Category Archives: Season 10

Legacy

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TITLE: “LEGACY”

AUTHORS: Suzanne Bickerstaffe and dtg

EMAIL: ecksphile@earthlink.net,

dgoggans@earthlink.net

RATING: PG-13

CONTENT: Casefile; mytharc; Concludes in the first

episode of Virtual Season 11.

SPOILERS: Allusions to mytharc episodes prior to

Season 8, and to Virtual Season 10 mytharc

episodes. Specific reference near the end

of Act II to events in Circles and Patchwork.

SUMMARY: The case of a missing fourteen year old girl

forces some memories to surface, with

momentous results for Mulder.

THANKS: To everyone who supports the Virtual

Seasons, either by contributing their talent

or their feedback; and to the most amazing

bunch of women ever brought together by

the love of the work.

FEEDBACK: To the authors at the email addresses above,

and to the Virtual Season 10 feedback page

DISCLAIMER: You all know it, you’ve heard it a million

times. The X-Files, Fox Mulder, Dana

Scully = not ours, just borrowing, will return

to their ungrateful owners (Chris Carter,

1013 Productions, 20th Century Fox) when

we’re done.

DISTRIBUTION: This story belongs exclusively to the

Virtual Season 10 site for two weeks;

thereafter, please contact the authors for

permission to archive.

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TEASER

*It’s like being a child again, knowing the monsters in the

closet are real, hearing them scratch and scrabble in the

dark, and never being able to make anyone believe. I’m

fourteen years old, and still afraid to be alone. Afraid of

monsters that have escaped the confines of my closet to

roam my waking world. The worst nightmares are the ones

that find you even in the light of day.*

*Yet I risk the shadows whenever I can gather enough

courage. It’s the only control I still have over the spiraling

catastrophe my life has become. I sit in the dark, as I’m

doing now, with only the shaded desk lamp’s circle of light

to hold back the darkness. When it’s quiet like this, the

scratch of my pen against the soft ivory pages of my diary

gives me comfort. The childish fears I can’t bring myself to

tell anyone else, I can write here. Memories that come to

me only in flashes, I record in as much detail as possible.

Maybe someone will find this book someday, and begin to

understand. I still hope that reading these words over and

over may someday help *me* understand what’s happening

to me. Maybe even help me find a way to escape.*

In her right hand, she held hope in the form of an endless

stream of words that flowed in multi colored ink across the

page. In her left, she twisted a long strand of dark hair like

a child would do, looping the tress around her fingers until

it tugged against her scalp.

She caught a glimpse of herself in the vanity mirror, and

paused to study her reflection. The light coming from the

desk lamp gave her a spooky look, as if she were holding a

flashlight under her chin, ready to say “Boo!”. She twisted

her face into an experimental snarl that quickly dissolved

into quiet giggles.

“G’night, sweetheart.”

Her father’s voice from the doorway made her jump a foot.

She slapped the book shut and turned to show him a sunny

smile. “G’night, Daddy.”

“Don’t stay up too late. You’ve got school tomorrow.”

“I won’t, Daddy.” She knew he loved it when she called

him that. He thought she was too young to call him ‘Dad’.

As *if*. She kept the smile on her face until he closed the

door behind him. Then she opened the book and picked up

her pen.

*I know they’re coming for me again. I can feel them

getting closer, their thoughts reaching out for me in the

dark. I’m going to hide this book so they can’t find it. To

whoever is reading this now, I need your help.*

Maddie re-read the last entry and nodded. It would be her

final one, and she wanted it to be right. After a moment,

she closed the book and walked to the bed. Lifting one

corner of the duvet, she tucked the book between the

mattress and box spring. When she put the duvet back in

place, she made sure to leave a corner of the book poking

out.

She turned out the desk lamp, plunging the room into

darkness. Then, she sat down on the bed to wait.

* * * * *

Act I

Shelton, CT

April 23, 2003

11 AM

“Madison Sage Spencer, aged 14. Disappeared from her

home last night, hasn’t been seen since around ten PM. No

sign of forced entry, no signs of violence, no sign that any

of the girl’s things or anything else in the home is missing.

No one saw or heard anything.” Scully shut the file folder

and watched as the scenery on the Merritt Parkway flew

past.

“Madison? Sage? Isn’t anyone named Debbie or Susan

anymore?” Mulder glanced over at his partner, but she

noted that the gleam of mischief that normally would have

accompanied that kind of remark was absent from his eyes.

Missing children, thought Scully. Every time they went out

on a missing child case, he was a different person. Even

now she sensed the quip was more for her benefit, in its

way a kind of reassurance that so far, he was fine. But then,

they’d only had the case for a few hours. She took the

photograph from the dossier they had brought with them

from Washington that morning. The missing girl’s uncanny

resemblance to what Samantha surely would have looked

like at fourteen was already having its effect on her partner.

Usually one to hide his reactions, at least in front of

everyone but her, he had turned white as buttermilk and a

gasp had escaped his lips when Skinner first passed him the

photo.

She broke her silence. “Mulder, are you sure about this?”

He paused for a moment, opting not to say the first thing

that came to mind. It bothered him when it seemed as

though she felt he couldn’t be objective and professional on

this kind of case. And as a professional, and a damned good

agent at that, her concern about him stung. But he also

knew she was only thinking of his welfare, and he had to

admit there were times he was on the ragged edge….

“Mulder?”

“Sorry, Scully. Just thinking. In answer to your question,

yes, I’m sure about this. And even if I weren’t – who the hell

else are they going to give it to? Supposedly the girl had

told several friends that she was convinced she was about

to be abducted by aliens – and not for the first time. The

parents – not that I can blame them – are almost hoping that

is the case since it seems, to them anyway, a more bearable

alternative than what human monsters can do to girls of that

age.”

His partner sighed. “I know, Mulder. But –”

“I’ll be fine, Scully.” He glanced over, his expression

softening. “Really. And thanks.”

She gazed at his face before nodding tightly. She might be

able to believe his reassurance better if he didn’t look like

he had aged ten years since their meeting with Skinner

early that morning.

Mulder took the exit ramp and eased his way onto the main

road. Moving from suburbia to a more rural area, they

entered an expensive sub-division and drove slowly along

tree-lined roads bracketed by lovely houses set on perfectly

landscaped lots.

“Willow Brook Lane. This is it, Mulder. Turn left, then it’s

the fourth house on the right. Or so our directions say.”

The marked and unmarked law enforcement cars took up

nearly all the parking spots on the road. Mulder slipped into

the last spot, earning the glare of one of the residents. As

they approached the house, Scully could feel her partner

tensing with each step. Mulder rang the bell at the entryway

of the beautiful Georgian home.

A middle-aged man, dressed casually but expensively,

swung the door open.

“Mr. Spencer?”

“Yes?”

“I’m Special Agent Fox Mulder, and this is Special Agent

Dana Scully, from the FBI. We’re here about your

daughter’s disappearance.”

The man’s tired face lit up when he heard their names.

“Oh… you’re the experts Lieutenant Nickerson spoke of!

Please, come right in. Priss – they’re here!”

Flashing an astonished ‘Can you believe this?’ look at his

diminutive partner, he allowed her to lead the way into

huge living room, with its fieldstone fireplace and soffits

and skylights. They sank into the leather sectional and

Scully pulled out her notebook.

“Mr. Spencer, we have the report of the Shelton Police

Department on the statement you gave when you found that

Madison was missing. What else can you tell us?”

The man looked confused. “Like what? Everything

happened just the way I said. My wife went in because

Maddie hadn’t come out for breakfast, and found she was

gone….” The man’s voice broke and he took a second to

steady himself. “We were beside ourselves.”

“The police report said that Madison’s bed hadn’t been slept

in,” Mulder commented mildly.

“That’s right. She was there around ten o’clock last night,

because went in to say good night to her and she was there.

But for some reason, she never went to bed.”

“How can you be so sure, Mr. Spencer? This is very

important, because it may give us an idea about what time

Madison disappeared,” Scully reminded him.

“Oh, there’s no doubt. After she gets up, it looks like a

bomb hit her bed. You don’t know how many housekeepers

we’ve had that have commented on it,” Spencer said,

shaking his head. “But the duvet cover though – that was

just a little mussed, kind of pulled up at the corner. That’s

how I was able to find it.”

“Find it?” Scully prompted.

“Her diary. I found it peeking out from between the

mattress and the box spring. While we were waiting for the

police to come, I took a look, to see if maybe I could find

any clues.” The man flushed. “Normally, nothing could

make me invade Maddie’s privacy like that, but I guess I

was hoping that there might be something about a

boyfriend in there, someone she may have run off with. Not

that I would have been happy about that, but in view of the

alternatives…” He trailed off.

“And was there?” Mulder asked.

Grimly, Spencer shook his head. “No, nothing like that. I

gotta say, though, I wasn’t prepared for what Maddie had

written.”

“Tell us about that, Mr. Spencer.”

“Better than that, I can show you.” He went to a beautiful

writing desk that cost more than Mulder earned in two

months and scooped up a little book, presently residing in a

plastic evidence bag. “Here it is. Oh, Lieutenant Nickerson

— the FBI agents have arrived and need to see Maddie’s

diary.”

A tall, heavy-set man walked over and grasped Mulder’s

hand. “Nice to have an… er… expert with us on this one,

Agent Mulder.” The words were not quite genuine, but

Mulder was more accustomed to that than Spencer’s

comparatively effusive greeting.

“Thank you. About that diary…?”

Nickerson took the bag from Spencer and pulled the book

out. “It’s been dusted for prints. Nothing on it but

Madison’s. No reason you can’t use it.”

“Thanks. I’ll take it with me to look over later, if that’s

alright.”

The police lieutenant nodded his assent.

“Maddie says in her diary that she felt she was about to be

abducted by aliens. That she was abducted by them before

and had been returned,” Charles Spencer volunteered.

“And what do you think about that, Mr. Spencer?” Scully

asked neutrally.

“Well, my wife and I, I guess we’re more open-minded to

that sort of thing than most people. We’re believers, you

might say. I have been ever since my college days. Priss

and I even honeymooned in Roswell. We met at a

convention– Sorry, I’m rambling.”

“Priss is Mrs. Spencer? Maddie’s mother?” Scully asked,

jotting down notes.

“Well… yes to the former, no to the latter. Priss is my

second wife. Maddie’s mother is an international banker, in

the Far East at the moment. We’ve been trying to get in

touch with her. She left us when Maddie was about three.

They’ve never been particularly close. I married Priss

almost three years ago.”

Mulder pondered for a moment, then said, “Mr. Spencer,

we’re at a disadvantage here. What can you tell me about

Madison? Her likes and dislikes, interests, that sort of

thing?”

Spencer gestured for the policeman to take a chair and sat

back down himself. “Maddie is incredibly intelligent.

Gifted. Her IQ is over 170. Not that her grades reflect that.”

The man frowned briefly, then continued. “I think it’s just

that she’s so smart, it’s difficult for a school – any school –

to challenge her sufficiently to hold her interest.”

“Chuckie… you’ve got to be honest with them.” A lovely

blonde no older than thirty came into the room and

introduced herself to the occupants. “Hi, I’m Priscilla

Spencer,” she said, her words lightly inflected with a

Southern accent. “I’m so glad you’ve come to help us get

Maddie back. But you’ll have to forgive my husband.

Where Maddie’s concerned, it’s real hard for him to be

objective.”

“Priscilla! You know Maddie’s had it rough.”

“I know that, Chuckie, but that doesn’t excuse everything.

Maddie didn’t exactly approve of her Daddy’s marriage to

me at first,” Priscilla confided to the group. “She could be

real… well, difficult, you know? Teenagers can be tough at

the best of times, and under the circumstances…. Well, let’s

say Maddie was a challenge. But the past six months or so,

we’ve gotten to be friends. I really think she was coming

around.”

“I’m sure we understand how you feel, Mrs. Spencer,”

Scully said sympathetically. “You said Maddie could be

difficult. In what way?”

“Well, Chuckie’s right when he says that her intelligence

has sometimes made things hard for her. Hard to fit in with

other kids, that sort of thing. Even teachers sometimes

resented her. Maddie could be pretty tough if she thought

her teachers weren’t of her intellectual level. She gave me a

hard time at first, thinking I was a dumb bunny from

Nowhere, Georgia. But once I showed her my Mensa card,

she backed off a bit.”

If Scully hadn’t been sunken into the Italian leather couch,

she probably would have fallen over. She would have bet

Priscilla Spencer wouldn’t have known how to spell

‘Mensa’. Or ‘card’, for that matter.

Priss continued, “Frankly, having met some of her teachers,

I gotta say Maddie wasn’t far wrong in her assessment of

some of them. But she was also willful. I know what kids

can get up to at that age – I think I just about made my

Daddy’s hair turn white with some of the shenanigans I got

up to. But she could still… well, let’s just say that Chuckie

lets her get away with things I would have earned a real

whooping for, from my Daddy.”

“Kind of a handful.” Mulder smiled.

She nodded. “Exactly. But she’s Chuckie’s daughter, and

we want her back.”

“Do you think she might have run away?” ventured Scully.

Both the Spencers shook their heads. “My daughter has

lived a very sheltered life, Agent Scully,” Charles said. “I

don’t think she could catch a bus on her own. She’s

intelligent, but not in the least street-wise, and frankly, I

have coddled her. Not only do I think she wouldn’t have a

clue how to run away, but for the life of me, I can’t see why

she would want to. Leave all this?” He gazed around at the

evidence of wealth that surrounded him.

“What do you think about Maddie’s diary, Mrs. Spencer?”

Mulder asked.

Priscilla Spencer eyes opened wide. “I really don’t know

what to think, Agent Mulder. I mean, I believe that aliens

regularly visit our world, and have taken earthlings aboard

their space ships, and performed experiments on them. We

even talked to some of them at that last convention, didn’t

we, Chuckie? Talked to the abductees, I mean, not the

aliens. But to have that happening right here in our family?

I just don’t know. Maddie didn’t confide in us, but I doubt

she would. Not to me, anyway. Maybe to Chuckie.” There

was no failing to notice the touch of hurt in her tone.

Her husband shook his head. “She never mentioned

anything about aliens to me. But I did notice something in

her diary about the previous time she talked about, when

she said ‘They’ took her before – it was last summer when

she was at camp in the Adirondacks, so we wouldn’t have

been around in any case. And she never mentioned

anything about it after she came home from camp.”

Mulder nodded his understanding. “Mr. Spencer, what do

you do for a living?”

“I’m a stockbroker.”

The agent’s eyes scanned the room and its furnishings.

“You’ve done well in these unsettled times.”

The man nodded. “That’s because I have the sense to take

my own advice, Agent Mulder. Sometimes you have to

play the game conservatively. When your clients insist on

trying to revive the boom times single-handedly and think

they know more than their broker, bad things can happen.”

“Bad enough that one of them might think at getting back at

you through your daughter?”

He shook his head vehemently. “No. No way. Most of the

people I deal with can well afford to take a few losses,

Agent Mulder. There’ve been no threats, no unpleasantness

of any kind. If you like, I can put you in touch with the staff

in my office, and they’ll corroborate that.”

Mulder nodded. “And you, Mrs. Spencer?”

“I’m in IT. I design business software, working from home

so I can be here for Maddie and her younger brother

Kirkland. He’s with Chuckie’s sister right now. He was real

upset,” she explained earnestly.

As gently as she could, Scully said, “You both obviously

earn a good living. What makes you so sure that your

daughter wasn’t taken for ransom?”

The Spencers reached out for each other then, grasping

hands. “We’re praying that’s not it…. Of course, it’s not the

money – we’d give all we have to get her back. But we

know what the chances are of having her returned to us if

she was taken for ransom. That or if one of these s-sexual

p-p-predators—” Tears filled Priscilla’s eyes and she trailed

off. “We know it’s not good, and that the more time passes,

the less chance Maddie has. But if it’s something else, even

if it’s something bizarre or paranormal, well, then we can

have hope.”

Mulder stood, helping Scully fight her way out of the deep

couch. “Mr. and Mrs. Spencer, we will do everything in our

power to bring back your daughter. Now, if Lieutenant

Nickerson can show us Maddie’s room, we’ll take a look

and then we’ll be on our way. I’m sure he can fill us in on

the other information we need. We’ll stay in touch.”

The missing girl’s room conveyed the schizophrenia of

adolescence – side-by-side posters of Eminem and Stephen

Hawking, a small mob of stuffed animals warring for space

with issues of Cosmo and Marie Claire. Mulder scanned the

books in her bookcase and CDs in their rack while Scully

went through the girl’s dresser.

“Window?” he asked Nickerson.

“Locked, just like you see. We dusted for fingerprints and

came up with just the housekeeper’s and the girl’s. Nothing

in the flower beds beneath the window, and the ground is

soft enough that it would have taken a great impression, if

anyone had been around there. But – nothing.”

“Lieutenant Nickerson, you don’t really believe the girl was

taken by aliens, do you?” Scully asked.

Red-faced, the big man pulled at an ear. “Well… I guess

weirder things have happened – but not many. No, I’ll tell

ya, I was just about blown away when Mr. and Mrs.

Spencer told me about the diary and started going on about

aliens and all. I dunno. If it was Mr. and Mrs. Joe Blow, I

would have them figured for wackaloons. But these people

are upstanding members of the community and big

contributors to the local Police Athletic League. They’re

best buddies with the mayor, half of the town council, and

their State Senator, and they’re on a first name basis with

the Governor. So if Mr. Spencer tells me he wants to

explore all angles on this, including alien abduction, well

then, I’m gonna do it. I am not ignorant of the potential

political fallout from this. After all, I wasn’t born

yesterday.”

“I understand completely, Lieutenant,” Mulder said. “Now,

can you give us a list of her teachers, friends, anyone who

can give us some insight into Maddie?”

“Got it right here for you, including directions.”

“Thanks. Here’s my card, with my cell number. Call us if

you hear anything. You know, this is probably exactly what

it looks like – a kidnapping for ransom or some sexual

predator.”

“I know. I’ll call you, don’t worry.” He shook his head. “I

only wish it was aliens. But I haven’t lost sight of the fact

that it’s much more likely that some scumbag who should

have been locked away years ago probably took her. We

have the men of five local police departments beating the

bushes for this girl. If we turn up anything, you’ll be the

first to know.” He hesitated for a moment. “What do you

make of it, though – what she wrote in the diary?”

Mulder smiled slightly. “Nothing yet. But I’m working on

it.”

*******

Six hours later, they wearily picked up food from a diner

and headed back to the motel. Their interviews with

Madison Spencer’s teachers and friends had left them no

closer to solving the girl’s disappearance. Her friends

characterized her as smart and usually fun, but with a wild

streak that was unnerving at times. All mentioned that

Maddie had started talking about aliens and her fears about

being abducted a few weeks previous. They thought at the

time she was just trying to get attention.

Madison’s teachers were a different matter. While

obviously shocked and dismayed that the girl was missing,

they were straightforward to the point of bluntness in their

opinions of her – and ‘difficult’ was about the most

restrained comment concerning her behavior.

The exhausted agents entered their rooms, then opened the

communicating doors between them, accustomed by this

time to the charade they needed to maintain. Scully kicked

off her heels and Mulder dispensed with his tie. Then they

sat down at the table in Mulder’s room to eat.

“So what do you think?”

Tiredly, he shook his head. “I don’t know. I don’t know

what to think. I’ll know better when I’ve spent some time

looking at the girl’s diary. I have a feeling all the answers

are there, Scully. In the diary.”

Scully sighed. Mulder already looked like he hadn’t slept in

weeks, and this was only the beginning. If it turned out the

girl had been taken by a sexual predator…. Hell, even if she

had been taken by aliens, would that be any better for

Mulder? Could he deal with that result any better, after

what happened to his sister? “Mulder….”

“No – it’s all right, Scully. Really. I’m okay. Maybe I’m

just deluding myself, but I have a feeling about this case.

Now, why don’t you finish dinner, shower and then we can

journal.”

She closed the cover of the white styrofoam box, not even

pretending to eat what she had no appetite for, and stood.

“You’re going to stay up all night, aren’t you?”

He picked up the girl’s diary. “Only if I have to….”

******

AmeriSuites Hotel

Shelton, CT

April 24, 2003

7:20 am

Scully awoke and stretched, her hand coming into contact

with the cool sheets beside her. Groaning, she remembered

coming out of the shower the previous night, looking

forward to that ‘together’ time Mulder had promised, to find

him already completely engrossed in Madison Spencer’s

diary. She surrendered to the inevitable and had watched

some inane movie on TV until she drifted off to sleep.

She sat up, not at all surprised to see her partner in the chair

he had occupied since they had returned to the motel. His

head was thrown back and he was softly snoring, the diary

dangling precariously from his hand. Finally, it fell to the

floor with a soft thud, but it was enough to wake him.

“Gmph…. Oh, g’morning, Scully.”

She sighed. “Good morning yourself. You know, Mulder,

you can’t help anyone if you run yourself into the ground–”

“Yes, Dr. Scully.” He grinned at her – a real grin, for the

first time in over twenty four hours.

She cocked her head to the side suspiciously. “Mulder?”

“Yes?”

“You’ve figured it out, haven’t you? And it’s not what we

thought.”

Smiling, he nodded. “Help yourself to some of the in-room

coffee, made not more than…” he consulted his watch

“…two hours ago. Then come and join me and see if I made

any major blunders in reasoning.”

Scully pulled on a tee shirt. Crossing to the bureau, she

drained the little pot, pouring coffee for both of them. She

sat at the table and pushed his cup across to him.

“Okay – here’s the diary. Examine it, read it, whatever. I’ll

wait.”

She did so, as she did everything – carefully, deliberately,

thoughtfully. Finally, she looked up at Mulder.

He was stretched back in his chair, his long legs straight out

in front of him. “So… what did you notice?”

“The handwriting,” she replied without hesitation. He

nodded encouragingly and she went on. “It changes with

each entry – the pen color changed from black to blue to

lavender and green and back again, the handwriting was

slightly larger and rushed-looking in one entry, smaller and

neater in another, but all done with the same hand.”

“And from that you infer…?”

“It’s too perfect, Mulder. Too… conscious, I guess would be

the word. This is exactly what I would expect to see if an

intelligent person were trying to pull a fast one. Based on

what I see here, I would say Maddie Spencer sat down and

wrote all the entries in this diary over a very short period of

time – a few hours or a few days, perhaps, but certainly not

over the ten months supposedly recorded in this journal.”

Mulder smiled. “My take on it precisely, Dr. Scully.”

“So you’re thinking she set up her own disappearance?”

Mulder nodded.

“And I agree. So that lets out the alien angle, which is what

she wanted everyone to believe, for some reason. Maybe

thinking that we wouldn’t be looking for her if we thought

she had been taken by aliens, and she would have more

time to cover her tracks. She might even be thinking of

trying to pull some sort of a ransom scam on her parents.

But Mulder, that doesn’t completely rule out her having

been grabbed by some deviant. Or someone out to get her

parents, for that matter.”

Mulder stood and stretched, then began peeling off the

clothes he had worn for over twenty four hours. “Yeah,

that’s true… but that would be one hell of a coincidence,

don’t you think? That on the very night she’s planning to

run away, she gets grabbed by someone out to get her

parents? No, Scully, I think the only person out to get Mr.

and Mrs. Spencer is Maddie. She’s acting out a lot of anger

and frustration and teenage angst, some of it justifiable,

some of it the product of a spoiled rich kid with too much

intelligence and too little discipline.” He frowned. “Not that

she’s necessarily any safer. Charles Spencer said his

daughter wasn’t street-wise. If he’s right, she may have

managed to find herself in a world of hurt by now.”

“So what are we going to do?”

He flipped her his cell phone. “Call Lieutenant Nickerson.

Tell him to put out an APB on the girl in Hartford, New

York City, and Bridgeport. And in New Haven, which is

where we’ll be looking for her. Tell him to concentrate on

areas favored by runaways. Oh – and tell him she may have

disguised herself. I would look for short blond hair.”

“So that’s what *I’m* going to do. What are *you* going to

do?”

He pushed his boxers down over his hips, kicking them on

top of his other discarded clothes, and pulled her into his

arms. “I am going to take a long, hot, very overdue shower.

And then, Agent Scully, you have a choice – food at the

diner down the road, or something even more overdue and

satisfying….”

******

It was a bit more than ninety minutes later that they began

slowly driving along Chapel Street. The huge number of

Yalies basking in the Spring sunshine in front of the

University Art Gallery made their task both easier and

harder. While it was difficult trying to find Maddie among

so many other young girls, there was no shortage of people

to show the missing girl’s photo to. Finally, after it seemed

they had interviewed everyone under the age of twenty-five

in New Haven, they struck paydirt.

“Yeah, I’ve seen her.” The young man handed the

photograph back to Mulder. “My girlfriend, Beth, is getting

her PhD in Sociology. She works with runaways, and

sometimes brings one or two of them back to sleep at her

place – especially when they’re really young and she

figures they’ll get into big trouble without someone looking

out for them. We were supposed to go out and catch

“Bowling for Columbine” at a midnight show last night, but

she showed up with this kid and another girl, and begged

off. Said she didn’t want to leave them, thought they’d take

off.”

“Do you know where she is now?” Scully asked.

The young man stole a look at his watch. “It’s still pretty

early. You might catch them at her place. Otherwise try the

Runaway Center run by St. Raphael’s.”

Mulder got the addresses and directions from the student,

and thanked him. It was only a five minute walk to the

brownstone that housed Beth’s apartment. “Ah, the life of a

student, Scully. Only students and musicians think eleven

in the morning is ‘early’.”

“Let’s hope we’re early enough to get the worm, Mulder.”

They were about to climb the steps to the brownstone when

Scully glanced up the sidewalk. She broke into a sprint

towards three female figures who were strolling away from

her. “Beth!”

One of the females stopped, and turned questioningly. Her

companions waited, but were obviously impatient to be on

their way.

Scully caught up with the trio. “Hey Beth, remember me?”

The pretty brunette smiled but shook her head. “I’m sorry, I

can’t quite place….”

Scully returned her smile. “No, I’m sure you can’t.” With a

lightning quick move, her hand encircled the wrist of one

of Beth’s companions, a young-looking girl with a very bad

blond wig. Instinctively, the girl tried to pull away.

“What the hell do you-” Beth began angrily, glaring at

Scully.

Mulder skidded to a stop by the group, brandishing his

badge. “Ma’am, we’re Federal agents. This girl is Madison

Spencer, missing from her home and up to now, presumed

kidnapped.”

Beth took his badge and examined the ID carefully before

handing it back to him.

“Fox Mulder, Dana Scully,” Mulder said by way of

introduction. “Your boyfriend told us about your bringing a

young runaway in off the streets last night. We were hoping

it might be Maddie.”

“Maddie’s parents undoubtedly owe you a debt of

gratitude,” Scully told the student. “As do you, Maddie.”

“Why don’t you go fuck yourself,” the girl replied sullenly.

She pulled the wig off and ran a hand through her dark hair,

fluffing it.

Mulder sighed. “Not the witty repartee I would have

expected from seeing your Stanford-Benet scores, Maddie.”

* * * * *

ACT II

Yale New Haven Medical Center

April 24, 2003

6:44 pm

When they got to the medical center, Maddie’s father was

waiting just inside the ER door with Priss at his side. The

man was shaky with relief, as Mulder expected. The step-

mother’s reaction to the news was much more equivocal.

Standard procedure called for a medical examination,

which Maddie steadfastly refused to permit. Her father

expressed his wishes firmly but gently.

“Sweetheart, we have to make sure you’re all right.” He

placed himself pointedly between his daughter and his

wife. Priss looked as if she wanted to slap some sense into

her stepdaughter. Maddie was playing to the FBI agents,

but some of her tirade was most certainly aimed at her

father’s wife.

“What for? I hope you don’t think you’re making sure I’m

still a virgin, because that ship sailed a LONG time ago.”

She crossed her arms and stuck out her chin. It made her

look very much like her father.

Mulder saw the flush rise in the man’s face, but he kept his

voice calm and steady. Years of practice, Mulder supposed,

dealing with his daughter’s defiance. “You’re not

impressing anyone with this, Maddie. Go into the exam

room and behave yourself. We’ll wait for you.”

She went, but not without gracing everyone in her

immediate vicinity with a withering look. When the door

closed behind her, there was a communal sigh of relief.

Charles Spencer turned to the two agents with a pained

expression that Mulder could completely understand. The

man would have to take that hostile bundle of teen angst

home with him. “Agent Mulder. Agent Scully,” he shook

their hands in turn. “I don’t know how to thank you.”

Scully smiled. “There’s no need, Mr. Spencer. We’re very

happy to have helped.”

The man nodded. “We have a long road ahead of us, I’m

afraid. I guess we haven’t paid enough attention to her, and

this is the result.”

Mulder doubted the problem was a lack of attention, but he

let it pass. “She’s a very strong-willed young woman, but

there’s a lot of potential there. You might work on

redirecting all that creative energy into something more

positive,” Mulder offered.

Charles Spencer surprised them all with a chuckle. “Agent

Mulder, you are being much too generous, but I appreciate

the sentiment.”

He and Scully made their escape a few minutes later. They

still had another hour or so of reports to file before it was

truly all over, but just being outside in the warm afternoon

sunshine was having a decidedly positive effect. He saw

Scully from the corner of his eye, watching him stretch the

kinks out of his back. She looked more relieved than

‘Chuckie’ Spencer. “What?”

She suddenly looked self-conscious. “I–.” Whatever she

was going to say got edited somewhere between her heart

and her mouth. “Do you have the car keys? I want to

drive.”

He studied her face for a moment, then dug the keys from

his pants pocket and dropped them in her upturned palm.

She’d been worried about him. He didn’t have to quiz her to

know that. “You can drive if I can pick where we eat

dinner.”

She rolled her eyes, of course. “Chili dogs and cheese fries.

God help us all.”

That wasn’t what he had in mind, but he let her suffer for

awhile. It served her right for giving him such a hard time.

He waited until they were leaving the field office, reports

properly filed, before he gave her the name of his chosen

restaurant. Her entire face lit up with delighted

astonishment.

“Mulder! Real food?” That smile could make up for just

about anything.

“Cheese fries *are* real food.” He couldn’t resist one last

jab.

Mulder gave her directions to the restaurant, then called

ahead to make a last minute reservation. Their luck was

holding, because the maitre ‘d was able to seat them

immediately. The atmosphere was perfect, the food

wonderful. Scully had given him a vaguely alarmed look

when he gave the waiter his selection, but she’d kept her

comments to herself. He’d ordered the weirdest entree he

could find, just to get that very look from her. It was worth

a little heartburn, he decided.

It was almost ten o’clock when they got back to their motel.

Scully had let him drive, and she was sound asleep by the

time they arrived. He considered carrying her in, but

thought better of it immediately. She’d have his head on a

stick, but the mental image of her tucked in his arms made

him smile like an idiot. That was the expression she saw

when her eyes opened a moment later.

“Do I dare ask what prompted that look?” She looked at

him, one eyebrow arched as she unsnapped the seat belt.

His grin broadened. “I don’t think you’d like the answer.”

She gave him a playful smack on the arm and got out of the

car. It was a beautiful night, pleasantly cool with a soft

breeze, and he wondered if they could sleep with the

windows open. Cuddled under the covers, sharing body

heat. His grin was beginning to make his face ache.

“Hey, Scully! Where are you going?” She was headed for

her own door. When he called to her, she looked back over

her shoulder but didn’t slow down.

“I need a shower, Mulder.” She wrinkled her nose at him.

“And so do you.” And with that, she was inside. The door

closed softly behind her.

Mulder stood in the parking lot, hands on his hips, mouth

hanging open in shock. The door opened again a moment

later, and Scully peeked out at him wearing a very familiar

smile. “Mulder, you are *so* easy. Get over here.”

Evil woman. Evil. “Yes, ma’am.”

* * * *

AmeriSuites Hotel

Shelton, CT

April 25, 2003

1:34 am

Scully was awakened by soft murmurs that escalated into

cries of distress before she could untangle herself from his

arms enough to raise up and look at his face. “Mulder,

wake up. You’re dreaming.” She touched his forehead and

his eyes snapped open, wild and unfocused. “Mulder, it’s

me. It’s all right. It’s just a dream.” She said it over and

over, stroking his face as his breathing slowed.

He turned his head, finally looking at her with concern.

“Are you all right? What’s wrong?”

“Mulder, I’m fine. You were having a nightmare.”

His expression moved from concern to confusion. He

pulled away from her gently and sat up against the

headboard, scrubbing at his face with both hands. “I woke

you up.”

She sat up, too. “It’s okay. Do you want to talk about it?”

clip_image002

“In a minute.” He shivered and pulled the sheet up to his

chest. “In a minute,” he said again, very softly.

Scully brushed the backs of her fingers over his cheek,

thinking he might have a fever. His skin was cool and dry.

Not a fever, then. Shock? From a dream? “I’ll get you some

water.” She got up and headed for the bathroom.

“She came to me, Scully. My mother.”

The matter-of-fact way he said it sent a chill down her

back. She stopped and came back to the bed. “You were

dreaming about your mother?”

“No… I … I don’t know.” He hugged his arms tight to his

body and shuddered. “I’m cold.”

She took the blanket from the foot of the bed and wrapped

it around him. Mulder clutched at it, pulling it around his

shoulders. Scully sat down on the edge of the bed next to

him, rubbing his arm trying to warm him. “What do you

remember?”

“I thought I was just remembering when I saw her in the

woods after the accident.” He touched the cast on his left

wrist, as if she might not remember the night two weeks

ago, or the accident that had nearly killed them both. “But it

wasn’t that.”

He went silent again, staring into space until she squeezed

his shoulder. “Mulder, talk tome.”

The blank stare swung over to her, coming slowly into

focus. “This is different, Scully. I don’t know how to

describe what I’m feeling.”

Nightmares were nothing new, though they had become

much less frequent over the past couple of years. She was

an old hand at seeing him through their aftermaths. But

this… this was something completely outside her

experience. “Let me give you a sedative, Mulder. Just a

mild one, so you can sleep.”

He was shaking his head before she finished speaking. “No

pills. Scully, I need to work through this.” Before she

could react, he was out of bed and across the room, picking

up her laptop from the desk. “I’ll just take this in the other

room so you can sleep.”

Even for him, it was a stunningly abrupt mood swing. He

was halfway to the connecting door before she found her

voice. “Wait.”

He stopped and turned around. “Go to sleep, Scully. I’m all

right. I just need to think.” He smiled. “I’ll come back to

bed when I’m finished.”

“You won’t leave?” She’d meant it as a statement of fact,

but it came out a question.

“I won’t leave. Get some rest.” He opened the connecting

door and stepped into the other room. Before she could say

good night, he closed the door softly behind him.

She lay down on the bed on Mulder’s side, surrounded by

his sleep-warm scent. The television came on next door,

broadcasting a snippet of music before the volume was

muted. She fell asleep to the sound of keys tapping in the

other room.

When she opened her eyes again, the room was filled with

sunlight, and the bed next to her was still empty– or empty

again, she wasn’t sure which.. Scully rolled over and put

her hand on the rumpled sheets. Cold. And no water

running in the shower. She raised up on one elbow to look

around.

The connecting door was closed. He’d probably decided to

sleep in his own bed rather than risk waking her again.

Or, he could be gone.

A rush of panic drove her out of bed. She went quickly to

the door, pressed her ear against it, and listened. He was

tapping keys again. Or still. She opened the door.

“Have you been up all night–” She started toward him, but

he looked up with an expression that froze her in place.

“Mulder, what…?”

He turned the laptop so she could see the screen, then he

stepped back and watched as she read the first few lines.

It was a medical information web site, and the topic

displayed made her heart sink.

“Paget’s disease, Scully.”

“I see that.” She also saw how upset he was, despite the

calm facade. “Why are you doing this to yourself?”

“Why didn’t you tell me the truth?”

She felt the ground shift under her feet. “What are you

talking about?”

“I remembered what woke me up, Scully. My mother

whispering in my ear. Not tonight, and not in the woods a

few weeks ago. It was three years ago, when I was in

Sacramento with Harold Piller. Do you want to know what

she said?”

She’d heard that tone many times over the years, watching

him interrogate a suspect. Never directed at her. “Yes, I’d

like to know what she said.”

“There are none so blind as those who will not see.”

Scully waited for the punch line. “And?”

“I told you back then that she was trying to tell me

something. Do you remember that?”

“Of course.”

He snorted. “You remember telling me I was imagining it?”

“Mulder, where is all this going?”

“She left me something, Scully. That’s what she was trying

to tell me. Something that will explain what happened to

Samantha. What happened to you. To me. I don’t know

what it is yet, but I’m going to find out.”

The Spencer case could not have put him in this frame of

mind. Then, what…? “Why are you doing this to yourself?”

“I had a lot of help.” His voice was dangerously soft.

“What are you saying?”

“Paget’s isn’t a death sentence.” He gestured at the

computer screen. “My mother could have lived for years

before developing any of the debilitating symptoms.

*Years*, Scully. Why didn’t you tell me the truth?” He

walked to the unused bed and sat down heavily. His voice

fell to a whisper. “Why didn’t you just tell me the truth?”

“Mulder, I… I told you what I believed. I still believe it.

Your mother killed herself because–”

“–was *made* to kill herself, Scully. Just like Greta

Wilson and all those other women in Clayville. Those

women had– were *given*– the same disease my mother

had. We know their suicides took place after they received

phone calls. Suicides that came as a total shock to their

families. Just like my mother. How can you not see what

I’m seeing?”

Deep breath. “Okay. Let’s say for the sake of argument that

there is a connection. Tell me how that leads you to

conclude that your mother left you some secret

information?”

He was shifting his weight from one foot to the other,

impatience in every line of his body. “Scully, I can’t tell

you why I’m so certain. I just am.”

She took a step toward him, but he was already moving.

He grabbed his suitcase and coat from the bed. She hadn’t

even noticed that he was packed. “You can take a cab to the

airport. I’m taking the rental car.”

He had his hand on the doorknob before she found her

voice. “Mulder.” He stopped and turned around. “Where

are you going?”

“To my mother’s house in Greenwich. It’s about 45 minutes

west of here. If I don’t find anything there, I’m going to

Quonochontaug.” He pulled the door open. “I’ll call you.”

“Let me come with you.” She was already mentally packing

her suitcase.

“I’m not planning to do anything stupid, Scully. Please trust

me to work this out on my own.”

Her instincts were screaming at her to stop him, but the

plea in his eyes overrode them. “Are you sure you’re all

right?”

“I’ll call you,” he repeated. And then he was gone.

* * * *

Greenwich, CT

8:50 am

Scully had told him once that the human mind naturally

seeks meaningful patterns and configurations in things that

don’t inherently have them. *Mulder, if you’re given the

suggestion of a particular image, you can’t help but see that

shape somewhere.*

That was what she thought he was doing now, he knew.

Searching for meaning in his mother’s death by suggesting

to himself that she’d left him something after all. That she

hadn’t just erased herself from his life without a backward

glance.

He’d spent the past forty minutes telling himself Scully was

wrong.

The house looked exactly as it had the last time he was

here. It had been spring then, too, the air scented soft green

with the promise of summer. He’d returned from his

mother’s funeral, emptied out the refrigerator, hauled the

non-perishables to a local food bank, and locked the door

forever. He’d contacted a realtor the next day, intent on

getting rid of this house as well as the ones in West Tisbury

and Quonochontaug. It would be his break from the past.

One that had been long overdue.

Except that he couldn’t do it. After several broken

appointments, the realtor had come to the same conclusion

and stopped calling. Mulder arranged for someone to come

in twice a month to keep the dust under control, hired a

lawn service to maintain the grounds, and renewed his

promise never to set foot here again.

Fate, it seemed, had other plans.

The contrast between the warm spring sunshine and the

shadowy stillness inside the house made him shiver. He

walked through the living room into the kitchen, opening

drapes as he went, letting in shafts of sunlight that pushed

back the chill. He stopped in the doorway.

The tape was gone. The oven door was closed. All evidence

of his mother’s death was erased, but the images were

burned into his memory. Her body had been found here on

the floor in front of the oven, her face turned toward the

open door. *Placed here facing the door.* He had suspected

it then. He was certain of it now. All he needed was the

proof she left for him.

He searched the drawers and cabinets, then moved to the

basement, pawing through boxes and crates, through stacks

of newspaper and shelves filled with the long-forgotten

miscellany of his mother’s life. In the storage nook under

the stairs, he rediscovered an Electrovac Princess vacuum

cleaner and the memories that went with it. He put the

cleaner and the memories back where they belonged and

headed upstairs.

He looked behind picture frames, inside lampshades, under

the sofa and chair cushions. He rifled the contents of every

drawer; every closet. Upstairs, he removed the mattresses

on all four beds, upended furniture, and tapped on every

wall looking for hidden panels. When he had looked in

every conceivable hiding place, he went back to the

beginning and started again.

He was on his third tour of the basement when he heard

something upstairs. Footsteps coming toward the basement

door. He was halfway up the stairs, gun in hand, when the

door opened.

“Who’s down there!?” A very frightened female voice. The

woman was backlit by the sunshine streaming in the

kitchen behind her.

“It’s okay. I own the house.” He holstered his weapon and

raised both hands. “You’re Mrs. Harrison, right? I hired

you.”

She flipped the light on, one hand pressed to her breast.

“You scared me half to death!” She backed up as he

reached the top of the stairs. “I called the police when I saw

the mess.” She held up her cell phone.

“Then I guess we better call them back.”

As he said the words, someone began banging on the front

door. With a heavy sigh, he went to answer it. Even after he

identified himself to everyone’s satisfaction, he was the

object of some very odd looks. There was no disguising the

chaos he’d made of the living room, after all, and no good

explanation he could offer for creating it. He simply let

them think what they obviously thought, and bade them a

good afternoon. Judging by the expression on Mrs.

Harrison’s face as she was leaving, he would be in the

market for a new housekeeper.

Mulder closed the door and wandered back to the kitchen,

stepping around the mess. He was going in circles here

with no idea what he was looking for, though his

conviction that ‘it’ existed hadn’t wavered. It could be

photographs. Or a tape recording. Or letters. Papers of

some kind.

A *journal*. How could he have forgotten? He knew she

had kept diaries when she was a girl. She’d actually showed

them to him one fall afternoon when he was helping her

clean out the attic. A whole box full of leather-bound

dreams. He’d also watched her burn them, one by one in the

living room fireplace, a few months after Samantha had

disappeared. Might she not have kept one as an adult? A

private place where she could confide all the pain and rage

she could share with no one else?

There was nothing here. He was sure of that. If she’d

realized she was in danger, she would have hidden the

journal. Quonochontaug would be the perfect place to do

just that. Close enough to still be accessible, but away from

the first place they would look.

Scully would be on her way back in D.C. by now.

Worrying. Or thinking about having him committed. He

pulled out his cell phone and punched speed dial 1. As he

waited for voice mail to pick up, he tried to mute his

excitement. She already thought he was on the edge. Her

recorded voice spoke in his ear, soothing him. He waited

for the beep. “Scully, it’s me. I’m still here in Greenwich,

but I’m leaving for Quonochontaug in a few minutes. I

know what I’m looking for now. I can’t believe it took me

this long to figure it out, but I’m sure there’s a journal. I’ll

call you when I get back tomorrow night. Don’t worry.”

That last part was wishful thinking. He knew she’d worry

until she saw him again. He hung up the phone and stuffed

it back in his pocket.

Mulder made one final pass through the house, securing

doors and windows. Mrs. Harrison… or her replacement…

could do the rest. He pulled the drapes shut again on his

way out.

******

ACT III

Quonochontaug, RI

April 25, 2003

7:12 pm

Mulder pulled the car into the gravel drive, allowing the

vehicle’s momentum to carry it almost to the door of the

weathered garage-workshop before turning off the engine.

He got out and took a deep, appreciative breath of the air,

redolent with the scents of sea and conifer and Spring.

Grabbing his overnight bag and a sack of groceries from

the trunk, he crunched up the gravel pathway to the

summer cottage that had for so long been in his family.

Now it was his, to do with as he pleased. Positioned on the

water, with its own strip of private beach and little dock, it

would have sold for a small fortune, even in a rotten

economy. But Mulder didn’t need the money, and in truth,

he was tempted to keep the summer house. Both he and

Scully could use a refuge from Washington and the

frustrations of their jobs. And he knew how fond his

partner was of the sea. They could get a small sailboat and

generally live an idyllic existence. But before the cottage

could become that refuge for them, the ghosts already in

residence had to be exorcised.

And one of the keys to that exorcism was finding out what

his mother was trying to tell him – about her death and

possibly so much else.

He took a deep breath, as if to fortify himself against the

memories within, and unlocked the door. Inside, the air

smelled stale and musty, mute testimony to the fact that the

housekeeper had not been in for several weeks. Putting the

bags on the table by the door, he cracked open two of the

living room windows, despite the chill of the oncoming

dusk. Quickly and purposefully, he moved from room to

room, removing dust sheets and opening windows, as if just

by those acts he could dispel the ghosts that resided there.

He brought his bag into his old room, the bed now looking

ridiculously small for his tall, lanky frame. Still, it would

have to do. Nothing could have induced him to move to the

more spacious bed in his parent’s old bedroom.

He took the groceries – mostly microwavable fast food –

into the kitchen, and put them away on autopilot. The

utilities were on, as his mother had always found it more

convenient to be able to drop in at the summer house

whenever she wanted without having to arrange for the

power and water to be turned on each time. Mechanically,

he ground some coffee, dumped it into a filter and poured

water into the coffeemaker. But rather than on these

mundane tasks, his mind was focused on his epiphany….

She had been there – in the driving snow and sleet and

bitter cold. He had seen his mother and she had truly been

there, talking to him, prodding him, telling him where to

go. Saving his life….

He frowned in frustration. As always, his visual memory

was better than his aural one. He had been barely

conscious, his injuries and hypothermia making it so hard

for him to move and to think. But he remembered

everything about what he had seen – what she was wearing,

how her hair looked, her face. However, as his injuries

from the accident and hypothermia faded, so had his

memory of what he had heard, of precisely what it was that

she had said to him. And somehow, he felt that it was very

important that he remember.

He poured a mug of the coffee that was now ready and took

it into the living room and sat down. ‘There are none so

blind as they who will not see….’ He remembered that.

Mulder grimaced as he swallowed the steaming hot brew.

Next time be a little less vague, Mom. If you want me to do

something, just tell me straight out. And if you want me to

find something, tell me where the hell it is….

Maybe her words to him had no meaning, maybe he was

making too much out of it. It was a quotation, but not so

unusual in its context, after all. She had been reaming him

out for… something. Something he wasn’t doing, or seeing.

Yeah, seeing. Something she wanted him to see, but he

couldn’t. Something about…. Yes, the pictures of himself

and his sister. Why she had burned them. And her death…

and the fact that it was not as it seemed.

Well, he had always surmised that. He had fought against

the evidence that his partner had obtained from the autopsy,

not able to bring himself to believe that his mother had

killed herself. Teena Mulder’s life had not been easy,

despite the fact that she always had all the material wealth

she might want. Marriage to his father – talk about a tough

life! Mulder snorted bitterly. What the hell had she ever

seen in him, he wondered. Losing a daughter, the strained

relationship with her son. Then the divorce, which was a

prolonged and ugly affair. Years of living on her own. And

then the stroke. But she was strong, she had gone through

all those terrible experiences, and had survived them. So it

had been hard to think she had killed herself, without a

final goodbye to him and leaving so much between them

unsaid. But inexorably, Scully’s logic and the terrible

diagnosis his mother had been given wore him down, and

created enough doubt that he began to believe that she had

committed suicide rather than face a long, painful,

undignified death.

Once again, as he had throughout the drive to Rhode Island,

Mulder thought about his conviction that his mother had

left a journal. He’d been so confident a few hours ago, but

now he was second-guessing himself. Maybe it was an

after-effect of the Spencer case. If his mother kept a diary,

why the hell hadn’t she mentioned it to him, either before

her death, or when she came from beyond the grave to save

his life several weeks ago? ‘There are none so blind as they

who will not see’. Great. How about ‘Hey Fox, I have a

diary with all the answers you’ve been looking for, and it’s

hidden in the cookie jar on the kitchen shelf of the summer

house’? Now *that* would have been helpful….

Suddenly the anger of a childhood full of accumulated

heartbreaks brimmed over. Mulder put his mug down with

a thud that sloshed coffee over the sides. “Enough!” he said

aloud. “I’ve been over it and over it. I don’t know what the

hell she expects me to see. You hear that, Mom? I don’t

know what you want me to find!” He held his head in his

hands, letting himself begin to sink into the lethargy of

depression. But as always, the arguments and doubts kept

springing unbidden into his mind.

If she were the type to kill herself, she would have done it

long ago. Teena Mulder was many things, not all of them

good, but she was not a coward. Her visitation, what she

said, and the fact that she was annoyed with him – oh, yes,

that had come through loud and clear from beyond the

grave – they all had to be for a reason. The many shared

aspects of her death with those of the quilters in New

Jersey should have set off alarm bells immediately.

He surged to his feet. No! I’ll tear this place apart,

searching for whatever the hell it is, he decided. If by then I

haven’t found it, then maybe Scully was right, maybe there

wasn’t anything to find. Or maybe whatever it was, was

found and destroyed by the people who killed her. But I’ll

be damned if I give up on this before I’ve finished.

He headed for the basement. Let’s apply some organization

to this, he mused to himself. Treat it like the search of a

crime scene. Start from the bottom up, missing nothing.

The basement was unused, for the most part. So close to the

shoreline, it was impossible to keep dampness out of the

cellar or anything stored down there. So it had just been a

place for him and Samantha to play when the weather was

too inclement for them to go out to run off the excess

energy of childhood, and their mother was trying to get

some peace and quiet. Which she required frequently,

Mulder now remembered. He wasn’t really expecting to

find anything down there, and he wasn’t surprised when he

didn’t.

He climbed the stairs and walked to the furthest end of the

house, down the hall to the last room – Samantha’s. As in

the basement, he was pretty sure he was wasting his time

here. His mother had barely been able to bring herself to

enter the room after Samantha was taken. She hadn’t even

packed up her daughter’s belongings from the summer

house, but had merely instructed the housekeeper to bundle

them up and give them to one of the charities in town.

Mulder doubted his mother would have spent enough time

in the unnaturally silent and empty room to hide anything

in there. And unless she had become sufficiently handy

with power tools as to create a secret panel in the wall,

there wasn’t much there to hide anything in. He checked the

small closet and dresser, more to be thorough than because

he really expected anything to be there.

Next was his parent’s bedroom, but he moved to the

opposite side of the hall to his room instead. It was as if

time had frozen. The Mulders hadn’t been back as a family

after Samantha’s disappearance and the subsequent divorce

several months later. While his sister’s room had been

cleared out, his remained as he remembered it the summer

he was eleven, before everything had gone to hell. His

model planes, the microscope, the magic set – all were still

neatly arranged on the shelves. The thin layer of dust was

the only testimony that the items had not been placed there

that very morning. He tore his mind from the past with an

effort.

He started with the closet, but there was nothing there but a

collection of old sneakers on the floor, a long-outgrown suit

hanging on the rack, and stacks of board games on the shelf

above. Then he went around the room clockwise –

scanning, touching, and shifting everything he came into

contact with – from floor to ceiling. Again, he found

nothing to raise his suspicions.

He took deep, steadying breath before turning the know to

the door of his parents’ bedroom. He could feel the echo of

his parents’ unhappiness and disastrous marriage every time

he sent foot in this room. In truth, he felt almost like

bolting, so great was the feeling of misery emanating from

the place. Or, he admitted to himself, it’s your imagination,

coupled with having a pretty miserable childhood largely

caused by two unhappy people who should never have had

children. He steeled himself, and again did a painstaking

examination of the room, including lifting the mattress to

check for anything hiding between it and the box spring, as

he had in the other rooms. But nothing there or in the

contents of the drawers and closets was what he was

looking for, and there were no secret compartments in

either floors or walls.

He gave a cursory check of the bathroom, checking for

loose tiles that might hide a space large enough to hide

something in, and finding nothing unusual. Then he went

into the kitchen.

There, the myriad cabinets and drawers lent themselves

perfectly to hiding things. Feeling the pressure to find what

his mother wanted him to find, fearing that he would be

unable to, made his search more frenetic. Any attempt at

neatness was abandoned as drawers were now pulled out

and their contents dumped unceremoniously out onto the

kitchen table. After pawing through the pile, he dumped the

contents back into the drawer, ordered sufficiently only so

that they could be slid back into the hole in the woodwork

they had come out of. Everything that had been in the

cabinets was put on the kitchen counter. Mulder climbed on

a stool to be able to reach back into the furthest confines of

the cabinet, his hands sweeping every surface, vainly

looking for anything that might have been hidden there.

Finally, he stood with his hands on his hips, surveying the

mess around him with annoyance and growing doubt. If

what he was looking for wasn’t in Greenwich, and it wasn’t

here, then he was at a loss as to where else he might be able

to look for it. It had to be here. It had to.

By now it was dark, and the air blowing in from the open

windows was chilly. He lowered the windows and snapped

on the lamps in the living room, not bothering to draw the

curtains. He looked around the room. Short of taking a

knife to the comfortably upholstered couches and chairs,

there wasn’t a lot to search through here. He moved the

cushions and felt deeply into the crevasses of the seats but

came up empty-handed. He pulled back the rug, looking for

any sign of a trap door or loose floorboard, but was

disappointed. The tall, thin cupboards that flanked the

fireplace checked out free of anything suspicious. He felt

up along the fireplace flue as far as he could, finding only a

lot of soot and the desiccated bones of a few unfortunate

birds that had died in there. After washing most of the

greasy chimney soot from his hands and arms, he checked

the drawers of the end tables, finding nothing. He shook his

head. Too obvious. She’d never hide anything in such an

obvious–

But maybe she would. Mulder began to smile. “The

Purloined Letter!”, he said aloud, on his way to the study.

The study had always been his mother’s favorite room, her

refuge from her husband and children. Fox and Samantha

had been allowed in there only rarely, and only to choose a

book to read from the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. His

mother was an inveterate reader, and Edgar Allen Poe had

been one of her favorites. “The Purloined Letter” was a

story about how to hide something so it wouldn’t be found.

Poe’s thesis was that the best hiding place was the most

obvious one, either because people wouldn’t bother looking

there, or if they did, what they were searching for would

blend in so perfectly as to be invisible. In Poe’s story the

hiding place for an important letter had been in among

other letters.

He snapped on the lights and looked at the walls

surrounding him. Three of the four walls were lined with

books – thousands of them. He doubted the Quonochontaug

Town Library had this many volumes, which was probably

why his mother had surrounded herself with these books,

here in her summer home. Finding her journal – if it existed

– among this virtual library would be an enormous chore.

That was the bad news. The good news was that Mulder

was now positive he was on the right track.

Four hours later, he was still positive. He was positive, and

tired, and sweating, and he was also surrounded by hip-

deep piles of discarded books which covered the surface of

the room’s Berber carpet.

It hadn’t begun that way. He had started by taking each

book, leafing through to quickly inspect the contents,

replacing it and pulling out its neighbor on the shelf. But it

didn’t take long to occur to him that the task would take

days the way he was going about it. More draconian

measures were called for. That’s when the books began to

come out by the armload, to be hurriedly inspected for any

sign that they were not what they were, discarded on the

rug, and covered by the next load. One wall of shelves had

been stripped, and the top half of another. Half done, and

nothing out of the ordinary had turned up so far.

Mulder flung himself on the couch and immediately

winced, pulling an errant book out from under his butt and

tossing it to the floor at his feet. That’ll leave a mark, he

thought. He was exhausted, having had almost no sleep the

night before they broke the case, and his sleep wracked by

dreams the previous night. Plus the argument with Scully –

that always took a lot out of him. And his ghost-filled

search in Greenwich. He sighed. It was here. He was no

less sure of it. And somehow he had the feeling it was

crucial that he find it, the sooner the better….

But he was so damned tired. Maybe if he just closed his

eyes here for a minute….

clip_image004

*******

The dark-clothed man cut the engine before he was within

sight of the cottage, pulling off the road and letting the

BMW drift to a stop behind a privet hedge gone wild. The

summer house was not more than three hundred feet away.

The spotter who phoned in this report would be rewarded

well, if it turned out to be true. If it wasn’t, the guy would

pay dearly for the chartered jet and the drive it had taken

for him to get here. In blood, not money.

Charles Scully closed the car door softly. He was lucky –

this time of year was a bit early for the summer folks to

have taken up occupancy. In July or August, there would

still have been plenty of people out and about at this time of

night. But now, with few year-round residents, all that

could be heard was the pound and hiss of the surf and the

chirping of crickets. He had no trouble attributing some of

his success to luck. He *had* been lucky. His rise in the

organization had been meteoric, and luck was a part of that.

But so was intelligence, know-how, instinct and a complete

lack of scruples.

He walked along the road, keeping to the soft tufts of turf

which muffled his footsteps. Around the bend in the road,

the summer house came into view, the lights blazing and

illuminating the front yard. Good thing I don’t depend

entirely on luck, Charlie thought, crossing the road. He

continued past the house, darting for cover in the shadows

by Mulder’s car and the old garage. Almost silently, he

worked his way along the darkened far side of the house to

the back, where he would be unseen by casual passersby.

He tried the back door, but the knob resisted the twist of his

hand. A flash of annoyance crossed his face. All right, so

this wasn’t going to be as easy as it might.

He crossed the patio to peer through the French doors,

jerking back automatically when he spotted the dark head

inside. Cautiously, he looked in again. Gazing through the

opacity of the curtains that stretched top to bottom over the

glass panes, he could make out the back of a navy blue

sofa, and the back of a dark head resting on it. In front of

the sofa and to the left, at least as far as he could see, were

built-in bookshelves, denuded of the books that once lined

them. He could see some of the books lying on the floor.

Charles Scully pulled away into the shadows and bit his lip,

thinking. He didn’t want to over-react – that could be

disastrous. Mulder was clearly tearing the place apart,

searching for something. But why now? It had been months

since Charlie’s encounter with Mulder, and far longer since

Teena…died. What could have him up here, tearing the

summer house to bits?

But there had been that twenty-four hour gap just before

her death that Teena had eluded her watchers. God only

knew what she had gotten up to. Could she have gotten

back here to leave some sort of a message for her son?

Some sort of evidence that could bring down not only the

group, but more importantly, Charles Scully?

Yes, it was a fortunate thing he had taken the report

seriously, Charlie decided. Whether Mulder has found it or

not, he’s obviously on the trail of something, and it’s in my

best interests to see that nothing comes of it. Quietly, he

moved back to the French doors and tried the knob, finding

it locked.

Disappointed, Charlie backed away from the doors. You

had to get in there some way, Wonder Boy, and I’m betting

you didn’t take the time to lock up after yourself. And while

you’re taking a little nap, now might be the best time to pay

a visit…. Charlie moved around the side of the house,

ducking as a car went by, its headlights piercing the

darkness. When he was sure the vehicle was not going to

stop, he moved to the front, using the newly-tended shrubs

for cover….

*******

His eyes slowly opened, and with a start, he looked at his

watch. God, he had been asleep for longer than he thought.

He sighed and sat up. Time to continue his task. Maybe he

should make some coffee first…. His eyes drifted down to

the spine of the book he had inadvertently sat on earlier.

“Polite Conversation” by Jonathan Swift. Another of his

mother’s favorites—

Suddenly his heart began to thud in his chest. ‘There are

none so blind as they who will not see’… wait a minute, that

quotation was from “Polite Conversation”. Hardly able to

breathe, Mulder bent down to pick up the book and opened

it, somewhere in the middle.

Not print, but script.

His mother’s writing. A diary.

He had found it.

Hands trembling and tears welling in his eyes, he pulled the

book closer and tried to pick out the words his mother had

written in her neat but cramped script. “… his terrible

betrayal. He knew how I felt, yet he ordered me to…”

Mulder flipped through the pages. “…I swore I would see

him disgraced and dead if it was the last thing…” Again he

feathered the pages. “..knew the true purpose of the

Consortium….” And “…a new wrinkle in the always-

changing politics of the group, and the impact Char—”

A weird noise from the front of the house made Mulder’s

head shoot up. Quickly, he brushed away the tears that

clouded his vision. He reached automatically for his service

weapon, remembering only when his hand came up empty

that he had taken it off in the kitchen, to crawl under the

sink. Slowly, soundlessly, Mulder took the small, precious

volume in his hands and shoved it into the middle of one of

the piles of books. He crept to the kitchen and, picking up

his Sig Sauer, made his way quietly to the living room.

His eyes swept the room, finding nothing amiss. He walked

over to the front door, noting that the lock was on. Still,

something had made that noise. Mulder opened the wooden

front door and peered out through the window of the storm

door. There – that sound again, outside and to his left. He

went outside, turning in the direction of the sound.

The unmistakable click of a gun being cocked inches from

his ear froze him in mid-step.

“I’ll just take that gun, if you don’t mind.”

Mulder raised his hands, and the Sig was quickly snatched

away.

“I don’t suppose you’d like to tell me–” A gun barrel

pressed tight to his temple ended the question.

“Don’t move.”

The gun moved away from his head. An instant later, he

felt a sharp sting just behind his right ear. A needle…? He

was falling…

*******

Quickly, Charlie went inside and put out the lights in the

living room, then dragged Mulder’s unresisting form inside.

“Can’t have anyone driving by and see you passed out on

your front lawn, now can we, Mulder?” he said pleasantly

to his unconscious captive. “Whatever would the neighbors

say?”

Knowing Mulder would be out for a couple of hours,

Charlie went into the study, pushing books out of his path

with the toe of his shoe and surveying the mess with

distaste. What the hell were you looking for, Mulder? And

more importantly, did you find it, Charlie wondered. The

wreckage gave him no clues. He was probably, though not

certainly, looking for some sort of a book. Or perhaps just

something hidden in a book, or behind the shelves – which

didn’t narrow things down a hell of a lot. Charlie was faced

with searching for anything from a microdot to …. who the

hell knew. He went back into the living room. Mulder

showed no signs of rousing.

Decision time, Charlie thought. He settled in a comfortable

armchair to ruminate. What are my options here? I suppose

I can wait until Foxxy Boy wakes up and beat it out of him.

That would be amusing, but knowing Mulder as I do,

bound to be unproductive in the end. And likely to be both

noisy and messy. So what else?

I could torch the place, I suppose…. Charlie considered that

for a few minutes, discarding the idea reluctantly. While

the idea of Fox Mulder perishing in a fire certainly had its

satisfying ironies, fires brought investigations which almost

always turned up telling evidence. Charlie cursed his rapid

departure to Quonochontaug which prevented his laying

out a plan and bringing along the proper equipment to carry

it out. Charles Scully was above all things a planner; it was

one of the things that had contributed greatly to his success.

He disliked having to improvise. Improvisation led to

sloppiness and sloppiness led to… well, that didn’t bear

thinking about.

The longer he remained here, the greater the risk of

exposure. Whatever he did he had to do quickly. There was

no guarantee that even Mulder knew what he was looking

for, or that what he was looking for even existed. They had

kept a pretty tight watch on Teena. Charlie shook his head.

He was probably just being paranoid.

Now – what to do with Mulder. He could just leave him

here – to wake up with a bad headache. But what if he were

wrong about what Mulder was looking for? What if some

evidence existed that only the agent knew about? If he

couldn’t identify what Mulder was searching for and

eliminate it, he could just eliminate Mulder.

But how? Not with violence, unfortunately. A little town

like this would go batshit if one of its citizens was carved

up in the sanctity of his own home. The next thing he knew,

the State Police would be called in and there’d be a major

investigation. But Mulder was flake, right? And everyone

knew it. He had taken his mother’s death exceedingly hard,

and coming back here, how could the memories not be

overwhelming, driving him to a terrible act? It probably

wouldn’t fool his sister Dana, but…. Too bad this place has

an electric stove instead of gas, Charlie thought suddenly.

Could have been ‘like mother, like son’ – at least to all

appearances. His gaze fell on Mulder’s car keys on the table

by the door.

Ah! That might work. Charlie went out to where Mulder’s

car was parked. Inserting the key but not yet turning on the

engine, he was gratified to see the gas tank register almost

full. “Well done, Foxxy!” Charlie murmured. He got out of

the car and opened the garage door, noting with satisfaction

that his luck was holding – there was just enough room in

the cramped building to pull Mulder’s car in, which was the

next thing he did. Leaving the engine running, he pulled

down the garage door, exiting by a door in the back of the

outbuilding.

He went back to the house and extinguished all the lights.

He couldn’t erase signs that someone had been there, but

then, he didn’t need to. It wouldn’t matter if people thought

that Mulder had gone berserk and trashed the cottage and

then killed himself. He just didn’t want someone coming by

at four in the morning and, wondering why the lights were

on in a house where no one lived, stop to investigate. The

longer he could put off the discovery of the car in the

garage, the longer the exhaust would have to do its job.

He had always preferred to work with his mind rather than

his muscles, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t strong. It took

only a little effort to pull Mulder up and over his shoulder.

He left by way of the French doors in the rear of the house,

retracing his steps from the garage and back in through the

back door.

The exhaust was already starting to build up in the small

building, stinging Charlie’s eyes and making him cough. He

put Mulder in the back seat – it wouldn’t do to have him

flop over onto the car horn and wake up everyone within a

mile. He made sure all the car windows were open and the

garage windows closed, and left by the back door.

He came around to the front of the garage, kicking dead

leaves and pine needles into a pile along the seam where

the door met the pavement, ensuring that not a wisp of

exhaust escaped. Stepping back to admire his handiwork,

Charles Scully murmured, “Goodbye, Mulder. It’s been

real. Say hi to Teena for me.”

Then as quietly as he had come, he made his way back to

the car hidden by the side of the road, started the engine,

and drove away.

End of Legacy

Concludes in VS11 Season Premiere: Camarilla

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Last Kiss

cover

TITLE: Last Kiss

AUTHORS: Sally Bahnsen and Dawn Zemke

EMAIL: sunrise@lightfirst.com

rbahnsen@optusnet.com.au

RATING: PG

CATEGORY: X

KEYWORDS: MSR

SPOILERS: None

ARCHIVE: Two weeks exclusively on VS10, then

Gossamer and Ephemeral. Others are fine, just let

us know.

DISCLAIMER: Mulder, Scully and Skinner belong to

Chris Carter, 1013 and Fox. No copyright

infringement intended.

SUMMARY: When your worst nightmare comes true,

could it be time to just let go?

FEEDBACK: Gratefully accepted.

AUTHORS’ NOTES: Many thanks to dtg and Vickie

for insightful beta, and to Suzanne for both beta

and medical expertise. This story was three years

in the making, and was inspired by the Pearl Jam

song, “Last Kiss.” We hope you like it!

Last Kiss

By Sally Bahnsen and Dawn Zemke

clip_image002

TEASER:

11:52 PM

Location unknown

Darkness enveloped him, moon and stars hidden by

an impenetrable black veil. Wind battered him from

head to toe, piercing his clothing as thoroughly

as the blade of a knife. He squinted against the

droplets that pelted his face, crystals that

collected on his eyelashes and

melted to trickle down his cheeks in icy tears.

Oh, God. What had he done?

Hands, stained red. Dark hair matted against pale

skin. Tight, painful breaths. Chest heaving. Pain.

All over. It resounded through his head. Thumping,

adding to the confusion. Where was he?

WHERE THE HELL WAS HE?

“SCULLLEEEEEEEEE!”

“Scully.” Softer now. Barely a whisper, the word

evaporating on his lips like the sheer white cloud

created by his breath. Swirling into the night.

Gone.

“Scully?” Puzzled.

Find her. Yes. He had to. But where? *Which way?*

Branches scraped at his face, tearing the skin,

stinging.

Run.

Faster. Faster.

*Can’t, it hurts.*

Knees trembling, weak.

Shivering. Freezing. Sleet clung to his clothes,

ran in rivulets through his hair, wound its way

down his back.

So cold.

clip_image004

ACT I

Margaret Scully’s House

Six hours earlier

Damn, it was cold!

He shivered against the freezing wind that whipped

his legs, catching his thick coat and pulling on

it until it resembled a billowing sail, stretched

taught on a gale-driven yacht. His hair blew into

spiky tufts, standing straight out from his head,

a look any punk rocker would envy.

Slush crunched beneath his feet and a fine dusting

of sleet settled across his shoulders, sprinkled

like powdered sugar. He tried brushing it off with

his fingers but as quickly as he scraped at it,

more appeared. His hands were freezing. He cupped

them to his mouth and huffed into them, his warm

breath useless against the icy chill. She had told

him to wear his gloves. He should have listened.

He jogged the remaining distance to the house and

stomped loudly up the wooden steps. Ice quivered

nervously on the railing then slid soundlessly to

the ground. A security light winked on above his

head, bathing the porch with a brilliant white

glow. For a second it startled him, and he blew

out a long breath that swirled into a frosty

cloud.

Squinting, unaccustomed to the sudden glare, he

reached out and rang the doorbell. He smiled when

the cheesy tune of “Home, Home on the Range” sang

out from inside.

He waited, tucking his hands under his armpits

trying to keep them warm, jiggling his legs like a

toddler desperate to use the bathroom.

The door swung open and a blast of warm air rushed

out at him. He shivered.

“Fox! Come in, you must be freezing.”

“Hey, Mrs. Scully.” Mulder stamped his feet and

swiped at the last remnants of ice that clung to

his clothing and hair.

“Oh, don’t worry about that. Come on in! I want to

close the door before all the heat gets out.”

Inside was blessedly warm. He removed his coat and

hung it on the coatrack beside a smaller version

of his own, smiling. Scully.

“You go on ahead to the kitchen, Fox; I’ll be

there in a minute. I just need to fetch some wine

from the basement.” Maggie punctuated her words

with an affectionate squeeze to his arm.

Mulder’s lips automatically returned her smile,

but his brow wrinkled. “Are you sure you don’t

need any help?”

“I think I can still manage to heft a bottle up

one flight of steps–even if they are a bit old

and rickety.” Maggie tossed the words carelessly

over her shoulder, the dry wit in her tone

reminding him sharply of her daughter. “Go

reassure Dana you’ve arrived in one piece. I’ve

had to listen to her fret about you driving in

this weather for the last half hour.”

Any acknowledgement he might have voiced was lost

in the creak of the basement door and the clumping

of feet on wooden steps. Rather than stinging, her

dismissal warmed Mulder, driving away the last

vestiges of chill winter air. Actions truly spoke

louder than words. Maggie’s casual treatment only

served to reinforce the fact that, at least in her

mind, his status had irrevocably shifted from

guest to family member. The feeling of welcome, of

belonging, was one he hadn’t experienced in a very

long time.

Longer than he cared to admit.

Ironic, that Maggie’s genuine affection, her

willingness to embrace him, warts and all, brought

an equal mix of pain to temper the joy. The sad

truth was that he was more relaxed and at peace

here, with her, than he’d ever felt with his own

mother. That admission, disturbing enough while

she was alive, now haunted him.

He’d tried to love his mother deeply and

unconditionally, like any good son. Focused on her

perseverance and strength of spirit. Her ability

to survive unimaginable sorrow with quiet grace

and poise. Struggled to accept that there were

parts of her he’d never know, that he’d never be

allowed to know.

Charred photographs, dark secrets, and bitter

half-truths.

She’d taken that damn self-possession to her

grave.

Mulder blinked, pulling his thoughts from their

dark plunge with an almost physical tug. He sucked

in a deep breath, brushing his fingers over the

smooth fabric of Scully’s coat, and headed for the

kitchen.

He wandered through the living room, redolent with

the spicy scent of cinnamon and apples and warmed

by a crackling fire, and into the dining room. The

polished top of the large cherrywood table gleamed

in a spill of bright light from the kitchen

doorway. Pausing with his toes just shy of the

tile, fingertips trailing back and forth across

the smooth wood, he admired the view.

Scully stood at the stove, stirring something in a

large metal pot and humming under her breath.

Burnished copper tresses brushed the neckline of a

moss green angora sweater, and well-worn denim

hugged her curves in all the right places. She

swayed a little to the tune in her head, small

feet clad in ridiculously fuzzy pink socks

scuffing back and forth against the tile.

*MINE* Mulder thought, a little surprised by the

intensity of the accompanying emotions–

overwhelming wonder, wide-eyed disbelief, fierce

possessiveness, and not a shred of shame for his

caveman attitude. Deliberately quieting the tread

of his sneakered feet, he crept up behind her and

slipped both arms around her waist.

“Hey, baby. What’s a looker like you doing slaving

over a hot stove?” He pitched his voice low and

husky, nuzzling the tender skin just behind her

right ear.

A breathy gasp and then Scully relaxed, her body

sinking into his with easy familiarity. “Making

Irish stew for the man I love,” she answered, her

own tone smoky.

“Lucky guy.” Mulder nibbled his way down the pale

skin of her throat, lips curving when she couldn’t

suppress a shiver.

Scully released the spoon and turned within the

circle of his arms until she faced him, arched

eyebrow tempered with a grin. “And he better not

forget it.”

Mulder’s smirk faded as he gazed intently into her

eyes, heart on his sleeve. “Not a chance,” he

murmured.

Before she could swallow the lump in her throat,

he’d taken possession of her mouth with a kiss

that curled her toes–literally. With a sound that

was half sigh, half whimper she surrendered, body

melting into his embrace and mouth opening under

the assault of his lips and tongue.

She experienced a hefty dose of missing time

before recovering her wits enough to remember the

pot of stew. Scully’s fumbling fingers located the

dial to shut off the burner, inadvertently

breaking the kiss in the process. Struggling to

slow her rapid respiration, she lay one hand on

his cheek, frowning a little at the lack of

warmth.

“Mulder, you’re freezing.”

He leaned over to press his forehead against her

own so that when he spoke, his warm breath puffed

gently against her lips. “Brilliant deduction,

Agent Scully. The temperature’s dropped another

ten degrees and my damn heater’s acting up.” She

felt, rather than saw him wriggle his eyebrows.

“Had to think warm thoughts about my partner to

avoid turning into a Popsicle.”

His lips trailed across her cheek before returning

to her ear and she reflexively slid her fingers

into the short, silky hair at the nape of his neck

while tilting her head encouragingly.

“To what…ah…do I owe…oooh, yeah…all this

attention?”

Mulder never faltered in his task, punctuating

every few words with his lips and teeth on her

neck. “Because…*nibble*…I can. Don’t have to

worry…*lick*…about aliens…*nip*…or

protocol…*kiss*…or the Bureau rumor mill.”

Scully’s eyes, which had drifted shut, cracked

open in time to see her mother leaning in the

kitchen doorway, lips pursed in a poor attempt to

disguise a cat-that-ate-the-canary grin.

“Very true, Mulder,” she agreed, breath catching

when he began working his way back along her jaw.

“There is, however, my… ah…mother.”

“Downstairs getting wine,” Mulder mumbled against

her lips.

“Not any more.”

Five thousand volts of electricity couldn’t have

affected a quicker halt to Mulder’s festivities.

He pulled back, the back of one hand swiping

across his lips as if to remove the damning

evidence and a flush spreading across his cheeks.

“No need for more salt, Scully, the stew tastes

fine. So, uh, what can I do to help?”

Maggie smirked, crossing over to the refrigerator

and removing a tomato and a cucumber. “You can cut

these up for our salad, Fox. That is, if you’ve

finished…sampling the stew.”

Mulder accepted the vegetables, casting Scully a

quelling look. “I think so. For now anyway.”

He retrieved a knife from the block and began

carefully slicing the tomato. Maggie took Scully’s

place at the stove, giving the pot a final stir

and examining it with a critical eye.

“Were the roads a problem?”

“Not when I left DC, but they’ve gotten pretty icy

since then. For the last fifteen minutes of the

trip I had to slow down quite a bit in order to

keep the car on the road.” Mulder set aside the

tomato wedges and began attacking the cucumber.

“Well, I’m glad you made it in once piece. This

weather is so unpredictable. Who would imagine

we’d be hit with a snowstorm this late in the

season?” Maggie added a pinch of thyme to the pot

and resumed stirring. “Dana, would you mind

setting the table? We’re just about ready to eat.”

Mulder felt Scully’s warmth along his back, one

hand lingering on his waist while the other

reached around to open the drawer to his right.

Unfortunately, she misjudged the distance and the

drawer’s corner clipped his right hip. The impact,

more startling than painful, caused the knife to

slip, slicing flesh instead of the cucumber.

Mulder hissed in pain, dropping the knife to

clutch his left index finger, which attempted to

bleed all over the cucumber slices.

“Oh, Mulder, I’m so sorry!” Scully yanked several

paper towels from a nearby roll and thrust them

into his hand. “Here, put pressure on that.”

“Don’t worry about it, it’s not that bad,” Mulder

replied, grimacing a bit as he followed her

instructions.

“Dana, there’s a first aid kit under the bathroom

sink.” Maggie’s voice was calm and unruffled.

“Take Fox in and patch him up.”

“It’s not a big deal, really, I can just…”

Maggie’s stern glare stopped his words cold.

“No sense risking an infection.” She raised a

Scully brow. “Anyway, you don’t really think Dana

is going to let you get away without examining

that, do you?”

Hazel eyes cut over to blue and Mulder’s lips

curved. “I see your point. Lead the way, Scully.

I’ll come quietly.”

Scully’s hand curled around his elbow and she

steered him out of the kitchen. Once in the

bathroom, she retrieved the kit and uncovered his

finger. She carefully blotted the blood, which had

slowed to a steady trickle.

“Fairly deep, but not very long. It’s your lucky

day, Mulder. You won’t need stitches.” Her voice

was light and teasing, but her face twisted with

remorse. She busied herself unwrapping a sterile

gauze pad and a small bottle of hydrogen peroxide.

“Hey.” Mulder ducked his head, forcing Scully to

meet his gaze. “The finger is still there. Stop

beating yourself up over this.”

She bit her lip as she struggled with the bottle

cap, which stubbornly refused to yield. “It was

careless of me to reach around you like that when

you had a knife. I should have known better.

Mulder stilled her restless hands and liberated

the bottle. Sticking it under his arm, he wrestled

the cap open one-handed. “It was an accident,

Scully. I’m prone to ’em–in case you hadn’t

noticed. Now slap a bandage on it and you can kiss

it and make it better…later.”

That coaxed a rueful little grin onto her lips.

“Deal.” She upended the bottle, liberally soaking

the gauze pad, and stretched out her hand. “Here.

Give me that.”

For the first time Mulder seemed to register what

the bottle contained. Eyes wide, he snatched the

injured digit to his chest and vehemently shook

his head.

“Are you crazy? That stuff is going to burn like a

son of a bitch! Just hand me a band aid; we don’t

want dinner to get cold.”

Scully folded her arms and narrowed her eyes.

“Mulder, you are such a baby. That cut has to be

cleaned. Do you know how many germs there are in

the average kitchen?”

He stuck his lip out, the poster boy for

belligerence. “This is your mother’s house,

Scully. You could eat off her floor!”

She shook her head and waved the pad at him. “If

that finger becomes infected you could lose

dexterity. Next thing you know, you can’t handle

your weapon and poof!–there goes your field agent

status for a week. Is that what you really want?”

Mulder stared at her for a long moment as if

desperately trying to gauge how serious she was.

Finally, he huffed and stuck out his hand.

Scully took it gently in her own, though the

corners of her mouth turned up in a smirk. “Now

hold still. If you’re a really good boy, I’ll see

that mom gives you a special treat after dinner.”

Mulder waggled his eyebrows. “Really good is my

middle name, Scully. But there’s only one kind of

treat I’m interested in and it doesn’t come from

your mo…OW! Shit! Sculleeee!”

“There, all done. That wasn’t so bad, now was it?”

Scully chirped, reaching for a bandage.

“Remind me to explain the concept of ‘playing

doctor’, Scully, because you’ve got it all wrong.”

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

Midnight

Location unknown

Tiny twigs and stones pressed into his face. Mud

clung to his lips, gritty against teeth and

tongue. He spat, a half-hearted effort that

required more energy than he was capable of

expending. He knew he had to get up, keep moving,

but couldn’t quite figure out why. His head hurt

when he moved. So much better on the ground. Lying

still, sinking into the darkness.

Cold.

Bone chilling. Icy. Pressing into his body, the

damp ground soaking his sweatshirt, the frigid air

boring into every cell.

*Can’t stay here.* He knew that. There was

something he had to do, some place he had to be.

Mulder took inventory of his situation, digging

deep within to summon the energy needed to drag

his body up. He pulled his right arm close to his

body, spreading his fingers wide and pushing the

heel of his hand down in readiness to take his

weight. He tried to do the same with his left, but

it seemed to be missing.

A moment of panic seized him before he realized

his arm was trapped beneath his body. Numb and

useless.

He wished for a similar numbness in his head.

Anything to dull the unrelenting percussion

ensemble behind his eyes.

With his face screwed up in a tight grimace he

pushed hard with his right hand, managing to tip

himself awkwardly onto his side, eventually coming

to land none too gently on his back–panting hard.

And then…he screamed. A loud, ear-splitting

wail.

A blinding jolt of agony shot through the fingers

of his left hand, along his arm and into this

shoulder. His head rocked from side to side; the

immediate pain almost unbearable.

Short ragged sobs seemed to be the only way he

could get oxygen. Tears leaked from the corners of

his eyes, hot against icy skin. He hugged his arm

to his chest, and moaned.

It felt like an eternity before the gut wrenching

agony began to subside, only to be replaced by a

continuous undulating thud. It originated in his

fingers, worked its way up his arm and enveloped

his shoulder before traveling back to his fingers

to start over.

Mulder grunted, fighting both dizziness and

nausea. If he could just concentrate on the simple

task of breathing, maybe everything else would

take care of itself. Somewhere, from deep in his

memory, echoed a familiar mantra.

*Deep breath in, slow breath out. Come on, Mulder,

breathe with me. In…out…*

“SCULLEE!” His eyes flew open, blinking against

the fine flakes floating from the sky.

“Scully?” And then he remembered. She wasn’t with

him. He was alone.

There was someplace he had to be. Scully was

there. And he had to go to her.

Oh, God, that meant he *had* to get up.

Maybe if he just took his time.

Slowly. He could do it.

Take a breath. Hold it.

Support left arm against chest.

Good, good.

Careful now.

Slide right arm against body. Use elbow for

leverage. Push.

Wait. Deep breath. Another.

Okay. Bend at the waist. Sit up.

*Breathe! Breathe! No! Don’t pant! Don’t pant.*

A little more. Just a little more.

Bend knees. Brace right hand on the ground. Big

breath. Hold it. Now…PUSH!

Oh God. His knees trembled, his head pounded, his

stomach heaved and worst of all, his arm gave

another spike of pure agony.

But he was standing. Staggering to maintain his

balance and regretting ever having made the

decision to move, but standing nonetheless.

Wobbling like a newborn colt, Mulder managed a few

ungainly steps towards a tree, and giving himself

a minute to recover, hung on with the desperation

of a drowning man clinging to a life raft. He had

to stay upright. If he fell, it was all over. He’d

never make it up again.

Time had become a blur, its relevance completely

lost on Mulder. He had no idea how long he’d been

leaning against the tree until his body’s reflexes

reminded him that he was cold. The shivering sent

little sparks of pain radiating from his wrist. It

pricked at his skin like hot needles. His hand

throbbed relentlessly.

He stared at the arm cradled protectively against

his chest. It was too dark to see the damage

clearly, but he had a pretty good idea what was

wrong. Hesitantly he ran the tips of the fingers

on his right hand over the wrist of his left,

flinching when even this light contact provoked a

sharp stab of pain.

Mulder swayed when he felt a large bump protruding

from the side of his wrist. Further investigation

revealed fingers swollen to twice their normal

size, but something else caught his attention. A

soggy, wet bandage wrapped around his index

finger, cutting into the distended flesh.

He toyed with it. Gently caressing the frayed

edges peeling away from his skin. A memory flashed

through his mind.

*Oh, Mulder I’m so sorry!*

“Wha…Scu…” The words caught in his throat.

*Here, give me that*.

He could see her so clearly. Hear her voice in his

head as if she were standing beside him.

*There, all done. That wasn’t so bad, now was it?*

Blue eyes smiling at him.

Where was she? Where the hell were these images

coming from? His head ached with the effort of

thinking, the need to focus.

*If you’re a good boy, I’ll see that mom gives you

a special treat after dinner.*

Mrs. Scully. Oh God, he was supposed to pick her

up from her mom’s! But…if the memories were

real, if she had put the bandage on his finger, he

must have been there already.

Then where the hell was she?

ACT II

Mrs. Scully’s House

Two hours earlier

“Fox, where’s Dana?”

“She went upstairs to get her overnight bag.”

Mulder lounged against the banister, picking idly

at the bandage on his finger.

“It’s been so nice having her here this weekend. I

appreciate you driving all this way just to give

her a ride home,” Maggie dried her hands on a

dishtowel, turning to face him.

“You think I made the trip for Scully? It was your

stew that brought me out on a night like this,” he

replied with a crooked grin.

Maggie folded her arms, eyes twinkling at his

gentle teasing. “I’m flattered. I hope you know

you don’t have to stand on ceremony. As far as I’m

concerned, you’re like one of my boys, welcome any

time.”

The sincere warmth in her words hit him

unexpectedly on the raw. “Thank you.” He ducked

his head, but the emotion must have bled onto to

his face.

Maggie’s gaze was gentle but shrewd. “It never

really stops hurting, does it? I’m sorry if what I

said…”

“Don’t.” He pasted on a smile to soften the word’s

sharp edges. “Please, don’t apologize. It’s not

necessary. I’m…I wasn’t very close to my mother.

We didn’t see much of each other, and when we did,

we didn’t really get along.”

Maggie absorbed his words with a barely

perceptible nod. “I raised four children, Fox. We

had more than our share of disagreements–issues

as insignificant as skirt length and as life-

altering as career path. But not one of those

arguments had any bearing on the depth of my

love.”

Memories rose, unbidden. A stinging slap. Photos

turned to ashes. No note–*oh, God, how could she

have left him without even saying goodbye?*

“I know my mother loved me.” He chuffed a bitter

little laugh. “I just don’t think she liked me

very much.” He shoved his hands into his pockets

and turned away, willing the conversation to be

over.

“What’s going on? Why the grim faces?”

An arm snaked around his waist, fingers tickling

the area just above Mulder’s right hip, and an

auburn head nudged its way under his left arm.

From the corner of his eye, Mulder saw Maggie give

him a searching look before turning her attention

to her daughter. “I’ll let Fox explain it to you

in the car.” Her brow furrowed. “Are you sure you

don’t want to stay here tonight? If the

temperature has continued to drop, those roads

must be pretty slick by now.”

Mulder answered Scully’s questioning eyebrow with

a slight shrug, deferring to her judgment. After a

brief hesitation, she sighed and shook her head.

“Thanks for the offer, Mom, but we really need to

get back. Mulder and I were out of town all week

and I’ve got a mountain of laundry and a case

report that A.D. Skinner expects first thing

tomorrow morning.”

“All right, I get the picture. You two get your

coats while I pack up some of this leftover stew

to take with you.”

Mulder allowed Scully to tug him back toward the

front door, enjoying the softness of her hand in

his. He liberated her coat from the rack, holding

it so that she could slip her arms into the

sleeves, and took the opportunity to envelope her

in a brief embrace.

Scully watched him don his own coat, eyes sharply

assessing. “What exactly were you and my mother

talking about, Mulder?”

He filched her knit cap from her pocket, tugging

it snugly over her ears until only the wisps of

her bangs protruded. “Baseball,” he said, keeping

his face guileless. “She wanted to know if I

thought the Yankees had a shot at the World

Series.”

Both eyebrows disappeared under cream colored

yarn. “Baseball. My mother.”

“Sure, Scully. You didn’t think I really bought

that ‘I’ve never hit a baseball’ act, did you? I

mean, between your father and brothers–not to

mention your own tomboy past–I bet your mother

could teach me a thing or two about the game.” His

voice was light and teasing, his eyes dark and

intense.

Scully pursed her lips and looked up at him

through a fringe of lashes. “Everyone can use a

little personal instruction now and then, Mulder.”

She let her voice drop. “A little one on one.”

Mulder leaned in until his lips brushed her cheek.

“Wrong sport. But I’m only too happy to give

private lessons whenever you’d like.”

She shivered, tilting her head to bring his lips

to her own. “Oh, I like.”

The kiss was just getting really interesting when

the rustle of plastic and a cleared throat

reminded them they were not alone. Scully pulled

back reluctantly, licking her lips. She turned to

accept the bag of food from her mother, self-

consciously pressing one hand to her flushed

cheek.

“Thanks, Mom. For dinner, and for the doggy bag.”

“It was delicious; thank you for the invitation,”

Mulder added.

“I meant what I said, Fox. Any time.” Maggie gave

them each a quick hug and kiss, urging Dana to

turn up her collar and grumbling over the fact

that Mulder had neglected to wear gloves.

“Drive carefully, and call me when you get home,”

she said, swinging open the door to admit a blast

of frigid air. “And keep warm.”

Mulder leaned in close as they descended the porch

steps. “You heard your mother, Scully. We need to

keep warm. And I’m full of ideas on how to

accomplish that.”

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

12:46 AM

Location unknown

It consumed him. It clung to every fiber, every

cell. It penetrated his sodden clothing and wormed

its way deep into his bones.

There was no reprieve. No escape. The cold just

was. He had come to accept it.

The cold.

The pain.

The fear.

He no longer shivered with the teeth-jarring

regularity of earlier. A spasmodic jerk feebly

offered intermittently was the only sign that his

body was making even the slightest attempt to warm

itself.

Numbness. He ached with it.

His feet were nothing more than useless clumps of

flesh crammed into saturated sneakers. His

sweatshirt hung heavy across his shoulders, the

icy weight of it further contributing to his

discomfort.

Time had ceased to exist in any organized form as

he sat huddled beneath the spindly branches of a

weather-beaten pine tree, seeking its meager

shelter.

How long had it been since his body gave up all

pretense of staying upright? Since the cold had

sapped what little adrenaline-driven energy he had

been relying on to push him forward? He didn’t

know, and now, he was beyond caring.

Mulder’s world had narrowed down to a one-

dimensional existence: misery.

He fought to keep it a bay. Clawed through the

veil of hopelessness that wrapped around his

thoughts, making him doubt what was real, what was

truth. Confusing him. Perhaps he was trapped in

the midst of a cruel dream. Caught in a nightmare

and unable to awaken. But he felt the pain. It was

real. It hurt.

His wrist throbbed mercilessly. He hugged his arm

to his chest. Fat, swollen fingers scraped

against his stubble-roughened chin. Mulder groaned

and his head swam when even this meager contact

heightened the agony in his arm.

He tried to think beyond the pain, beyond the

frigid temperature sapping him of his strength.

How did he get here?

How did he come to be alone?

If he was hurt then what about Scully? Was she

lying in a ditch somewhere? Injured? Waiting for

him to find her?

*MULDERRRR! I need your help!*

NO! No, that wasn’t right. That cry was from a

time before. A past he wished he could forget, a

past he wished he could erase from his life. But

more so from Scully’s.

*Drive carefully, and call me when you get home.*

Drive carefully. Drive carefully. Drive carefully.

*Mulder! Watch out!*

Oh, God.

His heart froze in his chest, the blood in his

veins as cold as the rain and sleet beating

against the ice-deadened skin on his face.

Memories more horrific than his imagination could

ever conjure flooded his mind. The truth. It

pummeled him. And now he knew. He knew there was

no reason to fight the cold. So he didn’t. He lay

down among the prickly, frozen pine needles

scattered on the ground. He buried his head into

the crook of his uninjured arm, letting his

painful left one lie uselessly beneath his chin.

He waited. Praying the cold would carry out its

task quickly. No longer possessing the will to

fight, Mulder allowed himself to succumb to the

frigid temperatures. As he slipped into a numb,

pain-free sleep he could have sworn he heard a

voice, calling to him on the wailing gusts of the

wind.

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

Mrs. Scully’s House

Two hours earlier

“If you’re sleepy, I can drive. It’s late, and I

know you haven’t slept much this week.”

Mulder slid behind the wheel, tossing the ice

scraper into the back seat and blowing on his

chilled fingers. At this point the heater was

doing little more than blowing tepid air. “I’ll be

all right.

You know me–this time of night is when I get my

second wind.”

“Looks like we might actually have some

accumulation by morning.” Scully squinted through

the windshield as he guided the car carefully onto

the main road. The back end shimmied when he

completed the turn, gliding across the pavement

toward the center line. Mulder grimaced and

reduced their already sedate speed.

“Sorry. It’s a lot slipperier than it was a few

hours ago.”

Scully studied his face in the dim glow from the

dash. “It’s not too late to go back to my mom’s.”

clip_image006

“What about the case report? And all those dirty

clothes?”

“Skinner will understand. And it wouldn’t be the

first time I had to wash a pair of underwear in

the sink.”

The corner of Mulder’s mouth curved. “Or better

yet, go without.” He darted a quick look at her

face, openly smirking. “C’mon, Scully. You had to

know that one was coming.”

She blatantly ignored the jibe. “The storm,

Mulder? Do you want to turn back?”

“Nah, it’ll be fine. If it makes you feel better,

turn on the radio. They should be giving status

reports on the roads.”

A soft click, rapid snatches of country, rock, and

muzak, followed by the drone of a newscast. Mulder

listened idly to the announcer describe the latest

in a rash of convenience store hold-ups, muttering

under his breath when ice began to coat the

windshield wipers and render them useless.

“What were you and Mom talking about?”

Trust Scully to remember that little detail.

Mulder tightened his grip on the steering wheel

and concentrated on not clenching his jaw.

“We talked about a lot of things, Scully. You, the

weather, Irish stew…”

“Mulder.”

It never ceased to amaze him how one word–his

name–on her lips could convey such a wide range

of meaning. Light and teasing when she managed to

snag the last bagel. Sharp and urgent when danger

loomed at his back. Low and throaty when his lips

and fingers shattered her customary reserve.

Gently reproving when his smoke and mirrors proved

no match for her powers of perception.

Mulder sucked in a long slow breath; let it out in

a whoosh. “We were discussing mothers in general.”

A beat. “Mine in particular.”

He watched Scully from the corner of his eye, saw

the way she worried her lip between her teeth.

Scully, of all people, knew this subject was an

emotional minefield. Her hand crept across the

seat to rest on his thigh, warm and solid.

“I’m sorry if she said anything…painful, Mulder.

If she did, it was completely unintentional.”

Her gentle attempt to comfort became tangled up in

the maelstrom of feelings regarding his mother’s

death. One piece of him was warmed by her tender

concern, another irritated by the kid glove

treatment.

“Scully, your mother’s only offense is in making

mine suffer by comparison.” The sharp, cold tone

of his voice both startled and gratified him.

“I’ve come to terms with what happened; it’s

over.”

Scully observed his white-knuckled grip on the

wheel and his studiously blank expression. *You’ve

put it aside, Mulder. Buried it in a dark place.

But come to terms with it? I don’t think so.*

“You know, Mulder, it’s not surprising that

you’d…”

He shushed her, twisting the knob to raise the

radio’s volume.

“…steadily dropping temperatures have

transformed the freezing rain to sleet and snow.

Roads are extremely slick, making travel

hazardous; there is a travelers’ advisory for the

entire metropolitan area. We highly recommend you

stay indoors if at all possible. We’ve already had

a five-car pile-up

on the BW Parkway near 175; police and EMTs are on

the scene…”

Mulder signaled and jockeyed the car into the far

right lane.

“Mulder?”

He indicated an approaching exit with a tilt of

his head. “That accident isn’t more than five

miles ahead, Scully. I’m going to get off the

Parkway and take back roads from here.”

She nodded and sank back into her seat, watching

Mulder guide the car off the highway and onto a

darker, quieter stretch of road. Though she wanted

to pursue their earlier conversation, Scully held

her tongue. Mulder needed to focus on navigating

the icy roads, not old wounds.

As she had countless times before, she wondered

what had possessed Teena Mulder. Not to take her

life–after her own bout with a terminal illness,

Scully could empathize all too well with the

crushing sense of hopelessness, the overwhelming

weariness. What she could not understand was the

lack of a note, of some attempt on Teena’s part to

connect with her son one last time.

Closure.

Despite Mulder’s emotional words, inspired by a

vision of his sister in a starlit field, Scully

feared it was a gift he’d never truly receive. And

a part of her she kept carefully hidden hated

Teena Mulder for that.

The sound of Mulder cursing lustily under his

breath tore her from her dark thoughts. He was

hunched over the wheel, peering through the

windshield, his body thrumming with tension.

“Visibility is practically zero,” he said tightly.

“It doesn’t help that the heater isn’t working

well enough to defrost the glass. Scully, grab

that ice scraper from the back seat. As soon as I

find a safe spot to pull over I’m going

to…SHIT!”

She’d just removed her seatbelt and was fumbling

for the scraper when Mulder’s sharp cry jerked her

attention forward. Through the curtain of sleet

and ice she could just make out the station wagon

lying sideways across their lane, its front end

hanging off the side of the embankment.

Time slowed to a crawl. Mulder pumped the brake,

struggling to guide their car around the crippled

vehicle, right hand flung out in an instinctive

gesture to protect her. Despite his reduced speed,

the slick pavement provided no traction, and their

sedan lurched into a sickening spin that seemed to

pick up momentum as they neared the stalled car.

Impact was swift and unavoidable.

“Mulder! Watch out!”

The cars collided with a bone-jarring jolt and the

shriek of metal on metal. Their vehicle ricocheted

off the stalled car and suddenly everything turned

topsy-turvy as the violent impact tumbled them

into a head over heels roll. Her hands wrenched

from the vinyl seat, Scully was thrown sideways. A

blast of frigid air enveloped her and she was

airborne for a brief, sickening moment before her

body

slammed into something with enough force to tear a

scream of pain from her lips.

Everything went mercifully black.

ACT III

U.S. Route 1

One hour earlier

Mulder came to slowly and painfully, Scully’s

scream echoing in his ears and a faint smell of

cordite stinging his nostrils. For a moment he

thought he’d been shot, and it took a few seconds

for him to realize the smell was coming from the

airbag. Carefully, he forced himself to move,

sucking in a sharp breath as pain ricocheted along

his left side. He was crammed in tight against the

steadily deflating airbag, his knees jammed under

the dash and the roof nudging his head. It took a

few seconds to work through the cotton in his

brain until the pieces fell into place.

*Scully!*

Mulder turned his head toward the passenger seat.

What he saw almost stopped his heart. A gaping

hole where the door should have been and the empty

seat beside him confirmed his worst fears.

“Scully!”

Panic deadened the pain in his side. He wriggled

and kicked till he could pull his legs free,

heaving the airbag aside with his right hand and

grabbing at the door handle with his left. But the

fingers wrapped around the handle were strangely

weak and uncooperative. His wrist throbbed and

sharp pain shot up his arm.

Leaning hard into the seat with his left shoulder,

he reached across and tried again with his right

hand, at the same time giving the door a solid

kick with his right foot. It burst open and Mulder

half fell, half climbed from the stricken vehicle.

Wind blowing straight off the snow whipped through

his hair, its icy chill flaring the ache in his

head to a squeezing agony. Dizzy and disoriented,

Mulder leaned against the side of the car,

desperately trying to force his body to cooperate.

Tentatively, he reached up and touched his

forehead, not surprised when his fingers came away

damp and stained with his own blood. Using the

mangled hood of the car as leverage, he propelled

himself forward and staggered around to the

passenger side, struggling to maintain his footing

on the slippery ice.

A crumpled form lay on the snow-covered ground a

few yards from the rear end. “Scully!”

Mulder dropped to his knees beside her, working

his hands under her body so he could turn her

over. “God, Scully!”

He scraped through the shallow layer of snow

around her, his clumsy movements reminding him of

his injured wrist.

“Scully! Talk to me!”

Gently he brushed the hair from her face. Thick

blood coated his fingers. It clung to her hair and

oozed along the side of her face.

“Scully.”

A flicker of eyelids, a slight twist of her mouth,

and then his name on her lips. “Mul…”

“I’m here. Just hold…”

“Cold…I’m…cold.” Her eyes rolled shut.

“Scully. No! Stay with me.”

He slid cross-legged to the ground, carefully

pulling her onto his lap, fear and panic making

him oblivious to any other injuries she might have

sustained. “Scully, wake up! Come on, talk to me!”

His mind whirled, eyes darting from her pale,

motionless features to the sleet and snow swirling

lightly about them.

Get her warm. Get her warm. That’s all he needed

to do. Then she’d be all right.

He scrambled to his feet, shrugging out of his

coat as he stood, but the sudden movement sent his

feet skittering from under him. Rubber soles

fought to find a grip on the smooth ice. He

managed a couple of staggering steps before losing

his balance and crashing to the ground. Reflexes

kicked in and instinctively he stretched out both

hands to break the fall. Agony, sudden and violent

engulfed his left wrist and Mulder couldn’t help

the scream.

Injured arm nestled against his chest, Mulder

rolled onto his knees and shuffled back to Scully.

One-handed he pulled at the coat and placed it

over her. Then, gritting his teeth he gathered her

up and stumbled back to the car. By the time he

had laid her on the back seat he was seeing stars.

A couple of deep breaths stilled the spinning in

his head and settled the nausea in his stomach.

He dropped to his knees by the open door, leaning

in to tuck the coat around her.

“Scully.” Panting heavily and keeping his head low

to avoid the dented roof, he clambered inside the

car and slid along the seat till he was perched on

the edge by her waist.

Carefully, he moved the hair from her face and

traced the line of her jaw with his index finger.

Closing his eyes he dipped his head so his

forehead rested on hers. “Scully. Please. C’mon,

babe, wake up. You’ve got to help me out here. I

don’t know what to do for you.”

She remained silent.

“Scully?”

He pulled back and looked at her. The pale glow

from the partly veiled moon offered little

illumination, but it was enough for Mulder to make

out the ashen tone of her skin, the bluish tinge

to her lips.

“God!”

Trembling fingers sought the soft skin under her

jaw. He held his breath and concentrated, but no

matter how hard he willed the artery to throb

beneath his fingers, he felt nothing. “NO!

Scully.” Ignoring his injured wrist, Mulder

grasped her arms and pulled her towards him.

“SCULLY!”

She remained quiet and unresponsive, her head

lolling bonelessly to the side.

His lungs froze in his chest, his vision narrowed

to a pinpoint of light. He shook his head and

forced himself to breathe. No! He couldn’t pass

out. Scully needed him.

And then he knew what he had to do. It was all so

clear to him now, so obvious.

Gently laying her back down, Mulder made sure the

coat was securely tucked in place. He leaned over

until his mouth was pressed against her ear and

whispered, “I’m going to get you out of this,

babe. I promise.” Then bringing his lips to hers,

he kissed her one last time. “I love you, Scully.”

Mulder backed out of the car and moved to the

front. He squeezed into the confined space,

desperately hunting for his cell phone. The glove

box, the door panels and the compartment between

their seats all came up empty. He searched the

back again, feeling along the floor under the

driver’s seat and…there it was. He snatched up

his cell phone and climbed outside again. It took

2 attempts before he finally hit the right

buttons, frantically pacing as he waited for 911

to connect. When

nothing happened he pulled the phone from his ear

and inspected the digital window. “No signal”

glared back at him.

“Shit!” He hurled the phone at the car, feeling

little satisfaction as it clunked against the

abused metal and dropped onto the ice. He stood

panting, right hand cupping his forehead as he

struggled to come up with a plan.

The other car. THE OTHER CAR. Get there. Might be

help. God! Was there someone in it? Were they hurt

too? Where the hell did it go?

He turned in circles.

Where is it, where is it?

There!

He could just make it out, hidden in the shadow of

several trees. The mangled rear end angled

skyward, the front buried in a ditch by the side

of the road.

Swaying like a drunk, Mulder staggered towards the

wrecked vehicle and slid to a halt. The icy ground

forced his momentum forward and he came up hard

against the side of the car. It wobbled under the

impact.

Check the doors.

Keeping his painful left hand tight against his

body, Mulder reached out with his right and tugged

on the side rear door. Then the front. Both

locked. He skittered around to the other side,

hammering on the windows with the heel of his

hand. “Hello! Can anyone hear me? I need help!” No

sound. No movement.

The car shuddered under his pounding, shifting

slightly to the right before starting a slow tilt

towards the left. Mulder tried to scamper out of

the way. But instead of firm earth beneath his

feet, the ground dropped away under him. He landed

with a solid thump on his stomach. The impact sent

a jarring shockwave of agony through his injured

wrist, momentarily robbing him of breath and clear

thought.

He came to his senses with the realization he was

slipping. The soggy undergrowth offered

little resistance as he clawed at the ground,

desperately searching for a handhold to stop his

decent. But the rain had loosened the earth and

every time he managed to grasp onto a small bush

or a handful of grass it came away in his grip.

He fought to gain traction among the tangled scrub

making one last desperate grab at a small sapling

to his left. Pain ripped through his wrist and up

his arm, a silent scream twisted his lips as his

last tether to safety slipped from his grasp.

Mulder’s rapid slide turned into a roll that

abruptly ended in a teeth-rattling jolt. Sparks

momentarily burst before his eyes like fireworks,

then darkness descended.

Gnawing, relentless pain and bone-chilling cold

tugged him back from blissful darkness. He was

lying face down, cheek pressed against frigid,

snow-covered ground. Spitting grit and snow, he

struggled first to his knees, then to his feet,

swaying, his injured arm clutched to his chest. He

managed one, staggering, drunken step, then two,

and three. Clothes sodden with snow clung to his

limbs like leaden weights and he could barely see

through the curtain of swirling flakes.

He didn’t know where he was. Numb feet and uneven

terrain conspired against him and once again he

slipped and went down on his knees, a frustrated

sob wrenched from his lips.

His clumsy attempt to scrub the frozen crystals

from his lashes only succeeded in shoving more of

the cold wetness into his eyes, thanks to his

snow-encrusted sleeve. A flash of color, vivid

against the all-encompassing white, caught his eye

and he lifted trembling hands to stare at crimson

fingers. His breath caught in his throat and his

stomach did a lazy roll.

Oh, God. What had he done?

Hands, stained red. Dark hair matted against pale

skin. Tight, painful breaths. Chest heaving. Pain.

All over. It resounded through his head. Thumping,

adding to the confusion. Where was he?

WHERE THE HELL WAS HE?

“SCULLLEEEEEEEEE!”

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

Route 1

1:55 AM

Assistant Director Skinner stepped out of his car

into a wind that whistled in his ears and spit

light snow across his field of vision. He stood

silently, hands buried deep in the pockets of his

heavy overcoat, and surveyed the scene of the

accident. Paramedics were lifting a gurney into

the back of an ambulance, the small figure on

board barely visible beneath a pile of blankets

and a wall of medical

equipment.

He headed toward the ambulance, hoping for a quick

word with the EMTs before they transported Scully

to the hospital.

Thick white bandages wrapped around her forehead,

a small patch of red already soaking through the

bulky padding. An oxygen mask covered her face.

She looked so still and lifeless that the AD found

himself checking the heart monitor for

reassurance.

Skinner stepped to the side as one of the

paramedics pushed past him and slammed the doors

shut. “How’s she doing?”

“All things considered, she’s one lucky lady.

“Is she going to make it?”

“Her vitals are stable and so far she’s holding

her own. We’ll know more when we get her to the

hospital. Now, I really need to get going.”

Skinner nodded, his jaw clenched and mouth set in

a tight line.

“Sir?”

Skinner turned to face the man approaching from

behind.

“I’m Special Agent Rawlins.” He held out his hand

and Skinner gave it a firm shake. “I’ve got the

owner of the other vehicle here. You wanted to

speak to him?”

“Yes.”

“We’ve got him waiting in one of the police

vehicles.”

Skinner nodded letting his eyes wander over the

bustle of activity surrounding them. Searchlights

had been erected around the perimeter of the

accident site. A small generator hummed in the

background. An assortment of emergency vehicles

parked in a semi-circle bordered a makeshift

command center. The local PD had acted quickly and

efficiently in response to his call.

The ambulance with Scully inside pulled slowly

away, the flashing red and blue lights a colorful

contrast to the desolate background of snow and

deeply shadowed trees. He sighed inwardly–at

least

one of his agents was in relative safety. Now all

they had to do was find Mulder. Again.

He turned back to Agent Rawlins. “How long before

the dogs get here?”

“ETA is 10 minutes, Sir.”

Skinner nodded and fell into step beside Rawlins

as he led the way toward the parked cars.

“Sir? We’re checking along the road. There’s a few

houses not far from here, maybe Agent Mulder

made

it to one of them.”

“Maybe.” Skinner stared into the darkness. But

knowing Mulder, he doubted it.

When he opened the back door of the Ford Crown

Vic, Skinner was confronted by a wildly disheveled

man. He could have been 60 or maybe 70, his gray-

streaked brown hair standing up in unruly tufts

around his head. What looked like a two-day-old

growth shadowed his jaw. Despite his unruly

appearance and the early hour, the man’s eyes held

a surprising clarity.

“Sir, this is Mr. Harper.”

Skinner slid in beside the man, glad of the brief

respite from the frigid cold. He refused to think

of Mulder wandering out in this weather, instead,

choosing to believe that his agent had found

refuge in somebody’s home.

“Mr. Harper, I’m Assistant Director Skinner with

the FBI. Can you tell me what happened?”

“I don’t exactly know myself. My car stalled on

the side of the road earlier tonight, and no

amount of coaxing from me would get the old girl

started again. The battery’s been acting up for

sometime, so I figured that was the problem. I

live a half-mile or so up the road, and rather

than sit around here and freeze my butt off on the

wild chance help would come by, I decided to hoof

it on home. My son lives in town, and I figured

I’d call him and get him to come down to give me a

jump.”

“What time was this?”

“Hmm…maybe ten, or a little after.”

“And what time did you get back here?”

“By the time I got home and called my son…I

guess we got back here some time after midnight.

Damn near gave me a heart attack when I saw the

state of the cars. And finding that poor young

woman in the back…” The man paused obviously

still having a hard time coming to terms with the

situation. “We thought she was dead at first but

when my son went to check on her she started to

mumble something. Couldn’t make out what she was

sayin’, but she sure seemed to be in a bad way.”

“Did you see anyone else? Was there a man with

her?”

“No, sir. Looked like someone else had tended her

though. She was laid on the back seat with a coat

over her. We found a wallet in one of the pockets

and an FBI badge inside. It had a picture of a

young fella. Is that the man you’re looking for?”

“Yes it is.”

“My son, Tommy, drove back to the house to call

the cops. His cell wouldn’t work out here. He had

some blankets in the back of the pickup, so we

covered the young lady with them before he left. I

stayed with her till help arrived. If Tommy had

seen anyone along the way he would have picked ’em

up.”

The police had been in constant radio contact

during the trip from DC and Skinner knew that so

far there’d been no sign of Mulder.

He slid his hands under his glasses and rubbed his

eyes. Something had happened to Mulder, of that

he was certain. The blood spatters they’d found

indicated he’d been injured, but still mobile.

That had to be a good sign, right? Or in Mulder’s

case, maybe not. Damn it. Why the hell didn’t he

stay with the car? Stupid question. He’d gone to

find help for Scully.

Skinner heaved a gusty sigh. There was nothing

more to be gained by talking to this man. He’d

confirmed that Mulder had been with Scully. Now

all they had to do was find him.

“Thank you for your help, Mr. Harper. An officer

will be along shortly to take your statement.”

The blast of cold air that hit when he opened the

car door only reinforced his growing concern for

Mulder’s safety. How long could he survive out

there?

“Assistant Director? The tracker dogs are here.”

Agent Rawlins pointed to a van pulling in beside

the other emergency vehicles. “We’ve got Mulder’s

coat for them to work off. Sir, once they pick up

his scent it will only be a matter of time.”

“But will it be enough?” Skinner’s eyes locked

with Rawlins’s, the implication not lost on either

man.

Skinner turned toward the police van acting as the

command center. “I’m going to touch base with the

officer in charge. Let me know when the search

team is assembled.”

“You’re going with them?”

“Is that a problem, Agent?”

“No, Sir! I’ll go and check on their progress.”

A quick nod of his head and Skinner was striding

towards the police truck.

ACT IV

2:00 AM

Somewhere off Route 1

“Fox.”

The voice was nagging, buzzing in his ear like a

persistent mosquito. Mulder mentally swatted it

away, straining to sink back into the velvet

comfort of darkness.

“Fox. Wake up.”

His befuddled mind conjured up images of early

morning darkness, chilled air and warm blankets.

His eyelids fluttered, but remained closed.

“Five minutes, Mom. Jus’…five…”

“Fox William Mulder! Open your eyes this minute!”

The familiar rebuke jolted through him like

electrical current. Mulder’s eyes flew open and he

scrambled to push himself upright, moaning as the

sharp agony in his wrist jerked him to full

consciousness. He stared stupidly down at his

soggy clothes, then squinted into the swirling

flakes, teeth chattering. His brain sluggishly

tried to process the discrepancy between dream and

reality.

“Mom?”

The name left his lips as little more than a

froggy croak, sorrow and embarrassment prompting

him immediately to wince at his own stupidity.

*You’ve really lost it now, Spooky. First you

killed Scully and now you’re calling for your dead

mother. Pathetic*. He ground the heel of his hand

into his eyes, tears blazing a path down his icy

cheeks.

“Sitting there, feeling sorry for yourself isn’t

going to solve anything. You need to get up, Fox.

Get moving or you’re going to freeze to death.”

Breath caught in his chest, heart thudding wildly,

he whipped his head around stare in the direction

of the hauntingly familiar tone. Standing not more

than five feet behind him, her elegant clothes and

meticulously styled white hair undisturbed by the

gusting wind, sleet, and snow, stood his mother.

Lips pursed, forehead lined with exasperation–

he’d seen that expression countless times over the

years. The “oh for heaven’s sake, Fox!” look.

clip_image008

“You’re dead.” Not the most astute observation,

but then what could you expect from someone most

likely concussed and definitely on his way to

becoming a Popsicle.

The irritated frown deepened. “I realize that,

Fox. Now get up and turn around. If you keep

heading in this direction no one will find you. At

least, not until it’s too late.”

The initial chill as he’d jolted awake was fading,

shivers tapering off as a seductive feeling of

warmth took their place. Mulder drew his legs up,

aching arm sandwiched between thighs and chest,

and laid his cheek on his knees. “It doesn’t

matter.”

An impatient huff. “Don’t be ridiculous. You, of

all people, know every choice we make matters. Is

this what’s become of you? The Fox Mulder I knew

would never just lie down and give up.”

Anger rose up inside him, driving back the

fogginess. His head snapped up and his lip curled.

“And the mother I knew would never seal herself in

a room and crank up the gas. I guess we’re even.”

Several indefinable emotions flickered rapidly

across his mother’s face before it settled into a

neutral expression. When she spoke, a hint of

warmth softened the words. “Not everything is as

it appears, Fox. There’s much about me you don’t

know or understand yet.”

“Really? And whose fault is that? How many times

did I come to you, begging you to open up to me

about Dad…about Sam? For years you let me chase

my own tail, blaming myself for losing her, for

not being able to bring her back.” He dug his

knuckles into bleary eyes. “Why am I wasting my

breath? You aren’t even here.”

“Of course I am. When did you stop believing in

those extreme possibilities, Fox?”

Mulder pressed his throbbing head to his knees. “I

didn’t, Mom. I just stopped believing in you.”

There was a long silence. Certain if he lifted his

head he’d find her gone, her voice startled him

yet again. “I suppose I deserve that.”

Was that…regret in her voice? Impossible. Teena

Mulder was nothing if not sure of her convictions.

“Fox, you and I may have been a bit of a

disappointment to each other. But I did love you.

I tried my best to protect you, even when you

despised me for it.”

The adrenaline rush was seeping away, leaving only

weary resignation. He met her gaze, surprised but

unmoved by the emotion he found there. “You

protected yourself and that bastard who wants to

call himself my father. As for love–I saw the

proof of your love. It was nothing but ashes.”

“There are none so blind as those who will not

see.” She shook her head impatiently. “Damn it,

Fox! The burned photos? Use your head. Does that

sound like something I would do without an

extremely good reason?”

“I don’t know. You’re the one with all the

answers. You tell me.” To his chagrin the gibe

caught in his throat and tears burned his eyes.

Suddenly she was beside him, carding her fingers

through his hair the way she’d done when he was a

little boy. The warmth and solidity of the

familiar gesture bypassed his defenses.

“They were only pieces of paper, Fox. Everything

important is imprinted indelibly in my heart.”

“You left me.” The words escaped before he could

stop them, aching and needy. He clamped his lips

together and blinked, horrified.

The fingers stilled, then cupped his cheek. “If

you believe nothing else, believe this: I had no

choice.”

He leaned into the caress, chuffing raggedly. “I

want to believe.”

The warmth withdrew, her voice turned cool,

composed. “Now it’s time you got up and started

moving.”

Overpowering lethargy weighted his limbs, his

eyelids. “Can’t.”

“You can. Your boss, Mr. Skinner, is looking for

you as we speak. You just need to turn around and

head in the right direction.”

An image popped into his mind–his boss, jaw

clenched in the classic Skinner grimace, as he

lifted Scully’s cold, lifeless body. Mulder

squeezed his eyes shut. “Scully.”

“Do you think this is what she’d want? I’ll admit

I never got to know Miss Scully well, but she

didn’t seem the kind of person to give up. What

would she say if she could see you now?”

One corner of his mouth turned up in a painful,

lop-sided smirk. “She’d kick my ass.”

His mother’s voice was dry. “Undoubtedly. Get up,

Fox. For her, if not for yourself.”

It was possibly the only thing that could have

reached him. Mulder staggered to his feet, grimly

holding himself upright as the initial dizziness

and nausea abated. “You never cut me any slack,”

he muttered, surprised to find no bitterness in

the observation.

clip_image010

She smiled a tight little smile. “You never really

needed it, Fox. You just thought you did.” And she

was gone.

Somehow he got his legs moving, one foot in front

of the other, plowing doggedly back the way he’d

come. Just when he was certain he couldn’t take

another step, he caught a glimpse of bobbing

lights and heard the faint sound of a dog,

barking. Five more strides and his right foot hit

a hole, pitching him to his knees. After several

attempts to stand he sank back, exhausted. His

ears were ringing, his vision narrowed to a

pinprick.

“Here.” The weak, raspy cry for help would have

been comical if it hadn’t come from his own mouth.

“I’m over here.”

The barking seemed to grow louder, the lights

brighter, and then everything faded away.

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

Rugged terrain and slippery patches of ice were

fast reminding Skinner how many years he’d spent

behind a desk. Muscles bunched tight along his

thighs and calves ached in protest as he fought to

keep up with the tracker dogs. Despite the cold,

an irritating stream of sweat trickled between his

shoulder blades, and he’d made a mental note to

himself at least a half mile back to change his

brand of deodorant.

Within minutes of the team assembling, the dogs

had picked up a scent and were straining on their

leads, itching to follow Mulder’s trail.

The going had gotten tough almost immediately.

They’d half slid, half climbed down a sharp

incline and Skinner couldn’t begin to imagine why

Mulder would have gone this way. Lord knows, it

was nowhere near civilization and, if anything,

was heading away from the main road and his best

chance of help.

They’d been on the hunt for nearly an hour, the

dogs alternating between a breakneck pace and

lengthy pauses when the scent petered out. At one

point, they had actually turned completely around,

finding themselves heading back the way they’d

come, albeit on a slightly different route. If

Skinner’s estimation was correct, they couldn’t be

more than a half mile from the road.

Skinner’s feet were heavy in sodden boots, and he

felt the early warning sting of blisters on his

heels. He was on the verge of swallowing his pride

and succumbing to his body’s demand for rest when

there was a loud cry up ahead.

“Over here!”

A new rush of adrenaline spurred the Assistant

Director on. Picking up his pace, he caught up

with the lead team in a matter of seconds. It took

a moment for his eyes to adjust to the bright beam

of light trained out in front of him, and then

another moment for him to realize what the

flashlight was illuminating.

A few yards ahead, a body lay sprawled on the

ground, barely visible amongst the tangle of small

shrubs and spindly grass. Two members of the

search and rescue team were hunkered down beside

it.

“Shit!” Skinner pushed past the dog handlers and

crouched next to the men. He lay two fingers

against Mulder’s icy throat and nearly collapsed

with relief when he located a pulse. “He’s alive!”

Within seconds, the two paramedics who accompanied

the search party were at Mulder’s side. Skinner

stepped out of the way, but remained close enough

to keep an eye on what was happening. The wind was

brutal, knifing through his overcoat and seeming

to freeze the sweat on his overheated body. He

stomped his feet and hugged the coat tighter,

wondering again how Mulder could have survived

this.

The EMT’s worked swiftly by flashlight, noting

their observations aloud in medical shorthand that

made Skinner wish fervently for Scully’s

expertise. The one reading he needed no help

understanding was Mulder’s measured body

temperature. Ninety-two degrees was dangerously

low.

“Hey, buddy, can you hear me?” One of the men

checked Mulder’s pupils with a penlight. “Pupils

are equal and reactive but it looks like he took a

pretty good blow to the head.”

Skinner gritted his teeth, liking less and less

the report on Mulder’s condition.

“Yeah, and he’s got a fractured left wrist,” the

other EMT supplied. As he worked on immobilizing

the arm, Mulder moaned softly. “Hey, buddy! You

with us?”

Mulder didn’t respond.

“Let’s get him out of here.” They unfolded the

stretcher and placed Mulder on it, nestling warm

packs around his torso and then covering him with

heavy blankets that must have felt like heaven.

Skinner got his first good look at Mulder’s face

as they lifted the stretcher, and his heart sank

to his toes. He couldn’t help wondering if either

of his agents would survive this night.

Georgetown Memorial Hospital

9:22 AM

The maddening itch dragged him to awareness.

Mulder’s head rolled restlessly back and forth and

he scrunched his nose, cheek brushing a pillowcase

whose coarse texture and medicinal smell screamed

hospital. Try as he might, he could not seem to

raise either arm to deliver the much needed

scratch. Eyelids struggling to half-mast, he

blinked blearily at his surroundings and took

inventory.

The expected hospital room–private, thankfully.

He could feel a bandage on his forehead, just

beneath his hairline. Both arms were immobilized,

the left by a cast that extended from wrist to

elbow, the right by an IV that seemed to be

delivering fluids and, if his muzziness was any

indication, pain meds. Several blankets had been

tucked snugly around him and the blinds had been

shuttered against the early morning sunlight. His

gaze panned across the room and froze on the chair

pulled up beside the bed.

The empty chair.

*Scully.*

Mulder squeezed his eyes shut and breathed slowly

through his mouth, willing away the tears that

stung his eyes and clogged his throat. Though he

tried valiantly to conjure up the memory of her

laughing, eyes sparkling with mirth, all he could

see was her still, white face. His tongue touched

his lips, recalling how cold Scully’s had felt,

pressed against his in a desperate kiss. The last

kiss.

A whoosh of air followed by footsteps alerted

Mulder to the fact he had company. He kept his

eyes shut, unwilling to face the bland cheer of a

nurse certain to remind him how lucky he was to be

alive, when lucky was the last emotion he was

feeling. Anticipating fingers grasping his wrist,

he was surprised to hear the chair scrape across

the linoleum, followed by a weighty sigh and the

faint scent of sweat and aftershave. Intrigued, he

cracked open one eyelid.

“Mulder.” Skinner sat forward. “About time you

joined us.”

Mulder blinked, oddly disoriented by the sight of

his boss in Scully’s accustomed place. “Sir?” The

word emerged more breath than substance.

Skinner held up a quelling hand and fumbled with a

cup of water. Mulder sipped slowly from the straw,

taking the opportunity to study his boss.

Skinner’s normally pristine suit was rumpled and

he sported more than a five o’clock shadow. Behind

his glasses, his dark eyes were lined with

fatigue.

Mulder abandoned the straw, a frown pulling at the

bandage on his head, and tried again. “Sir, you

look terrible.”

Skinner snorted, shaking his head. “Mulder, I’d be

remiss not to point out that you’ve seen better

days yourself. How are you feeling?”

Mulder shrank from the intense gaze, choosing to

inspect the ceiling instead. “Seems like I’ll

live.” And that was the irony, wasn’t it?

“Yes, you will.” A pause, and he could feel

Skinner scrutinizing his face. “Mulder, do you

remember what happened?”

He nodded, turning back to his boss with jaw

clenched. “There was a stalled car in the road. I

tried to swerve around it but the pavement was icy

and… Scully was thrown from the car on impact.

She wasn’t… I couldn’t…” He sucked in a deep

breath and pushed the memory away, determined not

to break down in front of Skinner. “I tried to

help her, but…there was nothing I could do.”

“You must have become disoriented from the cold

and the knock on the head. From what we can tell,

you’d wandered nearly a mile away from the road.

Then, for some reason, you doubled back.”

“You found me.”

“Well, the dogs did. It was touch and go for a

while there. You were dangerously hypothermic, and

they’re still a bit concerned about frostbite on a

few toes. Another fifteen minutes and…”

Skinner’s voice trailed off and he cleared his

throat, discomfort palpable. “You were lucky,

Mulder. Very lucky.”

“You think so?” Dismayed by the tremor in his

voice, Mulder returned his gaze to a particularly

fascinating crack in the ceiling. “That’s a matter

of perspective, I guess.” His head throbbed, his

wrist ached, and he suddenly wanted nothing more

than the oblivion of sleep.

He could hear the frown in Skinner’s voice.

“Perspective? How else could you…?”

The door swished open to admit a young woman with

long, curly dark hair, a stethoscope slung around

the neck of her white coat. Skinner rose as she

offered Mulder a dazzling smile.

“Agent Mulder. It’s good to see you’re finally

awake. I’m Cindy George; we met earlier. I’ve been

taking care of you since you were brought in.”

Mulder gave a slight shake of his head, followed

quickly by a wince at the foolishness of the

action. “I don’t remember.”

She waved a hand dismissively. “Not surprising.

You were in pretty rough shape, but you’re looking

much better.” She tipped her chin toward Skinner.

“Mr. Skinner. I need to examine Agent Mulder for a

few minutes. You can wait in the lounge, if you

like, and I’ll come get you when I’m finished.”

After an unsuccessful attempt to make eye contact

with Mulder, Skinner left Dr. George to her poking

and prodding. He retreated to the lounge, grateful

to find it unoccupied, and claimed an

uncomfortable plastic chair. Shoving his glasses

to the top of his head, he scrubbed at weary eyes

and stubbled jaw, longing for coffee yet too weary

to search it out. Something about Mulder troubled

him, a nagging sensation that his agent’s behavior

was off. Of course, considering the concussion,

broken wrist, and exposure, he supposed normal was

a relative term. With everything he and Scully had

been through, Mulder could hardly be expected

to…

The revelation hit Skinner like a proverbial ton

of bricks. Scully. Mulder had been conscious for a

good five minutes before the doctor’s entrance,

yet he’d never once asked about his partner.

Skinner sat up straighter, replaying bits of

conversation in his head.

*Scully was thrown from the car on impact. She

wasn’t… I couldn’t…I tried to help her,

but…there was nothing I could do.*

*You were lucky, Mulder. Very lucky.

You think so? That’s a matter of perspective, I

guess.*

My God. Surely he didn’t think…

But it all made sense. The cryptic remarks. The

air of despondency. And, above all, the complete

lack of interest in Scully’s current medical

condition. Mulder hadn’t asked because he thought

he already knew.

Mulder believed Scully was dead.

Skinner stood and began to pace, eyes flicking

toward Mulder’s doorway. Ten minutes passed. He

watched a nurse enter and leave, but it was

another five minutes before Dr. George finally

emerged.

She flashed him a reassuring smile, eyebrows

soaring when he barreled down the hallway to meet

her.

“There’s no cause for alarm, Mr. Skinner.

Everything is looking good. My concerns about

frostbite appear to be groundless–his extremities

have good circulation and there’s no tissue

damage. The blow to the head was severe, but he’s

obviously awake and oriented, pupils even and

reactive. Immobilizing the wrist has removed the

pressure on the nerves in his hand and he appears

to have regained nearly normal sensation in his

fingers. I’d like to keep him one more night, just

to be safe, but he should be able to go home

tomorrow.”

“And Agent Scully?”

“Ironically, though she gave us a scare when they

first brought her in, she’s doing better than he

is. She’ll have a pretty severe headache for the

next couple of days, and I’d be hard pressed to

find a square inch of her that’s not bruised, but

being inside the car protected her from the worst

of the cold. If Agent Mulder hadn’t moved her the

way he did, she undoubtedly would have died from

exposure.”

Skinner winced. “Yes, well, about that. I’d like

to talk to Agent Mulder for a moment, if

possible.”

“I’m afraid it’s not.” At Skinner’s blank look she

quickly added. “Gail gave him his next dose of

pain medication while I was performing my exam. He

was out like a light by the time I left.”

“Damn.” Skinner squeezed the back of his neck.

“How long will he sleep?”

“Hard to say for sure, but given his level of

exhaustion I wouldn’t expect him to surface for at

least a couple of hours.”

Skinner shoved his hands in his pockets as he

mulled over the doctor’s words. “Perhaps that’s

for the best. It gives us, gives Scully, a little

more time. You said she’s feeling better?”

“Well…yes. She’s still quite weak and sore,

though. I’d planned to keep her overnight, as

well.”

“Better enough to be mobile? In a wheelchair,

maybe, if she took it easy?”

Dr. George’s brow creased. “You’re losing me here,

Mr. Skinner.”

“There’s been a bit of a misunderstanding, Doctor.

But I think we can put things straight.” He

couldn’t help grinning at her obvious suspicion.

“If you’ll show me where I can get a decent cup of

coffee, I’ll be glad to explain.”

One corner of her mouth turned up. “You’ve piqued

my interest, sir. It’s a deal.”

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

Georgetown Hospital

12:06 PM

This time he fought the pull of sounds and smells,

struggling to burrow back into the comforting

forgetfulness of insensibility. With consciousness

came pain, the throbbing of his arm and head

barely more than a minor annoyance as compared to

the aching emptiness in his chest.

Scully was dead.

Sensing a presence in the chair beside him, Mulder

swallowed and turned his face away, ignoring his

dry throat’s screams for water. He couldn’t deal

with Skinner now–not with pity barely concealed

in overly kind eyes, and especially not with his

boss’s attempt to ease a void no one would ever be

able to fill.

Scully was dead.

Long ago, even before they’d become physically

intimate, he and Scully had come to terms with the

risks inherent in their job and the consequences

of those risks. Losing her was an inescapable

possibility: a stray bullet, a terrorist’s bomb,

the flick of a knife…these were potential

outcomes he’d had to acknowledge, to accept in

their continued pursuit of the truth. That she’d

been taken from him by something so inane, so

pointless as a stalled vehicle and an icy patch of

asphalt multiplied his already crushing sense of

loss and guilt.

Scully was dead.

He’d once told her he didn’t think he could

continue without her, emotion-filled words uttered

under desperate circumstances. Now, irrevocably,

he knew the truth in them.

He squeezed his eyes more tightly shut,

remembering how she’d felt in his arms just scant

hours earlier, the soft curve of her cheek, her

tone low and smoky.

*Everyone can use a little personal instruction

now and then, Mulder. A little one on one.*

*God, Scully.*

“Mulder.”

Had he ever told her what hearing his name on her

lips did to him? He’d always loved Scully’s voice

in all its varied inflections and timbres:

teasing, lecturing, comforting, seducing… He

could hear it now, as clearly as if she’d spoken

aloud. The thought that such clarity would fade

with time was unbearable.

“Mulder.”

Quiet, coaxing, a puff of breath tickling the

sensitive flesh near his ear. His eyes flew open,

his heart suddenly hammering at breakneck speed.

No. It couldn’t be. It was a trick, an illusion

conjured up by his grieving mind in a cruel effort

to blunt the pain.

Scully was…

The fingertips that brushed his forehead and

trailed back through his hair were unmistakable.

Breath caught somewhere between his lungs and his

throat and he slowly turned his head to lean into

the touch, terrified to look, powerless not to. It

seemed as if everything around him, all sound and

what little color the drab room had to offer,

faded away as his gaze locked onto wide blue eyes

and a rare, teeth-flashing smile.

“Hey.” Her hand dipped, thumb brushing his cheek

now, heart-stoppingly warm, and solid…and alive.

“Scully.”

The name clawed its way out of his parched throat,

rough, shaky, nothing like the reverent

supplication he’d intended. He saw her impossibly

beautiful smile widen a split second before it

blurred and the first, choked sob tore loose from

his chest.

Time became hazy along with his awareness. When he

came back to himself he was cradled in Scully’s

embrace, face buried in the crook of her shoulder.

Despite the uncomfortable tug of tubing, he’d

managed to bury his I.V.-impaired hand in her

hair, sifting the silky locks through his fingers

in continual reassurance that she was real.

“Scully, God, I…I thought I’d lost you.”

Scully gave a watery little chuckle and he felt

her lips brush his forehead. “For a while there, I

did too.”

Adrenaline ebbed, replaced by overwhelming

weariness and a sense of peace. Abruptly he

remembered Scully’s injuries and jerked backward,

scrutinizing abnormally pale skin and the thick

bandage near her right temple. He recognized the

fine lines of pain around her eyes and mouth, and

the slight squint that indicated headache.

Reluctantly he removed his hand from her hair,

swiping impatiently at the moisture on his cheeks

before carefully tracing the gauze with one

finger.

“Your head…”

“I’m fine, Mulder.” She helped him settle back

onto his pillows and poured him a cup of water,

her movements smooth despite the unsteadiness in

her voice. His face must have registered his

disbelief as he accepted the straw; one corner of

her mouth turned up in a wry grin. “Well, all

things considered. Still, I’d say a concussion and

a few bruises are pretty tame compared to what

might have been.” She curled her fingers around

his. “I was unconscious until they brought me

here, Mulder. If you hadn’t moved me into shelter

of the car, I would have died of exposure.”

Mulder pushed the cup aside, unable to meet her

eyes. “I left you.”

Her grip tightened, drawing him back. “You covered

me with your own coat. Went out into that storm,

looking for help, despite a head injury and a

broken wrist.”

He snorted and shook his head, not ready to

concede the point. “I wandered around in circles.

If not for Skinner we both would be…” He trailed

off.

“Mulder?”

He searched her face, feeling lightheaded as some

of the shock returned full force. “You were dead,

Scully. I was so certain. I tried… There was no

pulse.”

Scully released his hand, reaching across his body

to caress the fingers that peeked out of the

plastic cast. “Feel that?”

Mulder looked down, frowning a little at the odd

sensation. “Feels like my hand has been asleep.

Pins and needles.”

“Dr. George tells me you’d lost almost all

sensation in both hands by the time you were

brought in. Mulder, what with the cold and the

pressure the swelling from that broken wrist was

exerting on the nerves, you wouldn’t have been

able to feel much of anything.”

“You mean…?”

“I was alive. And thanks to you, I stayed that

way.”

He looked away, blinking, uncomfortable with

emotions stripped raw and too close to the

surface. Scully evidently sensed his unease and

moved on.

“You know, I was never as much at risk as you

were. Skinner says you’d wandered away from the

road, that it was pure luck you turned back to

where they could find you.”

The bittersweet pang was unexpected, though not

necessarily unwelcome. “Luck? Not exactly.” Mulder

didn’t even realize he’d spoken aloud until he

heard Scully’s concerned reply.

“Mulder? What is it?”

He shook his head. “Nothing.”

She huffed. “Really? You certainly got an odd look

on your face. Did something happen out there?”

His mother’s face appeared in his mind’s eye and

he felt the phantom touch of her fingers on his

cheek.

*If you believe nothing else, believe this: I had

no choice.*

He looked up, relieved to feel the shadow of a

genuine smile on his lips. “Soon, Scully. I

promise. I just need a little time to process

everything.”

The door opened and a nurse stuck her head inside.

“Miss Scully? Dr. George says your time is up. She

wants you back in bed.”

“Huh. She can stand in line.”

Scully cocked a warning eyebrow at Mulder’s nearly

inaudible mutter, wincing when the motion pulled

on tender flesh.

He tipped his head toward the wheelchair parked

beside the bed. “Go get some rest. You look

exhausted.”

She leaned carefully over, lips brushing, then

clinging to his until the waiting nurse politely

cleared her throat. Scully pulled away, a

lingering hand cupping his jaw.

“Are you all right?”

The fist around his heart, which had begun to

loosen the moment he saw Scully’s face, finally

let go. “Ten minutes ago I’d’ve had to say no. But

now…” Mulder’s lips curved. “Yeah, Scully. I’m

damn near perfect.”

He sank back into the soft pillows, battling heavy

eyelids and smothering a yawn as he watched Scully

climb back into the chair. By the time the nurse

had wheeled her from the room, he was asleep.

EPILOGUE

Georgetown

1:30 AM

The low drone tugged Scully from slumber, vague

memories of pain and helplessness fading as she

registered the comfort and security of her own

bed. She reached one arm behind her, frowning when

her fingertips encountered cool sheets rather than

warm flesh. With an impatient puff of breath, she

eased herself carefully upright and swung her legs

to the floor, snagging her robe from the foot of

the bed. Standing slowly to accommodate aching

muscles and avoid reawakening the now dormant

headache, she slipped the soft terrycloth over her

arms and padded barefoot into the living room.

Flickering blue light from the television

illuminated Mulder, slumped on the sofa, his long

legs stretched out beneath the coffee table and

his casted wrist cradled to his chest. Though his

gaze was fixed on the screen, even at a distance

Scully could see his mind was miles away.

“Hey.” She switched on a small lamp, detouring to

shut off the TV before dropping onto the cushions

and leaning against him.

“Hey.” Mulder’s lips curved and his good arm came

around to pull her more snugly against his side.

“Couldn’t sleep?”

“Hmm.” She nuzzled the soft fabric of his tee

shirt, soaking up his warmth. “Bed got cold.”

He chuffed softly. “Now I know my true place in

this relationship.”

“Yup. Human hot water bottle.”

The sank into silent contentment for a while,

Scully listening to the steady, soothing beat of

his heart while his fingers stroked through her

hair. When it became clear he had no intention of

speaking, she shook off her stupor and sighed.

“Does this mean you’re still processing?”

His fingers faltered a moment before resuming

their previous rhythm. “What are you asking,

Scully?”

“Something happened out in that snowstorm, Mulder.

It’s been there, in your eyes, ever since you woke

up in the hospital. Now, if you need more time,

that’s all right. But you’re not getting off the

hook until you talk to me.”

Another long silence while she stubbornly resisted

the urge to drift back toward sleep. Finally

Mulder’s hand left her hair and came to rest on

her shoulder, fingers curling in a firm grip as if

to reassure himself of her solidity. When he

spoke, his voice was little more than a whisper.

“Do you remember what Skinner told you about how

they found me?”

She frowned, slipping her hand under his tee shirt

to touch the soft, warm skin beneath. “Which part?

That you were three-quarters frozen, or that you’d

nearly wandered away from any possibility of

help?”

“I’d headed in the wrong direction, Scully. I was

very confused, hopelessly turned around, and

definitely not firing on all cylinders.”

“I’m not surprised. Hypothermia alone could

produce such symptoms, and you were concussed on

top of it.”

The fingers tightened and she could have sworn she

felt him shiver. “It was more than that, Scully. I

thought you were dead. After a while, it got

harder and harder to come up with a reason to keep

going.”

She sucked in a sharp breath and lifted her head,

scrutinizing his studiously blank expression.

“What are you saying?”

One shoulder lifted almost imperceptibly. “I’d

given up. Decided to just…let go.”

She tamped down on the flash of anger, the desire

to shake some sense into him and demand that he

never, ever consider such an alternative, no

matter what might occur in the future. “What

happened?”

Silence, then a reply so mumbled she could barely

make out the words, certain she’d misunderstood.

“Mulder?”

“I saw my mother, Scully. And I don’t want to hear

about concussions, hypothermia, and

hallucinations. I saw her, heard her speak. She

was there.”

Okay. If the defensive tone and rigid tension in

his body were any indication, she’d best tread

very lightly across this minefield.

“What did she say?”

The guarded look faded from his eyes, replaced by

a hint of the affection she’d feared Teena had

destroyed along with some childhood photos and her

own life. “She kicked my butt. Told me to stop the

pity party, turn around, and start walking.” He

looked intently at Scully. “She told me to do it

for you, if not for myself. That you wouldn’t want

me to give up.”

Scully raised an eyebrow. “Smart woman.”

She laid her cheek back against Mulder’s chest,

thoughts and emotions swirling, chaotic.

Mulder’s hand returned to the back of her head but

simply rested there. “You think it was all my

imagination, don’t you? That she wasn’t real.” The

question held no condemnation, just an edge of

disappointment.

“I would, except…” She blew out a long breath.

Time to further demolish her reputation as

resident skeptic. “I saw my father, Mulder. The

night he died.”

“You never told me.”

“I never told anyone. Not even Melissa.”

“What happened?”

“He was sitting in that chair.” She gestured at

the wingback on the other side of the coffee

table. “He and Mom had been over for dinner

earlier that evening. I fell asleep on the couch

and when I woke up, there he was. It think he was

trying to tell me something; his lips were moving

but I couldn’t make out the words. Then the phone

rang and it was Mom, calling from the hospital.”

“So, you believe I saw her?”

Scully smoothed her hand over the curve of his

hip, considering. “I believe the people we love

are not lost to us. That they can speak to us, if

we listen with our hearts.”

His body, relaxed back into its boneless sprawl,

told her she’d answered well.

“Thanks, Scully.” A tug on her hair, and then

Mulder was drawing her up until her face was

inches from his own, cheek cupped in his palm.

“But I have to say, I prefer the more direct form

of communication.”

He kissed her then, the long, slow glide of lips

and tongue leaving her body melting and her soul

filled with peace. Pulling back, he touched his

forehead to hers.

“I thought I’d never get to do that again,

Scully.” His voice broke on her name, but he

smiled. “I’m glad I was wrong.”

Eyes burning, she matched his grin. “So am I,

Mulder. More than I can say.” Threading her

fingers through the soft hair at the nape of his

neck, she proceeded to show him.

The End

All Along the Watchtower

TITLE: All Along The Watch-Tower

AUTHOR: Jenna (aka DDIS2Hot / XFMnS4Ever)

FEEDBACK / EMAIL: Worshipped, adored and cuddled!

jennasxffic@lycos.com

SPOILERS: None

CATEGORY: CASEFILE; MSR; MT/SC; ANGST

RATING: PG

DISCLAIMER: Carter/1013/Fox, but you don’t

deserve ’em!

ARCHIVE: Two weeks exclusive with VS10, then

anywhere. Just drop me a line first.

SUMMARY: The ghost of Sequin Island Lighthouse

terrorizes Mulder.

AUTHOR’S NOTES / THANKS: This fic was written for the VS10

“Rainy Day Theme.” A “fishsmacking”

big thanks to the great MT-groupies at

Mulder’s Refuge. You guys are the best!

Special thanks to Obfusc8er and Vickie

Moseley for the beta jobs, and to

Humbuggie for the title suggestion. 😉

More author’s notes at the end.

WEBSITE: http://jennasxffic.tripod.com/

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

Sequin Island Lighthouse

Georgetown, Maine

Thursday, April 4, 2003

11:40 p.m.

The opalescent moonlight sifted through the cloudy sky on the

beach below. “Carson, what are you doing? We could get caught.

This property is off limits. I saw a ‘No Trespassing Sign’ back

there!”

“Oh, come on baby, let’s live a little. Besides, we won’t

get this far north again for a long time,” he said nuzzling her

into the crook of his arm.

As they walked along the beach, they could see the lantern

sweeping across the rough, pounding waves. Suddenly he let her go

and started running. “Race you. Last one there’s a rotten egg.”

“Carson! Where are you going?” she yelled at his retreating

figure.

“Follow me and you’ll find out!” as he dashed off in a

sprint across the grainy, wet sand.

She ran across the beach, following him until they reached the

door of the abandoned lighthouse. Reaching into his backpack, that

carried everything they needed that night, he pulled out a pair of

wire cutters and began to cut the lock on the door. “Carson! We

can’t go in there! What if we get caught in this place?”

“Jaden, baby, it’s going on midnight. There’s nobody around. No

one is

going to catch us doing *anything*,” he purred, raising his

eyebrows in amusement.

The hinges creaked violently as the door was forced open. Before

entering the abandoned lighthouse, Jaden reached down into the

backpack and pulled out the two flashlights she had thankfully

remembered to pack. “Here. You’re going to need this.”

As he clicked the flashlight switch, the darkness was quickly

illuminated and revealed cobwebs strung from the floor to the

ceiling of the grand room. Walking carefully into the room, they

saw old furniture covered by dusty white sheets, including one

tall skinny piece in particular. She pulled back the sheet to

reveal an old upright Baby Grand, which was in fairly good

condition from its looks. In fact, it almost looked new except for

the keys, which looked worn with extreme use. She gently stroked

the keys and the melody coming from them was still in perfect

pitch after all the years that had passed. “Weird,” she breathed.

“I wonder what’s upstairs?” he asked, grabbing her arm and

dragging her along before she had a chance to protest. She forgot

all about the piano as they ascended the stairs, and wondered what

wait for them above. Reaching the lantern room, he cut the chain

and opened the door to walk out onto the balcony overlooking the

deep blue ocean.

“Carson, isn’t this just beautiful?” she cooed, kissing his cheek

softly as he gazed across the crashing waves.

Turning to reach for his lips, she noticed a faint glimpse of

angry in his eyes. “Carson, baby, what is the matter?”

“Nothing,” he stated crossly.

“Did you hear that?” “Did I hear what?” he queried.

“That noise. Listen, there it is again.”

“Jaden, I don’t hear a damn thing.”

“Carson, what the hell is wrong with you? Why are you getting so

upset? Honey, I didn’t do anything,” she said defensively.

“Nothing. Let’s just get out of here.”

As she readied herself to turn and lead them back to the steps, a

sharp blow to her hindlegs caused her to fall forward and tumble

through the unstable balcony railing, down to beach below. A few

seconds passed before her husband realized she was missing.

“Jaden? Honey, where are you? Please answer me. Please?!” As he

looked over the edge of the railing and saw his wife below, he

felt someone shove him from behind and he followed her into the

dark abyss below.

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

Hoover Building

Washington, D.C.

Friday, April 5, 2003

8:15 a.m.

She walked into the office, glancing at his still form. He was

sitting at his desk with his feet propped up on the edge, perusing

the front page section of the Washington Post. She couldn’t see

his face, but the scent he had chosen to wear this morning

permeated her senses and made her weak in the knees. “Good

morning, Mulder,” she stammered, not yet seeing him.

“Oh, good morning Scully,” jerking his feet down off the desk like

he had been caught doing something wrong.

“Is there any…?” she groused, until she looked up and saw he had

dropped the paper. “Mulder, my God…,” she breathed.

“What?” he asked with alarm in his voice.

“Nothing. Never mind,” she smiled slightly and tried to regain her

composure. He quirked his eyebrows and turned to pick up his

coffee cup. “Your cup clean? I’ll bring you back some coffee.”

As he walked out the door, she shook her head in wonderment at how

well they knew each other. They had worked together for many

years, and it was always the same. They could always tell what the

other was thinking. People in the ‘bullpen’ upstairs weren’t far

from the truth when they called them Mr. and Mrs. Spooky. Her

thoughts began to stray back to how he had looked this morning

when she arrived. He had worn his dark blue slacks with his

standard black FBI dress shoes, but what she really focused on was

how he had carelessly strewn his jacket across the back of his

chair and was wearing his sleeves rolled up and had his wire-

rimmed glasses perched upon his nose. She had always been such a

sucker for those glasses.

Minutes had passed, but being lost in her thoughts she didn’t

notice until she felt him shake her arm. “Scully. Hello. Earth to

Scully!”

“Huh..what?” her face a little flushed from her thoughts.

“Where on Earth were you at just now?” he asked grinning.

“Oh, no where Mulder. Did you get my coffee?”

“Yes, and this from Skinner. It’ll make your toes curl,” he said,

handing her the memo and casefile. “He said they put this casefile

together quickly.”

She flipped open the casefile and began to take in the

information. “When did this happen?”

“Skinner said it happened late last night. Someone found the

bodies next to the lighthouse early this morning.”

“Who found them?”, she asked, glancing up from the pictures.

“An older couple who own the land around the lighthouse stumbled

on them this morning. From every indication, it looks as though

Carson and Jaden Clark committed suicide from the way their

bodies were found at the scene.”

“Do I detect a hint of skepticism in your voice, Mulder?” she

teased.

“Well, yes.” he replied sheepishly. As he began to pace about the

room, she became enthralled with studying the photographs of the

scene once more. “Scully, don’t you find it a little too

convenient that they landed exactly as they did from a jump that

high? Not to mention, they had no motive.” he asked, breathing

softly near her ear.

She sucked in a ragged breath and her head jerked toward him,

their lips merely inches apart. “God Mulder, what is *it* with you

today? You scared me to death! Don’t walk up behind me like that.”

“Sorry,” he said, backing slowly away from her. “Skinner had

Kimberly get us plane tickets. He wants us in Maine in the next

few hours. This case could turn into a circus. Especially if the

story I’ve heard gets out.”

She regarded him suspiciously. “What story, Mulder?”

“Well from what I’ve heard, the lighthouse this ‘supposed’ suicide

took place at is haunted.”

“Haunted?” She whipped her head up from the file, giving him an

look of incredulity.

“Yes, haunted,” he stated matter-of-factly. “There was a story

that goes a few years back where one of the lighthouse keeper’s

had recently married. The lighthouse is in an ‘out of the way’

area, so to speak. The story is his wife played the same song

over and over again because it’s all she knew, and the husband

axed her to death and then turned the ax to the piano.”

“Please don’t tell me the locals claim to hear her ghost playing

the piano,” she snorted.

Holding his coffee in one hand, he placed a hand across his heart

and gave a mock smirk. “You know me so well, Scully. It’s almost

scary sometimes how we really know one another.”

“Well, since Skinner is the one to give us this case, I guess we

better head out now,” grabbing her brief case and stuffing the

last two casefiles in. “I’ll wash out our coffee cups while you

gather your stuff,” her shoes clicking softly against the floor on

her way out the door.

A few minutes later, she returned with her lipstick refreshed,

hair smoothed and all put back together. “Ready?”

“Yes, I’ve already called Darlene upstairs and had her call ahead

and requisition us a car at the Portland Bureau.” Placing on his

suit jacket, he walked towards her and lowered his hand to his

accustomed spot low on her back, guiding her towards the door.

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

Portland Field Office

Portland, Maine

Friday, April 5, 2003

10:45 a.m.

Standing from his chair, the young agent shook Mulder’s hand with

a firm grasp. “Hello Agent Mulder, I’m Agent Groader. A.D.

Skinner said you were coming, but I didn’t think you would be here

so soon.” Agent Groader walked around from behind his desk,

staring down the corridor outside his office door.

Getting angry with his apparent disinterest in their quick

response to get to the crime scene, he asked with disdain, “You

waiting for someone, Agent Groader?”

“Uh, sorry. I understood that you were to have a partner with

you. I wouldn’t mind helping you out on this case, but we’re a

little shorthanded. We have some folks out sick this week,” he

meekly stated.

“My partner is parking the car. She will be here in a second.”

He glanced around and found Scully choosing to make her appearance

at that moment. She looked angry, which made her hair framing her

face look much more attractive. He chanced a small smile at the

younger agent. “Here she comes now.”

“Damn, what kind of place is this where you have to park a country

mile?” she huffed. She stopped herself from going any further

when Mulder pointed in the direction of the other person in the

room.

“Scully, this is Agent Groader.”

She offered her hand. “Ah sorry, nice to meet you.”

He took her hand cautiously and gripped it, letting it slide out

of his own quickly. “Yes, hello.” He quickly turned his

attention back to Mulder. He turned to pick up the file from his

desk. “Here’s the case file. I thought you might like some time

to go over the case before you head out to the site. We’ve

set aside a room back here with all the evidence at your disposal

including the pictures of the scene.” He left them to go about

their work.

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

Portland Field Office

Portland, Maine

Friday, April 5, 2003

11:55 a.m.

He looked over at Scully, who had laid her head in the crook of

her arm 30 minutes earlier, worn down from the long night before.

He didn’t have the heart to wake her, but they needed to eat

something and head on to the lighthouse. He softly fingered the

wisp of hair that had covered over her eyes and tucked it behind

her ear.

She stirred slowly at his touch and raised her head, gracing him

with a 1000 watt smile. “Sorry I fell asleep and left you with

all this,” she murmured.

“Ah, that’s okay. You needed to rest after everything that

happened about the Styler case this week.” Sighing, he stood up

and shoved away from the table. “I hate the way we have these

back to back cases without a break.” He paused for a second and

maneuvered until he was standing back behind her at the table.

Reaching his hands out, he began to knead her shoulders and she

sighed in contentment, leaning further back into his skillful

hands. “I don’t mind it so much for me, but I don’t like it all

for you, Scully.”

“Mulder, I’m…”

He spoke with a controlled fury. “Do NOT say that, Scully. This

last case did a number on you, and you know and I know it.”

She jerked away from his hands and twirled in her chair. “Mulder,

I said I am fine. I’m just a little tired.”

He sighed, shaking his head in disgust and moved away thrust the

files in his briefcase. “Let’s go Scully. We need to eat

something before we get to the crime scene.”

Realizing he was miffed, she gathered the autopsy reports and

turned to follow him out the door. The silence between them was

deafening.

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

Sequin Island Lighthouse

Georgetown, Maine

Friday, April 5, 2003

11:40 p.m.

It had been a long day. They had went over the casefiles for

hours, stitching together theories and motives of the three

couples that had committed suicides. There were no apparent

reasons behind their suicides at the lighthouse. To make matters

worse, the drive up the coast had been wrought with palpable

tension between them. She was glad when they finally arrived

at the crime scene, albeit late at night. She didn’t think

she could take much more of the silent treatment from him.

However, due to the most recent high profile suicide at

the lighthouse, that afternoon A.D. Skinner had urged them

to get to the lighthouse no matter the time of day.

They stepped over the fencing that protected the sand barrier from

erosion. She began to walk in step with him, trying to keep up

with his fast pace. “Mulder slow down please! We need to talk.”

He turned and examined her face closely. “About what, Scully? I

think you made it perfectly clear that there is nothing wrong with

you…that you were ‘fine’.” The word rolled off his tongue like

acid.

Her hair fell covering her face, but he noticed the fresh tears as

they began their descent down her face. “I’m sorry,” she

murmured. She reached up to wipe them away, but his hand stopped

hers in mid air.

“No Scully, I’m sorry. I’ve been a real jerk today. If you’re

fine, you know it. ‘M sorry I made you upset. I just worry about

you sometimes,” he declared, wrapping her in his embrace. He

could feel her tears wetting his shirt.

“No, Mulder, you were right. That Styles case did bother me.

Even a little more than I care to admit actually.”

“I don’t care, Scully. That was no excuse for me to get angry

with you.” He palmed each side of her face and delicately kissed

away her tears on each cheek, until he reached her lips. He

waited for permission, but she moved in and captured his lips in

her own time. Suddenly, he let go of her face as he heard a

scream coming from the top of the lighthouse.

Dashing towards the lighthouse, they arrived in time to see

someone falling over the balcony above. He unholstered his weapon

and waved at her to continue around the other side of the

groundskeepers shack. When he arrived at the clearing of the beach

below, there were marks on the sand, but the body was gone.

Oblivious to the crashing waves only a few yards away, he reached

into his pocket and pulled out his miniature Mag-Lite. As he

shined it to the balcony above, his mouth gaped open in shock. An

apparent apparition, an ax in hand, stood 53 above him with an

evil smile. As he looked back down towards the beach, an erriness

surrounded him and it was one like he had never known.

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

Sequin Island Lighthouse

Georgetown, Maine

Friday, April 5, 2003

11:50 p.m.

“Scully! I think you better get over here.”

She followed his muffled voice until she found him gazing down at

the marked sand on the ground.

“Take a look at this.” Her eyes followed the bright beams of his

Mag-Lite down to the sand.

“Mulder, what the hell? Someone couldn’t just fall more than 50

feet and survive. What happened to the body?”

“I don’t know, but how can you explain this?” flashing his lights

down to the marked, grainy sand once more.

“No…no I can’t, Mulder. Let’s go check inside the lighthouse.

Maybe someone pushed off whoever this was.”

They walked to the landing and found the police tape covering the

door. He took a glove from his pocket, opened the door and

entered slowly with his gun aimed and ready. Scully turned toward

the kitchen, taking the safety off her gun. Moving about the

living room, he looked down at the uncovered piano. He smiled

thoughtfully for a moment as he rubbed a gentle finger across the

wood. He remembered how Samantha used to get excited about her

piano lessons. Of course, he became bitter at the thought as soon

as he remembered the night she was taken. His father had left his

mother in charge of calling Mrs. Kalenbreckt, Samantha’s piano

teacher, to break the news that she had lost a student. His

mother had been heartbroken. He noticed the sheet music laying on

top of the piano. He pulled out the bench and sat to play, hoping

that some of his recall would come back from the times that

Samantha had tried to teach him the notes. The tune and pitch was

perfect as if someone had been to adjust it recently. The notes

continued to pour out of him.

Scully made her way to the main bedroom, which was attached

directly to the side of the lighthouse. Searching the entire

bottom floor, she found nothing out of the ordinary. She heard

the haunting sounds of music coming from the living room.

“Mulder? Is that you?” She returned to the living room to find

him sitting at the piano bench, with a far away look in his eyes.

“Mulder? I didn’t know you knew how to play the piano.”

“Yeah, Samantha taught me a little before she…”. He hung his

head in melancholy.

“I’m sorry Mulder,” she reached out to touch his shoulders.

He fled from her touch. He sighed loudly and turned to speak to

her. “I’m okay. Let’s go upstairs and see if there’s anyone here. I

thought I saw someone earlier.”

He led the way to the stairs and she joined in step behind. Once

they reached the top, he entered the lantern room alone, to ensure

no one was there. Once realizing it was safe, he lifted the door

and she climbed into the room with him. They crawled out to the

balcony in case someone was out on the other side. He figured it

was better to be safe, especially after what he had seen earlier.

Immediately sensing no danger, he stood and helped her to her

feet. They holstered their weapons and turned to glance at the

crashing waves below.

She rotated to find him staring at her with the same far away look

as earlier. “Mulder, are you sure you are okay?” she asked,

palming his cheek.

Recoiling away from her touch, he angrily spoke. “Yes, Scully. I

told you I’m fine. I really don’t want to argue with you

tonight. It’s been a long day already. There’s no one here.

Let’s just go back to the motel and get some sleep. Maybe

tomorrow will be a better day.”

“Mulder.” Her face was crestfallen and she turned back toward the

door of the lantern room. She felt something bump her legs out

from under her. Falling over the balcony, she quickly grabbed the

railing at the bottom of the lighthouse tower. Trying to pull up

was useless as her grip became weaker with each passing second.

She yelled for him, but he didn’t respond. A few seconds passed

and she stared up into his face, which had become contorted with

rage.

“Mulder! Help me up. Please, hurry I’m falling!”

Shaking the fog from his mind, he saw her barely hanging by one

hand. “Hang on Scully. Grab my hand!”

“Mulder, I can’t reach it! I can’t reach your hand!”

He stretched a little further and she grabbed on and pulled

herself up his arm. He hoisted her up above the broken railing,

only to loose his foot. She screamed as she saw him land in a

heap 53 feet below.

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

Sequin Island Lighthouse

Georgetown, Maine

Friday, April 5, 2003

11:55 p.m.

She tore down the steps of the lantern room and through the

building, feeling an odd cold chill as she made her way out to his

crumpled form below. “Mulder!” When she reached him, he was

lying on his back, but wasn’t moving. Saltwater began creeping

into the indentation his body had made on impact. In fact, she

detected no breathing sounds at all. She felt for his pulse, but

found that it was very weak. She covered him with her jacket and

proceeded to call for an ambulance.

“Mulder, everything’s going to be okay. I promise you.” She

rubbed his cheek with her finger, and felt the tears as they began

falling slowly down her face.

The cascading moonlight and twinkling stars which had cast a

bright glance on the sand were now absent. She noted dark storm

clouds in the sky, and soon the rain started. She tried to shield

his body from the pelting sheets of the heavy downpour, but to

little avail.

It seemed to take an eternity for the ambulance to arrive, but in

fact, had only been 25 minutes. When the EMT’s arrived, they

began to assess his Injuries quickly. His breathing was even more

shallow than before, if that was possible.

Placing him in the cervical collar and onto the backboard, one EMT

began to ask her questions. The other began to work on getting an

IV started. “Miss, how long has he been like this?”

Scully peered down to her watch and answered him. “Uh, I think

about 25 minutes, maybe a little longer. He’s going to be okay,”

her voice sounding more harsh than she intended.

“Yes Miss, he will be okay. We’re going to do everything we can.

Did you drive or do you want to ride in the ambulance with him?”

When she didn’t answer him immediately, he coaxed her. “Come on.

You can ride to the hospital and I’ll make arrangements for

someone to come back and get your car in the morning.”

They loaded him into the back of the ambulance and helped her up

beside him. The drive back to the hospital was quiet as the EMT

checked him over for injuries. The machines monitoring Mulder

began to beep and he started to flatline.

“Mulder? Damn it, Mulder, please don’t leave me now! You can’t

leave me. I forbid it!” Her grip tightened on his hand.

The EMT began gelling the paddles and yelled, “Clear!” He worked on

Mulder for several minutes. Finally, before pulling up under the

awning of the hospital emergency room, they got a response and a

pulse reading on the monitor.

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

Georgetown Hospital Emergency Room

Georgetown, Maine

Saturday April 6, 2003

12:30 a.m.

After Scully had given his information for admittance, the

receptionist walked her back to the curtained area where he had

been placed.

She began to break down into tears as she saw all the tubes and

lines attached to him.

Softly, the girl spoke to her. “Agent Scully, Dr. McLimore wanted

me to tell you he had to visit another patient but assured me he

would be back in a few minutes to update you on Agent Mulder’s

condition.”

“Thank you. I appreciate it.” She smiled, but it was contrived

for the benefit of the young clerk. The girl took her leave as

Scully returned to his bedside and grabbed his hand, testing the

weight of it, entwining with her own. She laid her head beside

his and the tears, which she thought had been spent, began to fall

once more. She raised her head a few seconds later when she heard

the door open.

“Agent Scully, I’m Dr. McLimore,” he said, offering his hand. She

lightly gripped it, unable to bring herself to do much more.

“Nice to meet you,” she murmured. She glanced down at Mulder’s

still form on the bed. “Can you tell me how serious it is?” she

whispered.

“Well, I’m not going to lie to you, Agent Scully. It doesn’t look

good. The salty ocean water the EMT’s found him in seeped into

his wound. It’s now infected. He was in shock when the EMT’s

brought him in as well as dehydrated.”

“That combination doesn’t bode well for his kidneys. In fact, I

have had to place him on renal dialysis, as his kidneys have

started failing. This, coupled with the fact that he had cardiac

arrest on the way here, I’m amazed he’s still with us. We will

have to take it one day a time. You look wiped out, Agent Scully.

I’ll arrange to have Agent Mulder moved to a semi-private

room where we can observe him around the clock. I can make

arrangements for the nurse to bring you some blankets for the

other bed in his room. You can stay there. We have a nurse’s

shower down the hall that you can borrow. Stay as long as you

need to. He will need you if he comes out of this.” The doctor

patted her hand and a sad smile appeared on his face as he walked

out the door to take care of the task at hand.

She stared at his retreating back and began to get angry. **If**

he comes out of this alive?! Not if, but when. He has come out

of it alive, she thought. If he doesn’t I’d be lost. I can’t

live without him.

She grasped his hand once more, placed a kiss to his temple and

whispered into his ear. “You hear that partner? I’m not leaving

you until you’re well again. You’re stuck with me. I’m sorry you

fell. If I could have just held on a little tighter…” As she

began to cry once more, the only thing she could hear was the

light hum of the ventilator over her sobs.

She awoke to a feeling of fuzzy softness close to her face. She

found herself lying in the bed next to his, their hands still

joined. Funny, I don’t remember getting here, she thought to

herself.

Over the next three days, the Gunmen and A.D. Skinner came to

visit him and to get her away for short periods of time. She

was grateful for the help she received from them. She knew

when the time come, she would need them even more.

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

Georgetown Hospital, Room 216

Georgetown, Maine

Tuesday, April 9, 2003

8:00 a.m.

Three days had come and gone with some improvement in

Mulder’s condition. According to his doctor, the dialysis

had helped in restoring his kidney function. They had been

able to take him off the vent as he started breathing on

his own. Pumping him full of antibiotics had helped the

infection on his back, which was almost completely healed.

However, the doctor had informed her that Mulder wasn’t

quite out of the woods yet. There were still signs of the

dehydration that had zapped his strength and, of course,

the coma which he was still in.

She awoke with a start, hearing him begin to talk. After a

few seconds of sleep-fogged thoughts, she realized he was

awake. “Mulder, you’re awake!” She jumped from the bed

and made her way in the darkness of the room to the door to

call for the nurse. She turned on the light over his

bedside. Reaching for a cloth on the table, she wiped the

sweat which coated his forehead in a

thin sheen.

“No! No, please don’t take her. Please!!!” He thrashed

against the sweat-soaked sheets.

“Shh Mulder, it’s just a dream. Wake up and come back to

me. Come on.”

As soon as he heard her voice, his eyes opened slowly and

took in her smile. Dazed and confused, he spoke roughly as

he sat up and embraced her. “Scully?! Oh God, I thought

they took you again. Please don’t ever leave me.” She felt

his warm tears drop on the back of her shirt.

“Shh…I’m here. No one is taking me anywhere.” She let

go and pulled back to look at him. His eyes had changed

colors. They were almost black. He jerked away from her

and looked suspiciously around the room before turning his gaze

back to her. “Who the hell are you? Get away from me. I know

what you did!” He began to panic, trying to scramble as

far back as the bed would allow him to.

“Mulder? Don’t you recognize me? It’s me, Scully. What

did I do?” she pleaded.

Before he could answer, the doctor and nurse came into the

room and asked her to step outside while they examined him.

Ten minutes passed and Dr. Capsan stepped out the door.

“Well, he seems stable physically other than being tired.

I asked if he would like to see you and he said no. I

think it best under the circumstances if you don’t go back

into the room right now. I’m sorry.” She stood stunned,

staring at the door as she watched the nurse leave the room.

“He wanted to make sure you got your things before you

leave,” the nurse said, handing her purse and coat to her.

She looked up at the nurse and nodded mutely. Confusion

began to set in as she made her way to the front of the

hospital. She learned the valet had already pulled her

car to the curb at the request of the nursing station.

She got behind the wheel, looking into the rearview mirror

as she drove away.

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

Georgetown Hospital, Room 216

Georgetown, Maine

Wednesday, April 10, 2003

9:00 a.m.

The shrill of the phone at her bedside awoke her with a start.

“Hello.”

“Scully where are you? I’m being discharged and I need you to

come pick me up.” he stated in confusion.

“Mulder?” She sat up with a bounce. “Give me 15 minutes and

I’ll be there.” Hanging up the phone she reached for her

clothes, and hurriedly placed them on. She combed her hair,

as she ran out the door.

Once she arrived at the hospital, she went straight to his room

and found him getting his personal belongings together.

“Mulder. Are you ready?”

He looked up and had tears in his eyes. “Why, Scully? Why

weren’t you here?”

She became concerned as she asked him, “Mulder, do you not

remember what happened yesterday?”

“What? All I know is that when I woke up the morning you weren’t

here. It hurt, Scully.” He moved away from her when she tried to

pick up his hand.

She heaved a small breath out. “When you’re ready, I’ll be in the

waiting room.” She turned and walked out the door without looking

back.

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

In the corner of the room, an apparition stood smiling and

reminding itself it’s task was almost accomplished. Almost.

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

On the drive back to the motel, the silence was heavy between them

again, just as it had been a few days before. When they reached

the intersection to go to their motel room, he headed in the

opposite direction.

“Mulder, where are you going?” she asked exasperated.

“I’m going back to that lighthouse Scully. I can’t believe that I

asked you to leave. Something more is going on here. I’m sorry

about that by the way.”

“It’s okay, Mulder. You weren’t yourself,” she said rubbing his

arm.

They reached the lighthouse and walked up to where his body had

fallen. He looked up and saw the apparition once more. “Scully

look up here!”

When she looked up, shock descended on her face. It appeared to

be an apparition pushing someone off the balcony, but no one fell

down in front of them. The woman smiled evilly down at them

before they heard the door to the lantern room close.

Reaching the lighthouse door, they heard the piano playing, but

found no one there. On the piano, laid a note in someone’s

handwriting. He snapped on his latex gloves and picked up the

note which read “You can’t keep him forever, Scully.” He stared

at her, becoming very afraid. He wondered who would know her

name. As his feelings of uneasiness came, she sensed it and they

began gravitating toward one. He grabbed her hand as they walked

out the door of the lighthouse into the pouring rain. They left

with a stronger unity than they had past, but faced an unknown

future.

–The End–

I know…I’m sorry. It’s a very cruel way to leave you hanging,

but I have to know. Did you like it enough for a sequel? If so

please send me feedback at jennasxffic@lycos.com. 😉

Faith Lives

cover

TITLE: Faith Lives
AUTHOR: Daydreamer
RATING: PG-13
CONTENT: Case File, Sk
SPOILERS: VS8-10, especially “Faith
DISTRIBUTION: Written for I-Made-This Productions’ Virtual Season 10 and they have exclusive rights for the first two weeks. After that, anywhere is fine but I’d appreciate it if you’d let me know where. It helps inspire me!
DISCLAIMER: Mulder, Scully and any characters you recognize belong to Chris Carter, 1013 Productions and Fox Studios and have been used without permission. Anyone else belongs to me. No infringement of copyright intended.
SUMMARY: An old enemy reappears and the new person in Skinner’s life is suddenly in danger again.

Author’s Notes: Andrew Nam Thuong is one of the 117

Vietnamese martyrs canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1988.

He was the mayor of his village, lived a holy life, served

as a catechist, and did indeed die of exhaustion and

dehydration on a forced march into exile. In the Catholic

faith, martyrdom is sufficient for canonization. For others

who are proposed for sainthood, such as Mother Theresa,

miracles are required before canonization can occur.

Saints DO NOT work miracles; God works miracles. We believe

that God may work miracles through the intercession of our

friends, the saints. In the case of the Martyrs of Vietnam,

no miracles were documented nor is there any record of

supernatural powers on the part of these saints. Any

reference to such abilities on the part of Saint Andrew

is literary license on my part. Additional references

to surviving isolation and starvation are also literary

license.

Summary: An old enemy reappears and the new person in

Skinner’s life is suddenly in danger again.

clip_image002

Teaser

Federal Prison

Jonesville, Virginia

April 10, 2003, 3:30 pm

It hadn’t been so hard. Prisons are notoriously hard up

for medical help and within the first month of his placement

he was practically running the infirmary. Oh, he still

had to show up for head counts, but that was about it.

After the fourth time the guards had come to get him from

his cell in the middle of the night, it somehow became

easier to just let him sleep on a cot in the infirmary.

And there was a shower in the medical ward as well, so

he no longer had to suffer through the indignity of

communal bathing.

He was just so innocuous looking. A middle-aged man,

a medical doctor who specialized in research. A man who

had pled not guilty, insisting it was his assistant who

had killed those people, conducted those outrageous

experiments. How could a man like him, a man who *revered*

life, possibly done those things he was accused of?

He’d been trying to *save* that boy, hadn’t he?

And such was his will that soon everyone thought that

way.

It must be a mistake.

Tragic mistake.

Dr. Braden’s lawyers would fix it and he would be released.

Everyone *believed* in him.

It was all so easy.

And then the riot broke out.

And the guard was shot.

And it just made perfect sense that Dr. Braden would be

right there, taking care of the injured man, telling the

other guards what to do. Walking right alongside the

dying man, as the others carried.

Right through the gates, right through the many, many

gates, and into the reception area, and out into the

ambulance, talking, working, trying to save a man’s

life.

And then he was through the outside gate, into the

world, riding along in an ambulance of all things,

and he was *free!*

He continued to work on the guard all the way to the

hospital, followed the injured man in as he was wheeled

into the emergency room, and then, in the midst of the

confusion, he donned a white coat, slung a stethoscope

around his neck and walked away.

His hard-soled shoes hit the tile floor, announcing his

presence, announcing each step.

Tap, tap, tap.

I. Am. Back.

Tap, tap, tap.

Be. Very. Afraid.

Tap, tap, tap …

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

Act I

Skinner’s Condo

Crystal City, Virginia

April 11, 2003, 5:20 pm

“You’re sure you want to be here?” Skinner asked again.

He was thrilled when Andrew had accepted his invitation

to spend Spring Break with him, but after Mulder had

teasingly pointed out all the invitations Andrew had turned

down to spend Christmas with him, he was worried that the

boy felt obligated, and he didn’t want that. Apparently,

in order to stay with Skinner over Christmas, Andrew had

turned down a chance to go skiing with a group from the

school, a chance to go to Disney World with a friend,

and a chance to join another friend on a cruise.

Andrew looked up from unpacking and smiled. “I *like*

it here with you, Walter,” he said before he returned

to putting his clothes away.

Skinner looked around the room. It was already becoming

Andrew’s. He’d replaced the off-white bedspread with a

new plaid comforter in bright colors — Andrew’s choice.

Matching curtains hung over the window and the books in

the small bookcase were all things Andrew had brought

on visits and left here. The dresser and closet both

held clothes that Skinner had bought and left there so

that when Andrew came to visit, he wouldn’t have to pack

so much. He’d met the boy in October, so thus far, the

clothing was all winter weight, but for this spring

visit, Skinner had slipped in some new T-shirts and

shorts, and there was a pair of sandals in the closet.

And a light-weight windbreaker.

“Well, I like having you here, Andrew, really I do,

but I don’t want you to feel you have to come …

Especially if you have a better offer.” He tried to

smile as he spoke, but he wasn’t sure he pulled it

off too well.

“Better offer?” Andrew asked, looking at him quizzically.

Skinner looked at the floor. “Mulder, uh, told me you

could have gone skiing over Christmas. Or to Disney

World.”

“Ohhhh,” Andrew said, as if a light had just come on for

him. “Did Mulder also tell you that the ski trip is

arranged by the school? For kids who don’t have anywhere

else to go?”

Skinner looked up, his brow furrowed. “Don’t have anywhere

to go?”

Andrew sat on the bed, then waited patiently until Skinner

joined him. “You’d be amazed, Walter,” he said. “There are

so many lonely kids at that school. They all have more

money than they need, have the best clothes, the best toys,

the ones who can drive have the best cars … But none of

it matters. So many of them are, like, empty … Nothing

inside.”

“I was worried you didn’t tell me about the other invitations

because you were afraid it cost too much,” Skinner said

softly. “I can’t promise I’ll always be able to say ‘yes,’

but I don’t want you afraid to ask.”

The boy sighed again. “You spend too much on me already,

Walter,” he replied, waving at the room. The new computer,

his Christmas gift, sat on the desk, which was also new.

And he had a laptop, as well, to use at school.

“I have it to spend. It’s no big deal,” Skinner said,

his usual gruffness reasserting itself to cover his

discomfort.

“That ski trip — it was for all the kids whose parents

didn’t want them for Christmas. The Brothers arrange it

every year.”

“What kind of parent doesn’t want their kid at Christmas?”

Skinner asked wonderingly.

“Rich ones, apparently,” Andrew responded, his eyes down

as he picked at the edge of the comforter. “Davey’s

folks were in Europe and it was just too much trouble

for him to go over for such a short time. I think

Tim and Justin’s parents were in Europe, too. And

Alfred’s folks were on some adult-only thing, somewhere

out west. Alan’s mom and dad got into a huge fight over

whose turn it was to take him. Mom said it was Dad’s

turn, and Dad swore it was Mom’s turn, and Alan was right

there finding out neither of his parents wanted him.

So he decided to stay at school.”

“That’s — awful!” Skinner exclaimed. “What’s wrong with

those people?”

“Well, the trip to Disney World might have been fun, but

somehow, I didn’t see you letting me take off on my own

for a week with a couple of other guys from the school.”

“What? I thought Mulder said a friend invited you to go

with him?”

“He did. Brian’s parents paid for him to go for a week

and told him he could take a friend, because they didn’t

have time to come see him this year.”

“You’re telling me this fifteen year old kid went to

Florida for a week by himself?” Skinner was appalled.

“Well, no, actually,” Andrew said, repressing a smile,

“Brian’s only fourteen and he did take George with him.

He’s fourteen, too, and his dad had business meetings

he couldn’t get out of, so he couldn’t come see him at

Christmas.”

Skinner reached out and touched Andrew’s shoulder.

“You’re right. I wouldn’t have wanted you to go. Of

course, I’d have never known the trip was unchaperoned

if you hadn’t told me.”

“Yes, you would,” Andrew said smugly as he slid over

to sit next to the big man. Skinner slid his arm over

the slight shoulders. “You’d have found out when you

called Brian’s parents to check on the arrangements.”

“You know me so well, do you?” Skinner said with a

smile.

Andrew laughed. “Yeah, well, oddly enough, I like

knowing someone cares about what happens to me.” He

paused a moment, then added, “They got in trouble.

For stealing. Brother James had to go and get them

because no one could reach their parents.” Andrew

shook his head sadly.

“Probably did it deliberately. Looking for attention.”

Andrew nodded in agreement.

“I can’t believe all these boys are just dumped at this

school. I checked it out — it’s a really good school,

and I would have expected parents wanted their kids

there for that reason.”

“*You* wanted *me* there for that reason,” Andrew said

reasonably. “Lots of other people just want their kids

there because it is convenient.”

“What about the cruise?” Skinner asked curiously. “Was

that unchaperoned as well?”

Andrew shook his head. “No. Edgar’s mom hired some guy

to take him and a few of his friends. She had other plans

but she wanted to make sure her son had a good time.”

“She just hired some guy? What did she know about him?

What kind of checks did she run? How did she know she

could trust him?”

Andrew shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess she’s done it

before, because Edgar didn’t seem fazed by the idea, and

Charlie and Danny both got to go. Their folks were busy

as well.”

“That’s still just — awful.”

“It’s really sad, Walter,” he said softly.

“I’ve always had someone to love me, to care about me.

First Father, now you.” He tilted his head and looked

around the room. “And because of you, I’ve got Mulder

and Dana now, too. And Dana’s whole family.” He looked

up and met Skinner’s eyes. “You’ve gotta know Mrs. Scully

is spoiling me rotten. She comes to visit every couple of

weeks and sends me cookies and brownies all the time. Tara

sends me pictures of Matthew and keeps me up to

date on what’s happening out there. I’ve even gotten a

few postcards from Bill from the ship.”

He sighed. “I mean, I’m so lucky. Most of my family is

*right here* — I get visitors all the time. And I still

get more mail than most of those kids.”

Skinner gave the boy a hug. “We’re glad you’re right

here. I wasn’t about to send you somewhere where I

couldn’t visit regularly.”

“I’m glad, too, Walter,” Andrew said as he leaned into

his guardian for a moment and then rose to resume unpacking.

“But for now, I’m hungry.”

Skinner laughed. “You’re always hungry,” he said in

mock-irritation. “I can’t seem to keep you fed.”

“Still growing, I guess,” the boy mumbled as he leaned

into the closet to put his shoes away. “So,” he said,

turning back to face Skinner, “what is for dinner?”

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

1826 Seven Hills Rd

Falls Church, Virginia

April 11, 2003, 7:10 pm

The door opened and a stunned face looked out at him.

“Braden!” the man gasped. “I thought you were in jail.”

“Prison,” Braden responded shortly. “And I was.” He

pushed his way into the house. “Now I’m not.”

“But — how?” The man stood there, staring stupidly

at the doctor as if waiting for instructions.

“Shut the door, Eli,” Braden said wearily. It was

always so exhausting to work with idiots. But then,

compared to him, *everyone* was an idiot. “I need to

talk to you.”

Eli shut the door.

Just then a voice called out, “Who is it, hon?”

Braden looked at the other man and raised an eyebrow.

“Uh, nobody, Mel.”

Braden’s eyebrow stayed up.

“I mean, just an old colleague — a friend.”

A young woman walked out of the kitchen, a toddler on

her hip. She extended a hand, saying, “Hi, I’m Mel,

Eli’s wife. And this,” she bounced the baby up and

down and smiled when the child giggled, “is Daniel.”

“Daniel?” Braden repeated.

“Daniel Thomas Juarez.”

“He’s lovely,” Braden said, smiling appropriately at

the drooling bundle of smelly baby. He carefully

avoided touching it.

“And you are …” the woman hinted.

“Oh, um, sorry, Mel,” Eli said. “Dr. Nicholas Braden,

Melanie Juarez — my wife.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Mel said, still smiling. “Your

name sounds familiar. Have I heard of you?”

Braden kept the smile plastered on his face and reached

out to grip Eli’s arm. “We worked together for a time,

your husband and I,” he said. “Research.”

“It was a long time ago,” Eli added quickly.

“Can you join us for dinner?” Mel asked. “I love to

hear old war stories from Elian’s bachelor days.”

“He can’t stay,” Eli said shortly, pulling from Braden’s

grasp.

“No, actually, I can’t,” Braden responded. “I have to be

somewhere else shortly. I just needed to check on an old

piece of research with Eli.” He smiled again, dredging up

his most charming and winning ways as he gave a little

semi-bow to the woman.

“I see,” she said, obviously confused by the tension

between her husband and the other man. When Eli moved

to stand by her and placed his arm around her, she came

into his embrace easily.

“Nicholas,” Eli said, “have a seat in the living room.”

He nodded at the room behind them. “Let me just help

Mel get Danny settled and I’ll be right back.

Braden moved to the designated room but didn’t sit. He

stood by the large bay window and stared out over the

neatly manicured lawn. It wasn’t long before Eli was

back.

“What do you want, Braden?” he asked wearily. “I won’t

go back to that kind of life — you have to know that.

I won’t do those things again.”

“It got you a child apparently,” Braden said smugly.

“Danny is adopted,” Eli replied. “I told you when I

left, I wouldn’t be involved in your sick plans anymore.

“You’ll help me now,” Braden said in an ice cold voice,

“or we’ll see how well your Melanie really likes hearing

the old war stories. That is what she called them, isn’t

it?”

“What do you want?” Eli repeated.

“Not much. I need a place I can conduct some studies in

isolation. I need nothing more than a private entrance,

a room or chamber for my subject, and a way to observe.”

“Is your subject willing?”

Braden just looked at him.

“It’s that kid again, isn’t it? The one you were always

talking about.”

“When can you get me a place?”

Eli sighed, then capitulated. “There was a place we used

to use — it’s vacant now. You can rent it. They’d probably

be thrilled to have a tenant again.”

“You rent it,” Braden ordered and Eli nodded.

“I also want you to help me get the boy.”

“No! I won’t be a partner to kidnapping.” Eli turned

and began to pace.

“I see. You’ll help me to secure a place to hold the

boy in complete isolation, but you won’t help me capture

him.” Braden laughed, “That’s a very slippery moral

slope you’re standing on, my friend.”

“I am NOT your friend,” Eli said, his voice filled with

frustration and fury. “And I won’t help you.”

Braden stepped over to him. “Yes. You will. You’ll

make arrangements for the place tomorrow — have the keys

ready for me. And then, rent a van on Monday and meet me

here.” He passed over a slip of paper with an address on

it. “We’ll go to the Smithsonian, get the boy, and you

can take me to my new lab. After that, I’ll leave you

alone. You can go on with your nice little parody of

the American dream, and continue your slide down the

slippery slope of ethics.”

“Don’t ask me to do this, Nicholas,” Eli pleaded.

“Should we call Melanie back in?”

“I hate you. I hate what you did to me — what you made

me become. I hate who you are and what you are.”

Braden cocked his head. “And what am I, Elian?” he asked

softly.

Eli stood with his head down, his chest heaving with

repressed emotion. “You’re evil, Nicholas. Pure evil.”

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

X-Files Office

Washington, DC

April 14, 2003, 8:45 am

“How’d the weekend go?” Mulder asked as he passed a cup of

coffee to his boss.

Skinner was leaning against the desk and he grunted “Thanks,”

as he took a sip of the fragrant morning brew. “Good,” he

said quietly, staring off into space.

“The coffee or the weekend,” Scully asked. When Skinner

didn’t respond, she tried again. “Uh, Sir? How’s Andrew?”

“Oh.” Skinner blinked and looked around, then a smile lit

his face as Scully’s question sunk in. “Oh, he’s great.

Just a great kid.” He turned and looked at Mulder. “You

were wrong, you know.”

Mulder’s brow furrowed. “About what?”

“Christmas. Andrew wanted to be with me.” Skinner couldn’t

keep the note of smugness from his voice.

Mulder looked embarrassed. “I didn’t mean to imply that

he didn’t, Sir. I was just,” he waved his hand in the

air, “letting you know what was going on.” He looked

down, his face still flushed. “Because kids don’t always,

uh, tell their, uh, parents,” his eyes darted up and he

risked a quick peek at Skinner to see how the older man

reacted to being called a parent, but Skinner seemed to

take it in stride, “everything. Sometimes, they’re more

comfortable talking to, uh, someone else.”

“You trying to tell me I’m old, Mulder? Think Andrew can’t

relate to an old man like me?” Skinner teased.

“Not at all!” The words shot out of Mulder’s mouth and the

only way to describe the look on his face was — aghast.

It made Skinner and Scully burst out laughing and it took

a minute before Mulder realized he’d been had, then he

reluctantly joined the laughter. “All right, all right,”

he mumbled good-naturedly as he slid into his seat and

sipped his own coffee. “I was just trying to help.”

Skinner sobered and nodded seriously. “I know that,

Mulder, and I appreciate it.” He turned his head and

included Scully in his thanks. “I appreciate all both

of you have done for the boy. Scully, he tells me your

mother is spoiling him rotten.”

Scully laughed. “Mom loves to bake. Andrew gives her

an outlet since I put her on notice NOT to send anything

else to me.” She patted her stomach. “Too hard to resist.”

“Now she sends stuff to me instead,” Mulder said with a

smile. “Which, I might add, works quite well.”

“Andrew said that ski trip was arranged by the school

for kids who didn’t have anywhere else to go,” Skinner

offered.

“Nowhere to go at Christmas?” Scully asked, appalled.

Mulder just shrugged. “It’s not that unusual. A lot

of boarding schools are just dumping grounds.”

“That’s awful!” Scully cried.

Skinner nodded in agreement. “That’s what I said. And

that trip to Disney you told me about?”

Mulder nodded.

“That was completely unchaperoned. Two fourteen-year-old

boys with too much money, too much freedom, and too little

supervision. And they got in trouble as well. For stealing.”

“Probably the only way they could think of to get their

parents’ attention,” Scully observed.

Skinner nodded. “That’s exactly what I said. But the sad

part is, not even that got the folks to sit up and take

notice. One of the brothers had to go down and get them.”

Skinner sighed softly, then smiled again. “I’m glad

Andrew wanted to be with me.”

“You’re doing a good job of making him feel like he has

a home, Sir,” Scully said.

“He’s an easy kid to care for,” Skinner said, still sipping

the coffee. “No trouble, so appreciative for every little

thing, and so aware of everything. He’s very mature for his

age. None of that usual resentful teenager crap.”

“He’s had an unusual life,” Mulder said. “It probably

makes him appreciate the normal stuff just a little bit

more.”

Scully looked at her partner and noted the tension in

his body as he spoke the seemingly innocuous words. It

was obvious he could relate to not having had the ‘normal

stuff’ during his own teenage years. She went to stand

behind him, her hand resting on his shoulder. “What’s

Andrew doing today?” she asked, as she rubbed Mulder’s

neck.

“Meeting a couple of the boys from school at the Smithsonian.”

At Mulder’s amused look, Skinner raised his hands in defeat.

“Hey, it wasn’t my idea! He really wanted to go.” Skinner

flushed slightly as he admitted, “I’m going over around one,

take them for a late lunch.”

“I hope museums aren’t the only thing on the agenda for the

week,” Mulder said. “The kid needs to have fun, too.”

“Hey!” Scully smacked her partner softly. “Some of us

happen to think museums *are* fun.”

“Maybe,” Mulder said unsurely, “but most of *those* people

aren’t fifteen year old boys.”

Scully raised her hand to smack Mulder again, but Skinner

laughed and said, “Enough, you two. And no, Mulder, museums

aren’t the only thing. I’m taking Friday off and we’re

driving down to King’s Dominion.” The big man looked at

the floor, obviously uncomfortable as he added, “You two

want to come?”

“Love to!” Mulder answered for them both. “Man, I haven’t

been on the Rebel Yell in years! The Anaconda, the Grizzly,

the Shockwave! The new thing is open now, too — the Drop

Zone.” He grinned at Skinner. “Oh, yeah! I’m there!’

Skinner laughed. “Scully?”

She shrugged. “How can I say no to that much enthusiasm?”

She smiled at her partner. “Guess ‘I’m there,’ too!”

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

Act II

Skinner’s Office

Washington, DC

April 14, 2003, 11:30 am

“Skinner,” he barked into the phone. The interruption

irritated him. He was trying to clear his desk so that

when he left to get Andrew and his friends for lunch,

he could surprise them and spend the rest of the day

with them. Maybe they’d like to go to the National Zoo,

or take in a movie.

“This is Henley Anderson, at the Jonesville Prison. Is

this Assistant Director Walter Skinner?”

“Yes. Jonesville Prison.” Skinner’s eyes widened as

he recognized the name. “What happened?” he demanded.

“Well, Sir, Dr. Braden has escaped and you were on the

list of people to be notified if that happened.” The

speaker was obviously unhappy to be making this call.

“Escaped? Braden escaped?” Skinner paused, trying to

take it all in. Braden couldn’t have escaped. Jonesville

was a maximum security prison. Braden had gotten life.

This had to be a mistake. “How?”

Skinner listened with increasing concern as the man

started telling him about the doctor working in the

infirmary and how helpful he had been. What a good

man the doctor seemed to be. How useful he’d been to

everyone — inmates and staff alike. And then he

started talking about the riot, and how unexpected

that had been, and how they’d had to shut off part of

the prison, and the guard had been shot and the doctor

had probably saved his life. As Skinner listened, he

realized he had asked the wrong question. Someone else

could deal with ‘how.’ He needed the answer to a different

question entirely. “Wait. Never mind all that,” he

said, cutting the other man off completely. “When?

That’s what I really need to know. How long ago did this

happen?” Jonesville was almost four hundred miles away,

and if this had only just happened then Andrew should

be safe. Not even Braden could fly, so he was looking

at at least an eight hour trip if he decided to target

the boy again.

“Well, Sir, uh, Thursday.” The man seemed distinctly

uncomfortable answering.

“Thursday!” Skinner exclaimed. “That’s *four* days

ago!” Four days! Skinner could feel his heart rate

increase. Andrew could already be in danger. What

the hell had delayed his notification? “Why am I just

now being notified? I was to be notified *immediately*

if there was *any* change in Braden’s status.” He

pinched the bridge of his nose, fighting the headache

that had risen with this news, then hit a button on his

phone. When Kim stuck her head in the door, he covered

the receiver and said, “Mulder. Scully. My office.

Now.”

She nodded and was gone.

“There was some confusion over whether or not he had

actually escaped,” the hapless man admitted, sounding

increasingly distressed to be the bearer of this news.

“Confusion? How could there be confusion?” Skinner

was fumbling at his bottom desk drawer, the drawer where

he had a copy of the file on Braden. He’d kept it, and

kept it up, ever since he had become Andrew’s guardian.

As long as Braden was alive, Andrew could be in danger,

but Skinner had thought the danger contained with the

man in Jonesville.

“I, uh, didn’t get to that part …” The guard cleared

his throat.

“Jonesville is a maximum security facility. You tell me

how the hell Braden got out,” Skinner demanded.

“He, uh, apparently went out with the ambulance.”

Skinner could hear the discomfort in the other man’s

voice. Out with the ambulance? Skinner tried to work

through it. If there had been a riot, with injuries,

there would have been medical personnel called to the

scene. Maybe Braden was able to take advantage of that

fact. “He commandeered an ambulance?” he asked.

“Well, not really. We, uh sorta let him go along with

them …”

Skinner could not believe the words he was hearing. His

mouth dropped open and he stared at the wall for a long

moment, then said, “You let that madman just go along in

an ambulance? Was he injured?”

“Uh, no. Not him.”

“Was he at least restrained?” Skinner was beginning to

wonder exactly what idiot was running the federal government’s

maximum security facility in Jonesville. He was singularly

unimpressed so far. And his heart rate was still

accelerating.

“Well, uh, again, no.” The guard coughed. “Look here,

Mr. Skinner, you have to understand. Belton was dying

and the Doc, well, he’d been helping everyone so when

he came along, trying to save Belton, no one really thought

anything of it. I mean, the man’s a *doctor,* after

all …” The man’s voice trailed away as if the enormity

of what had occurred was just now sinking in with him.

“The man’s a convicted felon. He killed people in cold

blood. Tortured them. Kidnapped a young boy.” Skinner

shook his head in disgust. “He was in Jonesville to be

punished, not to work on his medical degree.”

“Uh, well, yes, Sir. We see that now. I can assure you,

the matter will be thoroughly investigated.”

“Fat lot of good that will do,” Skinner muttered. “Tell

me why I wasn’t notified sooner.”

“We, uh, thought he was just at the hospital. We, uh,

didn’t want to start a panic.”

“You didn’t want anyone to find out you fucked up.”

Skinner looked up as Mulder and Scully entered, puzzled

looks on their faces. “Well, you did fuck up, and believe

me, the whole world is going to know it. And if anything

happens to Andrew because of your fuck up, there won’t

be a place you can go to hide from me,” he added darkly

before he slammed the phone down.

“What?” Mulder asked.

“Braden’s escaped. Last fucking Thursday!”

“What can we do?” Scully was on her feet, coming around

the desk to lay a comforting hand on Skinner’s arm.

“Go get him for me. Please?” Skinner looked up. “I’d

go myself, but I’ve got to get the wheels turning to get

us jurisdiction in this. I’m not going to deal with

pissant locals who can’t even keep someone in a maximum

security prison.”

“We’re on it. Which museum is he in?”

Skinner shook his head, suddenly at a loss. “We’re

meeting in front of American History at one, but where

the kids are now,” he shrugged, “I just don’t know.”

“Didn’t you get him a cell phone for Christmas?” Scully

asked. “Call him.”

Skinner nodded, fingers dialing. “Andrew?” he said, the

relief in his voice evident. “No, no, nothing’s wrong.

I just thought, uh, that is, I can’t get down there to

pick you up.”

He listened a minute, then shook his head. “No, that’s

okay. I don’t want you to walk. Mulder and Scully are

going to come and get you and Paul and Simon. They’ll

bring you back here. Maybe the boys would like a tour of

the building?”

Skinner smiled at Andrew’s enthusiastic response. “Good.

Well, I can show you guys around, then we can take off and

get something to eat.”

He listened again, frowning. “No, Andrew. It’s not a

problem and you’re not interfering with anything. I’ve

kept my schedule light this week. I *want* to spend time

with you — and your friends. It’s not an inconvenience —

I’m not like those other people who dump their kids and

forget them.”

Mulder looked at Scully. Andrew must have said something

reassuring, because the grim look on Skinner’s face

vanished, replaced by a smile. “All right. You meet

Mulder and Scully inside.”

Apparently Andrew offered to be outside, because Skinner

disagreed. “No, Andrew, no!” He took a deep breath and

lowered his voice. “That’s okay, son. I know Mulder and

Scully appreciate the offer, but I’d rather you stay

inside, please?”

He nodded when he got Andrew’s agreement. “They should be

there in about fifteen minutes.” Skinner cleared his

throat. “Take care, kid. I’ll see you soon.”

Andrew spoke again, and Skinner nodded. “Yeah. Me, too,”

he said as he closed the phone. He stared at it for a

minute, wondering why he found it so hard to tell the boy

he loved him, especially when Andrew said it to him so

frequently. For some reason, he just had trouble with

the actual words and he always ended up with the lame,

‘me, too’ response. He shook his head, then looked up

and said, “Air and Space. I should have known. Where

else would a group of boys go?”

“We’re on it.” Scully looked at her partner. “Shall

we walk?”

He nodded. “It’ll be just as fast and we won’t have to

worry about parking.”

“Just get him back here, please?” Skinner asked as he rose

to walk out with them. “I appreciate this — I really do.”

Mulder nodded and Scully laid her hand on the big man’s

arm again. “We care about him, too, you know.”

He nodded again, watched as they left the office, then

turned back to his secretary. “Kim, this is what we

need to do…”

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

Air and Space Museum

Washington, DC

April 14, 2003, 11:46 am

“Your dad sure does worry about you, Drew,” Simon said

as the boys waited on the steps of the museum.

“He’s not my dad. I told you that,” Andrew replied.

“He’s my guardian.” Andrew cast a long look at the

doors. “We’re supposed to wait inside,” he added.

“He sure acts like a dad,” the boy said wistfully. “Well,

like I guess a dad should act.”

“Your father loves you, Simon,” Andrew said, patting his

friend’s arm.

“Ah, let’s face it, Madden, you’ve got the best family of

any of us, and you’re not even related to any of them.”

Paul couldn’t help the bit of resentment that slipped into

his voice.

Andrew shrugged. “I’m lucky,” he said softly. “And believe

me, I know how lucky I am. But really,” he added, tugging

at Simon’s arm, “we’re supposed to wait inside.”

“That why you never get in trouble? Don’t want to risk

them dumping you?” Simon asked, as he refused to budge.

“Walter would never dump me,” Andrew replied. “I stay out

of trouble because it’s the smart thing.” He shot a look

at his friends. “You should do the same thing.”

Paul snorted but Simon nodded, then looked up to see a

man approaching them. “Hey, Madden, that the guy your

guardian is sending for us?”

Andrew turned in time to find himself face to face

with a gun. “Don’t move, any of you,” the man snarled.

Simon and Paul froze, the color draining from their faces.

Andrew looked at the man and said, “Dr. Braden.”

“Let’s move over there,” Braden said, gesturing with the

gun he kept half concealed with a jacket. The boys

moved obediently to stand by a low wall that bordered

the upper plaza-like entrance to the museum. “Sit,”

he ordered, nodding as Paul and Simon obeyed, but shaking

his head at Andrew. “Not you. You take this.” He passed

over a plastic bag with a cloth inside. “Hold that over

their faces.”

“No,” Andrew said simply.

“It will only put them to sleep. You can either hold that

over their faces, or I will shoot them.”

Andrew blanched at the total lack of concern over the

distinction between sleeping and dying and moved to kneel

by Paul. “I told you we should have waited inside.” He

noted the look of fear in the boy’s eyes. “I’m sorry,”

he whispered, pulling the cloth from the bag and holding it

to the other boy’s face. Within seconds, Paul was slumped

asleep against the wall. Simon was next and he succumbed

as easily. Andrew dropped the bag and the cloth and rose.

“Now,” Braden said, “use that phone on your belt and call

Skinner. Tell him that he’s lost. I’ve got you, and you’re

not getting away from me again.

Andrew opened the phone and pressed a button.

“Walter?” he said in a tremulous voice.

“Andrew! What’s wrong?” Skinner’s worried voice rang from

the cell phone.

“Dr. Braden is here,” the boy said, his voice breaking.

“He made me drug Paul and Simon — they’re by the wall

at the museum.” His breath hitched as he fought to keep

from crying. “I’m sorry we didn’t wait inside, Walter.

I’m sorry!”

“Andrew — Mulder and Scully are coming. Hang on, son!

Just hang on. They’ll be there any second.” He pressed a

button again, and Kim appeared. “I’m calling the locals,

calling the museum — Air and Space, right? Help is coming!”

He nodded when Kim disappeared again and knew that she would

have the area swarming with cops within seconds.

“Just hang on, Andrew,” Skinner said, as he rose and

raced for the door. “I’m coming.”

“Walter,” Andrew said, a sob escaping as Braden twisted

his arm and yanked him forward. “He’s got a gun, Walter.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry …” The boy sobbed again.

“Thanks for everything, Walter, thank you.”

Braden tugged again and Andrew stumbled against the curb

then found himself being tossed into the back of a van.

“I love you, Walter. I wish you really were my dad.”

“Andrew!” The cry rang out in stereo, and Andrew looked

up from the phone to see Mulder running toward him, Scully

following.

“Mulder!” he cried as he was shoved backwards.

“Go!” Braden ordered the driver, and the van shot forward,

but almost immediately slowed due to traffic. “Go, go,

go!” Braden screamed. “Go around them, go over them,

go through them! I don’t care, just go!”

Mulder raced along behind, slowly gaining on them as

the van was hampered by other cars. Braden shoved the boy

again, then handcuffed him to the side of the van. The

phone fell from the boy’s hands and skittered across the

metal flooring. Braden managed to get one door shut, but

then Mulder was there, clinging to the open door as he

struggled to pull himself up and into the vehicle.

Braden kicked out at the agent, but Mulder hung on

stubbornly. The van lurched and the door swung wildly,

but Mulder maintained his grasp.

“What’s happening, Andrew?” Skinner’s voice came through

the phone. “Andrew???”

“Walter!” the boy cried. “Walter!”

“Shut up,” Braden snarled as he pulled a tire iron from

the wheel well. He turned and brought it down heavily

across Mulder’s arm.

The agent screamed in pain, lost his grip and tumbled

backward into the street. The van slammed to a stop

as a car cut them off, and Braden looked around worriedly.

Scully was still racing toward them, but as she reached

Mulder, the traffic cleared enough for the driver to take

off. Braden tossed the phone out, then pulled the second

door shut.

“You’re mine now, Andrew,” he said calmly. “And you’ll never

get away from me again.”

Andrew sniffed as his nose began to run and tears still

fell from his eyes. “Walter will find me,” he said softly,

and Braden slapped him, the boy’s head rocking back from

the violence of the blow. “Walter will find me,” he

insisted stubbornly. “He will.”

Behind the van, Mulder cradled his injured arm and watched

as Scully ran forward to pick up the abandoned phone.

Through the receiver, they could both hear Skinner, still

screaming, “Andrew! Andrew! Andrew!”

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

Act III

Skinner’s Office

Washington, DC

April 14, 2003, 2:30 pm

Skinner’s office had been turned into a command center.

Half a dozen agents sat around his conference table, and

techs were busy setting up additional phone lines and

computers.

Mulder and Scully had finally returned from the hospital.

The good news was his arm wasn’t broken. The bad news

was that his elbow and forearm were extremely swollen

and tender and the whole area was rapidly turning into

a kaleidoscope of purples, blues, and reds. Skinner knew

that before it was healed, yellow and green would be

added to the palette. The arm was currently resting in

a sling and Skinner had seen Scully have to fuss at

her partner twice already for trying to take the arm

out. It would be his right arm.

A young agent appeared, a faxed printout in her hand.

“Truck was rented this morning by James Smithson,

1829 England Ave, right here in DC.” She seemed very

pleased with herself as she announced, “I’ve already

dispatched agents to the address.”

Mulder snorted in disgust. “Don’t bother,” he said.

“It’s an alias.”

The room grew quiet as everyone turned to stare at him.

“Mulder?” Scully asked quietly.

“In 1829, James Smithson, a wealthy English explorer and

collector died and left all his artifacts to the United

States. To establish a museum.”

Some heads were nodding now, but for the benefit of

those that weren’t, Mulder went on. “We know this museum

as the Smithsonian.”

“He thinks he’s being clever,” Skinner said under his

breath, as he waved the report away. “Keep the APB on

the truck, have someone watching the rental place, and

make sure forensics gets first crack at it when the

damn thing turns up.”

He strode through the techs who were still swarming

about the office, until he stood at the head of the

table. “I’ve had copies of all Braden’s info made

for each of you. Edwards — you coordinate with Norfolk.

I want everyone who ever worked with Braden interviewed

and reinterviewed. I want to know if anyone has seen

or heard from him in the last four days. Ferrer — you

do the same thing with the Richmond people. Polski —

you head up the interview and research team here in the

DC area.”

He paused a moment, looking at the grim faces throughout

the room. “Let’s listen to what Mulder has to say, then

you can each give me a list of who you want on your team.

Work together. I don’t have to approve anything — I just

want the final listing.” He turned and looked at his

agent. “Mulder? You ready?”

Mulder nodded and moved to stand beside Skinner. “This

is rough,” he said by way of preamble. “I sketched most

of this out in the ER, but I think we can safely say that

Braden is an egomaniacal psychopath with delusions of

godhood. He has fixated on Andrew Madden and in his own

warped worldview, has decided the boy is critical to

his — Braden’s — success at his self-proclaimed god

status. He has already demonstrated a cold-blooded

willingness to kill without remorse and without provocation.

He has no qualms about taking innocents and will use

whoever or whatever he deems necessary to achieve his

ends.”

Mulder licked his lips and swallowed, looking at Skinner

out of the corner of his eye. The older man stood

immobile, a solid slab of unmoving granite with not the

first emotion cracking his stone face. “Braden tortured

the boy last time, and the Assistant Director. It is

very likely he will resort to this method of persuasion

again. The threat of such acts makes it imperative that

we find the boy before too much more time elapses.”

“Agent Mulder?” an older man in a gray suit called, “do

you think this bastard is working alone?”

Mulder shook his head. “He was in the back of the van

with Andrew. Someone else was driving. So we know he

has at least one accomplice.”

“What exactly is it that Braden wants?” a middle-aged

woman with bright red fingernails asked.

Mulder shot a look at Skinner and watched as the AD

stirred and prepared to answer. “Braden is convinced

that Andrew is a clone of a long dead saint. And he

believes Andrew has the ability to work miracles.”

“Miracles?” the woman laughed. “The man is nuts.”

Mulder, Scully, and Skinner exchanged glances. Now

was not the time to go into their own experiences with

Andrew. “I think we have established that, Agent Farrow,”

Skinner said quietly. “And unless there are any other

questions …” He paused, but the room remained silent.

“Then let’s get to it. Whatever resources you need, you

come to me. I’ll see to it you have it.” He paused

again, taking his glasses off and holding them loosely

in his right hand. He dropped his head and his left

hand came up and rubbed his eyes, then settled on the

bridge of his nose. The room remained silent while he

replaced his glasses and slowly swept the room with his

stony gaze. “This boy is my ward. My son. I want him

found. Get out there and make it happen.”

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

Hoover Building

Washington, DC

April 14, 2003, 3:00 pm

At three o’clock, the team leaders had presented him

with their team listings. Edwards and Ferrer had left

to set up conference calls with their people in Norfolk

and Richmond respectively, and Polski had his team

assembled in another conference room two floors down.

At four o’clock, he’d met with the Director and managed

to give a halfway coherent briefing. He’d been given

a tremendous amount of autonomy in this, but Mueller

had made it clear it needed to be by the book. By allowing

Skinner to not only stay involved, but in charge, he was

violating policy on how to handle family involved

incidents, and Mueller wasn’t about to let the case

fail because of Skinner’s involvement.

Skinner had dutifully responded with ‘yes, sir’ and ‘no,

sir’ as appropriate, had added the requisite ‘thank you,

sir,’ at the requisite times, and was, quite frankly

amazed he’d gotten out of the meeting without punching

something or someone. But he’d made it and gotten back

to his office in time to field a phone call from Jonesville,

the Warden this time. It had been all political apologies,

and Skinner had hung up in disgust.

At five o’clock, the truck was found. It had been abandoned

on the Georgetown campus and a zealous campus cop who aspired

to greater things connected it with the APB he’d heard about

on his police scanner. Skinner had gone with Mulder and

Scully to take a look. There was a body in the back — a

man with no identification who had been shot through the

back of the head. The handcuffs that had secured Andrew

to the van’s wall still dangled from their hook and he

could see the traces of blood that coated the thin metal

bands. It had taken every bit of his strength not to

pound the hell out of the van wall.

Instead, he had crawled out with exaggerated care, and

stood on the pavement while Scully completed her initial

examination. Mulder joined him.

“Braden killed him,” the younger man said.

Skinner nodded. “He didn’t need him anymore.” He turned

to face Mulder, his eyes haunted. “Oh, God! What if …

Andrew …” The words would not come, but Mulder seemed

to understand and he reached out and gripped Skinner’s

arm tightly.

“He *needs* Andrew. He’s not going to kill him. He

sees Andrew as the culmination of his life’s work and

he is convinced he can bend the boy to his will.”

Mulder took a deep breath and sighed. “It may not be

pleasant for Andrew, but Braden won’t kill him.”

Skinner nodded slowly. “Thanks,” he said as Scully

jumped down from the van.

“I’m ready to go. I’ll print him as soon as we get

to the morgue, run it through the database. Cause of

death is pretty clear cut — gunshot to the head —

but I’ll check to make sure he wasn’t drugged first,

and to be sure there isn’t anything else going on we

need to be aware of.” She looked at her watch as two

techs moved into the van behind her and began to prepare

the body for transport. “I should be done in a few hours.”

Skinner nodded and walked away.

Mulder took a moment more to reach out to touch her. “Be

as fast as you can, Scully,” he said quietly. “Skinner’s

hanging on by a very thin thread. And we desperately

need a break.”

“Stay with him, Mulder,” she murmured as she nodded

acknowledgement of his words. “I’ll be back as quick

as I can.”

It was almost seven o’clock by the time he and Mulder

were back at the Hoover. He took phone calls from

Edwards — now in Norfolk — and Ferrer — now in

Richmond — and then had an impromptu meeting with

Polski. Nothing new on any of the fronts.

He checked in with Mueller again, talked to the DC

Metro Police Chief to thank them for their invaluable

assistance in canvassing for people who had seen the

truck, and then made a polite call to the head of

Georgetown’s campus security, reaching him at home to

thank him for the good work of the young cop that

evening.

By the time he was finished, his jaw ached from grinding

his teeth and forcing himself to speak civilly.

His office still swarmed with agents and techs, but Mulder

had refused to leave. At eight o’clock, Skinner looked

over to see Mulder reading Braden’s file, his lower lip

bitten between his teeth as he concentrated and his

arm out of the sling again as he took notes. Skinner

walked over and waited to be acknowledged, but Mulder

never looked up. At length, he cleared his throat and

watched as Mulder blinked owlishly up at him through his

glasses, then slowly lifted a hand to remove them.

“Put your arm back in the sling, Mulder,” he ordered

gruffly.

Mulder shrugged. “I need to make notes.” He winced as

he slowly set the arm back in the sling.

Skinner shook his head. “I’ll assign you a steno. You

can dictate.” He looked around for the bottle of pain

pills he remembered seeing Scully carry in. It was on

the corner of his desk. He read the instructions on the

label, then opened the bottle and shook out two. He laid

them on the desk while he poured a glass of water, then

handed the pills to Mulder. The younger man made a face,

but he threw the pills into his mouth, then accepted the

water and swallowed.

“I hate these things,” he groused.

“Dulls the pain,” Skinner said, wishing it were that

easy to dull the pain he was feeling.

“Dulls everything,” Mulder complained. “I always end

up feeling like my brain is in a fog and nothing is

clear.”

“I’ve got to get out of here,” Skinner said and Mulder

nodded as he began to pick up the papers he’d spread

before him and reassemble the file he’d been working

from.

“Come on down to the basement,” Mulder offered. “It’ll

be quiet and Scully will look for me there first when

she comes back.” He rose, handed the laptop he’d been

working on to the AD, then hefted his files and notes.

When he left, Skinner followed.

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

Undisclosed Location

April 14, 2003, 6:00 pm

Braden looked around the small office area. He hadn’t

had much time to make it comfortable, but that could come

later. For now, he had a table that he could use as a

desk, with a small lamp on it. There was a straight

back chair that would have to do until he could get

something better, and a camp cot, off to one side that

would serve as his bedroom. He’d have preferred a place

with a bathroom in the unit he used, but there hadn’t

been a lot of time and he was lucky Juarez had found

something even this close to his requirements.

He made a few more notes in the log he had begun, then

dropped the pen and watched as it rolled to rest next

to the cell phone. It had been a last minute decision,

to take Eli’s phone, but until he was sure he was safe,

and could run a phone line of his own, he didn’t want

to be completely without a means of communication.

With a barely suppressed laugh of excitement, he rose

and walked to the door of the small room that held his

creation. The boy huddled on the floor as far from the

door as possible, and flinched when Braden entered the

room.

His touch neither rough nor soft, but purely impersonal,

he pulled the child to his feet and held him there.

“Do you know the story of your namesake, Andrew?” Braden

asked conversationally as he stripped the boy to his

underwear.

The room that would hold his project for the next month

was small, completely covered in tile, including the

ceiling. There were no furnishings, no bed, no chair,

no rugs. Just cold, bare tile and a metal drain in the

center of the slightly sloping floor.

Andrew looked up and saw a sprinkler nozzle in the ceiling.

The lighting was bright, but recessed. There were no windows.

The single door had an observation port in it and Andrew

could see there were cameras and probably microphones as

well in the ceiling by the recessed lighting.

“What do you want with me?” the boy asked.

Braden shook his head. “I asked you a question.”

Andrew sighed. “Saint Andrew was a fisherman. He was the

brother of Saint Peter. He’s the patron saint of …”

Braden slapped him. “Do you think you are being clever?”

he snarled.

Andrew shook his head in confusion, his hand coming up

to cradle his cheek.

“Your namesake,” Braden reiterated, “your *father.*”

“I’m just a kid,” Andrew said softly, struggling to

swallow a sob. “And I don’t know who my father is.”

“You are far more than just a kid. Your Andrew, the

one who made you, was once punished by being locked

in a box for a month. No food, no water.”

Andrew looked around at the small room, a sense of panic

threatening to overtake him.

“When he emerged at the end of the thirty days, he was

perfectly fit, perfectly healthy.” He narrowed his eyes

and stared at the boy. “I wonder if the same will be

said of you.”

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

Hoover Gymnasium

Washington, DC

April 14, 2003, 11:48 pm

Scully had returned with very little news. The dead man

was Elian Juarez and agents were on their way to contact

his wife. Traces were being set up on Juarez’s home and

office phone, and on both his and his wife’s cell phones.

They were combing records of property Juarez owned or

rented and were looking for connections with Braden.

But it was late now — businesses were closed and things

would move slowly through the night.

And he couldn’t stand the tension, the waiting, any

longer.

He’d excused himself from his agents, left the refuge

of the X-Files office to come here — his other refuge.

At least here, he could burn off some of the anger that

kept threatening to overtake him.

He started with the weights, knowing how foolish he was

to be here without a spotter, and not caring. He lifted

the bar, felt it drop to his chest and then he began to

push. The monotonous rhythm was oddly soothing and he

lost himself in the simple drive of up and down, up and

down. He pushed until his muscles began to burn, then

pushed past the burn until sweat dripped from his skin

and stung his eyes. And still he pushed on. Up and down,

up and down, up and down. He pushed until the burn turned

to an ache and then the ache to real pain, and still he

pushed on. It was only when he couldn’t push again, when

the heavy bar rested tight against his chest and he had

to reach down to his furthest reserves to lift it off,

it was only then that he stopped.

He lay on the bench for a long moment, panting as he

struggled to bring his breathing under control. When

he could stand, he wiped his face and chest with his

towel, then looked around, trying to decide what to do

next. Normally he’d have worked his legs, but he needed

something more active, more aggressive, and his eyes lit

on the heavy bag off by itself in the corner.

Without bothering to tape his hands, without putting on

gloves, he moved to the large leather sack and began to

pound. His arms began to burn almost immediately, but

he ignored the sensation.

This was better, much better than the weights. This let

him visualize Braden’s laughing face and pound the shit

out of it over and over again.

This let him beat the man for taking Andrew, for daring

to harm that precious child.

This let him work out all his fury, all his anger, all

his aggression, holding the image of Braden before him

and hitting it, beating it, pounding it, smashing it,

taking it apart, taking it to pieces …

Over and over and over, he beat the bag. His knuckles

bruised and then tore, and he was vaguely aware of bloody

streaks on the brown leather.

He continued on.

clip_image004

In his mind’s eyes, Braden fell repeatedly, his nose broken,

his eyes swollen shut, his cheekbone shattered.

Skinner smiled wolfishly as he watched the imaginary Braden

take yet another fall, collapsing in a heap of pulverized

skin.

There was a sound now, a low, monotonous drone that reeked

of suffering and pain, and he broke from his pounding long

enough to look around and try to place its source.

He was vaguely aware of Mulder and Scully standing back,

calling him, but the other noise drowned out their words.

He was staring at them blankly, still trying to place the

odd sound, when his cell phone rang.

He stumbled exhaustedly forward, falling against Mulder

as the other man tried to keep him upright with just one

good arm. Skinner grimaced. Maybe he’d overdone the

workout just a bit.

He looked around. The cell phone was still ringing, but

the other sound was gone, and that was when he realized

it had been him. He had been making that ungodly cry

of unrelieved agony.

He lifted the phone and croaked, “Skinner.”

“Walter?” said a small voice. “Can you come and get me

now?”

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

Act IV

Undisclosed Location

April 15, 2003, 12:30 am

“Andrew!” Skinner made frantic motions — track the

call, contact the phone company, find out where he

is. “Where? Where do I come?”

“I’m in a building, Walter. It’s like a laboratory.”

“Where, Andrew?” Skinner was pacing, one hand running

repeatedly through his sweat-soaked hair. “Where is it?”

“Not sure, exactly, Walter, but it’s got to be in the city.

We didn’t drive real far.” Andrew paused, thinking. “And

Dr. Braden told the other man that real estate like this

was cheap in the city — ’cause of where it was.”

“That’s good, Andrew, real good.” Skinner took a deep

breath. “What kind of phone are you using?”

“A cell phone. Not mine — not the one you got me.

He threw that out the van.” Andrew was quiet for a

minute. “I’m sorry.”

“Hush,” Skinner said gently. “It’s not important. You

are all that matter. Are you loose? Can you get away?

Where’s Braden?”

“I can’t get out, Walter. He’s got me locked in a little

room. I can’t get out of the room. Not really. But Doctor

Braden is gone now. He’ll be back soon, and I have to be

off the phone by then.” The boy’s voice broke. “Please

come get me, Walter. I don’t want to be here anymore.”

“Shhhh, Andrew,” Skinner soothed, “I’m coming. We’re

working with the cell phone company to find out where

you are. I’m coming, kiddo. As soon as I have an address,

I’ll be there. You know that, right?”

Andrew nodded, then realized Skinner couldn’t see the

movement and said, “I know, Walter.” He shivered as

he glanced around the room. “I think it could be some

kind of a warehouse,” he said softly.

“Are you okay, Andrew? Did he hurt you?”

“He hit me a couple of times, that’s all,” Andrew answered

slowly and Skinner’s gut twisted. “I’m a little sore,

but I’m all right.” There was a sound and Andrew jumped,

then said, “He’s coming back, Walter. I have to go now.”

“Andrew! Wait! Can’t you hide? Can’t you run?”

“I have to go,” Andrew repeated. “I’m going to leave the

phone open. Maybe that will help.”

Braden came around the corner and blinked. For a minute

there, it had looked like the boy was standing in the

outer room, by the table he was using for a desk. But —

that was impossible, wasn’t it? Of course, with this boy’s

abilities, nothing was impossible. He moved to the door of

the tiled room, and stared through the observation port.

The boy was safely locked in the room, still huddled in a

corner as far from the door as he could get. He couldn’t

have been at the desk, could he? Braden shook his head

and took a long pull on the coffee he’d just poured, then

stared at the boy again.

This time it would work. This time the boy would break

and he would do as he was told. This time, the saint

would be his.

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

Hoover Building

Washington, DC

April 15, 2003, 1:20 am

“We’ve got an address! The cry echoed in Skinner’s office

as the agent slammed the phone down and held up a piece

of paper triumphantly. “It’s somewhere within a four block

radius down in the warehouse district. I’ve got the

boundaries.”

Skinner grabbed the paper and whirled, snatching his coat

up as he headed out the door. Scully followed him

immediately and Mulder took long enough to tell Polski

to get *everyone* down to the area — FBI, DC Metro, and

anyone else they could borrow from the neighboring cities.

Assured that support would be on the way, he raced after

his partner and his boss and caught them in the parking

garage. Scully was almost forcibly restraining Skinner,

arguing that he needed to wait until Mulder arrived.

“I’m here,” he called out as he jogged up. “Polski’s

getting everyone mobilized. Backup will be right behind

us.” He deftly snagged the keys from Skinner’s hand and

passed them to Scully before climbing into the back.

When Skinner started to protest, Scully cut him off as

she got into the car. “You don’t need to be driving,”

she said, “and you know it.” She stared up at the AD

through the driver’s window, the motor running, and Skinner

bowed to the inevitable and walked around, getting into

the passenger seat. “Polski’s getting the troops in

motion?” he asked as he buckled up and Scully backed

smoothly out of the parking slot.

“Yeah,” Mulder replied. “He’ll have locals meet us there,

and everyone in the Bureau has been scrambled. The whole

area will be crawling with LEOs in no time.”

“Braden’s clever,” Skinner mused. “The machinery was

rigged in Richmond.” He shot a look over his shoulder

at Mulder, remembering the fear that had gripped him

when he thought his agent was dead. “We may need

explosives experts, maybe dogs. And fire and rescue.

I want them standing by.”

Mulder was nodding, his cell phone at his ear and he

began relaying Skinner’s instructions to Polski back at

the Hoover. He finished and then listened, making

‘uh-huh’ noises at intervals, and then said, “All right.

We’ll see you there,” as he hung up.

“Polski says they finally found Juarez’s wife. They

woke her up. She says Braden was there Friday night,

and then Juarez was gone all day Saturday. Should have

been his day off, so she assumed it had something to

do with his visit from Braden, but she didn’t ask

questions.”

“Any word on property?”

“She gave us a list of everything they own — not much.

Just the house they’re living in and a vacation property

in the mountains — about six hours away.”

“What about family?” Skinner asked.

“Juarez was an only child. He came to America from

Cuba when he was twenty. Put himself through school.

The rest of his family is still in Cuba. Her family

is a different story. She’s got 6 brothers and sisters,

over a dozen aunts and uncles, and more cousins than even

I can remember. They all own property. Research is

running it down now — trying to see if any of it could

be in the area we’re heading for.” Mulder growled in

frustration. “Everything’s closed! We’re working on

tracking down owners and property manager numbers —

Polski’s been waking people up all night — but we still

can’t pin down anything definite.” He sighed. “At this

point, we’re going to be relying on a door to door search.”

Skinner nodded. “That’s about what I expected. By nine

this morning, when everything starts opening up, I want

Andrew found and this whole matter put behind us. I’m

not sitting around waiting for the sun to come up!”

The designated four-block area had been cordoned off by

several additional blocks. Much of the area consisted of

vacant and abandoned warehouses, and as the uniforms and

agents slowly worked their way through the buildings,

homeless people were being forced out of the spaces they

had claimed as home.

A DC Metro Police Captain was coordinating local effort,

and Skinner approached him immediately. “I’m AD Skinner,”

he said, his hand extended.

The man took his hand in a firm grasp and shook. “It’s

your boy, then,” he said sympathetically.

“Yeah,” Skinner agreed. “Give me an area. I’m going in

with my agents.”

“Is that such a good idea?” the captain asked.

“Give me an area,” Skinner growled, “or I’ll just get

started on my own.”

The captain studied him for a moment, noting the

resolution in his face, then nodded. “Guess I’d be the

same way if it was my kid,” he muttered, turning to

point to a map he had laid out on a car hood. “Three

blocks in,” he said, pointing. “An old warehouse that

has been turned into office space. The building itself

is huge — four stories, takes up half a city block —

and there must be hundred little cubbyhole offices

on each floor. We haven’t started there yet.” He

looked up at Skinner. “You and your people want to take

that one?”

Skinner nodded. “Thanks.”

The captain handed him a radio. “It’s already tuned to

the frequency we’re using. Just check in regularly —

every half hour.” He looked at his watch. “First check

at 2:25. Got it?”

Skinned nodded again. “You’ve got a good plan in place.

You run the search organization.” He gave the man a

tight smile. “I’ll tell the rest of my people to

report to you. Keep it organized — but let’s find

my boy.”

“Yes, Sir,” the man said, his hand coming out again.

“I’m Mason — Ephraim Mason.”

“Nice work, Mason,” Skinner said, shaking hands one

more time before he turned and walked away.

He rejoined Mulder and Scully, told them where they

were going, and began walking. Mulder called Polski

again, relaying Skinner’s latest instructions to check

in with Captain Mason for search assignments. There

was a tense moment when he thought the other man was

going to fight for control, but Polski bit it back and

merely said, “Fine. If that’s what the AD wants.”

“It is,” Mulder said with finality, closing the phone.

All around them as they walked toward their building,

they could see law enforcement officials working their

own assigned territory. Shadows were visible through

broken windows as people worked methodically through

the buildings, seeking any sign of Braden or Andrew.

Andrew had called from this area — he had to be here

somewhere. It was just a matter of finding him now.

And Skinner worried that so many cops, so much activity

was going to attract Braden’s attention, make the man

panic and try to move the boy. But they had no choice.

There was too much territory to cover to mount anything

close to a covert assault. Blanketing the area with

cops and FBI agents, so many that Braden wouldn’t stand

a chance of escape, was the best way to force the man

into the open. He’d already made it clear he wouldn’t

kill Andrew — so Skinner didn’t really fear for the

boy’s life. But Braden had hit him, and Skinner didn’t

want the boy to suffer. And with Braden convinced

the boy had healing powers, he couldn’t be sure the

insane doctor wouldn’t do something life-threatening

to the child, and then expect him to heal himself.

Skinner shook his head and increased his pace.

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

Warehouse

Washington, DC

April 15, 2003, 3:18 am.

Braden stared through the window into the tiled room.

The boy was hunched over in the corner, throwing up.

“What’s wrong with you?” he called.

“I feel sick,” Andrew muttered. “My head hurts.”

He looked up and met Braden’s eyes through the window.

“I’m thirsty. Can I have some water?”

“No,” Braden said simply. “You might as well get used

to it. You get nothing — no water, no food — for as

long as it takes for you to realize you have no choice

but to accept your destiny.”

“I don’t have a destiny,” Andrew said plaintively. “I’m

just a kid.”

“Hardly,” Braden said dryly. “I made you with the cells

of a saint, and you carry that power within you.” He

cocked his head, studying the boy as the coughed and then

threw up again. “If you feel so bad, why don’t you heal

yourself?”

“I can’t,” the child sobbed. “Why won’t you believe me

when I tell you I can’t?”

“You can,” Braden insisted. “For that matter, you can

save yourself. If you really wanted to, you could heal

yourself, save yourself, free yourself. You have the

power of miracles within you — you need only use it.”

“Don’t you understand?” Andrew cried. “I can’t work

miracles. Only God can do that. Only God!”

“Then appeal to your God for rescue,” Braden said.

“You just don’t get it, do you?” Andrew said, staring

up at Braden’s cold eyes, visible through the small

window in the door. “Sometimes God works a miracle to

show us something, to teach us, or guide us, or help

us. And sometimes, it is the absence of miracles

that is supposed to help us learn. It is in the absence

that our faith is strongest.”

“This should surely test your faith then, Braden said as

he slammed the cover over the window and walked away.

Andrew was left crying in the corner. He crawled away

from his sickness, fighting the urge to be sick again

that the odor ignited, and settled in the other corner.

“Dear God,” he prayed. “Please don’t let anything happen

to my friends. Take care of Walter and Mulder and Dana.

Don’t let anyone be hurt looking for me, but please — let

them find me soon.”

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

Warehouse

Washington, DC

April 15, 2003, 3:42 am

“Next floor?” Scully asked wearily. Skinner nodded and

they began the climb to the third floor. It was time-

consuming to open every door, and emotionally draining as

each time they had to be geared up to find themselves

vulnerable to attack from whatever was behind the door.

They were all exhausted.

Scully and Skinner had done most of the door opening,

as Mulder’s injured arm made it almost impossible to hold

his weapon. He had the gun out, held loosely in his left

hand and ready to switch to his right if need be, but

there had been no need thus far.

There’d been a number of scares so far, as the building

apparently still had power and there had been lights on

in some of the offices. At first, they’d taken that as

a good sign, but as door after opened door revealed

nothing but dirt and dust and emptiness, the adrenaline

rush of seeing a light began to fade.

They’d made three check-ins with Mason and knew that

every building now had a team assigned to it. No one

had turned up any sign of Andrew or Braden. The only

people found thus far had been far too many homeless who

were losing their rent-free space this night.

They entered the third floor, Skinner high and Scully

low, with Mulder following. It was empty. A single nod

at the first door and they began the routine again —

position on either side of the door, Mulder behind Scully

out to the side a bit. Skinner placed his hand on the

door. A silent count of one, two, three. He pushed the

door inward and he and Scully flowed forward, guns pointing

at an empty room.

Without a word, they pulled back, moved to the next door

and repeated the process. The tiny, cell-like offices

opened off on both sides of a narrow, dark hallway. They

followed it to the end, opening ten doors on each side,

then turned and walked over to the next corridor and began

again. The rooms in this hall were different. They seemed

to consist of small suites. Each door opened into a small

office-like area, but there were two other doors at the

back. One opened into a cramped bathroom, and the other

into a fully tiled area with a drain in the floor.

Skinner shook his head. This was weird. He couldn’t

begin to imagine what this area had been used for. He

looked at Scully, and tilted his head in silent inquiry.

She shrugged. “Medical research, maybe?” she whispered.

“Something with animals that required a place to wash

them down?”

Skinner nodded. “Keep alert.” He jerked his head back

at the door. “Let’s keep going.”

It was the sixth door on the left side. They positioned

themselves as they had a hundred times before tonight.

Mulder hung back, ready to come in if needed. Skinner

and Scully on either side of the door, weapons at the

ready. The silent count. One. Two. Three. Skinner

pushed the door. They rolled inward, eyes scanning,

weapons up and pointed at — Braden!

The doctor had a gun as well, and he screamed a single

“Noooooo!” then sighted on Scully and pulled the trigger.

Mulder was coming through the door, racing for his partner,

knowing he was going to be too late to shove her out of

the way.

Skinner was diving at her as well, flying through the

air with no thought of anything other than taking her out

of the line of fire.

But he, too, realized it was too late. There was nothing

that could be done. The bullet flew true — aimed straight

for her heart.

And then the air seemed to shimmer and time seemed to slow

down. Skinner could actually see the bullet as it made

its way toward Scully. He could feel himself moving

infinitely slowly through the air, literally flying as

his feet were completely off the floor. Mulder had his

gun up, pointing at Braden as he still moved toward

Scully and Skinner saw the moment his agent pulled the

trigger. He could see the little explosion as the

hammer ignited the gunpowder, as the bullet dragged

itself out of the muzzle, as it moved as if through

mud, inching toward Braden.

Skinner could see all of these things, feel all of

these things as clearly as if they were everyday occurrences.

Braden’s cry still hung in the room, the sound eerie

in the time-slowed air. Mulder was screaming as well

now, and his slow-motion words were garbled, unintelligible,

but Skinner knew they were some form of “Not Scully, not

her.”

Into the shimmering air, Andrew suddenly appeared. He

stepped from behind a table and Skinner could feel his

brow furrow as he wondered if the boy had been there all

along. The child moved to stand in front of Scully,

and everything snapped, the bullet again moving faster

than could be seen, slamming into Andrew’s head. Braden

fell, shot through the heart by Mulder. His single cry

pulled all of their attention, and when he looked back,

Scully was in Mulder’s arms, saying, “I’m okay, I’m okay,”

over and over again.

Mulder was completely out of the sling, both arms clutched

his partner to his chest. His gun hung laxly from his

fingers.

Skinner moved to check Braden, confirmed the man was dead,

and retrieved the weapon.

And then it hit him.

Andrew!

The boy had been out here.

He’d been shot.

He looked around frantically but there was no sign of

the child.

“Where’d he go, Sir?” Scully asked, as she looked around

as well.

Skinner shrugged. “You did see him, right?”

“Oh, yeah,” Mulder mumbled. “Not sure even I believe it,

but I saw it.”

Skinner moved forward and flung open the bathroom door,

then the door to the tiled room. “Andrew!” he cried,

racing to the slender body slumped in the corner. “I’m

here, Andrew,” he whispered, reaching out to lift the

boy’s head.

“Oh, shit!”

Exactly in the center of the boy’s head was a single

round hole. The entrance wound of the bullet. It was

then he realized the boy was not breathing.

“Get an ambulance!” he ordered, and then found himself

shoved to the side as Scully pushed in and took over.

From that point on, he could do nothing but wait.

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

Epilogue

Georgetown Memorial Hospital

Washington, DC

April 20, 2003, 05:35 am

“How did he do it?” Mulder asked.

Skinner shrugged. “Who knows? You’ve heard what they

said. There was no way he could have moved after he was

shot, so it had to have happened in the tiled room.”

“I saw him,” Scully said firmly. “He put himself in

front of me. He took that bullet to save my life.”

“I saw him, too, Scully,” Skinner agreed. “I just

don’t have any answers.” He sighed softly. “And now,

I guess we won’t ever get any.”

“Are you sure you don’t want us with you, Sir?” Scully

asked quietly. The three of them stood just outside

the curtained alcove that was Andrew’s room.

Skinner shook his head. “Thank you, but no.”

“Are you sure you want to do this? Are you sure this

is the right decision?”

“He’s gone, Mulder,” Skinner said in a quiet and resigned

voice. “Brain dead. That means dead. The body breathes

because a machine forces it to. The heart beats, but only

reflexively. The spark that made Andrew is gone, and it’s

time to let the body go as well.”

“How long …” Mulder looked away, uncomfortable.

Skinner shrugged. “Maybe two minutes, maybe ten, once

the ventilator is removed. He won’t breathe, but his

heart may keep beating for a little bit longer.”

Mulder held out a pair of Andrew’s sweatpants, and a

T-shirt of his own. “Thought you might like to dress

him before …”

“Thanks,” Skinner said as he accepted the clothes. He

looked at Scully, noticing the white stuffed rabbit she

carried. “What’s that for?”

She blushed. “Easter bunny,” she said, her eyes not

meeting his. “I don’t think Andrew had too many traditional

Easters. I thought …” She blushed again then held the

rabbit out. “I thought he might like this.”

Skinner’s throat tightened. “Thank you — thank you, both,”

he said as he looked at his agents. “Thanks for being

here, and thanks for caring.” Scully’s hand came out and

rested on his arm for a moment, before she dropped it and

moved to stand by Mulder, his arm wrapping around her.

“Do you two want to, uh, say good-bye?”

Mulder looked at Scully and she nodded, then they slipped

behind the curtain. Skinner stood unmoving, the clothes

and stuffed bunny dangling from one hand while the other

was held in a fist at his side. When his friends came out

several minutes later, Scully was crying softly and Mulder’s

eyes were red. She reached out and gave the big man a hug,

pulling him down so she could whisper, “We’ll be right here,

waiting for you.”

He nodded his appreciation, unable to speak. Mulder placed

his hand on Skinner’s shoulder and Skinner reached up,

covering it with his own for a brief moment before he

drew a deep breath and moved behind the curtain.

The chair he had requested was there — facing the window

so that he could see the sun rise. He moved quickly to

the bed, waiting while the nurse removed the catheter,

and then disconnected the IV lines. He slipped the pants

onto Andrew, then watched as the ventilator tube was removed.

He sat the unresisting body up, sliding the T-shirt on

over Andrew’s head, and listened to the silence. The lack

of machine sounds was shockingly loud in the small cubicle.

“It won’t be long,” the nurse said quietly as she moved

to leave. “He’s not in any pain.”

Skinner nodded and then lifted the slight body up and

moved to the chair. He sat and held the child — the

young man — who had so suddenly become such an important

part of his life. Andrew drew a ragged breath as he

was settled against Skinner’s broad chest.

clip_image006

“I’m so sorry, Andrew,” he whispered, his voice thick

and raspy with unshed tears. “I don’t know what you

want me to learn here — I don’t know what God wants.

All I see is you — dying — and I’m helpless. I don’t

know what to do …”

He sat in silence and listened to Andrew struggle to

breathe.

The sun was just becoming visible, rosy pinks and golds

lighting the horizon, as around the world, Christians

celebrated Easter. How ironic, Skinner thought, that on

this day of resurrection, he would be holding a child and

waiting for death.

He shifted the boy, holding him so that the first fingers

of dawn that came through the window would touch his face.

“I love you, Andrew,” he murmured against the child’s

hair. “You were a blessing to me.” He settled back,

still not ready to let go, but unprepared to fight anymore.

Andrew still breathed, and as the minutes passed, it

slowly occurred to Skinner that he wasn’t supposed to

be doing that. They’d told him he wouldn’t breathe.

Without the ventilator, that would be it. And yet,

instead of silent immobility, the small body moved, the

chest rising and falling, each breath becoming smoother,

less painful.

When Andrew shifted in his arms, Skinner jumped. “Andrew?”

he cried, twisting the child in his arms. Large dark

eyes stared back at him.

“Love you, too,” Andrew said in a dry and cracked voice.

” ‘m thirsty.”

“You’re — alive!” The tears that Skinner had been holding

back fell unabashedly now and he kissed the boy’s face.

“Alive!”

Andrew nodded and leaned into Skinner’s arms. “It’s

Easter, Walter. A time for new beginnings.”

End

Swan Lake Part 2

cover (2)

TITLE: SWAN LAKE, Part II

AUTHOR: Windsinger (AKA Sue Esty)

EMAIL: windsinger@aol.com

RATING: PG-13

CATEGORY: X

KEYWORDS: Casefile, MRS, mild Muldertorture

SPOILERS: Through VS9

ARCHIVE: Two weeks exclusively on VS10, then Gossamer and

Ephemeral. Others are fine, though please let me know.

DISCLAIMER: Mulder, Scully and Skinner belong to Chris Carter,

1013 Productions and Fox. No copyright infringement is intended.

SUMMARY: Mulder and Scully travel to Maine to investigate the

story of children who have been lost in a strange, wooded valley and

return changed.

FEEDBACK: Gratefully accepted.

AUTHOR’S NOTES: Many thanks for Suzanne’s infinite

patience. Many thanks to all of the VS Production staff for not

making me carve this down to fit into one part. Many thanks to

the original series (the first few seasons anyway) for continuing

to be such an inspiration and bringing such joy into my life.

And, yes, there really is a play called The Swan (written by

Elizabeth Egloff) which was the initial inspiration for this story.

Chris Lane, the actor who played ‘the swan’, has my continuing

admiration. He is one incredible physical actor (and not bad

sans-clothing either). I wish him well in his career, which my

friends and I continue to follow in the Washington area with

great zeal.

clip_image002

SWAN LAKE, part II

By Windsinger (AKA Sue Esty)

Teaser

Fall, Winter and Spring, a year earlier

In a wood below where the thick branches of two hedges

intertwine, two deer laid face to face in languid repose. One

moves and you see that it is not a deer but a woman. Must have

been a trick of light and shadow, aided by her long, flowing

cloak of deep brown that covers them both. She leans over and

tenderly kisses her companion who also stirs. He is not a deer

either. What was originally taken to be a wide span of antler

must have been that bundle of bare, thorny branches.

Suddenly he jerks awake, stares at the woman with a cry of

horror and then, crab-like, scrambles backwards. Naked, and

beautiful in his nakedness, he is gone, as fleet as a deer but not

with a deer’s grace. . In his terror he doesn’t pick the smoothest

way but blunders on uphill and down. Tearing through the soft,

screening branches of white pine, he doesn’t see the cloaked

figure. Looking behind in fear of pursuit, he runs at full speed

into her embrace.

“Don’t be afraid,” the woman whispers, even as he struggles like

a wild thing in her arms. Swiftly before he can break loose, her

right arm rises. She must have had the ancient blade in her hand

already. “It will be all right. It always has been.” His eyes are

wide open, golden as ingots, as the stroke comes down across

his bare throat deep and sure. The blood flows thick as crimson

cream over his golden skin and onto the ground. She kneels as

he falls, cradling him in her arms until the long legs cease

twitching and death is certain.

His grave is there in the little clearing where his blood and her

tears have darkened the autumn grass. She sits beside the

mound on a little rock, as silent a witness as the red and gold

leaves that fall to cover the broken ground. Night comes — and

day — and night — until the sky is deep in iron-gray clouds. The

cold wind moans. The cold rain flattens the fallen leaves that

are no longer red and gold but brown. It is a blessing when the

soft snow comes to cover the grave and her cloak in a similar

blanket of white. Her tapping toe, barely visible under her

snowy hem, lures the timid doe and the showshoe rabbit, the

mole and the fox. During the cruel blizzards, however, she waits

alone, frozen hands twisting in her lap. After weeks and months

of white, the bitter early rains come to wash away the snow,

leaving a dreary mud. Finally, the sun rises bright and yellow

on a day when she can raise her head to see the geese winging

on the first warm winds from the south.

A single tiny green shoot is the first sign. It struggles from the

grave just over the place where his heart lay cold under the

earth for so long. More bits of green soon rise from the four

corners of the grave. After their first hesitant start they leap up,

desperate for the sun, a month’s growth in twenty beats of her

quickening heart. The grave soon overflows with a dozen

varieties of vines, each with its own green leaves, and more

spring from the fertile earth every moment. She has risen to her

feet, stiff, her back bent as she stares down and down beneath

the wild green.

All at once the mass of vegetation begins to boil, but that is

because the earth beneath is heaving upwards. Swiftly, she

bends down to pull at the thickest vine. At the end of the stem

there follows not roots and damp earth but an arm. She is on her

knees now, clawing with her white fingers at the grasses and the

seedlings and ferns. So full of life are they that they won’t die

no matter where she flings them. They instantly root and thrive.

Her questing fingers find a shoulder. The body itself is moving

now. Powerful as a water buffalo emerging from its sucking pit

of mud, it pulls itself by will and muscle and her aid from the

grave. The head is covered in roots and vines, so is a second

shoulder. A second arm ends in an infant willow tree. The torso

breaks free with her frantic, eager help. Soon the hips follow

and two legs, the toes fringed in fern.

He claws at the green leaves and white roots that obscure where

his mouth should be. She pulls the mass free for him, brushing

the final loose dirt and stray bit of leaf away with her sleeve. As

she plucks the last stems from the corners of his mouth, he takes

a deep, gagging breath. With the first full flow of air his

struggles lessen and he lies back in her arms exhausted. With

great gentleness, she lifts each limb in turn to break off the roots

of stems from the tips of finger and toe. She kisses each one

into healing as she goes. As best as she can, she removes the

last of the dirt from his body with a hem of her cloak. Only now

does she rest, holding him to her breast, a Madonna cradling her

full-grown son.

For a minute, maybe more, he lies quiet, wrapped in the warmth

of her cloak. It is work enough just to breathe. They make a

singular tableau considering that the wood around them

continues to transform in a riot of growing. Bushes bloom with

blossoms. Mighty trees burst forth with tender leaves. Grasses

and flowers rise to meet the sun. Moss in jewel tones of green

spread over rock and barren ground. A fall of her long butter-

yellow hair drifts over his face on a stir of air. As he raises a

hand to brush it away, he meets her hand on the same errand.

He lies so still now that there is not even the movement of

breathing. Eyes as green as emeralds snap open. With an animal

howl of anguish, he tears himself from her arms. He is instantly

away on long longs as strong as the bones of the earth.

Wearily, she rises from the edge of the hallow that now

resembles more garden than grave. To the sky she looks. Her

tear-filled eyes follow the flight of a single swan beating its

great white wings away from her and into the spring-blue sky.

clip_image004

ACT I

Swan Lake, March 23th , noon

Scully tunelessly whistled as she sauntered down from the

porch to spread the towels from her long, warm bath on the

clothesline behind the cottage. She realized with some surprise

that she was in an exceptionally good mood. Maybe it was

because she had slept sinfully late. Here it was nearly noon. But

then after the night she had had, why not? Maybe it was because

the sun was directly overhead now and warm, and the view of

the lake was beautiful. Maybe it was because of the delicious

smell of the cockleberry-scented air. A lot of it had to do with

the fact that she had nothing right now that she really needed to

do. She didn’t even have the little cottage to straighten since it

was neat as pin already. Yes, this was fine; she was content. All

she needed was one person to make the day perfect. He hadn’t

been there when she woke but that wasn’t unusual.

But there he was. As she came out from behind the hanging

towels, she saw him. He was just standing there where the trail

he had taken the day before ran under the trees. She gave him a

slow, sexy smile of greeting, then felt it sag. Something was

wrong. He leaned heavily on a stick. When he tried to take a

step he nearly fell.

Running to him, she automatically moved to support him. How

had he gotten so dirty in such a short time?

“Mulder, what happened to you?”

“Considering how long I’ve been gone,” he growled, “it took

you long enough to wonder.” Clearly, this was not a good time

to ask questions.

“Let’s get you into the house and I’ll take a look at that leg. At

least what happened to that?”

“Got rolled by a stag if you must know.”

Because there was no room for her to stand at his side, he had to

manage the two steps onto the porch and into the kitchen by

himself. His eyes fell on the refrigerator. “Food first,

examination later.”

She cringed as his filthy hands touched the appliance’s sparkling

surface.

He had the bread and the lunchmeat out in two reaches of his

long arms. He was gobbling the first sandwich even as he made

the second and third. Swallowing the first bite, he sighed.

“Ecstasy.”

“Mulder, that’s white bread and bologna.”

“Whatever.”

She nodded towards the remains of the bowl of the

cockleberries that early that morning she had refilled to the

brim. “At least eat something healthy.”

He startled her by recoiling from the bowl. “Not those! Don’t

you eat them, either! How many have you had?”

Shaken, Scully realized that she had no idea. A quart a least,

probably more, probably a lot more. Her stomach turned

queasily. Maybe there was a reason for Mulder’s choice of

sustenance. “Let’s talk about that later. Bring your lunch and

let’s go into the bedroom so I can take a look at you.”

Still chewing the second sandwich and with the third hanging

limply from his fingertips, he followed her through the drab

little living room. Balancing on one leg, sore shoulder muscles

protesting, he began to remove his jacket. She helped with it

when she saw how much he was obviously hurting.

“Don’t lose that! I had to climb half way up the mountain I fell

down yesterday to get it back. It was freezing this morning.”

So why leave their lovely, warm bed? But she forgot completely

about asking after she began to peel the torn shirt loose from the

multiple splotches of dried blood. Bad as his upper body

looked, she knew where the real problem lay.

“Hip,” she instructed.

“Shower first,” he retorted as he stuffed the last of the soft,

white bread in his mouth, kicked off his boots and dropped his

jeans.

She was still staring at this expanded view of the multi-colored

damage to his body as he disappeared into the small bathroom.

“At least I’ll know what’s dirt and what isn’t,” she mused.

As good as the food was, the shower was better. After soaping

he just stood under the spray, drinking and drinking the cool

water. Why he hadn’t gone for hot water after the night and the

morning he had had he had no idea. He really wasn’t thinking

very clearly at all. There was just this rolling anger in him. It

had gotten him out of the woods despite the pain. Not that he

had had any choice. There had been no search party in the

woods. She hadn’t even noticed he was missing. She hadn’t even

cared enough for that. That hurt.

He didn’t even bother to dry off but walked out into the

bedroom still dripping. “You’re frigid!” she exclaimed at the

touch of his bluish skin. “You washed in COLD water?”

Mulder frowned. He had, and not knowing why made him

angry all over again. “It felt good,” he snapped. “Got a problem

with that!”

She didn’t take the bait. They could argue later. She was too

intent on the network of long red scratches and the blooming

patterns of still-rising bruises. She whistled over the huge red

and purple bruise on his hip. He must have fallen hard. Drug

box open, alternately patting his skin dry and applying

antibacterial ointment to scratches, she realized with some

consternation that she had not felt so ‘aware’, so much herself,

for hours, perhaps not since dinner at the Hutchinson’s. Once his

right side had been dried and tended, Mulder collapsed slowly

onto the bed as if all the energy had drained out of him. At least

she wouldn’t have to argue with him to get him to rest this time.

He was still settling into something approaching a comfortable

position when she realized that there was more wrong with this

picture than his wanting to sleep. There was an unusual amount

of puffy redness around the larger scratches. “Mulder,

something’s not right.”

“You’re telling me,” he grumbled sleepily.

“These scratches look like they’re at least twelve hours old.”

“I know, got them last night.”

“Where? How?”

“When I took my little walk out to the spring, remember?” His

voice faded as exhaustion pulled at him. “And I told you how.

Got toppled by a buck. Spent the night in a freezing, filthy

cave.”

Frantically, she shook him. “No, you didn’t! You were here! We

laid on the rug in front of the fire! We — ”

“Saw the ashes as we walked by,” he mumbled. “Couldn’t have

been much of a fire.”

Bewildered, Scully rocked back onto the bed, the tube of

antiseptic cream dropping from her hand. He was wrong; it had

been a perfect blaze — and it had just gone on and on and she

hadn’t tended it once. She clutched at her partner and found him

cold in more ways than one. Staring around the room and out

the open door into the living room in search of more blankets,

the rose-colored lenses finally dissolved completely from her

eyes.

It took all her strength to rouse him. “The room! The cabin!

Mulder!”

“S-Sorry,” came his slurred voice. “It’s not exactly a dump, but I

had wanted something better for you this time. Woods and all…

Not that you would have cared either way.”

“That’s the point, you idiot! It was nice, it was wonderful! Last

night, this morning. It was perfect!” After dragging all the

blankets she could find onto the bed — they might be warn and

faded but they were warm — she crawled in as well, and

wrapped herself around his chilled body.

“Mulder, please don’t fall asleep again, we need to talk. Who

was here if you weren’t? God, what did I do! Was I dreaming?”

His head lulled limply from side to side. “Don’t know, maybe.

Wasn’t perfect where I was, that’s for sure. Can’t think. Sorry…

Can’t stay wake. Just let me sleep.” He yawned and made one

last effort. “Whatever you do… don’t eat the berries and don’t

leave me again.”

“Again?” she asked, stunned, but he was deeply, deeply asleep.

Confused, she continued to lie there, arms around him, only her

eyes moving rapidly from bedroom to living room. The cabin

was as it had been the first night they had come — functional but

not magical. As she was still wearing all her clothes, she was

soon sweating under the blankets with him, but still she

trembled.

Monday, March 24th

She woke just as the sun dipped below the westernmost

mountain. Her nap had been full of upsetting dreams that she

could no longer remember. At least Mulder’s warm body was

still beside her. Moving carefully so not to wake him, she edged

out of the bed, though from the way he slept a gunshot wouldn’t

have roused him. He had been angry as well as exhausted and it

disturbed her that he continued to scowl even in his sleep.

Restless, she re-read the case notes they had made after talking

with the Hutchinsons, Richard Jameson, and the children. Now

more had happened: Mulder had been attacked and she was —

seeing things? Still pondering and remembering with horror the

white bread and bologna sandwiches Mulder had wolfed down,

she made a chicken and vegetable casserole that would be large

enough to eat off of for several days. If they got busy they

would need something quick. It was not as if they had much

choice. She hadn’t seen even a McDonald’s in Happenstance and

the small coffee shop looked like it closed at dusk, and nights

were still long this far north and this early in the year. She read;

she paced. Finally she forced herself to lie down next to Mulder

again. When he woke, which had to be soon, he’d be burning to

sniff out this mystery from one end of the valley to the other so

she had better get some rest while she could.

It wasn’t until the almost jungle-like chatter of birds woke her

near dawn that she was aware again. Mulder was still sleeping.

Now she really was worried. Despite the chill in the cabin, he’d

pulled the blankets halfway down to his waist. While satisfying

her physician’s eyes that none of the scratches she could see had

become seriously infected and her woman’s eyes that her

handsome lover lived and breathed, Scully became aware of a

fine spray of crumbs caught in the soft hairs of his chest. It

appeared that he had been up in the night and had eaten.

Curious, she wandered into the kitchen to see what kind of mess

he’s left.

She couldn’t believe what she found. Had he invited an army to

supper? All the bread was gone, and the lunchmeat. All but a

tiny corner of the huge casserole had been devoured cold.

Sweeping into the bedroom, she tried to wake him. Stripping

him of blankets displayed his distended stomach. Shouting did

no more good than shaking him. He merely turned over. A cup

of ice cold water from the tap splashed over his face and chest

finally got a kind of groggy, sputtering wakefulness out of him.

“Enough!” she shouted into his ear. “You stagger back here

looking like hell and tell me that you spent the whole night in

the woods, you don’t explain what strange man I slept with, then

you sleep like the dead and eat like a horse. I want to know

what’s going on!”

Dripping, he sat up like a shot. “You slept with _ what _ strange

man!” or at least that was what he intended to say. Half was lost

for moving quickly had aggravated a hundred muscles gone

stiff, one badly bruised hip, and one critically engorged

stomach.

One hand went to his hip, the other to his belly. Both soon flew

to his mouth. Launching himself from the bed with all the grace

of a landed trout, Mulder made it to the small bathroom just to

time. The retching went on for a long time.

“Mulder, do you need any –”

“Out!”

After that Scully didn’t even try to help. She knew that it was

better to keep her distance when Mulder was not actually sick.

It was time to worry when he didn’t fight her. The toilet flushed,

there was a pause, then the faucet came on. The all-too-familiar

splashing, spitting, and gagging sounds followed. Finally,

Mulder’s face, white as paper, appeared in the doorway.

“What man?” he snarled, the shakiness of his words mixing

oddly with his anger.

In exasperation Scully ran slender fingers through her hair. “I

shouldn’t have said that. It must have been a dream, a very vivid

dream. It must have been because he looked like you, felt like

you, but couldn’t have been you if you were in the woods.”

Something crossed her mind, but she visibly shook it away.

“No, couldn’t have been real…”

“Why are you now so certain?” her naked, dripping partner

demanded. When she was clearly reluctant to talk, he leaped

onto the bed and took her shoulders almost painfully in his

hands. His red-rimmed eyes and scowl indicated that his male

pride was not appeased by the fact that the incident might not

have actually happened. The point was, she hadn’t been able to

tell the difference. “Why now are you so certain that it must

have been a dream?”

Scully’s eyes grew wide. Mulder could be forceful, but this

apparition was truly frightening. “At the risk of sounding like a

bad historical romance– because he gave me pleasure, over and

over, but didn’t take any for himself.”

He rocked back stunned. For almost the first time since he had

limped out of the woods the anger was gone from his face.

“And I’ve never done that?” he asked in a small voice.

She blushed, remembering wonderful, sweet times. “Of course

you have, or tried, but I’ve always managed to get you to change

your unselfish little mind.” Her expression turned pensive.

“That’s why I’m sure that it must have been a dream. Because I

didn’t even try. I just — enjoyed myself.” She blushed again.

The images were still there of the white fluttering shirt, the kind

Mulder didn’t own, and of the perfect fire that never went out. It

had been a dream! She was going to ignore the memory in the

very cells of her body that she had recently been so thoroughly

satisfied. Think about something else instead.

“Besides, it’s more than that. This place…” she turned around,

eyes huge as she stared at the serviceable but unexceptional bed

and dresser and the comfortable but tattered couch and chairs

that she could see out in the living room. “It’s all different. I

thought it was so perfect then, so exquisitely furnished, so

clean. The linens on the bed –” Feeling the heat rise in her face,

she abruptly turned her attention from the thread-bare and

rumbled bedclothes. “That whole night and the morning after, it

was like I was in a kind of fog.”

He was now wearing his that’s-why-they-put-the-‘ I ‘-in-FBI

expression. That was good to see. “Like you were drugged? The

berries… You didn’t say, how many did you eat?”

“I don’t know how many I ate that night, but enough to choke a

horse. What’s the problem?”

“Just don’t eat any more!” he snapped, unexpectedly angry

again. “Not a single one.” He shivered again then as his

expressive eyes flickered back and forth back between black

fury to red-rimmed exhaustion. “Sorry, got to take a another

shower. Be careful.”

“Careful of what?” she wondered only half aloud as he moved

like an injured sleepwalker back into the bathroom.

The shower had just started and she was studying her partner’s

discarded clothes for some clues to this craziness when there

came a knock on the cabin door. It was Dr. Hutchinson looking

as round and as kindly and as concerned as a country doctor

should look.

“I didn’t see you around yesterday, I was just wondering –” His

eyes widened as he spied Mulder’s torn and bloody shirt in

Scully’s hand. “Someone have a accident?”

She sighed. “Mulder. He went out night before last following

one of Reena Jameson’s trails and fell down a mountain.”

The older man’s eyes lit with professional interest. “Let me take

a look.” Then with disappointment, “Oh, I forgot, you’re a

physician yourself.”

“A forensic pathologist, so my clients are all dead — all but

Mulder. His hip’s pretty bad. I guess I wouldn’t mind a second

opinion.”

Hutch brightened. “Lead the way.”

They were just entering the bedroom as Mulder emerged from

the shower, limping, stark naked and once more dripping cold

water.

“What the –! Scully!” he growled as he snatched up the closest

blanket to cover himself.

Scully folded her arms and leaned against the door jam. “Dr.

Hutchinson’s going to examine your hip.”

Frowning, but knowing that particular expression on his

partner’s face all too well, Mulder eased himself down on the

bed. Turning to display his left side, he winced as his teeth

came down on a previously bitten lip.

The doctor whistled at the colorful spread of purples and reds

before him. Gently he prodded from waist to knee.

“Impressive.” His patient hissed as blunt fingers hit a

particularly tender spot. “Yes, bet that smarts.”

“Smarts? That’s a highly technical term?”

“Taught in all the best medical schools. What did this? Not a

fall unless you fell some distance and came down on something

hard, but then I would have expected you to have broken it.

Nerve’s pinched or at least enflamed, muscles torn, a dozen

ligaments stretched, but nothing broken here that I can tell. You

should have it X-rayed though.”

Hazel eyes flared. “Now I’ve got two of you!” With

considerable effort he rolled off the bed and reached awkwardly

for his duffel bag and clean clothes. “More X-rays! One of these

days, I’m going to start glowing in the dark.”

“Someone got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning,”

Scully mumbled, “more than once,” but her eyes were more

concerned than her words.

“Morning?” Mulder stared unbelieving at the hands of a cheap

clock, which was ticking away on the nightstand. His eyes then

fixed on the window where golden autumn sunlight lit harvest

gold woods.

“It’s eight a.m.,” he announced bewildered.

“Yes, it is.”

“I came in –”

“About noon yesterday.”

Wearing only briefs and holding his jeans, Mulder stood as

straight as he could, eyes wide. “That’s impossible.”

Scully felt her tension headache rising from its current two

capsule level to a killing three and then some. “Pretty much so,”

she affirmed, “except for your middle-of-the-night raid on the

refrigerator.”

Shock only began to describe the expression on his face.

“Scully, I’m hungry. No, I’m starving.” Without waiting for

comment, he began rifling through the far corners of his duffel

bag.

“You see, Dr. Hutch, Mulder doesn’t generally sleep well, and

especially not while on a case. He doesn’t eat much while on a

case either and he never gorges. He’s never hungry after he’s

sick either and he was sick this morning and lost everything that

he didn’t remember eating anyway.” All this time her partner

was still searching. “Don’t bother looking for your hoard of

power bars,” she told him solemnly. “I found the wrappers in

the trash. And there isn’t anything food-like left in the kitchen

either.”

Still wearing only his briefs, Mulder sagged back onto the bed,

arms wrapped protectively around his abdomen. “It feels like

my stomach is digesting itself.” His pleading eyes went to her

face.

She took a step backwards. “Don’t get any ideas. Cannibalism is

illegal in Maine.”

Dr. Hutch had been listening, fascinated. “There are always

cockleberries,” he suggested trying to be helpful, not knowing

quite how to take these two. “They’re everywhere –”

“No!” the agents proclaimed in unison.

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

With effort and the aid of a stout walking stick that Dr. Hutch

found in one of the cabin’s storage sheds with the camping

gear, Mulder managed to fold himself into the back seat of their

rental car. At least there he could extend his left leg along the

length of the seat. While waiting for Scully he began forking

into a can of stewed tomatoes. He had already finished a small

can of baked beans. Hutch had found a few canned goods in the

same place as the walking stick. When the physician added his

bulk to the passenger seat the car rocked. After a few minutes

Scully slid in behind the wheel, a frown on her face.

“Your swan’s gone,” Mulder intoned from the back seat, a

dribble of tomato juice running down his chin.

She shrugged as she backed the car. “I guess he got better.” She

caught a knowing flicker in a hazel eye through the rear view

mirror. “What? Do you know something about Bill?”

“We’ll get to that later.”

“You didn’t eat him, did you?”

Again that flicker as the fork dipped once more into the can.

“I want to know about the cockleberries,” Hutch inquired.

“I ate the berries when I was out in the woods. Scully assured

me that they weren’t in the same family in strawberries, which I

can’t eat. They really are good. But I did things that night that

only seemed reasonable at the time. I ate the most in the shortest

period of time just before I found the cave. Shortly thereafter, I

had the oddest dreams. My thinking began to go fuzzy only

after I had eaten the berries. After that I stayed clear.”

“In other words, Mulder thinks that taken in quantity they’re

hallucinogenic and in this I’m inclined to agree with him.”

Scully was rewarded for this statement with a warm gaze of

gratitude from her partner.

“You’ll probably find my next theory more difficult to

swallow.” Red eyebrows rose at his reference to food. “Scully,

what have you noticed that’s different about me since the night

we got here?”

Through the mirror, her eyes went to the forkful of limp,

dripping tomatoes. “You mean other than eating anything that’s

not tied down, even canned vegetables, sleeping like the dead,

and being generally foul tempered? Not a thing.”

Before continuing he glared at her but knew that she was only

trying to hide her own rising anxiety. “This county has children

who have gotten lost in the woods and when they return their

personalities are changed. Wait, let me correct that. I reviewed

their case histories again and what their personalities seem to do

is fluctuate. One minute they are their old selves; the next,

someone different. Scully, you just named three idiosyncrasies

that I’ve picked up only since I spent a night in these woods.

Keeping in mind that in this area it seems as if winter is

approaching, what animal has that kind of temperament?”

“Mulder, I don’t –”

Hutch turned his big body around to stare into the back seat.

“Bear?” he mouthed, eyes the size of saucers.

Mulder smiled grimly. “The strangest and most clear of the

dreams that I had in the cave was that a really large, really

smelly, and very furry animal came and breathed into my face

for a long, long time.” He set down the can of tomatoes, his face

pale. “I wanted to stop it, but I couldn’t move. That’s common

enough in dreams but what if it wasn’t a dream? Maybe I

couldn’t move because I was heavily juiced on the berries ”

The big physician’s face was glowing. “That’s amazing. It’s as if

you were given a piece of its spirit. The Native Americans

believe their totem animals bestow similar gifts.”

Scully glared at the big man in the passenger seat. What Mulder

didn’t need in his flights of fancy was a soul mate.

“But it fits, Dr. Scully. It’s fall, at least here it is. Bears bulk up,

sleep heavily, and being bad tempered is generally the nature of

the beast.”

“A little grandiose, though, don’t you think?” Scully quipped.

“Couldn’t be a squirrel, could it? Or a skunk? A mole? Mulder,

this isn’t funny.”

“No, it isn’t; it’s very serious. Do you think I like the idea of

spending the next few weeks blowing up like a blimp and then

spending the winter in a nearly comatose state?” Curiously,

Mulder looked down the collar of his T-shirt at his chest.

“Clearly not a physical change though; no increase in chest

hair.”

“Mulder, stop!”

“At least I could have gotten something useful out of this. So it’s

only a mental or emotional change.”

“What you’re suggesting,” the physician considered, mostly to

himself, “is that the lost children got their new personalities the

same way. By eating the berries and being visited by animals of

their own. That would explain why they’re all different. Some

have turned timid, others vicious, others secretive. But you’re

not a child, Agent Mulder.”

Briefly, Scully took her attention from the gravel road to roll

her eyes heavenward. Her partner didn’t miss her reaction.

Mulder directed his comments to the eager Hutch. “Maybe it

has happened to adults as well, but they have more practice

maintaining the veneer of civilization.”

“Will you both stop!” Scully demanded, clearly ready to

explode. “Neither of you have come up with a ‘why’, much less

a ‘how’.”

“I’m well aware that this is wilder than even my usual theories.

It began to take shape while I was taking my second shower this

morning. Why _ was _ I using cold water? In the past I’ve

reserved that punishment for calming down certain impulses

when the time wasn’t appropriate. I was using cold water only

because warm water just didn’t feel natural. And then I thought

about all that I ate…” he glared with loathing at the nearly

empty can of tomatoes. “Disgusting.”

“But why?” Scully demanded, wanting, and needing, an answer.

“If I knew, our work would be done here. Now here’s a cultural

leap. Remember the Green Man carvings at Jamesons’s,

especially the Golden Man mask in the workroom that seemed

modeled from life? There was incredible power there; we both

felt it. This particular nature spirit is far more ancient than signs

on pub door or even than the capitals in Romanesque cathedral.

Remember, I said that the Green Man has pre-Christian, pre-

Roman antecedents.”

“So finally we have a connection to Reena Jameson’s

disappearance.”

“Yes, getting to that. She spent a lot of time in the woods

looking for inspiration. All at once her art changes drastically.

She creates the Golden Man. Now was this piece based on a real

person she met out there or did her perceptions change because

she picked up one of these souls? One or both kept luring her

back. What I’m hoping is that this last time she ate too many of

the berries and got herself so lost that she still hasn’t found her

way home. Unfortunately, I doubt that we’re going to find our

solution so simple. I think that we’re going to find that both are

true — that the Golden Man is out there and that he’s somehow

linked to her and this ‘soul’ she’s carrying. Dr. Hutch, she’s your

sister-in-law. Did you notice any changes in her personality in

the days or weeks before her disappearance?”

The older man’s look of alarm was genuine. “I wish I could say.

We didn’t see each often during that time.”

“Maybe her husband noticed something.” Unconsciously,

Mulder had polished off the tomatoes, but he hastily dropped an

unopened can of gray-green peas. “That’s why we are on our

way to talk with Richard Jameson.”

End of Act I

**********

Act II

Swan Lake, March 24th, 11am

The craftsman was in his workshop releasing an ancient amber

violin from the clamps that held it while the glue dried. His eyes

could barely be seen in the shadowed hollows of his face. He

had looked tired before, but this was far worse than tired. “I

really don’t have the time for any more useless questions.”

“This shouldn’t take long,” Scully said gently. “Did your wife

begin walking in the woods more often just before she

disappeared?”

The man’s strong, slender hands paused in their task. “I didn’t

think it worth mentioning. She said that she needed to be one

with the spirit of the wood in order to work but it was more than

that. She couldn’t seem to sit still. She kept hiking over to the

lake. To the untrained eye her work was still excellent, but it

seemed rushed to me.”

From where he paced Mulder inquired suddenly, “Did your wife

have a habit of eating the cockleberries that grow around here?”

The craftsman’s head jerked up in surprise.” I didn’t think

anyone else but Roz and Reena paid attention to those things.

Yes, pints.”

“Our working premise is that they contain a mild

hallucinogenic,” Scully reported. She looked at Hutch. “The

active ingredient must be inactivated by heat as in your wife’s

tea, which is why both Mulder and I were initially misled that

the berries were harmless.”

Jameson was clearly disturbed. “You think these hallucinations

explain her disappearance?” Unconsciously, his hand reached

up to rub the side of his skull above his left ear.

“We believe that there may be a tie in, yes,” Mulder affirmed,

suddenly studying the young husband with an intent expression.

“Besides, restlessness, had she picked up any other unusual

characteristics recently? Was she more secretive? Did her eating

habits change?”

“Timid as a mouse, skittish as a squirrel…” Hutch asked trying

to be helpful.

“Sly as a fox, grumpy as a bear,” Scully muttered nearly under

her breath.

Mulder opened his mouth to offer a grumpy retort of his own

then decided to keep his peace. Scully was actually showing

less resistance to all this than he expected.. She was clearly still

spooked by her own ‘dream’. Publicly, she now denied that a

‘man’ had even come, that the fire had ever burned, that the

cabin had ever seemed ‘perfect’ to her, but he was convinced

that all of those things had occurred. Even before coming to

picturesque Swan Lake, the very thought of any man touching

her against her will — and by such trickery — would have driven

him to violence. Since the coming of his tempestuous little

friend, it wouldn’t take much to push him over the edge into a

murderous rage. At least for now, therefore, he could not think

of it. Dare not think of it. Not and stay sane.

Jameson was looking from one to the other of the agents, deeply

confused by the intensity of emotion that radiated from them

both. Before he could even consider how to answer their

questions, his face suddenly transformed with pain. Bending

nearly double, he pressed the heels of his hands hard against his

skull.

As one, Hutch and Scully asked. “Headache?”

A knock at the door of the shop interrupted any response. It was

Sheriff Abrams, a deputy, and two men in hunting jackets and

carrying rifles. The woman wasn’t an escaped convict, Scully

thought. What did they think they were hunting? Bear? She

shivered and thought she saw Mulder do the same.

“A promise is a promise,” Abrams was telling Richard. “Last

night marked three days since your report and so I’ve declared

Reena Jameson officially missing. The state police have been

informed and eight teams are already out on the trails you

identified based on our earlier discussions.”

Mulder saw Scully start. He knew what she wanted to shout —

‘Call them back!’ — but did they really have the evidence, or the

right, to do that with a woman missing? So far the berries’ effect

had not been fatal. These people also lived in these woods day

after day. They must know the dangers — the normal dangers —

far better than they could.

As if reading her partner’s mind, Scully approached the young

officer. “Sheriff, it’s vital that you instruct your people not to eat

the cockleberries until I have them analyzed.”

“The berries? Oh, don’t go the analysis route. There’s really no

problem. No one I’m sending out will partake, not in any

quantity anyway. Not with guns in hand.”

Scully’s head cocked like that of an alert terrier. “You know

about the berries?”

A shrug. “Sure, we all do.”

“Well, we didn’t!” Hutch howled and his brother-in-law went a

few shades paler.

“Uh, sorry. Guess we all grew up knowin’ about them. ‘Wine on

the Vine’ we call them. Gives you a bit of a buzz, a sense of

well being, one with the trees. No big deal. They’re most potent

around Swan Lake, by the way. But the hunters have an

unwritten code, no indulging during hunting season.”

“And what about your children!” Scully demanded.

“A few won’t hurt them. Some mothers pack them with their

kid’s lunch. Better than Ritalin for the over-active ones.”

Mulder thought that Scully’s eyes were going to roll right out of

her head. “So if these are so wonderful in all possible ways,

why don’t they sell ‘Wine on the Vine’ at your corner upscale

grocery store? Why don’t you have a tourist trade like Atlantic

City?”

Another shrug from the sheriff. “They can’t be cultivated. Lord

knows enough people have tried. So we keep them as our own

local secret otherwise the city folk would strip us bare in one

weekend.”

Which, Mulder thought, certainly was true.

“So don’t you worry about the Blue Bombers and my search

teams,” the sheriff concluded. “I came by, by the way, to see if

there’s anything else Mr. Jameson could think of which would

help in the search.”

The craftsman had not moved since Abrams, in his way, had

confirmed Scully’s warning about the berries. He had the look

of having been shot and not with cupid’s arrows.

Sheriff Aaron looked at the young man with sympathy. “You’re

certain that Reena didn’t catch a bus to Miami?”

“Not so mundane, I fear,” Mulder interrupted, staring directly

into the young husband’s worried and wounded face. “I’m

convinced that we are going to find her in the woods — one way

or the other. To start with, is there a place off one of Reena’s

trails which has a sharp drop off and perhaps a scenic

overlook?”

Scully looked from the miserable young husband to her partner

with a curious expression. Mulder seemed to have gotten very

specific all of a sudden and she was very afraid that she knew

where he had come by this particular leap of logic.

Like a zombie, Jameson led them along a well-used path,

another of the paths, not one of his wife’s favorites but still one

that they both knew well. Refusing both painkillers or to be left

behind, Mulder trailed doggedly at the end of the group. At

several points, the path ran along the edge of an escarpment.

The view each time the path came close to the edge was breath

taking. Up here one might truly wish that they could fly.

A young woman had certainly tried. It was the alert and slowly

moving Mulder, limping along with the aid of Hutch’s walking

stick, who noticed the signs of disturbance on the edge. A

hundred feet below the third overlook on a bolder-strewn field

by a stream lay the rumpled body of Reena Jameson, several

days dead.

clip_image006

A silent, somber group stood at the edge of the cliff and looked

down.

“How did you know?” the sheriff asked suspiciously. He had

directed his question at Mulder, but Jameson interrupted them.

“I just couldn’t find her,” the young craftsman murmured. “I

couldn’t. I tried.”

“Sheriff, can this wait?” Hutch asked, looking with sympathy at

his brother-in-law, “Can’t you see he’s in shock? Richard didn’t

kill her if that’s what you’re wondering. They loved; they loved

each other so much.”

An exceedingly stiff and pensive Mulder rose from where he

was examining the cliff edge. “Could have been an accident. As

I remember, you’ve had a lot rain lately. The edge is soft here

and a section seems to have broken off recently. I wouldn’t be

surprised to find the pieces down there by her body.”

The young husband — the young widower — was silently but

openly weeping. The sheriff studied the man and his gaze was

not unkind. “I’m not one to look for trouble where there isn’t

any. We’ll, of course, do what Agent Mulder suggests and look

closely at the rock and bits down there, even bring in a botanist

and a geologist if we have to, to see if there’s a reasonable

match. And we’ll have to have an autopsy and run a background

check on you and your wife, Mr. Jameson. It’s routine.

Everything’ll probably be okay, but until all the forensics come

back, please don’t leave the county. And, of course, the autopsy

will include an analysis of what she’s eaten. I get the impression

that you and Agent Scully suspect that her being under the

‘influence’ of the berries contributed to this tragedy. That would

shed a new light on our community’s little secret vice. That’s

the last thing we want, but we can take our licks if we have to.

You have to believe me, we’ve had no trouble up till now.”

“What he means,” Scully explained gently to Jameson, “is if

there is a natural drug in the fruit, as we suspect, or even a high

alcohol content, and they find it in quantity in your wife’s

stomach, the coroner will almost certainly rule death by

mischance.” She stared around the woods and its acres of berry

bushes. “And what they’ll do then about these woods, I have no

idea.”

“Likely burn them to the ground,” the sheriff said with

resignation. “Pity.”

It took time to document the scene and gather evidence but they

found a significant chunk of rock and dirt bound in roots from

plants that grew on the cliff edge but not below which seemed

to confirm everyone’s expectations. During the process, Richard

Jameson had wandered back and along the path, alternately

staring over, clutching at this hair, swearing in self-

recrimination and crouching down to weep with his face in his

hands. At last Abrams, his FBI visitors, and Jameson watched

from the overlook as Dr. Hutch and the sheriff’s team below

began their careful removal of the too-familiar black body bag.

Mulder, whose restlessness had increased as the afternoon

progressed, had turned his back on the solemn procession to

watch Jameson, who had suddenly become as twitchy as the

agent. Mulder’s eyes gave nothing away about what he was

thinking, however. Scully had learned long ago to be wary of

that expression.

“We’ll see that Mr. Jameson gets home safely,” Mulder assured

the officer. Abrams put a hand to the brim of his hat in grave

farewell. The remaining three watched as the officer vanished

around a bend in the trail as he headed down to join the solemn

procession they had seen from above.

Scully studied the two men left with her. Mulder was suspicious

about something and Richard certainly didn’t act like a man they

were keeping from following his wife’s body. The young man

had been glancing towards the deeper woods. As soon as the

sheriff was out of sight, he began edging towards a different

path, one that led to Swan Lake.

With three limping steps, Mulder blocked the young man’s

progress. “We need to talk.”

Jameson’s eyes flared with annoyance. The expression was

enhanced by tracks of dried tears on the lean planes of his face.

“These cockleberries,” Mulder inquired, “how many do you eat

in a day? I don’t think that that’s all wood stain under your

fingernails.” The young widower’s hands curled into fists and

for the first time Scully noticed the numerous red scratches on

the backs of his hands that trailed up under the cuff of each

sleeve. Mulder, on the other hand, had clearly seen them before.

“Did you get those in the woods?”

Jameson thrust his hands deep into the pockets of his jeans.

“What do you think?” he snapped. “I’ve been looking for my

wife,” and made an abrupt move to go around the agent. Mulder

reached out to hold him back, but it was Jameson who spoke

first and in warning.

“You should go back to the city, Agent Mulder, and take Agent

Scully with you. You can probably learn to live with what’s in

you, but only as long as you get away from the woods,

especially these woods.”

“I don’t know what you are talking about.”

“Oh, yes you do. As we walked up here, Hutch told me about

your theory, the bear in the cave… and you. You think that the

berries and one of these ‘little souls’ had something to do with

Reena’s death. Just leave it alone.”

Mulder’s jaw was set hard. “If your wife’s death was an

accident, if this animal spirit theory is just some crazy man’s

idea, then what is there is be afraid of?”

“Did you hear me put down your theory? It’s already too late,

that’s the point. Too late for you, too late for me, certainly too

late for Renna.” In a rush, grief seemed to crush the young man

with a terrible force. “It was my fault. I went searching for her, I

saw her from down there.” He looked towards the field below

the cliff on the opposite bank of the stream. “She was up here.

Just standing, swaying and, I think, singing. I called to her.” His

voice broke as he raised his stricken face to Scully. “Why did I

do that? She heard me, saw me… and she smiled. She seemed

truly happy and relieved to see me. Arms raised, she came to

me. Just stepped off the edge… to come to me.”

Scully averted her eyes for a respectful few seconds. That kind

of pain no one needed to see. “So you’ve known all along.”

When she turned back tears were rolling down the young man’s

cheeks again and into his close-cropped beard.

“Not exactly. I took her in my arms. She lasted only a moment.

Long enough to know that she loved me and also that that she

wasn’t quite… herself.” A deep shudder went through the dark-

haired man’s frame. “I must have gone mad. I knew who had

done this to her. I went dashing into the woods to find him, to

kill him, to let him kill me. I didn’t care. That was the day

before you came. Th-things happened in the woods. I can’t

remember what, only when I came back to myself I found that I

couldn’t find this spot again, couldn’t find her. I had begun to

hope that it had all been a nightmare, that if I offered them

enough then maybe they would return her.”

“They?” Mulder asked. His senses were clearly on alert but he

spoke gently in light of the craftsman’s distress.

The widower gave a sad, sad smile of irony. “You know one of

them; you don’t want to know the other.”

In his growing irritation Mulder seemed to grow taller. “But

who are ‘they’?”

“You wouldn’t believe me.”

Frustrated, Mulder drew strength from the amused twinkle in

Scully’s cool gaze. “Agent Scully and I have run into a lot more

‘unbelievable’ stuff than you could possibly imagine. Try us.”

But Jameson wasn’t listening, at least not to the agents. Heels of

his hands came up to press against his temples as if the pain he

had felt in the workroom had returned ten-fold, but there was as

much fear as pain in his distorted features. Something was

coming that frightened him to the core.

Something did. In a matter of seconds, the woods began to

come alive. The transformation began small with a whistling in

the very tops of the trees, but from a rising roar in the distance a

significant wind storm was drawing rapidly closer. Desperately,

Jameson began searching the surrounding forest. His eyes

settled on a cluster of the berry bushes overflowing with purple

globes. He raced to these and began stuffing the fruit in his

mouth. After trading an incredulous look with his partner,

Mulder hobbled as quickly as he could over to where the young

man was frantically eating.

“Jameson, stop!” Mulder ordered, even going so far as to seize

the young man’s arm. “Those are dangerous, remember?”

But Jameson only shook off the restraining hand. “I ha’ to,” he

mumbled, cheeks bulging, and by the expression on his face he

wasn’t enjoying the fruit. He almost gagged on a mouthful but

swallowed. “She’s _ so _ angry.” There were actually tears in

his eyes. “Hoisted on my own petard,” he mumbled even as he

ate, the frenetic pace only slowing slightly as he spoke.

As alert as a hunting dog with the scent of prey in the air,

Mulder tuned into the woods. At the same time the nails of one

hand bore down hard in the palm of the other. “So there is a

‘she'” he breathed, more than a little apprehension mixed with

the awe. “Of course, there would be. Is she coming?” he called

over his shoulder to Jameson. “Did she start this?”

Jameson didn’t answer. He probably hadn’t heard the question.

They were in the center of a full windstorm now. The

movement in the forest was like the heaving breath of an

immense giant, yet the wind came from no fixed direction, only

grew stronger, and stronger. Everything in the woods was in

motion now. Trees swayed as if caught in one great wave after

another. The dry grasses alternately snapped in the gale one

moment and were flattened the next. The air was filled with

stripped leaves and needles that stung. This was more than a

storm; there was violence in the air. Scully reached for her

weapon though seldom had it felt so totally inadequate.

Mulder must have guessed her thought. “Firepower isn’t going

to help!” he called over the roaring. She was surprised that he

spoke at all so intent was he on the bewitched forest. His

expression was open, ready, and a wolf smile was on his face,

as wild and dangerous as the storm. Eyes squinted nearly shut

against the wind, he searched to his right, his left, behind. The

gale whipped at his hair. Where to look when the power was

everywhere?

Scully was not immune to the uncanny menace sweeping

around them. What she felt most strongly, however, was a

nearly overpowering impulse to huddle safely under the thickest

mass of bush and begin gobbling berries like Jameson.

Remembering the distraught young husband, she struggled

against the wind to reach him.

The craftsman was still eating but slower, a dazed expression on

his face. She had to stand between him and his selected bush in

order to get his attention. The intense, enticing aroma of

crushed fruit seemed to be everywhere. “You honestly think that

someone is angry enough at you to start this?” she shouted,

though close as she was she still wasn’t certain that he could

hear over the whipping leaves and clashing branches.

Jameson merely stared at his trembling, purple-stained hands.

No longer stuffing berries, now that the damage was done, his

glazed eyes sought Mulder’s. “You feel it, too. How long do you

think that you can fight against her? You’ve even drawn blood

fighting her.” Mulder had. There was blood on his lip and

smears from the oval-shaped wounds in the palms of both

hands.

At that moment a branch cracked directly above where Mulder

stood. The sound was like a gunshot. He attempted a quick step

away from where the heavy branch was falling, but he had

dropped the stout walking stick and he was stiff from standing

in one place. His bad leg gave way. Hair whipping wildly

around her face, Scully shot across a wild open space to push

him to safely. The heavy branch had barely missed them when

the storm exploded with a deafening new intensity. As the air

filled with noise and flying debris of every kind, they clung to

each other, automatically, shielding their eyes.

As if the last gust had been its last gasp, the wind quickly

dropped to its previous storm-driven levels and then continued

to calm. The agents looked first to each other and then back to

where Jameson had crouched. He was gone. Alarmed, they

turned round and round, searching, but there were too many

shadows under the eerie half-light that had descended with the

storm. Scully retrieved the fallen walking stick and had just

handed it back to her partner when both turned at the sound of

something crashing in the woods nearby. The rustle from the

dead leaves was out of rhythm with the dying storm. Mulder

found the source. Twenty yards from them on a cleared rise

above their heads a magnificent buck stood. He carried an

impressive rack of antlers and a dark ruff ringed his muscular

shoulders. Scully remembered her partner’s muttered story of

his night in the woods. She expected it to stand still as deer will

but this one moved his impossibly slender legs restlessly and

kept tossing his proud head as if trying to rid himself of its

adornment.

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“This is your stag?” she asked, her voice raised over the last of

the wind.

Entranced, Mulder had already taken two limping, cautious

steps towards the animal. “Not just any stag, the King Stag if

I’m not mistaken.”

As if in answer, the buck tossed his head one final time and then

was off in great effortless bounds. With a less elegant toss,

Mulder was after him, only much slower, limping and limping

badly. Exasperated, Scully followed. At least this time he

couldn’t outrun her.

They hadn’t gone more than a few yards, however, when a huge

white object suddenly burst from the trees, aiming at their

heads. Mulder ducked and, off balance, fell awkwardly. As he

writhed in pain in the long, dry weeds, Scully knelt at his side.

One hand hovered protectively over her partner. In the other she

still held her service weapon though she didn’t remember why

she had bothered to draw it to start with. There never had been

anything to aim at.

“Speak to me, Mulder.”

” Hurts –” he wheezed. “What do you want me to say?” Then

his eyes widened, no sign of pain any more. Whatever

discomfort he felt had been replaced by something far more

distracting.

Scully knew enough to freeze and follow the direction of

Mulder’s gaze. No movement came from the thick tangle of

bush. Still she saw what he had. Eyes bright in a stray shaft of

the lowering sun were glittering green and alive amidst the dark

green foliage. The owner of those eyes wasn’t trying to hide but

peered out at them like a child playing hide and seek.

End of Act II

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

Act III

Swan Lake, 5pm

“Out!” Scully ordered raising her weapon.

The eyes seemed to leap towards her as the face behind pressed

forward. “Are you sure that’s what you want?” a voice asked, its

smooth tones full of some indeterminate British countryside.

“It’s what the lady said!” Mulder growled. With considerable

effort, he had rolled to his knees and drawn his own weapon and

was doing his best to gain his feet but without success. Using

her extended free arm for support, he managed though the effort

forced out a pair of tears. Despite the pain there was no

mistaking the anger in his face and posture. From experience

Scully knew that this was not a good sign. “We repeat, out!” her

partner ordered.

Their visitor came forward though neither agent could have told

when he fully emerged, so perfectly did he blend with his

surroundings. His skin was the golden brown of the autumn

woods. He was young but no child, tall and lean and almost

exactly Mulder’s height. His light brown hair was thick and wild

and curled like a tangle of vines. On his chin was a fuzzy down.

His peasant shirt and trousers were the color of shadow under

leaf and seemed to be a part of him rather than worn.

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“He’s not an Ent, Scully,” Mulder admonished when she stared.

“I never thought he was. What he is, is Reena’s model for the

Green Man in the workroom.”

“Bingo. We have questions, Mister….?”

The full lips curled in a faint smile. “You are asking for a

name?”

“They’re handy for filling out arrest warrants,” Mulder replied.

His hazel eyes had that predator gleam as if he’d been following

a vague scent and just made visual contact. “Let me guess.

Would Attis be correct?”

There was no response at first, just a vague processing behind

the golden eyes. “That may have been it. If so, no one has called

me by it for a long, long time.”

“Two thousand years long? Three thousand?”

Attis stiffened, the playfulness totally gone now.

“Is Cybele around here as well then?”

The golden man paled and stared at Mulder with a tense

wariness. “One of her names, though she has even less need for

a name than I have.”

“Where can we find her?”

Attis’s golden face, a truly unique and beautiful face, lost some

of its pallor. Anger and a little fear returned a ruddy golden

color. “The time has passed for questions. Time has come for

you to leave the woods.”

“That seems to be the general consensus today,” Mulder said,

“but we’re not quite ready. We need to find Richard Jameson.

He was just here.” No response. “And we’d like to talk about the

children. We know about the little ‘souls’, though you may use

another name for those as well.”

“I can’t help you. That is her doing. She has always enjoyed

toying with Man.”

“Not good enough. They can’t remain the way they are. Two

souls where one should be? It’s cruel.”

The golden man’s eyes glittered. He had clearly recovered from

his initial shock. “You should know.”

Eyes black, Mulder glared back.

Attis tried a careless shug. It wasn’t very convincing. “Her

magic or her curse, depending on how you look at it.”

“Help us find her.”

“Do you want worse to happen?” All at once, Attis threw back

his head, sending the curls dancing. “Here’s an answer to at least

one of your questions. You asked about the man Jameson? Then

look! For there he goes!”

His slender pointing hand showed the silhouette on a hill above.

Once more they saw, not a man, but the stag with the

magnificent twelve-point rack. The agents barely had time to

turn before it was gone.

“That’s a deer,” Scully reported.

“Is it? You don’t believe that it’s only a deer do you, Lord

Bruin?”

Mulder frowned. “King Stag in your place? King Stag and

Green Man, you’re a busy immortal, Attis.”

“Have been. No more. Let the honor pass on. Could have been

you, you know, if you had been just a couple of days earlier.

Though even then I suspect that this Jameson would have won.

Like you, he wanted to find ‘Her’. He wanted to find a way to

get close to Her. Revenge was on his mind. Sad that there is

nothing much on his mind now but the rut and being King. He’s

been that, too, for these three nights of the full moon. So it’s too

late for you. Come back next year, though you might consider

whether you really want four hooves and a head like that. It’s a

heavy burden. Only the fire in the blood makes the bearin’

possible. Of course she could decide to complete what she

began and take a bear to her bed after the ceremony. Lord Bruin

was her special friend. Pity that the original is dead now.”

Mulder only had time to look startled before the Golden Man

continued. “Not your fault. He was very old. They can only give

up their souls when they are on the very threshold of death. Are

you sure that you still want to find Her? Better to run away and

stay away. One can learn to live with a second soul.” The eyes

that moved over Scully were too familiar. “She might even

grow to like the unpredictability he can bring, though you might

need a bed large enough for three.”

Mulder bristled and if he had had fangs would have bared them.

“The subject is Richard Jameson. He’s stumbled into something

way out of his league. We’re going to release him if we can.”

The golden-skinned man’s expression was surly. “Leave it

alone. Leave here. She’s found a new champion. That’s what’s

important.”

“Only because you were her old champion.” Mulder said. “I

sympathize with whatever disagreement you and Cybele have

going on but leave Richard Jameson out of it — except to tell us

how we can break this hold she has over him. And while we’re

at it, what happened to Reena, his wife? Was her death an

accident or murder?”

Attis had gone pale under Mulder’s questions. His response was

quiet but intense. “I loved her! Her eyes were more open than

any that I have seen for a long time. She ‘saw’ the woods, the

cycles of the land. I never would have hurt her!”

“But you did. You have the habit of taking on one of the old

forms, don’t you?” Mulder accused. “You were the swan over

our heads just a little while ago and you were the swan Scully

nursed, and you were a swan for Reena, too, at least part of the

time. And when she choose her husband over you, you gave her

a swan’s little soul, didn’t you? Was that an attempt to bind her

to you? Didn’t work, did it? When she saw her husband she

tried to go to him but, dazzled by too many berries and confused

by your gift, she forgot that she couldn’t fly. How does it feel to

know that she died trying to get away from you?”

“Stop!” The golden man was both white with rage and near to

tears.

Mulder actually took a step towards him though it hurt like hell.

This next had to be man to man. “After you lost Reena, you

tried it with Scully, you bastard!”

For almost the first time, the Golden Man rested his gaze on

Scully. “You were kind. I thought maybe –”

“Didn’t work, did it?” Mulder snarled.

“Because she only saw _you_ when we were together!” he spat.

“My Reena, she saw _ me _!”

“With the eye of an artist!”

“As a man!” Attis retorted.

“Really? Got it up, did you?”

Attis looked ready to explode. “Unlike the rest of you, I’m not

an animal!” Then all at once, his head drooped and the golden

shoulders hunched. “There’s no point in even discussing it.

None of that matters now.”

He made a motion then as if to melt back into the bushes, but

then he paused. “I meant you only good by revealing myself. I

try to warn you and you repay me with cruelty. Think… were

you always so? The soul she gave you is not so small and will

only grow if you stay here where it feels at home. I will only

warn you one more time. Leave!”

Moving with unnatural grace and speed, it was Attis who left.

An instant later a large ghostly form burst out of the very

branches of the trees over their heads but moving too quickly to

be seen clearly. Instinctively both ducked, but it was Scully first

saw the two large white feathers sailing gently down against a

sunset sky. How had it gotten so late?

One of the feathers had landed on a bush, the other on the

ground. Reverently, as if he were approaching the Holy Grail,

Mulder limped over, picked up the one on the bush and handed

it to Scully. It felt real in her hands, even though so much of this

didn’t feel real at all.

“I hope that the intent of that performance was to humor the

poor man in his delusion. I’ve come to accept a lot, but don’t ask

me to believe that two-thousand-year-old myths are living in the

Maine woods! Attis abducted Reena Jameson and did who

knows what to her mind when he realized that she was

interested in him only as a model. It doesn’t need to be any more

complicated than that.”

Awkward with his bad hip, Mulder stooped for the second

feather. The movement must have pinched the enflamed nerve

for a shot of pain crossed his. She didn’t go to him. He didn’t

need comfort; he needed a dose of reality. Instead his brows

drew together and his expression hardened.

Uh, oh. She knew that stubborn look.

Pain or no pain, he managed two steps towards the deeper

woods.

“Mulder, you fool! Where do you think you’re going?”

“Where do you think?” he spat. “To find our feathered friend,

or, more importantly to find Cybele, who is probably the center

of all this. If neither one, then at least to save Richard from his

noble foolishness!”

“Not with night falling, not with that leg you won’t.”

He snarled and, teeth clenched, continued step by anguished

step in the direction of Swan Lake.

Exasperated, she looked after him, hands on hips. “Just like that.

What about all the promises!” she demanded harshly. “No more

ditching me, no more disappearing into dark places without

backup?”

He turned only long enough for her to see his strained face. “I

thought I had you.”

That stung. “Mulder, stop. This is dangerous.” She grabbed his

arm with iron fingers and forced him around to face her, a move

that threw his weight fully onto his bad leg so that he was

forced to accept her support or fall. He chose to fall. When he

stared back up at her his eyes were black with cold anger.

“Mulder, what’s gotten into you?”

A beat. The blackness wavered. All at once he was leaning back

on his hands and laughing. It was an eerie, frenzied kind of

laughter especially from someone who didn’t laugh out loud

often.

“Mulder, stop it. Stop it!” She stooped and shook him more

strongly than she planned but his behavior was frightening her.

“Ouch!” The laughter eased almost immediately. “All right,

already. Scully, I wasn’t hysterical. It really was funny in a

macabre sort of way.” For a moment he sat on the ground just

staring up into the gray sky. Tears were in his eyes again, but

whether from laughter or pain, she couldn’t tell.

“Scully,” his voice came softly. “You’re going to have to help

me.”

She wrapped her arms around him. All her irritation was gone;

it took a lot for him to ask. “Mulder, see reason. You need a

hospital. You need rest. All that you ate before didn’t stay down

for all that long. You need food.”

“Food…” The hysteria threatened to rise again but he held it

down by biting down on that poor chewed lower lip. “My

stomach wouldn’t know what to do with something other than

itself to digest.”

She helped him to his feet, love and concern in her touch. “Let’s

get out of here. We’ll tell the sheriff about Jameson and get

some help. Can you walk?”

No better than before, but he could manage. “Scully, don’t you

see, I can’t just leave.” The hand not on the walking stick spread

itself wide across his chest. “I can’t stay this way.”

“You’re in pain. You’re sick –”

“Weren’t you listening!” he snapped, anger flaring like a torch.

“It’s in me! I have to make her take it out!”

“You can’t believe that about the bear!”

“Don’t you?” He backed away from her, eyes glowing small and

fiery in his shadowed face. “You should. Man isn’t as

domesticated as you might think. We’re not so far from the

forest. Think of the men we hunt, the predator in them, what

they are capable of. And now something even less human is in

me. Can’t you tell, on and off, ever since this morning? It’s like

there was something caged inside and it’s been growing and

growing and it wants out. And it’s all I can do not to let it out. I

don’t dare let it out!” His free hand came down in a fist,

splintering a branch that should have been too thick to crack.

It was with some hesitation that she approached him. He was

bent over now, cradling his injured hand, a low sound like a

cross between a growl and a deep whimpering rumbled in his

throat.

“Let me see.”

He leaned away when she reached to examine it. “Scully,

you’ve got to get away from here — and me.”

She gently touched his bowed head, felt the tension like a strung

bow vibrating through his body. “I’m not afraid. You’ve never

hurt me.”

A lip curled showing an eyetooth, but it was not a grin. “You

think. It’s not only some mindless lust. If so, we could deal with

that and happily.” His attempt at a leer falling flat, his head

cocked like that of an alert hound. “But there are other scents on

the air. Dozens, and it’s like my body’s on fire. To fight, to flee,

to hunt, to eat.” His eyes strayed to the deeper woods. “Not just

to mate.” Uncomprehending eyes went to hers. “I’ve got to find

her. Got to make this stop.”

She signed a deep, long sigh. “All right, but not alone, not while

there are female predators out there waving their pheromones

about. I don’t want to have to dig you out of a cave somewhere

in the spring.” And she handed him his fallen cane and took his

other side.

He didn’t start immediately however, but stood shaking his head

as if some fog were clearing. “Spring, that is the problem, isn’t

it? It should be Spring. Time is stuck here in autumn. That’s

what the Green Man’s for, you know. To die with the harvest, to

lie three months in the ground, and rise again in Spring. Christ

wasn’t the first.”

Scully frowned. Back to that, but better than more talk of

leaving her behind while he loped off into the forest aroused by

the Call of the Wild. If hunting Green Men got him off that

subject, all well and good. Phoebe had been right in this one

thing — Mulder almost always found a good Sherlockian three-

pipe problem more absorbing than sex, sex AND a three-pipe

problem being the most distracting of all.

It soon became clear that wherever they were going they were

getting there very slowly. At least it would take Mulder longer

to get into trouble, Scully thought. They traveled in silence as

the ground was either broken with rocks, bogs, brambles, or

headed uphill. It was only after they hit a long gentle downhill

slope that the tension eased and Mulder spoke. “Tell me what

you know about the King Stag.”

“I know my Arthurian legend if that’s what you mean. The

chieftain chosen to be the King Stag was sent off into the forest

with horns strapped to his head and probably his belly full of

hallucinogenic mushrooms. I think running down and killing

some animal played a part. Afterwards, covered with the blood

of his kill, he would bed one of the priestesses of the sacred

grove, thus laying down the virility of his manhood for the land.

I can see the similarities to the Green Man who was also

sacrificed for the land but not how the story of Cybele and Attis

figures in. She was one of the nature goddesses and took him as

her human lover but there were a lot of these.”

“Attis was unique. If you remember, I got him to admit that he

and Reena weren’t lovers in the physical sense. And when he

bestowed his attentions on you he didn’t consummate that

liaison either, even though he could have easily enough, since

you thought it was me.”

Scully felt an embarrassed heat rise up neck. “So how does that

make him Attis?”

“That’s the part of the story I though you would remember. I

certainly do. Cybele became infatuated with a shepherd, our

Attis, only he spurned her and instead had an affair with a water

nymph. Remember, it isn’t nice to fool Mother Nature. In a

jealous rage, Cybele drove him mad and in his madness,”

Mulder twitched uncomfortably, “he castrated himself with a

pine branch.”

“Ouch.”

“Then he hanged himself from the same tree. I can’t say that I

blame him. He may resurrect every spring, but it seems that he

has never quite gotten over that particular incident. The cult of

Cybele went on to be big-time popular in Ancient Rome. In the

spring a pine tree was dressed in a shepherd’s clothes and

displayed in her temple. Her priests whipped themselves to

draw blood to water the tree and then used its branches to

castrate themselves. The blood-soaked branches were carried in

procession while the remainder of the tree was left in a crypt to

be magically resurrected as a young man on the next day. I

think that you know of another story that involves a procession

of branches, death on a tree, burial in a crypt, and resurrection

in spring.”

Mulder paused on a level spot to shake a cramp from his leg. “A

couple of millennia later and it seems that our story has

evolved. The rite has embraced that of the Green Man and has

moved to fall. The King Stag’s death is the method of sacrifice

for the Green Man. The time in the crypt is now not three days

but three months of winter. The young man’s return is the return

of spring incarnate, but it’s a painful rebirth. The first vegetation

of spring springs literally from his remains. Vegetation spews

from his mouth, that’s the most common representation, but

growth from the eyes and nose, arms and legs, and the private

parts are not unknown in medieval art.”

Scully felt her gorge rising. “Mulder….”

“All right. Enough background. After rising in agony every

spring and the mutilation he suffered because of her jealousy, is

it any wonder that he keeps his distance from our Cybele

whenever he can? Incorporation of the King Stag into the mix

was her solution to the problem that he isn’t exactly enchanted

by her charms. Things could have been better between them but

our Green Man is a slow learner. He continues to be attracted to

other women, if his attentions to Reena and to you are any

indication. This year, however, there’s a new twist. After three

thousand years, Attis seems to have finally grown a backbone.

He’s decided to fight back. Talk about procrastination.”

“Mulder, this is myth! This is not reality.”

“Fits the facts, though, intriguing as it sounds, I’ll be happier

once Jameson is gone from here. He’s mad in more ways than

one. Even in his right mind he has not only her death to avenge,

but his own guilt over his part in her death to assuage. On the

other side of the coin, the parties he is seeking believe that the

land is overdue for a sacrifice. At least we agree that we ought

to stop that!”

Unfortunately, Mulder was the one who stopped. A wrong step

on a mossy, leaf covered rock threw him once more onto the

undependable bad leg. This time he went down at the edge of a

hill and kept going, rolling over and over with Scully slipping

and sliding down the slope to reach him. The trunk of a tree

stopped his fall but not until he had nearly reached the bottom.

“Damn you, Mulder! You shouldn’t be out here! Break anything

else, like maybe your other leg, or maybe your head?”

Grimacing, he tried his best to not show how much he did hurt.

“None of the above. Let’s –”

But he had gone down on the leg one time too many. Spasms

surged up and down his left side from knee to well into his

back. Worse, as he groaned and lay back in the leaves, he got a

really good look at the sky. It wasn’t only dark because they

were under the shadow of the trees. The sun had set.

Moments later, Scully flopped down on the ground beside him,

useless cell phone in her hand. “Looks like we stay here till

morning. You certainly can’t walk out now, and I am certainly

not going to leave you alone to go wandering around in the dark

looking for help.” Before his jangled brains could come up with

a retort, she snapped with irritation, “Just this once, Mulder,

let’s not go around and around discussing this. How about you

hibernate for a few hours?”

He knew that tone of voice; Scully was thoroughly pissed.

Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to do just what she said. It

was a better place than many to spend the night. The hollow he

had rolled into sheltered them from the slight wind, and the

wide, fanlike fronds of a hemlock spread above them. The pain

was even endurable as long as he didn’t move. With a sigh, he

snuggled as comfortably as he could into the years of leaf mulch

and pine straw. After a few moments, he cautiously lifted his

head. Company would have been nice, but Scully sat upright,

arms around her knees, ignoring him. So she was going to keep

watch and keep her anger. He couldn’t blame her; he’d been

more than useless all day. Maybe she would see her way to

forgive him when the dew and the temperature had time to fall.

In the meantime, he had to admit that he was even more tired

than he was hungry.

Even anger can keep a person alert for so long after the kind of

day Scully had had. Uncharacteristically, Mulder had fallen

asleep almost immediately. Even if she discounted his flights of

fantasy into the world of goddesses and Green Men and his

irritation with his injury, she couldn’t ignore that this was an

atypical Mulder. On one point she had to agree with the crazed

Richard Jameson and the angry Golden Man: she wanted

Mulder and herself out of this place.

After jerking awake where she sat half a dozen times to find

each time that the woods looked and sounded exactly the same,

Scully finally decided that she had to have at least some sleep if

she was going to have a clear head in the morning. One of them

was certainly going to need one. She looked over longingly to

where Mulder snored softly. To snuggle next to that warm body

would be bliss, but she didn’t want to sleep that well. Besides,

she wanted to stay angry with him a lot longer. She laid down

where she was. ‘Just for a few minutes,’ she thought. ‘Just for a

few …’

She dreamt that she was cold which, as is in the nature of

dreams, meant that she probably was cold and was more awake

as she thought she was. More than cold she dreamt that there

was movement around her, air moving, many feet scuttling

about in leaves, grunts and whines, the touch of a hand, the

brush of fur on her face, and the soft tickle of feathers.

But the noise didn’t wake her fully; the return to silence did. She

had a sense that a parade had just marched through her bedroom

and then had moved on, and that even now it was just turning at

the end of her street. Sleepy and heavy limbed, she felt that she

could raise her head only after the last echo of its passing had

faded away. Opening her eyes, however, she stiffened.

Something tall and slender and ghostly gray wavered above her.

Blinking, the vision came into focus. She stared in awe. The

glowing object was the trunk of the hemlock under whose

branches they had taken shelter. Even as she gaped open-

mouthed, the shimmering gray light grew not only brighter, but

the fine silver luminescence flowed upwards into the branches,

to the very ends of every needle on every branch.

“Mulder… Mulder, look,” she called in a voice full of wonder

even as her hand groped unsuccessfully towards the place where

he was sleeping. It was now brighter than a night under a full

moon within their sheltered sleeping place. When she turned in

alarm there was easily light enough to see that Mulder was quite

gone from his nest in the leaves.

End of Act III

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

Act IV

Swan Lake, midnight

She was up and out from under the glowing canopy within

seconds, calling his name. Her voice faltered as she saw the

base of the oaks immediately to her left begin to glow with that

silvery light. Like the fir, the light spread up and out until every

tip of every twig was bright with the pearly luminescence. The

effect was brightest in the branches where the bark was thinner.

The dead leaves that clung to some branches stayed black as the

night. ‘Only the living parts of the tree,’ she whispered. Even as

she watched, more of the forest to her left went up in similar

staggered blazes. To her right the trees and bushes, bits of the

very ground where moss showed through, were already alight

with the unearthly illumination. That was the direction the

radiance came from, like the source of a flowing river. If she

remembered her dream well enough, that was also where the

parade of figures had gone, towards the wellspring of that

brightness. And taken Mulder with them?

It was easy to follow the path of the parade. There had been

many of them, and where they passed the dead leaves were

disturbed revealing glowing moss and bits of silver grass.

‘Follow the yellow brick road,’ came to her mind, only this road

was a ghostly gray.

She found him less than ten minutes later collapsed against a

rock to ease the weight on his injured leg and who knew what

other bruises by now. He had been easy to find. Like the living

parts of the woods he also glowed just a little from somewhere

deep inside. In this respect her skin was unchanged. There were

tracks of tears like silver snail trails down his cheeks and a lost

expression in his dark, staring eyes. She was reminded of the

little crippled boy in the story of the Pied Piper who couldn’t

keep up with his playmates.

Shuffling her feet in the leaves to announce her presence, she

went to his side, calling his name. He wasn’t startled. He

blinked, turned his head, and his lips arched in the hint of a

smile. “This wasn’t my fault, not this time.”

“I know.”

“They picked me up and carried me along with them.” He

sighed, shoulders slumping. “It was like a happy party until I

got too heavy. I slowed them down so they made me walk. That

was hard because they didn’t bring Hutch’s walking stick.” But

she had and passed it to him as his voice faded. “I couldn’t keep

up, so they left me. They were in a hurry.”

“Who are we talking about exactly?”

He had been wrapped in the dream as he spoke. Now he missed

her question as he noticed for the first time the fairyland that

was behind her and before them both. His eyes widened in

wonder at the sight of the transformed forest, the silver trail that

continued both east and west through the woods. He had the

look of a child seeing his first Christmas tree.

“Yeah, I know, Mulder. This stuff would save Disney millions

in electricity. _ Who _ took you?”

“The children, Scully. Some adults, too, even Dr. Hutch — he

makes a sleepy groundhog, by the way — but mostly it was the

children.” With both joy and pain reflected in his eyes, he began

hobbling towards where the road was glittering as if strewn with

diamonds. He studied his own skin in awe for a moment then

set his jaw and continued doggedly forward. “We have to hurry.

I’d say that tonight was the night, wouldn’t you?” Knowing

protest would be less than useless, she placed his arm around

her shoulders to give him more support. They limped on

together as fast as they could.

It took some effort but there was no doubt when they finally

reached the silver heart of the woods. The brightness made them

blink as they followed the glittering trail down into the center of

a ring of shining white trees.

At first there was no sign of the vengeful goddess they had

come to see. Instead a pale, thin woman stood to greet them.

Most surprising of all was her size. She was so small, not much

taller than the older of the twenty or more children who

surrounded her and far smaller than the half dozen adults. These

all stiffened and looked up like startled forest creatures as the

two agents stumbled into the ring. The children they had

interviewed were there, as were Hutch and his unassuming wife,

Roz. None showed them a hint of recognition. Only the small,

golden-haired woman gave them a smile of welcome.

“So the lord of the woods is able to join us after all,” the smile

saddened, “if only in spirit.”

Mulder shied away as she stretched out her hand to touch him

though there was only a gentle sympathy in her expression.

“Things were bad enough without your ‘gift’,” he snarled, not

caring if he showed his eyeteeth.

“It _ was _ a gift. You would not have found the strength to

make your way out of the woods without it.” At the black

expression in his eyes she merely shrugged. “I thought for once

a spirit had been well bestowed. In any case, it was not my hand

that placed it there.”

“We certainly are up to our… knees… in denial today,” Mulder

muttered sarcastically. His eyes drifted to her right hip where

she wore a fine, tooled scabbard that seemed to white glow all

its own. “You carry a very long knife. Do you plan on

performing a sacrifice or two in the near future, Cybele? I am

correct? It is Cybele?”

There came another slight shrug from the slim shoulders. “As

you will.” Her posture hardening to a royal aloofness, she

turned her back, walking slowly back to her seat on a smooth

stone within the circle of her ‘children’. For the first time the

agents noticed that she moved like something infinitely fragile,

like a frail and very old woman despite the agelessness of her

face and body.

As if to acknowledge the continuing accusation in Mulder’s

expression, she drew the knife. It was slender and intricately

patterned but also sharp as lover’s words and ancient beyond

imagining. “That’s what it’s for after all — to take a life in order

to bring life.” The blade flashed in her hand like white fire.

“Note that it is sharp on both sides. The one who wields does

not do so without peril.”

“And the one that’s slain?” Mulder inclined his head towards

Scully. “My friend has trouble believing that the King is

actually a man. She thinks that I’m living in a fairy tale.”

“Fairy tale, myth, they all tell a universal truth.”

“Which I would just love to discuss with you at length after

Richard is released from this enchantment.”

“Richard?”

“Your King for a day.”

“Ah. He presented himself to me with his anger and his passion,

not his name. As for his being King, I did not choose him. He

sought it. Indeed, he fought for it.” Distress and a little anger

shadowed her face. “There should have been another.”

“Attis.” This came from Scully, who found it a little

disconcerting to stand face to face with someone even smaller

than she was.

With some surprise, the golden head lifted. “Yes, Attis.” There

were lifetimes of meaning in that one word. “Attis would have

been my choice, always my choice, but he will not come and

there has to be someone. You’ve seen the wood, frozen in time.

Trees are strong, they can survive much, but out of their season

and weakened by this age of poisoned air and poisoned water

and poisoned earth, the animals are dying.” She spread her

hands to indicate her adoring children. “There has to be a King

or there will be more of these!”

Mulder straightened as if a snowball of truth had suddenly hit

him in the face. He ignored the stitch of pain that shot across his

back and all the way down his leg. “The animals dying too

soon… You’re trying to find a substitute home for their souls.

That’s why they were placed in the children and people you

found wandering your woods.”

Cybele looked with sympathy on the ring of glowing faces. “I

know that they’re in pain; that you are. Two souls can’t live

comfortably where one should be. This is my fault, but not in

the way you think. Attis has not been content for many years.

Restless, melancholy, rebellious, but not content. I gave him

some power like you would give a toy to a child. What he did

with that power…” She sighed. “He did not think through

clearly what he is doing when he makes the wish to save one of

their spirits. He means well but his actions are not often wise.”

“He blames you.”

The golden head shook in sorrowful weariness. “He would. He

remembers what he wants to remember. He doesn’t understand,

he has never understood.”

“A funny way you have of trying to educate him. He looks at

another woman so you drive him so mad that he –”

She was up like a shot, barely four and a half feet tall but in her

regal posture looking far taller. “Thousands and thousands of

years and can I never atone for that!”

“Why didn’t you just let him go?”

The storm quieted to a hush. “Because I loved him. How could I

see him with another? And yet I know that he has never been

quite ‘right’ since. For that he is also my responsibility. It could

be worse. His life is not without meaning. He has a great

purpose, yet I would have him content and know that I still love

him.”

Scully sighed somewhere near her partner’s right shoulder and

murmured softly, “There’s no easy fix here, Mulder. We’re

talking long term family counseling, not to mention some

extensive psychiatric evaluation.” Ignoring his scowl, she

turned to the small woman who was sitting on her rock with

shoulders slumped, her court at her feet. “We’re sympathetic to

your problems, but our immediate concern is Mr. Jameson. He’s

just a man, a normal man, and mad in his own way with grief

over the death of his wife, a death we’ve been told that you

know something about.”

The bowed back raised listlessly. “Attis’ swan-woman?” The

woman’s lips formed a sad, ironic smile. “For the last several

seasons he took it into his head that he would be better off if he

were not a man. There was then a young female swan that he

admired for her peaceful grace. Wishes can be dangerous with

the kind of power at his command. One evening upon waking

by the lake he found that he had actually transformed into a

swan while he slept. Even as he reveled in the sensation, he

became convinced in his mind that I had cursed him for desiring

the swan, and that his penance was to spend part of each day so.

As he believed, so it became true. At least he was devoted to his

swan mate.” Her expression clearly added, ‘as he never was to

me’. “He mourned egregiously when she died. He did not want

her soul to be lost –”

“– And Reena Jameson found her artistic inspiration at just the

wrong time,” Mulder guessed.

A nod. “She happened upon him in the wood and fell under the

spell of his beauty. I can understand — so do I, even after so

many years. To her grief, he misread her interest. I pitied her. I

tried to intervene but that only made it worse.” The small chin

was lifted. Altruism had nothing to do with her coming to

Reena’s aid but injured pride certainly did. “While we argued,

she wandered, unwatched, confused, and drunk on the god’s

fruit. I see in your eyes that you know what happened then.”

Cybele aimed a level gaze on Scully. “I was relieved that he

failed when he tried to transfer that soul yet again. He has

caused the two of you distress enough.”

“Why did he choose Mulder for his joke?”

“Partially accessibility, for Bruin was dying; but mostly

jealousy.”

“Jealousy?”

“Because your man could hear my calling of the King.” For the

first time since their initial greeting, she studied Mulder with

real interest. “Any other year and you would have made worthy

challenger. Being host to such a soul makes that less likely. As

you’ve found; it isn’t healthy.”

In that Scully had to agree; Mulder did not look well. “Why did

Attis even bother, if he didn’t want the job.”

“Nothing is so attractive as having another be offered the

position you have spurned.”

“Well, if it’s so dangerous, take the power back and release

these people!” Scully cried.

The tiny woman laughed grimly. “If only I could. Can you

believe that I no longer have the strength?” She looked around

her at the circle of silver trees. Beyond the circle the glittering

forest had dimmed considerably. “See? Even this simple

illusion is coming undone, unraveling in my hands. My options

are so few.” She suddenly paused, listening. “But you can see

that for yourselves, for here he comes now in all his glorious

rage.”

She was not referring to Richard, nor any stag, but to Attis,

moving as graceful as any dancer and looking wild and

beautiful. She said nothing more but seemed to glow brighter

and warmer in his presence. His response upon seeing her was

to furrow his brow, perplexed.

“You’re very small. Why don’t I remember that?”

From the way her small frame tensed, she obviously took his

faulty memory as an insult.

“There are clearly many things you have forgotten, like the

summer on the shores of the Aegean Sea before you learned

what I was and fled into that nymph’s arms.”

His golden eyes flamed in anger. “And as a consequence what

did you do, vindictive witch!”

An almost identical heat rose in hers. “You blame me! Your

madness came from your own guilt and your own terror of what

you imagined I _ might _ do!”

“Selfish, whoring, sadistic bitch!”

“Jelly-spined, egocentric, narcissistic man!”

Beside his partner, Mulder sighed. “I have to agree with you,

Scully. I don’t think that this relationship can be saved.”

“Every year you have murdered me!” Attis was snarling.

“To rise again!”

“Do you have any conception of the agony of having the life of

an entire world dragged through your loins.”

“Oh, poor male!” she sneered. “Who are you to be better than

every mortal woman who gives birth?”

“And what do goddesses know about such pain?”

“Goddess!” she cackled gesturing to her diminutive form.

“What goddess do you see? I would have died a thousand times

to save you one year of pain, but that was not to be. All I could

do was die in tiny bits each time you did, then wait in loneliness

and despair by your grave through every bitter month.

Companionship from you was all I asked in exchange for life

ever renewing, for the joy of being the father of as much of the

world as we could hold, for eternal youth and beauty. And how

am I repaid! Scorn, desertion and infidelity! Our kingdom once

stretched a continent wide, but how could I hold so much when

all you did was fight me? When you sought to escape your

destiny over the sea, what choice did I have but to follow into a

foreign land that has never known the touch of a hand such as

mine. Is it any wonder that I have grown so very small! ”

He looked shaken. Clearly, there was much here that was new.

“I did not ask you to follow me,” he whispered in a softer voice.

“Without the rites your death would come swiftly for there is

much about you which is mortal still.” The sadness in her bright

eyes bound them where anger had not. “Ungrateful wretch, I

would not have had you so far away over the wild ocean and die

hating me.”

He stood in shock, a head taller than she was at least, his mouth

working, though no words came.

Neither moved but that didn’t mean that nothing was going on.

The very air seemed to almost crackle with emotions great and

small. So absorbed were Attis and Cybele that it was Mulder

who heard, or rather felt through the inflamed nerve in his leg,

the first rhythmic rumbling through the ground. Before what it

meant could register, there came a crash as brittle branches

broke and a heavy body came hurtling down from a high knoll

just beyond the circle. It was the black-ruffed stag, beautiful and

terrible, flecks of spittle on the slender muzzle, hooves as sharp

as knives, an arsenal on its head that at the last minute and in a

final burst of speed, lowered.

The partners saw the charge. They also saw that there was no

time for the children to scatter. Mulder took most of them out of

the way of the maddened animal’s charge with a low tackle that

would have been agony if he had had time to think about it.

Scully drew and shot with practiced skill even as Mulder cried

‘No!’ in pain and horror from where he lay sprawled across at

least four of the dazed children. The large animal staggered, but

his great momentum carried him forward. The silver forest rang

as if a mallet had struck the edge of a huge goblet of the finest

crystal. It tolled, however, only to crack, exploding, as if that

same goblet had dropped upon stone. With that single chime all

of the lights went out. As bright as it had been before, the result

was an impenetrable black.

There was absolute silence for several seconds, then a great

wave of movement and noise rose in the dark. The children

shrieked aloud in terrible pain. A few whelped like kicked

puppies. Men and women’s voices raised in distress from some

deep tearing agony and loss. Before the first cry rang out, Scully

was reaching in the pocket of her jacket for a pencil flashlight.

At noon when they left the cabin, it had not seemed necessary to

come better equipped. At least it was something. The thin,

bluish beam revealed only glimpses of writhing bodies, as

children and adults fell, or stood and cried, or ran aimlessly

about. Some knelt, retching. All looked sick and ghostly pale.

Suddenly, she swung the beam in the direction of a voice that

she knew better than any other. He was still on the ground

where he had carried the children like a tidal wave but in the

stark contrast between pallor and shadow she almost didn’t

recognize him. His dark eyes were even then rolling back into

his head. Stooping by his side, she touched chill, damp flesh.

“Don’t you faint on me. I need you.”

The eyes blinked but didn’t entirely focus. Still, he had heard

her and nodded slightly in her direction. She noted that his

mouth remained tightly shut as if to keep from being sick

himself.

“Jameson,” he mouthed quickly then rolled onto his knees and

proceeded to do just that. At least they were dry heaves.

With more emergencies on her hands than she could count,

Scully swung the little flashlight in the direction of his nod,

though she hadn’t seen the bereaved widower since that

afternoon. The craftsman was in the midst of the chaos, a naked,

crumpled, dirty figure, clutching his upper arm. Dark rivulets of

blood streamed from between his fingers.

Scully froze, confused and horrified. But no one had been

anywhere near when she fired! She had shot at a deer!

Frantically, she scanned for dark fur on the equally dark ground.

No deer and she should have been able to find it, since most of

the children and adults had also scattered. She realized that she

could now see beyond the cone of the beam, so much so that

she turned it off. Her eyes quickly grew accustomed to a new

source of light.

Gray dawn was beginning to make itself known even under the

trees. It was even more advanced in a tiny clearing just beyond

what had been the silver circle. Here was another fairy ring, one

even more ancient, whose central oak of innumerable age lay on

its side, blasted years before by lightning. There under the open

sky, seated on the trunk of the fallen giant, Golden Attis sat

hunched over and weeping. Hesitating, Scully took two steps

and then felt Mulder’s presence by her side, a little unsteady, but

solid and warm. They approached together.

The goddess that at one time had been the terror of the Roman

world lay in the Golden Man’s arms. She had looked the size of

a child before, now she looked like that child’s limp rag doll

drowned in blood. Scully rushed forward. The wounds were

indeed terrible. The power of the stag’s rush had carried him

forward and the rack of antler points had driven with murderous

force into their target. The small, fair body was pierced in neck

and breast, shoulder and arm. It was the severed artery near the

juncture of neck and shoulder that had pumped out the river of

blood. Now the river was nearly dry. Attis’s strong, beautiful

face was nearly unrecognizable in his anguish.

Mulder’s soft voice reached him. “You may have the power to

save her. Over time she gave you almost everything.” But Attis

only clutched the tiny body more tightly. “No, I guess not. If

you never believed in what you had before,” the agent said,

sadly shaking his head, “there’s no time to convince you now. Is

there anything we can do, Scully?”

She met his deep, tired eyes. He already knew the answer. Not

now, not here. They could only watch. After a moment Mulder

whispered, “Where’s her knife? The scabbard’s empty.”

They found it almost at once on the ground at Attis’s feet where

it had slipped from his hands. The hilt and its sharp edges were

both wet with fresh blood.

Scully was able to pull the dying woman away long enough to

see the deep gouges that the blade had made in Attis’ own arms.

So only half the blood was hers. “We have to find something to

bind the wounds with,” she said, fruitlessly scanning the

clearing, the dead tree, and the forest beyond. Finally, she tore

off her own jacket. “How could he do such a thing!”

“He’s had practice.” With deliberation Mulder placed one strong

hand on his partner’s shoulder to stop her from trying to

separate the two again. “It’s too late, Scully. Even if it weren’t,

he wouldn’t thank you for saving him. Who could he relate to

but her? What they have isn’t much of a relationship, but it’s all

he has. Without her, he’s lost. It’s not Attis’ world, not his time.”

Not looking at all well and dragging the leg that had taken too

much, Mulder approached the grieving man, but only close

enough so that his question could be heard. “Will you come

back?” he asked softly. “Will she?”

He hadn’t really expected an answer but got one even if the

voice was nearly too weak to stir the air. “There’s no point. The

light’s gone out. She will not and I only returned all those times

to see her face. Then I ran. To punish her? Who punished

whom? So much time wasted.”

A breeze began and caught in the boughs of the trees. If you

listened, you could almost hear words.

“You’re still here. You could have been free of me.”

Wearily, Attis raised his tear-stained face to stare up at the

swaying branches. “I don’t want to be.”

“So _ now _ you will stay?”

A smile played on his lips. “Yes, now I will stay. That means

that you must stay, too.”

“Too late, but then it was too late the first time I saw you.”

“If not this year,” he begged, “then next year, or the year after.”

“No,” and the note was final. “I would be your death only one

more time.”

He changed his hold on the small body. His arms were going

numb, and she was slipping from the blood. “I’m afraid.”

“You have known death more than two thousand times. What is

once more?”

“I don’t know where I’ll be going this time.”

“With me, into the land where I should have gone long ago. But

then I would have missed your rising like glory in the spring. I

thought that there were no other choices. I was wrong. I did not

foresee that our spirits could flow as one great healing river

across this damaged land.”

Attis bent to kiss the cold motionless lips. “That would be

something to die for.”

The partners would disagree later on what happened. The

branches swayed for a time and then Attis looked at the sky. At

the end he bent for a kiss but never straightened up again.

Instead, he kept falling from his perch on the fallen tree as one

falls in a dream, Cybele ever in his arms. Shaking herself into

motion as if breaking a spell, Scully reached to catch them but

Mulder’s strong arm held her back.

“Let them go.”

She looked up into his face. “Let them go? Where?” But he

didn’t answer and when she turned back they had both

disappeared. She sprang forward not understanding. They

weren’t lying on the ground in front of the tree, nor behind. It

was vaguely possible that they had fallen sideways into the

lethal gash in the great tree that the lightning had made, but that

also was empty. No, not quite empty. Surprising for this season,

the cavity was lined with a green and verdant moss as soft as

velvet. Mulder pulled his partner back even farther then, though

his eyes never left the tree.

Something was happening. Even as they watched, the green

moss from the gash grew up and over the lip of the cut — and

kept growing. Scully couldn’t help but be reminded of how the

silver had flowed across the forest. The spreading vegetation

was like this, only this was a fertile and vibrant green, as life-

giving as a river. From the tree’s base there sprang up a carpet

of new grass shining in the slating rays of the newly risen sun.

On it flowed as the silver had, radiating out from this one

central point. Where the leading edge touched the base of trees,

the over-long autumn leaves fell like old gold. Within seconds

buds swelled green and red and burst into tiny green tufts of

new leaves, so that before the verse of a nightingale’s song

could play once through, the tops of all of the trees within sight

waved gently in the breeze like giant fans.

Beside Scully, Mulder suddenly gasped. She heard him take a

deep breath and hold it. Heart pounding, she stared up into the

familiar face, expecting to see him in pain. On the contrary, he

was smiling. No wonder, the air had turned suddenly warm and

was filled with an energizing and healthy scent, all the more

healthy for being free of the sickening sweetness of

cockleberries. That was when she realized that the edge of the

new spreading growth, the first touch of Spring, had just passed

where they stood.

“I take it that this isn’t the bear waking?”

He let out his held breath with slow pleasure. “Not at all. He’s

gone. He left back when the light died, or rather was forced out.

The only problem was that he left behind — call them psychic

claw marks. Hurt like the devil. You had to have noticed. The

children felt it, too, and Hutch and the others.” He took another

deep breath, a look of blissful peace on his face. “This is like

being healed.”

“Almost seems worth it.”

“Believe me, it’s not.”

Around them the children had risen from where they had been

lying sick or in a stupor on the ground. Where only minutes

before they had sat in a fairy grove stark in autumn moonlight,

now they played upon new grass in the sunlight like lambs. The

recovered adults, Hutch and Roz among them, were clustered

around the bleeding Richard who alone of all the company still

wept.

End of Act IV

**********

Epilogue

Washington D.C., their office, two weeks later

Despite the fact that Spring was Scully’s favorite season, she

was strangely silent during the few hours that they remained in

the area of Swan Lake and Happenstance, Maine. She positively

moped when they arrived back in Washington, where that short-

lived season was already showing signs of disappearing under

the weight of too much humidity and tons of pollen. On the

other hand, Mulder was tunelessly whistling as he maneuvered

his crutches through the door of their office.

“You’re chipper enough,” Scully grumbled.

“Why not? It’s a beautiful day and my new oak pollen allergy

doesn’t kick in for another four weeks.”

“You’ve still got your souvenir from Maine.”

He shook the leg, wincing only slightly. “Oh, this. Not so bad.

In addition to those days in traction and that week of very fine

muscle relaxants, our health plan actually swung for three

sessions of deep tissue massage. I had a technician….” He leered

complete with appropriate gestures.

“I don’t want to hear it.”

Mulder’s brow furrowed. Scully sulking was not all that unusual

these days. He would have gone to her and taken her in his

arms, but adding crutches to the mix rather ruined the affect.

“Come here,” he said from where he sat and opened his arms.”

She came but only to perch gingerly on his good leg. “What’s

wrong and don’t tell me you’re ‘fine’.”

“I am fine. It’s just that I’m still trying to word my final report

on Jameson’s shooting. Then there will be the hearing–”

“He’s not going to press charges. We’ve gotten a local

commendation and Hutch and Abrams have both spoken for

you. Still, bureaucracy can be a bitch.”

“Stop it! You know what I mean.”

“I know,” he told her softly. “You take pride in your

marksmanship, as well you should. What you write in your

report is your business, but for your peace of mind you do know

that you hit exactly what you were aiming for?”

“I aimed at a deer.”

He had that look in his eyes. “You shot the Winter King just as

the magic died.”

“And you expect me to believe that?”

“Scully, you know what you saw.”

“Mulder, sometimes a zebra is just a zebra. Not a horse but not

a unicorn, either. The never-ending Autumn was unusual, I’ll

buy that, as was the miraculous return of Spring. Even Attis and

Cybele’s disappearance is unexplained, but two-thousand-year-

old goddesses and people who transform into deer and swans —

for real — that’s another story. Besides, if there was so much

‘magic’, why are you still hobbling around on that bruised hip?”

He shrugged. “The way I see it, there’s health of the body and

health of the soul. If the old magic only cured those bear claw

marks on my soul, that’s still magic.” He put an arm around her

waist. “I may be working on my ninth life, body wise, but at

least my spirit is still young, and do you know why?”

She snuggled against his chest. “Been eating cockleberries?”

“That would do it except that from what I hear, those around

Swan Lake have completely lost their potency. No, you. You

may not agree with my theories — we wouldn’t be as effective if

you did — but you’re always there for me. It’s taken me a long

time to accept that, but I finally have. At least when I’m in my

right mind, I have. You have no idea how incredible that

knowledge is to me. You’ve healed forty years of hurt to my

soul, not just two days’ worth of a few psychic bear claw marks.

Now that’s real magic.”

The End

13

33

Swan Lake Part 1

cover

TITLE: SWAN LAKE, Part I

AUTHOR: Windsinger (AKA Sue Esty)

EMAIL: windsinger@aol.com

RATING: PG-13

CATEGORY: X

KEYWORDS: Casefile, MRS, mild Muldertorture

SPOILERS: Through VS9

ARCHIVE: Two weeks exclusively on VS10, then Gossamer and Ephemeral. Others are fine, though please let me know.

DISCLAIMER: Mulder, Scully and Skinner belong to Chris Carter, 1013 Productions and Fox. No copyright infringement is intended.

SUMMARY: Mulder and Scully travel to Maine to investigate the story of children who have been lost in a strange, wooded valley and return changed.

FEEDBACK: Gratefully accepted.

AUTHOR’S NOTES: Many thanks for Suzanne’s infinite patience (Of course, I’m writing this before she has finished editing Part II so her patience may have given out by now.) Many thanks anyway. Many thanks to all of the VS Production staff for not making me carve this down to fit into one part. Many thanks to the original series (the first few seasons anyway) for continuing to be such an inspiration and bringing such joy into my life. And, yes, there really is a play called The Swan, which was the initial inspiration for this story. Chris Lane, the actor who played ‘the swan’, has my continuing admiration. He is one incredible physical actor (and not bad sans-clothing either). I wish him well in his career, which my friends and I continue to follow in the Washington area with great zeal.

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SWAN LAKE part I

Windsinger (AKA Sue Esty)

TEASER

Sylvan Valley, Maine

Friday, March 21st

“And a handsome young man fell out of this basket, this really big basket, and he was naked?”

“Completely.”

“And your Mom approved?”

“Why not? Mulder, this is the theater. Art.”

“And the audience was made up primarily of middle-aged ladies. I rest my case,” her companion declared with satisfaction.

“Well, he didn’t stay naked all the time. She eventually got him to wear clothes. First little skimpy shorts, then jeans, then –”

“On a swan? Was he a swan or did he just think that he was a swan?”

“Ah… both, I guess. Transformed. A swan caught in a man’s body. I don’t know how….”

“And they never tried to explain it?”

“This wasn’t an X-File, Mulder. That wasn’t the point. It was an allegory.”

“For what?”

“A person caught unexpectedly in a strange world. He was really very confused and very unhappy.”

“And very naked.”

“Mulder… Okay, forget the story. What was amazing was the actor –”

“And just how amazing was he?” her partner and lover asked mischievously, with only the tiniest hint of jealousy. “Was he glad to see you?”

“As a matter of fact he was. Though it was probably just due to the anticipation as he waited under that blanket throughout that long first scene before he actually transformed. No, the really amazing part was his athleticism. The way he moved his neck, his arms, his body as if he really was a swan and his feet, his toes! He could leap onto table tops and counter tops and even onto the top of a refrigerator without any effort at all. And then there were the noises he made with his throat!” She rubbed her own. “It hurt just to listen to him.”

Furtively, Dana cast an eye towards the passenger seat and there he sat rolling his eyes in her direction.

“Forget it.”

“Swan Lake,” he said, suddenly sitting straighter in his seat and looking behind them from where they had come.

“What?”

“Believe it or not there was a sign just back there for Swan Lake.” He hummed. The Twilight Zone theme was barely recognizable.

“Coming up is also the turn off for Sylvan Valley. If there’s time, perhaps I’ll just visit Swan Lake, but if I do, I’m not taking you!”

Deftly, she turned the rental car into a narrow country road. Thick woods, its trees bedecked with just the fuzz of coming leaves sparkling in the spring sunlight, grew right up to the pavement. It was the same sight that had lined the roads since they had left Bangor except for the occasional small town or lonely house.

“Tell me again what we’re doing here? Kidnappings that aren’t kidnapping. One missing woman?”

Mulder didn’t even bother to shrug. Her skepticism was an old and pleasant game.

“Look.”

Scully didn’t need to be told where to look. Suddenly the world dropped away on one side while at the same time it rose sharply on the other. The tall and rugged mountains, a spur of the White Mountains, made a sheer wall to the right of the deep, bowl-shaped valley and Scully stopped the car at the very brink between the two. Impressive, but there was something very odd.

The spread before them was the kind of glorious New England autumn city dwellers drive hours to see. A little past peak but still breathtaking.

“The foliage certainly is an odd color for March,” she said.

“Certainly is, especially since the brochure from the Sylvan Valley Chamber of Commerce states that protection provided by the mountains actually gives the valley a three week head start on spring compared to the rest of the county. The valley should be clothed in all its spring finery.”

“Acid rain? Toxic chemicals? Industrial pollutants?”

“None identified,” he confirmed.

“This is the X-File part?”

“Not entirely.” And his eyes twinkled green in the way that Scully had long before found highly suspicious.

ACT I

The car dropped into the quiet of Sylvan Valley, Maine and towards the village of Happenstance. Mulder drove while his partner directed her analytical mind towards a land unexplainably on its way towards winter rather than spring. Many of the leaves were brown, but as many were yellow and red and orange, and had been fully mature before they had begun to turn. No freshly budded leaves these.

The town boasted one street of a few shops, a county seat, a school, a store front library, two B&B’s and half of dozen well maintained homes that had to be at least a century old. All in all it was as neat and picturesque as any New England town as you could hope for. By its lack of artificial sparkle, however, as well as the fact that it boasted only two gift shops and no Starbucks, it probably saw less than a quarter of the tourist trade of most villages its size.

The sheriff’s office occupied a vacated store next to the library. Abbott Abrams was the sheriff, a youngish man for the job. He leaped to his feet as they entered. His hunger for a more exciting posting was apparent from the way he positively glowed at the appearance of his distinguished guests from Washington.

“I heard you were coming but can’t imagine why you would. Yeah, some kids got lost but all returned on their own and none the worse for a couple of nights in the woods.”

“What about your missing woman?” Mulder inquired politely. Scully noted that her partner was on his best behavior for this case.

“Mrs. Jameson? She hasn’t really been missing long enough to be considered… really missing.”

“Two days, I hear,” Mulder said. “That isn’t cause for alarm? It would be in most places. Has she made a habit of disappearing in the past?”

“Reena? Well, no. Just an extra long hike in the woods now and then.”

“Personal problems? Family problems?”

Abrams took a moment to think about that. “She and her husband haven’t been here all that long, but to the best of my knowledge they’re fine. Husband’s jumpy now but I told him to be patient. Around here, people show up after a couple of days, just like the kids.”

Mulder shifted position just enough to catch Scully’s eye. “So in addition to the children, you’ve had other disappearances?”

The young sheriff twisted uncomfortably in his cracked leather chair. “Like Reena, people wander. Seems to be a town pastime. They come back.”

After a rather significant pause, Mulder checked his notes although Scully knew he had no need to. “A Dr. Hutchinson is not so sure that the missing children had just gotten lost and found their way back on their own. He thinks that they may have been assaulted in some way. He also thinks the missing woman is a sign that there’s someone out there responsible, and that the perpetrator is escalating.”

“I have heard Hutch’s theory but he and his wife are new here as well. Less than a year. They’re a little rattled by our lack of dependence upon the almighty clock. Sure, the town counsel is scheduled to meet every Tuesday, but Wednesday will do as well or next week. They’ll get use to it.”

“Since assault has been mentioned, we’d like to talk to him,” Scully said, rising. “We’d also like to see some of the children just to make sure — as you say — that there’s nothing to it.”

The young sheriff also rose and reached for a photocopied map of the area. There weren’t many roads. “As you wish. I’ll mark on here where Hutch’s home is. It’s also his office. And while you’re gone I’ll pull the files on the cases for these missing children. We did look for them, you know.”

“I have no doubt you did,” Mulder said, at his most agreeable as he took the map. “Can you recommend a place to stay, by the way?”

The sheriff leveled his gaze at the two standing so comfortably close together and made the obvious decision not to ask ‘one bed or two’.

“Either of the B&B’s will do. Missa at the White Horse is a better cook, however — though don’t tell her I said so.”

Once again at their car, both breathed in the fresh, cool air. Neither needed to remark on the distinct tang of fresh fallen leaves, a scent missing in their part of the world since November. Scully’s eyes drifted to the sign for the White Horse B&B. She would have secured their room as they clearly didn’t have many options, but her partner was just as clearly eager to be sniffing about.

“On the trail of Dr. Hutch?”

“You guessed it.” After a pause at the street to check the angle of the sun and thus orient himself east to west, Mulder turned right with confidence. Clearly, he’d committed the map to memory already. They neither passed anyone on the street nor any cars that weren’t parked.

“I’ve heard of laid back towns,” Scully remarked, “but I don’t think this one ever bothered to get up this morning.”

“Or most mornings, if Sheriff Abrams can be believed.”

“You don’t believe him?”

“Oh, I do. He’s being up front with us. He clearly doesn’t believe that there’s a problem.” They had left the sleepy town already and were soon deep in the atypically fall-like forest. “His attitude just raises the hairs on the back of my neck,” he said. “Don’t you find it a little peculiar?”

“I’d like to reserve judgment on that. Not every place has to be as high stress as D.C. This may, in fact, be normal for here.”

Mulder didn’t take his eyes from his driving, for the sun was setting and the deep patches of slanting light and deep shadow made following the narrow leaf-strewn road tricky. She could tell that he was considering her words, however.

“Perhaps. We’ll soon see. The doctor’s a new arrival, the sheriff said. Let’s listen to his point of view.”

As if on cue, the forest opened up, or perhaps one should say, was pushed back by a white frame house of notable size. It had to date from the nineteenth century if not earlier. This was no Victorian beauty with cupolas and gingerbread carving, but its simple lines were pleasantly broken by a wide porch that spanned not only the front but one long side wall. From this porch hung the shingle for Dr. Matthew Hutchinson, family practice.

“A farm house without the farm,” Scully said as she stepped out onto the gravel drive.

“Oh, it’s still there,” Mulder said. “The forest has just taken it back. It doesn’t really take so long.”

“Why let it disappear?”

“This is New England. Rock farming has never been particularly profitable. Still, the early settlers thought this a paradise compared to crowded Europe. When richer lands were discovered out West, however, more than a few abandoned the black flies and long winters for something better.” Underneath his wrinkled brow, Mulder’s New England-bred eyes solemnly scanned the woods beyond the farmhouse. “There’s more than fields that the woods have taken into themselves. There are stone fences, roads, chimneys, outhouses, anything that Man in his arrogance believes that he built to last.”

He felt a touch on his hand, skin to skin. It sent a warm flush up his arm.

“Is my partner waxing poetic?”

The solemnity left his face and there was sweetness in his smile. “From time to time. But I guess now’s not the time. I see a face at the door. The sheriff must have forewarned the good doctor.”

The good doctor was of a goodly size as well. Hutchinson was at least six foot three and must have been a linebacker in college, though much of that muscle had softened. His hand dwarfed Scully’s upon their greeting on the wide shaded porch, but he had a gentle touch for all that.

“You’ve come to talk with me about the missing children. Good, good,” he said upon Mulder’s greeting and “A colleague!” he exclaimed after Scully gave him her credentials. “Abbott didn’t tell me.”

“It never came up.”

“That’s not surprising. Well, come in, come in. I have no patients at this time of day.”

It was nearly evening. The front door opened into a wide hallway with a waiting room to the right with about a dozen chairs and the business end of this rural practice in the rooms to the left. He led them past a small desk intended for a nurse or secretary and through a set of glass-paneled double doors to what were clearly living quarters in the back of the house.

A small woman of slender bones and light brown hair met them in a small study. Her handshake was fluttery and brief. Unlike her round and mellow husband, she asked to see their ID.

“I just want to be sure we know who we’re talking to.”

“Not a problem,” Mulder said. “People should be more cautious.”

Hutch joined them then. He’d detoured into his office and returned with a thick set of about a dozen files. Heading for a Lazy-boy, he dropped down and spread the files out across two foot stools. Eagerly Mulder pulled an armchair close by and picked up the first folder.

“Cindy Rivers, age 7,” Hutch summarized. “Her mother watched her head down the path that she took every morning through the woods on her way to school. She never made it. Turned up at her front door two days later at suppertime.”

“Injuries?” Scully asked.

“Not really. Dirty, hungry, tired, some scrapes, some bruises that may not have been there before. The trouble is, she was always a brave, happy little thing. Now she’s — well, not so much timid as private or solitary.”

“After affects from this kind of trauma are to be expected.”

“I agree, only this seems permanent.” Hutch learned back in his lounger, his big soft body heavy and sleepy, but his eyes shone with a passion and vitality that his physical form lacked. “I’m a family doctor. I left my big city HMO practice because I wanted to attend to the whole person, the whole family. I prided myself on thinking that I knew every man, woman and child in this town. But Cindy and the kids like her have me doubting myself.”

“They all show this kind of personality change?”

“A change but not always the same kind. Some open, loving children have become secretive. Sweet kids have turned sly and violent. A few that had brought their parents and teachers little but grief are now as pliant as a parent could wish, too much so in some cases. One set of parents is convinced that their little boy, Mike, is ill with mono or maybe even a brain tumor!” The quiet physician’s hand came down on the arm of his chair with surprising fervor. “These kids cannot have just taken a walk in the woods. Abducted, maybe? I don’t know.” He pulled himself up out of his too soft chair. “Let me get you Mike’s X-rays, Dr. Scully. Maybe you can see something I don’t but I can’t find anything physical.”

When man has scurried back to his office, Scully raised an eyebrow in her partner’s direction. “Abductions, Mulder?”

His hands raised in denial. “The first I’ve heard of it, I swear. I’m sure Dr. Hutchinson is not suggesting that kind of abduction, not the alien kind. I don’t think so either.”

“You don’t?”

“Our extra-terrestrial friends are more circumspect. This is too obvious.”

That relieved a good part of Scully’s concern but that meant that it had to be something else. “Kidnappings, assault — psychological if not sexual. If this is true, we’re lucky that this guy let the kids go.”

“After the damage was done. But what about Mrs. Jameson? She’s an adult and still missing.”

A small sound like a whimper caught their attention. Mrs. Hutchinson, who clearly moved as silently as a field mouse, stood in the doorway to the study, a tray of tea nearly dropping from his hands. Mulder rose in one swift, fluid movement to catch it.

“Are you alright, Mrs. Hutchinson?”

As if unaware of what she was doing, she sat limply down in the chair Scully pushed under her. “Roz, please, as in Rosaline. Sorry, I just heard you mention Reena and it all just came back to me in a rush.”

“You know Reena Jamison then?”

Dr. Hutch had returned, face pale. “Reena’s husband, Richard, and my wife are brother and sister. That makes her our sister-in-law.” As the two agents exchanged glances, the big man shrugged helplessly. “It’s a small community. We moved here together for mutual support knowing how little towns keep to their own. It’s worked out well — until these disappearances. Richard is nearly crazy with worry. He’d be worse if he knew how little the sheriff is doing.”

Which is nothing, Scully thought.

“We’d have Richard here with us, but he wants to stay at his place in case Reena wanders back.”

Scully looked at the thick, new file Hutch held and to the others. “I apologize, but it looks like we’re going to be here a while.”

Two hours later, the last report had been examined and, in Mulder’s case, committed to memory. Wearily, they stood and stretched. Scully lifted a curtain of white eyelet. It was completely dark outside now and that was very dark indeed, considering the lack of city lights and the fact that the moon had not yet risen.

“Dinner?” Dr. Hutch asked, gesturing towards the kitchen. The agents exchanged glances. Each knew what the other was thinking. They didn’t normally socialize while on a case, but it was not as if the Hutchinsons were suspects. There was still doubt that a crime had even been committed. “It’s not fancy but you’re not going to find much better after dark — if anything.”

Having not had anything but soda and pretzels since breakfast, they agreed. An old round table of country oak set with a white cloth and blue and white dishes waited for them in the kitchen. They set down to a noodle and hamburger casserole, succotash and a fruit salad.

“Mrs. Hutchinson, you shouldn’t have gone to this much trouble,” Scully said to the thin, nervous woman. She had been busy in the kitchen all the time that they had been reviewing cases.

“And do what? Pace the floor. Not only the children, but Reena, too. Best to keep busy. Would you like some more tea?”

Scully extended her cup. “If it’s more of the same that I’ve been drinking all evening, yes. What is it? It’s delicious.”

“Green tea with cockleberry juice.” Roz pointed to the dish of strawberries, still showing frost where they had been packed and frozen early the previous summer, and small fresh, dark berries. “The dark ones are cockleberries. They’re kind of a local wild blueberry.”

Scully lifted an eyebrow and caught Mulder’s lips twitch. “I guess I won’t be having any of the fruit salad,” he smiled.

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“Agent Mulder is allergic to strawberries,” she explained to Roz’s puzzled expression, “a fact that he tends to forget from time to time.”

“But he can’t be allergic to beer,” Dr. Hutch remarked, raising his large body from its chair. He reached into the refrigerator and pulled out two plain brown bottles. “I brew it myself. It’s so dark you can eat it with a spoon.”

That got Mulder’s attention. He didn’t drink much — both because of his work and because of family history — and so indulged when he felt he could in carefully monitored amounts of exotic microbrews. Quality rather than quantity.

“I’ll split one with you. I’m not technically on duty, because up to now there’s no crime, but you never know.”

The doctor turned to Scully who was glowering only slightly at her partner. “And you, Dr. Scully.”

“I’ll stick to the tea, thank you. And I had a sudden thought: we don’t have reservations anywhere for tonight. Will the B&B’s be open?”

“They might be,” Roz said, “but you don’t have to go there. Hutch and I would like to offer you the use of our cabin. Richard and Reena were only there last week so it’s clean.”

Both agents opened their mouths to decline, only to be stopped by Hutch. “You might find it useful in your investigation. It’s just around the lake from Richard and Reena’s home.

“Lake?” Mulder asked.

Hutch gestured to the map where they had plotted the location from which every child had disappeared and reappeared. The Jameson home was near the center, on the edge of a small body of water shaped like crescent moon. The agent didn’t need eye contact. Each felt the other stiffen. “That lake. Swan Lake.”

Act II

Friday night/Saturday (March 21st and 22nd)

After dinner, Mulder drove as they followed Dr. Hutch’s white sedan twist and turn like a ghost through the dense woods. Mulder was anything but sleepy. The emotion running through him would have kept him alert even if he had drunk four times the small glass of fine, dark beer he had taken.

After fifteen minutes of careful driving they reached a small frame house. It rose up white from the headlights. They couldn’t see much more of the grounds. There was a screened porch with comfortable rocking chairs, a combination kitchen and living room with a fireplace, a utilitarian bathroom and a king-size bed in the one bedroom. Hutch shrugged. “There’s always the couch,” he offered. “As if you’ll need it,” was implied by the unspoken turn at the end of the sentence.

There not being much of interest in the cabin, the agents followed Hutch back outside as he headed for his car — or so they thought. Instead he moved onto the grass heading away from the cabin. From the feel of the ground under their feet they knew they were heading slightly downhill but that was all. Though the moon had finally risen, it was only a fuzzy spot of gray above a blacker treeline. Dr. Hutch didn’t go far. They stood quietly for a moment waiting for him to speak because he obviously had something to tell them. In that space of silence they heard of gentle ‘Plop’ a few yards ahead in the inky black and then an mournful, unearthly cry. Beside Mulder, Scully shivered.

“And that was?” she asked.

“Loon,” Mulder answered before Dr. Hutch could.

“Very good,” the doctor commended. “Yes, a loon. Quite a few nest here. Lost souls also cry like that or so they say. You won’t see them though. There’s usually a mist over this lake at night.”

“What about swans?” Scully found herself asking.

Barely visible, the big man shrugged. “Now and again. The name, Swan Lake, must come from an earlier time.” Another pause. “I wanted to tell you about another case,” the physician finally began. His voice was hesitant but grew stronger as he spoke.

“Another?” Mulder asked gently, his natural empathy already suspecting something.

“Yeah, Roz.”

“Your wife,” Scully said. “She went missing as well?”

Another shrug. “I’m guessing so. It’s been several months. Sometimes I’m away from home for a night or two. Unlike many of my contemporaries I do make house calls and deliver babies as well though don’t tell my insurance company. It could have happened then. All I know is that she changed. She used to be so outgoing. After we arrived she joined some of the civic and church women’s groups, and helped out with the school computer system. She was a network engineer back in Boston. Not much of that work here but she was happy with the change. She liked being busy.”

The agents both thought about the frail and retiring creature who had served Scully tea. “I gather she doesn’t go out much any more,” Scully said.

“Hardly at all. Even when we need something at the store she wants me to go with her. I don’t know what she does all day. She used to clean a room in ten minutes, now it takes her half the day. She won’t come out here any more either or go outside after dark.” The man’s voice had become thick with emotion as he talked. “Find out what’s going on. The sheriff inquired about you when he heard you were coming. The word is that you’re a little eccentric in your methods but good at this sort of thing.”

The agents exchanged glances. Whatever this sort of thing turned out to be.

“We’ll do our best, Dr. Hutchinson,” Mulder assured the man in his soft voice, the heaviness in it showing that he was not unaffected.

“That’s all I can ask.” Abruptly, the physician turned and headed for his car. “I’ll come out and check on you tomorrow,” he said, and was gone.

Still standing in the dark near the unseen lake, Scully felt the warmth of Mulder’s body press lightly against her back. In response, her seeking hand found his. Both of their palms were chill and damp from the mist and the night.

“We’d better try and get some sleep,” he said.

“‘Try’? I’m exhausted.”

“I don’t know if I’ll manage any. The man seemed to think we’d need checking on.”

They made gentle and brief love that night in the cabin’s king-size bed. It was seldom that they had such remote accommodations and so they could have made all the noise they wanted but neither was in the mood for athleticism. The night seemed to press in on the little cabin and on them. Mulder listened to the loons and other night birds, to the ripples on the shore from the occasional fish, and to the slight rustle from the other night creatures. It was only near morning, when a breeze finally rose to move about the few out-of-season fallen leaves, that he finally slept. When he woke it was full light and Scully’s place at his side was empty and cold. There wasn’t any answer to his call.

Mulder was out the door in twenty seconds in possession of the bare essentials only — suit pants without underwear, zipped but not hooked, and his service weapon. The air had a bite to it and the driveway was crushed stone. Shoes and more clothes might not have been a bad idea. Finally his calls yielded results. Scully’s voice came faintly over the lake. Under the gray sky and the lingering mist, the lake was a sheen of silver, its far bank a dark streak before the smoky mountain reared up behind tall and watchful.

Tearing his eyes from the inspiring height of the mountain, Mulder followed that faint call. He found her in a boathouse, its wood silver gray with age so that it was nearly invisible against the lake. She was inside, intently absorbed with a mound of something covered in a sheet of old sailcloth.

“Find something?” he asked trying to sound nonchalant despite the fright she had given him. It didn’t help that the upper half of his body wore only gooseflesh.

Considering the scare you gave me, this had better be good, he grumbled under his breath.

“I think you can say that I found something,” she said, not taking her eyes from the mound. “It’s the most amazing thing. I found a swan, an injured swan.”

He felt his eyebrows rise. “Like in that play? And you say I’m weird.”

“No, not like in the play. This one is not likely to metamorphose into a handsome young man.” Her eyes crinkled in amusement. “Besides, I have one of those. This is just a swan.” Gently she raised the edge of the sailcloth to reveal a sitting bird, surprisingly large and snowy white. “Isn’t he magnificent!”

Mulder frowned. He remembered when she used that word to refer to particular parts of his anatomy.

All at once the animal’s head pulled out from under his wing, his back came up and his wings reached out until he seemed ten times the size he had been before. The wingspan nearly touched the walls of the shed side to side. The graceful head automatically turned to Mulder and, black eyes glittering, the beast uttered an ear-splitting ‘Caw!’ in challenge. At the same time Mulder leaped back, his bare feet landing onto a patch of particularly sharp gravel. Mesmerized, Scully stayed where she was.

Hopping awkwardly on his traumatized feet, Mulder growled, “He doesn’t look very injured to me.”

“He was holding his wing oddly when I first saw him and he won’t move. This is exactly where I found him.”

“Then maybe it would be best to leave him be. Animals seem to know best when it comes to their own injuries. We should be getting dressed and getting on with the day, anyway. We have people to see and I want some of that homemade bread Roz sent with us.”

“Sorry,” Scully apologized, rising from the dirt floor and brushing off her slacks.” I gave all the bread to Bill.”

“‘Bill’?” Mulder glowered at the alarmed bird whose beak seemed well capable of pecking out his eyes.

“Makes sense, despite the fact that that’s what she named the swan in the play. And don’t worry,” she said lightly as they headed back to the cabin, Mulder limping, “I’m not hungry. You can have my share of the fruit.”

“Which happens to consist mostly of strawberries,” he grumbled.

“Then pick cockleberries. There are bushes of them all around here. You can eat blueberries so you should be able to tolerate them. To be on the safe side, start with just a few.”

He did and they were a lot like a tart blueberry. Odd time of year, though. It didn’t happen to occur to him until later that he had not asked her how she had happened to be outside in the morning dew, investigating old boathouses anyway.

The sun had finally burned through the fog by the time they walked up to the door of the Jameson cabin. Mulder knocked softly, not wanting to wake the man who was probably getting little enough sleep as it was. Richard was awake, however. He came to the door of a second building that was easily as large as the cabin. One could see the relationship between siblings. Like Roz, Richard was lean and dark, with prominent cheekbones and light eyes. At the moment he was also the personification of Misery.

With sympathy, they showed their identification and explained the purpose of their visit.

“I appreciate the help, but there’s not much more I can tell you that I didn’t tell the sheriff. Still,” he gestured to the open door of the outbuilding, “come on it and I’ll tell you what I know. Sorry, I’m in the middle of something I have to finish before the glue sets.”

They followed him inside to be met instantly with the sharp, pleasant scent of freshly cut wood, spiced with that of varnish and glue.

Richard Jameson was an instrument maker and restorer, and clearly a good one. The walls of his workshop were lined with guitars and violins and mandolins, as well as less common instruments such as sitars. There was even one large deep-bodied lute. A new harp lay in pieces on the workbench, its soundbox held in place by huge C-clamps as the glue dried, its pillar half carved. The craftsman had gone to a second bench and continued laying pre-cut pieces of mother-of-pearl into the delicate inlay on the neck of an ancient guitar. It seemed rather like an injured bird itself, as it lay there looking naked without its strings.

“Take your time,” Mulder said, not wanting to disturb the craftsman. “We’ll wait till you’re finished.” Mulder watched the man for a few minutes. Despite his obvious fatigue the man’s fingers moved deftly. Only from time to time did they fumble with the tiny pieces.

It was a pleasure for the two agents to wander around the workshop. Lacquered wood glowed golden in the sunlight. Large windows looked down upon a lake now peaceful in the full light of day. Mallards played in the waters, not a swan or loon in sight.

Scully drifted into a smaller side room. All at once Mulder heard her gasp and quickened his step to reach her side. She was staring at a most remarkable vision. A man’s face, striking and brown and as seamed as a nut, stared out from a ring of brilliantly golden leaves. The leaves seemed to spring from his downturned mouth. It was a carving of a head, life size, but it was the expression on the face — at once solemn and tortured, with beseeching green eyes — that made one expect to hear the man speak.

Or groan.

Mulder’s heart had gone racing in his chest at his first sight of the carving. Scully’s breath was still coming in small puffs as she approached it for a better look.

“That’s real gold leaf on the leaves if I’m not mistaken. There’s no substitute for that kind of glorious shine.”

“It’s the man…” Mulder said. “It’s a version of the Green Man, but not like most.”

“Not like any I’ve seen. He seems so… troubled.”

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At that moment a form rose up behind them and uncharacteristically both agents flinched.

“I’m finished for now,” a weary Richard said. “Let’s go to the house to talk.”

The house had been built about the same time as the Hutchinson’s and in the same style, but there all resemblance ceased. The Jameson’s house was decorated in the way one would expect for a place where two such artists lived. Everywhere there were rich colors and the gleam of wood — floor, furniture, cabinets, beams on the ceiling and objects on the walls and tables, most of it handmade. While Richard was gone to wash his hands and change his sawdust-covered shirt, the partners examined the carvings with interest. There was nothing else like the man in the gold leaf mask, but there were other Green Men.

“These are more traditional,” Scully said, examining two carvings, expressionless male face whose beards and hair consisted of thick masses of grape leaves and vines.

“Yes, very Bacchus-like, similar to those you can find on the signs of every other English pub in Britain.”

“Which you would know, I’m sure, having gone school there. Took a tour on the weekends did you?”

A crooked smile graced his lips. “Only the first two semesters. First time away from home and all that. As far as most images of the Green Man heads go, they’re Gothic interpretations of the Roman version. An image of plenty, where Man rules supreme over nature. Our Troubled Man behind the gold leaf seems to be inspired by ones I’ve seen photographs of — carvings on the choir of Norwich, early fifteenth century. Almost all of the images harken back to the Green Man’s far older pre-Christian antecedent of the disembodied oracle heads of pagan Celtic sects, such as the Druids. Tree worship — Nature as supreme, not Man.” Mulder sighed. “Of course, then man invented the heavy plow and within generations almost all nature worship ceased in Europe. Man could too easily scar the earth. He was less the slave to the lay of the land and the fickleness of the seasons. Note that in North America where the tribes never invented the heavy plow, nature worship continued.”

“Why thank you, Professor Mulder,” Scully teased.

The edges of Mulder’s mouth turned up just bit. “Sorry, I always found mythology fascinating.”

Scully went back to studying the more pedestrian Green Man carvings. “Odd that these heads have no life and our Troubled Man in the workroom looks ready to –”

“– Shall we talk now?” Jameson’s voice interrupted from behind them, a clear note of disapproval in his voice. “I have repairs I’ve promised to get out. Besides, it helps to keep busy.”

“We’re only trying to help,” Mulder said as he and Scully sat down on chairs across from where the craftsman sat on a couch cushioned in red and black tartan. The man didn’t look angry any more, only weary to the point of exhaustion.

“What do you want to know?”

“Only what you told the sheriff… but use different words, as if you were telling it for the first time.”

Richard nodded. He could see the sense in that. “Very well, only there’s not much to tell. I was working in my shop three days ago. It was barely sun-up, but we’re early risers. Reena came to tell me that she was going to take a walk. She does that from time to time. She collects wild flowers and herbs to dry, sometimes mushrooms. I didn’t think anything about her being gone until it was nearly dinnertime and she hadn’t returned. That’s all I know.”

“Any familiar places she might have gone? She could have sprained an ankle.”

“Do you think that I didn’t look in all those places first? Not a sign of her or anyone.”

The regular questions followed: What was her mood? Had she been sick? What had she been wearing? Was she carrying anything?

She had seemed the same as always, maybe a little ‘down’. People get like that. No, she hadn’t been sick, but wasn’t sleeping well. She had been wearing jeans, hiking boots and a blue sweater. She had been wearing her orange daypack, as always, so she would have a way to carry water, some fruit, and what she collected.

“Why ‘down’? Why not sleeping well?” Scully asked.

Richard shrugged. “Reena worked for one of the big art museums before we left Boston. Though she wanted to get out of the rat race, having no regular employment has been stressful. She threw herself into fixing up the cabin and once that was done, then what?”

“Her art?” Mulder suggested, glancing meaningfully at a Green Man mask with a grape leaf beard that hung on the wall above their heads.

Visibly perturbed, the craftsman frowned. “That’s just it – art, not craft. She had to be inspired. She couldn’t find satisfaction in the work itself. Those,” he gestured to lifeless Green Men about them, “sell well at the upscale craft shows but she wasn’t inspired any more and hasn’t done a new one in months.”

“There’s one in the woodshop,” Mulder mentioned meaningfully. “It’s not like these and looks new. I’d say she was sufficiently inspired when she created that. In fact, it looks as if she carved from life.”

Richard visibly stiffened. “No, not that one,” he blurted. “I never met anyone like that. Neither has she. When you have the kind of incredible imagination Reena has, you don’t need a model.”

“Still,” Mulder continued, “can you explain the dramatic change in style? Can it reflect some event –”

“You’re just like the others!” Richard shouted, leaping up. “Abrams and the fire chief and the others. Talk and questions. Why aren’t you out there looking for her?”

“We will,” and Mulder pulled a piece of folded paper from his pocket. “Sheriff Abrams even gave us a map. If you will mark on here her favorite walks, her favorite places, we’ll start today.”

Somewhat appeased, the distraught husband marked half a dozen routes on the map and within five minutes they were out of the comfortably-decorated house.

Scully pulled a bottle of cold tea from the back seat of their car. “Mr. Jameson certainly changed the subject abruptly. I don’t think he wanted to talk about our Troubled Man.”

“No, he didn’t,” Mulder agreed, “but I don’t want to pressure him about it just at the moment. Ripping open scabs is not my idea of fun. We’ve broached the subject, he must know that we’ll come back to it. Maybe tomorrow. I think we need to give him time to come to grips with the reality that there might be another person involved. A man. A real living, breathing man, her inspiration; not just imagination.”

“Which as we know is more often the case than not with missing husbands and wives,” Scully sighed.

“Only, what woman would run away with the man in that particular carving? As you said, that man has troubles. He doesn’t appear to be the yearning-for-love type. If she went away with him, I doubt it was planned, nor by choice.”

“Oh, I don’t know…” Scully mused, eyes warm on her own lover. “A man with troubles can be very attractive.”

Mulder felt himself flush. “I guess you would know.”

“I certainly would,” she smiled and finished the bottle of tea with a flourish and pulled out a second. “Where to now?” she asked.

“It’s Saturday. We’re going to go visit some of the returned children. I don’t know if it’s related but we mustn’t forget them. They suffered some trauma in the woods and I doubt that they stayed away as along as they did by choice.”

ACT III

Saturday, March 22nd

From house to house they went during the late morning and early afternoon. During that time, a thick canopy of gray clouds gradually replaced the golden sunlight. Because Reena Jameson’s disappearance was well known, the parents of the children no longer lost were surprisingly cooperative. It was mid-afternoon by the time they pulled into the gravel parking spot beside the Hutchinson cabin. Mulder carried in some groceries while Scully cleared empty tea bottles out of the back of the car. “I’d be willing to try some of that,” he said. “Roz Hutchinson gave you those, right?”

“Sorry,” Scully replied as she deposited the last bottle in the recycling bag. “All gone. It’s really delicious stuff.”

“I guess I know who’s going to be up all night going to the bathroom.”

Giving him a look followed by a suggestive pat on the backside as she passed him, Scully sallied out the door of the cabin. Mulder would have been heartened by the gesture if he did not know where she was going. To see the swan, of course.

After putting away the few groceries, Mulder changed into jeans, a long sleeve shirt, and the oldest pair of athletic shoes he had brought. After all, they didn’t plan on any more visits that day and it was obvious that nothing was happening in Sylvan Valley that evening. The laptop sat on the kitchen table but Mulder felt no desire to type up notes. Scully had her own system and did the bulk of that kind of work and she’d be doing that now, if she weren’t attending to the damn swan.

On the steps of the porch he paused to look down at the lake. One should have been able to see it clearly as it was daytime and there was no fog, but it was still little more that a flat silver surface beneath the slate sky.

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Scully was crouched in the boathouse where she had been in the morning, observing the swan. She’d pulled the sailcloth aside. The impressive bird lay inert with its head resting on its back. At least it was until Mulder stepped into the dilapidated shed. In an instant its head flew up, its back raised, the huge, glorious wings spread out, and the bird emitted a loud challenge sounding like the caw of a crow produced by a bassoon.

“Mulder! You’re upsetting him!”

“Upsetting ‘him’? I didn’t do anything.”

They both scuttled outside though they could still hear the wild creature’s loud protests.

“Something leads me to believe that that Bill doesn’t like me.”

“Maybe because he can sense that you don’t like him?”

Mulder waited for the twinkle in the eye, the twitch of the lip but none came. Scully wasn’t joking. He could tell a futile argument when he saw one and let the matter drop. “I need some exercise. I’m going to walk up to one of Reena’s favorite haunts. Want to come?”

She did consider it, he’d give her that. “If it’s alright with you I’d rather not. I want to go on line and see what information there is about –”

“–swans?”

Again the hairy eyeball. “Yes,” she admitted, “as well as to see if there is anything new on the affects of trauma on child behavior. Those children we saw today weren’t abnormal.”

“That’s not the point. Their parents and their doctor clearly feel that they’re abnormal on in terms of their behavior before their experience in the woods.” He started towards the woods.

“Maybe I should go. Promise — no detours, no getting lost.”

He paused, not sure that he liked the fact that she only thought she should go because she didn’t think he could take care of himself. “Scully, this is the not the wilderness. No old growth forest. This was all fields less than a century ago. I’m just going up the spring trail and then coming back. I’ll be back in two hours, tops. Besides, I have junior here,” and he showed her the smaller of his service weapons that he wore in a shoulder harness. “And I have the map Hutch gave us. What could happen?”

It was a pleasant walk. The woods were cool and calmly dim, and his resentment of the swan that kept Scully from joining him did not last long. He had spent too many of his early years alone not to feel at home in his own company. According to the map, the Odette trail wound from the lake back and forth up and between a break in the Cahoute Mountain where a spring gushed forth sweet, naturally carbonated water even in the middle of winter.

But when would winter be in this upside-down place where fall reigned when it should have been spring? What the map didn’t say was that the trail followed an old logging area that had been replanted by the lumber people in softwoods. All around him the hundreds of identical straight trunks of conifers rose into the air, planted so close together that the only remaining branches were forty feet in the air. His own feet made no noise on the springy needle-thick trail. Still, there were deciduous trees close enough so that when the breeze blew, their out-of-season dry leaves shivered with a bright sound like so many tiny wind chimes. Every once in a while he heard a rustle not caused by the wind. Some animal.

His thoughts went to the missing woman. Reena came here to think her private thoughts. Of what? Replaying romantic stories of Robin Hood? Unlikely. Did the face of her Green Men peer at her from behind the thick, shiny leaves of the rhododendrons that grew everywhere in this shady place? Or did she simply walk, allowing her artist eyes and brain to glory in the possibilities of curve and color?

A branch cracked so close by that Mulder felt his heart leap and hairs on the back of his neck rose. He had heard gunshots less loud. Automatically, he turned towards the sound. Above him on a little rise he saw a movement, but then it was gone. Another animal? Perhaps, but a larger one. Alert and wishing that he had brought his standard service weapon, he moved on.

There were no additional odd noises during the remainder of his walk. He heard the spring before he saw it, the sparkling rush of its waters. It must have created a small waterfall. Ahead was a great dark space, a cleft in the mountain eternally deep in shadow. All at once one of those freak coincidences happened. A break formed in the otherwise solidly overcast sky and the slanting rays of the nearly setting sun shot through the pattern of pencil-straight trunks of the softwood forest. The glade turned into something molten with gold, something magical. Normally seeing no light and damp from the spring, the deep combe was thick with huge ferns and moss. Ahead of him a ribbon of white water fell from a shelf of rock a few feet above his head in the very center of the cleft. He climbed the short, steep bank through slanting, golden sunbeams. On the top of the shelf was a pool, a dark oval perfectly mirroring the much lighter sky behind his right shoulder. He found himself staring into the pool, only vaguely remembering to wonder if the missing woman also came to this enchanted place and how often.

There was a movement in the water then, though not ‘in’ the water — a movement of an image in the water. His head jerked up and to the right in time to catch a flash of reddish brown on the slight rise above him, where a shaft of golden sun glittered.

“Scully?” It was the same color as her hair. Perhaps she had followed him after all. “Scully, I’m here.”

There was no answer.

He reached for the small revolver. It felt tiny and nearly useless in his hand. Feeling slightly foolish, he called, “FBI. Come out!” His words that usually carried well seemed to get sucked into the loam of the dark, rich mountainside.

But something heard him. The light shifted again near the spot where he had seen the rusty shade of red. There it was again. His brow creased as he struggled to make out the shape that was man-size but not human in form.

His gun went back into his holster as he sighed. A deer stood there, a doe, and a good sized one. It stepped out of the brush and regarded him solemnly with huge, unblinking brown eyes. She was not the least afraid. Her head was up; her long soft ears flickered back and forth as if listening.

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“Aren’t you a brash little thing,” he said, feeling his lips curve into a smile, “and beautiful.”

She turned then, without hurrying. At the same time a bit of breeze sent a puff of sweet air in his direction, from off the ridge where she stood. And it was sweet. His nostrils flared to catch every molecule. There were cockleberry bushes everywhere; they had to be the cause. Still, his lungs held onto the breath. The rush was as startling as it was unexpected. His heart quickened. A flush went up his skin and into his face. His head felt oddly light.

A man’s body can embarrass him from time to time; he’s a highly visual animal, after all. But scents will do it as well. The billion dollar perfume industry can’t be all hype. His loins twitched as if there were smoldering coals down there that someone was trying very hard to stoke into flame.

But there was no one, just the doe who still stood on the dark hill above him, flashing her light-colored rump in his face.

“You little flirt,” he called to her, not really believing that she was the cause.

In answer she merely looked over her shoulder at him, her little white tail flickering.

There is an almost undeniable urge in humans to touch wild things. There’s the challenge, of course, just to get close but also the desire to get that close to something so alien. Mulder wasn’t ashamed to admit it. He desired to run his hand along the doe’s smooth coat of coarse hair, but more than anything he wanted to feel the hard, slim muscles vibrating with life and a little fear under his hand. Standing there as if waiting for him, he could almost believe that she wanted it as well. Knowing it was hopeless, he took a step forward as softly as possible. She didn’t move. He took another, unable to keep the ground cover from rustling. She still didn’t move. Before he knew it he was moving carefully, but unerringly, towards the rise where she stood. She merely stepped about in a circle, her eyes ever on him, as if impatient.

“Damn, not just a flirt but a vixen,” he whispered as he began to climb. The slope was so steep that he found himself using hands as well as feet. His shoes slipped from time to time on the damp leaves and still she stood her ground. He could see her eyelashes now, long and curled, the perfection of her impossibly tiny hooves, the soft muzzle. He could almost feel the warmth of her breath in his palm. Only when he came within ten feet did she move, taking two leaps that defied gravity in their effortless ease.

As if they were tied by an invisible string, she remained just that far away, no closer, no farther. Mulder didn’t really think he would catch her but it was a fun game, like playing tag with a much older sibling who taunted you and always stayed just out of reach. To play with such a beautiful and wild creature was a child’s dream and Mulder had never entirely given up his childhood dreams, and hoped that he never would.

Up this slope and that they went, and down again. He no longer even tried to keep quiet. When he fell behind, she waited for him, flicking that tail, her rump always in view.

He fell once and just sat there looking at her gazing at him dispassionately with her Loren Bacall eyes from less than five feet away. “Oh, you sexy thing. You must drive the young bucks wild.”

That should have triggered a warning in his mind.

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He had been working on ascending a heavily wooded slope in black shadow when he emerged suddenly into the light. At the top of the slope was a clear space, a meadow. It seemed light only in contrast, for though the sky was still bright, the sun had set.

He was still pulling himself up when he heard a very loud snort. Something large moved restlessly nearby and almost immediately let loose with a tremendous trumpeting bellow. None of this came from the direction where the doe waited.

Mulder straightened up so quickly that he felt suddenly dizzy. He dropped back down, hands on knees. Only a few yards away stood a stag, not just some young buck but a fully mature stag, complete with dark ruff, and he was very angry. His hot breath came out of his flaring nostrils into the cooling air in little puffs like a bull’s. Mulder’s vision was blurred enough that he couldn’t even count the number of menacingly sharp points on buck’s impressive rack. The darkening sky of evening rolled erratically overhead. The stag bellowed again in challenge. Mulder’s limbs felt suddenly as weak as water and his head felt so heavy that he could barely lift it. There was no way he could outrun this thing.

“You damn bitch,” he hissed at the doe.

Her ears softly flicked back and forth, as she looked from him to the stag, and back. He could have sworn that he saw a self-satisfied smirk on her face.

He didn’t really have time to move, his body seemed to be dissolving when it should have been going rigid in preparation for action. Hooves pounded, there was a dark blur, and his body proved all too solid. Pain erupted along his left side. He felt his body leave the earth and propel backwards into black shadow. Down the slope he had climbed for so long he fell, rolling and rolling, scratched by brambles and stabbed by broken twigs and rocks. Pain was everywhere.

He didn’t remember reaching the bottom.

Act IV

Saturday night/the early hours of Sunday, March 22nd and 23rd.

Firelight was so incredibly beautiful, Scully thought as she sat curled in the big comfortable chair before it. She simply stared into the flames. She’d been doing so for what seemed like hours and never tired of the constant change in form and color. The sound, too, like a chorus of whispering spirits, was eerie and at the same time fascinating even though she knew the cause was simply trapped water in the logs escaping as steam. And the heat! It did things to her where it touched her skin. Languid as she was, a part of her shifted restlessly. Where on earth was Mulder? She wanted him home, she wanted him. She wanted to make love to him right here on the rich, thick Indian rug that sat before this glorious fire that, surprisingly, never seemed to need tending.

Her hand went out automatically and found the bowl. Half a dozen of the purple berries went into her mouth. They had bought all those groceries, she should get up and make something for supper, but these would do, and they were so good!

She had never logged onto the Internet to check to see if there was any new trauma studies on children, much less to search for information on the care and feeding of swans. There really wasn’t any need about the second issue. Before sunset she had looked in on him one last time and ‘Bill’ had looked fine. What a beautiful, big fellow he was. He had arched his back and extended his wings for her. Even taken a few steps. Such grace and strength! He’d be fine, he was fine. After leaving him, she’d spied an aluminum pail that looked like something her grandmother might have used and headed out into the woods, still dressed in her better work shoes and suit. Roz Hutchinson had been right about how thickly the cockleberries grew near the lake, and it hadn’t taken Scully long to fill her bucket with the plump, dark fruit. Not having had lunch, she’d eaten her fill during the picking. It had been a pleasant time. The woods were so quiet, so peaceful, and the picking so easy that the berries seemed to fall off into her hand. The time seemed to fly by — yet why was it almost completely dark by the time she returned to the cabin?

The cabin. She must not have looked at it very well the night before. She had had the impression then that it was just a box, filled with inexpensive second-hand furniture. Now it looked to her like a fairy tale cottage. Ivy and Rose of Sharon framed the doors and windows. A path of colored pebbles, smooth from the river, led up to the porch on which clean, white wicker furniture sat accented with colorful pillows. Inside, the air was filled with the scent of rosemary and lavender from the bunches of herbs hanging from the rustic rafters as well as from the scent of the ripe berries she carried. The furniture was rich and lush, covered in chenille throws in jewel tones. The appliances in the kitchen gleamed in the firelight. The fire! It was already burning brightly, just like now. Clever man. Mulder must have set it before he went out. The man must have ulterior motives. If so, she liked his ulterior motives.

It didn’t occur to her to wonder why the fire had not burned down, since Mulder had been gone for hours and so had she. Instead, she kicked off her shoes, sank down into the deepest chair with her bucket of berries, and there she had sat.

Waiting. Waiting and eating.

Her waiting ended, and just at the time when a questing hand into the bucket came up empty. There came a knock at the door of dark polished wood. With anticipation she opened it.

It was now totally dark. A tall figure stood on the porch, the only light coming from the fireplace within.

Reaching out she took his hands and pulled him inside. “Silly, you don’t need to knock. Come on in. Love that shirt.”

He wore a poet shirt, open half way down his chest. When he took her in her arms and pressed his eager lips to hers, the yards and yards of material in the sleeves billowed around them like great white wings.

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

Pain is not a wonderful thing. Oh, sometimes it was nice to be reassured that you weren’t dead, but not when you wake in a night as black as pitch and the damp cold is working into each and every bone of your body. Groaning and swearing would have been a good first move if he hadn’t found himself facing downhill, his face in moss and leaves and pine mulch. There was some of each in his mouth. Mulder spat out what he could but had little spit. It was when he tried to get up or at least turn over that it really, really hurt. Hot tears came to his eyes. Shit. More slowly he stretched individual limbs. Nothing seemed broken but there wasn’t a muscle that wasn’t bruised. The cold wind that blew through his shirt to his skin seemed to be bearing tiny knives. This told him that his jacket had vanished somewhere, his shirt had been nearly torn from his body, and that the fall had tried to do the same to the skin of his arms, chest and back. When he moved his face he felt the tug of some scratches, but not bad. He must have instinctively protected his head with his arms as he fell. Yes, he remembered falling, and landing, and rolling. Especially the landing part. Something had torn then in his left hip, that injury seemed the worst. Agony pierced up and down from that hip when he tried to put weight on the leg.

Finally he was able to roll onto his right side enough to keep his face out of the dirt. Panting, he lay there, frantically thinking of options and more frantically listening for a search party. There had to be a search party. Scully knew where he was headed and he would be way overdue by this time, which he realized by the backlighting of his watch was nearly midnight. But how far had he strayed from the path he had said he would be following? The part of his day since leaving the spring was hazy. Even with his headache — and he did have a killer headache — his head was clearer now. Had he really been playing tag with a deer? That’s what he seemed to remember, but as if in a dream. And there had been a buck, a lowered crown of antlers. Maybe all the damage to his hip didn’t come from the fall.

Somewhere not close but not nearly far enough away, thunder rumbled. It had been overcast since early afternoon. Please, not rain; that he didn’t need. In his condition, in his state of undress, in this weather which would only get colder, hypothermia would have his number.

Light flashed overhead, pale and diffuse, silhouetting the thick interweaving of bushy branches inches from his face. Thunder rumbled louder. His only consolation was that he knew now that he wasn’t blind.

The wind picked up significantly and there came the scent of rain and ozone. Whatever was coming was going to be big. This bush would be no protection. Another flash brought another view of the underside of the bush he had rolled under. Wait! Feeling foolish, he managed to pull his cell phone from his back pocket. When it had gotten so late before, why hadn’t he tried to call? As his cold fingers fumbled with the power button, he grumbled under his breath. With his luck if it hadn’t been damaged by the stag’s attack or in his fall, it would be out of batteries. What a surprise, therefore, when the ghostly green display sprang to life. No service, however. Exasperated, his head fell back into the leaves. His urban counterparts in law enforcement certainly had an easier job in terms of communication. On the other hand, he didn’t have to worry about bears or snakes carrying guns.

Bears… And snakes… Maybe they didn’t carry guns but they had fangs and teeth and claws. He checked for his gun. No gun. That had tumbled free at some point during the fall. Just in case, he had unsnapped the holster during one of the times a noise had startled him, and for some reason had never snapped it again. That was a foolish thing to do. No — a criminally incompetent thing to do.

The breeze brought him another fresh scent of earth and mold and wet and, yes, that sweetness. He knew that scent this time –a cockleberry bush. A flash of lightning revealed the small dark globes in abundance just over his head. Eagerly he reached out and pulled in handfuls. They not only wet his dry mouth but eased his shaky and empty stomach.

He must have become lost in savoring their tangy flavor for far too long, because all at once the lightning was brighter and came more frequently, and the thunder was louder. Wind lashed the tops of the trees. Shaken loose, ripe berries fell onto his face.

He couldn’t stay here. He couldn’t afford to get wet and he would if the rain was much heavier than a drizzle. And it was going to be much more than that.

With an extreme effort that was as much of will as strength, he rolled out from under the bush and under the open sky. He had to see around him to find better shelter.

Already it was colder. Desperation gave him the strength to look beyond the everywhere ache of his body. He was even more dizzy than before, however, in addition to his body aching like a sonofabitch.

With each tracing of white witches’ fingers across the sky, he forced his head to rise so he could take in another point of the compass. On the fourth flash he saw it. He must have actually rolled down that steep hillside and just before the end, a shelf of rock thrust out. There was a darkness under there that seemed about three feet high. Perhaps there would be enough of an overhang to give him shelter from the rain that was surely on its way.

Gritting his teeth he moved forward on his hands and his right knee, dragging his left leg. The distance wasn’t far, less than five yards, which was fortunate because huge, fat drops of rain began to fall before he was half way there. He was only damp by the time he reached the overhang. It was deep enough. He moved farther in and farther yet into the complete blackness. The sound of the rain muted as the stone closed in around him. A cave! He could scarcely believe his luck. If this were like other caves, it would also maintain a rather constant temperature. It wouldn’t be anywhere near comfortably warm but neither would it be perilously cold.

Maybe he wouldn’t die this night after all. At the moment, however, a nearly irresistible desire for warmth and sleep had overtaken him. At least the cave floor was surprisingly spongy from the years of blown-in leaves and forest debris. By feel alone he even found a hollow just his size. With a sigh he curled up there, gradually removing the worst of the offending sticks and stones and then reaching out for armloads of more of the flooring material to pile around and over his shivering body. Sleep was more than insistent now. Before he surrendered to it, however, a thought of caution worked its way through the fuzziness and pain in his head, and he worked the cell phone out of his back pocket again. The light from the display wasn’t much, but in that complete blackness it was surprisingly bright. Fatalistically, he half expected to see petroglyphs on the walls or maybe satanic verses and pentagrams, bones in the corner or black candles. Nothing. Completely clean. Completely sterile except for the overpowering smell of mold and damp and earth. Forcing the phone clumsily back into place was his last act before blessed silence closed over his mind.

* * * * * * * * *

It was raining hard. The perfect time to lay warm and safe before the still perfect fire in your lover’s arms. He had been particularly attentive, cuddling and giving her pleasure but taking none for himself. Odd for Mulder – well, not the attentive part — but, heck, why not. Scully wasn’t complaining. He dropped more of the lush, sweet berries into her open mouth and sealed them with a soft kiss. Life couldn’t get much better than this.

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

Rain drummed on the floor of the dark forest, cleaning and reviving, but inside the cave the sound was most like a lullaby, going on and on. It was enough to keep Mulder sound asleep despite the occasional stray twig that he had failed to remove, and the interest of small insects in his cuts and scratches. He slept, but in time he also began to dream. They weren’t vivid dreams, as if the fuzziness of the evening had carried over, but he knew where he was. He was in a cave curled up just as he was and he couldn’t move, didn’t want to move. With bliss, he remembered being much younger and smaller and lying under mounds of quilts warm in his bed on Martha’s Vineyard with nothing that needed doing, while some frigid Nor’easter raged outside. After a while he heard a movement, a slow and heavy lumbering. Nothing to be scared of, just his dog. It was a big black dog who resembled his beloved Thor so much. The dog’s name was even Thor, even though in real life Fox and Sam had never been allowed to have a dog, but this was a dream and sometimes good things were allowed to happen in dreams.

Thor was up on the bed standing over him now. Even though the room was black, he could feel the heat radiating off the big body, could hear the heavy breathing, could smell the heavy breathing! Ugh! What had he been eating? And rolling in? Thor wasn’t allowed on the bed but there he was. He probably wanted out but Fox didn’t feel like moving. He should wash the damn dog before his mother yelled at him, but he didn’t want to do that either. “Go to Sam,” but as happens in dreams, the words didn’t come. His mouth didn’t even move but stayed stupidly wide open. He wanted to raise his arms to push the dog away, but those wouldn’t move either, yet he felt not a trace of fear. No, Thor stayed right there, breathing out his doggy breath in great gasps. So hot, such a smell. It was in Fox’s lungs now, filling him. By the heat, the animal’s muzzle must be inches from his own. That essence of animal was getting into the boy’s nose and mouth, getting in and filling, filling, filling him with a great, huge, wild heat. Only when he could take no more, when he felt near to bursting with that hot breath, the animal moved away. He could hear its slow heavy tread as is moved into some other corner of the black room, and with a surprisingly deep grunt settled itself to sleep.

It was only after the animal began to snore softly, a sound very much like the drumming of the rain, that the spell seemed to break. Mulder roused, not a lot, but enough to exhale for what seemed like the first time since the dream began. Odd. Though he breathed out for a long, long time, he still felt a fullness in his lungs and around his heart. Surprisingly, it didn’t hurt but felt rather comforting, like when a cat sleeps on your chest. This, however, must be a very big cat for he found it hard to breathe. When he tried to induce the animal to move, however, he found nothing there.

I must still be dreaming, he hoped, and, hoping, slipped back into the chilly dark.

End of Swan Lake, Part I

Continued in Part 2

________________________________________

send feedback to: Windsinger

The Romany Curse

cover

Episode 10×21

Artwork by Xscout

Link to VS10 Home

TITLE: The Romany Curse

AUTHOR: Judie Murphy

EMAIL: judie@webaxs.net

RATING: PG-13

CONTENT: Case File, MSR, A, MT

SPOILERS: None that I can think of.

SUMMARY: Mulder and Scully investigate strange deaths

in Norfolk, Virginia. Does an old music box hold the answers

they need to solve the case?

THANKS: To Daydreamer, Gerry, Sally and Ten for your

support, encouragement and suggestions.

FEEDBACK: Yes please, to judie@webaxs.net

DISTRIBUTION: Written for I-Made-This Productions’ Virtual

Season 10 and they have exclusive rights for the first two

weeks. After that, anywhere is fine but I’d appreciate it

if you’d let me know where. It helps inspire me!

DISCLAIMER: Mulder, Scully and any characters you

recognize belong to Chris Carter, 1013 Productions and Fox

Studios and have been used without permission. Anyone else

belongs to me. No infringement of copyright intended.

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The Romany Curse

by Judie Murphy

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

Teaser

Benson Residence

Norfolk, Virginia

March 10, 2003 10:48 p.m.

“Hey, Uncle Frank. Are you sure about the safe?”

Frank Matthews looked up from where he was rummaging

through the drawers of a large desk and glared at the

younger man. He questioned for the hundredth time why he’d

taken on the annoying seventeen-year-old but knew it was a

debt he owed an old friend, a debt he was determined to

repay even as he wondered if his patience would outlast his

resolve.

He rolled his eyes in exasperation, frustrated that his

pupil still hadn’t grasped the basics. His voice took on

that strained, patient quality of a teacher repeating

something that had been discussed many times before.

“You listen, boy, an’ you listen good.”

Lifting his gloved hands, he used the pointer finger of

one hand to mark off the fingers of the other as he spoke

“You keep quiet. You ‘member what I told you ’bout alarms

and how t’ ‘void ’em. You wear gloves, grab th’ good stuff

an’ leave the junk. You do what I tell you, when I tell

you, with no arguments. You stay close, an’ most important

of all, you don’ ask damn fool questions. You got that?”

Embarrassed at being reprimanded yet again on only his

third job, the teenager solemnly nodded but silently cursed

the circumstances that forced him to make a living this

way. Since his father’s premature death in an auto accident

three months earlier, he’d been ‘helping’ Uncle Frank at

nights because the money he earned as a delivery boy at the

local supermarket wasn’t enough to support his mother and

two younger sisters.

Even though Frank wasn’t his real uncle, he’d always

called him that ever since he was a small kid because the

older man had been his father’s best friend. He wanted to

tell Frank to ‘go to hell’ but he had no choice. He needed

the extra money these nighttime jobs gave him. If only he

could find a way to make some really quick money. Then he’d

show Frank.

Frank snorted a dismissal and turned his attention to

where the man had said the key to the safe could be found.

With a cry of satisfaction, he grabbed the copy of

Webster’s Dictionary lying at the back of the drawer and

opened it to where a small 2-inch square by ¼ inch deep

section had been cut out of the middle pages. In the cavity

lay the key, exactly where he’d been told it would be.

Removing the key, he tossed the book back in the drawer and

began tapping the wall-to-ceiling bookcase opposite the

desk, listening for any change in pitch.

“What…” began another question from the teenager,

startling Frank from his concentration and drawing his

immediate wrath.

“For Christ’s sake, Sam, didn’ your old man teach ya

anythin’? I showed you the things t’ take, so get to it. I

want some good stuff in your sack by the time I finish

here. We gotta get out ‘fore someone comes lookin’ for the

old lady.”

He inclined his head towards the body slumped in the

corner and continued tapping along the bookcase.

Sam tried not to look at the blood that ran down the side

of the old woman’s lined face, but his eyes were drawn to

the spot against his will. She looked so pale and still

that he was sure she was dead. If only she hadn’t walked in

and caught him, he thought worriedly. Frank had hit her

from behind and she had collapsed like a sack of potatoes

so he was sure she hadn’t seen what he looked like. The

pale moonlight had only silhouetted his frame against the

French windows that they had forced open. He was

about to ask Frank if he should cover her up when he heard

a cry of triumph behind him.

Spinning around, he saw Frank standing in front of a false

panel that was part of the bookcase. With experienced

fingers, Frank inserted the key, opened the wall safe and

looked inside.

“What’d I tell ya, boy?” he crowed, as he reached inside

the safe and pulled out a wad of money and shoved it into

his sack.

He felt around inside, searching for something else. Damn,

the suit’d said it was in the safe and Frank didn’t want to

leave without it. He’d been promised five G’s if he handed

it over but he intended asking for double that. The guy had

seemed pretty desperate to get it. He was about to turn

away and ask the kid to shine the flashlight into the

interior when he caught sight of something dark lying on

its side against the rear of the safe. He’d almost missed

it because it fit neatly against the back wall. Eagerly,

he pulled the object out.

It was a carved mahogany box about 6 inches by 4 inches

and maybe 6 inches high. The workmanship was the best he’d

ever seen and it had to be very old. He rubbed his hands

reverently over the dark polished wood and traced the

strange markings etched into the sides and lid with his

finger. Frank had never seen anything like it in all his

years. He hesitated, knowing the man had been emphatic

about his not opening the box but then he shrugged. Maybe

he’d have a better idea of what to ask for if he knew what

was

inside.

He slowly lifted the lid but nearly dropped the box when

the sound of some old waltz he remembered from his courting

days filled the air. Recovering quickly, he slammed the lid

back down, relieved when he didn’t hear any sound of alarm

from outside. He raised the lid again but this time he

placed his finger against the spinning pedestal and stopped

the music. A carved figurine that looked like a couple

entwined in each other’s arms sprung up and stood frozen on

the now still platform. Frank stared in disappointment at

the otherwise empty interior. Nothing. Why the hell did

the guy want it? He shrugged, deciding it didn’t matter as long

as he got his five G’s.

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Then he heard the wail of sirens in the distance. Damn!

Maybe the cops weren’t headed for this house but he

couldn’t take a chance that the kid hadn’t tripped a silent

alarm. He dropped the box in his sack and shoved the boy

towards the exit and hissed in his ear. “Make a run for it.

We’ll meet up at your place. Now move.”

The kid didn’t have to be told twice. He hurried out the

French doors with Frank hot on his heels and they melted

into the night as the old lady on the floor moaned feebly.

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

Act 1

Hoover Building

Washington

March 12, 2003 7:26 a.m.

Scully entered the office, an autopsy file in her hand.

She stopped just inside the door, silently observing her

partner. He was chewing the end of his pen, his eyes glued

to the monitor, so absorbed in the information displayed

there that he hadn’t heard her enter.

“I thought you gave up surfing the porn sites, Mulder?”

Startled he looked up, the pen falling from his lips onto

a notepad that was covered with his barely legible scrawl.

Then he smiled the smile that always made her pulse rate

quicken, his joy at seeing her obvious.

“Not me, Scully. You must have me confused with the guy

who used to own those videos that aren’t in the bottom

drawer any more.”

Mulder leaned back in his chair until it creaked in

protest and put his feet on the desk, trying to look

relaxed but she knew he was tense by the way his fingers

drummed the arm of his chair.

She inclined her head towards the screen and asked “What’s

wrong?”

Sighing, he said, “Nothing that seeing you hasn’t cured.”

Then he crooked his finger at her and said in a husky

voice,” “Come here.”

It wasn’t what he said but how he said it that made her

heart thump in her chest and what was worse, she knew he

knew it by the mischievous twinkle in his eyes.

She forced herself to be the voice of reason. They had a

rule about fraternizing in the office and she wasn’t going

to relax that rule no matter how good he looked.

“Muldeerrrr.”

“What? I merely wanted to show you what I’ve been doing

while you were slicing and dicing.” He stared at her wide

eyed and innocent, a hurt look on his face.

She stepped back and looked up and down the corridor.

Seeing no one, she stepped back into the room and gently

closed the door. “You know very well what I mean,” she

whispered.

“Hey, I didn’t do anything,” he protested. He flashed her

a smug look that told her he knew exactly what she’d meant

and then he added, “Yet.”

Scully sighed. “All right, Mulder. I’ll be right there.”

She placed the

folder on the edge of her desk and slowly reached for the

buttons on her jacket. She undid the buttons, one by one.

Then she lifted one shoulder and shrugged her arm out of

the jacket, forcing her back to arch and her breasts to push

forward. Then she let the garment slip off her other

shoulder and fall to the floor.

Bending over so that Mulder had a perfect view of her

breasts as they peeked out from the top of her blouse, she

smiled up at him as she picked up her jacket and gave it a

shake.

Mulder’s eyes never left her.

She slowly turned and wiggled her hips as she walked to

the coat rack to hang it up. She ran her tongue around her

lips and smiled sweetly at him and said, “Would you like a

cup of coffee before we compare notes?”

He was squirming in his seat now and his face was flushed.

With a moan he lifted his feet and dropped them to the

floor and leaned his elbows on the desk, dropping his head

into his hands. “No fair. I didn’t tease you like that.”

“No, not like that but just as bad. Now… back to work and

if you behave yourself, I’ll let you finish what I started

when we get home tonight.”

Mulder looked as if he was going to say something but

resignedly nodded his assent. “Better make that coffee

black and strong. A guy can take only so much you know.”

Scully suppressed a smile and went to make their coffee.

By the time she returned, he was once again absorbed in the

information displayed on the computer screen but this time

he appeared more relaxed. She tapped his shoulder and

handed him his cup.

Smiling his thanks, he sniffed it appreciatively, took a

long swallow and said, “Ahhh, you know what I like.”

Deciding to ignore him this time, Scully said, “All right,

so what have you been doing?”

Mulder put his coffee down, stood up and began to pace.

He absently ran his fingers through his hair, causing it to

stick up in all directions. “When Skinner handed us this

case yesterday, I remembered reading about a couple of

similar cases a few years ago. So… while you were going

over the body, I went through the old files.”

“And did you find those other cases?”

He nodded and she saw that strained look she couldn’t

quite identify flash across his face again. Returning to

his seat, he avoided her eyes and spoke hurriedly as if by

doing so he could get through the unpleasant debriefing

sooner, which was not like Mulder at all. He usually

enjoyed these show and tell sessions.

“On 22 October 1997, a small-time thief by the name of

Vince Morelli was found dead in his apartment in

Chesapeake, Virginia. An autopsy showed his heart had

turned to stone just like the victim in this current case.

All the doors were locked and there was no sign of a

struggle. The next day, a second hand dealer and known

fence, William John Clarke aka Honest Willie, was found

dead in his locked shop on Poindexter St, also in

Chesapeake. Same manner of death. There was no sign of

forced entry or a struggle. Since the locals had no leads

and the deaths were unusual, they forwarded the files to

the Bureau for investigation and they were sent down here.

Both cases remain unsolved. In fact, I found two other

similar cases from the thirties but the details are even

more sketchy except for the manner of death.”

Scully looked puzzled. “I don’t remember the files. Why

didn’t we investigate? It sounds like …” She trailed off

as the significance of that date sunk in and at the haunted

expression on Mulder’s face.

Now she understood.

He’d been looking for a cure for her cancer in October

1997 and nothing else had mattered to him at the time.

“Oh, Mulder. I…”

He shook his head, his eyes asking her to forget it. She

nodded, silently agreeing to let the subject go.

“So, where are the files now?”

“Umm, well since there were no further deaths, the files

were pushed to the bottom of the pile.” He let out a long

breath and continued. “Then they became MWA’s”.

MWA’s were ‘Missing Without Action’, the name Mulder gave

to any file he hadn’t been able to salvage after the fire.

He sat back down at his desk and hit the print button. The

computer sent the pictures on the screen to the printer,

which obediently began printing.

“I’ve managed to reconstruct part of both of the 1997

files from information stored in the central computer at

the Chesapeake PD, including photos and autopsy reports, but

all the legwork and interviews were in the hard copies of

the files that were destroyed.”

He gestured to the screen. “I just received the photos

taken at the scene. Luckily, the photographer still had

them on file and was kind enough to email me his copies. I

even found newspaper reports printed at the time but they

are a bit vague because the details of the deaths were never

released to the press. The articles help to reconstruct the

files though.”

Scully’s brow creased in concentration. “I’ll look over

the reports on the way to Norfolk. What I can’t understand

is why the five year gap between deaths?”

He shrugged. “Well, I was kind of hoping you’d find

something when you autopsied the latest victim. No such

luck, huh?”

She shook her head as she walked over to her desk to

retrieve the autopsy report she had left there earlier.

“Sorry, Mulder. I couldn’t find any reason why Samuel

William Styles, a normal healthy teenager should have died

except for one minor detail.” She paused for effect and

was pleased when he looked up, the haunted look gone from

his face and replaced with one of intense interest. “His

heart was almost double its normal size and hard as a

rock.

It was so hard that I had trouble getting a sample to

analyze. Not that the section was any help in finding

answers.” She paused while she opened the file, found

the lab report and handed it to her partner.

“Mulder, I’ve never seen anything like it. All his other

organs were healthy and showed no signs of whatever

affected his heart. I went over his body with a magnifying

glass. Nothing out of the ordinary. No sign of trauma. No

needle marks. No pills in his stomach. No drugs in his

bloodstream although I do suspect a poison of some sort. I

ran every test I could think of but came up empty. I have

a few tests pending but at the moment, I can’t tell you why

an apparently healthy seventeen-year-old male died of heart

failure.”

“Heart failure, Scully?” He put the autopsy report down

and gave her a sardonic grin. “I suppose having your heart

enlarged to twice its size and turned to stone will do that

to a guy.”

Scully rolled her eyes in exasperation but merely

suggested, “Maybe there’s a new designer drug on the

streets. Or a bad batch that was around five years ago but

pulled off the streets because of the other two deaths.

Maybe the kid found the stash and decided to experiment.”

She shrugged. “I’ll know more when the test results are in

but that won’t be for at least forty-eight hours. The lab

will email me the results and send the hard copy here.”

Mulder retrieved the papers and photos from the printer

and added them to the partially reconstructed files then

placed the files on top of each other. He stood up and

reached for his jacket behind the chair, saying, “Let’s go

then. I think I’d like to talk to the kid’s mother first.

It says here that she was the one who found his body.”

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

Ghent Arms, Apartment #24,

Norfolk, Virginia

March 12, 2003 1:45 p.m.

“Rachel Styles?”

“What do you want?” asked the flat female voice from behind

the door which was opened just far enough so that the

occupant could see who was on the other side. The one eye

that was visible from the hall was red and puffy.

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The agents held up their IDs for her inspection.

“Agents Mulder and Scully, FBI, Mrs. Styles. We’d

appreciate a moment of your time.”

“What for?”

“I’d rather not discuss this in the hallway. May we come

in?”

“No. Go away. Nothin’ you say is gonna bring my boy back.”

Her voice faltered and she finished on a sob.

Mulder gave Scully a pleading look but before she could

respond, the woman continued, “Can you tell me why he died?

Can you?” Her eyes filled with fresh tears and she looked

accusingly at the agents. “No, I didn’t think so. My boy

is

dead and I just want to be left in peace.”

Scully stepped up to the door. “Mrs. Styles, that’s why

we’re here. We need to ask you some questions so we can

find out what happened to your son. Just a few minutes,

please?”

“No. The cops never went after that drunk rich man’s son

that ran my Charlie off the road and no one can tell me

what killed my Sam. I don’t trust cops and I don’t trust

you. Now leave me alone.” The woman burst into even louder

sobs as she slammed the door closed and they could hear her

footsteps receding from the other side of the door.

Scully looked at Mulder, arched an eyebrow and asked,

“Didn’t you call first?”

He looked a little guilty but before he could answer, the

door opposite opened and a grey-haired black woman in her

seventies, broad-shouldered and full-bosomed, poked her

head out and pointed a pudgy finger at Mulder. “Don’t mind

her. She don’t like anyone with a badge. I heard you say

you work for the FBI. That true?”

Mulder and Scully held up their IDs in unison and

walked the short distance across the hallway. The light

brown eyes flicked from the photos to their faces as Scully

repeated their names and asked, “We’re here investigating

the death of Jonathan Styles. Is there anything you can

tell us about the day he died?”

Even as Scully asked the question, the old woman was

shaking her head sadly. “I watched that boy grow up and

looked after him and his sisters when his Mama was at work

and his Pa was away. His death is a real tragedy coming as

it does on top of his father’s death.” She paused a moment

and then started as if she realized that she was still

standing in her doorway. “But where are my manners? I’m

Felicity Smith. Please come in.”

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

Mulder placed the coffee cup beside the case file on the

small table in front of him and looked at his hostess who

was trying hard not to break down. She’d obviously had a

soft spot for her young neighbor.

Taking a handkerchief from her pocket and dabbing at her

eyes, she sniffed, “I loved that boy and I want to help in

any way I can.”

“How long have you known the family, Mrs. Smith?” Scully

asked.

“Since Sam barely reached his Papa’s knee. About 15 years,

I guess.”

“Were you home the morning his mother called for an

ambulance?”

The old lady nodded. “I heard Rachel screaming so I went

right on over but I knew he was dead the moment I laid eyes

on him.” She lifted her handkerchief and blew her nose.

“Rachel said he’d come home late and was just fine when he

went to bed.”

“Do you know where he’d been?”

She shook her head. “That boy would go out at all hours. I

used to tell him not to bang the outside door but would he

listen?” She paused and then crossed herself, saying a

quick silent prayer. “Sorry, didn’t mean to speak ill of

the dead. He was a good boy really.”

“Do you know if Sam experimented with drugs?”

“No,” Mrs. Smith said emphatically. “He would never do

that. Not after what happened to his best friend in high

school. He died of a drug overdose. Sam took it hard and

then, well… Sam’s dad died just a few months ago in a car

accident.” She sighed wearily and added, “Driver that hit

him was high on drugs.” Shaking her head she repeated,

“No, there’s no way that boy would have touched drugs,

although he did get drunk every now and then, but that’s not

odd in a young man these days, is it?”

She looked up at the agents as if defying them to say

otherwise. They didn’t so she continued, “He dropped out

of school to support his Mama and sisters after his Papa

died although if it wasn’t for Frank, I don’t know how that

family would survive.”

“Frank?”

“Yes, Frank Matthews, Charlie’s best friend. Oh, sorry,

Charlie was Rachel’s husband, God rest his soul. They

worked together or something like that. Frank was always

over there and since Charlie’s died, Frank’s been taking

Sam out a couple of nights a week and Rachel says the extra

money he gives the boy for helping him in his work is real

handy.”

“Do you know what kind of work Frank does?”

“No, but I doubt it’s anything honest. Both Frank and

Charlie done some time … or so I heard. Not that I’m

judging them. They was always nice and polite to me.”

“When was the last time you saw Sam?”

“That would be the night before he died. I heard him and

Frank come back about 11:30. Like I said, that boy

always slams the outside door. I know it was that time of

night because the news had just finished and I was about to

watch Leno. I only watch the monologue and then go to

sleep, but I do like to hear what that boy has to say about

life.”

When neither agent responded to her thoughts on Leno, she

continued a bit awkwardly, “Anyways, I heard Frank

shouting in the hallway and I went and opened my door just

a little to see what all the commotion was about. Not that

I’m nosey, mind.”

“Of course not, Mrs. Smith. What did you see?”

“Well, Frank had Sam by the collar and was yelling at him

to hand it over. The poor boy looked scared out of his wits

and pulled this wooden box from his pocket. Frank grabbed

it and threw Sam to the floor. I didn’t understand what all

the fuss was about ’cause it was just some old music box. I

know ’cause I heard the music when Frank opened it.” She

shrugged. “I guess he wanted to make sure it still worked.

Anyways, they had this big argument. Frank yelled at Sam,

saying as how he was ungrateful and that he never thought a

son of Charlie’s would betray him. Sam said he just wanted

to give the box to his sister for her birthday but Frank

said it was worth more than she was. What do you suppose he

meant by that?”

Scully gave a little shrug and said, “What happened next?

“Nothing much. Frank put the box in his pocket, told Sam

he was finished with him and left. Sam went inside.”

Scully was about to say something when Mulder reached over

and picked up the file he had left on the coffee table.

He pulled out one of the photos and folded it in half so

that the dead body was underneath and showed the other half

to Mrs. Smith.

“Did the box they were fighting over look like this one?”

He pointed to a small wooden box, sitting in the middle of

a desk beside a small desk lamp.

Mrs. Smith reached into her pocket for her glasses, put

them on and looked at the picture.

“Why, yes, I believe it does. I’ve never seen anything

like it before and I could understand why Sam wanted it for

his sister. It was very beautiful. Those carvings are

unusual, aren’t they?.”

Scully spoke, drawing the old woman’s attention back to

her. “Were you wearing your glasses that night, Mrs.

Smith.”

“Why, of course. Like I said, I was about to watch Leno.”

Mulder gave Scully a triumphant grin and put the photo

back in the file.

“Do you know where we can find Frank Matthews, Mrs. Smith?”

“No, I’m afraid not. He used to live over near the bowling

alley but he moved in with his girlfriend a month or so

ago. I don’t know where she lives but I guess he’ll be at

the funeral.” The hand clutching her handkerchief dabbed at

the corner of her watery eyes again.

Scully raised an eyebrow at Mulder and he answered her

unspoken question with a slight shake of his head. He

didn’t have any further questions.

Both agents stood and Mulder leaned over and picked up the

file saying, “Thank you for your time, Mrs. Smith. You’ve

been very helpful.”

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

Scully contained herself all the way to the car and it

wasn’t until Mulder was doing up his seatbelt that she

asked, “All right, Mulder. Give. You think that music box

is connected to these deaths somehow, don’t you?”

“It’s scary how you know me so well. Hope that doesn’t

mean you’ll get bored with me and find someone new.”

He flashed her a grin that told her he was joking but

underneath she knew he was fishing for reassurance. She

supposed his trip down memory lane that morning had made

him particularly vulnerable today. She did the only thing

that seemed right. She leaned over and took his face

between her hands and kissed him long and hard.

“Breaking the rules, Agent Scully?” he gasped as she

released him.

She knew from his surprised grin that it was what he had

needed. Just as well the car had dark-tinted windows, she

thought.

“All right. Out with it. What are you thinking, Mulder?”

“That the music box, which is unusual and rare, was seen

in the possession of young Sam hours before he died. And

according to the crime scene photos, that same music box

was in the possession of the fence who died the same way

five years ago. Plus … the other victim was a known petty

criminal and I’m guessing he stole the box and passed it

on to

the fence and he also died. That’s too many coincidences

for me.”

“Mulder, that’s a long shot, if ever I heard one.”

“It’s just a hunch but we’ve solved cases on less. Come

on, Scully, work with me here.”

She looked into his hazel eyes, alight with enthusiasm and

merely nodded.

“All right. Where to now?”

Mulder pulled out the file again and began flicking

through the pages.

“Well, since we’ve already checked in with the locals, I

guess we could ask them to find an address for Frank

Matthews while we pay a visit to Mrs. Benson. She was the

owner of the music box 5 years ago. I want to know if she

still has it and if so, where it is now.”

Scully was about to protest but decided she could indulge

Mulder’s whim. They had checked into their motel on their

way into town and since Ben Carter, the local ME who had

performed the initial autopsy on young Styles couldn’t see

them until 5.00 p.m., they had time to visit Mrs. Benson and

still be in time to make their appointment with Ben.

Meanwhile, Mulder had found the page he was looking for

and read it quickly. He looked up at Scully with an

apologetic sigh.

“No phone number listed. Must be an unlisted number.

Guess we’ll have to hope she’s home and willing to talk

to us without an appointment.”

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

Benson Residence

Norfolk, Virginia

March 12, 2003 2:42 p.m.

They pulled up in front of a large, two-story brick home,

set far back from the road. The curved driveway cut across

lush green grass and was bordered with well cared for

flowers of a dozen different varieties. There were bars on

all the windows and Mulder thought he saw the curtains in

an upstairs room move and then fall back into place. He

pushed the door bell on the security gate and heard the

chime echo through the house. They waited for a few

moments and he was just about to press the bell again when

he heard the inner door open and a young Hispanic woman

dressed in a maid’s uniform answered the door.

“Good morning,” she said in perfect English. “Can I help

you?”

They produced their IDs and Mulder gave their names.

“We’d like to speak to Mrs. Benson please.”

“Is she expecting you?”

“Not exactly.”

“Then she won’t see you. She won’t see anyone without an

appointment.” The woman began to close the door.

Scully felt Mulder tense for battle and she poked him in

the ribs and said sweetly, “Why don’t you check with her?

I’m sure she’d like to co-operate with the FBI.” After a

moment’s hesitation, the maid returned Scully’s smile and

said, “Very well. Wait here.”

They were left cooling their heels on the doorstep for

only a few minutes before the maid returned and unlocked

the security door

“Follow me.”

She led the way up the stairs into a tastefully decorated

living room where they found a rather large woman in her

late sixties reclining on a sofa, propped up by cushions.

Her iron-grey hair was pulled back from her face and the

pale blue eyes that shone clear and bright from under her

still dark eyebrows dispelled any impression that she

might have lost some of her intelligence with the passing

of time. She had a small bandage over her left temple and

was a little pale, but the overall impression was of a

strong woman who commanded respect and got it.

She was being fussed over by a short, dark-haired woman

dressed in a nurse’s uniform and they had to wait for her

to finish before they could introduce themselves. She

examined Mulder from head to foot and he had an odd urge to

straighten his tie and run his fingers through his hair.

She then gave Scully a similar inspection and he wondered

if she had the same impulse.

The old lady gestured for the agents to take a seat

opposite her and dismissed the maid and her anxious

attendant with a wave of her jeweled hand.

“I’m Amelia Benson. This is my granddaughter, Julia

Winters.” She motioned towards the window.

They turned their heads towards the light and saw a woman

about Scully’s height, weight and age standing to the side

of the window. Her clothing had blended so completely with

the curtains that they’d failed to notice her when they’d

entered. Her blonde hair fell softly about her small oval

face, framing high cheekbones and wide blue eyes.

Julia Winters nodded pleasantly at them and sat down on

the window seat, nervously fidgeting with a gold chain that

hung around her neck.

Mrs. Benson cleared her throat to get their attention and

when all eyes turned back to her, she asked, “Have you

found the men who assaulted me? Have you recovered my

property yet, Agent Mulder?”

“Err… Someone assaulted you?” he asked, caught totally

unaware by her question and then realized that her question

explained the bandage and pale complexion.

“Yes,” she said impatiently. “That *is* why you are here,

isn’t it?” Her refined voice had a slight accent, which

suggested an expensive finishing school or an European

heritage that he couldn’t quite place.

A glimmer of an idea was taking root in his brain. “No,

I’m sorry if you got that impression. When were you

assaulted?”

Mrs. Benson’s exasperation was evident in her scowling

face. “This is ridiculous. No wonder law-abiding citizens

have to pay such high taxes if our Government departments

duplicate everything. I have given all that information to

Detective Downer at the Norfolk Police station. I suggest

you go and see him.”

Mulder ignored the implied dismissal. “I’m sure your

statement is on record but we are here on another matter

although I’m beginning to think the two are connected. I’d

like to go over what happened again, if you don’t mind.”

He gave her his most charming smile, which didn’t seem to

have its usual effect, so he matched her stare for stare.

He

had to wait a full minute before the old woman inclined her

head and gave him a tight smile. “Very well, I suppose it

is in my best interests to co-operate with the FBI. Ask

your questions.”

“Thank you. From what you have said, you were assaulted

and robbed. When was this?”

“Three nights ago. I heard a noise and went downstairs.

There was a young boy by the French doors in the study. Of

course, I demanded to know what he was doing in my home and

then someone came up from behind and hit me.”

She shrugged and lifted a hand to her head. “That’s all I

remember. They left me for dead. The doctors told me I’m

lucky to be alive. I was only released from hospital

yesterday on condition that I engage a nurse and *rest*.”

She emphasized the last word and dropped her hand weakly

to her lap.

Mulder felt a little guilty but he needed answers that he

was sure he wouldn’t find in the police report. “I’m sorry.

I’ll try to be brief. Were you alone in the house?”

Mrs. Benson sighed, “Yes, the maid had the night

off and my granddaughter was visiting friends.”

“Can you describe the teenager?”

“Not really. He was in the shadows. I never saw the other

man.”

“You mentioned something about some property being stolen.

What was taken?”

She hesitated and said in a puzzled voice, “Why… money, of

course. There was about two thousand dollars in the

safe.”

“Did they take anything else?”

“Some silverware and an old music box that has been in my

family for generations. It is the music box I am most

anxious to have returned.”

Mulder gave himself a silent high five. He’d been right.

The music box had been stolen again and the unusual deaths

had started soon after. He had his connection – now he had

to convince Scully and find the music box before anyone else

died.

Mulder heard a soft sound like a sigh from behind him and

he shot a quick glance at Julia Winters but her head was

bowed. She appeared to be absorbed in a book on her lap but

he had a feeling she wasn’t reading a word.

He looked back to the older woman and asked, “This music

box — did it contain anything valuable?”

“No, the box was empty but has considerable sentimental

value to me.”

“How long have you had it?”

“It has been in my family for generations. It was part of

the dowry given to my great-grandfather when he married my

great-grandmother. I… I must have it back soon.”

Mulder looked up when the refined voice cracked a little

and he thought he saw desperation reflected in those pale

blue eyes, but it was so fleeting that he might have been

mistaken.

“I understand it has been stolen before?” he asked.

“Yes. The last time was about 5 years ago but thankfully

it was returned undamaged.”

“The last time?”

Her frustration at this continued line of questioning

became evident when Mrs. Benson replied frostily. “I fail

to see how the theft of my music box in the past can

possibly have any bearing on this latest robbery.”

“I assure you, Mrs. Benson, that I wouldn’t ask these

questions if it wasn’t important. I can have my superior

call you if you prefer.”

It was a bluff of sorts but it achieved its purpose. The

old woman hesitated, swallowed her irritation and sighed

dramatically.

“Very well. There have been other occasions when the box

was stolen along with money and jewelry. I’m afraid it

has always been so. Those without stealing from those who

have. Thankfully, the box was always recovered even if the

other items were not.” The steel-blue eyes flashed and the

mouth pursed into a thin line indicating without words that

she would answer no more questions . “Now, I’ve been more

than patient, Agent Mulder. I think it is time you told me

why you are here.”

“We’re investigating the unexplained death of a young

teenager who may have been the one you saw on the night you

were robbed.

A look of satisfaction crossed Mrs. Benson’s face at the

same time as Julia Winters gasped and raised a hand to her

throat. Both agents spun around to see that she was white

as a sheet, her blue eyes wide with horror as she looked at

her grandmother and said in a quivering voice, “Not another

one.”

Mrs. Benson said harshly, “That’s enough, Julia.”

“But Grandmother, it has to be that cursed music box.”

Scully groaned inwardly and she could almost see her

partner’s ears prick up at the word ‘cursed.’ Now she’d

never get him to listen to reason.

He addressed Julia Winters eagerly. “You said ‘cursed.’

What do you mean?”

Her voice was louder now, as she spat the words out.

“Exactly what I said. It’s been a curse on my family for

over a hundred years. It may bring us wealth but not

happiness and I, for one, was glad when it was stolen. It

killed my grandfather and I never want to see it again.”

She stopped abruptly and Mulder had to strain to hear her

next words. “But it will come back. It always does.”

“I said that’s enough, Julia.” The sharpness of the old

woman’s tone would have cut diamonds.

Her granddaughter blushed furiously and dropped her eyes

to her lap.

Mrs. Benson spoke, forcing Mulder to turn his attention

back to her. “Please forgive my granddaughter. She’s going

through a rather messy divorce at the moment.”

She gave the younger woman a disapproving look and jerked

her head in the direction of the door. Her granddaughter

rose instantly, excused herself and hurried from the room

before Mulder could stop her. He turned back to Mrs. Benson

but before he could utter a word, she waved her hand

dismissively.

“Now, you really will have to excuse me, Agents. I need to

rest. I’ll have the maid show you out.” She leaned

forward

and rang a silver bell that was sitting on the small table

beside her.”

Her face was set in a determined frown and Mulder had to

concede that he probably wasn’t going to get any more

answers but decided to try anyway.

“A final question, Mrs. Benson?”

She replaced the bell and said wearily, “You have exactly

as long as it takes the maid to get here, Agent Mulder.”

“Why did your granddaughter say the music box killed her

grandfather?”

“I’m afraid she’s listened to gossip. My late husband died

of a heart attack 2 years ago.”

“So you don’t believe a cursed music box killed your

husband?”

Her sharp eyes lit up in approval and he was perversely

pleased with himself for making a connection that she was

obviously already aware of, but she only said, “Ah, so we

are back to the curse?”

Before he could say anything else, the maid opened the

door and stood waiting to receive her instructions.

Mrs. Benson waved a dismissive hand in their general

direction. “You have had your question. Good day.

Angela will see you out.”

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

McDonald’s

Norfolk, Virginia

March 13, 2003 4:25 p.m.

“She was hiding something, Scully, I know it.”

Scully sighed and looked at her partner. “Like what,

Mulder? This curse? ”

“Well, she didn’t deny it,” he mumbled around a mouthful

of hamburger.

They were seated at the rear of McDonald’s where Scully

had given in to Mulder’s need for something greasy before

their appointment with the ME. She put down her fork and

pushed the remains of her Caesar salad away. She picked up

one of his fries and popped it into her mouth.

“Hey,” he complained. “Get your own.”

She smiled at him and grabbed another while she asked,

“Are you suggesting that a curse is responsible for those

two deaths five years ago as well as the death of the

Styles boy?”

“And,” he picked up the folder with the hand not holding

the hamburger, and waved it at her, “don’t forget the other

unexplained deaths that I found in those old newspaper

cuttings.”

“Oh, you mean the ones where witchcraft and superstition

were the main suspects?”

He grinned sheepishly. “Or a curse.” At her raised

eyebrow, he conceded. “All right. There’s nothing to

connect those older deaths with the more recent ones or the

music box. But,” he took another bite of his burger, “you

know autopsies back in the thirties weren’t done to the

standard they are today. The ME might have missed making

a note of the condition of the heart. That is, assuming the

bodies were autopsied. The report only mentions that

otherwise healthy males died of heart-related problems.

Even Mrs. Benson’s own husband died of a heart attack and

you know how I feel about coincidences.” He flashed her a

grin. “By the way, can you check out the husband’s death

certificate?”

Scully nodded. “I’ll get on it as soon as we get back to

the

station but I still think the tests I have pending will

show something.”

“Come on, Scully, you have to admit that the music box was

found at the scene of the pawn broker’s death. Plus Mrs.

Smith identified the same box as the one she saw Styles

with on the very night it was stolen from Mrs.

Benson by

a person fitting his description. Coincidence? Not

likely.”

“All right. Suppose the music box *is* the common

denominator here,” she said cautiously. “It doesn’t mean

the thing is cursed. It could still be a poison. Inside

the

box maybe. Perhaps the poison leeches from the wood or is

in the lining and is absorbed through the skin on contact.”

“Then why weren’t the officers who recovered the box and

returned it to Mrs. Benson affected? For that matter, why

not the forensic guys who must have dusted it for prints or

even Mrs. Benson’s cleaning staff? There must be a hundred

people who have come into contact with the box over the

years and yet only a small percentage die.”

“Maybe the poison only effects certain

people, like those with the same blood type or genetic

background.”

He leaned over and whispered in her ear, his warm breath

sending shivers down her spine. “Have I told you lately

that I love you?”

“Mulderrrr.”

She reached out and stroked the side of his face and he

kissed the palm of her hand. She licked her suddenly dry

lips and then dropped her hand when she remembered where

they were but she held his eyes, her gaze telling him that

she loved him too.

He looked away first, nodding his understanding. “All

right. I’ll behave,” he said grudgingly. “But only until

we’re off duty and then, Agent Scully…” He trailed off and

waggled his eyebrows, implying that she had better watch

out.

He was just so damn cute when he did that and he knew it

so she responded with an arch of her own eyebrows. “I look

forward to it.”

He swallowed hard and she could have sworn he blushed but

all he said was, “All set?”

She nodded and they packed up the remnants of their meal

and placed the rubbish in the bin.

Mulder picked up the file and said, “I called the Norfolk

PD for the report on the robbery at the Benson residence

and they’re sending a copy to the motel. On our way back, I

want to talk to Frank Matthews, the man who argued with …”

He

broke off when his cell phone rang. He answered on the

second ring and identified himself.

He listened for a few moments and then asked, “When?”

This was quickly followed by “Where?”

At Scully’s questioning look, he put his hand over the

mouthpiece and whispered, “They’ve found another one.”

He listened intently to the person on the other end of the

line and then said, “We’ll meet you there.”

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

Act II

Ocean View Apartments # 57,

Norfolk, Virginia

March 13, 2003 5:10 p.m.

There was a group of people standing around outside the

apartment on the fifth floor, all trying to talk at once

when they arrived. It never ceased to amaze Mulder how the

discovery of a dead body made previously indifferent

neighbors take an interest in their fellow tenants. There

was even a short, middle-aged man with heavy brows and a

Roman nose waving what looked like press credentials in the

face of the young cop stationed at the door. The officer

was shaking his head and the crowd pushed him back as they

approached.

Mulder shielded Scully’s smaller frame as they gently

eased their way through the dozen or more onlookers and

showed their IDs to the officer.

On seeing the agents, the newspaperman must have decided

to try and get an interview because he attempted to push his

way through the solid barrier of bodies. He was

unprepared, however,

when an opening allowed him to surge to the front and he

slammed into Scully so hard that she fell against the

closed door.

Mulder was by her side in an instant and after

checking she was all right, he whirled on the man and

grabbed him by the collar, tightening his grip until his

hapless victim’s face went beet red.

Scully placed her hand on Mulder’s arm and said, “Let him

go. I’m fine.”

“I think you owe my partner an apology, don’t you?” he

asked, easing his chokehold so that the man could answer.

“Sssorry. Aaaccident.” The man stammered, his face now

drained of color, perspiration dotting his forehead.

Mulder released his grip and the man fell against the

door, gasping like a fish out of water. Then he swallowed

and wheezed, “I really … am very sorry. Tripped.”

Scully gave him a half smile and said, “No real harm

done.”

She shot Mulder a glare that would have frozen Lake Tahoe.

“I’m Agent Scully and…” she gestured to her partner, “this

is Agent Mulder. And you are?”

“Steve Denton. I’m with the Virginian Pilot.”

He chanced a look at Mulder and decided that this nice

lady agent had her partner under control. Perhaps she might

give him an interview. “I got a tip that there was another

death like those unsolved ones a few years back. Care to

comment?”

“Sorry. Not at the moment,” came the brisk standard reply

but she softened any offense by giving him a smile that he

soaked up like a sponge. “But why don’t you give me your

card and if anything breaks…” She left the sentence

unfinished, implying she would contact him. Of course, she

wouldn’t but she didn’t want the little man reporting her

partner for police brutality and he would be less inclined

to do so if he thought he might get a story.

Mulder frowned as the man eagerly handed over his business

card but kept quiet, deciding his partner had her reasons

for playing nice with the reporter. He turned around and

the now silent bystanders parted like the red sea.

“Show’s over, folks. Why don’t you go home and let us get

on with our jobs?”

The onlookers slowly dispersed into adjacent apartments,

down the hall or into the elevator. The reporter hung

around for a moment but when Mulder scowled at him, he

apologized for the third time and scurried after the last

of the bystanders.

They showed their badges to the stunned cop who hadn’t

moved during their run-in with the journalist and the young

officer recovered enough to stiffen to attention, open the

door and wave them inside.

As the door closed behind them, Scully whispered, “You’re

not off the hook, Mulder. We’ll discuss this later.”

Mulder cursed under his breath, trying to decide if he

should plead temporary insanity or just beg her

forgiveness. He chanced a furtive look in her direction

and his face must have shown his anguish because he was

rewarded with a wry smile that

relieved the tension between them.

“It’s all right, Mulder. But we *will* talk about it.

Okay?”

Relieved, he nodded but didn’t have time to say anything

more because they were stopped just inside the apartment by

another cop who checked their I.D.’s and asked them to wait

while he found the Officer in Charge. While they waited,

Mulder poked his head around the archway and looked into

the main living area.

The room was a hive of activity with a forensic team

dusting for prints and taking samples of anything that

might be useful. There was a kitchen straight

ahead where a round table was set for two and an opened

bottle of wine

floated in a bucket of water. There was a bedroom off to

the right, but the living room was his focus. Against the

wall backing onto the entry, he could see a television and

stereo set in a dark stained wall unit. A two-seater sofa,

two matching chairs and a coffee table were placed opposite

the TV. It was beside the sofa that most of the activity

was centered. Two men in dark suits and a uniformed officer

were called to the bedroom leaving one man with his back to

the doorway directing a photographer who took pictures of a

body on the floor.

Mulder turned to Scully and was just about to suggest they

go and take a look at the body when he noticed a tall,

solidly built black man approaching, followed by the

officer from the entry hall. The man could have been aged

anywhere between forty-five and fifty-five and he wore a

dark, crumpled suit that looked like he’d slept in it. He

had a long face with heavy pouches under his eyes and a

thick head of greying hair that was overdue for a cut. His

dark eyes assessed them even as he removed his gloves to

shake hands.

“Sam Allender, Norfolk PD.”

Both agents returned the handshake and introduced

themselves.

“Thanks for coming down. Ben asked me to give you a call

because you were due to meet with him about another case.

He thinks this death is more of the same and he thought

you’d want to be in on it. Follow me.”

They followed the big African-American to where a slender

man in his early thirties with a strong chin, small ears

and a prominent straight nose was leaning over a body on

the floor. He wore a white lab coat and a cap, with the

words ‘Medical Examiner’ stenciled on it jammed on his

head, almost covering his unruly, sandy hair.

“Hey, Ben. The Fibbies are here,” said Allender, gesturing

to the agents.

Ben stood up and shook hands with his old friends. While

Scully asked after Ben’s wife, Mulder looked at the latest

victim. Her body lay half on her right side, half on her

back, her bleached blonde hair splayed out over her left

shoulder. She was a little overweight and wore tight jeans

and a sweater but her feet were bare. There wasn’t a mark

on her body that he could see but the anguished look on her

face, frozen in death, told him that her passing had been

anything but peaceful.

Ben seemed genuinely disappointed when he said, “Guess we

won’t get to catch up on old times after all, at least not

tonight.” He grinned ruefully and added, “But this is right

up your alley, Mulder. Take a look.”

They knelt down beside the corpse and Ben leaned over,

lifted the sweater and pointed to the woman’s chest. “You

see here. The heart has pushed the rib cage up and if you

apply any pressure, you can feel that the heart is quite

hard.” He demonstrated by pushing gently on the woman’s

chest but the lump was solid and didn’t give. “It’s got me

beat. I’ve never seen or heard of anything like it except

for the Styles case yesterday.”

“He’s not the first,” said Mulder. “There are X-Files

dating back to 1997 when two people died in similar

circumstances. There are also some mysterious deaths in

the 30’s that might be related.”

“Really?” Ben shrugged and shook his head skeptically.

Mulder looked at the detective and asked, “Do we know who

she is?”

Allender nodded and looked at his notes. “Deceased is

Stella Ann Lawrence, female Caucasian, 43 years old. Worked

at the local laundry. Her body was found at 3:40 this

afternoon by her landlord. Apparently, her boss called the

landlord and asked him to check up on her because she

hadn’t turned up for work. Seems she’s very conscientious

and never takes a day off without letting him know. The

landlord knocked on the door and decided to use his master

key because he heard the TV on and thought it was odd when

no one answered.”

“Does she have a criminal background?”

“None that we know of.”

A cell phone rang and they all stood up, checking their

pockets. It was Detective Allender who said, “It’s mine.

Excuse me.” He lifted the phone to his ear and walked a

short distance away.

Ben motioned for the waiting technicians to remove the body

and they moved out of the way, allowing the ME’s assistants

to do their job.

Ben asked, “Did your lab find anything new on the Styles

boy?”

She shook her head. “No, but some of the tests we

discussed on the phone aren’t in yet. Like you, we found no

evidence to suggest that death was caused by a new

pathogen. The lab checked everything twice to make sure.”

When her partner broke into a wide smile of triumph, she

turned to him and continued, “And no, I don’t think a curse

is involved. I still think the tests I have pending will

show something. It will be even easier now that we have

another body to run comparisons on. Can we start the

autopsy right away, Ben?”

Ben nodded, raised an eyebrow and inquired, “Curse?”

Mulder shrugged and Scully grinned ruefully but before

either could answer, Detective Allender finished his call

and headed their way.

“The highway patrol have found another one,” he said

grimly.

At Mulder’s questioning look, he elaborated, “Seems a man

was found dead in a car at Seashore State Park, just over

the city line in Virginia Beach. Paramedics at the scene

said his heart is rock solid and pushed up through his

chest just like this one.” He pointed to the body that was

being strapped to a stretcher. “It’s not my jurisdiction

and I don’t have any other details but here’s the location.

You know, for once I’m glad the Bureau is taking this

one.”

Mulder took the offered scrap of paper, memorized the

information and passed the slip to Scully who knew from the

eager expression on his face that he wanted to go check it

out. She, however, wanted to start the autopsy before any

possible poison was broken down by the passing of time.

She hated splitting up but there seemed no way around it.

“Okay, Mulder,” she said resignedly, “you go check this one

out and I’ll do the autopsy with Ben to see if we can find

anything new.”

He ginned at her, nodded and was moving towards the entry

when she called after him. “I’ll call when we’re finished.”

He never turned around, just waved his hand in

acknowledgement and disappeared around the corner, his mind

already on the case and the new developments.

She looked at Ben and he shrugged. “He hasn’t changed.

Come on, you can catch a ride with me.”

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

Seashore State Park

Virginia Beach, Virginia

March 13, 2003 7:05 p.m.

Mulder saw the flashing lights well before he pulled onto

the shoulder of the highway. The usual crowd of onlookers

was being held back by a couple of burly cops who stood

guard beside the yellow crime scene tape.

Mulder held up his badge to the officers and was about to

duck under the tape when a voice called his name. He turned

slightly as he bent and saw the reporter who had

accidentally pushed Scully over earlier in the day wave to

him from the crowd. He groaned inwardly and pretended he

didn’t see the man as he continued under the tape and

straightened on the other side.

He headed towards the corner of the parking lot near the

visitor’s center where a group of men stood watching a

photographer take pictures of the exterior and interior of

an old white station wagon. The car was parked under a

grove of sea oaks, their limbs casting eerie shadows over

the

concrete lot making it difficult to see the car clearly

except for when the flash of the camera lit the scene.

A small wiry man in his early thirties with a dark

moustache and brown eyes broke away from the group and

greeted Mulder with a huge smile as he drew near. Mulder

smiled back when he recognized his old friend, Don Anderson.

They shook hands warmly and engaged in small talk for a

few minutes, briefly catching up on the intervening years

since they had last seen each other before moving on to the

reason for Mulder’s visit.

Anderson indicated the station wagon. “When the paramedics

said this guy died the same way as that kid over in

Norfolk, I called it in and dispatch said the Bureau was

involved and that someone would be over. I thought it might

be you and the lovely Agent Scully.” Anderson looked around

and asked, “Where is that lovely partner of yours?”

“She’s doing an autopsy. What have you got?”

“Highway patrol found the guy already dead when they

pulled in for a routine check of the area.”

“Was anyone else here?”

“Not when they pulled up but they did mention something

odd.” At Mulder’s inquiring look, he elaborated, “A few

minutes after they arrived, a man in a Mercedes drove

in, saw the officers and took off like a rocket. They

remarked on it because most people pull in here to use

the conveniences and it was odd that the driver left in

such a hurry.” He shrugged. “Maybe he didn’t want to

get involved.”

Mulder wasn’t so sure. “Did they get the plate?”

“No, they’d just found the body and were calling it in.”

Anderson inclined his head towards the station wagon. “The

photographer’s finished. Want to take a look before they

load him up?”

Mulder nodded and reached into his pocket for a pair of

gloves and pulled them on. He leaned in the open door and

saw the body of a man who looked to be in his mid-forties

although it was hard to tell. His tortured face reflected

the same look of suffering that had been on the face of

Stella Lawrence. He lay on his back, his upper body slumped

across the front seat of the car towards the passenger side

door, his lower body still under the dashboard.

Mulder gently lifted the man’s sweater and shirt. The

bulge in his chest was clearly visible with the naked eye

and almost certainly confirmed that the manner of death was

the same as the other two victims.

“Any idea who he is?” he asked as he went around to the

passenger side of the car and began digging through the

glove box.

“Frank Matthews, a small time petty thief. Got a long rap

sheet but only a few arrests and fewer convictions.”

The name caused Mulder to jerk his head up and bang it

painfully on the doorframe.

“You know him?” asked the cop as Mulder rubbed his aching

head.

“Not really but I did want to talk to him. Guess that’s

not an option now,” he said dryly. “You got an address for

him?”

The officer consulted his notes. “The address on file

isn’t current according to the boys at Robbery. He’s been

shacking up with his new girlfriend over in Ocean View.”

“Her name wouldn’t be Stella Lawrence, would it?”

Anderson again checked his notes and said, “How’d you

know? We haven’t had a chance to send someone over there

yet.”

“Don’t bother. She’s dead too. Scully’s doing the autopsy

now.”

At Detective Anderson’s surprised look, Mulder just

shrugged and continued searching the car, his mind

already processing the new information. This third

death re-established a connection between the victims

but not why they died. And not why Frank was here in

this park. And if the music box was responsible in some

way, where was it now?

He finished checking the interior of the car and then the

trunk, finding nothing of interest.

Anderson asked, “You done here?”

He nodded at his friend who gestured for the technicians to

remove the body. As they carefully lifted the body of

Frank Matthews out through the driver’s side door, something

fell onto the floor with a thud. It had been under the

man’s body and hidden from view until now.

Mulder reached in and picked up the brown paper bag. He

opened it and pulled out a small wooden box that looked

like the one in the photo he had shown Mrs. Smith earlier

in the day. It had the same unusual letters carved into the

wood on the lid and sides. He thought the language was

Romanian but he wasn’t sure. There was a date carved into

the bottom and it read 1888.

He carefully lifted the lid and watched as a tiny carved

figure spun round and round to the melodic sound of Mozart.

He looked closely and realized the carved figure was

actually two figures entwined together. But other than the

carved lovers, the box was empty.

Mulder chewed on his bottom lip, wondering if Frank might

have been waiting for someone. Possibly the man who drove

off when he saw the cops? A petty thief like Frank wouldn’t

be out in the State Park because he liked the scenery.

He shook his head, deciding that it didn’t matter now that

he had the box. If his theory was correct, the deaths would

stop now. He dropped the box into a plastic evidence bag.

Anderson asked, “You want that fingerprinted?”

“Can you do that here? I want to take it with me.”

“Sure, one of the forensic boys will have a kit. It won’t

take long.”

Mulder handed over the bag. As his friend turned away, he

asked, “Any of your people speak Romanian?”

“I doubt it but I’ll ask.”

While he waited, Mulder pulled out his cell and punched

‘one’ on the speed dial. Frustrated by no answer, he left

a message

on Scully’s voice mail and dropped his phone back into his

pocket.

Anderson returned and handed over the bag containing the

box, saying there were no fingerprints and it had probably

been wiped clean by the victim. He added that there was no

one in his unit who could read Romanian and suggested that

Mulder take the box to the Norfolk PD in the morning since

it was getting late. They would have access to someone.

Mulder nodded and, after signing the chain of custody

receipt for the box, he thanked his friend for his

help. They made the usual promises to keep in touch even

though both of them knew they wouldn’t.

As he pulled out from the side of the road, Mulder heard

horns blaring and looked in his rear vision mirror to see

what all the noise was about. There seemed to be a lot of

people milling around a cluster of cars but he couldn’t see

anything other than the backs of the crowd. He dismissed

the incident and headed back to pick up Scully.

He failed to notice the car that pulled out 10 seconds

later and follow him at a discrete distance.

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

Act III

Norfolk City Morgue

Norfolk, Virginia

March 13, 2003 9:35 p.m.

Mulder pulled Scully’s note from the front door of the

morgue and walked tiredly down the steps and climbed into

his car, wondering why she hadn’t just called. A quick

check showed that his battery was dead and there’d been no

way for her to let him know her movements.

Annoyed with himself for not hearing the telltale beeping

that would have alerted him to the imminent loss of power,

he plugged the phone into the car charger and turned it on.

He found three messages from her and the last one made

him grimace.

While Mulder reflected on how he was going to pacify his

irate partner, a figure in a dark-colored Mercedes parked

across the street watched his every move.

When Mulder pulled out from the curb and headed down the

main street, the man shoved the still-burning cigarette

between his lips and trailed after him at a safe distance,

still contemplating his rotten day. He’d seen the agent

take the box with him when he left the state park so it had

to be in the car with him. Again that wouldn’t have been a

problem if it hadn’t been for the pack of onlookers who had

hemmed his car in. He’d intended to follow the Taurus and

take the box back but by the time he’d blasted his horn to

move them out of the way, the other car was nowhere in

sight. After an anxious half hour, he’d finally spotted the

car on the outskirts of town and followed it to the morgue.

He’d been about to get out of his car and search the Taurus

for the music box when the cop found the note and climbed

back into the car.

He drew in another lungful of smoke and smiled to himself

as he followed the taillights along the deserted streets.

There was no way he was going to lose his quarry this

time.

With just a little more patience, the box would be his at

last.

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

Virginia Beach Boulevard

Norfolk, Virginia

March 13, 2003 9:45 p.m.

Mulder rubbed his tired eyes and moved his neck from side

to side in an attempt to ease his acing muscles while

keeping his eyes on the road ahead. What he needed was one

of Scully’s famous massages.

Maybe if he called and offered to buy dinner on his way

back, she might just accommodate him. Besides, his eager

mind could think of lots of things they could do after the

massage if they ate in.

He punched number one on his speed dial and waited,

suddenly anxious when she didn’t answer. He tried again

and this time she answered on the fourth ring with a curt,

“Scully.”

“Hey, Scully. Where have you been?” He tried to keep the

relief he felt out of his voice but in doing so, his light-

hearted question had came out as an accusation.

“That’s a fine question coming from you,” she retorted.

Then a little relieved at hearing his voice too, she

relented. “I was in the shower, if you must know. I’ve

been

trying to reach you. Why did you turn your cell off?”

“I didn’t. The battery died on me. I’ve got it on the

charger

now.”

“Where are you?”

“Just crossed the city line. How did the autopsy go?”

He could visualize the raised eyebrow as clearly as if

she was standing in front of him and he smiled to himself.

“Not now, Mulder. It can wait till you get here.”

“Okay,” he paused for a moment and then asked in a husky

voice, “Did you miss me?”

Her voice softened immediately. “Always.”

“Hold that thought. I’ll be there in about…” The phone

flew from his hand as the car was hit from behind and he

was blinded by headlights that suddenly flashed in his rear

view mirror. The car had come out of nowhere.

He fought to keep the Taurus on the road as he was hit

from behind again. This time the impact was enough to send

his car into a spin as the front, passenger-side tire hit

the gravel and the front left bumper ricocheted off

something solid. His head slammed sideways against the

doorframe and his world exploded in a flash of pain then

nothing. He didn’t feel the sticky wetness run down the

side of his face or the seatbelt dig into his chest or the

force of the air bag when it finally inflated as the car

came to a sudden halt amid the sound of screeching metal

and breaking glass.

He was oblivious to the sound of Scully’s distant voice

screaming

his name through the cell phone and the crunch of footsteps

on the gravel outside his door.

He certainly didn’t feel the rough hands search him and

the car or hear the angry expletives when the man didn’t

find what he was looking for.

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

Downtown Marriott Hotel

Norfolk, Virginia

March 13, 2003 9:56 p.m.

“MULDERRR”

“ANSWER ME, DAMN IT.”

Scully was screaming into her cell, as if by yelling the

man on the other end would miraculously answer. She knew

it was a forlorn hope because she had heard the sound of

screeching metal and breaking glass and then the silence.

Frantically she tried to decide if she should cut the

connection and call 911 or keep the line open in the hope

that Mulder could respond. She hesitated to break her only

line of communication with Mulder so she put her cell down

on the bed and used the hotel phone to call 911.

Satisfied that the ambulance and police were on their way,

she grabbed her cell and yelled into her phone again.

“Mulder…please answer me. Mulder… I’m on my way…”

When there was still no response, she ignored her pounding

heart and only delayed long enough to pull on some clothes

before heading out the door.

She stopped dead when she reached the parking lot and

realized she didn’t have a car. Frantically, she looked

around and saw a taxi dropping off another guest and raced

over, throwing a twenty at the driver as

she climbed in and told him to head for Virginia Beach

Boulevard. Mulder had to be on that

road somewhere.

She tried again to get a response from her partner and was

surprised when her babbling was interrupted by an unknown

male voice that stammered, “H..h..hello?”

“Who is this? What’s happened to Mulder?”

“Umm… there’s blood. Lots of b-blood, but he’s

breathing.”

“Don’t move him and don’t leave him,” shouted Scully into

the phone, relieved that someone was on the scene and that

her partner was alive. “An ambulance is on its way.”

“I,umm, I c-can smell g-gas.”

Then the phone went dead.

Scully screamed at the driver to go faster and was leaning

forward in her seat searching the road ahead when she heard

an explosion and saw the fireball above the treetops.

As the taxi rounded a bend in the road, she was horrified

to see flames engulfing what was left of Mulder’s car. The

ambulance was already on the scene as was a police cruiser.

A fire engine pulled up at the same time as the taxi and

began to pour water on the fire.

Scully was out of the car before it had even stopped

moving and a state trooper grabbed her by the arm to stop

her from getting too near the flames although the heat

radiating from the burning car was so fierce that there was

no way she could get closer than 20 feet. She didn’t

struggle in the officer’s arms, knowing it was hopeless.

She

just stood there, frozen.

Her stricken face must have clued the officer in to what

she was thinking and he said,” It’s okay, ma’am. He’s over

there.”

Scully looked in the direction the officer indicated and

nearly collapsed with relief at the sight of two paramedics

kneeling over a human form, silhouetted in the dying

flames. Her weak legs hardly held her up as she stumbled

over to where her partner lay on the ground.

The paramedic who was taking Mulder’s blood pressure and

pulse, took one look at her face as she dropped to the

ground beside them and asked if she was all right. She

nodded dumbly, watching as the other paramedic placed a

cervical collar around Mulder’s neck and inspected the head

wound that was bleeding profusely.

She tore her eyes away from her partner and looked at the

paramedic who had been concerned about her. “I’m a doctor

with the FBI and this man’s next of kin. What are his

vitals?”

The man, gave her a look which said without words, ‘Sure

you are. Prove

it.’

Impatiently, Scully pulled out her ID and held it up for

his inspection.

He squinted at it in the dying light from the still

burning wreck and gave her a quick apologetic smile.

“Pulse is strong, BP is 120 over 80. Looks like a severe

concussion,

possible skull fracture. Laceration to the left temple. No

broken bones or internal injuries that we can determine but

we need to transport ASAP.”

She nodded her agreement and Mulder was carefully loaded

onto to a stretcher.

Scully stood back to give them room and was startled when

a man stepped from the shadows and asked, “Will he be all

right?”

Scully spun around and stared at the man she recognized as

the newspaper reporter who had accidentally pushed into her

earlier in the day.

“What are you doing here?” she snapped, convinced he was

here to get the gory details so he could publish them in

the morning edition.

The trooper cut in. “Take it easy. He saved the guy’s

life. He pulled him from the car just before it exploded.

We think the fuel tank ruptured when the car sideswiped the

barrier.”

Scully had the good grace to look embarrassed and flashed

him a small but genuine smile, saying, “You’re the man I

spoke to on the phone?”

He nodded.

“Well, I guess I owe you my thanks.”

The reporter gave an embarrassed shrug. “It was just lucky

I came along when I did.”

The officer interrupted. “We’d like to speak to your

husband when …”

“Partner,” corrected Scully and showed him her ID as she

followed the stretcher into the ambulance. “I’m going with

him to the hospital so you can contact me there.”

With those parting words, the doors slammed shut and the

ambulance left in a swirl of dust and flashing lights.

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

Sentara Norfolk General Hospital

Norfolk, Virginia

March 14, 2003 10:15 a.m.

Mulder woke to the steady beep of the heart monitor and

the distinctive antiseptic smell that told him he was in a

hospital. He wanted to give in to whatever drugs they were

pumping into him and go back to sleep to escape the intense

throbbing in his head that was increasing by the minute,

but he couldn’t. Not until he knew that Scully was all

right.

Then he felt it.

The gentle movement of a hand through his hair. The slow

trailing of soft fingers down the right side of his face.

They stopped to stroke his eyebrows, cheeks and lips before

moving down his right arm and across his chest. He knew

that touch. He’d know it anywhere.

Reassured that Scully was all right, he relaxed into her

touch, trying to remember what had happened but he gave up

when his head began to throb.

The monitor’s steady beep increased marginally, and

Scully’s hand stopped its circuit as she leaned over and

whispered in his ear.

“C’mon, partner, open those beautiful eyes.”

He turned his head in the direction of her voice but the

movement sent shards of pain piercing through his scull and

he moaned aloud.

“Sshhh. I’ve just buzzed for the nurse to bring something

for your head. Do you remember what happened?”

“No. Thirsty.” He cracked one eye open and couldn’t

stifle an even louder groan when pain exploded behind his

eyeball as the light hit his retina. He briefly saw three

of his partner before he slammed his eye shut and gulped,

trying not to vomit all over the clean bed.

“Sshhh. I’ll have them bring something for your stomach as

well.”

A small part of his now throbbing brain wondered how she

knew he felt nausea as well as pain but of course,

Scully always knew how he felt.

She spooned a few ice chips into his mouth and he sucked

on them greedily.

“What happened?” he whispered, afraid any louder noise

would cause the top of his head to explode.

“Don’t you remember?”

He tried to think but the ever-increasing pain in his head

made it difficult to concentrate. Wrinkling his forehead

in concentration only succeeded in making his headache

worse, and he bit his lip to stop from moaning out load.

Scully’s soothing hand brushed the hair from his forehead,

careful of the bandage that covered the ten neat stitches

along his hairline above his left temple. “That’s all

right. Here’s the nurse

with your pain med. Just rest now and you can tell me

later.”

He felt the cold sting of the Demerol as it flowed into

his veins and he relaxed a little when the pain released

its stranglehold on his brain. He tried again to remember

what had happened but there was a black hole in his usually

perfect memory and it bothered him. He wanted to ask Scully

but the blackness claimed him before he could remember what

it was.

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

Sentara Norfolk General Hospital

Norfolk, Virginia

March 15, 2003 7:25 p.m.

Scully looked at her partner propped up in bed, eyes

closed, perspiration dotting his upper lip but very much

alive. A bandage was wrapped around his head like a turban

and he looked like a foreign prince except for his color,

which was a pale substitute for his usual healthy tan.

It had been a rough couple of days but they finally had

the pain medication right and the nausea and disorientation

had improved considerably. However, it had been the removal

of the dreaded catheter and IV that had improved his

disposition.

The swelling around his left eye had gone down so he could

open it but he still suffered from double vision, headaches

and memory loss.

However, Scully knew he was much better than he had a

right to be considering he had been in a coma for 12 hours

after the accident. No fractured skull, subdural hematoma

or broken bones. And thankfully, no brain damage. Just a

severe concussion. Just… She shivered in the air-

conditioned room knowing he’d been incredibly lucky again.

He’d pushed himself as usual and had insisted on sitting

up after his evening meal but from the look on his face,

she figured he was ready to lie down again. Since he was

too stubborn to ask, she activated the control that lowered

the bed and helped him settle under the covers.

Mulder sighed in relief now that he was flat on the bed

and opened his eyes, waiting for the room to stop spinning.

It unnerved him to see two Scullys and he caught both of

them looking at him like he was made of glass. He chose to

ignore her concerned expression

because he felt a hundred times better now that the IVs

and catheter had been removed.

She had assured him that the nausea and headaches would

fade, and his vision would improve over the next few days

but there was no guarantee he would

recover his lost memories.

And that was what bothered him the most. The last thing he

remembered was leaving the park with the music box on the

seat beside him and heading back to town to meet Scully.

Now the box was missing and Scully had told him that no

trace of it had been found in the burnt out car. At least

there had been no more deaths since the box went missing.

An officer had turned up and taken his statement, such as

it was, and told him that an inspection of the wrecked car

and the stretch of road where the accident happened

confirmed that he had been hit from behind by a dark-

colored car. Unfortunately, the heat from the fire had

destroyed any chance of identifying what make or model the

paint had come from. Although investigations were

proceeding, it was doubtful anyone would be charged over

the incident. The only witness, the reporter who had pulled

him from the burning car, claimed he’d seen nothing but

the taillights of a dark colored car so the police had no

other leads since there seemed to be no

motive for ramming the Taurus.

Mulder was just about to ask Scully for an update on the

case when he saw the reporter walking down the passage

towards his open door.

Not ready to face any probing questions, Mulder closed his

eyes, moaned and slid even further down the bed. Instantly

concerned, Scully leaned over and touched his forehead

until he silently raised his hand and pointed to the

doorway, her body shielding his action. She turned and saw

the reason for his sudden relapse and quickly ushered the

man from the room promising to call him when Mulder was

well enough to talk to him.

When she had returned and helped her partner rearrange his

pillows, she reminded him that he owed the reporter for

pulling him from the wrecked car.

“I know, Scully, but I can’t tell him what I don’t

remember.” He closed his eyes in frustration and again

willed his aching head to remember but it was no use.

When he opened his eyes again, he was shocked to see

duplicate Scully’s, eyes drooping, swaying in their seats,

looking as if they were about to fall asleep sitting

up.

He squinted hard and gradually both Scullys converged

into one. This improvement in his sight went unnoticed,

however,

because he was really ‘seeing’ her for the first time in

days. Guilt

washed over him at the sight of the black rings under her

eyes, the limp hair hanging untidily about her pale,

listless face, which was a stark contrast to her usual

alert expression. Even her ramrod straight posture had been

replaced with slouched shoulders and the unmistakable

signs of exhaustion. It suddenly occurred to him that she

had been with him in the hospital since his accident.

“Hey, Scully.”

She jerked upright in the chair and looked at him with

concern. “You in pain, Mulder?”

“No, I’m fine.” He emphasized the last word and they both

smiled, sharing their private joke. Then he frowned and

added, “But you’re not. You need to rest, Scully. You look

beat.”

At her questioning look, he grinned boyishly. “Yes, I see

only one of you now so you can safely leave me and get some

sleep.”

She looked like she was about to argue so he added,

“Please. For me?”

She hesitated for just a moment and then nodded,

resignedly. “Okay, Mulder. I’ll be back in the morning

after I call into the locals and see if they have anything

more on the black car that ran you off the road.”

She leaned over the bed, took his head between her hands

and lowered her lips to his, kissing him gently. He

responded immediately by putting his hands behind her head

and pulling her closer, deepening the kiss, stroking the

roof of her mouth, teeth and lips with his tongue until

they were forced to part for lack of oxygen.

She moaned at the loss of contact so he slid his hands

down her back, grabbed the waistband of her pantsuit and

pulled her onto the bed with him, her legs dangling over

the side.

The throbbing in his head was pushed to the background as

his hands held her softly, gently caressing whatever part

of her body he could reach. He nuzzled the hair behind her

ear and then his tongue licked her earlobe as he whispered

tenderly, “Keep this up Agent Scully, and I won’t be held

responsible.”

Mulder never knew what her response would have been

because there was a knock on the door and a smiling nurse

entered with his evening meds. While Mulder cursed under

his breath, Scully instantly slid off the bed and sat on

the chair, flushed crimson with embarrassment.

The poor nurse whose smile had frozen on her face, quickly

checked his chart, handed him three tablets and a glass of

water, watched him swallow the medication and left the room

in complete silence.

Mulder looked at Scully. Scully looked at Mulder. Then a

slow smile spread over both their faces and they laughed

like two teenagers caught necking.

“Something to look back on in our old age,” grinned

Scully, feeling better than she had in days.

Mulder sobered instantly, took her hand in his and asked

in a pleading voice that touched a cord in Scully’s heart.

“Will you, Scully? Will you stay with me until we’re old?”

Scully saw the haunted look she had seen in the basement

office cloud his features again and lifted his hand to her

lips and kissed his knuckles lightly. “I told you Mulder, I

love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you.

Just don’t go running off any more roads. Okay?”

He nodded, relieved and exhausted all at once. He was

finding it impossible to keep his eyes open and it occurred

to him that one of the tablets the nurse had handed him was

probably a sleeping pill. He had been so unnerved at being

caught necking with Scully that he’d meekly taken whatever

he’d been given.

“Some stud I am,” he complained while trying to smother a

yawn.

“It’s okay, sweetheart. I need some sleep too. I’ll see

you bright and early in the morning.”

“Like that,” he mumbled, eyes closed.

“What?”

“When you call me that.”

She smiled and gave him a quick kiss on the forehead and

headed for the door. She was two steps from the bed when he

called after her. Even though his voice was a bit slurred,

she understood every word.

“Hey, Scully. Can you bring me something decent for

breakfast? The food here all tastes the same.”

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

Parking Lot

Sentara Norfolk General Hospital

March 15, 2003 9:05 p.m.

The driver of the dark Mercedes threw the stub out the

window to join the pile on the ground and lit another

cigarette. He sat watching the front door of the hospital

wondering what his next move should be. He knew his

impatience had caused him to make an error in judgement but

it hadn’t occurred to him that the box would be anywhere

but in the Taurus. He’d searched both the agent and the car

without success and even though his search had been

interrupted, he was sure he hadn’t missed it.

Even if he had, past experience told him that the box

couldn’t be destroyed so it hadn’t burned in the fire. The

fact that the police hadn’t found it in the remnants of the

car further reassured him. Logically, that meant the agent

had taken it somewhere after those stupid onlookers had

hemmed his own car in but he had no idea where.

He took another long drag on his cigarette and blew smoke

out through his nostrils while he tried to think. There

hadn’t been much time between when he’d lost the Taurus and

when he’d caught up with it. Maybe a half hour.

He sighed and sucked in another lungful of smoke. If he

hadn’t witnessed the power of that music box himself, he

wouldn’t be sitting here or going to such lengths to

possess it. But he had witnessed its power and he had to

have it or be ruined. He simply had no choice any more and

time was running out.

He was desperate to talk to the man lying in a hospital

bed on the third floor. He had tried to speak to him but

that woman, his partner, was always in the room running

interference. It was impossible to get to him.

An idea suddenly occurred to him.

The woman was the problem and the solution. If the woman

wasn’t around, then he could talk to the agent. And if the

agent wasn’t willing to tell him where the box was, then

maybe the guy would be willing to exchange the box for his

partner.

Pleased with his logic, the man tossed the cigarette and

reached for another but a movement from within the hospital

caused the automatic doors to open and caught his

attention. Luck was finally on his side. The redhead

appeared and walked slowly towards the empty taxi stand, 20

feet from the hospital entrance.

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

Act IV

Sentara Norfolk General Hospital

Norfolk, Virginia

March 16, 2003 8:35 a.m.

Mulder sat propped up in his hospital bed, freshly bathed

and shaved, a frown darkening his features. His color was

better and the bandage had been replaced with a smaller

gauze dressing directly over the stitches. The dull throb

behind his temple was more manageable than the

piercing pain he’d experience a few days before. His vision

was back to normal although he felt a little dizzy and

nauseous if he turned his head sharply in either direction.

He’d been allowed to go to the bathroom twice accompanied

by a male nurse and had been appalled at how weak he felt.

Both times he’d stumbled and had to be helped back to bed,

frustrated with his slowly recovering body.

The television set was on but muted, as he had no desire

to listen to the inane chatter of the morning host. His

eyes flicked between the screen and the bank of elevators

at the far end of the hallway that he could just see

through his open door.

His frown deepened as two nurses and an orderly stepped

out of the elevator and went about their business and the

doors slowly closed behind them.

Still no Scully.

He checked the time again, which was only 3 minutes later

than the last time he’d checked. Scully should have been

here by now and he was getting worried.

The sound of the telephone ringing beside the bed gave him

a start and he sighed in relief. It had to be Scully to

tell him why she’d been held up.

“Hey Scully, I’ve already had breakfast but a burger…”

A muffled male voice asked, “Agent Mulder?”

“Yes. Who is this?”

“My name doesn’t matter. Where is it?”

Mulder couldn’t think what the caller meant. He’d expected

Scully to be on the other end of the line and the sound of

another voice had thrown him momentarily.

Recovering quickly and still hoping his partner would step

out of the elevator at any moment, he stalled for time.

He put on his best G-man voice and asked, “Where’s what?”

A deep sigh floated down the line. “Very well. We’ll do

this the hard way. Give me the box or that redheaded

partner of yours won’t see another sunset.”

Mulder felt as if a violent punch had caught him in the

stomach and forced all the air from his lungs. The man had

Scully. That was the only thing that registered. He didn’t

think, he just lifted the covers and swung his feet out of

bed and slid to the floor. The room spun dizzily and he

would have landed on his ass if he hadn’t held onto the bed

for support. Through the haze, he could hear the slightly

desperate voice on the other end of the line ask, “Do we

have a deal?”

He took a few deep, calming breaths and the room slowly

righted itself. He pushed down the nausea that threatened

and demanded, “Let me talk to her.”

“No. Bring my box to the warehouse on 22th Street, near

the Coca-Cola plant. Enter through the rear door. Be

there

by noon today and come alone or you’ll never see her again.”

Desperately trying to buy more time to think, Mulder

repeated, “I want to speak to her or no deal.”

A barely audible chuckle echoed in his ears. “So you do

have the box. You speak to her when I see the box and not

before.”

Click.

The phone went dead in his hands. His knuckles had turned

white from the death grip he had on the receiver and it

took a moment for him to tell his frozen fingers to release

the handset and return it to its cradle. He half fell, half

climbed back on the bed and lay down on his side,

exhausted. He willed his now pounding head to think, going

over his options and deciding he didn’t have many. He

didn’t dare risk calling the local field office or Don

Anderson for backup. The caller had said to come alone and

that was what he intended to do.

The man had sounded educated and desperate and Mulder knew

that desperate men made mistakes. The only half-baked plan

he could come up with was that he would pretend he had the

box somewhere else and lure the man away from Scully. If he

took his service revolver, the man might miss the one

strapped to his ankle and that might give him the chance he

needed. It would be better if he had the box to negotiate

with but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t remember

what had happened to it.

Sighing in frustration, he pushed his concern for Scully

and the pain away. Maybe if he went over their movements

since arriving in Norfolk – at least those he could

remember, it might jog his memory. He mentally began

ticking off places in his mind and something occurred to

him. The caller knew he’d had the box and thought he still

had it. So that meant the man was someone who had seen him

sign for the box at the park.

He rolled over onto his back and looked at the ceiling,

massaging his aching temples. The pieces were starting to

fit together and he now realized that the box was why he’d

been run off the road. What he didn’t know was what was so

special about the music box that someone would risk

kidnapping a federal agent for? And if, as he suspected,

the box was connected in some way to the strange deaths,

why would anyone want it?

His thoughts kept going round and round in circles,

tumbling over one another, making the headache that had

been building flare with an intensity that made him gasp.

He was forced to ask for some Tylenol. If he was going to

break out of the hospital, and he was, he had to have

something to help

ease the throbbing in his head and allow him to think.

The nurse frowned when she saw his pale color and frowned

again when she took his pulse and blood pressure. She

replaced his covers, fluffed his pillows and handed him two

Tylenol telling him he had to rest more. He flashed her his

most charming, ‘Of course, I’ll rest’ smile and she made

the appropriate notes in his chart and left.

While he waited for the tablets to work, he checked the

time and knew he had just over three hours to get to that

warehouse, with or without the music box. It never occurred

to him that his body might not cooperate. He had to get to

Scully and that was that. He was trying to figure out how

he could get some clothes and his ankle gun from the motel

when there was a tap on his door.

He slowly turned his head and saw the smiling face of the

reporter. Then a thought flashed through his mind. The man

had been at Stella’s flat. And at the park. And had

probably seen him sign for the music box. And could have

followed him and run him off the road before conveniently

‘rescuing’ him. The fact that he’d hung around the hospital

for the last few days only made him appear more suspicious.

Although his voice didn’t sound like the cultured baritone

Mulder had heard, the reporter could have disguised his

voice.

Mulder didn’t allow any of these thoughts to show on his

face as he waited for the man to sit in the chair beside

the bed.

Scully’s chair.

Thinking of her only made the ache in his heart intensify

so he forced his mind to concentrate on the reporter. He

knew from his attempt to get out of bed a short time ago

that he didn’t have the strength to do what he wanted to do

– which was grab the man by the scruff of his neck and

squeeze until he told him where Scully was. So he waited.

The journalist seemed pleased to find the patient alone

and gave a satisfied smiled as he sat down, placing his

heavy coat beside the chair. He failed to notice that

Mulder didn’t return his smile.

“Remember me, Steve Denton?”

Without waiting for any acknowledgement, he pulled his

notepad and pencil from his jacket pocket and flipped to a

clean page. “Nice to see you looking better, Agent Mulder.

How are you feeling?”

Mulder ignored the question and demanded, “Why did you

come?”

Surprised at the obviously unfriendly tone from a man

whose life he had saved, Steve stammered, “I was h-hoping

to interview you. You know… a-about the accident and your

investigation. I’ve been by a few times but that partner of

yours is like a bull terrier and wouldn’t let me near you.”

He smiled again to take the sting out of his words, not

wanting to upset the star of his upcoming article.

“Where is she?” The words were crisp and to the point and

Mulder’s eyes never left the man’s face.

The reporter shrugged and met his gaze unwaveringly. “Your

partner? I haven’t seen her.” Again he flashed that

seemingly genuine smile and said, “If I could just have a

few words with you, I’d be happy to go look for her?”

Mulder hesitated. He detected no trace of deceit in the

man’s voice or manner. He decided to see what reaction he

got to the truth. “She’s missing.”

The other man’s jaw dropped open and his eyes widened in

concern. “Really? What happened?”

“That’s what I was hoping you’d tell me.”

Steve couldn’t have faked his astonishment. “M-me?

W-what makes you think I know anything about it?”

Mulder was beginning to think he’d misjudged the man but

wasn’t prepared to let up yet. “Because you called me ten

minutes ago.”

The look of utter incredulity on the reporter’s face did

more to convince Mulder that he was telling the truth than

the words he spoke. “Wasn’t me, I s-swear. I came straight

from room 511 where I interviewed Mrs. Stowe. She turns 100

tomorrow. You can ch-check if you want. Her daughter and

three grandchildren were in the room with me.”

Frustrated and disappointed that the man really didn’t

know anything about Scully’s disappearance, he said, “Then

tell me what you do know.”

“W-what do you want to know?”

“Why were you following me?”

Steve didn’t even bother to deny it or ask how Mulder

knew. “I-I wasn’t following you – at least, not at first.

I listen to the police and ambulance calls on my scanner

and when I heard about another unusual death, I went to the

Ocean View apartments. When I saw you again at Seashore

State Park, I decided to follow you, hoping you

might give me an interview. I lost you when you hit town

but after a few quick phone calls, I found out where you

were staying and I was on my way there when I saw your

smashed car on the side of the road.” He shrugged as if to

say, ‘the rest is history.’

“Did you see anyone else?” asked Mulder.

“No. Like I told the police, I did see some taillights in

the distance but I couldn’t tell what kind of car it was.”

“You said ‘another unusual death’ when you heard of the

one at the Ocean View apartments. What do you know about

any other unusual deaths?”

The other man hesitated, trying to decide how much he

wanted to give away before he got the exclusive he was

after and that he felt he deserved. “There were two similar

deaths about five years ago.”

He glanced up at Mulder who stared back, neither

confirming nor denying he knew anything about them.

Steve licked his lips nervously and pressed on. “I-I can

give you some details you won’t find in any reports, Agent

M-Mulder, but in return I want your word that you will give

me an exclusive.”

Mulder thought about it for less than two seconds and gave a

mental shrug.

“Deal. Now what do you know?”

Steve leaned forward and lowered his voice as if he was

afraid someone would overhear him and said,

“Well, according to local legend, deaths like those are

caused by a curse placed on a music box by an old gypsy in

the late 1800’s.”

When Mulder didn’t even blink at this revelation, the

reporter inquired, “You don’t seem very surprised?”

“Someone’s already beaten you to the punch. What I want

to know is why it’s considered cursed.”

“It’s quite a long story.”

“I have time.”

“Okay. According to my old granny, the music box was

given to the gypsy’s granddaughter when she married Jacob,

the son of a local landowner, a man by the name of Lucas

Parker, who is Mrs.Benson’s great-grandfather, by the way.

From what I’ve been able to find out from old newspapers,

diaries and such, Parker was a tough, unscrupulous rancher

who was a law unto himself. He initially forbade the

wedding

until he found out she came with a sizeable dowry that

would save him from financial ruin. Then he changed his

mind and fast.”

Anxious about Scully and impatient to get to the point,

Mulder interrupted, “What has that got to do with the

curse?”

The reporter shot him an annoyed glance. “I’m coming to

that. Just listen, will you? You have to have the

background in order to understand how the stories of a

curse came into being. Okay?”

Forcing himself to be patient, Mulder nodded and the other

man continued, his stammer less evident now that he was on

to a subject he was obviously comfortable with.

“Legend has it that the old gypsy was afraid that Lucas

Parker would use the dowry to pay off his debts and then

try to get rid of his son’s wife. Which was exactly what he

tried to do. Now this is where it gets interesting. Lucas

Parker was found dead the next day with the music box in

his hands.” He smiled triumphantly. “And that’s when the

rumors started about the curse.”

At Mulder’s questioning look, he explained, “Lucas Parker

was only 48 years, fit as a fiddle and ornery as they come.

Hadn’t been sick a day in his life. Of course, there

weren’t

any autopsies done in those days but the entry in the

church registry just states he died of a hard heart. And

Lucas wasn’t the only one to die that way.”

“Go on,” said Mulder, mentally adding up the bodies he had

attributed to the curse so far and wondering how many more

there were.

“Harry Benson died the same way two years ago. That’s what

got me interested because the Benson’s are big news in this

town. I found out that he died the same way as those two

ex-

con’s five years ago. I know because his business partner

told me he tried to revive Benson but his heart was so hard

it had been impossible to administer CPR. I got to

wondering what a successful businessman and two ex-cons had

in common. I did some research and found mention of nine

other deaths over the last eighty years, mostly employees

of the Parkers. The box was found in the possession of each

and every one when they died. I thought it was too much of

a coincidence so I wanted to write a feature on the history

of the box and the rumors of a curse surrounding it but

Mrs. Benson threatened to sue me if I did. She was a

Parker before she married Henry Benson, you know. My guess

is that she didn’t want the fact that her dear devoted

husband was having an affair with his secretary to come

out.”

He shrugged in a ‘my hands were tied’ gesture and Mulder

asked, “So why would anyone want the box if it causes the

death of the person who has it?”

Steve flicked back through his notes until he came to the

page he was looking for. “That’s easy,” he said. “Each

time

the box went missing, the family lost heavily on the stock

exchange and recovered their losses when the box was

returned. That’s how the rumor started that the box was

connected to the family fortune as well as the strange

deaths.”

Mulder had rolled on his side facing the journalist, his

headache forgotten as he listened intently, the pieces

falling neatly into place. “Do you believe that?”

The reporter looked up and nodded. “Yes, I think I do.

Mainly because most of the unusual deaths over the last

eighty years were employees of the Parkers. They were

people privy to the goings on in the house and must have

seen something that made them want the box. They were

prepared to risk the curse to obtain the fortune.”

Mulder nodded and decided to trust the other man. He told

him about the phone call and the proposed exchange. “Can

you think of anyone who might have taken my partner?”

Steve thought about it for a moment and then shook his

head, “No, I’m sorry.”

“I don’t suppose you know where the music box is now?”

Mulder asked, not expecting a positive response to this

question either.

“Why at Old Dominion University, of course,” came the

bewildered reply. “Where you left it.”

Mulder leaned up on one elbow, his heart hammering in his

chest, his voice abrupt as he demanded, “What do you mean

‘Where I left it?'”

“I-I told you I followed you from the State Park. You

headed back to town and suddenly veered off and took the

road to the University. You went into the linguistics

department with the box and returned without it. You got

back in your car and then I lost you, like I said before.”

“Did anyone else follow me?”

“N-no, just me.”

“Can you take me to the University?”

Steve looked at Mulder’s pale face and asked, “Now?”

Mulder didn’t even bother to answer. He pushed himself

slowly into a sitting position and eyed Steve’s coat.

“Have you ever escaped from a hospital before?”

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

22nd Street Warehouse

Corner 22nd and Granby Streets

March 16, 2003 11:55 a.m.

Mulder opened his eyes as the car came to a stop and

looked into the concerned face of Steve Denton.

“Hey, a-are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

But of course, he wasn’t. He was worried sick about Scully

and he felt like shit. The adrenaline that had fueled his

escape from the hospital had disappeared like water down a

drain after he’d collected his clothes, ankle holster and

spare gun from the motel and retrieved the box and

translation from the obliging Linguistic professor’s

secretary. Now he was moving on sheer willpower helped by

the Tylenol and two cups of coffee they had bought at the

University cafeteria.

He picked up the music box that sat on the seat between

them and turned to his new friend.

“Thanks, Steve. I have just one more favor to ask.”

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

22nd Street Warehouse

Corner 22nd and Granby Streets

March 16, 2003 11:55 a.m.

Mulder stepped cautiously through the back door,

sidestepped to the right and flattened himself against the

rear of the warehouse.

Sunlight filtered through the pair of dirty skylights set

in the high ceiling, casting odd shadows on the objects

below. He waited a moment for his eyes to adjust to the

gloom and then slipped behind the first row of containers

that were piled six high and ran the length and width of

the building with three-foot aisles in between.

The only sound was the distant drone of traffic and his

own labored breathing as he moved as silently as he could.

He paused at the beginning of each new row, before crossing

the open space to the next row.

He had gone about half way down the building when he came

upon a cleared area about fifteen feet by twelve feet. The

containers had been moved and placed across the aisles on

each side, effectively making a small room and blocking him

from moving anywhere but forward.

He poked his head around the corner and the knot in his

stomach tightened when he saw Scully sitting in a wooden

chair, the light from the skylight above shining directly

on her like a spotlight on the lead actor in a play. Her

hands were tied behind her back and her feet were fastened

to the legs of the chair. A cloth was stuffed into her

mouth and she was staring straight ahead, towards his left,

her head held high.

Resisting the overpowering urge to go straight to her, he

held back, trying to see where her kidnapper might be

concealed. There was the smell of cigarette smoke in the

air but he couldn’t see the telltale glow of a cigarette

butt.

His eyes probed every nook and cranny but he didn’t detect

any movement. After every pass, his eyes were drawn back to

the pale figure, sitting ramrod straight in the chair.

Scully must have heard something because her head jerked

to her right and looked towards the shadows on the side

opposite to where he was standing.

Before he could react, a strong flashlight shone directly

at him, and he quickly stepped back out of its beam but he

wasn’t quick enough.

The cultured voice that had contacted him in the hospital

spoke from behind the light.

“Step forward, Agent Mulder, and raise your hands or I’ll

be forced to shoot your lovely partner.”

It bothered Mulder that he detected a desperate tremor

again. If anything, the man sounded even more desperate

than the last time they’d spoken.

Deciding there was no point in putting off the

confrontation, Mulder took a step forward. This was what he

had come for after all.

The light immediately zeroed in on his face and he raised

both hands in the air, his left angled to shield his eyes,

his right holding his gun. The blinding light made him gasp

and his vision began to fade. He stumbled a few more steps

before righting himself.

He took another step but froze when the voice commanded,

“Drop the gun. NOW.”

Mulder again heard the nervous edge to the voice that

indicated the man was as tense as a coiled spring and might

go off at the slightest provocation.

He shrugged as if disarming himself was no big deal and

carefully bent down and placed the gun at his feet, still

shielding his eyes from the bright light with his left hand.

“Kick it over here,” was the next command.

Mulder obeyed and managed to move another two steps in

Scully’s direction as he did so. By his calculation, he was

somewhere to Scully’s left and only a few feet from the man

who still stood in the shadow of the containers.

He swallowed against the dryness in his throat and tensed

his body, ready to move the moment there was an opening.

The adrenaline flowed like an electrical charge through

his body.

The flashlight was turned off and Mulder sighed with

relief as he dropped his left hand. When the bright dots

faded from his vision, he noticed with satisfaction that he

was almost beside Scully.

He chanced a look at Scully and she gave him an apologetic

shrug, her blue

eyes telling him that she loved him but the arch of one

brow saying he’d better have come with backup. He gave a

slight nod, although that was not strictly true. He

figured he had a minute before Steve called the cavalry and

about five before they broke down the door.

A dark-haired, well-dressed man in his late thirties, of

average height and better than average looks, stepped out of

the shadows. He wore surgical gloves on both hands and

the hand holding the gun was pointed unwaveringly at Scully.

“Give me the box.”

When Mulder hesitated, the gun jerked impatiently at

Scully, the implication unmistakable.

Mulder took another two small steps forward but stopped

when the gun swung in his direction.

“That’s far enough,” the man warned. “Show me the box.”

Casually Mulder reached into his jacket pocket but froze

when the man cocked the gun and said, “No tricks, Agent

Mulder. Two fingers only.”

Mulder gingerly pulled the box from his pocket and held it

up for inspection.

“Take it and go,” Mulder said, extending the box towards

the man.

“You know I can’t leave any witnesses, don’t you?” came

the calm reply.

Using that poker face he was so proud of, Mulder said,

“You don’t really think I came alone do you? This place is

surrounded. Give up now before any one gets hurt.”

A manic grin made the handsome face appear grotesque in

the dimly lit warehouse. “I’m not worried. The rear

door locked automatically when you entered and I have a

way out that

won’t be found by your men until I’m long gone. And since

neither of you will be around to identify me…” He trailed

off, his meaning clear.

Stalling for time, Mulder asked, “Since I’m going to die

for this music box,” he lifted the box still in his hand,

“why is it so important?”

The man smiled a chilling condescending smile and

considered the question. “I suppose it won’t hurt to tell

you. I have been privileged to hold that box and through

it, make a fortune for the Bensons and build a very

successful brokerage business for myself. You might find

this

hard to believe, but holding that box clears my head and I

know what the market is going to do. Now that the box is no

longer available to me, my business is on the brink of

collapse. I won’t throw away it all away because that bitch

…”

He broke off at the sound of sirens in the distance and

shrugged. “I really am sorry.”

Scully, convinced that backup would materialize at any

moment, had been content to let Mulder handle things but

not when she saw the man was about to pull the trigger. She

pulled frantically at the ropes binding her hands but only

succeeded in almost tipping over. The man, seeing movement

out of the corner of his eye, turned the gun in that

direction and squeezed the trigger as Mulder launched

himself at the man, shielding his partner with his body.

Scully watched in horror as Mulder jerked with the force

of the impact. He dropped heavily to the floor and lay

still, the box falling from his limp hands.

The man picked up the box and carefully examined it to

make sure it hadn’t been damaged. He opened it and scowled

as the entwined lovers sprung up and slowly began their

slow circular dance. He stilled the moving figures with his

gloved finger and snapped the lid shut with a bang.

The sirens stopped abruptly and there was the sound of

pounding on the rear door.

The man looked to the rear of the warehouse and back to

Scully who hadn’t taken her eyes off her fallen partner,

her eyes refusing to believe what they’d seen.

Shrugging, he raised the gun but before he could pull the

trigger, his face lost all its color and he gasped for

breath. The box and gun fell from his trembling hands as he

clutched his chest, his face contorted in agony as he

cried, “No…no…I’m wearing gloves…” He dropped to his

knees and fell face first onto the concrete floor, his body

convulsing.

He was already dead when Detective Allender and two men

slipped

silently into the open area, guns drawn. Allender’s

experienced eyes took in the scene in an instant and he

sent one of his men to get the paramedics and the other to

finish searching the warehouse. He holstered his gun and

knelt beside Scully, worried that she hadn’t looked at him

or acknowledged his presence. He carefully removed the

sodden cloth from her mouth and cut the ropes.

Scully was oblivious to everything but the unmoving body

of her partner. She didn’t feel the pain as the blood

rushed back into her hands and feet when the ropes were

cut, didn’t feel the strong arms of the big detective

support her when her legs refused to hold her weight

and she certainly didn’t hear his plea for her to wait

for the paramedics. She stumbled towards Mulder and felt as

if she were wading through molasses. It seemed like hours

before she was kneeling beside him but it was only seconds

from the time she’d been freed.

She gently rolled him on his back and gathered him in her

arms, pulling his head onto her lap. She instantly felt for

a pulse but her fingers, numb and swollen from being

restrained behind her back for hours, couldn’t feel

anything.

Someone tried to take him from her arms but she resisted,

holding him in a fierce embrace. Then she began to shiver

and the pins and needles sensation in her hands and feet

finally registered in her brain. Her vision blurred and

through the haze, she felt herself being lifted up and then

the mist descended and swallowed her.

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

Epilogue

Sentara Norfolk General Hospital

Norfolk, Virginia

March 17, 2003 3:55 p.m.

Scully sat listening to the steady beat of the heart

monitor, wondering how much more of this emotional roller

coaster ride she could take.

The hand in hers twitched. She looked down as Mulder’s

eyes fluttered and watched as one hazel eye cracked open,

squinting a little in the bright light of day.

He gave her a lopsided grin but from the confused look on

his face, he was having trouble remembering what had

happened or how he’d ended up in the hospital again.

Sudden tears filled her eyes as his gaze met hers and

Scully had to look away as a single tear slipped past her

defenses. The thought that she might never have seen that

grin or look into those familiar eyes again was more than

she could bear to think about.

Of course, Mulder noticed and his brow furrowed in

concern. He reached up and wiped the tear away.

“What is it?” he asked, managing a raspy voice from an

exceptionally dry throat.

She ignored his question and leaned forward, spooning some

ice chips into his mouth.

“Better?”

He nodded, knowing that his voice wouldn’t cooperate until

the ice melted and lubricated his parched throat.

Mulder ran a quick inventory and decided he wasn’t in too

bad a shape. He had a slight headache but nothing

unmanageable. He did feel washed out and tired but nothing

to cause Scully’s legendary veneer to crack and cause her

to cry. The sight of that lone tear had felt like a knife

stabbing at his heart.

He swallowed and asked, “Is there something you’re not

telling me? Are you all right?”

She looked into his concerned hazel eyes and took a deep,

shaky breath, trying to decide whether to kiss him or yell

at him for scaring her so badly. She hadn’t let him out of

her sight since she’d woken up and found him very much

alive with nothing more than another bruise on his right

temple to match the fading one on his left. Her fear that

this new injury might have caused damage to his already

traumatized brain had thankfully been eliminated by the

numerous tests she’d insisted on running.

She took his hand in hers and lifted it to her mouth,

kissing it lightly and shaking her head. “No. Everything’s

fine now. How do you feel?”

He let the deflection go for the moment and grumbled, “How

did I get here this time?”

“What’s the last thing you remember, Mulder?”

His brows drew together and he closed his eyes, trying to

concentrate. Then the memories came flooding back in a

rush. His eyes opened wide as he remembered the gun going

off and the impact of the bullet hitting his chest. He

raised the hand not held possessively by Scully and felt

his chest. No pain, no bandages.

“I don’t understand it, Scully. I felt the bullet hit me

here.” He indicated the center of his chest.

Then he remembered that the man had been about to kill

both of them. He looked at her sharply, noticing her pale

face and haunted expression. He gripped her hand tightly in

his. “What happened? Are you all right? Did he hurt

you?”

She shook her head. “Detective Allender arrived with

backup

and I’m fine, thanks to your lousy imitation of superman.”

At his raised eyebrow, she elaborated, “Don’t you

remember? You jumped in front of a speeding bullet aimed

at

me.”

He nodded, a shiver running through his body as he

recalled the split second of panic he felt when he saw the

gun pointed at his partner. Nothing had mattered to him at

that moment but getting between her and the gun.

“Mulder, you have to promise to stop risking your life to

save mine.” Scully felt tears threaten again but blinked

them away.

He saw the anguish she must have felt reflected in her

eyes but knew he couldn’t make that promise. He’d do it

again in a heartbeat if her life was threatened. “No can

do, Scully.”

He tried to lighten the decidedly morbid atmosphere.

“Besides, I was trying to disarm the guy, not get killed.”

“My hero,” she breathed as she leaned over and gently

kissed him, brushing her lips across his. He responded but

she pulled away before he could deepen the kiss and he

whimpered at the loss of contact.

“C’mon, Scully, give a guy a break. Don’t I get more …” He

broke off when he saw a shudder pass through her small

frame and the haunted look in her eyes.

“When I thought I saw that bullet hit you, I was sure you

were …” She couldn’t, wouldn’t say the word. Her chin

quivered, forcing her to turn away from him.

He reached out and turned her face back to his. “It did

hit me, Scully.”

She shook her head. “As near as we can figure, that music

box saved your life. The bullet must have ricocheted …”

“No. I tell you I felt the impact.”

“Mulder, there’s not a mark on your chest let alone a

bullet wound.”

Mulder chewed his bottom lip, trying to reconcile what she

was telling him with what he knew he felt. “What happened

to the guy at the warehouse? Who was he?”

“Julia Winters’ husband. He had the box in his hand when he

clutched his chest and fell to the floor. He died at the

scene, his heart hardened in the same way as the others.”

She was a bit vague on the details because she honestly

couldn’t remember much after she’d seen Mulder fall. Her

medical training told her that she’d been in shock but

she’d decided not to dwell on it too much. The man was

dead and Mulder was alive. She didn’t want to look any

further than that at the moment.

Mulder looked up sharply at this revelation but said

nothing.

“It all fits, Scully. That music box is cursed but not in

the way I first thought. That’s why I’m not dead.”

She arched an eyebrow at him and he loved it. Some color

had come back into her face and her eyes were less haunted

now that they were on familiar ground, finalizing a case.

“I don’t understand. According to your theory, the curse

*caused* deaths, not *saved* lives.”

Mulder smiled enigmatically. “It makes sense when you know

what the curse says. I had the carvings on the music box

translated by a linguistic professor at Old Dominion

University. That’s where I’d left it before I was run off

the road and that’s why it wasn’t in the car.”

Scully nodded and gestured for him to continue.

He closed his eyes, his eidetic memory providing a perfect

recall of the translation that he’d read the day before.

“Good fortune to those who hold this box but a curse upon

those who use it to betray another for their heart is made

of stone. Only the pure of heart prepared to give their

life for another shall receive a gift more valuable than

any fortune.”

Scully sounded a little skeptical. “And you think the

reference to the heart made of stone explains those

deaths?” Even as she said the words, she knew that was

exactly what he meant.

He nodded enthusiastically. “Work with me here, Scully.

Sam betrayed Frank and took the box to give to his

sister so he died. Stella betrayed Frank so she died.”

“Wait a minute. What makes you say that?”

“The wine sitting in the melted ice. I think you’ll find

she was having a fling with her boss. He seemed a bit too

interested in her whereabouts when she didn’t show for

work.”

“So who did Frank betray?”

“Take your pick. Mrs. Bensen when he took the box from the

safe or Winters who paid him to steal the box. Maybe Frank

demanded more money.” He shrugged. “And Winters betrayed

his wife and her grandmother’s trust so he died. If you go

back even further, Mrs. Benson’s husband was having an

affair so he died and the deaths five years ago are just

more of the same.”

He looked at her triumphantly, obviously pleased with

himself.

Scully thought about it for a moment, wondering if she

should tell him that the tests results she’d been waiting

on hadn’t shown anything but decided to let him read that

in the reports. He would only claim it gave credence to his

latest outlandish theory. Then again… maybe it wasn’t so

outlandish. There had been no more deaths and the box had

been returned to a grateful Mrs. Benson. However, there was

one point she wanted explained. “Not that I’m complaining,

but how does that explain why you aren’t dead if you

handled the box and betrayed Winters?”

He blushed and looked away. “Because I was pure of heart,

I guess.”

He shrugged, still not able to face her. “But I think the

box got it wrong, Scully. My life was spared because I gave

my heart for you. In return, it gave me what some people

consider a greater gift than fortune – my life, without

knowing that *you* are my life. If I had lived and not you,

well – It wouldn’t have been much of a gift.”

Scully squeezed his hand, applying gentle but insistent

pressure until he turned haunted eyes back to her.

“No, Mulder, the box got it right.”

THE END

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