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The Mercy Seat by Bonetree
TITLE: The Mercy Seat
RATING: NC-17 to be safe and so I have room to play around with a few of my favorite things –adult language, sexual content, disturbing imagery and general adult situations.
CATEGORY: Novel, X-File, Angst
SPOILERS: Everything through season five up to “All Souls.” This is an AU.
KEYWORDS: MSR, X-File, Angst
SUMMARY: Months after the events of “City of Light,” Mulder and Scully investigate a haunting by an entity that stalks a troubled woman and her husband. But what is this thing that haunts her? And haunts us all?
ARCHIVE: Please do not post parts of this story while it is in progress. Check back here when it’s finished for official archiving information.
FEEDBACK: Welcomed at AO3.
DISCLAIMER: The following is a work of fiction. The characters of Mulder, Scully, and Skinner (and anyone else who happens to pop up from the show) 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 the holder of Bonetree.
AUTHOR’S 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” and “City of Light.” That said, you don’t have to read the previous three stories to understand this one, since the plot sort of starts over with this story. However, there will be references to events from all three stories through this one, and original characters from those stories whom it will be assumed you are already familiar with, so you might start wondering to yourself what I’m referring to if you haven’t read the other stories. This is also an established MSR story, and the previous three stories detail the beginning and evolution of the relationship, which might be helpful for you to know.
“Goshen,” a novella; “Secret World,” a novel; and “City of Light,” also a novel, can be found here or on AO3.
TIMELINE NOTE: This story takes place roughly current day (though before September 11). However, for the purposes of this story, seasons six, seven, and eight have not happened. There is no William, no Doggett, 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.
Other Author’s Notes will follow at the end of the story, but I want to go ahead and thank the Wonder Beta Team — Dani, Shari and Sheri — for agreeing to go around with me once again!
THE MERCY SEAT
“In the ancient stories, the world begins by surprise
when zero speaks, from mere words
weaving sun and moon, the fire
the flash of snow.
Be the zero that speaks for me.
Be birth and death, the emptiness
only a child, and never a child, can fill.”
— Margaret Gibson
A man lays on his back in the nude in the field, his legs splayed, his hands folded neatly above the shock of pubic hair against his white skin. Beneath the curve of one leg, a woman is on her side, her head in the man’s groin, her matted hair covering her face like a black veil.
The scene is lit with spotlights. It makes the blood, the trail of it down the man’s face onto his neck, the heavy mat of it in the woman’s hair, brighter. Glistening as it catches the light.
A close up of the man’s face. He is young, his face smooth. Late- teens or early twenties. A wide-angle of the woman beneath the man’s leg. The woman is a bit heavy, her belly and hips full above the curves of her bent legs.
“Tell me what you see,” Mulder said into the quiet between him and the man sitting next to him on the bleacher. His eyes did not leave the pictures fanned out within the file.
Paul Granger leaned in a bit closer, put his finger on the widest angle shot of the crime scene, tapping the picture lightly with his dark finger.
“He was shot first,” Granger said. “To terrify her more. This whole scenario was designed to control the woman, first with fear. The man was just a prop, though since he and the woman were dating, that would make his death mean much more than that to *her.* The killer knew that, of course. All part of the control aspect of the murders.”
“Did the killer know them?” Mulder asked.
Granger shook his head. “No,” he said. “If he had there would have been more brutality. Not executions like we see here. Though I did wonder at first with her hair covering her face — you know, the general sign of remorse, covering the face — but I think that was just an accident.”
Mulder nodded. Around them, the squeak of sneakers on the polished wood floor, the hollow sound of a basketball striking the surface, echoing in the gymnasium. Men’s voices bounced off the walls as they announced they were open and urged each other on. Someone whooped loudly as a ball swished through a net.
“Go on,” he said flatly, still staring at the photos.
Granger shifted. “She was raped after her boyfriend was killed. He would wait until after the man was dead to do that, to have her as afraid as possible for her life, and because he didn’t want an audience for the act. Then he shot her, one slug to the side of the head, and eventually placed her in the position of fellatio you see there.”
Mulder did look up into Granger’s face now, and the younger man was chewing on his bottom lip, his eyes, behind his silver glasses, on the picture that still rested beneath his finger. Mulder waited.
“To further humiliate her. This was about fear, yes, and control. But it was also about humiliation. This man hates women. The evidence of post-mortem rape especially points to that. They’re nothing but objects to him. He feeds off their fear and is sexually aroused by that fear and by the killing itself.”
“So who are you looking for?” Mulder asked.
Granger cocked his head, seeming to consider. “White male. I’d say in his thirties, probably early thirties. He’s got control. Too much for someone younger. I don’t think he works in any sort of professional job. Not a lot of money.”
He pulled his hand away from the picture, folded both his hands in front of him, his elbows on his sweatpants-clad legs.
“My guess is…construction, mechanic, laborer of some sort. Somewhere where he takes a lot of orders all day. He lays low. He vanishes into the background wherever he is, probably not on purpose. That’s why he would want to control so badly.”
Mulder’s mouth curled into a smile and he chuffed a small laugh as he closed the file and handed it to Granger.
“What’s so funny?” Granger asked, taking the folder.
“You don’t need me,” Mulder replied, meeting Granger’s dark eyes. “Now what I want to know is why you called me out here to look at that for you.”
“I called you to come play a pick-up game, too,” Granger said, gesturing to the court in front of them and returning the smile.
Mulder shook his head, watching the game that he and Granger had recently been a part of scramble away on the court. He wiped the sweat that still lingered on his brow with the back of his forearm, returned his gaze to Granger, waiting for him to abandon the bullshit.
Granger sighed. “Well, to be honest, you’ve seemed a little…distracted the past few days and I was wondering what was up. I thought coming out for a game and for a consult might give you a chance to talk about whatever’s bothering you.”
“Granger, you’re such a mother hen,” Mulder jibed, and shook his head. Granger laughed.
“Yeah, I am,” he replied. “Got it from my mother hen.”
Mulder had looked down at his knees, pushed his damp hair back from his forehead again, but was quiet. He wasn’t used to talking like this with anyone but Scully about what he was feeling. But it was impossible to hide things from Granger. And the man had become a good friend to him and to Scully.
“It’s nothing, really,” Mulder said, shrugged.
“It doesn’t seem like nothing,” Granger said, trying to palm the basketball beside him. He couldn’t. He settled for pulling it into his lap, balancing it between his hands. “If you ask me,” he continued. “You act like someone sitting in The Mercy Seat.”
Mulder looked up at him again. “The what?”
Granger smiled. “Something my grandmother used to say,” he replied. “Whenever I did something wrong she would put a chair in the corner and make me sit in it. She would say: ‘Paulie, you made yourself a decision you shouldn’t have. So you sit there in that Mercy Seat and ask God for just that. And maybe the Good Lord will see fit to send some of that mercy down on me so I can let you up again.'”
Mulder chuckled. “‘Paulie?'”
“‘*Paulie*’?” he repeated. “Your grandmother wanted your mother to have a girl, didn’t she?”
“Shut up,” Granger said again, pushing at Mulder’s upper arm as Mulder laughed. “And don’t change the subject.”
Mulder’s laugh melted away as he reached over and took the basketball from Granger, spinning it lightly, palming it with ease with his large hands. The dimpled surface of the ball was cool against his skin.
“Something with Dana,” Granger said, and it wasn’t a question.
Mulder’s lips curled again. There was really no hiding from Granger. He was a great profiler, and he was never off duty.
“Yeah,” Mulder replied. He tried to sound casual. “It’s nothing. It’ll blow over.”
“What happened?” Granger’s voice was quiet.
Mulder sighed. “Oh, the usual. Me meaning well and fucking it up anyway.”
Granger waited, giving Mulder time to elaborate. Mulder spun the ball between his hands a few times, and finally spoke.
“We were on a case last week,” he began. “Women being attacked. An incubus, everyone was saying, which was how we ended up there in the first place.”
“An incubus,” Mulder replied patiently. “It’s a spirit that attacks its victims sexually.”
“Oh. Well, okay.” Granger’s blithe reaction made Mulder smile faintly again.
“Well, it didn’t turn out to be an spirit at all. It was a man slipping hallucinatory drugs into women’s drinks at bars and following them home, raping them while they slept under the influence. He didn’t leave any physical evidence, so the women couldn’t prove they were being raped. That’s how the incubus stuff got started around town.”
“Ah,” Granger said. “I see.”
“So anyway, we got the guy — a bartender — and the sheriff went and got him and brought him in for us. But when he came in, came by us, he said something.”
“Something to Dana,” Granger clarified.
Mulder nodded, and he could feel his face hardening with the memory. He gave the ball a squeeze.
Granger waited, and Mulder didn’t speak for a long moment. He looked out over the game, not really seeing it, his gaze turned inward onto the memory. He just watched the bodies swirl in front of him like ghosts themselves, the smell of sweat hanging in the air.
“What did he say?” Granger urged gently.
Mulder blew out a breath. “He said: ‘It was going to be you.'” He said it fast, flat.
Granger was quiet beside him for a moment. “He was just saying that to try to rattle her. Though it sounds like it rattled you, too.”
Mulder nodded. “I couldn’t tell if it rattled her or not. She just looked at him. She was pissed.” He paused. “But yes, it rattled me.”
“That’s understandable, Mulder,” Granger said. “After what happened in Richmond. It was bound to spook you a little.”
“Yeah, well, that wasn’t the problem,” Mulder said, and anger crept into his voice. “The problem was that I got up the next morning and left without her to go interview the guy to ask the sonofabitch what he meant. I ditched her. I left her at the motel and didn’t tell her where I was going.”
He saw Granger cringe out of the corner of his eye. “And she found out.”
Mulder nodded, his eyes following the game again just to have something to look at. He couldn’t face Granger for some reason.
“Mulder, it’s okay,” Granger said. “I would have done the same thing.”
Mulder bounced the ball on the floor sharply once, caught it, spun it again. “She didn’t see it that way. That it was okay. I’ve been at my apartment for four fucking days. Since we got back.”
“Did she keep Bo?” Granger asked. Now Mulder did look at him.
“Yeah,” he said, puzzled by the question. “She did.”
Granger shook his head. “That’s bad,” he replied. “When they freeze you out but they keep the dog.”
Mulder barked a laugh despite himself. “Yeah, the statement came through loud and clear, believe me.” He shook his head. “I am so *stupid.* It was a stupid thing to do.”
“Look,” Granger began, pinning Mulder with his obsidian eyes. “It wasn’t that it was stupid. It’s totally understandable why you did it. But it *was* overprotective of you, and it did go beyond your bounds as partners and pulled your relationship into a place where it didn’t belong.”
“No shit, Granger,” Mulder growled. “I’m so glad you’re here to tell me these things.”
Granger sighed, frustrated. “I know you know that,” he said. “Just hear me out.”
Mulder held the ball still, stared at it, waiting. Finally he nodded.
“Robin and I have a similar problem sometimes. She asks me about work and I won’t tell her, even though she works at the F.B.I. I try to protect her from the things I see, and she doesn’t like it. And she’s not even an agent. So I tell her what I’m working on, and that line isn’t drawn between us. She doesn’t feel sheltered by me.”
Mulder said nothing to that, two men arguing on the court good- naturedly, their voices carrying. Granger pressed on.
“After what Scully’s been through, even though I know she’s come so far with all of it, she’s going to even more sensitive to being sheltered. You were first and foremost partners, and she’s going to hit the roof if she even senses that you’re not treating her like one. And especially in an…area…like this one. That has to do directly *with* the issue.”
Mulder nodded. “I couldn’t help it,” he said dejectedly.
“Well, you’re going to have to learn to help it,” Granger said. “If you want to stay partners. I don’t think there’s any question about your relationship. But your partnership is what’s hanging in the balance of things.”
“Yeah,” Mulder said softly. “They’ve got to stay separate. And I’m not as sure as you are that the relationship would survive the partnership breaking off because of me being a manly man. She loves her work.”
“She loves you, too,” Granger said.
Mulder’s mouth curled in a sad smile. “Yeah,” he said, wistful. He missed her so much. “Yeah, she does.”
Granger reached over and took his basketball back from Mulder. “Go home, Mulder,” he said.
XMulder nodded, reached for his gym bag where he had his silent cell phone and a sweatshirt stowed. He zipped it open and took out the sweatshirt, pulling it over the sleeveless Knicks t-shirt he wore, tugging it down to his waist. Autumn was in full swing outside the FBI gymnasium, and his damp clothes would only make the chill worse.
“All right,” he said. “I’m going.” He stood, picking up the bag and regarding Granger. “I think Mystery Science Theater 3000 is having a marathon tonight. That should be good for a laugh.”
Granger reached for his own bag, stood in front of Mulder. Their height difference made it necessary for Granger to look up slightly to meet Mulder’s gaze through his glasses.
“No, Mulder,” he said gently. “Go *home.* You know what you need to do.”
Mulder looked to the side, hesitated. “Yeah,” he said, tossing the bag over his shoulder as he met Granger’s eyes again. “Thanks, Granger.”
“No problem,” Granger said, and smiled. “Any time. And thanks for the consult.”
Mulder chuckled. “Yeah, right,” he said. “Give my best to Robin.”
“And to Dana,” Granger replied, and Mulder turned to go.
“Hey, Mulder,” Granger called when he was a few feet away. Mulder returned to facing him.
Granger smiled wider. “If she’s got Bo in the bed with her when you get there, you better tread lightly.”
Mulder returned the smile, laughed again, waving Granger off. He turned then and headed down the side of the court, the game still going on in a cloud of shouting and movement, the thumping of footsteps and the ball.
He headed out the wide double doors and into the elevator, ascending onto the street and the clouded night.
Moonlight shone through the window sharp enough to cut glass, falling in bars along the floor as Scully watched the woman sit up in the bed. She could not make out her face in the darkness, only her form, the rest of her bathed in shadows.
Then Scully looked into the mirror, lit by the moon, a long oval framed in dark wood and tilted on its curved stand and saw it — the naked shoulder, dot of a brown nipple on the child’s chest as he leaned into view, his hand on the mirror’s frame as though he were climbing out of the silver glass.
The woman sat with the covers bunched against her, a man asleep beside her, fetal, his hands to his face.
The woman’s head turned to the man beside her, then back at the mirror, and Scully saw the child was still there, dark eyes framed by black brows, slick hair the color of crows. He watched the woman, lips drawn back into a lipless smile, small white teeth in their rows, the grin mischievous and skeletal.
The woman was willing him away. She shook, her hand now going to cover her mouth, catching the small sound that came from her throat.
Scully could hear her thoughts. She was thinking three words, again and again like a prayer.
On the dresser, also lit with moonlight, the antique jewelry box opened like a wooden eye, the lid holding another mirror that did not catch the light. Its music began to play, small metal notes of a lullaby.
The woman watched it for a long moment, the faint song bleeding into the room. It slowed, now no longer a song but notes, a song pulled apart. When Scully looked back, the child was still in the mirror, his hand moving along the curve of the frame.
On the far wall, the pictures creaked on their wires, tilting on the wall in unison as though the room had become a ship that drifted on a wave, rocking back. Bottles of perfume, clear and amber, slid a few inches then stopped, slid the other way. The pictures followed, wooden frames scraping.
The man stirred, rolling onto his back.
Scully looked back at the mirror, the child’s hand outside of it, and she prayed the mirror would hold him and no other part of his body would push out from the glass.
Then the boy moved his hand, pulled it into the mirror again, his dark brows creasing. His ribs rose and fell.
A wind began in the room, a whisper of air. Curtains ruffled slightly as they swayed. The wind was ice.
The man’s head turned toward the woman and he drew in a deep breath, the breath before waking.
The pictures stilled on the walls, perfectly straight. The jewelry box creaked closed, the faceted bottles stilling in their places.
In the darkness, Scully sensed the man opening his eyes.
And the mirror shattered.
Scully bolted upright in the bed, startling Bo awake at the foot of it, his black head darting up from the comforter as he looked at her with his wide wet eyes. Her chest was heaving as she reached for the lamp on the night table, sweat soaked through the neck of her t-shirt and leaving a gray band down between her breasts.
“Oh God…” she breathed, panting it out, her hand on the center of her chest to slow her heart, beating so fast she thought she’d been running in her sleep.
Her face shot toward the bedroom door, and she saw Mulder standing there, black turtleneck and jeans, his hands stuffed in his pockets. He looked nervous, and his face was etched with concern.
“You okay?” he asked. “I didn’t mean to scare you so badly. I let myself in when you didn’t hear me knock…”
“No, no,” she said hurriedly. “It’s not you…it’s nothing…it’s–”
“Another nightmare?” he said, and now he did come forward. He was looking at Bo warily as he rounded the bed, coming to the side she was on. He didn’t reach out to touch her, though she could tell he wanted to.
It was almost impossible to remember how pissed she was at him, considering how relieved she was that he was there.
The one thing that had lingered from her exposure to the drug was the occasional nightmares, almost hallucinations. They were so real to her. So vivid.
She wondered if they’d ever go away.
“Yes, just a nightmare,” she said, and her breath began to come down from its frantic pace. “It’s okay, though…I’m okay.” Now a little of the ice did tinge her voice, a verbal hand pressing him back slightly.
“You want to talk about it?” he asked, and he sounded almost shy, and more uncertain than he had in a long time around her.
She shook her head. “No. No, thank you.”
He nodded, gnawing on his lip. “Um…okay. Let me get you some water,” and he drifted off toward the kitchen.
She took the opportunity while he was away to try and pull herself together a little, straightening her rumpled shirt that was sticking to her everywhere.
At the end of the bed, Bo got to his long legs, walked the few steps up toward her and collapsed back down against her knee, his black head on her thigh, looking at her with his usual nervous expression he wore any time anything was out of the ordinary.
“It’s okay,” she said, to him and to herself. She reached out and stroked his ear.
Mulder returned with a glass of water and a damp cloth, came around the side of the bed and handed them both to her.
“Thank you,” she said softly, drinking the water down at once. He took the glass and set it on the table. She opened the cloth and held it against her face. It felt so good. So cool.
She felt him sit on the edge of the bed, removed the cloth and saw him stroking Bo’s head softly. Mulder’s hair was damp from a shower, glistening in the lamplight. When he saw her looking at him, he looked away.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, though she did not say it unkindly. “It’s so late.” The clock read 11:23 as she glanced at it.
“I know,” he said, his eyes on Bo as his hand kept moving over the dog’s head. “I just…wanted to see you.”
She looked at him for a long few seconds. Unbidden, the child from the dream floated back to her. She shuddered with it.
“I’m sorry,” he said, and started to stand. “I’ll leave you alone, let you get back to sleep.”
She reached out now, partly from fear of the dream, partly from her fatigue at this thing that hung between them. He must have sensed her reaction to the dream and thought it a reaction to him.
“No,” she said. “Stay for a minute.” She didn’t want him to go like this, if he was going to go at all.
He sat back down carefully, not touching any part of her. They were silent for a beat, neither looking at the other.
“I wanted to say…” he began finally into the quiet. “…how sorry I am for what happened in Iowa. I should never have done that to you. I feel terrible about it, about how it must have made you feel.”
She swallowed, looked into his averted face. “Yes, it made me feel weak. Like you think I’m fragile.”
Now he did look at her. Her tone, tempered by the nightmare’s fear, was softer than she felt.
But she was ready to feel softer. The separation had been hard on her, too.
“I don’t think you’re fragile,” he said. “I’d never think that with some of the things we’ve been through.” He paused. “I just can’t stand to think of someone hurting you again.”
She sighed, reached out and put a hand on his knee. “Mulder, we’ve both agreed to take certain risks with this job. You can’t take that choice away from me because you want to protect me from it. It’s a choice *I* made. A long time before I even knew you.”
He reached out slowly, put his hand over hers, nodding. “You’re right. I know you’re right. It’s just with everything that’s already happened…” He trailed off, and she was glad for it.
“Mulder,” she said, and there was an edge in her voice.
He nodded, stroked her hand. “I know,” he said. “It’s wrong of me to think this way.”
“It’s not that it’s wrong,” she said. “I’m glad you don’t want me to get hurt. I feel safe knowing you’ve got my back. But going in and bullying a man for shooting off his mouth, for saying something that didn’t even really bother me….that’s not protecting me. That’s coddling me. And it feels bad. It interferes with my ability to do my job. It could affect the way others see me when we’re in the field, or here at work. And I can’t have that happen. I’ve worked too hard to be where I am.”
“I’m sorry,” he said again, not looking at her. He seemed immensely sad.
She watched him for a long moment, and felt the ire she’d been nursing for the past few days melting away like snow.
She turned her hand over, taking his in it, gave it a squeeze. “Promise me it won’t happen again,” she said quietly.
“I would,” he said, looking at their clasped hands. “But I’m not sure that’s a promise I can keep. I can only tell you I will try as hard as I can.”
“Good,” she said softly, a smile teasing her lips. “Because if you’d promised me I would have known you were lying. I know you too well to have believed it.”
He looked up, and she gazed back at him warmly. She had missed him, and she let that show in her eyes now.
“Come here,” she murmured, and opened her arms.
He leaned forward into them, curling his arms beneath hers, his hands on her shoulder blades. She kissed the side of his throat softly. She was still trembling faintly from the fear and from the chill on her damp skin. He pulled her closer to him, feeling this. He was warm. So warm.
She found herself pressing as much of her to him as she could, drinking it in.
“Why don’t you come to bed,” she whispered from just below his ear. Now she felt him shiver, from her warm breath against his skin. She smiled with it.
“All right,” he said into her hair. Then he leaned back away from her, took her face in his hands and kissed her softly, just a touch. He leaned his forehead against hers, stroking the hair at her temples with his thumbs.
“Thank you, Scully,” he said softly.
She nodded, leaned forward and kissed him again.
This time the kiss deepened, and she found her hands pulling his shirt from the waist of his pants so she could touch his skin, the warm gold feel of it. He did the same, following her lead, his hands going beneath the shirt she wore, teasing the waist of her underwear on his slow exploration of her bare back. She pressed her face into his chest, his lips tracing her hair.
“Tell me what you want me to do,” he whispered into the quiet, their touches speaking for them, a secret language between them.
His hands came around to her sides and rested on her ribs, his thumbs running softly along the underside of her breasts.
Another shred of the dream. Eyes. Black eyes staring back at her from the shards of mirror. Watching her.
She willed it away, concentrating on the feel of him, on his deep breaths, the sounds of his heart against her ear.
“Just don’t stop…”
And he didn’t.
125 PLUM STREET CAPE CHARLES, VIRGINIA OCTOBER 21 5:32 a.m.
Close to dawn, Pam Dillard stood at the sink looking out over the street, the skillet still warm in her hands as she ran it under the water, filling it and emptying it. She kept her eyes on the sun as it struggled to brighten the night, the stars still out like watchfires. Her orange and white cat, Celie, stood beside her, too close, the cat’s side brushing against her calf.
Upstairs she could hear the sound of broken glass, Brian done with his breakfast and up cleaning the mess in the bedroom. She had not wanted to touch the shards herself. She’d risen with the alarm, already awake, and walked around the pieces as though they weren’t there. Brian had seemed to do the same. He’d slid from the bed in his pajama bottoms, his socks protecting his feet from the cold hardwood floor.
“I’ll make breakfast,” he’d said, the implication clear that he wanted her to deal with the mess.
“No,” she had responded quickly. “I’ll do it.” And she’d headed downstairs, grabbing her robe from behind the door as she fled the room, the slivers of mirror reflecting lamplight.
They’d eaten together in silence.
Now she stood listening, not washing the skillet at all, just feeling the water move over her hands, a warm caress, soothing her. She could not quite shake the image of the child from her mind, the smile on his face knowing, telling.
She knew that if the dead could smile, they would look that way.
Only Brian’s heavy footsteps on the stairs struck the picture from her mind, the sound of the glass tinkling inside a trashbag. She heard him go out the front door, the racket of the bag hitting the bottom of the trashcan. Then he was back, and she felt his presence in the doorway behind her. She put the skillet down in the sink, turned to him, her eyes pleading, though the feeling did not touch her face. He stared back, his black hair still mussed from sleep, his chest heaving beneath his polo shirt.
He put a hand up. “I don’t want to talk about it,” he said softly. “Let’s just not talk about it.”
She looked down, her cheeks reddening.
“But it’s…different this time,” she said, the words hesitant, her eyes still focused on Celie, who looked up at her, mewling softly, her eyes darting, nervous.
“It doesn’t seem any different to me,” Brian said quietly. “Seems like the same damn thing. Just took a little break, that’s all.”
“But I could see it this time,” she rushed in. “It was a–“
“Let’s not talk about it, Pam,” Brian cut in, his voice sounding tired already. “Please.”
She bit her lip, nodded, turned back toward the sink.
After a moment, he came up behind her, his arms curled around her waist, his chin over her shoulder. He kissed her cheek softly, a peace offering. She took it, gripped his wrist with one wet hand, felt him press his body against her back.
“That store’s not going to open on its own,” she murmured after a moment, though she was reluctant to say it. It was the first time she’d felt safe since she’d awoke.
He hesitated for a long moment.
“Okay,” he said at last, kissed her again, and she let him go.
She didn’t turn as he made his way to the front of the house and out the door. She heard his pickup cough to life, and watched the battered brown Ford head off down the street.
At her feet, Celie continued to whine softly and Pam looked down at the cat as she put the skillet in the drainer, wiped her hands on her robe. She reached down and touched Celie’s soft mottled head, feeling the animal’s skittish tension.
The cat was afraid. Whether from picking up on her own fear or from something else, she couldn’t say.
She stopped and listened to the house. Everything was still, ordered. Canisters on the countertops, the ceiling fan spinning slow and silent and lazy, a ceramic blue heart hanging from its center.
The only sound was the tap of water in the sink. Nothing else there.
Finally she shook her head, shaking the feeling of dread away.
“Come on,” she said to the cat, who was still looking up, her eyes the color of moss. “Let’s get to work.”
FBI ACADEMY QUANTICO, VIRGINIA 9:16 a.m.
Scully pulled the thick twine through the flaps of skin, neatly closing the Y-incision on the woman’s body, which shone almost blue in the silver overhead light. The bag that contained the woman’s organs protruded slightly from her belly, and Scully was forced to tuck it back in as she continued drawing the black string down past the woman’s navel and toward her pelvis below.
When she reached the bottom, she tied the knot off with a flick of her wrist, an action she’d done so many times she didn’t even have to think about it anymore. It was like writing her signature, the motion rote and concise.
She reached up and flipped off the microphone over the body, since she’d finished dictating her notes into the attached recorder some time ago. Now she stripped off her gloves, tossing them in the biohazard bin and removed her blood-covered smock, clean scrubs underneath.
Then, for some reason, she stopped, looking down into the woman’s face. She was young, younger than Scully. A few leaves still clung to her hair, which flowed down over the headrest and onto the table like black water.
The only sound in the room was the steady drip of blood and fluids that trickled out of the bottom of the table into a drain in the floor. The room echoed hollow like a cave.
She looked into the woman’s face and saw her as she was alive, picturing a smile there, the shape of her mouth when she laughed. In the confines of the room, Scully could swear she could hear some faint whisper of it, of the sound of laughter.
She sighed, put a hand on her forehead and leaned the other hand carefully on the edge of the table. She’d been doing this a lot lately — looking at the dead as living, seeing them alive — and the new impulse bothered her on some level she couldn’t quite understand. She’d always had an extreme level of detachment in the past, often not even seeing the bodies as people but more as puzzles that needed solving, question marks that she was sent in to put answers after.
It had started on her return from the desert all those months ago. Almost 18 months now since she and Mulder had come in from being on the run. But it had been gradually growing worse, this loss of distance.
Two weeks ago, someone had asked her to re-autopsy a three-year-old child found in the woods. And she had found a way out of doing it, begging off and suggesting a colleague at D.C.’s city morgue instead.
She regretted that decision about the child, carried a nagging disappointment in herself about it. She didn’t know what was causing this, and she needed to find a way to stop it before she lost her objectivity completely.
She had told Mulder nothing.
But how could she explain this to him? The intrusion of it? It was as impossible to discuss as some of the nightmares she had, images too real in their unreality to truly convey to him. She didn’t even understand them herself. How could she make him understand?
She chewed her lip now, looking down at the woman again, taking in the pale features, the single bullet hole on the shaved side of her head.
Once again, that whisper of a voice in her mind, the imagined lilt of the woman’s voice.
It frightened her, this sound in her mind. She shook her head, stood straight, and reached for a sheet, neatly folded on the tray next to her. She drew it over the woman’s body with haste and flicked off the light, shutting the sounds, the sights, out.
These fits of imagination were worse after nights of the dreaming. Maybe that was all this was, she told herself. The dream she’d had the night before — the one before Mulder had come in, joining in her the bed and chasing it away with his mouth, his body — it had shaken her terribly. She closed her eyes against the dark image of the woman in the bed, the metallic taste of the faceless woman’s terror.
And then the eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll’s, but a thousand times colder than that. Something evil in them.
“Stop,” she said to herself, and went to the counter where the report she’d started before the autopsy lay. She immediately busied herself with writing down her findings, her jaw clenched hard, her eyes focussed on only what was before her, what she could touch and what was real.
She anchored herself to it.
Then a tapping on the door, and Mulder’s face in the small window, slashed through with a wire grate. She gave him a tight, small smile and nodded for him to come in.
“Hey,” he said softly. Something must have been still showing on her face because his brow creased down when he looked at her.
“Hey yourself,” she replied, trying to lighten things immediately.
Mulder nodded toward the body on the table, the bumps of it beneath the pale blue sheet. “What did you find?”
“Well,” she began, taking off her protective glasses and laying them beside the clipboard. “I think Paul’s right. He’s got a serial killer on his hands.”
Mulder nodded. “I’d assumed there would be more than one incident, based on what he showed me yesterday.”
Scully nodded. Mulder had told her of his meeting with Granger that morning over a quick breakfast of a piece of buttered toast passed back and forth between them, cups of coffee. They’d been running late.
“The physical evidence on this body is the same as the other woman from the previous killing. Same evidence of rape, both pre- and post- mortem. The same ballistics on the handgun, same location of the shot. The bullets are still being tested, but I’m sure they’ll both carry the same signature marks. And there’s a lack of semen in both bodies. No DNA to test on that front, and no blood but hers and the other victim’s.” She said it all monotone.
“Careful sonofabitch,” Mulder muttered, and she nodded, returned to her report. He was silent for a long moment. She nearly forgot he was there as she focussed in on the report, blocking everything else out once again.
“Are you all right?” he asked finally.
She looked up, surprised. “Yes, I’m fine,” she replied, and mustered a little laugh. “Why do you ask?”
He shrugged. “You seem distracted. Last night, too.”
She shook her head. Yes, she’d been a little distant during their initial lovemaking, then later suddenly desperate. She knew she’d left faint crescents of fingernails in his back.
“No, I’m all right. Just not sleeping well the past few nights. Probably because you weren’t with me.” She teased him with the last part, forced a wan smile in an attempt to reassure him. She could tell from the look on his face that he didn’t take the bait she offered.
“I think it’s time you saw someone about that, Scully,” he said gently.
“I don’t need pills, Mulder,” she said, her expression determined. “I just need more time.”
He shifted toward her slightly, his hands going to his hips beneath his dark suit jacket.
“I think you might need both,” he replied, matching her firm tone.
“And I don’t need a psychologist,” she said, looking down at her report and scribbling down a note.
“That’s debateable, too,” he replied instantly. She heard him heave out a sigh. “Scully, you only went through three months of mandatory counseling when we got back. I’m starting to wonder if that was enough. Maybe you should go see Karen Kossoff again.”
“It’s not the rape, Mulder,” she said, and now she just sounded tired as she looked up at him. “I’m okay with that. Really.”
“Then you *do* know what it is,” he said, softening.
“I didn’t say that,” she replied. “I just know it’s not that.”
She had exorcised that demon in the desert with Albert Hosteen’s help, left it behind there beside a campfire outside Two Grey Hills. Before she’d come back to Mulder, found him again after finding herself.
“Look,” she said, and put down the pen. “It’s just bad dreams. It’s bound to happen with some of the things we’ve seen and been through. You’ve had nightmares your whole life, too, Mulder. Everyone does from time to time.”
“Not like these, Scully,” he said, his voice still soft.
“I’m all right,” she replied, rubbing her eyes. Then she looked up at him, resigned. “I’ll think about it, okay? Let’s leave it at that. I don’t want to argue with you. Ever again if I can help it.”
She heard him chuckle slightly at that, take the few steps needed to close the space between them. He reached out and put a hand on the place where her neck met her shoulder.
“That’ll be the day,” he replied, smiling. “Okay. Just think about it.”
She smiled back, turned her face and touched his thumb with her lips. Just a brush. Then she stepped away, mindful of where she was once again.
“You ready to go?” he asked, breaking the mood between them, now all business.
She nodded. “Just let me call the orderlies and get my tape, sign off on a few things. Then I’ll get changed and meet you out front.”
He nodded. “All right. I’m looking over some new cases that came in. Some of them are…interesting, to say the least.” His eyes gleamed.
She rolled hers. “I can’t wait,” she said dryly, and picked up her clipboard. He laughed and left her alone, the door tapping closed behind him.
The silence was such a stark contrast to his voice in the sterile room. She turned, looked at the body again. The room seemed too cold to her, and she shivered.
She picked up her tape from the recorder and left in a hurry. She would call the orderlies from the dressing area, she decided, going quickly down the concrete hallway, away from the darkness behind her.
There was a light at the end of the corridor, a small window right next to the entrance to the changing area. She went toward it.
125 PLUM STREET CAPE CHARLES, VIRGINIA 10:01 a.m.
This was Pam’s favorite time, the sun coming through the windows of the shed in the backyard, the wheel spinning between her knees and her hands pulling clay between them, making it rise, thinning it as she went. She loved the grooves her fingers made in the white of it, white as milk or bread but smelling rich as earth.
Celie lay in the doorway, which was open to let the cool autumn breeze into the shed, the cat on her back, the long hair of her belly absorbing the light.
Pam wore faded jeans, one of Brian’s sweatshirts, both spattered with white. Her light brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail, out of the way as she worked.
Around her, on top of the cabinets Brian had built into the shed’s sides, her pieces were gathered, fresh from the kiln, their blue, green and yellow glazes shining. She smiled to them, feeling an ease at seeing so much work done. The shop that sold her work — small bowls, vases, their sides thin as skin — would have a whole new set of things to display for her.
It would be good for them to have some extra money coming in. They were new here, just moved in a few months ago, but already her work was becoming well-known. Still, it wasn’t the tourist season anymore, and business at the hardware store where Brian worked had been slow. There were still the occasional visitors from across the Bay Bridge- Tunnel and from down the Eastern Shore, people who liked to stop in the small gallery at the heart of town and look for local work. She liked to have a full array of her things always ready to sell.
She gave the clay another pull, sending it spiraling higher toward her chest. The vase’s shape was clear now, emerging between her hands. She watched it, a small smile on her face at the magic of it. Two crows shouted from the oak tree in the backyard.
She remembered the birds then, the ones from when she was a child who would sit on her window sill, the ones that would land lightly on her arms as she stood in the pasture in the farm. She would hold their small bodies — the brown sparrows, the yellow finches — and smile with the trust they had in her, though it made her parents afraid.
Only the crows frightened her, their claws sharp against her arms. Only they would send her into the house to her mother, who would dab at the blood and scold her, making her ashamed.
There in the shed, a gust of wind came in the open doorway, somehow warm and smelling faintly of something familiar like cinnamon. She inhaled it, wondering at its source. As far as she could remember, she’d never smelled anything cooking from the Hanson’s, and definitely never from Old Man Packard on the other side.
It was almost as if the smell was coming from her own house, ten yards away. She could see the back door from the entrance to the shed, the wooden door open, only the screen door guarding the doorway into the house.
Celie pulled herself up from where she’d lain sprawled in a triangle of sunlight, mewed softly, facing the house.
Another breath of wind and the smell changed — rancid, like fish and trash, then deeper, heavier. A milk and urine stench.
Pam reached down and pulled up her sweatshirt, pressed it to her nose, a gag coming as the smell flooded the shed.
Between her knees, the vase sagged, curling in on itself, turning to folds, spinning unevenly. She looked down at in surprise, pulled her foot off the pedal and let the wheel spin itself into stillness.
That was when Celie leapt up, a high cry coming from her as though she’d been struck, her small body jerking to the side.
Pam bolted from her stool, went to the cat where she’d huddled, stepping in front of Celie instinctively, her eyes wide and on the house, on its brown shingles and slate roof the color of storms. It was as if, at that moment, the house had absorbed the morning sunlight and turned it into darkness.
The smell drifted, weakening, just as Pam’s eyes began to tear.
The back door slammed shut, nearly hard enough to break the windows in it.
She looked down at the cat, who was still crushing herself beneath one of the cabinets. She looked at the ruined vase on the wheel, breathing hard.
“That’s it,” she murmured to herself. She and Brian couldn’t do this again. Not on their own. Not this time. She didn’t care what he had said.
It was time for some help. For something.
She left the cat in the shed as she headed, wary, toward the house.
The drive across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel always soothed Pam. Sometimes she and Brian would pay the $20 toll just for the sake of the drive, a half an hour suspended or ducking beneath the dark water of the Bay, a 29-mile stretch of bridges and tunnels that extended all the way from the Eastern Shore of Virginia and Maryland across to Virginia Beach.
As she drove along, her Outback all alone on the stretch of bridge she was on, she watched the tankers come in from the Atlantic on her left, the huge hulks of their bodies drifting over the tunnels ahead of her on their way up through the mouth of the Bay.
On her right, a flock of pelicans flew in formation, all dark wings and long bills, riding the updrafts along the bridge. Occasionally, she would have to straddle the ruined carcass of a seagull, caught by one of the dozens of 18-wheelers that made their way across the bridge daily, ferrying supplies up and down the coasts.
Finally she reached the other shore, having descended through the two tunnels, passed the tourist restaurant at the pier. When she reached the shore of Virginia Beach, it was like touching down on civilization once again, the Eastern Shore and Cape Charles seeming more like throw-backs to another time. There was nothing there to speak of. No malls. Only a few fast-food restaurants. That’s one of the reasons she and Brian had chosen Cape Charles to live in. Cheap. Quiet. A place where they hopefully wouldn’t attract too much attention.
But here, it was the 21st century, and she had to sit up straighter in her seat and adjust her attention to accommodate the new flood of traffic, the new pace.
She reached over and checked the map, noting the circle she’d placed on it before she’d left the house. The big Virginia Beach library was off the Boulevard, the map showed. She maneuvered the car onto Independence and headed that way.
FBI HEADQUARTERS WASHINGTON, D.C. 2:30 p.m.
“Come on, Scully, this is a good one.”
The slide projector clicked for emphasis, throwing the room into darkness for a moment, then brightening it with the photo of a decapitated cow surrounded by burned ground.
“That is so clearly staged it’s not worth bothering with, Mulder,” Scully tried again. She rose from her chair at her desk and went to the screen, pointing to a long line of ruined ground behind the cow that could be seen in this wide-angle shot. “Look here. You can tell the ground was scorched first and then the cow was dragged onto the spot. See?”
“You don’t know that’s what those are,” he said from where he sat on the other side of her desk, his tie slightly loosened and the top button of his shirt undone.
She could tell, though, that his heart wasn’t in the rebuttal really. It was their familiar game when trying to decide which case to pursue next. She usually managed to talk him out the ones that had the least chance of panning out, the ones that would be a waste of time.
“It’s not aliens, Mulder,” she said, returning to her seat. “Most of the cattle mutilations we investigate end up having perfectly logical explanations. Animals. Feuds between cattle farmers.”
“Some of them we don’t find ‘perfectly logical explanations’ for, though, Scully,” he said, and she saw him lean back, clicking the slide again, leaving a large square of white on the screen. He sighed. “I just can’t get you interested in any of these today, can I?”
She looked down, her chin in her hand. He was right. He couldn’t.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t mean to be recalcitrant. I just don’t want another wild goose chase, Mulder. I want to do something that’s going to matter, that’s going to really help someone, you know?”
“Like what we did last week?” he offered, looking at her from across the space between them.
She returned his gaze. “Yes,” she said. “What we did last week mattered. We stopped a criminal. We protected women from being harmed.”
“But it turned out not being an X-File at all, Scully,” Mulder protested mildly. “Nothing unexplained. Is that what you’re losing your taste for? The cases that defy explanation?”
She hesitated then, looked away. Yes, she was losing her taste for them. She seemed to be dealing with unexplained things all the time now, these nightmares that plagued her, these strange thoughts. They were hard enough to deal with. She didn’t want to go sniffing it out in her outside life.
“I don’t know what I’ve lost my taste for, Mulder,” was what she said aloud. “I’m just…tired. And going on a cow hunt isn’t my idea of a good time.”
She heard him tapping on the desk lightly, pausing, knew he was about to say something careful.
“Maybe we need to take some time off,” he said at last. “Come back at these in a week or so. They might look better to you then. Three or four of these look promising to me. Maybe with some distance, they will to you, too.”
She started to shake her head, though a part of her leapt at the idea. A Bed and Breakfast somewhere. Just her and Mulder. No cases. No distractions. Maybe the nightmares wouldn’t even follow her there.
She sighed as she realized how unlikely that last part would be.
“I’m sorry,” she said softly.
“It’s okay,” he replied. “I know you’re tired. But you’ll bounce back. Like you said this morning — you just need some time.”
With that, he rose, went to the wall and flicked on the light. “Why don’t you hang out here for a few minutes, look these over again and make sure there’s nothing you want to look into. I’ll take our report from last week up to Skinner, leave it with Kimberly.”
He came around the desk, put his hands on her shoulders, kneading softly. “I’ll be right back.”
She nodded, leaned back into him for a few seconds, closing her eyes, then moved forward as he lifted his hands from her shoulders. Everyone at the FBI knew about them now, but they still tried to keep their physical contact to a minimum at the office.
She heard him pick up a few folders from his desk, and then he was out the door.
She sat in the silence for a few minutes, watching the blank white of the screen, trying to clear her head. She was disappointing him. She knew that. And she felt badly about it. It made her feel even more tired, beaten back.
Then the phone on Mulder’s desk began to ring. She turned and looked at it, rose slowly and went to his desk, sinking down in his chair. She picked up the phone.
“Special Agent Dana Scully,” she said, sounding bored with her own name.
A pause. “Oh…I’m sorry,” came a woman’s voice. Slight Southern accent. “I was looking for Fox Mulder.”
“Are you looking for Agent Mulder personally, or for the X-Files Division?” Scully replied.
“Well…I guess for the X-Files Division. I read an article in a magazine about Agent Mulder, and I thought…well, I thought he might be the one to speak to.”
Oh yes, Scully thought. The article in “Psychology Today” that Mulder had done on the paranormal. It had brought the termites out of the woodpile, as it were. Phone calls had gone up by at least 20%.
“Is this Agent Scully?” the woman asked.
Mulder had been kind enough to mention her name as his partner on the X-Files in the article. She was still irked at him for that.
“Yes, this is Agent Scully. How can I help you, miss…?”
“Dillard. Pam Dillard. I’m calling from Virginia. I’m having…”
A long pause. Scully waited.
“…Problems,” the woman finished noncommitedly.
This was at least different, Scully thought. Most of the people who called were ranting, talking about lights in the sky or being abducted or the devil being after them. This woman might actually have her wits about her.
“What sort of problems, Ms. Dillard?” Scully replied, reaching for a pad of paper and a pen.
“My husband and I…” the woman began, and stopped again. “We, um…keep having to move. You see, strange things keep happening to us, and they seem to follow us wherever we go. We’ve moved four times this year alone. And these things…they’re starting to happen again.”
“What sorts of strange things?” Scully asked patiently. She wrote “Pam Dillard” on the legal pad, and the word “Virginia” after it.
“Well, I know it sounds crazy…but there are things breaking constantly. Things being moved. Smells. I’ve been struck in the past, but not this time yet. But this morning something attacked my cat.”
“Have you seen anything out of the ordinary, like an entity or a presence of some sort?” Scully asked by rote. She was asking the usual questions, but there was something earnest about this woman on the other end of the line that made Scully want to listen to her. The woman was calm. Rational. It was a good place to start.
Again the woman hesitated for a long beat. “I saw something last night. It’s the first time I’ve seen something.”
“What did you see?” Scully asked. She was scribbling down the phenomena the woman had experienced in a bulleted list beneath her name.
Suddenly the woman started to cry, a hitch in her breathing giving it away first, shaky breaths. “I’m sorry…” the woman said softly. “I’m…”
Scully leaned forward in the chair slightly, closer to the phone. “It’s all right, Ms. Dillard. It’s all right. Just tell me what you saw.”
The woman sniffed, shifted the phone before she finally spoke. “It was a child,” she said at last. “A little boy. Black hair and black eyes…”
Something went cold in Scully and she froze, her breathing stopping for a beat. “Where…” She cleared her throat. “Where did you see him?”
“I know how this sounds, but…he was in my mirror. In my bedroom.”
Scully got to her feet before she’d realized she’d stood. She dropped the pen.
“Hello?” Dillard called.
Scully cleared her throat again, pulling herself together. One word kept echoing in her mind.
She pulled her composure around herself. She was overreacting. It had to be some wild coincidence. That was all it was.
“Yes, I’m here, Ms. Dillard,” Scully said. “I’m sorry…I got distracted by something. I’m here now. A child, you say?”
“Yes,” Dillard replied. “I’ve never seen him before. I don’t know why I’m seeing him now. But things are more…violent this time. They’ve been strange before, but…” The woman sniffed again. “I’m starting to get frightened now.”
Scully remembered the taste of the woman’s fear the night before, how it had hung in a cloud around her as she’d tried to sleep in Mulder’s arms.
“I don’t have any money to pay you to help me,” Dillard continued into the silence. “I know you must be expensive, but I didn’t know where else to turn. Agent Mulder seemed so kind in the article…I thought–“
“There’s no charge for our services, Ms. Dillard,” Scully said, regaining herself now, dismissing it all. “The Bureau pays us to investigate unexplained phenomena such as yours.”
“Does that mean you’ll…you’ll help me?” The woman was crying again, trying to hold it back in her relief.
Scully thought about it for a moment. Mulder returned, looked at her behind his desk, raised his eyebrows in question. She raised a finger to him, and he paused, his hands going in his pockets.
Scully remembered his offer of time off, how tempting that had been. But then the nightmare from the night before came back to her.
She had to understand this. There had to be a way to explain it away. Maybe once she found that explanation, it would all go away…
“Yes, Ms. Dillard,” she said at last. “Give me your contact information. We’ll be down on…Thursday.” It was Monday, and she needed time to finish up the consulting she was doing for Granger.
Mulder’s eyebrows had climbed higher toward his hairline on hearing her agree to a case.
“I don’t know how to thank you,” the woman replied, and Scully could almost feel her relief.
“There’s no need to thank me,” Scully said formally. “It’s our job. Now where can we find you?”
She busied herself writing the information that Dillard relayed to her, said goodbye, and hung up the phone. She looked up at Mulder, and she knew she must be a bit pale from how he looked at her.
“So where we going, Chief?” Mulder said, trying to lighten the heaviness that had settled over the room, over Scully.
“Cape Charles, Virginia,” Scully replied, and handed him the pad.
ROUTE 13 NEAR MAPPSVILLE, VIRGINIA EASTERN SHORE OCTOBER 24 11:32 a.m.
“Proud Mary” was playing on the radio in the black Bureau sedan, the driver’s side window was cracked open to let in the autumn air, and Mulder was tapping his fingers against the steering wheel in time to the music. He alternated his gaze from the road to the scenery streaming by — the ragged pines, tall and thin as black bones — and then to Scully, who was dozing in the seat beside him.
Her brow was knitted, a troubled look on her face. It seemed that even when she attempted to nap, the thoughts and dreams troubled her. It had been this way for months, he knew, but something about it was different now. She’d stopped talking about it with him the way she’d done when they first returned from the Southwest. The dreams were like secrets now, caught in her throat.
And now her strange decision to take this case…
He gnawed on his lip as his eyes returned to the nearly deserted road, the only vehicles in sight all pulling boats with fishing rods jutting from holders in their sterns. The fields that lined the roads on occasion, mostly abandoned farms, were overgrown, broken only by the occasional spread of brittle brown corn, spreads of chocolate brown plants tufted with cotton, and battered pickups parked on the highway’s sides selling pumpkins and fresh-caught crab and shrimp.
His mind played over the notes she’d shown him about the case, a half-a-page of bulletted words in her neat handwriting. Words like “smells,” “things breaking.” It all seemed very thin to him. The cases that they’d been going over before he left to go to Skinner’s office had been a lot more compelling than this one, backed by a lot more of the empirical evidence that Scully was so fond of.
So what were they doing driving down the nearly deserted, throw-back Eastern Shore of Virginia, headed for a town that one only heard of when there were hurricane alerts and its lighthouse was used as a marker for a boundary of an area of warning?
Maybe she’d just taken the case to placate him, since he’d been unable to get her interested in the others. Maybe it was something about this woman she’d spoken to on the phone, something Scully’d felt interested in in some way.
He glanced over at her again, and her head turned slightly toward him, as though she were aware he was looking at her.
Maybe she was just resigned, and Cape Charles was close by enough that it wouldn’t be too much of a problem for them to investigate. All the other cases would have required flights, miles and days away from home.
He sighed, returned his eyes to the road.
She was hiding something from him. He didn’t know what or why, but he didn’t like it one bit.
Out of the corner of his eye, he noted her pulling herself completely awake with a start, saw her shift in her seat, straightening her black suit and trench.
“Where are we?” she asked, looking out the window.
“We’re in Virginia,” he replied. “Just crossed over a little while ago. Just another hour or so.”
She made a vague, affirmative noise, still looking out the window. He expected silence, some diversionary tactic on her part, expected her to take out the scant notes or the map.
He did not expect what she did, however.
She reached down and unbuckled her seatbelt and then edged across the seat, lifting the armrest and moving until their hips were touching. Then she leaned her head against his shoulder, curled an arm into his side, her palm flat on his chest near her face. He lifted his arm to put around her, leaned his face down so he could kiss her hairline.
“You okay?” he murmured, his eyes reluctantly on the road. He changed lanes to get around a semi, moved easily back.
“Yes,” she said softly after a moment, as though the answer had required some thought. He waited for her to elaborate. She didn’t.
“You want to tell me what you were dreaming just then?” he asked, his voice just above a whisper and gentle.
She shook her head against him once, but her fingers curled on the lapel of his trench, belying…something from her.
“Scully, not talking about them is only going to make them worse,” he said, his voice without rebuke.
“Talking about them won’t help, either.”
“You don’t know that,” he replied softly. “It’s been so long since you did. Why don’t you give it a try?”
He could feel her warring with herself, with her instinct to keep things private, to not want to worry him. Finally she took in a deep breath and began to speak, her voice tired.
“I was running,” she said. “Through some woods.”
He nodded. “Okay. Running from something or toward something?”
“Toward something,” she replied. “I was trying to find you. I was desperate to find you. I was afraid.”
His arm tightened around her. “What else?”
“It was night,” she said faintly. “The moon was out. All I could hear were my own footsteps as I ran. I couldn’t find you anywhere. But I knew I had to.”
“Why? Was something wrong with me?”
“Yes,” she said, and her voice shook a little. “I don’t know what, but something was terribly wrong. I could still hear you screaming in my mind as I was running.”
He nodded, kissed her hairline again, settled his cheek against her forehead. When he glanced down at her face, it was blank. No tears.
“Is this the first time you’ve had this dream?” he asked.
She shook her head. “I’ve had snatches of it now and then. Sometimes while I’m awake. I had it last night…before…” She trailed off.
Before they’d made love, he finished in his mind. He’d known something was bothering her, saw the crease of something in her features as she straddled his hips, her hands squeezing his hard as she moved. The way she’s thrown her head back, her eyes clenched, her lower lip trembling as she panted out breaths. How she’d held him so tightly afterwards, her body covering his, her arms around his neck.
Their lovemaking had been strange lately. Tender, but somehow urgent. As though she were trying to lose herself in it, to forget.
“I’m all right, Scully,” he murmured. “I’m not going anywhere. I know they scare you, but they’re just dreams. They can’t hurt you. Or me.”
She said nothing. Not even a nod. As though she didn’t believe him.
He stroked her arm gently. Again that feeling that there was something she wasn’t telling him. It gnawed at him.
They entered the town of Nelsonia, with a turnoff there for Modest Town and someplace called Assawoman Island. He wished things were easier between them. There was a joke he would have liked to have made.
Instead, he passed it by, kept driving, the smell of thick salt air coming in the windows on the crisp breeze. They drove on in silence for a long time but stayed folded together, her hand sliding over and covering his heart.
FBI HEADQUARTERS WASHINGTON, D.C. 12:23 p.m.
“Just what in the HELL did you think you were doing?”
Skinner hissed this at Granger’s back as Granger walked briskly down the hallway toward the Violent Crimes Unit. He was in his best black suit with a red tie and a shirt with enough starch in it to rub the skin off his neck and wrists, and felt like he was on his way to funeral. Were it not for the AD on his tail, he might have been able to believe that was true.
“Goddamnit, Granger, I want some answers!” Skinner said as they entered Granger’s office, Granger putting some space between the two of them by standing behind his desk. He pretended to shuffle through some files there, not meeting Skinner’s gaze.
“I’m just doing my job, sir,” Granger said firmly. “Just like I’ve always done.”
“Bullshit like you’ve always done,” Skinner spat. “Do you know what you just *did*?”
Now Granger did look up at him, stilled. “Yes,” he said softly. “I know exactly what I just did.”
And he did know. He knew precisely what he intended to do before he even went into the press conference, the one for the serial murders he was currently heading up the investigation of. He’d given the media a little background on the killer, his most basic profile, answered a few questions. Then, at the end, he’d looked straight into the camera and said something that an investigator wasn’t supposed to say, and he knew it.
He said: “We’re very close to finding you. And I’m watching you. I’m going to find you. This is between you and me now.”
“Granger, you made it *personal,*” Skinner was saying, his hands on his hips. “You tried to intimidate the guy and now–“
“Yes,” Granger interrupted. “I did try to intimidate him. He’s going to kill again. I’m certain of it. And this time maybe he’ll want to prove something to me that will make him leave something behind, be careless. Or maybe he’ll contact me directly in some way.”
At Skinner’s shake of the head, Granger continued quickly before Skinner got a chance for a rebuttal.
“I know the risks,” he said, meeting Skinner’s dark eyes with his own. “But I think the situation warrants it. And there are factors involved that will make it unlikely that he would move against me personally.”
“Like what?” Skinner said. “The fact that you’re black? You think that’s going to protect you *that* much?”
Granger shook his head. “No, I don’t think it’s going to completely protect me, but it will help. And he’s not really after men, anyway. He’s after women. The men are incidental.”
Behind Skinner, a figure appeared in the doorway, entered the office without knocking, Skinner turning to face the newcomer.
Granger straightened to find Deputy Director Jack Rosen suddenly in front of him like that, and he swallowed.
This was it, he thought. If he was going to be pulled off the case, it was going to happen right now.
“Mr. Granger,” Rosen said, sinking his hands into his pockets beneath his gray suit jacket. His tone was unreadable.
“Sir,” Granger replied cautiously.
“You know why I’m here?” Rosen continued in his thick New York accent, and Skinner turned back to face Granger, his expression grim now, like a man standing behind the glass at an execution.
“Yes, sir, I know why you’re here,” Granger replied.
Rosen said nothing, turned and wandered to the corner of the office, looking up at Granger’s diploma from Johns Hopkins, the impressive bookshelves filled with books on profiling and psychology standing in rows on the shelves. He pulled one out, Turvey’s book on profiling, flipped it open, perusing the photos.
Granger waited. Skinner waited, looking down at the floor.
Rosen spoke precisely when he was ready, not when people expected him to. They’d all grown accustomed to this from “The Godfather,” as the agents called him behind his back. Granger had to admit, though, that this habit of Rosen’s still made him a bit intimidated and nervous.
“Tell me one thing, Mr. Granger,” Rosen said at last, turning a bit toward Granger, though he didn’t look up from the book. “Can you stand here and tell me you’re 100% certain of what you’re doing on this case?”
Granger pulled in a breath, steeling himself. “Yes, sir,” he said.
Rosen glanced up now, as though he were looking over invisible glasses. “One hundred percent?”
Granger nodded, met Rosen’s eyes. “Yes, sir,” he said again.
Rosen looked back down at the book, closed it almost silently and pushed it back onto the shelf but kept his hand there, again leaving the room in a dense silence.
Someone walked by the office, intending to come in — Lewis, one of Granger’s colleagues in Violent Crimes — and when he saw Rosen he recoiled as if there were a cobra in the room. Granger nodded to him and Lewis raised a hand, mouthed “I’ll come back,” and disappeared.
Finally Rosen spoke again. “I’m going to trust you on this, Mr. Granger,” he said, and turned, returning his hands to his pockets and rocking back on his heels slightly. “I’m taking a little bit of heat already for you, but I can take some heat. I just don’t want to end up with trouble on my hands from you getting trouble on yours.”
“I understand,” Granger said simply. “I know what I’m doing, sir. And I appreciate your trust.” He looked at Skinner.
Rosen glanced at Skinner, as well, whose jaw was working as he met his superior’s eyes. He looked at Granger then, then finally nodded.
“I’m willing to give you some leash,” Skinner said. “If the Deputy Director is willing to agree.”
Rosen nodded. “All right, Mr. Skinner. We’ll sit out on the limb together.” Then Rosen went toward the door, pausing at the entrance.
“Let’s see what pans out from this, Mr. Granger,” he said.
Granger nodded. “Thank you, sir. I’ll do my best work. I promise.”
Rosen looked at him, his lips pursed. Then he drifted away, quiet as smoke.
Skinner cleared his throat. “You know how closely you’re going to be watched on this thing from now on, don’t you?” he asked. “And I’m not talking about by me, though I’m going to have to keep on top of you to cover my own ass at this point, since I’ve agreed with Rosen and Rosen is trusting me.”
The younger man nodded. “Yes, I know. I’ll stay on top of things. This guy is going to screw up this next time. I can feel it. We’ll catch him.”
Skinner nodded. “I hope you’re right,” he said, and headed for the door himself. He looked back. “And the next time you want to pull a Mulder on me, try to warn me ahead of time, will you?”
Granger smirked, looked down. “I’ll try,” he said softly.
Skinner nodded again. “Be careful, Granger.”
“I will be,” Granger replied, and Skinner was out the door.
Now Granger sagged behind his desk, sitting down hard in his chair, leather squeaking in protest.
He knew he was right with what he’d done. And he knew the risks to it, as well. He just hoped his strategy would work before those risks caught up with him.
“Shit,” he mumbled to himself, looking down at the files. Then he buckled down and got back to work.
OUTSIDE CAPE CHARLES, VIRGINIA 1:35 p.m.
The entrance to the town was a double-lane highway that cut a straight line along a series of plowed-under fields and a few tiny houses advertising crafts on one side, and a battered set of train tracks on the other.
Then, Scully saw what appeared to be a lighthouse in the distance, and she wondered how close they were to the shoreline of the Chesapeake. She had the window cracked a bit and she could smell salt air, but she had almost all the way down the Shore.
Then, when they got closer, she realized the lighthouse was simply the town’s water tower, painted to look like a lighthouse, with fake windows and everything.
“Cute,” Mulder commented, and drove on.
The slowed as they entered the town proper, crawling along at 25. A retirement home for the poor, from the looks of it. A grocery store called “Meat Land” that looked like the last place on earth anyone would want to buy meat. Then a bump over the first intersection and they were on Randolph Avenue, which Scully found on the map as they passed the sign.
“God, will you look at this place?” Mulder said, and Scully glanced up from the map. Every other house was condemned, empty and boarded up. The ones that weren’t were in serious states of disrepair, their white asbestos siding faded to grey. A man in a wheelchair outside one looked at them curiously as they passed.
“Oh, nice,” Mulder continued in his assessment of view. He gestured and Scully saw what he was looking at — a house with a huge satellite dish in the front yard just beneath a flag pole with two flags on it — the American and the Confederate.
The Confederate was on top.
“‘Let’s do the time warp agaaaain…'” Mulder sang, and Scully smirked, returned her gaze to the map.
“Plum is the fifth cross street,” she said. “I think we go right.”
“All right,” Mulder replied.
A few blocks and the houses began to change. Some nice Victorians, newly renovated and done well. Expensive cars in the driveways and on the street. Then a few more dilapidated houses and then a few more renovated, the renovated older houses beginning to take a firmer hold as they drove on.
And in front of many of the condemned-looking houses, “For Sale” signs. Dozens of them.
“Looks like the place is being ‘gentrified.'” Scully commented.
“And not a moment too soon, either,” Mulder rejoined. “Some of these places look like they’re about to fall over.”
“Someone’s making money off them,” she replied, looking down the street to where it dead-ended into some dunes and a white sky. “I wonder why?”
Mulder shrugged, took the turn onto Plum. This was a better street, more brightly colored, fresh-painted houses. They followed the numbers down to 125, stopped the car on the street across from it.
It was a massive house, two stories and an attic with dormers. It was adorned with chocolate-brown cedar shingles, the windows a crisp white. There was a porch with columns, a wrap-around with a wooden swing suspended from the porch’s roof. The door was white with an ornate knocker. Nice car out front.
All and all, a lovely place. Scully smiled up at it as Mulder put the car in park and they unfastened their seat belts.
She was standing outside the car, gathering up the file, she noticed something moving in one of the upstairs dormer windows, just a faint shift of movement. Then the light that was on up there went out.
“Looks like someone’s home,” she said, and Mulder looked at the house and nodded, though she knew he hadn’t seen the figure in the attic.
At the front door, Mulder opened the screen door and rapped with the knocker. It was a ram’s head, curving down to a C-shape of brass. Very old from the looks of it. It hung a little loose on its hinge.
The door opened almost immediately, a youngish woman standing there. Her hair was long, and light brown, the color Scully’s would be if it weren’t tinged so red. Her eyes were dark, the color of chocolate, the pupils almost lost in their darkness. But her smile was kind, if a bit nervous, and she looked at the two of them. She wore jeans and a sweatshirt splattered with something white like pain, her face dotted with it. As the woman opened the door, Scully expected to smell paint; instead she smelled clay.
“Agents Mulder and Scully?” the woman asked, reaching out a hand. “I’m Pam Dillard. Won’t you come in?”
“Thank you,” Scully replied, and Mulder held the screen door for both of them as Dillard backed into the house.
They entered into a large foyer, a staircase with a monkey-tail railing in front of them. A formal dining room was off to their left, a spacious if darkened living room to the right. There was a sunroom on the far side of the house, visible from the foyer, and a short hallway that led to what must have been the kitchen just to the left of the staircase.
“Come in,” Dillard said, her smile a bit less nervous now. “I’ll make some coffee?” There was something almost like relief in Dillard’s voice, Scully noted, as they were ushered into the living room, where a couch and three chairs sat facing off in the room.
“That would be fine, thank you,” Mulder replied, and peeled out of his trench coat. Dillard took it from him, looking up at him shyly. Scully wanted to smile seeing Dillard’s reaction to Mulder — it *had* been a very flattering article in Psychology Today. Scully felt almost guilty for breaking the spell when she handed Dillard her own coat.
“I’ll be right back. Just make yourselves comfortable.”
And so they did, both of them settling in the chairs that faced the couch. Almost immediately, an orange and white long-haired cat came simpering into the room, approaching in a few steps, then stopping, its tail up and quivering. It took a few more steps toward Scully, who reached a hand down toward it, rubbing her fingers together. The cat came forward dutifully, shivered under Scully’s hand.
She saw Mulder taking in the living room. One entire wall and a part of another were taken up with a library wall, completely packed with books. There was a sliding ladder that went along the longest wall, running on a rail that would have been at about Mulder’s eye level. The Dillard’s were clearly book lovers, that much was certain. A fireplace was set into the wall closest to Scully, and smelled faintly of embers from a recent fire.
The drapes were cracked open on the windows, but let in little light. Overall, the room was cavernous and dim, the sconces set into the wall — shaped like candles — giving the room little brightness.
Scully looked at Mulder in antique rocker, and he looked back. He didn’t like the feel of the room, either.
“Here you go,” Dillard replied as she entered with a silver serving set, the pot of coffee steaming from its spout. She set it down on the coffee table in front of them, poured two cups and asked them how they took their coffee. Once she’d prepared them to the agents’ satisfaction, she poured herself a cup, black, and sat on the couch, staring into the cup, clearly uncomfortable suddenly now that her hostess duties were finished.
“Why don’t you begin by telling us when these events started?” Mulder said, pulling a pad out of his inner jacket pocket and clicking his pen. Scully sipped her coffee as she watched Dillard smile faintly at the question.
Behind Dillard a fluttering, wings against glass. Two doves there, clambering against the pane.
The sudden memory of barn owls, soft bodies thumping, talons shrieking against the apartment’s glass….
Scully shook the image off like a hand on her elbow. Dillard didn’t look back at the window at all, which was in itself significant.
“All my life,” Dillard said at last.
Mulder didn’t write that down, but instead looked up at her. Scully watched the doves, a low cooing in their throats like minor notes.
“You’ve seen this apparition you described to Agent Scully your whole life?” he clarified.
Dillard was struck out of her memory. “No, no…this week was the first time I’ve seen him. I meant that I’ve had…problems…of one kind or another all my life.” She set her coffee cup down and stood, going to the window. She tapped the glass to frighten the birds away, then closed the drapes, retook her seat.
Scully exchanged a look with Mulder again.
“You mean you’ve had problems with paranormal experiences your whole life,” Mulder stated.
Dillard nodded. “To varying degrees,” she replied, running her finger over the rim of her coffee cup. “It’s gotten worse as I’ve gotten older. It started out small. Small things when I was young. Things going missing. Things moving on their own. That sort of thing.”
“And the birds,” Mulder said, and Dillard looked down as though caught.
“Yes. The birds, too,” she said softly. “But now it’s grown violent. We keep having to move. I…read somewhere that hauntings were associated with places, not with people, so we’ve kept going, kept moving. But it follows us everywhere we go.”
“It sounds like a poltergeist phenomena rather than a haunting then,” Mulder said, still scribbling in the pad.
“I don’t know anything but the little bit that I’ve read,” Dillard replied. “I’ve tried…to pretend none of it is really happening, you know? To just go on. And sometimes it doesn’t happen at all. But then it comes up, and we have to go.”
“Have you noticed any pattern to the visitations by this…entity?” Scully asked. The vision of the child was in her mind, the oily eyes and that smile…a drowned smile.
The other woman shook her head. “No, no pattern. It just seems to come and go and–“
The front door opened and a man walked in — black hair, shorter than Mulder. He was handsome, his face darkened with the shadow of stubble. He looked very surprised to see Mulder and Scully sitting there, and Scully noticed that Dillard was immediately nervous.
Pam stood. “Brian, these are Agents Mulder and Scully. They’re with the FBI.” She turned to Mulder and Scully. “This is my husband, Brian.” She looked down as she said it.
“Has something happened?” Brian asked, concerned.
“No, no,” Pam hurried to reply. “I…I called them.”
The man’s face turned to stone.
“Pam,” Brian started, his voice pitched angry and dangerous. “What are you doing?”
Mulder stood at the man’s tone, Scully along with him. The cat bolted off.
“I’m…getting us some help, Brian,” Dillard said, and her voice shook.
“We don’t need any help,” the man said, jamming his hands in his pockets. “There’s nothing wrong here. Nothing wrong at all. And we certainly don’t need the FBI.”
“Agent Scully and I are assigned to a division of the Bureau that investigates unexplained phenomena,” Mulder said. “That’s why we’re here. To look into these things your wife has told us about.” Mulder cocked his head. “What about that makes you so threatened, Mr. Dillard?”
The other man regained a calmer tone of voice seeing the agents’ reaction to him. “I’m not threatened at all, Agent Mulder,” he said, and Scully could see the two men squaring off, sizing each other up.
There was a tense moment of silence. Then Dillard backed down first.
“I’m sorry, you all just surprised me,” he said, though Scully — and she assumed Mulder — wasn’t buying it.
“Why don’t you take us on a tour of the house, Mrs. Dillard?” Mulder said, still looking at Brian. “Let us know where it is you’ve seen these things and where these things have happened to the two of you?”
Scully put her coffee cup down, reached over and took Mulder’s, setting them both down.
“All right,” Pam said, coming around the coffee table. A new fluttering of wings on the windows in the front of the house. This time cardinals, blood red shot with black across their faces, hovering against the glass.
Brian Dillard stepped into the living room and pulled the drapes closed tight.
“I just came home for some lunch,” he mumbled, looked down. “I’ll see to that while Pam gives you your…*tour.*”
He turned then and went down the hallway toward the kitchen.
“Follow me,” Pam said, her voice still shaking a little. Scully felt sorry for her. The tension between her and her husband was thick as wool.
They climbed the stairs, the steps creaking as they went up.
“There’s been something in almost every room in the house, and even outside,” Dillard was saying, regaining herself a bit. “The one where I saw the little boy, was here in the bedroom…”
They turned left at the top of the stairs and entered the master bedroom, painted a warm terra cotta. The bed was big as a boat, a dresser on the facing wall. A frame for a stand-up mirror stood in one corner, all the glass missing from it.
“This is where I saw him,” Dillard said softly. “When Brian woke up…the glass shattered.”
“Are you sure you weren’t dreaming, Mr. Dillard?” Scully asked, and reached out to tentatively touch the frame. “The cat could have knocked this over–“
“You can call me Pam,” Dillard said. “And no, I wasn’t dreaming. The mirror wasn’t knocked over. It just broke.”
“All right, Pam,” Scully said.
Yes, she knew Pam hadn’t been dreaming. She knew that. So why was she asking?
Mulder didn’t seem to notice. It was, after all, exactly what he expected her to say. It was what she expected herself to say. And she needed that right now. Because the room was laid out exactly as it has been in her dream. The same pictures on the walls. The bottles of perfume on the dresser. Down to every detail.
She closed her eyes, her hand on the frame….
What was happening to her?
“Hey, you okay?” Mulder asked softly, touching her shoulder. Scully opened her eyes and realized Dillard had left the room, was talking about something that happened in the office down the long hallway.
“Yes,” she replied hurriedly, straightening her suit. “Yes. I’ll be right there. Sorry.”
Mulder eyed her for a beat, then nodded and followed Dillard out of the room.
Scully stood there in the bedroom for a long moment, listening.
Just a room. Just a house. She smiled at herself, at her own trepidation. Her own fanciful ideas. There was an explanation for this, she asserted to herself. There had to be.
The doves were cooing on the window sill, a mournful song.
Then a sound. Faint. Like the room itself had taken in a lungful of air. Scully looked around, toward the fireplace. Perhaps wind had come down the flu…
Suddenly Scully’s head snapped back, her body following with it.
Blood poured from her nose as she tumbled against the mirror, ended up on her side as the mirror frame hit the wall with a crash.
She heard footsteps, up the stairs, down the hallway. She blinked past the pain in her face, her hand going to cup the blood from her nose. Mulder was beside her on one knee instantly, his hand on the back of her neck.
“Are you okay?” he asked quickly, wiping at the blood on her lips. “What happened?”
Brian Dillard was in the doorway, Pam Dillard behind Mulder, her hand covering her mouth.
“I’m so sorry,” Pam said softly, and there were tears starting in her eyes.
“Goddamnit, Pam,” Brian Dillard said underneath his breath.
Scully nodded to Mulder. “I’m all right,” she mumbled, though she wondered if her nose were broken. It hurt that much. And her head was light. Swimming.
Mulder’s face was a portrait of anger, concern. He turned and looked back at Pam.
“Could you recommend a motel where we can stay?” he asked, and Scully saw him aim his glare at Brian Dillard. “It looks like we’ll be staying for a while.”
Scully leaned her head back against Mulder’s hand and turned her face toward him, fighting as the world did its best to fade to black.
THE PEACOCK MOTEL ROUTE 13 OUTSIDE CAPE CHARLES, VIRGINIA OCTOBER 25 9:43 a.m.
Two pools of headlights across a swatch of brown grass, a creek running just out of sight but bubbling into the darkness. The sound of footsteps, and dragging over hard earth, both heavy sounds, something passing through the light.
Then the view shifts, a bulb of moon in the night sky and silhouetted against it, a man, dangling by his ankles, his body stark against the brightness behind him. Someone’s panting, breath gauzy clouds in what must be cold air. On the ground again, the view is now something shadowed, then peeking into the light, the ragged trail of a person’s hair, the face lost in blackness. A hand edging into the headlights on the ground, glint of a silver ring and then it, too, is gone.
A beach then, no waves, only the lapping of water against the thin lip of shore. And out in the water, a woman, hair like that in the headlights, water up to her shoulders, which are bare. Behind her, off in the deeper water, a ship, its sails unfurling, many people on the deck.
The woman begins sinking slowly, and her eyes are wide and blank, the eyes of the dead beneath the silver lamplight of the autopsy bay.
The view shifts to the side. A man there. An old man in a wheelchair. He holds his hand out, palm up.
“Come,” he says. “Come with me.”
Scully’s eyes opened as she pulled in a long breath. She blinked against the swelling beneath her eyes, turned her head toward the motel room’s window, saw rain spattering the pane, pulling down the glass in the crack of the heavy bland drapes. She put her hand on her forehead, and beneath it her head throbbed with the slow beating of her heart.
She sat up in the bed slowly, cradling her face in her palm. She could still smell the faint iron of blood in her nose and touched it gingerly. It wasn’t broken, the doctor had pronounced yesterday, and she felt extremely lucky for that fact, though it felt like it was. She knew when she looked in the mirror when she rose that her eyes would be tinged with black.
For the hundredth time she puzzled over what had happened to her the day before, what had struck her with such force. She could come up with nothing to explain it, and it frustrated her.
Despite what she had seen in the nightmare all those nights ago, she did not believe it. A coincidence, and nothing more, the child a figment of her imagination. When any other explanation seeped into her mind, she pushed it away hard.
She sighed, rubbed gently at her eyes, willing the ache in her head, all of it, away.
She was still sitting there in the quiet when there was a soft knock at the door, then the sound of a key being scraped into the lock. Mulder, letting himself in with the extra key they’d gathered at the desk when they’d checked in yesterday afternoon.
The door opened a crack, and the pattering of rain greeted her along with his tentative, concerned face. His black trench was dotted with darker spots and his hair shone slightly in the morning light from the doorway. She saw him fumble the key into his pocket with one hand, a cup of coffee and a bag in the other, then he picked up a second cup from the window sill.
“Hey,” he said, and came all the way in the room. “You’re awake.”
She nodded as he closed the door behind him, and she leaned over slowly and flicked on the cheap lamp on the table beside the bed.
“How you feeling?” he asked, coming forward and settling on the edge of the bed.
“I’m fine,” she said automatically. “Just a little bit of a headache.”
He smiled faintly at her. “And some shiners starting that you’ll be proud of,” he said, handed her a cup of coffee. She took it, the coffee steaming out of the hole in the lid, but she couldn’t smell it very well.
He reached out and pushed a strand of her hair behind her ear gently. “Did you sleep? No bad dreams?”
“No bad dreams,” she said, and she was only partially lying. The dream had disturbed her, but not terrified her like so many of them did. It had a strange quality to it, like a memory more than a dream.
“That’s good,” he said, and looked down into his cup for a long moment.
She waited. He was going to say something he was worried about how she’d take. She could see it in his face.
“You know,” he began finally. “I was thinking…maybe you should let me go back to the house by myself this morning. Let you get some more rest and get rid of that headache.”
“You’re not being overprotective again, are you?” she said, the slight tease dulled by the tired crack in her voice.
“No, I’m being careful,” he replied. “The doctor seemed to think you needed a little time to shake this off, and I’m just agreeing with her. Plus, if this entity has targeted you already, it might be better for you not to go back into the house right away.”
“Don’t tell me you don’t believe there was something there,” he interrupted, looking at her seriously. “Because I’ve got a mirror that says otherwise.”
She heaved out a sigh. “It’s not that,” she began. “Well, it *is* that, yes…”
He shook his head. “Scully, whatever’s in that house went after you specifically. Not me. I think it might be good for you to stay away for the day. I’ll talk to Pam by myself while you rest up a little more.”
She took a sip of her coffee, composing herself. “Fine,” she said. “I won’t go to the house; I’ll go talk to Brian Dillard this afternoon instead. I think it might be better to have them separate while we talk to them. He intimidates her so much about this, and besides, you and he aren’t exactly off to a good start.”
He smiled. “Was it that noticeable?” he asked innocently.
Her lips curled. “Yes, it was,” she replied. “You do sometimes have a…unique…way with people.”
Mulder grew serious. “He’s trying to bury this,” he said. “Pretend like it’s not happening, when all you have to do is take one look at his wife and you can tell something’s going on.”
“Something’s going on, yes.” Scully looked toward the window. “The question is what.”
“No,” Mulder said softly. “The question is why.”
She wasn’t up for arguing with him, not when he was clearly already so certain about what they’d found. The attack on her was his proof, she knew.
It wasn’t for her, though. She wouldn’t let it be. Because to do so would mean having to accept other things, things for which she could, as yet, find no proof.
And perhaps never would.
“I’ll let you rest,” he said in response to her silence, and he rose with his coffee, setting the bag on the nightstand on that side of the bed. “I brought you a bagel and some cream cheese from the grocery store up the road.”
“Thank you,” she said, accepting the careful kiss he leaned down to offer. Just a touch.
“I’ll meet you back here later,” he said. “Call me when you get finished.”
And then he was out the door, closing it gently behind him.
She sat looking at the door for a long moment, listening to the rain. Then, setting her coffee down on the night table beneath the lamp, she lay back down and willed herself toward a light, dreamless sleep.
125 PLUM STREET CAPE CHARLES, VIRGINIA 10:16 a.m.
The ram’s head knocker squeaked on its hinge as Mulder dropped it, sending a hollow rapping into the house. He waited for a long moment then knocked again, stepping to the side to peer in the windows on either side of the door. The porch with its white columns protected him from the rain, which had begun to fall harder. When he breathed out a sigh, he could see his breath in the cool wet air.
There was no one in the house he could see, though Dillard had said she would be home all day. He grew concerned, a gnawing in his chest, that something might have happened to her.
It was this feeling that sent him down the front steps, his speckled blue tie flapping over his shoulder in a sudden gust of wind. There was a small stone path leading around the side of the immense house, and he took it. Old brick greeted him as he followed it around to the gate of a privacy fence.
From inside it, he could hear a low humming over the rain. He pulled the tired gate open and let himself into the yard.
He could see Pam Dillard from where he stood, bent over a potter’s wheel inside a small outbuilding, her long hair up in a ponytail, the same orange and white cat just inside the doorway and out of the way of the weather.
“Mrs. Dillard?” he called, and she looked up from the bowl she was making, startled, her eyes wide as she looked at him. He raised a hand in a friendly, calming gesture, forced a small smile. She put a hand on the center of her chest and breathed out, laughing at herself, then gestured him forward.
“It’s Pam,” she said as Mulder stood in the doorway to the studio. “Good morning, Agent Mulder. Come on in so you don’t get any wetter.”
He complied, stepping over the cat, who did not stir from the ball it had folded itself into, its chin on its sizable tail.
“Good morning, Pam,” Mulder replied, going to the side of the room where a counter reached up to his waist. It went all the way around the walls of the building, a wide space covered with pieces in various stages of completion in what he thought were lovely, muted colors of teal and blue and yellow. He hadn’t seen the building yesterday, the tour of the house cut short by the assault on Scully.
“These are really beautiful,” he said in an admiring tone, reaching down and lifting an elegant, thin-lipped teacup from the counter. It was forest green with cracks in the glaze.
“Thank you,” Pam said, and he looked up at her just in time to see her face go down, a flush rising on her cheeks. She immediately busied herself with the bowl, pressing the pedal down on the wheel to send it spinning again, wetting her hands before she took the edge between her fingers and drew them out from the center, pulling the bowl up and out with them.
He smiled faintly at her reaction. So shy.
“Surely that’s not the first time someone’s complimented you on these,” he said, his voice teasing gently.
“No…it’s not,” she replied quietly, and stole a glance up at him, then returned her gaze to her work. “But it never gets easier for me to hear.”
Mulder set the cup back down in the row it was in, a perfect service for four with a teapot in the center, all the same rich green.
“You should have more confidence in these,” he said. “I mean, I don’t profess to know anything about pottery, but I know what I’ve seen people buy.”
He leaned back against the counter and crossed his arms across his chest, watched her shake her head. It was cold in the studio. There was only a space heater in the room, and that aimed directly at Pam’s feet. A chuckle escaped her, low and clearly self-deprecating.
“What’s funny?” He cocked his head, curious.
She shook her head again. “Nothing. I’m sorry. It’s just that if I had a dollar for every time someone has told me I should have more confidence in something, Brian would never have to work again.”
Mulder nodded, and Pam glanced up at him. He waited a few seconds, thinking. He was in delicate territory and didn’t intend to be, not this soon. But since he was already there…
He shifted on the counter, reached over and ran his finger along the rim of a bowl. It was thin as paper and smooth as varnish. “I guess growing up the way you did would make you doubt yourself,” he ventured, his voice gentle.
“Growing up how?” she said, her voice sounding young, far away. He was encouraged that she hadn’t struck back defensively, closed down. He could, in fact, feel her opening slightly with her soft tone and downcast eyes.
The bowl continued to form in her hands, ridged but smoothing out, a perfect white.
“Why don’t you tell me,” he began quietly, “about your parents and how they reacted to your abilities?”
He waited into the quiet that followed, the low hum of the wheel. The rain seemed to pick up, or perhaps it was just the wind. A few wet leaves fell into the doorway. He watched the cat open its eyes at the sound and close them again.
“It was mostly just my mother and me,” she said. “My father was a engineer. You know, a real one. For trains. He was away a lot.”
Mulder nodded. “Where was home?”
“Surry. Off the James River here in Virginia.”
Mulder placed it in his mind. “That’s pretty rural, isn’t it?” he asked.
“Yes,” Pam replied. “It was a farm. Soybeans. Some horses and milk cows.”
Mulder smiled again. “Sounds like a nice place for a little girl.”
She nodded. “It was nice,” she said faintly, hiding a curl in her lips at what he supposed she must have taken as a compliment. Then she glanced at him again, the color high on her cheeks again.
“That article I read on you,” she began, and trailed off.
“What about it?” he asked patiently, wondering at the change of subject, considering she’d seemed so pleased with his response to it.
She shook her head. “Nothing…it’s nothing,” she replied, and he saw her swallow. “I just…you’re like I thought you would be, that’s all.”
That same shy tone. Getting more so.
He paused hearing it, recognizing its source now, wondering why he hadn’t sooner.
Attraction. Or something close kin to it.
Feeling guilty, he removed his hand from the bowl, returned to crossing his arms over his chest.
“That’s good,” he said, and then cleared his throat. “Tell me…your mother. She didn’t deal well with the things that happened to you, did she?”
Pam hesitated, wet her hands again. “No, she didn’t,” she said after a beat. “It’s all been a great source of shame for most of my life. Of course, how would you feel if you had a daughter who had a hard time playing outside? Who carried around these all the time for everyone to see?”
She held her arms out then, fists side by side, her palms toward the ceiling, her forearms bare from where the sleeves of her sweatshirt were pushed up. He looked closely at them, saw the marks. A criss- cross of faint scars torn into her arms.
“Where did those come from?” he asked, and she met his eyes as she spoke the single word in response.
It was his turn to swallow.
“Did it happen all the time, Pam?” he asked. The wind pushed against the walls, creaking them.
She put her arms down, picked up a tiny sponge from a bowl on the stool beside her, a natural sponge from the sea the size of a silver dollar. She squeezed it out, began drawing it up from the center of the bowl toward the edges, smoothing the surface of ridges as she went, but faintly roughening it. Mulder watched her work, waited again, not pressing. Being careful.
She looked up at him then as she lifted the sponge away, wet it, squeezed it out. There was something in her eyes for an instant. A need. A plea. Mulder felt it like a hand touching him.
Help me, it said. *You* help me.
She turned her eyes down, breathed out a long breath. Her face set, hardening.
“Not all the time,” she said, and something had shifted in her voice now. She pushed him back with it.
Beside her, a wire coiled by the bowl, a thick wire between two wooden pegs. She picked it up by the pegs — Mulder recognized them as little handles now — and she spread the wire in front of her, her foot coming off the pedal. Leaning a knee against the wheel to halt it, she moved forward, put the wire at the base of the bowl.
She drew it toward her, neatly severing the bowl from the wheel, the bottom perfect and flat.
“Do you want some coffee, Agent Mulder?” she said, not looking at him, and pushed herself to her feet, the bowl held on her palm. She moved to the counter behind her to a collection of unfired work, all covered with plastic. She lifted the tucked covering, set the bowl down, retucked it.
He didn’t know what to say. He was trying to figure out where he’d misstepped, or if he had at all.
When she turned to him, she could only glance at his face before her hands knotted nervously in front of her.
“I’ll make some coffee,” she said, and hurried past him.
He could do nothing but follow her toward the dark shape of the house, which shone with the now-misting rain.
FBI HEADQUARTERS WASHINGTON, D.C. 12:36 p.m.
The cars pushed themselves along the streets below Granger as he watched from the window on the third floor of the Hoover Building, the veggie burger and extra large order of fries he’d fetched from the Hard Rock Cafe around the corner all but forgotten on the desk behind him.
He could hear people passing in the hallway, though he had closed the door when he’d come back in. He’d spent the whole morning glancing up as people passed and seeing most of their eyes on him, though they’d looked away hurriedly as he met their gazes.
He was starting to understand what Mulder must feel like at the FBI. He was getting a little taste of that kind of attention, and he asked himself, for the hundredth time that morning, how Mulder dealt with this all the time.
Even Boland, his supervisor in Violent Crimes, was giving him a wide berth since his announcement at the press conference. His challenge to the killer that it was between him and Granger now. Since Granger had made it personal.
Sighing, he reached up and took off his glasses and began cleaning them on his tie. His mind drifted to Robin, how quiet she’d been as they’d cooked dinner the night before, her back to him at the stove as he’d set the table.
“Talk to me,” he implored finally, standing beside the cherry table, his hands on his jeans-clad hips. She hadn’t turned as she’d replied.
“What do you want me to say, Paul?” Her voice was still soft and rich, but tinged with tiredness and something else. He barely recognized it as anger — he hadn’t seen that from her yet. Not like this.
“I don’t know,” he’d pressed, reaching for the bottle of wine she’d set on the counter top. “Just say something. Anything. I’ve been getting this from almost everyone today and I can’t take it from you, too.”
She tapped the wooden spoon on the edge of the pot a little too hard, set it across the width of the pot. Then she did turn to him.
“People are treating you this way because what you did today was reckless,” she said, her chocolate eyes almost black in the dim light of the stove light. His whole apartment was dimly lit, one lamp on in the living room, candles on the table. It was as though he were hiding in the darkness, even from her.
“I know what you’re going to say,” she said, holding up her hand to halt him. “You thought it was a necessary risk to take.”
“Yes,” he’d replied, pleased she understood at least that. He reached for the corkscrew, cut the foil top from the bottle of red.
She leaned back against the counter, pushed up the sleeves of the sweater she wore as though she were preparing for a fight. He was almost relieved when she crossed her arms over her chest.
He sunk the corkscrew into the soft cork, turned it, the bottle squeaking in protest, then jerked it with a “pop,” the sound satisfying to his frustration.
“Paul, how do you expect me to react when you willingly put yourself in danger like this?” she said, and there was something pleading in her eyes, her voice, now. “What am I supposed to do? Be glad that you’re willing to do that for the sake of a case? Be glad that you’ll pick solving a *case* over yourself?”
“This is important, Robin,” he’d rushed to reply, his jaw setting. “You don’t understand how important it is–“
“I know it’s important,” she replied, her eyes glinting with anger. “I do work at the FBI, in case you’d forgotten. I may just work in DNA Testing, but I know a few things.”
He relented, cringed. He set the bottle and the opener down on the table.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for it to sound like that.”
“I know you want to impress everyone on the VCU,” she said, waving her hand at him, her voice rising. “Paul Granger the wunderkind from the CIA–“
“Now wait just a minute,” he’d interrupted, his hands going to his hips again. It was his turn to be angry now. “I’m trying to catch a person who’s killing innocent people and you make this sound like some kind of notch I’m trying to put in my bedpost. Is that what you think, really?”
She’d heaved out a breath then, looked down. “No, I don’t think that’s really the reason. I know your first thoughts are for saving people’s lives. But you’re lying to yourself and to me if you say that’s not part of it.”
He’d started to protest, but then he couldn’t bring his voice to do it. He knew, if he was truly honest with himself, that it was part of it. This was his first case as Chief Profiler. He wanted to solve it. Fast. Clean. With as few crime scenes as possible to use as evidence. To preserve lives, yes, but…
God, he’d thought, watching her pull her long braids into a ponytail at the base of her neck, tying one braid around the base of it to hold her hair back from her face.
Was he really that desperate to prove himself?
She nodded at his silence, looking up at him with sad eyes. “Yes,” she said softly, finishing the knot. “We’re on the same page now, I see.”
He shook his head, and it was his turn to look down. “I’m sorry,” he said.
She’d come forward then, stood in front of him. Then she reached down and took his hands from his hips, holding them in front of her. He’d met her gaze again, though he found it hard to do.
“You don’t have to say you’re sorry to me,” she said. “I just want you to be clear about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. I don’t want you to do something for the wrong reasons. I don’t want you in harm’s way at all, but especially not for a reason that you’ll come to regret.”
He nodded. “I still think I did the right thing,” he said. “Even if some of the reasoning may have been off.”
She nodded in return, let go of his hands, curled her arms around his neck. “I know you do. I trust that you believe that. And I’ll believe that you did the right thing, too. But none of that stops it from scaring me.”
“I know it scares you.” He put his arms around her waist, pulled her against him, struck with how lovely she looked in the candlelight. “I know. But it’s all right. It’s going to be all right.”
She looked at him and he could see her trying to push it away. He didn’t know what else to say to make her believe.
So what he couldn’t say, he showed her, and dinner went cold.
There in the office, he replaced his glasses, sunlight glinting in the window.
There was a knock at the door, and he turned toward it.
“Come,” he called, and the door opened. Walter Skinner stood there, a file in his hand. Granger didn’t like the expression in his face at all.
“What is it, sir?” Granger asked, going behind his desk again. Skinner came forward to the other side.
“I thought you should see this right away,” he said, and proffered the file. “This just came by courier from West Virginia.”
Granger looked at the file, then at Skinner’s grim face.
“Another murder.” Granger said it as a statement.
Skinner nodded. “And there’s something else,” he said quietly, nodded toward the file.
Granger’s gaze hung on his face for a few more seconds as he wondered what could have rattled his superior, made him this concerned. Finally he looked down at the folder, opened it.
Crime scene photos, as he’d expected. One of a woman, sprawled on the grass, her hands covering her breasts in a grotesque erotic pose. A far-away shot of the crime scene, a man hanging from a tree, his arms stretched down toward the woman below him. Then a close up of the man, a telephoto lens.
Naked, as before. But something different, yes. Granger swallowed.
The man’s face was painted black.
RANDOLPH AVENUE CAPE CHARLES, VIRGINIA 3:35 p.m.
“…And this one here, well, I’ll admit to you now that it don’t look like much, but I betcha if you was to put eighty to a hundred thousand into it, you could turn it around for four or five times what you paid for it once the golf course opens up…”
Scully sighed. “Yes, I’m sure it would be lovely, Mr. Sanderson,” she said patiently. “But you don’t seem to understand. I’m not here to buy real estate. I just need you to take me to the hardware store.”
They were headed west down the street in the battered old checkered cab, the open expanse of the Chesapeake just beyond the gazebo at the edge of the dunes. Scully looked at the house in question, a sign out front for “Pelican Watch Realty.” There was one in front of every house the driver had taken her by.
She looked at Sanderson’s reflection in the rear view mirror, his eye on her.
“So how long have you owned Pelican Watch Realty, Mr. Sanderson?” she asked blithely.
“Now how did you know that?” he asked, and his smile was a bit embarrassed now .
Scully leaned back in the seat, her head throbbing. “Just a wild guess,” she replied, the headache making her slightly peevish. “I called for a cab ride, sir. That’s all I wanted. And I think you’ve taken me far out of my way already.”
“The cab is the other business,” Sanderson replied smoothly. “Though I don’t get much call for that around here. Most folks walk from where they’re coming from or drive in themselves.”
It was true, she knew. There had been one listing for taxi service in Cape Charles, and the phone, when it had been picked up, was at Sanderson’s own house.
She looked around the cab, an old fashioned New York checkered with no meter, the back seat bouncy as her grandmother’s bed. Sanderson, in his mid-fifties with a long beard and a fisherman’s cap on what she was sure was a bald head, hummed along with the bluegrass on the scratchy-sounding radio.
They rounded the curve onto the long road that fronted the beach, getting further from where she knew the heart of town was. “I thank you for the ‘tour,’ Mr. Sanderson, but I really –“
“Oh don’t you worry, ma’am, there’s no charge for the look around. It’s a flat buck from anywhere to anywhere in the Cape.” She saw him smile again.
Scully held her frustration barely in check. “That’s not the point,” she began.
“You going to talk to that Brian Dillard,” Sanderson said, and that stopped her.
“I have business with Mr. Dillard, yes,” she said cryptically.
“Something about his wife, I reckon,” Sanderson continued, glancing back again in the mirror with his hazel eyes.
Scully returned his gaze. “I’m not sure that’s your concern, Mr. Sanderson,” she said.
“Strange things happen around his wife,” he ventured, looking out the window. He flicked on the wipers as the rain, which had been falling off and on all morning, kicked up again.
“Strange things?” she repeated, pretending nonchalance.
“Yep,” Sanderson said. “Not so much here, but I’ve got some friends up in Accomac who knew them up that ways, Mr. and Mrs. Dillard, and he told me a thing or two.”
Scully waited, knowing he would continue without her prompting. He did.
“You know one morning every single window in their house was broke? Just like that. One minute fine and then the next, not a pane of glass left. And I’m sure you know about the birds. Sometimes other animals, too. Word has it that her neighbor’s horses wouldn’t go nowhere around the fence on the side of the property near their house. Spooked ’em.”
He took a turn onto Tazewell, heading back toward the center of town.
“And she would turn up now and again all banged up. People thought it was him for the longest time, but it weren’t. Things finally got so bad they picked up and moved down here, him moving his hardware store down onto Mason.”
“The one I’m trying to get to,” Scully added, but she said it with only a hint of annoyance.
Sanderson smiled that same easy smile. “The very one,” he said. They turned onto Mason. “Mrs. Dillard makes them pots and cups and such. A little too arty for me, but the misses likes them. I just like a *dish* myself.” He held up a Redskin’s travel mug for emphasis, took a sip. He was silent for a beat.
“What do people think of the Dillards here, Mr. Sanderson?” Scully asked into the quiet.
“When they do at all?” Sanderson replied, glancing over his shoulder. “Well…the Dillards, they ain’t God-fearing people, and most people here are. Taking that into account, people ain’t surprised that things might get to following those two around, if you take my drift.”
Scully looked out the window into the rain, filing this away with everything else Sanderson had said.
Finally the sign for Dillard’s Hardware appeared, a large store right there on the main street. Sanderson pulled the cab up to the curb, stopped.
“There you go,” he said cheerfully, throwing the car into park. “That’s a dollar.”
Scully looted around in her purse, brought out three crisp one dollar bills. “Thank you, Mr. Sanderson,” she said. “Despite the fact that I didn’t want it, the drive was nice.” Now she did smile faintly at him as he turned to look at her.
“You just see to that face of yours, ma’am,” he said, nodding towards her eyes, which she’d almost forgotten were slightly black. She touched them self-consciously as she climbed out of the cab.
“And if you think about any of them houses we looked at,” Sanderson called, “if you and that feller you’re with change your minds, you’ve got my number.” And he winked.
Scully smiled again. “I’ll do that,” she said, and closed the door. The cab pulled away into the pouring rain.
The sidewalk outside the store was lined with wheelbarrows, rakes, bags of mulch piled five-high beneath the shop windows, all beneath a dripping green awning. There was also a row of ten or so bicycles, all different colors and dotted with rain, a sign on the nearest one that said: “For Rent, Day or Hour.”
An old-fashioned bell jingled as Scully entered the store, the place smelling faintly of sawdust and fertilizer. It was a fairly large store, but it looked smaller because it was so filled with things, the aisle she went down toward the desk in the center lined on one side with drawers of nails, hammers hanging by their necks, plungers, wrenches, all crowded in a cluster of wood and metal.
On her left, the store opened up to a full selection of fishing tackle and hunting supplies, including a wall of shotguns and deer rifles. A rack of camoflauge coveralls was closest to the counter, which was edged on one side with a clear case that contained a small selection of handguns.
Brian Dillard, dressed in rust-colored cords and white dress shirt, was helping a customer, his back turned toward her. When he finished the sale and turned to her, he nearly jumped with surprise, his eyes widening.
“Agent Scully,” he said, glancing around to see if anyone else was nearby. The closest people were two aisles away, fingering through a drawer of washers.
“Hello, Mr. Dillard,” Scully said softly, in deference to his anxiety over being overheard.
“I’m sorry, but…what are you doing here?” It didn’t come out too unkindly, which surprised her, considering his reaction.
“I thought we might have a chance to talk,” Scully replied. “Is there somewhere where we could go for a few moments?”
Dillard looked around again, nodded toward the far wall. “My office is back that way,” he said hurriedly, and looked around, catching a man’s eye who was helping a woman several rows to the right with paint swatches.
“Pete, can you cover up here for me?” he called.
“Sure thing,” the man replied, looking at Scully pointedly, then back at Dillard.
Noting this, Dillard came around the counter now, ushering Scully forward. He followed her down the aisle toward a door that said “Private” on it. He pushed the door opened and Scully entered the small office with him close behind. He shut the door, and did not offer to take her coat.
“Won’t you sit down?” he said, and she could hear a tautness in his voice. He was a far cry from the man she’d seen at the house the day before. He seemed terribly on edge, not the haughty man he’d been with his wife the day before.
“I’m sorry if I’ve made you uncomfortable, Mr. Dillard,” she said, stripping out of her wet trench. Her black turtleneck was damp from the misty air she’d stood in while waiting for the cab at the motel.
“It’s fine,” he said, his tone indicating it was anything but. He went behind his desk, putting the large wooden hulk of it between them. “It’s just…well, people talk here. About everything. And a woman coming in to talk to me with two black eyes is just the kind of thing that will get around, and in the worst possible way.”
“I could show my badge next time if you think that would help keep the talk down,” she replied mildly, and sat in the chair across from him, also without being asked.
His smile was stiff, but then she imagined most of his were. “No,” he said, and sat down himself. “Somehow I don’t think that would help.” He picked up a pen from on top of the battered blotter on the desk, pushed at a paperclip there as he glanced up at her. “How are you feeling, anyway? Are you all right?”
Scully nodded. “Yes,” she said formally. “I’m fine.”
“I’m sorry that happened to you,” he said. “I know I wasn’t exactly friendly yesterday about it, but I am sorry about your face.”
“No, you weren’t exactly friendly yesterday,” Scully replied. “You were quite hard on your wife, in fact, for calling Agent Mulder and me in on this case. And you seemed to blame her for what happened to me, as well.”
Now Dillard looked down, his dark brow furrowing. “I don’t mean to come across that way. I love my wife, Agent Scully. Very much.”
The disclosure, said so openly, raised her own brows. “I see. But you *do* blame her for the things that are happening to the two of you.”
He said nothing, but rather kept pushing the paperclip around the blotter, his eyes down.
“How long have these things been going on, Mr. Dillard?” she asked, trying a different tact.
“They’re nothing,” he said quietly. “There’s nothing to any of this. You’re wasting your time.”
Scully looked at him with sympathy. “I know how much you want to believe that. But I’m afraid there’s already evidence against what you’re saying.”
“How can you even be here?” he blurted, tossing the pen down. “I mean, the *FBI*? Why aren’t you people investigating legitimate cases or something?”
Scully drew in a breath, refusing to take the bait. “For the X-Files Division, what’s happening to you and your wife *is* a legitimate case. Agent Mulder and I investigate unexplained phenomena, and that is clearly what is going on here.”
“It’s just a bunch of coincidences,” he said. “That’s all it is.”
“Mr. Dillard, I am as dubious of these phenomena as you are,” she said. “And you may be right. These may just be a strange series of totally explainable, random events. And if that’s the case, Agent Mulder and I will be on our way and you can go back to your life.”
“That’s all I want,” Dillard replied firmly, fingering the pen again.
“Really, Mr. Dillard?” Scully said, leaning forward slightly. “Let’s look at that life. How many times do you want to have to move? How much destruction can you and your wife continue to handle? How many more people around you need to be hurt because of whatever this is that’s following you?”
When he said nothing, she tilted her head, studying him. “Don’t you even want to know what these things are and why they’re happening?”
He looked at her. “No, I don’t,” he said. “I don’t care. I just want them to stop. I want all of this to stop. I just want my wife and my home and my work.”
Scully leaned back. “Well, then perhaps you could look at Agent Mulder and my involvement as a way for you to get those things back, instead of seeing us as a something that’s going to take those things away from you. We’re here for answers. We’re here to help you solve this.”
Dillard looked at her, and she could see something like hope glimmer in his eyes for an instant, there beneath his anger at his lack of control, his defensiveness.
He looked at her for a long moment. She nodded to him, reassuring him with her eyes.
“All right,” he said, sighing. “Tell me what you want.”
STINGRAY’S RESTAURANT OUTSIDE CAPE CHARLES, VIRGINIA 6:32 p.m.
Scully sat at the mismatched table in the dining area of the restaurant, Mulder off behind her at the counter, waiting for their food. It was a fairly shabby place, part travel store and part Exxon station, but the motel manager had told them it served the best seafood on the Eastern Shore.
It should, she thought, for $18 a plate.
She looked up at the wall beside her, glancing at the yellowed newspaper clippings of the restaurant’s opening in the 1950s, the cheap paintings of lighthouses, a collection of sailor’s knots set behind a glass. And in the center of the wall, a taxidermist’s stingray with a wingspan of five feet, its surface marred with age, its long tail whipped out against the wall. It gleamed like plastic in the flourescent lights.
She was in her jeans now, a brown turtleneck sweater, and she blended in well with the crowd in the restaurant. As the manager had warned them, the place was packed, a long line curling from the counter out into the main area of the store that sold nautical trinkets and t-shirts. Scully had spotted the table as they were standing there, Mulder shifting on his feet impatiently.
“Go ahead and sit down,” he’d said, touching the small of her back and urging her toward it. “I know your head has to still be hurting.”
“Crab Imperial,” she’d said, and taken the seat at the small table, which was covered with a plastic red-checkered table cloth.
She looked back, saw Mulder leaned against the counter, his arms splayed wide, talking amiably to one of the people working there. Then her eyes wandered over the crowd eating around them again. Mostly locals, from the looks of them. A lot of baseball caps and a lot of denim. Cigarette smoke hung in the air, and she was reminded once again that they were visiting a tobacco-producing state.
Across the aisle, she caught sight of two men mumbling to one another and looking at her. One was wiry, a thin moustache, a denim jacket. The other was an older man with a few day’s stubble, chewing on a pipe. He had a baseball cap on with an American flag on the front of it, suspenders stretched wide over his gut, which was encased in blue checked flannel.
“Can I help you?” she asked, her eyebrow arching. It made the bridge of her nose ache to do it.
The heavier man pointed a sausage finger at Mulder. “He do that to your face?” the man grunted, and he sounded angry already.
Scully forced a smile now, relaxing a touch. “No, no,” she said. “He didn’t. Just an accident.”
“It’s a good damn thing,” the thin man said in his nasally voice, then picked up a coffee mug and took a sip.
“Because I had a rubber hose with his name on it out in the trunk,” the man with the pipe replied. “Pretty little thing like you…” He trailed off.
Ah, the South, Scully thought, feeling her cheeks redden slightly. Where chivalry, vigilantism and sexism weren’t dead.
Thank God Mulder had his gun tucked beneath the back of his leather jacket, she thought, and turned away from the men just as Mulder came forward with the tray piled with food.
“Here we go,” he said, taking the chair opposite her and settling in.
He began moving the plates off the tray, setting the worn heavy dishes in front of them both. Scully was amazed at the sheer amount of food. The Crab Imperial overflowed from the shell, a baked potato dripping with golden butter, two side dishes of green beans and corn. Mulder had gotten a huge filet of flounder nearly the size of the plate, deep fried, surrounded by not one but two pieces of corn on the cob and a bowl of applesauce. Two tall glasses of iced tea with thick wedges of lemon in them completed the meal.
“Wow,” she said, wondering if she were up for the task of eating all this.
“Yeah, I know,” Mulder replied, unrolling his silverware from the paper napkin. “Looks good, though, doesn’t it?”
“It does,” she agreed. “But I may not have to eat the rest of the time we’re here.”
“Are you kidding?” Mulder said. “Wait until you hear about their breakfast.”
He looked to his left, where the two men were still staring at him, as though they weren’t convinced by what Scully had said.
“Hi,” he said, smiled broadly, then returned his attention to his meal.
Scully watched the two men get up and leave, and stifled a smile as she began to eat.
“Tell me what you found out from Brian Dillard today,” Mulder said, cutting into his fish. “Did you get anything out of him at all?”
They hadn’t had much chance to talk. The pills she took for her headache knocked her out, and she’d been napping most of the day. Mulder had taken the opportunity to scout around the area some, having finished with Pam Dillard around one while Scully was still asleep from her morning rest.
“I got a few things out of him,” Scully replied. “He told me about how he and Pam met, that sort of thing.”
“When did they meet?”
“They met in Richmond, apparently. They were both in college there — she was studying Fine Arts and he was in English. They met their junior years and started dating, then got married after graduation and moved to Chincoteague. They’re both from pretty rural areas — he’s from up in the mountains around Blacksburg — so they wanted to get away from the city as fast as they could.”
Mulder took a bite of his corn on the cob, and Scully smiled as she looked at him. You really had to be in love with someone to be able to enjoy watching them eat corn on the cob, she thought, then continued.
“He always wanted to have his own store, so he started in the family business. His father owned a hardware store in Blacksburg and he just started another. He’s managed to open a store everywhere they’ve moved, which has been often from the sounds of things. There’s family money on his side, I gathered, though he made it sound like not quite as much as there used to be. I take it the constant moving has really taken a bite out of what they have.”
“Yeah, that’s the impression I got, too,” Mulder said, and wiped his mouth.
“They leave when they get too much of a reputation to stay,” Scully said softly. ‘”He gets to the point that people won’t come into his store, so they pick up and go.”
Mulder nodded. “What did he say about the strange things that have happened to them?”
Scully took a bite of her food before she continued. “They’ve always happened to some extent. He’s never been able to find a pattern to them that he can see. He tries to chalk a lot of it up to coincidence, strange chance. But I think he’s even getting to the point where he can’t explain it away. It’s gotten progressively more destructive over the years. It’s only been the past year or so that they’ve been injured themselves. Before it was much more innocuous. Things being moved or missing. And, of course, the problems with animals.”
She told him what the cabbie had said about the windows in the house in Accomac. Mulder simply nodded, not seeming surprised.
“Small town,” he marveled. “When the cab driver can tell a total stranger everyone’s business.” He paused, considering. “It’s a wonder Dillard’s stayed with her, considering his reaction yesterday.”
“He loves her a lot,” Scully replied, looking at him seriously. “I just get the impression that he’s tried to ignore all this for all these years, found ways to deal with it *because* he loves her so much. I think he just wants a normal life so much, and these things have gotten so out of control and are threatening that so directly now, that it’s making him panic, and that’s coming out as this anger we saw yesterday.”
“Yes, she is desperately trying to carry on a ‘typical’ life despite it, too,” Mulder said. “She’s deeply ashamed of all of this, blames herself for all of it.”
“Well, it *does* center around her,” Scully said, picking at her corn. “At least that’s what Dillard told me.”
Mulder looked down at his plate. “Some of it does, yes. I mean, yes, I think she’s the center of it. But the escalation….something’s causing that. Something that may not be all her.”
“What do you think it is?” Scully asked. She recognized the far-away look on his face, his face when he was thinking, pulling out things and comparing them and putting them away again.
He shook his head, took a bite of his applesauce. “I don’t know,” he said as he swallowed. “But something has changed. Something’s happened that’s caused what we’re seeing now. We just have to figure out what that change is.”
“I don’t think Dillard knows,” Scully said. “He seems genuinely bewildered by this whole thing.”
“I don’t think either one of them knows,” Mulder said. “Before she shut me out today, I got the impression that Pam doesn’t have the slightest idea why these things happen to her, and that she has no control over them. My first thought in all this was some sort of psychokinetic projection. But I don’t think that’s what we’ve got here at all now.”
“So we’re looking at a haunting of some kind.” She said it seriously, definitively, as she took another bite of her food, not looking at him. She had pledged, months ago, to try to be more open to his beliefs. But it was still hard for her. After all, she wasn’t 100% sure that Pam Dillard wasn’t doing these things herself.
Only the strange attack on her herself made her entertain thoughts to the contrary.
“I’m not so sure,” Mulder replied after a beat. “But I love it that you think so.”
He was grinning as she looked up. She smiled back, and found a laugh fluttering in her chest.
“You’re so easy to please,” she teased.
“You have no idea,” he replied, and waggled his eyebrows at her. She laughed again.
“Hey,” he said conspiratorily, reaching his foot out beneath the table and touching hers.
“Mulder…” she said softly.
“What?” he replied, all innocence. “I was just going to say that I bet there’s a movie on tonight we could watch before I get banished down to my room because of Rosen’s ‘not-in-the-field’ rule.”
“That was *our* rule before it was Rosen’s. No one to blame but ourselves at this point.” She smiled at him.
“Don’t remind me,” he said, finishing up the piece of flounder. She’d eaten all that she could of her own dinner, as well, and put down her fork, took a long drink of her tea.
“Where do we go from here?” she said. “With the Dillard’s, I mean.”
He leaned back. “I’m not sure,” he said, his leather jacket creaking. “I think there’s more to find out from both of them, especially from her. And I think whatever this is, this thing that’s following them…I think it’s just getting started.”
Scully sighed. “I hope you’re wrong,” she said. “For both of their sakes.”
“I do, too,” he replied. “But I’m not.”
She reached up and rubbed gently at her eyes again, closing them.
“Come on,” he said gently, tossing his napkin onto his plate. “You’re looking tired again. Let’s get back to the motel and make it an early night.”
She nodded, the space behind her eyes aching. “All right,” she said softly, and rose with him, following him out through the crowded restaurant and into the night.
125 PLUM STREET CAPE CHARLES, VIRGINIA OCTOBER 26 2:16 a.m.
Pam sat up in her bed, the covers pulled up to her chest, which was bare from her and Brian’s lovemaking hours before. She looked down at him instinctively, saw him laying askew on the bed, his arms thrown over his head and the moonlight cutting slits into his body through the blinds.
Perhaps she had imagined it, whatever the faint noise had been. But then something had awoken her. She’d been sleeping soundly. No dreams. Just a heavy sleep and then…something. Something pulling her out of it.
She sat there, utterly still, barely breathing, listening to the house.
Celie lay curled at the foot of the bed, and she raised her head, her eyes going red in the moonlight, like tiny spotlights. She blinked at Pam, then looked toward the doorway.
Silence. Not even wind.
Then she heard it. Coming from the backyard. A muffled sound of something breaking.
Her pottery. God, her pottery.
“Brian!” she called, shaking him suddenly. He bolted upright in the bed, instantly awake.
“What? What is it?” he said. It came out as all one word.
Another sound of something shattering in the backyard.
“Someone’s in the shed!” Pam exclaimed. “My work…not my work…”
Brian threw his bare legs over the side of the bed, reached onto the floor for his sweatpants, which lay crumpled there. He pulled them on, standing in a hurry. Another crash. Pam began to scramble for her clothes, but Brian put a hand out.
“No,” he snapped. “Stay here.”
He reached into the drawer on the nighttable, pulled out a Ruger 9mm bought from the shop, pulled back the hammer and flicked the safety off.
“Brian, be careful,” she whispered, her breathing coming fast as he slid on his shoes and headed out of the bedroom, going quietly down the stairs.
Celie watched him go, tensed, looked back at Pam, who sat stone- still, clutching the blanket against her breasts, her chest rising and falling. Another shatter. She jumped as though the blow had struck her. She heard the back door open and the screen door creak shut as Brian headed into the backyard.
The only sound for a long moment, her breathing.
Then Celie moved, crouching closer to the blankets, her eyes on the doorway. Pam could see her hair prickle up around her neck.
A door opening. Upstairs. The attic door.
“Brian…” she whispered. She’d meant to scream it, but there was no voice in her to come out. “B…”
Celie growled, backed up a step. She hissed, another growl rising from her.
A laugh. A child’s laugh, the coo of an infant, but too loud. Impossibly loud. She didn’t know how Brian couldn’t have heard it. How anyone couldn’t have.
A patter of footsteps on the ceiling above her, fast. The laugh again. This time an older child, a single word at the end of it.
“Brian…” Pam whispered again. She was shaking all over. Footsteps on the stairs and the laughter again, footsteps coming down. She looked around frantically, saw the phone.
Agent Mulder. He’d left his card. It was creased beneath her keys next to the phone, fresh from her jeans pocket. She leaned over and picked up the phone, fumbled the card and shakily began to dial.
Celie’s growl grew louder as the attic door creaked open wider. Bare feet on the floor, the sound of running footsteps down the hall.
Then he was there. The boy. Naked in the doorway, his hand on the frame, as though he meant to enter the room, but the doorway stopped him. He opened his mouth and a sound came out. A hissing laugh.
“Mulder…” Pam heard from beside her ear. The phone was slumped against her shoulder, her hand having lost the ability to hold it up against her head. Her eyes were locked with the boy’s. His pupils seemed to glow like moonlight.
“Hello?” the voice came again. She barely registered it.
“Brian,” she choked out as tears flooded her eyes. “Please…”
“Pam?” Mulder’s voice came to her again. “Pam, what’s wrong?”
The boy opened his mouth again and another laugh came. Now it was the sound of a grown man, a throaty, belly laugh. He threw his head back and let it roll from him, the sound like someone laughing through a pool of oil, loud, echoing off the walls.
“What the hell was that? Pam, talk to me!”
Celie bolted from the bed with a high cry, disappeared beneath it.
One hand on either side of the door frame, and the boy stepped into the moonlight, his body vaguely blue, shot with veins. He made a choking sound, his mouth opening wider.
She looked at his mouth and saw something moving inside it, reaching around his lips.
Legs. Thousands of legs. Then the bodies began to spill out, going over the creamy blue chest, falling onto the floor with taps like raindrops.
Spiders. Thousands of them. Flooding the floor like water, moving toward the bed.
Pam whimpered, frozen in place. “No…” she breathed.
“We’re coming! Just hang on!”
Pam dropped the phone, the spiders making their way up the bedpost and onto the white spread, overtaking her legs, moving up towards her arms and chest.
She found her voice at last. She screamed. And she didn’t stop.
Mulder tried to ignore the sound of the broom that the Sheriff’s Deputy was running across the floor upstairs, the sound of shoes stomping every now and again. He tried to ignore the image of the bedroom in his mind, the one of the entire rug and bed moving, bodies over bodies and Pam in the middle of it all, standing at the head of the bed with the sheet pulled around her, her back pressed against the wall, sobbing.
Instead, he concentrated on Scully, who was examining Pam at the kitchen table, where Pam sat like a puppet whose strings had been cut, still except for the trembling. Brian stood beside her, one hand on her shoulder. Every time he heard a foot come down upstairs, he looked up at the ceiling. He would not look at Mulder.
Pam had yet to say a word.
“She’s in mild shock,” Scully pronounced, her hand on Pam’s forehead, which Mulder could see was pale and clammy with sweat.
“Will she be okay?” Brian asked.
Scully looked up at him, then back at Pam. “She will be. You might want to get her a blanket and some other clothes. This robe –” She indicated the satiny dark blue robe Pam wore, ” isn’t doing much to keep her warm.”
“All right,” Brian said, and gave Pam’s shoulder a slight squeeze. “I’ll be right back,” he murmured, then he disappeared through the door to the foyer.
Mulder watched Scully lean into Pam’s line of vision where Pam was staring at the floor, unblinking. “Pam, do you want something warm to drink?”
Pam said nothing, just kept staring at the same spot on the floor.
“Pam?” Scully asked again softly, gripping the other woman’s forearm lightly. Finally, she turned to Mulder.
Mulder nodded, understanding, and came forward from where he’d been leaning against the kitchen counter. Scully moved out of the way to give him room in front of Pam.
He went down on one knee. looked up into her face. “Pam,” he said softly.
It took a few seconds, but her eyes finally shifted, moving from the floor to his face.
“Agent Mulder,” she whispered. She said it as though his name were a revelation of some kind.
Mulder nodded. “How about some tea?” he asked.
Pam paused, and fresh tears began in her eyes, trailing silent down her cheeks. Then she reached out, put a hand on Mulder’s shoulder as though she meant to steady herself.
Mulder looked down at her hand, then back into her face. Behind him, he could hear Scully going for the kettle on the stove, filling it with water at the sink. Pam’s hand trembled against the leather of his jacket, creaking it.
“Tea,” she said faintly.
“Yes,” Mulder said. “Where do you keep it? We’ll get it for you.”
Pam nodded toward the cabinet above the stove. “It’s…up there. There’s only one kind…Darjeeling…I’m sorry…”
Scully and Mulder exchanged a glance at Pam’s confusion that the tea was for them.
“Whatever you have will be fine,” Mulder soothed, and Scully went for the lavender box.
“What did you see, Pam?” he asked, his voice just above a whisper.
Pam’s eyes darted to an evidence vial that lay on the table, the body of one of the spiders in it. Then she looked back at his face, her head tilting to the side and her lips trembling. “Spiders,” she said in the same volume as his.
Mulder nodded. “Yes,” he said. “I saw them, too. Lots of spiders. But where did they come from?”
Scully had grown still behind him, having gotten a mug out of the cabinet on the other side of the sink. Pam was glancing at her now, then back at Mulder’s face, as though she were afraid of saying something in front of Scully.
“It’s okay, Pam,” Mulder murmured.
Pam’s eyes fell, her hand coming off Mulder’s shoulder and knotting with the other one in her lap.
“It was the boy again,” she said softly, and her voice shook.
“The boy brought the spiders?” Mulder asked.
Pam nodded. “They came…out of his mouth…he was laughing…and then they came out of his mouth. All over the floor. You heard the laugh…didn’t you?”
Mulder nodded. “Yes,” he said, somber. “I heard a laugh.”
Brian returned and Mulder saw her stiffen, glancing up at her husband as he lay a sweatshirt and a pair of sweatpants on the table next to her. He also had an plaid throw with him, which he draped gently over her shoulders.
The kettle sputtered and then began to scream. Scully reached for it quickly, shutting off the burner behind him. Mulder could hear her pouring.
“I’m just…” Pam began, reaching for the clothes. “I’m going to get changed.” And she rose quickly and retreated into the hallway.
Mulder stood now, looked at Brian, who was struggling to look back.
“How goes the cleanup?” Mulder asked easily, going for something neutral.
Brian nodded. “Most of them are dead now, at least. Kyle and Jerry have a couple of leaf bags full of them. The rest we’ll be able to vacuum up, I think.”
Mulder nodded. “That’s good,” he said.
“Yeah, they’re good to help out so I can see to Pam. But I just hate that they’re out here at all,” Brian said, and his familiar peevishness entered his voice.
“Someone hears things breaking in your backyard and your wife screaming at two o’clock in the morning, they’re bound to call the police,” Scully answered for Mulder, setting the mug of tea on the table beside the chair where Pam had been sitting.
She’d placed herself between the two men for a few seconds, interrupting the impending standoff, and Mulder knew she’d done it on purpose. Then she returned to the counters behind him.
“Damndest thing I’ve ever seen,” Brian said, shaking his head and forcing a little laugh. “That many spiders. And at this time of year.”
“That’s because there was another force at work, Mr. Dillard,” Mulder said evenly. “I think you know that.”
The forced smile melted off Dillard’s face. “All I know,” he said firmly, “is that someone must have gotten to my wife’s studio and broken some of her work. That’s what you should be investigating.”
“The things were broken in the studio to get you out of the bedroom,” Mulder said, and his voice rose a little with his frustration with the man’s pigheadedness. “Whatever this thing is, it’s not interested in terrorizing you. It needs you out of the way so that it can get to your wife.”
Dillard looked from Mulder to Scully. “Are you buying this?” he snapped. Mulder turned to look at Scully where she’d poised herself against the sink.
“I’m not sure what I’m buying at this point,” Scully replied. “But the fact remains that the entity has chosen two times when you were not conscious or present to make its appearance to your wife. So Agent Mulder’s assumption that the vandalism in the studio was to remove you from the bedroom *does* seem to make sense.”
Pam returned then, interrupting any further discussion. She was wearing the warm clothes and draped in the throw. She picked up the mug of tea, bobbed the tea bag a few times. “Thank you, Agent Scully,” she said.
“You’re welcome, Pam,” Scully said gently.
“I want to go out and see…” Pam swallowed. “…see what’s been done to my work.”
“Honey, you don’t need to look at that now–” Brian tried, but Pam shook her head.
“I want to see,” she insisted, and she set the mug down and was already heading toward the back door, picking up a set of keys that hung on a nail by the door. The other three looked at each other, then fell in behind her.
The backyard was well lit by a spotlight that shone on the small outbuilding. Pam was at the door already as the others caught up with her, fumbling with a key on the ring with her shaking hands.
“How was the door opened when you got out here?” Mulder asked Brian. “I don’t see any damage to the door or any of the windows.”
Dillard seemed to struggle with himself for a few seconds, then blew out a frustrated breath of vapory air. “The door wasn’t open,” he said quickly, as though saying it fast would slide it by everyone.
“The door wasn’t open?” Scully repeated, and reached out to take the keys from Pam, who had the right one out but couldn’t get the thing in the lock because of her trembling.
Dillard shook his head. “No, they must have locked it on their way out somehow.”
Mulder chuffed. “Yeah, that’s what all vandals take the time to do,” he said. “I don’t know what else you need to see, Mr. Dillard–“
“Look, I don’t know what’s going on here,” Dillard spat. “But I’m not going to start believing in ghosts, for Christ’s sake. I’m not going to do it. Don’t ask me to.”
Mulder started to say something else, but Scully shot him a look and he relented. Dillard wasn’t ready to believe any of this, and nothing Mulder was going to say was going to change that.
After all, if anyone knew the place Dillard was in, it was Scully, he told himself.
Plus, the fighting would only upset Pam more, and he didn’t want that.
Scully slid the key in the lock and pushed the door open, and Pam entered the small building, throwing on the light switch. The others peered in the doorway.
The floor was covered with multi-colored shards of porcelain and clay. Only the unfinished work and a few pieces near the back of the shed were intact. The delicate green tea set Mulder had looked at the day before was shattered on the floor at Pam’s feet.
Pam covered her mouth, a cry caught in her throat.
“It’s okay, baby,” Brian said, and reached out to put a hand on her shoulder. “It’s okay. You can make it all again and it’ll be twice as beautiful.”
Mulder was touched by that — it was a side of Dillard with his wife he hadn’t seen. It was the kind of thing he would have said to Scully in a similar circumstance, and was the first moment of any sort of commonality he felt with the man.
“Hey Brian?” came a call from the back door. It was pitched low, but still seemed terribly loud in the quiet of the night. It was one of the Sheriff’s Deputies.
“Yeah, Jerry?” Brian called back, stepping back away from Pam.
“We’ve done all we can here. We’ve got another call. So I’ll leave you to it.”
Brian nodded. “All right then,” he said. “Thank you so much for your help. And for not filing anything on this.”
“Not a problem,” Jerry said. “You don’t want a report, we don’t make one. Goodnight now.” And he was gone.
Scully turned to Mulder, and he could see how tired she looked. He nodded, what she wanted passing unspoken between them.
“We’re going to call it a night, too,” Mulder said, and Pam turned, looking at both him and Scully, her face panicked.
“We’ll be back in the morning,” he soothed. “Or should I say after it gets light.”
Pam looked down and nodded, but Mulder knew she would be getting no sleep. “All right,” she said.
She turned off the light to the studio, locked it up, and headed back toward the house, Brian walking with his arm around her. They disappeared inside the kitchen.
Mulder and Scully hung back beside the studio. Scully was glancing around the darkness around them nervously.
“You okay?” he asked, and smoothed back her hair on one side now that no one was around to see them.
She nodded. “Yes,” she murmured, leaned into his hand. “The headache’s returned, that’s all. Let’s just go to bed. Get a fresh start in the morning with where to go with this.”
Mulder nodded. “All right,” he said, and placed a hand on the small of her back, ushering her toward the house.
Behind the studio, a hand crept around the edge of the building, a bare shoulder following, then a face, black eyes shining.
The boy watched the two agents. He watched the man — tall, handsome, so ready to believe. And then the hand on the small of the woman’s back, like a lover. He watched the man hold the door for her as they re-entered the house. He felt the woman’s fatigue and fear coming off her like a wave.
He felt the love between them drifting like incense around the space where’d they’d stood a moment before.
He watched and felt it all, drinking it in like warm milk mixed with sugar.
And then, he smiled.
13 DUNKIRK AVENUE VIENNA, VIRGINIA 7:26 a.m.
Granger loved the place where Robin’s neck met her shoulder more than he loved life itself.
Well, not really, he mused, but it was close.
That’s where his mouth was, on the soft skin exposed when he’d pushed her braids to the side on waking, the skin the color of cocoa and just as sweet.
“Hmm….what time is it?” she asked, on her side facing away from him. He was pushed up against her back, spooned against her as close as he could get.
“Too late,” he said with regret.
“You ever heard of flex-time, Mr. Granger?” she replied, and he could see the curl on her lips, though her eyes were still closed.
“Time couldn’t flex enough, Ms. Brock.” He pulled her tighter against him.
“Then you better let me up,” she said, the smile still on her face as her eyes opened. “Or I’m going to make sure we’re both late. And I’m sure that’s just what Rosen would like to see from you at this point.”
He chuckled. “You got me there,” he said, and he did let her go, though she turned her face so they could kiss once, twice. Then she was sitting, her bare back greeting him with its smooth expanse. She reached to the floor and picked up her robe, stood, and slipped into it.
“I’ll put the coffee on,” she said.
“Do I get eggs, too?” he asked, sitting up on his elbows, his bare chest cool in the morning chill.
“Yes, you’ll get eggs, too, this morning. But don’t go getting used to it.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, and she shot him one of her sly looks that he loved so much as she made her way to the kitchen.
He lay there in the quiet for a moment, enjoying the ease of waking with her, the familiar bump of someone else in the kitchen. There wasn’t a more comforting sound in the world to him.
Then the doorbell rang.
He glanced at the clock, perplexed, and threw his legs over the side of the bed, stepping into his sweatpants and reaching for a t-shirt and his glasses. He could hear Robin talking to someone.
“Paul?” she called, and he was already on his way to her at the front door as she said it. There was concern in her voice, he could tell.
At the front door, Jim Bigelow, his neighbor.
“Morning, Jim,” Granger said, his brow creased. “Is something wrong?”
Bigelow, gray-haired in his 60s and a suit, looked worried. “That’s your Jetta, right? The black one?”
Granger’s heart sank. “Yes, that’s mine. What’s happened to it?”
“You better go down and have a look. I noticed it when I was getting ready to go to work.”
“All right,” Granger said. “I will. Thank you, Jim.”
“I’m sorry,” Bigelow said, and then he was gone.
Granger reached for his jacket hanging there. He slipped his sneakers on, also camped by the door where he’d toed them off after last night’s run.
Robin stood with her arms crossed over her chest as she watched him.
“I’ll be right back,” he said, and gave her a quick kiss. Her expression was grim, but she nodded and said nothing.
He took the stairs, not waiting for the elevator. Out in the parking lot, the crisp October sunlight shone on the rows of cars. He made his way down the sidewalk toward his car.
The hood had been coated in some sort of acid, burned clear through in some places, the glass clouded with it. He stood and stared at it in disgust as Jim Bigelow got into his car, looking at him with sympathy.
“Son-of-a-bitch,” Granger swore.
Across the parking lot, in a nondescript Chevy pickup, a man watched this transpire, watched Granger stand there with his hands on his hips.
Then Granger stopped, looked around carefully, his eyes moving over the parking lot. Seeing this, the man hunkered down lower into the seat until he could just barely watch the other man on the sidewalk over the side of the door.
Granger looked around for a long moment. Slowly. Methodically. His eyes fell on the pickup, then moved on to the next car, then the next.
Finally, shaking his head, Granger reached into his coat pocket and drew out his cell phone, dialing.
The man waited until Granger had finished his phone call to the police and then went back inside the building to wait for them to come.
The man smiled.
He nosed the pickup out of the spot it had occupied, heading out onto the main road that led west.
THE PEACOCK MOTEL OUTSIDE CAPE CHARLES, VIRGINIA 9:35 a.m.
Scully was just coming out of the shower when she heard the familiar scrape of the key in the lock. Someone was letting themselves into the motel room. She stood in the tiny bathroom with the tiny towel and dried off as best she could, using the other towel as a turban for her hair.
“I hope that’s you,” she called, and was rewarded by a chuckle.
“Yes, it’s me,” Mulder replied. “And I bring coffee and bagels, so don’t shoot.”
She came out now, the towel barely covering the territory. Mulder noticed immediately and she smiled.
“Did you talk to anyone over at the university?” Mulder asked, and took a sip of his coffee.
“Yes,” she replied, going to her suitcase, open on its rack. She began looting through it for underthings. “I talked to a Dr. Singh, an entomologist over in the Biology Department at Old Dominion University. He said he would meet me as soon as I could get over there and analyze that spider.”
“That’s good,” he replied. “So you think you’ll be back by early afternoon?”
“Most likely,” she said, dropping the towel and slipping into her bra and panties. Then she went to the small closet area by the bathroom and pulled down a suit — her standby black with the white dress shirt.
Mulder watched her with clear interest, she could tell, but to his credit, he said nothing. He busied himself with his coffee and with putting cream cheese on a bagel as he sat on the edge of her unmade bed.
“You can take the car,” Scully said, slipping into her shirt. “I’ve already arranged for a ride over the bridge.”
“That cab driver you told me about yesterday?” Mulder asked, and she nodded.
“Yes,” she replied. “He’s already figured out that we’re FBI and he’s willing to do anything he can to aid in the investigation, he said. For a flat rate of $20 plus the price of the toll across the water, of course. A bargain considering how far it is, apparently. I think there’s more to find out from him, so I’m going to take advantage of the time.” She pulled on her pants, buttoned and zipped them.
He finished putting cream cheese on his bagel. “All right,” he said. “If you’re sure. I don’t mind having him drive me in.”
“No, this way you two will have some freedom to go somewhere if the need should arise.” She sat on the edge of the bed, took out a pair of knee high hose from the suitcase and began pulling them on.
“Where would we go?” Mulder asked, perplexed. He took a bite.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Scully said, and smiled slightly. “There just might be somewhere she’d like to show you.”
“Why would she do that?” he asked after he’d chewed and swallowed. He seemed suddenly uncomfortable.
She turned to him. “That’s what women do when they’ve got a crush, Mulder,” she said. “They try to involve the person in aspects of their lives, even small ones.”
Mulder flushed crimson. “It’s that obvious?”
She smiled faintly. “It is to me. I don’t think Brian Dillard has picked up on it yet. But I can tell she has feelings for you. I think she has since she read that article on you. And, well…”
“Well what?” he prompted, taking another bite of his bagel as if to prove nonchalance. He was still red.
“Well, I might be a bit biased, but…the real thing is pretty impressive, too,” she teased, and gave him an appraising look.
“Quit it,” he said, and tossed an small creamer container at her from across the bed. She laughed.
“I thought you might be pissed,” he admitted, looked down.
“Why would I be?” she asked, standing again and taking the towel from her hair, shaking it out. “It’s clear it’s not coming from you.”
He smiled as he looked at her, something pained in it. “Because if it was the other way around…if someone had feelings for you…I think I’d be pissed.”
She laughed again. “I don’t think either of us has anything to worry about in that department, Mulder,” she said. “Though I do appreciate the testosterone display, as always.”
That got her another creamer tossed at her and he stood, going to where she was standing in front of the mirror in the bathroom, combing her hair. He went up behind her, and without her heels on, almost his entire head was visible above hers. His arms went around her waist and he pulled her against him.
“We get out of here, I’ll show you a testosterone display…” he said, and she smiled at his reflection in the mirror, then leaned her head back so she could kiss him on the mouth. They lingered there, their mouths moving over each others. His hands began to come up, cupping her ribs now, inching higher.
When he touched the underside of her breasts, she pulled her face away, her hands going to cover his. He turned his head until his cheek rested against her head. He sighed.
“Believe me, there’s nothing I would like better than to crawl into that bed and stay with you all morning,” she soothed. “But…”
“I know, I know…” He gave her hands a squeeze, then stood back, going back to the bed and picking up his coffee from the bedside table.
“I’m gonna go before I get completely depressed,” he quipped, and she smiled at him in the mirror’s reflection, still working on her hair. “Call me when you find anything out.”
“All right,” she said. “Good luck this morning.”
“Thanks. You, too.”
She was sad as she watched him leave.
If she thought about it hard enough, she could still feel his hands around her ribs. It made her ache inside.
Sighing, she reached for the hair dryer, and pushed the feeling away.
OLD DOMINION UNIVERSITY MILLS-GODWIN LIFE SCIENCES BUILDING NORFOLK, VIRGINIA 11:34 a.m.
Scully stood off to one side in the large laboratory. The side counters were lined with terrariums — tarantulas, snakes on their heating rocks, lizards and toads and every manner of insect she could think of in glass enclosures all around her. She wasn’t usually afraid of insects or any sort of animal, for that matter, but the place had a stale, metallic smell and the fact that everything around her was moving gave her a slight case of the heebie-jeebies.
In the center of it all, Doctor Parth Singh sat with his eyes on a dissecting microscope, his glasses pushed up above the eye pieces to allow him a better look into the lens. His cheap tie was thrown over his shoulder to keep it out of the way, the elbow patches on his tweed blazer showing signs of wear.
“Where did you get this again?” Singh asked.
“It’s part of an on-going investigation I’m involved with over on the Eastern Shore, Doctor,” she replied, stepping closer. His tone had been a bit awed.
“Fascinating,” he said, looking over at her with his black eyes. “You know what this is?”
Scully shook her head. “No, I don’t know my spiders, past a Brown Recluse, which I’ve seen my fair share of. And I know what a Black Widow looks like, vaguely.”
“It’s a Tegenaria agrestis,” he hurried to reply. “You know, a Hobo Spider. Almost as common as a Brown Recluse, though people are less familiar with them.”
“If it’s so common,” Scully ventured, “then why are you so impressed with it?”
“Because this spider is like nothing I’ve ever seen before,” Singh said, looking back into the lens and prodding at the spider’s corpse with a small instrument.
Scully took a step closer. “What’s so special about it?” she asked.
“Well, for starters, this spider is completely genderless,” Singh replied.
“‘Genderless’? How can that be?”
Singh looked at her again, that same excited look on his face. “I have no idea. I’ve never seen anything like it. No genitalia at all. No palps. Nothing of the kind.”
Scully turned this over in her mind. “What else did you find about it?”
“It also has no fangs, which it should. The Hobo Spider actually causes more bites than a Brown Recluse does, but the Brown Recluse is ordinarily blamed for the bites. But this one,” He pointed to the spider, turning it over, “this one has no fangs. In fact, I don’t see any sort of mouth structure at all.”
“So let me get this straight,” Scully said, crossing her arms over her chest. “I’ve brought you a sexless spider with no mouth?”
Singh nodded excitedly, grinning. “Yes, isn’t it wonderful, too?” he said, his voice rising.
“I’m sure it is,” Scully replied, amused. “But what you’re saying is impossible, Doctor. That’s an adult spider. How could it have survived into adulthood with no way to take in food?”
Singh shook his head. “I have no idea. It’s the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen, these mutations. It’s almost like a spider cut-out.”
Scully considered this for a moment. “It’s almost as if someone had seen one of these spiders from a distance and recreated it, but didn’t know enough about it to make it a complete spider. Like it’s a substitute for a real spider.”
“Yes, exactly,” Singh said. “I know you said this was for an investigation, but could I have this when you’re finished with it for the case? I’d love to dissect it, get a look at its insides. See what else is missing.”
Scully was still thinking of her theory about the spider’s genesis, turning it over in her mind. “Yes,” she said finally, snapping out of it. “You can actually have it now. I won’t be needing it anymore.”
And if she did, she thought, there were two giant lawn-and-leaf bags full of them at the Dillard’s house for her to pick from.
“Excellent!” Singh said, and Scully reached out to shake his hand.
“Thank you, Dr. Singh,” she said, smiled faintly. “You’ve been a great help.”
Singh shook her hand. “No, thank YOU, Dr. Scully,” he replied. “This is the most exciting thing I’ve seen in a long while. A very long while.”
Then his eyes were back on the microscope, as though she’d already left.
“I’ll leave you two alone then,” she said, bemused, and left the lab.
CHESAPEAKE BAY BRIDGE-TUNNEL BETWEEN VIRGINIA BEACH AND THE EASTERN SHORE 12:35 p.m.
The view from the bridge was spectacular, Scully thought, such a wide expanse of water, the shore on either side not visible from this point on the bridge, nothing but water catching the brilliant fall sunlight and shimmering the surface like diamonds. Up ahead, over the place where one of the tunnels dipped down below the water, one of the big aircraft carriers was going out to sea, looking impossibly huge.
“There goes the Teddy Roosevelt,” Sanderson said, pointing. “Must be going out for their Med Cruise, or maybe just for exercises out and about.”
“It’s amazing to me that something that huge can go over the tunnels,” Scully said, and the thought made her shiver.
“There’s only about 10 foot of clearance when it goes over the tunnel. How about that to make you sleep the sleep of angels?” Sanderson cackled. “Not to worry, though. There ain’t never been a run-in with the tunnel since it was built. And the Navy uses this as the way in and out of the base. Has for years.
“Plus,” he added with a gleam in his eye in the rear view mirror. “It’ll be over the tunnel by the time we get there.”
She laughed at that. “That does comfort me,” she said.
They were silent for a long moment, Scully watching the view stream by, Sanderson singing along faintly to the music on the radio, some religious group singing about “He said: ‘If you love me, feed my sheep.'”
Then Sanderson broke the silence between them.
“Group’s called ‘The Primitive Quartet,'” he said. “You like ’em?”
“They’re very nice,” Scully replied politely.
Another beat of silence. Scully could sense something coming.
“You get that spider looked at?” Sanderson asked at last.
“Now how did you know I had a spider with me?” Scully asked, amused and vaguely annoyed at the same time.
“Old Man Packard and me was talking on the phone this morning,” he said easily. “Said Jerry Twining, the Sheriff’s Deputy, said something to him at the Meat Land about a whole mess of spiders in the Dillard’s bedroom.”
Scully sighed. “Yes, I got the spider looked at,” she replied. “I’m not at liberty to discuss what I’ve found, of course.”
That was a laugh, she thought. The man didn’t understand much of anything about the privacy of anyone, she imagined, particularly the Dillards, who were new to town and thus the object of my scrutiny as it was.
“Of course, of course,” Sanderson hurried to reply.
Another beat of silence, save for the radio. They reached the tunnel, the bridge narrowing to one lane as they descended into the relative darkness. Scully’s ears popped as the radio cut out.
“You know, I was thinking whilst I was waiting for you back there at the college,” he said.
“What were you thinking about, Mr. Sanderson?”
“I was thinking that if I was an FBI agent like yourself, and I wanted to know something about Pam Dillard, I’d take myself up to Accomac and go talk to that Melba Book.”
“Melba Book?” Scully repeated.
“Yep,” Sanderson replied. “She was the woman who lived next door on the OTHER side of the Dillard’s up there. Not the ones with the horses — the ones on the other side. Word had it from my friend up there that Pam and Melba got fairly close. As close as Pam gets to anyone. So I was sitting here in the cab waiting on you and thinking that if I was an FBI agent studying up on someone I’d take myself up to Accomac and talk to Melba about Pam.”
“That’s an interesting investigative avenue, Mr. Sanderson,” she said, considering this. “I suppose you know how to contact this Melba Book?”
Sanderson’s smile gleamed in the rear view mirror as they exited the tunnel and out into the blinding sunlight. The radio crackled back to life. “Got her number back at the house. I went ahead and got it from my buddy up in Accomac.”
“That’s very helpful of you, sir,” Scully said, and now she did get a bit more irritated. “But you do understand that the Dillards have done nothing wrong. My partner and I are not here to investigate them on any criminal charges or of any wrong-doing at all.”
“What are you down here for then, if you don’t mind me asking?” Sanderson asked, and Scully balked.
Finally she said: “I’m not sure what we’re looking for, Mr. Sanderson. But I’m sure you’ll be the first to know when we figure it out.”
He laughed. “Ah-yep,” he said. “I betcha I will.”
CAPE CHARLES, VIRGINIA 1:36 p.m.
It had been years since Mulder had played in the sand. Summers at the Vineyard, he would spend hours in the early mornings with Samantha on the shoreline, digging for whatever they could find, bringing back small buckets filled with shards of shells and crab claws, a child’s treasure.
He was reminded of this as he squatted in his jeans, his sweatshirt sleeves pushed up to his elbows as he dug with the garden shovel, unearthing the treasure that Pam sought here on the beach — the multi-colored remnants that were called sea glass.
He pushed up a huge mound of sand, sifting through it, and Pam reached down from where she stood next to him, picked up a green piece of glass, clouded and worn smooth by the salt water and sand. She inspected it carefully, brushing the sand off of it. Then she dropped it into the bucket she carried with her, joining the blues and browns and whites there.
“Another one,” Mulder said, and reached down, pulling out a flat round piece, cobalt blue and the size of the bottom of a glass. In fact, that’s probably what the piece had been in its previous life, before it had been tossed into the Bay and found its way to the Cape Charles beach.
“That’s a good one,” Pam said, and reached down to rinse the piece in a small pool of water left over from high tide. It gleamed in the sunlight. “Let’s try over there, closer to the water,” she said, and he stood, shaking out the shovel.
They’d spent the morning in the studio, Mulder helping Pam clean up the broken pieces of her work as she answered his gentle questions about her childhood. About her father, an alcoholic who died a few years ago, estranged from his daughter. About her mother, who had died when Pam was in her twenties, leaving her with the shell of a man her father became in his grief. Her parents’ marriage had been a close one, despite the long periods they were separated by his work as he rode the rails pulling coal cars across the state, from the mountains to the sea.
It had been hard to get her to talk. He’d been all business in the morning — suit and tie and trenchcoat, in full FBI uniform questioning her like a suspect. Finally, after awhile, she’d said she had something to do that afternoon on the beach, and he’d asked if he could join her.
“You’ll get dirty,” she’d said, indicating his clothes. “I’m going collecting at the beach for a series of hand-built vases I’m doing, and it involves a good bit of effort and mess.”
Mulder, encouraged that she’d finally started to open up a bit in the morning, decided to press his advantage. “I’ve got some clothes back at the motel that can do with some mess,” he’d said. “I’ll go for some lunch, get changed. Meet you back here and help you out.”
She’d smiled that same shy smile, flushing. “All right,” she’d said.
So here he was, digging in the sand like a kid again, looking for the elusive pieces of glass that the sea gave up like secrets. He’d never seen sea glass before, and was amazed at how smooth and thick the pieces were, and how ruggedly beautiful in their transformation from trash to treasure.
Pam squatted down with her own shovel, began digging a wide hole, the bucket placed between them. Mulder found a sliver of clear glass that was a smokey white, dropped it in the bucket.
“You said things happened to you when you were a kid, things like what’s happening now,” he said, a little out of breath from the exertion.
“Nothing like what’s happening the past year has ever happened before,” she corrected, not looking at him.
“Well, what sorts of things do you remember?” he asked.
She stopped digging, sifted through some sand with her fingers. A tiny ghost crab, black eyes like oblong beads, shot in front of them and headed for a hole in the sand a few feet away. Pam pushed a strand of her hair back from where it had slipped out of the ponytail.
“I remember once…I was in high school, I think it was. I wasn’t particularly popular, as you can imagine. I tended to keep to myself most of the time.” She pulled out a jagged piece of brown glass, still sharp on one edge, and discarded it. “It was easy because the farm was so far away from town, easy to be alone. Well, one day I was in my room, and I was upset about…something. And I was crying. I remember that. And while I was crying, a vase full of flowers I’d picked in the field shot across the room and nearly took my head off. I barely managed to get out of the way before it smashed into the wall.”
Mulder paused, wiped at his forehead with the back of his forearm. It was warm in the sunshine, despite the chill of the day.
“What were you crying about?” he asked, looking at her as she worked on her digging. She did not look back.
“I don’t remember.” She said it flatly, dismissively.
“It’s important, Pam,” he said. “Or it could be. What had you upset? You were in high school, you say. Was it a school day?”
She paused. “Yes, it was,” she said.
“Had something happened at school that day? Or was it something your mother did that made you cry?”
Pam pulled up a strangely shaped piece of glass, brown, and shaped like a dome. A glass eye cup, very old from the looks of it. She smiled at it as she put it in the bucket.
“Which was it?” Mulder pressed.
“Which was what?” She kept digging.
“Come on, Pam,” Mulder said. “We’re never going to figure this out unless you talk to me. The answer to all this is in *you* somehow and we’ve got to work to figure it out.”
“These things are not my fault,” she snapped, and jabbed the shovel hard into the ground, still not looking at him. “I’m not asking for these things to happen to me.”
“I didn’t mean that,” he said gently. “I just mean that I think you’re the key to all this. Something you may not even be aware of. That’s why talking about things is so vital. You never know what might be important.”
She sighed, and now she did look at him, a tired look in her eyes. “It was something at school, okay?”
He balanced his elbows on his knees, folded his hands, the shovel discarded on the ground. “What happened?”
Again she hesitated. “A boy at school had done something to me…” She trailed off. “This is stupid, Agent Mulder.”
“Keep going,” he said. He reached into the hole and brought out another piece of green glass, shaped like a heart and thick. “A boy at school did….?”
“He pushed me up against the wall in the hallway outside the gym and put his hands on me.” She said it fast and quiet.
“I see,” Mulder said. “And what did you do when he did this?”
Pam stabbed at the ground again. “Nothing,” she said bitterly.
“Nothing?” he repeated, watching her face harden.
“I did nothing. I just let him put his hands on my chest and I didn’t do a damn thing about it.”
He nodded, gnawed on his lower lip. “What did you want to do?”
She looked at him, her eyes gleaming. “What the hell do you think I wanted to do? I wanted to smash his face in.”
“And that’s why you were crying,” he said. “Because you didn’t do anything.”
“It was more than that,” she said, and she stopped digging. “It wasn’t just that I didn’t do anything. It was that I *made the decision* not to do anything. I remembered standing there and wanting to fight him and *deciding* not to. Deciding to let it happen. I wasn’t too scared to fight. I *chose* not to.”
“Why?” he asked quietly.
She sifted in the sand, finding nothing as the hole slowly filled with water.
“Because…because it seemed easier to just go along with it. To fight him would have caused more problems for me, made him retaliate if I’d hit him. It was easier to do nothing. So that’s what I chose to do.”
He sighed, looked at her sadly. “But you regretted it,” he said. “You weren’t happy with your decision, even though you made it for all those well-considered reasons.”
“Yes,” she said, and she stood. “I regretted it. That’s why I was crying. I couldn’t stand myself for being so weak.”
He stood with her, picked up the shovel and the bucket. “You weren’t weak. You just made a choice. We make them every day, about all sorts of things.”
She brushed her hands on her jeans. “I made the wrong choice,” she said, her voice bitter as acid. Then she turned to him.
“I’ve got enough glass for one day,” she said, and he could almost feel her pushing him back, dismissing the subject. “Thank you for helping me, Agent Mulder.”
“No problem,” he said, smiled faintly, letting her back away. “I enjoyed doing it. It’s not every day an FBI agent gets to play in the sand with a bucket and shovel.”
She smiled back, but he could tell she had to force it onto her face. Then she led the way back up the beach.
THE PEACOCK MOTEL OUTSIDE CAPE CHARLES, VIRGINIA 2:34 p.m.
“Paul? It’s Dana,” Scully said into the phone, pushing her hair dryer into her suitcase.
“Dana,” Granger’s voice came back over the line. “How are you? How goes the investigation down there?”
Scully sighed. “It’s going a bit slower than we originally anticipated. I called to see if you could get Bo from the kennel and keep him with you for a few days. I know you’re busy right now, and I don’t want to impose on you and Robin, but…”
A chuckle. “I know how you feel about the kennel. I was surprised you didn’t just go ahead and ask me before you left. You know I don’t mind keeping him for you. He’s no problem at all.”
Scully grimaced. “If I could handle kennels, Mulder and I would have two dogs right now,” she said, thinking of Queequag and his untimely demise all those years ago. “I really appreciate it,” she said. “I know it’ll make Mulder feel better, too, though he hasn’t said anything about it.”
“It’s no problem,” Granger repeated.
“We’ve been out of the loop down here. Have there been any more murders?”
“Yes, another double homicide. Same M.O., for the most part. The staging was a bit different this time.”
“But you’re sure it’s the same person?” Scully asked, closing up her makeup bag.
“Yes, I’m sure. There were still sexual overtones to the staging, though this time he decided it would be a good idea to hang the man from a tree by his ankles, but the woman…”
Scully stopped hearing him, the image pushing into her mind. The dream. The silhouette of the man against the pale moon, hanging upside down. The woman’s hair in the headlights…
“…and there’s a new element now, directed at me. And my car was vandalized this morning.”
Scully was struck out of the memory, and she pulled in a quick breath, fear bolting through her. She swallowed it.
“My God, Paul,” she said. “I hope you’re accepting protection at this point.”
“I don’t think he’s going to move against me personally. I think he wants to show me how close he can get, but he needs me alive so he can continue to impress me. I’ve become part of the game now for him, which is exactly what I had hoped for. I want him to get careless. I want him to risk being visible.”
Scully put the makeup bag in the suitcase and closed the top, zipping it. “I just don’t want you taking unnecessary risks,” she said. “I know from some of Mulder’s stories about being in VCU that you have to take do some dangerous things from time to time, but…”
“I’m being careful,” Granger reassured.
A key in the door, and Mulder came in. She was surprised to see him in his casual clothes — button-fly jeans and his blue sweatshirt, a long-sleeved white t-shirt under it. It made her vaguely homesick. A weekend morning and Mulder in from getting breakfast while she lay in bed…
He looked at her, questioning, and she mouthed “Granger” to him. He nodded, stood by the foot of the bed with his hands in his pockets and waited.
“I’ve got to run,” she said. “Mulder just got in. But if there’s anything you need from either of us on this, don’t hesitate to call. I can get up there to do another autopsy if you really need it and get back down here the same day.”
“Turvey’s taking care of it at this point, but I appreciate the offer,” Granger replied. “Give my best to Mulder. And don’t worry about Bo. I’ll put a pound on him before you get back.”
She laughed and thanked him and said goodbye, setting the phone down on the night table. Mulder nodded toward the suitcase.
“You going somewhere?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said, turning to him and putting her hands on her hips. “I’ve been in touch with a woman named Melba Book up in Accomac, a woman who used to be the Dillard’s neighbor there. I’m going to interview her at around 6:00, so I thought I’d go ahead and stay in a motel overnight up that way because it’s so far away. I assumed you’d want to stay here.”
“Yes,” he said. “I do think it would be better if one of us stayed close by in case something like what happened last night happens again.”
Scully nodded, looked down. “I got another rental for the day, so I can drive myself up there and you’ll still have the car. I thought it would be easier this way.”
It was his turn to nod, but he was studying her. She glanced up at him and then had to look away.
“What is it?” he asked gently. “Something’s bothering you.”
“No,” she replied, too quickly. “It’s nothing.”
The man’s body against the moon, arms hanging down, a drag of hair through the triangle of headlights. A silver ring.
“I just…don’t like the idea of us being separated right now,” was what she said aloud. “I’ve got…a bad feeling about things. I can’t explain it.”
He stepped around the bed and went to her, putting his hands on her shoulders. She looked up into his eyes. They were warm and tender.
“There’s a lot of strange stuff going on,” he said. “A lot we don’t understand yet. I think it’s normal to be a little uptight.”
She nodded, slid her hands down around his waist, let out a long breath.
There was so much more to it than that. So much she hadn’t said. And now, the things she’d left unsaid were growing, each silence building on the previous silence. She didn’t know how to break out of this cycle, how to even try now that there was so much she hadn’t revealed about the things she’d seen. To tell him one thing would mean telling him them all, and thus mean admitting to keeping it all from him.
Where would that leave them? And where would it leave her except still poised in that familiar no-man’s land between belief and disbelief?
“Have you eaten?” he asked.
She smiled slightly. “No, I haven’t.”
He smoothed her hair down. “Then let’s go get you something to eat and fill each other in on what we found today before you have to leave.”
She nodded, relieved to once again — for better or worse — be reasonably clean and off the hook.
ROUTE 13 OUTSIDE ACCOMAC, VIRGINIA 5:28 p.m.
This time when it happened, Scully was driving into the gloaming dark doing just above the speed limit, and it was nearly enough to send her off the road.
She’d been listening to NPR on the rental car’s radio, edging closer to Accomac on the nearly deserted expanse of Route 13, the darkness moving around the car like mist, when she saw it in the space behind her eyes, clear as if it were happening in front of her.
A woman was screaming and there was a man in front of her, a man crying, begging as he took off his pants, stepping out of them and he was so cold she could feel how cold he was and how afraid, the fear a crush of weight on her…
Scully pulled into the right hand lane, her hand going to cover her mouth, the car swerving slightly and then righting itself as she stomped on the brake–
Then the paleness of the man’s skin in the headlights and music playing something she knew something she’d heard before and then the shot a blur of brain and the heavy sound of a body hitting grass and the woman screaming again screaming please please don’t…
“Oh God…” Scully gasped as she hit the gravelly side of the road, the car skidding to a halt–
Then she was looking at a cut-out of a man against the front of the car the two headlights bright as suns and blocking her view of his face as he fumbled with his belt a gun trained on the screaming woman and he was telling her to shut up to shut the fuck up…
“God, stop it,” Scully cried, pressing her forehead against the steering wheel, her knuckles white on it. She squeezed her eyes shut and her body was shaking —
Something different now. A calmer image in her mind. The same man in the wheelchair, so old he looked waxen, gold glasses. His face creased with concern. His hand out toward her, shaking. “Come with me…”
Scully held onto the image of the man. In her mind, she touched his hand…
And felt some of her control returning, her breathing slowing.
Finally, after a moment, she lifted her head from the steering wheel and looked out the windshield, peering into the night, owl-like.
An car blew by, and the sound and sight of it struck her back into the now. She heard everything now. The talk on the radio, a mumble. The sound of the rental car idylling almost silently with its quiet, new engine.
Off to the right, a deer looked back at her from the edge of the headlights, its ears pricked, then it disappeared into the field beside the road.
“Okay…” she said softly. “Okay…”
She checked the clock on the radio. 5:38. She was going to be late if she didn’t get going again. She had work to do.
With that thought in mind, she took her foot off the brake, the car inching forward. Then she pulled back onto the highway and headed off into the dark.
Melba Book’s house was huge, a yellow farmhouse with warm windows and a front porch straight out of everyone’s retirement dreams. Scully had admired the white swing and the white rockers as Book had ushered her into the house, the sight filling her with a strange sense of longing. The house, set way off the main road with a long drive lined with oaks, was a beautiful, private place, and matched its owner perfectly.
Melba Book, in her early sixties, was an elegant woman who had retired to the Eastern Shore after a successful practice in family law. Widowed, she lived alone in the immense house, though the place was warm with pictures of children and grandchildren. There was a fire in the fireplace in the living room where Scully sat, staring up at the original oils on the walls. Book was in the kitchen, making tea.
“It’s a long way to come to ask some questions,” Book called from the other room. “But then I imagine you do this quite a bit.”
“Yes,” Scully called back. “That is the nature of the beast, as they say.”
Book came back in, her oversized wool sweater reaching the mid-thigh of her jeans. She was a very thin woman. Very tall. Her hair was a wild array of gray and black. She carried a tea pot, a creamer and sugar bowl and two cups, all on a wooden tray. She set them in front of Scully on the coffee table and began to pour.
“I appreciate your seeing me so late in the evening. I’m sorry if I’m imposing in any way.” Scully accepted the cup Book offered, reached for the cream and sent up a storm in the amber liquid.
“No, no,” Book replied, taking her own cup without no cream or sugar and sitting in an old needleworked rocker across from where Scully sat on the couch. “You’re not imposing at all, Agent Scully. I just wonder about you driving all this way at this hour. FBI agents don’t seem to keep banker’s hours, that’s for certain.”
Scully smiled. “No, sometimes we don’t.”
“I can see you’ve been spending some time around Pam already,” Book said, and Scully looked at her quizzically.
“How do you mean?”
“Your eyes,” the older woman said gently. “I assume that happened with Pam around.”
Scully looked down, wanting to hide the shiners. “Yes,” she said quietly.
“Hm, yes. Things like that tend to happen around Pam.” Melba Book sipped her tea.
“Did it ever happen to you?” Scully asked, and the other woman shook her head.
“No, but others who went into the house weren’t so lucky. I mostly saw Pam here, and the…problems…seemed to be less acute when she was here with me. That’s why she came over often.”
Scully sipped her tea. “What did you two talk about?”
Melba rocked back and forth for a few seconds, considering. “Oh, a lot of things. Her pottery, my painting.” She gestured around the room.
“Yes, I noticed them,” Scully said. “They’re lovely.” And they were. Mostly portraits. The faces stared at her from around the room. Many of them were of children.
“Thank you,” Book replied. “Pam and I both being artists…well, we were kindred spirits that way. That and the children, of course.”
Scully looked back and Book from where she’d been studying the paintings. “Children?” she asked.
“Oh yes,” Melba smiled. “Pam loved to talk about my children, my grandchildren. She would come over often when they were here. Poor thing. I don’t think she had much of a family life herself growing up, much exposure to little ones. But she drank them up while she was around them here. Pam wanted one of her own, but she never had one.”
Scully considered this. “Was she not able to have children?” she asked.
Melba shook her head. “Oh no, it’s not that. From what I understand, Brian wouldn’t hear of it. Surprising considering I understand he came from such a large family himself. Made Pam very sad.”
Scully sipped at her tea again. The fire crackled and a log fell in the fireplace. “Why didn’t Brian want them to have children? Did she ever say?”
Book shrugged. “No, she never said. I would just ask her, you know, after she’d been with one of my grandbabies, fussing over them so, why she hadn’t managed to talk that man into one yet, and she would get upset, evade the question.”
Scully nodded. “I see,” she said, and filed this information away. “When did the strange occurrences begin at the house?”
“Almost right away,” Book replied, rocking some more. “The house had always been fine before. And people got to talking so quickly about it. They had repairmen out almost every week, and they told everyone in town what they’d seen happening in the house. The broken windows, the fire they had the bedroom that Pam never could explain. The dog they had that turned up with its neck wrung like a chicken’s. And it didn’t help with the trees around her house filled with crows all the time, coming down on anyone who tried to come into the house.”
“No,” Scully said. “I imagine that didn’t help.” She remembered the blood-red cardinals fluttering at the windows of the house.
She leaned forward slightly, set down the cup. “Why do you think these things happen to her, Mrs. Book?” she asked.
The other woman looked in the fire for a long moment, looking deep in thought.
“There’s something special about Pam,” she said finally, her voice sounding far away. “And I don’t mean because of the things that happen to her. I mean something about *her.* She has a deep understanding of things that most people her age don’t have. That most people in general don’t have. And she feels things so deeply. I’ve never seen someone take things as hard as she does, or feel the kind of joy she sometimes does. And such a capacity for love. I worried sometimes that there would be nowhere for her to put it all and it would just eat her alive.” She looked at Scully. “Don’t you sense that from her, too?”
Scully looked down. “I haven’t spent that much time with her, to be honest. My partner is doing most of the work with her. He’s a psychologist and is much better trained to assess her that way. Plus, I’ve not had the best luck in the house.” She gave a wan smile.
Book returned the smile. “Yes, there’s no telling who will get some of it and who won’t. You were just unlucky, I think.”
Scully sat back, smoothing down the legs of her suit pants. “Well, I won’t keep you any longer,” she said, and stood, reaching for her trench. She was tired. Mentally and physically.
“I hope you can find a way to help her,” Book said, setting her own cup down and standing, as well.
Scully shouldered into her coat. “I do, too,” she replied. “We’re doing our best.” She gestured to the coffee table. “Thank you for the tea, and for seeing me so late.”
“You’re very welcome, Agent Scully,” Book replied kindly. “If there’s anything else I can do, please don’t hesitate to call on me again.”
Book walked her to the door. It creaked on its old hinges as she opened it and let Scully out. Scully turned back to her and took her outstretched hand.
“Be well,” Book said. “And drive carefully.”
Remembering what had happened in the car before, Scully nodded. “I will,” she said. “Thank you again.” And she left Melba Book to her fire and her tea and her warm old house.
ROUTE 13 OUTSIDE CAPE CHARLES, VIRGINIA 8:39 p.m.
Mulder was full on another huge meal at Stingray’s, this time stuffed on Tau-Taug, a local fish, and a heaping helping of mashed potatoes with gravy and two cups of decaf. He’d actually found a radio station that was playing Patsy Cline and the road was deserted, not a car in sight on his side of the highway and only an occasional one passing going south toward the bridge. He was driving just to drive, feeling heavy.
He was sleepy from his long day, and a little sad, knowing he’d be going back to the motel to a night by himself, not even the hour or so of lying with Scully snoozing across his chest in front of the television to look forward to.
Get a hold of yourself, he rebuked himself. It’s one night. You can live without her for one night.
While he was mostly just picking on himself for his romantic musings, there was another part of him that was a little afraid sometimes of the power she held over him.
He’d been a loner most of this life. Hell, all of his life before she’d come into it. And the trials by fire they’d been through together had forged them into something that even he, as a half of it, had a hard time comprehending.
Patsy Cline was singing about being crazy for being so lonely, and he wondered what Scully was doing, if she’d found a motel yet and had settled in for the night, or if she was still with this woman Melba Book. He wondered if she were out somewhere in between the two, sitting in a car in the dashboard lights in the darkness as he was.
“Crazy” went off and a Hank Williams song came on. He touched the button to change the station, surfing, his eyes on the display.
That’s why he didn’t see the figure looming in the headlights until it was too late to do anything about it.
He glanced up on seeing the sickly shade of white out of the corner of his eye, a small figure standing in the roadway.
A boy. Naked. Standing in the center of the lane and the car closing fast–
“SHIT!” Mulder shouted, leaned on the horn and jumped on the brake pedal with both feet, the car skidding despite the anti-lock brakes.
Mulder watched in horror as the car plowed into the child, the sickening thump of the vehicle hitting the small body, which was thrown into the windshield, shattering it in a splatter of blood as the body continued over the roof of the car. Mulder watched it tumble over the trunk in the rearview mirror, glowing red in the tail lights as the car finally ground to a halt.
“Oh Jesus…Jesus Christ…” he panted, adrenaline pulsing through him like an electric current, sending him into tremors. He managed to get the car into “park” before he opened the door, but barely had the presence of mind for that.
He stepped out of the car, digging around in his leather jacket pocket for his flashlight. In the dull glow of the tail lights, he could see the body lying in the road about 20 feet behind the car. No movement. He clicked on the flashlight, the beam shaking like a strobe as he first walked then trotted toward the figure in the road.
Oh God, he thought, sending it up like a prayer. What have I done?
The anguish brought tears to his wide eyes, the beam of the flashlight on the child’s back, which was covered with blood that shone almost black in the light.
A few more steps and he was at the child’s side, kneeling down on both knees next to the body. It was too still to be alive, too broken, the angles all wrong. The face was turned away, but blood had matted the black hair.
His hand trembling, Mulder reached out and touched the side of the boy’s neck, searching for a pulse. Nothing. Nothing there at all. The skin was already cold.
Too cold. Like ice. It nearly hurt his fingers to touch him.
What happened next was so fast Mulder barely realized what was going on before he was being knocked backwards, his head making hard contact with the asphalt, dazing him for an instant.
The boy was on top of him, his hands around Mulder’s throat, the small fingers digging in.
And those eyes…
Mulder’s widened even more as he looked at them, at the bloody smile glowing red in the light from the car.
He tried to scream, but the hands around his throat prevented even air from coming out.
Then the child began to speak.
“Don’t listen to her, Mulder,” he said in a woman’s voice. A familiar woman’s voice. “You were right about her.”
He struggled to place it. A warehouse. A blonde woman in front of him, dressed in black. A gun in her hand.
“Linda Bowman is pushing you,” the child continued in the same voice, and Mulder squeezed his eyes shut.
He was in front of Bowman, Scully’s body behind him, an impossibly large pool of blood seeping from around her head from the shot. His gun was out, aimed at the woman in front of him.
“Shut up!” he heard himself scream in his mind.
“Shoot her, Mulder,” the boy said, a hissing voice somewhere between a child’s and a man’s.
Mulder tried to shake his head, his hands clawing at the boy’s arms. He could feel the veins in his temples bulging out.
No, it wasn’t Bowman. He knew this. It was Scully. Bowman was behind him, on the ground…
“She wants you to shoot me, ” the boy said in Bowman’s voice. “She knows you’ll never forgive yourself.”
Then, as he watched the scene playing out in his mind, he watched himself do what he’d been so close to doing in that moment of decision, the one he’d hung suspended in like a free-fall, his gun aimed at Bowman’s head.
In his mind, he fired, and Bowman fell. He blinked. And amidst the laughter of the woman behind him, he watched Bowman transform into Scully, a bullet hole in the center of her forehead.
“No…” Mulder rasped as the child loosened his grip enough to allow Mulder a precious lung-full of air.
He hadn’t done it. He hadn’t fired.
Or had he?
“You shot her,” the child whispered, blood from his lips falling onto Mulder’s cheeks like ice tears.
“No…” Mulder said again, pushing at the impossibly strong body on top of him.
It was so real. As real as the memory. It was like two memories suddenly taking up the same space, and for an instant he couldn’t tell which was which.
The boy laughed, a terrible sound.
In the distance, he heard the sound of an engine, a huge engine. A truck, coming down the highway toward them. The child’s head shot toward the sound, and Mulder saw the bloodied face in the oncoming headlights.
In one fluid movement, the boy stood, releasing his throat. Mulder coughed, rasping, still choking.
Then the child looked down at him, smiled. A hand came up in a small gesture of goodbye.
Then the boy was running, a silhouette in the oncoming headlights, until he disappeared into the forest beside the road.
The truck leaned on the horn, seeing the car stopped in the middle of the road, changed lanes to avoid it. Mulder, in the wrong lane now, rolled quickly, scrambling to the side, the truck horn still blazing as he made it across the white lines and onto the shoulder just as the truck roared by.
He lay there for a long moment as the Doppler whine of the truck going by died down into the distance. Then, in the near silence, the memories sifted against one another, like oil and water, separating.
Mulder knew which memory of the encounter with Bowman was real now. But the tears streaming down his face were evidence of how unsure he’d been, and for how long.
The child. The child from the house.
He crawled to his hands and knees, struggled into a standing position, staggered toward the car, the tears still coming, his hand on his ruined throat.
He made it to the car, climbed in, looking at the shattered view through the windshield from where the child’s body had struck.
Real and yet not real. He couldn’t make sense of it, but he knew enough to be terrified.
“Oh God…” he breathed, reaching in his pocket for his cell phone. “Scully…”
He hit the speed dial, waited as the phone began to ring.
THE BLUE HERON MOTEL ACCOMAC, VIRGINIA 8:56 p.m.
The cell phone rang in the darkened room, the only light coming from the vanity and the open door of the bathroom, which was billowing with steam from the hot shower.
Scully didn’t hear the phone. Her head was beneath the spray, the water literally drowning out every sound from the room outside.
The phone rang four times. Five.
Then the lock on the door pushed itself open. The doorknob turned. The light from the parking lot bled into the room as the door cracked open and a small figure entered the shadows of the room, blending in with the darkness.
The phone continued to ring on the night table.
The door clicked shut.
Scully turned off the water in the chintzy shower, squeezed her hair out at her shoulder and pushed the thin shower curtain out of the way. Her green robe was bunched on top of the closed toilet, and she slipped it on, not even bothering with the towel that hung, thin as cheesecloth, on its hanger. It was cold in the room, and she welcomed the weight of the robe.
Only then did she reach for the towel and wrap it around her hair, glancing outside the bathroom at the vanity area.
The room was dark. And she had left the light by the bedside on.
She stilled, her hand on the doorframe.
Something moved in the room. The sound of something shifting against the window.
“Who’s there?” she called, an edge in her voice, anger borne of fear. The last thing she needed, she thought, was someone playing games with her, after the night she’d had.
She stepped out of the bathroom into the darkness, her eyes adjusting. A beam seeped through a crack in the window from the light outside the door, a single line of light across the bed onto her open suitcase. It was overturned, her clothes scattered across the floor all the way along the cheaply carpeted floor, as though an animal had torn through it in search of food.
Her eyes immediately went to the night table where she’d left her badge and gun. Both were still there, and she stepped toward the table, lifting the holster away, pulled the gun out and aimed it around the room.
“I’m a Federal agent and I am armed,” she warned, her eyes trained on the shadowed corners of the room. She saw no movement at all.
The only sound in the room was her breathing, picking up as a feeling of dread grew within her.
She leaned over and clicked on the light, scanning the room with her gun following her eyes.
Three people stood in the corner, formerly hidden by the darkness. An old woman. A little girl. A pregnant woman. All three suddenly there in the light.
“Who are you?” Scully snapped, not lowering her gun.
The three looked at her, their faces blank. They said nothing.
“Who are you?!” Scully said, louder this time, panic begin to overtake her with the people’s silence.
It was the old woman who spoke. “My name is Alice Frommer,” she said. She gestured to the little girl, the pregnant woman. “This is Tracy Anisson. And Jennifer Kilsey.”
“What are you doing in my room?” Scully asked, her voice still raised. “What are you doing here?”
“You don’t know us,” the old woman said. “But you should have known us. You would have known us.”
“What are you talking about?” Scully asked angrily, her head spinning as she tried to catch up with what was happening. The women and the girl’s faces were still blank. No reaction to her words or her anger.
“I was at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Baltimore five years ago,” the pregnant woman, Kilsey, said, her hand reaching around to cradle her swollen belly. “With my unborn son. You were supposed to be there. We came into the Emergency Room, me bleeding from an abruption, and you weren’t there to treat us. You were supposed to be there to treat us. You would have saved us both.”
Scully gaped. “What?” was all she could think to say.
“And I came in from a car accident,” the little girl said, her hair in braids. “I died before I could reach the operating room because you weren’t there. I would have lived if you’d been there.”
Scully swallowed, looking at them in turn.
“And me,” the old woman said. “A heart attack. I could have been brought back at St. Joseph’s. I would have seen my granddaughter born three weeks later.”
Scully swallowed. “I’m not a doctor,” she said. “I was never a doctor.”
“You were meant to be a doctor. You could have been one. If you’d been one, we and so many like us…we would still be alive. But you went into the FBI. You went with Mulder. You stayed with Mulder. And now we’re all dead.”
The three took a step forward in unison, and Scully gripped her gun tighter, her hand shaking along with the rest of her body. “Stay away from me!” she shouted. “Stay back!”
The three stopped, but the old woman smiled. “No need for the gun,” she soothed. “You can’t do any more to us than you’ve done already,” and now there was a slight hiss in her voice. “There’s nothing more you can do.”
Scully felt tears sting her eyes, took a step forward. “Shut up!” she shouted. “Just shut up! You’re not real. You can’t be real. I don’t believe in you.”
A figure came out from behind the three now, a little boy bathed in blood. Scully recognized him immediately from the dream in her apartment in Georgetown, the night Mulder had returned to her.
“You.” She said the single word with accusation. “You’re doing this to me. I’m not going to let you do this to me.”
The child’s mild face twisted in anger. “I AM doing this to you,” he spat. “These people are real. They’re all real.”
Scully felt something pushing at her mind, images coming in. The pregnant woman, blood streaming from between her legs on an ER table, a swarm of doctors around her.
“No,” Scully said, standing up straighter, the gun held up before her still. “No, I won’t let you do this to me.”
The boy showed her his teeth, a snarl. Before her eyes, the three people disappeared, fading from sight as though they had never been there at all. It was just Scully with the boy now, the boy’s breath coming between his teeth. Little bubbles of blood blew from the corners of his lips.
“Who are you?” Scully whispered.
“Michael,” the child hissed, and smiled, seeming pleased with the sound of his name. “My name is Michael.”
The cell phone began to ring and Scully nearly dropped her gun, the sound so loud and sudden. Her eyes flashed to the night table where the phone sat, its display lit up. Then she looked back at where the child stood.
He was gone.
She stood there for a few more seconds, looking at the space where the people had stood. Sweat had broken over her whole body.
“My God,” she whispered, then lowered the gun and stepped back toward the night table and the ringing phone. She fumbled it to her ear.
“Scully,” Mulder’s voice said without prelude. His voice cracked. “Scully…the boy–“
“I’m coming, Mulder,” she said, her voice high and breathless. “I’m coming right now.”
She hung up before he could say anything else, scrambled to the floor for her clothes.
THE PEACOCK MOTEL OUTSIDE CAPE CHARLES, VIRGINIA 11:13 p.m.
Mulder was watching through the windows of the motel room, on the edge of the bed with his gun in his hand, cradling his head with the other. Every sound that entered the room and his head was up, looking around in fear, the gun trained uselessly in front of him. Part of him knew the gun would do no good with what was after him. Another part of him didn’t care.
He was still dressed in his jeans, but he’d shed the bloodied sweat shirt, though some of the boy’s blood had seeped onto the white long- sleeved T-shirt he’d worn under it. He tried not to look at the blood in the faint light of the single lamp that was on in the room. The drapes were pulled tightly closed, the door double locked. Not that it would do him any good either.
Terror gripped him in a fist, shaking him. His body was washed in tremors occasionally like cold overtaking him, but it was fear. His mind was still echoing with the memory of what he’d done…no, what he thought he’d done…
He’d killed Scully. He was alone now.
No. That wasn’t right…he thought…it wasn’t right…he’d talked to her on the phone. She was on her way back to him.
“Jesus…” he breathed, and felt the tears coming again. He said the word again. A plea.
A car’s headlights muted behind the curtains, a door slamming, the sound of running feet. Then a rapping on his door. He leapt at the sound, the gun still in his hand.
“Scully?” he called through the door. “Scully!”
“Mulder, let me in,” came her voice.
A trick. It was the boy again. It had to be a trick.
A key entered the lock and the doorknob spun and the door pushed open, but the chain kept it from opening all the way.
“Mulder, open the door,” she said urgently, and now he could see her small form in the doorway, her trench over sweatpants and a T-shirt.
It was her. It had to be her.
She watched him fly to the door, pushing it shut, then he undid the chain and threw the door open again. She stood there, looking at him, both of them breathing hard. The gun trembled in his hand, then he leaned over and lay it on the window sill quickly. Before she could speak he had grabbed her and pulled her into the room, slamming the door behind her.
Scully slept like the dead. Even as she was aware of the morning light trying to seep through the thick curtains of the motel room, even as she vaguely heard the sounds of cars coming and going in the parking lot just outside the door, she couldn’t bring herself to awaken, sleep like lead on her body, weighing her down like the grave.
Her mind was shifting through images, though her body lay completely still, even her breathing slow and shallow. And at the edge of her awareness, brightness. Heat.
First the outline of Fagan coming toward her from the edge of the water, his body encased in fire as he came forward on the beach…
Her own body burning, crisping. The sounds of her screaming tearing through her mind like startled birds, Mulder’s hand touching her and the scorching receding…
Then a figure in front of her — a room dancing with light, the ceiling aflame, a terrible sound of laughter above the roaring of an inferno. A spinning body, arms flailing like torches.
A child’s body.
A child on fire.
A hand on the side of her head, like the hand that had smoothed her hair the night before. Mulder’s hand. His lips on her temple, warm breath against her face.
“Wake up, Scully,” he murmured into her ear, and she did, her eyes opening.
He’d opened the curtains, and the light cut through the dusty air, gray. His hair was flecked with white.
“Look,” he said, nodding toward the window. “It’s snowing.”
She watched the heavy flakes fall for a few seconds, a child-like pleasure. Mulder looked like it was Christmas morning, a smile on his face. He wore a black turtleneck, jeans, and was shedding his black leather jacket. He looked like winter.
“The manager said it rarely snows here,” he said, fumbling with a couple of bags that he’d set beside the bed. One was white paper — danishes or some other kind of baked goods from the grocery store down the road. The other was a cheap plastic bag with handles, so thin it was nearly transparent, that said “The Dollar Store” on its side. Something was sagging it down from the very bottom, something very small.
She could smell coffee coming from somewhere, and turned her head toward the night stand, seeing the white styrofoam cups there beneath the lamp.
It was all so familiar and she took comfort in it as she turned on her back from her side and stretched, her arms going over her head. Mulder leaned down and kissed her belly where her T-shirt rode up to reveal a line of skin above the blankets.
“How you feeling?” he asked gently, leaning back up and setting the Dollar Store bag on his lap, fishing around in the other. He brought out a glazed donut and took a bite, sugar flaking.
She thought about it for a second, looking at him with her sleepy gaze. “I’m okay,” she said. “I slept well.”
He nodded. “You seemed to,” he said, chewing, and she smiled, her hand going to his thigh. She squeezed slightly.
“Thank you for watching over me last night,” she murmured, and his eyes warmed, a small smile on his face.
“My pleasure,” he replied in the same tone, and their gazes hung. Then he glanced down at the bag on his lap. He didn’t seem to realize he’d done it, but it showed her how clearly interested he was in the contents.
“What’s in the bag?” she said, giving one of the handles a tug.
“Oh, it’s nothing,” he said, and he looked caught. “Just something I picked up while I was out.”
“What is it?” she pressed, and he put the donut down on the night stand and rooted in the bag, bringing out the contents.
A deck of cards.
“You wanna play ‘Go fish?'” she said, smiling, though she was perplexed.
He looked down. “Not quite,” he said, and her smile melted away with his sudden seriousness.
“What?” she asked.
He opened the box, pulling the cheap cards into his hands and cutting the deck. “I thought…we’d try a little experiment,” he said quietly.
She looked at him, then at the cards, trepidation creeping into her. “What kind of experiment?”
He shuffled the cards on his lap. “I want to test you,” he said, the cards making a fanning noise as they slapped together between his hands.
Then it came to her. The old parlor trick her grandfather used to play with her as a kid, when he’d have her choose a card and he’d pick it, seemingly by magic, out of the deck. He’d always tricked her by putting his finger where she’d replaced the card, holding the space, and she’d been too young to realize the difference.
But it was also a legitimate test.
“Mulder, no,” she said, and sat up, the blankets gathering around her hips. She folded her hands in her lap as though she were manacled.
“Scully,” he hurried in, “it would be good to know what exactly we’re dealing with.”
“I don’t want to know,” she said quietly, still unable to look at him. “I don’t want to be tested on this. What I know already is enough to know.”
“We need to try to understand–” he began, but her head shot up, and she could feel tears burning her eyes.
“Mulder, I’m not an X-File,” she snapped, but he only met her gaze evenly, not cowing to her words or her tone.
“I don’t mean to treat you like an X-File,” he said patiently. “I just think it would be good to know the extent of this ability you have. Don’t you want to know what its limits are, Scully? Or even if it has any? Wouldn’t you be less afraid knowing than not knowing?”
She looked down. “I’m not afraid,” she said, and knew she was lying. The realization sank into her.
“I sure as hell would be,” he said, and shuffled again. “I’d want to know.”
They were quiet for a moment, and she warred with herself, unable to look at him. Finally, she heaved out a tired breath. She knew he wouldn’t leave it alone until she did it, for starters. And he was also right. Part of her *did* want to know…
“Okay,” she said, almost too quiet for him to hear.
“You’re sure?” he asked, and she looked up at him. She knew the nervousness was in her eyes.
“Yes,” she said. “I’m sure. Let’s just do it.”
He nodded, shifting on the bed, facing her more fully. “Okay,” he said, brushing the bag off his lap. He held the deck of cards in one hand, the other hand on the top.
“What do I do?” she asked. Her hands were tightly clenched, and she forced them to relax.
“Let’s start with seeing if you can read my mind,” he said, and reached for a card.
“There’s a scary thought,” she quipped under her breath, and he smiled.
“You’re telling me,” he said, and picked up a card, holding it up with its blue back facing her. He looked at the card, then at her. “Okay. Try to tell me what card it is.”
She looked from him to the card, her eyes darting.
“Relax,” he said gently. “Just look at me. Try to see what I’m thinking. See if you can.”
She took in a calming breath, let it out, and focused on his face, concentrating for a long moment.
Nothing. Nothing at all.
“I can’t,” she said finally.
“You’re sure?” he said, looking at the card and then at her again.
“Yes,” she said, nodding. “I’m sure.”
“Okay,” he said, putting the card down on the bed beside him. “Let’s try a few more…”
Mulder in front of her, a card between them. It is the Jack of Hearts…
Her eyes grew wide, and he looked at her, his own opening a bit more.
“What is it?” he asked, and there was something afraid in his voice.
She swallowed, not daring to speak. To say it aloud would be…
“Scully, what is it?” he repeated, and she felt the tears coming.
“Was it…the Jack of Hearts?” she whispered.
He picked up the card from beside him, looked at it once again, then looked at her.
“No,” he said, shaking his head, and turned the card toward her. She stared at it.
Two of clubs.
His shoulders drooped, and she couldn’t tell if it was from disappointment. Hers did, too, and she knew hers did so with relief.
“Thank God,” she said, closing her eyes. She pushed her hair back with one hand, breathed out.
“But this is,” he said, his voice edged with a tone she knew well from him — something full of wonder.
She opened her eyes and looked at his hand. The Jack of Hearts was between his fingers, facing her, its eye staring at her.
“Where…?” she began.
“It was the next card in the deck,” he said calmly. “It was the one I was *about* to show you.”
A tear fell. She was completely still. So was he. They looked at each other for a long few seconds.
Mulder turns the card around. Ace of Spades.
“Tell me what it is, Scully.”
Her eyes were desperate, imploring him.
Don’t make me say it, she said with her eyes. Don’t make me…
“The next card,” he said, his eyes boring into hers. “You know it, don’t you?”
She shook her head, and another tear fell. She squeezed her eyes closed, a hand going to cover her face.
“Don’t shy away from it,” he said, his voice gentle but firm.
She drew in a breath, and it burned her.
“Ace of Spades,” she said into the cup of her hand.
She heard him lift the next card, and looked as he turned it around, though she didn’t need to see him or the card to know she was right.
“Let’s do another one,” he said. “Just to be sure, okay?”
Mulder turns the card around…
“Nine of Diamonds…” she said raggedly.
He faced the card toward her, swallowing, reached for another.
His fingers, turning the card around…
“Queen of Hearts…” Her voice rose, getting louder, her bottom lip trembling.
He held it up, his eyes growing sad, more afraid.
With that, she swung back suddenly and knocked the deck from his hands, sending the cards flying across the foot of the bed. He watched them flutter to the ground, his chest rising and falling, his eyes wide with surprise.
She heaved in a breath, hunched in on herself, burying her face in her hands. “What’s happened to me…?”
His arms were around her instantly, her head held against his chest, his hands tight on her back.
“It’s okay…” he whispered. “Scully, it’s okay…”
She wept openly, huge lungfuls of air entering and leaving her, her body rising and falling against him.
She didn’t know when he lay her down, still gripping her in his arms, cradling her with his body.
She didn’t know when she reached for his clothes and began to undress him, when she pulled her own shirt up over her head, her own panties down.
She didn’t know anything until he was on top of her, then inside her, shushing her, rocking her, and then there was nothing more she needed to know.
ROUTE 13 OUTSIDE CAPE CHARLES, VIRGINIA 11:32 a.m.
Mr. Sanderson had been kind enough to drive the rental car back to the ramshackle airport on the Eastern Shore in exchange for a promise to use his services for the duration of their visits. Mulder figured putting up with Sanderson would be worth not catching a load of it from Skinner for any more days of double car-rental receipts, though after getting a good taste of Sanderson’s music — some kind of bluegrass Christian music — Mulder was beginning to wonder what could be worse.
He’d left the car for Scully in case there was something in Norfolk about the blood stained shirt that required her attention. Or if she just wanted to drive, to get out, to get away. He wanted her to be able to do what she needed to do to take care of herself today. Even if that meant just taking off in the car and heading up the Shore, getting lost in the miles of stubbled fields and snow-laden sky.
People were actually crying out in the background in the live recording on Sanderson’s radio, howling like monkeys as a group of men sang a cappella about Jesus. Mulder winced, but Sanderson was humming along. It wasn’t the sentiment that bothered Mulder — he’d been overcome by a thing or two in his life himself — it was the music itself. Patsy Cline was about as far in the “country” direction as he could go, and then only because she reminded him so much of Scully.
“So,” Sanderson said suddenly as they turned onto Randolph from 13. The word hung in the air between the two seats.
“So?” Mulder repeated as it appeared Sanderson wasn’t going to go on.
“Heard there was some commotion at the motel last night.”
Mulder stared into the rearview mirror. “Oh?” he said, his voice hedged.
“Ah-yep,” Sanderson said. “Something in the middle of the night. Some shoutin’ and such.”
“I didn’t hear anything,” Mulder replied mildly, looking out the window, his tie feeling too tight.
“Well, that’s mighty strange there, Agent, since it was coming from one of ya’ll’s rooms.”
Mulder felt color rising in his face.
“How is it you get your information, Mr. Sanderson?” he deflected. “You must spend a lot of time on the phone.”
Sanderson grinned in the rearview mirror. “Oh, everybody spends a good bit of time on the phone here, Mr. Mulder,” he said. “We like to keep up with what’s going on is all. No harm in that, is there?”
Mulder made a vague noise, sat up straighter in the seat.
“Everything all right with your partner?” Sanderson pressed, and Mulder was full blown annoyed now.
“Yes, she’s fine,” he grunted.
“That’s good,” Sanderson replied. “I was just a little worried when you called and she couldn’t help you with the rental.”
Scully could have helped him. The truth was he hadn’t wanted to bother her with it, wanted her to sleep.
Was she fine?
After they’d made love, they’d lain together facing each other, breathing hard, sweat slicking their skin in the chilly room.
She’d done something strange as they’d rested there.
He’d been stroking her waist, her belly, his fingers playing over her navel, when she reached down and put his hand flat against her there, holding very still.
“What is it?” he’d asked, noting the shift in her, the seriousness.
Her somber eyes had looked into his and she’d asked, in almost a whisper: “Do you ever regret it?”
He’d been at a loss, his head shaking. “Regret what?”
Her hand held his still against her belly, her eyes not leaving his. She’d squeezed his hand against her as if in answer to his question.
And he’d understood, his face falling.
“No,” he’d said, convicted. “No. Never.”
She’d watched his face for another few seconds as though weighing if she believed him or not, and he leaned in to kiss her, hoping to clear the doubt away. When he pulled his face back, her eyes had been closed, but her brow was creased with some emotion he couldn’t name.
She let his hand go and drew her arms away.
She’d fallen asleep soon after, curled up like a shell in the motel’s cheap blankets, looking brittle and small. He’d risen then, covered her with an extra blanket from the closet, laying the worn pink velux over her bare shoulder and throat.
She hadn’t stirred, her hands clenched to fists beneath her chin even in her sleep.
Sanderson was talking to him. He realized that now.
“I’m sorry,” he said, catching Sanderson looking at him again in the mirror. “What did you say?”
“I said things didn’t seem to go so well with your partner over at the Dillard house yesterday.”
Mulder blinked, thinking back to what Scully had said about the visit with Pam. She *had* been edgy as she’d talked about it, and had not said much. Only that Pam had seemed bitter over the topic of Scully’s visit with Melba Book.
“How do you mean?” Mulder asked as they bumped over the dip that led them into the town.
“Them crows,” Sanderson said. “Old Man Packard said Agent Scully’s car was covered with them as she’d gone out. That Mrs. Dillard had to shoo the things away.”
Mulder considered this, chewing his lip.
“The crows don’t come all the time,” Sanderson ventured, the song switching over to a faster song. He reached over and turned the sound down slightly with the new onslaught of noise. His eye darted to Mulder’s in the mirror again. “Just sometimes.”
Mulder looked at Sanderson, the man’s knowing gaze.
Something had happened between Pam and Scully. Something Scully hadn’t revealed. Maybe something she didn’t realize had happened at all.
He kept his own counsel about it, looking away from Sanderson at the houses lining the street, their windows like eyes. Sanderson hummed tunelessly.
They turned onto Plum, the dark shape of the Dillard house looming, and the cab slowed at the curb, the brakes whining to a halt.
“Thank you for the help this morning, Mr. Sanderson,” Mulder said, reaching into his inside pocket for his wallet.
“There’s no charge, Mr. Mulder,” Sanderson said. “I’ve gotten enough money out of the government from Agent Scully. Consider it a public service.” He smiled.
“And a chance to pick my brain,” Mulder replied, putting his wallet back.
“Ah-yep,” Sanderson said, winked. “That, too.”
Mulder reached for the door, got out to the sidewalk.
“Just give me a call when you’re ready to go on back,” Sanderson said. “I’m always home just about. And if I’m not, I’ll be home shortly.”
Mulder nodded and closed the door. The ancient cab pulled away, puffing a little smoke into the air as it headed down the street.
Pam didn’t answer the door, so he went around the back again. He didn’t hear the wheel today, but knew she’d be in the studio just the same. Snow began to fall again as he went through the back gate and into the yard, the interior of the studio brightly lit against the gray of the day. He could see Pam at the counter, her head down and her hands busy.
“Hi, Pam,” he said as he came to the doorway. The cat was there again at her feet and stood, stretching so hard it shook. It looked at him with sleepy, interested eyes.
“Hello, Agent Mulder,” Pam said, and she didn’t spare him a glance, so intent on what she was doing.
Mulder looked at what she was working on — a tall white bowl, lines of multicolored glass curved around its sides. It was beautiful, and he said so.
“Thank you,” Pam replied, blushing. “I’ve tried to make good use of all this glass you worked so hard digging up for me.”
Mulder smiled, and she glanced back at him finally, and smiled, too.
“Have things been quiet?” he asked, leaning against the door frame, his hands in his coat pockets for warmth. Pam was next to the space heater again and it made a faint whir at her feet.
She nodded. “Very quiet,” she said, rolling another coil of porcelain. “Maybe it’s stopped. Maybe he’s gone away.”
“Oh, he hasn’t gone away,” Mulder said, a chill running up his spine as he remembered Michael’s face hovering above his, the blood seeping from the child’s mouth. “I think he just wanted to make himself known to Agent Scully and me. I think he’ll be back your way.”
“Don’t say that,” she said, something desperate in her voice, and she glanced back at him. “I’m sorry about what happened with you and Agent Scully, though.”
“It’s not your fault,” he said, shaking his head. “You shouldn’t act like it is.”
Pam stopped what she was doing, looked down. “Whose fault is it then?” she asked. “You said yourself that this has something to do with me. That I’m the key to this.”
“That doesn’t mean you have any control over what this thing does,” Mulder replied.
“But what Agent Scully told me you both saw…” She trailed off.
“It’s not your fault,” he said again, more firmly this time.
They were quiet, and she began to work again, gently rolling the coil of clay. Then she pinched it onto the bowl, smoothing with her fingers carefully.
“The child said his name was Michael,” Mulder said finally. “Did Agent Scully tell you that?”
Pam’s head came up quickly.
“No,” she said hurriedly. “No, she didn’t tell me that part.”
He cocked his head, his brows creasing down.
“What does that name mean to you, Pam?” He looked at her intently, and she faced forward again, her hands moving over the clay.
“Not a thing,” she said, shrugged.
He didn’t believe her, and was about to say so when Pam cut him off.
“I’m glad you’re not angry with me,” she said, and he was caught off guard by her words.
“Angry?” he repeated. “Why would I be angry with you?”
She wiped her hands on her pants. The cat meowed at her feet, rubbing against her calf.
“Because of what I said to Agent Scully,” she replied, and her voice was small.
Mulder didn’t like the sound of that.
“What did you say to her?” He couldn’t help the edge that came into his voice.
Pam looked at him. “You know…the things about knowing the two of you are together. The things about you wanting children.”
He remembered the way Scully’s hand had squeezed his wrist against her belly, the exact feel of it. The heavy look in her eyes as she’d asked him about regret, her own eyes filled with it.
Ire rose in him and he shifted against the door frame.
“That’s not your business,” he said, more sharply than he wanted. “None of that is.”
Pam’s eyes flashed. “And it was her business to go talking to Melba Book about *me* having children?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said. “It was. Your history is under investigation. Hers is not.”
“She had *no right* to talk to Melba about that,” Pam replied, her voice rising.
“Why?” Mulder said, matching her volume and her tone. “You sound like you’ve got something you’re trying to hide you’re afraid might get out. Is that why you felt the need to hurt her like that? To keep her from finding something you didn’t want to come out?”
“I didn’t mean to hurt her,” Pam shot back.
“Bullshit,” Mulder spat. “You found just the way to silence her. You found just the thing to do it and you used it. You knew exactly what you were doing.”
Pam’s eyes filled with tears, and she shook her head. “No,” she said, and her voice cracked.
But Mulder was raging now, the image of Scully in the bed in his mind, and the source of her sadness in front of him now, revealed.
“You chose not to have children, Pam,” he said, pointing at her. “That was your CHOICE. Scully didn’t choose that. She never got the chance to choose.”
“I didn’t!” Pam said, spinning to face him. “It wasn’t my choice at all! Don’t you see that? It’s not what I want!”
A sound rose in the room. Like an intake of air. Like wind coming through.
The cat hissed, hunkering close to the ground beneath Pam’s chair.
“Well, WAKE UP, Pam,” Mulder said, his voice almost menacing. “We don’t always get what we want in this life. You could learn a lot from Scully about what you do with that. Sometimes you decide to be happy with what you have and you STOP wanting so much–“
“NO!” Pam screamed, slapping her thighs in frustration. “I won’t let you talk to me this way! I won’t listen to it!”
From across the room, the stool behind the wheel rose up and flew toward the doorway, so fast it made a sound in the air. Mulder leapt to the side quickly and missed the bulk of the blow. Only one leg glanced off his arm as it rocketed out the doorway and smashed into the side of the fence.
A heavy silence fell over both of them, Mulder holding his arm and looking at Pam in surprise.
“I’m sorry,” she said, covering her eyes with her hand. “I’m so sorry…”
“How did you do that?” he asked quietly.
“I didn’t do it,” she said. “It wasn’t me…”
“It *is* you,” he said, awed and a little afraid. “Somehow it is.”
“No,” she whispered, shaking her head.
“Just go away,” she said, turning to face the bowl again. “Leave me alone.”
His arm was throbbing, but he lowered it, regarded her seriously. “It’s not going to go away,” he warned. “None of it is. Not until you face whatever it is you don’t want to see.”
“Leave me alone,” she said again, and her voice was hard as shards. “Come back tomorrow.”
A breeze ruffled his coat tails slightly, the same strange sound of wind in the air of the studio. At her feet, the cat growled lowly at him, its hair standing on end.
“All right,” he said, and took a step toward the door, fear creeping into him. “I’m going.”
She nodded, did not turn toward him, her hands going to her bowl.
And, with one final look back at her, he went.
CHESAPEAKE BAY BRIDGE TUNNEL BETWEEN VIRGINIA BEACH AND THE EASTERN SHORE 12:11 p.m.
Snow was falling heavily as Granger emerged from the second tunnel, heading out onto the long expanse of bridge that seemed to lead over the entire ocean, no land in sight anywhere in the thick sky up in front of him. The rental car hummed along almost silently, bumping on the hinges of the bridge, and Granger watched the seagulls, white tinged with a blue almost turquoise on their wings, riding the updrafts around the bridge. The wind was strong as the storm blew into the mouth of the Chesapeake from the sea.
He’d driven for most of the trip from Vienna in silence, his muscles taut and his mind still reeling from the previous night and morning. He’d been up all night getting Robin and Bo settled into a safehouse under Skinner’s protection, his boss up looking rumpled as he’d stood in the apartment, directing the activity of the evidence collectors and the agents who would watch over Robin. Granger situated her in the bedroom, as far away from the commotion as he could get her.
She’d looked at him as he filled a bag, her own already beside the door, packed while Granger gave his statement to Skinner and the police.
“You’re not coming with me,” she’d said, something grim in her voice as she held the sleeping Bo across her lap on the edge of the bed.
He stopped what he was doing, pulling jeans from a drawer on his side of the room, and looked at her, his spare glasses feeling strange on his battered face.
“No,” he’d said. “I’m not. Not right away at least.”
Robin had nodded. “You’re going to Dana.”
Granger looked down. He felt lost.
“Yes,” he said softly. “I don’t know where else to go.”
Robin looked down. “Paul…” she began, shaking her head, her eyes wide. “I don’t understand any of this. I don’t understand what’s happening. And I don’t mean just the stuff with Dana. I thought you said this man wouldn’t come after you, that–“
“I was wrong,” he interrupted tersely, slamming the drawer closed and going to the bed where his suitcase sat open. He tossed the jeans in on top of the other clothes, pushing them down hard.
“I’m sorry,” she murmured. “I didn’t mean to–“
“It’s okay,” he interrupted. “I know you don’t mean anything by it. I’m just…disappointed in myself. I should know better than this. I’ve called this whole thing wrong and now we’re both paying for it.”
“You can’t know everything,” she said, and he stopped and looked at her, at the deep brown of her eyes as she searched his out. “You shouldn’t expect yourself to know everything.”
“Thank you for not blaming me,” he said softly. “I don’t know how you can’t, but thank you.”
She nodded. “I love you,” she said, as though that explained everything.
“I love you,” he replied, and pulled the zipper on the suitcase hard enough to nearly break the thing. “And I’m going to stop this. I promise.”
She’d been quiet, but he could feel she accepted what he said.
After Skinner had taken her and Bo away, after the police had scoured the apartment and left and the neighbors had finally lost interest and gone back to bed, he’d gotten in the car and left, heading south, then east toward the coast.
He could see a higher bridge coming into view in the distance, and the dark shape of the other shore. Almost there. With that, he reached into his pocket and drew out his cell phone, dialed.
The phone rang several times, then was finally picked up.
“Scully,” came the voice on the other end.
“Dana, it’s Paul,” he said, and he could hear the fatigue in his own voice.
“Paul,” she said, and she sounded strange to him. Almost ashamed? “Where are you?”
“I’m on the bridge from Virginia Beach,” he said. “I’m on my way to you. I don’t know where you are, though.”
There was a heavy beat of silence, nothing but static crackling on the line for a few seconds. “The Peacock Motel. You’ll see it in about 10 minutes. On your left. Look for boats. Lots of boats. I’m in room 14.”
“All right,” he said. “I’ll see you shortly.”
“Okay,” she said, and the line clicked off.
He replaced the phone in the pocket of his bomber jacket, his anxiety going up a notch as he touched down on the other shore.
He saw the boats first, just as she’d said. The motel itself was a rambling one-story affair, old but well-kept. And all around it, on the lawn out front and all around the sides, fishing boats on trailers, parked in every spare bit of grass around the place. The owner clearly made some money on the side leasing out the space for dry docking in the off-season. It gave the place a touristy feel.
The neon “vacancy” sign crackled a bit, winking. He got out and locked the door, ignoring his bag for now. He didn’t know how long he would be staying.
In fact, he didn’t really know what he was doing here at all.
Room 14 was at about the midway point in the motel, the drapes open, and Granger could see a rumpled bed in the light. Snow dusted him, but did not stick to the ground. He knocked.
It took a moment, but then the door opened and Scully was standing there in a green cardigan sweater, jeans, and bare feet, her hair wet and curled behind her ears. The skin beneath her eyes was discolored, and he thought it extreme fatigue until he realized she’d been struck, and hard.
He looked at her, and she at him. He didn’t know what to say or to expect from her.
That’s why when she stepped forward, her arms going around his neck and pulling him down toward her into a hard embrace, he was both surprised and relieved.
“How are you?” he asked into her hair, the strands dampening his cheek, his arms around her slight back.
She said nothing for few seconds, then withdrew, looking down at his feet. He could see her pulling herself together, though she was clearly tattered.
“I’m okay,” she said, nodding. Now she did look at him. “How are you? And Robin?”
“We’re both okay,” he replied, and she reached up to touch his temple where the gash had crusted over, a knot beneath it. “It’s nothing,” he said, and she drew her hand away.
“Come in,” she said, and stepped aside to allow him to enter the room. There was a lamp on beside the bed, but it gave off little light. She went to the edge of the bed and sat, a table and chairs across from her. He turned one of the chairs toward her and sat, as well, his elbows on his knees.
“Where’s Mulder?” he asked.
“He’s with the woman whose case we’re investigating,” she replied. “He has a much better rapport with her than I do, and I think he wanted me to sleep in anyway.” She looked down. “I’m a little tired since last night.”
He nodded. “I can imagine you are,” he said softly.
“I can see you are, too,” she said faintly, and he nodded. They were quiet for a beat.
“Dana,” he began finally. “How long have you been in…contact with this man?”
“Since the murder with the man in the tree,” she replied. “I…saw that murder. Or part of it. And I saw the next one, too. I heard the woman screaming. I saw him shoot the man.” She looked at him gravely. “But I haven’t seen his face.”
He cleared his throat. He felt like a person dumped down on a strange planet, struggling to find his bearings in a new land. “Okay,” he said, nodded, trying to sound like they were discussing the ocean or the snow. “Okay.”
“I know this is hard for you,” Scully said, the same grim look on her face. “It’s hard for me, too. And I have more experience with this sort of thing than you do. More exposure.”
“Yeah, you have,” he said. “And I know you haven’t exactly bought into all this stuff you’ve been exposed to. This must be a shock.”
She nodded. “It is,” she said, almost losing her voice again. “I’m…very afraid. Of what it could mean.”
“What could it mean?” he asked, his head cocking as he looked at her, at how stricken she seemed.
She looked down. “I don’t know,” she said at last. “Things will be different, though. I know that.” Now she pinned him with her eyes. “Like…I know you’re here to use me to find this man. I know you think I can help you find him.”
He felt heat rise up in his face, but he didn’t shy from her gaze. “Yes,” he said simply.
Her eyes were wide pools of blue shining up at his. “I can’t help you,” she whispered.
“Can’t or won’t?” he asked gently. “Either way, I don’t believe you.”
The tears came then, silent as the snow. One tracked down her cheek and caught the light, holding it. She shook her head, and did not answer.
A key went in the lock and the door opened, Mulder coming in, looking very FBI in his suit and black trench. His eyes widened on seeing Granger sitting there, but then his face fell, and he nodded.
“Granger,” he said, and shut the door behind him.
“How are you, Mulder?” Granger replied, and watched as Mulder immediately turned his full attention to Dana on the bed as though Granger wasn’t in the room at all.
She was wiping at her face, looking away. Mulder went to her and put a hand on the crown of her head, smoothing down her hair before he sat beside her on the bed.
“You’re back early,” Scully said, trying for normalcy so hard it made Granger ache.
Mulder nodded. “She asked me to leave. A stool flew across the room at me on its own. I thought it best to leave her alone for the day.”
Granger looked at Mulder, waiting for the laugh. It didn’t come, and he gaped.
Mulder noticed, a smile tugging at his mouth. “Welcome to our world, Granger,” he said. “You like it?”
Scully choked on laughter as though it hurt her, still wiping at her eyes. Granger joined in. He felt, in a few seconds, like he would never stop, the nervous laughter that comes with stress boiling from him. Their laughter was a relief in the tense room.
Mulder turned to Scully, smoothing a remaining tear with his thumb. “You want some lunch?” he asked her, and nodded to Granger. “You’ve had a long drive. How about coffee? A sandwich or something?”
“That sounds good,” Granger said.
“Just let me finish getting ready,” Scully said, and stood. “It won’t take but a few minutes.”
Granger nodded, and Mulder gestured toward the door, rising. “Let’s give her a minute,” he said, and Granger stood and went out the door that Mulder opened. They went out on the walkway in front of room, Mulder pulling the door shut behind them.
They stood there, two figures with their hands in their pockets, both breathing out big plumes of vapor every time they exhaled.
Granger looked out over the sea of boats, letting the silence linger between them. He knew Mulder would speak when he was ready.
“What are you going to do?” Mulder asked finally. He wouldn’t look at Granger, even when Granger glanced at him.
“I’m not sure,” he said, treading carefully. “Does she have any control over this…ability?”
Mulder blew out another icy looking breath. “She has some. We don’t know much yet.”
Granger nodded. “I did some work during graduate school on it, and…I’d like to try hypnotizing her,” he said softly. “If she’ll let me, of course. Do you think she’s up for it?”
Mulder looked down. “I don’t know what she’s up for at this point,” he said, and now he did look at Granger, his eyes sad. “But I’ve been where you are. I know you need her. Bad. Just go easy, okay?”
Granger nodded. “I would never do anything to hurt Dana,” he said. “You know that.”
Mulder nodded, looked away. “I know that, yeah,” he said, sounding dejected. “And she doesn’t need me saying any of this either. I’m just…”
“I know,” Granger said, thinking of Robin and understanding. “I’ll be careful.”
Mulder nodded, his jaw clenched. Granger let the quiet drift around them as the snow turned to ice and then to rain.
125 PLUM STREET CAPE CHARLES, VIRGINIA 1:03 p.m.
The kiln had been warming through the night and into the morning and the work stood ready to go inside. The device’s squat metal body sat in the corner, pouring heat into the studio like breath against Pam’s legs at the counter. She could tell from the heaviness of the air in the small building that it was time.
Anger burned in her, as well, itself a low fire in her belly. Agent Mulder’s words, his protectiveness of his partner — his lover — had branded her. She could still feel that her cheeks were red with it, as though she’d been slapped. Her jaw was clenched tight.
The last coil went onto the bowl and she curled the lip slightly out, shaping it carefully with her fingers over the last of the rows of sea glass. Beside her, in a plastic bowl, the remnants remained, broken into tiny pieces like opaque, colored diamonds, the overhead light glinting on them.
She remembered Mulder on the beach, squatting there on the sand, the way he’d bitten his lip as he’d dug, pulling up the bits of glass and tossing them in the bucket. She remembered the smile he’d spared her as he’d found the cobalt piece that was peppered all around the bowl. She remembered drinking in that smile, wanting.
She picked up the spoon and burnished the lip until the clay shone, too, in the light, its skin a mottled death-white. Then she sat back and looked at it, cradling the bowl between her hands.
It was finished now. Ready for the fire.
Though the voice surprised her, she didn’t jump at the sound. She only turned her head slowly to the side, facing Brian in the doorway. He was smiling when she first looked at him. Then he wasn’t any more.
“What’s the matter?” he asked, his hands shoved in his back pockets, his face a mask of vague confusion and concern.
She just looked at him. Completely still. She didn’t even feel like she was breathing, as though her own skin had hardened to something that might shatter.
“Nothing’s the matter,” she said, monotone.
His hand came out of his pocket and he gestured behind him. “I saw your stool sitting out by the fence. Did something happen?”
“No,” she said, and turned back to her bowl. She rose, carrying it, and went to the kiln, lifting the heavy lid. Searing heat blasted her in the face, and she set the bowl down in the center of the kiln, bending low. When she was satisfied with its position, she reached onto the counter and began arranging the other pieces — vases, cups, other bowls — around it. The air simmered with heat, distorting things in her vision.
“It was Agent Mulder, wasn’t it?” Brian said from behind her. His voice was hedged.
“He was here, yes,” she said evenly, not turning.
“Is he coming back?” His voice got more clipped.
“No,” she replied. “I told him to leave me alone today.” The skin on her face began to sting, and she worked more quickly, her hands reddening.
“Well, good,” Brian said, his voice grating on her with its rancor. “He doesn’t seem to do anything except make you miserable. Things have been worse since he got here, in fact. You’ve gotten more distant. When he comes back tomorrow, you tell him to just forget this whole thing and to take his partner back to D.C. and leave us the hell alone.”
She let a beat of silence go by as she stood, carefully putting down the lid and latching it closed.
She remembered the sound the stool had made as it had rocketed through the air, the slight tingle that had gone up her spine as it moved, like a tickle rising through her.
A pleasant feeling. The way what she was feeling now was pleasant to her. This anger.
“Don’t tell me what to do,” she said. It rumbled from her, from somewhere deep in her.
“Pam, I just think–“
She turned her face toward him, and she could feel something flash in her eyes. “Don’t ever tell me what to do again,” she said.
A breeze came in, bringing in some of the rain. It ruffled Brian’s hair as he looked at her, moved the sleeves of his shirt. He said nothing.
She’d never spoken to him that way before. And she’d never silenced him. Her lip curled with it.
The breeze pushed in again, harder this time. She felt it, and her lip curled more.
“I’m…” He turned and looked at the house. “I’m just going to go get something to eat. I’m just on a break. Rob is covering…” He trailed off.
She could tell he was uncertain. Maybe even a little afraid.
“Fine,” she said, and turned her back to him again. She heard him shuffle away toward the house.
A crow cawed in a tree from somewhere around the house as though calling her. She reached for her sweater, thrown over the back of the chair, and shouldered into it, looking at the counter.
The glass was there in the bowl, all sharp edges and color and light.
She reached her hand into it, picked up a handful, staring down.
She saw Agent Mulder on the beach, strong hands sifting through the sand.
“And what did you want to do when he did this?”
That’s what he’d asked her. After she’d told him about the boy with his hands on her breasts.
“…what did you want…?”
Her hand closed around the glass. She squeezed, her fist shaking with the effort.
“Sometimes you decide to be happy with what you have and you STOP wanting so much…”
A line of blood trickled into the bowl. She didn’t feel the pain. She didn’t feel anything except the rage.
The crow called again. Louder and more insistent.
With that, she opened her fist, turned her hand over, brushing the pieces out of her palm. It clung to the blood and skin, making soft noises in the bottom of the bowl as the larger pieces fell.
Wiping her hand on her jeans, she picked up her car keys and headed out into the rain.
SOMEWHERE OFF ROUTE 13 1:38 p.m.
The road she followed had no name, an ill-kept backroad through some farmland that would be soybeans when the planting season came. The windshield wipers flapped on the glass, the only sound in the car. Pam kept her eyes forward, her hands clenching the steering wheel as she scanned for the elusive turnoff she was looking for.
She missed it twice, backtracking. Then she found the break in the treeline, the dirt road that led toward the water on the other side of the forest. The car bumped along the road, the higher ground clearance of the Outback taking the rutted road easily, rocking her.
The water came into view and she stopped the car, kept the vehicle running, and got out, the headlights slicing through the misty air.
It only took a few moments to reach the sand, a wide lip of dusky white beside the water. Tiny rippled waves lapped there, the only sound in the cold gray air.
She looked out over the water, pushed back her hair from her face, the damp tendrils of it. That same tingle was in her back. It was like an electric current was coursing through her from the ground, buzzing her head.
The anger fed it. The anger and something else.
The knowledge that this feeling, this power, was there.
And that it was hers.
She shook her head as she thought this, smiling faintly.
All these years she had fought this. Run from it. Shamed herself for it. Pretended it wasn’t there.
She could feel it burning in her now, a black flame inside her chest, licking behind her eyes.
She wouldn’t pretend any more.
Noise from the treeline, and the crow was there. Big and oily with keen eyes watching her. She looked back as it called out.
A flutter of wings and there were three. Then five. More wings and there were twenty and more, the tree filling with birds until they hung like huge black leaves, the tree quivering with their bodies’ jostling weight.
She turned to face them, and then she raised her arms, opening them. Like a child asking to be lifted into her father’s arms.
The crows took flight, a thick mass of them, swirling in the air above her, spiraling. They called out with their acrid voices. It sounded like laughter.
She heard a noise behind her, something wet, and she turned toward the water, her arms still up over her head, as though she held the crows aloft with her hands.
Fish on the beach, silver, flipping themselves onto the sand, their bodies curling, their mouths gaping and their eyes shining like foil as they stared at her. They slapped against each other as they writhed on the beach, the water rippling as others followed them onto the land into the terrible air. It was a school of croakers, so named by the sound they made, a chorus of pain as air rushed through them.
She watched them, the current growing stronger within her now that her resistance to it had fallen away. Now that she’d stopped fighting.
Pam glanced at the clouds above her, so gray they were almost black, white shimmering around their edges in tendrils like smoke.
The word seemed to echo in the air.
And with that the cloud banked, separating, and fresh rain poured down, a torrent. It settled just there on the beach, pounding her so hard the frigid droplets stung and left pits in the sand.
Pam stood there in the midst of it, letting the cold water rush over her. It shocked her, and she gasped for breath with the onslaught on her senses.
She felt more alive than she had in her life, and she stayed there for a long time, pulling in deep lungfuls of air as though she’d never breathed before.
Then she saw, from the corner of her eye, a shape coming from the treeline.
The child was there, rain pattering his bluish body.
She turned to face him slowly, her arms lowering to her sides.
They regarded each other for a long moment, staring, and the crows spun above them, the beach littered with the dying fish.
The boy turned his head, studying her.
And Pam was not afraid.
THE PEACOCK MOTEL OUTSIDE CAPE CHARLES, VIRGINIA 2:06 p.m.
The autumn storm was raging outside the windows, a bluster of wind and rain against the motel window. It was so dim outside that with the curtains drawn — as they were — Mulder could almost imagine it night in the small room, the space lit only by sullen yellow light from the lamp on the night stand. The room felt cave-like, too small, and stuffy with its heat.
Mulder was all nerves, his body tight, his hands jammed into the pockets of the jeans he’d changed into when they’d returned from the restaurant. He knew Scully could sense it by the way she looked at him from the bed where she sat, her knees pressed together, her arms bracing her on either side. She already looked immensely tired and more than a little afraid.
She’d looked that way since Granger had carefully suggested the hypnosis over lunch. She’d seemed to know it was coming, though Mulder doubted there was anything paranormal involved with her knowledge of this.
“I…don’t know what I’m looking for exactly…” Granger had said, picking at his fries. “…what I’m hoping for, but…”
“I understand,” she’d replied noncommitedly. She hadn’t touched her food, her appetite always the first casualty of intense stress.
Mulder had leaned in then, reached beneath the table and taken her hand. “You don’t have to do this,” he said.
He’d glanced at Granger, who’d simply nodded, not seeming put out with Mulder for his words. Granger had made it clear with his attitude and the way he’d asked that he’d leave this up to Scully. If she said “no,” he’d said, he would find another way.
“I don’t want to,” she’d said, not looking at either of them, and Mulder saw Granger’s shoulders droop, though he nodded again.
“All right,” Granger said.
Then Scully looked up at him. “But I will,” she said. “I can’t make any promises that I can help you, though.”
“I’m not asking for promises,” Granger had said. “Just trying is good enough.”
Now Granger sat in front of Scully in the chair at the table, just as he’d done when Mulder had arrived back from Pam’s earlier. Granger had shed his jacket this time, and Mulder didn’t know how Granger could stand the heat in the room in his black sweater and heavy boots and jeans. Indeed, even as Mulder thought this, Granger pushed up the sleeves of the sweater, as though he were a man getting ready to get to work.
“You ready, Dana?” Granger asked. Mulder looked at Scully, and he realized she was still looking back at him, her gaze a silent plea.
He understood the plea now and came to the bed, sitting down next to her, the mattresses dipping with their combined weight. He sat close to her, their legs almost touching.
Scully reached out and took his hand, saying nothing. Then she nodded to Granger.
“Okay,” Granger said, and picked up a pen light, which he’d had in his coat pocket, from the table beside him. He twisted, and the flashlight shone amber in the dim light. “Mulder told me you’ve done this before.”
“Yes,” she said. “I know…a little of what to expect.”
Granger nodded. “Okay.” Then he held the light up in front of her face, about a foot away from her nose, but did not shine it in her eyes. Scully looked at it dutifully, took in a deep breath and let it out. She closed her eyes, opened them again. Then she held the light in an unwavering gaze.
“That’s it,” Granger said gently, his voice pitched low. Soothing. “Focus on the light and clear your mind as much as you can. I’m going to tell you a story and I want you to listen closely to the sound of my voice, all right?”
She nodded, her eyes still on the pen. Mulder felt her squeeze his hand, and he squeezed back.
“All right,” Scully replied, almost a whisper.
“Look into the light and listen to me, and try to relax,” Granger murmured. He paused, gave her a few seconds for the tension to fall away a bit from her shoulders. Then he began to speak.
“Once there was a woman who went walking in a forest. It was cold and the trees leaned in and hid the sky. It was a dark place. Try to picture it with me. A deep forest…”
He turned the pen slightly, and Mulder saw the light glimmering on Scully’s face. Granger kept describing the forest — the ground covered with ferns, the loamy smell of the place, and the persistent darkness and cold.
“Do you see the forest, Dana?” Granger asked finally.
A pause. “Yes,” she said, monotone.
“This room,” Granger said, his voice growing softer. “You’re no longer in this room at all. You are that woman, and you’re in that forest.”
Mulder glanced at Scully’s face, and her eyes were glassed, still focussed on the light as Granger turned the pen slowly.
“Yes,” she said finally, and her voice cracked. “I’m…I’m afraid…”
“Don’t be afraid,” Granger said, his voice quite literally mesmerizing. “There’s a light. You can see it. It’s right in front of you. The light is safe, a safe place. Mulder is in the light. I’m in the light. You walk toward the light and you’re not afraid of the forest any more. Walk toward it, Dana. You can see it. Walk into it in your mind and nothing in the forest can harm you.”
Scully’s eyes drooped, and she struggled to open them again.
“It’s okay,” Granger said. “You can close your eyes. You close your eyes and you’ll still see the light. It’s all around you. It’s warm and beautiful and you’re safe. Just concentrate on my voice and walk into the light.”
With that, Scully’s eyes closed and she swayed slightly, her arm leaning against Mulder’s. Her head dropped down slowly.
“Can you still hear me, Dana?” Granger asked, and he lowered the pen, setting it silently on the table.
“…Yes.” The word was slurred.
“What do you see?” he asked.
It was so quiet in the room, Mulder thought. Eerie. No sound but the occasional push of the frigid wind against the window, and Granger’s deep, soft voice.
“I see…light,” Scully said. She heaved in a deep breath, let it out, and her breathing was like that of someone asleep.
“Good,” Granger soothed. “That’s good. It’s warm…you’re relaxed, completely relaxed, and you’re safe. As long as you’re in the light, you’re safe, okay?”
Scully said nothing, but Mulder felt her weight more heavily against him as she sunk deeper.
“Dana, I want you to think about something. Remember something.”
Mulder braced himself, his hand tightening instinctively around Scully’s.
Here we go, he thought.
“There was a man you were in contact with in your mind,” Granger said. “The man from my apartment. Do you remember him?”
Scully’s brow furrowed. “Yes,” she said. “I…remember him.”
“You know him. You’ve seen his mind.”
“Yes…I know him.”
Granger licked his lips, leaned closer. “Can you find him again, Dana?” he asked, and Mulder had to give the man credit for reaching out so earnestly, for believing. Desperation would do that, he thought darkly.
“I…I don’t know how,” Scully murmured. “And I’m…afraid. Terrible things…”
“You’re in the light with Mulder. With me. He can’t hurt you. He lives in the forest, and you’re in the light. Can you try to find this man? Find him with your mind?”
There was a long beat of silence, the room still, neither man daring to move.
Then Scully’s breathing picked up slightly, and though the rest of her was limp as a rag doll, her grip on Mulder’s hand tightened.
Mulder saw Granger glance down at he and Scully’s clasped hands at the same time he did. The two men exchanged a look, both their eyes widening.
“What do you see, Dana?” Granger said, his voice just above a whisper. “Tell me where you are right now. Anything about it.”
Scully’s breathing picked up more, her chest begin to rise and fall more deeply.
“I…” Her head came up, and Mulder could see sweat beading her forehead, shining there. She shook her head once and did not continue.
“What is it, Dana?” Granger asked urgently, though his voice remained hushed. “Tell me.”
Scully pulled in a breath.
“I hear music…”
“You’d better turn that shit down or Kelso’s gonna have your ass. You know he don’t like that Metal crap.”
The music was blasting from the boom box beside the car, though the man was facing the underside of a car, a single utility light in a wire cage hanging from the vehicle’s innards. Oil was dripping down into a pan in thick drops.
His hand reached out and turned the music down — angry music, all electric guitars and screaming. Then he looked over at someone’s feet beside the car.
“How’s it coming under there, anyway? These folks are in a bit of a hurry.”
The man grunted. “They’re always in a fucking hurry.” He had a soft voice, but it had sand in it.
His hands worked quickly, screwing a pan into place, stopping the drip of oil. Then, he slid from beneath the car and stood, going to the open hood. There were five quarts of oil there and a funnel, and he unscrewed the cap off the first bottle and poured the golden liquid home.
The music was still screeching from the speakers as he screwed everything shut up tight and let the hood drop with a satisfying bump. Then he grabbed the clipboard, the ticket pinched in the metal clasp, obscuring the name of the repair shop beneath it.
There was a name at the top of the page in the customer information section. Andre Norton. 3219 Sycamore Avenue. Rock Oak…
His coworker’s voice pulled the man’s attention away from the ticket.
“Go ring them out yourself, will you?” The other man was looking up from where he was prying a tire from its rim.
It pissed the man off.
“I’ll get ’em,” came the reply, and he started toward the desk area and the waiting room beyond.
“All right, Mr. Norton?” he said, not looking up, as he went to the cash register. “You’re all set…”
Andre Norton came forward, a woman beside him.
A black man, smartly dressed. His wife or girlfriend beside him, smiling kindly….
Blood. The man’s thoughts turned to blood.
Norton smiling to him as he looked over the receipt, reaching for his wallet.
A bullet in his head. Brains and blood…
The woman’s smile fading as his stare grew harder. He couldn’t help himself.
His hands around her throat…squeezing…
Behind the desk, his erection pressed against the front of his pants.
The sound of screaming, screaming he never wanted to stop. Of begging. The feel of the dead body beneath him–
Mulder had been listening for a long time now, but when the scream came, it still shocked him. Tears had begun to pour from beneath Scully’s closed eyelids, her body quaking.
“Tell me his name, Dana,” Granger pressed, his voice rising. “Try to find his name.”
“I can’t….” she sobbed, lurching with it. “I can’t….please…”
Mulder looked at Granger, his hand going to the back of Scully’s neck as her head lolled back.
“He’s going to kill them…tonight…he’s going to go to those people’s house and he’s going to make them drive…he’s going to…” She gasped in a breath, tensing, her hand gripping Mulder’s and balling the coverlet in the other.
“Granger,” Mulder said. “Let her go. She’s had enough.”
Granger looked at him, pursed his lips, then nodded as Scully choked on another cry.
“Okay, Dana, it’s okay…” he soothed. “We’re going to come back out now. I want you to think about the light again. Leave the man behind and go back into the light where Mulder and I are waiting for you.”
“I can’t,” she said. “I can’t…please….Mulder…”
Mulder stood and then knelt on the bed, going behind her, bracing her hips with his thighs, his arms going around her.
“I’ve got you,” he said, pressing his face close to her ear. “I’m right here.”
That’s when the first sounds of cracking began.
First the drinking glass on the night stand, a line beginning at the base and crawling up its side, a high-pitched squeak as it did so. Another split began on the other side.
The glass shattered, startling he and Granger both.
Then the lamp, a crack forming in the chintzy surface.
Behind him, another sound of splintering, and he turned his head to see the mirror turning into a spider web, widening from the center, creeping to the edge of the glass.
“Granger, do something!” he said urgently. “Do it now! She’ll tear the room apart!”
Granger lurched forward, grabbing both of Scully’s hands in both of his. Her chest heaved beneath Mulder’s arms.
“Dana, I’m going to count down from 10. When I reach ‘one’ I want you to come back into this room with us. I want you to leave the man behind and come back to us.”
Granger began. “Ten. Nine. Eight…”
“Count with me, Scully,” Mulder said, his lips against her ear. “Just like we’ve done before. Just like before. Count with me and Granger. Seven…six…”
Behind him, the mirror splintered into a thousand pieces, raining down on the vanity with an astounding noise. The lamp collapsed in on itself, and he could hear the window begin to groan in its frame.
“Five…” he said, squeezing her hard. “Come on.”
“Four,” Granger said, gripping her hands. “Come on, Dana…”
Finally, she turned her face toward Mulder’s shoulder and said, on a breath. “Three…”
“Two,” Mulder said.
“One,” the three of them finished together.
She opened her eyes.
“Scully?” Mulder said, not easing his embrace.
She took a few harsh breaths. Sweat had darkened the collar of her sweater.
“On my God…” she said, her voice high and reedy. “I saw…” She swallowed hard.
“Yes, we heard you,” Granger said, still kneeling in front of her. He looked bewildered, but Mulder once again gave the man credit for holding it together. “You told us everything you saw. Andre Norton. 3219 Sycamore. Rock Oak.” Granger forced a wan smile. “You did great.”
She closed her eyes, taking a few breaths. Then her eyes bolted open.
“I’m gonna be sick,” she said suddenly. “Let me up…”
Both men let her go and she staggered to her feet, her hand over her mouth. They watched her go, and when she got to the vanity, she pulled up short, taking in the glass.
Mulder watched her there on his knees on the bed, hurting for her, at what she must be feeling with the knowledge of what she had done.
Of what she could do.
“No…” she said, and made it to the toilet just in time.
INTERSTATE 64 NORFOLK, VIRGINIA 4:31 p.m.
It was still snowing on this side of the Chesapeake, and the weather had brought out the worst in the Southern drivers on the tangled interstate going around the city.
Granger sat in the sea of brake lights, inching his way toward the next exit, the one that marked the turnoff to Norfolk Naval Base. He fought the urge to sit on the horn, and though he had his emergency lights blinking, the line of cars in the right hand lane wouldn’t let him in so he could take to the shoulder and make a dash for the ramp. He wished, for the hundredth time, for a siren to place on the dash to get these people out of his way.
If Skinner was as good as his word, the plane would be waiting for him when he reached the airport and he could be on his way to meet up with his boss at the Norton household in the tiny town of Rock Oak, West Virginia.
“How the hell do you know all this?” Skinner had asked when Granger had called him on the cell, right after he’d left Cape Charles in the wind and rain.
“I’ve consulted with a…medium,” Granger had replied, hedging.
“You better be talking about something’s size.”
“I think you know what I mean, sir.”
“Yeah, I heard you,” Skinner had growled, and Granger could see his boss’ jaw flexing from there. “You expect me to go to Rosen and request an allocation of manpower on the basis of *that*?”
“It’s not unprecedented,” Granger said, flying down Route 13 toward the Bay Bridge Tunnel toll plaza. “Police psychics aren’t that unusual and–“
“Granger, for Christ’s sake!” Skinner had snapped. “How bizarre does this need to get? This is the FBI. And *not* the X-Files division of it.”
“I called Directory Assistance after I checked the Rand McNally for West Virginia and found Rock Oak,” Granger replied, stopping in the line to go across the bridge, his windshield wipers squeaking. “There is a man named Andre Norton at 3219 Sycamore in that town. How can you argue with that?”
That had silenced Skinner for a beat.
“All right. You and I will go, along with a *few* local law enforcement people. I’m not going to call the Bureau resources in on the basis of something like this. Not with Rosen already calling this thing the biggest clusterfuck of a serial investigation he’s presided over yet.”
Granger smirked, trying to picture the word “clusterfuck” coming out of The Godfather’s Princeton-educated mouth. He couldn’t.
“All right,” he said. “Fair enough. I wouldn’t want to alarm this man Norton any more than we have to anyway. Can you authorize a ride from Norfolk?”
Skinner sighed. “Yeah, I’ll okay a flight from the naval base.” A pause. “You better be right about this, Granger. We’re talking a lot of money just for what little we’re doing.”
“I am right,” Granger said, and Skinner had hung up without another word.
The traffic moved a foot and Granger nosed the rental into the spot to the blare of a horn. He raised a hand — not the finger he wanted to — to the driver behind him, making his way to the shoulder as snow spattered the windshield, falling red in the lights from the car in front of him. Once he reached the shoulder, he took off toward the ramp.
This took him onto a new highway, less crowded, the main artery going into the largest naval base in the world. A flood of cars was streaming on the opposite side of the highway, people going home for the day. He sped up, his blinkers still flashing green arrows on either side of the speedometer.
He wondered how Scully was doing. How Mulder was doing.
They’d both looked so ragged as he’d left them at the motel. Scully looked exhausted, and Mulder looked both fierce and a little afraid.
They’d stood at the foot of the bed as he’d gathered his things to go, Mulder behind her, his arm wrapped protectively around her upper chest, holding her against him. She was trembling still, pale from being sick.
Granger remembered thinking, though, that despite how bewildered he knew they both were, that they looked somehow strong standing there amidst the broken glass, the rumpled bed.
They always looked that way to him when they were together. As though the two of them were forever ready to take on the whole deaf, dumb world.
This time, though, the world had taken on them. And the toll was showing with some fraying around the edges. Her reddened eyes, swollen from throwing up and from crying. The hard, determined set of his jaw and the way his hand clenched her shoulder, pressing her back against him.
“Will you be all right?” he’d asked, seeing this.
Scully nodded, looking down. Her hand reached up to hold Mulder’s wrist. “Yes,” she said, but hardly any sound came out.
“We’ll figure this out,” Mulder said. He sounded tired and almost angry. “Just go make this all worth it, okay?”
Granger had nodded then, said goodbye and left them there in the middle of the room. Neither of them moved as he closed the door behind him.
There was much they didn’t say. Much that didn’t need to be said.
Scully’s part in this would be a secret.
He’d known that since the night before, when he’d told Skinner it was only a noise and Bo that had alerted him to the killer’s presence in his apartment.
He knew he would protect her from exposure with this new information — keeping his source anonymous — as he’d climbed back in the car and driven away.
The gate to the naval base loomed up ahead, and he reached into his jacket pocket, fumbling for his identification to show the guards, slowing the car down from its breakneck pace.
He looked at the sky, night falling fast over the base that yawned out in front of him. The flight he was taking would take him as close to Rock Oak as he could get, as fast as it could get him there.
He knew this.
He just hoped he wouldn’t be too late.
THE PEACOCK MOTEL OUTSIDE CAPE CHARLES, VIRGINIA 6:33 p.m.
The new room looked much like the old one — just different pictures of lighthouses over the bed, which was covered with a similar faded coverlet. The floor was still covered with bland carpet that smelled faintly of cigarettes.
The old room had been paid for with Mulder’s personal credit card — damages and all — and left to the surprised manager to deal with.
Scully lay on the bed, fresh from a shower, curled up in one of Mulder’s T-shirts and her own cotton pajama bottoms, her feet encased in his thick hiking socks, though they made her feet look large and misshapen. He knew that wearing his clothes gave her some measure of comfort. It was a tradition started throughout their time in the Southwest, when her body had slowly disappeared into his shirts as the weeks of running wore on.
She looked like she was running from something now, as well, he noted. He thought this as he stood, wet, in front of the vanity and looked at her, a towel around his hips and another thrown over his shoulders, which he was using to slick the water from his dark hair.
They’d both come into the new room with an undeniable need to get clean, start fresh. As though showering could roll back the stone on the day and they could begin again as if nothing had happened.
It wasn’t working, though the shower had at least eased his muscles, sore from being held so tight.
He entered the room now, went to his suitcase tossed on the holder at the foot of the bed. He looted around for a clean pair of boxers, looked down at her. She was staring across the room to the spot where he’d been standing a moment before.
“How are you?” he asked quietly, taking the towel from around his shoulders and laying it on the bed.
She didn’t look at him as she replied. “I’m okay,” she said. There were no tears in her voice. There was little of anything at all.
With a tug, he let the towel fall from around his waist, then stepped into the plain green boxers, pulled them up. He was situating them on his hips when she looked over at him, and the look in her eyes was as clear as a hand held out toward him. He went.
She rolled over onto her other side, facing him, and he sat on the edge of the bed, his hip against her belly. He leaned down and kissed her temple, smoothing down her hair. Her hand went to his bare thigh, and it was cold against his skin.
“It’s going to be all right,” he murmured against her skin. “It is.”
She said nothing, not even a nod. But her hand squeezed his leg, released it.
“Scully, I…” He leaned up so he could look into her eyes. “I don’t want you to feel what you are right now. What I see on your face.”
“What do you see?” she asked, and she seemed genuinely curious.
He ran his fingers over her brow lightly, cocked his head, trying to name what he saw. “Regret,” he said finally.
She closed her eyes in a slow blink, then looked at him again. “Yes,” she replied.
“About a lot of things.”
“Yes,” she said, and her hand slid along his thigh. “But not about us. Never about us.”
He nodded, and a small smile was his answer, though there was sadness in it.
Her hand slid higher, going beneath the leg of his boxers on the inside of his thigh. “Come to bed,” she whispered, watching her hand as it moved and avoiding his gaze.
He took her hand, leaned down again and touched his lips to hers, holding there. Then he pulled back.
“No,” he said.
Her face showed her confusion, and something else that was not totally unexpected to him. Something like desperation.
“Why?” she asked.
“Because I don’t want making love to be about running from things for either of us. And we’ve both been using it for that a lot lately. Hiding in it. I don’t want that.”
Her eyes welled, but after a beat she nodded.
“I think you need to talk,” he said quietly. “And I think I need to hear you.”
She swallowed. “What do you want me to say?” she asked, and her voice was ragged.
He looked down. “I want you to tell me about the things you regret,” he said, and then he met her gaze again.
“You can’t take them away from me, Mulder,” she said, shaking her head.
“I know I can’t.” He cradled the side of her neck, stroking at her cheek. “But I want you to tell me anyway.” He squeezed her hand.
She looked away.
“Tell me what it’s like for you, Scully,” he said softly.
“To not be able to have a child?” she said, still looking past him.
She swallowed again, looked down at their clasped hands. “You can’t understand the wanting,” she began. “I know for some women it isn’t like this. For a lot of women. It doesn’t matter to them or they don’t want children at all. It was like that for me until I found out I couldn’t have them — I didn’t think about it. I just assumed that choice would always be there for me. But then things were so different…”
She paused, running her finger over the side of his hand.
“Mulder, when you do want them and you can’t have them…it’s like a phantom pain. Something that hurts, but you can’t heal it, because it’s not really there. And it never will be.”
Mulder gazed at their hands, as well. “I’m sorry,” he murmured into the quiet that followed.
“I still have a hard time believing that I’ll actually have to give it up. There’s still a part of me that doesn’t believe it. It…tears at me sometimes. It’s grief and anger…particularly because I didn’t even get to choose.”
She gazed up at him, the tears shining in her eyes but not falling. “And it’s not just about me anymore. I have you, and that makes me so happy, and I want there to be *more* between us. I want things to keep growing stronger between us. I think that’s why people want children sometimes. Almost like some sort of…proof…of what’s between them.”
“We don’t need any proof, Scully,” he said with conviction. “And we don’t need *more.* Or at least I don’t.” He added the last with a tinge of sadness.
“I know you don’t,” she said, stroking his leg again. “And I don’t want you to misunderstand me. It’s not about something missing. Everything is there for us. For for me it’s like…we’re dreaming.”
“I don’t understand,” he said, shaking his head. “Dreaming?”
“How can I explain this?” She paused, choosing and discarding words. Then she finally spoke again, her eyes blue as jewels as they met his.
“You and I together are like a person who is dreaming, asleep in a warm, safe bed,” she said. “And I want us to be able to keep dreaming. About anything. I don’t want that to ever end for us.”
His eyes burned.
“It won’t, Scully,” he whispered. “With or without children or anything else. It won’t.” He lifted her hand and pressed it to his lips. “I promise.”
Her smile was bittersweet.
His cell phone chirped from the night table, terribly loud in the quiet room. They both looked at it, then at each other. He let go of her hand reluctantly and picked up the phone, jabbed the “talk” button.
“Mulder,” he said.
“Agent Mulder? This is David Gibson with the Norfolk Police. We spoke yesterday when you dropped off that bloody shirt to be analyzed?”
Mulder had almost forgotten about it in light of everything that had happened since the previous night. “Yes, Dr. Gibson,” he said. “You have the results on the shirt?”
“Yes, I do,” the other man said, and Mulder could tell something was amiss by the man’s tenor. “I’m sorry it’s taken me all day to get back to you, but I sent the thing out for some other people to look at because we seemed to be having problems with typing and matching. But nobody’s been able to get to the bottom of it, I’m afraid…”
“What sort of problems?” Mulder asked, looking at Scully, who was looking at him with interest, her brows creased down.
“Well, it’s the damndest thing,” Gibson said with a little nervous laugh. “I know you’re not going to believe this, but…that blood on that shirt. It has no type.”
Mulder paused. “You mean it’s not blood?”
“No, it’s blood,” Gibson replied. “Or at least it seems to be. It smells like blood. It looks like blood. But there’s no type to it at all. No DNA. It’s just…blood. Like someone made up some blood themselves without really knowing everything that went into it.” Another nervous laugh. “I know how that sounds, but…well, there it is.”
“You’re sure about all this, Mr. Gibson?” Mulder replied, perplexed. “You’ve run it several times?”
“Yes,” Gibson replied. “At three different labs here. We don’t know what to make of it.”
“All right then,” Mulder replied. “Thank you for doing that for me. If you could send the shirt to the FBI, care of Robin Brock at DNA Analysis, I’d really appreciate it.”
“We’ll courier it up there for you. No problem. I’m sorry we couldn’t be more help. Maybe they can find something we couldn’t.”
“Not a problem, Mr. Gibson. Thank you for your work.”
The two men said goodbye, and Mulder hung up, laying the phone on the night stand again.
“What was that all about?” Scully asked, and, in a few sentences, Mulder relayed the conversation.
Scully leaned up on one elbow, an idea clearly seizing her. “It’s just like the spider,” she said. “It was a real spider, but it also wasn’t. It was missing things, essential things. Like the blood is missing essential things.”
Mulder nodded, and he could feel his mind beginning to latch onto something. Tumblers falling into place…
“They’re not real,” Scully was saying, her voice getting urgent as he could see her mind doing the same thing. “The spider, the blood…none of it’s real. They’re like…someone’s IDEAS of what they *think* a spider and blood should be like. Someone with a first- hand experience with them, but not a close first-hand experience.”
“Which means,” Mulder said, looking at her. “That Michael himself isn’t real. He’s…like you said. He’s like an…idea someone had.”
Their eyes locked, and both froze.
Mulder was thinking about what Scully had said just a moment before.
You can’t understand the wanting…
It tears at me sometimes…
It’s grief and anger…
I didn’t even get to choose…
He remembered the stool flying across the studio, Pam’s screaming at him.
“My God,” Mulder said, awed. “That’s it.”
“He’s Pam’s child,” Scully said, and she covered her mouth.
“No,” Mulder said, his voice rising in excitement. “He’s Pam’s WANT of a child. Pam wants things so badly. That’s what Melba Book was saying. That she was afraid Pam’s desires were going to destroy her, right? She’s wanted this child more than anything. The way you want a child, but with her…it became real somehow. Or as real as she could make him.”
“And she let Brian talk her out of that want,” Scully said, sitting up. “She made a decision NOT to have Michael, and–“
“That’s what he is,” Mulder jumped in. “He’s what she didn’t choose. The same way those people you saw were what you didn’t choose — the patients you would have had if you’d chosen to become a doctor. The same way the shot was what I didn’t choose — the choice to fire at you. Somehow, for Pam — or *because* of Pam — the object her decision centered around has become real, getting between she and Brian, tormenting her for not being chosen–“
“And tormenting everyone around her with the things they didn’t choose.” Scully looked at him, her eyes wide. “God, Mulder, how can that be?”
“How can any of what we’ve seen in the past couple of days be?” Mulder said, and stood. “Pam is…unique. She has unique abilities. And Melba Book was right. She’s losing control of these desires. They’re getting away from her, taking on a will of their own and turning into terrible things. Like Michael is. Powerful. I would even say evil. She’s in danger. And so is everyone around her. Especially- -“
“Brian,” Scully said gravely. “And you. And me, too. Because we’re all, without meaning to or not, keeping things from her that she wants. Forcing her to live with decisions she didn’t want to make.”
Mulder went quickly to the foot of the bed, reaching in the suitcase for his jeans, which he’d thrown onto the bag when he’d gone into the shower.
“We’ve got to get over there,” Mulder said hurriedly, and Scully rose from the bed herself, going to her own bag, which they’d brought from the other room.
“Mulder, how will we fight this?” Scully asked, pulling her own jeans and a clean sweater from the bag. “What will we do?”
“I don’t know,” he said, stepping into the jeans and yanking them up. “But we’ve got to tell her what she’s doing at the very least. She doesn’t know or understand. We’ve got to tell them both. Before it’s too late.”
3219 SYCAMORE AVENUE ROCK OAK, WEST VIRGINIA 6:54 p.m.
“Is there a leg in there?”
Granger turned and looked at Deputy Larry Holland in annoyance, then reached for the bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken that was balanced on the edge of Andre and Jennyfer Norton’s bed and handed it to the man.
“There,” he said, his irritation dripping from his voice. “Knock yourself out.”
He and Skinner and five men from the Sheriff’s office in Rock Oak were huddled in the bedroom, the blinds and curtains drawn, nearly silent except for the men’s incessant chewing. On their way to the scene, one of the Sheriff’s deputies had seen fit to swing by KFC and bring along a Family Banquet Special, as though they were coming to a picnic and not a stakeout.
Rock Oak was a bit like Mayberry, Granger mused in disgust. A bunch of Barney Fife’s running around with a sole bullet in their shirt pockets so they didn’t accidentally shoot themselves in the foot.
Granger turned to Skinner, who was standing by the partially ajar door, and scowled. Skinner rolled his eyes and looked back at the men.
“Would you people hurry the hell up?” he hissed, keeping his volume down. “I can see you’re not taking this especially seriously, but for Christ’s sake!”
The men had no experience with a Federal presence, Granger knew. They’d seemed almost bewildered when he’d arrived with Skinner. The Sheriff himself was out of town, and the mice were clearly playing while the cat was away.
Outside, in the living room, with all the blinds up, Deputy Alice Jackson was sitting, pretending to watch television. An African- American, she’d been brought in from a nearby town to take the place of Jennyfer Norton, who was enjoying a night at the local Holiday Inn with her husband on the FBI’s tab. They hadn’t told the Norton’s the real reason they were being asked to vacate — only that the house was needed for surveillance for the evening. Skinner had been very circumspect and very kind.
Another set of the crack Rock Oak Sheriff’s Department was rousting up the owner of the local 76 Station where the Norton’s had had their oil changed that afternoon. Someone with the initials “RS” had done the job, and they were out after a name to go with the initials.
“I’m going to sit out there with Deputy Jackson,” Granger announced, and stood. None of the officers even looked up from what they were doing, the macaroni and cheese having been broken out and biscuits going all around. Granger sighed and went to the door.
“I trust if I hear something you’ll rally them, sir?” he under his breath, and Skinner nodded.
“Even if I have to kick every one of their ‘Finger-Licking-Good’ asses, yes,” Skinner replied, and Granger went out the door into the living room, taking up his place beside Alice Jackson.
She was young, and she looked unnerved.
“I’ve never been bait before,” she said as he sat. “It’s not a good feeling.”
“No, it’s not.” He looked at the television — some show on dolphins, everything blue, brightening the room.
“Do you have any idea what time this person is supposed to come?” she asked, crossing her arms over her chest.
Granger looked at the clock on the VCR. “The times of death on the previous victims have been between ten p.m. and midnight,” he said. “And he drives them to remote locations, and then he has ritualistic aspects to the murders that take some time. So I’m assuming he has to get the people fairly early. My guess is he could come any time.”
Jackson shuddered as though chilled. “I don’t like this,” she said. “I give out parking tickets usually. I don’t like this one bit.”
Granger smiled at her, trying to look kind. “It’ll be fine. No one’s going to take you anywhere.”
She made a vague noise and settled back into the couch.
The television droned on into the next hour. A show on Greece. Ancient ruins. They switched to the Weather Channel and watched the fronts stretch over the country like arms.
Granger felt himself growing more and more tired, his eyes drooping. The previous night without sleep was wearing on him badly, and Jackson wasn’t the most scintillating company anyone could have.
He heard Skinner’s cell ring once, and it was picked up. Then Skinner’s voice from the door.
“The man who worked on the car is named Richard Sweet,” Skinner said softly. “They’ve gone to his house, but his car is gone and he’s not there. They’ve got an APB out on him for questioning. Though what the hell we’re going to question him on the basis OF, I have no idea…”
“All right,” Granger said, still looking at the television so he wouldn’t give Skinner’s presence away to anyone who might be watching them. Skinner had made his feelings clear on this whole thing, and as more time went by, Granger was starting to feel like a class-A jackass himself.
But the house, the people, had been here. Scully had been right about that much. There was no denying these facts. There was no denying she’d been able to warn him about the man in his apartment the night before.
He had to believe.
His lids got heavier as a woman stumbled through her forecast on the television. Jackson heaved a sigh and checked her watch as though she had a date she was about to miss.
Then, a sound. From the kitchen in the back. There was a back door that opened onto a small yard, woods beyond. There was no light back there, which Granger had been glad for. It made the house more inviting for the man.
Granger grew very still, barely breathing, alert.
“Skinner,” he said softly.
Jackson looked at him.
“What is it?” she asked, and Granger put a hand on her arm.
“Be quiet,” he said, and he didn’t bother to say it nicely. She obeyed.
The door was opening with just the faintest squeak. Granger strained to listen for footsteps but heard nothing.
He was sure the man was in the house though. He could almost sense his presence.
The kitchen was behind them, their backs to the doorway. The killer wouldn’t see their faces, wouldn’t have time to recognize him….
A quiet, graveled voice, and the click of a pistol being cocked beside his ear. Granger froze, and beside him, Jackson gasped and grew very still.
“I’m not moving,” Granger said softly. “What do you want?”
There was a pause. “We’re going for a ride, you and me and your girl there.”
The man shifted and came around the couch, and Granger looked up, saw a ski mask, piercing black eyes.
Their eyes met, and the man’s widened in sudden recognition.
It was Skinner’s voice that roared through the room, the bedroom door flying open and bodies spilling into the living room, pistols cocking.
The man’s arm came up and he fired at the mass of cops, rolling toward the kitchen as he did so.
Granger grabbed Alice Jackson and threw her onto the floor, covering her with his body and Skinner and the others fired over the couch.
From the corner of his eye, he saw the killer scramble on his hands and knees to a standing position and bolt for the kitchen. There was more gunfire, but it pitted the walls, missing the man, who moved fast as a cat despite his size. The kitchen door slammed open and Granger knew the man was gone, getting away.
“No…” he said, and he rose, fumbled for his own gun in its holster at the small of his back.
Then he was through the kitchen and out the back door, the faint shape of the man in the moonlight, heading through the backyard.
“STOP!” he screamed, and fired, missing. It only made the man run faster.
Granger hit the steps to the deck, flying through the chilly night air. The killer was breaking for the tree line of the woods behind the house, and Granger went after him. He could hear Skinner calling to him, the rush of footsteps behind him as the deputies and Skinner took up pursuit.
He paid them no attention, keeping his eyes on the moving dark shape of the killer until he disappeared into the forest.
Granger knew the man could have stopped just inside the tree line, waiting for him. But he couldn’t stop.
This was personal. He had made it so himself. He’d started it, and he’d be damned if he didn’t finish it now, one way or the other.
With this thought in mind, he ran, his legs and arms pumping, the gun in his hand as he broke through the back gate into the darkness.
125 PLUM STREET CAPE CHARLES, VIRGINIA 7:18 p.m.
The storm had blown back out to sea, the cloud bank glowing shreds across the moonlit sky. The moon itself was a wide claw hanging over the Chesapeake, turned downward as though it were hooked on the horizon.
Scully looked up at the house as they approached it, the car gliding to a halt at the curb. All the lights in the house were out, even the porchlight. Only a faint orange flickered through the heavy curtains of one of the windows — the bedroom upstairs, she realized — as though a low fire had been left burning in the fireplace.
“Both cars are here,” Mulder said from beside her, nodding toward the pickup and the station wagon in the driveway.
Scully nodded, her nerves kicking up. “Seems strange they would leave a fire burning,” she said, still looking at the window.
“Let’s try the door,” he said, and reached for his seatbelt.
They exited the car, made their way across the faintly lit sidewalk, up the walk to the steps, the porch creaking from their weight as they went to the front door. A small breeze, a leftover from the storm, kicked up and rocked the swing beside them, the chains squeaking on their hooks.
Mulder opened the screen door, took hold of the ram’s head knocker and rapped hard on the door. They waited.
Nothing. Not a sound from inside the house.
“What do you want to do?” Scully asked, keeping her voice low as though someone might hear them.
“What’s your gut say?” he asked, looking down at her.
She looked at the door, at him. “I think they’re in there,” she said, though she didn’t know what made her say that.
He nodded. “Yeah, I do, too.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out the lock pick he carried beside his flashlight and went for the deadbolt, holding the door open with his hip.
“I’m going to go to the backyard and check the studio, just in case,” Scully said, and at Mulder’s concerned look, she put a hand on his arm. “It’s okay. I’ll come right back to get you one way or the other.”
“All right,” he said, moving his pick around in the lock. “If I get in here, I’ll open the back door for you.”
She nodded, and went down the steps and around the side of the house, past the cars to the back gate. She opened it, went in, going toward the darkened studio.
At the door, she paused, looking in the windows. The room looked empty in the darkness, and the door, when she tried it, was locked. With that she turned toward the house, taking a step.
A loud cry greeted her and she jumped in alarm, looked down just in time to see Miss Celie leap to the side, bristled, low to the ground. The cat growled at her, then meowed, the sound ending in a hiss.
Scully put her hand over her racing heart, pulled in a breath, calming her jangled nerves. Then she made her way up to the back steps, peered into the windows through the opaque drapes, her hands pressing on the glass.
With a creak, the door opened against her hands, as though it hadn’t even been closed at all. She’d sworn it had been closed when she reached it, and took a step back as the door swung open about halfway, revealing the darkened kitchen.
She could hear the clicking of Mulder working on the front door from where she stood, and thought about going back around to get him to bring him in the back door with her.
Easier to just go through and open the door for him, she decided, steeling herself, and she entered the house, leaving the door open behind her as she made her way to the hallway.
Behind her, silently, the back door swung slowly closed, and the lock snitched into place.
ROCK OAK, WEST VIRGINIA 7:28 p.m.
Granger ran through the forest, listening closely to the sounds of someone’s heavy feet on the leaf-covered ground, the occasional sound of branches whipping, doing all he could to follow the directions of the noises and using his best speed to keep himself close to the source of them. It was almost completely dark in the woods, a canopy of shapes only faintly lit by a sliver of moon that peeked through the trees above him.
His breath was hissing in his throat, adrenaline surging. Sweat had begun to break out on his forehead, despite the chill of the night that his sweater did little to protect him from as he moved quickly through the air, small limbs slapping him in the face, cutting him.
He heard the sound of a branch breaking off to his right and broke in that direction, still hearing the footfalls. He burst through a gathering of thin trees, sensing a clearing in front of him by the brightening ahead…
His foot came down hard and off-balance on a jut on the ground, a root hidden in the carpet of leaves. His momentum carried him forward as he swore under his breath, and he slid on his stomach into the clearing with a racket of crushed leaves.
Pushing himself up on his hands and knees, panting, he started to rise.
Then he stopped.
He could hear Skinner and the deputies somewhere far behind him, Skinner calling his name. But ahead of him?
No more footsteps, no more sounds of movement. No sound but his own breathing and the crunch of leaves beneath his body.
“Oh shit,” he breathed.
He’d lost his prey, and not because the man had gotten away, but because the other man had stopped running. Granger had been too close to him still to not be able to hear him if he was still running.
The man was somewhere. Close by. He was sure of it.
Forcing his breathing down, warring against the throbbing of his heart in his chest, he slowly pushed himself upright, standing, his head swivelling uselessly, trying to see something. Anything moving. Any dark shape that could be human.
Skinner was far away. His voice echoed in the quiet around him.
Granger considered. Call out and risk letting the killer — likewise blind, he hoped — know where he stood? Or–
A shot. Off to the left and behind him.
A sharp bump against his shoulder, pain tearing into him as the bullet ripped into him, knocking him forward again and onto the ground. His gun slipped from his grasp as his arm went dead, as he cried out in pain and surprise, his face buried in the leaves, muffling the sound.
Behind him, measured footsteps. The sound of a revolver being cocked.
125 PLUM STREET CAPE CHARLES, VIRGINIA 7:35 p.m.
Scully had made her way slowly through the kitchen and into the hallway, pausing every now and again to try and get a feel for the house, hunting for noises. Her flashlight was out and in front of her, sending a beam down the long hallway toward the front door. She could still hear Mulder working on the lock.
A rumble, and she started again, then forced herself to calm as she realized it was just the ancient furnace kicking up from the basement, a blast of air coming from the iron vent set into the floor beside her foot.
She went to the door, standing beside it so he could see her through the panes of glass that framed it.
“Scully,” he hissed. “What are you doing in there by yourself? Open the door! Quick!”
She was vaguely irritated by this, since he’d said he was going to go through the house and open the back door for her, but she sluffed it off and shone her light on the deadbolt, looking for the butterfly handle that would open the lock.
And encountered a keyhole instead.
“Mulder, it opens with a key,” she said just loudly enough to be heard through the crack in the door.
“Oh for Christ’s sake…” he replied, just above a whisper. “Wait there. I’m coming around the back.”
“All right,” she replied, and he disappeared. She heard his footsteps retreat down the stairs.
She waited, the flashlight trained on the floor. The furnace continued to roar beneath her, like the house itself was breathing one low note through the ducts.
That’s when another noise reached her from up the staircase.
Someone crying, choked sobs. A man, from the deep sounds of it.
“No…” she heard a voice call, and it was filled with tears.
She went to the foot of the staircase, her hand on the monkeytailed railing, listening.
Then, high and loud and desperate:
“GOD, PLEASE, NO!”
The sound tore down the staircase, and Scully reached behind her and pulled out her gun in one smooth motion.
“Brian!” she called up the stairs, looking toward the kitchen, willing Mulder to appear.
“STOP! PLEASE DON’T! PLEASE…”
He was in agony.
She heard Mulder hit the back door, not bothering to be quiet any longer. The sound had obviously carried outside.
“Scully!” she heard him yell through the door. The knob jiggled and she heard his foot make contact with the door. “Son of a BITCH!”
Laughter from upstairs.
A child’s laughter.
Glass broke from the back door, startling her.
“SCULLY!” Mulder shouted, then cursed again.
Brian screamed, louder and more filled with pain.
There was no time.
She hit the stairs at a dead run.
ROCK OAK, WEST VIRGINIA 7:42 p.m.
“Oh God…” Granger said into the ground.
It was large caliber bullet that had impacted his back. He could feel the entrance wound, the blood spreading across his shoulder and side in the chilly air.
A foot came down on the small of his back, pressing him into the ground.
“GRANGER!” Skinner cried from somewhere behind him. “GODDAMNIT, ANSWER ME!”
“You still think it’s between you and me, Boy?” the owner of the foot said, pushing down for emphasis. “That you’re gonna take me out?”
Granger turned his face to the side, his hand inching around in the darkness, searching for metal. The movement sent his shoulder and back into even shriller pain.
“We know who you are,” Granger said, panting. “Even if you get out of here…we’ll find you.”
Granger swallowed hard. He could swear he felt the fat bullet lodged in his chest, heavy inside him, burning…
“I don’t give a good goddamn,” the man growled, then knelt beside him. Granger felt the large muzzle of the gun against the back of his head.
He flexed both his hands, a rustling against the leaves, and pushed his arms up higher over his head as though he were putting them up in surrender.
Skinner was getting closer, but not close enough.
Granger’s right arm only moved a few inches before the pain stopped him.
But it was enough. His finger brushed the butt of the pistol, and his hand closed around it, shielded by the darkness.
“You’re gonna die right here in these woods, Mr. Granger,” the man said casually, rubbing the gun against the back of Granger’s head. “How you like that? So if they find me here after I pull the trigger, me sitting here with your brains all over these here leaves, I still beat you. How’s that strike you, Boy?”
Pain shooting through him at even the thought of what he had to do, Granger didn’t reply. He pulled in a breath, bracing himself.
Then he moved.
125 PLUM STREET CAPE CHARLES, VIRGINIA 7:43 p.m.
The air smelled heavily of wood burning, the light from the fire in the bedroom dancing against the walls of the staircase as Scully shot up them, the gun in front of her. She was vaguely aware of the back door crashing open beneath her, Mulder shouting her name again and footsteps in the kitchen.
She reached the landing and turned toward the bedroom, the fire blazing in the fireplace against the wall. In front of it, down on his belly, Brian lay, his head facing the fire, his hands fists against the floor. He was gasping in pain.
Scully took off at a run down the hallway, burst into the room with her gun braced in both hands, aimed in front of her as she spun toward the corner where her eye caught movement.
Pam was standing at the foot of the bed.
And in front of her, leaned against her front with her hand on his pale chest…
Smiling at Scully.
The three of them regarded each other for a long second, Scully’s eyes wide.
“Let Brian go, Pam,” Scully said, forcing calm she didn’t feel. She did not lower the gun.
Mulder was at the bottom of the stairs, running.
Michael opened his mouth and laughed.
Then Pam’s hand came up, her palm cupped as though she held something fragile in it. Her hand snapped closed into a fist, her eyes flashing with some terrible inner light.
Scully felt the pressure instantly in her torso, as though she were being gripped in that hand. She dropped the gun as the pain began, hunching in on herself, holding her abdomen.
“Down,” Pam said, and lowered her arm slowly, twisting her wrist.
Scully cried out, her knees buckling. She felt as though she were being turned inside out, agony crashing into her. She collapsed in a heap on the floor, gripping her belly.
“No…” she managed, though it came out as a gasp. Her body was burning. And something was holding her there, holding her down against the floor…
Mulder was at the top of the stairs. She could see him coming down the hallway, his face panicked, his gun in his hand.
He came for her there in the doorway, stepping over her with the gun aimed toward the corner.
“LET HER GO!” he shouted, cocking back the hammer.
Scully turned her face toward Pam and the child, caught sight of her gun, which lay no more than a foot away. She let go of her belly reluctantly, reached out for it…
“Muldeeeer…” Michael sang, and he raised his hand and pointed a small finger…
Mulder cried out, the gun clacking to the floor. He slammed to his knees then fell forward, his arms pinned to his side, the tendons in his neck bulging.
“Oh God…” Mulder gritted out, then he rose strangely, unbending at the waist and settling back on his calves as though he were being put there for display.
Like a toy. A doll in a child’s hands.
Scully’s hand closed around the gun and she dragged the muzzle against the floor as she tried to wield it…
“Put it down, Agent Scully,” Pam said, as though she were speaking to a pupil.
The pain shrieked in Scully’s belly, freezing her, the gun toppling from her grasp again.
She couldn’t help it.
She opened her mouth and screamed.
ROCK OAK, WEST VIRGINIA 7:43 p.m.
It all happened in the space of a breath.
Granger let out a guttural roar, grasped the gun, jerked up onto his knees and rolled at the same time, taking the man beside him off guard with the sudden noise and movement. He came up on his knees, forcing his arm up as the other man fired wildly, lighting them both up in a momentary flash.
The bullet missed its mark, and Granger had just enough of a point of reference to pull the trigger himself.
In his own corona of fire, he saw the bullet tear into the other man’s chest, a ragged hole opening in a camouflaged jacket. The ski mask was gone now, and Granger saw, in that instant of light, the utter surprise on the man’s face, the dark eyes wide.
Then the heavy sound of a body hitting earth. Then stillness.
Granger’s arm flopped down, the pain in his back and shoulder crumpling him. He dropped his gun and fell to the side, gasping for breath, the chill seeming to go straight through him, as though he were suddenly made of ice.
He shivered, and fresh blood bubbled from the wound in his back, the night around him seeming to grow darker.
He blinked, listening to his own breathing going in and out. It grew hard to draw a breath, his chest heaving with the effort.
The pain seemed to bank and ebb, a roaring in his ears.
Footsteps drawing closer now, flashlight beams dancing on the ground, coming closer.
Then Skinner beside him, a flashlight on his face.
“Granger…oh Jesus Christ…”
One breath. Two.
And he let the darkness take him.
125 PLUM STREET CAPE CHARLES, VIRGINIA 7:45 p.m.
Mulder had grown accustomed to the pressure, the pain, and he’d stopped fighting to get to Scully, who was curled into a ball a few feet from him, her chest rising and falling quickly, her arms curled around her midsection. Her head was thrown back and her features were twisted, her teeth gritted, breath hissing between her teeth.
“Pam…” Mulder said, turning his face toward the corner where the other woman stood, her hand still on Michael’s chest, holding the creature against her. “Pam…stop hurting her…please…”
Pam turned her face toward him, her eyes meeting his. There was a glassiness to her stare, a dreamy quality to the small smile on her face.
Oh Jesus, he thought, and swallowed.
She’d lost her mind.
“But I’m doing this for *you,* Agent Mulder,” she said, as though it were the most obvious thing in the world. “This..” She nodded toward Scully, “…is *all* for you…”
Her head tilting, and she hummed a few notes of a song at Scully. Like a strange lullaby.
Mulder tried to move his body again, but he was caught in place, a fly in amber.
On Scully’s other side, Brian turned toward them, then looked at Pam and the boy.
“Pam, don’t…” Brian said. “I’m sorry…I’m so sorry…”
Pam gazed back at him, and her eyes grew sad. “I know you are, Brian. I know. You didn’t know. I didn’t know. But it’s all going to be all right now. Our boy is here now.”
She pet Michael’s slick hair with the hand that had been across his chest. The child pushed his head against her hand like a cat.
“He’s not your boy, Pam,” Mulder warned. “He’s not a child at all.”
Michael showed his teeth, a sound rising from him like a growl.
Pam only smiled. “He is. He’s my darling little boy…my Michael…” And she hummed again.
“Pam, listen to me!” Mulder cried. “He’s not your little boy! What you wanted…what you couldn’t have…this is what it’s become. Don’t you see that? You wanted a boy, a real boy, and you let Brian force you not to have him and now you have *this,* this creature. He’s evil, Pam…you’ve got to get away from him!”
Pam’s brow creased as she looked down at Michael. “Why would I want to do that?” she said, shaking her head. “He’s all I’ve ever wanted. Why would I want to leave him?”
“Because he’s that force that we all have inside us, Pam,” Mulder replied, his voice still raised, urgent. “He’s the power of those things we want but can’t have. He’s everything we didn’t choose in our lives. And those things can destroy us if we hold onto them, make us live our lives in regret and bitterness or fear of what might have been.”
Michael’s growl grew louder and he hissed.
The pain bloomed in him again, but Mulder grimaced, kept going, fighting it down.
“But Pam…you, because of what you can do with your mind…because of what you are…it’s your *life* that’s at risk. It’s all our lives. You’ve got to let him go. You’ve got to let it all go!”
Pam shook her head and turned her attention back to Scully. She smiled that same eerie smile.
“Someday you’ll understand, Agent Mulder,” she said. “I’m going to make sure of that. I’m doing this for you…because of how I feel…what I want for you…”
And Scully writhed under a fresh assault, curling, a cry ripped from her.
“STOP IT!” Mulder shouted. “Stop hurting her!”
“Pam, please!” Brian called. “Don’t hurt her! Please listen to him! I’m so sorry I took this from you but this isn’t right. That child isn’t ours! He’s–“
“Brian, you’re wrong,” Pam said, her fist twisting, sending Scully into a tighter ball as she gasped.
Mulder’s mind raced, trying to come up with something, anything they could use…
The memory of glass breaking came back to Mulder in a rush, Scully in his arms….
“Scully, FIGHT!” he called in desperation. “Fight her!”
Scully opened her eyes and looked at him, her eyes clearly out of focus. “How…?” she gasped.
“FIGHT HER!” he screamed, and Michael took a step toward him.
“NO!” A man’s voice came from the boy. Deep and resonate. It raised the hair on Mulder’s neck to hear it come from the tiny body.
Then Mulder was crying out as a new level of pain roared through him and he toppled to the side, his head smashing into the floor.
He watched, through half-open eyes, as Scully looked at Pam, panting, her hands still gripping her belly.
“No…” Scully said, and then she was pushing up, onto her hands and knees, breaking out of the force that held her. She started to crawl toward her gun.
“Agent Scully, stop,” Pam said, and Mulder heard something he hadn’t yet in her voice.
Confusion. Something like fear.
Scully moved slowly toward the weapon, her brow creased in concentration. “You can’t control me…” she said. “I won’t let you…”
“I said STOP!” Pam shouted. “Don’t make me hurt you!”
“That’s it…” Mulder said. “That’s it, Scully…go. Do it!”
Scully reached the gun, breathing hard.
“NO!” Pam shrieked, and her hand came up as though she were swatting a fly.
Suddenly Scully was knocked back with incredible force and speed, her body flying until she impacted the back wall with a sickening crash.
She slid to the floor and was still.
“Scully!” Mulder called, anguished.
Michael cackled, a man’s laugh, then something beneath it. Something otherworldly.
As the sound echoed, the fire flared suddenly in the fireplace, flames leaping, crawling along the floor and up to the walls. The drapes by the window caught, burning and the air began to fill with smoke.
Mulder felt panic overcoming him now as the flames grew, his childhood fear tearing through him.
The wall roared, and from a crack in the bottom of it a small group of mice fled, scampering in terror across the floor in front of Michael.
The boy reached down and lifted one of the tiny gray bodies by the tail. It squirmed, small pink feet reaching for air. Michael looked at Mulder, held the mouse up in front of his face, smiling.
The mouse curled like a fetus, blackening, and grew still.
Mulder looked at it, his eyes wide, then turned to Pam.
“Goddamnit, Pam, can’t you see?” he said urgently. “He’s going to kill us! All of us!”
Pam simply went to Michael, ignoring the flames. She hummed again, and Michael dropped the mouse and turned to her, his arms snaking around her waist. He burrowed his face into her breast.
“I’m not leaving him,” she said, rubbing her cheek against his hair.
Mulder looked at the fire, gripping down on his terror.
Think, he willed himself. *Think*…
He had to get Scully out. That was his first thought. All that mattered to him.
“Okay…” Mulder said, fighting off panic and trying a different tact. Heat was streaming off the walls, the ceiling catching. “Okay…let Brian and Scully go. You can do that, can’t you? You don’t need them.”
Pam looked at Brian, then at Scully against the far wall.
“But you’re staying with us,” she said. “With Michael and me.”
Mulder swallowed. “Yes,” he said, trying to sound reassuring. “I’m staying with you. Just let them go.”
He glanced at Brian, who was looking at him through a thin sheen of smoke that was creeping toward the floor like Mulder had lost his mind.
“Let them go,” Mulder said again. “We don’t all need to die.”
Pam kissed Michael’s head, lingering there. She looked at Brian, dismissing him with a glance.
“Okay,” she murmured.
Brian went limp as whatever had its grip on him let go. He scrambled to his feet, looking at Scully and Pam and the door, his head swivelling.
“Pam…” he began.
“Don’t, Brian,” Mulder called, his voice loud to be heard over the flames, which were roaring toward them now. “She’s gone. Please…help Scully. Take her and go.”
Brian hesitated for a few more seconds, and Mulder saw tears shining on his face. Then Brian retreated to the back wall, out of sight. Mulder heard movement, then Brian appeared on his other side, carrying Scully’s small limp body in his arms.
He paused in the door, looked down at where Mulder still lay, immobilized, on the floor.
“I’m sorry,” he said, Scully’s face beneath his chin.
“Get out of here!” Mulder shouted. “GO!”
And Brian went.
Mulder coughed, the smoke reaching the floor now. His eyes were watering, but he could still make out Pam and Michael across the room, flames behind them now. Pam was looking at him, and there were tears in her eyes, though Mulder didn’t know from what.
“You’re the only one,” she said. “You’re the only one who could understand. I knew that. I knew that as soon as I saw you. I knew you would understand.” She smiled.
“Yes,” Mulder replied. “Yes. I understand.”
Michael looked back, his arms coming down from around Pam’s waist, and Mulder’s eyes widened as he looked at the boy’s hands.
His fingers were gone. They were claws now. Black claws.
Like a crow’s.
Pam looked down at Michael, still smiling, despite what the child had become.
Her darling little boy… he thought, swallowed.
“Goodbye, Pam,” Mulder said sadly.
And with one swift motion from the child’s hands, Pam’s throat was open to the bone, blood spraying as she fell.
The ceiling was engulfed now on that side of the room, impossibly bright. Mulder looked at Michael as the child turned to him, covered in blood.
He started toward Mulder, coming across the room.
Mulder braced himself, closed his eyes…
Then a thunderous crash, the sound of things crumbling–
Mulder’s eyes shot open in time to see the ceiling come down, Michael buried in the debris and flames, vanishing in the rubble.
The pressure that had gripped him, vise-like, vanished.
Mulder pulled in a full breath, choking on the smoke, gagging as he scrambled to his hands and knees, going crab-like toward the door just as the fire made it across the ceiling to the doorway.
He got to his feet and ran.
Fire greeted him in the hallway, the whole house going up. He heard glass breaking, the house tearing itself apart.
He took the stairs three at a time, nearly tumbling in his haste, rounded the corner toward the kitchen and burst through the open back door, down the steps and into the night.
He made it around the house to the front, where he found a group of people gathered, staring up at the house in rapt horror.
Mr. Sanderson was there at the front of the crowd, and sirens were sounding in the distance.
“Scully!” Mulder shouted to him. “Where’s Scully?!”
“She’s here,” Sanderson said, and gestured to the cab, parked on the opposite side of the street, its back door opened. Brian was there, leaning in.
Mulder pushed through the crowd, their faces alight and their eyes wide, and made it to the cab, his hand going to Brian’s back.
“Scully…” he said, and Brian stood, put a hand on his arm as he stepped back.
“She’s okay,” he said, but his voice was choked and still bewildered. “She’s okay, thank God…”
Mulder stuck his upper body into the cab, leaning over Scully where she lay on the seat, her head moving slowly from side to side.
“Hey Scully,” Mulder said, and touched her cheek, then moved to her hair, stroking it down.
She opened her eyes, groggy, and looked at him.
“Mulder?” she breathed.
“Yeah,” he said, and he felt relief coursing through him. “Yeah…” He leaned down and pressed his lips to hers, then to her cheek, breathing her in. “Just rest…everything’s okay…we’re okay…”
She nodded, looked up at him as he pulled back to gaze into her eyes.
“Pam?” she asked, her voice hitching.
He shook his head.
She swallowed, searching his face. Then she nodded.
“Everybody get back!” someone shouted, and Mulder stood, turning toward the house, which was bright as the sun and licking with fire.
Then, flashpoint. The windows in the entire house shattered, glass raining down on the street, people running as sirens wailed.
Mulder went to Brian, who stood unmoving beside the cab, sobs wracking him.
Slowly, Mulder reached his hand out and put it on the other man’s shoulder, saying nothing.
The two of them stood there for a long time and watched as the house gave into ruin and flames.
THE PEACOCK MOTEL OUTSIDE CAPE CHARLES, VIRGINIA OCTOBER 29 8:13 a.m.
Mulder’s hand stroking her through the soft cotton covering her waist. Warm breath on her face as his lips moved over her cheek, her temple, her forehead. The gentle pressure of his arm pulling her closer against him in a welling instant of intense emotion.
She didn’t have to open her eyes to know what his face looked like. He was gazing down at her, looking at her in that way he did when she felt she was being memorized, when he keenly felt he might lose the opportunity to see her again.
He’d looked at her like that in the hospital the night before as she’d lain in the ER for observation, her lungs faintly seared by smoke. He’d looked at her that way as she’d gotten out of the shower at 1:00 a.m., the stench of things burning rinsed finally away.
He was looking at her like that now. She could feel it.
So she opened her eyes and looked right back.
With the same intensity, the same fear of losing something that meant, for her, the entire world.
He rolled onto his side, easing from beneath her, their gazes hanging. His hand went to the side of her face, his thumb against the swell of her cheekbone. Her own moved to his bare chest, smoothing over the flat nipple she found there, caressing in a small circle around it.
They closed the space and kissed, both holding their breath, their lips still. Then, after a few seconds, his mouth opened and he pulled in a long breath, then took her lower lip between his, tugging with the slightest pressure.
She felt heat spark in her, in the confines of her sore belly. She kissed him back now, returning his movement, and their mouths opened, their tongues meeting.
For months, their lovemaking had been desperate, a way of fleeing from things around them, especially for her.
But now, it was beginning differently. The relief over being together after what had happened the previous night was there, certainly, but it was not desperation. There was another kind of intensity to it, something warm and strong.
They shed their clothes, only breaking their gazes long enough to remove what separated them. Then they lay side by side again, facing, their bodies meshing against each other, her knee rising to his waist, his going between her legs.
She pushed out a breath into his ear as he entered her, his arms carefully pulling her against him, her taut nipples against his chest.
It was like being a small, fine boat on the gentlest sea, rocking, steady, riding the crests and troughs of warm, cobalt water. She let herself drift in it, her head thrown back, his mouth against hers and then buried against her throat.
Their breath quickened. Built. Sweat slicked them.
Strong, slightly rough hands on her breasts. The lobe of her ear caught lightly between his teeth.
His hair like silk between her fingers as she clenched and unclenched, her body growing tight, pressure rising in her.
Then the wave broke within her, a ripple of pleasure taking her as though she were being pulled out on some seaward tide. Her fingers pressed into the back of his neck, holding him tight against her as her body shook, a gasp coming from her…
No other sound in the quiet room but her gasp and his labored breathing.
Then she leaned her head forward and watched his face, his face darkened with stubble, his brow creased down. He opened his eyes, and they looked almost drowsy in their contentment, dark pools in the dimness.
His hands clutched her hips, pulling her tight against him as he pushed into her, his eyes on hers until the last when they slid closed, his face smoothing and his lips curling in a smile, a breath wrenched from him as he rushed into her, and then the first word since waking: her name.
She smiled back, caressed his cheek.
She looked into his face, and felt as though everything around her, on her, fell away. Her chest seemed suddenly full and for an instant she felt as though she might dissolve into tears.
“You okay?” he asked, noting something stirring in her. He was still breathing hard, smoothing a damp strand of hair against her temple.
She nodded, stroked back his hair, as well. She felt her eyes fill.
“What is it?” he asked.
She smiled a bit wider, leaned forward and kissed him, lingering there. Then she pulled back and whispered against his mouth:
He leaned back and looked at her. “‘Yes’?” he said, shook his head in confusion.
She nodded. “Yes,” she replied simply.
He searched her face. Then, finally, he smiled.
HOLY CROSS MEMORIAL HOSPITAL STRASBURG, VIRGINIA 9:39 a.m.
Coming back to the land of consciousness was like wading through tar for Granger, his head, as it moved from side, feeling so sluggish he felt as though he were restrained. He made a vague noise of protest, tried to reach up to push the offending force away but he couldn’t. His arm wouldn’t move.
“Take it easy, Paul,” a familiar voice said gently. “Just take it easy.”
Oh God, some dim part of him thought. He must be about to die for Skinner to be using his first name and a tone like that.
The beep and click and whir of devices reached him then, the smell of air breathed from machines. Like all hospital rooms, the temperature was all wrong, this time way too warm. Were it not for the cool air being forced into him through the nasal canula, he would have found it difficult to breathe the hot air.
So he opened his eyes and looked in the direction of the voice, saw, through the blur of his vision without his glasses, Skinner standing there, still in his blue and gold “FBI” emblazoned jacket. He didn’t look like he’d slept at all.
“Where…?” Granger whispered, and the word sent up a racket of pain in the upper right quadrant of his chest. He tensed against it.
“Don’t try to talk,” Skinner said. “You’re in a hospital in western Virginia. You were flown here overnight by med-evac helicopter so they could patch you up in the Trauma facilities here. Do you remember what happened last night?”
Granger blinked slowly, thinking.
The man. Richard Sweet. The hole torn in the camouflaged jacket, the body hitting the leaves. And pain. A gunshot wound in his back…
“Yes,” he breathed. He blinked again, tried to turn his head, managed an inch. Skinner swam even further out of focus.
“Glasses?” he whispered after a moment.
Skinner looked around him. “I don’t know where they are,” Skinner said. “I’m sorry.”
Granger closed his eyes, opened them. He looked past his boss and saw glass, a large window, and activity beyond it. Intensive Care, he thought. No wonder he felt like shit.
“What…?” His voice drifted away as the pain clenched down again.
Skinner crossed his arm. “The bullet was lodged in your chest and there was quite a bit of bleeding. They got in there and cleaned it up. You’re still critical, but they’re talking positive.” He smirked down at Granger. “I told them you were too much of a pain in my ass to die on me now.”
Granger’s lip came up and he managed a nod.
Skinner grew serious, came a step forward and braced his arms on the rail, leaning in. He looked at Granger intently. “You saved those people,” he said, his voice soft. “You stopped this guy quick like you wanted to.”
Granger nodded again. “Yes,” he breathed.
Skinner cocked his head. “Was it worth it, Paul?” he asked, no hint of accusation or reproach in his voice. “Putting yourself in that bed? Putting yourself in this guy’s way?”
Granger looked at him, listened to the slow sound of his heartbeat. He drew in a breath, braced against the pain to speak.
“To…stop him…yes,” he whispered, paused, licked his dry lips. “For Robin…no.”
Skinner nodded. “Before you do this again,” he said. “you’re going to have to decide which one means more to you. Where your line is. You know that now, don’t you?”
Granger swallowed, considering, and nodded once. His eyes slipped closed.
He heard movement, but he was drifting, thinking about what Skinner said.
“I’ll be here cleaning up the last of the mess,” he heard Skinner say. “I’ll check back in. Just rest.”
Then footsteps going away.
The bed moved slightly, and he heard the creak of the rail going down on his left side. The mattress shifted as someone sat slowly on the edge of the bed.
He felt something touch his face, over his ears. A pair of glasses slipping onto his nose. Gentle fingers touched his cheek, caressing.
“Paul,” Robin said, her hand curved around the side of his head. She stroked his temple with her thumb.
He turned his face toward her, but could not open his eyes.
Her lips brushed his softly, and she kept her face close.
“Get better,” she whispered.
He made a soft affirmative noise, a hum.
“Get better so I can take you home…”
A small smile touched his lips.
She kissed him again.
“…And then I’m gonna kick your ass.”
The last thing he did before he lost consciousness was laugh.
THE PEACOCK MOTEL OUTSIDE CAPE CHARLES, VIRGINIA 1:45 p.m.
Brushed wool lined with satin. Silk. The soft whisper of nylon bunching in his hands. Cotton so thin he could almost see through it. Cotton thick as skin. Lace meant to be stretched across the creamy expanse of a breast.
Mulder had never done this before. He’d never packed Scully’s suitcase for her, never handled each article of her clothes this way, studying the lines of her suits and blouses, seeing them outside the outline of her body.
It felt so intimate to him as he stood in the quiet of the motel room, folding her things carefully into her suitcase, laying her suits into the garment bag, tucking the small arms into the case.
Everything had felt intimate today, quiet, starting with their nearly silent lovemaking as the sun had risen on the cold, clear autumn day.
He felt close to her. Closer. Connected to her with a tiny golden thread, though she was miles away.
He smiled at the thought, let out a long relaxed breath.
Then he pushed the suitcase closed, reached for his leather jacket at the foot of the bed and shouldered into it over the rich green of his sweater. He hefted the bag and headed toward the door, opening it onto sunshine.
And on Brian Dillard, standing just outside the door, his hand poised to knock, his beat-up pickup parked behind him. Mulder had not even heard it approach and park.
Mulder took his face in, noted the red of his eyes, the lines that seemed to have appeared overnight. Dillard did not try to hide the grief from his face, and Mulder was glad for that. He could not imagine the weight of hiding it.
“Brian,” Mulder said, and shifted the bag to his left hand, extended his right.
Dillard looked down at it and then reached out and shook Mulder’s hand once. He returned his hand to his pocket, his eyes darting to the side.
“Agent Mulder,” he said, his voice sounding like it was filled with ash.
“We were going to come check on you at the store on our way out of town,” Mulder said, then gestured to the room. “You want to come in?” he asked.
Dillard waved him off. “No, thank you,” he said, gruff but too tired to be unkind.
Mulder studied his face for a beat, unsure of what to say. Finally he spoke.
“How are you holding up?” he asked gently.
Dillard sniffed, rubbed his nose. “I’m holding up,” he replied, shrugged.
Mulder nodded. “Were you able to salvage anything from the house?”
Dillard shook his head. “No, the fire chief said it was a hot one. Took care of most everything. The studio didn’t burn, but that’s about it.” He smiled a grimacing smile, glanced at Mulder. “Looks like I’m starting fresh.”
Mulder noticed the other man’s eyes swim with tears suddenly. He swallowed.
“I am so sorry,” he said.
Dillard sniffed again, rubbed roughly at his eyes. “Not your fault,” he said, cleared his throat. “It’s mine. I put this in motion. I didn’t mean to do it, but I did.”
“You didn’t know,” Mulder said. “You couldn’t have known.”
Dillard nodded, too quickly. “Yeah,” he said.
Mulder could tell he didn’t believe a word of it. Brian was beyond consolation at this point. It would take time. So much time.
“She was a special person,” Mulder said. “It’s like Melba Book told Agent Scully. She was full of so many feelings. She had an enormous capacity for that.”
Brian looked at him, looking shellshocked. “I guess that’s why they found that second body in the rubble…the body of that…boy.”
Mulder nodded again. “Yes. She wanted him so badly, she made him real. Her feelings were that powerful. That strong.”
A tear slipped down Dillard’s cheek and he swiped at it as though it burned his face. He looked down.
“I’m sorry. It’s just that I…” He paused, gathering himself. “I’m going to miss her…so much. She was my life. I only wanted what was best for her. I tried…” He trailed off, and another tear fell.
Mulder reached out and put a hand on the other man’s arm, and Brian shied away, wiping roughly at his face again.
“Brian–” Mulder began.
“I’m okay,” Dillard said quickly, and took a step back. “I’m fine.” He gestured to the truck. “There was something I wanted to give you. Something I thought you should have.”
Then he withdrew to the truck, opening the door to the driver’s side. He leaned in, and came back toward Mulder, looking down at the object in his hands.
The bowl. The one ringed with the beautiful multicolored glass that Mulder had dug with Pam on the beach that day.
Brian held it out toward Mulder, and the two men’s gazes met.
“You shouldn’t give this to me,” Mulder said, shaking his head. “It was the last thing she worked on. You should have it.”
Brian shook his head, held the bowl out further away from his body.
“No,” he said. “If there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s that she would want *you* to have this.”
Their eyes hung again for a few seconds, and Mulder finally nodded, reached out and took the bowl, hefting its weight between his hands.
“Thank you, Brian,” he said, and now he looked down at it. It glinted in the sun, utterly beautiful. “I’ll take good care of it. I promise.”
Brian nodded. “Thank you,” he said.
A car pulled up behind them, the Bureau car Mulder and Scully shared. Both men turned to look at it as the door opened and Scully got out. She approached, and Brian reached a hand out to her as she met them on the walkway.
“I just came to say goodbye, Agent Scully,” he said.
Scully held Brian’s hand for a beat. “I reviewed the autopsy on Pam,” she said. “I just thought you might like to know that she didn’t suffer. It was very quick.”
Brian’s eyes swam again, but he nodded, let go of Scully’s hand. “Thank you for telling me that,” he said, glancing at them, his emotions beginning to overwhelm him. “Thank you…both.”
And then he turned, moving fast, and headed for the truck before either of them could say another word, started the engine and drove away.
They looked at each other, and Mulder could swear he saw her blush as they smiled faintly. She glanced away, the small smile still on her face.
“What happened at the Medical Examiners?” he asked, cleared his throat.
She looked up, all business once again. “I did the autopsy on Michael as the County ME asked,” she said. “I’m sure it will come as no surprise that there were a lot of abnormalities.”
“Like what?” he asked.
“Well, for starters, the body was hollow,” Scully said. “No internal structures whatsoever. Hollow bones. And the hands, of course.”
Mulder nodded, looked to the side. “She could only make him so real,” he said. “Even she had limits that way, I guess.”
Scully nodded. “I’ve had the body sent to Quantico,” she said. “I’m going to spend some more time with it when we get back to D.C.”
He nodded, saw her glance down at the bowl in his hands, the suitcase beside him.
“You packed me up?” she asked.
“Yeah, I think I got everything,” he said. “My bag’s packed up and inside.”
She nodded, reached down and took the bag from beside him. “Thank you for doing that for me. After that call from Skinner, I want to get going. I’m worried about Paul and want to be closer by. And I’m ready to go get Bo from the kennel and be home.”
He nodded, smiled that same smile to her. “Me, too,” he said, cupping the bowl in one hand and curling an arm around her shoulder. “Come on. Let’s go home.”
ROUTE 13 OUTSIDE MODEST TOWN, VIRGINIA 3:46 p.m.
Scully watched the scenery going by the window, the miles of soy fields plowed under for the coming winter, the sleepy gas stations, the turnoffs to tiny towns on the edge of the sea.
She and Mulder had been quiet for the first hour of the drive, the radio playing, lilting in the car, classical and NPR news alternating as they drove. Mulder popped sunflower seeds into his mouth every now and again, leaving a pile of seeds on the floor at his feet for the Bureau Motor Pool to deal with when they got home.
She watched him from the corner of her eye. He looked content, his face relaxed.
She wondered at the silence between them. There was an ease to it, but something strange about it, too. Something shy and somehow new.
She smiled, a warm flush coming over her.
The shyness had started in the courthouse in Exmore, outside the Justice of the Peace’s office that morning, them both sitting in the plastic chairs as they waited for him to come in for the day. They’d been quiet as they waited, Scully not even removing her coat from over the white turtleneck sweater she wore, the plain black pants.
She’d hardly felt like a woman about to be married. Only Mulder’s hand in hers and the encouraging smile of the elderly secretary they’d filed the paperwork with — a woman named Eunice — reminded her of this fact.
The judge had come in about 10:00 a.m., smiled kindly, and led them into the office, bringing Eunice and the clerk in to sit in the corner and act as witnesses.
Ten minutes later — no words spoken by them in the civil ceremony but two “I dos,” no rings exchanged — they’d kissed at the pronouncement of “husband and wife,” not wanting to linger in front of the strangers any more than they had to.
Then they’d headed back to the car, her cell phone ringing with the call from the Medical Examiner’s before they’d even reached the vehicle.
She looked over at him as he spit another sunflower seed onto the floor, then he turned and looked at her, their eyes meeting.
“What is it?” he asked, but he was smiling.
She smiled back, reached down and unhooked her seatbelt, moving across the benchseat toward him. He lifted his arm and lowered it around her as she curled against his side, kissed his cheek.
“Nothing,” she murmured. “Nothing’s wrong at all. I’m…happy. Very happy.”
She felt tired and heavy as he leaned his cheek against her head, his eyes on the road.
“I’m glad,” he said softly. “I am, too.”
They were quiet for a moment, the shyness ebbing away. Scully felt herself drifting, ease settling over her.
She and Mulder in the bed that morning, her body tensing with pleasure…
Mulder’s face smoothing out, his smile, his hands on her hips, holding her against him…
Then the view shifts.
She is laying in a bed, a dimly lit room. She looks over and Mulder is on the bed beside her, sitting on the edge, his arm on the other side of her body.
Pain. She is sore, more sore than she has ever been.
“Hey,” he says gently, and his eyes crimp in a smile. He has been crying and has not slept. “You’re awake.”
She tries to speak, but she cannot.
“Don’t try to talk,” he says, reaches out and brushes her hair off her forehead. “You’ve had a hard hard day.”
She blinks against the light, trying to remember. Trying to place it all. She recognizes the layout of the room. A hospital.
Hurt. She is hurt…
No. Not hurt. Something else.
“Do you think you can feed her?” he asks, and nods to the side of the bed.
Her heart catches in her throat and she feels tears.
She turns her head to the side, and there beside the bed, a small fist waving inside a clear plastic bassinet.
She reaches a hand toward the baby, just a motion with her fingers, and Mulder rises, goes to the bassinet, reaching in with more care than she’s ever seen him use. He lifts the baby out, holding it before his face.
“Rose…” he says to the baby, and leans forward, touching the baby’s forehead with his lips, lingering there.
Then he returns to the bed, lays the baby in the crook of her arm. She looks down and sees a full head of dark hair. Tiny tall body within the blanket, bud of a mouth working, sucking softly.
And the baby’s eyes. Huge and open and looking at her.
Deep blue, the color of the sea.
Scully opened her eyes, her hand going to her belly instinctively. It was still sore from the night before, from Pam’s attack on her.
I’m doing this for you, Pam had said to Mulder. This is all for you…
She smiled, though tears were coming. She held them back, but her chest ached with them.
My God, she thought.
Could it really be?
“Mulder,” she said.
“Hmm?” he replied, rubbing her back, his eyes on the road.
She reached inside his jacket, rubbing his chest through the sweater, her other hand still touching her belly.
“Pam…” she began.
“What about her?” he asked, his voice gentle.
Scully swallowed. “She loved you,” she said softly. “You know that, don’t you?”
He was quiet for a moment. “Yes,” he said finally. “I know.”
Scully nodded, pushing her body closer to him.
Pam loved him, yes.
And as soon as she could allow herself to believe what she had seen about the baby that Pam had made possible, the baby they’d conceived that morning…
As soon as she could prove it…
She would tell him exactly how much.
Once again, the many thank yous that come at the end of a WIP. :o)
TO THE READERS: Thanks so much to everyone who sent me feedback along the way. It really is the manna for a WIP writer’s soul to hear from people as they’re reading and to get people’s reactions as the story is unfolding. Special thanks to Renee, Inya, KissMeMulder and Linda for always making sure they wrote when the chapters were posted. It was great hearing from all of you! Thanks also to Amy at the Haven for her announcements about updates and her enthusiasm about the story, and to everyone there on the fic board for their talk about the new chapters as they were posted. I’ve loved hearing what you all thought of the story, and it’s been great feeling part of the larger community. :o)
TO THE “READERS”: These are the wonderful people who are not official betas of the story but who read the story as it’s being written and get excited with me over plot points and are there waiting when the chapters get done to give me some idea if I’ve hit my cues. These are Kelly (big big thanks to her for all the “golf commentary”), Nlynn (also thanks for the creepy book jacket!), Gwinne, Sue, Arwen and the newest, Deb. Thank you for your excitement for the story. It helped me get through the lulls to have you all sitting there poking and waiting.
Thanks also to MD1016 for her support of the story and her friendship. Her treatment of me as a peer in this endeavor of writing fic has been a real gift.
TO SCULLYFIC: For all the research help, the stalking, and for just being a special community for a fic writer to be a part of. Truly my online place to hang my hat. :o) So many of you have sent feedback and been supportive of me and this series of stories. Special thanks to Jean and Jen (for the hilarious emails and the chocolate!), and to Jill Selby for making it all possible. I feel blessed to be in the company of so many wonderful, talented people.
TO THE BETAS:-
To Dani, for whom I write these stories. For great instincts and constant enthusiasm and for her incredibly treasured friendship. For always saying “YES!!!” with many exclamation points when I asked her if she was ready for something to read. –
To Sheri, for supporting me in writing fic, for long talks in the office about plot points, for helping me get the bad habits out of my writing. For her enthusiasm and her respect for what I am trying to do with these stories. The best friend I’ve ever had. –
To Shari, for keeping up the website, for speedy wonderous betas, for being excited about the story and for listening to me. For making me laugh at my mistakes. (I’ll never forget Granger putting the table in his pocket!) :o) For being my guide in so many things and my sweet, gentle friend.
This story is dedicated to Kelly and Nancy. For their sticking by me so close to home. :o) Thanks for reading, everyone. Be well.
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