From: Revely <>
Date: Wed, 20 Oct 1999 17:31:27 GMT
Subject: NEW: Grand Gestures by Revely
Title: Grand Gestures
Classification: X, A, UST
Distribution: Gossamer okay. Okay to archive elsewhere, just let me know.
Summary: Disappearing jocks, soaring temperatures and a sweaty Mulder and Scully. All of this and still safe for the underage!
Disclaimer: The characters of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully belong to Chris Carter and 1013 Productions. No infringement is intended.
Spoilers: US Season 6, with the exception of Biogenesis.
Acknowledgements: For my brilliant, benevolent Betas, Jill, Shari, Barbara D, and Lizzie, who edited (in extremis) and poked holes in my story until it made at least a little sense. If any of this is readable, it’s because they didn’t give up on me (though I suspect they’re boycotting any of my future fic until I attempt to gain at least a perfunctory grasp of tense <g>). I changed everything that you four suggested, unless two disagreed, and then I just went with my gut. You ALL have my undying gratitude. I just can’t possibly thank you enough.
Note: For the purpose of this story, I’m assuming that Milagro took place sometime in late March/early April of ‘99, and that The Unnatural, Three of a Kind and Field Trip took place sometime during the spring. In my universe, Biogenesis takes place in the Autumn,since I find it much easier to justify the missing summer that way.
Feedback: Adored and answered at
* * * * * *
* * * * * *
Twenty miles outside Charleston, Scully began to strip in the backseat.
First came the soft whisper of linen, followed by the incomparable sound of her skirt zipper being lowered. When the soft sigh of hosiery over skin echoed in the confines of the car, Mulder tore his eyes from the object of his intense scrutiny and glanced at the clock on the car radio; 2:18 pm.
With a dismayed scowl he turned his gaze back toward his focal point and was greeted by the same hypnotic sight: boring gray asphalt and blurry yellow lines.
“Are you almost through Scully?” he asked. “I really need to use the rearview mirror.”
“Yeah, hang on a second,” she muttered, zipping something up. “Okay, it’s all yours.”
“Thank God,” Mulder said, twisting the mirror around. “The trucker behind me is apparently very serious about getting to Wal-Mart on time.”
Scully’s legs appeared suddenly next to Mulder’s shoulder and she twisted her body back into the passenger’s seat with a practiced grace that was not, in Mulder’s mind, unworrying.
Since it was presumably safe to look now, Mulder turned his attention to his partner. She had changed into chinos and a navy tank top.
His eyes widened.
“What?” Scully asked defensively.
With a shake of his head, he turned his attention back to the road, gripping the steering wheel a bit tighter than before.
“Mulder, in case you haven’t noticed, the temperature is 102 – and we’re headed south. Well, more or less.”
Mulder nodded. He had noticed. In fact, his tie had landed in the backseat before they’d made it out of DC, and his formerly starched white shirt hung listlessly on his body, defeated by the soaring temperature and the suffocating humidity.
Still, he thought, Scully in a tank top. The mind boggles.
With a nonchalance born of years of practice, Mulder kept his gaze on the road.
“So,” Scully began, “tell me again why we’re going undercover?”
“Because of the case. Yankee stadium appearing and disappearing in a field in Southern Ohio? You read the file, right?”
“Of course I read the file Mulder, and I understand the case, such as it is. I’m just still not entirely clear on why we can’t be ourselves: FBI agents.”
Mulder shrugged and rummaged around in his pocket for toll-fare, triumphantly fishing out a handful of coins that he handed to Scully. She sifted through nickels and sunflower seeds to come up with five quarters.
“Sheriff Carson said that since the town still hadn’t gotten wind of things he wanted to keep it quiet as long as possible.”
“We’re not supposed to be married or anything are we?” Scully asked suspiciously. Since the Arcadia assignment she’d been wary of his undercover methods.
“Afraid you couldn’t resist my charms twice?”
He felt, rather than saw her glare, and smiled out the front window.
“Actually,” he continued, “I thought I’d let you come up with our cover.” He slid his gaze in her direction at the little snort that greeted his suggestion.
“You’re going to let me do it?” She narrowed her eyes at him speculatively, “What’s the catch?”
“I’m serious. You said ‘next time, I get to come up with the names,’ so…” he gestured vaguely out the front window.
“I’m just warning you though,” he said, “if you decide to call me Fox, I’m not answering.”
“Why the hell not? You answer to it when everybody else calls you that.” Scully muttered.
Mulder studiously ignored her. There were just some conversations that he didn’t want to get into while operating heavy machinery.
“So, any ideas?”
“To be honest, I’ve never really understood why we need to change our names on cases like this. Why can’t we just be Mr. Mulder and..”
“Where’s the fun in that?”
“Mulder, I think the odds are slim to none that there are two towns in America with a population stupid enough to buy the ‘Petrie’ cover.”
“Pee-tree,” Mulder grumbled. “And what do these fictional Mulder and Scully do, anyway?”
“Well, we’re going to investigate local folklore. Why not just say we’re writing a book on local legends?”
“Beats the hell out of Rob and Laura.”
* * * * * *
From the looks of it, the only redeeming thing about Chesapeake, Ohio was that it was close to two other states. During the drive from DC, Scully spent a few minutes looking forlornly at the map. Chesapeake was right on the southern tip of Ohio. It had its bony knee on the shoulder of Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia and it looked to Scully like a million other small towns she’d seen in America – all an equal distance, it seemed, from civilization.
Driving into town didn’t do much to alter her opinion.
They cruised in at 25 mph past two convenience stores, a pizza place, a Goodwill, three tiny banks and an abandoned supermarket parking lot. It might have been the glare off the blue hood of the car, but the whole town seemed bathed in a sort of tacky, vinyl sheen. Scully squinted and wished she’d thought to bring sunglasses.
Mulder turned at the second of the two streetlights and pulled into a parking lot shared by a drugstore and the local police station. Leaning up against one of the squad cars was their contact, Sheriff George Carson.
“Agents Mulder and Scully?” the man said, hauling his tree-trunk body off of his car and ambling in their direction.
“Yeah, Sheriff Carson?” Mulder said.
“Call me George,” the Sheriff said, sticking out a beefy hand. “I’d take you into the station, but I thought you might want to get on out to the house and take a look around before dinner tonight. My wife Nancy has got the place all ready for you.”
Scully turned her head toward her partner, who was calmly avoiding her eye. “Um, excuse me Sheriff Carson…George, but what do you mean ‘got the place all ready?’ We’re staying in a hotel.”
“Uh…didn’t Agent Mulder tell you? There’s no hotel here in town, and the ones over across the river are all booked up for the Rib-Fest I’m afraid. We’ve got an extra house on the property that you can both stay in while you’re here… if that’s ok?”
“Besides,” the Sheriff continued, “even if you were staying over in town you’d still have to be out our way an awful lot. That seems to be where the weird things are going on. It’ll save you a lot of time not having to drive in and out with all the traffic.”
Mulder glanced at the road and at the four cars waiting patiently for the light to change. “Yeah, I’d hate to get caught up in that mess.”
“Sheriff Carson,” Scully said, “Agent Mulder and I have discussed some of the specifics of the case, but I’m afraid I’m still at a loss as to why we’re here. A mysteriously appearing sports field doesn’t strike me as being terribly dangerous. And you say it has already disappeared?”
“I’ll be happy to explain anything to you Agent Scully, but I don’t really like to do it out here where everyone can hear me. Nancy and I can explain more about it out at the farm.So if you all just want to follow me out there we’ll get going,” George said, turning his broad back to the Agents. He turned and left before they had a chance to answer.
* * * * * *
The drought that gripped the East Coast had been noticeable in DC; businesses stopped watering their carefully coiffed lawns and all the trees in Georgetown had turned a vague, yellowish-green. Even the African violets Scully kept on the kitchen windowsill suffered from sympathy sickness, drooping and dying before the Independence Day weekend. But the force of the drought on the countryside still astonished her. Scully watched the hills and fields roll by as they followed George Carson several miles out a long and winding road. The lawns looked like they’d been planted with straw they were so brown.
Mulder turned onto a long gravel driveway and they both coughed as a cloud of dust made its way through the air conditioning vent. The car came to rest in front of a two story clapboard house that would have done any children’s book illustration proud. It was painted a cheerful white, with black shutters and a red tin roof. Scully waited for the dust to die down before she opened the door into a solid wall of heat. She took one last grateful gulp of air-conditioning before following Mulder and the Carson’s into the house.
* * * * * *
“Sorry to call you all the way down here, but we just don’t have anybody qualified for this sort of thing,” Sheriff Carson started, once they all found seats around the table in the bright kitchen. Mrs. Carson had poured them all Mason jars of sweet iced tea and puttered around, laying out cookies.
“What sort of thing is that, exactly, Sheriff?” Scully asked.
George Carson looked over at her a bit sheepishly and gave a self-deprecating sort of smile. “Yankee stadium. It appeared in our back field five days ago.”
“I hope you didn’t have to pay to get in,” Mulder said.
Nancy smiled at his quip and sat down at the table. “No. As far as we know there wasn’t anybody actually in it. It was just the field and stadium. We didn’t really get too close, to be honest. We were sort of scared to, really.”
“When did this happen?” Scully asked.
“Monday, we think. I woke up about 4 when I heard the dog going crazy and noticed a really bright light coming from out in the direction of the field. There’s a hill and some woods separating us from it, so I couldn’t really see anything. I woke George up and we went to check it out. Thought it might be the construction workers on the new vocational school that’s going up a couple miles over, but it wasn’t.”
“Did anybody else see it?” Scully’s professional tone cloaked the misgivings she was feeling.
Nancy nodded vigorously. “Yeah, George called his deputy, Charlie, and he and his wife Deb came over that morning to look it over. We tried to keep it from anybody else. It wasn’t hard— nobody really goes out there but us.”
“We could show you where it was,” George Carson offered.
Mulder nodded and gulped down the last of his iced tea, jumping up to follow the Carsons out the back door. Scully caught up with him on the porch steps.
“Mulder,” she murmured, laying a warm hand on his arm, “I’m following the whole ‘sports theme’ you’ve got going lately, but I’m still wondering what we’re doing here.”
“I’ve got a sports theme?”
“Huh. I hadn’t thought about that.”
“Even assuming these two people are telling the truth – what difference does it make? The stadium is already gone. Are we supposed to wait around here for another one to show up?”
“I hope not, I really don’t want to have to buy a trailer.”
Scully remained silent, waiting for a real answer.
“I don’t really know Scully. But twenty six years ago the entire basketball gym at the local high school disappeared. This place has a history of weird occurrences. I just thought we should check it out.”
“Wait, the gym disappeared? Why the hell didn’t you mention that before?”
“Oh. Well it did. In 1973.”
“And you think the two are related?”
Scully felt her squint begin to relax as they followed the Carson’s through a path in the woods. Despite the sunny day, the sky wasn’t blue. It glared a hot white, bright as a bare lightbulb, and it made opening her eyes a near impossibility.
“Scully, work with me here. A disappearing gym, an appearing baseball field…and all of this from a town whose main sports claim to fame is the Ohio girl’s softball champions of ‘97 and ‘98.”
“Sounds like someone’s done his research.”
“Not really. It was on the welcome sign when we drove in.”
* * * * * *
A dedicated search of the large field yielded nothing significant. Mulder watched the dry grass crumble to ashes under the measured steps of the four adults. There were indeed prints and deep ruts in the field, but nothing remained of the mysterious stadium.
After several minutes, Nancy excused herself to get dinner on the table and with a nod toward the agents, George swaggered off after her.
Scully made a few more cursory turns around the field before she stopped and lowered herself to the ground with a weary sigh.
“Giving up so soon?” Mulder asked, coming to stand in front of her.
She scratched absently at a bugbite on her ankle and squinted up toward him.
“Well, let’s see. We have no body, no clues, no stadium and only four witnesses.” Mulder moved around to shade her from the sun and she blinked her thanks. “To top it off, just looking at you in that long sleeved shirt is making me hot.”
Mulder grinned down at his partner and didn’t bother with the innuendo. She’d catch herself in a second. Sure enough, she gave him an exasperated snort and a slight shake of her head.
“There’s nothing left to investigate.”
“Sounds like just our kind of thang, Ms Scully,” he drawled, in his best southern accent, which, as it happened, wasn’t that good.
“Besides, we do have that basketball incident.”
Scully hauled herself up and started walking toward the house again. “Care to give me the details on that one?”
“Not at all,” Mulder said, lapsing into his storyteller voice. “It was a dark and stormy night,” he began. Scully watched him reproachfully for a few seconds before turning on her heel to walk away from him. He grinned and jogged a few steps to catch up. “It really was Scully. A dark and stormy night. Two members of the Chesapeake High School basketball team were practicing lay-ups in the makeshift practice gym…”
“Yeah, just an old school building that had a concrete floor. They were supposed to be working on the real gym or something, I don’t know. But at about nine o’clock that night three witnesses reported seeing the gym disappear. Pretty cool, huh?”
“What about the players?”
“Oh yeah. Them too. And the two coaches and a cheerleader. Five in all,” Mulder said enthusiastically as they wended their way back through the woods. In a clearing, he saw a small white reproduction of the Carson house. It had the same red tin roof and white clapboard exterior. An aged ladder sat propped up against the side, next to a barrel reserved for rainwater. It wasn’t big, but it had a nice homey look. Probably their accommodations for the night, he thought.
“Five people just disappeared in a small Ohio town and nobody ever followed up on it?” Scully asked with a look of disbelief.
“There wasn’t much to investigate, Scully. The building was gone – without a trace. No bodies to autopsy, no ransom note, nothing.”
Mulder leaned up against a tall buckeye tree and watched his partner’s red hair fall like a curtain over her cheekbone when she stooped to tie her shoe. He could see the dissatisfaction in the tight line of her shoulders. She wasn’t thrilled with cases like this. She much preferred a solid lead: murder, kidnapping, theft — no matter how much she saw of the unexplained she was still out of her element. And that irritated her.
He watched her stare at her shoelace for a long second before shaking her head and standing up to face him.
“Why the hell wasn’t there more public outcry over this?”
Yup, Mulder thought, swearing definitely meant she was irritated. He only shrugged.
“I mean, why haven’t I heard of it? Why haven’t I seen it on ‘Unsolved Mysteries’?” she continued.
“You watch that show too?”
As a fierce confirmation Scully suddenly sneezed, leaning over almost to her knees with the power of it. She sniffed and threw him an accusing look.
“Mulder, I’ve followed you a lot of places, and I’ve done so with a fairly good attitude. But it’s 103 degrees out here and it’s ragweed season. So I suggest you cut to the chase and tell me exactly what your theory is. Aliens, ghosts, what?”
Her face was a fight brewing.
Mulder contemplated the best way to tell her his news before finally sighing and jumping in.
“I don’t actually have a theory.”
Scully turned and started walking toward the house. Once out of the woods, Mulder could feel the hot fingers of the sun digging into his skin even through his clothes. He hoped Scully had thought to bring sunscreen; her shoulders were starting to get a touch red. He debated whether or not to tell her that before deciding against it. No use making things worse when she was already poised for a rampage.
In truth, she’d been venturing in and out of rare and emotional moods for the past few months. Mulder, till now attuned to every signal his partner had in her vast repertoire, found himself lost
in her new territory.
He was the one who hared off into the uncharted depths of self-consciousness. Scully was the one who stayed on shore to throw him a lifeline. Now she seemed out on the horizon, searching the deep for answers to questions she hardly knew how to ask. Worst of all was the helpless way it left him feeling. At least in his experience he’d admitted he needed help dealing with his personal demons; Scully, queen of independence, was ‘fine’ as usual.
The search for a safe atmosphere had led Mulder to this case in the first place. For the first time since the damn Padgett debacle he’d felt safe offering her a case, confident that an enigmatic sports field would give them a reprieve from reality. Apparently he’d been wrong. She wasn’t buying the case, and she was clearly getting fed up with the man who brought her. Mulder let out a fatigued sigh and in three long strides caught up with his partner on the back porch steps.
* * * * * *
* * * * * *
The sounds of clinking dinnerware wafted out of the screen door. Beyond it, the agents could hear a family in the midst of an argument. They glanced at one another in embarrassed horror.
Mulder jerked his head in the direction of the wicker porch swing and they moved toward it with stealthy grace.
Inside, George Carson raised his voice,“In this house, we attend church together. And I don’t care if we’re meeting in a barn Carly Carson, you will attend with us until you leave for school, lack of ‘atmosphere’ or not. Am I understood?”
Scully grimaced. The carefully controlled tone of anger took her back to a clear winter day when Melissa Scully had made a similar assertion to their father, and had run smack up against the same answer. It had been one of those dinner table arguments that she so hated. Dana had sat between her father and Melissa, an unwitting victim in their battle of stares while Charlie and Bill had smirked at Missy.
In the midst of her reverie, Scully saw the door fly back and bang angrily against the wall. A teenager with unruly blonde hair stalked out of the house and into the backyard without so much as a sideways glance at the two agents. Nancy followed a second later, stepping out onto the wooden porch with a worried frown. She noticed Mulder and Scully sharing the porch swing and smiled in embarrassment, looking apologetically into Scully’s eyes.
“Seventeen,” she said, by way of explanation.
Scully attempted a smile and nodded in understanding.
“Sorry about the ruckus. Come on in, dinner’s almost ready.”
A small, dark-haired girl with a tear-stained face was setting down plates onto the table as they walked in. Scully smiled at her, but the girl just blinked solemnly and looked away.
“This is our youngest daughter, Maria,” Nancy Carson said, gesturing with a smile toward the little girl. “Maria is going to be 7 years-old on Monday.”
From the living room came the sound of a ball game and a sudden woofing cheer. Nancy smiled. “Our son Eric is 12. Big sports fan. And Carly, who you just heard from, is 17.”
“Nice family,” Mulder said.
Scully knew her partner felt more than a little out of place in the presence of almost any family, including his own, but she watched with admiration as he covered his discomfort. Turning to face their hostess he held up his hands and smiled.
“Got a place we can wash up?”
* * * * * *
One look into the mirror above the sink convinced Scully that she needed to rethink the sleeveless shirt idea. From out of nowhere freckles were beginning to appear on her pink shoulders. She sighed and looked around the cotton-candy-colored bathroom for a towel, finally giving up and wiping her hands on her pants. All she really needed was a good, scorching sunburn. That would really top things off. She was stuck in the middle of nowhere, in a heatstorm that made the lowest circle of hell look like a night at the Ritz, and sharing a clapboard house with an unknown family.
Couldn’t forget Mulder.
Not that she hadn’t tried, frankly, but her ability to deny had been superseded by her investigative training. She’d finally been forced to notice that he was watching her with an attention that bordered on the manic.
She’d like to think there was no good reason. Unfortunately, she never could lie worth a damn, not even to herself. Try as she might she couldn’t seem to stop the swells of emotions she was riding lately.
In between, there’d be a few blissful moments of reprieve, moments when she felt like her old self. The Dana Scully who took the knocks and then got back up again would be ready to fight. But even during those adrenaline-infused reprieves, she could feel herself tensing, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
The first one had landed with a thud while she was wrapped in Mulder’s arms one cool April night, playing baseball and practicing forgetting. She definitely needed more practice, since she had spent several hours lying on her couch afterwards, unraveling the thread of grief Mulder had accidentally snagged when he’d mentioned her ticking biological clock.
Everything seemed to be hitting her in a sore spot these days. She had even started to wait for the familiar burning sensation that accompanied her forays into melancholy.
It was normal.
It was expected.
It irritated the hell out of her.
She knew Mulder was tiptoeing around her, afraid any random word might set her adrift in her personal sea of grief, but he had all the stealth of a bull in a china shop. She deserved it, she knew. She’d been the one to break after the Padgett incident — she’d let that man push all the raw places inside of her until they bled, and Mulder had been the unwilling spectator.
He hadn’t known what to do for her, but she appreciated how he had tried. He’d sat on the floor in his entryway and held her for ages, until whatever it was inside her that had cracked patched itself up again and she could stand. Even then he’d led her gingerly to the couch, afraid to jostle her too much. As he ran his hands over her shirt she had been forced to close her eyes against the sight of his face. Whatever had cracked in her was on the verge of breaking into him too, and the consequences of their collective disarmament would be irreparable. Mistaking her silence for pain, he’d asked her if it hurt and she had nodded. He had wanted to take her to the hospital but she refused. It wasn’t that kind of pain. It was a burning born from the realization that it took her being half out of her mind with grief and fear to allow her partner to touch her.
Well, enough was enough.
There was no way she was going to let Padgett, with his mistaken conclusions and his cleverly disguised stalking, get to her. The problem was, once the dam had been opened, it seemed to spill into every part of her life. She thought she’d dealt sufficiently with her father’s and Emily’s deaths, but the grief seemed to keep surging back, catching her off guard.
It was exhausting.
Turning out the light in the bathroom, Scully made her way along the hall until she reached the top of the stairs. Off to the left a door was open, and beyond it Scully could see the small body of Maria Carson stretched out on the bed. She paused for a second on the landing before turning to walk inside. Maria’s big green eyes, as swollen and red-rimmed as a rabbit’s, turned to look at her. Scully gave her a sympathetic smile. She’d been there too—the baby sister of a restless teenager.
“I like your room,” Scully said, taking a few tentative steps toward the travel posters lining the walls.
Maria sat up against the pillows and looked at her solemnly. “It’s not mine. It’s Carly’s”
“Well. She must really like to travel, huh?”
“She’s never been anywhere,” Maria began, with a frown, “but she wants to leave.”
Maria’s voice was so lonesome that Scully felt a little part of her heart break. She had an insane desire to pull this girl toward her and cry on her thin shoulder. Instead, she swallowed the lump in her throat and looked back toward the wall.
“I especially like this one,” Scully said, tapping a picture of the San Diego zoo, “I used to live in this city.”
Scully looked around, surprised. “You lived in San Diego?”
Maria nodded and jumped off the bed, landing with a clump that shook the floorboards. She moved to stand next to Scully and together they shifted their gazes back toward the poster.
“Yeah,” she said softly. “I was born there.”
“Oh,” Scully said, “I guess I thought your family had always lived here.”
“Mom and Dad have, and Eric and Carly, but I’ve only lived here—I don’t know— I was 4 when I came.”
Scully’s confusion grew by the second, but Maria offered an explanation.
“Oh, well, that explains it. I thought you were playing a trick on me,” Scully said with a smile towards the girl.
Maria shook her head solemnly. “No. My real mom is Aunt Nancy’s sister, but she said I can call her mommy.”
Scully continued to smile at the little girl and wondered how even the most normal looking families could be so complex.
Even the ordinary facade of her own clan covered a multitude of little minefields that came from misunderstanding and misplaced faith. Mulder, bless him, given ten years, two good hands and grace direct from heaven, would still find it difficult to uncover the one hard fact Scully had learned while negotiating that dangerous territory. In the end, it wasn’t hatred that wore you down, it was love. Love and family would whittle you to the bone faster than any nameless ‘Them.’
She watched as Maria turned, ponytails waving like banners, and scooted out the door. With her hand over one burning shoulder, Scully followed her downstairs.
* * * * * *
Despite years of experience in the ins and outs of conspiracy, mayhem and double-talk, Fox Mulder was still unused to chaos. Having grown up with two people who sequestered themselves from every living relative, and then from one another, he’d never had the opportunity to witness the true chaos that occurs when members of the same family all squash into one small kitchen.
The endless hoops and never-ending circles he and his partner found themselves going through in their work seemed like kid’s play in comparison.
And considering Mrs Carson’s proclivity for turning around suddenly with a large butcher knife, an agent’s life might even be considered less dangerous. Just seconds before, Mulder had held his breath when it looked like she was inches away from lopping off the tail of a cat.
Once again, his partner surprised him. She hadn’t batted an eyelash when she came in to find 17-year-old Carly wrestling with a German shepherd on the kitchen rug, tenderly pleading with the animal to take a flea pill.
“Come on Jix! Darnit, open up. One pill, that’s all!”
His partner. The woman who would rather have dental work done by a crack-addled chimpanzee than succumb to disorganization. She merely stepped over the two writhing blondes, calmly swatted a black cat away from the milk pitcher on the table and made her way toward Mrs. Carson.
Mulder figured it was a good sign that she didn’t seem troubled by the presence of Maria. His stomach had sunk when she turned toward him in the house that afternoon. One thing Scully didn’t need was to start remembering the melancholy gaze of another young girl. He was determined to help her out of this grief-stricken phase—if need be he’d learn to ride a unicycle and juggle bowling pins.
Lost in this peculiar daydream he barely missed having his head torn off by a skittish cat using him as a landing post on her way from the refrigerator to the floor.
“Oww, shiiii–oot,” he cried, jumping from his seat at the table, nearly knocking Scully over.
His partner reached out to steady herself on something, coming in contact only with Sheriff Carson. He extended his hand, turning a wooden bowl of chicken salad onto the floor, where it became immediate fair game for the three animals in the room. There was a moment of silence, and then Carly beamed up at Mulder.
“That did it! You got him to take the pill!”
* * * * * *
The flames of the candles on the table danced wildly when Carly sat down across from Mulder.
From her position near the sink, Scully could see the rapturous intensity in Carly’s eyes, a gaze similar to ones she’d seen in the eyes of hundreds of women over the years. She’d gotten quite used to the attention her partner garnered from the opposite sex. And this time, thank God, even Mulder should be safe from the predator. The huntress was, after all, only 17, and despite the smouldering look she was throwing across the oak table, she was also wearing a “class of 2000” t-shirt and sporting a nose ring. Scully felt a moment of pity for her. The restlessness in this girl’s eyes was so searing she almost gave off sparks.
After a long minute Carly seemed to realize she was supposed to accompany her stare with words.
“So…, Mom says you’re working on a book?”
Mulder nodded and cleared his throat before getting up to make his way toward Scully at the sink. Can’t handle it there hot shot? Scully thought as she chopeed lettuce for the freshly washed salad bowl.
“Uh, yeah—local folklore.”
“You’re from Washington DC and you volunteer to come here?” Carly’s tone radiated incredulity.
“You don’t like it here?” Scully asked, thinking she should help bail Mulder out. Carly clearly didn’t think the same thing, because she threw Scully a bored, dismissive look before refocusing on Mulder’s back. She did however, answer.
“Well,” she began, with a shake of her head that implied she was less than thrilled with Scully’s cluelessness, “it’s not a bad place, exactly. It’s just dull and backward. There’s no culture.”
“Oh, I don’t know, you might change your mind some day.”
“No,” Carly said, vehemently, “I’m outta here in four months, when I’m 18.”
“Where are you going?”
The girl looked momentarily confused, but she reached down into herself and found her attitude.
“Not sure yet. I’m thinking about LA or Miami. Somewhere warmer.”
“Than this?” Mulder piped up from where he had retreated next to the refrigerator.
Carly shifted her gaze gladly towards him and gave him a saucy grin.
“Yeah, well, you know…no winter.”
Scully began grating a carrot, wondering how in the world she’d managed, in one day, to go from her cool, organized apartment to a hot dusty farmhouse. And cooking to boot.
“So, what’s your name?” Carly asked, looking at Mulder from under her eyelashes with a gaze that would have made Lolita blush.
Scully pursed her lips and tried to keep a malicious smile off her face. She got a kick out of watching Mulder try to evade the advances of a persistent woman.
She got a real kick out it the times he didn’t try to evade their advances either, though that kick usually just involved her shoe on her partner’s shin, and then only in her imagination.
“Mulder,” he answered, curtly.
Scully popped a long carrot into her mouth, trying to keep from grinning at him.
“That your first name or last?” Carly countered, oblivious to Mulder’s awkward answer.
Mulder sent a longing look through the kitchen door toward the living room, where Sheriff Carson and the 12-year-old, Eric, were watching a baseball game. But before he could make good his escape, the words were out of her mouth.
“So, what’s your first name?”
Scully gnawed delightedly on the carrot, waiting for his answer.
“Um…” Mulder said with a shake of his head as he stepped even closer to his partner. “It’s Fox.”
He reached around her to set his iced-tea glass in the sink. Scully watched him try to avoid her gaze before giving up and turning to find her smiling wickedly up at him. From behind them, Carly exclaimed,
“What a totally fitting name!”
Her smile exploded into a cheshire grin. The carrot dropped out of her mouth and landed in the sink where Mulder fished it out. He banged her lightly on the nose with it before steering it back into her open mouth.
She tried not to think about symbolism.
* * * * * *
They ate dinner around a table that was buoyed by down-home family conversation.
Chicken stir fry and fresh sweet corn were consumed amidst talk about the weather, the last-second stolen base and new bike tires, but underneath the normalcy were emotions so unspoken that the air seemed to shimmer with them. Fear and longing were waiting on this table and they served huge portions of need from their iron bowls.
Scully’s reprieve from her mood had died out like the sparks from a firecracker. She saw Mulder mourning it, as she was, throughout the meal. Try as she might to boost her good spirits, Scully was undone when Maria Carson reached out to hold onto Carly’s shirttail as they moved towards the dining room table.
The male members of the Carson family seemed oblivious, caught up in a discussion of Carly’s softball team and the chances for success in the semi-final game.
They didn’t appear to notice Carly’s conspicuous absence from the conversation. She was too busy using her eyes to shoot daggers of hate toward her father.
It was a feast of staring.
Nancy Carson kept her eyes on her youngest daughter Maria, who gazed up at her older sister with such adoration and longing that Scully’s throat closed up in sympathy. She could hardly swallow her sweet tea but managed to choke it down when she felt Mulder staring at her.
She knew what he was thinking. He could see the effect this little girl’s eyes were having on her spirit and she knew he feared she was seeing Emily in this child. Oddly, he seemed to miss the fact that with her dark braided hair and deep green eyes she bore a much more striking resemblance to Samantha than to Emily.
But it wasn’t her daughter Scully saw, it was herself.
Every time Maria Carson followed her sister’s movements with that hungry look Scully felt the longing like a fire in her chest.
Everyone told her when Melissa died that time would heal her wounds. Over the years she discovered the fallacy in their logic and wanted to face everyone who had ever uttered those words to her and tell them the truth. She wanted to tell them that time hadn’t healed anything, and that what was perceived as healing was simply learning to live with the pain. It hadn’t dulled. It wouldn’t dull.
Stooped over to tie her shoelace that afternoon, arguing with Mulder, she had flashed back to the day Missy taught her how to hold the tiny loop in her own fingers. Those flashes came so regularly and with such force that she hardly registered them anymore.
She’d always been able to keep those feelings under control. The day Missy died she’d felt more than a surge of grief, she’d felt a surge of righteous anger. When her sorrow-stricken partner cradled her head on his shoulder next to an empty hospital bed she had sworn she would vindicate her sister’s death and bring the truth to light. Now, an eternity later, she wondered if she could do that. And most of all, she wondered if it would even help. Either way Missy was still dead. Truth or not she was never going to be able to hold onto her big sister’s shirttail again.
Scully shook herself from her reverie. These girls had nothing to do with her and Missy. Their problems and their emotions should not be scratching at her insides, but they were. She should not have an overwhelming desire to hold her partner’s hand, but she did. Suddenly she couldn’t stand to sit at the table with herself.
She couldn’t stand the breathing and the heart-thudding of the Dana Scully who had become a comfort-seeker instead of a truth-seeker.
So she left.
* * * * * *
This was more like it.
Put him in the middle of a normal family and he was completely out of his league, but sit him down at a meal with an oblivious parent, an adolescent in pain, and a few other familiar dysfunctions, and Mulder felt quite at home.
Or he would, if his partner was trying to protect him from his own inner demons, as usual.
But that wasn’t what was happening. Instead, she was giving slow, agonized glances toward the little girl, and with every painful blink Mulder’s spirit sank like the sun outside the window.
Why the hell didn’t he check this family out before he dragged her out here?
His disgust with himself was so powerful he started to get cold. Despair did that to him — it made his body temperature drop and his hands go numb. He flexed them experimentally around his fork and considered using his utensil, lion-tamer style, to hold the family at bay while he made a break for the car with his partner.
Wait a second, where was she?
Mulder’s daydream broke when he noticed he was staring at her empty chair. Off to his left, George Carson was saying something to him about baseball practice, but Mulder’s concentration was fixed on the disappearing back of his retreating partner.
He waited until the screen door slammed behind her before making his excuses and dropping the cloth napkin onto his seat.
Outside, the absent sun hadn’t done a thing to relieve the suffocating humidity. Feeling as though he were breathing through sand, Mulder stepped onto the porch and turned at the closing of a car trunk. Nancy Carson appeared out of nowhere to stand at his side and pressed a key into his hand.
“It’s unlocked now, but here’s the key for later,” she said, searching his face.
Mulder nodded, his eyes sweeping the dark lawn for a sign of Scully.
“It’s just two rooms, a big one and then a bathroom. There’s only one bed, but the couch pulls out so that should work for one of you. Probably Agent Scully, since she’s smaller.”
Nancy seemed to notice that Mulder was itchy to get away, because she stopped and headed back inside with a muffled “goodnight.” The door closed behind her, the porch light was turned off and Mulder was left in the inky blackness of a country night.
In the distance, he could hear Scully’s shoes crunching on the gravel walkway that led to the little house. He followed her sound blindly, pushing through the night like a ship at sea following a beacon, hoping she was okay.
* * * * * *
* * * * * *
Without a flashlight, Scully was forced to feel the walkway with her feet in order to keep to the path. Every time the loud crunch of crushed gravel gave way to the soft thump of a foot on grass she knew she’d strayed too far. After a few minutes her eyes grew accustomed to the dark and she focused on getting to the house and into a lit room before Mulder caught up with her. She wasn’t sure how he was managing to remain silent on the loud pathway, but she knew he was catching up.
He always caught up.
With a choked sigh she reached the front steps of the guesthouse and fumbled for the knob, starting inside.
Mulder was only a hair’s breadth behind.
An arctic blast of air-conditioning assaulted them when she opened the door. The welcome sensation of the frozen breeze combined with her partner’s hand curled around her arm sent a shiver of electricity down Scully’s spine that she felt from her teeth to the tips of her fingers. The hairs on her arms stood straight up in the air and she wanted to cry out with relief from the heat. Instead, she stayed silent and moved out of Mulder’s grasp toward the light switch.
* * * * * *
The house wasn’t really anything more than one big room. Across from the door was a mini kitchen, with a long snack bar dividing the house into living area and bedroom, an open door next to the bed led to the bath. The entire space was not much bigger than Scully’s living room.
Not that she was complaining. She was too relieved to feel anything except the welcome sensation of the chilly air that soothed her burning shoulders. The heat seemed to have affected her whole body. Even the soles of her feet felt like she’d been walking on coals.
Scully slipped off her shoes and walked across the cool linoleum to the kitchen. The cabinets were stocked with a colorful jumble of kid’s food: Cracker Jacks, Fruit Roll-Ups and snack cakes. She unearthed a blue plastic cup and downed two glasses of cold well-water before noticing that Mulder hadn’t moved from the doorway. The air conditioner bellowed like a hoarse Jack Frost from the window over the couch, but the room seemed uncomfortably quiet.
Scully closed her eyes and hoped the sweet smell of candy would drive out the scent of her partner.
Like a blind man who made up for his lost sight with an increased sense of hearing, Scully, who had spent the last seven years trying not to look at her partner, could pick him out of a mile-long lineup based on smell alone. She felt completely unprepared to start a session of questions and answers, one that was inevitable when he gave off his troubled smell — dark and earthy, like warm terra-cotta after a summer shower.
“You’d better grab your bag from the car, Mulder. I only brought mine,” she said, setting her cup down in the sink with deliberate force.
Instead of answering, he nodded toward her back and turned to leave, but not before she noticed him shivering in the window’s reflection.
* * * * * *
When Dana and Melissa were young they used to play a game to see who hated each other more.
Sitting knee to knee on a rug in Missy’s room they would take turns scowling at one another, seeing who could put the most venom and contempt into a single look. Dana learned early that while Missy had a gift for the evil eye, she herself had a look of such patronizing contempt that her sister’s mouth would drop open in hurt. With an arch of a fine five-year-old eyebrow she could win the game every time, if she wanted to. But she kept her secret weapon buried deep inside her, because she knew if she tried to make mean faces long enough, eventually Missy would giggle and they would both start to laugh. She preferred losing to hurting.
Lying in the dark room, waiting for the sound of Mulder’s footsteps on the gravel path, she tried to relax. Sometimes, if she fooled her body into thinking it was stress-free she could fall asleep. Burrowing down into the pillows she started with her breathing.
In and out.
Nice and even.
Better to lose than to hurt.
Better to give up any hope of something larger in her relationship with Mulder than expose him to the crazy give-and- take emotional tug-of-war that went on daily in her heart. She was sure they’d never survive if one of them didn’t remain strong. The calm voice inside her head that counted her breaths and offered logical comfort took over. She could feel her muscles loosening.
She had a brief relapse when the squeaking door heralded her partner’s return. The frantic increase in her heart rate didn’t abate until she was certain he wasn’t going to turn on a light and attempt conversation. Whatever he had stopped her on the porch to say had apparently been forgotten and for that she was immeasurably grateful. The problem wasn’t with Mulder, that much she knew. The problem was that she couldn’t trust herself to talk to him now. Not that they’d ever done a lot of it anyway. Still, she felt perched on the edge of something dangerous lately.
She waited until she heard Mulder collapse onto the couch before she threw off the comforter and continued the relaxation exercise recommended by her massage therapist, Shannon. During her cancer, a weekly trip to the day spa had been a gift from her brother Charlie. After she went into remission, those trips were something she found she couldn’t give up, and she splurged for the hour long session herself. Shannon swore that working on Scully’s back was like working on the great wall of China. No matter how long she stretched after running or weightlifting she still had about as much give as your average brick wall. Shannon would spout a litany of her problems: stress, tension, tough job, type-A- personality, no man. Apparently they all combined to make her a ticking time bomb of muscular catastrophe. After her first session, Scully had concentrated so hard on not tensing her shoulders that the stress caused her to clench her jaw in her sleep. It was a no-win situation.
Shannon swears she has the answers. “Girl,” she says, while doing things to Scully’s neck that make her want to scream out, “you have got to find yourself a man, first of all. I don’t know how long it’s been, but from the feel of you pretty damn long. Second of all, order a pizza, rent Beaches and have yourself a good long cry. Then, last of all, start looking for another damn job. Lord, the one you’ve got cannot be worth all the trouble!”
Scully wished it were that easy.
* * * * * *
Mulder blamed the metal bar in the couch for his insomnia. That and the cold. His toes felt completely frozen. He pictured Scully waking up the next morning to find that his peg-leg dream had come true.
The temperature was no deterrent to sleep for his partner—or her legs. Mulder had a good enough view of them from the couch. Hours before, she had thrown back the covers, subjecting him to an evening of staring at the delicate arches of her feet. He’d never really given much thought to her feet before, but he could tell they were going to tread through his mind fairly regularly from now on.
With a shiver he swaddled the blankets more tightly around him. He wondered what kind of whacked thermostat his partner must have to be able to sleep out in the air. For someone so small she’d always given off a surprising amount of heat, but this was ridiculous. Still, privately, he’d often thought of her as a miniature oven. Sometimes in the winter when he was contemplating typing with his gloves on, Scully would walk into the office, throw off her coat and release the scent of baking vanilla and a dozen other nameless, female scents. A Scully cookie.
It gave the phrase “I could eat her up,” a whole new meaning.
From his cold and lonely couch, he thought he saw heat waves emanating from her legs, like the dream-waves of a mirage. Forced with having to crawl on his knees toward it or ignore the siren call he knew he had no other choice.
So he closed his eyes and buried his face in the couch.
* * * * * *
Scully woke with a jolt from a dream in which Krycek, dressed as a clown complete with rubber nose, stood in front of the FBI building handing out balloons imprinted with Melissa’s face. She watched in horror as Mulder passed by with his own balloon, having a loud and animated discussion about how boring and predictable ‘Dana’ was.
She couldn’t classify the dream as a nightmare, because while certainly bizarre, it had nothing on the really good terrors her subconscious was capable of throwing her.
She must have cooled down enough to fall asleep, but now she was hot again. With a sigh she pressed the button on her watch and read the face: 2:11 am. So close—she’d guessed 2:14.
For months she’d been waking up at this time of the morning. The raging internal combustion of emotions that went along with it were nothing new. The fury of proving her dream Mulder and Missy right, that she was predictable, propelled her from the bed and into the kitchen where she grabbed an ice cube from the freezer and ran it over the pulse in the crook of her elbows.
It didn’t help.
The ice melted in her hot palm and it felt like the water was going to boil in her fingers. Exhaustion had set in, like it always did after a day on the road, but she knew there was no use going back to bed until she cooled down.
At home she tried soothing herself out of her hot flash. She ate applesauce and sipped banana milkshakes because they were the only things her sore, sleep-clenched jaw could handle. She’d tried yoga and meditation. She’d tried exercise and warm baths and cold baths but nothing worked and at night she still felt like she was burning up from the inside. Standing in a dark room in a borrowed house, she could almost hear her own blood percolating in her veins. It made a sound like the ocean roaring in her head.
She was so busy listening to the rhythm that she nearly fainted when a hand as cold as death grasped her shoulder.
* * * * * *
He thought he must have slept for a while—either that or he’d slipped into hypothermic shock.
When he woke, he heard someone in the kitchen.
One glance was enough to let him see that Scully’s legs were no longer in the bed. He sat up, listening.
Mulder had fallen asleep wrapped like a bambino in the brown wool throw and a blue-patterned ‘clan Anderson’ Scottish blanket that he’d found in a closet and still he couldn’t feel his appendages. It was no surprise then that he dreamed about Antarctica. It was always the same dream—that he couldn’t break into the pod and grab his partner. He wondered if he was forever doomed to pound his fists against it while she floated in the celery-colored water, crying and glaring at him accusingly. “This is your fault,” she always said in the second before he woke up. This time, it was the soft suction of the freezer door opening that roused him from the sight of her sad face.
As a psychologist, discovering the almost embarrassingly obvious guilt theme behind his dream was a no-brainer. He knew perfectly well what his demons were, but the knowledge didn’t make exorcising them any easier. Objectively he knew he should go talk to someone about his guilt—instead, he hoarded it, just like his partner hoarded hers. His guilt did not come as a surprise to him, but he was occasionally blown away by the force of her grief. Sometimes he found it almost humiliating to discover how profoundly “textbook” they were.
Love, chapter 1.
Fear, chapter 2.
Anger, chapter 3.
Grief, chapter 4.
Guilt, chapter 5.
He read from that book so often he could recite it from memory, but whoever wrote the book forgot to mention the worst secret: It’s a never-ending story.
It never got easier, that was the killer. Grief and guilt were always cliche. No matter what you felt, you were never the first, and every time you reacquainted yourself with a chapter you thought you should know by heart, you found yourself caught in the pages again. Mulder saw little point in fighting the pull.
Once, on a return flight from some now-faceless case he had urged Scully to relax. Turning her eyes toward him in wonder she had replied “I can’t. Tension is the only thing holding me together.” He had smiled at the time, and probably quipped something inane about helping her release some of that tension in return, but the statement had stayed with him and he now knew it to be the sad heart of the truth. For both of them.
With a shiver, he wondered if he should chance getting up. He wasn’t entirely sure his legs would hold him. After a moment though, he began to unwrap himself from the blankets and was surprised to discover that he wasn’t that much colder outside of them.
His steps were remarkably steady as he walked toward the kitchen. The paper-white moonlight threaded through the venetian blind on the front window, creating a staircase of light that led right up to the refrigerator, where Scully was leaning her head against the door.
She was clutching something wet, he saw, because little drops of water dripped from her closed fists to form a puddle near her feet.
She hadn’t noticed him, though he blocked the light from the door. The heat shimmering off of her warmed his icy limbs even while standing at ground zero for the air- conditioner. If being this close helped, then what wonders would a few steps do?
He took one experimentally and was gratified to feel his toes again. Putting his arm out slowly, as if toward a campfire, he wrapped a hand around her shoulder and felt her collarbone jump under his palm like a popcorn kernel as she whirled to face him, knocking his arm away.
* * * * * *
Mulder held his hands up in a gentling gesture and she exhaled, causing a cloud of vapor to rise from her hot lips into the darkness.
“I heard you get up,” Mulder said in a voice of rusty nails. “I wanted to make sure you were okay.”
Scully addressed her reply to the center of his white t-shirt.
“I was hot. I thought a drink might help.”
In one step he closed the distance between them until her nose almost pressed against his chest. He put both hands on her face, one on her forehead and one on her cheek.
“You do feel warm,” he murmured without stepping back.
Something funny happened to her breathing again. She decided just to give up and leaned into his cool hands. They stood that way for three heartbeats, when Scully finally realized that he spoke last and she should probably say something.
“That’s because your hands are freezing Mulder.”
Having to say the words jolted her mind out of its haze and she gave him a worried look. It was probably her imagination, but he seemed to be giving off a bluish aura. When she blinked it was gone.
With the medical excuse firmly imbedded in her mind, she brought her hands up to Mulder’s waist, propelling him backward toward the snack bar. She positioned him on a barstool and stepped back to feel his forehead. He remained motionless, not moving his hands from her face, and they did an unholy parody of a tango until he was seated.
The slight scrape of his cheek over her palm made her toes curl involuntarily and she swallowed, looking away from his eyes toward the couch.
“Are you using covers in there?” she questioned, her voice so low he had to lean almost into her neck to hear it.
He nodded and she wondered briefly what she would do if he just nuzzled under her chin a little bit, maybe traced the blue vein in her throat with his tongue. She cleared her throat and stepped back.
“We should get some sleep Mulder. You take the bed, I’ll take the couch this time.”
With mustered courage, she turned to leave but stopped when she realized Mulder was still holding onto her green nightshirt. The jackrabbit in her heart started thrumming double-time as she felt him rest his forehead on the back of her neck. For a few heart-bursting seconds she couldn’t feel anything but his cool breath rustling the hairs at her nape.
“You’re really warm, Scully.”
Her eyes slid shut and she swayed slightly backwards. She really wished he wouldn’t talk with that ache in his voice. It was almost always her undoing.
She pulled away from him with her eyes still closed, and led him toward the bed. Mulder’s eyes were wide open as she pushed him toward the pillows. She could feel his gaze on her back as she left the room.
The long process of relaxation began all over again on the couch.
She began to steer her mind from the things she would not think about—she would not think about her sister, or the case. She wouldn’t think about dissatisfaction and grief, or about hot humid summer nights. Most of all, she would not think about how everything she wanted in the world was lying just a few feet away.
* * * * * *
Normally in August, the Randolph Community Youth Field suffered from its location next to a creekbed. Flashfloods routinely washed out the bases and dedicated mothers spent hour after miserable hour scrubbing mud-stains from the knees of white baseball pants.
This year, though, those same mothers would kill for the chance of a sprinkle.
Despite the heat and dust, loyal spectators swarmed the bleachers, carrying wet washcloths in Ziplock baggies to put over their mouths when the dust rose in red clouds like a swarm of insects. In the dugout, Mulder sat with the coach and deputy Sheriff, Charlie Davis, who wore a surgical mask over his mouth so he could scream at his team without choking. Mulder kept one eye on the game and one on his partner, who was questioning Coach Davis’ wife, Deb. He couldn’t hear what she was saying, but if the wild gestures she was giving were any indication, the words “unbelievable!” and “huge!” were probably involved.
“Yeah, Deb isn’t the type to believe the Yankee Stadium story if she hadn’t seen it for herself,” Charlie said, interrupting Mulder’s concentration. “All these years I been telling her the story of the gym and she just nods. I know she wants to say ‘you were drunk off your ass, Chuck. Face facts.’ But she doesn’t.”
“Well sure. It was 1973 and I was 17. I was always drunk. But I sure as hell wasn’t gone enough to misplace an entire building and five people,” Chuck replied, yanking off his mask long enough to take a drink of the soda that sat at his feet.
Mulder watched Carly Carson blow a monstrous bubble with her gum, then give him a wave.
“Can you tell me anything else about that night? How did it happen, exactly?”
“Exactly? Well, one minute I was leaning up against my car, watching Mary Kay Leach’s rear-end swish back and forth in front of the gym window as she cheered her boyfriend to one-on-one victory and the next minute her underpants were so faint I could see the lights on the highway right through ‘em. Then, it was gone.”
Mulder frowned. “Her underpants or the lights?”
“Underpants, building, Mary-Kay Leach, the other kids, all of it.”
“It just disappeared?”
“Yup. It might have been fading out for a while, but I always attributed that to the alcohol, until the other day.”
Mulder watched Carly wipe the sweat off of her nose with the hem of her t-shirt and give him a wicked grin. Chuck laughed and shook his head. “She’s a hell-raiser, that Carly.”
Mulder snorted in agreement. “But a good ball player.”
“Best damn softball player I’ve ever coached. She’s got a wicked arm and she knows it. If she plays her cards right, I can probably get her a scholarship after graduation.”
Mulder stared calmly out onto the field and glanced at the scoreboard: Chesapeake, 8-4.
Out in the field Carly struck out another poor Ironton girl who slunk back into her dugout muttering profanities under her breath. The wild-haired pitcher just blew the dust out of her eyes with a satisfied breath and jutted out a practically non-existent hip.
“About the stadium,” Mulder said, tossing a wet, empty sunflower seed shell onto the dirt floor. “You saw it?”
“Sure did. Me and Deb both. George called us about 5 a.m. and told us to get the hell over there. We just figured Carly’d finally flown the coop or something.”
“And it was Yankee Stadium?”
“Yup. Know it anywhere. Spent many hours in high school hoping I’d play there someday.” He shook his head and laughed. “Every time I start thinking about how mindless 17-year-old girls can be, I remind myself I used to think I was good enough for the American League.”
I hear you there, Mulder thought.
“How long was it out there?” he asked.
“Not really sure. Deb and I left to go into town so George could stay out at the house. When I came back at six it seemed less real—you could see through it a bit. It kept getting fainter and fainter until about 10 when we just couldn’t see it anymore. That’s what made me think the gym did that too.”
“How do you think the two are connected?”
“I don’t know, Mr. Mulder. But I do know that buildings don’t just appear and disappear for no good reason. I figure there has to be an explanation somewhere, right?”
Mulder just nodded and kept his eyes on the field.
* * * * * *
* * * * * *
Scully hated baseball.
Despite years wasted sitting in a lawnchair watching her brothers and their friends scratch themselves and practice spitting, she’d never developed an interest in the sport. Now that she really thought about it, that might be the reason why.
Not that she hadn’t been athletic—she out-ran every girl in her cross-country district despite her short stature, and she had a kick that had done some soccer foes permanent damage, but baseball had never been her thing. It lacked excitement. From what she could tell, it was a bunch of people, men usually, standing around focusing on one hitter and there were only two real options to the outcome, either he’d hit it or he wouldn’t. It was the same reason she couldn’t fathom golf. There was so little variety. At least football, while slow, had the added thrill of bone-crunching tackles, hockey had the whole ‘vomit bounces on ice’ phenomenon, and basketball was a lot of high powered back and forth, but baseball was…well, in a word…boring.
Her opinion of batting practice was different of course.
It had been for a few months.
She couldn’t expect herself to be strong all the time, could she? Wouldn’t anybody feel a little giddy if their partner wrapped himself around them, smelling like sandalwood and fabric softener? She was sure they would.
On this afternoon however, Scully was feeling far from giddy. She was feeling hot and sweaty and miserable enough to agree to spend nearly $4 for two extra large Diet Cokes, which she gulped down before she’d left the concession stand. She could feel the grit of dust in her eyes and frankly, she was ready to go home. Twenty-four hours after hitting this one-horse town and not only was she no closer to solving the case, she hadn’t quite figured out exactly what the case was.
Talking to Deb Davis hadn’t really helped at all, other than to confirm the supposed appearance of the stadium. Scully spent most of the conversation focused on either her partner in the dugout, or on Maria Carson, who watched the pitcher’s mound with such single-minded intensity that Scully was surprised Carly didn’t spontaneously combust. She’d finally excused herself from her interrogation when, during one of the water breaks, she’d caught sight of the two Carson girls in line for drinks. Carly was swinging Maria around by the arms, crooning along with a song that bleated tinnily out of the boxed speaker above their head. A country duo and Carly were belting out “Mariii-aaa, Maria I love you” accompanied by the delighted giggles of the six-year old. It had been enough to make Scully’s throat start to burn again, and several Cokes later she was still waiting for relief.
The concrete around her was a minefield of candy-colored puddles, where innocent popsicles lay massacred by the intense heat. For the past two hours she’d listened to young children scream when, only seconds after taking the paper off, their cold jewels slid off the stick onto the thirsty ground. She forcibly restrained herself from the same reaction three minutes later when her own grape pop leapt like a healed leper onto her sandal.
She was still pouting at her foot when Mulder found her. He glanced down with her at the purple mush between her toes and wisely refrained from any wise-ass comment—instead he held out the uneaten half of his own cherry flavored popsicle.
“Thanks,” she muttered, looking up at him.
Oh, bad idea. She dragged her gaze away from his cherry-stained lower lip and opened her present.
They both stared straight ahead as the home side bleachers suddenly erupted with cheers and whistles while the away team slumped like exhausted horses on the far side of the park.
“Guess that’s the end of that,” Mulder mumbled.
Scully quit hoovering her popsicle long enough to ask if it was time to leave.
“Community-spirited out, are you?”
“Maybe not if it were my community, Mulder. But if I have to be flirted with by guys in feed-caps I’d just as soon have it be in my home state.”
Mulder looked suspiciously at the cap-clad men milling around the concession stand and pulled himself up to his full height. Scully rolled her eyes and started walking toward the car, tossing her empty red stick into a metal trashcan where it apparently became the proverbial last straw on the camel’s back—sending the carefully piled cups and wadded napkins spilling onto the sidewalk. With a growl directed to the ground she continued stalking toward the car, away from baseball and far away from Mulder’s cherry-red lip.
* * * * * *
“It’s about time you bastards showed up!”
Admittedly, it wasn’t the welcome he’d been expecting, but years in the FBI had prepared Mulder for all kinds of public reaction. Fortunately, his training had also made him agile, which kept him from being beaned by the praying-hands plaque that Keith Wesson aimed at his head.
As the only other witness to the 1973 gym incident, Mulder thought it wouldn’t hurt to get his statement. He harbored a vain hope that it might shed some much-needed light on the current case. Still, he was doubtful that the red-faced man who stormed away from the front door was going to be cooperative. For safety’s sake, Mulder let the screen door bang in his face. Any questions would be better addressed with something good and solid in between them.
“Mr. Wesson? You knew I was coming?”
From outside, Mulder could make out only the shiny part of Mr. Wesson’s head visible through a greasy comb-over. He could, however, hear him quite well. Half the tri-state area could probably hear him.
“What the fuck? Of course I knew you was comin’. Twenty six years ago the damn FBI operator told me there’d be an agent down here to talk to me and only now you’re showin’ up.”
Mulder played mental catch-up and nodded toward the darkened interior, trying to imagine how the man knew he was an FBI agent. He’d just barely had a chance to mention his name before having to duck the wooden devotional. Remembering his cover, Mulder aimed his voice through the rusty screen.
“Mr. Wesson? My name is Fox Mulder, I’m just here looking for information on the disappearance for a book I’m writing.”
Mulder could see a shadow beyond the door. He seriously hoped the man wasn’t armed, because with the brightness of the day and the dark interior he couldn’t have hit the broad side of a barn from his position on the porch.
“You mean you’re not an FBI Agent?”
Mulder shrugged and wriggled out of the lie with a weak “Sorry.”
The floor creaked when Mr. Wesson opened the screen door and looked at him sheepishly.
“You sure as hell look like a Fed. Sorry ‘bout your head there, son.”
Mulder looked down at his jeans and t-shirt, wondering how he managed to project a ‘Fed’ image even in his casual wear. As he entered the house he noticed Mr. Wesson had flopped himself down onto the pleather couch and curled his hammy fist around a warm beer can.
“Yup. Twenty six years ago my oldest boy Todd disappeared in that gym. Town like this didn’t take much stock in what Chuck Davis and them other boys said about it just disappearing, but I did. Don’t know what the hell these folks were thinking, saying Todd and the those other men had run off with that cheerleader. Todd couldn’t have got a girl to go to the drive-in with him, much less pack up and leave. Nope. That building just up and disappeared, Mr. Mulder, and nobody, not the local police, not the Feds, nobody cared.” Keith Wesson stopped to blow his nose loudly on an ancient handkerchief.
From the sounds of it, he’d been waiting a long time for someone to take an interest in his version of events.
“No sir,” he continued, “nobody knows how hard it is when you ain’t got any answers. A loved one just up and leaving like that. Well…it’ll eat you up inside.” He stopped and gestured toward Mulder’s empty hands. “Hey, ain’t you going to write any of this down?”
Mulder sighed and hoped his partner was having a better time than he was.
* * * * * *
Scully told herself she hadn’t actually bolted from the car. Truth be told, she wasn’t much of a bolter. She tensed up her shoulders a lot, and her movements could get stiff when she was on edge, but she was generally able to hide her unease from her partner, and her bouts of discomfort hardly ever manifested themselves in slamming doors or quick getaways. Still, she’d been halfway down the gravel walk toward the little house by the time Mulder had been able to put the car into reverse. She’d gotten there so fast, in fact, that when she realized she didn’t have the house keys she briefly considered running after him. After a moment, she decided against it. The very last thing she wanted to do on this sweltering evening, was go running down the dusty driveway, waving like a maniac to her partner who would either panic, or throw the car into park and come running to meet her in a suitably Love-Affair type way.
The very thought made her smirk.
Scully looked at her watch and began the mental count-down until takeoff. Even if Mulder didn’t get back for an hour she could still be in her own bed in her own apartment before 2 a.m. If it took him longer than an hour she might be able to convince him she was awake enough to drive.
While he wasn’t always intuitive enough to see what was going on with her, she thought he might have a hard time missing the purple rings of weariness under her eyes. In the ‘good common sense’ category she was absolutely certain that driving while sleepy was a hell of a lot safer than spending another night with Mulder just inches away. From her perch on the stairs, Scully could hear the backdoor slamming at the farmhouse. She waited until she heard Nancy’s voice calling the dog before she got up. She was able to handle Mrs. Carson, it was the girls who did her in.
Nancy was giving elaborate directions to the pizza delivery guy over the cordless phone when Scully arrived at the back porch. She was up to “take the second country bridge just past Greg’s Corner Grocery and make a left at the orange mailbox” by the time Scully sat herself on the second step. Apparently whoever was taking the order didn’t have the smarts to get the directions straight because Nancy groaned and started to get annoyed. “Wait a minute, who is this? Well, Marty, is Greg or Sheila there? Yeah? Well, have them draw you a map to Sheriff Carson’s, okay? I don’t have time for this.” With an aggravated jab she pushed the off button and puts on a patient smile. “New kid.”
Scully chuckled and looked back toward the barn. Over the years it had taken to leaning a little to the right and Scully had to tilt her head slightly to accommodate it. In the uppermost window she made out a pair of feet, swishing lazily back and forth from a hay bale.
Nancy smiled. “That’s Maria’s favorite place to run away to. Carly’s is an old playhouse down by the creek. Eric, well, he just likes to sit in front of the TV.”
Scully didn’t want to have this conversation. In fact, she didn’t know this woman well enough to be talking to her about anything at all, really, which was why she was mildly surprised to hear her own voice.
“Maria seems very attached to her sister.”
“Yeah. She is.” Nancy Carson stopped for a long second before speaking again. “We adopted Carly and Maria in the same year. Eric we’ve had since he was a few months old, and Carly has been our foster daughter since she was 12, but we couldn’t adopt until she was 15.”
“Must have been a busy time.”
Her response provoked a laugh from Nancy.
“You can say that again. God, there were some days I didn’t know what we were going to do. Here we had Maria, who wouldn’t talk to anyone except Carly, and Carly who was stomping around here like she’d just die if she couldn’t get out of a small town, and Eric who was suddenly jealous that he wasn’t the center of attention any more.” Nancy’s ponytail bobbed when she shook her head. “I guess being a parent isn’t ever easy, but it sure seems like we’ve had more than our share of trouble.”
Two hills met behind the barn and over them, the orange head of the sun nodded wearily to bed. Shadows lengthened from the trees and a calm quiet that only exists deep in the country settled on the evening. No internal heat marred the stillness of Scully’s moment, but she could feel the ever-present ache of loss inside. With an effort, she redirected her thoughts and turned to focus on Nancy, who was watching her intently from the porch glider.
“It’s nice out here,” Scully said, hoping whatever it was she’d been feeling hadn’t shown on her face.
“Yeah it is nice. I like it. The house you and Agent Mulder are staying in was built when my dad took over the farm in the early 70’s. We moved up here when my grandpa died. Dad had hoped he could get someone to help out with the chores around here so he had that place built.”
Scully looked out at the short yard and hills behind the house and to the woods and creek to her right. The only field she’d seen so far is the big one on the far side of the hill and the long thin one that stretched out from the weeping willow on her left. Nancy let out a high, tinkly laugh.
“You can’t see it from here, but this was actually a big farm when we got here. There are so many hills and trees it doesn’t look like much of a farming town. I sure didn’t think so coming from central Kentucky. That was flat tobacco land down there, here it’s more just a ‘plant where you can’ type of thing, but we still needed help. Dad had to bring Jose in from the old farm. He and his wife lived in the house you’re staying in.”
Scully tried to picture a couple setting up a home in a one-room clapboard farmhouse and found her imagination didn’t extend that far. She and Mulder would kill each other.
Wait, did she just think that? While she was pondering the implications, Nancy sighed and said “poor Jose.”
Another minute passed and Scully slipped her shoes back on, thinking maybe she’d go see if there was a window open in the little house. She could sense Nancy winding up to tell a big story and she wasn’t sure she cared to hear it. From what she could tell, most people were so desperate for someone who’d listen that they would give away their most personal stories without knowing the listener at all. She usually enjoyed it, but at the moment she wasn’t sure she had any available room for other people’s tales.
“Maria looks just like him,” Nancy said with a sigh.
Too late, she thought. Should have run while you had the chance.
“Jose. He was Maria’s grandfather.”
Scully found herself suddenly intrigued by this development. “Maria is your hired man’s granddaughter? I thought she was your sister’s daughter?”
“Oh, sorry. Yeah. Maria is my sister Josie’s daughter. Jo ran away when she was Carly’s age and I didn’t hear from her more than a few times until two years ago, when she called to say she had a daughter and ‘would I mind taking care of her?’ Of course I said yes.”
Coming from an Irish family Scully knew better than to try to hold on through all the twists and loops of Appalachian genealogy, but she furrowed her brow anyway and licked her lip in preparation for asking a question. Nancy beat her to it.
“Josie wasn’t technically my sister. She was 15 years younger than me, and when her parents died, mom and dad raised her as their own. I just always called her my little sister. Poor thing. She never really got over her parents’ accident, never really forgave the town either. They skidded off the road in the rain when she was Maria’s age and…well, she was the only survivor.”
“Forgave the town?” Scully asked absently as she watched the lights from their requisitioned car slide up the driveway. After a minute, the lights went off and she heard Mulder’s car door shut. Instead of coming toward them, he veered off into the walkway and Scully watched his back disappear into the trees while Nancy answered.
“Jose and his wife Rosa were Latino migrant workers from Kentucky, Agent Scully,” she gave a frustrated shake of her dark head. “This town wasn’t very liberal in the early 70’s.”
Thinking back to the baseball field earlier, and the almost glaring absence of any minorities, Scully had to wonder if this town had ever gotten more “liberal.”
“They ran them out of town?” she asked with disgust.
“Oh. No, no, not in so many words. But they made fun of them, and harassed them, and generally made their life miserable. Poor Josie was only 6. Actually, her parents died just a week before her birthday. The three of them were coming back from a PTA Meeting where old Mr. Wesson had pretty much told them to get the hell out and the car skidded off the road in the rain. God, we’d had so much rain that year. Creeks were all swollen and the fields were just marsh. I guess you probably can’t imagine that,” Nancy said with a slight smile toward the air.
Scully looked out over the lawn, as dry as dead bones, and raised her eyebrow in agreement.
“I’ll admit it’s a bit of a stretch,” she said as she stood up. For better or for worse she was going to have to face Mulder eventually. She doubted they’d be doing any driving this evening. The night had come on full force, and only the white light on a telephone pole next to the barn threw any light.
Nancy pulled open the door and flicked on the porch light as Scully called a goodnight over her shoulder.
When she opened the door into the little house she found her partner with his eyes closed lying wrapped up like a burrito on the couch. Despite his own obvious discomfort, Mulder hadn’t turned off the whining air conditioner, much to Scully’s relief. Only his erratic, weed-whacked hair, long eyelashes and the toes of his thick socks were visible, poking out of his cocoon. Embarrassingly, she couldn’t think of how many times she’d wanted to run her fingers through that crazy haircut of his. Chastising herself, she walked into the other room. There was simply no excuse for being so adolescent.
Taking an extra cover from the foot of her bed she focused on the sound of the air-conditioner when she unfolded it gently across his huddled form. All the same, she didn’t miss the soft murmur of her name as he rolled onto his side.
It was a good thing he was already asleep
* * * * * *
* * * * * *
Despite the cold, despite the tension and the worry and the possibility of conversation with his partner, Mulder fell into a dreamless sleep the second his head hit the pillow. Never one to let a few hours of potential insomnia be wasted, he blinked open his eyes, ready to face the world — at 4 a.m.
The blinds had been drawn, leaving the room in a thick cloud of darkness. Not even the moon, which had shone so brightly the night before, bothered to beam through the cracks. Mulder lay still, listening to the house around him, wondering if another of his partner’s late night prowls had nipped at his consciousness. However, all was silent, and Mulder flexed his fingers under the covers, happy to find them warm enough for movement.
Without a sound he walked toward the bathroom, brushing his legs against the pile of covers that had pooled onto the floor at the foot of the bed. As his eyes adjusted to the dark, he saw his partner sleeping, curled in like a rose at rest. Gingerly, he took the comforter and unknowingly mimicked her earlier action, letting the back of his hand trail lightly up her leg. His longing bunched up in the back of his throat and he wondered what he’d do right now if they didn’t have so much at stake. He wanted to curl up on the bed and stroke her beautiful face until she opened her breathtaking eyes, then crawl under the cover and taste her sleep-sweet neck. That’s what he wanted to do.
Sometimes he wondered if Scully had any idea of the depth of his feelings for her. At times he thought he could stand not making love to her if only he had some physical outlet for the tenderness inside him. Even as trite and as cliche as it sounded in his head, he knew he’d give anything to be able to just hold her warm little body in his arms.
With a hitching sigh that was half resignation and half despair, he walked into the bathroom and closed the door behind him.
* * * * * *
A tiny sliver of light slid through the room and illuminated Scully’s wide blue eyes, as she lay awake and shaking in the wide bed.
She’d never been good at playing possum—she supposed it was all part of her inability to lie. For that reason she thanked the darkness that hid her face when Mulder stood in silent regard next to her. How he managed to miss the violent internal tremor and the goosebumps his hands left was another matter all together.
Scully sat up in bed and leaned back on the wooden headboard, pulling the comforter up around her chest and clutching it with enough power to strangle the baby-down.
From behind the closed bathroom door she heard a thump and a muffled curse, followed by the sound of the shower running.
Dear Lord, she immediately prayed, do not let that man come out here with damp hair and wearing a towel. I’ve been good, I have, and there’s only so much I can be expected to handle.
Pulling herself together she ran a hand nervously through her hair. A furtive search of the nightstand drawer in search of a mirror brought up a comb, a few kids toys and a book.
With a start of guilt, she realized it was a Bible. ‘Jose and Rosa Ramirez – Journey to Heaven, October 4, 1973.’ Scully stuffed the toys, Bible and comb back into the drawer and shut it quietly. Her insides were knotted up with a combination of longing and dread. What exactly she planned to say when her partner got done with his early morning shower she didn’t know. If she were smart, she’d just go back to sleep and ignore him. On this particular morning though, she wasn’t feeling terribly smart. She was sure a smart girl would not still feel the entire trail of her partner’s hand up her leg like a line of lit gasoline. A smart girl would also probably not be having trouble with her blood pressure and breathing.
The question then wasn’t one of ‘should.’ She knew ‘should.’ She’d been doing ‘should’ for a few years. Her head (where ‘should’ lived), sternly admonished her to mind the risks. Her body (which laughed in the face of ‘should’) practically had her wiggling out of her nightshirt.
With a sigh Scully leaned back in the pillows and determined to think rationally. Hormones howled their heads off, but she marched her mind sternly back to the logical and held her breath when the water in the bathroom turned off.
Sliding under the covers she stared, wide-eyed at the ceiling. Ok, she thought, if he touches me…maybe. If not, then we’re better off anyway.
Satisfied with her resolution and as jumpy as a cat near water, she closed her eyes when the bathroom door opened. With breathless concentration she followed Mulder’s footfalls on the floor until he passed into the kitchen. She had the frustrated desire to kick something really hard, and she was just imagining what that might be, when the sound of her partner’s voice broke the still night.
“Scully! Get in here!”
With a puzzled frown she sat up. To be honest, it really wasn’t the invitation she had imagined.
From around the snack-bar her damp, towel-clad partner appeared and jerked the covers off her in one swift movement. The sight of his excited face was enough to make her rethink the benefits of predictability and she put two giddy feet on the floor, shivering in anticipation. She expected to be grabbed when she walked into the kitchen—instead, she was greeted with the welcome, but slightly puzzling picture of Mulder’s terry-swaddled behind. He was leaning full over the sink and staring out the window with single-minded intensity. Scully’s confusion was complete when he reached behind him to take her arm and pull her toward his chest. She went willingly. But then, suddenly, he was turning her around and pointing out the window into the clump of trees behind the house.
“Look! What is that Scully?”
Scully shook her head and opened her mouth, only managing a confused “ummm?”
“Do you see it? See those lights?”
She squinted and tried to focus, still a little shaken up by the feel of his hair dripping onto her shoulder and the warm smell of Ivory soap and aftershave. Beyond his finger she could make out some faint lights, soft yellow in the black air. Shaking her head she blinked a few times for clarity and looked some more.
“Fireflies maybe? Or torch lights? Is there someone camping out there?” Mulder shook his head excitedly. “No, no, it’s too steady and bright for fireflies. Get dressed Scully, we’ll go check it out.”
Before she could answer Mulder disappeared into the bathroom again, dragging his jeans with him. Suddenly disenchanted with the whole matter, and fed-up to boot, she stripped right in the middle of the kitchen and walked, naked, toward her suitcase.
For once, Mulder did not have perfect timing.
* * * * * *
It was 8 a.m., and neither of them had spoken a word for nearly three hours.
From the top of the hill, where the trees gave way to an open field that stretched for acres in a solitary valley, the partners sat, knees touching, against the peeling trunk of a large white birch tree.
They’d arrived to find a hundred tall candles placed ceremoniously in the dry grass. Mouths open, they’d slid to the ground when the chairs and tiles began to appear.
Mulder had reached out to grasp Scully’s leg at the first sight of grey stone, and she had unsuccessfully attempted a coherent word when the roof materialized.
On a sleepy Sunday morning in a bare, brown field in Southern Ohio, a cathedral appeared.
* * * * * *
It hadn’t involved much talking. Generally, when confronted with weird situations they chatted to reassure themselves. This time, questions like, “What do you think it is?” didn’t seem to apply. It was perfectly obvious what it was. From the gothic arches of the vaulted ceiling to the pious faces of saints captured forever in stained glass, there wasn’t much question what they were seeing.
Why it was there was another question they didn’t ask, mainly because they didn’t have the first damned clue. For the first time in her life, Scully wished her partner would offer some weird alien theory. She wished he’d seen strange lights in the sky and that her watch had gone crazy—at least that would give them something familiar to start with.
In silence, they wandered around the marble-floored building for what seemed like hours. Despite the heat from outside, the church had the chilly, still feeling reserved for stone structures. The only movement was the silent flicker of candle-flames and the useless escape attempts of bugs that were trapped inside when the roof appeared.
Scully noted with wonder that there wasn’t a single thing missing in the room. The candle holders were golden in the amber light and even the checkerboard marble she was standing on had the worn, weathered look of years of wear. Mulder had left her side looking like a boy on Christmas morning and she could no longer see him in the vast room. With care she walked down stone steps into a cloister, where daylight filtered in through a window so beautiful it took her breath. She kept her hand ready to reach for her gun from habit, though she didn’t feel the cautious, wary tingle down her spine that usually signaled danger. There didn’t appear to be another living soul in the building. She wandered around until she caught sight of her partner in a sanctuary, looking at an altar. He turned to look at her and gave her a wide, breathtaking grin. Her own lips quirked in response.
“Scully, this is amazing. Do you see all of this? There’s nothing missing. It’s perfect.”
He ushered her back down the aisle toward the huge door before continuing.
“We’ve got to get somebody out here to look at this.”
Scully lifted an eyebrow at him.
“Who, Mulder, the Pope? I mean—what are we gonna say, ‘hi, we think maybe we’ve got one of your cathedrals?’”
Mulder ignored the sarcasm and started to nod.
“That’s a good idea. We can find out if there’s suddenly a church missing from someplace.”
“No. Think about it, this had to have come from somewhere.”
“Yes, but Mulder, if that were true wouldn’t we have heard last week that the Bronx had suddenly misplaced Yankee Stadium? That’s not the kind of thing you could keep quiet.”
Mulder’s smile fell a bit and he went silent. After a minute Scully put her hand out onto his arm.
“Well, I guess it wouldn’t hurt to make a few phone calls though, just in case.”
* * * * * *
By the time the Carsons pulled the car into the driveway on Sunday afternoon, a fine rain had started to fall. The occurrence was so unexpected even the birds were quiet, watching as the thin streaks fell lightly on the land.
Mulder’s frustrated tone greeted their arrival in the kitchen.
“Yeah, that’s what I’m asking. Just…is it there? What do you mean? No, I haven’t been drinking…I’m just asking a question. What? Okay, okay. Thanks anyway.” He hung up the phone as George and Nancy sauntered in.
“Sorry to leave you hungry, we couldn’t get you on the phone this morning. We’ve been to church,” Nancy said, starting toward the fridge.
“Funny, so have we,” Mulder said tonelessly.
“Nancy, Sheriff Carson, we think there’s something you should see out in the field. Are the kids upstairs?” Scully said.
Nancy nodded and looked at them curiously. “What do you mean? What’s out there now?”
Mulder smiled and opened the screen door, ushering them out onto the porch.
* * * * * *
The light sprinkle had turned into a satisfying drizzle by the time Mulder and Scully finished giving the grand tour. George and Nancy refused to actually go inside the building, but they all walked around the structure, marveling at the solid ‘realness’ of it. Sent back with firm orders not to do anything until contacted, Nancy and George barely made it home when the heavens opened with a bugle call of thunder.
Standing on the porch they watched the bruise-colored clouds roll over the hills. The air was charged with a magical electricity that made the hairs on their arms stand straight up. The trees on the hill threw their heads about in ecstasy. Thankfully, the few hours of light sprinkles had softened the dry earth enough that it could drink the buckets being dumped on it now. The whole ground seemed to be humming in rapture.
The peace of the moment was shattered when the phone rang. George went to answer it, hauling himself from his sprawling position on the couch. Eric Carson heard his dad say, “Yeah Charlie, what is it? Holy shit! Yeah, we’re on our way.” before sprinting to the door.
“Every damn window in the station and the three schools are wide open. Charlie says it’s like a lake in there already,” George yelled to Nancy. In one move they were off toward the truck and Eric went back to watching the game.
* * * * * *
The moths mistook Scully’s hair for a candle flame.
Mulder watched as she batted a few out of her eyes as she took a seat on a dark wooden chair. In the yellow glow of the church she was about as colorful as the saints in the stained glass windows. St. Scully, Mulder thought with a smile.
At the moment, his saint was more than a little perturbed. Her forehead was furrowed in a slight scowl of concentration and she turned her eyes to him with a look of expectation.
“If you’re waiting to hear my theory Scully, I still don’t have one.”
“Nope. I’ve heard of a lot of things— appearing mirage cities in the sky, buildings that re-appear on the same spot years after they’ve been torn down, but I’m at a loss on this one. There’s never been either a stadium or an abbey on this field.”
“Well, yeah. This is Westminster Abbey.”
Scully looked at him like he’d suddenly grown four heads. She opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out. After a second of watching her staring at him in confusion she managed a whisper.
“What makes you say that?”
Mulder shrugged. “Didn’t you hear me on the phone earlier? I noticed it right away. I know I’m not a religious person, Scully, but I did spend three years in England. Every time one of my roommates had a visitor we had to go to London and give the big tour. It just…it looks like Westminster Abbey.”
Something deep inside her eyes lit up and Mulder followed quietly when, standing, she took his hand and pulled him out the front door. Halfway across the field, soaked to the skin, she dropped his hand. “I’ve got to show you something,” she said.
The sky was dark and though it wasn’t yet seven o’clock, they needed a flashlight in the woods. Blindly, Mulder stumbled after his partner who was almost jogging toward the Carson’s house. Inside, she glanced at Eric who was still in front of the tv and gestured upstairs. “Is your mom up there?”
Eric explained about the phone call and Scully nodded hurriedly. “Can we go up?” Eric shrugged and turned back to the game.
Before Mulder knew it, Scully positioned him in front of a line of posters on a bedroom wall. She flicked on the light and pointed toward them excitedly. “Mulder, look.”
The first poster showed an aerial view of New York, Yankee Stadium visible in the center. The second poster was a panoramic view of Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament in London. Beyond that, two posters, one depicting the San Diego Zoo and the other the Eiffel Tower completed the wall. Realization dawned with a rush and Mulder turned to face his wild-eyed partner.
“Scully, it’s Carly!”
Scully nodded and licked her lips, deep in thought. “I know. I saw these posters the first day we were here but it didn’t click until you said Westminster Abbey. I don’t know how to explain it, Mulder, I just…well, it can’t be a coincidence.”
Mulder’s heart was jumping inside his body, and not just from the sudden dawning of an answer for the case. His partner, his Scully, had just given him some truly crazy theory and, while confused, she didn’t seem that surprised by it. Now that she had offered the missing piece to the puzzle, his mind set off like a flash into the deep chasm of possibility.
“It’s her dissatisfaction with this small town, Scully.”
“It’s making what she wants to see appear?”
“Think about it. She’s so restless here. Remember the fight she was having with her father? About not wanting to go to church because it ‘lacked ambiance?’ I can’t think of many churches with more ambiance than Westminster, can you?”
“I guess not, but how on earth is she doing it?”
“I don’t know, but we’ve got to talk to her right now.”
“Because if the stadium was any indication, the church will be gone in a few hours, and I for one don’t want to have to try to take care of a field full of wild animals,” Mulder said, gesturing toward the San Diego zoo poster.
“I see your point. But Mulder, I don’t even think she knows what she’s doing.”
Mulder stared at her until she continued. “I mean, this isn’t the type of girl who’d keep quiet about her talent if she knew she had it. She’d have every news van in the nation out here by nightfall.”
Mulder nodded and thought for a second. “Okay, but we still need to talk to her.”
Clomping back downstairs, Mulder caught Eric’s attention away from the television. “Where’s Carly?”
The boy shrugged and flicked his gaze back toward the TV. “Dunno. She and Maria were screaming at each other and they left.”
“Screaming about what?” Scully asked. Mulder noted that his pretty partner got a slightly more respectful tone from the kid.
“Probably the usual. Carly saying she’s going to leave. It always makes Maria cry, then Carly gets mad when ‘Ria gets clingy.”
Mulder remembered how supremely unhelpful he could be when he was 12 and was making a mental note to apologize to his mother when he noticed Scully had left the room. Outside, the rain was driving so hard against the tin roof he had to almost shout to get her attention. Turning on the wet floor, she slipped and winced a little when she hit the wood with a thud.
She looked up to his worried face and brushed her hand along the side of her hip.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Mulder, I think you can find Carly out by the creek in an old playhouse or something. Nancy said she likes to go there to hide out.” She reached up and took his hands, allowing him to pull her up.
“I’ll find Maria. She shouldn’t be out alone in this weather.”
Mulder’s eyes softened as he looked at his partner’s worried face. He didn’t bother saying that any danger posed to the girl was pretty slight given she was likely hiding in her own backyard. Something about Scully’s mothering tendency never failed to choke him up.
He shook his head and got a hold of himself before darting down the stairs toward the creek that ran through the woods.
“Mulder! Do you need a—” he heard his partner say as he took off through the downpour, but the rest of her question was lost in the bellow of the storm.
* * * * * *
The barn had long since ceased to be used for animals. Now, it housed a woodworking bench and a rust-red Pontiac. The inside was dark and smelled like swallows and dust and dirt. Scully stifled a sneeze and shone her flashlight into the interior.
“Maria? It’s Dana Scully. Are you in here sweetie?”
Silence greeted her call. Scully walked to the foot of the ladder that led up to the loft where she’d seen Maria sitting the day before.
“Maria?” she called, climbing the ladder, “Eric said you and Carly had a fight. I just wanted to see if you are okay.”
She looked around the loft at the stray bales of hay and endless boxes stored there.
It was possible that the girl was hiding from her, but in this room she’d never be able to tell, and she didn’t exactly relish the idea of scaring the kid by rummaging around for her.
With a sigh, Scully descended the ladder and tromped back through the wet yard to the house. She slipped off her shoes before entering the kitchen where she found Eric having a field-day with potato chips and ice-cream. He gave her a guilty look when she walked into the room.
“I was just–” he started.
“Look, Eric, do you have any idea where Maria might have gone? I checked the barn and she’s not there,” Scully interrupted.
Apparently grateful that she wasn’t going to start nagging him about his eating habits, he became much more helpful.
“I don’t know, Ms. Scully. She was just yelling something at Carly about how bad things were going to happen if Carly went away. I didn’t understand her, really.”
“Wait a minute. Back up. What bad things?”
Eric shrugged in a way that had ‘women!’ written all over it and leaned over his ice-cream, mumbling into the spoon.
“She said ‘Mom made a bad thing happen and I make them happen too so you’d better not leave!’”
His words jump-started her heart, and with one hand she reached for her shoes while she scribbled furiously on a notepad with the other. There was a note of well-modulated panic in her voice when she shoved the note at Eric. “Give this to Agent Mulder as soon as he comes in the door!”
“Agent?” Eric asked, his chin dropping.
Before he got the word out she was through the door, into her shoes and running toward the woods.
* * * * * *
* * * * * *
Mulder had a few really mushy fantasies. He could admit it.
One of them involved being in a small wooden cabin, cuddled safe and dry from a rainstorm that plinked hypnotically against the trees and a nearby brook.
Of course, in that fantasy he was always cuddling his partner, not a raccoon-eyed 17 year old, but at this stage in the game the complete decimation of his hopes and dreams was old hat.
“I don’t know what her problem is,” Carly said, snuffling into his arms with an eagerness that Mulder didn’t think was really appropriate for the situation. He moved her gently away from where she was streaking wet makeup on his now transparent white shirt.
“Yeah, well, Scully went to find her so I’m sure we can get this all worked out. In the meantime, we’ve got some questions we’d like to ask you about something else,” he replied, guiding her across the yard toward the house.
Leading her up to the porch he saw Eric standing nervously in the door. The ballgame must be off, Mulder thought.
“Uh, Agent Mulder?” he called through the screen.
Carly jerked a little away from him and looked up, her black eyes suddenly dry and awed. “AGENT Mulder?”
Mulder let her go and walked up the stairs.
“Yeah, Eric, is Scully here?”
“She, she asked me to give this to you,” he said nervously, holding out a piece of paper. The grandfather clock in the house began a slow, somber chime. As Mulder opened the paper it finished at nine.
With a suddenness that made both kids jump, Mulder whirled around and started to run.
The note floated on the wind out into the yard, where the rain beat it against the grass.
“Damn,” Carly muttered, looking out at the black ink already running over the white sheet.
“Doesn’t matter,” Eric said, looking slowly up at his sister with a worried frown. “It says ‘It’s Maria! Meet me in the field.’”
* * * * * *
With every step into the black-velvet night, Scully’s heart pounded an agonizing drumbeat of fear and horror. Through the wet mud she slid to the front door of the little house and burst through the door. Three steps into the bedroom and she was rummaging around in the nightstand drawer for the Bible she’d seen the night before. With growing dread, she flipped it over to look at the inscription on the cover.
‘Jose and Rosa Ramirez—Journey to Heaven, October 4, 1973.’
Damnit. Why hadn’t she seen it before? Two days after being run out of a PTA meeting in the high school gym, after dying on the way home on a lonely wet road, the same gym mysteriously disappeared.
The only link? Josie, Maria’s mother, the sole survivor of that accident.
“I don’t think she ever really forgave the town,” Nancy had said.
Scully put the book back down and ran out into the night again, praying that for once she would be in time to help one small, lonely girl.
* * * * * *
With legs like rubber and shoes that slogged like wet toads she made it to the top of the hill. In the distance, the buttresses of the mighty Westminster were beginning to fade, just as softly and as strangely as they had appeared. The stained glass was beginning to pass from bright candy-colors to muted pastels. In a flash Scully was standing at the front door.
A fierce cry of anger passed her lips when she pushed on the locked door. She pounded her fists so hard against the thick wood and iron that she felt the vibration of her bones down in her ribs.
“MARIA! MARIA! Are you in there?” she cried in a voice that hardly sounded like her own.
She kicked futilely at the door for another few seconds before tearing off around to the south side of the building. Earlier, exploring with Mulder, she’d passed through a series of cloisters where the windows were lower to the ground. She lifted silent and continual prayers to heaven. They passed through her head like a mantra, saying only ‘please, please, please.
The darkness and the rain made finding an entrance so difficult Scully felt the first shivers of hysteria at her lips. If she couldn’t do it, if the building disappeared with that little girl inside, it would cause a lethal break in the fragile hold Scully was keeping on her emotions.
Panic and fear threatened to set in, but her arms remained steady as she used a fallen branch to bash in a patterned window. Grabbing onto the sill, she pulled herself up as the broken slivers of glass sliced her palms and caused blood to flow down the gray stone.
Scully lifted herself into the church, catching her weight with raw hands. Inside, the candles had been extinguished and the air was full of the scent of wax and smoke. A roar of thunder moved across the air and she stopped to listen. Just Beyond, a high, thin, wail could be heard. What was normally such a sad sound brought tears of thanks to Scully’s eyes.
“Maria! Maria where are you?” She yelled, simultaneously wanting to shout with joy and yet unwilling to scare the girl further.
“I don’t know. Where are you?” Maria replied in a small, scared voice.
Scully lost control of the tight ball of tears in the back of her throat. Saltwater mingled with the rainwater on her face as she walked up the stone steps into the main sanctuary. In dismay, she looks up to see that the roof was gone and the rain had snuffed out every flame. The faded light of the moon through thick clouds was the only thing lighting the field.
“I’m right here Maria, in the aisle near the front door. Can you tell me where you think you are?”
“I don’t know the name.”
Despite herself, Scully couldn’t help a pained smile. She walked carefully down the long marble floor, following the sound of the voice.
Suddenly, the clouds parted and her heart clenched in horror at the sight in front of her. Two feet beyond her shoes the ground had already disappeared. The beginning of what had been the choir and sanctuary of the chapel was disappering, right before her eyes, allowing her to see beyond it to the back of the Abbey. In its place, instead of grass, there was a vast cavern of…nothing.
It was a sheer drop into blackness, beyond which Scully could see the East end of the church and straight into the chapel, where Maria was sitting forlornly under several bright, waving banners that clapped and shuttered violently in the wind.
Catching sight of Scully, Maria’s face lit up.
“Oh, can you help me get out?” she cried.
Scully’s heart sank, but her voice remained steady.
“Maria, DON’T MOVE. I’m going to get help. Stay right where you are. Don’t try to walk over here, okay?”
Scully raced to the door. From the other side she heard pounding.
“MULDER! I need a…a ladder!”
“Scully how did you get in there? Help me in!”
The wind picked up pace, and whipped down into what remained of the church, creating a wind tunnel that made it hard to hear. When a sudden cry reached her ears, Scully’s hands stilled on the door and her heart stopped beating in her chest.
“Oh help! I can’t see the wall anymore!” Maria cried.
With a desperate turn, Scully whipped around, sliding on the wet floor. Her hand left a long bloody skid mark on the dark marble.
* * * * * *
Mulder wondered if he was having a stroke.
Before his eyes the Abbey was quietly dissolving into thin air. He could make out shapes on the inside through the fading stone already. He pounded for a few seconds on the door again but Scully was gone. The pounding in his head continued as he retraced his steps back around the Abbey.
A crack of lightning lit up the sky and the startling tableau he saw before him.
Along the far end of the church a ladder was tilted precariously up against the window, the same ladder that stood propped up against the Carson’s guest house. Underneath, Eric Carson held it steady with a determination that strained his wiry muscles and a jaw so clenched Mulder’s teeth hurt in sympathy. At the top of the ladder, Carly nestled a huddled Maria in her arms as she tried to navigate the narrow steps. In a second Mulder was holding the bottom of the ladder with Eric, who, despite the presence of a grownup, would neither let go nor take his eyes off his sisters. As the two girls reached stable ground, Mulder attempted to take the little girl from her sister to make sure she was safe, but Carly’s grip was fierce, and Maria only looked up at him in confusion.
“Are you alright?” Mulder managed.
Maria nodded and buried her face in her sister’s neck.
“Shhh,” Carly crooned, hugging her closer as she stood up and started back across the field. Eric dropped the ladder which crashed through the now non-existent wall and raced to catch his siblings.
Looking back, Mulder saw nothing. Nothing but the faint image of the front section of the church and the shadow of some chairs and pillars inside. With a cry born of terror he leapt up and ran around the back of the building. Along the South side he saw the busted glass and the horrifying bloodprints on stone. Pulling himself into the Abbey, he screamed his partner’s name. The floor had the soft, unstable feel of quicksand as the stones began to disappear. Mulder kept to the ones that still looked solid, carefully checkerboarding his way into the sanctuary.
“Scully! Scully!” he cried over and over again. The lightening had stopped, which left him in complete darkness, but the thunder continued to roll with a groan that mirrored the one in his soul. The clouds moved quickly over the sky, creating random shadows of moonlight in the inky air. In one of those seconds, he spotted her.
She was trying to use the remaining chairs to form a bridge toward the missing girl, not able to see that that section of the building was already gone. Mulder ran toward her, seizing her shirt, and began to pull her toward the steps and the window, but she fought him.
“Mulder, no,” she croaked in a voice like broken glass. “Maria, she’s in there, you’ve got to help me.” Her eyes were flowing over with fear and Mulder put his own trembling, bloody hand up to her face.
“No, no, she’s okay Scully. Carly’s got her outside. Eric went back and got the ladder.”
He saw her face crumple and she leaned into him, pressing her broken sobs into his wet neck. He wanted to stand there, to comfort her, but he pulled her toward the stairs and she began to run ahead of him.
Scully placed one foot in his hand, and he lifted her up onto the window-sill. She reached out and pulled him up behind her. They jumped a few feet into the rain and the wind and the mud, just as the last stones in the building disappeared. Crawling away toward the tree-line, Mulder held tightly to her shirttail with his torn hands.
Finally, they reached a tree and he pulled his partner between his legs and held her as the great black void in front of them slowly turned back into grassy meadow.
* * * * * *
He didn’t know if it was fear or pain that made her tremble.
Under his arms, the muscles in her body vibrated like violin strings, a slight but profound movement that gave off a sound he felt in the center of his chest. Scully sat pressed up against him, staring unblinking toward the empty field while rivers of rainwater sluiced down her face, meeting for the final waterfall at the tip of her chin.
Leaning his head back against the tree, Mulder felt his breathing even out. The rapid-firing of his heart began to abate and he let out a long, shuddery breath he had been holding since he’d read her note.
Gingerly, Scully pulled his hand away from around her shoulder, leaving the other firmly anchored against her stomach, and looked at his palm. She turned her own next to it and he stared at their swollen, bloody flesh. Brown blades of grass lay plastered on their arms and Mulder suddenly realized they were sitting in a mud hole. With care, he eased them to their feet, remembering that while he had been merely scared, his partner had spent the last hour lifting and pushing huge wooden pews in an effort to rescue Maria. He would probably never hear a complaint, but he didn’t envy her the sore muscles she would feel in the morning. They didn’t appear to bothering her yet though, if the speed with which she took off across the field was any indication.
The water must have added about ten pounds to his clothes Mulder thought, as they stumbled through the dark woods, tripping over fallen branches. Ahead of him, Scully moved with enviable quickness toward the Carson house. He could’t really see her, except in a blurry, watercolor sort of way, but he soon recognized the familiar crunch of her shoes on gravel and knew she’d found the path. He wished he could keep up, but there didn’t seem to be anything he could do to make his legs go faster, at least not in wet jeans.
Coming out of the woods, Mulder made his way toward the back porch of the house. He didn’t see Scully waiting for him, and wondered how she’d managed to get that far ahead. Halfway across the yard he heard her voice, carried low on the wind.
She stood at the tree-line, in a rectangle of light that fell from an upstairs window. Curiously, he started toward her. She didn’t turn to look at him, keeping her eyes trained on the illuminated square above her. Inside, Mulder saw the dark outline of Carly Carson, holding Maria in her lap. Mulder watched as Carly nodded to them dismissively before he turned to his partner. She looked careworn in the harsh light. With her wet hair slicked back off her face she was all eyes.
Mulder cleared his throat. “Do you want to check on her?”
Scully blinked and shook her head slowly, turning to look up at him.
“No. She’s okay Mulder. She’s where she wants to be,” she said softly. “Her big sister has her.”
Realization washed over him like the rain. It wasn’t Emily she was thinking about, it was Melissa. Mulder swallowed past a lump in his throat and reached out to cup her cheek gently in his sore palm. She didn’t take her gaze away from him, and gave him a slight sad smile. Mulder nodded. “Sisters, huh?” he said, in a futile attempt at levity. “All of this to keep hers around? Sounds like a hell of a lot of trouble for one little girl.”
He let his hand drop from her face, but she kept looking at him. Realizing the irony behind his statement he smiled self-consciously at her and shrugged. They stood looking at one another for a few seconds, listening to the rain beat the fragile grass.
“What do you say we ditch this one-horse town, Scully?”
Her sad smile peaked slightly at the corners.
“I thought you’d never ask.”
* * * * * *
Twenty miles outside Charleston, Scully covered up with her linen jacket.
The rain had stopped and a cool breeze brushed past her cheek, making her shiver slightly in the front seat.
“You need me to roll up the windows?” Mulder asked, glancing down at her.
“No, don’t. It feels good.”
It felt great, in fact. Scully reclined her seat and glanced out the window at the stars.
Mulder had done all of the talking when the Carson’s arrived home. Sheriff Carson had felt the need to lean up against the side of the house for support, but Nancy had only stared at them, openmouthed, for a minute before nodding slowly and expressing her thanks.
As they’d turned to head toward the little house to pack, she had heard George questioning his wife.
“But…but what happens when Carly does leave?”
Scully had tucked Nancy’s soft reply away in her heart.
“I think Maria knows now — even if her sister isn’t here in the flesh…the love and the bond won’t die.”
Relaxing into the car seat, Scully replayed that answer. She felt suddenly peaceful, like parts of her soul were reassembling themselves into the Dana Scully she knew. Piecing the puzzle back together would take a while, that much she was sure of, but for the first time in weeks she felt hopeful of the outcome.
Scully closed her eyes and reached for Mulder’s hand on the arm-rest, pressing her bandaged palm gently against his. For a second, he didn’t move, then he threaded his fingers in hers and squeezed.
His fingers were warm.
* * * * * *
* * * * * *
The town of Chesapeake, Ohio is a real place. However, it does not have any appearing/disappearing phenomena that I am aware of, unless you count the sudden and deeply-mourned destruction of the Main Street Fruit Market or the mysterious absence of “The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles” from the elementary school library.
The song that Carly Carson sang to her little sister is called “Maria” and is by the country music duo, Brooks and Dunn.
Despite years of schooling in London I don’t claim to be an expert on Westminster Abbey, and got most of my information via virtual tour at www.westminster-abbey.org/index.html
While I had planned to use Notre Dame as the cathedral of choice, I felt a responsibility to the OBSSE and used an Abbey instead. Profound thanks to everyone over at that ml, for keeping me entertained and my inbox full of spam. <g> Many special thanks to Fialka for the wonderful poster that graces the wall over my computer, and, of course, to Mec, the dumpster-duchess, who got me hooked in the first place. You can borrow my computer anytime you want, dear heart.
Downloaded from x-libris.xf-redux.com
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