Title: We Have Always Lived In The Castle
Author: Speed and Junior
Rating: Strong PG for Violence and Language
Pairing: Mulder/Skinner
Disclaimer: All X-Files characters belong to Chris Carter, 1013 Productions and Fox Broadcasting. We are making no profit from our efforts.

Summary: Mulder goes ghost hunting and finds much more than he bargained for.

Warning: This one actually has a plot. We needed to write a story with a plot. Too much sex can be boring... sometimes.


Prologue:

Mulder scrambled into the butler's closet under the magnificent stairwell. Pulling the door tightly closed behind him, he huddled in one tiny corner to wait. He desperately hoped this dusty spot would provide him safe refuge from whatever inhabited this abandoned and dilapidated house. Brushing cobwebs from his hair, Mulder attempted to calm himself and think rationally. Obviously, his options were extremely limited. Giving into hysteria at this point, would most certainly cost his life. Reaching into his pocket, Mulder cursed, realizing his cell phone lay on the passenger seat of his car. There was no way to call for help.

The sudden and unexpected storm still raged. Bone-jarring claps of thunder rocked the house to its foundation. Flash floods had mired his car in a rapidly filling swamp. Mulder knew he would not be leaving on foot. Tears stung his eyes before racing down his cheeks. Mulder dashed angrily at his face, recalling the thousands of times Walter had lectured him about keeping secrets and leaping into unknown situations without backup.

Thinking of Walter Skinner made Mulder feel even worse. He would welcome Walter with open arms at the moment, not even complaining about the ass chewing surely to follow. Instantly, Mulder's attention snapped back to his present surroundings. The hair on the back of his neck prickled. Goose bumps broke along the flesh of his forearms.

Mulder was not alone.

Covering his mouth with his hands, the terrified agent tried to prevent his chattering teeth from giving away his location.


Thursday night.

Mulder sat at his computer, still unable to sleep. He surfed around his normal hangouts, looking for something to perk his interest. Bored with the chatrooms, Mulder dialed Walter's home number. "Hi, it's me. You weren't sleeping, were you?" Mulder glanced at the clock, knowing darn well the AD had been asleep for hours.

Walter growled, before replying, "Yes, Mulder. I was sleeping. Just like the last time you called." He peered at the clock, "It's two in the morning, Mulder. Go to bed. If you call me again, you're in trouble big. I'll put you on wire taps for the whole month. Got me?"

"Come on, Walter," Mulder whined. "I'm bored. I can't sleep, and there is nothing to watch on television. Nothing!" Mulder continued clicking through various websites as he complained. A wicked grin lifted one corner of his lip. "Wanna tell me a bedtime story, Walter?"

Walter grinned, despite his annoyance. "Sure, Mulder." He settled in comfortably against the headboard. "Once upon a time, there was a crafty little fox. Now, this little fox knew his boss was sweet on him, so the fox took advantage at every opportunity." Walter chuckled, before he continued, "But, one night, the sleepy and cranky boss didn't find the crafty little fox so amusing." Pausing for a moment, Walter then inquired, "Should I keep going, Mulder?"

Mulder leaned back in his computer chair, his free hand moving to stroke the bulge in his sweatpants. "Well, that depends. What's the cranky boss going to do with his crafty little fox?" Mulder's attention snapped back to the computer screen as he found a site he'd not seen before. Sitting up quickly, he jerked the mouse from link to link, exploring the site. Sixty years of documented paranormal activity. Objects moving of their own accord. Ectoplasm oozing from walls. Dramatic temperature changes. All the typical signs of a haunting. Willow House. Mulder's throat went dry as he found the map of the location and realized it wasn't far at all.

Skinner sighed, "Well, the boss just might make a trophy of the little fox's bushy red tail." He waited several moments for Mulder to reply. Finally, Skinner asked, "Mulder? I know you're still there. I can hear you breathing. I'm going to sleep now. Don't call me again."

Mulder startled at the voice coming out of the phone, forgetting for a moment who he was talking to. "Oh. Yeah. Okay. Uh. Talk to you later." Mulder dropped the phone back into the cradle and immediately began printing out the driving directions, while he reread the blurb. Willow House has remained silent and secluded for the last sixty years. The present owner has made no attempts to restore the once beautiful domicile. Due to it's history and current state of disrepair, the distinguished old home has been uninhabitable for some time. The web site owner cautioned any intrepid explorers interested in visiting Willow House to reconsider. Fox grinned and spoke aloud. "Well, why'd you put such explicit directions on here then? Duh."


Friday afternoon.....lunchtime

Mulder glanced at his watch and realized it was almost noon. If he kept his standing lunchdate with Scully, he wouldn't get out of the building without encountering Walter. He sighed heavily, placing his head on the desk top.

Dana Scully's high heels echoed down the hall, announcing her approach. She leaned against the door frame, eyeing her partner for a moment before speaking. "Alright, Mulder. What's wrong with you *this* time?"

Mulder jerked up to face Scully, "Nothing. Nothing at all, I'm fine." He sighed again, running a hand over his forehead. "Do you have an aspirin?"

Scully smirked as she crossed the room. Pressing her fingers against Mulder's forehead, Scully stared intently. "No, but I have some lovely Midol if it's your time of the month." Straightening to her full height, Scully grouched, "Come on, Mulder. You're not really sick, are you? I don't want to have lunch alone again."

Mulder smiled sadly up at his partner, replying softly, "No, I don't think I'm really sick. And, at least I'm not pregnant. I just have a headache." He sighed again, "I think I have a temperature, too." Giving Scully his best puppy dog eyes, "Don't pick on me, Scully. Okay? I don't think I'm up to lunch, either. I'm really sorry."

Scully narrowed her eyes, reaching for his forehead again. "I guess you do feel a *bit* warm. There's been a bug going around." Scully patted Mulder's shoulder. "Don't sit here all day not feeling well. Go home and go back to bed, Mulder." Scully sighed, mumbling as she exited the office. "Great. Now I've probably got it."

Mulder grinned giving himself a thumbs up after Scully had left. "I'm still the king!" He slipped into his suit jacket and overcoat. Grabbing his brief case, he flipped off the overhead lights and locked the office door on his way out. He exited the Hoover Building via the stairs rather than risk meeting Walter in the elevators.


Assistant Director Skinner dialed the basement office and received no answer. Shrugging, he figured he'd already missed Mulder and could talk to him after lunch. He pressed the intercom, "Kim? I'm going to lunch, now. Remind me, I need to speak with Agent Mulder when I get back, please."

"Agent Mulder's gone home for the day, sir."

Skinner frowned asking, "He has? Do you happen to know why, Kim?"

Kim drummed her fingernails on the desktop. "Something about a flu bug, sir."

Walter heard Kim's fingernails and ended the conversation quickly, "Thank you. That will be all. I guess I'll see you in an hour or so. Take your time, Kim." Picking up the phone, Walter dialed Mulder's cell number from memory. He hoped Fox wasn't so sick, they would have to cancel their plans for the weekend.


Mulder changed into jeans and a ratty sweatshirt for his excursion, tossing a bag of sunflower seeds into the satchel he had already packed full with audio and video recording equipment. He had a brand new Sony digital camera that he was looking forward to playing with. Mulder winced as his cell phone rang, knowing it was one of two people on the other end as he answered it. "Mulder."

"I just heard you went home sick. Why didn't you call me, Fox?" Walter tried to hide his concern with a gruff demeanor, "What's the matter with you? Should I come home too?"

Mulder spoke a bit too quickly. "No! No. I'm fine. I mean, I'll *be* fine. Just a little run down is all. I'm getting into bed right now, Walter. I'm going to take a long nap and I'm sure I'll be fine when I get up."

Walter relaxed, "Okay. You'd better be in bed, as soon as you hang up." He thought for a moment, "Should we cancel tonight?"

"No,I should be back in.. back *up* in plenty of time for tonight." Mulder pressed the mattress with his hand, making sure Walter heard the springs groan. "I'm climbing into bed right now, Walter." He looked at his watch, "You're coming by around 7:00, right? That should give me plenty of time...to sleep, that is. Bye, Walter."

Nodding at the phone as if Mulder could actually see him, Walter replied, "Yeah. Seven. I'll come to your place and bring dinner. What sounds good?"

"Oh, I don't know. You decide." Mulder made kissy noises into the receiver, knowing it drove Walter crazy. "Bye, baby."

Walter growled, "Good bye, Mulder. Go to sleep. Don't turn on the television. I'll see you around seven." He hung up, feeling much better.

Mulder suppressed a twinge of guilt as he shouldered his bag, grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge and hopped into his car. He felt a thrill of excitement, imagining Scully and Skinner's faces when he presented them with irrefutable proof of the existence of ghosts.


As Mulder cruised along the freeway, the wind picked up buffeting the car occasionally. He flipped on the radio to listen for a weather report. The radio announcer dutifully informed Mulder of only a slight chance of rain, sometime after midnight. Sighing with relief, Mulder turned off the radio and returned his attention to the map he had conveniently printed from the website, last night. Suddenly, a jarring ring jolted him back to reality. Mulder cursed as he snatched the ever-present cell phone from his belt, "Mulder."

Scully frowned as Mulder answered. "Aren't you supposed to be home in bed?" Stating the obvious, "I just called your home number. You aren't home, Mulder. Where are you?"

"Uh...well," Mulder stalled, "I didn't have any aspirin in my apartment. I'm at the pharmacy, right now. I'm going straight home from here, Scully....and straight back to bed."

Scully snorted. "See that you do. I'll be calling back later to check on you."

Angrily tossing the phone onto the passenger seat, Mulder mimicked his partner's surly tone before returning to his map, "I'll be calling back later to check on you!"

Easing onto the rutted lane, Mulder navigated carefully, avoiding axle-busting potholes and low hanging tree limbs. A stand of ancient willows lined each side of the narrow road, the branches meeting in the middle to form a leafy canopy. The effect was lovely, yet claustrophobic as dusk rapidly descended. Mulder switched on the headlights as an added precaution. Rounding a wide curve, Mulder caught his breath at his first glimpse of Willow House. Tall, dark and foreboding, the cut stone exterior and slate roof gave the impression of invulnerability. Willow House reminded Mulder of a story book castle. He chuckled softly and hoped there were no dragons or trolls living in the moat. As Mulder parked in the circle drive, he recalled the story he'd read about the ill-fated couple who had originally built Willow House...


1940.......

Wilhelm Ruprecht, had spent his youth amassing a fortune. At the age of sixty, he took eighteen year old Lily DuBonnette as his bride. Wilhelm arranged for the construction of Willow House, while he and his lovely new wife toured the Continent for their honeymoon. All went well at first. Lily was thrilled with her new status as lady of the house. She spent untold thousands of Wilhelm's hard earned dollars, furnishing her new home. She threw lavish parties and entertained her friends and family like royalty.

Eventually, the honeymoon came to an end. Ruprecht returned to his business offices, neglecting his young bride in the bargain. Lily became bored, as any eighteen year old girl would and soon began looking for new forms of stimulation.

Tom Dressen, Ruprecht's handsome young personal assistant, became Lily's newest past time. The young couple shared many stolen moments under the drooping willows. As their passion grew, they became less cautious.

Ruprecht became suspicious, so he lied to Lily saying he was leaving town on business and would be gone the better part of a week.

Lily wasted no time contacting Tom Dressen with the good news.

On the day of his departure, Wilhelm loaded baggage into his car, promising Lily he would return as soon as possible. He then drove away. Instead of leaving town, Ruprecht circled back and parked the car in a remote wooded area behind Willow House. He waited in silence to discover if his wife and trusted employee were betraying him.

Near dusk, Tom Dressen arrived at Willow House. He met Lily near the servants' entrance and embraced her passionately beneath the spreading limbs of a willow tree.

This scene drove a well-concealed Wilhelm Ruprecht into a jealous rage. Reaching into the glove compartment, Ruprecht removed the hunting knife he'd hidden there before leaving on his fictional business trip. He waited impatiently for the unsuspecting couple to steal unnoticed back into Willow House, before following them silently.

Stalking softly up the grand staircase, Ruprecht burst into the master bedroom to find his Lily sprawled naked on the bed, laughing at her lover. While removing his trousers, Tom had managed to become tangled in one pant leg.

Howling out his grief and rage, Wilhelm flung himself onto the bed, plunging the knife deep into his wife's breast killing her instantly. Wheeling on Dressen, Ruprecht heaped accusations and abuse on his formerly favored employee. Holding the knife against the younger man's throat, Wilhelm informed the terrified Dressen that he would suffer a slow and painful death, as punishment for his betrayal.

Using the bloody knife to rip strips of material from his wife's discarded dress, Ruprecht used the cloth to tie Dressen's wrists and ankles to the bedposts, so the horrified man was bound securely beside the rapidly cooling body of his slain lover.

Bolting the bedroom door, Wilhelm stripped off his suit jacket, and picked up the hunting knife. Without remorse, he proceeded to skin the helpless young man alive. Despite the anguished howls and pleas for mercy, Ruprecht completed his grisly task, throwing the bloody knife onto the bed. Without a backward glance, Ruprecht exited Willow House for the last time and drove straight to the county sheriff's office to confess his crime. He was allowed to wipe the gore from his hands and face, before being taken into custody and charged with two counts of murder.

When the deputies arrived at Willow House, they discovered Lily's body amidst the carnage, but no sign of Tom Dressen or the hunting knife.

Wilhelm was convicted and hanged for the murder of his wife, Lily DuBonnette-Ruprecht. Without Tom Dressen's body, there could be no second murder charge.

Since that fateful night, sixty years ago, Willow House has been occupied solely by the spectre of Skinned Tom. Not even the bravest explorers have lasted longer than a single night.


Mulder shuddered as the sun sank lower into the horizon. He removed his satchel from the trunk quickly, unable to shake the feeling that someone or something was watching him.

Giving the building a wide berth, Mulder followed the path around to the back lawn. The garden was woefully overgrown with weeds, but its former beauty was easily imagined. Spying movement to his left, Mulder whirled to find absolutely nothing. Irritated by allowing himself to be spooked by the ghost story, Mulder forced open the servants' door and entered Willow House.

Once inside the kitchen, Mulder immediately required the one item he had forgotten: A flashlight. He stood still for a moment, allowing his vision to adjust to Willow House's gloomy interior. The first thing he noticed, was the total absence of scavenger or rodent infestation. Other than the occasional cobweb, there seemed to be no other insect population, making him the only living creature currently dwelling within the confines of Willow House.

Setting his bag on the still sturdy table, Mulder extricated his video camera. If the battery was fully charged, he could use its light to navigate, as darkness descended. It might prevent a broken ankle or even worse.

Moving slowly about the kitchen, Mulder examined the ancient remnants of the servants' domain. Canned goods neatly lined the shelves. Rusted cutlery and antique appliances graced the counter tops. Everything appeared to be exactly as it was sixty years ago. Mulder was surprised curiosity seekers and vandals had not ransacked the house for souvenirs.

Heading through the service door into the formal dining area, Mulder was astounded by the sheer size of the room. The enormous oak table would seat at least thirty. The ornate china cabinet held service for at least that, possibly more. Once again, Mulder was amazed by the lack of looting. The silver case was completely intact, the silver itself, barely tarnished.

Heavy velvet curtains covered one entire wall of the dining room. Mulder placed his video camera on the table, aiming the beacon at the drapes. He approached cautiously, planning to open the drapes and allow any remaining sunlight to enter the darkened room. As his fingers touched the dusty velvet cord, Mulder heard the first clap of thunder and jumped. Wrestling with the moldering cloth to expose the window, Mulder was shocked by the dark clouds that covered the sky. He'd been inside less than ten minutes and a storm of biblical proportions was already brewing!

He decided to check out the second floor right away. If the roof leaked, he could always return downstairs, and remain relatively dry. Switching on the video camera, Mulder used its brilliant beam to light his path while ascending the grand staircase. Hearing noises from the floor above him, Mulder assumed the increasing wind was responsible. Tree limbs scratching on windowpanes were surely the source of the eerie sounds.

The stairs creaked beneath Mulder's weight, but appeared to be sturdy and sound. He ascended cautiously, intent on ignoring the storm. More importantly, he tried to block the disturbing noises issuing from the floor above. At the head of the stairs, Mulder took a deep breath and walked softly along the hallway. It was not a difficult task to determine which door led to the master bedroom. Unfortunately, the noises, now easily distinguishable from the storm seemed to be emanating from said door. Tentatively reaching for the doorknob, he twisted it gently and pushed. The door swung open on rusty hinges causing him to cringe at the loud squeak. Shining the light from the video camera inside, Mulder gasped when he spied the dark stained linen still adorning the four poster. Evidently, no one had ever bothered to clean the room where Ruprecht murdered his wife and Dressen! Was it possible? This bed still bore the evidence of a double murder, committed sixty years ago? Fumbling with the buttons of the video camera, Mulder prepared to record his discovery.

A sudden flash of lightning flooded the bedroom with an almost blinding white light, followed immediately by a booming crash of thunder. Mulder was petrified with fear. During the instant of brilliant illumination, he was positive he'd seen a man silhouetted against the window. Backing out of the master bedroom, Mulder turned to stumble down the stairs. He thought he'd lose his grip on the video camera and his sanity, as he heard footsteps follow him. Risking a glance over his shoulder, Mulder whimpered softly as he saw a shadowy form moving toward the stairwell.

Another flash of lightning. Mulder shrieked as the hallway was momentarily lit by the glow from the bedroom window. A skinless corpse shuffled down the first step, clutching a rusted hunting knife in its bony fist. Tattered ribbons hung limply from its wrists and ankles. Eyeballs bulged from lidless sockets. White teeth grinned madly in a lipless mouth. Skinned Tom met and held Mulder's gaze, before the flash from the lightning faded. Dropping the video camera, Mulder plunged down the stairs taking them two at a time. He refused to look back again, knowing madness and death would surely follow. In the darkness, Mulder missed a step, rolling the rest of the way down to land in a heap at the base of the stairs. Struggling to regain his footing, he shrieked again as a cold bony hand clutched at his shoulder. Twisting and turning, Mulder pulled free from Skinned Tom's grasp just as the hunting knife swiped past his ear.


Walter tried Mulder's home number twice in the car, but the machine picked up both times. Concerned that Mulder might be seriously ill, Walter decided to skip dinner and go straight to the apartment to see for himself. Knocking firmly, Skinner wasn't really surprised when Mulder did not answer the door. Slipping his key into the lock, he entered and headed for the bedroom. Finding an empty bed, Walter lost his temper. Taking a few deep breaths before dialing Scully's house, "It's Skinner. I'm in Mulder's apartment. Our crafty Fox has flown the coop. Have any idea where he might have gone?"

Scully growled in frustration, mumbling to herself. 'I *knew* he wasn't sick.' Clearing her throat before replying, "No, sir. I called his cell a while ago and Mulder was supposedly at the drug store. No doubt, he's left at least one clue, though. He never assumes we will check out his story. Call back if you find anything, please?"

Walter ended the call and dropped the phone into his pocket, He began a methodical search of Mulder's apartment. Finding several discarded scraps of scratch paper in the wastebasket next to Mulder's desk, Skinner sat down and immediately turned on the computer. Silently thanking the powers that be, Mulder had never bothered to password protect his system, Skinner logged on and pulled down the history menu. It took less than five minutes to figure out where Mulder had gone.

While the map and directions were printing, Skinner informed Scully of his discovery. "I'm leaving right now. It shouldn't take more than a half an hour if the map is correct. I'll call back, as soon as I get my hands on him."

Scully snickered. "Very good, sir. Let me know if there's anything I can do, like tend his injuries once you've finished with him."

Against his will, Skinner chuckled dryly. "Good bye, Agent Scully. I'll call you later."


As Mulder began to run, he stumbled again from a sharp pain in his ankle. He must have injured it tumbling down the stairs. Biting his lip to keep from crying out, Mulder limped as fast as he could, trying to reach the front door before Skinned Tom could catch up with him again.

The storm was raging full force. Mulder whipped the door open, only to find his car mired in mud and a rapidly filling pool of rainwater. Slamming the door closed, he staggered back toward the kitchen. His ankle wasn't going to support his weight much longer, so he had to find somewhere to hide. Another crash of lightning revealed the small door tucked under the stairwell. Mulder rushed to conceal himself. He hoped Skinned Tom was fooled into thinking he'd escaped outside into the storm.


Skinner stared at his cell phone, then put it back in his pocket. He'd rather take Mulder by surprise. If the wily Fox had any advanced warning, he would simply run again. Skinner had no intentions of spending his entire weekend chasing after Fox Mulder.

Creeping along the highway in the pouring rain, Skinner referred frequently to the printed map. He nearly missed the turn off and had to slow to a crawl on the rutted lane. The heavy willow branches brushed against the roof and windshield of his car, making it almost impossible to see where he was going. Finally pulling into the circle drive, Skinner was blinded momentarily by a massive bolt of lightning. He left the headlights on and pulled his jacket over his head for the mad dash to the house. Reasoning that Mulder might spot him, he detoured around the side of Willow House to take his prey from behind. Skinner forced the swollen servants door, entering exactly as Mulder had earlier. He shook the rain off as best he could and wiped ineffectively at his glasses. Noting the contents of Mulder's bag casually scattered across the table top made Skinner even angrier. Swallowing the urge to shout, Skinner produced a flashlight from his pocket and padded softly into the dining room. Finding it empty, he turned to the main hallway, only to discover Mulder's video camera lying on the floor near the staircase.

Worry began to replace some of his anger, as Skinner scoped out yet another empty room. He stood absolutely still, listening for any sound other than the howling wind and driving rain. Proceeding cautiously, Skinner moved forward. He risked calling softly, "Mulder? Are you in here?"

Mulder's ears perked up at the sound of his lover's voice. He remained silent a moment longer, just in case Skinned Tom was trying to trick him into revealing his hiding place. Mulder became agitated, uncertain whether he should answer or not.

Skinner called again, a bit louder this time, "Fox Mulder? If you're in here, you'd better say so. Right now!"

Mulder sprang for the door, hissing. "Walter! You've got to be quiet! He'll hear you!" Mulder pulled Walter into the butler's closet alongside him, quickly closing the door. "He nearly killed me, Walter! If he finds us, he'll kill us both!"

Skinner grasped Mulder firmly by the shoulders. "What the hell is wrong with you? Why were you hiding from me, Mulder?" Realizing Mulder was absolutely terrified, Skinner pulled him into a tight embrace. "You're trembling, Fox. What happened? You look like you've seen a ghost!"

Too frightened to relax into Skinner's embrace, Mulder pulled back. "I *have* seen a ghost! He's seen me, too! He tried to kill me! You've got to believe me. If he comes back, we are both dead meat!"

Skinner tried his best to reassure, "Shh... Fox. You've only frightened yourself. It's perfectly understandable. There's no ghost, Fox. It's just this creepy old house and the storm that spooked you." Smoothing Mulder's hair, he pulled the trembling man back to his chest. "Calm down. Let's go home, before the storm washes out the access road, okay?"

Mulder released his pent up breath, burying his face in Walter's chest for a moment. Tears and sweat mingled with the rain water soaking Walter's shirt. "Yes. Home. Home is good. I want to go home. Take me home, Walter. I promise. I will never run off on my own again, if you will just get me out of this terrible place!" Mulder's fingers gripped Walter's shirt, dripping water onto the dusty floor. "I've left my bag in the kitchen. We have to go get it."

Skinner shook his head. "Absolutely no way, Fox. We're going straight out the front door." His anger returned, and Walter spoke louder than necessary. "Your bag and your car are staying right where they are. We'll come back for them another time." Carefully opening the closet door, Walter pulled Mulder out into the hallway. "Don't let go of me. Keep your eyes trained on the front door. We'll be outside in no time, Fox."

Mulder gripped the waistband of Walter's jeans, limping along behind. His mind raced with all he'd been through over the course of the afternoon, and he nervously scanned the entryway for signs of Skinned Tom. Mulder whispered, almost to himself, "I really did see him. I didn't dream it."

Walter reached back to squeeze Mulder's hand. "You did not see a ghost. Please do not get hysterical again, Fox. Please?" He stepped cautiously into the foyer. "Okay. The door is less than ten feet from where we are standing. On my word, we're going. Understand?"

Mulder nodded, making a face at Walter's broad back. "I understand." When Walter gave the word, Mulder shambled along as quickly as his injured leg would allow. He felt his ankle give way, just as they stepped outside onto the porch. He stumbled heavily against Walter and gasped in pain. "I hurt my ankle when I fell down the stairs. You know? When Skinned Tom was chasing me?"

Heaving an enormous sigh, Skinner lifted Mulder into his arms. "Just wait until I get you home, Fox Mulder." Trodding carefully through the muddy yard, Skinner carried Mulder the rest of the way. "You're car isn't going anywhere for a few days." Resting Mulder's butt on the hood of his car, Skinner fished in his sodden jeans pocket for keys, "I hope you realize how much trouble you're in, Fox."

Mulder squirmed in Walter's grasp, feeling like his mother had just threatened, 'Wait until your father gets home, Fox Mulder!' He cleared his throat. "I'm really sorry, Walter. Honest! I wanted to do some exploring... that's all." Turning his head away from Walter's angry gaze, Mulder glanced over Skinner's shoulder at the open doors of Willow House. Mulder screeched directly into Walter's ear as Skinned Tom stepped out onto the porch. "Hurry! He's coming after us!"

Whirling around to stare at the house, Skinner was blinded by a flash of lightning. When his vision cleared, the porch was empty. Turning back to point a finger in Mulder's face, he threatened, "If you scream in my ear one more time, Fox... I'm gonna stuff my wet socks in your mouth. Got me?" He opened the passenger door and dumped Mulder inside the car, "Buckle up. Unlock my door and be quick about it, too."

Mulder clamped his jaw shut tightly, unlocking Walter's door as quickly as he could. He rubbed briskly at the goosebumps on his arms before cinching his seat belt into place, his eyes never leaving the front of the house.

Walter climbed into the drivers' seat, mopping the rain from his face. "Look in the glovebox, please. I need something to clean my glasses with, Fox." He turned the key in the ignition. "God, I hope we make it to the highway. I doubt if a tow truck could make it down that narrow lane."

Fox fumbled blindly at the glovebox, grabbing at some paper napkins and thrusting them at Walter. "Can't you drive while you are doing this? Just get us out of here!"

Walter growled, but shifted into reverse. He pressed gently on the accelerator and whispered a prayer of thanks as the car responded. He flipped the headlights to bright, and the wipers to the fastest setting. Driving slowly down the flooded lane, he carefully navigated the treacherous ruts. His frustration turned to fury. "This has to be one of the most irresponsible stunts, I've ever seen, Fox. You've outdone yourself."

Mulder slumped dejectedly in his seat, arms folded across his chest. His bottom lip drooping almost low enough to brush his crossed forearms. Sulking quietly, Mulder decided his best bet would be to keep his mouth shut and save himself even more trouble. Although, his mouth did not stay closed for long. He let out another ear piercing shriek. "LOOK OUT!" Mulder nearly jumped out of the seat, as the spectre of Skinned Tom darted from the stand of willows and stopped directly in front of their vehicle. The hideous corpse grinned madly and the hunting knife gleamed in the beam of the headlights.

Skinner slammed the brake pedal, throwing an arm in front of his face, "What the.....!"

The vehicle continued to skid forward, striking Skinned Tom with a sickening thud. The impact threw the animated body onto the hood. A bloody skull glared venomously at the two horrified men from the opposite side of the windshield. Teeth gnashed wildly in the lipless mouth, as the bony fist struck ineffectively at the glass with the rusty knife.

Skinner yelped in disbelief, jamming his foot onto the accelerator. The tires spun momentarily, before finally propelling the car forward again. The sudden momentum dislodged Skinned Tom from his perch on the hood and the corpse slid backwards onto the lane in front of the car.

As the automobile bumped and rolled over the apparition, Skinner shuddered, "Fox?" He swallowed hard, trying to get his trembling voice in check, "Was that thing... that thing was chasing you?"

Mulder nodded weakly, his dark eyes enormous in his ashen face. He swallowed loudly before replying in a weak voice. "I tried to tell you. I'm not crazy!" Blinking rapidly, Mulder was still unable to prevent a single tear from rolling down his cheek. Quickly wiping his face, Mulder whipped around to lock the back passenger door, stretching across to reach the door behind Skinner as well. "You didn't kill him. Skinned Tom is already dead!"

Skinner shook his head, "I still have to check." He unbuckled his seatbelt and reached for the door handle. "Stay put. I will be back in just a minute."

Mulder stayed seated long enough for Skinner's door to close before unbuckling and venturing out to limp behind him, whispering loudly in the dark. "Do you see anything?"

Skinner jumped as Mulder spoke. Whirling around, "Didn't I tell you to stay in the car?" Shaking off the fright, Skinner wiped rain from his face. "Damn. I wish I still had my flashlight. It's black as pitch out here."

Mulder grasped blindly for Skinner's arm, trying to drag him back to the vehicle. "You don't *need* a flashlight! Come on, already!"

Skinner shook Mulder off easily. "God damn it, Fox. This isn't some stupid horror movie, and you're not a teenage girl!" Grasping Mulder by the shoulder, Skinner spun him around to face the car. "Get back inside and lock the doors. Now!" Swatting Mulder's deserving backside to press his point, Skinner felt better, hearing Mulder's surprised yelp. "I've had it with you, Fox. Do as you're told!"

Mulder grabbed his butt in surprise and headed reluctantly back to the car. He opened the door and climbed inside, locking his and the driver's side door, before crossing his arms for good measure. He mumbled and grumbled, as he pouted and waited for Walter to return. "Hmph... thinks he can smack my ass... I'm not some naughty kid... got another thing coming... don't have to take this..."

Walter walked as far as the taillights could illuminate, but had to give up when the shadows from the sodden willow trees enveloped him. As he turned back, Walter could not shake the feeling that someone was watching him. Pecking on the driver's side window, he called, "Let me in, Fox. I'm gonna drown in this fucking rain."

Mulder lifted the lock on Skinner's door, then turned quickly away, still in a full blown snit. "Lock the door, unlock the door. Make up your mind, already."

Skinner toyed with the idea of rolling Mulder onto his side and swatting him again, but that would require more effort than he was willing to expend. Sighing heavily, he wiped the worst of the rain water from his glasses with a damp paper napkin. Driving slowly along the lane, Skinner was bothered by the willow branches scraping against the car. He casually locked the door with his elbow. "Mulder? Do you feel like someone is watching us?"

Mulder forgot all about pouting as he felt the hair on the back of his neck prickle. Casting his eyes from side to side, Mulder was unable to see a damned thing for the willow branches. "You know, Walter... you could drive a little faster."

Skinner followed Mulder's instructions without further comment. He drove in silence, until they reached the highway. As they left the road to Willow House far behind, he asked softly, "Why did you do it, Fox? Why would you risk your life... for a lark?" He turned long enough to stare into Mulder's eyes. "Don't you know how much I love you? What if that... thing had killed you, Fox? Can you answer me, truthfully?"

Mulder's face crumpled at Walter's words. He spoke softly. "I don't know. I guess I didn't really believe there would be any danger." Mulder cast his eyes downward into his lap. "I wanted to prove to you and Scully that I could find something on my own. Proof that these things really exist!" Mulder went quiet for a moment. "I guess I wanted to prove it to myself, too. I honestly didn't think that I would find anything like that." The shame and embarrassment returned as he realized how much hot water he'd actually gotten himself into. "I thought it would be... fun."

Skinner's fury bubbled back to the surface, "You thought wrong! You lied to Scully, and worse... you lied to me!" Catching his breath, Skinner began to lecture. "You deliberately went into an unknown and potentially dangerous situation without backup." He stopped for a moment, hands gripping the steering wheel so tightly, his knuckles turned white. "Let me get this straight, Fox. You did graduate from the Academy, right?"

Mulder's shoulders slumped farther each time Skinner barked, his face a mask of misery at his lover's anger. "Yes, Sir. You know I did." Mulder spoke softly, reminding Walter of his academic achievements. "With top honors." No matter how often he messed up, Mulder was still proud of what he had accomplished.

Skinner was not persuaded. "So... you simply disregarded your training and intentionally went looking for trouble?" He pried one hand from the steering wheel to rub furiously at his brow. "To go ghosthunting?"

As Walter's words sank in, Mulder could hold his tears no longer. His shoulders shook as tears streamed down his face, like the rain falling outside. He turned toward the window to try and hide them. "Sorry, Walter," he squeaked in a tight voice.

Mulder's apology took some of the wind from Skinner's sails. "Don't cry, Fox." He reached to pat Mulder's shoulder clumsily. "I'm sorry, too. But, do you understand the point, I'm trying to make? You can't expect me not to care, when you pull these boneheaded stunts. It doesn't work that way. Not any more."

Mulder nodded helplessly as he wiped at his face. "Yes, sir. I understand." Unbuckling his seat belt, Mulder slid as close as he could, wrapping an arm around Walter's waist and burying his face in his lover's shoulder. His tears continued to fall, adding to the moisture already condensed in Walter's shirt.

Walter held Mulder close until the worse of his weeping had passed. "Okay, Fox. It's okay, now. Put your seatbelt on. This storm doesn't seem to be letting up. I'm not gonna save your sorry ass... just to lose you in a car wreck." He leaned down to kiss the top of Mulder's wet head. "Come on, now. We're fine."

Mulder couldn't help but let a little smile escape. "You and your seat belts." He straightened and rebuckled his belt, resting his head against the window for a moment. Now that the danger had passed, Mulder became more animated. Squirming slightly, Mulder could not prevent exclaiming proudly. "He was absolutely gruesome, wasn't he? I told you he existed!"

Skinner shuddered at the brief memory. "I don't think I've ever seen anything so horrible, in my entire life!" He paused. Speaking softly, "I ran over him, Fox. I've committed a crime. I'm guilty of hit and run." Skinner's eyes darkened at the thought, and he drove in silence once again.

Mulder reached to pat Skinner's leg comfortingly. "It's okay, Walter. You didn't hurt him. Skinned Tom is already dead. I told you once, remember?" Mulder pondered. "That's twice for Skinned Tom, huh? We drove off and left him for dead, just like Wilhelm Ruprecht."

Walter stared at Mulder. "Skinned Tom? What the hell are you talking about, Fox? Who is Wilhelm Ruprecht?"

Walter stared at Mulder, "Why do you keep referring to that *thing* as Skinned Tom? What the hell are you talking about, Fox? And, who the hell is Wilhelm Ruprecht?"

Mulder grinned crookedly and proceeded to narrate the harrowing tale of Skinned Tom for his lover, reaching the end just as Skinner pulled up to the front of his building.

Skinner shuddered involuntarily, "I saw... Skinned Tom with my own eyes, and I'm still not sure I believe it." A sudden wave of anger coursed through his body. Speaking in a deceptively soft voice, Skinner inquired, "So, Fox? You knew all about this Skinned Tom thing, but you went out to that godforsaken place, any way?"

"Yes, I *knew* I could get proof." Mulder's smart mouth took his brain hostage once again as he narrowed his eyes at his lover. "If *someone* had let me get my video camera on the way out, maybe we would have the proof right now!"

Skinner's mouth narrowed into a thin line, "If you know what's good for you, Fox, you'll shut your mouth right now." He climbed out of the car, stalking toward the building, before remembering Mulder's injured ankle. Slamming back to the vehicle, Skinner roughly hauled Mulder from the passenger seat. "You are so lucky you're hurt, Fox. Otherwise, I'd kick your ass all the way upstairs."

"Yes, *sir*." Mulder set his jaw grumpily as he wrapped an arm around Skinner's neck and hopped on his one good leg. As they passed the front of the car, Mulder stopped, glancing down at the bumper, all the color draining from his face.

Skinner nearly toppled as Mulder stopped dead in his tracks. "Oh, for Christ's sake, what now, Fox?"

Mulder pointed wordlessly down at the grill of Skinner's automobile.

Skinner felt his own knees weaken as he stared in disbelief at the bloody and tattered strip of cloth clinging to the bumper.

End


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