who had been roughly pushed to the ground during the game. He

was still holding his arm.

Scully approached, cautiously. “You may have seem me watching the

game. My friend was the man you were playing with. I’m also a

medical doctor. You seem to have hurt your arm. Can I take a

look? It may save you a long wait at the emergency room.”

The boy shrugged very much as Mulder had. He was about fourteen

but small for his age. The other boy joined them as Scully began

prodding the arm, checking for range of motion. “Tell me when it

hurts and where.”

He didn’t speak but he did wince, which is all you could expect

from a boy his age. “I think it’s only a strain. Put some ice on

it now, some heat tonight and take some Ibuprofen. Do you know

what that is?”

“Our Mom will know,” the second boy said. “She’s a nurse’s aide.”

“Then tell her what I said and do see a doctor if it’s not better

by morning. I am really sorry that this happened. I’ve never

known my friend to play so rough.”

Both boys shrugged. “No big deal. We should ‘a known.”

“Known what?”

“He was with Thor,” the older boy replied as if that explained

everything. He then spoke curtly to his brother. “Come on, Luke,

we gotta get home or Mom’ll throw it out.” The interview was

clearly over.

Thus they moved off leaving Scully with a head full of questions.

Hoping to find Mulder there, and in need of a shower, Scully

returned to the motel. An extra tip which would have to be worked

into their expense account ensured that their rooms had returned

to what must have been their original shabby cleanliness, but

Mulder wasn’t in his. He had been, however. Suit jacket, shirt,

trousers and shoes made a trail from the door. The shower in his

room had been used and his luggage rifled. Tennis shoes, jeans,

and his favorite cutoff sweatshirt were gone. She knew the

sweatshirt well for its threadbare softness made it also one of

her favorites. By the time she’d showered and dressed, Mulder had

still not returned and still did not answer his cell phone, so

Scully decided to go shopping. Having had to use the inadequate

bottle of cheap shampoo the motel supplied and the five dollar

hair brush reminded her that she had items to replace.

It was dark and beginning to rain when Scully returned and her

heart lifted, first in relief and then in renewed irritation when

she saw that the lights in Mulder’s room were on.

She found him sitting with Thor in the middle of his bed eating

an ice cream cone. They both were eating ice cream cones, her

partner holding one out to Thor who licked daintily. An empty

pint carton and a box of cones had joined Mulder’s running shoes

and the other obstacles on the floor.

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Scully leaned against the doorframe between their rooms, crossed

her arms and gave him her very best ‘look’. The partner she had

worked with for nearly nine years should have known instantly

that he was in trouble. This one reached the cone out to her with

a friendly, “Want a lick?”

“No, I don’t. Mulder, what’s going on?”

She cringed as he gave that shug again. “I don’t know what you

mean.”

“Yes, you do. Your behavior this afternoon.” With alarm she noted

the color of the ice cream. “Is that strawberry?”

He grinned, charmingly. “Yes. Change your mind?”

“Aren’t you allergic to strawberries.”

“No, I’m not; it’s my favorite.”

“No, Rocky Road is your favorite, you say that it’s just like

your life. We have to talk, but not now; I’m not in the mood. Is

he –” meaning Thor “– spending the night? Are the two of you at

least going to stay in?”

Her partner looked down at his canine companion. “Are you

spending the night?” Thor gave a soft yip in reply. “He’s

staying. So am I. It’s raining and they have cable.”

Scully swore, slammed the connecting door, and took another

shower.

The dip in the bed came around midnight. she didn’t even need to

look at the cheap bedside clock. She could estimate the time

because she could hear Letterman’s voice dimly from the TV in the

next room. The connecting door was open letting in just enough

light to see the shape of the figure that had come to sit beside

her on her bed. He was looking at her badge of all things,

tilting it this way and that way to catch the light as if he was

trying to actually read it.

“Mulder, what’s wrong?”

He reacted to her voice first, snapping closed the wallet and

guiltily dropping it back onto the nightstand as if it burned

him. At last he reacted to the question. When the answer came

his voice was strained. “I guess I don’t feel very well.”

With a sigh, Scully leaned over and switched on the light. She

only needed to blink a couple of times to get the full affect of

his swollen, blotchy face and arms. She lifted up the sweatshirt

and she was sure. “You have hives. A really good case. I warned

you.”

He looked almost — scared was the only word that could describe

it. It was hard to believe what with the things Mulder had seen,

but then he didn’t like the sight of runny eggs either.

“Was it the strawberry ice cream?”

“Like I said — told you so.”

“It itches.”

“I’ll bet it does. Now stop that! Don’t scratch. Let’s see if I

have any Benadryl.”

With an inarticulate grumble rumbling deep in her throat, Scully

crawled out of bed and opened the smaller of the two bags she

carried. This one went with her everywhere, her traveling ER. She

found the antihistamine and gave him the full dose. He made a

face. “Oh, come on, don’t be a baby.”

After more rifling she found some topical poison ivy cream that

had calamine lotion as the primary ingredient. Then she begins to

dab the pink lotion on the hives with a cotton ball.

“I hate pink,” he sulked. “Does it have to be pink?”

“Live with it, Mulder. Now take your shirt off,” she ordered

wearily.

He complied, but with hesitation, hiding his face. She’d seen

enough though. Was Mulder actually blushing? He had reddened. Had

to be the rash. Mulder was as vain as a peacock around her and

always had been.

She’d treat his back and then he could do the rest himself. As

she moved across the broad shoulders, however, working the creams

into each rosy splotch, she noticed that he had begun to shiver.

This didn’t make sense as the room wasn’t cold. Lower down she

revised her earlier assumption. No, not shivering, no gooseflesh

had appeared, but a tense trembling. Then she knew what it was

because her own body, attuned to his harmonics, had begun to

respond in kind.

Yes, that kind of trembling. The kind that led to other things.

Sweet, deep, glorious things.

‘No!’ she told himself, rising from the edge of the bed where she

sat. This was not the time. It wouldn’t be even if she weren’t

still furious at him for his odd behavior of the afternoon.

Whirling, she thrust the tube of cream at him.

“Here, you can do the rest yourself. The antihistamine will also

kick in in a few minutes and help you sleep.”

But he just sat there, gazing at her with eyes as huge and bright

and mysterious as the moons of Mars. He had looked at her in

lots of ways before, with love, with lust, with joy, with sorrow,

hurt, in pain, daring her, and even hating her but never this

way. She couldn’t put a word to it, but it was as if he were

looking upon something totally new and simply wondrous. Slowly,

he reached out a hand and, almost as if afraid, touched her left

nipple where it had begun to stand out from her thin camisole.

Scully felt herself sway with the sudden desire to touch him in

the same way, as if this were something new and precious

flowering up within her.

Not taking his eyes from hers, he stood. That broke the spell for

he didn’t move with his usual grace. His foot caught in a

trailing sheet. Afraid he would fall, she automatically reached

for him and felt the warm skin of his muscular arms. The heat in

her belly retreated somewhat, at least enough so that she could

reason again.

Not tonight, Fox Mulder. Not tonight.

“Go to bed, Mulder,” she said, though her voice didn’t come out

with any of the cool detachment she had intended, for his hand

had come around to cup her breast. They were standing so close

now that she had to tilt her head far back to see his face,

hoping to read there what he was thinking. But he wasn’t thinking

at all, that was certain. What a turn on it was for her. Those

dreamy, half-closed eyes turned her knees to jelly. She had never

seen such total abandon on that beautiful face.

“Mulder…” came out a squawk this time.

All at once he swept down on her. She had never felt so aware of

the difference in their sizes as his mouth came down to cover

hers. It was hard, hot and demanding. His body smelled of sweat.

His arms clasped her to him with rib crunching force. Something

hard, like hot iron, rubbed up against her belly. But beyond all

of this was the growing fact that she could not breathe and not

just from the alarming embrace. It was the way his mouth had

enveloped hers as if he was determined to possess her completely.

She began to struggle. At first she moved only a little, just so

he would know that he was hurting her. She expected at any moment

that he would ease off, but he didn’t. If anything, his hold

tightened. He had wrapped himself around her so strongly that one

hand was free to roam, and it did. When that hand came around to

squeeze her buttocks, his eyes closed completely. One would think

from his soft, blissful moan that he was the one in pain.

If there had ever been any pleasure for Scully in this ardent

attention, the joy had disappeared totally. Her chest ached from

lack of air as well as from the vice-like grip of his arms. With

the situation rapidly turning critical, she struggled harder and

for the first time felt the beginnings of real panic. She could

not budge him. Like a wild thing she was forced to fight in the

only way she could. She bit down — hard — heard a baritone-

pitched yelp and tasted blood. Extreme, maybe, but at least sweet

air was flowing into her lungs again. She was still locked in a

crazed man’s arms, however.

This was no love-making that she had ever known. His hands hurt,

his body was hard and demanding like that of a mindless, wild

creature and with every feminist bone in her body she knew that

she didn’t have to take it. She may be small but in their current

configuration she also knew that she was not defenseless as well

he should know.

With one last “Mulder… Stop…!” such as she’d been gasping

since getting something like her breath back, she let the anger

flow. She didn’t understand why he was acting like this, she did

not want to hurt him again, but enough was enough!

Levering herself against his strong shoulders, she brought her

knee up with all her strength, automatically following his first

staggering gasp of pain with a rapid kick in the same general

area. It was the first lesson in self-defense for women; don’t

just startle and hurt, they’ll only come back angrier than ever.

Incapacitate.

It was easier that she thought it would be. He reeled back, bent

over, gasping, tears of agony already flowing from his eyes. The

bewildered, blotched and sweating face looked nothing like that

of the man she knew.

With surprisingly fierce strength she threw back the connecting

door and pushed him out into his own room, throwing the poison

ivy cream after him. “When I say ‘stop’ I mean ‘stop!'” she

gasped. “And you can take care of your own damn hives!” Shaking

with confusion, hurt and anger she slammed closed the door and

turned the dead bolt.

She sagged back against the door she had just closed. ‘What had

just happened?’ She couldn’t think, didn’t want to think, needed

a bath. She usually found herself in the tub after Mulder had one

of his attacks of sheer, irrational bull-headedness. Over the

years that amounted to a lot of bubble baths. Seldom had she

wanted one more than now, though she doubted that anything could

wash the imprint of those iron fingers from her body and the feel

of that hard, unloving mouth from hers. She could still taste his

blood.

With furious, fumbling fingers she began undressing only to see

that there was a rip in her delicate camisole and two of the tiny

buttons were gone. When had he done that? She couldn’t even

remember.

The remains of the silk had barely slipped from her shoulders

when a shiver ran up her spine. It felt as if she were being

watched. Having learned to trust such instincts, she turned

swiftly. From a dark corner, two inhuman eyes glowed. By habit

she was about to call to Mulder but then the memory of the last

incomprehensible minutes came back and she recalled her state of

undress. Instead, clutching the ripped garment across her front,

she edged to the nightstand for her weapon and challenged the

eyes in the corner.

It was Thor. She hadn’t even realized that he had followed Mulder

into her room and she had thrown her partner out too quickly for

the animal to leave with him.

Too distraught to be concerned about the bite impression she

needed to collect from her ‘suspect’, she threw open the room’s

front door. A blast of sultry night air flowed over her bruised

skin. “You, out!” she commanded. “Go home or you’ll get the

same.”

Tail between his legs, belly to the floor, looking utterly

miserable as if he already shared his substitute master’s pain,

Thor crept from the room. He was barely clear before the door

slammed behind him.

Trembling with delayed shock, Scully’s crept to the bathroom to

tend her aches and bruises. The salt of her tears turned sour the

delicate perfume of her bath.

ACT IV

September 16, 7am

It was full light before Scully woke. She had been so cold when

she had finally gone to bed that she had heaped on every blanket

she could find. Now she was wringing with sweat. Another shower

followed. She was grateful for the steam that fogged the mirror.

The bruises were less visible that way. Wrapped tightly in her

bathrobe, her body aching, she collapsed wearily down on the edge

of the mattress. The night before she hadn’t wanted to think, but

now she did. She must. What had happened made no sense. Mulder

was no monster. He was a gentle, considerate lover. Sure, they

wrestled sometimes, mock battles over pillows and bedclothes, but

he had always held his far greater strength in check, allowing at

least the illusion of a fair fight…

… in exactly the way she had expected him to hold back during

the pickup game behind the tenement. He hadn’t, however, and the

results had been disastrous. Then there was the ice cream, and

his reticence, his refusal, to help with Thor.

She wasn’t angry any more; she felt only a deep weariness.

“What’s happened this time, my love?” The trembling began again

when she considered what she had done. How badly had she injured

him? She should have thought of a less extreme way to break his

hold, but that wasn’t how she had been taught and the Mulder she

knew would have known that.

At least Mulder in his right mind would have.

Just then Scully heard the faintest of knocks on her connecting

door. She didn’t get up at first, allowing herself just to savor

the relief she felt. He was up and moving at least. Then muffled,

halting words came through the too thin sheet of plywood and

paint. “Scully…?” After a pause again she heard, “Scully…

please… just let me know that you’re all right.”

With cold fingers she undid the lock.

September 16, 8am

The dreams were not the worst he’d ever had, they were too

shadowy for that, but they went on and on. He felt young and

omnipotent, immortal the way only the young can feel. At the end

he remembered becoming aroused in that horrible, wonderful way

that, again, only teenage boys can feel. But this wet dream

hadn’t ended the way it should. It had ended with terrible

confusion and the most horrible pain.

He woke to the most horrible pain.

Tears of anguish running down his cheeks, he curled around his

center on the sagging bed, his mind nothing more than a fuzzy red

blur. His lip hurt as well. It had ballooned to twice its size or

at least felt that way, and this skin itched! Bloody hell, what

had be been doing? It came to him more slowly than it should

have; if he’d been in a fight and kicked in the balls, then what

had his unknown assailant done to Scully that he should find

himself alone?

That thought got him out of the bed when nothing else would have.

What he saw in the bathroom mirror confirmed what he suspected

about his lower lip. His skin was both painful and blotchy. He

recognized the hives but more by the pink calamine stuff on his

arms then by the rosy patches themselves. There was more pink

goop on his back. So how come there was none on his stomach that

itched worst of all? Again, he shut his eyes and tried to think.

Nothing came except for an itching in his mind that matched that

of his skin. Scratching idly at a blotch on his hand he recalled

a dim memory of the first time he remembered having them. Unable

to understand what was happening to him, he’d taken his fears to

his mother’s room, relieved that his father was out of town on

business again. Mom would make everything all right. Again he

heard her soothing voice, felt her small hands, oh, so tender as

she smoothed the medication on his back. A wave of arousal threw

him from the memory.

Now THAT hadn’t happened, not with his mother!

Oh, shit!

Mulder barely made it back to the bed before his knees gave way.

That was Scully’s touch he remembered. Her touch and his body.

His body reacting to that touch. Never, never had he felt that

way before. The wanting… the needing… the taking…

Suddenly sick to his stomach Mulder wrapped his arms across his

chest as he began to shake. No, he didn’t. He couldn’t have. Not

to Scully. Just a dream. Only there was the evidence of the cut

lip and the pain, the terrible pain down below. Oh, shit…Oh,

shit…

Somehow he hobbled to the door that connected their rooms.

It was locked.

In eight years he could count on one hand the number of times

Scully had locked her door like this. Tears sprang to his eyes.

No, no, no, don’t let this be real. Anything but that. Had he

hurt her? He took some solace in that fact that at least she’d

been able to lock the door, that was something, but she had felt

the need to lock the door and that was everything. He saw his

world, his life, his hope for a future, begin to crumble. He

wanted to disappear. How could he look at her again? He had to at

least know how she was, to see with his own eyes what he had

done.

Then? Then he would see.

At first he only scratched at the door, wanting to get her

attention but only if she was awake. When no answer came,

however, he knew that he couldn’t wait. What if she needed

doctor? He knocked a little louder. He would break down the door

if he had to but not yet. He didn’t want to frighten her any more

than she was already. It was after the third time that he heard

the faint noises on the other side. In time the door opened,

though only a crack.

A face as pale as his own looked up at him, red hair sticking out

in all directions as if she’d gone to sleep when it was still

wet. Neither spoke. Wary eyes swept him from head to toe. His

muscles locked, he even held his breath, afraid that any move

would be misunderstood. Finally, she opened the door a little

farther and for the first time the light from his room fell fully

on her face. He staggered back at the sight of the bruises around

her mouth. His own tender tissues reacted with a deep twisting

pain of their own.

She stood and watched it all. His grimace and honest reaction of

shock and horror drew a tiny, grim smile from those swollen lips.

“I think you’d better come in,” she said swinging the door fully

open. “I think that you’re hurt worse than I am.”

He managed to make it across the floor somehow to sink gingerly

onto the edge of her unmade bed.

“What did I do?”

“Don’t you remember?”

He stared down at the fading hive blotches on his arms and then

back up at her face, misery written all over his. “Just shadows.

I dreamed.”

“Maybe they weren’t dreams. Did you dream about playing

basketball?” she asked.

His only response was to look more confused.

“Eating strawberry ice cream?”

“Scully,” he replied in a small voice into which fear was

creeping, “I’m allergic to strawberries.”

“I know. I tired to warn you. You and Thor shared a whole pint.”

His head came up with a sharp snap. “Thor?” A possibility, like a

shot of electricity surged through him.

Sensing his mood shift and knowing all too well the way his mind

worked, she sat suddenly straighter in the chair facing him. “Oh,

no,” she whispered almost inaudibly, but the message had already

flashed between them. “Not here, not now.”

Mulder knew what the ‘Oh, no’ meant – Oh, no, not an X-File —

and yet it would explain everything that so badly needed an

explanation.

“When was the last time you saw Thor?” he demanded to know..

“Don’t you mean when was the last time you did? Because you were

with him all afternoon and he was here just a few hours ago. I

threw him out right after our little altercation.”

So he had been there all along when all the strange and terrible

things that he couldn’t completely remember had been happening.

Mulder just sat there, hands between his knees staring off into

space, his brow creased in concentration. “After I left you in

the park, I was walking back to join the task force to see what

they’d found. All at once he came bounding up. He knocked me

down. I thought he was just happy to see me. We wrestled for a

bit and…” Mulder’s hand went to his cheek “…then he started

licking my face. He wouldn’t stop. I…” his voice faded. “It all

gets fuzzy after that.” His entire body seemed to crumple as he

buried his face in his hands. “Shit, oh, shit.” It had been in

him. What had been in him?

Gently but firmly, he felt her pull his hands away. “Mulder, I

know what you’re thinking. Don’t. There was nothing bestial about

what happened. Canine possession? Mulder, I know that you can do

better than that.”

His weak, sheepish grin told her that he thought that he could,

too. “Unfortunately, it’s not going to turn out to be anything as

simple as that. After all, I didn’t howl at the moon, did I?

Besides, dogs don’t play basketball. Now if I’d been playing

tennis or frisbee…”

Her brows drew together, all serious again. “Speaking of

basketball, I ran into two of the boys you played with later.

They didn’t seem surprised that you played so rough. In fact,

they blamed themselves for agreeing to play with you.” To the

question in his eyes, she answered, “Because you were with Thor.”

Wheels began to turned in Mulder’s head. Now that was

interesting.

“There’s another thing that I mentioned last night but you

forgot,” she added almost reluctantly. “All three of the arson

victims show wounds on their extremities that look very much like

bite marks from a very large dog.”

The wheels stopped turning. They didn’t need to. “I think I’d

better see a boy about a dog and I think you’d better come with

me.”

“Couldn’t leave me behind if you tried.”

He started to rise then and then thought better of it. Oh so

carefully, he sat down again. “First things first, about last

night… and us. Just how awful was I?”

She came to sit close beside him, hesitating before she began to

roll up the sleeves of her robe. He read the seriousness in her

and stilled, barely breathing.

“I’m not showing you this to hurt you or blame you, but because

you’re bound to see it all eventually.”

He thought he was going to faint as he gazed open-mouthed on the

vivid red marks on her upper arms that were already darkening to

purple.

“Oh, Scully…”

“You were a bit over-enthusiastic.”

“That’s not what I would call it.” He was sick to his stomach

again. “If you hadn’t –” he gestured down at his crouch “–

would I have –?”

Her distress must be mirroring his. “Oh, Mulder, no. At the time,

I thought, maybe. With no inhibitions you’re stronger than you

know, but having given it some thought I don’t think that it

would have come to that. You see I had a similar experience once

a long time ago. There was this teenage boy. I found out later

that the other girls called him Octopus Man. Given an inch of

encouragement, he’d be all over you.”

One corner of one lip made a feeble attempt to curl upwards. “The

bus is barreling downhill and no one is at the controls?”

Scully was well aware of the power of the emotion they were

discussing. “That would explain it. But that boy never got past a

certain point. Of course, at the age we were then, he was not so

much larger than I.” Her mouth suddenly took on a musing pout.

“You know, the male’s sexual awakening happens when he is not yet

fully grown, but females his own age are. I never thought of

that particular arrangement as a species survival trait.”

Mulder glowered, finding no humor in the situation. “So how was

it? Did I – did he – act as if he even knew what was going on?”

“Oh, you – he – knew, but the train wasn’t stopping, not for

anything. That is not you by the way.” She tired to smile but her

mouth didn’t curve entirely right. “You like to take your time.”

How hard she was trying to lighten this. Caught up in his guilt

and terrible visions of what could have been, the tentative touch

of her hand on his thigh came as a surprise, but it was a welcome

surprise, her hand so soft, the expression in her eyes so warm.

“How are… things… with you?”

‘Things’ began to stir.

Ouch…

Reluctantly, he slid his leg out from under her hand. “I don’t

think that you’d better do that for awhile.”

“Sorry. Have you tried ice?”

“Are you out of your mind, woman?”

“Want me to take a look? In my professional capacity, of course.”

“Not just now, thank you. Just pass me a handful of the strongest

pain killers you have.”

After that he went quiet except for the new storms rising within,

while she dried her hair. Her eyes seldom left his face.

“Mulder, get over it. It wasn’t you. We just have to find out

what it was and make certain that it never happens again.”

“Oh, it will never happen again, of that I’m certain.” The storm

broke, drenching him with cold anger. “Let’s go make that house

call.”

September 16 10am

After attending to their wounds, the agents dressed and

breakfasted on doctored bad coffee from the motel lobby. Neither

was hungry. The drive took no time at all and the only problems

Mulder had getting there were with one-way streets, which had

been no impediment to a man and dog traveling on foot. When two

Dobermans leaped out of hiding from behind a bush in a tiny yard

as the car approached, he knew they were close. There was the

building, a block ahead on the right. This time no old woman was

stationed on the steps with her broom to welcome them. Together

they climbed the narrow stairs through litter and trash and air

filled with the same multi-cultural scents of peanut oil and

curry that had pervaded the air before. Outside Spark’s room,

Mulder called the boy’s name, at the same time knocking once,

before letting himself in. He could imagine Thor vanishing

through his window to escape the incriminating evidence of

Scully’s block of paraffin, but the elegant black head only

raised itself listlessly from the boy’s bed where dog lay next to

the emaciated form of his god.

Even to Mulder’s eyes it was clear that the boy’s condition had

declined over the few days since they had first met. The child’s

skin had taken on a yellow, waxy cast and there was barely a

flicker in the eyes that opened at their abrupt entry. Mulder

felt his anger drain away.

Scully had gone to the boy’s bedside immediately. “I’m Agent

Scully, Agent Mulder’s partner, but I have a feeling that you

know that. I’m also a doctor. May I…?”

The thin shoulder’s moved ever so slightly in a shrug, the weary

acquiesce of someone who had seen more than their share of

doctors. “Won’t do any good,” came the low voice, “but knock

yourself out.”

As Scully began her examination, Mulder moved to the bedside

drawing up the room’s only chair. The child was so ill, keeping

his interrogator’s mask intact was going to take some work.

“What you did, Spark, that wasn’t very nice. I thought we were

friends.”

The boy’s hand crept out from underneath the worn sheet to caress

Thor’s sleek head.

“I wanted to know. I didn’t think you’d mind.”

“Wanted to know what?”

The voice was weak but not apologetic. “What it would be like to

be grown up the way you are. I’ve never met anyone like you

before.”

“That’s for sure,” Mulder heard Scully murmur under her breath.

He caught her eye and realized that she had expected something

like this. That she was ready to accept this after rejecting so

many of his other theories warmed his heart. But there was

another emotion in her face, one he saw only in the morgue when

he gazed down upon some young and beautiful child, its life cut

short. When she spoke, her voice as kind as he had ever heard it.

“Spark, you’re very sick.”

The child’s face with its faded but unearthly beauty looked up

into hers and said without hesitation, “AIDS.”

“Yes. There’s nothing I can do here,” she said. “You should be in

a hospital.”

“But it won’t help.”

Scully’s eyes touched her partner’s again. “It would give you a

little more time.”

“But they won’t let me bring Thor.”

“True, they won’t.”

“Then, no thank you.”

She sighed. “You should at least have hospice care.”

“I do. Andy came early this morning. He just left. I wanted him

to stay, but he couldn’t.” For the first time the boy’s peaceful

demeanor wavered. “He said that he’d try to come back, but there

are so many…” His chocolate brown eyes turned to the window, to

the street and the activity below. It was Saturday. Children were

playing, children who didn’t have one hand on death’s door.

Mulder’s hands clasped and unclasped between his knees. “Spark,

you know that Scully and I work for the FBI. If you are not too

tired, I’d like to ask you some questions now. There are things

we need to know. I think you know what I’m talking about.”

“I’m not too tired. I’m glad you’re here.”

“Tell me about the fires. How they got started. Tell me about the

men who died, why they died and how.”

The boy’s big eyes stared into the man’s hazel ones. “You know

already or you wouldn’t be asking me.”

“You have to tell us in your own words so no innocent person is

blamed.”

The boy reached out his smaller hand of frail bone towards the

man’s large one. Mulder wanted to take it but glanced at Scully

for her agreement first and both of them knew that it wasn’t AIDS

he was worried about. At first there was hesitation in her face

but finally she nodded.

At the boy’s touch Mulder felt, not a jolt of electricity, but a

warmth that spread soothingly throughout his whole body. At the

same time the sick room faded until it seemed very far away. He

stood on a plain of shifting shadows, a vaguely familiar

landscape, but before he could peer any further into the gloom,

he became aware that his arm hurt, not the one hot from Spark’s

touch but the other one. The ground also seemed very near. He was

a child again, being dragged through dark, wet streets by a man.

Uncle, came to his mind. There was no stopping until they reached

a small door in the wall of a huge, black building. A series of

knocks and the door opened and he was thrust inside. It was even

darker inside than out and just as quiet. It smelled of the river

and old dust.

A tall figure took him by the shoulder and spun him around.

Before he could move they had unzipped his jacket and unbuttoned

his shirt and a small light played over his body. There was more

than one man – three at least by the reek of cigars – but he

couldn’t see their faces though they could see his. He shivered

in the cold, empty room and wrapped his thin arms around his bare

chest.

They didn’t talk to him. Their cold business-like voices mingled

with that of his uncle. Now they took away his clothes entirely

and made him turn around and around like a roast on a spit. More

hands, far too many hands. Terrified, he was dragged up narrow

stairs, an ungentle slap warning him that he’d better start

walking and stop crying. They entered a tiny room where a single

red bulb glowed. There were new smells of sweat and old cologne

and something sick. He cried his hated uncle’s name again and

again but the old man had taken his blood money and fled, leaving

only the hands of the strange men and the red-lit room.

They hurt him, they hurt him very badly. They hurt him in ways

that he didn’t want to think about. He limped home that day and

every day thereafter, but not until the bleeding colors of dawn

touched the skin. He walked fast with his small fist wrapped

around the blood money his family so desperately needed. Tip-

toeing past his uncle asleep before his new wide screen TV, he

meet his younger brothers and sisters just rising from their one

bed to get ready for school. But no more school for him. He was

too tired. Besides he no longer belonged. How could he sit in a

classroom at a desk with other children knowing the un-childlike

things he did? He was changed. As the sun left the sky, he rose

to walk the dark streets to one black and looming building or

another. Each had its hidden, red rooms; each the too-friendly

whispered voices; and the fat, hot bodies rubbing against his,

lips against his and on his and on him, forcing his mouth —

“Stop it! Stop it!” shouted a voice but far, far away.

Mulder exploded out of the horror like a drowning man rising from

the grip of an icy, black sea. His body was shaking

uncontrollably. His only anchor to the present was the warm,

living body that rocked him, that held him close. The scent in

his nostrils this time was the scent of heaven, the blessed,

familiar perfume she wore.

“I just wanted to show him,” said a small voice far away. The

nightmare was fading but not fast enough.

“He asked you about the fires. Don’t try to tell me that ‘that’

was about the fires.”

“It was why.”

Mulder could not stop the tremors, but for once he didn’t mind.

He’d shiver for a solid week if he thought they could actually

shake off the memory of those large, rough hands.

“How were you able to keep going back?” he was finally able to

stammer. He only asked ‘How’ because he knew ‘Why’. For those

four small brothers and sisters who kissed him each morning and

each evening, who seemed to know without word or understanding

the enormity of the burden that he bore for them.

“How?” The sweetest smile came to the boy’s lips. “Because

something happened a few weeks later. It started out bad, but

turned out to be the best day of my life. It was cold that night

and raining. I remember it dripping down my neck. I so didn’t

want to go to ‘work’. I was sick with it. Instead, I hid outside,

in an alley in the dark. I thought seriously about dying, because

my uncle would kill me if I didn’t show, but then I couldn’t go

home either. And then I heard the tiniest sound.” The boy’s hand

reached out to touch one of Thor’s drooping ears. In response the

flag of a tail beat faster. “He was just the lit’lest thing, only

a little larger than my hand and so weak. He’d been thrown out in

a bag into the trash but had crawled out. I thought then how

alike we were; trash, that is. I had a muffin and one of those

juice boxes. I gave him some of that and wrapped him warm in my

sweater and put him in a box and hid him in a dark place. I told

him not to move or make a sound till I got back. He’d been making

these little grunting puppy sounds before but after I told him to

be quiet, not a peep. And he was still there when I did get back.

Weak as he was, he even licked my finger. I was never so happy in

my life. I just loved him SO much, I just wanted him to live so

badly, that I guess I poured all my love into him, all my soul.

“It doesn’t make sense but when I climbed the stairs to the red

room after that, I barely felt it. It was like I was wood, like

it was happenin’ to someone else though I would never wish that

on anyone. And that’s the way it was till I got sick; Thor and me

together except while my body was upstairs, he waited outside, or

more truly we waited outside, he and I together.” The huge brown

eyes looked up at Mulder. “I don’t ‘spect you to believe that.”

“You’d be surprised what I believe. So what you told me at our

first meeting was true. After you got sick you really did send

Thor out to see things and bring you back stories, only that

wasn’t quite true, was it? He never really had to ‘tell’ you

anything because a part of you traveled with him.”

A resolute expression put color into the boy’s pale cheeks.

“So what happened yesterday? The basketball game? You did more

than send Thor to spy on me.”

Excitement animated the little body. “I’d never tried that before

and it was so easy. You wanted to help me so bad that you let me

in, you ‘wanted’ me in.” The enormous chocolate eyes glittered

with something like worship. “There’s never been anyone like

you.”

“As I said, got that in one,” Scully breathed.

“As for the game, I was always the smallest. I wanted to know

just once what it was like to be bigger, taller. I wanted to know

what it felt like to win.”

“Hmmm, we’ll talk about fair play later. And the ice cream?”

“I like strawberry.”

“You could have killed Agent Mulder,” Scully admonished in her no

nonsense voice.

“I didn’t mean to.”

“And last night… that was you, too,” she said. Mulder noted

with relief that the statement was not phrased as a question.

“How’d you guess?” Spark asked in all sincerity.

Amused, Mulder cocked an eyebrow in her direction. “Yes, Agent

Scully, how did you know?”

Coolly, she answered the boy. “It’s come to my attention that

Agent Mulder has some skill in that area, skill which was

decidedly lacking last night.”

Spark didn’t have time to ask how Agent Scully had come to be

acquainted with Agent Mulder’s skill in these matters, for at

that moment Thor issued a low, warning growl. His head jerked,

first towards the window, then towards the hallway. Before either

of the partners could react, the apartment’s cheap door burst

open and a masked, fatigue-dressed figure spun into the room, a

lethal automatic revolver raised. Nothing could have been more

unexpected. Neither agent was in any position to reach their

weapons quickly, certainly not in time to beat a bullet that

would come from a gun already aimed at Mulder’s chest.

His hand was only half-way to his shoulder holster when the room

echoed with the distinctive ‘Splat!’ but at the same time a black

blur passed before Mulder’s eyes. Another shot and another.

Scully was rolling low. Thor had the invader’s gun hand in his

jaws deflecting the aim so that the next shots went safely wild.

It was when Mulder felt a new one whistle by his ear from the

direction of the open window that they were far from being out of

trouble.

From the balls of his feet he launched his body towards the knees

of their attacker. A whine screamed by like an incensed bee. Thor

yelped and Spark screamed just as Mulder brought the gunman down.

Two seconds, keeping below the level of the window, and the man

was cuffed. Scully, first crawled over to check on Spark and

seeing no blood on the terrified boy bent low and streaked out

the door, reaching for her cell phone with her left hand even as

she raised her service weapon. Mulder heard her call for backup

as her heels hit the stairs with a shower of staccato clicks. He

kept his own heel on the back of their attacker’s neck, which

went a long way towards muffling the obscenities that steamed out

of the man’s mouth. At the same time he worked himself around as

best as he could to try to see from where the other gunman had

been firing. The roof of an adjacent building lined up almost

perfectly. With the sounds of sirens already blaring from only

blocks away, Mulder caught a fleeting glimpse of the second man

disappearing through a rooftop door. Staring from the side of the

window down to the street below, he noted that Scully had all the

help that she would need. What looked like two nightshift police

officers and as many security guards had poured out of their

apartments in nearby buildings, a little groggy from their

interrupted sleep, but armed to the teeth. They scattered

following Scully’s directions.

With a jerk on the cuffs, Mulder pulled his trash-talking captive

to his feet and pushed the man towards the door. He paused at the

last moment to look back at the bloodless face of the boy whose

eyes were fixed on the floor now streaked with footprints in

blood. There Thor moved weakly, whimpering. “Stay still!” Mulder

ordered both animal and boy. “We’ll be back in just a few

minutes. Promise.”

Both partners were back in less than five after handing off the

two perpetrators to the local police with promises to be in to

give statements as soon as possible. Breathing hard from having

taken the five flights, two or more steps at a time, Mulder found

the boy of little more than skin and bone sprawled on the floor

with the head of a panting Thor in his lap. Within moments Scully

slid down beside them, her hands moving swiftly through the black

fur.

“I don’t think it’s very bad, Spark,” she assured the boy after

her initial examination. “Grazed his hip. You were a brave, good

boy, Thor. Thank you.”

Lovingly, she ruffled the dog’s silky head, very much the same

way she ruffled his own hair from time to time, Mulder thought

wryly.

“We should really take him to a vet to be sure though,” she told

the teary-eyed boy.

Spark’s response was an emphatic, “No! They’ll want to keep him.

We’ve never been apart.” Belatedly remembering the days Thor had

been lost in the fire and later stayed with Mulder, the boy

amended with, “Well, almost never. Please, if he’s really not so

bad could you fix him up here?” His pleading eyes were fixed in

Scully’s direction.

“That’s what I thought you’d ask,” she said with a nod towards a

small suitcase she’d brought back with her. “I think I might have

something in here for our brave hero.” She opened her well-

stocked first aid kit. “From time to time, it’s been sufficient

to handle the heroics of a certain other male of my acquaintance.

Meanwhile, Mulder will be looking for bullet fragments; we’ll

need them as evidence. The one that hit Thor just kept going.”

A short time later while Scully completed her treatment with only

a vague murmur about whether this was a step up or a step down

from autopsying pregnant elephants, Mulder sat down next to the

boy. He held up a set of plastic evidence bags containing the

remains of five slugs. “These men meant business, but they

clearly weren’t after you.”

The brown eyes lowered displaying lush lashes. “No, you. You went

sniffing about on the boats, didn’t you? Someone got scared and

hired those goons to take you out. Pretty dumb going after two

‘suits’.”

“Right, pretty dumb but then that’s more often than not how the

bad guys get caught. They might even have succeeded if it weren’t

for Thor, to which I offer my thanks as well.” Hearing his name

mentioned the canine’s tail wagged so energetically that it got

in the way of Scully’s bandaging.

“The good news is, the bosses didn’t pick their hit men very

well. These two are going to talk like a couple of magpies. There

will be no trouble tracing them back to their paymasters.

Attempted murder on two FBI agents? Your local police will be

able to close them down. That is what you were trying to do with

the fires and the deaths, yes?” The boy hung his head. Mulder

went on. “That’s what I was doing on the boats, you know. I had

to find out who started the fires and killed those men. That’s

what put my life in danger — mine and Scully’s and Thor’s. You

joined with Thor, didn’t you? You did it all.”

There was no remorse in the child’s voice, only anger. “They were

evil. I wasn’t the only one they used. It had to stop.” The boy’s

mouth curved up bitterly. “Don’t you see, the gentleman of the

night are always on the lookout for more, the more exotic the

better. What about the boys — and girls — to come?”

“Just promise that you won’t do anything like this again. We have

them now. We’ll shut them down lawfully.” This group at least.

“So Thor and I aren’t in any trouble?”

“I didn’t say that. And while we’re at it, let’s talk again about

what else you’ve seen through Thor’s eyes.” By the look of

defiance on the boy’s peaked features obviously quite a lot.

From the floor where she was just finishing attending to Thor’s

injury, Scully spoke in a voice that was soothing yet absolutely

firm. “Intruding into other people’s lives, invading their

privacy? That’s wrong.”

“And what they did to me wasn’t wrong?”

“I seem to remember an old adage about two wrongs,” Mulder

commented as he rose to help his partner repack her supplies.

Mid-action he felt the unpleasant pull of still-tender tissues.

That discomfort had been momentarily forgotten in the earlier

scuffle.

“Then there’s your traveling through Thor to me,” he said, doing

his best to sound paternally displeased, “don’t you ever do that

again either. Not to me, not to anyone.”

Guiltily, the boy’s head drooped. Then seeing Thor standing,

albeit shakily, he reached out his thin arms for comfort. Thor

made it up onto the bed and into those arms though with less than

his usual bounce. Hugging his friend to him, the boy sank back

against the pillows looking far too small and old for his age.

From the bed the chocolate eyes followed Mulder as he started to

leave with Scully.

“Please don’t go. Could you… could you stay and talk to me

today, at least until I fall asleep?”

Seeing her partner’s hesitation, Scully gestured him closer to

whisper, “I know you want to stay, so stay. I’ll go deal with our

two would-be assassins. We promised a statement. I’ll also get

things rolling in terms of closing down this sordid little ring.

Take all the time you need.”

It was a generous and kind gesture and all at once he wanted more

than anything to kiss this loving woman, only there was Spark and

his sad, hungry eyes.

The hell with it.

Bending, he kissed her softly on the forehead which they still

did though more often than not their kisses moved from there to

more intimate territory. Her eyes closed in pleasure and with a

returning squeeze of her hand, she was gone.

“See,” came a small and yet triumphant voice from the bed, “I

knew that she’d like it.”

Mulder whirled. “Not the way you did it!”

The smile vanished from the boy’s sharp features and his hand

clenched more fiercely into Thor’s thick fur. “I said I was

sorry. I just wanted to know what it was like between a man and a

woman who actually cared for each other.” In the bitterest of

ironies, the boy who knew more of the dark side of sex then

Mulder hoped that he would ever know, didn’t know about the best

parts.

“If not that, then talk to me about other things. Everything.

Like how was it to grow four inches in one summer?”

“Painful, and it was six.”

“Cool! Tell about the first time.” The fixed brown eyes glittered

with pleasure but behind them was a great hunger.

Heaven help us, Mulder mused.

After a moment, he took off his suit coat, loosened his tie,

rolled up his shirtsleeves, took his place again in the chair

beside the bed, and sighed. “I’m glad Scully’s gone.”

The boy grinned expectantly with his perfect white teeth.

“There’s painful parts to this and it’s not something I’m

especially proud of, on the other hand…” A flood of bittersweet

memories warmed him. “I warn you, it’s a long story if you really

want to understand it all.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” the boy responded eagerly.

Another sigh. “Very well.”

“How old were you?”

“Fifteen. It had been a terrible summer and some of my so-called

friends asked me to go with them to the State Fair and there was

this gypsy fortune teller…”

“How old was she?”

“An older woman. In her twenties, if you must know, but am I

telling this story or are you?”

Spark closed his mouth and made a zippering motion across his

lips.

“All right then. Let me start from the beginning…”

~~~~~~~~~~~

Scully found herself dozing in the cab even though the ride was

less that two miles. She had done a good night’s work, but then

she and Mulder were such heroes with the locals that it hadn’t

been hard. They booked the two would-be assassins on attempted

murder and better yet got the ringleaders of the pedophile group-

those who still lived- on murder-for-hire charges. She had not

expected to see Mulder and hadn’t. The man didn’t just have a

soft spot for children in distress, he had a whole bloody swamp.

The girls reminded him of his sister, ripped from her life, her

family; the boys reminded him of himself, equally traumatized,

lonely and abused, psychologically if not physically. The man-to-

man talk would do them both good.

The smell of wet street rose up to her as she crawled tiredly

from the cab in front of the boy’s building. The last of the

street lights glittered in the puddles. As the sound of the

taxi’s engine faded away, there remained only that odd, almost

unnatural quiet of a city just before dawn.

At that moment the front door of the building opened and Mulder

himself sidled out. He was awkwardly burdened with a large

shapeless bundle, which was wrapped in a blanket that Scully

recognized as being from the sick room. She met him at the bottom

of the short flight of stairs within steps of where their rental

car was parked. He hadn’t glanced up as he had come slowly down

the steps, but with his face nearly hidden he had looked about as

weary as she had ever seen him. Preoccupied with maneuvering the

steps with his burden, he was unaware of her presence until she

was beside him.

Red-rimmed eyes gazed on her gratefully from his gray and haggard

face.

“Mulder, what is it? What’s happened?” Fingers on his chin she

turned his face to the east and the soft colors of coming dawn.

There were tracks of tears on his stubbled cheeks. His eyes

lowered towards the bundle he carried. The blanket-wrapped shape

was large enough for the boy’s emaciated body.

“What is this? Spark? Is he worse? Are you taking him to the

hospital?”

The dark-haired head jerked in a negative sign. “Thor…” The

word caught in his throat. Hurriedly, Scully folded back an edge

of the blanket. Her probing fingers found cool, stiff skin under

the thick, soft coat. That bubbling life force was still.

“Oh, Mulder…I don’t understand. His injury wasn’t that bad.”

He clutched the bundle to him, his tired eyes closing. He opened

his mouth to speak but couldn’t get the words out. Giving up, he

inclined his head towards the trunk. After she had unlocked it,

he laid the motionless bundle tenderly in the back. With aching

slowness, he straightened up and reached blindly for her hand.

“Spark’s dead, too.”

“No…” but she had half suspected that already.

“I was just telling him stories.” Pent up before, the words

tumbled out. “We’d been at it for hours. He was just lying there,

eyes half open, this little smile on his face. I don’t know how

long he had been like that but too long.” His grip tightened,

grinding bone; his low, ragged voice staggered on. “He just

slipped away. And…Thor…was lying beside him and when I bent

to touch him I found he was gone, too…” The eyes closed, tears

on their lashes. “They went together. That bond they shared…”

Shaking himself as if from a dream, he pushed back from the car.

“I’ve called for an ambulance. They’ll be here for Spark soon,

but Thor, I couldn’t just leave him there. Just to be dispos–”

His voice broke. For an instant his fury at the world surfaced so

that he almost slammed the trunk closed. At the last second,

however, he caught himself and shut it gently, applying only

enough pressure so that the lock clicked. His eyes lifted then to

a window on the top floor.

“At least you were there,” she said, placing a small hand on his

shoulder. “No one should have to die alone.” Tenderly she turned

over his hand and kissed the palm.

And you’re not alone either, my love, and never will be.

“Come on,” she said. “I’ll come with you. We’ll find out who his

friends were in the building, try to contact his family, find

something for the funeral.”

Wordlessly, he nodded. They started forward. Suddenly, he took

her into his trembling arms and buried his face in her hair.

After a long moment, hand in hand, they climbed the steps

together.

~~~~~~~~

Epilogue

September 19

That night in the midst of death, they celebrated life. There was

no talk of risk. That no longer mattered. Over the next two days

they cleaned up everything they had to with the field office and

the local police. Everyone cooperated in quiet efficiency, not as

if Mulder would have noticed. Even Samson was surprisingly

subdued. No cracks, not a one. He certainly went up several

notches in Scully’s book, but then the man would have needed to

be made of stone not to see the grief that her partner wore about

himself like a shroud.

There was no funeral. Only Agents Mulder, Scully and a half dozen

‘family’ members attended the graveside service. The words were

few and impersonal. The eulogy was performed by a minister who

clearly knew little or nothing about the boy.

It was at dusk that the real service began. Called by word-of-

mouth they came by the hundreds; gray forms wrapped in mist. So

silent were they that the tracks made in the wet grass were the

only signs that the figures were not themselves the ghosts of the

Civil War dead out for a stroll. The partners were only two of

the number. In solemn procession at the head of the throng,

Mulder, stiff with control, carried Thor in his arms. At the edge

of the still-open grave they waited as from all directions the

mourners came. Children, parents, shopkeepers and young

professionals from blocks around – all came who had heard the

inseparable sounds of athletic shoes and the ‘click, click’ of

clawed paws on their streets and sidewalks.

As the last assembled, six silent men pulled the vault from the

earth. A stony-faced octogenarian opened it as well as the small,

lonely coffin within. By then there must have been two hundred

souls all woven about in the fog that had flowed in from the

river.

Two hundred and two, Mulder corrected to himself.

In the end the blanket covered both. It was a tight fit but the

overwhelming consensus was that the two involved would rest

easier now. When the partners and their fellow shades passed back

into the land of the living, they left behind them in the

twilight a new-covered mound bedecked with flowers and candy and,

here and there, a dog biscuit. Oh, yes, and one peanut butter and

jelly sandwich.

“That was irregular as hell, Mulder,” Scully whispered as they

neared their car, “if not down right illegal.”

“As illegal as it is to die so young? Or if it isn’t, it should

be.”

“How did they get the cemetery and mortuary staff to agree to

this? I doubt that the family was even asked.”

“The family was no family.” Then Mulder remembered his ‘dream’,

“Well, maybe the brothers and sisters, if they had not been so

afraid of the uncle. That individual, by the way, will be

receiving a visit from Social Services as soon as our report

reaches a certain director’s desk. As far as the community goes–

and the cemetery and mortuary staff are part of the community —

the official version of the story will be that a favorite

keepsake was forgotten when the coffin was closed. Re-opening has

been done before, only the humane thing to do for one so young.

Internment was not even complete. Certainly He who ultimately

bestows all forgiveness – or ‘She’ depending upon your level of

PC — won’t mind.”

“And the unofficial version?”

“Better this than having their children for the next hundred

years sit before their cereal bowls and ask whether the child who

was up all night walking the streets had found the dog he was

calling for.”

With understanding she took his hand and led him towards their

car. Her small one was warm, where his was still cold. Home soon.

Trusting her to steer him clear of the forest of gravestones,

Mulder briefly closed his eyes. Somewhere, he thought he heard

the joyous bark of a dog, Lassie finding Timmy after one of their

harrowing adventures, their Last harrowing adventure.

But then it might have just been his imagination.

THE END

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Author’s Notes: The story Mulder tells Spark about his ‘first’

time is actually an older story of mine (and shorter than this

one) entitled, Carnival Dark, Carnival Light. If you are

interested you can find it on my very inadequate web site at

http://members.aol.com/windsinger and on Gossamer under Author,

Esty and, probably a lot of other fan fic sites as well.

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