Title: Through the Fire
Author: jordan
Rating: NC-17
Keywords: horror,msr

Chapter One: An Introduction to the Witch Chapter Two: The Curse Chapter Three: On Halloween Day Chapter Four: Reunion
Chapter Five: The Change Chapter Six: The Gift Chapter Seven: Flashback Chapter Eight: Ghost Story
Chapter Nine: The Call Chapter Ten: Not Everything Dies Chapter Eleven: Troll Chapter Twelve: On Halloween Night
Chapter Thirteen: Through the Fire

I:An Introduction to the Witch

Memphis, Tennessee
St.Teresa's Hospital, Oct 18, 2:15pm

Sometimes the only thing the dead have left is the poetry of their bones. The exquisite architecture of the human form, speaking of the potential for grace and motion. The basic plot of the human story outlined in perfect detail, awaiting only the right person to come along and decipher its meaning.

Dana Scully ran her finger down the collarbone of the skeleton on the stainless steel lab table. Her touch was oddly tender, and the forensic pathologist, Thomas Hagen, felt a twinge at its sensuality.

He cleared his throat. "You're good at this, Dana," he said. "You should come to work for us."

She glanced up at him, her blue eyes a little surprised, a little distracted. "I do mostly field work these days," she said.

"Too restless for the CDC?" His tone was only half joking. "Hey, we can live on the edge just like you guys in the FBI."

Scully had come to Memphis to investigate the bizarre deaths of three teenagers who had all been consumed by something described as a flesh-eating bacteria, something so intensely virulent that by the time she saw the remains they were no more than polished bones partially digested by whatever had attacked the living organism. The most curious thing about the case was that nothing else had come of it; the teenagers, two boys and a girl, were dead, and there had been no more reports of necrotic diseases at their school or among their families. All that was left was this anomaly, a fourth body found in the woods not far from the three dead highschoolers, the skeleton of an unidentified female, twelve to fourteen years old, at casual inspection, no apparent cause of death.

"Look at this," Hagen said, pushing his thumb and forefinger into the skull's fixed grin. He teased the mouth open, so that Scully could see the rows of perfect teeth. "This kid had canines so sharp they might have been--ow!--filed."

He raised his hand, several bright drops of blood almost glowing red under the fluorescent lights. Scully murmured her concern and took his hand, peeling off his latex glove. She led him unprotesting to the sink and turned on the tap, holding the index finger under the water as she examined the tiny slice on his fingertip.

"What happened?"

"Damn kid bit me," he growled, in mock outrage.

Scully smiled up at him, her eyes sparkling for the briefest of seconds. Hagen made no pretense of not enjoying her ministrations. If a hurt puppy paw worked, well, he was not above using pity to get to her.

"My point was, no dental records to identify her with," he said. "Perfect dentition."

"Have the police gone back and searched the records for missing children in this area?"

"I assume they have. We were just holding the remains until we checked to see if the same thing killed her that killed those other kids, but apparently not. I mean, this skeleton is much, much older than the others, and as you can see, there aren't any grooves or marks in the bones like in the teenagers.'"

"How can that be, if it was only buried--" Scully paused to consult her chart, her brow rising skeptically "--under some leaves all these years?"

Hagen shrugged. She let him go, and he dried his hands, watching as she brushed back a strand of red hair from her face that he had briefly fantasized about pushing back for her. He dropped his eyes, embarrassed to be caught staring.

He tried to think of something to say, and gestured towards the portfolio she had left on the lab table. "What exactly is an X file?" he asked. Actually, he had a vague idea, but anything to keep her talking, to engage this slight, serious, lovely woman with the startling blue eyes in a few more moments of conversation. There was just something about her that made him want to gather her up in his arms and be protective. A sadness, a loneliness. And the push of those breasts against her lab jacket was a fair argument for getting close to her in and of itself.

"I investigate paranormal activity," she told him.

"You mean like, what? Ghosts and UFOs and things like that?"

He could hear the faint smile in her voice, though it barely touched her face. "Something like that, yes."

"Do you think you'll pursue this case?"

"I don't pursue cases," she said. "I just collect data."

"To what end?"

She seemed about to answer when the chirping of her cell phone cut her off. "Excuse me," she said, moving towards the big double doors at the exit of the autopsy bay.

Alone, Scully took a deep breath and tried to clear her head. She rarely got cell phone calls these days, and there was always a pang when she felt that familiar vibration. She had checked in with the branch office when she arrived in town; they were the only people who knew where she would be.

But surprisingy, it was one of the Lone Gunmen. "Scully? Scully, it's me, Byers."

"Yes," she said. She leaned against the cold tile wall in the hallway of the hospital basement, letting the chill seep into her bones like the same chill of premonition into her soul. "What is it? Has something happened?"

"Yeah, something's happened," he said. There was a tremble in his voice. "They're letting Mulder go. Today. Right now."

A few minutes later, Hagen came out into the hall, holding Scully's forgotten portfolio. He saw the swinging double doors at the end of the hall, and heard the faint clicking of heels on linoleum.

It sounded like she was running.

Chapter Two: The Curse

"The torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree..."

Soft grey stone, forming a circular structure...a castle? A keep? Some medieval building, damp from an earlier rain, and an uncertain sky shimmering behind it.

Scully rolls over on her back, eyelids twitching. Safe enough in her own bed, at home.

A long dirt street with a banked up curb, and puddles along the gutter, stinking of urine. Woodsmoke pervasive in the air. A pig snuffling and shoving in a pile of refuse. Two naked children, four or five years old, shrieking and chasing each other, laughing, their cries echoing off the stone structure. Above the stink of unwashed humans and open sewage, a stunning, glorious smell, fresh air, free lungfuls of it, trees everywhere, and lush grass, and the distant scent of sweet clean rain.

Scully walks down the street, and no one seems to see her. She knows she is in a medieval village, possibly in England, maybe in France or Germany; she can hear people talking in a dialect that might be Middle English, the soft vowels of French punctuated by the gutteral German consonants. There are horses tied outside a small building, a sign above it with a picture of a rooster painted red on the wood, just a crude drawing splashed with paint. It is tied on a mast with rope, and swings a little in the wind, reminding her of something, something horrible. Two women walk by, carrying baskets of potatoes. Huge baskets; the arms on the women are muscled like longshoremen, and glisten with sweat in the pale sunlight. Coarse faces look past her, unseeing or uncaring; they have the hard expression of laborors.

Scully stops as she comes to a corner, hesitant to go on. After a moment she takes another step, and finds herself facing a square, the village green. It's no bigger than the average vacant lot, and the grass has been trampled recently to mud and rubble. In the middle of the square, a scaffold, and on the scaffold the rotting corpse of a child, hanging by the neck from a weathered rope thicker than her withered, pipestem arms. Little bare feet point down together, like a ballerina up on her toes.

Scully stands staring, her mouth slightly open, eyes wide in pity and horror. She jumps a little as a voice speaks from behind her.

"Don't look into her eyes, lass."

She turns and sees a man of about twenty five, darkly handsome, his features broad, dark brown hair down to his shoulders. His eyes are frosty blue, very intense as he glares at her. "Whatever you do, don't look into her eyes," he says.

Scully says in a conversational tone, "I'm dreaming, aren't I?"

His mouth makes a sort of grimacing smile. "Well, in the end it's all a dream, isn't it?" he asks. "But wait and see, lass. Wait and see."

There is a screech of rusty hinges, and Scully looks back to see the door to the rooster building open, and two men come out. They speak to each other briefly, clasping hands and hitting each other on the shoulders in friendly parting. Dust rises in the still air from their pounding of coarsely spun cloaks. Then they mount their horses. One rides away at a fast trot. The other, an older man with a yellowish beard and not much hair on his head, climbs heavily into the saddle of his bay and reins it towards the square. He rides at a slow walk as he passes the dangling corpse, never taking his eyes off it.

Just as he comes to the end of the square, he draws his cloak back out of the way, leans forward, and spits in the mud, an obvious sign of contempt. He says something Scully can't hear, and couldn't understand if she could, and touches his fingers to his forehead, his chest, each shoulder, in the sign of the cross.

Then he rides on, the big rump of his horse rolling from side to side as it ambles unhurriedly away.

Scully's gaze is drawn back to the corpse, which is swinging a little. Long black hair. Hands tied behind her back. Just a kid, probably not even pubescent. Rocking a little in that wind. Swaying a little. Mesmerizing.

"Don't look, lass," the voice warns, but the sound is beginning to fade in the pungent air.

When Scully looks again, the handsome young man has darkened in some strange, unhealthy way, and she can smell the stench of death wafting from him as he moves past her. A cloud of black flies are settling in clumps in his hair, and his face has a sick greenish hue. She puts her hand over her mouth and turns away.

When she does, she sees the swaying corpse open its eyes. The dark man is standing under it, and his clothes are rotting off in filthy strips of cloth as he reaches up with a knife to begin sawing at the rope.

Scully opens her eyes, sees her own ceiling, the slow swing of fan blades overhead. She hears the refrigerator motor in the kitchen cycle on, and shifts her head a little on the pillow, closing her eyes again.

A long slow swell of wind, and the world flaps and falls, a sheet hung on a line in some faraway backyard...

From a distance, in the deep grass with the old growth forest in the background, the running figure could be anything. A man, a dog, a fox, anything. Just something moving fast through the grass in a bounding motion, with no perspective to determine its size.

The grass parts. Scully jerks back. Out from the parted grass a child bursts, a girl of about twelve, running, running as hard as she can down to the dirt road, her feet kicking up scarves of dust, racing around the curve of the lake.

The surface of the water ripples passively, the reverberations from her rapid footfalls echoing in the water, splintering light into painful sparks. Scully can see the man on horseback in the distance, the man on the slow walking bay horse. He is almost out of sight, almost over the horizon.

The girl stops at last on a slight rise, blocked by a thin stream of water that feeds into the lake, which for some reason she seems unwilling to cross, though a single leap of her young legs would clear it. She holds her hand to her eyes to shade against the hard sun, squinting, her long dark hair blowing in the wind, her loose skirt beating against her legs above her bare feet. And she watches with a fierceness that rivets the world with her gaze, like a cat watching a string trailing the ground, like a lion watching an antelope graze by.

Scully can hear the whoosh of wind as the girl casts her curse like a net, far, far into the future, and she can feel it swirl and settle in some unimaginably distant place.

"Don't look into her eyes, lass."

The girl turns as if she's heard the words, and Scully fights to wake up now, because if her those strange faraway eyes find her, if the child sees her, then something terrible will happen. Scully knows it with perfect dream logic: something worse than death will come. That's what the man has been trying to tell her, though he himself has faded away to nothing now. Scully struggles to wake up, to get back into her own life, before she is pitched forward and falling into someone else's dream.

She wakes and lies breathing without moving in the dark, her retinas still blind from that other sun, the world upon worlds crushed together and collapsing on her, the weight of all matter condensed into the stone laid on the top of her grave.

Then she kicks at the blanket and rolls onto her side, blinks sleepily, trying to remember the vividness of the colors in the village, the smells, the sounds.

In the morning, she thinks; I have to call Mulder in the morning.

And she goes back to sleep.

Chapter 3: On Halloween Day

Annapolis, Maryland
Oct 31, 4:30pm

The October moon rose slowly into the sky ahead of the car, retreating as the highway curved towards the outskirts of the city. A big gibbering yellow moon; a witch's moon: it was Halloween.

Scully checked her rearview mirror; as she had left the city limits and entered the suburbs, she'd had to watch the road more carefully. Her impulse was to drive fast, faster, fastest, feeling time like a ticking bomb that could go off at any instant. But the roads were scattered with starched ghosts and neon haired trolls, children skipping along the sidewalks on their way to toothache and indigestion, and she had to force herself to slow down and focus on safety.

She had not laid eyes on Fox Mulder for three years and four months. He had been convicted of arson and the deliberate destruction of evidence, blamed for burning down his own office to keep from revealing the whereabouts of Gibson Praise, and sentenced to serve ten years in a federal prison with no possibility of parole.

The best strings Skinner could pull and all the brilliant machinations of the Lone Gunmen couldn't keep Mulder from going to prison; the most they could manage was to see that he was sent to Nellis, at Lake Mead, under security conditions so minimal that prisoners occasionally walked out the front gate unimpeded. Which made it that much worse when he refused to see or speak to Scully.

"It's not you," Skinner told her. "He just doesn't want the same people who set him up to come after you, which they might, if they thought you were still doing his work on the outside."

"I won't quit," she had told him, even after Mulder had refused to so much as look at her as they took him from the courtroom. "Don't even think of asking me to quit."

"I wasn't," Skinner said. He had put his hand on her shoulder in a rare gesture of consolation, his knuckles bandaged and a finger in splints for reasons he wouldn't talk about.

Scully suspected he had been applying more than logic to his arguments for Mulder's innocence, but he had been tight-lipped as always, and brushed off her questions with a shake of the head.

Now he walked back to his desk and leaned his hips against it, stretching his long legs out and folding his arms over the broad front of his starched white shirt. He regarded her thoughtfully, his head tilted at a slight angle, and Scully waited until he was ready to speak.

"The truth is," he said,"They won't come after you, because they've never seen you as anything more than an accessory to Mulder's madness, a facilitator, at best."

"Yes, sir," she said, not without some bitterness. "I know that."

Suddenly he was looking at her, really looking at her: they made full eye contact, and Scully thought for a moment she could see a rare glimpse of the real man. His voice was quiet, genuine, for once not hidden behind the stone wall of authority.

"I know this is hard for you to believe," he said, "But I feel the same way you do, Scully."

"Furious?" She gave a half laugh. "Scared? Desperate?"

He shook his head. "Determined."

The word had such feeling in it, it seemed to hang in the air for a moment before fading.

"If whoever is behind all this thinks that taking Mulder out of the action won't fire up an anger, an indignation, a determination to learn the truth ten times as passionate as any motivation of Mulder's, then they're out of their fucking minds."

Scully had to swallow before speaking. "I guess you do know how I feel."

"Then let's put it to use," he said abruptly, walking back around his desk and sitting down.

"Put what to use?"

"The Consortium's one blind spot," he said. "Their one big oversight."

He paused a moment before adding, "You."

Then he smiled, not a great smile, but a real one, more with his eyes than with his lips, and said, "After all, what's the point of being invisible if you can't get some good out of it?"

Those had been hard days, frightening days, when every step had been a venture into utterly unknown territories. But passion had led them all on then, the raging bitter impotence of the Lone Gunmen that caused them to rally around Scully and help her any way they could, the surface-cold, center-hot determination Skinner had to uncover whatever it was that the Consortium was so determined to keep Mulder from finding. And Scully had settled in like Penelope, prepared to wait out the ten years if necessary, until Odysseus was returned from the war.

Momentum sustained her for the first year, and most of the second. But time began to wear on her, and the things she learned on her fact-finding missions called out increasingly for context, for understanding.

For Mulder.

She was listed under the Title of "Research Investigator," and no one had questioned it; no one had bothered her in her own small office with the slowly growing stacks of files. Only once had Spender stuck his head in the door, since he and Fowley had been given the X-Files. To his credit, he had never seemed to want to rub her nose in it, though his smug relief at Mulder's imprisonment was widely known. But if he ever suspected her of hating him for it--he was right.

It was indecent, it was unChristian, to hate someone so deeply, so persistently. But she did. She hated the very sight of him. To her, he looked so much like Mulder without the strength or passion or the... the magic. There was just so much about him that reminded her he wasn't Mulder, just a shell with all the Mulder subtracted, a sort of poor imitation following Fowley around and doing field reports and trying to scoff convincingly while he was doing it.

One day Spender and Fowley were glancing up at her as she passed by their office, no contempt, no arrogance--she was Scully the Invisible, after all, not even pitied--and the next day in Memphis she learned that Mulder had received a full pardon after Gibson Praise resurfaced in Florida, having been all this time in Thailand with relatives who claimed to have abducted him because they still believed the assassins who had killed his chess opponent and shot Fowley were out to kill him. Four hours of deposition later, Mulder had been vindicated.

Just like that.

They had come to her in the night, three shy, strange men, tapping on her door at two a.m. on a Sunday when the rain in Georgetown had been so intense it had flooded the street, and afterwards she wondered how the hell they had managed to get across town to her apartment in that awful weather.

"He doesn't want to come back," Frohike told her. "He said he's just lost all interest in the X-Files."

"The dude's a lying son of a bitch," Langly said bitterly. "He's just afraid he'll take us all down with him next time."

Scully fussed unnecessarily over the cups of coffee, the cream, the little packets of artificial sweetener Byers insisted upon. Her eyes were huge and glowing blue and her white robe looked two sizes too big for her. None of the men made direct eye contact with her, though after they said what they had to say, they still seemed reluctant to leave.

Outside, the storm center moved directly over Scully's apartment, with a noise like an angry woman putting away silverware in drawers.

"Are you okay?" Byers asked her. "You seem...tired."

"I'm fine," she said. "I've been having a lot of nightmares lately."

He nodded. "Understandable."

Frohike said suddenly, "Look, Scully, it's like this. We all know Gibson Praise didn't just show up and come clean out of the blue. You know it, we know it, Mulder knows it. Whoever put him in the slammer decided they needed him out of it. They want him to do something. And he doesn't want to do whatever that something is. He thinks the only way to keep from playing their game is to just stay the hell away from you and us and the X- Files altogether."

"Did he say that?"

"Well, no..."

Scully shrugged. She sat down, huddling over a cup of tea. "Maybe he's right," she said.

"NO!" Langly banged his fist down on the table so hard the lid jumped off of the ceramic creamer and clattered onto the table. "No, dammit! No, he's not! They must have been really scared when you guys were so close to figuring out what the hell they were up to. So scared they had to take Mulder out the only way they could without killing him. So however scared they were then, they must be twice as scared now, to risk letting him out again. Something big must be going on. Something fucking HUGE."

Frohike nodded. "Something so big that freaky kid couldn't help them with it, so they used him to get Mulder back in the fight."

"And Mulder won't do their dirty work for them," Scully said.

"I don't think that's it," Byers said, "So much as the fact that he's really afraid of endangering the people he... values most."

All three of them looked at her then, and Scully flushed and looked down into the swirling omens of her tea leaves, gold with flecks of brown, the color of his eyes. "You want me to talk to him, is that it?"

She raised her head and studied them in turn, the thickset little man with the big glasses, the long haired blond who looked like a lost demi-god searching for Odin, the small tidy man with the intense gaze...

"No," she said, overcome by horror at the thought of rejection, after all this time. Better to hold onto the dream...

"No," she repeated, more calmly. "No. Absolutely not."

So here she was, dodging the chasing moon, alternately hot in the airless car with the windows rolled up, and cold when she rolled them down to the late October chill. Rushing on a fool's errand to a man who had made it clear enough by his actions he didn't want to see her, risking everything for what in the end might come to nothing.

The only thing she was sure of was that time was following her down these curving suburban roads, three years and four months of it, and she could feel it gaining on her fast. The point at which she and Mulder intersected again would be the end of one life and the beginning of the next, and although a part of her felt a deep urgency to rush to this crossroads, the greatest part of her was simply, deeply afraid.

Chapter 4: Reunion

Something red and demon-like darted from the shadows of the trees across the road, and Scully hit the brakes sharply. A small, agile child, not in a mask but in some kind of red makeup, cut an insolent look at her. It bobbed its head as if laughing, then scrambled up onto the curb and dashed away. It happened so quickly Scully almost thought she imagined it.

She drove on, watching street signs, feeling his impending presence. His voice on the phone had seemed gruff from disuse; he'd had to clear this throat once or twice, and said he thought he was coming down with a cold. Long ago she would have believed he was fighting tears, but this was a different Mulder than one she'd seen led out of the courtroom in handcuffs. She could feel him over the phone line, an older, quieter Mulder, with a maturity she once wished for him and now almost regretted.

He had agreed to see her. Just agreed. Not savored her name with relief and joy, not enthused over a reunion. It had been a full three years, four months, and two weeks since he had last spoken to her, and her legs had gone weak with the sound of his voice. But in that voice there was no welcome, only caution, only acknowledgment that it was necessary to meet and to talk business. No weak knees on his end of the line; that much was obvious.

The house was easy enough to find. It was in a cul-de-sac, a two story brick job in an older, settled neighborhood, surrounded by knobby oaks and some tall pine trees, with a wide driveway sweeping up to a two car garage.

There was no car in the driveway but she saw the gleam of metal through a garage window and knew he'd parked inside. It was the only unshuttered window fronting the house; all the others had drawn blinds or curtains, closing out the world. Closing out her.

She sat in the car after she turned off the motor, listening to the sizzle of the radiator, the subtle noises of the cooling engine, like a tired animal settling down for sleep. Mulder was in the house, about fifteen feet away. Probably he had heard her car drive up and had already come to the door. Was standing behind it now, waiting for her knock. How could it have been that he had not answered a single letter, not taken a single call in all this time? Their last conversation hung in the air, faded with the years, but still there, something about Senator Matheson; he had been in the hospital for colon surgery, and Mulder wanted to know if he'd had a history of it or if it was sudden onset.

The moon watched patiently, tangled in the branches. Scully scanned the neighborhood; it was quiet. Few of the houses had jack o' lanterns or paper ghosts hanging from the trees. Once Halloween had been the Day of the Dead, still was in some countries, and then civilization had beaten it down to a docile children's holiday, but it had only been waiting all this time in the dark; now once again it was a time of poisoned apples and razor blades, of masks that revealed as many monsters as they concealed, of the smiling jester with the knife hidden in his cloak.

Scully shuddered all over and got out of the car quickly. She strode up the curved cobblestones to the massive oak door and used the lion's head knocker to rap sharply three times. He was there; she could see the stirring of curtains, feel the shift behind the door. But he didn't answer. It was not yet dark, but no lights were on in the house. No sign of him. And yet she knew he was there without a doubt, a few feet away. Dreading the encounter? Steeling himself for it? Wishing she had never come to his-

The door opened abruptly, without so much as a click of the latch. Mulder stood in the shadows of the foyer, bigger than she remembered. She could smell him, feel the air displaced by his presence, sense the warmth of his body a few feet away even with the chilly air between them.

"Scully," he said, in that gruff voice she'd heard on the phone. "Come in."

She stepped inside the house and he shut the door behind her. For one incredible instant she panicked, felt a blink of terror at being enclosed in this small space with someone who had become an unknown factor, a dangerous stranger. Then she felt him pulling back, moving away from her even as he reached out to take her coat. She shrugged the navy blue London Fog off her shoulders and it slid into his hands. He turned and opened and door, put it on a hanger, as she stood clasping the handles of her briefcase with white knuckled fear.

"Hi," she heard herself say. "How are you doing?"

"Glad to be home," he said, unsmiling.

Home? This was one of his mother's houses; she hadn't even asked herself if he had ever lived here before, though she knew Mrs. Mulder had returned to it in her last years.

"I'm sorry about your mother," she said.

He made a slight gesture as he walked away from her, towards a larger room she presumed was the living room. "Skinner told me you were a great comfort to her when she was in the hospital."

Skinner. Scully ducked her head to hide her smile. It had taken this terrible thing to show Skinner for what he was, and the Gunmen, and Tina Mulder. And maybe her, too. Mulder's imprisonment had brought out the best in each of them; they had been tried by fire and found worthy. Skinner may have been right; she may actually have been a comfort to Mrs. Mulder, as she had called Mulder's mother right up to the day she died. But in her quiet strength there had been a kind of passion that had amazed Scully, a love for her son that wasn't manifested in hugging and kissing and family dinners, but rock solid in its own way.

She had brought the lawyers in, turned over everything to Scully in her living will, listed every last condition in case Samantha was ever found, and made completely sure that her son's assets were safe before she allowed death to take her.

"Some people make their peace with God," Frohike had said later; "She made hers with her accountant."

But they had all attended her funeral, even Skinner, and although Christina Mulder had few friends, there was an aura of real grief in those who attended. On the surrounding hillside there had been strangers, too, like wolves watching the human's circle of fire from a distance, longing in some strange wild way to come closer and be warmed. Ironic, because that's the way she had always thought of Mulder, on the outside, yearning for human connection but unable to make it.

He sat on the camel backed sofa, and she sat across from him in a petit point wing chair that must have cost more than she made in a month. It was not quite dark, but the shadows in the living room made it hard to see, and when he reached to the end table and turned on a green-shaded lamp, it didn't help much.

There was a large bowl of sunflower seeds on the Ethan Allan coffee table. Mulder reached down and took a few, put them in his mouth. Then he leaned back and put his arm on the back of the sofa to look at her, chewing thoughtfully.

Scully aimed her face at him without looking at him. She felt dazed, her emotions running together the way vivid colors run together to make an impenetrable black. Part of her was thinking of excuses to flee back to town; another part of her felt that everything she had worked for and believed in was right here in this room, if only she could find it.

He was wearing a light blue shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, the collar open. His hair was a little longer on top, a little shorter at the neck. He looked like a poet; there was a dreamy, ethereal quality about him. Still, she couldn't concentrate on looking at his face, into his eyes, for fear of what she might see there. Or for fear of what she might not see.

"So do we need a lawyer for this, or what?" he asked.

"No, I've already taken care of everything. There are some papers that have to be notarized, but basically you just have to sign some things and then tomorrow we can find a local notary and finish it all up."

"Where are you staying?" he asked.

"I drove straight through. I haven't found a place yet."

She could feel the shiver run through him, slight, but the slightest movement alerted her like a deer drinking at an alligator pond.

She looked up. The last of the orange October light was fading from the sky, but it paused long enough to let her see him clearly. His eyes were dark, hooded, not hazel or green, but colorless, the way death's eyes might look in a dream, gleaming deep in their sockets.

His face had a ruined light that made it somehow transcendent of beauty, something so rare there hadn't been a word made up for it yet. His mouth, a line drawn to match a bird with its wings outspread in flight, turned up slightly at the corners. His nose, the way his ears lay flat against his head, the high hard cheekbones that stretched the skin, the lines that in anyone else would be wrinkles but in Mulder were so expressive it was as if he was wearing his soul on the outside.

Scully said nothing, but inside, her soul spoke his name, and looking into her eyes, Mulder blinked once as if he had heard it.

She said, "I..." at the same time he said, "You..." and they both stopped, waiting for the other to continue. But in fact there was nothing to be continued. They had a thousand years of history between them and it seemed impossible to push one more minute into the future without acknowledging the past.

He flung himself forward suddenly, startling her. "Scully! I'm sorry, I didn't even think. Would you like something to drink? You drove all the way through? Did you have any dinner?"

She shook her head. "I'm not hungry," she told him. "I would like some water, though."

"Water?" He got to his feet in one fluid motion, hardly bending his knees. Even from across the coffee table he seemed huge; their height disparity had long ceased to register with her and now it seemed astonishing. There was not one ounce of fat on him; she imagined she could see the outline of his ribs under his shirt. His motion sent a wave of fresh Mulder across the room, and she inhaled deeply on the pretense of a sigh. Soap. Tide. Minty mouthwash. She had a sudden sharp vision of him standing over the bathroom sink, washing out his mouth with green rinse, his eyes looking at his own face in the mirror, and at that moment he had been thinking of her.

"Ice?" he said. Then to himself, "Of course ice." He nodded at her. "I'll be right back."

She wished he had offered something stronger. A prozac cocktail, washed down by some of the expensive brandy she saw behind the glass liquor cabinet. Then maybe this would get easier as the moments ticked by.

Chapter Five: The Change

Memphis, Tennessee
Apartment of Celia Redman
October 18, 9pm

"Tom? Thomas?"

Celia Redman pounded on the bathroom door with the heel of her hand. The tap had been running for half an hour now, and he still hadn't answered her.

"Tom, are you okay?"

Nothing. Just the hard rush of water, a shadow that moved across the light at the bottom of the door.

Inside, Thomas Hagen had his nose pointed down at the bathroom sink, but his gaze was raised to his own reflection in the mirror. His eyes from that angle were narrow half moons, almost all white.

He was crying. Tears were pouring down his face into the sink, leaking away the last of what had been human in him. He watched it with regret, until the regret drained out of him too, and swirled away down the gullet of the white porcelain sink.

"Tom! Are you okay in there, Tom?"

His gaze fixed on itself, amazed. He had a brief flash of memory: Dana Scully. In his mind it was a clear, bright picture. She had been there when the change had begun, when the power had begun to seep into him, replacing cell by cell the thing that had been Tom Hagen with the Other thing. That which had been born in the blood and fostered in some hot red place, now nested in the honeycomb that had been Hagen's brain.

She had touched it. She had touched him. They were...She was...It was her fault. The running water had been her fault.

"Tom? Can I come in, Tom? I'm worried about you."

Hagen dried his face. He thought of Scully standing naked before him, the red patch between her legs. Had this happened already, or was it about to happen? He couldn't tell. He saw himself pushing her down on her back, seizing her ankles, spreading her legs. Wide, wide, wide as his shoulders, wide as his arms would spread out, wider, until the tearing sound began. And the screaming, and the blood.

He smiled.

Celia Redman chose that moment to turn the knob and push the door open. She saw her boyfriend from behind, his head down over the sink, a towel clasped loosely by his side. He was naked. The water was running.

"Tom, are you okay?" She reached around him and turned off the tap.

"I'm fine," he told her. His voice seemed to come from the bottom of some dark, deep place.

"...Tom?" Celia backpedaled towards the door, looking at him in growing, speechless horror as he turned slowly to face her.

What she saw, the thing that lunged suddenly and cut off her scream forever, made her death a welcome release.

(yes, and I forgot to mention last night that the events that happened with Hagen in Memphis occurred on Oct. 20, eleven days before Scully drove up to see Mulder, in a flashback.)

Chapter Six: The Gift

Someone had to say something first.

Mulder was bent over the papers, looking through them, the overhead light reflecting off his glasses so she couldn't determine his expression.

After a few moments he looked up from the coffee table directly into her eyes, and Scully looked down, embarrassed, then made herself look up again.

Mulder said, "You could have had these Fed-Ex'ed over."

"I know," she said softly. "But I wanted to talk to you."

He nodded, as if encouraging her to go on.

"We were partners," she said, with more confidence. "You owe me that much."

He nodded again. "I owe you everything," he said. "But I wasn't in much of a position to do any repaying, was I?"


"Look, Scully," he tossed down the folder he'd been studying and focused his attention on her. "I know you're going to ask me to come back. But it's not going to happen."

It was an effort, but she kept her face blank. "You're not interested in the X-Files anymore?"

"There are no X-Files."

"Didn't Skinner tell you that Jeff and Diana have taken the division over?"

Mulder grunted his contempt. "Like I said, there are no X-Files."

Scully leaned back in her chair, curling her fingers over her palm and examining her nails. "Then did Skinner also tell you my position in the Bureau?"

"Not really. He said you were doing research."

"Field research," she said. She leaned forward again, unable to contain her eagerness. "Mulder, you wouldn't believe the things I've uncovered. I mean, it's really been amazing. There's a whole underground movement out there, investigating independently of any government agency, and for the most part they've been completely willing to help us."

"To help you," he corrected. Then, " Investigating what?"

"Paranormal activity, of course, but more than that. What they call 'The Invaders.' I get anonymous leads all the time. I was just in Memphis, looking into what was reported as several flesh eating bacterial deaths. But they didn't spread, Mulder. Something stripped those people to the bone, but it was no bacteria. Something simply dissolved three human beings, maybe four. And we've seen that happen before, haven't we? Only this time there were bones left.Bones, Mulder."

Mulder's gaze fixed on something on the wall beyond her, and she could see signs of his interior struggle in his eyes. He sighed and took off his glasses and put them on the coffee table, and she could see that he'd won whatever war he was waging with himself. "I'm sure it was just an anomoly," he said.

"Mulder, you and I both know that it wasn't."

"Look, Scully, when we got back from the end of the world, while we were still in the hospital recovering from frostbite, I made up my mind that I was never going to subject you to that kind of danger again."

She gave a short, surprised laugh. "Oh, I get it. You decided my future for me while I was unconscious. Did I forget to thank you?"

His lips compressed. "You're wasting your time arguing with me. Even if they hadn't slapped those charges on me the minute I got out of the hospital, I had decided. My mind is made up."

Looking at him, she thought, So is mine, Mulder. So is mine.

She said, "Well, can we at least discuss it?"

"There's really nothing to discuss."

And yet she could sense that he was holding himself back; he wasn't making all the small, impatient movements of someone signaling the end of a conversation. When she crossed her legs, he glanced at them; she saw his eyes sweep her more than once, as if looking at something against his will.

There was a moment of silence, during which both were very still, avoiding body language of any type. Then Scully said, "Oh! I almost forgot. I got you something."

"Scully, you didn't have to..."

She opened her purse and dug through it, pulled out the small black leather holster. Although her head was bent over it, she was looking at Mulder from under her lashes. He seemed interested, a little hesitant, as if anticipating embarrassment, and then...before he could hide it, a flash of something as pure and happy as a boy getting a baseball glove for his birthday.

He half rose and reached out to take it, then settled back down on the sofa, pulling the small cellular phone out of its holster and clicking it on.

His voice was rich with pleasure; "Scully!"

"It's activated, paid up for a year. Private line. The...um, the speed dial one connects to mine."

He held it to his ear for a dial tone, smiling at her, the old Muldersmile, full of delight. "Pretty sure of yourself, weren't you?"

"Well, I thought even if you didn't come back, you could maybe call me sometime."

He rose and came around the coffee table to her, towering over her again, and again she felt a stab of panic. He leaned down and kissed her cheek, his nose brushing her hair back, lips soft as a child's.

"Thank you," he whispered.

Scully's heart pounded in her ears. His mouth was too close to her ear; his breath tickled her hair and made the gooseflesh stand up on her arms; it was all she could do not to shrink back in her chair.

"You're welcome," she murmured, but her voice sounded so odd in her own ears she wondered how it must sound to him.

He didn't move as far back as she wanted. She could smell him, a feverish, heady scent like a night in the tropics, feel him like the shift and slide of the ocean.

"Scully," he said, in a soft voice that seemed to exclude every other sound in the world but her name. In the word was a silent command to look up at him.

She raised her eyes to his.

When the doorbell rang they both sprang away from each other like magnets set to opposite ends. Scully caught her breath; Mulder's eyes narrowed and he shot a look of such suspicion and hostility at the door that her heart cried out for him. Three years in that place. Three years. What had they done to him?

They both went to answer it; old habits made them move in practiced ways. Mulder in front, Scully just behind and to the left. Mulder put his hand on the knob, hesitated, and then jerked the heavy front door open and peered out onto the porch, where the motion-sensitive light had come on.

A woman dressed in some kind of crepe orange outfit, with orange dyed hair and orange based makeup, beamed at him, her teeth startlingly large and white. She was surrounded by three small children, all dressed as jack o'lanterns in identical costumes, who cried out in chorus, "Trick or treat!"

Mulder looked so stunned Scully had to laugh. "It's Halloween," she told him. "Didn't you get anything?"

Mulder looked blankly at the telephone in his hand, then looked at the woman and reflexively dug his hand in his pants pockets. For an anxious instant Scully thought he was going to give them his spare change. Then he caught himself and said, "I'm sorry. We...I didn't..."

The woman, whose whiskey scented breath Scully could smell from four feet away, shouted happily, "Oh, that's all right! We'll take a rain check."

"Rain check! Rain check!" the children squealed, and raced out across the lawn and into the street. They chased each other around the street lamp, and then trotted on down the street, followed by the orange woman, whose unsteady wobble was probably only partially due to the fact that she was wearing neon orange high heels.

There was no telling what was going through Mulder's mind as he stared after them. Scully was wondering where the hell that woman had bought those shoes.

When Mulder drew back, closing the door, Scully backed into the hallway. He turned to her, and said with a shaky little laugh, "Jesus."

Despite herself, Scully began to laugh. After a moment, Mulder joined in. "You see?" she asked him. "If I hadn't been here to verify that, you'd be asking yourself right now if that was a hallucination."

"I'm still not sure," he said.

Scully made no move to go back into the living room. Instead she backed a little further into the dark hallway, to give him room to open the closet door where he'd hung her coat.

"Mulder, I'd better go."

It was obvious that he wanted to stop her; there was a look of protest on his face, but it was equally obvious that he wasn't going to do anything about it.

"Okay," he said. "Are you going to drive back tonight?"

Scully felt her energy level at the highest it had been in years; the electicity ran through her as if she'd been scuffing the carpet on a dry day. She felt capable of jogging back.

"I guess so," she said.

Now he seemed to not want to let her go. He didn't move out of her way when she made a slight motion towards the door. He loomed big as a monster in the hallway, the light behind him like an aura around his head.

It was too much, too soon.It was too dark in the hallway. Too much Mulder, too close to her. They'd barely spoken. You couldn't wipe away the resentment of three years in an hour.

Mulder said in a soft, clear voice, "You could stay here tonight, go back in the morning. We haven't really talked."

"I don't..." Too much emotion, too many unshed tears choking her, too fierce a voice if she spoke what she was feeling. "Not a good idea," she managed.

"I don't want to say goodbye like this," he said.

Then don't! she thought angrily. But she only reached out and tapped the phone still hanging loosely in his hand. "Call me."

He laughed. She stood her ground as he advanced, but there was something in his eyes, a tender fire, but also a challenge, a kind of determination that was not tenderness at all.

"It's like losing you all over again," he said.

"It doesn't have to be, Mulder. It doesn't have to be goodbye."

He kept moving closer. Scully's brain seized in gear; she could not think of another thing to think, another thing to say. She only knew that she couldn't say goodbye to him like this, not so abruptly, not so soon.

She said inanely, "We'll always be friends, Mulder."

Finally, he touched her, his hands on her waist.

"Like hell," he growled.

Chapter Seven: Flashback

Memphis, Tennessee
Oct 22, 1PM

Diana Fowley fingered the bones of the skeleton on stainless steel table idly, wondering what the boy had looked like in life. Even with latex gloves on, and a complete all-clear from the medical team, she was reluctant to do more than push at a leg bone a little, then draw her hand back and wipe it on the hem of her jacket.

Even that was more than Spender was willing to do. He peered over her shoulder nervously. "I don't care what they say," he told her, his voice muffled by the mask he'd insisted on wearing. "This thing shouldn't be out in the open like this. It could still be contaminated."

Fowley glanced up with amusement at the young resident, whose eye she caught as he pulled the table backwards towards the door. He looked away, trying not to smile. Spender was the most careful man Fowley had ever met, forever walking the line between fastidiousness and fussiness.

He tugged the mask off when the autopsy bay doors swung shut. "What the hell are we doing here, anyway? We don't know what killed those kids anymore than they do."

Fowley had laid her papers on the lab table and was poring over them. "There's something not right here," she said.

"There's a whole LOT not right here."

"Jeff, there were supposed to be four bodies. We only saw three." She looked up at him. "Where's the fourth?"

He leaned over her shoulder again, looking down at the report.

"Three that were found dead from whatever the bacteria did. But the original report by the police says that there was a fourth skeleton found in the woods, too. That's the one I want to see."

"Coincidence, Diana. There are probably bodies buried in every stretch of woods along the backroads of this whole country. So this one happened to be nearby when these kids contacted whatever it was that killed them."

"Mmm," she said. "Maybe."

"Maybe?" He cocked his head at her. "What's your theory?"

"I don't have one yet. But even if the fourth body was found coincidentally, where the hell is it?"

Spender shrugged. "In the morgue?"

"This IS the..." She shook her head. "Let's go find out what's going on."

Upstairs, at the front desk, they were met by a Dr. Harboro, a tired looking older man with a weary smile. After handshakes and introductions, he said, "I'm sorry for the mix up. Tom Hagen was supposed to handle this whole thing. He came down from the CDC with a team of medical personnel, but then he disappeared, and apparently they flew back without him."

Fowley and Spender exchanged looks. Spender said, "His original report included a fourth body, or remains of a body. Do you know anything about that?"

"I know what you're talking about; I read that, too. But I don't know anything about a fourth body. If Dr. Hagen received another body from the police morgue, he didn't report it anywhere but in his personal notes."

"You said he disappeared?" Fowley asked.

"That came out a bit more dramatic than I intended," Harboro apologized. "He was dating a physical therapist on staff here, Celia Redman. They both went off together a few days ago and neither reported back."

The nurse at the desk spoke suddenly. "We figure they must have eloped," she said. Her face flushed, and she looked down, smiling, as the candystriper behind her giggled and nudged her arm.

Harboro gave them an indulgent look. "Never a dull moment in the West Wing," he said, and the two women laughed delightedly.

Spender managed a sour smile, though Fowley shook the doctor's hand goodbye with more warmth.

Out in the limpid sunshine of a wan October afternoon, Spender stretched and yawned. "Well, where do we go from here?" he asked.

"I don't want to go back until I've talked to someone on that CDC team," Fowley said. "I don't care who it is. Someone must have some sort of explanation for what happened."

"What's your theory?" Spender asked.

"You already asked me that, and I already told you, I don't have one. But I am wondering. I mean, this thing feels like it's got too many loose ends to just let go of."

"Even if it wasn't bacterial," Spender pointed out, "That wouldn't necessarily mean it was some kind of paranormal event. In fact, I'm wondering what we're doing down here at all."

She glanced at him. "I know what you mean. But Skinner assigned us, so presumably he was acting on information from some source he trusted."

"Well, okay. How do we find this Hagen guy? Any suggestions?"

"We can start with the usual suspects," Fowley said, jacking open her car door. "As they say in France, when a man is missing, look for the woman."

It began it began it began a long time ago. A long long long long time ago. And now he was in the middle of it.

The former Thomas Hagen rocked back and forth on his heels as he squatted in the foyer of his former girlfriend's house. He was in unspeakable pain. A low keening sound came from him, a sound with an edge to it, like a cat purring, or a high voltage electrical line.

He could remember a little bit at a time. A long long time ago, something had happened, and it had begun.Her blood told secrets tohis blood as it nursed and sucked and slowly devoured every delicious cell, and every cell groaned in pleasure at its devouring, but the Thomas Hagen that could not be changed groaned and ached and fretted and made the strange rowling sound in his throat.

He could remember the village very clearly. The women who shouted at him, the grey stones in the buildings, the tavern with the red rooster where the bad men made their pacts. He remembered the idiot drooling down on him, saying Come, Come, and trying to lure him into the woods. He remembered killing the idiot, the gorgeous bright red arc of blood sything across the golden tips of the rye.

He remembered the first time he'd seen Celia Redman, wearing that blue dress with the black roses on it. And he remembered the solemn voice of the executioner saying, "Thy immortal soul shall NOT be lost if thee but confesseth thy sin." And they'd had the redfish with wine sauce for dinner, and both of them were too tipsy to drive on the way home, so he stayed the night at her apartment for the first time, and her kiss, so sweet, so unexpectedly passionate; was that before or after they came to take him from his mother's house, and tied his hands, and hung him in the Green?

He reached out with one impossibly long arm and teased a bit of bone from under a newspaper where it had rolled last night. He could see his own tongue, vermillion, pointed, tasting the femur again wistfully.

The air around him was murderous, like a dim red haze of pain and death. It was a fire lit inside him, burning him up. He rose on his haunches, his legs no longer working the way he remembered, but a new, better way now. The Old way, before they bent in the middle.

He took a step. Another. Another. Purpose drove him on, as the Tom Hagen in him told the Old One in him what he had to do to save himself.

Twenty minutes of standing around on the porch had made Fowley and Spender snappish with each other. Normally they were a good team, with Spender deferring to her most of the time, but occasionally setting his mind for or against something, and managing to persuade her to his point of view. Fowley had gained a good deal of respect for Mulder during her work with the "new" X-Files, and she suspected Spender had, too, though there seemed to be some unbreachable animosity between those two, a guy thing, some rivalry as old as Cain.

Spender punched the doorbell with a rigid finger one last time, and then said, "Well, that's about as long as I'm going to try this. What do you think?"

Fowley sighed and walked down the three front steps of the porch to stand on the sidewalk, looking around at the driveway. A late model silver Jag was parked in the open garage, a red Nissan was in the drive. If they weren't home, they had either left by foot or by cab. Both choices seemed unlikely.

"Something's wrong," she said.

Spender smiled. "Woman's intuition?"

Fowley started to say, Both cars are here in the middle of the afternoon. No one's answering the door. No one has heard from them in forty eight hours. Two responsible adults don't just walk off the face of the earth, even in the name of hot monkey love.

Instead, she said, "I think they're in there, Jeff."

Instantly, his eyes narrowed, and he reached back and pulled his gun from his holster. Say what you would about Spender, he could handle a gun, wasn't over-quick on the trigger, and if he shot at something, he hit it.

"Let's go," he said.

Fowley moved to one side of the door and reached across to try the knob, while Spender moved to the other side, his gun in both hands, raised at the sky.

The door was unlocked, and swung open easily.

They rolled around to the entrance, both with guns in front of them, pointed forward. There was a strange, settled silence in the house, a feeling of being just vacated, but definitely a sensation of echoing emptiness. But houses with corpses in them often felt like that, and smelled like that, too. The stench hit them the minute they opened the door: rotten meat. And worse.

They entered, their shoes uncomfortably loud and hollow on the oak floors as they moved away from each other, each taking a different doorway.

Fowley's led to the living room. Spender's led to the kitchen.

"God, what's that stink?" Fowley called softly. It was vile, a smell of raw bacon mixed with sour milk and something else, something hot and coppery and—

"Oh, shit," she said.

The living room was a murder scene in red and white. The walls were splashed with blood, in an arcing pattern, the way violent death sometimes imprinted itself on a killer's last canvas.

"Jeff! Come in here!"

Spender appeared a moment later. "You should see that kitchen," he said. "It's absolutely filthy. Someone--"

"There." He pointed.

The end of some long bone of the human body poked out from beneath the sofa. "Sweet Jesus," Spender whispered.

"We need to call the police right away," Fowley said. She already had her cell phone out and was punching in numbers. While she gave terse directions to the police, Spender made a quick search of the other rooms. Bedroom, study, bath. A little add on room for the washer and dryer. A couple of closets. Being Spender, he checked them, and under the bed as well.

He was just closing the undersink cabinet door when Fowley came in, wrinkling her nose. "This is so creepy," she said. "What on earth happened here?"

The counters were oozing with rotted meat, empty ice cube trays, jars of olives, pickles, mayonaise. A maggotty hunk of some kind of fowl carcass stank as bad as a dead rat in an attic, and a bowl of mouldy grapes bred flora on a kitchen chair. Bottles of beer, unopened, were strewn across the floor, a dish of butter melted into a pool on top of the stove.

Spender opened the back door, leaving the screen door shut, to air out the small, putrescent kitchen. Fowley surveyed the countertops, the stovetop, the linoleum floor, food scattered everywhere, uneaten, stinking and crawling with insects...

And then she did the math. Her horrified gaze swung to Spender's as he leaned against the tiled counter, wiping at his hands with a paper towel he'd torn from a roll above the sink.

"What?" Her look alarmed him, and he darted his gaze around the room as if expecting to see someone else.

Fowley pointed at the refrigerator. All the food, all the groceries all over the counters and floor, were items that belonged in the refrigerator. Someone had dumped everything in a hurry, for some reason. Some very good reason.

She said, "I think--"

But Spender was already pulling on the handle, one hand protectively over his nose and mouth at the smell he expected to encounter.

What he had not expected to encounter was the thing that had been Tom Hagen pressed inside the thermal box. The light came on, and the creature sprang out of the darkness with a scream like air brakes on an eighteen wheeler.

It moved with the blurry speed of a coiled snake striking. It was huge; how it had been folded up inside the 22 cubic feet was a mystery they would argue for weeks to come. It was so fast there was only a flash of greenish grey, a reptillian stink, a howl that might have been the creature, might have been Spender, and then the muzzle flash and deafening blast of Fowley's gun going off as she fired at it.

The thing knocked Spender down, rolled over him, and came to its feet. Fowley didn't have another clear shot without risking Spender, but even in her panic and horror she knew enough to fire over it, to let it know she meant business. The thing gave Fowley one look, one quick, impossibly human look from its yellow gold eyes, before smashing through the screen door and bounding like a giant cat across the back yard and over the fence.

Spender sat up groggily, pulling out his gun and waving it in the air with vague intentions of self defense. Fowley leaned back against the kitchen table, breathing in short shallow gasps, her eyes wide and fixed, clasping the gun in hands that trembled almost too much to hold it.

And that was how the police found them ten minutes later in Celia Redman's kitchen.

Chapter Eight: Ghost Story

Scully and Mulder in a hallway, with his hands on her waist.

Mulder says, "Like hell we can be friends."

Scully feels a rushing sensation, as if she is falling off a cliff. As a matter of fact, she can no longer feel the carpet under her feet.

"You came here because you wanted something," he says. There is more than tension in his voice; he is angry, he is bitter. He can barely speak.

She looks up at him, thinking, Who are you and what have you done with Mulder? "I wanted you to come back to the X-Files," she says. "I wanted--"


"I wanted to see you again," she says, and wonders why it comes out as a whisper. "I didn't want us to never see each other again."

"Scully, it can't be like it was. We can never go back to that place, to the people we were."

She barely understands what he is saying; his voice is all over her skin, and she can feel the words but not quite grasp their meaning. Except she knows he is going to say goodbye. The next thing out of his mouth is going to be the last thing he ever says to her. The last real thing, anyway. Goodbye Scully; we'll see each other now and again, but you can't carry me around in your head anymore in a vision of how things might someday be, because it's never going to happen.

She leans forward, falling, falling. Let it happen. Don't jerk back from the edge this time. Just...fall.

Mulder's chin grazes the top of her head. His arms are sliding around her, an affectionate hug goodbye. Goodbye. Her heart aches like a raw wound, and she clings to him in sorrow and despair. This can't be all. This can't be goodbye. She wants to stop him but not like this, not with her body. She would do anything to change things, anything, well, almost anything, but not this. Not hold onto him when he doesn't want to be held.

He brushes his mouth against her forehead, his nose nuzzles through her hair, inhaling. She smells the warm fragrance of the skin on his neck and puts her lips on that spot near his throat, that sweet special spot where he seems so vulnerable. She feels his lips, the tiny suction of a kiss on her cheek, another near the corner of her mouth. His breath is coming too quickly. No, wait, that's her breath, hyperventilating. That's why she feels so dizzy, so out of control. That explains the falling sensation, and why she can't think clearly. If only she turns her head a fraction of an inch, if only he turns his, their lips will slide across each other sometime between this heartbeat and the next...

In the dark hallway, cold through her thin blouse, the sparkle of fire suddenly makes her flush all over, and she says a single agonized word: "Mulder."

His name forces her mouth into the shape of a kiss.

His mouth is on hers. The room is moving, no, they're moving, no, nothing is moving; they've become unstuck in time. Mulder's mouth is on hers and she is kissing him with a hunger she never imagined in herself, never let herself dream about, her mouth is open to welcome his tongue, she is licking, sucking, biting gently; she tugs at his lips with her teeth. One minute this kiss is the focal point of all existence and then his hand closes over her breast and no, this is all she wanted, just this, and then his mouth moves and the focus shifts back as she surrenders to the demand of his kiss and then makes him surrender to the demand of hers and she hears him moaning Scully Scully...

He is holding her against the wall, his hands hurting her arms, her curved back not meant to fit against the flat drywall plane but he is holding her there and smoothing her out with his hands, molding her so that everything becomes pliant and liquid and amenable to suggestions of any shape his desire might sculpt out of her passion. His erection is an upward thrust that she would come down on if she could, but suddenly there are layers and layers of clothes in their way.

In real time maybe five minutes pass.

He bends his knees so that his fly is even with the juncture of her thighs and lifts her against the wall, his hands under her buttocks, gripping, but it isn't making love, it isn't even fucking, it's just rubbing, frantic, there isn't time for anything else because any second now one or the other of them is going to wake up and say no, no, this can't be happening...

The door in the other room, the kitchen, probably, comes down with a crash of glass and a splintering of wood and a shrieking of hinges. The noise when it reaches them shakes the hallway, sends a shock of sound like a wave of sensation through their very bones.

Mulder lets her go but doesn't move back so when she slides down him it's like striking a match, and they both clench their teeth and close their eyes for a moment. Only a moment. Scully clings to the cloth of his shirt to keep from toppling over; her legs won't work right yet.

Mulder is looking down at her but in the shadowy hallway she still can't see his eyes and time is going to start again at any heartbeat, and here they are, on the verge of something, something powerful, something momentous, an epiphany, the voice of God suddenly distinguished from all the white noise of the universe, speaking of the one good thing, the one true thing, that every heart is listening for...

A high, thin wail breaks the spell, "Daaaay...nuh," and they leap apart, prepared for battle, as if nothing had happened in the interval, and Scully's gun is in her hand, and Mulder is moving cautiously towards the doorway that leads back to the living room, and she is right behind him, back in reality, or so they imagine, as if nothing had ever happened, as if they had never left.

In the kitchen there was a gaping hole where the door had been. Mulder held his arm out, blocking Scully, even though she was the one with the gun. They edged forward, and Mulder reached for the light switch, but when he flipped it on, nothing happened.

It didn't really matter. There was light coming from the entrance, a kind of shimmering, underwater light that made a long rectangle across the terra cotta tiles of the kitchen floor.

Framed by the doorway, a few feet outside of the threshold, a man stood with his legs spread, his arms hanging limply at his sides.

Scully and Mulder gripped each other's' hands like children, because the man was there and he wasn't there. It was obvious he was only a reflection made up from the moonlight shining on the leaves of the trees, the curve of the window from the corner of the house, the back porch light of the neighbor's that was shining through the cracks between the boards of the fence. The kind of apparition that would vanish if only the viewer moved an inch or so in either direction.

But they moved, and he didn't. He stood there, looking at them mournfully. Scully gave a little cry, hardly audible, and Mulder squeezed her hand reassuringly, but it wasn't a cry of fear. She recognized this man. He was the man from her dream, the one with the hanging child.

Mulder said, "Who are you? What do you want?"

Scully felt a surge of love for him, because his voice wasn't surly or suspicious, but awestruck, full of wonder, the voice of a child before it learns how to lie. The Mulder she had known so long ago, startled out of hiding by the sight of a ghost. She almost smiled.

The ghost was staring at Scully. "You were there," it said. "You saw."

She shook her head. "Saw what?"

"Alyce." The word ended with a long hissing sound, and it might have only been the wind; they might have just been imagining the whole thing. After the moments in the hallway, anything seemed possible, and nothing seemed capable of regaining the sharp edges of real worldliness.

The ghost raised its hand, pointing at Scully. For a few seconds it was more than just reflected light with the wind as its voice. It was a man with brown shoulder length hair, wearing a coarse shirt, leather trousers, boots that laced halfway up his calves. A medieval peasant, centuries dead, who'd come to deliver some message.

The words were faint, but clear, each one enunciated with great care. "Not everything dies," it said.

And then they were standing in the kitchen with the light glaring overhead, and the door on its hinges exactly as it had been all along, an ornate clock over the refrigerator ticking ten past nine, and except for the strangeness of their positions in the doorway leading from the living room to the kitchen, nothing out of the ordinary was to be seen.

They blinked at each other uncertainly, each afraid to be the first to speak.

Finally Scully said, "This has got to be the strangest night of my entire life."

Mulder rubbed his eyes, "You saw it, Scully. Tell me you saw it."

She nodded. "I saw it."

He leaned weakly against the kitchen counter, shaking his head. "I'm almost afraid to wonder what's going to happen next," he said.

Right on cue, the answer to his question: the telephone, which he had slipped into his pants pocket earlier, began to ring.

Chapter Nine: The Call

Memphis, Tennessee
October 24, 10pm


Sharon Landers, a 43 year old tax accountant in Memphis who was at the moment dressed in a red leotard with sequined hose and a short red cape, called impatiently to the four year old Batman lagging behind her. "Paul, are you tired? D'you want to go home?"


"Well, come on, then. Let's git acrost the street."

She held out her hand, but he twisted away, gripping his bright orange plastic pumpkin with both fists, making a long "nnnnn" sound of protest.

Sharon sighed. There were five other children in her care, somewhere on the block, all between the ages of six and fourteen. Taking them out for the evening had been an experience not unlike shepherding cats. Occasionally she heard voices piping "Trick or treat!" in harmony, and skittering footsteps as they raced behind her, but it was past ten and she'd had a long day. The sugar rush that had them darting up and down the sidewalk had to be wearing off soon, thank God. It must have been the unusually chilly autumn night that kept them spiked; her grandfather would have said there was "frost on the pumpkin" that evening.

She was in the middle of Sweetbriar Lane, a wide street canopied by oaks, in a well lit, affluent neighborhood. The children were only allowed to visit houses that were "flagged" by participating community members, marked by a pumpkin hung in the front window of each house. Except for the occasional car, the children had no natural enemies. But with fifty four participating families, there were enough children involved so that they could hold Halloween a week early, on a Friday night, to avoid the dangers the regular holiday seemed to bring out. That way the kids could all have the kind of good old fashioned Halloween the way their parents imagined they'd had, a safe and wholesome way to celebrate Samhain, and the return of the Dark Lord from the netherworld along with all the other spirits of the dead.

Most of the other monitors had quit, or taken their kids to the next street by now. Paul, Sharon's nephew, had slowed them down by refusing to keep up and refusing to be carried. Occasionally he simply sat on the curb and sorted through his candy, staring in fascination at the bright colors of the wrappings. When she had picked him up by force, cupping his baseball hard buttocks in one hand and spreading his legs around the natural child carrier curve of her hip, he had screamed so loudly in her ear that she was still hearing echoes now as they meandered down the sidewalk.

She put her arms around herself and tried to rub some circulation back into them. Paul suddenly scrambled ahead of her, his hard shoes clattering on the concrete for a few yards before he came to a dead stop beside a tree.


He gave a little yelping sound like a kicked puppy and came hurtling back towards her legs, throwing his plastic pumpkin in the air, where it did a neat flip and landed in the stiffening grass. Sharon looked down at him as he flung his arms around her knees, almost knocking her down, and then looked up at the thing that stepped out from behind the tree.

It was greenish grey, fanged, with a heavy brow and sunken eyes that glittered out at her menacingly. It made a grunting sound, and took a step towards her.

Sharon gasped, reaching down to peel the four year old off her legs and thrust him forcibly behind her. As the creature approached, she braced herself for impact; it moved at a slithering speed that seemed to make a collision inevitable.

Then it stopped.

And it laughed.

Sharon had squeezed her eyes shut; now she opened them suspiciously. "Brian Farris?" She gasped, a hand over her heart. "Oh my Lord in heaven, son. Is that you?"

The creature pulled its demon mask back to reveal the redheaded neighbor boy who sometimes babysat for Paul. He grinned, "Did I give ya a scare, Mizz Landers?"

"Oh, Lord, yes!" She had to laugh at her own reaction, but the green, slimy looking mask, the clawed feet, the extra long reach of the arms, all had such realism. "Me and Paul both liked to wet our pants!" She turned, hand extended, for the child. "Paul, git over here and look at who this is."

"We've been studyin' makeup and all in drama," Brian said, "And we been doin' special effects. Pretty good, huh?"

Sharon had her head turned, not listening to him. "Paul?" she called.

The name seemed to echo through the empty spaces between the trees and fly off towards the stars.


Memphis Suburbs
14th Precinct Police Station

"Now what?" Sgt. Raul Alzono turned to the rookie who had just come up to him with a message.

"We got a missing kid out in the Briar Grove subdivision."

"Shit. Isn't this their trick or treat night?" Alzono turned to Diana Fowley and said, "Let me send a couple of officers out on this, mam'n. Four year old got loose from his folks out there somewheres."

"Am I missing something?" Spender asked. "Halloween is still a week away, isn't it?"

Alzono gave him a rueful grin. "When you got enough money you can make Halloween any day of the week you want, I guess."

He left the office for a moment, and Fowley turned to Spender, frowning. "I'm not hanging around here any longer. We need to get back to Washington and talk to Skinner."

"He's always been straight with us, though, Diana. Why do you think he's lying now?"

She reached over to the sergeant's desk and picked up the battered portfolio that had the name tag "Dana Scully, M.D." attached by a clip to the handle. "What would this be doing in Thomas Hagen's girlfriend's house, do you think?"

He shook his head. "I have no idea."

"She must have been down here before us, Jeff. Don't you see what this means? "

"Hey, it's an FBI investigation, and she's a doctor. I can see Skinner sending her down here to talk with the CDC about this, to make sure there wasn't some possibility of a public emergency."

"Why her, Jeff? You think the FBI in Memphis doesn't have people that could clear that up?"

He started to speak, stopped, let a sigh out through his nose. "Well..."

"Well, nothing. Skinner sent her down here, and we were never supposed to know about it. Don't you get it? That bitch has been going along all this time investigating our cases on the sly."

"And I used to think Mulder was paranoid," he said. "It must be this damn job."

"Look, Jeff, what if Skinner has been having Scully investigate these cases ahead of us, and basically we've just been playing his damn game for the past three years. That's why everything we get close to manages to slip away from us, why we never seem to get anything tangible we can prosecute on."

"Our solve rate isn't that bad," Spender pointed out. "You know my feelings on this matter anyway. The reason we can't get ‘facts' on these paranormal reports is that there aren't any. When it's a real perp, we put him away, don't we? Remember the Salinger case? The Weiss trial? We've been doing all right, Diana."

"Any idiot could have figured those cases out. Our job is to investigate reports of paranormal events and--"

"And separate the reality from the bullshit of the situation, and work with that," he interrupted. "And that's exactly what we've been doing."

"But Jeff..." her tone was softer; she really wanted to convince him, even after all this time. "What if it isn't all bullshit? What if there really are things out there like what we saw today? I mean, can you doubt the evidence of your own eyes?"

"I keep telling you, Diana--I didn't see it. It was too fast. It knocked me down and by the time I was up again it was gone."

She took a deep, shivering sigh, on the verge of frustrated tears, but still in control of herself. "All right," she said. "I'm the only one who saw it. And these cops are going around looking for Tom Hagen in a Halloween costume a week before Halloween, and no one knows what the slime in the refrigerator is because it evaporated when they left the door open. But I'm telling you there's something loose in this city that isn't human, that's big and dangerous and different from anything anyone has ever seen, and that is posing as big or bigger a threat to the community as any flesh eating bacteria that ever existed."

"Yes," Spender said, in his most infuriating way, "But can you PROVE that?"

Annapolis, Maryland
Oct 31st, 11pm

Mulder took the phone from his pocket and stared at it. He looked up at Scully. "Does anyone else have this number?"

She shook her head. "I set it up as unlisted."

He glanced at the kitchen door briefly as if to affirm its reality one more time, then put the phone to his ear and pushed the button.


He wiggled his finger at Scully and she went to him, pressing her head against his to listen.

Silence. But a clear line; someone was breathing.

"Hello," Mulder said.

A voice from long ago spoke through the earpiece, a voice Mulder hadn't heard in well over three years, and hoped he would never hear again. "I'm glad you're home," the man he knew as "Cancer Man" said, in his friendly Canadian accent. "I've missed you, Fox."

Scully recoiled from the phone. Two ghosts in one night was too much for anyone. Mulder said, "You can go to hell, you son of a bitch."

"Is that gratitude?" It was never easy to tell if he was hurt or doing a mocking parody of hurt. "Here I arrange for you to be freed, and all I get is insults?"

"So you pulled a rabbit out of the hat to get me out," Mulder said. "I suspected as much. But it won't work. I'm not going to play your game."

"Don't be so hasty, Fox. Hear me out first. You owe me that much."

Mulder winced at the sound of his first name coming from the man he hated more than anyone else in the world. Scully, who had returned to listen, squeezed his arm in sympathy. "I don't owe you shit," he said.

"If it makes you feel any better, I never helped them put you away in the first place. But I did arrange your release."

"And you expect me to thank you for that?"

"It was your mother's dying wish, Fox. She asked me to do that one thing for her, and I owed her that much, for reasons you'll never understand. She asked me to find a way to get you free, and to make sure they never get that kind of power over you again."

Mulder was quiet for a minute. He and Scully looked in

For just a moment a touch of real emotion tinged the Cancer Man's voice, like a single drop of blue dye in a bowl of clear water. "I could hardly refuse her a dying request."

Mulder said,"And what gives you that kind of power?"

"Fox, haven't you figured out by now that I'm a power broker? That I know where all the skeletons are buried, so to speak." He chuckled at his own joke. "Speaking of which, has Scully told you about Memphis yet?"

Mulder glanced at her, but she looked away, with a slight shake of her head.

"What's in Memphis?" he asked.

"Proof, Fox. Proof that you and I are working on the same side."

"Never," Mulder said flatly.

"Your partner's very good, you know," Cancer Man went on. "She's gained considerable expertise in the time you were away."

"She's not my partner, I'm not reinstated, and it isn't going to happen," Mulder said. Before Scully could stop him, he clicked off the phone and snapped it shut.

"Son of a bitch," he growled. He shot an angry look at her. "Did you know about this?"

She was speechless. "Did I--?"

"Did he get you to come here? To convince me any way you could to come back to work for them? For him?"

Scully opened and closed her mouth, but nothing came out.

It was Mulder the stranger again, the man she didn't know, someone who had been so altered by his experiences that he would never be truly recognizable to her again. The crack in her heart widened, and she reached up reflexively and touched the cross at her throat.

"Nice try," Mulder said. "And I admit," he made an disgusted, throwaway gesture at the door leading to the corridor, "You almost had me convinced there in the hall. But it won't work, Scully. Even that won't bring me back."

Scully backed away from him, unable to process this switch from Mulder to Dark Mulder in the blink of an eye. Even if there were words to use to defend herself with, she couldn't access them; she knew if she tried to speak she would start crying, and she wouldn't allow that indignity. Anyway, there was nothing left to protect herself with; she was all out of self defense and the only thing left was retreat. She turned and headed blindly for the front door.

Mulder watched her stride into the living room; he followed her slowly as she picked up her briefcase, fumbled with the closet door to get her coat. It seemed as if he was willing to stand there in his mother's house and watch Scully walk out of his life forever.

Scully opened the front door without looking back. Despite all her pride, there was an instant when she hesitated, not turning, just pausing a split second with her eyes closed, one foot over the threshold into the future, one reluctant to leave the past behind.

Then she took the step, and closed the door quietly behind her.

Chapter 10: Not Everything Dies

Washington, D.C.
October 25, 11 am (flashback)

Skinner walked to the door, determined not to open it, then opened it anyway.

Meg, his part time secretary, gave him a startled look when he stepped into the anteroom. "Yes, sir?"

He stared at her for a moment and then said, "Is there any coffee?"

Her dark eyes studied him without emotion, though she was fighting a smile. He acted like a man being stood up on a date, which could only mean one thing: he had a meeting with Agent Scully. Meg had only been working these Saturdays for a couple of months, but already she knew the only times she ever saw anything even approximating "flustered" in his demeanor was when he was expecting that redhead.

"I'll make some fresh," she said smoothly, not mentioning the fact that she'd made a full pot only half an hour ago.

He looked at her, but said nothing. Just before he went back into his office, he glanced at her over his shoulder and grumbled, "Thanks."

Meg had just pulled down the Brazilian blend from the shelf when Agent Scully came hurrying in. "Is Assistant Director Skinner busy?" she asked.

"I'm sure he'll see you," Meg said, going to her desk. She pushed the buzzer once, and Skinner popped out of his door like a Jack in the Box.

When the two of them disappeared inside the office and she heard the lock snap, Meg finally let herself chuckle softly.

She put the coffee back on the shelf unopened.

Scully sat on the edge of the chair and looked up at her boss, who was leaning over his desk with his hands flat on its surface. She had learned his body language well enough to know that he was upset; he looked at her like that, his head down, eyes watching her over the tops of his glasses, when he wanted to be gentle with some particularly bad news.

"What?" she asked.

"The police found your portfolio in Memphis yesterday, in the home of a Celia Redman, Thomas Hagen's girlfriend...well, her remains were found at her the house as well, possibly a victim of the bacterial outbreak you were down there investigating. Hagen is still missing."

Scully raised an eyebrow. "Do they think I'm involved?"

"No, they don't, Scully, but Spender and Fowley do. Agent Fowley called me at home this morning and informed me that she was going to file a formal complaint as soon as they get back here on Monday."

"Against me? For what?"

"No, against me, for what she feels was the withholding of information that would have helped their formal investigation in a possible murder."

Scully snorted. "That's ridiculous."

"I realize that. It's just her way of saying that she's finally figured out you've been involved in every X-File since Mulder was convicted."

His face suddenly darkened, and Scully knew there was even worse to come. He sat down and regarded her across the desk with his jaw pulsing as if he was grinding his teeth.

"What?" she asked, alarmed.

"I know where Mulder is staying."

Scully didn't move, except to fold her fingers under the edge of her chair and grip it tightly. "Where?"

"His mother had a house in Annapolis. I'm sure you can find it by the deed easily enough. He's moved in to it."

Scully nodded as if he'd asked her a question. "I see," was all she said.


She held up a hand and he stopped before he even began. "It's all right," she said. "I have the address. I have to take the papers to him anyway, so he can sign everything. I..." She looked up at him, her blue eyes glowing as if they were the only color in the grey room. "Do you mind if I take a couple of days off, sir?"

"Of course not. Do whatever you need to do. But Scully...I know this is hard for you, but now there's a four year old boy missing in Memphis, as well as Thomas Hagen, who was in charge of the CDC investigation. Do you have any idea what's going on down there?"

"I have a meeting set up with one of Mulder's old informants tonight," she said. "He's going to meet me at some professor's house, with a document he says will explain what happened to the kids who originally contracted the...whatever it was. I don't think it was bacterial, though."

"Then what?"

She looked up at him miserably. Only one person in the world would understand what she needed to say, and he didn't want to talk to her. She said, "There are scientific experiments...with clones. Human DNA crossbred with...experimental DNA. This has been going on for a long time all over the world, though we haven't been able to accumulate enough evidence to prove any allegations. One side effect with the resultant offspring of the cloning process has been...when they are killed, they decay at a faster rate than..."

God, it sounded insane, even to her. She ached for Mulder, his confidence, his anger when people didn't believe him. She barely believed it herself, even after all the bodies she had seen melt before her very eyes.

But Skinner was listening intently. "Go on," he urged.

"All the evidence of what I found down there seems to lead to the conclusion that those teenagers were exposed to a...stage of the cloning process, or perhaps were clones themselves. That's what I thought at first, but their skeletons were almost completely intact, and I've never seen that before with the kind of...cloning experiments I'm talking abotu."

Skinner was staring at her, not unkindly. "So what do you think happened to them?" he asked.

She shook her head. "I don't know. My best guess is that it's some new kind of experiment, maybe an improved version of the original process. But why they want to clone with us is something I've never been able to figure out."

Skinner had read her reports, both the ones she turned in for the records and the private ones, the observations, the speculations. He had never made her feel ridiculous for them, or insane. Maybe, she thought wearily, because she didn't come on chin first, like Mulder used to. She was shy, apologetic, reticent about making any sort of conclusion. It gave her files a credibility that Mulder's had never gained, at least not with Skinner.

Skinner said, "He can come back if he wants to, you know. He was completely vindicated. If he wanted to sue, he'd have a case."

Scully laughed softly, looking at her hands.

Skinner said, "What?"

"Can you see Mulder suing?"

Skinner's lips twitched. "I guess not."

"Sir, I'll keep the appointment tonight, and follow this thing through. But as soon as we clear up this case, I really would like to take a couple of weeks' leave of absence."

"You've got the time coming to you," he said.

He may have wanted to say more, but he seemed to feel the whole weight of his thoughts too heavy to sustain in the air as words. He sighed deeply, and looked as if he had aged a few years just sitting at his desk with the sunny October afternoon a backdrop through his window.

Unaccountably, Scully felt sorry for him. She rose and said softly, "Thank you, sir."

"I hope you can talk some sense into him."

Something she had never done before, she did now, on impulse. She held out her hand, and Skinner took it, and they shook formally, a warm grip that was all the communication either of them could allow themselves to express in terms of hope for the future.

There was still an hour or two of daylight left when Scully and her informant, Capricio, walked up the stone steps to the quiet, elegant apartment of Dr. Justin Becker. The long shadows were falling across the courtyard, and Scully looked around as Cappy rang the doorbell. There was so much loveliness in the world, so much to be grateful for in every breath she took. Life is a gift, she reflected, and heard the words in her head as if someone else was saying them: Life is a gift.

The door opened, and a tall, thin man in glasses peered down at them; he was at least a foot taller than Scully, and taller still than Cappy. He brushed a forelock of brown hair out of his eyes distractedly and said, "Ah, Capricio. I'm glad to see you."

Introductions were made, and they went inside. The living room was much as Scully might have expected to find from a professor of Medieval Languages: shelves of books going to the ceiling, simple, heavy oak furniture, paintings that were reproductions of the medieval tryptechs Scully remembered from her art classes in college. Papers scattered on two writing tables which seemed to be the central focus of the room.

Becker led them to one of the tables, and said, "Your manuscript is fascinating, Cappy."

Capricio had been Becker's student, a brilliant, promising prodigy who had dropped out in his junior year of college and had somehow fallen through the cracks in the world. He had at various times tried to convince Scully that global warming was a secret government plot, that irridium was a gift from space aliens who expected earthlings to know how to use it, and that every phone call was recorded by the government so they could later imitate the sound waves of any individual's voice if they had to fake evidence for a political crime in the future.

Yet his brilliance was inarguable, and he had led her several times to the exact people she most needed to talk to. He had adored Mulder, and in the past year or two seemed to yield his small capacity to trust up to Scully. He had called her one night, whispering dramatically the one word "Memphis," which had gotten her interested in the case in the first place.

And somehow, tonight, the first thing out of his mouth when he saw her was, "I hear Mulder's out of jail."

So it was with a mixture of skepticism and hope that she looked over Dr. Becker's shoulder at the battered parchment he smoothed out on the table. Just the way he touched it told Scully volumes; here was a document of precious value, at least to him.

"Were you able to translate it, Doc?" Cappy asked.

"Oh, yes. Oh, yes." Becker took his glasses off and Scully could see that his blue eyes were shining with pleasure. "I won't ask where you got this, Cappy, but I have to tell you, you can't have it back. I've called the Prado, and they're coming for it on Monday."

"What is it?" Scully asked, leaning over his shoulder as he bent forward. She saw the ornate writing she associated with illuminated manuscripts, edges that looked charred, some words that seemed to have simply faded away. But the document itself was clearly very old, and very beautiful, a work of art in itself.

Becker smiled widely and pushed his hair back again. His height, his thinness, his look of scholarly intensity had made Scully think he was middle aged, but up close she could see he was a young man, probably barely thirty years old. She felt her heart squeeze when she realized that he wore the exact same kind of glasses Mulder did.

"What we have here, Agent Scully," he beamed, "Is a ghost story. A five hundred year old ghost story."

"Really?" Cappy's voice might have been disappointed; it was hard to tell. Scully never knew what was going on in his head.

Becker seemed not to notice. He said, "This piece of parchment was written in 1452 by a scribe of some sort for a man named Hubert Eldrich."

Scully blinked. Where had she heard that name before?

"It seems to have been part of a collection in Florence that was thought to have been destroyed by fire in the late sixteen hundreds. God knows where it's been all this time." He raised a hand to abort Cappy's protest. "Don't worry, Cap. I won't even ask. I'm just telling you, it's a wonderful find."

"What does it say?" Scully prompted.

"Well...it tells the story of a woman, Hubert's mother, who was raped. She seems to have left the village of Ruen or Ruel or ... I can't make out the last letters here, but it was somewhere in the northern part of England, in the winter. The woman's name isn't revealed, but she seems to have disappeared for several days, then returned to say she'd fallen down a hole of some sort..." He was scowling down at the paper, scanning as he ran a long well manicured finger along the text. "A very cold place, it says. It says she reported that a demon in the ice had raped her and that she had struck stones together to chase it away. Then...here...four months later, she gave birth to the demon's child."

Scully closed her eyes, holding on to the table as she leaned forward, rocking a little. Unbidden, she saw the slow swing of the child in her dream, heard the creak of the rope, smelled the mold in the grey stones of the buildings...

The men ignored her. Cappy said, "An alien child."

Scully opened her eyes. "What?"

"Don't you see? It's all right here. The woman was abducted, and gave birth to an alien baby."

"But the child was normal," Scully said.

Becker looked at her curiously. "Actually, you're right," he said. "She came to term in only four months, but she had a normal baby. Well... actually, that's where the trouble began. The little girl grew up at a bad time in England, unfortunately. The plague came in 1448 and by 1452 would have been spreading north. And just about then the witch hunts were beginning in earnest. Apparently this child, when she was ten years old, had some kind of altercation with a man in the village known as the 'jester,' probably the village idiot, and somehow killed him. She was tried as a witch, convicted, and hung."

Scully rubbed her eyes with her fingertips gently. "And this has to do with Memphis...how?"

"Did she die?" Cappy asked.

Becker drew back his head a little to look at the younger man. "Of course she died," he said. "Hubert says that afterwards, everyone began to die, and they all blamed it on the witch's curse. Of course, whole towns vanished by the dozen during the plague years, so that's not so surprising. This is some sort of letter Hubert was writing as his last will and testament. That was frequently done by survivors during the plague, when they realized that they were doomed and it was just a matter of time before they died too."

"What was the kid's name?" Cappy asked.

Scully surprised all three of them by saying, "Alyce." She looked apologetically at their stares. "Her name was Alyce."

In the dingy coffee shop, a place Mulder would have absolutely loved, Scully watched as Carpricio scarffed down his second hamburger. He ate as if starving, and by the look of his ragged clothes and slat thin body, he might have been. She had given him two hundred dollars, but bought him dinner just the same.

He spoke with his mouth full, chewing and talking at the same time. "It's so fucking obvious, man. I don't see how you can miss it, after all this time."

"Enlighten me," she said.

"Look." He leaned forward intently and Scully drew back a little; there were lots of onions on that hamburger. "We got technology, we're doing alien cloning, right? Why? Did you ever ask yourself why?"

Only a few million times, Scully thought. But she said, "Why?"

"Think about it. They come here in the cold, like the ice age or something. They come from someplace cold, colder than hell. I guarantee. So when the world starts warming up, and mammals rule, who dominates the world?" He thumped his chest dramatically. "We do!"

Scully sipped her coffee. Dingy diner, fantastic coffee. Somewhere there was the law of inverse actions at work, but she said, "Okay..."

"So they need to breed with humans, to somehow get it right, make something half human, half THEM. See?"


"So they can survive!" He leaned forward again and tapped the booth table with his fingertip hard enough to make the coffee in Scully's cup shimmer. "If they could make it in their form now, they'da taken over a thousand years ago. I guarantee. So maybe they've been trying experiments of their own. Get it? The woman somehow contacts one of them. Musta thought it was Satan himself. Gets herself fucked by him, pardon my French. Has a kid. Now, the kid has something human and something alien, okay? She's the experiment."

Scully was getting dizzy trying to follow him. She imagined Mulder sitting across from her, nodding encouragingly. Eating this bullshit with a spoon.

"So," Cappy went on, "The kid gets killed. But you and I know that it's damn hard to kill one of those things. You either gotta get them right here..." He stretched his arm around to tap himself in the back of the neck, "Or you gotta burn em. They hate fire. Like cold, hate fire. Right? Am I right or not?"

Scully nodded. She remembered the ice... Closed her eyes and swallowed, and tasted the bile of a long ago near miss, some encounter so close that they'd had to make sure Mulder was stopped dead in his tracks afterwards.

But then she remembered something else... that bridge...the fire...the strange men whose eyes ("Don't look into her eyes, lass") had been sewn shut...They had used fire to kill anyone who had been abducted by the Invaders. Why?

Cappy said, "This was one witch the assholes shoulda burned. But they didn't. And I'm thinking something very, very interesting here." Suddenly his eyes gained a visible intelligence, a clarity. He said, "Humans are supposed to have something that never dies. You know what I mean?"

Scully ventured, "The immortal soul?"

"Yeah. That. Well, you can kill that soul through sin or something, right? According to religion?"

"I guess you can."

"Well...what if the aliens have something that's almost impossible to kill, too? See how a half human and half alien would always end up in conflict with itself?"

Scully was finally getting impatient. She said one word, a command: "Memphis."

"Okay, here you go. You know the blood of the Invaders is toxic to us, even the clone blood is always poisonous if inhaled. Well...what if when they mate with us, or when they tried that experiment which they musta given up on because the kid was offed so quick and easy...what if that resulted in something like a toxic skeleton? So like, the bones those kids dug up in Memphis was like the witch kid, Alyce. They triggered whatever triggers it, maybe blood or something--"

Scully had a sudden crystal clear flashback of Hagen's hand as she held it under the running water: (Damn kid bit me!)

Cappy said, "So it eats up everything but the skeleton. And it lives in the bones. It resides, however you say it, in the bones, the way those oil worm things have to wait until they find a host?"

"So after five hundred years, suddenly something triggers it?" Scully sighed, wondering if the whole night had been another waste of time. "Pretty far fetched, if you ask me, Cappy."

Cappy smiled, swallowing the last of his burger, and took a long sip of his Mr. Pibb. "Yeah," he said, "Something I might have forgot to mention. That paper I got, the parchment. That was off a black market deal. Seems there was a shipment of ancient artifacts being slipped over from Egypt. Stuff pilfered from graveyards, sold to religious nuts everywhere, private collectors. You know how it goes. Small plane, flying under the radar, big crash in the woods. The people who were supposed to meet it in Memphis cleaned up as much of the wreck as they could find, but some of it, like the parchment, fell into the wrong hands." He grinned widely and held his hands up, palms facing her. "Mine."

Then he stopped smiling and said, "And some of the old, old artifacts just got scattered loose in the woods, where some dorky little schoolskippin' kids found them, and all it took was one drop of blood, one trigger, to set that thing loose on the world again."

"But Cappy...you can't think....I mean, even if... that girl was hanged. And it's been half a millineum since it happened."

"But you and I know all too well," Cappy said solemnly, "That not everything dies."

Chapter Eleven: Troll

Annapolis, Maryland
Oct 31, 11:15 pm

Mulder in the doorway of his mother's house. He turns the latch, pushes the door open, steps outside into the cool night air. Everything seems very hard, like he's moving through soft thick snow. He's done that before. Would do it again, to save her. The ice that formed around his heart after the Arctic adventure so long ago is falling away in glacial sheets. He must make himself move forward, step by step, as if through suffocating layers of cotton. He




He has been imprisoned, unable to wander the world as a free man, a feeling that for three years and four months was exactly the same to him as if he had been perpetually trapped in an elevator. He has felt the grip of otherworldly hands on his ankles, something no human has probably ever felt before and lived to speak of. Only a little while ago, he saw a ghost, heard its voice from a place even more remote than the distant reaches of the galaxy. But nothing has prepared him for this. Nothing could ever have foretold the fear he feels now as he battles his way forward through whatever pride or madness stands between him and Scully.

She is in the car, one hand clenching the steering wheel, the other jostling frantically through her purse for the keys. In her eyes is a blind look; he can see her even in the dark, even inside the car, he can feel what she feels, what he's made her feel, and shame makes resistance greater as he closes the distance between them.

She looks up suddenly, pure shock, as he leans down towards her door. He is the last person she expected to see. She jabs the key at the ignition, frantic and clumsy.

Mulder reaches in and takes the ring of keys from her. She is too surprised to stop him, too caught-off-guard to tighten her fingers as he pulls it from her and drops it jangling into the grass. He pushes in the button of her door handle, wrenches the door open. She has no idea what he is doing so she can prepare no defense against it. What he is doing is pulling her from the car, dragging her out forcibly, so that she almost loses her balance and falls, but he has a death grip on her arm and he drags her against him, and the fire that was there before still burns so hot that everything else, humiliation, anger, apology, excuses, all logic and reason are only fuel to be burned away in its blaze.

He brings his mouth down on hers, and she tightens her whole body to push him away, but when her hands are flat against his chest the fingers curl and grasp his shirt, and he holds her against the car to kiss her until they both begin combustion in the red burst each sees behind their closed eyelids.

Resistance is futile.

Memphis, Tennessee
Hatter's Mill Road/16th St. Bridge
Oct. 26, 9 pm

In a large cardboard box under a bridge, the thing that had been Thomas Hagen picked idly at the tatters of clothing still on its body. Night was easier; the cold came, and the dizziness subsided a little. It felt less fear now; the fearful part had been in the man. The thing it had become knew that there was no real end, no matter what happened; they were all One and the One did not die. Strangely enough, Thomas Hagen had harbored some strikingly similar knowledge somewhere in the base of his brain. He had called it God, but the connection was too faded, too uncertain, to draw power from.

If the woman had not held its hand under the running water and diluted the furious multiplication of cells at that moment, it might have been stronger now, too powerful to cower in this box under this bridge like a hunted thing. On the other hand, it would have only hunted very briefly, because the heat of this place was unspeakable. Every inhalation burned its lungs and fogged its breath.

Worst of all was the disorienting mixture of real time and past time, when it seemed to slip back and forth into and out of the village of its origin. There were times when it choked on the rope strangling it, only to leap up and claw the empty air of the present moment. Times when it poked and sorted though the bones of the last resident of the box, remembering the dusky flavors and squealing noises, the last satisfying crunch, and oh, the wetness of it.

The village. It had been so cool in the village, when it had run barefoot in the snow, and satisfied its simple human hungers with potatoes and greens. It had known about the thing in the cave, so weak against heat and light that the merest spark of flint would send it shrieking back to the cold rock. But it didn't matter. It was its own kind then, as now. And would be, until one of the Changes found its way to power, and then that Change would be the One.

Somewhere even now, in the pipes underground, perhaps in this river, wherever those drops had fallen, swam abortive Changes, fish with legs, worms with teeth, insects that could walk like a man. Creatures to seep into Mexican folktales and creep about the wallboards like cockroaches. Creatures that would bear their strange immortal seed to dilution and eventual dissipation, a kind of death that was really only suspension in a universe of finite matter and infinite time. When the many became the One, they would grow strong again.

It could wait.

Sometime later (when? No reckoning of time.) It gradually became aware of someone tripping over the bridge above it. Footsteps, some light, some heavy. Long swords of lights slicing the darkness and voices calling to each other.

And one voice that made it suddenly altogether in the here and now, suddenly raised up on elbows and backward knees, the long ridge of cartilage down its back vibrating with eagerness.

HER voice. The voice of the woman, no more than ten feet above him. The woman who had never completely left his consciousness since he first saw her.

Dana Scully.

What had been lips curled back over the double row of teeth. If the thing that had been Thomas Hagen had been physically capable of doing so, it would have smiled.

Chapter Twelve: On Halloween Night

"Nights in white satin,
Never reaching the end...
Letters I've written
Never meaning to send..."

She might argue, she might struggle. It would do no good. There are forces that can't be stopped, huge shifts of paradigms moving as slowly and inexorably as the drift of continents, that have placed them here at this moment, walking up the steps to Mulder's mother's house with their hands clenched together in a white knuckled grip.

He opens the door and they go inside, Scully first. In the foyer she can't look into his eyes. She is more embarrassed than she has ever been before, terrified, because once it's done, it can't be taken back. The brakes are on, but the car is skidding down the side of a cliff. Still, she follows him into the bedroom, and then lets him push her gently ahead of him. When he closes the door it is pitch black, not even the faint light of a digital clock to relieve the blind dark.

And that makes it easier. Easier, too, when she puts her hands on his shoulders and feels his body shivering like hers, with fear and desire.

He kisses her and this time there can be only one finale to such an overture. They move slowly together, as if dancing, trying to not trip over furniture. Mulder's tongue explores the mystery of her mouth, sweeps over her teeth, thrusts in and slides out in a way that makes her go rigid and relax, rigid and relax. He has both hands fumbling at her blouse and she feels his knuckles on her breasts, brushing them with an accidental touch that is somehow more electric than when he had been deliberately groping her.

But it's going too fast for Scully and she's too afraid that something will happen, the phone will ring, the doorbell will chime, a ghost will slam into the kitchen. She needs some kind of control, something that will keep her from falling, falling...

At that moment, Mulder backs into something and is knocked off balance; the backs of his knees bump the bed and he goes down abruptly into a sitting position. Scully lets herself slide down his body until she is on her knees between his legs. She works at his belt buckle, her fingers feeling the soft cotton of his shirt as he pulls it loose, the faintly leather scented belt, the rough fabric of the denim jeans. She hears the phone thump to the floor as it falls from his pocket when his pants come down.

His erection springs free, and he makes a sound between a sob and a groan when she takes him in her mouth. He bends all the way over and lays his cheek on the top of her head with a gesture so sweet it almost steals the eroticism from the moment.

But not quite. Scully licks all along the base of his penis, from shaft to tip, and closes her hot tight wet mouth around him with a suction that is gentle and urgent and if it goes on one more minute, it will be the final act of this scene.

She is pulling, sucking, licking, and it takes all of his self control to put his hands on her arms and pull her up on top of him, so that they go over onto the bed together, breast to breast.

The clothes do not come off easily. There are buttons that stick in the holes and zippers that snag and Scully is wearing pantyhose, which peels off like a giant condom and even in the dark she wants to put her hand over her sex to hide it from him as he tries to pull the hose up in strings like spaghetti and throw it on the floor, but the nylon sticks to the chenille bedspread so they choose to ignore it. His shorts are already off; he is naked before she is, naked on top of her. He nuzzles and sucks at her breasts like a puppy, dragging his body down hers until his face finds the stiff pubic hairs between her thighs, and he probes with his tongue, darting licks, as his hands pull the resisting thighs apart.

Scully sees the edge and wants to jump, wants to die right now in his embrace, with his tongue furious and hot between her legs, rasping like a cat's tongue, so quick, lapping at her greedily; who knew he would have this down to an art form?

She doesn't want to come until he's inside her, so she tugs gently at him and he rises up like some giant panther in the dark, and mounts her, and she closes her fingers around his penis, hot and damp and bigger than she expected, thrusting a little against the warmth of her palm, and she guides it to her entrance, tensing anxiously at his eagerness.

But then his touch changes, turns incredibly gentle; he might be slipping a candy into her mouth for all the force he uses. Still, she feels the tip compress as it enters her, and feels his penis wedging inside her like a thick cucumber, but sooo slick, sooo slow, the burning itch scratched at last inch by inch as he lowers his weight onto her body, stretching her with a sensation that would be pain if it went one more step, but it doesn't; there is nothing here but a pleasure like warm honey, tight and slick and sweet.

His trembling tells her how much control this is costing him. Hers is more of the nature of an earthquake about to happen. She is vibrating like a tuning fork. The signs are all there, but she's holding back, afraid to fall, so afraid even now to spiral down off the edge of that steep precipice, which in fact is steepening now with each thrust, each roll of her hips. He is fucking her. It's happening too fast to quite grasp it but in this world, at this moment, Mulder is fucking Scully, and she wants it to happen more than she's ever wanted anything in her life.

He has been kissing her gently from shoulder to throat, up the side of her jaw, along her brow. She twists her head around and opens her mouth under his, and sucks at his tongue, and he kisses her feverishly, thrusting his hips as hard and fast as he can, and Scully is climbing, climbing, then skyrocketing loose from the earth, towards the stars, at such blinding white hot speed that there isn't anything else but this this this this this-this-this-this-this-this-

And now at last, the fall she so feared, as she reaches the apogee of sensation and then thunders down, crying out from some place she has never been before, and never imagined existed. Mulder groans against her throat, his strength astonishing, his speed frantic as he rushes to the edge to leap off into the abyss after her.

There is the primal beating of drums, the long purple hum of the cosmos, a flicker of light as it must have looked at the beginning of time.

Then silence.

Hearts slowing together, finding a mutual rythm. Bodies, having done their job of transporting souls to Paradise, now falling away from each other in exhaustion.

How could I have never realized before, she wonders dreamily afterwards, with her chin tucked in his collarbone and her hand feather light on his sweating chest, that even falling is a form of flight?


Strangely enough, Scully knew she could sleep now without dreaming, that the time of dreaming was over. She sighed, then winced as Mulder's stroking fingers came across the bandaged area under her left arm.

"Mmmm?" He kissed around the area in sympathy. "What happened here?" he asked.

Scully smiled up into the dark. "A little accident," she said.

Memphis, Tennessee
Oct 26, 10PM
On the Hatter's Mill Bridge

Two police cars had blocked the road ahead on either side of the bridge. In the front seat with Officer David Barnes, Scully leaned forward as if that would make the car go faster, and scanned the scene anxiously. There had been this terrible, pushing urgency in her since she arrived at Memphis International, as if she was racing against some sort of deadline. Even so, she had taken a cab to the nearest grocery store to buy what she needed before going to the police station.

Now she saw Spender and Fowley standing on the bridge, talking. Almost before the car came to a full stop she jumped out and ran towards them.

A police officer moved as if to block her path and she held her ID up like a talisman to ward him off. He stepped back, knowing he should have examined it more closely, but intimidated by her air of authority.

"Agent Fowley."

Diana Fowley turned to her, eyes narrowing, clearly displeased. "What are you doing here, Scully?"

Spender looked surprised, but not unhappy to see her. "We wanted to talk to you anyway," he said. "We didn't realize you were working on this case, too."

"There's no time. The officer who brought me here from the station said they'd found some bones?"

Fowley said, "I don't see that--"

"A child's bones," Spender told her. "Some kids going fishing out here found the skull. They haven't matched the dental records yet because the dentist went fishing for the weekend, but we're pretty sure it's going to be Paul Landers, the missing kid."

Sgt. Alzono approached them, looking closely at Scully. "Agent Scully? Raul Alzono."

They shook hands. Scully said, "Have you notified the CDC yet?"

"Yes, and they told us not to let anyone in or out of the area until they get here. I haven't let anyone touch the bones, and the kids that found them are in quarantine at the hospital."

"Excellent, Sergeant." Scully's voice held a mixture of relief and admiration. She turned to the other agents. "I think the first thing to do is be sure everyone knows that every single scrap of human remains must be considered contaminated and highly dangerous." The officers glanced at them uneasily. Even with latex gloves on, they were aware of the cases of the teenagers, and unhappy about the whole situation.

Alzono said, "You're a doctor, right?"

"That's right. And until an official cleanup squad arrives, you've got to make sure this entire area is cordoned off and kept pristine, not only for evidence of a crime against the child, but--""

A voice in Scully's head spoke as clearly as if she was dreaming.

"Don't look into its eyes, lass." For a second she thought someone else had spoken the words aloud.

"Dr. Scully?" Alzono prompted.

Her gaze came to rest on the dark area over the bridge, where the sloping cement of the drainage wall met the grass. A shadow moved slightly, almost imperceptibly. There was some kind of resulting motion on the bridge, a vibration; Scully could feel it through the soles of her shoes.

An aluminum railing with wooden posts ran along both sides of the bridge. The only way to see under the bridge was to climb over the railing and crawl under.

The four officers at the other end of the bridge, doing exactly that, were almost thirty yards away, clambering over the barrier. Alzono, who was looking at her curiously, was the only armed police officer at her end, though Fowley and Spender were looking at her now, too.

Scully said very quietly, "Have you searched this area yet, Sergeant?"

The shadow solidified, simply filled in like dirty water drying into mud. She could feel the wave of heat radiating off it as it drew itself up...

"We're doing that right now, mam'n," he said, even as the four officers at the other end of the bridge went out of sight."I'm waiting for backup right now."

Scully realized that what she was looking at, what she could not look away from, was a pair of eyes watching her from the shadows.

She reached into her shoulder bag, the carryall she had brought empty from Washington, and drew out the items she had bought at the grocery store. A big can of lighter fuel for a barbecue grill and a bright yellow disposable cigarette lighter.

Touching the objects seemed to break the spell; she looked down. "Sergeant, there's someone under the bridge, just over there," she said, pointing without looking up.


When she looked up again, Spender and Fowley were standing with their mouths open, staring. Alzono looked like someone caught in a freeze frame, his hand half raised as if about to point at the danger that was taking long strange steps towards them at that moment.

Scully turned, avoiding looking at its head, which was probably just as well for her sanity. She flipped open the top of the can.

The creature began to uncurl its arms. Scully saw the impossibly long reach and realized she had less time than she thought before it got to her.

It was, unmistakably, Thomas Hagen. The blonde hair was still there, like a silly wig on the round, turtle-like head. She could feel the pull of its eyes as it neared them, making a hissing noise, see the height of it, at least eight or nine feet, and the double jointed legs doing horrible things to her concept of walking as it crawled up the side of the drainage ditch.

It said, "Daaaay....nuh..."

For one sickening instant she thought the voice was more Hagen than creature, but there was nothing Hagenlike in the strangely familiar form he had assumed. A deep, deep rage curled in her belly, something she hadn't guessed about herself until this moment. They'd won the last round she and Mulder had fought, beaten them both to the ground and escaped. But not this time.

She looked at the other people on the bridge, Alzono, who seemed genuinely in some sort of trance, and Spender and Fowley, who looked just too stunned to move, too shocked to know what to do.

"Don't look at it!" Scully shouted, realizing that from that angle probably only Alzono could see its eyes. "Get off the bridge!"

Then it leaped. The legs had been crouching, muscles tensing like springs, for a leap that must have covered fifteen feet, clearing the rail easily and coming to land in front of her.

Scully stood her ground even while it was in the air, and braved one hard look at it as she squirted up with the lighter fluid, making sure to get its head. Less than a yard from her, it opened its mouth with a roar that seemed to snap Alzono out of his daze. But Scully had already scratched the lighter into flame, and although it made a pass at her hand as if to slap the lighter away, the creature cried out with fear. Scully squirted it again, and again, until it held an armlike limb up and skittered backwards defensively.

"Sorry,Tom," she muttered, and threw the lighter at it.

Unfortunately, the instant she released the spring valve, the flame extinguished.

"Oh, shi--"

Whatever Scully was going to do next, she never got the chance. Raul Alzono flung his body in front of hers, knocking her completely over the rail and down into the grass on the other side, as he confronted the creature with his .45 automatic. The creature was already on him when he pulled the trigger, and the muzzle flash set off the highly combustible lighter fluid.

Although Scully banged against some pipes as she rolled down the ditch, cutting her ribs painfully, she was spared the explosion that instantly followed the sound of the gunshot. She only heard the muffled BOOM and felt the resulting shock wave in her back teeth. She got only a blinding glimpse of the fireball shooting up from the bridge.

Something howling, something screeching, something smashing into the rail as it flailed and danced overhead. Scully curled up in a ball with her hands over her ears and her eyes squeezed tightly shut like a frightened child until the noise stopped.

By the time she managed to crawl back up to the rail, both Alzono and the creature were almost totally incinerated, the intensity of the fire actually melting the paint on the stripes of the road, and setting off a series of smaller fires along the wooden parts of the railing.

Scully sat down on the concrete wearily, her hands dangling loosely over her knees, knowing she was hurt but not how badly, feeling the numbness of shock settling in. On the opposite side of the bridge she saw Spender sitting in much the same position, undamaged, and Fowley lying face down against the railing.

Spender said, "I think she fainted, Scully."

"Is she hurt?"

He shook his head. He had a look on his face Scully couldn't identify, but didn't like. "You okay?"

"I think she fainted, Scully."

"Jeff..." He nodded at her wisely. "Yes," he said. "I think she fainted."

In the distance, the sound of the sirens roused Scully, and she pulled herself to her feet. There was still work to be done here. She went to Spender and held her hand out, and he took it but didn't try to get up.

"Come on, Jeff," she said gently. "Let's go."

Fowley was stirring, making a moaning noise. All the anger and resentment was gone from Scully by then; she only felt sorry for the two of them. Not as sorry as she would feel later, but enough so that she knelt by Fowley and began to gently inspect her for injuries.

A faint wind from the river arose, stirring the ashes on the bridge, lifting them away to merge with the pollution of the city. The other officers came clattering across the bridge to help, but there was nothing to be afraid of now.

Well, almost nothing.

Chapter Thirteen: Through the Fire

Washington, DC
Apartment of Walter Skinner
November 3, 1:00AM

Soft darkness, only a wedge of light coming from the study, where the computer screen saver is on. Skinner gazes up at the ceiling of his bedroom and tells himself he should will himself to sleep, but the field reports on his desk in the study call to him like Christmas morning to a child, and he can no more lie in bed like this than a ten year old with a new bike downstairs under the tree.

He slips out of bed, pads barefoot down the carpeted hall. His e-mail light is blinking; he clicks the receive button, but his attention is drawn to the reports on his desk. He has rarely had such a satisfying experience connected with work, and he wants to savor it for as long as he can.

He sits in his comfortable swivel chair, his chin on one big fist, looking down with a sleepy smile as he re-reads his favorite parts.

From the Field Report of Special Agent Jeffrey Spender:

...at that point in time, Sergeant Raul Alzono moved across the bridge to Agent Scully and knocked her over the railing, so that she was not a witness to the following events. A large, manlike lizard, approximately nine feet in height, with some sort of ridged spine and what appeared to be backward jointed legs approached Sgt. Alzono. The creature was wearing a blonde wig and spoke in a language that I was unable to comprehend. Sgt. Alzono drew his sidearm and fired at least one time. At that point both he and the creature appeared to spontaneously combust, and several minutes later there was nothing left of either of them but residual ash. My partner, Special Agent Diana Fowley, fainted at some point during this incident, and it is possible that as she says she did not actually see this creature. The officers engaged in the search for the perpetrator of the Paul Landers murder were not on the bridge at this time and did not witness this event.

Although Skinner has signed the transfer papers earlier, he glances over them again. Spender will be happier in mail fraud, more suited to the work. Diana Fowley can either take the offer as research assistant to Scully, and thus remain with the X-Files, or she can take the assignment in Criminal Investigations. Though she hasn't signed the papers, it is a fair bet where she will be headed.

He thumbs the sheets apart, and looks at the next report, from Special Agent Dana Scully.

From the Field Report of Special Agent Dana Scully:

...because I was not on the bridge at that time, I was not a witness to these events. However I did see the residual ash Agent Spender reported and I did hear the sound of an explosion, as Agent Spender and the investigating police officers reported. On Oct 29, in conjunction with the CDC, I witnessed the cremation by fire of all skeletal remains in these cases as a precaution against viral contagion. (see attached lab reports)

Skinner clicks the mouse to open his email, and sees that there is a message from Scully. He opens it immediately.

What Skinner does not see, in his absorption, is the shadow stirring behind him in the dark. He is no longer alone in the room.

A.D. Skinner,

I will be staying in Annapolis until the 10th, at which time my leave will be up and I will be reporting back to work. Thank you for allowing me this extra time to recover.

Dana Scully

The next message, predictably enough, from the same address assigned to Scully's laptop, is from Mulder.


I have accepted with gratitude the offer of reinstatement to the FBI and in particular to the X-Files. I will be reporting to your office on the 10th of November to begin the necessary paperwork for recertifications.

FW Mulder

Skinner rarely talks to himself, but now he says with quiet pleasure, "Who says there are never any happy endings?"

At this point long fingers slide across the back of his neck. He stiffens, then relaxes and turns his head to brush his lips against them.

"Not me," Meg says, and tugs at his hand gently. "Come back to bed and I'll explain why."

Skinner gives a last affectionate look at the computer screen and gets to his feet, switching off the banker's lamp on his desk. At times like these, he reflects, the future seems well worth fighting for.

The end

thanks for reading,

Author's Note

Here were the conditions of the bet:

1. The story had to include a witch, a ghost, a goblin (troll), a jack o' lantern, a full moon, children being scared, pumpkins, a monster, the aliens, cellphones, CSM, Skinner, Spender, Fowley, Mulder and Scully, the Gunmen 3, and at least one character that would be recognizable as someone we know (justin). And one explosion of any kind, so long as it went boom.

2. The story could not be prewritten but could only be done one chapter at a time between midnight of one day and midnight of the next, and it had to be posted BEFORE midnight each day.

3. It had to be written in 13 consecutive days leading to Halloween.
(I sorta blew this, because it was supposed to begin on the nineteenth and end the day before Halloween, then get all the parts posted on Halloween Day.)

4. It had to explain the oileans, and it had to explain the fire and ice themes on the X-Files in some logical way.

5. Mulder and Scully had to have sex.

6. There had to be a happy ever after ending--But HA HA--you never said it had to be for Mulder and Scully!

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