Lost Land (The) by Bonetree

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The Lost Land by Bonetree

TITLE: THE LOST LAND
AUTHOR: Bonetree

RATING: NC-17 for graphic violence, adult language, disturbing content, and sexual situations.
CATEGORY: Novel, Angst, X-File
SPOILERS: Everything through “All Souls.”
KEYWORDS: A, MSR, X, AU

SUMMARY: Months after the events of “The Mercy Seat,” past, present and future collide as Mulder, Scully, Skinner and Granger go cross-country and around the world in a race against time to find a serial bomber on a very personal mission.

FEEDBACK: Feedback isn’t necessary, but thank you for the thought. It can be left at AO3.

ARCHIVE: Please don’t post parts of this story while it is in progress. Check back here when it’s finished for official archiving instructions.

DISCLAIMER: The following is a work of fiction. The characters of Mulder, Scully, Skinner, Maggie Scully, Albert Hosteen (and anyone else from the show who appears suddenly) are the property of 1013 Productions, Chris Carter, and Fox. No copyright infringement is intended, and no profit is being made from the use of these characters. Paul Granger and all other characters are my own creation and they, along with the story in this form, are the intellectual property of Bonetree.

HISTORY NOTE: This story takes place in what I call the Goshen Universe, an AU started with the story “Goshen” and which continues through “Secret World,” “City of Light,” and “The Mercy Seat.” I would strongly recommend, for the purposes of this particular story, having read at least “Secret World” and “City of Light,” though there will be references to events from all four stories through this one and original characters whose histories it will be assumed you are already familiar with which reading all four stories will help you with. I’ve heard from people who have read the stories without having read the series and they seem to get by all right, but you’re going to start wondering what I’m referring a lot if you haven’t read the other stories, particularly with this one. This is also a very much established MSR story, and the previous four stories detail the beginning and evolution of the relationship, which might be helpful for you to know.

“Goshen” (a novella), “Secret World,” “City of Light,” and “The Mercy Seat” (all novels) can be found here or on AO3..

TIMELINE NOTE: This story takes place roughly current day (2004)ย  (though without the events of September 11 — they shouldn’t have happened in real life, so they didn’t happen in this universe). However, for the purposes of this story, seasons six through nine have not happened.
There is no William, no Doggett and Reyes, no Mulder abduction or resurrection…nothing like that. Just plain old Mulder and Scully doing what they were doing in the fifth season and having had some adventures that the show didn’t have them have.

AUTHOR’S NOTES: Please see the end of the novel for notes.ย Thanks for reading.

Bonetree, August 2004

THE LOST LAND

“I have two daughters.

They are all I ever wanted from the earth.

Or almost all.

I also wanted one piece of ground:

One city trapped by hills. One urban river.
An island in its element.

So I could say MINE. MY OWN. And mean it…..

At night,
on the edge of sleep,
I can see the shore of Dublin Bay.
Its rocky sweep and its granite pier.

Is this, I say
how they must have seen it,
backing out on the mailboat at twilight,

shadows falling
on everything they had to leave?
And would love forever?….

I see myself
on the underworld side of that water,
the darkness coming in fast, saying
all the names I know for a lost land:

Ireland. Absence. Daughter. —

Eavan Boland, excerpts from “The Lost Land”

Part One

+++

PROLOGUE

+++

EDEN, SAPPHIRE COAST SOUTH COAST, NEW SOUTH WALES, AUSTRALIA FEBRUARY 17 5:32 a.m.

Late summer on the southern coast and the sun was coming up over the torn pink of the cloudy east, the breeze coming in off the ocean warm and light. The house, little more than a bungalow there on the thumb of sea that came into the lagoon, was full of noise — a baby crying, a young boy’s voice as he laughed, the banging of a screen door as a woman and a man moved back and forth from the house to a worn Jeep parked on the yard in front of the house. The woman and the man calling the boy’s name.

It was the sounds of family, familiar and warm as the ocean breeze. Their voices were as light as the tropical sun, clear as the blue water that lapped the sand by the small boat pier outside the house. A small wooden boat knocked softly on the pilings, the long blanket of pier planks stitched with seabirds, and the trees, pushed by a constant breeze off the sea, leaned as if listening to the people in the house and the land, their backs toward the coming light.

+++

“Come on now! You three are going to make me late!”

Mae Porter pushed her long dark hair back, gathering it in a thick ponytail of curls as she leaned over the baby, who had finally stopped crying with the removal of the soaked diaper. Mae finished tying back her hair and smiled down at the baby, the little girl’s legs kicking the air in glee as the breeze flowed in the open window, billowing the white of the nursery’s curtains.

“That’s my girl,” Mae said, deftly diapering the baby and lifting her up off the changing table, smoothing down the child’s green cotton dress, straightening the straps. Mae had slathered the baby in sunblock, which was smeared faintly white across the little arms and the exposed skin of the girl’s back. Reaching down, Mae lifted the white hat, the lip of it an uneven scallop of cotton, and laid it on the baby’s blonde head.

A horn honked, a playful little “shave and a haircut” cadence.

“Coming, Joe!” Mae called through the window, hustling through the doorway to the hallway with the baby, the first rays of the morning sun laid out on the wooden floor.

Laughter reached her again from the bedroom at the end of the hallway.

“Sean,” Mae said, loud enough to be heard over the television she heard in the boy’s room. “Turn off the cartoons and come on. The boat’s leaving in a little while and we’re going to make Joe late for work if we don’t hurry.”

The television turned off obediently and Sean exited the room carrying a small backpack covered with dinosaurs, his tank top too large and hanging off one shoulder slightly around the backpack strap.

“Let’s go put your things in the truck with Katherine’s bag and then you can help me carry the cooler and snacks in,” she said, putting her hand on the boy’s head, ruffling his sandy red hair, bleached by the constant sun. Sean smiled up at her, and Mae smiled back.

“You’re excited, eh?” she said, pleased. Katherine fussed softly, reaching for her hat, and Mae righted it before the baby could knock the hat off.

“Aye,” Sean said shyly, his eyes shining. “I hope Joe catches another shark today. A great big one.”

Mae grinned even wider. “Well, these people he’s taking out are looking for shark, he said, so that very well could be,” she replied. “I don’t know how you can stand it. It scares me to death just to look at the things. All those teeth.” She bared her teeth in a facsimile of a snarl at him and provoked another chirp of laughter.

The horn sounded again, a little longer now.

“Mae! Let’s get the show on the road!” Joe’s voice carried through the screen door into the house, and she could hear he was as excited as Sean. Joe loved it when they all came along on his charters, the day on the boat like a vacation for them all.

“Come on,” Mae said, and she and Sean hustled out the front door across the yard toward the Jeep where Joe Porter stood next to the driver’s door, smiling at them both, his skin deeply tanned, his T- shirt tight across his chest, his jeans faded almost white.

He reached for the baby, and Mae handed Katherine to him. Joe held her up over his head as the baby let out a shrill noise in glee at being swooped up high. Mae looked at him warmly and shouldered the diaper bag into the vehicle’s back seat, took Sean’s bag and laid it on the floor beside the pink, overstuffed bag.

“What do we have left to get?” Joe asked her, jiggling the baby from side to side and smiling up at her.

“Just the food,” Mae replied. “Then we’ll be all set.”

“You need help?” Joe asked.

“No,” Mae said, watching Katherine as he dropped her down into his arms, the baby squealing with the sudden movement. “Sean can help me.”

A gurgle and Katherine spit up, a pale rush of liquid going down the baby’s chin and staining the dress’ front.

“Oh Joe,” Mae whined. “You shouldn’t be so rough with her right after she’s eaten like that.”

Joe grimaced. “I’m sorry,” he said. “You want me to go change her?”

Mae gave him a put-upon look but a smile was still curling her lips. “No, just start the car and get the air conditioning up so it’s not hot, all right? You know how fussy she gets if she’s hot.”

“Not to mention how fussy *you* are when you get hot,” he teased, and leaned in to kiss her quickly as he handed her the baby.

“Okay, Sean,” Mae said, rubbing the boy’s back. “You get the cooler while I change Katherine’s dress.”

“All right,” Sean said, and the two of them made their way back to the house. Mae listened to the Jeep’s engine start up, a cough, then another, then it finally turned over, rumbling from the yard.

She made quick work of putting a fresh dress on Katherine, this one yellow, patterned with sunflowers. The baby’s hat back in place to protect her pale, half-Irish skin, Mae made her way to the kitchen where Sean was eating a cookie from the cooler.

“Augh, you’re as bad as Joe,” she said, closing the cooler and handing it to him. “Let’s go.”

They went out the screen door, Mae closing the door behind them. There was no need to lock it. The nearest house was over two miles away, down a long dirt road that led to the main road into town.

Music was coming through the open window of the Jeep, and Joe was smiling. Sean tussled the cooler, his body leaned over to the side with the weight and Mae put her arm around his slight shoulders, the baby on her hip.

From the direction of the car, a clicking sound. A pop.

Mae’s brow creased down at the strangeness of the sound, her eyes on Joe, who was looking at the dash, his expression puzzled.

Then, memory came back to her. Something buried. Long since pushed away.

“Oh God,” she breathed, and pulled Sean against her, knocking the cooler from his hand as she pressed his face against her belly.

In a split second, in the space of a breath…

“JOE!” she screamed, loud enough to break glass.

Then flame.

The explosion roared up in a cloud of red and orange and black, the sound loud enough to make her ears shriek with pain as the blast wave knocked she and Sean down on the ground, Katherine’s crying shrilling in surprise and terror as Mae clenched her against her body, covering the baby’s face as glass flew over them, flaming debris raining down.

She opened her eyes, the sound of things burning all around her, sat up, tears rushing to her eyes as she looked at the burning wreckage of the Jeep.

She couldn’t breathe, bile rising up in her throat.

In the driver’s seat, through the wall of fire, she could see the body burning, Joe slumped over the steering wheel, still, the only thing moving in the vehicle the flames.

“NO!” she screamed, and the sound rushed up through her, pushing her to her feet, the baby sprawled on the ground beside her, choking on cries.

Beside her, Sean scrambled to his feet, took a step forward and stopped, his small chest rising and falling, his fists clenched at his side.

Mae reached for him, grabbed him roughly and spun him away from the sight of Joe’s body burning.

“Don’t look,” she said, though she was hyperventilating. The words came out breathy. “God, don’t look…” She choked on a sob.

Sean was tensed in her arms, shaking uncontrollably. She could feel his fast breath through her light shirt but he made no sound.

At her feet, Katherine screamed, the sound rising with the roar of the fire, the baby’s small fists clenching the ground.

+++

BANGKOK GARDENS ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA FEBRUARY 23 7:34 p.m.

The place was warm and smelled deliciously of spice, the walls lined with ornate paintings flecked with gold, the light dim and candles illuminating the waiting area. The late dinner crowd was just starting to filter into the posh restaurant, the coat check area clogged with people in nice dresses and suits. Thai music filtered in from the dining area, lilting with its exotic and somehow mournful sounds.

Scully stood beside the large picture window that overlooked the street, her belly full from the delicious meal and a sweet feeling of ease settling over her.

She glanced over at Mulder, looking smart in his dark suit as he waited in the line with Granger to get their coats. Mulder was laughing over something Granger was telling him, and she loved the look of his face as he did it. It was a look she’d seen more and more of from him in the past months. She was getting used to seeing him smile.

And she’d been smiling herself a lot in the past months, as well. She was doing it now, a small secret smile as her hand came around and touched the slight, firm bulge of her belly.

She’d just started to show that week, the top button of her neatly fitted slacks not closing for the first time when she’d started the work week on Monday. Mulder had come out of the bathroom and caught her standing there, her fingers on the button and its hole, staring at the scant inch of new space between them in something akin to surprise.

He’d come forward, a towel around his waist but still dripping water from the shower, and slid his hand down her belly between the open flaps of her shirt. He settled his fingers in the space between her pants, caressed the new firmness there.

“You’re beautiful,” he’d said softly, and the tone of his voice had made her look up from his fingers, into his eyes.

“Tell me that in a few more months,” she’d quipped, but she’d felt a flush rise on her cheeks. The idea of the baby, still so new to her even after all these weeks, was suddenly so wondrously real.

He’d leaned forward and kissed her then, his lips warm against hers. She held the kiss for a long time, her hands going to his cheeks.

“I will,” he’d whispered when they’d parted, keeping his face close as though afraid someone else might hear. “Believe me. I will.”

She looked up as Mulder came forward with her coat and his, looting around in the side pocket of his suit jacket. Granger was still behind him at the coat room, the next in line, and Robin returned from the restroom and joined him there.

Mulder finally found what he was looking for, the valet parking ticket, and handed the slip of paper to a young Asian man standing by the door. The man went out the glass doors into the street, a blast of winter filtering into the warm room as the door swung closed. Another man appeared from the side of the waiting area to take the other’s place.

“Here you go,” Mulder said, and handed Scully her coat. She shouldered into the heavy wool, and he did the same, watching her.

“You still feeling queasy?” he asked gently, standing close.

She buttoned her coat, looked down as she did so. “I’m all right,” she said. “It’s better than before. Eating helped.”

“Phad Kapou done extra spicy helped?” he asked, amusement in his voice. “We’re going to have to buy this baby asbestos diapers if these cravings keep up.”

She laughed, looked up at him. “It wasn’t a craving this time,” she said. “It’s just what I wanted for my birthday.”

“You wanted heartburn for your birthday?” he replied, his eyes mischievous.

“No,” she replied patiently. “I wanted a delicious meal in a fancy restaurant.” She nodded toward Granger and Robin. “And time with our friends. And a night out with you.”

He made a soft affirmative noise and she inched closer to him, her eyes searching his out.

“There’s something else I want for my birthday,” she murmured, loud enough for only him to hear.

“Oh yeah?” he replied, matching her tone.

“Mmm hmm,” she said, nodding, her lips curling, and smoothed down his lapel.

He searched her face and then chuckled softly. “Does that mean it was your birthday yesterday, too?” he asked, and now she did blush, which made him laugh again.

“Don’t make fun of me,” she admonished, but she couldn’t hide the smile on her face.

“Oh, I’m not making fun,” Mulder assured, shaking his head. He cupped her cheek, brushing her cheekbone with his thumb. “But have I told you how much I love the second trimester?”

And she laughed and touched his wrist, her eyes shining up at his. “You don’t have to tell me,” she murmured, bemused. “It shows.”

Granger and Robin came up beside them, both of them putting on their coats. Granger moved a little slowly, and Robin had to hold the right side open for him as he reached back to slide his arm in the sleeve.

“You can do it, Grandpa,” Robin teased as Granger grimaced at the motion.

“Very funny,” Granger replied, and she pushed the shoulder up, settling the coat on his body.

“How’s it feeling?” Scully asked, taking a step away from Mulder and looking at Granger with concern. “I noticed you were holding yourself a little stiffly at dinner.”

“Eh, it’s all right,” Granger said casually. “I just had physical therapy today and you know how that is. They’re working on adhesions and it’s slow going.”

The gunshot wound he’d suffered had done a lot of damage to the muscles in his shoulder and back and chest. Scully was frankly surprised he was doing as well as he was, hurt as badly as he’d been.

Granger held up a ticket for the new valet by the door, who came forward and took it and headed out into the cold. Scully watched him go, saw she and Mulder’s car pull into the valet spot out in front of the building, the driver getting out and coming around the idylling vehicle, rubbing his hands together for warmth.

Robin was looting around her purse and brought out a small wrapped box, festooned with a bright foil ribbon. She smiled as she held it up in front of Scully.

“This,” she said, “is just a little something from both of us for you to open when you feel like it.”

Scully felt her face redden again and she looked at the box shyly, took it, and accepted Robin’s warm embrace.

“Thank you so much,” she replied. “I’m sure I’ll love it, whatever it is.”

They parted, and Scully squeezed Granger’s good arm, returned his gentle smile.

“Happy birthday, Dana,” Granger said, and smiled wider.

A couple was coming into the restaurant, and as the door opened, Scully heard a series of clicks, then a popping sound, like a cork coming off a bottle of champagne. The couple turned toward the street, and Scully and Mulder did, as well, Granger and Robin looking around them at the door.

“What was that?” Mulder asked.

Scully’s brow creased. “I don’t know,” she said. “But it sounded like it was coming from our–”

A flash. A terrible deafening sound.

Scully felt seering pain in her ears as the pressure in the room changed suddenly, her hands going up to guard her eyes against the light.

Then nothing but the sound of glass shattering, the roar of fire and heat. Nothing but the feel of her body tumbling backward in a cloud of splintered wood and glass. The sound of screaming, the heaviness of bodies crashing against hers and the sudden feeling of impact against her head, her side.

In a haze of pain, she heard someone shouting her name.

Then she heard and felt nothing. Nothing at all.

+++

CHAPTER 1.

+++

GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL WASHINGTON, D.C. 10:24 p.m.

“Mulder, please.”

He didn’t know how long the voice had been talking to him, gentle in its insistence. He didn’t know how long the cup of steaming liquid had been poised in front of him, though he could tell by the smell of it now that it was coffee, acrid coffee out of a vending machine, foamed on the top.

He brought his eyes up from where they’d been staring at his folded hands, his elbows on his knees. He looked at the dark hand, followed the arm up to Robin’s face, the warm black pools of her eyes. The noise of the emergency room waiting room filtered back into his awareness, people moving back and forth behind Robin, the room bustling. A voice paged a doctor over the intercom.

To Mulder, it was like the world existed in liquid, everything seeming to echo and move too slowly.

He didn’t know where he’d been.

“You with me?” Robin asked, proffering the coffee a little closer. There was a bandage on the side of her face in front of her ear and one of her eyes was slightly swollen from the area around the gash. The shoulder of her deep purple dress was stained dark with blood.

Mulder leaned up, took the coffee in his left hand, which was wrapped with gauze.

“Yeah,” he said at last. His voice cracked as if it hadn’t been used in some time, which, in fact, it hadn’t. A few words to the doctor who had stitched up his hand. A phone call to Skinner at the restaurant, Mulder shivering in the cold outside the waiting room so he could talk on the cell.

He cleared his throat. The stinging of the cuts on his face came back to him, and he rubbed at the rough lines of dried blood, ignoring the pain.

“Good,” Robin said as she sized him up, her hand going to his shoulder. “Stay with me now.”

Mulder nodded, and Robin removed her hand.

“Where’s Granger?” he asked, looking around.

Robin nodded toward the corner, where a knot of police stood, people all around them. Most of the victims of the bombing had ended up here, and the police were taking statements, pens and notebooks out.

“They’re going to want to talk to you, too,” Robin said, regret in her voice.

“I’ll talk to Skinner when he gets here,” Mulder said gruffly, and stood, placing the coffee in the chair, and took a couple of steps, his hands going into his pockets. He was facing the double-doors to the emergency room now, closed tight as a mouth.

“She’s going to be okay, Mulder,” Robin said softly from behind him, standing close.

He wanted to believe her, but he had nothing on which to base what she said. For once, he desperately needed that evidence, couldn’t make the leap.

He reached up and ran a hand through his hair roughly, closed his eyes.

He couldn’t banish the image of Scully, unconscious, in the mass of writhing bodies and rubble on the floor in the restaurant, a gash at her hairline, her face clammy and pale.

They’d kept him out when they’d whisked her from the ambulance to the examining room, a nurse having to hold his shoulders to stop his forward motion toward the doors.

“But…she’s pregnant,” he’d stammered, as if that explained the necessity of his going back with her. As if there was something only he could do.

“Yes, the paramedics told us,” the nurse had replied. “But we need you to just wait here for now, sir. The doctor will come get you when he’s finished his exam. And you need to be looked at yourself.” She’d gestured down to his hand, the make-shift bandage the paramedic had swathed around it in the ambulance soaked through with blood.

She’d left him standing there, Granger and Robin coming in their own car to free up an ambulance for the more seriously injured. There were so many hurt. A dozen or more, and at least two dead that Mulder had seen, one of them the young man who’d gotten their car.

“Mulder,” Granger said from behind him, and Mulder reluctantly turned from the door to face him. Granger’s face was scraped up, as well, but he’d taken the least damage of any of them.

“What are they saying?” Mulder asked.

Granger shook his head. “Not much at this point,” he said. “Only that it was a very professional job. Sophisticated device. Meant to do a lot of damage.”

Mulder nodded. He could feel his face reddening as emotions surged in him.

Not fear, but pure rage.

Granger must have seen it, the other man’s face hardening, as well. “We’ll get to the bottom of this,” he said firmly.

The doors behind Mulder opened and he turned instinctively, saw Hannah White, Scully’s obstetrician, coming toward him in her usual long skirt and bright sweater beneath her white coat, her long gray hair pulled back into a loose braid. Her lined face was carefully neutral, a small smile forced onto her lips.

“Hannah?” Mulder said quickly as she reached him. “When did you get here?”

“I tried to find you when I came in, but you must have been back in the treatment area.” She put a calming hand on his forearm. “I came as fast as my service contacted me about your call.”

“Has Scully regained consciousness yet?” He felt something in him unhitch at seeing her.

“Yes, she has,” Hannah said. “I’m sorry the physician who treated her injuries hasn’t come out and told you that by now. Things are pretty crazy back there. If I’d known no one had spoken to you, I would have come out sooner myself–“

“Tell me how she is,” Mulder interrupted. He felt taut as wire.

“She’s okay,” Hannah replied, her voice patient, soothing. She squeezed his arm. “She’s got a concussion and two cracked ribs, but she’s going to be all right.”

“Thank God,” Robin said from behind him.

Mulder let out a breath, nodded. “And the baby?” he asked. “The baby’s okay then?”

White hesitated, and Mulder felt his stomach go into free-fall.

“I want you to be calm, Mulder,” she said softly. “And not jump to any conclusions, okay?”

Mulder looked at Robin and Granger, who had both gone still behind him, then back at Hannah, his eyes wide. “Okay,” he said, hoping he didn’t sound like he felt. “Okay. Tell me.”

Hannah met his eyes. “She’s developed some spotting in the past hour. It’s been fairly steady.”

The words hung in the air, heavy. Mulder swallowed. “What does that mean?” he asked.

“Well,” Hannah said, and crossed her arms. “It could mean nothing. Just her body’s reaction to the trauma and it will stop on its own.”

“Or?” The word pushed out of him.

The older woman’s gaze bore into his, unflinching. “Or, worst-case scenario, she could be miscarrying.”

He shifted his weight, struggling for words. “But you can do something.” He said it with assurance when he finally found the words.

Hannah shook her head. “At 19 weeks, no,” she said. “The fetus isn’t viable at this point. It can’t survive outside the womb. And we can’t stop the process if her body decides to spontaneously abort.”

Mulder reached up and covered his mouth, rubbed at his chin to cover the motion. “I see,” he said, and his voice was almost too quiet to be heard over the din of the room.

“It’s far too early to make that kind of conclusion, though,” Hannah said. “So I don’t want you to dwell on that, or let her, if you can help it, all right? Getting upset yourself or allowing her to is only going to make matters worse. And it’s already difficult enough that she’s a doctor and knows too much for her own good about the possibilities of things.”

Mulder nodded. “Yes,” he said, looked down for a beat, gathering himself, then back up again. “Can I see her?”

White nodded. “Yes,” she said. “I want you to be with her. You need to help keep her as relaxed as you can. She’s refusing medication right now, even the mild sedative the Emergency Physician wanted to give her, so you’re going to be all she’s got for the night.” She studied his face. “Can you do that, Mulder?”

He stood up a little straighter, nodded. He swallowed again, and it was like he had a stone in his throat.

“I can do that, yes,” he said, and he felt the conviction in the words.

Yes. He could do that.

He *would*.

**

11:03 p.m.

When he entered the hospital room, it was dark except for the light over the bed, the rest of the room bathed in shadows and silence. The door made no sound as he pushed it closed to a crack behind him, shutting out the light from the hall and making the room more dim and the light above Scully more stark.

She was on her side, facing him and the door, and though her eyes were closed, he knew she wasn’t asleep. She had a fist balled in front of her face covering her mouth, and her brow was knitted down above her closed lids. He recognized that expression, the tautness of her face. Control. The struggle for it.

He went to the bed and sat on the edge carefully, his uninjured hand going to her hair, being careful of the bandage on her forehead by her hairline. He tunneled his fingers through the strands, stroking slowly, and it took her a few seconds before she opened her eyes. When she did, she would not look him in the face, her eyes focussed on the bend of his knee.

“Are you okay?” she asked in a faint voice, almost a whisper.

He nodded. “Yes,” he replied softly. “Some stitches in my hand and some bumps and bruises. That’s all.”

She nodded, opened her fisted hand and touched his thigh, her fingers tentative as they brushed the fabric of his dress pants.

“Paul and Robin?” she asked, and her voice trembled, her control sliding. He knew the tears were not far now, and cupped her head in his large hand, reached down and took her hand, gave it a squeeze.

“They’re all right. They went home to get Bo and take him back to their place for the night.”

She nodded, a jerked motion. “Good,” she said. “Good. We’re all…very lucky…” Her voice cracked and she clenched down on his hand, her eyes closing. She still had not looked at his face.

He leaned down, stricken, pressed his lips against her temple. “Scully, you don’t have to do this,” he whispered into her ear. “Not with me. Just let go…”

And with that, her breath caught and her free hand went to her side, holding her injured ribs. He could feel the tears against his cheek and turned and kissed her face.

“Mulder…” Her voice was choked. “I can’t lose this baby…I can’t lose her…”

“We’re not going to lose her, Scully,” he said softly. “It’s going to be all right. The doctor said this could be nothing. You know it could be nothing.” He paused. “And you’ve seen her, Scully. You know she’s going to be all right.”

“How do I know the baby I’ve seen is the one I’m carrying?” she said in a rush. “How do I know the things I’ve seen are even real, Mulder, and not a dream…a dream for what I wish I could have?” A sob caught in her throat. “Oh God…I’m so sorry…”

“Hey,” he said, gently and firmly. “You’ve got nothing to be sorry for. Nothing. Don’t do that to yourself, Scully. Please…”

She trembled on the bed, her hand going up to hide her face, grief and fear overwhelming her. Her usual fierce control over her emotions was not what it had been before her pregnancy, and though he welcomed that in many ways, right now it could be dangerous. For her and for the baby.

You’re going to be all she has for the night, Hannah had said.

The thought made his gut hurt in the face of the anguish he saw taking her. He felt completely useless, and he *had* to be of use.

He decided on a different tact.

“Hey Scully,” he said softly, stroking her hair. “Tell me a story.”

She shook her head. “I can’t…” she whispered.

“Come on,” he urged. “Tell me a story about her. Tell me what she looks like.”

Scully sniffed, reached up and wiped her eyes, hiding her face. “You know what she looks like, Mulder,” she replied softly.

“I like it when *you* tell me, though,” he replied, smiling, forcing ease. He smoothed her hair back and inched closer on the bed.

“Mulder…” she began, shaking her head.

“Come on, Scully,” he said again. “Tell me what she looks like and then tell me a story you haven’t told me yet. I know you’ve got at least one you haven’t told me yet.”

She sniffed again, the tears still coming. “Okay…” she said, trying to pull the tatters of her control around her. “Okay…” She drew in a breath, still holding her side. Then she began to speak.

“She…she looks like you. When she’s born…she has lots of hair…your color. She’s very small and…” She caught on a sob again, covered her eyes. “I can’t do this, Mulder…I can’t…not with knowing I could–“

“Keep going, Scully,” he urged. “Just keep going. ‘She’s very small and’ what?”

She wiped at her eyes, the words coming haltingly. “And…she’s thin and tall…like you.”

He rubbed at her back gently. “Tell me again about her eyes.”

Scully kept her own gaze down, still staring at his knee. “She’s got my eyes. Big and blue…so blue…deep blue…but your eyelashes…long…”

Her voice was unhitching now, her breath evening out. He smiled, nuzzled her hairline beside the bandage. “Yes,” he said softly. He swore he could see them, Scully’s beautiful eyes set into the tiny face like jewels. “Now tell me something else. Something you haven’t told me yet.”

He knew she worried about telling him too much, worried about giving too much away about the things she’d seen about their future. Part of it was her distrust of her own abilities, a desire not to get his hopes up for things that she assumed might not be.

But he wanted to know them all anyway. He wanted to see what she saw. Snapshots of a life he hadn’t lived yet with her, a life he would live.

Feelings rose in him with the thought, and he reached down, put his hand on her belly, his thumb rubbing against the small swell beneath the blankets. Scully put her hand over his, squeezed.

“You’re lying on the floor in the living room,” she murmured.

“Our living room now? The new place?”

She nodded. “Yes. In front of the fireplace. Bo is there. He’s got his head on your belly. And she…” She hesitated. “And Rose…she’s lying on her stomach across you with her ear to your chest.”

“Hmm…” Mulder smiled. “How old is she?”

“Three or four,” she replied, and a tiny smile touched her lips, though the tears were still coming. “She’s got long long hair. A dark french braid down her back. You’re twirling it in your hand. You’re…” She swallowed.

He rubbed her belly again. “I’m what?”

“You’re…teaching her how to count,” she whispered. “She’s trying to count your heartbeats.”

His eyes burned. Something bloomed in his chest and he could feel the small weight there.

Scully turned to look at him now, her eyes shining in the light.

He leaned down and kissed her lips softly once, twice. Then he withdrew just enough to be able to meet her gaze.

“Scully, you have to believe,” he murmured. “No matter what’s happening now, you have to believe in what you see.” He pressed his palm against her belly. “Because Rose is already here. With us. Right beneath our hands.”

She lay her hand on the side of his face, searching his eyes, nodded.

“I love you,” she said on a breath, kissed him again, lingering there, her words and the kiss passed between them like secrets.

+++

7912 LAUREL STREET ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA FEBRUARY 24 7:21 p.m.

It had begun to snow, the sky a heavy cobalt darkness, the huge flakes coming down around Mulder as he gathered firewood from the holder in the townhouse’s tiny backyard, stacking the pieces in the crook of his elbow. The night was quiet, and he looked up at the windows of the house, which glowed a warm gold. From the bedroom on the second floor there was a tiny trickle of dancing light, the fireplace in the bedroom lit but waning. Seeing this, he went back into the house, his shoulders and hair dotted with snow.

Through the living room with its own fire burning more brightly than the one upstairs, past his black leather couch, its shoulders covered with a Navajo blanket, he made his way up the staircase almost silently. He passed the second bedroom, the room that would be the baby’s, still empty except for a few boxes left over from the move. The office was across from it, his computer screen glowing faintly with Flying Toasters, Scully’s laptop closed on her neat desk against the far wall, circled with papers and files.

Down the hallway, his socked feet making no sound on the hardwood floor, he finally entered he and Scully’s large bedroom, light flickering from the hearth. Scully was facing away from him, a bump beneath the covers, her breathing deep and even.

Bo lifted his coal-dark head from the foot of the bed, his eyes catching the firelight as he watched Mulder pull back the screen and place more wood on the fire. Mulder fumbled the logs around carefully until fresh flames peeked between the wood, and then, satisfied, replaced the screen, wiping his hands on his jeans.

He turned then and went for the bed, reaching out and stroking Bo’s soft head as he rounded the foot. Then he stood next to Scully, saw her face smoothed out with sleep, her eyes shifting beneath her closed lids as she dreamed. He smiled faintly.

Then the memory of the explosion came back to him, the screaming in the restaurant, the high-pitched sound of glass as it shattered. The scrambling over bodies to find her in the chaos that followed.

The smile melted away.

He pulled the covers up over her shoulder, his fingers playing on the hair trailing out along the pillow, then withdrew from the bedroom, Bo coming down off the bed and falling in slowly behind him as he went back down the stairs.

He was in the kitchen making a pot of decaf, Bo leaned against his leg, when the doorbell rang. He flicked the coffeemaker on and went to answer it.

There, outside on the front steps, Skinner stood, a bunch of flowers in his hand and a stiff expression on his face.

“Mulder,” he said gruffly. Snow tapped on his shoulders.

“Sir,” Mulder replied, stepping aside and gesturing for Skinner to enter, which he did.

“Are those for me?” Mulder quipped, nodding toward the flowers as Skinner shouldered out of his jacket, revealing casual clothes beneath. Jeans. A dark sweater. It was to be only a partial business meeting.

“No, you I got one of those smiley-faced silver balloons but it flew away between here and the car,” Skinner replied through his teeth. “These are for your *wife*.” He stuck the flowers out toward Mulder without ceremony.

Mulder laughed, both at his joke and at his purposefully heavy use of Scully’s married title. “Thank you,” he said. “You want coffee?”

“Leaded or unleaded?”

“Decaf,” Mulder replied.

“Sure then,” Skinner said, and followed him into the kitchen, where Bo still sat in front of the coffeemaker, a bone in his mouth. The dog whined softly on seeing Skinner, and Mulder touched his head as he lay the flowers on the counter. He went for the cabinet beside the sink, drew out two mugs.

“Where’s Scully?” Skinner asked. “Sleeping, I hope?”

“Yeah,” Mulder said. He poured from the half-full carafe. “She’s been asleep most of the day since we got home.”

“How’s she doing?” Skinner took the mug Mulder offered.

“She’s okay,” Mulder said. “Bad headache from the concussion, and I think it makes her sore to move around too much with those ribs, but she’s all right.” He picked up his own mug, took a sip.

Skinner looked down into the coffee, hesitated. “And the baby?” he said finally, barely loud enough to hear.

Mulder nearly choked on his drink, but held his reaction in check. He lowered the mug, felt his face flush.

“So that’s out now, I see,” he said.

“Not to everyone, I don’t think,” Skinner replied. “But yes, some of us know. The people who need to know.”

Mulder took another sip of his coffee. “So much for privacy in the workplace,” he said, and he couldn’t keep the irritation from his voice.

“You want privacy in the workplace, go work for Dunkin’ Donuts,” Skinner replied, echoing the irritation. “I wish you’d told me a long time ago.”

“Not my call,” Mulder said, not meeting his boss’ intense gaze.

“I figured as much.” Skinner went for the refrigerator and the milk. “You didn’t answer my question.”

“The baby’s okay,” Mulder said softly. “We had a bit of a scare, but they did an ultrasound this morning and everything looks all right. Normal.”

“Thank God for that,” Skinner said, pouring milk and replacing it, closing the door.

“Yeah,” Mulder said faintly, uncomfortable. He cleared his throat. “What have you found out so far about the bomb?”

Skinner turned to him now, his hip against the counter. “A professional job. The folks in Ballistics have been all over it, collecting evidence. Whoever did this had a lot of money and a lot of practice. No one’s claimed responsibility for it, either. Not a peep from the usual suspects.” He looked down at Bo, then up again. “We’re thinking it’s personal.”

Mulder nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “It sure felt like it.”

“You know what Granger’s doing, right?”

“Checking cases from my VCU days, looking for anyone who could have the means.”

Skinner nodded. “Can you think of anyone off the top of your head?”

Mulder shook his head, said nothing.

“I thought of something else,” Skinner ventured. “I’m sure you’ve thought of it, too.”

Mulder nodded. “Curran.”

“Yes,” Skinner said. “I’ve checked with Counterterrorism and there aren’t any Path left, though. And he didn’t leave a lot of friends by the time he was done. As far as the IRA goes, you and Scully did them a favor by putting down a rabid dog who was biting them on the ass. That was the general vibe when all that was over, I’m told. So that doesn’t make sense either.”

Mulder put his mug down, leaned on the counter himself. “None of it makes any sense. Why us? And why now?” Frustration leaked into his voice, the thin edge of the anger.

“That’s what Granger’s looking into all that stuff from VCU for,” Skinner said. “To see if anyone you put away has recently gotten loose again. We’re not coming up with much at this point, though. But we’ll keep looking.”

Mulder looked down. “Thank you, sir,” he said, relenting.

Skinner drained his mug. “In the meantime, cabs for both of you,” he said, stood up straight. “I gotta get going. I just wanted to check in.” He nodded to the flowers, looking uncomfortable again. “And bring those by and see how things were.”

“I appreciate all you’re doing,” Mulder said, and meant it.

Skinner waved him off. “We’ll catch this guy,” he grunted.

Mulder set his mug down and led Skinner through the living room to the door, where the AD put on his jacket again, zipped it against the coming cold.

“Give her my best when she wakes up,” Skinner said. “When are you coming back in?”

Mulder considered. “Her doctor wants her out for a week. Me…give me a couple of days to make sure she’s all right. Then I’ll be back.”

Skinner nodded. “Yeah, take a couple. And be careful, Mulder.”

“I will,” Mulder replied.

Skinner opened the door and went out into the night.

Mulder closed the heavy wooden door behind him, stood still for a long moment, just listening to the house. A log fell in the fire with a hiss, and Mulder watched the sparks wink out.

A whine and he looked down at Bo, standing there with that worried look he got when things were out of sorts, his eyes darting.

“It’s all right,” he said, gave the dog’s bone a playful tug. Bo wouldn’t give it up, as usual, just stared, and Mulder chuffed softly.

Sighing, he went around to the couch, grabbed the remote and flicked on the television, sinking into the familiar leather and putting his feet up on the coffee table, flipping channels idylly.

Bo ducked under his legs and went into a heap, dropped the bone and lay his chin on the floor, his eyes closing.

Mulder let the sound of the television drift over him, felt his muscles beginning to unknot a bit, thinking.

He’d stayed up most of the night with Scully, neither of them able to sleep as the bleeding had continued. Around four, it had begun to slow, and by six it had all but stopped, just in time for Hannah to return to perform the ultrasound.

Everything looked fine, White had said, a smile on her face, and when she’d asked if they wanted to know the sex and Scully had nodded, Hannah had confirmed that the baby was indeed a girl.

He closed his eyes.

Rose’s head on his chest. Scully’s eyes. His hand playing in his daughter’s long hair, hair the color of his…

He smiled, a wide easy smile.

Things were going to be all right, he told himself. Things would be just fine…

The doorbell rang again.

Mulder turned to face it, then looked toward the kitchen, wondering what Skinner could have left behind.

Probably forgot to tell him something, he thought. That was all.

He rose, stepping over the dog, and went to the door, opened it with a joke on the tip of his tongue about Skinner getting old and senile.

Then he froze, his eyes going wide.

Mae Curran stood there in the falling snow, a baby bundled in a blanket against her shoulder. Her other arm was around Sean Curran’s thin chest, the boy shivering in a lightweight jacket, his eyes huge and filled with some emotion Mulder couldn’t name but which he did not ever want to feel.

Mulder’s mouth opened, closed, opened again. He couldn’t find words. Emotion rose up in him, filling him.

Anger. Anger borne of fear.

Mae looked at him, her lip trembling. He could see a tear track down her cheek in the porchlight, catching on a deep slice in her face that was swollen and scabbed.

“Mulder,” she said softly. “Please let us in.”

He didn’t move, his hand tightening on the door.

“Mulder,” Mae implored again, pulling Sean and the baby closer to her. Her voice broke. “I’m begging you. Please…let us in.”

+++

CHAPTER 2.

+++

“Mulder, let them in.”

Scully said it so softly behind him that he barely registered that she’d spoken, a ghost of her voice.

He turned to face her there in the small entrance hallway. She was wearing his robe, the deep green of it swallowing her in soft terry cloth, her hair pushed behind her ears, her hand on her ribs. The bandage was stark on her forehead, and her eyes were serious beneath it, deeply sad and more than a little afraid.

He turned back to Mae in the doorway. She made no move to come forward despite what Scully had said, seeming to wait for his permission to enter the house. She looked at him, unblinking, and there was a strength beneath the desperation in her eyes. Something quiet beneath the tears.

A cough and the baby began to cry on her shoulder, a miserable sound.

Hearing it, he stepped aside and let the three enter the house.

“You must be freezing,” Scully said as he closed the door behind them. “Go on into the living room.” She nodded behind her. “There’s a fire.”

It was true that they must be cold, he noted. None of them seemed dressed for the weather, Mae’s long curled hair covered with snow.

“Thank you, Dana,” Mae said, angling Sean that way, the baby fussing, wriggling against her.

Mulder looked at Scully there in the hallway, and he let what he was feeling show on his face. She reached out and touched his arm.

“It’s okay,” she murmured, Mae well out of earshot now.

“HOW could this be OKAY?” he hissed.

“Mulder,” she replied softly, gave his arm a squeeze. “She wouldn’t be here if she had a choice.”

He began to say something else, but Scully shook her head, moved around him and went into the living room, moving slowly. He hesitated, then finally followed.

Mae had settled onto the couch with the baby, Sean beside her, sitting with his hands folded in his lap, his eyes drawn to the television in the dim room. Mae was peeling out of her jacket and unbuttoning her shirt, the baby full-throated wailing now.

Bo got up from where he’d been lying at the sound and the sight of strangers, his ears flat against his head in distress, and skulked up the stairs, his tail between his legs. Mulder watched him go and understood the sentiment completely.

“Do you want something?” Scully asked, taking a chair beside the couch. “I think I smell coffee.”

“No, thank you,” Mae said, and she exposed her breast for an instant as she guided the baby to it, the crying stopping abruptly as the baby latched on and began to nurse. Mae covered the child’s head with the blanket, rubbing softly. “Sean might like something, though. Some cocoa or the like if you’ve got it.”

Mulder was still standing, his hands in his pockets, in front of the fire, looking at them all warily. He wanted to say something, but he’d be damned if he could figure out the right thing to say in this circumstance.

“Do you want some cocoa, Sean?” Scully asked, looking at the boy. “Or some milk?”

Sean stared back at her, his eyes like glass, his mouth closed.

“Why don’t you go wash up before you have something, Sean?” Mae said into the beat of silence. She turned to Scully. “Bathroom?”

Scully nodded toward short hallway to the kitchen. “Just down there. On the right.”

“Go on,” Mae said, touching the back of Sean’s head, and the boy obediently rose and went the way Scully had indicated. They all watched him go.

Once the door closed down the hallway, Mae looked at them, swallowed, and spoke.

“He…He’s not much for talking these days,” she said. “Not since…”

Scully leaned back and he could see her face fall.

“Joe,” she said.

Mae nodded, smoothing the baby’s hair gently, looking down into the child’s face. “Yes,” she whispered, and a tear rushed down her face.

Mulder’s face dropped, as well. “A bomb,” he said.

Mae looked at him. “Yes,” she said again, and seemed surprised at his words.

Mulder raked a hand through his hair. “Shit….” he breathed.

“I’m so sorry,” Scully said, emotion heavy in her voice. “Were you hurt? Besides your face? You or Sean or…it’s Katherine, right?”

Mae nodded, looking down at the little girl again. “Just some cuts and scorching here and there…but Sean…he hasn’t spoken since.”

“Probably shock,” Mulder said.

Mae wiped at another tear on her face, dabbing around the gash. “He won’t even talk to me,” she said softly. “I don’t know what to do.”

The bathroom door opened and Sean came back into the room, retaking his seat beside Mae, quiet as a tomb. He looked at Scully and Mulder in turn, his mouth a thin line.

Scully stood slowly, still holding her side, went to the couch and knelt in front of him, reached for his hands, feeling them. She checked his eyes, her hand running over his head gently.

“Can you talk to me, Sean?” Scully asked softly. “Tell me how you’re feeling? If you’re okay?”

Sean simply looked at her, his face blank.

No tears. No nothing. No one was home.

“It happened…right in front of him.” Mae seemed to have a hard time speaking about it herself. “Right in front of all of us.”

“He seems okay physically,” Scully said, finishing her cursory exam. “A little dehydrated.”

“We’ve been travelling a long time,” Mae said. “Days to get here from Australia. I’m not surprised if we’re all a bit worse for wear.”

Scully turned to Mulder now. “I think we have some hot chocolate in the pantry,” she said, and he nodded, moved off to the kitchen, relieved to be doing something.

He pulled the milk from the fridge, poured it into a mug and set it in the microwave, his mind racing as the milk heated, the machine humming.

Two bombs.

No coincidences.

The past, with its cold hand, reached out and touched the back of his neck, straightening his spine as the microwave beeped.

“Fuck…” he said under his breath, and pulled the mug out, going for the counter and the pantry, the box of Nestle’s on the top shelf.

“…so I followed you home yesterday from work,” Mae was saying as he re-entered the living room. Scully had retaken her seat, the thick robe curled around her.

He went to Sean, offered the hot chocolate out toward the boy, who looked at it, then at Mulder with those same vacant eyes. Mulder reached down and lifted the small hand, set it around the handle.

“Drink,” he urged gently, and like throwing a switch, Sean put the cup to his mouth and took a sip. Mulder wondered vaguely if Sean might have burned his mouth.

He put the remote control in front of Sean on the coffee table. “You watch what you want, okay?” he said to the boy, and then he nodded to Scully and Mae, gesturing toward the kitchen.

“Let’s talk in there,” he said, and both women rose, Scully moving slowly, and followed him down the short hallway to the eat-in area off to the side of the counters. Both of them sank into the chairs around the table, Katherine still nursing steadily, undisturbed, as Mulder leaned against the counter in the dim room, the only light the bulb above the range.

“How long have you been in the States?” Scully asked.

“Two days here in D.C.,” Mae replied. “I was going to come here last night, but you went out again so quickly. I waited until late for you to come back, but with the baby and Sean…I went back to the motel off the highway and waited until tonight.”

“We were at the hospital all night,” Mulder said, an edge in his voice.

Mae looked at Scully, touched her forehead in the same place where Scully’s bandage sat.

“That?” she asked. “And Mulder’s face and hand?”

Scully nodded. “Yes,” she said, looked down toward her belly unconsciously. “And…other concerns. I was in for observation after we were in…an accident.”

Mae’s face grew more grim. “You were in that restaurant, weren’t you? The one I saw on the news this morning. The car bomb.”

“Yes,” Scully replied, nodding.

The baby fussed, her head turning from side to side, and Mae pulled her up, closing her shirt and leaning Katherine on her shoulder in one deft movement, rubbing at the baby’s back. Mae was quiet, looking down at the baby blonde head as though afraid to meet he and Scully’s faces.

Mulder’s hands went to his hips, his temper flaring at her silence.

“What is it you want from us, Mae?” he asked, his voice quiet in deference to Sean in the nearby room, but his tone sharp.

Mae met his eyes, and they glinted, even in the dim light. “It’s not a question of what *I* want anymore, is it?” she said, nodded to Scully then returned her gaze to his hard stare. “It’s a question of what we both *need.*”

“We can’t protect you,” Scully interjected, sounding more tired than anything else. “Not without exposing you.”

Mae looked at the baby. “I don’t care about exposure,” she said. “I’m not here for myself. I’m here for Sean and for Katherine.” She paused, her voice lowering. “Nothing matters to me anymore but what’s left of my family. They’re my home now. I want them safe.”

She met Mulder’s eyes again. He hadn’t moved.

“And you need me,” she said softly. “You need what I know.”

“We can do this without you,” Mulder said. “We have the resources of the FBI, Counterterrorism–“

“Yes, and look how well they’ve dealt with the IRA and the Path in the past,” Mae replied, hard. “The IRA has been here for *years* right beneath your noses and you’ve done nothing to stop them. You haven’t even noticed most of the time, and when you did, you didn’t care enough — until your glorious hand in the *peace* — to lift a bloody finger to stop it. Jesus, if your government knew what has been done from your own cities–”

“I’m not going to argue politics with you, Mae,” Mulder said, waving her off with his bandaged hand. “I don’t give a damn about your politics. All I care about is *my* family.”

“Then you’d better bloody well give a damn about my politics,” Mae shot back. “Because that’s what this is about.”

“No, it’s not,” Mulder replied hotly. “This is personal.”

“Our politics *is* personal,” Mae replied quietly. “That’s the thing you people have never understood.” She looked at Scully. “Until now, it seems.”

Scully looked back. “Who is doing this?” she asked, and Mulder saw her cup her belly, as though protecting herself, their child.

Mae looked down. “I don’t know,” she said, just above a whisper.

“You don’t *know*?” Mulder repeated. “You tell us we need you and you don’t have any idea who it could be?”

Mae’s eyes flashed up at him again. “I know it’s someone connected to the Path, but it’s someone I don’t know. Someone connected to Owen somehow…”

“How do you know that?” Scully asked quietly.

Mae looked down. “Because everyone I know from the Path is dead. And the IRA wouldn’t come after me. They wouldn’t blame me for what Owen did, not after I…”

“After you betrayed him,” Mulder finished. He didn’t care if it hurt.

“Yes,” Mae whispered.

Katherine had gone still against her shoulder, and Mae rubbed at her back. Mulder couldn’t tell for whose comfort the action was done — the baby’s or Mae’s.

Suddenly, Scully covered her mouth, rising as quickly as her ribs would allow and coming around the table.

“Excuse me…” she said, and went for the bathroom off the kitchen, closing the door behind her and leaving Mulder and Mae with her baby alone.

The sounds of coughing reached them, intermittent, choked.

“Is she all right?” Mae asked, looking toward the door and then back at him.

Mulder’s gaze dropped to the floor, his jaw working. “She’s pregnant.”

“Oh God,” Mae said. “And last night–“

“She’s okay,” Mulder interjected. He didn’t want Mae’s concern. Not Mae’s. “They’re both okay. We got lucky.”

“Yes,” Mae said softly. “I’m so sorry. This should be a happy time for you. Not…this.”

He looked up her, sitting there with her eyes on the bathroom door with the sleeping baby in her arms…

And he blamed her.

He couldn’t help it. From the moment she’d come into their lives, Scully had been in danger. He would always associate her with that danger. With everything he stood to lose.

He leaned up from the counter, shook his head.

Scully wouldn’t want him to feel that way, he told himself. Mae had saved Scully’s life, had been Scully’s friend. The two women had a bond that Mulder didn’t understand but couldn’t deny.

And, thinking of the kind man he’d met in the house in Show Low, this man Joe Porter, he realized that Mae had been punished enough for her past, paid her penance for her sins.

He wanted to believe that. But not for Mae’s sake exactly.

For her children’s sake, so vulnerable in the crossfire of this.

And for Scully’s sake. It was what she would want from him.

The toilet flushed and Scully emerged, pale, holding her side even more tightly now, moving even more slowly.

“I’m sorry,” she began. “But I need to lie down.”

“You okay?” Mulder asked gently, taking a step toward her instinctively.

“Yeah,” Scully said, trying to sound nonchalant. “I’m just…sore. Tired.” She turned to Mae. “We have a futon in the office and the couch for Sean. Stay here tonight. We’ll call people in the morning. The house has been swept for devices before we came home today. We’ll be safe for the night.”

Mulder didn’t like it, but he kept quiet, and when Scully looked at him, he nodded.

“Let’s get you upstairs,” he said softly, and Scully nodded, resigned.

So he left Mae in the kitchen with Katherine, moved past Sean — still as a statue with the remote still lying in front of him — and followed Scully slowly up the stairs to begin settling them all in for the night.

+++

FEBRUARY 25 7:32 a.m.

The house was warm, so warm there was vapor clouding the corners of the windows like cobwebs in the kitchen, light flakes of snow falling outside in the gray morning as Scully looked into the woods behind the tiny fenced backyard. Snow was clinging to the trunks of the trees, the world washed in white.

Mae sat at the kitchen table, Katherine sitting on the flat surface as Mae held her hands to steady her, talking softly to the baby, who was smiling, her blue eyes dancing, her downy hair mussed with sleep. Sean was in front of the television, the bright, strange sounds of cartoons filtering into the kitchen over the sound of bacon sizzling, Mulder at the stove in his faded jeans and a black T-shirt and bare feet, every burner holding a pan full of something cooking, his hands moving over the stovetop, turning things.

Bo leaned against Mulder’s leg, looking at Scully uncertainly. He whined softly as she looked at him, and Mulder reached into the paper- towel covered plate in the center of the burners and broke off a corner of cooled bacon and fed it to the dog.

She went to Mulder, stood next to him, and took the two pieces of toast that popped from the silver toaster beside the stove, began to butter them.

“Don’t do that,” he said. “I’ve got everything under control. I wish you’d go back to bed.”

She finished buttering the two pieces, set them on the stack with the others on the cornflower-colored plate. “I’m fine, Mulder,” she said. “Really. I feel okay.”

And she was mostly telling the truth. More than her physical health, she felt an anticipation this morning, having woken to the feel of the baby moving inside her, a fluttering in her belly, as though she were suddenly filled with tiny wings.

It made her smile when she’d awakened, and she’d taken Mulder’s hand, already pressed against her from where his arm was draped across her in his sleep. Holding it against her abdomen, she’d wished he could feel it, too, as he’d drawn in a breath behind her.

“Somebody get up early?” he’d said, his voice heavy and soft with sleep. The sun was just coming in through the windows.

“Yes,” she’d whispered, smiled, and he rubbed his fingers against her, pressed a kiss to her temple.

The doorbell rang, breaking her out of the memory, and, her hand trailing on his back, she went around him, through the living room to the front door, opening it.

Maggie Scully stood there, a bag of groceries in one arm and pack of diapers in the other, her expression clearly quizzical and concerned.

“Good morning, Mom,” she said, leaned forward and kissed her mother as the older woman entered the house.

“I have to tell you,” her mother said, handing the bag of diapers off to Scully. “That is one of the oddest phone calls I’ve ever gotten from you. Six o’clock in the morning and you call with ‘Come as soon as you can with milk and fruit roll-ups, and bring diapers for a 23-pound baby’?”

Scully chuckled. “I imagine that wasn’t the best way to wake up, no,” she said, and took her mother’s coat as she shed it. “I’m sorry, Mom.”

Maggie smiled, though her eyes were still filled with concern. “It’s okay. You know I was coming anyway, jetlagged or not.”

Scully smiled. “Yes,” she said. “I know I couldn’t keep you away for long.”

Maggie smoothed her hair down around the bandage. “Of course not,” she replied.

Her mother had been in San Diego until yesterday afternoon, visiting her brother Bill. Hearing of the accident from Mulder yesterday morning, she’d taken the first plane back she could find.

Scully had asked Mulder to wait and call her until they knew about the baby, wanting that to be just between the two of them until they knew something for certain. The thought of sharing that grief too soon had been too much for her, even though it was her mother.

Maggie looked into the living room, her brow creasing down at the sight of Sean on the couch. “Who’s here?” she asked.

Now Scully grew serious. “Someone who might be able to help find some answers to what happened,” she said. “I don’t want you to get upset…”

“Why would I be upset about someone helping you get to the bottom of what happened?” her mother asked incredulously.

“Because it’s Mae Curran,” Scully said quietly.

Her mother blanched, her mouth falling open. “That Irish woman?” she whispered.

“Yes,” Scully said.

“You’ve got a terrorist in your house??” her mother hissed. “My God, Dana–“

“It’s all right,” Scully hurried to interrupt. “AD Skinner has already been notified that she’s here. She’s turning herself in, because someone tried to kill her, too.”

Maggie shook her head. “Dana, I know she saved your life, and I’m forever in her debt for that, but having her here can’t be a good thing.”

“Mom,” Scully said tiredly. “This might be the *only* good thing that can happen right now. If someone’s trying to kill her, as well, then it’s someone associated with her family, with the Irish Cause, that’s doing this. And she’s our link to that.”

“But isn’t having her here like going fishing in a barrel?” her mother asked, her voice exasperated, but still just above a whisper.

“Mom, I can’t argue with you about this,” Scully said, putting a hand on her mother’s arm. “I don’t have the energy to do it. Mae can help us. I feel certain of that. But regardless of that, in the end all I know is that someone who has been my friend is in danger, and she’s got two children with her who rely on her. That’s all I care about right now. I’m asking you to understand that.”

Her mother drew in a breath, relenting. “All right,” she said at last. “I’ll respect what you want, even if I don’t like it.”

Scully nodded. “Thank you, Mom,” she said softly, and ushered her mother into the living room.

“Sean?” Scully called, rooting around in the bag her mother still held. “Mae said you liked these?”

Sean turned to look at her, the same blank look on his face. Scully smiled at him, drew out the fruit roll-ups, a whole box of mixed flavors, and handed them to him. He took them automatically, but made no move to open the box.

“Hi there,” Maggie said, smiling broadly. Sean said nothing, simply turned back to the television, and Scully motioned to the kitchen, her mother following along.

“Is he all right?” Maggie whispered as they went down the hallway.

“No,” was all Scully said as they entered the kitchen, and then they were standing in front of Mae and Katherine, Mae looking up at Maggie with interest.

“Mae,” Scully said. “This is my mother, Maggie Scully. Mom, this is Mae Curran.”

“Porter,” Mae corrected gently, and reached her hand toward Scully’s mother. “I’m very pleased to meet you.”

Maggie put the bag down and shook Mae’s hand, smiling politely. “It’s good to meet you, as well,” she said. “After everything you’ve done for Dana.”

“I was happy to do it,” Mae said, and Maggie’s smile became a fraction warmer.

Maggie turned to Mulder, still at the stove, turning eggs.

“Good morning, Fox,” she said, and Scully heard the warmth come back into her voice.

“Maggie,” Mulder replied, waving a spatula and licking the finger he’d just burned as he’d fumbled bacon. “The road’s okay?”

Maggie nodded, reached down and touched Katherine’s hand that was reaching toward her. “Yes, they’re fine. Everything’s plowed and salted.”

“Good,” Mulder replied. “We’ve got more people coming.”

“Mr. Skinner?” Maggie replied.

“Yes,” Scully said, sinking into a chair. “And Paul Granger is on his way.”

“Let me help you with breakfast then,” Maggie said, and moved toward the stove just as the doorbell rang again. Scully went to get it, relieved to see that Sean had dug into the box she’d given him, though he still paid her no mind as she moved through the room.

Outside the door, Skinner was there, flanked by two men she’d seen before but whose names she did not know. Paul Granger was coming up the walk behind him, the snow still falling. Skinner was in his suit and trench, looking all business. His face matched his outfit.

“Agent Scully,” he said. “How are you?”

“I’m all right, sir,” she said, her brow creasing as she looked at the two men with Skinner. Granger’s face was grim as he stopped behind them all.

Skinner nodded to the men beside him. “This is Frank Music, John Kucinski. They’re both from Counterterrorism.”

“But sir, I–” She shook her head.

“Let us in, Scully,” Skinner said softly, and Scully didn’t realize until then that she’d been blocking the door.

She looked at the grim set of his face and swallowed, nodded.

So this was how this was going to go, she thought.

By the numbers.

She stepped aside and let them into the house.

“Hey,” Granger said softly as he followed them in, smiling down at her. “You don’t look so worse for wear.”

Her lips curled. “And you’re lying,” she replied, and Granger smiled wider.

She and Granger followed the men into the kitchen, watched with dismay as Mae’s face fell from the smile she’d been giving her daughter, toddling on the floor beside her. Mulder and her mother’s faces almost sad as the procession came in.

“Mae Curran?” Skinner asked, standing in front of Mae. His voice was soft, but clearly official.

“It’s Porter,” Mae corrected again. “But yes.”

“My name is Walter Skinner. I’m an Assistant Director with the FBI.” He introduced the other two men, who were looking down at Mae, their gazes hard, their postures guarded, as though Mae were herself a bomb that might go off at any second.

Skinner glanced at the baby, and regret was on his face. Scully looked at Mae, the same emotion in her eyes.

God, she hated this. Hated it so much.

“It’s all right,” Mae said as if reading her thoughts, and picked up Katherine, hugged her close. The baby whimpered, fussing. Mae looked at Skinner, strength in her eyes. “Go on.”

Skinner took in a breath, let it out. “Ms. Porter, you’re under arrest for Conspiracy charges stemming from the bombing of the Irish Embassy in Washington D.C. You have the right to remain silent…”

Mae looked at him, hugged her daughter closer, and Scully was struck by how small she looked, wreathed by the men, the kitchen heavy with silence except for the sound of the baby’s beginning cries and Skinner’s formal, quiet voice.

+++

CHAPTER 3.

+++

“….Do you understand the rights as they have been presented to you, Ms. Porter?”

Skinner looked at Mae expectantly, the other two men still staring down at her. Frank Music slipped his hands in his pockets beneath his coat.

Scully watched Mae’s face, the same determined set of it, but something had fallen in it now a touch, and her expression was colored with something else.

Relief?

Katherine was pushing off her mother now, clearly wanting to get down as she cried, and Mae reluctantly set her down on the floor and watched her walk away, toward the stove and Mulder and Scully’s mother.

“Do you understand the rights?” Skinner said again, tight in the jaw.

“Yes,” Mae responded now, looking up at him and nodding. “I understand.”

Skinner nodded back, a slight bob of his head. “Good,” he said, and it sounded almost dismissive.

Scully knew she still had the look of protest on her face, and she started to say something — something about how they couldn’t separate Mae from her baby or Sean, about how Mae wasn’t a danger to anyone, about how Mae was, herself, the one who needed Skinner’s help, not this — when Skinner pinned her with his eyes and raised a finger, not at Mae as she expected, but at Mulder. The gesture threw her, silenced her as her mouth began to open to voice everything she’d been thinking.

“Now,” Skinner said. “Should I be afraid that he’s cooking?”

This threw her even more. She looked with surprise at Skinner, at the incongruity of his treatment of Mae and that statement, one of his usual busts of Mulder’s chops.

“Yes…” Scully stammered. “But he does all right, though–“

“Good,” Skinner grunted again, and started peeling off his coat, the other two men doing the same now. “Then someone make me a plate.”

And he pulled out a chair across from Mae, threw his coat over the back of it and sat, leaning on his elbows, the other men clamoring into chairs, as well.

Mae turned and looked at Scully in surprise, and Scully looked back, then at Mulder, who was standing agape as Maggie reached around him to stir the eggs, which had begun to smoke faintly.

“Sir, I think–” Scully began, tentative, looking at her boss.

“There’s nothing to think about, Agent Scully,” Skinner interrupted. “I’ve been in a meeting with Deputy Director Rosen this morning, and we’ve come to a consensus on how to proceed.”

He turned to Mae now.

“Ms. Porter, the charges against you are serious ones, but the Deputy Director and I have also taken into account your past behavior in protecting the life of a Federal Agent — at risk to yourself — and…other circumstances that seem to mitigate that you are no longer as severe a threat as you may seem in your record.”

“No,” Mae said softly, regaining her own composure. “No, I am not a threat to you.”

Skinner nodded. “That doesn’t dismiss these charges, and I want you to understand that. But given recent events and the urgency of the current situation, I’ve been instructed to attempt to make a deal with you for your cooperation in our investigation.”

Scully exhaled, relieved. Skinner’s attitude at the door was urgency, yes, but not to get at Mae to arrest her. Not to take her away. The urgency was about her and Mulder, about solving the bombing, and Skinner and Rosen has apparently come to the conclusion, as she had, that Mae was the way to do that.

Thank God, she thought, watching her mother reach for a piece of toast on the plate beside the stove and hand it down into Katherine’s reaching hands to distract the toddler from grabbing onto Bo.

Skinner knew about Mae killing Fagan to save Scully’s life. He knew about Mae’s taking her and hiding her until Mulder could get to her, helpless as she’d been then. Those were the “other circumstances” Skinner referred to.

He did not know, however, that Mae had helped save Mulder’s life in the canyon in Show Low when Owen Curran had been killed. Skinner didn’t know she’d been there at all, or that Scully had herself let Mae and Joe and Sean go free.

And, Scully thought with even more relief, Mae was savvy enough not to reveal any of that.

As was Granger, who had helped her prepare the Bronco for Mae’s escape, participated in the cover. He was still standing there, silent behind her.

“All right, Mr. Skinner,” Mae said, sitting up a bit straighter as though she’d just been dealt a complicated hand of cards. “What is it you’re after from me exactly?”

Scully moved forward as the three men stared at Mae, went to where her mother was pouring cups of coffee from the brimming pot, and took them, bringing them to the table for the newcomers. Kucinski and Music took their cups — Music with a friendly smile — and Scully’s mother moved in behind Scully with the cup for Skinner.

Scully retook her place by the door beside Granger. Her ribs were aching already and it wasn’t even 9:00.

“I think you know what we want,” Skinner said, eyeing Mae.

“Aye, I do,” Mae said softly. “But what I know is very dear to me, even if I have turned my back on it. It’s about my family and my history and the life I knew. It won’t come cheaply.”

“You need our protection, Ms. Porter,” Skinner said, and Scully could see he was losing his patience now.

“You need what I know more,” Mae responded evenly. She’d looked at her hand of cards, clearly, and seen a lot of cards with faces. Scully knew because she saw them, too.

“What is it you want?” Skinner said, his teeth together, though he tried to look easy as he sipped at the coffee. Scully knew him well enough to know he was anything but at ease.

Mae made her bet. “I want immunity from prosecution for the bombing and protection from your government for both me and the children.”

Skinner lowered his mug. “Anything else with that, Ms. Porter?” he said tightly, rolling the coffee around in the mug. “A cup of coffee? Some milk? I bet you we could even get Mulder over there to bake you some nice muffins or something…”

“Very funny, sir,” Mulder said sourly from the stove and Kucinski and Music smirked.

“I’m not joking,” Mae said with a bit more force, and Scully could see the hard set of the visible side of her face. “What I know is worth that much. And if you two men are from Counterterrorism and know much of my history, you know that’s the truth.”

“We know how highly placed you were, yes,” Music said. “We know what you *could* tell us.”

“All right then,” Mae said, sat back.

Call, Scully thought. She looked at Skinner, who was searching Mae’s face as though trying to measure either how serious she was or how much to believe her. He glanced at Scully, and she gave a slight nod.

Yes, she said with her eyes. You can trust her.

She wanted him to believe that. Because she believed it herself.

Skinner’s eyes were drawn to Katherine again as the baby wobbled over, a bitten-into piece of toast in her hand. The baby went to her mother and reached up to be picked up now, and Mae did, balancing the little girl on her lap. Katherine looked at Skinner, pulled off a crust of her bread and offered it up to her mother’s face.

“Obstruction of justice, which is a much lesser charge. Federal protection for you and the children.”

“I will not,” Mae said clearly, “be separated from my baby or my nephew.”

“Arrangements would be made around that,” Skinner said, his eyes on Mae intensely, like any good poker player looking for a bluff. He wasn’t finding one and Scully knew it. “I can promise you that. That’s as low as I can go.”

Mae looked at Scully, and the two women’s gazes hung. This time Scully was relaying her trust for Skinner in her eyes. She nodded. It was about as low as Skinner and Rosen could go given Mae’s history, and she knew that.

A rustling behind her, and Sean pushed into the room, all the adults’ eyes going to the motion.

Mae looked at him, at Skinner, and Scully knew what was going through the other woman’s mind. Time to lay it all down. For the children’s sake if for nothing else. For Sean, who had been through so much — too much — already.

“Agreed,” Mae said, still looking at Sean, and reached a hand out toward the boy.

He wouldn’t come, and Scully put a hand gently on his head, smoothed down his sleep-dented hair.

“Everything’s okay, Sean,” she said softly. “Go back in and watch television and we’ll bring you a plate. You must be hungry.”

Sean looked up at her with his wide, wet eyes, and then turned and left the room.

Maggie was making up plates now and came forward, putting one in front of Skinner, another in front of Mae. Mae reached for the eggs and picked up a tiny piece, put it in Katherine’s mouth and the baby obediently chewed.

“Where are you going to take us?” she asked Skinner. “To protect us?”

Skinner took the fork off his plate, looked down. He looked slightly flustered, his face reddening. “The four of you are going to a place close by,” he said, took a bite.

“The ‘four’ of us?” Mae asked, feeding the baby again and taking up her fork, taking a bite of her breakfast herself.

“Yes,” Skinner said. “The three of you and…” He looked at Scully. “And you, too, Agent Scully.”

Scully’s mouth came open, and Granger moved further into the kitchen as if he meant to get away from her. Scully knew from the movement that he’d known this was coming, and she stared at his back, then at Mulder, who had flicked off the burners with a snap.

“Wait a minute,” Mulder said as Maggie pulled a plate away and went by Scully toward the living room and Sean. Her mother looked relieved, and it made Scully even angrier, her face flushing.

“This is coming from Rosen,” Skinner hurried to interrupt. “He wants you put away, Scully.”

“I am part of this investigation,” Scully said indignantly. “I will not be sequestered away while it is going on. I’m an agent in the FBI, not–“

“I won’t have us separated,” Mulder jumped in. “We can protect her better by having her–“

“It’s coming from *Rosen,*” Skinner said, louder this time, each word enunciated. He looked at Scully, looking uncomfortable again. “The Deputy Director and I feel that your…condition warrants this added precaution.”

Scully felt her face flush even more, and she drew herself up to her full height. It didn’t seem nearly tall enough suddenly. “I hope, sir, that you and the Deputy Director are referring to my injuries when you use that word.”

Her voice was soft. Dangerously so.

“You know what I’m talking about, Scully,” Skinner said.

Music and Kucinski didn’t look surprised at all, both men studying the whorls on the table. Scully burned, this time with embarrassment she couldn’t stave.

“She’s not going into Protective Custody without me there–” Mulder began, blustering. Bo shot out of the room as he spoke.

“You told the Deputy Director that I’m pregnant?” Scully spat. There was no use pussy-footing around it, she decided, Kucinski and Music’s heads still coming up, surprised to hear it spoken so frankly. “Begging your pardon, sir, but that was *never* anyone’s business–“

“Scully, he’s the one who told *me,*” Skinner said sharply, his volume rising to her tone and her words.

“How did he know? How did he find out?” Scully bit the words out, her eyes flaring.

“You filed an insurance claim for an obstetrician,” Skinner said quickly. “That’s all it takes at the FBI.”

That silenced her for a moment, and Mulder, too, who put his hands on his hips, looking down and letting out a hard breath. Granger had moved to stand beside him, and Granger was looking at Scully, his expression sympathetic but resigned.

“Look, the Protective Custody isn’t open for discussion,” Skinner continued. “Mulder, you’re going to be working on the case with me, Granger and some of the other profiling people, and the Counterterrorism Unit. Scully, you’re going under. That’s it. Those are orders. We’re keeping you close to home so that you can see your doctors and so we can get to Ms. Porter easily for information. But that’s all there is to it. I’m sorry.”

Mulder turned and picked up a pan, heading for the sink, and it made a loud metal-on metal sound as he dropped it too hard into the sink.

She understood his ire, though she knew he was not angry for the same reasons she was. For her, it was the being coddled. For him, it was the separation, the need to protect her himself, and though she loved him for the sentiment, it stuck in her craw, as well.

They weren’t done with this, she decided. But she would let it go for now.

Skinner pushed his plate away, barely touched, as though the food suddenly turned his stomach, as though Scully and Mulder’s ire had suddenly contaminated it. He reached for his coffee.

“Tunes,” he said to Frank Music. “Why don’t you start the conversation with Ms. Porter?”

Scully felt nausea beginning to swim in her stomach, and she pushed it savagely down, despite the sweat coming onto her face.

She would not be sick in front of these men.

“Ms. Porter,” Music began, “We’re aware, as we’ve said, of how you were highly placed in The Path’s organizational structure and–“

“It was family,” Mae corrected quietly. “Pure and simple.”

“Yes,” Music said awkwardly. “Well. Now, if you could give us some idea of who might be remaining in that hierarchy, we could begin to–“

“There aren’t any left,” Mae said. “No Path. Not that I know of. But I don’t think that matters. This is bigger than The Path. This is someone better connected than that, someone connected to the Cause somehow. Or bigger than that even. That’s the only way they could have found me Australia. With my husband. I’d changed my name and everything.”

“Can you give us some idea of where we might begin to look then?” Kucinski said, finally speaking. Even when he spoke, it seemed as though he didn’t want to, his keen dark eyes peering out from beneath thick brows.

Mae thought for a moment, feeding Katherine another blot of egg. “I think you should begin with what’s left of the old IRA. Many of them are here in the States. Inactive, but still well-connected.”

“We need names,” Skinner said.

Mae seemed to struggle with herself, not wanting to be that specific. It would, Scully realized, be taking a big leap. Her turn would be complete with involvement of even one other person.

“There’s a man in New York,” Mae said softly. “His name is Conail Rutherford. He’s done work for the Campaign before.”

“The Campaign for Free Ireland?” Music said. “Malcolm Flaherty’s organization, when he was alive?”

“Yes,” Mae replied, nodding. “He might be a good person to begin with because he was sort of a go-between. Between the IRA in Ireland – – the Old Guard — and people here in the States. He knew a lot of people. He might know someone who’s left.” She looked at the men. “He’s not a terrorist, though. He was never active that way. Just a…go-between. Good at keeping lines open, if you take my meaning. His family knew my family.”

She seemed lost in thought for a beat. “His family knew everyone’s family,” she added, almost as an afterthought. She looked back up from where she’d been looking into Katherine’s face.

“Start there,” she said. “I’ll have to think more about who else you could talk to.”

“All right,” Skinner said, and drained his cup, standing and reaching for his coat. Music and Kucinski did the same. “We’ll get on that. The safehouse is still being arranged. We need a few hours. It’ll give you some time.” He glanced at Scully. “I’m leaving Ms. Porter in your custody until we send a car for you all.”

“I appreciate the vote of confidence, sir,” Scully said evenly, and she saw Skinner wince as he pulled the coat on.

“Thank you for breakfast,” he mumbled, and he made his way out of the kitchen with the two men, who she heard let themselves out, the door closing behind them.

Quiet fell over the kitchen except for the baby, who was talking, in single words, to her mother, picking at the plate, making a mess.

Scully looked at Mulder across the room, his fury still boiling off him.

Granger spoke into the quiet. “I knew that was coming from the phone call with Skinner this morning after he met with Rosen. I tried. I really did. I’m really sorry.”

“It’s not your fault,” Scully said, the nausea still rocking her, worse now. Her whole body ached, and she already felt exhausted.

“She will be safer,” Mae interjected. “We all will be. These people have long arms and they know what they’re doing better than almost anyone in the world. It’s best to lay as low as possible.”

“I don’t mind the hiding as much as I can’t stand the reason,” Scully said softly, feeling too ill to sound too angry. “A woman gets pregnant and the men all gather around like a bunch of brooding hens. I don’t think my own father would be this patriarchal, and that’s saying something.”

“Yes,” Mae said softly. “I think that would anger me, as well.”

Scully sighed. The mention of her father had made her think of her mother, who had withdrawn in the middle of things. She appreciated that. The experience had been difficult enough without having to go through it in front of her mother.

It also made her think of Sean.

“Paul,” she said. “I hate to ask you to put on your psychologist hat but…”

“What is it?” Granger asked, looking concerned.

“Could you go in and talk to Sean in the living room? Spend some time with him. Do an assessment of some kind if you can.”

Granger’s background was far more clinical than Mulder’s. He could do it with more ease, and he wasn’t personally connected, as Mulder was to Sean. Perhaps Sean would talk to him.

“Sure,” Granger said, and he painfully came out of his coat, laying it on the back of one of the chairs the men had vacated. “I’ll be out in a while.” And he moved out of the kitchen, past her to the living room.

Again the quiet reigned for a few seconds.

“Hey, I made you a plate,” Mulder said, forcing his voice into composure, but anger still tinged it. Frustration. “I’ll warm it up in the microwave for you, okay?”

She looked at him, rubbing a knot of a headache that had started between her eyes.

He did not say that he wanted her to eat. And for that, she was thankful. Even if she knew the thought was implicit in his offer.

She felt like she had a hundred hands on her, guiding her this way and that. It made her feel even more tired.

She relented, though. She would not get upset with Mulder. She pushed it away as best she could.

“Okay,” she said, and sat down next to Mae and Katherine to eat.

+++

JOHN F. KENNEDY INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK 9:52 a.m.

The International Terminal was teeming with faces from all countries, all walks of life. Whole families of Americans, standing out by their boisterousness and their bright clothes. People in turbans, their white clothes looking like dresses, with the no nonsense shoes of travelers. Businessmen in casual clothes but who did not look at rest as they hefted laptop carriers and heavy briefcases through to their gates. All of them ready to board planes – – huge ones, white and silver — to carry them away from America and to places that many of them called home.

The young man walked among them, his smallish backpack over his shoulder. He wore a thick wool sweater, white, and faded jeans with a hole at the pocket. He looked a bit like a college student, though he was a few years too old for that. But he still carried that look about him, a veneer of youth, which was accentuated by his pale face and his light red hair, cut close in a military style, a leftover from a recent life. His eyes were light — sky blue, but lighter. The color of ice.

He wore headphones that curled behind his head, the sounds of the airport drowned out by the rich sounds of a band that did not sing in English. The man understood every word, humming to himself, the Discman in his free hand.

He moved to the side of the bustle of people, checking his bulky watch as he did so.

Almost 10:00 a.m. Time to make the call.

There were payphones lined up against the wall in the distance, and he went towards them, drawing out his wallet as he pushed the headphones off around his neck. A receiver in his hand, he pulled out the pre-paid phonecard, checked the dialing instructions once again, and punched in the international number and all the codes, waiting to be cleared. With a series of clicks, the phone began to ring.

It was picked up on the first ring.

“Yes.”

It was an old voice that answered. A woman’s voice. Thin and delicate as paper.

“It’s me,” the young man said, his voice soft and deeply tinged with accent. “Flight’s leaving in an hour, so I’m calling in.”

“Yes,” the woman said again. “You’ve checked your bags then?”

The young man shifted against the half-booth, not liking the sound of that.

“Aye,” he said. “That I have. Just now.”

A pause. “You’ll need to go retrieve them, Christie.”

He was surprised she used his name. He looked around to see if anyone was paying him any mind, and no one was.

“A problem then?” he said, keeping his voice soft.

“Yes,” the woman said. “All sorts of problems, I expect.”

He paused, considering. The news disappointed him, but he was not exactly surprised.

“Aye, well, I’ll go get the bags then.” He tried to sound reassuring when he said it, as though he didn’t mind the trouble. “Be right back on it.”

He forced a smile, as if the old woman could see it. It’s what he’d do if he stood in front of her, and it came from habit.

“There’s a flight back to Washington in an hour and a half. On United. Go purchase a ticket and call me when you get in. We’ll find a nice place for you to stay in the meantime.”

“All right then,” he said. “I’ll be in touch.”

“Travel safely,” she said, as she always did, and she hung up the phone.

He set down the receiver, slid the phonecard back into his wallet and the wallet into his worn jeans pocket. Then he moved the headphones back into place, the music still playing.

It reminded him of home — the fiddles, the guitars, the hollow sounds of hand drums. The voices singing in their rich harmonies.

He moved back through the crowd toward the check-in area. He knew that — for the time being, least — the music was as close to home as he was going to get.

+++

7912 LAUREL STREET ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA 11:31 a.m.

Paul Granger sat in front of the television, his eyes bleary behind his glasses as he alternately watched the cartoons streaming on the television and the boy beside him, who had a box of crayons from his backpack spread all over the coffee table and was coloring on a piece of paper Granger had retrieved from Mulder’s printer upstairs.

He was relieved to see Sean working on his picture. It had taken quite a bit of work to get him to do it.

Granger had had to sit there for a long time and draw and color several pictures himself before he’d even gotten Sean to look at what he was doing. He had drawn a picture of himself first, over- accentuating his nearly bald head and his small glasses in an attempt to make Sean laugh, which he’d failed miserably at doing. Then he’d drawn Bo, a simple picture of the dog lying in front the couch.

His apartment building. His car. Still nothing from the boy, Sean’s eyes on the television.

Finally, beginning to feel slightly foolish, he’d drawn a picture of Robin, which (if he did say so himself) was a decent likeness of her, with her lovely braids and her rich dark eyes he’d colored in with a brown crayon. He’d bore down slightly harder to make the eyes deeper in her already-brown face.

It was this picture that had finally gotten young Sean’s attention, the boy turning his head from time to time to check Granger’s progress.

“You like this picture?” Granger had said when Sean had first started to glance the picture’s way.

Sean said nothing, simply met Granger’s eyes.

“This is Robin,” Granger said. “Robin Brock. She works at the FBI, too.”

Sean blinked up at him, seeming to be listening, and Granger continued, despite the fact that he felt like he was yammering.

“She looks at DNA on pieces of evidence all day. I don’t know how she can stand it, but she’s really good at it. One of the best there.”

He’d gone back to coloring the picture as Sean returned his gaze to it.

Then Sean had done something he hadn’t done in all the time Granger had been sitting with him.

He reached across Granger’s body, touched his left sleeve, and took the fabric of his shirt between his small fingers, drawing Granger’s arm up. Then his hand ran to Granger’s hand, which he turned over, palm up.

Granger let him do this, confused, but encouraged at the boy wanting to touch him at all.

Then Sean had run a finger over Granger’s ring finger on that hand, and quickly withdrawn his hand when he’d found nothing there.

“Ohh….” Granger had said, understanding. “No, we’re not married,” and then he’d flashed Sean a smile. “Yet.”

He winked, but Sean did nothing.

Sean then reached onto the coffee table and picked up the picture of Granger, looking at the caricature for a long moment.

“Why don’t you draw me a picture of yourself?” Granger’d said then. “You can make it look any way you want to, even funny like mine if you want. Any way you like.” He pulled up a piece of paper off the stack and put it on a book on pathology he’d pulled from the bookcase, its cover bare.

“Go on,” he’d said. “Give it a try.”

And Sean had reached for the book and paper and a pencil and actually started to do it, turning slightly to hide the page from Granger’s eyes.

Granger had been thrilled at the progress. He’d been trying to get Sean to talk for over an hour, with barely a look in response. This was something, at least. A start.

Granger sighed as Scooby Doo ran, legs akimbo, across the television screen, a man in a giant voodoo mask running behind he and Shaggy. He yawned and tried to ignore the nagging pain in his chest and shoulder, always there since the shooting in West Virginia. It made him feel old, much older than his almost 35 years.

Behind him, Scully moved up from the basement, followed by her mother. They were carrying some clothes from the laundry room downstairs, and Scully wasn’t moving any better than he’d seen her so far.

“I wish you’d just lie down and let me and Mulder do this for you,” her mother was saying as they moved through the room toward the stairs. “You can tell us what you need and–“

“Mom,” Scully said, her voice firm but tired. “I’m fine. Please…”

And then they moved up the stairs and out of earshot again, their voices faint in the hallway going toward the back of the house.

Sean turned slightly now, set an orange crayon down on the table, brushing at his picture to get the eraser dust off of it, stroking at the image.

“Can I see?” Granger said softly, returning his attention to Sean. There was a large scrape on Sean’s forearm, and Granger touched him lightly just below it. Sean pulled his arm slightly away, looking up into Granger’s face. He still hid the picture on his other side.

“Please?” Granger asked. “I showed you mine. It doesn’t have to be good or anything. Don’t worry about that. I just want to see what you did. Sort of like trading pictures.” He smiled kindly.

Still Sean didn’t move.

“Here,” Granger said, reaching for his self-portrait and holding it on his lap. “We’ll put them on our laps and look at them side by side.”

And with that, Sean slowly brought his picture up and held it between his hands beside Granger’s.

And Granger had to compose his face.

For starters, it was clear that Sean had considerable artistic talent for his age. The image was clear, well drawn, and the colors were vivid and blended naturally from hue to hue.

Despite what the picture showed.

A figure. Arms outstretched, legs spread wide, like he was falling down the center of the page. Every one of the limbs a different size. A grotesquely large foot. One hand as tiny as the other was huge. Reddish hair like Sean’s, but the figure without clothes and genderless. In the face, huge gaping eyes, but no nose or mouth, the eyes misshapen, one seeming to drip down the face as though it had melted.

And all around the body, encasing it —

Flames. Perfectly drawn, angry flames filling every inch of white space on the page, licking out from the strange body in the center.

Sean, at his silence, began to draw the picture away.

“No, no,” Granger said hurried, touching the picture. “It’s a really good picture, Sean. I like it. You’re a very good artist.”

Sean held still now at his words, looking down at the picture.

“You’re very upset, I know,” Granger said gently. “I can see from your picture how upset you are. But things are going to get better now. You’re safe here.”

Sean looked up at him now, and Granger saw the beginnings of tears, tears he knew wouldn’t really come.

And then Sean shook his head.

Granger swallowed. “You’re going to be okay, Sean,” he tried again. “Really.”

But Sean only shook his head again, and put the picture away.

+++

CHAPTER 4.

+++

THE BLUE AND THE GREY MOTEL AND EFFICIENCIES FREDRICKSBURG, VIRGINIA FEBRUARY 27 (TWO DAYS LATER) 7:23 a.m.

Two beakers on a battered countertop beside an ancient Amana stove. A television, its picture dulled around the edges, reruns of “Hogan’s Heroes” playing into the room for background noise, canned laughter filling the room. The bed, unslept in, was neatly made with its cheap comforter, the Bible taken out of the nightstand drawer and open to the gospel of John. Beside it, Airborne Express boxes cut open with a sharp knife, mounds of styrofoam and packing peanuts.

“That sure is a lot of boxes,” the manager had said cheerfully when the young man had gone to the desk to pick them up.

“Yes, it’s all from eBay,” he’d replied, smiling, his American accent perfect, even a hint of drawl in it to put the manager at ease. “I love getting in them auctions and picking up things here and there to turn around and sell myself.”

“That your business here in Fredricksburg?” the manager asked, and the young man smiled amiably. The man wasn’t suspicious — merely being friendly. The nosiness of the South.

“Yeah, I’m selling some things at the flea market off exit 39,” he replied. “It’s a living.”

“Everybody’s got to make their way, that’s so,” the manager said, bored now. “Good luck to you, Mr. Price,” he added, and took his leave to the room in the back.

Now he set the bottles in front of him.

Sulfuric acid.

Nitric acid.

Toluene.

Distilled water.

He’d prepared an ice bath, had his syringe and the best Celsius thermometer money could buy. A small digital scale stood on the counter beside him and he began his measurements, careful percentages done by weight.

It would take about five hours, as it always did, a series of heating and cooling, of drawing off liquid that floated to the top, of rinsing and waiting. But in the end, he would have what he needed.

He glanced at the timing device he’d built from a digital wristwatch at his own hotel the night before. It sprang wires like a colored spider, the display flashing, waiting to be set, then triggered by the electronic impulses of an automobile.

Christie made the first solution, emptied an exact amount into a beaker and placed it in the ice bath. He added the toluene, began to stir, fighting off the chill in the room, his sweater’s sleeves pushed up to his elbows so he could work.

He glanced at the television as he stirred. The men on the screen all lit their cigarettes against the night sky lined up in the shape of an arrow, pointing an aircraft to the target nearby.

The audience laughed and Hogan looked at the screen, sharing the joke with a sly smile, a gleam in his eyes.

+++

PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE WASHINGTON, D.C. FEBRUARY 28 9:20 a.m.

Mulder wished, for one of the few times in his life, that he smoked.

He had the image in his head of him riding shotgun in the Bureau sedan, the window cracked, and him chain-smoking his way down Pennsylvania Avenue. He’d seen enough people do it that it always seemed a soothing ritual, a way to calm one’s nerves, even if he did hate the things.

Right now, he needed something, though. Something to do with his hands, some way to compose himself he hadn’t found yet.

The company he was keeping didn’t help matters much. Kucinski and “Tunes” Music were riding in the backseat, Agent Glickman driving. Music and Kucinski were speaking, talking about college basketball, Duke’s chances this year. Glickman — a somewhat dim, bullying sort of man — was quiet next to him, glancing his way from time to time as they made their way through traffic down the street.

The conversations of the past 12 hours were still fresh in Mulder’s mind. First, the call from Scully at around 9:30 last night, his cell phone chirping into the quiet, the television’s sound barely audible in the room. He’d been brooding, even Bo keeping his distance in front of the chair on the other side of the room.

“Mulder,” she said. Her voice had been quiet, terse. He’d just spoken to her about five that evening, their nightly check-in that Rosen allowed, as long as no land lines were used, and she’d sounded pinched even then. Frustrated and somehow dulled by the isolation.

But this was different. Something was wrong this time, and she was trying to hide it. It was hidden there, though, beneath the two syllables of his name.

“What is it, Scully?” he asked. “Something’s wrong.”

“Yes,” she’d said, hesitated. “Mulder, I’m spotting again.”

He’d sat upright on sofa a bit more, the leather squeaking. “How bad?”

“It’s not bad, but it’s steady,” she’d replied.

“You want me to call Hannah for you.” He didn’t ask it as a question.

“Yes, I think you should. Tell her it started about six and it’s been steady since.”

Since six. She’d waited almost four hours to call him. He pictured her in the room, some of Rosen’s agents outside the door, and her with no one there…

“I’ll call her right now,” he’d said, his tone now matching hers. “Sit tight. I’ll be right back to you.”

And he had called Hannah, waited for her return call. After, he’d picked up the phone again and called Skinner, who’d called Rosen. While he sat there and waited for Skinner to get back to him, he’d grown more and more tense, more frustrated.

It was Rosen who called him back.

“Agent Mulder,” Rosen had said without prelude, “I understand your wife needs some medical attention.”

“Yes, she does,” Mulder replied, the frustration coming out in his tone. “And don’t call her ‘my wife,’ sir, if you don’t mind.”

A pause. “How serious is Agent Scully’s condition?”

“Serious enough that her doctor has said she should come to the hospital in the morning for tests,” Mulder replied.

“I’m not going to lie to you, Agent Mulder,” Rosen said, his voice formal but otherwise unreadable. “Extracting her for this is going to be a production.”

“I understand that, sir, but you’ll understand if I’m not as sympathetic to the Bureau’s trouble in this as you are.”

“You shouldn’t forget,” Rosen ventured, “that we’re doing all this to protect Agent Scully’s life.”

“I haven’t forgotten,” Mulder said. “I appreciate the Bureau’s intentions in this, though, as you know, I have deep concerns with the execution.”

“Yes, I’m aware,” Rosen said mildly, and paused again. “What time do you need her at the hospital?”

“Ten o’clock. For about an hour.”

“All right then,” Rosen said. “I’ll send four agents to accompany her from the safehouse to the hospital.”

Mulder went still. “I’m going with her,” he said, and his tone said he wouldn’t take any argument.

“You could be being followed to trace her location. You know this.”

“There are precautions we can take to ensure that I’m not followed,” Mulder replied. “I”m sure that, considering we’re already talking about a production here, a bit more song and dance won’t be that difficult to manage.”

Rosen was silent for a beat. “All right, Agent Mulder. Be at the Hoover Building tomorrow at 8:30 in the morning. We’ll go from there. Contact Agent Scully and tell her to be prepared to go at 9:30.”

“Thank you, sir,” Mulder said, relenting. “I…appreciate your efforts in this.” The words nearly caught in his throat.

“Goodnight, Agent Mulder.” And Rosen had hung up.

Now, close to 9:30, Mulder watched the scenery stream by — the government buildings, the parks, the monuments in the distance. They’d been doubling back around the city for almost an hour, with two car changes along the way at two different parking garages across town. Rosen had made it a production, all right.

They passed the White House, Tunes and Kucinski still bitching about the Duke team going downhill since someone named Christian had graduated, when the hotel came into view, a tall, white and blue building in the distance. Mulder found himself sitting up a little bit in his seat as he saw it. His palms had begun to sweat.

The Willard was one of the best hotels in Washington, just two blocks from the White House. It had a wide, U-shaped driveway that led up elegant steps to a glass front with a revolving door. The driveway was jammed with cars, all their hazards flashing, people jumbled around with bellhops and carts for carrying luggage topped with shining brass bars.

“What the hell are all these cars doing here?” Mulder hissed as they wedged themselves in behind a parked car, empty, its tail lights blinking.

“It’s a hotel?” Glickman said, and his voice sounded as dense and sour as his face looked.

“Well, get them to move them out while we get her down here,” Mulder snapped back, unbuckling his seat belt. “We need this area clear.”

“Relax, Papa,” Glickman said. “It would take a fucking wizard to have followed us here, and the car’s been checked over with a comb. Just chill out.”

Mulder scowled at him, particularly for the “Papa” comment, and got out of the car, Music and Kucinski following him as the three of them wove their way through the cars and people and through the revolving door into the lush lobby beyond.

They rode the shining, carpeted elevator to the seventh floor, and Mulder immediately saw the agent sitting there in the small sitting area outside the elevators, reading the paper. He nodded to the man, who nodded back and let them pass.

Down the hallway to room 710, then Mulder rapped on the door lightly, and Scully immediately answered. She looked put together, her hair in its neat curve around her jaw, her black and white suit on. He could tell from the slight bulge at her side that she carried her gun.

Only her pale face and the bandage still in place on her forehead gave the appearance that anything was amiss. That and the flash of relief that crossed her face as she saw him, so fast that only he could have noticed it. He did his best not to smile, but he was relieved to see her so much it made it difficult.

“You ready?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said, nodding to Kucinski and Music, and to Agent Dodd, who had come in from the end of the hallway.

“I’ll walk you down,” Dodd said. Another agent, a female agent Mulder didn’t know, was at the stairwell, her hand dipped inside her jacket. Mulder nodded to her.

Mulder looked behind Scully, saw Mae there with Katherine, sitting on the neatly made bed. Mae met his eyes over the baby’s head, her face concerned.

So she’d been here with Scully, he realized. And though he still had hard feelings toward Mae, he was thankful to her, and let a bit of that touch his eyes. Mae smiled to him wanly.

You’re welcome, she said with her eyes, and Mulder stood aside to let Scully leave the room.

They walked in a circle around her, like four points on a compass, Mulder beside her, Dodd in the front.

When they reached the elevator, which the agent from the sitting area had held for them, he couldn’t help it.

His hand reached down and touched her back as he ushered her in front of him, then he stood in the circle around her inside the car, her bright red head barely visible in the halo of dark suits and silence.

**

Outside, on the opposite side of the street, a figure stood, a small device the size of a keychain in his palm. He wore a dark wig, the hair slicked back, an expensive suit, a black moustache. A briefcase was beside him, a typical Washington businessman on the Washington street. He’d gone in the front of the hotel, told them he’d just be a moment to check in, and then slipped out the side entrance and crossed the street, coming back around the front so he could see inside the great glass entrance to the lobby.

He’d seen the men go in the front door, the driver arguing with the doorman to get the cars out of the way, without much luck. It was a scene of controlled confusion. The man’s own car sat silent in front of the door, just in front of the car the men had come in. The driver — the agent — was gesturing toward it and the doorman was shrugging, his hands out helplessly.

He watched the lobby, saw the knot of men coming through the large central area, then come through the doors on one side of the shining revolving door.

He caught sight of the woman, there surrounded by the men, all of their heads swiveling, taking in the scene around them. The tall dark- haired man beside her — her husband, he assumed, from watching them get out of the car at the restaurant days before — was looking around particularly keenly, his hand on the woman’s back.

The group pulled up short, waiting for the driver to finish his argument with the doorman.

Christie waited, his hand poised on the button in his hand.

Wait for it, he told himself. He had to be certain this time.

Just wait…

Finally they started toward the car, weaving through the people coming into the hotel.

Christie touched the button in his hand. Across the street, the car he’d left there coughed to life, the engine humming.

He picked up the briefcase, satisfied.

Thirty second delay.

He began counting in his mind as he headed to a car parked there on the street, opened the door, the keys already in it. He tossed the suitcase in the passenger seat, his own suitcase in the backseat behind him.

Then he started the car and pulled out quickly, driving away.

**

Scully was walking toward the car, being hustled along by Mulder and Kucinski, when something began to niggle at her mind, as though there was something she’d forgotten and was just now remembering…

Cars were starting up all around them, and Frank Music turned toward the one in front of their car as it coughed to life, idling.

She pulled up short, looked around, her hand going to her head.

“Scully?” Mulder murmured next to her, stopping with her. “What is it?”

“I don’t know,” she said, taking in the scene around her, the people, the cars. “I don’t know. I just feel like…there’s something I…”

She looked at the woman getting out of her car in front of them, a bellhop going to her trunk, the woman following behind to open it.

(The woman was on fire.)

“I…” Scully’s hand gripped her forehead as she looked around.

“Scully?” Mulder said, grabbing her.

(Everywhere, hulks of cars burning, people running, others on fire trying to crawl away…)

“Mulder, there’s a bomb,” she said suddenly, feeling lightheaded, the images making her stomach lurch.

“What??” he said from beside her, holding her arm as she swayed. “Where??”

She turned, pushing at him, grabbed Kucinski’s arm as well.

“What the fuck?” Music said, looking at her.

Mulder reached over and pushed at Music, dragging Scully with the other arm.

“Back in the lobby! Hurry!” He turned toward the people in the driveway. “THERE’S A BOMB! RUN!”

And then she and Mulder started to do just that, Scully staggering along beside him, Music and Kucinski following.

They reached the glass doors, bolted inside, the sound of shouting and screaming behind them. People were pressing through the glass doors, into the revolving door, jamming it up…

Scully sprinted as best she could, Mulder beside her. They reached the ornate flower arrangement in the center of the lobby, people standing up everywhere, bewildered.

They headed for the marble front desk when–

An eruption from outside, and the whole glass front of the lobby was suddenly orange and yellow with flame.

Glass dissolved to splinters in a wall of fire, bodies flying, the blast wave coming into the lobby and knocking everyone down in the shower of shards and metal.

Scully felt the terrible feeling of her legs being knocked from beneath her and she and Mulder went tumbling together toward the desk, heat blasting over them, Mulder flattening his body on top of hers as the full sound of the blast boomed in the high ceilinged room, pieces of the crystal chandelier, plaster, bits of metal falling everywhere.

“Oh God,” she said, feeling renewed pain in her side, curling into a ball around it. It was agony. She struggled beneath him.

“Stay down,” Mulder said, keeping his body on her as glass continued to rain down. “Just stay down, Scully…”

Scully turned her head, feeling strangely groggy, her side shrieking with pain, and looked at the front of the lobby, over the ruin and the smoke and the people struggling everywhere.

In the cloudy haze, she saw the woman now, moving as though she were dancing, dancing and on fire. People were screaming outside, awful screaming, the bodies jammed in the revolving door writhing, encased in flames.

**

10:16 a.m.

Granger pulled his truck up just outside the police tape, pulling out his FBI identification as an officer came up to the window to immediately tell him to move the car.

“All right,” the officer said. “Watch your step, Mr. Granger. There’s glass and sharp objects everywhere around the scene, all right?”

“Sure,” Granger said, and climbed out of the X-Terra, ducked carefully under the yellow tape and headed toward the battered hotel, fire trucks still there hosing off the front of the building, ambulances gathered everywhere. People walked around as if in a daze, some with bandages, streaks of blood on their arms and faces.

He caught sight of Skinner, standing in a knot of agents, and found his way onto the perimeter, listening in on what Skinner was saying.

“…he’s a white male, somewhere between 30 and 40, about six feet tall, approximately 160-175 pounds, black hair with a black moustache. When he was last seen, he was wearing a navy or black business suit and carrying a briefcase. We’re to assume he’s armed and extremely dangerous. A sketch should be available shortly for you to look at it, and even if the suspect was wearing a disguise, we’ll get a general idea of his facial shape and structure. Now start combing the area. Dismissed.”

The agents broke away, moving quickly through the emergency personnel, leaving Granger there with Skinner, who looked over at him. Granger had never seen him look more tense, a vein bulging from his temple.

“It’s about time you got here,” he snapped, started walking toward the side of the hotel, where the press was gathered, held at bay by police. Granger could see Rosen standing in the distance, talking to a bunch of very official looking men, including, Granger realized, Don Martin, the head of the ATF.

“I came as fast as I could,” Granger said. “I was roughing up a quick profile sketch before I came over, based on what you told me over the phone about the physical description and the initial ballistics.” Keeping up with Skinner’s pace was making his chest and shoulder ache worse.

“Yeah, I’d like to read your profile,” Skinner grunted. “Son-of-a- bitch kills 18 people at a hotel, using enough TNT to blow up *ten* cars, two blocks from the fucking White House. I’d like to get ahold of this one’s *profile* all right.” He swore again under his breath.

“He was more determined this time,” Granger said, getting winded. “I think he was shamed by having missed last time and wanted to be certain he hit the target.”

“He hit the target all right,” Skinner said under his breath. “Look at this place.”

They were skirting the front of the building now, the lovely white stone of the entrance blasted, as though someone had thrown black paint up to the third floor. Curtains billowed out broken windows, and the roof over the driveway had collapsed onto the ruined shapes of many cars, some of them still billowing smoke, firemen hosing the scene down. Here and there around the entrance, white sheets were thrown over bodies, the sheets stark against all the blackness.

“My God, sir,” Granger said, stricken. “How could this happen? Did he follow Mulder here?”

“No,” Skinner said dully, as though he were in shock. His voice was sad. “No way. The bomb was planted before they got here. We don’t know how he found her.”

They were silent for a long beat, taking it all in, letting it sink in. It was a lot to take.

“Rosen’s got to talk to the press,” Skinner said into the quiet. “Come on.”

They closed the distance between them and the knot of official- looking men, Rosen turning and going with them toward the cluster of media, cameras waving over heads, a podium set up and a collection of microphones gathered at the front of it. Reporters started shouting questions immediately as Rosen took the podium, his arms raised for silence.

Granger and Skinner stopped behind them, both of them looking as grave as they felt.

“We’re going to do this in an orderly fashion,” Rosen said. “I have a statement, and then I’ll take the questions I can answer at this point, which won’t be many, I can assure you.” He drew himself up, cameras going off, hand-held tape recorders jutting towards his face as the reporters quieted down.

Rosen cleared his throat. “At 9:36 this morning, an explosive device was detonated here outside the Willard Hotel. The device was planted in a parked automobile at the entrance, and was, apparently, detonated remotely in an attempt to take the life of a Federal Agent being sequestered here for her own protection. This agent was, at the time, being moved to another location.”

“What is the condition of this agent?” one of the reporters shouted.

Rosen took in a deep breath and continued as though the reporter hadn’t spoken. “There were 18 deaths as result of the bombing, and 42 injured, nine critically. Among the 18 dead are three agents in the FBI. Agent Bill Dodd and Special Agent Don Glickman, both killed in the initial blast out in the driveway.”

He looked at the reporters, paused, camera flashing.

“And the third is the person whom we believe was the intended target for the bombing, who died en route to the hospital of massive internal injuries…”

Granger swallowed, looked down. He felt hollow inside, from all of it.

Even before he heard the name.

+++

CHAPTER 5.

+++

THE AMBASSADOR HOTEL NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK MARCH 4 11:32 a.m.

A dark cherry casket covered with white sweetheart roses, the roses dusted with the falling snow. A hill overlooking a wide dark body of water stitched with boats moored near the shore, the water’s surface choppy and capped with white as the storm clouds huddled on the horizon. A grey day in late-winter.

The bar across the bottom of the television said: “Live. Church of the Resurrection. Annapolis, Maryland,” the camera pulled back some distance from the knot of people around the coffin, the sea of wreathes and flowers so bright against all the black and grey.

Even the blanket over the man in the wheelchair, which was set close to the middle of the coffin, was the color of charcoal and matched the heavy sky.

Christie watched the scene unfolding on the television, a tray of food in front of him on the table brought up by room service. His eyes were on the man in the wheelchair — this man Christie knew only as “Mulder” — on his blank face beneath the bandages swathing his head, his left eye covered by white. Mulder’s hands were folded on his lap on the blanket, his knuckles white. His leg was extended in front of him and bulged beneath the covers, the obvious shape of a full-leg cast.

Christie took another bite of his lunch — a burger cooked extra rare — and scanned the other people in the crowd. An older woman dressed in a black wool coat on one side of Mulder, her face like steel despite the tears she dabbed from her cheeks with a crisp white handkerchief in her black-gloved hands. A black man and woman standing close to the wheelchair, the woman’s hand on the rest beside Mulder’s arm. Then the man Christie had come to know as Deputy Director Jack Rosen, his hands folded behind him, his eyes down. A bald man with glasses who he’d seen with Rosen on the news reports, standing there still as a headstone. Only one man seemed out of place — a wild array of long blonde hair and black glasses, a black T shirt peeking out from the vee of his jacket. He was the only one, along with the short bespectacled man beside him, who didn’t look like he’d just come from the FBI.

Agent Scully’s life seemed to have been her work — her work and Mulder, whose battered, scratched face was so drawn at this point, his jaw so tight, that Christie thought it might crack.

Mulder had yet to cry. He seemed to be beyond that now.

A priest with a full, kind face was speaking, reading from the Psalms. The bar on the bottom of the screen identified him as Father Daniel McCue, Agent Scully’s pastor. Then he read from John, a verse Christie knew well. He recited it in his head as the priest read.

“‘There are many rooms in my Father’s house, and I am glad to prepare them for your coming. When everything is ready, then I will come and get you, so that you can always be with me where I am…'”

Christie pushed the food away, his appetite waning.

McCue turned to the group now, a card in his hand. His face was grim. “Dana was a light to us all, a very bright light. All of us — myself included — can only comfort ourselves with the fact that she is with God now, safe from the troubles of this world in her Father’s house and is at peace.”

He turned slightly now, looking directly at Mulder. “I know she would not want us to grieve her, to despair. She would want to comfort us in this time, and she would want us to celebrate her life and her memory. For this reason, I offer to her mother, Margaret, and to her husband, Fox, these words, words which I think Dana would say to each of you herself.”

He lifted the card.

“This comes from Harry Scott Holland, the Canon of St. Paul’s Cathedral. He offers this: ‘Death is nothing at all. I have only slipped away into the next room. I am I, and you are you. Whatever we were to each other, that we still are. Call me by my old familiar name, speak to me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference in your tone, wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together. Pray, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without affect, without a trace of shadow on it. Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was; there is unbroken continuity. Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just round the corner. All is well.'”

Christie watched Scully’s mother. Margaret. He sounded the name in his mind. She had reached her hand over and placed it over both of Mulder’s at his waist. Now Christie saw the tears on Mulder’s face, which Mulder made no move to wipe away. He seemed unable to move at all.

“I offer you all Christ’s peace,” McCue said, and he stepped away from the microphone that had been set up on the small podium.

Then, the long note of a bagpipe playing into the snowy air, a throaty sound. “Amazing Grace.”

Across the room, Christie’s phone rang and he rose to get it, almost relieved at the jarring sound.

“Yes,” he said into the receiver.

“Are you watching CNN, Christie?” the ancient voice said, breathy and frail.

“Aye, I’ve been watching a bit,” he replied, trying to sound nonchalant.

A pause. “Time for you to come home then. Until we find where the other one has gone to.” Another pause. “Time for you to be home.”

“That’s good then,” he said. “Good to be home.” He meant the words more than he could say.

“There’s a ticket waiting for you at the British Airways counter at La Guardia. The flight leaves in four hours. They’ll be a car to pick you up on the other side. Not to worry about that.”

“All right, then,” Christie said. “I’ll get my things packed up. Be on my way.”

“Travel safely,” and the line went dead.

The song was still playing in the room from the television, the camera’s microphone picking up the faint sound of wind as it fluttered the blanket of roses on the coffin. Christie watched it as he hung up the phone, then sunk his hands in his pockets.

He listened for a moment as the camera panned the scene, the sea of faces, the deep cold bay beyond them.

The song was still playing as he came forward and reached for the remote on the table, hit the power button, and the screen went mercifully black.

+++

CAPITAL BELTWAY, INNER LOOP OUTSIDE BETHESDA, MARYLAND 1:34 p.m.

Mulder lay on his back on the stretcher, the ambulance rocking gently around him, soothing him. He looked up at the ceiling, pretending to be alone, pretending the paramedic wasn’t sitting beside him. He’d asked for the interior light to be turned off, and he lay in the relative dimness and closed his one uncovered eye, let out a deep breath.

“You okay, Mr. Mulder?” the paramedic asked from beside him, sounding uncertain.

“Yeah,” Mulder said dully. “Thank you.”

The paramedic leaned back against the opposite wall and let him be.

He relished the quiet, the darkness. The cameras at the funeral had been nearly too much to take. It all had been. His mother-in-law’s grief and worry, the silent faces that looked on him with such pity as he’d wheeled himself up to the coffin, Skinner and Rosen talking to Maggie, and waited for everyone to leave.

He remembered sitting there, looking at the covering of roses, the snow. He’d reached out after a moment and gently tugged a handful of the tiny flowers from the blanket, their faint fragrance drifting in the frigid air.

He’d held the flowers up to his face, inhaled deeply, his eyes clenching shut. He was suddenly shaking, his whole body tightening.

Not with sorrow. With rage.

His fist closed around the flowers, tiny thorns digging into his palm.

“Fox,” Maggie had said from behind him.

He’d composed himself as best he could, opened his fist. He was painfully aware of cameras clicking off around him, agents holding reporters with cameras away.

The flowers dropped softly onto his lap with a tap.

Maggie came around beside him, reached out and touched his shoulder. Squeezed. In her other hand, a bunch of flowers. “Time to go.”

Granger had appeared then and pushed him slowly away from the coffin toward the ambulance waiting on the road below. Maggie walked with him, and the Lone Gunmen had followed, Robin behind them, looking like a bulldog as she shooed the reporters away.

“Let us know if you need anything,” Frohike had said, standing there as they’d loaded Mulder onto a stretcher, two paramedics attending. Frohike looked glum, his eyes rimmed with red. “Anything at all. We got your back.”

Langley and Byers had nodded silently, put their hands on his arm as he thanked them for coming, and then the three of them had walked away.

Granger and Robin had done the same with a promise to call later, and then they, too, had drifted off.

“Are you all right?” Mulder asked Maggie as they finished strapping him in.

Maggie nodded, wiped her eyes. “Yes,” she said softly. “I’m going to go home and call Charlie and Bill. They said they’d be waiting to hear from me, that they’d be watching.”

Mulder nodded. “Give them my best,” he said, and Maggie leaned over and kissed his cheek softly, mindful of his battered face, Mulder turning his face to do the same.

“Here,” Maggie said, and she handed him the bunch of flowers. They were bright. Wildflowers. “A “Get-Well.'”

Mulder took them, lay them beside him. “Thank you,” he murmured. “I’ll call.”

And they’d put him in the ambulance, Maggie’s face the last thing he saw as they’d driven away.

“Almost there,” the paramedic said from beside him as the ambulance slowed, taking a wide turn off the highway.

He tried to block the memory from coming. He couldn’t.

He’d been waiting at her old apartment for her, a frozen pizza beginning to burn in the oven as she’d come in and he’d met her in the living room.

“I was getting worried,” he’d said. “You didn’t say you’d be late.”

She had not, in fact, said where’d she been going that afternoon at all. Only that she had an errand to run and that she’d meet him back at home.

He looked at her carefully, standing there fumbling her keys onto the table behind the couch. Her eyes were red. She’d been crying, though she looked down and tried to hide her eyes from him, her face.

“What is it?” he’d asked. “Scully?”

He’d closed the space between them, put his hands on her upper arms, their bodies almost touching. “Tell me,” he said softly.

“Mulder,” she began, her voice halting. “There are…some things I haven’t told you.”

He hadn’t liked the sound of that, but he’d nodded. “Okay,” he’d said. “What things?”

She’d hesitated again. “Some things I’ve been seeing. Since we finished the case with the Dillards in Virginia.” She looked up into his face, and something had crossed her features then, something a little guilty and sad. “I’m sorry.”

He knew she didn’t fully trust her abilities, so it was not exactly a shock to him. It still made him concerned. “Bad things again?” he asked.

And she shook her head. “No. Not this time.”

He grew more puzzled. “Then why didn’t you tell me?” His voice was gentle, urging.

She looked down, then up into his face again. “I wanted to be sure before I said anything.”

“‘Sure’? Sure of what?” He was shaking his head, trying to find his footing. Her reticence wasn’t helping.

“Where did you go today?”

Tears were welling, but she pressed forward. “I went to the doctor,” she said softly. “I had some tests.”

“And?” he urged, his stomach dropping.

She looked up at him, smiled a bit uncertainly, almost shy.

“Mulder, I’m pregnant.”

He hadn’t breathed for a few seconds, searching her face. She reached up and cupped his elbows, nodded when he didn’t speak. A lump had formed in his throat.

Then a smile bloomed on his face, warmth rushing through him. He leaned forward and kissed her, stayed close when they parted, his forehead touching hers.

“Tell me,” he’d breathed at last, watching her tears, her matching smile. “I want you to tell me…everything…”

There in the ambulance, he turned his head to the side, his hand coming up to cover his face. The hand was trembling, and his face felt hot enough to blister.

“Mr. Mulder?” the paramedic said again. “You sure you’re okay?”

Mulder didn’t look up, didn’t move his hand. “Leave me alone,” he said, his jaw clenched. “Just leave me alone.”

And the poor man, mumbling an apology, did just that.

They were on a city street now, moving through traffic. It wasn’t but another few minutes before they turned into the driveway for Bethesda Naval Hospital, through the wide gate.

Then they were wheeling him out, and they deftly transferred him to a wheelchair. An orderly took him from there, pushed him into the elevator, the flowers balanced on Mulder’s lap.

The orderly turned a key for one of the higher floors, and the car began to move.

Then he was in his room, light from the window meek on the bed, the snow heavier now, everything quiet.

Mulder sat for a few moments in front of that window, simply looking out at the sky. His mind was numb, clouded over, anger still coursing through him like a second pulse.

On the night stand, the room’s phone rang. Once. Twice.

Mulder at first made no move to get it. He seemed frozen in place.

Three times. Four.

Finally, he put his hands on the wheels of the chair he sat in, backed toward the table, and lifted the phone.

“Yeah,” he said into it.

“Mulder.” It was Skinner, his voice quiet.

“Yeah,” Mulder said again, flat.

“I’ve got a call waiting here for you,” Skinner said. “I’m going to put it through to you on this line.”

“I don’t want to talk to anyone,” Mulder said immediately. The anger was in his voice now. Anger and fatigue.

“You’ll want to talk to this person,” Skinner insisted, unflapped by his tone.

Mulder heaved out a breath, his eyes still staring blankly out the window. “All right,” he said. “Put it through.”

There was a series of clicks, then a voice came quietly through the receiver.

“Agent Mulder.”

Mulder’s eyes widened and he sat up a bit straighter in the chair, as much as the cast would allow him. He didn’t need to hear an introduction to know that voice. He’d know it anywhere. Its gentle timbre.

Albert Hosteen.

“Mr. Hosteen?” Mulder said, his surprise in his voice. “What–“

“I have been watching the television this morning,” the other man said softly. “I see things. Things I do not like to see.”

“Yes,” Mulder replied. If Hosteen had seen the news, there was little else for Mulder to say to him.

“It is time for you to come see me again,” Hosteen said into the beat of silence. “You should come here to grieve. And to heal.”

“Mr. Hosteen, that’s a generous offer, but I–” Mulder was shaking his head.

“Yes, time for you to come. And for you to bring whoever and whatever you need to feel safe again.” Another small pause. “Do you understand me, Agent Mulder?”

Mulder froze then, turning Hosteen’s words over in his mind.

“I can’t ask that of you,” Mulder said at last.

“You are not asking me for anything,” Hosteen said quietly, his voice firm. “I am offering.”

“You don’t know what you’re offering,” Mulder tried again.

His head had begun to itch beneath the bandages. He reached up and felt for the seam, pulled at the tape, unwound the gauze. The patch fell away from his eye and he was relieved when he opened it again.

He tossed the bandages aside into the trashcan, rubbed at his eyes.

“I know what I am offering,” Hosteen said. “I know what I have seen. I know what it means.”

Mulder leaned over, put the flowers on the bed, then pulled the blanket off himself, balanced the phone on his shoulder as he lowered the leg of the chair holding his cast up, set his heel on the floor. He pushed himself up, then balanced carefully in his black coat and pajamas and robe. He took off the coat, laid it on the bed. Then he untied the robe, took it off, moving slowly, his hip against the bed.

“There are more people involved this time,” he said. “People you don’t know. I wouldn’t be coming alone.”

He peeled out of the plain blue top, not even unbuttoning it, just pulling over his head, being careful of the deep scratches on his face, the bruises.

“Lots of room,” Hosteen said mildly. “Quiet. Peaceful. A good place to heal.”

Mulder considered this.

“Let me do some asking around,” he said.

“Yes,” the other man said. “You do that. I will be waiting, Agent Mulder. Goodbye.”

And the line went dead.

Mulder looked at the phone in his hand, the dial tone humming at him as the phone clicked over. Then he replaced it on the cradle.

He watched the snow, thinking again.

Then he put his hands on the waist of his pajama bottoms, pushed them down over his boxers, down the heavy leg of the cast, stepping out of them.

On the inside of the cast, a zipper was hidden in a fold of gauze. He moved the gauze aside and grabbed hold of it, pushed it down with a scratching sound, and the cast gaped open. He pushed it around his leg and lay it at the foot of the bed, flexing his knee.

He walked the few steps to the small wardrobe in his underwear, pulled out a pair of jeans, a long-sleeved henley, and slipped them on. A pair of socks and his shoes, and he returned to the bed, where the bunch of wildflowers sat, the three tiny white roses from the coffin.

He picked them up, then headed out into the hall.

Orderlies, people in white coats who looked like doctors and nurses, all nodded to him as he passed.

Finally he reached a door, the name on the chart outside the door “Elizabeth Shultz.” He knocked gently and went inside.

She was lying on the bed, facing away from him, but her head turned up toward a television suspended from the ceiling. He recognized the sound and the channel as CNN. She craned her neck to look at him, turning slightly on her back, the movement obviously painful.

“Hey,” Scully said, her voice hoarse.

“Hey,” he said, and tried to smile. He came around to the chair on the side she was facing, stood in front of it and leaned over her, pressed a kiss to her forehead, lingering there, breathing her in. Her hand came up and stroked his face, curled around the back of his neck.

“How you feeling?” he asked softly.

“Sore,” she said. “But okay. The baby’s been moving a lot today.” She smiled at him, brightening her battered face. “I think she’s playing.”

He smiled at the thought. “I’m glad,” he said. Then he turned to the television.

“You said you weren’t going to watch,” he murmured.

“I know,” she said softly. “But I wanted to be there with you. Any way I could.”

He kissed her lips softly, then sat down on the edge of the chair, leaned on his forearms on the bed, taking her hand. He laid the wildflowers on the mattress beside her.

“These are from your mother,” he said. “She said they’re a ‘get- well.'”

Scully smiled, but it was sad. “It was hard on her,” she said faintly.

He nodded. “She did fine, though. They all did.”

He glanced up at the television again, stroking her hand. They’d watched Agent Dodd’s funeral yesterday, sitting almost like this. The memory made him ache, and he could see from her face that the familarity of it did the same to her.

“Mulder,” she’d said as they’d watched, her voice soft. “I don’t want anyone else to die. There are 19 people dead now. Nineteen people who didn’t have to die. I can’t help but feel responsible for it in some way…”

He could see the same feelings on her now as she studied his face.

“You cried,” she whispered, stroking back the hair at his temple.

He nodded. “Yes.”

He reached up and laid the tiny sweetheart roses next to her now, rubbed the soft body of one against her bruised cheek, trying to tease a smile. It didn’t work.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m sorry it was so hard for you, too.”

He looked down, then into her eyes. “I have a lot to lose,” he said simply.

She nodded. “So do I.” And she took the rose from his hand.

He leaned up, the flowers between them, kissed her again.

“I’ve never seen you as angry as you were when you picked these up,” she said. “The rage on your face.”

He nodded, though her words made him ashamed.

“You’ve got to control it somehow, Mulder,” she said gently, but her voice was serious. “You’re not going to do me or you or the baby any good unless you can.”

He looked down, unable to meet her eyes. Even now he could feel the tinge of the fury in him, like something hot in his chest.

He’d never felt more threatened. Never felt like so much was at stake. He reached down and touched her belly beneath the heavy tape where her ribs — broken and set now — were braced.

“I’m going to be all right,” she said. “And so is Rose. We’re going to be safe now.”

He looked at her, thinking of the phone call with Hosteen.

He remembered the mornings on the porch at Hosteen’s place, looking out over the desert, the way the sky opened up there, no one around. The sounds of horses and the smells of coffee and good cooking. The bright bright stars at night.

A quiet place.

A peaceful place.

A place to heal.

And finally, squeezing her hand, he nodded.

+++

Part 2

+++

CHAPTER 6.

+++

ST. MATTHEW’S CATHEDRAL HIGHBRIDGE, THE BRONX NEW YORK, NEW YORK MARCH 8 (FOUR DAYS LATER) 10:04 a.m.

The cathedral smelled faintly of incense and dust and oiled wood, the ceiling drifting with wisps of smoke from the offering candles at the front of the massive building, glowing with pinpricks of light that bathed the alabaster statues above them in flickering light.

Skinner took all this in as he came down the wide main aisle, moving against the thin crowd coming away from the 9:00 a.m. Mass, mostly old women leaning on canes and wearing various shades of grey and black. Still others were emerging from the squat bodies of confessionals at the sides of the church, their eyes down. They looked to Skinner like frail old birds moving in their dark plumage, their hands trailing the shiny bodies of rosaries.

Granger walked beside him, one hand in the pocket of his leather jacket, his eyes darting around the expanse. It was Granger who held the photograph, the picture of the man Mae had sent them to, taken from the man’s house which they’d just visited, frightening the man’s aged mother in the process. She’d handed over the picture, taking it from a frame on the mantle, her eyes still as wide as they’d been when Skinner had introduced himself and flashed his badge.

“My son’s done nothing wrong,” she’d said, her voice heavy Irish and quiet as the grave. She wore a heavy black dress, her hair in a grey bun. The house smelled like bread.

“I’m sure you’re right,” Skinner had said, smiling stiffly, and taken the picture just the same, heading to the church where his mother said her son would be.

Now Skinner stopped in the middle of the cathedral, glanced at the photo in Granger’s hand once again, and looked around. Granger did the same.

Only a few figures remained in the pews, and only one of them a man who looked, from the back, that he might be the right age they were searching for. He was in the second row, in conversation with an elderly priest, their heads bent close together as though they didn’t want anyone else to hear what they were saying.

“That’s got to be him,” Granger said softly, noting the curly black hair above the neck of the navy jacket, hair that matched the picture, that of the smiling man in the center of a group of smiling men.

Skinner nodded, said nothing, and began walking again, Granger falling in behind him.

The priest looked up as they approached and some look Skinner couldn’t quite place passed over the aged man’s face. Whatever it was, it passed quickly, and the man took his leave, the younger man in the pew turning to face them as they approached, coming around the front of the pew, the man following them with his eyes.

He regarded them with a studied, careful expression, his blue eyes bright even in the dim light.

“Conail Rutherford?” Skinner said. He did not remove his hands from his trench coat as he spoke.

“Aye, I’m Rutherford,” the man replied. He eyed Granger. “Can I help you with something?”

Skinner introduced himself, and Granger, noted that Rutherford didn’t flinch at their titles. Then he gave a look around, listening to the hollow sounds of footsteps in the wide open space.

“We’d like to speak to you, if we may. Would you prefer to go somewhere else to do it?”

Rutherford’s gaze didn’t waver. “I’ve got nothing to say I can’t say here,” he said, but he kept his voice pitched soft. His accent was as thick as his mother’s. “In fact, no offense, but I’ve got nothing to say at all.”

“No offense taken,” Skinner said, shaking his head. “But I do think you’ve got something to say.”

“How d’you figure that, Mr. Skinner?” Rutherford said, leaning back and putting his arms across the back of the pew.

Skinner glanced at Granger, who began to speak.

“Mr. Rutherford, are you aware of two recent bombings in the D.C. area?” Granger said, his voice even, non-confrontational.

The other man’s eyes darted from Granger to Skinner and back again.

“Aye,” he said. “Those agents who got killed? That woman?”

“Yes,” Skinner said. “Agent Dana Scully. Does that name mean anything to you, sir?”

Rutherford gnawed on his bottom lip. “No, it doesn’t,” he said.

Skinner was about to say something, but Granger, whom Skinner could see was watching Rutherford as though he were studying a particularly intricate painting in a museum, beat him to it.

“You’re lying, sir,” Granger said, his voice that same even timbre.

Rutherford’s face grew red, as though someone had just smeared him with blush on his pale cheeks. “I like your approach, Mr. Granger,” he said, and there was something low in his voice, angry. “You’ll call me a liar but still call me ‘sir.’ I like that.”

“No offense, of course,” Granger replied, tossing Rutherford’s earlier words back at him. He gave a small smile.

“Right,” Rutherford said, glanced around. “Now if you two will excuse me, my father just passed away a few days ago. I’m here for some solace, not–“

“Mae Curran sent us to you, Mr. Rutherford,” Skinner said, opening the bomb-bay doors and letting it fly.

The bomb hit its target. Rutherford gaped, and his face grew redder.

“I don’t know who you mean,” Rutherford tried, but even he couldn’t seem to muster an ounce of earnestness in the words.

“Let’s cut the bull–” Skinner glanced at the disapproving eyes of a saint in the stained glass on his right, and bit back the word he intended to use. “We know who you are, Mr. Rutherford. And what you do. And who your friends are. There’s no use hiding any of that from us. Or trying to.”

Rutherford looked down at Skinner’s feet, his jaw working.

“And frankly,” Skinner continued. “We don’t give a good god–” He bit off the word again. “We don’t care about any of that. From what we understand, you have never been involved with the operations of the terrorist arm of the IRA, at least not in any direct way that we can implicate you.”

“So what is it you want from me then?” Rutherford said sharply.

“Those bombs, the ones that killed those people in D.C., were from someone connected to the IRA,” Granger said softly.

“Not a chance,” Rutherford said, scoffing. “Not a bloody chance.”

“What makes you say that?” Skinner asked. “How can you be so sure?”

“The IRA doesn’t operate outside of Ireland like that, not that it operates at all anymore. And they’ve got no reason to go after that woman or any of those other people. They don’t do a thing without a reason and a damned good one at that.”

“If you say so,” Skinner said, feeling the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. The words stuck in his craw. He couldn’t help the sardonic tone that came with his reply.

“Don’t be so quick to judge what you don’t know a thing about,” Rutherford said, his voice getting quieter, his teeth clenched.

“I know enough,” Skinner said, unable to help himself.

“How can you be so sure this is IRA?” Rutherford shot back. “It could be anyone–“

“Because whoever it is is trying to kill Mae Curran, too,” Granger interjected calmly, his voice almost like a presence interposing itself between the two men.

Rutherford paused, regarding him. “Then it’s not IRA,” he said. “For certain.”

“What makes you so sure?” Skinner repeated, calmer now.

Rutherford seemed to struggle with himself, then he said, hesitantly: “Because there’s a ‘hands-off’ on her. No one would dare touch her, even if they wanted to, which they *don’t*. And besides. No one even knows she’s alive. We assumed Owen Curran killed her.”

“No,” Skinner said. Time to roll the dice. “We have her. In protective custody. Her and her baby and Owen Curran’s son. Her husband was killed in Australia. By a bomb that Australian authorities say matches the device used in both the bombs used in D.C. to kill Agent Scully.”

Rutherford met his eyes seriously. “Australia?” he said incredulously. “That’s no IRA I know of. Nobody’s got arms that long. And they wouldn’t kill Mae. No one blames her for what she did to Owen. Not a person in Ireland blames her after what he did to the embassy here.” He looked at both of them. “And no one blames that agent who died, either.”

“Someone blames both of them,” Granger said. “Very much.”

Rutherford seemed to consider for a moment, looking down. “I can’t help you find who is doing it,” he said at last. “I don’t know where to start looking for someone who would have that kind of capability. To even find Mae would be close to impossible. She knows how to hide.”

He seemed far away for a moment, in the land of memory. “She always did,” he added, and he sounded somehow sad.

Skinner regarded the man, let out a breath. “Who then?” he asked. “Who can we go to?”

Rutherford balked again, shaking his head.

“Twenty people have died, Mr. Rutherford,” he pressed, speaking softly through his teeth. “Twenty-one counting Mae’s husband. There’s got to be someone we can talk to.”

Granger’s quiet voice filled the space again. “We’re talking about protecting Mae’s life now. Mae and her baby and Sean Curran. That matters to you. I can tell that matters to you.”

Rutherford regarded Granger silently. “Aye,” he said after a beat. “That matters to me.”

Skinner looked at Granger, at the look the two men were giving each other. He was once again reminded of how good Granger was at his job. It was who he was.

“Then give us someone to talk to,” Granger said. “A direction. Anything.”

Skinner watched Rutherford war with himself again. Then finally he spoke.

“John Fagan is the one thing those two had in common besides Owen. And the only thing Owen had in common with them was the IRA, and the IRA wouldn’t do this. So it’s got to be someone connected to John.”

He paused, looked at Skinner. “Word is one of them killed John Fagan,” he ventured. “Is that so?”

“Yes,” Skinner said. “One of them did.”

Rutherford nodded. “The agent? The woman who died?”

Skinner rolled the dice again.

“Yes, Agent Scully killed him.”

It was a lie. The only one he would tell outright.

Rutherford nodded again. “All right,” he said. “I’ll…find a way to let that bit get out. If this person is doing this for John, maybe he’ll stop now, knowing that. Knowing he’s done his job.”

Skinner nodded. It was what he hoped Rutherford would say.

“Where do we go to find this person?” he pressed, trying to be gentle with his probing, following Granger’s lead.

Rutherford looked at the floor. “I don’t know anything about John. He was more slick than Owen, kept everything a secret. Kept even his family a secret. He seemed to just appear in Belfast one day all those years ago. Nobody knew where he came from.”

“Surely there must be *someone* who knows where he came from, who his friends were,” Granger said.

“Have you talked to Ed Renahan?” Rutherford offered.

“Who is that?” Skinner asked, feeling a pulse of adrenaline with getting a name.

“He’s Scotland Yard,” Rutherford said. “Knows everything there is to know about the IRA that the British know. He might know something. Something that even I don’t know. And he’s got…contacts in the IRA. Ones I definitely don’t know. Or want to know. He might be a good place for you start.”

Skinner nodded, looked at Granger, who nodded back, agreeing with him silently. They’d gotten all they were going to get.

“Thank you for your help, Mr. Rutherford,” Skinner said, jamming his hands in his pockets, as though he could already feel the cold outside.

“And we’re sorry for your loss,” Granger said, nodding to the black armband pinned to Rutherford’s jacket. He handed the man the picture from his mother’s house, which Rutherford took.

“Thank you,” Rutherford said. “Give Mae…my best. And do what you can to care for her. I’ll see what I can get around.”

“We will,” Skinner said. “Thank you.”

He wished Rutherford a good day and turned, heading back around to the front of the altar, the priest still there like a sentinel, watching he and Granger go back up the main aisle and back out into the sunlight.

+++

HIGHWAY 371 OUTSIDE FARMINGTON, NEW MEXICO 12:33 p.m.

It all felt so familiar — the sand of the desert and the dark shapes of the mountains in the distance, the scrubby trees and brush streaming by the window, the dull winter sky the color of slate. A storm was coming in from the north, the sun coming through in brilliant rays and piercing down onto the landscape below in wide white bars of light.

Mulder had found a station that played something besides country music, oldies from the fifties coming through, “The Great Pretender.” Scully shifted in the passenger seat of the minivan, being mindful of her battered side, and glanced over at Mulder in the driver’s seat, both his hands on the steering wheel as if he needed his grip to keep the car’s wheels on the road.

In a gauzy haze of memory, she saw him there beside her, a beard on his face, her own gaunt reflection in the distorted curve of his sunglasses.

Another time, she reminded herself, sitting up a little straighter still and forcing herself into the present.

Her hand went to her belly, the soft roundness of it beneath her navel, as the baby fluttered with the movement. She rubbed softly against the cotton of her top, the first piece of maternity clothes she’d purchased, a deep green pullover that bagged a bit around her middle, making room.

She craned her neck to look into the back seats. Katherine was chattering in the far back seat from the carseat they’d secured from the rental agency, oblivious to the tension of the other members of the car. Sean sat beside her, Katherine patting his upper arm with her hand and Sean ignoring her, his eyes out the window and his face a slate. He held an action figure in his hand, but only because Mae had handed it to him. He would do anything he was told.

Mae met Scully’s eyes for a beat as she looked in her direction, and Mae forced a tense smile, just a curl of her lips, as though she meant to reassure Scully of something. Scully returned the gesture, but she knew the smiles did nothing to comfort either of them.

In the middle seat, Tunes Music sat, Bo curled up beside him, the agent’s eyes guarded by sunglasses despite the gloom outside. He was chewing a piece of gum, and blew a small bubble quickly, a nervous habit. He nodded to Scully, and she did feel somewhat reassured by his presence, as though he were the close of the parentheses that started with she and Mulder. He’d volunteered for the duty to be in charge of Mae’s custody and a contact person for the Counterterrorism Unit. A man with no family of his own, he’d jumped at the chance to be so close to the action on the case.

She faced forward again, Mulder glancing at her and asking the ubiquitous question with his hazel eyes. She answered it with her own, and then turned her attention to the road, the straight line of it, the pavement a battered white and grey split by a broken line.

She’d slept some on the plane, the government jet that Rosen had secured for their transport, and she felt reasonably rested, though her mind was heavy with a worry so extreme is was almost like a kind of grief.

Mulder turned onto a smaller highway, this one a two-lane, and a sign indicated that they were entering the Navajo reservation, a gas station right on the non-reservation side of the line and advertising with huge signs that it sold beer. They kept driving, nothing around them, hardly even other cars, and those that they did see pickup trucks with people riding, bundled, in the back, many of them children with hair the color of coal.

It wasn’t long before they turned down an even smaller rural route and then Mulder was slowing at a long dirt driveway, turning, and the trailer was off in the distance, smoke coming idly from the steel pipe chimney and drifting in the cool air.

Two figures were on the porch, and they both stood as the minivan came up in front of the house and came to a stop. One, the younger of the two, was smiling amiably, his hands jammed in his jeans jacket pocket. Victor Hosteen, his hair shorter than she remembered it and his eyes just as bright.

And beside him, looking thinner in a heavy plaid flannel jacket and worn jeans, his silver hair draped around his shoulders, was Albert Hosteen. He was looking directly at her and standing very still, though Victor came forward as the passengers in the car all made moves to get out, Music pulling the heavy sliding side door open and stepping out with Bo.

Victor had gone to Mulder’s window, his smile even wider now as Mulder opened the door, the younger man standing in the gap of the door.

“Hey, Mulder,” he said, reaching in and slapping Mulder on the shoulder. “You look like hell, man! Your face!”

Scully had been looking at the deep scratches and bruises on Mulder’s face for so long now that she hadn’t even noticed them anymore. It made her painfully aware of how her own face would look to Hosteen, bruised as it was, the cut on her forehead uncovered now but still angry and red.

“Thanks, Victor,” Mulder grumbled. “It’s good to see you, too.”

Victor laughed, and Mulder got out.

Scully was still looking at Albert Hosteen, and he at her, through the window. She tried to smile, but couldn’t. Hosteen seemed to see it, his lip curling slightly, and he nodded to her. She opened the door and got out, easing herself down from the van slowly, holding her side. She moved like an old woman, but she couldn’t help the lingering pain, the stiffness of the travelling.

Now Albert did come forward, stopped a few feet from her, and she looked up at him.

“Hello, Mr. Hosteen,” she said softly, her voice barely there. Something about seeing him choked her, emotion rising. She glanced away from his intense gaze as she saw him taking her in, his head cocking to the side.

“Agent Scully,” he said just as quietly.

There was a beat of silence between them, Mae coming out of the van holding Katherine, Sean close behind her. Mulder and Victor were talking on the other side of the car, and Victor was laughing. Something about Bo, who had joined them with Music, and something about horses.

Scully looked back at Hosteen, and her hand came up to touch her forehead. “I look bad, I know,” she said.

He huffed a small laugh. “For someone dead, you look very good,” he replied, amusement in his voice. She saw his eyes dart to her middle, to the obvious protrusion there. “And I told you that I saw you with a child.”

Her hand went to cover her belly as though she meant to hide it. “Yes,” she said, and a tiny smile spread on her lips. “You did, didn’t you?”

Mae came and stood beside her, Katherine reaching toward Hosteen with one hand, and Sean beside her. Sean was gaping up at Albert as though the elderly man had just stepped off a spacecraft. Which, Scully supposed, to Sean, he might as well have.

“Mr. Hosteen, this is Mae Porter, her daughter Katherine, and her nephew Sean.”

Hosteen reached a hand out and took Katherine’s, rubbing his thumb along the back of her hand.

“Mr. Hosteen,” Mae said. “A pleasure to meet you. I don’t know how to thank you for your help by giving us a place to stay.”

Hosteen took her in, studying her. “Plenty of room,” he said simply with a kind smile, repeating the words Scully knew he’d said to Mulder. “A friend of friends is always welcome.”

Now Albert turned to Sean, and Scully saw his brow crease down as he looked at him, at the hollow look in Sean’s eyes. Sean looked a little afraid as Albert reached out and put a hand on his head.

“Hello,” Hosteen said, and Sean did not reply, but his eyes grew a bit more wide. Albert only smiled.

The front door to the trailer opened with a creak and a woman came out, a young Navajo woman dressed similarly to Albert, swallowed up in flannel and sweatpants. She had long black hair, her face dark and full. Her eyes were set deep in her face, and as black as her hair. Scully guessed she was about 20, if that.

Albert turned to face her as she came forward, an enigmatic smile on her face.

“This is Sara,” he said as she stopped beside him. “Sara Whistler.”

Scully’s eyes darted to Hosteen uncertainly at this stranger’s presence among them, but Albert nodded toward Victor. “She is with Victor. She will be here from time to time.”

Scully relaxed some at that, nodded, and Mae reached out and shook her hand, Sara saying nothing, that same strange smile on her face.

Then Sara looked at Scully, taking in her face, the bruising, the cuts, her brow coming down for an instant. Then she saw Scully’s hand on her belly.

She reached out, and much to Scully surprise, she placed her warm hand on top of Scully’s over the baby, stroking Scully’s shirt with her fingers.

“A girl,” Sara said, and her smile grew wider. “A healthy girl.”

Scully’s eyes widened, and she drew her hand away without meaning to.

Albert laughed, chuffing softly.

“Come,” he said, nodding toward the ramshackle trailer. “We have been cooking. You all should eat.”

And he turned and went toward the house, Sara following with Mae and Katherine and Sean, though Mae exchanged a nervous look with Scully as she went.

Scully stood there for a few seconds, Mulder coming around the front of the van with Victor and Music, Mulder holding Bo’s leash. Mulder looked at her, the smile he’d shared with Victor melting off his face as he saw her hesitate.

“You okay?” he asked, and Music and Victor looked at her, as well, stopping on their way to the house.

Scully pulled herself up, shaking her surprise and the strange feeling of vulnerability and exposure off as best she could.

“I’m fine,” she said softly, and she reached for his outstretched hand as he urged her forward and into the house.

**

2:32 p.m.

The meal was excellent, if not the healthiest in the world — fry bread, chicken, cole slaw bathed in mayonnaise. Everyone ate, even Scully, who did not feel up to eating much, her stomach unsettled from hormones and travel. She’d managed a wing, a dab of the cole slaw, and Albert’s wonderful bread had helped to settle everything down.

Victor had done most of the talking, engaging Mulder with stories about the horses, talking about basketball, which he’d apparently started watching. Music joined in with vigor, his elbows on the table as he ate a leg.

There weren’t enough seats at the table, all the chairs full, Katherine toddling on the floor around everyone’s legs. Hosteen stood at the counter, eating quietly, watching everyone with a small smile on his face, as though the sight of all of them in his kitchen pleased him somehow. Every once in a while Scully would see him look her way, as though checking the progress of her meal. He spent a good bit of time watching Sean, as well, who was staring down at his plate, eating only when Mae asked him to in a quiet voice.

“… And UNC–” Victor began.

“Oh, don’t talk to me about the Tarheels,” Music interrupted, waving his hand, making Victor laugh.

“Come on, man!” he said jovially, and Music continued his protest.

Scully appreciated the two men’s ease — it all felt normal in a way things had not for some time. No talk of bombs or death. Nothing more important to them at that moment than March Madness and the Final Four.

She could tell from Hosteen’s face as she caught him looking at her again that the rest was on his mind, though. Mulder had told him a lot on the phone from the hospital, and it was showing on his face.

Not yet, she said to him with her eyes. She needed time. They all did.

Hosteen nodded, drew in a breath and let it out, reaching for his coffee.

She looked down at her plate, the remnants of her food, then up at Katherine, who was moving away from the table, stumbling across the floor.

Scully froze.

(A tiny hand on the silver handle, reaching up…)

“Mulder,” she said, urgent.

Mulder looked over at her, Tunes and Victor arguing about Duke now, Tunes’ favorite topic. Mulder’s brow furrowed.

“What is it?” he asked. Mae was getting another piece of chicken for Sean, talking to him, Sara at the refrigerator getting more tea.

Scully looked at him. “Get Katherine.”

Mulder looked over at the baby, who’d stopped to pick up a napkin on the floor. “She’s fine, Scully,” he said, confused.

(The skillet tipping, grease the color of amber…)

“GET HER NOW!” she snapped, starting to rise, but her ribs slowed her. The room was stunned into silence, Mae coming up, as well.

Katherine had reached the stove, her hand reaching for the shine of the handle, metal on metal as the skillet slid–

Mulder was up in an instant, stepping over Bo quickly. Two long strides and he’d grabbed the baby, pulling her out of the way as the skillet flipped and grease rained down on the floor with a clatter and a hiss. Katherine began to cry in surprise at being jerked so hard into Mulder’s arms.

“Jesus!” Mae cried, coming around to get the baby from Mulder, who was checking her to make sure no grease had gotten on her exposed skin. He handed the screaming baby over to her mother, looking at Scully.

“She’s okay,” he offered, nodding. “She’s all right.”

The room had gone still and quiet except for the baby’s cries. Everyone was looking at Scully, all of them looking surprised.

Even Albert looked surprised, looking from the baby and the skillet to Scully and back again.

“How did you…?” Mae began, rubbing the baby’s back to calm her.

Scully pushed off from the table, rubbing at the cut on her forehead, her hand shaking slightly, her breathing a bit uneven with the waning of her terror at what she’d seen.

She didn’t answer Mae. She felt ashamed. All the eyes on her, everyone still, looking at her in confusion and something like fear.

“I’m sorry,” she said softly, her hand still on her forehead. “I’m…” She glanced at Mulder. “I’m going to get some air.”

He nodded, looked at the others in the room.

Scully chanced a look at Hosteen, who leaned back on the counter, crossed his arms over his chest, and nodded to her, making a small affirmative sound in his throat as his eyes bore into hers. Something knowing in his gaze.

The feeling of exposure returning, Scully turned and hurried from the room.

+++

CHAPTER 7.

+++

TWO GREY HILLS, NEW MEXICO MARCH 15 (ONE WEEK LATER) 5:34 a.m.

The sky on the horizon was the color of fire, the contrast of the darkness fighting with the light so distinct that Mulder could not help but focus on the place where the two seemed to meet, blended a milky blue, a few stars still peering out from behind the night’s thick lid. The sun was a semi-circle of brightness bleeding across the desert, turning the mountains around them into dark shapes throwing darker shadows, everything around him washed in silence.

His feet were on the cold floor, his elbows on his knees and his hands folded in front of him. He was perched on the edge of the bed as if to rise, but he hadn’t moved for what felt like hours now, his bare chest and legs feeling so cold he was almost numb with it. His flannel boxers did little to chase away the chill of morning in the desert, the ground so bare it held nothing like warmth, the walls of the trailer they slept in thin and seeming to make the room even colder, the air still.

But there was warmth behind him, Scully on her side facing him, her hair spread out on the pillow behind her, her hands half-hidden in the sleeves of a faded Maryland sweatshirt, so old the red was almost pink. One socked foot protruded from beneath the many covers, quilts on top of quilts on top of worn sheets.

She had rolled towards him when he’d awoken well before dawn and sat up, but had not moved since, only the soft rising and falling of her chest, one of her hands on his pillow, clutching softly at the mismatched pillowcase.

The room was simple — a large window with the drapes half opened, the bed made for two. A dresser that looked like it was meant for a child’s clothes, a drawer-pull missing from the middle. A small table with a lamp beside the bed. A braided rug that used to be green, on which Bo lay on his side, still as a stone.

As the sun turned now to a wide bar of light coming in through the window, Mulder looked out over the expanse of ground behind the house, into the sky, watched a hawk circle lazily on the updrafts, looking like it was riding the streams of light.

He watched the wings, wide and dark. He watched the ribbons of cloud above them, moving slowly across the openess of the sky, and he swore he could feel the room growing smaller around him, trapping him there in the quiet.

Nowhere.

That was the word Skinner had used to describe where they were going. Nowhere.

“This guy Renahan is some kind of nutjob,” Skinner had said on the phone two nights before, his words low as a growl with his frustration. “I called Scotland Yard and he’s on some kind of extended leave — medical reasons. They wouldn’t tell me more. Said they weren’t giving out his number or putting me in contact with him.”

“They can’t do that,” Mulder had protested over the sounds of the television, Hosteen watching some show about whales, everything on the screen a bright blue. Scully was watching Mulder from her seat in the corner, her brows furrowing at his tone and his words.

“I’m getting Rosen involved. I’m going to leave footprints on somebody’s scalp on the way to doing it, too. It’s the only lead we’ve got at this point. Granger’s beat every bush with Kucinski and Anderson from Counterterrorism, and there is exactly *shit* about John Fagan in those files. The sonofabitch could have hatched for all we know. Nothing. About the only thing we can figure is that Fagan’s not his real name, and we can’t trace an alias from before he got together with Curran in the early nineties. No history. No criminal records. No nothing. He was just suddenly THERE.”

“I’ve asked Mae everything she knows about him,” Mulder replied, stepping into the quieter hallway that led to the bedroom he and Scully shared in the house, on the opposite end of the house from Hosteen’s. “He never talked about his past. She can’t remember him ever talking about any sort of family or even any friends. She just keeps saying: ‘Owen would have known.'”

“Well, a fat lot of good that does us,” Skinner gruffed. “Has she said anything that might be of any help?”

Mulder sighed in frustration. “It’s hard to get her to talk,” he said. “She’s not exactly keeping things from us, but she’s not exactly singing either.”

“Keep working on her,” Skinner replied. “We’ll see what Rosen can do with this guy Renahan. Whatever the hell his deal his. He might be in a rubber room for all we know, but we don’t have any choice right now but to keep after him. I’ll be in touch.”

We don’t have any choice…

Mulder watched the hawk do a few more circles in the sky, still as a kite.

He thought of wings.

Then he felt a warm hand on his back, right over the long raised scar near his side, the remnants of the surgery to save his life the last time he’d come to the desert, running and hiding. The skin still felt overly sensitive where Scully’s fingers were tracing, stroking the scar, the puckered skin.

His eyes dropped to the ragged circle of the exit wound on his belly, the scar around it. His body was like a relief map of rough terrain.

“Talk to me,” came her whisper, and he turned his head to look at her. She hadn’t moved, her hair still a lovely blanket of red on the pillow, but her blue eyes were open. Her cross was tangled in its chain at her throat.

He said nothing, but he did move.

Leaning over her, his arms going on either side of her body, he touched his mouth to hers, her face turning up to meet him. Her lips were as soft as they’d looked as she’d spoken, as soft as her voice had been, and he pressed himself closer down toward her, seeking out that feeling, the warmth. Her hands slid up beneath his arms, her fingers on the juts of his shoulder blades.

Their tongues met and she turned on her back slowly, her nails grazing him with the contact. A breath escaped her as they parted, and she drew another in, her hand going to his face, tracing his lips.

He asked the question with his eyes, and in answer she reached beneath the covers and began to pull at her sweatshirt, drawing it up, rising slightly as she did so.

Bare belly, bare breasts, nipples tight with arousal and chill and the color of plums. A storm of bruises on her side.

He peeled the covers back and reached for the rest of her clothes, standing to slide them from her body.

In a moment, she lay open as a land surrendering, the small mound of her belly like a world, round beneath his kisses.

He held his daughter between his hands as he slid his tongue beneath Scully’s navel, moving down between her legs.

He spoke to her then without words, rough skin of his cheek against her thighs. He knew she heard everything, her hand stroking his hair, then clenching, his whispered name and the softest moans from her lips like the songs of doves.

He answered with his tongue and fingers and breath, hard. Achingly alive.

In a while, she seemed to rise on a great breath, a soft cry caught in her palm, and then she was fluttering inside. As though she were filled with wings.

His cheek against her belly, he breathed, breathed her in. She smelled rich. Of earth and desire.

Then, moving carefully, he slipped out of his boxers, and, balancing on his hands on either side of her head, poised on his knees, he was inside her, and he wasn’t cold anymore.

He watched her face as he moved, her eyes wide and on his, her lip caught between her teeth, her hands on his chest, smoothing down his sides, his hips, clenching as his muscles clenched, pushing into her, pushing him out of himself.

The room flooded with amber light, warm across the bed, pooling in her hair. It was so bright he closed his eyes, against it and against a pleasure so complete it was almost like pain.

His face twisted with it, his mouth coming open, and her hand covered his lips.

“Shhhh….” she whispered.

He swallowed the sound rising in him, his body pulsing, then growing still, except for his chest, rising and falling hard beneath her other hand.

Moving beside her, he lay facing her, her hands cradling his face. Her eyes were sleepy and sated, and there was a small smile on her face.

Their lips moved over the other’s and she drowsed in his arms, her eyes half-hidden after awhile, her body growing more limp beneath his hands. He rubbed his cheek against hers, kissed the soft skin beneath her eyes.

The baby was pressed between them, and his hand moved to cup the curve, his thumb stroking the bump of Scully’s navel.

He remembered the things she’d told him. The things he’d seen.

The head of dark hair, tiny body in Scully’s arms…

A little girl’s head on his chest, his fingers playing in a long braid…

Then his face darkened, the smile melting from his face.

Glass shattering, siren wails…

A face hidden in shadows, except for the eyes.

Watching. Waiting.

Bodies on fire.

He watched Scully’s face, watched her beginning to drift, her breathing deep.

“Sleep,” he whispered.

She made a small sound of assent, and he pulled the covers back over her, over the white of her shoulder to the creamy skin of her throat. She didn’t move as he slipped from the bed.

He stood and stretched, letting the light play over his body for a long moment as he stared out onto the desert, back up into the sky.

The hawk was gone, nothing above him but a blue so faint it was almost white.

He grabbed his robe and headed for the shower. He did not stay in long, his head bowed beneath the spray, the water only lukewarm.

After, Bo stirred, looked up at him with his obsidian eyes as he entered the room. His tail thumped the floor once, twice.

Mulder reached in the top drawer for boxers, for his jeans on the dresser, a plain white T-shirt. A pair of socks and his brown boots. Beside the door, a jeans jacket lined with white fleece that he slipped into, moving in silence.

He tapped his thigh and Bo rose, going to him, looking up expectantly.

Then he and the dog were out the door, moving down the hallway, through the empty kitchen, the living room, and through the front door, the screen door creaking closed behind him.

He stopped just off the porch, his hands in his pockets.

Move. He needed to move. It didn’t matter where.

Nowhere. Nowhere to go.

Turning, he followed the worn path around the side of the house, out into the barren backyard. There was a small wind, and it followed him and Bo out into the desert beyond the quiet house.

**

Pushing back the curtains on his window, Albert Hosteen watched Mulder and the dog disappearing down the path, both their heads down. At the edge of the boundary of the yard, Mulder stopped, did a full circle, his eyes on the house.

Hosteen watched the look that crossed over the other man’s face, the way his face dropped, the shake of his head, saying “no.”

To everything.

Then Mulder turned and seemed the survey the mountains in the distance for a long moment, Bo sitting beside him, waiting.

Hosteen watched him, standing still.

Finally Mulder started walking again, heading down the trail until he and the dog disappeared from sight.

Hosteen let the drapes fall closed again, drew in a breath and let it out, thinking.

After a moment, he nodded to himself, coming to some decision. Then he turned and began to dress.

*****

8:07 a.m.

Scully awoke to sunlight flooding the room, naked beneath the covers, a warm cocoon she lay within made warmer by the morning sun. She reached across the bed, felt the empty space beside her, and opened her eyes onto the room around her.

Mulder gone, and Bo gone, and she could tell from the light that it was still early.

She remembered waking and seeing him sitting on the bed beside her, recognized from the curve of his back, his head bowed, that he had been deep in thought, and awake for awhile. He hadn’t been sleeping well since the second or third day they’d arrived, and she had not been surprised to find him poised on the bed like that.

Something was troubling him. More than just the situation they were in. Something he wouldn’t speak about or name.

She turned on her back, stared up at the ceiling, and pushed the thoughts, the suspicions she had, away. She couldn’t think about that now. She wouldn’t.

So she rose, fumbled on her robe that hung on a hook on the back of the door beside his, and went out the door into the hallway, the heavy smell of things cooking washing over her, the sound of bumping in the kitchen, the elegant, soft sounds of Navajo coming down the hallway. Albert Hosteen laughed quietly over something another voice – – a woman’s voice she recognized as Sara Whistler’s — had said. The sound of the different language informed her the two were alone in the room.

A shower of tepid water, her hands smoothing over her belly in a lather of soap. The baby shifted inside her and she kept her hand there as she rinsed her hair.

She took a long time drying her hair, putting herself together. She had tried to keep her morning routine as close to what she did at home as possible, struggling for a sense of normalcy, hoping it would rub onto everything else if she did so. She could pretend she was simply visiting a friend, instead of what she was actually doing, if she kept to her routine.

Or so she hoped. It wasn’t actually working.

By the time she emerged from her room, dressed in a brown shirt that buttoned up the front, its tails large enough to go over her belly — which seemed to be growing inches by the day now — a pair of maternity jeans that actually didn’t look so bad, her brown boots, she heard a baby’s laugh from the kitchen, and she knew that Mae had joined them for breakfast.

“Good morning,” she said to them all as she came into the room, her eyes taking in the space, looking for Mulder, who was not there. Bo was still gone, as well. Mae smiled up at her, though there were dark circles beneath her eyes and she looked care-worn, Katherine standing on her lap and bouncing on her legs. Sean sat beside her, dutifully eating the food that had been put in front of him, his eyes down.

Whistler stood at the stove, making pancakes, swallowed in an overgrown sweatshirt and a pair of jeans that were too large for her, her long black hair tied back in a pony tail. The young woman always looked like she were wearing someone else’s clothing, someone much larger than her tiny form. She was humming something softly to herself in a very pleasant voice, though the song was filled with minor notes. She smiled to Scully as Scully went to the counter and picked up a plate off the mismatched stack, and helped herself to a couple of the large, golden cakes, thanking Whistler as she did so.

Hosteen himself stood beside the open window on the other side of the small room, his pipe in the corner of his mouth, a thin stream of bluish smoke leaking out into the open window. His eyes were on Scully, his lip curling around the pipe. She forced a wan smile back.

“I bought fruit for you,” Hosteen said. “Oranges.” He nodded toward the refrigerator.

“Thank you,” Scully said again, and she went to the refrigerator and drew out a fat navel orange, placing it on her plate beside the two pancakes. “You shouldn’t have gone to all that trouble. They can’t be easy to get here.”

“No trouble,” Hosteen said, taking another pull on his pipe. “Mr. Skinner sent a check. I went to the store this morning. I keep seeing these commercials on television about pregnant women and oranges, orange juice. Not sure what it means, but television cannot lie, you know.” He winked.

Scully chuffed. “No, never,” she said, and she sat beside Mae and Katherine, reached for the syrup on the table, for a plastic tumbler. She filled the cup with milk. “But in this case, television is right.” She began to eat, looking at Mae.

Mae’s curly black hair looked frazzled, strands of it refusing its ponytail. Katherine reached out a hand toward Scully and said, quite clearly, the word “red.”

“Are you sleeping at all?” Scully asked Mae, touching Katherine’s hand.

Mae shrugged. “Not much,” she said quietly, as though she didn’t want Hosteen to hear her.

“The baby?” Scully pressed, taking another bite of pancake.

Mae shook her head. “No…she sleeps through the night,” she said softly. “I..” She looked down. “I just have a lot on my mind right now.”

Scully nodded. She knew how conflicted Mae was, knew that the other woman was aware of the precariousness of her situation, the things she needed to say but was keeping hidden. Scully had had to keep Mulder from pushing her too hard, knowing that Mae would have to come to things she needed to say in her own time.

The time was coming, though. Scully could see the fissures starting in Mae’s hard exterior.

The same way she could see them cracking her own. Hiding would do that to a person, being in danger and knowing there was little you could do to help the situation would do it.

Only Mae *could* help it. And Scully knew that Mae was aware of that.

“Is there something you want to tell me?” Scully asked quietly, trying not to sound as urgent as she felt at the notion of new information. She reached for the orange, sunk her thumbnail into the skin and the air in front of her filled with its sweet smell.

Mae hesitated, put Katherine down the floor, where the baby, holding a tiny wedge of pancake, began to toddle over toward Hosteen, who was watching the two women at the table. Whistler continued her humming, placed another pancake on the plate and poured another, seemingly oblivious to the rest of the room.

Mae looked at Scully now. She spoke in halting, short sentences.

“There’s a man. Eamon. I don’t know his last name. I was never told it. He had a lot of dealings with Owen. And with John. John didn’t trust him, but Owen did. He was a custom’s officer and he used his position to scout out targets for us. He went to jail, though. I don’t know if he’s out or not. They didn’t get him for killing anyone. Just for conspiring. He was careful not to have anything too close to him. Kept clear of most of the trouble. When Owen split the Path off, Eamon stayed with the IRA. Owen was very disappointed he didn’t come with us. He was quite useful. Smart. Very dedicated.”

“How do you think he can help us?” Scully asked, though she was thrilled to get a name.

Mae shrugged. “He knew everyone in that area. He knew John. He coordinated a lot of things. I just wondered if he might be a good place to start. I’m willing to bet this man, Renahan, knows of him since he was arrested. He might have a way in to talk to him.”

Scully nodded. “Did you tell any of this to Agent Music yet?” she asked.

She wasn’t surprised when Mae shook her head. Mae seemed more comfortable talking to her than anyone else, even Mulder. There was still tension between the two of them, still that sense of blame from Mulder when the two of them were together. She wished Mulder could help it, but she knew that right now he couldn’t.

“I’ll tell Mulder,” Scully said. “And he can talk to Agent Music and A.D. Skinner about it.”

Sean had finished his meal, and sat there, looking down at his plate. Scully looked at him, then up at Hosteen, who was watching the boy.

“Where is Mulder?” she asked, trying to sound nonchalant about it, tearing off a wedge of orange, and putting it into her mouth.

“He went out early,” Hosteen said, smoke coming with the words. Hosteen looked at the end of his pipe, then back up at Scully. “Seemed to have something on his mind when he left.”

Scully looked down. “He’s just worried,” she said. “He’s adjusting.”

Whistler turned to Hosteen, said something in Navajo, and Hosteen nodded, and said something back, which clearly cut Whistler’s line of thinking off. He put up a hand to silence her.

“He needed to leave,” Hosteen said. “That feeling will stay. He will not adjust to it.”

Scully looked up at him, feeling color rise in her face. What she had been thinking that morning as she’d stared up at the ceiling, Hosteen now voiced.

“He’s fine,” she said, like a knee-jerk. “Mulder’s fine.”

But Hosteen shook his head, his eyes boring into hers. Then he returned his attention to Sean, brushing Scully’s concerns away.

“Sean and I are going to go down and visit the horses,” he said, leaning up, and Sean’s head shot around to Hosteen, his eyes wide. He still didn’t speak, but Scully could tell he wanted to.

“Come with me,” Hosteen said softly, reaching his hand out.

Sean looked to Mae, as if hoping for rescue, but Mae was looking at Hosteen.

“Go with him, Sean,” she said softly. “Go see the horses.”

Sean hesitated again, but Hosteen stood still, his hand out.

“A surprise,” he said, and winked at Sean. “Come with me.”

Mae put a hand on the boy’s shoulder, urging him up, and Sean got up and slowly followed Hosteen out of the kitchen. He did not take the older man’s hand, and Hosteen did not seem to mind.

Once they were gone, Scully kept turning over Hosteen’s words about Mulder in her mind as they gnawed at her. She kept returning to her own words to comfort herself.

Mulder’s fine…

The kettle whistled and Sara got it off the burner, poured it into a mug sitting by the sink. A strong smell of mint and herbs filled the room. It was not an entirely pleasant smell.

Then she was bringing the mug to Scully, setting it in front of her as she sat across from her, that same knowing smile on her face.

“Drink,” she said simply, nodding toward the mug.

“What is it?” Scully asked, eyeing the other woman and the mug.

“All the pregnant women here drink this. At least twice a week. Good for the baby.”

Scully looked down at the dark liquid. Bits of leaves floated in it like ash.

“No, thank you,” Scully said as politely as she could.

“Smells like a boot,” Mae said from beside her, and Whistler laughed.

“Bad smell, yes,” Sara said. “Bad taste, too. But good for the baby.”

Scully wasn’t up for a fight, not with Hosteen’s strange words swirling in her mind, swirling with her own niggling worries, the strangeness of the place.

“What’s in it?” she tried, and Whistler only smiled at her.

“Trust,” she said, and pushed the mug a little closer to Scully. “No one will hurt you or your baby here.”

Scully looked at Whistler, at that enigmatic smile.

Trust….

She did trust these people. Hosteen would not let anyone harm her here. Not even the odd woman in front of her.

With one final look at Mae, who was looking bemused, Scully reached for the mug and began to drink.

+++

29 COOKE STREET ISLINGTON LONDON, ENGLAND 1:33 p.m.

Beneath the window, people from all walks of life milled along the streets, cars clogging the roadway, cabs and minis and buses, a buzz of activity everywhere, the sounds of laughter filtering through the thin glass. Light shone in, illuminating the dust in the heavy air, swirling in the sunlight.

Beneath the window, a desk. A trail of cigarette smoke that curled up into the brightness. The room was thick with it, and it hung in the air like ghosts.

Over the noise of the street, two women laughing two stories down, the sound of scissors, and the rustling of newspaper. Methodical, slow sounds of cutting. The hand that held the scissors trembled slightly, trying to make a straight line along the edges of the article, around the picture, already going yellow from sitting on the desk in the sunlight.

Beside the newspapers, a highball glass filled with scotch, the ice melting. The room smelled like the strong liquid, like the smoke, the stale smells of a pub.

The man holding the scissors finished cutting around the picture that accompanied the article, the picture of another man, heavily bandaged, holding a handful of tiny roses against his face. The man in the picture’s visible eye was clenched closed, a blanket of flowers obscuring most the rest of the his body. A blanket on the dark shape of a coffin.

The man put the scissors down, held the article up, read the headline for the hundredth time.

“No Leads in the Death of FBI Agent in Washington D.C. Car Bombing.”

The man did not read the article itself again. At this point, he had it memorized. Instead, he lay the article down and picked up his glass, taking a long swallow of the amber whiskey, enjoying the burn down his throat. The feeling reminded him he was alive at all.

He pushed his long hair from his face, ran a hand over his dark, too- long beard. He took a drag off the cigarette, and breathed out into the cool, stale air.

The phone sat beside him on the desk. He took one long look at the picture of the man again, at the tiny lines of text beneath it. Then, seeming to come to some decision, he picked up the phone and dialed a number from memory.

“Scotland Yard,” a woman’s voice said. “Your extension?”

“Simon Davis,” the man said, his voice sounding hoarse and overused. Though he had not, in fact, spoken for what felt like days.

“Connecting you now,” the prim voice replied, and there was a click.

The man waited, nursing his scotch and his cigarette in equal turns. Then the line was picked up, and Simon Davis said his name.

“Simon,” the man said. “Been a long time.”

A beat of silence, then: “A surprise hearing from you, Ed. How are you? What have you been up to?”

“Well enough,” the man said, responding to the first question. To the second he said: “Going to the country house, foxhunting. The usual fare.”

Davis barely managed a laugh, but it sounded forced. “Yeah, that would be you,” he said. A pause. “You’re calling for a reason. This can’t be just to chat, after all this time.”

The man pushed his hair back again, leaned forward, his eyes on the wall in front of him. “It’s beginning again.”

Another pause from Davis. “I don’t know what you mean,” he evaded, and it was so clearly a dodge that the man smiled.

“Been reading the paper,” he said. “I’m sure you have been, too. And I’d wager a guess that there’s been a call for me. Am I right?”

“You’re drunk,” Davis said by way of answer. “You’re even slurring. I see some things haven’t changed.”

“Am I *right*?” the man enunciated carefully, keeping his voice level.

“You’re right,” Davis said after a beat. “The FBI.”

“And you didn’t give my number,” the man stated. “You shouldn’t have done that.”

“Ed, we all decided a long time ago it was time for this to stop for you. You decided yourself it was time to stop. That’s why you let things go the way you did. That’s why you went. And all that’s over now anyway. They’ve got the wrong idea. Wrong people.”

“No, they don’t,” He heard the slur himself this time, though he didn’t put the glass down. “The Americans have got the right idea.” He paused, looking at the wall. “It’s starting all over again.”

A shifting, as though Davis had switched ears. “Ed, no one’s going to believe you. Not with how you left. You shouldn’t be involved anymore. You have to know that.”

“NO one knows these people the way I do. NO one.” His voice rose. “Don’t bloody well tell me you don’t believe that.”

“No, you’re right,” Davis said. “No one does. But you’ve had enough. You had enough 10 years ago, and you kept on. Time to lay it down. Quit reading the paper. It doesn’t concern you anymore.”

The man considered this for a long moment, his eyes still on the wall.

“Call him back and give him my number,” he said.

“Ed–“

“Call him, Simon.” He had grown very still, and the silence that followed stilled him even more.

“You want your crusade?” Davis said, his voice a cross between exasperation and sadness. “All right then. I’ll call them. I just hope you know what you’re doing, getting back into this. I hope you’re up for it.”

And Davis hung up.

Ed Renahan sat back in the chair, its springs squeaking in protest at the movement, and lay the phone down on its cradle, his eyes scanning the wall.

It was layered with photographs, with newspaper clippings. Dozens of them neatly pinned and yellowing in the light. Pictures of bodies, pictures of men.

At the center, he looked into the face of one man in particular, staring at the camera with his blue eyes, a scar down his face. Owen Curran, aware even at the moment the clandestine photo was taken he was being watched.

Renahan stared into the face for a long moment, sipped from his glass. His cigarette had long since burned to ash.

Finally he stood, picked up two gold pins from the pile on the corner of the desk. He reached the clipping of the man and the flowers, lifting it carefully, though he staggered a bit as he leaned forward.

He pinned the clipping carefully on the wall beside Owen Curran’s picture, said the name from the caption in his mind, trying it on for size as he drained his glass, the ice cubes tinkling.

Fox Mulder…

So strange.

Renahan surveyed the clippings, staring into this man Mulder’s face, settling on it.

He poured himself another drink.

+++

TWO GREY HILLS, NEW MEXICO 9:16 a.m.

The two had walked in silence the entire mile to Victor Hosteen’s ranch, Sean trailing slightly behind Albert Hosteen, though the old man had slowed several times to allow the boy to catch up so that they ended up, at times, walking side by side.

Hosteen noted that Sean kept his eyes on the ground, his hands jammed in the pockets of the jacket that Mulder had just bought him at the Target in Farmington a few days before, the boy and his aunt and the baby seeming to have few belongings of their own, and nothing for the cold mornings in the desert here in early spring. Mulder had bought Sean an Arizona Cardinal’s jacket, a gaudy shock of red on white, but it looked warm enough, and Hosteen was pleased by this.

Hosteen kept his face forward, but he caught Sean looking up at him from time to time out of the corner of his eye, but he didn’t look directly back. He didn’t want to frighten him any more than he had to, and Sean was clearly already afraid of him. This troubled Hosteen, but did not surprise him.

He’d spent several afternoons on the porch this week in his chair with his pipe, thinking about the boy, about Sean’s life.

Now it was time to act.

They reached the edge of the property, and Hosteen could see the men all gathered in the corral, Victor riding the high fence of it, shouting orders down at the others.

He noticed immediately, too, that Mulder was not there, and again, he was not surprised.

“Grandfather!” Victor called, catching sight of the two of them. He hopped down from the fence in a cloud of dust, brushing the sand from his jeans. He smiled down at Sean.

“Hello, Sean,” he said gently, his smile wide. He touched the boy’s head when Sean said nothing in return.

“You have what you said you would get for me?” Hosteen asked his grandson, and Victor nodded.

“Yes,” he said. “The barn.” He jerked his jaw in that direction, and Hosteen quirked a small smile in appreciation, put his hand on Sean’s shoulder.

“Come,” he said, and led Sean away toward the barn.

It was an old barn, the wood so faded it was almost gray. The wide doors were open, and the air smelled of oat and hay. Several birds startled up as Hosteen led Sean into the building, going toward a pen in the back.

Sean seemed to hang back again, and Hosteen stopped, turned to him.

“Come and see,” he said in his gentlest voice. “You will like it. I promise.”

Sean eyed him, cocked his head, his hands still in his pockets.

“Trust,” Hosteen said. “Just a little trust.” And he held out his hand.

Sean hesitated, but then slowly started forward toward the pen.

Hosteen leaned on the low railing, looked in, and Sean came up beside him, looked into the enclosure, as well.

An appaloosa pony stood there, chewing lazily on a bit of straw, its eyes half closed. Its mane reached well below its neck, its black and white tail swishing softly.

It opened its eyes and looked at the two of them with its brown eyes.

Sean’s hands came out of his pockets and went around the boards of the pen, his face pressing over the top.

Hosteen smiled to himself. It was the most reaction he’d seen from Sean in a week, since he’d reacted so strongly to seeing Hosteen himself.

But this was very different. This wasn’t fear. This was something else entirely.

“This,” he said softly, “is to be yours while you are here.”

Sean turned and looked up at him, his eyes wide. He blinked, and Hosteen had to keep the smile from blooming on his face at the reaction. He remained stoic, serious. “A lot to take care of,” he said, shaking his head.

Sean blinked again, looking from the pony back to Hosteen. He licked his lips in what Hosteen recognized as a nervous gesture, and also one of something else.

Sean wanted the pony. Very badly. It was emanating from him so clearly that to Hosteen it was like the boy, so dark, was giving off a low light.

“Do you think you can take care of the pony while you are here?” he said, his voice quiet. “Come down here every day. Feed him. Care for his pen. Care for tack if I give it to you to use. Do you think you can do that?”

Sean looked at the pony for another long few seconds, then back up at Hosteen.

He nodded.

And Hosteen smiled, though he hid it quickly.

“All right,” he said, crossing his arms. “The first thing you must do it come up with a name. He does not have a name. That will be your first job. The naming.”

Sean looked at him, licked his lips again. He shook his head “no.”

“You can do it,” Hosteen said, put a hand on Sean’s unruly reddish hair, smoothing it down. “And then we will go from there.”

For once, Sean did not tense when Hosteen touched him. He held still, his eyes wide and frightened, but bright.

+++

CHAPTER 8.

+++

11:10 a.m.

She set off into the desert.

The sun was climbing, a great white light, as Scully left Hosteen in the house, watching a History Channel program on the destruction of Pompeii, the plaster casts of figures too much for her, too much like burned bodies in their glass cases, the feeling augmented by Hosteen’s curl of pipe smoke from the other side of the room.

When she’d risen to leave, only his eyes had flicked toward her, his hand on his pipe in the corner of his mouth, and she’d looked back, saying nothing, and left the house.

Now on the trail that led off the property in the back, she walked slowly, a hand resting on her belly. It was warming up, the desert going a touch green in the dawning springtime, tiny purple flowers among the brush. Mostly, though, the land was the color of buckskin, and reflected the harsh light, making her squint against it as she stared down at the ground.

She stepped on hoofprints leading to and from the house, deep Us in the ground, Ghost’s footprints. Or so she imagined. She remembered so vividly sitting on the gray horse, the sun going down, all that time ago, almost drowsing on his back as she’d come in from the desert, her demons burned down with the fire she’d left so far in the distance the night before she’d ridden back to Hosteen’s home.

She was chasing demons again this time. But they were not her own.

Instinct. That’s what she was following. It was like following a thread, the one that connected her to him.

She walked for what felt like a long time, the structure behind her disappearing in the distance, the only sounds her footsteps, her breath. She tired easily, and the walk seemed very long.

Then she saw it in the distance. A white shape, the trailer she’d stayed in so long ago. She could see from where she was that the door was open.

The firepit was filled with charred logs, burned to white. The same chairs sat outside it, and it looked just as old and tired as it had then. Just as private. It was this latter sense of the place that made her stop at the open door and tap lightly on the metal side.

“Mulder?” she called softly, her voice sounding loud in all the quiet. Only wind answered her for a few seconds, sand billowing in the breeze. Then, over it, she heard her name, then his soft voice telling her to come in.

She climbed the steps carefully, the trailer creaking with even her slight weight. The room she entered smelled of bacon grease and dust.

Mulder sat on the edge of the bed, the same as he had when she’d awoken that morning, before they’d made love, his back that same curve, his elbows on his knees. He drew himself up as he turned his face from where it faced forward, staring at the window, and looked at her with his dark eyes.

He looked older to her somehow. The set of his face.

She said nothing, simply closed the space between them, moving to stand in front of him. He parted his knees a bit wider and reached out, his hands on the small of her back, and drew her forward a step to stand between them. Her hands went to the back of his neck and he leaned forward, his forehead on her collarbone. She heard him breathe out a sigh, but it did not sound like relief.

She stroked his hair in the silence that followed. Bo, on the floor in the corner, watched them with his wet eyes, looking as worried as she felt.

Mulder’s grip on her tightened, his hands going to her shoulder blades. His legs closed around her thighs with a gentle pressure, and his head began to move side to side, his mouth brushing her breasts through the material of her shirt.

She felt the urgency growing in him, urgent like the morning when he’d kissed her, his hands pulling her tight against his face. His mouth opened and she felt his teeth graze her nipple.

That was when she put her hands on either side of his face, stilling him, gently urging his face up so she could look into his eyes again.

She shook her head. No.

He met her eyes, as if looking for rebuke, and she knew he found none. Finally he nodded, and returned his forehead to her sternum, still now, her hands bracketing his head.

“Mulder,” she said into the silence. “I know.”

He breathed out another sigh. “No,” he said softly. “You don’t.”

“Yes,” she replied, nodding, though he couldn’t see it. She stared out the window into the desert beyond, steeling herself for the words she didn’t want to speak, but had to speak. And then she said them.

“You have to leave.”

He looked up at her again, and now when she nodded to him, he did see. He seemed surprised.

“I can’t leave you,” he said. “Not like this.” His eyes took in her belly, and he shook his head.

“I’m safe here,” she said quietly. ” And the baby and I are both fine.”

“But–“

She shook her head. “I can feel it. You can feel it. You can’t stay here. Not this time. This time is different.”

“Scully–“

She held his gaze. “Mulder, you can’t change who you are,” she said firmly, though her voice was heavy. “I don’t *want* you to change. Not even for me. It’s eating away at you. I can feel how conflicted you are. You want to stay to protect me, and you want to leave to protect me, and you don’t know which is the right thing to do.”

He nodded. “Yes.”

She stroked the hair at his temples. “You know which is the thing you need to do for *you.* And this is a time when I want that to be what you listen to.”

He swallowed. “You sound like you want me to go,” he said, his voice sad.

She shook her head. “No,” she said. “No.” And now her eyes burned, welling. “I don’t ever want to be away from you. You have to know that by now.”

She took in the room, the desolate space, remembered herself, alone, on the same mattress, how empty she’d felt as she’d watched the sun through the windows for those weeks, learning to listen for the sound of hooves, learning to come back to herself and, eventually, to him.

He was watching her as she looked around, and seemed to know what she was feeling, because he nodded. Here he was coming back to himself, as well.

“Scully, I…” His hands came down and around now, stroking her waist, his thumbs on the sides of her abdomen. “I keep thinking…about Rose.”

“Tell me,” she murmured.

She looked at him, waiting, knowing he would speak when he found the words, and she wanted to hear them.

He looked down. “I don’t know if I can tell you what the idea of being a father has done to me. I think about…the life I want her to have, that I want us to have with her.”

He met her gaze again, and she saw the beginning of tears.

“I feel…like the rest of my life was to get me ready for what I’ve built with you. The life we’ll have with her. And someone’s taking that away from me, from us. I want that life back. More than anything, I want it back. I’ll do anything to protect it.”

She stroked at his temples, feeling something both harden and soften within her. When she spoke, her voice was quiet and firm.

“Then take that life back.”

He shook his head, resisting. “I don’t want you to be alone,” he replied. “I can’t stand to think of leaving you.”

She nodded. “I know. But Mulder, sometimes…to protect the things we love, we have do things that we don’t want to do. Sometimes to protect we have to hide, and sometimes we have to fight.”

She watched his face, the resolve dawning in it as she continued. “For the life we have, for Rose, I’m willing to hide, even though it’s not what I want.”

She leaned forward, kissed his forehead, watched his eyes flutter closed, his lashes wet.

“And you…” she said. “You know what you have to do. For her. For me. And for yourself.”

She leaned down, his eyes opening. She kissed him, pulled back enough to meet his intense gaze.

“Fight,” she whispered fiercely. “Fight.”

+++

FBI HEADQUARTERS WASHINGTON, D.C. 12:16 p.m.

The phone was ringing now, the strange double rings of a European phone line. Skinner listened to the static playing on the line and hoped the connection would be all right as he looked at Granger sitting in the chair across from him. Granger had a phone up to his ear, as well, another phone on the same extension, his ankle on his knee, but his clenched hands in his lap belying the younger man’s tension. That and the set of his eyes, his brows squinted down.

They were gambling here on the only lead they had. The man from Scotland Yard who’d called, Davis, had made it seem uncertain, evading questions about this Renahan, his status. His state. Davis had simply given out the phone number and hurried off the line as though he were late for a date.

The phone continued to ring. Five times. Six.

Then it was picked up, the sound of fumbling, then a very British accent. A tired voice full of breath.

“Yeah…Renahan…”

Skinner’s eye met Granger’s as he spoke, as Granger listened.

“Mr. Renahan, this is Assistant Director Walter Skinner from the FBI in Washington. I got your number from–“

“From Davis, yes,” Renahan said, more clearly now. He sounded groggy, but was coming around.

“I’m sorry if I’ve disturbed you, sir,” Skinner said. “If you were asleep. I know it’s later there and–”

“No, no,” the other voice hurried in. “Just…resting.” He cleared his throat. “FBI, you say?”

“Yes,” Skinner said, leaning on his desk. “I’m calling–“

“You’re calling about the bombs. The ones there in Washington.”

Skinner grew still, as did Granger.

“Yes,” Skinner said softly. “I assume Mr. Davis spoke to you about my inquiry and–“

“No, Davis didn’t tell me. I knew already. Reading the papers and such.” The man cleared his throat again. His accent was as thick as his deep voice, and just as rich.

“Ah, I see,” Skinner said. “Mr. Renahan, I’m calling because–“

“Because you’ve got an Irish problem on your hands,” Renahan interrupted. Skinner thought he heard a slight slur now, more than fatigue. “A Path problem, I think. Going after that agent of yours, the woman who was killed. The woman who got Owen Curran killed. Or so some may think.”

“You sound sure of all that,” Skinner said, and saw Granger lean forward slightly in his chair, his eyebrows climbing, the phone pressed to his ear.

“Oh, I’m sure all right,” Renahan replied. His voice was far away, almost monotone. “I know these people. Better than they know themselves. I know the things they would do, and revenge is the one thing that’s been driving them these past years since the peace. It holds them together, those that are still holding together. Revenge against each other, against people doing too much talking, for starters. And then revenge against anyone who cost them. Your agent cost some of them a lot.”

Skinner listened to the strange tenor in the man’s voice, the certainty in it. The weariness.

“We agree with your assessment, of course,” Skinner said.

“And what is it that makes *you* so sure of it, Mr. Skinner?” Renahan asked, sounding genuinely curious. “Why not the usual suspects?”

“Anyone else would want to simply terrorize,” Skinner replied. “This was very calculated. Two bombs where Agent Scully was in close proximity, one in her car. It’s too much of a coincidence.”

“You’re right,” the other man said. “It is. But there’s something else, some other reason you’re not saying.”

Definitely a slur there. Skinner pursed his lips, looked at Granger. Granger heard it, too. Skinner could see it on his face. He nodded to Skinner, his assessment of the other man telling him to tell Skinner to talk. Skinner nodded back.

“We have Mae Curran,” he said.

A pause. “Mae Curran is alive?”

“Yes, and in our custody. There was another bombing, this one in Australia where she was hiding with her husband and daughter and Owen Curran’s son. Her husband was killed.”

“Another car bomb.”

“Yes.”

A longer beat of silence. Skinner and Granger waited, exchanging a look.

“It’s not mainstream IRA,” Renahan said at last. An edge had entered his voice, some energy. “None of them would go after Mae. Must be some Path left somewhere, though I’d thought they were all dead. That drug business and a few hits. There weren’t many to begin with.”

Granger nodded to Skinner, urging him to continue, which he did.

“She gave us a name of a contact here in the States. He’s the one who gave us your name. This man seemed to think that it has some connection to John Fagan, since both Mae and Agent Scully were implicated in his death.”

“‘The Bogey Man’ himself,” Renahan said, dark amusement in his voice. “He was on the Nutting Squad before he turned up with the Currans. Used to police the IRA. I’m not sure of that, but that’s what I suspect…one of the worst, that one. The worst sort…” He trailed off, as though thinking.

Skinner leaned back in his chair. “Mr. Renahan, we’re prepared to fly you to the States and compensate you for consulting with us on the case.”

A silence. Then Renahan did something that neither Skinner nor Granger expected.

He laughed.

“You think the people doing this are still in the States?” he said. “No, Mr. Skinner. Whoever did this will run home as fast as he can, his job done there. If he’s looking for Mae, he’ll do it from home, not look for her there. They never stay away from even their hometowns for long over there. It’s not their way. That’s why this couldn’t be IRA in the first place. They’d never strike that far from home. Path, yes. IRA, no.”

“So what would you suggest would be the best course of action at this juncture?” Skinner said, treading carefully. “You say you know these people, and I believe you do. What should we do?”

Renahan drew in a breath. “You want to find the Irish, Mr. Skinner? You come to Ireland.”

Skinner looked at Granger, who looked surprised.

“Surely we could have local authorities look into the matter–“

But Renahan laughed again.

“This is your fight, Mr. Skinner. No Irish police are going to help you protect Mae Curran, and they could give bloody hell about your agent, as well. You’ll have to come yourself. As for me, I’ll meet you there. I’ve got a lot of contacts. Even now. People who might do some talking. We’ll crawl through it together.”

Skinner considered this, thinking over his options. Granger seemed to be doing the same thing, and he was nodding.

“I’ll go,” Granger mouthed.

Skinner thought about it. About Mulder and Scully at the Hosteen’s. About the silent boy and the blonde baby he’d seen playing on the floor.

He thought about the other agents who had died. Glickman. The others. All those people at the hotel. The restaurant.

Finally, Skinner nodded. “All right,” he said. “I’ll come see what you have to show me. Me and another member of the FBI.”

“Who’s that then?” Renahan asked immediately.

“A civilian working with the Bureau. A profiler named Paul Granger.”

“The black bloke?” Renahan replied after a beat.

Skinner and Granger exchanged surprised looks.

“Yes, he’s black,” Skinner said, puzzled and a bit peeved. “How did you know–?”

“Because I’m looking at his picture right now. Standing next to you. I’m looking at your picture.”

Skinner’s eyes widened, and he leaned forward. “I see,” he said noncommitedly.

He reached for a pen, scribbled something on a pad on his desk, held it up for Granger to see.

It said: “Medical Leave, my ass.”

Granger smirked, nodding.

“Granger can’t come,” Renahan said firmly. “Nothing personal against him, mind you, but he’d draw too much attention to us. Stand out too much. Bring someone else if you have to.”

“There’s no one else to bring,” Skinner said, putting the pad down. “I’ll come alone then.”

“What about this agent’s husband, this…Agent Mulder. How bad is he hurt? Can he travel?”

“No, he can’t,” Skinner said immediately.

“A shame, that,” Renahan said softly. “He would be good to have along. Makes it personal for the people we’ll meet. The grieving husband and all that. Personal in a way they can understand.”

“He can’t come,” Skinner replied firmly. “It’ll just be me. We’ll coordinate the local authorities as we need them, whether they want to do it or not.”

Renahan sighed. “All right,” he said. “I’ll go to Belfast. I’ll be there tomorrow, and I’ll start some looking around. When can you meet me?”

Skinner considered. “Give me a couple of days to put things on hold here so I can get away. I’ll come on Friday.”

“Go to The Hanged Man, a pub. I’ll be staying in one of the rooms over it. You can find me there.”

“Mr. Renahan,” Skinner jumped in, hearing the dismissal in Renahan’s tone. “I have to ask…your status with Scotland Yard…”

“That’s got nothing to do with this, Mr. Skinner,” the other man replied, a touch of anger in his voice. “You’ll have to take me as I come. Those are my terms for helping you. Agreed?”

Granger looked at Skinner again. After a beat, he angled his head.

Take the terms, he said with his eyes, and Skinner gnawed his lip, but nodded.

“Agreed,” he said.

And Renahan hung up.

Granger leaned forward, replaced the phone on the cradle on the edge of the desk. Skinner did the same with his own, then took his glasses off, rubbing at his eyes.

“Jesus Christ,” he said, still rubbing. “What the hell have I stepped in this time?”

“Whatever it is,” Granger replied, “it certainly has a stink.”

Skinner replaced his glasses, pinned the other man with his eyes. “I’m so sorry you can’t go with me,” he said sardonically. “I mean after all, who would want to pass this up? A trip to Ireland to go pub crawling with some crazy sonofabitch wash-up cop.” He shook his head.

“You said you’d do what you had to do to get to the bottom of this,” Granger said quietly. “That’s what you told Rosen this morning. This is the only lead we’ve got. And crazy or not, everything he said made sense. He knows this case. He knows these people.”

“He was drunk!” Skinner exclaimed, waving at the phone as if to shoo it away.

“Yes, but he was RIGHT,” Granger replied firmly.

Skinner looked down. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, he was. God help me.”

Granger rose from his seat. “I’m going to do some more looking, see what I can scare up about this guy with the boys from Counterterrorism. And I’ll call Mulder. Tell him what we’ve got.”

Skinner stood, as well. “I’m heading up to Rosen to get cleared for this. It’s going to take some string-pulling to make all this look neat. It’s damned irregular. All of it.”

Granger smiled. “He’ll make it look all right. Even he knows this is all we’ve got.”

Skinner watched him go, listened to the soft close of the door behind him.

He stood for a long time, looked around his office, thinking, letting it all sink in.

The picture of Ashcroft…

The shelves of books…

The silver pen on the blotter…

The two empty chairs in front of the desk.

He wiped his hand over his bald pate, a bitter laugh coming.

“Ireland…” he said ruefully. “Shit…” And he shook his head again.

+++

TWO GREY HILLS, NEW MEXICO 2:21 p.m.

Mulder sat before the flickering television, news streaming by on MSNBC, a can of Coke in his hand. It was warming up in the house, and he was glad for this, considering how cold the room had been in the morning. It would be warmer in the bedroom now, warmer for Scully, who’d lain down with Bo for a nap.

They’d spent awhile after their talk walking the desert behind the trailer, walking holding hands. They rarely did this, and it reminded him of something they would do on a date, had they ever really dated. The thought made him smile a bittersweet smile, the memory of her small hand in his, then his arm over her shoulder, her body pressed against his as they’d walked.

He’d felt himself beginning to both knot and unknot as he’d walked with her, feeling simultaneously better and somehow worse as they’d gone further away from the house. They’d spoken little, words seeming unnecessary.

They’d stopped and kissed for a long time at the foot of a steep rise, then turned and went back the way they’d come, Scully looking tired. He was relieved he hadn’t had to urge her toward a nap once they’d returned to the empty house.

Now the screen door creaked open and the wooden door swung in, admitting Albert Hosteen, looking a bit windblown, his long hair over his shoulders and a knowing look on his face.

“Mr. Hosteen,” he said, taking a swig of his soda, trying to appear nonchalant.

Hosteen regarded him for a long moment, glancing down the hallway toward where Scully lay asleep.

“Hm,” Hosteen said, nodding.

“What?” Mulder asked.

“You are leaving,” Hosteen said.

Mulder didn’t know why he was surprised, but he was.

“Yes,” he said after a beat. “I’m going back to Washington. I made the reservations a little while ago.”

Hosteen smiled gently. “A hard decision for you, I know. For both of you. But the right thing for you to do.”

Mulder nodded, looked down, feeling exposed. “Yes,” he said. “It was. It is.”

Hosteen entered the room now, took his seat in the corner, where he always sat, his pipe and tobacco on a small TV table by the chair’s worn upholstered arm.

“I do not need to tell you that everything will be done to keep her safe here,” he said, picking up the pipe.

Mulder shook his head, smiled faintly. “No, you don’t need to tell me that. I know you’ll do everything you can. I know she’s safe here. That’s one of the reasons I know it’s all right for me to go.”

Hosteen stuffed the pipe, tapping the tobacco down with his calloused thumb. “The time alone will be good for her, as well. She has some things to think on, I should think.” He lit the pipe.

Mulder remembered Katherine in the kitchen, the splatter of grease, the child’s surprised cry. Scully’s voice as she’d withdrawn from them all. He’d seen Hosteen’s face when she left, seen the look on the old man’s face.

He knew. About the visions and the dreams.

Mulder swallowed. “Yes,” he said again. “Yes, she does.”

Sweet-smelling smoke drifted toward him, riding the light coming in the window. The room now seemed very warm.

The phone rang, and Hosteen pushed himself up, going for the phone in the kitchen. Mulder watched him go, still thinking about Scully, Hosteen knowing. What it all meant, or could mean…

“Agent Mulder,” Hosteen said from the kitchen. He held the receiver out toward Mulder. “It is Paul Granger. For you.”

Mulder rose, feeling a rush of nerves. He hadn’t called to tell them he was returning. He didn’t know what they would say.

He met Hosteen in the kitchen, the two men passing as Hosteen handed off the phone.

“Granger,” Mulder said softly.

“Mulder, how’s Scully?” Granger replied.

“She’s okay,” Mulder said. “She’s asleep. I think it’s going to take a little more time.”

“I hope so. Are you ready for this?”

Mulder felt his nerves go up another notch. “What? What have you got?”

He listened intently as Granger relayed the conversation with Renahan, the things the man had said, the way he’d seemed. Mulder found himself tensing the more he heard, the more pieces began to fall into place in the puzzle they’d been trying to put together, pieces Renahan and — just today — Mae were providing.

A lot of pieces still missing.

“….so Skinner got cleared this afternoon to go to Belfast, to work with this guy with his contacts there. He’s leaving on Friday morning first thing. Rosen told him to go this afternoon.”

“You’re going with him, I assume?”

“No,” Granger said softly. “Apparently I can’t pass for anyone’s ‘cousin Seamus,’ so Renahan wants me to stay away. I’m disappointed, but I understand.”

Mulder stood still, thinking.

He knew what he had to do.

“Tell Skinner…” he said, his voice quiet. “Tell him I’m coming with him.”

The silence he expected.

“What?” Granger said at last. “You’re not serious.”

“I am,” Mulder replied. “Scully and I spent the morning talking about it. I was coming back to D.C. anyway, to help out any way I could. Now I know how I’m going to do that.”

Another silence, this one not expected. He wondered for a moment if Granger was going to try to talk him out of it.

What he *did* say took Mulder completely off guard.

“Then I’m going to come out there,” Granger said softly. “Help watch over things.”

Mulder stood still, watching Hosteen watching him. A puff of smoke came out of the corner of the elder man’s lips, obscuring his face except for his eyes.

“I can’t ask you to do that,” Mulder said after a beat.

“You didn’t ask me,” Granger replied. “I’m offering. There needs to be at least two people there, another gun.”

“But to leave Robin like that…” Mulder tried.

“She can come out and stay for a little while. She’ll understand. Dana is her friend, too. She’ll want her as protected as I do.”

“Granger, I…” Mulder trailed off. He didn’t know what to say. Granger was his friend. Scully’s friend. Mulder couldn’t have asked for the help, but he appreciated it more than he could say.

“I know,” Granger replied. “You don’t have to say anything. I just want to do what little I can.”

“I…” Mulder tried again. Then he let out a breath, and said the only words he could think of. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Granger replied. “I’ll come as fast as I can. And I’ll tell Skinner you’re on your way.”

Mulder looked at Hosteen as he hung up the phone. He started to speak but couldn’t.

And Hosteen, puffing on his pipe, smiled.

+++

CHAPTER 9.

+++

SOUTHWEST AIRLINES FLIGHT 1359 SOMEWHERE OVER THE MIDWEST MARCH 17 11:31 a.m.

He was seated over the silver wing, enough a view over its rounded edge to see the landscape below the plane, thousands of feet down, the burnt tan ground of the desert finally giving way to some green now, the circular farms of Kansas or Nebraska, boxes of roads around the farmland, too high to make out anything but the green, and the clear blue of the sky around the plane, dotted with high thin clouds that streamed by the wing.

The plane was fairly silent, everyone reading or watching the film on the small screens that had swung down from the ceilings, things blowing up on the tiny monitors. He had no headset, so he couldn’t hear the sounds, and for that he was thankful. Instead, he’d aimed his face out the window, watching, ignoring even the flight attendants with their drink and food carts, his tray table down on his lap but empty.

He looked like any other traveler, he supposed. Worn jeans, a long- sleeved white T shirt to chase away the plane’s persistent chill. His jeans jacket was balled beneath the seat in front of him. He had a suitcase in the overhead, a duffle of T-shirts and more jeans, his boots. The rest of his clothes were in the cargo hold beneath.

He would not unpack the bags when he arrived in Washington. They would go straight onto another plane that night, bound for Ireland.

Only one article of his clothing had remained behind at the Hosteen’s — his Yankee’s sweatshirt, faded blue and the team’s insignia worn off the front. He’d left it because Scully had put it on when he’d left the shower that morning, laying claim to it, her hands vanishing in the sleeves, the rest of it pulled over her bare body to her hips. The blankets covered the rest of her, making her look small beneath the covers, lonely on the full-sized bed.

She’d watched him dress, put the last of his things into his suitcase — his shaving kit, a bottle of shampoo. Her eyes followed him as he moved around the room, but she said nothing, her hands, within the sweatshirt, curled in front of her face, hiding everything but the bridge of her nose and her wide blue eyes.

Her eyes…

There on the plane, he closed his own eyes, remembering how they looked as the sun had begun to come up, him on his back, Scully astride him, her knees bracketing his hips, her hands on his waist as she moved, her hips pushing, his own rising and falling beneath her in a careful rhythm. He’d watched a bead of sweat travel down between her full breasts, watched it as it moved down her chest and over the rise of her belly. He’d reached out then, smoothing it over the mound with his thumb, his hand stroking over the baby, then down between her legs, teasing through the curls there, feeling where their bodies were joined, the heat.

So much he wanted to say to her. So much. Words seemed meaningless in the face of what he wanted to convey. The goodbye he needed to say, a word he had never been good at saying, and had never said to her this way.

So, he met her eyes, listened to her breath, his own labored, answering hers. He clenched a hand around her hip, guiding her, and said goodbye with his body instead.

No sound but their breath in the quiet of the house.

He bit down on his lip as the pleasure began to build in him, her own body stiffening, her head back, her hair against her shoulders, damp strands of red.

When he came, he pulled her forward, draping her small frame over his, her hands on his shoulders as their lips met and held. He tasted her, the sweetness of her mouth, the warmth of her like bread. He swore he could feel her everywhere — in the battering of his heart against his chest, the tingle in his belly, the lingering of all they’d made.

It was over too quickly for him, but it was enough. He’d said what he needed to say. Once he’d situated her on the bed beside him, he kissed her once more and sat up, on the edge of the bed, gathered his sweatpants, and headed from the room to rest of the house, which smelled of dust.

His eyes burned as he looked into the sunlight out the airplane’s thick window, the sun streaming in onto his body, warm.

Warm as her hand on his thigh as he’d finished dressing, the suitcases by the door. Her eyes were still on his, though she said nothing. The mattress dipped, creaking, as he sat on the edge of it, in the curve of her where she lay on her side facing him, and her hand slid up onto his back.

“I’ll see you,” he’d said, forcing the weakest of smiles, which she did not return. Instead, she sat up to meet his lips again, and he expected, when he pulled away, to see tears. There were none, her head bowed against his chest.

“Try to go back to sleep,” he whispered, and angled her back down on the bed. “I don’t want you to get up and watch me go. I want to remember you here. Like this.”

She nodded, settling back down on the pillow, the sweatshirt swallowing her. Dutifully, she closed her eyes, let out a shaking breath.

He’d leaned down then, lifting the sweatshirt slightly to get to her skin, cupped the baby between his hands. He pressed a long kiss to the center of her belly, rubbed it with his cheek, her hand on the back of his head, moving through his hair.

Then a kiss on her forehead.

No goodbyes.

He went for the door, Bo rising from his place on the rug to follow him as he went for the suitcases. He reached down and touched the dog’s soft head, stroked back a long ear.

“Stay,” he said softly. “Stay.”

The dog whined softly in return, looking uncertain, but he obeyed.

Then he was out the door with his bags to where Victor Hosteen waited in his pickup to take him to Farmington, the truck rumbling faintly, puffing out steam into the morning air.

There on the plane, he closed his eyes again, let out a breath. The picture of her on the bed was burned into his memory, the way she’d turned her head into the pillow as he’d gone out the door, her hair curtaining her face.

That was what he’d take with him, to what already felt like light- years away.

He looked out at the wing, the silver of it slicing through the high thin air. He pictured the jet-trail, white cloud of motion, stretching, pulling thin, leaving everything he had and loved on the burnt ground behind him.

****

WASHINGTON DULLES INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT OUTSIDE WASHINGTON, D.C. 3:32 p.m.

“Hey there, Papa.”

Mulder turned from where he’d been hefting his suitcase off the baggage carousel to find Frohike standing behind him, his black leather jacket and rumpled black jeans and shirt making him look like an aged Black Sabbath fan just in from a concert. The two-days growth of beard didn’t help the look much. Nor did the fingerless gloves.

Mulder felt his lip curl at the greeting, which Frohike returned, a wan smile that did not touch his eyes.

“Frohike,” Mulder replied, lifting the bag. Frohike reached down and took the smaller one, threw it over his slight shoulder.

“Come on,” the short man said, gesturing toward the door. “The van’s out front. Langley’s been circling. Too cheap to park.”

“Thanks,” Mulder said, and followed him out through the throng of people from the afternoon flights.

“I hope you don’t need to go to your house,” Frohike said as they hit the sliding double doors. “Byers went and checked it out this morning. There’s still a reporter snooping around there. Sonofabitch can’t even make a good attempt at hiding himself, either. Sitting around in a Channel 8 van right outside the door.”

“No,” Mulder said as they came out into the bright sunlight. There was a slight nip in the air still. Still early spring. “I’ve got everything I need from the house.” He didn’t want to say what he knew, though — he didn’t want to have to go back there, to his and Scully’s house and find it so empty, the box with the white-wood crib in it leaned up against the wall in the corner of the spare bedroom, everything still and quiet.

“We’re keeping an eye on it for you,” Frohike said, as if reading his thoughts, and then he stepped on the curb, waving his gloved hand out as a beat-up Volkswagen van came sputtering up along the front of the airport, weaving in and out of parked cars.

Finally it pulled up beside them, the side door sliding open with a creak of thin metal on metal. Byers stood there, in his usual suit and tie, his neatly trimmed beard, his eyes darting to the sides then settling on Mulder, taking in his face.

“You’re looking better,” he said, reached out and took the suitcases, moving them into the back as Mulder and Frohike climbed into the van and slid the door shut.

“Thanks,” Mulder said, settling onto a bench seat that had been pushed up against the side of the van. He’d forgotten about his face completely, the cuts on it, the bruising. He rubbed his hand over it as if to wipe them away. “I’m healing up.”

Langley gave him a crooked, friendly smile, then returned his gaze to the side-view mirror, revving the van up.

“How’s Scully?” Byers asked, his soft voice hedged with concern. Frohike was moving around to take the passenger seat, Langley gunning the tired engine to merge into the traffic.

“She’s okay,” Mulder said, just as quietly. “She’s getting around now. The ribs aren’t bothering her as much, though she’s still bruised pretty badly.”

“And the sprout?” Frohike asked.

Mulder smiled despite himself. “Seems to be doing all right. Scully says she moves a lot, though I can’t feel it yet myself.”

The thought blind-sided him, made him ache.

Would he ever be able to feel it? He didn’t know how long this would take, how long he would be gone from her, how much he would miss. The thought of not being able to feel his daughter’s movements beneath his hand as she grew pained him.

He pushed it away, staring out the window.

“Granger and Skinner are meeting us back at our place in a couple of hours,” Frohike said. “Going over what we’ve found so far. It’s taken some looking but we’ve got a few things for you. And we’ve cooked up a little something special.”

“What is it?”

The three men exchanged looks, and Frohike turned and winked at Mulder.

“It’s a surprise,” he said, and he reached over and flicked on the van’s tape player, The Ramones blaring out of the chintzy speaker, drowning out Mulder’s reply.

*****

UNDISCLOSED LOCATION TAKOMA PARK, MARYLAND 5:46 p.m.

Mulder was on the beat-up, over-stuffed couch, straight from a thrift store and a recent acquisition, as near as he could figure, a piece of pizza in his hand, when the knock came at the door to the Gunmen’s lair. Frohike, who’d been fiddling with something on the nearest computer screen, rose and went to the door, having to stand on his tip toes to look through the fish-eye peephole.

The other two men, more paranoid than Mulder would ever be (for which he was thankful), tensed where they were sitting, the soft sounds of CCR the only sound in the room for a few seconds as Frohike began undoing the many locks on the door. When he swung the thick door open onto the alley beyond, Skinner and Granger were standing there, both in casual clothes, their jackets open.

“Hail, hail, the gang’s all here,” Mulder said, putting the slice down and rising, wiping his hands on the legs of his jeans as he reached a hand toward Skinner and Granger, which they both shook. Frohike was busying himself with relocking the door after having scanned the alley, as though the two men might have been followed.

“Mulder,” Skinner grunted. “You’re looking better. I hope Scully’s made some progress, too.”

“She has,” Mulder replied, and noted Granger’s wan smile. He was holding his arm at the same guarded angle against his side, looking stiff.

“Physical therapy today?” he said, and Granger nodded.

“Yeah,” the other man replied. “Didn’t go so well, but it’s the last for awhile, and I’m glad.”

“We haven’t got much time,” Skinner said, this time to the room. “We’ve got to be cleared to have our guns on the plane, so we’ve got to get there early. Flight leaves at nine.”

Mulder was wearing his Sig again, feeling, for the first time in awhile, very FBI. He noted Granger was wearing his, as well, as the younger man carefully took off his jacket and laid it on the couch, his Ruger shining silver in the light.

“When’s your flight?” he asked.

“Same time as yours,” Granger replied. “I’m staying the night in Albuquerque, then catching the puddle-jumper to Farmington in the morning. I’m going straight there from here. I’ve already said my goodbyes.”

Mulder nodded, noted the lilt in Granger’s voice at the mention of the parting with Robin. He was sorry for it, and said so.

“It’s okay,” Granger said, waving him off. “She’s coming in a little while. As soon as she finishes a big case she’s working on, a bunch of tests to get them caught up. I’ll see her soon.” He turned to Byers and Langley. “You all said you’ve got something for me?”

“Yes,” Byers said. “But let’s go over what we have on Renahan before we do that.” He took a seat at a computer screen, tapped a few keys, Langley standing beside him. Frohike stood by the door, his arms crossed over his black shirt, his face serious now, almost grave. Skinner and Granger sat, Granger on the couch beside Mulder, still moving slowly. Skinner took the chair Frohike had vacated when he opened the door.

“We’ve done some digging through the files at Scotland Yard,” Byers began. “Some on Owen Curran, trying to find some records of John Fagan’s activities, and as you probably have guessed, we didn’t find much.”

“He was a slick bastard,” Frohike said. “Greased. Nothing stuck to him at all. There are a lot of pictures of him with Curran, and a few from before that with some known IRA folks in Belfast, but we couldn’t find a damn thing on him. He was arrested one time for questioning about the death of a suspected IRA member in Newry, but the cops didn’t seem to care too much about the death of a Provo like that, so they let him go. Nothing on his background at all. A street address that he gave them, but it’s a fake. We checked it out. There’s no such place.”

“Renahan seems to know a little about him,” Skinner said. “Said he was a member of something called ‘The Nutting Squad’?”

“Yeah,” Langley said, looking up from the screen, the eerie blue of the screen reflecting in his horn-rims. “Sort of terrorists within the terrorists. They kept the IRA in line with themselves, knocking off people who snitched or didn’t follow through with what they said they were going to do. Kept everything nice and tight. Even the IRA was afraid of them.”

“The IRA was afraid of The Path, too,” Byers joined in. “I’m not surprised Fagan went with them when Curran broke off. Anybody in the Nutting Squad would be perfect for something a little more radical, and I’m not surprised Fagan didn’t want any part of the peace.”

“We’ll keep digging, see what we can find out,” Frohike said. “Our guess is that he’s using some kind of alias, as I think you’re aware. Not that surprising. We’ll do what we can to find out what his real name is, and that will help us possibly figure out who might still be out there who might have a grudge.”

Mulder nodded. “What about this guy Renahan?” he asked. “What did you find out about him?”

“An absolute genius of an investigator,” Byers said, admiration in his voice. “He got people to talk to him who nobody else could, apparently, though I shudder to think how he did it. He knew nearly everything about the IRA. Its members, most of their inner structure. By the time the peace came he had it all basically mapped out, who was who and what was what. But, like so much surrounding terrorism, he couldn’t pin many specific terrorist activities on individuals, so there weren’t a lot of arrests when all was said and done. He knows a lot, though. He should be a big help to you.”

“If…” Frohike ventured, and Mulder, Granger and Skinner turned to look at him.

“‘If’ what?” Skinner said, shaking his head in confusion.

“If he’s not out of his freaking mind at this point,” Langley said, and tapped on the screen. A face appeared on it, a hard looking man with a beard and eyes like flint. It looked like a mug shot, which, Mulder realized, it was.

“He was the best Scotland Yard had until about five years ago,” Byers said. “Then…well, the wheels seemed to come off the wagon. Right after the peace accord was signed. Started getting picked up for being drunk in public. Several assaults. One domestic dispute that turned ugly. He was formally reprimanded several times by Scotland Yard, put on light duty. Finally they had to get rid of him, though I think his exemplary record kept him from being ousted completely. So it’s listed as ‘medical leave’ on the official records.”

“He sounded drunk when I talked to him on the phone,” Skinner said, shaking his head.

“Yeah, that’s our guess,” Frohike said. “That he’s a complete lush at this point. An embarrassment to the force, but still knows enough that they want to keep him around. We checked his tax returns — he’s still drawing pay from Scotland Yard. No family. No nothing. He lives in a tiny apartment in London. Not much else to him, besides an occasional arrest for being drunk and disorderly.”

“Not much to him except the IRA,” Langley said. “He spent his whole life investigating them, moving back and forth between London and Belfast and Dublin.”

Mulder chewed his lip, considering this. For a man like Renahan, peace would be difficult to take.

“When war’s your whole life,” Granger said, breaking his thoughts, “and the war’s over, there’s not much left for a soldier to do, is there?”

They all seemed to consider this for a beat, Mulder still gnawing his lip, thinking. He knew about causes. He knew about crusades.

He wondered, if he didn’t have Scully to ground him, if something similar might become of him, as well.

“That’s what we’ve got so far,” Frohike said, moving around to get another piece of pizza from the grease-stained box on the edge of a desk. “We’ll have more as you give us more names. We’ve been checking Immigration Records, too — Irish citizens coming in and out of the U.S. around the times of the first bombing and the second at the hotel, but nobody’s pinged up anything yet. Nobody with IRA ties at all in the databases.”

“Very good,” Skinner said, looking grim. “Though it’s not a lot to go on at this point. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, and we can’t be sure this guy Renahan is going to be any fucking help at all, the state he’s in.”

“He’s the best you’re going to get over there,” Frohike said, talking around a mouthful of pizza. “He’ll turn up something. I bet you anything.”

“So,” Mulder said. “What’s this surprise you’ve got in store for me?”

The Gunmen looked at each other, looking pleased with themselves.

“Surprise?” Skinner said, his brow squinting down.

“Yeah, we’ve been cooking something up for you.” Frohike finished stuffing the slice in his mouth and went to the corner of the desk where two laptops sat, two brand-new looking iBooks, their silver- grey cases shining.

“We did some thinking on how this person knew Scully was leaving the hotel when she was,” Byers said, swiveling toward Mulder. “The only thing we can figure is that the phone calls you said you and Scully made the night before, when you decided on the time to pick her up, were being monitored.”

“My cell phone?” Mulder asked. “How the hell would someone know to do that?”

“Near as we can figure,” Langley piped up, “someone must have hacked into the FBI and gotten a finger on your signal. Found the right frequency and started listening in.”

Mulder turned to Skinner. “You have a record of our cell phone frequencies?” he asked, and Skinner looked a little uncomfortable.

“Yes,” he said. “All the FBI-issued phones’ frequencies are recorded. In case they ever need to be traced. It’s a standard security protocol.” He glared at the Gunmen. “Though not one we publicize.”

“Well, someone knew about it,” Frohike said. “That’s probably how he figured out where you all would be eating that night, too. I bet you made the reservations at the Thai place over the phone, too?”

Mulder nodded. “Yes,” he said. “From the car. On the way home that night.”

“You’re going to have to leave your phone here with us,” Byers said.

“We’ll get him another one,” Skinner said firmly. “And won’t record the frequency.”

“We can’t risk it,” Mulder said, peeved. “Who’s to say I wouldn’t be watched somewhere using it and someone could trace the signal right where I was standing? Who knows who could be watching?”

“My guess,” Frohike said gravely, “is that you take a cell phone and turn it on in Ireland, someone’s eventually going to figure out you’re there, that you’re snooping around. And if you try to contact Scully in New Mexico with it, they’ll know where she is, and that she’s alive. And she can’t use one there, either.”

“They don’t work on the reservation anyway,” Mulder said. “It’s a ‘no signal’ zone. Only the land lines work in the houses.”

“Good,” Byers said. “They don’t know where she is, so they won’t know to go looking there, not that they’ll be looking for her at all. And Mae Curran will be safe, as well.”

Mulder nodded to the laptops. “So what are those?” he asked.

Frohike smiled. “Your lifeline, compadre,” he said, and laid the laptop in Mulder’s hands.

Mulder looked at it, shook his head, not understanding.

“Satellite modems in both of them,” Langley said. “Untraceable. We thought you might like a way to communicate with Scully without there being any way for you to be traced. We’ll give one to Granger to take to Scully, and you can take one with you.”

Mulder was touched, and it showed on his face. “How do you know it can’t be traced, though?” he asked, feeling some of the Gunmen’s paranoia leaking into him with the news about his phone.

Langley gave a broad, proud smile. “Because they’re going to hack straight into a DoD satellite using a scrambled coder we picked up off the Chinese,” he said, his chest puffed out. “We’ve already tested it and the Feds have no clue we’re using their signal and–“

“Wait a minute,” Skinner said, cutting him off. “Do I want to know about this?”

“No,” Frohike, Byers and Langley said together, looking at him.

Skinner nodded. “That’s what I thought,” he said under his breath.

Granger laughed from the couch, a pained sound.

Mulder held the laptop in his hands, looked up into Frohike’s smiling face.

“Thank you,” he said, feeling warm. He had a way to talk to her. A safe way. He was overwhelmed with the thought.

“You’re welcome,” Frohike said, and slapped his arm. He picked up the other computer and handed it to Granger on the couch as though it might break. Granger took it and nodded.

“We’ve got to go, Mulder,” Skinner said, his voice quiet, as though he didn’t want to break the moment. “We’ve got paperwork to do at the airport.”

Mulder looked at the Gunmen, feeling color rise in his face. “I don’t know how to repay you guys for what you’re doing for us,” he said.

Frohike waved him off. “Don’t worry. It’s a slow month anyway. New JFK theory — aliens and the Chinese — but that’s about it.” He winked, and Mulder laughed.

Skinner reached a hand toward Granger on the couch. Granger was rising slowly, and Skinner helped him the rest of the way up.

“Let’s go,” Skinner said, and he looked at the Gunmen. “Keep in touch with anything you’ve got. I’ll call from a land line when we get to Belfast, tell you where we are.”

“We’ll wait for your call,” Frohike said, undoing the locks.

Mulder turned to look at them, the computer under his arm.

“Good luck,” Byers said, nodding grimly.

“Thanks,” Mulder replied, and Frohike let him and Skinner and Granger out into the alley, into the falling night.

+++

OUTSIDE CUSHENDUN, ANTRIM COAST NORTHERN IRELAND, U.K. 8:04 p.m.

Following the Antrim Coast Road, the smell of sea salt in the chilly night air from the North Channel coming in through the car window, the young man drove slowly along the familiar road, moving away from the lights of quiet village of Cushendun, the wide bay, the deserted beach, toward the hilly country on the outskirts. It was dark as pitch, hardly any lights on. Even when he did pass a house set far off the road, or a farm, there were no lights, and he felt for a moment as if he’d dropped off the edge of the world, into the cold sea beyond.

Across the Channel, only fourteen miles away, a lighthouse on the coast of Scotland glinted at him, a beacon of light in the darkness. He found his eye drawn to it and he wove onto a small side road, this one more narrow, but wide enough for his tiny car, its engine small and whining, a loner from a friend in Belfast. He hadn’t gotten around to getting his own car, though the money was there. He didn’t feel much need to leave the city, preferring the quiet of his rented flat, the sound of music in the pubs, the company of his few friends.

But tonight he’d left the city, travelling north and east, toward the coast, up through Carrickfergus, through Larne, past the lighthouse at Black Head, past Glenarm Castle and up further as the night had fallen.

It was not an errand he wanted to make, but make it he did. He always came when called, and he was surprised the call had not come sooner than this.

Up into the nothingness of the night, the smell of the sea retreating to the smell of green, down to a smaller road, which he followed for some time. Finally the high stone archway came into view and he passed beneath it, going up the long road that led to the estate.

The lights were on out front, though they did little to illuminate the immensity of the mansion, the stone of its walls seeming to absorb the light.

A servant came down from the heavy, huge door, hurrying to the driver’s side and opening the door with a practiced, smooth hand.

“How was your drive, Mr. Collin?” the man asked politely, with a smile that reminded the young Mr. Collin of wax.

“Good enough,” he replied, stepping out.

“Very good, sir,” the man said, closing the door behind him. “She’s waiting in the study for you. A late supper is waiting, as well.”

The young man said nothing, only entered the cavernous house, leaving the man and the night chill behind.

Through the huge foyer, the walls lined with paintings and hung with tapestries of rich red and gold. There was a huge stone staircase that wound its way up to the second floor, and then the third beyond it, and he followed it up, into a corridor lined with a thick, ancient rug. Lights that looked like lamps were set into the wall, and they had once been lamps, hundreds of years ago.

There was a closed door to his left, another to his right. He walked past them toward an open door at the end of the corridor where he could see a fire burning in a fireplace. A large fire at the end of the large room.

He stopped by the doorway, gave the massive wooden door a light knock, steeling himself.

“Come in, Christie,” came a faint voice. “Come in.”

He entered the dimly lit room, his eyes scanning the antique furniture, the chairs by the fire. There was a large armchair there, surrounded by couches and few small tables. He could smell food coming from one of the tables, his eyes falling on the silver tray.

And in front of it, a wheelchair. Facing the fire, though as he entered the room, there was a whining of a motor and the chair turned slowly around to face him.

“Sit,” the figure in the chair said, the face hidden by shadows. “Eat. You must be hungry after such a long drive.”

The wheelchair’s motor whined again, and the chair moved into the dim circle of light thrown by a lamp, revealing the face.

She was an ancient woman, her face as frail as her voice. Her hair was white as snow and perfectly set around her lined face. To Christie, she looked like a candle, thin and white and her skin lined and dripping off of her like melted wax. She wore a prim black dress made of velvet, and a great jeweled broach at her thin throat. Her black shoes shone in the lamp light, never having touched the floor.

Her eyes shone in her alabaster face, bright and blue and more alive than the rest of her combined. A small smile played on her nearly lipless mouth, her false, too straight teeth showing and making her head look like a skull capped with neat, neat white.

Christie moved toward the chair next to the table with the food, pushing up the sleeves of his black sweater, as the room was far too hot, the walls bathed with the dance of shadows from the flames.

“Don’t you have a kiss for your grandmother first, Christie?” came the slightly wheezing voice. “A little kiss?”

He stopped, turned and went toward the woman in the chair slowly. His feet felt like lead as he did it, but he reached the chair, leaned down and moved to touch his mouth to her dry cheek.

She turned her face as he did so, more quickly than she should have been able to, and her mouth touched his for the briefest instant.

He pulled back as if her mouth had given him an electric shock, but her claw-like hand, usually on the armrest by the controls for the chair and a small boxed remote, reached up and touched the back of his close-cropped hair, stroking softly.

“Such a good boy,” she whispered. “A good, good boy.”

Christie smiled wanly and moved backwards toward the chair, sitting down heavily. He lifted the silver lid from the silver tray, a half a chicken greeting him, some potatoes. He dug into the meal as though he’d never eaten before, his eyes down.

“I’m surprised you haven’t come back to see me since you returned from the States,” her breathy voice said, and the wheelchair whined a bit closer. “I’m surprised I had to call for you like I did.”

“Just been busy,” he said, tearing into the chicken with the sharp knife. “I was going to come soon enough.”

He glanced up into her face, and she was smiling that same toothy smile.

“You did wonderful work there in Washington, Christie,” she said. “Wonderful work.”

He looked back down at the food, took a bite. “Thank you,” he said softly.

“And do you know what has come to me?” she said, her voice rising slightly. “Wonderful news. I’ve been told that it was this Scully who was the one who killed my John.”

Christie stopped with the fork moving to his mouth, meeting his grandmother’s gaze. “Is that so?” he said.

“Yes,” she said, nodding, her head seeming too large for her thin, bird-like neck. “And a news report in the States reported she was pregnant, as well.” She smiled again.

He swallowed, the news hitting him in the gut. “That’s good news, too, is it?” he said, chewing slowly.

“Yes, it is,” the old woman said. “More of a blow to her husband. More for her to lose. Wonderful news.”

Christie reached for the goblet of water on the tray, took a drink. “Well,” he began carefully. “If that Scully was the one who killed John, there’s no need to go after the other, is there then?”

But the old woman shook her head.

“I want Curran dead, as well,” she wisped. “Still. She betrayed her brother. She betrayed John. She betrayed the Cause.”

He swallowed again, unable to meet his grandmother’s gaze.

“Don’t you agree, Christie?” she asked faintly.

“Aye, I suppose,” he said quietly, putting down his knife and fork.

“You ‘suppose’?” she asked, and she tutted softly. “Christie, don’t tell me your father was right about you and that your heart wouldn’t be in this all the way.”

He felt heat rising up in his cheeks at the mention of his father. A picture of a stern face entered his mind, the memory of shouting. A hand across his face.

“No,” he said, his chin rising. “My heart is in it.”

The old woman smiled. “Good,” she said, the word coming out slow and soft.

The fire crackled in the fireplace, a log falling. The fireplace bled even more heat into the room, a flash of light.

“Mae Curran entered the U.S. on February 22nd,” the old woman continued. “She brought a baby with her and Owen Curran’s son through U.S. Customs in Los Angeles. She’s travelling under the name ‘Porter’ now. Her husband was killed by the bomb in Australia. We’ve checked the wire reports from there. She apparently fled to the States.”

Christie nodded. “I see,” he said noncommitedly, but his heart sank. He didn’t relish returning to the States. Not ever again.

And all the children involved now. The dead baby already…

“We’re looking for her there. We think she might have tried to find this Scully again, so we’re trying to find this man Mulder, Scully’s partner, and see if he can lead us to her. Perhaps the FBI has gotten involved. If so, it shouldn’t be too hard to find her. Given the…resources…we’re using.”

Christie sniffed, rubbed his mouth with a napkin. “No,” he said softly. “I suppose not.”

The wheelchair whined as the chair slid closer across the thick carpet, and Christie sat up a little straighter as she moved beside him, reaching her hand out to touch his arm.

“I know what you’re thinking, Christie,” she said softly, stroking his arm. “All the time in the Army and now this. But it will be over soon enough. We’re moving quickly. We’ll find her soon. So soon…”

Her hand was cold where it touched the skin of his arm. The chicken suddenly smelled too heavy, too much like cooked meat. He swallowed down a wave of nausea as she lifted his hand, rubbed it against her cheek.

Heat washed over him, the fire seeming to flare. He couldn’t help it. He closed his eyes as she brought his fingers to her cold, pale lips for another arid kiss.

+++

Part Three

+++

CHAPTER 10.

+++

TWO GREY HILLS, NEW MEXICO MARCH 18 11:30 a.m.

On Ghost’s gray back, Albert Hosteen rode in the relative silence of the high desert, the sun warm and climbing high overhead and hanging in the crags of the Chaco Mountains far off in the distance. The horse’s hooves kicked up a slight cloud of dust that settled around him like tan smoke, a faint wind on his face that still held some of the cool of the early morning on its breath.

He wore a dark green shirt, the sleeves rolled up in the warm sunlight, his jeans so faded they were almost white. He held a rope in one hand, his other one on the worn reins. The aging saddle creaked with each of the horse’s steps, the saddle as old as the horse, the leather beginning to crack at the joinings. The leather was the deep brown of Hosteen’s weathered skin.

The reins slack, the horse lowered his head and sneezed, a ruffling sound. Hosteen reached down and stroked the animal’s soft neck, his fingers trailing in the white mane. He spoke softly to the creature in Navajo, and the horse’s ears cocked back, as if to listen, which made Hosteen smile.

It was a faint smile, though. Much was on his mind.

Agent Scully, looking pale and tired at the breakfast table that morning, was the current focus of his thoughts. She’d said the baby had kept her up — the child’s movements and a touch of nausea — and she’d smiled wanly as she said it.

Of course, she had lied.

He’d worried over her, standing beside the window with his pipe in the corner of his mouth. She’d picked at the breakfast Sara had made, eggs and bacon and fry bread. She hadn’t even protested when Whistler had put the terrible smelling tea in front of her. Hosteen’s brows had risen with that.

He found his mind drifting to Eda, his wife, dead for more than 20 years now from cancer, her body growing thin and her skin turning to paper between the worn sheets of the hospital in Farmington, then later, how she’d seemed to vanish in their bed at home, like watching her turn to sand and dust.

He thought of how he’d felt after she’d gone, how he’d sat for hours on the porch out front, his sons there, but how he’d felt alone in a way he had not yet experienced, like an essential part of him had gone missing along with Eda, the children almost like reminders of a life he had once had and would never have again.

Of course, he had learned to deal with the space inside him, open as the desert beyond the house, a barren patch in him. He’d learned to live a different life, filled with children and grandchildren, and with his faith and his place in the community.

Thinking of Agent Scully, the lost look on her face, the look of someone with something missing, he remembered all of this. He thought of how she was when she’d come to him with Mulder before, so much broken between them, how she’d looked the same then, though it had been well hidden then with shame and rage and pain. He remembered Mulder on the concrete porch at his brother’s house, the time he’d found him shirtless in the chilly morning, Bo creeping at the edge of the property like a ghost, how Mulder had seemed almost like Hosteen himself in the weeks after Eda had died, his arms crossed over his bare chest.

Hosteen sighed, the horse angling around a small scrubby brush, the mountains closer now, great crags of sand and stone.

Mulder and Scully had found their way back to one another in this place, coming together as something stronger than what they’d been before. And Scully would find a way to be apart from him here, as well. She had it in her to do that now, even if on this first morning alone she did not know it yet.

It was good, he decided, that she learn this lesson now. When the road between her and Mulder was clear, though filled with distance. Better to learn this way than how he had learned it. When there was no way back at all.

A soft stumbling behind him, a tug on the rope in his hand, and his mind came back to the present. He turned slightly on the horse’s back and looked behind.

The pony was shuffling along behind him, its neck outstretched slightly, a peeved look on its face. On its back, the boy sat, a baseball cap on his head, his eyes down until he saw Hosteen looking at him. They rose to meet his gaze, and then darted back down again, as though afraid. His hands were gripping not the reins but the horn of the small western saddle, his knuckles white.

Sean’s first time on a horse, his aunt had said when Hosteen had gone to gather him at his brother’s house, the boy silent in the back room when Hosteen had entered. Sean had been drawing on the floor, stretched out with markers and crayons, and Hosteen had stood over him, looking down into his thin, still frightened face.

“A good picture,” he’d pronounced, looking down at the drawing, a very close likeness of the pony — its charcoal back, the round white spot on its rump dotted with black. Beneath the pony was a single word:

Cloud.

“And a good name,” Hosteen had continued, smiling kindly. “Looks like a storm cloud, the colors on his back.”

Not surprisingly, Sean had not replied.

“Time to go out,” Hosteen said, and, reaching his hand down toward Sean, the boy had risen and followed him out of the house, past his aunt’s worried face, past the baby in her arms, whose hands had brushed Hosteen’s shirt as he’d passed.

Hosteen lifted Sean onto the pony’s back once Victor had saddled it, Ghost standing patiently beside them, and then they’d headed out into the desert, leaving everything else behind.

Miles from the house now, the sun coming almost exactly overhead, Hosteen turned his attention to the foot of the mountains, the land around it, barren but beautiful in that way that desert was, things greener than usual with the coming spring.

They reached a large clearing at the foot of the mountains hemmed in with boulders, and Hosteen urged Ghost to halt with a touch of the reins. The pony likewise stopped, tossing its head against the rope Hosteen held in his hand, still looking irritated at being led for so long from the stable. As he dismounted, Hosteen smiled at the pony, and touched its small nose with his free hand.

“Are you ready to learn how to ride?” Hosteen said, standing close, and Sean looked at him, uncertain. He wouldn’t take his hands off the horn, the reins against the pony’s mane.

“I will hold the rope while you are learning,” he added, showing Sean the rope in his hand. “But you will do the steering and the stopping. You will do all the work. Before we leave here today, you will be able to ride him back walking beside me with him, not behind me with me leading you along. What do you think of that?”

Sean stared back, and then shook his head. Hosteen merely smiled.

“You can do it. Your pony is very tame. The man I got him from said he would not hurt anything, that he would mind very well.” He paused, meeting Sean’s gaze.

“Trust,” he said softly. “In me and in yourself. You can learn and will do very well. I can feel it. And I have feelings about such things.”

Sean merely looked at him, and shook his head again.

“Hm,” Hosteen hummed softly, and stood back. “Come down off of him and we will start at the beginning. Something easy. All right?”

He helped Sean slide off the pony’s back, holding him around the waist. Then he handed the rope to him, and stepped back, walking a few paces away from Ghost, who watched him go.

“The first thing you must do is call a horse by its name,” Hosteen said. “Let it hear you, so it can learn to mind. Watch.”

And as Sean shook his head, Hosteen reached his hand up toward Ghost and spoke in Navajo to him. First his name, then the word “come.” He did not move otherwise.

Ghost pricked up his ears toward him at the sound of his voice, then obediently came forward until his nose touched Hosteen’s outstretched hand.

“Good,” he said softly. “Good.” Then he looked at Sean. “Now you. Go over there and say the pony’s name, and the word ‘come.’ See if he will hear your voice.”

But Sean was shaking his head again, looking down, and dropped the rope.

“An easy thing to do,” Hosteen said, ignoring him. “Two words. It is how you start with an animal like this. He will not mind you unless he hears your voice.”

He watched Sean look at the pony, the ground, and back again.

“You are only speaking to the pony, Sean,” Hosteen said quietly. “Not to me or to anyone else. Only to him. Go on. Try.”

He nearly held his breath in the waiting that followed, doing his best to appear nonchalant, talking softly to Ghost as though he were paying Sean no mind at all.

Then he watched, from the corner of his eye, Sean walk a few paces away from the pony, close to a boulder on one side. The boy raised his hand and looked at the animal, who watched him, gnawing absently on its bit.

Sean’s mouth opened, but nothing came out, closed it again, then opened. Then…

“C..Cloud.” A high voice, almost as faint as a whisper. A long pause, the boy’s eyes going down as he heard his own voice.

The pony’s ears came up, but it did nothing.

“Call him louder,” Hosteen said gently. “He will mind. Tell him to come to you.”

Sean swallowed, his hand still outstretched. He opened his mouth again, hesitated.

“Cloud,” he said, a bit louder, though his voice was hoarse, papery. Hosteen smiled at the clipped accent in the word.

Sean drew in a breath, swallowed again. When he spoke, it was almost a normal tone.

“Come.”

The pony hesitated, but Hosteen knew Victor had spent the better part of yesterday and the day before teaching the pony the word.

Then it pricked its ears forward, and, dragging the rope after it, it went to Sean until its nose touched his palm.

And Sean did something Hosteen had yet to see him do.

He smiled.

+++

THE HANGED MAN BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND, U.K. 1:22 p.m.

TO: RosesRedHotMama FROM: SpookyPapa DATE: 18 March 2003 SUBJECT: Trying this out

S,

Well, one thing’s for certain — no one is ever going to find a way to trace these names. You sound like a porn site advertiser and I sound like a truck driver’s CB handle or a racehorse. Never let the Gunmen configure your email accounts, I guess. And I don’t think we have to guess which one of them made the names, given yours. The worst part is I don’t think they can be changed at this point, so we’re going to have to live with them.

I’m here — remind me not to come the day after St. Patrick’s Day again, will you? I don’t think it brings out the best in these people. But that could be because of places we’re staying right now — mostly pubs, looking for the elusive Mr. R. He hasn’t shown up where he was supposed to be and there’s been no word on him from anyone here. I’ve got a room, though, and the food is just like I remember it — heavy and good. Sk’s so jetlagged he can’t see straight. I can’t believe after all this time he hasn’t learned to sleep on planes. He’s been pissed off all day about R. not being here when we showed up. I figure he’ll turn up, though. The bartender says he’s basically been living here for several days, belly up to the bar the whole time. I can’t wait to meet him.

Just a note about G. — he’s really not looking good lately, though he’s trying to hide it as best he can. That gunshot wound really has him tied up. I wonder if there’s anything you can do for him, if he’ll let you. He’s too young to be hurt that bad. I’m wondering if there’s something else wrong that he’s not letting on about. Maybe he’ll talk to you about it.

I’m thinking about you. Too much, probably. Wondering how you are, what you’re doing with yourself. Thinking about the baby, and what you’re feeling. I didn’t think it would hit me this hard, this soon, but knowing you’re so far away…it’s just hard. I’m glad we have this, though. We’ve never really written letters before, and who knows? It might be sort of enjoyable if we get into the habit of it. I’d give anything to be sitting in front of you, though, reading your eyes. I forget sometimes how much I can tell just by watching them, how much you give away with them, if only to me.

Hey S, should we start using emoticons? Abbreviations? I’d love to have you ROTFLYAO. ๐Ÿ˜‰ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ˜‰

Write me when you get a chance. I’ll check here for you as often as I can.

I love you.

M.

Mulder moved the cursor over to the “send” button on the tiny machine, tapped it softly, and sat back in the chair at the worn desk in his room, looking at the message that the email had been sent for a long moment, feeling somehow hollow inside as he did it. He could hear someone moving down the hallway toward the common bath, the creak of the door. Below him, a murmuring of the people in the pub, the faint sound of a television playing, a sporting event from the sound of an announcer and a crowd.

They hadn’t been in Belfast long, and the place felt enormously strange to him, despite his college years in the U.K Going from the desert and the desolation of the reservation to this, a city teeming with people and noise and traffic, was quite a shock to his system.

As was being away from Scully so suddenly. He couldn’t believe he’d just left her the morning before, there beneath the covers in his sweatshirt in Albert Hosteen’s house. Already it felt like years, made worse by the strangeness of the place and the distance.

He sat up straighter, ran a hand through his hair, pushing it off his forehead and scrubbing it back.

He couldn’t think that way. He had to concentrate. There was a lot to be done here, and he had to be ready for what was to come. Not distracted. Not aching the way he was now.

More footsteps outside the door, and a knock this time.

“Come in,” he called, and Skinner entered the room, glancing at the computer, still on, on the desk.

“I’m not interrupting you, am I?” Skinner grumbled, his ill- temperedness from the morning clearly still gripping him. He looked tired, pissed off.

“No,” Mulder said quickly, and reached out to shut the internet connection off, then he turned the computer off. “I’m all done. Any word?”

“Yeah,” Skinner said. He wore jeans, a long-sleeved white T-shirt with a black jacket over it to hide his gun at his hip. “Renahan just got back from wherever the hell he’s been. The bartender just pointed him out to me. He’s downstairs in the pub.”

Mulder stood, reached for his own leather jacket, also long enough to hide his Sig, pulled it on over the black turtleneck he wore.

“Let’s go,” he said, and Skinner nodded, led the way into the hall, Mulder closing the door behind him.

They wove their way down the narrow staircase that led from the rooms upstairs to the pub below, a dark, cave-like place with a long bar and some tables, a few booths lining the walls. There were dim lamps in the booths, and ceiling fans kept the persistent smell of cigarette and pipe smoke milling around the room.

Skinner stopped just at the bottom of the stairs, nodded toward one of the booths where a man sat, alone, his back to them. Mulder could make out a long stretch of uncombed hair, a curl of smoke.

“That’s him,” Skinner said, and led the way toward the table.

The man that gazed up them as they stopped beside the table seemed more weary than Mulder had ever seen anyone look in his life. Dark circles beneath his eyes, set into a pasty white face. A wild beard and piercing eyes, which met Mulder’s, then looked him up and down, doing the same to Skinner, though he appeared to recognize Skinner at least.

“Mr. Skinner,” he said, and it was not friendly.

“Yeah, that’s me,” Skinner said. “This is Agent Fox Mulder.”

Renahan’s lip curled. “Not hurt as bad as you looked, eh?” he said, staring at Mulder. “Not hurt at all, in fact.”

“No,” Mulder said carefully. “I’m fine.”

Renahan nodded. “I’d venture a guess that your wife is fine, as well. Am I right?”

Mulder looked at Skinner, unsure of what to say, and Skinner looked down at Renahan.

“We can’t discuss that,” Skinner said, keeping his voice low. “Not here.”

Renahan smiled a bit more. “No need to discuss,” he said. “You’ve answered my question already.” He gestured to the other side of the booth. “Please. Sit. I don’t bite, you know. Just look like I do these days.”

Mulder glanced at Skinner again, and then slid into the booth, Skinner following him.

“Begging your pardon, Mr. Renahan,” Skinner began without prelude. “But where the hell have you been? You were supposed to be here to meet us this morning.”

“Out,” Renahan replied, unruffled. Mulder noticed he had a cigarette in one hand, a pint in the other. The hand holding the cigarette shook slightly. “Been talking to some old acquaintances of mine from years back, those that are still around, that is. Finding lots of people dead.”

Mulder nodded. “Are you finding what you need?” he asked, pitching his voice carefully neutral. He was trying to get a read on the man, and it was hard. The eyes gave nothing away at all. Blank as slate, though intelligent.

Renahan looked back at him, appraising him again. “A bit of what I need, yes,” he said. “It’s not IRA doing this. I know that for certain now. The IRA’s up to nothing much these days, and killing two women — including one of their own — isn’t something they’re doing. I’ve been trying to get a finger on Fagan with a few people, but haven’t found anything out I didn’t already know.”

Renahan took a drink from his pint in the silence that followed, Mulder chewing his lip. Skinner was looking around the pub as though trying to figure out if they were being watched.

“What about a man named Eamon?” Mulder asked. “A custom’s officer who was arrested once a long time ago.”

Renahan’s eyes narrowed. “Eamon Neill?” he replied, sounding incredulous.

“I don’t know his last name,” Mulder said. “Mae didn’t know his last name. She just said he might be someone who could help us find out something about Fagan.”

“Well, that’s the only custom’s officer named Eamon I know,” the grizzled man replied, puffing on his smoke. “The only one we arrested. He went to jail for a few years for conspiracy. Couldn’t pin any actual murders on him, though I know he’s as dirty as they come. Hiding people, stealing cars and weapons, scoping out targets. He got a lot of people killed, that one, even if he didn’t do it himself.”

“Mae said he was good friends with Owen Curran, and that he knew John Fagan,” Mulder pressed. “Do you think we could find him?”

Renahan looked at Mulder and gave that same quirky smile, as though he found Mulder terribly amusing. “You just want to walk right up to his house and knock on the door, Agent Mulder?” He laughed. “Doesn’t work that way around here.”

“Why not?” Mulder said, leaning forward slightly. “These people aren’t the ones under investigation. And if this Neill has already been arrested, he knows that we’d know he had IRA connections. It’s not like we’d be exposing someone with no known ties. He might be willing to talk to us.”

Renahan’s eyes narrowed again on Mulder. “What makes you so certain of that, Agent Mulder? Eamon Neill is about as close to Path as you’re going to find. He might not want to risk further exposing himself.”

“We won’t know unless we try,” Mulder replied, looking to Skinner for backup. Skinner nodded.

“It might be worth our time to talk to him,” Skinner said. “IF you know where to find him.”

Renahan leaned back, stubbed out his cigarette. “I don’t know where Neill is anymore,” he said. “But I know some people who might know.” He moved to stand, Mulder and Skinner looking up at him.

“Well, come on,” Renahan said, chiding and gesturing toward the door. “If you’re going to do this, then do it. Time to meet a few people. Get your faces out there. They’ll bloody well like your faces better than they’ll like mine.”

“Where are we going?” Skinner asked, standing, and allowing Mulder to do the same.

“Derry,” Renahan said softly. “Right into the middle of things. That seems to be where Agent Mulder wants to be.”

He looked at Mulder, who stared back.

“You’re right,” he said. “I do.”

Renahan smiled, and Mulder thought it was the first smile of any real emotion he’d seen the man give him yet..

“Then let’s get at it,” he said, and led the way out of the pub.

+++

TWO GREY HILLS, NEW MEXICO 3:13 p.m.

TO: SpookyPapa FROM: RosesRedHotMama DATE: 18 March 2003 SUBJECT: Re: Trying this out

M,

First, the next time I see F., pray I don’t I have my gun with me.

Second, the first time you “LOL”, I K-Y-A.

I miss you. There’s no other way to say that. I remember a line of poetry I read years ago, when I was in college, I think. I can’t remember who wrote it, but the line has always stayed with me. It goes: “Your absence has gone through me like thread through a needle. All that I do is stitched with its color.” I know that sounds trite and romantic — blame the hormones. But it already feels like a long time since I’ve seen you, and things are lonely here without you.

I took a long walk out to the trailer again today, and it was almost as though I was looking for you, expected to find you there sitting on the edge of the bed with Bo again. Thinking of that helps me, in a way. You looked so lost when I found you there. I hope you’ve found what you’re looking for where you are now, or at least are in a place where you feel you can begin searching for what you need to come back again.

I’m interested to hear what this man R is like. M. told me a little about his reputation with the IRA this morning after breakfast, before I went walking out behind the house. The IRA were simultaneously afraid of him and admired him greatly. He got people to talk without using force. M. still doesn’t know how he did it, and there’s a strange tone when she talks about him. It’s the kind of tone she uses when she talks about what she calls “The Old Guard” of the IRA, this group of men who seemed to run the entire IRA underground when she was a child. She’s been talking more lately, though it seems to make her sad to do it. She doesn’t name a lot of names, but I think her starting to open up a little bit is a good sign. It’s all so entrenched with who she is, even after everything she’s been through with O. It’s like a limb she has. She can’t just cut it off without losing something essential about herself. It’s going to take some time.

Mr. H. is out with Sean. They’ve been gone for hours.

Bo misses you, too. He’s sulking around the house.

The baby is moving a lot again today. Sometimes I worry that she moves too much, that something is wrong. I know that’s not rational, and that I’d worry more if she didn’t move much at all, but it’s strange to feel this all the time, this fluttering inside me. Did you know she’s about a pound now, about ten inches long? Sometimes I swear when I put my hand on my belly I can feel her there, but I think it’s just my own pulse in my palm.

I think I hear a car coming up the driveway. It must be G. coming back from taking his things to V.’s. He came by when he got in, dropped off the computer and then went out right away to get settled in. And yes, I know he hasn’t been doing well since the surgery — and I know he’s been trying to hide it, too. I was against the idea of him coming here at first, but now I think he can probably use the time away from the office, maybe get some extra rest and heal a little better. I’ll do what I can with him, though you know he’ll chafe if I hover too much.

I’ve got to go. Write me when you can.

I love you, too.

S.

Scully didn’t read the email over — she just touched the “send” button and powered down the computer, hearing the slam of a car door out front, Bo looking up from where he sat next to her on the floor beside the bed. The dog’s ears pricked forward, and he whined.

“It’s okay,” she said, out of habit. She’d been saying it to the dog all day, all the time he’d followed her out into the desert behind the house to the trailer, all through the time they’d spent in the minivan down to where Mae was staying in Hosteen’s brother’s trailer. He missed Mulder almost as much as she did. Perhaps more.

Placing the computer on the bed beside her, its power cord trailing off the side of the bed, she stood, stretched her aching back, and went out into the hallway, Bo trailing along beside her, to the living room. Someone was knocking on the front door, and Scully went to the door, opened it.

Granger stood there, a slight smile on his face.

“Hi,” he said, and Scully gave a small smile to him in return and opened the screen door to let him in.

“How are you feeling?” he asked. “I didn’t pester you before.” He smiled wider.

“I’m okay,” she replied. She noticed the Ruger at his hip, the holster threaded through the black belt he wore with his jeans, his gray T-shirt tucked into the waist.

“What do you think of your quarters?” she asked.

“They’re fine,” Granger said, and his brow creased down. “But I don’t like to think of you up here by yourself.”

She smiled the same wan smile. “I’m okay. I’ve got Mr. Hosteen here with me most of the time, and a woman named Sara Whistler is here usually when he’s not.”

“I meant without someone with a gun,” he said, shaking his head.

She edged her hand down to the waist of her maternity jeans at her back, drew out her Sig, which was tucked in its holster there.

“There is someone with a gun,” she replied, and he shook his head and laughed.

“Come on,” she said, nodding toward the door. “Drive me down to Mae’s.”

“All right,” Granger said, and followed her out of the house, back out to his rental car, one of the small SUVs that were so popular at the moment. It gleamed, brand new, in the sunlight.

“I got a four-wheel drive at the airport,” he said.. “I didn’t know if we might need it.”

She climbed into the passenger side, moving carefully. “You never know.”

And he took the driver’s seat and they made their way down the dirt road toward the stables and Victor’s place.

**

Scully left Granger and went toward the house a few hundred feet behind it, Albert’s brother’s house where Mae was staying with Katherine and Sean.

Every time she approached it, she remembered that night all that time ago, coming in from days in the desert, the porchlight on, and Mulder waiting there. It had felt like a tomb when she’d entered it that night, a place of grief.

But so much more had been made there, that night and the nights that followed. What she and Mulder were now had been forged there, the open wound of them closed over in that quiet place.

Now, as she approached it again, it had the same feel to it. The same quietness. The same grief. Not even Katherine’s laughter, sounding out of place in the silence around the house, seemed to alleviate it.

Scully stopped before the door, rapped gently on the screen door, and was told by Mae’s tired voice to come in. She did.

Agent Music sat with Mae at the table off the kitchen, Katherine in a playpen Mulder and Victor had bought in Farmington, her blonde head and bright smile peeking over the side.

“Dana,” Mae called from the table. She was sitting stiff in her chair, Music across from her, a legal pad in front of him scribbled with notes.

“I’m not interrupting, am I?” she asked, and Music smiled up at her, though it looked a bit strained.

“No,” he said. “We’re all done for today, I think.” He pushed the chair back, looking very much like one of Victor’s ranch hands — blue T-shirt and stiff, new-looking jeans. Only his 9mm in a shoulder holster gave away who and what he was.

“I can come back,” Scully tried again.

“No,” Music said, more firmly. “We’ve gotten as far as we’re going to get. And besides…” He winked at Scully, not rogueish but playful. “Victor said he’s going to teach me how to ride.”

Scully chuckled softly. “Be afraid, Frank,” she said. “Be very afraid.”

Music laughed, touched her upper arm with the pad, and turned to Mae.

“Tomorrow?” he asked, and Mae looked up at him, pinched and deeply sad.

“Yes,” she said softly. “Tomorrow.”

And Music left the house.

Katherine made a loud cry from the playpen, and Mae rose as if given her cue, went to the baby, lifting her up and out.

“She’s hungry,” Mae said, and she seemed unable to meet Scully’s eyes, which bothered Scully. “She’s been good while Agent Music and I were talking. I don’t blame her for being a bit restless now.”

Mae sat at the table again, began undoing the buttons of her blouse, and Scully sat across from her, in the chair that Music had vacated.

Once Mae had gotten Katherine to calm, the baby nursing quietly, her tiny hands on Mae’s chest, Mae finally looked up at Scully.

“I’m sorry,” she said quietly. “I’m just…” She trailed off.

“You feel guilty,” Scully finished for her, and Mae’s face fell as she nodded.

“A bit like Confession,” she said, and laughed nervously. “Rattling the family bones.”

“It’s going to help us,” Scully offered, fingering the corner of the ratty placemat on the cheap wood table. “It’s going to help us both get home faster if you can talk about the things you know. You know that.”

“‘Home’?” Mae said, something bitter in her voice. “Where the hell is that for me then? You’ve got a home. A life to go back to. What have I got? This trailer is as close to a home as I’m going to get, before this whole bloody mess is over and they cart me and the children off to God-only-knows where.”

Scully looked down, her face falling. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I shouldn’t have said that.”

Mae blew out a frustrated breath, looking down into Katherine’s serene face, her face evening out from its angry mask.

“No, I’m sorry,” she said quietly. “I shouldn’t be angry with you. You’re doing all you can to help me in this. I don’t mean to take it out on you. I’ve got no one to blame for the mess I’m in but myself.”

“You’re doing what you can,” Scully offered, though she knew it sounded hollow.

Mae didn’t seem to hear her, her eyes on Katherine. She began to rock slowly from side to side, stroking the baby’s wispy hair.

“She looks more like Joe every day,” Mae said. “The look in her eyes. The set of her face.”

Scully swallowed, looking at the baby. She had not known Porter for long, but looking at the baby, she could tell Mae was right.

“I’m sorry,” she said again. “I can’t imagine…what that must be like.”

“You don’t want to imagine,” Mae replied, and looked up into Scully’s face, the women’s eyes meeting. “I know it’s hard enough on you not having Mulder here. You don’t want to think about it.”

Scully looked away, down at the baby in her arms. Her brows crooked as she thought.

“Where would you go?” she asked after a moment.

“What?” Mae asked, shaking her head in confusion.

“If you could go anywhere,” Scully continued. “With the children. Where would you go? Where would ‘home’ be for you?”

Mae looked out the screen door, past Scully, onto a land Scully knew she would never see. The look of longing on the other woman’s face told her that.

“I’d go back to Ireland,” Mae said softly. “Take Sean and Katherine and go back to Belfast or Ballycastle. Start again.”

Scully nodded. “Do you think that you might do that? After your sentence is served, after all of it’s over?”

Mae laughed bitterly. “I think the last place I’d be welcomed would be Northern Ireland. By the IRA or the Brits. And I wouldn’t do that to Sean. I don’t want the legacy of being Owen’s son to follow him there. I don’t want that life for him. Any part of it.”

“Mulder and A.D. Skinner have said that the IRA isn’t after you. That they don’t want you touched. You might be safe there.”

Mae’s gaze hardened. “What they say and what they mean are different things,” she said dismissively. “Too much history there. Too much time spent working against the way things work. And I don’t know what I’d do in the Peace. I don’t know any other kind of life than the one I lived there. Than…this.” She nodded toward the room around her, a hiding place on the run.

Scully looked at her, picking at the edge of the placemat. “You could change, Mae,” she said softly. “You *have* changed already. You could make a life there.”

Mae stood suddenly, jostling the baby, who squealed at the movement. “I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” Mae snapped. “This is the life I’ve got now and I’ve got to live with it. I can’t go dreaming about things I can’t have.” Her eyes welled. “It’s like dreaming Joe will come back. It’s not going to happen. Not ever.”

And she stalked off into the living room, leaving Scully behind at the table, Scully’s eyes down, frustration piquing her.

Then, a tickling in her head.

Her hand went to her forehead as if to smooth it away…

(Sunlight through windows. The bedroom, her and Mulder’s house. Bars of light on the bed, on Mulder’s back where she looks over his shoulder, her teeth on his skin…

“Yes…” he whispers into her hair. “Scully…yes…”

More tickling, a sense of movement.

“Mulder,” she says on a breath. “She’s awake. She’s coming down the hall.”

Mulder shaking in her arms, a stifled cry against her throat. Then he rolls off her quickly, ends up spooned behind her, his face still buried in her hair, his breathing heavy.

The bedroom door creaks open.

“Mommy?” Light, like a bell.

She looks at the door and sees…

Rose. Three or four. A nightgown to her ankles covered with strawberries, red on white.

“What is it, Rose?” She hears her own voice say it.

The little girl, dark hair trailing down her back, long…

“Are you hugging?” Rose asks, rubbing at her eyes. Morning. Early.

“Yes, honey,” Mulder says from behind her. “We’re hugging.”

The little girl touches the doorframe, a finger against her chin. “Can I come, too?”

Scully feels her naked skin, dewed with sweat beneath the covers, Mulder’s bare body against her.

“Where’s Casey?” she hears herself ask.

“In my room,” Rose answers, pointing behind her.

“Go dress Casey in her daytime clothes and come back with her and you can get in bed with us,” Mulder says softly, his voice patient. Gentle.

“Okay.” And then Rose is gone.

Mulder’s lips on her throat, her cheek. Heavy breath.

“Five minutes,” he whispers. “Get dressed…”)

“Dana?”

Scully snapped herself back, drawing in a sharp breath as her hands shot out onto the table in front of her, steadying her. She looked up, her eyes wide, into Mae’s face, who was standing just beside her, Katherine still clutched to her chest.

“What?” she asked. “What is it?”

Mae looked as wide-eyed as she felt, her mouth agape. “You were talking just then. Talking to Mulder. To your baby. You called her by her name. And you asked me where someone named ‘Casey’ was.” Mae shifted Katherine slightly. “Are you all right?”

Scully felt heat rising in her face, looked around the room, trying to ground herself.

“Yes,” she said, and rose a little too quickly, unsteady on her feet. Mae put a hand out to steady her, clutching the baby with the other hand.

“Easy,” Mae said. “Easy now. What’s wrong?”

Scully shook her off, taking a step back. “I’m fine,” she said quickly. “Fine. I just need…I need to go back to the house.”

“Dana, what’s happening?” Mae called as Scully went for the door. “This is like what happened when Katherine the other day, isn’t it? Tell me what’s wrong.”

“It’s nothing,” Scully said quickly, firmly, opening the screen door.

Mae still calling after her, her head swimming, sweat beading her forehead, she went out of the house and back out into the light.

+++

CHAPTER 11.

+++

OUTSIDE OMAGH NORTHERN IRELAND, U.K. MARCH 28 (10 DAYS LATER) 11:35 p.m.

“Turn! Turn!”

Skinner’s voice hissed into the darkness, Mulder hearing it from his left side as Skinner gripped the dashboard, half-turned toward the back as he watched the headlights raking the rough road behind them. The car behind them was moving fast, and Mulder pressed down on his own car’s accelerator, taking the turnoff to his right too fast and sending Renahan nearly tumbling sideways in the small back seat.

Not surprisingly, Renahan, stinking of Scotch, laughed.

“Mr. Mulder, you’re not going to lose them,” he said in his thick cockney, slightly slurring. “They’ve got you now and they’re not going to let you go.”

“What the hell are you laughing at?” Mulder spat, flooring it into a straightaway, no lights anywhere but his own lights and the streaks behind him, a quarter of a mile back and gaining. His hands gripped the steering wheel, his eyes wide open and fixed on Renahan’s ragged face in the rear view mirror.

“Don’t you think it’s even a BIT amusing?” Renahan replied. “I mean, you two poking around like the bloody F.B. fucking I. in the middle of a pub in the heart of the IRA, and then being surprised when someone comes after you for it?” He laughed again, and Mulder seethed.

“Oh, for Christ’s sake, Renahan,” Skinner bit out, turning to face the other man. “If you could quit acting like you’re enjoying this so goddamn much it would help immensely.”

But Renahan only laughed again.

Mulder bit his lip, shaking his head slowly, feeling the comfortable weight of his Sig at his side beneath his jacket. He pushed the car forward, as if willing it with his eyes onto the road ahead of him. Faster. Faster.

The car behind them gained, the high-pitched whine of a small engine pushed too hard. Around them, nothing but countryside, no houses, nothing. He knew from the drive in that there were low mountains off in the distance, mountains he was heading toward as he drove the car west, further away from Omagh and into the vastness around it.

Ten days. Ten days in this car with these two, going from town to town, sleeping in rooms over pubs or in the houses of strangers who let rooms by the night, people who frowned at their accents, handed them towels and sent them into dark rooms that smelled of old smoke and dust. He was worn to the bone, his nerves frayed. Too much time with Renahan, and too much time in the back rooms of pubs talking to people who did not want to talk to him, and who gave up little, if anything at all.

Whatever you say, he remembered the poet once saying, say nothing.

“Renahan, tell me what to do,” he said finally, his voice just loud enough to be heard over the engine sounds, both of their own car and the one now almost on their tail.

Renahan was still looking at him, the older man’s eyes glinting, wide and wet, from the back seat.

The car behind them caught up, and with a lurch bumped against their tail. Mulder swung into the right lane, but the car followed, its highbeams flashing.

“Tell me what to do!” Mulder shouted, every muscle in his body taut.

“Pull over.” The smile was gone from Renahan’s face now, though his eyes were still amused.

“Pull over??” Skinner replied, incredulous.

“You’re going to bloody well end up on the side of the road one way or the other,” Renahan said, sounding almost bored. “Best to pull over on your own.”

The car behind them tapped again, a sound of metal on metal, a dull thud, and Mulder swung the car back into the left lane, the pursuing vehicle staying and trying to draw the drivers’ windows even.

“Do it, Mr. Mulder,” Renahan said. “Before we’ve got a right mess here.”

Mulder glanced at the car gaining beside him, at Renahan, then at Skinner.

Finally, he nodded, and his foot stomped on the brake as he pulled the car hard to the left and onto the side of the road, green coming into the headlights, the long grass of early spring. A sheep darted out of sight in the headlights.

The car that had been chasing them had likewise braked and was backing up down the road with great speed. Mulder reached down and took out his gun, Skinner doing the same.

“Put them away!” Renahan sputtered, leaning forward and pushing Skinner’s gun out of sight. “You’re going to get us all killed that way! We’re not in bloody Tombstone! Goddamn Yanks–“

“I’m not going to just sit here and let these people–” Mulder jumped in.

“They’re here to scare you, not to kill you,” Renahan interrupted. “But they see those guns and they’ll think differently. Now do as I say!”

The car had stopped on the other side of the road, the door swinging open, and four figures piled out into the dark, moving across the road.

“NOW!” Renahan hissed, and Mulder, seeing the men coming toward him, glanced at Skinner and put his gun away. Skinner, obviously reluctant, did the same.

Hands on the window, a fist rapping on the thin glass.

“Out of the fucking car!” the man said, and when Mulder looked up, he saw the a ski mask, only eyes, the dot of a nose and lips pushed too big by the fabric pushing through.

There was another man behind him, a crowbar in his hand, and the other two had gone to Skinner’s side of the car. Mulder looked over and saw the blunt end of a very old looking pistol pointed at Skinner’s side.

“Come on, OUT! OUT!” the man said to Mulder’s right. “And get those fucking hands where we can see them!”

The door was yanked open, and rough hands reached in, grabbing Mulder around the collar and hauling him out onto the road. He reached up and gripped the fists around his jacket, pulling hard.

“Get your goddamn hands off me–” he began as he broke away, knocking the first man down.

Then a sharp pain against the side of this head, and he toppled down next to the car onto his side holding his head, his breath hissing out against the gravel, his eyes on the shoes of the man with the crowbar.

Black boots. Military issue. Blurring in and out of vision…

“Mulder!” he heard Skinner call from the other side of the car. The other man’s voice seemed to echo slightly.

The first man — the one who had spoken and who was clearly the leader — picked himself up off the ground, brushing himself off. He stood next to Mulder, his feet, also clad in black boots, coming into Mulder’s view.

“Don’t touch me again, fucker,” he snarled, and kicked out, knocking Mulder’s shoulder and forcing Mulder back onto his back. Mulder stared up at him, feeling the wetness of blood seeping into his hair above his ear.

He blinked, his head swimming, and tried to force his eyes to focus.

“Gun!”

The alarmed call came from one of the men searching Skinner, and Mulder stared up into the surprised faces of the two above him, their eyes in their masked faces wide. The leader’s face shot down to Mulder.

“Search him,” he ordered, and took the crowbar from the other man, who bent and began rifling through Mulder’s jacket, his shirt. It didn’t take him long to find the Sig, which he held up, and the leader took it.

“See if that stinking fuck in the back seat has got something on him, as well,” the leader said, and Mulder could hear Renahan chuckle mirthlessly as he was hauled out of the car with much commotion.

“Easy, boys, easy now…” Renahan was saying, and Mulder heard the sudden sound of Renahan’s body striking the trunk of the car as he was searched.

The leader was still looking down at Mulder, Mulder’s own gun trained on him now.

“Get up,” he ordered. “Now.”

When Mulder didn’t move immediately, the bigger man who’d held the crowbar reached down and hauled Mulder up, setting him on his feet and smashing his back against the car. Skinner and Renahan were hustled around to flank him on either side, the four masked men standing in front of them, three guns trained on their three forms.

“What do you want?” Skinner snapped, all A.D., his hand going out to Mulder’s shoulder as Mulder swayed slightly. “Just who the hell do you think you are, trying to run us off the road and–“

“Shut the fuck up,” the leader said, holding his gun up level with Skinner’s face, and Skinner did. “What I want to know is who the bloody hell YOU are, asking questions that shouldn’t be asked all over half the fucking countryside, eh?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Mulder said, his hand on his head, which he pulled down as he stood up straighter, though his hand was stained with blood. “And if I did, it wouldn’t be your business anyway.”

The leader’s eyes pinned him, the gun staying on Skinner’s face, who he clearly saw as more of a threat than Mulder on his rubber knees. “Anyone asking questions about Eamon Neill is my business,” the man said, a dangerous rumble in his voice.

That was when Mulder saw it — a thin scar, thin as a knife blade, down the man’s distended lower lip.

It was the same scar the red-haired man at the bar had worn, the one behind the table where Mulder had sat with Renahan and Skinner and a man named Joey Flannan, who smoked a pipe and let almost nothing but smoke come from between his chapped lips.

“No, no Eamon around here,” Flannan had said, his face weathered as though he’d spent his life on the sea. The words leaked from his lips, his mouth barely moving, and his eyes set on Mulder’s face.

“I know you knew him, Joey,” Renahan had said, taking a sip from his highball glass of Glenfiddich. “You. Seamus Hanson. A few of the boys. Tipped off by Eamon Neill about that bloke who got tea every morning at The Exchange in Derry.”

Flannan’s eyes had gone to Renahan, though the rest of his body didn’t move. Smoke gathered around his face.

Renahan smiled a smile that looked like it had been drawn on with crayon. “Killed that little ginger-haired bastard postman by mistake, didn’t you?” he said. “Only knew ‘ginger hair’ and ‘uniform’ and opened fire on a man with a wife and a baby just come, didn’t you?”

Flannan still didn’t move. “I’ve got nothing to say to you, Mr. Renahan,” he said softly, and then his lip did curl a bit, as though pinched.

Mulder had leaned forward then, nearly knocking over the pint of Guinness he hadn’t touched. “Mr. Flannan, we don’t care about your involvement with anything,” he said, glaring at Renahan. “And we don’t mean Eamon Neill any harm. We just want to talk to him. That’s all. Just talk.”

That’s when the man at the bar had caught his eye. A young man. Red hair. Eyes like arctic ice and freckles, and a scar down his lip, trailing down his chin. When the man had seen Mulder looking at him, he’d turned away, back to the bartender, who’d been watching, as well.

“Mr. Flannan, please,” Mulder had said then, and he felt something rising in him, something akin to desperation. So many days. Too much time with Renahan and his gruffness and his taunting. Too many dead- ends, and towns and men who would not speak. “Please. This is about my wife. That’s all. It’s about my wife.”

But Flannan hadn’t swayed. He’d stood, pushing the chair back, holding onto his pipe in the corner of his mouth. He nodded to Renahan. “I’ve got nothing to say to any of you,” he said, and, picking up his pint, he’d wandered away.

The man at the bar had turned and looked at Mulder once again, met Mulder’s eye, then turned away.

Now, his breath puffing out in front of his face in the cool of the night, Mulder looked at the scar on the chin, recognized the strange blue of the eye in the dim, obtuse light of the headlights.

“Now the two of you,” the man said, pointed to Renahan and Skinner, “are going to get in that car over there.” He nodded to the car he and the others had come in. “And you…” He stared at Mulder. “You’re going to get back into this one and drive with me.”

“We’re federal agents with the American government,” Skinner rushed in. “You can’t–“

“I don’t give a fuck who you are,” the man snapped, and he pressed the gun closer to Skinner’s face. “Now go. Get in the car.”

“Where are we going?” Mulder said, his voice rising. “Where are you taking us?”

Now the man’s face changed, even beneath the mask. Hardened.

“Those two miserable fucks are going back to Omagh,” he said, jerking a nod toward Renahan and Skinner.

“But you,” he said, and now he turned the gun to Mulder, and the man’s mouth bore a predatory smile.

“You’re coming with me.”

+++

TWO GREY HILLS, NEW MEXICO MARCH 29 5:32 a.m.

The sun coming up over the ridge of mountains that wreathed the desert, the whole world a burnt amber, Paul Granger walked along the sandy road that split the wash out behind Victor Hosteen’s property, a vast expanse of sagebrush and yucca and nothingness. He wore faded jeans dusted with sand like ash, a sweatshirt from Johns Hopkins, the waist of which was frayed, the lettering dotted away from 10 years’ worth of washes. It was still cold from the night, the desert holding no heat, and the sun seemed almost wan in the way it was rising through a thin layer of cloud, the moon still a claw hooked in the deep blue of the night sky to west.

Granger looked up as he walked, one hand in his pocket, the other holding a long thin branch he was using both as a walking stick and also as a crook of sorts to tap the sheep in front of him into a jumble of woolen bodies that bleated plaintively as he touched their sides. Several wore bells, and the muffled sounds of their jangling rose into the brisk air.

They were coming up over a rise, one of the few on the property, a fairly sharp incline when compared to the flatness of the rest of the land. The sheep moved up it, zigging and zagging as Granger moved them back together with his stick, and he wished, as they rose, that he’d taken Victor’s advice and ridden one of the horses from the stable to do this task of moving the sheep from the pens behind Victor’s brother Keel’s house back to their home base on Victor’s ranch.

It hadn’t seemed a long walk when Granger had gone the mile to get them, but now, coming back, it felt a great distance, a heavy burden of miles.

Robin was on his mind this morning, as she was most mornings since he’d arrived in New Mexico, the image of her lying in their bed beneath the heath-green sheets clear in his mind, a smile on his face. Then he was thinking of a night from last autumn, the weekend she’d cooked a recipe from the Gastronome Cookbook he’d given her for her birthday. The dish had a name he couldn’t pronounce and in the end it didn’t matter what it was, didn’t matter a bit, because they’d stopped in the middle of her making it to make love instead on the broad cherry table off the kitchen.

He remembered the peals of her laughter as the room had filled with light grey smoke, the smoke detector screaming its shrill alarm as they kissed.

Granger was still thinking this as he reached the top of the incline, a nice view of light bleeding over the landscape, and that was when the pain struck him in the center of his chest, a squeezing inside him, a rush of burning that bloomed in him like a terrible flower, and it was only the staff that kept him from falling. Instead, he slid down it to one knee, then the other, his breath catching and a low moan coming up from his throat. He clenched his eyes closed against it, his teeth bearing down, his hand on his chest as though he meant to claw the pain out.

“Breathe…” he rasped. “Just breathe…”

His pulse roared in his ear, and his face felt full and hot, the pain coursing through him, a lightness in his head. His stomach roiled, bile rising in his throat, and he had to staunch the urge to vomit. He reached up and swiped at his forehead, knocking his glasses off in the process, and held his hand over his eyes, willing the pain away.

His pills were a mile away, hidden in his shaving bag at Victor’s place. He kicked himself for not having them with him, at least one, tucked in the fifth pocket of his jeans.

Breathe, he told himself again, this time silently, and he concentrated on slowing his heart rate as best he could, as slowing it, being calm, would help the pain. That’s what the doctor had said, at least. The doctor had said little about how to stave off his panic, though, the terror that gripped him when he wondered if this would be the last time he would feel this, if his world were going to fade to the sound of his heartbeat and a warm feeling in his chest that would spread until it blotted out the rest of his life.

The infection that had taken over his heart shortly after his surgery had come swiftly, his chest filled with blood from a severed artery and swelling as a fever had taken him over after the first couple of days in the ICU. Robin would never know how close he’d come to dying from the infection that had overrun him; he’d forbidden the doctors from telling her or his mother, the elder woman hanging onto the side of his bed like a tattered old bird, her dry hand on his cheek.

He’d forbidden the doctor from telling either woman of the prognosis afterwards, as well, the percentage of damage to the broad muscle of his heart, the lack of integrity in the vessels surrounding it from the tearing of the bullet through his chest. The time that he might have, and that he might not have, left.

He’d told them nothing. None of them. His doctor, a kindly, older man, had reluctantly cleared Granger for light duty, talked quietly about transplant options and possibilities and time, the things he knew and the things he didn’t, and then he’d let Granger go when Granger had said he wanted nothing more than to get back to what was left of his life.

There on the road he thought of all this, the pain beginning to ebb slightly, sweat cold on his forehead. He thought of Robin, thousands of miles between them and her even further than that away in the land of the truths he would not speak. Everyone was there in that lost land — his mother, his friends. Mulder and Scully. Rosen and Skinner. He felt like a man living on a ship that never saw a harbor, alone in a way he’d never felt before.

The sheep mingled around him, unsure, soft sounds coming from them, the hollow sounds of bells.

They were enough to pull him back to the present. Finally, he dropped his hand from in front of his face and looked at the animals, pulled in a less painful breath, leaned on the walking stick and managed to come up onto just one knee. Shaking his head to clear the pain away, to ground himself, he rubbed at his chest, sweat sticking his sweatshirt to his body, and then reached down and lifted his glasses carefully off the sand. He righted them on his face, mindful of the pain in his shoulder, as well, and stood slowly, brushed at his pants, and waited for the sudden fatigue to wan.

A couple of sheep were off to the right, meandering through the brush on the way to the desert to the side of the road. Willing his feet to move, Granger stumbled toward them, tapped them, called out, gathered them back with the others, and then moved back down the road, the sun full-on the sand now, bathing everything with warmth and light.

+++

11 SAMUEL STREET, #3 BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND, U.K. 6:35 a.m.

Rain pattering on the windows of the tiny rented flat, Christie Collin lay beneath the thin blankets of his bed, a woman whom he knew only as Bridget asleep beside him facing the wall. His eyes were on the thin line of a scar that traced down the back of her shoulder, each side of it dotted with stitch scars, though the scar itself was wide and fairly jagged.

A sloppy bit of work, he decided, and he inched a bit away from her, toward his own edge of the bed.

He didn’t know why he’d picked her up at the pub the night before. There was something about her that had reminded him of someone, a face that seemed familiar but that he couldn’t quite place. She’d been drunk when he’d met her, his friend John Finney introducing them. A few rounds of darts with her watching, a small predatory smile on her face as she swung back another pint, and he’d simply waited as the pub began to close, her against the bar on the far side. He’d gone to her and taken her by the arm and led her out and onto the dank streets, off to his place for the night.

The sex had been quick. Empty. Just after 2:00 a.m., she’d mumbled something about work and called him by the wrong name as she drifted off to sleep.

Now he only remembered her eyes — blue. And the red of her hair, a plait of his drifting on the pillow toward him like tendrils. Looking at them, at the angry relief of the scar, he swung his legs over the side of the bed and rose, nude, into the light coming in from the street.

His military boxers were at the foot of the bed. Stepping into them, he walked into the adjoining room, a kitchen and a small den, the television still on and talking to no one. Going for it, he turned it off and the room fell into a silence broken only by the rain.

He stood in the midst of it, listening, still as stone.

He missed the life in Curragh Camp, his life with the Rangers, the Cciathan Fhiannoglaigh an Airm. He and Roy Killian would have been up hours ago, making tea on the hotplate in the barracks, waiting for Sergeant Malley to come in beating a metal trashcan to wake the others for the morning run. Or he’d be waking in a forest, his face painted tan and green and the world smelling of loam and the oil on his A196 rifle, his first sight the view of the valley from the ridge.

There in the rain, smelling the heavy scent of sausage cooking from the flat across the hall, he missed his life as it had been before with something tinged with anger that sunk into him and burned.

He’d learned not be easily startled, so when the phone began to ring he simply went for it, picking up the black handle from its cradle and placing it against his ear.

“Aye,” he said, his voice low, graveled with fatigue.

“Christie?” The papery voice. The slight wheeze. His grandmother’s voice. “Are you dressed?”

He looked down at himself, felt color rising in his face.

“Aye,” he said again. “Just up and getting ready to make the tea. Is something wrong?”

A wispy breath, and his grandmother continued. “There are two men asking questions, I’m told. Two Americans. They’ve got Mr. Renahan with them and they’re trying to find out who’s responsible for the trouble.”

She paused, out of breath, and he waited. He’d expected questions, but Renahan? The name was as old as he was. He didn’t think the man could ever come back from the dead.

“What should I do?” he asked.

“I want you back in the south,” came the reply. “Today. Take a car and go across the border. There’s a man you’re going to stay with. Outside Dublin. Riggs is his name. You’ll meet him at the Cloniffe Bed & Breakfast and he’ll tell you where to go from there.”

“You’re sure?” he said, the most vociferous a protest he could muster. He said it under his breath.

“Of course,” his grandmother replied, her voice cracking, like a crow’s. “I wouldn’t send you away lightly, would I?”

“Aye, I reckon you wouldn’t,” he said, and forced a smile onto his face so it would touch his voice. “I’ll be on my way then.”

“And Christie?”

“Yes?”

A pause. “You shouldn’t let strange women into your flat or into your bed.”

He froze, looked behind at Bridget from the doorway, a chill running through him.

“Goodbye, Christie.”

And then the line went dead.

+++

TWO GREY HILLS, NEW MEXICO 9:12 a.m.

The black dog wandered down the dirt road that connected Albert Hosteen’s house to Victor’s, his head down, his long black tail tucked tightly between his legs. He darted from one side of the road to the other, his nose busy on any scrap of anything he encountered, the road littered here and there with blowing scraps of paper and soda cans.

Scully watched Bo making his way down the road, her hand on the small of her back as she walked, the tails of the plaid shirt Albert Hosteen had purchased for her at the Target in town flapping in a wind that whipped sand into small clouds in front of her. She wore maternity jeans, a pair of boots, her hair pulled back into a loose ponytail at the base of her neck.

The baby jutted out in front of her, a perfect mound, making her feel a bit off balance. Rose was growing quickly, despite Scully’s lack of appetite and fatigue. As Scully walked, she felt the baby roll over inside her, head-up to head-down, a lazy motion that made Scully smile. The tautness in her back as she leaned slightly stood in stark contrast to her daughter’s ease inside her.

Bo made a beeline for lump of trash off to the right side, cluttering the base of a rough patch of sagebrush. He whined softly as he discovered nothing there of interest, looked back at her with his oil eyes. Scully might have wondered if he was hungry had she not just fed him. There was no consoling him the past few days. He’d been spending more and more time outside the house, disappearing for hours into the space Albert Hosteen’s house, coming back looking tired and afraid. He was reminding Scully of the stories Mulder had told about how the dog was when Mulder had first found him — a black ghost haunting the area around the ranch.

“Bo,” she called, a bit singy, and patted her thigh. The dog stopped at the sound of his name and, still tucked in on himself, trotted up to her side, pressing the top of his head into the palm of her outstretched hand.

“It’s okay,” she murmured, rubbing his ears. If she could have comfortably knelt down she would have, just to get her face closer to the dog’s. As it was, she simply bent and stroked his head, listening to his faint whining, until his tail came out and waved slightly in recognition, in something like ease.

She smiled down to him, though it made her sad to do it. The dog was like the part of herself that felt Mulder’s absence so acutely. It was as if that part of her had crept out of her body during the night and drifted into the dog’s dark body.

Pushing the thought aside, steeling herself, she straightened and began to walk again, Victor’s house in sight now, the dingy buildings and the rising cloud of dust coming from the corral, the smell of the place drifting to her on the wind. She’d grown to like the heavy smell, to associate it with the cocoon of this place.

Albert Hosteen had left early in the morning, Sara cooking Scully’s breakfast as she also did Hosteen’s laundry in the battered Maytags off the back of the house. Sara had told her about a dream she’d had the night before, something about turning into a dove, and she’d finished the strange, unsolicited tale by turning to Scully, a knowing smile on her face, and saying:

“Tell me about your dreams, Agent Scully. Tell me.”

Scully had looked at her, something in her rattled, that feeling one gets when another has somehow seen too much, and she’d withdrawn, mumbling something about a shower and a walk to Victor’s place.

The walk had helped to ease her mind a bit, though her nagging worry about Mulder stayed with her as she and Bo entered the collection of structures that made up the ranch.

No e-mail from him in days, and the last only a brief note. Something about him and Skinner and this man Renahan staying at a Protestant man’s house outside a town called Ballymena. He was on his way out to a meeting with someone, an informant of Renahan’s, and couldn’t write for long. She gathered he was getting little sleep, moving a lot, sometimes all night, criss-crossing and backtracking across the country. He’d told her he loved her, though even in the black on white of the computer screen the words had sounded sad. He’d promised to write as soon as he could.

But since then — six days ago — nothing.

She was trying to push the worry away, but it was pressing down on her. The what-ifs were beginning to circle her head like birds.

“Dana,” came a voice from her right, Mae’s voice, and the fussy sounds of Katherine in her mother’s arms. Scully had been so deep in thought she hadn’t seen Mae come around Victor’s house.

Scully forced another smile onto her face, and Mae did the same. It was a common gesture they did for each other, this attempt to pretend that everything was all right. Scully thought that Mae was better at it than she was, and she didn’t envy the woman her ability to wear such a mask.

“Just stretching your legs, or looking for someone?” Mae asked, bouncing Katherine slightly to try to hush her impending cries.

“Just walking,” Scully replied, and Bo fell in right beside her, sitting up against her leg. “I thought I’d come down and see how you all were, what you were up to.”

Mae nodded toward the stables. “Mr. Hosteen came early and go Sean. They’re in the small corral with that pony and Mr. Hosteen’s horse. I was watching them until Katherine needed a change.”

Scully nodded, met Mae’s eyes, her face growing serious. “Has he spoken to you?”

Mae’s face fell, the mask slipping as though her expression were attached with string. “No,” she replied, her voice tinged with anger and her accent growing clipped. “And it’s not right. I’m ready to put my foot down with him. It’s been over a month. Enough is enough.”

Scully put a hand out, brushing Mae’s arm. “Mae, you heard what Granger said. Mr. Hosteen’s methods may be unorthodox, but he’s moving Sean in the right direction.”

They’d eaten at Mae’s house — she and Granger — while Albert Hosteen had had Sean out for the day, off somewhere in the desert. Mae had been fretting as the sun had started to fall low on the horizon, a simple dinner of beef stew and fry bread. Sara, who was staying with Victor at night now, had made the bread, and Mae had made the Irish stew. Granger, looking haggard, had tried to explain Sean’s condition to Mae — something he called Selective Mutism.

“Why the bloody hell does he feel it’s all right to talk to a fucking pony and not to me?” Mae had burst out with after listening for a few minutes to Granger’s psychospeak.

“Mae, he has to talk to who or what he trusts right now,” Granger had soothed, Scully nearly dropping her spoon with the suddenness and volume of Mae’s words.

“Why can’t he trust me? I’m the only family he’s got. Katherine and I are all he’s got. Not Mr. Hosteen. And certainly not a horse.”

Granger had put his spoon down then, touched the nosepiece of his glasses to push them up and cleared his throat. “Mae, I think he talks to the pony because he knows the pony won’t talk back. I think that’s what he needs right now. To just be *heard*. And by someone or something that isn’t involved with any of the things in his life that he’s finding to painful to speak about. He’s lost so much. And everyone in his life is associated with that loss. Except Mr. Hosteen and the pony he gave him. You need to let this take its time.”

“He blames me,” Mae replied. “That’s why he won’t speak to me.”

“Mae, after what he’s been through, I think he blames everything,” Scully offered softly. “Starting with Owen, and going right through us all.”

Mae had stared at her, unconvinced and fighting back tears, and had finally risen and gone to the sink. They hadn’t spoken of it again.

Now, bouncing Katherine on her hip, Mae relented again, though her expression was still pained. Every day that went by, Scully saw Mae’s anger growing more and more intense. Her anger at the situation and at her own helplessness.

“How are *you*?” Mae asked, glancing down at her belly.

“I’m fine,” Scully said automatically, rubbing the mound of the baby.

“You don’t look like you’ve slept,” Mae replied doubtfully.

“No, I’m fine,” she said again. “She’s keeping up some. Moving a lot. That’s all.”

“It’s more than that,” Mae said, her voice dropping. “You’re having strange dreams.”

Scully went still, searching Mae’s eyes, feeling exposed.

Since that day ten days ago when she’d seen Rose as a child, her doll Casey in her arms outside she and Mulder’s bedroom, she’d hadn’t seen anything else of her daughter’s life.

But there were other things she’d seen, asleep. She’d seen a man in her dreams. A young man in a white sweater on a phone in an airport. She’d seen another man. A man with a beard and shaggy hair. Wild eyes. Brown sweatshirt and brown pants.

And a gun. Pointed at her.

She’d heard the screaming. A child’s. And her own.

Then the old man, sitting in his wheelchair, his hand outstretched.

(Come with me, Dana. Come with me….)

Scully composed herself, pushing all of that away, rubbing her belly like a charm.

“No, no dreams,” she lied, and she could tell from the look on Mae’s face that the other woman saw the lie for what it was, and was about to say so.

“Let’s look in on Sean and Mr. Hosteen,” Scully said, interrupting Mae before she could start.

The deflection worked. Mae’s face hardened again, and she turned and started down the road toward the stables, Scully following, and Bo trailing behind them like the shadow of a child.

+++

CLEW BAY OFF CLARE ISLAND REPUBLIC OF IRELAND 10:03 a.m.

“Keep your fucking head down, I said!”

It was a hissed whisper, and was punctuated by the kick of a boot on the back of Mulder’s neck. Mulder flattened himself onto the floor of the van he was riding in, his stomach swimming, the pressure of the foot on his neck growing stronger as a moan slipped up from his chest.

It wasn’t the motion of the van moving over curving roads, the motion he’d had for most of the night, that was making him ill, but rather the current rocking of the vehicle. He’d felt the tell-tale bump of the van’s tires as it has boarded a ferry, the blow of a boat whistle, and then nothing but the swell of waves.

Between the aching in his head and his tendency toward seasickness anyway, he didn’t know how much more he could take without his stomach revolting, which he was sure wouldn’t please his companions one bit.

Only one of his current “hosts” was familiar — the man who’d led the group who had tried to run he and Skinner and that sonofabitch Renahan off the road outside Omagh. The others — and the van — were all new, picked up just before they’d crossed the border into Ireland, Mulder covered with a thick tarp and threatened into silence with a promise of a bullet as the border guards had questioned the driver.

Then hours on roads that felt like they’d been paved by the Roman Empire, struggling for breath and sweating beneath the tarp. Every time he’d spoken or tried to shift or rise, he’d paid for it. His body and face wore a collection of souvenirs from the attempts. His mouth tasted like blood.

So now, the van rocking and someone smoking a pipe that smelled like Christmas, the two men in the front laughing over some joke, Mulder put his head down all the way and tried to relax as much as he could. He was rewarded when the foot was removed from his neck.

“There’s a good Yank,” one of the men said softly, and one of the other men chuckled softly.

“Fucking git,” came another voice, and Mulder had to hold his tongue or risk another hit.

The boat whistle blew again, and Mulder felt the ferry slow, bumping into the buoys that would guide it to the dock. The van’s engine started, and after a moment the vehicle jostled off the ferry, revving up, and they were on their way again, onto another stretch of rough road.

After a few minutes, Mulder could tell by the noise of other cars, the starting and stopping, that they’d entered a town. It didn’t take long to be through it, however, and then they were out again, bumping along, curving.

Then a turn. A gravel drive. Brakes squeaking as they stopped.

He heard the two doors open, then the side door slide open, sunlight flooding the darkened interior.

“Get him up,” the leader said, and the canvas was pulled off Mulder’s back, light hurting his eyes. The two men with him in the back grabbed him beneath the arms and dragged him up and out onto the drive.

Squinting, one of his eyes swelling, Mulder looked at his surroundings. A small house, perched on the edge of a cliffside, the ocean beyond. There were trees around the house, partially hiding it from view. Smoke curled up from it, grey.

“Move,” the leader said, and Mulder turned to look at him, taking in his red hair, the set of his face. The thin scar over his full lower lip.

Seeing Mulder seeming to memorize his face, the man grabbed Mulder’s shoulder and shoved him toward the house.

Three steps up, and the door opened without anyone knocking.

A man stood there — fifty or sixty. It was hard to tell. His face still had a boyish look to it, despite the grey beard, the high forehead, and the creases around his eyes. He wore a black fisherman’s sweater, wide corduroy pants and boots on his feet. He was looking at Mulder, taking in his face, the blood crusted around his nose and mouth.

“Bring him in,” the man said softly, a gentle tone to his voice that surprised Mulder, given the treatment he’d received at the hands of the other men.

The red-haired man with the scar shoved Mulder again, pushing him down a narrow hallway into a living room warm with a fire. A window to the side showed the ocean view, and there was music playing. Something soothing. Low voice and a guitar.

“Let him be,” the house’s occupant said quietly as the others stuffed Mulder into a chair. Outnumbered and more than a little unnerved, Mulder held his tongue and held still.

Like dogs, the other men backed away from Mulder, retreating the room’s sides.

The older man turned and retrieved a pipe from the mantle, stuffed it with tobacco and gave it a light with a thick wooden match. There was a grandfather clock against the far wall, and it ticked loudly, sounding tired. When the man had his pipe lit, he moved until he stood in front of Mulder, towering over him in the chair, the pipe in the corner of his mouth.

His eyes were bright, inquisitive, a small smile on his face. “Why don’t you tell me who I am,” the man said, and he sound calm, almost amused.

Mulder looked at him. “You’re Neill,” he said. “Eamon Neill.”

The man smiled wider, and Mulder swallowed, his hands clenching the arms of the chair. Though every inch of him hurt, he felt suddenly hopeful. Hopeful and still very much afraid.

+++

CHAPTER 12.

+++

The clock was still ticking, the same tired beat beneath the sound of an Irish folk singer and a guitar, as the silence stretched between Mulder and the man he had just fingered as Eamon Neill like a road.

The men who’d brought Mulder to this place an island, he guessed, from the ferry ride, the view out the large window facing the cliff the cottage sat on nothing but sea stood around, still as gargoyles and about as friendly, though the young man with the red hair and the scar on his lip looked more nervous than Mulder had seen him, gnawing on the scar as though the wound, long healed, still pained him somehow.

Neill, who’d been pacing slowly, his steps soft sounds on the wood floor as he put one booted foot in front of the other before the fireplace, had his arms crossed over his chest, his eyes down as if thinking, considering what to do. He looked up at the red-haired man, met his eyes, and then looked back down.

Mulder didn’t move, didn’t even shift in the chair where’d they sunk him, though his body was sore from the long ride, face-down, in the van. It still seemed he could feel the boot on the back of his neck, and his eye was swollen nearly closed, a puff that his father had called a “mouse” forming on his lower lid.

Instead, he listened to the clock. He watched the pendulum, old brass, for a moment as it caught the light. He read the look on the red-haired man’s face.

(Whatever you say, say nothing…)

The song ended and Mulder could hear the strange whine of a CD changing tracks. Neill seemed to find the sound his cue to stop and turned to Mulder again, though he didn’t uncross his arms or change the curious expression on his face.

“Tell me what I want to know,” he said, the same tone he used when he’d asked Mulder to tell him who he himself was. Not threatening. Curious as his face. Strange with something like warmth.

Mulder met his gaze, licked a crack in his lip that was crusted with blood. How much to tell, he wondered. How little.

“You want to know why I’ve been trying to find you,” Mulder answered. “Why I’ve been asking about you.”

Neill didn’t move. The clock kept ticking. Another song began. Penny whistle. A woman’s voice, talking about farming a tough and beautiful land…

“Aye,” Neill replied. It was little more than a whisper of sound.

Mulder glanced at the red-haired man again, back.

“Not in front of them,” he said, a bit of his usual confidence creeping back into his voice.

He didn’t know why he felt as though he had any power. Perhaps it was the juxtaposition of the men around him and the quietness he got off the man before him. Violence on the one hand and something that seemed to move against it in the other, though everything he knew of Neill told him this was not the case.

He did what he’d always done as he watched Neill consider. He trusted his instincts. He told himself that 99% of the time, they were right.

But that 1%…Jesus, could it be a bitch…

“How about you blokes go have a smoke?” Neill said at last, and the red-haired man began to protest. He got out one bleat of sound before Neill’s hand came up and silenced him.

“Not now, Eagon,” Neill said, firm but not unkind. “You’ve done a good bit so far and I’m grateful. But give me the room.”

The man, Eagon, looked at Mulder, at the others, who were watching the exchange warily.

“Go on, boys,” Neill said. “Go on.” And, following Eagon, they left.

At least now it’s a fair fight, Mulder thought gravely, watched Neill reach for a pipe on the mantel, reach for tobacco in a worn leather pouch. Neill filled the pipe, facing away from Mulder, pressing the flakes down with his thumb.

“Tell me,” Neill said as he put the pipe to his lips and struck a white-tip on the brick. A puff of smoke came up that smelled like sugar and wood.

Mulder swallowed. “I’m here about my wife,” he said. It wasn’t what he’d intended to say. He’d meant to say something else, but he couldn’t remember what it was. He only knew what he felt, and it was that that he spoke from.

“Your wife?” the other man repeated, still not turning, looking into the fire.

“Yes,” Mulder replied. “There was a bomb. In Washington. My wife was…” He hesitated.

Truth or lie?

Lie.

“My wife was killed,” he finished.

“Whatever it is,” Neill said quickly but with the same soft tenor, “it’s got nothing to do with me, I can tell you that.”

Mulder ran the tone through his mind, as though he were turning it over for taste.

“You know,” he said with conviction.

“Aye,” Neill said, sounding tired. “I know. Scully. The one who brought Curran and The Path down in the States.” He turned slowly. “That would make you Mulder. Fox Mulder.”

Mulder nodded. “Yes.”

“F.B.I.,” Neill added, looking hard at him.

“I’m not here as an agent,” Mulder replied. “I’m not after you. I don’t care what you’ve done or why. I don’t care about your politics or your past.”

The last came out more bitterly than he’d intended years of living at the mercy of this thing, this intruder in his life called “The Troubles” biting it out of him and Neill heard it, chuffed.

He moved forward, pipe in hand, and stood directly over Mulder, looking down, standing almost too close. Mulder was very much aware that Neill was standing and he was not. He was aware of the men outside the door.

“Your trouble is all about my politics, Mr. Mulder,” he said. “You’d better start caring about them. Now whether it’s about my past…that I can’t tell you. That I don’t know.” Neill stepped away, took a pull from the pipe. A log fell in the fire.

“This is about Owen Curran,” Mulder pressed “Someone associated with him. Are there any Path left?”

“No,” Neill said, shaking his head. “Not here or up north or in the States. Curran did quite a job on them himself in that mess in Virginia. Quite a job. And to be frank, I can’t think of anyone who would kill your wife for taking him out after that. Lots of families here still wearing black over that. Lots of families who think he deserved exactly what he got.”

He looked at Mulder. “The story here goes that your wife or you were the one who did him in. I can’t see how someone would come after her or you because of that.”

“My wife didn’t kill him,” Mulder said grimly. “I didn’t kill him. Someone else did.”

Neill raised an eyebrow. “Who?”

“I thought you would know,” Mulder said quietly. “We never found who it was. Curran was trying to kill my wife, his sister Mae. Me.”

Mulder reached down and raised the bottom of his shirt and sweater, exposing his belly to Neill. The incision scar and the pucker of the bullet hole stood out stark pink on his skin.

“How did he die?” Neill said, his eyes flicking from the scar to Mulder’s face as Mulder dropped his shirt.

“A single shot. From somewhere high.”

“Clean hit?”

“Half his head was gone.”

Neill nodded, gnawing on the end of his pipe and paced toward the fire slowly. “One of yours? Merc? Secret Agent Man?”

Mulder shook his head. “Neither. Another man was killed, too, and an agent wouldn’t do that.”

“Nor a merc,” Neill added, breathing smoke. “It’s one of ours, all right.” He chuffed again mirthlessly. “Glad about that. Owen was a shame to his father and all the rest of us. Humiliating.”

“Yeah, we were pretty…embarrassed by him, too,” Mulder quipped.

A smile touched Neill’s mouth, his eyes…apologetic? Mulder couldn’t quite tell. Neill took the pipe from his mouth and pointed it at Mulder’s belly. “So I see.”

He went to the grate again, breathed deep from his pipe, billowed. The smoke hung around his face like a veil. He was silent for a long moment. Then he spoke.

“Your wife’s not dead.”

Mulder’s eyes got wide and he started to protest, but again the words he meant to say died in his throat.

“No,” he said simply.

“Quite a pony show on the tele, though. My hat’s off.” He’d turned at this point and gave Mulder a slight smile that crinkled the corners of his eyes. “Liked the white coffin. Innocence lost and all that.”

Mulder returned the smile and a laugh came up, though it pained his side. “Thanks,” he said.

Why do I trust you? he wanted to ask. As his eyes hung with Neill’s, the other man’s still hidden by the sheen of smoke as he continued that strange, warm smile, he thought of this.

“I take it you’ve got her stowed away until you find who’s doing this,” Neill said as the CD squeaked its way to track four. A fiddle and a man’s voice in Gaelic.

“Yes,” Mulder said.

The clock struck an off-key note, then another, counting off the hours. At the same time, from Neill’s pocket, a chiming like an infant music box. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a worn but well-kept pocket watch attached to his belt with a small, gold- linked chain. He snapped open and then closed again. The music stopped, and Neill ran his hand over the surface.

“Was my father’s,” he said softly.

Mulder nodded.

“Everything about me was my father’s,” Neill said, waving a hand to take in everything. “The house. The land it’s on. Everything.” He looked at Mulder meaningfully. “You understand me, Mr. Mulder?”

Mulder nodded. “Yes,” he said. “I understand you.”

“Sometimes what you do…” Neill continued. “Sometimes it’s like your blood. Sometimes you can’t stop it. It’s like your heart in your chest.”

Mulder had a sudden memory Samantha, three or four, frightened in a thunderstorm, crawling into bed beside him. Her small hands on his chest, a face against his shoulder.

“You know about family,” Neill said, and Mulder snapped back to reality, surprised, as though fearing Neill had somehow read his mind.

“Your wife,” Neill continued. “You know what you’ll do for family.”

Mulder played the memory of Samantha over in his mind like a tape. He thought of Scully’s face. Scully asleep in a car. The stakeout on Modell. Then again, after making love, her hair longer now a wave on the white pillow. Their bedroom. Their house.

“Anything,” Mulder said at last.

Neill nodded, went to the fireplace and tapped out the pipe into the embers there. They rained down and winked out. “Then you understand more about my politics and my past than you think.”

Mulder swallowed, treading lightly. “Some of it,” he agreed.

Neill looked at him, placed the pipe on the mantel on its tiny stand. “That’s a start,” he said.

Again, silence between them, a man singing in a language Mulder couldn’t understand. He liked the music, though. He liked it a lot.

“Will you help me?” Mulder said softly.

Neill looked down at the floor, toward the door where Eagon and the others were waiting. Mulder held his breath.

“Aye,” Neill said at last, and let out a long breath. “Aye.”

+++

CHAPTER 13.

+++

THE SLAUGHTERED LAMB OMAGH, NORTHERN IRELAND UNITED KINGDOM MARCH 31 9:36 P.M.

“Do you ever think about anything but drinking, Renahan?”

Skinner looked across the worn wooden table that looked older than he was at Renahan’s boozy half smile. The other man’s lips wore a wet patina of saliva, the look one got when they were six or seven beers in and about two more away from the toilet.

“Fucking hell, man,” Renahan said, too loud, though none of the men in the tavern even looked sideways at him. “You’ve met me wouldn’t you if you were me? Eh? Eh?” He broke into a fit of chuckles, each one snorty and swimming in dark beer.

Skinner scowled, stared down at the surface of his own beer, the liquid still touching the rim. He could see a vague reflection of his face in it, like a black mirror. He wanted to say that Renahan was right. He wanted to tell the man that if he didn’t spend so much time acting like an asshole people might not keep mistaking him for one. But he decided to save his breath.

Breath was what you needed in the Slaughtered Lamb, a tavern so filled with pipe and cigarette smoke it looked like the deserted roads they’d driven back in from the roadway where they’d been forced off onto the shoulder, the entire drive robed in fog the headlights could barely break through.

Skinner could still remember looking up at the sign over the tavern, blurred as he’d groped on the sidewalk for his glasses after being tossed out of the moving car with Renahan, the sign a wooden placard festooned with an old painting of a lamb with its throat slit. Its clarity as he righted his glasses and got to his feet wasn’t much comfort as he’d listened to the Brit laughing on the ground next to him, laughing so hard he couldn’t get up without Skinner’s yank on his arm.

“In we go!” Renahan had said, brushing off his clothes as though the care mattered. He still looked like he’d just crawled out of a box underneath a highway overpass.

“Why here?” Skinner’d asked, pointing at the sign. It didn’t seem a good omen.

Renahan smiled. “Because I’m thinking this being our stop-off isn’t a coincidence, Mr. Skinner, for one,” he said. “And two, we don’t have a place to stay yet and they’ve got some rooms…and three…” He smiled the smile that seemed to challenge and apologize at the same time. “I’ve got a bit of a thirst.”

Skinner had no choice but to follow him in.

The night before they’d been their captor’s guests in a house outside of town, both of them locked in the back room of a house out away from town. No one had spoken to them, though they’d been giving a wedge of cheese and a loaf of bread at one point, and access to a toilet as needed off the back of the house.

Renahan hadn’t seemed bothered by the treatment, saying only once: “I’ve seen worse,” and then quieting as the unmistakable sound of a gun butt on the door silenced them both until nightfall. Skinner’s mind had turned the image of Mulder climbing into the other car with the young man with the slit lip over in his mind, and he’d gnawed a sore spot on his own lip at the thought.

“Fuck,” he’d breathed at one point, forgetting Renahan was there, the other man dozing in the corner. Renahan had been awake enough to chuff at the word.

Then it was out into the car wearing blindfolds, a curving drive into town, and then the lights of the pub as they’d had their blindfolds removed, a shove and an obscenity for good measure and they rolled to a stop on the ground.

“I think this was a mistake,” Skinner said over the din in the pub, clenching and unclenching his jaw like a fist as he spoke.

“What part of it?” Renahan replied, taking another drink. Beer clung to his beard.

“Sitting around here with our thumbs up our asses while Mulder’s Christ knows where…”

Renahan smiled. “He’s with Eamon Neill,” he said. “You know that as well as I do. Neill’s nephew, the ginger with the scar?” He made a swipe down his face. “Little Eagon knows exactly where we are. We’ll sit tight. Wait it out.”

“We should be looking for both of them,” Skinner spat, and now he did take a sip of his beer, frustrated. He wished he still smoked.

“No need,” Renahan said. “They just walked in the fucking door.”

Skinner looked first at the other man’s Guinness smile, then over his shoulder where Renahan’s eyes were focused. Sure enough, there was Mulder and another man, shorter with reddish hair and a beard and tired, wise eyes. Mulder’s hands were in his jacket pockets, and as he approached, Skinner saw the swollen eye, the split in his lip. He was looking at Skinner, a small smile on his face.

The man beside him was not smiling, and his eyes were not on Skinner but on the man across the table from him, who leaned back in the chair he was in, its back creaking like bones. Renahan reached for his pint and nearly missed.

Skinner stood, tucking in his shirt a bit more out of habit, straightening himself up to his full height. He felt his mouth curl into a wry half-smile as Mulder stood before him, his hair mussed, a couple of days growth of beard on his face making him look more worn.

Mulder’s mouth quirked, the slit gaping a bit, that smartass smile that made Skinner want to belt him from across his desk. “Sorry,” he quipped. “I got held up.”

“We all did, as I recall,” Skinner grumbled, and turned his attention to the other man, and Mulder did, as well. “I’ve been eating stinking cheese and pissing outdoors for a day and a half.”

“It’s good you can keep up your regular routine this far from home, sir,” Mulder said dryly, and Skinner rolled his eyes, the relief at seeing each other in one piece released with the insults.

Mulder turned to the man beside him.

“Mr. Neill,” he said, nodding toward Skinner. “This is Assistant Director Walter Skinner with the F.B.I.” Skinner and Neill shook hands, one short shake, and Neill angled his head in Skinner’s direction.

“Mr. Skinner,” he said, and his voice sounded like the man should sing bonnie Christmas carols, Skinner thought. Something warm in it, warm and quiet, almost as if the tone of his voice was pitched on purpose to keep people at ease. “I’m Eamon Neill. Glad to meet you,” he added, and Skinner nodded, watching Neill turn his attention to Renahan.

“Mr. Renahan,” Neill said softly. “Been a long time.” His voice had lost some of its warmth now, his eyes looking tired and bit dim, as though a cloud of memory had passed before them.

Renahan chuckled. “Not fucking long enough,” he said. “What was it? Eighty-four? Eighty-five? I can’t recall.”

“You know exactly when it was we last met,” Neill said softly, though his voice seemed to carry. Skinner realized it was because the noise level in the room had dropped a touch. “I’d imagine you’ve still got the clipping up on your wall from the day you brought me into Derry. You still keep all those clippings, Mr. Renahan? Like you used to do?”

Renahan took a swig from the pint, the foam clinging to his moustache like a second moustache. “It was a memorable day, that one, aye,” he said, ignoring the last part of the question.

“I know I’ll never forget it,” Neill said, and he reached to his right arm, pushed the sleeve of the thick sweater he wore up. There was a sunken-in place on the side of his forearm where muscle was missing, the area blotted with thick white scar.

Mulder and Skinner looked at Renahan, who laughed. “I didn’t do that to you now, Eamon,” he said jovially. “That’s not me.”

Neill smiled mirthlessly. “You didn’t have to do much of anything for yourself now did you?” he said softly. “Ran your own bloody Nutting Squad right there, didn’t you?” His voice rose in volume, but not in ire. “Kept it looking clean for the Yanks on the outside, shiny and clean, while inside those walls you were doing worse than you blamed us for. Weren’t you. Fucking Nutting Brits having their pictures taken for the papers and you in there chatting it up and then leaving the cell with your big smile while we were in there with those blokes and God only knows what.”

The smile fell from Renahan’s face, and other faces were turning all around from the tables surrounding them. A couple of men stood, pipes in their mouths. Skinner couldn’t tell if they were rising to move forward or back, but their eyes showed they understood everything Neill had said, their eyes darting from Neill to Renahan and back again.

“I don’t think this is the place for this discussion,” Skinner ventured, putting his hands out, one toward each of the men. Renahan was still leaning back in the chair as though someone had poured him there, his hand tight on the glass. Neill still had his arm out, his left hand gripping his right elbow to hold up the sweater’s thick sleeve.

Mulder reached out, touched Neill’s arm just above the scar’s ruin, gently put his arm down as though he were lowering a hand that held a gun.

“It’s the past,” Mulder said. “It’s over now.”

Renahan’s knowing smile returned, and even Neill’s eyes creased with cynical amusement.

“You’re not that nave, I know, Mr. Mulder,” Neill said.

“No,” Mulder said. “I know there’s no such thing as ‘over’ in the whole goddamn country.” He couldn’t keep the bitter from his voice. Skinner lowered his hands as Neill’s lips curled in an almost sad smile.

Then he rolled his sleeve down, pulled out a wooden chair and sat himself. “Not nave at all,” he said, sounding tired but somehow pleased. He turned to a man at a table nearby, a younger man who wore a stocking cap that Skinner hadn’t even noticed was there.

“Kevin, how about a pint?” he said to the young man, who nodded and stood, going to the bar. “We’ll be needing two. And another for these two, as well.”

Skinner looked at Mulder, and he could tell that Mulder was tamping down the urge to gape at the whole place, at every face, every set of eyes and every curl of smoke from every pipe.

“Have a sit, Mr. Mulder, Mr. Skinner,” Renahan said, seeming pleased at the two Americans’ discomfort, which Skinner would have labeled further as fear. Renahan’s eyes didn’t leave Neill’s, the two of them looking like they were about to play a particularly intricate game of cards. Poker. With real clubs and spades.

Mulder sat, Skinner following suit, both of them moving slowly, aware of all the eyes, the subtle lowering of the din of the room.

“Welcome to my Ireland,” Renahan said to them both, his teeth showing in a bemused smile. Skinner looked at him, then at Mulder’s dawning understanding as the younger man looked at Neill and nodded with some comprehension that Skinner couldn’t yet reach himself.

“And to mine,” Neill replied, his voice quiet and knowing again. He didn’t even look up as the man he’d called Kevin returned with their black, warm pints and set them down in the center of the table for the men to take.

+++

CLONIFFE BED & BREAKFAST DUBLIN, REPUBLIC OF IRELAND APRIL 1 7:02 A.M.

Another bed, this one without the woman called Bridget, the woman he’d picked up and taken into his bed with her strange, scarred body. Without her and her smoky lips and her entreats for a couple of pounds, but also without the small amount of warmth she’d afforded. Christie Collin was dressing in the gray light coming through the overly fluffed curtains at the B&B and looking at the bed, thinking of the woman’s red hair sprayed out on the pillow, how he’d looked down at her face as he’d fucked her Bridget so drunk she was having a hard time keeping her blue eyes focused on his face and how he’d tried to turn that face into another face.

Something more like desperation than desire. Regret rather than lust.

He wondered how long he’d be trying to bring the American woman back to life in his mind. How long it would be before he’d stop thinking of the baby inside her, both of them wearing suits of glittering glass and flame behind his eyes.

As he dressed (simple jeans and the ubiquitous white fisherman’s sweater he wore like his civilian uniform), he thought about two things his Sergeant had told him would happen to a soldier.

“First,” Finney’d said, cooking over a silver tin of Sterno in a mountain forest so green it had made Christie wonder if there were any other color on Earth, “you’ll feel bad about some of the people you’ve killed. You’ll think about them, turn their faces over in your mind like coins. Regret things. Wish you’d go back and do things different.”

Christie younger then, probably too young to think about such things but already in need of doing so had stirred the tea in the metal teapot and nodded.

“And second,” Finney’d continued, “you’ll have to learn to get over the first and move past it or you’ll crack up doing this job. There’s no going back. Dead is dead and there’s nothing to be done about it.”

Deaths had bothered him then, but at least then, he thought grimly, they had been carried out for reasons he could justify or even name.

As he thought this, he could almost feel his grandmother’s dry hand on his arm, hear that papery voice that sounded like how an ancient crow would talk if it could form his name.

A tap at the door, and Christie called for whoever it was to come in.

The man he’d met the night before in a steady rain, the man haloed by the gas light outside the cottage and holding a black umbrella over Christie as he’d ushered him into the house, stood in the doorway, his face grim, though Christie suspected his face always looked that way. Riggs was Old Guard, the I.R.A. his life. The Troubles seemed to have lodged themselves in the creases of the old men’s faces. At least every one he’d seen, and he’d seen quite a few.

“Mr. Collin,” Riggs said, formal and steady. “Wife’s got eggs on for you like you asked. Lady Collin said to call this morning. I’ve got a phone downstairs where you can be a bit private.”

“Ta,” Christie said, running his hand over his crewcut out of habit, as though he were actually straightening the razored hair. He followed Riggs out, closing the door to his simple room with his duffle on the neatly made bed behind him.

The room Riggs led him to was a comfortable office with dark wood, the desk clearly nearly as old as the cottage itself. The phone on the corner was even corded, the old handle feeling ridiculously large against his ear as he turned the dial to put in the number and it rang. The signal was as clear as water.

“Christie?” That ghostly raven voice. Early for her, the voice not yet much used for the day.

“Aye, I’m all set where you said.” He knew to keep the calls short, and he liked them that way besides.

“He’s in Omagh,” his grandmother continued without any nicety or prelude. “Omagh. With Eamon Neill and Ed Renahan and that man he works with.”

A good distance away. He was safe where he was. Then why…?

“You sound worried about that,” he ventured.

“Neill knows too much to be involved,” she said, which he could have guessed.

“He doesn’t know me.” It was why he’d been chosen for this. Few knew him at all, and his life had frankly felt just like that.

“No, but he does know me. Or…people…who know me. People not far from where he is.”

He thought of Omagh, drew a line to the coast on the map in his mind, settling on the dot of a town whose name he knew all too well, that everyone with anything to do with the Cause knew and had managed to keep secret.

Not far at all.

“We need to find out what Mr. Mulder knows,” she continued. “I’ve got someone whose going to go through his things and see what they can find. But in any case…I think it’s time for Mr. Mulder to join his wife.”

Christie felt heat come up in his face. “You said it would only be the two. The ones responsible. You said there’d be no more to be done to pay for this.”

“It’s not about John in this case.” Her voice was a faint wheeze now. He could hear the whine of her chair and knew the call would end. “It’s about protecting us. What’s left of us.”

(You, he thought. It’s about protecting you.)

“Mr. Mulder’s curiosity has been unexpected. There’s too much too lose. When I have something for you, I’ll call. But I want you moving. Cross the border. Go to St. Sebastian’s. Wait for me there.”

And the line went dead.

He walked past the smell of butter and eggs and bread, past the sound of Riggs and his wife and someone speaking French, a foreigner rattling a newspaper at the B&B’s kitchen table and speaking to his child. Up the stairs and back onto the corner of the bed.

The sun was coming through the drapes, flowers on their fabric staining the ivory blankets faintly red. He touched a spot of it, calloused fingers, hard on soft.

Bridget sleeping there. He held onto the name, held her face in his hands in his mind and she roused and looked at him.

“What is it?” she asked, her voice tinged as if she knew him or cared.

He hesitated, looking into her invisible eyes, worrying the cotton beneath his fingers as though it were her hair.

“She says…” he began, swallowed. “She says she doesn’t understand this Mulder and what he’s doing.”

“But it’s what she’s doing, isn’t it then?” she said softly.

Christie nodded to nothing. “Don’t know how she can’t say she doesn’t understand…a man with a dead wife. Dead baby…” He looked into the mirage of her eyes. “She has to understand that sort of revenge, you know? She must.”

Bridget looked at him gravely, her face seeming to vanish into white. “She understands the Cause, Christie,” she said, her voice lost on a gust of wind pressing against the window.

He spoke to her as she faded from view, her eyes showing she heard the final thing he said:

“Then she understands revenge.”

+++

CHAPTER 14.

+++

TWO GREY HILLS, NEW MEXICO 10:15 a.m.

“Watch,” Albert Hosteen said, his long legs, clad in faded jeans, squeezing on Ghost’s sides, a thin stick tapping on the dapple gray of the horse’s long neck. Just a touch, barely enough for Ghost to feel through his sleek coat. As he did so, he said the Navajo word for “left.” Dutifully, the horse moved to the left and walked toward a battered barrel in the center of the corral, close to where Sean was standing with Cloud, the pony looking bored.

“Now watch again,” Hosteen said, and Sean squinted up at him, his face already growing a touch red from the sun beating down on the corral. He said the word again, did nothing with the stick this time, and Ghost turned to the left again and walked to the second barrel, the one with the dent in the side from one too many rolls and kicks.

Sean looked at him, at Cloud, then back again, his face still screwed up against the sun. He chanced a glance to the side of the corral, too, where Mae and Scully and Sara were, Mae standing up on the slats so that her head looked over the top and Scully seated on the bleachers beside Sara, who was bouncing Katherine like a toy.

Hosteen glanced over, as well, met Scully’s eyes, the woman’s face a bit pinched with concern. Sean had been ignoring Hosteen for twenty minutes, watching him but not doing as he said, leaning over occasionally to whisper something in the pony’s cocked ear.

“Hmm,” Hosteen said, speaking softly to Ghost, who walked slowly to the fence near Mae and Scully. Scully stood slowly as he approached, her hand on the small of her back.

“Not much progress today, I see,” Mae said, and Hosteen noted that she didn’t even try to hide the bitterness in her voice. He only smiled faintly as Ghost pushed his charcoal nose over the fence and against Mae’s hand. Mae pulled her hand away a few inches, her eyes still on Sean talking to Cloud.

“There is progress,” he replied, nodding toward Sean. “He’s telling the pony a story. Stories are important things to tell, don’t you think?” He smiled at Mae again, mostly with his eyes, as she looked up at him almost accusingly.

“I suppose,” she said, and glanced away.

“Does he like stories?” Hosteen asked, Ghost swishing his tail in a sound like a brush. Scully crossed her arms and watched the exchange, her eyes going between Hosteen and the side of Mae’s face.

“What do you mean?” Mae said. “Of course he likes stories. More so when he was younger, but he’s liked them, yes.”

“What sort?” Hosteen pressed.

Mae seemed to consider this for a moment, shielding her eyes as the sun swelled behind a thin cloud cover and beat down on them, turning everything almost white.

“It’s almost funny, but you know what his favorites were?” Mae said, looking up at him from slits for eyes. At Hosteen’s cocked head, she said: “Cowboys and Indians.”

A laugh bubbled up through Hosteen’s chest. “Bad stories about Indians I would guess,” he said. “From the way he looked at me when we first met. Like I was going to put him on a spit and turn him over a fire.” He chuckled again.

“Not bad stories, really…” Mae said carefully. “More…just…you know. The kind of stories about Indians scalping people. Braves and squaws and battles with people in bloody wagons and that sort. People turning themselves into animals and dancing around like monkeys for rain and painting their faces up. Rubbish like that.”

Hosteen watched Scully cringe and look down, stifling a laugh, and she glanced at Hosteen to make sure he wasn’t taking offense. Behind her, Sara Whistler set off in a fit of laughter that startled a flock of birds on the barn’s sagging roof into chittering flight, a few stray feathers falling down in front of the open doors.

“Hmm,” Hosteen said. “I see.” He winked at Scully, who said nothing. “Agent Scully, you should rest. Go find Mr. Granger first, though. He has something to tell you.”

“Me?” Scully said, and turned, looking toward Victor’s house, the paddock behind where they’d all seen Granger fussing with the sheep with Victor and a few of his men.

“Yes,” Hosteen said, and then he turned Ghost with a word and headed back into the center of the corral toward Sean.

Sean looked up, seeming almost guilty as Hosteen stopped in front of him.

“Get on the pony, Sean, and come with me,” he said, and Sean, who had not listened to a thing Hosteen had said for some time, relented, climbing on Cloud’s back and taking the reins in his small hands. Hosteen urged Ghost forward, and one of Hosteen’s men dealing with the other horses in a connecting corral opened the wide gate to let them out.

Hosteen smiled as they rode toward the entrance to the stable, something spinning out in his mind like a ribbon. The further it spun, the more he smiled.

Finally, composing his face, he stopped Ghost in front of the entrance to the stable, reached in his back pocket and pulled out a red bandana. Sean had stopped Cloud behind him and sat, watching him warily.

Bending to the ground, Hosteen picked up one of the plain feathers dropped by the cloud of doves that had risen off the roof. It was gray, the color of soot almost, and didn’t even shine as he held it, its dull color seeming to absorb the light. The quill was hard and white and mottled with dirt. He put it in the pocket of his shirt.

He turned then to Sean, took the few steps that separated them. Sean looked at him strangely as Hosteen got very close, standing right beside him. He watched as the older man reached out, folding the bandana into a strip against the side of Sean’s thigh. When he had a band, he reached up and, though Sean shied a bit, tied it around Sean’s head, just above his eyebrows. After he’d made a firm knot, he reached into the pocket of his shirt and retrieved the feather, inserting it carefully between Sean’s head and the knot.

“Hm,” Hosteen said, standing up almost comically straight. “Looks good.”

Sean reached up, looking at him with a surprised and slightly distrustful expression. He touched the feather gently with his hand.

“This is a dove’s feather,” Hosteen said. “The weakest of the feathers for a boy becoming a Brave. You have taken only the first step in your path to becoming a Brave.” He said it lofty, just as he knew Sean would expect it all to be said. “If you wish it, you can continue on that path, but it is a hard path.”

Sean continued to touch the feather, looking into Hosteen’s face, searching.

“The next feather is a crow,” Hosteen said. “To become a Crow, you will have to come with me into the desert and complete a trial. That is the way of my people. This is our way. Even though you are not one of us, I see you can do these things, and I am a Holy Man and know these things. Will you do them? Will you continue on this path?”

Sean stroked the feather again, his hand knotting the pony’s mane in his hand. Cocking his head, he squinted at Hosteen against the light and finally nodded.

“Hmm.” Hosteen nodded. “Very good. We will begin tonight. Go and pack for a night of camping. I will bring you the things you will need for the trial.”

And with that, he turned, swung slowly but easily up onto Ghost’s back and, with a word, walked away from Sean, leaving him there in his bandana and his feather as Hosteen headed back for the house.

+++

11:01 a.m.

Scully had walked the length of the ranch’s compound to the area behind Victor’s house, a dusty area that was swollen with sheep, all clotted together in the small space bumping against one another and mewing softly to one another. In the midst of them, Victor and Granger and two of the other men who worked on the ranch were pulling females out of the flock, females with wide strips of color on their rumps yellows and reds and blues and greens. They were taking them out and putting them in a separate enclosure.

“Hello, Paul,” she said softly as she neared his side of the fence.

He looked up, his face a strangely ashen color for someone with such a dark complexion, his eyes wet and tired. He was sweating profusely, dark stains of it circling his armpits and the neck of his T-shirt. Her brow creased down immediately. It was hot, but it wasn’t that hot…

“Are you okay?” she asked, and Granger seemed to balk a bit at the question, reached down instead for a ewe who was trying to run between his legs, her rump a brilliant shade of purple.

“I’m fine, Dana,” he said softly, wiped his brow on the arm of his short-sleeved shirt. “You okay?”

She nodded. “Yes,” she said.

“The baby okay?”

She smiled faintly, bemused. “As far as I can tell, she seems to be. I think she’ll be joining the circus, though, with the amount of turning she’s doing.”

Granger smiled, though there was something pained in his face as he heaved a sheep over another and toward the small gap that separated the enclosures.

“What are you doing?” she asked, though she kept her eyes on his face.

“We’re moving the ewes who’ve already mated,” he said. Victor was across the pen, a ram dancing around the perimeter looking very put out.

“How can you tell that?”

“They were smoking cigarettes when we got down here,” Granger quipped, and Scully chuckled. Granger grinned. “Actually, you can tell by the color on their rumps. See?” He gestured to the nearest one, a colored ewe in the midst of all the white. “You can tell from that one that she’s mated with one of Keel’s while she was up there, and only him. There’s yellow but no other colors on her. The males have these wax sticks on their bellies so that they mark any ewes they’ve mated with and Victor can tell which lambs are from which males, so if there are any problems, he can castrate the males.”

“There’s a few mental images I didn’t need to have,” Scully said, and noticed that the male prancing around Victor with its head down did indeed have a blue wax stick on its stomach, and there were many blue-stained sheep in the corral.

“Yeah,” Granger said. “Sheep Sex. Who knew how exciting it could be?”

“Only the sheep,” Scully said under her breath.

“And,” Granger added, “If the saying around Hopkins was true, some folks at Virginia Tech.” He guffawed.

Scully groaned. A common joke at Maryland, too.

Then, desperate for a change of subject and sorry she’d asked about the whole thing, she straightened a bit. “Mr. Hosteen said you had something you wanted to tell me?”

Granger straightened, his hands on his hips, and wiped his brow again. “I what?” he asked.

“He said you had something to tell me,” she repeated patiently.

He shook his head. “Not that I’m aware of,” he replied.

One of Victor’s dogs came galloping into the pen, its tail waving like a flag and peels of barking coming from it as it rounded up the sheep.

“FANG!” Victor yelled. “Get out of here, you mangy-“

“I’ll get him,” Granger called, and took off at a lope between the sheep toward the dog, which was clustering the sheep into little knots and then nipping them so that they leapt over one another and fell.

Granger made it about halfway across the paddock, Scully watching him and the sheep piling up around her, bleating, when something odd seemed to happen. Granger stopped in mid-stride, standing so still it was as if he were playing a child’s game of Freeze. His fists balled, his face aimed down. The sheep bustled around him and the dog circled with even more frenzy, delighted at not being caught.

“Paul?” Scully called when he’d been motionless for what seemed like a long time.

He said nothing. He didn’t move. It was as if he’d turned to stone right there in the dust and the sunlight, though even from where she was standing, there behind the low fence, she could see that he was trembling slightly and his chest was heaving.

“Granger!” Victor called again. “Get that damn dog, will you?”

“Paul!” Scully called again, and now she did move, toward the rickety gate as fast as she could, moving through the sheep, the dog still rounding them up in gleeful chaos as Scully picked her way to Granger.

Victor had likewise moved, the other men going after Fang as Victor worked his way to Granger.

“Paul, what is it?” Scully said as she stood beside him, winded herself, panicking. Granger had gone even more ashen, his face looking almost waxy. He was biting his lower lip hard enough to make it bleed.

“Nothing…” he choked out. “Nothing…”

She reached down and grabbed his wrist, her fingers finding the pulse there. The beats were irregular both in their rhythm and in their intensity, and she could tell from the way he held himself so stiff, his chest rising and falling with a strained cadence, that he was in terrible pain.

“What going on?” Victor said, his hand going out to Granger’s shoulder. Granger shook his head.

“Paul, you’re having some kind of cardiac event,” Scully said, taking him by the elbow. “We’ve got to get you to a hospital-“

“NO!” The word burst from him. “No hospital no doctors nothing…” He trailed off from the stream of words. “Nothing…”

“Victor,” Scully said. “Get in the truck and go up to your grandfather’s house. I’ve got a bag there you’ll know it when you see it. It’s beside the dresser in my room. Go get it for me, please.”

Victor looked stricken, but nodded and ran out of the corral.

“Can you walk?” Scully asked gently, still holding his elbow. She could tell by the way his face was relaxing that he was not in as much pain. Beneath her fingers, his heart rate was slowing, becoming more normal.

“Yeah,” he breathed. “Yeah, I’m fine…” He tried to shake her off but she held on.

“You’re not fine,” she said, and she was angry now. She angled him toward the gate, a bench on the other side, which she sat him down on, pushing hard to get him to go down.

He wiped his forehead, still winded.

“How long?” she said, and she could see something frightened pass over his face, which confirmed her worst suspicions as to his condition’s seriousness. He’d reacted as if she’d asked him how long he had to live.

“It’s nothing,” he said softly.

“Paul.”

“It’s nothing that anyone can do anything about,” he amended, and his voice bristled.

She settled onto the bench beside him. “The gunshot wound,” she said. “Muscle damage from the bullet?”

“Some, but…” He shook his head.

She nodded, though she blanched. “Post-operative infection.”

He hesitated, nodded.

“Endocarditis?” She said it grimly.

He nodded and she felt color rising her face as her temper flared.

“And what else?” she demanded. She felt her eyes flare. “What else?”

He didn’t answer her, looked away.

“What in the HELL are you doing out here?” she snapped. “My God, Paul-“

“I’m out here doing what I want to do,” he bit back, his eyes hardening.

She swallowed. “Does Robin know?” Then she answered herself. “No, of course she doesn’t know…” She ran a hand through her hair, smoothing it off her forehead where a few strands had fallen.

“I don’t want her to know,” he said softly.

“You don’t think she has a right to?” Scully exclaimed. “Paul, if you don’t get a transplant-“

“I’m on the list, but it’s gone too far too fast,” he said. “Getting some distance from me is probably the best thing that could happen for her.”

Scully was standing before she even knew she had risen, glaring down at him. “How dare you make that decision for her,” she said quietly, so quietly that Granger looked up as though she’d shouted.

“I’m protecting her, Dana,” he said. “You’d do the same for Mulder.” He looked up at her. “You ARE doing the same for Mulder.” He stared. “Aren’t you?”

The silence, broken only by the ewes, stretched between them as their gazes hung.

“Not like this,” she said, low and dangerous. “Never like this.”

And even as it left her mouth, she knew she was lying. She’d never told him when the cancer had spread. He’d found out the hard way. He’d found all of that out the hard way, more from what she didn’t say than what she did, clues dropped like so much blood from her nostril, a morning in late…

And the dreams now. The man in her dreams with the brown pants, the brown shirt and ragged face. The man in the wheelchair beckoning her. Something just out of sight in every dream, and whatever it was drenched in a child’s screaming and blood…

“I’ll make a deal with you,” she said, watching as Victor’s truck came ambling back into sight from the road, kicking up a cloud of golden dust.

He squinted up. “What deal?”

She pushed her hair back again, composing herself. “I’ll tell him. If you tell her.”

Granger looked down, his hands closing on the edge of the bench. Victor’s truck screeched to a halt and he came out, carrying a black doctor’s bag as he jogged towards them.

“Deal?” Scully pressed.

Granger heaved in a deep sigh, looked at her, and nodded.

“Deal.”

+++

12:14 p.m.

Victor Hosteen’s barn was older than his grandfather, the wood so parched by the desert sun that it had turned the color of ash. Inside was one of the few places on the ranch that actually stayed reasonably cool, even in the high months of July and August when the desert here baked at over 100 degrees.

He didn’t know if it was the quiet that came over the animals when they were inside it, the sweet smell of oats and hay, or the way the sunlight could only come in through the places in the roof where the wood had finally given way, one board at a time, bars of it falling to the floor like tiny spotlights for the lingering dust.

He’d gotten the sheep into the pen to one side, the pen’s low fence across from the stalls where some of the horses were sequestered. Two lazy mares, older than most of the herd, swaybacked. A black and white paint held the corner stall, coming to the bars with his eyes flashing at whomever walked through the doorway.

As he’d come in with the sheep, the paint had tamped against the stall door, raising a high sound of warning. Victor only smiled. The horse had become too cantankerous to ride in the last six months or so, but Victor didn’t have the heart to put him down. This one, the one he’d dubbed with a Navajo name that approximated “Killer,” had been the first lesson in respect for the ranch that many of the men had learned.

Many, including Mulder all that time ago.

“Calm yourself down, old man,” Victor said to the horse as he gave the last of the straggling sheep a touch with a long stick, urging them toward the pen and its shade and its dust. “We all know you’re in charge in here, so let us be.” A chicken scrabbled out of the way as he walked.

After he’d closed the pen with its rope lock, the sheep bumping against each other as they found their place, he leaned against one of the posts, his chin on his forearms, thinking.

“He’s dying, you know,” came a voice in Navajo from behind him. He was not surprised. He’d known she was there.

“Yeah,” he replied in the same language, sounding tired. “I know.”

Sara Whistler came up beside him, carrying a chicken in her arms. It was black with white specks. Red comb and eye like beads.

“What will you do, Victor?” she asked, bouncing the hen slightly as it began to make chucking sounds, as though it were a baby in need of a nap instead of the evening’s meal.

Victor chuffed softly, though he didn’t smile as he did so. “What’s there to do?” he said, and Whistler was silent. “It’s about belief, isn’t it? He doesn’t have it.”

“He has a lot,” she replied, stroking the hen’s neck. “More than even he knows.”

“He’s not one of us,” Victor said, and this almost out of habit, though the words sounded hollow even to his ears.

“None of them are,” she replied as he knew she would. “And your grandfather helps them. You can help them, too.”

But Victor shook his head. “Not this way,” he said. “Not with this.”

Sara leaned against his arm gently. “You can’t believe he came to us by chance,” she said softly. “Any more than the others came to your grandfather to see the boxcar all those years ago.”

“No, that was not chance,” he agreed. “That was a secret that they were meant to find.”

She nodded. “Meant to find for that truth and so that you and your grandfather would be here for them when they came again Agent Scully and Agent Mulder. When they came again, so lost and so broken.”

“So you think it’s come again?” he asked. “This time for Granger?”

“Not just for that,” Whistler replied, “but yes.”

He turned and looked into her eyes. The chicken was quiet, content in her arms.

“Victor, if something is good,” she said in a quiet voice, “should it not be for everyone’s good?”

He met her eyes. “It’s about belief,” he said again. “And he will not believe. It’s too far for him to walk. For any of them to walk.”

She shook her head. “Agent Mulder would believe,” she said. “Agent Scully has had to learn to, as well.” She paused, and he knew she was right on both those counts.

“Try,” she said, and held his eyes until he nodded.

“The others won’t like it,” he tried one last time.

“They will do as you ask,” she said. “As they’ve always done.”

He looked at the sheep, heard Killer moving in his stall, a small wind coming in through the open door to the barn.

“All right,” he said, relenting, and he let out a long breath. “I’ll try.”

She nodded, turned to walk away. Then, from behind:

“And Victor?”

He turned to face her again, his brow cocked in question. Her eyes were bottomless, her expression grave.

“You must move quickly,” she said. “There’s not much time.”

“For him?” he asked, confused by the gravity of what she said and how she’d said it.

Whistler shook her head. “For any of us.”

And she turned with the chicken and moved through the bars of light toward the house.

+++

CHAPTER 15.

+++

BALLYCASTLE NORTHERN IRELAND, U.K. APRIL 3 5:45 a.m.

If the man looked at the whirls in the grain on the bottom of the boat, they appeared to look up at him like eyes.

As the light shifted over the sea, climbing somewhere behind a shroud of clouds that burned the whole world crimson around him, he could see the dark eyes like holes in pale skin, the wood the color of a butter beneath his feet. The sea was so dark it appeared black, light caught on the waves around him as he pulled the long oars through it, sun on onyx and the whole thing shot with gold ribbons of light.

He could still see the shoreline in the distance, the boat rocking on the waves, the water filled with chop. He dropped the anchor, a lard can filled with buckshot and its lid sealed down tight, the white rope running over the side for a dozen meters or more and then stopping, the boat drifting until it caught.

The man pulled the oars in, folded them out of the way like wings.

Now the hard part. A hook in one hand, the head of a small fish in the other. He’d moved to larger bait since Christmas, not because he sought a larger catch but because his hands shook so badly now that he couldn’t thread anything else on the barbed hooks.

He rarely landed what he caught anymore. He’d lost so much line they’d started to rib him a bit in a town, at least until weight started dropping off of him too quickly to be anything else, when the shaking had become impossible to hide.

The line and silver hooks and weights started showing up on his front step in a paper sack, a note saying “for your trouble.”

The man hooked the bait onto the three-pronged hook, the bait fish’s eyes looking up at him like pearls. The pain was worse today, aggravated by the rowing, the night of little sleep soothed only by his wife’s hands stroking his back.

“For your trouble,” he said softly, his lip curling beneath his white moustache, and tossed the face over the side, where it disappeared into gold and black.

+++

OUTSIDE MAGHERAFETT NORTHERN IRELAND, U.K. APRIL 3 6:03 a.m.

It was a story Scully had told him.

There was sunlight coming through the window of their house, washing the kitchen, glinting off a glass that stood beside the sink. In the story, he’d been leaning against the sink drinking a cup of coffee and Scully had been at the kitchen table, perched in a chair with her robe pulled off one shoulder, the baby’s dark head turned toward her breast.

As the baby had finished, Scully had put their daughter on her shoulder against a thick white cloth, and he’d turned at the sink, put the mug down, wet a soft cloth beneath a warm stream of water. Then he’d come forward with it, standing in front of her, pressed the cloth to the raw red of her nipple, his palm holding it in place.

“It’s how you kiss me just after that,” she’d told him, her voice coming from beside him in the dark of their bedroom. It was the first night after they’d moved. “That’s what stays with me from it.”

He’d reached down and cupped her breast, wanting to make it real right then, not wanting to wait.

“Yes,” he whispered. He knew just how he would do it. He’d done it then.

Awhile later, dawn giving way to a gray day that promised rain, it was a story he’d told himself.

The light that had come through the window, Samantha’s body rising and going out the door that had shot open, wood on wood like the crack of gunfire. Game pieces rattling on a board, the house shaking itself apart. He remembered how small her body looked as the impossible brightness silhouetted it against the white of her nightgown, how her long hair hung down, her arms out in surprise and crucifixion.

As vivid as it was, everything around that moment was fading. The face on the bridge long, thick hair curled — vanishing to Scully’s bloodied face above the Bounty Hunter’s forearm, her eyes aghast at his sacrifice.

He concentrated, but it was going gauzy, a funeral shroud of Forget. Neill had started this when he’d talked about family at his house in the south, conjured Samantha out of the past’s thin air.

But, he realized, he was forgetting his sister’s face.

Awhile after that, it was a story Neill was telling him, Renahan snoring a bit too close to a dour looking Skinner in the backseat, his face framed in the rearview mirror. Neill was driving to Mulder’s right.

“I only saw him that once,” Neill was saying. “And I know he was part of the Newry Squad. His name was a secret to nearly everyone except the most highly placed. I know James Curran knew him quite well. I’d wager Owen knew him, as well, though probably only when he was a boy.”

“Why the secrecy still?” Mulder asked as the car took a particularly sharp curve slowly. Neill was a cautious man. “Did he retire?”

Neill smiled, his eyes crinkling at their edges in amusement. “No, I would doubt that he did,” and Mulder immediately felt nave.

“I guess a retirement party isn’t really part of anyone’s plan around here,” he said, acknowledging his mistake.

“Not unless it involves a casket and four cases of whiskey,” Neill replied, and Skinner chuffed from the back.

“He’s alive, I should think,” Neill continued. “It’s just a question of finding him.”

“What did he look like?” Skinner asked. “That time you saw him?”

Neill was quiet for a few beats, the car chugging along. The sun lost itself further behind the cloud and a few drops of rain dotted the windshield.

“It was ’84 or ’85, so it’s not much help. He had a moustache, dark but going gray. The sharpest eyes I’ve ever seen. He was talking to this man called Seamus, but we all knew that wasn’t his real name. I was in the pub in Newry dropping off some… information…and he was there. I saw Seamus slip him a piece of paper under a glass, like the thing was a bloody pub coaster. I knew what it was, though. I knew it had someone’s name on it, and a time and a place.”

“What makes you so sure he’d know who was responsible for what’s going on with Scully?” Mulder asked. The thought of the man Neill was speaking of made him vaguely ill.

“Because if he’d passed away we’d all know who he was,” Neill said, taking a left onto a different road. “And if he’s still alive, he’s one of the last, and most of the last none of us know. And it’s one of the last who’s doing this.”

“But you don’t think it’s actually him doing it?” Mulder said after he’d let Neill’s words sink in.

Neill shook his head. “No,” he said. “It wasn’t ever personal for him. He did what he was told. Perfectly. But nothing more.” He looked at Mulder. “This whole mess…well, this is a private little war.”

A town was dotting the green ahead of them far off in the distance, a sign signaling a few kilometers to Cookstown.

“Let’s stop and get something to eat,” Neill said as they passed the sign, the car doing the speed limit. “I could use a pot of tea. And there might be someone in Cookstown I need to see.”

Mulder nodded, pulled his jacket closer to him.

His hand on Scully’s breast and the taste of her mouth in the darkness.

A slip of paper beneath a glass filled with liquid a shade lighter than blood.

Samantha’s face vanishing in a haze of blue light, and the Irish sky opening with rain.

+++

TWO GREY HILLS, NEW MEXICO 6:06 a.m.

There was a thin wind the size of a wrist moving across the front porch of Hosteen’s house, pushing itself against a series of rusted steel spoons Sarah Whistler had strung up in a makeshift chime just beneath the aluminum awning. As the wind touched the utensils they clinked against each other with low, tinny notes, and that and the distant barking of a dog and the thunder coming in from a storm Scully could see in the distance were enough to conjure a sort of loneliness she found unbearable.

She’d thought telling him would make her feel better somehow, freer or more honest or more…something. It had not.

“I see new things now,” the email had said. “They’re still of you and of Rose, but there’s something hanging in what I see now, like shadow. There’s a man somewhere, and there’s screaming, and something like a gunshot. Something terrible is going to happen, and not only that but I feel it as though it’s happening now, my body feels it now, and I’m afraid.”

Gone was the teasing from their earlier emails, even the last one he still hadn’t answered, the one where she talked like a gossip about Mae and Frank Music and how she thought Frank might be interested in Mae but would rather die than show it, and Sean and his pony, and the baby kicking.

Nothing like that in this one. “There’s something I haven’t told you…” and then she’d told him. Once she’d typed “I want you to come home,” and then deleted it and changed the “want” to “need,” and then she’d deleted the sentence all together, replaced it with “love” and signed her name.

The wind picked up a bit in a gust, the spoons plinking. Bo lifted his head from beside the rickety rocker she sat in, one of her hands trailing just above the dog’s head and one on the protrusion of her navel, a bump beneath her shirt she worried with her finger.

“Rain,” Hosteen said from behind the screen door, and she craned her head to look at him. Only his face, closest to the screen, was visible in the growing darkness.

“Yes,” she agreed simply, returning her gaze to the gathering of clouds in the distance. A thread of lightning shot through them, the whole gray mass the color of dirty wool illuminating for an instant.

“Hope it doesn’t bother the airplane,” Hosteen ventured, worrying something in a napkin as though it was too hot to touch. “I do not know much about where they fly to come to here, but I would be afraid in one with angry clouds around.”

She looked up, confused. “Airplane? What airplane?”

Hosteen kept his eye on the horizon. “Granger’s woman is coming. She has been flying all night from what I understand.”

Scully swallowed. She could only imagine Robin’s anguish. She knew the other woman well enough, though, to know that the red-eye flight meant she would be frantic and furious when she arrived. She was glad Robin would be here for Paul, though, and said so.

“Yes,” Hosteen said. “He has much ahead of him, Granger. He will need her very soon in a way he doesn’t know.”

She couldn’t think about it. There’d been so much death. She couldn’t even imagine it taking on that shape, so she said nothing.

“Heard you on your computer,” he said. He put the corner of a neatly cut grilled cheese sandwich in his mouth and took a bite.

She nodded, said nothing. Rain started to patter the metal roof, a dot at a time.

“I hope he replies to you this time,” Hosteen ventured. Scully had long ago stopped wondering how he knew the things he did. She stroked Bo’s soft head.

“He will,” she said, with a conviction she couldn’t get close to feeling.

“Hmm.” His usual sound of commitment or non-commitment.

They were quiet for awhile, watching the rain come in. Hosteen came out the screen door with a creak and stood beside her. His long fingers curled around the post at the top of one side of the chair.

“I thought you were going out camping last night with Sean,” she said softly. “Mae said you were going out.”

“Hmm,” Hosteen said again. “The place we were going…too far with rain coming in this early. I do not mind rain, but lightning in the desert can be very dangerous. And it makes the horses afraid.”

She looked up into his face, though he did not return her gaze.

“This will be gone by noon,” Hosteen said. “We will go tonight instead. It will be clear and cooler tonight. A bit of wind. Stars out.” He smiled a faint smile.

“You can tell all that from looking at this storm?” she said, gesturing to the angry sky, thunder rolling.

“Yes,” he said, nodding sagely. “The wind tells me. The thunder tells me. Every drop of rain speaks the name of a star…”

She looked down, shaking her head, a laugh gathering in her chest.

“And you were watching The Weather Channel while you were making your sandwich,” she said, and she looked back up into his face, finding his warm eyes on her and his smile wider.

“You spend too much time with me,” he said, feigning a stern voice. “We will have to make you an Indian soon if you keep uncovering my magic.”

She chuckled, resisted the urge to touch his hand, knowing the touch would be tolerated but not appropriate. “Mr. Hosteen, you have magic I will *never* uncover or understand.”

“So do you,” he said, and the smile melted off her face as she looked up at him. He held her gaze steadily. “You told Mulder what you have been seeing?”

She swallowed. “Yes.”

“Hmm,” Hosteen said. “All of it?”

She looked away, her hand worrying Bo’s ear. The dog whined.

“Most.”

She didn’t have to look up at him to see him nod.

“There will be more,” he said into the sound of the sheeting rain. “Things you cannot hide. Things too hard to see.”

She kept her eyes ahead, her voice quiet. “I hope you’re wrong,” she said.

“I am not.”

She nodded. “How do you know?” She hoped for one of his jokes, the Medicine Man rattling his bones.

Instead, she felt his hand touch her shoulder, just touching her there with its warm weight.

“Magic,” he said quietly, serious.

She said nothing, tears welling, and reached up to touch his hand. The spoons spun on their lines like fish in stronger wind, and she and Hosteen watched the rain.

+++

CHAPTER 16.

+++

TWO GREY HILLS, NEW MEXICO APRIL 3 10:04 a.m.

Robin had thought that the desert would somehow look different in the Spring, since she’d heard even Paul say that it bloomed sometimes there. She’d expected to see sand somehow miraculously covered with flowers and grasses, impossibly bright as the cherry blossoms that festooned much of D.C. this time of year.

But the truth was, Robin Brock – a black woman growing up in Philadelphia, most of her time spent in the hallways of one school or another, one lab or another, sterile environments where her dark skin stood out against white lab coats and white teachers – had never seen the desert. Paul had only seen it the last time he was here, and though he’d traveled a bit to see some of the things he’d always wanted to see (Grand Canyon, Canyon de Chelly, Petrified Forest), he came back regaling her with quiet stories of desolation and heat and something that felt completely lonely that he couldn’t completely describe in the stretches between place to place.

Dead Man’s Wash. Bloody Wash. Broken Back. Tombstone.

But he’d also talked about a little town called “Why?”, complete with its question mark in the town’s name, and another town called “Hope,” both outposts on the edge of larger spans of desert, both run by retirees whose dream it had been to have a place in the middle of Nothing that was their own.

What was out here, streaming by the window of Victor Hosteen’s pickup truck, was blooming, yes. There was no denying from looking at the ground line that in the heat of summer it would be a barren and unforgiving place. But there was some green on the scrubby brush, and here and there small patches of purple and yellow flowers moved out among the flat places like footprints.

There was a storm well out over the desert, the expanse so uninterrupted and vast that she could actually see where it began and ended, and through the beams of sunlight washing around it, she could see the areas where it was raining and where it wasn’t.

“Been storming all morning off and on,” Victor said from beside her, both his calloused hands on the steering wheel, which trembled slightly as they rode over the cracked highway. She hadn’t seen another vehicle of any kind since they’d entered the reservation.

“But it looks so far away,” she said, nodding to the storm clouds.

“Oh, things move fast here,” he said, smiling a crooked smile that showed straight white teeth. “Things blow in and blow out before you know it.”

She forced a smile. He was a happy man in some way she couldn’t understand, and he was hoping to move some of it into her, she could tell. At least something like hope.

Robin stretched in the seat, feeling her back creaking like a chair back. It had seemed an interminable flight from Dulles, flying all night in that strange otherworldly glow of an airplane’s insides, lights going on and off all night. She had slept little, and eaten less.

“How much further?” she asked. They were coming to a crossroad that had no signs.

“Oh, just to the right and up a bit and we’ll be at my grandfather’s house,” Victor replied. “Do you want to stop and say hello to Agent Scully first?” He sounded almost as though he wished she’d say “yes.”

She shook her head, and that same pit of heat began to bloom in her belly again.

“No,” she said softly, and her gaze went out the window again. “Take me to Paul.”

“All right,” Victor said. “We should have something for breakfast still. You must be hungry.”

She didn’t answer. In fact, she did say anything further, nursing the feeling in her belly, then in her chest, as though something choking her.

Victor downshifted the truck as they slowed for the turn. He took the right without using his blinker, the truck picking up speed as it headed up over the rise toward the ranch.

+++

ST. SEBASTIAN’S PUB TIEVEMORE NEAR ST PATRICK’S PURGATORY AND LOUGH DERG NORTHERN IRELAND UNITED KINGDOM 10:32 a.m.

Bridget had stayed with him all the way back into the North. Christie’d stared at her staring mutely at him in the back of the white lorry his grandmother had arranged for him, a paper delivery truck that had a compartment in the back for checkpoints going from South to North. She’d been sitting on a stack of papers and every time the light had shifted as another car had passed on the narrow roads, peeking through the back windows with their small red taillights, he’d seen her face change and change again, her blue eyes mute and filled with either love or reproach. He couldn’t tell. His grandmother had taught him they were fairly well close enough to be confused.

At St. Sebastian’s, the sign shot with arrows in someone’s irreverent play on the Blessed Saint himself, he’d sat at the edge of the pub and watched the television sputter snooker. It bored him, but then it always had. He didn’t know what he was waiting for, there with his pint at ten in the morning and a plate of eggs and sausage and a mound of potatoes the pub owner’s wife had made him in the back, not knowing who he was by name but knowing he was someone she should feed.

He didn’t know what he was waiting for – or who – but he’d know when it happened. Christie didn’t know where Bridget had wandered off to when he’d come in, either, but he felt quite sure he’d find her again when he went on his way.

“A bit early for it, isn’t it?” came a voice next to him. He’d heard the man sidle up, of course, but he hadn’t even given him a glance. The man’s arm was close enough to his own bare forearm, his sweater pushed up, that the smoke from the man’s cigarette felt warm on his skin.

“The pint, or something else?” he replied mildly, keeping his eyes on the television. The whole screen was faintly blue as the tube lost its light.

The man chuckled, and now Christie did look at him, just a glance, that way of pretending to know someone that he was accustomed to. Drew less attention for being a stranger. Drew less attention for meetings.

He was about 60 probably, as everyone his grandmother sent him to these days seemed to be. He actually missed the States in some way because the people “involved” there were much younger. He felt like a ginger bird among old crows up here, though he’d never say that to anyone. One of the men he’d met in New York – Rutherford – had made him think he could have made friends with the man if they’d had the time. If things were different…

“Both,” the man said, and put the fag down long enough to reach for Christie’s hand. His knuckle had a nicotine spot the size of a pence. “Though I’m never one to frown on a pint any hour, to be sure.”

Christie gave his hand a cursory shake, picked up his fork and took a bite of his meat, chewing.

“What’s going then?” he asked.

“Not much at the moment,” the man said. He didn’t offer his name and Christie didn’t need to ask it. “Should have hopefully something of interest for you by evening, though.”

“That’s so,” he said, still chewing. The sausage was particularly good. Home-grown and handmade. He could tell.

“Aye,” the man said, pulling on the cigarette. “Don’t know what yet, but we’ll have something for you. If Renahan’s involved this time with the Yanks, well…something good must be lying around to have a look at.”

Christie didn’t say anything to that for a long moment. “Thought it was just the husband here,” he said, though he didn’t know how he’d settled on that in his mind. Maybe it was because the man Mulder seemed the only one to matter to him. The only one to whom it would be personal.

“No, no,” the man said. “Another one. Assistant Director of the Fibbies. Guess they’re bored over there.”

Christie nodded. “Skinner?”

“Aye.” The man took another drag. “Good man, I hear. Neither of them – him or the one Mulder – much to be trifled with, though we can handle them, of course.”

“More worried about Renahan are you then?” Christie said. He spoke around a mouthful of eggs.

The man’s face grew shadowed and his arm stilled, smoke rising from his hand. “More worried about Neill. Fucker.”

Christie swallowed the food, washed it down with a mouthful of beer. “Aye,” he said simply. “Should I stay here or meet you then?” he asked.

“Get a room here at the Derg Inn,” the man said. “I’ll bring you what I’ve got by this evening. I’ve got a good man doing work for me on this and he’ll come up with something.” He stood.

“I go by Seamus,” he said, and Christie looked at him full-on now. He knew exactly who he was now. The “go by” gave it away, those two words conjuring other words.

Names.

James Curran. That man he’d heard of only as “Shea.”

“Pleasure,” Christie said, and the man reached out and touched Christie’s shoulder in an almost fatherly gesture.

“I knew your uncle,” he said. “Well. I’ve known your family for as long as I can tell.”

Christie nodded. “I’ve known you that long, as well.”

Seamus smiled. “You’ve done good work. Good things for your family. For your country. You should be proud, Christie. We’re proud to be sure.”

A faint smile. He wanted to feel proud. The child kicking the dark ball around in Antrim with his uncle, John’s face not so hard then. Not the shell it became. The day he left for Basic, his uncle sheering his hair as he’d shorn so many sheep, Christie on his way to the “glaigh na h-Eireann. Special Forces. Black Ops. John used to sing some song he didn’t know when he talked to him. “Demolition Man.”

Bridget’s face was in mind. The scar on her shoulder. Stifled cum-cry in Belfast and something about “strangers on your bed…”

“You all right, Christie?” Seamus’s voice floated back to him on a heavy wave. The warm weight of his hand was there again.

“Aye,” he said quickly, and he literally did give his head a shake, as though he’d been cuffed on the back of his head and was throwing off the blow. “Just thinking about something.”

Seamus gave that same smile, gestured to the plate. “Finish up there and head to the Derg and get some rest. I’m thinking you’ll be doing some traveling before too long to see what’s what in Cookstown. We’ll have everything you need for your journey when you go.”

“Ta,” Christie said, and Seamus drifted off like so much smoke through the pub and out into the street.

He sat, still caught in memory as gossamer and inescapable as walking through a spider’s web. He reached up and brushed at his face. He did what he was told. He ate.

+++

VICTOR HOSTEEN’S RANCH TWO GREY HILLS, NEW MEXICO 10:48 a.m.

Mae Curran-Porter.

She was trying the name on and trying to decide if it was something she could live with. Katherine sat in a high chair beside her at the end of a long wooden table constructed of an old door on sawhorses, the black knob up next to her. She worried it with her left hand as she wrote the name with the right, scribbling her signature like a 12-year-old girl with a crush on someone she barely knew in school.

She turned the knob on the door, listened to the creak. She crossed out the “Curran.” She put it back in. She’d dropped the name when she’d married Joe without a second thought because of the safety his name provided and the distance it granted from the past and its troubles. Troubles…

She looked at the baby’s bright face, who was smiling and wearing a moustache of red stew. It was in her hair, and she seemed to know it and like the fact very much.

“Katherine Curran-Porter,” she said to the baby, trying it on like her mother might have, a tone of reproach that sounded ridiculous to her own ears. The baby looked at her and smiled some more.

Behind her, she could see Frank Music coming up the path toward the house, a shy smile on his face as he raised a hand. He’d taken to wearing a cowboy hat, which she would have found funny except that for one thing, the sun was a bit unforgiving and she couldn’t blame him, and for another, it looked sort of…attractive?… on him.

Attractive…

She turned the word over, felt a flush on her face and pictured Joe’s face and hated herself.

“Katherine Porter Whoever the Fuck We Both Are Now,” she amended under her breath to the baby, and reached for a napkin to swipe roughly at the girl’s face, taking the smile away with it. The baby’s face screwed up like a fist.

“Hey,” Music said as he indicated the bench seat on the other side of the table. Mae nodded, and he sat, taking off his hat and settling it down across from the knob.

“Hello, Frank.” She wadded the paper she’d been writing on up and tossed it in an oil drum that was being used as a trashcan outside the house she stayed in.

“I’m not interrupting anything, I hope,” Music said hesitantly, and she could sense his sensing her unease.

“No, of course not,” she said bitterly. “What the bloody hell would I be doing that you could interrupt?”

She’d hoped to drive him off with her tone. She was good at that. She could be bitter as acid when she wanted. And she’d wanted to a lot lately, even to Dana, who’d been walking around like she’d been haunting the place since the Stone Age.

“You’re just pissed at the world today, aren’t you?” Music said, and he was smiling, which pissed her off at the world even more.

“Aye, I am,” she said, swiping at Katherine’s hands, which made the baby even more perturbed. “What’s it to you? You come needling me for something else? You need my father’s fucking hat size now? Boxers or bloody briefs? My mum’s recipe for potato and lamb stew?”

“I’ll take that last one, yeah,” Music said. “I bet that would be good.”

She stopped fussing with Katherine and looked at him, at that look in his eye.

He liked her. He’d started to like her. Despite everything she’d try to do and everything she was. He liked her.

Damn…

“I’m done interrogating you for Anti-Terrorism, Mae,” he said softly. “I’ve given them everything you’ve given me, and if you have more you think will help as the case in Ireland continues to unfold, I’ll pass that along. But you’ve told me a lot. You’ve probably told me a hell of a lot more than you wanted. So I’m done with that with you.”

“Then be done with me,” she said, but her voice couldn’t even muster enough power behind the words to make it just above audible.

“You don’t mean that,” he said softly, his finger worrying a whorl in the door’s surface.

Joe’s face swam again before her eyes. Joe’s kind face. Another man who had stepped onto the spinning disc of her world and gotten carried away into nothing. Swirl and vortex. That was her life. Heavy and uneven.

Joe’s face on fire behind the ruined windshield of the Jeep in Australia. It pushed tears from her eyes, her hand grasping the knob with a creak.

“Hey,” Music said gently. “I’m sorry.” He reached out and touched her hand. Just a touch of his fingers on hers. “I didn’t mean–“

“It’s all right,” she said quietly. She didn’t move her hand. She didn’t move at all.

“I don’t want anything,” he added into the quiet. “I mean that. I don’t want a thing. I just want…to be your friend. You know. I think you could use a friend. Somebody with no history with all this, you know? That’s all.”

She looked at him, his eyes on the desert behind the house. “This place can be very lonely,” he said.

“Every place is lonely,” she said. She remained still. “Nothing changes that.”

He nodded. “If that’s what you want to believe, you can. But I really just want to try to be your friend.”

Victor’s pickup was coming up the dirt road toward his house, two small streams of dust going out behind it. Mae turned her attention to it.

“Men and women can never just be friends,” she said quietly. “Too much gets involved.”

He scoffed. “Oh come off it, Mae,” he said, “You’re being a little dramatic, don’t you think? I mean, I’m talking about…” and he turned his attention to where she was looking as the sound of a loud slam reached them.

The truck had stopped and a woman was getting out of the passenger side. She had lovely braids, a face darker than chocolate. Even from where she was sitting, Mae could see her eyes as she threw the truck door closed hard enough to break the old door’s glass.

“Who’s that?” Music asked, and he sounded vaguely worried.

“Granger’s…friend,” she replied, and watched the woman stalk inside.

*

Granger had heard the door slam, as well, and heard the truck’s tired engine moving down the road toward the house. More than that, though, something in him could feel it was her the minute the screen door squeaked open. There was no heavy sound of a suitcase being hustled in. The niceties at the door with Sarah Whistler were quiet and brief and the younger woman’s voice wasn’t feather-light amusement as it tended to be.

She’d pointed that way, too, because there were footsteps coming down the hall to the room where he stayed in the back of the house. Double bed, dresser, black and red rug and a lamp with a shade made out of hide.

He stood as the door opened, feeling suddenly cold in his Hopkins sweatshirt he’d put on like armor. He pushed his hands in his pockets and faced her where she’d stopped in the doorway.

One braid was hanging between her eyes and she smoothed it behind her ear.

“Hey.” It was all he could think to say. He fought the urge to tuck his lip between his teeth the way he’d done with his mother and grandmother. Time to sit in The Mercy Seat once again…

“‘Hey’?” she parroted back. She had one hand on the doorway and one on her slim waist where a thick white T-shirt snugged against her, tucked into black jeans. “How about you try again, Paul.”

Now his lip did go in, his eyes down behind their glasses. His heart – the damned thing – was racing a bit, starting that familiar ache, swimming upstream against the meds.

“Try again.” Her voice was quiet, like thunder of a storm far off but moving in.

“I’m sorry.” He nearly whispered it.

“Not good enough.” She matched his tone, but now with the thunder was coming rain.

“I won’t keep things from you again.”

“You mean ‘lie.'”

Someone turned on a television in the outer room and country music starting playing. Rodeo. Again.

“Yeah,” he replied, nodded.

“Then say what you mean,” she snapped. The tears were on her face now as he glanced up in the morning light, a thin sheen of it forcing through the drapes that looked like tablecloths.

“I won’t lie to you again.”

She moved fast. Two steps and her hands on his cheeks were enough to bruise his face. Given the amount of blood thinners Scully had prescribed him, she probably had actually done it.

“You’re goddamned right you won’t,” she said. The tears looked like lamp oil on her face, her eyes bright enough to set her alight. “You’re goddamned right…”

“Jesus Christ…” She said it slow, prayer instead of curse.

The storm moved in, broke.

Her arms were around his neck, crushing him against her. He returned the embrace, feeling her ribs against his forearms, the great gales of air she pulled in and pushed out, the space above his sweatshirt wet. He laid his palms on her back, holding her against him and felt his jaw go tight.

He had not cried before that moment about any of it.

He turned his face into the nest of her hair, breathed deep as a first breath. A sound moved up his throat. In the house the television went off, making that strange, almost otherworldly sound coming from him seem louder, roaring in his ears.

Over Robin’s trembling shoulder he saw Whistler as she came in, took the knob in her hand, and pulled the door closed, her eyes down in a clear gesture of respect and her movements quiet as a ghost.

+++

COOKSTOWN NEAR LOUGH NEAGH NORTHERN IRELAND, UNITED KINGDOM 2:13 p.m.

“I ain’t telling you a fucking thing.”

Mulder slammed his hands flat down on the table, swore to the Savior, his palms slapping like pistol cracks, and he pushed himself up and stalked away towards the door, saying something about “you fucking people” as he kicked the door open, letting in a bar of sunlight sharp enough to cut through the pub’s dark. Renahan found it funny that Mulder’s wife had been Irish, too, and wondered what she’d say to the remark.

He said so, bubbling a chuckle. Skinner told him to “shut the fuck up” in that stark and wonderful way that Yanks could say that word. It sounded so much more like a true insult when an American spit the “u” out.

Eamon Neill merely smiled. Manny Brennan was scowling across the table from him like he’d just eaten the Christmas goose, and all he’d done was said exactly what Neill knew he would.

“Manny,” he said in most even voice, the one he used for crazy men and small children. “How many times do I have to tell you–“

“Aye, I know what you said that this fucking Brit nutter isn’t going to run anyone in don’t care, you say, don’t care nothing about the past and what people’s done and all that shite!”

It was a long fast run-on rant punctuated with spit. Brennan was a bit too old to drink that much before four, but then he’d always held it bad. Neill remembered that well.

“Mr. Skinner?” Neill said in the same quiet tone, giving Brennan time to catch his breath and take another drink. The more the better. “Could you go see to Mr. Mulder and make sure he stays close by?”

He could see Skinner’s back straighten. “Why?” he asked, clearly getting Neill’s insinuation of something amiss. Something *was* amiss.

Brennan had known they were coming.

“You know how hotheaded he is,” Neill said, looking at Skinner with an extra dollop of Afters on his sympathetic expression. “His pregnant wife just in the grave and all. No telling what a man in that sort of state could get into.”

Skinner’s brow quirked. Message received and understood. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, you’re right.” He pushed back from the table and stood.

“Come on, Renahan,” he said to the man beside him. “Come help me look for Mulder. You can apologize for being a dickhead about his dead wife.”

Renahan put on a faux expression of regret. “Yea, bad that. Sorry for the trouble…” And Skinner helped him out.

Neill took the opportunity to look around the pub, filling as the day got later. Snooker was on the television and people were pretending to watch it as they watched Skinner and Renahan leave.

Something wrong. Very wrong here in Cookstown, near the strand at Lough Beg…

“You leave that man ALONE,” Brennan said under his breath on wheeze. He said it as though he didn’t like people around him even referring to a gender. An individual. Anything at all.

“I don’t want anything from him but to know who did this to this man’s wife,” Neill said. “That man’s wife did us a service. We can do her husband one in return and then call it finished, can’t we then. The whole thing done.”

Brennan’s face was blotched stone. “You with that man after what he did to us.” The reproach fell, leaden, between them.

“I want it over.” He said it slowly. “I want to be done with it. I want this man Mulder to be done with it. I want to whole damn thing over.”

Brennan blew out a breath, his lips wet. “Jesus, we all do, Eamon. Jesus, we all do…” He took another drink.

“Then tell me where to find him,” Neill pressed. He was trying to work quickly as the pub door continued to open and close, new faces coming in, as Mulder and Skinner and Renahan were out in the town with people who knew who they were, why they were here…

Not too fast, he reminded himself. Brennan always gave a little squeal if you gave him enough time – and Guinness – to do it in.

“I don’t need a name. I met him myself. I’ll know him from sight.”

Brennan looked down into his beer, studying it, looked up in Eamon’s face.

“You’ve never turned your back on us,” he said, seeming to come to some conclusion despite the uncertainty in his voice.

“And I’m not doing it now either,” Neill said. And he wasn’t. He knew that for a fact.

Brennan didn’t nod or move anything but his wet, wet lips.

“The boat shop in Ballycastle,” he said. “He comes in and gets bait and line. You’ll know him because they don’t never let him pay.”

Neill nodded. “Bless you, Manny,” he said quietly, so only Brennan could hear him. “Bless you.” He stood, left enough money on the table to cover all the tabs and a bit more for Brennan’s trouble.

Brennan picked up the pound coins and threw them hard on the ground, seeming to enjoy both their loud clatter and the looks they received.

“Fuck you,” he spat. It wasn’t in his eyes, though, but Neill did not smile. He acted the part Brennan’d written for him and left, looking small, as if in shame.

+++

The man saw the American moving through the streets, pushing his dark hair back in frustration, his strides long enough that the man would himself have to run to get to him if he so desired.

Luckily, he did not. The car had been right where the note at the butcher’s shop had said it would be, parked among some motorcycles down an alleyway. They’d tried to make it inconspicuous, and, in fact, if everyone in the town hadn’t known it was coming and the number on the plate, they might have succeeded in keeping it safe.

The American, then the other, then the Brit. All down the main road in town, the younger Yank heading toward the Ardoe Cross as though he meant to hang himself on it.

The right tool for the right job held in this case, as well, as the man jammed the pick into the lock and gave it a hard pull, coring it through. The boot lid popped open and the man was confronted with a stack of suitcases. He checked tags. Anything with “U.S.A.” or a Union Jack he took, transferring into the back of his tiny pickup, a painters tarp heavy on top.

He closed the lid – useless now – but it wouldn’t pop until they hit a bump in the road. He’d have time to get back to Tievemore before they’d even figured out it was all gone.

As he hefted the bags he felt an unmistakable weight in one of the Americans’ bags, a heavy rectangular and particularly electronic shape.

Laptop, he thought, climbing into the driver’s seat and starting the engine.

Maybe when they were done cleaning it off, having a look, they’d let him have it. He might ask for that as part of his pay.

The alley gave way to the main street, and he could see the Americans on the corner with the Brit, the young man with the dark hair – the one who’s wife was dead, they said – raging in the Brit’s red, amused face.

Sorry for your trouble, he thought to himself, turning and heading out of town toward Omagh, traffic light and moving fast to the west.

+++

Part Four

CHAPTER 17.

+++

THE TRAILER ALBERT HOSTEEN’S PROPERTY TWO GREY HILLS, NEW MEXICO APRIL 3 6:32 p.m.

If she thought about it hard enough, she could remember exactly the way the sky looked the first night Hosteen had shown up, looking for all the world like an apparition coming through the near-dark, his horse named after an apparition walking almost silent in the space between the trailer and the house. If she tried to remember, she could feel the depth of the emptiness that had been in her then as she’d watched him come toward her, the bag of freshly cooked lasagna in an aluminum pan swinging from the horn of the saddle, the light in his eyes.

That emptiness she’d felt in her then, as cold and complete as a cave’s, was so different from the fullness she felt now, and it helped her not pursue the memories too hard this night.

The sky was burning at the horizon, but it was turning that cobalt blue specked with stars she’d always associated with this place. That familiarity, Bo’s warm chin and the feeling of Rose’s foot pushing against her hand through the soft material of her shirt gave her a measure of comfort, something she’d been in short supply of as of late.

As though knowing she would seek solace here, someone – probably Hosteen himself – had left a full stack of small logs and the fire pit full of kindling soaked in oil. She’d been able to build the pit up to a lovely, warm fire in a matter of a few minutes, the metal chair creaking as she leaned back in the chair, her hands folded between the mound of her belly and her fuller breasts for added warmth. Tiny dots of sparks climbed up toward the sky, and she followed them with her eyes.

There it was again. The quiet pressure in her mind. Something pressing, a familiar and warm sensation. She closed her eyes and felt for a moment as though she could hear a voice in her mind. She could smell something, the scent of a hairline. She would know the smell anywhere.

Something uncomfortable for a beat, a burst of distress–

She drew in a breath, her hand tightening on the bump of the foot beneath it.

The baby rolled inside her, and instantly the feeling ebbed, as though she’d been hearing a soft noise in the distance and it had drifted away.

She knew what she had felt, but she wouldn’t even put it into order in her mind. She couldn’t. She wouldn’t. Not yet.

Bo looked up, sensing movement. A log fell in the fire pit, sending up the flurry of sparks, but it wasn’t that he had heard. Somewhere she could hear footsteps.

“Dana?”

She relaxed immediately. She felt safe here at the Hosteen’s, safer than she’d felt anywhere. She felt safer here with her back against this trailer, its hulking quiet shape, than she did anywhere on the property. But too much had happened not to be too careful.

“I’m here, Mae,” she called back, and then Mae emerged from the shadows that were gathering around the fire as the sun began to finally give way to the night. She was tucked into a barn jacket, brown, and jeans. Her long hair fell in its wild dark curls down over her shoulders and back, and looked as if the wind had been tussling with it as she’d walked. She was smoothing it down with her fingers as she came around the fire pit to the other chair on Scully’s left.

“I’m not intruding?” she asked, and Scully gave her a faint smile, appreciating the gesture.

“No, of course not,” she said, and nodded to the chair. Mae sat in it, leaned forward and held her hands out toward the fire, her palms reflecting the light.

“Cold,” she said. “I still can’t get over the fact that it’s so bloody cold here.”

“It won’t be soon,” Scully said, knowing the fact well. She could still remember the heat of the Bronco for those months, the swelter of sleeping in the back, hidden off some highway. She wondered what Mae and Joe had done with it…

She remembered cleaning Mulder’s blood from the backseat with Granger. Grim scrubbing in the hospital lot.

“Let’s hope we’re not here when it gets that hot either,” Mae said sourly. “No place for an Irish girl to be in summer, I can tell that already.”

Scully laughed. “You don’t have to tell me,” she said, bemused.

“Yea, we’re the two sides of it, aren’t we? The redhead and the curly black with the blue blue eyes and skin like paper…” Mae said, rubbing her hands together. She reached down and rubbed at Bo’s neck, though Scully couldn’t tell if she was doing to comfort the dog or further warm her hands. Scully didn’t answer.

“Where’s Katherine?” she asked after a beat of silence had fallen.

“Sarah’s staying in the house with her,” Mae replied. “I needed a break. A walk to clear my head. And since Mr. Hosteen’s got Sean I thought I’d take advantage.”

“She doesn’t mind,” Scully replied, her ear picking up the self-reproach in the final word. “Sarah. She’d say if she did.”

“She’d bloody well say anything, I’d venture,” Mae said, sounding baffled. “I mean, no offense if you’re fond of her, but that woman’s a bit…off.”

“No offense taken,” Scully said. “And no argument either. But I guess I’m just used to it by now.”

“Used to which part of it?”

The edge in her friend’s tone brought her out of the sleepy, easy tenor they’d been speaking in and took her gaze from the fire to Mae’s face.

Which part of it, indeed.

“Just…the way the people here talk sometimes,” she stumbled.

“Uh huh,” Mae said doubtfully.

“What?” Scully said, feeling her hackles rise. She didn’t want to be venturing into this territory at all, and to do it with the near-tease or near-challenge that Mae was using…no.

“Come on, Dana,” Mae said. “You don’t have to hide it from me. You can stop trying. I know.”

“No, you don’t,” she said, her voice hardening even further, a patina of defense.

“That drug has never stopped, has it?” Mae said, her tone quieting, most likely from guilt or regret. “It’s changing you. Still. Doing things to you. Making you see things.”

It was more blunt than Mulder would have said it. But then, Scully realized, Mae probably understood more, having been part of the whole thing. She’d tried to forget that part, as well.

She thought about denying it. She even tried to form the words. But what came out was the single quiet syllable of “yes.”

Mae nodded. “About fucking time,” she said under her breath, and gave Scully a wry smile.

Scully looked at her, the sky seeming suddenly very dark and the fire very bright. She smiled a faint smile, something in her opening and glad to be doing it.

“What was it you saw the other day?” Mae asked. “When you were with me down and Victor’s and you left in such a hurry?”

(The little girl in her mind, standing in the doorway. Pajamas. The smell of her and Mulder in the bed.)

“I saw…Rose. My daughter.”

Mae nodded. “So when you see these things, what are they like? I figure you can tell things that are going to happen. Because you knew Katherine was going to tip the frying pan that time. The day we got here.”

Scully returned her gaze to the fire. “Yes. They’re things that will happen, I think.” She paused, a log dropping and the fire hissing for an instant. “It’s hard to explain. It’s like I’m watching myself but I’m also there while it’s happening. It’s like a memory but it’s also like it’s happening that moment because I don’t know how what I’m seeing will end.”

“Like it’s happened already but is happening?” Mae tried, her brow creased.

Scully nodded. “Yes,” she said.

“Which is why they’re so upsetting to see,” Mae continued, understanding. “Because you can’t tell where you are in them – remembering or seeing what’s to come. Like Katherine and the pan.”

Scully nodded again. “Yes. To some part of me…she was already burned. I could see it. Smell it.”

“Christ Almighty,” Mae said. “I don’t think I could handle seeing any of that.”

Scully shook her head. “That’s not the part that bothers me the most,” she said. “The worst part for me is that when I come out of whatever I’ve seen, I realize that what I’ve seen *will* happen. When it’s its time to. And I know.”

“But it doesn’t always,” Mae said. “You knew that Katherine would tip the pan and you stopped it. You knew that bomb was outside the hotel in Washington. Doesn’t that mean you can change what you see?”

Scully shrugged. “I don’t know,” she said. “I think only if I can stop…the dream, if that makes sense?…before it’s allowed to finish itself. They’re like dreams. Very real dreams. But if they get to their end…I lose the control to do anything about what happens within them. They become real or true…inevitable.”

“So it’s like waking yourself up before you hit the ground when you’re falling in a nightmare.” Mae picked up another log from beside her and tossed it into the fire in a hail of sparks that made Bo jump.

“I suppose,” Scully said, her mind turning it over. “I don’t know. I don’t really understand it.” She quirked a smile. “And to think I had the audacity to rewrite Einstein’s theories when I was 21. To take issue with his idea that things weren’t linear or absolute in their place in time. I’m the proof that ruins the entire theory I designed. I just didn’t know it at the time.”

“You rewrote Einstein?” Mae laughed. “What a rebel,” she said.

Bo laid his head down on Scully’s foot again, breathed out, and went to sleep. “I had my moments,” Scully parried mildly, a smile she hoped appeared Sphinxian on her lips.

“Oh yes, yes,” Mae said, laughing. “Let’s hear of the wildness of Dana Scully. What’d you do? Change your saddle shoes before the bell rang? Break fast before Communion? Come in at 12:01 for the midnight curfew?”

Scully blushed. “I *did* smoke a cigarette once,” she said, choosing the most innocuous of her sins on purpose to play along.

“Ohhhh…”

“Yes, I did,” Scully said, mock-somber. “I snuck downstairs and smoked a cigarette outside in the dark.”

“How old were you?” Mae said. “Twenty-two?” She laughed.

Scully looked at her, and realized that buried beneath her amusement at the whole thing, she was a bit…hurt?

“Is that what you really think of me?” she asked.

Mae grew more serious, considering. Scully realized that Mae knew she’d trodden a bit hard on her ground.

“The person you are now? No. Not at all. You’ve risked too much and you’ve done too much and you’ve taken too many knocks along the way. That’s clear to me about you.”

Scully regarded her, her eyes grateful for the words, the understanding.

“But you at 15 or 16? I imagine smoking a cigarette was the worst thing you could manage.”

Scully closed her eyes, the fire dancing on her lids. She saw her mother. Melissa. Charlie. Bill.

Her father’s stern and kind face she would rather die than have look on her with anything but pride.

“Yes,” she said, opening her eyes to the firelight. “It was.”

Mae was quiet, and they sat in a companionable and comfortable silence for a long moment that Scully drank in like water.

Mae was her friend. A friend as worn and old as a favorite book, and growing as familiar now, too. She couldn’t remember another woman ever having that place with her, and she was grateful to have it, even at its price.

“The worst thing I ever did…well, you might find other things worse…” Mae hesitated, and Scully could hear the regret. She could only imagine of what.

“Tell me,” she said gently.

Mae must have heard the lack of judgment. “Well,” she said, and she looked past the fire, as though someone might be listening. “I…I was friends with a Protestant.”

She couldn’t help it. A choked laugh burst from Scully’s throat. “Oh my…” she said.

“Well, bloody well think of it!” Mae exclaimed. “James Curran’s daughter? Sitting behind the old farmhouse on the Greaves property with Bridget and learning a *hymn*?”

“I imagine your father wouldn’t have approved, no.” She’d stopped laughing now that she thought about it. For a man who symbolized the Cause, it would not have looked good at all.

“He’d have beaten me half to death,” Mae said grimly. “Or to death. Singing ‘Be Thou My Vision’ with a Protestant girl. But I couldn’t help it. I liked the song. Bloody Protestants. Everyone knew they got to really *sing*!”

Scully burst out again, and Mae joined her.

“Do you still know it? The song?” Scully asked as they grew serious, the stars brighter now, the sky less dark.

“Do you still remember the taste of that cigarette?” Mae asked. “Of course I do.”

“Sing it for me,” Scully said.

“I can’t carry a tune in a pail, Dana.”

“I don’t care,” Scully said. “Sing it for me.”

Mae looked around again, and then, only slightly more on-pitch as Scully could have managed herself, she began:

“Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart; Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art Thou my best Thought, by day or by night, Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light…”

The words hung in the air, in the firelight. Scully smiled. “It’s really beautiful. Not just the words but the tune.”

“It’s from the 7th century,” Mae said. “An Irish folk tune.”

Scully thought about it, turning the words over in her mind. The tune seemed to hang in the air like the smoke trickling up from the fire, disappearing into the sky and its starlight.

“I know why you think that was the worst thing you did as a child now that I hear it,” she said, and looked at Mae.

“You do, eh?” Mae asked. “Why’s that then?”

Scully nodded. “Because you realized you and Bridget believed the same thing.”

Mae looked down, an exposed expression on her face. Scully reached across and laid a hand on her friend’s arm, her fingers resting there as Mae’s eyes brimmed with tears.

+++

THE DESERT NAVAJO RESERVATION 9:03 p.m.

Albert Hosteen couldn’t see the fire in front of the trailer from where he was, but when he looked east toward where he knew his house sat, its television on and talking to no one, he knew that the fire was burning nonetheless. He’d moved around Agent Scully all day, sensing something growing in her like a fire, something set and building, and knew she would seek solace in the desert.

The desert’s quiet was its greatest gift. That and its ability to take on whatever was inside a person. Sometimes barren landscapes were what people needed to see most around them because it was what was within them. Barren spaces and wide skies.

Hosteen smiled at the thought, firelight dancing on his own face. He hoped Agent Scully saw sky this night, the sky and its stars. Just as Sean Curran was seeing before him, his eyes wide as stars as he gazed upward, his small mouth open.

“They’re looking at you,” Hosteen said in a quiet voice. “Watching you.”

Sean was across the campfire from him, the bandana around his forehead and the dingy feather sticking up from its back like a gray finger pointing upward. Since they’d settled in around the fire, Cloud and Ghost tethered to a small tree off to the side and nearly out of the fire’s corona, Sean had reached up to touch the feather, as though worried it would disappear.

At Hosteen’s words, Sean looked from the stars to Hosteen’s face, seeming vaguely afraid.

“Nothing to worry about,” Hosteen replied. “Stars are the best ones to watch us. Some of my people believe they are our ancestors looking down on us, guiding us, making sure we stay out of harm’s way.”

Sean’s eyes returned to the sky, and this time when he looked up, he didn’t look quite as pleased. Albert saw him swallow, and realized what the young boy saw.

His father’s face in the dots of light. His father’s eyes.

“Hmm,” he said. He picked up the pipe he’d left beside him, already stuffed with tobacco. There was a dry stick beside him from the pile of kindling and he touched it into the fire and lit the pipe with it, breathing out sweet smoke.

“Sometimes we surprise them with what we do,” he said as Sean continued to look up, as though trying to decide which of the stars he should hide his face from, which one was glinting at him. “Sometimes we do not turn out the way they wish we would have, and often that is the best thing for us. Even if it is not for them.”

Sean looked at him again, the boy’s eyes large and wet. His mouth was a line, thin as a cut. He said nothing, but he nodded.

Hosteen nodded back, his eyes squinting a bit as he drew his long legs up so that he could wrap his arms around his knees, the pipe held lightly in his hand. A breeze fanned the fire gently for a few seconds, the light growing brighter and the stream of smoke and tiny sparks turning east for a beat.

Sean reached up and touched the feather again. It made Hosteen smile faintly. The boy thought the feather contained some magic.

And perhaps it would.

“Are you ready for your Trial?” he said, and Sean looked at him again, his hand still on the feather. He looked both terribly young and terribly old at the same time. He also looked both determined and afraid.

Hosteen gave a nod, reached beside him and picked up a large black feather, the flight wing from a raven that drove Victor crazy at the ranch. The thing hung around picking at pieces of tinfoil from the fire pits, feathering its nest with the stuff and making a racket. Victor had been trying to drive it off for months.

Hosteen was glad he hadn’t now. The feather glinted with its faint, oily sheen in the firelight.

“To become a Crow, you will have to go to a place I tell you to go,” Hosteen said in his best somber voice.

Sean nodded, and started to rise from the Indian-style position he sat in, his Arizona Cardinals jacket gathered around him.

“Wait,” Hosteen said, putting up a hand, and Sean froze, settled back down again, looking contrite.

“This is not an easy task I give you to do,” he said. “That is why it is a Trial. And you must also remember that the place I send you to is a special place. It is a secret place. It is a place that only the Navajo know of, so my sending you there is a special privilege for you. A special honor. Because of that you must keep the place and the task I give you to do there a secret, as well. Do you understand?”

Sean looked at him, his head turning slightly. Hosteen smiled at the curious and excited look the boy wore. He looked, for once, like a little boy. Sean nodded.

“I have your word?” Hosteen asked, speaking around his pipe. The mock Chief voice was gone, because he did, indeed, need Sean’s word.

Sean nodded again.

“Then give it to me.” Hosteen said. “I will not let you go until I have your word. Your promise.” He held the feather before him, his long fingers on its thick quill.

Sean looked at it, nodded. His mouth opened from its line.

“Promise,” he said, and Hosteen was surprised again by the lightness of his voice.

“Hmm,” Hosteen grunted, and set the pipe down at the edge of the fire pit. “Then come with me,” he said, and he rose, Sean coming up with him.

There was a hill behind them, behind the horse and pony, out beyond the light of the campfire. The moon was out, big and white as an opal, and it turned everything a vague shade of blue, just enough light to find the way.

Not that he needed it – he could find his way on this trail by memory – but behind him, Sean’s fast breathing told him the light was good to have.

Even with it, Sean stumbled on the occasional rock. Hosteen didn’t help him or turn. They walked, up the long incline heading toward the top.

Finally, Hosteen felt the ground give way to a flat place, and he looked in front of him, felt Sean pull up short, his breath drawing in awe.

Before them, a few hundred feet away, the pueblo stood, silent and gray, set into the side the mountain. Its neat windows were like eyes. Ladders led up to them, hewn in the traditional way with rope and branches, as the building had been made, with attention to every detail. His grandfather and his contemporaries had begun it here, in the cleft of a rock face, at the mouth of a cave, with bricks made of sand and straw. They’d molded them, stacked them. Made room on room, each connected. No separate houses. No separate rooms.

They’d made it, brick by brick, by hand, in the Old Way.

And they’d kept it secret, in the Old Way, as well, adding to all the other Secrets.

Sean was standing, agape. Albert looked down at him, and there was enough light to see Sean’s eyes.

“You will go into the doorway on the left,” he said to the boy. “The large main door between the ladders going to the second floor. Inside, there is a flashlight and a bowl I placed there for you. The bowl is filled with red paint. Put your hand in the bowl and make a print of your palm on the inside wall. You will see many other marks, but do not touch anyone else’s mark.”

Sean swallowed, looking at the dark expanse between him and the pueblo. He looked back up at Hosteen.

“Put your hand among the marks and come back to me here and I will make you a Crow.” He showed Sean the feather again, held it before the boy’s face so that when he looked down it was bisecting Sean’s face with a long black stroke.

Sean looked out again, and for an instant Hosteen didn’t think he would do it.

But then he nodded, and started, clumsy, down the trail.

Hosteen could hear his small feet slipping, the overturning of small rocks. As Sean’s form moved through the darkness, he squatted down, the feather light between his fingers, and settled down to wait.

Ten minutes. Fifteen. He could no longer hear the sound of the boy’s feet.

Twenty.

He rubbed the feather’s blade, rough one way, smooth the other. He worried it between his fingers.

Then he saw the tiny light come on in the doorway, a penlight, like a candle being lit in pueblo’s vast insides.

Five minutes more. The light went out.

Hosteen smiled.

Ten more minutes and Sean was stumbling up to him, winded. Hosteen looked down at him as Sean stopped in front of him, drawing in huge lungfuls of air.

“Hmm,” Hosteen said, stern and self-important. “Show me your hand.”

Sean did as he was told, and even in the cornflower moonlight, his hand looked like it wore a glove of blood.

“Good,” Hosteen said, and laid the black feather down on the red, watching Sean’s face transform from tired fear to something else. Something new behind his smile that looked like pride.

+++

DERG INN TIEVEMORE NEAR ST. PATRICK’S PURGATORY AND LOUGH DERG NORTHERN IRELAND, UNITED KINGDOM 9:38 p.m.

“Let’s have a look at this pretty little thing then,” the man Christie knew only as “Pierce” said almost fondly, taking the silver-white iBook into his hands from Seamus. Christie’s room at the Inn was small, but the desk in the corner was old and large, big enough for Pierce to have spread his tool kit and a second laptop, already humming fully booted, on it with enough room for the Apple to spare.

Two tools and he had the casing off, the sleek laptop looking exposed and vulnerable beneath the lights.

“Jesus will you look at what’s gone into this little hummer?” Pierce said, pointing to a piece of equipment that Christie didn’t recognize.

“What’s that then?” Christie asked.

“Bloody satellite modem. Lord only knows where it’s sending signals to, but that looks like some sort of Chinese thing. No one’s supposed to have that.” He put a magnifying glass over it, breathing out so that he steamed the lens a touch. “Aye, Chinese all right. Somebody’s got a secret about how they got that thing, that’s for sure.”

“You can keep it once we get anything we need off the thing,” Seamus said sourly, and Christie appreciated his hurrying Pierce along. The man stunk of cigars and too many days in the same clothes and Christie’d just as soon have not had him around.

“All right, all right, Jesus…” Pierce said, and uncoiled a long black cord that plugged from his own laptop into a port on the back of the naked iBook. “Give me a minute…”

He turned on the Apple without opening it, which hummed to life, not on its own screen – which Pierce hadn’t opened up at all – but on Pierce’s. It immediately asked for a password before it would allow the desktop to come up.

“Pain the bloody arse…” Pierce hit a few buttons, his computer launching a program that immediately began scrolling numbers in a column, too fast for Christie to watch them. It narrowed the password down to eight digits then began to fill them in one at a time.

Pierce had clearly brought the right tools, just as Seamus said he would.

28131002. A numeric code that meant nothing to him at all. The desktop appeared and Seamus and Pierce leaned close.

“Almost nothing on it,” Pierce pronounced. “Microsoft Word. An ISP and an email program. That’s it.”

“Damn,” Seamus said softly. “Get whatever’s in the Word program to open,” he said. “Maybe they’re keeping notes or they brought some things along.”

Christie sipped his tea from the white pot on the bedside table. The television, its sound turned down, kept showing an American western. Clint Eastwood…

“There we go,” Pierce said, though Christie ignored him, intent on the film, Clint at a cemetery. “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly…”

“Christie.”

Seamus’ voice brought him back and he took the two steps back to the table, leaned in.

The screen was lit up with text:

“I’m thinking about you. Too much, probably. Wondering how you are, what you’re doing with yourself. Thinking about the baby, and what you’re feeling. I didn’t think it would hit me this hard, this soon, but knowing you’re so far away…it’s just hard. I’m glad we have this, though. We’ve never really written letters before, and who knows?…”

“Look at the date on the file,” Seamus snapped. Christie gaped, his hand squeezing on the handle of his teacup to the point that he could have snapped it off.

“The eighteenth of March,” Pierce said, not understanding the two men’s reaction.

“She’s not fucking dead,” Seamus spat, and turned away, his hand on his hips. “Son of a fucking *bitch.*”

Christie said nothing. He simply put the cup down and went to the wardrobe, drawing out his duffel. Again.

Scully alive…

Something in him lived. Another part of him, however, started to die. Again.

“Get into that bloody email program,” Seamus said to Pierce, though he was reaching into his pocket for his cell phone. “I want to know where she is. NOW.”

“Satellite modem will take a bit of time. More if it’s scrambled, which I’m guessing it is.” Pierce looked apologetic and bit afraid at Seamus’ anger. Christie watched his face as he packed up his shaving kit, just opened, on the foot of the bed.

“Then get going!” Seamus roared, dialing. “As soon as Mulder figures out we’ve got that, it’s not going to work anymore now is it?! So hurry the fuck up!”

“All right, all right…an hour…” Pierce started hitting keys, his hands flying.

Behind him, Seamus lowered his voice immediately, growing still as his cell phone line picked up.

“Sorry to trouble you,” he said, quiet. Respectful.

Afraid.

“I’ve got a bit of bad news…”

+++

CHAPTER 18.

+++

OUTSIDE BALLYCASTLE NORTHERN COAST OF NORTHERN IRELAND UNITED KINGDOM APRIL 3 9:37 p.m.

Mulder as almost relieved to see the lights of Ballycastle dotting the distance, despite the fact that every town they’d visited had not been what any of them, even, apparently, Neill, had seemed to expect. The kidnapping in Omagh. The strange reception in Cookstown where it was clear everyone knew they were coming and who they were. Even Belfast had not been what he’d expected, coming in after St. Patrick’s Day, the festivities of America replaced with people filing in and out of Catholic masses.

Neill hadn’t been what he’d thought, and he was both sorry and glad for that. What he’d expected would have somehow been easier to deal with. And harder.

The only constant in the universe right now seemed to be Renahan, snoring against the back window, uncaring. Or seeming not to care. So perhaps he was wrong about him, as well.

What *had* he expected? His arm against the door frame on the left, sleep gathering beneath his eyes in dark pockets, he asked himself this. What had sent him out of the bar in Cookstown, furious at…what? A man’s unwillingness to speak? Silence seemed to be the indigenous language in this place.

Perhaps, he mused bitterly, he should learn to speak it himself.

It would be better than the ranting he’d done at Renahan and Skinner on the street, trucks and small dull cars milling by them on the street, the drivers’ faces turned toward him in some variety of bored interest. He hadn’t stopped until a man and a woman in what looked like a battered Mini had literally stopped to listen to him, the crazed American ranting at a Brit – ready to punch him in his laughing face, in fact – and using language that would make a sailor ashamed.

He wiped at his face, his eyes, as though he meant to wipe the memory away, to smooth it off his mind with his rough palm. His hair was hanging a bit over his forehead and he smoothed it back.

“You need a haircut,” he heard in his mind, Scully’s face swimming before the lens of his memory.

She was naked, on her side, propped on an elbow, her longer red hair touching the white cotton sheets. Their house. He was on his back, replete after making love for what felt like hours and could have been since its slow beginnings as they’d done dishes after dinner.

Her side where the light from the night table was washing over it was specked with sweat, the dip of her waist, the small, just-burgeoning round of their child. December or January. A fire in the fireplace in the bedroom.

“I was thinking of going all ‘A Farewell to Arms’ on you and growing a beard while you’re pregnant,” he’d replied, a wry smile on his face. He’d reached out and traced her breast with his finger, touching the pink of her nipple, which was going darker as the baby grew. “You know, let the hair go. Maybe grow a ponytail.”

He loved how she looked when she laughed, especially that laugh that was startled out of her like finches lifting off, the one that made her sound so young, despite everything that had happened to them.

“I think that’s a great idea,” she replied. “I’ll be sure and bring the baby by for her weekend visitations after she’s born, too.”

“At the music store where I’ll be working,” he laughed, warming to the image. “The one in Dupont Circle that still sells vinyl. I’ll be behind the counter wearing a Dead Kennedy’s T-shirt and smoking a Camel Unfiltered.”

“Right,” she said, giggling so that she shook. “Langley will walk in and pretend he doesn’t know you.”

They both roared at that, a burst of lovely sound.

Then he’d leaned up and drank in her laughter from her lips until the sound died down to a small, pleasured moan in her throat. He remembered the feel of his own weight on his hands as he’d held his body over her, his mouth on hers, then her throat, her shoulder, the pale soft plain between full breasts.

He’d shaved every day but he hadn’t cut the unruly curve of hair over his forehead. In everything that had happened, he’d simply forgotten.

Neill turned the car right at a crossroads, a sign pointing them to Ballycastle. From the crack in the window, he could smell sea salt and he found it vaguely comforting. This road wasn’t as well maintained as the larger road they’d been traveling on, the pavement taking on the pale speckled gray of something worn. The tires ground on it a bit more loudly, and the car rattled faintly.

The lights of the town were growing closer, farms on the outskirts. They passed a place that advertised Fresh Catch, the sign older than Mulder was. He imagined what was sold there was quite good, though. Hooked fish and things drawn from the sea’s dark floor.

“Just up a ways now,” Neill said, his voice having to rise above the car’s dull noises.

Mulder nodded. Skinner was behind him, and Mulder heard him shift, anxious.

“Do you think we’re going to get the same reception here as we did in Cookstown?” Skinner asked.

“What sort of reception are you referring to?” Neill said blandly, arcing the car to avoid a pothole the size of a tire.

“The fact that everyone in the whole goddamn town knew who we were and why we were there,” Skinner replied, biting it out, a touch of sarcasm peppering it.

Mulder looked to his right and saw Neill’s lip curl.

“Mr. Skinner, everyone in this area knows who you are and pretty close to why you’re here. If you were looking to travel anonymously, you should have picked either different company or a different country. And it’s not you they know, exactly. It’s Renahan. And it’s me.” He smiled a bit more. “Sorry to spoil that American expectation you’ve got there, but it’s not all about you this time.”

He looked at Mulder and winked. Mulder chuffed. So true.

“And the fact that Mr. Renahan and I are seen sitting together anywhere without gunfire is getting a lot of attention.”

The smile melted off Mulder’s face, and he regarded Neill seriously now. He looked at him for a long beat, the road’s noise all the he heard. He could tell Skinner was thinking the same thing.

“What will happen?” he asked finally, a half thought.

“To what?” Neill said, his eyes forward.

“To you,” Mulder said, finishing the thought. “After we’ve gone.”

Neill shrugged. “Don’t know,” he said blandly. “Figure I’ll manage that when it comes.”

“They’ll kill you,” Skinner said from the back. His voice had lost its sarcasm. It was the quiet tone Mulder knew from Skinner, one he rarely used but when he did, it spoke much more than his words.

Neill said nothing, but he was clearly considering it, and not for the first time. The car bumped hard on its lousy shocks on a hole in the pavement, the first of two loud noises. The second was the trunk swinging up and hitting the back window hard enough to crack the glass.

“What the fuck–” Renahan startled awake. He turned in unison with Skinner and Mulder, wiping sleep from his face. “Boot’s open.”

*

Five minutes later, beneath a dim, buzzing streetlight outside the town, Mulder stared mutely at the single bag in the trunk – Neill’s, unopened and pressed against the back.

“Son of a BITCH…” he breathed, turning away, his hands on his hips.

“Looks like we’ll be washing knickers in the sink,” Renahan said. “Hope they enjoy the dirty ones when they get to where they’re going.”

Mulder felt his heart turn painfully in his chest as he looked at the space where his bag had been.

“My laptop,” he said, spinning to face Skinner. “They’ve got the laptop.”

Skinner’s eyes widened, but Neill cut into his reply.

“Who’s ‘they,’ Mr. Mulder?” he said. “The IRA wouldn’t steal your suitcases. They’re not petty thieves, for starters, and besides, Cookstown’s famous for having things nicked from cars.”

Mulder shook his head, not believing. Too convenient…

“And you can be damn sure if it was IRA,” Neill continued. “they wouldn’t have done such a messy job on the lock. They’d have picked it and closed it up tight as a tomb again to make sure it took a longer while to find the things gone.” He pointed to the cored lock. “That’s a teenager looking for something to peddle.”

“Then why’s your suitcase still there??” Mulder asked, his voice rising. He pointed to Neill’s suitcase like it held some sort of proof.

Like Neill was suspect in some way. In collusion.

He could tell Neill saw that in the question, and it brought a smile to his face.

“First,” he said in that calm voice of his. “because it doesn’t have any airline tags on it like yours. Nothing to show it’s from out of the country, especially not the *rich* United States.”

A twinge of anger flared in his eyes, like sparks from a fire. Mulder saw it, and then it was gone. Neill’s gaze flicked to Renahan.

“And a Brit’s suitcase they would take on principle, to be frank, especially one stupid enough to put a Union Jack on its side.”

Renahan laughed. “Right!” he said. “Stupid fucking Brit! I hope they threw it in the lake!”

Neill smiled at that. Then he leaned over and grabbed the handle of his bag, pulled it forward. He unzipped it and showed Mulder the contents.

“And there’s nothing in mine to take. Certainly not a shiny laptop like you’ve got, Mr. Mulder. Or interesting bits like Mr. Skinner. Cell phones. Extra clips for that Sig he’s got at his belt.”

He pulled a belt from the bottom of the suitcase, brown leather. Mulder looked at him, caught somewhere between believing and wanting to believe.

“Come on,” Neill said, pulling him back from where he was going. “Help me rig a way to close this so we can settle in and get some sleep. It’s been a hard day.”

Mulder took the belt, saw Neill’s face grow dark in the light as he turned.

“I’d like,” he mumbled. “for it to end.”

+++

ALBERT HOSTEEN’S HOUSE TWO GREY HILLS, NEW MEXICO APRIL 4 5:55 a.m.

White feet on a cold floor. Legs looking small in sweatpants, too long and gathered at her ankles, faded red. A nightgown’s skirt draped around her knees. The baby seemed to be sitting on her lap now, Mulder’s sweatshirt pulled over the nightgown and over their daughter. A pale hand curling into the fabric.

Scully turned her face to the strange light of morning pushing its way through the windows. Her breathing was returning to normal, but her face was slicked with sweat.

A dream, she told herself.

(Blood on a linoleum floor. A little girl screaming. Her hand pressed against a child’s face, covering her eyes…)

Mulder…

She shook it off, the baby turning inside her as she turned the thoughts away.

A dream, she repeated. Nothing more.

She stood, pushing herself slowly up to her feet, her hand on her lower back, which had begun to ache dully. She decided to forego a shower and began to undress.

Nude, she stood in the center of the floor where a square of light had pushed through the glass, the sun coming up the colors of a peach. She let it settle on her skin, warming her and turning her skin bright amber and white. She held a white shirt in one hand like shroud, looking down at herself, saw blue veins beneath her skin woven around the baby like a net.

If the baby could cry, she would cry. She didn’t know how she knew this, but she did. She put her hand on her belly’s side, frustrated – not for the first time – by the distance between the baby and her hand.

Frustrated, there in the bar of light, with all kinds of distance.

She shouldered and stepped into her clothes, taking time as she closed the white buttons of the shirt around her belly.

She would spend this day alone. She would go where no one could find her, taking Bo with her like some shadow of Mulder he had always been.

She would hide from what she saw behind her eyes.

+++

OVER THE ATLANTIC BRITISH AIRWAYS, FLIGHT 318 (BELFAST INTERNATIONAL TO LA GUARDIA) APRIL 4 9:30 p.m.

I see new things now. They’re still of you and of Rose, but there’s something hanging in what I see now, like shadow. There’s a man somewhere, and there’s screaming, and something like a gunshot. Something terrible is going to happen, and not only that but I feel it as though it’s happening now, my body feels it now, and I’m afraid.

“What do you think it means?” Bridget asked from the seat beside him.

First Class was quiet, the lights dimmed. It was almost all men, ice cubes tapping in high- ball glasses as laptops scrolled spreadsheets and a movie played with no sound from video screens on each seat.

Christie looked to the seat beside him, the stuffed leather, the night sky outside. The plane sounded like air.

He looked at her, her blue eyes. They were changing again, the pupils gone now. Nothing but blue like water. The scar on her face seemed to be moving down her face.

He shrugged. He didn’t want to speak. The few words he’d said to her in the cab on the way to the airport in Belfast had gotten the driver’s eye on him the rear-view mirror in a way he didn’t like.

He adjusted the laptop on the tray in front of him, reached for his Coke and took a sip from the glass. The silver and white of the iBook gleamed and he considered the email again, looking for any clue of where Agent Scully might be from the words.

Nothing there. Nothing at all. She was careful about what she said, never even calling her husband by name.

Seamus and Pierce were trying to trace it, track down the IP and hone down his search, but had found nothing yet. The computer used a satellite modem, they knew, and it was making things hard.

He was to go to New York and wait with Conail Rutherford for further word. His grandmother had had someone else deliver the plane ticket and instructions. She hadn’t spoken to him at all.

Bridget curled up against the window and went to sleep, disappearing as she did so, as Christie turned the text over in his mind. Someone turned off their overhead light, the light from the monitor seeming to grow too bright.

Christie ran his finger over the touchpad, reconnected the modem to whatever spot in space it was linked to, tilting the monitor down a bit as a flight attendant drifted by. He doubted the pilot or anyone else would pick up the strange signal reaching out, but he didn’t want them to know it was him if they did.

He touched “reply” on the window of the email, typed four simple words:

“I’m on my way.”

He hit “send,” disconnected the modem again and shut the computer down, then leaned his head back and closed his eyes to the sudden wash of dark.

+++

ALBERT HOSTEEN’S HOUSE TWO GREY HILLS, NEW MEXICO APRIL 5 5:13 a.m.

It was the time of morning when the sun was coming over the sparse, silent expanse of Two Grey Hills, the strange hours when both the sun and the moon could be seen in the sky, the moon a faint outline of creamy white surrounded by the specks of stars, their lights fading as the yellow globe rose between the crags of the mountains. Light lodged in the juts of the peaks, bled its dry and sodium gold across the floor of Scully’s bedroom, dust dancing in the still, still-cool air.

The patchwork quilt – frayed, faded – had half-slid onto the floor beside the bed, Scully’s hand alongside it, almost touching the floor. Were she awake, she might have been reminded of the first corpse brought in for her, its arm trailing from beneath the too-white sheet. Though that hand had been a man’s.

In her dream, she could hear the rolling of the wheels against the linoleum floor, the squeak of the stretcher caused by the body’s weight. She could see the light, harsh, a corona of silver around a too-bright bulb of fluorescence. Glint of instruments lined on a tray beside her. Scalpel and probe and saw and knife. Tubing. The scale hanging next to her, numbers blurred to zero as she looked at them through the vague distortion of her protective glasses.

(Subject: Male, Caucasian…)

(…Rose beside her, long dark hair in a braid, thick as rope but soft, soft as Scully ran her hand down her daughter’s back, smoothing down the red wool of the slight yarn sweater. Rose in front of clear glass. Scully watched her reflection in its surface, her and her daughter frozen there like ghosts.

“Can we?” Rose said, pointing.

Scully studied her, the upturned face. The blue of her own eyes in a nine-year old face, her own small nose, and all the rest of her daughter’s face Mulder. Pure Mulder. Including the half smile that made her wonder if Rose were laughing at some joke only her father might possibly understand. Mulder with a slide projector remote in his hand. Years ago.

“Can we what?” she heard herself ask. The sound of blues coming through a cheap speaker. A lottery machine biting out tickets. The vague smell of cold but spoiled milk. It all worked its way into her awareness and she looked around.

“Hey Scully,” she heard Mulder’s voice from behind her, and she swiveled. Mulder stood a few aisles over, a blue bag in one hand and a red in the other, high enough to be seen over the convenience store’s aisles.

“Cool ranch or Taco?” he called. He wore a suit, FBI standard, his tie slightly askew. Black and white. The strap of a shoulder holster showed as he raised an arm.

“Mom, please?” Rose insisted again. “Can we?”

“Can we what, sweetie?” she heard herself say again, but she was looking into the glass, into her own face, the reflection of her body. Her eyes widened. Her hand smoothed over the small round of her belly, tight mound beneath a loose white shirt.

(Four months. Four or five months…)

“Ice cream, Mom,” Rose said, opening the glass door to the case, pushing their reflections away. Blast of cold air. Pints frosted with ice.

“C’mon, Scully,” Mulder called again. “Ranch or Taco? Taco…Ranch…T aco…Ranch.” His arms moved up and down with each word like the two sides of a scale, eyes mischievous.

She looked back at him. Frost of gray beginning at his temples. It made her smile.

“Ranch,” she said to him, and he returned her smile. She turned to Rose. “Chocolate.”

Rose slapped her hands together and scrambled onto the edge of the freezer case, reaching for the mottled bodies of Haagen-Das.

Slapped her hands together. The door jingled open, electric chime. Scully turned, sensing something. A bitter taste in her mouth as though she’d bitten her tongue.

A man stood there, blues coming through the speaker. The woman behind the counter asked him if he’d bought gas.

Her eyes scanned the store. Dark outside. Two cars in the parking lot. Theirs and a dark pickup, a man behind the wheel, his eyes on the inside of the store, on the man going to the counter in brown pants and a ratty brown sweatshirt. Shaggy hair, dirty. A beard…)

Even in her sleep she knew what would come next. She had heard it already, the vague echo of it the first time she’d seen this man’s face.

The child’s screaming. Her child’s screaming…

(“FBI!” she shouted, reaching to the waist of her black pants, the small of her back, where her Sig was snug in its holster beneath the loose shirt.

“DON’T MOVE!”

The words seemed to echo around her, everything slowed. A movement at a time, like film a frame at a time, slides of a shutter.

She saw Mulder’s eyes go wide, the clerk’s go wide. She took a step to the side and blocked Rose – (red sweater, pants covered with flowers) — who was still standing on the bottom edge of the freezer case, reaching, though her face had spun toward Scully at the sound of her mother’s voice.

The man turned, a gun coming up from beneath his shirt. .357 Magnum, black metal shining. His arm came up, the black eye of the muzzle trained on her.

Mulder was moving, a display going down as he rounded the corner. She could hear him screaming as though he were trapped beneath meters of water, his gun already out. The man was turning at the motion, the sound.

She held her breath. She could hear the breath draw in with a sound like wings. Rose called for her father, high and shrill as a sparrow. The little girl moved –

Scully lurched forward, grabbed, touched her daughter’s arm, brush of fingers on soft hair, soft as yarn –

Mulder fired and the man staggered, a bloom of blood on his shoulder –

Rose was moving toward her father, Scully scrambling after her. A wild shot, a spider web opening on the front door to the store –

The ragged man’s gun lit up at the end, bright as a flashbulb, the sound tearing around the room as the gun kicked the man’s arm back –

And Mulder tumbling back as though he’d reached the end of a tether, jerked back from a cloud, a mist of red appearing like a clot of flies.

She screamed, got hold of Rose, who had stopped, her mouth an O, no sound.

No sound —

Scully shoved her down, falling on her daughter’s body, feeling the smallness of her daughter, the small weight of what she carried as she hit the floor, her breath knocked out but her arm up, the gun pointed. She saw skin wreathed with hair framed in the line of the sight and fired.

The man fell, the gun clattering. The clerk screamed from behind the counter into a phone, something about Cumberland and Broad. Something about blood. Something about *fuck* and something about *fast.*

Too late, she knew, feeling Rose lurch beneath her, a sob. Blood was trailing already toward her, running. She had a bizarre memory of playing with mercury, the way it ran…

“Mulder…” she called into her daughter’s hair. Her hand crept around Rose’s face and covered the girl’s eyes, holding on so tight Scully felt as though she were branding her.

She cocked her head to the side, red hair falling in front of her eyes. Through the curve of the sides she saw him, legs akimbo. Arms thrown back. A hole the size of a saucer just below his throat.

Rose moved, or tried to. Scully held. Scully stared.

Mulder’s eyes caught the light, held it in their stillness. His mouth was closed. No surprise. Nothing. The gun was still in his hand, his finger through the ring of the trigger guard.

She felt the air pull in so hard it burned her throat and felt something move inside her, beneath her.

Rose began to scream.)

She heard nothing, not the sound of the chair beside the bed tipping as she struggled to stand, not the door as it hit the wall as she swung it open. Not the slap of her bare feet on the floor as she moved along the narrow hallway into the Hosteen’s living room, the white nightgown she wore brushing her knees and then pressing against them as she burst out the front door, the screen door slamming against the house.

A road, sand. The sun a yellow eye just over the hills, half asleep and half awake. She felt the tears on her face, color in her cheeks like fire. She looked one way, then the other, down the road and turned right, staggering. A sharp rock sliced into her arch. Off- balance, she fell onto her hands and knees.

She couldn’t breathe. Air was hissing between her teeth. Her hand cupped her daughter, her hand pressing down.

(Move. Movemovemove…)

She skinned her knees as she crawled a few feet and then pushed herself up and rose. Her white gown was now covered with dust the consistency of ash.

Way off in the distance, a spiral of white smoke. Someone cooking. The far off sound of a horse like a cry. Over the hill would be the barn, the house. Mae. Granger…

(Movemovemovemovemove

RUN.)

+++

5:33 a.m.

Albert Hosteen sat up in his twin bed, the cold seeping in beneath his woolen blankets, through the cotton shirt he wore, its sleeves snapped at the wrists. He turned his face toward the window, a sound…

A sparrow on the windowsill, its body brown and shot with black stripes. Around its throat, a slice of white. He watched it for a long moment, sensing…something. He’d heard a sound, he knew.

The bird sang. Six notes. Sadness at its center. Two notes like the syllables of a name. Then, with a flick of its wings, it was gone.

Something was wrong. He could feel it.

Swinging his legs over the side of the bed, he let his feet hit the floor, cool still from the night. He reached for his jeans, his heavy boots, dressed in the morning light. Far off, he could hear the sparrow, the six notes.

Out in the hallway, he saw Bo standing at the screen door, the wooden door open against the wall. The dog’s ears were against his head, his eyes uncertain as he turned to Hosteen, who touched his soft black back, murmured to the dog that it was all right. Whish-te. All right.

He opened the door and the dog trotted out, headed off the patio and turned to the right, toward Victor’s house, down the long dirt road that stretched the mile and some between Albert’s house and Victor’s ranch.

“Hmm,” he said to himself, reached for a battered cowboy hat, his long hair around his shoulders. The lines of his face cragged as he squinted against the light and headed out into the morning, his footsteps leaving puffs of dust. He followed Bo, knowing that to follow Bo was to follow Agent Scully.

At the center of the road, nothing but sky and sand around him, he kept his eye on the dot of the dog as it crested the first rise and disappeared down the other side.

+++

5:44 a.m.

Scully staggered past the quiet of Victor’s house, her hair wet and stuck to her face with sweat, a strand of it trailing from the corner of her lip. She was freezing, her teeth chattering, despite the coming heat of the desert. Blood crept down from the cuts in her knees, occasionally catching the hem of the nightgown, sticking the fine cotton cloth to her legs. She could tell from her breathing, the cold, that she was in the early stages of shock. The baby knew, as well. She could sense her daughter’s distress, the baby rolling within her. She kept her hand on her abdomen, her eyes wild, looking for anywhere to hide, any shelter.

The barn. The barn door was open and the dark looked inviting. She could smell the hay and oat and hear the plaintive bleating of sheep. It was dark there. Safe…

Was there such a thing? some dim part of her mind thought. How could she ever be safe from things that hadn’t happened yet, things that were to come?

Don’t think, she told herself. Go. Go.

She pushed open the gate to the corral, her arms shaking with the effort, light just beginning to bleed into the area around the worn barn, the color of old leather. The desert around her was turning red, light stabbing through a thin line of cloud.

The door was cracked open and she went in, almost overpowered by the smells and the thick layer of dust, bits of it dancing in front of her as she moved. Horses arched their necks over their stall doors on her left to look at her, their eyes oily and wide. To her right, a clutter of sheep in a low pen, fat with their unshorn and dirty wool, lambs stitched in among them standing on pink, uncertain hooves. Chickens dotted the floor, pecking absently at the hay and scurrying to get out of her way.

There was a cleared area past them, a few meters from the back wall, on which were arranged Victor’s hand-held farming tools – old rakes with cracked wooden handles, shovels, pitchforks. A table saw sat in the corner and its array of blades were hanging on nails on the wall, bright silver circles with teeth. Shearing tools, rolling carts made of canvas for transporting wool.

There were small breaks in the roof and sunlight came through in bars of various sizes. Scully, more aware of the cold in the darkness surrounding the doorway, sought out the light, a circle of it on the floor just past the sheep’s pen. Feeling the warmth on her face, she fell to her knees, then to her hands and knees, pulling in huge lungfuls of the musty air.

A cramp in her belly, Rose rolling again. The feeling hitched her breathing, her hand clamping down on the curve of the baby. She had to calm down. She knew this. For both her sake and for the sake of her daughter, who could sense her terror and grief. She tried to push the images from her mind – the man’s face behind the huge muzzle of the gun, Rose’s body as she broke away, running towards Mulder as if her daughter could sense what was going to happen, knew her father was moving around the corner and turning to face not just the man but Eternity…

“No…” she said, squeezing her eyes shut and tears raced down her cheeks. She rocked back on her knees, hay clutched in each of her hands. “NO!”

At the sound of the cry, shrill and high and filled with tears, the horses threw their heads back, their eyes wide with fright, hoarse cries coming from their throats. She could hear the sounds of their hoofs against the stall doors, loud thumps. One of them, a white and black paint, turned in the stall and kicked with his back legs, sending the rickety door flying. It shot toward the sheep pen, over the low rail and smashed onto the hapless animals inside it.

(Mulder pulled back as if connected to a string, Mulder’s blood bursting in a cloud, the ragged hole opening…)

The paint came out of the stall, its ears back, huge and angry. It ran at her there in the center of the stable, there in the light.

She scrabbled a foot or so on her knees, her eyes now in new terror, the animal towering over, rising on its hind legs, front hooves fluttering the air in front of her, its eyes trained on her, its mouth open on a hoarse and furious cry.

Scully opened her mouth and screamed, something inside her seeming to rend open, as though her chest had split open and something had shot out. She felt suddenly too hot, as though she were on fire, the fire rising in her with the sound of her voice, her hands, still clenching the straw, going to cover her eyes as though she meant to hold them in her face.

She did not know what happened next. She heard and saw nothing. For an instant, she could do nothing but feel, and it was these feelings that broke out of her and became, for a moment…

Real.

+++

Albert Hosteen heard the sound of the scream as he approached the turnoff to the barn, Bo trotting along beside him, whining with his ears down. From Victor’s house, Granger emerged, tucking his shirt into his jeans with one hand while he held his gun in the other, moving fast toward the barn, looking alarmed. Victor was behind him, a shotgun clutched in his hand.

“Grandfather!” Victor called in Navajo. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

From the barn, Scully’s scream, the sound of 20 horses trying to break down their stalls and their high, terrified cries. And underneath it all, the racket of sheep. Chickens were spilling out of the crack in the barn door, their wings flapping as they tumbled over each other.

“Fire!” Granger shouted. “It must be on fire!” Robin and Sarah were coming out from the house behind them, both looking bleary and bewildered.

But Hosteen knew better. He quickened his pace.

Pushing open the barn door enough to get through, stepping over the terrified hens, he stepped in…

And immediately dropped to the ground as a saw blade flew toward the door, whizzing in the air and embedding itself into the barn door, its teeth glinting.

“Jesus Christ!” Granger cried behind him, following Hosteen’s lead and dropping to a crouch, his eyes huge in his face as he took in the scene in the barn.

Scully in the center, bloody nightgown, her back arched, bow-like, and a scream coming out of her mouth so long and so loud it seemed to be coming from the walls around her, not from her slight body itself.

In front of her, the body of a horse, handles of tools protruding from its still form, blood everywhere. To the right, the pen of sheep bounding over one another, crushing each other, the heavy door of one of the stalls in the center, cocked, bodies of animals beneath it. A lamb was standing on its hind legs trying to climb the railing of the pen.

“Oh my God!” Victor cried and ran forward, ducking as a shovel sailed through the air and clattered against the far wall. He knelt, fumbling with the latch to the pen and opened it, herding them, the white and gray bodies of the sheep now tumbling out as they tore for the door, past Albert and Granger and out. Victor followed them out, yelling to his hired hands for help.

“Scully!” Granger called, loud enough to be heard over the unearthly sound coming from the center of the room, coming from everywhere. “Scully, stop!”

Hosteen put a hand on Granger’s arm. “Stay,” he said simply.

“No–“

“STAY,” he said, more firmly, and Granger relented, reluctantly, but nodded. Robin and Sarah had crawled up beside him in the doorway, though neither woman said a word, their eyes on Scully. Robin was crying.

And Hosteen moved.

Hunched over, as low to the ground as his over-six-foot frame could manage without crawling, Hosteen moved across the darkness of the narrow space between the stalls and the pen, now empty of everything but bodies, ruined sheep scattered on the floor as if they’d been dropped from some great height.

Which, Hosteen realized, they may have been.

“Whish-te…” he murmured to the horses as he passed. “Whish-te…” Then he turned his attention to Scully as he edged closer. The screaming had stopped now, replaced by heaving sobs. Scully was shaking all over, her fists still covering her eyes.

“Agent Scully,” he called, his voice pitched low, creeping forward.

Her hands dropped, the straw feathering down. She opened her eyes, grime caked around them and down her face. She drew in a breath, a deep breath as though she had forgotten to breathe at all for some time. Then her eyes fell on the horse in front of her, its head closest to Hosteen, the round of its belly in front of her.

“Oh God…” she murmured, her voice scraped raw, choking. “Oh my God…” She crawled forward, ignoring Hosteen, and her hand, still shaking, reached out and touched the horse’s still, soft neck, traced up to its ear, over its face to its still-open eye.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered, to it and to Hosteen and to the air. “I’m so sorry.”

She hunched in pain, curling in on herself, her hand on her abdomen. A low moan came from her throat, her hand clenching the dead horse’s mane.

“Scully!” Granger called from the doorway, and despite Hosteen’s directive, he started to come forward.

“Paul!” Robin called, grabbing at his pants leg, but he got away. She started forward, but Sarah grabbed her.

The horses were calmer now, just the sound of uneasy shuffling in the stalls. Bo, low to the ground, ears flat in fear, followed Granger in.

Hosteen reached Scully, curved himself over her, moving slowly, his hand on her back, then her waist.

“Lie down,” he instructed softly. “Just rest.”

He pulled gently and she came over, going limp. She looked and felt small, her nightgown pressed to her body with sweat.

“Get me a blanket,” Hosteen said to Granger as Granger knelt next to Scully, his hand on her forehead, her shoulder, her side. Bo stopped a foot away, advanced a step, retreated, advanced and retreated again. Finally he sat, whined.

Victor came back in, panting, blood smeared across his pants. Robin and Sarah had come forward, Robin fetching a blanket draped near the saddles. Red and black and covered with dust. She handed it to Granger, still beside Scully. He laid it across her body. Hosteen noticed she was trembling so hard now her teeth were chattering.

Her only movement was her chest rising and falling, her eyes closed now, her fists against her face.

“Whish-te…” Hosteen murmured to her. “Over. It is over now.”

Scully said nothing. Her face looked white in the sunlight.

Granger stroked her forehead, his hand finally cupping the wet hair at the crown of her skull.

Albert turned to Victor and Sarah, Victor drenched in blood.

“Call for help,” he said softly in Navajo. “And hurry.”

+++

CHAPTER 19.

+++

(Something warm against her face, warm as a hand.

Trickle of something salt and the taste of iron over her lips. Light was pressing in through two slits at her feet and she was moving, a sound like screaming. Electric voices speaking and everything hollow and distant as noises underwater.

The air she breathed was cold, too rich. She drank it in like water.

Mulder …

The name came out on a puff of mist, everything going dark and silent.

A strobe of lights, square on square of brightness, hands moving her. The stark silver of an overhead lamp looking down on her like an eye. She felt cold air on her belly, a prick in her arm.

Then:

“Dana.”

She could see him. He looked ancient, wrapped in a black overcoat, a bowtie at his throat. His elbows were propped on the arms of his silver wheelchair, a blanket across his legs.

“Dana. Come with me.”

She stared up into the light’s eye. Something was pressing into her belly, pressing into her …

“Where?” she breathed, unblinking. “Tell me …”

calm down dana calm down now breathe

“Heliwell,” the man said, and his mouth formed a warm smile. “The cliffs at Heliwell. A dark house with stained glass windows. Do you see?”

She saw it, though she didn’t know how. She felt bile in her mouth, bitter and burning. She wanted to be there. Now.

“Help me …” she said, her eyes lolling.

we’re helping you just calm down try to stay calm

“I’m waiting, Dana,” the man said, still smiling.

She pulled in a frozen breath. Everything changed to black.)

**

ST. FRANCIS REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER FARMINGTON, NEW MEXICO APRIL 5 8:02 a.m.

“You must tell him.”

Albert Hosteen’s face was grim as he said the four words he and the three others in the room had been dancing around since they’d arrived. Despite the things they’d said – Mae’s insistence that Mulder would be closely watched, and his abrupt departure would arouse suspicion, Granger’s quiet compromise that they wait to find out what the doctors said – he knew they were the right words to say.

“Mr. Hosteen,” Mae snapped, crossing her arms across her chest, her face looking pale over the black turtleneck tucked against her chin. “With all due respect, you have no idea where Mulder is or the people he’s dealing with.”

“Hmm,” Hosteen agreed, and disagreed. “That is not my worry. And it would not be Mulder’s either, if he knew what was happening here.”

“We don’t know if Scully or the baby is in danger,” Granger offered, but Hosteen could tell the rebuttal was half-hearted. His eyes still had shock in them. It was as stark as the small dots of sheep’s blood on this dark face.

“That’s not what he’s talking about,” Robin said, turning and going toward a window, looking out on dark clouds that had brought more light rain. “And you know it, Paul. You were there. You saw what she did. What she can do.”

Hosteen looked at Robin’s back, the trail of braids she’d tucked into a ponytail against her back by tying one of them around the rest. She wore silver earrings set with a blood red stone, and her gaze looked bewildered and tired and more than a little afraid.

Hosteen admired the straight set of her back, though, the determined set of her face. He admired that she had clearly never seen anything like what she had seen in the barn but accepted it just the same.

“He’s right,” she said to the rain. “You have to contact him. He would want you to tell him.”

Hosteen looked at Mae, who had gone silent. Her eyes flicked onto him, her mouth a thin line. But he knew she couldn’t argue with Robin’s words about Mulder.

“Then use the computer,” she said quietly to Granger. “Don’t have anyone in Washington call him. Every place he’s going will be tapped. And Mr. Skinner’s, too. The computer is the only way to be sure he’s the only one listening.”

Hosteen considered this, remembering Scully on the porch after she’d last written Mulder, the look on her face. Something lost.

He remembered the pictures of the aftermath of the explosion outside the hotel in Washington he’d first seen, watching her make-believe funeral. The same look on Mulder’s face.

“All right,” Granger said, nodding, his hands going into his pockets. “I’ll write him.”

“How do you know where to send it to?” Mae said.

“I’ll find a way,” Granger replied softly.

A doctor came out of the ER’s double doors, a man in his early 30s from the looks of him that Hosteen recognized. Ena Kitman’s eldest son, Thomas. He had cut his hair since he’d gone away to medical school in Arizona and finally grown into his glasses.

“Mr. Hosteen,” he said, and angled his head in a sign of respect.

“Thomas,” Hosteen replied, and returned the gesture. “You have been working with my friend?”

They had told the admitting staff there were to be no names on the records. Granger had shown his badge to ensure both that and the presence of two vigilant if soft looking guards at the doors to the back.

“Yes,” Thomas replied as the other three gathered around them. He lowered his voice. “She was very shocky when you brought her in, but she’s out of danger now. We’ve stabilized her.”

“Is the baby all right?” Mae asked, jumping in the moment he took a breath.

“The baby was showing signs of distress when she got here, but she’s showing signs of improvement. We are seeing some spotting, though, which concerns us. The OB on call is looking at her now. She just got in.”

“She’s had spotting before,” Robin said. “Do they know that? Has she told you?”

Thomas shook his head. “No, she hasn’t. I’ve had to give her a good bit of sedation to calm her down. She was pretty …upset …when she got here and was getting herself more and more agitated. I thought it best to sedate her once the baby had stabilized a bit.” He shook his head, looking hard at Hosteen.

“The blood on her — where did that come from? Was someone trying to hurt her? What caused all this? “

Hosteen looked at Thomas and their gazes hung for a long moment. None of the others spoke.

“Nothing I can say,” Hosteen said in Navajo. He said with finality, and Thomas heard it.

The young doctor nodded. “Well,” he said, looking at the others’ concerned faces. “As I say, we’ve stabilized her, but we’d like to keep her for a day or so. Just to be sure everything’s all right. You all might as well go on back the Hills – I’ve made sure she sleeps for a long while. Probably until tomorrow morning. I’ll stay here all day today to be sure she’s out of any danger.”

Granger and Robin began gathering their jackets, Mae following suit. Hosteen watched them.

“Thank you, Thomas,” Hosteen said softly, and he allowed a small smile.

Thomas angled his head, wished Hosteen his respect in quiet Navajo as a white nurse passed them by.

“If you would …” Thomas said quietly, continuing in their private language, “please tell Victor I will be there.”

Hosteen glanced at Granger, who was slowly shouldering into his denim jacket, his face gone more pale.

“You have my thanks,” he said in English, now angling his head at the young man, as well.

+++

BALLYCASTLE NORTHERN COAST OF NORTHERN IRELAND UNITED KINGDOM APRIL 5 7:39 a.m.

The rain persisted, Mulder on his back in one of Neill’s sweaters, the blue heavy cotton pushed up to his chest and his belly exposed in an attempt to cool himself off. The inn they were staying in – a small B&B with only five rooms – was heated with radiators, their metal bodies grumbling like empty stomachs and hissing as the rain had moved in off the sea, chilling everything. The sweater had felt fine until then. Now he was boiling hot.

He and Skinner were sharing a room since two of the inn’s rooms were taken up with a family of Swiss tourists, necessitating a double-up. Mulder had, in fact, spent much of the previous day in the inn, as Neill had said he wanted to go out into the town alone for the day to find this mysterious man they sought. Renahan drew too much attention for his manners and his accent and his face, and he and Skinner could hardly blend in as residents themselves. The town was small enough that everyone would know every new face.

Skinner, seeming impatient with the day’s delay in their work toward God Only Knew What, had hired a boat for fishing for the day, needing something to do with his hands, he’d said.

“You fish?” Mulder had quipped over the breakfast table, the Swiss family long-gone on a ferryboat to one of the lighthouses. They’d been polite and a bit too happy about everything.

“Of course I fish,” Skinner growled in response, dipping into the clod of oatmeal that weighed more than the bowl it was in. Mulder had the same in front of him, and it was warm and rich and delicious. The way he said it made Mulder chuff.

“It’s just hard to picture,” he said.

“All right, goddamnit, I don’t fish,” Skinner relented, his voice more sour. Their usual banter. “But I’ve hunted and it’s got to be less boring than that.”

“Don’t count on it,” Renahan said as he’d settled into the chair at the end of the table, waving at the innkeeper’s wife as though she were a maid. “And I hope you’ve still got some sea legs there, Mr. Semper Fucking Fi or you’ll be feeding more fish than you catch.”

Skinner ignored him. “You want to join me?” he asked, flicking his eyes on Renahan, as though reminding him of the alternative.

“No,” Mulder said, finishing off his tea. Real cream. Sugar lumps. He started to say something else, what he’d be doing, but he had no idea. “No,” he said again. “Thanks.” And he’d retreated upstairs.

He’d found a book on the shelves in the room and spent the day reading it, some history book on the Second World War. He’d lingered on a chapter on the Battle of Bulge, listening to the rolling of a storm brewing and staring at the same page for an hour before ending up sleeping much of the afternoon away. He’d been thinking about Scully while looking at the pictures of bar-like trees and snow, and he dreamed a troubling dream where he’d been reaching through them toward her in the clearing, her hair red as blood or fire.

He’d stayed in the room so long, and been so silent, the innkeeper’s wife had come to see if he was feeling all right.

A shared dinner with Skinner and Neill – Renahan had stayed in to watch soccer on his room’s small TV – and he’d returned to bed, listening to Skinner toss in the narrow twin bed across the room and bitch about the rainstorm buffeting the inn’s sides and it being too cold to sleep.

Not too cold now, Mulder said, pushing the sweater up a bit more so that his chest was bare now. He’d kicked the heavy quilt off, too, his sweatpants feeling woolen on him. Sighing, he exhaled and stood, going to the window that overlooked the bay. He’d spent a good deal of time at it the day before, looking out at the waves.

A couple of bangs on the old frame and the window shifted open halfway. It was large window, and the gust into the opening was cool and salt. He heard the wind as he felt it.

He heard …

Singing?

“Farewell and adieu to you fair Spanish ladies …”

Renahan’s voice, seeming to come from the air. They were a full story up but Renahan was close.

Mulder had noticed a railing before but thought it decoration. Now, leaning out the window, his face touched with cold rain, he realized it guarded a small wooden ledge around the inn’s second story, only wide enough for one person to walk along, if that.

And outside his window, his back against the inn’s white, was Renahan, wearing black cords and the vaguely dirty thermal long-sleeved shirt he’d had on beneath his sweater and jacket. He’d been out for awhile, because he was soaking wet. His hair hung around his face, his beard for once tamed against his face.

“Farewell and adieu you ladies of Spain …” His voice rose dramatically on the last word. “For we’ve received word to sail out from …somewhere …yeah, Boston! …and never more will we see you again …”

He turned, noticing Mulder’s head sticking out of the window now, a wry smile on his face. “You know that movie, Mr. Mulder?”

Mulder looked at him, wondering if he had a bottle tucked against his hip, unseen, on his other side. He almost always did, and his behavior seemed to indicate being slightly out of his mind. The rain was freezing.

“‘Jaws’?” he asked. Someone was walking by with a dog, a man wearing a fishing cap and an overcoat, along the small lawn behind the house. He looked up at them, shook his head, mumbled something and was on his way again.

Renahan barked a laugh. “I knew if anyone would know the thing it would be you,” he said, sounding satisfied, as though he’s won a bet with himself. “Yeah, that’s the one. Fucking Quint and his quest for his very own white whale.”

Mulder couldn’t help but smile, though it pained him a bit. He and Scully and Big Blue, five feet from the shore in the darkness and him talking about hell being an undigested apple dumpling …

“Everyone’s got their own giant white whale, eh, Mr. Mulder?” Renahan said softly.

“This isn’t a white whale we’re looking for, Renahan,” Mulder said. He wished the man would come inside. He was shivering, and he was getting wet.

“Aye, that’s the truth,” Renahan said, looking out over the sea. “It’s a big fucking shark with great giant teeth.” He looked at Mulder, his face deadly serious.

“‘You’re gonna need a bigger boat,'” he said.

Mulder didn’t know if he should laugh or not. It was funny, the movie’s famous quote, but in a way it wasn’t. Not how he said it. Not one bit.

Their gazes hung for a long beat, and something passed between them, lodging in Mulder’s throat.

Seeing this, Renahan grinned. “Don’t be a poof, Mulder!” he exclaimed, his eyes losing their grim tinge. “Come out and enjoy the weather and the view!”

Mulder looked at him, unable to shake the look Renahan had worn before. A bigger boat …

It was enough to get him out the window and onto the ledge in his bare feet. He wedged them against the bottom of the rail as he settled in next to Renahan, rain dotting his face.

“Look us out here now, Captain Ahab and Mr. Quint out on the bridge,” Renahan said, that same grin on this face.

Mulder wiped his face with the back of his hand. “My wife once called me that,” he said. “Ahab, not Quint.”

“Smart woman,” Renahan smiled. “Up to the moment she married you knowing that.”

Mulder laughed. “Well, by then it wasn’t true anymore.”

“Gave up on that sister of yours, did you now?”

Mulder’s head snapped over to face the other man, but Renahan was looking straight ahead, a small smile on his face.

“What do you know about that?” Mulder said. He managed to keep any inflection out of his voice, though it was an effort to sound as neutral as he did. Something in him had startled, though, as though caught in some act.

Renahan gave a mirthless laugh. “I was one of the top investigators at Scotland Yard, Mr. Mulder,” he said. “And I’ve been watching you for a long time. Back when your wife got mixed up with the Currans, though she was …*just* …your partner then.” He waggled an eyebrow for effect. “I wanted to see what Owen had coming his way.”

Something about it made Mulder angry, like he’d come home to find Renahan sitting on the couch. He could feel the muscles in his jaw tighten.

“Aye, I know all about you, Fox William Mulder, son of William Mulder who was mixed up in shite no one understands or gives a fuck about anymore, even you. I know all about a little girl carried off by flying monkeys or that little gray peanut-butter-eating bastard who walked on his dick.”

Mulder wiped the now-wet hair from his forehead. “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.

“All right,” Renahan relented. “Maybe he didn’t walk on his dick.” He bumped his elbow into Mulder’s upper arm, too hard, giggling.

“Laugh it up,” he said, and he was angry now. Defensive and angry.

Renahan’s laughter subsided as he squeezed rain from his ragged beard. “Eh, maybe ou’re right …you’re right …maybe you’re not Ahab anymore. Maybe you gave up on your whale for a place in the country and changing nappies …”

“Maybe I did,” Mulder said, looking out onto the ocean. The rain was picking up, the wind pushing against his sweater so that it touched his skin like ice.

He pushed himself to his feet, squared his shoulders. Then he looked at Renahan, his expression grim.

“Maybe you should give yours up, too, Mr. Quint.”

Renahan looked up at him, his face pale in the morning light. “Some things are worth giving your life for, Mr. Mulder,” he said.

Mulder nodded. “Yes,” he said. “And some things aren’t.”

Renahan looked out over the ocean. He said nothing.

“I’m going down for breakfast,” Mulder said finally. “Come join me when you’ve finished with your …view.”

He turned and walked inside.

+++

VICTOR HOSTEEN’S RANCH TWO GREY HILLS, NEW MEXICO APRIL 5 10:01 a.m.

The Hotmail account hadn’t been opened so long Granger’d discovered it was about to be deleted. Tucked in among the Viagra and Oxycontin, right near the bottom above Ukranian women with unnaturally close relationships with livestock or their fathers, and above two emails promising to make his penis larger overnight was the email he’d been looking for, its return email address blank as he opened it, the small window glimmering in the Farmington Community Library’s main room. Four ancient computers. No waiting.

The email had consisted of one line: an email address. Robin over his shoulder to surreptitiously shield the screen from the four other people in there as the library had opened, Granger wasted no time copying the address into a new window and tapping out the message he and Robin had decided on in the car on the way:

M.,

You’ve got a sick friend. I know you’re busy, but if you can, find your way home.

G.

He hit “send” without even re-reading it and closed the account down once again, this time for good. The Gunmen had sent the address to him the day he’d left for New Mexico.

“In case something happens,” Byers had said hesitantly, unwilling to be more detailed than that.

And something, Granger thought, lying on his back with Robin curled against his good shoulder, had definitely happened.

Though he would be hard pressed to say what.

As though reading his thoughts, Robin spoke quietly against his shirt. “What’s happening to her, Paul?”

He was quiet for a long moment, stroking the braids trailing on his shoulder. She smelled like spice and he breathed her in, a deep breath that gave him pain.

“I don’t know,” he said. “But it’s been coming for a long time whatever it is.”

She shook her head, burying her face against his chest. “What I saw …” she whispered, trailed off. He knew she had something more to say but wouldn’t say it.

He looked up at the ceiling, hearing vehicles coming down the road. The men were late this morning. The ranch had been quiet, no calls to horses, no dust of men and animals working. Only the lingering smoke of the sheep’s carcasses, the horse, that Victor’s brother Keel had burned in the desert behind the house.

“You don’t believe it,” he finished for her. He was cold, as he often was when he was lying down. He was glad to have left his boots on in the bed.

She shook her head again. “No,” she replied. “You can’t see that and not believe. You can’t deny what you see right in front of your eyes.”

Someone was coming in the house, cars still coming in to park around the house. Footsteps coming down the hallway.

She leaned up enough to look into his face, something in her eyes afraid.

“But I don’t want to,” she whispered. “I don’t want to believe.”

There was small tap on the door, and Granger nodded to Robin, soothing her with a hand on her back, and called for whomever it was to come in.

Victor stood there, Sarah with him. She was wearing a broad-brimmed ranch hand’s cowboy hat that looked like a horse had been dragging it around. She did not smile, and Victor didn’t either.

“No work today, Victor,” Granger said softly. He’d said it the morning before, too, and Victor had left him alone.

“No, none today,” Victor agreed. “But I want you to come outside.”

Robin looked up, and Granger took in the gravity of Victor’s expression. The man was usually amiable and light in a way that Granger frankly envied. But not today. Likewise, Whistler looked grim herself. Not quite grim, but …serious in a way he hadn’t seen. As though someone had died or was about to.

“Is it Scully?” he asked immediately, he and Robin sitting up.

Victor shook his head. “Outside,” he said again, and for an instant he looked and sounded like his grandfather when things were dire.

Robin looked at him uncertainly, but Granger put a hand on her arm.

“It’s okay,” he said softly. He trusted Victor implicitly, though he’d never seen him act this way. Maybe the events of the morning had taken some toll on him Granger didn’t know. Maybe Victor had had enough of these people in his ranch and the trouble they brought him. Maybe the death of the livestock at Scully’s hands had been enough.

He swallowed at the prospect of being put off the ranch. He didn’t know where he would take Scully if this were the case, where she would be safe.

The Hosteen’s had done enough, he thought, and nodded to Victor, and followed him out. Robin went behind him and said nothing.

Down the narrow hallway to the living room, he could see through the windows to the front that the area around the house was crowded with pickups. The men hadn’t parked in front of the barn as they usually did, but in front of the house. He could see a few of them standing in a semicircle, their hands in their pockets, none of them speaking. The sun beat down on them making everything too bright.

Granger opened the door, pushed open the screen, and stepped out into the light.

They were all there, every man he’d seen on the ranch and many he hadn’t. Thirty or forty total, all Navajo. They were all silent, their faces as heavy as Victor’s had been in the bedroom.

Robin stood behind him and put a hand on his shoulder. He could hear her breathing in the quiet as Victor came out with Sarah and took up a place in front of him. He raised his chin and looked Granger hard in the face.

Granger stood his ground, looking from face to face. He didn’t know what this all meant. He was afraid of their silence, these men who had been so jovial, who loved to laugh and had let him join in what they had with each other. He hadn’t understood how they could be so welcoming to an outsider, but he understood this change in them even less.

“What is it you want from me?” he asked finally, no challenge in his voice. Whatever they asked, he would give it if he could. Victor would surely know that by now.

“Your trust,” Victor said. He ventured a glimpse of a smile that the men couldn’t see.

Granger nodded, looking around. “All right,” he said.

Victor’s smile vanished. “And your belief.”

Granger met his gaze, the word hanging in the air between them. “They’re the same thing,” he said finally, and Victor nodded.

“We’ll see,” he said, and called out something in Navajo, the men returning to their trucks, engines firing to life.

Victor gestured to his pickup and Granger started forward, Robin following.

“Stay,” Sarah barked to Robin, clearly an order, and Robin stopped, pinned by Whistler’s outstretched finger.

“Paul–” she began, grabbing his arm. He stopped, as well.

“Robin,” Granger said, turning to her and taking her hand. “It’s all right. Stay here in case Scully needs you, in case Mulder contacts us. I’ll be all right.”

She looked doubtful, tears welling in her dark eyes. Granger cupped her cheek in his hand and she embraced him, her fingers curling into his back as though she were afraid he’d be torn away.

“I’ll be all right,” he whispered into her neck, then pulled back enough to kiss her, his mouth memorizing the feel and taste of hers.

He could still feel her arms around him as he climbed into the truck. He could still taste the tears he’d kissed from her face as the truck pulled away.

+++

CHAPTER 20.

+++

19 CATHERINE STREET HIGHBRIDGE, THE BRONX NEW YORK, NEW YORK APRIL 5 11:40 a.m.

Conail Rutherford’s mother was still wearing black, and like a good son, Rutherford wore a black armband, as well, a picture of his father, Samuel, looking stern from a silver frame where his supper plate would be.

Rutherford, his mother Gracie and Christie ate their Friday lunch of tuna fish on Wonder in near-silence among them, a radio broadcast of Big Band love songs lilting from the kitchen, which smelled like something had been frying in it since 1945.

Christie had long ago finished his sandwich and was staring at Bridget, who was sitting in Samuel’s chair, her finger tracing over the top of the silver frame. Conail and his mother didn’t seem to mind, and he was glad for that. Her eyes were still the strange blue from the plane, her pupils gone. She seemed very pale beneath her red hair and her mouth looked like a slash.

He preferred the closed mouth to the smile she’d had when he’d logged onto Mulder’s computer before lunch and found the email from this person called “G.” Christie had hurriedly forwarded the mail to Pierce for tracking, and shut down the machine, hiding it from Bridget in his suitcase before she began her jarring, eerie laugh.

It was only a matter of time now. And not much of it. Find “G” and Christie would have a way to find Scully, even if the person wasn’t with her. Things were urgent enough now that Christie would find what he wanted from the sender of the mail.

“You ready to go then?” Conail asked, interrupting Christie’s thoughts. Conail spoke barely loud enough to hear, the manners of an old-fashioned table. Gracie didn’t look up, her eyes on her plate and her mouth barely moving as it chewed.

“Aye,” Christie said, putting his napkin on his empty plate. He had that strange slow feeling of jetlag, his eyes feeling sandbagged. He wiped his face with his hand and Conail turned to his mother.

“Leaving the table, Mum,” he said, and his chair raked against the old wood floor as he stood. Christie followed suit.

“All right then,” she replied. “Where you two off to?” She still didn’t look up, and Christie wondered for a moment if she even knew her son wasn’t 14 and going off to play in the streets.

“We’ve got a bit of work,” Conail said. “Won’t be long. An hour or so.”

“All right then,” she said again, lifting up her sandwich for another bite, her eyes on her plate.

“Come on,” Rutherford said to him, and they headed for the front door, their jackets hanging on a rack beside it.

“Taking Dad being gone a bit hard,” Rutherford said, almost as apology, and Christie nodded. “She’ll come around in a bit, I think.”

“Aye,” Christie said, not believing it. He turned to see Bridget standing there and wanted to tell her to go back and talk to Gracie Rutherford, though he didn’t know what she might say.

“Let’s go. They’ll be waiting.” And Rutherford headed out the door, Christie and Bridget following him out into the New York City street.

Though the sun was out in the too-bright clear of early spring, it was still cold, colder than Ireland had been, in fact. This disappointed Christie, since he’d been hoping for some warmth. For some reason, when he thought of the States he always imagined it warm, but that was likely from watching films of the American West. He pushed his chin a bit lower into his jacket, his still-short crewcut making him wish for a hat.

“Aye, it’s still bloody cold,” Rutherford said as they wove down the street, yellow cabs streaming by as they passed a schoolyard, children in Catholic uniforms at play on the blacktop inside the fence. “You’d think this close to Easter we’d get a bit of relief. It’s not far, though. St. Matthew’s. A few blocks up.”

“No trouble,” Christie said, glancing over his shoulder and noting that Bridget was still there, a few steps behind them. She was smiling a strange smile that unnerved him, and he realized, for the first time, that he wished they’d lost her on the street.

“Something wrong?” Rutherford asked, his voice fast and a little urgent. He stopped and Christie stopped with him, Conail shooting a look over his shoulder, as well.

“No, no,” Christie said quickly. “Nothing at all. Just looking around a bit.”

Rutherford seemed unconvinced, and Christie forced a smile. “I don’t get out country much and like to look at what I can see,” he added, though it sounded weak, even to his ears. The children’s voices sounded vaguely like screams. He wanted to move on. He nodded down the direction they’d been going to let Conail know that.

“Ah,” the other man said, a puzzled expression on his face, and they walked on.

“I hear you just got out of the Army,” Conail said after a few steps.

Christie nodded. “Been awhile back, but aye.”

“Special Forces and all that?”

Christie nodded again. “Aye. Since I was of age.” He was glad to have the school out of earshot. A car backfired as it started on the street, and he welcomed the sound.

“Do you miss it?” Rutherford asked. His voice sounded strange, something hesitant and quieter in it.

“Army?” he replied, just to be sure that’s what he meant.

“Yea,” Conail said, sinking his hands into his pockets. “That whole…life.”

Christie heard the question beneath the question. He knew the tired look on Conail’s face. He’d been seeing it in the mirror since he’d returned from the Rangers, though he’d tried to keep it away.

“Aye,” he said, speaking softly now.

“I would miss it,” Rutherford said. “Something that…clear, if you take my meaning. Out in the open and…in the right.”

It was a huge risk to say it and Christie knew it. He wondered with some part of his mind if he should answer, if his grandmother had told Rutherford to say it to see what Christie would say in response. His botching of the job so far might drive her to it in a search for an explanation for his mistakes.

The tears welling in Rutherford’s eyes told him otherwise.

“We’re in the right,” he offered, more to make Rutherford feel better than because he believed it was so. Behind him, he could hear Bridget laugh.

Rutherford shook his head. “I used to believe that,” he said. “When my Dad was alive, I tried to believe it because he did, you know. I believed it when Shea got here from Antrim to go after Owen Curran even. Every time I’d pick up a package from Belfast with a piece of that rifle of his I believed it. When I handed it to him before he left to go after Curran, I believed it. I never stopped.”

His pale face was going red, as though his cheeks had been smeared with rouge. He wiped at the tears on his face.

“But this sickens me,” he said. “I’m sorry. I know you’re doing it and I mean nothing against you for the job you’ve picked, but it makes me sick.”

Christie looked down at the sidewalk, sniffed. “Didn’t pick it,” he said, still nearly whispering. “It’s not mine.”

“None of us picked this, did we?” Rutherford said, frustration seeping from his voice. “Not the ones our age. When they signed in ’98, I didn’t know they didn’t sign for you and me.”

“They signed for the country’s peace,” Christie said. “And you can make a country change the way they do things, I reckon. Heal some things. But you can’t change the what’s in people’s hearts.”

“Aye,” Conail replied. “That’s so.”

Christie saw a church before them, gothic and dark. “Some things can’t be healed like that.”

Conail stopped. “Would you walk away from it?” he asked, pinning Christie with his eyes. “Would you ever just throw it off and take back your life and walk away?” His eyes were bright, touched with something. Desperation, or hope.

Christie looked at him, his gaze settling on Conail’s arm, a smile curling on his face. “Would you take that band off your arm before the proper time to put it up?” he asked. “Or move your father’s picture from his dinner plate?”

Conail looked down at his arm, his expression falling. “No,” he said, touching the band’s soft black. “I suppose not. My family…Ireland.. .it’s all I am.”

Christie reached out and touched the band. “The Ireland we live in – the one our families live in that has nothing to with the earth our houses are built on or the grass or the sea around it — is lost, Conail,” he said quietly. “And because we’re there with them in that place, you and I…we’re lost, as well. Two lost men from a lost land.”

Conail looked at him and a beat of silence passed between them. Bridget stood behind Christie. He could feel her icy hand on his shoulder.

“Come on,” Christie said finally. “They’re waiting on me. We need to get me my things.”

+++

VICTOR HOSTEEN’S RANCH TWO GREY HILLS, NEW MEXICO 12:08 p.m.

Albert Hosteen took the dirt road from his house to Victor’s on Ghost’s back, riding without a saddle and with only a bridle and two thin ropes attached to steer the gray horse as he rode. Ghost hadn’t needed a bridle for years, especially not with Hosteen, who had been able to tell the horse what needed it to do since the horse was a yearling.

As Hosteen went down the road, he tried not to look at the evidence of Agent Scully’s desperate walk to the barn. He tried not to think about the body of the horse, Scully in her blood-stained gown in the middle of the circle of light.

Still, when he happened on an upset area in the tire tracks where he could see the print of one of her hands, a small bare footprint beside it, he couldn’t help but see it all again behind his eyes.

Something in his face went a bit harder. He could feel his eyes, the corners of his mouth, fall a bit. So many things had risen in Scully, taking over her and moving out, flocking out of her on their black, frightening wings.

Time for other things to rise, as well, he thought, looking up at the noon sky, traces of clouds moving high above.

He rode past Victor’s house, as empty as he expected it to be, past the barn and its quiet, even the animals silent. Only a few chickens were milling around the outside, and they fussed away from him back toward the doorway as he passed.

He heard a sound, laughter, from far off to his left, and followed it until he saw Mae Porter and Frank Music sitting at a makeshift table way off behind her house. Their backs were to him, but he could see Katherine standing on the tabletop, her hands in her mother’s as she swayed. The baby was the one laughing, Music and Porter sitting so close together their shoulders were nearly touching.

To his right he heard the screen door to Mae’s back door open and shut. He turned his gaze to Sean, who’d come out in his too-big jeans and a white T-shirt, his hair catching on the breeze.

The boy’s eyes were on Mae and Music, his arms crossed over his chest. As Hosteen watched him, Sean didn’t move or even blink.

“Hm,” he said to himself, looking from the two adults and the baby to the boy and back again.

Yes, he decided. Tonight he would see things rise. Up and out. He would see them for what – and who — they were.

He guided Ghost toward the house.

Sean didn’t take his eyes off Mae and Frank as Hosteen stopped Ghost a few feet from him. Hosteen could see that Sean’s face was growing red.

“We go into the desert tonight for your final trial,” Hosteen said with requisite gravity. “Tonight, you will become an Eagle. Tonight you meet the one who will take your suffering away.”

At that, Sean’s face snapped toward him, his eyes showing the question that he would not allow himself to ask.

“Yes,” Hosteen said with gravity. “He has been waiting for you in the desert since you came here. He knows all that you have been through and…” He glanced at Mae and Frank as Katherine laughed, “…and what troubles you now. It is time for you to meet.”

Sean dropped his arms to his sides, his fists clenching and unclenching.

“Gather your things for a night in the desert, ” Hosteen said. “I will prepare war paint and magical things. We will ride out from my house to the place where this man lives and waits for you.”

Sean nodded, Mae and Frank and Katherine forgotten. Hosteen could see the excitement – and the desperation – on the boy’s face.

“Tell no one where you are going,” Hosteen said. “We leave at dusk.”

And with that, he tapped Ghost with his right heel to turn him back toward the barn and the road to the house.

+++

THE RUE INN BALLYCASTLE NORTHERN IRELAND UNITED KINGDOM 6:03 p.m.

Walter Skinner had never been one for the cold, or for the ocean for that matter. Thus, the combination of the North Sea, the cloudless night and the wind coming off the water as night began to fall were not exactly to his liking.

Something about the night, the cold and the sky so clear it seemed unreal made Skinner think of Cambodia, up around Song Tra Bong, though he would be loathe to admit that to anyone. The stars were different here, out of place for him, and he thought of the nights he’d spent in Vietnam lying outside beneath clear skies, how he’d learn to grow wary of starlight. Something about being able to open his eyes and look at the stars, close them again and then look again and him have not moved a muscle but the stars having changed their positions bothered him immensely.

He didn’t like to be reminded that his world was in constant motion, no matter how true the fact.

He jammed his hands into the pockets of the fisherman’s coat he’d borrowed from the innkeeper, the collar flap catching a gust of wind.

Off to his left, the town of Ballycastle proper, not far in the distance, a few lights on as night eased in over the ocean. Somewhere past it, he knew, was this man Neill had said would have their answers, ones that he wanted.

But before him, there on the side of the cliff, were other answers he wanted, as well.

He could see Mulder’s outline in the moonlight, as though he were not the man Skinner had known all this time but rather the shadow of him, left there overlooking the sea. He’d seen Mulder from the window of the room they shared, waited for him to come in as night came, and when Mulder didn’t, Skinner went out to him instead.

He pushed his collar up against his throat and started toward Mulder, who was standing stone-still out there on the edge.

Given the sound of waves crashing against the jagged coastline down below, he figured Mulder didn’t hear him there, since the younger man didn’t move as he approached him. He was wrong.

“What is it.”

It didn’t even sound like Mulder’s voice. Even though what he’d said was a question, it didn’t sound like one. It was flat as a field, and it made Skinner slightly uncomfortable and more concerned.

“Nothing,” he said, trying his best for his usual gruff. “Just wondered what you were doing out here, freezing your ass off. You should come in.”

Mulder didn’t turn, didn’t move. The moon was rising, and it and the lingering dusk were enough so that Skinner could see Mulder’s outline a bit more clearly. Like him, he’d turned the collar of his borrowed peacoat up against his chin.

“Mulder?” He spoke into the silence. “What is it?”

“Nothing,” he said. “I guess I was just thinking about something.” He was trying to come back from wherever he’d been, and his voice was forced and only vaguely normal. He tried to laugh.

Skinner only nodded, and they dissolved into a silence, both of them listening to the waves.

“We’re close now,” Skinner said finally, nodding toward the few lights of the town, miles away.

Mulder nodded. “I know,” he said. “I just hope…I hope Neill is right about this man.”

“He is,” Skinner said, and he actually was sure. “I don’t know a lot these days, Mulder,” he continued, “But I do know that I believe Neill and what he’s said he knows.”

Mulder nodded. “Yeah,” he said noncommittedly.

“I mean, hell, even Renahan seems to believe him, and Renahan doesn’t believe much of anything anymore.” He grunted, an attempt at a sardonic laugh. Mulder’s lip quirked as he seemed to appreciate Skinner’s effort.

A ship’s horn sounded far off in the distance, and both men’s eyes were drawn to the lights on the ship far off shore. It was moving slowly, moving away, and the sight of it made Skinner somehow sad. He returned his gaze to Mulder, though Mulder was still looking away.

Finally, he came up to stand beside him, their shoulders close.

“What really got you out here anyway?” he asked. “Scully?”

Mulder shook his head, the wind catching the collar of his coat again. “No,” he said. “Samantha.”

Skinner looked at him in surprise. “There’s a name I haven’t heard in awhile,” he replied. “What the hell got you thinking about her all the way out here in the middle of all this?”

“Because I hadn’t heard the name in a long time myself until today,” Mulder replied. He nodded toward Ballycastle. “And in the middle of this, I realized that I haven’t really thought about Sam a whole lot in the past couple of years. And I was trying to decide why.”

Skinner shivered, nodded, considering himself.

“Things change,” he said, as if to placate Mulder, who sounded a bit…guilty?…at the admission. “You’ve got a wife now. Baby on the way.”

“Do you remember me when you met me?” Mulder asked quietly, a hint of incredulousness.

“I try not to think about that, Mulder,” Skinner deadpanned, though he was only half- joking. Mulder chuffed.

“Yeah, I know. Single-minded nearly to a fault. A little selfish.”

“‘A little’?”

“All right, a lot,” Mulder amended. “Or I guess it appeared that way.”

Skinner nodded. “I know a lot of it was because nobody took you seriously. That tends to make people bite other people on the ass.”

“That was a lot of it, yeah,” Mulder agreed. “But I look back at myself now and I think that a lot of that was also that I was trying to keep from facing what I was starting to realize about Samantha, what happened to her.”

“Which was what?” Skinner asked quietly. He didn’t want to say it himself.

Mulder heaved in a breath. “That she’s dead,” he said.

The word hung in the air for a long moment. Skinner said nothing, but something in him and his friendship with Mulder, an old knot, loosened.

“It was easier to give my whole life to looking for her than to admit to myself that she was gone,” Mulder said.

Skinner felt a smile tug at his lips and looked up at the stars. “Jesus,” he said softly. “Do you know how many years I’ve been waiting for you to say that?”

“About as long as I have,” Mulder replied, chuffing. “It took coming here for me to be able to do it.”

“Why?”

Mulder drew in a breath, let it out. The ship was moving far off now and they both followed it with their eyes.

“What these people do for their families and this Cause…” He paused. “There’s something about their loyalty to it, their willingness to do anything to stay loyal to it, that feels familiar. They’ll do anything for that, for that and a sense that they belong to something bigger than themselves. Anything. Including destroying themselves.”

Skinner nodded. “Like you. When I met you.”

He nodded. “Yes,” he replied simply.

Skinner considered this in the space of quiet that followed the word. They stood still, huddled together like two men on the deck of a ship, the waves moving below them.

“Are you saying that belonging to something larger than yourself stopped mattering?” Skinner asked, breaking the silence. “And that’s what changed? Mulder shook his head. “No, it’s not that. It’s that I realized along the way that what I was looking for *was* that sense of belonging to something, and I thought Sam was the answer to that. And she wasn’t.”

Skinner nodded. “But Scully was.”

He caught a bittersweet smile on the other man’s face.

“Yes,” Mulder said softly. “And when I realized I’d found what I was looking for – not Sam but what Sam represented for me – it was easier to accept what I knew was true. I’d never find her. The best I could do was find the truth of what happened, and though that gives me closure, it doesn’t give me what was missing.”

Skinner nodded. “Makes sense,” he said. He looked at Mulder now, facing him. “So you stop looking?” he asked. “Stop looking for the conspiracy and little green men?”

Mulder laughed. “No,” he said. “I *start* looking for those things and not for a person who’s not there. I start looking for what happened to her, but not at the expense of everything I have and everything I am.”

He paused.

“The people here taught me that laying yourself on an altar for someone doesn’t bring them back from the dead. It just puts you in the grave next to them, and while some might think that’s noble…it simply compounds the grief and the waste.”

Skinner smiled, looked down. The knot unwound in him, straightened out. He cleared his throat.

“It’s cold as shit out here,” he said.

“Yeah,” Mulder said. “It is.” He was smiling faintly.

“Come on,” Skinner said, turning his back on the ocean. “I’ll buy you a drink.”

+++

“THE OLD BAKEHOUSE” 4 MILLER ROAD BALLYCASTLE NORTHERN IRELAND UNITED KINGDOM 8:32 p.m.

Ruby Belle had always been a beautiful woman, from the moment James had set eyes on her outside St. Jude’s in Derry. It was Easter, 1947, and she wore flowers in her hair like a crown, and her eyes had been like jewels set into the porcelain of her face, jewels just like her name.

Her face, lit by the light over the stove as she washed up the heavy dishes, was lined now, but her eyes were just as bright. Jimmy smiled as he watched her, smiled through the pain the medicine couldn’t hold away.

“Time for another dose, Jimmy?” she asked, not looking up. Her voice was quiet over the warm sound of water running into the sink.

He was at the table, his medication gathered in a small group at the center of the table beneath the dim light above them.

“No,” he said, keeping the pain from his voice. “Don’t need one.”

He saw her smile. “Don’t you lie to me, Jimmy Shea,” she replied softly. “Take one, and I’ll make you sorry you ever taught me to play backgammon.”

“You’re going to beat me again are you then, woman?” he asked. His white moustache framed the fond smile he gave her.

“Of course,” she said, putting a plate into the drainer and reaching for a dish towel to dry her worn, lovely hands.

A knock on the heavy, 200-year old door.

“At this hour?” Ruby asked, looking at the clock on the wall. “Who would that be?”

Jimmy Shea looked at the clock, as well.

Only one thing would bring people out this time of night. He’d had knocks like this hundreds of times, and he knew the meaning of the quiet sound.

“Don’t know,” he said, pushing himself to his feet slowly. “But you set up the board and I’ll be back. And this time let me be white.”

He walked through the house and its darkness, only one light on in every room throwing its light up onto the dark-beamed ceiling. The house had been around so long it was known only by what it was when it was first built among this outpost of Ballycastle – “The Old Bakehouse.” It would never change its name.

Before he opened the door, he took in a breath. He was tired. In more ways than he could name.

The man he knew as Seamus – still – stood in the porchlight. He removed his fishing cap before he spoke.

“Mr. Shea, you’ll forgive the hour,” he said softly. “But I wanted to let you know some news that might concern you, sir.”

Shea nodded. “No trouble,” he said. He did not invite Seamus in.

“The Americans you had some dealings with before…that man Fox Mulder, the Fibbie whose wife was mixed up in the Curran business…he’s here in Ballycastle.”

“Oh?” Shea said, his voice flat.

“Aye,” Seamus continued. “He’s got Neill with him. And Renahan. They’re looking for the Collin’s, I should think.”

Shea nodded. “I should think.” The same neutral tone.

Seamus nodded. “Just wanted you to know to stay away from town for a bit.”

Shea nodded again. “Aye, I’ll mind who’s about.”

Seamus nodded again, Shea’s flatness doing its work and stiff-arming him away. “I’ll be on my way then,” he said quietly, and replaced his hat, turning to leave.

“No trouble,” Shea said again. “Thank you, Seamus.”

The other man nodded, then turned to face him again. “Oh, and Jimmy?”

Shea met his gaze. “Yes?”

“The wife – that woman Scully? She’s alive. We found her today from an email someone sent to Mulder about her.”

Shea felt his eyes open wider. He grew very still. “Alive?”

“Aye,” Seamus said. “She’s in the States. Hiding out somewhere. Some place in New Mexico. Some little town called Farmington. Christie’s on his way. So stay low for a bit longer and it’ll be done with at last.”

Shea met his gaze. “Good,” he said softly. “That’s good. Thank you for the news.”

“No trouble,” Seamus said, smiled, and disappeared into the darkness.

+++

CHAPTER 21.

+++

ST. FRANCIS REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER FARMINGTON, NEW MEXICO APRIL 5 6:01 p.m.

Heliwell.

Scully kept running the word over and over in her mind as she lay in the hospital bed, holding onto the word like a rope, seeing the man in the wheelchair as though she were remembering a particularly fond and vivid dream.

He’d told her where to find him, a dark house with stained glass windows at a place called Heliwell. She could still see the house when she closed her eyes, her lids lit from the overhead reading light in the small, private room, its window facing the lot filled with lamplight in the dusk and pickups from the Ford administration.

Looking at the house, at the trees surrounding it that looked like pines, the windows with some design she couldn’t name or place, made the sound of her own heartbeat on the monitor easier to take, the sound of Rose’s skitting along on its separate machine. She was wearing a nasal canula, as well, and the machine hissing when she breathed.

Something had happened, though she couldn’t remember what. She only remembered the nightmare and leaving the house. Everything else was washed in darkness, her memories packed in with cotton and grief.

She sighed, giving up again on remembering, turned her face back toward the window and watched cars milling. A woman got out with her child.

Heliwell…

When Granger returned from the Hosteen’s, she would ask him to find out how to find this house, this old man, and his promise of something that felt to her like peace.

A soft tap on the heavy wooden door, and she turned, expecting to see Granger come through the doorway.

Mae entered instead.

“Hey,” she said softly. Her mouth felt dry, the holdover from some medication. Mae heard the dryness of her throat, her voice like paper, and reached for a pitcher of ice water on the bedside table, pouring it into a plastic cup.

“Hey,” Mae replied, smiling faintly as she poured. “How are you? You all right?”

Scully nodded, taking the cup. She was cold, the hospital gown gaping around her neck. “Yeah,” she said, just above a whisper. “I’m all right.”

She took a sip, the water making her even colder. Mae pressed a button and lowered the railing on that side of the bed and sat on the edge, her hip touching Scully’s leg.

“The bleeding’s stopped?” Mae sounded nervous, though Scully could not name why. Something more than her concern for her and baby. Something almost afraid.

Scully nodded. “It seems so,” she replied. She handed Mae the cup, and the other woman placed it on the bedside table.

“You don’t remember,” Mae asked, not looking at her. “Do you?”

The words confirmed that something lay behind the Forget, that the gauzy haze that followed the memory of the morning air on her face after leaving the house occluded something she didn’t want to remember.

Looking at Mae’s face, she was uncertain if she wanted to.

“I left the house,” she replied, deflecting Mae, her gaze darting away. She put her hand on her belly, stroking the woven blanket with the palm of her hand. “I do remember that.”

“What sent you out?” Mae asked. Her voice was gentle, but her face was still creased with concern.

The blood along the floor, mercurial, flashed in her mind, the feel of her daughter’s face, her eyes clenching shut, beneath her palm.

“Nothing,” Scully said, pushing the memory away. “I had a bad dream. That’s all it was.”

Mae reached out and put a hand on hers, stilling its worrying of the fabric. Her fingers squeezed lightly. She shook her head.

“I know what you saw,” Mae whispered, as though someone might hear them. “And it wasn’t a dream. You knew it then, and you know it now.”

Scully looked away, toward the window again, the moon high and far off in the distance and looking like a shred of nail.

“It was a dream,” she said again. She hated the tone of her voice, petulant and verging on desperation. She hated the tears welling in her eyes that said she knew she lied.

“Granger’s contacted him,” Mae said. “Told him to come.”

“No,” Scully said, shaking her head. “I don’t want him here. I don’t want him to see this.” A sob caught in her throat, the tears going down her face. “I don’t want him to know–“

“Dana,” Mae interrupted, squeezing her hand and leaning forward, her voice urgent. “You *need* him right now. No matter what you know or what you’ve seen.”

“No,” Scully said, turning away. She tried to pull her hand away but Mae held it tight.

“For pity’s sake, he’s your husband,” Mae said softly. “He’s the father of your child. You’re allowed to want him with you. You’re allowed to need him.”

Her quiet tone allayed the accusation, softened it.

“I want…” Scully trailed off. There was something she wanted to say but she lost it, the vision’s images rising in her, too clear to be a dream, the sound of the gunshot too loud and too final, like a gavel falling or a door slammed shut.

Mae leaned forward, her temple against Scully’s, her hand gripping down. She made a long soft shushing noise, rocking against Scully’s hip to rock her, soothing.

“I know,” Mae whispered. “God help me, I do.”

The grief crested, and Scully closed her eyes against it, against Rose’s screaming, against the image of Mulder’s eyes catching the light as bright and as lifeless as glass.

+++

THE PUEBLO NAVAJO RESERVATION OUTSIDE TWO GREY HILLS, NEW MEXICO 6:15 p.m.

They’d blindfolded him when they left the Hosteen’s property, and for the first time since he’d come to Two Grey Hills, Paul Granger was afraid.

“Cover your eyes with this,” Victor had said from beside him. He held out a bandana, a worn blue one that Victor often kept in his back pocket. It was large enough to drape around the horses’ faces as they moved them from corral to trailer for sale, and Granger took it, trying as best he could to shake the image of himself as one of the dark horses being tussled off down the dirt road of the reservation.

Granger looked hard at Victor’s face, his heart aching in his chest as it sped up a notch, faltering a bit. He could feel sweat beginning to glaze his face.

“Victor?” he ventured, holding the bandana in one hand.

Victor looked over at him, and he didn’t smile.

“You can’t know where we’re going, Granger,” he said softly. “I need you to do as I say.”

Granger swallowed. They hadn’t even passed Albert Hosteen’s house and he already knew that “trust” and “belief” were not the same thing.

He tied the bandana around his head, pulled a tight knot in the back, leaned against the seat, pushing out a breath.

“Just lean back and relax,” Victor’s voice floated to him. “We’ve got a bit of a trip. And it’s going to get bumpy, so don’t bother falling asleep.” It was hours ago now that they’d arrived wherever they were. Granger could tell there was a fire where he was because even through the bandana’s thick cloth he could see flickering light, and he could smell the wood as it burned, wood and something else that was vaguely like too-heavy incense mixed with grease.

They’d helped him remove his shirt and shoes before he’d gone through a doorway, which he recognized as one by bumping into its frame. Bits of it had powdered off as he’d done so, two people gently righting him and guiding him through. The room he’d entered, his eyes growing darker, was cool and smelled of smoke mixed with dust and earth.

He’d seen just enough cowboy movies to expect drumming or the sound of dancing feet. He’d seen “Dances With Wolves” more times than he wanted to admit, and as he sat on the ground in his jeans, he was starting to get embarrassed at how he thought these people should act.

Truth be known, he realized, he really understood their tribal ways very little. To think otherwise was prejudicial and arrogant, especially given that he’s always been tacitly aware of himself as an Outsider among them, aware that their tribal identity was something he, even as a black man, could only partly understand.

They’d propped him up against what felt like a flat stone which acted like a chairback, and he’d listened to the sounds of men moving in and out for a long time, none of them speaking, no rattles or drums or high-pitched sounds. Just the sound of wood being stacked, that strange greasy, sweet smell. He’d dozed off, his chest aching, after an hour of their silence, lulled by the quiet and darkness before his eyes.

He was awake now, though, roused with a hand on his bare shoulder and a feeling that was a circle of men around him. He didn’t know how he knew they were there, but he did.

“Granger,” someone said to him. It was Keel, Victor’s brother, a man as squat and thickly built as his father was tall and thin. He rarely spoke.

“Keel?” Granger said, feeling heavy, as though he’d been filled with sand. He felt like he’d been breathing smoke for too long.

“Yeah,” Keel said, and someone else put a hand on his shoulder, then someone else. “Let’s get you up. Things are prepared now. It’s time to begin.”

As he nodded, the men were lifting him up, his bare feet touching something that felt like cloth beneath them, but hard stones beneath. As he got his feet under him, he felt his legs go rubbery, his knees beginning to cave. Were in not for the men around him – who seemed to be expecting this development – he would have fallen to the ground.

“I’m all right,” he said out of habit, but the hands stayed where they were. They began to guide him along the cloth path. He was moving away from the fire toward fresher air and what he knew to be cold night air.

“Where are you taking me?” Granger said as they stepped outside.

“Quiet.” Victor’s voice. “Everything will be clear to you in a few minutes.” Victor took him now from two other men, Keel’s hands still on him, as well. They hustled him forward.

His chest’s ache was growing with his fear, feeling like he’d swallowed a fist. Sweat was cold on him, made colder by the night air on his bare chest. As they drew him forward he could feel an updraft, more wind, and sensed he was nearing some edge, wind free to move below him.

They stopped. “Can you stand?” Victor asked. “Nod your head if you can.”

Granger felt his heartbeat falter again, his head growing light. He shook his head “no.”

“All right,” Victor said, then spoke quickly in Navajo. The other men’s hands vanished and he heard them withdraw, their feet sound soft on the cloth-covered path.

He and Victor stood alone. For a long moment he could hear only his breathing, the sound of his heart roaring in his ears, and the night wind.

Then, from beneath those noises, a strange sound. Something pitched high and animal- like, something beating the air.

He wanted to ask what it was that was coming. He wanted to ask what would happen to him when it got there.

Victor’s hands closed around him, the sound growing. A foul smell drifted in on the wind now, sharp and not unlike ammonia. Granger turned his face away.

“No,” Victor said, grabbing him by the back of the neck and turning his face forward, toward the growing sound and the terrible smell.

The high-pitched screaming grew louder, a racket of it, too loud and coming too fast.

“Trust,” Victor said above the sound.

Granger’s heart was racing too fast, the pain intensifying. He began to buckle, but Victor held him.

Whatever was before him engulfed him, sharp things tearing at his skin. He heard Victor grunt as something hit him, a thousand somethings crashing into them, all around them. Granger felt something soft like hair, something like leather slapping his face.

He cried out, his hands going up to protect his face. His glasses were knocked off.

Inside his chest, his heart seemed to roll over inside him, the pain too much now, breath leaving him. It rolled inside him as though it had been sleeping and was waking again.

The last thing he heard was his own scream – terror and pain. The last thing he felt was the ground as his knees gave way, Victor’s hands gone, and the earth striking his lifeless face.

+++

THE DESERT, FURTHER NORTH NAVAJO RESERVATION OUTSIDE TWO GREY HILLS, NEW MEXICO 6:35 p.m.

Though Albert Hosteen hadn’t been there when Dana Scully had reached the end of the trail that overlooked the expanse of the desert around Two Grey Hills, his horse Ghost seemed to recall the incident well.

Hosteen smiled as the reins slipped through his hands, Ghost pushing his long neck, the color of ash, down to the ground. The horse’s nostrils ruffled the sand as he touched his nose to the ground, as if he were searching for some familiar scent at the edge of the clearing. Beside him, Sean’s pony Cloud merely looked bored, as though the dead-end at this end of this, a different trail, were something the animal expected. Sean looked as confused as Hosteen had known Scully had when confronted with the drop way off in the desert, also guarded by a scraggled tree poised on the edge of Nothing.

Hosteen waited. The anger wouldn’t be long behind, and he knew it. It began to bloom on the boy’s face, the sun just there enough on the horizon to illuminate the two of them, up high over the riverbed. The rage hung there as Sean looked at him, caught in the boy’s pupils like golden dots of light.

He let the smile vanish from his face, his lips drawing down. His back straightened, and as he shifted Ghost’s neck came up, the horse cocking an ear.

“You want to say something to me,” he said, not breaking Sean’s gaze.

The boy didn’t blink, but his lips thinned. His reddish hair, too long now for a boy his age, was shot across his forehead like slashes above his eyes. The crow’s feather that Hosteen had banded in his hair stood at an angle, glistening black, cocked like a banner or a sail.

“You want to know where the Medicine Man is,” Hosteen continued, and he looked out over the expanse of the land before him, though he could still feel Sean’s eyes on him. “Where the one is who will take away your suffering. As I’ve promised you.”

From the desert, and from Sean, only silence.

If Hosteen looked hard enough out over the white band of the riverbed, out toward the mountains wearing their cloaks of shadows, he could see himself out on the desolate landscape, one as stark as the terrain within when, just back from the war, he’d fled the reservation from this spot and headed out into the wilderness. What he’d seen in Poland, Russia, was burned behind his eyes and he’d gone from this place, from the clearing with its one tree standing like a ghost, its limbs thin as arms, its bark white as bone. What he’d heard, speaking into a cone-shaped mouthpiece, muttering of CodeTalk about the end of the world…

He’d thought to find the end of his own out here among the mountains. That’s what he came out here to do that day in the winter of 1945. Just as the water had appeared and disappeared from the riverbed, just as the men he’d worked for and appeared and disappeared as quickly as smoke, he’d planned to vanish himself.

But what he’d found out here among the brush, the trails for wild things moving up and down the mountains, and within the fire, had stopped him from doing so. Out here, he’d decided to live in a different way. Instead of Vanishing, he had returned instead.

The dot of him out in the desert that he saw in his mind as he looked at the landscape, which never seemed to change here and never would, was replaced by the sight of Sean beside him as he turned his face. The boy was seething, heat seeming to rise off him as Hosteen looked at him and did not smile.

“The one who will take away your suffering is here,” he said, and his voice seemed to echo in the stillness. “We will wait.”

With that, he swung his leg over the worn saddle and stepped down hard onto the packed, dry earth.

+++

9:13 p.m.

One thing that Sean could never become accustomed to was how cold the desert was at night, or how much the stars out here, away from any light, looked so much like eyes.

He was a thin small boy, small even for his age. His arms were too pale, his skin too white, even after all this time in the desert. He hated the way he looked, catching a glimpse of his milky skin in the orange of the firelight. He thought, looking at the shadows across his bare chest, light catching in the ridges of his ribcage, that he was the most pathetic creature on earth.

As if to prove him right, his jeans – bought for a dollar at the Salvation Army Thrift in town – slipped on his hips as he shifted, the tattered band of his briefs peeking out. Even Cloud seemed to be rolling his eyes as the pony glanced over at him, tucked into Ghost’s side in the shadows on the fire’s right.

He was freezing, and the lines Hosteen had drawn on his chest looked maudlin, lines of red and black. He could feel the stinking paint crusting on his cheeks, across his forehead. He wore a scratchy band of what felt like sackcloth, and the crow’s feather was pricking at the back of his head and tugging his hair.

Little baby, he heard John Fagan’s voice say, as it had a thousand times before. Little baby go and cry some more…

He’d hated Fagan. Looking into the fire he wanted to say it aloud.

He hated him almost as much as he hated Hosteen across from him, the old man sitting there with paint on his face and his hands on his knees. The Indian was even sitting Indian-Style. It was like a giant joke, all of this, and Sean was the punch line or the butt of it.

Liar, he wanted to say, looking at Hosteen through the flames. Above him even the pale moon, looking too small and too far away, seemed to laugh.

You’re just another bloody liar.

“Say it,” Hosteen said over the angry sound of the burning wood. Hosteen had sprinkled some hocus-pocus powder on the wood before he’d lit it and the wood was burning blue- green flame. It crackled in the fire as though it was arguing with itself.

It’s just a bunch of shite, he thought. His mouth was a thin line and the words wouldn’t come out.

You’re just a bunch of shite, you stupid, lying old man.

“Say it,” Hosteen said again. Only his mouth moved when he spoke. His eyes, black as oil, were as dark as space.

The paint had begun to itch on Sean’s face. He wanted to wipe it away, but his hands, cupping the balls of his kneecaps, wouldn’t move. His nails were digging into the soft white skin there, and he could feel the crescent shapes of them pressing in.

The feather in his hair, the hours spent in the desert. The journey he was on to meet the mysterious Medicine Man who would take away his pain…lies. Everything had been a –

“Lie,” he said aloud, meaning to shout it. It came out as a puff of air.

“Hmm,” Hosteen said, his face the same mask. Sean thought he might be made of wood, he sat so still across from him, his darker skin thin against the old rigging of his ribs.

“Fucking cigar store. Fucking Indian piece of shite.”

Not his voice. His father’s voice.

Hosteen smiled, then a laugh bubbled up from deep within his chest.

Sean heard it, the moon above him laughing, as well, and hated even more. It felt like electricity was running through his veins, hot and fast and almost painful beneath his bread-colored skin.

“I wondered when you would let me meet your father,” Hosteen said, his hands sliding from his knees to the too-thin waist above his pants.

He reached in front of him to the small wooden bowls of paint. The black, the red, were dripping at the edges, almost dried. A bowl of yellow in the center was untouched. Hosteen touched the surface, and his finger seemed to glow with the brightness of it.

“No one’s coming.” Sean’s voice, soft, as though tinged with feathers.

Hosteen’s mouth quirked. “Might be surprised,” he said.

“There’s no one out here at all, is there?” Owen’s voice.

Hosteen chuffed. “Only who we bring with us,” he replied, looking bemused. He touched the yellow paint to the crags beneath his eyes. Two swipes and his eyes glowed.

Sean felt himself rise, as though a hand had reached down and hauled him up, dragging him.

“There’s no such thing as magic!” His father’s voice roared from his throat. “A bunch of silly powder made of horse shite and you and your fucking face paint, you bloody stupid old FUCK!”

Hosteen threw back his head and laughed full out now. His teeth looked like headstones and his eyes glowed. He looked at Sean and said something in Navajo. Sean heard the word for “close.” Or “closer.” Then his father’s name.

“THERE’S NO SUCH THING!”

The words filled the air, over the bluish flames, the blue stars shining.

Hosteen laughed again, and the sound surrounded Sean there, a cold wind coming up off the cliff.

“No,” Hosteen said, shaking his head slowly, still smiling cryptically. “Not the kind of magic you have been thinking of. No Medicine Man to take away your pain. Or your rage.”

“Then you lied,” Sean spat, his own voice gaining. He sounded like a boy to his ears. A little boy.

Little baby cry some more…

Hosteen shook his head again.

“No,” he said. “I did not.”

Sean felt the current rising in him, his arms rising, his hands – as though not his hands – reaching for the band around his head, the black feather. His chest felt like it was swelling, as though he were growing right before Hosteen’s eyes. In a few seconds, he thought, he’d be able touch the sky.

He opened his mouth and raged.

He heard the sound of something beating the air, a high-pitched chitter, a cry. He felt something nick his cheek as it blurred by in a cloud of sound and motion, the smell of ammonia hovering with the scream around his face.

+++

Hosteen had smelled the animals coming, heard the sound of their wings. He’d seen the light rising from the flames, the fire’s fingers reaching higher as the wind rushing ahead of the mass of bodies pushed across the clearing.

Across the firelight, Sean Curran’s neck was taut, tendons standing out stark through his thin skin, the boy’s hands crumpled into tight fists and his arms over his head, his legs spread out so that the child’s body formed an X against the blanket of sky behind him.

And all around his body, black shapes were moving, slapping the air with their leathery wings. Hosteen saw, glinting with the light of the fire, eyes on eyes, mouths open, tiny teeth. The bats were thumping against Sean’s back, glancing off his arms, battering him with their wings. They tumbled around his feet, slapping the sand. One glanced off the boy’s shoulder and spun into the fire, knocking a small piece of wood off in a hail of sparks as it fled with a screech.

Seeing the sparks, the wood rolling in its sleeve of fire, Sean ran to it, the bats still streaming, and picked up the end of the wood, a burned-out place, swung the piece up, brandishing it. Hosteen watched the boy turn to him, his mouth still open, his teeth bared, a tumble of obscenities filling the air.

Hosteen didn’t move as Sean stood, the fire over him. The red paint on his face caught the light, a smear like blood beneath his eyes.

“WHY???”

It was long, the single syllable seeming to stretch forever, over the blue fire, past Hosteen as though it were following the bats away into the darkness, the last of the creatures righting themselves on the ground and taking flight.

Sean moved, fast.

He went to the campfire, its flames high, his small legs kicking out. Hosteen watched him disappear into a cloud of sparks, the single word repeating, Sean swinging with his arms at the ash, dots of fire dancing around him. The neat pile of wood scattered, flames snuffing out, sand and smoke and cinders flying. Hosteen watched tiny specks of heat cling to Sean’s bare skin – his face, his chest.

When the boy hit the ground on his knees, the sword of wood falling, Hosteen rose at last.

“Wish-te…” he murmured softly, coming slowly to his feet.

Sean was sobbing, an arm holding his belly, his hand crawling up his throat to cover his mouth. His small fingers were trembling and he retched.

“God…” Sean choked. “Oh God…”

“Wish-te,” Hosteen said, going to stand behind him, the moon shining down on them, tiny bits of fire on bits of wood the only other light. He knelt down and touched the boy’s shoulder. He felt muscle there.

“I’m burned,” Sean gasped out, coughing as the heaving passed. “Mr. Hosteen, I’m burned.” He wiped his face with a dirty hand.

Sean’s voice, Hosteen noted, was his own. Hoarse, strained. But his own.

“You are all right now,” Hosteen said softly, his fingers pressing into Sean’s shoulder.

As he did so, Sean straightened his back, heaving in breath.

“I’m sorry,” Sean said softly. “I’m–“

“Hmm,” Hosteen interrupted, the last of the fire winking out. “It is the past.”

After a moment, Sean drew in a deep breath, his hand going to Hosteen’s on his shoulder. He nodded.

“Yes.”

The moon and stars looked down on at the clearing, Hosteen and Sean still and warm and quiet.

Hosteen smiled as Sean’s face came up to look above them, the young man safe – at last – – in the cool blue light.

+++

CHAPTER 22.

+++

THE HOGAN NAVAJO RESERVATION TWO GREY HILLS, NEW MEXICO APRIL 6

“Hey boy.”

Granger heard the voice close by, but the darkness around him was so complete he didn’t know where to find its source. There was something light to his left, though; he could see it behind his lids, a swimming of light as though Christmas lights were dancing in front of the drapes of his eyes.

He pulled himself up from the darkness, one rung at a time. He felt impossibly heavy as he turned his face toward the light.

“Who’s there?” he said, though it came out as barely a whisper, his mouth too dry and his throat feeling parched.

“You open your eyes and look at me when I’m talking to you,” the voice said again. There was some unmistakable tenor of authority to the voice, and something familiar about it, as well, though Granger had never heard the voice before.

He did as he was told, his eyes opening to slits, and took in his surroundings, his eyes widening as he looked around.

A wooded area, a canopy of trees so dense that the sunlight barely came through to where he lay on the ground, covered in fallen leaves. He was naked, but was covered from the waist down by the orange and rust-brown leaves. More were falling around him, making lazy circles down toward the forest’s floor. He could hear birds singing off in the distance, and the air smelled loamy, cool like the days of fall just before it would turn to winter.

And beside him, in a Baltimore City Police uniform, his blue hat in his hand, was the man he’d seen in the photos on his mother’s mantle his whole life.

His father.

Thomas Granger was worrying the brim of his hat between his meaty fingers, turning the hat around in a slow circle in his hands. He was a huge man, taller than Granger and heavily muscled, a paunch beginning to show above his belt. His dress uniform’s breast was dotted with citations. His hair was beginning to gray.

“Sweet Jesus, boy, you look like a dog came by and buried you right there in them leaves,” Thomas said, gesturing to the leaves with his hat.

Granger smiled faintly. “I’d imagine so,” he said, his voice finding a bit of strength.

“You know where you’re at?” his father asked him, and Granger glanced around, barely moving his head as his eyes took in the canopy, the leaves, the thin bars of sunlight that were pushing their ways through the trees.

“Heaven?” Granger asked, and Thomas Granger started laughing, deep chuckles that seemed to come from the bottom of his belly.

“No, this ain’t heaven,” he said, still laughing. “You see any wings on me?”

Granger smiled again, feeling foolish in front of his father, a man who had died when he was a baby, a man whose face he knew only from grim photographs and the vague, gauzy memories of infancy.

“No, sir,” he said. He’d always imagined he’d call his father “sir,” and he tried it on for size. It felt right.

“Then where…?” he trailed off. He wanted to lift his hand to reach toward his father, to see if the other man was real, but he couldn’t move.

“You’re in a bad way, son,” Thomas said. “I reckon you know that, though. You’ve known for a long time.”

Granger nodded.

Thomas looked up at the trees. “There’s some folks down there helping you, you know,” he said. “Good folks. Not the kind of folks I would have paid much mind to back in my day, but I’ve learned a few things in my time. Quite a few things. I come to believe some things I wouldn’t have believed before. I come to know you in a way I don’t think I could have known you if I’d been with you when you was growing up.”

He paused, looked down at Granger, and Granger wondered, in a moment like the ones he’d had his whole life if his father was proud of the man he’d become. How many nights had he lain awake – especially as a young man – and thought that? It had haunted him as surely as any ghost.

“Of course I’m proud of you,” Thomas said. “How couldn’t I be?” He smiled, and Granger met his eyes, surprised. His father’s eyes were shining.

“You ain’t got no secrets here, son,” Thomas said softly, looking down at the brim of his hat. There was something shy about the gesture and the older man’s smile.

Granger simultaneously liked and disliked the sound of that. He only wished it went both ways. He would have liked to know his father that way, what he felt and what he thought.

“Remember when you was a boy and you used to stand outside the Senator at night?” Thomas said, returning his gaze to Granger’s face.

Granger smiled. He remembered the small boy he was, too-big jeans and striped shirts and glasses already on his face, his eyes on the running electric bulbs of the old theatre, the thing lit up impossibly bright, and posters of beautiful people in the frames, a cashier lazing in the single glass ticket sale box.

“Yes,” he said. “I remember.”

“That theatre is like me, I reckon,” the elder Granger said, sounding tired. “You have to stand on that sidewalk, son, and you ain’t old enough to come in. I guess that was our agreement when you were born, though I didn’t know that when I first looked at you. I figure it’s that way with all fathers and sons, though, now that I think on it more.”

Granger studied his father’s hands, the glint on the dark barrel of his service revolver, a six-shooter Granger remembered finding in a drawer when he was a boy.

“What I do remember, though,” Thomas continued, “was looking at you right after you were born and thinking: ‘that’s my boy.’ I remember putting my hand in the middle of your chest and thinking: ‘that’s my heart beating inside there,’ and looking at your face and thinking that those were my eyes looking back at me.”

“I’m sorry,” Granger said softly to his father.

“For what?” Thomas asked, seeming almost amused by Granger’s words. “For getting shot? You can’t do nothing about that, boy. You can’t do no more good for that than I could for what happened to me.”

“I’ve failed you, sir,” Granger replied, his eyes filling. He hated that he couldn’t move his hand to wipe them away.

“By doing what?”

“Dying,” Granger said flatly.

Thomas Granger smiled again at that. “You ain’t dying, son,” he said. He set his hat on the ground in front of him with care, then reached up to the silver badge on his chest. It was that, Granger realized, that had been giving off the shine he’d seen before waking, the twinkle like Christmas tree lights.

“What’s in you might have give out, boy,” Thomas said, freeing the badge at last. He held it in his hand, and it glowed there from some otherworldly light. “But I’m your father now as much as I was that first time I held you, and what I got inside me…well, I’m reckon I’ll give that to you again.”

Granger watched the badge as his father leaned forward, the silver shining like starlight. He watched as his father laid the badge in the center of his bare chest, the metal feeling either impossibly cold or impossibly hot.

Granger felt his head going light, his eyes lolling.

“I’ve got to get on my way,” Thomas said, picking up his hat. He brushed at it, cleaning off the already-immaculate insignia on the front with his thumb. Granger watched him, his father’s image going hazy, the canopy seeming to give way to a onslaught of light that spread out behind his father like wings.

“You take care of yourself, Paul,” he heard his father say, the first time he’d heard his father call him by his name.

Granger nodded. “You, too, Dad,” he whispered, his lids closing, his face going slack.

Things began to dim around him, as though a candle had faltered and was about to wink out.

“Oh, and son?”

Granger couldn’t open his eyes, the birdsong gone, the cool autumn replaced with the smell of wood burning, and something sweet. He could hear people talking around him, their voices far away and in some language that was familiar but which he didn’t understand.

“Sir?” he whispered to the darkness.

“Marry that girl, will you? It’s giving your momma a fit…”

Granger could sense light in front of him, getting brighter. He went toward it, a laugh rising in his chest.

+++

UNITED AIRLINES FLIGHT 759 OVER THE WESTERN WEST VIRGINIA BORDER 4:32 a.m.

Christie Collin liked the look of West Virginia as the sun began to rise, the land below him the first true mountains he’d seen in a long time. He knew that by the standards of most mountains the Appalachians weren’t the most impressive one could find, with their soft-topped mountains covered in trees, all just getting their darker green, but he found them beautiful to look at, there in seat 16A, his window just missing the silver and white wing.

There was something comforting about old mountains, he thought. Their lack of dramatic peaks showed an area that had stopped changing so long ago there were barely words to describe their age, a place devoid of upset or change. A million years of wearing down below him, but mountains just the same.

“How much longer do we have to sit on this bloody plane?” Bridget snapped from beside him. Her voice was changed again, a slight hiss beneath the words.

Christie turned his face toward her. He’d grown used to the way she looked now, her face like a drowned thing, her eyes gone from icy blue to fish-belly white. Her red hair was as wild as a mass of snakes.

“We haven’t been flying that long,” he said softly, trying to placate her, though he knew she’d have none of that.

“How much longer?” she snapped. Her breath was as fetid as old cheese.

“About four hours,” Christie replied, glancing at his watch. “We’ll get a car once we’re there and be on our way.”

She said something under her breath he didn’t hear, turning to face a man across the aisle who was looking at them strangely. Christie followed her gaze to the man’s bewildered and accusing face.

“Son?” the man asked. He was wearing boots made out of hide with business slacks, an open white shirt of expensive brand.

“Sir?” he replied.

“You all right?” the man asked, pure Texas drawl. “Who the hell you talking to over there?”

Christie smiled. “Did I say that out loud?” he asked, aw-shucksing himself into his best Southern American accent. “Sorry, mister. I think I’m still half asleep.” He laughed.

The man smiled a congenial smile, looking a little relieved. “You should get you some coffee when they come by,” he replied. “Shake yourself awake. Keep talking like that and somebody might think your cheese had slipped off your cracker.” He winked a fatherly wink.

Christie laughed nervously. “Heaven forbid,” he drawled, reaching for the in-flight magazine. “Sorry to bother you.”

The man smiled, went back to his laptop, tapping away.

Christie was looking at a picture of Monaco when he heard Bridget’s derisive laugh, and he looked back toward the window, the ground tilting as they banked.

“Wanker,” she hissed, settling down to rest beside him, the word carried on a rancid puff of breath.

+++

THE RUE INN BALLYCASTLE NORTHERN IRELAND UNITED KINGDOM 7:15 a.m.

Ever since the time in the rain he’d spent out on the ledge with Renahan, Mulder had found he liked the privacy of the space outside the window. He liked the smell of the ocean and the view, the way the waves came up on the shore below the inn as though there were a perpetual storm somewhere off the shore that he couldn’t see but that was always raging.

The waves were hitting the shoreline like fists. Mulder watched them in the morning light, one that had not seemed to come with a sunrise but rather with a bleeding of light. He shivered in his blue sweatshirt, his jeans feeling too thin against his legs as the breeze pressed against the cloth.

Inside, he heard Skinner return from the shower down the hall, the tumble of his kitbag as it hit the mattress of his narrow twin bed.

“What’s it today?” Mulder called from the balcony. “Leprechaun hunting?”

He heard Skinner give a derisive chuff. “No, I thought I’d just go all out and kiss the fucking Blarney Stone today.”

“Leave me out of your personal life, sir,” Mulder quipped, leaning up from where he’d been pressed against the railing.

“You wish,” Skinner growled back.

“Where *are* you going?” Mulder said as he re-entered the room, grateful for the creaking radiator’s heat. Skinner was there in his jeans, no shirt, sniffing the shirt he’d worn the day before.

“I’m going with Neill to the dock today,” he said sourly. “He said something about you and Renahan taking the car and going to some pub in town, seeing if anyone would talk to you.”

“Great,” Mulder replied. “I’ll sit there and get to enjoy that special thrill of being stared at while Renahan goes eight sheets to the wind. It’ll be great.” He tossed Skinner the shirt he’d worn the day before, another of Neill’s. “Try this one.”

Skinner caught it in mid-air, gave it a sniff, and started shouldering into it. “Bitch to him when he gets out of the shower if you want,” he said.

There was a soft knock at the door.

“All the good that’ll do,” Mulder said, matching Skinner’s previous sour tone as he went for the door. “I just bet–“

He stopped speaking at the sight of a strange man in the now-open doorway, an elderly man with the bluest eyes Mulder had ever seen, light, the color sky. He was holding an Irish Poor Boy cap in his hands, his white hair pressed against his head in its shape. He wore a dark green coat, too heavy for the chill outside, and black cords that had gone slightly gray.

He was glancing down the hallway, not quite nervously, but clearly concerned that he might be seen.

“Can I help you?” Mulder asked. Part of him wondered where his gun was, and part of him wondered why he was wondering. The man didn’t look threatening at all, certainly not with his face turned slightly down and his lips turned slightly up.

Skinner had taken up a place behind him. Mulder could feel his quiet presence just over his right shoulder.

“I wondered if I might come in and have a word,” the man said softly. He glanced at Skinner. “With you both, that is.”

Mulder gnawed his lower lip, turned and looked at Skinner, who, though he didn’t move, seemed to give his assent as he flicked his eyes from Mulder to the man and back again.

“Sure,” Mulder said, pushing the door further open and standing aside to let the man enter. Though the man moved from the hallway with some haste, he was stiff, as though he were in a great deal of pain. Mulder closed the door behind him with a soft snitch of sound.

Mulder gestured to the chair in the corner, a gold tweed chair with arms that ended in scrolls. “Have a seat, Mister…?”

“Shea,” the man said quietly, settling into the chair. “James Shea.” He lay his cap on his knee, anchoring it there.

Mulder and Skinner stood before him, Mulder crossing his arms over his chest. He felt uncertain as the man looked up at him, over him. He heaved out a sigh, a pained look on his face as he touched his side.

“Can we get you something, Mr. Shea?” Skinner said from Mulder’s right. “No, nothing,” Shea said, peering up at Mulder again. “There’s not a thing to do about it at this point, I’m afraid.”

Mulder waited, and Skinner grew silent.

“I’m sorry,” Mulder offered. It seemed the polite thing to say.

Shea simply looked down, seeming to be searching for something in the woven rug with his eyes.

“What can we do for you, sir?” Mulder asked as the silence grew.

“Not a thing,” Shea said again. “But I think I can do a bit for you, Mr. Mulder.”

Mulder stood very still, but Skinner took a step forward, so that he was standing next to Mulder now, peering down at the old man.

Mulder, for his part, was studying the man’s face. What was it Neill had said? About the man they were looking for?

His eyes. That his eyes were the sharpest Neill had ever seen.

Like the eyes of the man in front of him, their clear almost eerie blue gaze settled on Mulder’s face.

“You’re the man we’ve been looking for,” Mulder said. The room seemed terrible quiet, and Mulder wished he’d not only closed the door but locked it, as well.

“Aye,” Shea said. “That’s me. And I know why you’re looking for me, as well. You think I’ve got a name for you. The name of the person who’s been after your wife.”

“Do you?” Skinner snapped. Mulder could almost feel Skinner coiling for a strike, the weeks of inaction wearing on Skinner in a single instant as he prepared to act.

Shea looked up at Skinner, but it was Mulder’s face he settled on as he spoke. “Aye. Anna Simms Collin is the name you want.”

Mulder didn’t know what name he was expecting, but that wasn’t it. A man, for starters. A man with a name he knew already, like Curran or Fagan.

“Why?” Among the maelstrom of emotions that began to whirl in him, that word was the only one he could get out. “What did my wife ever do to her?” The anger was in his voice now.

Shea looked up. “Your wife killed her son,” he said simply.

Mulder felt his jaw working. “John Fagan?” he bit out. “He was Anna Simms Collin’s son?”

The old man nodded. “Aye. That’s the name he went by. To protect the family. His real name’s Samuel John Collin, though only a few people ever knew him by that name. And even fewer ever knew hers. One of the oldest families in Northern Ireland, and probably the most wealthy, most well-connected. She’s got access to people everywhere – militias, government at every stage. Sinn Fein. IRA. Even dirty Brits, I’ve heard said. She’s the one who’s been after your wife.”

As he saw Mulder begin to speak, he amended: “Well, not her, per se, but Christie. John’s brother Aidan’s son.”

“My wife didn’t kill John Fagan,” Mulder said. “Though I wish to Christ she had. Mae Curran killed him.”

Shea looked up, surprised. “…Mae?” His voice was faint.

“Yes, MAE,” Mulder said, furious. He could feel fire behind his eyes.

“I can’t believe she’d do that,” Shea said, shaking his head. “I can’t think of anything that would make her. Leaving her brother when he went ’round is one thing, but killing someone she’d known since she was a girl? No. I can’t think of a thing that would make her do such a thing.”

That was it. Mulder felt something in him draw thinner and thinner and then snap.

“How about walking into an apartment and finding Fagan about to rape my wife?” Mulder roared. “Rape her AGAIN, I should say!”

He felt like he’d just breathed flame into Shea’s face. He saw Shea blanche, and Mulder felt, vaguely, Skinner’s hand close around his forearm.

Too late. The fury was already rushing out of him in a seething wave.

“Scully could barely fucking STAND when he was done with her, Mr. Shea, and I thank GOD Mae Curran found it in herself to break your goddamn ‘code of honor’ and send that son-of-a-bitch straight to Hell.”

“Mulder,” Skinner said through grit teeth. “Lower your voice, for Christ’s sake.”

Shea had paled visibly under the onslaught of Mulder’s words, and as Skinner silenced them, Shea’s fingers worried his hat. They were shaking faintly.

“You have my apologies,” Shea said. “I misspoke and I regret it.”

Mulder jerked his arm away from Skinner, composing himself.

Don’t drive him away, he said to himself. This is it. There won’t be any more chances for this.

“No, I’m sorry,” he said, breathing out a calming breath. “What Fagan did…it’s not your fault. I have no right to take that out on you.”

Mulder watched Shea’s face as his eyes returned their gaze to the rug, the window, anywhere but Mulder’s face.

“Things got out of hand,” he said, as though to himself. “Everyone knew they were out of hand. We didn’t know how much until Washington, though. Until the Embassy. And the deaths in Richmond. Even then I couldn’t believe it. Until I saw what Owen was willing to do to Mae in that canyon. Then I knew he was too far gone to save.”

Mulder gaped, understanding flooding him.

“It was you,” he said quietly.

Shea looked up as though caught.

“Aye,” he said just as softly. He nodded toward Mulder’s torso. “And I’m frankly surprised you survived that shot to the belly, Mr. Mulder. You’re sturdier than me.”

Mulder touched his stomach, the crescent of scar there beneath his shirt. He looked at Shea with a new, and grateful, respect.

“Where?” Skinner snapped before Mulder could reply. “Where are they? The Collinses.”

Shea met Skinner’s eyes, hesitating. Then he seemed to come to his final decision, his voice tired as he spoke.

“I know exactly where Anna Simms is,” he said. “In Antrim. I’ll draw you a map to show you the way.”

“I’ll go get Neill and Renahan,” Skinner said, grabbing his pistol and its holster from the foot of the bed.

“Don’t go alone,” Shea said, pinning Skinner with his eyes. “Trust me on that. Take a bloody crowd with you if you’re going that way.”

Skinner nodded. “Thank you, Mr. Shea,” he said. “We owe you a great debt. This must be dangerous for you, being here and telling us these things.”

Shea shrugged. “They’ll let me be,” he said, his voice unreadable.

“I hope you’re right,” Skinner said, and he went out the door, closing it hard behind him.

Mulder turned to gather his gun from the dressing table by the wall, but Shea’s voice behind him stopped him.

“Mr. Mulder.”

Mulder turned to look at him, not liking the sound of his name.

“Christie Collin,” Shea said, looking grim, “is, from what I understand, on his way to New Mexico. Someplace called Farmington.”

Mulder’s heart went into free-fall in his chest.

“Nearly there by now, I’d guess,” Shea continued into Mulder’s shocked silence. “And this time, he’ll be sure not to make any mistakes.”

+++

CHAPTER 23.

+++

ST. FRANCIS REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER FARMINGTON, NEW MEXICO 10:05 a.m.

She’d dreamed of horses.

Black horses, white horses, the horses the color of buckskin. She’d dreamed of them running across an open field of flowers, then dreamed of herself standing in the middle of a tightly gathered herd on a wide expanse of snow, all of them white except a lone, ink- black mare on which she’d sat, the white horses with their backs facing a stiff wind while she and the black mare faced it. She remembered the tickle of the horse’s long mane against her hands.

She’d dreamed of riding a paint horse through a river of what looked like blood. She remembered drowning in it.

Scully sat on the edge of her hospital bed, dressed now in the clothes that Mae had brought the night before for her discharge this morning. She wore her clothes like armor: Mulder’s sweatshirt, maternity jeans that were growing a bit too small around her belly, her brown boots with heavy socks so that the boots felt almost too tight.

She’d come in with nothing, and she would be leaving with only a small plastic bag of the hospital’s toiletries, a smaller bag inside with sedatives and vitamins, the phone number of Dr. Kitman and the medical center’s emergency line.

Inside herself she carried a larger load – terrible memories that were too clear of Mulder’s body sprawled out on a scuffed convenience store floor and her daughter’s anguish, and beyond that some recollection of the Hosteen’s barn and blood on her face and on her hands.

She clutched the bag closer to her, pushed a long strand of hair behind her ear, forcing herself into some semblance of composure. Hosteen was on his way to take her back to the reservation, and she would not let him see her unraveled or as heavily burdened as she felt inside.

Mulder was on his way, she imagined, and she wanted him to see even less of it. At least until she figured out the best way to tell him about the things she’d seen, and what she thought they could mean.

“Dr. Scully?” a voice called from the crack in the doorway, knuckles rapping softly on the door’s thick wood.

“Yes?” she called, and a head popped through the door, a friendly smile on the young man’s face. He wore scrubs and a stethoscope and a lab coat sewn with his name and the words “Internal Medicine.” He wore the exhausted pallor and carriage of a resident that she could recognize from a mile away. She smiled at that.

“Hi, Dr. Scully,” he said, coming forward with a chart and his hand outstretched. She took it and he squeezed. “I’m Dr. Ames. Dr. Kitman asked me to check and make sure you were clear on your discharge instructions before you left us.” He gave a shy smile. His face, beneath his short-cropped hair, was flushed. “I know for a physician such as yourself that probably sounds silly, but…procedur es, you know.”

Scully smiled. “I understand, Doctor,” she said, bemused. “I understand everything he left in the discharge instructions.”

Dr. Ames looked down at the bag beside her on the bed. “And you’ve got everything you need from us?”

She nodded. “Yes. Medications…a few things…” She trailed off.

He nodded, crossing his arms over the chart and pressing it against his chest. “How do you feel?” His voice was pitched low and gentle, and it renewed the vulnerable feeling she’d been fighting with all morning. Kindness had a way of doing that.

She looked down, away from his knit brows, his concerned face.

“I’m all right,” she said. “Much better than last night.”

“You sure you’re ready to leave us?” he asked. He reached out and touched her hand. “Dr. Kitman told me where you’re staying and I worry about that, to be honest.”

Scully smiled. “The Hosteens are more than attentive,” she replied. “Trust me. From what I understand I made record time getting here from the reservation. I’m just glad I was unconscious for the ride.”

Ames laughed. “I can imagine,” he said, amused. He looked at his watch, a huge, battered piece on his thin wrist. “I’ve got to continue on with my rounds. But I did want to make sure you had everything you need before you left us.”

He reached out his hand and she took it, the smile still on his face.

“Be well, and good luck to you, Doctor,” he said softly, his eyes going over her face.

“Thank you, Doctor,” she said softly, quirking a smile at their shared title.

“To you both, that is,” he added, and his hand left hers and touched her belly lightly before he turned and left.

Scully sat there as the intercom called for a doctor to pick up a line, as the staff moved the cart down the hall that would take her untouched breakfast away. She smoothed her hand over her belly, her eyes down as the baby turned beneath her palm.

“Agent Scully?”

It was a tiny, faintly familiar voice. A child’s voice. She jerked her head up in surprise.

Sean Curran stood there in the doorway, his hair still damp from a shower. He wore a Cardinals sweatshirt and a pair of jeans that actually seemed to fit.

“Sean?” she said, staring at him. Had he actually spoken? Part of her wondered if she’d imagined hearing her name.

“Aye,” Sean replied. “Mr. Hosteen told me to come up and tell you he’s got the truck out front and someone was on the way to fetch you. He’s keeping it running so that it won’t be so cold when you get in.”

Scully looked at Sean, at the redness of his eyes, the tiny pocks of what looked like burns dotting his face.

Thank God, she thought as a smile spread on her face.

“Thank you, Sean,” she replied. “And it’s good to see you again.”

Sean gave her a shy smile, his eyes going down. “Thanks,” he said in his small, lovely voice, and he turned and walked away.

**

Outside, the back lot, Christie Collin was out the glass doors and moving through the parking lot, the white lab coat he’d stolen flapping behind him, his shoes – encased in surgical covers – making no sound as he walked.

The scrubs fit him nicely. He would keep them when he stopped to change his clothes, when he tossed everything else away.

He reached his rental, picked up at Four Corners Regional not an hour before, his bags tucked safely in the back.

The Yellow Pages were open on the seat, a map of Farmington he got from Avis beside it. The page was open to “Home Repair and Lawn,” an address circled in a large red loop.

A stop at Home Depot.

At the library for Internet White Page access.

A drive into the desert.

He was almost there.

+++

OVER THE ATLANTIC OCEAN BOUND FOR ANDREWS AIR FORCE BASE 11:09 a.m.

It was something like flying in a packing crate, though the cargo transport plane had been fitted with some seats against the walls that approximated the skeletons of airline seats, their seats retracting into the walls, and the seatbelts fitted over the shoulder as well as the waist. It was the noise that was the most striking difference, the plane’s huge engines coming through the steel walls much more clearly than they did through a passenger jet’s and making Mulder feel like his brain was vibrating in a pan.

He was far from complaining, though. Rosen had given the Royal Air Force a call after he’d received Skinner’s update on the information from James Shea, and the R.A.F. had been good enough to oblige with a seat on the first plane leaving Belfast for the States.

The plane’s innards were filled with crates, pieces of airplanes. A few soldiers lounged or slept, all wearing headphones, in the seats around him. For his part, Mulder sat in the clothes he’d been wearing plus a flight jacket loaned from the military on the ground, Belfast soaked with rain as the helicopter that had fetched him from Ballycastle had touched down on the tarmac, wind from the chopper sending Mulder into a crouch as he scrambled with the M-1 Liaison who’d met him on the ground.

“Agent Mulder,” the man had shouted as they moved through the rain. “Director Rosen said he’s waiting on the other end for you and doing what he can.”

“‘Doing what he can’?” Mulder yelled back as the plane’s pilot draped the leather and wool jacket across his back. “What the hell does that mean?”

The M-1 man shrugged. “Something about tribal jurisdictions or some lot. I didn’t get it all, to be frank. He had to get off to handle some rot with M-1 and the blokes heading to Antrim. Sounded a bit upset about the whole thing, I’d say.”

Mulder shook his head remembering it, blew out a breath, leaned his head against the chair’s uncomfortable rest. This was the part he was worst at – things requiring a level head, patience, and acceptance of things outside of anyone’s control, things like time and distances.

He’d like to meet a person who could handle them, he thought, turning his head to peer out the tiny window by the cargo bay door and seeing nothing but water beneath. He’d punch that person right in the teeth.

He saw a man coming down the narrow corridor between him and the crates, stepping over the sleeping soldiers’ outstretched legs. He was wearing his flight gear, a pair of sunglasses in his hand.

“Agent Mulder,” he said, his voice sounding too quiet to Mulder’s noise-acclimated ears. The man leaned toward Mulder’s face as he spoke again. “If you’ll come to the cockpit, we’ve got a line for you. Director Rosen is waiting to speak to you.”

Mulder nodded, unbuckled, and followed the man toward the front. As they reached an area where they could stand side-by-side, the plane hit a patch of turbulence that nearly knocked both men off their feet. Mulder ended up catching himself against a crate.

“All right?” the pilot called.

Mulder nodded, pushing himself off the crate. “What is all this stuff?” Mulder called, indicating the crate. “I didn’t know Great Britain had a base in the U.S.”

The man laughed. “Not since 1775, if I recall,” he replied. “Jet parts. Some yours and some ours. The RAF does a lot of cargo flights for the Yanks.”

“I’m sure glad of that,” Mulder continued as they kept moving toward the plane’s front.

The plane bucked again and the man steadied Mulder again. “That’s one of us,” he said as the plane narrowed into a small corridor, the cockpit’s entrance open and a few feet from where they stopped.

“Here,” the airman said, reaching for a set of fat headphones on a hook. They had a mike attached with a bulbous foam end. “You should be able to hear him fine, but you’ll have to shout for him to hear you, all right?”

Mulder’s voice was getting hoarse as it was, so he simply nodded and took the headphones, setting them tightly on his head. The airman threw a switch and the earpads stuttered to life.

“Director Rosen?” Mulder asked.

“I can hear you, Agent Mulder,” Rosen’s jowly voice came back. They didn’t call him “The Godfather” for nothing. “But just barely.”

“I’m sorry, sir, but this was the best they could do. I appreciate you contacting me.” At another pocket of turbulence, Mulder braced himself against the wall again. “Are agents on the reservation yet?”

A puff of static, then: “No, not yet.”

“Why not?” Mulder called back. He could feel anger pricking in his chest.

“Let me start by telling you we’ve been trying to contact both Albert Hosteen and Victor Hosteen, but we’ve gotten a voicemail at one and nothing but ringing at the other. We’re continuing to try to get through to either of them and to Agent Music, though we’re hampered by a cell phone dead-zone on the reservation, which I think Mr. Granger told you about.”

“Yeah,” Mulder said. “He told me. What about the F.B.I. there in New Mexico?” The plane rumbled around him.

“There are only seven agents in Albuquerque, Agent Mulder, and five of them are in Phoenix at the moment helping on a serial murder and immigration case. The two left I’ve told to stay put there while I scramble agents from Arizona. They’re on their way, but I can’t let them or any other federal or state authorities enter the reservation without tribal consent.”

“What?!” Mulder shouted. He was glad he had to shout to be heard because he would have been doing it anyway. “That’s ridiculous! Don’t they know–“

“We’ve contacted the tribal council but they won’t do anything until they speak to Albert Hosteen, whom, as I’ve said, we’ve been unable to reach. We’ve put in a request for the tribal police to go out to the ranch themselves and try to contact him, but they’re still considering the proper course of action to take.”

“‘The proper course of action’?” Mulder shouted. His fury, for the second time that day, reached his boiling point. “For Christ’s sake, do you think someone could climb in a covered fucking wagon and head over there–“

“Agent Mulder,” Rosen interrupted, his tone dangerous. “I don’t know if you were sleeping that day in school, but you *do* know that the Federal Government was *generous* enough to give the Navajos that land.”

Mulder rolled his eyes. “Yes, sir, I’m aware–“

“And maybe you were also sleeping when they were teaching you about the Federal gaffe at Wounded Knee at the Academy.”

“No, sir, I know all about that,” he said sourly. “But I would think under the circumstances–“

“Agent Mulder,” Rosen interrupted again. “I know this is hard for you, but there are a few things to remember here. The first is that the Navajo Tribal authorities don’t have the slightest idea what ‘the circumstances’ are at the Hosteen ranch. This was not done with their approval, if you’ll recall, in order to keep Agent Scully’s whereabouts as confidential as possible, and they’re frankly a little suspicious, which I can’t blame them for.”

“Sir, I–” Mulder tried, but Rosen was rolling.

“The second is that though you’ve spent much of your career with the F.B.I. trying your best to circumvent proper procedure, I didn’t get to be the Director of it by doing that. And some of the procedure I’m dealing with right now is completely new ground, for the Bureau and for the various outside organizations involved. I’ve been on the phone this morning with Scotland Yard, M-1, the Navajo Tribal Council, the New Mexico State Patrol and Counter-Terrorism in Northern Ireland. So you’ll forgive me if this isn’t going at your preferred pace.”

“And while you go forth and part the Red Tape,” Mulder spat, “Christie Collin is going to waltz right onto the Hosteen ranch and get a clear shot at Scully. And begging your pardon, but considering how much he escalated the second time, I think their luck is about to run out.”

“Two officers from the Navajo Tribal Police are on their way out there to take Agent Scully and Mrs. Porter into custody,” Rosen said. “Does that satisfy you?”

“No, it doesn’t,” Mulder said. “This man’s killed how many people? And you’re sending two officers with no experience in terrorist–“

“I’m not sending anyone except the agents from Phoenix and the State Police, all of whom I *do* have jurisdiction over,” Rosen jumped in again. “The two-man team was the decision of the Tribal Council. They want both Agent Scully and Mae Porter off the reservation at this juncture. They don’t want a Federal presence of any kind on their land. They don’t want to be involved in this.”

“Well that’s fucking *great,*” Mulder replied, his cap finally popped. “What the fuck–“

“This conversation’s over, Agent Mulder,” Rosen said, and the tone was enough to cut short Mulder’s tirade. “I don’t have time for your emotionalism or your inability to maintain professional distance from this. And I’m warning you that when you land at Andrews and you see me standing there that you’d better have gotten more control of your temper and your tone.”

“Or what?” Mulder shot back. “I’ll wake up one morning with a fucking horse head in my bed?”

The line snicked off, static filling his ears.

Mulder took the headphones off and hung them hard on their hook, his jaw working as the plastic set swung back and forth.

“Fuck…” he said again, closing his eyes and drawing in what he hoped was a calming breath.

Rosen was right. His emotions were nothing but in the way, in his and Rosen’s and Scully’s.

He knew Rosen was right about all of it. And that’s what pissed him off the most.

+++

THE HOME OF ANNA SIMMS COLLIN ANTRIM, NORTHERN IRELAND UNITED KINGDOM 11:12 a.m.

“You’re bringing new meaning to the saying ‘the wearing o’ the green,’ Mr. Skinner,” Renahan said softly, a fit of chuckles taking him.

Skinner looked down at his knees and thighs, his soaking wet jeans smeared with enough chlorophyll for him to be able to make his own food for a month. He’d just scrabbled, crab-like, down from where the head of the Irish Counter-Terrorism Unit called in by Rosen was busy talking on a walkie-talkie, Skinner finally having procured one of the devices after much teeth-baring and beating of his chest.

Now he was leaning up against a stone wall that was older than any structure in the United States, a symbolic barrier between the Collin’s property and the neighbor’s land. As near as Skinner could figure, the Collin property took up most of this half of the town. The round, white stones had tumbled in a few places, leaving ragged openings in the view toward the house.

“Very funny, Ed,” he replied, looking through one of the gaps to look at the stately Collin mansion, a slight wisp of smoke coming from one of the house’s five chimneys.

Neill was next to him in a windbreaker whose waterproof qualities had long since given in to the rain. The small Scotland Yard group had seen fit to give Renahan one of their jackets, one very much like the one Skinner would typically wear, with the Scotland Yard insignia hidden in a rip-away back flap. As it was, his suitcase floating in some Lough across the countryside, Skinner was left with the long-sleeved green shirt Mulder had worn the day before and a shitty light jacket of Neill’s, his F.B.I. badge hanging from a dog-tag chain around his neck.

The rain continued, pattering on Renahan’s jacket, on the wall, dotting his glasses. He kept his eyes on the house.

From his right, Neill was moving along behind the wall, crouched down so that his movements were hidden from anyone who might be looking from the house. He’d been looking at the structure from a dozen yards down, looking to see if there were any entrances in the back.

Skinner had said he was a townsman who’d been helping him on the case. He hadn’t told Manny Greaves, the head of the Scotland Yard contingent, Neill’s name. Renahan hadn’t breathed a word about it, either.

“What did you see?” Skinner asked. He kept his voice low, though they were far enough from the house that it would take a gunshot for anyone to know there anyone – much less 40 Anyones – there.

“There’s a back door all right, and a stable set far off the back. Some gardens on the grounds, it looks like.” Neill licked his lips. He looked as nervous as Skinner felt.

Skinner nodded and relayed the information into the walkie-talkie, Greaves giving a bored “affirmative” to the news.

“What are you planning?” Neill asked.

Skinner scowled. “Well, Greaves wants to be a fucking hero and get people up on the roof. I think he’s been watching too many movies where the SWAT team heads into everyone’s bedrooms with their nuts tied up with rope and glass breaking everywhere.”

Renahan snickered. “Too right.”

Skinner continued. “But I told him I don’t see any sign of weapons or anything overtly threatening. From what they could find on her at M-1, Anna Simms Collin is nothing but an 89-year-old widow who has a shitload of money and enough property to start her own country. The medical information they found on her from NHS says she’s wheelchair- bound. I don’t see any reason to go swinging in there like a bunch of apes.”

“Is that all she is?” Neill said, his eyebrows climbing into his short bangs. “A little old lady who’s driven to Mass on Sundays? Let’s not lose our heads, Mr. Skinner.”

“And let’s not turn into a bunch of fucking paranoids either,” Skinner shot back, talking through his teeth. “The one who’s been doing all this in the States flying the Friendly Skies over South Buttfuck, Arkansas as we speak. I’m thinking this is the person signing the checks. I’m not going in there with my gun blazing like we’re in an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie.”

“I have to agree with Mr. Neill,” Renahan said, leaning up. “This isn’t any time for looking like we’re prancing around like a bunch of poofs. We don’t know who or what could be in that house, Mr. Skinner. But I wager that Mrs. Collins isn’t as innocent or unprotected as that old house makes her look. I’d wager everything I’ve got.”

Skinner watched Neill look over at Renahan with a cross between gratitude and surprise, this being, in Skinner’s memory, the first time the two had agreed on anything yet.

“What do you two recommend then?” he asked. “Whatever it is, I want to do it, and quick. Between the way the underground rumor mill runs around here and this goddamned rain, I’d rather go soon than late.”

Renahan looked at Neill. “The three of us up front. The armed force behind.”

Neill nodded, the two seeming to come to some understanding.

“The front of what?” Skinner asked. His trigger finger was itching. “The front of the house?”

“Aye,” Neill said, looking from Renahan to Skinner’s face.

“You mean go up and ring the fucking doorbell?” Skinner asked.

“Yep,” Renahan said, smiling. He seemed pleased.

“And say what exactly?” Skinner asked.

Renahan chuffed. “We don’t say much of anything. We tell her she’s under arrest and we get her out of there. As fast and as gently as we can manage it. The way we do this is going to determine how many of us live long enough to take afternoon tea.”

“Now you *are* being paranoid,” Skinner scoffed.

“I don’t think so, Mr. Skinner,” Neill said, looking toward the house. “The majority of the worst things I saw in the IRA, the Path…Curran and Fagan and that whole lot…it all started in this house from what Shea said. The worst of it, the personal things…it all came from here. If it were John Fagan in that house, how would you proceed?”

Skinner thought about that, relented. “With armor plating on my ass,” he admitted.

Neill nodded, and Renahan pushed himself up a bit from the wall, his feet under him.

“Let’s do it, Mr. Skinner,” he said, looking at Skinner. “I’ve been waiting my whole bloody life for this.” He turned to Neill.

“Let’s get it done.”

**

11:35 a.m.

Skinner wondered what the three of them must look, Renahan looking for all the world like he’d been sleeping under a bridge, his face up toward the rain; Neill walking a couple of steps behind them like a ghost who’d rather be haunting anywhere else; and Skinner himself leading them up the circular drive to the house with his gun drawn, his badge out, and enough mud and grass on him to make it look like he’d tumbled end-over-end through the archway at the road and right up the place.

He was watching the windows, their gauzy white curtains still and closed as eyelids. He’d seen no movement from the house, no sound, as they approached, no sound around them, in fact, but the rain.

Even the Scotland Yard tactical officers, the Irish C-T, didn’t make a sound as they pressed against the gates and trees behind them, moving up a bit as the three of them neared the stone steps. Skinner heard the occasional tussle of feet on the gravel, the sound of Kevlar pressing quick against something being used for cover, and that was it.

“Spooky,” he said under his breath.

“Aye,” Neill agreed. Renahan said nothing, and Skinner quickened his pace, going up the steps two at a time.

The door was immense, a Celtic cross carved into its face. The doorbell was a ornate gold button as large as a fist.

Skinner looked at the other two, who nodded, and reached out, pressing the bell with his thumb.

They heard the heavy sound of the chime inside, and waited.

And waited some more.

“She knows we’ve come,” Neill said softly.

“How do you know?” Skinner said. His heart had started playing Zepplin in his chest. “There might just not be anyone home.”

“No, he’s right,” Renahan said, his voice just above a whisper. “There’d be a butler or maid, even if Collin wasn’t home. A house like this never has nobody at home.”

Skinner looked at the door. “So you think she’s on the run?”

He watched the two look at each other, and Neill shook his head.

“Try the door.”

Skinner did as Neill said, reaching for the enormous knob, and as he touched it the door pushed open with an ancient creak.

The door wasn’t closed at all, Skinner realized.

“Come on in and take off your skin and rattle around in your bones,” Renahan said under his breath, and Skinner shushed him, his gun raised. He fumbled in his jacket pocket for the small walkie-talkie, pressed the button on the side.

“It looks like we were expected,” he said into the mouthpiece, barely audible, addressing all the men in their headsets. “We’re going in.”

As he released the button, and a tiny voice leaked from the speaker. “Right behind,” Greaves said, and an “aye” followed the sound — it was Sheen, the commander of the Irish C-T.

Skinner nodded toward the door and stepped inside, Renahan and Neill following.

They stepped into a giant entrance foyer of stone as old as the barrier walls, a huge stone staircase in front of him going up to a landing for a second floor, and a third above that. The walls were hung with what looked like medieval tapestries, red and gold, and paintings that were big as picture windows themselves.

He wanted to make some snide comment about it all, but frankly he was impressed. The people who lived in this house knew something about history. The family had clearly lived through most of it inside the walls of this house.

“Lovely,” Neill whispered beside him, echoing his thoughts. It was hard not to be both intimidated and impressed.

The house was silent, except…

Music. There was music playing from one of the upper floors. Skinner could hear the sound of a fiddle in it, a guitar beneath.

He pointed toward the staircase with the barrel of his gun, nodding, and started up the steps.

On the second floor landing he noticed that the places where oil lamps had set in the wall in some previous age were still there, now set in with dim electric lights. On the third floor landing, on which started a thick, beautiful rug, he saw more of them, the lights’ wires running along the stone just above his feet.

He could hear the teams’ boots squeaking far below them now, the clamor of equipment. He hesitated a moment with Neill and Renahan until he heard his walkie-talkie hiss that the first floor was secure, no one there.

The music was coming from the end of the hallway, a large door cracked open, a fire – the source of the smoke they’d seen outside – crackling in the fireplace in the room beyond.

“Fucking “Danny Boy,” Renahan whispered from beside him, and Skinner listened for a beat.

Renahan was right, and Skinner’s lip quirked. It had to be a joke.

“Careful,” Neill breathed. “Careful now.”

The walkie-talkie buzzed again. Second floor secure. No one home.

The three of them started down the hall, the rug making the approach soundless, the whole place – save the music – quiet as a grave.

They’d reached the door when a woman’s voice reached through the door:

“Come in, gentlemen.”

Skinner’s heart was somewhere in the region of his Adam’s apple at the sound. The woman’s voice sounded like a parrot’s, cracked and somehow inhuman and too frail. Neill’s face looked like Skinner imagined his own did, and even Renahan’s eyes were wide as moons.

He pushed the door and the three of them stepped inside the too-hot room.

Antique furniture gathered around a fireplace six feet high. Chairs hunkered around the room with no one in them. A silver tea service on a cart.

And beside the cart, a woman in a black dress, her hair a shock of white, in an electric wheelchair. It whined as she turned to face them at the opening of the door.

She looked at them, her face a pleasant, almost welcoming smile. Were it not for the fact that she looked like she’d been in a tomb for 10 years, Skinner might have been tempted to smile back.

“Mrs. Collin?” he said. He didn’t lower his gun as he stopped a few feet from the woman, Neill and Renahan taking up places on either side of him.

“Yes,” the woman said, nodding. She had a teacup in one hand, and the other had moved from the control stick for the chair to a black box covered with buttons beside it. She was stroking the buttons like cat.

“Anna Simms Collin?”

The woman nodded again patiently.

“Yes,” she said more slowly, as though Skinner wouldn’t understand.

Skinner looked around the room. “Are you alone here, Mrs. Collin?” he asked, and the woman nodded again.

“Yes.”

The entire bleacher section of Skinner’s head that was assigned to wave red flags started up en masse now, the hair coming up on the back of his neck.

“Mrs. Collin, my name is–“

“Walter Skinner,” she interrupted, putting the teacup down on the cart beside the sugar dish. “Federal Bureau of Investigation. And Mr. Renahan, formerly of Scotland Yard.”

Her smile vanished as she looked to Skinner’s right.

“And you have no idea how it disappoints me to see you here, Eamon Neill.”

Neill had grown very still.

The music was coming from a record player twirling a ’45. As it reached the paper of its label the arm rose and jerked itself backward, settled down on the edge of the vinyl with a scrape again.

“Mr. Neill can tell you, Mr. Skinner,” Collin wheezed, “that it’s not our way to go into custody. Especially not a woman of my stature and advanced age.”

The music was whirring out of the four-inch speaker, the song maddeningly scratched and sentimental.

“We’re not going to make it out of here,” Neill said.

Skinner turned to look at him, at the look on his face. His arm came up and he was pointing, and Skinner followed his finger to Anna Simms Collin’s hand, the row of buttons, her finger choosing one as Skinner looked.

Skinner’s eyes bulged. Everything he’d eaten for a week was suddenly surrounded with water and rushing South.

He fumbled for his walkie-talkie.

“Get everyone out of the house!” he called into it. “Get everyone out!” He was moving back as he said it, following Neill, who had already started toward the door, tripping over a chair as he ran.

“Too late,” Collin said, and her finger pressed down with a “snick.”

The electric lights all buzzed, growing too bright. The bulb in the lamp by the door blew apart with a crash.

Something like thunder started rolling from below them, and Skinner grabbed Neill by the collar, hauled him up.

“Get out!” he screamed above the growing noise. “Go on! Get out!”

But Neill had stopped, looking back the way they’d come.

At Renahan. Standing not five feet from Anna Simms Collin, the two of them looking at each other like statues, frozen in their place.

“Renahan!” Skinner shouted. “What the fuck–?”

The house shook around them, another sound rocking from the lower floors. He could hear glass breaking, men shouting beneath him. Someone was yelling “fire,” and someone else screamed. The floor bucked and Skinner was knocked off his feet, plaster and stone coming from the ceiling in a cloud of dust.

“RENAHAN!”

It was Neill who’d shouted it, Neill who moved through the debris as it fell, Neill who grabbed Renahan by the arm and jerked him out of the way as the chimney above the fireplace gave way, an explosion rocking them all again and the floor falling away, flame shooting from the fireplace, flame reaching out like a hand and pulling Anna Simms Collin down into the chasm the explosion left.

Then Neill and Renahan were moving, hauling Skinner up. He felt their hands on his shoulders, though he couldn’t take his eyes off the woman – her dress and hair on fire – as she tumbled away.

“MOVE MOVE!” Skinner shouted.

The floor was disappearing as the three of them sped down the hallway, rounding the corner to the steps, giant segments of the ceiling crashing down around them. Skinner pushed Neill in front of him, Neill’s hand on Renahan, all three of them falling onto the second landing.

The next explosion was so loud that if he’d hadn’t been gasping for breath the shock would have cracked out his clenched teeth. The ceiling began to fall.

Skinner felt himself falling down the second flight, sliding down. He heard a scream and looked up just in time to see a stone the size of a chair hit Neill, pinning his leg.

Renahan had just managed to roll out of the way beside him, though he was rolling, his jacket on fire. He was peeling out of it with inhuman speed.

Seeing this, Skinner halted his slide and tried to climb, though fire was coming from the hallways beside the two men now, surging out.

“I’m coming!” he shouted, coughing as the landing choked with heat and smoke.

“No, go!” Renahan yelled back. “Go!” And he reached over, grabbed Neill and dragged him from beneath the stone. He pushed Neill down the landing toward Skinner, who caught him enough to halt his slide. Then Renahan was beside him, the two of them hauling Neill up. Skinner was vaguely aware of blood on his own face.

“Move move move…”

Skinner chanted it, the door in sight, men running toward it, men on fire, men dragging other men. The three of them hit the stone landing, the tapestries aflame, and Skinner threw himself toward the doorway, hearing the house coming down all around him. He threw himself toward the light…

Someone grabbed him, a man in black and Kevlar. He heard the word “fuck.”

Then he felt rain on his face. He felt the ground hard on his face, heard a sound like the heavens coming down.

He heard Renahan laughing, and after a moment, Neill joining in.

Then he heard nothing. Nothing at all.

+++

CHAPTER 24.

+++

ON APPROACH TO ANDREWS AIR FORCE BASE MARYLAND 2:30 p.m.

The skies had been clear since the cargo plane had broken below the cloud cover, and as he craned his neck to look through the portal-shaped window next to the cargo door, Mulder looked, for the first time in what felt like too long, down on the Capitol Beltway’s Inner and Outer Loops teaming with traffic, at the plane’s shadow moving below on the ground, and at the beginning of Spring beginning to touch the city’s fringes with green.

By the time he felt the landing gear groan down, his heart had picked up speed and his heel was bouncing off the floor in a staccato rhythm indicative of stress. He needed to move and move quickly, the flight having seemed interminable. His ears were ringing from the engine sound.

By the time the plane touched down without a jolt onto the runway, he was taking off the shoulder strap, his hands squeezing his kneecaps.

As the cargo door opened, he was taking the steps before the gangway had touched the blacktop.

Rosen was waiting with a couple of agents in a dress shirt and black pants and a tie blown back. His usually impeccably neat hair was a wind disaster.

“Agent Mulder,” he called, and he did not extend his hand toward Mulder but rather toward a ragtop Jeep with extra seats. Mulder met his eyes and then looked away, tucking his tall frame into the vehicle as Rosen set himself in the passenger seat with his usual efficient ease. The other agents folded in next to Mulder, their faces shielded from the mid-day light with glasses the color of oil.

“Go,” Mulder heard him call over the cargo plane’s engines powering down, the Jeep bolting across the tarmac. Mulder could see where they were headed – a fairly small jet with the words “United States of America” on the side in a bold, all-cap Serif font.

“We’re getting no word from the Hosteen property,” Rosen called. Somehow the man could still sound official and formal when he was yelling over jet engine noise. “We think the lines have been cut.”

“Jesus H. Christ,” Mulder spat, shaking his head.

Rosen continued as though he didn’t hear. “The agents from Phoenix are holding at the airport in Farmington while we await tribal consent to enter the grounds.”

Mulder clenched his jaw, looking away.

“It’s a delicate situation, Agent Mulder, as I’ve said.”

Mulder didn’t say what came into his head, but the look he gave Rosen swore for him just as effectively. He saw a vein come up in Rosen’s temple.

“The two Tribal Police?” he snapped as the Jeep stopped with a jolt, the agents piling out and Mulder and Rosen bending at the waist as the jet’s engines started their shrill prep.

“Nothing from them yet. They’re coming up from Tohatchi, a town to the south…”

Mulder stopped listening. He pulled a few steps ahead and went up the gangway, taking the steps two at a time, ducking to clear the doorway into the cool cabin lined with agents. He moved away from Rosen, who was still speaking, toward an empty seat in the back.

Another space to cross, he thought, looking out the window. More hours to pass.

“Agent Mulder,” Rosen said, standing in the aisle next to his seat. Mulder turned his eyes from where they’d been burning a hole in the tarmac and up toward Rosen’s angry face.

“Sir?” he said. He’d said “fuck” with less venom in his time.

“I just told you Walter Skinner’s been taken to a hospital in Belfast,” he said. “Or does that not matter to you at all?”

Mulder blanched. “What…?”

“He and Eamon Neill and Ed Renahan took a contingent of agents to Antrim to the Collin Estate. They found Anna Simms Collin there – alone, it would seem – and the place wired up through its electrical system with enough TNT to blow the place to the Pearly Gates. Five agents – Irish and British – were killed when the house went up. And Anna Simms Collin is dead.”

Mulder closed his eyes. Five more. Five more families with someone ripped away.

“Skinner and the others?” he said, opening them again. The plane was taxiing, Rosen holding onto the bulkhead above Mulder’s seat.

“Neill lost a leg below the knee. Renahan, his spleen. Skinner’s banged up pretty badly but he’ll be all right in a couple of days.”

Mulder nodded as the plane stopped, angled its nose toward the quickening and started to move.

Rosen moved slowly toward a seat, his voice carrying over the engines as they built and built.

“A great many of us are putting ourselves on the line here as we think of Agent Scully and your baby, Agent Mulder,” he said. “I don’t think it’s too much to ask that you think of us, as well.”

Mulder looked out the window, avoiding the glances from the agents around him. Something in him relented, though it was hard to swallow the ire.

“I will,” Mulder said, the agents looking away.

Rosen nodded, sat down beside Gil Jackson from ATF, and the plane left the ground.

+++

NEAR THE CROSSROADS TO THE HOSTEEN PROPERTY TWO GREY HILLS, NEW MEXICO 2:50 p.m.

Kyle Jenks looked at Toya Millston from the passenger seat of their patrol car, the bladed fan whirring on the dash, the radio buzzing with a private conversation between the dispatcher in Shiprock, a woman named Bess, and Ella, the one in Sanostee, they’d been listening to since lunch.

“I like her voice,” Toya said, smiling beneath his mirrored glasses, the ones their lieutenant made fun of for looking too stereotypical and white.

“You like every woman’s voice,” Jenks replied, but he smiled as he said it so that Toya smiled back.

“What do you know, eh?” the big man replied. “Toya” meant “Bull” and Millston more than earned the name. “Twenty-two years old and you don’t nothin’ about women, do you then? You can tell a lot by a voice.”

“Oh yeah?” Jenks said. “What’s this one like? This Bess?”

Toya pursed his lips, turning the final turn at the sign toward Two Grey Hills. “Hmm…” he said. “I’m thinking she’s tall and has dark hair and eyes, and skin the color of pecans…”

Jenks laughed. “Man, you should go on television. Start your own show. The Psychic Indian Network. Next thing you know you’ll tell me it might rain.” He pointed to the gathering clouds on the horizon, and Toya roared his big laugh.

They drove a bit more, and finally reached a crossroads. “Looks like we’re coming up on the place,” Toya said, indicating the dead-end off in the distance, a choice to turn left or right.

“What do you reckon these women have done?” Jenks asked.

“Hell if I know,” Millston replied, slowing the patrol car as they approached. “Though what two white women are doing staying in an Elder’s place…”

Lieutenant Hopps hadn’t said much when he’d sent them on the milk run north, up to Two Grey Hills where, as near as they could figure, nothing had ever happened to anyone and no cops hung out. Go pick up two white women staying at the Hosteen place.

“What for?” Toya had asked. His gut was getting a little big for his chocolate-brown uniform shirt, and his arms looked like tree trunks.

“I don’t know,” Hopps replied sourly. “It’s come from the Tribal Leadership, but they won’t tell me what it’s all about. Watch yourself just in case. Whole thing’s strange.”

Toya, the ranking officer of the two of them, made a show of looking wide-eyed and going for the buck knife he carried in front of his service revolver at his belt.

“Oh yeah. Two Grey Hills…we’ll watch ourselves, right Jenk?”

Now they were stopping at the turning place, looking at a billboard off to the right for Smiley’s Gas, “Three miles to the left” and never closed.

Beneath the billboard’s chintzy supports, Jenks could see the black half-circles of a small car’s tires.

“Someone’s hid their car back behind there,” he said, pointing, and Toya leaned forward to look.

“Yea,” he said. “Looks like that.” He seemed to consider, leaning back.

“Let’s have a look,” he said, and pulled the car across the T of the adjoining road, over onto the scrubby brush and sand beyond.

He stopped the car behind the American mid-size from Ugly Duck Rentals in Farmington, and the two of them got out.

“Nobody home,” Jenks said, looking at the car’s driver’s seat.

Toya was moving slowly toward the car, and Jenks reached down and unsnapped the strap from the butt of his revolver, even though Toya wasn’t moving slow like he did when he thought something felt out of sorts. He walked all the way up the car’s back window, peered inside, moved around the driver’s side, looking in the windows.

Jenks came up to the trunk, looking around.

“Smells like ammonia,” he said, leaning close to the trunk. “You smell it?”

Toya was looking down at his feet at something brown at his feet.

“Cow shit,” he said, sniffing.

Now Toya was unsnapping the strap on his gun, looking around at the desert.

“Odd,” he said, and Jenks nodded, looking around, as well. He caught sight of a shape moving off in the distance, coming from the direction they had been heading when they stopped. From where the Hosteen place was supposed to be, a mile or so away.

“Maybe he can tell us what’s what,” Toya said, and they waited as the figure approached.

He was a smiling young man with a colored backpack, yellow and green, and big enough to have him out for a week. His face was red and he waved as he got closer, jeans and black boots like jumpboots, a T-shirt stained with sweat.

“Hi, officers,” he said as he came close to the car. “I’m sorry. Was I not supposed to park there?”

His accent was bumpkinish, Jenks thought, the guy’s smile open and vaguely dense. He guessed the guy wasn’t the sharpest stick in the fire from the look on his face.

“No, not really,” Toya said. He usually did all the talking and Jenks let him at this. ” You know you’re on private land?”

The man came up to the car, shouldering out of the huge backpack. It was crushed in in some places, clearly nearly empty. Jenks could tell by the way he swung it with such ease that it hardly weighed a thing. The man went to fumbling with his keys in the pack’s top flap, pulled out the rental key.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’ll just go ahead and be on my way then. I didn’t mean any harm. It’s just really pretty out here.”

Jenks looked around, and Toya did, as well. Nothing for miles but scrub-brush and tan sand. Flat. Nothing to see.

“Most people like Chaco or Shiprock,” Toya said, glancing at Jenks. “But yeah, this is… nice.”

Something was screwy, Jenks thought. Screwy on screwy, and Toya knew it, too. He let Millston take the lead on what to do next.

The man had the door open and he was putting the backpack inside. Toya was coming around the hood slowly, casually, and Jenks stayed near the back.

“Can I see some ID from you, sir?” Toya said, a few feet away now, and the man finished settling his things and stood, looking perplexed.

“What for?” he said, and he did look genuinely confused now, like he didn’t know what an ID was.

“Well, I’m just wondering what you’re doing out here with nothing but private houses around, going around on foot carrying an empty frame pack.” Toya took a couple more steps, and Jenks closed in, his hand on his belt.

“And your car smells like fertilizer and chemicals,” Jenks added to get the man to look his way. “What can you tell us about that?”

The man did look his way now, and Jenks felt his mouth go dry.

Gone was the vacant look in the blue eyes, gone the gaping mouth and blank face. The man looking back at him now was someone else entirely, someone he didn’t want to face.

In an instant the man had turned and had the buck knife out of its sheath, the blade flashing as it whipped up toward Toya’s throat. Jenks saw the slash like a huge, obscene smile open up at his friend’s neck.

As Toya fell, Jenks drew his weapon, but he knew it was too late.

He only saw the man’s arm move in an arc, impossibly hard and just as fast. He heard something whistling in air as he aimed his weapon, then something cold and final thump into his chest.

**

VICTOR HOSTEEN’S RANCH TWO GREY HILLS, NEW MEXICO 3:16 p.m.

Though Paul Granger loved the feeling of the sun coming through the windows, slanting in that way light only seemed to be able to in the desert and falling on his bare back, and though he loved the quiet of the ranch – Victor and Sarah asleep and all the men gone, resting from their night – right now he could really only concentrate on Robin beneath him, on the pleasure of their lovemaking that was ebbing inside him and ebbing across her face.

He could only concentrate on the way his heart was surging against the cage of his chest, how the pain was gone, how he somehow felt more alive than he’d felt in so long he could barely remember what it felt like to feel alive, and to not be in grief or afraid.

“Oh God,” Robin breathed against the side of his face, sweat slicking both of them. He was balancing on his arms on either side of her head, her braids splayed out on the worn pillowcase, and she was crying.

She breathed something that sounded like “I love you,” and something like “praise be.”

When he’d returned with Victor, both of them covered with sore scratches and stinking of the bat’s black bodies that reeked of ammonia, he’d told Robin what he could recall of what had happened, what Victor had told him, the name.

“The Blessing Way,” he said, and Robin looked at him as though he was insane.

“What I want to know,” she said, dabbing at a cut across his face, a series of claws’ grazes that stung as she touched. “Is why the hell I couldn’t come with you? If it’s because I’m a woman, I–“

Granger shook his head. “You wouldn’t have believed it if they’d brought you,” he interrupted.

“What is this? Indian Tinkerbell?” Robin snapped, and he shied away as her hand slipped. “I have to believe or–“

“No,” he said, looking at her seriously. “You didn’t. But I did.”

She stopped, meeting his dark eyes with hers. “And do you, Paul? Do you believe?” Her bravado had vanished like smoke. There was something desperate in her face.

He nodded. “Yes. I can’t begin to explain it, but I know that it’s right.”

And he’d moved to show her how he knew.

Now, he rolled off of her, taking up his place beside her on the bed. She curled into the crook of his arm, her hand pillowed on his shoulder, the shoulder where the scars – like a map showing high relief – had been, and where they weren’t anymore.

“Sleep,” he said, kissing her forehead. “You can sleep…”

She nodded, drowsing already. His chest heaved an even, deep breath, his eyes beginning to close.

“Paul,” she whispered.

“Yes?” he replied, just as soft.

“I do believe,” she breathed, and he smiled and fell asleep.

**

3:35 p.m.

In Mae’s house, Frank Music was looking domestic as Scully entered the house, standing at the stove warming up something that smelled like apples while Katherine banged on her high chair tray at his back.

Albert Hosteen had driven her and Bo down after coming to her bedroom where she’d been laying since they’d returned from the hospital. He’d been sitting in the den watching Animal Planet, some show on osprey on the Chesapeake Bay, and she’d lain there listening to it, pretending, as he drifted down the hall and back to look in on her, that she was asleep.

Finally, she heard his recliner creak again and his footsteps, closed her eyes against the light that was forcing its way through the closed curtains, and his gaze.

“I know you are not asleep,” he said quietly.

“No,” she whispered, hoarse. She had a blanket up to her chin and she turned her head so that it covered her lips. She felt impossibly small beneath the blanket, as though she were vanishing into the blanket’s folds.

“You should talk to your friend,” he said. “To Mae down at Victor’s. That makes me feel better sometimes. Makes both of you feel better.” He paused. “Did Agent Mulder write you back?”

She nodded, but she didn’t want to talk about the email she’d received. Something about it had troubled her, the curtness of it, its tone.

(I’m on my way.)

She opened her eyes and blinked.

“He’s on his way,” she parroted to Hosteen, and he seemed to sense something bothering her.

“Hmm.” He pushed the door open a bit more and came in, kneeling down beside her mattress to find her boots beneath the bed’s swaybacked frame. Bo, curled into a comma on the rope rug by the window, raised his head and whined.

“My telephone is out,” Hosteen said. “It happens often in the spring after too much rain. I need to speak to Victor. Come. You and Bo should ride along.”

There was no arguing with him. She pushed the cover back and put her legs over the side as though the movement caused her pain.

Now Mr. Hosteen had taken Bo and gone to see Victor, and Scully was smiling at Agent Music, holding Katherine’s warm, soft hand, glad that she’d come.

“You look at home, Agent Music,” she said, and her voice cracked from fatigue.

He turned his head and smiled, pointed to the pot with the wooden spoon. “Home on the range,” he replied, and winked. She rolled her eyes.

“Where’s Mae?” she asked. “And tell me quickly before you feel the urge to pun again.”

He laughed, and she welcomed the sound.

“She’s in the back with Sean,” he said, and he sounded pleased. “Go back and see.”

Scully looked toward the back and she could hear soft noises coming from the second bedroom, the small one Mulder had slept in alone for all those weeks. A few steps down the bare hallway and she peeked around the doorway.

Mae was on the floor, sitting leaned against Sean’s bed, and Sean was sitting between her legs, using her body as a chair back, a book in his hands. He was reading, and as Mae looked up at Scully, she smiled. Her eyes were rimmed with red.

Happy tears, Scully realized. Finally someone had something good to cry about…

“‘Suddenly, one day, they came upon a stranger,'” Sean read, the words stilted, as though he were trying on a new voice. “‘At first Crow and Weasel didn’t know who it was, though they thought it might be Mouse…'”

Scully smiled as she listened to him, as she looked at the shine of cream on the burns on his face. His voice was familiar and so lovely to listen to. Something about it gave her hope and respite and something like relief. She closed her eyes and listened to him speak.

“‘We come in peace,’ said Weasel. ‘Good!’ said Mouse. ‘I’m a peaceful man.’ ‘We are traveling north through these woods,’ said Crow. ‘I am going west,’ said Mouse. ‘I am on a vision quest…'”

Listened…listened…

Then it began.

(A man…a young man in a backpack moving behind the barn…)

(Mae and Frank running…Mae and Frank and Katherine running…Mae on fire…everything behind them on fire…the horses were screaming…)

She gasped and opened her eyes. Bile rose in her throat.

“Dana?” she heard Mae say. “What is it?”

(Albert Hosteen pushing her from the house…”Go!” he was shouting. She looked at him and everything behind him on fire…)

“Dana?!”

She staggered down the hallway toward the bedroom, choking in air. She was going to throw up. The smell of burning hair…

She felt hands close around her upper arms like vises, and a huge, too-hard shake.

“STOP IT!” Mae was shouting. “You have to stop it before it’s too late. Come on, Dana, stop what you’re seeing–“

Scully’s eyes snapped from the flames, from the vision and its screaming, its smell and its pain.

“What?” Mae was saying, her face inches from Scully’s. She was holding Scully up with her arms. “Tell me. What? What?”

Scully’s chest was heaving. “Everything was on fire,” she whispered. She could see Sean in the doorway. He didn’t look afraid, but she lowered her voice just the same. “The ranch…the barn…” She looked at Mae. “You. Mr. Hosteen.”

Mae’s eyes widened. “Here? Was it here that was on fire?”

Scully nodded. “There was a man,” she said. She had lost her voice. “I saw him moving around the barn in my mind. Then everything was on fire… Mae, he’s here. He’s here.”

Mae kept a hand on Scully as she went into the bedroom, pulling her along. She reached for the phone on the nightstand, put it to her ear.

Her face turned white.

“It’s dead,” she said, and Scully looked to the window, the hall.

“Mae–”

But Mae was dragging her back to the hallway where Sean was standing, his small fists balled.

“Sean,” she said. “Go get Victor and Mr. Granger,” she said, and Sean took off like a shot. “Frank!” she yelled down the hallway toward the kitchen.

Scully could hear Music drop the spoon and his footsteps coming near.

“We’ve got to get out of here,” Scully rasped, and Mae was nodding.

“Yes,” she said.

“Now, Mae,” Scully said, tears coming. “We’ve got to run.”

**

THE DESERT 4:12 p.m.

Albert Hosteen had stopped the caravan of the two pickups about a mile from the ranch, up over a rise where the road had taken them to a place overlooking the ranch. He was standing there with Victor, their shoulders nearly touching, their hands in their pockets, a dozen feet from the pickups, both looking out over their land.

Scully looked at them from the passenger window of Hosteen’s pickup. Granger had gotten out of the truck’s bed, half-shielding Scully from the edge, holding tight to her hand. Her face trailed tears, but she didn’t make a sound.

In the truckbed, Robin sat, her face a mask of anger, Sara Whistler at her side. They were both looking at the tiny shapes of the buildings of Victor Hosteen’s ranch, Sara worrying Bo’s black ear as the dog began to pant.

Beside them, in Victor’s truck, Mae held onto Sean. Frank Music was holding Katherine, the baby squalling faintly at the bumpy, fast ride. He bounced her absently, his eyes on the edge.

“Forgive me,” Scully whispered.

Far below them, all of the horses were free, run off by the men. They’d driven them and the sheep and the rest of the animals away as quickly as they could manage, the Hosteen’s entire life and livelihood scattered on the open desert like seeds.

They waited. Two minutes, then three.

Scully pulled in a breath, her eyes seeing something down below the others could not yet see, and Granger gripped down on her hand.

Far below them, the deafening sound.

The ranch lit up in plumes of orange and yellow with a tearing that flew off the mountains’ craggy faces, the echo carried all around. The flames and debris went up toward the sky in columns of black smoke that billowed like storm clouds in the air.

A few seconds behind, another explosion rocked through the mountains, Albert Hosteen’s house disappearing into ruin and flame.

Victor turned away from it, his face toward the ground.

“Son of a bitch…” he breathed. “Son of a *bitch*…”

Albert Hosteen turned to face them all. No one, save Katherine, had made a sound.

“Now,” he said, determination – and anger – in his voice. “Follow me.”

+++

CHAPTER 25.

+++

OVER TULSA, OKLAHOMA 4:45 p.m.

He’d fought it all the way across the pond from Belfast, his body jangled and wired and his worry laying on him like a too-heavy cloak for a hot season. But somewhere over Arkansas, Fox Mulder had finally fallen asleep, his forehead against the window where the cold air of altitude had painted the window on the plane’s side with delicate shapes of ice.

He didn’t hear the three cell phones begin ringing simultaneously – Rosen’s, Jackson’s and Agent Fulstein from the Anti-Terrorism Special Task.

He didn’t hear Jackson talking to Washington about reports on CNN about a massive explosion in New Mexico, with every regional agent on the way. He didn’t hear Fulstein telling the folks at D.C. to go ahead and fax – the plane – the information on Christopher Collin they’d just received from the Irish Special Forces.

He didn’t hear the conversation between Rosen and Ashkii Hok’ee, the head of the Navajo Tribal Council giving blanket permission for agents to enter the reservation and go to the site of the blasts as fast as they could manage, or the apology and acceptance of responsibility the old man offered at the “regrettable delay.”

He didn’t see Rosen come down the aisle toward him with his face ashen and gray, the usually unflappable Director gnawing on his lip, his hands gripping the seat at the end of Mulder’s row with enough force to rip.

He didn’t see Rosen turn and head back to his seat, having decided to let the man have a couple more hours of sleep before he exploded with anguish and grief there in the plane where he could do nothing.

A few more hours of a life where his wife and baby were still alive.

+++

THE KNIGHT’S INN FARMINGTON, NEW MEXICO APRIL 7 4:45 a.m.

Christie Collin sat on the edge of the bed smoking a Marlboro Red, the cheap mattress sagging under his slight weight, the corners of the flat sheet tucked under the mattress’ corners pulling up. The mattress was covered in plastic. He’d listened to it crumple all night.

He was naked, his legs splayed and his elbows on his thin knees. Smoke curled up from the cigarette in a gray line that spread into the air, caught the window unit’s fan and disappeared like a ghost.

“Fuck me,” Bridget said from behind him. She’d made no sound on the bed since the light had started to seer the thick drapes, the room taking on a bluish light.

“No,” he said, not looking at her. He was looking at the huge suitcase he’d brought from New York, the compounds inside packed with coffee grounds that he could smell from the bed.

“Why not?” she asked. Her voice had taken on its hiss. “You don’t think I’m pretty enough anymore, do you now?” He could hear her lips slide across teeth as she grinned.

“Just not in the mood,” he offered, and listened to her laugh.

The box from Radio Shack was at his feet, the receipt with yesterday afternoon’s time and date taped to its side. “In case you need to return it,” the clerk had said, and smiled.

On the night table, the small police scanner’s lights ran from one edge to the other, a row of fast-moving light. The small speaker had been crackling all night, local police talking to State Police, State Police talking to ATF. Helicopters were buzzing all over Farmington, and he’d listened the entire night to the sounds of sirens echoing down the empty streets, heading southwest to Two Grey Hills.

It had been quieter since around 2:00 a.m. on the scanner, mostly troopers talking back and forth about personal things. One trooper who’d been in the Gulf had talked for a bit about what he imagined was used on the ranch.

The man had a good nose and a good eye, Christie’d thought, lying there. He’d been right.

Christie knew Mulder was there. A trooper had talked about “some Fed storming around screaming at everyone,” “some man there looking for his wife.”

“Ain’t gonna find her in that mess,” crackled out a trooper going off duty in response. “Not unless he’s got a pair of tweezers. He’d have to bury her in a matchbox.”

“But I want it,” Bridget said from behind him, and he reached up and touched the signal dial, something to do with his hands. He didn’t reply.

“Don’t you want me, Christie?”

His cigarette had gone to ash, the cinder burning into the filter and giving off a stink. He stubbed it out in the ashtray, and finally turned to look at Bridget’s face.

Her white eyes started back at him, her skin gone rotted and flaking off. Her head showed through her hair, most it fallen out. He could see the greenish skin around her breasts, her nipples black as tar. She pushed the blanket down and he could see the fetid rot of her sex.

“No,” he said softly, shaking his head. “No, I don’t.”

The phone rang its shrill, chintzy ring. Two rings. Outside call.

“Yeah,” he said, holding up a finger to Bridget, who’d begun to speak.

“Christie, we’re in a bad way.”

Seamus. Not her.

Why not? Why not a call that things were finally finished? Why not a promise of a plane ticket to come back home?

“Yeah?” was all he could think to say.

“Aye,” Seamus said. “The Feds found the house in Antrim, lad.” He paused. “I’m afraid your grandmother’s dead.”

He didn’t move, didn’t breathe. He looked around the room and nothing seemed quite right.

Bridget began to laugh behind him, sounding nothing like a woman. Nothing like anything on earth.

“You there, Christie?” Seamus asked. “We’re doing what we can to get you out, but they know who you–”

Christie heard the voice faintly as his arm, seeming independent of the rest of him, reached out to hang up the phone with a click.

The scanner puffed out static and an excited man’s voice came through.

“Jessie?” it called.

“Here, Ray,” the dispatcher replied.

“You’re not going to believe this, but there was no one home when the Hosteen place went up. The cadaver dogs, the Feds, Forensics…a few livestock but that’s it. No bodies. Repeat, no bodies. They’re getting choppers and planes out in the desert looking. They think they’re hiding somewhere east…”

They couldn’t have known, he thought. His chest began to heave in faster breaths. He’d seen Scully asleep through the window, the old man watching some show on TV. He’d seen Mae Curran and some agent with a gun on his belt laughing with a baby and a boy he’d tried not to see. He’d seen the darkie agent and his girl fucking through a crack in the curtains, and the younger Indian and his girl asleep.

“They were there,” he insisted. “I saw them. They were there.”

“Time to get you dressed,” Bridget said from behind him, her reeking hand on his bare back. “Let’s get you dressed in something special, my love.”

She cooed it, sounding sweet. He turned to look at her, quirked a smile at the one on her face.

All I have left…he thought. All I have…

“Come on, love,” Bridget whispered. “I know just what you should wear for going out again.” And she leaned forward to give him a deep and frozen kiss.

+++

THE DESERT NAVAJO RESERVATION TWO GREY HILLS, NEW MEXICO 5:55 a.m.

Like Hosteen, Ghost had always moved slowly and like an old man when Mulder had seen him. The horse never seemed in a particular hurry to get anywhere, as though he were deep in some sort of moving meditation as he put one hoof in front of the other with Hosteen on his back. Mulder had always imagined him too old to move quickly, an elderly horse that the elderly Hosteen kept out of fondness and habit.

But as he’d long suspected about Albert Hosteen, Ghost was proving to not quite be as he seemed.

The sun was rising as one giant eye, deep orange, the color of fire, the light bleeding across the horizon and finally lighting up the deep tracks Mulder’d been following with a flashlight and desperate instinct. The walkie-talkie he’d clipped to the waist of his jeans was crackling with voices, barely audible as he kept his eyes on the tracks.

Beneath him, Ghost was running, his hard gallup so smooth he barely seemed to touch the ground. They were skimming along one side of the deep ruts of pickup tires that dug into the sand, the ranch far behind them, and only Rosen’s voice at his waist to remind him of it, that and the persistent smell of charred wood and ruin clinging to him like hands.

Mulder pressed his feet more firmly in the stirrups, squeezed the horse’s gray sides as Ghost angled around a small cluster of sagebrush, darting left then returning right. Mulder could hear the animal’s breath moving in and out like an engine, his hooves tapping out a sure, steady beat.

“Come on,” Mulder said to him. “Good boy…keep going…come on…”

The horse’s ears flicked back to listen, and though Mulder figured it his imagination, the horse’s pace seemed to quickened just the same.

The tracks led off in a direction he’d never been in, and he’d already gone much deeper into the desert than he’d ever been, into the foothills of the mountains, up inclines more steep than he felt entirely comfortable climbing on a horse going at such a speed. The tracks had angled down again and they were heading for a flatter section, and Mulder was happy for the change.

“Goddamnit, Agent Mulder, I want you to answer me…”

Rosen’s voice broke through the sounds of Ghost’s running, and Mulder ignored Rosen again.

He’d ignored him first when Rosen had told him about a “cataclysmic” explosion at the Hosteen property but said it was “no guarantee” Scully and the others had been caught in the blast. Rosen had waited to tell him until he’d woken up as they touched the ground at Four Corners Regional Airport in Farmington. As the plane taxied to a stop, Rosen had said this to him, only a few seconds before they could deplane and get on their way.

“cataclysmic…no guarantee…”

Mulder had gotten off the plane without saying a word, grief riding the too-large back of rage as he began to shake. He stood off to the side as the other agents disappeared behind doorslams into Government cars, their engines already running, the tears burning, his heart feeling as though his chest had been hollowed out.

He closed his eyes. “Scully, please…” he whispered. He turned his back on all of them, his trembling hand covering his mouth.

“Agent Mulder,” Rosen had said from behind him on the tarmac. “Let’s try not to overreact. We don’t know anything yet, and whether you believe it or not, the way this has been handled is perfectly correct. It would help everyone if you wouldn’t follow your usual M.O. here and do or say something you’ll later regret.”

Mulder dropped his hand to his side, it and its pair forming a fist.

“Fuck you,” he said, and before Rosen knew what was happening, Mulder had swung and punched him in the face.

“Come on…” Mulder said, leaning up over the saddle’s horn, his chest nearly touching Ghost’s muscular neck. They’d hit the flat between two foothills and it was bright enough to see everything now in a dim, reddish light.

“Come on,” he said to Ghost. It was time for speed.

When he’d seen Albert Hosteen’s house – what was left of it – still burning in a chemically spurred rage, he could only think of he and Scully’s lovemaking the morning he’d left, how the baby’s shape curved beneath the blankets as though Scully were hiding a gift. He’d ignored Rosen the second time when Rosen had told everyone to keep back, the firemen from Farmington working with chemical foam to put the fire out, and Mulder had taken off toward something at the center of the rubble that looked like a burning human shape.

The firemen had stopped him, not Rosen, who knew enough now to keep away.

He’d ignored him again as, after they’d worked through the night at Victor’s ranch, when, standing at the edge of the crime scene teeming with agents, he’d shone a light and seen Ghost standing there in the circle of his Maglite’s beam, a pony pressed against his side.

Ghost was wearing a saddle, a multicolored wool blanket beneath, the reins of his bitless bridle tied to the horn. The pony’s back was bare, only a halter on its face.

Mulder, covered in soot and ash, looked from Ghost and his saddle and bridle to the crime scene flooded with lights behind him.

Everything was gone. Everything that had been on the ranch.

Mulder studied the horse again. Albert Hosteen rarely put a saddle on Ghost, and when he did, Mulder knew he never left it on him for long. The horse didn’t care for it, and Hosteen said he didn’t need it when he rode the horse, the same way he didn’t need a bit.

Mulder looked from the ruin, his eyes narrowing, to Ghost again.

The horse stood very still, looking back.

“Ghost,” he called to the horse, and the horse came forward, stepping over rubble. The pony following like a child.

Mulder glanced at Rosen, who was in a knot of agents giving him the report of what they’d found at Mae’s place. He looked over with his fat lip and his scowl.

Ghost stopped in front of Mulder and put his charcoal nose under Mulder’s outstretched hand. Then Mulder looked at the saddle, at the saddlebags on its back. He opened a flap and reached inside.

There was a canteen full of water that he felt first. He pushed it aside, digging.

And drew out a long strip of leather, its tag glinting in the searchlights there in the dark like a star.

“Bo. Fox Mulder/Dana Scully, 7912 Laurel Street, Arlington…”

He squeezed it, turned the Maglite toward where Ghost had been standing, the open desert beyond.

Tracks. Going east.

He grinned.

A foot in the stirrup and he swung his long leg over the saddle’s cracked letter, the collar still in his hand.

“Agent Mulder!” Rosen yelled as Mulder angled the horse toward the tracks and jammed his heels home. “Don’t you dare–“

Ghost shot off into the darkness, picking up surprising speed.

For a long time the pony tried to keep pace with them. He could hear the staccato tapping of its hooves close, then further, then further until the sound disappeared.

“Agent Mulder,” Rosen’s voice crackled from the speaker. “I know you can hear me.”

“Right again,” Mulder said, Ghost’s mane windblown and brushing his face.

“There were no bodies at the Hosteen place. Repeat. No human remains…”

Mulder smiled again.

“We’ve got an surveillance plane up with heat-sensing equipment to see if we can find where they’re hiding, but I wanted to warn you – they’ve seen a vehicle 12 miles east of the ranch. Ragtop Jeep. Driver only. And moving out. They’ve spotted you, too, and you’re running parallel to him. Turn north…we’re scrambling four-wheel-drive and choppers–“

Mulder’s vision turned to flame.

He leaned back enough on the saddle to fumble with the walkie-talkie on his waist and press it to his face.

“He’s mine,” Mulder said into the mouthpiece. “Stay the fuck away.”

+++

CHAPTER 26.

+++

THE PUEBLO NAVAJO RESERVATION OUTSIDE TWO GREY HILLS, NEW MEXICO 6:15 a.m.

Scully had not believed the sight of the pueblo when they’d reached it just before dark the previous night, the entire structure looking like something that had risen from a dream. She imagined, as they’d pulled the trucks off to the side where the vehicles would get a bit of camouflage from some squat, stubborn pines, that by the time the sun came up to show the place with its stark light, the place would vanish back into the rock, a temporary projection of Hosteen’s memory or a desert mirage.

It had seemed even more surreal when she’d walked bookended by Granger and Victor into an open doorway on the ground level at the structure’s left hand side and entered a room with its walls covered in names in red and black paint.

Kai.

Mansi.

Nantan.

Keel.

Victor.

Ata’halae.

Sean.

Scully looked at the names again. They were all written in children’s handwriting, many of the letters inverted, others written with that care and awkwardness of kindergarteners with fat pencils in tiny hands.

The place smelled of a firepit, and indeed, there was one in the middle of the floor that looked recently used. Logs cluttered around it in a circle for people to sit.

“What is this place?” she asked, slowing even more than her already-unsteady, exhausted gait.

“It’s holy ground,” Victor said. “A sacred place. We’ll be safe here.” He and Granger were exchanging glances, and Granger nodded.

“Yes,” Granger replied softly. “We will.”

Frank came in carrying a sleeping Sean, Mae a sleeping Katherine, the baby’s crying finally spent. Sara Whistler came in behind with Robin, whose eyes were wide and her mouth open as she looked at the place. Albert Hosteen came in last with Bo, and Hosteen pulled down a blanket that had been caught on a nail above the doorway so that the red and black cloth covered the doorway.

Scully was feeling the strain of the time in the truck, the bumping and twisting through the desert choking on dust. She felt as exhausted as she had when she’d first woken in the hospital, her back aching and her head too light.

“I need to sit,” she said quietly to Granger. Her head was swimming. “Let me sit…”

“Okay,” he said, and he tightened his grip on her arm, Victor moving with them as they moved toward the logs around the firepit.

“No,” Albert Hosteen said from behind them, and the three of them stopped, looked back. Hosteen was gesturing toward the far wall and speaking in Navajo to Sara and Victor, who nodded.

“Just a little bit more, Dana,” Victor said, nodding toward the back. “Grandfather wants us to go further, just to be safe.”

Scully nodded, but her legs weren’t quite up for a lot more steps. She leaned heavily on Granger and Victor as they walked to the wall, lined with blankets the buckskin color of the sandstone wall. Scully could feel cool air much cooler than even the room she was in pushing through the blankets’ sides. Sara came forward and lifted up the corner, pulled it back.

There was an opening there and seemed to extend infinitely, back into a dark, cool space. There were steps cut into the ground going down from where Scully stood looking wide-eyed at the place.

“Where…?” she said, and trailed off as the word echoed in open air. She looked up to see the cave’s roof, but only darkness lay above.

Victor had picked up a rag torch dipped in something that smelled faintly of grease and was lighting it with a Zippo from his jeans. As the flame flared to life, Scully could see the stairs going down into a cavernous space. There were benches below them, fire pits. What looked like wooden barrels and chests.

Bo worked his way between their legs, looked up at Scully and whined. He padded down the stairs ahead of them as though he knew what lay behind them was something that he should be afraid of.

Granger and Victor were nearly carrying Scully by the time they reached the bottom, the two of them and Robin and Sara settling her down onto a pile of blankets where she’d almost instantly fallen asleep in the cave’s perpetual night.

She did not know if it was morning as she roused, the flames from a well-tended fire dancing in front of her eyes. She was on her side, a blanket between her knees, facing the firepit, Bo on the edge of the blanket at her feet. She could see the lumps of the others sleeping — Robin was tucked in against Granger’s chest. Frank Music was closest to the stairs with his gun beside him, just a few feet from Victor, who had Sara beneath his arm. Only the top of Sean’s head was visible from beneath the blanket over Mae’s shoulder, his face tucked against her chest. She couldn’t see Katherine, but figured her behind Mae, further from the fire.

The only person she didn’t see clustered around the fire was Albert Hosteen, and she leaned up slowly to look for him in the circle of the fire’s light.

There. She could make out his silhouette far on the cave’s other side. He was sitting in front of a small fire of his own, his shirt off, his legs tucked beneath him. In the quiet she could hear a small sound like a low hum coming from his throat.

She thought to rise and go to him, since the sound seemed vaguely distressed. She began to move, her hand on the baby’s heel that was pressing above her navel.

“Roll over, little girl,” she whispered. “Roll–“

(“Roll it with your hands,” Mulder was saying. “See? That way you don’t have to put so much flour on the roller. You can just get it all over your hands…” “Dad,” a woman’s voice said from Scully’s left. “Don’t encourage him. He’s already a master at making a mess.”

Scully was at the counter across from them and turned her attention to the turkey, its insides stuffed with walnuts and bread crumbs, cranberries and chives. Something was burning in the oven.

“I told you he reminded me of your father,” Scully said mischievously, reaching into the bowl again.

“Hey,” Mulder said, mock wounded, and she turned to look at him. “Me and the little man are making masterpieces here! A mess? Scully, help me out here…”

Mulder’s hair neatly cut but gone mostly grey. Mulder’s face lined, glasses on his face.

He looked distinguished, and the lines around his eyes showed much more laughter than age.

The little dark-haired boy four or five — beside Mulder with his back to Scully, laughed and planted a flour handprint on his grandfather’s thigh.

She gaped.

“Mom? You all right?”)

The heel disappeared from beneath her hand, Rose moving inside. Scully swallowed, sweat slicking her face. She felt sick. Too hot…

What she’d seen wasn’t possible, she thought. Not possible…

Across the cave she looked at Hosteen’s still form, the fire dancing before him, the fire going white as it grew even more hot.

The noise grew in his throat, a sound that seemed to surround her, make her even more dizzy, her head more light.

Was it…?

She lay her head back down on the blankets, closing her eyes against the tunnel forming in front of them, the only thing she could see.

Not possible…she thought again, shaking her head as tears crested.

Or could it be?

+++

THE DESERT NEAR THE PUEBLO NAVAJO RESERVATION 6:40 a.m.

Christie had seen the spotter plane moving low overhead, the unmistakable look of a government plane in any country. He’d heard the plane’s engines above him even over the sound of the stolen Jeep’s engine, and when he’d hung his head out the side to look over the rag top, the plane had banked sharply and veered away.

In the seat beside him, Bridget hung onto the metal handles welded onto the Jeep’s roll cage, her eyes staring forward, her hair stringing out in the breeze coming around the windscreen.

“That’s it then,” he said to himself, biting his lip. He listened to the words, how they came out in that same polite way his father had taught him, how they betrayed what was in him the same as most of his life in this had the fear, the anger. Something that, like his grandmother’s kisses, filled with revulsion and shame.

“Such a good boy,” Bridget cooed, and then laughed her phlegmy laugh.

They were out in open desert, heading toward an incline that would switchback up over a small mountain’s rise. He checked the compass he carried from the time in the Rangers, the one inscribed in Gaelic from his sergeant with the words “Always True.”

“Shut the fuck up,” he said.

“What?”

“You heard me,” he said, taking the first of the rise, the Jeep going hard over something that would have unseated him if he hadn’t been strapped in. The suspension groaned as they climbed.

“You can’t talk to me like that,” Bridget said, something dangerous in her voice.

“I can,” Christie said, looking over at her again. Her jaw had dropped off, her upper teeth a horseshoe at the bottom of her face.

He sensed she was looking past him, though, off the edge of a cliff side. Christie turned and followed her white eyes.

A cloud of dust coming up behind a lone rider, coming fast on a horse the color of pale smoke. He could see the dark hair, the way the horse was angled toward the makeshift road the Jeep had taken up to cliff.

“Mulder,” he said.

“Kill him,” Bridget replied, her voice coming without half her face. “There are tracks up here, fresh tracks. You’ll find them. Find them and let him follow. Kill them all and we can go.”

But Christie took his foot off the gas, the Jeep slowing.

“What the fuck are you doing?!” Bridget shrieked.

He reached over and unclicked her seatbelt.

“What I want to do,” he said. “At last.”

He cut the wheel a hard left, going toward the cliff, and slammed down hard on the brakes, his right arm shoving her as hard as the Jeep nearly flipped. He wrenched the wheel and got it to a stop.

One instant she was there and the next she wasn’t. He heard her screaming all the way over the ledge.

He unbuckled his seatbelt as the dust settled around the Jeep, stepped out into the bright morning light, stood for a long time looking up at it, his eyes closed, loving the warmth on his face.

Warm enough to unzip the windbreaker he’d been wearing, the thin fabric pulled tight, though he did not wear a shirt beneath.

All around his torso, attached with duct tape, cylinders of explosives in two-inch plumbing pipe. They covered him in a vertical line in a ring from back to front.

Christie reached into his pocket for the detonator a modified doorbell that was attached to the center canister with black and white wire.

He could hear the horse coming closer now, the drumbeat of its gait.

Slipping the doorbell into his hand, its button glowing from a huge detonation battery taped to his back, he stood looking at the desert below the cliff to wait.

**

In the cave’s darkness, Albert Hosteen sat, his eyes on the flames.

He hummed a low sound in his throat, his eyes unblinking.

Wait…

Wait…

**

By the time Mulder reached the steep road up to the cliff, Ghost’s sides were covered with lather, white foam coming from the corners of the horse’s mouth.

“Just a little more, old man,” he urged. “Come on…”

Ghost stumbled a bit as he made it to the top of the rise, sharp rocks and brush cutting into his legs. Mulder winced as he was nearly toppled off the horse’s back on one particularly bad stumble, not because he worried about the hitting the ground but because the horse seemed like he could be hurt.

He’d lost sight of the Jeep and its dust trail, and he was worried the horse might not have enough left in him to catch up again.

As he topped the rise to a cliff he’d seen from far in the distance, he pulled Ghost’s frenetic gait up short, his eyes widening, his hand going for the Sig tucked in the back of his pants.

The Jeep was there, stopped near the edge. And there was Christopher Collin, as his military records had called him, with his back to Mulder, though he had to have heard his approach.

“Whoa,” Mulder said, gave the reins a tug. Ghost threw back his head, skidding to a stop a few feet from the Jeep.

Mulder sat for a moment in uncertainty, staring at Collin’s still back. The younger man didn’t turn, didn’t speak, didn’t acknowledge his presence at all.

Something was wrong.

A trap?

Christopher Collins was a decorated veteran with the Irish Rangers, an explosives specialist of the highest degree. Black Ops, the equivalent of SEAL training, the whole nine yards. He’d been quiet and well liked, if a bit of a loner on his off-duty nights. The “perfect soldier,” his records said. Mulder remembered staring at his picture the firm set of the young man’s face — military haircut trimmed to an inch. Serious eyes that looked sharp and clear and sane.

“Christie,” he called, and received no response. He climbed down off Ghost’s back, his gun in front of him, pointing at Christie’s back.

**

The hum in Hosteen’s throat grew louder, and he’d begun to sweat.

Wait…

Wait… **

“Mr. Mulder,” Christie said, still not turning from the view on the cliff. He said it as greeting, though his voice was flat.

Mulder took a step toward him, then two, and stopped.

The picture of the young, intelligent face from the fax was replaced with other pictures now, other sounds.

Scully’s birthday, the Thai restaurant exploding around them. The open, smiling face of the young valet who’d taken his key.

The picture of Joe Porter Mae had shown him in their house in Arlington, a man holding his daughter in her sunflower hat.

The woman he’d watched run from the Willard Hotel, her body in flame.

Scully in the hospital. Again and again and again…

“Turn around and face me, you pathetic, cowardly son-of-a-bitch.” He held the gun up, the sight on the back of Christie’s hand, and pulled back the hammer with a click.

Christie didn’t move.

“COME ON!” Mulder roared, his voice tearing around the mountain like a clap of thunder. “What’s the matter? Too much to face someone? Better to sneak around in the fucking shadows and wire up your toys than to look someone in the FACE? Do you know what you’ve done to Scully? What you’ve done to her LIFE?”

The words that he heard in response were the last he’d ever thought he would hear.

“I’m sorry.”

It threw him for a beat.

“You sure as fuck are,” Mulder spat, tightening his grip on the pistol.

“What do you want to do with me?” Christie asked. He still had that same strange, flat voice.

Mulder was thrown again for a beat. He’d expected Christie to resist. He’d expected to kill him in the midst of him fleeing or in self-defense.

“Mr. Mulder, are you going to shoot me in the back?”

Mulder hesitated, his eyes going from Collin to his gun and back.

After a moment, he lowered the gun a bit.

“No,” Mulder said. “No, I’m not like you. I can’t do something like that.”

**

Albert Hosteen’s brow squinted down, his hand going to a clay bowl in front of him full of mustard-colored powder. He reached in and took a pinch of it and tossed it into the fire.

“Now…” he said in Navajo, the fire flaring red.

“DOWN.”

**

Mulder reached into the pocket of his jacket, the FBI windbreaker he’d been given when he entered the Hosteen ranch. There were zip-ties in the pocket, large enough to cuff a man.

“Turn around,” he said, his fury waning though it hadn’t been quenched.

Christie put up his hands, the windbreaker he was wearing spreading out like wings. He put his hands on the back of his head, and said nothing.

Something was wrong…wrong…

Now…

His head snapped around for the source of the sound. He could have heard it in his mind, but it seemed too real and too loud.

“What the f-“

DOWN.

Something hit him from behind, like a giant hand pressing him to the ground. His mouth filled with sand.

He looked up just in time to see Christie Collin’s hand move, a subtle movement of his finger and thumb, the rest of him still.

Still until he dissolved into a blossom of fire and smoke, blood and flesh and bone and sound.

Mulder covered his head with his arms as the heat wave washed over him, bits of things raining down.

It grew eerily quiet after the last had settled, smoke blowing over Mulder with a strange, high note.

Behind him he heard Ghost make a low sound in his throat and toe at the ground with his hoof. Mulder looked back him, the horse’s body dotted with blood and debris, then back at the ground again, spitting out grit.

“Christ Almighty…” he breathed to no one, looking at the spot where Christie Collin had stood, seeing only a black hole in the ground and the desert off the cliff instead. **

7:22 a.m.

“Hey.”

Scully roused herself again from the darkness, trying to place the voice.

The man in the wheelchair?

Hosteen…

She opened her eyes.

And looked straight into Mulder’s eyes, his hand on her face.

Her eyes widened, blinked, looking for evidence this was vision or dream, some nightmare of what would or would not be.

It wasn’t until she saw, over his shoulder, Albert Hosteen, Granger and Robin and Mae that she began to trust in what she saw. She looked further and saw the covering over the cave’s mouth pulled back, and faint light coming through, the sound of chopper blades beating air not far away.

His hand went to her belly, cupping the baby, his thumb stroking her skin where his sweatshirt had slipped up in her sleep.

“I’m taking you home, Scully,” he whispered, smiling, her name from him as real as a caress.

As sure as the hand moving through her hair as his tears brimmed.

As gentle as his hand on their daughter, his thumb circling the baby’s fist.

As warm and welcoming as his mouth as she leaned up, sobbing, for a desperate, grateful kiss.

+++

CHAPTER 27.

+++

ST. BRIDGET’S HOSPITAL BELFAST NORTHERN IRELAND UNITED KINGDOM APRIL 9 9:30 a.m.

Ed Renahan couldn’t remember the last time he’d gone this long without a drink.

“Just slip some Glenfiddich into the bottle there,” he said to the night nurse, a wide- hipped woman named Penny who looked like she should work at a fish & chip stand.

“Right, Mr. Renahan,” she said, rolling her eyes as she checked the flow on the drip. “You should be taking this as a time to appreciate the drying out we’re giving you. You lost your spleen in this mess and the doctor said your liver was trying to hitch a ride on the way out.”

He smiled. “The rest of me’s fit,” he tried, and that only made her laugh.

“Go to sleep, Mr. Renahan,” she replied, switching off the room light, leaving him in the overhead light of the bed that made him feel like he was under the gaze of the Lord.

Now, morning, and he was wishing not just for a drink but for a fag, as well. He reckoned he could manage to get up and find one, too…if no one was looking…

A tap on the door interrupted his scheming.

“Blessed Redeemer, whoever it is, tell me you’ve got a fag!” he called.

“I beg your pardon?” Walter Skinner replied, poking his head through the crack in the door, his face perplexed.

Renahan laughed, even with the strange feeling that his belly was about to open like a mouth.

“A cigarette, Yank,” he said. “A ‘puff,’ not a ‘poof.'”

“Well, that’s a relief,” Skinner said, and entered the room.

“You look like someone just rolled back the bloody stone on you,” Renahan noted, taking in Skinner’s bandaged head, one eye covered with a patch. One hand and wrist was in a cast.

“About how I feel, too,” Skinner said, standing close to the bed. “How the hell are you?”

Renahan leaned his head back on the pillow, feeling the cool of the mattress against his shaven head. They’d had to stitch up a gash on one side, and he’d told them just to take all of it off and the beard instead of shaving a patch.

“Ready to get the fuck out of here,” he said, though he only halfway meant what he said.

No, he thought, his face falling. He didn’t mean it at all.

“What is it?” Skinner asked.

Renahan shook his head. “It’s nothing. Nothing at all.”

Skinner nodded. He took another step closer to the bed, his casted hand resting on the railing. His other he used to loot through his jacket pocket, a green jacket from the Irish Counterterrorism he seemed to have acquired along the way. He pulled out a handful of clippings from the newspaper several of them, from the looks of the stack.

“I thought you’d want these for your collection,” he said, and laid them in the space between Renahan’s hip and the rail.

Renahan looked at them, the pictures of himself, of Skinner, of Neill. An old distinguished photo of the Collin family Christie and John and Anna Simms. A perfect portrait of death.

“What will you do now?” Skinner asked, though Renahan couldn’t get his eyes off the faces there in black and white.

“Dunno,” he said. His voice sounded tired and strange and far away. “My shark appears to be dead.”

“Your what?”

Now Renahan did look up at him. “It’s nothing,” he said again. “Something Mr. Mulder said is all.”

Skinner nodded. “Well,” he said, cleared his throat. “I’m on my way back to the States. There’s about 4000 pieces of paperwork to fill out on this sitting on my desk, I’m sure. No use putting it off.”

Renahan nodded. “Thank you, Mr. Skinner,” he said softly.

“For what?” Skinner said, chuckling. “Nearly getting your ass blown off?”

Renahan shook his head. “For giving me a chance. No one’s done that in a long while, you know. I appreciate you thinking I could be of some help.”

“You were a great help,” he said. “People know that now. Why don’t you give *them* a chance?”

Renahan said nothing, his eyes going to the clippings at his waist, and Skinner turned to walk away.

“Mr. Skinner?” he called, and Skinner turned again, his eyebrows raised in question.

“You take these,” Renahan said, picking up the pile with a bandaged hand and offering them to the other man. “Something to mark the time.”

Skinner stepped back toward the bed and took the strips. “I don’t think I’ll ever forget what I’ve seen here,” he said. “But I’ll take them off your hands.”

He stuffed them in his pocket again, and offered his hand.

“Good luck to you, Renahan,” he said.

“And you,” Renahan replied, and they shook, then Skinner turned and walked away.

He lay there for awhile, his mind on the dark walls of his flat, on the view of the ocean from the ledge in Ballycastle, the sea-salt air on his face. Though his body was battered, his mind was more alive than it had been in longer ago than he could recall. He was grateful for that. To Skinner.

And to someone else he wanted to thank.

He fumbled for the phone and dialed the switchboard, an old woman’s voice buzzing through the earpiece.

“Help you, sir.” It was meant as a question but it came out flat from sheer rote.

“Eamon Neill’s room,” he said.

“I’ll ring you through.”

A ring, then two. He realized on the third that might be being rude calling so soon. The man had lost a leg after all. Might need some time…

“Neill,” a voice said as the line went through.

Renahan opened his mouth, then realized he hadn’t the slightest idea what he should say.

“Renahan?” Neill called.

“Yea,” he replied. “Yea, it’s me.” He cleared his throat and shifted a bit on the mattress. “I…wanted to tell you that I’m sorry about your leg and all. Sorry for the trouble.”

Neill laughed. “I’d be laying downstairs waiting to have whiskey poured on my grave if you hadn’t pulled me out from under that bit of roof,” he said.

Renahan chuffed. “Well you had to drag me out of the lair yourself, so I reckon we’re square on that.”

Silence from Neill, then: “I’d say we are,” Neill said quietly. “And even if we’re not, let’s say we are and be done with it.”

Renahan looked up at the light above his head, the light shining bright.

“All right,” he said.

“All right,” Neill replied. “Get some rest.”

“You, too, Neill,” Renahan said, and he hung up the phone.

+++

THE RUINS OF VICTOR HOSTEEN’S RANCH TWO GREY HILLS, NEW MEXICO APRIL 11 11:15 a.m.

Inside the military tent loaned by the Feds, Albert Hosteen and Sean Curran were hidden among the horses they’d managed thus far to fetch, the light from the open side flaps showing dust dancing in the warm mid-day air.

“Hold his leg up,” Hosteen said softly to Sean, steadying Ghost’s cannon so that the boy could grasp it between his hands. “Gently now. Gently…”

Sean did as he was told, Ghost’s leg swollen and gashed, the fetlock puffed out above his hoof. Hosteen smeared the area with salve, working it through the dapple-gray coat with his hands.

“Will he be all right, Mr. Hosteen?” Sean asked.