Category Archives: Holiday

Permaceo Noctus

TITLE: Permaceo Noctus

AUTHOR: StarfleetOfficer1

RATING: PG13 for language

DISCLAIMER: No copyright infringement intended.

SUMMARY: Mulder and the Scully family get more than they bargained for when they volunteer to help at a homeless shelter on Christmas Eve.

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L’ENFANT PLAZA

WASHINGTON, D.C.

DECEMBER 24th, 2010

1800

“Uncle Mulder? What causes poverty?”

Matthew’s relatively innocent question caught Mulder off-guard as he untied the last sleeping bag and placed it on the camping mattress. He stood up from his squatting position and shook his head at his twelve-year-old companion.

“It varies,” he answered, and led the way back to the food court. They were on the upper level of the mall, walking past closed shops with their gates drawn and lights out. Sleeping bags lined the walkway, some cushioned by air mattresses and camping mattresses. The moving homeless shelter would find a new building every week, and this particular night required a bigger building than most churches could provide.

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“Some people get addicted to drugs or alcohol and spend all their money on those things, so they can’t pay rent. And they can’t hold down a job because the drugs and alcohol affect their performance,” Mulder continued, glancing down at Matt, who was paying rapt attention. “Sometimes people lose their jobs and can’t find new ones in time to pay their bills. Or they may have medical expenses that drain all their savings, and then lose their job on top of that. Sometimes people get a bad start, and their parents kick them out of the house when they’re young. They may never get on their feet after that.”

Matt nodded slowly, deep in thought.

“Then there are those who just can’t seem to deal with life. Some people’s parents never teach them how to manage money, how to go to work, how to try hard. They may grow up without parents at all, or they might grow up mostly on the streets, so it’s all they know. There are so many variations that it’s hard to pinpoint one reason,” Mulder finished.

“Well, there is one solution, I guess. Even if it’s short-term,” Matt said. “We help out.”

“That’s right,” Mulder agreed with a smile, and put his arm proudly around his nephew’s shoulders. “We’ve got plenty, so we’re volunteering what we’ve got — time and resources — to those who need a boost. We’re trying to help them get on their feet.”

“So that’s what the career center’s all about?” Matt asked. “They give help to people who never learned how to get a job and stuff like that?”

“They also give tutorials on how to find an apartment, and how to budget money. I want you to keep an eye out for a ‘new’ kind of homeless person.”

“Who’s that?” Matt asked, curious.

“Families. You’re going to see a lot of that here—whole families who have been foreclosed, who don’t have incomes because they’ve lost their jobs in this economy. Those people are usually the ones who use the career center. They know how to work and they may know how to save. But they need some advice as to how to rebuild their lives after everything fell apart.”

Matt was quiet for a moment. “What if our house burned down?” he finally asked.

Mulder remembered being his age, before his sister was taken. These thoughts were prevalent in his mind even then. Normal prepubescent kids thought about all the things that could go wrong and realized the multitude of things that could derail their lives.

Mulder squeezed Matt’s shoulders and then released him, and said, “You’d have a place to stay with your Aunt Dana and me. And your mom has insurance on the house and all the stuff inside, so it’d just be a little while before you got a huge check that would help you get started again.

This seemed to reassure the boy, because he nodded and stuck his hands in his pockets. “That’s good,” he said.

They arrived at the food court, which was bustling with volunteers. There were long rows of tables with food buckets available, a huge stack of plates, trays, and silverware, and servers ready to assist their homeless ‘customers’. Scully was preparing the tables, placing napkins at the center of each table as a finishing touch on a huge endeavor. Feeding over 200 people was no small task.

Tara, who was helping Scully, waved at her son and Mulder as they approached. “Are the sleeping bags all set up?”

“Everything’s good to go,” Mulder answered.

Just then, the mall rumbled. Matt looked around and asked, “What was that?”

Scully glanced at her watch. “There’s a huge Metro stop right below us and it’s on the hour. You’ve never felt that before?”

Matt pulled out his cell phone and checked the time, and while checking his emails, said, “Yeah, but I’ve never felt it rumble that much. Must’ve been the express.”

When Matt didn’t put the phone away, Mulder said, “You’re not gonna have time for that when they get here, Matt. If I were you, I’d go grab a granola bar because two hours from now you’ll be hungry.”

“You mean we won’t have time to eat?” Matt asked, shocked.

Tara laughed. “You’re barely going to have time to breathe. Once everyone’s served, we’ll eat the leftovers or eat what I brought. But not before then.”

Matt put his phone away despondently.

“Don’t worry, you won’t go hungry,” Scully reassured him. “Go get a snack now.”

He hurried away to the McDonald’s not far from where they stood, which was still open and manned with two teenagers. It was where the volunteers’ belongings were being kept. No food was being served, but the McDonald’s manager offered to keep it open for this event to volunteer his tables and chairs and the space behind the counter.

The Georgetown Moving Shelter representatives were manning the front doors of the mall, where about two hundred people stood in line outside awaiting entry. They would take their Moving Shelter ID’s that proved they were not offenders and were safe to admit, and then the individuals could enter the mall, grab a meal, watch a movie, visit the career center, or simply go to sleep. Tomorrow they would leave and go wherever they went for the day, and tomorrow night the shelter would have moved all their supplies to their next location. The location schedule was distributed at each of their evening locations and at the regional office, which was open all day for new members to register and obtain an ID.

The first wave of individuals were admitted when the representatives opened the mall doors and began counting. They were admitted in groups of twenty five every ten minutes, and went in order of arrival. As Matt obtained his granola bar, the first wave came through the front door. He stood for a moment in the McDonald’s, opening the wrapper and crunching down on the first bite, watching the twenty-five individuals enter the mall and present their IDs to the volunteers at the desk.

Numbers were entered in a laptop, which was secured to the folding table with a laptop locking cord. Matt saw one man eye that cord and it occurred to the twelve-year-old that he might want to steal it. It was worth a lot of money. He ate the next bite of his granola bar and watched, completely fascinated.

“Hey, dude, you better get over there if you’re serving,” a teenager behind the McDonald’s counter said, but Matt didn’t get the chance to answer him. Mulder’s voice cut through the crowd.

“Matt! C’mon!”

He pocketed the remaining half of the granola bar and ran over to stand next to Mulder, who handed him an apron and pointed to the tray next to his. “This isn’t Discovery Channel, it’s work. Start serving mashed potatoes, kiddo.”

Matt nodded, and tied the apron around his waist silently.

Soon there was a steady line of hungry homeless individuals seeking a warm meal and shelter for the night. At first hesitant as to what he should do, Matt soon got into a rhythm. A half hour into it, he was mimicking Mulder’s question as each person came through. “Mashed potatoes, Sir?” “Would you like mashed potatoes to go with that beef?” “Merry Christmas.”

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They heard another rumble, and this time Matt almost lost his footing and the table shook so violently that the tray almost slid off. Mulder grabbed it at the last second and shoved it back into place, pulling his hand away quickly and shaking it from the heat of the dish. “Are you okay?” he asked Matt.

Matt nodded, but looked worried. The homeless had frozen in place, as if bracing for impact. Many of the servers had as well, and it was Scully who said from not far away, “If that was the train, I’m starting to question the structural integrity—”

As she was speaking, Mulder’s eyes grew huge and he grabbed Matt and dove under the table in one swift motion. Scully stopped speaking and followed suit, although she couldn’t see what he was looking at. It seemed everyone else had a delayed reaction in comparison, because the screams only erupted a moment later.

One level below them where there were still shops, the floor had cracked down the center of the two story opening and begun to cave into the subway station below. The building shook violently and chunks of concrete flew in a plume of smoke as dust filled their nostrils.

Mulder was brought right back to that room in Pakistan that had collapsed around him, the dusty surroundings clogging his airway and making it impossible to see. The table came down on top of them, and Mulder shielded Matt with his body as best he could while attempting to shield his own head from the impact with his arms.

The marble floor beneath them cracked and crumbled into the center opening, but it didn’t cave completely. A tremendous roar filled the air, almost as a delayed sound effect. Mulder found himself screaming in pain from the sound alone, and that was before the smoke cleared enough for him to see the sight.

There in the opening of ground floor of the mall, only about a half a football field away from him, were two train cars at forty-five degree angles with each other. Sparks erupted from each car as chunks of concrete fell upon the wreckage. People cried out in anguish and fear. A baby cried. Someone screamed for help.

He recognized that voice. It was Scully’s. “Scully!” he screamed back, and tried to get up. The table on top of him fell away, and he dragged Matt up by his armpits, adrenaline ripping through his body. He was met with the sight of his five-foot-tall partner directly in front of him.

“Oh, Mulder, thank God…we thought…” she threw her arms around him and Matt simultaneously, and only seconds later Tara joined in.

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Matt stared at the wreckage in total shock, and Tara grabbed her boy and pulled him away, towards the almost untouched McDonald’s. The front entrance of the mall had been covered in debris that seemed to spew from the wreckage. The tables that had once held volunteers and the laptop that checked ID’s were now buried under enormous chunks of concrete and marble. Mangled doors could barely be seen where the mall entrance once was, and Mulder knew there were a lot of lucky bastards on the other side of that door who hadn’t been granted admittance yet.

The agents took only a moment to take in the sight and decide what had to be done. The escalators were impossible to navigate , and the elevators were not safe either. There was no way to get down there unless they were to attempt to get to the back stairwell. But there were people down there who needed help, who were trapped in that mangled train and wouldn’t receive help until it was too late.

The lights were flickering, but close to going out. Scully looked around her and saw that many of the homeless in the food court had been injured but just as many seemed to be okay. What she saw were no longer obligations or customers, but spare hands.

“Everyone listen up!” She screamed, and her commanding, high-pitched voice cut through most of the noise in the immediate vicinity. “If you aren’t injured, I need you to get to the McDonald’s! Gather in the McDonald’s if you’re not injured—you’re going to help us treat the people who are!”

People started to move, mostly the volunteers who took Scully’s command seriously and started gathering those who were otherwise standing still and awaiting instruction. Some of the homeless people were leading their friends into the McDonald’s as well. Others stayed behind with their injured friends.

Scully turned to Mulder. “We need supplies. Rope to rappel down there. Medical supplies. Flashlights. There’s a sporting goods store around the corner there—it should be untouched. Do you have your lock pick?”

He couldn’t help but smirk. “What do you think?” She nodded and he took off, stopping at the McDonald’s on his way to talk to Tara and Matt. “Matt, you have the best cell phone signal in this place. Can you call 911?”

Matt seemed dumbfounded for a moment, before he nodded and pulled his phone out. “What should I say?”

“Let me talk,” Mulder said after he had dialed.

“911 what is your emergency?”

“This is Special Agent Fox Mulder, ID 10131120. I’m in the L’Enfant Plaza Mall, upper level above the Metro Stop. There’s been a train collision. There are two train cars that came through the lower level roof of the mall and breached the shopping area. The main entrance to the mall is blocked off by rubble. We have about a hundred people in the mall right now for the Georgetown Moving Shelter, and I’m estimating about a quarter of them are injured and require immediate medical assistance. We haven’t seen any passengers emerge from the train.”

“I understand, Sir. I’m alerting the authorities right now. What is your status?”

“I’m uninjured. My partner and I are organizing relief efforts.” He began walking towards the sporting goods store. “What is your relief capability?”

“Until the proper authorities have assessed the structural stability of the station, I can’t tell you how soon we’ll be able to get to you. The rear entrance to the mall should be untouched by your description. That may be a way in. If you stay on the phone I’ll be able to get you updates in real time.”

He pulled his lock pick and began to work on the gate in front of the store while balancing the phone between his shoulder and ear. “Do you have any indication as to the cause? Any other calls that came in that would indicate a terrorist attack, a power grid malfunction, anything?”

Only two summers ago, two trains had collided on the Red Line because of a faulty sensor telling one train that the other was not on the track when, in fact, it was.

There was a pause. “I’m cross-checking right now,” the woman told him, and he successfully picked the lock and began working on the store’s glass door lock. “We’ve had three calls come in from Train 499, reporting a suspicious-looking man in a suit. I’ve got three separate descriptions here, all of them…not likely. There may have been lighting problems on the train before it crashed, Agent Mulder.”

“What were the descriptions?”

“The man is described in all three calls as wearing a DC Metro Rail Maintenance uniform, with white hair, and…depending on who gave the description, blue, green, or gray skin.”

Mulder’s upper lip twitched. “Why was he suspicious?”

“They describe the man as ‘pacing’ or ‘stumbling’ through the train cars. I don’t have any further details, but you and your partner may want to watch out for this man, if he survived the collision.”

“Thanks, I’ll pass that information on.”

“Agent Mulder, I’m reading a large electrical discharge on this line, I think we might—”

Her voice was replaced by a shriek that nearly broke Mulder’s eardrum. He let the phone clatter to the ground, and he winced in pain, finishing her sentence. “Lose the signal…” He picked the lock, and gained entrance to the store.

He picked up the phone from the ground and put it in his pocket, and then grabbed a backpack and began stuffing everything he thought they might need inside of it. He took plenty of batteries, duct tape, two large rolls of rope, as many flashlights and lanterns as possible, every first aid kit on the shelf, and an entire box of granola bars.

After lugging all the equipment back with him, he dropped it in the McDonald’s where Scully was organizing relief teams. She attempted to group the homeless with at least one volunteer as she told them how to organize the wounded—leaving the severely wounded where they were, assisting those who needed a bit of help, and instructing those who could to move under their own power into the McDonald’s.

Matt and Tara were huddled together against the ordering counter, where the two teenagers were fearfully watching the entire thing and awaiting instructions.

Scully turned the ‘floor’ over to her partner when she said, “I need five people to go stand by Agent Mulder. He’ll give you instructions on how to distribute supplies to people and make sure everyone has a flashlight and water when these lights go out.”

“I also need three able-bodied, strong adults who are going to go with me down there to the train to try to get people out of there, and another three to go with Agent Scully to the rubble by the door and start to help people there.”

Volunteers came in droves. It seemed among the homeless, willingness to help, or perhaps to just feel needed, was in abundance.

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L’ENFANT PLAZA

WASHINGTON, D.C.

DECEMBER 24th, 2010

1900

The organization was fast and efficient. Teams were ordered back to the sporting goods store to get bottles of water, blankets, and more miscellaneous supplies. People were dispatched with flashlights to make sure everyone had one. Helmets and harnesses were secured, and Mulder led a team of two homeless men and one shelter volunteer in the rappelling effort. Scully donned a helmet herself and convinced Tara to do the same and to allow Matt to join as they began hand-shoveling debris out of the way of the main entrance and digging out volunteers and homeless people.

Things moved so quickly that Mulder didn’t get the chance to take Scully aside and explain their potential security risk. It was because he hadn’t explained that part to anyone that when he landed on the ground level, unclipped his harness, and drew his gun, that the volunteer with him gave him a questioning look. “What are you doing?”

Mulder glanced at the wreckage. “I want you three to stand back. We don’t know how this happened, and aside from it not being stable, there might be someone in there who caused this. I need to determine we’re not in any immediate danger.”

“Do you have reason to believe we are?” the man asked, but Mulder didn’t answer him.

He climbed through a potted plant and around an overturned bench to get to steady ground where he believed he could stand and look inside one of the train cars. Balanced on a piece of marble and some wooden rod whose origin Mulder couldn’t place, he stood on his tip-toes and looked in the broken windows. “Can anyone hear me in there?”

There was no answer. There was, however, a shift in his vision and for just a second, he thought he saw…

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“No way,” he whispered involuntarily. He was taken back to that basement where he had been trapped on New Years’ Eve ten years ago. Or that mental hospital where the nurse had shut him into the room and smiled sweetly, her green/gray skin exposing her for what she really was.

“Agent Mulder? What do you need up there?” one of the homeless people called from below.

Mulder shook his head in amazement and found himself saying, “I think we’re going to need some salt.”

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L’ENFANT PLAZA

WASHINGTON, D.C.

DECEMBER 24th, 2010

1930

“Matty, give me a hand with this,” Tara said. She and Scully had tried to protect Matt from seeing too much gore. They had him rolling and pushing chunks of concrete off of the pile and away from the rubble. With the rest of the adults there also helping to dig people out, a twelve-year-old wasn’t desperately needed.

But as they got further into the pile, it was getting impossible for anyone nearby not to see the bodies and smell the stench.

Tara was gripping a large piece of plastic that might have been the folding table. Scully was on the other end of the pile tending to someone still trapped inside but alive. “Grab the other end there. That’s right,” she told her son. “Make sure you’ve got a good grip, both hands.”

They were wearing fleece gloves that came from the sporting goods store. They were already torn, but they were better than nothing.

“Pull out, not up. Okay? On three. One…two…three.”

The table came out of the wreckage and a few chunks of concrete fell down to fill its place. Matt’s eyes widened at what was revealed underneath. Almost unharmed and looking more like she was asleep than unconscious, was a little four- or five-year-old girl in a filthy pink snowsuit and knit cap.

He dropped to his knees next to her and began digging around her. Tara felt for a pulse and sighed in relief. “Dana!” she called.

Scully stood up from her squatting position next to a patient and walked over. Looking down, she immediately felt for a pulse and then lowered her head next to the girl’s mouth to hear her breathing. She nodded. “Pulse is strong, breath sounds good. So far no obvious injuries…the table may have protected her.”

“Like Mulder and me,” Matt said as he dug.

“Careful, Matt. Look at what might shift before you take anything away from the pile,” Scully warned.

He nodded.

She squatted next to him, one of her knees cracking at the movement. She smiled slightly when his head turned. “I’m fine, just getting old,” she joked.

She supported the little girl’s head and neck while Matt dug, and was prepared to pull her out by her armpits.

Matt and Tara were able to clear the debris on top of her and Scully quickly but carefully pulled her out and laid her down a few feet from the pile. She checked her pulse again and listened to her breathing. She then unzipped the snowsuit and began checking the little child’s body, looking for fractures or signs of internal damage. Underneath the snowsuit was a dirty once-white turtleneck that was slightly small for her, and under that was a T-shirt. Her underwear were clean, and so were her socks.

“She’s got some fresh bruises on her chest, and one on her forehead. No abrasions or broken bones,” Scully reported. “My guess is it’s a concussion and she’ll be fine. We need to figure out whose she is, though…”

“Is she homeless, or does she belong to one of the volunteers who just came in?” Matt asked.

Scully shook her head. “I don’t remember seeing her by the table…but then I don’t remember if there was a child over there or not. I honestly don’t know,” she said. Eye-witness testimony was notoriously incorrect, and Scully wasn’t about to guess as to whether she had seen the little girl by the table. It didn’t matter anyway. Either way, her parents were not available to claim her.

“Someone will have to stay with her,” Tara said. “Especially so they can give her water when she wakes up.”

“And keep her warm,” Scully said as she redressed the little girl. She adjusted the cap so it covered her small ears and then she snapped the top button on the snowsuit to give her the most warmth possible.

“I can keep an eye on her while I move the chunks of rocks and stuff,” Matt volunteered. “When she wakes up I’ll keep her company.”

Tara nodded. “That’s an excellent idea, Matt. I’ll carry her over there where it’s safer and you can look every time you walk by,” his mother told him, and he nodded in agreement.

“Agent Scully!” Someone called and waved her over. Scully gave Tara a departing smile and moved over to where the man was stooped over another person trapped underneath the pile.

As Tara carried the little girl over to a safer area, she reflected that this child was not much smaller than little Claire. Matt was probably seeing his sister in this child who was at best a volunteer’s unconscious little girl, possibly homeless, and at worst a new orphan.

As she put the child down in an alcove next to a water fountain, she noticed someone out of the corner of her eye and spun around, blocking the child and ready to defend herself. Who she saw, however, was Mulder coming over the railing.

She rushed over to help him clamber over the railing after he had climbed up the escalator and some rubble while belayed by a homeless man below. “Sorry, Tara, did I scare you?” he asked after both his feet were on the floor.

“I guess I’m a little jumpy,” she apologized. “What did you find down there?”

“No one inside the cars is moving. We need Scully down there to determine if they’re dead or just unconscious. I opened all the train car windows to vent them,” he said, but didn’t give her much detail.

She simply nodded and after he had unclipped himself they began to walk back toward the triage area.

“How many dead so far?” he asked.

Tara sighed. “Twelve…I think.”

“How’s Matt?”

“He’s working hard. He’s so brave…”

Mulder smiled and placed a comforting hand on Tara’s shoulder. “He’s a real trooper. If he gets tired, maybe he can work with Dana and do some first aid.”

“That’s a really good idea.”

“How are you doing?”

“I’m okay,” she said, and took a glove off to run her hand through her hair and get it away from her now-sweaty face. “I can’t believe this happened…”

Mulder nodded. “They’re going to eventually send Rescue in and then we’ll get the chance to rest. Thanks for helping out.”

She chuckled ironically. “I’d look like a fool sitting on the sidelines.”

They reached the triage area, where people were laying on blankets, coats, and mats and were organized according to severity of their injuries.

Scully looked up and saw Mulder, and held up one finger before turning back to a man’s hand, which she was carefully splinting.

Just then an argument that had previously been lost in the background noise of the rescue effort rose above the current sound level when a homeless man screamed, “YOU’RE A MOTHER-FUCKIN’ SHITHEAD, MAN!”

Mulder’s head turned just in time to catch the sight of one man tackle another to the dusty ground and begin wailing on him. He shook his head and muttered, “It was only a matter of time,” before he ran over to the two who were now rolling all over the dust and were in danger of going over the ledge.

“HEY!” He screamed, and grabbed one of the men. “HEY! STOP! Knock it off! Come on, knock it off! I mean it!” Another homeless man stepped in and pulled the other man away, and Mulder and he then stood to get the men even further from each other.

“He’s an asshole!” Mulder’s detainee declared, his expression one of intense hatred.

The other man simply spit blood and stood there with an angry expression on his face.

“What’s this about? You first,” Mulder added quickly, to make sure another shouting match didn’t ensue.

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“This asshole took my kid’s water bottle, man. He ain’t been helpin’. He been sittin’ on his ass, and ain’t nothin’ wrong with him. He ain’t hurt.”

Mulder turned to the other man. “Did you take this man’s water bottle?”

“I ain’t steal nothin’ wasn’t already mine,” the accused man promised.

Mulder shook his head. “I’ll get your kid another water bottle, okay?” he said to the man, and when he nodded he was about to release the man, but the accused man yelled, “Yeah, that’s right, ‘n if you come after me again, I gonna woop yo’ ass.” This resulted in Mulder having to tighten his grip on his detainee as he led him away from the loudmouth.

“Listen,” he told the man in a low tone, “I believe that other man is on drugs. You need to stay away from him. Okay?” Psychology told him that a calm tone and rational thought would deflect most people’s anger.

He released the man and he nodded, his expression still angry.

“There are more water bottles in that sporting goods store. Go get one for you and your kid. Can I trust you to do that?”

The homeless man shook his head. “Naw, man, ain’t nothin’ left in there. It’s been empty for a minute now.”

Mulder sighed. He looked around. “Go to the McDonald’s. If they’re out, then come find me and I’ll pick the lock on another restaurant so we can get more water.”

The man nodded and said, “I just tryin’ to defend my kid.”

“I understand. Just leave the law enforcement to us, okay?”

Again, the homeless man nodded and walked away. Mulder sighed and saw that the man who had detained the loudmouth was still holding him, awaiting Mulder’s return. He walked back over to the two and asked, “Is it true that you haven’t been helping?”

“Ain’t gonna do nothin’ if I don’t get paid,” the man slurred.

He knew it was irrational, especially since it seemed this man didn’t have use of all his faculties. But what he said really angered Mulder. He got close enough to smell the stench of alcohol and body odor, and said, “Look around, Buddy. You think any of us are getting paid?”

He shook his head before he got an answer, and turned to the man holding him. “Let him go.” He turned back to the detainee as he stumbled forward. “You sit down and shut up. If you don’t want to help, you don’t get to move around,” he ordered forcefully, and ‘helped’ the man sit down against the wall. “Stay there.” He walked away, taking a deep breath and trying to clear his head.

Scully intercepted him halfway back to the triage area. “What was that all about?”

“A bottle of water. How are we doing on supplies?”

“The sporting goods store is almost empty,” she said. “I’ve used everything I can get my hands on to fix people up…I even performed some minor surgery on one of our volunteers to extract a piece of glass from an artery. But I don’t want to use too much of what’s in those first aid kits, because once they’re gone, there’s probably not another sporting goods store in this mall.”

“At least not one we can get to,” Mulder stated. He glanced back at the pit where the trains were still. “I need to talk to you in private.”

She snorted. “Good luck. We’ve got about a hundred people in here, Mulder, and space is an issue.”

“We need to find a place to speak,” he reiterated. “Sooner rather than later.”

Seeing that he was serious, she nodded and looked around. “Let’s pick the lock on that Gymboree and go in the fitting room.” He smirked, and she rolled her eyes. “Oh, stop,” was all she said to him as she led the way to the children’s clothing store.

Once they were inside, Mulder pulled out Matt’s phone and his own. “There’s no reception anymore.”

“I know, it must be the train’s emergency broadcast that’s blocking it out.”

“That’s a possibility,” Mulder agreed. “But the other possibility is that someone sabotaged that train and that they’re jamming our signals.” The signature elevated eyebrow told Mulder that he was going to have to explain. “Just before I lost the signal, I got through to 911. It was over an hour ago now, and they still haven’t gotten personnel in here. Has anyone gone to the back entrance to see if it’s open?”

She shook her head. “It collapsed. The structural integrity of this mall is definitely questionable, Mulder. I’m a little leery of anyone rappelling down to the trains a second time…they may not be able to get back up, and I’m actually surprised you were able to.”

He sighed.

“But you didn’t tell me you got through to 911. What did they say?”

“They said there were three 911 calls on the train about a suspicious-looking man in a subway maintenance uniform. And there were some…strange…observations about his skin color.”

“What, was he Arabic?” Scully asked.

“No. I think he was a zombie.”

Mulder was always good at monotone comedy, but it didn’t appear to Scully that he was kidding. She stared at him, reflecting that even at a time like this, his mind never stopped thinking about the fantastic, and then formulated a response. “What in his skin color suggested that he may be among the living dead?” she managed to ask with just a slight twitch of her lip.

“Gray, green, and blue were the colors cited. And none of those fit on the normal skin color wheel. Now, provided the lighting in the train car was bad, and the man was drunk or ill, that would explain it. But that doesn’t explain what I saw.”

“You saw the zombie?”

“For just a second, yes.”

She shook her head. “Mulder, we haven’t tested the air quality down there. If you had just opened a window, you could have been breathing in fumes. And the lighting is terrible. And you’re high on adrenaline. And—”

“And I know exactly what I saw. He jumped up from the train car floor when everyone else was either unconscious or dead. And then he managed to get out of my sight and into the next train car, but we can’t reach it because it’s buried under the floor.”

“Doctor Scully!” a voice beckoned from outside the store. “We need you quick! There’s a guy with his head cut open real bad!”

She sighed, and stood up. “What did you see down there other than the zombie?”

“Unconscious or dead passengers. We can get them out, but it’s going to take some doing.”

She shook her head. “We have people we can definitely save up here—plenty of them. And the structural integrity of the building—”

“I agree, now that you bring up that point. No one goes back down. Especially not with a zombie down there. I’m pretty sure they don’t climb…”

Rolling her eyes, she exited the fitting room and rushed out to survey the situation. There was a homeless man across the food court, on the ground with a head abrasion. People were gathered around him but not getting too close.

She ran over, and Mulder followed closely behind. “Oh, God…I know that guy. That was the loudmouth guy that took some kid’s water bottle and started the fight.”

Scully looked behind for just a moment and frowned before she stopped in front of the man and stooped down, examining the damage. “The skull is fractured…torn open. Everybody get back!” She yelled. “Twenty feet at least! Jeremy,” she spoke to the volunteer closest to her, “Go find some tape or something and tape this area off.”

“You got it,” the man answered and ran away.

Scully turned back to Mulder. “Are you seeing what I’m seeing?”

“It looks like an animal attack,” he commented in a low tone and squatted next to the man’s head. “I take it he’s dead?”

She just glanced at him, as if to say ‘what do you think?’ There was brain matter at the front of his scalp.

“Whatever was used to do this must have left a mess. But everyone’s walked all over the crime scene,” she said in annoyance.

Mulder looked around for the blood trail. “Right here. This way. I’ll follow it.”

“I’ll get Tara to guard this area while I treat the live patients. Be careful, Mulder. Take someone with you.”

He grabbed two spectators in the crowd who looked like they could handle backing him up and told them to follow him, and he drew his gun as he followed the blood trail.

Only moments later he came to a dead end, though. The blood trail seemed to end on the crevice of the drop that led to the train, and there was no body at the bottom.

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L’ENFANT PLAZA

WASHINGTON, D.C.

DECEMBER 24th, 2010

2100

“Here you go,” Matt said, sitting down cross-legged in one motion next to the little girl, who was now sitting up against the wall. He handed her a water bottle he had obtained from the Mexican restaurant next to the McDonald’s. Scully had picked the lock about a half hour before then, as the McDonald’s was out of water.

Christmas music was playing on a radio not far away. They had opened one radio from the sporting goods store in the hopes of getting local information on rescue efforts, but reception was so terrible that it was either Christmas music or some kind of Russian talk show. It was better than nothing.

“Where’s my mommy?” The girl asked Matt again.

“Well, like I said,” Matt explained slowly and patiently, “we don’t know who your mommy is. We need you to tell us her name and then we can see if we can find her.”

“Her name is Mommy,” the girl insisted, and drank some water. She frowned. “My head hurts.”

“I know. I told my Aunt Dana and she said there’s no children’s Tylenol. Sorry,” he said apologetically. “Maybe she should come over here…” he stood up and waved her over, and she held up a finger, indicating that it would be a few minutes.

He sat back down. “Other than your head hurting, how do you feel?”

“I’m tired,” she complained. “I’m hungry too.”

“Do you want some apples? We’ve got some apples in the McDonald’s. I can go get some.”

She nodded, and added, “And a toy?”

He laughed. “Sure, I don’t think that’ll be a problem.”

A moment later, he returned with a package of apples from behind the counter and a small toy, which he took out of the plastic baggie for her. It was a stuffed monkey whose arms wrapped around to grip something. He showed her how it worked, and then handed it to her. “What are ya gonna call him?” he asked playfully.

“George,” she said immediately. “Like Curious George.”

“That’s a good name,” Matt agreed. “Hey, my name is Matt by the way. What’s yours?”

She frowned, and then looked up at Matt as if afraid of him. “I’m not supposed to say my name to strangers.”

“But I’m not a stranger. I’m a kid, like you. A bigger kid, but I’m gonna take care of you. So you can tell me your name.”

She seemed to consider her options before she decided to trust him. She ate an apple and wrapped the monkey around her index finger, and then said, “My name’s Chelsea.”

“It’s very nice to meet you, Chelsea,” Matt said, and extended his hand.

Chelsea stared at it for a moment before she realized that she was supposed to shake it. She took his hand and shook it once, and then let go. Matt grinned. “So how old are you?”

“I’m four, how old are you?” she asked.

“I’m twelve,” Matt answered.

“You’re very big,” she decided.

He laughed. “I’ve got a little sister who’s six. She’s just a little bigger than you. You kinda look like her.”

She shrugged, and ate another apple. “Where’s my Mommy?” she asked.

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He frowned. This was the third time she had asked the same question. He answered again, patiently and in the same tone. Thankfully Scully arrived and squatted down, smiling at the preschooler. “Hey, there,” she greeted. “I’m a doctor. My name is Dana. What’s your name?”

“You can tell her too,” Matt said. “She’s my aunt. She’s nice—she’s not a stranger.”

“My name’s Chelsea,” the little girl said. “And this is Matt,” she introduced.

Scully grinned. “It’s nice to meet you, Chelsea,” she said. “Do you mind if I shine a light in your eyes for a second? I want to give you a checkup.”

“My head hurts.”

“That’s what Matt told me. I’m going to make sure it’s going to get better. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Alright, now this won’t hurt but it might make you see some spots.” She shined the light in the girl’s eyes and made a funny face to make her look. Chelsea giggled in response. “Reactive but unequal. The right one is slightly bigger than the left one,” she said to Matt. “That means the concussion is more than just mild, but it’s not very dangerous.”

He nodded in acknowledgement. “She asked the same question a few times.”

“Sometimes preschoolers do that,” Scully told him. She then turned to Chelsea and explained, “I’m going to feel your head, okay? I want to see if there are any bumps.”

“Will it hurt?” Chelsea asked.

“It might hurt just a little bit, but you tell me if it does, and I’ll stop. Okay?”

“Okay,” she agreed.

Scully felt the girl’s head more thoroughly this time, and found a bump that was not there a few hours ago. The girl jumped and said, “Ouch!”

“I’m sorry,” the agent apologized and took her hands away. “I won’t touch that again.” She turned to Matt. “I think we found our culprit. Her head was probably hit in the front and the back during the crash. That could result in a relatively serious concussion for a young child. We want to keep an eye on her, keep her talking. Don’t let her go back to sleep.”

“She said she’s tired,” Matt said.

“Well, it shouldn’t be too much longer before we get Rescue in here. I want you to tell her a story, keep her up. Keep her talking. Just until we can get her in a CAT scan and make sure nothing’s been knocked around in there too badly. Okay?”

Matt nodded.

“Chelsea,” Scully said, and the girl made eye contact with her, “I want you to listen to Matt tell stories and I want you to stay awake. Okay? You’re probably tired, but you can’t sleep. It’s important that you don’t go to sleep until a doctor says it’s okay. Alright?”

She frowned, but nodded.

“Okay,” Scully patted her knee gently and stood up. “If you feel sick in your tummy, or you hurt anywhere else, you tell Matt, okay?”

She nodded again, and said, “Thank you, Doctor Dana.”

Scully smiled. The child was very cute, and was impossible not to smile at. “You’re very welcome, Chelsea. It was my pleasure. I’ll see you later.”

Chelsea turned to Matt and asked, “What stories are you gonna tell?”

Matt edged his way closer to the wall and leaned back, taking out a granola bar from his pocket and opening the wrapper. “Well, you know what tomorrow is?”

“Tomorrow’s Christmas,” Chelsea said.

“That’s right. I guess you’ve probably heard the story of Christmas, huh?”

“It’s a good story,” Chelsea said with a nod.

Matt laughed. “Yeah, it’s a really old story. Well, I’ll tell it like my Sunday School teacher told it. He’s pretty cool. So once upon a time, there was a mother named Mary, and she was going to get married to this guy named Joseph, but they weren’t married yet…”

Matt went on to tell the whole story in great detail, including Herod’s mandate that all the babies be killed, and the new family’s midnight journey away from Bethlehem, to Nazareth. He took a few liberties as well, adding some ninjas and a dragon for good measure.

He finished with, “And so the baby Jesus grew up with his parents and the next exciting thing didn’t happen until he was eleven and he ran away from home.”

“Wow,” she said. “I never heard anyone tell it like that before.”

“Who told it to you before?” Matt asked.

“My mommy. She told it to me when we was under the bridge. I liked under the bridge. But we had ta move because Mommy said there was mean people there.”

Matt was surprised. This little girl was homeless after all. Her mother and she had come here for a Christmas Eve dinner and possibly to get presents Christmas morning. The donations, he knew, were mostly destroyed. So now her only present was this little monkey he had taken from behind the McDonald’s counter. Tomorrow morning he would be home in his house, hopefully, if the rescue workers got there soon. There were presents under the tree already, and some that were unwrapped because Claire still believed in Santa Claus.

“What’s wrong, Matt? Why are your eyes wet?”

Matt looked down and used his dirty sweatshirt to dry his eyes. “I’m uh…I’m allergic to dust.”

“Does dust make you sad?”

He laughed, and looked up. “No…I mean…I’m just…” he stopped, and looked at this little girl. “I just wish we could all go home.”

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L’ENFANT PLAZA

WASHINGTON, D.C.

DECEMBER 24th, 2010

2200

Scully stepped back and stretched her back, sighing and closing her eyes. That was it. The rubble on the upper level had been cleared as much as was possible without causing a structural collapse. There were fifteen bodies plus the one murdered individual. She counted forty people in the triage area, only eight of which needed medical attention immediately. Most of the people in the triage area were now simply resting from exhaustion.

She had inquired about the McDonald’s teenage employees turning on some cooking equipment and making some food, but Mulder and a few others had said that was a bad idea. Without knowing the condition of the pipes in the building, turning on any appliance that used gas was a terrible risk. She agreed. So they ate non-perishable food, raiding the McDonald’s, the nearly empty sporting goods store, and the Mexican restaurant. She eventually picked the lock on the Subway and some of the homeless seemed to take great pleasure in getting behind the counter and making sandwiches, especially the kids.

Mulder wrapped his arm around her and pulled her close to him, and she leaned her head into his shoulder. “What are things like on your end?” she asked, her eyes still closed.

“I’m thinking if Rescue takes much longer we might want to chance it and rappel down there. There are no signs of life in those two cars but if one of us could climb on board and get to the back of the train, there might be live passengers further back who are just trapped.”

She pulled away. “I know, Mulder, but it’s too dangerous. I’ve got two volunteers who are engineers who said that this building could come down if we dig any further into that rubble or even try to touch the back entrance. You realize how dangerous it would be to trust that pile of rubble down there to support your weight while you climb in a train that’s supported by the floor it crashed through?”

He sighed, and nodded.

“Any cell reception?”

“No. Matt’s phone got one bar a second ago and I tried to dial out but it went right back to no service. My phone’s completely dead.”

“Have you tried a text message?” Scully asked hopefully.

He frowned, and then his eyes popped open in recognition. “A text message uses less….bandwidth, or whatever…it might get through!”

He clicked Matt’s phone on and was about to attempt a text message when they heard a noise above. The ceiling was crumbling, and people started to scream.

Mulder grabbed Scully with his free hand and ran away from the ceiling, diving into the same alcove where Matt and Chelsea sat, next to the water fountain. It was the best hope they had if the ceiling completely collapsed.

Dust flew through the opening and the screaming and crying escalated until a large chunk of the ceiling was grabbed by two prying metal bars, and pulled away. They heard another blessed noise. Helicopter blades.

The screaming and crying turned into cheers. People leapt up and hugged each other. They jumped for joy, and then stopped just in case the floor caved in.

Mulder and Scully stood and jogged over to meet the first rescue worker who was lowering himself down with a cable from the helicopter.

Once down, he didn’t even have time to introduce himself. Scully pointed to the triage area and said, “I’ve got eight critical patients who need to be airlifted out of here immediately!”

He nodded and radio’ed it in. Mulder stood up on a chair and waved his arms to quiet everyone down as he began to explain evacuation procedures.

The rescue had begun.

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MULDER AND SCULLY’S CAR

WASHINGTON, D.C.

DECEMBER 24th, 2010

2305

The last person was lifted out. The rescue operations were in full swing below. D.C. Police were taking over the murder investigation. Mulder and Scully could leave.

By that time they had installed temporary reinforcements on the front entrance and cleared out the rubble that blocked the door. They could see the outside for the first time since the crash.

Unlike most of the people who were trapped, the agents left by walking out the doors through which they came.

“When I signed up to volunteer helping those in need, I didn’t realize what I had agreed to,” Mulder joked as they walked toward their car. It seemed strange to him that they would go home by car only an hour after they had originally planned to go home. It was even stranger when they stepped into the clean Ford Taurus that had a full tank of gas and Scully’s unfinished Starbuck’s in the cupholder.

She stared at it as well, but didn’t say anything as they started the car and were serenaded with joyful Christmas music.

“It’s like two different worlds,” Mulder said finally. “Normally there’s something in between, isn’t there?”

“You mean a hospital visit?” Scully asked dryly, and earned a laugh from her partner.

“Hey, you’ve got to give me credit. I didn’t get hurt at all.”

“Aside from the cuts and bruises, you’re right,” she conceded. “But you did see a zombie.”

“I stand by my previous statement,” he defended himself adamantly. “And it’s probably still down there!”

She chuckled and shook her head. “Mulder, you never quit.”

He smiled at his partner and asked, “Would you ever really want me to?” When she didn’t answer, he continued, “And you don’t even know that the zombie wasn’t the one who caused the crash in the first place. He did have a maintenance uniform on, and in the absence of any indication of a terrorist attack, it’s only reasonable to conclude that it was a maintenance or technical issue.”

She sighed, and rested her head on her hand as her elbow sat upon the ridge of the car door. She closed her eyes.

“And the zombie obviously was the one who attacked that man, because the blood trail ended down in the rubble, but there was no body, not that we could find. Zombies apparently do climb, which means every movie we’ve seen is wrong…Scully? Are you listening to me?”

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TARA SCULLY’S HOUSE

GEORGETOWN, D.C.

DECEMBER 24th, 2010

2320

Matt had taken a shower and slipped into flannel pajama pants and a new sweatshirt. He was exhausted and had climbed into bed to go to sleep when his mother cracked the door and entered.

“Hey, Buddy? You asleep yet?”

“Just got in bed,” he answered.

She sat down on the edge of the bed and combed his hair back. “You doing okay?”

“I’m okay, I guess.”

“That was some pretty scary stuff we saw tonight.”

“I know. I’m not a baby, I can handle it.”

She smiled. He was just like his father in that respect—brave, but proud. “You did very well. I’m very proud of you, Matty.”

He smiled back at her. “I’m sorry your Christmas Eve kinda sucked. I know you wanted to teach me what it was like to spend time with homeless people, but I sorta got to anyway…”

She laughed. “Yes, I know. You got to spend more time with homeless people than you would have serving them dinner. So in that respect, it wasn’t such a bad night.”

“Well, that’s the idea, right, Mom? I mean, the story of Christmas Eve and how Jesus was born but all that bad stuff was happening all around him? Herod killing babies and Mary being just a teenager and them having to run to Nazareth and stuff? But since Jesus was born, it was a good night.”

With tears in her eyes and a smile on her face, she kissed Matt on the forehead and said, “You are such a blessing, Matthew.”

He closed his eyes and said, “But Mom…how can we enjoy tomorrow morning? That little girl’s mom is probably dead. We never found her. What will happen to her? How can we be happy with presents…how can we be happy at all, when we know there’s so much bad stuff out there that happens?”

Her smile turned sad, and she looked down. “There will always be people less fortunate than us. That’s why we try to do our part, and volunteer when we’ve got time, and give when we have spare cash. We do everything we can to live our lives and help others live theirs. But Matt…this is a hard lesson to learn…we can’t go through life being sad about all the bad things that are out there.”

“But—”

“Listen,” she said softly. “We cannot fix the world and make it perfect by denying ourselves everything we have. But we can make a difference one step at a time. One way to do that is to be as successful and happy as we can be, so we can take some of that happiness and success and give to others. By being sad and poor, we’re not helping anyone.”

He frowned.

“Another way to do that,” Tara continued, “is to never forget that sad feeling. To remember that sad feeling every time you feel greedy, or feel sorry for yourself. Because it will help you remember just how fortunate you are.”

He nodded finally, and closed his eyes.

“Go to sleep,” she kissed him again, and stood. “I love you.”

“I love you too, Mom.”

And that’s what Christmas is all about, Tara thought. Love.

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Spero Novus

sfoxmascover

Spero Novus

Author: Starfleetofficer1

Category: X-File/Christmas special

Rating: PG-13

Artwork: Truthwebothknow1

Summary: On Christmas Eve, Mulder and Scully find themselves in the middle of a hostage situation that will change their outlook on Christmas forever.

Spoilers: Seasons 1-7

Disclaimer: No copyright infringement intended.

Original web date:01/09/2009

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Spero Novus

GARDEN COURT NURSING HOME

GEORGETOWN, DC

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2008

0700

“Nothin’ to say, before I shoot this bullet through his eyes. Nothin’ to say? No last plea, no beggin’, no whimperin’, no nothin’? Well, then…I guess that’s all. That must be the last scene.”

Nathan’s hard eyes stared across the room at the trapped agent. He had seen his fair share of atrocities, victims, and heroes. And this fed was the hero type. He certainly didn’t expect to hear anything come out of the man’s mouth.

But as the agent made eye contact with the teenager, breaking his gaze from the barrel of the gun for just a moment, he cleared his throat. Then, with dust-filled lungs, he turned to the man behind the M9 and said, “You have…no hope.”

No one in the room, including Mulder’s would-be executioner, saw that coming. And, using that moment of hesitation, Nathan hurled himself forward and straight into the serial killer. The teenager completed the tackle just as the deafening sound of a gunshot echoed through the rubble-filled area, followed by dead silence.

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MULDER & SCULLY’S TOWNHOUSE

GEORGETOWN, DC

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 23, 2008

1600

“I don’t know, Mulder. It would pee all over the place and it would take forever to train. And neither of us has a work schedule that lets us come home in the middle of the afternoon to let it out.”

“But Aunt Dana, it’d be fun,” Matthew protested as he cut a shape out of the cookie dough. He gently placed the shape on the cookie board.

“This isn’t our puppy, Matt,” Tara chided gently. She loaded another batch of cookies in the oven and closed the door.

“Matt’s got a point, though,” Mulder said with a smirk in Matt’s direction. “It would be fun, Aunt Dana,” he grinned. Matt grinned back, and Scully rolled her eyes.

“Do you know how much work a puppy is, Mulder?” Scully demanded.

“About as much work as me,” Mulder said with a smile.

Another eye roll. Another cookie shape cut out. Another batch ready for the oven. And then they were done.

They began cleaning up the messy kitchen, still debating the puppy issue.

“It’s really what I want for Christmas,” Matt said with a suggestive grin in his mom’s direction.

Tara laughed, and said, “We’ve had this discussion, Mister, and I’m not going to have it again.”

Before Matt got the chance to reply, they heard the front door open, and Scully headed to the foyer. She smiled when she saw her mom holding Clara, who was fast asleep in her arms.

“The skating lesson did the trick,” Maggie said with a smile. “She’ll sleep tonight.”

Tara entered and smiled at the sight of her five-year-old sleeping peacefully and asked, “How did she do?”

“She did wonderfully—better than the other little ones in the class. She fell a few times but she got right back up.”

“She’s so close to the ice it doesn’t even hurt when she falls,” Matt said, rolling his eyes.

Mulder smirked. “Wasn’t too long ago that you were that size, Buddy.”

“I’ll just go up and put her down. We’ll wake her for dinner. Speaking of which, have you started it yet?”

“Just got the cookies in the oven. We’ll start dinner when they come out,” Scully said.

Maggie nodded, and headed upstairs with the sleeping preschooler. Tara followed to help Maggie get Clara out of her snowsuit and into some pajamas. As soon as his mother was out of earshot, Matt turned to Mulder and Scully. “I really think you should consider that puppy. It’s an investment for the future.”

Scully chuckled. “How’s that?” she asked, walking back into the kitchen. Mulder and Matt followed her.

“Well, see, the puppy will grow into a dog. And he’ll be big enough to protect the house, see? So you won’t need that security system you have. You can just use the dog.”

Mulder laughed. “We’re thinking about it, Matt, but we haven’t come to a decision yet. When we decide, you’ll be the first to know.”

“Good, because my book says animals are good for kids with ADHD, to add structure and responsibility, and you want me to be structured and responsible, so it would really benefit everyone,” he said, trying as hard as he could to keep a straight face.

Scully patted him on the shoulder. “We’ll keep that in mind. Speaking of which, don’t you have a level left on your math game for today? You can finish it before dinner—you’re excused to go play.”

“Okay,” Matt said with a smile, and took off the apron that protected his sweater and jeans from the baking materials. He tossed it on the counter, and took off for the foyer. He dug through his backpack and pulled out his Nintendo DS, and then plopped down on the couch.

Two months ago, the eleven-year-old had been diagnosed with ADHD. After the diagnosis, his grades improved dramatically. Mulder, Scully, Tara, and Maggie had all known he was smart. He just couldn’t find a way to concentrate in the more boring subjects at middle school. But the new plan was helping him considerably. He was playing educational video games geared toward pre-teens with ADHD, and learning what he couldn’t pay attention to in class. His new binder system eliminated his tendency to lose his homework, and with Tara and the teachers’ help, he was integrating himself into the sixth grade community much smoother than before.

Mulder and Scully had both signed on to help, as well. Mulder agreed to coach the kid on athletics, helping him develop a work-out plan that stimulated the cerebellum—a new and highly recommended treatment for people with ADHD. Scully was helping him with science, devoting weekends to taking him to museums where he could actually see what he was supposed to be learning about. The doctors had agreed that he didn’t need medication, just a new way of looking at school. And it was working beautifully.

Mulder had gotten him an early Christmas gift—a book geared toward children with ADHD. It was called A Bird’s-Eye View of Life with ADD and ADHD: Advice from Young Survivors, and Matt was breezing through it at a pace he only seemed to have when reading kids’ novels and comic books.

The diagnosis had gotten Mulder thinking—as a psychologist, he knew the signs of ADHD, and realized that throughout his life, he had mirrored them almost perfectly. Impulsivity, creativity, out-of-the-box thinking, inability to pay attention to certain things no matter how hard he tried, a proclivity towards high-risk behavior, hyper-focusing on certain tasks to an almost obsessive extent, an addictive personality…and alcoholism ran in the family, which was yet another common trait in genetically inherited ADHD.

He had shared this with Scully but they had both agreed that he didn’t need to do anything about it. It had pretty much taken care of itself. The X-files offered structure, and Scully was effectively his coach, keeping him on track and forcing him to send in those damn expense reports on time.

“Want to get started on dinner?” Scully asked, pulling Mulder from his train of thought.

“Sure,” he said, and pulled the chicken out of the refrigerator. Maggie and Tara joined in after a few minutes, and soon they had the cookies out of the oven and the chicken marinated and ready to go in.

“Mulder, you want to go finish that case report? I’ll join you in a few,” Scully said.

Mulder moaned. “Scully…”

“It’s due tomorrow, Mulder. Come on. Skinner wanted it three days ago. You’re just lucky you got an extension.”

“He gave me an extension because he was probably too hung over from a holiday party to read it,” Mulder muttered as he headed out of the kitchen.

“What was that?” Scully called.

“Nothing,” Mulder called back, but couldn’t help but smirk at the thought of Skinner drunk.

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GARDEN COURT NURSING HOME

GEORGETOWN, DC

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 23, 2008

1800

The light snow glinted off the street lamp outside the room’s window. An elderly woman rested on a bed, a rope puzzle next to her left hand. The ropes weren’t quite untangled—it was clear she had been working on it, but had grown tired and stopped.

A fifteen-year-old held her tray and walked in quietly. “Mrs. Taperman, it’s dinner time,” he said softly, trying not to disturb her.

“Nathan? Is it dinner already?”

Nathan smiled. “Yep,” he said, and attached the tray to the swinging table next to the bed, and then brought it closer to her. “You’ll have to finish your puzzle later.”

“When are you going to get a haircut, Nathan?”

The boy chuckled. “You know me, Mrs. Taperman. Probably never.”

She gave him a slight ‘humph,’ but the twinkle in her eye let him know that she was not only alert, but still had her sense of humor. The Alzheimer’s still wasn’t bad enough to take that from her.

“And coming out in public like that, your shirt tucked out and your pants down by your knees,” she continued to kid him, as she raised a shaky hand toward the spoon, and tried to grasp it.

Nathan let her struggle, knowing that Mrs. Taperman didn’t want help until she asked for it. It only took another shaky, uncertain motion towards the bowl of soup that she sighed, and said, “I think you’d better help.”

“Be glad to, Mrs. Taperman,” Nathan said, and took the spoon from her hand gently. He fed her the soup slowly, and glanced out the window.

“Why aren’t you with your friends?” She asked suddenly.

Nathan turned back to her, surprised at the question. “I uh…well…I dunno. I belong here.”

“You’re not earning any money and there’s no one here your age.”

“Well, there is that comatose kid on the fourth floor,” Nathan offered, knowing Mrs. Taperman caught the sarcasm in his voice.

“Don’t be smart with me, young man,” she told him with a smile. She glanced out the window for a moment, and then turned toward him again. “It’s a nice day outside,” she said.

He wasn’t surprised. In fact, he had learned to go with this kind of conversation long ago. “Warming up,” he said, although he knew it was a complete lie.

“Yes, it’ll be…were we eating dinner?”

“Yes we were, Mrs. Taperman. Are you full, or would you like more?”

“I’ll have more. Nathan, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” he said, and forced a smile. This was the saddest part of his job. He watched them get worse. Phase in and out, unable to recall conversation that happened five minutes ago.

A strange man walked by the door just then, and Nathan glanced at him curiously. He had never seen that man before…and he was here every day.

“One sec, Mrs. Taperman. I’ll be right back.”

He stuck his head out the door, and called, “Hey, dude. You need help or something? This floor plan can be kind of confusing.”

The man turned, and stared at Nathan with such ice cold eyes that a shiver ran down the teenager’s spine. “No, don’t need any help. I’m visiting a relative. Thank you, though,” he said in a Louisiana Southern accent.

“Oh…okay. Well…Merry Christmas then.” Nathan watched as the odd man turned and continued walking. Shaking his head, and hoping security was on top of their game, he re-entered Mrs. Taperman’s room.

“Mrs. Taperman, would you like more soup?”

“Nathan, what are you still doing here? It’s almost Christmas. Why don’t you go home to your family?”

Nathan sighed. She was determined today. “I’m happy here, Mrs. Taperman. Let’s eat your soup, okay?”

She smiled at him, and nodded. “It’ll be my Christmas present to you.”

Nathan smiled back. “That’d be great,” he said, and sat down next to her once more, spoon-feeding the soup to her.

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MULDER & SCULLY’S TOWNHOUSE

GEORGETOWN, DC

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 23, 2008

2000

“Thanks for coming!” Scully called as Maggie, Tara, and the kids headed out the door.

“Bye, Aunt Dana, I love you,” Clara said, and offered a hug. “I love you too, Uncle Mulder.”

“Good, because I was starting to feel left out,” Mulder said, folding his arms in a mock indignant expression. Clara giggled, not fooled in the slightest, and Mulder’s expression broke into a smile as he dropped to one knee, allowing her to hug him.

Matt held his Nintendo DS in his gloved hand and his stylus in his other hand, while his glove was stuffed in his pocket. He looked away from the screen only when Tara tapped him on the shoulder. “Matt, say goodbye to Aunt Dana and Uncle Mulder.”

“Bye,” Matt said, his gaze barely leaving the DS for a second.

Mulder chuckled. “Beat that next level for me. I always had trouble with quadratics—maybe you can explain it to me when you’re done.”

“Quadratics are easy, it’s just the variable squared. It’s the cubics that are hard,” Matt said, furiously pressing the A button with his thumb, and then exclaiming, “Oh, damn.”

“Matt!” Tara scolded.

“What? I died.”

“Come on,” Tara sighed. “Let’s get out of your doorjamb before all the heat lets out. Put your other glove on, Matt, until we get the car warmed up.”

“We’ll see you tomorrow,” Maggie said with a smile.

“Bye,” Mulder and Scully said simultaneously, and finally closed the door.

Mulder watched them go from the window for a moment, still staring out as the cars pulled out of the driveway and disappeared from sight.

He didn’t know how much time had passed before he heard, “Mulder, you all right?”

He turned to see Scully leaning against the doorframe leading into the kitchen. “You’ve been standing there for the past ten minutes. I cleaned up the kitchen. Anything wrong?”

Shaking his head, he turned back to the driveway for just a second before he walked towards her. “I don’t know. I guess I still can’t believe it,” he stated.

Scully’s eyebrow rose, and she met his gaze. “What do you mean?”

“I don’t know,” he said, and embraced her gently. He rested his chin on top of her head, and they held each other in silence for a moment. Finally, he spoke. “Every holiday for the past couple of years, I think about what I have…and really don’t deserve.”

“Oh, Mulder, we’ve been over this!” Scully exclaimed, pulling out of the hug. “Why do you keep insisting that you don’t deserve this family? You deserve nothing less than a loving family!”

“I don’t know, maybe I just keep expecting something bad to happen. You must think I’m an idiot for not being able to just enjoy the holiday.”

“No, you’re not an idiot,” Scully said quietly, hugging him again. “You’re too used to tragedy, Mulder. And that in itself is a tragedy. But why don’t we try, just for a bit, to forget about that? To ignore the darkness and evil and…bad weather,” she said the last with a bit of a chuckle.

Mulder chuckled back.

“Let’s just focus on Christmas. On our beautiful tree, our beautiful home. Our family.”

He nodded, and closed his eyes. “Sounds like a plan,” he said. But for some reason, he wasn’t quite satisfied. He had so much to be thankful for. He couldn’t help but think about losing it all. And that was unsettling.

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GARDEN COURT NURSING HOME

GEORGETOWN, DC

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 23, 2008

2300

Brody Drexler walked into the maintenance closet and closed the door gently behind him. He turned on the lamp, and proceeded to rummage through the equipment. He began setting up the camera gear, opening the laptop lid to reveal a split screen view of various parts of the nursing home. He then set up the scanner, plugging everything in and getting it all secure. It had taken three days to move this equipment in, piece by piece, without anyone noticing. The maintenance closet was supposed to be under renovation, but the maintenance workers were off for Christmas. The residents wouldn’t like the noise of construction during their holiday.

So among the sawdust and uninstalled 2×4’s, Drexler was able to store a wealth of computer equipment that probably totaled close to the price of a car. Of course, with the Auto Bailout pending, the price of a car wasn’t much to compare with.

It took him an hour to set up all the equipment, integrate it with the security cameras, install color viewing on each of the signals, and transmit the signals back to the receiver on his laptop. Another hour was devoted to setting up the rest of the equipment, and readying the camera for its job.

He then took a bulletproof vest from behind the table saw stand and unclipped his visitor’s pass from his collar, re-clipping it to his belt before pulling the vest over his head. He secured the straps in place. Then he pulled a black case from behind a pile of wood, and set it on top of the table saw stand. He opened it, revealing several weapons. He slung a P90 automatic weapon over his shoulders, holstered two M9’s, and tucked a small .380 into the back of his pants.

Finally, he placed a helmet on top of his head and secured it with a chin strap. Atop the helmet was a standard helmet-cam, just like the ones the soldiers wore during tours of duty. He loaded his suit with extra ammo and then cocked the P90. “Show time,” he said with a grin, and pressed the ‘play’ button on a universal RCA remote control. He stuck the remote in his pocket and kicked the door of the maintenance closet open.

“All right, everyone listen up!” He screamed, and fired off a few shots. “Lights, camera, action, take one, we’re rolling, everyone on set!” He laughed joyfully at the terrified expressions on the old people’s faces as the staff tried to protect them, stepping in front of them and herding them back to their rooms.

“Now who’s the director, huh? I’m in charge, bitches! It’s my movie, and it’s rollin’ now!”

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MULDER & SCULLY’S TOWNHOUSE

GEORGETOWN, DC

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2008

0300

The phone rang, and Scully moaned and rolled over. She batted in Mulder’s general direction, and said, “Phone’s ringing.”

“Let it ring,” Mulder said, rolling over and pulling the covers over his head. He had just gotten to bed an hour ago, after two failed attempts at sleep.

“You suck,” Scully muttered, and picked up her receiver. “Hello?” She answered, not bothering to look at the CID but trying her hardest to sound professional.

“Scully, this is Skinner. We have a situation we need you and Mulder on.”

“Sir? It’s three in the morning. What is it?”

“A hostage situation. Of a very unusual nature. Listen, I need you both at the Garden Court Nursing Home as soon as possible.”

Skinner spoke with urgency and what Scully thought sounded like confusion. But it might just be because it was so damn early in the morning.

Mulder rolled over and propped himself up on his elbow, giving Scully an inquisitive glance.

“How bad is the hostage situation, Sir?” Scully asked, trying to keep the sleep out of her voice.

“It’s extremely complicated. There are ten identified hostage takers in the facility. I’ll brief you both when you get here.”

“Okay, Sir,” she said, curious as to what they were about to get themselves into at 3 in the morning. “We’ll be there in twenty minutes.”

She hung up the phone, and turned to Mulder. “Ten hostage takers have infiltrated a nursing home. It’s practically down the street from our house—Garden Court.”

“That place? Why do they need us?”

“Skinner didn’t say,” Scully said as she slid out of bed. “C’mon, let’s go. I just hope this is over by this afternoon so we can get some sleep before Christmas.”

Mulder groaned. He still needed to do his Christmas shopping. He had managed to collect gifts for Maggie, Tara, Clara, and Matt, but he had several gifts picked out for Scully. He just hadn’t gotten them yet. It had been on his list of things to do and he couldn’t believe he had let it go this long. But now here he was, Christmas Eve, with a case prohibiting him from going Christmas shopping.

Maybe this would be over by this afternoon. Then he could go pick up the gifts he had picked out. All but two of the stores had agreed to hold the gifts, but hadn’t guaranteed him that a mistake wouldn’t occur and his gift would be sold by accident.

Scully turned on the radio, and they listened to Hark the Herald Angels Sing as they got dressed hastily. They practically ran out the door, and into their car. Scully drove toward the nursing home, and sent up a silent prayer that this would be over sooner rather than later.

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GARDEN COURT NURSING HOME

GEORGETOWN, DC

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2008

0330

“So let me get this straight. They all look the same?”

“More than just the same, Agent Scully,” the tech said, pointing to the security monitor feeds of the building. “They’re all identical. Our tracking programs match their faces perfectly. They’re…well, whatever you call ten babies from the same mother. They’re that.”

“Decuplets,” Mulder said, and scratched the back of his head. They were looking at pictures of the culprits, ten identically mustachioed men with thinning brown hair and wild eyes. “So every resident is accounted for on these tapes?”

“All residents and all staff, as far as we know. We’ve got full video feed of what’s going on in there, and it doesn’t look good. These guys have positioned themselves in exactly the right places to avoid capture. If we storm the building, we’d trip their silent alarms and trigger a machine gun booby trap. That would give them enough time to take cover and use the oxygen tanks in the hostage areas to create an explosion,” Skinner said.

“Bomb suits?” Mulder asked.

“We don’t want to risk a firefight, Mulder. There are elderly patients in there,” Skinner told him flatly. “Even a well-executed operation still risks hitting one of them.”

“Why were we called, Sir? I mean, other than the fact that they’re decuplets…”

“Assistant Director Taperman is a friend of mine—as soon as this came in, he asked me to personally handle it. His mother is in this facility, and besides that, there is this,” he said, and indicated the computer screen as well.

The tech took his cue. “The decuplets are reciting some kind of script, like it’s from a movie. Our limited audio inside the building has given us this.” The tech began playing the tape.

“…And I have risen from the dead to show you all how to really make a movie. I am the star, and none of you…”

“This is the second one,” the tech said, and started another tape.

“…You people don’t know shit. I’m the star of this movie and you guys ain’t gonna screw this up this time—I’ve risen from the dead to show you…”

“They all go on like this,” the tech explained. “Some of them use proper English, some of them you can barely understand. But they all say the same thing, at about the same time during the situation. Ten minutes after it started—that’s when these were collected.”

“And it’s as if they were all actors on this film—improvising the script but not varying from the plot,” Mulder said.

“And they’re filming every second,” Skinner said. “Their helmet cams are actually streaming live video to a maintenance closet. They have a computer set up there that’s collecting the videos and storing them. We’ve intercepted their videos and they’ve caught us. But they don’t seem to mind.”

“Sir!” a woman called from behind. They turned to see an FBI agent approaching. “Sir, we’ve got a new video uploading.”

“I’m receiving it now,” the tech said, but the woman shoved a PDA in front of Skinner’s nose. “It’s already downloaded here,” she said.

Skinner wasted no time, and pressed ‘play’. The helmet had been taken off the man’s head and he was now addressing the camera.

“Hey, Feds, how ya doin’? All right, let’s make this short and sweet. My name’s Brody Drexler. I used to make movies, but some asshole cut my life short. I’m back now to show you all how it’s really done. For my next scene, I need two agents. Preferably one with medical training. Think you can do that for me? If not, this lady here,” he said, pulling an elderly, frantically sobbing woman into the camera’s view, “is gonna get a bullet through her pretty little skull. You all move, now, hear? I’ll look forward to the addition to my cast.”

He placed the helmet back on his head and ended the feed. Skinner tossed the PDA to the tech. “Go through that video and get a frame-by-frame of that last shot. When he puts the helmet back on his head, you have a view of the room.”

The tech nodded, said, “Yes, Sir,” and then handed the PDA back to the agent that had given it to Skinner in the first place. “I can do that from here,” he said, and pointed to his laptop.

“So we can assume that Brody Drexler is the leader. Look into the name Drexler,” Skinner said to the agent with the PDA. “Find out who he is, and whether he’s a decuplet or if this is some kind of a trick.”

“Yes, Sir,” she said, and jogged away.

Skinner turned to Scully, and before he could even say the words, Scully said, “I’ll go.”

“If she’s going, I’m the second agent,” Mulder stated.

“That makes the most sense,” Skinner said with a nod. “You’ve both got hostage crisis experience, and we don’t need you to negotiate, Mulder. We’ve got a negotiator over there already, setting up a game plan.” He indicated to the tent not too far away, where a young agent was pointing to a chalk board, and other agents were nodding in response.

Mulder snorted. “This isn’t the Academy, Sir, and we can’t afford to have someone green in there. Who picked that kid?”

“I did. He’s a highly skilled negotiator, and he’ll be guiding you through what to say. You’re not to deviate from the plan unless you have information he doesn’t, understood?” Skinner demanded.

Mulder rolled his eyes. “Sir, look, if I’m going in with Scully—”

“You’ll need to act like her partner and back her up. I need your attention on her location as much as possible. It’s very likely he’s planning on injuring one of the hostages as part of his movie, and using Scully as a doctor.”

“Or he’s already injured one of the hostages and it isn’t part of the movie, so he needs me to take that person off the scene,” Scully suggested.

“He would use one of the nursing home doctors for that,” Mulder said, and then turned to Skinner. “Okay. I won’t go off the script, unless I’ve got other information. But if that kid makes a mistake, don’t expect me to follow through with it.”

Skinner nodded. “Understandable. Go get suited up, Agents. I don’t know how long he’s going to give us.”

Mulder and Scully glanced at each other briefly before heading to the tent to grab gear. They were both thinking the same thing, and it was almost unnecessary when Scully said, “Mulder, I swear to God, if you come home for Christmas in a cast of any kind, I’m going to kick your ass.”

“I’ll be good, Scully,” he promised, but the smirk on his face told her he was in his usual adrenaline-fueled ‘impulsive’ mood.

“You better be. No heroics.”

“None necessary. I can probably talk this guy down. And all his friends will follow.”

It was amazing. In a few moments, Scully realized, Mulder had yet again compiled a mental profile of their suspect and was ready to disarm him.

“Besides, you know the notorious rule of law enforcement,” Mulder said with a grin.

“What?” Scully asked with dread. He was in ‘energetic’ mode now, and there was no stopping him.

“The number of suspects is inversely proportionate to the proximity of your backup. In this case, we’ve got a lot of suspects but we’ve got even more backup,” he said, waving his arms around at the crowd gathered outside the nursing home. “So we should be fine.”

“But Mulder, you’ve forgotten the notorious rule of the X-files.”

“Oh?” he asked, snapping his helmet chin strap and sticking the radio in his ear.

“The number of things that go wrong is inversely proportionate to the proximity of Mulder to the suspect,” she said with a smirk.

He shoved her gently in reply, and they headed toward the negotiator to be briefed.

“Here we go,” Scully said with a sigh.

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GARDEN COURT NURSING HOME

GEORGETOWN, DC

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2008

0345

“You, kid, go let the lady in,” Drexler said, and pointed his weapon at the teenager’s head.

Nathan got up slowly, keeping Drexler in his peripheral vision as he walked toward the door to the Alzheimer’s ward. Drexler had used the PA system to direct the two agents to where he wanted them, and keep them away from the areas he wanted to keep clear.

Nathan keyed in the code to open the door, a security measure in place to keep the wandering patients inside the ward. When the doors opened, Nathan gave the two agents a wary look, as if trying to gauge what their intentions were. Then he walked back to the group huddled together on the floor, and sat down silently.

“All righty, now we’re in show business!” Drexler exclaimed in his Louisiana southern accent. “Now what’re your names?”

“I’m Agent Dana Scully—I’m a medical doctor. And this is Agent Fox Mulder.”

“Fox…sounds southern to me. You from the south?”

Mulder shook his head. “Sorry, no.”

“Pity,” he said, and then perked up. “Okay! You, Agent Scully, you’re with me. We’re gonna walk on over to this next ward here, and you all sit tight—I’ll have one of my friends come check in on you every now and then. Agent Mulder, I need you here with these ones—your excitement’s comin’, trust me. You both are federal agents, are ya not?”

“We are. And Sir, I don’t think you realize how much trouble you’re in right now,” Scully said.

Drexler laughed. “Aren’t you a sharp little thing? You pegged me as crazy, haven’t you? Well, y’all better reconsider that position, ‘cause I ain’t crazy. I’m back from the dead, bitches! Ha ha! C’mon, you’re with me,” he gripped Scully’s arm and pulled her toward the exit. “Kid! Open the door!”

Nathan rose and opened the door once more, watching as Scully was led away. Mulder looked around when the door slid closed, trying to find places where Drexler might have hidden a camera other than the one recording the ‘movie’. He spotted the security camera, but not anything else. “Is everyone okay?” Mulder asked the hostages.

“Mr. Pederman might have to go to the bathroom soon,” a nurse offered. “He has a weak bladder but his diapers are in his room.”

“It might be okay to get up and get those diapers now. You should move now, before one of his accomplices comes to keep watch over this ward. Does anyone else need anything?”

“I’ll find Mrs. Gregory’s meds, just in case we’re here that long.”

“If anyone needs meds, we might be able to negotiate a break in Drexler’s film,” Mulder said. “He’d understand that actors need a break.”

“We’re not actors. We’re hostages,” another nurse stated, his voice shaky. “Are you going to get us out of here?”

“I’m doing everything I can to make that happen. But my partner and I need to coordinate, and we need more information on this guy. You’re just going to have to trust me, and stay calm.”

“Yeah, right,” the man said, and glanced at the patients. “I give it fifteen minutes before someone loses it.”

“Do whatever you can to keep everyone calm,” Mulder repeated, and then heard the radio in his ear crackle.

“Mulder, we’ve got information on this guy,” Skinner’s voice told him. “Brody Drexler was an independent film director in Louisiana until two years ago, during a trip to DC where he was murdered. The case was never solved, and the remains of the body were hard to identify—so it was probably a mistake. What it doesn’t explain is the decuplets thing. Mulder, Brody Drexler was an only child. This means either he’s pulling some kind of magic trick or this isn’t Brody Drexler.”

Most likely the latter, Mulder thought, but he wasn’t sure yet.

“We ran his identity through facial recognition and have minimal results, but they’re still significant. He’s been linked to four security camera heists around the country, all in nursing homes, all staging hostage situations. But never with nine identical accomplices. All hostage situations were unsuccessful and he always appears to escape somehow, but no one has figured out how he gets past the security and back up perimeter.

“As far as personal information, all we have thus far is the real Brody Drexler had no criminal record. No gambling debts that anyone knew of, no family, and was in good financial standing. No outstanding bills. Clear your throat if you’re getting this.”

Mulder cleared his throat.

“He has no history of violence, but obviously the men you’re dealing with here do have a proclivity towards violence. Watch Scully’s back, and make sure you keep each other updated. I’m giving her this same information. We have your location on infrared tracker out here. We’re ready to come if necessary. Use the codeword if you have to. The hostage negotiator—Jenkins—he says you’re doing great. No complaints so far. We’ll keep in touch. Skinner out.”

“Excuse me, Sir?” a woman said, her frail body in a geriatric chair.

“Yes, Ma’am?” Mulder asked her.

“You can’t be here.”

Mulder stared at her, and then glanced at the nurses. They didn’t seem to react to the woman’s words. “Why is that?”

“You weren’t invited,” she said bluntly, and then nodded toward the door. “You can leave, and come back in when you’re invited.”

Mulder smiled slightly, and was surprised when the teenager spoke. “Don’t mind her. Ms. Van Remp doesn’t quite understand what’s going on.”

“I understand that man wasn’t invited,” Ms. VanRemp said, an irritated look on her face.

“What’s your name?” Mulder asked the boy.

“Nathan. I’m a volunteer here. I’d like to help you—in whatever way you need me to.”

Mulder nodded. “You can help me by keeping them calm. I understand this is the Alzheimer’s unit—do you know of any disruptive patients my partner and I should know about?”

Nathan shook his head. “Naw, man, they’re all pretty good as long as they got the nurses close by. There are a few who will throw a fit but the nurses should be able to calm them down.”

Mulder nodded at the teenager’s answer, even though he knew that a nurse with a gun to her head would not be able to calm down a patient who decided to suddenly throw a fit. “You’re doing a great job remaining calm. Keep it up.”

Nathan snorted. “Yeah,” he said.

Mulder gave him a curious look.

The boy shook his head, and said, “I’ve seen this shit before. Never ends well. But nothin’ you can do.”

“You can do plenty, Nathan,” Mulder told him seriously. “You can listen for my cue. When I need your help, I’ll let you know. Stay alert. This will end well.”

“That’s what they all say. No offense, man. I know you’re a big-wig fed, but that doesn’t stop the crazies. I’ll still pay attention. You got my help if you need it.”

Mulder smiled, and gave him an approving nod. Then he stood by the door, waiting for someone to return.

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GARDEN COURT NURSING HOME

GEORGETOWN, DC

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2008

0415

Drexler had dropped Scully off at a doctor’s office in the nursing home, where an elderly man was bleeding profusely from a head wound. Most likely, he had been shoved into something. Scully was doing everything she could, but doubted he would survive.

The serial killer, who had done this before many times, Scully realized, stood by the door and watched, occasionally stepping forward and uttering the same words. He had disappeared for a short time after Scully started her attempt at controlling the bleeding, and then reappeared. Or at least, someone identical to Drexler had reappeared. And he did the same thing, walking forward, pointing the gun to her head, and yelling, “Save him or we’ll never get the code!” or some variant of that.

Scully managed to get the bleeding under control and was stitching the contusion while monitoring the man’s iffy vitals, when Drexler stepped forward and screamed his ‘code’ nonsense once more. She turned to him and said coolly, “You’re going to need to stop that. I can’t concentrate and save this man if you keep screaming in my face.”

The man took a step back, surprisingly enough, and stood holding the weapon in a fairly non-threatening, observant stance. Scully was shocked but tried not to show it. Instead, she got back to work on who the residents in this ward had mentioned was Mr. Valdor.

After a few more minutes, the man was stable, but unconscious.

“Did you save him?” Drexler—or whoever he was–stated.

“He’s stable for now but I can’t guarantee he’ll stay that way, much less that he’ll wake up and give you whatever code you need. What does the code open?”

“The door to the furnace,” the man told her. “He was down there when that maintenance worker opened the door. I shot the maintenance worker, knocked the old man out. I need that code.”

“Why do you need to get to the furnace room?” Scully asked, as non-confrontationally as she could.

“Why, honey, don’t you know?” His horrid breath nearly gagged Scully as he leaned in. “That’s where the bomb is. Damn maintenance worker changed the code at the last second, ‘fore I could see what it was. Now the bomb’s in there idlin’ like a car in a driveway on a hot summer day, and I need to get back in there to set it off.”

“Well, I doubt you’ll get much out of him,” Scully stated flatly, pleased that this man had leaned in to make his statement about a bomb perfectly clear to the units sitting outside, waiting to storm in if necessary. Booby-traps be damned.

“That may be true. But I’m pretty sure I can find someone else who might know just what that maintenance worker might’ve changed the code to. After all, security for these patients is a top priority in this here facility.”

With that, the man left. Scully glanced at her patient, for whom she could do nothing at the moment, and sighed.

“Scully, I got all that,” Skinner said on her radio. “See if you can find a maintenance worker who knows that code, and transmit it to us. We’ll go in and disarm the bomb.”

“Copy,” Scully said in a low voice, and approached the small group that had gathered outside the medical room. She quickly located the nurse and bypassed the patients. “Do you know where a maintenance worker might be?”

“Um…over in the uh…in the maintenance area, I guess…third floor,” the nervous woman said. She was shaking with fear. “Are they…are they gonna kill us?”

Scully placed her arm on the woman’s shoulder. “My partner and I are going to do everything we can to stop these men, and end this as soon as possible. But I need your help. Can you keep these patients calm while I head to the third floor?”

She nodded rapidly, and Scully realized that by the way her eyes were darting around, and the manner in which she was shaking, hugging herself to get warm, and stuttering led to the diagnosis of shock. She looked around for another nurse, perhaps down the hall or maybe even in one of these offices, but found none. “Where are all the medical staff that usually occupy these offices?”

“He’s locked them in the furnace area,” the nurse stuttered, and shook her head. “He did it just before that new guy, Joe, went to change the codes for the night. We always change the…the codes. So the Alzheimers patients don’t get help…from the other patients…you know, in their wandering. And Tom—the guy in there, the guy you saved, he was down there with the maintenance worker because he’s a wanderer. He was caught down there.”

Scully nodded. If Tom had Alzheimer’s and was at the wandering stage it was unlikely that he would remember the code, even if he did wake up. She looked at the patients around her, and did a quick assessment. “Do any of you have medical training?”

“I do!” an elderly man said, and stepped forward slowly. He clearly had arthritis in his hips, Scully judged by the way he shuffled. “I’m a retired paramedic. Thirty-five years on the job, after ten years of service in the US Navy. I’m the leader of the disaster plan group here at Garden Court—if it weren’t for this damned arthritis, I’d be running the place! What do you need?”

“What’s your name, Sir?” Scully asked.

“Jim Randall,” he said, and extended his hand to Scully. She shook it gently.

“Mr. Randall, I need you to help this nurse here—she’s in shock. She needs a warm blanket, a glass of ice water, and she needs to be closely monitored for any kind of heartbeat irregularities. Can you do that?”

Jim nodded. “Of course I can. We’ve got the disaster plan right over here…damn it, Pete, get me the disaster plan. It’s over there—my walker’s in my damn room, and all this commotion started, and I didn’t have a chance to get it.”

Jim’s friend, Pete, walked almost as slowly as Jim would have toward the receptionist’s desk at the doctor’s office area. He pulled a blue binder from the shelf and brought it over. “See, it’s here,” Jim said, and flipped to the page with the materials listed. “Everything we have, and its location.”

“Great. If you can start implementing this disaster plan, Mr. Randall, I’d greatly appreciate it. And Tom in there,” Scully indicated her patient, “Needs to be monitored in the same way. Heartbeat, blood pressure, and check his eyes for dilation. Can you do that?”

Jim nodded confidently. “Anything to serve my community.”

“I’ll try to find you a nurse to help. Does anyone here have a medical condition that requires assistance?”

Jim looked around, and then said, “Kate’s got a bit of a bladder problem.”

Kate, who was leaning on a walker, threw him a nasty look. “Oh, you’re a fool and a liar, Jim. Don’t listen to him. He’s making it up as he goes along. I’ll keep him in order.”

Scully wondered vaguely if these two were husband and wife, here for a doctor’s appointment. The group was small, and that was good—it meant less variability for Jim to handle. She nodded, and gave Jim an encouraging smile. “I’m sure you’ll handle this just fine, Mr. Randall. I’ll be back as soon as possible.”

He gave her a salute, and Scully walked off. She admired people like Jim Randall more than almost anyone else in the world. Instead of spending their lives working toward a glamorous retirement with a golf course nearby and a country club membership, he had spent his life serving his country and community. He had signed up to serve his community in his very old age, using his talents despite his physical limitations. And finally, during a crisis situation, he stepped up to help.

She headed toward the stairs, using guidance from the techs outside to watch for booby traps. Since there were none and infrared signatures were absent from the stairwell, she opened the door and mounted the stairs. Extending her weapon in front of her, she began to climb.

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GARDEN COURT NURSING HOME

GEORGETOWN, DC

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2008

0445

It had been a while since anyone entered the Alzheimer’s ward, but Mulder decided that it was worth it to wait. He had received Skinner’s notice that Scully was moving, and maintaining radio silence as long as she could. She was trying to find a maintenance worker who could give them the code to the furnace room, to disarm some kind of a bomb Drexler had put there.

Drexler burst in the door suddenly, and nearly everyone jumped. He pointed to the teenager, Nathan. “You! Boy! Get up!”

Nathan got up slowly, glaring at the man with a hardened, street-wise gaze. Mulder was ready to jump if necessary, hoping this kid wouldn’t be stupid enough to say something provocative.

“Do you know of any maintenance workers around here?”

Nathan shook his head.

“You don’t know any? You have no clue where they might be? Does anyone know where they might be?”

Mulder closed his eyes in annoyance when a nurse stood up. “Third floor,” she said. “It’s where the maintenance lounge is. They have their lockers there.”

“All right, Agent Mulder and Tom Thumb here are comin’ with me. C’mon, this ain’t part of the script but I like it. A boy and a fed, gettin’ ready to help me torture a maintenance worker for a code. Sounds beautiful!”

“It sounds like a good plot for a movie,” Mulder said sincerely as he led the way out the door, Drexler’s weapon pointed at his back. He needed some way to stall. Skinner had said that Scully was heading to the third floor to find a maintenance worker. If she got there first, she’d get to the bomb first.

“Don’t you talk smart with me, Fed.”

Mulder’s radio crackled, and a voice he didn’t recognize, but presumed to be the negotiator Jenkins, said, “Don’t antagonize him. Keep him calm. Be careful, Mulder—movies are his domain. He’s likely to get territorial.”

Mulder ignored Jenkins’ voice for now. “No, I’m serious. I’m a bit of a movie buff. I’ve actually seen some of your classics.”

Skinner, obviously taking his cue, began a search and supplied Mulder with information instantaneously.

“Oh yeah, like what?” Drexler stopped and pointed his weapon at Mulder’s head. Mulder didn’t turn.

“Skeleton in my Closet, 1998,” Skinner said in Mulder’s radio.

“Skeleton in my Closet. I saw it in ’98, right after it was made.”

Drexler’s eyebrow ascended, and he said, “Go on.”

“Good Times Never End, 2002,” Skinner provided.

“Good Times Never End. Didn’t catch it until early 2003,” Mulder said.

“What else?” Drexler asked.

“Peter’s Snowflake, 2005. A children’s movie.”

“My nephew loves Peter’s Snowflake. He turned six in 2005. I figured it’d be a nice birthday present to find a way to get him to that movie.”

“So you must…ah…you must travel in Louisiana a lot?” Drexler asked.

“Tell him you stopped by a few times but you catch most of his movies in DC’s Trademark 10 theatre.”

“I saw Skeleton in my Closet in Louisiana but I saw most of your movies in a local theatre. Trademark 10. You know it?”

“Naw, not from around this area. Have to keep movin’ around, y’know? When you rehearse as much as I do, people get suspicious.”

The radio crackled again, and Jenkins’ voice filled Mulder’s ear. “Try to find out about the plot. Where he’s going with the movie.”

“Have you rehearsed this movie before?” Mulder asked.

“’Bout six other times. Was in the news four times for it. Finally got it just right, but that damn maintenance worker put us off schedule. I was writin’ this script before someone decided to take my life, y’know. Now I’m here, back from the dead, ready to act it all out. Wanna know what it’s called?”

“Sure,” Mulder said.

“The End is Near,” he said, and laughed. “Kinda funny—ya have to admire the humor, these people bein’ so close to dead.”

“That isn’t funny,” Nathan stated harshly, and Mulder wanted to slap the kid.

Drexler shoved his weapon into Nathan’s head and demanded, “What do you mean? You don’t like my title, kid? Wanna learn just how near the end is?”

“Keep the kid under control, Mulder,” Jenkins ordered.

But Nathan seemed to have a mind of his own. “These people have lived out most of their lives. At least most of them have—some of them are kids or young adults who had some kinda trauma, and are comatose. But like…dude, you can’t make fun of the fact that these people are nearing their end, because every day of life to them is like a gift. Every day of life to you should be like a gift.”

Mulder had to admit, he was surprised to hear what came out of the kid’s mouth. For a teenager in sagging pants, skater’s shoes, a huge t-shirt and sweatshirt, and shaggy unkempt hair, he certainly was profound. Apparently, Drexler thought so too.

He took the gun from the kid’s head. “Why, son, I do believe you understand me. Every day of my new life is a gift. I was dead, but now I’m alive. I’ve been given this chance to finish my movie, don’t you understand? I’m takin’ it! Now let’s head up to that third floor!”

“Mulder, I’ve got more information on Drexler,” Skinner said in Mulder’s radio. “He was a college dropout—his original field of study was computer engineering. He left and started his own company in 1991. The company failed in 1994. He was trying to sell holographic technology, but he was too far ahead of the market.”

Mulder cleared his throat. Drexler glanced at him, but didn’t react.

“Drexler’s capable of constructing complex computer technology,” Skinner told him. “He’s probably used that skill to set up the booby traps in the building, and he might have used that skill to find a way to make the monitors show ten of him, instead of one. You’d never know the difference, if all the ‘Drexlers’ look the same.”

There was a pause, and Mulder realized they were at the landing to the third floor.

“Scully’s signature is still on that floor, Mulder. If you can stall him, do it now.”

“Drexler, do you have any children?”

Drexler turned, and shook his head absently. “No, don’t have no children to my name.”

“Hm. That’s weird, because Peter’s Snowflake was extremely observant of a child’s nature. Do you have any nieces or nephews?”

“You tryin’ to implicate me as a pedophile?” Drexler demanded, and shoved his gun under Mulder’s chin. “I ain’t got no baby fetish, you understand? I have a movie fetish. I love kids, just love ‘em. Can’t stand ‘em when they turn to teenagers, like your friend here.”

“What’s wrong with teenagers?” Nathan challenged.

“For that, boy, you get to go first,” Drexler said, and took Nathan by the arm and shoved him in front of him. He opened the door to the third floor and pushed Nathan forward, and Mulder brought up the rear. The agent tried to push past the other two to make sure Scully wasn’t in the area.

They rounded a corner and the sign for the maintenance lounge was in sight. But suddenly, Scully turned the corner at the other end of the hall, and they stared at each other for a moment before she broke into a dead run. Drexler ran after her, at top speed. Then he pressed two buttons on the remote attached to his belt. Mulder and Nathan were hot on his heels, Nathan looking like he was ready to take him down. Luckily, Mulder caught the kid’s shoulder and shook his head.

They rounded another corner and went down a maze-like hallway. Mulder nearly thought he was seeing double when a second Drexler jumped in front of Scully, and pointed his weapon at her head. She stopped dead in her tracks, and the Drexler closest to Mulder and Nathan fired his weapon. Scully dropped.

“No! Scully!” Mulder screamed, and lunged toward her. But Drexler was too fast. He caught Mulder by the neck and pulled a knife, holding it against the agent’s carotid artery.

“We got to find a maintenance worker,” he said, far too calmly for the occasion. “So you just quiet down there, boy, and we’ll get your partner some medical attention.”

“Fuck you!” Mulder yelled.

Nathan’s gaze rose from the fallen agent to a maintenance worker jogging down the hallway. The Latino man’s eyes grew wide when he saw both Drexlers, and started to run. But the second Drexler caught him in his tracks by pointing his weapon directly at the man’s skull, and saying not a word.

“Ah, there’s one now,” Drexler said, and released Mulder. He pointed his weapon at the agent as he approached the maintenance worker, and indicated that the man should cover the other half of the distance.

Shakily and clearly scared out of his mind, the poor man approached the serial killer and stuttered, “What…what do you want? I got kids, I’m a single dad, I’m trying to raise them by working two jobs—I got to put food on the table—”

“Didn’t your mama never tell you to shut your trap? If not, shut it now, and follow me. You happen to know what the codes to the furnace room were changed to tonight?”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever you need, man,” he said. His Mexican accent was getting thicker, which Mulder took as a sign that he was getting more and more nervous. However, he didn’t much care. All he could look at was Scully’s prone form across the hallway. He wasn’t getting anything from Skinner on his radio, and that worried him, too. Drexler forced them down the hall, and to the stairwell. They descended the stairs in utter silence all the way to the basement.

Finally, Drexler pointed at the door. “Okay, open it, son. And I’ll let you go.”

Mulder saw him look at the security camera, which was no doubt recording the ‘scene’ as part of the movie. He realized all too well what was going to happen next.

The second the door opened, Drexler extended his weapon and pulled the trigger. The maintenance worker dropped to the floor, instantly dead.

“You bastard! That man had a family! He had kids! He was their only source of food! How could you do that?!” Nathan screamed, and Mulder held him back from lunging at the serial killer.

Drexler looked at Nathan square in the eye, and said, “I got no need for big mouths. Take particular note of that, son, before yours becomes too big for your own good.”

With that, he backed into the furnace area, training his weapon on Mulder and Nathan the entire time. Mulder glanced at the doctors with bound hands gathered in the corner of the room, trying to stay away from the gunfire. Drexler set the bomb without even glancing at the medical staff, and looked into a camera that was set up near the door. “Now there won’t be doubt—I rule this place and I am the master of death!”

He looked at Mulder and Nathan, and then waved his gun, indicating they should come into the room.

“You won’t be able to stop me, Fed. I’m gonna blow this place and take everyone with me!” He said, his tone exaggerated. It was clear to Mulder and Nathan that this was some kind of a gruesome script. But neither one of them was in an acting mood.

“What’s the point in blowing yourself up? You just got a chance at a new life—why would you want to blow it all to hell?” Nathan asked, his brow lowered angrily. “You’re either stupid or pathetic.”

“You don’t understand, boy. I’m mastering death. Death couldn’t master me the first time, what in God’s name makes you think it’ll master me a second time?”

“Someone made an attempt on your life, Drexler. That doesn’t mean you died,” Mulder stated bluntly. “Your twisted head made that up, and now you’re about to take a nursing home filled with helpless elderly residents along with the staff and volunteers that keep this place running, just to make a fucking movie you never got to finish! What are you using, Drexler? Holographic technology? Is that why there are ten of you? There aren’t really, are there? They’re all holograms. And that means their bullets are holographic too—it’s a brilliant way to control a bunch of untrained civilians. But there’s one major problem with your plan. You’re up against the FBI, the ATF, and the bomb squad. They’ve got this place mapped, and they’re ready to storm in when they need to.”

“Ah, but Mr. G-man, you’re forgettin’ one very important detail. I know my computers. I blocked the signal from that little radio you’re wearin’ in your ear from transmitting anything but static to your boss-man out there. They have not a clue what just transpired with your pretty little partner, Dr. Scully. And because your radios don’t work, neither do you. Now…” he stepped aside, and left the doorway clear. “I suggest the two of you skiddaddle on outta here, if you want to save your partner and get out of the building.” He grinned. “This’ll make for one hell of a great movie.”

“You’re letting us go?” Nathan asked, skeptical.

“No, boy, you’ll never make it before the bomb blows. But good luck. Like I said, a great movie.”

“And how are you going to retrieve this movie, if your equipment’s about to blow up, Drexler?” Mulder challenged him.

Drexler laughed. “You think I’d stake all this on one little building? Naw, I got cameras and computers recording this everywhere. In fact, it’ll be up on Youtube in a couple of hours, when the soundtrack gets put in. See, after I go, I’m immortalized. My computer is gonna stick the soundtrack in pre-determined places, and this little improvised movie of mine will become immortalized forever. I will go down in history as Brody Drexler—the one writer, director, and producer who made a real movie. There will be tangible evidence of my story. And it’ll be accessible forever.”

Nathan snorted. “You don’t know what forever is,” he said.

Mulder glanced Drexler, and then at the bomb. “Let the medical staff go.”

Drexler rolled his eyes. “Fine,” he said, and paused the count-down on the bomb. “You’re the most difficult actors to work with.” He pulled a knife and cut the zip ties around the doctors’ hands, after which they looked to Mulder for instruction.

“Go!” Mulder yelled, and grabbed Nathan’s arm, yanking him out of the furnace room. They ran up the stairs, bypassing the elevator. When they reached the third floor, they knew the bomb had to be close to blowing. Mulder tried repeatedly to contact Scully, Skinner—anyone, even Jenkins. But it was to no avail.

They ran directly to the spot where Scully had dropped, but she wasn’t there. Instead, there was a small trail of blood droplets.

“This is good,” Nathan said encouragingly. “This means she didn’t lose too much blood to walk. She walked away, Mulder—this is good.”

Mulder nodded numbly, and said, “C’mon, we’ve got to try to find her.”

They jogged along the blood droplet trail until they heard a deafening roar, followed by a rumbling in the building. The sound of twisted metal and exploding fluorescent bulbs filled their ears, along with the screams of confused and terrified civilians. Mulder pushed Nathan into a corner as they were knocked to the ground by the force of the building shaking. The ceiling collapsed, and the hallway filled with thick, suffocating smoke.

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GARDEN COURT NURSING HOME

GEORGETOWN, DC

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2008

0530

“Get me Intel on the structural integrity of that building!” Skinner roared. “I want to know where my agents are—get me their infrared signatures back now! I want them traced and out of there! Rescue! Contact the nearest hospital and get ready to evacuate the residents and the staff! And get these damn reporters out of here!”

Skinner stormed away to find his tech, who seemed to have wandered off, when he nearly ran right into a woman. “Is it true? Brody Drexler’s in there?”

“Ma’am, you can’t be here—this is a command center. Please get back behind the yellow tape.”

“I’m Brody Drexler’s editor! And…we were engaged, before the accident.”

“Who told you this information about this man?” Skinner demanded.

“I got an email last week. It went to my spam box—I didn’t recognize the address. But it said “I’m back, baby, and you can see me in the old folk’s home in DC.” Then this happened. I knew it had to be Brody—I know his writing style. I’m his editor. Are you the man in charge?”

“I’m Assistant Director Skinner. I’ve got a very serious situation in here, so if you think you can help us, great. Otherwise, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

“Mr. Skinner, I know how his movie ends. I know what he’s planning on doing. He’s showed me this script before. He never got to do the film. Are your agents trapped in that building? If they are, I can get them out. I can convince Brody to stop this.”

“We’ll take whatever you can give us—you can speak to this agent over here,” he said, and led her to one of his agents. “But at this point, Ma’am, we’re not even sure Drexler’s alive. That bomb rocked the entire building, and it could be coming down any second. What’s your name?”

“Cynthia Michaels. Promise me you’ll try to get Brody out of that building,” she said, sounding quite desperate.

Skinner nodded. “We’re going to do everything we can do get everyone out.”

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GARDEN COURT NURSING HOME

GEORGETOWN, DC

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2008

0535

“Agent Scully? Agent Scully, you okay?”

She heard Lawrence’s voice before she saw him. Dust was everywhere, and the kind maintenance worker who had helped her off the hallway floor and into the maintenance lounge to treat her wound had ended up diving on top of her as the ceiling and floor simultaneously caved. They were left on an outcrop near the sink, so close to the gaping hole in the floor that she dare not shift.

But Lawrence had already climbed off of her and was rifling through the first aid cabinet.

She winced, and held her arm. “I’m okay,” she said. “You?”

“Not a scratch. You’re unlucky today, Agent Scully. A bullet wound and an explosion.”

“In my world we call that a Tuesday,” Scully deadpanned, and settled for leaning against the cabinet instead of trying to get up. The couch was now one floor beneath them, and so the floor looked like a pretty inviting place to sit.

Lawrence chuckled. “At least you’ve got a good sense of humor about it. Can’t go through life without a good sense of humor, you know?”

“Oh, I know,” she said sarcastically, and winced again. She glanced at the wound. It was a through-and-through, very close to being a graze. It hadn’t caught any bones, and by the way it felt, probably hadn’t severely damaged any muscle tissue. It was more like a 9 mm cylinder carved into her arm than it was a bullet hole, but it still hurt like hell. And it was now getting infected with all the dust floating through the air. She coughed. “You have to have one hell of a good sense of humor to work with my partner.”

“Oh yeah?” Lawrence chuckled. “Yeah, I had a buddy like that during the war.”

“You’re a veteran?” Scully asked.

“Afghanistan, two years. Glad I’m not there now—it’s one hell of a mess. Got a few friends in Iraq who said they’d gladly stay there four years straight instead of heading into Afghanistan.”

“Well, they’re two different battlefronts. Iraq’s a lot safer than it used to be.”

“Got that right. Okay, got some gauze, antiseptic, some tape…we’ll fix that up real fast.”

“I’m a doctor,” Scully said, and it sounded like quite an odd statement until she followed it up with, “I’m going to let you know if I see any signs of infection from now until we’re rescued. And then I’ll give you instructions on what to do.”

“Oh, sure. Got some field medic training myself, but it’s probably nowhere near as good as yours. I’m gonna edge my way over there to you. If you see any structural instability, or I see any, it’s extremely important that we let each other know. If that happens, we should freeze in place until we locate the weak point. Okay?”

Scully nodded. “Sure. Makes sense.”

He edged over to her, and in a few moments was bandaging her arm.

“So do you celebrate Christmas, Agent Scully?” Lawrence asked, and Scully knew he was trying to keep her talking while he attempted to seal with liquid bandaging what really needed a ton of stitches.

Scully nodded, and winced. “Yeah. Catholic.”

“I’m Presbyterian. But don’t throw me in that hole.”

She chuckled, and said, “I won’t be throwing much of anything with this arm for a while.”

“Well, at least you get a Christmas vacation out of it.”

With a smile, then a wince, she asked him, “Are you headed home to family when we get out of here?”

“No, don’t have any. Not anymore, anyway.”

Her smile faltered, and she looked away. “I’m sorry.”

“No, don’t be sorry, wasn’t your fault. I had just gotten home from Afghanistan, Christmas 2004. They were actually driving to pick me up at the airport. A semi hit a patch of ice and slid into their lane.” As he spoke, his voice caught once, but he quickly recovered. Taking a deep breath, he said, “But I’m doing okay. One day at a time, you know?”

She nodded slowly, and looked down. “I’ve lost some family too. I know how it feels—I’m sorry for your loss.”

He gave her a quick, artificial smile, and then focused on his work. After a moment, he said, “I think I’m gonna leave this place. Go back into the military. I’m still young enough. And there just isn’t enough excitement here. Things break, but it’s this—this right here, this kind of excitement. That’s what gets me going.”

“If it’s what you love, I think you should do it.”

He nodded. “There, that should be good,” he said, securing the bandage with some tape. “Now if we edge out of here, we can go look for your partner and that kid.”

“And try to get a radio working,” Scully added.

Slowly but surely, Lawrence helped Scully out of the room and they entered the equally dust-filled hallway. It was time to search.

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GARDEN COURT NURSING HOME

GEORGETOWN, DC

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2008

0545

“Mulder? Aw, shit. How am I gonna move this thing?” Nathan yelled, exasperated. A large cross beam from the ceiling had fallen to the floor, broken through the linoleum, and trapped Mulder’s upper body completely. There was no way one fifteen-year-old could move the beam, and Nathan wondered if the agent would have to be cut out of there. He hoped to God Drexler didn’t come back.

Torn between leaving Mulder and going to get help, the nearly unscathed Nathan paced the hallway, careful of structural instability. Just when he had decided to leave to get help, he heard a cough, and a gasp for air.

He bent down, leaning near Mulder and trying to clear the dust from the agent’s face.

“Mulder, can you hear me?”

Mulder nodded slightly, and winced. “Hard…hard to breathe.”

“I know. There’s a giant…thing…on top of you. I don’t know what this is—part of the building. But it’s too heavy for me to lift, man. What can I do? Should I go get help?”

“No…Drexler might be…there. You have no…weapon.” Mulder coughed. “Need to find…radio.”

“I don’t know where I’d find one of those. I mean, it looks like this hallway’s blocked off. There are no offices nearby. My best bet is trying to crawl through that pile over there.”

Mulder shook his head. “No. If we can’t get out…Drexler…” he coughed again. “Can’t get in. Rescue will have to…find us.”

Nathan nodded, and took a seat near Mulder’s head so the agent could see him.

“Sorry your Christmas…sucks,” Mulder said.

“Christmas never sucks for me,” Nathan stated simply, and then looked around. “Hope your partner’s okay.”

“Me too,” Mulder responded softly. Then he closed his eyes.

“Hey, dude, no. You can’t sleep. No way. I don’t know if you have a concussion or something—you have to stay awake.”

Mulder opened his eyes, and shot a glare at Nathan. “Didn’t hit my head.”

“How do you know?”

“Doesn’t hurt.”

“That could be the fact that it’s friggin’ freezing in here. Or that you didn’t hit it very hard. I dunno. But I’m not letting you sleep.”

“Then you’re going to have…to talk to me.”

“Fine,” Nathan said. There was a long pause. Mulder glanced at his teenaged companion inquisitively, and with the pressure on, Nathan came up with something. “Fifty nifty United States from thirteen original colonies, fifty nifty stars on the flag that billow so beautifully in the breeze,” he sang.

“Oh great,” Mulder muttered.

“Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut!”

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GARDEN COURT NURSING HOME

GEORGETOWN, DC

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2008

0600

“So at the end of the movie when the volunteer and the federal agent are in the furnace area with the bomb, he sets the bomb and lets them go find the other agent. He follows them and hides, and then waits until they’ve been talking a while if they’re not already dead. He barges in on them and tries to kill them. He realizes in the last second that he can only master death over those who are already dead inside, and he thinks the federal agent is dead inside, but not the volunteer. So he spares the volunteer and kills the federal agent. But if he’s jammed your infrared signals, you have no way of knowing where he is.”

“That’s what we’ll work on now,” Skinner said, giving Cynthia an approving nod. “You’ve been very helpful. Just wait here while I talk with my agents.”

He walked away before he could be bombarded with questions, and pulled three agents aside. “We need those infrared sensors soon—Drexler’s most likely alive and looking to kill Mulder or Scully. We don’t know if both Agents Mulder and Scully are together—that’s something we’ll need to determine. Have separate teams looking for the rest of the occupants. We want those people out of there as soon as we can. It sounds like he’s let the doctors go, but that wasn’t part of the script. We can’t take what Cynthia Michaels says as gospel truth because Drexler’s never gotten this far in the rehearsals—he’s always been stopped by the authorities, and he’s had to cancel his hologram programs before this point. We’re dealing with a serial killer here, folks. He’s tried this with other nursing homes and even if he hasn’t rehearsed this part, he’s extremely knowledgeable and knows what he’s doing! All right, get to work!”

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GARDEN COURT NURSING HOME

GEORGETOWN, DC

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2008

0615

“So why did you choose a nursing home?” Scully asked, sifting through rubble in an attempt to clear the hallway for their passage. One-handed, she was much less effective than the muscular and uninjured Lawrence.

“I wanted a place where I could see my results every day. I wanted to see the people I was working for. But now…I don’t know, it’s been great. But something’s missing. There’s something I got overseas that I’m not getting here. And I really don’t think it’s just the adrenaline.”

Scully listened and nodded, not really sure what to say.

“I guess it could be a variety of things, but I’ve been thinking, and I think it might be the fact that nothing changes here. I mean, we get new patients, but it’s like…the people I’m working for, the people I’m serving, they’re never gonna get better. There’s no real good outcome for these people. And it’s this time of year that I just really want to be somewhere where there’s a good outcome.”

“Where there’s hope,” Scully said, and kicked a piece of rubble out of the way. She leaned against the wall, exhausted.

“Exactly,” Lawrence stated. “In Afghanistan, in Iraq…there are some pretty shitty days, and there are days when we wonder why the hell we’re even bothering. In fact, there are a lot of those days. But it’s the days when we see some improvement, where we gain some ground—it’s happening all the time now in Iraq. Those are the days when we know why we’re doing it. We know we’re actually getting somewhere. We’re working toward a tangible goal, where we can see some results.”

“That’s always a good thing,” Scully said, and leaned her head against the wall.

“Hey, you doing okay?”

She opened her eyes and looked at him, feigning a smile. “Fine,” she said.

“My political points of view aren’t bothering you, are they?”

“No, I don’t mind,” she told him, and nodded toward the pile. “Think we can get through that hole yet?”

“Not yet. A few more pieces of rubble. I don’t want your arm getting snagged on something.”

It was secured in a sling they had made back at the maintenance worker’s lounge, but there was still a great possibility of re-injury in this kind of environment. Scully agreed with a nod.

“Tell you the truth, I wasn’t trying to give you a political speech,” Lawrence said, and chucked a piece of rubble away from the pile. “I could give a shit what you think about the war—what I was trying to say is I need somewhere to go that’s not like this. Where there’s some kind of real end to it, you know?”

“Then maybe the military is the right path for you,” Scully offered. “Or you could consider law enforcement. Or a ministry. There are plenty of options.” She was getting a little tired of this. She wasn’t a damn career counselor, and Mulder could be injured somewhere in this building. They needed to work faster!

“Yeah. I mean…you’re right. There are plenty of options. I just need to figure out what it’s all about. Here, I think we can go through now.”

He went through first, and then handed her his arm to support her as she climbed through next. They were at another large stretch of open area, and they clambered through it carefully in an attempt to find the hallway where Scully had been shot. She had a feeling she’d find Mulder there. And she prayed he was alive.

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GARDEN COURT NURSING HOME

GEORGETOWN, DC

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2008

0630

“So you said…Christmas…was always good for you. How can that be? Santa never…stiffed you?” Mulder asked, thanking whatever deity was looking down on them for stopping this kid from singing Fifty Nifty United States again.

“Christmas isn’t about Santa,” Nathan said with a snort, and shook his head. “Man, popular culture just destroys this holiday.”

“Yeah, just like…every other…holiday. You celebrate…the religious…part of it?”

“I only celebrate the religious part of it.”

Mulder nodded, and then gasped as a pain shot up his chest.

“What was that, man? You okay?”

With a wince, Mulder swallowed thickly and said, “Don’t know…chest hurts.”

“This damn thing is probably on top of your ribs.” Nathan stood up, and gripped the beam with all his might.

“No—don’t try. Hurt yourself.”

“I’m not gonna hurt myself. You sound like some parent or something.”

“Leave it. Sit back down,” Mulder said, and tried to control his breathing.

“You’re gonna kick if I don’t get this thing offa you.”

“Nice way…of putting it.”

“That doesn’t bother you?”

“Nothing…I can do…about it, Nathan.”

Nathan sat back down in the rubble, and rubbed the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. “You’re like one of those stupid TV heroes, always sacrificing himself needlessly. C’mon, you got more to do than sit here under this damn beam and die. What about your partner? Your partner will kill me if I let you kick under here.”

“You better…learn to duck, then.”

The teenager rolled his eyes. “Fine. Have it your way. We’ll wait for help like sissies.”

“You seem…awfully calm…through all this. You said…something like this happ—happened before. When?”

“Only been in one hostage situation. I was six years old, and it was a bank heist. It lasted a couple of hours, then we were rescued. The hostage taker shot himself in the head. But in my neighborhood, shit happens all the time. Why do you think I come here? I take the bus in and volunteer. Get out of that hell-hole. People stealin’ shit from other people’s houses, people getting shot ‘cause they’ve got some kind of new sneakers or some other crap.”

Mulder nodded.

“I’m a foster kid. Been in eight houses, so I’m pretty lucky. Most kids have to move more than that in this piss-poor excuse for a system. But I’m getting out soon.”

“Like…your foster parents…right now?”

“I liked the last ones. The last ones were great. They put me in a good school. They were going to adopt me. Then his mother died and they got into some huge fight over some kind of inheritance thing. Got a divorce, lost the foster parenthood, and I got shipped off to the crackhead I live with now. Don’t much associate with him, though.”

“You’re…old enough to call…social services. Get yourself…moved.”

“I put in a request for a new home. Really nice place. Hard to get into. This lady runs a house with six kids at a time. Thirteen and older is her rule. She puts them in academic and sports programs that take them to Ivy League colleges. She’s hard core but she’s nice, according to this kid I know. And you have to really stay on top of your shit with her. She doesn’t fool around. No drugs, or you’re in therapy within a week. That kinda stuff.”

“What’s…the likelihood…you’ll be moved there?”

“Eh, you know. These things take time. Maybe not until I’m too old for it anyway. But my grades are decent and I don’t have a penny to my name so I should be able to get a scholarship to something or other.”

“What…do you want…to do with…your life?”

“I want to be a doctor.”

Mulder smiled. “My partner’s a doctor.”

Nathan nodded. “There’s something about that profession that really makes me want to do it. It’s not just the challenge, though I like a challenge. Can’t stand the boring shit some people think is worthwhile. I mean your job, that’s a cool job. Accountants? Psh.”

Mulder would have chuckled, if he didn’t think doing so would be the death of him. Instead, he continued to smile and nod.

“But yeah, I don’t know what it is. I come here for the same reason. I guess…you know what it is? It’s the meaning of Christmas.”

Mulder stared at the boy, totally confused. “Did I…miss something?”

“No, I’m weird like that. No, dude, it’s like this. What do you think the meaning of Christmas is?”

“Uh…” Mulder faltered. “I’m not Christian.”

“No, no, not the technical meaning, your meaning. If you celebrate it, why do you do it? Do you celebrate it?”

Mulder nodded. “I do. I guess…” he thought for a moment. “Family.”

Nathan smiled, and stared at his companion. “You got a family?”

“I do now,” he answered, and Nathan could see in his eyes that years of tragedy had built up until he finally got that family he had been looking for.

“But before, you didn’t have one. You were like me.”

“Sort of…” Mulder looked up at the ceiling. “Lost members…my sister. My father…then my mother. No other…family.” He decided long ago not to consider Spender family, regardless of what may or may not be a blood relation.

“You had it. You lost it. You have it back again. Story of Christmas, right there.”

Mulder stared at the boy, and thought about the theology behind that.

“There’s an old song. Kinda boring tune, but lyrics make a shitload of sense, man. O Holy Night—you know it, right?”

Mulder nodded.

Nathan thought for a moment, and then said, “Long lay the world, in sin and error pining. Till He appeared, and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices. For yonder breaks, a new and glorious morn.” He smiled. “The guy in the song even falls on his knees. You don’t have to be a Christian to get that message. We both know this world sucks. But now we have this new and glorious hope. Christmas…and life…is about hope.”

They both sat in silence for a moment, and Mulder looked away. He thought about that line. ‘The soul felt its worth.’ Mulder never felt worthy. Not until now. Not until he realized it wasn’t about worrying about the prospect of losing what he had already lost and regained. It was about rejoicing. It was about the new and spectacular days ahead. If they ever got out of here, that was.

The thought overwhelmed him, and he looked away, hiding the tears in his eyes. Christmas, he realized, really was about hope.

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GARDEN COURT NURSING HOME

GEORGETOWN, DC

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2008

0640

“You have them?” Skinner demanded, and the tech nodded rapidly. “Infrared’s back online. We’ve got Mulder and Scully’s tagged signatures. Mulder’s…moving slightly, Sir. Not much. He looks to be pretty still, on the ground. Scully’s signature’s moving pretty fast. We got another signature right near Mulder, and one a few meters away.”

“That must be the kid they’re with,” Skinner said. He had heard the boy’s voice on the radio just before it was blocked, so he knew the teenager was still with Mulder. “And just off there, that has to be Drexler. Okay, get these images to Rescue. Let’s get people in there now, before Drexler gets to them! Move!”

He turned to one of his agents. “Organize the rescue personnel for the residents and the staff. Get everyone evacuated through the safest place possible. I want blankets and warm drinks ready for these people, and transportation to the hospital standing by whatever exit they’re coming from. We want this to be a smooth transition.”

“Got it, Sir,” she said, and jogged off.

“Johnson! I want an update!” Skinner barked.

The bomb squad leader approached him. “Bomb pieces are mostly recovered, Sir. We’ll be moving the parts to Quantico within the hour. Detonation wasn’t anything fancy. We found the blast cap. It was a homemade compound.”

“Official assessment of the building?”

“The west part of the second and first floor aren’t safe for rescue personnel to enter until we get some reinforcements set up. Everything else should be okay as long as we watch our step. The building’s beyond repair. It’ll have to be knocked down.”

Skinner nodded. “Just work on getting that bomb recovered.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Davis, where’s Drexler?”

“He’s making his way towards Mulder and the kid, Sir.”

“Damn it.” Skinner got on the radio, on the new frequency, and said, “Be advised, suspect is in motion, towards our target.”

When the reply came in, Skinner exhaled, and stared at the building. A gust of cold air brushed against his body and he shivered. Calling Maggie Scully and giving her bad news on Christmas Eve was not his idea of a pleasant afternoon. He hoped to God this would turn out well.

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GARDEN COURT NURSING HOME

GEORGETOWN, DC

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2008

0650

“We just have this wall to break through. I can hear someone talking. Hey! Who’s over there!?” Lawrence yelled. There was a pause.

“Who are you?” A young voice demanded.

“Is Mulder back there?” Scully screamed. “Where is Mulder?”

“Mulder’s back here. Are you Scully?”

“I’m Scully—how is he? Is he injured? Can I talk with him?”

“He’s having trouble talking. There’s a large metal thing pinned to him. Can you knock this wall down from your end? This beam is blocking me.”

“We’ll start working on it. Give us ten minutes,” Lawrence called.

“I’ll try to help,” Nathan called back, and piece by piece, the wall was removed.

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GARDEN COURT NURSING HOME

GEORGETOWN, DC

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2008

0700

A small hole was dug in a pile behind Mulder, Lawrence, Nathan, and Scully. Drexler crawled through, scraped and bruised but otherwise unscathed. With the commotion going on across the hall, rubble being thrown in every direction and the wall being torn apart, no one noticed Drexler until he was right on top of Mulder with a 9 mm weapon.

“Well, well, well. We meet again, Mr. Mulder. And wouldn’t ya know it, you got to love German engineering. I bought these cameras in Frankfurt and they somehow survived the blast. Well, most of ‘em. And they’re still rollin’. I checked.”

Nathan spun, and froze when he saw Drexler. Mulder stared up at this man, and realized there was no way in hell he was getting out of here. Scully couldn’t dig fast enough, and Nathan wasn’t strong enough to tackle a large man like Drexler.

“Nothin’ to say, before I shoot this bullet through his eyes. Nothin’ to say? No last plea, no beggin’, no whimperin’, no nothin’? Well, then…I guess that’s all. That must be the last scene,” Drexler said to the camera.

Nathan’s hard eyes stared across the room at the trapped agent. Mulder looked back, and closed his eyes for a moment. This man standing over him, he realized in a severely displaced moment of profound thought, was the perfect embodiment of himself and every other person who was missing the point of Christmas. Who was missing the point of life. This man had been given his second chance. He had survived an attempt on his life and somehow been mistaken for dead. He could have started over again. He had gained his life back, something that he had nearly lost—and probably had figuratively lost, like so many others in the world.

But instead of using that opportunity to live again, to serve others, to make something of himself, he was squandering it away on an insane scheme where he was trying to make the world’s first ‘real’ movie. Well…if this was going to be his last moment on Earth, he might as well share his profound thought as well as he could, he thought.

Mulder cleared his throat. Then, with dust-filled lungs, he turned to the man behind the M9 and said, “You have…no hope.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Nathan hurl himself forward and straight into the serial killer. The teenager completed the tackle just as the deafening sound of a gunshot echoed through the rubble-filled area, followed by dead silence.

Disturbed smoke and dust rose and blocked Mulder’s vision. He coughed, the pain in his chest increasing. A few moments later, he saw two figures squeeze through a small hole in the pile of rubble at the other end of the hall. The smaller figure ran toward him, and he recognized her instantly.

His instant smile turned into a frown as he inspected her arm. “You okay, Scully?”

“I’m all right, Mulder,” she breathed, and checked his pulse. “Damn it. Lawrence! We need to move this thing!”

The large man behind her moved toward her and stepped over the two bodies on the floor, but before he could get any further, something grabbed his leg and he dropped. Drexler’s previously immobile form shoved a limp Nathan to the side as he trained his weapon on Lawrence. “Not so fast, Mr. Maintenance-Man,” he said. Scully had never wished for her gun more than she did at that moment.

But her prayers were answered by some miracle, and the FBI happened to burst in the door at that second. A quick assessment of the situation and a gunshot, and Drexler was down. An agent slapped handcuffs on him as the paramedics ran in, and Lawrence rose from the floor.

Just like that, Scully thought for a split second. The man who had caused this disaster, gone to all this trouble to create this movie thing, was down and captured. Just like that.

She turned her attention to Mulder, who had begun gasping for air. One paramedic put an oxygen mask over his face while another enlisted Lawrence to help him attempt to move the beam. But it wouldn’t budge. Two more paramedics flooded the room and began to help. All five men and women were eventually able to budge the beam enough for two FBI agents and an ATF agent to slide Mulder out as gently as possible.

He was placed on a stretcher and Scully ran by his side as they navigated the wreckage and exited. Lawrence was left behind, standing beside the beam and the remaining paramedics. He looked down, and saw a teenage boy with a gunshot wound to the chest.

“How is he?” he asked, through either morbid curiosity or some odd sympathy for this boy whom he’d never really met.

“I’m sorry, Sir. He’s gone,” the medic said.

Lawrence stood there, staring at the dead body and the FBI agents dragging the injured culprit from the room. “That agent that was trapped. What are his chances?” He asked.

“Hard to say,” The medic said as he helped his partner place the boy in a body bag. “Probably pretty good. His vitals weren’t too bad.”

“So he’ll make it.”

“Well, there’s a lot of reason to hope so,” one medic said as they carried the body out of the room. “C’mon, Sir, we need to check you out, outside.”

Lawrence lingered for just a moment before following. Maybe this was where he belonged, then. This field of medicine. Excitement, check. Occasional disappointment, check. Reason to keep working every day, check. Tangible results, check. Hope…hope he could save a boy like that teenager, hope he could save victims of crime, of war, of accidents…hope for the future of medicine and of humanity…check plus.

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MULDER AND SCULLY’S CAR

GEORGETOWN, DC

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 25, 2008

1000

Scully technically was not allowed to drive. And she knew she was going to face the third degree from her mother when they arrived in Maggie Scully’s driveway momentarily. But she didn’t want to bother Skinner with driving them on Christmas morning and she certainly wasn’t willing to stay cooped up away from family. So last night, when Mulder and she had both been released from the hospital, they collapsed into bed and didn’t wake up until late. They decided to surprise Maggie.

Last night she and Tara had visited the hospital, and were enormously relieved when Skinner explained to the women that Mulder and Scully’s injuries were not serious. Fifteen stitches in Scully’s left arm, and three broken ribs for Mulder, but other than that, they were very surprisingly unscathed. Mulder had to remain on oxygen until late in the evening, but a chest x-ray had shown no punctured lungs. It had been difficult to breathe because his chest was compressed, not because anything was punctured.

So with that wonderful news, Mulder and Scully’s family had headed back to Maggie’s house, where they waited for Santa with the kids and knew they’d see Dana and Fox sometime later on Christmas day. They had a feeling the two of them wanted a little space to themselves.

Now they drove to Maggie’s house, and Mulder was slightly quiet. Scully didn’t really mind—she was just happy to have him alive and well.

“Nathan was really onto something, Scully,” Mulder said quietly. Scully looked at him from the driver’s seat, but let him continue. He had taken the teenager’s death very hard at first, until a complete turnaround occurred. It was when the maintenance worker Lawrence had found Mulder’s room and informed Scully, rather abruptly, that he had decided to go into medicine, that Mulder’s mood improved. He watched Lawrence shake Scully’s hand and thank her, and then leave. When the man was gone, Mulder said, “This is just another piece.”

“Piece of what?” Scully had asked.

“How it works, Scully. In life and death, you have to inspire. That’s how we can transmit our hope. And you inspired that man.”

Now Mulder was finally going to explain what he was talking about, Scully thought thankfully. He had been talking about ‘hope’ and ‘Christmas’ and ‘intertwining theologies’ on and off, but had been mostly quiet since he was released from the hospital. “Drexler was wasting his entire life on this crazy idea, Scully,” Mulder said. “But Nathan’s point was everyone’s got their own little version of this insane plan. We’re all running around with this odd idea that how many presents our kids get and what size tree we have and how many lights we have outside actually matters. We’ve got this idea all year round, that the big promotion matters, that the mortgage matters, that the dog’s diarrhea matters.”

Scully chuckled. “Well, those things do matter, Mulder.”

“They do, but they can’t define us. We’ve all lost something, and regained it, Scully. That’s what this holiday is about. And if we waste our lives thinking that some insane idea is going to work, some idea that will probably lead to just another loss, then we’re setting ourselves up for never discovering hope.”

With a slow nod, Scully agreed and pulled into Maggie’s driveway. “So you’re saying that a teenage boy pointed this out to you?”

“A teenage boy who understood more about sacrifice and the meaning of life than most eighty-year-olds. Nathan was looking for a place where he could give hope to people. It’s why he volunteered at a nursing home. He wanted to give the one last ray of hope to these poor elderly people, because most of them don’t have any hope left.”

“They have hope if they believe their souls are eternal,” Scully offered.

Mulder nodded, considering that.

Scully turned the car off and reached over with her right arm to open the door.

“I’m not worried about the loss of it all anymore, Scully,” Mulder said, and smiled at her as she turned to look at him. “I think I learned something extremely valuable.”

“Hope?”

“Yes, but that’s not all. In my own strange, unconventional way, Scully, I think I’ve learned something tangential to hope.”

“What’s that?”

Mulder smiled, and took her right hand in his. “Faith.”

*END

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Food for Thoth

foodforthothcover

Food For Thoth

Author: Elf X

Category: Holiday, casefile, teentsy Bones crossover

Rating: PG

Artwork: Martin Ross

Summary: Mulder and Scully’s Thanksgiving plans go awry when a priceless amulet turns up at dinner.

Spoilers: Bones spoilers

Disclaimer: Tip o’ the pilgrim’s bonnet to Chris Carter and Kathy Reichs.

Original web date:11/21/2008

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Food For Thoth

The Jeffersonian Institution

Washington, D.C.

8:23 a.m.

As he moved through the darkened hallways, surrounded by the images and keepsakes of the dead, Lenny again cursed Latrelle — for his lovely wife, for his two beautiful children, for the comfortable domesticity his colleague had found in a world seemingly wracked with pain. As his gun bounced against his thigh, Lenny contemplated a thousand deaths for the man with whom he’d worked for five years.

The married thing, Lenny fumed. It always works.

It was Thanksgiving Day, and Lenny Chakiris once again was walking his macabre beat through this high-class junkyard while Latrelle feasted in the bosom of his family (and what a bosom the lovely Mrs. Wilkinson possessed, the godfather of Latrelle’s boys mused) . Lenny had worked the last five Christmases, Thanksgivings, and New Years — the single man’s curse. He’d thought about getting a ring for one of the broads he’d been banging just so he could for once for god’s sake actually watch a bowl game.

The upside was, he didn’t have to spend the day with his pain-in-the-ass extended family and their litany of hypochondria, unaddressed grievances, and ill-concealed resentments. But he hated the Jeffersonian on holidays — the only sign of life was that crazy chick Brennan, the forensic anthropologist, scraping goop off skulls and shinbones up in her lab.

She was kinda hot, if you liked the Morticia Addams type. But what kind of freaking atheist commie didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas. Actually, the whole ghoulish forensics team was a few bricks shy. Hodgins was a nice enough guy when you passed him in the hall, but he was full of nutty conspiracy theories about how the government was trying to ship everybody off to Guantanamo. And that creepy kid, Addy, they put him in the nuthouse after he’d hired on with that cannibal serial killer.

Montenegro, now, she definitely was a babe, but anybody would hang out with Dr. “Bones” and her crew must have some kind of kink. The only one Lenny fully trusted was Agent Booth, Brennan’s FBI pal — he seemed like a regular guy, even wished him a happy Thanksgiving yesterday. Effiing Latrelle.

Lenny tensed as he ventured into the Death and Deities exhibit. He was Greek Orthodox all the way, but there was something about this hall of idols and icons, dog-headed and dragon-bodied action figures, and ancient drawings full of crap that would make Stephen King piss his jeans. Musta had too much time on their hands before TV and microwaves, Lenny mused.

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The security guard unconsciously avoided the eyes of the dozens of demons lined up behind glass beyond the huge pouting head some long-gone whack job had carved. Winged rat thing, check. Three-headed cat thing, check. Bat with boobs, check. Birdhead –.

“Fuck,” Lenny whispered, his blood temperature plunging. He stepped forward, touching his gun as he peered at the spot where Birdhead was supposed to be. Lock was secure, laser detector armed. No sign of tampering, no prints. No Birdhead. Just, just…

“What the fuck…?” Lenny squeaked, his voice echoing through the galleries.

Residence of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully

Georgetown

10:55 a.m.

“You are not wearing that shirt.”

Mulder looked up from his Post and blinked at the petite redhead tugging a casserole of steaming yams from the oven. He glanced down at the red cotton pullover interwoven with dancing green extraterrestrials.

“Well, yeah,” he responded weakly. “I mean, of course not?”

“The last one,” Scully affirmed, sliding the sweet potatoes onto a trivet as Mulder yanked the sweater off and headed into the bedroom. “We’re finally going to make Thanksgiving at Mom’s house — I’d like it to be more Rockwell than Roswell. As it is, I nearly had a stroke when she called to see if we were still coming. I was afraid it was Skinner sending us off to chase a poltergeist at the Pentagon or a Flukeman in the Longworth Building men’s room.”

“Relax,” Mulder said, smoothing his freshly laundered T-shirt as he emerged from their boudoir. “OK?”

Scully stared at Stephen Hawking’s presumably beaming countenance and the legend, “If you’ve got the Time, I’ve got the Mass.”

“Much better,” she sighed.

“Great. You all set?”

Scully exhaled, smiling beatifically. “Over the Potomac and through the burbs. Oh, you did remember to turn off your…”

She was interrupted by an electronic rendition of the Close Encounters theme. Coming from Mulder’s jeans. He pretended momentarily to ignore the ringtone, then shrugged contritely as he reached into his pocket.

“Mulder,” he mumbled into the cell phone, jumping as the oven door slammed explosively.

Residence of Maggie Scully

Washington, D.C.

11:23 a.m.

“Clara, you put that cookie down right this minute,” Margaret Scully commanded as she peered at the bird tanning inside her oven. Her granddaughter slipped the gingersnap back onto the china platter with a pensive sigh. “I know you’re starving, Baby, but I don’t want you to spoil your supper when your aunt and Fox will be here any time now.”

Maggie smiled unconsciously. She never thought she’d be able to utter those words. Three years ago, it had been the serial killer/turkey invasion in Illinois; two years ago, the killings in New England. Last year — Maggie still didn’t quite understand what had transpired in Pennsylvania last year.

She’d thought about doing a ham — it would be considerably less trouble, and she wouldn’t be stuck with a ton of leftover poultry. But Matthew and Clara were all hepped up for a traditional Thanksgiving. And now, as it turned out, Dana and Fox would be here to enjoy it…

As Maggie reflected warmly, the phone warbled in the living room. She heard Tara mute the TV.

“Maggie?” her daughter-in-law called warily a few seconds later. Maggie sighed, selected a cookie, and started to hand it to Clara. She paused, then passed her the platter.

Georgetown Riverside Apartments

Washington, D.C.

1:23 p.m.

“Did you move the body?”

Tracy Lochmuller shook her head soberly. Special Agent Fox Mulder silently studied the young woman’s brown eyes, and she blinked. “Well, I had to put it on the counter, obviously, or I wouldn’t have found the, uh, thing… I guess I mean Dad wouldn’t have found the thing. Is that question really relevant here?”

Then Mulder blinked. “No. No, I guess not. Sorry — instinct. So you believe the artifact originally was in the body cavity? You didn’t notice when you were preparing the body, when you emptied the cavity?”

“I used a spoon to scoop out the cavity.” The Georgetown University junior frowned. “Hey, this is getting a little creepy. Could you please quit referring to our turkey as ‘the body’? It’s making me feel a little nauseous.”

“Join the club,” Scully muttered. The call from Skinner, just as she and Mulder were loading the car for the trip over the river and through the ‘burbs to her mother’s house, had dashed her Thanksgiving vibe.

Mulder ignored his partner. “Can we see the remains, er, the turkey?”

“We ate most of it,” Tracy reported apologetically. “Dad was on his third serving of dressing when he, ah, when he discovered the thing.”

“Actually, the ‘thing’ is a priceless amulet depicting the Egyptian god Thoth,” Mulder supplied. Scully found a perch and settled in. “He was considered the heart and tongue of Ra as well as the means by which Ra’s will was translated into speech. Thoth one of the two deities who stood on either side of Ra’s boat, and was and was charged with judging of dead. He was one of the most important deities of the Egyptian pantheon. He’s often depicted with the head of an ibis, a bird.”

“Yeah,” Tracy drawled. “So you want to see the turkey?”

“And the thing,” Mulder sighed.

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A burly DCPD officer stood guard over the bird’s — to be precise, the semi-skeletonized remains of the Lochmullers’ Thanksgiving turkey and the bird-headed judge of the dead, now interred in a plastic evidence bag. It was a small Thoth — an exquisitely detailed work in lapis lazuli, similar to the one at London’s Science Museum, but far crisper and well-preserved than the London specimen thanks to an obviously more adept mummifier. Due to its immaculate state and a cryptic inscription carved into its base, the Jeffersonian had pegged the amulet’s street value at somewhere around $5,000 — quite a few tankfuls of gas even in this day, but somewhat small potatoes in the antiquities world.

The amulet’s inexplicable disappearance from a case in the Jeffersonian Institution’s main gallery that morning had sparked a furor at the museum. An Agent Booth was official Bureau liaison with the Jeffersonian, but he’d been sidelined with a leg wound during a chase the week before, and Mulder had been reluctantly assigned because of the more unusual aspects of the theft. Chief among those aspects was the night guard’s discovery, in the place of the lapis amulet, under laser/heat-and-motion sensitive protection, of a glob of stale bread, eggs, pork sausage, sage, and other sundry seasonings. Equally unusual was the determination that the uncooked dressing was precisely of the mass and weight of the Great God Thoth.

That had spurred speculation that the thief somehow had bypassed the Jeffersonian’s security and pulled an Indiana Jones, replacing the artifact with turkey filler. Given the unwieldy and moist nature of the concoction, the agent who’d forwarded this theory was roundly taunted and stalked, sulking, outside for a Morley.

Mulder flashed his ID and pulled on a pair of latex gloves. His hand disappeared inside the cannibalized fowl as he stared at the now empty turkey cavity between the ribs.

He turned to the bagged deity, and then to Scully. “The dressing’s baked onto the amulet. It look thoroughly cooked to you?”

“I’d say a few millennia’s usually enough for a one-serving god,” Scully mumbled.

Mulder scowled, and turned to Tracy. “The dressing?”

Tracy nodded briskly, and retrieved a Revereware platter from the kitchenette counter. “There’s not much left — Dad loved it, even though it was my first time. Mom was going to fix Thanksgiving dinner, but they’d been wanting to see the place–”

“And you thought you’d give them a little surprise,” Mulder finished cheerfully. “Good job, Rachael Ray.”

Tracy sighed. “Dad’s probably going to have to have dental surgery. He cracked a molar on the thing.”

“Thoth,” Scully corrected dispiritedly.

“Tracy,” Mulder said gently, “I’d like you to try to write down a complete chronology from buying this bird to how you stored and thawed it, how you prepared the stuffing, and when, how, and under what circumstances you stuffed this turkey. It’s important we establish a timeline. I assume you didn’t come across any Egyptian amulets while you were mixing the dressing.”

“That’s what’s so weird. I pulled out the organs and the neck and all that gross shit out of the turkey — I remember feeling around in there to make sure there wasn’t anything else. And I know I didn’t see any amulets or anything while I was mixing the stuffing. You think maybe it was in the stuffing mix?”

“It’s a competitive business,” Mulder suggested. “Was anyone else around when you put the turkey in the oven?”

“I was alone here from the time I started cooking the thing about 8 a.m. ‘til Mom and Dad got in from Delaware.”

“No offense, Tracy, but were either of your parents alone with the bird at any time?”

“Dad hasn’t been in a kitchen for 20 years, and I told Mom not to kibbitz. They were watching the game ‘til I brought the turkey and stuff out. That’s where we saw about the Thoth thing getting stolen — on one of the news breaks.”

Mulder nodded and turned to the cop, who was warily eyeing the amulet. “You guys want to bag this dressing, too? Have it delivered to the FBI lab.”

Mulder scanned the kitchenette one last time, then dipped his finger into a nearby casserole and tasted the chocolaty whipped concoction. “Officer? You want to bag up this up, too?”

“Bureau Lab?” the policeman grunted.

“I’ll take it to go,” Mulder said.

The Jeffersonian Institution

Washington, D.C.

2:49 p.m.

“It’s happened again,” the Jeffersonian’s director moaned as Mulder and Scully entered the main atrium of the nation’s largest scientific and cultural repository.

“You got that dressing?” Mulder demanded.

The director impatiently thrust a Ziploc of raw stuffing mix at him. “I submitted a sample to Dr. Hodgins, one of our scientists, as well. He works for our forensic anthropologist, Dr. Brennan. She reported the latest theft — the mandible of a Mesopotamian slave.”

“Ah, the jawbone of an Assyrian,” Mulder grinned. The director did not reciprocate. “What’s Brennan doing here on Thanksgiving, anyway?”

“She’s not one for holiday observations. Dr. Brennan was cleaning the mandible an hour ago when she got a call. When she came back, the bone was gone. From an electronically secured lab. The police were investigating the Thoth theft, and she summoned us at once.”

“Can we speak to her?” Mulder asked.

The director looked uncomfortable. “Ah, Dr. Brennan normally works with an Agent Booth. When I told her you were coming, well, it would seem Agent Booth has discussed you with her. She asked me to represent her in this investigation. She said — and these are her words, mind you — that you were ‘too frivolous.’”

“Imagine that,” Scully smiled for the first time that day.

“But Dr. Brennan passed along something the thief left in place of the mandible — after photographing the scene, of course.” The director pulled a second Ziploc from his jacket. “It would seem to some kind of jellified compound.”

Mulder partially unzipped the bag and sniffed, then handed it to Scully.

“Cranberries,” she confirmed.

Georgetown Riverside Apartments

4:10 p.m.

“I’m really sorry if I’m wasting your time, Agent Mulder, but this is getting wicked strange,” Tracy breathed as she ushered Mulder and Scully into the apartment house foyer.

“Not at all,” Mulder said, following the coed up the student-worn stairs. “I told you to call if anything new came to you.”

“It didn’t come to me,” the girl informed him cryptically. “Here we are – Apt. 2.” She rapped on a door adorned with a cardboard turkey. “Mrs. Cronin? It’s me, Tracy.”

The voice was brittle but sweet. “Coming, honey.” The door swung open to reveal a gnomish woman in a housedress and apron. The unmistakable aroma of Cannabis sativa wafted into the hallway, and Scully registered the thick lenses in Mrs. Cronin’s outsized glasses.

“Glaucoma?” the agent/pathologist asked.

“No,” Mrs. Cronin smiled uncertainly. “Why?”

“Because it smells like a Dead concert in here,” Mulder explained tactfully. “Cancer?”

“Jesus,” Scully and Tracy gasped in unison.

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“Oh, my, no, I’m healthy as a horse,” Mrs. Croning pishtoshed. “I made some lasagna — you must be smelling the oregano.”

“Sure, that has to be it,” Mulder said as he spied the turkey breast cooling on a TV tray in her immaculate living room. Flava Flav was finessing the honeys on the Nixon-era set alarmingly close to the makeshift table.

“Mrs. Cronin, could you show Agent Mulder what you found a little while ago?” Tracy asked gently.

“Surely, dear.”

“Lemme venture a guess. Is it bony, ancient, and full of poorly maintained teeth?”

“I brush every morning and before bed, young man,” Mrs. Cronin informed him coolly. She hobbled to a side table near the window and retrieved a parcel wrapped in paper toweling. She unwrapped it slowly, and Mulder stared, dumbfounded, at the huge Eisenhower for President button.

“We haven’t voted Republican — the late Mr. Cronin and I — since that rat bastard Hoover screwed the pooch,” Mrs. Cronin informed the agents cheerfully. “I think I’ve been punk’d, no doubt by the neo-con people.”

“Where did you find it? In the cranberry sauce?”

“That’s an awfully improbable guess, young man. Of course not — I can’t abide tart fruit. It was left in place of my dear late husband, to add insult to political injury.”

“They stole a photo of your husband?” Scully inquired incredulously

“No, dear, my husband. His ashes.”

Mulder frowned. “You mean a cremation urn?”

“No. The envelope with Ronald’s ashes. The original urn those thieves sold me didn’t coordinate with my window treatments.”

Mulder glanced at Mrs. Cronin’s chartreuse floral curtains. “O-kay. Do you happen to have any idea how much your husband’s ashes weighed?”

“He was an atrocious eater — we had to shop at the big and tall.”

“Hmm.” Mulder smiled and stepped away, unholstering his cell phone. “Yes, I need to speak to Dr. Brennan, if she’s in. Tell her it’s, ah, Agent Malone. Jack Malone. Thanks.” He beamed at Mrs. Cronin as he waited; she beamed back. “Yes, Dr. Brennan? Yes, I know — we’re looking for the jawbone of an Assyrian…Oh, yeah, Mesopotamian. That was a joke. Noooo, I guess Assyrians aren’t that funny. It’s biblical humor — you know, the jawbone of an ass? Yes, I realize it’s a human mandible…When we’re done with it as evidence, I guess. Look, Dr. Brennan, your director gave Dr. Hodgins a sample of cranberry sauce to analyze. Could you have it weighed and get back to me with the precise measurement? Oh, and we need another sweep of the museum to see if anything else has been stolen. What? Oh, uh, I guess Agent Mulder and I must’ve accidentally switched cell phones. He’s a scatterbrain, Fox, real frivolous guy. Happy Thanksgiving. Hello? What a stiff,” Mulder muttered as he pocketed his phone. “Scully, can you bag that button? Tracy, come with me.”

“Where are you two going?” Scully asked suspiciously. It hadn’t escaped her notice that Tracy had changed into a pair of Juicy shorts and a jogging bra since their last visit, and that her gaze had never left Mulder since their arrival.

“We’re hunting for cranberries,” Mulder announced, gravely.

**

As it turned out, the violated cranberry sauce was uncovered in Apt. 10, on the third floor, where construction worker Richard Frannick had been puzzling over the disembodied jawbone that had materialized in his side dish.

Apartment 7 yielded a 19th Century corn shucker, a missing radio alarm clock, and two wary lesbians named Vicky and Nikki. Apartment 3, decorated campily in Early ‘60s Blue-Collar and Einstein posters, was blessed with a used Jeffersonian coffee mug — Kris, the twenty-something tenant searched diligently before realizing half his microwave pizza had dematerialized. The HUD clerk in Apt. 12 had discovered an anatomically explicit Incan fertility god lodged in her still-boxed pumpkin pie.

Mulder established a command center in the Chinese cafe across the street — the only eatery open that sacred day. Between dumplings, he was able to direct a Jeffersonian scavenger hunt that yielded a Westclox AM-FM clock radio, a wad of pumpkin pulp, and a manila envelope containing the earthly remains of Ronald Cronin. The Micronesian fetish, the Ike button, the corn shucker, and the Peruvian fertility icon were weighed, and Mulder ordered the same for the items found throughout the museum. With Dr. Brennan the only professional staffer on duty for the holiday, Mulder wrote the coffee mug off until Friday but instructed the director to prohibit the removal of any frozen (or thawing) pizzas.

“What’s the pattern, Mulder?” Scully finally asked as she sipped her artificially sweetened black tea. “What’s the profile? Our thief somehow penetrates a virtually impenetrable museum at several points over the past five hours, replacing a series of random objets d’art and office fixtures with food and miscellaneous items stolen from a single apartment building, only to scatter his semi-priceless swag among a group of disparate people.”

“You forget — the Jeffersonian pieces and the apartment house items were stolen simultaneously, or so it would seem. And each object stolen from the folks across the street was replaced with an item of precisely the same weight and, I’m guessing, mass. Either the killer is a demented genius with a very nuanced motive, or…”

“Go ahead,” Scully sighed.

She was saved Mulder’s paranormal explanation literally by the bell. Mulder dropped his fork and pulled up the e-mail from the Jeffersonian as it arrived with an electronic chime. He smiled with anticipation as he opened the attached .jpg and fired up Photoshop, turning the laptop toward his partner.

“While you were draining the tanks and briefing Skinner, I called the Jeffersonian and asked them to chart the location of the stolen objects on a schematic of the museum. I did up a rough model of the apartment building. The red dots indicate objects on the first floor of the museum and the second floor of the apartment, the blue dots objects on the second floor of the Jeffersonian and the third floor of the apartment building. OK, let me drag the apartment layer on top of the museum layer and…..voila. They match, see?”

Scully’s jaw dropped. “Connect the dots — maybe there’s a pattern. There has to be a logical pattern in this.”

“Actually, I think what we have here is a brilliant mind paired with extreme incompetence. What we have here is not pristine order, but utter chaos. And I think I know who our culprit is.”

Scully drained her tea. “Then let’s go.”

“Slow down, Watson,” Mulder said, spearing the last potsticker. “Our thief isn’t going anywhere, and he can’t afford to make a grab for the real treasure.”

“What? The Crown Jewels?”

“More like the royal throne.”

Residence of Rudolph Pettridge

Washington, D.C.

6:34 p.m.

“Would you like some sherry, coffee…?” Dr. Rudy Pettridge invited in a voice clearly intended to discourage Mulder and Scully from accepting.

“Well, sure,” Mulder said enthusiastically as he settled into the Georgetown professor’s favorite leather “moustache” chair and peered about the book-packed study. “Cream, Splenda if you got it. Equal would be fine. Actually, sugar would be great.”

“We’re in something of a hurry,” Scully smiled, shooting daggers at her partner. “We’re investigating a student of yours as a person of interest in a series of local crimes.”

“Today?” Pettridge fretted. “We were just about to settle in for dinner. Guinea hen,” he explained, as if his choice of holiday fowl made a difference.

“Kris Labatt. You remember him? He was your grad assistant a few years back.”

The lean, bearded professor frowned. “I don’t know that I’m comfortable discussing a former student. Especially when…”

“When he left the university under a cloud?”

Pettridge considered, then leaned against a detailed globe the size of a killer asteroid. “Kristopher was a brilliant student — would have been a brilliant student. His speculations on quantum mechanics were practically Hawkinsian — you should have read his masters thesis on string theory and spontaneous broken symmetry. A poor practical mathematician, though, and impulsive.”

“That’s how he got in trouble with the school?” Mulder asked.

Pettridge sighed. “The head of the department — he’s since moved on to Duke — had several faculty and grads to a cocktail party at Christmas the semester prior to Kristopher’s pending graduation. Kristopher was particularly taken with a Kangxi porcelain Hugh had acquired in Beijing — beautiful piece. Well. Two days later, Hugh and Sylvia came to breakfast to find the bowl gone and some sort of pipe in its place.”

“Pipe?”

“One of those marijuana pipes, like a hookah.”

“A bong?”

Pettridge nodded. “It obviously was a student prank, though how he managed to get through an armed security system…”

“Labatt?”

“Yes. The young idiot’s initials were scratched on the base of the…pipe, and when the campus police were dispatched to his apartment, they found the Kangxi on a coffee table. Hugh was concerned about the school’s image, and, I suspect, the ridicule such a prank might bring down on him. Kristopher was asked to leave the university. Such a foolish stunt from such a promising young man.”

“Maybe more promising than you could imagine,” Mulder suggested.

The Jeffersonian Institution

Washington, D.C.

7:15 p.m.

“What’s the first law of physics, my Quantum Ms. Goodwrench?” Mulder asked as they again ascended the stone steps of the Jeffersonian.

“Mulder,” Scully groaned.

“Matter cannot be created nor destroyed. By extension, the molecules of two objects can’t occupy the same space. What do you know about teleportation?”

Scully stopped and seized Mulder’s sleeve. “You absolutely have to be freaking kidding, Mulder.”

“Scientists from the University of Queensland’s Australian Research Center for Quantum Atom Optics recently devised a new way to teleport atoms without involving quantum entanglement. When two atoms or two laser beams are inextricably ‘entangled,’ it’s possible to make a link between two ends of the line. If one particle is rotating in one direction, the other one will always rotate in the opposite direction. As a result, measurements performed on one particle seem to instantaneously influence the other particle. If there is a change in one entangled state then the other reacts and sends the information instantaneously. Voila! Teleportation, Baby.

”The problem is quantum teleportation isn’t a particularly reliable way to teleport something if you want it to get there in one piece. So far, scientists have succeeded in transporting photons and single atoms. It would take a few million years to send one Klingon at that rate. But the Australian team hit on the idea of using a Bose-Einstein condensate — a type of matter that only exists at around a billionth of a degree above absolute zero. That’s about negative 273.15 Centrigrade, cold enough to freeze the brass finials off Martha Stewart. Under such HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supercooled” \o “Supercooled” super-cooled conditions, a large fraction of the atoms collapse into the lowest HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_state” \o “Quantum state” quantum state of the external potential, at which point quantum effects become apparent on a macroscopic scale. And Bose-Einstein condensates exhibit bizarre anomalies such as spontaneously flowing out of their containers. Without friction, the fluid can overcome gravity because of adhesion between the fluid and the container wall, and it takes up the most favorable position, all around the container.

“Anyway, the point is, the head of the Australian research team reported teleporting 5,000 particles using Bose-Einstein condensates. At almost absolute zero, the atoms of the substance you want to move all act in exactly the same way — it behaves as if it was one big atom rather than a collection of particles. For example, if you shine a laser at the condensate and fire atoms at it, the condensate will emit light. Since the condensate behaves like one big atom, all the photons are emitted in the same direction and form a signal beam. By screwing around with the laser and the condensate, scientists can make the beam carry all the information about the atoms fired at the condensate. You see where I’m going with this?”

Scully nodded. “Are we out of creamer? I think I may have used the last of it this morning. Oh, I’m sorry – I must have lost you when I reached terminal-stage REM sleep.”

“C’mon, Scully. Do you really believe a person — even one of Labatt’s IQ — could have so precisely matched the mass of the objects switched between the museum and the apartment house? Or stole each pair of objects — objects miles apart — at seemingly the exact same time?.”

“You’re saying this disgraced, pot-smoking ex-grad student managed to put together the resources necessary to do what the world’s greatest scientists have been unable to? I know a little about quantum mechanics, too: Can you imagine the computing power it would take to ‘record’ every atom in an amulet or a coffee mug, much less the technology it would take to transmit all that information? You c’mon, Mulder. What was LaBatt’s motive? Was he simply showing off?”

“Scully, think about it. Kris Labatt is a brilliant scientist with a far-reaching grasp of physics. He somehow managed to bypass a sophisticated home security system to switch a Chinese artifact with a bong that clearly incriminated him. I think that’s when he first realized the laws of teleportation.”

“I can’t wait.”

“Matter cannot be created nor destroyed, and two molecules can’t coexist in the same place. If a bowl materializes in the space occupied by a bong, the bong must fill the void left by the bowl. If an Egyptian amulet is teleported into the stuffing-filled cavity of a turkey, an equal amount of dressing must take its place.”

“I think I know where the bong went.”

Mulder started back up the steps. “Somehow, Labatt fell to the secret of teleporting matter, but then he was kicked out of school. He continued to work on the project, piecing together what he needed as he could afford it. Now, he’s perfected the technology. Well, so to speak.

“Pettridge noted Labatt is a lousy math student. So was Einstein — that’s probably why Labatt has him plastered all over his walls — but he still managed to whomp up a mean Theory of Relativity. Labatt’s no Einstein. He was smart enough to cook up a smokescreen for us, though. After his neighbors told him about the strange events of the day, he realized he’d missed his mark several times. He can relocate the building blocks of matter, but he can’t get past the laws of matter or calculate the right mathematical algorithm to target his booty. But it was brilliant, claiming that mug materialized in his apartment. There have to be hundreds of those mugs at the museum — he probably bought his during one of a dozen trips to the Jeffersonian. As for the pizza box? If we didn’t find it, we‘d probably just assume a janitor had thrown it away or a guard nuked and ate it.

“What he didn’t realize was that we could use a little simple geometry to uncover his real target,” Mulder continued as he nodded to the Jeffersonian guard at the huge main doors. “Every object that disappeared from Tracy’s building turned up at the location of its corresponding museum piece — except one.” His footsteps echoed through the empty museum atrium as a reconstructed woolly mammoth looked on. “On my little overlay, Labatt’s apartment corresponds to a major gallery of the museum — no offices, labs, or breakrooms where a mug might have been around. Then, when I found out which gallery it was, I realized why there was something so familiar about Labatt’s apartment. That’s why I called for those eBay records on the way back from Pettridge’s. Along with Labatt’s most recent electrical bills — if he’s zapping crap all over the metro D.C. area, I’m guessing he must be using some mega-bitchin’ refrigeration Whoop, there it is.”

Scully studied the banner above the gallery entry. It resembled a colossal sampler, the letters stitched homily across the laminated canvas. “War-to-War America:/The Season of our Discontentment — 1955-1975.”

Mulder stepped up his pace. “Labatt’s apartment is located one unit away from Mrs. Cronin’s — that was the tipoff for me. The Eisenhower button would be in the same gallery as Labatt’s quarry.”

“Which was?” Scully demanded.

“You know the Smithsonian’s been doing some major remodeling over the past few months, so several exhibits have been relocated. The Jeffersonian was planning this exhibition about our transition from the complacency of the ‘50s to the social unrest of the ‘70s, and it took the opportunity to borrow a very special piece to cap off the exhibit.”

Scully locked eyes with June Cleaver, pretty in pearls as she displayed a casserole no doubt intended for Ward and Wally and the Beav. She looked away, slightly unnerved. “And that piece was?”

“This way,” the tall, broad guard grunted, jerking his head toward a blown-up photo of a hippie inserting a flower into the barrel of a Guardsman’s weapon.

“I thought Labatt’s home décor was a little off,” Mulder explained. “He didn’t seem like the floral wallpaper-and-doily type, and his retro furnishings seemed a little too well-Pledged to fit with that hellmouth he calls a kitchen or his Hawthorne Heights T-shirt.”

Scully paused before a psychedelically customized Volkswagen. “Now that you mention it, his living room seemed, I don’t know, more like a furniture showroom.”

“Or a museum display?” Mulder suggested. “I checked, and it turns out Labatt had a major interest in ‘70s pop culture. When he was a kid, he watched a lot of TV with his dad — mostly syndicated reruns, TVLand. Stuff like the Brady Bunch — God knows what that might’ve done to his psyche. But he had a favorite — one of the seminal series of the ‘70s. TV’s first attempt to deal frankly with the American angst of the Vietnam Era, the changing structure of the nuclear family, the intergenerational divide over issues like politics, religion, sex.”

Scully snapped her fingers. “Oh my God. Mulder, are you trying to tell me this scientific wunderkind, this techno-wiz has invented a means of transporting matter, has shattered everything we know about physics, for, for…”

“For that,” Mulder said, indicating the incongruously pedestrian tableau before them.

“Mulder, he’s…”

“A moron?”

**

Labatt opened the door with a broad, dumb grin. It was, to say the least, the last reaction Mulder’d expected.

“Hey, guys, join the party,” the would-be antiquities thief invited heartily.

“Kristopher Labatt, you’re under arrest for the theft of, well, for theft,” Mulder faltered. He stopped mirandizing as he spotted the two suited men examining Labatt’s laptop.

“Dude, you’re too late,” Labatt laughed apologetically. “They made me a better deal.”

“Jesus, Labatt, just shut up, OK,” the taller of the two suits snapped. He pulled his ID and flashed Mulder and Scully. “Agent Weller, National Security Agency. You Mulder? They didn’t say which one was which.”

“I am the one they call Mulder,” Mulder declared. “If you don’t mind me asking, what the hell, dude?”

“We’re detaining Mr. Labatt as a person of interest,” Weller said, flatly. “And that’s all you need to know. Happy Thanksgiving, ‘dude.’”

“Wait a minute,” Mulder floundered as Scully reached for the door. “We’re detaining Labatt for the thefts at the Jeffersonian.”

“Dude, sorry,” the ex-grad student said. “But unless you can do better than six figures and satellite, I’m going with these guys.”

“I said, pipe down,” Weller sighed.

Then, the light dawned. Mulder smiled down at the hapless teleporter. “I bet I know what you’re thankful for today. They found out about your little Star Trek toaster oven and offered you a contract.”

“I don’t think he wants me to talk about it,” Labatt whispered.

“We’ve cleared everything with the Jeffersonian,” Weller reported. “So, bye, now.”

“Bye,” Scully returned, tugging Mulder’s sleeve. Mulder tugged back. Weller stepped forward.

“I’m going, I’m going,” Mulder growled. “But I have to know just one thing.”

Labatt looked to Weller, who sighed and nodded.

“What you’ve done, Labatt — it’s earthshaking. Like the Holy Grail of quantum technology. And you use it to steal Archie Bunker’s chair?”

Labatt settled into the copy of Edith Bunker’s chair he’d located on the web and set his Mountain Dew on the small, round table that was identical to the once-familiar fixture at 704 Hauser Street, Queens, New York. “I know, I know, it was stupid. But I like had to have that chair — I tried to find one like it, but it’s like one of a kind. I mean, look at this — everything’s accurate down to the silverware at the dining room table. The chair was the last piece.”

“It’s a chair, Kris.”

Something shifted in Labatt’s eyes, and he smiled thoughtfully at Mulder. “When Mom left us to ‘find ourselves,’ Dad tried his best, I dunno, to keep things normal for me. He came to all school stuff, kept on my ass about my grades, and every Thanksgiving, he’d buy one of those already-cooked turkeys from the supermarket deli and we’d eat it in front of the TV, watching reruns on one of the cable stations. All in the Family was his favorite — his dad wouldn’t let him watch it, too edgy, I guess. We’d laugh our asses off watching Archie and Edith and Meathead and Gloria — boy, did those two ever pork out, huh? Anyway, those Thanksgivings were the best. I guess I just wanted to, you know…”

Mulder was silent for a moment, lost in memories of his father’s cold and formal holiday rituals, of he and Samantha in front of the tube, watching Underdog soaring over the streets of New York on Thanksgiving morning.

“I know,” he finally murmured, rising and nodding to Scully. “You watch your ass around these guys, OK, Kris? And Weller, make sure he gets the full Dish package.”

“Hey, dude,” Kris called as Mulder reached the door. “I got like a ton of tofurkey and pumpkin pie left. You two got any place to be?”

Mulder looked at Scully, who consulted her watch and shrugged. He grinned at Weller.

“Don’t even,” the NSA agent warned.

“Stifle it, Meathead,” Mulder responded. “I like the tothigh.”

“Par-tay!” Kris shouted. “Hey, you know what? I think The Jeffersons is on.”

*END

Exorcismus: Expedio

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Exorcismus- Expedio

Continued from Exorcismus: Imperium

WOODWARD AVENUE

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, WI

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 14th, 2008

1015

“Let’s get him up on the gurney. Ready, one, two, three.”

“BP 100/60, a little lower than we’d like it.”

“Dealing with a head trauma, that’s to be expected. Sir? Sir, can you hear us?”

Mulder opened his eyes and saw two blurry figures looming over him. A little man in his skull was attempting to escape and had just decided to skip the rubber mallet and go right for the sledgehammer. The rest of his body felt sore and at the moment, everything hurt. He remembered the orange eyes, and the black figure right in front of his car before he swerved just a block from Kingsburry. “Scu…” he started, ignoring the fact that an oxygen mask was on his face.

He felt someone reach into his jacket pocket and pull out his wallet. “Got an ID. Agent Fox Mulder, FBI,” the paramedic said. “Fox, you were in a car accident. We’re loading you onto an ambulance now. You’re going to be all right. Can you give us someone to call for you?”

“Scu…Scully,” he said finally, closing his eyes with exhaustion.

“Wait up a second!” A third voice yelled, and a police officer ran over, carrying Mulder’s cell phone. “Here’s the phone. Might have his ICE contact in it.”

“Thanks,” the paramedic said, and closed the ambulance doors behind him. “Scully, you said? I’ll find him in the phone book. Relax, Fox. You’re gonna be all right.” He flipped the phone open, and started scrolling through contacts.

The other paramedic was sticking him with a needle and Mulder was starting to get agitated. As things got clearer, he realized he shouldn’t be in the back of this ambulance—he should be at Kingsburry, getting Arthur Greenwood out of there before he did something stupid. The 8-year-old, in Mulder’s opinion, had been brainwashed by his very Christian parents into thinking that it was his duty to fight off a force none of them understood.

“Wait—Arthur,” Mulder said.

“Relax, Agent Mulder. We’re gonna get you to the hospital, and we’ll call Scully for you. You’re a very lucky man—that crash could’ve been a lot worse.”

The other paramedic, who kept calling him Fox, much to Mulder’s annoyance, was now on the phone with Scully. He could hear her furious and concerned voice demanding what hospital he was being taken to…again. He tried to focus, but found his eyes slipping shut, and the sound of the paramedics’ voices dimming. Soon, he heard nothing at all.

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BLOOMFIELD HILLS HOSPITAL

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, WI

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 14th, 2008

1130

He didn’t know at what point he fell asleep, or unconscious, but the next thing he knew he was in a hospital bed waking up to Scully’s prize-winning smile once more.

“Sorry,” he said.

“Don’t be,” Scully answered. “You finally got your wish. The role reversal’s over.”

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He smiled slightly, and tried to sit up. He gasped and his bandaged arm immediately went to his chest as he grimaced in pain.

“Take it easy,” Scully said immediately. “Slow movements.”

She helped him elevate the bed just slightly with the remote, and he asked, “How bad?”

“A concussion, some nasty scrapes on your arms, and a hell of a bruise on your ribs, but otherwise, you lucked out.”

“Thank God for airbags…” His own statement caused a flash of recognition to pass over his eyes. “Arthur! Scully, what happened with Arthur? What time is it?”

Scully’s smile dimmed. “Mulder…they can’t find him. They’ve searched the entire campus, but he’s not there. The lower school nurse isn’t there either. There was no sign of a struggle, and he left his locker closed and locked behind him. His mother and father think the demon’s led them away from the campus.”

“What do you think?” Mulder asked, sensing her obvious skepticism.

“I think Arthur and Janet Thompson, the nurse, have left the campus in pursuit of what they believe to be a demon. And I can’t vouch for whether it is or isn’t. But we have to find them, obviously. Mrs. Greenwood told me that Nurse Thompson is one of the few ‘believers’ in the community, and that she would have offered protection to Arthur. I think they’re both under the impression they can stop this thing, whatever it is.”

“So we have two delusional, crusading civilians out there chasing a demon. A real demon.”

Scully raised an eyebrow.

“I’ve seen it multiple times, Scully. Orange eyes, a black kind of body—not concrete. It flashed in front of my windshield. That’s why this accident happened.” Mulder started to get up, but Scully pushed him back down.

“Mulder, your memory of the accident is going to be fuzzy. You took a huge bump to the head and were unconscious for an hour and fifteen minutes.”

“Better than my usual MO,” he countered. “And I remembered those just fine, too.”

“There were a dozen witnesses. You tried to change lanes, and the car in your blind spot sped up at the wrong time. You weren’t at fault. And neither was a demon. It was just a car accident.”

“Those witnesses are wrong, Scully,” Mulder insisted, his temper rising. “And we need to get to Kingsburry.”

“You need to stay put for twenty-four hour observation,” Scully argued. “I’m not bending on this. I’ll go to Kingsburry, I’ll bring the Greenwoods here—whatever you want me to do. But you’re not leaving this hospital for twenty-four hours.”

They stayed locked in a death glare for a few moments, and then Mulder conceded. “Fine, but just twenty-four hours. Do we have the Madison FBI office searching the area?”

“We’ve got an Amber alert and missing persons alert in every convenience store, church, and office building in the state.”

“Good,” Mulder said, slightly satisfied. “Can you bring the Greenwoods here? I need to talk to them about Arthur.”

She nodded. “They’re still at Kingsburry, talking to the police, but I’ll tell them you need to speak with them. Get some rest until I get back, okay, partner?”

Mulder rolled his eyes, but nodded. It wasn’t long before he was asleep.

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TRINITY CHURCH

BIRMINGHAM, WI

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 14th, 2008

1130

Arthur sat huddled in a small ball, his cell phone playing the Christian song he had downloaded, while the school nurse rubbed his back affectionately and let him cry. What he had seen had come true. Agent Mulder had gotten hurt. It was his fault—he had failed to stop it from happening. He had failed to stop the demon.

“Arthur, you have to be brave. It’ll see you upset and it’ll know it’s won. If you don’t act upset, it can’t see,” Nurse Thompson said.

The abandoned church had not been condemned, and had been easy to park behind and sneak into. The pews were dust-covered and the pulpit was cracked and about ready to fall apart. Janet Thompson and Arthur sat against a wall, under a stained-glass window picturing Mary with baby Jesus.

“I wish my mom and dad were here,” Arthur said.

Janet nodded. “I know. We’ll go back and find them as soon as the demon’s gone. But Arthur, your mother and I know each other very well, and I know she would trust me to keep you safe while they protect Cory.”

“Why can’t Mom come and Dad can watch Cory?”

Janet smiled softly. “You want your mom here because she has Discernment too, huh?”

Arthur nodded carefully. “How’d you know?” He asked, clearly surprised.

“Because I also have that gift from God. And I knew you were coming to the Infirmary as soon as I saw Agent Mulder’s car run off the road, on my computer screen. Arthur, I want to help you, but Cory needs your mom’s protection right now. And your dad’s support.”

“Why?”

“Because Cory is little, and vulnerable at this point. He’s going to need someone with Discernment to keep the demons away. And between the two of us, we can get this demon out of Bloomfield Hills.”

“How? How do you get a demon to go away other than play Christian music? ‘Cause we can’t play Christian music through the whole city.”

“We’ll have to convince it that as long as we’re here, it isn’t welcome.”

“How?” Arthur asked insistently.

“I’m not sure yet,” Janet admitted. “But we first have to find it, and that shouldn’t be too hard. It seems to find us, after all.”

“Do you think we should go back to Kingsburry, and set a trap?”

“I think that’s an excellent idea. But we need to plan first. Put your cell phone on a loop so that music doesn’t stop playing. Okay?”

Arthur nodded, and obeyed.

“All right, now let’s talk about Kingsburry, and where the best place to set a trap might be.”

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BLOOMFIELD HILLS HOSPITAL

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, WI

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 14th, 2008

1200

Skip and Melissa Greenwood walked in, Skip holding Cory in his arms. They both looked haggard and intensely worried, as Mulder expected. He switched off the news broadcast that was covering the happenings at Kingsburry Academy, after the disappearances.

“Agent Mulder, how are you feeling?” Skip managed to ask.

“I’m fine. My partner’s forcing me to stay here for an unnecessary twenty-four hours,” Mulder said, giving him a small smile. “I take it you’ve both spoken to the police and you know that we have an APB out for Janet Thompson’s car.”

They nodded. “She’s not going to hurt him. We’re worried about what they’re about to encounter,” Melissa said.

“Mrs. Greenwood, how did your son know I was going to be in a car accident?” Mulder asked. It earned him a look from Scully, but he needed to be direct with these people or he was never going to get any information from them. They were very used to being persecuted for their beliefs, and had grown accustomed to offering no information outside the company of people who believed what they did.

“Arthur has an active imagination,” Skip said instantly. “He probably guessed.”

“That’s a damn good guess, Mr. Greenwood,” Mulder stated flatly.

“Mulder…” Scully warned. It was clear she didn’t want her partner scaring these people off, but Mulder knew that wasn’t going to happen.

“I believe in extrasensory perception,” he told them honestly. “I’ve seen it, I’ve seen it studied in a formal setting, and I’ve seen scientific proof that shows it exists in some people. I also believe that what we’re dealing with is indeed a paranormal creature, what you call a demon. My partner and I investigate unusual cases, which typically can be explained by something that most people think is ridiculous. Please, tell me what it is you know about your son, and I’ll do my best to get him help in what he’s about to do.”

“You can’t help him, Agent Mulder,” Skip said. “It doesn’t work that way.”

“Explain it to me,” Mulder said.

Scully stood back and watched. He was getting through, but she was keeping a close eye out for anything that might indicate he was pushing too far. The more information they had on what this child’s delusions were, the better off they were in their search to find him.

Melissa sat down in the chair next to Mulder’s bed, eyeing the stitched contusion on his forehead. “Are you sure you’re up for this, Agent Mulder?”

“I’m fine. Trust me. I guarantee you I’ve heard weirder stories than yours.”

Melissa glanced at Skip, who nodded carefully. It was clear to Scully that this was something they had sworn not to discuss in front of an outsider.

“When Arthur was three years old, we lived in an apartment in one of the dorms on campus. The apartment had some problems. We were constantly bothered by…a ghost,” Melissa told him.

“We’d come home and the baby gate would be opened, Arthur’s toys would be broken, and our furniture would be in different places,” Skip explained.

“We thought it was one of the kids in the dorm at first, but then things got much worse. We started seeing things in the house,” Melissa said. “I saw a hideous man with a knife enter through the front door. Skip saw a hanged woman in the bathroom. And little Arthur…Arthur was always a very good child. A calm child. And it was crazy…he started to draw on the walls. He didn’t draw nearly as well when he drew on paper, and one day, he drew in red crayon a picture of a young boy with twisted fingers, mangled teeth, and red eyes. And he wrote, in English, ‘I’m coming.’ Arthur didn’t know how to write at that point.”

“We left the apartment after that. We thought it was a ghost,” Skip said. “But we were wrong. It was a demon, and it was trying to get to us, not get us out of the apartment. It followed us to our new home, and we ended up having a priest come in to exorcise the place.”

“When did you discover Arthur had extrasensory perception?”

“We call it Discernment. It’s the ability to distinguish demons from normal people, and the ability to pick out believers and non-believers. Sometimes, people with Discernment have visions of the future,” Melissa said.

“When did you discover Arthur’s Discernment?”

“It isn’t his. It’s a gift from God,” Melissa told him. “It can be taken or given at any time. It’s usually given in early adulthood, but in very rare cases, children can exhibit signs. Arthur did when he was about six. He saw the boy from his drawings at age three. The boy with the mangled fingers and red eyes. He has since seen things outside his windows, in the house, and in objects.”

“How did you know it wasn’t his active imagination?” Scully challenged.

“Because I saw them too,” Melissa said. “I also have the gift of Discernment.”

Mulder was quiet for a moment, before he asked, “What about you, Mr. Greenwood? Do you have this gift?”

“No. But demons can make people see things without having the gift—that’s how I see things, Agent Mulder. I can’t detect what they are, but I can see them.”

“The red eyes—I’ve seen orange eyes several times during this case. Why are they orange for me?”

Melissa glanced at Skip and shrugged. “We have no idea.”

“Maybe it’s because you’re red-green colorblind, Mulder,” Scully said, her voice sarcastic. “The demon wants to be sure its eyes freak you out.”

“She may have a point,” Skip said. “The eyes are always an excellent way of distinguishing demons from normal people. That’s according to Melissa.”

Melissa nodded her agreement.

Mulder glanced at Scully, and then back to the Greenwoods. “Okay, so where is Arthur likely to go to try to banish this demon from the Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills area?”

“He doesn’t need to go anywhere in particular. He just needs to get its attention, and then Janet will probably pray for God to banish the demon to another area.”

“And the demon needs to be there in order to be banished?” Mulder asked.

“There are no specific rules to this, Agent Mulder,” Melissa said. “At this point, anything could happen. Arthur will do what God tells him to.”

“What do you think God will tell him to do?”

Skip frowned. “I know what it is you’re trying to do. We’ve been judged too many times not to recognize when someone’s patronizing us.”

“Mr. Greenwood, I may not believe in everything you believe, but trust me when I say that I think this threat is real, and that Arthur is about to encounter something very dangerous. I want to give him as much help as possible. Now is it really so fantastic to assume that just because I don’t believe what you believe, that God wouldn’t use my partner and me to your advantage? And to His?”

Skip was silent. It was excellent psychology, and both Melissa and Skip knew it. But it was also true. God could use non-Christians to help Christians, absolutely. Whether Agent Mulder really believed that or was just a good psychologist who spoke to a lot of witnesses, they would never know for sure. But they suspected the latter.

“Okay. We’ll trust you in this…we know Agent Scully doesn’t fully believe what we’re saying, either,” Skip said.

Scully raised an eyebrow.

“But she does believe in a higher power, and she believes in the demon in almost the same way as Agent Mulder,” Melissa said. “We should trust you both.”

“Good, now that that’s settled,” Mulder said, “Let’s talk about the game plan.”

“There is no game plan,” Melissa old him. “We have to wait for another sighting, another visitation from the demon. Another murder isn’t likely to happen—Arthur and Janet have it occupied. But Satan could send another, to finish the job that this one can’t. We have to be ready.”

“May I ask a question?” Scully asked, her skeptic tone barely controlled.

“Yes?” Skip asked.

“If it’s your job, as Christians, to fight off these demons, then why is it that Satan just doesn’t send his entire army, and overpower you? Why hasn’t he done that across the globe, and taken over? Humans are fallible. You have to believe that.”

“It isn’t our job, Agent Scully,” Skip said, sounding more like he was describing how to assemble a bookshelf than what may or may not have been his calling in life. “It’s our duty to stand up for what we know is the truth. It’s God’s duty to back us up. And God protects those who stand for him. It’s as simple as that.”

Scully frowned, realizing that she couldn’t argue with these people. They were so set in their ways that she would never get through. And maybe, just maybe, what they said had a bit of truth to it.

“But Arthur is a child. And he’s probably under the notion that it’s his job to fight this thing off on his own,” Mulder said carefully. “I think the best defense is to get to him and convince him that it’s just not true.”

“Arthur knows that it’s God’s will, and not his, that will determine what happens,” Melissa said.

“Does he, Mrs. Greenwood? He’s an eight-year-old boy who dreams about starships and galaxies, and adventures,” Scully stated. “Does he understand what you’ve taught him or does he think this is a very cool video game that’s been placed in his lap?”

“He could get hurt out there,” Mulder said. “He’s with a grown woman who you both apparently trust, but he could still get hurt. We should find him, and talk to him. Make him understand his true place in this.”

Skip and Melissa glanced at each other, and then Skip nodded. “It’s possible Arthur could be mistaken as to what’s going on. He could think of himself as a hero character, and that would be dangerous.”

“Very. So if you have any idea where he might be, that would be really helpful,” Scully said.

“We’ll try to think of places they might go,” Skip promised.

“And we’ll let you get some rest, Agent Mulder. Hopefully there’ll be something to go on soon,” Melissa said, and stood from her chair. The three left the room, with the baby cooing over something he saw and then promptly starting to cry. The door closed behind them.

Scully exhaled.

“I know it’s hard to believe what they’re saying,” Mulder told her, already knowing what was going to come out of her mouth. “But I think they’ve got something here.”

“You?” Scully asked, raising an eyebrow and folding her arms. “How so?”

“I may not buy into what they’re saying, exactly, but I do believe that family has some kind of telepathic ability. And they’ve interpreted it in the only way they know how—through Christian mythology.”

Scully rolled her eyes.

“You know what I mean. I’m not insulting your religion, Scully. Just the aspects of that religion that the Greenwoods have used to explain a paranormal phenomenon.”

“But Mulder, what if they’re right? What if all this does come back to God?”

“That’s not going to help us find that little kid, Scully. Arthur is out there right now looking for a demon he can probably sense through the same biological anomaly that allowed Gibson to read our minds. But instead of sensing what the demon wants from Burger King for lunch, he’s sensing who it wants to destroy. Imagine having that kind of a burden, at eight years old?”

“Then the explanation of God giving him a gift would definitely assist in his processing of the world around him.”

“Whether or not that explanation is true,” Mulder finished for her.

Scully sat down in the chair next to Mulder. “We’ve seen demons exorcised before. It’s been done through ceremony, through dissatisfaction with the people it’s using for its purposes…”

“Through smelling your gym socks…”

Scully ignored the comment. “We need a way of convincing the demon it can’t get a foothold here.”

Mulder smirked.

“What?”

“You’re treating this as if it’s real, with no skepticism whatsoever, and I’m wondering if my concussion is more serious than we thought.”

Rolling her eyes, Scully simply said, “We don’t have any other explanation for what this thing is, and we’ve both seen demons possess and harass people before. So until we find a scientific explanation—”

“It’s better to just go with the How to Exorcise your Body handbook.”

“Very funny,” Scully said dryly.

“You have to admit, it has a little ring to it.” When she looked to the ceiling as if asking for divine intervention, he asked, “Do you think you could get me a laptop, Scully? I want to do a little research.”

Scully nodded. “I guess that would be okay. But if I see you overdoing it…”

“I know, I know. My ass in your sling.”

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KINGSBURRY ACADEMY

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, WI

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 14th, 2008

1215

The students had been taken out of classes after the disappearances, and their parents had come to pick them up after they had been allowed to leave the lock-down areas. Buses took boarders back to their campuses of residence, and juniors and seniors to their cars. Lower and Middle School students lined the turn-around drives where they were normally picked up. The line of cars was familiar to everyone. Lexus, Mercedes, BMW, another BMW, a Volvo (of all things, a station wagon Volvo…that parent must have taken a pay cut).

The stream of children in designer clothes they would grow out of in a few months was also familiar to everyone. They shoved each other around as normal children do, some oblivious to the amount of damage they were doing to the expensive clothing in which they had been dressed.

But James Gregory Sanders III was not oblivious, and it disgusted him. He was so much smarter than everyone else in the third grade, and it bothered him that no one seemed to recognize this. But the teachers did let him do things the other kids didn’t get to do, as they should. James was the richest kid in the third grade, and he knew it.

He missed school several times in the past few years he had been in school, simply because his parents hadn’t flown the jet back from the island according to the school schedule. No one ever demanded his homework if he came in with a note from his mother saying he was excused. James had learned that you can get by many things by using money.

And nothing annoyed James more than the faculty kids. Faculty kids who got into Kingsburry just because their parents were teachers. They didn’t belong with the rest of the kids. His parents had confirmed this for him—they told him that many of those kids didn’t have the kind of upbringing James did. Lack of money, James had been told, often led to bad behavior. Such as the behavior of Arthur Greenwood, running away during school.

James watched as one of the faculty kids pushed his way through the crowd, going to God only knew where. The kid pushed James, and James said, “Excuse me!”

The kid didn’t turn. James lunged for him. “Hey! You pushed me!”

“Sorry,” the kid said. He was at least a year younger than James, and that allowed James to tower over him.

“You don’t just push me and say ‘sorry’ and walk away. What kinda stuff do you have?”

“Huh?”

“What kind of stuff do you have? What can you give me? Or don’t you have anything? Parents don’t make enough money?”

“I just have a couple of dollars and my backpack. I gotta go. I’m trying to find my friend.”

“Give me what’s in your backpack, and then you can go home to your little hole in the wall.”

The only teacher in the area was engaged in comforting two crying kids, who had gotten into a fight, and the boy James was interrogating had nowhere to easily run. So he did the only thing he could think of. He kneed James in the groin and took off.

Lucky for James, the kid had largely missed. James took off after him, his longer legs giving him the advantage. The boys ran around the building and down to the soccer field. The faculty kid was fast—he must run a lot, James thought. But James was bigger. He was gaining on him.

They crossed the soccer field and went through some thick trees, the faculty kid using his knowledge of the grounds to navigate expertly. He was heading home, James thought. Toward the pitiful excuses for houses where the teachers lived.

The faculty kid would have taken the conventional route, had there not been something red in his peripheral vision. He stopped for a moment, looked over to where it was, and then ran that way. Surely by now the bigger kid had determined that he was heading for his house, and a sharp turn in such thick woods would throw him off.

He saw a red piece of cloth caught on a branch, but paid it no mind. He knew this way would take him to the lake if he kept going, and that would lead him to where Arthur’s and his fort was. But another step and the world fell out from under him. He tumbled down, yelling in fear, until he fell onto something soft. Hay. Hay was at the bottom of the small hole. He looked around, reaching into his cargo pants for his flashlight. Since Arthur carried one, he had wanted one too, and he finally got to use it.

The hole wasn’t just a hole; it was a tunnel. And it went so far that he couldn’t see the end. He started walking slowly, cautiously taking in his surroundings. The walls had drawings on them, but they looked like kids’ drawings. There were pictures of rocket ships in dark red and blue colors, and then in faded black were pictures of horse-drawn carriages, apparently in some kind of race.

A very old-looking car was drawn on one wall, and children had etched their names into the walls along with dates. The earliest date was 1906. The most recent date was 1965.

Stone walls, the faculty kid realized. Stone walls that had been constructed deliberately. This wasn’t just any tunnel. This tunnel had to lead somewhere. But where could it lead? And why hadn’t he and Arthur and the other faculty kids found it before?

“Jake,” a voice said. It wasn’t quite male, and it wasn’t quite female. It sounded sort of gravelly, as if it had once smoked, and the faculty kid looked around. Who was calling his name?

“Jake, keep going. Adventure. Excitement. Fun…”

“Who are you? Where are you?” Seven-year-old Jake asked, more than slightly afraid.

“Don’t be afraid,” a child’s voice replaced the first voice. “Don’t be afraid, come have fun!”

“Where are you? What is this place?”

“It’s a secret tunnel,” the child’s voice said, and giggled. “Come on! Don’t you like cool things?”

“I like cool things,” Jake said defensively.

“Are you scared?” The voice taunted.

“No!” Jake said immediately. “Nothing scares me! Me and Arthur, we’re the bravest kids at Kingsburry. Where are you? What’s at the end? Buried treasure? The Temple of the Mummy? Some kinda weird back-from-the-dead mutant monster from Star Trek?”

“Better than those things. Those things are make-believe. The stuff down here…it’s much better, Jake. Keep walking.”

Jake followed, but slipped his backpack off and left it in the tunnel. He didn’t need it anymore. It just had his school things in it.

He walked down the long tunnel, and the drawings disappeared. The stone walls became dirtier, and the cobwebs were greater in number. He jumped several times at the sight of dead animals, and he suddenly felt very afraid when he saw the skeleton of a deer.

“Don’t be afraid, Jake,” the child’s voice said again. “It’s fun in the end, you just have to keep walking.”

“Why? What’s down there?” Jake asked. “Where are you?”

“I’m at the end!”

“Where’s the end?” he demanded.

“Not far,” the voice said, and at that moment Jake stepped into a larger area. His flashlight displayed the strange room for him. It was a room with a table at the center, and a pen long since covered in spider webs.

“What is this place?” Jake asked.

“This is where it started, Jake.”

Jake spun, and saw the figure of a young boy, about his age. The boy’s fingers looked mangled, and his teeth were all messed up, like he hadn’t been to the orthodontist. He was dressed in weird-looking clothes, with socks that came up to his knees, and a weird-looking jacket with no collar. His shirt collar was rounded like a girl’s and he had a bow tied around his neck. Not a normal bow tie, but a ribbon-like thing.

“Who are you?” Jake asked, trying not to sound scared.

“My name’s Timothy,” he said. “But that doesn’t matter now. This is how it started. What do you know about the history of Kingsburry, Jake?”

Jake watched as the boy walked around to the table, and fixed his pale-faced gaze on his new ‘friend’. “Um…I know it was built a long time ago, in like 1905 or something. And I know that it was only for old kids back then.”

“This tunnel was a fort my father built for me. He was one of the contractors—a good friend of Mr. Kingsburry.”

Mr. Kingsburry, the founder of Kingsburry Academy, had many good friends. And he was usually very generous to his many good friends, giving them land and jobs.

“That’s cool,” Jake said. “Wait a sec…how could he have been one of the contractors? You mean like one of the new buildings? The Natatorium? That’s a cool building—I saw them finish it up a few months ago. Right in time for winter, my mom said. Now people can swim inside again.”

The boy didn’t answer. He walked over to the wall, and touched it. “This is where I placed a plan. A plan of who would have to leave Kingsburry. A teacher of mine.”

“Huh?”

“She wasn’t my teacher yet but she would be, when I got old enough. It told me so. She was a Christian. Are you a Christian, Jake?”

Jake looked confused, and he was starting to get uneasy about this kid, whoever he was. “Um…no. I’m Jewish.”

“A religious boy?”

“Uh…I should go. I don’t think we’re supposed to be down here.”

“Don’t go, Jake. I still haven’t finished telling you my story.” Suddenly, the boy wasn’t on the other end of the room, he was behind Jake, blocking the exit. “You don’t want to leave before you hear the story.”

Jake nearly jumped out of his skin. He backed away from the boy, clearly afraid. “How’d you do that?”

The boy smiled, exposing his rotting teeth. “A magic trick. Want to see another?”

Jake shook his head. “I wanna leave.”

The boy took a step toward Jake. “You want to see another. It can show you so many cool things. You’ll be amazed.” Then the boy’s smile dropped, and he stared into Jake’s eyes.

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Jake tried to look away, but found his gaze transfixed. He saw power, enormous power. Power to knock that big kid who had chased him right on his butt. Power to stop the rich kids from teasing him. Power to buy his family a new house so they didn’t live on campus anymore, and instead lived in a big mansion like the rest of the kids in his class.

Power.

Anger, at those who would make fun of him and make him feel small. At those who had broken his fingers—wait…that had never happened. Had it?

Meticulous. Plans, many detailed plans, that told him exactly how he had to make Them leave. If They left, he would have power, and get rid of the anger, and be forever happy.

For just an instant, Jake saw the boy’s eyes turn totally black, and then burn in the brightest red. Then, it was gone. Jake could no longer see the boy. But he knew exactly what he had to do. He grabbed a rusty knife that lay in dust and spider webs in the corner of the room, and then headed out of this tunnel, this pointless place from long, long ago. With a new body, ‘Timothy’ no longer had to be ‘Timothy’. Jake’s eyes were their normal color. Jake’s fingers were normal-looking, and Jake wore clothes as normal kids from the year 2008 usually did. Most of all, Jake knew Arthur Greenwood, It’s greatest enemy. All It needed was one chance to introduce Jake, as he had introduced Timothy, to the wonders of taking a life. And then It would be able to eliminate its greatest threat in this area, and take a strong grip on the naïve but oh-so-powerful people here.

With eager steps, It climbed the ladder Jake seemed to have missed in his fall. And It entered Kingsburry Campus once more in human form.

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TRINITY CHURCH

BIRMINGHAM, WI

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 14th, 2008

1230

Arthur was talking to Nurse Thompson about some of the scariest places in the lower school, where he felt that the demon might want to exploit that fear. “One time, my friends and I all saw the towel in the old locker room move by itself. It was nuts! My teacher said it must have fallen, but we know that wasn’t true. Then the janitor came in and roped off the old locker room, and—”

He stopped. Something was wrong. He looked at the stained-glass windows on the other side of the room, and suddenly the pictures began to move. Nurse Thompson looked too, but her expression was puzzled. She couldn’t see what Arthur could see.

The wise men were no longer bringing gifts to baby Jesus. Now, they transformed into one figure—the boy Arthur had seen before. The boy with mangled fingers, and red eyes, who stared at him from outside his window now that the Christian music kept him out. That boy haunted Arthur’s nightmares far worse than anything else.

The boy approached baby Jesus, who wasn’t baby Jesus anymore. It was his friend, Jake. And then, the two collided. And became one. Arthur stared, wide-eyed at the solid black eyes of his friend as the seven-year-old pointed a finger directly at Arthur, and whispered, “I’m coming.”

“No!” Arthur yelled, looking away from the window. “Oh, no!”

“What? What is it, Arthur?”

“It took Jake. Jake’s gone, it took him!” Arthur sobbed, and turned his face into Nurse Thompson’s shoulder. “It took Jake because he’s my friend, and now…how do we get it out?”

Janet patted Arthur gently, and said, “We have to go to Kingsburry now. Arthur, we’ve got to go and help your friend Jake. Okay?”

“Why’d it have to take him? He was one of my only friends! I don’t have any in my class! Why Jake?” Arthur sobbed uncontrollably.

Janet realized now was not the time to try to get him to move. She comforted him, hoping he’d realize they needed to move quickly, and soon. If they were going to save Arthur’s friend, they had to exorcise this demon before it killed Jake.

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KINGSBURRY ACADEMY

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, WI

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 14th, 2008

1245

James was lost. He had gotten his designer khaki pants muddy, he had snagged his sweater-vest, and his Spider brand-name coat was now dirty. He didn’t know where he had lost that faculty kid in the woods, but it was impossible to find one’s way out. He had pulled his designer sunglasses off his face and stuck them in his backpack, to see better in these woods. He just needed to spot a parking lot, a car, any sign of civilization…

Was he going to starve in these woods? Would he never find his way out? Suddenly, he heard a crunch. He spun, his heart-rate increasing. “Who…who’s that?” He asked fearfully.

Jake emerged from some trees, without his backpack and looking more than slightly dirty.

“You little idiot! Do you realize you got us lost?” James spat, and approached him. “My sweater’s snagged! This sweater cost more than you, you little worthless piece of trash. You’re gonna be working for me for the rest of your life to pay this off.”

Jake didn’t speak. He stared at James with a cold expression.

James moved so that he was directly in front of the faculty kid, and towered over him. “First you’re gonna lead the way out. Then I’m gonna call my mom and tell her what you did. Then your mom—”

James never got to finish. With rage he had never seen before, the faculty kid screamed like some kind of animal and leapt on top of him, pummeling him with every ounce of strength he had. The adrenaline coursing through his young body lead to more force being packed into each punch, and James soon began to cry.

But Jake didn’t stop. He screamed with each blow, each kick, each scratch, and ripped James’ sweater off of him with strength he never knew he had. Then he held it in front of the crying boy as he ripped the material even further, and threw it in his opponent’s face.

Finally, he drew the rusty knife out of his belt. It was a small knife, but enough to do serious damage. He held it at James’ throat as the boy whimpered and shook with fear.

He leaned in close, so close that James tried to squirm away from the scent of his breath. “You’re going to come with me,” he said in a voice that was not his own. It sounded gravelly…like a smoker. “You’re not going to argue. We’re going to the tower. And if you make one false move, I’ll slit your throat.”

James sobbed, trying to get away from the knife and this crazy poor kid who obviously had a mental problem.

Jake stood, and put the knife in his belt again.

“Get up,” Jake ordered, this time in his own voice. He felt good. He felt powerful. He had never felt this good before in his entire life. As he stared at the rich kid covered in mud and cuts and bruises, sobbing his eyes out like a kindergartener, Jake felt even better. Energy welled up in his chest and he grinned with excitement. Timothy was right. This was better than make-believe adventure.

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BLOOMFIELD HILLS HOSPITAL

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, WI

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 14th, 2008

1330

Mulder was just about to explode with boredom. He had researched Discernment in all its shapes and sizes, and gathered as much information as he could. He had discovered, not surprisingly, that Discernment was rather like the secular ESP, only with a religious twist. He had the news on, covering the ongoing search for the nurse and Arthur. Scully was speaking to the Greenwoods, trying to get more information out of them.

Just as she walked into the room with the two of them, her cell phone rang.

“Scully,” she answered, and her expression went from passive to alarmed in a millisecond. “When?”

Mulder and the Greenwoods turned to her curiously.

“Is that building structurally sound?” A pause. “Can you knock down the door?” Another pause, and then she looked to the ceiling and closed her eyes. “I’ll be right down. The main quad of the school? Okay, don’t proceed until I get there. Keep trying to talk them down. I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”

She closed her phone, and turned to her small audience. “Two boys were seen going into a tower at Kingsburry, and shortly afterward, Janet Thompson entered the campus and created a diversion so that Arthur could enter. One camera caught him going in while the others were watching Janet Thompson’s apprehension and arrest. The doors to the Tower are locked at the moment and the police think they’re dealing with a hostage situation. One of you should come with me, to try to talk Arthur down,” Scully said to the Greenwoods.

They looked shocked and alarmed, and Melissa shook her head. “Arthur isn’t holding anyone hostage.”

“Mrs. Greenwood, we can’t know that for sure.”

“We’ve got to get down there,” Mulder said, flipping his legs over the side of the bed.

Scully sighed, clearly exasperated, and wondered what else could go wrong as she walked over to him and put a hand on his shoulder, stopping him from getting out of bed. “No, Mulder, you need to stay here for twenty-four hours,” she said almost automatically, knowing full well what the reply would be.

“I’m fine, Scully. I’m not arguing about this. I’m going. Please, take this IV out of me.”

“We need to get through paperwork, and get you discharged—”

“Oh my God,” Melissa said suddenly. She was watching the television, and she turned to her husband. “That’s Jake Folitz.”

They all turned to look at the TV, where they were covering the ‘hostage situation’. A child’s hand holding a rusty old knife could clearly be seen out the medieval-style window of the Observation Tower at Kingsburry. The camera zoomed in and caught a young boy’s face staring out at them with cold eyes. Mulder shivered, and Melissa gasped.

“Agent Mulder…can you see his eyes?” she asked, pointing to the screen.

Mulder looked again, but the picture was taken away. “No. I didn’t get a good look. What did you see, Mrs. Greenwood?”

“They were black. Solid black, no corneas.”

“What does that mean?” Scully asked, her expression more concerned than skeptical at this point.

“Red eyes mean a demon is posing as a person—it’s not a real person. Black eyes mean the demon has taken possession. Jake is Arthur’s best friend.”

“I’ll stay here with Cory,” Skip said. “Melissa, you need to go help Arthur.”

Melissa nodded, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “Agent Scully, are you coming?”

“Yes,” Scully said immediately, and let go of Mulder’s shoulder. He started to rise, and she turned. “Mulder, you’re a liability in this condition! You shouldn’t be out of bed, and you certainly can’t negotiate a hostage situation!”

“Scully, we’re wasting time,” Mulder said firmly. Cory, in Skip’s arms, turned to him with fear at the raised voice. “Arthur’s best friend is either going to kill the hostage in front of Arthur or he’s going to kill Arthur. We have to get there before that happens, and I’m not staying here, Scully. Take the IV out or I’ll take it out myself.”

Scully looked at Mulder with an exasperated expression, glanced back at the television, and then said reluctantly, “Fine.” She took Mulder’s IV out and grabbed his clothes from the plastic bag. She handed them to him and said, “Change quickly.”

Mulder simply nodded and began changing even though no one had left the room yet. He was done in a matter of seconds, and met them all outside. “Let’s go,” he said simply.

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KINGSBURRY ACADEMY

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, WI

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 14th, 2008

1345

“You Agent Scully?” the police officer asked upon their arrival.

Scully nodded, and pulled her badge. “Agents Scully and Mulder. This is Melissa Greenwood, she’s one of the children’s mothers.”

“You planning on going up there?” the officer inquired as they stepped out of the car.

“We are. I’m a medical doctor. Agent Mulder has hostage negotiation experience and a psychological background.”

“I can reason with Arthur,” Melissa told the officer. “He’ll listen to me.”

The officer seemed to consider this, and then nodded. “Okay. You need vests?”

“We’re dealing with a knife, aren’t we?” Mulder asked with a Scully-like raised eyebrow.

“Yes, but…okay. We tried talking to them. No one’s paying the slightest attention.”

“We’ll see what we can do,” Mulder said.

“All right, it’s your party. Be careful up there. We don’t want a repeat of 1994.”

“What happened in 1994?” Mulder asked.

“Kid took three others hostage at knife-point in the Tower, until a science teacher tackled him. That’s why they closed the building to students.”

“The police commissioner said on the phone the building was structurally sound but hadn’t been inspected in a while. Is there anything we should know about the structure?” Scully asked.

“It should hold you people, but we can’t guarantee anything. It hasn’t been inspected in years. Could have rotting wood, termites…any number of things. Watch your step”

“Thank you,” she said as they took off for the Tower. It was a cylindrical building with a few medieval-style windows and an observatory dome at the top. It was clear that it used to house a telescope, probably in a display case or still in use at the Science Museum’s Observatory.

The Tower, made of stone and wood, was surrounded by a grassy yard and neatly-kept stones that led to the entrance. The police officer guarding the entrance got a nod from the officer Mulder, Scully, and Melissa had talked to before and allowed them to enter.

The spiral stairs creaked on their way up, and a bone-chilling cold passed through the air. The hairs on Mulder’s neck stood up and he knew exactly what they were dealing with here. And it was no small child.

They reached the top, and Mulder knocked on the door. “Jake Folitz, Arthur Greenwood, this is Agent Mulder with the FBI. I’ve got a doctor with me, and I’ve got your mom, Arthur. Would you like to open the door and let us in?”

“Now’s not the best time, Agent Mulder,” Arthur said in a strained voice, and was promptly met with someone screaming, “Shut up!” It didn’t sound like a child. In fact…it didn’t sound human.

Mulder glanced at Scully, who nodded. “Stand back, Melissa,” he told her quietly, and drew his gun. Scully and Melissa stepped down a few stairs, and Mulder shot the ancient lock on the door, and then kicked the door open. He pointed his weapon at the scene, and took in what he saw.

A boy who looked like he had been beaten to a pulp was sitting behind a standing Arthur, who looked like he was trying to protect the other kid. Meanwhile Jake Folitz held a rusty knife at Arthur, and turned quickly at the sound of the door being kicked open. He grabbed Arthur and pulled his friend in front of him, holding the knife at his neck. Mulder looked at the boy in the eyes, and saw the solid black Melissa had claimed to have seen. He couldn’t help but shiver.

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“Jake, no one has to get hurt here,” he said almost mechanically, already knowing exactly what he was dealing with.

Scully also drew her gun, and Melissa stood behind them, looking at Arthur with compassionate eyes. She wasn’t panicking, which made Scully wonder if some kind of communication was going on between them.

Arthur looked absolutely petrified, but he was trying to control his breathing.

No one spoke, as Jake’s eyes stayed transfixed on Mulder’s gun.

Mulder squinted, unsure as to what was going on. But he found himself lowering his aim, until it was dead on Arthur’s head. He took a deep breath, as memories of Robert Patrick Modell flooded back and he thought of training his gun on Scully as he desperately tried to fight it.

“You can’t fight, Agent Mulder,” the voice that was certainly not Jake’s told him flatly. “I can make you pull that trigger…I can make her watch her son die. I can give you whatever you want, if you just accept who I am.”

“Jake, can you hear me?” Melissa asked quietly. “Jake, please, look around you. Look at what’s happening. You can fight it. You have the power, if you only see.”

“Jake, do you remember the fort?” Arthur asked, his voice strained from keeping away the tears. “You remember how much fun we had building it? Can you remember that, Jake? Please?”

Scully watched carefully as she searched for what her partner and Melissa so obviously saw in this child’s eyes. Then, in a flicker of recognition, she saw the black eyes cloud over with some white, as she had seen with the black oil virus. And she had to wonder if that wasn’t some kind of trick as well.

But then the boy’s face began to turn red, and he cried out in a child’s voice, as tears streamed down his cheeks. He tightened his grip on Arthur and looked as if he was truly fighting his own body as the knife slipped to the side of his friend’s throat, and he began to cut.

A gunshot rang out, and the little boy dropped to the floor, blood oozing from his arm. Scully looked quickly at Mulder’s shocked expression at his own action, and holstered her weapon as she ran over to the unconscious child. She took off her jacket and began to administer medical attention.

Mulder held his gun in place, unable to move. He had come so close to hitting Arthur…he had taken such a chance with a child’s life. He turned his eyes downward, where the shell from his bullet lay at his feet.

Melissa ran over to her son, who had dropped to the floor and begun to cry.

And then a chill entered the air again, this time so cold it caused everyone to gasp in unison. They could see their breath for an instant, and then Melissa and Arthur turned to the top of the Observatory to be the first ones to catch a glimpse of the black, non-corporeal form floating above them, red eyes peering down.

Mulder turned his attention skyward as well, and Scully did a double-take, still trying to treat the child.

The knife on the ground began to move, and Arthur stared at it before saying, first in a whisper, “Our Father, up in heaven, is very holy. My Father,” he said more firmly, walking toward the knife but still looking upward, “Is very holy. His Kingdom will come, and his will shall be done, both on Earth and in Heaven.”

The black figure came closer to Arthur, and Mulder took a step forward as Melissa held her son’s shoulders in support.

“Dear Father,” she said in a strong voice, “Give us today what we need. Forgive us our sins. And protect us from temptation. Deliver us from evil.”

“Deliver us from evil,” Arthur said firmly, glancing up at his mother, and then fixing his gaze on the red eyes. “Deliver us from evil.”

“For though we walk in the valley of the shadow of death, we fear no evil,” Melissa said, her voice resonating in the small observatory.

Scully applied pressure to Jake’s wound, but looked at the dark shape and Mulder, Melissa, and Arthur warily. This didn’t look like it was going to end well.

“For He is at my side!” Arthur screamed. “My God is at my side!”

“You have no place here!” Mulder yelled. “These people—they have faith. Just as those women you killed had faith, but were too scared to realize what you were.”

“You’re not so damn scary,” Arthur yelled, standing his ground. “You’re pathetic. You’re despicable. Go back into the hell-hole you came from!”

Melissa looked surprised, but pleased. She still held her son’s shoulders as she said, “You have no power over us. You aren’t allowed to have power over us! You’re not welcome here!”

The figure came even closer to Arthur, and the knife inched toward him as well, but Arthur stood strong. If the boy was afraid, he wasn’t showing it. He fixed his stare on the red eyes as if he was engaged in a lunchtime staring contest with a friend. His severe and hardened expression told Mulder this boy was drawing his strength from something other than his frightening experiences with ghosts and demons in his home.

“Poorly placed faith will destroy you,” the gravelly voice echoed throughout the room. “For even those of faith experience tragedy.”

The knife rose from the air, and Mulder didn’t even think. He just leapt. It embedded itself in his leg, directly level with Arthur’s stomach. Mulder dropped to the ground in agony, clutching the wound and panting as he glanced upward at the rapidly disappearing black shape.

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“For mine is the Kingdom of Glory, and it can be yours, if you so choose. Choose wisely, for I will return.”

And then all was still.

Scully lunged for Melissa’s arm. “Apply pressure to Jake’s wound. Arthur, stick your head out the window and get the paramedics up here,” she said in one breath, and then dove to her knees in front of Mulder. “Hey, Mulder; Mulder, look at me.”

Mulder’s eyes were glazing over and he was rapidly getting paler. Scully stripped off her shirt and attempted to stop the bleeding, but she knew it had hit the femoral artery. A child’s stomach, at the same height as Mulder’s thigh, would have been what she was dealing with had it not been for her partner’s heroic actions. But now he was in danger of bleeding out.

Mulder made eye contact with her then dropped his gaze to see that she had only her bra on, her jacket across the room with Jake and her shirt now wrapped around the knife embedded in his leg. And he managed to smile just slightly as he said, “Should’ve just…done that, Scully…demon would’ve changed…evil ways.”

“Don’t talk, Mulder,” Scully instructed him, and took his pulse.

In another second, the paramedics were coming up the stairs. “What’ve we got?”

“A stab wound to the femoral artery, a gunshot wound to the shoulder—over there,” Scully pointed. “And I think that one’s in shock,” she indicated the wide-eyed, perfectly still little boy huddled against the wall.

“We’re gonna need more medics,” the paramedic, said, radioing it in as he got to work on Mulder.

The other paramedic saw to the gunshot wound.

Melissa held Arthur’s hand as she led him toward the staircase. Arthur looked back, and met eyes with Scully. “Agent Mulder isn’t a Christian. But he has faith.”

Then Melissa gave her a small smile, and led Arthur down the stairs.

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MADISON AIRPORT

MADISON, WI

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 17th, 2008

1000

Mulder propped his crutches on the side of the airport chair and eased himself down carefully. He winced slightly, and Scully offered some support until he was settled. “Want something to eat?”

He shook his head. “No, I think that just about knocked the appetite out of me.”

She nodded, and sat beside him. She took his hand. “You should’ve agreed to the handicap train.”

“And be driven around like some senior citizen? I’m not that old, Scully.”

“You did just have a birthday,” she teased, and he rolled his eyes.

“I’m gonna start hiding the calendar from you.”

They sat in silence for a moment, Scully glancing at the digital display of departure times across the hall from their terminal seating.

“Scully, why do you think it left?”

She presumed he was talking about the demon. “We’ve already talked about this. It wasn’t welcome. Whoever has faith and isn’t afraid can exorcise a demon.”

“No, I’m not talking about now. I’m talking about back when Timothy was possessed. In the early 1900s. Why did it leave? Why didn’t it just take someone else’s body, when Timothy was killed?”

Timothy McGregor, the construction contractor’s son, had been attacked by an unknown assailant and killed at age eight, after murdering a Kingsburry teacher, and three other women. The boy had hidden his plans for murder in the underground tunnel his father had built him. From Arthur’s and Jake’s descriptions of the boy, Mulder surmised that the ghost of Timothy had come back to appeal to Jake’s want for revenge against that snob James.

James Gregory Sanders III had come out of his waking coma state in the hospital, and although he was clearly scared and agitated, he had demanded a trip to the family island to recuperate. Some things, Mulder thought, must never change.

“Maybe it did. Maybe it left Kingsburry because there were bigger and better things out there, Mulder. Maybe the one who killed Timothy was the one whose body was possessed next.”

“And it’s some kind of cycle? It just got back to Kingsburry after a hundred years?”

“No, I don’t think it works that way,” Scully said. “I think there’s a little footprint left wherever it goes. A seed that can grow into something larger.”

“A force of evil, growing in each place where this demon happens to gain some followers?”

“Perhaps,” Scully said. “Think about Jake, Mulder. A seven-year-old boy’s anger at a bully led to his acceptance of the demon, and a hunger for power. I don’t think that will ever go away. I think that part of Jake will always be with him. He’ll remember the feelings he had when he was beating James Sanders in the woods and at some point, he might want more.”

Mulder nodded, still uncomfortable talking about Jake. He had shot the seven-year-old, and now the child was in the psychological ward of the hospital, awaiting diagnosis. It didn’t look good for the little boy, given his continuously petrified state. Not only did Mulder feel very guilty about Jake, but he also felt a weight on his shoulders regarding Arthur. The eight-year-old had banished a demon from Kingsburry, but he had at least temporarily lost his best friend in the process, and it didn’t seem to Mulder that the Greenwoods had many other friends in their neighborhood. An isolated boy with a secret no one would believe…it sounded all too familiar to Mulder.

“But Scully, we’ve seen so many forces of evil, at this point, that I think it’s a safe assumption that they’re everywhere. And if what you’re saying is true, then they plant little seeds of jealousy, hate, anger…even in little children. So what’s stopped the world from falling to ruin?” He asked, trying to put his guilt out of his mind for now.

“Faith,” Scully said simply. “The Greenwoods have enormous faith. A drive to avoid the evil. Whether that means Arthur stays away from the ‘wrong crowd’ at school or is able to defeat whatever it was we encountered in the Tower, it helps him get through. The faith keeps the fear away, and only with fear or welcome arms can a demon materialize into something powerful enough to kill.”

“Then why am I not affected?” Mulder countered, not quite buying into this.

Scully smiled at him. “Mulder, you can be such an idiot sometimes. Why do you think it wasn’t just attacking Christian women? Do you honestly think it would limit itself just to religion?”

Mulder studied her. “So you’re saying it doesn’t matter what kind of faith you have…”

“It might matter what kind of faith you have, depending on what ‘seed’ from the demon you’re encountering. But I think,” she said, squeezing his hand, “that as long as you have faith in something, it can never control you. You have power over it instead. You’re free.”

END

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Exorcismus: Imperium

sfo0987

Exorcismus

Author: Starfleetofficer1

Category: X-File

Rating: PG-13

Artwork: Truthwebothknow1

Summary: The agents investigate a triple homicide that turns into an encounter with a demon.

Spoilers: Seasons 1-7, VS15 episode “A Reason To Believe”

Disclaimer: No copyright infringement intended. Many of the characters in this fanfiction are based on real people. This fanfiction is loosely based on a true story.

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Original web date:10/18/2008

Exorcismus – Imperium

KINGSBURRY ACADEMY

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, WI

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 10th, 2008

1500

“So if anyone has any questions on the reading, please email me. It’s a long one and I don’t expect you to have it and the questions done by Monday. But we have a quiz on Wednesday so it would be in your best interests to finish the reading this weekend, to give yourselves time to do the questions by Wednesday. Have a good weekend.”

As the students got up and started to leave, having started packing their backpacks when the digital atomic clock reached 1459, one girl still had her laptop on her desk as she stood and approached the teacher.

“Mr. Greenwood?”

Skip Greenwood turned his attention to her.

“I have a question. When we went over the legend of King Arthur you told us he was most likely a fifteen-year-old boy, who managed to convince the local English to fight off the Romans.”

“Yep, that’s about right,” Skip told her. “Where’s the question?”

“Well, what would you expect us to write on an exam? It seems a little short for the whole thing, if you know what I mean.”

“Well, Ashley, sometimes legends come down to a very simple explanation. Arthur likely won a few battles and the largely oral culture of the natives he recruited honored him as their king. He was more than likely killed in battle after a few months, but oral cultures can be very powerful. The root of a legend can be nothing more than an extraordinary kid about your age.”

They were alone in the classroom now, and Ashley started to pack up her backpack. “All right, I guess. I just didn’t want to lose points for such a short answer.”

Skip smiled. “You’re doing fine in the class, Ashley. I don’t see any reason to be worried.”

“Good to know. See you Monday, Mr. Greenwood.”

“See you Monday,” Skip said. He disconnected his laptop from the interactive SmartBoard in the front of the classroom, and then packed it in his bag. The classroom was an interesting contrast of 70-year-old architecture and top-of-the-line technology. He went to his desk for a moment to collect a few things and put them into his briefcase, and then grabbed his raincoat and headed outside. Hopefully the buses wouldn’t be gone by now.

Kingsburry Academy was separated into two campuses: the North and the South. The North campus was largely devoted to science, math, language, and the museums the school had on the grounds. The Kingsburry Science Museum and the Kingsburry Art Museum were region-wide hotspots for parents to bring their children for afternoon amusement, and for young people to come to gaze at the stars during the evening Observatory stargazing hours, or look at art and make out by the romantically set backyard of the Art Museum.

Kingsburry’s South Campus was largely devoted to crafts, books, English, History, and the Research Center. The South Campus housed the girl’s dorms, and the girl’s middle school. The North Campus housed the boy’s dorms. Because the school did not admit girls until the late 1930’s, the North and South campuses had very different architecture. The North campus was largely early 1900’s architecture, with a heavy English influence. The South campus was much closer to Frank Lloyd Wright’s style, emphasizing on what was modern when it was built. In the 1980’s, the school decided that girls and boys could be taught together, and integrated the classrooms.

Along the two-mile-long road that linked the two campuses were the boy’s middle school, the lower school, and several sports fields. Also about halfway along Kingsburry Road was teachers’ housing. Condos, apartments, and small houses lined the side-streets and formed a unique suburban community housed inside of a PreK-12 school the size of an average college campus.

Skip Greenwood, a history teacher, father of two, and devoted Star Trek fan, lived in one of the houses with his family. And usually, because his work was right on campus, he let his wife have the car for the day. Which meant he had to catch the bus going to North Campus, and have it drop him off at the side-street that would take him directly to his house.

He wasn’t worried about the slight delay today, however. Most of the students had after school activities that kept the buses running well after 1600. There was a short delay between 1520 and 1540 when there were no buses running, because most kids had gotten to practice or to the opposite campus. Day students old enough to drive had been bused to their cars, and boarders had been bused to their campus of residence. But when the 30 minute club meetings ended, buses started rolling again. If Skip could catch the bus before 1520, he could be home before his 8-year-old son walked back from the lower school.

The bus driver, Jerry, was pleased to see him, as always. “Hey, Skip, how ya doing?”

“Fine, Jerry, and yourself?”

“Doing just fine. Home?”

“Yep,” he answered, and settled into a front seat on the half-full yellow schoolbus.

“How’s Arthur and little Cory?”

“Arthur’s doing great. He entered the science fair last weekend and won second place.”

“The Science Museum science fair?” Jerry asked.

“That’s the one. He did his project on the solar system and was sure to include the major and minor planets. It seemed to have caught the judge’s attention.”

“I guess so, if he won second. Good for him. And Cory?”

“He’s very…mobile.”

Jerry laughed. “They tend to get that way at that age.”

“Arthur wasn’t into everything like Cory is, but you know, different kids, different personalities.” Cory, Skip’s one-year-old son, was far more willful than Arthur was seven years ago. But Skip was a patient man, and a loving father, who would spend as much time with both of his sons as he could. He may have neared the end of his rope a few times more with Cory than with Arthur, but that didn’t mean he avoided spending time with his baby.

“Yep. Well, here you go,” Jerry said, and stopped the bus at the corner. He opened the door. “See ya later, Skip.”

“Have a nice weekend, Jerry. Tell Susan I said hi.”

“Will do.” The doors slid shut behind him and he walked down the street toward his house. He happened to arrive at the same time as Arthur.

The boy’s shoes were wet and caked with mud and he smiled sheepishly at his dad.

“You took the shortcut again, didn’t you?” Skip asked, walking up the path that led to their modest home.

“Yeah…it’s a lot quicker than taking the road, Dad. I’m sorry…”

“Well, take off your shoes before you come in the house. You’ll be cleaning them tonight after your homework.”

Arthur sighed. “Okay,” he resigned. “Can I have time on the computer tonight?”

“If you finish your homework and clean your shoes before bedtime. Absolutely. What do you plan to do? Play Starfleet Command?”

“Maybe, but I was thinking about researching planetary orbits on the Internet. Mr. Banning said today that we’ve been tracking a planet circling a nearby star, and I want to see if I can find a mapping program.”

“Have fun,” Skip said with a small smile. His son was brilliant, and had taken an interest in something Skip had unlimited interested for, but limited ability: science. After scraping by with very low mathematics scores in college, he had decided his interest wasn’t his calling. And his son was rapidly approaching the point at which Skip’s interest greatly exceeded his knowledge.

They entered the house, knowing it was unlocked. No one locked their doors at Kingsburry. The second they stepped through the threshold, they both froze in place, as the blood drained from their faces. Arthur’s eyes began to well up in tears, and Skip pulled his son close to him, but was unable to move.

There before them, hung from the ceiling, was the bloody body of an unfamiliar woman. Her hair was long, blonde, and curly. She looked to be in her mid-forties, draped in a white cloth marred with blood stains. Her throat was slit, and her dead eyes were open. The corneas were solid red. The second Skip was able to peel his eyes away and look down at Arthur, Arthur looked back up. He still cried as he said, “It’s happening again, isn’t it?”

Skip glanced up at the now bare, perfectly clean ceiling. He nodded slowly. “I think it is,” he managed to say.

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MULDER & SCULLY TOWNHOUSE

GEORGETOWN, DC

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 11th, 2008

0900

“So that was the last straw?”

“That was when I got out of my car.”

“And when did you pop him one?”

“Mulder, I did not ‘pop him one’.”

Mulder and Scully were sitting on their couch, Scully nursing a sore but otherwise unharmed hand, and finally submitting to Mulder’s requests that she tell him what had happened to the car last night.

“Then explain to me why—”

“Okay, fine, I did hit the bastard, but it was in self defense.”

“I’m seeing mounds of paperwork in your future.”

Scully groaned, and leaned back into the couch.

Mulder smirked slightly. “Did you knock him unconscious?”

“No. I just pissed him off,” Scully said.

“But he was smart enough not to keep fighting a redhead.”

“He was smart enough not to keep fighting a federal agent, who he rear-ended.”

“Why’d you hit him?”

Scully looked up at the ceiling and closed her eyes. “After he tailed me for twenty minutes, tried to get around me and nearly caused three accidents, failed to pass me when the other lane was clear, and kept flipping me the bird every damn time I looked back at him, he finally rear-ended me at a stoplight, got out of his car, and started tapping the window.”

“So you drew your gun…”

Scully sighed.

“You didn’t draw your gun?” Mulder asked, surprised.

“No,” Scully admitted.

“What did you do?”

“I got out of the car at the intersection and started screaming at him.”

Mulder raised his eyebrow in a truly Scully-like manner. “Why?”

“How can you ask me that question?!” She demanded.

“No, I’m not saying he didn’t deserve it, Scully. But why didn’t you just draw your gun, tell him you were a Federal Agent, and end it right there?”

She didn’t answer for a moment, but finally she said, clearly ashamed, “Because he really pissed me off.”

“When did you hit him?”

“When he reached into his pocket. He pulled out a pocketknife.”

“Why didn’t you draw your gun?” Mulder asked, puzzled and alarmed.

“I don’t know, Mulder. I did after I hit him…”

It was Mulder’s turn to sit back. He folded his arms. “Yeah, I have no idea how you’re going to justify this one.”

“He has a black eye. That’s it.”

Mulder just gave her a ‘look’. Then he stood. “All right, this little role reversal is getting too weird for me, if you know what I mean. I’m going upstairs, gonna get dressed.”

He was a little concerned about how she was still rubbing her hand but he had brought up the issue last night, and gotten worse treatment, in his opinion, than the asshole who had rear-ended her. The damage to the car was minimal. The jerkwad’s car actually looked worse. But Scully had even admitted to him last night that she had lost her temper and handled the situation wrong, which was unlike her. That bothered him more than her sore hand.

As he reached the top step, the phone rang. Scully groaned. “Probably the insurance.”

“Or the Bureau, firing your ass,” Mulder joked. “I’ll get it.”

“No, I’ll get it,” Scully said reluctantly, and got up from the couch. She walked the few steps she needed to get to the phone, looked at the CID, and answered. “Hello, Sir.”

Mulder leaned over the railing, an interested look on his face.

“No, Sir. We planned on submitting our final report on Monday. Yes, Sir. Completely finished.” There was a pause, and Scully rolled her eyes. “Well, Sir, that may be a problem. There was an incident last night…” She sighed. He was going to hear about it eventually. “I was rear-ended last night, and I’m fine, but…it’s a little complicated, Sir.”

Mulder smirked, knowing what was coming next. Skinner’s demand that she tell him exactly what happened. And as she recounted the story, he reflected that this really did sound like something he would get himself into.

“So it might be difficult for us to leave on Monday, if things need to be sorted out,” Scully said. “All right, Sir. I’ll tell him. Have a good weekend.”

When she hung up the phone, Mulder still stared at her expectantly.

“Skinner has a case for us out in Wisconsin. A triple homicide. He’s sending us the casefiles now…you’re expected to go without me if I have to stay here.”

Mulder looked visibly disappointed. “Do we have any details about the case?”

“He didn’t specify any. Just said he was sending the casefiles. Your flight leaves Monday morning at 7 am.”

Mulder groaned.

“I’ll catch the first one out, as soon as this is cleared up. I’m sorry, Mulder.”

“No, no…” Mulder started, and then shook his head. “It’s fine. You might even get this straightened out by Monday. I’m gonna grab a shower,” he said, still sweaty from this morning’s run.

Scully didn’t respond. Instead, she headed for the copy/scanner/fax/printer, where the case files were coming in. As the photos printed, she looked at them closely, and then her eyes grew wide. She quickly turned on the desk lamp and leaned in closer, fumbling for her glasses in the top drawer. She looked closer, but it was gone. She stared for a moment, flipping through the crime scene pictures again, looking for any trace of what she knew she saw.

She lost track of time, and didn’t even hear Mulder come into the study. “Scully, you looking at the case files?”

She started at his voice, and then nodded.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, walking over to her.

“Look at these photos, Mulder, and tell me what you see,” she ordered, her voice betraying her confusion and fear.

Mulder flipped through them. “Stabbed, stabbed…and stabbed. What’s the problem?”

“You didn’t see anything?”

“I see three women stabbed post mortem, with their throats slit. What am I supposed to be seeing?”

Scully sighed, took the pictures out of his hands, and sat down.

“Talk to me, Scully,” he said gently, and knelt in front of her. “What do you see in these?”

“I don’t see it any more…”

“Okay, what did you see?” He was still speaking very gently, and wore a look of concern. It only magnified when she pulled away, determined to find what it was she had seen before. She kept studying the photos, moving them at different angles to see if she could spot a trick of the light. Mulder didn’t move from his position, and waited for her to finish.

“I thought…for just a second…Mulder, it looked like Melissa. Every one of them. Then I looked away and…”

Mulder didn’t speak.

“It’s stupid, I must not have gotten enough sleep…”

“It’s not stupid. Let me look at these. Let me look at the case. We’ll figure out what’s happened.”

She nodded slightly, and handed him the photos. He took them and the rest of the papers in the printer, and pounded them into a stack on the desk. He placed them in a file folder from the drawer, and then paperclipped the photos to the front. As he did so, his peripheral vision caught something. He looked again, and it was gone. But he could have sworn he saw bright orange eyes in the picture.

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HOME OF BRIDGET SMITH

BIRMINGHAM, WI

MONDAY, OCTOBER 13th, 2008

1100

“Happy birthday to me,” Mulder sang sarcastically as he popped a sunflower seed into his mouth and put the car in park. “Happy birthday to me,” he continued, opening the door. “Happy birthday to Spooky, happy birthday to me.”

The triple homicide was now a quadruple. Bridget Smith, a 40-year-old single mother of two, had died in the same manner as the other three: a single slit to the throat. Each body had significant post mortem stabbing, all in the same pattern. Two by the torso, one on the right leg, and three on the forearm, to make it look like defensive wounds.

The reason why it was clearly and undoubtedly an X-file, Mulder and Scully had found after reading the casefile, was because in every case, the single mother was killed in her bedroom with the doors and windows locked, and security alarms armed. The children, in every single case, were at sleepovers. And the security companies that serviced the houses not only were all different companies, but all showed the FBI the records that revealed the security alarm had not been turned off and then on again.

Thoughts of Eugene Victor Tooms fluttered through his mind as he approached the crime scene, and wished Scully was there. But unfortunately she was straightening out her little misadventure, and would arrive tomorrow at the earliest. Meanwhile Mulder was left to profile the Invisible Man by himself.

“Agent Mulder?” A balding man in jeans and a light parka asked, walking out of the front door of the house. “Detective Giles, Birmingham PD,” he said, flashing his badge. “I thought you had a partner?”

“She’s coming tomorrow,” Mulder said, and extended his hand. “So this is the same story as the others?”

“Exact same story. You know, you probably don’t hear this a lot but I’m relieved to have you guys here. Whoever this guy is, he’s not your average killer.”

“Can I see the bedroom?”

“You can see the whole damn house. You can have anything you want. Like I said, we’re very happy to have you here.”

Mulder couldn’t hide the look of surprise on his face, but Detective Giles didn’t seem to notice. He led the way into the small suburban home, and Mulder looked around at the incredibly tidy little house. He was led directly upstairs to the bedroom, where the tidiness stopped. The body on the bed hadn’t been packed up yet and Mulder approached the ME, who was taking something from the woman’s fingernails.

“Gina, Agent Mulder with the FBI. Agent Mulder, Gina Yong, Birmingham PD’s ME,” Giles introduced.

“Nice to meet you,” Mulder said. He elected not to stick out his ungloved hand and shake the ME’s. The state of her latex gloves told Mulder that she had been working for a while now and was about ready to pack up the body.

“Nice to meet you too,” she said, and got back to work.

“What was the time of death?” Mulder asked.

“Early this morning, probably at about 5 or 6 am,” the ME answered, but was clearly concentrating on something other than Mulder.

“May I ask if you found anything unusual in the other three autopsies, Dr. Yong?” Mulder asked.

The woman shrugged, and looked up. She looked slightly annoyed. “Not really, no. It would’ve been on my report if so. They all died from a single but deep slit to their throats, severing the jugular artery and blocking the airway. The stab wounds were the same in all three victims—four, now. Same pattern. If I was taking a wild guess, I’d say a serial killer. But what serial killer can get into a house with an alarm system, motion detector, and locked door?”

“I can think of at least one,” Mulder muttered, and glanced around the room.

“Hm?” She inquired, not quite catching his last statement as she turned back to the examination.

“Nothing, just speculation. I’m gonna look around, if no one minds.”

“Have a field day, Agent Mulder. I hope you find something,” Giles said.

Mulder gave him a small smile and then walked over to a CSI kit on the floor, and extracted a pair of latex gloves and an evidence bag. He then began looking around the bedroom. The windows were shut and locked, and Mulder saw from the little boxes along the edges that they were also alarmed.

“Has suicide been considered?” Mulder asked.

“I ruled that out,” Yong answered. “The cut to the throat is too long and too deep for someone to do it to themselves. They’d go into shock before being able to finish.”

“Is it possible they could have used something to do it for them? Some kind of unique tool?”

“If they did, we haven’t found anything at the crime scenes,” Giles stated.

Mulder nodded, and continued walking through the room. He noticed a crucifix on the wall, a Catholic symbol, and stored the information away for further use.

“Where are the kids?”

“Social services, for now. They have a grandma coming to pick them up soon.”

“Did they see anything?”

“The oldest one did. He was the one that opened the bedroom door when they got back from the sleepover. He was in shock when we got here. His younger sister called 911.”

“How old?”

“Twelve and ten. They slept over at the house down the street. Some kind of party for a soccer league or something.”

Mulder nodded as he paced the room. “What about the other kids?”

“All different ages. Some with siblings, some without. We couldn’t find a pattern there.”

“They didn’t go to the same school, play on the same teams, anything like that?”

Giles shook his head. “No. The only pattern we’ve found is single suburban working moms. And two, including this one, were Christian—had some kind of religious symbols on the walls or statues on the dressers.”

Mulder nodded, dissatisfied. He paced around the small bedroom for a little while longer, not noticing any kind of ritualistic items, anything to suggest a conjuring or otherwise. The dresser drawers had only clothes in them. The closet wasn’t harboring any interesting boxes. It looked as if this lady had nothing to hide.

“I want to see the kids’ rooms.”

“This way,” Giles said, and walked out of the room and down the hallway.

Mulder looked through both rooms before noticing something in the girl’s room that he had also noticed in the boy’s. Glancing at the Bible on her bed, he paged through it and realized it was a gift, but not from the mother. Someone named Greenwood…

He walked into the boy’s room and found the same dedication. He looked through the kids’ things once again, and found his answer. Amidst the boy’s pile of messy papers that resembled Mulder’s own desk, he found a six-month-old flyer for a non-denominational Christian Bible study for children. He looked at the start date on the flyer, and then looked at the dedication date on the Bible. They were exactly six months apart.

He checked with the girl’s Bible, and it matched as well. “The kids attended a Christian Bible study for children and received these Bibles about two weeks ago,” he told Giles. “You should check that out—see if the other kids attended it too. It could be where the killer found his victims.”

Giles nodded, and took the flyer from Mulder. “I’ll run a check on the teacher, find out where he lives. And I’ll see if the other kids attended it too. Do you think this is a religious crime?”

“Possibly,” Mulder said, glancing at the alarmed windows in the girl’s room. “But it’d be some magic trick to slip in this house without someone being notified. If our killer was just interested in a hate crime, they probably would have attacked the women in their cars, or coming out of their houses. Something easier than breaking in here.”

“So you think our killer wasn’t looking just to kill them, but to make a statement.”

“Could be,” Mulder said, his tone non-committal. “It could also be that making statements isn’t what our killer is into,” he added, and left the room. “Can I get a look at the downstairs?”

“Absolutely,” Giles said, and followed Mulder down the front steps. About a half hour later, Mulder asked to see the basement. The downstairs hadn’t been very helpful. Surprisingly enough, the basement door was locked from the outside. “That’s interesting,” Mulder commented, and Giles took a snapshot of it before they opened the door, and climbed down the stairs. The minute he looked around at the basement, he whistled. “Wow. A single working mom and a hobbyist…”

“She was the only one with a woodshop,” Giles said, glancing appreciatively at the equipment before them. “But the other mothers had hobbies as well. Rooms in their houses dedicated to their hobbies.”

Mulder walked up to some of the machines, remembering his very light training at the hands of Tim “the Tool Man” Taylor, when he and Scully appeared on the show Tool Time not too long ago.

“This is a miter saw, isn’t it?” Mulder asked.

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Giles shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t know anything about this stuff. It’s some kinda saw.”

Mulder checked that it was unplugged, and then ran his fingers over the base. He held up his index finger to Giles. “Dust,” he commented. “For someone so into shop tools, she didn’t clean them very well.”

“Not true, Agent Mulder,” Giles said, surveying the table saw, drill press, scroll saw, and bandsaw. “These are all clean.”

Mulder looked at the garbage, where he found a single piece of wood and some dust dumped inside. Then he looked at the workbench. “She was down here…when it happened, she was down here. She was working.” He pointed to the piece of wood, the chisel, and the hammer, all out on the bench. An iPod sat in its stereo cradle, and though the lights were turned off and the miter saw was unplugged, it was clear someone had left here in a hurry.

“How can you tell?”

“Someone who has a workshop like this doesn’t leave their tools on the bench when they’re done. And they don’t leave their work sitting here, either. Or leave their iPod here to collect sawdust from the air.” He pointed to the mask and safety glasses on the bench, and said, “Something scared her. She did what she felt was necessary to leave it safely, and then left. Locked the door behind her.”

He turned to Giles. “She was up there in her clothes but the ME estimated the time of death to be early this morning. She was working here late at night and then she locked herself in her bedroom. Something spooked her down here.”

Giles nodded. “You could have something there. We found all the other hobby rooms locked at the crime scenes. Whatever scared the victims might have done it while they were working. Then they get spooked and leave.”

Mulder walked around the basement, past the workshop and over to a stack of boxes. It looked like an average basement, with randomly stored, no longer used items. Children’s toys that she didn’t have the heart to throw out, even though her kids were no longer interested. Boxes of clothes that either were too large or too small, or out of style. Camping equipment and…what was this? A box marked ‘Church’.

Mulder inched his hand toward the tape to pull it open, when an incredibly cold wind bristled through the air, and then was gone. He turned, and looked at Giles. “Did you touch the air conditioning?”

“Huh?” Giles asked, looking up from the workbench.

“You feel that?”

“What?”

“That…never mind,” he said. He looked at the box again, and tore open the tape. Inside were children’s catechism books. From kindergarten through about sixth grade, probably recent for the twelve-year-old. CCD class folders, notebooks and even a few primary-colored rosaries, with smiley faces on each bead. A children’s novel aimed at about first or second-grade readers, entitled, “Jesus Loves Me.”

“Why would you pack up religious stuff if you’re still religious?” Giles asked, and Mulder nearly jumped. The man had snuck up on him, and was now standing right behind him.

Mulder shook his head. “Maybe it’s old stuff. Maybe they’ve outgrown this stage,” he said. But even as he said it, he knew it wasn’t true. Some of the Catholic books had titles like Catholicism for Teens, and Mulder knew if the boy was twelve, this would have been bought recently. He needed to talk to Scully. She might see a connection here that he couldn’t understand. For about the hundredth time since he stepped on the crime scene, he wished his other half was here.

Glancing around the basement, he realized he had just about looked through everything there, other than the Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Easter decorations. It wasn’t a very large basement and most of it was taken up by the woodshop.

Walking back to the woodshop, Mulder looked at what the woman was making. Some kind of little toy train. He wondered if a sister or brother of hers had a child who would enjoy a toy like that.

Then he noticed the blueprints, hand-drawn probably by Bridget, for the little toy. They were pages long, and were concluded by a cute little drawing of a toddler with a bow in her hair, playing with the toy train. It was clear that this woman didn’t do this for money, but because she enjoyed it.

“You said the other women were hobbyists. What did they do?”

“One woman collected stamps. Another did patterns for doll clothes, for her kid. The third woman was into books—she had an entire library in her house. Every kind of book you can imagine.”

“You said two were Christian. Were they all religious?” Mulder asked.

Giles shrugged. “I don’t know. We’d have to go back over the houses again and find out.”

Mulder nodded. “Good idea. And find out who Greenwood is and get me an address. I need to call my partner and give her an update on this. I’ll meet you back at the station,” he said, thoughts already floating around his head about what could have done this.

Aliens were improbable. A ghost generally didn’t have this kind of MO, but wasn’t outside the realm of possibility. Another mutant like Tooms was still possible, and in fact made sense. Someone who could sneak down into the basement, make some noises loud enough to scare the woman into her bedroom, where he could crawl through the vent and kill her behind a locked door…

“Scully.” Her voice surprised him. When had he dialed her? “Hello? Mulder?”

“Hey, yeah, it’s me. Just wanted to give you an update. How are you doing?”

“Fine, almost done with meetings. I should be out there tonight.”

“That’s good. That’s an improvement over tomorrow.” Mulder exited the crime scene and walked toward his car.

“I’m sorry you’re all alone on your birthday,” she said, sounding genuinely apologetic. “I’ll make it up to you.”

As Mulder got into his car, he couldn’t help but say, “Ooooh, Scully, you know what I like.” He heard Scully chuckle and he said, “When you get to the motel room, I’ll have a bubble-bath waiting for you.”

“You’re only saying that because you know what you get after the bubble-bath,” Scully teased.

“Hey, it’s my birthday!” Mulder protested with a grin. He started the car, and put his seatbelt on with one hand. Checking his mirrors briefly, he prepared to pull the car away. But his grin dropped suddenly and he did a double-take, staring at the rear view mirror.

“Mulder? Is everything okay?” Scully asked, confused by the silence.

“I thought I saw something,” Mulder said absently, turning around to look at the back seat. He was beginning to get a very uncomfortable feeling about this case. With what Scully had seen in their townhouse, and what he had thought he had seen and felt from the crime scene photos, in the basement of Bridget Smith’s house, and now in the car, he definitely wasn’t enthusiastic about spending the next few hours without Scully.

“What did you see?” Scully demanded. “Are you in the car?”

“Yeah, just leaving the crime scene. It was in the rear view mirror, Scully. I don’t know what it was…” But in truth, he did. It was the same orange-eyed figure he thought he had seen in the crime scene photos. Only this time, it had a body to go along with it.

“It might have been a trick of the light.”

“Maybe,” Mulder said, but they both knew he wasn’t considering that possibility.

“I’ll be there tonight. Then we can talk,” Scully assured him.

“I could really use you on this one, Scully. It has to do with religion, I think.”

“Religion?”

“Specifically Catholicism, but I need your opinion on that.”

“All right…well, I’ll do my best. I still expect that bubble-bath.”

“Oh yeah, definitely,” Mulder promised her, trying to get back into the original light-hearted mood.

“Be careful, Mulder. I’ll see you soon.”

“See you soon.”

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KINGSBURRY ACADEMY

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, WI

MONDAY, OCTOBER 13th, 2008

1530

Giles had gone over the crime scene photos from the other three cases, and come up with nothing that suggested any religious preference for the other two victims. So Mulder had ended up visiting the respective crime scenes and gathering himself that only two of them were the same religion.

One woman was Jewish. Another was Muslim. The third was Christian. And, of course, Bridge Smith was also Christian. However, Mulder had found one piece of information that he intended to pursue, as soon as Scully got there. Every single woman, with the exception of Bridget Smith, had recently changed religions. Their children had recently changed with them, and had been sent to classes in the new religion.

The other Christian woman’s children had attended the Bible study with Greenwood, and Mulder wondered if the other teachers of religious classes had any connection to each other. He told Giles to figure that out.

Mulder had spent about an hour going over the case with Scully, who was finally finished with her meetings and had told him she would be packed and ready to get on the plane within an hour. She would definitely be in Wisconsin tonight.

He really wished Scully could be with him for this interview with Greenwood. He hated doing interviews by himself; he always felt as though he’d miss something, or not ask a crucial question that could lead to proof later. Scully was his other half—his better half, if his opinion counted for anything—and without her he didn’t have nearly as much confidence in his own abilities.

As he turned the car into Kingsburry Academy, he stopped at the security gate settled next to the turn off of Woodward Avenue highway. He rolled down his window and flashed his badge, and the security guard smiled, and lifted the barrier remotely.

The drive into Kingsburry Academy was longer than he expected. The school grounds were huge, and it was almost a quarter mile of grass and trees before he got to the actual school. He saw signs for the South Campus parking lot, and recognized what had to be teacher’s housing off of some side-streets. He passed by tennis courts, a football field, and more side-streets. He knew from the map he had looked at that the Kingsburry campus included two museums open to the public as well as several courtyards, lakes, sports fields, and playgrounds.

He found the Greenwood’s side-street and turned into it, off the hill that would have taken him directly to the Observatory had he kept going. The small houses were situated in a row, overlooking one of Kingsburry’s lakes. A man in rubber pants was down by the lake, putting some kind of water treatment solution into it. Mulder parked the car and walked up the stairs that took him to the Greenwood’s front door.

He rang the bell, and looked around. A few middle-school-aged kids dressed in khaki pants and fairly nice shoes, carrying backpacks and holding gym bags, trudged through some mud, and then said goodbye to each other as they headed to their houses. In the distance, Mulder could see a soccer field near the boy’s middle school filled with kids in uniform, practicing.

Finally, the door opened, and a middle-aged man with dark hair and a neatly trimmed beard looked quizzically at him. “Can I help you?”

“Mr. Greenwood, my name is Fox Mulder, I’m an agent with the FBI,” Mulder said, pulling his ID just as a baby with curly red hair ran into his father’s legs and demanded attention.

Skip bent down and picked up his son Cory, and then turned to Mulder again. “Do you want to come in?”

“If you don’t mind, Sir.”

Skip opened the screen door, and Mulder stepped in. The house was very small, but very cozy. It was immediately obvious that this was an active family with children. Small shoes lay at the foot of the stairs, and a child’s laughter could be heard from the family room. In the kitchen, a woman sat at one of the two stools at the counter, talking on the phone.

Mulder also immediately noticed the music playing throughout the small house. He didn’t know where it was coming from, but there were multiple sources and the nearest one was playing Christian music.

It was a contrast to the chilly, overcast Wisconsin weather outside to see a house so bright and full of life.

The baby didn’t say anything but he did grasp at his father’s chin, studying its features as if it were the most interesting thing in the world.

“Would you like to have a seat?” Skip asked.

“That’d be fine,” Mulder answered.

He led Mulder around the corner, and straight into the family room. It had two couches, one smaller than the other, up against the wall to make a large space available in the middle of the room. Legos lay everywhere, clearly the efforts of a child to construct something massive.

A machine resembling one of Rube Goldberg’s lay in the center of the carpet, constructed from a combination of Lego’s, K’nex, string, duct tape, and the broken pieces from an old Mouse Trap game. Across the carpet, among more Legos, was a slingshot with a piece of paper. A closer look revealed to Mulder that the slingshot was adjustable, and the paper marked the angles not by numbers but by names. ‘Wall’, ‘window’, ‘ceiling’, and ‘Lego Blaster’ were scrawled in child’s writing. Mulder realized that whoever had done this was quite the remarkable child-engineer. And that child sat before Mulder, immersed in a school book and smirking as if it was the funniest thing in the world.

“Arthur, would you please go to your room to do your homework?”

Arthur looked up, glanced at Mulder curiously, and then nodded. “Okay,” he said, and gathered his school things in his arms as he left the room obediently.

“I’m sorry about the mess,” Skip said.

“It’s fine. I’m here to talk about an investigation that’s currently going on.”

“Would you like to speak to my wife too?” The man offered.

“If she’s busy we could discuss this alone for a few minutes,” Mulder said. “It’s no problem.”

Skip indicated with his hand that Mulder should sit, and sat down himself on the other couch. He put Cory in his lap and let the baby play with a Lego piece from the floor. It promptly went into his mouth—luckily, it was large enough that it didn’t much matter.

“There have been four murders in the area in the past week,” Mulder said. “The FBI is investigating the situation and my partner and I were called in because of some unusual circumstances surrounding this case. Today, while I was at one of the crime scenes, I found a flyer for a children’s non-denominational Bible study with your name as the instructor. It ended two weeks ago. Three of the children of the murdered women attended the class.”

Skip looked shocked. “Who?” He asked, his voice nearly a whisper.

“Margaret Denfield and Bridget Smith, the two most recent murders. Mr. Greenwood, are you all right?”

The man looked ready to pass out. But he managed to nod, and called in a frightened tone, “Melissa? Melissa, get off the phone, come in here…”

A moment later, the blonde woman, apparently Skip’s wife, entered the room with a troubled expression.

“Bridget and Margaret are dead,” he said to her, and she instantly cupped her hand over her mouth. “How?” she asked, approaching the two men.

“They were murdered, Mrs. Greenwood,” Mulder said sympathetically, watching their reactions carefully. “I’m Agent Mulder with the FBI.” He stood respectfully until she sat down next to her husband, a numb expression on her face. “I’ve been assigned to this case.”

She nodded slowly, and then looked at Skip. Mulder could recognize near-telepathic communication when he saw it—he and Scully did it all the time. The fact that the two of them were doing it now told him that they knew more about this than was obvious. “Mr. Greenwood, Mrs. Greenwood, how well did you know these two women?”

“They were the mothers of some of the children in my Bible study class. We would occasionally talk,” Skip said, sounding quite baffled.

“They were both new Christians,” Melissa offered. “They wanted their children to understand Christianity, so they enrolled them in Skip’s non-denominational class at our church.”

“And that would be The Ascension of Christ Lutheran Church?” Mulder asked, already knowing the answer.

Skip nodded.

“What can you tell me about these women?”

“Bridget was raised Catholic,” Melissa offered. “She had recently accepted Christ into her life when we met her, and she joined our church not far after that.”

Mulder’s expression betrayed his confusion. “I’m sorry…you said she had been raised Catholic.”

Skip and Melissa both nodded.

“But…then you said she was a new Christian.”

Skip took Melissa’s hand, and seemed to debate how he should best answer that unasked question. In the end, he simply said, “We suspect she didn’t truly believe in the Catholic faith she was raised in. She became a protestant Christian and for the first time, recognized herself as a true Christian, about a month before I met her.”

“How did you meet her?”

“We were at the Science Museum with Arthur, at a science fair exhibit. It was a while ago, during the summer. Her twelve-year-old took first place, her ten-year-old took second, and Arthur took third.”

Mulder nodded. “Bridget Smith was divorced, and so were the other four women. Do you know if they attended any kind of support group?”

Skip shook his head. “If they did, I wasn’t aware of that. Margaret and Bridget were both very independent people. They didn’t want to discuss the past.”

“What’s going to happen to their children?” Melissa asked.

Mulder tried to give her a gentle smile. “They’re in Social Services custody right now. Family members are going to pick them up, and they’ll end up with a good home,” he assured. He felt guilty saying it, though. Too many times he had seen children taken from their homes after incidents like this and placed in a much worse situation. Foster care, or a family member not fit to raise a child, were often the only alternatives.

“Were there ever any other adults in the class, Mr. Greenwood?”

“For safety purposes, the church requires two adults in a Bible study with young children. This Bible study was geared towards kids 10 to 14, so our pastor, Pastor Steve Mitchell, was present.”

Mulder took out his notebook. “Can I get a phone number for Pastor Mitchell?”

“He’s not under any suspicion, is he?” Skip asked, concerned.

“We have no reason to suspect him but we should interview all people involved, Mr. Greenwood.”

Skip conceded reluctantly, and gave Mulder his pastor’s number. Then he seemed to summon up all his courage before he asked, “Agent Mulder, how did Bridget and Margaret die?”

Mulder glanced at him curiously. “As I said, Mr. Greenwood, they were murdered.”

“Were the circumstances unusual?” Melissa asked.

“Unusual how?” Mulder inquired, his interest piqued.

Skip sighed, giving his wife a ‘look’ that she returned right back to him. He started to answer the question, when a chill identical to the one in Bridget’s basement passed through the room. Mulder looked up, trying to find any open windows. All he found was a closed fireplace.

But this time, Mulder’s company seemed to have noticed it, too. They shivered, and Melissa got up and turned the stereo up. The Christian music was now much louder.

“I’m sorry, Agent Mulder, we were just curious about the situation. It’s very…unusual, to have two friends murdered,” Skip said, and stood. “Is there anything else we can do for you?”

Mulder looked at them, clearly puzzled. “No, for now, I–” He stopped, as the orange eyes caught his peripheral vision again. He directed his line of sight toward the window where he saw them, and quickly walked over to it. He looked down, where the front yard remained clear, and then looked around to see where it could have fled. “Do you have a cat?” He asked, well aware that cats did not usually have bright orange eyes.

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The Greenwoods glanced at each other, and then Melissa answered, “Yes, we do.” It was clear she wasn’t saying what she wanted to say, and Mulder didn’t like it at all.

He had to find a way to get them to give up whatever it was they were hiding, but they seemed to have a routine down, and they were definitely treating him politely, but as an ‘outsider’ at this point.

“May I ask why you play Christian music all around the house?”

“It’s good for inspiration,” Skip said simply.

“Do you play it in every room?” Mulder asked.

“Yes,” Melissa answered, but didn’t look like she was about to offer any more information.

“Why play it when no one’s in the room?” he asked, trying not to sound insistent, but interested.

“So it’s on when we walk in. Agent Mulder, really, is there any purpose to these questions?” Skip asked.

Mulder tried his hardest to think of one, but honestly couldn’t. Again, he wished Scully was here. “No, Mr. Greenwood. I’m sorry if I insulted you. I’ll call you if I have any more questions.”

“We’re glad we could help, Agent Mulder,” Melissa said.

Mulder handed a business card to Skip. “If you think of anything that might help this investigation, please let me know.”

“We’ll do that, thank you,” Skip said. He handed a squirming Cory to Melissa, and walked Mulder to the door.

“I’m sorry about your friends. Thanks again for your help.”

“It’s no problem. Have a nice day.” Mulder felt like he was being pushed out the door. He heard the lock engage behind him, and sighed. That would’ve gone better had Scully been there, he thought.

Meanwhile, inside the Greenwood’s home, Skip called Arthur down from his studies. The 8-year-old stormed down the creaky stairs, making it sound like the house would collapse in on itself. But Skip didn’t call him on it. Instead, he walked into the family room, and the little boy followed.

The four of them sat on the couches amongst the Legos, Christian music, and cuckoo clock that chimed 4 pm. Then Melissa bowed her head, and folded her hands.

Everyone but Cory followed. The baby sat on the couch, slobbering on a toy duck he had picked up off the floor.

Melissa began. “Dear Lord, protect our family from the demon that torments our friends. We don’t know how it managed to get to two true Christians, but we pray for their souls…”

Melissa’s voice caught, and so Skip continued. “We pray for their souls in heaven, Lord, and for future victims of whatever or whoever has been unleashed on the innocent. We know we’re safe because we have no fear of what Satan unleashes on us. We have only respect for you, and belief that you will protect us.”

“God, please continue to keep the demons out of our house,” Arthur said. “I don’t want them to come back, and now that what’s his name from the FBI was here, they might follow him around, and hurt him.”

“Yes, God, please bless Agent Mulder and his partner,” Melissa said. “For they may not be true believers, but they’re trying, however foolishly, to stop what Satan has unleashed. We sense they’re good people, God. Please give them the chance to see your way.”

“Amen,” Skip said.

“Amen,” Melissa and Arthur echoed.

“Agent Mulder did seem like a good person,” Arthur commented. He headed for the stairs. “But not a Christian.”

“Arthur, please don’t listen in on conversations from the top of the stairs,” Skip said, exasperated.

“I wasn’t,” Arthur stated simply. “I used my discernment.”

Melissa gave him a gentle smile. “It’s not yours, Arthur.”

“Sorry,” Arthur corrected as he mounted the stairs. “I used my gift of discernment.”

“Much better,” Melissa said, and gave him a small pat on the hand before heading into the kitchen, to see about dinner.

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MARIOTT INN

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, WI

MONDAY, OCTOBER 13th, 2008

2000

Mulder lay on his hotel bed with the TV playing the Red Wings game, but he paid it no mind. He was intently focused on the yellow pad of paper in front of him, where he was scribbling down notes viciously. Scully would arrive any moment, he knew in the back of his mind, but until there was a knock at the door to the adjoining room, he wasn’t moving. He was on a roll.

He had consulted the Internet for a while, and then escaped to the recesses of his mind. Something about this case rang a bell, and he wasn’t quite sure what. But he did know it was indeed a very disturbing bell.

He recognized that something was horribly wrong when he had left the Greenwood’s house. They not only didn’t act normal, but something about how this was fitting together—or not—made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.

After he explored the grounds of Kingsburry a bit more, he badged his way into their North Campus’s library archives, and did a bit of ghost research on a hunch. It seemed like the kind of place that would have a very strong affinity for ghost stories, being so old and harboring so many kids. Maybe some of them would be true, and maybe that was the connection he was looking for.

It turned out that there were over two hundred ghost stories surrounding the Kingsburry school. Lucky for him, the librarian, a very old woman who couldn’t have reached five feet tall or weighed any more than a hundred pounds, guided him to the ones that were most likely true.

And that’s when he found what he was looking for. Several of the dorms were reputed to be haunted. Some teachers had resided in the apartments built into the dorms, for supervision purposes. And some of those apartments had been haunted. In an article from just five years ago, an ‘anonymous’ family was apparently tormented by a ghost. The article came from the school paper, but with a little digging and a little badge waving, Mulder had been able to find real records of the family’s testimony to whatever authorities were called in.

It was originally thought to be a prankster kid living in the dorms, breaking into the apartment to move objects around, open baby gates, and break toys. Then it escalated to a new level when the family was vacated from their home one night for an undocumented reason, and a priest was called in from out of town. The records seemed to smooth over the event, and only a few months later, the family moved out of the apartment and into one of the teachers’ houses. With a little more digging and some sweet talk, Mulder had found out from one of the secretaries that the tormented family was the Greenwoods.

At that point, it began to make sense to Mulder. The Christian music wasn’t inspiration, it was protection. And they knew everyone in this heavily Jewish and atheist community would think they were crazy for believing in one of Satan’s demons. And so they elected not to discuss the matter with him.

The papers scattered around the bed profiled the ‘suspect’, whose picture was becoming clearer in Mulder’s mind as he worked. All women were independent. All had started a new life, both after the divorce and in a new religion. All were devoted to their children, and wanted them to explore the same religious path they had themselves. And all had hobbies that led to alone time.

Two knew a very Christian family that had been tormented by a ghost on the grounds of a very rich and not-so-Christian school campus.

Powerful. The suspect was powerful, and wanted more power. It elicited fear in its victims. Forced them into further seclusion, behind locked doors. It attacked alone, in what some might call a cowardly manner, in places where the victim couldn’t easily find a weapon to fight back.

Angry. The suspect was angry, as indicated by the post mortem stabbing.

Meticulous. It didn’t waver from a formula, so it either only wanted single, independent, working mothers who had recently changed religions, or it only knew how to attack them. Or only was ordered to attack them?

A knock at the door interrupted Mulder’s profile, and he got up and opened the door to the adjoining bedroom with a broad smile. Scully stood in front of him, grin on her face. “Bubble-bath?” She asked.

“Aww, shit,” Mulder said, rolling his eyes. “I’m sorry. I got busy—”

“You what?!” She said with mock horror, and then pulled him close to her, and gave him a kiss. “Working on a profile?”

“Yeah, and I think I’m starting to pull a few things together. But I need your input.”

“After dinner. I’m starving. Do you have pizza?”

Mulder looked back at the empty pizza box guiltily, and said, “We can order another one…”

“You ate the entire pizza? My God, Mulder, we’re too old for that!”

“Speak for yourself, Scully. I’m still in the trim and burly shape of my youth.”

Scully poked his belly, which was virtually non-existent, and he said, “If you want me to giggle like the Pillsbury Doughboy, it’s not happening.”

She laughed, and picked up the phone book from under the nightstand. Mulder glanced at his yellow tablet, and sighed. Back to profiling, at least until Scully’s pizza arrived. He had to get this done soon, before his suspect picked another victim.

A few moments later, a veggie and sausage pizza was on its way, and Mulder watched as Scully sat down on the bed amongst the papers.

“Scully, I have a question for you.”

“Okay…”

“I mentioned to you that Bridget Smith was the only one who hadn’t changed religions recently.”

She nodded.

“Well, when I interviewed the Greenwoods, they made it sound like Catholicism wasn’t really considered Christianity. That by joining a Lutheran church and becoming a Lutheran, she had changed religions. That’s not true, is it? Or is there something I’m unaware of here?”

“Well, you understand the difference between Protestants and Catholics?” Scully asked, more of a statement than a question.

Mulder nodded.

“Basically, it rests in that fundamental difference. Catholics believe that accepting Jesus as your Savior and leading a good life will earn your way to heaven. Protestants believe that all you need to do is to accept Jesus as your Savior, and then you automatically are in heaven regardless of what your life is like. But they do believe that doing good is seen as better than doing bad, so no one’s running around with the notion that life is a free-for-all.”

“So some Protestants still believe that the Catholics aren’t getting in heaven, and some Catholics believe the Protestants aren’t getting in, and hence we have Northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland?” Mulder asked with a small smile.

Scully rolled her eyes. “Basically, yes, and don’t make fun of that.”

“There are some Protestants left that don’t believe Catholics are Christians. That’s what the Greenwoods are talking about—according to them, Bridget had just become a Christian.”

“Maybe. But I wouldn’t put the Greenwoods in a very exclusive religious group without having some proof.”

“It doesn’t matter—I’m not trying to prove they’re one religion or another. It’s just that, according to the Greenwoods, Bridget Smith, Margaret Denfield, and the other two women by definition have changed religions.”

“Wait…you’re considering the Greenwoods suspects?”

“They acted very oddly, Scully, and I know they’re hiding something without a doubt. But they’re not guilty of murder. They’re involved in this somehow, but not as criminals.”

“What’s your profile say?”

“I think we’re dealing with something or someone who either has a very specific grudge, obsessive compulsive tendencies, or instructions from someone higher up. And given the manner in which these women died, locked in their houses with the alarms on, I think we’re dealing with something with a certain paranormal bouquet, if you get my drift.”

“Are you thinking ghost, some kind of spirit, demon, or a mutant?” Scully asked. “Eugene Victor Tooms’ Wisconsin-bred cousin?”

Mulder smirked. “You’ve got to stop with this role reversal, Scully, before I start painting my nails and wearing high heels.”

“I think that could be sexy for one night…” Scully said thoughtfully.

“Keep dreamin’ G-woman,” Mulder said with a grin, and turned back to his tablet. He thought so much better when she was around. This thing was starting to fit together, and his research from the Internet was falling into place as well. “What do you know about the Christian idea of demons, Scully?”

Scully’s grin dropped, as she recalled the manners in which they had encountered what one might call a ‘Christian demon’ before. A school in Milford Haven, New Hampshire, where a substitute teacher’s status as human was still up in the air. A boy named Charlie, who hailed from Virginia and had his dead evil twin brother exorcised in Mulder’s presence. A CEO of a major company hunting down a little boy in Ohio whose hands bled like Christ’s. An pastor of a church able to control snakes—many of which ended up biting Mulder. And many encounters after that, not the least of which was a very recent one: a man going by the name Billy Ward, who tried to convince innocent townspeople in Nebraska and other states to accept his healing abilities, only to later enslave them to his will.

She nodded to Mulder’s question, and asked slowly, “You think we’re dealing with that again?”

Mulder sighed, and put his tablet down. “Scully, twice today I’ve felt something very cold brush up against me. I’ve seen orange eyes multiple times. And while those things could all be strange coincidences or ghosts trying to get my attention, I do have a feeling about this case. That we’re both not going to enjoy it much.”

“What about the Greenwoods? How did they strike you?”

“I feel like I would have gotten a better opinion of where they stand had you been there. But from what I can tell, they’re very hard-core Christians. They play Christian music throughout their household, in what I’m guessing is an effort to keep out demons.”

“Demons can only go where they’re welcome,” Scully said quietly. “That’s according to Christian faith. Only where they can rule by fear or through the open arms of the naïve, can they go. Otherwise they’re banished easily.”

“Not so easily in four single mothers’ cases,” Mulder commented, and rose from the bed. He stretched, and then dropped his arms. “Scully, I think first thing in the morning, we need to go see the Greenwood’s pastor. Steve Mitchell.”

Scully nodded. “I would’ve thought you’d have already gone to see him.”

“I tried, but he was busy. Some kind of retreat’s going on for elementary school kids. He was unreachable all of today.”

“A retreat on a school day? That’s unusual.”

“It’s elementary school. They can learn to tie their shoes tomorrow.”

Scully smiled for just a moment, before falling serious again. “Mulder, I want you to be careful. It wasn’t too long ago that you were tied to a table while a building collapsed on top of you, courtesy of one of these…I guess demons, for lack of a better term.”

“Don’t worry, Scully. I won’t do anything crazy.”

She just gave him the ‘look’, and he couldn’t help but laugh. “Really, I promise.”

“Yeah, I haven’t heard that before,” she said, rolling her eyes. She walked toward the bathroom. “I’m gonna get a shower. If the pizza comes, don’t eat it all, or I’ll kick your ass.”

“Yes, Ma’am. I’ll leave you a slice.”

“You better not eat any, Mulder. I’ll have your ass in a sling,” she called from the bathroom, and he chuckled.

“Wield that sling, Scully!” he called back, and elicited a small laugh.

He picked up his notes and organized them, or rather threw them into a pile. It was his version of organization. He placed them on the desk and sat in front of the computer again, where he began doing further research. Tomorrow, they would go visit the pastor and try to figure out where this thing had come from, and what it wanted.

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KINGSBURRY LOWER SCHOOL

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, WI

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 14th, 2008

0900

Arthur sat in his seat and tapped on the tablet PC screen, writing in his answer to the word the voice in his headphones had asked him to spell. He sighed. So boring. Who didn’t know how to spell ‘extremely’ at this point? Really, where did Kingsburry find these rich kids who didn’t know anything?

In math, Arthur reminded himself, he wasn’t so fast either, so it was a trade-off. Spelling and science were his thing. Reading and math, not so much.

The teacher waved her hand in front of the classroom, and said with a smiling face, “Okay, spelling lesson’s over. If you didn’t finish, you’re welcome to go online tonight and type in the answers instead of write them. If you don’t own a Tablet, that is. Please log out of your programs and get ready for Social Studies.”

Social Studies. It was more like current events turned on their heads, Arthur reflected. His parents had told him what was really going on in the nation. He didn’t need these CNN-addict teachers to feed him lies he knew weren’t true…

He wished it wasn’t time for Social Studies. He wished it was time for science. In science, he learned about planets and things he liked. And when he went home, he discussed it with his parents and they would explain to him how cool God was, to make evolution happen, and make science happen, and make planets go around in orbits like they did. In Social Studies, he was just confused as to who was right and who was wrong…

Once everyone had put their Tablet PC’s back in the rack in the corner of the classroom, and put their headphones back in their desks to ensure that they weren’t listening to their iPods secretly, the teacher began the lesson. Today’s lesson was going to be about the Iraq war. Oh, joy, Arthur thought. Here we go again.

He doodled on his notebook through most of it, half-listening to what the teacher said. But his ears perked up when one particularly annoying statement caught his attention. “And so we should take away from this that war is not a good thing, ever, and that non-engagement is always better than engagement. Who can explain why we should immediately leave the war in Iraq?”

Arthur couldn’t stand it anymore. He had overheard his dad tell his mother than this teacher was on the ‘edge of too liberal, even for Kingsburry’, whatever that meant, and that ‘people are asking her to tone it down, and let the kids decide for themselves.’ That surprised Arthur. From what he could gather, if people were going to tell her to let his peers decide for themselves instead of shove things down their throats, he was completely justified in what he was about to do. He raised his hand.

“Yes, Arthur? I didn’t expect to hear from you in this discussion.”

The other kids snickered. She said things like that in Social Studies. She knew who his father was, and what he stood for. But Arthur had been told to stand tall in situations like this. So he did. He stood from his desk. “Ms. Allison, may I please make a statement?”

“Of course. We encourage open thought in this classroom.”

“I think that war is never a good thing. I think we all know that, ’cause people get hurt in war. But sometimes we have to go to war. Like way back in World War Two, Hitler was gonna try to conquer the whole world, and he killed six million people just ’cause he didn’t like their religion. Our country was real important in that war. So sometimes it’s necessary.”

“Thank you, Arthur, but we’re not talking about that important conflict, we’re talking about this current one.”

“I know, Ms. Allison. May I please continue?” Manners were of the utmost importance at Kingsburry.

“Yes, of course.”

“I think that once we make a choice, even if it’s a bad one, we have to try to make a good one in the end. It makes more sense to not just pull out, Ms. Allison. It makes more sense to make sure everyone’s safe. The people in Iraq and our soldiers.” He had heard this, of course, from his parents. But it made sense to him. He thought it would make sense to other kids, too.

“Arthur, the purpose of this discussion is not to force our beliefs on our fellow students.”

Now Arthur was confused. Had he done that?

“Please sit down, and let the other kids decide for themselves.”

Arthur sat, but he didn’t like it. He hated Social Studies. This was all they ever talked about. The current President and how many mistakes he had made. How a new candidate needed to be younger, more in tune with current generations, and more democratic to balance out the ‘party imbalance’.

But his dad had told him that even though the current President had made lots of mistakes, he had also done lots of good things that didn’t get on the news. He told Arthur that it was important for him and his classmates to decide what presidential candidate they supported in the school’s Kids Pick The President Election by doing their own research. That the school should just tell them what sites to go to, to get kids’ political information. And that they should be learning more history, and less opinion. Arthur wasn’t sure what was opinion and what was fact, at this point.

As one of his classmates recited what they had heard their own parents say, and was applauded for their equally opinionated view, Arthur rolled his eyes and went back to doodling. He was smart enough to know when there was a bias in the classroom. He just hadn’t quite figured out the entire ‘party politics’ thing yet. He wasn’t sure whether it was a party split or it was another kind of split. But it was clear there was a split.

Suddenly, he saw on his notebook page a picture of himself drawn before his eyes. He removed his pencil from the page and stared, wide-eyed, as the drawing became clearer and clearer. Finally, it was finished with a rope tied around his neck, and he found himself looking very dead on the page. He jumped back, and pushed the notebook off his desk.

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“Excuse me? Arthur? What’s going on over there?” Ms. Allison demanded.

Arthur gaped at his notebook, and pointed at it. “It just…it just…”

The kids giggled. “What’s wrong with him?” “Is he gonna explode?” “Why’s he turning that color?” “Ewww, he’s gonna barf!” “Cool, look at it!”

Ms. Allison picked up the notebook and glanced at it. “These don’t look like notes, Arthur. These look like drawings of Star Wars.”

Arthur would normally have corrected her. It wasn’t Star Wars. It was Star Trek, and the two things were eternally different. But Arthur could barely breathe.

“You look sick, Arthur. Why don’t you go to the Infirmary? Come back when you’re feeling better, and we’ll discuss your note-taking skills.” She placed the notebook back on his desk, and Arthur saw that the drawing was gone. There was no picture of him, in excellent detail, dead before his eyes.

He rose slowly, and walked out of the classroom as if in a daze. But he didn’t go to the Infirmary. He went to his locker instead, where he pulled out his cell phone and turned it on. It was only for emergency use, and the bill was very expensive, so he had been told to keep it off unless it was a very important matter. But he couldn’t think of anything more important. He called his mom.

“What’s wrong, Arthur?” Melissa answered immediately. He could hear her grabbing the car keys and going to the front hall for Cory’s shoes.

“Mom…it’s here. It drew on my notebook, it’s in my school, it’s here—you have to get here!”

“Calm down,” Melissa said firmly. “If you show it you’re scared, that’s how it can get to you. Remember—it can’t hurt you if you believe. Okay? I’ll be right down to get you and take you home. If I take too long for some reason, you can go ahead and download a Christian song on your cell phone. You have permission. Okay?”

Arthur nodded, and then realized his mother couldn’t see him. “Okay,” he said, shaking slightly.

“Stay by your locker if you feel safe there. Otherwise go to the Infirmary and wait for me there.”

“Why there?”

“Talk to Nurse Thompson. She’s a Christian—she can help you.”

“Okay,” Arthur said.

“It can’t read your mind, Arthur. It can’t know you’re scared unless you show it you’re scared. You have to act brave, even if you don’t feel brave. And pray to Jesus. He’ll protect you.”

“Okay. I’m praying now.”

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“Good job. I’ll see you in a few minutes.”

Arthur hung up the phone and turned his back to his locker, looking up and down the hallway. Its 1900’s English architecture accented some of its pointy features and the dim lighting in the ceiling created shadows that scared Arthur. He knew It could be hidden in any of them. It hated the light, according to his parents. It loved the dark. And since Christians were a source of light, he had been taught, it could find him in the dark in a couple of seconds. So he had to keep nightlights on at night, and carry a flashlight in his pocket, just in case.

Last night, Arthur had done an Internet search, and then deleted his history. He wanted to know more about Agent Mulder. He had gotten a reading on him from his Discernment, the ability to distinguish Christians from non-Christians and spot demons in a group of non-possessed people, according to his mother. The reading had said that Mulder was not a Christian. But he got the sense that he was a good man. So he searched the Internet before he went to bed last night and found that Mulder believed in all sorts of things that Arthur did too. Aliens, and mutants, and cool things Arthur saw on the Internet. The Greenwoods didn’t have cable, but Arthur saw things at his friends’ houses too. And on Star Trek.

The reason why this came to mind now was because Arthur realized that Agent Mulder might be able to help. Agent Mulder could definitely help out. If only he had the Agent’s business card…his dad had put it in his wallet. His wallet was across campus, in his back pocket probably in one of the Upper School classrooms. He couldn’t get that far in such a short amount of time. But maybe his dad would be nice enough to read off the number to him…

He called his dad, still scanning up and down the hallway nervously. He really hoped he’d answer.

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BIRMINGHAM POLICE STATION

BIRMINGHAM, WI

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 14th, 2008

0925

“So I’ll go down to that church, talk to Mitchell, and then check out the crime scenes again,” Mulder said.

Scully agreed with a nod. “If you find anything that looks like the harboring of a 130-or-so-year-old fugitive, call me.”

Mulder smirked. “You’re the first one I’ll notify.”

They had just discovered, courtesy of Giles and his team, that similar murders had occurred about a hundred years ago, with victims that practically matched the MO of the current victims, except they were widows. All had children, and hobbies. And one was a Kingsburry school teacher, in the days when the school was only one campus, and only for boys aged 14 through 18.

“I’ll go over the autopsy results and let you know if I find anything the ME might have missed.”

“Thanks,” Mulder told her, as he headed toward the door. Just then, his phone rang. “Mulder,” he answered.

“Agent Mulder, you met me yesterday, sorta, my name’s Arthur Greenwood.”

Mulder, surprised, turned to Scully as he answered, “Yes, what can I do for you, Arthur?”

“Agent Mulder, it’s real important you get down to Kingsburry. I know you like ghosts and aliens and stuff, and well, I got proof for you. I read about you on Google, and…”

Arthur’s voice cut off suddenly, and Mulder frowned. “Arthur?”

No one answered.

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KINGSBURRY LOWER SCHOOL

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, WI

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 14th, 2008

0930

“Arthur? You okay, buddy? Arthur, are you there?”

Arthur stared at the phone screen, which had got his attention by getting extremely hot. He had nearly dropped the phone, but that was all the demon wanted—it just wanted his attention. Now that it had it, it could show him what it wanted to. And on the screen, as if a music video were playing, was a video of Agent Mulder in his car. Suddenly, a black shape with red eyes moved in front of the car and Mulder swerved. He hit a car in the other lane…they were close to Kingsburry! Arthur saw the sign! Mulder’s car tail-spun into the other lane and was smushed by a dozen other cars in the oncoming Woodward Avenue traffic. This was bad!

“Agent Mulder!” Arthur said, having seen enough. “Agent Mulder, please, don’t come! Don’t come, Agent Mulder, you can’t come!”

“Arthur? You okay? What’s going on?”

“You can’t come. Don’t get in your car, Agent Mulder, please.”

“What’s happening, Arthur? Calm down.”

“It’s gonna find you. It’s gonna hurt you in your car. Just stay out of your car!”

Arthur hung up the phone, and put it in his pocket. What could he do? He had to save Agent Mulder from what was about to happen. What if he distracted the demon? But then the demon would come for him…but it couldn’t come for him; he was a Christian, and he was protected. Agent Mulder wasn’t protected.

He shut his locker and began to walk purposefully down the hallway, toward the Infirmary. If he was going to do this, he was going to need backup. And he had been taught that the only suitable backup for something like this was a fellow Christian.

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WOODWARD AVENUE

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, WI

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 14th, 2008

0945

“Arthur’s a very intelligent boy, Mulder,” Scully said, staring at her computer screen back at the station. “He’s won multiple science fairs, and has been admitted to MENSA’s junior division. His father and mother both said they were on their way down to the lower school, but they couldn’t get a hold of him on his cell phone. Mulder, he’s probably planning something, and that something is probably going to get him hurt.”

“I understand,” Mulder said into his phone, while speeding down Woodward Avenue towards Kingsburry Academy. “I also think his parents are at least partially reasonable people. We can probably convince them to calm him down before he starts a public panic.”

Mulder’s actions, going after Arthur, were not just out of concern for public relations. He was genuinely concerned about the child. This very intelligent and imaginative boy was convinced that it was his Christian duty to protect others from demons. That was what Scully had got from Mr. Greenwood after a few moments of conversation. The Greenwoods were both concerned that Arthur would do something unfortunate for both himself and for the other children in the school, but most of all, they were very worried about whatever Arthur had seen. If there was indeed a demon in the school, Mrs. Greenwood had said, it would take a Christian presence to get it out. And Arthur was just too young in his beliefs to remain unafraid.

Mulder knew where the kid got it from, now. He didn’t buy into this crap about Christians being the only ones able to cast out demons, but after what he had seen, he couldn’t discount a demon as the source of these murders. What chiefly concerned Mulder was that four civilians, a baby included, would get wrapped up in the demon’s agenda because they were too naïve to see their own vulnerability.

Scully was spending a few moments compiling all the data she could on Arthur and his family, in case a hostage situation ensued and Mulder needed to negotiate. He didn’t know what this brilliant boy would concoct.

“Mulder, please be careful in there. If we’re dealing with what we’ve dealt with before, you know how it can rope you in. Just keep your head. I’ll join you if you need me to, but I think you may need GPS directions to navigate this school, and you’ll need the information I’m gathering now.”

“Yeah, stay put, Scully. This doesn’t have to get out of control. I’m just going to go in, calm the kid down, and get the family out of there before Kingsburry calls CNN.”

Mulder was concentrated on changing lanes to the left, when suddenly a black shape swam before his vision. Orange eyes peered at him and a black arm went back as if to punch through the windshield. Mulder turned sharply, and was partially broadsided by the car behind him. The bump was enough to make the car fishtail over the grassy divider and into the oncoming traffic. Mulder tried to right the skid desperately, but the black shape clouded his vision. He had long since dropped the phone.

The oncoming traffic on the highway couldn’t stop fast enough. Cars plowed into his, creating a partial pile-up, and propelling his car directly into a light post. Although Mulder lost track of what was happening back at the first impact, it was the light post that did it. As the airbag engaged, Mulder’s world disappeared into a velvety black.

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Continued in Exorcismus: Expedio

Leprechaun’s Lair

Leprechauns’ Lair

Author: Starfleetofficer1

Summary: Mulder and Scully spend St. Patrick’s Day in the woods.

Category: MT, X-File

Rating: PG

Two weeks exclusive with VS15.

Disclaimer: No copyright infringement intended.

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SOMEWHERE IN THE WOODS

PITTSBURGH, PA

MONDAY, MARCH 17th, 2008

0900

“I can’t believe you dragged me out here, Mulder,” Scully complained as they

trudged through the woods, looking for the car.

“I’m sorry,” he said, clearly discouraged.

“Too little too late,” Scully told him. “And now we’ve got to get out of here and spend

St. Patrick’s Day waiting at the airport.”

“I said I’m sorry,” he told her, but she just kept walking. “The X-file was legitimate.

You even said so yourself. Skinner signed off on it.”

“I’ll agree with you that something’s been stealing valuables and most likely using an

escape route in the woods—”

“Only gold valuables,” Mulder interjected.

“Okay, someone’s been stealing only gold valuables and using an escape route in the

woods, but that doesn’t mean there are leprechauns, and it doesn’t mean that

walking through the woods will do anything to help us catch the man, Mulder,” Scully

said, exasperated. It had, after all, been an overnight stakeout, and they were both

exhausted.

“A thief using an escape route in the woods doesn’t explain the children’s sightings.”

“But the holiday does,” Scully told him firmly. She turned around. “You dragged us

out here in the woods to hunt leprechauns, Mulder, on the lead of a few children—”

“An entire fourth-grade class of children.”

“On some 9-year-olds’ testimonies, who during their St. Patrick’s Day picnic thought

they saw a leprechaun.”

“The teacher substantiated it, too, Scully. You read the reports.”

“I’m not arguing about this, Mulder. I agreed to one night, and we’re done. No

leprechauns showed up in this ‘hot spot’ you dragged us to.”

He frowned. “If this is about missing the parade—”

“It’s not about missing the parade! It’s about missing our day off, which happened

to coincide with a holiday, because you decided to get us assigned to a case! A case

that didn’t hold any merit!”

Mulder’s shoulders drooped slightly, as he repeated, “I said I was sorry.”

She exhaled, and turned around. “It’s alright. Let’s just find the car, and get out of

here.”

They started walking again, when suddenly shots were fired. Mulder dropped to the

ground with an ‘umph’ and Scully got down, drawing her weapon and aiming for the

direction of the noise. Another shot came in her direction and she actually heard the

bullet whiz past her head. She couldn’t see the perp, though, and so she couldn’t

return fire.

The fire stopped, and she slowly edged toward Mulder, but heard behind her, “Drop

the weapon, now. I’ve got a clear shot at his head. Drop the weapon or I’ll kill him.”

Scully had no choice but to comply. And when she did, she heard a bag dropped and

objects jingle inside. She was approached from behind and handcuffed, the gun

kicked away. Mulder wasn’t moving.

The perpetrator showed himself when he walked around Scully and turned Mulder

over. There was very clearly an entrance wound in his back, but no exit wound. He

was out, and Scully said calmly, “I’m a medical doctor. If you’ll let me—”

“Shut up,” the man said. He had dark brown hair, slicked back sloppily, and wore a

gold chain around his neck. “You two are cops?”

“FBI. If you keep me from helping my partner, it’s a federal offense. You’ve already

assaulted a federal officer—don’t make it worse—”

“I said shut up!” He yelled, and raised his weapon to her head. “You don’t have a

clue what you stumbled into, bitch. You and your partner are witnesses, and it don’t

matter what condition he’s in when I put a bullet through his brain.” He cocked the

weapon. “Maybe I’ll start with him and make you watch…”

But before he could get a shot off, there was a deafening bang to Scully’s left and a

neat hole right between the perp’s eyes. He dropped, instantly dead.

Scully looked to her left to assess whether Mulder was in further danger from their

savior, and saw a man with achondroplastic dwarfism, about four feet tall, lower his

shotgun. “Are you alright?” He asked in a slight Irish accent, clearly concerned.

“My partner’s been shot. Come over here, I need your help,” Scully ordered.

“Aye, one moment. Seamus, Kelly, Eileen, over here, now.”

Three small children, all achondroplastic dwarfs, ran out of the woods and toward

who Scully presumed was their father.

“Got a bit more help for ya,” the man said, and squatted near Mulder, next to Scully.

“You’re a doctor—how bad is it?”

Scully raised an eyebrow, but surmised he had heard the conversation between her

and the gold thief. “Keep the kids back. I don’t want them touching him until I say

so.”

“Back two feet,” he ordered his children.

Scully turned Mulder gently, and examined the wound. She had already checked his

breathing, and his pulse. “He’s breathing, his pulse is weak but there…bullet entered

near his kidney.” She looked at the man, and asked, “What’s your name?”

“Patrick Finnegan, me friends call me Fin.”

“Alright, Fin, I need you to take your shirt off. We need to stop this bleeding. Then

you need to send your kids to the roadside with my cell phone and have them dial

911. Can you do that?”

“Aye, I can, but I’ve got a better solution.”

Scully sighed impatiently as she held Mulder’s back. She had turned him on his side,

and was now applying pressure on the wound with her hand. “What?”

“We’ve got a place with real medical supplies not far from here. We’ve also got a

fold-out stretcher in that bag Seamus is carrying.” He nodded to his eldest son.

“He needs hospitalization. He might have organ damage,” Scully argued, trying to

control her voice. Didn’t this man know how serious this was? Mulder could die.

She didn’t have time to argue with him.

He took off his shirt and handed it to her, revealing thick red hair on his chest. “Ya

need to listen to me, Agent. He won’t make it till the ambulance can get this far.

It’s further to the road than it is to my place. Me wife, she’s a doctor. D’ya

understand? The two of ya, you can save him.”

“He needs surgery.”

“We have a sanitary station. It’s an outpost.”

Scully couldn’t help but wonder why they had a ‘sanitary’ surgical station in their

‘outpost’ for a house. But she didn’t have time to argue. “Fine, do you have a

phone?”

“Aye, but ya won’t need it. Come on, Agent, we need to hurry. Seamus,” he barked.

“Take that stretcher out.”

The boy complied, and unfolded it to its full length. Then he stretched it out on the

ground behind Mulder. Scully wrapped Fin’s shirt around Mulder’s wound and then

eased him gently onto the stretcher. She took the back, and Fin took the front.

They lifted him with some difficulty, the stretcher tilted because of the size

difference. The kids automatically helped support the bars from the middle. The

youngest one, Eileen, couldn’t stop staring at Mulder. Scully tried to smile. “It’ll be

alright,” she said, more for herself than for the small child.

Eileen looked at Scully and said in an adorable Irish brogue, “Me mama can fix him

up, Agent, don’t worry.”

“Shannon’s a surgeon,” Fin said. “You and she can extract the bullet, then we’ll call

an ambulance when he’s outta the woods.”

Scully nodded absently. It was only a fifteen minute trek, before they reached the

small clearing with a cottage that looked like it had been built by a professional

craftsman. They carried Mulder up the front steps and a woman, about four feet tall,

opened the front door. “Oh, goodness,” she said, in an Irish accent that matched

her husband’s.

“You’re a surgeon?” Scully asked her.

She nodded. “I specialize in nerve damage, and I’ve got a certification in

anesthesiology. Move him over to that table inside, in the sterile section. I’ve got

running water, and soap, we can sterilize our hands in. You, what’s your name?”

“Scully, Agent Dana Scully.”

“FBI, interesting,” the woman said, but Scully’s perplexed look was instantly replaced

with a concerned one when Mulder moaned, and opened his eyes.

They set him down on the sterile table in the living room and Scully instantly went to

him. The children crowded around, but Fin pushed them back to give Scully space.

“Hey,” she said softly. “Mulder, can you hear me?”

“Mmm,” he said, face contorted in pain. “Where…where are we?”

“A cottage in the woods. You were shot, Mulder. I think the bullet’s in your kidney.

We’re going to do emergency surgery—these people, this woman is a surgeon. We’ll

have to give you anesthetic. Do you understand?”

“Mmm hmm,” he said, and then looked at the people around him. He smiled. “We

found ‘em.”

Scully couldn’t give him a disapproving look for his inappropriate comment, not with

him in this condition. But she was thankful they had no idea what he was talking

about.

“Mr. Mulder, my name is Shannon Finnegan, and I’m here to help you. I’ve got to

give you an IV with some anesthetic in it, and then we’ll turn you on your side to

remove the bullet and close any damage. Do you understand?”

“Yeah,” he said, and then coughed, and grimaced in pain. Scully held his hand.

“You’re going to be fine,” Scully said.

“Me mum’s the best,” Seamus said. “Ya don’t have much ta worry about, Sir.”

He smiled. “We found ‘em,” he stated again before Shannon started the IV, and

showed the liquid to Scully.

“Anesthetic. Satisfied, Agent Scully?”

“Yes, do it,” Scully ordered her, hoping to speed up this process.”

Shannon injected the anesthetic, and then pointed to her sink. “Sanitize yourself,

and grab two aprons. I’ll get my medical kit. We need to move fast. He’s got

internal bleeding and we need to close the wound.”

Fifteen minutes later they were well on their way. Scully couldn’t help but think

repeatedly, I can’t believe I’m doing this. I can’t believe I agreed to this.

But Shannon seemed to know what she was doing. They got the internal bleeding

under control, and for some odd reason, they had a bag of Mulder’s blood type in

their medical supply cabinet.

It took them three hours to close the wound and another two for Mulder to wake up.

And by then, Fin had dialed 911 and had explained to Scully that they would need to

move Mulder by stretcher again. There was no way a car could make it through the

woods, let alone an ambulance.

Scully was exhausted with worry and lack of sleep by the time they got to the

roadside. She thanked Fin profusely when she heard the ambulance siren, and it

was a daze from there. She thought she fell asleep in the ambulance, and when she

woke up, she was in a hospital room with Mulder. He was still asleep. Disoriented,

she glanced for her watch to check the time, got up and stretched. She shook her

head, and rubbed her eyes as she sat back down again. Apparently still tired, she

fell back asleep.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

SEWICKLEY GENERAL HOSPITAL

SEWICKLEY, PA (NEAR PITTSBURGH)

MONDAY, MARCH 17th, 2008

1900

Scully awoke to Mulder clearing his throat. She opened her eyes, disoriented again.

“Hey,” she said, smiling at him. “What’s going on?”

He couldn’t help but give her a puzzled look. “You’re asking me?” He asked, shaking

his head. “All I know is I was shot, you and…the leprechauns!” He suddenly beamed.

“We found them, Scully! What are they doing with the perp?”

Scully looked terribly confused. “What are you talking about?”

“The gold thief. The one who shot me. The leprechauns, Shannon—the woman who

worked with you during the emergency surgery?”

Scully just stared at him. “Do you have a concussion?”

He laughed. “Memory wipes! Oh, this is classic!”

“I’m gonna go get the doctor.”

“No, wait, Scully,” he caught her arm as she stood up. “Wait, I’m not making this up.

Shannon Finnegan, remember? I was barely conscious, but I can remember all their

names—there was Patrick, who likes to be called Fin. There’s the boy, Seamus, and

then their two little ones, Eileen and Kelly. You don’t remember any of this, do

you?”

She just stared at him, blankly. “I don’t know what’s going on, Mulder, but you’re

starting to scare me.”

“They must have put a memory imprint on me, and a memory wipe on you…they

looked like normal people though. Achondroplastic dwarfs, but normal. Normal

clothes, normally furnished cottage in the woods…the kids, they were all clean-cut

and Fin looked like he had a neatly trimmed beard. Don’t you find it odd that they

had a surgical bay in their house? And my blood type?”

“I’m going to go get the doctor, Mulder,” Scully said slowly. “I need to figure out

what’s going on.”

“Read my chart,” he insisted. “At the end of the bed, read it. Tell me what it says.”

She hesitated, but complied. She flipped through his chart, and shook her head.

“Are you sure I wasn’t knocked out, or something?”

“Why? What does it say?”

“It says exploratory surgery discovered a successful, recent, and emergency

procedure that removed a bullet from your kidney and completely sealed the internal

organs, repairing all damage. You received a unit of blood and a standard

anesthetic…Mulder, I don’t remember any of this! But my name’s on the exploratory

surgery consent form, and my statement as to the fact you were shot, it’s right

here.”

“See?” He said with a smile. “Leprechauns.”

“That’s ridiculous. I’m Irish, Mulder, and even I don’t even believe that.”

“Most Irish people view leprechauns as a degrading symbol of Irish culture.”

“That’s beside the point. I have no recollection of any of this!”

“It was a memory wipe. And I couldn’t possibly remember all of that from the state

I was in—I must have had a memory imprint. Call Skinner—you probably already

told him what was going on. And the perp is probably already in the morgue.”

She slowly reached for her cell phone, and walked away from his bed, toward the

window. She completed the call, and Mulder heard a series of ‘yes, Sir’, ‘no, Sir,’ ‘of

course, Sir,’ and ‘I’m not sure, Sir,’ before she hung up the phone, and turned to

him. “That’s incredible. Anthony Giorgio’s body was autopsied and the cause of

death was a single bullet to the head. Not my bullet. But Skinner just said it was in

accordance with my report.”

“Told you,” Mulder said with a grin.

She shook her head. “I refuse to believe that. I’m going to have them run a blood

test on me, make sure I haven’t been exposed to some kind of hallucinogen. Don’t

go anywhere, Mulder.”

He just smiled. “Fine by me,” he said.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

SEWICKLEY GENERAL HOSPITAL

SEWICKLEY, PA (NEAR PITTSBURGH)

MONDAY, MARCH 17th, 2008

2100

Scully returned three hours later, utterly confused. The blood tests had shown

nothing wrong…

She walked over to Mulder’s bed, where he slept, and smiled when she saw a card

there. She didn’t know who it was from, though. She picked it up, and noted the

shamrock on the front.

Opening it, she was shocked to find a picture of a family. All achondroplastic dwarfs,

with a caption on the bottom that said, ‘From left: Patrick ‘Fin’, Shannon, Seamus,

Kelly, and Eileen Finnegan.’ On the card was written, “Ya owe us some Guinness,

Mulder. You’re welcome anytime. Just walk into the woods. We’ll find ya. The

Finnegans.”

At the bottom was written in smaller print, ‘Shannon thanks you for your help in

surgery, Agent Scully. You’re always welcome, too. Just remember to believe.’

Perplexed, Scully placed the card back on the nightstand and sat down in the chair

next to Mulder. She took his hand, thankful that he was going to be alright. Even

though she couldn’t explain what had happened, she wouldn’t stop Mulder from

dragging them into those woods again. She, for one, wanted some answers. And a

funny feeling told her that if she was willing to look, the Finnegans wouldn’t mind

providing some.

1

Leprechauns’ Lair by Starfleetofficer1

Echoes

Echoes by truthwebothknow1

Rating PG , adult viewers , few bad words.

Keywords MT SA MA X file MSR

Spoiler. Amor Fati trilogy,

Written for the IMTP virtual season 15 and alludes to some aspects of canon in

those fics.

Summary. The Northern Irish coast has some secrets, some say echoes.

Not for profit and The X files belongs to cc and Fox. Auntie Katherine belongs to

me and is probably me in about 40 years LOL.

Dedicated To Joi who has been waiting way too long for me to finish her birthday

fic so you can have this one. It in time for this years birthday. 🙂

Echoes

Belfast airport

15th March 2008

“I got hold of my aunt. She’s picking us up in about an hour.” Scully popped her

cell phone back in her jacket pocket as Mulder retrieved their bags from the

carousel.

“That’s great, Scully. This is your Mom’s aunt right ..so your great Aunt?”

“Katherine Tooley, yes,” Scully smiled widely, “ My namesake. Mom named me

for her but she in turn, was also named for another Katherine from way back,

many years in fact. My great, great great-grandmother Tooley. ”

Mulder grinned at his lover’s enthusiasm for this whole trip. She’d been in a state

of awe and childlike excitement for days and he found it so endearing. “Have you

ever met her before?” They were heading towards customs now, both of them

taking in the St. Patrick’s Day bunting and paraphernalia hanging everywhere.

They really took this holiday seriously here.

“No but I have spoken to her on the phone a few times. She was coming over to

visit Mom in Baltimore a few years ago but her husband Ned, died suddenly. She

has been alone since. Runs her small sheep farm out on the Antrim coast by

herself, does a bit of painting and stuff. Independent feisty lady.”

“Umm like someone else I could name…. who’s not more than a few yards away

from me”. Mulder’s hand gently cupped Scully’s cheek, rubbing a thumb back

and forth. She leaned into his touch as they waited in line to go through the gate

into the main concourse.

“I wonder who you could mean”, she giggled, slipping her arm into his free one

that wasn’t carrying his bags.

Once through arrivals they noticed more trappings of St. Patrick’s Day

celebrations. People bustling by wearing Irish tri- color scarves and sometime

the odd silly green hat. Mulder explained that this usually meant a Rugby Derby

was imminent and people of Irish descent were filing in from all over Europe and

further afield to watch the match. Scully seemed to lap it all up taking in the

sights and foreign smells. They found a luggage cart and dumped their bags into

it.

It was good take a vacation now and then, to get away from the trauma and loss

of the last few months and just chill in a completely different place, somewhere

much quieter, with a relatively slower pace of life. Her aunt’s cliff top home

seemed an ideal place for her and Mulder to recharge their batteries before taking

on the slew of new cases Skinner had mentioned at their last meeting, before he

insisted they took some much needed leave.

Her aunt had been bugging her for months about coming over to spend a few

days and finally meet her. She knew Katharine and Maggie were close, and had

started talking a lot more via phone and email after Billy’s death, Now with her

other brother gone and Dana was the last one, it seemed her aunt was anxious

to meet the only surviving child of Maggie Scully before a cruel twist of fate took

her as well. Surviving family was important to Scully a lot more recently, so who

could refuse Katherine’s kind offer. Her mother had mentioned that she was a bit

eccentric and unusual. Right up Mulder’s street then from the sound of it.

She was so looking forward to this trip and she knew Mulder was as well. A week

enjoying her aunt’s hospitality then a quick jaunt down to Dublin to hook up with

one of Mulder’s old Oxford pals, a professor at one of the museums there seemed

just what the doctor ordered. She hoped he would be okay though as he’d started

sneezing on the plane no sooner than he’d clipped his safety belt in place. Just his

luck to get sick now but he assured her that it was nothing a slug of real Irish

whiskey wouldn’t cure. There was a plan for an excursion to the famous

Bushmills foundry on their schedule among other things, although Mulder

admitted that was partly coerced by Skinner who promised them an extra week

off if he could bring him back a bottle of the world class liquor all the way from

its Irish roots.

“You’ve been to Ireland before haven’t you Mulder?”

“Sure… er only the once. When I was at Oxford.”

“So how come I’ve never heard about this?”“ She teased as he led them both to a

place to eat and drink. All the travel and excitement of exploring a new country

had given them both a raging appetite.”

“Er, I don’t remember much of it,” Mulder admitted as he reached inside his

leather jacket pocket for his tissues.

“A group of us came over for a Thin Lizzy concert at the Point in Dublin. But……”

Scully grinned; she guessed what was coming by the look that passed over his

face. “But…? ”

“A couple of us had a few pre concert whiskies and we er…never made it out of

the bar. Couldn’t find the guy with the tickets either.”

“So what happened?” He smiled as the usual eyebrow manoeuvre came into play;

he wasn’t going to get out of this easily. Was that her usually inuendous partner

blushing. This was going to be good.

“Ended up waking in a part of Dublin called Ferrytown. Some joker thought it

would be a blast to dump us ‘mainlanders’ all down by the dockside. We were all

over from Oxford. I guess the old English -Irish rivalry thing, and I got lumped in

with them seeing as I couldn’t utter two intelligent words being shitfaced at the

time so they pegged me as English too. Guilt by association. Anyway next day,

massive hangovers all round, freezing rain and …..no pants.” Scully tried to keep

a straight face as he pantomimed getting a chill up his spine.

“No pants? You were mugged and they took your pants? Mulder …”

“….And well er… we were duct taped to a lamp post. Hey it was no fun and

fucking freezing…It was like a Stephen King horror version of the ‘Commitments’

only with crappier weather and no music…what?”

Mulder gave her a baleful, ‘ I’ll get you for this’ expression as his partner started

to laugh that silly, open laugh she indulged herself in on the rare occasions that

she felt really happy. Something suddenly dissolved inside him… almost a

flashback, a sense of gestalt and he looked at her stupidly, thoughts going in a

million different directions.

It startled him to realize that that hadn’t happened in a very long time. His eyes

started to well up and he thought with alarm if he didn’t get a hold of his

emotions he might start crying right here in the middle of a bustling airport. He

felt a small warm hand slip into his. “ Mulder?”

He sniffed loudly and feigned a cough before he looked her in the eye again.

Feeling stupid and overwhelmed and not quite grasping all the reasons why, his

hand squeezed hers back and he forced a smile. This vacation would be a good

one for them both, he would make damn sure of it. Whatever she wanted to do,

or go and visit they would do it. This was her time more than his, after all they’d

been through and all she had suffered on a personal level lately, his heart still

bled like an open wound for all that. He felt this need to make it up to her, to be

with her and enjoy just being like any other loving couple for once. The thought

of Aunt Katherine’s remote cottage with a real peat fire and warm nights

snuggled up with his partner under an old eiderdown listening to the sea crashing

wildly on the shore was very appealing. It sounded very old fashioned and

romantic… Something he desperately wanted to give the woman he loved with all

his heart. A chance maybe to redefine and enhance their relationship.

“C’mon, I’m starving, lets try out the local food seeing as we have a bit of time

before your aunt arrives.”

O’Malley’s bar was a cheery place and predictably regaled with St Patrick’s Day

shamrocks, cut out leprechauns and Irish flags. A large plasma screen TV showed

some kind of news show frequently interrupted by rugby scores accompanied by

bouts of cheering enthusiasm, and adverts for Guinness. Scully was mesmerised

by the quaint charm of it all and even more amused when Mulder came back from

the bar with two Irish coffees to go with their shepherd’s pies. Scully tucked in

with gusto, secretly glad he didn’t get her a green Guinness. Mulder had made

several teasing speculative remarks about what odious ingredients or chemicals

went into it to get it that color and it was starting to make her go green, never

mind the brew.

Mulder was enjoying watching her eat. She just seemed to worry less about what

she ate abroad and it was good to see her enjoy real food as opposed to the limp

lettuce bunny diets and fads she usually indulged in back home. He got the

impression from what his partner and Maggie had told him about Katherine that

the old girl liked to cook and look after her guests. It would be just great to watch

Scully getting some more wholesome food inside her and he wasn’t exactly

immune to the joys of home cooked food either. Make a nice change from take

out Chinese or pizza. Blowing his nose he looked around the bar. It was fun and

comforting in atmosphere but he didn’t have the heart to tell Scully that

O’Malley’s was a big international franchise, like an upmarket McDonalds or

Starbucks and there was one of these in almost every airport in Europe.

The real Ireland lay just beyond the airport confines and he made a silent wish

for Katherine to appear very soon so they could go start their vacation and

exploration of this alluring country with all its history and mystical Gaelic charm.

He couldn’t wait to meet Scully’s aunt and see how much of his Scully was in the

older woman. From all accounts they were all made from the same feisty, strong

and wonderful stock he knew and loved; the apples never fell far from the tree no

matter where in the world the woman in his lover’s family hailed from. It was an

x file in itself… okay a small one, he mused.

No sign of her yet, though he knew in his bones he would recognize Katherine the

instant he laid eyes on her. Scully’s sapphire gaze caught him pondering and

damn; she had eaten all her lunch and still looked hungry. He gave her his best

feral grin as he got up from the table.

“They do a great Death by Chocolate in here Scully,”

“I could really do a good Death by Chocolate right now. Bring it on Mulder.”

******

Aunt Katherine didn’t disappoint. She greeted them both warmly and enveloped

them with a gentle hug. Mulder grinned like a fool much to Scully’s chagrin, over

his casual profiling of the kindly white haired woman in glasses, the quintessential

wax jacket and wellingtons. She may have been knocking on 70 but she was a

tough well built woman, with a sharp mind and she had Scully’s eyes. She’d have

been a looker back in the day. Still was.

“Fox, Dana…. So glad you could come visit an old woman. At long last we get to

meet. I’ve heard so much about you from Maggie.”

“Oh Dear…” Mulder chewed on his bottom lip.

“No, no dear, to be sure young man, it’s all good. She always enthuses on how

much you love and look after my niece. Welcome to Northern Ireland. Come…”

“Well Mulder I guess I don’t have to introduce you. “ Scully laughed taking his

hand as they followed her out towards her car.

“ Of Course not, MF. Luder right ?” The old woman threw over her shoulder with

a wicked twinkle in her eye.

“Close your mouth Mulder. “ Scully teased her partner as he stared after her.

They stowed their cases and bags in the back of the rustic old Austin, which

looked like it had one wheel in the scrap heap but Katherine shared none of their

scepticism about its ability to fire up. Which it did. It sounded like a dull roar and

for an awful moment Mulder thought it might take off vertically, but Scully’s aunt

smiled sagely, inviting them to climb in.

Co Antrim coast road near Ballycastle.

Two hours later.

Feeling the effects of jetlag they remained snuggled up together holding hands,

mostly quiet in the back of the car just drinking in the March sun and enjoying

the rich scenery as Katherine drove through winding verdant hills and black

basalt rocky terrain, capped in the distance by the mountains of Mourne which

gave way to a patchwork of fields, steep outcrops and sloping valleys down to the

wild rolling waves of the Atlantic ocean. The sea almost came up to meet them as

they dipped down one hill and then the next until finally, a solitary white

stonewashed farmhouse with a dark slate roof came into view overlooking the

white rollers of the ocean. Mulder felt Scully’s infectious excitement and heard

himself gasp at the natural beauty of the place and wound the windows down a

bit more so they could breathe in the fresh salty air. In the fields behind and

adjacent to the sprawling house, a variety of sheep dotted the green pastures

and slopes painting a tranquil landscape. The wind was mild and the sun

streaked across the wide bay like jewels on white horses. There didn’t seem to be

anything else around for miles.

“There she is, Black Rock Cottage. It’s not really a farm, more of a small holding,

but we get by. I like it here, it’s quiet…. Mostly,” Katherine gave them a lopsided

grin and wink which Mulder tucked away for future reference.

“It’s lovely. Have you lived here long? ”

“ Oh a few years to be sure…thanks, just about home now. There we are,” she

took a particularly fast flip over the animal grid at the gate which almost made

Scully loose her lunch and Mulder started to sneeze, then they pulled up outside

the pretty farmhouse with a sort of afterthought lurching splutter from the

engine, It shuddered to a stop making gravel fly in all directions, just missing a

couple of geese and chickens which clucked in panic and dove for cover.

“Here we are then,” Scully’s aunt grinned, seemingly unphazed. “..welcome to

my home, it was our dream home actually…mine and your uncle Ned’s…..”

Katherine looked out across to sea a moment, suddenly somewhere else. Then

she turned and smiled remembering her visitors. Mulder was heading for the back

of the car. “Leave the bags there in the boot dear, we can get them later. Lets

get inside, you must be tired the both you. Need to get the dinner on and some

tea in yous.”

“Boot?” Scully looked to Mulder for guidance.

“She means the trunk.” He whispered back, giving her ass a playful slap as she

walked alongside him.

“Ah okay. Stop that already.” But he just gave her one his best fake puppy dog

wounded looks.

*****

Once inside the house a large fat black Labrador ambled over and tried to taste

them all, pleased to see his mistress but also equally ecstatic about the two

visitors. Mulder crouched down and happily found himself surrounded in slobbery

doggy kisses. What a big kid, Scully thought. She knew Mulder would love getting

a dog of their own and they had toyed with idea a few times but with their

schedule and frequent trips out of town…..

“That’s Merlin. Fat, overfed little bugger isn’t he? Down boy, let’s not lick our

visitors to death. I’ll put the kettle on. Dana your poor man sounds like he needs

something hot inside him. Please make yourselves at home. My house is yours.

Loo is that way to the left,” She gestured wildly out into passageway that led to

what looked like a large conservatory. “Can’t miss it, it’s the one with ‘Oirish

Embassy’ on the door.” Mulder bit his lip to keep from coughing and snickering

at the same time. This was going to interesting.

“I already got something hot,” he leaned over and whispered to Scully who

retaliated by poking him in the ribs and mouthing ‘behave’ at him.

“What’s that?” Katherine asked, giving them a playful look over the rim of her

glasses.

Mulder tried his best to look innocent and suddenly found himself admiring the

old lady’s teapot collection on the dresser which was eclectic to say the least. A

Dragon candle and a little china alien sat next to each other on one shelf. The

alien wore a green trilby and appeared to be smoking a spliff. He almost gave

himself whiplash as he did a double take.

Scully blinked and grinned at her partner, after following where his eyes were

looking, her hand snaked around his back in delight and she gave him a squeeze,

watching as Katherine set three mugs aside and then put the kettle on the

already heated Aga.

“Everyone okay. Dana, Fox… ? Tea or Coffee……? Think I got some camomile or

peppermint somewhere…”

As if on cue Mulder started to cough and splutter and Katherine shooed them

both along the passageway into the bright spacious living room.

“Thank you so much. You have a lovely home. Really cosy,” They both

murmured, looking around at the surprisingly luxurious surroundings. This was a

lot bigger than what Scully imagined. She’d always thought her aunt had a

modest lifestyle but this house was gorgeous and yet kept its country cosiness.

Perhaps she was better off than she’d thought.

Mulder and Scully tired and jetlagged from their flight took full advantage of the

stuffed cottage couch in the oak beamed living room with the massive stone fire

place. The soft cushions seemed to swallow them up like big marshmallows as

they sank back into them with a grateful sigh. Mulder sneezed again and his eyes

started to water. He gave Scully an apologetic look for being ill on their vacation.

She smiled back and kissed his forehead.

She was starting to get worried about her partner as he was growing increasingly

grey looking and exhausted. His eyes were closed as she sat next to him but she

knew he wasn’t asleep.

“Sorry Scully.”

“For what?”

“Getting…” sneeze …. “sick.” Mulder sighed as his lover smoothed the fever damp

hair from his eyes, he knew she was using it as an excuse to feel his forehead

and leaned into her touch. If she kept stroking his head like that he’d drift off to

sleep in no time.

“It’s not your fault Mulder. Although I think from the heat you are giving off right

now this might be flu, not a cold. I could fry an egg on your forehead.”

“Yeah, just my luck. Hey keep stroking won’t you G woman? Feels good.” He

sighed heavily, more relaxed now.

Aunt Katherine breezed in with a tinkering tray of tea and cakes, clearly delighted

to have someone to dote on no matter how many germs they were giving off.

Mulder cocked one eye open and spotted the chocolate cake. Homemade if he

wasn’t mistaken. Rousing himself, he sat up to inspect it further. Every part of

him screamed in protest, especially his back. He felt wiped but didn’t want to

seem rude as to fall asleep just after they arrived.

As he took his mug, he watched curiously as his host poured a clear liquid into

his tea. He looked up into Katherine’s mischievous gaze.

“This will help kill the germs and make all those nasty aches and pains go away.

Bloody airplanes tsk… tin cans full of nasty germs. “

“Umm, maybe but I think I caught this nasty at work. Our boss was lurking

behind a manly sized box of tissues and bottle of Cherry Nyquil all week… What’s

that?”

“Something strong… Irish.”

“ Unless I’m mistaken that’s the wrong color for whisky.”

“No this is better. Poitin. I make it myself. For all that ails ya.”

“You have a still? “ Mulder chuckled with delight as he lifted the mug to his lips,

blowing on it while Scully just looked bemused. The old woman grinned

knowingly but then looked slightly worried as her brain slipped into gear. “ Ahh I

forgot … you work for that FBI. Ooopse..” She pondered, muttering something

that sounded rude and Gaelic. “ Aw you wouldn’t be slapping the cuffs on an old

woman now would ya?”

To Mulder’s chagrin she offered him her wrists in supplication, eyes full of

apprehension. He laughed, and sipped gingerly at his tea, touching her hand

with his own to reassure.

The stuff had a real kick to it and he sipped more of it and felt better as it went

down. It was instant relief on his throat and down into his chest and he felt his

eyes water and nose clear for the first time that day.

“No no.. its okay… , we left our guns and cuffs back at home. Your er secret is

safe with us.” He indicated to the bottle for her to add a touch more and

Katherine tipped a little in. “Though we may have to arrest you if you say there’s

no more of that cake.”

“Would that not be a bribe now agent Mulder?”

Scully’s eyebrows rose but she grinned, thinking how wonderful and endearing

her aunt was in the flesh despite her predilection for illegal hobbies. She looked

forward to discovering more about her in the next few days and she knew; by the

entranced gaze on Mulder’s sleepy face that he adored her already. He even let

her call him ‘Fox’.

“No Tylenol for you Mulder, I don’t want to have to scrape you off the ceiling

later. “ She picked up the bottle of Poitin and sniffed it, recoiling when the potent

liquor stung her nasal passages. “ Well , I think from the strength of this stuff it

will have any bugs running for the hills in short order. Wooh.”

“Try some Scully…when in Ireland..” Mulder urged. For all of two seconds Scully’s

features creased as if see-sawing with some inner conflict.

“Umm, I guess we are far enough from the long fingers of the law. Maybe …” To

Mulder’s surprise and her aunt’s obvious delight she took a swig, then another

just to make sure. Her eyes went a curious shade of blue and widened until her

mouth formed a surprised ‘oh’ as the warmth spread through her. Mulder

watched in awe, shoving a large hunk of cake in his mouth. “..That was great…”

Came the squeak from her throat.

“ Good craic eh, winters are hard up here on the coast,” Katherine explained as

she put the cap back on the bottle. “ It’s a great place, paradise in the summer…

but aye, the winters are something else. You need a pioneer spirit to manage up

here and well…. my bones are not what they used to be. This helps a lot, thaws

out the marrow a treat. More tea? ”

Katherine, cleared away the last of the plates and mugs and vanished into the

kitchen. A moment or two later she returned and went through the ritual that

brought the fire to life, putting on plenty of wood and peat blocks to last the

night. The room upstairs hadn’t been used in a while. Not since…

She lingered a moment to watch the flames flicker over the room, off the many

crystals adorning her mantelpiece and more especially the faces of her sleepy

visitors making her lips turn up in a smile. It was late afternoon but bless, the trip

must have exhausted them, and Dana’s young man not being well either. Only

sound in the room was the grandfather clock’s dull ticking and Fox’s wheezing,

which seemed to be worse now then when they’d first arrived. She vowed to look

through her pantry and see what she could find to ease him.

Dana had mentioned to her in passing when they were in the kitchen that when

poor Fox got a cold now it almost always went to his chest. It bothered her a lot,

although her niece wouldn’t admit it but you could read it in her eyes as clear as

day. Maggie had mentioned the dark haired handsome man frequently in their

chats and in that same caring simpatico that one might their own child. Talked

about how much he loved her daughter and how his job always seemed to render

him injured and hospitalised a lot. Probably kept her niece’s doctoring skills sharp

and true. In just a few hours Katherine could see why he had captured the hearts

of both mother and daughter and was well on his way to snagging hers. Those

dark eyelashes like smudged crescents on his cheeks were to die for…

She sighed and picked up the tray with Merlin at her heels on the way to the

kitchen.

She’d leave them be for now and go make dinner. Something warming and

delicious. No takeout up here in the wilds, she thought with amusement. These

young professional couples today, too busy to eat properly and all that. She’d

soon sort them out with some decent home cooked food.

Scully wasn’t sure what woke her up, whether it was the worsening noises from

Mulder’s chest or that odd dream she had about a crack in the earth opening up

and swallowing her whole. A scream or loud boom seemed to punctuate things at

one point and she jerked forward with a start, her shoeless feet making contact

with soft carpet bringing her back to the present. Where was she? …oh yes.

Ireland, her aunt’s cottage with its many eccentricities and candles. Dream

catchers and crystals catching the sun, making dancing prisms on the stucco

walls. If it had just been a dream why were her ears still ringing? Jetlag her mind

supplied, just jetlag and excitement of the last day, weeks even. Probably the

prolonged flight that she wasn’t used to and that little pocket of worry about her

partner that was never far from the surface, but there he was, safe right beside

her on the sofa.

Oh she knew it was silly to fuss and fret over the fact he had a cold but each

year, now he was getting older and the accumulative effects of more and more

injuries meant that before when he would shrug it all off with just a sniffle and a

funny throat for a day or so, now she had to keep a close eye on him when it

went to his chest, since he’d had that last bout of pneumonia the doctor in her,

and the lover felt on constant tender hooks. She rubbed her stiffened arms and

touched where he’d drooled on her, then peered carefully at his flushed cheeks.

She couldn’t help it when her hand reached out to touch his brow anymore than

she could stop herself breathing. He was burning up, heat radiating out of him

like a pyre into the air. It was when she bent over him to undo his shirt a little

more that she saw it. A little black furry face peered out from under his right arm.

Scully couldn’t help but smile. She’d often told him he had animal magnetism and

this just proved it.

“You’re okay with cats aren’t you Dana? Forgot to ask your Ma. Not allergic or

anything?” Scully turned on hearing her aunt’s voice and smiled, shaking her

head. The old lady put down another tray of steaming tea and best china. Tea

seemed a panacea for everything, just like her Mom used to say but there the

similarity between her and her aunt ended, except for perhaps the eyes.

“I’m fine with cats; I love all animals, so does Mulder. No allergies… we’re fine

thanks.” She got up to help her with the tray and cutting the cake.

“That’s good then. Seamus was always a man’s cat.” She gestured to Mulder’s

sleeping form with fondness as she set the small table with the tray. “Ned found

him in a quarry as a small kitten and brought him home. They were inseparable

….” Scully watched her aunt’s eyes cloud slightly until they resembled the grey

sky outside, but only for a few beats. “I think he misses him. The scent of a man

and the way he would pet him…. Looks like he’s found a new friend there.” Her

aunt’s eyes lingered out at the sea landscape through the windows, momentarily

lost in thought. Eyes fixed on an imaginary spot in her memory only her aunt

could see. Scully turned away and let her have her privacy. Seamus opened one

languid green eye and blinked at her watching her intently, when Mulder started

coughing.

The cat in question, sensing his warm sleeping spot might move at any minute

stretched his claws across his human cushion’s chest, jumped down and

shimmied around Scully’s legs before mewling and bolting off in the direction of

the kitchen where gorgeous smells were emanating.

Mulder stirred and didn’t wake but Scully, the doctor never far from the surface

went to check on him, placing her fingers gently on his wrist, observing how his

pulse jumped about in his throat. Oh Mulder.

“He should be in bed for sure. Looks done in. You look after that man… love like

that is a precious thing. Redwood among sprouts, think I heard the expression

once.”

“Yes, yes he is …” Scully agreed, smiling at the old woman’s expression, but her

touch never leaving Mulder wrist, wondering where she had heard that before

too.

“Aye, I put you in the big room. There’s an open hearth up there too so you will

be nice and warm. Mild for March I know but nights can be glacial.”

“I hope we’re not putting you out of your bed.”

“Eh, No, it’s a big house but since I have to be up at the crack of dawn to tend to

the animals and birds I don’t want to disturb you. I sleep down here mostly. I

also snore enough to wake the dead. I wouldn’t wish that on me worst enemy.

Like sucking porridge through a straw, it is. ” Katharine gave her a knowing wink

on her way back to the kitchen. Scully brushed Mulder’s hand with her own

before standing to follow her.

“Thanks. Oh my manners, can I help, do you need me to do anything in the

kitchen?”

“Eh, no dear. Got it covered.”

Once in the kitchen Scully reached into her pants pocket and took out her cell

phone. “I just looked at the time; I better call my mom and let her know we got

here in once piece. I never meant to sleep that long. All that heat pouring off

Mulder made me doze off. ” She frowned when it came up ‘no signal’. She put it

away again.

“Oh I’m sorry Dana,” Katharine turned to her while she stirred something on the

stove. “ I forgot to mention, you can’t get a cell phone to work for love nor

money up here. The house phone too is a hit or miss if it has a tantrum and won’t

work. One of the joys of living in the sticks. But..” she grinned as she waved her

cooking spoon in the air suddenly, “ We have the internet as you know. A

godsend here and keeps an old woman company when the nights are dark and

lonely. Why not email your Ma and let her know you’ve arrived. I’ll just go fire up

the lappy for ya. I’ll be in the study, you stir? “ She handed her niece the spoon

and wiped her hands down her apron.

“Thanks I will.” Scully took over the cooking duty and startled a little when she

heard someone behind her.

Mulder came yawning into the kitchen as Katherine vanished into another room

somewhere. Arms stretched above his head, he let his back and sore muscles

reach some semblance or normality, his spine noisily clicking into place before

yawning again. Scully thought he looked like hell, all bleary eyed and red nosed.

He grinned goofily at her. She loved him all the more then because he looked so

cute with a tuft of hair sticking up like a Peruvian guinea pig and rucked up socks

working their way off his feet. She pushed aside the urge to wet her fingers and

tamp his hair back down. Instead he slipped two warm arms around her waist as

she continued stirring the soup, rocking against her and nuzzling her neck with

almost day old stubble. She allowed her body to lean back into him, the furnace

like heat he was giving off felt good as it seeped through her skin and felt a pang

of guilt about that. She was worried still but at least he was up and about. The

proverbial walking wounded.

“Hey.”

“Hey, yourself, good sleep? You okay?”

“Aha. Sorta. Whatcha cooking me woman?”

“Mulder….. if you value your testicles…..speaking of which, is that your cell phone

or are you happy to see me?”

“Umm, guess.” Hot fingers sought the edge of her shirt and he found skin,

tickling her midriff just barely. She almost dropped the spoon.

He loved it when she squirmed.

“You’re happy to see me or that’s not your cell phone? ….Which doesn’t work

here by the way. Katherine’s just setting up her laptop so I can email mom and

let her know we got here intact. You know how she worries… especially at the

moment.” Mulder squeezed her shoulder softly and they decided it was time to

check in.

“ Ack….féin truailleathóir ,” Katherine muttered none too quietly while

viewing a website on the current US elections. Shaking her head, she clicked

on a window and Bush’s grinning countenance vanished from the screen to be

replaced by a desktop image that made Mulder’s jaw drop and Scully start to

snicker.

“ What the… Scully, please tell me that’s a figment of my fevered imagination?”

“What?”

“Um…” Mulder pointed at the screen.

“ Ahh …” Scully’s aunt’s turned to them and her face broke out in a grin that

made Mulder think of that song, ‘When Irish eyes are smiling’ . “you mean

Melvin, my E-pal? Such a lovely man, I subscribed to his Lone Gunmen

publication a while back. We got chatting, a few emails back and forth don’t ya

know and then… one things lead to another and….well we… er have a guilty

pleasure.” She intoned like she was divulging a never to be heard secret.

“Oooh,” Mulder’s hand flew to his stomach, making a noise as if in pain while his

partner’s eyes blew up like saucers.

“We play Battleships on msn messenger on Wednesday nights. Keeps a lonely

old gal company he does a treat. Very intelligent, man, so charming and

knowledgeable too. A real gentleman. He also told me about a T2 connection for

faster surfing. Got one installed last winter. Just so when the phones go out in the

gales out we get up here we still have the World Wide Web.” The old woman

enthused.

Did she really sigh at the end of that speech?

Scully stifled a giggle against her partner’s shoulder. It was surely the most goofy

and somewhat sleazy snap she had ever seen of Mulder’s height challenged

buddy, and the notion that he knew her aunt was just too funny on so many

levels. She was willing to bet they even swapped cheese steak recipes or Fro’s

asbestos chilli. She wasn’t sure at this stage whether Mulder would faint with

shock or break out into hysterics. He stood there open mouthed, chest heaving

slightly, eyes watering with the urge not to cough and his expression a curious

mix of stupefaction and mirth.

“Battleships? …..Wednesdays nights?”

Katherine gave him a coy shrug. “Aye.”

“Katherine… I think that as a serving FBI officer, it would be a grave dereliction of

my sworn duties for me not to warn you about the dangers of befriending strange

men on the internet.”

“And they don’t come much stranger than that one”, Scully quipped under her

breath as she stared at the grinning image of Frohike, giving his teeth some fresh

air, and that all too familiar leer. It was just too much. But it was when Mulder

whispered in her ear that his geeky friend was the original poster boy for

‘Leprechaun Life’ and beat Tom Cruise to the punch, that her hand flew to her

face as she suddenly lost all composure.

Katherine gave a curious glance first to Scully who was quite red in the cheeks

and beside herself, then to Mulder’s dead pan expression which threatened to

buckle any moment.

“Oh ya know him then?”

****

After dinner…

“You okay Mulder? “ Scully asked after her partner’s prolonged bout of coughing

after their meal, a big hearty stew with lamb and potatoes.

“Yeah… just tired but if I go to bed now I’ll keep you awake with my snuffling and

tossing and turning and I won’t sleep. Might get some fresh air before I turn in.

Katherine made some more tea and Scully watched her tip some more poitin into

Mulder’s mug leaving the bottle on the table. Anywhere else this would have

seemed so odd, the thought of illegal alcohol so openly displayed but here in this

wild corner of Northern Ireland amidst the warm charm and the company of her

eccentric, very, she corrected herself, relative, it all seemed so relaxed and

natural. She guessed Melissa had to get her new agey-ness from somewhere. She

wondered if her sister had ever met her aunt. She had been a free spirit and

she’d certainly travelled enough. Perhaps she could bring herself to ask…. In

later years when Melissa had been out of touch with family, little snatches of her

were very precious and Scully thought wistfully that it would be wonderful to find

a few tucked away here on the Irish coast she hadn’t yet discovered. Later.

Right now she was too concerned about Mulder; his cough seemed to worsen as

the hours ticked by. He was wheezing most of the time now. Good job she’d

packed her Mulder kit, she figured any hospital was probably some way from here

should the need arise. She’d grabbed some extra supplies at the airport drugstore

when they’d landed…just in case. Looked like it was a good call.

Her sick partner was almost dead on his feet but was currently deep in a study of

Katherine’s huge bookshelf. Literally a whole wall devoted to reading matter;

hardbacks, leather-bound rarities, everything and anything.

Scully could imagine him mentally cataloguing each book as he muttered the

titles to himself in his steel trap profiler mind. She loved watching him like this,

he was mesmerising at times. Like when they made love, every thought, every

facial expression conveyed so much about his soul. A million different nuances

crossed his features, she normally only got to see this intensity when he was

working a crime scene but tonight this was pure joy instead of the deep sorrow

she often saw sifting across his eyes. She sighed, long ago she realised that he

entranced her like no other person on earth. For the first time in a long time he

seemed happy too.

Tolkien, Von Daniken, Hawking, John Mack, Pratchett, MF LUDER, that last one

made his smile reach his eyes. Each new title he fingered or discovery, made

him evaluate and re-evaluate his wonderful host until this enigma that was

Katherine left an indelible mark on his heart. Mulder was always surprised and a

little startled when this happened as it was rare and unexpected, it gave him

hope.

It also made him curious.

What was Katherine doing up here out of the way in such a desolate spot? Scully

had mentioned that her aunt had originally come from Dublin but her uncle was

from the north. Sure it was beautiful but also lonely for an old woman all on her

own. She seemed tied to the place but something he couldn’t quite put his finger

on, like an invisible thread was holding her to this mystic land. If her literary

collection was a clue he felt a kindred spirit. So far, only he’d spotted the Bajoran

earring that dangled from the older lady’s left ear. The Vulcan salute he’d given

her by way of acknowledgement made Katherine beam from ear to ear and hug

him. He could just imagine the eye roll Scully would have made had she not been

in the bathroom at the time.

But what about Ned? His partner hadn’t been able to remember how Ned had

died, no one in her family had ever mentioned any details. It was like some

unspoken mystery, as if he’d vanished off the face of the earth…. like ….like Sam.

No he wasn’t going down that road. …… For once and it shocked even him, which

he was trying to avoid the paranormal….

He was bursting to ask questions but he had to remember this wasn’t one of his X

files investigations, this was Scully’s aunt and he had detected the tell tale signs

of some underlying heartbreak or melancholy about her that went deeper and

further back than the loss of her husband. Something he ultimately identified with

because of his own past. Empathic strands that streaked out into the ether and

latched on to other damaged souls like his as if magnetised. Like a quickening, a

wire in the blood…..

This lady was so motherly, like she lived to care for people…. Like his Scully,

came the little voice in his head.

Did they have kids? There was no mention save for the few mementos dotted

here and there around this house. A couple of things on the mantle in pride of

place that had the look of being crafted by a child’s hand. His mother had done

the same when his sister…at least until she could no longer bear to look at them,

or the things he’d made her.

He came back to the dining table and took a sip of his tea, forcing himself to try

and relax. Letting the warm potent brew ease down his throat and spread warm

fingers into his chest. Closing his eyes for a few seconds he took a deep breath

and looked up to find the object of his ruminations, and his lover gazing at him

with twin looks of concern.

“I’m okay really… the pair of you..,” he let out a small laugh and saluted them

both with his tea mug. Then he doubled over with a sudden attack of coughing

dropping the mug to the floor. Scully was at his side in an instant and guiding him

over to the couch where he slumped back against the cushions. “Okay. Perhaps

…perhaps I’ve overdone things with this cold.” His voice was a painful squeak

over his lips when it tumbled out.

“ Oh you think Mulder? That’s no cold. I want you in bed very soon.”

“Ooh Agent Scully, eager much. Going to undress me as well eh? Wanna kiss my

Blarney stone?” He whispered the last part all hot and breathy against the shell

of her ear.

“Mulder….” Exasperated, Scully flashed a look in her aunt’s direction only to meet

the older woman’s amused wink and dammit if she didn’t raise her eyebrow in

just the same way as his partner. Out gunned and outnumbered, Mulder thought

on the edge of another rib shattering cough.

Katherine chuckled and walked over to the mantle where she lit several long

white candles, an incense stick, and then carefully took a moment to select and

pick something up.

“Here Fox,” Mulder gave her a curious look as she opened her hand and pressed

the crystalline object into his palm. “Amber; good for the breathing. Just hold it

and let its energy warm you.”

He held it to his chest and unfurled his hand looking at the gold facet, turning it

over and rubbing his thumb down the hard edge. It felt tingly. His mind recalled

the dangling crystal held over Scully’s lifeless body by her older sister Melissa

almost a lifetime ago and felt a frisson of pain in the area of his heart. Still raw

after all these years.

The dog came whimpering into the living room about the same time the house

lights flickered, they settled and then stayed on. Merlin plonked himself down at

Mulder’s feet, a doleful look in his eyes.

“Wind’s picking up again. Going to be a foul night.” Katherine muttered, picking

up the broken mug and patting the Labrador on the head.

After a moment or two, whether it was the effects of the amber nugget spreading

tendrils of earth energy into his lungs or not, he was slowly starting to regain his

breath now and it evened out. Scully looked on, damp around the eyes with

unspoken apology, fingers on the pulse in his wrist with her usual trademark ‘ten

seconds and I call the paramedics’ stalker stance at his side.

Mulder wanted to kiss her stupid because he was ruining their trip but thought his

lungs might rebel again. Seamus suddenly made a surprise appearance and leapt

up on the sofa with a noisy greeting that sounded like a finger dragged down a

balloon, making them all jump. Green eyes blinked giving the human the once

over before camping down in his new male friend’s comfortable lap, purring away

like a motorbike. Mulder moved one empty hand over to stroke him, kneading his

fingers in the soft fur. Unbidden, he thought about stroking Scully…’oopse better

not go down that road either’…..the cats claws were digging in somewhere

delicate…..’um later’ he pondered. “Feeling better now.”

“You sure you’re not allergic to cats Fox?”

“No not at all. I just don’t understand it. Maybe I’m not used to the damp.”

“But it’s damp in DC Mulder.” Scully countered.

“Well maybe Irish damp is different…I dunno… I’ll be okay but we are going to do

all we said we’d do on this trip, Giant’s causeway, Bush mills, Dunluce castle and

our 7th President’s ancestral home…all of that. I’m ok. Really. Scully, life isn’t

about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

“Dancing in the rain will definitely put you in the hospital.” Sometimes he was

infuriating enough to chip her teeth … but then he gave her that puppy dog, doe

eyed look and she just melted. Reaching over she pushed a lock of damp hair out

of his eyes and he pressed a kiss to her fingers as they lay against his cheek.

He wished he had a hand to free to touch her with right then but he was addicted

to the cat’s purring vibration and it was soothing against his chest, as was the

now blood hot crystal. He was so exhausted and sitting very still and chilling

seemed like a good idea.

Scully leaned forward as if she had heard his thoughts and kissed his cheek. “This

could turn into pneumonia if we’re not careful …I don’t like this. The last time…”

“The last time it was different circumstances.. I got better….you’re a doctor, and

I’ll happily let you play doctor on me, you know you really get off on that,” He

quipped with a wicked glint in his eye. “ but I am not going be cooped up indoors

the whole time over the next few weeks either. We came all this way to Ireland

and I want to see it all with you, together. I’ll even wear an extra pair of

bootlaces if it will make you happy.. or borrow one of your aunt’s Arran sweaters

but I am not going be an invalid hanging about like a spare wiener at a bar

mitzvah.”

Katherine cleared her throat, hands on her hips, doing a pretty decent impression

of Maggie Scully. “Men! You silly bugger. Your uncle Ned used to be that mulish

too. Remember that for future reference Dana, a kick up the arse does wonders.”

Scully gave her a kilowatt smile at that notion. “Trouble is he’d like that too

much, especially if I wore my six inch heels.”

“ Oohh, You know me so well G –woman.” He flashed his teeth at her. Just as

Mulder finished talking the lights flickered and went out completely leaving their

faces shimmering in candlelight. Mulder’s eyes shot skyward. Merlin whimpered

by his feet as an odd low rumbling noise from outside could almost be felt

through the floorboards and clattered against the roof tiles which scared the cat.

It suddenly shot off of the warm nest that was Mulder’s lap. “Woah what was

that?” He yelped, nursing his chest where the cat had stabbed him with her

claws as she fled.

“ Ufasach….darn it,” Katherine, swore loudly as they all listened open mouthed to

what sounded like a sonic boom exploding over the house. The old lady got up

and shrugged into her heavy coat. “I’ll have to go get the generator started.”

“Something tells me that may be a few years too late to be Concorde cruising

over.” Mulder hauled himself to his feet, his partner with her arm around his

back as extra support. “I’ll come out with you.”

“No, no, you’ll catch your death, I’ll manage, been doing it for years. You sit

relax, keep warm.”

“Katherine, if you think I’m letting you go by yourself out there after that…..”

Mulder was adamant and he saw the old lady mulling it over for all of ten seconds

before she finally caved.

“Ah, macho pride. I’ll play. This time. Okay, but wrap up well… its freezing and

you’re already sick.”

“Mulder, I’m coming too,” Scully insisted, her eyes flashed him a look he knew

too well. One that brooked no argument. What worried her most then was that

not only was her lover’s spooky radar going off, but her’s had kicked in too.

Mulder was right. No way were they letting her aunt go out there alone.

“Do you have any idea what that was Katherine?” Mulder ventured, donning the

thick blue parka, the older lady handed him in the hall. “..because I don’t know

about you but with some of the stuff I’ve seen.., what Scully’s seen, that scores a

ten on my weird-shitometer.”

“Let’s just say that up here… you have to expect the unexpected. Here…” She

picked up two torches and handed him one. Scully did her coat up and snagged

the other one.

“I thought the house was going to crack in two. Are we on an earthquake fault

here?…. I mean the land formations and stuff by the causeway must have been

forged from tectonic disturbance at some point in history. I know there was an

earthquake in England recently … but wasn’t sure about this area.”

“No seismic activity in Antrim that I know of and I’ve been here a good few years

now, and lived in Derry and Belfast during the troubles long enough to know that

this isn’t a bomb, too well acquainted with those….but this coast,… there have

always been …well,” Katherine’s mind searched for an appropriate phrase as she

opened the back door to the wind swept courtyard. “folklore, odd lights in the

sky, strange cries from the beaches. You know the legend of Fionn mac

Cumhail?” He nodded as her words were almost snatched away as a gust wind

whirled around their heads. The air was electric, it smelled of ozone and

something Mulder couldn’t quite put his finger on. Whatever it was, the almost

fetid damp was seeping down into his chest and he could feel the air being

squeezed tight against his ribs. Was that a scream in his mind or the wind? It

was like it was mocking him, laughing at his expense. It felt…odd, making the

hair stand up on his neck.

They staggered in the buffeting wind as they all hurried across the courtyard to

one of the barns that housed the generator. Mulder sandwiched in between Scully

on one side and her aunt on the other, holding them both for dear life lest they

blow away. There was some light from the full moon but their torchlight raked

the cobbled pathway and when he flicked it up a touch he just made out a faint

green haze above the far cliff top about three miles away up the gully and what

looked like an electrical storm dying out to sea. Weird Lightning? It looked so

eerie and after all that noise he half expected to see aliens or a UFO hovering

over the bay.

“Mulder…you okay,” came his partner’s voice through the gloom.

“Yeah..” Mulder found his breath and shone the torch trying to locate the door

handle. After finding it stuck fast he managed to shoulder it open for them and

they all blustered inside. Momentarily rendered breathless by the blasts of wind

all round them, they stood still for a moment to catch their breath listening to the

wind making an unearthly evil sound like a dying creature circling all around the

barn. Almost like it had stalked them from the house over here. “The legend

about the Giant’s causeway and how it was forged is well documented. I had to

do a paper on it in college. Took a fill in class for mythology.”

“Really? Is that the giant that supposedly created the causeway by hurling rocks

at another giant in Scotland?” Scully asked, somewhat shivering in the cold as

she watched her partner get all manly with the generator.

“Yeah Scully, that’s him.” Mulder worked on the generator as he reached into his

eidetic memory for the story. “As the legend goes an Irish Giant (read alien

bounty hunter) lived on an Antrim headland and one day when going about his

daily business a Scottish Giant named Fingal began to shout insults, hurl abuse

and flip him the bird from across the channel. Quite close to here actually. Angry

Dude Finn lifted a clod of earth and threw it at the giant as a challenge, the earth

landed in the sea.

Fingal pitched a rock thrown back at Finn and shouted that Finn was lucky that he

wasn’t a strong swimmer or he would have made sure he could never fight again

or father future generations.

Well, Finn was kinda pissed off and began lifting huge clumps of earth from the

shore, throwing them so as to make a pathway for the Scottish giant to mosey on

over in person and open up a can of whup ass. However, ….however, by the time

he finished doing an extreme make over coastal edition on the crossing he hadn’t

slept for a week and so instead devised a cunning plan to fool the Scot, and

remembered not to bend down anywhere near Michael Moloney. ”

“What? ……More Mulder more!” Scully waggled the torch at him unable to hide

her laughter. Mulder grabbed it from her and stuck it under his chin making a

creepy caricature of himself. He pulled a silly face and went cross-eyed then took

a deep breath as he turned his attention back to his work and the story.

“I’m getting to that…” he grunted and he tried to force the spanner under the bolt

to free it on the generator side panel but it just wouldn’t budge. He feared it was

rusted up, probably from the perpetually damp air.

“Sooo, Finn disguised himself as Fro… I mean a baby in a cot and when his

adversary came to face him, Finn’s wife told the Giant that Finn was away at the

Consortium karaoke marathon with CGB but showed him his son sleeping in the

cradle with a big green pacifier in its mouth. The Scottish giant became

apprehensive, for if the son was so huge,…. cast that dirty thought from your

mind Scully, ..what size would the father be?

In his haste to escape, Fingal sped back along the causeway Finn had built,

tearing it up and farting as he went. He is said to have fled to a cave on Staffa

which is to this day named ‘Fingal’s Cave’ where he stayed forever , discovered

Ratboy hiding out there…and had great baby back rat rib barbecues and later

moved into a disused warehouse with two ditzy guy pals in Anacostia. Ughhhhh

ow….!”

“ You can be so cruel Mulder… but funny all the same, especially the ‘Michael

Moloney’ part. I swear though, the next time I see the guys … I’m going to get

them to spike your cheese steaks with jalapeños.”

“ Ughh, okay then… think Kersh and Skinman duking out their Mojo either side of

the Potomac with big manly bollards.” He smirked into her flashlight beam,

waggling his eyebrows, despite how tired he was.

“ Somehow that’s worse…..”

“How you doing Fox?” Katherine coughed lightly, enjoying the banter, chuckling

to herself… but feeling awkward that Fox was doing himself in while out here in

the cold when it should be her job. Why it wasn’t working she had no idea. It

normally fired up right away.

“Err it seems to be stuck,” he grunted, trying hard not to cough up a lung. “either

that or the bee pollen Scully made me try the other day robbed me of my Mojo.”

Turning to grin at her while he kicked viciously at the start handle of stubborn

prehistoric contraption.

“Mulder I have better, more inventive ways to make you lose your Mojo. Keep

that up and no Cherry Nyquil max strength night nurse for you.”

“ Oooh, hey ‘Pervy is sexy’ Scully.” This time Katherine laughed loudly and rolled

her eyes.

Another loud crack overhead and the generator shook to life in a hail of sparks

and Mulder who had still been tinkering with it, went flying, and landed in a heap

a few feet away.

“Mulder!”

“Aw Fox…Fox,”

Shocked, Scully and Katherine flew to his side. He wasn’t moving and his eyes

were shut. Scully felt his neck for a pulse. Sure enough it was there fluttering

erratically beneath her fingers and she breathed a sigh of relief, echoed by her

aunt who was rubbing Mulder’s wrist the other side of him.

Scully’s hands were a flurry of activity as she checked him all over. Feeling the

back of his head her fingers touched a knot there. It was then that he groaned

and opened one eye, peering at her. The generator purred away in the

background punctuated by creaking wood as the wind blew against the barn. He

gave her a pained lopsided grin. “Shaken but not stirred agent Scully,” he

quipped groggily.

“Mulder, thank God, you gave me such a fright.”

Coughing he tried to sit up, gingerly reaching behind his head.

“It worked, hey, I surprise myself sometimes. Woah.. that was some rush.”

“You hit your head, steady now. Take it slowly love.” Scully helped him to sit

upright, shaking a little with shock or he was just cold, she wasn’t sure which but

she knew either wasn’t good. He needed to rest and that was long overdue. “I

think this is enough fun for one night Mulder. Let’s get you back to the house.”

“So you can have your way with me?”

“You wish.”

Katherine who was looking sadly at the state of her niece’s poor partner tried to

shake off her deepening guilt and gave Fox a hand to get him up on his feet.

Every muscle in Mulder’s body shrieked in protest so much he thought he might

throw up any second. It was a slow cold journey back to the house, poor Mulder

could hardly move.

******

The Aga in the kitchen gave a welcome blast of hot air as they trouped in, Scully

and her aunt flanked the still shaken Mulder.

“Off to bed with ya young man, you earned your rest. Mind how you go now. I’ll

make you some special cocoa,” she winked. He managed a small smile but was

floundering and half asleep. His head and chest felt like hell.

“Believe me Katherine, the way I’m feeling right now you’ll get no argument from

me. Good night.”

“Goodnight Fox. I hope you sleep well.”

Mulder walked slowly up the stairs to their bedroom, wet cold and coughing up a

storm. He was a bit wobbly from his tribulations and being blasted across the

barn but he made it to the top with a grunt, Scully behind him, her hand

supporting his back as he went.

“You okay Mulder? That was a nasty crack on the head. Maybe you need to go to

the hospital.” Scully eased her partner down onto the bed and fluffed up the

pillows for him. He sank back into them carefully with a sigh.

“Scully we are a little too far out here for that to be practical. I’ll be fine as long

as I get some sleep and some of that Cherry flu crap you’re hiding in your case.

You checked my eyes and they’re okay. You can check them again later if you

like. I’m just gonna lay on this obscenely comfortable bed and crash.” With that

he sighed and closed his eyes. Little coughs making his chest rise as he

attempted to get into a more comfortable position.

“You’re not going to get out of those damp clothes first?” Scully had fished the

Cherry Nyquil out of her luggage and placed it on the bedside table.

Mulder opened one eye and peered at her. “You wanna undress me, Agent

Scully?” He leered ,which she returned with a seductive look of her own.

Back in the kitchen

“He’s asleep finally.” Scully sipped at her mug of steaming cocoa as she stood

warming herself by the Aga. Her aunt sat at the big oak kitchen table, glasses

atop her nose, leafing through a few paranormal magazines. “I’m really worried

about his cough though, his chest sounds awful. I’m scared the chilling and the

shock he got in the barn tonight will make it worse. At least he doesn’t have a

concussion.” Katherine put down her reading glasses and peered up at her niece.

“We’ll keep a close eye on him. Anything serious they might have to airlift him

from here. Couple of small Casualty…sorry ER depts to you, in Ballycastle, but

between the pair of us and that mini drug store you brought with you we should

manage. Nice shower?” Scully nodded and sat opposite her aunt at the table

wrapped in a fluffy dressing gown and hair damp from the shower.

“He fell on his feet when you came into his life, Dana…that’s for sure. You really

look after that lovely man. I sense some dark unhappy vibes about him though,

it’s in his eyes. Such sadness behind all the laughter, a visionary, a seeker of

truth, never gives up on miracles. And you love him with everything you have

too… am I right?”

“Oh Yes, with all my heart, he’s my soul mate, everything I ever wanted in

life…and he’s such a caring passionate man. A guy that literally gone to the ends

of the earth for me. Mulder is everything I could ever want. I couldn’t live without

him. He’s been through some rough times…. unhappy childhood and the loss of

his sister, Samantha…” She stopped there, unsure how much to tell her

Katherine about Mulder’s unhappy past and all the hell they had gone through

these last few years especially. But when she looked into her aunt’s eyes she saw

only deep understanding as if she had read through her thoughts. ‘She’s a wise

old duck’… her mother’s own words came back to her.

“And I bet he couldn’t last a day without you either, Dana. I see that in his eyes

and heart, which he wears on his sleeve when he gazes at you, if you hadn’t

noticed it. He’s a catch that’s for certain. My Ned was like that, everything to me.

He’s been gone a while now….” The old woman looked off sadly into space again

for a few seconds before turning back her younger companion, a small smile

nestling at the edge of her lips. “We won the Irish lotto one year ya know. Back in

the nineties.”

“You did? Wow. That’s great. A lot?…. Oh sorry I shouldn’t ask.” Scully

admonished herself.

Katharine laughed and popped her glasses back on. “No its okay, you can ask, I

don’t mind saying. Six hundred thousand pounds. Five numbers and a bonus

ball.” Scully whistled.

“You moved here about then, did you buy this place?”

“Aye, it was about twelve years ago now, Ned was working in Derry… or

Londonderry to you. I was a nurse in Belfast but I would travel back to Derry at

night. The height of the troubles at the time and we were sick of it, sick of the

religiousness of the city that caused all the troubles…bombs, checkpoints, afraid

of being shot at in a crossfire…and tired of patching up young people maimed and

desecrated by a pointless civil war…for that’s what it boiled down to. Whole

generations wasted because of this stupid feud and kids orphaned or growing up

without their fathers. Divided streets, families….just went on and on.” She

pulled a face and looked away, when she turned back to Scully she had the

beginnings of tears in her eyes…”Aye well…we had this windfall and got away

from it all, a golden opportunity to move up here, so we jumped at the chance

and brought this place for a new start. We’d always liked it here. The area calls to

us…..” Scully placed her hand over her aunt’s listening intently but at the same

time keeping an ear out for Mulder upstairs if he needed her.

“Ned and I are.. how shall I say? A tad unconventional. Most people think we

were married but we never got around to it. Surprised you too eh?” She laughed

at Scully’s raised eyebrow.

“I didn’t know.”

“Aye well. Folks on both side for the family were disapproving, we were from

different sides of fighting tracks if ya get ma drift. A wedding would have meant a

punch up somewhere down the line.. Soo, instead of trying to deal with all that

we came up here to Antrim. It’s always been a dream come true and here,” she

gestured towards the dark landscape outside the big kitchen window. “We were

free to be ourselves. Live off the land, indulge in a few pastimes that would have

raised eyebrows back home. Oh nothing mucky Dana,” she laughed at her niece’s

inscrutable expression. “If you have noticed the kind of literature collection I

have and the fact that I subscribe to the LGM’s Silver Bullet. Well that should give

you some idea of the kind of interests we have. Paranormal vigils around this

headland and anything unusual. A bit like your young man upstairs. Quite a

revelation meeting the famous and handsome Fox, Spooky Mulder and realising

he was the young man you were seeing. The one Maggie was always raving

about.” She winked.

“I think it’s safe to say Mulder noticed.“ Scully laughed getting up to grab some

more cake. “This place doesn’t disappoint either, what was that going on

tonight? If it’s not an earthquake what was it? I have never seen anything like

that. Fionn Macuill?” she ventured.

Katherine shook her head and stood up, looking out the window towards the sea.

“I don’t know and that’s the truth of it. Ned and I looked into it a great deal,

some people from Dublin University Paranormal dept came up here to investigate

with us but it turned up nothing. People have their pet theories. Old Fionn and

his Scottish giant foe, tectonic disruption and a new fault forming…even Guia’s

rebellion against global warming but its an all year round phenomena, They say

some days after the lights and the noises, that the shore looks different some

how….not just because the tide is out but its a markedly different landscape… like

a crack in the earth has somehow moved the geography around as if two giants

have been throwing rocks…yes I know. It’s not just confined to St. Patrick’s day

as some of the tourists think though. Its bums on seats in pubs round here and

sells tickets for the local attractions and general tourism, but on the other hand

its scared people off too. During the troubles there was gun running up in the hills

around here and the IRA would hide their munitions in the caves. Don’t know

what happened but something scared them away and that’s saying something.

Tough angry men and boys.”

“Go on.”

“Ned listened into a Ham radio channel one night and picked up some

transmissions. The signal was fractured at times but all he heard about was the

bodies on the beach. Grown men crying and talking about bodies, parts of bodies

and the rocks. They asked for help which was unusual because they were hiding

there, not supposed to be there, most were wanted men…but then things got

weird, there were lights in the sky, like the northern lights ya know, vibrations

and what felt like aftershocks. Winds that howled like a banshee. Yet when the

police and British military went down there a few hours later here was nothing.

No bodies, the caves had vanished and there was something else…” Katherine

eyes relived alone what she had seen all those years ago and then suddenly she

was back.

“That’s incredible.”

“The sea was red….just red…..and then sea had gone. It was gone two days and

then it returned. The sands were glowing but when we got close….there were just

millions of fish, sea creatures, just gasping for air. Strange….makes the blood

chill just thinking about it.”

Scully sat and gaped as her aunt went on with her story, watching the old

woman shiver in remembrance.

“The rocks…the Causeway… all looked….I dunno…different somehow. Like a giant

hand came down and scooped up a big part of the coast and then kicked it all

over the place like it had a tantrum or something. What happened next was even

stranger….”

“What?…what was it?”

“About a week after all that an’ the storms that followed, odd clouds and so

on…well it all came back, like it had somehow snapped back how it was.”

Scully felt the shiver right down to her marrow as she recalled another time when

something similar had occurred. The Ivory coast of Africa..while poor Mulder lay

dying back on a DC hospital as she thought of a way to try and find a cure for his

brain affliction caused by an alien artefact. … the ship. She did the math in her

head….could it have been around the same time? She didn’t say anything else but

planned to talk to Mulder about it later.

“Well Dana, perhaps if Mulder feels up to it the two of you could take a walk with

me to the beach tomorrow. Take a look at the Causeway, natural wonder of the

world ya know.”

Scully nodded…” We’d like that…as long as he’s ok. Speaking of Mulder, I better

go check on him. I’ll take him up some cocoa.”

“Eh, dear you do that and oh, I have something here that might help him feel

better. My own concoction. Another thing I like to do is wild crafting.” She

grinned going to her refrigerator. “Here,” She handed Scully a dish of something

that looked creamy, pale and thick, it gave off a neutral odour. “That should see

him right.” Scully looked at curiously.

“Oh thanks, um, do you have any bread I could put this in? I’ll take him a

sandwich up with his cocoa.” Katherine gave her sideways look and peered at

her over the rim of her glasses with an amused expression.

“What?”

The old lady shook her head and chuckled a bit before regaining her composure,

patting her niece on the shoulder at the expression on the confused young

woman’s face.

“Oh Dana… It’s not for going in bread… his chest dear, its goose grease; you

spread it on his chest.”

***

Not surprisingly Mulder was awake when she shouldered her way into the room

with tray with cocoa and dish of goose grease, which looked like sickly congealed

lard. ‘Ewe’, she thought. Scully didn’t think she had the heart to hurt her aunt’s

feelings but she just couldn’t see Mulder agreeing to submit to such a bizarre old

fashioned remedy. Then again..

“Mulder,” She called quietly, putting the tray down. She heard the dog bounding

up the stairs and into the room behind her, he jumped on the bed and looked

profoundly comfortable, if not pleased with himself.

Her lover had his back to her, dressed just in boxers, staring out of the window.

Every so often he would cough, a deep rattle shaking his whole back as he

hunched over slightly with pain hugging his arms around his ribs. It was obvious

he hadn’t heard her come in as he didn’t turn around. Mulder’s skin was like ice

when she touched him and he let out a strangled cry of shock and wobbled

slightly as he became less disorientated. She noticed his pupils were huge. What

had he been staring at? After the gale it was relatively calm outside.

“Sorry Mulder. Didn’t mean to make you jump. What are you looking at out

there? You’re freezing, get back into bed.”

“Hi,” he turned and kissed her, then pulled her to him, slipping his arms around

her. She felt the chill of his skin through her sweater even, he was so cold. “its

okay Scully… sorry, miles away. I saw some lights down by the beach, some

noises and I had a weird dream. Then I noticed you weren’t here.”

“Sorry, I was taking a shower, then went to grab a hot drink. What did you

dream about?” She asked as she pressed her cheek to his, relishing his embrace.

“I’m not sure… something about the rocks…the causeway.. a crack in the earth

and screaming… something in the sea…what?”

She couldn’t quite disguise the shudder she felt then.

“You had a fair amount of Katherine’s Irish moonshine. I’m not surprised you are

having odd dreams. With the jetlag and all your body clock is thrown out.”

He studied her face for a long time, then he smiled and his eyes shone in the

firelight of the room. If she wasn’t mistaken he looked even more disorientated

like his attention was elsewhere and he was being pulled in another direction.

Somewhere beyond that headland a few miles away. She couldn’t suppress the

shudder, that inexplicable fear that passed through her. “I brought you a hot

drink, help you sleep.”

“Ahh this is why I love you Scully,” he started to cough again, making his chest

hitch. “What’s that you got there?” he asked as he proceeded to poke a finger in

the whitish goo in the bowl on the tray and stick it in his mouth. “Ughhh…what

the…”

“Katherine’s secret recipe for a cold and flu compress.”

“What the hell is it? Mashed Flukie? ” Her partner asked, pulling a face.

“Its goose grease…you’re meant to spread it on your chest.”

“Please tell me your joking Scully.”

“Apparently it’s meant to be very effective as a poultice. I knew you’d balk but I

didn’t want to upset her, she meant well. Hey….”

Mulder pulled a face and hopped back over onto the bed, propping himself up

against the pillows. “It smells ..like… rancid feathers. Tastes even worse. Kinda

like Langly’s cooking. C’mere Scully, I can think of something much better I want

spread on all over me right now.” Before Scully could say a word he’d grabbed

hold of both her hands and pulled her over on top of him, nose to nose, which he

then kissed, then looked up at her, smoothing her hair from her face as it

dangled on his chest, grinning at her like a fool.

“Feeling better?”

“Now I am.”

“What you grinning like that for G-man? Something’s tickled you. Spill.”

“Just imagining Frohike’s face when he realises he’s having an internet romance

with your aunt of all people.” Scully tickled his chest with her fingers, and then

raised a finger to his lips. Predictably he sucked the digit into his mouth, his face

quite playful. His fever was breaking it seemed. Maybe they could enjoy some

sightseeing after all.

“Oh I dunno if I’d call it that. I think Katherine is still pining for Ned. Think Melvin

is just her gaming buddy. Though…come to think of it… I did notice the autograph

on the desktop photo. ‘Here’s looking at you sweet lady, Love Melvin’… umm you

may be onto something there Mulder. Now if you don’t stop doing that to my

finger…..”

“No intention of stopping agent Scully. Its St. Patrick’s day and I’m making a

wish.”

“You’re not even Irish,”

“No,” his fingers came up to stroke her face and let them trail over the shell of

her ear, “But you are.”

Early hours of the morning.

Mulder startled awake coughing and found sometime in the night he’d been

unceremoniously dumped on the floor. Wow the earth really had moved; pity it

wasn’t because of their lovemaking. A coy grin spread over his face as he

remembered that well enough along with sore muscles.

It took a moment to figure out where he was in the almost dark. As he got his

bearings, he happened to glance at the glow from the window and watched in

awe as a volley of multicoloured lights flew like geese across the glass. What the

hell is that? It went on for a few moments. Mulder picked himself up and checked

on Scully. She was sound asleep, face beautiful and serene in the glow from the

open fire in the room. Merlin lifted his head for all of a second from where he’d

obviously been relegated to the floor, to look at his new friend, whimpering a bit

as the lights shifted patterns across the room. The dog seemed nervous.

Mulder needed to take a leak and get a drink or something. His chest felt tight

after all that late night exercise and he was beginning to feel like crap again. Just

a quick trek downstairs and he could come back and resume snuggling up with

his nice warm lover. Just holding her made him feel better. Hopefully the Aga was

still warm and there was hot water in the ever preset kettle there, maybe get

some coffee. He might take a look outside, just a breather, he told himself.

Wasn’t going to ditch her or anything… Scully would kill him, but maybe he would

just go out the back and get some fresh air, blow some of his fuzzy headedness

away and check out those lights, whatever they were, and come back in. The

wind looked like it had dropped now and it was dry outside. Just some cloud

cover over the moon and a little mist down near the bay. It looked and felt

magical. Exhilarating even.

Dressed again in warmer clothing, he slipped quietly out of the bedroom door,

avoiding the creaky floorboard he’d discovered earlier. The dog’s head went up

when Mulder crept out of the room, he whimpered a little and crept out after his

new friend.

Mulder swallowed the last dregs of his coffee and washed up the mug in the sink,

placing it on the draining board. It was so peaceful, no one around, just the odd

slither of wind whipping across the courtyard outside. Funny, where was

Katherine? No one in the living room on the sofa, he’d checked, just a pile of

blankets still in a pile like she hadn’t slept there at all. Perhaps she’d gone to

check on the generator… but the power was on ok, he’d just used the kitchen

light.

The black lab was by the door sitting expectantly panting with his tongue out.

“Here Merlin…” he bent to stroke the dog, scratching his neck and whispering to

him about what a good boy he was, or what he thought the dog wanted to hear.

It seemed to have the desired effect as the dog went all goofy on him, licking his

hands and jumping up his legs. “Shhh.. now… wanna come for a walk with me, go

find your mom?”

Mulder threw his thick green parka on and went outside, careful to quietly close

the heavy back door. Immediately, the dog bounded off over the courtyard and

the darkness swallowed him up, although he could hear the occasional distant

bark. What a difference a few hours made. There was barely any wind at all now,

but still it was a biting cold with the fog making Mulder pull his parka hood up

over his head to keep warm. Despite the warm clothing he still felt the freezing

chill right down to the bone.

Where could his host have gone? This wasn’t a good time for an old lady to be

wandering about in this weather…it must have been the early hours of the

morning now, but then he had to backtrack; she lived here and looked after this

farm, this was probably a regular necessity to come out if the need arose, come

rain or shine. Checking on and feeding animals, or maybe the light show had

startled her and she’d got curious about it like he had. Mulder smiled as he gazed

upwards to the stars twinkling like frozen eyes in the deep indigo vista of dawn.

She was a little like him in that respect, both recognised that questing need to

investigate the curious and unexpected.

Merlin suddenly came back to his side, wagging his tail, startling him a little.

“Hey boy…you can’t find her either huh?”

He checked the shed and other outhouses, the barn…where he discovered the

still; chuckling to himself over that. Moving out towards the edge of the farm,

shivering and one hand on the dog beside him, his eyes scanned the fields ahead

and up the hill. Where there weren’t ribbons of mist he could make out some of

it in the full moon. Worried now because he couldn’t see any sign of Katherine,

he tried to get the dog to go off and find her again but it got a little more than a

yard ahead before it turned tail and ran back to him. Tell tale signs of a cough

bubbled up into Mulder’s chest, hurting his ribs and his hand flew to his mouth,

while his arms braced his ribs. For a few seconds he rode out the wave of

breathlessness which bent him almost double. It was then that he heard it. At

first he thought it was just the wind. Like a faraway song, a small childlike voice

calling even, gaining in strength and then snatched away by the wind that was

picking up now. Every sense was alive inside him as he stood up again, gasping,

feeling the ethereal song go around in his head, trickling the inside of his skull so

badly that he wanted to scratch at it. It was coming from the beach and he had

to get there. Some obsessive need took over and kept him running despite the

frantic protest of his lungs, the dog still faithfully at his heels.

Mulder headed across the fields, dodging big basalt rocks in the grass and moss

terrain so black that he could barely see them. He’d almost tripped a few times so

he slowed down, breathing heavily looking around him. The higher he climbed up

the gully that led down to the sea. Soon he wanted to tear at the sound, to snub

out that burning irritation in his mind, his ears, the dull throbbing behind his eyes

starting to affect his sight now and he was almost crawling over the rocks one

excruciating step at a time, cutting hands and knees, possessed by the high

pitched wailing banshee cry like every fibre of his being was being propelled

against his will.

Slipping against the rocks, the gully seemed to even out, flanked on either side

by huge cliffs and pendulous clumps of mist clinging to his body like icy fingers

but Mulder was now wading through a stream of near frozen water fed from the

hills behind him. Going down a few times, his left knee hit an unforgiving boulder

that made white hot explosions of pain shoot through his leg and almost made his

throw up. Saturated with sea spray, numb with cold and half mad from the

noise, he staggered dizzy and unseeing until he could go no further….

The voices wrapped around him, mocking him, twisting him in their grasp,

thundering in his head until he stumbled with a hoarse yell, plummeting over the

edge of the outcrop that plunged onto the dark causeway into nothingness, just

an unimaginable vibrating and cracking noise broke over his head as he fell,

enveloped in light, barely breathing as Scully’s face punched through the chaos

fighting for supremacy in his mind. ‘So sorry …Scully’.

A lone silhouette of a dog sat on top of the outcrop, whimpering at the crashing

sea on the rocks beyond, his distress carried away on the wind and sheeting rain.

Paws over his ears and occasionally barking at the lights that whizzed past his

line of sight.

Black rock cottage 7.13am.

Scully sat bolt upright, paralysing dread gripping her heart. Something was very

wrong she just knew it. No sleepy awakening wrapped in the warm cocoon of her

partner’s arms and his gentle languid kisses that always greeted her. She could

still smell him, his aftershave, the way his skin felt but he was physically gone

from the bed. Jolted from a dream back into cold reality, she shuffled off the bed

and threw on her clothes without bothering to change them.

Taking the stairs two at a time she was shaken when she almost knocked her

aunt flying coming in the back door as she was trying to out, an equally shocked

look plastered on her face…not just shock, Scully’s mind supplied.

Horror.

Working on the X files over the years she felt her stomach flip, she knew that

look all too well.

“Dana…” Katherine had been crying, but was now out of breath, shaking a little,

a sight that almost paralysed her.

Mulder.

Causeway cliffs

It took them a while to reach the shore but both of them had a determined

mission and pressed on through treacherous rocks and driving rain dragging a

huge medical kit, tools and Ned’s old climbing equipment along with them. The

first morning light was just a few streaks of orangey pink edging up over the

horizon. It was freezing cold. When they spotted the dog sitting dutifully in place

on the cliff top they knew they had reached the right place. He turned and

roused a little when he saw his mistress and her companion, whimpered and then

barked, as to mark where his friend had gone over the cliff so they could help

him.

“Good boy Merlin, that’s a good laddy eh.” The old Labrador looked at her

mournfully.

Katharine didn’t say much, she seemed unable somehow as if something had

pierced her heart and her soul had bled out through it. She looked utterly bereft,

this had to be bad. She had been on the shore watching the waves as she said

she often did. Scully thought she must have had a reason but didn’t press her.

Then she mentioned all her sheep were dead where they had been perfectly fine

the night before. She mentioned a disturbance, another loud sonic boom and

what looked like arching over the causeway. She’d made her way down over the

honeycombed shaped basalt structures to see if she could find the cause. Wind

and rain had driven her for shelter in a cave and thats where she had heard his

cry.

About twelve foot up an open crevice, Mulder was somehow trapped in the rocks,

moaning quietly and calling for help.

She hadn’t known it was him at first but she was in shock when she saw him

hanging upside-down, blooding dripping from somewhere on him turning the sand

and the rocks red in a slippery pool by her feet. His legs seemed to be trapped

but his arms hung free, his eyes closed.

Horrified, she ran back the house, that’s when she had noticed the sheep for the

first time, all lying on their backs, like white unmoving rocks in the grass. No time

to waste, she needed to find Dana. There was a storm coming and where Mulder

was trapped the tide was coming in. He would surely drown if they couldn’t free

him soon and his injuries looked severe. The thought that he’d been looking out

for her when this happened didn’t even bear thinking about. She was beyond

bereft, if he died…

“He was alive when I left here to fetch you Dana, alive but trapped and I think

maybe unconcious. I couldn’t reach him, there was no way. He was too far up. I

called to tell him I was coming to get you and to hang on but I don’t know if he

heard me, the tide is coming in and the surf breaking up over the rocks. I dunno

if he heard me.” She repeated, her words all spilling out in panic.

“How bad was he?” Scully had forced herself into doctor mode to offset the shock

and despair she felt right then, the immovable fist of pain in her chest. Keeping

herself together was the only way she could get him out of this.

“I don’t know dear. I swear it’s my fault, I think he must have been looking for

me. …I …should have said I go on these dawn walks… makes me feel closer to

Ned… but now look what I’ve done..” And she dissolved into tears but Scully

pulled her into a tight hug.

“Oh Katherine…it’s not your fault …it’s just what Mulder sometimes does…more

times than I care to count. Believe me, that man is so inquisitive. Something

must have drawn him outside. Something weird was going on all last night.

Cracks and bangs, lightning I think. I could only half hear it because I was so

tired and worried about him being sick on this trip. I fell asleep and Mulder must

have got up for something. We’ll get him out eh? You and me. C’mon …its okay.”

“Thank you dear.” She seemed far away for a moment before speaking again.

“Check the ropes bag; I think there are some long ones in there. Some

crampons. They were Ned’s. Don’t forget the tool belt either. You might need

that.”

Scully peered gingerly over the edge of the cliff but couldn’t see anything.

Couldn’t see her partner or any sign of him, just angry waves crashing and dark

foreboding rock that went straight down in hexagonal pillars, some hollow that

led right through to the sea like a funnel. Where was he?

“Mulder…” No answer. Only the waves and wind answered back like a mournful

cry. Like a voice… death song…. No she mustn’t think that way.

The drenched agent dumped the bag of medical equipment on the grass and went

for the other bag of ropes and stuff her aunt had brought along. Pulling out a long

one she began to loop it and doubled tie it round her waist, pulling the knots

tight. Then she clipped on the tool pouch, not caring about the sheeting rain

hitting her face or the cold, just focused on a one track mission getting to Mulder

and getting him safely out of danger.

“You’re going to be okay going down there…if you want me to…” Katherine

looked terrified, she was trying to get the dog away from the edge but Merlin

steadfastly refused to budge. His miserable whimper bit right through Scully’s

soul.

Scully looked pointedly at her. “I have to go Katherine, I’m not ageist but I think

abseiling down there in this weather, well it could be a problem for you with

arthritis. Its okay, I’ve done this before. I’ll be fine. Going to have to be, there’s

no choice. Mulder needs us. Just loop the rope and crampons over there around

that big rock and then the second rope I’m going to tie around him. I’ll tug on the

ropes and yell when I’m ready okay?” She pointed up the bank about three

meters behind them. “That looks a good a place as any and gives us leverage.”

Katherine complied; securing the rope Scully was attached to and the second one

for Mulder. She watched her niece from afar by the rock as she checked the

tautness of them both and then with increasing fear her eyes were glued to her

rain soaked, niece’s head as she vanished below the edge of the cliff. This was

no weather to be even up here in, let alone climbing down steep stacks. She

clung onto the dog for company and warmth, imploring the goddess earth to keep

her sweet niece, Dana and her lovely man alive and safe.

A few meters down Scully reached her partner at last. It was a long laborious

decent and she was out of breath and frozen to the bone but she didn’t care. She

thought she would never make it but looking at his limp hanging body now she

realized why she couldn’t see him before. Mulder was half wedged firmly, almost

impossibility between a cleft in the precipice by both legs, while the rest of his

body was hanging in mid air. It was weird, almost like his legs had been fused

into the narrow rock cleft itself, like the rocks were trying to devour him. There

was no rational way he could’ve have slipped down and ended up that way. It

defied all reasoning. Had the rocks moved? No, that was impossible. She

cantilevered the rope which lowered her down a bit more past the rest of his body

so she could reach his head. Feeling for and finding a pulse in his neck she

almost cheered, but then felt her heart sink wondering how the hell she could

release his legs. If he couldn’t be freed he would die. No doubt about that.

Alive he was but his pulse was thready, his breathing very shallow. Clothing torn

to shreds and a big gash on the back of his head was steadily dripping blood feet

below to merge with the raging sea swirl. With each crash of the waves against

the rocks it deepened her chill and her resolve, tying a second rope around his

middle as a raft of white water shot up the gap and soaked them with spray. It

was as though they were reaching up to claim them, drag them into the swirling

angry sea to their death. Looking up she noticed the storm clouds blustering

fiercely across the sky far above, heavy pendulous omens of doom from her

perspective.

“Hi Scully. ..When did …you drop in,” Mulder’s voice was weak, barely a whisper

and she felt the effort it cost him as his chest heaved against her as she held

onto him for dear life. Bless him though, she felt like crying, his sense of humor

was still intact even if his bones weren’t. There appeared no way to get his legs

loose. She swallowed, both tibia were probably broken or crushed and he must be

in incredible pain.

“Mulder…. Take it easy love, going to get you of here.”

“Good luck Scully,” he coughed a little before continuing and she worried to hear

the worsening congestion in his lungs. “ It’s a nice idea…. but I seem to be stuck

in …rocks like the meat in a …sandwich.”

“How the hell did you end up like this?”

“I don’t know,” he tried to laugh, “ But I …now know what fish bait feels like…and

its killing my back. Ahhh.”

“And your legs I bet.” She grimaced at the sight of his squashed limbs trapped in

the dark rock.

“I ..er..can’t feel my legs….. May just be because I’m fucking cold and just

hanging around. Scully, what you doing?”

His partner was pulling something out of the big pouch she had clipped to her belt

with one hand, while she hung onto him with other.

“Hammer. Going to try and break the rock and ease your legs out.” Mulder looked

sceptical for once but Scully was undeterred and started attacking the rock

around his legs. One leg was trapped up to his thigh. She had to get him out soon

before he went into shock. He was already shivering and his teeth were

constantly chattering.

Mulder stared miserably down at the ocean swirling around the bottom of the

stack, hoping like hell if by some divine intervention she did get him free he was

securely tied, trying to ignore the pain, the cold and the feeling like he had finally

used up all his nine lives. Very slowly, he tried to move his arm to latch onto

Scully’s but it was too numb with cold. Gritting his teeth he tried to tune

everything out, he was fading fast and each time Scully diligently chipped away

at the rock he felt excruciating pain lance through his lower body. There was

nothing he wanted more than to let go let everything fade to black, his breathing

was becoming more difficult with every breath but he owed to his partner to stay

awake, there was no way she could haul him up to the top if she did manage to

free him.

After several fruitless minutes Scully stopped hammering. It was no good, the

little she’d chipped away wasn’t enough to allow her to loosen his legs or even

get her fingers around and she was exhausted. She felt the first sting of tears in

her eyes as she realised it was impossible to move him.

“Scully.”

“What..?” She turned her face to the rock; she didn’t want him to see her tears or

the defeat on her face.

“Soo, no rational… theory how I did the impossible and got stuck in the rocks

Agent Scully?”

“No … It can’t happen but it has,” she sniffed. “Right now I don’t care, I just want

to get you out. My aunt is up top, she’s fine, going to help us get out and then

she’ll go for the paramedics. The power is out again at the farmhouse so we

couldn’t get through. Internet is down too this time. Whatever that was …it fritzed

everything. But right now I need to get you out of here…by any means

necessary. ”

“I know, its okay. You tried.” Mulder’s words chattered through his teeth, every

part of him trying not to look at the hacksaw she was holding in one hand. Where

had that come from? He bit his lip, afraid and proud of his strong partner that

never ceased to amaze him, when the chips were down that courage just roared,

just where she pulled it from such a small beautiful frame he could only wonder.

Right then she was a giant in his eyes.

Her eyes were full of apology as she looked at him, tears slipping down her face.

“I’m not giving up.. dammit!” Not able to nod he blinked his eyes at her, hardly

able to see for the driving rain now cascading down the funnel stack.

Mulder wished he could touch her then but he was almost spent. The wind

buffeted them both as they hung there in the ropes facing each other sadly. What

else could she do? It was impossible. Something beyond comprehension had put

him here; he still remembered that sound like a siren song scrapping against his

skull. Whatever it was had been his death knell. He didn’t want it to be Scully’s as

well. He wanted her to go back up to the top, to be safe. They were both going to

get killed if the rocks shifted again. Dangling there he had tried to work out what

happened and as weird and inexplicable as it seemed, that was the only answer

he’d come up with. This coast was steeped in lore and legend and maybe there

was something in the wrath of the two giants that shaped the Causeway on this

coast, maybe a sense memory that re-enacted every now and then and he’d been

unfortunate enough to get caught it its deadly thrall. Maybe he could open an X

file on it, if by some slim chance he could get out alive.

He turned his head slowly towards his partner only meet the despair and fear in

her eyes as she contemplated perhaps the only way she could free him alive.

Okay so be it, he thought, knowing she wouldn’t leave him down here. The

thunderclouds above were grumbling angrily across the coast, not to mention the

almost subsonic buzz he was feeling in his legs where they were jammed into the

rocks. Something was building up to happen again and he wanted like crazy to

grab at his skull as the eerie cacophony started up again. He needed her to do

whatever and get up the top again to safety.

His heart started to race and she started to cry again.

“I…I can’t do this Mulder..”

“Yes…yes you can… go for it.”

“I…. don’t know if I can..”

“Yes you must we don’t have a choice…It’s okay…I’ll be alive…I can deal with the

rest…” he gulped down his own tears and the sickening dread that gripped his

heart. “..later… Scully please.”

His partner leaned down and kissed him, awkward and strange because he was

upside down facing her. He felt her warm lips against the wet chilled skin of his

throat and he was buoyed by her courage when she whispered “Okay,” in his

ear, no more than a quiet breath.

“I love you Mulder,” her fingers smoothed the clumps of drenched hair out of his

eyes, then travelled down his cheek and wiped moisture and blood from his lips

where he must have bitten them. There was a roaring in his ears now, like bees

on the warpath and his head was the hive. An unrelenting noise that twisted into

an almost faraway lilting voice, transporting him into the abyss, pulling him down

further as he watched her eyes bled water all over him as she faded from view.

“I love …you too…” Scully made sure his body was secure in the ropes, anything

but look at his huge scared puppy eyes which slipped closed when he suddenly

went limp.

“Mulder.. no…” she cried in alarm. Panicked she hauled her self up a touch to feel

his pulse. It was still there but weakening and his lips were blue. Fumbling with

the saw, she picked a spot about an inch from where his legs were trapped, cut

away his pants there, pulled some twine from her pouch and tied it tight around

the area she planned to cut and took a deep breath, telling herself this was the

only way. It was better to have her lover alive even if disabled, as opposed to

letting him die here. He’d still be Mulder and she would care for him whatever it

took. The lesser of the two evils. He’d given her permission… that wonderful

brave love of her life….

As she placed the saw to his bruised and battered flesh a huge lightning bolt

struck the rock above startling her, and another…and another until it sounded like

an air raid going on overheard, making her drop the saw…

“No…!!!!” she shrieked at the top of her lungs as she watched it clatter off the

rocks into the swirling eddies of water below, greedily swallowing her only means

of freeing her partner from certain death. “Katherine…help…”, She yanked on the

rope as hard as she could muster to try and alert her aunt; she had other tools

up there… if only…

But she never finished that thought. A blinding flash enveloped her as she clung

fast to her partner suspended in the tangle of ropes like helpless marionettes as a

maelstrom of sounds, a thousand sirens and the deep rumbling roar and cracking

of age old rock, like the earth was furious at the gods, splitting them into a

million shards, exploding all around them and then darkness.

***

Undetermined time later.

Sand dunes near the Giants Causeway. NI.

Damp and cold to the bone Katherine sat dazed in a sandy dune. Ears still

deafened she remained there for a while, unable to think or feel, or see anything.

Her head hurt and for a few moments it was hard to remember who she was.

Getting up she thought she should be somewhere… The storm …yes the

storm…Dana, Mulder.. “Oh god… No!”

She ran, despite her gammy legs she ran, not really knowing where she was or

going but she had this voice in her head familiar and compelling so she followed

where it sent her. The air was electric like the storm had charged everything

around her heightening her energy and purpose to find them. The waves and the

wind still mocked her but she ignored them. It seemed like hours since she had

been running but her breath carried her on, wind at her heels and sloshing of wet

sand soaking her stocking clad legs. When she could go no further her steps

faltered and she stopped, gasping. There was something moving up ahead… but

sometime during …whatever this was she had lost her glasses and her vision was

blurred. It looked like… No it couldn’t be…?

“Merlin.” The dog saw her and came bounding over to her, he was wet and sandy

and wouldn’t keep still as he licked her all over, practically shaking with euphoria

at finding his mistress.

She bent down and ruffled the dog’s wet fur hugging him to her while tears

streamed down her face. Her poor niece and her man were probably dead, there

was no way they could have survived all that, it was happening again, it had

taken them too….just like Ned…just like… Corwen… and the tears flowed anew at

the thought of them..

Her only Son.

Lost here so many years ago… claimed by this coast’s wrath… She only sought to

understand… and now they had robbed her of her Dana and Mulder too. How

could she ever tell Maggie, that her only surviving child had lost her life trying to

save the man she loved…just as she had all those years ago?

Merlin started to bark, pulling away from her before she could stop him, leaving

her arms empty just holding fresh air. Katherine climbed unsteadily onto feet

made weak with grief and followed him, he was going like lighting up the beach

towards what looked like the area of the causeway… But the landscape was

different somehow; chunks of rock strewn out across the beach like discarded toy

blocks thrown by an angry child. Deep fissures in the sand opened up like greedy

mouths swallowing smaller rocks and drifting sand kicked up by the wind.

Hexagonal clusters of basalt indigenous to the famous causeway lay scattered

and tilted in the sand but when she rounded the edge of the long beach where

the cliffs had been there was nothing there….a large gaping maw of cliff had

vanished and the pillars of rock that once stood like organ pipes so tall and

impressive had gone… like something had tunnelled through it and blown it apart

on impact.

She bowed her head, tasting fresh tears, wishing it had blown her apart as well,

the guilt and grief threatened to overwhelm her but then she felt something soft

and wet against her hand. Merlin barked again and tried to pull her coat sleeve…

“No, not now boy… I’m sorry, can’t play with you now…please..” But the dog was

insistent and kept tugging before finally breaking away again, seeing that he had

his owner’s attention and scampered off up the beach a few feet ahead towards

an outcrop of rocks sticking up from the sand… no they weren’t rocks…

“Oh my ….”

The dog jumped around in excited abandon finally able to show his mistress his

find, circling and barking. Something was moving. Despite advancing age and

fatigue, Katherine ran the rest of the way.

“One, one thousand, two one thousand…three..” A breathless, Dana Scully had

been so intent performing heart massage on her partner’s lifeless body that she

never heard her aunt approach until she felt a warm hand on her back. Looking

up startled, she saw the unspoken question in the old lady’s eyes and nodded

acquiescence. Wordlessly they slipped into sync working on the badly injured

agent. Katherine doing chest compressions and her niece with her mouth fused to

her partner’s blue lips forcing life giving breath into his lungs. Swirling sand and

wind whipping around the trio as they worked with a single purpose to do the

seemingly impossible.

When he coughed finally, his body physically lurching off the sand in his, lovers

arms they both cried, Scully hugging her partner to her tightly and pressing her

lips against his forehead. “It’s okay Mulder, it’s alright…your going to be fine…we

can work out what happened later…but for now…..”

“ A chuisle mo chroí,” Katherine whispered, touching Mulder’s face as he

opened two sand crusted eyes to meet her beautiful smile and his Scully’s.

In the distance a helicopter circled and banked towards them, moving ever

closer.

Ballycastle Hospital

22nd March.

Mulder was lucky, after being rushed to hospital by an Irish navy rescue

helicopter and surgery to set both his broken legs and treatment for bronchitis,

concussion and exposure, he only spent three days in intensive care with

breathing problems and an erratic heartbeat. Scully was unhurt but shocked and

spent a night sleeping on a put you up bed near Mulder’s room, lovingly watched

over by Katherine who refused to leave the hospital until they were awake and

looking healthier. She divided her time between them.

No one knew how the emergency services were called. The generator had gone

down at the farm at the time and there was no way anyone could have known…

unless…

Scully had her own theories as to where the helicopter came from. She’d inquired

to thank those responsible for airlifting them from the beach only to find there

was no record of such a helicopter being sent out and the Irish navy couldn’t

even trace the registration code. It didn’t belong to them. All they could tell her is

that a man who wouldn’t identify himself had emailed them. Right then she could

have cared less, she had no idea what happened out there on that cold vicious

day but what she was thankful for was the fact that Mulder was alive in once

piece and that she had her aunt’s caring company.

One thing though was that when Mulder was examined in hospital it was found

that he had sea water in his lungs, and in his unconsciousness kept muttering

about mermaids. When awake he’d claimed they’d dragged him from the sea to

save him from drowning. Katherine had grinned indulgently at that, saying that

they may never know and that something mysteries were best kept that way.

Scully feared Mulder would want to go explore that beach again soon, maybe

open a new X file when he was better. Perhaps…

Black Rock Cottage 24th March.

A few days later, after Mulder had been released they returned to Katherine’s

farmhouse, the old lady making a bed up for Mulder in the conservatory that

looked the fields down to the sea.. Mulder wasn’t going to be able to travel yet for

a few weeks and in truth the old lady was only too happy to have their company

a bit longer. It seemed that Seamus and Merlin thought so too as they were both

curled up either side of Mulder as he tried to scratch at the tops of this plaster

casts.

“Damn it I wish I had a knitting needle or something. It itches.” Mulder

complained as Scully brought him a mug of hot milk. Heavy meds meant he

couldn’t have caffeine yet so tea was out. However, it didn’t stop Katherine

spiking his milk with odd drop of Poitin when her niece’s back was turned. She

winked conspiratorially at Mulder, a gesture that disturbingly reminded him of

Frohike, and handed him a plate with some more upside-down apple cake which

he was fast getting addicted to.

“Aye if ya had that you might stab yourself in your leg. I have something in my

pantry better for making you forget the itch.”

“I’ll make you forget all about the itch Mulder, if you promise to behave and quit

scratching.” Scully purred in his ear and she shifted the cat to sit beside him on

the floor by the sofa, her hand squeezing his.

“Ah you know Scully this is a bummer, me being laid up like this. We never got to

do much sightseeing. What about Skinman’s Bushmills. He’ll kill me.”

“Probably for the paperwork on your medical leave and desk duty when we get

back too.” Scully piped in to remind him.

Her aunt looked thoughtful. “Well you know if I have to be honest,” the old lady

shuffled off to the kitchen for a moment. She returned shortly with a big dark

brown bottle bearing a James’s label. “James’s is better by far a whisky, but

everyone and his chum head over to Bushmills when they come to here because

it’s well known. You tell that boss of yours that this is a much better brew. I’m

telling ya true.”

“Thanks we will but Katherine, you didn’t have to go out of your way to get that

for me.”

“Oh I didn’t… it’s an old bottle and I filled it up with a drop of hard stuff.”

Scully and Mulder exchanged amused glances. His partner swatting his hand as it

went to scratch at his casts again.

“You mean you filled it up with Poitin.”

Mulder started to laugh at Katherine’s knowing wink.

“And when he runs out he is welcome to come visit me to pick up a fresh supply.”

The old lady laughed.

Just then something came through the letter box in the hall and Scully went to

retrieve it. She came back in holding a newspaper.

“That’s odd Dana; I don’t normally get a delivery out here.”

“Really?”

“No, lets give that a once over.” She popped on her new specs and scanned the

print on the first few pages. She looked up a few moments later, a shocked

expression on her face. “Dana, you and your man might want to see this.”

Dana took the paper from her and stared at the news article from a few days ago,

sat down next to Mulder and shared it with him. It made no mention of their

lucky escape as she had expected, but instead reported that that causeway area

had suffered a disturbance, a small earthquake…the epicentre a few miles out to

sea. The photo of the beach area and the Giant’s Causeway though was very

intriguing. It had been taken the day before by the British geological society, but

…was strangely intact, none of the destruction that they had been embroiled in. It

was like it had never happened.

Mulder looked worriedly at Scully, she could see him mulling this over already,

forming a hypothesis…. Knowing he’d be itching to take a look for himself if he

thought he could get away with it. She gave him her patent stern eyebrow and he

chewed on his lip and scratched at his neck.

“It’s as though it’s rebuilt itself …that’s astonishing.”

“Aw it is that. And it’s taken its secrets inside it again. …but for how long?”

Suddenly the penny dropped. And Mulder gasped his eyes full of compassion he

looked at the old lady and watched her eyes cloud over.

“Katherine? Is this what happened to Ned?” The old Lady got up and came over

to the big window that overlooked the landscape down to the bay.

“Aye….it is. And someone you didn’t know. My only son, Corwen. A number of

years before we moved here, Corwen went on a camping trip with his school

friends. He was sixteen, old enough to be going on a weekend away with friends.

Sensible lad, good grades, loved us both like a son should.” Turning to look at

the rolling sea beyond the window, “Well … I think you can guess what happened.

We came up here, bought this place to be near him somehow…after he was lost.

It helped a lot until Ned. This coast took him too, swallowed him up in the rocks.

Gone. They never found his body but he’d been in that area walking when it all

kicked off. Went out one day and never returned. He used to look for him down

on the beach. He never did get over his death. Some say he went and drowned

because he missed his son so much but I think they suffered twin fates.”

Scully was almost in tears. “I’m sorry I never knew.”

Katherine smiled. “No one did really. Your mother was the only I one was in touch

with, having burned our bridges with our local family here, was only in the last

ten or so years since we got the internet that I came across your mother and our

family in the States. Did one of those families reunite things? But anyway, I don’t

know if I ever mentioned our boy to her. He’d been gone so long and it was too

painful. I didn’t want any pity.”

“Sorry, so sorry we never realised.” Scully replied, tucking a blanket around

Mulder as he lay down. The meds were making him sleepy again.

Katherine crossed the room to the mantelpiece and took two small objects from

the top and brought them over to him and Dana. Mulder recognised them as

something he’d perused when they’d first arrived. She handed them one each and

smiled sadly.

“I want you both to have these. Corwen loved this place; he always talked of

mermaids…. Singing to him when he was on the beaches here as a child.”

“Oh Katherine we couldn’t.” Mulder felt tears prickle at his eyes but his partner’s

were already spilling down her face. She’d been to hell and back in the last few

days, wondering if he would recover…the whole trauma and unanswered

questions. To think that her aunt had gone through this twice now.

“Thank you, so much we will treasure them always.” Mulder’s childlike wonder

and whispered reply reminded her so much of Ned. And he would have liked

Mulder. Katherine’s lips curled up in a smile.

“I’d like to think there are mermaids Fox. That they spared you from two warring

giants. When you were delirious you were saying they pulled you from the water

you know. They owed me this time. ” She pursed her lips.

Mulder shook his head, unable to pull that from his eidetic memory, but just a

fleeting flash of something tickled him in places he thought he’d forgotten. An

angelic face, a never ending song that swept over him like a feather touch and

too soon it was gone. When he came back to himself Scully was rubbing his hand.

She leaned over and kissed his and she turned his mermaid over in his hand with

such reverence, like it was speaking to him and only he could hear it. Katherine

handed them a small glass of Poitin each and took one for herself. They toasted

to the loved ones they had all lost and stared at the flames leaping up the back of

the fire and just for a moment, Mulder thought he heard that ethereal melody

again.

“I’d like to believe that this time they saved both of you.” Katherine took his

other hand, still bearing the bruising of his ordeal and held it gently.

Mulder looked at her with great affection as he started to doze off again. “I want

to believe that too.”

The end.