Category Archives: Holiday

Halloween Memories

Title: Halloween Memories

Author: Waddles52

Summary: Scully and Mulder hand out treats and share

Halloween memories.

Rating: G

Category: MSR

Disclaimer: Just for fun. Not for profit.

Archives: IMTP VS 10 Halloween challenge

Feedback: Sure. DASWaddles52@aol.com or

Waddles52@wmconnect.com

Mulder walked into the basement office just as Scully

hung up the phone, a concerned look on her face.

“Scully?” Mulder questioned. “Is everything all

right?”

“Oh, Mulder, I didn’t hear you come in. That was Mom

on the phone. One of her friends broke her leg and

she’s going to Norfolk for a few days to help out.

She’s asked us to stay at her house tomorrow night,”

Scully reported as she straightened some papers on

the desk.

“What’s so special about tomorrow night?” Mulder

inquired as he hung his coat on the back of his chair

and began rolling up his shirtsleeves.

“It’s Halloween.”

“Ah, I see. She doesn’t want the neighborhood

monsters to soap her windows and throw rotten eggs at

her door,” Mulder grinned.

“Do you blame her?”

“Oh, I don’t know, Scully. What kind of candy is she

giving out?”

Scully made a face. “She usually hands out several

varieties, and she doesn’t buy the cheap stuff if

that’s what you’re getting at.”

“Good. We wouldn’t want to disappoint the little

trick or treaters by handing out those icky, sticky

peanut butter kisses, would we?” Mulder teased.

“You’re only concerned with what kind of candy might

be left over to feast on,” Scully accused.

“No, I’m just remembering what kind of candy I liked

to receive in my trick or treat bag,” he said

wistfully.

“Mulder, if you help me finish this backlog of paper

work so that we can be there tomorrow night, I will

personally guarantee that your trick or treat bag

will contain only the best and the kisses won’t be

wrapped in black or orange paper,” Scully promised.

“Sounds like a deal to me.”

The next evening Scully unlocked the front door of

Maggie Scully’s house and began turning on the

lights. Mulder followed her in and put their

overnight bags down by the sofa.

Scully made her way into the kitchen with Mulder

following close behind. There was a note on the

kitchen table along with four bowls of candy and two

small trick or treat bags.

Scully read the note and then turned to Mulder. “Mom

left a casserole and some cider in the fridge. She

also fixed each of us a trick or treat bag,” she

nodded toward the bags, “And those four bowls of

candy are for the trick or treaters.”

Mulder had already dug into his bag and was laying

out his treats on the table. “Scully, your mom is

amazing. Tell her thanks and how did she know all of

my favorite candies?”

“Mulder, I have no idea, other than she seems to have

a sixth sense about those things. Why don’t you

change into something more comfortable while I get

dinner started? The trick or treaters start pretty

early around here.”

Scully was loading the dishwasher when the first

trick or treaters rang the doorbell. Mulder rushed

to open the door and was greeted by a group of nine

and ten year old boys dressed in an assortment of

costumes from bums to Star Wars characters.

“Trick or treat. Smell my feet. Give me something

good to eat! If you don’t, I don’t care. I’ll pull

down your underwear!” they exclaimed in unison, then

broke up in gales of laughter.

Mulder chuckled. “The more things change, the more

they stay the same.” He remembered the familiar

chant from his own childhood.

The boys crowded each other as Mulder began dropping

candy in their bags. “Hey, guys. Take it easy!

There’s plenty for everyone.”

When he finished, the boys said a quick thank you and

hurried on to the next house.

Mulder and Scully spent the next two hours handing

out candy and oohing and aahing over the many

different costumes. Only a few stragglers were left

and the candy was almost gone. They sat on the front

porch steps and watched as a girl and her younger

brother tried to catch up with their two older

siblings.

“That looks like Charlie and me,” Scully laughed.

“Really?”

“Yep. Bill and Melissa were always running ahead of

us, trying to lose us. One year it had been raining

and the grass was really wet. I was probably about

eight or nine. Charlie was getting tired and was

dragging his treat bag behind him. We finally caught

up to Bill and Melissa and went home. Charlie was

pretty surprised when he got home and discovered the

bottom of his treat bag was gone and all of his candy

had spilled out.”

“Poor guy. What happened? I’ll bet you split your

treats with him.”

“Not willingly. Mom took our bags and dumped all of

the candy into one big pile on the floor. She

divided it four ways until we all had an equal amount

of candy. Bill and Missy got into big trouble for

running off and leaving us. The next year we all

carried plastic pumpkins for our treats.”

“Your mom is pretty wise,” Mulder told her.

“She had to be with four bratty kids and Dad away at

sea most of the time. Do you have any Halloween

memories, Mulder?”

“A few. Most of the time we were stuck at some

grown-up party. They would make a big fuss over our

cute costumes, shove some candy at us and then ignore

us for the rest of the evening.”

“I’m sorry, Mulder.”

“We did get to go trick or treating every now and

then and I was a lot like Bill and Melissa. I didn’t

want my kid sister tagging along. I wanted to go out

with my pals and see what kind of mischief we could

stir up. The year I turned twelve was one of those

years. Mom wasn’t feeling well so I had to take

Samantha out. Mom made a deal with me. Just take

her out for an hour and then I could catch up with my

buddies. We started out before it was really dark.

Samantha was a fairy princess and I was Mr. Spock,

ears and all. I was in such a hurry to get it over

with that I literally drug her from house to house.

Of course, she fell and skinned her knees and spilled

her candy. I helped her up and gathered her treats.

I felt so badly about causing her to fall that I took

her home and gave her most of my candy. I even

agreed to a tea party with her dolls. I never did

catch up to my friends. If I’d known that was to be

our last Halloween . . .”

“Mulder, stop,” Scully ordered. “Let me ask you

something. Did Samantha enjoy herself?”

“Eventually, after I got her knees bandaged and

suffered through that tea party she said it was her

best Halloween ever.”

“Did you enjoy yourself?”

“Yeah. I guess I did. Samantha was really pretty in

her fairy princess costume and the tea party wasn’t

that bad. I guess it was our best Halloween ever.”

“Then you have a wonderful memory to treasure.”

“Yes, I do. Thank you for helping me to realize

that, Scully.”

She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “That’s

one Halloween kiss that I owe you. I’m going to warm

up some of that cider. Why don’t you start a fire

and we can sit in front of it with our cider and you

can collect a few more of those kisses that I owe

you,” Scully suggested.

“You don’t have to tell me twice,” Mulder answered as

he helped Scully to her feet.

They went into the house. Scully headed for the

kitchen while Mulder began putting logs in the

fireplace. He worked with a big smile on his face as

he thought of the new Halloween memories he and

Scully would make tonight.

The End

Encounter with the Undead

Encounter with the Undead

By Mary Kleinsmith (Buc252@aol.com)

Rating: PG

Category: Halloween Challenge. Written for VS10 Halloween

Special event

Keywords: MSR, Angst, a touch of MT

Spoilers: Bad Blood

Archive: Two weeks exclusively on VS9, then ATF, Ephemeral

and anywhere else. Just keep my name attached.

Disclaimer: Mulder, Scully and all the others belong to

Chris Carter, 1013 and Fox. No copyright infringement

intended.

Summary: An acquaintance from the past comes back to haunt

Mulder and threaten his happiness with Scully. (No, it’s

not a ghost!)

Feedback: It would be much appreciated!

Authors’ Notes: I chose, for personal reasons, not to

participate in a full story in this year’s VS10, despite

having a good experience last year with Dreamweaver. It was

not an easy decision, or entered into lightly, but for the

non-authors out there, I can tell you that writing a VS

episode is not nearly as easy as you might think. I’d

decided that, for this year at least, I’d be on the

sidelines. And then Vickie asked me about the Halloween

Special. During our chat, an idea – this idea – bloomed,

and when Susan added her voice to Vickie’s, I finally

decided that this is what I was meant to do. So here it is,

folks. I hope you like it!

Encounter with the Undead

By Mary Kleinsmith (Buc252@aol.com)

It never failed. The worst case in the world, taking place

during the worst week of his life . . . and now he had to

look forward to answering the door all night, giving candy

to kids he didn’t know. Kids who could be his own . . . if

he’d just get off his ass and marry Scully. It didn’t

matter that she couldn’t birth them herself; if they

couldn’t have them, they could adopt them. But they’d be

THEIRS.

Okay, this is too depressing. The big X-File had ended in a

foot chase through a garbage dump, and ended in his

tackling the very human, very normal suspect in the biggest

pile of waste he’d ever seen. Heck, anybody had ever seen.

He was disgusting, stinking so bad he didn’t dare sit down

on the sofa to rest his tired muscles without cleaning up

first.

Ahhhh, cleaning up. A hot shower . . . real soap, not those

horridly tiny little bars motel rooms gave you . . . a

shower head that sprayed OVER his head instead of into his

neck. It sounded like heaven.

He wasn’t sure if his suit was salvageable, but he’d give

the dry cleaners a chance, he thought as he shed each piece

and deposited them into a garbage bag. At least, if they

failed, it was ready for disposal. This job cost him so

much money sometimes.

Climbing into the shower, he wondered what Scully had

planned for tonight. She’d made it clear that there was no

way she was staying at the office past quitting time. Maybe

it had been the smell. . . or maybe it was because she was

tired of doing reports.

Or maybe, she had something to do – without him, his inner

voice of self-doubt popped up. It rarely did anymore, but

every once in awhile, he wondered how he could ever have

gotten so lucky.

Lathering his shampoo into a thick foam, he scrubbed his

hair, doing his best to scrub all thought from his head.

There was too much up there. It only helped partly, but he

felt a level of peacefulness as he stood under the shower

head once again to rinse.

He nearly lost his balance, so lulled by the shower was he,

when his cell phone rang. He’d set it on the vanity, as was

his habit; Scully had been right when she said that he

couldn’t do without the thing, but perhaps was not aware of

the full truth. He couldn’t do without it simply because

it was his connection to her – and she was something else

he absolutely could not do without.

Shaking the water from his hair and trying to tell himself

he wasn’t acting like a Retriever, he stepped from the

shower in time to grab the phone before it clicked to voice

mail.

“Mulder.”

“Agent Mulder, there’s something you need to see. Come to

354 Genesee Street in Georgetown, the Bourbon Street Club.”

“Who is this?” Mulder asked. The voice didn’t sound

familiar; it was a stranger or disguised in some way, he

deduced.

“Just someone looking out for your best interests. Come,

and hurry.”

There was a click as the line disconnected before he could

get another word in edgewise.

Now he was faced with a dilemma. Follow the instructions,

or stay home. It could be important, but it also could be a

trap, or, worse, a complete waste of time. A Halloween

practical joke. But since the alternative was to stay home,

trying to explain to the neighbor kids who knocked on the

door that he hadn’t bought enough – okay, any really –

treats to go around because he’d been chasing after little

gray men. A story like that might actually make them forget

about candy, he thought.

Dressing quickly, he chose to forego his regular gun and

holster, which would be too conspicuous on his jeans, but

strapped on his ankle holster and smaller gun. He doubted

he’d need it, but he wanted to feel like he had some kind

of back up.

Backup. Maybe he should call Scully. If he got himself hurt

again because he’d failed to tell her what he was doing,

she’d be pissed as hell with him. She’d been pretty clear

that she had plans, but called her apartment anyway,

getting the answering machine and leaving a message as to

where he was going and why. If he disappeared, at least

she’d know in the morning a bit of what had happened. A

place to start, so to speak.

Grabbing his keys, he made sure the door was locked before

sprinting to his car. He knew where Genesee Street was – it

wasn’t that far from Scully’s place – but he was unfamiliar

with club itself. He wondered if it would have a New

Orleans flavor, given the name, and what kind of music

they’d play.

Finding a parking space was easier than he expected, but

maybe club hopping wasn’t something people did on

Halloween. For a psychologist, he realized he was out of

touch with the human condition on the socialization issues

of the current day. Scully could probably tell him –

she was much more socially adept than he was and he knew

it. It was why they made a great team; what one was

lacking, the other supplied.

There was a cover charge, and Mulder paid it before

slipping into the club and taking a seat at an empty table.

He wasn’t sure what to expect; whether the person who

called would approach him, whether the thing he was

supposed to see would be obvious, or if he’d have to go

looking for it. A waitress with an immodest amount of

cleavage showing approached and took his order. He opted

for soda, wanting to keep a clear head until he knew what

was going on.

Batting her eyes at him, she went off to fetch his drink,

and he took the opportunity to scan the room. A few people

sat at the bar, mostly singles although one or two couples

were also there. They appeared to have only one goal for

the night, and that was to lose themselves in the oblivion

of alcohol. Away from the bar, couples occupied tables

surrounding a small dance floor, most appearing to have not

dancing on their minds, but copulation. They kissed and

touched in a way that would be a borderline arrestible

offense if they were outside.

On the dance floor, a very few couples moved to a slow,

steady rhythm from a source he couldn’t identify, seeming

to be trying to get so close that they inhabited the same

space. Most were dressed in casual clothes, jeans, oxford

shirts, nothing that would make them stand out in a

crowd. Then, his eyes were drawn to a couple, her red hair

standing out in stark contrast to the rest of the room and

his face buried against her neck. Their bodies were barely

moving, but necks and heads moved, nuzzled, stretched. And

the feminine form looked familiar . . .

Mulder gasped as he realized this was what he was there to

see. It was Scully, with another man. He felt a surge of

jealousy towards the man with whom she was dancing. He had

prior claim on her, he thought angrily. As if beckoned by

Mulder’s own thoughts, the man raised his brunet head from

her neck to meet his eyes. Glowing yellowish green, they

reached out to him, and he realized that this was no

stranger.

The man whispered in Scully’s ear, and they turned as one

to approach his table.

“Mulder, what are you doing here?” she asked, but he almost

missed it. He was distracted by her – or more pointedly, by

the fact that there was blood on her neck.

“Can’t . . . can’t a guy . . . umm . . . have a drink

anymore?” he responded, and realized that he had little

excuse. Still, finding her here, with him, was more than a

little disturbing.

“Of course, Agent Mulder,” came in a thick Texan accent

through buck teeth. “It’s just one doozy of a coincidence.”

“Of course, Sheriff Hartwell,” Mulder agreed, trying to

figure what his next move should be. When Hartwell nodded

his own agreement, there was blood on his neck as well.

Scully and Mulder exchanged a look that both understood,

and Scully turned to Hartwell.

“Would you get me another drink?” she asked her ‘date’ with

a lascivious grin. “Something with alcohol this time, I

think.” And she winked at him. She actually winked at him!

Hartwell nodded and went on his way, leaving them alone.

Mulder wasn’t going to waste the little time he knew

they had.

“Scully, what the hell are you doing with him? You know

what he is!”

“Yes, I know what he is. He’s a kind, gallant man who

treats me with courtesy and respect. Anything else is just

small potatoes.”

“But, Scully . . .”

“I was going to wait until tomorrow to tell you, Mulder,

but I’ll be tendering my resignation. Lucius has asked me

to go back to Texas with him, and I’ve said yes.”

“Scully, you can’t!” Mulder said pleadingly. This couldn’t

be happening, but it was.

“He gives me everything I need, Mulder. Can’t you

understand that?”

“Oh, and does that include this?” he snapped, standing to

pull the collar away from her neck where the red liquid was

still wet.

“Yes, I give him what he needs, too. It’s a wonderful

relationship.”

“And what does he give you, Scully? I can give you all

that, all you had to do was ask. I’d have done it all.”

“I doubt you really know what you’re saying, Mulder,” she

grinned.

“Yes, I do. Did you let him do it? Has he made you like

them?”

“Does it matter?” she asked.

“Yes, it matters. Of course it matters.”

“No, it doesn’t. Because if he didn’t, then I’m going of my

own free will, and if he did, then I’m going to be with my

own kind. Either way, you have to face it. You can’t stop

me.”

Just then, Hartwell returned with three glasses of blood-

red wine. At least, he hoped it was wine. Handing one to

Scully, then to Mulder, he slipped the freed hand around

her waist.

“How about I propose a toast. To our lives. May we all have

a glorious future.” Scully and Hartwell clinked their

glasses intimately before turning to Mulder.

“I’m sorry if I don’t see anything to be so happy about,”

he said grimly.

“Then come with us,” Scully said unexpectedly, and both men

looked at her, startled. “You can be happy there, Mulder.

They can make it better for you.”

“But what about the X-Files? My sister? Our work?”

“We can . . . they can . . . help you to forget. You can be

happy.”

“Scully, I’ll never be happy. Either here or in Texas, as

long as I have to know that you’re with him.” His voice

dripped venom on the pronoun.

“He’s a good man, Mulder.”

“I’d beg to differ, but that’s not the point. It’s not that

you’re with him,” Mulder said in anger and desperation.

“It’s that you’re not with ME! I thought that we had

something together.”

“And we can have it again, it’ll just be a little

different. Did you know that Lucius’s people don’t practice

monogamy? You can still have me.”

“But he would have you, too. No, I don’t think so,” he

gritted through clenched teeth.

“Well,” she said, setting down her wine glass. “If you

change your mind, you just have to say the word.”

“I won’t. I have at LEAST that much self respect.”

“That’s your loss,” she said sadly. “We need to go. Lucius

only feels comfortable in the city on Halloween. We need to

be out of town by midnight. A van will be moving my

apartment. If there’s anything of yours left there, just

let them know – I’ve told them to give you carte blanche to

take whatever you want. I’d planned to call you in the

morning, but I’m actually glad it happened this way. You

need to understand that this is what I want. Goodbye,

Mulder. I will miss you, but I can’t let that change my

mind.”

She turned to go, Hartwell taking up his place beside her.

They moved quickly, and were almost to the door when he

realized she really was leaving. And not just leaving . . .

leaving to become one of the famed undead, if she wasn’t

already.

“Scully, no! Don’t go!” He stood, beginning to go after

her, but finding himself impeded by a sudden crowd.

“Scully, I love you! You can’t leave me!”

The crowd pushed in on him, crushed him until he couldn’t

move or breath. And then the darkness closed in on him. For

just a moment, he wondered if those around him were of the

‘clan’ as well, and if they’d change him into one of them,

but then the blackness took over entirely.

**

When he woke up, it was to the sound of an engine humming.

He realized that he was lying on the back seat of a car,

with a familiar brunet head in the driver’s seat.

“What the hell is going on, Hartwell?” he asked angrily. He

noticed now that his hands were tied securely behind his

back, and they’d fallen asleep from the lack of

circulation.

“We’re going to Texas, Agent Mulder. I know you said you

didn’t want to go, but, you see, I’ve promised Dana to do

whatever it takes to make her happy, and that means you.

She can’t be happy without you, so we’re all going home.”

He laughed, a bitter sound he’d never before heard from

the Sheriff. “Can’t say I’m crazy about the idea myself,

but I’m gonna give Dana what she wants.”

“You can’t force me to stay against my will. I’ll escape

eventually.”

“We don’t have to keep you forever. Just until you can be

brought over. Like Dana, you’ll come around as soon as

you’ve undergone the change. Then we’ll settle in like one

big happy family.”

“I’ll be missed.”

“Please, Agent Mulder. I know at least enough about you to

know otherwise. The only person who’d miss you is Dana.

Your boss, maybe, but Dana will give him an appropriate

excuse along with your resignation. You’ll be happy to be

with us soon enough.”

“So you’re just going to change me. I don’t get any say in

the matter.”

“I’m afraid so. See, I want Dana, and she wants you. It’s

the only way I get to keep her.”

“She’s not a possession, you idiot. She’s a woman, with her

own life and her own choices.”

“And she’s choosing to go, too. You may as well accept at

least that.” His confrontational tone turned

conversational. “You should actually feel quite honored,

Agent Mulder. Halloween night is the only day of the year

that we can change a human into one of our own, despite all

the movies and legends.”

“So why haven’t I been changed yet?”

“Only someone of the opposite sex can change another. Dana

will do you, but she doesn’t quite know you’re coming yet.”

“I’m a surprise?!”

“You could say that. She’s going to be so happy to see you.

We really did try leaving you behind, but she was

inconsolable.” He frowned at Mulder’s laugh. “Even vampires

have feelings, Agent Mulder.”

“Forgive me if I’m having my doubts. So you changed her?”

“Oh, that was done well before we ran into you tonight. I

was lucky – caught her on her way home from the office. She

knew we were meant to be together.”

“The two of you, or the three of us?” he asked bitterly.

“Believe me, sharing Dana was not my first choice either.

But I’d rather have part of her than none of her. How about

you, Agent Mulder? How important is she to you?”

“She’s everything to me. But she’s not who she was. She’s

not my Scully anymore. You’ve turned her into something

else.”

“She is different, that’s true. But I still somehow find it

hard to believe that you won’t gladly come to her when she

calls. You won’t be able to say no, any more than she was

able to say no to me.”

“So we’re all going to settle down and be one happy family?

You’ve got to be kidding me. . .”

“There is no kidding here, Mulder. I’m deadly serious,”

Hartwell said, concentrating his eyes back on the road.

“Dana’s gone ahead to secure a place for us – me and her,

she thinks – at our new camp.”

“Where are we going?”

“I think I’m going to wait to tell you that until you’ve

had a . . . change of heart. It’s coming, and the sooner

you can accept that, the better. Now you may as well rest

up. It may be the last chance you get,” he laughed.

With those words, the blackness swarmed in again over

Mulder, and he felt himself drifting. Did Hartwell do it,

or was his own body betraying him? He wasn’t sure, but

didn’t get to dwell on it long before oblivion claimed him.

**

He awoke again in what appeared to be a large barn. Nothing

fancy, no livestock or hay bales, it appeared to be more of

a meeting place. As if to confirm this, his attention was

drawn to a looming figure above him. It wasn’t

exceptionally tall, he didn’t think, but the impression

came from the fact, he realized, that he was lying on the

floor. Above him, the man was speaking.

“Friends, brethren, we gather here today to greet two new

members of our society, and to witness the bringing over of

one of them.”

Mulder looked in the direction Hartwell faced to see a

crowd gathered there, all of them with glowing, green eyes.

The undead, a voice in his head told him. Pinching himself,

he tried to awaken from the nightmare, but it seemed this

was only too real.

Then he saw her, coming through the crowd toward him, her

eyes glowing as green as any of the others. It was so

distracting that he wasn’t hearing what Hartwell was saying

about her. He watched as she stepped on the slightly raised

platform on which he now realized he was lying and took the

Sheriff’s hand, their fingers interlacing. Mulder only

heard the last thing he said.

“Former enemies are now friends. Let’s all welcome Dana,”

and he turned to look at Mulder, “and Fox. Let us all

celebrate, and at five minutes before the witching hour, we

will gather again to watch as Dana makes Fox one of our

own.”

Unlikely cheers went up all around, and suddenly there was

music. This was not happening, Mulder told himself again.

Not only was he going to be turned into one of the undead,

now he wasn’t even going to get to enjoy the party. He

wasn’t stupid – he knew there was no way he’d get the

chance to escape. They’d keep him tied up, right where he

was, until the time came.

Would it really be so bad, though? He thought

philosophically. It could be a lot worse than spending

eternity with Scully . . .

He had a crude awakening. “And him,” he whispered, watching

Scully and Hartwell dancing so close, they were practically

in the same skin.

The dancing grew faster, more erotic, and the entire

company seemed to be lost in a carnal haze. The room began

to spin, his blurry vision showing him a vague picture of

Scully, sandwiched between the wall and Hartwell’s grinding

hips. He wanted to run, to move, to stop them . . .

Anything, but lie here on the floor waiting for the end of

the last day of his life. Because despite what Sheriff

Hartwell said, he couldn’t believe that he would be the

same person once Scully did to him what had been done to

her.

I mean, would the REAL Scully do what she was doing now?

And if she did, wouldn’t she do it with me?

It was his last thought as he drifted off once again.

The next thing of which he was aware was something pressing

against his lips. Something soft, and pliable. Something

not warm, and it felt unnatural.

He opened his eyes to find them affixed to a pair of

glowing green ones that somehow should have been blue. A

deep, resonating voice, yet familiar, spoke inside his

head.

“It’s our time, Mulder. Everybody is gathered.”

“Gathered?”

“Yes. Men are brought into the clan in front of its

members,” she said in a deep, eerie voice. “And once it’s

done, you,” she kisses me, unbelievably, on the lips, “and

I,” another kiss, “and Lucius can all go home.” I know she

sees my thoughts in my eyes, or maybe she’s reading my

mind. “No, not Washington. The home we will share.

Together. Forever.”

He hears he crowd pressing in, their footsteps shuffling

closer, but his eyes are mesmerized by hers and he can’t

look away. Her face draws closer, and just when he thinks

she’s going to kiss him again, her mouth takes a detour. To

his neck.

He shivers, expecting to feel the piercing of teeth, and

then it occurs to him. These vampires don’t have fangs –

how does she intend to . . .

There’s a fine, sliding sensation a fraction of a second

before the pain kicks in. Dammit, she actually cut me with

something, he realizes. He feels a solid wetness, her

tongue, slide over the slice before her lips settle around

it.

“Scully, don’t do this,” he whispers, surprising himself

that he’s not shouting it at the top of his lungs. She

doesn’t move away, and the pressure becomes stronger as he

become more fearful. Finally, he finds his voice.

“Scully, stop!” But she begins to suck, and he’s helpless

to stop her.

“SCULLY! STOP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

**

“Mulder. Sweetheart, are you okay?”

Before he opened his eyes, he knew it was her voice. She’d

come back to him! Or they’d taken him to her. He tried to

raise the lids, but they didn’t seem to want to cooperate.

“Mulder, c’mon. Wake up and show me you’re okay.”

Finally, he was able to focus on her face. It was scrubbed

clean, all traces of the dark makeup she’d worn at the club

removed, and her hair was pulled up into a neat ponytail.

“You came back,” he whispered as he blinked slowly. “Thank

God.”

“I just went home, Mulder,” she said, taking his hand in

her own. “I guess I didn’t realize you needed a chaperone.

Can you get up?”

Looking around, he realized several things at once. He was

home, he was in his shower, his head was killing him . . .

and he was naked. Not that she hadn’t seen it before lots

of times, but . . .

“Scully, what happened?” he asked as she pulled him to his

feet. He followed meekly. “You said you were leaving me.

Please tell me you changed your mind!” His head was still a

bit foggy, but he remembered that part clearly.

“Mulder, I only went as far as my apartment, and I never

said I was leaving you. I’ll NEVER leave you, my love.” She

settled his wet body on the bed, uncaring that the blanket

was getting soaked. “As for what happened, I was at home,

getting ready for the trick-or-treaters when your neighbor,

Mrs. Lopez, called. She said she heard a bang from inside

your apartment, but you wouldn’t come to the door, so she

worried you were in trouble. I came right over, and just as

I got inside, I heard you screaming for me.”

“I screamed for you . . .” Mulder said, dazedly.

“Yes. You were begging me not to go, and you said you loved

me.”

“Well, I do.”

“I know, and I love you, too. I think it’s pretty simple to

figure out what happened. You fell in the shower, hit your

head, and ended up having some kind of traumatic nightmare.

What did you dream, Mulder?”

He shivered a little, unsure of whether it was the cold on

his bare skin or the memories that were causing it. “You

were quitting. Leaving to go back to Texas with Sheriff

Hartwell. He was turning you into one of them, Scully.” The

fear was back in his voice. “You said he could give you all

the things I couldn’t.”

“He could never give me what you do, Mulder,” she said as

she gently dried his hair with a towel. “And, for the

record, I haven’t thought of him once since we resolved

that case. There’s no need to be jealous.”

Suddenly, Mulder was offended. “I wasn’t jealous. I just .

. .” She raised an eyebrow at him, and he realized,

happily, that there was no denying it. “Okay, so I was

jealous. Thank God it was just a dream.”

“You must have conked yourself good,” Scully said, feeling

the lump on his head. “I’ll tell you what. Pack a bag with

your best Halloween-ish videos, because you’re spending the

night at my place. We’ll greet trick-or-treaters, watch

scary movies and pop popcorn. Then, later on, if you’re

feeling better, I’ll show you a few tricks of my own.” She

grinned at him wickedly, and he felt his heart race, the

blood rushing through his body.

“Mmmm . . .” he mumbled, leaning his head into her hands.

“Sounds good.”

“Okay, then. Get some clothes on and we’re out of here.”

~~~~

end

A Christmas Peril

cover

TITLE: A Christmas Peril

AUTHOR: Kestabrook

EMAIL: Kestabrook@yahoo.com

RATING: PG

CONTENT: MSR, A

SUMMARY: Mulder and Scully’s plans for a Christmas

getaway suffer a setback, and Mulder’s life hangs in

the balance.

COMMENTS: For Courtney, and my Crystal Ship sisters

who made a difficult year easier. Mega thanks to

Laura, Michelle, FabulousMonster, Judie, and Catbird

for great friendship and super beta work. Also,

thanks to Charles Dickens for voicing no objection to

my borrowing his idea.

SPECIAL THANKS: to Humbuggie for loaning me her

character, Jack, and to Kimpa for her magnificent

artwork.

FEEDBACK: If positive or helpful, I love it!

DISTRIBUTION: Archive, if desired, after 9-21-01.

DISCLAIMER: X-Files characters are 1013’s and Chris

Carter’s. All others are mine.

SPOILERS: VS 9 canon. Brief mentions of Jack Campbell

from Humbuggie’s fine “Matrix,” and Clarissa McKinnie

from my VS 8 story, “Shady Rest.”

WEBSITE: A new one! Please visit:

http://www.geocities.com/kestabrook/Kestories1.html

A Christmas Peril

by Kestabrook

TEASER

11:55 P.M., December 24, 2001

Outside Springville, NY

“Mulder? Where are you?”

He smiled, his lips grazing the cell phone. “Hey,

Scully, good to hear your voice. Merry Christmas, a

few minutes early.” Mulder’s elbow rested on the car

door as he pictured her on the motel bed, her face

near her own phone. “I’m on the way. It’s snowing.

Did you notice?”

“*Notice*? It’s done nothing but snow, Mulder.”

“We’re in ski country. You have to expect this.”

“I assume that means you’re somewhere in western New

York, then. Finally.”

“Yeah. Almost to you…I think.” He squinted into the

blinding blanket of snow slamming into the

windshield.

“Why do I not believe that? Could you perhaps have

called me before this? It’s been hours, Mulder. I

would have called you, but I was afraid I’d find you

were still in New York City. Anyway, the last time I

heard from you, you were still in DC.”

“I was busy all day, Scully. After the flight to New

York City this morning, I was either at the precinct

or at Jack’s apartment. I wanted to get finished as

quickly as possible. I told you I’d call when I was

on my way. I needed to close out things for Jack.”

Jack Campbell, his old buddy from VCS who had left

the FBI and become a New York City cop, had been shot

to death not two weeks previous–a fact which made

Mulder grip the steering wheel tighter as grief

threatened his composure. “You aren’t angry with me,

are you?”

“Maybe just a little. Here I am, only five minutes

from Christmas, sitting alone in a motel in the

middle of nowhere. I’ve driven in snow, and I’ve

looked out at nothing but snow. I’ve been here

waiting for you–over ten hours now–to show up for a

*ski* vacation–though neither of us skis. Why would

I be angry? Just because you and I could have been

warm and cozy at my mother’s house, waiting to

celebrate the holiday with my family? Next year, if

your email friend, Clarissa, suggests a vacation

spot, get my okay before you make plans.”

“Bah, humbug, Scully.” Mulder winced from her rant.

“Bah, humbuggie, Mulder.”

“I haven’t exactly had a great day,” he told her.

“Getting a flight out of New York wasn’t easy, and

once I did, we spent over three hours on the ground

in Rochester. Buffalo couldn’t clear the runways fast

enough in this blizzard. The flight attendants showed

‘A Christmas Carol’ twice–only movie they had

onboard. We finally took a bus to Buffalo, and by

that time, the only rental car left was a 1980 Ford

Fiesta at ‘Rent a Lemon’; I might as well be in a

shoebox, as tiny as this thing is. My head hits the

roof if I yawn.”

“Too bad *you* don’t have little legs,” she replied.

“You know, Mulder, the inn you sent me to was fully

booked. I spent the day finding a motel with a

vacancy.”

“But we had reservations–”

“My plane from DC to Buffalo was late, and it took me

hours to get a rental car, then find Glenwood after I

left the airport. Driving in this storm took hours.

By the time I got to the inn, our reservations had

been forfeited.”

“Scully, I–”

“And, Mulder, you’ve dumped me during cases in the

past; I’ve forgiven you for taking off with little or

no explanation. But this morning when you dumped

yourself from our flight and let me go on ahead, I

was really shocked. I guess I wonder at your

priorities. You know, you being able to get on

flights whenever you want has to be one of the

biggest Christmas miracles yet.”

“Scully, I’m sorry for the last-minute notice, but I

needed to go to New York and finish taking care of

Jack’s things.” He swallowed hard as he remembered

the emptiness of his dead friend’s apartment.

“I realize that, but it could have waited, couldn’t

it? I mean, this was supposed to be a getaway for the

two of us, Mulder.”

“I *am* sorry, Scully.” Mulder slowed the car’s

speed. He could no longer tell the difference between

road and snowbank. “The NYPD *did* call me last

night, asking if I’d help finalize Jack’s case

paperwork; some of them are going on vacation

starting tomorrow, and they wanted to get it done.

And I wanted to pack up Jack’s apartment and get that

off my mind before our time together. I figured doing

both Jack-related things the same day would be

preferable.” He smiled. “I promise that when I get

there, I’ll make it all up to you.” He hoped that the

passionate scenes he imagined might fill her mind,

too. “Where are you?”

She heaved a sigh. “I ended up in a town which is

somewhat southwest of Glenwood and your Kissing

Bridge–what a romantic title, by the way, for

nothing but a ski slope. Springville is the town, and

I’m in Room 8 of a motel called ‘The Palace’ which is

about as grungy as cheap motels come.”

“Springville? The Palace?” Mulder scowled. “I was

there ten minutes ago! I took 219 ’cause 400 was

closed. I’m on the other side of Springville–”

“Better turn around then. If you’d called before you

left Buffalo, you could be in this room right now,”

she murmured. “By the way, Mulder, you do realize

that it’s illegal in this state to talk on your cell

phone while driving, don’t you?”

“I’ll hide it if I see any cops.” His smile dwindled

to a frown. “Can’t believe I just passed you. I got

lost, and a guy at a gas station gave me directions.

That gas station was across from your motel.” He got

no response. “I’m looking for a place to turn around.

I should be there in fifteen minutes. There’s a good

two feet of snow out here; it’s not easy finding a

driveway that’s been shoveled. The plows must have

been out all day, trying to keep up.”

“Tell me about it. Those directions you gave me were

worthless–at least in this storm. Too many roads

were closed.”

“Scully?” With the difficult drive and long hours of

travel, he felt too fatigued to discuss much more in

the car. “I’m sorry. I thought it would be better if

you went ahead. And I should have called you sooner.

I know I’ve screwed up.”

“And it was all so avoidable. We could have waited

until after Christmas to come here.”

Mulder scowled. “You could have stayed at your

mother’s if you’d really preferred that.”

“*You* were invited, too.”

“It wouldn’t have been the same as this. Besides,

your brother’s animosity doesn’t fill me with the

Christmas spirit.”

“Yeah, as if you know Christmas spirit.” Scully’s

tone was matter-of-fact. “You know, Mulder, if we’re

going to go ahead in this relationship, you’re going

to have to face my family one of these days.”

“I’d be glad to if your brother was ready to face

me.” He quickly swerved to miss a car whose

headlights he’d hardly seen in the blinding deluge.

“I would have gone–”

“Right. And looked edgy and unhappy the entire day.

Mulder, you’d rather have been with the Gunmen,

talking conspiracy theories, than with my family.

You’d rather have been sitting alone at home watching

a movie for the thousandth time.”

“I would have gone if you’d insisted.”

“Why should I have to insist? You were asked. It’s

only polite to accept. I would have liked to have–to

have had you there…with me.” She paused, then

continued. “Too late anyway. Here we are, stranded in

snow country. Yee-ha. Merry Christmas to you, too.”

Mulder pulled the car back onto what he assumed was

the road and slowed its speed to a mere crawl. “Look,

we’ll talk when I get there.” When she said nothing,

he added, “I’m looking for a turn-around. I’ll see

you in a few minutes.” He ended the conversation and

muttered in the car’s stillness, “Unless you’d rather

I just keep going.” He then tossed his cell phone

into the passenger’s seat.

He now gripped the steering wheel as tightly as he

could–partly because it was *that* hard to drive in

the present conditions, and partly because he was

frustrated with Scully. His fatigue and the day’s

earlier emotional upheaval didn’t help matters

either. The getaway had been Mulder’s idea to curb

his grief over his friend’s death by sharing “secret”

time with the person he most loved. But the past few

hours may have spoiled that holiday getaway already–

for both of them.

“Damn it, Scully,” he muttered, “this could have been

so good.”

Suddenly, headlights sprang from the darkness and

headed straight toward him. They belonged to a

tractor-trailer moving much faster than prudent on

such a night. And they were too close.

Mulder gasped as he pulled the steering wheel to the

right and his foot slammed onto the accelerator. But

he felt no relief as the car skidded and narrowly

missed impact with the truck. Instead, he was

conscious of a scream escaping his lips as his car

plunged into a snowbank and cartwheeled. He passed

into silence as the vehicle became airborne, flipping

once before hitting the deep snow and sliding like a

toboggan down a steep bank. Rightside up, it came to

rest in a snowbank near the underside of a bridge.

But Mulder was oblivious. His head had collided with

the badly dented roof of the tiny car. A blinding

pain raced through it, and he lapsed into

unconsciousness. A blanket of white snow soon covered

the car, obscuring it from the roadway above.

*****************************

ACT I

12:20 A.M., December 25, 2001

Scully, her hands on her hips and jaw set in a fierce

scowl, continued to pace the narrow path between the

motel room’s bed and door. “Damn it!” she muttered

between clenched teeth. “Damn him!” She no longer

needed the blanket she’d tossed around her shoulders;

her emotions warmed her enough.

The day had gotten the best of her. She was tired,

worried, frustrated, annoyed, and relieved all at

once, and she’d allowed those feelings to inject

themselves into her conversation with Mulder. That

wasn’t like her at all. Where was her calm, steady

exterior? Hearing his voice had been so welcome to

her, and yet, she’d basically told him just the

opposite. But then, why not? He certainly hadn’t

minded leaving her alone for the day, putting NYPD

cops’ happy Christmas before hers. Maybe he *should*

know she didn’t like being low on his list of

priorities.

She’d tried to call him back, but he’d shut his phone

off completely. And that was typical of him: dumping

her one way or another.

She almost wished she *was* at her mother’s right

now, basking in the warmth from the fireplace,

singing carols, drinking eggnog, and watching her

nephew gaze at the lights on the gaily decorated

tree. Mulder could have been home, alone, doing

whatever he did on Christmas. Why make her prisoner

to his lonely excuse for a celebration?

And why *had* she agreed to this getaway? What had

intrigued her about spending a few days with Mulder

at a wilderness resort? Just because they would be

anonymous and could wander together amongst

strangers, holding hands or wrapping their arms

around each other, enjoying the public intimacy that

other couples experienced? Scully shivered. Just the

thought of being able to enjoy such public intimacy

made her tingle.

Why did his work always come first?

With frustrated movements, her hands tugged at the

tie of her white terry-cloth robe and then tore the

garment from her shoulders. With even less caution,

she removed the red, lacy negligee she’d bought

specially for this night. She wadded it into a lumpy

ball, and flung it into her suitcase. “Sexy” was not

how she felt at the moment, and she refused to let

Mulder see that negligee until she did. After re-

dressing in the business suit she’d worn for travel,

she sat on the bed. She’d wait for him to arrive.

She’d let him apologize again. She’d let him explain

why a case took preference to her. Then she’d try to

sleep. And in the morning, if his reasons weren’t

good enough, she’d leave him to enjoy his

lonely Christmas.

**********************

12:30 A.M.

Mulder decided that opening his eyes was a bad idea.

The pain surging through his head was like a boulder

impacting cardboard. He could feel the seatbelt still

strapping him to the seat, and his head rested on the

icy window. His knees ached, and he knew without

looking that the dashboard was lodged against them.

He felt lethargic, and moving his head from the

window to the headrest seemed a gargantuan effort.

He wanted nothing but to sleep. In the thermal

underwear, boots, and parka he’d donned before

leaving New York City, he was insulated against the

cold. He was upright, and suffering most from the sad

realization that it might be some time before Scully

cooled down enough to miss him. Getting out of the

car wouldn’t be prudent since he had no idea where he

was, and night was far from over. He also doubted

whether he possessed adequate alertness, balance, and

energy to walk. Sleep sounded good.

In his muddled mind, he slowly became aware of the

steady clinking of metal hitting metal. It wasn’t due

to anything within the car; the motor had died when

the vehicle hit the snowbank. He realized the sound

was coming from beside him.

Mulder forced his eyes open, and he waited a moment

for the resulting nausea to subside. As his vision

focused, he found the car strangely illuminated, and

he could see a spider’s web of cracked windshield

before him. But the clinking metal continued to

attract his attention, and he let his head slowly

pivot to the right.

And then he gasped and stared in disbelief. “Jack?”

Beside him, basked in a faint, white light, sat his

deceased friend.

“Nice driving back there, Mulder. Were you trying to

jump the creek?”

“Jack?” The pain in Mulder’s head throbbed, and he

squinted against it. Still hearing the clinking, he

noticed that Jack held a pair of handcuffs and

repeatedly closed and then opened them. Mulder

swallowed. “Jack, you’re dead.”

The apparition chuckled. “Yeah, I was the first to

find out.” He smiled. “Heck of a way to go. Bang! And

dead Jack.”

Mulder stared closely at his old friend, seeing his

blond hair and blue eyes shining in the light. “You

were killed. I saw your body, Jack.”

“Relax, buddy.” He lightly punched Mulder’s arm.

“How many times a day do you get to see a ghost?” He

laughed at Mulder’s anguish. “I heard what you told

your partner back there at the cemetery, by the way,

and you were right. Where I am *is* a very happy

place. You’ll like it when you arrive.”

“I can’t believe it, Jack. This can’t be happening.

You’re here, but you’re dead.”

“Believe it. And hey, you *could* be, you know.

Dead.”

“Now?” Mulder winced.

Jack shrugged and pulled the metal cuffs apart once

more. “Maybe. Or maybe not. It depends.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’ve been in an accident, Mulder. And not a

‘slight’ one. Your car left the road, flipped, and

slid down an embankment. Yeah, you landed rightside

up, but you could still be badly injured. Or not. You

could have massive head trauma or a mild concussion.

You could freeze to death or maybe not. That’s the

beauty of an accident like this–so many things can

change one way or another before you’re found.”

“I don’t get it. Do you mean my injuries haven’t been

decided yet? That someone is going to choose whether

I live or die based on some criteria?”

“Yep. That’s what I mean.”

“Who? And based on what?”

Jack snapped the handcuffs back together. “I don’t

want to get into that.”

“Why don’t you just take me now?”

“Aw c’mon. Give it a little fight. Surely you’d like

to stay a while longer. Scully is waiting, after

all.”

Mulder grunted. “I’m not sure she wants to see me.”

“That’s crap, and you know it.”

“Not necessarily. Every good person I’ve ever had in

my life has left or been taken from me. Or I’ve

screwed up relationships until they’re beyond repair.

My sister. My parents. You. Others.” Images of loved

ones’ faces floated before his eyes. He smiled sadly

as he saw Samantha. “Maybe I *am* willing to go with

you now.”

“Not so fast, buddy. I think you’re forgetting a few

things. And not appreciating a few others.”

“I think you’re wrong.”

“Look.” Jack sighed and held up the handcuffs. “See

these? They’re what I wore during my life, but I

never realized it until I didn’t have life anymore. I

was a guy who knew what he wanted. A cop who loved

the job and devoted himself to it. And you know what?

I missed out on a whole bunch of ‘could have beens’.

Just like you, Mulder. Now I admit, this idea of

yours–this vacation with Scully–was good. You might

have found some happiness. But what happened? You

were willing to delay it for a dead friend? You’re

willing to give it up now after a few opposing words?

You never give up on a case when faced with

obstacles. In fact, they intrigue you.”

“Yeah, well, this was different.”

“Bullshit,” Jack countered. “You wimped out.”

“Did not.” Mulder rubbed his aching forehead.

“Scully made some good points in that argument, and

you’re ready to walk away from your vacation. That’s

wimping out.”

“No, it isn’t.”

“Then what is it? What do *you* call it?”

“I call it ‘letting Scully do what she wants’.”

Mulder closed his eyes and grimaced. “Maybe she was

right. I should have let her go to her mother’s. Her

plans were set, and she changed them for me. She

doesn’t need me interfering. She doesn’t even need

me.”

Jack laughed. “You don’t have time for self-pity. Or

for throwing away your personal life. You and Scully

have both been doing that for years.” His ghostly

hand rested on Mulder’s sleeve. As his old friend

opened his eyes, Jack calmly warned, “You have to

take the handcuffs off, buddy. You have to stop

having ‘could have beens’; stop sacrificing and

ignoring what *you* want. You *can* do that; it’s not

too late for you.”

“Life’s not all about me, Jack. I find cases; Scully

goes with me. I say ‘Ready?’, and Scully lines up.

She always sacrifices for me, and this vacation is

just another example. I’m selfish already; I don’t

think I ‘sacrifice’ much at all.”

“Yeah, you do. You’re constantly sacrificing personal

happiness. So is Scully. And maybe you’re both hungry

for change. Do you think she only came here for

*your* sake? Maybe she’s looking for some personal

happiness, too.”

“You’re wrong.”

“Am I?” Jack scoffed. “I’ll show you I’m not. And

I’ve got some helpers who’ll be along soon to offer

you proof.” He tossed the handcuffs onto the Fiesta’s

cracked dashboard. He followed those with several

pieces of Mulder’s cell phone and smiled at his

friend’s scowl. “I gotta go. Take care of yourself,

man. And pay attention to what you’ll see; you may

find that you want to stay on this planet a while

longer.”

As Mulder watched, Jack seemed to fade through the

passenger’s door. The faint white light followed him.

In its illumination, Mulder glimpsed images of his

parents and Samantha holding pairs of handcuffs out

to him, and then they, too, faded away.

Mulder let his head sag against the headrest. As his

eyes adapted to the darkness, he found he could see

little; snow covered the windows and windshield. His

body cramped and his mind foggy, he allowed the pain

behind his eyes to take over, enveloping him in

comforting depths of sleep.

************************

1:00 A.M.

Scully had begun pacing again, adding to her route

between the door and bed an occasional stop at the

window to ascertain headlights in the parking lot.

Mulder wouldn’t have taken an hour to find a place to

turn around. She wondered if he’d been so angry

with her that he’d decided not to arrive at all?

She’d repeatedly tried to reach him on the cell

phone, but he had obviously turned it off. And

perhaps he was reluctant to call her.

She wanted to kick herself, to take back her words.

So what if she’d had a bad day? His couldn’t have

been any better. She’d made it safely and had

actually looked forward to being here with Mulder, to

being alone with him for a few days.

The whole getaway was a complete secret. Almost.

Until she’d driven to her mother’s to make apologies

for their absence during the holidays.

“A case, Dana? At Christmas?” Maggie had sat on the

couch, her eyes showing concern.

“No, Mom,” Scully had replied, blushing.

“But you’re going to New York? Why?”

“Mulder and I…Mom…we just want to…”

Slowly Maggie had smiled, then nodded. “Going away

together? Well, it’s about time.”

“What?” Certainly her mother could not know what she

and Mulder felt for each other. Scully had kept it

very well hidden–or so she’d thought.

“You and Fox owe it to yourselves to have some fun.

Put down the badges; get to know each other.”

“But Mom–” Scully quit trying to argue. Her mother

merely repeated the thoughts she herself had had in

the car. “You’re not angry about me–us–not coming

here for Christmas?”

Maggie had risen from the couch and straightened an

ornament on the Christmas tree. “I’d love to have

you–both–with us. But honey, you have to do what’s

best for you. You’re always here for me. You can see

Bill and Tara when you get back. In fact, we’ll have

another celebration then. How’s that?”

Scully, smiling, had embraced Maggie warmly.

Scully checked her watch again. She checked the

window. She went to the door, unlocked and opened it,

and again felt the rush of frigid air and blowing

snow in her face. The streetlights were faint in the

white deluge, and judging from the snow piled atop

the roofs of the cars in the parking lot, none of

them were new arrivals.

“Mulder, where the hell are you?” she whispered.

Was it too early to call the police? And if Mulder

was on his way back to the airport, how would she

explain that to them or to emergency crews?

No, she’d wait. Or look for him herself. Sure, she

could spot a little Ford Fiesta in a big snowstorm.

He hadn’t even told her what color it was. With her

luck, it was probably white.

She sat on the bed, shivering from chills of fear.

Something wasn’t right for Mulder. She felt it in her

bones.

***************************

1:05 A.M.

Mulder felt the presence before he turned his head.

Again, a ghostly illumination filled the car, but he

wasn’t prepared what he saw.

“Byers?” He blinked to be sure of his vision.

“In a manner of speaking.”

“You aren’t a ghost–yet–are you?”

clip_image002

“I prefer the term ‘apparition’,” Byers told him.

“‘Ghost’ implies the spirit of someone who’s

deceased. And you’re right: deceased, I’m not. But

I’ve been called on to give you a glimpse of your

past–for a purpose.”

Mulder heard himself chuckle. “Oh my God, you’re the

Ghost of Christmas Past?”

“I prefer ‘The Apparition of the Grassy Knoll’ if you

don’t mind.”

Mulder shook his head in disbelief. “Whatever.”

“Now, if you’ll just give me a few seconds…”

Mulder’s gaze traced the cord Byers plugged into the

car’s cigarette lighter to a small movie projector

that was lodged between the front seats. An old movie

reel’s film was threaded into the projector and

connected to an empty reel below.

“I haven’t seen one of these in ages,” Mulder

muttered. “Did you steal it from your high school’s

audio-visual club?”

“Shhh. We’re about to journey into your past. You

don’t want to miss a minute.”

“I’m sure I don’t,” Mulder replied, doubtfully. He

turned his eyes straight ahead as Byers indicated.

The windshield had become a white screen.

The film began, and was yellowed and streaked by its

age. He was about to tell Byers that so far his movie

stunk, when suddenly, the living room of his

childhood came into view.

Mulder swallowed quickly, instantly engrossed. He

looked in nostalgia at the long-remembered chairs and

couch. How often had he sat on that couch and stared

at the

walls, matching the patterns on the wallpaper or

trying to discern seams of the individual strips? How

often had he ridden his tricycle or, later, his big

kid’s bike through that room when his father wasn’t

looking? How often had he and Samantha sat on the

floor, playing board games or watching television?

His heart suddenly seemed to be lodged in his throat,

and he bit his lower lip against the pain of

remembrance.

Byers’s hand on his arm returned him to the film.

In the corner of the room stood the Christmas tree,

its bright red, green, amber, and blue lights

alternately blinking, its pine scent filling the air.

A silver garland twisted lazily around the spruce,

highlighting ornaments of Santas, stars, and candy

canes. Below the tree, many brightly wrapped gifts

invited anyone to open them. Without his feet moving,

Mulder felt himself moving toward the tree.

It was early morning. The sun’s winter rays filtered

into the room through the blinds and curtains, and

fell softly on the stockings hung by himself and

Samantha the night before. Each was filled to the top

with gum, candy, and tiny, wrapped gifts, and he felt

the slight tug of anticipation as he had when young.

The room was nicely decorated with silver and red

garlands, paper bells, and mistletoe in the open

doorframe.

He wanted to sit on the couch again, to simply take

in the moment and let the good memories from this

room permeate his mind. But suddenly, voices came

from upstairs. Hushed voices, whispering and barely

containing their excitement. He watched as two pairs

of slippered feet–one pair much larger than the

other–appeared on the stairs, tiptoeing as quietly

as they could. Mulder felt his eyes brim with tears

as he saw seven-year-old Samantha descend, her dark

eyes growing huge at the sight of the tree and

packages. She was a beautiful girl whose innocence

and sweetness beamed from her face, and Mulder wanted

simply to hold and to protect his sister from the

brutal future that would claim her.

He noticed that Samantha was followed by her older

brother who looked like a gangly geek. He watched as

the younger version of himself alternately scowled at

his sister then looked back upstairs.

“Samantha!!” the young Fox whispered. “We shouldn’t

be down here yet. Remember what Mom and Dad told us?

No looking at the presents until they get up.”

The little girl reached the bottom of the stairs

before he did. “We won’t tell them, will we, Fox?

Let’s just look,” she pleaded. “I just wanna look.”

Her brother frowned; then his face softened. He put

his hand on her shoulder. “Okay. But they’ll be

getting up soon.”

Samantha gave him a big smile and jumped for joy,

soundless because of her small frame and light

weight. She scampered forward, her eyes twinkling as

she got a closer glimpse of the tree and gifts.

“Oh, Fox,” she marveled. “They’re beautiful.” She

sank to her knees before the tree. Her tiny fingers

reached out gingerly to touch the ribbons and then to

feel the packages. “This one’s mine!” she exclaimed,

reading the tag on a large, shoebox-sized package. “I

wonder what it is?”

Young Fox joined her, his lanky frame hovering above.

“So’s that one–and that one,” he observed, pointing

out various packages.

“That one’s for you!” Samantha exclaimed.

The older Mulder glanced where the young girl

indicated, and he grinned in spite of the wetness in

his eyes. He remembered that the box held his Spock

Star Trek uniform, complete with pointy ears.

“What is this?” Bill Mulder’s voice suddenly bellowed

from base of the stairs. Mulder and both of the

children whirled at its sound. “You’re not supposed

to be down here. Fox, we said that you both were to

stay upstairs this morning.”

Young Mulder’s face dropped. “Yes, Dad. I’m sorry.”

“It’s m-my fault, Daddy,” Samantha stammered, her

eyes still shining with excitement. “I asked him–”

“No, it’s mine. I shouldn’t have let her come down,”

Fox replied. He stood in front of his sister,

shielding her from their father’s reaction.

“No, you shouldn’t have. I left the responsibility in

your hands, and you didn’t carry through.” Bill

Mulder suddenly turned to his wife who was now at his

side and gripping his arm.

“Bill, never mind. It’s Christmas.”

Their father scowled briefly and then sighed. “Fine.

But do as you’re told next time, boy.”

Fox nodded and moved to sit on the couch.

“Mommy, can I open this one? Can I please?” Samantha

held the large shoebox.

Glances from the parents ensued, and then Teena

Mulder smiled. “Of course, sweetheart. But only this

one before breakfast.” She turned toward her son.

“You, too, honey. Choose one and open it.”

Young Fox went to the tree. He chose a small package

that he instantly and disappointedly realized was

“clothes.” He undid the wrappings and thanked his

parents for three new pairs of underwear.

The older Fox shook his head, nearly laughing at the

despair on the young boy’s face. Underwear was not

the greatest Christmas gift, but there would be worse

problems in this boy’s life.

He then turned his attention to Samantha who was

slowly tearing paper away from the box she held. She

had already neatly removed the ribbon and bow and

placed them beside her in a separate pile, and now

she was ready to lift the top from the shoebox.

Her eyes again widened as she peeled back tissue

paper and let her tiny fingers fall on the silky

white garment folded inside the box. She lifted it

out carefully, as if handling would cause it harm,

and revealed a child-sized wedding dress. Her lips

formed a constant “Oh!” as her gaze wandered over the

beaded patterns on the lace bodice, and over the long

train that descended the back of the gown. “Mommy,

it’s beautiful.”

“There’s more in there,” her mother urged.

Samantha gingerly clasped the dress in one hand and

lifted a veil from the box with the other. She

squealed in delight. “Mommy!! Can I put them on?

Right now? Can I wear them forever?”

“Certainly, darling. Here, let me help.”

Together, mother and daughter walked toward the

bathroom, Samantha still ogling the gown held softly

in her hands.

Bill Mulder sat in an overstuffed chair and turned to

his son. “Are you going to model your gift?”

Young Mulder snorted. “No!”

“I’m glad,” the man laughed. “A bride and a boy

modeling underwear are just too much in one day.”

Young Fox smiled but then grew serious. “I’m sorry,

Dad. I knew we were supposed to stay upstairs.”

Bill Mulder waved his hand. “Worse things happen in

this world, son. Don’t worry about it.”

“I should have done what you asked.”

“It’s all right, Fox. Everything turned out fine.”

Bill smiled at his son but turned his attention

toward the bathroom when the door opened.

Samantha stood in the hallway, cautiously running one

hand over the smooth fabric. Teena had arranged the

girl’s long, dark hair and then fixed the veil on the

crown of her daughter’s head.

“Here she is!” Teena said proudly. “A lovely bride!”

Samantha gleamed up at her mother who hugged her. She

then joined her hands in front of her and around a

big wad of toilet paper bunched up and looped as in a

bouquet. She took one step, then paused before taking

another, humming the Wedding March as she made her

way into the living room.

Older Mulder suddenly felt as if he’d been punched in

the stomach. Samantha had played “wedding” since

their parents had taken her, at age four, to a

cousin’s nuptials. The radiant bride’s image had been

engraved into his sister’s mind, and it hurt now to

be reminded that Samantha had never lived to see her

own wedding. He nearly doubled over with the torment,

but instead, he turned from the sight of the little

girl’s dreams and happiness.

“Byers?”

“Seen enough of that one?” The apparition softly

touched Mulder’s shoulder. “A happy Christmas.”

“Our last one,” Mulder whispered.

Suddenly the film stopped. Mulder felt his headache

return, and when he reached up to hold his head

between his hands, he noticed tears on his cheeks. He

wiped at them quickly.

Byers was loading another reel onto the projector.

“There’s more?” Mulder closed his eyes in despair.

“Oh yes. We wouldn’t want to stop there.”

“We wouldn’t?”

“You’ve more to see. More to learn. Now, shhhh.”

Against his better wishes, Mulder saw the second film

start. He instantly knew what it would show.

He found himself in the same room, but it had

changed. Early morning sun again filtered through the

blinds and curtains, but the rays did not fall on any

tree or ornaments. There were no stockings or gifts.

No garlands. No lights.

The room looked disheveled. Newspapers, magazines,

letters, and envelopes had fallen onto the floor from

the stands or racks onto which they’d originally been

tossed. A film of dust coated the furniture, and a

small footstool was overturned.

Young Mulder, a year older, sat alone on the couch.

His older counterpart noticed that the boy had traded

gawky gangliness for budding coordination and muscle

tone. The boy’s eyes, now sad and haunted, stared at

the floor where the tree had stood the previous year.

Where his sister had once been overwhelmed with a

play wedding dress.

“Christmas, 1973,” Byers observed.

“I know.”

“I thought you might.”

Slowly, slippered feet descended the stairway, a blue

robe gently sweeping their tops. Teena Mulder stopped

when she saw her son in the morning light.

“Fox? Why are you up so early?”

The boy started at his mother’s voice. He stared at

her vacantly, trying to remember what she’d just

asked. “Couldn’t sleep,” he finally replied quietly.

She afforded him a small, melancholy smile. “Nor

could I.” She moved into the room and sat in a chair

opposite him.

Mulder noticed that she carried a large shoebox in

her hands. It wasn’t wrapped, and he could easily see

it was Samantha’s box from the previous year. Young

Fox had noticed, too. Yet the child had other things

on his mind.

“Is Dad coming home?”

“No.” She lowered her head. “He’s in Washington.”

“But it’s Christmas.”

“Not to him,” Teena muttered. “Not to any of us.”

Fox’s face darkened, and he nodded. “Maybe he’ll find

Samantha today. Or this week.”

Teena shook her head. “We’ll never find her. Never.”

“Mom? Dad’s looking. And the police. And the people

Dad works with. They’ll find her.”

Teena didn’t respond. In the silence, her fingers

unconsciously smoothed over the box on her lap.

“What is that, Mom?” The young boy’s face showed a

spark of curiosity through its despair. He seemed to

choose to put his mother’s pessimism from his mind.

“It’s nothing,” Teena croaked.

“Was it for Samantha?”

His mother absently nodded. “I-I don’t want to put

it–away. I wanted her to have it. I wanted her…”

“Did you make it?”

Teena’s hands went to her eyes. “Yes.” She sniffed

and wiped at her tears. “I finished it in early

November. Just before…” She trailed off, but both

knew what she had planned to say.

“Can I see it?” The boy’s voice was quiet, patient.

As he saw his mother nudge the box toward him, he

stood and drew a wadded Kleenex from his pocket.

Unfolding it, he slowly approached his mother. He

handed her the tissue, and she gratefully clutched

it, turning her head and wiping at her tears.

Young Fox quietly lifted the lid from the box. His

eyes went from what was inside to his mother and then

back. “It’s great, Mom. She would love it.”

“Byers,” the older Mulder suddenly exclaimed, his

voice cracking, “I don’t want to see this.” He tried

to shift position and stop watching. “I know what it

is.”

“What?” the apparition asked. His hand on Mulder’s

shoulders prevented the sullen man from turning away.

“What is it?”

Teena’s voice continued in the background, “I made it

for her–after she saw that show on TV…”

“The beauty pageant gown,” Mulder replied softly.

“She even made a sash. My mom. She crocheted the

words ‘Miss Massachusetts’ on it. And there was a

crown made of aluminum foil.” Mulder again tried to

look away from the movie’s images.

“Why don’t you want to see this?” Byers wondered.

“Mom, it really is great,” young Fox was saying.

“When she comes back–”

“She won’t come back!” Teena suddenly screeched. She

stood and hustled toward the stairs. “She will never

be back, Fox! Your sister is gone forever!” Her sobs

echoed loudly behind her as she slammed the door of

her upstairs bedroom.

Young Fox’s expression clouded with unreachable

desolation. He slowly put the lid on the shoebox and

then lifted the package. He plodded to the bathroom,

opened the towel closet, and put the box in the back

corner of the lower shelf. Closing the cupboard, he

stood with his back to it. His face wrenched in a

battle to hold his emotions in check, but finally he

succumbed, and he clutched his head. Tears fell. His

mouth opened in a desperate silent scream. Slowly, he

slid down the wooden doorway until he sat on the

cold, tile floor. Alone in his grief. Alone in his

fear. Alone on Christmas.

The older Mulder’s shoulders sagged as he watched the

scene. His hands clasped each other behind his neck,

his forearms embracing his head. His eyes were

squeezed closed in anguish; his jaw set as if to

fight back any outward emotion. He sighed heavily.

“C’mon, you still haven’t answered my question,”

Byers called. “Why not see the rest of this film?”

Mulder turned toward him, anger and despair evident.

“Because she never got to wear that dress either.

Don’t you understand? That was the end of Christmas

for us. For me. I never celebrated it after Samantha-

-was gone. After my mother said those things, there

was nothing in that holiday for me anymore. There was

nothing *between* any of us. My mother. My father.

Me. Nothing. It was the end of–” He closed his eyes

again; his head pounding.

Mulder shivered. He hoped Byers would leave. He

wanted to relax and get on with dying.

“Ready for the next one?”

Mulder groaned at the Gunman’s voice. “No more. I

don’t know what you’re trying to teach me; it’s not

working. Just let me sleep, will you?”

“After 1973, what was your best Christmas?”

“I haven’t celebrated Christmas since then.”

“Yes, you have. At least once. Think.”

Despite his lethargy, Mulder’s mind focused on Byers’

words. A faint smile graced his lips. “1999.”

“Right. There you go.”

“In a stupid, haunted house.” The smile vanished. “I

nearly got us killed.”

“But you didn’t.” The projector started again.

“It was nightmarish, Byers.”

“Not all of it. Who visited your place afterward?”

Mulder’s eyes opened. “You have *that*? On film?”

“Yes, you and Scully. You had a good Christmas.”

“The best–in a long time.” Mulder stared at the

windshield, imploring images to come and cheer him.

“Why was it the best?”

“That’s sort of a no-brainer, isn’t it? We had a good

time together.”

“Yes, ‘together’.” Byers sat back in the seat,

satisfied. “You and Scully. Did you ask her to visit

you that night–at your apartment?”

“No,” Mulder laughed. “That visit shocked me. I

thought she’d never want to see me again.”

“Sort of like tonight?”

Mulder scowled. “You gonna show the film, or not?”

“You said–a while back–that Scully wouldn’t want to

see you again after today’s fiasco.”

“That’s different. I took her from her family–”

“Just like you did in 1999?”

“Yes…no… At least we were nearer to DC then.”

“But she came when you asked her to. Both times.”

“Start the film, would you?”

“Maybe she likes being with you–as you like being

with her.”

“Byers! The film?”

“Fine, Mulder. But I ran this one forward a bit.”

Mulder had hoped the film would start when he’d first

opened his door to Scully that night. But he saw the

two of them already on his couch, instead, their

gifts to each other opened and lying on the coffee

table. The television flickered another viewing of

‘It’s a Wonderful Life’,” and he decided that this

was a good enough place to start.

He gazed at the older version of himself first,

noticing how much he’d changed over the years. Of

course, he’d viewed childhood to adulthood in just

minutes, but the change was remarkable. He was much

taller. Still slender. Much more experienced; he

could see it in the face, eyes, and demeanor.

And Scully. Just seeing her on the screen before him

made his body tingle and want. Made him sorry for the

words they’d exchanged earlier. Made him sorry he’d

“dumped” her the previous morning instead of flying

to Buffalo and driving to the countryside with her.

Made him regret not being in the motel room with her

right now, continuing to make up for eight years of

denial. Gazing at her in this film, he could almost

taste her lips; smell her skin’s lovely, fresh scent;

see her body arching passionately under him as he

made love to her. Suddenly the cold he’d felt in the

car vanished, and he was almost ready to shed his

coat.

“Scully, are you sure you shouldn’t be at your

mom’s?” Movie Mulder was asking.

“I’ll be there tomorrow. Tonight I–I don’t know. I

just wanted to be–with you, Mulder.” She was seated

very closely to him on the couch. Her arm rested

against his.

“I’m glad you’re here.”

“I’m glad I am, too.”

“More?” Movie Mulder passed the microwave popcorn.

Scully reached in and grabbed a handful of the salty

white morsels. “Is this still our third bag?”

“Yeah. You want another?”

“No. I’d better quit with this one.” She munched a

few pieces. “I have to be able to eat tomorrow. Mom

always fixes such huge meals. Turkey, mashed

potatoes, gravy, stuffing, sweet potato pie, dinner

rolls, and at least five different desserts.”

Movie Mulder nodded. “Sounds nice.”

“It is. Well, it used to be.” She crunched another

piece of popcorn. “With my dad and Melissa gone, it’s

just not–not the same.”

Movie Mulder looked at his partner, watching her eyes

moisten as they stared at the TV screen. “Yeah, I

know how that goes.”

Both his and Scully’s feet were propped on the coffee

table, and his hands rested on his drawn up thighs.

From the corner of his eye, he noticed her putting

the popcorn bag beside her. She placed her right hand

atop his left. He turned his palm and took hold of

her hand.

“We both know loss, Mulder. Christmas isn’t Christmas

unless you’re with the ones you love most.”

“Yeah.” Movie Mulder squeezed her hand and noticed a

crumb of popcorn stuck just beneath her lower lip. He

reached over and gently brushed it away. His thumb

gently brushed her lip as well, and her mouth opened

slightly in response. He wanted badly to kiss her

then, but he settled for his hand slowly, softly

gliding over her cheek, resting there, and then

returning to his thigh.

Scully turned toward him, her eyes searching his. She

lay her head on his chest as he lifted his arm and

rested it across her shoulders. She nestled snugly

against him; his lips touched her hair.

Suddenly, Byers turned off the projector. Noting

Mulder’s disappointment, he tore the newest reel from

the machine and put it in a camera bag. “Sorry. My

time’s up. Can’t show you the rest of this one. Your

own memories will have to suffice.”

“Wait!” Mulder winced as his head shot him a warning

jolt of pain. “Byers! I want to see it!”

Byers hovered above the seat. “Gotta go, Mulder. But

another apparition will be along in a minute.” He

began to drift through the car’s passenger door and

meld with the snow, his mustache and beard standing

out against the white substance.

“But I want to see the rest of that movie–” Mulder

stopped. Byers had disappeared completely, as had the

illumination that had filled the car.

Mulder’s head sank to his chest. His mind allowed him

to see Scully held tightly to him, to hear her

laughter as they watched movies until nearly dawn, to

feel her closeness to him on the couch.

Suddenly, images of young Fox crying alone on the

floor of the bathroom and of Samantha wearing a

wedding dress replaced thoughts of Scully.

Overwhelmed by conflicting emotions, Mulder clutched

the steering wheel and sobbed in the cold darkness.

**********************

ACT II

1:30 A.M., December 25, 2001

“With whom am I speaking, please?” Scully asked.

“Deputy Kyla Heffen of the Springville town police,

ma’am,” came the woman’s voice through the cell

phone’s receiver. “How can I help you?”

Scully paced. “I’m–.” Since she and Mulder were on a

secret getaway, identifying herself as an FBI agent

wasn’t smart. “This is Dana Scully at The Palace

motel. I’ve been waiting for the last ninety minutes

for my–friend–to arrive. I talked to him at

midnight, and he planned to be at this motel within a

few minutes. He hasn’t arrived yet.”

“It’s not a great night out there. Hard travelin’.”

“Yes,” Scully sighed. “I noticed. That’s my point. He

had gone past the motel, and he was going to turn

around and come back.”

“This isn’t much of a town. How’d he miss it?”

“That’s a long story.” Scully said. “We had

reservations at an inn in Glenwood, but between my

flight being late and the roads being bad, the

reservations were forfeited. But my–friend–took a

later flight and didn’t know that.”

“I see. Well, has he called you since?”

“No, and I can’t reach him on his cell phone. I think

he may have…turned it off.”

“Why? Does he keep it turned off normally?”

Scully rolled her eyes. “No, but…”

“You two were fighting, eh?” The woman chuckled.

“Wouldn’t be the first time a man didn’t show up

after he and the little woman had a spat.”

“No,” Scully argued. “He’s not like that. He might

turn it off, but he’d still come here.”

Deputy Heffen still laughed. “When did you expect him

to arrive?”

“Just after midnight.”

“Ma’am, what do you expect me to do? He hasn’t even

been missing for two hours yet! I can’t file a

missing person report on him.”

“I know that. I–I guess I’m asking if any accidents

have been reported. If any names…?”

“Any accidents? On a night like this? Yes, we’ve had

*a few* reported,” Heffen sneered.

“And?”

“‘*And*?’ And those injured have been taken to

Bertrand Chaffee Hospital here in town. All the roads

around us are closed; our ambulances aren’t about to

take those people elsewhere.”

“Can you tell me who was injured?”

“No, I can’t. And I won’t. Not all families have been

notified yet. You can call the hospital if you want

to know that information.”

“Fine.” Scully resented keeping her FBI status

secret. “Can you at least tell me if any Ford Fiestas

were involved?”

Deputy Heffen rustled paper for several seconds.

Finally, she drew a deep breath. “No Ford Fiestas.”

Scully’s head dropped–partly in relief and partly in

worsening fear. If Mulder *had* been in an accident,

then he’d not yet been found. “Thank you. Will you

call me if any reports *do* involve such a car?

Please? My friend’s name is Fox Mulder.”

“*Fox*?” Heffen giggled.

“I’m in Room 8. I’d appreciate a call, Deputy.”

“All right, ma’am. Have you called the bars around

town? Maybe he stopped to wash away his troubles.”

Scully accepted the tip. Reluctantly, Scully had to

bow to the logic of the suggestion. “I’ll do that.”

“Okay. And don’t worry. I’m sure he’ll come home to

the nest when he gets–you know–the urge.”

“Thank you,” Scully said between clenched teeth.

After hanging up, she searched the nightstand for the

phone book. Grabbing it from a drawer, she let her

fingers race through the yellow pages. She looked up

“taverns” and “bars,” and was disgusted to find that

those pages had been torn out.

She next opened the door and looked toward the motel

office, hoping she could find an undamaged phonebook

there, but the office was dark. She ducked back into

the room when a strong gust of icy wind whacked her

face and nearly gagged her. As she panted, she

realized there had been no snow in the wind. Peering

through the window, she found that the storm had

finally stopped. Now, the wind lifted powdery snow

and formed it into drifts like sand dunes. As a

snowplow went by on the main road, she decided that

phone calls wouldn’t do.

Moving to the desk, she found stationery and a pen,

and wrote a hurried note to Mulder should he arrive

while she was out. She left the note on the bed, but

the shivers she suffered told her that he wouldn’t be

back on his own.

Scully buttoned her coat and pulled the collar up.

Grabbing her gloves and keys, she hastily bolted from

the motel room, leaping through the deep snow to get

to her car.

**********************

1:35 A.M.

“Hey, Mulder? Is your face melting, or what?”

The voice came from the passenger seat, and Mulder

quickly wiped away tears. He straightened himself,

ignoring the shooting pains in his head. Again, the

car was illuminated, and again, an apparition sat

beside him. He was not surprised to find Langly, the

long-haired Lone Gunman.

clip_image004

“Ghost of Christmas Present?” Mulder muttered.

Langly shook his head. “Apparition of Cyberspace.”

“I should have known. And what will you show me?”

“Christmas present. Well, not *a* Christmas ‘present’

but the present Christmas.”

“I had that figured out.”

“Yeah, well, you win a prize.” Langly started to open

the flap of a leather carrying case. “I’m here to

show you how much you mean to people.”

“Yeah, right. Good luck.” Mulder watched his friend’s

movements. “What, no projector this time?”

“In the days of cyberspace?” Langly chided. “You must

be joking.” He produced a laptop computer and let the

leather case fall to the car’s floor. “Yo, Mulder;

man, check this out! One point zero gigahertz

processor, 256 MBs of RAM, twenty gigabytes of hard

drive, DVD capability, twenty-one inch screen,

ultralight notebook…” Langly smoothed his hands

reverently over the computer. “I’m tellin’ ya, this

baby isn’t just state of the art. This is so far

superior–”

“Why not just use a portable DVD player?”

“Why eat one chocolate chip when you can have the

whole cookie?” the apparition countered. “This laptop

is so much more–”

“If I could interrupt your worship,” Mulder murmured,

“could you tell me why you’re here?”

“You know why I’m here. I’m supposed to show you the

Christmas that could have taken place today.”

“Then can we get on with it? I’m a little cold here.

And a little bit ready to either die or get the hell

out of this car.”

“Voila!!” Langly exclaimed. “Your wish is my

command!” He twirled a DVD in his fingertips and held

it before his eyes as if appreciating the technology

for the first time. He then placed the disc inside

the laptop, hit a key, and watched as the screen lit

up.

A snapshot of Langly’s face appeared in the lower

case “g” of a homemade logo proclaiming “Langly

Multimedia Productions.” Mulder smirked. “You’re

gonna be right up there with Paramount, huh?”

“Laugh now, but that will be reality someday.”

“Yeah, and Santa Claus is real.”

Langly’s jaw clenched as he bit back resentment.

“Shh. Just watch the disc.” He balanced the laptop on

the steering wheel’s top and dashboard so Mulder

could see better. As a menu popped up on the screen,

he clicked on one of the items. “Christmas 2001

coming up.”

Mulder watched as the Langly logo dissolved into the

living room of Maggie Scully’s house. Instantly, he

felt the room’s warmth, not just from the furnace,

fireplace, and the yellows and browns of the room’s

furnishings, but from Maggie’s cheery smile and

hospitality.

Near the bow window stood a tall, decorated tree.

Plenty of red bows, candy canes, and gold or silver

ornaments hung from its limbs. Tinsel and white

icicle lights sparkled throughout the tree, and many

gifts lay piled two and three deep on the floor

beneath it. Bill Scully, Jr.’s four year old son

stood before those packages. Little Matthew’s round,

blue eyes gazed in awe at the sight.

Mulder glanced at the clock, finding the time to be

1:02 P.M. He could smell the cooking turkey,

potatoes, sweet potato pie, and a variety of spices.

His aching head swooned, and his dry mouth watered.

Nothing matched Maggie Scully’s cooking.

Suddenly, Langly reached over again and clicked on

the laptop’s mouse. Mulder found himself propelled

from the living room into the kitchen. And though the

smells were now more potent, his mouth wrenched in a

sneer. Maggie stood at the kitchen’s island, her

apron showing a Christmas Currier and Ives drawing.

But Bill Scully, Jr., leaned against the sink.

“So she’s not coming?” Bill was asking. “Why not?”

Maggie placed sprigs of parsley on a meat platter.

“She’s vacationing somewhere near Buffalo.”

“Vacation?” Bill’s disdain echoed in his voice. “When

she knows the family is together?”

“She deserves it, dear. She felt she had to get away,

and I agreed. And you know Dana; if something’s on

her mind she has to act on it.”

“Like her shift from medicine to superagent?”

Maggie ignored his comment. “How many times have we

had this conversation? It’s Christmas, darling. I’ve

not seen you, Tara, and my grandson for quite a

while. I’d just like to enjoy the day.”

“Mom, you and I both know what turmoil that decision

added to Dana’s life. We’ve both seen the tragedy it

brought to this family. It killed my sister, and it’s

nearly killed Dana many times.”

“Shhhh!” Maggie warned, noting the rise in her son’s

volume. “Matthew and Tara will hear you.”

“Tara knows how I feel. It’s not new to her.”

“That’s not the point–”

“No. The point is,” he said angrily, “that Dana keeps

running from everything that could make her happy.

She could have had a safe career in medicine. She

could have had a husband and children by now. She

wouldn’t be rushing off or hanging on every word of

her worthless excuse for a partner.”

“Stop it, Bill. Just stop it.” Maggie’s hands were

now clutched against her chest, her face stern in

anguish. “Yes, Dana could have picked a safer

profession, but she’s happy with her decision. All

I’ve ever wanted was for my children to do with their

lives what they felt best. Dana *is* doing that. Just

as you are.”

“Is she? Mom, you know how Dana idolized Dad. She

would have followed him anywhere or done anything he

asked. Are you so sure that she hasn’t simply

projected that loyalty to this Mulder?”

“Yes, dear.” A hint of laughter touched her voice.

“I’m quite sure she hasn’t.”

“Well, I’m not so certain.”

“You don’t see Dana often, and you don’t know Fox.”

“And I don’t want to know him.” Bill tore a chunk

from a dinner roll and placed it in his mouth. “I

wish Dana would let him rot in his basement office

and get on with her life.”

“That basement office *is* her life. Let her be.”

“Oh, Bill, not this again.” Tara came into the

kitchen. “Mind your own business.” She wrapped her

arms around her husband and kissed his cheek.

“Whoa! Good woman!” Langly suddenly shouted. He

pressed a key on the laptop and paused the action.

“Score one for her, eh?”

“Langly,” Mulder shook his head, “mind *your* own

business.” He put a hand to his throbbing head. “Is

there a point to all this? I’m not Bill Scully’s

favorite person. That’s not news.”

“Did you know Mrs. Scully liked you so much?”

“‘So much’? I guess I knew she didn’t hate me.”

“Did you know she stood up for you in family

arguments? Did you know she invites you to these

celebrations because she wants you to be there?”

“I don’t believe that.”

“Well then, my friend, watch on!” Langly hit the key

again, and action resumed.

“Bill, why don’t you go play with Matthew?” Tara was

saying. “He’s so excited about the gifts.”

“Yes, that’s a good idea,” Maggie added.

Bill popped the rest of the roll into his mouth.

“Okay, but when Dana gets home from this vacation,

I’m going to have a word with her.”

“You are not,” Tara replied. “Unless it’s to ask if

she had fun or why she doesn’t vacation more.”

“Not likely,” Bill stated as he left the kitchen.

The younger woman sighed heavily. “I’m sorry, Maggie.

He comes 3,000 miles and says the same things.

Sometimes he exasperates me.”

Maggie smiled. “I know. He’s too protective of Dana

since her dad died. He needs to let go.”

“Agreed.” Tara dumped boiled potatoes into a bowl.

“So Dana has actually gone to have fun somewhere?”

“Yes. She and–she and a friend are in upstate New

York on a skiing vacation.”

“She skis? I didn’t know that.”

Maggie chuckled. “No, she doesn’t. I’m not sure how

much skiing she’ll be doing.”

Tara’s eyes twinkled. “I see! Well, good for her!”

“I’m happy, too–with some reservations. I’ll never

like your generation’s morals–or lack thereof.”

“Well, Dana’s not exactly promiscuous.” Tara poured

some milk onto the potatoes. “Is she with Fox?”

Maggie noted the mischievous smile. “Yes.”

“Good. I like him. I don’t know what Bill’s problem

with him is–unless it’s jealousy. Someone else has

the attention of his little sister.”

“You do like Fox? I’m glad to hear that. Until Dana

announced this trip, I wanted them both to come to

dinner today. I would like Bill to get to know Fox as

I know him. I don’t think Bill would doubt then. But

Fox and Bill have had words in the past, and they

just seem like bulldogs together now.”

“Woof! Woof!” Langly laughed, pausing the film again.

“See what I mean, man?”

Mulder’s eyes were closed. “No. I *am* dreaming,

aren’t I?” He shook his head slightly. “I don’t

really believe this one, Langly.”

“No? It’s true; I swear.” The Gunman suddenly ejected

the disc. “But I have another version of Christmas

2001 that you’ll *have* to believe.”

“I can hardly wait,” Mulder yawned.

*************************

1:45 A.M.

Scully had given up trying to get her car out of the

motel’s parking lot. The main road had been plowed,

but not the motel’s driveway. Her winter hiking boots

were no match for the deep snow that covered what

must have been sidewalks. Her short legs weren’t much

help either. With chunks of packed snow slithering

inside her boots and melting into her socks, she

walked in the cleared roadway beneath streetlights.

No traffic passed at nearly two in the morning, and

so far, no taverns or other establishments appeared

open.

Almost ready to call Deputy Heffen again, Scully

noticed an old, flashing neon sign on a distant

building. She stepped up her pace, beginning to jog

as the wind hurtled at her. Her gaze roamed over the

snow-covered cars parked around the run-down bar, but

none of them resembled Ford Fiestas. Two tractor-

trailers and a panel truck were also parked nearby.

And to her amazement, several snowmobiles rested at

the side of the building. Apparently, some people

used any means to get to their favorite watering

hole.

At last, she entered the Smiling Oaks. She was eager

to get out of the freezing night, but not thrilled to

see the smoky haze and dimness of the tavern. She

coughed as she breathed the dank air and moved

further into the room.

Her trained eyes took in at least fifteen people.

Most were at the bar, but some sat at a back table or

threw darts at a board on the side wall. A recently

released country tune, “Slammin’ My Love Away,”

warbled over the stereo system. She allowed a brief

smile; she remembered hearing that song while in the

car with Mulder once. She’d laughed at the bawdy

lyrics he had sung in place of the real words. But

his unexplained absence brought a frown back to her

face, and she returned to the present.

She suddenly noticed that all eyes had turned in her

direction, and all activity had stopped. Before her

were big, burly men. Some had long, stringy hair that

needed to be washed, and others had buzz cuts or

receding hairlines. Most were either overweight or

just overly muscular. Scully was a David meeting

fifteen Goliaths.

“Merry Christmas! Can I help you, miss?”

The question came from behind the bar, and Scully

quickly relaxed when she saw its owner: a small

woman, fifty-ish, with a conditioned body. Scully

flashed a smile. “I hope so.” She glanced warily at

the surrounding men as she moved to the bar.

“Name’s Laura Dow,” said the bartender. “What can I

do for you?”

Scully looked into the open, cheerful face of the

woman and felt instantly confident. If anyone could

help her, it would be Laura.

“I-I’m looking for someone–”

“Aren’t we all, honey?” Dow laughed.

Scully shook her head. “No, not like that. My friend

was supposed to be at The Palace hours ago. I talked

to him by phone, and he’d just passed the motel. He

was going to turn around and come back. But he’s

never made it.”

“And you’re out on this night looking for him?”

“Well, Deputy Heffen suggested I try a few bars–”

“Oh, not her.” Laura looked toward some of the men.

“Hey, guys? Deputy ‘Heifer’ is giving advice again.”

Many groans and shaking heads greeted her comment.

“Look,” Laura told Scully, “Deputy Heffen doesn’t

have the best reputation. She has an awful lot to do-

-but so little of it is police business. She’s a

great gossip. She got that job because she wanted to

hear any news first.” She gazed at Scully’s face.

“Where are you from?”

“Washington, DC. We were going to Kissing Bridge, but

with this storm and delayed flights–”

Dow held up a hand. “Don’t even bother. I know the

stories. Been running this dump for years now.” She

poured a cup of coffee and put it before Scully. “You

got a picture of your guy?”

Scully quickly removed her gloves and sunk her hands

into the pockets of her long wool coat. On a whim,

she’d grabbed a photo of Mulder from her bag before

leaving the motel. She now handed it to Laura. “It’s

not the best one I have, but that’s him.”

Dow’s eyes widened as she whistled. “And you let him

out of your sight?” She regarded Scully with

interest. “Does he have an older brother?”

Scully frowned; no recognition had registered on

Laura’s face. “You haven’t seen him, have you?”

“Sorry. I sure wish I had.” She turned to her

patrons. “Hey, fellas? C’mere a second.” She waited

until they came to the bar. “Any of you seen this guy

tonight? His lady is waiting for him.”

Each of the men gazed at the photo, but none of them

nodded. A long-haired, young man grinned at Scully.

“If he don’t come back, I’m available.”

Scully laughed slightly. The man intended no harm.

She noticed that he had playful but sincere eyes.

“Where was he?” an oversized, furless bear asked.

“Coming in from the airport. He was on Route 39 when

I last talked to him,” Scully replied.

The man leaned closer. “On 39? Heading which way?”

Scully searched her memory of the earlier

conversation with Mulder. “I don’t think he said.

He’d gotten off–what was it? 219? 319?”

“219?” the man asked. “Then he’d been going east.”

Scully could only shrug. “I really don’t know.”

“Hey, Al?” the man called to another. “Maybe this

explains that car.”

Al was bald and wore a red mustache and goatee on his

terribly large face. “Ma’am, what kind of car was

your friend driving? How big?”

Scully’s curiosity was peaked. “A Ford Fiesta.”

Al nodded while giving his friend a wink. “Yep, I’ll

bet that explains it.”

“Explains what?” Scully didn’t dare hope.

“About that time,” Al began, “I was heading west.

Came around a curve; couldn’t see anything out there

in that damned storm. All of a sudden, there was this

dinky car right in front of me. He swerved and

skidded, and I missed him. But when I looked into the

rearview, I couldn’t see any sign of him. Just seemed

to have disappeared. I ‘spect I should have stopped,

but that ain’t easy with my rig when it’s rolling.”

Scully’s eyebrows raised. “Where did this happen?”

Al shrugged. “I travel this route a lot, but in this

weather, it’s hard to tell where you are.”

“Please!” Scully pleaded.

“How far out were you, Al?” Laura asked.

“I don’t know. Somewhere’s between five and ten

minutes, I guess.” His hand scrubbed at his beard.

“That’d put me near the creek, wouldn’t it? ‘Bout

where they found that girl a few years back.”

“Girl?” Scully asked, confused.

Laura nodded. “In the winter a few years ago, a local

girl came up missing on her way home from work.

Family, police, friends, and townspeople searched for

weeks. Didn’t find her until spring. Her car went off

the road and under a bridge on 39. She was dead, but

all those months passed until the family found that

out. Terrible thing.”

Scully looked frantically from Laura to Al to their

friends and back. “My car–it’s buried in the parking

lot at the motel. Could you–some of you–please help

me dig it out? I need to look for Mulder’s car.”

Again her hands went to her coat pockets. “I can pay

you for your trouble–”

“A car isn’t going to get you there tonight,” Laura

said. “The town’s streets are plowed, but the state

and county roads haven’t been touched yet. We’re

under a State of Emergency.”

Before Scully could protest, the long-haired man

intervened, “Hey, we’ll take my machine. I can get

you out there in no time.”

“John,” the barkeeper asked, “look at how she’s

dressed. She’ll freeze on that snowmobile.”

“She can wear my helmet and suit,” another man said.

“They ain’t gonna fit, but they’ll work.”

John grabbed the offered one-piece snowmobile suit

that was far taller than Scully. “It’ll be warmer

than your coat. The temperature is fifteen degrees

tonight. Wind chill’s at five below zero. When you’re

riding on my machine, that’ll feel like at least

twenty below.”

Scully felt confused and a bit dazed as she hurriedly

put on her gloves. “Are you sure we need to do it

this way? I really could take my car–”

“C’mon.” John held the suit open for her.

Al peeled her long coat from her shoulders so she

could don the proper gear. “A few of us will go with

you in case you need some help.”

Scully nodded. To find Mulder was the objective after

all. She let John guide her arms into the sleeves,

and then she stepped into the suit and zipped it

around her. She was reminded of another time when

she’d been dressed in a taller man’s clothes to

survive extreme weather. She hoped this time would

have as favorable an outcome.

“I’m grateful to you all,” she said as a helmet was

placed on her head and a clear visor fell over her

face. She felt John fixing and adjusting the chin

strap as several other men nodded and pulled on their

suits or heavy coats.

“Here.” Laura Dow handed her the cup of coffee. “Have

a sip right now and warm yourself up.”

Scully raised the visor and did as told, the hot,

bitter liquid filling her mouth. The shivers she’d

felt earlier were gone; she sensed she was closer to

finding Mulder.

“Gloves!” John suddenly shouted. “She’ll need heavier

gloves. Don’t want her pretty hands to freeze.”

A thick pair of mittens was produced and put onto her

hands by two different men. “I don’t think I’ve been

dressed like this since my mother did it back in my

childhood,” Scully breathed.

John laughed. “Well, the pleasure’s all ours, ma’am.

I hope your boyfriend’s okay.”

“Me, too,” Scully murmured. She followed the suited

men out the door. “Me, too.”

*******************

1:45 A.M.

“And this disc will show me what, precisely?”

“You’ll have to see, won’t you?” Langly handily slid

the DVD into the laptop.

“Just tell me.”

“Christmas 2001. But this time, it’s as if you hadn’t

asked Scully to join you here. You’ll see how she

would have spent Christmas otherwise.”

Mulder settled back against the headrest. “But I’m

still not going to believe it. Not if it hasn’t

happened yet.”

“That’s where you’re wrong.” The blond apparition was

suddenly serious. “This Christmas *has* been

happening to Scully for years.”

Mulder took a long, stunned glance at the Gunman.

Then he turned to the laptop, curious and wary.

Again, Maggie Scully’s festively decorated house

greeted Mulder’s sight, and the wonderful smells

filled his head. And again, as he saw people gathered

for the holiday, Mulder felt a bit of nostalgia and

jealousy.

Maggie and her family were seated at her big dining

room table. Plates were full; voices were busy in

various conversations.

Mulder’s gaze settled on Scully. She sat to her

mother’s left, across the table from brother Bill.

She wore a low-necked, tight, black sweater that

beautifully accentuated her curves and proved

provocative enough to make him squirm slightly in the

seat. But he noticed that while her lips moved in

pleasant conversation, her eyes were pensive, her

face showing anyone who knew her well that she was

not happy here. Not content.

“What’s wrong with Scully, Langly? Why is she sad?”

he whispered.

“Duh. Listen and find out.”

“So, Dana,” Bill was saying as he stuffed a piece of

roll into his mouth, “where’s your partner today? Mom

invited him, didn’t she?”

On her plate, Scully’s fork chased a pea, finally

spearing it fiercely. Mulder winced.

“Mulder celebrates Christmas his own way, Bill.”

“Kind of rude, don’t you think?”

“Bill…” Maggie warned. “Let’s not do this.”

“No, I don’t think it’s rude,” his sister replied,

not meeting her brother’s gaze. “I think it’s just

the way he handles it.”

Bill scoffed. “What kind of crap is that? What–is

this his ‘I lost my sister years ago and never got

over it’ routine again? Well, it’s old, Dana. We lost

our sister, too–thanks to him and his worthless

quest. And we manage to celebrate still.”

Scully sipped from her water glass. “We also have

family that’s living. Family we can still enjoy.” She

set the glass down. “Mulder doesn’t.”

“We *are* missing a few, though, in case you haven’t

noticed,” Bill sniped. “Missy *and* Dad. Charlie’s

absent again, but still we celebrate.”

“And isn’t it a wonderful thing that we’re this

fortunate?” Maggie asked. “We’ve had our losses, but

still we gather.”

“Yes, it is, Mom,” Scully replied. “I’m sure that if

Mulder joined us, he’d feel differently, but I don’t

blame him for feeling as he does.”

“Well, I do.” Bill’s fork sank into mashed potato.

“Don’t get me wrong; I have no desire to see him. But

if he’s invited, he should make the effort. We don’t

all give up when hardship enters our lives.”

“Mulder doesn’t give up, Bill.”

“No, I’m sure,” was his sarcastic response. “But I’ll

bet he expects you to come to his place later today,

right? To make it all better for him?”

“He doesn’t expect it, no. In fact, he was adamant,

as he usually is, that I be with my family.” Scully’s

eyes coldly stared into her brother’s. She tossed her

fork onto her plate and hit the table with her fist.

“But, yes, I am going to his apartment and surprise

him this afternoon, if you want to know. For his

sake. And for mine.”

Maggie covered Scully’s hand with her own. “I think

that’s a wonderful idea, Dana. You’ve got the best of

both worlds today. Christmas isn’t Christmas unless

you’re with the ones you love most.”

“*That* line again,” Mulder mused. He watched mother

and daughter exchange understanding looks. Then he

turned to the apparition. “You’re showing me this

because Scully *did* want to be with me?”

“Boy, you’re quick, Mulder,” Langly smirked.

“And because I’m apparently stuck in the past too

much to enjoy things in the present?”

“Gee, can’t get anything by you!” Langly’s smirk

became a goofy grin.

Mulder didn’t notice. He stared blankly at the

windshield. In his mind, he heard, “People don’t give

up after hardships…the ‘I lost my sister years ago

and never got over it’ routine…” Suddenly Mulder

focused. “The handcuffs. That’s why Jack had them,

why I saw my family after he left. I’ve been attached

to them even though they’re no longer here. Is that

right, Langly? Is that what this is all about? I need

to let go of them?”

He turned to the passenger’s side of the car, but

Langly was gone. The laptop had disappeared. Mulder’s

jaw dropped. “Hey! Wait a minute! Tell me if I’m

right? Apparition of Cyberspace? Hey!”

When nothing but quiet greeted him, Mulder sagged in

his seat. He allowed himself to recall Scully’s face-

-how it had appeared so melancholy in the last disc,

and then had brightened when she’d mentioned going to

clip_image006

his apartment. *That* had surprised him, and it

warmed him now. He closed his eyes to savor the

feeling. But the sound of clinking metal returned to

his ears, and visions of multiple pairs of handcuffs

floated in his mind.

***************************

ACT III

1:50 A.M., December 25, 2001

“Hey, Mulder. You’re missing the porn flick.”

Mulder’s eyes snapped open at another familiar voice.

Once again he found the car illuminated by a soft

glow coming from his right, and though he needed no

identification of his latest visitor, he turned his

head to find Melvin Frohike. “Which one are you? Doc?

Sneezy?”

“Ha, ha, very funny,” the elfin man replied without

smiling. He adjusted the headset he wore, positioning

the earphone more comfortably. “If you’re trying to

get beauty sleep, you should give it up.”

Mulder smirked. “So, you must be the ghost–the

*apparition*–of Christmas Yet to Come?”

“Close. Apparition of Futurama, actually.”

“How could I have missed that? Look, Frohike, I know

what you’re going to show me. I’ve seen the movies,

read the book. Why don’t you just forego this little

charade and help me out of this car? It’s not exactly

an oven in here, and I should at least let Scully

know where I am.”

The small man was shaking his head. “No, you don’t

know what I’m going to show you. And I’m not so sure

that letting you out of his car alive has been

decided yet. So shut up, will you?”

“That’s no way for an apparition to talk.”

“Mulder, I know what you’re trying to do. You’ve

dealt with some pretty heavy emotion so far–your

childhood and the end of Christmas as you knew it.

You’ve seen the rebirth of happy Christmases for you,

though you’ve been too bull-headed to enjoy more

since 1999. And you’ve even seen that you mean a

great deal to Scully and to most of her family. But

you don’t handle close looks at your emotions well,

so you’re trying to avoid the next images. I’m

afraid, my friend, that you can’t do that.”

“Are you going to tell me the secrets of the

universe, too? Why we’re here–”

“Quiet, wise guy. You wouldn’t understand them

anyway. You still don’t understand your own personal

life. You don’t understand what these visions are all

about.”

“I beg to differ,” Mulder replied. “I was shown my

childhood to remind me why Christmas used to be great

and why that ended. I was shown Scully at my

apartment to realize I *can* feel holiday spirit.

Maybe it even showed me that having her come here

wasn’t a bad idea. I did see Scully’s family and know

they’re not all against me, and then I saw Scully

with her family to know that she understands me and

didn’t want me to be alone on Christmas.”

“That’s the only reason she was going to your

apartment?” Frohike asked, but immediately he held up

a gloved hand. “Never mind. I know you’ll say it

was.” He pushed his glasses higher onto his nose. “So

what have you learned from all you’ve seen?”

Mulder looked toward the windshield. “That Scully has

a loser as a friend.”

“Hmmmm…” Frohike said. “That wasn’t the point.”

“I know.” Mulder turned back to the apparition. “I’ve

learned that I’ve been stuck in the past, and I fail

to appreciate all that I have around me.”

Frohike nodded, smiling. “Not bad. Anything else?”

The younger man paused in thought. “No.”

“Here. Put these on.”

Mulder stared at the sunglasses his friend held

toward him. “It’s night and dark already, Dopey.”

“In the future, you won’t need film projectors and

DVDs. These are virtual reality glasses. Put them on

and see where they take you.”

“Do they show me what’s in my mind? I can see Bambi

Bigboobs if I imagine her?”

“Down boy,” Frohike replied. “No, you’ll see what

you’re *supposed* to see. Besides, who needs Bambi

Bigboobs when he could have the fine Agent Scully?”

Mulder donned the glasses and blinked in the new

darkness. Instantly, he saw the basement of the

Hoover Building. And though his feet weren’t moving,

he moved down the hallway, nearing the X-Files

office. “Not bad, Frohike,” he murmured.

“Glad you like them. By the way, you’re about to see

Christmas, 2005.”

Mulder nodded. In virtual reality, he turned to the

closed door of his office and jolted to a halt. “What

the…” he muttered in shock.

His doorplate had been replaced. He didn’t bother to

read the new one as he sifted through the door. The

occupants of the office were oblivious to his

presence.

His gaze quickly found his partner. Her red hair had

been cut in a close-cropped, skull-hugging style that

looked fine but wasn’t *his* Scully. She stood behind

a metal desk; his old one had been removed. New file

cabinets were in place. And he noticed Scully’s

nameplate occupying the desktop.

Seated before her was a dark haired man whose face

Mulder couldn’t see. The person was tall and had

short hair, too, and wore a dark suit.

“But Dana,” the man was saying, “I really don’t want

a new partner. You were terrific–the best. I can’t

do this without you.”

She smiled at him. “I know you mean well, but this is

something I have to do. The decision wasn’t easy;

I’ve enjoyed working with you, too, but the time has

come. I could spend the rest of my life here, but

what would I have in the end? Nothing but memories

and a ton of paperwork that bears my signature.

That’s not enough, Robert.” Her eyes seemed to stare

into the past as she slowly muttered, “I learned that

the hard way.”

“But leaving the FBI–”

“For what might be a more stable, promising career

and life?” Scully grabbed her nameplate and stuffed

it into a box on the desk. “I think that’s all.” She

held out her hand and let Robert shake it. “It’s been

a pleasure, Agent. Good luck here in the Bureau’s

Office of Case Re-Assignment.”

As the other agent stood to usher Scully from the

room, Mulder tore off the glasses and turned to

Frohike. “What is this? Scully quits the FBI? The X-

Files are gone? Where am *I* in 2005?”

The elfin man met his gaze. “Got a joke for you:

knock, knock.”

Mulder stared in frustration, then impatiently

answered, “Who’s there?”

“Mulder.”

“Mulder who?”

“That’s what they all say at the Hoover by 2005.”

Frohike gave him a moment to digest that. “Yes,

Scully leaves. The X-Files are closed down. New

people and assignments have taken the office.”

“Where am I during all this?” Mulder asked in

desperation.

“That’s what I’m about to show you.”

*******************

1:55 A.M.

Had she ridden this snowmobile under different

circumstances, Scully thought she might have enjoyed

it. She and John were second in the line of three

snowmobiles that sped along the snow-covered road in

the deep darkness. The wind whipped against her as

did the snowmobiles’ slipstreams, and riding on the

back of the sled, she tightly gripped the handholds

at her sides.

But her thoughts were fixed on Mulder. If they found

him, in what condition would he be? Could he have

frozen to death by now? How injured was he? How

damaged? It had been a horrible day; she prayed it

would not be a horrible night.

“Almost there!” John yelled back at her.

“Okay!” she called back. She just hoped there would

be truth to what she said.

**********************

1:55 A.M.

At Frohike’s urging, Mulder returned the glasses to

his eyes. The despair he’d felt before had turned

into budding anger and fear. He wanted now to get out

of the car and find Scully. She couldn’t quit the

FBI, and she couldn’t let the X-Files be closed.

Heck, she couldn’t cut her hair either.

“Christmas 2010,” Frohike stated. “Straight ahead.”

“Wait a minute–I don’t get this.” The images coming

to Mulder were of a large family car driving through

the streets of DC. “These glasses still need work,

Frohike.”

“Just be patient, will you?”

The car slowed and turned into an area hemmed by a

wrought iron fence. Before Mulder could see the

auto’s destination, though, he found himself in the

car, seated with his back against the dashboard. He

faced the family inside.

He noticed her first. Scully, nine years older. She

was still beautiful and desirable to him, but a few

wrinkles had sprouted around her mouth and eyes. Her

hair, still close-cropped, held a few streaks of gray

she’d not yet colored. She wore a black turtleneck

sweater beneath her camel coat. Driving the car, was

a man of medium build and receding hairline. His

glasses magnified his mid-forties’ eyes, and he, too,

wore a black sweater and camel coat. Mulder suddenly

noticed two boys and a girl, between ages six and

twelve, in the back seat. Each wore glasses and bored

expressions.

“Dana, please make this fast,” the man said. “We

don’t want to be late. Your mother will worry.”

“Tom,” she replied, “we have plenty of time. Bill and

Tara and their kids will keep Mom entertained until

we get there.”

“I don’t see why we do this anyway. It’s been nine

years. It’s silly to hold onto the past. You’re a

mother now as well as a researcher, a professor, and

a doctor in charge of medical mysteries at

Georgetown. Yet we do this every year.”

She looked at the driver. With her left hand, she

smoothed a piece of lint from his lapel. On her

finger, Scully wore a big diamond and a gold wedding

band. “It’s important to me.”

Tom smiled. “Like we are–I hope.”

“Of course. You’re all important to me.”

The car stopped. Tom leaned forward, looking out at

something. “This is the right spot, yes?”

Scully gazed out solemnly and nodded. “I won’t be

long.” She opened the car door.

“Dana? Don’t forget this!” The little girl in the

back seat handed Scully a miniature sunflower.

“Thanks, honey.”

Mulder, gazing in shock, asked, “They call her by

name? Why don’t they call her ‘Mom’?”

“They’re his kids. With his first wife.”

In dismay, Mulder watched Scully move through what he

now found to be a cemetery. The day was chilly, and

its cloudy gray light mixed with the scent of

December earth and decaying flowers to create a

dismal atmosphere. A brisk breeze lifted dead leaves

in a macabre dance about the cold stone of grave

markers. In their midst, Scully walked, her steps

slow but determined. Her mouth formed a tight line,

but her eyes glistened with tears.

At last she stopped. She gazed at a headstone for

several seconds before kneeling. At this grave, she

placed the sunflower in a small urn already filled

with a fairly fresh bouquet. Mulder’s eyes left her

briefly and read what he’d expected to find on the

marker: “Fox William Mulder. 1961-2001. Partner, best

friend, touchstone. Rest in peace.”

Again, Mulder tore the glasses off. “Frohike! I *do*

die in this accident? I die tonight?”

“Mulder, be patient,” the other man chided.

“I don’t want to die tonight! Not like this!”

Frohike gave him a stern glance. “If you don’t shut

up I’m gonna kill you anyway.”

Mulder’s expression mirrored his frustration, but he

gradually, reluctantly returned the glasses to his

face. “Everyone’s nightmare: to be killed by an elf

on Christmas.”

Scully still knelt and slowly ran her fingers over

the engraving of Mulder’s name. Finally, she sat back

on her heels. “Oh Mulder,” she sighed. “I know I was

just here the other day, but today is different.

Tom’s great; he really is, and the kids are sweet.

They’re a lot of work, believe me.” She wiped some

tears from her eyes before they could spill. “I can’t

believe it’s been nine years. So much has changed. My

work is rewarding, and my family is a joy. But

there’s something missing. Something I’ll never know

again. Something I want so much it hurts, and that

hurt will never go away.”

“Dana! We’ll be late, sweetie,” Tom called.

“In a minute!” she yelled, never taking her eyes from

the tombstone. In a quiet voice, she muttered,

“Mulder, why couldn’t you be here? Why did you have

to die? We wasted so much time. With our running all

over the country, investigating this and that. We

failed for too long to investigate what was most

important–us–our feelings for each other. And once

we finally did that, you were gone.” She wiped more

tears and then inhaled heavily. She visibly willed

her composure to return. Reaching out, she lay her

hand atop the grave-marker, caressing it lovingly.

“I’ve got to go now. But I wanted to do this. To be

here. With you. Mulder, Christmas isn’t Christmas

unless you’re with the one you love most.” She slowly

rose to her feet, her hand keeping its place even as

she turned. Slowly it left the cold stone. He felt

her pass as she walked toward the waiting car. After

a last longing glance, she got inside, and Tom drove

away.

Mulder remained at the grave, wanting to follow. But

he suddenly found that no movement was possible. He

had become embedded in the earth beneath his feet and

was slowly sinking.

“Frohike!” He tried to take off the glasses, but they

wouldn’t budge. And the sinking didn’t stop. He felt

himself mired up to his shins. “Do something! I’m

stuck! I’m getting buried! Get me out of this!” The

ground quickly claimed his knees and worked toward

his thighs.

“Have you learned anything yet?”

“Yeah! I don’t want to die! Help me!”

“Why don’t you want to die?”

Mulder stared frantically at the ground now

swallowing his hips. “Because there’s so much I

haven’t done! So much yet to be lived! That should be

me in that car with Scully. She’s with that guy–that

Tom–and those kids. I don’t want that!”

“You what? *You* don’t want that?”

“No! And neither does she! You heard her! My job, my

past–I’ve been hooked to those for too long. I’ve

ignored what I could have had–what I could have had

with Scully! Let me go back. Please!”

“Isn’t that being selfish?” Frohike asked.

“No. Maybe. I don’t care,” Mulder protested, the

ground at chest level. “It’s what I want. And it’s

what she wants.”

“So what you want–and need–in your personal life

*is* important after all?”

Up to his shoulders in the earth now, Mulder

screamed, “Yes! What Scully and I have together is

the most important thing in my life!”

“Well, why didn’t you say so?” Frohike gleamed. He

paused a moment, listening to the headset. A smile

formed and widened at whatever he heard. “It’s been

decided. Seems you’re gonna live after all.”

Instantly, the glasses fell from Mulder. The sinking

feeling, the consuming earth, the gravestone

vanished. As he tried to raise his hands to his face

to rub the images from his eyes, he found his wrists

handcuffed to the steering wheel.

“A last reminder,” Frohike laughed, and the handcuffs

fell away.

Mulder tried to calm his breathing. “If that was just

a dream, it was major league.”

“Who said it was a dream? Illusion or reality, my

friend. Who can tell the difference?”

“I don’t know at this point. And I don’t care.”

Mulder swallowed hard as his heart pounded in relief

and joy. He looked over at his friend. “I’ve got to

see Scully. Now. Are you–can you–get me out of

here?”

“Nah. I’m just an apparition, remember? Gotta go.

Besides, help’s on the way.” As Frohike began to

evaporate into the night, he waved once. “Welcome

back to the living, Mulder. Not just the existing,

but the living. There’s a big difference.”

As the apparition disappeared, Mulder lay his head

back, swallowed, panted, and swallowed again. The

images of Scully at the grave, with another man, and

out of the FBI, as well as the words he’d just

spoken, haunted his mind. He ached to be with her, to

touch her and know she was real.

He closed his eyes, then immediately opened them,

checking the dark car for the source of humming

engines getting louder.

***********************

2:00 A.M.

Before the snowmobile came to a full stop, Scully

bounded from its seat. She’d come to appreciate

snowmobiles when she realized they could leave the

road to explore rugged terrain. And that’s what their

party had done. At a wicked curve on the two-lane

road, John and his friends had veered into the side

ditch and slowed to descend a hill. Their headlights

had illumined a bridge’s abutment, and just to its

right, they had fallen on a large mound. The wind had

swished away some snow from the mound, revealing

badly dented red fiberglass.

Scully bounded clumsily through the deep snow,

imagining that she resembled an astronaut moonwalking

in zero gravity. She chanted Mulder’s name with each

plunge and paid no attention to those with whom she’d

traveled or the cold surrounding her. Her eyes

focused on the driver’s door, and her mind cringed at

what she might find.

The mittens loaned to her now swiped at the snow

covering the driver’s window. Underneath that, a thin

coat of ice prevented her from seeing inside. She

debated not opening the door in case that might cause

Mulder injury, but her need to know overcame reason.

She grabbed the door handle and pulled. When nothing

happened, she jerked the handle roughly. Snow fell

away, and with a loud creak, the door opened.

From somewhere behind her, a flashlight shone. Its

beam came to rest on Mulder’s face. Scully stared,

noting blood issuing from a forehead cut. She held

her breath as she pulled the mittens from her hands

so she could check for a pulse. She muttered,

“Mulder? It’s me.”

Then her breath burst forth as her mouth widened into

a smile of delight. Mulder’s head pivoted groggily on

the headrest.

He looked straight into her eyes and gave her a

crooked smile. “Merry Christmas, Scully.”

*************************

Epilogue

6:38 A.M.

Early morning sunlight silhouetted icicles on and

gently seeped through the dusty, cream blinds. The

heater knocked occasionally and spat warm air, making

the atmosphere cozy and relaxed.

Mulder lay on the hard mattress of the motel room,

his head pillowed by Scully’s left shoulder. He

barely felt any pain from the accident, and the cut

he’d suffered, now mended with a butterfly bandage,

caused him a mild twinge only if he moved. He drifted

in and out of contented sleep, happy to open his eyes

that were very close to Scully’s red-lace-covered

breasts; happy to feel his head gently rise and fall

with the pattern of her breathing. Happy to be with

her.

“Mulder?” Scully whispered. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” In fact, he was drunk with pleasure–the

scent of her skin and warmth of her body captivating

his senses.

She sighed heavily. “I think you should have stayed

in the hospital. Just for observation.”

“Not on Christmas,” he muttered. “Besides, the ER doc

confirmed your diagnosis: mild concussion and

bruises. All I’d get at the hospital is rest. I can

rest much better here.”

“Well, that’s not all you’d have gotten at the

hospital, but…” She lightly stroked the left side

of his head, her fingers softly grazing his ear. “Are

you cold?”

“No, I’m fine. Very comfortable. Are you?”

“Yes,” she sighed lazily. “I don’t know how you

survived that crash, Mulder. And with only a

concussion and bruised knees. Talk about Christmas

miracles.”

“Couldn’t leave you alone in the middle of nowhere,”

he smirked. His hand moved to rest on her lace-

covered thigh beneath the covers. “You still want to

go home to your mother’s?”

“No. I never did. I was just tired and worried–”

“And angry. I don’t blame you, Scully. I should have

called.”

“Oh well, that’s in the past, Mulder. Let’s forget

about it.” She pulled the bedcovers up closer to his

chin. “You should sleep. And I hate to tell you this,

but even just a mild concussion will prevent you from

learning to ski. I’m not sure I’ll let you out of

this room until it’s time to go home.”

“Sounds a bit naughty–keeping me captive.”

“You love the idea as much as I do,” she chuckled.

“Now tell me about your dream again.”

He started to shake his head but winced as the cut on

his forehead protested. “I’m not sure it was a dream.

And I don’t want to relive it. But the images, the

things I learned from it are fresh in my mind. I

think–I hope–they always will be.” He closed his

eyes as her lips touched his head.

“I’m glad you’re okay,” she murmured. “I’m glad

you’re here.”

“I’m glad *we’re* here, Scully,” he replied softly.

“Christmas isn’t Christmas unless you’re with the one

you love most.”

**********End**********

Haunted

cover

Title: Haunted

Name: Spooky

email: ddwake1@netcom.ca

Category: X-File

Keywords: MulderTorture, Angst

Spoilers: to Je Souhaite, IMTP VS 8 and 9

Disclaimer: I’ll put them away when I’m done, Ma. Honest!

Archive: Exclusive to IMTP for 2 weeks, then just let me know so I can brag!

Summary: A serial killer vows vengeance from beyond the grave, entangling Mulder in a fight for his life – against an enemy he cannot see.

Haunted

By Spooky

Teaser

Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman

11:45 PM Central

“It’s time.”

Darryl Wayne Hargrave looked up at the four men gathered outside his cell. He looked down a moment at the book in his hands, then closed it with finality and laid it aside. He nodded at the men diffidently, shrugged to his feet. The cell block reverberated with a tense energy, a crackle of electricity underlying the hushed anticipation. The men paid it no mind; they were accustomed to it. Just another day on Death Row. Just another execution.

Well, not *just* another execution. But, at the moment, the only one who knew that was Darryl Wayne Hargrave.

Eleven years on the Row had taken its toll on Hargrave – prison had left its mark in the pallor of his hawk-faced mien and the weight loss in the weeks leading up to his execution gave Hargrave a more than passing resemblance to the skeleton he’d soon become. Yet there was a maniacal gleam in his eye and an energy emanated from him that made even the hardened prison guards flinch. They did not waver in their duty, however, and led their prisoner to his fate with alacrity. One of the men happened to glance at the book laying on the cot and felt an unaccountable shiver run down his spine.

“Transcending Death” – well he hoped that if anyone could transcend death it wouldn’t be that son-of-a-bitch Darryl Wayne Hargrave. The death chamber was a rectangular room, smelling of fresh paint and detergent. One-way windows lined two walls, representing the rooms from which the chosen witnesses would view the execution. The room was dominated by the table upon which the prisoner would meet his fate. Resembling a travesty of a cross, the inmate was secured in place by no less than six sturdy straps, his arms outstretched. Pristinely sanitary–more fit to be a clinic for saving lives than claiming them. Hargrave did not appreciate the irony, however. He knew only that he was about to die and someone was going to pay for that.

The state-sanctioned taking of life is a process that is documented and executed in excruciating detail: Paramedics attach a heart monitor to the inmate’s chest and insert two IVs into his arm. First, the sedative sodium pentathol sends the condemned into a deep sleep. Chromium bromide paralyzes the muscles, including the lungs. Finally, a dose of potassium chloride stops the heart.

Darryl Wayne Hargrave knew exactly what was about to befall him.

The guards quickly and efficiently strapped him onto the table. The warden stepped forward and read the death warrant: “Pursuant to a verdict of guilt and a sentence of death returned against you by the Circuit Court of Washington County on June 27, 1990, you are hereby condemned to die by lethal injection at Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman. May God have mercy on your soul.”

The men beat a hasty retreat from the room, leaving their prisoner to face whatever God he professed. At 12:01 a.m. the warden nodded. As the sedative meandered through the IV, Hargrave smiled ferally. “Ready or not, here I come. I told you, Mulder, I always finish what I start.”

****

Act 1

Hegel Place, Alexandria

1:01 AM Eastern

“I always finish what I start.”

The words followed him as he threw himself out of sleep, barely keeping the scream from leaving his lips. Shit. He hadn’t had *that* particular dream for years. Odd that it had resurfaced after all this time. Oh yeah. Tonight was the last night of Darryl Wayne Hargrave’s life.

Mulder sat on his couch, bathed in the flickering light of the muted TV. Sighing, he ran his hand nervously through his hair. The prosecuting attorney on the case, who had, in the eleven years since, managed to slither his way up the political ladder, had issued an invitation to witness the execution. An invitation Mulder had been happy to decline.

Under no circumstances did he ever want to see Darryl Wayne Hargrave again. Alive or dead.

Time had mostly effaced the scars, and other horrors had taken the place of the memories. Mostly. Mulder ran his hands over his face, as if he could physically banish the memory of that time. He could still almost feel Hargrave’s glee as he struggled against his bonds, feel the sharp edge of the knife as it sliced his skin….

Damnit, enough! Hargrave was dead – or soon to be anyway. Mulder shivered. Despite the furnace he could hear clanging away, the November chill had seeped into the room.

Served him right for falling asleep while watching horror flicks, he mused as he eyed the mute, flickering images on the TV. No wonder monsters prowled in his head. Reason enough to have nightmares. He clicked off the remote, but the images steadfastly refused to vanish into electronic oblivion. Frowning, he aimed the device again, swearing softly when the appliance did not obediently shut itself off. Breathing the heavy sigh of the put-upon, he hauled himself off the couch to turn it off the old-fashioned way. As his hand reached for the button, the TV screen exploded outwards, showering Mulder with daggers of glass. He stumbled backwards, hands shielding his face, only to stumble and crash into the coffee table behind him. His back flared with pain.

Mulder carefully brushed the shards of the shattered screen away from his eyes, oblivious to the blood that welled from his many lacerations. He sat on the floor of his apartment, dumbfounded, staring at his television as if it were a friend that had unexpectedly betrayed him. The clock on the VCR was flashing 1:01.

*******

X-Files Office

There was no hope, of course, that Scully wouldn’t notice the various bandages and stitches that adorned his face and arms when he reported for work the next morning.

“Mulder, what happened?” she asked predictably, admirably walking the line between her concerned friend voice and her exasperated “what-the-hell-have-you-done-now-Mulder” partner voice.

“My TV blew up,” he muttered.

“What?”

“My TV blew up,” he answered more loudly. “Don’t laugh,” he warned his suspiciously snickering partner.

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” she responded (a little too smugly, he thought). “I’m sure it was no laughing matter. You could have been seriously hurt. How did it happen?”

“Don’t know. I was just going to turn it off – then kerplooey.”

“Kerplooey?” That eyebrow was raised just so, just the way he liked it.

“Yes, Scully. Kerplooey. Ka-blam. As in blown to smithereens. Etcetera, etcetera.”

“Maybe you should take the day off,” Scully suggested. “Those cuts have got to hurt.”

Mulder shrugged. “They’re not too bad. And I’ll hurt just as much at home as here. Besides, I’ve got no TV to watch.”

“And we know how lost you are without ESPN.” Scully’s eyes twinkled.

“Guess I’ll need an alternate form of entertainment,” he leered. “Any ideas, Agent Scully?”

Scully laughed. “I’d say, G-man, that if you’re a good boy, I might let you watch TV at my place tonight.”

“Agent Scully, I’m always a good boy.”

Scully leaned forward, her lips to Mulder’s ear. “That’s too bad,” she whispered huskily. “I rather like naughty boys.”

“Scuulleeee…!”

They broke into laughter, and Mulder knew that he was grinning inanely from ear to ear. Of all the basements in all the world, she had walked into his. And stayed, against all the odds, the abductions, the brushes with death, the cost to her health and family…. And to think that at one time he had resented her presence. Now he couldn’t conceive of working the X-Files without her. Of being without her. He was one lucky son-of-a-bitch.

Their levity was interrupted by a loud crash as Mulder’s coffee mug chose that moment to fly off the desk and shatter itself against the tiled floor. They stared at it in stupefied silence for a moment, then Scully, ever practical, grabbed a handful of paper towels and began mopping up the mess. Mulder bent down to help her.

“Let me do it, Mulder. You don’t want to get coffee on your bandages, or give yourself another cut.”

His ever efficient partner had the mess cleaned up in no time. Mulder pursed his lips. “How the hell did that happen? Neither of us was near it.”

“You must have put it down too close to the edge of the desk, that’s all.”

“I know I didn’t, Scully. It wasn’t anywhere near the edge.”

“It’s just a mug, Mulder,” Scully said, exasperated. “It’s not an X-File, not a conspiracy.” She threw the remnants of his mug into the trash.

Mulder watched her forlornly. “Now I need a new mug too,” he sighed. “At this rate I’ll be out of material possessions by the end of the day.”

Scully took pity on him. “I’ve got an extra here you can use,” she offered. “But,” she wagged her finger, “you have to promise not to break it.” She shivered. “When the hell did it get so cold in here?”

 

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*****

  1. Edgar Hoover Building, Parking Garage

The day had ended, finally, amid the tedious monotony of paperwork, the bane of any agent’s existence. Five o’clock had mercifully released them from their servitude to Uncle Sam and the American public – released them to the possibilities of the evening.

The agents strolled through the parking garage, en route to their respective cars. Scully eyed her partner – Mulder had become paler during the day and lines of pain had begun to etch themselves into his face.

“Maybe you should go home, Mulder,” she suggested. “You look beat.” Her hand reached out to grasp his; the most daring display of affection she could venture in so public a place – a place where evidence of “inappropriate” behaviour could be used against them.

“Rescinding your offer, Scully?” Squeezing her hand briefly, then reluctantly disengaging.

“Of course not, Mulder.” She rolled her eyes. “But you obviously need to get some rest. You need to give your body time to heal.”

“I’ll be fine, Scully. I’ll take some Tylenol when we get to your place. Or are you just trying to get out of buying the food this time?” Actually, Mulder *was* tired; he’d spent most of the night in the ER waiting to get stitched up. And his back was killing him where he’d hit the table. But he didn’t want to go back to his lonely apartment. His now television-less apartment.

“Forget it, Mulder. It’s my turn to pick the movie. The food is your department. And no pizza!” She called over her shoulder as she continued toward her car.

Mulder shook his head as he watched her walk away. He was continually amazed by his partner – amazed that she could feel the things for “Spooky” Mulder that she did. He held no illusions about himself – he’d always known he was a self-centred, arrogant bastard – and once the “Spooky” comments had started at the Academy, he’d even cultivated the reputation. As he’d once confessed to Scully: “Sometimes the need to play with their heads outweighs the millstone of humiliation.” Lately though, he found that he’d mellowed somewhat. He made more of an effort to play nice, for Scully’s sake. He’d finally got it through his thick head that his colleagues’ contempt of him rubbed off onto Scully. And he couldn’t bear anyone thinking that she wasn’t the most competent agent in the Bureau.

“I always finish what I start.”

Mulder started abruptly out of his reverie, stuttering to a halt. He eyed the parking garage warily, certain he’d heard the hoarse tones of Hargrave’s voice. He shook his head. His imagination was getting the better of him. He glanced about one final time, paranoia too ingrained to ignore, pulling his coat tighter about him. Damn but if it didn’t seem colder than usual in here, even if it was November.

A slight movement at the corner of his eye captured his attention. Mulder swung around, his breath catching. Hargrave stood staring at him, grinning like the madman he had been. Mulder began to run forward, only to stutter to a halt. The killer was no longer there. Mulder looked around carefully, but could see nothing out of the ordinary. Shit, his nightmare had definitely spooked him. He was seeing and hearing things now.

Absorbed as he was in his ruminations, he didn’t notice the sudden movement of the blue Taurus as it quietly slipped into gear. Suddenly it was rocketing toward him, gaining momentum impossibly faster than could be explained by inertia alone. Instinct, and the slight blur of movement at the corner of his eye, alerted Mulder. The agent sprinted out of the way, diving and rolling just as the car crashed into the one parked opposite it, sending mechanical screams of shattering glass and tortured metal throughout the garage. Mulder clambered to his feet and stared at the driverless vehicle in perplexed fascination.

Scully had just been closing the door to her own car when the noise of the crash reverberated throughout the parking garage. The echoes made it difficult to pinpoint the sound’s location, but Scully headed toward the area where she had left her partner, knowing, somehow, that he would be in the thick of things.

She found him there, staring at a blue Ford that seemed to have slipped its parking brake and rolled into the car across from it.

“Are you okay, Mulder?” She noted the smears of dirt on his pants and surmised he’d had to dodge the runaway car. She frowned. Surely the car wouldn’t have been going fast enough to force Mulder to hit the ground and roll? The distance was too short for the car to have gained any speed – unless someone had been behind the wheel. She glanced at her partner – he seemed nonplussed by the incident, but not concerned or agitated as if there had been a genuine attempt on his life.

He looked up from his contemplation of the car. “Yeah, I’m fine, Scully.” He looked down at his pants in dismay. “Although I am wondering why inanimate objects seem to have it in for me lately,” he said wryly.

Scully circled the car, cataloguing the damage. It seemed excessive for a car that had rolled such a short distance. “What happened, Mulder?”

Mulder shrugged. “It came rolling at me like a bat out of hell.”

“Rolling? There was no driver?”

“Not unless a ghost was driving.”

Scully pulled on the door handle, but the door was locked. The passenger side was the same. She peered in the window, straining to see if anything had been jammed over the accelerator.

Mulder walked up beside her. “The car wasn’t running, Scully.”

“Then how could it be going so fast?”

“Don’t ask me. I was too busy not getting crushed.” He didn’t mention what he’d thought he’d heard or seen. After all, Hargrave was just on his mind lately. He had nothing to do with this. The man was dead, for Christ’s sake.

*****

Scully’s Apartment

Finally, Scully sighed as she dropped her keys on the hall table. By the time they’d called Security to deal with the mess in the parking lot she had been virtually faint with hunger. Unwilling to leave Mulder to his own devices, she had insisted they travel together to get the food and the movie. Besides, given her partner’s run of luck lately, some other mishap would surely have befallen him. She’d much rather he was somewhere she could keep an eye on him.

It wasn’t that her partner was clumsy, or careless, or self-destructive, particularly – it was simply Mulder’s own peculiar Murphy’s Law: if it was anywhere within the realm of possibility to get hurt during an activity, Mulder would. So she got a little more practical use out of her medical license than she had foreseen when she had chosen forensic pathology as her specialty, and learned to keep a fully stocked medical kit handy at all times. It made life with Mulder a little easier.

Scully turned, relieving Mulder of the bags of Chinese food and heading to the kitchen while he shrugged out of his coat. His jacket and tie followed suit, and he tossed his shoes to the side of the door.

Sprawling on Scully’s couch, he fumbled with the remote, breathing a sigh of relief when the TV obediently turned itself on without incident. Channel surfing absently, his mind was not on the rapidly changing images, but on the strange events that had plagued him over the past twenty-four hours.

Despite his assurances to Scully, the incident in the garage had unnerved him. He couldn’t get past the impression that the car had been aimed at him like an arrow. Which might have been the case, had the car a driver. It should have rolled gently, if at all, not racing as if a rocket had been attached to the undercarriage.

It was almost as if the car had been a warning….

He shook his head. He could dismiss the spectre of Hargrave as his imagination, or even accept it as a genuine apparition. The dead often appeared to those they had connections with in life, and he and Hargrave had definitely been connected. Unfortunately. He shivered, suddenly wondering why Scully hadn’t yet turned her heating on. His mind lingered on other killers he’d “connected” with: Props, Mostow, Roche, Dugas…. He wondered, not for the first time, if Victor Dugas had been right: was he somehow like these men? Was that why he was the one who could always find them, think like them, when others couldn’t?

The clatter from the kitchen roused him from his morbid reverie. He smiled softly, thrusting the notion away. If he were at all like those men, Scully would have seen through him in a New York minute. She was here, ergo, Dugas was wrong. Mulder was nothing like him. Or Hargrave.

It suddenly occurred to Mulder that he didn’t *know* that Hargrave was dead. It was possible, if unlikely, that the execution had been stayed. He made a mental note to find out in the morning. Or maybe not. He focused his attention on the news, wincing as the reporter recounted Hargrave’s reign of terror. Bill Patterson’s name was mentioned as the profiler who had rescued a fellow agent. Fortunately, Mulder’s name didn’t come up. He glanced quickly toward the kitchen, hoping Scully hadn’t heard the report. He changed stations when it became clear that Hargrave had met his fate on schedule. He sighed in relief. Maybe now he could get over this, this *thing*, and get back to his regularly scheduled life. Such as it was.

In the kitchen, Scully began dishing out the food. After a moment’s debate, she reached for a bottle of wine. Mulder, especially, could use some relaxation after the events of the last day. The poor man was having quite a run of bad luck. Not to mention that the parking lot incident had shaken her as well. She frowned, remembering how closely he had escaped serious injury.

Well, she smiled to herself, she’d just have to keep a close eye on him tonight then. For his own protection, of course. She shivered as a cold draft brushed over her. She’d really have to get the landlord to check the heating.

Her breath caught as a feather-light touch moved up her arm, breath tickling her ear. She smiled in contentment; she hadn’t heard Mulder sneak up behind her. Which turned to surprised outrage as her ass was sharply pinched.

“Mulder!” She spun around, only to gape in dismay. There was no one behind her. The kitchen was empty but for herself.

Scully was just processing this, and the fact the draft seemed to have disappeared, when Mulder appeared in the doorway. “You called?”

She stared at him blankly. It couldn’t have happened. No way could he move that quickly. But the slight burn on her butt argued against her imagination as the culprit. “Um, yeah. Dinner’s on the table,” she muttered, distracted.

“Okay.” Looking at her strangely.

She shook her head to clear it, banishing the episode from her mind. “You weren’t just in here, were you?” she asked hesitantly, half expecting him to smirk and ‘fess up.

“No, I was checking the scores,” he answered. “Why, something happen?”

“No,” she replied firmly. “I must have imagined it.”

“Imagined what?”

“I told you, nothing. I’m sorry I mentioned it.”

“I’m not,” Mulder answered with a grin. “C’mon, Scully, I’m dyin’ here,” he wheedled. “You just can’t say something like that and leave me hanging.”

Damn. His eyes were doing that puppy dog thing she could never resist and his lips were pouting just so….

Life was a hell of a lot easier before she decided she loved the big dope.

“Well, if you *must* know, I thought you were standing behind me. I could feel you touch my arm, breathe on my neck.” She felt her face colour unaccountably.

“Well,” Mulder leaned forward. “There must be more, Scully. Otherwise you wouldn’t have turned such a lovely shade of beet red,” he leered.

“Eat your dinner, Mulder. It’s getting cold,” she replied primly. He just wasn’t going to let her get out of this with her dignity intact, was he?

“Uh, uh. You’re not getting off that easily, Scully.” He pushed his chair back, and moved to stand behind her. He leaned over her, his lips to her ear. His touch was a whisper on her arm, his breath a caress on her neck. “Is this how it was, Scully? Was it like this? Did you feel my breath on you here? What happened next, Scully? What did you imagine I did?”

His voice was soft and mellow and there was just no winning with him. She sighed.

“I thought you goosed me. That’s all. That’s why I yelled.”

“Ooh, Scully. Do you often imagine that I goose you?” Mulder whispered huskily. “Let me make your fantasy a reality.”

“You even think about it, Mulder, and I swear you’ll be auditioning for the Vienna Boy’s Choir.”

“Ouch,” Mulder laughed, stealing a quick kiss before reclaiming his seat. But the look in his eyes made her spine tingle. They dug into their meal with hearty appetites. Mulder reached for the container of cashew chicken, only to watch in stunned amazement as it shot out of his grip into his lap.

“What the…?” Scully had seen it, but didn’t believe it. Containers of Chinese food simply did not become ambulatory and slide themselves across tables. She met Mulder’s incredulous gaze. His face lit up in a delighted grin. “They’re heeeere.”

Scully shot him a disgusted look, then wet some paper towels and handed them to her partner. Damned if that draft wasn’t back. She picked up the offending container, examining it closely. It occurred to her that they might have been the butt of some practical joke – it was certainly a more likely explanation than the idea the cardboard had suddenly achieved sentience. Or whatever theory was currently spinning around in the sometimes squeaky wheels of her partner’s brain.

“Well?” Mulder wiped the rest of the mess off his lap.

Scully shook her head. “There’s no wires, magnets…nothing out of the ordinary that I can see.” Her eyes flashed dangerously. “This better not be some practical joke of yours,” she warned.

“Hey, Scully, *I’m* the injured party here. I’d hardly dump my dinner in my own lap.” He waggled his eyebrows. “I have a theory – wanna hear it?”

She leaned against the kitchen counter, arms crossed. “I bet this will be entertaining. Lay it on me, G-man.”

“Ghost.” He waited expectantly.

Yep. There it was. The eyebrow.

“Gee, I didn’t see that coming,” Scully replied with a smile. “It’s a little predictable, Mulder. I was hoping for something a little less…”

“Less what?”

“A little less mundane.”

“Ghosts are mundane?” Mulder asked, incredulous.

Scully shrugged. “For us they are.”

Mulder conceded the point.

“So you think a ghost is haunting you,” Scully continued, her voice skeptical. “On the basis of one container of cashew chicken falling into your lap.”

“Scully, it didn’t fall,” Mulder corrected, exasperated. “Don’t deny what you saw. You even checked the box for wires, remember?”

“Sorry, Mulder,” she apologized, then continued. “You’re basing your theory on one container of cashew chicken falling into your lap in an unexplained manner. Better?”

“Marginally,” he sulked. “Actually, Scully, there’s more than one incident. My TV, the coffee mug, the car, your experience earlier and now this….”

“Mulder, those incidents can be explained rationally.” She paused. “Well, maybe not this one,” she conceded. Although she could probably come up with a viable scenario eventually. He’d looked so hurt when he’d thought she was denying what she’d seen; she’d humour him for now.

“That’s a lot of coincidences, Scully. And there was a drop in temperature at the time of each incident. I noticed it at my apartment, the office, the parking garage and here, just now. Cold spots are well documented phenomena of hauntings.”

“It’s *November* Mulder. Temperature fluctuations are common at this time of year.”

Mulder’s lips pursed and she cut him off with a sigh before he could make his rejoinder. “So you’re being haunted. Okay, Mulder. By who?”

Who indeed? Mulder paled, recalling the figure he’d thought he’d seen in the parking garage. Hargrave would have reason enough to haunt him, he knew.

“Mulder?” He started at Scully’s voice. “You okay?”

“I’m fine, Scully. Just getting used to the idea of a ghost following me around, that’s all.”

“Don’t get too attached to the idea, Mulder. I still think you’re letting some coincidences, and an admittedly weird incident, get the better of your imagination. There’s no such things as ghosts.”

“Just remember that when I’m haunting *you*, Scully. It’s all in your head….”

******

Mulder’s apartment

Fear had banished any exhaustion he felt as he struggled against the ropes binding him to the steel table. His heart was pounding so loudly in his chest that he was certain Hargrave could hear it.

Technicolour images of Hargrave’s victims flashed across his eyes and he renewed his struggles, heedless of the blood seeping from his wrists and ankles. There would be plenty more if he didn’t get out of this.

Stupid, stupid! Stupid to let himself get so run down, to let himself be so unaware of his surroundings. But Patterson just wouldn’t let up, so Mulder had done profile after profile, delving into the minds of psychotic killers, until he couldn’t keep his eyes open anymore. Damn, if he’d just stayed and done the profile, rather than retreating to the motel for some much needed shuteye, the team would at least have some means of finding him. But the profile was complete only in his head; Mulder was doubtful his notes could be deciphered in time to save him.

Footfalls echoed throughout the warehouse and Hargrave was just suddenly – there – running a finger along Mulder’s stubbled jaw. The agent couldn’t stop himself from flinching at the contact. It was small consolation that Hargrave hadn’t raped any of his victims.

Cold gray eyes regarded him menacingly and Mulder saw the glint of a blade being held over his body. It swayed slightly, as if looking for the most vulnerable place to strike. He understood then that he was going to die, and spend a long time doing it.

The blade descended.

Hargrave watched the agent struggle in his sleep, moaning piteously. He clenched the hunting knife in one hand, grinning ferally. This was working out even better than he had hoped. Soon, soon it would be time for his revenge. When Mulder finally screamed and erupted out of sleep, there was no sign of the menacing figure.

*****

End Act I

Act II

X-Files Office

Several Days Later

Scully hesitated before opening the door to the basement office, unwilling to face another day of uncertainty. Ever since the incident in the parking lot, her partner had been coming to work haggard and distracted. Every day, it seemed, he sported some new injury. Although minor in and of themselves, she was concerned they might signify a larger problem. Even in the office, it seemed he was always knocking things over, tripping over the furniture…. It was disconcerting in the extreme to see Mulder so suddenly graceless. Too many reasons for his clumsiness nattered for attention in her brain, none of them bearing thinking about. She hoped it was simply distraction.

Of course, Mulder just blamed the ghost. Taking a deep breath, she opened the door, mentally preparing herself for what she might find.

Mulder was slumped at his desk, a bright new bandage peeking from beneath his cuff. The physician in her automatically catalogued the pale, pinched face, the dark circles beneath bloodshot eyes bespeaking too many sleepless nights. Her eyes noted the slight tremor in his hands, the nervous energy.

She frowned. She had seen Mulder ill, she had seen him hurt, distracted, angry, drugged, panicked…. This was not a Mulder she knew. Obviously, the novelty of being haunted had worn off. “Hey, Scully, look at this.” Mulder forced himself to straighten and become more animated once he became aware of her regard. Her partner was making a brave effort to pretend that everything was normal. A skill they had both perfected to a fine art: pretend hard enough and eventually you can convince yourself the world hasn’t kicked you in the ass.

Mulder waved a brochure beneath her nose. “Built in DVD player, surround sound, eight speakers….”

It took her a moment to translate Mulder-speak. She shook her head. “Mulder, your apartment isn’t big enough for a big screen TV.”

Mulder sighed dramatically. “Unfortunately, neither is my bank account.”

Scully had to smile. Her partner looked, for all the world, like a little boy who had just been told Santa Claus didn’t exist. He eyed the brochure wistfully. “Still….”

Personally, Scully was all for the extravagant purchase if it meant that Mulder would actually start sleeping again. After so many years of having the television lull him into slumber, it appeared Mulder was now impervious to Morpheus’ charms without its reassuring presence. Her partner had rebuffed most of her efforts to get him to eat and on the occasions she had been able to put food in front of him, he’d barely picked at it. Whatever was wrong, he steadfastly refused to speak of it.

The ratcheting sound of a drawer in the filing cabinet sliding open then slamming shut roused her out of her reverie. Scully opened her mouth to question Mulder on his sudden wrath, then abruptly shut it. Mulder was sitting at his desk as more drawers began opening and shutting of their own accord. Her jaw dropped in amazement, affronted by their blatant disregard for the laws of physics. Mulder spared the cabinets a disinterested glance, then ignored the disturbance; he’d become inured to the bizarre events that now seemed to be becoming daily occurrences in his life. Being haunted wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

Actually, he thought he had a pretty good idea whose ghost was behind it all, and the thought sent cold rivers of dread down his spine. Still, aside from the TV and the car incidents, the “ghost’s” antics hadn’t really amounted to more than annoyances. It was the dreams that were making his life hell. Unfortunately, Mulder’s finely honed shit-detector told him it was going to hit the fan soon. And he’d be right in the line of fire.

The filing cabinets ended their play with a final thump, leaving behind a stillness as unsettling as the event itself had been. Mulder wondered idly what it signified when his life had become so bizarre that self-mobilizing filing cabinets failed to catch his attention.

Scully crossed to the cabinets slowly, eyeing them warily. With some trepidation, she put her hand on the handle and slid a drawer open. She carefully inserted her hand behind the drawer, feeling for wires or some mechanism that would explain what she had just witnessed. Damnit, objects simply did not decide to move of their own volition! But no wires, no mechanisms revealed themselves to her probing. She moved from drawer to drawer, aware of Mulder’s scrutiny. Finally, she reached behind the cabinet, only to have her search prove once again fruitless.

Scully sighed. Maybe she’d have to revisit Mulder’s ghostly theory. *She* certainly didn’t have a rational explanation for some of the bizarre things that seemed to be happening around him. Like the container of Chinese food that had upended itself in her partner’s lap, she’d been unable to find any wires, magnets, or other mechanisms that would indicate Mulder was the butt of some elaborate practical joke.

Truth be told, she was amazed how placidly Mulder was taking this. She would have expected him to be fully into the investigation of this X-File – one that had literally fallen into his lap. Even if it turned out to be a hoax, he would want to confront the perpetrator. She could picture Mulder puttering excitedly with cameras and other esoteric paraphernalia cluttering his apartment while Chuck Burke made incomprehensible adjustments to the equipment, chattering about auras, energy fields and apportation all the while. She smiled suddenly – maybe that was what Mulder needed to get him out of his funk – an active investigation of this phenomenon. She would happily admit this was an X-File, and ready-made to boot. While she didn’t believe in ghostly interference, she *was* curious about the *real* explanation.

She was about to suggest this to Mulder when the jangle of the phone preempted her. Her partner picked up the receiver, seemingly unaffected by the filing cabinets’ antics. She suddenly wondered if similar incidents at his apartment were responsible for his lack of sleep.

Mulder spoke quietly into the phone, a frown furrowing his face as he replaced the receiver. “Skinner has a case for us.”

*****

Abandoned Warehouse

“Got to admit, this one is nasty,” the florid detective puffed as he deftly maneuvered his pot-bellied form around the milling crowd of police and forensics technicians. Detective Charles Raynor of the D.C.P.D. was scant months from early retirement and really didn’t want to spend what was left of his career chasing some phantom serial killer. So when the evidence had come back with a frankly impossible suspect, he took a chance and called the “Spooky Squad.”

Sure, Raynor had heard the stories about Mulder and his partner. The District, Alexandria, and Georgetown police departments together probably had enough calls relating to these two to fill a filing cabinet or two. Not to mention the scuttlebutt one heard in what was, despite inter-departmental rivalries, actually a fairly tight-knit community of law enforcement. The kind called Mulder a brilliant eccentric, the contemptuous (the majority as far as Raynor could tell), a brilliant crackpot. Frankly, Raynor didn’t care if Spooky Mulder *was* a member of the lunatic fringe. He just wanted this case solved – fast.

Of course, Raynor didn’t believe for a minute that a ghost was perpetrating these crimes. They were obviously the work of a copycat, but Raynor figured Mulder could profile the s.o.b. anyway. Word was, he’d been good at it before he started chasing aliens and shit. And Raynor had discovered Mulder had some experience with the monster the perp was emulating.

Up close and personal experience, by all accounts. Looking now at the fibbie’s pale face, Raynor was reevaluating his decision. The agent looked like a stiff breeze would knock him over. The suit was too expensively cut to be designed to hang so loosely. The darkness of the material only highlighted the agent’s pallor, drawing attention to the dark-circled, haunted, hazel eyes. This case was bound to push a lot of buttons and if the guy was this rattled already…. Raynor shook his head. You did the job or you got out. And if Mulder hadn’t gotten out by now, then he could do the job.

The agents followed Raynor in tense silence, half expecting another ghostly manifestation. For now though, their “ghost” seemed to be minding his manners. A few minutes later, Mulder knew why. Raynor guided the agents to the forlorn body of a child, abandoned like so much refuse after the killer had had his fun. Scully closed her eyes quickly, opening them to spare an evaluating glance at her partner. He’d gotten even paler, if that were possible. For a moment he seemed to sway as naked torment clouded his eyes. Then the shutters closed down and he drew himself upright, once again hidden behind the armor of his inscrutable G-man persona.

God, she hated to see him do that, even as she knew she had automatically done the same. Donned the mask that would hide the hurt from the world. Aside from the horror of small, bright lives cut unnaturally short, these types of cases just hit too close to home for both of them. Samantha, Emily, Lucy Householder, Amber Lynn LaPierre, the evil that had been John Lee Roche – the mental toll of these cases ripped them to shreds every time.

Scully knelt by the small, poor thing – her touch gentle and respectful – as if he could care anymore. Unfortunately, it was all the dignity this child would likely see now. She swallowed heavily as she took in the dark hair and horrified hazel eyes, sparing a quick glance at her partner. Mulder had retreated to the periphery, putting as much distance as possible between himself and the blood-soaked body. Scully sighed again, turning her attention to the atrocity in front of her.

She didn’t need an autopsy to guess at the cause of death. Deep cuts criss-crossed the pale skin, and Scully could only shudder at the unimaginable depravity of a person who could do this to a child. The boy’s death had been slow and painful.

“This is the third one in as many nights. The first was a girl, the second a boy. All street kids. Same MO, same message on the wall-” he gestured to the messily printed words “I always finish what I start.” Mulder heard a roaring in his ears and felt himself sway. Suddenly Raynor’s voice came back into focus. “- victim’s blood. He cut them until they bled to death.”

“You told A.D. Skinner that some of the evidence was strange. What did you mean?” Scully prompted. Heinous as the case was, it didn’t seem to be an X-File. And if it wasn’t an X-File, then maybe, just maybe, she could get Mulder to leave it alone.

“Well,” Raynor began uneasily, “we pulled a print from the last crime scene….”

“And discovered your prime suspect is pushing up daisies,” Mulder finished with an air of fatalism, finally joining them by the remains.

The detective blinked at the agent, surprise etching his face. “Yeah. How’d you know?”

“I know his work. Darryl Wayne Hargrave,” he continued for Scully’s benefit.

“I profiled him when I worked in the ISU. He was executed in Mississippi five days ago.” About the time inanimate objects started taking a dislike to you, a voice whispered in his mind. Mulder needed no further incentive to believe. The sudden resurgence of the dreams was proof enough. He’d come to believe that Hargrave was the entity stalking him.

Mulder had no difficulty believing in ghosts. His encounters with Howard Graves, and Maurice and Lydia would have erased any doubts he’d harboured long ago. Not that they’d convinced Scully. For someone whose religion preached of one’s immortal soul, she had a hard time believing that soul could tangibly exist.

He was just dismayed at being the one haunted. Darryl Wayne Hargrave’s spirit might have returned to wreak his vengeance on Mulder, but he obviously couldn’t resist the lure of his old vocation. Somehow, Hargrave had found a way to come back from beyond the grave. God, it sounded like a hokey B movie. The agent had no doubt that Hargrave wanted to finish what he’d begun years ago – but it seemed he wanted to play with Mulder first. Like Roche, like Modell. The killings were just Hargrave’s sick way of upping the ante – the bastard had always gotten his kicks from the suffering of his victims.

Not that he could tell this D.C. detective that his killer *really* was a ghost. That’d go over well. He’d just have to find some way of dealing with Hargrave himself. Just how did you kill a ghost anyway?

*****

Mulder’s Apartment

Scully had hurried her partner home as soon as practical – Mulder had begun looking downright green as the investigation dragged on. She’d do the autopsy later. Right now, she was busy listening to Mulder’s dry heaves. The crime scene had affected him out of all proportion; gruesome as it was, they’d seen worse. Scully suspected that far more had happened eleven years ago than Mulder had let on. Mulder emerged from the bathroom, looking only marginally more composed. He ran a trembling hand through his hair, eyes studiously ignoring hers. There was no chance Scully was going to leave this be – she would demand an explanation. He simply didn’t know if he could force himself to relive the experience. He’d never spoken of it, not even to the shrink they’d tried to send him to when it was all over. He sighed in resignation, letting himself collapse onto the couch, shoulders slumped in surrender.

Scully regarded him expectantly. “What’s going on, Mulder? I’ve never seen you like this.”

“Something I ate?” Mulder attempted a weak grin that fell flat about two feet from his face.

“I might buy that if you’d actually eaten anything,” Scully answered sharply. Her voice softened. “It has to do with Hargrave, doesn’t it?”

Mulder’s gaze was fixed on the wall, his eyes years away. “You ever wonder what evil is, Scully?” he asked unexpectedly. “With all the criminals I’ve profiled, I could always trace the source of their psychoses. I could at least see how they could come to be, why they did the things they did. But Hargrave….” His voice trailed off, then gained strength again. “Hargrave had no trauma in his past, no abuse, nothing to explain his motivation. He made a conscious decision to kill. He liked it. He liked the terror he evoked. I looked into his eyes and I saw nothing but evil.” Mulder’s voice had fallen to a whisper. Scully could see his body shudder in remembrance.

She understood. She’d seen the same in Donnie Pfaster’s eyes.

Mulder himself had recently had his own personal brush with evil. He’d not only seen it – he’d tasted it, breathed it – nearly been consumed by it. He had looked into the abyss and it had nearly claimed him. Mulder had profiled Darryl Wayne Hargrave early in his career, when he had still been Bill Patterson’s golden boy. After months of brutal cases that had left him exhausted and raw, Patterson had sent him to Mississippi to profile another kid killer. Another baby butcher. Hargrave had lingered over his victims’ deaths, inflicting days of torture – carving hundreds of shallow cuts with his hunting knife, gradually making them deeper and deeper until his victims, finally and mercifully, bled to death. Mulder had spent days without sleep, without food, trying to get a handle on a killer who seemed to defy any conventional analysis. He had been beyond exhaustion.

Intent on catching a few hours sleep before writing his profile and turning it in for the morning briefing, he’d taken a cab back to his motel. Where Hargrave had been waiting for him. Too tired to be alert, he’d been easy prey for Hargrave, who had somehow recognized the new face from Washington as a threat. Ironically, it had been Patterson who had flown out and saved Mulder’s ass, shaping his agent’s notes into a coherent profile. Still, it had taken the cavalry three days to find him. Three of the longest days of his life.

Mulder finished his monotone recitation, glossing over his actual captivity and torture. No way was he going there – reliving it in his nightmares was bad enough. You could still see the scars if you knew where to look. Mulder wondered if the important ones had healed at all.

There were times during his long, nightmare-ridden convalescence when he had cursed Patterson for finding him.

He was aware of Scully’s shocked silence. He’d kept his gaze locked on the wall, unwilling to face the horror and pity he knew would cloud her eyes. His mind, however, was years away, consumed with images of the things he hadn’t told her – the grating sound of Hargrave’s laughter, how his breath had hitched with excitement with each new cut, the acrid smell of semen as the killer stroked himself to orgasm. The slow leak of blood from each wound, the fire of pain from wrists mutilated in Mulder’s struggles against his bonds, his whimpers of pain when his throat had become too abused to scream.

The certainty he was going to die. Then finally, the praying, the begging for death, for release. Hargrave’s elated laughter at Mulder’s hoarse pleading.

Those memories had broken – no, crashed – through the barriers he’d placed around them. It was all he had been able to do not to run from the crime scene – run from the realization the nightmare was beginning all over again. Worse this time, because he didn’t have to imagine what those poor children had gone through – he knew. Lord, he knew. He’d seen that poor, discarded lump of flesh and knew exactly what that boy’s last hours had been like – knew there had come a time when the body had surpassed its limits, when it had become impossible to feel more pain simply because the nerves were already overloaded. Knew there had come a time to beg for death. Knew these things, and had come so close to losing it all. Fortunately, Scully had divined the distress he didn’t dare show and got them out of there, covering his ass yet again. Sometimes he hated his photographic memory.

Scully could only shudder in sympathy as her partner recounted his tale of horror. She could see his eyes drift away in tortured remembrance, his body tremble in anguish. He spared her the details of his experience, unwilling, perhaps, to relive them himself, or burden her with his pain. It didn’t matter. She could only too easily superimpose Mulder’s features over those of the morning’s victim. What he must have endured…. God, no wonder the crime scene had affected him so strongly. Hargrave’s execution had undoubtedly resurrected those terrible memories from whatever depths in which they’d been hidden. No wonder Mulder hadn’t been sleeping, eating.

And, she realized suddenly, with a knot in her stomach, it explained more, much more. Mulder had never really dealt with his experience, had he? It ate away at him still, fueled by his recent ordeals. Hargrave’s execution had been equivalent to removing a tourniquet from a gangrenous limb. Now the infection was spreading. It explained why Mulder was suddenly sporting so many injuries: in his distress, he was acting out, subconsciously hurting himself. A silent plea for help. But help was one thing that Mulder would never admit he needed – so he convinced himself that a ghost was responsible to protect himself from the truth. Scully wanted to weep at the delusions her friend had created in order to keep himself functioning. Delusional. Oh God. Not Mulder. It chilled her to the core. If Mulder’s problems had become so serious that he was injuring himself, knowingly or not….

He needed help. Hargrave had simply been the last straw. Months of arduous cases had finally sent Mulder hurtling to a breaking point anyone else would have passed long ago. Her partner needed help and Scully knew he would deny it. As long as he could blame everything on a ghost, he could deny he wasn’t well. Deny that he needed professional help.

And how was she to convince him that *was* what he needed, when he was certain to consider it a betrayal on her part?

Her breath held a long moment as the realization hit her. She was a doctor, she had an oath to uphold. How had she missed the signs? How long had she been oblivious to her partner’s suffering? In retrospect, she should have seen this coming. After all, how could someone go through so much in so short a time and *not* be affected? Even Mulder was not indestructible, she had to admit. She had to help him, but he would fight her all the way.

But she couldn’t let him go on like this. She couldn’t. What about the car, whispered a voice in her head, the voice that didn’t want to believe her partner was in trouble. He didn’t do *that* to himself.

That had simply been a coincidence, she told the voice. No more, no less. A bizarre accident. And she could believe Mulder had broken his own TV, perhaps all unknowing, his mind lost in a nightmare, creating an explanation he could live with.

It all pointed to her partner being in a lot of trouble, and she was terrified the severity of the injuries would increase as his mental state deteriorated.

He sure as hell didn’t need to be profiling a serial killer now. Especially not this one.

But how to broach this to him? How to get him to realize he was ill? How to get him to seek help without turning against her? She was unwilling, yet, to report her suspicions. They were, still, just suspicions. She had no real proof he was a danger to himself. Except for the impossibility of his claims. There was precedent. Pincus. Folie à deux. And reporting him would be tantamount to slamming the door on him. Too many people would seize on the opportunity to lock Mulder away. She wanted to avoid that, if she could.

She closed her eyes, willing the tears away. Mulder couldn’t see. She had to be the strong one here, the rational one. But images flitted across her retinas: Mulder in restraints after attacking Skinner, joking to hide his fear; Mulder writhing in pain in a sterile, padded room, driven to near madness by his exposure to an allegedly alien artifact…. He had been fortunate both times. She prayed he would be as fortunate again.

Mulder finally let his gaze wander over to his silent partner, taking in the twin looks of consternation and horrified realization on her face. He gave his head a slight shake, crossing to the window. He leaned his forehead against the cool pane. He needed help, but not the kind she was obviously contemplating. Hargrave had to be stopped; there had to be a way. Chuck Burke was the closest thing he knew to a ghostbuster, this would be right up his alley. At least he wouldn’t assume Mulder needed to be committed.

He wanted to be angry with her, wanted to feel betrayed that she thought him so unstable. But he had neither the time nor the energy for her concerns. Hargrave was escalating and Scully’s “help” would get him killed. The murders were Hargrave’s way of announcing his intent. The killer knew each murder would only heighten Mulder’s anguish, making his final surrender all the sweeter. If he was to stop Hargrave from killing again, prevent himself from becoming a discarded piece of meat like Hargrave’s previous victims, he had no time to lose to Scully’s good intentions.

He could hear the rustle of fabric as Scully crossed the room, felt the comforting warmth of her hand on his arm. He waited for her pronouncement on his mental state, but she surprised him.

“You should get some sleep, Mulder.”

“What, you’re not going to tell me I’m suffering from PTSD?” He’d meant it to sound light-hearted, but it sounded only tired and bitter to his ears.

“I think,” she answered carefully, “that you already know the answer to that.” She sighed heavily. “I can see that this case is bothering you, Mulder. You don’t have to pursue it. Skinner will understand.” She hesitated, moving her hand along his arm. “It’s not wrong to need help once in a while.”

He turned from the window, finally meeting her gaze. This time it was Scully who looked away. “That’s what you think, isn’t it? Ole Spooky has finally snapped and needs to be locked up?” The anger had finally sparked and he gratefully fanned the flames.

God, this wasn’t how she wanted to do this. “Mulder, you know I don’t think that. But ordinary cases don’t have you vomiting and looking like the dead, either. With everything that’s happened lately….” She trailed off, not quite knowing how to state her concern. “These injuries you’ve been getting…. I just don’t want to see you hurt, is all.”

He stared at her, incredulous. “Shit, you think *I’ve* been doing this, don’t you? You think *I’m* hurting myself. Despite what you’ve seen? I suppose I’ve suddenly become telekinetic and started playing with the filing cabinets too.”

“So someone has picked an incredibly bad time to play a joke on you,” she responded heatedly. “Mulder, you’ve been having problems ever since Hargrave’s execution, haven’t you?” Her voice softened, and Mulder bled to hear the pity in it, the assumptions she was about to make.

She moved until she was standing next to him. He backed up a few steps, unwilling to have her betrayal so close. Scully took another step forward, then relented, allowing him his space.

He was a skittish as a puppy that had just been kicked. And she had done this. Was doing this.

“Mulder…you obviously still have issues about what happened to you. Things you haven’t dealt with. You need to talk to someone about it. Please.” The words of denial died on his lips, because suddenly he wasn’t so certain her assumptions weren’t true. The part of him that still remembered he was a psychologist knew it was all so damn rational. When his ordeal had ended, he had spent so much time convincing everyone he was all right that he’d fooled himself into believing it. He’d simply gone on as if the nightmares and scars didn’t exist. And in time, he’d convinced himself they never had.

His gaze fell to his wrists, to the barely visible remnants of the scars there. It had been real; Hargrave was real then and now, wasn’t he? Because if he wasn’t, then that meant Scully was right. He hadn’t seen Hargrave in the parking garage, felt his presence stalking him everywhere. He was delusional. But Scully was wrong, he knew that too. It wasn’t Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; he wasn’t subconsciously reliving his torture, hurting himself in his delusions. There was evidence: the cold spots, the TV, the car, the filing cabinets and the myriad of other manifestations that had suddenly erupted in his life. Scully refused to see that so many coincidences simply could not *be* coincidence; she had used her logic to manufacture a more reasonable explanation. Reasonable. Right. Sure it was reasonable to assume Spooky had finally flipped – wasn’t the whole Bureau just waiting for the day?

“I’m not leaving the case.”

“Mulder….”

“I’m fine.” He stared out the window again, unable to face her with the lie. Two simple words, so rife with unspoken meanings for the two of them. Unassailable. “Like you said, I just need to get some sleep.”

She left quietly, and he heard the door snick softly shut behind her. As if a door was shutting on his life. She’d go to Skinner, wouldn’t she? Tell him that Mulder was a danger to himself. Get him taken off the case. Remanded for psychiatric evaluation. They’d done it before. And Hargrave would have him.

“Damn you, Hargrave,” he muttered into the glass. “Just get this over with.”

In his mind he could hear a ghostly laugh.

******

Mulder’s Apartment

Mulder’s apartment had taken on the character of a mad scientist’s wet dream. All it needed, he reflected, was a Jacob’s ladder sending electricity frizzing up and down its wires in pointless abandon. Chuck Burke, however, was too genial-looking for the role of a mad scientist. Too genial to pass as Spock either, he thought, as he considered how closely his apartment now resembled a Star Trek set. The original series, of course. Mulder was nothing if not a purist.

The small living room was crammed with cameras and odd-looking electronic equipment, most of which utterly surpassed Mulder’s ken. Cables meandered across the floor and it would take only one misstep to send thousands of dollars of sensitive equipment crashing. He had tried to pace around the obstacle course, earning irate glances from his friend. Mulder finally gave up the effort in favor of inspecting each piece of equipment Burke had installed. His earlier fatigue had succumbed to a burst of adrenaline. The prospect of finally being rid of Hargrave’s harassment lent a spurt of energy to his tired body. At least Scully would stop thinking he’d lost his mind.

Scully. Her visit still left a bad taste in his mouth. He had been consumed with the desire to prove her wrong – to show her incontrovertible evidence that Hargrave had returned from beyond the grave. But there was that nagging seed of doubt she’d planted, too, that it was all in his head. God knew he was the poster boy for repressed memories; could he really have fooled himself that badly? He needed to know; hence his call to the one person he thought might be able to help him make sense of it all.

Burke barely refrained from rolling his eyes in exasperation. At least a hovering Mulder was better than a pacing Mulder. Sort of. “Thanks for calling me, Mulder,” he enthused as he puttered, making tiny adjustments to each esoteric piece of equipment. “This is a great opportunity.”

Mulder couldn’t help but smile at his friend’s enthusiasm. “‘Who’re you gonna call?’ You’re the only ghostbuster I know.” He gestured to the room at large. “So what, exactly, *is* all this supposed to do?”

“Well,” Burke rubbed his hands together, clearly in his element. “All living things are surrounded by energy fields, which some people are able to perceive as auras. The same is true of what we call ghosts. Spectral energy exists on a different wavelength than our own. So, if we can isolate that frequency, we should be able to generate an interference wave, thereby disrupting the spectral wavelength and banishing the entity.”

“No proton packs or particle throwers?”

“No, sorry.”

“Too bad. Damn, they were cool.”

“This should be a lot cleaner. No possibility of being slimed. Well, theoretically.”

“Theoretically?” Mulder’s voice rose sharply.

“Well,” Burke had the grace to look embarrassed. “It hasn’t exactly been tested yet.” He added proudly, “The equipment is my own invention. I’ve been looking for a bona fide entity to test it on.”

“Great,” Mulder muttered, running a hand thorough his hair. Now the prospects of getting rid of Hargrave seemed less certain.

Burke continued, unfazed by his friend’s apparent lack of faith. “We’ve got video and still cameras, as well as audio. We’ll be recording in both visible and infrared spectra. If anything happens, we’ll catch it.”

Mulder didn’t care much about catching anything at this point, he just wanted to send the s.o.b. back to Hell where he belonged.

Burke made one final adjustment, then stepped back to admire his handiwork. “Now we wait.”

Fortunately for Mulder’s frayed nerves, but unfortunately for Burke’s expensive equipment, they didn’t have to wait long. A noticeable chill began to permeate the apartment, the first harbinger of Hargrave’s presence. Mulder felt his heart speed up and a cold knot form in his stomach that had nothing to do with the chill. He was suddenly certain that this wasn’t going to be nearly as easy as Burke thought. The scientist checked the thermal sensors. Apparently a thermometer was just too mundane. “Cool. Temperature’s down five degrees and still dropping,” he reported gleefully.

Immediately he began tapping away at his keyboard. Mulder heard cameras and machines whir into life as Burke issued his commands. “Whoa. Look at this!” He gestured Mulder over to the monitor. “This is from the infrared camera – see it?”

Mulder did indeed see it. A vaguely humanoid-shaped dark blue blob standing out against the reds and oranges of the apartment.

“There he is,” crowed Burke. “Yes!” He pumped his arm triumphantly. “Mulder old man, you’ve got yourself one primo haunting here. All we need is some poltergeist activity.”

Mulder cringed, hoping Hargrave wasn’t getting any ideas. “Shouldn’t you be trying to jam that frequency?” Mulder frowned, with an uneasy glance at the blue form on the monitor. Shit, this better work.

Burke went back to his keyboard, fingers flying as he input more commands. “I’m trying to isolate the frequency now.”

Too late, Mulder thought, as his friend’s expensive camera toppled onto its side. Burke cringed as the lens shattered.

“I think you’d better hurry,” Mulder suggested, casting a wary eye about the room. The cold was growing in intensity. Both men jumped as another piece of equipment tumbled to the floor.

“Chuck,” Mulder repeated, warningly. He could swear he felt Hargrave breathing down his neck.

Burke returned to his console, typing furiously, his eyes flitting about uneasily. Suddenly this was so much more than an academic exercise. Despite Mulder’s assurances that his life was in danger, Burke hadn’t quite believed it. Not that the agent was lying to him or anything, of course not, it was just that vengeance from beyond the grave of the sort Mulder described was generally the province of the entertainment industry. Although, Mulder had told him of one case, hadn’t he, of a murderous ghost? Some guy protecting his secretary…?

Burke’s computer beeped for his attention, rousing him from his reverie. The frequencies on his screen merged, then canceled each other out. He whooped with glee.

“Take that you misogynistic, ectoplasmic reject from hell!”

There was another crash, and Burke was unashamedly relieved Mulder’s computer was the sacrifice this time, and not another piece of his equipment. Ruined equipment, especially equipment ruined by a ghost, was a bitch to explain to the Dean.

The two men waited with baited breath as silence fell over the apartment. When moments passed with no further ghostly activity, they ventured small smiles, which broke into elated grins.

“It worked,” Burke said wonderingly. “It really worked.”

“Thanks, Chuck,” Mulder said, clapping the smaller man on the back, his appreciation heartfelt. “I really appreciate this. I’m sorry about your equipment.”

Burke shrugged philosophically. “Hazards of the job. Besides, think of the paper this will make!” He happily began righting his equipment, taking stock of the damage, too focused on his paper to be concerned what the Dean might say.

Mulder shook his head bemusedly, amazed at his friend’s ability to see this as an adventure. He was just relieved it was over. He figured he’d be giving X-Files regarding ghosts a wide berth for a while.

Suddenly, the temperature plummeted – Mulder could see his breath condense into a puff of mist in the suddenly arctic air. Time seemed to stand still as the air crackled with energy, as if drawing in on itself. It reminded Mulder of the unnaturally still air before a summer thunderstorm. Then it was abruptly let loose, as if the gate holding it back had suddenly opened.

Gale force wind circled the tiny room, causing Mulder to stagger against the wall. Burke dived for shelter beneath Mulder’s desk as the gale smashed its way through Mulder’s apartment, sending Burke’s equipment crashing to the floor, into walls. A camera launched itself at Mulder’s head; he ducked as it hit the wall, showering him with debris. He could swear he could hear Hargrave roaring with rage over the noise of destruction.

The tornado ended as abruptly as it had begun. Mulder guessed that Hargrave’s rage had used up whatever reserves of energy he had and he needed time to recharge. At least he hoped so.

“I think he’s pissed,” Burke said mournfully, staring at the remains of his cherished equipment. The Dean was going to have a fit. He added seriously, “I’ve seldom heard of a spirit this strong or this destructive. Be careful, Mulder.”

Mulder nodded. “Now how the hell do I get rid of him?”

Burke sighed. “It may be time to use more traditional methods. I know a medium who’s very good. Maybe she can help.”

A medium. He could just envision what Scully would say to *that*.

********

end Act II

Act III

Home of Clara Holdridge

“Come in, come in,” Mulder and Scully were ushered out of the frigid downpour into the foyer of a fairly standard suburban home. Any preconceptions Scully had about musty Victorian mansions and wild-looking clairvoyants with thick European accents went out the window. Clara Holdridge, Chuck Burke’s friend, was about as far from the stereotype as it was possible to get. She was a tiny black woman in her 60s, slighter even than Scully, with greying hair and a face crinkled by laugh lines. Her dark eyes, however, were still sharp and piercing. She sucked in a breath as Mulder stepped over the threshold. “Charles was right. You do have a dark presence following you,” she said worriedly. Her eyes took on a distant gaze. “Very dark,” she repeated distractedly. “Very powerful. So full of hate….”

Scully suppressed an urge to roll her eyes. The trappings might be innocuous, but the spiel was obviously old hat. Why the hell had she let Mulder talk her into this? Feeding his delusion. No, the voice in her head corrected. You just want him to prove you wrong, this once. Because you don’t want to face the alternative.

And was the idea of a ghost so improbable, really? Hadn’t she stood in Yankee Stadium, fighting with a woman possessed by evil incarnate? Suddenly her assumptions seemed less certain.

Clara’s voice interrupted her reverie. “Come, come,” she clucked, taking their wet coats and beckoning them into the dining room. “We have our work cut out for us today.”

“I can’t believe you talked me into this,” Scully muttered, sotto voce, as they followed their hostess. “Mulder, this is so…hokey.”

“I told you what happened last night,” Mulder hissed, angry at his partner’s continued resistance. “Or do you think Chuck and I smashed all his equipment?”

“A gust of wind could have come in through the window, Mulder,” Scully replied wearily.

“Through a closed window, Scully? Pray tell, what’s the scientific explanation for that?”

She had none of course, and they both knew it. Dismayed, Scully wondered why it was so much easier to believe her partner was losing it than to believe in his contention he was being stalked by a ghost. The events of a certain Christmas Eve aside. Didn’t the events he’d related of last night prove something? Or had he managed to pull his friend into his delusion with him?

Folie à deux, redux. Of course Chuck would see what he wanted to see, what Mulder wanted him to see. “We have a case to solve, or had you forgotten that?”

The look he gave her should have dropped her frozen to the ground. “I’m not likely to forget that, Scully. Believe it or not, by stopping Hargrave we *are* working on the case.”

The two agents halted their bickering as they entered the dining room. Three other people were already waiting.

“I find contact is easier to establish with a larger group,” Clara explained, as she gestured the agents to take their seats. “Everyone here is experienced – we’ve had many séances together.”

She took her own seat and addressed the group, introducing first Mulder and Scully, then the other attendees. “Because of the strength of the dark entity pursuing Fox, I want everyone to envision a white bubble of protection around himself. Imagine it surrounding you with a brilliant glow – it is the light that keeps the darkness at bay, the truth that defeats the Father of Lies.” Her voice took on a lilting, soothing tone. She addressed herself to Scully next, giving her a knowing smile. “I can see your scepticism Dana, but I’ve never found belief a prerequisite for a manifestation – especially when it comes to the darker entities among us. They love to have our attention, to cause mischief. I do, however, urge you to take this seriously – for your own safety. Better to look foolish, isn’t it, than to leave oneself vulnerable to attack?” she finished mildly.

Scully felt her face burning at the gentle admonishment. She could see the others had closed their eyes, the better to visualize their protection. She gave an internal shrug. Sure. Fine. Whatever. She wouldn’t look anymore foolish than any of *them*. Even Mulder had closed his eyes in concentration. It occurred to her then, with a pang in her heart that actually hurt, that Missy would have felt quite at home here. Scully sighed, closing her eyes. It couldn’t hurt, she supposed. And when nothing happened, she’d confront Mulder. No more denial – for either of them.

Scully tried to envision her bubble of light, really she did. Unfortunately, the image of her partner in restraints kept intruding. She opened her eyes, admitting defeat. She resolved to stay alert – this entire setup was a phony as a three dollar bill and it was up to her, as always, to maintain perspective. Mulder depended on her for that.

Contrary to expectations, Clara didn’t dim the lights, or light candles, or ask them to hold hands. “You can if you want,” she’d said and Scully was not entirely unsurprised when Mulder reached out for her. She took his hand gladly, needing the contact herself. A tacit apology for the harsh words they’d spoken earlier.

Finally, Clara deemed she had the proper atmosphere. “Darryl Wayne Hargrave, I feel you near. I know you can hear me. You also know your presence here is unseemly. There is forgiveness for you, if you but seek it. In the name of the light, and the One Who Created All Things, I abjure you to leave. Find your path, Darryl Wayne Hargrave; it lies before you, in the light, not in the shadows here in this realm.”

More theatrical than Harold Piller had been, but Scully hadn’t been overly impressed with Harold’s alleged psychic abilities either. She could hear the ticking of a clock in the deafening silence. How long were they going to have to listen to this, she wondered, until someone admitted nothing was going to happen? But of course something would happen – that was what these things were all about. Something would happen because it was manufactured to happen. Have to keep the marks coming back, after all.

Most people wanted nothing more than to speak to Great Uncle Joe – only Mulder would want to exorcise a serial killer. She tried not to squirm in her chair, the wooden seat suddenly extremely uncomfortable. There must be a window open somewhere, she thought, as a cold breeze tickled her neck. Beside her, she could feel Mulder stiffen in alarm. “He’s here,” Clara suddenly spoke. Scully’s eyes narrowed, another explanation for the wind springing to mind. An old con gone hi-tech. She pitied Mulder suddenly, that he felt the need to engage in this charade. He was intelligent enough, certainly, to see past the smoke and mirrors. He just didn’t want to. Allowing Madame Clara, or whatever she called herself when she wasn’t trying to impress the FBI with her legitimacy, to take advantage, to turn him into a victim, a mark. She wanted suddenly to cry, that it had come to this. That these people, despite their apparent sincerity, were here for the sole purpose of pulling the wool over Mulder’s eyes. It was all a cloak. Good actors, of course; they had to be.

What had begun as a cool breath of air had, somehow, without her registering it, become a frigid breeze. “Your tricks don’t impress me, spirit,” Holdridge snapped. “You have no place here. In the name of the Sacred, in the name of the Holy, I cast you out! The one you seek is within our protection – you cannot harm him. No one here fears you – we are proof against your evil. Embrace the light, spirit, while you can.”

The only response was a strengthening of the wind and another drop in temperature. Everyone jumped as a vase plummeted to the floor. Very good actors, Scully commented silently.

“Remember your bubble of protection,” Clara reminded them, her voice rattled.

Nice touch, thought Scully cynically. How could anyone be taken by this? The least they could do was add some ghostly moans, rattling chains, maybe a ghostly light? But the lights were all blazing and there was nothing remotely ghostly about this. It was rather sad, really. She hoped Mulder wasn’t being taken in by this – it was strictly amateur hour. Maybe the lack of pizzazz was meant to make it seem more realistic.

What happened next almost made Scully doubt it had all been staged.

There was a huge crash, and the windows flew open, letting the cold rain lash in. Someone got up to close them, only to stagger back when the glass suddenly shattered. Scully rose from her seat to help; she was still a doctor, fraud or not.

Then the lights, rather predictably, went out.

Scully staggered to a stop, unable to see her way in the unfamiliar surroundings. She heard someone hiss with pain and someone else navigating the room with considerably more ability than she had.

“Everyone stay still, I have some candles here somewhere,” Clara called. A moment later a small flame leapt to life, followed by others as Clara lit a series of tall tapers. The unnatural cold reluctantly dissipated, leaving only the damp November air coming through the shattered windows. She heard Clara’s sharp intake of breath and turned to follow her gaze. In the dim light she could just make out the words written on the wall in dripping blood, “I always finish what I start.” Standing in front of the wall, clutching his bleeding arm, was Mulder.

*****

Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman

Morning had finally come – after another restless night punctuated by the echoes of his screams and Hargrave’s gleeful laughter – without a summons from Skinner, or the men in white jackets waiting for him at the basement door. He’d assumed that meant Scully hadn’t told Skinner of her suspicions. She had arrived at the office a short while later, bearing coffee and danishes – a mute apology. But she still wouldn’t meet his eyes. She’d taken him to the ER the night before with scarcely a word; her silence telling him more eloquently than words ever could that she believed him deranged. That in the midst of what she considered a hokey fraud, he had sliced open his own arm and written on the walls in his own blood. Not consciously, of course. At least, he didn’t think she considered him that far gone. He could have told her he recognized the handwriting, that it wasn’t his. She had only to pull the case file to see that – the writing matched that of the crime scenes. But what was the use? If she hadn’t believed he had done it to himself, she would have been accusing the others.

Better he bear the brunt of her accusations than the people who had only been trying to help him. Scully might have believed that last night had been a set up, but he knew better. He had felt Hargrave’s presence, heard his derision. He remembered the sad look on Clara Holdridge’s face as they had left; her mute apology for her failure to help. He was beginning to fear that Hargrave would win after all. The drive from the airport had been similarly silent and tense. Scully, white-knuckled, driving with her concentration fixed fiercely on the road before her. She had been adamant in her refusal to let Mulder drive, and for once he did not challenge her. In truth, he simply did not have the energy.

He knew Scully was secretly hoping he would doze off in the car, as he had failed to do on the plane, but he dared not. He couldn’t take the risk of Scully hearing him scream in his sleep – he couldn’t give her any more ammunition to use against him. The regulations regarding agents in psychological distress were very clear. Ignoring them could lead to dismissal. Although, to her credit, she was doing a fine job of ignoring them so far. Of course, if they’d reported him every time he seemed to be in psychological distress, he’d have spent his entire stint in Violent Crimes in a straitjacket. He’d avoided it because they’d all bought into the “Spooky” mystique: Spooky Mulder was a moody insomniac who caught killers on psychic vibes and worthless clues. He was able to catch psychopaths because he was only one step away from being one himself. There had been times when Mulder had been clinging to the edge of the abyss by the tips of his fingers. Patterson had been willing to ignore all sorts of sins as long as his precious solve rate held. And Scully, in the guise of helping Mulder, would unknowingly condemn him.

His hand crept to his chest, fingering the bandage beneath his shirt. When he’d screamed himself awake from yet another nightmare of Hargrave cutting him, he’d found himself covered in blood. He’d stared at the mirror mutely, glaring at the long, shallow cut that now adorned his chest. A partner to the one gracing his arm. Tracing the path of the scar left by the first cut Hargrave had made on his body eleven years ago. He had even been affected enough by Scully’s assertions that he had looked for a knife with which he might have injured himself, if he was as far gone as Scully seemed to believe. There was none, as he had known there would be. He’d simply bandaged it and gone on with his morning.

It was itching like hell now, though. He had to consciously keep his hand away – it would fit too nicely into Scully’s appraisal of his mental health if she knew of it. No way would she believe he hadn’t done it to himself.

Mulder and Scully accompanied the guard to the cell where Darryl Wayne Hargrave had spent the last five of his eleven years on Death Row. “Not much to see,” the guard commented. “All his stuff’s already been boxed up.”

“Is it still here?” Mulder asked, stepping into the small cell.

“I guess so,” the guard answered. “Wasn’t anyone to ship it to.”

“Did you know Hargrave?” Scully queried.

“Sure. I’ve been on the Row for a couple of years now.”

“Did Hargrave have any friends, anyone he might have confided in?”

“Hargrave? Nah. Even the inmates thought he was creepy. He just had this way of starin’ at ya, ya know? Like he was just waitin’ to rip your heart out.”

“I know the feeling,” Mulder muttered, prowling the small space. He shook his head, exasperated. All Hargrave’s personality had been expunged from the cell in anticipation of its next occupant.

“He was a weird one all right,” the guard continued. “Spooky. Always reading about the paranormal, life after death, reaching out from beyond the grave, that kind of shit.” The guard shrugged. “Guess anyone who’s gonna die wants to think there’s something else waiting.”

Abandoning his inspection of the cell as futile, Mulder stepped toward the door, only to be suddenly flung against the far wall by an invisible force.

He could feel a hand of bitter cold close about his throat.

Scully jumped to her partner’s aid, only to stop short as the cell door clanged shut in front of her. She watched, horrorstruck, as her partner was tossed against the wall like a rag doll, as if an invisible hand had flung him across the room. “Open the door, open the door!” she yelled at the flustered guard, even as he called for the guard down the hall to override the electronics.

She could see Mulder fight for breath, see his waning struggles against his invisible attacker. Even as the guards struggled with the recalcitrant cell door, she could only futilely watch her partner’s struggles without comprehension. This, this was not delusion. This was…something else. Something that wasn’t rational, wasn’t logical. Could Mulder have been right? *Was* he being stalked by Hargrave’s ghost? She thought of Howard Graves, and of his efforts to protect Lauren Kyte, even from beyond death; the force that had taken possession of her partner’s body not long ago and sent it on a hunt to kill her. Could Hargrave’s vengeance be so strong as to defy mortality?

The cell door sprung open as mysteriously as it had closed, at the same time the mysterious force released her partner. Mulder slumped to the floor, gasping for breath. Scully wasted no time reaching his side, wincing at the livid bruises on his neck. Bruises in the undeniable shape of fingers.

Mulder lay panting on the floor beside her, still struggling for breath. The eerie chill that had filled the cell was now gone, but Mulder knew he had won only a brief respite. Hargrave was escalating, growing stronger. Soon, his need for revenge would overwhelm him and Mulder would be dead.

He met Scully’s horrified eyes. “Still think it’s all in my head?” he wheezed.

******

Scully’s Apartment

Mulder propped himself on his elbow, watching the woman slumbering at his side. Scully-watching was his favourite pasttime, particularly when she slept. Years of pain seemed to fall away, and her face softened, losing the harshness it had acquired over the years. So long she had stood beside him – sharing his quest, supporting him, protecting him, defending him…. His free hand gently twined itself in her hair, lightly brushing her cheek.

She’d been adamant that he not be alone, now that she was convinced of what he had known all along. He’d seen the guilt and the shame in her eyes as she knelt beside him in that cell – the conviction she could have prevented this if only she had believed. Believed in him.

They would have to talk about it; they knew that. She had tried to stammer an apology on the plane ride home, and he had told her not to worry about it. Still, he had been hurt and angered by her assumptions, regardless how reasonable they had seemed. Part of him was angry with her still. Despite the strides they had made, the habits of nine years of talking in generalities, of talking around the important issues, were still hard to break.

A gentle smile graced his face. Despite the recent tensions, they were still here. Still together. And Scully was fierce in her determination to protect him from this menace, when he didn’t even know how to protect himself. Not from this. His smile faded. A sense of futility had begun to weigh down his heart – the dread that this time there would be no cheating death – no miraculous rescue, no Scully on her white charger with guns blazing. It was the way life always kicked him in the ass – whenever he tried to grasp some happiness – touch the brass ring – it always slipped through his fingers.

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A cool draft blew warningly across the bed, bringing with it the cloying stench of evil. Mulder froze. No. No and no and no. His life might be already forfeit – but he was *not* going to lose Scully to Hargrave’s mad vengeance.

Mulder swung himself out of the bed carefully, casting one last glance at Scully’s sleeping form. Giving into temptation, he gently brushed his lips against hers, too aware that this could be goodbye. His body was vibrating with nervous energy, a violin string pulled too taut. He knew, somehow, that it would end tonight, however it finally played out. Hargrave would wait no longer. Tomorrow would come and he would be alive or not, but Scully would be safe and that was all that had mattered to him for a long time now.

“You want me, Hargrave. Come and get me.” The icy breeze seemed to accept his challenge.

*****

Mulder’s Apartment

Mulder wasn’t certain what he expected when he returned to his apartment. Perhaps another angry whirlwind gyring through the place. What there was, was pervasive cold; cold that triggered unpleasant memories of lying abandoned on Arctic ice floes. He shivered, his breath condensing in the air. “C’mon, Hargrave,” he taunted. “You can do better than this.”

He rubbed his hands together, breathed on them to warm them. This was ridiculous. Hargrave was going to freeze him to death? The weight on his heart seemed to grow heavier, bringing with it an unutterable weariness. Mulder yawned; suddenly it seemed all he could do to keep his eyes open. His manic energy abruptly fled, and he half fell onto the couch, no longer able to sustain his frenetic pacing. Another yawn, and his eyes were falling shut, despite the warning bells that were shrilling in his head. A futile struggle to raise faltering eyelids, then he fell into Morpheus’ arms.

He struggled, but the nightmare wouldn’t relinquish him from its grip. The ropes cut into his body, holding him motionless. The knife stung as it sliced into him again, and the too familiar tang of blood assaulted his nostrils. His life trickled slowly over the warehouse floor in dark rivulets and he was faced with the certainty that no one was going to find him this time….

No.

It wasn’t real. It was just a dream. Just a dream. Like Scully said, Hargrave’s execution had simply churned up memories he had never really dealt with. He could actually *hear* Scully’s voice in his mind, ordering him to wake up and leave the nightmare behind.

Easier said than done.

He couldn’t force his body to move; it was like a ton of cement was weighing him down. He opted for the next best thing, opening his eyes. Even that was a Herculean task; someone had glued his lids shut when he wasn’t looking….

Ah. Finally triumphant, Mulder blinked owlishly in the dim light – to find the copper tang of spilled blood had not dissipated. He struggled to rise, but, as in his dream, his limbs refused to obey his commands. He heard a low chuckle – comprehension was slow. He blinked to see Darryl Wayne Hargrave standing above him, grinning wickedly. Mulder blinked again, but the apparition was still there, surprisingly solid. As was the bloody knife in his hand.

“I’ve been waiting a long time for this,” Hargrave laughed. He leaned over the supine agent, his breath caressing Mulder’s ear: “I told you, didn’t I? I always finish what I start.” The knife flashed again and Mulder found himself spiraling into darkness, vaguely amazed that his end – which he had always envisioned would come as the result of his quest – was to come at the hands of a ghostly serial killer. He thought he heard the ringing of a phone, but it came from a great distance and he couldn’t convince his limbs to move to answer it. Then everything went black.

*****

Scully’s Apartment

Scully let the phone ring one more time before conceding defeat. Damn the man! No more ditching – he’d promised! When would he get it through his thick skull that he didn’t have to protect her? She could take care of herself, damnit! Better than he took care of himself.

She had brought her partner directly to her apartment once their flight had landed, despite Mulder’s vociferous protests. They had left Mississippi after confirming that no one had desecrated Hargrave’s resting place, leaving the puzzle of the fingerprints unsolved. But not really. Scully just had to look at Mulder’s bruised neck to see the truth. She was ashamed.

Ashamed that she had doubted him, that she had thought him mentally unstable. Again. When would she learn? She had doubted him before – with Bill Patterson, Linda Bowman, Greg Pincus…with nearly tragic results. She had overridden Mulder’s objections by the simple expedient of ignoring them. She was not going to let him face this alone – she needed to do something to atone, to prove her newfound belief. She had doubted him; would have had him committed. His reluctance to endure her presence was understandable. Even now, doubt was beginning to tinge her knowledge of what she had witnessed. It was just so unbelievable. No wonder he couldn’t forgive her. Although she knew, deep down, that was untrue. Mulder was simply trying, in his endearing but utterly frustrating way, to protect her.

Although it was patently obvious just who required protection. She bit her lip, unable to shake the vision of her partner thrown against the prison walls, struggling for breath, the livid bruises of strangulation around his neck…. Scully dressed hastily, grabbed the car keys, exasperation warring with concern. Sometimes she was tempted to shoot the man again.

*****

Mulder’s Apartment

He didn’t answer her knocks, so she let herself in with her key, hoping against hope she’d find him merely catching some well-deserved sleep on his couch. No such luck. The stench of blood assaulted her at once and she reached back to unholster her weapon. Realizing only after she’d drawn it that it was unlikely to be effective against whatever she’d find.

Nevertheless, she didn’t holster her gun.

Oh God, let him be all right. Please,please,please. “Mulder,” she called out quietly. She passed silently through the foyer, glancing quickly at the kitchen and bathroom. Tensing, she headed into the living room.

The amount of blood staining the battered leather, and the motionless form on it, sent her heart into shuddering paroxysms. She quickly knelt by her partner, pressed trembling fingers to his neck. Almost collapsed with relief when she felt the faint throbbing of his pulse. Cell phone in hand, she desperately tried to keep her voice steady as she called for assistance.

Leaving his side briefly, she quickly checked the remainder of the apartment. Whoever – whatever – had done this to her partner was long gone. No way had he done this to himself. Holstering her weapon, she loaded her arms with towels, and set about trying to prevent Mulder from bleeding to death. She felt that ‘click’ deep in her psyche, the one that switched her from friend and lover to doctor. Her hands steadied as her training kicked in, as she worked to see Mulder as simply another patient. If she hadn’t, if she had allowed herself to see the man beneath her ministrations, she would most certainly have screamed in despair – and that would not help Mulder one iota.

**********

end Act III

Act IV

Georgetown University Medical Center

Skinner strode purposefully down the hospital corridor, so intent on his goal that he did not notice the personnel he scattered in his wake. He spotted his quarry finally, and pulled up short. Scully was slumped dejectedly on the drab couch, her head held in her hands. Those who had followed his intent progress through the hallways saw his demeanour abruptly soften. He approached the woman tentatively, as if afraid of disturbing her grief.

Skinner hesitated, then eased himself down beside his agent. “Agent Scully,” he said softly, fearing the worst.

Scully’s head popped up at his gentle inquiry, startled. She calmed when she saw who sat beside her. Skinner could see by her red-rimmed eyes she had been crying. He felt a knot of horror clench his gut. Of all the times Mulder had been hospitalized, of all the times he had faced death, Skinner had never, ever, seen Scully cry.

“Is he, is…” He choked on the words, wanting and not wanting to know.

Scully looked at him, uncomprehending. “He’s still in surgery,” she answered dejectedly, her gaze returning to her hands. “He’s lost a lot of blood.”

“What happened?”

Scully refused to meet his gaze. “Darryl Wayne Hargrave happened,” she muttered.

Skinner was confused. Hargrave was dead. Despite fingerprints that shouldn’t have existed, that was incontrovertible fact. Fingerprints that had allowed him to call the case an X-File, when the real reason he’d assigned Mulder to the case was for his profiling expertise and his familiarity with the m.o. Knowing Mulder would have fought against the case otherwise, he’d patted Himself on the back for outwitting the agent. Now he felt his cheeks burn with shame over the deception. He’d known what Hargrave had done to Mulder; he should have realized the case would have uneasy resonances for his agent.

Should have known how precarious Mulder’s equilibrium was. He was paid to know those things, damnit.

Hesitantly at first, then with growing steam, Scully related the events of the last week. To Skinner’s dismay, she put the blame for Mulder’s condition squarely on her shoulders. “I shouldn’t have doubted him,” she said, her lip quivering.

“Scully,” he admonished, “what you were thinking was reasonable. *I* was the one who knew about Mulder’s experience with Hargrave. *I* should have never put Mulder on the case.”

It was telling, he thought, that she did not disagree with him about his culpability, only her own. “I should have known better,” she insisted. “He was right about Modell, about Linda Bowman….”

“And nearly got taken in by them both,” Skinner reminded her. “Maybe we’re both to blame,” he conceded. “But that isn’t going to help Mulder. How is he?”

“No one’s told me anything yet,” Scully admitted. “They’ve got a lot of sewing up to do.” A lot, she repeated to herself silently. It suddenly hit him: Scully had just told him a ghost was responsible for the murders of three children and Mulder’s brush with death. A ghost with a vengeful agenda. He’d seen too many bizarre reports cross his desk to dismiss Scully’s contention outright. But he, too, remembered the Pincus case, and had to wonder if either of his agents were operating at full capacity, especially after the stress of recent events. Could there be an explanation for the events Scully had witnessed; could their copycat have made Mulder his target as Hargrave had? Scully was right: such things were far easier to believe than a killer returned from the dead. Just how the hell was he supposed to protect his agent from a ghost?

************

Location Unknown

Mulder blinked, staring up at the starlit canopy. He sat up, noticing without surprise that he seemed to be suspended in space, stars all around him. He’d been here before, he remembered, on the bridge between life and death, while Albert Hosteen had performed the Blessing Way ceremony, petitioning the spirits on his behalf. Then he’d been aware of beings surrounding him; he’d spoken to his father, to Deep Throat. Now, however, it seemed that he was alone. A throat clearing behind him disabused him of that notion.

“Albert!” Mulder broke into a smile at seeing the Navajo elder. The shaman had died while Mulder was battling the voices the alien artifact had awakened in his head. Yet somehow, he had managed to send his spirit to comfort Scully, to pray with her.

The smile soon turned into a frown. “Am I dead?”

Albert answered serenely, “Not yet.”

“Then why am I here?”

“This is a place of your choosing,” Albert answered. “I prefer someplace a little more…earthbound.”

Mulder stared about him in awe. The endless starry vista had been replaced by a wooded canopy. A small fire glowed cheerily, and Mulder could hear a brook babbling in the distance. Albert sat by the fire, gesturing him to do the same. The shaman stirred the coals, while Mulder basked in the silence. It was peaceful here. It occurred to him that peace was something he’d seldom known in his life. And if he *was* dead, well, this was a nicer afterlife than any he had envisioned.

“You are not dead,” Albert repeated. “Not yet, anyway.”

“Then what’s going on?” Mulder asked, without any real urgency. He frowned, remembering. “I saw Hargrave. He killed me, I thought.” His gaze swept over his unmarked torso.

“He almost did,” Albert conceded. “And he still might. You cannot fight the evil in your world, you must defeat him in his.”

“How?” Mulder asked, but Albert and his surroundings were becoming dim and he suddenly found himself – – in a disturbingly familiar warehouse; tied down with Hargrave over him with the ever-present knife. It was his nightmares given life; he could believe he had gone back in time, forced by cruel fate to relive the most horrifying moments of his life. He heard Hargrave cackle with glee as the blade lanced his flesh, just as it had eleven years ago.

The pain helped him focus. “You’re not real,” he ground out. “You’re dead. None of this is real.”

“Wrong, *Fox*,” Hargrave answered cheerfully. “This *is* real. You belong to me now. You always did. *I* make the rules here.” The knife bit into him again. “Doesn’t this feel real?”

It did, Mulder had to admit as he stifled a scream. Just as real as it had felt eleven years ago. But this time there was no one to save his ass – he didn’t think this was a place Scully would be able to find. I’m sorry, Scully, he apologized silently.

“The kids were fun,” Hargrave went on dreamily, lost in the enticing aroma of thick red blood. “But this…this is better.” He leered at Mulder. “It was easy to break them, to taste their fear. It’s sweet, did you know that? Sweet and hot, like sex….” He laughed, a mad cackling that made Mulder’s gorge rise. “But this is more challenging, more satisfying.”

Hargrave’s hands dropped to his groin, stroking himself through his jeans, his eyes closed. “You…you’re different. Your fear tastes different. More mature. Full bodied.” His eyes opened, grinning madly. “Like a fine, red wine, Fox.” The killer tossed his head back. “I’ve been dreaming about having you again for the past eleven years.” He sighed. “Intoxicating.”

He looked down at the agent. “What, nothing to say, Fox? You weren’t nearly so quiet last time we met.”

“Would it make any difference?” Mulder struggled to keep his voice steady, struggled not to let his captor know how terrified he was of what was to come. He recalled how he’d tried to reason with Hargrave eleven years ago, using all of his profiling skills to stay alive until he could be found – deliberately and consciously prolonging his suffering in hopes of rescue. Until he finally hadn’t cared anymore.

Mulder tried not to shudder as the knife caressed his chest – just teasing this time – a thin line of blood revealing the knife’s path.

“No, it wouldn’t,” the killer admitted, surveying his handiwork. The blade was honed to razor-sharpness – Mulder barely felt it penetrate his skin. It was the fire the blade left behind in its wake that made his nerve endings scream. And yet, he knew with certain dread that it was going to get worse.

Much worse.

The knife descended again, deeper, and Mulder bit his lip to keep from crying out. He could taste his blood now. Hargrave grinned. “You won’t be quiet long, Fox,” he promised maliciously. “Oh no. You’ll be screaming for me in no time. Then we’ll have some fun.”

The blade flashed and the world tilted again….

….and he was standing free, blood dripping from his wounds. Hargrave’s voice echoing around him.

“I’ve thought of something even more fun. Let’s have a Fox hunt! Guess who’s the Fox?” Hargrave laughed uproariously.

“Real original,” Mulder muttered, wondering for the nth time why the hell his parents had stuck him with that name. And why every serial killer on the planet thought going on a Fox hunt was hilariously funny.

It didn’t look like running was going to be an option here – not if he was where he suspected. His physical body, he surmised, was probably in a hospital somewhere, or perhaps still bleeding itself out on his couch. It looked like the only way he was going to be able to get back was to take Hargrave out – however he was supposed to do that. Albert had indicated it was possible to defeat Hargrave – but how? Was it possible to “kill” Hargrave here and banish him to wherever he was supposed to have gone?

Escape, even if it were possible, wouldn’t be enough, would it? Hargrave would just find him again, kill more innocents. No. It had to be done here. He had to kill Hargrave. Whatever the outcome – it ended here. Spurred into motion, Mulder silently slipped into the shadows, searching for anything he might use as a weapon.

A broken length of two-by-four met his needs nicely. He crept through the dim warehouse on silent feet, doing his best, by sheer force of will, to ignore the persistent fire in his wounds and the slow leak of his blood.

Damn, he hated this. Hargrave could be anywhere. He pondered a moment. Hargrave seemed to be able to manipulate this environment at will, perhaps Mulder could do the same? “There’s no place like home,” he muttered, picturing Scully’s face, resisting the urge to tap his heels together three times. Nada. What he wouldn’t give for a pair of ruby slippers right now.

A noise from up ahead sent his heart racing. He gripped his makeshift bat tightly. He took a step forward. And nearly dropped his weapon.

Blood oozed from hundreds of wounds, and Mulder could barely recognize the boy from the warehouse – was it only two days ago? – standing in front of him, strips of flesh hanging from his face, mouth bared in a sickly smile.

He shuffled toward Mulder, arms outstretched. Mulder backed away from the apparition. He swung around in a panic, intent on beating a hasty retreat, the memory of New Year’s Eve zombies surging to the forefront of his mind. He whirled….

….straight into Hargrave’s waiting arms.

“That was just too easy,” the killer grinned.

******

GUMC

Scully sat by Mulder’s bedside, her fingers interlaced around his, mindful of the many tubes and leads that kept her partner alive. Her fault. HER FAULT. If only she had listened to him, if only she had believed, he wouldn’t be here now. She should have insisted on staying with him, paying no heed to the fact she had no idea how to deal with a ghost.

He was slipping away from her, and there was nothing to negate her culpability. She snuffled, barely noticing the tears falling down her cheeks. It had been bad enough, all those times, thinking she was going to lose him. But the feelings between them had been unspoken then.

Now…now…. She wondered how her mother had borne it, losing Ahab after so many years. She couldn’t possibly conceive of losing Mulder; not when they had already weathered more crises than most people would in a dozen lifetimes. After prehistoric wood mites, carnivorous fungi, mothmen, not to mention allegedly alien viruses…Mulder just could not be felled by a mundane serial killer. Even if that killer was a ghost. He just couldn’t.

She stroked his hair back from his forehead again, although, like her partner, it hadn’t moved from her last ministrations. “Come back to me, Mulder. I need you,” her voice hitched, husky with repressed emotion. “I love you.”

******

Location Unknown

The blow took Mulder by surprise; he grunted in pain and fell to the dirty floor. The boy had vanished, dissolving into thin vapor like the smoke from Cancerman’s Morley. The agent managed to retain his grip on the two-by-four and swung it at his attacker. Unfortunately, his position robbed him of leverage, and Hargrave evaded the blow with a laugh.

“I really thought you’d be more of a challenge,” he taunted. His knife flashed, and Mulder howled at the pain erupting in his arm. The wood dropped to the cement floor, leaving Mulder defenseless. He knelt at Hargrave’s feet, his body sapped of strength, clutching his bleeding arm. As he looked up at his adversary, at the bloody knife clutched in Hargrave’s hand, he understood that he had finally lost. There would be no miraculous rescue as there had been eleven years ago. He was spent; there was nothing left. He closed his eyes briefly, a silent prayer to a God he wasn’t certain he believed in, to let Scully know he had tried. That he had fought against this fate. He opened his eyes then, determined to see death coming for him when it did. So many times he had teased death, danced around it, cheated it…it seemed, finally, death was about to receive its due. His head raised defiantly, he struggled to his feet to meet his fate. There was still pride, when all was said and done. And though he knew from bitter experience he would beg and plead before his ordeal was over, he would cling to pride, and the memory of *her*, as long as he could.

The kick threw him off balance and he landed hard. The breath whooshed out of him and he tried to scamper out of the way while regaining his breath.

Another kick caught him in the side and he heard the sickening crack of ribs. His side erupted in a cacophony of pain and he bit his lip to keep from screaming. He was still struggling to regain his feet when the next blow caught him on the side of the head. He was flung on his back, arms spread wide as if accepting crucifixion. Through dazed eyes he could see the steel glint of the knife, and he knew his end was at hand. A core of stubbornness refused to succumb, however, and he vainly tried to force his body to respond to his commands.

He was spent: blood loss, fatigue, shock and shattered ribs overrode his mind’s urgent commands. Glazed eyes looked up at Hargrave poised above him, his face contorted into an inhuman leer. He turned away then, unwilling, at the last, to witness his death. He felt the pain from a long way off, recognizing his mind had already begun to protect him from his body’s trauma, from the inevitable conclusion. He could be grateful for that. His thoughts, of course, turned to Scully, in those final moments. He hoped she would not blame herself, that she would be able to get on with her life. He thought then, of course she would, she was stronger than he, after all.

Thoughts of her sent warm thrills through his body, an effective counteragent to the cold of bloodloss.

It took a moment for him to realize what he was seeing: a warm glow of light just beyond his right arm. He had the presence of mind to wonder if this was the tunnel of light reported by near-death experiences, but then it dawned on him that the light was warm red, not white. It exuded a familiar warmth…

Fascinated by the light, he found he could stretch his arm enough to reach it. It burned brightly, but with comforting warmth, cupped in the palm of his hand, the same shade as Scully’s hair, he mused, idly wondering if blood loss was affecting his perceptions. Amazingly, the light reminded him of his partner, as if he held her essence in his hand.

Fascinated he might have been by his discovery, but not too fascinated to notice how Hargrave drew away from the glow. Mulder held the light in his hand, regarding it thoughtfully. At length, Hargrave gave him a malicious grin, and the knife began to sweep down.

Where he found the strength, Mulder couldn’t say. But as Hargrave leaned forward to deliver the killing blow, Mulder swept his arm, cradling the ball of light, into the killer’s face. Hargrave screamed piteously, clawing at his skin. Warm, inviting red turned abruptly to flaming crimson, Mulder’s midnight nightmares of fire given horrific life. The light bit into Hargrave, gradually devouring him; his skin glowing incandescently, obscenely lit like the victim of a nuclear holocaust. Behind him, Mulder could just make out a dark shadow, hungry for flesh. As Hargrave’s screams rang in Mulder’s consciousness, he barely had the cognizance to reflect that Hargrave’s deeds had caught up to him at last, that the dark shadow would exact the restitution that the killer had avoided.

Mulder’s surroundings began to grow dim, and the agent couldn’t say whether he would wake or not. “I love you, Scully,” he was able to mutter before the darkness consumed him utterly, hoping somehow she’d heard his words.

Light, when it burned his retinas, was an assault of red – which eventually resolved itself into a veil of titian tresses and brilliant blue eyes.

Scully’s words said “Welcome back,” but her eyes communicated much more. He smiled tiredly in acknowledgement before gravity claimed his eyelids. All was now right in Fox Mulder’s world.

******

Tag

Around a campfire – somewhere Albert Hosteen nodded to himself, tossing another log on his little campfire. He lifted his eyes to the silent figures circling him, just out of the light cast by the fire.

He nodded to them gravely. “Soon,” he told them. “Soon the FBI man will meet his destiny.”

*******

Finis