Complicity (1/29) 
By: promise64 (AKA Morgan) 
e-mail: promised64@yahoo.com 

Rating: NC-17 for content, violence, and language.

Keywords: casefile, MSR

Timeline: Takes place at the very beginning of season 6 -- during the era of Kersh and background checks.  No Mulder with a brain disease.  No baby William.  No Doggett and no Reyes.  I'm old school, people. 

Summary: A journey through the shadows of guilt, regret, and responsibility, as a horrific case teaches our heroes about the fragility of trust and the cost of a promise broken. 

Brief Note: In its way, this story has become my homage to the world of XF fanfiction; it has evolved into something of a pastiche of all my favorite “cliched” fanfic scenarios–Profiler!Mulder occupies a central place in this fic, as does the traditional casefile; Mulder-and-Scully-in-the-Wilderness tm., figures prominently, and it’s even a “First Time” fic; Injured!Scully and Injured!Mulder both make cameos, and there’s angst aplenty.  I did, however, leave out the kitchen sink <g>.  I have tried, in my attempts to honor all that I have so dearly loved about XF fic (my very first fandom, ::sniff::), to render these scenarios in my own way, to challenge (or subvert) the genuine cliches while, at the same time, embracing what I adore about XF fanfic, and I have endeavored to give each of these scenarios my own proverbial “spin.”  Even as I have branched out into other fandoms, and left XF behind for a considerable amount of time, this creative universe has remained my “touchstone,” the fandom by which all other fandoms have been judged.  My sincerest hope is that my affection for this universe and its characters can be discerned within the content of this story.

Caveats: I’m not a medical doctor or a law enforcement agent; any technical inaccuracies pertaining to terminology and/or procedure are the fault of my own ignorance.  Also, any canon established after season six has been largely ignored. 

Disclaimer: The characters as I once loved them live only in our imaginations now (and on DVD).  I promise to treat them with the respect that they deserve (oh, and that whole “fair use” thing, too). 

Archive: Gossamer, of course.  Otherwise, please just ask first.

ARCHIVIST’S NOTE: Please archive this under the new pseudonym.  I realize my older work is under a different name, but I would prefer this to be archived under the “promise64" appellation.  Thank you.

Thanks and more rambling diatribe to follow at the end.

This fic can also be found at my journal:


Part I -- Descending 

Without the skin, 
beneath the storm, 
under these tears, 
the walls came down. 


Emerging from sleep, the mother's awareness returned slowly, hazily.  The pre-dawn spill of lamp light from the street outside filtered through the gap in her curtains.  The night had turned cold and cruel.  Chill tumbled from the windowpane, washed over her, and stung her bare face and arms outside of the heavy blankets.  She shivered.  Under the covers her toes were painfully numb, and although she desperately wanted to sink back into sleep, she knew that rest would not come again until the fierce chill had abated. 

Disregarding the light switch, she reached for the spare quilt on the bedside chair and cursed as her palm met wood.  She'd left it in the living room.  They had fallen asleep there last night watching an old movie, and she'd left it behind when they'd finally gone to bed. 

The hall carpet was plush and soft beneath her feet, cushioning her from the chill of bare floors.  Arms wrapped stiffly around her chest, she tried to stop her teeth from chattering as she padded down the corridor.  A momentary pause at the thermostat -- to hell with the electricity bill -- she wound the dial up to 72 degrees and was about to turn around when she felt the faint exhalation of unfamiliar breath against her neck.  She froze. 

"No more lies." 

It was a whisper.  As she registered the sound and began to turn, burning pain suffused her thigh and darkness stole over her eyes.  She never felt the gentle arms encircle her waist, didn't realize as she was lowered carefully to the floor. 

The second time, when consciousness found her, it was accompanied by a pounding headache and a sense of panic deep in her belly.  She blinked fiercely, trying to maintain her tenuous connection with awareness.  Her legs were weak, swaying when she rose to stand.  The carpet's blue swirled momentarily; like rising up from under deep, dark waters, she struggled to focus and stay afloat.  Leaning into the wall for support, the mother squeezed her eyes shut with determination and then opened them wide. 

Daylight had arrived, sweeping in and over the floor in long swaths of pale gold.  It was warmer, slightly.  She took one step forward, then another, a third -- until pain tore into the soles of her feet, and she faltered will a yelp.  Sleep's haze driven back by the pain, she lowered her terrified eyes to the ground. 

Littering the floor was a violent confetti of shattered glass, a million tiny mirrors reflecting the sunlight, brilliant and surreal.  Her fingers fumbled up along the wall's surface, over stubbly, rough plaster, found the crippled frame of a family portrait, and pulled back before she sliced her hands as well.  Looking down the hall, chaos reigned.  Every picture was demolished, each pane of glass now lying broken and scattered, fracturing and dispersing the sun's errant rays. 

Her senses turned on one by one, and her hearing seemed to sharpen at that moment.  The pain was forgotten along with the destruction when all she could hear, all she registered now was her baby's hollow whimper of distress coming suddenly, and with new clarity, from two doors down the hall. 

Her blood was scarlet, savage on the cream carpet of the nursery, a grotesque trail as her mangled feet moved, heedless of pain, to the side of the crib.  Red-faced and angry, hunger and a full diaper manifesting now as tiny, plaintive whimpers, the baby fussed quietly, exhausted in its grief. 

"Hush, darling." 

The words dissolved into an incomprehensible litany of soothing sounds.  Scooping up the tiny bundle, she rocked slightly by instinct on battered feet.  The baby felt real and reassuring in her arms.  Its cries subsided at the sudden human contact, thankful it was no longer alone in the cold.  The mother, feet still bleeding, thigh stiff and sore, hugged her baby to her chest and then stilled in sudden terror. 


The hallway's evil carpet snagged again at already broken skin, but she felt no pain. 

"Tristan, are you awake, sweetie!" 

Neither gentle nor calm, panic and fear, dread all screaming out, as she stumbled further down the hall and into the next room.  The door opened with a swish. 

More glass.  Everywhere.  The collection of pictures she kept on his dresser, pictures of his father, of their family still whole, to keep that presence in his young life, were toppled and overturned, some landing face down on the floor, and all of them violated.  The glass ringed the bed, found its way up onto the covers, the covers that were turned back and empty. 

"Tristan, where are you?!" 

But the boy didn't answer, and the baby started wailing, still hungry and afraid.  Her shrill cries grew in strength, as blood from fresh wounds seeped into thick, absorbent carpet and glass sparkled under the morning sun. 


The first time it happened (finally, after so long), it was dark and cold, quiet.  The air outside was gelid, brittle; sounds of the city filtered up to find her in her bed, the distant hum of cars and sounds of strange voices.  She rolled over, squeezed her eyes firmly shut, pushing memory of sight and smell and texture to the back of her crowded mind. 

<I can't sleep.> 

There had been the expected bombardment of questions, a torrent of clamoring media less interested in the victim than the sensationalism of the story.  She had pushed past them all, past the SAC who screamed her name, past officious EMTs unloading their gear, past police officers urging calm from the gathering crowd. 

<I won't sleep tonight.> 

His hands had been covered in blood.  Not just his hands, either -- his arms, the front of his jacket.  Two smeared, tiny, grasping hand prints, one on his neck, the other just along the curve of his jaw.  She had gone to him, huddled on the floor of the warehouse, fallen to her knees -- a collision of bone and concrete -- and her speech had been lost in the reek of blood and his desolate eyes.

If he had spoken, it might have reassured her.  If he had moved, she might have sighed with relief.  Instead, he was as cold and vacant as the lifeless body in his arms, and as she reached down to close unseeing eyes, her hand had squeezed his, still clutching the small blood soaked t-shirt.  He had been like stone, smooth, cold, and unresponsive to her touch. 

Weaving an arm around Mulder's despondent form, she dragged him up from the filthy ground, away from the tiny life he had been unable to save.  She ignored the questions and accusations and flashing lights.  She left despite her own better judgment. 

<I was trying to save him.> 

The ride back to the motel had been like a particularly vivid nightmare. 

"I'm going to sleep." 

He had said it without looking, turned away from her seeking glance. 

"Mul..." But the word had died in her throat, and there was only the sound of his door swinging open, a slight pause as he stood in the open frame.  She tried to reach out, to breach those few inches and graze the side of his arm, his shoulder.  She tried, but that motion, too, was lost, and he closed the door slowly, deliberately, without turning around.

<Damn you, Mulder.> 

Her thoughts were wretched and cold now, like the night. 

Was he still poised half aware?  Still standing unresponsive in gory clothes thick with congealed failure?  Had he moved at all beyond the few inches he had advanced into his room?  She could feel him, a desolate, aching part of herself that would not, could not rest. 

<Damn us both.>

Eyes snapping open, the room was enclosed by shadows, the floor unutterably cold.  She had enough forethought to drag discarded sneakers on over bare feet and pull on a thick jacket against the night wind.  Slipping out onto the walkway beyond her door, the city lights were a gaudy blur to her right, simmering insubstantial below.  His room was a floor above and two doors down.  The metal clanging beneath her feet was cast iron and loud, three stories above ground, and the wind whipped her hair into a fury as she climbed the long, exposed flight of stairs.

The first night it happened (finally, after so long), she found him standing mute before his bathroom mirror.  Steam rose in dense clouds, his haunted image long obscured by the curtain of condensation.  She knocked twice, let herself in, found the bathroom door ajar, and pushed her way inside.

"Oh, Mulder..." 

Reaching a hand up, holding a damp cloth, she rubbed away the brown smears, obscenities dotting his face like the devil's finger-paints.  No response.  She wiped his unyielding cheek, dropped her eyes from his granite gaze.  Her fingers pushed the FBI jacket from his shoulders, worked the bindings on his bulletproof vest and lifted it away, pulled the dark shirt from the waistband of his pants.  Suppressing heartache and horror, her fingers grazed blood caked and flaking, damp and still smearing.

<I grieve for you, Mulder.  I grieve.  But who will grieve for me?> 

The sound was that of an animal in pain, a convulsive sob unaccompanied by tears.  Her reflex was to comfort, to find haven in shared warmth, to lend him whatever strength she could.  Her arms moved gently around his waist, under his loosened shirt, and across the smooth skin of his lower back.  His head fell heavy and limp to her shoulder, those noises of anguish quieter and more muffled, delivered into the curve of her neck. 

The first time it happened (finally), it began with a scorch of unexpected kisses, fumbling and hot.  Whispers delivered against her throat, stuttering, slow, and then needy.  She could not react, felt frozen, as wind howled along the streets below.  Protests formed and uncoiled in the recesses of her throat, never actually becoming words. 

<No. Oh God, no. Not like this.> 

His fingers, cold and trembling, found the hem of her pajama top, pushed underneath, sweeping over chilled and tingling skin. 

<Not now. Not like this.> 

The winter jacket slipped down to the tiled floor.  His hands were rapidly warming, and his mouth moved steadily upward, lips and tongue finding her ear, jaw, the hollow beneath her chin, forcing the black walls of the warehouse into hazy memory, the stench of blood becoming less bitter in her nose.

There was no grace, no elegance in this lovemaking.  There was hungry agony.  There was death, the shadow of a little boy, a statistic now, third victim, fifth gone missing, cold and limp, lifeless.  There was frustration, anger, and resentment over a case that would not end, a stop-start investigation, a thousand leads to nowhere.  There were arguments and caustic words and angry glances, things they hadn't dared to speak, left hanging in the air... easier to leave the venom in the freeze of momentary eye contact, to not let the words become real, because then they would have had nothing. 

<We would have had nothing.>

His hands were grasping at those things between them intangible and lost, stealing over her hips and waist, crushing their bodies together in the search. 

<We can't do this.  I know we can't.> 

There was no asking or granting of permission, no preliminary exploration.  There was desolate cold and ragged breath in the first moment, invasion in the next.  All that hung unresolved and unseen between them, around them, was echoed by his teeth dragging across her lower lip, her ragged moan of despair and arousal, his fingers rough in her hair, her hands clutching at his back. 

His kiss tasted bitter; he tasted like blood. 

The edge of the counter top was a painful obstacle, digging into her back.  His hands on her hips lifted her abruptly, placing her on the cold, damp surface next to the basin.  She winced, the pain of fresh bruises on her back and shoulders. 

<We can't, Mulder, but we will.  I can't stop it.> 

He stepped back, for barely a moment, pulled the shirt from his body, and descended upon her once again. 

That spark always between them, nurtured by so many things -- love, trust, respect -- fed the fire, ignited something that, in the end, could consume itself, lead to its own destruction.  Unspoken things, hurt, blame, things that simmered beneath the surface, threatened to dominate now with this act she had imagined and always feared.  She kissed back desperately, unsure when the room had grown so dark, the air so thick, her resolve so weak.  When his hands began loosening buttons along the front of her pajamas, she didn't stop him, and that was the worst of all. 

The room was cold; he hadn't bothered to turn on the heat.  Chilled air assaulted her skin, tightening already tight nipples, leaving trails of goose flesh and shivers.  Large hands, warm now and demanding, covered her breasts.  Her head dropped back, tapping lightly against the dark, misted glass.  She opened her eyes to the black of the ceiling above, felt the ragged shush of his breath rasping across her skin, in the valley between her breasts.  Her hips lifted instinctively, his hands working the pajama bottoms down and away, and marble was frigid on bare skin. 

<No, not like this. This can't help.> 

Tristan Oliver was dead, and more would die soon.  But they didn't belong here, hadn't belonged here from the start.  Hundreds of miles from home, winter raging a steady and winning battle outside, she wondered how much longer this could go on, this struggle only they seemed to fight, where enemies were vague shadows, where everything they fought for was spirited away out of reach, where everything that had once seemed to make sense was lost and strange and unyielding.

Tristan Oliver was dead, like Timothy Crane before him and Randall Lee before that.  He was dead, and more would die soon. One by one the list would shorten, more would disappear, more blood would grow dark on the floors of old warehouses and abandoned cars, and again they would falter, failing in the process. 

Somewhere, Tristan Oliver's tiny, innocent body was shrouded by swarms of police, photographers, and evidence teams coaxing last bits of fragile knowledge from the cold ambit of death.  Yellow crime scene tape cordoned off the area.  Reporters groveled for comment like starving dogs.  Mulder's footprints probably still marred the dusty floor, while miles away, tucked high and distant from ruthless lights and questions, Scully's fingers fumbled with the last barrier between them, pulled his belt free, and pushed lightly on the fabric at his waist. 

<This won't save us.> 

He entered her swiftly, ruthlessly, then stilled, frozen.  Her cry was somewhere between anguish and bliss, escaping over swollen, chapped lips.  Immolation.  Invasion. 

<It won't save us.> 

Starving for air, her breathing was rapid, edged with half cries that couldn't escape.  She could feel his breath as it washed across her cheek, staining her hair.  His soft cries were lost to her amidst the roar in her head, the panic and desperation deep in her belly.  She imagined that she was burning, that the fires would claim her and only ash would remain.

Her fingers dug deep trenches in his back, urged him on with gasping need, demanded nothing less than fury.  He moved, she moved, the flames danced.  Faster. 

<Can't save us. Oh, God... > 

A few more strokes, his breath hot on her lips, and then for a collection of heartbeats -- focused, aching, telescoped moments -- the world shattered into scintillations of light and heat, darkness crystallized, and wave after wave of pure, naked bliss broke over her, a rip tide dragging her under and away.  She felt safe for that single moment, as off distant he too was swallowed whole and joined her beneath the depths.  Silence.  Fulfillment.  And despair. 

Then ragged, stumbling breaths, a rain of kisses, random droplets of apology; a kiss to the curve of her ear, her neck, her chin, dotting her cheeks, bridge of her nose, brows—out of reach.  He finally landed, lost and at rest on the curve of her forehead. 


Just her name, nothing more, and she wasn't sure what else there was to be said.  The counter was cold again beneath her, the air as frigid as before this had begun.  Mulder's weight above her was warm and damp, strange.  Her arms were loose around his back, but she continued to hold on, sure he would slip further away if she let go for even a moment. 


Just the shape of her name, formed against her forehead, and she had nothing to say in return.  She continued to hold on, eyes closed against the night, breathing in the hideous mix of sweat and death and life filling the air, blood still a poisonous taint on his rapidly cooling skin. 

<It won't.> 

End Prologue (Part 1/29)

Chapter 1 

The tables in the restaurant had been dressed with simple white cloths, and unscented candles in small, glass votives had cast a warm glow.  The unexceptional aftermath of a case had offered an excuse for shared time together that night, a reason to not simply drive home and enter into the solitude of the weekend.

"You see, Scully, I *can* pick a restaurant where every entree doesn't come with a side of fries." 

She could still feel the warm press of the glass cylinder as she had wrapped her hands around that candle, could still see the play of light over the sprinkling of fine hairs along the backs of his hands.  Strangely, they had not talked about the case. 

<What had we talked of?> 

Nothing, really.  The wall of silence that had grown between them in recent years had been less forbidding somehow, less frightening.  Instead, their silences had been more familiar, more a comfort than a reminder of losses suffered.  With him there is so much silence, she had thought, in his eyes, his gestures, even in his words, hiding between the phrases.  She had come to know, with time, the faces of those silences, each of their colors in turn.

Conversation, when it had occurred, had been strange and shifting, touching upon topics they rarely explored, limits they seldom pushed. 

Leaning back in his chair, his fork lying discarded among the ravaged remains of dinner... 
"Most of the time, it's enough.  I don't think too much about it -- don't have time to think about it..."  His eyes were averted, staring into his lap until he spoke again.  "Aren't you ever lonely, Scully?" 

<I hadn't answered.  Didn't need to.  You knew the answer already.> 

Steam rising in aromatic waves from the surface of her cup of coffee...
She had glanced around the room, then leaned forward conspiratorially and looked directly into his eyes.  "I know," she challenged, then dropped her voice to a whisper, "I know a hundred ways to kill a man that a regular ME would never think to check for." 

His answering laughter had been soothing and rich.  "Kersh will never know what hit him.  I'll distract him and you can drug his coffee." 

<In an act of Mulder-chivalry, you walked me to my door that night and stood patiently as I fumbled with the keys.> 

His steady gaze had unnerved her. 

"I can't wait to get out of these shoes. I feel like I've been on my feet forever."  Taking refuge in the mundane. 

Watching her, poised in the open doorway to the apartment -- one foot still that fraction in the hall -- he'd offered a commiserating smile.  "You have been." 

The action had been slow and seemingly unconscious, his hand finding hers on some impulse, a tangle of fingers.  She'd stilled, turned slowly back toward him, unsure.  He leaned in imperceptibly, drew the pad of his thumb over the sensitive flesh of her palm.  The paralyzing fusion of eye contact had held her immobile, and in that instant she thought she had seen a million things in his eyes -- half thoughts, flickering memories, and nascent desires.  She thought she had seen the desperate question: 


And then he had let go, eyes dropping, he had turned and fled.  And suddenly she was standing inside her apartment, emotions churning in confusion, her back pressed to the solid reality of the door. 

<"Aren't you ever lonely, Scully?"> 

Three weeks ago, a lifetime, and now:

She had wanted to stay, wanted to continue drawing her hands through his tangled hair, kissing the tears away.  She had wanted her pale, shadow words to be of some comfort, some meaning; but she couldn't offer him what she didn't have, and as his tears seeped warm and wet across her flushed skin, she had doubted he could even hear her. 

<Oh, God... what have we done?> 

She didn't move while he cried, and when he was done, when the sorrow bleached itself into exhaustion and the dry hitch of slowing breath, she pulled back just the faintest fraction of an inch.  That was all it took.  A chasm gaped between them, and the faint tethers of connection fell away.  That small distance was suddenly a void impassible, and he watched remotely as she pulled the discarded sides of her pajama top together and jumped down from the cold marble slab.  He turned away when she picked her pants up off the floor, made no sound as she slipped them back over her hips.  The whisk of his zipper was an obscene sound; his ragged sigh was somehow more painful than his tears. 

He wouldn't look at her. 

<You wouldn't look at me.> 


<You asked me just a few short weeks ago if I was ever lonely, knowing the answer even as you spoke the words.  I lay in bed that night after you left wondering how you could possibly be with someone so often and still feel so completely alone.> 

In her own bathroom, the water gushed from her faucet in a torrent, almost loud enough to drown out the sound of her sobs.  Practically hyperventilating, she gasped and shook without control while the rasp of the washcloth between her legs scrubbed the evidence away.  Her tears burned, her throat ached, and there was no perception of time or sound or who might hear her. 

The washcloth fell with a splat to the floor, and almost as soon as her hysteria had begun, it ended, abruptly and completely.  She swiped at her drenched cheeks with the backs of her hands and dragged in several deep breaths.  Her head throbbed.  She moved out of the bathroom.  She'd never even bothered to turn on the light. 

Standing before the wide, dark landscape of her motel room window, a city below lay sleeping and unaware.  She would not sleep tonight.  She didn't even intend to try.  She felt empty and forsaken, disconnected from herself and terrified at the foreign specter of her shaking hands, the gaunt fragility of her bloodless face reflected back by the window.  The glass beneath her palm was cold, the sky beyond blank and starless with clouds obscuring the heavens. 

<I wonder if Tristan Oliver's mother stands tonight looking out over this city, robbed of her sleep by grief.  I wonder if another innocent life is being taken tonight, as I stand helpless and blind, not knowing how to stop this grisly circle of death.  I wonder about all the ignorant people who sleep soundly unaware of the terrible drama being played out around them.> 

<I wonder, Mulder, if you remain where I left you -- in the cold, dark bathroom, water running, shirtless, with eyes downcast.> 

<I'm sorry, so sorry. I didn't have the strength to stay.> 

Closing her eyes, she found them swollen, sticky.  Tomorrow morning, she would pull herself together as best she could, meet him at the car, navigate these frozen streets, and try to catch a killer. 

Staring out across the city, she watched distantly as the lights in the window of a near-by building went dark, some unknown person settling in for slumber.  She pulled her hand back from the glass, wrapped arms around a body still clothed in a pajama top with buttons tucked into mismatched holes -- head pounding, throat still clogged -- and waited silently for the dawn. 


The next morning. Overheated office, where the fan swirled stale air, and sweat clung to the curve of her back, the base of her neck. 

"…Not to mention leaving the scene of a crime before being questioned, giving no account of the events you witnessed, ignoring the explicit orders of your superior agent, and disregarding your own well being by refusing obviously needed medical assistance." 

Air rasped through the irate SAC's teeth.  He shuffled papers for a moment, stalling deliberately, making them wait.  Slowly, his eyes panned over from Mulder's deceptively calm facade to light on the blank landscape of Scully's face. 

"Agent Mulder's actions I could possibly excuse," he said, in mock placation.  "He was upset, distraught, shocked by what he had seen.  Given time, I might be able to process that and find it, if not acceptable, at least understandable why he might commit so serious a breech of protocol." 

Special Agent in Charge, Douglas Moore's eyes narrowed, and he paused, solely for effect.  "Agent Scully, I find no such excuse for you." 

"Sir..." Mulder's voice was raw, as if from long disuse. 

He was cut off before he began. "I'm sure Agent Scully is fully capable of explaining her actions without your assistance, Agent Mulder." 

Silence descended once again. 

"Agent Scully?" 

"I..." She faltered, could feel Mulder's eyes on her, wished that he would look away.  "I was more concerned with the well-being of my partner at the time, Sir, than in adhering strictly to protocol."  Her words sounded brittle but strong. 

"So concerned that you would deny him medical assistance?" 

"I *am* a doctor, Sir" 

"So concerned, Agent Scully, that when I, your immediate superior, ordered you to stop, you didn't even acknowledge the sound of my voice but instead continued walking away?" 

Her voice was toneless.  "I was focused on Agent Mulder at that moment, sir." 

Moore's mouth opened, formed the beginnings of a word before Mulder interrupted.  "I pulled Agent Scully away from the crime scene, sir.  She wanted to go back, but I wouldn't let her. I couldn't." 

Beside him, the muscles in Scully's jaw flexed, tightened, teeth grinding shut. 

"It was my fault, sir.  Agent Scully is not to blame." 

Moore's eyes settled on Mulder. "You're both to blame, Agent Mulder." 

The eye contact was long and unyielding.  Moore flinched first.  Gaze settling on the stacks of papers littering his chaotic desk, his voice was quiet but steady.  "The fact remains that you are both guilty of direct disobedience, regardless of who pulled whom away.  Also, and more importantly, the closest witness to the murder of a seven year old boy, a federal agent, whose clothes were soaked in blood, in evidence, who was the *only* person to witness the child's death at the hands of a killer we have no solid leads on, disappeared from the scene without so much as a word.  That -- in the context of this investigation alone -- was a grievous mistake." 

Fishing a folder from beneath the precariously balanced piles, Moore looked back up, finding his agents both standing preternaturally still.  He smoothed large hands over the blanched yellow of a thick folder before speaking again. 

"The fact remains that if it were any other agent, if any other pair of agents were responsible for this level of misconduct, there would be no question of the ramifications.  However, because the men upstairs tell me so, and because I want this asshole caught, my hands are tied.  Whether I like it or not, whether I recognized it at the beginning of this case or not, we need you on this." 

The folder was opened, some papers removed. 

"The fact also remains that you don't want to be here."  His gaze was focused on Mulder.  "You haven't wanted to be here from the start. But you don't have a choice now, Agent Mulder. The X-Files are no longer yours, but you are still an FBI Agent, and you are both obligated to uphold responsibilities you *will* be held accountable for." 

Mulder didn't move, didn't blink, but the fury in his eyes was unmistakable -- a blaze of loss and sorrow that reeked of lost opportunities, and of betrayal. 

The click of Moore's pen was loud and final in the silent room, and his last words were equally so.  "We may need you, but this will not happen again.  If it does, you will both be censured, removed immediately from this case, and I will let the disciplinary board decide your fates from that point on."  He directed a final stern glare at both agents, first Mulder and then Scully. 

Moore slammed his index finger into the desk.  "This is your assignment now, accept it or don't, but don't waste my time, and don't dare to fuck up this investigation again." 

He looked back down, scrawled something across white pages that glared brightly under the overhead lights. 



"He can't pull us off of this case, and he knows it." 

In the car, the door slammed as Mulder settled into the driver's seat. 

"He knows I can't leave this case.  I'm stuck here.  He knows it, and I know it." 

She wanted the words and knew she wouldn't find them, settling instead for the desperate substitute of his name.  "Mulder..." She could hear the weariness, the strain in that simple word. 

<I despise how small I sound.> 

He started the engine and pulled out onto icy roads. 

"I'm just so sick of coming *this* close..." His words died, halting mid-breath and unable to find direction again. 

She tried again. "Mulder, you didn't have to defend me back there." Her voice seemed lost in the spacious interior of the car. 

He didn't respond, didn't turn his gaze from the treacherous road.  Finally, car slowing at a stop sign, ice and salt crunching beneath their tires, "It was my fault, Scully."  A tone of resignation to his words that she refused to answer, fearing the multiple meanings lying hidden in those depths. 

The shrill blast of her cell-phone was a sharp tear in the quiet, and Mulder was easing the car forward again, as she flipped the tiny phone open, gazed back out over the snow, and raised it to her ear.  She didn't so much as breathe while she listened.  Scully didn't speak; she merely disconnected the call and continued to stare out over glacial upstate New York horizon. 

Expectation didn't make it any easier. 

She told Mulder without turning to face him, the words scraping along her insides, hollowing out the already empty.  "There's been another kidnapping." 

His sigh was resigned, soft, filling the interior of the car. 


The crime scene tape seemed perversely yellow against the stark white of the snow.  A cadre of news vans, all bright lights and overdone anchorwomen, gathered at the perimeter of the yard, baying questions to anyone who passed.  Inside a bureau issue car, Mulder grimaced as he surveyed the activity, little lines of quiescent fury sprouting from the edges of his lips, and Scully made a mental note of the lab people who were already at the scene. 

Emerging from an official looking car was as good as erecting a large neon arrow above their heads, and the mob of reporters turned in unison towards its new prey.  Mulder pushed them back with an occasional elbow in the gut, as Scully followed behind, edging through in the clearing he made.  Arriving at the periphery, they stepped under the tape, a uniformed police officer handed them a clipboard, and they logged in. 

Behind them, a chorus of impatient voices called Mulder's name, asked what had happened in the old Saks Mill Warehouse, demanded to know how many more children were going to die. 

"I don't care how you do it, but I want these people out of here right now."  Mulder didn't scream, but there was enough threat in his tone to straighten the young officer's posture, make him suck in a breath. 

Scully watched as the man stepped under the tape and began barking orders at the crowd.  Sighing, she followed after Mulder, who was standing a few feet ahead, talking to another officer.  She assumed he had been first at the scene. 

"You got the call when?" 

Officer Grant -- according to his tag -- gestured for them to proceed up the paved walk to the front of the house.  "A little over an hour ago, at quarter after eleven this morning." 

The house was large and lovely, pretty under the freshly fallen snow, like a Christmas postcard.  Outlines of white dusted the trees, left fringes of ice along the eaves of the large front porch, icicles dangling from the second story windows.  The handlebars of a red tricycle peeked from the snow in the center of the front lawn, all but buried, taken hostage by the winter.  Scully crunched along the ice encrusted path, suddenly saddened by the mass of muddy boot prints on the porch. 

"Watch your step." 

Walking through the front door, Scully tucked her hands into her coat pockets and looked around.  Officer Grant led them around the edge of the living room, careful not to disturb anything and explained as he walked. 

"The mother, Cynthia Deary, called 911 this morning at eleven thirteen am to report that her son had not returned from school on time and could not be located." 

The lab guys were working in a slow procession from the outside of the room in.  One man with a camera was carefully navigating around the busy technicians trying to document the scene. 

"Apparently, Garrison Elementary had a half day of school today, and Mark Deary was due home at ten-thirty.  According to the mother, he walks home every day, and when he didn't show up on time, she started calling his friends." 

Scully noted that someone had brought in a video camera and was filming the room as backup documentation. 

"Cynthia Deary called all of Mark's friends and the school before she decided to walk back along the path he usually takes home.  When she returned to the house after looking for Mark, this is what she found." 

The drapes in the living room had been opened wide, and bright sunlight flooded the room.  Beyond the vast picture window was a glaring expanse of pure, white snow.  Inside the house, covering the carpets in a parody of the snow outside, glass from shattered picture frames blinked in the afternoon sun, reflecting and refracting the brilliant light. 

There had been a large display of photographs covering the top of a piano in the corner.  Another grouping had been showcased on the wall above the couch.  Every single picture had been destroyed.  The frames were either still hanging pictureless and shattered on the wall or bent and broken on the floor.  Glass sparkled everywhere they looked. 

"We've set up road blocks and have already started a house to house," Grant offered.  Both Mulder and Scully knew that such efforts had yielded little in the past. 

Mulder interrupted.  "Is this the only room?" 

Grant shook his head, nodding in the direction of a wide hall.  "No. He hit the entire first floor, but not the second.  Ran out of time maybe?”  He paused.  “Anyway, we found no sign of him up there." 

Choosing their steps slowly, Mulder and Scully moved into the hall, the chaos preceding them wherever they walked.  In the dining room, a large family portrait sat demolished above a fireplace.  In a home office at the end of the hall, a tiny collection of frames sprinkled the desk with fractured light.

Walking back down the hall, Officer Grant turned a different corner and led them into the kitchen. 

Scully stopped in the center of the large room.  "How long was the mother out of the house?" 

"Forty minutes, give or take." 

She nodded, turned, and came to face a small art gallery that had taken shape on the door of the refrigerator.  Wide, white pieces of paper, brightly emblazoned with shapes in Crayola-glory spoke of a normal little boy and two proud parents.  Scully stared at a disproportionately massive orange-yellow sun with a smiley face in the center. 

Behind her, Grant's voice again.  "This is the strangest thing we found." 

Mulder was standing next to the counter, looking down.  Scully walked over to see what had drawn his attention. 

"He didn't shred every photo in the house, apparently, just the big, group pictures." 

On the counter nearest the back door, the small pile of shredded photographs sat innocently near the edge.  The clean, cold marble slab shone in the afternoon sun, and Scully shuddered, felt nauseated.

Impervious to her discomfort, Grant continued from the side of the door.  "We think this is where he came in.  It was left open, and there are boot prints in the yard leading up from the back gate." 

Mulder was standing mute, seemingly transfixed by the counter, avoiding her eyes. 

In the large arch leading back out to the living room, an agent in civilian clothes was hunched down at ground level and had begun the painstaking process of searching for fingerprints.  Soon, Scully knew, the pretty white walls of this house would be smudged and gray. 

Mulder had taken a step back from the counter and was staring out through the kitchen window.  The blanket of sudden silence signaled the end of the walk through, and the trio re-traced their route through the living room, pausing in front of the door. 

"The parents are at the station?"  Scully asked, when Mulder seemed unwilling to offer any further comment. 

"No," Grant corrected.  "I was told to send them over to the FBI building, that you'd want to question them there."

It would be easier that way. 

Scully nodded.  "Thank you." 

Out the front door and across the lawn, Scully could hear Mulder's soft steps as he followed behind.  The throng of reporters had been herded behind a wooden barrier in the middle of the street, leaving a blessedly clear path to their car.  Scully drew in a large breath of the crisp air, trying to clear her head.  Mulder paused awkwardly when they reached the car, and she almost offered to drive before he slipped without comment behind the wheel.  The car pushed back the media circus as Mulder drove, a few over-zealous individuals almost landing across the hood when he refused to slow down for their questions. 

Beyond the window was the safest place for her eyes, and silence was the easiest course of action.  Scully was mostly terrified because this sense of panic was something she could not sublimate or rationalize.  She was far too tired for such an early hour, but she hadn't slept at all the night before, and irrationality was seeping into the edges of her thoughts.  Outside, streets and houses whirled by, clouds gathered in the heavens, and inside a swiftly moving car, Scully -- for possibly the first time in her life -- felt completely powerless. 

End Chapter 1 (Part 2/29)

Chapter 2 

Cynthia Deary had spent the majority of the interview clutching her husband's left hand in a white-knuckled grip while he ran the other compulsively through his thinning hair.  A perfectly normal, professional, upper-middle class married couple.  One child, dearly loved.  She had long blond hair in a loose chignon that had started to fall around her face in a forgotten, messy heap.  Tear tracks stained his face even though he refused to cry in front of the investigators.

A mother loses a child, or her child is in danger, and there is hollowness about her, some elemental thing that goes missing and cannot ever return.  Scully questioned Cynthia Deary, looked into her eyes, and recognized pieces of herself in the vacancy of that gaze.

"I knew," she told them.  "I knew the minute he was late from school." 

Cynthia had cried soundlessly, little, round droplets staining wet circles into the fabric of her skirt.  Tom Deary spoke no more than two words during the entire interview. 

"I'd seen the reports on the news.  I heard the warnings.  That's why I took the morning off from work.  Our nanny called in sick this morning, and I didn't want him coming home to an empty house.” She paused, took a deep, shuddering breath.  “I knew."


Mulder stood on the opposite side of the table, holding a plastic bag of shredded photographs in his hands.  The door was closed, the Dearys gone, but Scully could still see the mother’s eyes, and she wondered if Cynthia Deary would have strength enough for hope.  Seeing the swarm of lights and sirens on the news last night at the warehouse, the reporters who stood against a dreary backdrop of boarded-up windows to deliver in hushed and ominous tones the news of another death, another little life lost, she would fear the worst. 

<We've given her little cause for hope. The evening news reports our failures night after night to every home in the country.> 

Scully wanted to tell her that she knew how it felt.  But she didn't, not really. It's wasn't even close to being the same thing.  Emily was never hers.  Cynthia Deary's pain was something she would never understand. 

"It doesn't make any sense."  Mulder was muttering, facing the wall. 

She was about to ask him what he was talking about when he whirled around, took two giant steps towards the table, and slammed the evidence bag down against the surface. 

"He swears to us that there's a pattern.  He says it over and over again.  The pattern's there, we just have to be willing to see it." 

<I don't want to face this.  I can't face this, not now.> 

"When do you think he'll call again?" she asked, trying to change the subject. 

Mulder stopped, stared down at the table.  "Soon," he said, exhaustion apparent in his voice.  "He'll call again very soon." 

She stood up slowly and backed away from the table.  Mulder didn't look up as she moved. 

"Mulder, I have a report to write." 

He didn't say anything. 

She continued, not really knowing why, perhaps offering excuses because she needed to hear them herself.  "Kersh hasn't heard from us since we got here, and if I don't write something up, he's going to kill us."

She trailed off, realizing that she was rambling.  He was standing perfectly still, lost in some mire of thought that her words would not be able to penetrate.  She choked back a sudden, unexpected sob.

<This case will destroy him, eventually.  It's destroying us both.> 

Almost running, she escaped from the room. 


Two loud beeps and the screen flickered to life.  The little jingle danced across the speakers as the computer booted up.  Her word program was called up from an icon on her desktop.  She stared at the perfect emptiness of the page and swallowed an odd, acid sting at the back of her throat. 

<Destroy.  Destroying.  Destroyed.  We are descending into destruction.> 

Not words Kersh would want or understand. 

Dana Scully sighed, bit her lip almost hard enough to draw blood, and tried to sum up -- in a way that was not heart breaking, did not make her hands tremble or her lips shake -- the events of the past several weeks. 

It wasn't until her typing fingers encountered dampness on the keys that she realized she was crying. 


Three weeks earlier... 


"Agents, please have a seat." 

Assistant Director Kersh said the words without looking up. 

Biting the inside edge of her lower lip, Scully glanced up at her partner, smoothed a steady hand over the back of her skirt, and sat primly in the hard, leather chair. 

"Sir, if this is about the Griffin report..." 

Raising an impatient hand, Kersh silenced her excuse.  "This has nothing to do with the Griffin report, Agent Scully."  He said her name in a tone of voice not unlike that used when dealing with a recalcitrant four-year-old.  "Though I am aware of your tardiness in that regard." 

Closing the file, Kersh looked up at his two agents.  "This is about another matter entirely."

His statement was met with two identically blank stares.  During their time under Kersh's aegis, Mulder and Scully had perfected the art of careful indifference, able to mix stubborn refusal to break with just the subtlest nod of disdain. 

When neither agent spoke, Kersh continued. 

"There's a case up in Buffalo, New York," he began.  "I don't know if either of you have been paying attention to the news lately."

Scully thought she might have heard something -- some tidbit that had made the national report -- a spate of kidnappings in that area. 

"Kidnappings, Sir."  Apparently, Mulder had heard the news as well.

"Not just kidnappings, Agent Mulder." 

Kersh slid the folder he had been looking at across the desk.  Scully was closer, so she reached forward to pick it up. 

"A week and a half ago," Kersh began, "the body of Randall Lee, the first of three kidnapping victims, was found in an abandoned car on Haynes Street in the factory district." 

Scully flipped past the printed reports and came across the photos taken at the scene.  A rusted husk of a car, front tires missing, windshield smashed in, buried under a massive drift of snow. 

"A homeless man, seeking shelter from the cold, discovered the body and reported it to the police." 

The next picture was of the interior of the car, snow pushed back and doors open.  Sitting upright in the back seat was the unmistakable figure of a little boy.  The windows, too, had been smashed in, and snow covered the inside of the car and the child as well.  Eyes opened wide were clouded over with the opaque mask of death, staring into the camera lens, frost clinging to the delicate lashes.  He wasn't wearing any clothes, and his skin had a terrible blue-gray pallor, tiny, frail looking ribs clearly visible under the rice-paper translucency of his flesh. 

Scully stared at the photo, shivered slightly despite the warmth of the office, and passed the folder to her partner while Kersh continued.  "Five days later, a fourth child was taken.  Stephen Gaines disappeared from his backyard while his mother took a nap indoors and his father was at work.  That was a week ago."  Kersh paused, picked up another folder, and handed it to Scully. 

"Yesterday morning, they found another body." 

Flipping past reports again, Scully found an image similar to the first.  Snow again, covering the ground.  This time, however, the child lay flat on his back, resting atop the snow in front of a large garbage dumpster.  Hands folded across the chest, he might only have been sleeping if not for his large unseeing eyes staring up into the sky and the dark ring of bruises that circled his throat.

"This time, the local garbage collectors found the body when they came to pick up the trash.  He was the second child to go missing, Timothy Crane." 

Beside her, Mulder was reading through the written reports.  She closed the folder in her lap and looked up at the Assistant Director.  Not saying anything, she waited patiently for the proverbial other shoe to land at her feet. 

"It's started a local panic," Kersh explained, breaking somewhat under Scully's gaze.  "Parents are afraid to let their children out of the house.  Assistant Director Rigler, who oversees the field office up there, requested your help specifically, Agent Mulder." 

Mulder looked up at this, expression inscrutable. 

"I told him that it wouldn't be a problem and that the two of you would be up there by this afternoon, this evening at the latest." 

Mulder nodded shortly and rose to stand.  He had barely spoken the entire time they'd been in the office.  When it didn't appear there was anything more to be said, Scully gathered up the contents of the folder, followed Mulder's example, and walked over to the door.  She was about to follow her partner into the outer office when Kersh called out behind her. 

"Agent Scully." 

She turned, hating the way even her name could be an insult from his lips. 

"You can leave the Griffin report on my desk on your way out of the building." 

She closed the door. 


The flight up was tedious and cramped.  Mulder spent the first half reading the reports they had been given and the second passed out against the unforgiving airplane window.  A stopover in Newark yielded a massive cup of bitter coffee and a hastily grabbed bagel to tide her over until they could find something more substantial, and then they were on their way to Buffalo.  Reports were circulating about another big snowstorm due to hit the area within the next ten hours.  Scully stared out through the windows across the aisle into a dense morass of clouds and prayed that it would be later rather than sooner. 

A rental car was requisitioned, and the first sticky flakes began to fall as Mulder steered the vehicle out onto the already iced over roads outside of the airport. 

At the field office, they walked briskly and efficiently down the long hall.  Scully was busy preparing her traditional "I hope we can be of some help, Sir" speech, already anticipating the familiar resistance of primary investigators to the intrusion of outside ideas and influence. 

In her years with the bureau, she and Mulder had been met with everything from outright derision to genuine gratitude.  Usually, reaction to their participation ran somewhere in the middle, treading the line with veiled distrust and mild insult.  It didn't help when they solved the case within only a week or two of entering an investigation that had been ongoing for several months, disregarding all popular theories in the process. 

Most agents in the bureau held positions in a field or regional office, always investigating cases within their own jurisdiction.  Agents brought in from outside were often referred to as "hired goons."  Mulder and Scully had no such limited jurisdiction.  They had never been assigned to a field office.  Almost every case they investigated -- at least the ones prior to their assignment to what Mulder so graciously called 'shit detail' -- was an invasion of someone else's playground.  They stepped on a lot of toes, made very few friends, and as a result, she had mostly perfected the little recitation she was about to give. 

Beside her, Mulder was tall and dominating, a grim presence sheathed in fine black wool and surrounded by the swirl of a long, ebony trench coat.  He knew the speech, too, but was always reluctant to give it.  Her skills of placation and cooperation had always far exceeded his, and they both knew it.

He would defer to her when they entered the room, waiting until the pleasantries were over before sinking his teeth in for the kill.  Often, any headway she made could be erased with only a few simple words from Mulder.  She still tried, playing the politics game like a dutiful little Special Agent.  She wasn't out to make any friends and didn't care to.  She just wanted things to run as smoothly and quickly as possible. 

The bullpen was through a pair of unmarked glass doors.  Mulder held them for her, stepping back completely by habit to allow her entrance.  She didn't even recognize the gesture anymore, any more than she recognized the occasional intrusion of his hand resting almost imperceptibly at the base of her spine.  *That* particular gesture was less common these days, almost gone completely, and when she allowed herself to consider it -- which was not often -- it was with a distant, muted sorrow. 

Metal desks, some divided from their neighbors by low walls, marched in neat rows from the door, across the large room, and all the way to the back wall.  Windows dominated most of the wall facing the street, allowing a spectacular view of downtown Buffalo.  The wall at the end, opposite the doors they had entered through, was another facade of glass, made opaque this time by beige mini blinds on the other side.  In the center of it was a door with the title "Special Agent in Charge Douglas Moore" clearly stenciled in neat, black letters.  The whole effect was stark and vast, practically surrounded on all sides by those high, glass shields. 

They walked across the room, glancing mildly at the scattering of agents present.  Most of the desks were unoccupied, though they showed obvious signs of recent use.  Several agents were seated at desks, absorbed by their computer screens.  One was busy absent-mindedly picking at the remains of his lunch.

A short, firm knock on the Agent in Charge's door, and they were admitted with a terse "Come."  Whatever speech Scully may have had prepared was forgotten the moment they entered the office. 

"Agent Mulder," Moore began, without introduction, as soon as the door was closed.  "The first thing I think you should know is that I did not request your assistance on this case." 

The partners traded quick, slightly bewildered glances.  Scully spoke when Mulder did not.  "Sir?" 

"Agent Scully," Moore acknowledged.  "My men have been handling this case since the first child went missing.  They've been working their collective asses off on this thing for months." 

Moore was in his early fifties with sandy blond hair stained by intermittent streaks of gray.  He had serious, dark eyes, a simple, attractive enough face, and the shadows of two-day-old stubble shading his cheeks.  When he continued, Scully uncharacteristically thought that his eyes might be quite pleasant if he wasn't tired and frustrated. 

"We haven't achieved much, but we haven't had much to go on, either.  Progress has been slow and painful, but it *is* being made." 

Moore paused, coughed roughly, a long-time smoker's cough. 

"I'll be direct, Agents."  His gaze shifted from Scully to Mulder.  "I don't hold a very high opinion of profiling as a method to help capture a suspect.  I think it may only serve as a distraction in this case.  I did not request your help as a profiler, and if it wasn't a direct order from AD Rigler, you would not be here right now." 

Scully took in a sharp breath, surprised at the direction the conversation had taken.  Mulder didn't say a word, clearly not surprised at all, and this worried Scully.  She didn't glance over at him, but she knew the inevitability of his interruption.  She dreaded his silences; they were always portents of unpleasant things to come. 

Again Moore's attention changed, switching back to Scully.  "I am, however, sure that the pathology department will be more than happy to turn this thing over to you, Agent Scully.  Though I don't know what else you'll be able to find.  The deaths have all been fairly straight-forward." 

She merely nodded. 

Mulder's voice was a shock after his long silence, and she almost jumped at his sudden, quiet, even tone, despite the fact that she had been expecting it. 

"The Investigative Support Unit has spent years and countless man-hours interviewing and studying hundreds of serial murderers, rapists, child molesters, and mass murderers in an ongoing effort to understand their motivations, personalities, crimes, and methods.  These agents are *trained* psychologists.  Their findings are not manufactured nor based on ignorant conjecture."  Mulder's voice was a deadly soft timbre that teetered gently on the cusp of insubordination. 

"You have no suspect and no idea of where to start," he said, bluntly.  "'Behavior reflects personality,' and if you at least had some idea of this perpetrator's personality, you might be that much closer to narrowing down who you're looking for.  As you now stand, it could be anyone.  Any one of the several hundred thousand people living in this city.  It could be one of your own men, for all you know." 

Moore severed Mulder's continuing speech, his tone a warning.  "You know as well as I do that it isn't one of my men." 

Mulder simply blinked mildly.  He had said the words to get a reaction.  He always did. 

Moore's irritation grew.  "You also know that the use of a profiler is usually a last resort, and that even when a profiler *is* used, their participation results in an instant arrest in only five percent of all cases."

Not Mulder's profiles, Scully thought.  She didn't say this, and neither did Mulder, but when she glanced at him, she was not at all surprised to see a glint of challenge hiding in his eyes.  We'll see, his eyes said.  She was always uneasy when she saw that expression. 

Moore's voice was imposing.  Scully could easily see how he was able to command such a large group of agents.  He was a leader, that much was undeniable, and also a man who was not accustomed to his authority being challenged.  "I will not have my agents sidetracked by vague speculations and untenable theories."  The words were slow and final.  They brooked no argument. 

"Agent Haydn is waiting out in the bullpen for you both.  He's agreed to take the two of you to the crime scenes and to introduce Agent Scully to the pathologist who did both of the autopsies." 

Mulder's expression hadn't changed.  Scully knew it was far from over, even if he'd decided to keep his peace for the time being.

She assumed that they had been dismissed and began moving towards the door.  Hand on the knob, she turned back to summon Mulder.  He was standing motionless in front of Moore's desk.  She didn't say anything.  He would feel her eyes on him.  She knew that. 

Moore had to be given credit.  He maintained the stare, unflinching.  Mulder eventually turned and walked to where Scully was waiting.  She breathed a sigh of relief.  Before leaving the room, Mulder turned back to Moore.  "I was assigned to this case for a reason, and I intend to do my job." 

It wasn't a challenge or a threat.  It was the truth.  Not for the first time, Scully wondered how much that truth might cost them in the end. 


Agent Haydn was an agreeable enough, if exhausted, agent.  He wasn't overly helpful, but he wasn't a hindrance, either, and that was more than she had expected after exiting Moore's office.  They went to the second scene first, starting where the trail was fresh, but there was little to be seen except an old dumpster, tattered police tape, and six inches of fresh snow covering the ground.  From the look on Mulder's face, he hadn't expected much to begin with.  After that, they decided against going to the first scene until the next morning, worried about road conditions and knowing that they weren't likely to find much anyway.

In the car on their way to the motel, Scully asked the question that had been bothering her since the beginning of the argument in Moore's office. 

"Who said anything about profiling, Mulder?"  She was careful with her words, but she knew he would hear the concern in them. 

Sighing, he didn't turn to look at her when he answered.  "I knew I'd be profiling the minute Kersh gave us this case, Scully." 

"How did you know?" 

His reply was slow, considered.  "Assistant Director Rigler was the Buffalo SAC during a case I worked here when I was with the ISU." 

He didn't elaborate, and she had to prompt him for more.  "Why does that necessarily mean you'll be profiling?"

"It was a nasty case," he said, sounding reluctant to continue.  "When I arrived on it, I only pointed out what I thought was obvious."  His words held a trace of self-deprecation.  "I guess it hadn't been so obvious to everyone else." 

Scully looked out over the darkened Buffalo streets that sailed past her window and hid her smile.  The things Mulder saw so easily were often completely invisible to average men.

"They caught the killer?"  She knew the answer before she asked the question. 

His voice was small. "Yeah." And then, after a beat, "so, if Assistant Director Rigler asked specifically for me, he expects me to profile."

Remaining silent for a few breaths, Scully asked a simple question.  "How long had you been on the case before you caught the suspect?" 

"Two weeks." 

"And how long had the rest of the investigative team been working on the case before you got there?" 

Mulder turned away from the road, glanced over at Scully briefly, and smiled a tiny, knowing smile. 

"Six months." 

Only five percent of all cases, indeed. 


Dinner -- at ten minutes till midnight -- was turkey and Swiss on rye from the all night deli next to the motel (since no one would deliver during the snow) and case files spread out like a trailer park after a tornado over the covers of both beds and the floor of Mulder's motel room. 

Scully took a sip of her soda, rubbed a weary hand over her aching eyes, and stood up.  "I can't do it anymore. I'm about to fall asleep with my eyes open." 

His only acknowledgment was the shuffling of papers from the other bed. 

She gathered up her things and tried again.  "Mulder, I'm going to sleep." 

Still no reply. 

Chagrined, she walked over to stand beside her partner and looked down at the file he was reading.  It was the police report on the third child taken, Tristan Oliver. 



She placed a hand on his shoulder and squeezed lightly.  When he looked up, his expression was only half aware, and she pulled her hand away to rest limply at her side.

"I'm going to bed," she repeated. 


He looked back down at the file as if he hadn't really heard her at all. 

She stood there for another moment, watching him as he turned the page and began reading again.  When she left the room, she had to forcefully squash down some unnamable sadness that she did not want to own.  That night, in her bed, sleep was a very long time coming, and dread loomed large and commanding in the forefront of her thoughts. 

End Chapter 2 (Part 3/29)

Chapter 3 

"... and we should expect the eighth big snow storm in a winter that is already breaking all the records to show up sometime late Saturday night." 

In the car, on their way to the field office.  The announcer's voice droned on, talking of wind chill factors and the day in 1949 that previously held the record they had broken last night with a record book worthy temperature of five degrees, wind chill not a factor.  On and on, and Scully could imagine countless school children lined up in front of their radios, faces full of hope, praying for the blessed reprieve of a snow day. 

"... so if you're forced to brave the great outdoors this morning, don't forget to bring your mittens." 

Scully paused at the familiar words, grasping onto a memory so far in the past it seemed only a phantom.  So insufferably smug, he had been.  So delightfully, infuriatingly difficult.  She glanced over at her partner, remembering the warm, then disconcerting and unfamiliar tingle of his breath just above her ear as he had spoken.  Mulder turned, sought out her eyes, and shared the memory with a tiny smile. 


A trip to the scene where the first body had been found was as pointless as they had expected it to be, and as cold.  Teeth chattering, they had made their way back to the field office. 

"I'm beginning to think the whole point to the positioning of the bodies is merely to demonstrate how efficiently the weather can erase evidence," Scully reflected ironically, as they stood in the elevator. 

Mulder didn't reply, and she watched as his jaw tightened, the doors opening with a sudden ping. 

Down the hall and through the bullpen, they came to stand in the doorway to a small conference room, made all the smaller by stacks of files in boxes, on top of boxes, on tables, in precarious towers, and laid out in an abstract display across the floor. 

"This is everything, all the evidence that's been uncovered over the course of the investigation.  If you two need anything else, I'll be out at my desk." 

Janice, Agent Moore's administrative assistant, looked at them both expectantly.  She had the no nonsense demeanor of a woman who had worked with The Boys for a very long time, and Scully doubted she did such pedestrian things as fetch coffee anymore. 

"Thank you. You've been more than helpful." 

She gave a short nod, not quite a smile, and shut the door softly on her way out. 

Scully folded her arms and turned to Mulder.  She tilted her head forward, drew in a breath through pursed lips, and peered at him beneath raised brows.  "This should be fun. Divide and conquer?" 

"Left" he announced. 

"Right," she concurred, and they turned simultaneously to their elected ends of the room. 

The stacks appeared to have some sort of order, at least.  The various crime scene reports were in two small boxes near the door.  Scully found the autopsy files stacked together at the end of the table and set them aside for perusal before her meeting with the forensics staff downstairs.  Detailed profiles of each of the four families sat in a large box in the center of the table.  On the floor at the back of the room loomed several, crowded boxes of compiled research into the possible means of victim selection -- a point the investigation had primarily focused on.

Scully picked up the autopsy reports, sank into an uncomfortable chair, weary resignation escaping in a puff of expelled air, and began to read. 


"Three and a half hours, and I still can't make sense of the MO," Mulder said, the first to raise his head from the mess. 

"He smashes the framed pictures in each home when he takes a child, paying special attention to the portraits of the entire family, or photos with more than one member present.  Now, from a pop-psychology viewpoint, the analysis is damned obvious -- he hates those pictures, hates what they represent.  Something about these families upsets him, makes him jealous or angry enough to need to destroy the evidence of their existence."

Scully had put down her pen, not sure where he was going with this. 

"I've seen similar symbolic destruction many times over the course of my work with the ISU.  It's a fairly common means of venting anger or frustration towards something or someone you cannot otherwise confront.  But that's not it; that’s too neat, too simple.  That's what doesn't make sense." 

Scully nodded, following at last. 

"If this were merely another example of that type of symbolic destruction, he should be picking more consistent targets.  Shattering family portraits, coupled with the kidnapping of the children, would primarily indicate that he envies the lives of these children, their happy homes.  But he's not always choosing children from typical, sit-com, 'Leave it to Beaver' families." 

"What do you mean?" Scully broke in. 

"Tristan Oliver's mother had just been through a messy child custody battle after walking out on her husband of twelve years.  Timothy Crane's mother was practically decapitated by a drunk driver just three weeks before his ninth birthday.  The Lees and the Gaines are both still happily married, or apparently so.  Other than the ages of the children, there is no consistency to the families he's choosing."

"Can't it be as simple as that?" she asked.  "He couldn't just be going after boys between the ages of eight and ten?" 

"No."  Mulder dismissed her question outright.  "The pictures are of primary significance. He's sending a message, he's telling us exactly *why * he's doing this.  He wouldn't destroy the photos if he didn't have something he was trying to say, or if the message wasn't directly connected to the families themselves."

She could see the logic behind Mulder's argument.  "There aren't any other commonalties between the families that he could be targeting?  Some other aspect they all share that he resents?" 

Mulder looked down at the chaos of papers spread out before him, then over at Scully with her neatly arranged stacks of files, and then back to his own work.  She noticed his scrutiny and rewarded him with a faint, rueful smile.  He began reciting the known facts.

"Randall Lee, our first victim, lived in a modest middle class house with both parents -- Catherine, who worked with property management at Century 21, and Richard, a freelance graphic artist.  He had two older sisters, Beth and Ashley, ages 12 and 17.  Investigators interviewed the family and stated that they appeared loving and devastated by the loss of their son.  In short, nothing abnormal." 

Pausing, Mulder reached out to draw a particular folder closer to where he sat. 

"For his second victim, he went to the total opposite end of the spectrum.  Timothy Crane's family had just been torn apart by tragedy.  Four months ago, three weeks before his ninth birthday, his mother, Grace, was involved in a head-on collision when another car swerved over the line and into her lane.  The driver was drunk, three times the legal limit.  She was killed instantly.  Under New York State's no tolerance law, the perpetrator is now serving a hefty sentence for vehicular homicide in a state prison.  Alan Crane, who works as a computer programmer with Luminary Technologies, was left to raise both Timothy and his twin sister Charity on his own.  When friends of the family were interviewed, they said that the only reason Alan was still alive at all was for the children.  His wife's death destroyed him." 

Mulder pushed the folder away and grabbed another.  Across the table, Scully had leaned back against her seat and was busy filing Mulder's words away into pockets of relevance in her mind.

"For a different kind of tragedy, he went after victim number three.  Tristan Oliver's parents were recently divorced.  It was very messy, and the child custody argument was particularly brutal.  After months in the courts, custody was finally awarded to the mother, Madeline, an executive secretary with Exemplary Publishing House.  His father still lives nearby and works as an on-again, off-again musician.  He has one sibling, a sister, Eliza, ten months old. 

"And for number four, Stephen Gaines.  Mother and Father, Camille and Keith, are still together and expecting another child, their second, two months from now.  The mother is a homemaker.  The father is a successful lawyer, not a full partner but well on his way, at Wakefield and Chase uptown." 

Mulder stopped, stood up, and walked over to the water cooler in the corner of the room.  He leaned down and grabbed one of the little plastic cups, filled it with water, and downed it in one gulp.  Looking up at Scully, he silently asked her if she wanted a drink. 

Bringing the exchange into the audible realm. "No thanks," she responded, "But I would kill for a cup of coffee." 

He raised his eyebrows.  "Coffee?"  Walking over to the door, he said, "Let's go see what we can dig up." 

Eager for a break, and in desperate need of caffeine, Scully followed Mulder out of the conference room.  In front of Janice's desk, they paused and he asked for directions.  Out of the bullpen and down the hall to a lounge, they both noted the distant nature of the other agents.  Thinking about it, Scully decided that no one they had met had been overtly rude or difficult.  They all just seemed exhausted.  This case had been going on for far too long, and its recent descent into a serial murder investigation as opposed to merely a series of kidnappings had to have been a debilitating blow to the team. 

Scully leaned against the edge of a table while Mulder discovered the empty coffeepot, looked around for the filters, and brewed a fresh pot.  Waiting while the machine hissed and sputtered, emitting a few preliminary drops, Mulder turned and regarded her. 

"So, did you find out anything interesting while you were reading?"  He knew she would share.  He was just prompting. 

"Well," she began, "as we already knew, the investigation up until this point had been primarily focused on discovering how the children were being chosen.  They were hoping to find some distinct connection like a day care center or a doctor's office from where they could obtain a list of obvious suspects." 

"They didn't find anything."  A statement, not a question, from Mulder. 

"No.  And they tried everything, eventually.  Schools, friends, playgroups, sports teams, even hospitals the boys were born in and the stores the parents frequented for their clothes.  On the parent's side, they were equally thorough.  Everything from jobs, high schools attended, military and political affiliation, doctors again, obgyns the mothers went to.  There are stacks and stacks of abandoned inquiries trying to establish a link between these children, and *nothing* has been found." 

Mulder's next statement surprised her.  "They're not going to find what they need with that information." 

She looked up at him.  "Why not?  He has to be choosing them somehow." 

"I agree.  But I don't think how he's choosing them has anything to do with something as pedestrian as a common pediatrician or little league coach.  If it were as easy as that, the family wouldn't have so much to do with it and the smashed pictures wouldn't be an issue." 

She could feel them slipping into their familiar opposing roles.  "But, Mulder, even if the family *is * the reason he's taking these children, the fact remains that there has to be some method that he's using to select them.  Whatever particular trait he's looking for in these families, you said it yourself, he's not just going after any random house he sees with a nine-year-old boy in the front yard.  There has to be a specific connection to the families.  There has to be a way he is being personally introduced to these little boys.  Your whole theory about the photographs hinges on that personal knowledge." 

Scully was leaning against the table with arms crossed high across her chest.  Unconsciously, Mulder adopted a similar pose. 

"I think that the reason for the photographs *is* the method." 

Scully's expression was puzzled. 

He paused, searching for an explanation. She knew that his theories were often difficult to articulate.  "I don't know what it is.  I don't understand what he's looking for yet, but I believe that whatever it is, somehow it's obvious to him.  He can see what he's searching for when he looks at those children, and that's why they're chosen." 

The coffee maker was dormant now, full, and Mulder turned to fill two mugs. 

With his back to her, "In order to solve this case, we need to find out what it is he's looking for, why these children are special, what those pictures mean." 

She watched as he poured a small amount of cream into her cup and then a pile of sugar into his own.  She scrunched her face up slightly in distaste, all too familiar with his coffee drinking habits.  He handed her the steaming mug. 

"That's where this investigation needs to be focused.  They won't catch this guy by questioning schoolteachers and bus drivers.  They need to know how his mind is working."

She stared him down.  "Mulder, you know how..." 

He interrupted.  "Vague, intangible, untenable those theories could be?" 

She made a frustrated noise in her throat.  "You're going to be looking for things you won't be able to prove, throwing out Moore's entire investigation in the process." 

"Yeah."  He seemed suddenly tired.  "I know that already.  But it's unavoidable.  This is the only way we'll catch this guy.  This is what I came here to do.  This is why we were given this case."

Scully scowled into her coffee, annoyed for complicated reasons, because this couldn't just be simple, because it was *never* simple with Mulder, because he was probably right, and because she didn't want to see his theories ripped apart by Moore.  She was so very sick of people who dismissed his ideas out of ignorance, treating him like the resident crack addict, almost as sick as she was of the accusing glares they then shot in her direction, wondering why she stayed, accusing her of defending him.  Kersh did that, dismissed Mulder outright as a lunatic, irredeemable, and she became the target.  She was the one responsible, because she should have known better. 

They were silent for several minutes while she sipped the hot liquid, relishing warmth amidst the cold she felt surrounded by in this place. 

"When are you going down to meet with the Pathology department?" 

She sighed deeply, staring into her cup of coffee.  "Two hours. I still have to take a more complete look at the autopsy reports, so I know what questions to ask." 

She couldn't see it, but she felt his nod.  His fingers grazed her elbow briefly. "Let's get back to work, then." 

Side by side, they walked back down the hall. 


Five hours later, her feet throbbed with a dull ache, her hair was still in the loose ponytail created while down in the lab, and hunger like an unwelcome house guest was taking up all of her concentration.  She trudged down the hall, through the bullpen where several of agents were still at work despite the later hour, and pushed wearily into the conference room. 


At first she didn't see him and wondered if he had left for another break or to use the bathroom.  She was about to leave, to check in the lounge, when the sound of shuffling papers caught her attention. 

Stepping slowly around the table, feeling foolish in the small room, she rounded the edge and stopped in her tracks. 

"Mulder, what are you doing?" 

He didn't answer or even look up.  On the floor behind the table, he was crouched in front of a long row of boxes, papers spread out before him like new, white carpet.  In his hands he held an open folder.  She watched with growing dread as he stared at the pages and reached up slowly to trace the paper with the tip of one long finger. 

She took a step closer, was about to speak, and was suddenly captivated by the expression on his face. 

He looked... absent.  That was the first and only word she could think of.  The disproportionate nose, the shape of the jaw, the long lashes shading his eyes, those were all the same.  But Mulder was not there.  Sometime during the three hours she had been down at the lab, Mulder had disappeared within himself and left only a shell behind. 

She kneeled down, insinuating herself gently at his side.  Looking at the folder he held, she found it full of photographs.  He was staring at a wide shot of a child's bedroom.  Glass covered the furniture and floor.  Bloody footprints ringed the bed. 

Unsure of exactly what to do, she reached out, trusted that he would respond to her, and laid a careful hand over his fingers that touched the picture.  She squeezed lightly, called his name. 

"Mulder, please." 

A delayed reaction -- he seemed to not even notice for a few heartbeats -- and then he flinched slightly, turned his head to look at her with still distant eyes.  "Scully."  Almost a question. 

"Mulder, it's time to go.  We should go." 

She thought she saw him nod, and then they rose.  She took the folder from his hands. 



She scowled.  "As long as it's not Chinese.  I can't handle Chinese again." 

His chuckle was slight from the other bed.  "What's the matter, Scully?  Had your fill of MSG already?"

She kept her tone flat.  "For at least the next two decades." 

His voice on the phone faded into a minor buzz in the background.  She closed her eyes, toed her pumps off and let them fall over the edge of the bed, wiggling her stockinged feet indulgently.  She was starving, and tired, and frustrated, and a plethora of other things she wasn't yet ready to name. 

"Italian place down the street.  Should be here in fifteen minutes." 

She murmured her assent and heard him disconnect the call. 

Silence became a welcome, comfortable presence between them, and she was content, for that one small moment in time.  She listened to the creak of ancient springs on the other bed, as he settled against the pillows.  She did not open her eyes.  The TV turned on, sound low, and he flipped quickly through the channels. 

...static, talk show, infomercial... 

"Mulder?"  She had a sudden question.  "Why does Moore have such a problem with you?" 

Expecting a flippant remark, or more likely a shrug indicating his own ignorance, Scully was startled by Mulder's seemingly off topic response.  "You know where they keep the ISU, don't you, Scully?" 

She rolled onto her side to face him and answered slowly, confused by the turn in conversation.  "At Quantico. It's a part of the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime..." 

Mulder cut her off.  "Sixty feet below ground.  Underneath the indoor firing range in an old nuclear fallout shelter." 

He paused and got up from the bed.  "To get down there, you have to press LL in the elevator.  Lower than low."  There was a pause there that might have been meant for a mirthless chuckle, might not have been, and he left it empty.  "You step out of the elevator into this labyrinth of long, dark corridors.  No windows, no light, these tiny, soundless rooms."

He walked away from Scully, towards the window, and flattened his palm against the glass. 

His voice was suddenly flat, desolate.  "There were some nights, I swear I could watch as the walls closed in.  I kept waiting to suffocate."  He didn't look at her as he spoke.  "The ISU receives over eleven thousand cases every year, and they have only ten full time profilers."  Repressed outrage in his tone. 

"When I joined the ISU," he continued, "barely half of the bureau thought that we should be doing profiling at all.  Witchcraft, they said. A bunch of hocus pocus that didn't even yield a name, just vague conjecture about insignificant things like whether or not the suspect's mother was dominating and if he liked to dress up in women's clothes on the weekends." 

His fingers tensed against the unyielding, transparent barrier, whitening the tips.  "They had us down there, crawling through the minds of monsters, creating and sustaining and willingly walking into the most vivid nightmares... *Ten agents,* and they still manage about 800 full profiles a year, despite the fact that to this day, there are large portions of the bureau that think profiling is a waste of both time and resources." 

He stopped for a breath, and when he spoke again, she could hear an emotion in his previously empty words -- a vague, bitter distaste.  "But it's not concrete.  It's not exact. It's not a hair or a fiber or a smear of blood.  You can't hold it, and you can't analyze it.  I construct a profile," he sighed, faintly, "and I can point out some of the substance behind my findings, some of the evidence to support my theories, but for the most part, I can't explain it.  I can't rationalize it, and I can't document it.  All I can offer is what I *know* is right, not *how* I know.

"It's what makes me good at what I do, and it's also what makes men like Moore suspicious and often belligerent when forced to work with a profiler." 

Scully moved finally, rising from the bed and stepping warily towards her partner; not moving to actually touch, just to be closer. 

"But your work," she protested.  "You've proved your abilities time and again.  How can anyone possibly doubt what you do after seeing the results you get?" 

His shoulders were slumped, body leaning in towards the window.  If he moved any farther forward, she feared his forehead would come to rest against the flat, hard surface of the glass and he would slide gradually to the floor.

"The things you have to do, the person you have to become."  His tone was hushed, disgust hanging over every word.  "You can't approach a killer with hatred and anger.  You have to be able to walk into an interrogation room, a prison cell, and truly be able understand this person, win his trust, empathize.  You have to be able to laugh with butchers, baby killers, and rapists, to discuss details of the most hideous crimes with genuine indifference.  You can't even pretend, because they can see right through it.  Most of the time, they're smart, smarter even than we are, so in order to be successful, you have to *become* like them.  You can't hate them." 

She couldn't imagine, didn't even want to try.  Her anger grounded her through cases like this; made it possible to face mutilated little bodies and the violation of innocence.  The thought that her partner, her friend, a man she trusted with her life was able to laugh and empathize with child molesters and men who tortured for pleasure, the thought of him trying to relate to the motivations of those men frightened her.  It was like ice water running down her spine. 

His hand had relaxed. Her eyes were strangely drawn to the shapes of his long, slender fingers. 

"During some cases, I used to look in the mirror and find a stranger staring back.  I couldn't recognize myself.  I disgusted myself, and I was terrified I'd never see a familiar reflection again." 

Suddenly, his shoulders tensed, she stepped back, and he moved away from the window, turning to face her.  "Part of the reason Moore doesn't like me is because I scare him."  Eyes unfocused, he wasn't really looking at her while he spoke.  His last words were very quiet, but still somehow steady and sure.  "I scare myself sometimes." 

The phone shattered the silence between them, startling Scully.  Mulder moved away from the window and walked past her without looking up from the floor.  She watched the top of his head from his abandoned post by the window, as he scooped the phone up to answer it.  His first hello didn't alert her, his second broke her attention from the conversation they'd just had, and his third brought her around the bed to stand beside him at the phone. 

Mulder caught her eyes, reached out to turn the volume on the phone up, and gestured for her to sit down.  She settled next to him, leaning in, and could hear nothing.  After a moment, she thought she could discern light breathing.  Heads together, she was about to tell Mulder to hang up when the caller spoke. 

"Agent Mulder?" 

"Yes." Mulder's voice was hesitant, "Speaking." 

Silence for another breath. 

"I was just wondering," the speaker paused.  "I was wondering if you had figured out the message behind the photographs yet, Agent Mulder?"

The voice was curious and calm.  Scully held her breath.  Something sinister coiled deep in her belly. 

"I was wondering if you had been able to see yet what the others have not?" 

End Chapter 3 (Part 4/29)

Chapter 4 

It was customary for high profile investigations to leave certain, key bits of information out of the press statements, as a cautionary practice.  It gave the officials a means to sort through the inevitable weirdoes that sprang from the woodwork as soon as an investigation hit the papers.  From the very first kidnapping, the Buffalo PD, and then the FBI field office, had omitted any mention of the broken picture frames.  It was key; it was unique.  When the front desk was flooded with "confessions," they would know right away who the crackpots were. 

No one outside of the immediate investigation was supposed to know about the photographs. 

"Photographs?" Mulder was playing dumb. 

"Please, Agent Mulder, don't be coy.  It isn't your style." 

Scully, knowing this was the real thing, scrambled for her cell phone and called the field office. 

"This is Agent Dana Scully, badge number JTT03316613.  I need a trace on a phone line immediately.  The Stay and Save Motel on route twelve, room 316." 

Beside her, Mulder spoke again.  "What am I supposed to be able to see?" 

Scully disconnected her call when she got confirmation and leaned back towards Mulder.  She caught the end of the kidnapper's next sentence. 

"... would be cheating.  That would defeat the whole purpose.  It's not in my nature to be self defeating."  There was a pause, and then out of nowhere, "You have a partner now.  She's beautiful, and I assume that she's not only started a trace on this call by now, but has joined the conversation as well." 

Scully's mouth opened on an unformed word.  Mulder only stared off into the middle distance.

"Now? How do you know me?" 

"You've been here before, Agent Mulder.  I know you remember.  1987.  They said you were brilliant back then -- caught the uncatchable.  I'd already seen the obvious myself by the time you arrived, but I was impressed that someone as young and... unformed as you were then could also see it, could make that leap."

Mulder let out a huff of breath.  "A compliment?" 

"Yes.  You can consider it that.  Well deserved, I think." 

Polite compliments from a man who hunts little boys as a hobby, Scully thought, feeling ill. 

"I'm sure you're wondering how I found this number, so I'll spare you the question.  I saw the two of you outside of the federal building yesterday, and I'm afraid I followed you back to your motel, just to see which rooms you were in.  That was the only way to get the number." 

His tone took on a note of surprise.  "I have to say, it was a bit of a shock. I hadn't thought I'd become so high profile yet.  I hadn't thought they'd give up so easily.  It’s flattering, actually, and a pity that their minds are so narrow, but I know to expect better from you.  I'm just wondering how long it will take." 

Looking down, Scully noticed Mulder's hand clenching and unclenching into a repeated fist.  She gritted her teeth and wondered how long the trace would take. 

"You called for a reason.  Was it just to inquire about the pictures?" 

A soft laugh across the phone line.  "Engaging me in conversation won't help you with the trace, Agent Mulder, but I did call for a reason.  Your being here puts me in a unique position.  I am more than aware of your skill with these matters, and while it does add a certain pressure to my circumstances, it presents an interesting opportunity at the same time."

"What opportunity?" 

"To communicate with someone who may actually look in the right directions." 

The line went quiet for a moment. 

"I'm going to make you an offer, give you a 'clue,' if you want to call it that.  The next time I make a move, I'll leave you a message.  The clock is running, Agent Mulder.  I would be careful how long you take." 

The knuckles on Mulder's fist were white.  "You're playing games with innocent lives!" 

The answer was immediate, sharp and scornful.  "Innocence?  Innocence is a myth, a sacred word that has been raped of its meaning, and this is not a game.  I am very serious about this, as are you."

Mulder was about to speak again when the kidnapper interrupted.  "I'm sorry. Our time is up for now.  I'll be looking forward to seeing your interpretations.  You don't want to make me wait too long, Agent Mulder."

And then he was gone. 


"You wanted last resort.  This is last resort time!" 

Mulder was fuming, pacing the length of AD Moore's office in unrestrained agitation. 

"Agent Mulder, sit down now!" 

Mulder stopped in his tracks, turned around, and glanced over at Scully.  She was standing near the door, watching without speaking. 

"You, too, Agent Scully." 

It was not a request.  They both sat down, taking the two chairs in front of Moore's desk.  Moore waited a moment, staring at Mulder, apparently waiting for him to calm down.  When Mulder stopped fidgeting and was completely still, Moore spoke. 

"I'm sure you know by now that we weren't able to get a trace on the call.  Whatever technology he was using, it was fairly advanced.  That call was re-routed all over the Hemisphere."

Mulder didn't say anything, and his expression was perfectly blank.  Finally, his voice a warning, "We are no longer going to have the luxury of time with this case.  Up until this point, our murderer had just been observing the investigation, and that's fairly common.  Many serial murderers try to form some sort of connection to their case, hanging around the crime scenes, blending in with the crowd, going to places where the officers congregate to try and overhear conversations about the investigation.  Our subject has moved beyond that.  Now, he's chosen an adversary." 

Moore stared into Mulder, not even blinking at his statement.  He spoke with a hint of disbelief in his tone.  "You?" 

"It's become even more personal for him now," Mulder said, by way of affirmation.  "It's become a matter of pride, to a certain extent.  Not a game, really.  He's proving himself to himself, not just to us.  But now, with a definite opponent, a voice, a personality, and a face to challenge, he's going to begin moving a lot more quickly, with less and less time between acts.  You won't have weeks anymore.  You're going to have days." 

"How do you know?"  Moore had folded his arms across his chest and was sitting back slightly, appraising Mulder. 

"It's what I do," Mulder answered, flatly.  "This could be a double-edged sword.  It may give us a certain advantage.  If he begins moving more quickly, he could make a mistake.  However, this will also make him more serious about what he's doing.  It could refine him, make him more precise, more deadly." 

Agent Moore still had an uncertain look on his face, as if unsure whether to be alarmed or to dismiss Mulder's words as mere foolishness. 

"I've been here before, Sir," Mulder said, suddenly.  "This isn't the first time I've been 'picked out' by a suspect."

Beside him, Scully sat up straighter, remembering Modell and Barnett, somehow knowing those cases were not what he was referring to.  There was a reluctant taint to his voice, hesitance.  This was something related to his time with the ISU, a time he rarely discussed.  He never spoke of profiling unless forced to. 

"It was right before I left the ISU, one of my last cases."  Mulder was staring into his lap, voice much fainter now.  "The subject called the field office just to taunt the investigators.  He wanted to brag.  Because I was the profiler, and the psychologist, I got phone duty."  A tiny, ugly grin graced his face for barely a second.  Scully doubted Moore had even seen it. 

"I talked to him. This was back before tracing a call was as easy as it is now.  It took time.  So I stalled, really tried to engage him in conversation, and by the time he hung up, he had decided that I 'understood,' that I was the only one who truly understood him." 

Scully could feel it coming, a little knot that formed in the pit of her stomach.  Anticipation.  Something bad was coming. 

Mulder's fingers laced and unlaced nervously in his lap. 

"We ended up cornering the guy in a house, finally got him to stay on the phone long enough to get a complete trace.  But by the time we got there, he had taken a hostage.  He barricaded himself inside with a seventeen year old girl." 

Mulder drew in a shaky breath.  "We heard gunfire.  When the team finally entered the house, the subject had killed himself and the hostage.  He shot her in the head." 

Raising his head, Mulder looked straight at Agent Moore.  "He left a note on the girl's body.  It said, 'for Agent Mulder, who knew.' " 

Scully closed her eyes briefly, swallowed the lump in her throat, feeling a familiar compassion for her partner and his "gift."  There was something within Mulder that never allowed him to let go, something intrinsic to him now that stemmed from the disappearance of his sister so many years ago.  Scully knew, with a bone deep certainty, that Mulder blamed himself for that girl's death.  She knew that he could recall her face in exact detail to this day. 

Scully looked over at him, but he did not look back. 

"You want to know how I know what I do, Sir?  It's because I've done all of this before.  I've been *right here* more times than I can even count." 

Mulder stood up.  "And right now, I have no idea how to stop this." 

Outside, it was completely dark, late.  Light snow stuck and melted against the window behind Moore's desk.  Scully watched Moore considering Mulder's words and then felt Mulder's eyes on her.  By the time she looked up, he had already glanced away and was turning for the door.  He left the room without looking back, and Moore didn't attempt to stop him.

"Agent Scully." 

Shaking herself free of some odd paralysis, Scully turned to the SAC.  "Yes, Sir." 

"What is your opinion of Agent Mulder's theory?" 

Scully stopped, actually thought about the question, and answered quickly and with certainty.  "I have been partners with Agent Mulder for six years, sir, and I have seen his talent with this kind of investigation time and again.  He's good at this.  The best.  I don't pretend to know how he does it; I just know that he does." 

Moore nodded, accepting her words.  "You're dismissed, Agent Scully." 

She left the room in search of her partner. 


Mulder was not in the bullpen.  He was not in the conference room or the lounge or the bathroom.  When she asked a few people if they had seen him, no one could give her a definite answer.  Flipping open her phone, she hit his speed-dial button and hoped he would answer the call.  After ten rings, she gave up.  She was standing alone in a deserted hall.  They hadn't had the chance to eat.  She was exhausted and starving.  Ahead of her, the elevator doors opened with a chime to reveal an empty car.  On impulse, she stepped through the doors and pressed the down button. 

She didn't know how she knew, not even when she swung through the large metal doors.  They moved on well oiled hinges, completely soundless.  The morgue's lights had been dimmed for the night, and the room was dominated by shadow.  She found him standing in front of the wall of freezer drawers.  They gleamed, dark, polished silver in the half-light.

She stepped into the room and shivered.  It was freezing. 


He didn't answer. 

Walking closer, she saw the open drawer, knowing instinctively which drawer it would be.  She came up beside him and looked down at the tiny body.  An autopsy had already been performed on Timothy Crane, that much was immediately evident.  The Y-incision was the first and only thing you saw when you looked at the boy.  A long, hideous row of large, black stitches ran from the groin to the ribcage before branching out.  It was obscene, only emphasizing the child's diminutive size, his immature body.  The abdominal cavity was sunken in, all of the organs having been removed for dissection.

Scully had a brief flash of the picture that had been included in the file about Timothy's kidnapping.  Blond hair, that much you could still see.  The blue eyes were gone, hidden forever behind a murky shield.  He held little resemblance to the smiling little boy in that photograph anymore.  That made it easier, in a terrible way. 

Scully wondered if Mulder would make the first, most glaring observation. 

His voice surprised her. "You never told me what you learned when you talked to the Pathologist earlier today." 

She looked up at him as he continued to study the body.  She spoke softly in the dark quiet of the room, "The cause of death was asphyxia, which wasn't a surprise." 

The bruises around the child's neck stood out brightly against the skin, despite the discoloration he'd taken on after death. 

"What *was* surprising was that we found no signs of abuse, physical or sexual." 

Scully looked down at the child's wrist, the bones jutting out sharply beneath the skin.  "Have you noticed how thin he is, Mulder?" 

That finally got a response.  Mulder looked over at her, interest showing in his eyes. 

Scully explained, "He didn't touch either child.  The only physical damage, other than the strangulation, was bruising due to the use of restraints.  However, from the level of malnutrition, I would guess that during the two months Randall Lee was held, he was fed maybe once a week, if that.  He was starving them to death, Mulder.  Slowly." 

Unable to continue to stare at the child while she described his suffering, Scully turned around, looked out across the empty room.  "I'm not the psychologist in this partnership, but if I had to offer an opinion, I would say that he was watching them suffer, keeping them alive so that he could watch them waste slowly away.  He only killed them when there was nothing left."

Mulder had turned as well and was looking down at her with a glimmer of sadness and compassion in his eyes.  He had heard the undercurrent of grief in her voice.  It was always slight.  No one else ever noticed, but Mulder knew her well enough, understood without her having to explain it to him.  Children were especially hard. 

Needing a subject change, Scully moved around Mulder, pushed the drawer shut.  "I've been going over the forensic evidence taken from the scenes, if you want to hear it." 

She continued when he didn't respond.  "As you know, there were no fingerprints recovered at any of the scenes.  We've been able to collect two extraneous hair samples from the Crane house and the Oliver's.  They match, so we're assuming it's our guy.  Not much to go on from there, though.  Medium brown hair, no apparent signs of disease.  We ran a PCR against the known offenders’ list, but we didn't get any matches.

"More of the same with the fibers and boot prints.  All four houses yielded innumerable fiber samples, but with a busy household, it's going to take months before we can sift through the thousands of samples collected to discover if any are common to the individual crimes; and again, if we ever have something to match up against what we've collected, maybe… but nothing useful in our present circumstances." 

Mulder had walked away from her and was standing in the middle of the room.  He looked smaller in the large space.  A light shining above his head isolated him in his own pool of illumination, accentuating the sharp lines of his face.

"We've found boot prints at all four houses and at both sites where the bodies were discovered.  However, at both Haynes Street where Randall Lee was dumped and in the Gaines' back yard, snowfall obliterated anything useful almost immediately.  The prints we got from the Oliver house matched the type of shoe we found at the Lee’s and at the site where Timothy's body was discovered.  The only problem is that it's a very basic brand, sold at almost every Wal-Mart across the country. 

"If they aren't too new, and we get something to match them up against, we might be able to get an identifiable wear pattern, but..." 

"More of the same," Mulder finished for her, disgusted. 

She didn't reply, just as frustrated. 

His sudden movement made her start slightly.  He stepped forward abruptly, took a few quick steps, and stopped, staring down at the floor, scrubbing his hands over his face. 

"This investigation has absolutely no solid evidence to go on.  Nothing."  His arms dropped down against his sides.  "Yet they still continue to concentrate on country club memberships and boy scout troops."

Taking a tentative step towards him, Scully spoke softly.  "Mulder, we haven't eaten. You need sleep.  It's almost midnight." 

She walked over to him, laid a hand over his arm, which was chilly beneath her palm. "Mulder, lets go. Please?" 

Softly pleading her concern, both for him and for herself.  He glanced down at her, eyes solid and dull, impenetrable.  There was a fear she had always carried with her, ever since she had become aware of the uniqueness of Mulder's talents, a fear that with this gift lay the inherent risk of one day losing him to the madness.  Beside him at that moment, she saw again the blank expression he'd worn earlier in the conference room.  She suddenly feared that the stress of the past few years, together with the sorrow he carried constantly with him, the oppressive nature of their present circumstances, might become the final impetus needed to push him beyond the edge.  Maybe once, years ago, he would have been able to fight his way back.  Now, she wasn't so sure. 

Even more frightening was her uncertainty in her own strength.  Would she be able to pull him back from the abyss?  After everything, did she remember how?

He stood motionless beneath her touch for an instant and then pulled away, moving towards the door.  The doors swung open, admitting a rush of light from the hall, and she followed when he did not turn around.


The green glow of the travel alarm was the only light in her room.  Oppressive darkness, that was the only description that came to mind, like it had taken on form and could smother her as she slept.  It was a childish fear.  She watched as the digital readout increased by one and proclaimed a new hour.  Four-o-clock in the morning, and she was not asleep. 

She had managed to crawl into bed upon their return from the field office.  She couldn't remember closing her eyes, that's how tired she had been.  But after sleeping for slightly over three hours, somehow she was awake again and still so tired. 

The clock's cheerful display mocked her in the darkness.  Sighing, she rolled over, reached out and turned on the small bedside lamp.  The glare sliced through the darkness and stung her eyes.  She shuttered them tightly, waiting to adjust. 

When the light wasn't so painful, she stood up and walked to the bathroom.  She wasn't sure why.  Standing in front of the bathroom mirror, she stared into her reflection.  She didn't know what she needed; she just knew that she was restless. 

On impulse, she grabbed her trench from the chair and slipped on her shoes. 

Outside, the night's earlier clouds were yielding their promise as light, freezing rain, sealing the thick carpet of snow under a slick, clear shell.  As a child, she had loved the snow, especially after they moved south and its appearance became a rarity.  After the past couple of days, she was starting to hate it.  In small quantities it was cheerful, seasonal, inciting a Christmas-like atmosphere.  How people were able to live where it never stopped, where it never seemed warm, was beyond her comprehension. 

Further beyond her comprehension was why a motel that was in Buffalo, New York, a city renowned for its copious amounts of lake effect snow, would include in their design an outdoor staircase to access the rooms.  It was a torment, and ridiculous. 

She was careful on the steps, cursing the hazardous rain.  Rounding the last flight, she stood only two doors from his room.  Even from this distance, she could see the light beneath the door, peeking from behind the curtains.  He was awake or asleep with the lights on.  And while the latter was not uncommon, she knew somehow that the former was the truth.  Part of her restlessness was related to him.  Strange as it was, they had always fed into one another's moods. 

He was awake, and so was she, and she didn't want to be alone.  But something held her back.  Rain slanted in under the protective roof, dampening her hair and cheeks. 

Barriers between them were erected and -- less commonly -- deconstructed more often than she could keep track of.  They made steps forward, they made steps back, and she always felt like she was stumbling along, unable to master the finer points of the dance.  They only made it worse for themselves.  They were the ones responsible for complicating things so terribly.  She realized this and yet remained unsure or unable to step back, make it make sense, destroy a few more walls. 

In her bitter moments, she thought it a curse; that two people could need each other so desperately and yet be completely unable to reach out when comfort was needed, that two people could hurt each other so badly, and yet be tied inextricably together.

In her most bitter moments, she believed that someday they would destroy each other, and that she would watch it happen, unable to leave. 

A gust of wind slapped against the building, causing her to sway on her feet.  It was foolish, to be standing out in the rain at four in the morning, teeth chattering and lips turning blue.  Sheer foolishness.  He was probably asleep, anyway.  She would only wake him needlessly.  Her restlessness would fade. 

Hating herself for it, she moved towards the stairs.  She almost turned around multiple times, continuing down to her room, despite the nagging in her gut.  Later, as the clock still glowed green against the black, and she closed her eyes to block it out, she wondered how many times he had done the same, stood outside her door and wanted to reach out, tugging helplessly against the chains that bound them. 

End Chapter 4 (Part 5/29)

Chapter 5 

It was the phone that woke her, and her mind absently noted that it was far too dark for any sane person to be calling.  It could only mean one thing.  They had spent the past two days in relative inactivity, sifting through the boxes of evidence, waiting, dreading, expecting something to happen.

She picked up the phone.  "Scully." 

"Agent Scully, this is Detective Mathers with the Buffalo Police Department.  We were told to call and inform you that there had been another kidnapping."

She closed her eyes in the darkness. 

"Agent Scully?" 

It couldn't be any later than five-o-clock.  She glanced to the side and found her suspicions confirmed.  Five-fifteen.  She looked away in disgust. 


There was a knock on the door as the Detective answered.  She clicked on the light and replaced the receiver, knowing already who her visitor would be.  He didn't say anything when she let him in.  Mulder glanced down at her, unspeaking, sharing the grim knowledge.  Resigned to her fate, she moved into the bathroom to change. 


The living room was tiny -- four beige walls, brown, faded sofa (with a few buttons missing), ancient TV, some toys scattered in one corner.  But amidst the ratty carpet and thrift store furniture, there was comfort in the small space.  It was the toys, the crayons on the table, a folded pile of clean clothes on the couch.  There was a small forest of bright houseplants in one window.  In the kitchen, an open textbook with multiplication tables inside sat next to a cookie jar on the table, crumbs scattered across the surface.

Scully stood in front of the couch, watching the way the shattered glass sparkled under the lights. 

"Not much for him to destroy." 

Mulder, behind her, and he was right.  There were only a few framed pictures in the small house, but he had managed to get them all.

"No," she answered, turning to face him. 

His expression mirrored her feelings, sad and unsure.  They would find nothing more here than they had at the other scenes.  This house, with its shroud of glass, would yield no fingerprints.  Not that fingerprints would help even if discovered.  This criminal would not be found by something as simple as a search of the NCIC.  He was a ghost; no name, no face, just a voice over the telephone line.

"You two ready to see where we think it happened?" 

Mulder nodded at the detective, and together they walked out into the cold. 

"Drew Hausner was supposed to be staying at a friend's house for the night.  His mother was working third shift at a bar where she waitresses, and her husband works night security at one of the malls uptown." 

The Detective was speaking as they walked down the street.  Around them, the houses remained tranquil, the sun just peering over the horizon’s edge, slightly hazy behind clouds and lingering rain.

"According to the mother of the boy he was staying with, Marcia Demers, the children got into a fight sometime during the night and Drew decided to walk home.  She had no idea he'd left the house.  Her son says he thinks Drew left at around one this morning." 

Up ahead, Scully could see familiar yellow tape swaying in the breeze.  A few people lingered nearby.

"No one noticed anything until Mrs. Demers discovered that Drew had left and called the boy's mother.  Mrs. Hausner rushed home to check and found the mess.  That was at four-thirty this morning.  We assume he got in using the keys Drew had on him." 

They arrived at the sight of the attention -- nothing more than an empty expanse of sidewalk with footprints scattering the surface. 

"You can tell there was a struggle." 

On the ground, in the snow, there was a clear path of small footprints leading in the direction of the Hausner residence.  In the road along side these were tire tracks, and on the sidewalk another larger set of prints were visible.  The footprints melted together in the snow, slips and scuffles evidencing a minor struggle as the boy had undoubtedly tried to escape.

"Not much to see, I'm afraid." 

Neither partner answered. 

Scully had a feeling that these boot prints would be as useless as the last sets had been, and from taking only a cursory glance at the road, she already knew that the weather had most likely destroyed anything helpful the tire tracks might have indicated. 

There wasn't much to be seen. 

Mulder was walking back to the car, as aware of the realities as she was.  He waited at his door until she opened the door on her own side.  When he started up the engine, she cranked the heat up as high as it would go.  The streets were ice rinks, perfect for skating.  Scully gripped the edge of the door as they made their way to the office, praying for coffee, some answers, and a safe arrival. 


It was something about the way she clung to his hand, the way she leaned into his body like a shield, the way no matter what the question was, she looked to him before answering.  Perhaps it was a natural reaction to the stress of their situation, but it seemed like more than that, and looking over at Mulder, Scully knew he saw it, too. 

"And you didn't notice anything unusual about the house when you returned home, aside from the pictures?" 

Roberta Hausner shook her head but didn't speak. 

Mulder directed his next question at the father. "Is Drew your only child, Mr. Hausner?" 

Inexplicable hesitance crossed Kenneth Hausner's face, and he looked over at Roberta briefly before turning back to Mulder.  "Drew isn't my son, Agent Mulder." 

Mulder's look was a question.  Roberta was staring down at the table.  Kenneth was regarding her with a cautious expression, clearly concerned for some reason. 

"He was from a... prior marriage." 

The pause there was telling. 

"A prior marriage?" Scully directed the question at Roberta, and when she didn't get an answer, Kenneth spoke up. 

"Can I speak to the two of you outside for a moment, please?" 

"Of course," Mulder answered, glancing quickly at Scully for confirmation. 

Kenneth leaned over to his wife, murmured something to her that Scully could not hear.  Roberta nodded, looked up at her husband and then back down again.  He squeezed her shoulders lightly before following Mulder and Scully out of the room.

When the door closed, he spoke.  "Roberta's first husband was a sick man," he stated, simply, with emotion.  "He beat her, constantly.  She spent every other weekend in the hospital.  The police couldn't do a damn thing because she was too scared to press charges and he never touched Drew." 

Kenneth turned, looked at the door.  "I lost count of the number of times she ran to a shelter.  She always went back, and it always got worse, but she's a weak woman now.  He made sure of that.  She can't survive on her own anymore." 

Scully digested this, asking a question.  "Why did she finally leave?" 

"One night," Kenneth began, "she just showed up on my doorstep with Drew.  I didn't turn her away." 

"So you knew her before she left her husband?" 

Kenneth straightened his shoulders, looked directly at Scully.  "Yes."  There was a gleam of defensiveness in his eyes. 

"That night, when she knocked on my door... God, she just... I could barely recognize her; he'd messed her up that bad.  One eye was completely swollen shut, the other was purple but still open.  Her cheek was all torn and bloody, like she'd taken a spill on a motorcycle and met the pavement hard." 

His voice broke slightly, and he looked down at the floor.  "She had two broken ribs, Agent Scully, and a broken wrist from when he'd stepped on it as she tried to crawl under a table to hide, helpless and bleeding on the floor.  She had to have surgery to repair a detached retina, and she still has only partial vision out of that eye." 

He paused, the gleam completely gone from his eyes and looked up from the floor.  Scully could hear tears in his voice, undercut by a ribbon of pride.  "So, yes, I was seeing her while she was still married.  We weren’t sexually involved, but we were spending time together for almost a year before she left.  I won't apologize for it.  I'm sorry it took her as long to leave as it did.  He'd have killed her eventually if she hadn't run to me.  I know it." 

Scully was unsure of what to say. 

"Roberta needs someone to protect her, to take care of her, and I do that, but Drew is her life.  He’s the reason she smiles every day." 

"If Drew's not all right..." Kenneth closed his eyes and sucked in a shaky breath. "It may kill her," he said, sorrow filling every syllable. 

Scully wanted to offer reassurances, to proclaim that they would find Drew and bring him home safely.  She wanted to tell Kenneth Hausner not to give up hope.  But did she have the right to encourage hope when, in the end, that hope could be so easily destroyed? 

She didn't know, and standing before the hunched figure of Kenneth Hausner, she had only one assurance she *could* give.  "We'll do our best, Mr. Hausner. I promise." 

He opened his eyes slowly, regarding her, and nodded, looking grateful but unsure. "Thank you." 

Mulder opened the door to the interrogation room, watched from outside while Kenneth went over to his wife, whispered again into her ear, and helped her up with a gentle hand under her elbow.  Watching the couple walk down the hall, the tiny woman tucked under the arm of her husband and protector, Scully realized how small her assurances truly were and suspected that they would be a bitter comfort, at best. 


Her coffee had grown cold and sour.  She was staring absently at the autopsy reports, reading and re-reading the pathologist's findings, not sure what -- if anything -- she was looking for.  The bullpen was quiet.  Night had fallen delicately over the city and most of the agents had returned to their homes, home to wives and families, comfort and safety.

Scully shivered, chilly in the large room. 

Mulder had barricaded himself in the conference room four hours ago, supposedly looking for that indefinable something.  The key.  The meaning.  He had said he would know it when he found it.  Unable to assist him in any way, she had left him to his hunting, secured a desk out amongst the other agents, and hunkered down for the evening.  The dinner he had refused to touch earlier that evening sat in its paper wrapping on her desk.  Her own sandwich sat half eaten and abandoned next to a tepid cup of coffee.

What on Earth were they looking for, anyway? 

Two desks away, the phone rang, startling her in her seat.  One of the few agents still present walked over to pick it up.  She tuned the conversation out, trying to concentrate, partially succeeding until someone called her name. 

"Agent Scully?" 

She looked up. 

"There's someone on the line asking for your partner." 

That got her attention.  Anyone who would normally call them would use the cell numbers.  No one, except for the distant possibility of AD Kersh, would think to call them here.  Following instinct, she stood and faced the Agent -- Agent Williams, if she remembered correctly.

"Agent Williams, would you please get SAC Moore and tell him that I think we're about to get another message." 

Williams gave her a slightly puzzled look, but she wasn't about to explain. 

"And tell him we need a trace on that line, ASAP." 

He nodded, expression suddenly grim, and she turned away and headed for the conference room.  Her knock was loud and impatient.  By this time, the scattering of agents around the room had noticed the action and were looking up from their work. 

"Mulder, it's me." 

She pushed into the room... only to find exactly what she had expected. 

Mulder was seated in the center of the table, shoulders hunched, head bent.  He took no notice of her entrance into the room.  Papers and files were scattered everywhere.  The room smelled stale, stuffy.  It was overheated, just like the rest of the building.  Mulder had removed his jacket, and sometime during the night it had fallen forgotten to the floor.  His sleeves were rolled up, the first button of his shirt was undone, tie a limp noose around his neck. 

He was absorbed by the search, and he wouldn't hear her.  She knew this.  She walked cautiously to his side and laid a gentle hand on his shoulder.  His skin was warm through the smooth cotton. 

"Mulder."  Softly.  It wasn't the word that would break his trance.  It was her touch. 

It was like watching a curtain being raised, like changing the channels on a television.  One minute he was someplace else, far from light and sound and bothersome words, and then the shift occurred.  He was far away, and then with a sudden, vague transformation, he rose to the surface, blinked a few times, and looked up at her, expression still a bit distant. 

The question was in his eyes. 

"You have a phone call." 

Mulder's initial puzzlement at her words faded, as he slowly regained his sense of time.  The cast of his eyes grew gradually cold.  His shoulders stiffened.  The muscles in his neck drew taut.  She stepped back when he stood up, following him out of the conference room and back into the bullpen. 

SAC Moore was standing next to the desk Scully had abandoned, the same mixture of dread and eagerness written across his face that was shared by the collection of agents that had gathered nearby.  When Mulder took the offered telephone, Scully knew she was the only one who could see the odd combination of predatory rage and fear that lay hidden in his eyes. 


Someone had hooked up the speakers, and for the first time, the other agents in the room heard the voice of their enemy, ringing loud and clear in the stillness. 

"Agent Mulder, I was beginning to grow afraid that you had decided not to answer the phone." 

"I was in the other room." 

The caller's tone was light, conversational.  "There's no need to apologize." 

Mulder's voice was flat.  "I wasn't apologizing." 

A brief laugh across the line, "No. You wouldn't be, would you?"  A pause.  "I'm sure you're wondering why I've called." 

It was a question.  After it became apparent that Mulder was unwilling to answer, the blithe voice continued.  "I had thought that you'd want to discuss my clue, dazzle me with your amazing insights."  He seemed to stop and consider something for a moment.  "You have found the clue, haven't you, Agent Mulder?" 

Scully glanced over at Moore, whose eyes were boring into the top of Mulder's skull. 

He hadn't; she knew this.  It was something Mulder had been tormenting himself about the entire day.  He said it had to be there, that he was missing it somehow.  She had suggested that maybe they were being toyed with, that there was nothing to be found.  His dismissal of that idea had been quick and firm. 

Their opponent had taken silence for a negative answer.  "Oh, Agent Mulder, I had thought it would be so obvious to someone like you." 

Mulder’s reply was dull.  "Perhaps you overestimate my vast intellect." 

"I doubt that."  Another pause.  "And while I would love to give you some further evidence to look into, I think I've given you quite enough already, far more than I had ever intended to reveal." 

Scully was standing woodenly -- only a few paces from Mulder – her state of mind betrayed only by the slight twisting and tensing of fingers at her sides.

"What is the point of this, then?  Why reveal anything?  What do you hope to achieve?" Mulder's questions almost directly mirrored ones she had asked him earlier, concerned that they were being led about blindfolded and dumb. 

The previously breezy timbre of the suspect's voice shifted, took on a more serious note when he answered.  "Because I can accomplish nothing if there is no one who is willing and able to see, to learn, to understand.  I never thought I would need to go to these lengths; I was saddened when all of this...” He paused again, as if searching for a word, “melodrama became necessary." 

Mulder's face twisted into a sneer.  "And I'm supposed to be what, your interpreter?" 

Silence descended upon the phone line for several long, tense minutes.  The collection of agents shuffled, trading glances in the calm.  Moore looked as if he was about to approach Mulder.  The killer hadn't hung up, that much was confirmed by the tiny nod of the agent across the room in charge of monitoring the trace.

Mulder seemed willing to wait. 

When the quiet was shattered, it was not with the expected answer to Mulder's question. 

"You still feel guilty about it, don't you, Agent Mulder?" 

Shaking herself slightly, Scully was completely thrown by the question.  She watched Mulder as a more controlled version of her own reaction played across his features.  Mulder was tentative, careful of whatever territory he was entering unexpectedly.  "Guilty?" 

"Heather Jacobson.  Even now, after all this time, you feel it.  I know you do." 

Inching closer to Mulder, Scully knew the confusion was written on her face.  Studying Mulder's reaction only compounded that confusion.  His expression seemed to fall.  His eyes lost their predatory gleam.

"I had nothing to do with what happened to Heather Jacobson." 

The tone of Mulder's voice was defensive, and Scully cringed.  He wore guilt like a second skin.  It crept into every aspect of his life.  The sharp, defensive nature of his reply would be like a red flag to their enemy. 

When the killer responded, his patient tone barely acknowledged what he knew had been merely token protests.  "I can hear it in your voice, Agent Mulder.  It's undeniable." 

Without looking at her or any of the other agents, Mulder turned abruptly around and faced the wall behind the desk. 

A new and sudden question was issued by their opponent. "How many ghosts live in your head, Agent Mulder?" 

Silence from the broad, slumped shoulder's of her partner. 

"Do they keep you awake at night?" 

Scully cringed, closing her eyes briefly and tightly. 

"Do you see their faces when you close your eyes?" 

Mulder's voice again, low, dangerous.  "You have no idea what I see." 

The murderer ignored the interruption.  "How many of them are young women, Agent Mulder?  Mothers?  Children?" 

Mulder didn't answer, and something inside Scully burned, ached to step forward and touch him. 

"How many of them have you actually managed to save?" 

Moving even closer, stepping boldly forward, Scully tried to gauge the intensity of Mulder's reaction, to offer him the knowledge and support of her presence.  His hands were shaking almost imperceptibly where they gripped the telephone.

"Agent Mulder?"  Demanding an answer. 

"Agent Mulder?" 


"Agent Mulder?" 

Across the room, announced by the speakers, the line went dead.  Mulder’s large hand was splayed over the telephone cradle; he had disconnected the call.  Everyone in the bullpen seemed frozen where they stood.  Scully stepped forward again, extending her hand, and began to gently call Mulder’s name.

SAC Moore finally erupted.  "You killed the trace!" 

Mulder didn't speak or turn around. 

"Goddamit, Mulder, how the hell are we supposed to catch this bastard if you cut him off before we can finish the fucking trace?!" 

Slowly, Mulder turned around and spoke.  His voice was arid, eyes avoiding contact with anyone. "You would never have gotten that trace."

Moore almost sputtered.  "Why the hell not?" 

Mulder was moving carefully away from the other agents, walking towards the door when he answered, eyes still pointed at the floor, voice soft and detached.  "Because this guy isn't an amateur; he wouldn't stay on the line if there were any possibility of the call being traced."

Moore hadn't finished his tirade, but Mulder simply walked away, out of the bullpen, oblivious to the reprimand.  Moore's accusing glare was immediately turned on Scully.  She was convicted by default.

Unable to offer any explanation and unwilling to face her superior's ire, Scully turned away in defeat.  Sensing that only seconds remained before she would bear the brunt of a brutal verbal pummeling, she began walking toward the doors, an equally incensed and astonished Moore rendered speechless in her wake. 


Water gushed from the faucet, sending little droplets out in a spray to dust the mirror and the sleeves of his shirt.  She reached out, twisted off the tap, and looked up to study his face, crystalline beads of water glistening amidst the stubble and too pale skin. 

The men's restroom was empty, and she was grateful for the privacy. 

Mulder drew in a long, shuddering breath before raising his eyes.  He seemed to look at the mirror's reflection, but his focus was turned inward.  Scully doubted he was seeing anything as concrete as his own face reflected back by the glass.

"Mulder?"  Her voice sounded unnaturally loud and hollow echoing off the tiled walls and floor. 

He closed his eyes, and she touched the back of his hand, his skin damp beneath her fingers. 

"I'll be okay, Scully." 

She drew her hand back but remained close, looking up at the dark circles around his eyes, the long lashes grazing his cheeks. 

"Mulder, who's Heather Jacobson?"  She needed to know, and, she suspected, he needed to tell her. 

He opened his eyes and looked down at her -- familiar depths of dark gray and evergreen -- Mulder's eyes when he was exhausted or depressed. 

"Mulder..." she prompted softly. 

With a sigh, he turned away from the mirror and leaned back against the sink, shoulders hanging down.  "When I came onto the case here in Buffalo twelve years ago, they already had a tentative profile written.  There weren't many details.  They hadn't fleshed anything out, but there were some very basic, concrete foundations that the investigation was working from."

Scully had stepped back and was giving him the space he needed. 

"Young, pretty women were turning up dead and mutilated all around the Buffalo area.  No one could even figure out how they were being taken.  One night, they just never came home from work, and then, a few weeks later, they were dead."

From the tone of his voice, Scully could hear Mulder retreating within, launching into familiar lecture mode. 

"By the time I came onto the case, the entire city was terrified.  These weren't prostitutes.  They weren't lower class or minorities.  Someone was kidnapping and torturing pretty, middle-class, white women, and nothing the police tried brought them any closer to a solution." 

The fatigue was shadowing each of Mulder's words.  "I noticed the flaw in their logic almost immediately.

"The women being taken were all very small, tiny.  All of them were around five feet or shorter.  None of them were ever sexually violated, as might be expected in a case where the suspect was specifically targeting the most vulnerable victims.  In a city that had been plagued by these murders for weeks on end, somehow the suspect was still managing to gain the trust of more and more women, leading them to their deaths.  It didn't make any sense.

"The investigation was assuming, based on traditional logic, that they were looking for a man.  I told them that they should be looking for a woman." 

Scully took in an abrupt breath, shocked.  That was a leap, even for Mulder.  Serial killers were almost never women, and when they were, they were usually working in conjunction with a man. 

"You can guess how well that theory went over with the rest of the team." 

She could.  She knew what her own reaction would be to such a suggestion.  Adding it up, however, she could see that the pieces fit.  She understood Mulder's reasoning, if somewhat vaguely.  A woman would best be capable of overpowering only small victims, and in a city plagued by a serial killer, what woman would suspect another? 

"But they listened to you?"  He had closed the investigation.  He'd told her that already. 


He was silent for an instant.  "I had the profile written on the plane trip up, but it took them almost two weeks to even consider my theories, and by that time, two more women were dead.  Once they were finally willing to hear what I had to say," disgust was plain in his voice, "It was fairly simple.  We ran a search on recent deaths of middle aged women who had left behind property in their estate.  Someplace private, secluded.  Someone who'd had a younger sister." 

At Scully's puzzled expression, he explained further. 

"She was killing her abusive older sister, over and over again, torturing her.  The chain of events had been triggered by the sister's death, by the killer's sudden inability to ever exact the revenge she needed from the actual person.  Locating the house was easy, and my profile was dead on.

"Louise Taget had been raised by her older sister who had beaten her severely for most of her childhood.  When the sister died suddenly of a heart attack at a young age, Louise inherited the house, and pretty women who bore an unlucky resemblance to Margaret Taget starting disappearing from the Buffalo streets." 

He was stalling, drawing the words out.  Heather Jacobson remained a mystery.  Mulder reached up and scrubbed his hands over his face, leaving his eyes closed when his arms rested again at his sides. 

"We found the house within a day of starting the search, and most of the team thought it had been just in time.  Louise had been gearing up to another kill, and we found Heather Jacobson, badly beaten on a filthy cot hidden in the basement.  But she was alive.  We'd gotten there in time.  We saved her." 

Mulder said the last phrase like a plea, like he wanted to believe his own words but couldn't.  Scully knew the worst was coming. 

"Heather Jacobson had been held for five days, and the horror she must have endured during that time was unimaginable.  There were injuries she would never recover from.  Her face had been ravaged.  No amount of plastic surgery would ever fix what Louise had done."

He took a deep breath. 

"Eight days after she was admitted to the hospital, when the nurse came to check her vitals in the morning, Heather was found dangling from a sheet strung through the heat vent in the ceiling.  She'd hanged herself.  No one even thought she could walk, and yet she'd managed to move the bed ten feet across the room, loop a sheet around her neck, and end the horror she was living."

Mulder turned back around and stared unblinking into the mirror.  His voice was dead.  "When we rescued her from that house, she asked me why this had happened to her.  I couldn't give her a reason.  A week after I had arrived in Buffalo, with my profile already written, she was still safe at home with her family.  She didn't have to die." 

"Yet you blame yourself," Scully interrupted, her tone gentle.  "You must know that if anyone other than Louise Taget is to blame, it's the investigators who refused to listen to your theory.  You did all you could, Mulder.  You have to know that." 

These were just words, a conversation she'd had with Mulder numerous times.  She knew, logically, that he knew these things.  Yet she also knew that some deep, dark part of him could not yield to this logic, and that her words were only shallow reassurances.  She also knew that they weren't really speaking about Louise Taget or Heather Jacobson.  It wasn't that simple.  This was about all of the victims of all of the crimes he had witnessed, all of the lives he hadn't saved.  Heather Jacobson was just a scratch on the surface of a vast whole.

"I know," was all he said. 

End Chapter 5 (6/29)

Chapter 6 

Light snow was falling; the perfect crystals strangely beautiful highlighted by the cascade of sodium-yellow lamplight beyond her window.  She watched as the occasional flake blew towards the window, stuck, and remained, for only a moment, before fading away against the warmth of the glass.  Her hair was damp with that same snow.  It saturated the rug around her door with muddy boot prints.  On the chair by the door, Mulder's jacket rested atop hers, dripping.  The heat rising from the radiator lulled her into a sleepy stupor, as she listened to the sounds of Mulder moving quietly about her bathroom. 

<Almost two weeks.> 

Hopefully, their food would arrive quickly. 

<It feels like forever.> 

She was lonely, an emotion not unknown to her, but strange when she was spending nearly every waking hour by his side.  There was a palpable cocoon of silence that surrounded Mulder now, growing thicker, denser with every passing day. 

They were waiting.  Or rather, she was waiting.  He was filling long, fat legal pads with hastily scribbled notes, staring at his computer screen for hour long stretches before exploding in a fury of typing, throwing those same legal pads away when they were full, a look of disgust souring his face. 

It had been almost two weeks since the last phone call.  She was alternately relieved or terrified by the lack of activity.  No more bodies had turned up, no more children had gone missing, but somewhere there were three little boys who grew thinner and further from life with every inactive hour.  Scully prayed they were still alive. 

Water was running in the bathroom.  The phone rang.  Sighing, she moved over to the bed, picked up the receiver, and kicked off her shoes as she sank down to the mattress.


"Agent Scully, so sorry to disturb you, but your partner wasn't in his room, and I thought you'd be the most obvious place to look." 

Every muscle in her body tensed simultaneously. 

"Agent Scully?" 

She sat up, now completely alert.  The water in the bathroom was still running. 

"Yes, I'm here."  The words were nearly toneless. 

The voice on the other end of the line was conversational.  "I'm actually rather glad to have gotten the chance to talk to you, to give a voice and a presence to the face and the stories."

The water in the bathroom stopped running. 

"The stories?" She asked, warily.

"Ah yes, amazing what a little focused digging can turn up. Do you know that there are almost fifty newspaper articles with your name in them?  Not all of them are very informative, some are barely mentions of your name in the context of a larger story, but a few were intriguing, indeed." 

What was taking Mulder so long? 


"You seem to have endured more than your fair share of suffering in the past several years --  missing for three months, taken hostage more than once, targeted and abducted by a serial killer, the death of your sister, surviving those bizarre burnings at the Ruskin Dam -- it's almost too much to be believed." 

Scully felt like she'd been punched in the gut. 

"And then, of course, there are various articles about cases you and Mulder have investigated.  Some of them have had pictures.  You two must be very close." 

The door to the bathroom opened, and Mulder walked out.  Scully looked up at him, and the message must have been immediate in her eyes. 

"What makes you think that?" 

Mulder was dialing his cell phone. 

"You went to jail for him, didn't you?" 

*That* was something he should not have been able to find by sifting through newspaper articles. 

"How did you know that?" 

"The Freedom of Information Act is a glorious thing; government records about anything and everything freely available over the Internet." 

Mulder had disconnected the call and was watching her, his eyes demanding to know the content of her conversation. 

"There was a particular photograph, from a few years back, taken at a hospital in Maryland after some psycho shot a couple of guards and took a hostage in the ICU." 

Scully shuddered, watched, as Mulder's expression grew concerned. She didn't need the name or the details to remember Fairfax Mercy Hospital. 

"Mainly, it's a picture of the body being wheeled away, the requisite meat wagon shot, but you and Mulder can be clearly seen in the background.  There's just something about the expression on your face in that picture, about the way he has his arm around your shoulders..." The killer paused, as if in reflection.  His voice at his next words bore a strangely wistful quality.  "There is so little of true beauty or purity in this world." 

Scully found herself holding her breath for a moment, letting it out in a frustrated puff of air, shaken.  "Is this why you called?  To discuss my varied appearances in the newspapers though the years?"

Mulder looked downright bewildered. 

The voice on the other side of the line grew serious.  "No, not at all.  In fact, as I said before, I called to talk to your partner.  He is there, isn't he?" 

"Yes, he is." 

Mulder's posture stiffened. 

"Well then, Agent Scully, I'm afraid our conversation must come to an end, for now." 

Scully handed the phone to Mulder.  The handle of the receiver was slick with sweat when she pulled her fingers away. 


"It's very simple, actually.  You have twenty-four hours.  If you make it on time, you save a little boy's life; you get your gift.  If you don't... you don't." 

"If I make it on time?" 

"Before the darkness comes." 

"I don't understand." 

The recording cut off abruptly, as Mulder punched the stop button with his finger and hit rewind again.  He was muttering.  "It has to be here." 

As if by magic, a cup of coffee appeared on the table in front of Scully, billows of fragrant steam issuing forth from its murky depths.  Startled, she looked up to find the tiny, concerned smile of Agent Williams.

Whispered, "I thought you could use the caffeine."

Her returning smile probably more closely resembled a grimace.  She took a long sip, gagged slightly at the surprising presence of sugar, and then took a longer swallow, despite the cloying sweetness. 

The tape started up again from the beginning. 

"Your partner seems like a lovely woman, Agent Mulder, tense but lovely." 

Silence for a moment as Mulder refused to answer. 

Across the room, SAC Moore emerged from his office, as the voice of their adversary spoke on the tape again. 

"I wanted to have the benefit of your full attention without the audience this time, though I'm sure this is being recorded for posterity as we speak." 

Moore walked over to the group of agents, stood silently beside Scully, and settled his eyes on Mulder's hunched figure at the other side of the table. 

Mulder's voice on the tape was terse, "Of course." 

"Understandable," was their opponent's reply. "I called to offer you a gift, Agent Mulder." 

"A gift?" 

Beside Scully, Moore leaned down and whispered.  "How many times is he going to listen to this?" 

Mulder seemed not to notice. 

"You can call it that, though I suppose it's more of an opportunity" 

"An opportunity to do what, exactly?" 

Scully ignored Moore's question. 

"To achieve something I know you long for, Agent Mulder, to save at least one life from all this darkness, one out of all of the lives you've seen taken." 

Silence on the tape again, filled only with the sound of Mulder's breathing.  His previously caustic tone was gone with his next question. 

"How?"  Small, almost. 

"I'm giving you a chance to out-run the darkness, to return to the beginning and set things right again, for yourself, for this child.  It's a chance I found myself wary of offering, considering your still glaring lack of understanding, but I thought that perhaps the time had come for a more” he paused again, consider, “hands on lesson."

Frustrated and furious.  "I've told you before; I'm not interested in playing games." 

Short and hard.  "And I've told you before, this isn't a game." 

A pause while Mulder considered.  "So how am I supposed to achieve this?" 

A high-pitched squeal filled the room, as Mulder hit the fast-forward button. 

"Agent Mulder, I don't know what you expect to find, listening to this tape over and over again."  Moore's voice was annoyed, exhausted, and frustrated. 

Mulder didn't look up.  Instead, he repeated his earlier insistence.  "It has to be here. I know it." Desperation was evident in his words.

The voice of the killer sprang to life again on the abused tape-recording, his tone patient and explanatory.  "Before the darkness comes." 

"I don't understand." 

There was a pause here, very slight. 

"You will." 

And then there was only silence. 


Eight hours later, she pushed into the conference room, food clutched in a large, brown paper bag at her side.  Mulder didn't look up when she entered.  A halo of soft radiance spread out from a lamp in the center of the table, leaving the corners of the room distant in their shadows.  She hadn't noticed the lamp in here before.  He had shut off all of the overhead lights.  Unsure of what to say, she moved over to the table and started pulling little aluminum trays out of the takeout bag. 

Mulder looked up, saw what she was doing. "I'm not hungry, Scully." 

She bit the inside of her lip, not wanting to yell, knowing anger wouldn't reach him.  "Mulder, you have to eat." 

He didn't respond. 

Frustrated, she continued to pull out their dinner.  Little pre-wrapped bags of plastic utensils were ripped open, napkins withdrawn.  The plastic lids came off of the food and steam issued forth.  She pulled out two Styrofoam cups of soda and placed one at the seat across from her.

"Scully."  Voice a warning.  "I said I wasn't hungry."  He was watching her now with a look on his face that told her that he wanted her to leave.

"Mulder, when's the last time you ingested something more substantial than a cup of coffee?"  She challenged, noting, ironically, the collection of drained coffee cups littering the surface of the table. 

He narrowed his eyes, and his voice was condescending.  "We have twelve hours, Scully."  As if she didn't know this already. 

Across the table, Scully noted the perpetual trembling in his hands and arms, the way his normally golden skin had turned pallid and gray.  How many days had it been since he'd slept for longer than a two-hour stretch?  Weeks?

"And you won't even make it that long if you don't at least eat something, Mulder.  How can you expect to be any good to this investigation if you destroy yourself in the process?" 

Mulder's fingers tightened around the pencil he was holding.  Scully worried it might snap in half under the pressure.

"I don't want to eat anything, Scully."  His voice was threatening.  "And I told you I wasn't hungry.  I just want to be left alone."  He punctuated each word sharply in the last sentence. 

He bent his head back down to the file he was studying. 

The smell of steamed dumplings and thick, potato soup filled the air.  Mulder grimaced, as if in pain, and gripped his forehead momentarily before resuming his work. 

"So you expect me to just stand back and watch as you starve yourself of sleep and sustenance?"  The anger and worry were clear in her tone, despite her former attempt at calm. 

His voice was unexpectedly quiet, uninterested, not even looking at her when he spoke.  "I don't expect you to stand back and watch anything." 

He was pushing her as far away as possible. 

She swallowed, took a deep breath and a step around the table towards him.  "Why won't you let me help you?"  She asked, fear shading her words. 

Mulder had refocused on the evidence before him.  There were small piles and large piles of mismatched file folders in varying hues, spread out in some bizarre pattern that only he could see.  She took another couple of steps towards him -- almost close enough to touch -- and then stilled, waiting for his answer. 

He was rifling through the contents of a thick, over-stuffed folder.  "You can't help me, Scully" 

It was the soft, sad acceptance in his reply that moved her.  She breached the last few inches between them and laid a gentle hand on his shoulder.  He felt thinner under the smooth material, bony. 

"Why, Mulder?" She asked, as he pulled himself away from her touch.  "Why can't I help you?"

His voice had gone completely devoid of threat.  He was no longer reading the files spread out around him.  "You just can't." 

"Mulder, I can't watch helplessly as you destroy yourself.  You can't expect me to do that."

There was a pause, where perhaps he had been considering her words, but when he spoke again, there had been a drastic shift in his mood.  He rose from his seat abruptly, shocking her, sending a folder and all of its contents over the side of the table and across the carpet.  He moved a few steps away from her and then turned swiftly back to face her.

"Why not, Scully?  You ask the same of me all the time."  He wasn't shouting, but there was vehemence in his tone, and incredulity.

She didn't know how to respond.  She knew her own guilt, knew that he knew it, too. 

"But that's different, I suppose."  He was continuing without her response, despite the fact that she had lowered her head and was staring at the floor.  "It's not the same, because I'm not dying of an inoperable disease. I haven't just lost a loved one, or a daughter I never even knew I had.  Those are perfectly good reasons to shut yourself off from everyone who cares and expect them to step back and watch, helpless, while you quietly self-destruct.  How foolish of me, Scully.  I didn't realize there was a difference."

When she lifted her eyes to meet his accusations, they were all cold, blue flame.  "How dare you?"  Almost a whisper, but so embittered, pained. 

He flinched, closed his eyes, and turned his head away.  "I don't... I can't do this right now, Scully."

She watched him, trembling slightly. 

When he continued, his words were barely audible.  "You want to reach out and make it all better, Scully, but I'm telling you that you don't know how.  I don't know how.  There is no remedy for this."

She didn't reply.  There was quiet between them for a moment. 

Finally, not knowing why she felt the need to push, "Do what, Mulder?" 

He caught her gaze and held it, sighed deeply.  "I just can't handle the mother hen routine when every time I reach out to you, you act like I've committed some grand transgression for even trying to care." 

He stopped and slowed his speech.  "You can't fix this.  You can't, Scully.  No one can."  His voice took on a pleading tone, apologetic.  "I'm sorry... I just don't need any help... I'm sorry."

But he wasn't, not really, and it was obvious.  The phrase was a poor attempt to end what would only become a devastating conversation. 

"Fine, Mulder," she said.  "Just... fine."  Acidity in her words.  She was turning for the door when his voice stopped her. 


She turned, stared into him. 

"I don't know what you want me to say." 

Standing there, her thoughts were a whirlwind.  Scully wondered, often, how many more of these conversations they would have before they stopped speaking all together. 

"I don't either," she replied, her irritation still distinctly present. 

"Godammit!"  His fist connected solidly with the table, a sudden explosion, sending a cup of soda over the edge to soak the carpet below.  Frustration, building since this case had begun, radiated off of him in waves. 

Scully was poised like a statue near the door. 

"Aren't you tired of all of this yet, Scully?" 

She was confused momentarily, until he continued, and then surprised by the sudden direction their argument had taken.

"It's all such bullshit.  We fight for six years.  Six fucking years!"  He was almost ranting.  "We think we know where we're headed, what we're looking for, but we don't have a clue.  We have nothing.  Time and again, just as you think you've got your head above water, something else comes along to push you back under and leave you in the dark."  His voice dropped.  "I'm sick of it.  I'm sick of fighting so God damned hard." 

He was looking straight at her with his last sentence, and she knew he wasn't just referring to their abandoned quest.  Lately, they fought each other more often than they fought their nameless enemies.

"And now here we are," he gestured weakly to the large window, where ice crusted the dark glass.  "We don't even belong here." 

She didn't know where they belonged.  On the X-Files?  Maybe.  But even Mulder's precious files yielded more questions than answers lately, caused more pain than reassurance.  To Mulder, they were stability, though, a purpose, something concrete upon which to anchor an unstable life.

She had nothing to say to him. 

When he looked at her again, another radical shift had taken place.  His mood was volatile, shifting without warning.  "But maybe you don't mind it so much.  Maybe it doesn't make as much of a difference to you." 

It was an accusation.  Scully felt as if the room was spinning around her.  "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"  She demanded, bewildered and hurt by the seeming randomness of his ire. 

"You tell me, Scully.  You don't even believe.  Why should it matter to you that they've taken everything away?"

He was directing the full force of his wrath and exhaustion at her, and while she knew that Mulder wasn't fully in control of his words, she was powerless to avoid being swept into the storm. 

"How can you even say that to me?" she said, taking a step towards him, the words clipped in disbelief, in hurt. 

His shoulders were set in a stance that was a clear challenge, daring her for it to be otherwise.  "Not two months ago, after persuading *me* not to give up, insisting that you couldn't leave my side, you got up in front of a bureau panel and dismissed any credibility our work might have gained.  You doomed our work with those words, Scully.  I felt like a fool.  You publicly *declared* me to be a fool." 

What could she say?  They'd been over this all already, her need for proof.  It wasn't enough for him.  He took it as a personal betrayal.  Her breath shuddered in and out of her chest. 

Was he honestly blaming her for the loss of the X-Files? 

"Those files were as much my life as they were yours, Mulder, maybe more."  Her voice was shaky.  She wanted to scream that she had been violated, betrayed, wrested of her hope, her free will, her control over her own decisions, her body; but the words got lost in the sting of her fury and grief, and she couldn't force them out. 

Finally, she found her voice again.  "And don't you dare tell me that I was only *assigned* to the X-Files, Mulder.  You know damn well that my assignment ended six years ago on the day I stopped reporting to the powers that be.  I stayed by choice, and that choice has cost me everything." 

She was helpless now to the kinetic energy of their fighting.  She loosed her next, wounding words knowing their potential for damage.  "You lost a sister. I lost most of my life as I knew it."

His expression flared.  In a few, brief steps he was standing in front of her, hands around her upper arms, trapping her within his height and superior strength. 

He was balancing, just barely, on the thin edge of control.  "And for a long as I can remember," he spat "I've been trapped in a life that was beyond my choosing, set on a path with a predestined beginning, middle, and end; a prisoner of the person I've become as a result of someone else's decisions, someone else's plans.  I don't even know who I'm supposed to be.  I was created to fit a role."  By the end of his tirade, his words had become muted, withering.  "I've lost a lot more than just a sister, and I never asked you to stay." 

Irate.  Hateful.  He didn't, couldn't mean it.  His hands tightened around her arms. 

Her eyes communicated what she didn't say.  <You're hurting me, Mulder.> 

He dropped his hands quickly, as if burned.  She rubbed the red spots on her arms exposed by the shell she wore, knowing he'd feel the sting of guilt even through the haze of his enmity. 

His eyes fell away from her as he backed up, but not before she saw the shimmer of unshed tears.  They were both so unfathomably exhausted.  When he looked back up at her, the tears were gone. 

She had nothing to say. 

Her jacket was in a heap on the table.  She walked over to retrieve it, moving past him in the process.  The food sat untouched and still steaming, and while her stomach gave an involuntary roil of hunger, the thought of eating made her feel ill.  She brushed past him after grabbing the jacket, feeling, faintly, the brush of his fingers against her arm.  She didn't acknowledge his touch. 

At the door, she was moving with only the thought of escape when he called behind her softly.  "When did we become these people, Scully?" 

He sounded so unbearably sad.  She paused, her head dropped, eyes closing.  When?  When had they begun wounding each other purposefully?  When did the blame and guilt become this tangible presence breathing between them?

"I don't know, Mulder." 

She shut the door, unsure if he'd even heard her. 


"Agent Scully?" 

The voice filtered down through the layers of her consciousness.  Had she fallen asleep?

"Agent Scully, are you all right?" 

The voice sounded concerned.  She lifted her head up from the pillow of her folded arms (when had she put her head down?), scrubbed a hand over her eyes, feeling the faint stickiness of tear tracks on her cheeks (she couldn't remember crying), and regarded the owner of that concern.

"I'm okay. Thank you."  Her voice didn't sound okay, not even to her own ears.  From the look on Agent Williams' face, it didn't convince him, either. 

"Really," she said, rising from her chair.  She arched her back, wincing as several vertebrae slid painfully into place.  "I didn't mean to fall asleep." 

Williams still didn't look convinced, but he stepped back.  "We've all been running a little low on sleep lately.  It's understandable," he said.  "I'm sorry I woke you, but SAC Moore wants to talk to you in his office."

Scully suppressed a groan.  "Thanks." 

Knocking first, she pushed into the office. 

"Agent Scully, have a seat." 

Scully collapsed into one of the chairs, still exhausted.  Moore regarded her with an odd expression.  Self-consciously, she smoothed a hand over her hair and straightened in her seat. 

Moore was blunt.  "We have three hours, Agent Scully." 

She knew, too well. 

"Is Agent Mulder any closer to figuring out what the hell we're supposed to do?" 

Scully looked down at her hands folded neatly in her lap.  "No, Sir," she said.  Truthfully, she didn't know exactly *what* Mulder was doing.  She hadn't spoken to him since their argument.

With the squeak of old leather, Moore pushed back in his seat and stood up.  The spark of the lighter was a shocking, gaudy orange in the almost colorless office. 

"You don't mind, do you?" 

Scully shook her head. 

"I'm not even supposed to do this in the building, but I think these could be considered extenuating circumstances." 

She only watched as a thin wisp of smoke curled up towards the ceiling.  Moore took a long drag on the cigarette and, with an outstretched hand, offered her one.  She was tempted, for a moment, until Moore bent slightly at the waist, coughing. 

"No thank you," she replied. 

He shrugged and turned to the huge window behind his desk.  Outside, downtown Buffalo twinkled like the lights on a giant Christmas tree. 

"Another child is going to die tonight, and there's not a damn thing I can do about it." 

Scully could hear the conspicuous assignment of personal guilt in that statement.  Moore and Mulder had something in common, but then Moore had been working this case for months.  This was his city, and he'd been unable to do anything to stop this.  She could understand why he felt responsible. 

Scully was about to excuse herself when the door to Moore's office flew open behind her. 

"I found it!" 

Mulder burst into the office, gave a momentarily surprised glance in Scully's direction, and then directed his discovery to Moore.  "I know where he wants us to go! I know how to save that little boy!"  His words were tumbling over one another in their desperation to escape.

"Slow down, Agent Mulder." 

Mulder took a deep, hasty breath, and then, with utter conviction in his voice, "Saks Mill." 

End Chapter 6 (Part 7/29)

Chapter 7 

A rivulet of sweat traced a leisurely path down from the nape of Scully's neck.  She was impossibly hot under the bulletproof Kevlar vest, tense and hot and uncomfortable.  She wriggled and sighed and glanced across the car.  In the passenger seat, Mulder shifted his weapon slowly from hand to hand, mesmerized by the unwinding specter of the snow flanked road ahead.  He wouldn't meet her gaze.

As soon as the car stopped moving, Mulder launched himself from his seat, to the door and out, frigid air blasting in to occupy the space as he left it.  Mulder took a dozen long strides toward the mill and then stopped abruptly.  Scully, a few seconds behind, felt the sweat on her neck chill and dry as she approached him.  He stared up at the building, motionless, body coiled and barely restrained.  She glanced up at him as she unholstered her weapon.  His eyes were glassy, reflecting the headlights' glare, impenetrable.  Lifeless, she thought, and shuddered. 

Around them, agents poured out of several large, black vans.  They gathered quietly around Mulder, awaiting his signal.  Mulder was silent, staring up.  Finally, he turned to the assembled group.  "It's going to be a straight two by two down the hall, with Agent Scully and myself in the lead, followed by Sandborne and Williams, and then Tucek and Bukowski." 

Mulder addressed the small team with sharp, quick words, reiterating a plan they already knew by rote.  In through the side entrance, down a long hall off of which several offices were placed, through the mammoth packing room, and then up the stairs to the door leading into the main cargo bay.  Mulder had insisted that he knew, that he knew where the child would be, knew they had to approach from the side entrance and not go blasting through the front. 

"Dammit, No!"  Mulder had practically roared.  "If he's in there with the kid, and we go busting through those doors like the four horsemen of the fucking apocalypse, do you think we're going to have a chance in hell of finding that child alive!?" 

Moore had opposed him, demanding that the teams follow standard procedure, clearing each room as they went, guarding against ambush and traps.  Mulder's "But that'll take all Goddamn night!" and similar protests went alternately unheeded and overruled, Moore determined to wrest back a portion of his vanquished control. 

The Saks Mill Warehouse rose from the frozen ground like an ancient fortress, colossal and ominous, black, boarded up and forgotten.  Tall smokestacks were shards of obsidian against the night sky.  Ladders and rusted fire escapes clung like spider webs to the crumbling facade.  The building was beyond the Buffalo City limits, in an under-populated area.  That was where all of the bodies had been dumped twelve years ago, Mulder said, remote, desolate places.  Twelve years ago, this vacant warehouse had borne silent witness to a gruesome murder.  Mulder hadn't been on the case by then, of course, but he had insisted that it didn't matter.

"'Return to the beginning,' " he'd told them, in Moore's office, electrified by his discovery.  "It's the only phrase I couldn't make sense of.  Saks Mill is the place it all began, twelve years ago." 

With her back to the cold, clammy concrete of the outer wall of the warehouse, Scully thought she could feel the death in this place, malevolence. 

The speaker in her headset came suddenly to life.  "Team four, perimeter secure." 

Now they were waiting only for Mulder's command. 

"Team two and team three, you have a go."  Mulder's voice was cold, detached.  He held his hand up and counted down silently on his fingers.  On three, the door swung outward, and Scully swiveled around the corner, weapon a precise extension of her outstretched arm. 

"Clear," she announced, and the word had barely left her mouth before Mulder was sprinting past her and down the hall.

In the submarine glow of her night vision goggles, the hall was long and dark.  Scully ran down the hall after Mulder, pausing outside the first office door, Mulder's breathing, along with faint sounds of the other team members, echoing ghost-like from her headset. 

Again, Mulder counted down on his fingers.  This time he was first around the door's edge. Scully followed his lead, swiveling to confront a small, empty office. 

"Team one, section alpha, clear," Mulder spoke crisply into the speaker on his headset, the message disseminating to every member on all four teams.

Immediately in Mulder's wake.  "Team one, section bravo, clear," Sandborne's voice crackled over the speakers. 

Two other teams were moving into the warehouse at the same time as Mulder's, one from the back and another from the remote east side.  There was a fourth team surrounding the building, who had by now wired the gargantuan cargo bay doors with explosive charges, just in case.

They had less than an hour. 

"Team one, Charlie, clear," Tucek reported. 

Mulder started back down the hall at the same time as Scully, and the windowless enclosure was like a coffin.  When Scully licked her lips briefly, they were salty with sweat.  Small, damp clumps of hair stuck against her forehead.  Poised outside another office door, there was the same countdown, holding her breath.  There was a slam as the door hit the wall behind it, and the blood rushed in Scully's ears when she rounded the corner. 

"Team one, Section Delta, clear," she said. 

There were eight offices in the hall, anticipated ahead of time with the blueprints they had obtained.  Scully and Mulder were supposed to clear the first office while Sandborne and Williams cleared the second, then Tucek and Bukowski had the third, and so on.  That was how it was supposed to work. 

Scully felt the air shift, sucking inward, at the precise moment it all fell apart.  Faintly, she could hear Mulder as he muttered, "this is ridiculous," and then he had broken into a run, passing the next office in his haste.  "Williams and Sandborne, take golf. Tucek and Bukowski, take hotel." 

The bewildered response was affirmative, but Mulder didn't even pause.  Scully ran after him, not knowing what else to do. 

SAC Moore interrupted from his position waiting outside with team four.  "Agent Mulder, what the hell do you think you're doing?"

Mulder didn't respond, and Scully struggled to match his pace, as he finished off the length of the long hall.  In her ear, over the sound of her running footfalls, the first report from one of the other teams came through. 

"Team two, section kilo, clear." 

There was an enormous pair of swinging metal door at the end of the hall, and Scully was shocked when, heedless of procedure or safety, she watched Mulder slam through the obstacle without a glance back in her direction.  The doors resounded with a deafening boom as they smacked into the walls behind.

Scully felt panic well up inside her chest like water, drowning. 

Moore's voice rattled across the speakers.  "Holy fucking shit!  What the hell is going on in there?" 

Their presence was as good as announced now.  Any element of surprise their careful silence had secured was obliterated. 

"I want a report!  Now!"  Moore again, and, in his wake, the voices of other team members reporting in, assuring Moore of their safety.

"Agent Mulder!" Moore roared. 

Scully mirrored Moore's cry.  "Mulder!" But he was gone from her sight. 

Scully pushed forward, imagining she could already hear the crack of gunfire as Mulder was taken by surprise in his mad dash forward.  She hit the door hard and almost stepped back at the enormity of the space she had entered.

The room was vast, spreading out around her.  Two staggering, vision obscuring rows of six vats each -- tall, circular monstrosities of corroded metal with ladders ascending their sides -- dominated the room, marching impossibly backwards.  Too easy for someone to hide in this place, she thought.  Silence was a menace filling every darkened empty space. 

From elsewhere in the building, another report came through.  "Team three, section romeo, clear."

"Team one, foxtrot, clear."  Williams and Sandborne were clearing the offices she and Mulder had abandoned. 

Heart pounding, Scully made her way around the first vat, weapon steady.  She had just cleared the titanic structure when she heard the flutter of movement, looked up and saw Mulder moving forward at the far end of the room.  He was almost to the stairs. 

"Mulder, wait!" 

He didn't stop, and she raced after him, feeling each and every shadow in the massive room watching her.  Mulder was already reaching the top of a high, narrow staircase at the end of the room.  Scully placed her foot on the first step.  Dust sailed up from her feet.  Her thigh muscles twinged in protest.  Suddenly, the world dropped out from under her, the shattering sound of a small explosion reached her after the fact, and an involuntary scream tore from her throat.


Pain, as all of the air was sucked roughly from her lungs, and her body impacted with the ground.  Scully had landed partially on her back and left shoulder, hard.  The remains of the staircase she had been climbing littered the cold, stone floor around her.  She winced when she lifted up onto her elbow; a large splinter of wood had ripped through her shirt sleeve, gouging a jagged tear in the flesh of her arm.  She sucked in a deep breath, closed her eyes, and plucked it out.  Blood streamed down her arm from the wound. 

She was dizzy.  Above her, Mulder was standing in an open doorway near the edge of the drop-off, looking down at her with panic in his stance.

"Scully, are you all right?!"  Panic in his voice, too. 

Behind her, Williams and Sandborne had followed them into the packing room and were rounding the last vat, rushing to her side.

"I'm fine," she panted.  "I just got the wind knocked out of me."  Scully tore the remains of her shirt sleeve off, using the dirty scrap of material as a pathetic tourniquet.  Her blood seeped warm and wet from beneath its meager protection.  She could feel angry bruises blossoming across her back and shoulder, but there was nothing anyone could do for her at that moment.

"Agent Scully."  Williams had dropped down beside her, placing a hand under her arm to guide her up. 

"It's all right, Mulder.  Just go."  She forced the words out.  "We'll find another way up." 

He looked down at her one last time, as she stood up fully and brushed debris from the front of her jacket.  In the eerie glow of her goggles, Mulder gave a small nod, his eyes unknowable behind their obstruction, and without another word, disappeared through the door behind him.

"We have to find another way on to that catwalk," Scully said, turning to Williams -- the catwalk that surrounded the cargo bay, the cargo bay that Mulder insisted held their missing child and possibly their suspect. 

"There should be another two doors on this side," Williams responded, gesturing to a featureless portal at ground level to their left.

"Let's do it," she said. 

The radio in their ears reported the other teams' progress, making their way in from more distant entrances to the building.  Scully couldn't remember if she'd heard anything from them during her rush after Mulder.  From their current positions, she'd missed something. 

"Team three, tango, clear." 

"Team two, section November, clear." 

The other teams were making slow progress through the dank, labyrinthine corridors and storage units. 

"On three," Scully ordered, automatically taking command. 

Sandborne forced the door open, and Scully was the first one in, staring down a hallway much longer and wider than the one through which they had already run.  This time there were no office doors to break up the monotony of rotting walls. 

"Clear," she announced, and then, "Go!" 

The group of agents leapt forward, Scully in the lead.  A thin stream of blood reached her wrist and slicked out over her palm.  Her breath sounded ragged and unnaturally loud, filling her ears, drowning out the clatter of boots on concrete.

Another staircase came into view. 

"Agent Scully," Williams called behind her, a warning in his tone.  She knew what he was trying to say, and worried as she was about taking another fall, there was no other way.

"I don't have a choice," she told him, the words clipped, starting up the stairs.  She almost expected to hear the same explosion, the same splintering wood and pain.  Scully could hear Williams' boots on the stairs behind her.  Reaching the top without incident, she cursed loudly in the darkness. 

"Shit! It's bricked up!" 

Ahead of her, the door that was supposed to lead out to the catwalk had become nothing more than an extension of the wall, a thick, fresh barrier of bricks sealing it up. 

"What?" Williams asked, incredulous. 

Scully clicked on the radio.  "Mulder, the next entrance is bricked up.  We can't get in. What's going on?"  She paused, waited, and her query was met only by silence. 

"Mulder, what's going on?"  She was scared and trying not to let it show in her voice. 


"Agent Mulder, report!"  An order over the air waves from Moore. 

Dread clawed its way up her spine. "Mulder!" 

There was no answer. 

"How far is the next entrance?"  Scully demanded, as she pushed past her teammates to continue down the hall.

"About another a hundred yards."  It took a second to recognize Sandborne's voice behind the answer.

Scully reached the next set of stairs with Williams at her side.  She bounded up the ancient steps without a thought to her previous concern for stability.  The sight that greeted her at the top solidified the dread into a tight, frigid knot, melding seamlessly with her fury.

She radioed her findings in a tight voice.  "Team one, C entrance is bricked up, too. Over."  Then, in a more pleading tone, "Mulder, please, we can't get in.  What's happening in there?" 

Silence was the only reply. 

"Next entrance should be around this corner."  Sandborne spoke without Scully even needing to ask the question. 

Over the pounding of her feet against the concrete, team three had more bad news.  "Team three, G entrance is bricked up.  Over."

Followed shortly by Moore and another attempt to get a response from Mulder.  "Agent Mulder, I want a report right now!" 

Scully's team reached the fourth set of stairs.  This time, she was not surprised when she reached the top and found the doorway obstructed.  Turning to move down the stairs again, a sound stopped her in her tracks; clear from within the sealed off cargo bay, the crack of gunfire, one shot, and then a quick succession of three more.

"Team three. Shots fired. Over," came the unnecessary statement over the radio. 

"Mulder, who's firing? Mulder?" She sounded desperate and didn't care. 

Without thinking, without even knowing how she was going to accomplish it, Scully slammed the butt of her assault rifle into the brick wall with strength she shouldn't have possessed. 

"Agent Scully?" Williams made to grab her arm, but she pulled herself roughly away, continuing without speaking or even looking up.  She was shocked when another weapon began to collide with the bricks along side hers.  She wanted to thank him but didn't have the energy or the time to waste.  The empty corridor resounded with the sound of their efforts.

"Team four. We're taking these cargo doors out. Over." 

Unavoidably, the team outside was preparing to blast through, despite Mulder's orders. 

The brick construction was new, obviously unprofessional, and therefore weak.  Muscles in her arms and shoulders burned, as the first cracks in the wall began to appear.  Pulverized brick dusted the toes of her black boots.  Finally, a few bricks tumbled inward.  Scully ignored the pain, pouring furor and fear into her labor. 


Outside, loud through the small opening they'd made, the pre-set explosives discharged.  Another pile of bricks fell away. 

"Go! Go! Go!" 

The breach was barely large enough.  Grabbing Williams' arm to stop his movement, Scully scrambled up and over the shattered bricks.  Head first, her hands collided with the metal floor, slipping in the rust colored rubble.  When she righted herself, she stood on a catwalk that ran the periphery of the cargo bay.  The gigantic doors were violently cleft, cacophonous, bright light of headlights beyond flooding in.  Scully pushed the night vision goggles down.  A swarm of agents poured through the demolished doors, peppering the interior of the warehouse with red pinpricks from assault rifle scopes.  The cavernous space was filled with stacked crates and other refuse.  Dark, indistinguishable Agents fanned out, searching the mess.  From above, Scully scanned the melee and found no sign of Mulder. 

Williams was crawling through the hole behind her, with soft grunts for effort, landing eventually in a graceless heap.  Scully ran towards the stairs that descended to the bay below.  Above her head, the ceiling of the cargo bay was high and curved, thick, black, steel arches supporting the weight.  Satan's Cathedral, Scully thought, oddly, and with horror.

She reached ground level and stopped.  Agent Moore was standing several feet away, staring at her in shock. 

"Where's Mulder?" She asked, urgently. 

"How did you get in here," Moore answered, his eyes on the demolished shape of the weapon at her side.

"Where is he?" She repeated, not willing to explain. 

"We've found no sign of him yet," Moore replied, grim, as red flashing lights and the wail of sirens heralded the arrival of several ambulances.  Someone had called the paramedics, preparing for injuries or casualties. 

Something tugged in the recesses of Scully's mind.  She turned away from Moore, feeling his gaze on her as she walked away.

"Agent Scully?" 

Walking, not sure why, Scully moved past the agents searching the warehouse, and then running, past everyone, to a high wall of stacked crates against the back wall of the room.  An insidious sense of foreboding began to crawl over her, viscous and dangerous, making it hard to breathe.  She wanted to slow her steps.  She wanted to turn around and leave this place.  She couldn't.  She was being drawn inexorably forward.

A small aperture was present along the side of the stack.  Knowing somehow, and strangely heedless of precaution, Scully reached up and toppled one of the crates.  It was heavy, shattering with a hollow crack into countless pieces.  Then a second crate, and a third. The crates were huge, and dust from shattered bricks and decay smeared in the sweat on Scully's forehead.

Finally, light poured through the fissure she'd created, illuminating a small alcove carved beneath the catwalk, stretching back into darkness.  Stepping under the low ceiling, shadows surrounded her, and Scully could see very little in the dim light.  A few more steps, and then she gasped, breaking into a run.

Ahead of her, barely visible on the dirt blackened floor, Mulder sat sprawled and bloody, the limp body of a small child cradled in his arms. 

"Mulder, oh my God, Mulder..." 

She crashed to her knees beside him, shocked by the quantity of blood.  It was everywhere, visible even in the near darkness.  It spread out in a gory pool around the little boy, coated Mulder's hands, smeared his face and jaw.  Mulder was holding the child as if a strong enough embrace might revive him.  Scully had to force his hands away in order to check for a pulse, already knowing. 

Glancing down the tiny body, her voice held a tremble.  She had to force it out. "Mulder, are you hurt?  We heard gunfire." 

He didn't look up, didn't respond. 

"Mulder?"  A gentle hand over his, which was tightly fisted around a bundle of blood drenched t-shirt.  She squeezed, faintly, and could feel him shudder beneath her touch.  He was in shock.

Briskly, Scully ran her hands up and over his arms, along the part of his legs that she could reach.  She tilted his head to the side, his muscles moving without resistance, searching for signs of injury.  Finding nothing, she swept her eyes around the room, certain she would discover their murderer lurking in one of the dark corners.  All that revealed itself to her scrutiny were tyrannical shadows and the mingled stench of blood and dirt.

Mulder was staring into the sightless eyes of Tristan Oliver, a face Scully recognized from photographs, a face now pale and tragic, stained by blood.  Scully reached out, and with reverent fingers, closed the vacant eyes.  His skin was still warm.  She watched as Mulder's eyes, too, closed, his shoulders slumping, shaking.  He was moments away from falling completely apart. 

"Mulder..." She pried his fingers away from the child's clothes. 

She lifted the boy from Mulder's lap and laid him tenderly on the ground.  Mulder rose when she guided him up, stumbling, almost collapsing.  She wove an arm around his back and he leaned against her, walking sluggishly, posture slack.  He didn't seem to blink, to breathe.  His eyes stared unseeing ahead, more frightening than Scully had ever seen them.  There was desolation in his eyes that made Scully terribly, sickeningly afraid. 

Unnoticed by Scully, several agents had entered the alcove.  Scully pushed past them, ignoring their looks, their questions.  A virtual sea of agents, and she pushed past them all.  Something inside of her was clenching, drawing tighter, folding in upon itself.  Her perceptions narrowed.  The car.  Safety.  Quiet.  They couldn't be here.  He couldn't.  She would lose him. 

The shouted questions were faint disturbances at the edge of Scully's purpose.  She emerged from the warehouse into a blinding chaos of lights, sirens, and shouting.  Back to the car, opened the door on Mulder's side, closed it after him. 

If she had bothered to glance at her watch, Scully would have noticed that the small hand had only recently passed the hour mark, she would have surmised that the hour had changed at around the same time Tristan Oliver had drawn his last breath.  Their twenty-four hours were up, and they had been too late. 

Uncaring and unknowing, Dana Scully led her partner back to the motel they shared, and again the road unfurled before them with the horrifying speed of terrible events set in unstoppable motion.

End Chapter 7 (8/29) 
End Part I

Part II -- Ashes 

Most of what they shared, after all, after all was done, was silence.

"It was all a question of silence," she said aloud to him, in his workroom, where she could no longer expect any answer, neither anger nor understanding.

Chapter 8

The chalkboard was green, like the kind used in a classroom.  Blood smeared its smooth surface; red fingerprints marred the pieces of white chalk that sat in a tray beneath.  Scully shivered.  The white tile and polished metal of the autopsy suite reminded her of the glacier in Antarctica, frozen and vast.  Overhead lights cast pools of cold, harsh light.  Scully stared at the chalkboard, transfixed by the macabre spectacle of scarlet stains amidst carefully recorded weights and measures.

She'd pulled off her gown and face shield.  The high rubber gloves had been disposed of.  The practiced hand of an assistant had long since cleaned the table and meat scales.  Yet the chalkboard still sat, across the room, keeping record of the precise weight of a heart, a lung -- the viscera of a life and innocence stolen.

"The deceased is a Caucasian male, Tristan Robert Oliver, eight years of age.  Preliminary diagnosis indicates cause of death to be blood loss stemming from three visible stab wounds to the chest, lower abdomen, and lower back.  No other discernible signs of trauma are present."

Her voice on the tape recorder, though she barely recognized it.

"Height recorded at four feet, nine inches; weight, forty-one pounds in extremis.  Low body weight is consistent with signs of advanced malnutrition.  External physical examination reveals the stab wounds to be inflicted with, most likely, a small knife, not unlike a kitchen knife, though the exact type of weapon will be difficult to establish due to retraction of the skin once the weapon was removed.  Detailed observations and sketches of the wounds can be found on page eleven of the attendant report."

Such small wounds, and purposefully so.  He'd been intended to die slowly.  Tristan Oliver had been stabbed with the express purpose that he gradually bleed his young life out onto the dirty floor of the Saks Mill Warehouse.  After all, their murderer needed time to escape, time to leave before the FBI showed up.  It was much more dramatic that way, to find the boy as he was moments from death, still hanging on for one last gasping, blood-flecked breath.

"Further external examination reveals the appearance of obvious edema in the face, legs, and arms.  The stomach, also, is distended and swollen.  Muscle mass deterioration is apparent in the shoulders, upper arms, and scapulae, as well as less severe deterioration in the upper and lower legs." 

His body had turned in upon itself in an attempt to survive, cannibalizing muscle and soft tissue.  Tristan had been held for three months and a week.  It had been more than long enough.  His tiny body was reminiscent of victims of famine, of disturbing images of countless small children, in Ethiopia and elsewhere, bellies swollen, eyes sunken and haunted.  The perfect skeletal outline of a collarbone, an elbow, thin skin stretched tight.  Those images on television and in newspapers, the distance making the horror seem less real.  A horror the likes of which Scully had never imagined she would be forced to confront personally.

"There are symptoms of dermatitis -- peeling and flaking of the epidermis along the face, arms, chest, and back.  Hair has a faint reddish tinge and can be pulled out easily, due to the deterioration of the roots.  Again, all observations are consistent with advanced malnutrition."

On the tape, the pre-recorded Scully launched into the internal exam.

"The heart and liver appear markedly enlarged.  Examination and gross dissection of the liver reveals signs of impaired synthesis and liver disease.  Effusion of serous fluids into the interstices of cells in tissue spaces is resultant in more apparent swelling within the body cavity.  Gross dissection of the kidneys reveals degeneration consistent with nephritis and is further supported by the laboratory finding of keytone bodies present in the subject's urine.  Full laboratory findings are also attendant."

Tristan Oliver was in the early stages of renal failure.  His liver and heart were giving out.  Even had he survived the stabbing, if they'd arrived in time, it was doubtful that Tristan would have lived.  Mental and physical retardation would have been likely.  As with the other victims, Tristan had been starved to the point of torture.  He was only disposed of when there was nothing left to destroy.

Not that these facts made it any easier, their failure the night before.  They didn't make it easier at all.  Before, she would have returned to the hotel, grim and assured, and tried to console Mulder with these observations.  She would have tried to console him, in some small way, with the knowledge that they hadn't been meant to win, that there was no possible way for them to have won under these circumstances.  It had been a "lesson."  A malicious, abhorrent lesson.  Before, but not now.

"Examination and gross dissection of the large intestine reveals signs of long-term infection and impaired absorption.  The subject most likely suffered from chronic diarrhea for several weeks prior and up until the point of death. 

"Basic and pertinent lab findings include an expectedly low concentration of albumin water-soluble proteins, a low plasma glucose, low plasma amino acids, signs of secondary immunodeficiency with a white blood cell count at less than 1500 mm3, an excessively low cholesterol count, decreased levels of Potassium and Magnesium in the blood, and the aforementioned presence of keytone bodies in the urine."

Symptoms of a body at war with itself, a body ravaged and fading away.

"Cause of death is officially noted as blood loss, but with the observed serious levels of deterioration due to malnutrition it should be noted that, in my professional opinion, the subject was a victim of prolonged starvation as a method of torture, though this is only an opinion and cannot be adequately proven." 

Unbidden and unwelcome, the image of Tristan after the autopsy had been finished flashed across her mind's eye. 

The body had been open and hollow, empty. Just the fragile remnants of his ribs remained, the sternum gone, no longer necessary to protect a heart that had ceased to beat.  His face had been obscured by the scalp that had been pulled forward and over, the top of the head missing to enable the removal of the brain.  She had stood in the cold sterility of the autopsy suite, mesmerized by the spattering of blood that had found its way to the floor, and had been trapped by her own suffocating sense of loss.

<"I'm going to close the body up now, ma'am.">

She almost hadn't heard her assistant when he'd spoken.  She'd only nodded, unable to offer any more by way of assent.

Also unbidden was the memory of Mulder's eyes, staring down into Tristan's, as the child lay across her partner's lap, the tiny shapes of fingers etched in blood upon the canvas of Mulder's cheek and neck.  How cold his skin had been, how warm the washcloth, as she had wiped those marks away.  How he had murmured her name, faintly, so faintly, as she pushed the gory jacket from his shoulders.  How even his lips had tasted of grief.

Behind Scully, the door leading in from the morgue opened.

"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't know anyone was still in here."

Briskly, she gathered her notes and reports together, stuffed them into her briefcase.  "That's okay.  I was just leaving."

Brushing past the janitor, moving out into the night, she did.


Back at the motel, in the relative sanctuary of her own room; her image was reflected in the mirror above the low dresser.

She'd started pulling her clothes off almost immediately after entering the room, intent upon escaping the imagined smell of death and retreating to the shower.  An uncharacteristic trail of clothes littered the floor, dropped randomly as she'd discarded them.  She'd turned on the lamp atop the dresser, throwing faint, yellowed light around the drab room.  Then she'd turned around, faced the mirror in only a bra and panties.

The bruises from her fall in the warehouse were livid.  Facing the mirror, they wrapped around her shoulder, extending to the front.  Horrid.  She looked like she'd been beaten.  Her fingers grazed the tear in the flesh of her bicep, and her breath hissed out, face twisting in pain.  She should have gotten stitches.  It would scar now.

But those injuries weren't what held her transfixed before the mirror.  There was a bruise, a mottled circle of red, broken capillaries at the juncture of her neck and shoulder, along the tendon, another on her collarbone.

<Each of these bruises is a promise broken.>

The modest shape of bikini panties did nothing to hide the fainter bruises on her hips, the shapes of long fingers, larger and thicker than her own.  Familiar fingers. 

The last was the worst, she knew.  Folding her arms behind her back, the clasp of her bra gave with a subtle snap and fell away.  She shrugged it off, and took a deep, steadying breath before lifting her eyes to the mirror once more.  On the underside of her right breast, just below the nipple. Faith teeth marks red against the pale skin. She could remember the scrape of his teeth vividly. She carried that memory with her like a phantom.

She hadn't slept last night.  The day had stretched long and endless from the moment she had regained her fragile composure in her room after it had happened, through a dressing down from Moore, a visit to yet another crime scene, interviews with bereaved parents, and a long and terrible autopsy.

She couldn't recall how she had ended up on the bed, when she had curled herself into a tight fetal ball.  Exhaustion, perhaps, had propelled her there without conscious thought, weeks of fatigue and then... this.  In the end, it didn't matter.  All that mattered was that she was curled on her bed, suffering and half-asleep, when he knocked.

He knocked, weakly, like he didn't want to be heard.  How did she know it was him?

"Scully?"  Feeble and watery, like he'd been crying.

<Scully is your creation, Mulder.>

"Scully, are you awake?"

She curled herself tighter, imagining that she was diminishing on the bed.  The door was locked.  He couldn't get in.

"Scully, I know you're in there.  I saw the car in the lot."  He sounded frightened and desperate, needy.  "I need to know that you're all right."  His voice was barely loud enough to be heard through the door, and it wasn't all he needed.  He was as lost as she was, and he needed reassurance, that it would all be okay, somehow.

She just needed time -- time to sublimate it all, to push the heartache down into submission, time to recover so they would be able to move forward.  They had to be able to move forward.

"Scully, please..."  And if her heart hadn't already been broken, it would have shattered with those words, at their hopelessness. 

Then there was silence.  Her hands were trembling where they clutched around her waist.  She concentrated on her breathing, on trying to slow it down, to stop the shaking.  She assumed he had left.

<If I can just stand up, make it into the bathroom.>

Then there was the grinding twist of someone unlocking her door.  She didn't even bother to wonder how he had picked the lock.  She knew that she should move from the bed and didn't want to, didn't care.

The hinges on the door were rusty; they whined as the portal was opened.  A blast of frigid air swept through the room, drenching her in goose flesh.  The rusty wail again as the door was closed, and then nothing but silence filled with the sensation of his eyes on her. 

<Please go, Mulder.  Please.  Leave me at least this much.>

He didn't go.  Instead, after an interminable pause, she could hear soft footsteps approaching the bed.  The footsteps stopped at the edge of the bed closest to her.  She could hear the ragged sound of his breathing, a choked gasp.  Was he crying?

<He could touch me if he reached out.>

He did. Fingertips grazed her shoulder, the one covered with angry bruises, a gossamer touch, like a sigh.  She jerked back sharply, eyes snapping open.  She moved fast, faster than he had probably thought her capable of.  Reeling, scrambling, arms falling away to push against the bed as she moved, over to the opposite side and onto her feet.  She was unconcerned with her nakedness.  It hardly mattered anymore.  And perhaps she wanted him to see.  The damage.

They both froze when she had stopped moving, the bed a vast uncharted sea between them.  One tear traced a jagged path down his cheek.  He hadn't shaved.  There were dark circles shrouding his eyes.  His eyes raked over her body, nothing sexual in the gaze.  There was a precise moment, when she knew his eyes had reached the most obscene of the bruises, his eyes growing impossibly wide, a flash of the most intense pain, and then shame, horror, revulsion.  He closed his eyes. 

Neither spoke for a long time. 

With his eyes still closed.  "I never..."  He took a small step around the bed.  His lips moved without sound.  Another two steps, "never..."

She couldn't move. 

He stopped a few feet away from her, and then stretched out a hand, slender fingers, ashen skin in the half-light.  The touch was faint.  He reached out and traced the discoloration along her collarbone.

"Don't."  She almost hissed the word, fumbling back, away from his touch.  "Don't touch me."

His eyes closed again, two more tears escaping. 

Edging away from him, she moved closer to the dresser, snatched her discarded blouse off of the ground, and clutched it to her chest.  It was cold in the room. She was shivering violently.

"Why didn't you tell me?"  He was looking at her again, at the jagged gash in her arm.

When would she have told him?  As she was carrying him from the warehouse, bloody and shaking?  When he had refused to speak in the car, mute with shock?  While his hands had gripped her knees and pushed her legs apart?  As she'd held him, crying in the aftermath?

"There was nothing to tell."  So cold, her voice.

"Scully..." Pleading.

She felt frozen, glacial and solitary standing across the room from him.  She was unable to explain the full spectrum of grief she was experiencing, unable to rationalize why even his slight touch seemed an embodiment of something, of a vague, unuttered promise that they had destroyed the night before.

The words escaped of their own volition.  A whisper.  "I feel dirty, Mulder."  They were the worst words she could have possibly spoken.  They were the truth.

The blood drained suddenly from his face, and he doubled over, as if punched in the gut.

<I'm so sorry, Mulder, for both of us.  I don't know how to fix this.>

When he stood up again, his eyes were vacant, perfect nothingness where pain had washed the rest away.  "I'm sorry, Scully." Mirroring her thoughts. 

She hadn't wanted his apology, had dreaded it, in fact.  She didn't blame him, and his regret was the most painful gift he could have offered.

Their eyes locked one last time.  Her -- hair the only color in the room, white knuckles gripping a silk blouse like a shield above cotton panties, feeling frail and defenseless, hating that feeling.  Him -- tears dry and eyes red-rimmed, a sort of barren acceptance, resignation, hardening his features into a mask of stone.

It wasn't supposed to be this way.

She looked away, eyes cast to the floor, and she heard his footsteps on the carpet, heard the snick of the door opening and shutting again.  When she looked up, she was alone.


Scully was standing, hiding, between Agent Williams and Agent Marcus in a group of agents that had gathered around the conference table in the bullpen.  A chair was pulled out, files spread in front of it, as if someone were sitting there.  But the Agent who had formerly occupied that spot was no longer seated.  Mulder swept the length of the bullpen behind the table in furious strides, pacing, taking his impotent rage out on the polished tiles of the floor.

"How did you know I'd be the first one up the stairs?"  Mulder jumped into the conversation, seemingly unwilling to let their opponent make the opening move.

"It was an educated guess, actually, and an easy one at that.  I knew that once you thought about it, you'd know where to go.  I also knew that you'd need to be the first one there."

The phone had rung several hours after they'd arrived at the field office this morning.  Mulder had spent most of the morning in interviews, going over what had happened.  The biggest question had been over the firing of his weapon.  He would only explain by saying that he thought that he had "seen something… someone."  From the look on Moore's face, it had been a weak explanation, at best.  Scully had left after that, her presence not necessary.  She couldn't sit there, watch his lifeless expression, and pretend to be okay.

"Masonry, explosives; are there any other talents of yours we should be forewarned about?"  Mulder again.

"Hardly talents, Agent Mulder, they’re necessary skills."

After leaving Moore's office, Scully had retreated to the flurry of activity in the bullpen, comforted by the rush and press of people around her.  She'd willingly thrown herself into a pile of paperwork someone had cast her way, knowing there was nothing else to be done at that moment, feeling entirely incapable of deciding what to do next.

Williams had sat down opposite her at a desk, regarding her over the stacks of paper.  He'd asked her if she was all right, laughing after realizing he asked her that same question with some frequency.  Scully had been startled to realize just how badly she needed some sort of human connection and had found herself grateful for the concern in his dark eyes.

There was silence for a moment on the telephone.

When their adversary spoke again, there was genuine sorrow in his tone.  His words were soft.  "I'm sorry you couldn't save him, Agent Mulder. I know how badly you wanted to."

Abruptly, Mulder stopped in his tracks, and from her position between the two taller men, Scully could see the rage that flared in Mulder's eyes, a blaze that made them dark and frightening.

"I couldn't save him," Mulder spat, "Because you put a knife in his chest." 

The killer was quiet for a moment.  "Blame,” he finally said, "is a strange thing, Agent Mulder.  It's complicated.  Who do you blame for the miseries of your life?  Other people?  Fate?  God?  Yourself?  Blame is not easy to quantify."

"It’s not that difficult," Mulder said, lowly, accusing.  His voice rose with each of his next words.  "Tristan Oliver was a living, breathing little boy until you took a knife and put it through his left lung, and then again into his stomach, and again in his back, leaving him to die, alone and afraid on the dirty floor of an abandoned warehouse."  His pitch dropped, derisively.  "That's not complicated at all."

Standing several feet away, SAC Moore was watching Mulder intently, almost suspiciously.  He must have felt Scully's eyes on him, because he turned at her glance, made brief eye contact with her, and then turned back to face Mulder. 

Everyone in the room was keeping a wide berth from Mulder, wider than was normal, wider than Scully had noticed during the whole of their investigation prior to the tragedy at Saks Mill.  It had been like that all day long, and all day the day before.  She felt sorry for him.  She physically ached for the isolated sorrow he was living, but she could no more approach him than could any of the agents standing beside her.

On the other end of the telephone line, there was a frustrated sigh.  "Still you fail to see."  The kidnapper sounded sad, disappointed, and then, suddenly, imploring.  "Look into yourself, Agent Mulder.  Look at those children.  It's all right there, staring you in the face, the lies."

"The lies?"  Mulder was condescending.

"We have more in common that you would probably like to think, Agent Mulder."

A thought Scully shuddered to consider. 

"We don't have *anything* in common."

"Oh, that's where you're wrong," the murderer corrected.  He paused, and then his words became cryptic, strange.  "They can make the choices for you, and you can even try to make it better, but you won't ever be clean.  Don't think that just because you do good deeds, you search for justice, you lead a righteous life, that the stain is erased.  It isn't ever absolved."

The look on Mulder's face must have mirrored the one Scully wore.  She felt completely lost by the turn in conversation, knowing understanding was essential.

He continued, "I've seen you, Agent Mulder. You're as tainted as the others, as I am.  But, like me, you were the victim.  You didn't choose to become dirty.  Someone else made that choice for you."

Mulder was speechless and still in his spot across the room.  Scully hugged her arms around her chest, feeling cold and vulnerable, noticing the perplexed looks on the faces of the agents around her.

This lesson their murder had designed was beginning to feel more and more like an orchestrated punishment.  Punishment for what, however, she had no idea.  It was a punishment that involved agendas and plans, ways of thinking that pertained to some twisted sense of order they were completely unable to see.  There was a feeling of dread, an utter lack of understanding, as if Scully were blindfolded and supine on the executioner's block, waiting for the ax to fall. 

When the line disconnected, it was with a quiet, decisive click, and the room was washed with silence.

End Chapter 8 (part 9/29)

Chapter 9 

The cuffs of her black pants were wet and cold, soaked with dirty slush.  She stepped from the car, into another puddle of melting ice, and felt the tug of wind on cold-prickled cheeks.  On the other side of the car, Mulder emerged and shut the door behind him, moving up to the front gate of the house without a glance in her direction.  Clouds hovered ominously in the sky, and she supposed that their joint choice of all back ensembles was a subconscious acknowledgment of mourning.  Mulder stood at the front door, seeming tall and strange to her.  She stopped beside him and rang the bell.

The house was quiet, dark, and she wondered if anyone was home.  Then there was the faintest shuffling of feet on the other side of the door, the sound of multiple locks disengaging, and a crack appeared as the door was opened only as far as the chain would allow.  From within the shadowed confines of the house, a face peered out at them.

"Mrs. Oliver?" Mulder asked.

She nodded, clutching her bathrobe tighter, but she made no move to unlatch the door.

"My name is Fox Mulder.  We spoke earlier today."

She hesitated, and after a moment, moved to unlock the door.  It opened to reveal a dark hall and the retreating figure of Madeline Oliver, who was walking slowly towards the living room without waiting for them to come inside.

Scully stomped the ice from her boots and stepped into the foyer.

After the last phone call, Mulder had sat dejected at the table for almost an hour.  Scully and the other agents had retreated to their previous activities, and when Mulder finally rose from the table and approached her desk, he made only the most tenuous eye contact.

"We need to re-interview the families." 

That's all he'd said, and no one had questioned him.  So, with Mulder trailing behind, Scully followed the bereaved specter of Madeline Oliver into her living room.  Madeline had been the only real witness to any of these events; she had been the only person to have any sort of contact with their killer, even if she remembered nothing of it.

Sitting gingerly on the edge of a plain, blue sofa, Scully looked into the eyes of the woman across from her.  The shades on the windows were drawn back, allowing gray winter light to sweep across the room, which was otherwise dark.  Madeline's skin was almost translucent, colorless, eyes red and swollen, showing an unmistakable lack of sleep.  Her hair was pulled back into a messy ponytail that hung limp between her shoulder blades.  She sat stiff-backed and defensive, waiting for them to continue.

"We're very sorry for your loss, Mrs. Oliver."  Scully said, knowing how meager that sounded.

Madeline only nodded.  "I already told the police everything I know," her voice rasped.

Mulder answered her, and the raw guilt in his voice was a fourth presence in the room.  "We know that, and we're very sorry to intrude on you in this way again.  We wouldn't do it if we didn't think it would help."

Tristan's mother seemed to consider this for a moment.  "It won't help bring my son back."  Bitter and resentful.

"No," Mulder responded, the word choking in his throat, "but it may help bring him some justice."

She only stared back, unconvinced.

Mulder cleared his throat, looked nervously about the room, searching for a place to begin.  He sat in an armchair next to Madeline's and across from Scully.  The room was cold, the air thick with stale grief.  A quantity of unwashed dishes sat abandoned on the coffee table.  Scully remained quiet, allowing Mulder to figure out where he needed to go.  She had no idea what he was looking for.

"I hate to make you do this again."  Mulder's voice was compassionate, soft, forcing the guilt down by sheer force of will.  "But could you tell us what happened on the night Tristan was taken?  What you saw?"

Madeline sighed and looked down at her hands.  She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, reluctance palpable in her demeanor.  How many times had she told this story, Scully wondered.  How many more times would she have to tell it? 

"I don't really remember anything."

Scully wanted to flinch at the abused sound of Madeline's voice, at the obvious hours spent crying.

"I woke up," her voice was faint, eyes still closed, "and it was freezing, so I climbed out of bed to turn up the thermostat."

Mulder nodded, but Tristan's mother wasn't looking at him.

"I went out into the hall."  Her face came up and she opened her eyes, looking at Scully, eyes pleading.  "I didn't notice anything wrong.  The house felt perfectly normal."

Scully swallowed the lump at the back of her throat. 

Madeline's concentration returned to her wringing hands.  "I walked down the hall to turn up the heat, and..." She stopped the unconscious motion of her hands, and her voice grew flat, impossibly quiet.  "That’s it.  The next thing I remember is waking up on the floor the next morning."

"No other memories have surfaced since that night?  You can't remember anything after you raised the thermostat?"  Mulder prompted gently.

The mother shook her head. 

"Not even things that don't really seem like memories?  Dreams?  Flashes of strange images?"

Scully was unsure of where he was going with this.

Madeline looked up, a strange expression on her face.  "Dreams?"

"Dreams, daydreams, hallucinations, anything," Mulder responded. 

"I..." She was hesitant. 

Scully moved forward in her seat.  The muscles in her shoulders tensed.

"I've had this dream, the past four nights in a row."  Madeline sounded unsure.

The look on Mulder's face was eager, the compassion and guilt dimmed by its presence.  He said nothing, his silent method of encouragement.

"In my dream, it's dark.  I can't really see anything, where I am, but I don't feel lost or worried." 
Madeline started slowly and then became immersed in her recollection of the dream.  She was staring past Scully, looking through the window and beyond.  "Then, out of nowhere, I hear a voice.  It's a whisper.  It tells me, 'no more lies.'"

Her focus returned, and she caught Scully's eye again, clearly disturbed by the dream.

"That's it?" Scully asked.

Madeline nodded.

Scully glanced over at Mulder, who had the look on his face she always associated with his inner forays into the world of his own personal darkness.  He was searching. 

Seemingly out of nowhere, he asked, "Why did you and your husband split up, Mrs. Oliver?"

Madeline's breath stuttered out on a small, surprised gasp.  "I don't see what that has to do with my son's death."  She sounded flustered and disturbed.  Her ravaged voice made the question seem cruel.

Scully looked over to Mulder, confused.

Mulder recovered his tact, and his voice lost its edge.  "Family history is always very important."  His voice was calm, with the intonation that suggested this was just ordinary procedure.

Discomfort was evident in both Madeline's body language and voice.  "We had been having problems for a long time."  She fidgeted, the motion not born of grief this time, but of hesitance.  "He... he couldn't find work.  He's a musician, and gigs were coming fewer and farther between.  We were having trouble paying the bills.  I think he had more of a problem with it than I did, that I was making all of the money for the family.  I think he felt like a failure."

Her speech tapered off.  There was more.  "And then, I met someone."  There was guilt in that phrase.

"Met someone?" Mulder asked.

"Someone at work, a colleague.  Henry and I had been so distant for such a long time, and I was lonely."  Her voice dropped even lower.  "When I became pregnant, Henry knew.  It had been quite a while since he'd shown any interest in that part of our marriage."

The sister, Eliza, Scully thought.  Scully broke into the conversation.  "He asked for a divorce?"

Madeline looked up.  "Yes, and I didn't object."  The question of what this had to do with her son's murder was still apparent in Madeline's demeanor, and Scully noticed the trembling in the woman's hands.

Abruptly, Mulder stood.  "Thank you for answering our questions, Mrs. Oliver." 

Tristan's mother also stood.  After an unsettled pause, she turned to walk the partners to the door.

"We'll contact you as soon as we find anything," Scully assured, as they were about to walk out onto the front porch.

Madeline's eyes had the haunted quality of countless other mothers, of Cynthia Deary, Grace Crane, and Roberta Hausner, mothers who were living their worst nightmares.  Madeline blinked, the glimmer of unshed tears shading her pale eyes, and closed the door without reply.


The temperature was dropping, and the air smelled crisp, heavy with snow.  Ahead of her on the iced over walk leading back to their car, Mulder’s expression was indecipherable, his odd line of questioning a mystery.

She caught up to him, matching his strides.  "Mulder?"

His phone rang.  He snatched it up without answering her question, and, after a moment, grimaced.  "Where?" 

He hung up.

"We have another one," he said, as they reached the car.  But she'd already known, had been able to tell as soon as he'd answered the call.  The first flakes began to fall as their car pulled away from the curb.


It was the same, always, always the same, same snow, same ice, same missing little boy.

Except this time, there was an added element of chaos.  Police barricades kept the media and other on-lookers penned like cattle on one side of the street.  Half a dozen news vans clogged the roadway along with several squad cars, three bureau sedans, and two tech vans.  A perimeter had been established and was being patrolled by a Buffalo PD officer.  Agents scurried about involved in various activities.  Reporters hollered questions to anyone within earshot.

The weather was growing worse.  It was only late afternoon, and already the sky had grown dark.  Thick flakes of snow were gaining momentum and mass as they descended from the heavens.  Scully had the beginning of an intense headache building behind her left eye, and she wondered if it was the weather or the circumstances. 

The atmosphere was almost melodramatic in its tragedy.  Flashing blue and red lights against the storm filled sky, the grim faced, somberly clad police officers and agents that moved back and forth across the street, the aura of panic that hung in the air.

Mulder brought their vehicle to a stop behind another bureau car.

Stepping into the maelstrom, Scully tugged the collar of her jacket tighter against the cold, fingers instantly numb, even protected by her gloves.  The earlier thaw had melted the snow enough that the sudden drop in temperature again had solidified it into a seamless sheet of ice.  Mulder had exited the car and was coming around the front when she started to walk up to the house.  Her DC climate accustomed boots, which rarely saw this degree of cold weather, were not equipped to deal with the ice rink she was walking on.  She slipped, her feet going momentarily out from under her, and he was there to catch her.

"Sorry," she mumbled, with one of his arms hooked around her waist, his other hand a vise around her upper arm, attempting to steady her.

He didn't say anything. He helped her right herself, and then released her, quickly, stepping back as if burned.  They continued walking.

The officer at the periphery logged them in with barely a glance in their direction.  They were halfway up the walk when another uniformed cop exited the house and came down to meet them.

"First at the scene?" Mulder asked, more of a statement than a question.

The uniformed officer nodded. 

"The parents were away for the weekend," the officer started explaining, responding to Mulder's expectant look, "They were staying at a bed and breakfast in the country, and the kids were with a baby-sitter."  The officer inclined his head in the direction of the street and Scully followed his gaze.

In the back seat of a squad car with the door open, a semi-hysterical teenage girl was clutching a steaming cup in her shaking hands, a blanket tossed over her shoulders, while two police officers stood nearby, one of them leaning down in conversation.

"The baby-sitter left the house to bring the sister to a friend's house, and Seth stayed here to keep an eye on one of his little brothers.  When she got back, Seth was gone."  There was a note of disgust evident in the officer's words, and Scully wondered if it was towards the parents who would leave their children for a weekend during this chaos, or towards the girl that had left an eight-year-old unattended long enough to be taken.

"We've gotten in touch with the parents, and they're driving back, but they won't be here for another hour or so."

Officer Phillips, a young man, maybe a year out of the academy, looked sickened and overwhelmed by the spectacle around him.  He turned away from the baby-sitter and nodded in the direction of the house.  "You two ready for the tour?"

They moved carefully up the ice-crusted walk. 

Moving through the front door was walking from one form of chaos and into another.  There were toys everywhere, brightly colored plastic in myriad shapes and sizes on the floor, the furniture, even littering the stairs at the back of the room.  There were Barbie dolls, matchbox cars, Lego’s, a giant dollhouse, and a small fleet of toy trucks, amongst others.

"How many children are there?" Scully asked.

"Four," Phillips replied, "Seth, his sister Jill, who's six, and two younger brothers, Paul, one-year-old, and Christopher, three.  The baby-sitter had the littlest, Paul, with her when she left the house.  When she returned, she found Christopher screaming and alone in the living room."

Accenting the hurricane of toys was the glass, the omnipresent shattered glass.  Crime scene experts moved through the wreckage with soundless, almost graceful efficiency.  Photographs were taken by the score.  Endless plastic evidence bags were filled and collected.  The position of each piece of glass would be noted.  Fibers that had been trekked onto the carpet by countless tiny feet would be catalogued.  A million smudged fingerprints would be lifted, and none of it would yield anything. 

It was enough to make Scully want to cry, to slink back to her motel room, climb under the covers, and cry.  And then sleep.  Sleep until this nightmare was over and she could wake once again to the prospect of another boring day of background checks and Mulder's forced witticisms that were nothing more than poorly veiled attempts to coax a smile from her during the mind numbing monotony of their day.  She would embrace monotony now, but none of this was a dream, and she wasn't going to wake up anytime soon.

"We have something you're going to want to see."  Phillips walked over the chest high counter that separated the living room from the kitchen.

When she walked up to the counter, Scully momentarily forgot the stony silence between her and Mulder.  "Mulder, look at this."

He came up behind her and looked over her shoulder, his presence wrapped in the cold that still clung to them from the frigid outside air.  On the kitchen counter, surrounded by the discarded remains of lunch, (milk glasses and bread crusts) an age yellowed photograph sat pristinely atop a sheaf of typed papers.

"This wasn't here before?" Mulder asked.

Phillips regarded the objects, hands stuffed into his pockets.  "Not according to the baby-sitter."

It was obvious that it wasn't an innocuous photograph.  The careful placement of the photo, the way it was creased and torn with age, the stack of printed papers it was perched upon; it was all too structured, too blatant.

Their opponent had left them a message.


The baby-sitter, Margaret Collins, was only sixteen years old.  She answered questions between fits of sobbing, was understandably convinced that Seth's disappearance was her fault, and was terrified of having to face his parents.  She hadn't seen anything.  She hadn't heard anything.  She didn't know anything.

The interview with the parents had been equally unhelpful.  They'd blamed themselves.  Peggy and Eric Leeds had left the interview devastated, walking past SAC Moore who stood at the edge of the bullpen with mouth a cold, flat line and shadows around his eyes etched by sleeplessness.

Moore hadn't mentioned it, but Scully knew.  Pressure from above had to be intense.  Another child had been taken and they were still no closer to a solution.  The vast FBI bureaucracy, media-savvy political giants for whom headlines and solve rates were the largest concern, would undoubtedly be breathing down Moore's neck by this point.  This was a high profile case.  It was splashed across every major newspaper.  It had gotten coverage by evening news programs across the nation.  This was the kind of case that made careers, or broke them.

Scully and Mulder couldn't possibly sink any lower than they already had.  Career advancement wasn't really an issue for them anymore.  The only advancement they wanted was the one they weren't allowed to have -- back down to the basement.  The only punishment for failure they would receive was the one they inflicted upon themselves.  Mulder, especially, was good at self-flagellation.

Moore, on the other hand, had everything to lose.  He was seated at the desk in his office, visible through the opened blinds.  His chair was turned to face the window.  From where she stood, Scully couldn't see his face.

She pitied Moore.  As much as his attitude rankled, as furious as he made her, she had to understand his frustration, in some small part, frustration at a case that seemed unsolvable, at the tremendous pressure being exerted by the bureau brass, at being saddled with a maverick profiler who broke all of the rules and pulled rabbits out of invisible hats, making the rest of the world seem stupid in the process.  His leadership was threatened, as well as his career.  More importantly, beneath it all, Scully had the unmistakable sense that he really was a good agent and a good leader.

Scully sighed.  The wind howled against the glass.  The room reeked of desperation.  She walked into the conference room.

Mulder was hunched over the table, a copy of the papers they'd discovered spread out around him.  The war zone atmosphere within the room seemed to intensify by the hour.  Mulder had added to the original chaos, bringing in stacks of books, piles of folders, tape recorders, speakers.  There was the detritus of a million plus coffee breaks, his bizarre patterns of evidence arrangement.  She'd grown accustomed to it, and to the pervasive lack of light he seemed intent upon.

Scully stepped into the room cautiously, watching as Mulder turned the page and continued reading.  Finally, she broke the silence.  "What is it?"

He looked up at her, his eyes unknowable behind the reflection of light against the surface of his glasses.  She shivered, whether at the cold winter air or the strangeness of his gaze, she wasn't sure.

When he spoke, he started slowly, concentration returning to the neatly typed pages in his hands.  After the first unexpected sentence, Scully slumped into the chair across from her partner and began to listen.

"To begin at the beginning," Mulder read, "we shall start at the point from which all proper legends must set forth, with the traditionally vague, the beautifully mystical... once upon a time."

End chapter 9 (part 10/29)

Chapter 10 

"Innocence and Iniquity"
-- a parable

To begin at the beginning, we shall start at the point from which all proper legends must set forth, with the traditionally vague, “once upon a time.”  Because once (whether it be in ages past or merely in imagination) upon a time there lived a faithful and honest widow.  She was industrious and kind-hearted, toiling on a daily basis at whatever work she could procure in an effort to provide for her family.  But despite this, she was a content and peaceful woman.  She praised God every day for the blessing of his mercy and lived happily with her children.

The two sons of the widow were twins.  Both had a shock of thick, dark hair and pure azure eyes.  Each was tall and strong.  Outwardly, they were alike in every way.  Without fail, every time the family would venture into town, neighbors would exclaim at their striking resemblance.  They were, in fact, so identical that their mother alone was capable of telling the two apart.

The only difference between the boys lay in their spirit, which was the method by which the mother was capable of discerning between them.  The first born of the two she had named Merciful, for he was a meek and gentle child.  The second she called Avarice, as a warning towards the greedy and immoral tendencies that were part of his nature.

One ordinary afternoon, the mother sent both boys out to fetch water from a near-by river.  They arrived quickly at the river and proceeded to fill the wooden buckets to their brims.  Just as the brothers were about to turn around and return home, they heard a small, delicate voice calling out to them.

"Help, please help me!  The current is quick, and I am trapped in its pull!"

Both boys stopped and looked out across the river, searching the swirling waters for the source of the plea.  In the middle, caught up in a strong rush of water, the delicate, golden figure of a nymph could be seen struggling in the angry waters.  She was no larger than the hand of one of the brothers, her reed thin arms churning against the waves.

"We have to help her," Merciful told his brother.  "She will certainly drown if we don't."

Avarice, being mindful of only his own safety, scoffed at his brother's observation.  "If we go swimming in those waters, we will surely be swept away."

From the center of the river, the nymph called out again.  "Please, the current grows stronger, and I grow weaker with every minute passed."

Merciful regarded his brother for a moment and then gazed out to the floundering figure of the tiny nymph.  He made his decision quickly.  Shedding all but his slacks, Merciful dove into the tumultuous river.  He swam with sure, slicing strokes, chest heaving from his exertion.  Finally, he reached the nymph, helped her to crawl upon his neck, and swam back to shore.

When Merciful and the nymph reached the bank of the river, she climbed down from his shoulders, wrung the water from her gleaming hair, and regarded the brothers with eyes the color of starlight.

Now, as you know, in fairy tales no good deed goes unrewarded.  Our little allegory is no exception.  Once the nymph was finished wringing the water from her hair, she spoke to her brave rescuer.  "Because you have risked your own life in the effort to save mine, I owe you much gratitude.  In an effort to display that gratitude, I offer you a gift."

The diminutive creature raised her arms above her head, and with the graceful flick of her alabaster hands, a large gold box appeared suddenly before the brothers.

"This box," the nymph explained, "is truly magical. It is filled with an inexhaustible supply of gold.  You need only lift the lid and the supply will always be replenished." 

Stunned, Merciful bent down to the box and opened the lid.  Indeed, as the nymph had promised, the inside of the shining chest was ripe with gold coins.  In awe, Avarice reached past his brother, dumped the valuable contents onto the forest floor, closed the lid, and opened it a second time, only to find the coffer once again brimming with riches.  When the boys looked up again to find the nymph, she was gone.

Merciful was bursting with pleasure.  "We can bring this home, give it to mother, and she will never have to work another day in her life.  Our troubles will be over!"  He exclaimed. 

Avarice, as I'm sure my astute readers must already suspect, was not as excited by this idea.  He had never been in the presence of such wealth before.  Running his fingers through the cool, sparkling pieces, he was overcome by an insidious hunger, by anger at the thought of having to share this wondrous gift.  Of course, it did not occur to him that it was his brother's toil that had won the precious receptacle.  Instead, he imagined the lavish lifestyle he could lead if he were to take the box and leave the forest life behind forever.

Spurred forward by those greedy thoughts, Avarice turned towards his brother.  Merciful was kneeling by the bank of the river, collecting gold pieces into the makeshift pouch of his discarded shirt.  With a fierce push, Avarice threw his brother into the frenzied waters.  Unprepared, Merciful smashed his head into a rock at the bottom of the riverbed and was carried swiftly and easily downstream.  With his brother thus removed from the picture, Avarice picked up the golden box and headed for the road that led into town.

Of course, it can be assured that this was not the end for our kindly brother.  The river carried Merciful many miles downstream.  The twisting waterway crossed the whole of the kingdom, rushing down mountainsides and meandering through peaceful villages.  Finally, the river opened into a tranquil bay, and Merciful was washed ashore.  When he awoke, he discovered himself to be in a distant land with no idea of how to return home.  However, not a boy to be overcome by adversity, and a resourceful child at that, the gentle brother picked himself from the ground and began walking in search of a town.

What Merciful did not know, what he could not have known, was that the path of the river had cast him into an uninhabited and desolate land, where the only citizens were the birds in the trees and the deer on the hills, where one could walk for years without the sight of another human soul.  And so, as a result of his brother's deception, Merciful began a journey that would take him away from civilization for many years to come. 

Meanwhile, Avarice was very busy with his newly found prosperity.  He did not return to the home of his mother.  He did not stop when he reached the town at the center of their kingdom.  Instead, the covetous brother procured a horse and set out to find his destiny.

After traveling for several months and leaving the boundaries of his native country behind, Avarice came at last to a bizarre city, its turrets and pinnacles draped with thick, black crepe.  Not a window could be seen.  Not a building remained uncovered.  Perplexed, the brother rode into the city to inquire about its unusual appearance.  Arriving at an inn, Avarice tethered his horse and ventured inside to question the innkeeper.  The tale he was told was unlike anything he had heard before.

Six years earlier, the giant city had been a beautiful and thriving township, its subjects joyous, its king kind and merciful, his daughters radiant, exquisite embodiments of their kingdom's good fortune.  They had been a people bathed in opulence, untroubled by common fears.

As it turned out, they had reason to worry.  Without warning, a hideous and spiteful witch descended upon their city.  She destroyed its bounty and raped its beauty.  As a war prize, she took the king's youngest daughter.  She cast a spell that sent the town and its people into the depths of poverty and despair.  The only way the curse could be lifted, Avarice was told, was to journey to the witch's enchanted forest, climb to the top of the tallest tree in the wood, and slay the wretched crone, returning the princess to her people and breaking the spell.

Around him, Avarice could see the decaying remnants of the kingdom's plundered wealth.  Uncaring of the tragic story, and sensing an opportunity not to be missed, he thanked the innkeeper and departed for his destination -- the crumbling towers of the once lavish castle.  Moving up the stairs with arrogant ease, Avarice approached the king and made an offer.  He had, after all, something that could vanquish the city's stark poverty.  In his possession was the stolen gilt chest.

A deal was easily struck. The once proud king had been reduced to a vacant shadow of his former glory.  The price demanded was the hand of the second princess in marriage and the assumption of the crown.  And so, my students, the selfish twin came to rule over the devastated city as its new king, and his impressive greed finally found fulfillment in the subjugation of its people.

What, you must be asking, had become of Merciful during this time?  Well, unlike how we might respond if thrust into such despondent circumstances, Merciful maintained his hope.  With every mile walked, he grew more confident that his wandering was nearing its end.  He lived in harmony under the sheltering trees.  When he was hungry, the birds would lead him to a bountiful crop of blackberries, or the squirrels would share with him their sequestered supply of walnuts.  In short, my children, he remained confident that his tribulations were nearing their completion and journeyed forward for years on end. 

Meanwhile, in the city of mourning, black vestments still cloaked the buildings, the curse had not been lifted, and within a year of the new king's ascension to the throne, his unwilling queen gave birth to a son.

As we already know, Avarice was a wicked and self-centered man.  He found no joy in the presence of others.  His wife, who he married to secured his kingdom, he treated with such cruelty that she shrank within herself, farther from reality and deeper into depression. 
Four months after the birth of her child, she died, quietly while sleeping, some say from a broken heart.

Contrary to this, and a most miraculous occurrence indeed, was the king's bountiful and virtuous love for his infant son.  It was an emotion he had not known himself capable of possessing.  It stunned him with its intensity.  With this miracle in mind, he named the child.  The heir to his throne came to be called Purity.

Gifts of every form were showered on the boy.  Miniature cities sheltered within a magical sphere that fit into the palm of a child's hand, a toy sailboat that moved about on the water without the faintest wind to power its sails, suits of clothes that sparkled with thread as bright as the sun, coats of thick, luxuriate fur that were softer than the clouds in the sky.

Under the doting eye of his father, Purity spent his early childhood.  Avarice ignored his kingdom, taxed his people beyond reason, and was hated by both young and old alike, but within the walls of his castle, his only child worshiped him.

It was on the eve of Purity's ninth birthday that fate aligned its pieces into precise rows and destiny came to pass.  It was at this time, on a cold, fall night that Merciful emerged from the forest for the first time in more than ten years and came to stand at the edge of the city clothed in black.

In an action identical to the one his brother had performed years earlier, Merciful walked to the inn to inquire about the town.  It did not take more than a few moments at the inn to discern the story of his brother's rise to power.  The occupants of the inn immediately mistook him for their despised monarch, and after assuring the people of his true identity, they told him the legend of the curse.  Unlike his brother, Merciful was deeply moved by this tale of woe. 

With a quest to fulfill, Merciful set out in the direction of the witch's enchanted forest, intent on rescuing the captured princess, resurrecting the town, and rescuing its people from the rule of his brother.

Unknowing of his brother's return, Avarice sat up late at night, counting his riches in the massive room he'd had constructed for solely that purpose.  Stack upon towering stack of gold surrounded the sinful leader.

It was while he was in the midst of rearranging (for the hundredth time) the mounds of coins that a figure appeared whom he had never thought to see again.  Perched atop one of the precariously balanced piles was the unchanged and dainty nymph from his childhood.

"You've been very prosperous in the years since I last met you," the nymph said, no sign of judgment in her tone. 

The king remained speechless, waiting for the beautiful creature to make mention of his brother. 

"I've come to offer you another gift," she continued, with still no mention of Avarice's heinous crime. 

"What gift?" he questioned, curiosity piqued.

"Wealth beyond even your wildest dreams, beyond even your comprehension, wealth of such magnitude that it will make this room seem puny in comparison." 

The king's was awed. "How?" he asked. 

"There is a bear, a great lumbering beast," the nymph explained, "who sleeps at the edge of the pond beyond the city walls.  All you have to do is slay the animal while it slumbers, make a pelt from its hide, and sleep one night wrapped in the fur."

"That's it?" The king's voice was unbelieving.

"When you wake," the nymph assured, "you'll have your reward."  And with those words, in a flash of warm light, she winked out of sight. 

Just a few miles from his brother's stolen kingdom, Merciful took his first tenuous steps into a deep and forbidding forest.  Even in the glorious light of day, the floor of the wood remained steeped in black.  A stench of rotted things, of dying, desperate things wafted up from the decaying ground.  After walking for over an hour, Merciful came upon a giant spider's web.  Trapped within its silvery strands was another spider, a small, black, iridescent thing with long, jeweled legs and a shiny, ebony body.

"Please," the spider beseeched Merciful; "save me from this certain death, and I'll come to your assistance someday, should you need me."

Merciful took one look at the beautiful creature and, using a small knife from his pocket, freed the spider.  "You owe me nothing," he told the spider. 

"Thank you," said the creature, and with a bob of his glistening head, he moved into the darkness of the trees. 

After another hour of walking, Merciful came upon a tree snake whose tail was trapped under the weight of a boulder. 

"Pleassssse," hissed the snake, "I will most likely be eaten by a bigger creature if I can not escape to the ssssssafety of the treesssss.  Rescue me from that horrible fate, and I will reward you sssssomeday, ssssshould you need me."

"I don't want a reward," Merciful told the snake, as he lifted the rock off of its tail. 

It was soon after rescuing the snake that Merciful came upon the tree, which he immediately knew to be the tallest in the forest.  It was gargantuan, its circumference encompassing more space than the house he had grown up in.  It grew from the earth covered in thick, black bark.  At a distance from the ground equal to twice Merciful's height, the tree divided into nine giant branches arranged in a perfect circle.  They extended upwards indefinitely, forming a cup where they met and penetrating the clouds in the sky with their unimaginable height. 

Back at the palace, Purity was setting off on an adventure.  Sneaking from his bed, he wrapped himself in the warmth of a sumptuous fur pelt, tiptoeing past the guards that had fallen asleep beside his door.  The young boy left the safety of the castle for the excitement of sailing his toy boat on the moon kissed waters of his city's distant pond.

Merciful was able to boost himself up into the cup formed by the branches, but after this point was faced with two different dilemmas.  The first was which branch to choose.  Each was identical and ascended in a slightly different direction.  The next was how to scale the branches.  There were no footholds. No smaller branches formed a handy ladder.

As I'm sure you might have already guessed, and as is the pattern in tales of this nature, the previous good deeds of our kindly brother came back to help him in his time of need.  As he stood staring up into the heavens, the tree snake appeared.

"Thisssss isss the branch that leads to the witch's cottage," the snake told him, starting to wind his way up one of the tall branches.

As soon as the snake had explained this, the spider appeared.  Without even relating his troubles, the spider spun an elegant and shimmering web of the most intricate and beautiful craftsmanship.

"This web is strong," the spider said. "You can climb it all the way to the top."

So, with the help of his new friends, Merciful began the long journey toward the top of the tree.

When Avarice reached the pond, he extinguished his lamp, wary of alerting the bear to his presence.  Crouched near the water's edge, he spotted his prey.

I am certain that, by now, my diligent readers have already sensed the coming tragedy.  How painful it is to sense a thing, to know it is wrong, and be unable to stop its progress, because we know that we cannot stop destiny. 

The fur of the bear shimmered in the moonlight, dark and luxurious.  It was a smaller creature that Avarice had imagined.  He moved forward on hunter's feet, bathed in practiced silence, and plunged his knife into the back of the beast.

After almost two hours of climbing, Merciful finally reached the top of the lofty tree.  A fine mist of clouds spread out around him, and he stepped warily into the haze.  In the distance, the brother could see a small cottage outlined dimly in the mist.  Beyond the mist, Merciful could see the figure of his adversary for the first time.  She was a wretched crone, with black, sunken eyes and a glow of immense power that sheathed her in a dark, silver glow.  Merciful was struck, suddenly and unexpectedly, with a bone deep sensation of fear.  He could not move, could not speak, could not even breathe, and knew, as his lungs screamed for air, that the evil sorceress had enchanted him. 

From his frozen position, out of the corner of his eye, Merciful watched as one of the tendrils of smoke seemed to change shape.  It gyrated towards the old witch, gaining form and substance as it moved, until the familiar figure of the snake he had saved could be discerned through the fog.  The slender creature wrapped its body around the witch's leg and sunk its venom tipped teeth into the tender skin of her ankle, paralyzing the hag and freeing Merciful from his enchantment.

The witch slumped to the ground, and immediately, the spider appeared, weaving around the horrid woman a net of indestructible webbing.  Merciful stepped easily over the prostrate figure, walking with assurance towards the tiny cottage.

Inside, he found the princess, a young woman of perfect, innocent beauty, chained to the leg of a table, busily peeling potatoes for the witch's supper. 

"Come," he told her, as he freed her from her bindings, "I've come to take you home."

The slain beast was an awkward weight, balanced precariously atop Avarice's shoulders, as the king ascended the steps of his castle.  The potentate was exhausted, weary from his efforts, and uncaring of the trail of blood he left in his wake.  Finally, he reached the sanctuary of his bedroom and slumped into his bed, leaving the carcass of the slain bear in a gory heap on the floor.

Overcome by weariness, Avarice heard the soft promise of "sleep now, you will have your reward when you wake," as he was sucked under by the sweetness of slumber.

Returning to the kingdom, Merciful told the young princess of the fate of her homeland, and was overcome (as is the tendency in stories of this nature) by his sudden and perfect love for the girl.  Side by side, they reached the steps of the castle.

Merciful had begun his ascent of the long staircase when he heard a mournful, faded plea.

"Father, why?" the voice begged.  "Why have you killed me?"

The voice, Merciful noted, seemed to be coming from the drops of blood that coated the steps ahead. 

"Why?" came the anguished, child-like question from each gruesome drop, as Merciful followed the trail they marked, reaching, at its end, the bedroom of his slumbering brother.

The sight that greeted our gentle brother was one he had not imagined, not even in his most horrendous nightmares.  At the foot of the bed, with the mink pelt folded back to reveal the child's face, lay the murdered body of Purity, his brother's only child, while atop the bedding, Avarice was sleeping, his hands and arms covered in his son's blood.

Shocked and sickened, Merciful stepped up to the bed.  In his ears, Purity's tear choked cry echoed over and over again, demanding justice.  When he looked upon the resting body of his brother, he could see only the lifeless eyes of the dead child, the trail of blood that had slicked from the side of the child's mouth, the carnage on the stairs.  Reaching for the knife at his belt, Merciful knew what he had to do.

His brother's eyes snapped open in shock, in pain, and finally, understanding, as Merciful sunk the blade into Avarice's chest and the wicked brother gained his reward. 

So, my diligent readers, our story reaches its end.  Assuredly, "happily ever after" waits in the fate of Merciful and the young princess.  But, as with all proper fairy tales, there is a moral to be decoded, a lesson to be learned from the trials and tribulations of its characters.  That lesson, I will leave to your discovery.
End Chapter 10 (Part 11/29) 
(Author’s note: minor elements of this story have been “borrowed” from the Brothers Grimm.  Fairy tales are f’d up!)

Chapter 11

She was still so tired.  The hoped for revitalization from a shower and a change of clothes had done little to alleviate the fatigue that pulsated quietly behind her eyes.  She had looked longingly on the folded back blankets of her bed at the motel, admiring the crisp neatness left by the housekeeper, imagining the softness of her pillow if she were to rest her head on its inviting surface.

Of course, Scully did not give in to temptation.  Instead, she stood, ramrod straight under the hot tempo of the water in her shower and emerged with muscles only slightly relaxed.  Picking out a change of clothes was a mindless affair.  All of the members of her wardrobe were essentially interchangeable and equally lifeless.  She had only succeeded in a partial drying of her hair before her arm had tired and she put the dryer down, leaving the rest damp.  She applied her make-up with military precision and stark minimalism.

The bullpen, when she reentered the Federal building, was welcome warmth after the growing blizzard on the Buffalo streets.  She had fishtailed twice on the iced over roads, thankfully without incident due to the lack of other drivers.  By the time she slid the rental into a parking space in the government lot, her hands had been shaking slightly on the steering wheel.

Scully peeled her coat from her shoulders, discarded it over the back of a chair, and shivered as a melting bit of snow trickled down her ankle, inside of her boot.

"This is it!"  Mulder exclaimed, from the other side of the room, drawing her attention.  "This is the one!"

When she had left Federal Plaza to return to the motel, Mulder and the rest of the team had been pouring over countless yearbooks from countless towns containing countless faces of countless young boys in an attempt to match a face and a name to the image on their discovered photograph.  Judging by the style of clothing, the picture had been taken sometime during the seventies, and was of a boy in his early teens, matching the suspected age of their murderer.  Following a hunch, Mulder had requested copies of every junior high and high school yearbook from towns within a two hundred mile radius, and the resulting towers of books had swamped the large bullpen, growing still taller as more and more yearbooks were brought in for analysis.

Scully had been encamped at a long table with Agents Williams and Sandborne, discarding book after book, a photocopied image of the clue in hand, as the faces she was examining began to blur, melding into one strange, identical image.  She knew, at that point, that she was no longer of any use to the search and had returned to the motel to change.  She had not even bothered to ask Mulder if he wanted to accompany her.

Now, as other agents began to raise blood-shot eyes from those yearbooks, Mulder stood in front of an isolated desk in the corner of the room where he had been sequestered for the past twelve hours.

Moore had almost reached Mulder's side when Scully began to walk towards her partner.

"That's it," Mulder declared, slamming the book onto the cluttered surface of the desk.  "This is our suspect." 

Under the glow of a desk lamp, as Scully peered past the shoulder of her superior, the face that had graced the stack of papers discovered on the Leeds' countertop stared back at her, smiling, stymied in the awkwardness of early adolescence.  In a column of names that ran parallel to the tiny squares of photographs, the face matched up with a name.

Jacob Childress.


"What do you think it means?"

The road ahead was reduced to a span of visible concrete that extended no more than ten feet in front of their car, the rest having been obscured by a wall of white, as they drove through the blizzard.  Scully had asked the question to take her mind off of the periodic slipping of their tires against the pavement.

"You mean besides the fact that our murderer has an obviously overactive imagination and has read way too much Brothers Grimm?"  Mulder answered.

They were discussing their opponent's "fairy tale."

"There were some obvious symbols," Scully continued.  "Notably, this theme of innocence and evil he seems obsessed by, and he followed typical fairy tale structures.  I think I remember those bits about the black draped buildings and the speaking blood from a story I read back in college."

"What kind of reading were you doing in college, Scully?"  Mulder asked, almost smiling, not taking his eyes from the road.

"That bit with the nine tree branches arranged in a circle is an oblique reference, I think, to Dante's nine circles of hell."  She was looking out the window now, her speech slowed, thinking.

Mulder was quiet beside her.  The windows were fogged.  Scully wiped a hand over the glass, clearing the view, and discovered only darkness beyond.  She couldn't see the side of the road through the storm, and feeling their forward motion while being unable to see evidence of that movement was like rushing through a long, black tunnel towards an unknown destination.  Snow melted against the glass where her hand had been and the window quickly fogged over again.

"I think," Mulder began, "that he pictures himself as Merciful, the brother who, in the end, is rewarded for his good deeds but who also must commit a bloody act in order to set things right."

The windshield wipers pushed back the snow, only to be defeated as more fell in its place.

"And then there is the obvious corollary between the young son in the story and the kidnapped boys, the idea of innocence being slain.  He's already explained to us that he believes innocence to be something sacred, something that we, as a society, have destroyed."  Mulder paused, thinking.  "But there's more in that story than those basic ideas, because we knew all of these things already, and this guy wouldn't be repeating himself for the hell of it.  It has to have something to do with that picture, or he wouldn't have included the two together."

"You don't think it's a separate 'clue' entirely," she asked, using their suspect's word, hating that they were being led like this.

"I don't know," Mulder said, considering.  "I don't think so."

There were two cars ahead of them, one driven by Moore and containing two agents Scully hadn't learned the names of, the other containing Sandborne and Williams.  Looking to the road ahead, Scully could see no evidence of their companions.  Only the light drumming of Mulder's fingers against the steering wheel and the futile efforts of the windshield wipers broke the silence.  Scully leaned back in her seat, closed her eyes, and was instantly devoured by sleep.


Barcelona, New York was roughly sixty miles south west of Buffalo, near the Pennsylvania border and on the shores of Lake Erie.  It was a small, quiet town with tree-lined streets and large open fields.  On the outskirts of town, they passed the high school in question and pulled up to a deserted motel.  Dawn was still several hours away.  The snow had stopped, leaving a fresh eight-inch blanket atop the foundation already in place.  When Scully stepped from the car, she sank into the frozen precipitation all the way to mid calf.

Arguing that nothing, including the high school, would be open for at least another few hours, Moore had squashed Mulder's protests and sent the team to their respective rooms for a brief rest.  Scully had listened to the sounds of Mulder's pacing for a few brief, anxious moments in the room that shared a wall with hers until oblivion mercifully claimed her.  She had not even removed her shoes.

The next sensation she became aware of was a light touch on her arm and someone softly calling her name.

"Go away, Mulder," she slurred, still held captive by sleep. "I'm too tired."

"Come on, Scully." The tone was gentle and the touch was, too.  Her slowly returning consciousness registered the caress and stiffened, snapping her focus into place, sitting her upright in the bed.  When she looked at Mulder, he was standing several steps away.

"Moore wants us all outside in fifteen minutes," he said, looking at her only briefly.

She didn't have time to answer. By the time she'd risen from the bed, he was already gone.


"Are you certain?" 

The secretary tapped one long acrylic nail against her desk blotter and regarded the agents with a level gaze beneath silver eyebrows.

"Agent... Mulder, was it?" The secretary asked.

Mulder nodded.

"Agent Mulder, I've been a secretary at this high school since I got married in 1965.  I've seen thousands of children walk down that hallway."  She gestured with a small wave to the pea green hall beyond.  "And while I'll admit, it would be ridiculous for me to claim I remembered every single one of those faces, I certainly remember Jacob Childress.  You could ask any person who worked here during the time that Jacob attended and they would all be able to remember that name."

"Why?"  Agent Williams interrupted from his position near the door.

"Because of what happened to him," she answered, regarding Williams.

"What happened to him?" Mulder asked.

"He disappeared, Agent Mulder.  From right out of his bedroom in the middle of the night, and they never found any proof of what happened to him."

Scully spoke for the first time during the interview. "They never found him?"

"No, they didn't."

"They didn't just assume he'd run away?" Scully responded.

"Eventually, that's what the investigation concluded," the secretary replied, looking directly at Scully.  "They didn't have evidence to support any other theory, but anyone who knew that boy could tell you the police were wrong to close the investigation.  Jacob Childress was a wonderful child.  He was smart, hard working, used to deliver papers to my house every morning.  He was devoted to his younger brother, and there was never any trouble at home with his parents.  It just wasn't right, saying he had run away.  It didn't make any sense.  He was only fifteen years old.

"If you'll give me a minute," the secretary added, the tapping nail ceasing its motion, "I think I could probably dig up Jacob's file."  She arched an eyebrow in question.

"That would be very helpful," Mulder answered, politely, and the older woman rose from her chair and left the room.

"Mulder, Jacob Childress can't be our suspect if he disappeared twenty-three years ago," Scully said, arms folding across her chest.

"He could if he was a runaway," Williams offered.

Mulder shook his head.  "No," he said.  "Scully's right.  It's not our guy."

Williams looked like he was about to make a further protest until Mulder continued.  "It doesn't add up, especially if what the secretary said about Jacob's home life is true.  Our killer is definitely not the product of a happy home."

"But there is a connection?"  Williams asked, doubtful.

"There has to be," Mulder responded.  "I'm just not sure what it is yet." 

Scully could hear the self-defeat in those words, and she looked up at her partner, caught his eye briefly before he looked away.

"Here you go," the secretary said, walking back into the room, holding a manila folder.  "We have records that go back all the way to the school's first year in 1955.  None of those have been put into the computer, and we keep the old paper records in a room in the back."

She handed the file to Mulder.

"If you don't mind my asking," the secretary continued, "why are you looking into Jacob's disappearance?  It happened a long time ago."

Scully looked at Mulder, who didn't seem prepared to answer.

"We think Jacob might have a connection to a case we're working in Buffalo," Williams offered, somewhat clumsily, an obvious non-answer.

Scully cut off the conversation, "Thank you. You've been very helpful."  She tucked her coat around her body, preparing to leave.

Mulder had already walked out into the hall, and Williams was holding the door open, waiting for Scully, when the secretary spoke again.  "Jacob's parents still live in town," she said, to the backs of the retreating agents.  "His mother goes to my church."

All three agents turned around in unison.

"If you want, I could give you their address."


Henry and Martha Childress had lived in the same house for over thirty years.  It was a post World War II cookie cutter affair, a raised ranch with red clapboard and white trim.  Flower boxes, empty in the winter cold, graced the front of every window.  Carefully pruned shrubs were outlined in snow.  Their mailbox, a colorful, novelty item shaped like a covered wagon, proudly proclaimed "2814, the Childress'" in bright, bold letters.  Their welcome mat actually said, "welcome."

Scully stomped the slush from her boots, mindful of the clean, cream carpeting extending from the foyer.  Martha Childress ushered them into the living room, her hands dusted with baking flour and a lace-edged apron around her abundant middle.  Scully was struck by how utterly out of place four black-clad federal agents looked in such a place.

"I'm sorry," Mrs. Childress apologized, as she stepped over two toy trucks and a Teletubby.  "One of my sons and a few of my grand kids are in town for the weekend."  She spoke to them through the open passageway to the kitchen, sliding a large pan into the oven.  "It's a bit chaotic around here right now."  She spoke with a warm smile, as if chaos was a blessing.  "You all can have a seat."

Moore looked hesitant, eyeing the over-stuffed couches, crowned each by a colorful afghan.  Scully walked over to an armchair, and after shooing away a fat, orange tabby, sank gratefully into the plush cushions.

"Would you like some coffee?" Mrs. Childress asked, still in the kitchen.

"That would be wonderful, thank you," Mulder responded.

In a corner, Wheel of Fortune droned pleasantly from the television, its volume low.  On the wall behind the set, framed photographs of every shape and size were displayed.  Scully rose from her chair, moving to study the pictures.

They were of varying ages.  The largest looked recent, the family all gathered around a dining room table, several adults, both of the grand parents, at least ten grand children, and in front of them a cake that said "Happy 40th Wedding Anniversary."  Many of the pictures were of babies, or toddlers, or were school photos complete with missing front teeth.  Scanning the various generations, Scully came at last to a familiar face.  In the middle row was the unmistakable smiling face of Jacob Childress at fifteen years old.

"Mulder," Scully beckoned.

He moved to stand beside her, carefully outside of her personal space, and bit his lip slightly in consideration when she gestured to the picture.

"I already had a pot going," Mrs. Childress said, as she moved back into the living room laden with a tray and a collection of steaming mugs.  "There's cream and sugar if you want it," she offered, and Scully detected a hint of nervousness in the woman's demeanor, as she settled onto the end of the largest couch.

Absently, Scully picked up a mug, wrapping her hands around its comforting warmth.

"Mrs. Childress, you said your husband would be home soon?"  Moore asked.

"Yes," she answered.  "Henry should be home any minute now."  And after a beat, "Was there anything you needed to ask me.  You said there were some questions you wanted us to answer.  What kind of questions?"

Glances were traded around the group of agents.

Mulder was the first to speak.  "We need to ask you about your son, Mrs. Childress.  We need to ask you about Jacob."


The atmosphere in the car was defeated.  They'd stopped at the police station before heading over to the Childress', searching for information about Jacob's disappearance.  What little they'd found had been very basic.  The investigation had been abandoned early on.  The other agents had been left behind to sift through the files while Mulder, Scully, Moore, and Williams had talked to Henry and Martha Childress.  Unfortunately, that endeavor also proved to be fruitless.

Henry and Martha knew little beyond what the agents had already learned.  Jacob had been a bright boy.  Everyone had loved him.  His family had adored him, and then one night, he was gone.  There were no solid leads, he was never found, and with four other children to raise, eventually, his family had grieved and moved on.

In short, they'd learned nothing more than they'd known after identifying Jacob's face in his 1976 Barcelona High School yearbook.

They were returning to the police station, to see if the other half of their team had discovered anything in the police reports, and if nothing of interest had been found, they were to return to Buffalo later that night.  Moore feared they had been led away from the city on purpose, away from the activities of their suspect.

Unresponsive, Mulder stared out the window of the car as Moore drove.  He would not look at Scully, who sat beside him in the back seat.

Scully closed her eyes.  How many hours of sleep had she managed to catch in the past two nights?  Four?  Five?  She didn't know.  Fatigue had become a constant ache in her muscles, a tightness across her face, a permanent chill.  Clouds were building in the heavens again, foretelling the possibility of another storm.  Scully had begun to hate the snow.

"Stop! Stop the car!"  Mulder, suddenly, screaming.

Williams looked back from the passenger's seat, startled.

"I said stop the car!"  Growing in volume, in mania.

"Mulder, what..." Scully began, as Moore slowed the car, looking in his mirror to stare at Mulder. 

"Agent Mulder, why should I..." Moore started to ask.

"I said stop the fucking car!  Right now!"  Mulder screamed, pounding his fist into the back of Moore's seat, tearing at his seat belt, as Moore slammed on the brakes.

The car stopped, Moore turned in his seat, a vein in his temple throbbing in fury.  "Mulder, you better have a fucking good explanation for ordering me to stop this fucking car in the middle of the forest in the middle of the fucking night."

But Mulder was already gone, out of his seat belt and out of the car, his long legs carrying him into the darkness, back in the direction from which they had come.


He didn't hear her, or didn't care, and Scully was scrambling at her own restraints, at the handle of her own door, before following him into the night.

"Mulder wait," she screamed, but he didn't stop, and in the darkness, she couldn't even see him.  Frantically, she pulled her pocket flashlight from her coat, almost dropping it as she ran, its feeble beam doing little against the perfect night.


Running blindly, the weak fissure of light sliced a white arch along the pavement, and the dark presence of shadowed trees hovered along both sides of the highway.

"Mulder, where are you!"

The forest was quiet, with only the sound of wind in the trees, Scully's harsh footfalls on asphalt, and her rapid breathing, echoing loudly in her ears.

"Mulder, please!"

Until, suddenly, he was there.  She ran right into him, and he was frozen, silent, staring into the trees ahead.

"Mulder, what the hell?"

"It's here, Scully. Look," he said, foreboding and grim.

Still breathing heavily, she quelled her impatience and looked into the trees.

"Mulder, I don't..."

At first, she saw nothing.  The forest along the side of the road was a vast, black canvas broken only by the faint shadows of trees.  Then the clouds drifted away from their position covering the moon, pale, silver light filtered down from the heavens, and ahead in the trees, Scully saw something that made her breath catch in her throat.

Standing back from the road, surrounded by smaller trees, stood a gigantic oak.  Its massive trunk was at least twenty feet around.  It grew, straight and colossal until being split at about twice Mulder's height into a circle of nine tall, twisting branches.

End Chapter 11 (Part 12/29)

Chapter 12

"Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intarte." Mulder whispered the words that were engraved crudely in the thick, moss covered bark of the tree.

"Abandon all hope, ye who enter here," Scully translated.

"You were right, Scully," Mulder said, somberly.

The various other inscriptions adorning the tree ruined the proclamation somehow.  Hewn into the rough wood were phrases like "KL wuz here" and "for a good time call Sandra," followed by, presumably, Sandra's phone number.  Round and round the carvings went.  Stepping closer to the tree, Scully found a Pink Floyd lyric inscribed near the base.

The other members of their small team had joined them in the forest.

"At least it's not the Grateful Dead," Williams commented, reading over Scully's shoulder.

"Hey, don't knock the Dead," she could hear Sandborne reply, indignantly, from a few steps away.

"Jerry's gone, Pete, get over it," Williams quipped, grinning only slightly, his tone subdued in the dark quiet.

The wind plastered Scully's trench against her back and legs, infusing her bones with ice.  Whatever this place was, it was far too cold to be hell.  Several decades’ worth of broken beer bottles in varying hues littered the ground, crunching intermittently beneath their feet, visible where the ground was protected from the blanket of snow by the sheltering branches of the tree.  It was a veritable monument to under-age alcohol consumption.

"We had a place like this where I grew up," Williams commented, following Scully as she made her way around the tree, "except it was under an old train trestle."  He stopped and nudged at some of the newer debris with the toe of his shoe.  "Shlitz."  He made a disgusted sound in his throat.  "God, kids still drink that shit?"

Scully almost smiled.

Only faint traces of moonlight penetrated the dense canopy of trees, and the darkness was a weight, pressing down upon the frozen ground.  The night wind, wet with snow, howled through the black, and even with several flashlights in attendance, Scully felt blinded.  She jumped when she felt a hand on her shoulder.

"Agent Scully," Moore said, emerging from the darkness behind her.

She caught her breath with a shiver, more unnerved in this place than she usually allowed herself to become.

"I'm sorry," Moore apologized.  "I didn't mean to startle you."

She didn't say anything, and Moore joined her in contemplation of the deeply etched letters on the trunk of the tree.

"Dante, right?" Moore asked.

Scully nodded and then shivered violently, clasping her arms around her waist in an effort to conserve warmth.  She did not see the look of concern that flashed across Moore's face as he regarded her.

"The engravings aren't new," Scully observed, her voice determined against the cold.  "In fact, they look considerably older than many of these other engravings."

"So it isn't our guy?" asked Moore.  From Scully's small look of surprise, he added, "I caught the reference in the story, too."

Scully blinked, considering.  "I don't know," she hedged.  Her mind felt sluggish, smothered by ice.  The inscriptions appeared too old to be of any significance, but if coincidences were just coincidences... She looked off into the dark morass of trees and saw a faint light moving away from the team.

"Agent Scully?"  Moore asked, surprised, as Scully walked away from the tree and towards the light.

She didn’t answer him.

The large tree had been in the center of a small clearing, but as Scully moved deeper into the forest, the trees closed around her like menacing hands, their branches reaching down to graze her hair and brush her arms.  Her gun had found its way into her gloved hand, but she followed the light based on recognition, not suspicion.  She knew who had wandered off into the woods alone.

"Mulder?" she called, not yelling for some reason, as if there was a need to preserve the quiet of this place.

There was no answer, and she moved forward warily, reminded of Hansel and Gretel in the witch's wood, but with no breadcrumbs to mark her way.  Twigs snapped beneath her boots, and her toes were numb.

"Mulder?" she called again, agitated, as the light ahead of her played hide and seek, winking out of sight occasionally amidst the trees.

After a few more steps, the trees cleared again, and twenty feet ahead of her, Scully's partner stood, still and silent in the night. Ahead of him, it was obvious what had caught his attention.  Scully walked to stand beside him.

Seeming an extension of the ground it sat upon, the rotting specter of an old church crouched in the darkness.  Decaying boards peeled away from its skeleton like skin, and one side appeared ravaged by fire.  Planks over the windows had been torn down in some places.  As Scully followed her partner closer to the building, she stepped over a faded sign that warned "Condemned. Do Not Enter."  Disregarding the warning, Scully positioned herself outside of the main doorway opposite Mulder.  She could barely see him in the darkness, and when she looked up at him before they opened the doors, she could not find his eyes.

The tall oak doors were soft with rot, their hinges nearly immovable with rust.  It took both partners leaning their full weight upon the doors before they opened.  Dust showered down from the braces, as the hinges finally screamed to life.  Stepping into the ancient structure, the stench of mildew and rotted wood was heavy in the air, and the darkness was nearly impenetrable.

In the brilliant arc of light cast by Mulder's flashlight, two short rows of pews revealed themselves, separated by a center aisle.  A hole in the roof, likely created by a large branch that was crashed across several pews, had allowed leaves and other debris to fall into the building.  At the end of the short aisle, the lonely adornment of a crucifix presided over what must once have been the pulpit.

Scully walked over fragile floorboards to a small alcove along the wall.  Raising her flashlight to investigate, she let out an involuntary scream when a black, indistinguishable mass descended from the ceiling.  Claws caught in her hair, shrill squeaking noises near her face, and she flailed, dropping her flashlight with a clatter to the floor, as she fought to calm herself.  Mulder was at her side within moments, his hand on her arm, his voice hasty and calming.

"Bats, Scully. They're just bats."

His hand was gone as quickly as he had placed it there.

Her breathing was rapid.  She took several deep breaths and smoothed her hair down in a calming, self-conscious reflex, glancing about nervously.  "What are we doing in here, Mulder?" she finally asked.

He gave her a blank look.  "What do you mean, what are we doing in here?"

"I mean," she clarified, "that it's freezing out here, that the inscriptions on that tree are twenty years old, if they're a day, and that we have no reason to believe the tree isn't a coincidence to begin with."  As if to reinforce her point, she started shaking again from the cold.  She was being argumentative, she knew, but she was tired, so very tired, and couldn't clearly remember what it felt like to be warm.

"To say nothing of the fact," she continued "that you still haven't bothered to explain to me what that conversation with Madeline Oliver was all about."

Tired of being unable to see his eyes, Scully raised her flashlight to Mulder's face, causing him to flinch under the light.  He appeared ghostlike in the eerie illumination.  As she waited for an answer, he turned away from her and walked towards the crucifix.

"Mulder?" she called after him, her irritation growing.

With his back to her, his voice was almost lost in the darkness.  "Madeline Oliver cheated on her husband, Scully."

She picked her flashlight from the ground, brushing some of the dust, dirt, and melting snow from her sleeves. 

"So," she challenged.

"So did Roberta Hausner," he added.

Scully walked up the aisle and towards her partner.  Mulder was standing, facing the giant crucifix.  Christ, in his agony, stared down on the partners with sightless eyes.

"So did my mother, Scully," he added finally, quietly.

She didn't know what to say. She knew Mulder's suspicions about his paternity.

"He said I have something in common with these children, Scully.  He keeps saying that."

"Mulder," she said, not sure where to begin.  "This man is deranged.  He hunts little boys and calls it necessary.  He's picked you out as a target, and you're allowing it.  You're allowing him to play on your guilt and weakness, and you're seeing things that aren't really there.  You're letting him win, Mulder, letting him draw you into this sick game of his."

And you do this every time, she almost added.  Every time, you open the door to these monsters, invite them in, and almost lose yourself in the process.  She didn't say these things, but they were present in the tired repetitiveness of her previous words.  They were present in her knowledge that Mulder had heard her say these things before.

"This man may be many things, Scully," Mulder said, coldly, turning to face her, "but he is not deranged.  In fact, I'd say he's quite sane.  He wouldn't be able to elude us so flawlessly if he were insane.  His actions are too calculated, too careful to be those of a crazy man.  His beliefs may be twisted, this purpose he sees himself imbued with may be evil, but his mind is rational, intact."

"But those families, Mulder," she argued, "you're only talking about two cases.  Two out of six."

"We don't know that the other families don't have the same type of history, Scully."

"And we don't know that they do.  In fact, according to the reports I've read, the Deary's had a stable, loving relationship.  Alan Crane was still mourning the loss of his wife."

"Which tells us nothing," Mulder said, turning away from Scully once again.

"Mulder, you're making this personal.  You're jumping to conclusions that require much more in-depth investigation before being made, and you're allowing your sense of betrayal at your mother's deception to fuel this hell bent self-destructive pursuit of yours."

He didn't turn around and he didn't respond.

Scully felt foolish, somehow, cast out without audience, ignored.  "If you look too hard Mulder, you're going to see things that aren't really there," she offered, weakly, not sure why she felt almost frightened by this conversation.

Frustrated, she walked past Mulder and up into the pulpit to stand before the crucifix.  Her eyes were drawn to Christ's feet, lifelike and mangled with trails of blood streaming from where the nails punctured the flesh.  She'd been morbidly fascinated by that image as a child, that vision of torment and violence.  It had awed and repulsed her at the same time.  Such tremendous sacrifice, and she'd feared herself unworthy.  Even now, as an adult, the depth of that sacrifice had the power to awe her, and she had endeavored with the decisions she'd made in her life to make herself worthy.

Leaning forward, something unusual caught her eye.  On the wall beneath the crucifix, so small she would have missed it had she not been directly studying the object, several words were engraved.  Kneeling, she had to peer carefully to make them out.  The writing was crude, like graffiti, but the words were familiar.

<I wailed not, so of stone I grew within.>

More Dante.  She'd studied the Divine Comedy as an undergrad, fulfilling a literature requirement.  Like everything else she'd studied, it had stuck, her memory filing away phrases and translations that she could recall to this day.  As a catholic, the poetry held a special allure.  It was a creative, beautifully written description of the afterlife, intricately detailed.  It had fascinated her.

It was another coincidence.  Something nagged in the recesses of her consciousness.  Her eyes scanned the wall around the words, following it down to the floor.  Standing up, she turned around, looking at the floor.  She took a few steps back, and the rotted floorboards wobbled beneath her feet.  Something was there, near her feet.  She sank down to her knees again.

<In His will is our peace.>

"Scully?" Mulder was standing behind her.

"In la sua volontade e nostra pace," she whispered.

"Scully?" Concern and puzzlement in his voice.

"More Dante," she said, distant, running her fingers over the words.

Mulder squatted beside her and caught her eyes.  "What are you talking about, Scully?"

"Here," she explained, gesturing to the words on the floor, "and on the wall." She pointed to the inscription below the crucifix.

Mulder got up and walked over to the wall, finding and staring at the words.

Scully looked back down at the floor, rocking forward on her feet, and the floorboards wobbled again.  They were loose.  She peeled off her gloves. "Mulder..."

He turned around.

Scully traced the edge of the floorboard with her fingertips, finding a dent along the side.  She pushed her fingers into the space, prying, and the board gave, lifting up with the sound of splintering wood.  Only a few flimsy tacks held the board to the floor.

"Mulder, help me."

At first, Mulder seemed confused by her request, but she continued to pull up the loose floorboards.  After a moment, he began to help.  The boards came up in long strips.  The tacks were not the usual, durable nails that held down the rest of the flooring.  Dust filled the air, and splinters wedged themselves painfully under Scully's skin.  She moved frantically, not looking up at Mulder, as the crawl space beneath the floor revealed itself, filled with dirt.  Mulder was the one who began to dig the dirt away.

Scully watched, already knowing, dreading, as the first of the bones became visible.  When Mulder stopped and looked up at her, the only sound she could hear was the hollow wail of the wind in the trees outside.


Ahead of her, the blaze from newly erected spotlights reflected off the snow-whitened earth, casting fingers of deep shadow beneath the branches of frozen trees.  Other agents, fueled by purpose, strode across her line of sight, engaged in various activities.  Their small team had blossomed into countless others, even in the middle of the night.

Scully cranked the controls on the car's heater up a notch.

The Buffalo field office had been contacted immediately, agents had been pulled from their beds, and at two o'clock in the morning, a full-scale forensic assault was being waged in the unforgiving winter wilderness.

The blast of hot air against her face made her cheeks tingle, and she held her fingers up to the vent, wincing as her dry skin cracked from the cold.

The deserted church was now a hive of activity.  The body they'd discovered was still surrounded by the forensic team.  They wouldn't be done for hours.  Mulder, she also knew, was still presiding over the entire affair, refusing to leave, lips practically blue, eyes shrouded by black shadows.  After they'd brushed the dirt from the top of the skull, Scully had pulled her gloves back on over bleeding fingers and sought the sanctuary of their car.

The passenger's side door opened, admitting a torrent of icy air.  "It's too damn cold out there,"  Moore said, as he huddled into the seat, rubbing his hands together.

Scully looked at him blankly.

"I tried to get you partner to come in from the cold for a little while," he continued, "but he wouldn't listen to reason."

Moore reached into his pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes.  He pushed the car lighter in to heat it up.  Seeming to remember the need for courtesy, his look towards Scully was a question.  She shrugged, and when the lighter popped out, he lit the cigarette and took a deep drag.  His exhale sounded filled with relief.

Scully had smoked as a means of rebellion in high school and as a method for relieving stress in college.  She'd quit the night she'd autopsied a cancer-infested lung for the fist time, and with only a few, scattered exceptions, had never taken up the habit again.  Tonight, surrounded by ice and death and exhaustion, she felt the stirring of craving for the first time in many long years.  Mulder wasn't going to find out.  He wasn't likely to move from the church until the entire body had been exhumed, carted off, identified, and given a proper burial.

Annoyed that she'd even considered Mulder's reaction to begin with, Scully turned to Moore.  "Can I have one of those?"

He looked surprised but handed her a cigarette without comment.

When she pulled out the lighter, she felt a moment of hesitation.  As she held it to the cigarette, watched the tip start to glow, and inhaled, she lost that hesitation amidst the rush of nicotine hitting her brain.  She coughed.

Moore looked over at her, amused.

After sitting in silence for a few minutes, Moore spoke.  "I feel," he began, "that I owe you and your partner an apology."

Scully looked out the window, feeling artificially alert and yet subdued by the cigarette.

Moore continued.  "I judged the two of you too quickly, and I'm sorry for that."  He seemed unsure of himself.

"Thank you," Scully said softly, turning to face her superior.

Moore smiled, catching Scully's gaze for a moment before turning away.  Her respect for Moore had increased with those words.  He wasn't apologizing because he felt it a duty.  He was apologizing because he knew he had been wrong and he wanted to make amends.  Looking through the windshield, a light snow had begun to fall, and in the brilliant illumination cast by the spotlights, it was beautiful.

After several more moments, Moore asked, "how long have you and Agent Mulder been partners?"

She felt herself flinch inwardly at the question.  She closed her eyes for a brief instant.  She wanted her words to be toneless, emotionless.

"Six years," she responded.

"Wow," Moore said, impressed.  "That's a long time.  That's rare."

It was.  She knew.  She simply nodded, watching the slow descent of the flakes outside.

"Has he always been this," Moore seemed to struggle for the right word, "focused?"

Scully wanted to laugh, but the pain in her chest swallowed the sound. "Not always."

Moore stubbed out his cigarette.  His tone was one of frank, honest admiration.  "He has a gift.  I don't think I've ever seen anything like it."

The words husked out over the pain.  "Yes," Scully agreed.  "He does."

Moore's next comments held a note of personal suffering.  "You two are lucky, to have someone around who understands what you do."  He fumbled with the gold band on his left ring finger, a nervous habit of his she had noticed.

Scully wondered what history tainted those words, but she could not bring herself to ask.  Fatigue burned behind her eyes, and the cigarette she held unfinished in her hand was making her nauseous.  Ash fell unnoticed to singe the carpeting.  Moore's words tore at barely hidden wounds.  Scully, ashamed, wanted to hide.

There was the rap of knuckles against Moore's window.  He opened it, letting light wisps of snow drift in to melt against Scully's warmed cheeks.  Another agent stood outside in the night.

"We need you out here for a minute, sir," the agent said.

"I'll be right out."

Scully squashed her cigarette in the ashtray.  "If it's all right with you, sir, I think I'm going to head back to the motel."

She could feel Moore regarding her, as she held her hand over the keys in the ignition.

"Yes, of course, that's fine."  He paused.  "Agent Scully," he sounded hesitant, "are you all right?"

He was genuinely concerned, and that concern threatened to further shred her already battered defenses.  She did not look up.  She turned the keys and brought the engine to life.

"I'm fine, sir.  Thank you."

The traditional excuse sounded feeble to her ears, and she hoped that Moore would interpret it as mere exhaustion.  She hoped that she could appear as infallible as she always feared she could never be.


Sleep came in drifting snatches of unease.  Her dreams escaped her upon the moment of waking, and their ephemeral ghosts lingered over her in the dim wakefulness she suffered before falling back to sleep again.  She had removed shoes, socks, holster, and bra before collapsing to the bed.  Curled in upon herself, she'd pulled the covers over aching bones and had shivered herself to sleep.  She had been resting for barely two hours when she heard the knock at the door.

Caught in the trance of half-sleep, she stumbled from the bed, pushed the hair from her eyes, and stood on bare feet in front of her motel room door.

"Who is it," she demanded, voice raspy with sleep.

The reply she received from the other side forced her fully awake, and her fingers trembled not from cold, as she reached up to disengage the lock.

"It's Mulder."

End Chapter 12 (part 13/29)

Chapter 13

"What are you doing here?" Scully asked, her voice weary and defensive.

Mulder stood on the walkway beyond her door, icy sleet running from his hair, his coat unbuttoned, eyes hollow.  Cold wind swept through the room.  Scully felt small and vulnerable in her bare feet.

"Can I come in for a second?" he asked, careful and quiet.

She studied him for a moment, hating that she hesitated, but hesitating, nonetheless.  His skin was the white of freshly fallen snow.  He had to be freezing.  Acquiescing, she stepped back from the door.  He walked into her room and stood facing away from her in the center of the carpet.  Scully moved to switch on the bedside lamp.  The darkness hid too many things.

Watching his motionless form, she saw him drag in a trembling breath.  Water dripped from his hair and down to the carpet.  Without saying a word or casting a look in his direction, Scully walked into her bathroom, retrieved a towel, and handed it to Mulder.  He took it from her with eyes downcast, the curve of his lashes a dark comma against his pale flesh.

She moved away from him, as he raised the towel to his head and roughly scrubbed the water away.  When he was done, his hair poked out in a million different directions, still mangled by that ghastly haircut.  It was a look she found endearing, even amidst this pained awkwardness.

Silence blanketed them both, and Scully felt cold and clammy.  She wanted to take a long, hot, forgetful shower.  Mulder's shoes had left a trail of muddy footprints across the drab motel carpeting.  She would have scolded him for that once.

"It's Jacob Childress," Mulder said, suddenly, shortly, final and filled with dread.

Scully stumbled over dangerous emotions. "How... how do you know that?"

He did not look at her.  The towel dangled from his hand.  "I just know."

He did, and she did, too.  She did not want to know.

"We'll need Jacob's dental records before we can confirm anything," she cautioned, lamely.

His voice was lifeless.  "Yes, we will."

She wondered how the years had brought them to this place.  Were they solely to blame?  Could they have avoided it?  Or had the accumulated sorrows of their life together finally tipped their precarious balance.  She felt stymied and impotent, powerless to sift through the depths of blame and resentment, the conversations they'd never had.  How could she explain to him now, after all of these years?  How could he?  They'd bound themselves together with chains of shared sorrow and purpose, and the little milestones of a forming connection had never occurred between them.  She could not leave him, yet sometimes, she felt that she could not stay, that she should not.

They'd sacrificed their connection upon a pyre of words, both said and unsaid, and in the process, had forgotten how to speak.  They'd not always been this way.  How could they be expected to rebuild their partnership out of nothing more than ashes?

"How can there possibly be a connection between Jacob and these kidnapings, Mulder?" she asked, her voice rough.  "Jacob Childress disappeared twenty-three years ago.  Our suspect would have barely been a teenager, at least according to your profile."  In her mind, Scully could see the tear-stained cheeks of Martha Childress, the resignation, the fierce determination, and the love for a child she had lost almost a quarter century before.

Mulder's shoulders sagged.  He turned and slumped into the armchair across from her bed.  "I don't know.  I don't know the connection yet."  He paused.  "But there is one, and it's important.  It's very important."

Mulder closed his eyes, and Scully stood ten feet away, unable to move.  The collar of his shirt was wet.  His tie was missing.  His pant legs were covered with wet mud.  She missed him.  She missed him so much.

She walked to stand before him, touched his hand gently.  "Mulder, you need sleep."

His eyes remained closed.

"Mulder, it's late."

He was awake, she knew.  Countless nights together, and she knew the patterns of his breathing better than her own.  He opened his eyes and regarded her, unspeaking.  Suddenly, he reached out and clasped cold fingers around the hand she had removed from his.  Neither spoke.  They stared at one another.

"Scully."  It was not a question.  It was a statement.

What would it be like to sleep in his arms, she wondered?  To wake there?  Could he, with his strong arms and familiar, cherished presence, ease this persistent ache that she felt?  Could she ease him?  Her heart was breaking, because she feared she might never know those answers now.

Her muscles tensed, and she tried to move away.  His hold on her hand was too strong.

"Mulder," she warned, "I think you should go now."

"Scully," he said again, and his voice broke on her name, tears choking the sound.

He pulled and she followed.  Opposites attract.  She had always followed him, as a compass towards true north, even when she knew that she should not.  He pulled, and she was weak, she folded, falling to her knees, a supplicant.  His hands slid up to frame her face, watching her with haunted eyes.

"Mulder, please," she pleaded, as she felt her eyes fill with tears, felt one slide down and over her cheek.

When he spoke, he sounded lost, bereft.  "I'm losing you, aren't I?" 

She felt as if there should be some physical manifestation of the pain she was feeling.  She could not answer him.  They were losing each other.  She closed her eyes, and two more tears slipped away.

He touched his forehead to hers.  "I can't lose you, Scully.  I can't."  He was crying, the sound strangling his words, shortening his breath.  "I can't lose you."

She was caught up in the tidal wave of his familiar scent.  Rain and sweat and fatigue, the barest hint of faded after-shave.  She didn't want to leave him.  She wanted all of the comfort and reassurances that his presence promised.  Even though she'd never wanted his protection, she'd always known he'd give it, that he gave it, without her ever voicing a need.  She wanted nothing but the feel of his rumpled work shirt beneath her cheek, the wide breadth of his chest, the sound of his heartbeat.  Please, she thought, desperately, don't make me leave him.

The touch of his lips to hers was different than the last time.  That time had been fueled by desperation.  This time it was fueled by fear.

His lips were damp with tears, pulling at hers, begging her not to abandon him.  She opened to him on a soft, desperate cry, not able to recognize the sound as one she was capable of making.  Her arms hung at her sides, fists clenched.  She could not touch him.  His fingers moved from her face to comb roughly through her hair, to pull her closer, and she stumbled.  Unbalanced, she tottered forward and into him, fingers scrambling against his forearms.

This was as much her fault as his.  She had followed him to this place.  She was kissing him back.  She did not protest, did not even try.  He was warm.  In this place of constant cold, he was heat.  The stroke of his tongue against her own was life amidst too much death.

She leaned roughly against him, and she could feel him shaking where their bodies touched.  They rose in unison, one of Mulder's hands sliding to grip her waist, the other anchoring her mouth to his with fingers splayed across the nape of her neck.  A clumsy tango was enacted as they stumbled back the few steps necessary to fall upon her bed.

It was too much, his warmth, his scent, the roughness of his fingers as they pushed beneath her blouse to skitter across her belly.  The memories descended without mercy.  He closed one warm hand around her breast, and she could remember, before, his teeth grazing her there.  She slid buttons free on his shirt, felt the life in him as his muscles clenched under her touch, and she could remember the feel of him within her.  Raw and deep, and it had been Mulder touching her that way, knowing her in that way; and it had destroyed her.

How had she forgotten?  How had she pushed all of those memories beneath the granite of her self-control?  The sensations tore across her awareness now. The moment as he had broken within her, his warmth flooding her, and she had mourned, because it had been over, and it could never be taken back.  The way her spirit had escaped her, crying out, writhing -- things she did not do -- and it had all been too primal, too earthly.  She had disconnected herself from the gritty reality of the flesh for far too long, and she could not remember herself that way, had been shocked to discover Mulder in that way.

It had been as if she had been living in the warm darkness of a dream, only to be torn forcefully into the screaming light of day, terrified at the reality she was not ready to confront.

Now was Mulder murmuring her name against her neck, his tears dampening her skin, now was his arms holding her tightly, her bare chest flush with his, feeling him breathe.

"You're all I have," he whispered desperately.  Her carotid artery throbbed against his lips.

She knew this.  She knew.  That was the problem.  She had never wanted to become the center of his world.  She did not want to be his reason for living.  She knew that he would die without her.  It was a burden, a terrible responsibility she had never asked for.

Her skirt had ridden up, and his fingers stroked slowly along her thigh, venturing higher with each pass.  Powerless against her body's intentions, her legs fell open without her permission.  The press of him against her there flooded her with heat that was drowning.

They rolled, his arms pulling her atop him.  With her skirt scrunched around her waist, she straddled him.  The contact was bright, shocking.  He groaned against her throat, and then looked up.  Their eyes locked.  Their bodies went still. 

These were the eyes of her partner, her companion for the past six years.  They had looked on her with compassion, sorrow, anger, and love.  She knew these eyes, and when they locked with hers, she was staring into the soul of the man she had grown to love, unclouded by the mindless haze of lust they had allowed themselves to be consumed by.  His cheeks were tear-stained, his eyes red-rimmed.  Her eyes were sticky with her own tears.

What were they sacrificing here?

She couldn't think.  Her head felt heavy, her limbs leaden.  Mulder rolled abruptly away from her before she could form a coherent thought, dumping her gracelessly onto the bed.  Stunned, Scully pulled the sides of her blouse together.  Across the room, Mulder's bare chest rose and fell in heavy, labored breaths.  He stared at her with wild eyes.

"Scully, I..."

She pulled absently at the hem of her skirt, trying to smooth it back over her hips.

This thing between them was so dangerous. It would be easy, too easy, to succumb to the look in his eyes, the look she knew was in her own eyes.  This had always existed as a possibility between them.  They had always known it.  They had fought it, fought against each other and themselves for years.  Perhaps it was fighting this that had driven some of the distance between them.  Perhaps that had nothing to do with it at all.

Outside, the wind rattled the glass, a terrible beast seeking entry.

"Scully," he tried again. "I'm sorry."

But he had nothing to be sorry about.  As terrible an idea as this was, as many issues as lay unresolved between them, she had wanted him.  She wanted him still. This was a truth she was finally starting to see.  She pulled herself up from the bed, started to walk towards him.

"No. Scully, stop."  His voice was rough.  "I... I just can't have you near me right now," he apologized.

She understood. 

"I think I should leave," he said.

She could feel tears building again in her eyes.  She nodded faintly.  She would not let him see her cry.

A week ago they had crossed a line she had despaired of their ever crossing, and they had done it in such a way that it had left her feeling angry and alone.  She did not know if she was ready for this, didn't really know if she would ever be.  More importantly, she didn't know if Mulder was ready.  Not that long ago, she had fumed with jealousy over the reappearance of Diana Fowley in his life.  Lately, he seemed more frustrated than ever by her inability to believe, unable to understand that after everything she had lost and sacrificed to this crusade, her faith in science and her need for proof were the only things she had left to hold on to.  The X-Files were gone, raped and pillaged in this constant war they were fighting.  A fate more hideous than anything she could have imagined in her most twisted nightmares lay waiting for the entire planet, just over the horizon.  At night, she sat up unable to sleep, filled with an unnamable dread.

She had thought, had hoped, that they would be able to bury this mistake between them.  She had been wrong.  Mulder, standing a few steps away, looking at her as if his world were burning, was proof enough of this fact.

She watched him as he gathered his clothes together, as he slid back into his wrinkled shirt and soiled jacket.  She watched as he walked slowly to her door. She watched as he paused in the open doorway and regarded her with depthless eyes.  She watched as he turned from her and walked away.

They needed to fix this, somehow.  Only, here, in this place, under these circumstances, it was not possible.  She was terrified that by the time they were able to confront what was happening between them, it would be too late.


Jacob Andrew Childress had been fifteen years old at the time of his death.  Dental records showed the presence of a small filling in the right upper bicuspid and a congenitally missing adult molar.  As a result, the baby tooth had never fallen out.  Both anomalies matched the teeth of the skeleton found beneath the flooring of the abandoned church.  Further evidence of the body's identity was discovered in a healed fracture along the child's left femur.  The year before his disappearance, Jacob Childress had suffered a bad fall on his first ski trip to Vermont with his parents.  He'd worn a cast for six weeks, and it had been covered with scrawled signatures by the time it was removed.  Afterwards, he'd kept the cast as a memento, much to his mother's dismay.

Scully smoothed her fingers over the pages in the file, wishing it weren't true, wishing she didn't have to drag this family back into the grief they had managed to recover from twenty-three years ago.  Across from Scully in the living room, Henry Childress held the hand of his wife, who cried quietly as she regarded the agents. 

"We knew," Henry Childress said, softly.  "In our hearts, we knew almost right away.  We held a memorial service five years after he disappeared, but we'd known for a while before that point.  We could feel that he was gone."

Martha Childress nodded and sniffed into a tissue.  A fat orange cat, sensing her discomfort, jumped up into her lap.  She stroked its fur with shaking fingers.

Scully sat in the same chair she'd occupied on their last visit, holding an untouched mug of coffee.  Her stomach felt filled with acid.  Across the room, Moore stood stiffly near the fireplace.  He'd accompanied Scully and Mulder on their trip to inform the Childresses of their son's fate.

"Mr. Childress, I don't quite know how to ask you this," Mulder started, sitting in another chair angled to face the couple.  "It's a difficult question, and I want the two of you to know that I wouldn't be asking if I didn't think the answer was very important to what may have happened to your son."

Scully and Moore exchanged a look; Moore seemed perplexed by Mulder's turn in conversation, while Scully had a feeling she knew where this was headed.

The look on Henry Childress' face was wary and expectant.

Mulder's tone was careful.  "Has you or your wife, in the history of your marriage, ever been involved in an extra-marital affair?"

Scully glanced quickly at Moore.  He was shocked and looked ready to put an end to Mulder's questions.  Apparently, Mulder had told him nothing of his suspicions.

Martha Childress looked as if she had seen a ghost.

"We haven't spoken of that in years," Henry stammered, obviously shaken.  "It happened so long ago."

Scully could feel herself becoming more alert, sitting up straighter in her seat.  Mulder became more animated, too, restraining himself by obvious force of will.

"What happened?" Mulder asked, no trace of anxiety revealed by his words.

Martha was staring into her lap, concentrating on the cat.

"I'd really like to know what this has to do with our son," Henry stated defensively.

Mulder replied, "We're not entirely sure of the connection yet, but your son's death may be related to a series of kidnappings; kidnappings with a pattern of extra-marital affairs within the families."

That was over-stating things, Scully thought.

Moore's lips were drawn into a tight, perplexed frown.

Martha interrupted, her voice small.  "Related how?"

"We're not sure yet," Mulder replied honestly.

"Martha, you don't have to..." Henry tried to caution his wife.

"But it might help you figure out who did this to Jacob?" Martha asked Mulder, ignoring her husband's warning.

"It might," Mulder agreed.

She seemed to consider this, continuing to stroke the cat absently.  Its enthusiastic purring could be heard from where Scully sat.

"I had an affair," Martha admitted bluntly.  "It happened a long time ago.  I told Henry about it afterwards, and he forgave me.  It was stupid and I regretted it.  I still regret the pain it caused our family."

Henry had moved a hand to rub his wife's shoulders, supportive of her in her admission.

"I was in the Air Force," Henry explained.  "I was away for long periods of time.  Martha didn't have to tell me about the relationship.  I would never have found out on my own."

Mulder was contemplative, gnawing gently on his lower lip.  "Do you remember the name of the man you had the affair with, Mrs. Childress?" he asked.

The question was clearly upsetting, neither spouse seeming willing to dredge up this part of their past.  "His name was Adam Hathaway," Martha whispered.

"How did you two meet?"

Martha sighed in defeat, her lips trembling.  "At work. I was a secretary, and he was a client of my employer.  I'm not sure exactly what kind of work he was involved in."  Her voice dropped even lower.  "It was a short acquaintance."

Henry had stopped watching the exchange and was looking, stone faced, through the large living room window.

"And how long ago was this?"

"I'm not sure," Martha stammered.  "We had been married almost fifteen years, I think.  So that would have been around 1971."

"Which would have made Jacob ten years old or so at the time?"

"Yes.  That sounds about right."

Mulder stood up.  "Thank you both for your time," he said.  "We'll contact you as soon as we know anything."

Scully hurriedly placed her coffee on the small table.  Moore followed after Mulder with a scowl on his face.  Pausing at the door, Scully looked back at Martha and Henry as they escorted the agents from the house.  She handed them one of her cards.

When Scully looked back at the house from the iced over walkway, she could see the couple leaning into one another for support, Henry's arm curved around his wife.
End chapter 13 (part 14/29)

Chapter 14

The bottom of the tub was like ice.  Her hair plastered itself to the cold tile wall where her cheek rested against the slick surface.  Arms like a vice around her waist, she shuddered in time to the pounding of hot water upon her back, desperate for warmth.

Scully did not know which frightened her more, that she had become so dangerously emotional, or that these emotions were so foreign and upsetting to her.  There had been a wall of perfect silence she had surrounded herself with in these past several years.  It had protected her.  Behind it she had hidden the things that she had felt no horror could ever destroy -- the sound of her father's voice when he read to her, her mother's sugar cookies, her faith in God, Mulder's gentle smile.  She had retreated to its comforting embrace to rebuild and regroup after countless horrors.  Time and again it had given her strength to keep moving, had forbidden her to forget that there were points of light in this dark world.  That silence, which had once sustained her, seemed now filled with noise. 

The water was growing cold.  She shut off the tap and stepped out into the steam filled bathroom.  She wrapped a towel around her shuddering shoulders.

So many pieces of Mulder had gone to build that quiet place.  His love and concern, his brazen fortitude, his child-like perseverance and belief, his chivalry, his sad eyes, the way he sometimes said her name.  She had never told him that she had been quietly hoarding pieces of him within her.  His violent intrusion on the night after the warehouse had shattered that place.

She moved into the bedroom in search of the clothes she had lain out precisely on the bed and found Mulder seated beside them.  His head was down.  He did not speak.

"I didn't hear you knock," she finally said, lamely, harsher than she had intended.

"I didn't," he responded.

Unsure of how to react, she stood motionless for several seconds.  Cold water shivered down from her hair, propelling her into action.

"Mulder, I need to get dressed."

He did not reply.

"Mulder," her tone was impatient.

He looked up eventually, severing her impatience.  "I got a phone call."

'So what,' she almost said.  'Leave me alone. I'm cold.'  But the look of dread on his face forestalled her words.  Her skin felt suddenly crawling.  She did not want to ask.


"A few minutes ago," he said, the words dead sounding, hollow.  "I almost didn't come up here."

Scully walked slowly over to the bed, picked up her clothes without looking at Mulder, knowing he did not look at her.

She retreated to the bathroom before she responded, needing to cover herself before she could face this.  "I don't understand," she answered around the half-closed door, hastily pulling on a pair of jeans and a sweater.  "You weren't going to tell me?"

Mulder didn't answer.

She tugged her wet hair into a messy ponytail as she emerged from the bathroom again.


"He wants to meet."

She felt confused and frightened. "Meet who? Meet you? What are you talking about, Mulder?"  But her fear stemmed from the fact that she already knew, or she thought that she knew.

When Mulder looked up, there was the faintest echo of hope in his voice and on his face.  "He says it's a reward for finding Jacob, no strings attached, no time limit, no risk for the child.  He's willing to hand over one of the victims."

She hadn't expected that, could never have suspected that.

"He's willing to return one child to me, to me alone, on the sole condition that I don't try to trap him and that I come by myself.  He called it 'a gesture of good faith.' "

"Good faith!" Scully sputtered, "How can he talk about good faith?  He's killed four children.  You can't possibly think he'll honor any deal he makes, that this isn't some kind of trap."

"It isn't a trap, Scully."

"He's insane, Mulder!"

"No, Scully.  He's not.  And he honored the terms of the last deal he made.  Tristan Oliver wasn't killed until we arrived *after* the specified deadline, and our suspect had every opportunity to harm me in the warehouse if that was what he had wanted, but he didn't."

"Can you even hear yourself," Scully asked, incredulous.  "You talk about deadlines and honor in connection with a man who tortures young children, starving them practically to death before dumping their emaciated, naked bodies in the snow.  He may not be insane, Mulder, but he's evil.  That you can even think to make deals with this type of person is preposterous."

"I've already made the deal," Mulder answered, lowly.

"Mulder," her voice was ragged.  "No."

"I didn't have a choice."

Realization crawled over her with icy fingers.  "You were going to do this without telling me, without telling anyone.  You were going to drive off alone in the night without saying a word."

Tentative.  "I'm coming back, Scully," he reassured.

"What if you don't?" she asked, staring only briefly into his eyes before darting away.  "What if you didn't come back, and I had to wait, never knowing what had happened?"

His voice was gentler now, less cold.  "I told you, Scully.  I'm telling you right now."

"But you almost didn't, and you still expect me to just let you do this."

"What choice do we have, Scully?  It's a child's life."  His tone turned beseeching. "If we can save one of these children, at least that's something.  That's one more life than we've managed to save so far.  I can't not do this, Scully.  I can't risk that we might have had a chance to save this child."

That he had said 'we' instead of 'I' did not escape her.  He was being careful with her, considerate.  It softened her, which was probably the desired effect.  When she spoke again, it was quieter, with an attempt at reason.  "If we do this, without telling Moore, it could mean our jobs.  You must know that.  We're on thin ice already."

"You can't come with me, Scully."  He said it with regret, knowing the argument she would muster.

Of course, she thought.  It always came down to this with them.  She only stared at him for several moments, refusing to enter into their tired back and forth debate over her safety and his desire to protect her.  Her gaze unnerved him eventually, and he looked away, studying his hands.  She knew that he had been told to go alone, but there wasn't a chance in hell she would actually allow that to happen.

"If you try to go without me, Mulder, I'll be on the phone to Kersh ten seconds later."  Deadly serious.

He looked up at her, astonished and betrayed.

"I'd rather see you out of the bureau than dead," she said.

Mulder rose abruptly from the bed, pacing furiously across the room and back again.  He looked like he wanted to punch something.  He looked like he wanted to yell at her.  "I have to be there by midnight," he said, anger tightly restrained.

"Be where?" she asked, standing carefully away from his frustrated pacing.

She could see the internal argument he was having with himself, knowing that she was serious with her threat.  Finally, he stopped moving, turned and faced her.

"Niagara Falls."


Stars glittered with obscene beauty against the smooth black of the night sky.  It was a clear, cold, perfect winter night.  The air frosted from her lips in billowing white clouds, and everything seemed made of glass, fragile and pristine.

Mulder's fingers were curled with obvious tension around the steering wheel as he drove.  Scully wanted to reach over, to feel them loosen and uncurl under her touch.  She watched him, knowing that he could feel her gaze, wondering what he would do if she were to try such a thing.  Would he flinch away from her?  Or did he miss her touch as much as she did his?

If he felt her gaze, he gave no indication.  Instead, he filled the silence of the moving car.

"Our suspect killed Jacob Childress" he began without preamble.

Shaken from her reverie, Scully could manage only a wary, "Mulder..."

"It's the only option that makes sense," he continued as if he hadn't heard her interruption.  "How else could he have known where the body was buried?  Jacob Childress had been beneath the floor of that church for twenty-three years.  His death has an obvious significance for our suspect -- the reference in the story, the photograph.  Why else lead us to the body?  Why go through all the trouble?"

"But how is the death of Jacob Childress, a murder our suspect would have to have committed when he was just a child himself, part of this 'message' he's trying to deliver?"  Scully asked.  "If he'd been on this sick crusade since such an early age, why did the murders start now?  Wouldn't they have been ongoing since Jacob? It doesn't make sense."

"Unless it's only a related event and not necessarily a part of his larger mission," Mulder countered, fingers drumming in thought against the steering wheel.  "It's part of the message, though.  It has to be, but I'm still uncertain as to what, exactly, that message is."

He paused, chewing on his lower lip.  "It's not as simple as infidelity.  That's too vague.  If that were all there was, then why not kill the parents?"  Mulder was musing aloud.  "After all, technically, they're the guilty ones.  Are the children the products of a tainted union?  Is that the innocence he feels has been violated?  That would seem to be the logical conclusion, but then how does Jacob fit in to all of this, and, again, why not just punish the parents?"

Scully shifted in her seat, watching Mulder puzzle things out.  Earlier that day, Moore had been less than receptive to Mulder's notions about the connection between the families.  He had mentioned the sheer commonality of divorce these days, that in any sample of families from Buffalo, you were bound to find more than a few broken homes.  He had become even less receptive when Mulder had continued with how he felt the killer was identifying the children. 

"What if," Scully interrupted Mulder's debate with himself, "this Adam Hathaway is somehow related to our suspect?"

Mulder stopped fidgeting and regarded Scully in the dim car.  His eyes were bright.

She flinched under his gaze, her words slowing, becoming more careful.  "If everything you say is true, then the only possible connection I can see between the death of Jacob Childress and these recent murders would be a personal connection between our suspect and Jacob."

"And the only connection that would make sense," Mulder continued, "in light of the infidelity, would be that the man Jacob Childress' mother was sleeping with was personally connected to our suspect."

They looked at each other, sharing the realization, with so many of the pieces still missing.

After a pause. "It's his father," Mulder said.

Scully looked out the window, watching the skeletons of cold-stripped trees beyond the glass.  Her natural inclination was to reign Mulder in when he made too sudden leaps in logic.  But this felt right, and she thought, perhaps, that sometimes her readiness to reign him in had helped craft some of the distance that existed between them.

On the road ahead, visible in the bright gleam of their headlights was a sign that read, "Welcome to Whirlpool State Park."

They flashed their badges, but the lone guard only looked at them curiously before allowing them through the gate.  Their car wound amongst the evergreens, snow all around.  They parked in the vast visitor's lot, deserted in the cold.  When Scully opened her door to step outside, she was greeted by the distinct roar of the falls just a short distance away.

She had come here once as a child, on one of her family's many cross-country road trips.  All she could remember of that experience was dropping her ice cream after Bill had pulled her hair.

"Where are you supposed to meet him?" she asked.

They trudged cautiously across the lot and over to the path that led to the overlook.  "I'm not sure," Mulder responded.

The path curved through trees whose branches hung low and heavy with ice.  Scully's boots crunched through the snow, Mulder's flashlight revealing a white path ahead.  The snow, not cleared since the last storm, was past her ankles.  She struggled to keep up with Mulder's longer strides.  The sound of the falls was like thunder, growing louder the farther they walked.  In the darkness, Scully could see nothing beyond the faint path and the snow-capped trees.

Eventually, the path ahead of them opened up.  The small lawn and concrete sidewalks were not visible, but the angry waters of Niagara Falls churned voraciously beyond the protective metal fence, despite the cold.  They advanced into the clearing.  Scully was acutely conscious of the targets they made, vulnerable out in the open.  They walked to the edge of the falls.  In the dim moonlight, only the distant horseshoe shape of the waterfall was visible.  What would have been a spectacular view during daylight was a frightening dark abyss at night, clouds of ice and water vapor reaching out to sting Scully's cheeks.

"What now?" she asked.

Mulder turned to face her, his face hidden in the black.  He did not say anything, casting his flashlight in a wide arc, scanning the trees that bordered the clearing.  He began to walk towards the trees.

"Mulder?" She was alarmed, glancing about anxiously, as if there were any hope of identifying a threat from beyond the trees.

"Mulder wait!"  She followed him through the dark and stopped where he had stopped, just at the edge of the forest.

"Do you hear that?" he asked.

The wind whistled through the trees.  Niagara rumbled behind them, devouring bedrock.  She started to shake her head.

"Listen," he insisted.

She did, teeth chattering, and the sound was so faint she felt she had only imagined it.  A child's cry.

Mulder disappeared into the trees with the sound of crunching ice and snapping twigs.  She stumbled after him, branches clawing at her face, straining to hear that sound again.  Mulder had stopped a few paces away and was sweeping his ineffectual flashlight across the gaunt specters of reaching trees.

In the gloom ahead, there was a flash of red.

Mulder crashed through the branches that stood in their way, Scully beside him.  Propped against a tree, half covered in snow, sat a small child, unmoving, a thin red jacket his only defense against the cold.

"Oh, God," Mulder murmured, horrified.

Scully was on her knees in the snow within seconds, peeling off her gloves and probing the cold, cold skin of the child's neck for a pulse.

"He's alive," she said, already running her hands over the small body in search of injuries.  Finding none, and knowing that the boy was close to death, she said a brief, fervent prayer that there were no spinal injuries and scooped the child into her arms.

"He needs a hospital, now," she told Mulder, as she made her way back out of the trees.

Mulder did not move to follow her.

She turned around at the edge of the tree line.  "Mulder?"  Her tone was frantic, preoccupied with the weakly fluttering pulse of the child in her arms.

"He's here, Scully," Mulder said, before she had a chance to question him.  "Take the boy back to the car and call the paramedics."

"That's what I'm doing, Mulder."

"I'm staying here."

She couldn't argue.  The boy didn't have time. 

"Go, Scully!"

And although it was against every instinct in her possession, though she would never willingly leave Mulder in danger, though her mind screamed in protest, she went.

The snow slipped beneath her feet as she tried to run, trying not to fall, trying not to jostle the fragile life held against her chest.  The boy was so small and so cold.  She couldn't hold her flashlight and carry the child at the same time, so she navigated almost blindly, following the trail of footsteps in the snow.

The parking lot arrived in her vision like a god send, and the car was unlocked.  Wrenching open the passenger's side door, she laid the seat back and leaned across to turn the keys in the ignition.  Cranking the heat controls to the maximum, she worked to undo the child's wet clothing while, at the same time, fumbling to dial her cell phone.  Static crackled on the line and she cursed loudly.  She wouldn't be able to get service from where they were.  She would have to drive to the ranger's station.

Retrieving a blanket from the trunk of the car, she wrapped the child carefully, his drenched clothes removed and tossed aside.  Pushing the hair back from his white skin, she identified the face of Stephen Gains, their suspect's fourth victim. 

"Hang on, Stephen," she whispered, as she climbed into the driver's seat.  "You're going to be all right."  This last was a plea, or a prayer.

The car's engine rumbled to life, headlights cutting a hopeful slice through the night.  She had her hand poised over the gearshift, ready to throw the car into drive, when several other cars came tearing into the parking lot and stopped a handful of feet from where she was parked.  She couldn't see anything beyond the blaze of light.  A figure emerged from the nearest car.  It was SAC Moore.

Scully opened her car door and closed it quickly, attempting to keep as much heat as possible in the car.

"What the hell did you two think you were doing!"  Moore raged, walking towards her.

"I have Stephen Gains, alive, in that car," Scully interrupted, her voice quiet and hard, "but he's hypothermic and he's in shock.  If he doesn't receive medical attention *now* he is going to die. So whatever reprimand you're about to issue, it's going to have to wait."

Moore's expression went from anger to shock in the space between heartbeats.  "The paramedics are right behind us," he assured.

"How?" Scully wondered, disbelieving, the possibility that this child might live blossoming in her chest and stealing her breath.

"We had Mulder's phone tapped."

Her mind turned in that instant, the worry for the boy's life taken out of her hands with Moore’s arrival, and Mulder was alone in the woods with a murderer.  The red lights and wailing sirens of the ambulance hurtled into the parking lot, the doors opening wide with white lights, and Scully turned and ran, back toward the trees.  She heard Moore calling her name as she ran and ignored it.

She'd left her flashlight in the car, where she'd dropped it as she scrambled for her phone.  The moon had secreted itself behind snow-laden clouds, and the darkness she stumbled through was almost perfect.  But the clearing was straight ahead, and she could hear the sound of the falls growing closer.  She ignored the cold of melted snow that soaked her knees from where she had kneeled in the forest.  She did not feel the bite of the wind on her exposed hands and face.

The trees opened up ahead of her, and she was at the overlook again, Niagara's commanding presence filling the night.

"Mulder!" She called, turning to look towards the trees.  "Mulder!"  But she couldn't see, and the sound of the falling water deafened her to any slight noise.

She moved into the forest.

The moon peeped from behind the clouds, casting weak light.  It was barely enough to see by, but Mulder's boot prints could be discerned between the trees, and she followed their path.


A gust of icy wind rattled the bony fingers of the trees that surrounded her, and Scully shuddered.  The forest whispered to itself, secrets in the night wind.  An unreasonable current of fear, or dread, tightened along the back of her neck.  She held her gun tighter in her hand.


She was frightened of losing her way, of wandering too far into the indistinguishable wilderness.  She moved carefully forward, hearing only the sound of crunching snow in answer to her cries.

"Mulder!"  She called again, but it seemed futile, in the dark and cold.  She was out here alone.  She had the entire team waiting in the parking lot.  They could find him.  They would find him.  She began to return for their help.

And a strong arm wound its way tightly across her neck, pulling her back into the solid mass of another body.  She choked, tried to cry out, and found her feet lifted off the ground.  Before she could register what was happening, the gun she was holding was wrenched from her grasp.  She kicked ineffectually at the air and sputtered for breath.

"Agent Scully," a voice murmured into her ear, "We meet at last."

End chapter 14 (part 15/29)

Chapter 15

Wet snow rained down from the branches of trees overhead, shaken by the night wind.  Scully struggled to breathe, the arm of their murderer clasped tight across her throat, making her flail about, desperate for air.

"That was too easy," he whispered into her ear, his breath hot and damp.  "I expected more of a fight, but I suppose you were preoccupied by the whereabouts of your partner."

Scully kicked feebly, her heels thudding against the legs of the kidnapper.

"Agent Mulder promised to come alone," he hissed.  "He lied to me."  His hold on her throat tightened.  "I would stop struggling if I were you."  For the first time, Scully felt the press of a blade against her throat, held in the hand of the killer.  He was strong, almost as tall as Mulder.  He held her off the ground with one arm; the other was pressed across her abdomen, holding her gun.

"Be very careful about the movements you make."  His voice never rose above a whisper.  To reinforce his warning, the killer increased the pressure of the blade against Scully's throat.  There was sharp, sudden pain as the metal sliced into her flesh.  A trickle of blood traced a warm path down her neck and under the collar of her jacket.  "I could kill you at any time," he told her.

She stopped fighting.  His hold on her throat loosened.

"That's much better," he soothed, his voice almost obscured by the roar of the falls nearby. 

Scully tried to focus, dizzy from lack of air, breathing deeply.  She was still bleeding.  She did not know how badly she had been cut.  A faint light could be seen moving amidst the shapes of the trees ahead.  None of the other team members would have had time to come this far.  It could only be Mulder.

"What," the murderer asked, a vicious taint to his voice, "do you suppose your partner would sacrifice in order to keep you safe?"  He pressed his face close along side hers, his lips grazing her temple, almost a kiss.  "A great deal, I imagine," he answered in her stead.

Scully shuddered in revulsion.

"We're going to move very slowly," he continued, strengthening his grasp around her abdomen, beginning to walk forward.  "Remember that I have your gun."  As if she could have forgotten. 

Ice and branches cracked beneath their feet.  Mulder would be able to hear them coming.  But Scully was an effective shield, blocking the body of their enemy.  She knew Mulder would never attempt a shot with her in the way.  Their murderer, apparently, knew this, too.

The trees thinned, moonlight breaking into the darkness.  Mulder could be seen making his way along the edge of the river, his flashlight scanning the tree line to his right, a steep plunge down to the swirling waters off to his left.  A branch cracked loudly beneath the kidnapper's feet.  Mulder whirled, his gun extended. The horror that crossed his face was palpable.  Scully's heart ached.  She knew, too well, the things he would do to secure her safety.  She wanted to scream. <Mulder, he has my gun!> But she couldn't speak, the weight of the arm across her throat severing speech and breath.

"I hope your aim is exceptionally good," the killer cautioned, no longer a whisper, drawing Scully once again up from the ground, the knife digging into already wounded flesh.

She whimpered, could feel the slick of blood below her jaw.  A few inches to the side, and she would bleed to death on the pure white snow.  She tried not to struggle, but it was difficult to breathe.  Helpless, she watched as Mulder's eyes swept her body, widening in anguish, in outrage, when his flashlight revealed the knife at her throat.

"Let her go!" Mulder ordered, death in his tone.

"Now why would I do that?" The kidnapper asked, “So you can shoot me?  I don’t think so.”

Scully could feel her grasp on consciousness slipping, as she was deprived of oxygen.

"If you hurt her, I'll kill you," Mulder warned, flat and serious, his gun unwavering.

"I've no doubt you would," their suspect concurred.

There was silence for several heartbeats.  Mulder's eyes sought hers, begging her to be okay.  She wanted to respond, to reassure him with the silent communion they had always shared, but the edges of her perceptions continued to dim.  Eyelids heavy, Scully fought the wave of lassitude that threatened to drag her under.

"What do you want?" Mulder asked, panic lacing his words as he noted the droop of Scully's head, the spreading stain of blood.

The killer paused, contemplating.  His strangle hold slackened temporarily, and Scully choked, coughing, sucking in gulps of icy air.


"I want," the killer began, as if unaware of Scully's discomfort, ignoring Mulder's exclamation.  "What I truly want is impossible. What I'll settle for is recognition."

"Recognition?" Mulder asked, eyes locked with Scully's.  "Of what, your skill, the righteousness of your purpose?"

The murderer huffed a soft laugh. "Righteousness?  You make it sound so... fantastic.  It's really very simple, what I'll settle for.  It's so very little."

"What then?" Mulder demanded, desperate.

Not answering, the kidnapper rested his face against the top of Scully's head, smoothing his cheek against her hair.  He breathed deeply, slowly.  He sighed, seeming almost content.  Ten feet away, Mulder shifted, obviously restless and terrified, on his feet.  Nauseous, Scully tried to focus on the pain of the laceration on her neck.

"Is honesty so much to ask for?" the killer asked, his face still pressed to Scully's hair.  She could smell his stale breath washing her face.  Her toes barely grazed the ground, and she tottered slightly, each movement affecting her ability to breathe.

"Honesty?" Mulder asked.

"It's as if the whole world's forgotten the meaning of that word, its importance.  Honesty, purity, innocence -- values we once held in high esteem, and now they're nothing, meaningless, relegated to the status of idealistic fantasy, trodden on like dirt beneath our feet."  He was not insane, Scully thought, but his cryptic words belied mania beneath the thin veneer of sanity.  "You think you've figured me out.  You think that you can understand me, but you understand nothing.  You know nothing."

Even if she were able to breathe clearly, Scully knew she would pass out from blood loss eventually.  Mulder knew this, as well. 

"I know your father's name was Adam Hathaway," Mulder spat, "and that he cheated on your mother, and that you killed the son of the woman he cheated with in some sort of revenge."

If the kidnapper was at all surprised by Mulder's revelation, he did not show it.  "Adam was the first man, Agent Mulder," he explained, as if to a child, "and he lived without sin until the weakness of another tarnished his world and his innocence was lost forever.  Mankind has suffered for millennia because of that weakness."

Mulder was taken aback.  "Is that what you’re doing, punishing the parents for their weakness by murdering their children?"

"Almost, Agent Mulder, but almost isn't good enough."

Scully could actually feel the collar of her jacket becoming damp with blood.

"What about the Dearys?  What about Alan Crane?  How do they deserve to be punished?" Mulder was trying to draw the murderer out, to take his focus away from Scully.  She only needed a moment, the slightest chance for movement, and she could attempt to break free.  The killer had yet to relinquish his hold in the least.

"That's what I meant," the killer said, sighing.  "You see only the obvious, the surface truths.  You don't look deeply enough.  That's why you're still unable to understand.  I had hoped that your personal experiences would lend you a deeper insight into all of this.  I'm sorry to see that I was mistaken."

Before Mulder could respond, the killer brushed the thumb of his knife hand over Scully's jaw, a blood smeared caress.  "My vision's become clouded lately," he admitted.  "I'm not sure why. At first I thought it was fatigue, that I needed a rest," he paused, becoming wistful.  "You're so lucky, to have something this real, this honest."  He continued to draw his thumb in a reverent manner over Scully's frigid skin.

Mulder had still not relaxed the aim of his weapon, and Scully could see his arm begin to tremble from the strain of keeping it raised.

"But I've sensed something lately, something I still don't understand." His tone had become angrier, frustrated.  The murderer's thumb dug into the flesh of Scully's throat.  Her racing pulse throbbed against the pressure.

Suddenly, there was the sound of motion in the trees behind them.  Scully felt the kidnapper's posture stiffen.  He did not turn around, keeping his concentration on Mulder and his gun.

"FBI, freeze!"  Williams emerged from the forest at their back, but Scully could not see him.

"Agent Mulder," the killer cautioned, "I suggest you tell your friend to back off."  To reinforce his suggestion, Scully's feet were drawn further from the ground, her air supply diminishing once again.

"Federal Agent!  Let the woman go!" Williams shouted, moving closer.

"Williams!"  Mulder yelled, "Stay back!"

How many of the team members had made it this far into the forest, Scully wondered?  Cornering this suspect would not force him to surrender.  She felt certain it would only spur him towards violence.  Williams was behind them.  He could not see the knife or Scully's gun.  For the first time since this had begun, Scully began to sincerely fear for her own life.

Mulder edged forward.

"Agent Mulder," the killer warned.

Mulder took another step.

"I will kill her," the murderer continued.  Scully felt her heartbeat pushing a slow, steady stream of blood from the wound on her neck.  "I suggest you put the gun down."

Mulder stopped, considering, and Scully could see the decision in his eyes.  It was the decision she always knew he would make.  His life for hers.  He was the focus of the killer's interest, not Scully.  Before he lost control of the situation, before any more of the team arrived, he could attempt to secure her safety.  The kidnapper might release her.  Mulder would be defenseless.

"Mulder, no," Scully managed, the words strangled.  The killer jerked her body roughly in retaliation.

Sickened, Scully watched as Mulder lowered his weapon to the ground.

"That's good. That's very good," their suspect congratulated.  "Now give it a good kick."

"Mulder..." But her protest was cut off by the arm against her neck.

Mulder complied, watching her all the while, his expression begging her forgiveness.

In the sky overhead, dark storm clouds drifted over the moon, plunging the edge of the river into momentary darkness.  She did not want to die, not like this, cold and terrified, while Mulder was forced to watch.  She did not want Mulder to die like this.  It was too soon.  There were too many things she hadn't said, too many words still lost beneath the confusion of her emotions.  She wasn't ready. 

Williams was still behind them, but he had not spoken or moved again.  Scully could barely see the outline of Mulder's figure.

The killer shifted, seemingly unnerved in the darkness, and the knife relaxed against her throat.  Scully took the meager opportunity.  Everything happened at once.  Dizzy from blood loss and oxygen deprivation, she was conscious of very little as the events unfolded.  Only later would she be able to sort out the melee of sensations and sounds.

With all the strength she possessed, she shifted, turning sharply in an attempt to knee the murderer in the groin.  She never reached her target.  At the same moment she began to move, Williams, who obviously had no idea of the knife at Scully's throat, attacked from behind.  The knife slipped, carving a jagged gash up and over Scully's jaw, missing her jugular by inches.  She was thrown to the frozen ground.  Scully's hand came up to her jaw, blood filling her hands and staining the snow where she had landed.  She tried to push wet hair from her eyes, snow covering the side of her body.

There was the sound of a single gunshot.  In the darkness, Scully lifted herself from the ground, staggering, in time to see Williams stumble backwards.

As the clouds removed themselves from the surface of the moon, Mulder rushed at the kidnapper.  Scully saw the gun knocked from the killer's hands, sinking into the wet snow.  The pair struggled, grappling, and Mulder was punched savagely in the gut.  They were a blur of bodies moving towards the edge of the river.

Scully scrambled in the snow, trying to find one of the guns.  Near the base of a tree, only a handful of feet from where Williams lay bleeding, she located Mulder's weapon.  She grabbed it, hands shaking, wet with her own blood.

Taking aim was hopeless.  The tangle of arms was impossible to differentiate in the darkness.  The killer lurched, and Mulder's elbow impacted with the side of the suspect's head.  Then Mulder was knocked violently backwards, their opponent using the entire weight of his body in the assault.  Their feet faltered in the loose rocks and snow near the cliff's edge.

Scully had no choice.  She took aim.  She said a silent, desperate prayer.  She fired.

She was not sure whom she had hit.  The murderer released his hold on Mulder, stepping back from the edge, blocking Scully's view of her partner.  At the same moment, she heard a brief shout from Mulder, the sound of scattering rocks.  The killer darted into the forest.  Behind him, Scully watched, horrified, as Mulder tumbled over the river's edge.  Her scream echoed in the silent wilderness.


She was cold, so cold.  Scully was swaddled in something silver, could feel an alien current of warmth moving up her arm.  She fought the darkness that clung to her vision, rising, the cold, numb feeling being replaced by pain and light.  She opened her eyes.

She was in an ambulance, wrapped in a silver space blanket.  Paramedics hovered over her, adjusting the catheter that delivered warmed plasma into a vein in her arm.  Moore stood nearby, in the open doors, concern softening his stern features.

"Mulder?" She managed, struggling to sit upright.  The well-intentioned paramedics tried to push her back down.

"It's all right," Moore interrupted them.  "Let her up."

They looked displeased and backed away from her reluctantly.  She sat up, dizzy, almost passing out again as soon as she was up.  She lifted a hand to her throat, feeling the sutures that traced a grisly path over her jaw and onto her cheek.  She flinched in pain and drew her hand away.

"You'll probably need plastic surgery," one of the paramedics offered, trying to sound compassionate.

She knew that.  She didn't care.  "Where's Mulder?" she demanded.

Moore looked uncertain, like he didn't want to tell her the truth, whatever that truth was.

"Where is he!?"

"They're trying to retrieve him now," Moore began.

Scully didn't wait for him to finish.  She lifted her legs over the edge of the gurney, placing her feet on the ground.

"Oh, no you don't!" Moore opposed, jumping up into the ambulance to block her escape.  "You've lost a lot of blood and you're practically hypothermic.  There's no way in hell you're going back into those woods."

"I need to know!" she shouted.

Probably in an attempt to calm her, Moore explained.  "He went over the edge. We're not sure how yet.  He's about forty feet down, on a ledge overlooking the river."

Scully wanted to throw up.  She closed her eyes.  "He's alive?"

"We think so, yes."  After a pause, "how did this happen?"

Scully kept her eyes closed, trying to calm her breathing.  "The kidnapper captured me.  I was stupid.  I wasn't paying enough attention.  He forced Mulder to drop his gun.  Williams attacked him from behind..." Suddenly, she remembered Williams being shot.  "Agent Williams?" she asked, opening her eyes, "Is he all right?"

Moore's expression was grim.  "He's been taken to a nearby hospital.  His condition is critical.  The bullet punctured one of his kidneys."

Scully dropped her head into her hands.  "And the kidnapper?"

"Still missing," Moore answered, disgusted.

Scully looked up.  Beyond Moore, in the sky outside, she could see a spotlight from a helicopter hovering over the river, no doubt attempting to rescue Mulder.  Red and blue lights from assorted law enforcement vehicles decorated the parking lot.  A manhunt was underway.

"I fired my weapon. I had no choice," she blurted, watching the light move across the sky.  "I think I may have shot Mulder."  The words sounded wrong, unreal, falling from her lips like shards of glass, the world shattering around her.

Moore didn't respond, obviously knowing no reassurance could be adequate.  He turned to face the sky as well.

Mulder wasn't dead.  He couldn't be.  She had always told herself she would be able to feel the moment he left her.  The nausea was thick, suffocating.  She swallowed in an attempt to keep it down.  She leaned back against the pillows, a litany playing in her head... she would know, she would be able to tell if he was gone.  She closed her eyes.  The darkness swallowed her once more.

End Chapter 15 (part 16/29)

Chapter 16

When Scully woke again it was to the rhythmic beeping of a heart monitor.  Her eyes fluttered, barely opening.  A headache burned behind her eyes; the laceration on her face throbbed.

"Does it hurt too much, dear?"  The voice beside her was kind, soothing.

She opened her eyes fully, looked up.  A nurse stood next to the bed, reaching down to take Scully's pulse.

"We can get you some medicine, if the pain's too bad," she offered.

Scully nodded. 

The nurse patted her on the hand.  "I'll be right back."

After the nurse left the room, Scully took a quick mental inventory of her condition.  She was no longer hooked up to an IV.  A web of electrodes connected her to the heart monitor.  Other than that, she was unencumbered by medical paraphernalia.  Her head hurt, but the pain was bearable.  One by one she peeled the sticky electrodes from her skin.  The heart monitor began to wail.  She reached over and turned it off.  Swinging her legs out of the hospital bed, she attempted to stand.

The room swayed momentarily, steadying as she gripped the handrail on the bed.  A tentative step forward, and another.  Across the room, a pile of clean clothes -- not the ones she had worn to the falls -- were folded neatly on a chair.  She wondered whom she had to thank for that.

Dressing was a slow process.  The pile of clothes even contained clean underwear.  She wasn't sure whether to be embarrassed of grateful.  As she was fastening the last button on her blouse, the nurse returned.

"What are you doing out of bed?" she asked, shocked.

"I'm checking myself out," Scully declared evenly.

The nurse tried to reason with her.  "That's not a good idea."

Scully forestalled any further protests.  "I'm a doctor, and I'm more than capable of determining what's in my own best interest," she said, trying not to sound rude.

The nurse handed Scully a little plastic cup with two Tylenol3 inside. "… the worst patients," Scully heard her mutter as the nurse left Scully alone in the room once more.

Scully dry swallowed the pills in one gulp.  After putting on her shoes, she followed the nurse out of the room.  Looking in both directions, she was surprised to see SAC Moore seated in one of several hard, plastic chairs farther down the long hall.  He looked up as she walked towards him, standing and meeting her half way.

"Where's Mulder?" Immediate and impatient.

"What are you doing out of bed so soon?" he asked, rigid and worried at the same time.

She persisted.  "Where is he?"

"He's fine.  The paramedics lifted him off the ledge right after I spoke to you in the ambulance.  If you fired your weapon, it didn't hit Mulder.  Other than a cracked rib, several lacerations, and a possible concussion, he was uninjured."

Scully was speechless for a moment, her anxiety and fear blossoming into an overwhelming sense of relief.

Moore watched her closely, concerned.  "You should be resting."

"Well," she responded, "I figured since someone laid my clothes out so nicely..."

"I had a feeling you wouldn't obey doctor's orders," Moore admitted, ducking his head slightly.

Scully hadn't expected that.  She smiled, genuinely grateful.  "Thank you, Sir."

Moore nodded, seemed embarrassed, and continued hastily.  "There was a good amount of blood in the snow, and while we know that most of it's yours, there was some near the edge of the river that we're not sure about."

Scully's eyes widened. "I never went near the river's edge."

He didn't seem surprised.  "We found you in the snow near Agent Williams, unconscious in a pool of your own blood.  We suspect that you managed to injure the kidnapper, but we'll have to wait for the lab results to come back before we can be certain."  Moore paused, shaking his head slightly in frustration.  "If he was injured, it wasn't badly enough to impede his escape.  We've set up road blocks and have a full scale search underway, and still we've found no sign of him."

It wasn't over.  The nightmare wasn't over.  Overwhelmed by weariness, Scully felt frail and scraped raw, exhausted enough to cry.

"And Agent Williams?" she asked, eyes dry, strong despite herself.

Moore's entire expression fell.  He looked down the hall, away from Scully, mustering strength.  "He lost his left kidney," Moore said, still turned away from Scully.  "He's been out of surgery for several hours, and the doctors have moved him out of the ICU, but he hasn't regained consciousness yet."

Scully didn't want to ask.  She had no choice.  "And Stephen Gains?"

"Is in a coma.  Because of the degree of malnutrition, there's the possibility of brain damage."

At the end of the hall, late afternoon sunlight spilled across the polished floors.  She had been asleep the entire day.

"What room is Mulder in?" she asked, needing to see him.

Moore finally looked her in the eye again.  "He's not in the hospital anymore."

"What?"  Astonished.

"He's even more obstinate that you.  As soon as he was conscious, he checked himself out."

Scully felt abandoned.  How many times had she woken in a hospital bed with Mulder at her side?

"He stopped by your room before he left," Moore added, as if sensing her distress.  "He almost got himself thrown out by an orderly for badgering the doctor into a full report on your condition."

She felt only marginally better.  "What about Agent Williams?"

"Down the hall and around the corner.  Room 208."

Scully turned away from Moore, started to walk down the hall.

"Agent Scully," he called after her.

She turned around.

"You saved that child's life.  I hope you know that."

One life, only one out of so many.  She didn't respond.  She continued to walk down the hall.  Down the hall and around the corner, the regularly spaced reflection of overhead lights on the floor, the steady rhythm of her heels, the sound of her own heartbeat.  She counted her breaths, trying to focus, trying to hold the exhaustion at bay for just a few moments longer.

She looked up.  Agent Sandborne, Agent Williams' partner, stood a few feet away, his arm around a crying woman.  Scully stopped, not wanting to intrude.  They didn't seem to notice her.  Sandborne spoke soothingly to the woman, too quiet for Scully to hear.  The woman swiped at her tears with the back of her hand as Sandborne patted her on the shoulder, steering her down the hall and away from Scully.

Scully looked at the room they had been standing in front of.  Room 208.

Inside, Agent Williams had not been nearly as fortunate as Scully.  He was besieged by a riot of wires and tubes; blinking, beeping machines monitored his every breath, every beat of his heart.  His skin was pale, as white as the snow he had lain in.  Scully was relieved to notice that he was no longer on a respirator.  His chest rose and fell in an even, slow cadence, assisted only by an oxygen mask.

She stood at the foot of the bed, knowing she should leave.  She turned to go.

"Agent Scully..." Williams' voice rasped behind her.

Turning to face him, she smiled widely.  "Agent Williams, welcome back."

His eyes were open, regarding her.  His lips moved soundlessly for a moment.  He coughed, the sound dry and painful.  Scully moved to the side of the bed, poured a glass of water from the pitcher and held it to his lips.

He spoke after he had taken a sip.  "Thank You."  Voice still ragged.

Placing her hand over his, she responded.  "Thank you.  You saved my life."

Williams shook his head.  "I almost got you killed."

"No.  You risked your life to save mine.  You almost died."

He looked pointedly at the obscene line of sutures marring her face.  "So did you."

"I'm alive," she assured, though she could still feel the knife as it had torn into her flesh, could still feel her hands filling with blood.

"How's Agent Mulder?"

"He's fine," Scully responded, a slight quaver in her voice.  "He already checked himself out of the hospital."

Williams looked at her intently, some unvoiced comment apparent in his eyes.  He looked down at his hands, folded neatly atop the blankets.  "My fiance was here," he said.  "I woke up for a moment earlier and she was crying.  I tried to speak to her, but I couldn't."

The woman from the hall, Scully assumed.

Williams started coughing, turning his head to the side and flinching in pain.  Scully reached for the glass of water again.  He noticed and shook his head.  She put the glass back down.

He took a deep breath and continued speaking, his voice very faint. "When I asked her to marry me, she was concerned about my job, concerned that I would die in the line of duty and leave her alone."  He sighed deeply.  "And now, after all of this, I'm starting to question what's important to me, and if it's worth it, this job, what we risk, and what we sacrifice."

Scully couldn't look him in the eye, uncomfortable with such personal admissions.  Was it worth it?  Lately, she had to struggle to convince herself that it was.  The job she had once loved was no longer the job she had.  Lately, when she tried to convince herself that she would miss the FBI, she realized that the only thing she would truly miss was working with Mulder.  The rest had become steeped in frustration, lies, and suffering.  She had sacrificed so much.  They had both sacrificed so much.  Did she even know what was important to her anymore?

"Agent Scully," Williams interrupted her musing, his tone hesitant.  "I don't know you, and I don't know your partner, but I do know what it's like to try and endure this job alone, what it's like to make this job the only thing that matters.  You won't survive it.  Neither of you will."

Scully felt the tears she had defeated before threatening again.  Was she that transparent?  Was her loneliness apparent to everyone but herself?

Williams started coughing again.

"You should get some rest," Scully said, still shaken.

He nodded, closed his eyes.

Scully left the room, feeling exposed.  The sense of overwhelming fatigue had not left her.  The nightmare she felt trapped in chased her from the hospital.  She fled, seeking rest.


In the parking lot back at the motel, rough winds buffeted the taxi as she stared up at the tall building.  She had paid the driver.  She had unbuckled her seat belt.  The key to her room was held in her hand.  She stared up at the building, at the ugly metal staircase that ascended its side, the scattering of lights that glowed from various rooms.  Mulder's light was on.  There was only one more flight of stairs to climb from her room to his, and she needed to see him.

She got out of the car and started to climb the stairs.  Cold wind slapped against the side of the building.  Night had fallen, draping the city in darkness.  She had no idea what she was going to say to him.  Outside of his door, Scully hesitated.  She needed sleep desperately, but she knew she would never be able to rest until she had seen that he was okay.  She knocked.

Inside, there was the sound of movement, shuffling.  The shades by the window were drawn back; the locks were quickly disengaged.  Mulder threw the door open, staring at her in dismay.

"What are you doing out of the hospital?" he asked, standing in the frame of the open door.

"I could ask the same of you," she challenged.

He backed up, allowing her in.

The lights were out, the television on, sound muted.  Light poured into the dark room from the open bathroom door.  Turning around, she faced Mulder as he closed the door.  His hair was damp, shirt unbuttoned.  Under the flickering light cast by the television, he was an unfamiliar presence, shadowed and strange. 

Tears stung her eyes, and she hoped he could not see them in the darkness.  It seemed he was always unfamiliar to her now.

"Scully," he began, not moving from in front of the door.  "Are you sure you're well enough to be out of the hospital?"

Was she sure?  No.  She wasn't sure of anything anymore.

"I'm fine, Mulder."

He sighed, didn't say anything.

"What about you," she asked, lamely, "are you all right?"

"Never been better," he quipped, bitterness in his tone, walking past her and into the bathroom.

She watched him from the darkened bedroom.  Reaching down to pick a wet towel from the floor, he winced, gasping in pain.  He dropped the towel again, straightening stiffly.


"It's nothing," he tried to reassure.  "I took a shower, and the tape on my ribs got wet and peeled off."

"You know you're not supposed to get it wet," she cautioned, fumbling for words.

"I know."

He shrugged out of his shirt, the simple action seeming to pain him.  There was a thick spool of medical tape on the counter, and he picked it up, tearing off a long strip with his teeth.

"Mulder, do you know how to tape up a cracked rib?"  She doubted he had even the slightest clue.

His arms dropped to his sides, limp.  "No."

She felt herself walking into the bathroom, standing beside him, taking the dangling piece of tape from his hand.

"Let me do that."  She couldn't look him in the eye.

He acquiesced, turning to her in profile, lifting his arm.  The smooth skin of his chest was still damp from the shower.  It was too pale.  He had lost weight.  The outline of his fragile ribs could be seen beneath the soft skin.  Still, even if his face was no longer familiar to her, he smelled the same.  Those were memories from before, his arms around her, his scent.  She reached out, wanted to trace her fingertips along those delicate bones, reassure herself that he was here, whole, and not a stranger.

She could feel him flinch as she secured the tape in place.  He didn't make a sound.  Instead, he turned back to face her, looking down at her.  She refused to look up and meet his gaze.  Staring at the center of his chest, at the fine hairs sprinkled there, the way the muscles stretched over bone.  If she were to press her face to his sternum, she would be able to feel his heart beating.  In the past, when he had held her, that sound had been a comfort.

His gaze was like a demand.  <Look at me, Scully.>  But she couldn't.  Everything about him now made her feel as if her heart were breaking anew -- the feel of his skin, the sound of his voice, the distant memory of his heartbeat beneath her cheek.

Strong, gentle fingers reached down, tilting her chin up.  She closed her eyes, avoiding his gaze.  Those same fingers curved upward, glancing gently over the row of black sutures that defiled her throat and face.

"You're so beautiful," he said, awed and heavy with sorrow.  His large hand cupped the side of her face.

She opened her eyes, looked up at him, at the reverence and sadness he regarded her with.  The warmth of his hand touching her was electricity scalding her skin.  Hypersensitive.  That's how it had been, being with him, everything amplified.  She had barely survived it, like being electrocuted.  He demanded so much from her without ever saying a word.

Her lower lip trembled, on the verge of tears.  The strength she was clinging to, the strength she needed in order to survive the rest of this ordeal, that had allowed her to come this far, threatened to crumble in the wake of his touch.  He demanded too much.  She simply couldn't be that vulnerable.  It would destroy her.  The tragedy of their lives together had required that she sacrifice her emotions, that she bottle them up, stow them away.  This beautiful thing she shared with Mulder, this rare, elemental, ephemeral thing, was a gift she had hidden carefully like a smooth stone kept deep in her pocket.  It was all she had.  She didn't know any other way to survive.

She stepped back, his hand falling away.

"I've already lost you, haven't I?" he asked.  Hollow.

The tears broke free of their own accord, and Scully felt her strength torn asunder, the years welling up inside her, redolent with grief.  The weight of it all pressed down upon her.  Stinging, the tears rolled over her broken skin and she made no move to wipe them away.

End Chapter 16 (Part 17/29)

Chapter 17

"I didn't realize I was yours to lose," she said, stepping back again, distancing herself.  His nearness was too much.  She couldn't think, couldn't breathe with him so close.  Their habit of sharing one another's space, almost breathing the same air, had vanished.  His touch no longer embodied only comfort and familiarity. 

He shook his head, looked crestfallen, dumbfounded.  "How can you even say that?" he asked.

"Mulder, what are we?  What is this?"  She gestured to the space between them. "This relationship -- I'm your partner, you care for me, and I care for you, but we're not lovers."  Even now, even after, that title could not be applied to their relationship.  "I don't know what we are."

"I thought we were friends."  Ineffably sad.

Friends, Scully thought.  Friendship didn't involve teeth marks on pale flesh or the memory of his hands on her hips, lifting.  Friendship implied communication, something they'd scarcely managed during the best of times.  With the title of friendship there was the assumption of emotional support and sharing, but even in their togetherness they remained isolated, lonely.

She smiled sadly.  "Yes, Mulder, I want to believe that, too.  And once, I think I did believe it.  But we barely talk anymore, Mulder.  We haven't for some time now."  Since before Emily, she thought, since before the cancer.  "There are times," she admitted, "That I think you can barely stand to be in the same room with me.  I know that I make you feel the same way, sometimes."

He was staring at the floor, a look of anguish on his face, not denying it, not even trying to.

Her voice had gone very quiet.  "I don't know how it happened, and I don't know why, but somewhere along the line we stopped trusting one another -- not with our lives or in the context of work -- but with everything else that matters.  Maybe we never had that trust to begin with."

All of the emotional issues that they had avoided, had ignored, had been dredged to the surface by their actions after Saks Mill.  It had forced her to examine the meaning of their relationship, and the bulk of her sadness came from the fact that she had discovered that she could not define what they were to one another.  It wasn't healthy, to feel as if you would die without the presence of someone in your life and to be unable to even talk to them when you needed support, to be completely unable to reach out.

His voice was soft.  "I trust you, Scully."

She shook her head, couldn't look at him.

"I do," he insisted, stepping closer to her once more, invading her space.  "I trust you with *everything* that matters."  Vehemence battled with sorrow in his words.

She closed her eyes.  "You don't, Mulder.  Not with so many things."  Scully measured her words carefully.  "And I'm not just talking about Diana or the times you've ditched me, or even what you kept from me about the Lombard Research Facility.  Some of that I can attribute to your misguided need to protect me."  She opened her eyes.  "It's everything else, it's all the times you've shut me out, all the times I've shut you out.  We're both lonely, damaged, and we can't seem to trust one another enough to communicate when it truly matters."

His hand, shaking, came back to cradle her damaged cheek.  "You're the only thing that matters to me, and now I've lost you.  I don't blame you for not trusting me."

But she was not the only thing that mattered to him, and they both knew it.  Time and again, she had been forced to the recognition that he was captive of a larger goal, prisoner of the quest he had pledged himself to when only a child.  He wanted to love her completely, she knew he did, but he couldn't.  Part of him would always be lost to her, lost even to himself.  She, too, had begun to lose pieces of herself to this quest.

Her voice faltered.  "But it's not just a matter of trust.  Even that isn't enough anymore."  She stared up at him, "I wish it were as simple as that."

His hand dropped away, frustration hardening his features.  "I don't know what to say to you anymore, Scully.  I don't know what you want."

Scully paced towards the window, staring through the gap in the curtains at the dark winter night beyond.  She tried to articulate the mass of dread that had lodged itself in her heart during these last few days.  "Mulder, do you see a future for us?"

There was no reply from behind her.

"Because I don't.  All is see ahead of us is a never ending downward spiral."  Her tone was flat, desolate.  "I see us moving farther and farther away from the rest of the world, so isolated that we forget what it means to be happy, what it means to be alive.  How is all of this supposed to end?  With one of us dead and the other wasting slowly away?"

She didn't need his confirmation to know what he would do in the event of her death.  She knew already how she would react to his.

"I used to think it was you always dragging me along, dragging me around in a terrible cycle of death and revenge and tragedy, but lately I've come to realize it isn't just you anymore.  I drag you along just as often, with my own motivations, my own personal tragedy to fuel my self-destruction."  She paused, unsure of where she was going with all of this.  "I just... I want to know where it all ends.  I need to know that somewhere, somehow, there is an end."

And not an end that meant her, grieving and alone.

"I can't promise you that, Scully.  You know I can't"

Of course he couldn't.  She knew.

Why were they here?  Where were they going?  They were no closer to finding Samantha or the men responsible for her cancer, the men responsible for Emily.  They were no closer to any type of justice.  All that they had gained was sorrow, and they had lost so much.  Mulder knew all of this.  The knowledge was present in his listlessness, his defeated posture, in the way he seemed to have aged a decade in only the past few years.  He had seemed so young when they had first met.

Scully watched the wind as it whipped loose snow though the cold air outside.  Flakes were blown against the window, melting when they reached the warm glass.

She had aged, too.  She felt old, time-battered, scarred.

"I don't recognize myself anymore, Mulder."  The admission surprised her.  "I used to smile.  I used to laugh."  Her eyes were too dry for tears.  "So did you."

The air shifted, carpet rustling as he moved towards her.  He stood behind her, laid a hand on her shoulder and squeezed gently.  "I recognize you, Scully."  So quiet.  So sure.

Looking at their reflection in the window's glass, she wanted to believe him.  She spoke to the ghost of his reflected eyes.  "I feel so lost."

Their relationship had always escaped definition, but with the freshly added sexual element she had become keenly aware of all the real world trivialities that they had cut themselves off from, the future they would never be able to have together.  Still watching the reflection of his dark eyes, she wanted to shock him, to jolt him into some understanding of the grief she felt. 

The words scraped their way from her throat.  "What happens now, Mulder?  Are we going to move in together, get married?"

In the glass, his eyes darted away from hers.

"Of course not," she answered for him, bitter.  "We both know that."  She had never been sure that marriage and family was the future she wanted, but the option had been taken from her.  For better or worse, till death do us part, she was joined with Mulder.  Apart from him she had no definition anymore.  Her family barely recognized her.  Friendships had all drifted slowly away.  With him, she did not know what she had.  She felt powerless to divorce herself from him.

A single tear traced the contour of his cheek, reflected by the window.

"Mulder, what happened between us after Saks Mill wasn't about planning a future together.  It wasn't even about love."  The realization of exactly what they'd lost settled within her; her heart mourned.  "It was about two lonely people seeking comfort in the midst of tragedy.  I never wanted our relationship to turn into that."

He had not wiped the tear away.  Another followed in its path.  "Scully, I know what happened wasn't about love, and I'm sorry for that..." his voice broke, "...I'm so sorry about that."

Crumbling, Scully felt her own tears as they splashed against her hands.  She turned to him, automatic, powerless, and he fell into her, crushing, begging with the pressure of his body folding against hers, begging her not to leave him.

"...but I do love you," he gasped into her hair.  "I do."

She knew.  She always had.  But she could not help but wonder, even as his frantic kisses dotted her hairline, even as he stole her breath with the force of his embrace, she could not help but wonder if in a perfect world he would feel the same.  If they had met outside of their present circumstances, at a bar, at the Laundromat, if she had chosen a career in medicine, if he had become a professor at some small university, if they had run into one another on the street one-day -- maybe he jostled her at the newsstand, pushed by the press of rush hour sidewalk crowding, and she spilled her coffee on his new suit.  Maybe she apologized, he swore it was no big deal, she offered to pay for his dry cleaning.  Maybe it passed them both by in the blink of an eye, just another chance encounter between strangers.  Would she have chosen him?  Would he have chosen her?

She felt foisted upon him, a burden he had not wanted, even though he might swear otherwise.  Sometimes she felt that he had been foisted upon her.  The choice had been stolen from them.  Fate had thrown them together and then, one by one, had ripped everything else away, until only they remained, cloistered, wretched and lacking.

He was kissing his way down the bridge of her nose, his breath finally washing heavily across her lips.  Her eyes were closed, waiting for his kiss, waiting for the inevitable.  "Would you have chosen me, Mulder?"  She whispered the question against his lips.

His breathing was rapid.  She doubted he had any idea what she was asking.  "I love you, Scully.  I can't lose you," was all he said before he crushed his mouth to hers.

It wasn't an answer, and her heart mourned for that, too.

Only one thing was certain to her anymore, and it was a fact she had only recently been forced to acknowledge.  The touch of Mulder's lips against her own, the taste of his skin, the frantic pulse of his fingers against her flesh; the electricity between them was real.  If she'd ever had any doubt about the chemistry that throbbed between them, there was no question now.  The reality was obvious when he kissed her, when she opened to him without thought, sharing his breath, needing the rasp of his tongue and teeth, craving it.

It probably wasn't healthy.  It didn't solve anything.  It only made their desperate circumstances more complicated, but there was no avoiding it.  They had tried for far too long.  The denial had been like fuel for a fire, accumulating across their years together, becoming volatile, incendiary.  An explosion of hands and lips and sighs, rendering logic useless, defying explanation, and capable of pushing tragedy aside for a handful of brief, exquisite moments.

Her back was pressed to the cold window, as his mouth worked frantically against hers.  The force of their kiss made the wound on her throat ache.  His hands were smoothing over her hair, down her neck, her back, curling around her waist and plastering their bodies together.  There were no solutions to the bevy of problems she felt besieged by.  Nothing would erase the years and suffering they had endured, but they could forget, for a little while.  She could lose herself in the brutal mystery of his kiss, the sting and fission of their bodies moving in tandem.

Every millimeter of her skin felt electrified, anxious.  She dragged her teeth across his lower lip, biting softly, and he gasped into her mouth.

Breaking away, he moved down her throat, kissing along her pulse, avoiding the grisly line of sutures.  She allowed her head to fall back against the window, limp and panting.  Breathing was impossible.  She felt dizzy.  He trailed his wet mouth over her blouse, dragged his hands around to capture her ribs, steadying her, grazing the sides of her breasts.

The bruises she had obtained from her fall at Saks Mill were still tender.  The gash on her arm was still healing.  She felt like a prisoner of war, bloodied and beaten.  Mulder towered over her, sliding his hands roughly over her breasts and back around her waist, pulling their lower bodies firmly together.

She cried out, shocked by the sound of her own voice, and he stopped, broke his mouth from hers and regarded her with fierce eyes.

"I'm sorry, Scully."  Hands still anchoring her hips to his.  "I'm sorry..." His frantic gaze skittered over her eyes, her lips.

She shook her head, one hand moving to his face.  "Don't be," she whispered raggedly, tracing the softness of his bottom lip.

He captured one of her fingers between his lips, sucking gently.  "I can't help it," he murmured, releasing her finger, lips trailing over her palm.

It was surreal, the two of them like this, surreal, frightening, and elemental.  She shook her head again.  "It's okay," she assured, terrified he would stop, knowing she should stop him.  "I know."

Eyes locked, they began to move, walking backwards, not even stumbling, towards the bed.  He released his hold on her hips, stepping back so he could begin to loosen the buttons on his shirt.  Watching him all the while, she followed his lead, working the fastenings on her blouse, releasing the zipper on the side of her pants, allowing them to puddle on the floor.  He was working on his belt, Scully only a step away, when they reached the bed.

They stopped.  Exposed, vulnerable, she stood before him.  Scully folded her hands behind her back to release the clasp of her bra, and Mulder froze, mesmerized.  The scrap of cotton fell away without a sound, and she moved when he seemed incapable, placing her hands over his belt, working it free, releasing button and zipper, drawing them inexorably forward.

"Scully." Her name fell like an orison from his lips, seeking benediction.

"Shhh..." she urged, sliding her hands under the elastic of his boxers, removing that barrier, too.

Bared, Mulder sat on the edge of the bed, parting his knees so she could stand between them.  Taking a measure of control was calming, assuaging her terror and making her bold.  She pushed lightly against his shoulders, and he fell backwards, naked below her.  Unknowing of how the transformation had taken place, or when, Scully crawled over her partner and friend, her erstwhile protector and savior, and she felt a measure of trenchant calm returning to her psyche.

Straddling his waist, Scully watched as his hands traced the slope of her hips, the curve of her breasts, whispering over her sternum, skimming each nipple, lingering in the notch of her throat, breezing over the roundness of her shoulders, trailing down her arms, fingers linking and clasping with her own.  Pain was reflected in his eyes as they held hands, almost chastely, examining one by one the physical damage done to her body over the course of this investigation.  Blaming himself, she thought, as always.

Enough of blame, she vowed, enough of guilt and resentment.  She'd had more than enough.  Sex might not be capable of fixing any of their problems, but it would at least allow them a short reprieve.  All of the pain would be waiting for them as their bodies cooled, their breathing slowed, and dawn broke in the aftermath.  Now, in the moment, she wanted that respite.  After would come soon enough.

Reaching behind her, she grasped him, tightly.  His eyes slammed shut.

"God... Scully..."

She squeezed, fingers sliding upward, and then down, fascinated by the sweat that beaded on his forehead, the way his jaw was clenched.  She swiped her thumb briskly over the tip and his eyes popped back open.

"Scully," he warned, looking shocked and amazed.

She wanted it, wanted him to lose control, wanted him to make her forget, to make them both forget.

"Ahhh..." he gasped, as she continued the motion of her hand.  "Scully," he growled, sounding practically feral.  That was how she felt -- wild, unfamiliar, outside of herself.  It was a comforting place to be.  She wanted him to join her there.

Suddenly, his eyes seemed to glow, and he moved his previously stalled hands, brought one to hold her waist, the other to graze the front of her last remaining piece of clothing.  Tensing, his fingers pressed against the thin, damp cloth, moving lower.

Heat burst across her entire body; her hand began to shake where she held him.

"I know it's not right," he whispered, his fingers working her through the thin fabric.  "I know that I shouldn't want you like this."  Sadness even as he dipped his hand behind the waistband of her panties, even as his fingers slid against her, rough and hot.  "But I do."

He sat up abruptly, yanking his hand from where he touched her.  "God help me, but I do."

She came up on her knees, wriggling to shed her last remnant of protection, and positioned herself unsteadily over his lap.

"God help us both," she begged, the eye contact between them unbroken, hypnotizing, as she lowered herself, expanding, burning inch by inch.

He had flipped them, was above her, moving within her, whispering her name.  She drilled her fingers into the muscles of his back, pushing and pulling.  She couldn't close her eyes, was powerless to break contact with his gaze.  They watched each other, climbing higher and higher, greedy and desperate. 

It couldn't last, was too consuming to endure.  Seeing herself reflected in his eyes, feeling the way she was invaded and devoured.  Only Mulder, she thought.  Only Mulder had power enough over her to make her *feel* this much.  Only he would ever be able to rend her defenses so completely.  With one arm to support himself above her, he snaked the other between them, his eyes as dark as flint, and pushed her over the edge with a subtle flick of his fingers.

Perhaps she screamed or wailed.  Perhaps she made no sound at all.  It was all a black, blurring emptiness.  Helpless, her body convulsed, betraying her years of studied reserve, stripping her raw.  Panicked by the ferocity, she wanted it to stop, couldn't control her voice or her movements, flailing, wave after wave breaking across her muscles, forcing tears from her shuttered eyes.  He kissed them away, lips stuttering across her temples, still moving inside her.  She was crushed into the mattress; he was crushed into her body, so deep she could not bear it.

"...love you... love you so much... too much..."

Just as she thought she would start to scream, nerves over-sensitized, tremors still racing through her body, he shattered above her, choking on her name.  His head collapsed beside hers, their tears mingling.  Still joined, she swept her trembling hands over his sweaty back, trying to remember how to breathe.

Finally, he lifted his head from her shoulder.  "Scully," he said, fingertips smoothing her tears over her skin, eyes wide and solemn, terrified.  "What's happening to us?"

There were no answers she could offer.  She turned her head to the side, looked over at the dark window, felt the cold that seeped around its edges, seeped across her skin.  Mulder buried his head in her neck once more, and she held him, shaking, while everything that they had known and been disintegrated around them in ashes.


Darkness.  Sometime during the night Mulder had risen and turned out the bathroom light.  Blankets were pulled over them both; Mulder curled naked around her.

They were not alone.

As the needle slipped into her arm, Scully could hear the rasp of unfamiliar breath above her face, could see the dim outline of a dark figure that hovered over the bed.  It was the last conscious recognition she was able to make.  Darkness descended, as she vaguely felt Mulder's limp body being lifted from her, distantly heard a familiar, hated voice.

"How could you!  How could you do this?  Why?!"

She surrendered to the void.

End chapter 17 (part 18/29)
End Part II

Complicity (19/29)
By: promise64 (promised64@yahoo.com)

This fic can also be found at my journal:

See disclaimers, etc. in part 1
[There's some POV changing in this part. Nothing confusing, though. You'll see why...]
Part III -- Sanctity

Sounds die away in the ether,
And darkness overtakes the dusk.
In a world become mute for all time,
There are only two voices: yours and mine.
What was in our stars
That destined us for sorrow?
Chapter 18

He had killed for the first time when he was only fifteen years old.

Memory was a cruel, bewildering thing, he mused.  The things you forgot, things you would have sold your soul to remember -- like the sound of his mother's laughter.  She'd had a beautiful voice, but try as he might, he could not remember the sound.  That recollection escaped him, yet somehow he retained every flickering minute of the night he had killed Jacob Childress.  It had become like an elementary school filmstrip, bright and noisy behind his eyes, darkness all around.

The van drove over a deep pothole, icy slush splattering the windshield, and he heard a dull thunk from the back compartment.  Listening attentively for a moment, he assured himself that nothing was wrong.  He let the windshield wipers remove the dirty snow.

That night had been the beginning, he thought, really the beginning.  He had hated his father before that night.  He had missed his mother terribly, despaired over the tragedy that had stolen her life, but the rage, the sense of purpose had not developed until that night in the woods.

He had always been a meticulous child, planning everything to the last detail, missing nothing, preparing for every eventuality.  When he was very young, his teachers had called him serious, studious.  Later they called him obsessive.  No matter.  That obssessiveness had kept him and Aaron alive during the two weeks they'd spent alone after their father left, after their mother locked herself in her bedroom and never came out again.  Wasn't he the one who had thought to search their mother's purse for money?  Wasn't he the one who had been brave enough to walk the three miles into town to purchase food?  Wasn't he the one who remembered to walk the dog, take out the trash, turn on the outside lights at night so that the neighbors wouldn't worry?

Aaron had never been good at planning.

Aaron had spent those two weeks crying, not because he was worried about their mother, but because he missed their father.  That was when his hatred for his brother had blossomed.  Only nine years old, and he had been able to see that his twin brother was a selfish, cowardly child.  Adam and Aaron Hathaway, he mused, identical in every respect except their conception of right and wrong.  Aaron was weak.  Aaron was stupid.  Aaron had betrayed their mother's memory.  Adam Edward Hathaway Jr., bearer of his father's name and legacy, had been the stronger brother, had been the one able to discern the reason that their family was falling apart.  Only he had been able to see the seed of evil that had festered in their family, eventually growing strong enough to strangle them all.

Adam may have been his father's namesake, but he was nothing like his father.

That night in the woods had been the culmination of years of smoldering hatred, months of planning and cold, calculated forethought.  Justice was not something that could be obtained in a murderous rage.  It was simple, precise, necessary.  You had to be careful.  You couldn't let your emotions control your actions.  It wasn't a matter of being emotionless, not at all.  Of course he had strong emotions related to his mother and Jacob Childress.  How could he not?  But he had learned to master those emotions, learned how to turn the rage into something productive, something that he could control, harnessing its energy and directing it towards a larger purpose -- revenge.

He slowed for a stop sign, snow-capped trees all around.  The back of the van was still quiet.  They would not wake up for some time yet.

It had been the beginning of summer.  School had let out only a week before.  On the last day of classes students had chattered noisily about their summer plans, about who was throwing end of school parties.  Adam, as usual, had not participated in their mindless prattle.  He had been reading in the back of the classroom.  Salinger, if he remembered correctly.  Last period, fifteen minutes till the bell rang for the last time that year.

Jacob had set the events in motion, and Adam, decades later, was strangely thankful for that.  Adam had been reading quietly, able to tune out the voices of the other children and retreat to a quiet, meditative place within his own mind.  Suddenly, Jacob had been standing in front of his desk, had placed his hand over Adam's book, breaking his silent sanctuary.

<"Hey, Hathaway, I asked you a question.">

Jacob's pale, scrawny fingers were splayed over the crisp white pages of the book.  Adam knew who Jacob Childress was.  More importantly, he knew who Jacob's mother was.  Six years after his mother had died, and Adam could still hear her screaming, demanding to know who "she" was, demanding an explanation from their father -- and their father's harsh, pitiless reply -- "Martha Childress, as if it makes a damn bit of difference!"  Theirs was a small town.  Both Adam and his mother knew exactly who Martha Childress was.

<"Hathaway, earth to Hathaway!  Are you retarded or something?">

He’d had to live in the same town as Jacob Childress for six long years.  He’d been forced to see his smug, smiling face at school every single day, reminding Adam of what he'd lost, what Jacob still had; his perfect life, his living, breathing slut of a mother.  It was wrong.  Adam knew, instinctively, that it was not the way things were supposed to be.

What had he said to Jacob in reply?  Memory was a fickle thing.  He couldn't recall.  All he could remember was staring into Jacob's eyes, dirt brown eyes, eyes the color of dog shit, watery coward's eyes.  He could remember that Jacob had muttered "freak," walked away laughing, joining his friends.  And Adam had been paralyzed, trapped by a perfect vision of Jacob's bloody face on the ground, his brown eyes glazed in death.  It wasn't a hallucination, he had realized, sitting in the classroom long after everyone else had left.  It was a precognition, God showing him the way.  Adultery was a sin, fornication was the devil's handiwork, and the sins of the father (or mother) were visited upon the son.

Killing was wrong, but the bible demanded an eye for an eye, and Adam's mother was dead.  Her blood had swirled in the bath water like food coloring when dyeing Easter eggs, red tendrils wavering in the murky water, snaking out across the polished tiles of the bathroom floor where the bathtub had overflowed.  Her gray, puckered flesh and dull, dead eyes.  Her wrists like disgusting, gaping smiles where she had sliced her own flesh with a straight razor.  He had never seen his mother naked before.  Nine years old when his father had finally returned home, kicked in the bedroom door, found his wife already stiff and stinking in the master bathroom.  Adam had followed his father and stood in the open doorway screaming and screaming and screaming.

Adam was an innocent, or he had been.  His father and Martha Childress had condemned his mother to death.  Rose Hathaway was simply too fragile, too pure of heart to endure the reality of what her husband had done.  Adam was an innocent, but he alone seemed willing to bear the burden and responsibility of vengeance.  Jacob had to die.  It was the only way.

Adam glanced at his watch.  It would be dark soon.  He would stop in another ten miles and re-administer the sedative to them both.  The last thing he needed was either one of them waking up before they reached the lodge.

It had been cold in the woods that night, he remembered, despite the advance of summer.  Adam had shivered, watching from the sheltering trees, as Jacob and his friends drank warm beer and talked about girls.  He'd been patient.  The song of the wind in the trees had calmed him, and he had found that the longer he waited, the more his nervousness had waned.  By the time the moment had arrived, Jacob wandering drunkenly into the trees to relieve himself, Adam had been relaxed, almost serene.

The thud of the sledgehammer as it impacted with the side of Jacob's face was a sound he could remember clearly -- a wet, soft sound, not at all as dramatic as he had expected it would be.  Jacob didn't even make a noise, simply crumbled to the forest floor in a small, limp heap.  It was so easy, and the thrill... He knew it was partially adrenaline, a rush of endorphins flooding his brain, fueled by the fear of getting caught.  But the peace he felt afterwards, the happiness, as if he could feel his mother's approval shining down from heaven above.  That had not been merely brain chemistry.

The first impact hadn't killed Jacob, but it was easy enough to drag his slight body to the church.  Careful to leave no evidence behind, Adam had rolled Jacob onto a plastic tarp before delivering the final blow, and even that precaution was barely necessary.  There was very little blood.  The floor boards had been pried up days before, the hole dug deeply enough that animals wouldn't disturb it.  Meticulous.  Prepared. 

For the first time since his mother's death, Adam had felt the weight of grief lessen in his young heart.  This was why he had left the trail for them to follow to the church.  Mulder was intelligent.  Adam knew he would find it.  Jacob was important because Jacob was the beginning.  It was God's will -- "in His will is our peace," Dante had written, centuries before, and he had been right.  There was peace to be found in the exercise of God's justice.
Adam had hoped Mulder would be able to understand this.  After all, Mulder had suffered a similar tragedy as a child.  He, too, had been tainted by an adulterous parent.  When Adam discovered that Mulder's sister had disappeared shortly before their parent's divorce, and that he had spent the rest of his life desperately searching for her, he had felt a bone deep sympathy for Mulder, for the suffering he had endured.  Perhaps the girl had been taken to punish the parents?  Adam wasn't certain, but Mulder had obviously been seeking justice ever since.  Why else would he have joined the FBI?  Why else dedicate his life to the pursuit of evil?  Sadly, Adam now realized that Mulder had been too severely corrupted, his innocence spoiled too thoroughly.  Mulder had wasted too many years searching in vain for the revenge that God demanded.

Adam looked at his watch again.  Almost time.  They would be there soon.

God had given Mulder a beautiful gift, a companion with whom to share his life, a relationship untainted by the corruption of the physical world, a pure, simple human connection that he could cherish and draw strength from.  Adam had spent his life alone.  After his mother had passed, he had found himself abandoned, and he had never sought to remedy that loss.  Believing that no one would be able to understand his thirst for reprisal, he had preferred solitude.  Seeing Mulder and Scully together on the steps of the federal building, the sanctity he had felt emanating from them, Adam had experienced loneliness for the first time.

Now, after realizing what Mulder had done, what he had destroyed, Adam was confused.  The kinship he felt with Mulder was still strong, but the trespass Mulder had committed was real.  Lust was one of the seven deadly sins, and Mulder had succumbed to lust, had taken something inviolate, inviolable, and he had polluted it.

Adam's life was over.  He had known this when he made the decision to leave the photograph and the story at the Leeds' house.  Eventually, they would trace the picture; they would discover his identity.  It was only a matter of time.  He'd had maybe two more weeks of freedom, two more weeks in which to complete his quest.  His confusion over how to react to Mulder's profanity had motivated his early retirement.  He hadn't wanted to desert the children, but he couldn't go back to them now.  The lesson they had been instrumental in communicating was over.

Adam would spend the rest of his life trying to decide how to deal with Mulder's transgression, trying to understand why Mulder had done what he'd done.  And then they could all find peace together -- Mulder, his beautiful partner, and Adam.  Life was long and full of pain.  Death was the silence you earned at the end of a difficult journey.  Adam was tired.  He missed his mother still.  He was looking forward to joining her soon.

The road had grown rugged.  It was wilderness from here to the lodge.  Trees closed in around the van like talons.  The sky was gray, darkening by the minute, the first glimmer of stars now becoming discernible.  Adam slowed the van, not wanting to jostle his passengers too violently.

How many times had he driven up this road?  With his father and brother, hunting gear in the trunk, prepared for a weekend of father-son bonding.  The concept had disgusted him.  Animals were the supremely innocent, and the sight of their blood had horrified him.  His father had called him a wuss, teasing him incessantly.  He was glad for the existence of the lodge now.  It had become his sanctuary.

There was a slight rustle of movement from the back of the van, and Adam paused.  They were almost there.  He would park the van and immediately administer another dose.  He wasn't worried.  He had tied their bonds carefully.

The stars in the heavens grew brighter above, and Adam said a silent prayer, asking God for the wisdom to end things properly.


Her brain felt heavy, her tongue thick.  Why couldn't she open her eyes?  Even her muscles betrayed her.  Scully tried to move her hand, her foot, and found herself paralyzed.  There was a humming in her head.  She followed it down a long, dark hole.  There was black, not a star in the sky, and thunder in her head.  She struggled in the depths, knowing it wasn't right, she wasn't awake, and that she had to fight.  <"I've already lost you, haven't I?">  Where was Mulder?  There was the cold of the window behind her, and she was being kissed.

The tunnel released her to pain and cold and a hard metal surface under her limbs.  Her head was cushioned -- the thunder in her head -- Mulder's heartbeat beneath her cheek.  She could smell him, too, could feel the slow, rhythmic rise and fall of his breathing.  He was not awake.  Truthfully, neither was she.  She still could not open her eyes.  Her hands and feet still refused to move.

The black hovered at the edge of her mind, beckoning, and she concentrated on the sound of Mulder's heat beating.  She tried to focus her thoughts.  Systole. The heart chambers contract.  Diastole.  The heart chambers relax.  Blood enters the right atrium through the superior and inferior vena cava, passing through the atrioventricular valve and into the right ventricle.  The right ventricle pushes the blood through the pulmonary semilunar valve, into the pulmonary trunk, through the two pulmonary arteries, and into the lungs...

They were moving.  Scully could feel the motion beneath her body, could hear the crunch of gravel beneath tires.  The motion jostled her lifeless body, almost dislodging her comfortable position atop Mulder's chest.

<A figure hovering over the bed. Cold, numbing pain as a needle pierced her arm.  That voice.  She knew that voice.  The knife carving a bloody line across her throat and his breathing in her ear.>

She had to stay conscious, had to stay awake in the hope that she could regain motor function before they stopped moving.
...Four pulmonary veins carry oxygenated blood into the left atrium, which sends the blood through another atrioventricular valve -- the bicuspid valve -- and into the left ventricle.  The left ventricle sends blood through the aortic semilunar valve...

They had stopped.  Mulder's heart continued to beat slowly.  Everything was silent.  Scully held her breath and tried to concentrate.  She heard a rusty squeal as the doors were opened.


Somehow, they'd managed to stay in the position he'd placed them in after removing them from the motel.  Of course, there wasn't much room to maneuver in the back of the van.  They looked so tranquil; Dana's head was pillowed on Mulder's chest, her bound hands curled beneath her chin.  They looked innocent, like slumbering children.  It was a far better image than the one he had been confronted with when he'd entered their motel room.  Disgusting, the room had practically reeked of sex -- clothing strewn about, snarl of sweaty sheets, sordid and filthy, tangled together like rutting dogs.  He'd had to restrain his anger, not wanting to hurt them, despite everything.

He watched them.  Dana's fingers tensed minutely; she made a slight sound in her throat.  They would wake up soon.  Adam pulled a syringe from his coat pocket.

End Chapter 18 (Part 19/29)

Chapter 19


The sun was bright, piercing through the white sky and blinding Moore where he stood.  He blinked, sighed, and regarded his agent.

"Take it down," he instructed Sandborne.

SAC Moore stepped back from the motel room door, as Sandborne and Marcus pulled the small battering ram back, and then thrust it forward.  It cracked the wood as it impacted with the door, and the mangled portal swung open, revealing a dark room beyond.

Moore swallowed his sense of dread.  He wasn't wrong.  He'd wanted to be wrong.

Mulder and Scully hadn't shown up at the federal building that morning.  Excusing their tardiness as fatigue and the after effects of the night at Niagara Falls, Moore hadn't been worried, at first.  By the time it had reached 2 PM, and they hadn't called the field office to check in, he had become concerned.  He'd called the motel.  He'd called both their cell phones.  He'd received no answer.  Their cell phones were turned on, their voice mail picking up after a series of rings.  He'd left messages, several.

It was already obvious that the kidnapper knew where Mulder and Scully were staying.  He'd revealed as much during the first phone contact.  No one had believed that this knowledge presented a threat.  The kidnapper did not seem focused on the investigators as targets.  The children were the ones in danger.  Mulder's profile had made this clear.  Their suspect had a precise goal, and random acts of violence were not a facet of this purpose.

Or so they'd thought.  It was almost four o'clock.  Mulder and Scully could not be found, their car was in the parking lot, and their motel rooms were empty. 

"We're treating this as a crime scene, people," Moore cautioned.

Downstairs, another small group of agents was already gathering forensic evidence from Scully's motel room.  Moore had been with them when they'd taken the door down.  He'd been fervently hoping to find her sick in bed, the phone not working, both her legs broken -- anything.  But there had been nothing.  The bed hadn't even been slept in.  Neat as a pin, two pairs of Scully's impossibly high shoes aligned precisely by the bed.  In the closet, a row of gray and black suits sat safely in their dry cleaning bags, a small handful of cosmetics by the bathroom sink.  There had been no indication of where she might be or what might have happened to her.

Mulder's room was a different story.

"Management's gonna throw a shit fit," Marcus muttered, walking carefully around the splintered door and into the room.  The manager had been out of his office when they'd arrived.  That's why the battering ram had been necessary.

"We'll pay him back," Moore said crisply.

Ahead of Moore, Sandborne had stopped in the middle of the room, looking at the floor.  Raising his eyes, the comment was obvious in his expression.

If Scully's room had been neat and empty, Mulder's was the diametric opposite.  Littering the floor were various pieces of clothing, his and hers, dropped haphazardly, leading from the door to the bed.  Three feet from the bed, a black cotton bra lay in a small puddle.  At the bed's edge, a pair of gray boxer shorts was crumbled.  The sheets were a twisted mess, the matching pair of black panties just visible under one of the folds of blanket.

Moore sighed, closed his eyes.  He'd suspected, had even hoped that they'd managed to find some comfort together this way.  The Bureau was a difficult place, lonely and consuming.  His own failed marriage was evidence of this.  Despite his early resistance, Moore liked Mulder.  Mulder was brilliant, driven.  He liked Scully even more.  Moore respected them, and he had hoped, after the night at the church and his conversation with Scully, that these two people would not succumb to the loneliness and despair that had claimed so many good agents.  He had hoped they at least had each other.  Six years was a very long time.

"This gets kept very quiet," Moore answered Sandborne's hesitant look.  "Very quiet."  His tone was hard, commanding.  "No one, and I mean *no one* outside of the immediate investigation hears a hint of this."

Sandborne nodded.  From behind him, Moore heard Marcus' "Yes, sir."

Moore may have suspected that Mulder and Scully were involved, but the fact of it was not something to be handled lightly.  The Bureau had no specific policy against fraternization, but it was frowned upon, deeply.  Moore did not want to see this investigation twisted into an OPC scandal.

"Agent Marcus, go downstairs and grab someone from Mobile Crime."  They needed forensics on this room as soon as possible.  "One person,” he added, “and make sure you stress the sensitivity of this situation before he gets up here."

Marcus left the room.

Sandborne had a camera and was taking pictures.  "God, I feel like I'm invading their privacy," he said softly.  "I'm not used to feeling like this."  He wasn't used to knowing the victims of the crimes they investigated, either.

Moving cautiously around the bed, Moore noted the sag of Sandborne's shoulders, the deep shadows etching his eyes.  Sandborne's partner was in the hospital; he'd spent the previous night comforting Williams' fiancé.  This case had suddenly become personal for them all.

On the floor by the bedside table, barely visible in the low light, something caught Moore's attention.  He reached into his pocket and pulled out a latex glove.  Stooping on the carpet, he leaned over to examine the object more closely. 

It was a syringe.


Scully jerked awake, a metallic sound rattling close to her ear.  There was intense pain, throbbing behind each of her eyes, pulsing in the back of her skull.  How long, she wondered, had she been unconscious?  She tried to open her eyes, crying out when light amplified the pain.  She squeezed them shut once more.  A gentle hand pushed the hair back from her face and smoothed across her cheek.

"Scully?" His voice was worried.

"Mmmm..." Her throat was painfully dry.  "Mulder... my head hurts."

Something cool and wet touched her lips and she opened her mouth, a welcome gulp of water flooding in.  She reminded herself to drink slowly.

"Scully," Mulder said, when she had finished drinking.  "You're wearing my clothes."  Forced humor in his tone, obviously trying to cover his fear.

Finally, she risked opening her eyes again, steeling herself against the onslaught of light.  She peered at him through slit lids.  His look was one of concern rather than humor.  Scully glanced down at her body, which, she now noticed, was cradled in Mulder's lap.  He was right about the clothes.  She was wearing his gray oxford under his Georgetown sweatshirt, and, worst of all, a pair of his jeans, rolled up about a thousand times.  It was worse than wearing her big brother's clothes. 

She looked like a midget.

Mulder had resumed the slow passing of his hand over her hair.  Suddenly, strangely, she was okay with him touching her.  It wasn't the sex.  That hadn't fixed anything the first time.  Instead, it was as if a dam had burst inside her mind, and any definition they might have possessed had been washed away in the deluge.  The look in his eyes still terrified her.  This was not the Mulder she knew -- and yet, somehow, it was.  She, too, felt foreign.  So much of who she had become had been dependent on her relationship to him, and now that relationship was irrevocably different.

She blinked, trying to come back into herself, glancing away from Mulder's troubled eyes and scanning her surroundings.  The metallic sound originated from a pair of handcuffs attached to her left wrist.  Her right hand was free, the empty cuff attached to a thick chain that snaked across the room and was anchored in the floor.  A plastic pitcher and cup on the floor had been the source of the water Mulder had given her.  The room was bare, little more than a shed -- rough concrete floor, no windows, two doors, raw wood walls, and a single light bulb dangling from a chain in the ceiling.

Not certain if she could manage it yet, Scully pushed herself up from Mulder's lap.  His worried hands guided her from the floor, and he hovered over her as she rose to her feet.  The room swayed when she stood.  She closed her eyes again.


"It's okay, Mulder.  Just dizzy."

His hands retreated, and Scully opened her eyes.  They had been lying on an old mattress on the floor, covered in seemingly clean sheets and a ratty, gray blanket.  Other than that, there was no furniture in the room.  It was bone cold, and even swaddled in Mulder's clothes, Scully was freezing.  There was no discernible source of heat.

The length of chain was substantial, and Scully walked towards one of the doors, surprised when she found that she could reach it.  There was no doorknob, and she pushed the door open.  Inside, a tug on a string dangling from the ceiling illuminated a tiny bathroom, or rather, a tiny outhouse.  Childhood memories of summer camp and the smell of wooden latrines were enough to alert Scully to the lack of modern plumbing.  Lifting the lid on the toilet, her suspicions were confirmed.  A dark, depthless, putrid hole gaped beneath the toilet seat.

The rattling chain alerted her to Mulder's presence before he actually entered the room.  He stood over her shoulder and regarded the amenities.

"This is far worse than any motel I've ever chosen."

She snorted.  There wasn't even a sink.  And like the outer room, there were no windows.  "Not by much, Mulder," she muttered, pushing past him and out of the disgusting room.

It was obvious that the chain wouldn't reach the second door, which Scully suspected was bolted from the outside.  She turned around once slowly, surveying their bleak prison.  Patting herself down, she was not surprised to find her pockets empty, nothing to be found which might be used to pick the lock on her handcuffs.  The floor, though dirt-blackened, was swept clean.  Outside, wind clamored against the cabin walls and Scully shivered.

Her head throbbed in tempo with her heartbeat, and she closed her eyes against a wave of dizziness.  She felt herself sway on her feet. 

"Scully..." Mulder called from behind her, the tone of his voice somewhere between concern and fear.
She had begun to turn to face him when a sound from beyond the other door halted her action.  There was the dragging sound of a heavy wooden bolt being drawn from across the outside of the door, then the additional clatter of keys and a padlock clicking open.  After a moment of silence, the heavy portal swung outward and Scully held her breath.

The night at Niagara Falls had been terribly dark.  Scully had spent the majority of that struggle held immobile by their kidnapper.  She'd never really seen his face.  The figure that stood in the open doorway, sleet-laden wind whipping at his back, was nothing like what she had expected, and yet, somehow, she had known he would look like this.

Clad in a thick goose-down parka, the man responsible for the death of four little boys was large and ungainly, almost as tall as Mulder.  There was no menacing sneer on his lips; his eyes were neither empty nor evil.  Rather, he was oafish, lumbering, his cheeks and lips red and cold-chapped.  He had curly light brown hair that had begun to thin into a high forehead.  His eyes were pale blue, tired looking, haggard.  There was a quality to his expression that was weary and vulnerable.

They regarded one another for an odd moment -- Mulder and Scully chained and defenseless, their captor with his hair damp from freezing rain.  Finally, he stepped into the room.  For the first time, Scully noticed that he held a large thermos in his left hand.  He closed the door and walked forward to stand inches from Scully, and she held her ground.  Without speaking, the murderer lifted a large, cold hand and grazed the vicious bruising around the gash on Scully's throat.  Behind her, Mulder's chains rattled as he began to move towards them.

"Don't touch her," Mulder spat furiously.

Faster than she would have thought him capable, the man whose frigid, dry fingers had just gently grazed her cheek turned from her, reached behind him, and withdrew a gun from the waistband of his pants.  He pointed it squarely at Mulder's forehead and clicked off the safety.

"I will kill you both," he stated, and the weariness was in his voice, too. 

Mulder quieted instantly, and Scully exhaled, relief and adrenaline flooding her brain as the kidnapper replaced the gun at his waist.

Again he regarded her. "I'm sorry for that," he said, gesturing to the sutures on Scully's face and neck, the statement at odds with his previous threat of violence.

She didn't reply, feeling small and weak in her too big clothes, their suspect looming over her.  No one spoke.  The only sound was the angry wind howling through the cracks in the walls.

"I brought you something to eat," the kidnapper finally continued, extending the thermos to Scully.

She took the proffered cylinder.  It was warm.  She tilted it and something sloshed inside.

"Vegetable soup," he explained, as if to comfort her unease.

She tucked the object against her chest, feeling the warmth seep into her chilled flesh, and stepped back from their captor.  He watched her, staring, seeming to contemplate something.

"Which one of you is responsible?" he asked Scully, sadness in his tone.

"Responsible?" Scully returned, the question seeming cryptic and strange.

"Which one of you is responsible?" he repeated, as if he had not heard her confusion, and he turned his head to look at Mulder.  His voice was becoming angry now.  The hand not holding the gun was clenched into a fist, shaking slightly.

Perhaps he was unstable. Mulder's profile had dismissed insanity, claiming that a truly unstable individual would not be capable of the careful planning these crimes had necessitated.  Scully was not certain which frightened her more -- an unpredictable and motiveless killer, or one who was sane, who had a definitive purpose in mind.

Before she could consider it more carefully, Mulder answered the kidnapper's bizarre query. "It was my fault."

The kidnapper closed his eyes briefly, sorrow softening his features, wrinkling his brow.  "Why?"

"I was weak," Mulder replied, and Scully heard regret in his words, a note of truth in his statement.  She was still confused as to what they were discussing.

"You succumbed to lust," the killer accused.

Dread like a rough heavy stone lodged in Scully's throat, and she shuddered with dawning comprehension.

"I regret it," Mulder continued, and the pitch of his voice was addressed both to the killer and to Scully.  She had heard that quiet confessional tone, the one he reserved for her alone, too many times not to recognize it instantly.

"Regret cannot undo what's already been done," their suspect chastened.

Mulder's reply was hollow.  "I know."

"Regret is easy in the face of consequences.  There is still penance to be done."

Mulder had been right about the families of the boys.  The motive for the kidnappings had been tied to the parent's adultery, to their sin -- they had succumbed to lust.  Product of a catholic school upbringing, Scully was all too familiar with the severity of the biblical prohibition against lust and the necessity of penance.  Mulder was attempting to shield her from blame.  This hulking, dangerous man had pulled them from the motel bed where they had come together for the second time.  After the first time, Scully had known that they had sinned.  She'd felt dirty, like they'd destroyed something precious.  Now, she realized with horror, they might be held responsible for that crime.

Scully wanted to say something, to turn to Mulder and yell at him, to shoulder her share of the blame.  She wanted to defend their actions, to attempt to explain to this tired, gun-wielding child killer that there was more to it than lust, that they had done penance enough already, that despite everything she did not regret her newly acquired knowledge of the taste of Mulder's kiss.  She did not regret hearing him whisper her name in passion, feeling the life that still existed in them both.  For so long she had felt cold and dead.

"I haven't yet decided what that penance should be," the kidnapper intoned, assigning himself the role of judge, jury and potential executioner.

Before either of them could respond, the murderer turned, opened the heavy door, and left the room, bolting the entry behind him.  Alone again in the hovel, Scully could not bring herself to turn around and face her partner.

End Chapter 19 (part 20/29)

Chapter 20

Assistant Director Walter Skinner stepped on to the jet-way and was greeted by a gust of cold, wet wind.  Buffalo during the winter was hell frozen over.  He turned the collar of his jacket up against the cold and hoisted his carry-on higher over his shoulder.  Airsick and sleep deprived, Skinner trailed after a pair of beleaguered parents wrestling with a stroller and two toddlers.  Emerging into the terminal, there was blessedly stable earth beneath his feet once more.  He had a headache.

"Assistant Director Skinner?"

Skinner sighed, took a deep, steadying breath and turned around.  Walking towards him, weaving uncertainly through the crowd of de-planing passengers, was a middle-aged man wearing a dark suit and trench coat, deep circles shadowing his somber eyes -- all requisite G-man attire.

Skinner extended his hand.  "Special Agent Moore."

Moore's hand was warm and dry.  Skinner studied the wrinkled dress shirt, the loosened tie, and the stubble darkening Moore's jaw.  Without the parody of banal greetings, the pair began to walk towards the baggage claim.

"Thank you for coming, Sir," Moore finally said, as the baggage carousel screeched to life.

Skinner wanted to tell Moore to save his thanks.  The decision to fly to Buffalo might likely cost him his job.  Skinner was not supposed to have any contact with agents Mulder or Scully.  He was not allowed to interfere in their affairs in any manner.  This was not a case under his jurisdiction.  A stack of unattended paperwork sat ignored on his desk in DC.  The annual budget review was due in three weeks.  Another pair of his agents was embroiled in a nasty counterfeiting case that had ended up conflicting with a DEA investigation, and suddenly there was an interdepartmental turf war going on.  They were looking for any reason to get rid of him these days.

But despite it all, Skinner could not abandon them.  Because of everything, because of the preposterous fact that he might actually be fired for trying to assist in the recovery of two fellow federal agents, because it was wrong, and because he owed them more than that, Skinner had come to Buffalo.  He'd answered the phone, listened calmly to Agent Moore's recitation of events, and he'd called his travel agent.  Technically, he was on vacation.  He'd had to take personal time in order to evade suspicion.

Moore coughed raggedly, cleared his throat.  There was obviously something he wanted to say.  Skinner waited patiently.  Both men quietly watched the parade of identical looking bags that rotated past on the conveyor belt.

"You knew agents Mulder and Scully personally?"  Moore finally asked, still watching the luggage.

Skinner considered the question.  Did he really know them personally?  He had known them through events the likes of which he could scarcely comprehend.  He was trapped with them in a conspiracy that might eventually claim their lives.  But did he know them?  He knew their anger, their determination, their suffering, their brilliance, and their devotion to one another.  He knew them only in the context of tragedy.  He considered them to be his friends, and hoped that the consideration was mutual, but it was a friendship forged by pain and never expanded farther than needs be.  He had never aspired to invade the confine of their world together.  He couldn't even pretend to understand it.  He admired them.  On more than one occasion he had protected them.  He knew them, perhaps, as well as anyone, which was barely at all.

"I was their direct superior for five years," Skinner responded, purposefully vague.  He did not know this man and, out of ignorance, could not trust him.

It was obviously not the answer Moore had sought.  He was silent for another minute.  "There's something that's been revealed by recent events," Moore blurted, "something about which I don't know if you're aware."

Skinner faced Moore, regarding him sternly.  There were multitudes of secrets that Mulder and Scully carried with them, around them, like an aura.  Skinner prayed that this man had not been ensnared by the lies that had trapped him years ago.

"They were involved... intimately," Moore finally managed.  Clearly uncomfortable, he hurried to continue.  "It's something I've tried to keep out of the main investigation, but the circumstances surrounding the events at their motel have made things difficult.  I don't want to see this investigation turned into an OPC circus, and I don't want to see Mulder and Scully's names dragged through the mud."  His voice was determined, solid, willing to defend a pair of agents he had known for scarcely a month.

Skinner was floored.  It took him a moment to find the right words.  "How does their... involvement... pertain in any way to this investigation?"  Of course he had suspected this, but it was not a suspicion he had ever desired to confirm.  It was none of his business.

"The motel," Moore said, not looking at Skinner.  "They were taken from Mulder's room.  There was evidence of recent sexual activity; a semen sample was taken.  We'd have suspected sexual assault, but there was no sign of struggle, and without DNA for comparison, determining the source of the sample is impossible."  Moore paused, took a deep breath.  "It's been difficult keeping this information from the rest of my team.  We need to eliminate the possibility that we have genetic evidence from our suspect."

Skinner closed his eyes. Moore didn't know how precarious Mulder and Scully's positions within the FBI already were.  These were not things that Skinner wanted to hear.  He felt as if he were committing a transgression, invading their privacy.

From the bowels of the airport, Skinner's suitcase finally emerged.  He dragged it from the carousel and felt a stab of weariness.  "I can get you a sample of Mulder's DNA," he finally replied.


"When I was sixteen, my father remarried."

Shivering, Mulder and Scully were huddled together on the thin mattress.  Across the room, their captor sat on a folding lawn chair, relating the bloody events of his life as if reading from a storybook.

"I couldn't understand it, how he could live with himself.  How could he kill my mother, destroy her hope and her life, and then blithely remarry, as if he bore no guilt, as if he did not repent?  I didn't blame his new wife.  She was innocent enough."

They had already heard the story of Jacob Childress' death, and the fervor, the elation with which the kidnapper had spoken of that night in the woods had sickened Scully.  He had been only fifteen years old.

"But my brother,” his tone turned scornful, “there was no excuse for what he did.  He betrayed my mother's memory.  He embraced my father's new wife as if our mother had never existed, had never breathed and loved and died.  It was as if I had only imagined the years when my mother was alive.  I had pictures of her, pictures of the four of us together, but I seemed to be the only one who remembered her, who missed her at all."

Adam Hathaway -- their captor had a name now, a name and a face to accompany the voice from the telephone and the list of heinous acts he had committed.  He'd revealed as much when he'd entered their room this morning, bringing them a Tupperware container of instant mashed potatoes and canned carrots.  Whatever his intentions, it was clear that he didn't intend to starve them in the same manner as the children.

"I could feel it happening again, the buildup of rage and sense of purpose that I had thought satisfied after Jacob.  I was confused at first.  I stopped sleeping, couldn't eat.  I stayed in bed for days at a time, skipping school, feigning illness.  I would stare at the ceiling in my dark room and feel the bed spinning beneath me, dragging me down this long spiral and swallowing me whole.  Until finally I realized that I was being punished.  I had been entrusted with the responsibility of vengeance, and I had done only half my job.  There were still people alive who had wronged my mother, who defiled her memory every day with their fresh betrayals." 

At first, Scully had been wary of eating the food Adam brought them.  She'd argued with Mulder.  Afraid and cold and hungry, they'd had a brief, loud argument.  Eventually, Mulder convinced her that poison was not a method their killer would use.  It was too indirect.  They would realize what had happened only after the fact.  Their captor would want them to know when he meted out their punishment.

"So I convinced my brother to come up here with me, to our father's hunting cabin, a place we hadn't been to since we were children.  My relationship with Aaron was strained by that point.  He was popular, a football player, and obnoxious.  I had hated him for years.  It was frighteningly easy to lure him up here, easier still to stand over him while he was sleeping and pull the trigger on my father's shotgun.”  He stopped and took a slow, deep breath.  When he spoke again the words were quiet and serene.  “He never even made a sound."

Adam rose from the chair, folded it up, and bent over to retrieve the Tupperware container.  "I never went home after that night.  I ran away and never looked back."  He paused, looked directly at Mulder.  "Until many years later, that feeling, that desire, that hunger for revenge returned again, and I realized that it would never be satisfied until I had made it possible for others to recognize the decay hiding in our society, the festering rot beneath the surface of our perfect families."

Beside Scully, Mulder straightened, pulling the warmth of his shoulder away from hers.  "Why are you telling us all of this?" he asked.

Adam seemed perplexed by the question.  "Because I thought you would be able to understand,” he said, as if this should be obvious.  “I wanted you to know that I understand -- the thirst for justice."

"Why would I be able to understand that?"

Adam looked shocked, confused.  "Because of what happened to your sister," he explained.

"How..." Mulder stammered.  "How do you know about my sister?"

"You graduated from the only public high school on Martha's Vineyard.  Searching the newspaper archives for such a small area was easy, and articles concerning your sister's disappearance dominated the headlines for weeks after she went missing."

The extent to which this man had fixated on Mulder frightened Scully.  It bordered on obsession.  More frightening still, his intentions towards them remained a mystery. Somehow, a direct threat of violence would have been easier to handle; Scully knew how to react to violence.  This quiet consideration and telling of tales -- she had no basis upon which to deal with these tactics, no notion of where this might be headed.  Adam was a murderer, capable of terrible brutality, but he'd yet to harm them in any way.  He'd abducted them from their motel room in the middle of the night, but he'd taken the care to dress them both warmly before removing them.  It didn't make any sense.

Beside her Mulder had grown quiet, but she could feel the tension suffusing his posture.  Scully wanted to reach out and lay a hand on his arm, to comfort him, to steady him, and to steady herself.  She was wary of making any move in front of Adam.

"I had seen the stain on you already,” Adam continued, “the same as the boys, but after I learned about your sister, it made more sense.  Joining the FBI, devoting your life to the search for justice, living alone, isolating yourself from your peers, the tragedy that seems to follow your life... You've wasted years looking for revenge in the wrong places."

A painful breath shuddered out of Scully’s lungs.  Had they been wasted years?  Had he wasted years of his life, had she?  However twisted his logic, Adam's words mirrored her own recent thoughts, her fear that they had been searching for justice that might never be found, isolating themselves in the process.  

"I don't feel," Mulder said softly, "that they've been wasted years."

An expression of pity crossed Adam's face.  "Have you found your sister?" he asked.  "Have you found the justice you were seeking?"

Adam's questions pierced deeply, and she suspected that he knew this, that this was his intention.  She could only guess his purpose.

Mulder avoided the questions.  "We've found justice.  We've helped people; we've helped people who otherwise would have had no one to turn to, no one who would listen to their stories."

"But what about you?" Adam insisted.  "What about Dana? Where is your justice?"

Mulder didn't answer.

Adam sighed, shook his head, and, as if tired of the discussion, he turned away from Mulder and Scully.  Reaching behind the lawn chair, he retrieved a duffel bag that he had brought into the room.  Unzipping it, he removed a plastic dispenser of Dial soap, a jug of water, and a towel.

"These are to clean the wound on your leg," Adam said, placing the objects on the ground in front of the mattress.

Scully was confused.  Her leg was not injured.  Other than his damaged ribs, she was unaware of any other injuries on Mulder.  Of course, she had not been paying the most careful attention on the night they had made love.  Mulder was silent, staring down at his hands folded in his lap.

Adam zipped up his parka, cast one last sorrowful look in their direction, and left Mulder and Scully alone in the cabin.  Scully stood, the chain rattling behind her, and retrieved the items.  Holding the bottle of orange antibacterial soap in her hands, she forced her voice to function.  "Your leg is injured?"  She turned and looked at Mulder.

He replied without raising his head, "The night at Niagara Falls.  I have a cut on my shin."

"Is it infected?"

"I think so," he said quietly.  "I was given antibiotics, but, obviously, they're back at the motel."

Scully nodded, stepping toward the mattress.  "I need to see it, Mulder."

Without making eye contact, he leaned over and rolled the leg of his jeans up to his knee, revealing his shin, swathed in gauze.  “Adam must have wrapped it for me,” he muttered.  Blood and pus had begun to seep through the bandage.

"Shit," Scully swore softly under her breath.  "Mulder, that has to hurt like hell."

He only grunted.

Kneeling beside him on the mattress, Scully began to peel the old bandage away.  Despite the obvious pain it must have caused him, Mulder didn't make a sound.

"Mulder," she began softly, concentrating on unraveling the length of soiled gauze.  "I don't think that they've been wasted years," she tried to reassure him.  Despite her bitterness, despite what they'd lost and her doubts, as she said the words, Scully realized that she meant them.

Finally looking up, Mulder regarded her with a skeptical expression.  "How can you say that, Scully, after everything that's happened?"  He sounded defeated.

The last of the bandages peeled away, and a long, deep gash reveled itself, fastened with several sutures.  "You were right," she said, her voice solemn.  "We've helped people; we've found justice for people who otherwise would have had none."

"And what about us?" Mulder asked, echoing Adam.  He reached down and touched Scully's hand, the one gently holding his leg.  "What about you?"

Suddenly, looking into his eyes, at the regret shading them, Scully felt her throat constrict, felt tears threatening to fall.  "Just because we haven't found all of the answers yet," she whispered roughly, "doesn't mean that I'm ready to give up.  It doesn't mean that I regret everything we've done."

Mulder looked at her, saying nothing, and she ducked her head, unable to maintain eye contact. 

"Mulder," she interrupted, "move you leg off of the mattress."

Without questioning her, he did.

Laying the towel beneath his leg, Scully studied the wound.  Mulder's flesh was pale, sparse dark hair striking a dramatic contrast.  She could see blue veins running beneath the surface of the skin.  If she pressed her fingers to his flesh she knew it would be soft; she would be able to feel the blood flowing through those veins.  This awareness made him seem vulnerable, luridly mortal.  She had taken his life for granted, had taken her own life for granted.  Too caught up in the pain of their shared experiences, she had ceased to appreciate the simple fact of his breathing, the simple miracle that they both still lived.  She would be lost without him, desolate, but she had become jaded by death, by its omnipresence in their life.  She had martyred herself to pain and solitude and she had lost touch with the simple reality of flesh. 

The skin around the wound was swollen, red and angry.  "This is going to hurt," she warned him, her voice coarse with realizations she wasn't yet ready to vocalize.  Unscrewing the cap from the jug of water, Scully poured some over his injury.  Carefully, she lathered up her hands and applied them to the wound.

His breath dragged in on a gasp, and he flinched as Scully worked the soap into the cut.  It was hardly the best method of disinfection, but it was all they had.  Partially to distract him, and partially because their captor's magnanimity confused her, Scully spoke as she worked.  "Mulder, why is he helping us like this, why this concern for your injury, why the food, why is he treating us like guests instead of prisoners?"

He paused before answering her, as if he had heard the emotions she was attempting to conceal.  "Don't mistake his concern for good intentions, Scully," he finally warned.  "We have chains on our wrists for a reason."

"But it doesn't make any sense, Mulder,” she protested, “Stephen Gains and Tristan Oliver were starved to the point of torture.  The doctor's aren't sure Stephen will live.  At the very least he's likely to be severely brain damaged.  Yet we get Tupperware and canned goods.  Why?"

"I don't know.”  Mulder shook his head.  “The children served a purpose; they were being used to communicate a message.  We aren't here as a part of that.  I think he's abandoned his crusade.  I think…" His voice went quiet, and Scully had to lean towards him in order to hear.  "I think he sees his life's work as being completed, and he's brought us here to end things."

"End things?"

"His life," Mulder answered.  "And ours."

End Chapter 20 (Part 21/29)

Chapter 21

"I don't understand what you're looking for?" Moore asked, standing above Skinner, as the senior agent flipped through the pages of the same high school yearbook that had contained Jacob Childress' picture.

"You have the body of a fifteen year old boy in the woods," Skinner began to explain, "murdered over twenty years ago, with an obvious connection to this case.  Your suspect directed the investigators to the church."  He continued to turn pages, scanning each row of images carefully before moving on.  "He knew that body was there, and the only way he could have known that was if he was involved in the murder.  I've read Mulder's profile.  Twenty years ago, the man we're looking for would have been only a boy himself."

"You think he was one of Jacob's classmates." Moore stated.

Skinner simply nodded.  Suddenly, his ceaseless scanning stopped.  His finger froze over the page, and he looked up at Moore.  "What was the name of the man Martha Childress was having an affair with?"

Moore flipped through the pages of typed reports on the table, just to be sure.  "Adam Hathaway," he finally answered, finding the name amidst Scully's carefully documented recitation of the interview.

"We've got him," Skinner declared, and Moore looked down at the melee of teenage faces, at the column of names listed in alphabetical order.  Aaron Hathaway and Adam Hathaway Jr. were neatly listed, one after the other.  Their young, identical pale faces stared up blankly from the yellowed page.


It was night.  They could tell by the lack of light coming from under the door.  But they had kept the light on, as if its glow could keep them safe.  Scully lay curled on her side, eyes open, unable to sleep despite her exhaustion.  Mulder was seated behind her, leaning against the wall, his injured leg swaddled in torn strips from the bed sheet.

"When I said I didn't regret everything we'd done," she said softly, breaking the silence, knowing that he was awake, "I didn't mean only in the context of work.  I meant that I didn't regret any of it, Mulder.  I don't regret you.  I don't regret us."  These words had been milling inside her, needing release.  The time for silence between them had passed, and they could no longer afford the luxury of avoidance.  They might die in this place.

Behind her, Mulder was quiet. 

The words stumbled from her lips.  "You said you regretted it, what happened between us…" She could hear the accusation, the pain in her voice.  "I need to know if that's true, if you truly wish we could go back to where we were before."  She paused, wishing he would speak, "Because we can't go back, Mulder.  It's done.  We can't undo it."  Her voice became almost inaudible.  "I don't know if I want to go back.  I don't even know if I can."  She was baring her soul to him, laying the ravaged fragments of her heart on the dirty floor like bloody gifts, nothing left to lose and risking everything.

She could hear when he moved, shuffling on the dirty mattress, and then the warmth of his hand was resting gently on her shoulder.  "I don't regret what happened, Scully," he said, the words rough.

"But you said…" she protested, shifting and rising from her prone position.  His hand slipped down her arm as she turned to face him.

"I meant," he clarified, silencing her protests, "that I regretted the way that it happened, what it did to our relationship, and the circumstances surrounding the act."  Even with the light on his eyes were dark.  He was kneeling only a few inches from where she sat, staring at her intently.  "I regret the way it hurt you and that I was the cause of your pain, but I will never regret making love to you, Scully. It was…" his voice tapered off.  "It was something I had never dreamed I would be able to experience with you, and I don't regret it."

If there were bloody fragments of her heart scattered across the floor, Mulder had offered nothing short of his own heart in return.  They stared at one another, speech abandoned, and he reached out, breaching the distance, his hand resting over hers.  She rose, kneeling like him, and they were level, equal.

"I do love you, Mulder," she said, because she had never said it before, and because it needed saying.

He smiled sadly, as if to assure her that he already knew.  His hand squeezed hers and she returned the subtle pressure.

"You know that this could be the end?" she whispered, needing to share the fear of it with him.

"I know," he paused and swallowed hard, shaking his head, "I know that you wanted so much more from life, that you wanted a family, children…" There was so much sadness in his voice.  These were not things that he had ever wanted, she knew, but he mourned them for her sake.  "I know that you wanted more than this."

"Mulder," she said, squeezing his hand again, "If this is the end, it's been enough.  It's been more than enough."

He stared at her, holding his breath, and there was something like hope in his gaze.  It was enough, she told herself.  She wasn't alone.  She had loved and been loved.  However briefly, with him she had known the color and sting of happiness.

Without speaking, they both moved forward, only their hands touching, and her eyes slowly closed.  His lips were warm and dry, drawing over hers like a whisper.  Chaste. 

Dirty, terrified, kneeling like a penitent, Scully sank into Mulder's warmth, and the sweetness of it made her ache.


"The state brought him in.  Apparently, a concerned neighbor called the police.  Medicare is paying the bills."  The doctor was flipping through the pages of a thick medical record, his black shoes striking a staccato pulse against the tiled floor of the hallway.

Skinner and Moore walked beside the doctor down the long corridor, passing door after door, the name of each occupant labeled neatly beside their room.  The government facility was stark and depressing, dingy white and gray, peeling paint and old linoleum.  The doctor had a long white coat and a metal clipboard.  He read the medical record in the rote manner of someone who had dealt with the detritus of society for too long, someone who had become inured to the reality he inhabited.
The trio stopped outside of a door.  The name, inscribed in pencil on a small placard, was Adam Hathaway.

"The police found him in his bed.  He was malnourished and dehydrated.  His clothes were soiled.  The bed was soaked in urine.  God only knows how long he had been in that condition.  Once he was admitted, we were able to determine that he had suffered from a series of minor strokes.  No one could guess how he had been caring for himself up until to that point."

Through the small window in the door, Moore could see very little.  The edge of a hospital bed, a small table with a tray on it, more gray walls.

The doctor closed the record, tucking the clipboard under his arm.  "He's suffering from dementia, most likely Alzheimer's, although that can only be verified post-mortem, and the strokes have left him with drastically retarded motor function."

"Is he coherent at all?" Skinner asked.

"He's practically vegetative," the doctor replied, voice dull.  "He requires twenty-four hour care, and he can't even urinate or defecate without assistance."

Moore let out a frustrated sigh, his hopes for answers from this man evaporating like ice crystals on warm glass.

"Can we see him?" Skinner continued.

The doctor shrugged, pulling a thick ring of keys from his coat pocket and unlatching the heavy door.  Stepping inside, the room was claustrophobic, smelling strongly of disinfectant and subtly of urine.

"How are we doing today, Mister Hathaway?"  The doctor's voice was unnaturally loud, laced with false cheerfulness, as he addressed the bundled man lying in the bed.  No recognition of the greeting could be registered.

Moore walked over to the edge of the bed and looked down at Adam Hathaway.  His body, once obviously belonging to a large man, was wasted, loose, dry skin hanging over frail bones.  His skin had a sickly, yellow tint, indicating the possible onset of liver failure.  His face was clean-shaven; his sparse gray hair was brushed neatly back from his forehead.  His arms had been placed outside the blankets, and his hands trembled atop the blue wool covering.

"Adam Hathaway?" Moore attempted.

"He can't answer you," the doctor interrupted, standing beside Moore and regarding his patient.  "Can you, Mister Hathaway?"  He pulled a tissue out of his pocket and dabbed at a bit of drool that had escaped from Adam's mouth.  "I'm not sure he can even hear us."

Moore turned away and glanced at Skinner.  The senior agent's expression was a combination of pity and disgust.  When he noticed the scrutiny, Skinner shook his head, dejected, obviously recognizing the dead end they had reached.

"And he doesn't have any family?" Moore asked, knowing the answer was obvious.

"None that have bothered to claim him, and we've looked.  He wouldn't be here if we could find anyone willing to care for him.  This hospital is a last resort."

Moore glanced over at the tiny window, at the sliver of gray sky beyond.  Just beneath its sill someone had hung a crucifix.  Walking to the window, Moore gingerly touched the religious icon.  It was cool and smooth.  "Who put this here?" he asked.  The hospital wasn't a religious institution.

"It was found in his personal effects -- the stuff the cops removed from the house.  One of the nurses hung it there," the doctor replied, sounding disinterested.

Moore studied the suffering figure of Christ, the agony of his features.  "You have his personal effects here at the hospital?"  He could hear the note of hope in his own voice.

The doctor shifted his attention from his patient to the pair of agents.  "We have them in storage," he confirmed.

"We'd like to see them," Skinner said.

The doctor nodded, patted Adam Hathaway on the hand, and turned towards the door.  Skinner and Moore followed him back into the hallway.

The government database search that had yielded Adam Hathaway's location at the hospital had revealed little else.  No information related to the present whereabouts of Aaron or Adam Hathaway Jr. could be found.  Moore and his team had, however, found something from the distant past.  A missing person's report for Aaron Peter Hathaway and Adam Edward Hathaway Jr. had been filed with the Barcelona, New York Police Department on February 19, 1977.  The case had been cold for more than twenty years.  Noted in the police report was the assumption that the brothers had run away together.  Their father had reported them missing.

Descending into the bowels of the hospital, Moore hoped that the stored personal effects of Adam Hathaway Sr. could relate some of the story that the man himself was no longer capable of telling.

Through a large black door that read ‘Authorized Personnel Only,’ the doctor flipped a light switch, and the agents were in a large windowless room piled high with cardboard boxes.  The doctor pushed ahead of them, walking down the center row, examining the names written with a sharpie on the side of each box.  The deeper into the room they moved, the more faded the names became.  Halfway down the left-hand side, the doctor stopped.  He placed his clipboard on the floor.

"Adam Hathaway," he said.  "Admitted October 12, 1994."  He reached up and pulled the boxes stacked above Adam's down.  Lifting the lid, the meager remains of an old man's life revealed themselves.

Moore stepped forward, Skinner at his side.  Looking into the box, it was filled mostly with papers, a scattering of photographs.  There was a string of rosary beads and a high school diploma.  Moore reached in, rifling through, not sure what he was looking for.  The photos drew his attention, their faded, yellowed faces pulling him in.  Most were of people and places he did not recognize.  Near the bottom of the box, one particular image caused Moore to pause.  He picked it up, holding it out for Skinner to examine.
Preserved in their seventies glory, two teenagers and their father stood arm in arm in the forest.  They wore garish, padded hunting vests and plaid, flannel shirts.  A rifle was slung over the father's shoulder.  One of the boys wore a dour, petulant expression.  The other smiled smugly.  Other than that, the brothers were identical.

"Adam and Aaron," Skinner muttered, taking the picture from Moore's hands.

Moore nodded, returning his attention to the box.  Most of the paper was useless -- report cards, old letters, and bank statements.  Eventually, it would all have to be carefully gone through, but none of it was of immediate interest.  Finally reaching the bottom of the box, Moore encountered a final item, lying flat at the bottom.  He picked it up and folded it open.  It was a mortgage, the deed returned to the owner after the final payment had been made.  The loan had been taken out in Adam Edward Hathaway Sr.'s name.  The address was in a residential neighborhood in east Buffalo.  Moore stared at the tattered page.  He handed it to Skinner.

"Sir, I think we might have something here."

End Chapter 21 (part 22/29)

Chapter 22

From the street 177 Landry Drive was barely visible.  In the summer, Moore imagined, with leaves on all of the trees and bushes, with weeds and other vegetation choking the lawn, the house would be indiscernible.  As it was, the skeletons of bare trees and overgrown shrubbery obscured the structure, its gray siding sulking behind years of neglect, blending into the winter sky.

The eight agents that comprised their team were pendulous black masses atop the thick blanket of snow.  They crashed through, past their calves, the ice sheath shattering atop winter's accumulated snowfall.  If Adam was watching from the house, they were moving targets.  White gear would have been more appropriate, Moore thought, or they should have stormed the house at night.  But they couldn't have waited.  Mulder and Scully didn't have the time, and there were three children who might yet be found alive.

They gave no warning before their entry, and breaking down the door was unnecessary; it was unlocked.  The team rushed noisily into the house, scattering snow and mud.  All of the windows had long ago been shattered, and dead, decaying leaves rattled across the floors.

The home appeared deserted.  Still, they were cautious, spreading out to clear each room in pairs.  Moore and Skinner hung back from the rest of the group, methodically studying their surroundings.  From the back of the house, they could hear each team's loud "clear" echoing off the walls of the desolate structure.

Sandborne walked back to the front of the house, pulling off his SWAT helmet, and meeting Skinner and Moore in the living room.  "No one's home," he said.

"Send two teams outside to search the yard," Moore ordered, unwilling to concede that this might be a dead end.

Sandborne nodded and, striding back to the other men, set about his task.

Skinner turned and walked into the small kitchen.

The fronts of the cabinets had been removed, their shelves empty.  There were no appliances remaining.  In the sink, water dripped steadily from a rusted faucet.

"The water's still on?" Skinner puzzled.

"Well water," Moore clarified.  "This neighborhood was only hooked up to city sewerage five years ago, and each homeowner had to pay a hefty hook-up fee.  You'd never be able to sell one of these houses now without the connection, but if you didn't have any intention of selling your home, there would be no reason to switch over from well water."

Skinner nodded, apparently considering something, a strange look on his face.  "So this house still has at least one of the amenities necessary for habitation?"

"I guess," Moore replied, "But without windows or electricity, the cold would make it impossible."

Skinner only grunted, moving out of the tiny kitchen and back into the living room.  It, too, was empty.  There was graffiti spray-painted over the walls.  Only a single, ugly oil painting remained, positioned over a long absent couch.  Around the edges of the room, the carpet was black and rotted by rain and snow, curling away from the floor like dead skin.  Moore followed, his heavy boots crunching over shards of broken glass.  In what was once the master bedroom, a huge armoire still stood, probably too heavy to be moved.  Its doors were missing.  Flowered wallpaper peeled from the walls in long, moldy strips.

"Agent Moore," Skinner called, now out of sight in the master bathroom.

Moore entered the room, finding Skinner next to the tub, peering around the dirty shower curtain.

"Look," Skinner requested, indicating with a nod of his chin the interior of the bathtub.

Moore did and was, at first, confused.  Water dripped from the faucet in here, too, splashing against the tub's surface, crusted by years of soap scum and mold.  Then, as he was about to question what Skinner wanted him to look at, Moore spotted it.  In the end of the tub, resting in a small alcove was a bar of new, white soap and beside it sat a damp, apparently new washcloth.  The soap was not cracked and dried from disuse.  It was still smooth and moist.

"Someone still lives here," Moore realized, as he turned back to look at Skinner.  His voice echoed off the tiled walls.

Skinner nodded, and just as he seemed about to speak, they both heard the clamor of voices outside, shouting.  Moments later, Sandborne appeared in the bathroom doorway, his face flushed from running.

"Sir, we found something that I think you need to see," he said.

The three of them walked outside, and after trudging around the house through deep snow, they discovered the rest of the team assembled around a pair of metal cellar doors.  They had been opened, and Moore could tell from the number of men outside that two of the agents had already descended into the basement.

Cautiously, they climbed down the cement steps.  Two more agents were standing at the bottom.

"No one's home, Sir," one of the men said.

Someone had been, though, Moore realized, and very recently.  Shafts of daylight filtered through small windows near the ceiling, and combined with the arc of Moore's flashlight, they illuminated a simple living space.  In the far corner there was a cot, covered by an old quilt.  A cardboard chest of drawers was positioned at the end of the bed.  Along one wall was a generator, its electrical output fueling a small refrigerator and hotplate.  A nearby workbench served as a pantry, stocked with canned goods and boxes of cereal, sugar and other necessities.  On the ground, juxtaposed against the rough cement floor, was a beautiful oriental carpet.

Skinner pushed ahead of Moore, moving over to the small cot. On a folding table beside it was a kerosene lamp.

"Anyone have a lighter?" Skinner asked.

One of the agents walked over and handed him a matchbook.

"That'll work," Skinner said, and removing the hurricane globe, he struck a match and lit the wick.  The room was instantly filled with soft, molten light.

"Holy shit," one of the men muttered, as Moore and Skinner glanced around the room, and silently, Moore echoed the sentiment.  Around the perimeter of the room, on rusted metal shelves, on the floor, on top of the water heater, on an old washing machine -- on every available surface -- were shattered picture frames.  Enough images to fill several family albums; the light from the lamp glinted off the fractured glass.

On a number of shelves nearest the bed, Moore walked over to examine the images.  They were similar to the ones they had found at the state hospital, happy family memories, smiling children, holidays and birthdays.  One discrepancy from the photos that they had found in storage at the hospital was the presence of a woman in many of these pictures.  She had long, brown curly hair and a pale, thin face.  On closer inspection, Moore realized that she resembled the boys closely.

"Do you see something odd about the shape of this room?"  Skinner asked from behind Moore.

Moore turned around, and carefully studying his surroundings, he paused.  They had walked the length of the house above, front to back and side to side.  It was not a large house, but the space below it was too small by half.

"It's too small," Moore observed, meeting Skinner's eyes.
Simultaneously, the two senior agents moved to walk around the edges of the room.  At the far end of the room, concealed by shadows, Moore brought his hand up to touch the surface of the wall.  It was the same color as the other walls, but the texture was wrong.  It felt flimsy by comparison, papery and new; wallboard had been erected down the center of the basement.

Walking with his hand pressed to the smooth surface, Moore advanced slowly along the new wall, finally reaching the corner where the oil furnace was located.  Shining his flashlight into the dark corner behind the furnace, he found what their team had been searching for all of these long weeks.  There was a door.

"Assistant Director Skinner!" he shouted, the blood thrumming in his head, knowing, instinctively, that this was it.

Skinner was at his side instantly, and without saying a word, Moore insinuated himself between the furnace and the wall.  The door was barely four feet tall, and in order to swing it open, Moore had to crush himself against the wall.  With his hand poised over the doorknob, Moore took a deep breath, glanced at Skinner, and thrust the door open.  It smacked against the furnace, leaving a narrow opening.  Beyond it was darkness.

"FBI!" Moore shouted into the void.  "If anyone is inside, you need to come out slowly and with your hands up!"  Moore couldn't hold his gun and a flashlight at the same time, and he waited, gun aimed, for even the slightest sound to emerge from the black.

"Is anyone inside?!"  Moore shouted again, and this time, faintly, he heard a small whimper.  It sounded like a child.

Lowering his gun, Moore brought the flashlight up and directed its beam into the dark space.  At fist he couldn't see anything.  Then, as he angled the beam around the inside of the room, he could see a flicker of movement near one of the walls.

Ducking his head under the door's frame, Moore entered the room.  Behind him, he could hear Skinner moving to do the same.  A foul smell saturated the chamber.  Moore sucked in a breath, forcing down his urge to gag.  The room stank of human waste.  The white arc of light exploded the darkness, and in its beam the small, huddled forms of children became visible.  Casting the light quickly around the rest of the space, Moore ascertained that there was no one else in the room, and rushed over to where the children were lying.  He dropped to his knees.

The three shapes were tiny, caked in dirt and excrement.  They were huddled together in a heap, trying to conserve warmth.  Agent Moore had seen many terrible things over the course of his work with the bureau, too many appalling things, but the horror of this place, the smell, the lifeless children before him -- it was almost too ghastly to be real.

Tentatively, Moore reached down and touched one of the boys.  His skin was ice cold.  He rolled the child onto his back, and the wide, lifeless eyes of Matthew Deary stared up at him.  He was stiff, and the blood had pooled in his face, leaving the skin dark and mottled, rotting.

Moore rocked back abruptly on his heels, swallowing hard, trying to breathe through his mouth and maintain his composure.  He paused for only a moment and reached out again, this time recognizing the red hair of Seth Leeds before he even touched the child.  His skin was cold, but as Moore pressed his fingers into the flesh of Seth's neck, he could feel, faintly, the fluttering of a pulse.

"Assistant Director Skinner!" he shouted, "I need help over here!"

Skinner was at his side almost instantly.  "The paramedics are on their way," Skinner said, and he gasped, looking down at the children.  "Oh God…" he murmured.

"We need to get him out of here," Moore said.

Skinner nodded, leaning down to scoop the boy into his arms.

Suddenly, a whimper drew Moore's attention back to the floor and the figure of the third child.  He looked down, and the child shifted, whimpering more loudly.  The boy's face, familiar from family pictures, was stained by dirt.  Drew Hausner's hair was greasy and matted to his head.  He was wearing the same cloths he had disappeared in – footed pajamas.  He had been walking home from a sleep over.

"Drew," Moore began, softly, "My name is Douglas, and I'm from the FBI.  We're hear to help you."

The child only whimpered again, drawing into a tighter ball.

Lifting the shivering body into his arms, Moore rose, turned and could see one of the other agents watching him from the doorway.  He held the child close to his chest, and walked towards the light that streamed through the open door.


"I need you to remove it," Adam said.

"I can't… how…" Scully stammered.

Only moments before, she had been dozing on the floor, huddled against Mulder for warmth.  He had been awake, and the knowledge that he was there, that he was watching over her, was a comfort.  Even in these circumstances, his presence was a comfort.  Then Adam had arrived, bearing his usual gift of food.  He had also come with a request, a request that Scully could never have anticipated.

It was related to the night at Niagara Falls.  Scully had stood in the snow that night, the life bleeding out of her onto the frozen ground.  Her vision had blurred.  She had been shivering so violently; she had barely been able to hold the gun in her hands.  But Mulder had been in danger.  She could feel the warmth of her own blood spreading out over her chest, and she had needed to concentrate.  The two figures had been a blur at the edge of the falls.  They were both going to die, and she had prayed.  She had sent up a quick, desperate prayer and squeezed the trigger.

No one had been able to determine where that bullet had gone.  Her initial terror that she had hit Mulder had been false.  She assumed that she had missed, that the bullet had embedded itself into a distant tree, or glanced off a rock and into the river.

She had been wrong.

"This is all I have," Adam explained, revealing a small hunting knife.  "I've sterilized it already."

God had heard her prayer after all.  She had hit her target, if not as accurately as she had intended.  The bullet from Scully's weapon had lodged itself into the thick flesh of Adam's shoulder, and now the wound was festering.  He had sought no medical intervention.  Days later, the dead flesh and spreading infection had to be immensely painful.  There was the risk of gangrene.

Scully was speechless.  A hunting knife?  He expected her to perform minor surgery with a hunting knife, a bottle of dial soap as disinfectant, and no local anesthetic.  A medical procedure under those circumstances had no hope of eradicating the infection.  It was insane.  The man needed a hospital and antibiotics.  He needed surgical instruments that weren't intended for gutting fish.

But, she reminded herself, Adam didn't care what the long-term outcome was.  If gangrene crept slowly and lethally towards his heart, it would make no difference.  All he sought was a temporary respite from pain.  Mulder had explained it to her already.  Adam was not long for this mortal coil.  The long-term prognosis for this procedure was not something he would care to consider.

Scully took a deep breath, held it for a moment.  She could feel Mulder's eyes on her.  She spoke finally, the words escaping in a rush of exhaled breath.  "It will be very painful."

"I know that," Adam replied.  "Pain is not something I have any fear of.  I have known pain enough already."  Se had to be in immense pain already, Scully realized, to be willing to expose a vulnerability in this way.

"I don't know," she continued, "if I'll even be able to extract the bullet with a knife like that."

"I have faith in your abilities," Adam responded, his words measured, monotone.

Scully could feel the steady burn of Mulder's gaze.  She didn't dare turn to meet it, not with Adam standing only a few steps away, his concentration focused squarely on her.  But she could feel him watching, in the same way she had felt him countless times, from across their office, across a crime scene, drawing her attention with a glance, trying to tell her something without words.  And she knew what he was trying to communicate.  This was probably the only opportunity they would have.  Their one shot at escape -- the only time when their adversary might display enough vulnerability for them to exploit.

Scully nodded, slowly.  "How do you want me to do this?"

Adam turned, dragged an old wooden chair towards the center of the room.  Beside it, he laid a towel on the floor.  On top of the towel, he placed a large metal pot, filled with steaming water.  The bottle of orange soap reappeared, accompanied by a pair of pliers and several more folded towels.  Standing next to the chair, Adam shrugged out of his parka, letting it land on the floor, and swiftly pulled his sweater over his head.  Bare-chested, he sat in the chair and removed a gun from the waistband of his jeans.  He pointed it at Scully's head.

"I'm going to sit here, and you're going to remove the bullet from my shoulder.  I'm going to keep this weapon pointed at the head of your partner the entire time," Adam said, as he turned the muzzle of the gun in Mulder's direction.  "If you make a single move that I interpret as being suspicious, I will kill him."  The tone was plain, straightforward.  Scully knew he would not hesitate to shoot.

Adam extended the knife to Scully.  She could feel it shaking in her hand as she stepped forward.  The injury before her was revolting; the flesh around the entry wound swollen and purple.  Foul smelling pus seeped from the hole and was crusted on Adam's skin.

Confident that she would do as she had been told, Adam faced Mulder; he braced the gun steadily against his knee and took a deep breath.  Tentatively, Scully assessed the damage.  She pressed her fingers to the decaying flesh, trying to ascertain the trajectory of the bullet as it had entered the shoulder.  From what she could surmise, the impact had been from behind, the bullet entering on an angle.  It was most likely embedded in the collarbone.

She could do this quickly, she told herself.  She could plunge the knife into this man's body and excavate this bullet.  Despite her fear of him, despite the horrific things he had done and his intentions toward her and Mulder, the thought of this made Scully pause.  The bodies she cut into were usually already dead.  The live ones were always anesthetized.  She took a deep breath and began to cut.

Beneath her knife, Adam stiffened.  The veins in his neck bulged.  He held his muscles rigidly still.  But the aim of his gun did not waver.

Scully carefully began to cut into the dead skin.  She could feel Mulder's eyes on her, and she knew what she needed to do.

End Chapter 22 (Part 23/29)

Chapter 23

"Why starve them?"  Mulder asked, from his position on the floor.

The hunched shoulders of their adversary did not move.  He held perfectly still as Scully began the process of cutting away dead flesh.  Finally, after a pause, he answered.  "They needed to be purified."

"Purified?"  Mulder continued.

Scully clenched her teeth, knowing what Mulder was trying to do.  He was attempting to distract Adam, to draw his attention away from her ministrations, not out of any altruistic intent to take away his pain, but to secure for her the chance to make a move. 

"They had been spoiled," Adam responded.  "The world and its sins had left a taint on their souls, and they needed to be cleansed.   Fasting is a means of spiritual purification that is recognized by all of the world’s major religions.  Not long ago, women who would now be considered anorexic were regarded as pious by the Catholic Church for their refusal of food.  Muslims ingest nothing more than water during daylight hours for the entire month of Ramadan.  Buddhist monks utilize fasting as a method to illuminate the path to enlightenment.  Sometimes,” he stopped, gritted his teeth, and took in a sharp breath, “sometimes, it becomes necessary to mortify the flesh in order to purify the soul."  His voice was strained, trying to suppress the intense pain.

Scully pictured the ashen, emaciated face of Stephen Gains, with tubes and wires spiraling around his small body, a respirator forcing air in and out of his fragile lungs.  She pictured Tristan Oliver disemboweled on an autopsy table.

"You tortured them," she spat.

"Torture," Adam replied, "is suffering without hope of reward."  He gasped slightly as Scully began to dig deeper with the knife, searching for the bullet.  His voice was strained.  "I offered them the chance at purification.  Their suffering was not in vain."

"You killed them," Mulder said, incredulous.

"They had to die," Adam replied, "so that others could see, so that others would understand that sin has consequences.  Our society makes it seem as if there are no consequences for our misdeeds.  But God is not fooled by this deception.  We may escape retribution in this life, but God will not be so merciful in the next.  They had to die." Adam gasped suddenly as Scully dug deeper in search of the bullet.  After a moment, he continued, "but I offered them the chance to meet our Father without the defilement of this world.  I offered them a chance at heaven."

Scully couldn't speak, couldn't find words to express her outrage.  She believed in God.  Her faith had survived challenges that had seemed insurmountable and it had emerged stronger despite them, but her God was loving, merciful.  Adam had taken some of the tenants of her faith -- the concepts of sin and repentance -- and had twisted them into an evil mockery of the religion she cherished.

As Adam spoke, Scully glanced sidelong at Mulder.  She didn't dare risk turning her head to look at him.  Despite his obvious pain, Adam's weapon was still held firmly, its muzzle in clear alignment with Mulder's face.  As Scully caught Mulder's eye, she saw his posture tense, his muscles poised for motion.  He nodded, almost imperceptibly, and she drew in a deep, centering breath.

The veins beneath Adam's skin were blue, pulsing with life.  His skin was pale and freckled like her own.  Scully had killed before, but never like this.  She had killed from a distance, mostly, wielding her gun like a scalpel, her aim precise and sharp.  Now, she stood mere inches from Adam; she could feel the warmth of his skin.
She would not let them die like this, she reminded herself.  Not Mulder, who had suffered so much already.  It was wrong, and the injustice of it fueled her resolve.  She pictured Mulder's hair tousled in sleep, his face relaxed beside her, and she had something to fight for.  For the first time in too long, she felt the pull of a life she was unwilling to surrender.  Scully clenched and unclenched her free hand, knowing Mulder would not miss the signal.  She felt the muscles in her hand and wrist flex as she drove the blade of the knife into the killer's neck.

Adam screamed, outrage and pain roiling from his throat.  His weapon fired, and Scully could see Mulder roll swiftly to the side, dodging the bullet.  She held onto the knife, still embedded in Adam's neck, as he rose from the chair.  She could feel the blade slicing downward through tendon and muscle.  Blood gushed from the wound, splattering her clothes.  She had probably severed an artery.
Adam's hands flew to his throat, crimson pouring from between his fingers.  Scully knew she had only a moment to spare, and she twisted her body, kicking the hand that held Adam's gun, watching as it clattered to the ground.

The expression on Adam's face was feral, rabid.  "That was a mistake," he snarled, as he lunged for Scully, mindless of the fatal injury she had inflicted.  Savagely, he punched her, knocking her to the ground.  She screamed as she felt the sutures on her face tear, overwhelmed by a wave of agony.

Above her, Adam towered, now holding the wooden chair aloft.  The gleam in his eyes was not human, his chest and arms were slick with blood.  He raised the chair over his head, and Scully blinked, could feel her consciousness waning, as Adam prepared to bring the chair down upon her, smashing it into her face.

She had tried.  She would die fighting, on her own terms.  She felt a fleeting gasp of intense, suffocating sorrow for the future she would never know with Mulder.

The crack of gunfire shattered the air, and Adam's massive shape staggered, the chair tumbling from his grasp, crashing to the ground behind him.  He swayed on his feet and coughed once, blood flecking across his lips.  "This is not how it was supposed to end," he murmured, the words slurred, a gurgling sound in his throat. 

Scully looked to her side and saw Mulder holding the gun that she had kicked from Adam's hands.

Adam took another step towards her before two more rounds were fired.  Scully watched, horrified, as the side of Adam's face was torn away by the impact.  Like a felled redwood, he toppled, his gory ponderous body landing atop hers.  She could smell the fetor of his blood, could feel the wet stickiness of his ruined face where it had landed beside hers, and she felt as if she were suffocating.

A sob choked from Scully's throat.  She couldn't move.  Adam's massive weight pinned her to the floor.  She could feel tears on her cheeks, her entire body shaking.  Suddenly, the heft of Adam's body was being lifted from on top of her, rolled to the side in a lifeless heap.

Mulder was next to her, lifting her from the floor, holding her in his arms.  She continued to cry; her control lost completely, grasping Mulder's body close to her like a lifeline.  Her fingers dug into the solid mass of his shoulders, and he held her with the same intensity, saying nothing, his face buried in her neck, as she continued to sob against him.

Finally, reluctantly, he released her.  Holding her at arms length, he smoothed the hair from her face, wiped the tears from her skin.  His eyes were damp, glowing, green, the expression on his face tender and relieved.  The breath shuddered from her lips, as his hands trailed down her arms, grasping her fingers briefly and tightly before letting go.  He kneeled next to Adam, searching the pockets of the dead man for the keys to their handcuffs, Scully realized.

"Check his parka," Scully suggested, her arms wrapped around her waist, still shaking.

Mulder moved over to Adam's discarded clothing, shook the heavy overcoat, and Scully could hear the jingle of keys from one of the pockets.  He reached inside and, triumphant, withdrew a small key ring.  Carefully, Mulder peeled Scully's arm away from her body, held her thin wrist in his hands.  The chains fell to the floor with a clatter and she was free.


"I know it's the right decision," Mrs. Gaines said, her voice choked by tears.  Her large pregnant belly made her seem frail, vulnerable.  Robert Gaines held his wife against him, supporting her weight, their clasped hands resting unconsciously against their unborn child.  A voyeur, Moore could feel the cold metal of his wedding band digging into his skin.

They would now be able to attribute five deaths to their suspect.  And that tally was made with the hopeful assumption that Mulder and Scully would yet be found alive.  Still, Moore knew, it was the right decision.

Stephen Gaines was brain dead.  He had never woken after Scully removed him from the forest.  His pallid skin was stretched tight across tiny, fragile bones, as white as hospital sheets.  The respirator rose and fell with an even, measured cadence, and the small boy's chest echoed its steady rhythm.  Tubes pumped nutrition into his body and different tubes removed waste.  It was never dark in the children's ICU, and there was no privacy.  Round the clock there were the lights and beeping machines, the constant bustling of nurses and doctors.  Stephen lay in the middle of that motion, a small, still presence, dwarfed and exposed.

It wasn't life, and Stephen would never wake up.  In truth, he was already gone.  All that remained now was one last act of will on his parent's part, the flipping of a single switch, then the persistent rise and fall would stop, and Stephen would have peace.

Skinner cleared his throat, and Agent Moore's attention was broken from the silent body in the bed.  Skinner was turning away from the grieving family, allowing them what privacy he could.  Moore followed him out of the ICU.

The hospital was swarming with agents and Buffalo PD.  Outside, representatives from all of the major news networks and print media were clustered around the hospital entrances.  The recovery of the children had garnered national coverage.  Police officers had been dispensed to keep the emergency entrances clear.  Hospital administrators had been explicit in their insistence that the chaos be kept under control.

Earlier that evening, Moore and Skinner had been witness to a scene that had made their hard work and suffering seem more worthwhile.  Drew Hausner's mother and stepfather had arrived at the hospital not long after the investigators.  They had been rushed into the emergency ward, pushed past doctors and nurses and police officers.  Drew had been the center of a swarm of activity, propped upright in a hospital bed, freshly bathed.  He was sleeping when his parents arrived, beginning the long healing process.  His mother had collapsed across the bed, burying her face in her child's hair, kissing his forehead.

Drew had roused briefly, blinked sleepily up at his mother.  Watching through the glass partition, Moore had felt his eyes well with tears and had blinked them stubbornly away.

Peggy and Eric Leeds were in a room farther down the hall, keeping vigil over the unconscious body of their son.  Seth was breathing without the assistance of a respirator, and the doctors were hopeful that he would make a full recovery.  Seth had spent the least amount of time in captivity, and the ravages on his body had been less severe.

Skinner's cell phone rang, and he excused himself, walking towards the relative quiet of a nurse's station.  Moore stood alone in the middle of the large hall, doctors and nurses bustling around him.  Six months of hell to find these children... six months, and by the end of it, he hadn't really expected to succeed.  It had seemed a nightmare, like forever falling, the ground endlessly rushing up to meet him.  No chance of escape.  No hope of salvation.

Then it had ended, abruptly, with the opening of a small door.  No weapons had been fired, no obstacles met.  He had walked into that dark space and simply carried the children to freedom.  The nightmare was over for these families, for these children, even for the families whose sons were dead, who at least now knew.  They would not wait a quarter of a century, as the Childress' had, for the permission to mourn.

Not by choice, Mulder and Scully had ended six moths of hell for these children and their families.  They endured it now in the children's stead.  Moore questioned if they would have chosen to make this sacrifice.  Mulder, probably, would have done so gladly.  Moore hoped, blindly, that they were not suffering.  He wondered -- as Roberta Hausner clutched her sleeping child to her breast and Stephen Gaines drew his last breath -- if they were still alive.

End Chapter 23 (Part 24/29)

Chapter 24

It was the first sunlight Scully had seen in days, and it was bright against the carpet of snow, blinding.  She felt like a creature emerging from hibernation, blinking dazedly at the afternoon sun.  Mulder placed a large hand over her shoulder, squeezing gently.  It was over, his touch told her.  They were safe.

Without shoes, the snow soaked instantly through Scully's socks.  All around them were trees, their naked limbs leaden with ice.  Wherever they were, it was far from Buffalo.  The forest surrounding them was dense and forbidding.  At the same time, the sense of freedom, the relief, was overwhelming.  She didn't mind the sharp sting of the snow against her feet or the bite of cold wind on her cheeks.  For the moment it was simply enough to be alive.

Mulder crunched through the snow ahead of her, his feet as unprotected as hers.  Watching him, she saw what had caught his attention.  A snowmobile was parked about a hundred feet from the tiny cabin.  Behind it trailed a large litter, which, Scully suspected, had been the means of their transport to this desolate location.  Straps dangled from the sides, and it was more than large enough to accommodate two lifeless bodies.  As she walked to stand beside Mulder, she could see a faint trail where the snowmobile had wended its way through the trees.

Mulder was examining the machine.  Strangely, the keys remained in the ignition.  They had tiny accumulations of snow perched atop them.  Brushing the snow from the seat, Mulder straddled the snowmobile.  He twisted the keys, attempting to bring the motor to life.  There was only silence in response.  Disembarking, Mulder moved to the side of the machine.  He kneeled in the snow, finding and disengaging the panel that covered the engine.

"Shit," he swore, the sound loud in the silent wilderness.

"What is it?" she asked, moving around the snowmobile to stand behind Mulder.

"He severed all the belts and hoses," Mulder said, his hands clenched in frustration in his lap.  "This thing isn't going anywhere ever again."

Mulder hung his head in defeat, and Scully glanced at the interior of the snowmobile.  Little pools of antifreeze and other fluids had collected within the machine.  Loose, impotent mechanical parts dangled inside the cavity.

"Mulder," Scully said, softly, "We're going to get frostbite out here."  Already, her feet were beginning to go numb.

Mulder nodded, and as he started to rise, Scully extended her hand to help him up.  Shivering, they turned back towards the cabin, and for the first time, Scully noticed a second structure, deeper within the trees.

"Mulder…" she said, indicating the second cabin's direction with the tilt of her head.  In unison, they turned for the building.

For the most part, the second cabin closely resembled the one they had been held captive in.  It was constructed of the same wood and had the same basic dimensions.  It was larger, though, and had two small windows on either side of the front door.  A stovepipe protruded from the slanted roof, trailing smoke up to the heavens.  With a gentle push, the solid oak door slapped against the wall behind it, and Mulder and Scully stepped over the threshold, becoming immediately engulfed by a wave of warmth.

"Oh thank God," Scully heard herself mutter, as the heat spread over her chilled skin.  She could feel the tingling shock of it against her cold chapped lips, against her red, irritated nose.

Mulder quickly shut the door behind them.

It was surreal.  Only moments ago she had been pinned beneath the gory body of a dead man, a killer who had died while trying to end her life.  She was cold, blood spattered, and beaten.  There was stickiness in her hair that she was certain was brain matter.  Moments ago… but now she was uncurling her arms from around her waist.  The shivering had stopped.  She could feel her skin prickle in response to the warmth.  The cabin was tiny, neat, and comfortable.  An old wood stove sat in the center, red embers behind the grate.  Afternoon sunlight glowed against the rough-hewn walls, pouring through a pair of small windows, and Scully felt overwhelmed.

Mulder must have sensed this, had probably seen the shock setting in from the expression on her face.  He guided her to a chair near the stove.  She sat, and could feel, distantly, as Mulder began to peel the drenched socks from her feet.

Shaking herself, Scully reached down and pushed his hands away. "I can do that," she said.

Mulder dropped his hands. He was kneeling in front of her, a look of concern on his face.  "I think you might be going into shock."

She knew the symptoms of shock and didn't need to be told this.  "I'll be all right, Mulder."

He sighed, turning his head away.

Scully dropped the second wet sock to the floor with a splat and grasped the sole of her cold foot in the palms of her hands, rubbing gently, trying to stimulate circulation.  Mulder rose from in front of her and moved away.

Another chair was positioned near the stove.  They were both folding lawn chairs.  The one she sat in had a rough wool blanket draped over it, covering the plastic seat.  A huge stack of wood was piled against wall farthest from the door, taller than she was.  The floor was crafted from the same wood as the walls, worn to a shine by the passage of feet over its surface.  Beside the stove, an old bookcase served as a kitchen counter, shelves stocked with cans and dry goods.  Several pots and pans were arranged neatly on the top shelf.

As she was surveying her surroundings, a large blanket was draped quickly over her shoulders.  She turned around, but Mulder was already walking away again, his back towards her.  He had stolen the blanket off of a bed in the corner behind her.  It was an old mattress propped up on cinder blocks, but it was covered in a heap of quilts and pillows, and Scully could feel her bones screaming with weariness.

Mulder had peeled off his own socks, and he was now padding barefoot around the cabin.  He carried an armful of logs over to stove, opened the grate, and added them to the dwindling fire.  For the first time in a very long time, Scully was no longer cold.

Scully watched as Mulder seemed to survey the cans and boxes of food.  After rummaging through the contents of the makeshift pantry for a moment, he withdrew a pair of cans and a soup pot.  The cans opened, he dumped their contents into the pot and placed it on top of the stove to heat.  They had left the food Adam had brought them in the other cabin, untouched.  Bemused, and a little dazed, Scully only watched as Mulder moved about, neither of them saying a word.

She closed her eyes, letting the warmth seep into her bones, the sense of relief at their escape acted like a narcotic in her blood, making her sluggish, drowsy. 

"I'll be right back," Mulder said, rousing her from her trance.  When she opened her eyes, he was near the door, a pair of battered boots on his feet and a large metal bucket in his hands.

She nodded, drawing the blanket tighter around her body.  He was gone for a few minutes, and when he returned, water was sloshing from the sides of the bucket.

"There's a water pump just outside the door," he explained.  Grunting, he hoisted the bucket onto the stove, almost knocking the soup pot off in the process.  He had spilled water down the side of his pants, and little puddles trailed back to the door.  "It'll take a while, but we should have hot water eventually."

The pot on the stove was starting to bubble, and the smell forced a rumble from Scully's stomach.  Mulder began pouring soup straight from the pot into two plastic bowls.  Fishing a spoon from a wooden bucket of utensils, he walked over to her chair and handed her a bowl.

"There's not a single meat product on those shelves," he said, as she took the bowl from his hands.  It was hot to the touch, and she wrapped her hands gratefully around its base.

Scully sipped carefully at the soup.  Broccoli and cheese.  It burned her throat, so hot she could barely taste it.  Several moments passed.  Mulder was seated in a chair across from her, shoveling soup into his mouth like a little boy.  She almost expected him to forget the spoon and start slurping directly from the bowl.

"Thank you," she said, softly.

He looked up, stared across at her.  "I owe you much more," he murmured.  He paused, ducking his eyes from hers.  "It would make sense, in a strange way," he stated, changing the subject, "if Adam were a vegetarian -- his obsession with innocence, with the destruction of innocence."

It felt strange discussing a man who lay in a bloody heap only a handful of meters away.  Mulder must have felt it, too.  He dropped the subject abruptly.

Their meal finished, he took the bowl from her, stacking the dirty plates on the bookcase. 

"You should go lie down," Mulder said, and she could feel his concern for her, a tangible substance in his words.  "I'll wake you when the water's heated."

Ordinarily, she would have protested, would have reinforced the artifice of her indomitable strength with feigned fortitude.  Not today.  She felt little desire for such assertions right now.

"Okay," she uttered, surprising Mulder, who had obviously expected her standard denial of weakness.

He watched, seemingly perplexed, as she rose from the chair, and, blanket trailing behind like the train of a wedding gown, walked over to the bed.  She settled atop the mountain of blankets, and the ancient bed springs squealed faintly.  Just as she was about to tuck her legs under the heavy quilts, she noticed something on the floor next to the bed.  It looked like a loop of old grosgrain ribbon, sticking up from under the floorboards.


He had been sitting, staring at the fire that now glared brightly behind the stove plate.  He looked over at her, concern again in his features.

"Come look at this," she asked, as she got up from the bed and knelt on the floor.

It was a piece of ribbon, very old, and badly frayed at the edges.  Mulder was standing above her, as she hooked her fingers into the loop and pulled.  A sharp tug and a three-foot square section of floorboards lifted upwards, like a trap door.

Mulder was suddenly seated beside her, helping her to lift the segment of flooring, and peering underneath.  It was little more than a hole in the ground, dug into the packed dirt beneath the cabin.  More interesting than the space itself was what it contained.  Neatly arranged, the space was divided into two parts.  On the left side books were stacked, arranged by size.  On the right, a pile of children's clothing was folded.

Mulder lifted one of the articles of clothing from the pile.  It was a pair of pajama bottoms, cartoon characters Scully didn't recognize dancing across the fabric. 

"These are the pajamas Tristan Oliver disappeared in," Mulder whispered, appalled.

One by one he lifted the clothing from the dark space, and one by one, a child's face came to mind.  Several of these children were known to be dead.  Other fates remained unsure.

Scully lifted one of the books from the stack.  It was an antique edition of the Brothers Grimm, its pages yellowed and torn.  Beneath it, an illustrated collection of Blake's poetry sat side by side with Gerald Manley Hopkins' collected works.  On top of a second stack, The Divine Comedy was perched -- a critical edition, with the original Italian on the left and an English translation alongside.  Flipping through the pages, Scully noted scores of pencil marks, underlines, and little asterisks in the margins.
The last book in the stack, resting against the dirt at the bottom of the space, was a child's bible, King James version.  The initials "A.E.H." were embossed on the front in peeling gold flake.  Scully flipped open the front cover, the filmy pages rustling like leaves.  "To Jacob on the celebration of his first communion.  Always remember that with Jesus all things are possible. Sincerely, Father Joyce."

"Scully," Mulder interrupted her perusal of the books.

Still holding the bible in her lap, Scully looked at Mulder.  In his hands was a length of black crepe, and resting in the center was a human skull.

"Oh my God.  Mulder?"

"It was underneath the children's clothes," he explained, his voice flat, "Wrapped in this fabric."

Scully reached out, gently touching the bone.  There was a large hole in the right side, above the temple.  The surface had shattered as a shotgun shell ripped through and ended a life.  Scully trailed her fingers over the suture marks on the surface of the bone, tracing the plates of the skull.

"This isn't an adult skull, Mulder," she said. "It's an adolescent's."

Mulder stared down at the pale gray bone.  "Aaron Hathaway," Mulder stated.

Scully drew in a breath, held it.  The manner of death fit, and the age, and they were sitting on the floor of the cabin where Adam had confessed to killing his only brother.  Scully stared into the dirty recess beneath the floorboards -- not just a repository for books and clothing -- it was an ossuary.


Thankfully, B&M Realty still had the original paperwork for the property at 177 Landry Drive, though it took more than an hour for the manager to locate the records amidst the firm's antiquated filing system.

"Pages of this are missing, I think," the woman said, crisp and professional, as she handed Moore the papers.  "Considering how old this file is, that's not a surprise," she explained.

Moore took the file, loose pages almost spilling across the floor.  He walked over to a nearby desk.  Placing the folder on the desk, he flipped through the pages.  He felt Skinner's presence, hovering over his shoulder.  Most of the contents of the file were legal documents, things only a lawyer would be able to decipher.  Moore glanced only briefly at these, still flipping pages.

"Where would collateral that was held against the property be listed?"  Moore asked, unable to make much sense of the contracts and loan arrangements.

"If there was collateral of any type," the manager said, nudging Moore aside gently and flipping quickly to the back of the file, "It would be listed here…" she trailed off, reading.  "Here you go," she finally declared, pointing at a section of document.  "There was collateral listed for this property at the time the mortgage was drawn up."

Moore looked at the place she had indicated.  It was barely a notation in the file.  Had the office manager not pointed it out, Moore would not have seen it right away.  As collateral against the mortgage, Adam Hathaway Sr. owned 250 acres of land in Quebec, Canada.

"Quebec," Skinner said, behind him, "that doesn't narrow it down too much."

He was right.  Without an exact location, searching an area that broad was a monumental task.  It would involve the cooperation of the Canadian authorities.  Locating a deed for a single parcel of land in an area the size of Quebec could easily take weeks, possibly months.  Mulder and Scully didn't have that long.

"This is all you have?" Skinner asked.

The manager nodded.  "It's amazing we have any records on this property to begin with.  Usually, after the note on the house is paid in full, the records are destroyed.  If it weren't for our disastrous filing system -- barely half of the files are on computer, and we have stacks of paper files going back fifty years -- this paperwork would no longer exist.  I've been trying to sort it all out since I took over the business from my father."

Moore barely heard any of this.  They were running out of time.  He could feel it.  This morning, he had overheard Skinner in the conference room on the telephone.  From what he had been able to glean, Skinner had been talking to Agent Scully's mother, informing her of the situation.  It had taken Moore aback, the emotion in the senior agent's voice, the softness.  Moore had been able to see Skinner through the cracked conference room door, shoulders hunched, head down, defeated.  He had closed the door quietly and walked away.  He hadn't meant to intrude.

Moore wondered if Skinner would make a similar call to Agent Mulder's family, or if he already had.  It seemed almost strange, to think that Mulder and Scully might each have a family at home, waiting for news.  They seemed so isolated from the rest of the world, an entity unto themselves.  Of course they would have families, Moore knew.  Everyone had a family.  Moore simply hadn't imagined one for Mulder or Scully.  Their isolation, the way they interacted, it almost seemed to preclude the existence of others, as if there could not room for anyone else in their insular world.

Moore shook his head. He barely knew them.  In a way, he was glad to know that there were people out there who cared for the two agents, someone without a connection to their job.

After leaving Skinner in privacy, Moore had retreated to his office in order to submit an official request for the assistance of Assistant Director Skinner on this case.  Skinner's vacation time was about to run out, and Moore did not want to see Skinner reprimanded for trying to retrieve his agents.  Truthfully, Moore needed Skinner's help, and The Powers That Be had to recognize that.

"Thank you for all of your help," Skinner was saying, shaking the office manager's hand.

Moore closed the file on the desk in front of him.  "Can we take this with us?"  He asked.

"Of course," the woman replied.

Tucking the sheaf of papers under his arm, Moore wondered if it would do any good.

End Chapter 24 (part 25/29)
IMPORTANT NOTE -- I mean no disrespect to the vegetarians in the audience. I *am* a vegetarian, myself! (come to think of it, I think I own almost all of the books I listed, too, and we had a skull in my last apartment that my roommate had picked up at an ossuary in the Czech Republic… none of this bodes well for my sanity, I think…) <bg>

Chapter 25

It had become dark outside.  The only light now filling the cabin came from two oil lamps, burning brightly in the small space.  The electric generator had sputtered and died early in the evening, out of gas.  Adam had not brought more. He obviously hadn't intended to stay too long.

Scully dipped the washcloth into the basin again, lathering the thin terrycloth with a bar of castile soap.  It smelled like the soap at her grandmother's house.  As a child, returning from a day rolling in the cold ocean surf, covered with salt and sand, she and Melissa had used castile soap in her grandmother's claw foot tub, sun-browned and bleached blonde.  She shivered, far from any beaches, drawing the warm water over her skin.

It felt delicious to be clean again.  Scully worshiped good hygiene.  The feel of her dirty, matted hair had pained her.  The first thing she had done, as soon as Mulder had finished heating the water, was to dunk her head gratefully into a chipped washbasin located atop an old dry sink.  Adam apparently used Pert Plus.  Not that Scully cared what brand of shampoo she used.  She scrubbed her hair with fierceness designed to eradicate days of grime.

Now, as she wrung out the washcloth and lathered again, her clean, wet hair sent tiny rivulets of water trailing down her back to dampen the waistband of her pants.  As soon as she was clean, she would change those, too, having raided a dead man's wardrobe for fresh attire.  The chill air raised goose bumps on her flesh as she rubbed the dirt away.  She was facing a wall, her back to Mulder, naked from the waist up.  Still, occasionally, she felt he might be watching.

It was so strange, the tension that thought inspired.  It frightened her.  She ran the washcloth over the curve of her stomach, and she was startled to realize that part of her hoped that he was watching.

Needing to focus, to regain control of her thoughts, Scully spoke.  "You know, Mulder, we're not going to have enough food to last us very long."  They had maybe a week's worth of food, at best.  Adam had definitely not stocked the pantry for a long stay.

Mulder was quiet for a moment.  When he responded, there was a roughness to his voice that she might only have imagined.  "I know that."

"I don't think it's likely we'll be found before then," she added.

"I know that, too," he responded.

They were both silent for a few seconds.  They had no idea where they were, and the prospect of leaving the cabin, where it was warm and relatively safe, was daunting.  They could easily be hundreds of miles from civilization.  That fact, however, made it likely that they might not be found at all.  If they were far enough away from Buffalo, if Adam had kept them unconscious for a number of days while he drove, they could be anywhere.  They would not have the luxury of waiting for the bureau to come save them.

"There *is* the trail from the snowmobile," Scully suggested. 

"Which is faint, at best," Mulder cautioned.

"I know that," Scully replied, as she picked up a giant flannel shirt from beside the wash basin.  It was warm and clean and came down almost to her knees.  She buttoned the gray material over her damp skin.  "But if we can follow the path Adam took to get us here, we can find our way out."

"Those tracks have got to be partially covered with snow by now," Mulder said.

Scully unfastened the button fly on the jeans she was wearing.  They were bloodstained and filthy.  They were so large that they practically fell to the floor as soon as she unrolled the waistband.  She gratefully stepped out of the soiled garment, kicking them aside with satisfaction.

"I don't know what choice we have, Mulder," she continued, as she placed one foot on the chair next to her and began to wash her legs.

"Neither do I."  This time she was certain that she did not imagine the roughness in his voice.

Feeling immensely self-conscious, Scully made quick work of the rest of her bathing, wringing out the washcloth a final time and turning around.  If Mulder had been watching her, he wasn't when she finally faced him.  He was seated in one of the lawn chairs, facing the fire.

"Your turn," she said, walking towards him.  There was no way she was putting those jeans back on, and Adam's clothing was even larger than Mulder's.  The flannel shirt she had donned was longer than some of the skirts she wore to work.  Anyway, it wasn't as if Mulder hadn't already seen her in far less.  She tried to ignore the fact that she wasn't wearing any underwear.  Mulder had no way of knowing this.

She swore he wasn't breathing as she sat in the chair next to him, he was holding so still.  After a small eternity, and without looking directly at her once, he rose from the chair, grabbed the remaining hot water off of the stove, and went over to dump and refill the wash basin.

Scully stared contentedly into the fire.  The occasional popping and crackling of the embers was soothing.  She closed her eyes and listened to the sound of water sloshing in the basin as Mulder washed.  She didn't attempt to continue their conversation.  There was time for that yet.  She was too tired, too worn and raw from the day's events for verbal sparring, especially since there was no simple solution at hand.

A thought occurred to her, and she had to take a breath before voicing it.  She couldn't believe what she was about to say.  "Don't put those pants back on when you're done," she said, proud that her voice remained so level.  "I need to look at that laceration again."  Mulder had wandered around cavalierly in boxer shorts countless times while she was present.  It wasn't so odd a request.  God knew she was constantly attending to his myriad injuries.

Mulder didn't say a word.

It was another ten minutes before she opened her eyes again.  Mulder had finished washing and had opened the front door to dump the dirty water.  Scully pulled herself up reluctantly from the chair and went over to the stove.  On tiptoe, she peered into the water bucket.  There was just enough hot water left to clean Mulder's wound.  Wrapping a potholder over the handle, she lifted the bucket and turned around.

Mulder was standing just behind the chairs that faced the fire, shadowed beyond the full scope of the lamplight.  He had obeyed her instructions and was wearing a faded pair of boxer shorts and a plain white T-shirt.  Both items were too large on his slender frame. 

"Sit down," she said, when he seemed not to know what to do with himself.

Mulder sat, slowly, as if confused by her request.  Amused at his reaction, Scully found a clean wash cloth and what was left of the antibacterial soap.  She settled on the floor in front of Mulder, kneeling.  When she pulled his leg towards her to examine the wound, she was taken aback.

"Mulder, this looks awful." She couldn't keep the shock from her voice.  The laceration was badly infected now, red and swollen, hot to the touch.  The pus that oozed from beneath the skin had the foul smell of disease.  He was at severe risk of developing septicemia.

"Mulder, you need antibiotics, and this wound needs to be debrided." 

"I don't think there's a Walgreen's in this neighborhood," he deadpanned.

"This is serious, Mulder," she chastened, frustrated by his glibness.  He could die.

"I'm aware of that, Scully."  His tone made it clear that he was.

Gingerly, Scully began to wash the injury, and if her ministrations were painful, which she was certain that they were, Mulder did not flinch.  He stoically endured the entire process, and when she was finished, after wrapping his leg the cleanest material she had been able to find, she looked up at him.  "Mulder," she began, "this can't wait.  I need to try and hike out of here before this laceration becomes septic."

Mulder only looked at her, his hair damp, dripping to form wet splotches on the T-shirt he wore.  "*You* need to hike out of here?" he finally said.  "You mean 'we.'" He stressed the final word.  "We need to hike out of here."

"No, Mulder,” she corrected.  “I mean 'I.'  You won't be able to hike anywhere on that leg.  You'll only weaken yourself further, putting yourself in greater danger and hastening the spread of the infection."

He didn't even seem to consider her words.  "No," he stated, deadly serious, glaring down at her.  "There's no way in hell I'm letting you hike out of here alone."  He didn't speak with an argumentative tone.  He spoke simply, flat, no reply needed.

"Mulder, be reasonable for a minute…"

"Be reasonable?"  His temper flared, and he stood up, towering over her.  "Do you think it's reasonable for me to let you walk out into the wilderness, in the middle of winter, not knowing where we are or how far from civilization we might be?  Do you honestly think I can do that?"

Scully struggled to her feet, unwilling to argue from such an extreme height disadvantage.  "Yes!" she almost shouted.  "That's exactly what I expect you to do.  It may be the only way to save your life."

"At the potential cost of yours?" he asked.

She didn't reply.

"No, Scully."  He spoke when she did not.  "I won't let you.  If we hike out of here, we do it together."

Scully closed her eyes, intensely frustrated, knowing she would not be able to reason with him.  When it came to her safety, Mulder was stubborn to the point of stupidity.

Mulder reached down, grasping both of her hands in his own.  He squeezed, and she opened her eyes.  "We go together, Scully," he said, no longer arguing, fierce tenderness in his voice, "or not at all."

Scully opened her mouth, about to reply, and then closed it, at a loss for words.  Mulder was standing barely three inches in front of her, holding her hands, smelling faintly of castile soap, but mostly like himself.  It was distracting, in the extreme.  She felt heat flush over her entire body.  The T-shirt clung to his chest in the places where it was damp.  She was now incredibly mindful of the fact that Adam had not thought to supply her with underwear.  It was the only thing she could concentrate on.

She exhaled sharply and looked Mulder square in the eye.  What she saw there pinned her to the floor.  Scully couldn't move.  Why wasn't he shielding these emotions?  In the past, she had seen glimpses of the look that was in his eyes at this moment.  In the past, he always had looked quickly away, shuttered this look behind some wall in his mind where she could pretend it had never happened, that she had never seen it.

They stared at one another, both acutely aware that the conversation had shifted.

"Are you scared?" he asked, almost a whisper.

"Terrified," she replied.

He chuffed a laugh, not sounding very amused.  "Me, too." 

She smiled.  "Why are we so scared of this?"

Mulder shrugged, still holding her hands, "because it changes everything."

"Does it?" she asked.

He seemed to consider her question for a second.  "It changes some things," he amended his reply.  "It makes it more difficult for us to hide from each other."

"That's true."

"It forces us to deal with issues that we've been avoiding for years," he continued.

"Years?" she queried.

He only smiled at her.  She knew the answer to that question.

She searched his expression, knowing that no matter what happened, he would always tell her the truth.  She trusted him.  "I don't know if they're issues we're capable of dealing with, Mulder," her voice trembled.  "Look what happened after the first time," she paused, took a deep breath.  "We couldn't even stand to be in the same room together.  We could barely speak to one another.  It almost destroyed us."

"No, Scully," he corrected her, "I think what almost destroyed us was the fact that we *wouldn't* deal with what's happened between us.  I think that we had stopped talking to one another long before we ever had sex.  I think that our relationship has been crumbling for a long time now, and I think the sex was just a catalyst, forcing us to confront the fact that something was terribly wrong between us."

She considered this and wasn't convinced.  "Was wrong?" she asked.  "What's changed?  How are we any different now than before this began?"

"We're talking now, aren't we?"

Was talking enough?  Would it keep them from falling apart?  More importantly, was she willing to risk the most fundamentally necessary relationship of her life in order to find out?

Mulder pulled her closer, closing the gap between them.  He snaked one arm around her back, pulling her against his chest.  Bringing her other hand up to his mouth, he kissed her fingers where they entwined with his own.  "Don't you feel different, Scully?" He asked her.  "Doesn't this feel different?”  He concluded softly, “I feel different."

He continued, still holding her close.  "I've been thinking hard about this since Saks Mill, Scully, and I've realized some things.  I don't think our relationship would have lasted much longer on the path we were headed down.  I was emotionally exhausted, and I know that you were, too.  The things we do, the life we lead, none of it is going to get any easier, and we need each other if we're going to survive it.  I was wasting so much energy pushing you away.  You're guilty of the same mistake.

"I blamed myself after Saks Mill, even if you didn't blame me.  I thought I had lost my best friend."

Her eyes welled with tears.

"I thought you would never forgive me.  I believed that I had taken the only pure thing in my life and defiled it.  I hurt you, Scully, and I couldn't live with that."  Tears choked his voice now, too.

His hand was in the center of her back, where it had been on countless occasions.  She wanted to say that she hadn't blamed him, but, of course, she had.  She had blamed him for taking what should have been a moment of joy between them and twisting it into something ugly and sad.  But she had forgiven him.  Somewhere along the line, she realized, she had forgiven him.  Now there was only the question of how to move forward and of which direction to take.  He was right.  She did feel different.

Still, the specter of Adam's accusations hung over them both.  Did Mulder honestly believe that they had sinned?  How was she supposed to put this into words?  "Mulder," she began, "I hope you don't think I agree with any of what Adam said -- all of that crap about succumbing to lust.  You didn't 'defile' anything, Mulder, and we've done nothing wrong."

"I know now, Scully," was all he said, and it was all that mattered.

They held each other for a long moment, not saying anything.  The fire crackled quietly in the background.  Lamplight flickered off the cabin walls, dancing shadows across the floor.  If you ignored the fact that they might not make it back to D.C. alive, it was actually romantic.

Mulder must have entertained a similar thought.  He leaned in and whispered next to her ear, his breath hot against her face.  "So, Scully, there wasn't any lust on your part?"

She laughed out loud, eliciting a genuine grin from Mulder.  "Maybe there was a little bit of lust," she replied.

He raised his eyebrows.  "A little bit?"

She nodded.

Very slowly, he moved his hand from behind her back, around the curve of her waist, and over her hip.  Stooping slightly to accomplish his goal, Mulder moved his hand down until he reached the hem of the shirt she was wearing and then pushed underneath.  So slowly she thought she might die, he drew his hand lightly back over her bare thigh and hip, coming to rest again in the small of her back.

"How about now?" he asked.

Scully had to remind herself to take a breath.  Every time they had kissed so far, Mulder had initiated things.  He had advanced and she had submitted.  Ordinarily, she was not the submissive type.  To hell with it, she thought, as she pressed herself upward and captured his mouth with her own.

Mulder seemed shocked at first, not sure what to do next, but he recovered quickly. Pulling a gasp from her throat, and breaking their kiss, he thrust his other hand under her shirt, placed both hands over her backside, and lifted.  Suddenly off the ground, Scully instinctively wrapped her legs around his waist.  Mulder steadied her with one arm around her waist and began to walk towards the bed.

As they reached the edge of the bed, he looked at her, a ridiculously self-satisfied smile on his face.  "Scully, where are your panties?" he asked.

She kept a carefully straight face.  "I must have forgotten them when I packed."

"Ha ha," he said, plopping her unceremoniously onto the mattress.

Suddenly, his mood seemed to sober, standing above her.  The smile disappeared.  Instead, his expression became very serious, intent.  "You know," he said, "at first, I thought I would get over this, as if I could get it out of my system, put it past me, take a cold shower, and get on with it."  He shook his head.  "It didn't happen, and I became so frustrated with myself, that I couldn't find the strength to stop thinking about you this way, that when it comes to this, I'm weak.  I can't stop wanting this, and I'm past the point of caring what the consequences might be, or if it's 'proper,' or who may find out.  I just don't care.  I want it too much."

Reclining on the bed, cushioned by a sea of old quilts, with Mulder looming above her, Scully realized that this was probably the first sexually mature moment of her life.  This was kind of sad, especially when you considered that she was a woman well into her thirties.  But the only real relationship she had experienced before Mulder had been with Jack, and that had been more like hero worship than love.  The others had all been in college -- silly, fumbling affairs, fueled frequently by alcohol, with not much in the way of finesse.  She had always felt so awkward, so out of her element in the bedroom.  She had attributed this to the notion that she was simply not a particularly sexual being, that she was more cerebral than sensual.  Now, she realized, she had been wrong.  She felt powerful, ripe, and radiant.  It was only appropriate that Mulder was the person to bring this out in her.

One by one, she reached down and unfastened the buttons on her flannel shirt.  With this last barrier released, Scully pushed the sides of the shirt apart, leaving only her arms covered.  She leaned back on her elbows and looked up at Mulder. 

"If you only knew, Scully…" he murmured, voice trailing off.  He reached down and pulled the T-shirt over his head.  One quick motion and the boxers were gone, too.

She smiled and reached out her hand. "I do," she said.

It was so simple, when it came down to it.  It was the simplest thing you could imagine.  Man and woman.  It was biology, as old as time itself.  She gave into the pull, letting it carry her like the lunar pull on the sea.  She felt blessed, to have this, with this man.  He loved her.  It was one of the few things in this world of which she felt certain.  He kissed her, and she was dizzy with that certainty.  He touched her, and the real world that awaited them beyond this moment melted under his hands.  How could this be wrong?  It felt sacred and elemental.  She felt the sanctity of it in her bones.

When he entered her, she let herself feel it for the first time -- no headlong rush into oblivion.  She let herself remember.  She opened her eyes and he opened his and they slowed.  She recorded every second, wanted to know the expression on his face, the feeling of giving way, the way the sweat dampened his back, the feel of his breath as it washed over her face.  He watched her, watching him, and they gradually dissolved together. 

End Chapter 25 (Part 26/29)

Chapter 26

The fire in the stove had died down to embers, and the two oil lamps had long since been blown out.  Scully had no idea what time it was, and she didn't mind.  It was nice to be beyond the reach of time, if only for a little while.  It was nice to not have the blinking specter of a clock looming at her bedside, reminding her that time was short.  Without it, she could pretend that morning might never come.

Behind her, Mulder stirred in his sleep, murmuring something unintelligible.  He was wrapped around her like a second skin, so tight she could barely move.  Though she should have felt suffocated, or trapped, she didn't mind.  She felt safe and warm.  This moment made it all worthwhile, she thought.  All of the pain, all of the anger, it was so trivial in the face of this moment.

"You're not asleep," Mulder whispered, his face buried in her neck.

"No," she whispered back.

"Why not," he asked, tightening his arms around her waist, sounding concerned.

"Just enjoying the moment," she replied, reaching a hand down and finding his where it rested against her belly.

"Mmm..." he mumbled, squeezing her hand.  He paused.  "You want to enjoy it a little more?" he asked, sounding slightly wicked.

Smiling, she twisted in his arms, and as she came to face him, he shifted, so that he was above her, looking down at her in the shadows.  This was what it was like to be in love, she thought, this drunken, primal need.  She had loved him forever, but this was different.  This was physical and messy.  It was wonderful.

She sighed, as his hands gripped her hips, positioning her carefully.  She helped guide him in, and they began to rock, shifting slowly, the ancient mattress squeaking in accompaniment.  She let herself be kissed, pushing against his back with her hands, encouraging him to go deeper.  She adored the weight of Mulder above her, the way he pressed her into the mattress, the way her body grappled with his for purchase.

She opened her mouth to cry out, but no sound emerged.  He grasped both of her hands and pinned them above her head, touching the wall.  Gradually increasing in tempo, she arched up against him, the whole of their bodies touching, felt him sliding in and out, felt as if every inch of her skin were burning.  He covered her mouth with his own, swallowing her cries, as he shattered within her, and her body convulsed, every molecule pulsing with light.

It was enough, she thought, panting, as he kissed her face and whispered her name.  Time could wait.


It was painful to watch, Moore thought.  Williams was one of his best agents.  He was so young, as young as Moore had been when he first came to Buffalo, fresh out of Quantico, green and naive and foolish.

It would be months before Williams could return to active duty, but from the look on his young agent's face, Moore was starting to wonder if that would ever happen.  Moore had arrived at the hospital this morning to check on Williams' condition, and he had interrupted the first of what would be a long series of physical therapy sessions.  Angie, Agent Williams' fiancé, was here, as well as Agent Sandborne, and Moore felt like an outsider.  He had stumbled through a brief summation of recent events, from the triumph of finding the children to the desperate search for Mulder and Scully.  Angie had scowled through the entire recitation, not once looking Moore in the eye.

SAC Moore liked Angie, from what little he knew of her.  He didn't fault her for her seeming disdain.  Moore had received similar looks from his ex wife before their marriage had disintegrated.  What troubled Moore was the guilt on Williams' face, the way he seemed to avoid Moore's questions, how distant he seemed.

"Angie, sweetie, could you leave us alone for a few minutes?" Williams asked, touching his fiance's hand gently.  He had seated himself on the edge of the hospital bed, exhausted from the effort it took him to try and walk.

She nodded, and without even glancing in Moore's direction, left the room.

Agent Sandborne stayed, back against the wall, an inscrutable expression on his face.  Whatever was coming, Sandborne already knew.

So did Moore, even if he was reluctant to admit it.  Might as well get it out in the open, he thought, it wouldn't get any easier.  "You're not coming back to the bureau, are you?" he asked.

"No," Williams stated, plainly.  "I'm not."

Moore was disappointed but not surprised.  "Is this because of Angie?"

"Partly," Williams said.  "I've been lying in this hospital bed, staring at the ceiling, with nothing to do but think.  It hurts to breathe.  The nursing staff practically cheers when I take a piss.  I can't walk across the room without assistance…"  He trailed off.  "I guess this whole situation has forced me to reevaluate what's important in my life, and I realized I don't want to end up alone.  I don't want this job to hurt the people that I love, to end up pushing them away.  I don't want to end up with nothing but regrets."  He said this last part with guilt in his voice, knowing that Moore would take this personally.

Moore didn't know what to say.  He had so many regrets, and his marriage was only one of them.  Were they all a result of this job?  Hardly, he thought.  He had made his decisions knowing their potential consequences.  No one had forced his hand.  If he had it to do all over again, he wasn't sure he would change anything.  Maybe things had worked out the way that they were supposed to.  Moore didn't really believe in fate, but he had a hard time imagining a reality beyond the one they now inhabited.

"When you find Mulder and Scully," Williams said, as Moore rose from his chair and headed for the door, "Will you give Agent Scully a message for me?" Williams asked.

Moore turned around, his hand over the doorknob.  "Of course."

"Tell her that I hope she remembers what I said, that it's not worth it if you end up alone.  Tell her that I will be thinking of her, and of her partner."

"I will," Moore assured, wishing fervently that God would grant him the chance to deliver that message.


"Mulder, I don't know how I'm supposed to be able to walk in these things," Scully said, as she laced up a pair of Adam's boots.  There had been only one pair in the cabin, and Mulder had to return to the smaller cabin, to retrieve another pair from off a dead man.  On Mulder, Adam's boots were large.  On Scully, the same size was ridiculous.

"It's better than frostbite," Mulder replied, from across the room.  He was packing food items into a canvas duffel bag, mindful that most of the canned food would freeze outside in the cold.  He had also packed a tarp that they had found under the bed, along with several blankets and a box of matches.

Even with three pairs of socks, and the laces drawn as tight as they could go, Scully felt as if the boots might slip off at any moment.  Mulder had insisted that she take the goose-down parka Adam had been wearing, despite her protests.  Clad in the oversized parka, a pair of Adam's pants, and the too big boots, Scully felt like a marshmallow.  To his credit, Mulder had refrained from laughing when he saw the ensemble for the first time.

"I guess that's it," Mulder said, as he zipped the duffel bag.  "I guess we're ready."

As ready as they'd ever be, Scully thought.

Together, they opened the door and stepped outside.  Scully spared one last look for the inside of the cabin, for the wood stove, now dark and cold, for the bed with its mountain of quilts.  Taking a deep breath for fortitude, she closed the door behind them.

They started walking, and, at first, Scully was surprised by how beautiful it was, wherever they were.  It was just after dawn.  Snow dusted every available surface, clinging to the most fragile of branches, frosting the tips of pine needles and shrubbery.  The air was clear and crisp, and trudging through the almost knee deep snow, bundled up in a murder's clothes, Scully was actually quite warm.  The trail left by the snowmobile *was* faint, but it was discernable, especially under the canopy of trees, which had acted like an umbrella, shielding the ground.

It was slow going.  Mulder, of course, had an easier time, with his longer legs.  They spoke very little, concentrating instead on not slipping in the deep snow.  It actually felt good, to be moving, to feel her blood pumping in her veins.  Scully worried that Mulder must be experiencing pain from his leg.  But if he was, he didn't mention it.  Occasionally, they would stop, take a drink of water from what Mulder had stashed inside his jacket, where it wouldn't freeze.  They walked for hours, watching as the sun arched across the sky and water dripped from melting ice on the trees.

It was late afternoon, almost evening, when the sky began to grow dark.  Clouds the color of dark coffee accumulated over their heads with improbable velocity.  Wind whipped across Scully's cheeks, making her lips numb.  Snow began to fall, lightly at first, and then in thick, wet clumps.  Visibility disappeared.

"We need to find shelter," Mulder shouted, over the increasing roar of the wind.

Scully didn't answer, knowing he was right.  She struggled to keep her footing in the storm.

They were at the crest of a deep ravine.  Before the snowfall had begun, the tracks from the snowmobile had been clearly visible, skirting the edge of the embankment, headed in the direction of several hills.  If they could make it to those hills, where a rocky outcrop had been perceptible, they could wait out the storm under the tarp Mulder had folded in his bag.

It wasn't that far, Scully reasoned, even as she felt her thigh muscles burn under the strain of heaving her legs through the heavy snow.  She pushed wet tendrils of hair from in front of her eyes.  Her teeth chattered.  Mulder was only a few paces in front of her, but in the dense snowfall, he was barely discernable.

It wasn't that far, she chanted in her head.  Until, suddenly, it was.  Suddenly, her right foot twisted, slipping on a rotted branch concealed under the snow.  Her too large boots shifted on her feet, the right one coming off completely, and she tripped.  Unable to regain her footing, Scully felt her equilibrium shift, and she tumbled down the embankment.  Distantly, she heard herself cry out.  The hill was steep, covered in loose rocks and dead leaves under the snow.  She slid quickly down into the ravine, stopping only when a tree intersected her path.

She hit the tree, hard.  Blinking tears from her eyes, Scully struggled for breath.

"Scully!" Mulder shouted from above.

Sharp pain raced up her leg.  "Down here!" she yelled.

She could hear him crunching through the trees, but the only thought she could muster was that the pain in her leg was too intense to be anything less than a fracture.  Experimentally, she tried to wiggle her toes.  She couldn't.

"Scully!" He shouted again, almost manic, closer this time.

"Over here," she gasped, as she shifted, and the pain lanced through her body.

He stumbled to her side, the weight of the duffel making him cumbersome, struggling through the snow.  "Are you okay?"  He huffed, his hands fumbling above her, pushing the hair from her face, touching her to assure himself of her safety.

She wished she could lie to him.  She wished she could pretend that this wasn't happening.  "I think my ankle is broken," she said, no avoiding it.

The angry wind howled around them.  "Oh, Scully…" he looked crestfallen, panicked.

"We still need to find shelter," she continued.  There was no time now to bemoan what couldn't be helped.

He nodded. "Can you walk?"

"If you help me," she replied.

Mulder laced one arm around her waist, and bracing himself against the tree at their back, he heaved them both to their feet.  He staggered under the effort of supporting their combined weight.

"It's not much farther," he reassured, and lurching, they began the painful task of continuing for the rocky outcrop.

Half way up, they found Scully's missing boot, sitting strangely upright atop the dense pack of snow.

Trudging up the embankment would have been difficult with both of them in top form.  With the two of them injured as they were, it was an excruciating, time consuming process.  By the time they made it to the top, Scully could barely breathe.  Mindful of the fact that Mulder was badly injured himself, she tried to assist him in the struggle.  She could hear how heavily he was breathing.

Finally, after what seemed like hours, they reached the pile of boulders.  Glacial deposits, Scully absently thought.  Her leg was starting to go numb.  She could no longer move her toes.  It was probably for the best, she realized.  She was unlikely to have access to painkillers any time in the near future.

Mulder gently lowered her to the snow-covered ground.  Pulling the tarp from within the duffle bag, he climbed up and over several of the large rocks.  Near the top of the outcrop he stopped.

“There’s a crevasse up here, between two of the rocks, that I should be able to stretch this over,” he shouted down to her.  In the wailing wind of the storm, she could hardly hear him.

She watched as he trudged back down and began digging away snow near the base of the outcrop.  “What are you doing?” she asked.

“Looking for smaller rocks to hold the tarp down with,” he replied.

The snow was deep, and it took him ten minutes or so to find an acceptable number of rocks to weigh down the tarp.  He struggled back up the heap of boulders, making several trips, first digging as much snow out of the crevasse as possible, then pulling all of their stuff up and depositing it in the space.  Lastly, he stretched out the tarp and secured it with the rocks he had dug up.

Back on the ground, he helped Scully again to her feet, and together they ascended to the make-shift shelter.

“It’s not the Hilton,” he tried to quip, but she could hear the fear in his voice.

“It’ll be fine, Mulder,” she attempted to reassure.

He helped her down into the small space, barely large enough for the two of them.  He had spread one of the blankets on the ground.  The others he folded over her once she was settled.  After he had crawled down after her, he did his best to close the tarp over them.  It was dark inside the shelter.  Daylight outside was almost gone, and stashed between the hulking stones, with the green plastic tarp over their heads, Scully could barely make out Mulder’s face.

“Scully...” Mulder began, but then he stopped, seeming unsure of what to say.  She could still hear the fear in his voice, naked now, knowing that they were in very real danger, out here alone in the wilderness, her ankle broken, him sick with fever.

She was pressed against him, and she felt his arms come around her, his head resting atop hers.  She found his hand in the darkness, twining her clumsy, gloved fingers with his.  “I know, Mulder,” was all she said.

End Chapter 26 (Part 27/29)

Complicity (28/29)
By: promise64 (promised64@yahoo.com)

This fic can also be found at: 
Or at my journal:


Chapter 27

“There has to be something here,” Skinner muttered, frustration evident in his tone.

Back at Bureau headquarters, with the personal effects of Adam Hathaway Sr. strewn across the conference table, Moore felt that all of their potential avenues of investigation had become nothing more substantial than dead ends.  Too many of the events pertinent to this case had occurred decades ago, and the wash of time had slowly, steadily worn the evidence away.  Witnesses who might have contributed something to the search for Mulder and Scully were either dead or incoherent.  Crime scenes which would ordinarily have yielded forensic evidence were stripped bare, exposed to the elements, victims of vandalism and time.

“We’ve been over the contents of that box already,” Moore finally said.  “I don’t know what more you expect to find.”  He could hear the defeat in his own voice and he loathed it.  

“Something,” Skinner spat, “Anything.  There has to be some way of finding where he’s taken them.”

Skinner, too, sounded defeated, exhausted, sickened.  Moore did not know too many details about the nature of the senior agent's relationship with Mulder and Scully, but from Skinner's reaction to their disappearance, and based on the fact that Moore knew Skinner had taken personal time in order to come up to Buffalo, Moore surmised that the relationship was more complex than your average superior-inferior dichotomy.  There was something else, too, something more complicated that Moore could not comprehend.  The almost clandestine nature of Skinner's arrival in Buffalo, the tone of his voice when he'd called Agent Scully's mother, the way his eyes seemed to reflect a tragedy larger than their present circumstances.  Moore was a private man, and he respected the privacy of others.  He would never ask, but he wondered. 

A desiccated corsage, rusted keys, and newspaper clippings were a few of the items that the box disgorged, upended and dumped atop the table.  A marriage certificate, report cards, numerous photographs -- a man’s life distilled to what could conveniently fit into the space of a cardboard box.

Moore slumped gracelessly into a hard, plastic chair.  Truthfully, although he wanted to keep fighting, although he was ordinarily never a man that admitted defeat easily, he was exhausted.  This investigation, though ongoing for only six months, felt as if it had consumed a larger portion of his life.  Years seemed to have passed since the first child had been found murdered.  His once fervent zeal for disassembling the details of a crime had melted under the pressure of recent events and congealed into a feeling that was more akin to obligation.

“God Damn!” Skinner thundered, heaving, in his ire, the dark blue leather folder that concealed a high school diploma.  It impacted with the wall closest to Skinner with an unremarkable thud.

Moore closed his eyes briefly.  He needed a cup of coffee and a cigarette.  However, even if he were granted the opportunity to rest, he doubted he would be able to sleep.  He imagined his nerves frayed like the ends of short-circuited wires, burned and jangling in his head.  His mind could not be switched off, and sleep, he feared, would bring dreams filled with death and suffering, the specters of emaciated children lying on a dirt floor, caked in their own excrement.  There was no where, not even in his unconscious, where he felt that he might be able to find solace.

When Moore opened his eyes again, Skinner was bending over to pick up the diploma.  It had opened upon impact with the floor, and the certificate of graduation had escaped the small metal clasps holding it in place.  Slowly, Skinner stood, and the certificate drifted to the floor.  Skinner gasped, and the sound contained enough shock to rouse Agent Moore from his seat, to cause him to lean across the conference table in an attempt to discover what had elicited the response from Skinner.

In Skinner’s hands, previously concealed behind the protection of the diploma, was a tattered map.  Wordlessly, Skinner unfurled the yellowed pages, creased from being folded and unfolded countless times.  There were tears at the edges of the paper and ringed coffee stains marring the surface.  Faint pencil marks clustered around a particular section of the map, as if highlighting a route.  In the upper right hand corner, the map’s legend bore a clear title.

“Quebec, Canada,” Moore whispered.


The wind still howled, and wisps of snow drifted in under the protection of the tarp.  They had spent the entire night and the following day sequestered in their shelter, but the storm outside evinced no signs of letting up.  Despite her best efforts, Scully had fallen asleep.  She wasn’t sure how much time had passed.  Night had descended.  Beside her, Mulder lay staring up at the underside of the tarp.  It was dreadfully cold in the cramped space, yet sweat beaded across Mulder’s forehead, his cheeks seemed flushed, and Scully did not even need to touch him to recognize that he had a fever.

The infection in his leg had, most likely, migrated into his bloodstream.  His lips trembled, his body suffused by tremors, and Scully knew it would not be long before he lost consciousness.

Her own body felt numbed by cold, and she had lost feeling in both of her feet.  Snow had intruded over the edges of her boots, wetting her socks, and freezing again.  It was a gift, in a sense.  She could no longer feel the pain from her shattered ankle.  Scully understood that her own easy drift into sleep was a sign of hypothermia, that if she allowed it to happen again, she would, like Mulder, lose consciousness for probably the last time.  Their gamble had ended in failure.  They had abandoned the safety of the cabin in the hope that they could facilitate their own rescue.  They had weighed the odds and had made a decision together, hoping that by trying to find their way out of the forest immediately, they would avoid the weakness that would eventually result from lack of food and Mulder’s injured state.  Depleted like that, the physical strength needed to hike out would have abandoned them.

They couldn’t have known that the weather would turn so violent so quickly, and Scully wondered which fate was worse, slowly wasting away in the deceptive protection of the cabin or succumbing quickly here in the wilderness.  They had known that this attempt at escape could end in tragedy, but with the knowledge that they might likely never be found, it had seemed the best option.

Distantly, as if assessing the facts in one of Mulder’s jumbled case reports, Scully wondered if their bodies would even be recovered.  If they were far enough away from Buffalo, the chances were slim.  Perhaps in the spring, after the thaw, a forest ranger or camper would find their remains.  Her mother would need that closure.

“Mulder,” she finally murmured, pulling her hand from beneath the blankets and removing her glove.  She touched his bare skin.  He burned like hot coals, damp beneath her fingers.

“Put your glove back on, Scully,” he rasped, his voice weak, not the voice she knew so well.  “You’ll get frostbite.”

That was the least of their problems, but Scully obliged him, not wanting him to worry himself over her condition.

“How’s your ankle?” he asked, turning his head to face her, and his eyes were glassy in the dim moonlight that filtered through the cracks in the tarp.

“Numb,” she replied.

Mulder didn’t respond.  Instead, he studied her face, only inches from his own, silent.  He knew, she realized.  He knew that they had reached the end.  He held her gaze for several moments before closing his eyes.

Mulder didn’t believe in an afterlife in any definitive sense.  He had trifled with ideas about reincarnation and ghosts, but his only true faith had been in the truth, in its eventual power to reveal itself.  Scully’s own beliefs, centered around the teaching of the Catholic Church, were supposed to assure her of an eternal paradise awaiting her on the other side.  But Catholic doctrine excluded Mulder, with his lack of tradition belief, from that paradise, and Scully could not truly believe that God intended to separate them in that manner.  Scully didn’t know what was on the other side, but they were headed there together. Her long dreaded fear that she would be left alone after his death had been avoided; neither would he descend into depression should she precede him into death, a potentiality that had terrified her more than any other. 
"I would have liked to be able to spend weekends with you," he murmured, after a few moments of silence, opening his eyes, "just laying in bed all day Sunday, reading the paper, doing the crossword puzzle."  His voice was raspy with emotion, his face only inches from hers.  "I would have liked to find pieces of your clothing mixed in with my laundry, to have girly smelling shampoo in my shower, to get irritated when you'd use my razor.  I would have liked to be able to go to the grocery store and purchase more than just orange juice and canned soup, to have soy milk and bee pollen and yogurt cluttering up my usually empty fridge."

She felt tears as they welled in her eyes.

He continued.  "I would have liked to be able to take you somewhere, anywhere, maybe someplace warm, away from work, to watch your face freckle in the sunshine and to see you walk barefoot on a beach, somewhere we could just be, if only for a few days."

He watched her with solemn, wide eyes as he spoke.  "I would have liked to be able to wake up every morning and finally feel at peace with this thing between us, this thing I've struggled for so long to comprehend.  I would have liked to be able to roll over and pull you into my arms and kiss your sleep messed hair and hit the snooze button one too many times just so we could spend a few more minutes together like that."

His voice seemed to catch, and he stopped, closed his eyes again, taking a deep shuddering breath.  "We never got to do any of those things, Scully, and now we never will."

She watched him, with his stubbled, angular jaw, his long nose, his dark eyelashes and deeply shadowed eyes -- the familiar shapes and facets of his face.   "I've fallen asleep next to you more times than I can count, Mulder," she whispered.  "You've held me when I was suffering and in pain.  You've laughed with me at things that no one else would understand; you've held my hand when I needed strength; you've traveled the country and the world at my side."

He hadn't opened his eyes again, but Scully could see his own tears as they escaped from beneath his lowered lids.  She pulled off one of her gloves, despite his earlier protests, and pressed her bare fingers to his face, smoothing the tears away.  

"We may not have had time to be lovers in the traditional sense of the word, Mulder, but you have been the someone that I missed like oxygen when you were away, the presence that comforted me with only your proximity, and the person who I have heard speak my name with love in your voice, even when neither one of us was willing to openly recognize its existence.

"You have loved me, Mulder, and I have felt it.  I have been able to feel myself give back love in return.  Some people live their entire lives without being able to truly feel those things"

Her fingers lingered against his skin, and when he opened his eyes, he reached up a hand, grasped her hand with his own and pressed it against his cheek.  "I told you that I had no regrets, Mulder, and I meant it.  I'm grateful that at the end of my life I am able to look back at our time together and appreciate the singularity of what we have shared and that I no longer feel conflicted and angry because of feelings that I was too scared to admit."

"It's always been your last name, Scully," he finally said, pulling her hand over to his lips and kissing the palm.

"I wouldn't want it any other way now," she responded.  She had felt once that Scully had been his creation, this other woman who was obligated to be strong and silent and dependable, who was obligated to suffer, to endure.  She realized now that Scully was a name that marked her relationship with him as something poignantly unique.  No other person in her life had ever imbued her surname with the caring and respect that Mulder had.  To everyone else, all of the people outside of the sphere of existence that she inhabited with Mulder, she was Dana.  To the man she had grown to love, she was Scully.

That perceived responsibility to endure had been something that she had manufactured.  It had been a defense mechanism, created to give herself the ability to withstand the fear and uncertainty engendered by the things that they had seen.  With the foundation of her belief system under threat -- the bedrock stability of science that had once seemed invulnerable becoming suddenly a fragile thing -- she would have crumbled completely without something solid to put her back up against.

Mulder had needed her, with his injured eyes, his nightmares, his palpable aura of tragedy.  She could be strong for him, she had told herself; she could put aside her own uncertainties and be stoic, unbending, stalwart.  She would be these things because he could not.  That he occasionally seemed to ask more from her, prying beneath her studied resolve and eliciting emotional responses that she was unprepared to experience, she had carefully ignored those moments of vulnerability.  He had to understand, she had reasoned, that it was too much to ask of her, that she could only afford to let herself become so exposed, so defenseless.  He had to understand that she could not be everything for him and still hope to have anything left for herself.

Only, of course, he hadn't understood.  He had been like a neglected child, starved of affection and desperate for it in a way more earnestly than he desired oxygen or food.  He was also terrified of love, having had no secure experience of it, and he often demanded emotions from her that he was too frightened to give back in return.  At times, he cringed away from her hesitant attempts to reach out to him, to share affection, like a frightened dog.  He recoiled and she, having exhausted her courage in making that small effort, did not pursue it.  They remained isolated, as ever.

It did not escape Scully's now sluggish mind that they had finally overcome these obstacles only at the bitter end.  The irony of it was heart-rending.  But she refused to cry for what might have been.  She meant what she had said to Mulder; she felt fortunate to have been loved by him, to have been able to express her love for him in return, even if the experience of it had been all too brief.

Mulder interrupted her reverie, his voice stuttering, speech slurred.  He was desperately grasping onto the last fragile threads of consciousness.  "Don't be afraid, Scully," he whispered.

She reached her hand down to where his arm lay against his side, insinuating her bare fingers under the end of his coat sleeve and finding his wrist, still warm beneath the material.  She wrapped her fingers around his wrist, could feel his pulse, slower now, when she pressed lightly.

"I'm not afraid, Mulder," she responded.  And she wasn't.

Yet her life refused to flash before her eyes.  There was no final glimpse of her father or mother, Bill, Melissa, or Charlie.  She did not see her old college dorm room or the beach house where her family had vacationed when she was a child.  As much as she may have desired to see those things again, for the last time, they remained elusive.  She was calm, unafraid, as she had said.  Death was not the enemy.  It never had been.  She had waited for it once before, just as calmly, when the cancer had ravaged her body, and her only regrets then had been because of Mulder.  Now, she regretted nothing.  He was beside her.  They were together.  She would not die alone.  She did not wonder, did not doubt for even the most fleeting of instances, that whatever awaited them on the other side, they would discover it together, as always.

Mulder's breathing was very shallow now, his pulse faint where she gripped his wrist.  She tried to keep her eyes open, for just a few minutes longer.  Through the gap at the end of the tarp, she could see the first faint light of dawn sifting its way through the continually falling snow.  She could feel the sunlight on her face and the ocean wind as it tousseled her hair, her bare feet sinking into wet sand.  Mulder came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist.  He kissed the top of her head.  "It's going to be a beautiful day, Scully," he said, and the waves lapped at her toes, she smelled the salt of the sea, felt the warmth of his embrace.  Dana Scully stared into the rising sun and the growing light was all that she could see.

End Chapter 27 (Part 28/29)




Spring had finally arrived, washing over the city with warm tendrils of yellow light, melting the snow, and leaving tiny green buds on the tips of the cherry trees.  Tufts of new grass peppered the lawn of the Mall and daffodils had begun to open, almost reluctantly, tiny blazing suns.  The Mall was thronged with people, seized by the grip of spring fever and desperate for sunlight.  No one seemed to mind that there was still a slight chill in the air, a bite to the wind that would not completely disappear for several weeks.  Children screeched past, trailed by indulgent parents.  It seemed that everywhere there were dogs and baby strollers and Frisbees being tossed.  Young couples turned their pale faces up toward the sunlight and basked.  People laughed.  It was the kind of laughter that you only heard during the first days of spring that come after a long, hard winter -- ebullient and emancipated.

She, too, turned her face up toward the sun.  She closed her eyes, relishing the warmth of those rays as they seeped into her skin and bones.  She had feared, just a short time ago, that she might never be warm again.

The tenacity of life still held the capacity to astound her.  That such a beautiful, vibrant day could occur so shortly after such bitter cold.  It seemed a miracle.  She had thought herself unflappable, incapable of astonishment after the incredible things that she had seen and experienced, and yet here she was, flabbergasted by the simple beauty of a spring day.

Of course, the fact that she could not quite believe that she was alive to experience this moment added something to her astonishment.

Dana Scully had been ready to die.  For the second time in her life, she had assessed her circumstances, accepted the inevitable, and said her goodbyes.  She had stood calm and assured in the path of death and had been ready to discover exactly what it was that awaited her on the other side.  

God, it seemed, had not been ready to welcome her home just yet.

She did not understand what this latest reprieve meant, in the larger scheme of things.  Just months before, she had possessed a sickening certainty about the grim path her life was headed down.  She had felt victimized, trapped in a cycle of loss and pain that could end only in heartache, both for herself and for Mulder.  The enormity of that reality had been so oppressive that, uncharacteristically, she had been completely unable to muster the strength required to fight back.  She had accepted it like a woman condemned.  It was far too late, she had thought, to try and extricate herself from the fate to which she had already succumbed.  She had no friends left, other than Mulder.  She was largely estranged from her family.  Her career was, effectively, over.  The one person with whom she still felt a genuine connection she often hated with an equal and frightening ferocity, because she knew that he could not save her; he could not even save himself.

Then there had been Buffalo, and Mulder, as he so often did, shattered her world with the most unintentional of actions.  He had turned to her in his moment of despair, as a starving man reaches desperately, unconsciously, for food, and he had grasped onto the one aspect of their connection as yet untainted by the corruption in their lives.  Physical intimacy was the potentiality between them that she had ignored for so long that she thought it expired and forgotten.  In the end, as it turned out, it was the only uncorrupted thing that remained after everything else had been eroded away.

The experience of that much raw emotion... food, for days afterwards, had tasted too strong.  She had been nauseated by a sip of coffee.  Lights and colors were too bright.  Odors overpowered her.  Mulder had jarred awake the things in her that had slumbered for too long, and she eventually realized, despairingly, that she could not go back after what they had done.  What was worse, she could not be certain that she even wanted to go back.

But how, she had desperately wondered, could they possibly move forward after everything that had happened?  In the end, she had not needed to save herself, nor had she needed Mulder to rescue her.  In the end, they had saved each other.

Then they had been trapped in the woods, miles from civilization, hypothermic and injured, and Scully had realized that it was all right.  The end had finally come, and it was not the slowly withering downward spiral that she had once foreseen.  It was okay, because she understood finally what it was that for six years had tied her inextricably to Mulder.  It had not been desperation or obligation, though she had certainly felt the pull of those bindings at times.  It had not even been simple trust or shared purpose, though those things, too, had played their parts in her shared life with Mulder.  In the end, trite as it sounded, uncharacteristically, sappy, Hallmark-card, sentimental as it may be, the emotion that connected her most strongly to Mulder, at this point in their lives together, was love.   

Scully was not sure how to react to “being in love” again; she wasn’t even sure if she had ever truly been “in love” in her life before now.  Again, quite uncharacteristically, she was willing now to let life lead her wherever it was wont to go.  She trusted Mulder; she trusted the two of them together.  She trusted that together they would discover this path and that it would not be frightening; it would be brilliant.

With a softly jarring *thud*, something knocked against one of the crutches that was supporting her weight as she stood staring out across the lawn.  She looked down, finding a soccer ball resting innocently near her plaster swaddled foot.  With a gentle smile, and the assistance of her crutch, she propelled it back toward the group of children playing in a field nearby. 

Her casted foot and ankle had kept her in the hospital for the better part of three weeks.  She’d had to undergo reconstructive surgery to repair some of the damage to her neck and cheek.  The scars, the doctors assured her, would fade with time.  Now, with her other injuries healing rapidly, she had been released.  Upon hearing this news, Mulder had looked at her with mournful eyes.  Then, mercurial as ever, his mood had shifted, he’d brandished a Sharpie marker, and he’d insisted on being the first one to sign her cast; this, despite her insistence that she didn’t intend anyone to sign her cast.  Of course, eventually, she had acquiesced.  Now, strident black against the perfect white, Mulder’s cryptic message read: “Now, who will stand on either hand and keep the bridge with me?”  Always intrigued by the inner working of Mulder’s mind, Scully had sat down at her computer almost immediately after arriving home.  

The line was from a poem by the English poet, Macaulay, and it was about the ancient Roman hero Horatius, who, with only the help of two men, had defended the gates of his city against the inevitable onslaught of the Etruscans. The poem itself was plain, almost factual.  There were, however, moments of beauty.  She read, “plainly and more plainly now through the gloom appears, Far to left and far to right, in broken gleams of dark-blue light," followed shortly by, "Then out spoke brave Horatius, the Captain of the Gate: ‘To every man upon this earth, death cometh soon or late; And how can man die better than facing fearful odds, For the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his Gods…. Hew down the bridge, Sir Consul, with all the speed ye may! I, with two more to help me, will hold the foe in play. In yon strait path, a thousand may well be stopped by three: Now, who will stand on either hand and keep the bridge with me?’ Who will stand, on either hand, and keep the bridge with me?’”

Of course, Mulder knew the answer to his question.  He was no Horatius (who, incidentally, Scully discovered, had only one eye), and she was hardly the ideal representation of the two Roman warriors who took their places at Horatius’ side.  But together they would remain, steadfast, stalwart in the face of the trials they knew were coming.

But not yet, she reminded herself.  It was spring, they were both alive, and the sun was stunning against the blue of the sky.  Not just yet.

Fragments regarding the details of their rescue had fallen into place only gradually.  She tried to imagine Moore and Skinner, hovering above the vast Canadian wilderness in a rescue helicopter, their eyes scanning the trees below.  She tried to imagine the phalanx of search teams, dogs bounding ahead of them into the brush, wading through drifts of waist-deep snow.  That is how they were finally located, she now knows.  The cabin was spotted first from the air, the snow storm having impossibly occluded the trail which Adam had initially brought them in on.  Then, improbably, seemingly miraculously, the dogs had picked up their scent, had tracked them through a morass of trees so dense that Moore and Skinner, high above, had lost the searchers beneath thick green boughs of pine.  Their temporary shelter, buried by snow, had eluded the watchful eyes of the search team until they had been almost on top of it.  Tucked away inside, unconscious, barely clinging to life, she and Mulder had been discovered.

They had wandered perilously far from the trail they had intended to follow and had been nearly twenty miles from the nearest road still open to travel in winter.  Even if they had been able to continue walking, inadequately prepared and injured as they were, they would never have made it out alive.

Scully, of course, had been completely unaware of these events until weeks later when, with a faint, bemused smile shadowing his traditionally gruff visage, Skinner had arrived in her hospital room bearing flowers and an explanation.  He had not spoken at length, had seemed, in fact, to be there purely to reassure himself of her continuing improvement.  Affection, usually superseded by professionalism, had been in his eyes, and in his touch, too, when he reached out and briefly grasped her hand.  He, like Scully herself, seemed amazed by the sheer fact of her continuing existence. 

She had woken up, several days prior, to find her mother seated in a chair beside the bed, with her head pillowed atop the blankets near Scully’s arm, soundly asleep.  Scully had not attempted to wake her.

Unwilling to defy tradition, the next day she had hoisted herself from the bed, settled herself into a wheelchair, and defiantly steered herself into Mulder’s room.  She would be there when he woke, she told her mother and the nurses when they protested.  A week later, infection having ultimately yielded to the influence of intravenous antibiotics, when Mulder’s eyes finally opened, the glance that passed between them felt something like grace.

She returned to her room shortly after, to the attentions of her family and the ministrations of the nursing staff.  Her mother had spoken very little during her entire hospital stay, preferring, instead, to simply hold Scully’s hand and to read to her from books that she hadn’t experienced since childhood.  It was soothing, in its non-confrontational way, and a simple beginning to the reestablishment of a bond that she had allowed to wither for far too long.  

Mulder, when he was able to get out of bed, did not visit her while her family was there. 

It was only after visiting hours had long since ended, often after she had begun to drift hazily beneath a cloud of pain killers and sedatives, that Mulder would sneak, covertly, into the confines of her room.  Occasionally, she would wake from a state of near slumber to find him serenely watching, stationed next to the bed.  After a time, she began to wait for him at night, at least until the nursing staff and his Doctor became suspicious and put an end to his night time wandering.  She had missed him at that point, missed his silent presence at her side.  They had spoken very little during those quiet evening hours.  Like Skinner and her mother, both she and Mulder seemed simply to need to know that the other was still present in this world, alive and whole and safe.

Skinner had returned to Washington the day after his visit, entreating her to extend well wishes to Mulder on his behalf.  He had, she had found out, been absent from his post in D.C. for far too long, and she was not sure what repercussions had awaited him upon his return.  Agent Moore had shown up only two days after Skinner’s departure, bearing with him detailed news about the rescued children and their continuing recovery.  Although Stephen Gaines had been far too ill to survive, both Eric Leeds and Drew Hausner were now safely reunited with their families.  Both boys, Moore had reported, were doing well.  Scully remembered the stricken Roberta Hausner, her desperate eyes and dwindling hope, and it gave her the sense of closure and peace that she desperately needed.  

The secrets that the other families had potentially harbored, the infidelity that Adam had, assumedly, been targeting, remained a mystery.  If they had so desired, questioning the families again would probably have revealed these truths.  Mulder and Scully, however, had agreed that enough ugliness had already been uncovered by this investigation.  In the end, it did not matter.  Two children had been saved; who knows how many others had been spared.  It was enough.

Agent Williams, she was informed, had retired from the F.B.I and had received a special commendation for valor in the line of duty.  He was recuperating at home with his fiancé.  Their wedding was scheduled for the end of June.

Standing alone on the soft spring earth, Scully felt his presence long before she could hear him, long before his shadow encroached upon her own and announced his proximity behind her.  

“We’ve got to stop meeting like this,” Mulder quipped, gently.

Scully smiled, her back still turned to Mulder, and replied, “It does seem to be developing into a pattern.”

He was directly behind her now, looking over her head and out across the lawn, undoubtedly drinking in the melee of life that paraded itself before them.  He reached up and touched her shoulder, ran his hands lightly down the outside of her arm until his fingers found hers where they rested atop the cushioned wooden grip of a crutch.  He folded his hand over her own.

“How long have you been out of the hospital?” She asked, sinking back slightly into his loose embrace.

“Not long,” he whispered, words delivered into the hair at the crown of her head.

She would have asked how he knew that she would be here, but she knew the answer already.

Neither of them knew what was going to happen next.  Technically, they were still outcasts, relegated to the Siberia of counter-terrorism background checks.  The X-Files remained in enemy hands.  She thought of Agent Moore, twisting his wedding ring unconsciously around his weathered finger.  It fit into its own grove, that ring, and although she knew he had long since separated from his wife, he refused to remove the symbol of their union.  She thought of the lonely, incongruously garish, orange flare of his lighter in the dim gray expanse of his office and of a cold night sitting in a car outside of an abandoned church in the middle of the woods.

Scully did not want to waste another day regretting the past or the futures that could never be.

“Isn’t it beautiful,” she remarked, tilting her head to the side, where she could feel his breath washing across her cheek.

Mulder paused, tangling his long fingers with hers where they rested on the crutch.  She could feel the exhalation of his breath against her skin when he replied.

“It’s extraordinary.” 

End Epilogue (part 29/29)
End Part III
(The reference to Horatius is a homage (within a homage) – specifically to an episode of Doctor Who.  It fit that episode perfectly, and I think it suits this fic equally well.)
(the story behind the story...)

At some point in the last several years, I had made the decision to leave this story unfinished.  I had left fandom behind.  “Real Life” had usurped my creative energy, directing it toward career and personal obligations.

Strangely, and perhaps appropriately, other fandoms ultimately drew me back into the realm of on-line writing.  Farscape and Doctor Who both conspired to lure back into the realm of on-line fannishness.  At the same time, this story haunted my hard drive, making the leap from old desktop to newly purchased laptop.  Despite my intention to abandon it, I still could not delete it.  Something about it demanded completion.  I still can’t quite explain why.   

I began "Complicity" in 1998.  I was 19 years old at the time.  Needless to say, my writing, both from a stylistic and technical perspective, changed greatly during the years that have elapsed since then.  However, I have not greatly altered the portions of this story that were written during those early years.  A comma or two has been added here, a phrase deleted occasionally, but this story is as much a testament to my growth as a writer as it is a paean to the community of XF fanfiction.  I have decided, after some deliberation, to leave whatever grave errors may exist in early chapters of this story unmolested.

This story began from a very simple concept -- the idea that sex can be a destructive force perhaps more easily than a constructive one, that the transition to a physical relationship (especially considering the circumstances CC and Co. had already set in motion) could easily destroy the relationship between Mulder and Scully.  Of course, all of those musings took place before the birth of baby William, long before that kiss in the series finale.  If you have any trouble remembering what it was like before Mulder and Scully were a happy couple on the show (and I’m still not clear on when, exactly, that transformation took place), go back and rewatch your DVDs from seasons 4 through 6.  Ignoring the wonderful Redux II and the pleasantly diverting Detour, there is a lot of emotional badness for our darling duo in those seasons.  After the whole “Two Fathers One Son” fiasco, I was convinced that this story was one that I wanted to tell.   However, this thing was never supposed to reach 900K. Never.  Yet here we are.

In the process of creating this opus, I became indebted to several wonderful people.  I am not sure how many of them are still involved in the on-line community in any form, but I have left my “thanks” portion of these endnotes as unmolested as the early chapters of the story.  These are the people who still deserve my gratitude:

Robin -- without whom this story would simply not exist. She read the first abandoned chapter, made some wonderful suggestions, and begged me to keep going. I had given up on the whole thing before she came along. Her suggestions and editing pushed me through the whole of part I, giving me the momentum to keep writing, and writing, and writing.

Jess -- who not only has great taste in books, but who is also a kind and interesting individual. She supplied me with much needed encouragement throughout.

cofax -- a fellow writer and reader who continued to ask for more even when I wasn't sure I wanted to finish the darn thing.

The Duckies -- besides running a great archive, these girls excelled at nagging.  Although the archive is long gone, my gratitude remains.

My best friend -- because even though she doesn't understand my X-Files obsession, she still read my stories. A true friend is the one who supports you even when they think you're crazy.

One last note concerning the quotes at the beginning of each part:

Part I -- a brief excerpt from the Tool song "H," which Maynard actually wrote as a lullaby for his son. The song is about addiction, rebirth, and sacrifice.

Part II -- a passage from A.S. Byatt's "Possession."

Part III -- two fragments from Anna Akhmatova's beautiful poem "Cinque."

The feedback plea: I'd be beyond thrilled to hear from everyone!  Getting to hear from other fans is part of what makes this process rewarding.