Title: Moonlight Becomes You
Summary: Mulder and Scully investigate a house along the coast of Michigan where a number of men have disappeared over the last fifty years without a trace of foul play.
Pentwater,Michigan October 15, 2000
"I found the mugs, Honey!"
Her voice echoed throughout the large, still mostly empty house. She raised her head as she crouched over the moving crate, unwrapping what seemed like yards of paper from the collection of cups. Cocking her head slightly, she listened for an answer. When there was none, she continued to rummage through the excess of wrapped kitchen supplies, finally uncovering a rose china teapot.
"Hey!" she shouted happily. "I found your mother's teapot. You can call and let her know we can now enjoy a proper cup of tea." She turned her full attention back to the bottom of the box. "Now all I need is the tea," she mumbled to herself. "Aha!" she cried out triumphantly, holding the canister of tea high over her head. "All is right with the world!"
She stood up and dusted her hands on her worn jeans, leaning back a little to see through the hallway and into the bedroom where her husband had gone to lay down moments before. "Would you like a cup of tea; do you think it might warm you up?"
Still, there was no reply.
Margaret placed her fingers over her mouth as if she were physically shushing herself. "He must be asleep," she murmured as she crept down the hall to the bedroom they had begun to share three days before.
"Honey?" she ventured in a whisper as she stood in the threshold, looking into the darkened room.
Frowning, she took a tentative step inside.
The covers were bunched in the form of his body, and she could just make out the color of his hair as it poked out slightly at the site of his pillow.
Nodding slightly to herself, she turned to go; but something caught her eye. Squinting, she peered fiercely into the semi-darkness as it seemed the blankets were slowly deflating and the color of his hair beginning to fade into shadow.
"Charlie?" she called out, her voice trembling slightly.
As she ran to his bedside, the blankets seemed to flatten to the bed with a sudden rush of air.
Panic closed her throat, and the acidic taste of terror filled her mouth. Yanking the blankets from the bed, she stared wide-eyed at the completely desolate mattress. With no reasonable purpose, she stripped the sheets and mattress pad. "Charlie!" she screamed over and over again as if he were simply out of the range of hearing.
When the mattress was bare, she dragged it from the box spring, weeping and finally gagging as she pulled the box spring from the frame and, of course, found nothing but dust.
"Charlie!" she screamed louder than she would ever have thought possible, spinning in a tight, slow circle. But there was no one to hear.
Mulder glanced at his sleeping partner as he maneuvered his car through the winding road along the Lake Michigan shoreline. She hadn't stirred or expressed the smallest amount of cynicism in the last thirty minutes, so he was assured that she was sound asleep. The problem was that he missed her, and he felt foolish even voicing that feeling in his head. He opened his window slightly and let a rush of air flow through the car, rustling her hair slightly but still not awakening her. Sighing, he turned his attention to the scenery.
He felt a certain at-homeness when he was near any large body of water, and he liked the way small towns looked when they had one foot on the land and another dug into the sand. He found the little towns on his way up the coast of Michigan to be similar to those he grew up near in the summers of his youth, although this coastline was a little less harsh. Sighing, he hunched his shoulders and relaxed them again. The small nod of his mind toward his childhood memories made him feel melancholy, and his eyes fell once again on Scully as a source of salvation from that feeling.
Pushing the button at his elbow, his window lowered, bringing forth a breeze that was just short of hurricane force. His partner shifted once and then took in a deep breath. Mulder felt slightly guilty but more satisfied that she would soon shy his memory away from the painful observations his mind had begun to undertake.
"Mulder?" she murmured in a voice still sweet with dreams.
"Hmm?" he answered almost under his breath as he attempted to hide the affection with which suddenly overwhelmed him.
"Could you close your window a little?"
"Oh, is that bothering you? I'm sorry," he replied in what he hoped was a sincere tone of voice and raised the window.
She raised her head a little more and looked at Mulder, a little confused. "We're under five minutes from where we're going," he offered.
"That's a little vague," she observed, taking in another deep breath.
"The lake smells good, doesn't it?" Mulder said, skirting what he felt would be the next few questions.
Opening her eyes and glancing in the direction of the lake, she smiled lightly. "I can't even see it yet."
"It has to be just beyond the pine trees."
"I know it's naïve, especially given all I've seen with the X-Files, but I find it hard to conceive of a cluster of crimes being committed in this setting."
"M-hm," Mulder agreed quietly, glancing over at her.
"Are the files in the back seat?"
"Sorry, Scully, I put them in the trunk."
She leaned forward slightly, frowning suspiciously at Mulder. "First you put them through baggage check and now they're in the trunk? Mulder, is there something you don't want me to know about this case."
"No!" he responded a little too quickly for Scully's taste. "I just...I told you what was in the files."
"Yes, Mulder," she replied, leaning back once more. "You told me about multiple unexplained disappearances in a small lake-side town. That's all you've told me, and that usually means one thing."
Mulder chuckled dryly. "What's that?"
"That you think if you tell me the details I won't come with you."
"What can I say, Scully? I crave your company."
"Uh-huh. What aren't you telling me, Mulder?"
"Nothing," he protested adamantly. "Look, I'll fill you in when we get there."
"How about you fill me in now?"
Mulder sighed heavily. "Because we're almost...there. We're here," he announced, pulling into the small half- circle drive that led to the front of an almost impossibly charming building that might have best been described as a cottage if it weren't so large.
"We're where?" Scully asked, squinting at the white stucco walls and cheery red shingles that sat placidly behind a row of tangled roses.
"Here. Where the disappearances have occurred."
Slowly she pulled herself from the rented sedan, watching the house suspiciously all the while. "All of the disappearances happened here?" she asked ducking slightly to direct her question into the car.
"Yeah," Mulder said casually as he turned off the engine and quickly sprung from the car.
"What? Did a whole family disappear?" she asked, turning once again to look at the house.
"No," Mulder answered as he stretched out his back next to the car. The air smelled sweet with roses and pine mingling with the smell of the breeze from the lake. He headed off to the trunk.
"Mulder, either stop answering all my questions with one syllable grunts or I'm getting back into the car and heading back."
"How could you even think about doing that, Scully? Have you no sense of the aesthetic?" he asked with a grunt as he pulled their suitcases from the trunk.
"Maybe not, but I have a sense of when I'm getting my chain pulled." She stepped in front of him as he began to make the trek up the flagstone walk. "Tell me now, Mulder," she said crossing her arms in front of her.
"Scully, I love it when you're forceful, but these suitcases are heavy."
"Then put them down," she answered, unbudged.
"Can't I put them down inside, get a drink and then tell you what I know?"
She watched his face for a moment. So many people would describe him as inscrutable, but Scully felt he wore his every emotion on his sleeve. It didn't take a genius to know he was concealing something. In fact, Scully even knew the general reason why. Mulder believed something that he knew Scully wouldn't buy and he wanted the entire weight of the evidence to exist in the surrounding where the crimes occurred in order to persuade her. She took a step back and let him pass. "This better be good," she warned.
"Wow," Mulder breathed as he set down the luggage just at the top of the steps that led into the large sunken living room.
Scully stepped up behind him. "Wow, indeed," she concurred.
Mulder turned in a slow circle taking in the abundance of luxurious appointments: leather furniture, crystal light fixtures, elegant oriental rugs and the latest of every high tech appliance. He finally stopped at the glassed-in wall at the far side of the rooms. Slowly he stepped down into the living room and toward the panoramic view of the lake offered by the complete wall of windows. "He told me it was beautiful, but-"
Mulder glanced at her. "The guy who alerted me to this X- File."
"And this guy is...?"
Mulder lifted his shoulders slightly with a small tremble. "Somebody must have left a window open," he observed.
"Mulder, if anything, this house is extremely stuffy. It could use airing out." She started toward the doors.
"Well, I feel a definite chill," he persisted.
Scully turned toward him. "Oh no you don't, Mulder."
"What?" he asked, his face set in exaggerated innocence.
"I've seen The Sixth Sense."
"Really? Was it good?"
"Like you don't own a copy on DVD," she replied.
"You're not making any viable point, Scully."
"Actually, I'm making two. You are obviously trying to manipulate me into believing there is some sort of otherworldly being at work in this house," she said dryly as she opened one door and then the other and stood facing the breeze that filled the dappled room with sweetness.
"Manipulating you? I have never tried to manipulate you!"
"Just because you haven't been successful doesn't mean you haven't made the effort."
"Well, even if I have in the past, and I'm not saying I have, I am not trying to manipulate--" He shook his head slightly in irritation. "Why would I be trying to manipulate you?"
"Oh, I don't know. Maybe because you know that the evidence here is so paper thin that without a little manipulation you would have never gotten me to pack my bags, let alone get on a plane to the Midwest."
"Come on, Scully. Everyone knows you keep a packed bag in your closet. There was no packing involved." He paused, frowning slightly, as he felt a stirring of air at the back of his neck.
"What?" Scully asked, her voice now slightly tinged with concern although her cynicism still pushed through.
"Nothing," he answered as he rubbed the palm of his hand under his collar. "I'm probably just trying to manipulate you," he replied with a smile, as he closed the doors she had opened.
"I wouldn't be at all surprised," she murmured, watching him closely.
"You had a second point," he told her as he landed heavily in an overstuffed, leather chair and threw his feet on the matching ottoman.
"A second point?"
"You said you had two."
"Oh," she replied as she circled him slightly. Something about his expression, his posture, was setting off her alarm systems. "You don't have a DVD player."
"So you're a sci-fi geek, Mulder, and a great deal of the drivel you spout comes from lame horror movies."
"That is not true," he exclaimed with wounded indignation. "I have studied the paranormal from every conceivable source and drawn my own conclusions. The drivel I spout comes from my own observations."
"You, lame horror movies -- what's the difference?"
"People have sex in horror movies and then other people try to kill them. People just try to kill me."
"A subtle yet very significant difference," Scully observed with a small smile as she sat opposite him on the coffee table and observed him.
"And The Sixth Sense was not lame."
"Point taken," Scully said, nodding slightly as Mulder rolled his head back on the back of the chair. "So are you going to tell me?" she asked him, although her attention was overwhelmed by her concern for Mulder and the desire to feel his forehead.
Mulder nodded, slowly opening his eyes. "Keep an open mind."
"Famous last words," Scully replied.
"Five people have disappeared from this house and were never found again."
Scully leaned forward slightly, her hopes rising that an actual crime had taken place here. "You told me that," she observed, betraying none of her inner feelings.
He bit his lip and cocked his head to one side as if stretching out the muscles. "Five separate people since 1948. The locals think that some sort of...siren?" he squinted and lowered his head. "Some sort of siren is responsible." "A siren," she echoed flatly
"Like in Greek mythology? The ones that called sailors to their death with some sort of-"
"Song. Yeah, Scully, exactly like that."
"Is that what you think, Mulder?"
"I haven't made up my mind yet, Scully. I wish you could try to do the same."
"I haven't made up my mind, Mulder. I don't have enough information to make up my mind. But I know men aren't being called to their death by mythical beings that live in the lake."
"How? How do you know?"
"Because what you're talking about is a myth, Mulder; it's local folklore."
"Fine, Scully. Then we need to find another explanation because, to me, five people gone is a highly significant number of lives lost."
"I agree, Mulder. But we can't discount these disappearances have happened over the course of fifty years--"
"So what are you saying? That these disappearances are coincidental?"
"It's unlikely but not completely out of the question."
"Scully," Mulder murmured in exasperation.
"What? What, Mulder? Are you saying coincidence is less likely than sirens calling occupants to take a fatal dip in Lake Michigan, one after another?"
"It doesn't sound like the worst idea right about now."
Scully sighed loudly and rose to her feet. "I'm going to check out the other rooms," she announced wearily and wandered off.
Mulder took a deep breath and rose slowly from his chair to take in the view at the windows, aware of the shivering presence at his back but not wanting to admit it to himself and especially not to Scully. After a minute, he felt the need to seek her out. "The guy who called me said we could stay here," he called out as he sought Scully out. "He said he'd even stock the fridge."
"I could have told you it was a guy who stocked the fridge," Scully returned from the kitchen.
"How's that?" Mulder replied as he rounded the corner to join her.
"Beer," she observed as she closed the refrigerator door. "And Cheetos," she finished as she went through the mostly bare cupboards.
"Good thing I brought my own sunflower seeds," Mulder observed.
Scully spared him a quick glance and then did a double take. "Are you okay, Mulder?"
"Okay? I'd like to think of myself as a little better than okay."
"You're kind of pale and you look..."
"I don't know...odd." She covered the ground between them and placed her hand on his forehead. "You're burning up!"
"Actually I'm really cold."
She stepped back and studied him. "Were you feeling okay in the car?"
"Yeah. I'm okay, Scully."
"You're okay except for a pretty serious fever."
"I feel fine except I'd like to see if that fireplace works."
"It must be chills from the fever. You better go lay down."
"Lay down!" he protested a little half-heartedly. "I'm all right, Scully."
"Mulder, there is no way you feel okay. Not with that fever. I think we better get back in the car and see if..."
"See if what? Scully, the worst thing that could possibly be happening here is that I'm coming down with the flu. So what are you going to do? Check me into the hospital?"
"Look, I'll make a deal with you," he told her, bending a little to look into her eyes and touching her shoulders. "There's a small store just a couple of miles up the road. If you'll go up there and get something for dinner, I'll lie down and try to take a nap. If I feel worse when you get back, you can have me put to sleep. I'll do whatever you say. Okay?"
"Stop breathing on me, Mulder," she said with mock sternness.
"Deal?" he insisted.
"Whatever I say?" Scully clarified.
"Scout's honor," he said.
"I think we've already established that you were an Indian Guide," Scully replied. "So don't try that with me."
"Damn," Mulder mumbled with a small smile.
"Okay, let's go."
"Are you going to tuck me in?" Mulder asked as he followed her down the hall.
"Yup," Scully replied, rounding the corner into the bedroom.
"And make soup for me?"
"I'll make soup out of you if you don't knock it off."
Scully approached the bed and pulled the covers down. "At least the sheets appear to be clean," she observed as she turned back to Mulder. "Come on," she directed as she gestured to the bed.
"How many fraternization codes do you suppose we're violating right now, Scully?" he asked as he undressed.
"I don't think we're breaking any new ground," she answered with a small smile.
"You don't suppose we're in a rut, do you, Scully?" He climbed in the bed.
"I'll let you know when I think that's happened."
"Mm-mm. Good," he replied, but just barely. He glanced up at her as she leaned over him, pulling up the covers. "Maybe you ought to leave your gun here if you're going to Ma and Pa's Friendly Emporium."
"Is that what it's called?" she asked, slightly appalled
"Nope," he answered, his eyes drooping. "See if they have marshmallows, okay? I'm just going to sleep a little while," he replied, his last words muffled in the blankets as he settled in.
"Okay," she answered, watching him all the while, her fingers against her lips. "Mulder?" she said quietly to no reply. She frowned slightly and touched his head again. "Mulder..." she mused, her voice trailing off.
"You're not from around here," observed the checker as she ran Scully's groceries up the conveyor belt.
"No, I'm not," Scully replied.
"How long are you in for?" the elderly man asked as he bagged her groceries.
"Umm, not long," she replied distractedly, glancing at her watch.
"Where are you from?"
"Wait! Don't tell me. This is my specialty," he offered with a touch of bravado.
"Your specialty," Scully echoed flatly, not sure of what he meant but wary of encouraging more conversation, which seemed to slow his bagging efforts to a near standstill.
"Yup, you bet. I can tell where a person's from just by looking at 'em and, you know, hearin' 'em talk."
"Is that so?" she replied a little anxiously as she watched the extremely slow journey of her groceries from the conveyor belt to the bag completely halt.
"It's true," added the woman who had matched his speed at the checkout, leaning the side of her bottom against the conveyor belt as she rang the last items. "Nobody's ever come through here Andy couldn't tell where they were from."
Scully nodded. "That's very interesting but--"
"One guy had come all the way up from Lawrenceville, Georgia," the bagger, who was apparently named Andy despite the nametag on his shirt that identified him as Burt, replied. "Now I don't know about all those little podunk towns, but I sure recognized his accent to be like that of Jimmy Carter. You know? The ex-president?" He peered at Scully expectantly.
"Yes, I know. Could I just ask--"
His hand stalled over the bag. "Now that was a fine gentleman, wasn't it? Jimmy Carter, I mean. Just fine. Despite having the lust in his heart and all."
"It's better there than some places it could be," the checker observed.
Andy gazed at the checker, apparently confused for the moment just before he dissolved into explosive laughter. "Ain't that the truth?" he gasped, reaching out and grasping Scully's arm. "Ain't that just the truth?" Suddenly his laughter turned into spasms of coughing and gagging.
Scully took hold of his arm. "Are you all right, sir?"
"He's okay," the checker answered laconically. "That's $21.53."
"Sir?" Scully insisted as she leaned over his bent form. He nodded briskly, and slowly his coughing subsided. Finally, he took a deep breath and straightened, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "'Course, it's none of my business."
"I'm sorry; what is nones of your business?" Scully asked, silently assessing his condition.
"Where someone's lust is, you know...located. New York?"
Scully took in a sharp, agitated breath. "I'm sorry; I'm not following." She reached out for the closest can she could reach. "I wonder if I could help here."
The elderly man grasped her hand as she reached for a tin of coffee. "No, ma'am. Now what would happen if you got home and your groceries were all a mess because they weren't packed properly?" He shook his head wearily. "No, ma'am. It's best to leave these things to professionals." Slowly he stretched out his hand and then hovered over the remaining groceries. "Scranton?"
"Sir?" Scully inquired.
"Are you from Scranton?"
"Damn! I thought I had you. Columbus?"
She glanced at the idle checker, who gazed at her with an unveiled hostility. "That's $21.53," she pronounced again, holding out the palm of her hand.
Scully took the money from her purse and handed it over, all the while eyeing the non-existent process of filling her bags. Looking back at Andy, she felt a sense of anticipation as his hand hovered over the last item-- Mulder's bottle of aspirin. "Chicago?" he wavered hopefully.
"You know what?" Scully replied. "That's absolutely right," she lied with a thin smile.
"I knew it!" he crowed. "Didn't I tell you?"
"It's absolutely amazing," she replied as she gathered her bags.
"What are you doing here then? Vacation?" the checker asked as she used her pinkie to scrape at the edge of what was left of her lipstick.
Scully stalled, feeling quite certain that an honest answer might keep her here indefinitely. But having just openly lied about her origins, she found herself incapable of lying again. "I'm an FBI agent and--"
"Oh, my God!" the checker called out so loudly that someone stuck their head from the edge of an aisle to gauge the emergency. "You're not staying out at the Elliot house, are you?"
"The Elliot house?"
"Yeah. White stucco job out to the lake?"
She dipped her head in acknowledgement.
"You must be the FBI agent!"
"That's right," Scully agreed and worked against rolling her eyes with all she was worth.
"You're a braver gal than I," the checker observed.
"Me too," the old man offered, nodding gravely. "'Cept for the gal part. Nobody accused me of that so far anyway," he laughed heartily, and Scully watched him for a moment to be sure he wasn't going to laugh his way to a heart attack. Luckily, this time he had not been so dangerously amused.
"I hope you're not out there alone," the checker observed as she picked at whatever she had found earlier on the edge of her mouth that she now held within her extraordinarily fake nails.
Scully's instincts drew her closer to the odd couple. "Is there something you can tell me about the house?" she asked, shifting her groceries against her hip.
"Just that anybody who's ever lived here for any amount of time would never go anywhere near that house."
"Poor girl," Andy added, shaking his head sorrowfully.
"What girl?" Scully asked, barely covering her frustration.
"Her name was Amelia," the checker supplied.
"No...uh, her name was old fashioned like that though. Like that child star..."
"Oh, for Cry Pete, it was a woman!"
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Scully interrupted, pulling on the bags. "Can you just tell me--"
"Oh, wasn't she darling?"
"Specially in Meet Me in St. Louis--"
"Okay, that's about it," Scully said sharply as she placed her bags back on the conveyor belt. "What happened to this woman, whatever her name?"
"Oh well, nobody here would have ever bought that house. Has a history you know."
"Sirens," Andy whispered.
"Sirens," the checker confirmed, nodding gravely, her deeply shadowed eyes wide with sincerity.
"But she came in from some big city," Andy added.
"Maybe from Chicago, like you."
"And she bought the cursed thing. Next thing you know her husband--"
"Well, he just, disappeared."
"Phht," Scully repeated flatly.
"Just like that," Andy confirmed, attempting to snap his fingers but apparently not possessing the strength.
"She nearly went crazy. Came into town screaming about her husband being sucked into the house."
"Sucked. Into the house," Scully replied, wearing her incredulity as plainly as the arch in her eyebrow.
"I know it sounds crazy," the checker admitted.
"Sure is. Everyone knows there's a siren in the lake," Andy said with a roll of his eyes and slow shake of his head.
"For Lord's sake. Whoever heard of a siren in the house?"
They both nodded at her, apparently serious in their assertions.
"She left all of her things there -- every stick of furniture. Said she never wanted to see anything connected to that house again," the checker informed her, nodding with every word.
"Well," said Scully, "that's a very interesting story."
"Are you going to write it down?" Andy asked. "They always right it down on TV."
"You know, I think I can remember this," she told them, attempted the smallest of smiles. She nodded as if she had actually accepted the story and started out before she thought of one last question. She turned, half way to the door and asked, "Do you know who called my partner?"
"Yeah. Fox Mulder."
"Is that his real name?"
Scully sighed. "Yes. Do you know who called him in on this?"
"Is he out there at the lake with you?"
"Yes, he is."
The cashier raised her eyebrows pointedly. "He's not your boyfriend, is he?"
Scully puffed out a sharp exhale of irritation. "I'm sorry to be blunt, but I can't see where...he's my partner," she finally amended to shorten the conversation.
"Well, I know it's none of my business," the cashier said in an injured tone. "I just thought you should know that the siren-"
"In the lake," Andy clarified.
"Yup, everyone who's went missing over the years has been someone's husband--"
"I have never gotten used to that term," Andy said with a shudder. "Lover."
Scully dropped her head to her chest, closed her eyes and willed herself to be patient. "You were going to tell me who called us in."
"Oh! Bobby Bartlett."
"He's the real estate agent here in town."
"Not much to do, though."
"Folks here just about always stay put."
"Unless they're called into the lake," Scully observed wryly.
"That's right," the checker replied, wearing her offense as heavily as her makeup.
"Why would the real estate call the FBI?" Scully asked.
"Well, he heard about your partner on at TV show," Andy replied.
"Jerry Springer," the checker added curtly.
"And he thought that if he could prove the place was haunted, why he might be able to sell the house to someone who goes in for that stuff..."
"You know, supernatural."
"We don't go in for that kind of stuff around here."
"What kind of stuff?" Scully asked before thinking.
"Haunting, for Cry Pete!" Andy exclaimed, peering at her as if she might be attempting to disguise a mental disability.
"So, basically, this Bobby--" Scully prompted.
"Called us in to help sell a house he can't get off his hands."
"Not a bad idea if you ask me," confirmed the checker.
She drew her lips into a tight line. "Thank you for your help," she said briskly as she headed out the door, her frustration with Mulder building with every step.
"You know, if she's one of those FBI agents, she's probably from Washington DC," the checker observed.
"Probably just grew up in Chicago."
Mulder was awakened by his own shivering. Gathering the blankets tighter did no good, so he finally opened one eye and then the other. He thought of the large stone fireplace in the main room of the house and wondered if there were any logs available and whether it had a gas start. One more shudder and he gathered the blanket about him and headed from the room.
The sun sprinkled the room with lacy shadows as it made its way through the branches of the trees that surrounded the home. He felt warmer with every step he took into the center of the house. Finally he shrugged the blanket off, leaving it on the floor behind him and stood momentarily fixed by the scene outside the glass walls. The lake was a stunning background as it lapped against the shore just beyond the grouping of straight and narrow pine trees and a small sandy expanse.
After a moment, he glanced around the room, puzzled. "Scully!" he called out, his voice cracking with unshed sleep. When there was no answer, he cleared his throat against his hand and called out again. The door to the back deck was slightly ajar so he walked toward it, drawing his hand over his face as he went. Sleep still held him in a velvet grasp, and he attempted to physically shake it off -- to no avail. When he reached the open door, he stuck his head just outside. "Scully," he called once more.
"Pardon?" came an unexpected voice.
His head snapped around to behold a woman he hadn't encountered before. Her skin was pale as fine porcelain and her hair was wave upon wave of tightly ringleted red hair, reaching all the way down to her tiny waist. She was petite and eye catching; her wide eyes holding him firmly in her grasp. She appeared surprised but not frightened or even startled.
"And who might you be?" Mulder asked, stepping out onto the decking and glancing around for further surprise guests.
"Who am I?" she echoed, laughing slightly. "I suppose I should be asking that of you."
"Why's that?" Mulder challenged.
She swept her eyes from his stocking feet to his tousled hair with something akin to affection. "It's my house, isn't it?"
"Last time I looked. And yet here you stand dressed for bed...or something of the sort, questioning me about my identity."
She turned her head in what might have been a show of petulance if it had not been done with a hint of a smile. Mulder studied her in profile as she leaned on the railing and gazed out at the lake. Her face contained the old- fashioned sweetness of a Gibson Girl and a few roses were scattered in her hair.
"Are those roses from the garden here?" Mulder asked, frowning slightly at his level of distraction. He felt as if he were in the distance watching himself behave in a highly uncharacteristic manner. Then he smiled and nodded as the realization came to him that he was still asleep. His surroundings held all of the earmarks of a dream: too beautiful a day, too beautiful a woman, along with an emotional reaction that didn't track with him. Where he should have been suspicious or at least curious, he felt at home and relaxed, as if he had been waking up to this woman for years or decades. He felt a greater extent of comfort as he accepted his conclusion and merely went along with the heart-thumping attraction that possessed the quality which only appeared in dreams and musicals, the dream theory being the better of the two. When you hear hooves, think horses, not zebras, Scully always said.
"Do you hear that?" the woman asked, with a slight gesture toward the lake.
He raised his eyebrows questioningly. At first he heard nothing but the breeze and the rustle of the trees, and he smiled up at it. It really was a nice dream, a nice change of pace from his usual dark and unsettling nighttime fare. But then he heard the music, just barely as it wafted over the lake, like the scent of pine at Christmas.
He nodded at her, and she took a step closer. No, he decided, it was she that smelled like pine...and roses and the freshness of the water. Oh, now he understood. He was combining her with the house in his subconscious. Funny, he thought. It was strange to be so aware in the course of a dream. It must mean something, he decided, and then tried to study the details more carefully in order to decipher it when awake.
"I love this song," the woman said plaintively. "Will you dance with me?"
He held out his arms with no hesitation. After all, a stunning woman wants to hold you in her arms while you are asleep and not responsible, you go with it, right?
As she started to sway, he felt an overwhelming sense of being drawn tightly within her, as if he melded into her body, and it was intoxicating. He nestled his face into the arousing scent of her hair and breathed in deeply. He felt his limbs grow heavy and warm; but she seemed to keep him upright, so he relaxed more deeply.
"This is our song now," she whispered. "Every time we hear it, we'll think of this afternoon when you loved me."
She was past charming, past beguiling. The sight of her holding out her arms to him had made him want to weep, with what emotion, he couldn't say. Relief? Joy? Delight? Okay, he thought. Fine, we'll be together and grow old and she will love me every day of my life and I will be so grateful. "Our song," he finally managed to mumble into her shoulder where he seemed to reach effortlessly despite the difference in heights. Dreams, he thought, dreams. He continued to dance as he smiled.
"Mulder!" Scully called as she marched into the house, embroiled in the information she now had. She threw the groceries down on the kitchen counter and went to rouse him from the bed, to tell him they were leaving. She had yet to lend her talents to real estate sales and wasn't about to start now.
She pushed his bedroom door open with her fingertips and saw his outline under the covers and was slightly derailed. She wondered if he had become sicker since she was gone. Quietly, she entered and headed toward his bedside. Looking down at him, she found she couldn't see well enough to feel for fever; so she went to the window and pushed the curtains back. She blinked hard in the light that poured into the room and turned toward Mulder. Irritated that she found herself almost completely blinded by the spotting from her brief glimpse into the sun, she reached down with her hand to touch him but drew it back quickly. Something about him was incomplete, she thought, or...or...she couldn't decide in the end what had disturbed her, so she touched his head once more. "Mulder?" she said quietly. He didn't respond at all. Carefully, she held out her hand and took hold of his shoulder and shook him. "Mulder?"
There was a sudden rush of something akin to panic that rose up in her belly and seized her roughly, shaking her core. But Scully never let panic lead her, so she brushed it aside and took hold of Mulder, shaking him roughly, calling his name as if he were away at some distant place. To her relief, he stirred but certainly not to the degree she expected, so she continued to shake him and prod and repeat his name until he looked into her face, puzzled and confused. "Wh-what's the matter?' he finally managed to ask.
"Mulder, you weren't responding," she told him as she looked into one eye and then the other.
"I was sleeping," he said off-handedly.
"No, you were more than sleeping. I think you might have been unconscious."
Mulder felt as if he were wrapped in felt. He couldn't reach through the fog that surrounded his mind to reply, so he nodded briefly and tried to go back to sleep.
"No, you don't," Scully admonished. "I'm taking you to a doctor."
"You are a doctor," he pointed out.
"And as your doctor, I'm recommending you see someone else. Something's wrong with you, Mulder. Something I can't diagnose by taking your temperature and your pulse. Now sit up, so I know you won't fall asleep."
"Come on, Scully," he struggled to reply. "I'm having an amazing dream, and I think it might be a clue to why we're here."
"I'll give you a clue to why we're here. Somebody named Bobby Bartlett is trying to make Employee of the Month."
"Bobby Bartlett?" Mulder echoed, genuinely confused.
"Come on, Mulder," Scully said, frowning at him, gauging his condition with more than a little anxiety. "Bobby Bartlett, the real estate agent."
"Oh! Oh yeah. He can't sell the house because of the siren," he said with a small smile and a twist of his head into the pillow.
"Oh, no, you don't," Scully said pulling on his arm, attempting to make him upright. "Please, Mulder. Please try to sit up and stay awake while I get our things."
Mulder sighed loudly and dramatically. "You are such a nag." But he struggled to do as she asked, grasping the headboard and pulling hard to make himself upright. Finally, Scully took hold of his free arm and attempted to help. "There," she said as she propped him up. "All right?"
He nodded. "If I still feel sick when I get to school, can I call you to come get me?"
"You're going to stay upright, right?"
"Right, right," he responded with a grave salute.
"I'm going to get our things together and we're going to go, okay?"
"I wish you'd change your mind. I'm sure I'll feel better in the morning."
"Sorry," she said with no hint of apology.
"Scully," he attempted to call out, but his voice almost escaped him. He cleared his throat hard. "Scully, you're making way too much of this. I was just tired from the drive."
"That might work with someone else, Mulder, but I've seen you drive much longer with much less sleep and you've always been perfectly fine."
"Don't you want to hear about my dream, Scully?" he asked as she poked her head in to check on him.
"I have a dream, Mulder. I dream that someday I'll be able to file a case report that won't end up being passed around as the latest joke from down in the basement."
Her voice seemed so far away. He thought she had been just there in the hall. He yawned with gusto and pulled himself a little painfully to his feet. "I dreamt there was a woman and I had her mixed up with the house, you know? Scully?" He felt a little stronger; and he went out in search of his partner, through the hall out into the main living area. Standing with his hands on his hips, he surveyed the room: no sign of her whatever. "Scully?" he bellowed.
"What?" he heard from far off in the house, and turned in that direction.
"Scully?" he called out again. "I was telling you about my dream. I felt so weird. It was like I was having someone else's memories and life. And, Scully? The woman? She had red hair, like the roof of the house, and white skin and even had roses in her hair like the house. She was beautiful and--"
Mulder startled hard and gazed open-mouthed at the woman of his dream. "What the hell?" he said under his breath.
She stood at the glass doors, smiling warmly at him. "Where have you been? I missed you."
He glanced behind him, expecting his dream life and his reality to bump into each other in the hall.
"Suddenly you don't have anything to say to me?" she teased. "We used to talk for hours."
Mulder cocked his head. "Did I fall asleep? I-I was trying not to fall asleep."
"Why?" she asked, as if his answer could hold her attention for all eternity.
"She -- my partner -- said I'm sick, and she wants me to go to a doctor."
Irritation passed over her features. "Sometimes it's hard for a man like you to recognize negative emotions in another person, especially one who's close to you."
"I don't understand," Mulder admitted.
"No...no...I wouldn't think you should. Remember before we moved in here and that neighbor woman--she was a widow, I think. Remember? She kept coming over and asking you to...I don't know what. Remember?"
Mulder nodded; he did remember something. It was hard to wrap his mind around it. There was a woman though. Yes, he remembered. She was beautiful and hard to understand, just as she said. Yes...he remembered more now. Guilt washed over him and washed away once again. There seemed to be no long-lasting negativity here. He liked that.
"I couldn't blame you, really. My mother said if a man strays, you have no one to blame but yourself."
"I'm sorry," Mulder murmured.
"No...no...it's over now. Don't ever think about it again. Just promise me you won't think of her ever again."
Mulder studied her as she stood a few feet away, her face so vulnerable, so hopeful. He had a flash of her...so long ago as they walked down the hill to the lake. Now, it was coming back. It was before the house was built. She had looked so hopeful that day too.
He felt a lurching in his mind. Like film in a projector, slowing down and starting up again and somewhere the sound echoed, also off kilter and strange.
"Mulder? Are you awake?"
Suddenly he couldn't seem to sort out what belonged to him and what he was borrowing or being given. He scrambled at consciousness and knew everything for a moment. Recognizing some fuzzy, far-off danger that was growing closer, he attempted to wake himself but found it impossible. And then he no longer wanted to do so as his eyes rested on the woman.
"Mulder, wake up!"
Another minute or two, then he'd wake up and join her...Scully...She was there...still, hoping as well.
Scully hit him -- hard. Mulder's head lolled back with the blow, his eyes remaining closed, his expression oblivious. Scully let him fall back onto the pillow and gazed anxiously at his peaceful figure. Then something happened: at first, she thought it was her panic finally raising to the surface; but then it happened again. He seemed to fade slightly and then return after a moment. He wasn't transparent, just...less. She swallowed hard, but there was no saliva left in her mouth.
The woman -- he didn't even know her name, he realized as he watched her intently. She seemed to drift more than walk. Her gracefulness was fascinating, and Mulder found himself settling into the world he had occupied briefly that afternoon and missed without knowing it. As she got closer, her features seemed to blur slightly before snapping into vivid focus. Mulder felt as if the wind had been knocked out of him, but with no pain, not even the slightest discomfort; he just seemed to be giving up that which he no longer needed to survive. Breathing was not essential, after all, not here. Beating hearts were a way to keep busy so that you never recognized the losses, the disappointments. He could feel his heart slowing down and it didn't matter. Nothing mattered. He had released everything: his inner demons, his regrets and agony. He felt an assurance drape around him like an infant inside of a blanket. Here, he knew he was able to escape every burden, was encouraged to do so.
As he considered these things, she drew so close he could feel her warm breath against his face. He inhaled the scent of roses and warm summer days and reached out a hand as she placed her lips on his and sucked the life from his mouth. He was completely lost and hoped there was no way to find him.
There was only the slightest form left of Mulder's body; and Scully grasped at it, her flesh turning cold and hard. Her hand seemed to slip through and around what she could see, but there was still the echo of his shape under the cover. Frantically, she patted at where his legs should be; but they seemed to deflate as she hit them. She could still feel the heat from his body, as if some part of him remained, unseen, unreachable.
She took a step back and then another. "No," she told her own inner voice that screamed inside her skull. "Mulder!" she called out. And then cried his name with a voice akin to a scream, but not yet... She had taught herself not to give in to panic, learned a steely response, even when it meant ignoring the taste of blood in her mouth as she bit against her own flesh in frustration.
There was no sense to it, but she could only run from room to room, knowing full well that he wouldn't be there. She knew somewhere within her mind or her soul that Mulder was gone, and she knew just as well that she was not going to sit back and just accept it as the others before her had done. The others...
She ran at full speed to her keys and threw herself out the front door and down the walk where she had parked the car. Fumbling slightly with the keys, she finally opened the trunk and grasped the files Mulder had attempted to keep from her. Here was the information, the knowledge she needed to fight whatever had preyed on her partner. She hurried inside and dumped the folders on the kitchen table, randomly seizing one and ripping past the preliminary pages, seeking out the women's own words. File after file carried the same cryptic message, abbreviated by law enforcement officials who obviously wanted to hear something more substantial than "He simply melted away, into the house," and variations on that theme. Scully ran her hand through her hair. It wasn't enough. She needed something to fight with, and it wasn't here.
Scully whipped around to the sound of the voice and then shifted her eyes to her gun that she had left on the kitchen counter when the world seemed relatively safe. "Who are you?" she demanded as she crept slowly toward her gun and then with a single motion pointed it at the man's head.
"Oh, my God," he murmured, raising his hands in front of his face. "Don't shoot me," he cried out. "I have children!"
"Who are you!" she repeated, her voice raising a register.
"My name is Bobby Bartlett."
"The real estate agent?"
His fear fell from his face and was exchanged for a cheery delight that she had heard of him. "Yes!" he answered, lowering his hands and holding one out to greet Scully, despite the lack of adjustment in her posture and expression.
"Where is my partner?" she asked ominously, and he pulled his hand back against his massive chest and quivered slightly.
"Don't you know?" he asked, wrinkling his forehead like a child.
"If I knew, would I be asking you?" she asked.
He shrugged a little, perspiration beginning to show at his upper lip and the underarm of his shirt. "Good point. Where'd you last see him?"
"Look, he's not a set of keys!" Scully pointed out, her gun still aimed at his head. "He was in that bed in there and then...and then...he wasn't."
"Uh-oh," the large man under-reacted.
"Uh-oh?" Scully echoed, outraged. "If you know something, you better let me have it."
The man ran a hand through his wet, greasy curls. "I don't know much; nothing that could help you, anyway. And...and my wife made lasagna tonight and--"
"Your wife better be keeping it warm."
The man flinched and then laughed a little.
"You find this funny?"
"No...It's just that, you know, that sounded kinda dirty. "Keeping it warm," he snickered, raising his shoulder around his ears.
Scully advanced toward him, and his laughter died away. Grabbing him by the front of his practically see-through, by virtue of his perspiration, dress shirt, she pushed him hard against the wall. "See, I'm not in the mood for your prepubescent jokes. My partner is missing, and I think you might know something about where he is and how I can get him back."
"Well," he croaked. "I might know where he is, but I sure as hell don't know how to get him back.
"If you say he was seduced by a siren, I swear you'll be eating my gun-not lasagna-tonight."
"But that's all I know," he whimpered. "That's all anyone knows. I told your partner everything before he came out here."
"Then why the hell would my-- he choose to stay here?"
"Well, I asked him if you two were -- you know," he snickered again, "doing it -- and he said that's not the kind of question a person who wants to continue to wear all of his teeth should ask, and I told him I only asked because the siren, you know, the siren? Well, she only mates with people in love; that's the legend..."
He was rambling now. Scully sensed that he was quickly losing his usefulness; but she was loath to dismiss him, as he was her only human link to a solution. Suddenly she heard a far-off scratching in the house.
"And he kind of laughed and said--"
"Shut up!" she commanded as she slowly released his shirt. "What was that?" she whispered under her breath.
Bobby slid along the wall as stealthily as his size would let him. As he neared the door, he tried to break and run; but Scully held her gun on his back and cried out, "I'll shoot!"
He tried to step up his speed, his panic pushing him from behind.
Scully aimed past his head and fired a round into the wall. She jumped back as she heard a distant but seemingly all- surrounding wail.
"Don't kill me!" he screamed, his voice bouncing off of the surrounding homes.
"Shut up!" Scully demanded as she mulled over what she thought she had heard.
"Please," he squealed. "I'll talk!"
"Goddamn it," Scully spat out. "Go home! Eat your lasagna!"
Bobby Bartlett only hesitated briefly before scampering into the yard and out into the darkness.
"Are you all right?" Mulder asked, urgently peering into her face as he held her to prevent her from slipping to the ground.
"What are you doing to me?" she asked sadly, with no apparent sign of fear or struggle.
"I-I'm not doing anything. I was holding you, and you screamed."
"Because you hurt me. Don't do this again. Please." Her eyes grew wide and filled with tears. "I love you," she added pleadingly as she clutched at his shirt. "Don't you remember? I love you, and you love me."
Mulder gently smoothed a strand of her hair from her face. He did remember, and it was dumbfounding. How could he know what it was to meet her and grow to love her and marry her and make love to her? But he knew. In the time it took to strike a match, he knew all about their life together; and he didn't like the way it made him feel.
"Please tell me you won't hurt me again," she begged, pulling herself deeply into his arms.
The words, her face, started the show in his mind once again. Every fiber of his body wanted to avoid what he felt he'd see, but he considered the possibility that having put it behind him, he might be able to forget it as quickly as every other bad feeling he had encountered here. Finally he decided to let the woman or the house or whatever it was that held him in its grasp, show him what it wanted him to know. He closed his eyes and waited.
Her skin had felt so pliable, so fragile. How many times had he stroked it, licked it, kissed it? Her skin was what had attracted him in the first place. So pale, translucent even. You could almost see the blood traveling below the surface. Something about that idea excited him.
Now he held her, still in cover of night, under the stars at the site they had chosen together to build their home. He could feel the blood throbbing past his fingers, fiercely attempting its journey despite his hands wrapped so tightly around her neck. Her eyes were glassy now, but still the blood traveled; vaguely now and erratically. Still she looked at him, so open, so trusting. He dropped her to the ground in a fit of panic and disgust. She didn't move, her body lay awkwardly twisted at his feet. Bile raised his mouth, and he shoved his fist against his teeth in order to force it back down.
Straightening up, he cast his eyes furtively up the hill and toward the lake. There weren't many houses those days; and she hadn't screamed, hadn't even struggled. Perhaps she thought it was a joke at first, or a mistake. She wouldn't want to embarrass him by jumping to the wrong conclusion. She had always been so polite, so careful of his feelings. As a result, by the time she realized he meant to kill her, she was beyond fighting, beyond hope. So there was silence, complete and absolute as if the very wind stopped and held its breath. There was no chance of being overheard, only happened upon; and he didn't see a passerby or a neighbor. It helped that she had been so innocent. She had clung to his arm, chatting about the stars and the beauty of the night and how bright the moon was and their future, as they made their way down the sloping lot. "Look," he had told her. "Tomorrow they will pour the foundation for all our dreams. We will live here together forever."
She had actually danced a little on the earth that would hold their home, twirling her arms open to the exceptional brightness of the moon. "Look at the lake!" she had told him, clutching her hands together in delight. "It looks like the lake swallowed the moon whole and is spitting it out in pieces."
"Yech," he had responded.
She had smiled at him, glowed really, and then pranced over to him. Her love shone in a way that he had never seen directed at him before she had come into his life. But he no longer felt the pride he used to feel, the flush of heat that accompanied his love for his wife. There was someone else now and she was waiting; he had to get to it or he'd hit rush hour.
He was relieved when it was over. The freedom was making him dizzy. He wanted to dance around her body, but there was still work to do. He scrambled up the hill to his car and removed the shovel, quickly returned to her body and began digging. It had to be deep enough that no one would unearth her before the foundation was poured the following morning. It took so long, but he had always been thorough. "A job worth doing was worth doing well;" that was what his father had told him. Somewhere across the lake, an orchestra was playing -- probably the country club. He'd have to look into joining when all of this was over. He hummed along as he continued to dig.
When she lay at the bottom of the hole, he felt his first sense of real regret. She was beautiful; no getting around that. Even now, paler than ever before, her hair cascading on her face and shoulders and dirt spattered on her fragile features, she was pretty. He shrugged it off, though, and threw the first shovel of dirt directly on her face. But before he could continue, the sparkle of her wedding ring distracted him; and he gazed down upon it for a moment. "Waste not, want not," his father had said.
Carefully he lowered himself into the grave and took her tiny hand into his palm. He had always liked the way it felt in his hand. It made him feel oversized, powerful. Grasping the ring, he pulled hard; but she seemed to pull back. He frowned and attempted again with more resolve, and finally it slipped from her finger. Peering down at it for a moment, he felt regret well up inside him once more. But what else could he have done? If he had divorced her, he would never had been able to buy the house; and the contracts were signed. No, it was better this way. He pocketed the ring and prepared to ascend.
He climbed up toward the surface and felt his foot catch for a moment. Just briefly, the smallest grain of panic gripped his stomach. It gave him the strength to hoist himself up in a single attempt. He wiped at his face; the few beads of sweat that had popped out there felt cold and clammy. Looking down into the grave, he could still see her by virtue of the full moon. Deliberately, he gathered another shovelful of dirt and dumped it in on her.
When he was done, he stood for a moment, gathering his strength, breathing a little heavily. He stamped over the grave, scuffing it over and over with his shoes. When he was done, he looked back on his work with pride. The cement would be poured in the morning and there she would stay, never to trouble him again.
Glancing down at his hands, he noticed dirt and blood dug deep under his nails and up into his arms. "Cleanliness is next to godliness," his father had said. He knew he couldn't go to see his girl in such disrespectful dishevelment. Biting his lips, he looked out at the lake. What a perfect view he would have from his new house with his new wife. But right this minute, he had to clean up. Slowly he nodded; the lake was there for him. The world was there for him. He stripped down and headed for the shore; and with a few quick steps and a dive, he immersed himself.
He almost laughed aloud with pride and relief. No one would ever know. He would start his new life immediately with the woman he had been born to be with. It was a pity they hadn't met before he married his wife, but that was in the past. He upturned himself and dove under the water again, swimming for a moment, where he saw a flash of moonlight all the way down under the water. It was a bright night, he thought before he popped up among the waves and took a single stroke toward shore. But once again, as in the grave, something seemed to hold him tightly about the foot. He gulped at the air and tried to see under the waves, but he could only see the sparkle of the water in the moonlight. A stronger, more insistent pull dragged him beneath the waves where he struggled hard before raising up one more time. "Help!" he sputtered, forgetting in his panic that he had purposely made sure of the absence of Samaritans. "Help me!" he cried before being tugged below the waves one more time.
He saw her then: her smiling face, so glad to see him. Gasping drew more water into his lungs, but he couldn't help himself. Her skin was as pale as the water now, her hair dark as it swirled around her features. Her expression was one he had seen many times, when he had to go out of town on business or wanted a night out with the boys. She always hated to be left alone. "I get so lonely for you," she would say. He tried to pull away, but his strength was waning. He looked into her face, pleading. But she was insistent. He would not be leaving her this evening. His wife demanded he stay, and he could not deny her.
Mulder snapped from the memory and found himself surrounded in gray sightlessness and pulling at a dwindling supply of oxygen. He could still taste the lake water in his mouth although he wasn't wet or within another person's memory any longer. He knew he was dying. There was no doubt; but having no idea of how it was happening, he didn't know how to fight. At least he knew who he was, if not where, and he hoped he wouldn't die with someone else's life passing before his eyes.
Somewhere close by, he heard the agonized screams of someone who was dying so much more painfully than he was. He wondered if he might find a way to save them both.
Scully paced through the house, mulling over what she had heard when the bullet hit the wall. Her blood pounded in her head as she decided to test her theory. "Give him back," she said aloud, before aiming her gun at the pure white walls and squeezing the trigger.
There it was again; a soft, low moan from somewhere and everywhere at the same time.
"Give him back!" she demanded more loudly and pulled off two more rounds into the ceiling, causing the crystal chandelier to shiver, seemingly in terror. There were cries and the unmistakable sounds of pain, but it wasn't enough.
She put down the gun and paced more agitatedly. "What..." she murmured, her hands first balling in fists and then stretched wide and running through her hair. "How do you kill a house?"
Her eyes landed on the fireplace, and she nodded in satisfaction. "Give him back!" she warned as she stalked into the kitchen and flipped on the four burners. She spun on her heel until her eyes landed on the paper bag containing the groceries she had abandoned earlier. Carelessly dumping the items she had fought so hard to bring home, she balled up the bag in the form of a torch and then she paused. Would she be killing Mulder? Was he contained in the house or spirited away? "Dammit!" she exclaimed. "Mulder!" she cried out as loudly as her voice could manage. "Mulder!"
She paced in a close, tight circle, her mind going over every fact she had learned thus far, turning them over and over again, and then she broke free of it. Having made her decision, she lit the bag and marched into the great room and began touching every flammable surface she encountered: the pillows, the chairs, the curtains, all fiercely aglow with leaping flames. She stood in the middle of the flaming room, knowing she would soon have to run for her life, leaving behind all hope of ever finding Mulder.
Throwing the torch as far as it would go into the room, she bent over at the waist and screamed his name one more time before she headed from the house.
She appeared before his eyes, nothing else, no sunlight or moonlight. No pine trees or lake. No memories. It was simply the woman, holding out her hands, her face a mute expression of horror and agony. She bled from the stomach and the head, and now he could see the light of fire surround her as if she were being burned at the stake. Crying out, she held her arms over her face and he could see her flesh alight as she withered to the floor.
"No," Mulder said under his breath, not noticing that the air around him now filled his lungs and that his alertness built with every passing moment. "God..." he said, truly in prayer. "No," he cried louder.
He reached for her, but she was mostly smoke and burning embers. Her face though...He covered his eyes in the attempt to avoid her face. He grasped at the vision, but it seemed to be just that. Still, he ached to save her; and he struggled against bonds that were unseen and insurmountable.
He hair was the last to catch fire, and it began slowly and then shot up toward her face. He filled his lungs to their greatest capacity and screamed.
Scully heard the sound just on the other side of the threshold: a heart-rending scream somewhere inside the house. There was no hesitation on her part; she recognized her partner's voice and she went in after him.
The flames popped and crackled but did not entirely envelope the doorway. She dropped to her hands and knees and made her way in the direction of the sound of Mulder's screaming. Pausing, she heard him scream again. "No!" he cried out, and she moved more quickly. When she arrived in the hallway just outside the bedroom, she realized that this end of the house was not yet afire. Carefully, she rose to her feet; but before she could completely straighten, Mulder rushed by in a streak of frantic movement.
For a moment her shock would only let her track him as he ran into the flames she knew terrified him, armed with a throw rug and a blanket. Frantically he began beating at the flames, coughing and stumbling all the while. She ran after him and caught him around the waist. Quickly, without turning around, he shook her off. "Leave me alone," he growled and continued his fruitless effort.
"Mulder! We have to get out! You can't do anything. Look around you!"
"Then get out!" he cried as he attempted to smother the flames.
"I'm not going without you!" Scully screamed over the roar of the fire.
"I can't go! I have to--" He coughed harshly, bent over at the waist and leaning precariously toward the floor. "I can't let her die again!"
"Mulder!" Scully screamed, although her voice was beginning to fail her. "There's no one here but you and me! If we don't go now--" She held onto Mulder to remain upright as a small explosion rocked the kitchen, effectively cutting off access to the front door.
Taking hold of Mulder, she turned him around and looked into his eyes. At first he would not meet her eyes; and then only because he could not avoid them, he met her gaze simply to be done with whatever she wanted. There was some kind of madness there that almost sent her plummeting into despair. But there was no time for that now. "Mulder, you are not yourself. Believe me! You know me. I wouldn't lie to you. You have to put aside whatever it is you believe to be true and completely trust me. If we don't leave now, we will die. You and I, we will die. Please, Mulder. Don't do this to me. Don't do this to us, Mulder. Come with me now and let this be over."
He paused, swaying over Scully like a tree ready to fall; but when he looked into her eyes, Scully could see the madness dissipate.
He nodded, looking around him, his eyes watering from the intense heat. And then, with a quick, determined motion, Mulder picked up the ottoman just behind him and lifted it over his head and hoisted it through the glass windows. A high, sad shriek echoed in the wind that swirled around their heads, drawing the fire closer to them. Mulder only listened for a moment before catching Scully's arm and pulling her from the building and through and beyond the deck. Stopping once more, he glanced behind him, but Scully took hold, running toward the water as the flames shattered what was left of the windows and began to consume the trees.
"Keep going, Mulder, run!" she cried, pulling him into the water and finally wading out into the depths.
When she felt they had escaped the impending danger, she stood watching the fire and catching her breath. After a while, she splashed water over her face and breathed as deeply as she was able. Her body pushed the smoke out of her lungs, and she was racked with a fit of coughing. Mulder coughed as well, but his eyes remained trained on the inferno at the top of the hill.
Scully watched him, his devastation written all over his ash-smeared face. His loss seemed to overwhelm him; but at this time, she couldn't imagine what that loss might be.
"I'm sorry, Mulder," she felt compelled to say, although she wasn't certain why. She glanced around at the sounds of sirens heading up the road, but she knew they were too late to save it and maybe it was for the best.
Mulder dropped his head and finally lowered himself and dunked into the water to cool the remnants of fire and clear the filth from his face and neck. As he began to rise from the water, he saw it and his mouth turned up at the corners.
"Did you see that, Scully?"
He pointed at the face, shining bright as a coin in the sunshine, just under the surface of the water.
"There," he answered, putting his arm around her and pointing to the spot where she smiled up at them.
"Oh," said Scully, now shivering a little. "The moon is really beautiful, isn't it?"
"Yes," said Mulder as he watched her fade away. "She is."
"I thought I'd find you here," Scully called over the wind.
Mulder turned his head toward her where he squatted at the base of the hole forensics had left behind. He stood up slowly and went to meet her.
"They finished up this morning," he told her.
Scully nodded and placed her hand on his arm, and he managed a weak smile.
"I thought we agreed you were going to rest," she admonished him gently.
"Scully, I've been resting for a week. I'm all rested out."
"You went through a serious physical trauma and--"
"Scully, I can't get any more rested than this. If I were any more rested, I'd be dead!"
Scully couldn't manage a smile.
"I'm sorry," he told her.
She nodded her acceptance. "How long have you been out here?"
"Not long. They took the remains away about thirty minutes ago."
"Why are you still here?"
"I don't know. I was just thinking about her. I don't even know her name."
"I might be able to help you with that," Scully told him and nodded toward the car, heading back in that direction.
Mulder looked over the barren site as if he were searching but soon turned and followed her up.
Bending into the car through the window, Scully pulled out a stack of papers.
"What's this?" Mulder asked.
"While you were resting," Scully said, poking Mulder in the ribs, "I decided to do some research at the local library.
"There's a local library?" Mulder asked incredulously.
"Actually there's a local librarian. The library consists of a few books and a surprisingly complete archive of newspapers in what used to be the neighborhood whore house."
"There's a neighborhood whore house?" Mulder repeated more astonished than before.
"Mm-hmm. Her mother owned it. It's a long story, Mulder. Every story in this town is a long story."
"Are you going to share them with me?"
"Maybe someday when we're locked up together on insanity charges. Until then, I just want to share this." She handed him a yellowed paper and leaned back against the car to wait.
"Our files didn't go back far enough. These are from before the house was built."
"Couple feared dead in...swimming accident?" Mulder read, glancing up at Scully surprise.
"Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Swanson are missing. Foul play is feared." Mulder looked up again, puzzled.
"Okay, now read this," she said, handing him the next paper, dated days later.
"Local man Kenneth Swanson found washed ashore. Wife presumed dead."
"There's one more, Mulder," Scully told him. "And I really dug for this."
She handed a folded back paper to Mulder, dated three years later.
Mulder read, "Local boy finds wedding ring of long-missing woman." He glanced at Scully and then out toward the lake. "Her husband took it from her," he said quietly.
"How can you be sure?"
"You don't think this could be another body. Maybe his wife-"
"This is where he put her, Scully."
She silently accepted that. "He must have been caught in the undertow."
Mulder didn't respond. "Wait..." he said after a minute. He scanned the paper intently and then raised his head, apparently satisfied. "Bernadette."
"Her name was Bernadette."
"What about all the other men? Any ideas where we would look for their bodies?"
Mulder shook his head slowly. "I don't know, Scully. I'll never know where I was. Wherever that place is, that's probably where you would find them."
"Doesn't help with the report," Scully observed wryly.
Mulder smiled. "Sorry."
They stood silently for some time, each in their own thoughts. "Ready to go?" Scully finally asked. "Mrs. Kolzak, the librarian, says if I don't have these papers back in two shakes of a lamb's tail she'll come looking for me and she ain't just whistling Dixie."
"I'm not sure what that means, but is sounds pretty scary," Mulder observed, slightly preoccupied.
"That's what I thought," Scully said and touched his arm.
He looked out once more over the lot and the lake and the charred remains of all of Bernadette's dreams and then nodded.
As they drove back toward town, Scully looked at her partner who was deep in thought. "Are you ever going to tell me how you knew where the body was?"
"When we're locked up in that asylum with time on our hands."
"Agent Scully, I called you in to talk about this report."
"Is this the report you want to turn in?"
"Are you sure?"
"Because I don't think you want a report on record in which you admit to torching a private citizen's home."
"I'm not sure what you are asking of me, sir."
"Off the record, Agent Scully?"
"Agent Scully, I would recommend that you amend your report. There is no reason for you to take the blame for this one."
"But, sir, I lit the fire."
"You lit the fire in an attempt to save you partner. Am I wrong?"
"Is it your opinion that your reasons for doing so will be deemed appropriate?"
"Cause of Fire: Unknown."
"Unknown, Agent Scully."
"What if they decide to investigate the cause?"
"Agent Scully, can I ask you one more thing, off the record?"
"I have a note here that Agent Mulder has asked to be given custody of the remains once the investigation is over."
"I don't believe any relatives have been discovered, sir."
"That's not my point. I wanted to know off the record what he intends to do with the remains."
"I believe, sir, that he intends to bury them."
"He intends to pay for the burial of the victim's remains?"
"Any idea why?"
"I believe he believes she deserves that much."
"I see. Thank you, Agent Scully."