Title: Lucky Lizzy
Janice Creed padded quietly across the darkness of her living room, a crystal goblet of '83 La Tache Burgundy perched delicately within her immaculately manicured fingers. She stopped to look rather dispassionately out over the 180-degree view she was afforded of the town of Aspen from the heights of her Red Mountain home. Somewhere deep in her heart she knew that she should be admiring the beauty of the twinkling town nestled below her, the whitely glowing slopes of Aspen Mountain luminescent in the moon's light on the opposite side of the valley. But her mind was elsewhere.
"You're leaving? I told you George won't be back until late." He smiled placatingly down at her, his large hands sliding down her back to cup her behind.
"Sorry baby. I gotta go. I have to meet someone."
"Who?" she pouted, pressing her body closer to his. He chuckled.
"You know I can't tell you details, Jan. It's part of the plan I've told you about. It's someone who will ensure that we have a future together. Someone who is going to help make me very, very rich."
"Fine, you won't tell me." she said, her voice on the verge of wheedling. It wasn't that she cared that much who he was talking to, she just wanted him to stay a bit longer.
"It's better that you don't know," he said. He leaned down and kissed her, hard...hard enough to painfully scrape her lower lip against her teeth. A hot swelling wave crashed through her senses. He was so rough, so hard. So alive. Her husband couldn't give her even a fraction of what her lover could.
Except his money. Which, in the end, was enough to make her stay with him.
When he pulled away from her, she could taste the metallic tang of blood in her mouth. She licked her lips slowly, sensually. He just laughed at her, low and knowing, before turning away to pick his coat up from where he had tossed it earlier.
"When can I see you again?" she asked, following him as he made his way to the door. He tugged gloves and hat on, declining to answer her. And then he was pulling the massive door open and stepping out into the frigid January night.
Even clad as she was only in the thin satin robe, she stood in the door for a moment and watched him trudge down the drive to where his car was parked. It was a clear night, but she could see clouds surrounding the moon in a glowing halo. Carmelita liked to say it was a sign of coming snow. Janice sighed and shut the door, turning to lean against it. Her body ached all over in that pleasant way that it did after she'd been with her lover.
She smiled and wandered through the big foyer and back up the stairs to the living room. As it always did after he'd left, the thought occurred to her that George might divorce her if he ever learned of this. He was such an old fuddy-dud most of the time. Straight-laced, stiff upper lip and all that. But no. George would never know. He would be schmoozing well into the night anyway. Always on the lookout for those campaign contributions, she thought a little bitterly.
She moved slowly up the stairs, sliding her hand along the polished pine log banister. She could hear Winslow barking somewhere in the house and she made an idle note to remember to have him brought in for his grooming in the morning. She'd been terribly neglectful of him lately what with her frequent illicit dalliances and all the planning she'd taken on for the upcoming Winterskool Benefit.
Stepping into her cavernous bedroom, she flicked on the track lighting over the bed, keeping it dim. She'd been of a mood to enjoy the dark lately...bright lights seemed to bother her since she'd had the Radial Karatotemy done.
The barking was louder now. Frowning, she wondered if Winslow had somehow made his way into her closet. Had that blasted Carmelita left the door open in there? The woman was paying for any damage done to her shoes.
Picking up her pace, she rounded the nook corner that separated her walk-in closet from her bedroom and stopped. The door was indeed wide open, and Winslow was within the darkness of the room, barking furiously. She let a moment of disquiet pass through her. What was he doing in there? What was he so worked up about? Biting her lip, she reached around the wall of the cavernous closet, searching for the light switch. Her fingers found the button and pressed a little frantically. Nothing happened.
Suddenly, the little white Westie burst out of the inky black of the closet, darting between her legs and vanishing through her bedroom. She had been unable to control the small scream that burst from her lips as the dog had made his surprise exit and she was about to go after him, concerned, when a blast of frigid, musty air exploded from her closet. Her hair lifted away from her face and she was treated to a strong odor of dust and a metallic tang of minerals that burned her eyes. It was so cold and damp...goosebumps prickled along her arms and legs and she pulled her thin silk robe closer to her body, backing away from the gaping black maw of her closet...heart beginning to pound in her chest.
And then a noise. A scuffling bootstep and the dragging, rusted metal sound of something scraping against rock. An echoing voice hissed and rattled its way past her ears in words she couldn't make out. All the hairs were standing on the back of her neck now and she felt herself paralyzed against the wall, her wide eyes glued to the uncanny dark of her closet.
Another sound, a rhythmic chinking began...the sound doubling and tripling as it tumbled from the opaque darkness. And then...a light. Dim and distant at first, growing larger. And accompanying it, the faint rattling roar of metal on metal, a squealing shrieking sound that seemed to fill her head.
Her mouth was trembling open, her eyes so wide they were almost rolling back in her skull...a thin reedy whine was issuing from her mouth...her hands clutching the silky fabric at her throat.
Closer, louder...and then she caught a glimpse of two eyes...reflected in the light of a swinging lantern...and that was all she remembered.
The snow mired the tires as completely as if they were driving through quick-dry cement.
He hit the accelerator a couple of times, the engine roaring under his frustration, the tires spinning helplessly in the white mass. The acrid smell of smoke finally forced him to give up and he slapped the car into park and turned it off. They sat there for a long moment in silence while he thumped his fingers on the steering wheel, looking out the windshield at the world of pure white that surrounded them.
It was ironic, he thought, that they had finally made it out of Denver...had managed to survive the terrible road conditions over the two mountain passes that lay on the long drive to Aspen...had made it up the twisting, narrow roads of Red Mountain...and were finally halted at the foot of the Creeds' driveway. As if 6 and a half-hours of icy silence in the car weren't bad enough. He suspected that it was warmer outside.
The wipers were beating out a lonely thumping as they continued to busily clear the thickly falling snow off the glass, leaving the pair of agents a perfect view of the blizzard outside.
His partner let out a deep sigh and began to pull on her gloves.
"Too bad we don't have the proper clothes for this," she muttered softly. While they had brought warmer clothes and winter boots, everything was packed away in the trunk.
"We can change..." he said, frowning doubtfully at the sight of her small, pump-clad feet peeking out of the hems of her trousers. She shook her head.
"I'll be fine." Her voice was cool. "It can't be that far up to the house."
"That snow is already a foot deep, Scully," he said, eyeing her.
She gave him a look that lowered the temperature just a bit more.
"I'm perfectly capable of seeing how deep the snow is, Mulder."
He blew a huff of air through clenched teeth and flung his hands up. Fine. Enough.
The car had begun to cool rapidly as soon as he'd turned off the engine, making little clunking noises as the radiator chilled. They both pushed their doors open, plowing the heavy, cold fluff aside in an odd imitation of a snow angel. All around them was that perfect silence that comes only in the deepest, thickest snowfalls. As if the whiteness itself soaked up noise.
Mulder deliberately did not watch as his partner pushed her small frame through the drifts of the driveway, instead forging ahead, keeping his eyes in front of him.
"This *is* the right drive, yes Mulder?" he heard her voice in the odd echoing quiet of the snowfall.
He finally glanced back at her. The fat white flakes were already crowning her red hair and collecting in her eyelashes, her cheeks and nose were rosy from the cold. He couldn't refrain from taking a mental snapshot to save for later. Things had been stiff and strained between them for the past week, but he still found himself unable to ignore the part of him that warmed every time he looked at her.
"Pretty sure. Unless they gave us the wrong address." He made himself look away from her brightly pink cheeks.
"The way things are going so far on this case...ask me if I would be surprised."
He wasn't in the mood for the bantering remark he might have normally made.
They plowed onwards in silence for a few more long minutes before Mulder simply stopped, letting Scully run into his broad back.
"Upph. What is it Mulder?" she peered around him, grabbing onto his arms for balance. He revelled in the brief contact and then berated himself for it. Things were never going to get any better if he continued to come alive every time she brushed up against him.
"I still don't see anything." he muttered. "How are your feet?" he asked suddenly, twisting his neck around to look down at her stockings-and-pumps.
"They're fine." she answered shortly, belying her words by suddenly balancing on one leg and pulling a frozen foot up into the warmth of her hand. He crouched in front of her with a silent sigh and examined her feet.
He could see the redness of her skin even through the beige of her hose. Without another word, he snagged one of her arms and twisted his body lithely around, presenting his back to her and pulling.
"Mulder..." her voice was threatening, but he could tell she was only a hair away from allowing him to carry her. It was a clear indication of just how cold her feet had to be.
"You're the doc, doc," he said with forced blandness as he hoisted her up onto his hips. "You wanna get frostbite?"
"Mulder, it would have to be a great deal colder out ...and I would have to walk in the snow for a lot farther before there would be any danger of that." But she wasn't struggling, and he could feel her arms settling tersely around his neck. As if she was trying to minimize contact with his body. "As soon as we see the house, you're letting me down..." she warned.
He didn't say anything. He just pulled her legs more tightly to his side, hitching her up on his back as he continued slogging onwards up the drive. The warmth of her body against his was conjuring far too many mental pictures. Pictures his eidetic memory was having no problem with recreating down to the last detail and sensation.
Unfortunately, the deliciously sensual memories led right into the events of last week and the bitter argument that had set them so firmly apart for the past 8 days. He grimaced and focused his eyes on the crystalline drifts he was pushing through, trying to think about anything, anything at all beyond the woman that curled around his back. Not to mention the entire concept of being between her legs.
Just stop it.
His own feet were starting to ache with cold, the snow and wet soaking through his thin dress socks. Yeah. That was good. Painful discomfort was just the ticket to keep from thinking about what he and Scully were on the verge of losing. Not just the incredible intimacy they'd only discovered over the past months, but 6 years of the best friendship he'd ever experienced. And was ever likely to.
The road kept going. Jeezuz, did these people live in the next goddamned county?
His arms were just starting to cramp up when he caught a glimpse of a hulking darkness in the white. Scully had laid her head alongside his, and even with the pain, he was loath to put her down. But a ScullyRule was a ScullyRule. Especially with the mood she'd been in lately.
"The house, Scully..." he murmured, turning his head slightly so that his cheek brushed against the soft damp fragrance of her hair. She made a little noise that told him she had actually dozed off. It was a noise that went straight to his groin. A noise that she made early in the morning...
Do not go there.
"Put me down, Mulder..." she said right into his ear in a slightly muzzy voice that sent chills down his spine.
He let her slide down his body gently and consciously averted his gaze while she straightened out her clothes and dusted snow off her shoulders. The house loomed large before them now, though the details were still obscured by the falling snow. He could see some wide steps that led up from the parking area to an enormous set of doors.
What was it with the rich and big doors?
Did they think that the bigger the doors, the bigger people would think they were? Where did that come from? Perhaps it was the glaring hubris of comparing their own homes to the gates of the Feudal Lords' castles...or even worse, to the Gates Of Heaven themselves.
Humph. If this was heaven, Scully certainly wasn't acting like an angel.
Seeing that his partner stood comfortably at his side, he pressed the doorbell.
George Creed was not a young man, nor was he a particularly open-minded man.
When his wife was found at the threshold of her walk-in closet, unconscious and marked with an enormous bruise on her ribcage, he'd had no idea what to make of it. There had been no sign of a break-in...nothing had been taken, the doors were locked from the inside.
She had been taken to Aspen Valley Hospital and had awoken almost 12 hours later with a tale that he, frankly, had a very hard time believing. But, George Harcourt Preston Creed was a man who loved his beautiful young wife very much. And when she had demanded that some sort of 'expert' help be brought in, he had jumped to find some. A friend of his in DC had spoken of two FBI agents who specialized in that supernatural sort of nonsense...and so, when those two had appeared at his doorstep one snowy afternoon, he was vaguely surprised at their outward appearance.
There were no amulets or brightly colored scarves. There were no jangling bracelets nor the nauseating odors of incense. The man was tall with dark hair and intensely murky green eyes, clad in an immaculate dark suit with an expensive wool overcoat. Only his tie spoke of something less than conservative. The woman was a lovely little thing with a flame of red hair against the white of the storm and a blaze of blue in her gaze. Her tiny curvy body was appealingly wrapped in a form-fitting suit of charcoal. They both stood on his doorstep with the pure blankness of the blizzard at their backs, snow melting in their hair and on their shoulders as they presented their badges...their names hanging in that unique hollowness of a white-out.
"Uh, come in...come in. We didn't really expect you today...not when we heard that all the flights out of Denver had been cancelled..." he said gruffly, stepping aside to let them into his home.
"We rented a car and drove up. The woman at the airline told us that she didn't think the storm would clear up until well into tomorrow." Agent Scully said as she delicately shook the remainder of the snow off her coat and handed it to him to hang up. "We didn't want to wait in the airport."
Nodding, he led them up a flight of carpeted stairs into the enormous living room. The 180-degree view was currently looking out over an expanse of disconcerting nothingness. The blazing furnace of his fireplace drew both agents towards it like a magnet.
"Would you like something warm to drink? I'd just put some water on... Janice is sleeping..." he spread his hands as if in apology or explanation...he wasn't certain which.
"Tea would be wonderful," the woman said. The man had still not spoken beyond introducing himself. As Creed walked out of the room towards the kitchen, he caught a glimpse of movement in the mirror over the dining room table. The woman had perched on one of the ottomans in front of the fire and bent to remove soaked shoes, revealing shapely feet. Her partner had made what looked like an aborted move towards her before stopping himself and sinking into one of the couches.
He moved into the kitchen, plucked the kettle off the stove before it started whistling and quickly filled the teapot. By the time he returned to the living room, the two agents were sitting on separate sides of the couch waiting patiently for him. He saw that her wet shoes were still sitting by the fire, faint steam rising off them.
"I'm sure that you've read the description of events that my wife wrote out for you?" he asked, a little embarrassed as he poured out the tea. Agent Mulder nodded, leaning forward to perch on the edge of the seat with an intent look in his eye.
"From what I understand, your wife was standing in the doorway of her closet when she felt a cold wind flow over her. She then experienced several different sounds and the sight of an approaching light. She passed out. When you found her, she was comatose and the doctors discovered an enormous bruise on her ribcage."
"That's correct. They couldn't attribute it to anything. It almost looked like she'd run into a wall. Janice doesn't recall much except that she thought she had been hit with something...she's fairly insistent that she did not turn or run."
"Pardon me for asking, but have you and your wife been experiencing any marital trouble lately Senator?" Agent Scully asked carefully, sipping her tea, the steam painting her cold nose a bright pink.
Perhaps another man, a man who was not a politician, might take umbrage at the woman's words...the insinuation behind them. But not Senator Creed.
"Of course not. We are very happily married," he said coolly. "You may ask Janice if you wish. I would *never* hurt her."
"I wasn't suggesting that you would, sir." the woman said calmly. "But discontent might go a long way towards explaining either hallucinations or self-injury."
George blinked. He hadn't thought of that. He shook his head.
"No...no. Janice would never hurt herself...of that I'm certain. She takes far too much care of her body to damage it." He allowed himself a wry smile. "And as for hallucinations, she's not really the sort to indulge herself in ...imagination." he finally said, a twist to his mouth.
"Can we see the closet?" Agent Mulder asked. In the warmth of the fire-heated room, he had already shucked his suit jacket and rolled up his shirtsleeves...his tie hanging between his knees.
"Of ...course," he said, standing. "Janice has been sleeping in one of the guest rooms. She didn't want to be anywhere near the closet." He waited till they both rose and then he led the way up another short flight of stairs and down the long hall that branched off to the master bedroom.
Reaching in and flicking on the light, he pointed across the room to where a recessed alcove gathered shadows.
"It's in there." he murmured, stepping aside to let them precede him. It wasn't that he was scared, he was just trying to let them do their jobs. At least that was what he told himself.
The pair of them moved across the carpet and he saw the woman reach in and flick on the closet light without hesitation, exposing the enormous clothing and shoe collection his wife had gathered over the two years of their marriage.
"Have the police looked this over?" Agent Mulder called out. George moved to stand in the doorway.
"Uh, no. I didn't want to call the police...or involve them in this. This is why you were called in. This is a rather delicate affair...it's a re-election year and..."
"I understand..." Agent Mulder said, and George thought he detected a smirk in the words. He made no comment. It would not do to alienate these Agents, he reminded himself.
"It hasn't been disturbed then? Not since your wife had her experience?"
Nodding, he turned to his partner and without another word, they began to go over the closet.
The pair of them worked in silence for almost 15 minutes, carefully going over every inch of the space with white latex gloves smoothed over their hands and tiny ziploc baggies that they produced from pockets.
They showed no signs of stopping anytime soon and his back was beginning to ache. Almost uncannily, the woman looked up at him with her sky blue eyes.
"Senator, we're going to be a while...you don't have to stay." she said softly.
Her partner was on his hands and knees staring at a pair of Janice's 4-inch heels.
"Uhmm...yes. Yes, thank you. If you need anything, I'll be down the hall in my study. Take a left and go all the way down."
"Thank you." she said, and turned back to her examination of the doorsill.
A moment later, he turned and left them to their search.
"How come you never wear anything like this Scully?" Mulder asked from across the enormous closet. She could tell by his tone of voice that he was desperate to break the tension that had grown between them.
She craned her neck to see what he was holding up. A pair of candy-apple red stiletto heels dangled from his fingers. She snorted.
"Mulder, I'd like to see *you* wear those for a couple of minutes. Then you go ahead and ask me that question again."
"I wasn't suggesting that you *walk* in them, Scully," he said, his voice dropping to a low rumble that set a tiny flame low in her belly. Nope, wasn't going there. It wasn't going to get any easier if he refused to take this seriously. It had been a mistake to take their relationship as far as they had. They were paying for it now.
If she could just keep it from ruining their friendship completely...
It was going to be hard. Really hard. Especially when she was having a hard time looking at her partner without remembering just how he looked when he was *out* of that suit. Of how it had felt to be wrapped in his arms. The warm, musky scent of him filling her nostrils, the sensation of that beautiful mouth on her temple...her cheek, her throat. Of how ...*complete* she felt in his embrace.
Oh god. She hadn't thought it was going to be this difficult. To keep her emotional distance from a man who knew everything about her. Over the past months she had opened those last barriers. Showed him her every weakness, bared her soul to him of her own free will. It had been a difficult 6-year process lowering those walls. It was actually *impossible* to raise them again.
No. Not impossible. She could do it. The sake of their friendship was at stake. The most valuable relationship she'd ever had was not going to be flushed down the toilet just because she'd lost control of her libido.
She looked down at her hands, concentrating on what she was doing, studying the carpeting...the weave, the fabric of the shoes...anything except the compelling sound of her partner's deep voice and the intoxicating scent of him that seemed to fill her head. It wasn't even like he wore cologne. He succeeded in concocting a compelling musk simply with the combination of his deodorant, his aftershave, his shampoo and his own skin.
Her fingers hit something hard and rough and she frowned.
"Mulder..." her entire tone changed.
"What?" she could hear movement that suggested he was making his way to her side.
She turned, holding up an old rusted bolt.
"Does something seem out of place here?" she asked, rolling the corroded metal piece around in her palm.
Crawling on his hands and knees towards her, he took it from her hand and peered at it. A moment later he dropped it into a plastic bag.
"Where did you find it?" he asked, leaning to look at the carpet where she pointed. Peering closely at the spot, he frowned. "There's no rust on the carpet..." he muttered. "Let's keep looking."
The next 45 minutes passed in *almost* companionable silence as they combed the cavernous closet. It was easier when they were both occupied.
Scully found herself in a state of constant amazement over the sheer amount of clothing the woman had. Rows and rows of dresses and shirts. Stacks of sweaters and hats. The closet went back at least 25 feet and every inch of space was occupied by Janice Creed's wardrobe.
She was just starting to get ready to call it quits on the closet when Mulder made a noise of discovery far back in the depths by the eveningwear.
"Kerosene, Scully." He emerged carrying a suede pump with a blotched stain on the toe. Sniffing it delicately, she determined he was right. It went into a bag of its own.
"Ok Mulder," she sighed, straightening her cramped legs. "I guess that does it. 2 hours and we've gathered a discarded bolt and a ruined shoe."
"What are they doing in this closet?" he asked, leaning against the doorframe.
"They could have gotten here in a number of ways. Janice might have been wearing that shoe somewhere and stepped in something...maybe that's why it was at the back of the closet...she knew it was ruined."
"And the bolt? Does this seem like the closet of a woman who would carry a rusted bolt around with her?"
"It could have been dropped in here by workmen or...I don't know Mulder. But there are a million more plausible explanations than what I think you are going to suggest this is."
"What do you think I think it is?" he smiled gently, his eyes sparking green in the dim light. Ignoring the lovely little shivers she got whenever he smiled that way, she folded her arms tightly in front of her.
"I'm sure you think it's ghosts, Mulder. Mrs. Creed's story definitely seems to suggest that she had some kind of 'visitation', and I know that you're trying to fill in the missing blanks in her account."
"Well," he said after a moment, "we'll take the evidence down to the police station and use some of their equipment to take a look at it. I talked to someone there yesterday to make sure we could use it while we were here. And I'm sure that this town has a historical society, we can take it there too."
"I'm not sure what you think that's going to prove Mulder," she said with a sigh. He didn't answer her. She was tired and wanted nothing more than to head down the hill to their hotel.
No. What she really wanted involved a hot shower and her partner, but that was simply not an option.
Oh yeah, good. Good image there. Well done, Dana, she snorted to herself. That was just the way to put this whole thing behind her.
Damn, this case was going to be so much harder than she'd thought.
And she wasn't talking about ghosts and kerosene stained pumps.
Janice stood in the doorway of her bedroom, unable to bring herself to cross the threshold. She could hear the murmuring conversation of the two 'specialists' that her husband had told her had arrived. The bedroom seemed cavernous and somehow threatening in the dim light of the snowstorm.
Clutching Winslow a little tighter to her breast, she stepped in, a little comforted by the fact that the Terrier seemed unaffected and not at all perturbed. Stroking his squirming head more for her own comfort than his, she made her way towards the closet, her heart pounding.
When she had awoken, George had told her to go in and talk with the agents and she had reluctantly complied. There was a part of her that didn't want to acknowledge what had happened to her...what she thought she had seen. Talking to someone else about it, someone whose job it was to believe her, it would make it real.
She moved to the opening of the closet to see a man and a woman stripping off white latex gloves. They looked like they were getting ready to go.
She cleared her throat and both faces turned towards her.
"Mrs. Creed?" The woman asked, a small smile of polite greeting lifting the perfect lips. Clearly she had had her mouth done...collagen injections to give her upper lip that swollen upside-down pout. Hair had to be colored...it couldn't be a natural red. "I'm Agent Scully and this is my partner Agent Mulder."
Janice felt her heart leap a little in her chest as she took a good look at the 'redhead's' partner, and just like that most of her unease at being back in the bedroom vanished. Suddenly she wished that she had taken more time with her appearance before coming in here, one hand reaching up to touch her tousled blond hair.
Agent Mulder was tall with broad shoulders and slim hips...a well-muscled, rangy physique...just her type. Of course, it wasn't just his form that drew her attention, it was his quite stunning good looks. Marrying a senator had had its obvious benefits, but when it came to pure animal attraction, George had nothing on Agent Mulder.
Ignoring the diminutive beauty at his side, she held her hand out, shifting Winslow to one arm.
"So nice to meet you both," she said demurely, lowering her eyelashes at the man and completely disregarding the woman. His long fingers clasped hers lightly and she took a moment to note that he wore no ring. Nice. The fact that she *did* wear a ring was not lost on her. But it had never been a real deterrent in the past. Not when she set her mind on something she really wanted.
"Do you mind if we ask you a few questions? Are you up to it?" he asked. His voice was a rich smoky rumble that brought a heat up in her belly. Were his eyes green? It was hard to tell. The irises seemed to shimmer and shift in the dim light of the room. She made a mental note to discover the truth.
"Oh...I, yes. Of course." She turned back into the bedroom and perched on the edge of the enormous bed, letting Winslow bounce out of her arms. The little Westie trotted up to the strangers, sniffing their feet and then raised himself up to plant his paws on one slender charcoal-clad knee of Agent Scully.
Janice took a moment to frown at the sight. Winslow never liked strangers. She refrained from calling the dog back to her as the redhead knelt down to scratch his ears. She looked back at Agent Mulder to discover that he was staring at his partner and the dog as well, an indefinable expression on his face. Almost wistful, she would guess.
He turned back to her and she was once again hit full force with his good looks. Oh, if only George could look like this. She would never have needed to turn to Jerry.
"So Mrs. Creed, maybe you could give us your version of how things happened the other night."
She crossed her legs, strategically letting her robe fall open to expose a slender thigh, and ran a calculated hand through her hair, smoothing it.
Her voice echoed slightly in the vaulted room as she related the tale of her encounter, growing steadily more uncomfortable the longer she went on. Coming to the end was a relief. She wrapped her arms around herself, suddenly chilled. "And then I saw these two eyes, reflected in the light..." she finished, "and that's the last thing I remember."
There was silence in the room. The handsome Agent Mulder said nothing, instead looking over at his partner. The woman was still stroking Winslow's head, but she stood at his glance. Agent Scully looked directly at Janice and she thought she detected something in that gaze. Contempt? Jealousy? Disbelief?
"May we have a look at your bruise, Mrs. Creed?" she asked coolly.
Janice nodded and opened her robe, trying to discreetly showcase her body's assets as she lifted the side of her silk nightgown up. Her breasts were perfect, she knew...they'd certainly cost enough money.
She averted her eyes as both FBI agents bent close to look at the disfiguration. She had not wanted to examine the blackened flesh, had not wanted to see what her terrible encounter had done to her perfect skin. It lent too much proof for something that should have simply been a nightmare...not reality.
A moment later she closed her robe.
"What do you think it was?" she asked, her voice low with an unease she didn't have to feign.
The pair exchanged another unreadable glance.
"That's what we're here to find out, Mrs. Creed," he said without looking at her.
"Janice." she corrected, lifting her lips in a smile.
"Janice." he amended. "We'd like to talk to ...what was her name... Carmelita?"
Janice frowned momentarily.
"Why would you want to talk to her?" Then she lifted her hand up. "Nevermind. Of course you can. I'll give you her number. Was there anything else?"
The small woman nodded and pulled two plastic bags out of her jacket pocket. Janice could see one contained a tan suede shoe that looked vaguely familiar. It was last year's style. She had perhaps worn those pumps once after buying them. One of the toes was dark with discoloration.
"Can you explain how kerosene got onto this shoe, Ma'am?" Agent Scully's voice was icy. How did Agent Mulder stand this woman?
Her forehead wrinkled in consternation.
"No. I have no idea."
"You haven't had any work done in the closet, have you?"
She shook her head.
"Nothing that would explain this?" Now the woman was holding up another bag with what looked like a rusted piece of metal in it. She crossed her arms.
"No. I have no idea how that got in there. No one goes into my closet except me and Carmelita. I don't even let Winslow in there."
A few more questions floated her way through the slightly chill air of the bedroom before it was over. Both the FBI agents made their promises to keep in touch, she told them she would call their hotel with Carmelita's number...and they were gone.
She sat on the bed for a long time after they had left, her eyes on the dark rectangle of her closet, her mind slipping off the handsome man as soon as he was out of her sight and returning to the encounter she'd had.
Something about that bit of metal had looked familiar, but she couldn't quite decide what it was. She wrapped her arms around herself and got up, starting to feel alone and intimidated by the closet and its associations. Winslow was gone, having followed the two agents downstairs as they'd left.
As she made her way out of the room, her flighty thoughts again veered from her haunted closet and turned unerringly towards Jerrold...wondering if he was thinking of her. With the snowstorm outside, it was unlikely that George was going to go to the Club tonight. She would not be seeing Jerrold until the roads cleared a bit. It probably wouldn't be until the Benefit tomorrow night. A faint smile lifted her lips as the thought occurred to her to invite Agent Mulder to the benefit. That might be very interesting indeed. Perhaps it was just the thing to re-light the fires between her and Jerrold. She wanted to keep her lover close.
After all, if the deal that Jerry had been working towards went through, he would be a very rich man. Richer, even, than George.
And that was definitely something to keep in mind.
The hotel was old. But unlike the other 'old' hotels they had stayed in in the past, this one was renovated and as far a cry from their typical Bumfuck Motor Lodge as an opera house was from an outhouse. The fully restored Hotel Jerome was over 200 years old and a landmark of Aspen.
High ceilings sported intricate molding and gold leaf-work meant to emulate the rococo fashions of the rich in the 1800's. Silk wallpaper covered tastefully lit, wainscoted hallways carpeted with expensive hand-printed carpets. The long, skinny halls lent a spooky, haunted feeling to the atmosphere...quiet and almost cavernous. It was late enough that they were the only ones in the hall when the bellboy let them into their rooms.
Mulder tipped the young man and gratefully shut the door behind him, closing his eyes momentarily in weariness. Driving on bad roads was not a very relaxing pursuit, especially when those roads were unfamiliar...especially when the tension between him and Scully was thick enough to chop with an axe. His bones ached all over with exhaustion. It hadn't helped that they had spent hours waiting in the Denver airport in those terrible molded plastic chairs before deciding to drive up to Aspen themselves.
He pushed away from the door, letting himself catch a glimpse of the incredible room he now found himself in. The senator himself was picking up the bill for the accommodations ...there was no way that the Bureau would have paid for this place. Not like Aspen was likely to have too many motor lodges, but he suspected that there had to be something a little more low key than this. Where the hell was the TV?
After a bit of investigating, he discovered it hidden within an antique mahogany armoire in the corner. He flicked it on, left the volume low and, after a long moment of indecision, went to the connecting door, knocking gently.
There was no response for a good long minute and he was about to turn away when the door swung open to reveal his partner.
She'd been quiet and thoughtful in the car ride down the hill into town. He'd expected her to be angry, but she had surprised him. To tell the truth, he wanted her to be angry. Anything was better than thoughtful. 'Thoughtful' was what always got him into trouble.
He wasn't entirely stupid. He'd caught on to the blatant flirtation that Mrs. Creed had been throwing his way...the fact that she had been outright dismissive of Scully. Those were never things that his partner appreciated, especially the dismissing part. And sure, his eyes had strayed down to the woman's...assets...but Christ, she wasn't supposed to care about where he looked anymore.
Remember that whole 'let's keep it platonic' thing, Scully?
But she hadn't seemed to be angry. She was almost more...sad.
And that scared him far more than her fury.
Her face was unreadable as he looked down at her in the doorway. She had stripped her suit jacket off and was clad in her stockinged feet under her charcoal pants. Her breasts pressed enticingly against the cream blouse she wore, but he forced himself not to look. No point in making it worse.
"Mulder?" she asked, making no move to step aside and let him in her room. Not that he was surprised about that.
"We need to talk Scully." he sighed, putting one hand up on the doorsill and setting the other on his hip to keep it from touching her.
Her brows raised.
"I think we said all that needed saying back in DC." she said softly, her lips thinning ever so slightly.
He shook his head.
"What if I can't accept that?"
The sad look returned to her face and she looked down at the carpet, her toes kneading the pile of the rug. Alarm bells were going off in his head. She could never meet his eyes when she was about to spring something bad on him.
"I've been thinking about that very thing Mulder, and I...I've decided that this should be our last case together." she said finally, her voice almost a whisper. "...I'm going to ask for a transfer out of the X-Files. Maybe out of DC."
It hit him like a fist to his solar plexus. For a moment it was almost as if he had actually had the breath knocked out of him. This was it. The words that he had lived in mortal fear of hearing throughout most of the past 6 years. Not like he could blame her, of course. Her life had been ruined because of him, her loved ones put in danger. She deserved so much more than he could ever give her.
All these things and more ran through his head as he looked down at the top of her copper-crowned head, but all that came out of his mouth was:
She looked back up at him then and he could see the emotions battling in her sapphire eyes, the tears that threatened to spill over. One of her hands started to come up and then stopped, falling back down to her side in a gesture that managed to convey defeat, regret and sorrow all at once.
"I...I can't do it Mulder. I've tried this whole week and look how it's been between us. Strained, painful...so hard. We've crossed that line. Things can never be the same between us again. I can't look at you and not see what we had."
"Scully..." he was surprised his voice worked. "Tell me again why it can't be like that again. Tell me why, look me in the face and tell me that these past months haven't been incredible. Because they have for me. I've never been happier than I was...then."
She shook her head, a single tear suddenly overflowing and spilling down her cheek, making a dark splotch on her cream blouse.
"I can't Mulder. It was incredible. I do love you. More than anything. But I don't think that we can have our cake and eat it too...and I *can't*, no, I won't ask you to give up the Files for me. Because I think that's what it would take to make this work. One of us would have to give up this partnership in order for us to be lovers. And I don't think that there's room in your life for both our relationship and your Quest."
He'd heard this before. This was the backbone of her argument and it was bullshit. He didn't say that though, he'd already said it and it had made no difference. He knew better than to try and change Scully's mind, she had to come to her own realizations in her own way, or they wouldn't take.
"I thought..." she started, bringing her arms up to wrap around herself, "I thought that we could make it work. That we could pretend we'd never slept together, that we could pretend we'd never let ourselves speak those words out loud...but we can't. It can't be undone and it will always be there." She took a deep shaking breath, one slender hand coming up to wipe almost angrily at the moisture on her face. Mulder stood transfixed in the doorway, almost afraid to move. She still wouldn't look at him. And oddly, it was that very fact that kept his heart from completely shattering.
"You're right about one thing, Scully," he said, his voice sandpaper rough as he forced words through his tightening throat. "We can't pretend it didn't happen. We can't pretend that I don't love you more than anything else in this world. Certainly more than the goddamned X-Files. I don't want to. You're the best thing that's happened to me in my whole fucking life, and I don't want to pretend anything when it comes to you." He took a deep breath and shook his head, finally reaching out to set a finger under her chin...drawing her gaze to his. "I've gone along with this idea of yours to try and see if we couldn't go back to what we had before. Not because I thought you were right, but because I was sure that you would see how wrong it was. Nothing has changed with our work by loving each other, Scully. I've loved you since forever."
"That was different and you know it Mulder." her voice was trying to be firm, but it was cracking. "You proved that you couldn't handle the upgrade in our relationship last week. You acted like an idiot, you blew the entire case!"
"Scully...I always act like an idiot. Hitting that guy wasn't necessarily out of character," he said, one corner of his mouth tweaking a bit, his thumb coming up to stroke the fullness of her lower lip.
She pulled away from his touch, looking down again...but not before he saw her own mouth twitch.
"That's true." she said with a weak little snort. Mulder felt a weight lift off his chest. The hard part was over. He didn't think he'd won, but he'd definitely earned a stay of execution. She proved him right with her next words. "Alright Mulder. I'll give it this case to decide. I don't want to leave any more than you want me to go, you know." She finally looked up at him of her own free will, her blue eyes swimming with emotions too complex for him to read on the surface. "But ...I can't seem to concentrate on the case, on details with this thing between us. I'll try harder." she sighed.
"That's called sexual frustration, Scully." he grinned softly at her. "I know the cure for that."
There was no trace of humor in her eyes.
"Don't make this any harder than it has to be Mulder. For the sake of our partnership."
He let an exaggerated sigh push out of his lips.
"Fine. I think I know who I can call to relieve a little of *my* sexual frustration though." he winked at her.
Her brow lowered at the reference to Mrs. Creed. Contempt and anger flashed across her expression...and something else. Jealousy? Promising.
"I don't think you'll need to call her Mulder, she's probably planning on breaking into your room tonight." She raised her brows then. "That's actually something I was going to mention. She was so blatantly coming on to you back there...you think she's having an affair? It's pretty clear she's not very dedicated to her husband...and he's certainly a lot older than her."
Mulder rubbed his jaw thoughtfully.
"Probably. Why? Do you think that has something to do with the ghost she saw?"
"Mulder...there's no proof that there was any ghost. But it's possible that that's how she got her bruise. Extracurricular activities. She might have used the 'ghost story' as an excuse to explain the bruise. It's certainly more than she could claim she got just falling down the stairs or running into a door or something."
"You saw that thing, Scully. You really think that a man could have done that?"
"I don't know. Until I come up with a better explanation than 'ghosts', I may just have to go with it." A faint smile lifted her lips, the first real smile he'd seen in a week.
It was encouraging.
"You look beat Scully. Get some sleep. In the morning you can take that shoe over to the lab at the police station and I'll take the bolt to the Historical Society."
She nodded tiredly. They stood in the doorway for a long moment, just looking at each other...no words between them. And then, slowly, Scully pushed the door closed.
"Good night Mulder." she said softly. The door snicked shut.
Mulder stood there for a long moment before sighing and resting his head against the wood of the panel.
"Good night Scully."
Doris Paulensen arched her back, the muscles in her jaw creaking as she yawned mightily. A moment later, she inserted the small key into the lock and pulled the side door open. It was dark in the back hall as she made her way to the kitchen. She hated the early room service shift. Bunch of rich jerks that wanted their lightly toasted turkey sandwiches, no crust, no mayo at 5:30 in the morning.
Her shoes tapped on the imported Mexican tile as she came around past the Silver Dollar Ballroom and made her way towards the swinging doors. She glanced inside the big room out of habit, trying to catch her reflection in the mirrors that staggered between the massive arched windows. It was still dark enough outside that white light from the streetlamps poured through the gauzy curtains, setting the parquet dance floor aglow and making the vast chandeliers glitter and sparkle against the vault of the ceiling.
Movement made her pause, her steps halting, her eyes narrowing. Once she had caught the late shift maid and Tony, the head doorman in here, necking when they should have been on duty. Scandalous.
"Hello?" she called, one hand trailing across the doorsill before walking slowly into the center of the huge room, her footfalls muffled by the imported carpeting. "Anyone in here? Is that you Tony?" She stopped, the words catching in her throat, her mouth hanging open. Was that the smell of smoke? Her breath suddenly seemed caught in her chest, her heart hammering almost painfully against her ribcage.
There was a maelstrom of whispers in the room, hissing and clamoring and echoing off the high ceilings. She could hear the faint echo of screaming, weeping...wailing. And behind it all, the snap, pop and sizzle of a raging fire. All growing louder.
Suddenly she was surrounded by thick, choking smoke...burning her eyes and stinging her throat...filling her lungs so that she couldn't scream. People seemed to be rushing all around her, their fear evident in their screams. Trapped...trapped. A living wall of flame had engulfed the doorway she'd just come in, licking at the ceiling like the tentacles of some ghastly glowing monster.
Gagging on the thick smoke, she was shoved to her knees by panicked people, heavy skirts brushing and swirling against her. The heat was intense, soaking through her clothes and burning her skin. She looked up through tearing eyes to see a man near the wall go up in flame, his tortured screams filling her head.
Sobbing, she tried to crawl towards the windows...maybe she could break a pane... if only she could take a full breath. She could see her hands before her, curled into claws as she fought along the floor. Her gasps were growing short as she coughed and hacked for a free breath...stars beginning to spin in front of her eyes from lack of oxygen.
A woman fell to the floor in front of her, unconscious, and she grimly climbed over her, taking only distant note of the old fashioned dress before she too, lost awareness and collapsed into darkness.
She did not sleep well.
Her dreams twisted and twined their way through a long and restless night, her body tossing and turning along with her psyche. Torrid images of Mulder's body twined with hers, the texture of his smooth, hot skin under her palms, the scrape of his jaw against her thigh... each inflamed vignette taunted her with what she had denied herself, pulling her from sleep time and time again. Leaving her hot, aching and unfulfilled.
The look on Mulder's face when she had voiced her plans to resign was etched onto her heart. The expression had so deeply echoed her own feelings. The thought of walking away from him, of leaving what they had built together, it would be like cutting her own heart out. Like denying herself air to breathe.
His words, his simple words continued to beat at her brain each time she found herself staring at the darkened ceiling, twisted in sweaty sheets and throbbing with need. He had loved her from the beginning...as she had loved him, she knew. Why, then, was this really any different from how it had ever been?
She realized that much of it was a control issue. That fact that she seemed unable to force herself to set aside the sex, the new closeness, and simply view him as she always had...it was galling.
Watching that woman practically strip him with her eyes tonight was not really anything new when it came to how women often reacted to her partner. But the way she had seemed unable to control her raging anger over something she had observed before with simple amusement...it was ...upsetting. Intolerable. If she couldn't keep her emotions in check while they were in the field together then it made her a hypocrite in the face of what she had done to their relationship. And she might end up doing something, somehow, that would put their work, even their lives, in jeopardy.
Much as Mulder had done last week when he had hauled back and smashed his fist into Karl Olberman's face. They both knew that it was not something he would have done back before they'd started sleeping together. They both knew his jealousy had completely destroyed an undercover case that the Baltimore PD had been nurturing for six months.
Their relationship had only been evolving for 7 weeks at that point and it had raised its ugly head in the workplace just as she'd always feared it would. Mulder had not been able to keep Scully:his partner apart from Scully:his lover.
The argument they had had that night had been one of the worst 2 hours of her life. It was painful beyond words to tell the man you loved more than anything that it wasn't working. That they had to try to go back to the way they had been before. That it had been a mistake to take things as far as they had. She had believed those things. She did now. So why had it felt like her heart was being cut from her chest with a dull butter knife? Why did it still?
And so, here she was, a week later...unable to separate Mulder:her partner from Mulder:her lover. *After* they had both sacrificed each other for the sake of their work.
Mrs. Creed's attentions had forced her to consider that maybe it couldn't work after all. That they couldn't just go back. That perhaps the only answer was to walk away. She couldn't stand to be near him, to love him so much it hurt...and not touch. Not think. Not yearn for. It was too hard. If only he weren't so beautiful. If only he weren't hers. If only the need would just go away.
Mulder's words earlier had stirred the part of her that wanted to do anything, sacrifice everything in order to be with him...but her brain had always been the dominant one in the relationship between her heart and her mind, and it ruled with an iron fist. She had to be strong. She would try harder during this case, try to make it work...but what they had between them was too powerful to pretend it didn't exist.
She suspected that this would, indeed, have to be their last assignment together. For her own sanity.
The thought sent silent tears streaming down her face. Tears that revisited her each time she broke the surface of her restless slumber.
When the pounding pulled her out of sleep, she came easily...close as she had been to the waking world the whole long night. It still disoriented her. What was Mulder doing knocking on the outside door instead of the connecting one?
And then she heard an unfamiliar muffled voice behind the banging.
"Fire! Fire! Wake up! Get out of here!"
That snapped her fully awake. She flung herself out of bed, not bothering to pull on the sumptuous hotel bathrobe the Jerome provided. Instead of racing into the hallway, she threw open the connecting door and burst into her partner's room...fully aware of the fact that fire frightened him like nothing else.
"Mulder!" her voice was on the verge of breathless, her eyes skimming the pre-dawn darkness. The TV was on, the volume muted, bathing the shadowed room with flickering blue and white shadows. To her surprise, Mulder was fast asleep.. sprawled in a nest of pillows and sheets. Hadn't he heard the pounding? He was an almost pathologically light sleeper and it gave her pause.
Her brow lowered as she suddenly realized that the hotel was silent. There was no muffled shouting, no warning cries, no distant sirens. Nothing. Mulder slumbered on, oblivious.
Biting her lip, she walked to his door and pulled it open, peering into the hall. The dimmed light fixtures lent a yellow warmth to the eerie peace of the passage. She would have expected to see people streaming out of their rooms, dressed in rumpled bed wear, panic in their eyes as they made for the nearest exits. There wasn't even any sign of the man who had awoken her.
She stood there for a long moment, straining her ears for some sound, some indication of the danger she had been so certain of a moment earlier.
Nothing. She must have dreamed it.
She almost jumped at the sound of his voice behind her.
Turning slowly, she saw him, the planes of his body lit by the glow of the television. He was leaning up on his elbows, his expression cast in shadow, the silhouette of his hair showcasing his bedhead. He wore no shirt and she suspected that he was clad only in his boxers beneath the sheets.
"What's going on?" He didn't move, waiting patiently for her to fill him in as to the reason she was standing in his room at the crack of dawn peeking out his door.
She let a silent sigh slip from her lips, forcing both her eyes from the incredibly appealing sight of a sleep-rumpled Mulder and her thoughts from how much she wanted to crawl into the bed beside him.
"I thought I heard something." she said, still standing uncertainly by the door, knowing she had to go, but wanting to stay. "I'm sorry for waking you, go back to sleep Mulder."
The TV glow gave her a glimpse of his slight, confused frown...his lips slightly parted to demand a more detailed explanation. To forestall his questions, she instead crossed to the window, still in need of completely banishing the fear that the imagined warning had instilled in her.
She moved quickly and quietly to the heavily draped window, pushing aside the thick damask to peer out at the front of the hotel. Their rooms were situated on the front of the old hotel with a forward-facing view of the looming bulk of Aspen Mountain. The snow covered slopes glowed faintly luminescent against the blush of the lightening sky. The streets of the town were empty, the traffic light at the corner of Mill Street and Main was flashing red.
She couldn't get a good look at the front of the hotel from this angle, but she could see...reflected in the storefront windows that faced the hotel across the street...a flashing red and blue light and the telltale white of an ambulance.
Mulder was still silent, but she could feel his eyes on her like a touch, the curiosity that lived as his constant companion thick in the room.
"There's an ambulance out there." she said, more to herself than to him. The sky had gone from a deep blue to a rosy indigo as the sun continued its snail trek up over the mountains, the dim new light streaming into the room and faintly illuminating Mulder's face.
"You going to tell me why you're interested in what the paramedics are up to? Or are you just surprised that someone besides one of us is in need of emergency transport to the hospital?"
That got a little smile out of her. She let the curtain fall back, re-cloaking the room in darkness. A poolside woman in blue spandex was busy lifting small hand weights on the silent TV screen beside her.
"Someone woke me up." she said finally, reluctantly.
"Woke you up?" He had still not moved from his position on the bed and she had to fight the urge to walk over, sit on the edge of the mattress and smooth his sleep-mussed hair.
"There was pounding on my door...that's what woke me up. And a man yelled out that the hotel was on fire." She twisted her lips wryly. Usually it was Mulder who was in the position of explaining odd experiences. "I came in here to get you, and that's when I noticed that the hotel was quiet." she shook her head. "I didn't sleep very well last night, it must have been the remnants of a dream."
"Maybe..." he said slowly.
"You have another theory?"
That surprised her. She raised her eyebrows, almost ready to ask him what was wrong, but she stopped herself. It was 5 in the morning and she *wanted* him to spout one of his theories?
"Not yet." he amended.
That was more like it.
She ran a hand through her own rumpled hair and turned towards the door. Mulder was looking at her in a way that she was having a very hard time ignoring. A way that practically begged her to crawl into bed with him and curl around that hard, warm body. He always looked so young in the morning without the armor of his government suit and his neatly tamed hair. It was just him now, his bare skin and his sleep-puffed mouth and his spiky sable head. Essence of Mulder.
She forced herself to turn away and head for the safety of her room without looking back. "Go back to sleep Mulder. I'll ask about the phantom yeller downstairs when we get up." She spoke to her empty room as she talked.
"Don't you think there's a connection with the ambulance?" he asked her back.
That stopped her, still facing away from him.
"What? How could there be a connection?"
She could almost feel him shrug even without looking. And then the sounds of the bed creaking alerted her that he was getting up. She turned back around instinctively just in time to be treated to his lithe body emerging from under the covers. He was indeed wearing his boxers. The dark green ones.
You've seen this before Dana, get a grip, she warned herself...putting on her most stoic face.
"What are you doing?" she asked, forcing her gaze to remain on his face. Was the heat on in here? Why did she suddenly feel like she had a fever?
"I'm getting up. I want to see why the ambulance is here," he said, bending over and (thankfully) pulling on a pair of faded jeans he yanked out of his suitcase. The muscles of his back rippled appealingly, but she declined to notice.
"It could be a hundred reasons Mulder. Why would you be interested in any of them?" She folded her arms, frowning.
"Because of your ghost-yeller." he stated matter-of-factly. Still shirtless, he stalked across the floor towards the bathroom. A moment later she heard the sink running.
Ghost? Of course. She closed her eyes and sighed.
Fine. She was up anyway.
He didn't wait for her to dress. Instead he headed down the wide staircase into the sumptuous lobby...just in time to see the EMTs rolling an older, rather heavyset woman towards the door on a stretcher. She had an oxygen mask strapped to her face, but she seemed to be fairly alert.
He rubbed a still-tired hand across his jaw, sauntering up behind one of the EMTs.
"What happened here?" he asked, holding up his federal badge. The man at the head of the gurney pushed open the front door and the icy cold of the winter morning rushed in, making him wish he'd thought to bring his jacket down. The man glanced around at him.
"Everything's fine sir. She's just a little shaken up," he said rather dismissively. The woman closed her eyes and shook her head slightly, her lips parting in a faint moan.
"Fire..." she whispered. "There was a fire...we have to get everyone out."
Mulder raised his eyebrows, his heart picking up a little in sudden, avid interest.
"Did you say there was a fire, ma'am?" he asked, moving up to the older woman's side and placing his hand over hers.
"There's no fire." The first EMT answered instead. "We think she may have had a stroke...she's been going on about some fire since we got here." They were wheeling her out into the cold now, rolling the gurney awkwardly through the accumulated snow of the night's storm.
She was shaking her head in earnest now.
"No. There was a ...fire." she paused to cough, a deep rattling sound. "There were people, burning...screaming. It was awful..." She visibly shuddered.
"Where was this?" Mulder asked, holding up one hand to halt the progress of the gurney. The EMTs frowned, but paused nonetheless.
"The Ballroom...it was terrible. Terrible." Her voice was harsh, as if she'd been screaming...or breathing smoke.
"We have to get her in the ambulance sir." The first EMT said, still frowning.
Mulder nodded and stepped back.
"What's your name ma'am?" he called out.
"Doris..Doris Eileen Paulsen."
And then the doors were slamming shut and the white clad men were walking around to the front and starting up the vehicle. Mulder was suddenly, sharply aware of the intense cold biting into his face and hands, seeping through the loose Henley he'd pulled on over his jeans.
A hand touched his arm and he glanced down to see Scully standing there, looking charmingly casual in a fleece pullover and jeans of her own. She had pulled her vibrant hair back into a clip, exposing the soft lines of her cheeks. Her blue eyes asked the question that her mouth didn't bother with.
"She said she saw a *fire*, Scully." he grinned down at her, rewarded with the sight of her eyes widening. He turned and pushed back into the hotel, leaving her to follow behind. He knew that turning his back on her like he'd done twice this morning so far was a sure way to spark her temper, but after their discussion the night before, he wasn't entirely capable of looking at her full on. Not without a vivid replay of the moment last night when she had told him she was leaving him.
He had always known, of course, that Scully would leave him someday. Part of that fear had abated after they had each spoken out loud the words that had always hung between them. But it never completely vanished. Deep down he knew that she deserved better. But God, how could he let her go? He felt a little queasy at the thought of living without Scully.
It was just better if he didn't look at her.
He could hear her shoes tapping on the tile behind him as he followed the tiny brass engraved sign that pointed towards the Ballroom. She didn't say anything until they stood in the doorway of the large room.
"Very nice." She murmured. "But I don't see any sign of a fire."
"You don't think it's a bit of a coincidence that she hallucinated about a fire at the same time that you heard your mystery man yelling about one in the hall?" He asked.
"Are you suggesting it wasn't?" she asked. He finally turned to look at her, and regretted it almost immediately.
She had that expression on. The one that told him that he was leaping at shadows, jumping to conclusions...all without nary of shred of proof or evidence. One shapely eyebrow was raised, her perfect mouth set and thinned, her arms akimbo. It was the same look she gave him at least once a week, sometimes more. It was pure Scully, and for some reason, instead of the irritation he usually felt when it appeared...this time he wanted to laugh, to cry...to fall to his knees and beg her to stay with him.
He did none of those things, nor did he answer her challenge. Instead he walked out into the center of the enormous Ballroom, looking up and around at the elegant decor, hands on his hips. He couldn't hear his partner's footsteps on the carpet behind him, but he knew that she had entered the room.
He walked a loose path around the perimeter of the room, finding nothing out of the ordinary at all beyond the rather overt ostentation of the room. Two huge chandeliers dominated the high ceiling, glittering and sparkling in the morning light that streamed through
tall, stately windows that ran the length of the east side of the room. Delicate silk wallpaper adorned the wall and he peered at it critically, any kind of extreme heat at all would have damaged the covering.
Scully made a little noise and his gaze found her in the center of the room underneath one of the chandeliers, kneeling down and looking at something in her hand.
"Hmm." She shook her head. "Just some jewelry. Someone must have dropped it in here." He strode to her side and bent down to see what she held. It looked like an antique to him. A rather plain gold locket was cupped in his partner's small palm, glittering faintly as she turned it this way and that in the light.
"Is that an inscription?" he asked, bending closer and narrowing his eyes...wishing he had his glasses.
"Hmhm." She murmured in assent, lifting it up. "To My Beloved Lizzy, Love Eternal, C.H."
Mulder plucked it out of her hand and found the tiny clasp with his thumb, flipping the thing open. Staring up at him from the faded sepia of the photos were the faces of two people, a man and a woman.
"I'll turn it in to the front desk," he said, slipping it into his pocket before Scully could say anything more. She nodded and he slid a hand under her arm to help her to her feet without even thinking. The offhand contact was a mistake. He could feel the latent warmth of her body through the soft fleece of the pullover, the firm texture of her nicely toned arm under his fingers. He pulled his hand away as soon as she was up, feigning nonchalance, refusing to look at her face to find her unaffected by the simple touch.
Pathetic that they had been reduced to this after having come so far.
The voice echoed a little off the high ceiling and he turned his head to find a young man standing in one of the sets of double doors wearing the uniform of a hotel employee.
"Yes?" he asked, not moving from Scully's side.
"I have a message for you from the front desk. They said they saw you come back here." At Mulder's rather impatient nod, he stepped forward carrying a slip of paper. Once Mulder had the note, he turned to go.
"Wait..." Mulder called, causing the youth to stop and face him again. "Do you...has there ever been any talk of the Jerome being haunted?" he asked bluntly. The boy seemed momentarily stumped, clearly not having expected the question. He shook his head.
"Uhh, no sir. Not that I know of." He shrugged helplessly, wanting to please and not knowing what else to say. "I can ask ..."
"That would be great, thanks." Mulder smiled. The boy retreated rather quickly, looking back only once.
"What does the message say?" Scully asked, obviously ignoring the question he'd posed to the employee.
Mulder unfolded it and glanced over the tight script. He raised his brows.
"It's from Mrs. Creed. It's Carmelita's number and it's an invitation to some sort of Benefit tonight." Scully peered over his shoulder at the note, and he knew that she'd immediately picked up on the fact that it was addressed to him and made no mention of inviting Scully.
She only raised her eyebrows infinitesimally and nodded, as if confirming something to herself.
"So then, how do you want to handle today?" she asked, all business. He had been halfway hoping for a jealous comment. Unfair, he knew, but it would have been ...
What? What would it have been? He needed to start facing up to facts. She had made up her mind. Regardless of the fact that she'd told him she would give it this case to decide, he just knew she'd already decided. He knew that about her. Boy did he know that about her. Once she determined a thing was so, it was so. Whether it was true or right or whatever. In Scully's world, she had to leave him.
*Because* she still loved him, according to what she'd said.
He could trick her and manipulate her and beg and weep. He could handcuff her to him for the rest of his life and she would not change her mind. The only hope he had was that she would, all on her own, realize how wrong she was about this.
And the chances of that were about as good as him winning the Lotto. And since he never played the Lotto...
He needed to start breaking away himself. To respect her decision. He Needed to start contemplating life without her. Right.
"I thought that you could take the shoe over to the lab at the Police Station and see what you could learn. I was going to take the bolt over to the Historical Society they have here and try and learn if it's as old as I think it is." He ran a hand through his hair, scratching at the back of his head idly. "I'll call Carmelita and try and set something up for this afternoon." His lips lifted slightly then. "And then, I think we should go to this Benefit tonight."
"We?" she asked tartly. "I don't recall seeing my name included in the invite."
"I think it was unspoken Scully. It was assumed that you would come too."
"Assumed," she said the word in a way that he knew that she was speaking in levels.
Suddenly he had had enough. Mostly he just needed to get out of her proximity before he did something that would irrevocably drive her away forever. Like slinging her over his shoulder cave-man style and carrying her up to his bed.
"Whatever Scully. Come, don't come. However you want to call it. I think it would be a good idea, a good chance to see if Mrs. Creed is playing games with this whole thing. If she'd having an affair like you think. But it's up to you." He started to walk out of the room, turning his back on her for the third time that day...and it was only 7 in the morning. "I'll keep in touch, let you know what I find out and what time we're going to meet Carmelita," he said, not looking back.
And then he was gone. And this time she didn't follow.
It was a beautiful day. One of those bright, crisp glorious mountain mornings that reminded you why you lived at 8,000 feet and put up with shoveling the driveway every other day, icy roads and below zero temps. The sky was so blue it seemed almost surreal, the snow so white and perfect it seemed fake.
The tires of his Blazer crunched and squeaked through the foot of new snow that had fallen in the storm the night before as he crept slowly up Smuggler Mt. Road. Almost there, almost there, don't swamp, don't stall. The engine groaned low and loud in 4-Low as he kept steady pressure on the gas, plowing methodically through the deep snow. Tricky driving on a road that was never in the best of condition even in the summer. Unpaved and considered 4-wheel only in the best of times, he had had to cut the chain on the barring gate in order to access it all.
Len Palmer rubbed a hand across his beard, scratching it idly before putting his hand back on the jerking steering wheel. Not much further. And then there it was, the tiny widening of the road that indicated the spot he was looking for. He pulled the big Blazer off the road, careful not to get too close to the edge. It was not exactly a short fall off the side.
He shut off the engine and jumped out of the car, his sorrel clad feet sinking in a 2-foot drift. He pushed his way around to the back of his truck and flipped open the gate, reaching in for the backpack he'd prepared that morning. He pulled it onto his shoulders, adjusted his hat, turned on the radio he had clipped to his belt and slammed the back of the Blazer shut. A moment later he was plowing his way through the snow towards the old, blocked off road that led down to his goal.
It only took about 15 minutes to get to the entrance of the 100-year-old mine. He stood in front of the rusted out steel grate that had been welded into place over the entrance to keep people out. In his book, the grate was a sure sign that humanity was doomed. After all, anyone who was dumb enough to go into such an old mine deserved to die. Natural Selection, that's what he always said. Don't bother with the grate and just let the stupid people cull themselves out of the population.
Of course, if that was the case, why was he standing here with cutters...about to go in himself? Well, he rationalized, *he* knew what he was doing. And besides, Hyman had promised him a hell of a lot of money. He just couldn't turn it down. Not with Andy pressing him for the money he owed.
Every man has his price, he thought with a smile, stepping forward with the heavy duty bolt cutters and slicing through the thick chains easily. Besides, the risk was minimal, he didn't need to go too far in.
He pulled the grate open with a terrible shrieking squeal, snow crumbling down on him from the overhang above. The mine's breath caressed him with a cold, dirty smell...filling his senses and transporting him back to the days when he'd worked up above Leadville at the Climax mine.
He pulled a heavy duty Maglite out of a side pocket of his pack and flicked it on, illuminating a long bright strip in the damp dark of the old mine. Rotting timbers braced the passageway still, but it hadn't prevented several small cave-ins at intervals down as far as the light shone. Not surprising. In fact, he would have been surprised if there had been no decay of the tunnel.
He jumped down a small rise, tracking snow into the interior, his bootsteps echoing eerily back at him. Len shone his light around, scanning the structure carefully for signs of dangerous decay before going in too deep. Jerrold Hyman might be promising him a lot of money for this job, but he wasn't going to risk his life. What good was it to be rich if you were dead?
It was painfully cold, the vapor of his breath misting and billowing from his lips and nose, adding to the ice crystals that had already formed on his mustache and beard. Only 10 yards in and he was already missing the light. He forced himself on, taking careful, gentle steps as he progressed deeper into the bowels of the mine, Smuggler's hulking weight pressing around him like a living presence.
This was why he'd quit the mining biz, why he'd moved to the fairer clime of Aspen and taken up work with the Ski Co as a geological consultant. Over the years he'd worked in the guts of the earth, he'd not only gained a healthy respect for what uncounted tons of rock and minerals and faults and ice could do to you, but he'd also personified it in his own mind. To him, the mountains were living personalities, each one different...and most importantly...each one malicious. The stronger that impression grew, the harder it was to lower himself into the depths of the earth, to give up his control and pass over his safety to the whims of a mountain that hated him.
He never told anyone that, of course. But he had quit. And there was no cataclysmic event that finally drove him off. It just finally became too hard to force himself to walk inside the tunnels...to shake off the feeling of malice that seemed to be imbued in every rock and stone and pebble.
He felt that now. He knew Smuggler. He'd lived in Aspen as a geological consult for almost 5 years now and that was long enough to understand. Aspen mountain was a big pussy. Sure, it was riddled with faults and once back before he'd moved there, Aspen Mountain had threatened to unload half its slope on the expensive little town below it. But it was nothing. All hot air. He could never be afraid of that pantywaist collection of ski slopes. Red mountain was slightly more impressive, but completely passive. No faults, soft red soil, easy to build on.
Ute Mountain was stately, proud, untouched by miners and developers. Len always thought of Ute as the virgin. He suspected that one day soon she would feel the bite of the Backhoe.
And then there was Smuggler. Every time he looked up at the barren rocky, avalanche riddled, mine honeycombed slopes of Smuggler he got the impression of a dark anger. Smuggler had been gutted by the Silver Rush in the late 1800's, spitting out a total of 1/6th of ALL the silver in the US during its heyday. Plundered mountains were never happy. Never passive. That impression was only solidified by the number of lives that Smuggler claimed every year. People drove off the sides of the skinny 4-wheel drive road, or x-country skiers died in mini-avalanches. Kids would fall into mines and smash their skulls. Smuggler wanted to even the score. He was sure of it.
So what was he doing in here? Why was he walking not only into a mine again, but a mine that cut right into the heart of an angry mountain?
Like he said. He had a price. He was pleased to know how high it was. He wouldn't have come in here for any less. He'd told Hyman that outright. The developer had agreed, but only because there was no one else to do the job right in the whole valley. No one else with his experience. Or his gambling debts.
All trace of natural light was gone now, his flashlight providing his only vision. It was unnerving. He could literally *feel* Smuggler watching him. Waiting for its chance to take him.
That was far enough. And even if it wasn't, he wasn't going any deeper.
Dropping his pack, he unzipped the top and carefully removed the explosives he'd brought, setting the intricate timer next to it and lastly fishing the detonator out of a padded side pocket.
He worked quickly and efficiently, eager to get out as soon as possible. Eager to get out of his vulnerable position. He studied the walls around him, the veins of rock that consisted mainly of igneous Granite and Feldspar. Not like he could easily chip out a hole for the explosives, but he'd expected that. He pulled several pounds of sticky putty out of his pack and began to apply it up against the corner joints of the support beams.
Lost in his work and the need to finish quickly, he was unaware of the new sound at first. It wasn't until a stone clattered against a rock further down the shaft that he stopped what he was doing, every part of him going still to listen.
His breath puffed crystalline in the sheltered halogen globe he worked in, streamers of dust floating in the light...bits of mica and quartz glittering in the air and in the walls. Another echo, another faint chinking noise. It wasn't just rocks settling.
There was someone in here with him.
He was fairly unprepared for the adrenaline surge that flooded his veins, shaking his hands and pounding blood into his ears. He fumbled through his backpack, dropping the remaining putty to one side. His fingers closed on the cold metal of his gun. He hadn't planned on bringing it, but while he'd packed up his things that morning, a whim had tucked it into the red canvas of his bag.
He pointed the gun into the darkness, trying to see past the wall of light his flashlight provided.
"Who's there?" he called out, his voice echoing again and again down the long pitch-black corridor, finally fading out into silence. A silence that stretched. And stretched. He was just starting to calm himself, deride himself for foolish paranoia, when the very distinct sound of a footfall reached his ears.
There, down the shaft about 50 yards, a dark figure stood...a lantern clasped in one fist. The silhouette scared the bloody hell out of him, his body jerking involuntarily in fear.
Then the man began to move. Quickly. Towards him.
And his flashlight flickered. And died.
A scream was building inside him. All around him he could feel the menace of the mountain, the hate... the murderous fury. It was thick in the air, suffocating him, pressing down on his skin like a physical touch.
He became aware of a panting, reedy gasp...and realized that it was his own whimper. Run! He told himself. Run now! But he was frozen, his limbs held in an unearthly paralysis. All he could see was the growing light of the coming lantern, the indistinctly illuminated yellow outline of the side of the figure's body.
The light pulsed with movement, painting the rock walls around it as it came closer...bobbing. A shadow leaped and bounced around it, closer, closer. He could see his hands now, still gripping the gun, shaking almost uncontrollably.
And still he could not move.
The details of the rock walls were cast in sharp relief by the yellow glow of the lantern, creating sharp lines of light and dark.
And he could see those lines right through the stranger.
His finger tightened on the gun, lifting it again and he began to fire...again and again. He was only distantly aware of his screaming. Bullets whined and ricocheted around him like bees, but he wasn't thinking. He was just reacting.
And then one of the bullets struck an outcrop with a little explosion of rock and came zinging back his direction...hitting the small pile of explosive he'd set aside and sending it up in a great concussion wave of heat and flame.
She'd let Mulder have the car, discovering that the police station was only a block away from the hotel. Scully tucked her hands deep into the pockets of her black overcoat, snugging her nose deep into the soft black scarf she'd wrapped around her throat as she walked.
The sidewalks had not yet been shoveled, but she had boots on this time and the snow did not bother her. It was an incredibly beautiful day. A crystal blue sky presided over the town, not a cloud in sight. The bright white of the ski mountain hovered over the town, black specks of skiers zigging across the face. The air was cold and crisp, her breath escaping in smoky wisps from the top of her scarf.
She'd never learned how to ski, she thought offhandedly. Too bad they weren't going to have any extra time here. She was treated to a brief image of her and Mulder on the mountainside, wobbling on skis...learning together.
She stripped it from her mind. That would help nothing. Besides, she reminded herself, she was mad at her partner. She shouldn't be having nice little fantasies about him.
He had been standoffish and verging on rude this morning, refusing to even look at her.
Of course, that was what she had wanted, right?
No. What she had wanted was for it to be like it was before they'd slept together. That was all.
No. Not even that.
If she was honest with herself, what she *really* wanted was for it to be like it had been *after* they'd slept together.
So what's stopping you then? She scoffed. Mulder's made it pretty clear how he feels. He's just humoring you until you come crawling back to him and you know it. He loves you.
And I love him, she sighed. But it can't work. There were real reasons why it took so long to happen, she argued.
Because it can't work.
Her re-looping train of thought halted as she realized that she was in front of the Courthouse. The young lady at the front desk of the hotel had told her that the Sheriff kept his offices in the basement.
She took a deep breath of the biting air and trod up the wide steps to the stately old building, shoving her personal thoughts aside firmly. It looked very wild west to her, a pale red brick color with two stories and arched window wells.
Scully pushed inside and followed the signs down to the basement, finding the Sheriff's office rather easily. A young woman looked up at her as she entered, smiling brightly. Clearly someone who has had her coffee, Scully thought a little bitterly. She personally hadn't had breakfast yet, nor any kind of hot, caffinated beverage.
"Good morning," she said, mustering her own plastered smile and pulling out her badge. " I'm Special Agent Dana Scully and I believe that my partner has spoken to someone here about letting me use the lab facilities?" she asked.
The woman made a little 'o' with her mouth and stood up, smoothing her jeans. She was wearing a rather casual long-sleeved red pullover with the Aspen Sheriff's decal on the left breast.
"Oh...I'll go and see if anyone's expecting you," she said, and vanished into the back. Scully sighed and looked around at the walls. They were covered with old photos from the '60s and '70s depicting what she assumed were past and present deputies and sheriffs.
"Agent Scully?" The voice came from behind her and she turned to find herself looking at a very attractive young man dressed much like the woman had been, but with a cap on. He was tall and rangy, much like her partner, only that was where the resemblance ended. Light brown hair with blond streaks peeked out charmingly from under his cap, framing perfectly boned features and complementing bright green eyes.
Not normally one for being stricken by good-looking men, she was rather surprised by her reaction. But damn. She was only human, and this guy was amazingly cute.
"I'm Sheriff John Kienast," he said, holding out his hand. "I was the one that spoke to your partner." She stripped her gloves off and took the warm palm, managing a smile at him.
"Nice to meet you, Sheriff. I hope we aren't inconveniencing anyone."
He gestured in front of him with a sweep of his arm and a smile that exposed straight white teeth.
"Oh, hell no. We don't get a lot of call for the lab in the first place. All of the stuff that happens around here is pretty tame. The most excitement we ever have is when the occasional serial killer wanders through town. Course, that hasn't happened since the one time back in the '70s."
She raised her eyebrows.
"Oh yes, Ted Bundy, right? I remember that." She murmured. He led her into the main office where a grand total of maybe 6 men and women sat working and talking, all dressed like Sheriff Kienast.
"I'm sure it's nothing like what you must see on a daily basis." Kienast said, pushing open a door and leading her into a small, modern lab.
Unbidden, images of all the violent serial killers she and Mulder had tracked down over the years flooded her brain. Ted Bundy would have been tame in comparison. Of course, she wasn't going to go into it. Instead she just nodded.
"So here we are," he said. "Make yourself at home and let us know if you need anything. We do have a pretty good guy who does labwork for us when we need it, so if you want him, just holler."
She smiled at him and felt a little flush light her cheeks when he smiled back, his eyes most definitely lingering on her. My god, was he interested? For a moment she couldn't fathom the thought. For so long she'd been wrapped up in work and Mulder. Now that she was facing the end of both of those aspects of her life, she realized that several avenues of opportunity were suddenly available to her.
Why didn't that thought bring her the rush of freedom she'd expected?
The door shut behind him, snapping her out of her reverie and she forced herself to turn away from the door. Time to get to work. Cute local authorities or not, new life ahead or not, she had a job to do. And Dana Scully had never once slacked on an assignment.
She wasn't going to start now.
The car pulled up in front of the old building that lay nestled deep in the Victorian West End of Aspen. It had been a little difficult to find it, but in the end, the town was pretty small, and he managed to drive past it by accident.
He got out of the car, making a mental note to mention to the front desk attendant that she gave lousy directions. The walk had already been shoveled and he crushed tiny balls of sidewalk salt under his shoes as he made his way up to the front porch.
The Aspen Historical Society was housed in one of the oldest buildings in town, an old red brick Victorian with the typical black slate roof of the period. Currently, much of the detail of the structure was covered with snow.
The whole world was.
A glittering, pure blanket covered everything from the trees to the streets to the cars parked along them. The bright sunlight reflected off the snow in a blinding glare, a glare that had forced him to don his sunglasses as soon as he'd walked out the front door of the hotel.
He took the front steps in one leap, slipping a little on the icy porch and then checking discreetly around him to make sure no one had witnessed his rather ungainly maneuver. The quietly restored Victorians streets were thankfully empty. He pushed quickly inside.
A tiny bell rang overhead and he shut the door behind him, pausing to look around the foyer. Numerous old photographs hung neatly framed on the walls, pictures that were clearly of the old town back when it had been a Silver mining camp. Several cabinets squatted here and there, displaying odd bits of gear and mining equipment.
The sound of voices was carrying through the converted house rather loudly. Frowning slightly, he moved through an archway into another room that contained even more artifacts and photos. A small desk set against a wall held a register for guests to sign and several brochures about the AHS.
His eyes skimmed the literature quickly before he again lifted his head to hear the argument that seemed to be more and more heated by the moment.
"...For Christ's sake Jerry, I don't know how many times I have to tell you no before you'll listen. No, no, no, NO. I will not do it. Just forget about it. Why don't you just go back downvalley and sell more stupid schmucks overpriced houses on overpriced land."
It was a woman's voice. She was clearly exasperated. The man who answered her was simply furious.
"Emma, I'm warning you... you're standing in the way of progress here. No one in this town gives a flying fuck for that goddamned mountain and it's rotting old mines. No one."
"If I recall, you said that about the old support walls up on Independence Pass. You and the goddamned Highway Department went behind the town's back and took care of it yourself. Fine job you did too. Blew everything sky high, destroying a part of the town's history right along with it. And yes, Jerry. The town *did* care. They cared a lot."
Mulder heard a derisive snort. He picked up the brochure and opened it, sinking into an armchair to wait. The eavesdropper in him listening intently now that Scully wasn't here to frown at him for it.
"I don't hear them complaining now. Now that we finally widened that corner.."
"..So you could get your precious trucks around it. How altruistic of you. Not too many people know about that part, do they? That you blew up those beautiful old walls just so you could get your company's trucks into town from the Pass instead of having to go around through Glenwood. Maybe I'll mention *that* at the meeting."
"Just shut up about that Emma. God! You are the most stubborn, idiotic woman. I'll only tell you one more time. When the issue comes up at that council meeting, you know how to vote. Don't make the mistake of crossing me."
"Such a big man, Jerry. Making threats now, are we? Just how pathetic are you?"
Mulder surged to his feet at the sound of flesh striking flesh and the crash of something shattering on the floor. By the time he pushed his way in the direction of the voices, he heard footsteps echoing through the house, the slam of a door and then silence.
He came around a corner to find an older woman, still slender for her age, steel gray hair cropped in a neat, stylish fashion close to her skull, struggling to get up off the floor. She was muttering to herself... clearly shaken, but unhurt.
"Are you alright? Do you want me to call the police?" he asked, taking her arm and helping her to her feet. She looked up at him with surprised brown eyes, one hand reaching up to straighten her glasses.
"Oh my, no. I'm fine. That bully didn't hurt me. He's just used to getting what he wants, that's all. I'm not in the habit of kowtowing to hooligans." She frowned at the remains of what looked like a vase. "Thank god that wasn't important, or he'd be hearing from my lawyer," she muttered. She glanced back up at Mulder with raised brows. "Could you wait for a minute longer? I want to get a broom to clean this up." She didn't wait for him to agree. She simply nodded and stalked out of the room.
Mulder had just folded his long frame into a chair when she came bustling back into the room with a dustpan and a broom.
"Here young man, hold this." She shoved the pan into his hand and he dutifully stood up and held it on the floor for her, grinning a little at her bossy tone. A moment later the broken vase was cleaned up and disposed of.
"Now," she turned back to him at last, "What can I do for you?"
He reached into his pocket and pulled his ID out for her to see.
"I'm Special Agent Mulder, with the FBI. I'm in town on a case and I was hoping you could give me some information." Her eyes widened only slightly at his badge and she nodded firmly.
"Of course, whatever I can do. I can't imagine how I can help... I'm just the town historian. But I'm sure you know what you're doing."
"Exactly why I came to you Ma'am." He grinned, reaching into his pocket for the rusted-out bolt in its plastic baggie. He held it out to her and she took it, peering over the tops of her glasses at it as she sank down into a nearby chair.
"Hmm, looks like part of a mining rail." She glanced back up to him. "Where did you get this? You haven't been poking around in the mines have you?" her voice was a little sharp.
He raised his eyebrows.
"No. I ...found it at a crime scene," he said obtusely, wanting to keep the Creeds' names out of it.
"Well Agent Mulder," she leaned forward with the bolt, pressing the plastic close around the bit of metal so he could see what she was showing him. "You see this stamp here?" she turned the red-blackish metal in the light so he could see. There was a very faint impression of a star stamped there.
"Yeah, what does that mean?" He looked back up at Emma.
She smiled slightly.
"Well, it's the only reason that I can tell you anything about this bolt. Rather fortuitous. See, back in the height of the silver mining days around here, most of the miners bought their equipment wholesale from a manufacturer in the valley. It was shoddy work, but it was cheap, and most of the men just wanted to strike it rich, they didn't care if their ore carts broke off track now and then because of bad bolts." She got up and walked over to a cabinet, unlocking it and pulling out another bolt.. far more degraded than the one that Scully had found in the closet. "See the difference in quality? And this one has no stamp."
She sat back down and picked up his evidence again. "There were only two mines in the whole of Aspen that ordered their parts from downvalley and had them shipped up here. One was the Lucky Lizzy and the other was the Big Spender."
"Any way of knowing which one this belonged to?" he asked, leaning forward so that his hands hung loosely between his knees.
"If I had to guess, I would pick the Lucky Lizzy. And the only reason I say that is because of the condition of the bolt. Charles Hanson ran the LL, and he was almost freakishly anal from what we can tell. See how there's no pounding on the end here? Charles would carefully screw each bolt into the rails himself according to his partner's journals. Most miners just ended up hammering the bolts in."
"What was his wife's name?" he asked, a thought striking him out of the blue.
"Elizabeth, I think." Emma said, grinning. "I have an excellent memory, but there's a lot up here." She tapped her head. "And sometimes I get it all garbled up."
"Elizabeth...Lizzy?" he asked.
"Ah, yes. Of course. He named the mine after her." Emma said with a smile. "Why?"
Mulder dug a little excitedly into his pocket and fished out the locket that Scully had found in the Ballroom that morning. He handed it over to Emma.
"Any idea if these two people are Charles and Lizzy?" he asked.
Emma snapped the locket open and perused the photos. Her brows were raised.
"This is an antique, Agent Mulder," she said, almost to herself. "Just a moment." She walked off into the back, her footsteps causing the floorboards to squeal and groan under her weight. She was gone almost 10 full minutes. Mulder was just getting ready to go and look for her when she returned with a cardboard-backed slip of paper in a plastic bag. She settled back into her chair and wordlessly held out her hand for the locket again.
She laid what he could now see was a photo down on the table and set the locket next to it, comparing. Mulder could already see that the man in the photo was the same as the man in the locket. Clearly he had a connection here, but to what? Why would a bolt from Charles Hanson's mine turn up in Janice Creed's closet... and his wife's locket appear in the Hotel Jerome Ballroom?
"Emma, was there ever a big fire at the Hotel Jerome?" he asked, sitting back in the armchair and folding his arms. He thought he already knew the answer, even before the old woman frowned and turned a little pale.
"Yes. Yes there was. Back in 1889. Several people perished, but the person that I think you'll be most interested to know about is Elizabeth Hanson. She died in that fire. A fire that several people speculated was arson." Emma was giving him an odd look now. "Are you going to tell me what's going on here, Agent Mulder? How is it that you have a piece of mining equipment from Charles Hanson's mine and his wife's locket? And how did you know to ask about the fire?"
"I wish I knew. All I can tell you is that there seems to be some sort of paranormal activity brewing in town, and from what I've learned today, it's centered around the Hansons. I guess now I just need to learn why."
"Paranormal? You mean ghosts?" Her thin white brows were raised nearly to her hairline. He nodded almost hesitantly.
She actually smiled.
"Well, we certainly have enough history in this town to warrant a haunting or two, and the Hansons definitely had their share of scandal."
"What do you mean?"
"I can't recall the details, but it involved an affair. And I seem to remember that there was speculation that Charles was the one who set the fire at the Jerome."
"Do you think you could put together as much information as possible on the Hansons and anyone they were involved with? Fax it to my hotel as soon as possible?"
She nodded her head almost eagerly.
"Of course, Agent Mulder. I wonder.." she bit her lip, "I wonder if this 'haunting' you think might be going on, if it has anything to do with the brouhaha surrounding the mines on Smuggler right now?"
"What 'brouhaha'?" he asked.
"The 'gentleman' that I was speaking to before you came in. He's a 'big-time' developer in the valley and he wants to convert Smuggler into commercial real estate so he can build on it. Smuggler is the only mountain left on the fringes of town that hasn't been developed. And that's because there are so many mines in it. It's part of Aspen's history. Those mines are landmarks. Jerrold wants to have them filled in so he can build."
"The Lucky Lizzy is on Smuggler?" he asked.
"Oh yes. In fact it's the one closest to the town. It would be the first to go if he succeeds in getting the council to ok the development."
"Will he succeed?"
"Not a chance." she grinned. "I'm on the council, and I'll never allow them to develop Smuggler. It's given enough to this town already. They need a unanimous vote to change the status on the land from historical to commercial. It won't pass while I'm alive. The Lucky Lizzy is safe," she said smugly.
Mulder grinned at her attitude, then stood, taking the bolt and the locket back from her and tucking them into his pocket again.
"I'll look forward to seeing what you fax over. I'm at the Jerome, and here's my card if you remember anything else. Thanks for your help. It's been very enlightening."
She took the card with a smile and shook his proffered hand.
"No thanks necessary, agent Mulder. Thank you for making my job feel worthwhile. Sometimes It seems like I've spent my lifetime collecting a whole boatload of useless historical trivia. I'll send over the information as soon as I compile it."
It was only once he was back in the car and driving that he realized he hadn't thought about Scully once during the whole time he'd been with Emma.
Was that good or bad?
The J-Bar was as exquisite and well apportioned as the rest of the Jerome was. A true old-west bar, it had been upgraded to give it the high-class feel that practically oozed from Aspen and in particular, the hotel. Beautiful polished mahogany bar and chairs, an enormous mirror engraved in the style of the old west with the name of the hotel, rank upon rank of glittering bottles of booze adorning the wall and shi-shi cuisine. What more could you ask for, really?
Well, she thought a little sourly, how about a little delight? How about a little enjoyment? It had been fine when she was working. For the entire hour that she'd spent in the lab testing the substance she was now certain was impure kerosene, she'd not thought about Mulder and their troubles once. It was only once the handsome Sheriff Kienast had come in and asked her if she wanted to grab a bite to eat that she'd found her thoughts returning to her partner.
"So, basically, Thompson was out on Floyd's property at 3:00am.. *with* his shotgun, and he claims he was out looking for this skunk he'd seen.."
Why? Please, why? Here she was, eating a perfectly delicious lunch in a glamorous town in an exquisite restaurant with a very attractive man.. a man who, incidentally, didn't even hide the fact that he was attracted to *her*, and all she could think about was the one man she had determined she couldn't have. About the partner and friend she was about to abandon.
"When all of Floyd's $10,000 prized trout turned up the next day floating belly up in the pond, of course he blamed Hunter. Everyone in town knew that Thompson held Floyd Watkins in contempt...to say the least..."
Not, she supposed, that she really wanted to be the kind of person who could ditch the love of her life one week and then have a torrid fling with a dashing man in uniform the next. But the fact was that she *couldn't* have Mulder. And Kevin was the perfect vehicle to discover that she could have a normal conversation with a normal man.
If that was what she really wanted, a quiet voice amended in her head. She frowned to herself. Another country heard from. Where had that particular voice come from? Why hadn't it piped up before?
"And basically this war started between them. Thompson is always up for some good vandalism, some rabble rousing.. he knows the community usually sides with him because he adds such color to the area, AND everyone...hands down, hates Floyd..."
Pffh. Not like she was going to get married to John and live happily ever after in his cute-little-deputy house... the man hadn't even asked her out yet. Not that she had any doubt that he would. He'd been staring at her quite avidly for the past half hour over his demolished bread bowl of french onion soup.
"...Christ, the man sued the county because he drove his car off Woody creek road. He was speeding...on *ice*, and he claimed the county wasn't doing a good job clearing the pavement..."
The saddest, most pathetic thing, the thing that she was rapidly realizing, was that John wasn't Mulder. He was smart, but not quite smart enough. His wit was a pale shadow to her partner's 24/7 razor sharp cracks. He was handsome, but not beautiful. His hair didn't catch the sunlight in deep auburn glints, his eyes were too uni-color. His mouth...well, that wasn't fair. *No one* had Mulder's mouth.
But still, she tried. She sat across from him, admiring his attractive face, listening to his story, enjoying her lunch and having a nice time in general. Her life would not be over without Mulder. She was perfectly capable of...
Of what? Denying herself?
"Anyway, to make a long story short...and I can see by your glazed expression that I'm far too late for that... it turned out that Hunter hadn't killed the damn trout. Floyd's son had put too much of a certain chemical into the water by accident..."
Denial. Yup. She was currently in denial about the fact that she was *afraid* Mulder would walk by and see her scrunched in a booth with Mr. Sheriff GoodLooks.
Afraid? You dumped him, remember? I think your exact words were 'This can't work. This will never work.'
Shut up, she fumed, smiling nicely at John and shaking her head in polite disagreement when he accused her of glazing over. She'd heard every word.
I didn't *dump* him, she wailed out.
Call it what you want, the voice said wryly, contemptuously. Fact is, you told the man you trust more than anyone else, the man you love, that your relationship couldn't work anymore. And you made up some shit to justify it. Fact: You couldn't stand the loss of control. You couldn't stand how much you loved him, how that made you feel. Just face up to it, we'll all feel a lot better.
Where *was* that voice coming from? It was so vehement, so angry. But it was wrong. You're wrong, she called out. Mulder is different now. He's changed since we started sleeping together. He started trying to control me, protect me.
Load of crap. He treats you no differently. You just *perceive* it differently. Don't try to blame this on him. After all, he's gone along with your nonsense for the past eight days. He should be canonized!
Where were you a week ago?! She snapped. You have no right to bring this up now. John is nice..
Oh. You want *nice* now? You mean you want controllable.
"That's crazy," she said, laughing lightly at the tale.
"That's this town." John grinned, leaning his folded arms onto the polished wood. "Load of loons. See, most people think that the people who make up this place are a bunch of snotty rich folk, and true, we've got our share of those, but mostly they're just families who've lived here since the '60s when there were still dirt roads running through town." He met her gaze almost gently, his remarkable green eyes caressing her face almost palpably. "Big group of fairly well-to-do intelligentsia living here. Lot of folks with loud opinions."
Her own eyes dropped to the patterns her fork was drawing in the remaining pasta sauce on her plate, trying to give her full attention over to her lunchmate.
"Seems like an interesting place to live." she murmured with a little smile, glancing up almost coyly at him. "Have you been here your whole life?"
The sound of the door opening behind her warned her before a front of cold air moved through the room, sending shivers up and down her arms. She knew, even before John looked up behind her, even before she heard his voice, that it was Mulder who had entered.
"Hey Scully..." he said, sounding just like he always did. A hint of mischeviousness and sharp humor in the honeyed gravel of his voice. She twisted her head around to look up at him.
Jesus, how could she have thought that the Sheriff could compete? Mulder snagged a chair from an empty table and dragged it across the floor, straddling it with and easy grace, his dark hair falling loosely over his forehead and limned in the bright winter light that streamed in the picture window of the bar behind him. He'd folded his arms across the back of the chair, his wool overcoat's sleeves riding up on his forearms exposing the sleeves of his white dress shirt and the fine dark hairs on his wrists.
She reached up to pinch the bridge of her nose. Why did he have to be so beautiful?
Get a good long look. The sarcastic voice was back. After all, this is your last case together, right?
Right. Hard as nails. She was strong.
"Mulder," she gestured at John. "This is sheriff John Kienast. You spoke to him on the phone about using the lab. John, this is Fox Mulder, my partner."
Mulder nodded in greeting.
"Did you find anything?" she asked.
He nodded, snagging his lower lip between his teeth in a gesture she just knew he had specifically designed to go straight to her stomach. She could picture him in the bathroom, practicing the maneuver, getting just the right amount of moisture on that lower lip so it looked wet and slightly swollen.
The waitress arrived with a steaming cup of coffee and he took it from her with a smile that most women would consider a flirt. Scully knew better. Mulder was a manipulator, not a flirter.
"You going to share?" she urged as he took a deep sip of his coffee. He was excited about something, she could tell. She could practically see all the little gears and pulleys spinning and working back behind his vivid hazel eyes. His gaze flicked once towards Kienast as if trying to decide if he should get into it in front of a stranger, and then saw the mental equivalent of a shrug. He'd never cared about what other people thought before, why start now?
"Remember that locket that you found this morning in the Ballroom?" he asked, running finger around the rim of the cup. For the first time all day, he was meeting her eyes. At her nod, he pulled the bolt out of his pocket and fiddled with it in front of him through the plastic. The man had more fidgety energy than a roomful of caffinated squirrels. "I showed it to Emma, the town historian. She said that the pictures are of a Charles and Lizzy Hanson. He was a miner, and this bolt," he held up the baggie briefly, "was one of his...from his mine."
Scully frowned, tilting her head.
"We found them in separate places and you're saying they're connected? How is that possible?"
"There's more." He grinned, leaning his elbows on the table and hunching over them. "Elizabeth, his wife...she was killed in a *fire*, get this...in the Hotel Jerome Ballroom back in 1889."
Scully remained perfectly still, her frown still decorating her forehead. The familiar walls of her skepticism were falling into place one by one. She leaned forward towards him as well, the old habits of speaking within his personal space coming out without thinking.
"Mulder, I know what you're thinking, but it has to be some sort of hoax. Someone might have planted those things there."
"For what purpose, Scully? Why on earth would someone bother with scaring our friend's wife half to death, dropping a bit of old-west memorabilia on her closet floor and spilling kerosene on her shoe? *Then* going down to the Jerome, causing an old woman to hallucinate a fire...causing *you* to hallucinate someone yelling 'fire', and then planting the locket for you to find?" He still had a smile on his face. "And you think that *I* stretch credibility?"
She snorted in exasperation.
"I didn't say that's what happened, but I'm sure there's a logical explanation. One that doesn't involve 'ghosts'." She said firmly.
He chuckled and took another sip of his coffee.
"Ok Scully. We'll wait for the ghost to bite you on the ass so you can calmly state that it was a mosquito." He set the coffee cup down and smiled warmly at her to show he was kidding, setting off a flush of heat inside her. "What did you find out about the kerosene? It was old, wasn't it?"
"As a matter of fact Mulder, it was," she said. "I can't explain it. The impurities I found in it are evidence of a product that just wouldn't be put out in today's market. It has to be at least 80 years old, maybe older."
Scully could see the triumphant look in Mulder's eyes and she shook her head, their faces still only inches apart.
"That still doesn't necessarily mean what you think it does." She finally noticed their proximity and she leaned back, trying to look casual about it. "Did you arrange to meet up with Carmelita?"
He sucked his lips into his mouth and released them with a faint pop, his eyes slipping down to look at his coffee cup with sudden avid interest. If that wasn't a sign that he'd been bad, she didn't know what was.
"You already went and saw her." she stated flatly, knowing it was true. He nodded, risking a glance at her. She kept her face impassive. So what if he'd said they were going to question the maid together? After all, how could she possibly have any input of her own? Why would they need a different perspective when Mulder was around to leap to all the conclusions?
She knew he could see her irritation regardless of the blank look on her face. She suspected that the man was an expert at having her mad at him.
"I knew that you were busy in the lab and she said that she only had half an hour before she had to go up to the house. So I went." He seemed honestly contrite.
"What did she say?" she finally asked. There was no point in getting into it here. Especially in front of a stranger.
The sheriff. She'd actually forgotten that he was sitting there. He'd somehow faded into the wallpaper once they'd started discussing the case.
He ran one hand through his hair and let his eyes meet hers again.
"Carmelita suspects an affair, just like you thought," he said, half a smile pulling at one side of his mouth. "She doesn't know who it is, but she thinks that ...our friend's wife visits him pretty often. Carmelita's almost positive that whoever it is will be at the benefit tonight because her boss has been paying special attention to her wardrobe for the event."
Well, so much for begging out of that particular function, not if she still wanted anything to do with this case. She was going to have to buy something to wear.
"You guys are going to the Benefit tonight? Posh event," John said. She glanced over at him. His expression was unreadable, but Scully thought she saw a faint resignation in it. She didn't even want to try to interpret it. It was hard enough trying to read Mulder.
"Are you going?" she asked, a part of her not wanting to let him get discouraged by the tightness that she and Mulder often displayed to outsiders when they were together.
"Yeah, the whole Sheriff's dept is always invited.
I wasn't going to go...but I think I've changed my mind." He smiled at her and she let her lips curve in return. She didn't dare look at Mulder as she flirted in front of him with another man. Served him right for treating her like his assistant.
Suddenly her partner pushed up and away from the table, his chair grating along the polished wood floorboards of the bar. She finally risked looking up at him. His expression was as cool and blank as any statue. He'd perfected it over the years. It managed to fool most people, but to her it was like a red flag going up that something was wrong.
This time, as she turned her attention half-heartedly back to John, she knew what it was.
Emma Stapleton put the last paper into the fax machine and hit 'send' with a little flourish. She turned her attention away from the paper vanishing into the machine long enough to see what time it was. Almost 2 O Clock. Plenty of time to get to the Stylist's. She'd managed to get Karen to squeeze her into the schedule at the last minute. What with the Winterskool Benefit, most of the Salons were full.
The paper spit slowly out the other side and the machine beeped at her, signaling the end of the job. She smiled and gathered up the paperwork she'd put together for the nice young FBI Agent. She suspected that he would be very interested in what she had found out about the Hansons...though she still wasn't clear on how it related to anything beyond history.
The prospect of ghosts and hauntings going on in town intrigued her. Agent Mulder had not given her any real information, but she hoped to have the chance later to weasel some more out of him. Ghosts. She smiled.
She turned off the light in the office and walked back into the main rooms of the museum. Damn she was tired. It had come over her suddenly while she was faxing and she had actually considered the idea of not going to the party tonight. The socialites of Aspen were not her ideal company anyway.
She picked up the remains of her earlier tea, the tea she had set out before Jerrold had come over with his ludicrous threats. Agent Mulder's visit and subsequent request had prevented her from cleaning it up till now. She yawned mightily, weaving a little as she took the small tray into the kitchen. She set the cold tea down on the counter and leaned heavily on the old Formica, taking a deep breath.
Suddenly she froze. What was that slightly sweet smell? She'd been so engrossed in her research, she hadn't noticed before. She sniffed again, moving into the middle of the kitchen floor and turning in a small circle, trying to determine the source. There was something familiar about it.
Unfortunately, Emma only recognized it as natural gas when the black spots began to dance in front of her eyes...buzzing and multiplying until all she saw was black.
And she crumpled to the floor.
Mulder sat on his bed, the papers Emma had faxed him strewn around him, several books on local history splayed open near his knees. A sunflower seed cracked between his teeth and he spit the soggy husk onto an open newspaper to his right, his eyes skimming the information avidly.
It was a lot easier not thinking about Scully and her new friend when he was engrossed in a mystery. At first when he'd settled on the bed with a stack of flimsy fax paper and three books he'd checked from the library across the street, all his senses had been tuned for movement in the hall or in the connecting room. He would hear footsteps outside the door and quickly arrange himself into a posture of nonchalance just in case she walked in. But after only a little bit, the story of the Hansons pulled him in.
Charles Hanson had moved into the valley right at the head of the first silver rush. At a time when many of the miners in the valley were rushing up the Roaring Fork to the tiny camp of Independence and its promise of gold, Charles had stayed behind. The Lucky Lizzy had been his achievement. One of the richest mines in Aspen, he'd worked it religiously, anxious and eager to please his wife. A woman some years younger than he. Elizabeth Wheeler was from a wealthy family and used to the finer things in life. Her father was a rich industrialist who'd invested in the tiny town of Aspen and she was a schoolteacher. Charles had fallen in love with her and she with him...but according to the journal excerpts that Emma had sent, it was no storybook romance.
Apparently Lizzy grew bitter and disillusioned with Charles. He was gone almost all the time, working in the mine, trying to live up to the wealthy standards that she was used to. Afraid that if he couldn't provide the life he believed she wanted, that she would leave him. Ironically, it was his workaholism that drove her to have an affair with one of the biggest names in town. David Hyman...Mulder recalled seeing a street named after him...and Lizzy Hanson had a torrid affair that lasted almost a year before Charles found out.
Lizzy divorced Charles and married Hyman. Apparently it was at their wedding reception at the Hotel Jerome that the fire broke out. The local paper at the time claimed that Lizzy had been trapped under a fallen chandelier and had been unable to escape the flames. Arson had been blamed, but no suspect had been found.
Mulder popped another seed into his mouth absently, his thumb running across the tiny face of the locket that contained the two photos. Elizabeth was pretty, in that clean old fashioned way that women had before the advent of mass media. He wondered if it had been Charles who'd set the fire. It made sense to him, his profiling mind starting to lock little pieces together here and there. Obsessive, driven, single-minded, likely a loner since he was a miner...he could easily see him wanting to obliterate, not only the woman who'd wounded him, but everyone associated with the wedding and her new happiness.
He spit the soggy husk out and settled his chin into his hand, thinking. Why the connection with Mrs. Creed? Did it have something to do with her affair? Why now? Certainly there had been others in the past century who had cheated on their spouses in this town. Why Janice? He could understand the presence of the locket in the Jerome...because of the fire...but the link with the Creeds' walk-in closet was a mystery.
He suspected if he could find that connection, he would know the ghost's or ghosts' motives. Tomorrow he would see about getting up to that mine.
The Lucky Lizzy.
Shopping Mecca? Perhaps if you were rich enough. Certainly the stores that lined the perfect, lovely little streets of Aspen contained some of the most beautiful clothes she had ever seen. But 5,000 bucks for a skirt was a wee bit past her government-wage budget.
She walked along the snowy sidewalks, letting the frigid afternoon air soak away some of the frustration that clogged her every thought. Stupid benefit. It seemed ludicrous that she was marching around town with Sheriff Kienast looking for a dress to buy in the middle of a case. But John had warned her of the level of evening wear that was expected...and her slightly rumpled pant suits weren't going to cut it.
John kept looking down at her, trying to catch her eye as he guided her from shop to shop, navigating the snow-packed streets with practiced familiarity. He was taking every opportunity to touch her, his hand on her elbow or her arm as he helped her down icy steps or through a doorway.
She had found him appealing before. But after she'd actually used him to deliberately hurt Mulder, she'd realized there was nothing there. Now she just felt low and hateful.
She paused and gazed into a store front window without seeing the clothing displayed there, only seeing the reflection looking back at her. All she saw was a small, pale, slender woman wrapped in a big black overcoat...the man at her side towering over her. Funny that it looked so right. Until she caught a glimpse of the handsome face and saw features that were all wrong.
She felt stupid. She felt mean. She felt irrational. And most of all, she felt like she had made a huge mistake. Was all this pain of nothing but her own making?
Mulder had changed his attitude towards her after they'd slept together. Sure he had. Christ, would he have been human if he hadn't? Would he have been someone she could love if he hadn't? Had that change been detrimental to their partnership? That was the real question. The one she agonized over now.
A tint of red caught her eye beyond the reflection. Captured her attention. A red slip dress, a dress she would not have normally ever looked at...much less contemplated. A dress that seemed to speak to her of forbidden things. Things like loving her partner.
She pushed into the small boutique, not really noticing if John followed her or not.
The store was plush and warm with the scent of silks and satins and fine wools. It simply *smelled* expensive. For once, she didn't let herself be pragmatic. For once she was going to follow something other than her head. Cold logic ruled her life, it would not rule her heart.
The only thing, she thought idly as she walked through the small store, that was detrimental to their partnership was her own attitude. She had trained herself to believe over the years, as a defense mechanism against the attraction she'd always held for Mulder, that a deeper relationship would be bad. That it would change things, make things more complicated. That he would alter his attitude towards her, his perception of her.
And she had projected it all onto what they had.
It was all her, all along. God, she was supposed to be the stable one. Mulder was the fucked-up, bad-childhood, walking basket-case. And here, it was her all along.
Hands reached up to take the dress down off the rack. Feet carried her to the dressing room. As soon as she held the dress up to her in the mirror, things seemed to settle into place, outlines and shapes finally coming into focus.
Christ. Was she really that allergic to happiness? Was she really that afraid of receiving love?
No. No she wasn't. So what the hell had she been doing? She had been doing just what her heart had been railing at her for. Chickening out. The idea of trusting Mulder enough to hand him her heart terrified her, even though she had trusted him with her body and her mind for so long. Loss of control? Yes. But what did she gain in return?
What indeed? Her minds eye held him up for display with all his faults and idiosyncrasies and problems. His brilliance and dedication and honesty and beauty.
She felt an almost giddy rush and she uncharacteristically spun in front of the mirror, still holding the dress up to her with a ridiculous grin on her face. Catching a glimpse of her expression, she quickly smoothed her features back into some semblance of control. No need for strangers to witness her impromptu epiphany.
Funny, some people wandered out into the wilderness for their revelations, others endured terrible trials or practiced meditation. All she'd had to do was hold an improbable outfit under her chin. A dress that was not her, not the person she was...or even wanted to be. But it *was* the woman in her that needed to throw caution and rationale and cold logic out the window.
Jesus, she loved him. What the hell was the problem here?
Impulsively, she didn't even try it on. She snagged the matching wrap and threw both items on the counter, a small smile all that showed of her sudden mood swing.
Thankfully John had hung back while she'd bought the dress. He had not witnessed her lack of decorum. He smiled at her as she approached, bag in hand, but it faded a little as she informed him that she needed to get back to the hotel.
"I'll see you tonight then," his words were only just that. Words floating in her wake, her mind already forging ahead...leaving him standing on the icy sidewalk outside the boutique.
Along with all her doubts.
Mulder drifted up from a light doze, the smooth texture of fax paper still clutched between his fingers. He glanced over at the small clock that perched on the nightstand. 6:15. He'd fallen asleep, he thought with a little surprise, sitting up rather groggily and blinking at a room now dim in the early evening light. Had to be the altitude.
The Benefit was at 7:30. Luckily it was being held here. In the ballroom in fact. If he were really fortunate, perhaps the ghosts would grace them with a re-enactment of the fire again. That would be something. Scully couldn't deny it then, not with a whole room full of witnesses.
Scully. He let himself fall back down onto the pillows with a small groan. What was with her and that goddamned Roger Ramjet? Had she spent the afternoon with him instead of with her partner on the case? Was she trying to bait him? Get a rise out of him?
Not everything is about you, a voice echoed through the tall, cluttered vaults of his mind. Or more likely she thought this case was a waste of time. He didn't really have anything more than a series of coincidences and some circumstantial evidence to prove her wrong.
Maybe she just wanted someone else. Someone who wasn't him.
The thought tore his insides a little bit, but he forced himself to contemplate it. He knew that she wanted to run. He also knew that she still loved him. She couldn't hide that, but she was bound and determined to go through with this ridiculous charade of hers. Scully was too stubborn by a long shot. She would continue with this no matter how wrong it felt, simply because she *believed* that it was right. He could never convince her otherwise, the very act of him trying to do such a thing would only drive her further away.
Damned if you do...damned if you don't.
Sure, it was hard...really hard to dismantle walls that had been rusting in place for years. Walls that even he had convinced himself were necessary...at one time. He had struggled with personal demons and terror and guilt before he'd finally decided that none of it mattered. *Nothing* mattered if she weren't there. And somewhere along the line, it hadn't been enough to love but not touch.
He sighed and pushed himself off the bed, papers crackling and crunching as he shifted. He sat on the edge of the mattress for a long moment, running his hands through his hair and across his face tiredly. God, why couldn't she just make this easy? Why did it have to be so difficult for her to admit to a little loss of control every once in a while? *That* was at the heart of this whole thing. He knew it as well as he knew that the sun would rise in the East every morning.
What was it going to take for *her* to realize that?
He didn't have an answer. He just knew he would wait. He no longer had any problem admitting that loving her put his heart into her hand. That she had the power to crush him with one gesture. He trusted her. He would have to keep trusting her now. Trust her to do the right thing.
He moved into the bathroom and started the shower. He was a little surprised by how much he was dreading the goddamned party. Time to go down there and watch his partner dancing with another man, flirting with another man and likely ignoring him entirely.
He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror, running his hand across his scratchy jaw.
He pushed a hand under the streaming water, testing the temperature. Cold, but warming slowly. Stripping his shirt off, he wandered back out into his room to retrieve the robe he'd seen hanging on the back of the armoire...and stopped dead.
Scully was sitting on the only part of his bed not covered by books and papers, her expression as implacable as ever. He couldn't control the little leap of his heart when he saw her. He had managed to look directly at her a few times during the day without completely breaking down. He gave it another try.
"What is it, Scully?" he was still frozen halfway across the room, his shirt still entrapping his left arm. "Is something wrong?"
She shook her head slowly, a cryptic little smile curling the side of her pretty mouth. She was leaning over her knees, her elbows planted firmly, her hands clasped loosely between them. She dropped her eyes from his, studying the floor, the fall of her copper hair obscuring her face.
He was afraid to move. Afraid to step closer, afraid to back away.
"What is all this?" she finally asked, one slim hand gesturing at the maelstrom of papers scattered around the room.
He bit his lip, one hand coming up to rub at the back of his scalp. His shirt flopped ridiculously off one arm and he quickly pulled it back on, knowing that she wouldn't appreciate such familiarity. He didn't want to do anything to make her get up and leave the room.
"Some information that Ms. Stapleton...the historian, faxed over to me."
"What kind of information?" she asked, picking up one of the papers and examining it with an arch of her brow. "This looks like a Xeroxed journal entry." she said.
He nodded, still not moving from his place in the middle of the floor. He folded his arms just to give them something to do. Damn, when had it become so awkward between them? Was this what she was talking about when she said it could never go back to the way it was? Frankly, he didn't really care. He just wanted it to keep going with her...different or not.
"Yeah. I was looking into the Hansons...trying to find a connection between them and the Creeds. You know...that flaky ghost stuff." he regretted his last words as soon as they left his mouth. The last thing he wanted to do was antagonize her.
"Any luck?" she asked. It surprised him. She'd let him know what she thought of his theory at lunch.
He was finally galvanized into action, her question building enough confidence in him to walk over to the bed. He picked up another piece of paper that showed a photocopy of a daguerreotype of the Hansons.
"She was having an affair. I can't remember if I mentioned that at lunch. With a man named David Hyman...apparently a well-to-do man in the town. She eventually got divorced from Charles and married David." he shrugged. "The night of her wedding she was killed when the Jerome Ballroom caught fire."
Scully was nodding as she looked at the photo. It encouraged him.
"There are a lot of similarities between the two couples," he said, perching one hip on the side of the chest of drawers next to the bed. "He was older than she was by quite a margin in both cases. Each man was...er is, a workaholic with a wife used to the finer things in life. But really, unless Janice is having an affair and plans to divorce the senator, that's where the similarities end." he let a breath push out of his lips in consternation. "I mean, when it comes down to it, I can't find any reason why Charles Hanson would be haunting Janice Creed."
He risked a glance at Scully to find her engrossed in reading the excerpts from Lizzy's journal.
"It's always so interesting," she murmured after a moment, "to read the thoughts and feelings of someone who lived in such a different time. To find that they really aren't all that different from people today," she murmured. Her voice was distant.
"Scully?" he asked, taking a deep breath. He couldn't take much more of this. Just the smell of her hair alone was driving him crazy. She looked up at him and he was nearly lost in her blue eyes. "Why...why did you come in here?" He'd finally got it out.
But he didn't want to hear her answer.
She set the paper down without breaking eye contact with him, a tiny enigmatic smile on her lips, and she stood up.
Or...maybe he did.
Scully walked towards him slowly...confidently, until she was only inches away. She lifted her hands and placed them gently on the bare skin of his chest, pushing aside the loose sides of his shirt. He was certain that she could feel his heart beating rabbit-fast. He was too terrified to guess what she was doing. It couldn't possibly be what it looked lik--
She pressed up against him and kissed him.
God. It felt like it had been years. A decade. A century. He had inscribed the memory of what her lips felt like on his into his mind, but it was a simple shadow next to reality. She was so soft under his mouth, so warm and so real. The fragrant silken weight of her hair filled his palms as he cupped the back of her skull gently, sliding his fingers through the strands, stroking the base of her neck with hands on the verge of shaking.
He was vividly aware of every part of her body that was touching his, of each curve and slope and hollow. Had he actually considered a world where he could not hold her like this? Had she? God, he felt all the empty places inside of him filling up again, every nook and niche and crack that had drained when she'd told him 'no more'. She was everything and the only thing he needed.
Their tongues gently twisted together, mouths eagerly explored by senses that had been too long without. He was vibrating with it, not just desire...but joy. He wanted to press inside her, fuse her to him, make sure that no part of him did not touch every part of her.
She managed to break away long enough to pull back and look into his eyes. The long lashes were damp, her cheeks flushed with emotion and tender desire.
"Mulder..." she breathed softly, "I'm so sorry. Not just for what I did to you at lunch, but for everything since Baltimore. I was wrong. I ...was so wrong." She dropped her forehead to his chest and he pressed his lips to the crown of her head. He wanted to ask her what had changed her mind, why she'd come back to him...but he remained silent. "Can you forgive me?" her voice was faint, he could feel her breath push lightly against the hollow of his throat.
He felt a chuckle rumble up out of his chest. He held her tightly to him, pressing his cheek against her hair, leaning down to find the tender patch of skin where her smooth neck met her shoulders and pressing his lips to it.
"Scully. You don't even have to ask that. I always knew that you would...come back. Besides, your fears were valid. Things ARE going to change...they already have. As a physicist you have to know that Entropy is a Universal constant. But I'm not going to let that get in the way." He grinned against her flesh. "Just be warned that this was your one free 'get out of jail free' card. Next time you decide 'this can't work', you're going to have a fight on your hands. This was perhaps the worst week of my life."
She pulled back, her eyes still wet, but her mouth curved in a smile that set off fire alarms all over his body.
"Good. I always thought I was the sensible one. But maybe there's room for you too." she looked up suddenly. "Mulder...the shower is still running."
He quirked his eyebrows as he took belated notice of the fact that steam from the bathroom was drifting and billowing into the room. Fingers on his chin pulled his gaze back down to her face.
He kissed the tip of her nose as her hands came up to cup each cheek.
And then he was lifting her up into his arms, cupping her ass as her legs curled around his hips, pressing her against the heat and pressure of his erection.
"You look dirty, Agent Scully," he whispered against her lips as he carried her into the bathroom, the steam engulfing them in a humid cloud of heat.
"I feel dirty, Agent Mulder," she grinned up into his eyes. "But I think you're just the man to get me clean again."
He kicked the bathroom door shut with his heel.
Sheriff John Kienast swiped a hand down his leg a little self-consciously, trying to dislodge those few ever-present dog hairs that always found their way onto every item of clothing he had. Even the stuff that he just got back from the cleaners managed to collect at least a handful of Deke's gray and tan hairs.
Laura Poole, the receptionist from the office, stood at his side, just as awkward in a black cocktail dress. He suspected she'd much rather be knocking back a draft at the Cooper Street Bar than hobnobbing with the wealthy people that most locals felt had ruined their town. Hell, that's where he'd rather be too. Neither of them were much for this sort of scene, he knew, but she'd owed him one, and he hadn't wanted to show up alone. Just in case Dana Scully didn't end up coming.
He skimmed the room, trying to catch a glimpse of either the redhead or her tall partner. He found neither. He was still reeling a little from the mixed signals the sexy redhead had thrown him. He had been so sure, at first, that she was interested...and then her partner had walked in, and it was like she had forgotten that he had been sitting there.
Granted, he suspected that their job was fairly high in intensity, and their partnership had to be pretty strong by default, but he knew sexual tension when it hit him in the face. And he'd practically been beaten to a pulp by it in the bar at lunch. He didn't know what it meant, but he was going to go by what Dana insinuated. And the brief conversation they had had in the J Bar after her partner had left had given him the impression that she *was* interested in him. He would just ignore what had happened later, as they'd walked through town. It had been like she wasn't even aware that he was there.
Whatever any of this speculation meant. She lived in Washington DC, for chrissakes. Still, he had gone his whole life trusting his instincts...and Dana Scully rang all the right bells for him.
Speaking of bells. He caught a flash of red on the other side of the Ballroom. It was already crowded in the big room, the massive chandeliers casting a glittering illumination over the sparkling crystal, silver, satin and sequins. She stood out like a flame in a snowfield.
A red silk sheath dress adorned her tiny slender frame, accenting the hourglass swell of hip and breast. Tiny spaghetti straps bisected the creamy pale blur of her shoulders, coppery hair smoothed and tucked behind the perfection of her ears. He was momentarily speechless, the words he had been speaking to Laura frozen and long forgotten somewhere in his throat. The dress had not looked like that on the hanger when she'd taken it off the wall.
He tried to clear his head a bit by attempting to determine what it was that set her apart from every other woman in the room. It was not that she was the most beautiful, for she was not. There were supermodels here, glowing butterflies in their own respect. Tall, elegant, perfectly coifed and draped in designer clothes...almost unreal. That was part of it, Dana Scully was real. It was the tilt of her jaw, the cool steel of her eyes, the supreme confidence in herself and her ability to control the world around her that lifted her above the others.
Simply attitude. He took a half-step towards her, but stopped when he saw that she wasn't alone. Her partner stood closely at her side, their obvious height disparity making her look even more deceptively fragile and small. They did not touch, and he told himself that was a good thing...but his mama hadn't raised stupid children. And he wasn't in the habit of lying to himself.
The fact was, they didn't *need* to touch. There was something different about them now. Now they moved easily together. There was no tension between them. They looked like they breathed the same air, as if they were extensions of each other. They looked...content.
"Oh, who's *that*?" Laura's voice was ever so slightly breathless, and John saw that she was looking at Agent Mulder. Dana and her partner seemed to be eyeing Janice Creed almost warily for some reason as the hostess flitted about the room. "Jesus, he wears that suit well..." she said appreciatively.
"That's Agent Mulder." Kevin said, raising one hand to wave them over.
Even when Dana did spot him and smile, the pair of them beginning the trek across the room towards him, he already knew.
She held out her hand to him as she arrived, a smile on the red satin of her doll-like lips, and he clasped it warmly between his...returning the smile. But he could see the taint of guilt in her eyes, of apology.
He nodded slightly. Resigned.
"Dana, you look fantastic." he murmured.
"So do you." she grinned, her eyes flitting towards Laura in question.
"Agent Mulder, Agent Scully...this is Laura, I don't know if you were introduced at the office." She shook her head and they took each other's hands in turn. They all stood against the wall for a while, chatting amiably and sampling the excellent wine the servers brought them. John could see Janice Creed floating around the room, the eminent hostess, Jerrold Hyman at her side. Dana and her partner still watched the woman carefully, almost hawklike, and he wondered why.
"What is this benefit for?" Dana asked after a pause in the conversation, sipping her wine. John tried to ignore the way the red wine clung damply to her lips. Agent Mulder was still watching Janice, his eyes sizing up Hyman for some reason.
"It goes towards the Historical Society." Kienast raised his eyebrows suddenly. "Speaking of which, where the hell is Emma? You'd think she'd be the first one here."
"I haven't seen her. That's unusual. She's usually the most punctual of people. You think something is wrong? She is pretty old."
"Yeah. She is. You forget sometimes." John rubbed his jaw and then reached into his jacket for a small radio. "Excuse me a moment." He turned away from the group and spoke a few words into the handset.
He could hear the small group talking behind him.
"You think she's ok?" Mulder asked, turning back to the group, his face serious. "She seemed fine when I left her this morning."
"I'm sure its nothing." Laura replied with a slight frown that belied her words. "But I've known Emma most of my life, most of the folks in town do. She tends to involve herself in most everything, and she's sat on the council for years. She never misses a function like this."
He finally turned back from his radio, disconnecting the link with the dispatcher, satisfied that someone would go out to Em's house and see if she was ok. He turned just in time to see Dana leaning towards her partner, his dark head tipped towards hers...both comfortably sharing each other's space. She was gesturing at Janice and Jerrold Hyman. What was their interest in the adulterous pair? He could see Janice's husband sitting near the back of the room holding court at a table with some of the wealthiest men in town. Election year coming up, he thought wryly.
The music had started up and couples were streaming out onto the floor. Maybe he would have the chance to -- Before he could even open his mouth, Agent Mulder had already taken his partner's arm and was leading her out onto the floor.
Just as his radio crackled again for his attention.
The touch of his hand on her arm was sending little bolts of warmth across her skin as he grinned down at her. They had barely spoken a sentence to each other since their shower. The best thing was that they didn't need to. All the words had been spoken.
There was a contentment in her that almost made her a stranger to herself. She was trying not to fight it.
"Agents?" Sheriff Kienast's voice stopped them before they got five steps. "I have to beg your leave. Something's come up."
Scully saw Mulder's eyebrows go up, his inherent curiosity flaring softly.
"Nothing serious. One of my men found a local man's truck abandoned on Smuggler Mt. Road near an old mine. Apparently the man, Len Palmer...his wife says he hasn't been home all day. I gotta check it out."
"Excuse me." Mulder interrupted, stepping forward with a sudden intense look on his face that Scully knew all too well. "What mine? It isn't the Lucky Lizzy by chance, is it?"
John Kienast raised his eyebrows.
"Well, now how did you know that? Are you from around here?"
Mulder shook his head.
"It could be connected to the case we're investigating out here." he said, his eyes glowing with that avid look of a hound on the trail. "Do you mind if I come out with you?"
Kienast frowned slightly and then shrugged. She felt his eyes pass over her as if he'd been hoping she would want to come, and she felt another shiver of guilt run through her. She had used John. Sent him signals that she'd had no right to send.
She would have to apologize to him...explain somehow.
"Sure, if you want. Its damned cold out there right now though. Not a cloud in the sky tonight...it'll be well below zero."
"No problem." he turned to Scully and leaned down to her. She could feel a slight panic rising in her because she knew his next words. "Scully, stay here and keep an eye on Janice. See if you can find out who that guy she's hanging onto is," he said, pulling his cell phone out and flicking it on. "I'll call and let you know what I find, if anything...but I'll definitely be back soon. Save a dance for me."
She could only nod, forcing a smile to cover the sudden surge of fear that had come out of nowhere.
"You won't be able to get out of it Agent Mulder." she murmured back, stifling the need to touch him with an ease that spoke of years of experience resisting her feelings for him.
Scully watched him leave with dread creeping into her heart. It was just nerves, she thought. He paused at the doors and glanced back at her. She raised her hand just slightly, just enough for him to see, and then he was gone.
To be replaced by Janice Creed and the man whom she didn't recognize. How fortuitous. She wouldn't need to hunt them down after all.
"Where's Agent Mulder going?" The woman's voice sounded peeved. "I wanted him to meet Jerry." she said, facing Laura and ignoring Scully. She refrained from rolling her eyes since Mulder wasn't there to see it.
"He and the Sheriff went up to the Lucky Lizzy to check on something." Laura said blandly.
"The Lucky Lizzy?" The man at Janice's side raised his brows and Scully could detect a sudden, sharp interest...almost ...panic? Curious. Maybe her partner was right and there *was* some sort of link between Janice and Mulder's ghosts. "Why?"
"Someone spotted Len Palmer's car up there. Ally said that he hasn't been home all day. Just routine, Hyman. Smuggler road is closed right now, you know. Dangerous up there."
Hyman? She frowned. The name was familiar. The man called Hyman let his face smooth into a smile that almost looked genuine as he glanced down at the blonde clinging to his arm.
"Could you excuse me for a moment, Jan? I just remembered that I have a call to make."
The big man ran a hand through his thick sandy hair that Scully's trained gaze picked up as shaking just a bit. She narrowed her eyes as he made a rather hasty exit from the room.
Now, just what was he hiding?
It was cold. Really, really cold. The kind of cold that sucks the air out of your lungs and freezes your nose hairs. He'd managed to get the Sheriff to wait long enough for him to change into jeans, a warm pullover and his leather jacket. A fact he was grateful for when the sheriff's Bronco pulled up behind the beat-up Blazer and they both disembarked. He would have frozen his proverbial balls off in his suit.
The snow was deep and crusty from a day of sunshine that had melted the upper layer slightly. The Blazer was an abandoned hulk in the utter dark of the night. No moon. The only light was the glittering lake of the glowing town below them. Aspen was spread out in all its snowy beauty, the streetlights creating tiny pools of white against the blank purity of the drifts. He thought he could make out which was the Jerome.
That led him inevitably to thoughts of his partner. His heart was thrumming with a subdued joy. Somehow during the day she had done what he wasn't sure she would. She had come to her senses, so to speak, he thought with a grin. And thank God for it too. He wasn't a religious man, but it was almost enough to believe in Him just so he could thank Him.
It hadn't felt like a mere 8 days when he'd finally touched her again. It had felt more like years. He had been starved for her, starved for the feel of her skin under his fingers, her mouth under his lips, her body under --
and he was just going to have to think about that later, he told himself firmly as he followed the Sheriff around the abandoned Blazer, looking for tracks.
"Yup." Kienast said, his voice carrying crystalline in the cold night air. Mulder could see the vapor of his breath outlined in the stream of light from the halogen torch he carried. Mulder switched his own on to see what the Sheriff was pointing at. "He went down to the Lizzy. The idiot. I woulda figured that out of everyone in this town, he would have been the last one to wander into one of the mines over here. Stupid."
Shining the high beam onto the ghostly glow of the snow, Mulder could see a clear set of tracks leading down a wide ledge that branched almost invisibly from the narrow road. Two large boulders had been set at the intersection to discourage people from trying to get their car down the sloping, bike-trail sized road. The tracks led around the boulders and down into the darkness.
"Come on." Kienast said, pulling a heavy coil of climbing rope out of the back of his Bronco and looping it around his neck. "I have a feeling that we might be calling in the Mountain Rescue in a bit here, but I don't want to roust the boys out into this until we find out if we need them," he said grimly. Mulder got the impression that Kienast didn't think they were going to need anything except a body bag. The Sheriff tossed a small red pack to him and he slipped it on automatically. Then he followed the man down the ledge of old road.
It wasn't too far. Maybe only 15 minutes, and then the faintly glowing white of the snow around them vanished into a maw of unbroken blackness. The mine.
"This is the Lucky Lizzy?" Mulder asked, the cold of the night air stinging his throat when he opened his mouth. He heard a grunt of assent from the Sheriff and a crunching of snow as the man moved forward to examine the rusted metal of the gate that hung tellingly ajar, the chains that had locked it lying severed in the snow nearby. The footprints clearly led inside.
John crouched down onto his haunches at the opening, staring into the blackness of the shaft thoughtfully, his breath clouding and misting around his head. Mulder said nothing, he could tell the Sheriff was debating about the wisdom of entering the mine. A moment later he brought the radio up from his belt.
"This is John, come in Lucy, over." Immediately a crackling voice broke the stillness.
"We read you John." It was a woman's voice. "You found Len yet? Ally is here. Over."
Mulder could see the Sheriff close his eyes briefly before answering.
"Not yet Lucy. He's definitely gone into the mine though. Have an emergency medical team standing by just in case, but don't have them come up the road till I say. Over."
"Sheriff..."There was a pause. "There's something else. Pete went over to check on Emma like you asked...and, John... she's dead. Over."
Mulder felt his own heart clench up at the words. What? Kienast seemed even more stunned. He didn't move for a long time, his breath blowing in and out calmly, the radio clasped loosely in his gloved hand. Finally he swallowed and pressed his thumb onto the send button.
"Looks like it was a natural gas leak in her house. Pete said he checked and it looked like the pilot light had somehow gone out on the furnace. A...terrible accident John." Lucy's voice was tight.
Mulder was shaking his head.
"No. Sheriff, I visited Ms. Stapleton today. She was having a violent argument with a developer named Jerrold...I heard him threaten her."
"Jerrold Hyman?" Kienast asked sharply, forcing his knees to unbend with a sharp little pop. Mulder could see the cold planes of the Sheriff's face lightly lined in the indirect light of the flashlights they both carried.
*Hyman*? His name was Hyman? Suddenly Mulder would have bet his life on who Janice Creed was having an affair with.
"She said that she was the only dissenting vote keeping him from developing Smuggler."
The Sheriff's face was hard to read in the dark, but Mulder could feel the fury in the man. Apparently it was no great stretch for him to believe that Jerry Hyman was capable of murder.
"John? John are you there? Over?" the radio squawked in his hand. He glanced at it like he'd forgotten about it and then quickly raised it back up to his face.
"Lucy, send a couple of men over to the Jerome and take Jerry Hyman into custody. Laura's over there right now, let her know what's going on. Over."
There was a pause as if Lucy considered asking why, but then she just said:
"On their way John. And I have Emergency Medical on alert with Mountain Rescue paged. Over."
"Thanks Lucy. We're heading into the mine now, I'll let you know if we find Len. Over."
And then he tucked the radio back into his pocket and glanced over at Mulder.
"Are you ready?" he asked. Mulder briefly considered calling Scully, his hand hovering over the phone in his pocket, and then simply nodded. There was nothing that he could tell her at this point that couldn't wait, and for some reason he was uncomfortable with the idea of talking to his partner in front of Kienast. Not 5 hours earlier he had wanted to pull this guys balls off and stuff them in his mouth.
Hmm, rather graphic imagery, he thought with a twist of his lips. The sheriff disappeared past the grate. He snugged the little backpack on tighter and then followed Kienast into the mine, squeezing through the gap left by the ajar gate.
It was dark in the mine.
Now there were some brilliant words of description, he thought wryly. But it was true. The blackness was like a presence of its own, enfolding him with an almost physical touch... caressing his exposed face with cold velvet fingers. Utter black, severed only by the blue-white lightsabers of their flashlight beams.
"Smell that?" Kienast asked, his voice echoing loud and close in the shaft. Mulder sniffed. It smelled like dust, tickling his nose and throat, stinging his eyes.
"Shouldn't be a dust smell." John muttered. "Should smell like dampness or mildew or stale air...but not dust. There's been a cave in."
"He could still be alive," Mulder said, his eyes scanning the rough hewn walls and ceilings as they walked. His heart was pounding with shameful anticipation of seeing the ghost of Charles Hanson lumbering along the passage, not with the worry or concern he should be feeling for the missing man. He tried to re-secure his priorities as he walked.
"Maybe." Kienast sounded doubtful. "But he's been gone all day. Lack of air, exposure...it's damned cold in here."
It certainly was. His leather coat was stiff with it. A poor insulator at best, he was grateful beyond words that he'd pulled the sweater on under it. His face was numb and it felt as though anything more aggressive than a mumble would literally crack the skin off.
They walked in silence for a bit longer, stumbling over the rocky floor of the mine and the occasional discarded wooden tie.
"What are you doing here, Agent Mulder?" The words were thoughtful, quiet, echoing from ahead of him. Mulder had been waiting for the man to question his presence, not only in the mine...but in the town.
"I've been asked to keep it discreet." Mulder murmured through frozen lips. He wasn't sure he wanted to go into his theory on the Hanson ghost(s?). "But I'm here investigating an unusual attack on a woman who lives here. It's a favor mostly, to a senator back in Washington."
"And what could possibly have you out here in the middle of the night stumbling through a mine with the local Sheriff?"
"It has to do with Emma's death, I'm sure of it. But only in an indirect way," he finally said. Then he sighed, giving in. "Janice Creed had an ...unusual encounter in her home several days ago. Her husband asked us to investigate it at her request."
"Janice Creed is a flake and a golddigger." Kienast said sharply. "George is a nice enough man, but a poor judge of character. That woman is so obviously married to him for one reason and one reason only. And it ain't because she loves him."
Mulder nodded, even though he knew the Sheriff couldn't see him.
"Anyway, my partner and I found a few items in the closet where she had the attack, that we did some background checking on. Turns out both the items connected back to the late 1800's, specifically a man named Charles Hanson and a mine called the Lucky Lizzy."
Kienast was silent for a moment and all Mulder could hear was the sound of their footfalls echoing in the passage and the rasping of their breath in the frigid air.
"I'm not sure I understand. You say that you found some things that linked to this mine?"
"Yeah, some old kerosene and an ore cart bolt. Emma filled me in on the rest. That's why I happened to overhear her argument. An argument, incidentally, about the mines of Smuggler and whether she would vote to make the land here commercial. And, in a separate incident at the Hotel Jerome this morning, two people...one of whom is my partner...experienced a vision, hallucination, whatever...of a fire in the Ballroom. We later found a locket in that very room that contained photos of both Charles Hanson and his wife, Lizzy. Another link." He sighed, not certain how Kienast was taking this. "In any event, when I heard that something had happened up at this mine, it was too much of a coincidence."
"That's how you knew which mine it was before I told you." John sounded thoughtful. A long minute later he spoke again. "I don't know what the hell this is all about Agent Mulder, but you seem to know what you're doing. I'm just a simple man and all I want is to find Len and kick his stupid ass for hauling me into a mine in the middle of the goddamn night. As far as I can see, the only crime that's been committed here is Emma's murder and I have yet to hear you give me any kind of real connection with her death and these ghosts of yours."
Mulder sucked on his teeth momentarily, frowning in the darkness.
"There's something else too. Lizzy Hanson was having an affair with a man named David Hyman. She was killed in a fire that was deliberately set on the night of her wedding to him. Janice Creed, the woman who brought us here to investigate her ghost-sighting, is almost certainly having an affair. I can't prove who it is, but I suspect that it's Jerrold *Hyman*." Mulder grinned to himself. He must sound like a nut. Not like it was anything he wasn't used to.
"What the hell does that-" suddenly Kienast froze and Mulder walked right into his back, sending both of them flailing for balance on the uneven ground. "Whoa..." his voice was breathless. Mulder peeked around his shoulder, shining his flashlight in front of them.
There was a lot of dust, the flashlight beams becoming solid cylinders of light with all the particulates in the air. And his light shone down, looking for the floor, and down, and found nothing.
Nothing at all. The floor seemed to have vanished into a pit of blackness.
"Jesus." Kienast muttered. "Another step and I'd've been a goner." He knelt down by the edge of the pit and shone his light around the rim. Mulder could see that part of the floor of the mine shaft had collapsed into some kind of underground cavern. A deep one. Their lights could not see the bottom in the dusty blackness. The other side of the pit was just out of their beams' reach, a large pile of sharp-looking boulders clustered in the shadows where the shaft went on past the pit.
"Can we get around?" he asked, frowning.
John shook his head, Mulder catching the movement out of the corner of his eye.
"This is new. All this dust. This is the source. Those rocks, " he gestured the light beam across the wide hole, "they're fresh blasted. See the sharp edges? Look at the ceiling...it's a miracle this whole section didn't go down."
Mulder looked and blinked.
The ceiling was partly blown away, a huge semi-dome of granite curved up into the mountain. All around them tiny slivers and shards of glittering quartz and mica sparkled like jewels.
"He brought explosives in here?" John muttered to himself, confused.
"Someone did," Mulder said. "You think he fell?"
"No." The sheriff's voice was grim and Mulder saw that he was staring across the pit with a look of faint horror on his face. He followed the man's gaze.
There, poking just visible from the rubble on the other side, was the pale shape of a human hand emerging from under a slab of rock the size of a Volkswagen.
"Len Palmer," Mulder said, his heavy words almost an epitaph. "So do *you* think he brought explosives in here?"
"Yeah. This was no regular cave in, you can see the blast pattern. What the hell was he doing? Was he trying to blow up the mine?"
Mulder's eyebrows rose.
"What if he was? What if the Lucky Lizzy *did* collapse? How would that sway the vote in town?"
Kienast glanced over at him in the darkness, the whites of his eyes glowing faintly.
"People would inevitably start talking about safety. A couple of kids die a year from messing around in the mines." His voice was thoughtful. "You're suggesting that maybe someone, someone who wanted the council to vote for the commercialization of Smuggler's real estate, might send Len Palmer up here to make sure that everyone started to worry about the safety factor of keeping these old mines around?"
"Someone like Jerrold Hyman." Mulder finished the thought solemnly.
"And Len Palmer used to be a miner outside Leadville. He knows mines, knows explosives. If anyone in town would be able to sabotage the Lucky Lizzy, it would be him." The Sheriff sighed deeply. "So what went wrong? Like I said, Len knew what he was about. He wouldn't make a mistake like this." he gestured with one hand at the devastation.
Mulder let his lips quirk a little.
"Charles Hanson happened," he said.
Kienast was silent, then he took a deep breath through his nose.
"That's a pretty godammned weird thing to say, Agent Mulder." And then after a minute more of quiet, he chuckled. "But for Gods Sake, it actually sounds logical."
Mulder laughed out loud and clapped the Sheriff on the shoulder.
"Sheriff, that could be the first time that anyone has ever said that to me."
"I think I can see why."
The voice was not the Sheriff's. The tone was a little deeper, the words pushed together a little faster. There was an almost imperceptible quaking undertone of desperation.
Both he and Kienast spun around, their flashlights illuminating both a man that Mulder had never seen and the gun that he held.
He froze, his mind instantly mapping out a path to his own gun that sat tucked up against his stomach in the waistband of his jeans.
"What the hell do you think you're doing Jerry?" Kienast snapped, his eyes trained on the gun.
"Well, initially I was listening to the fascinating fable that your friend there was spinning for you.." he stepped a little closer to them, gesturing for them to put their hands in the air, "but then I decided that you were perhaps listening a bit too carefully." When both of their hands were up he crooked his wrist at Mulder.
"Step up against the wall there, *Agent* Mulder." he grinned. Jerrold Hyman was a large man with big shoulders, almost a head taller than Mulder was. The odds of overpowering him were slim. When he didn't move, Hyman lifted the gun up menacingly and clicked the safety off. "Now!"
Mulder did as he said, trying to keep an eye open for any slip, any mistake he might make. He glanced over his shoulder to see Hyman divesting Kienast of his gun and his handcuffs.
"Whatever you're planning here Hyman, you won't get away with it. My men all know that I'm up here. They have orders to arrest you for Emma's murder," the sheriff growled.
"First off genius, there's absolutely no proof that I killed the old bag. Secondly, who the hell is going to question your deaths in a dangerously unstable mine? Especially a mine that collapsed? It'll be a year before they can even find your bodies." he grinned. "By that time, *after* I'm cleared from any hint of wrongdoing regarding poor Emma for lack of evidence, I'll own this whole godamned hillside lock, stock and barrel." He chuckled. "You'll be dead and I'll be rich."
His words chilled Mulder. He had never had time to go over everything that Emma had faxed him with Scully. She didn't know that Hyman had threatened Emma and that he wanted the land on Smuggler. He had let the fear of their deteriorating relationship get in the way of the communication that made them a partnership. Then, later, he'd let mind-blowing make up sex do the same thing.
And now, Scully would not make the connection between his death and Jerrold Hyman.
Hyman had Kienast's gun and he forced him up against the wall a few yards away from him. Then he carefully patted Mulder down, keeping his gun trained on the sheriff. He was taking no chances. Mulder's slight hope that he wouldn't be thorough, that he wouldn't find his gun, was shattered when Hyman's hand closed around the metal shape of the weapon and yanked it out of his waistband.
Then he stepped back. The flashlights had been abandoned on the ground, creating weird, distended shadows and shapes on the wall. Hyman stood a few feet away from them, his gun still pointed at both of them.
"Now step together and hold your hands out."
They both did as they were told, Mulder narrowing his eyes, ready for any opening. He'd been in worse situations than this...
Hyman stepped up to handcuff them together. While he was snapping the cuffs on Kienast, Mulder moved, bringing his raised hand up and plowing his fist into the underside of Hyman's jaw.
Unfortunately, the big man barely flinched. Instead, he brought his gun up and fired.
An explosion of pain and sound tore through his head, agony shooting up his right side, sending shockwaves through his body. He staggered back, slamming up against the rock wall and crumpling to the uneven surface of the ground. His head was buzzing loudly, his vision spinning and doubling merrily as he struggled to stay conscious. He remembered the sensation well. The sensation of being shot.
Through a disorienting pain-sparkled haze, he watched Kienast lunge for Hyman in slow motion, cuffs swinging from his one wrist. Heard two more shots bang deafeningly in the passageway. Dust started to pour from the ceiling, small pebbles clattering and bouncing in the wild light-beams from the discarded flashlights.
He saw the sheriff contorted in the weird light, his body doing an oddly macabre dance, Hyman stepping back and away. And then the sheriff slumped bonelessly to the ground.
Blinking, trying to get his bearings, fighting the need to simply lie down and close his eyes, Mulder tried to push upright. Nausea clung to his every breath, each nerve ending sending separate SOS calls to his pain centers.
Hyman was leaning over the sheriff, there was no better time. On the strength of his will alone, he forced his body to move. To lunge.
The bigger man noticed his drunken movements just in time. With almost casual nonchalance, he swung one large fist out, catching Mulder squarely across the jaw ...and snapping him off like a light.
She hated waiting. She hated sitting. She hated not knowing.
Scully sat on a small padded bench in the foyer of the ballroom. A distance down, clustered in a tiny group, four officers, including Laura and several others, chattered like helpless children. She wanted to walk over and strangle one of them until they made something happen.
It was obvious that Hyman was not going to come back from wherever he had gone. She wasn't entirely certain why that was an issue, but Laura had said that the Sheriff had called in to order his arrest. And the sheriff was with Mulder. Generally when people who were with her partner started issuing unusual and unexplainable orders, it was a sign that Mulder was on to something.
She wished that she knew more about what this *case* was all about. She should have been talking to Mulder, learning what he was thinking. If she'd been doing what she was supposed to be doing instead of sulking and fretting, she might be with him right now. Or at least she could be making herself useful on this end. It was pretty damned clear that the Aspen Sheriff's department was a little out of sorts on this one.
Not that it was their fault, she thought with a sigh. Having Mulder's influence in anything was always a sign that anything and everything could or would go wrong. Or at least go weird.
She needed to think like Mulder. She needed to know what he thought he knew. What was it that he had said earlier in his room? He thought that the locket she'd found in the ballroom was proof that ghosts were involved in Janice's closet haunting experience. What did that have to do with Jerry Hyman?
Hyman. That was it. The man that Lizzy had left her husband for was named Hyman too. Was it an amazing coincidence? Or was it the link that Mulder had been looking for? The reason why the ghosts, if ghosts there were, were haunting Janice. Would a 100-year-old corpse of a miner want to torment a woman who was cheating on her husband? Not necessarily. But perhaps if that woman was sleeping with the descendant of his first nemesis..
God. Listen to her. She sounded more like him every day.
Instead of the frisson of disquiet that thought usually gave her, this time it only made her feel a little closer to him. A small smile curled her lips.
Her eyes were staring off into the ballroom through the open door. The benefit seemed to be going very well. People were dancing, chatting, drinking and generally having a great time. Thinning her lips, her eyes landed on Janice Creed sitting at her table listening half-heartedly to the person at her left. Her eyes were continually flitting towards the door as if she were waiting for someone to appear. Obviously Hyman.
Her eyebrows rose. The point of this whole charade to begin with was to discover if Janice was having an affair. In her book that meant that the chances of a *ghost* went down exponentially. If Janice's lover were a bit too rough, bruising her up a bit, she would need an explanation for her husband. And Hyman was a big man, capable of being too rough.
Of course, that didn't explain the voice she'd heard yelling fire this morning...or the woman who was in the hospital right now with a case of psychosomatic laryngitis. From the 'smoke' she'd claimed, though there was no sign of smoke damage to her lungs. And Mrs. Creed's affair would not explain the locket she'd found or the old kerosene. Or Mulder being up in an old mine in the middle of the night chasing ghosts.
Jesus Dana, anything seem familiar here?
She pulled the wrap a little more closely around herself, her impatience growing with her annoyance. Mulder clearly didn't believe that Janice's injuries were caused by a living person and he had left her here to pursue a lead that he didn't think was valid.
She felt a warmth at her side and the slight movement of the cushion that told her someone had taken the seat next to her. It was Laura.
"Hyman's car was spotted heading up Smuggler Mt. Road about twenty minutes ago." she said. Scully frowned in confusion.
"Isn't that where Mulder and the Sheriff are?"
"Look Dana, I'm not sure what's going on here. John thinks that Hyman might be responsible for Emma's death."
"The historian? Why would anyone kill the historian?" she asked, reaching up to rub at her temples. Couldn't someone just once simply hand her a gun and tell her where to point it?
"We've been talking it over, and we think Hyman did have good motive. It makes sense, actually. Hyman wants to develop Smuggler and he needed the council to change the zoning up there to commercial. Right now it's considered a historical landmark. Emma was the only one on the council who had refused to budge on the issue. It wasn't going to pass because of her."
She was about to just come right out and ask what that had to do with Janice Creed, with Mulder's case, when her eyes caught on a flicker in the ballroom. Her eyes were drawn to the ceiling of the huge room, to the base of one of the chandeliers.
What the hell was that? There was a vague whitish electricity dancing around the very top of the stem. She watched it in confusion for a moment. Was it shorting out?
And then, suddenly, a sheet of flame engulfed the entirety of the ceiling with such speed she barely had time to gasp.
Her mouth dropped open, her body shooting up off the bench without thinking.
"FIRE!" she shouted, running towards the three sets of double doors that led into the ballroom. The flame was a living mass, a crawling, pulsing inferno that was already spreading like a disease across the room. Already curtains were flaring into columns of orange and yellow, overhead the bulbs on the chandeliers were popping and exploding in flashpoints of glass.
The screaming panic spread across the crowd as quickly as the flames had spread across the ceiling. Instinct took over rational thought as people stampeded for the exits, billowing smoke rendering their cries hoarse and ragged. Scully felt herself smashed to one side, caught up against the doorframe as the mass of people all tried to squeeze through the 6 foot entrance at the same time.
Through the crush she could see people pushing and falling. The smoke was thickening, making it hard to breathe through a raw, burned throat, hard to see through watering, stinging eyes. The expensive silk wallpaper was burning now, giving the eerie impression that the walls were living flame...blue and green streaks in the textured fire flashed here and there as it devoured the chemicals in the fabric.
At least half the people in the room were out by the time she managed to push herself out of the press against the inner wall, crouching low. She reached up a hand towards a leftover water glass at one of the tables and she quickly doused the shoulder wrap she wore, covering her head and face with it. Burning flakes of wallpaper were floating in the heated air, instigating little fires wherever they landed...adding to the conflagration.
Through squinting, tearing eyes, she scanned the room, making sure that everyone was out...and then she saw movement through the smoke. a form.
Pushing to her feet, she crouched low and ran across the room, surprised when she approached and discovered that the shape she'd seen was actually Janice Creed shrieking and tugging at a still form.
Falling to her knees at the man's side, she clutched the hysterical woman's arm and gave her a violent shake.
"We have to get him out of here!"
Janice looked at her with blank, terrified eyes. She was completely lost in her panic. Scully didn't think. She just reached back and slapped the woman across the face as hard as she could. The blonde clasped at her cheek, her mouth half-open in stunned protest...but reason had returned.
"It's smoke inhalation," Scully said after a second's diagnosis. Creed was old, easily susceptible. "Help me drag him." Scully slipped her hands underneath the man's armpits and began to pull the dead weight as fast as she could across the carpet. Janice stood uncertainly for a moment, as if unsure if she should pick up the feet or push or help Scully pull.
And in that moment of indecision, in that one moment when Janice stood alone and separate, the massive chandelier made a tiny snapping noise far above her and then plummeted like the flaming fist of God.
The noise was deafening, overriding even that of the inferno that raged around them. Crystal shards flew everywhere like shrapnel, cutting into both her and the Senator.
And then, like it had never been, the fire was gone.
Leaving Scully half crouched on the carpeted floor of the abandoned ballroom with George Creed in her arms and the smashed remains of the chandelier covering what had been Janice Creed.
Mulder fluttered back into consciousness, aware of an oddly numbing pain in his side and filled with a disconnected lethargy. His hand moved slowly to slide down his waist and he felt the telltale wet slippery heat of his own blood. Through heavy eyes, he could see the leaping shadowy form of Jerrold Hyman as he hefted the Sheriff's unmoving form closer and closer to the pit, finally giving a last shove and sending the still form over the edge. Almost too quietly, the darkness of the crevice swallowed the person of John Kienast.
And then Hyman turned to him. Even in the gargoyle light of the passage, Mulder could see him smile.
"You gonna toss me over too?" he managed to rasp, unmanned by how weak his voice was.
"Not really a point. Not like you can do much moving now. They won't find your body. They certainly won't find his. What they *will* find is that these mines are unsafe. Silly to keep them around, really. Not like you can still use them, not like you can give tours. The logic of it will leave no doubt in anyone's mind."
"Unsafe? What are you talking about?" His voice was a rusty hinge. Mulder was trying to stall for time. He didn't know what good it would do him, but it was an instinct. Always give Scully enough time to rescue you. Mulder's rule #1.
Hyman leaned down and picked up a green duffel bag that had been resting against the wall. He unzipped it and almost cheerfully showed Mulder the contents. Nestled inside the bag were enough explosives to completely destroy the mine.
"So," he said, "It's been nice making your acquaintance, Agent Mulder. Enjoy your last few minutes." With those simple words, he picked up the bag, kicked two of the flashlights over the side ...picked up his own and disappeared around the corner.
The bastard was whistling.
Mulder lay there in the darkness for a long moment, taking low shallow breaths to avoid aggravating his wound. He was nauseous, light-headed and so sleepy...but there was no way he was going to just lie here and die. Not now. Not when Scully had decided that she did want him after all. Not after everything else they'd been through to get to this point. In his book, nothing less than a real live alien in the flesh carrying a hand-held Acme Disintegrating Raygun was going to be the end of him.
He rolled onto his hands and knees, fighting the inner blackness that threatened to overwhelm him. He hung his head and counted to three, then he forced his knees to unbend, one hand finding the rock wall to his left and using it to pull himself up. The pain was really quite terrible. Almost completely unbearable in fact, he thought as he fell back down with pathetic ease. Alright, he was just going to have to ignore it. No problem.
One hand, one knee...he began to crawl unsteadily in the direction of the now faint whistling. Hand, knee, hand, knee. He was breaking speed records here. The whistling was completely gone, the shaft silent. How far had he and Kienast come? He couldn't remember. It had been at least 10 minutes. At this rate he would be getting to the entrance sometime around Spring.
Hand, knee, hand, knee. Faster than a forest slug, faster than Grandma Mulder with her walker. He could feel hysterical laughter bubbling up in his chest and he began to hiccup as he inched his body along the rocks. His lips were wet, a tickling at the side of his mouth told him that he was spitting up blood. That sobered him. Looked like that alien with the disintegration raygun was here after all. And him without his disintegration-proof vest. The thought sent him into another fit of tired giggles and he had to fight not to fall onto his face again.
Hand, knee, hand, knee. He pushed on. Making himself do it. So weak. So hard. His arms finally gave, trembling and then simply crumpling, sending him to the floor again, rocks and gravel pressing into his cheek.
There was a light. Eyes, open eyes. Turn head. He could see a little ways down the passage. By the light of his flashlight, Jerrold Hyman had found what he had apparently decided was the best place to put the explosives. He was humming as he set explosive after explosive along the walls, shoving them into cracks and jamming them in the space between the ancient support and the rock.
He was so busy, in fact, that he did not see Mulder lying some ways down the shaft...nor did he see what Mulder was watching.
It was a man's shape, he thought, squinting through the spotty haze that filled his vision. Was that a lantern? That would explain the kerosene then. In the figure's other hand, Mulder saw the eerie shape of a large pick-axe. His mouth moved to shout a warning, but no sound came out. Nothing, not even a squeak. He paused to wonder if he had only imagined that he'd opened his mouth.
Closer. Closer. The pick was raising now. Unfortunately, Jerry had placed the last detonator. He bent to pick up the timer and that's when the boot scuffle sounded behind him.
Spinning, he laid his eyes on the shadowed figure behind him and Mulder heard a little croak of fear escape the man's mouth. He still clutched the detonator to his breast, shrinking against the side of the passage.
The voice was a death rattle, a serpent's hiss, the sizzle of flesh in a fire. It was all those things and it made Mulder's spine freeze to ice.
"She. Is. Mine." The revenant said.
No pun intended, Mulder thought with a hysterical giggle that shook his side painfully.
Jerrold could only gape and gasp like a fish pulled from a lake. He bolted. Mulder only blinked, and when he opened his eyes again, he saw...reflected in the crazy light of the flashlight...two silhouettes farther down the passage around the bend. He saw the pick axe raise...and he heard the muffled thud and the gurgled scream.
Just before the whole world exploded.
"Jesus!" She bit, "can't this damned thing go any faster?"
Laura looked over at her with a little frown.
"I don't think it would do him any good if our car tumbled off the side of the mountain," she said sympathetically. Scully clenched her arms around her more tightly, fingering the slick nylon of the borrowed Sheriff's Dept jacket. Laura was right, she told herself. "It's not much farther now. Don't worry. I'm sure everything is fine."
She narrowed her eyes at the Deputy.
Scully wasn't getting into it. Not here and not now. She glanced behind them to see the three other vehicles that followed Laura's Bronco up the side of Smuggler, their lights blinding in the deep black of the night. Ahead of them she could see the blood red taillights of the Mountain Rescue vehicles they were following.
She was just on the verge of asking how much longer again, when suddenly the dim hulking shadows of two large SUVs loomed to their left on the lip of the narrow road. The Mountain Rescue vehicles were pulling over as well and she didn't even wait for the cars to stop before she jumped out, her nylon-and-pump clad feet sinking ankle deep in snow.
She didn't even notice. Her MulderAlarm was going off. She knew what it meant, it had gone off enough in the past that she knew better than to ignore it. Besides, Jerrold Hyman had been spotted coming up here. He had to have run into the Sheriff and her partner. If everything was fine, Mulder would have contacted her long ago.
But he hadn't called. Neither had the sheriff. All bad in her book.
After the 'fire' and Janice Creed's oddball death, a situation she could not explain, nor did she have time to, she had begged to ride up the mountain with the sheriff's dept. She had not wasted time with changing her clothes. A mistake? She hadn't even thought about it. And she didn't now. Not even with the snow biting into her exposed feet. At least the heels weren't that high.
She was crunching around the abandoned trucks, looking for the tracks that would lead her to the mine, when suddenly the mountain rumbled.
She grabbed onto the side view mirror of the Blazer she was passing and clung to it as the ground 'shifted' under her feet. In the darkness of the night it was hard to see clearly, but the sudden cloud of thick, billowing dust against the starry sky was obvious.
It was coming from just below and to the side.
"Jesus!" It was one of the Mountain Rescue men. He had come up beside her. "That's the Lizzy." He muttered. He spun back to his men. "Jake, Boyd, Chris...get the blasting equipment, ropes and shovels! Tell the EMTs to bring oxygen and we might need the dogs! Call Ally and have her bring em' up!"
Scully was already running. The light of the town cast a faint light, and the brilliance of the stars added to it...it was just enough to make out the tracks and the sloping trail that led down and away from the road. Slipping and stumbling in her terrible shoes, rocks and snow lodging in the sides...she was momentarily grateful they weren't open toed. Of course, boots would have been better in general.
"Dana! Wait!" Laura's voice called out behind her and she saw the skittering illumination of a flashlight beam glancing across the landscape. She did not slow down, but the deputy and several other men caught up to her easily, passing and outdistancing her within a matter of moments.
Oh God Mulder, please tell me you weren't in there. Please tell me you're ok. It can't possibly end like this. I can't let you go now, not after I finally figured out that I wanted you to stay. She was unaware of the cold tears that were tracking down her cheeks as she ran. She simply concentrated on the trail, on not falling, on ignoring the pain in her feet and icy chill that was creeping up the ludicrously thin dress she wore.
It was an eternity. It was a second. She was there at the mine entrance, bright halogen work lanterns had already been set up, illuminating the gaping black maw of the
mine. Billowing clouds of dust still hung thick in the air, stinging her eyes and clogging her lungs. Choking back a cough, she pulled the collar of the borrowed jacket up over her mouth and nose and pushed into the mine without hesitation.
Temporary lights had already been set at intervals on the rocky, choppy surface of the shaft floor, illuminating a passageway that looked much like she'd always imagined it would. Old, splintered supports sagged and rotted in their ancient purpose, streamers of dust and pebbles still pouring down here and there from the ceiling. As she hurried along the passage, she could see the damage. Much of the walls and ceiling had fallen in, large rocks still clattering and shattering down from above. The shaft was clearly unstable. She didn't slow down.
She could hear voices from ahead, her heart was pounding fearfully in her breast as she rounded a crooked bend. Laura and three of the Mountain Rescue men were standing around what looked like a fourth figure who sat slumped against the wall.
She pushed through them, heart in her throat, eyes burning with dust and fear.
A large man she recognized as Jerrold Hyman sat against the wall almost comfortably, his wide staring blue eyes looking right at her. He appeared to be any man who might have settled against a wall for a rest, his hands loose on his thighs, legs splayed slightly. Normal of course, but for the rusted old pick axe that protruded from his chest.
Stepping forward, she touched two fingers to his still-warm throat, not expecting to find anything. She was not surprised when he had no pulse. She stepped back and glanced at Laura who stood there in shock.
"Is this Jerrold Hyman?"
She nodded, her eyes riveted on the grisly scene before her. Clearly she was not used to violent homicides. And Scully was fairly certain this was not a suicide.
"Looks like we've found the reason behind the cave in." One of the other men muttered. Heads turned his way to find him holding up a green duffel bag with the remains of several fuses and what looked like a couple leftover bricks of explosive.
Swallowing hard she walked to the end of the sweeping bend they were standing in and found herself looking at a wall of rubble and debris.
The uppermost slopes of Red Mountain were glowing with a faint peach as the sun ever so slowly climbed up its invisible ladder into the sky. Her eyes didn't see the beauty of it. Below her the town of Aspen was waking up. She could see people walking their dogs on the white packed streets, tiny forms braving the dawn chill to jog, the number of cars in town slowly building as people began to fill parking spots that would later be impossible to find.
Sometime during the night someone, Laura she thought, had helped her into a pair of warm Sorrels. She hadn't really noticed. She'd been standing out here for hours she supposed. She'd been unable to observe the incredibly slow paced efforts of the team that had been working all night to dig out the mountain. They had to go slow, they explained. The mine was unstable. They would all be killed if they went too fast. If they slacked on shoring up what they'd dug out or dug too fast, more lives could be lost.
She had watched for a long time, helping, digging with her own hands, carrying rocks...until finally she'd just turned and walked out. The pressure had been building the further in they got. She kept waiting to see a pale hand emerge, the long fine bones of his fingers, the firm square tips, the finely trimmed, slightly bitten nails. She wasn't entirely sure she could stand to watch them uncover his crushed body stone by stone. To see his beautiful face devoid of the life she so loved. God, she was a coward.
She shivered as the new sun touched her cheek with a soft warm hand. She wanted to turn away. She wanted the darkness back. It matched the emptiness that filled her like lead. The sky was transforming from a starscape into a soft rosy purple, the hints of the blue sky to come evident in pastel shades painted along the lines of the darkened mountains.
Not once during the long dark night had she thought of the dead Mrs. Creed. The dead Mr.Hyman. Nor of their mysterious ends. She didn't honestly care why there had been a pickaxe buried in Hyman's chest or why the chandelier had taken a sudden liking to Janice. None of it mattered to her. The only thing that mattered to her, the only *one* that mattered to her was buried under a mountain.
She didn't even try to tell herself that he was still alive. Optimism was his forte. She didn't think she could bear it to have hope and then have it so terribly dashed when they found him. Several of the men had tried to tell her that it was very possible that he and the sheriff were in a pocket of air. It was even likely. Most of the fatalities in these sorts of accidents, they'd told her, were not from being crushed, but from running out of air.
Well, he'd been inside the clutches of the mountain all night long. Even if he had been trapped unhurt in there, he'd likely run out of air a long time ago. That was logic. That was rationality. Nevermind that she wanted to believe that he was alive so badly it physically hurt.
The eerie half-light was streaming down into the town now, long blue shadows slipping along the icy streets, color sparkling in icicles and snowdrifts. She turned her face from it and started back into the mine. She couldn't bear the sun. Couldn't bear the beauty. It was like a knife in her soul.
The halogens still burned harsh and bright inside the shaft, but it was a light that she could deal with. Ugly and stripping, it cut everything into sharp creases of light and dark. Good and bad. Alive and dead. She stared into the entrance for a long moment, trying to make her stiff legs move, trying to make them carry her back inside.
A noise from behind her caught her attention and she slowly turned her face away from the maw.
A woman stood there in the snow, her hands folded primly before her, clasping a warm ,fur-lined shawl to her shoulders. A dark wool dress covered her from jawline to ankle, small booted feet disappearing into the trodden snow drifts.
Scully could only stare for a long moment while her brain picked apart the woman in front of her. It was, in the end, not the old-fashioned clothes, nor the hairstyle, not the plain, make-up free face...but instead it was the fact that her chest did not rise and fall, and her breath did not blow like steam into the frigid morning air.
Almost as if acknowledging Scully's realization, she nodded ever so slightly and lifted one gloved hand in a gesture to follow.
She didn't even think about it. She just went.
The strange woman walked easily through the snow without stumbling, keeping a distance of 15 feet or so between them no matter how fast or slow Scully moved. She could see that they had left the little track that led down to the mine entrance, and were now clambering over snow-covered boulders. The light grew steadier as they went, the snow picking up a warm yellow-pink tint as the sky lightened. Her guide kept moving, looking perfectly whole and real.
Up they climbed, over and down a hidden ridge, and then Scully was slipping, sliding in her too-large boots, falling and tumbling down the mountainside, coming to rest in the clutches of a scratchy dead bush...the sharp branches clawing at her flesh, drawing blood.
When she pulled herself out, ignoring the gouges in her skin, the stinging pain and the intense cold...looking for the stranger, she was nowhere to be found. The sun was touching the sides of the mountain now in long streaks of color, and she could feel the air itself warming...the smell of dawn filling her head.
Gone. She blinked and took one step further down the slope. Only to stop, poised on the brink of emptiness.
A scream hung on her lips, unsounded, as she found her foot hanging over nothing but air. A wide crack in the ground crouched before her, hidden in the snow and rocks and weeds. A gash in the face of the mountain.
Pulling back, she knelt down, her heart pounding, and peered down into the darkness. It went down a ways, but the morning light made it possible for her to see that the crack had a bottom. And she could see a pale flash of what looked like flesh far, far below.
This time she did scream. As loud and as hard as she could. She screamed for help.
Scully could not have said how long it was before the Rescue team heard her and crested the rise above her, looking down at the crack with surprise. It had felt like years. Years while she lay flat on her stomach in the snow and stared at what she now thought was a hand. She stared at it, stroking the shape of the pale blur with her eyes, willing it to move. To twitch or shake or curl...anything to show life. She felt herself calling down in a whispering voice...talking to him, pleading with him.
Even though she was not certain that it was her partner below, she had to believe it was. The alternative was despair.
Hands were pushing her to the side, draping a blanket over her shoulders. Ropes were unfurled, men shouted and called to each other. The creak of the rope and the jangle of caribeaners clanking together filled the brisk, clean silence of the morning air.
The sun was almost all the way over the mountains by the time she heard a shout from below. It was muffled and echoing and it was too difficult to read if there was resignation or urgency in it. She'd been pushed back, out of the way of the rescue team and she found herself unable to move forward and look, much as she had been unable to watch them dig in the mine. She didn't know for certain if she was strong enough to see his empty husk.
So she waited.
It was an infinity before she heard the commotion that spoke of something being hauled up. She could see several men standing at the top, breath billowing into the crisp morning air, both pulling on the rope with all their strength.
She finally got to her feet and walked like an automaton towards the crack. The orange plastic sled they had lowered into the shaft appeared and the dark head of her partner showed over the lip of it. Bloody, unmoving...but she could tell, even from her vantage, that he was alive. She could not say how she knew, and she would not examine why, not now.
It was like a terrible vise had been loosened from her lungs. They swung him to one side and let the sled crunch into the snow, exposing him to full view.
"He was half crushed under a pile of rocks.." she heard one of the men saying through a haze. She had knelt next to him, too used to seeing him hanging on the brink of life to be frightened by the amount of blood. The fact that he was alive was somehow enough to bolster her confidence, snap the life back into her.
Pulse, thready. Pupils, unevenly dilated. Fingers trailed along his long body, swelling on his sides showed broken ribs...and there.. the focus of his injuries. He'd been shot in the side. Breath catching she forced herself to internally map what the bullet might have damaged. A quick search told her that it had passed through him.
God, he'd lost so much blood. He'd been shot hours ago. How was he still alive?
Hands were pulling at her, forcing her away from him and she let them lift the sled and haul him up the hill as quickly as they could without jostling him.
She looked down at her bloodied fingers and oddly, even with Mulder's critical condition, she found herself smiling. He had made it through the night.
He would be alright.
The steady beeping was familiar. So was the starchy cardboard they called sheets. He didn't open his eyes, instead taking inventory of what they had him plugged into. The lovely tubes in his nose and mouth meant that he had to have been out for a while. It was possible he was in the ICU. The tightness of an IV pinched at his right arm and he had that all-over numbness that spoke of a sedative and painkiller. Possibly Demerol. No. He was too lucid for that. Morphine? Could be anything really.
There was one last thing to check.
He opened his eyes, a tiny groan issuing from his mouth as the light shot straight into his brain. He forced the fluttering lashes open as far as they would go and squinted into the room.
Yeah. Hospital room. Not ICU. Bright white sunlight was streaming in a window that seemed to offer a view of Aspen Valley. Hmm, nice. But not what he was looking for. It was slow going, but he got his head to slowly turn on the pillow.
Scully was curled up in a chair in the corner, her arms curled around her middle, her chin tilted down against her shoulder and her lovely mouth hanging slack. She wore a white t-shirt and faded jeans, her blue sweater pillowed under her neck. Dark circles under her eyes and the lankness of her dirty hair were the meter by which he could judge how long he had been out. He guessed at least two days, possibly more, but he didn't think so.
He let himself lie there and watch her. There had not been any doubt in his mind that she *would* be there. He knew that she would not leave him.
Almost as if she could sense his study, her own eyes slowly wrenched open revealing slightly bloodshot whites. She was beautiful. She saw him watching her and she sat up with a little start, blinking in surprise, the sweater falling to the floor without her weight to hold it there.
For a long moment the room was filled only with the quiet beeping of the machines and the muffled activity of the hospital behind the door.
And then a smile bloomed on her face, chasing away the weariness he saw there.
"Hey," she said, breaking the stillness. Her voice was like ambrosia. There had been another voice, he remembered suddenly. The voice that had kept him company in the dark of the mine, the voice that hadn't let him sleep. It had not been hers. He could remember wanting it to be her. Wanting to hear the honeyed smoke of her voice...talking, singing, whatever. But whoever it was, they had kept him alive. She...it...whoever, hadn't let him slip away. Hadn't let the void swallow him as he'd lain in that dark mountain, its weight slowly crushing the life and air out of him.
He summoned the strength to lift one hand up to her as she got up and came to kneel at his bedside, taking his fingers between hers. She brought his hand to her mouth and brushed the tips tenderly against her lips.
"Welcome back." She whispered, her eyes shining brightly with tears. He opened his mouth to speak, horrified at the squeak that came out.
"How long?" he asked.
"Two days," she said.
"We didn't find the Sheriff's body, though we did find Len Palmer's. Jerrold Hyman was discovered dead near the entrance of the mine. Someone had driven a pick axe through his chest." She shook her head. "They can't figure it out. There were no fingerprints left on the handle, no footsteps in the snow outside the mine to explain the presence of another person .."
"Charles Hanson.." Mulder said, looking her in the eyes with a faint smile. She shook her head.
"I thought you would say something like that. And I didn't even get to the part where I tell you that the pick axe is an antique. That it has an identifying stamp on it burned into the end.."
"Charles Hanson's." Mulder grinned. "I saw him Scully. I saw him drive the pick into Hyman."
"Let me guess. This was *after* you'd been shot and you were already in shock, right?"
"That doesn't change what I saw Scully. It was him. I recognized him from that daguerreotype in the locket."
She shook her head.
"Well, I don't want to have to argue with you right now, but..." she let a wry grin stretch her mouth, "I think I might just have to believe you on this Mulder. Before you go having a coronary...," she held up her hand at his mock expression of shock, "I have to tell you about the fire at the Jerome that night."
Mulder just blinked, waiting. He'd half joked to himself that there might be a fire that night.
"Over 400 people saw that fire Mulder, several were injured in their attempt to escape it. I was there. The heat, the smoke the flames...it was real. Several were even treated for smoke inhalation, just like that Jerome employee who saw the fire earlier that day. But it vanished. Like it was never there. It vanished as soon as Mrs. Creed..."
"...was crushed by the chandelier." Mulder finished solemnly, not taking his eyes from her face.
Scully sat back on her heels, smiling indulgently at him, his hand still trapped between hers. She was tracing little patterns on the back of his palm with the tips of her fingers.
"Why do I bother?" she asked. "You want to tell me how you knew that?"
"I knew that that was how Lizzy Hanson died in the 1889 Jerome fire and there was clearly some kind of link between the Creeds and the Hansons. I still don't know exactly why, but it could be as simple as Jerrold Hyman's involvement. I'm pretty sure he was having an affair with Janice. That alone might not have been enough...BUT, Hyman was not only fucking around with the Lucky Lizzy Mine...trying to use it as a reason to give Smuggler commercial zoning... he was also a direct descendant of David Hyman...the man who stole Lizzy Hanson from her husband."
Scully was blinking at him, her mouth set in a little half smile. She was quiet for a long, long moment.
"Scully?" he asked, squeezing her fingers gently. Then she just chuckled.
"You know what Mulder? I don't care. I just don't. Four people are dead--"
"Five. Hyman killed the sheriff in the mine." Mulder cut in grimly.
Scully let her eyes fall to the floor. Was that guilt in her gaze? She shook her head gently, her eyes grown a little damp.
"I thought... that might be the case." She took a little breath and returned her eyes to his. "*Five* people are dead and as far as the local authorities are concerned, only Emma's death might actually be explainable. If your theory holds water, that means that ghosts did it...and we can't exactly haul them in for questioning."
"Ghost, Scully. There were two ghosts, but Elizabeth didn't kill anyone. She was with me in the mine when I was trapped."
Scully just stared at him. Her face was oddly blank as she nibbled on her lower lip. She was debating about telling him something. He knew better than to prod her.
"No. Nevermind. I don't care." She finally repeated. "I'm just glad you're ok." Her voice lowered to a murmur and she pulled his hand up to her cheek again.
He looked at her for a long time, his mind working it out. She was right, there actually was nothing left for them to do here. In his book the case was solved, but the Aspen authorities wouldn't see it that way. So let them file the mystery away somewhere, let them hunt for the man who drove the pickaxe into Jerry Hyman's chest. Let them puzzle over the 'fire that wasn't. Let George Creed sue the Jerome for the wrongful death of his adulterous wife.
He let his finger stroke the slope of her cheek thoughtfully. This case had been something of a crucible. Certainly, at least for him, it had proven that things had definitely changed between them, much as Scully had feared. But as far as he was concerned, it was for the better.
Looking at her now, he could see that she felt the same way. That alone was enough to make him file away the Hansons and the Creeds into the vaults of his mind, case closed.
It was why he'd come, but he was leaving with a lot more than another X-File. He had what he really wanted.
The council convened two days after the FBI agents had left town for the East coast. A brief memorial was spoken for Emma Stapleton, business was discussed, as were points from the previous meeting. Several small issues were raised, argued over and tabled for the next meeting.
At the last, almost as an afterthought, the vote was called for the zoning change on Smuggler mountain. With the hubbub over the Lucky Lizzy and its subsequent collapse, the change was unanimously denied and measures were suggested for keeping the public off the mountain.
Smuggler still loomed over the town, its rather barren slopes to remain clean of development.
Still riddled and gutted and angry, but left alone ...for now.
"In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot
of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move."