Walking the Cage by Deborah Wells

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Walking the Cage

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  1. WALKING THE CAGE – Chapter 1
  2. WALKING THE CAGE – Chapter 2
  3. WALKING THE CAGE – Chapter 3
  4. WALKING THE CAGE – Chapter 4
  5. WALKING THE CAGE – Chapter 5
  6. WALKING THE CAGE – Chapter 6
  7. WALKING THE CAGE – Chapter 7
  8. WALKING THE CAGE – Chapter 8
  9. WALKING THE CAGE – Chapter 9
  10. WALKING THE CAGE – Chapter 10
  11. WALKING THE CAGE – Chapter 11
  12. WALKING THE CAGE – Chapter 12
  13. WALKING THE CAGE – Chapter 13

WALKING THE CAGE

By: Deborah L. Wells

SPOILERS: Possible references to ‘Memento Mori’

RATING: R

CONTENT: Mulder angst. Scully angst. MSR (later) CLASSIFICATION: TRA

SUMMARY: A strange sequence of events are put into play after a heated argument between Mulder and Scully.

WALKING THE CAGE – Chapter 1

Anger is a dangerous feeling. One that beckons change.

And change is not always for the better. Not when it threatens to carry those concerned onto a path that they are not prepared to travel. Confrontations derived from pent-up emotions, most especially anger, are situations that allow little room for rules. Usually guaranteed to be one of a most sacred and personal kind. Especially those scenarios that are conjured up in the still of the night. The heat of the moment. The not so apropos after hours setting of a darkened and deserted government office building.

The harried and over-worked occupants past tired. Beyond caring. Two people who had just crossed that most precarious line. The one that lies between good natured bantering and outright blatant accusations. The invisible and fault-balanced precursor between propriety and rage.

This night….this most fateful night; there would be no turning back on a journey four years in the making. A lifetime in the cards. And they would never be the same.

It wasn’t the first time they had reached the juncture of this apex. But it could be the last. Because the crucial difference here was that they had spoken the words. Out loud. With purpose. And aim. In an undignified moment of crisis. A startled affront and an unguarded reaction.

That most volatile combination. One that they had strategically managed to avoid at all costs. Until tonight.

She had said in all righteousness that she had endured more than enough.

He had made it clear with every conviction that he had surpassed his limits and beyond.

And so the die was cast.

They were poised now precariously upon the most crucial crossroads. Having volleyed past the raised voices, poison-daggered and sharp-edged words. A lifeline precipice of their own choosing. He had questioned her loyalties and reasoning. She had questioned his sanity and beliefs. Though neither was intuitive enough to venture past the half-truths, and full lies, that lay just below the surface of their hurtful actions. They stood together most thoroughly divided.

Chasm wide. Fingertip reach. Physically, only by the length of a room. Mentally, by the expanse of two lifetimes, clearly destiny-crossed, but forever borne of different aspirations. And goals. And needs.

The air of their sacrosanct universe was charged with a lethal tension. Her eyes sparked with exasperation and hopelessness. His eyes dimmed with exhaustion and futility. Too much revealed, but never enough said. Lest of course, it was the wrong things. The kind that somehow manage to have a life of their own, always finding the light of expression without much prompting. Why did they always find it easier somehow to vocalize the pain? The hurt? Either way, it was all out there between them now. And it was most definitely there between them. Palpable and breathing, it currently fed off of the very substance which had given it life. Never to be pushed aside and ignored again, it nurtured greedily on the substance of their souls. A burden lifted yes, but only to allow it better traction and aim.

The storm crested with savage intensity, and she was the first to break under its influence. He had the advantage of home territory. His office. Despite a requisitioned nameplate and the promise of office furniture. It would always be his. She moved towards retreat. Her easy out. He made none to stop her.

Nor did she expect him to. Files gathered, jacket grabbed. Yet still she hesitated. Her clinical mind, although now hazy with turmoil and pain, still sought some measure of closure. Was it too much to ask?

Even now? A neatly bundled bow-tied string upon the frenzied maelstrom that each had once laughably deigned to call a life.

She didn’t like leaving open ends.

He thrived on them.

“Mulder.” It was a sigh. She could do that. Say his name as a sigh and have it mean something. But he only shook his head slightly and turned his back to her. The final assault on her last remaining vestige of pride.

They were indeed leaving nothing to chance here. No way out. No loophole clause. No possible impromptu midnight phoned regrets, or shy half-apologies come the light of reason.

It was truly over.

Together and apart, each silently mourned the passing of what they had once possessed.

And what could have been.

She might have slammed the door. But didn’t There was no point. As they could not have hurt each other anymore with mere actions than they had just managed with savage words. Only in the safely of her absence did he finally turn towards the door, calling her name softly.

“Scully.”

Spoken as a sigh, like hers before. He was no less perfected in the application of the ways. Saying her name now.

Knowing she could not hear. His easy out.

It was a bitter end.

It had always been destined to be played out as such.

And somewhere the dice were thrown. Flawless ivory cubes, spotted with ebony ink. As the desperate eyes forever cursed, followed the teasing course of their journey.

Tumbling and rolling, lofty power camouflaged behind a shield of innocence. They waited for the fates to decide. Win or lose? Love or hate? Live or die?

All bets off. The game had begun.

Mulder awoke to the stinging assault of the early afternoon sun shining through the blinds. The searing rays crept across the floor, and up and over the couch he was sprawled upon.

He was working on prying his sleep-encrusted eyes open by carefully applied increments when the soft shirring of the phone caused them to open completely and painfully. He blinked rapidly against the blinding glare as he stumbled his way over to the phone.

“Yeah”, he croaked, simultaneously clearing his throat against the groggy sound that issued forth.

“Agent Mulder. Good afternoon. Hope I’m disturbing your beauty sleep.”

Mulder frowned. It was Skinner. He glanced at the digital clock on the answering machine in front of him. 12:35 P.M.

it proclaimed in a light-faded green luminescent display.

He groaned under his breath.

Skinner mistook his silence as a moment of contrition and softened his tone accordingly. “Would you care to explain why both you and Agent Scully missed our scheduled 10:00 meeting this morning?” Although phrased as such, it wasn’t a question.

Mulder glanced now at the empty whiskey bottle that was tipped over next to the phone. Another one, half-full stood on the coffee table next to the couch. He could vaguely remember their hasty consumption. But he could most vividly feel the resultant hang-over that was even now clouding his thoughts and memories.

“Sick”, he mumbled. “I’m sick. Overslept, and didn’t call in.” “Sorry”, he added as an afterthought. He could hear the sharp in-take of breath from Skinner’s end of the conversation. A slight whistle like sound.

“And Agent Scully?”, he asked between what Mulder knew were surely tightly clenched teeth.

“What about her?”

“Would she also be a hapless victim of this non-communicative bug?”

Mulder rubbed a clammy hand over his stubbled face, as he reached out to the blind rod, twirling it closed against the offending sun. “You’d have to ask her on that…sir”, another afterthought.

“Well Agent Mulder, I would like nothing better than to do just that.” Mulder could hear a scraping noise as Skinner moved his chair closer to his desk as an unseen emphasis on the importance of his next words. Out of an inbred habit, Mulder unconsciously straightened his posture in response.

Dressing-down over the phone is one of those lost arts.

Skinner was working on his black belt. “It seems Agent Scully, like yourself has neglected to inform anyone of her whereabouts. And she doesn’t answer her phone.”

Mulder was silent. A painful squeak issued forth from the phone, as he could now imagine Skinner turning his chair around to face the window. Building for the climatic dismissal he surmised.

“Agent Mulder, you and Agent Scully have been given a lot of room to maneuver over the past four years. But don’t assume you have carte blanche to do as you please. I’m still calling the shots. I want both you and your partner here in my office by four o’clock this afternoon. I hope we completely understand each other.”

The line clicked against Mulder’s ear as the connection was terminated. Mulder punched the off button, dropping the phone on the couch as he made his way to the bathroom.

Filling the sink with cold water he splashed his face a few times, grabbing a hand towel he looked at his reflection in the mirror. His eyes were blood-shot and he was still wearing the same work shirt and jacket he had on from the day before.

Wrinkled and rumpled. And the suit was in pretty bad shape too. Looking at his twin image he absently noticed his right front pocket was torn at the edge. He reached for the material smoothing it flat against his chest, and watched the flap slowly fall away again when he removed his hand. When had that happened?, he wondered.

He tried focusing on the events of the day before, purposely skimming over the final showdown with Scully. He wasn’t up to those brittle ruminations quite yet. After she had left he had stayed around the office for a couple of hours, silently hoping she might come back. Silently hoping she wouldn’t too. Either way, he got his wish. But when it had become clear she definitely wasn’t returning, he had finally packed up and left. It must have happened then, and he just hadn’t noticed. Maybe on his way home, after that spur of the moment stop at the liquor store where he had bought the whiskey. The shoppe that was so inconveniently out of his way. But just happened to be miles from the turn-off that might have beckoned him to Scully’s apartment.

Not that he had been planning on going there of course. It just made it more official. His not going.

He shrugged now out of his soiled clothes, and stepped into the shower. Moving into the soothing hot stream he hoped would work wonders on straightening out the tired and sore kinks in his muscles.

“…..Where was I?”, he paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts. “Ah yes, relative distance. That’s a term I really enjoy using. And it fits so nicely into our situation right here. Especially when you consider all the possible connotations. Think about it this way. Every person has a center. In each person’s center is the make-up that composes what could be called an existence for that person. In the core of this center branching out, you have in order family, friends, co-workers, etc. Each attachment ringed in order of the corresponding importance tie to that person’s life. As you travel further and further away from the core it signifies the lessening ties. At the very edge of the circle are what I like to call the peripherals. Those acquaintances or unknowns that are on the fringes. There, but only in relative distance to the need for a particular service or requirement.

Take me for instance, I used to be a peripheral, but now I’m in the core of your center. You see what I mean?”

He reached over to adjust the I.V. drip fastened to Dana Scully’s arm. After a moment’s tinkering he settled back satisfied.

“This here, what happened with us, is an example of what develops when the center to peripheral balance is skewed. When a peripheral person comes in close contact with the center of a person’s existence, with anything other than the aforementioned peripheral ties, it can only lead to chaos. That’s what happened here. Chaos. Pure and simple. Wouldn’t you agree?”

Dana Scully remained silent.

He wasn’t deterred by this. He was comfortable with silence.

“Have you figured out where you are yet?”, he asked after a few minutes.

She nodded slowly. It had taken awhile. The drug had clouded her thinking at first, and the cramped space was misleading. But eventually it came to her.

If she could have superimposed the schematic lay-out of Mulder’s basement office over where she was now, it would have been a perfect match.

Because Dana Scully was currently being kept prisoner in the crawlspace that existed directly over the office of Special Agent Fox Mulder. In the bowels of the government building which housed the headquarters of the FBI.

“We never left”, she answered him softly.

He smiled.

WALKING THE CAGE – Chapter 2

Reality carries little weight within the restrictive perception of those who choose not to see. And not seeing can come to serve as a convenient and cushioning barrier against the more cruel aspects of life. The illusions of happiness, joy and love are translucent in their obvious appeal. A seduction of want and desire resides there. Most especially to those who are without their comforts. Separated by layers of safety and security, these temptations of need sing a mystical siren song of promise that few can resist. Yet there will always be those who will forever look in only from the outside. Their faces pressed tight against the unyielding glass. Coveting all that they can see, but know will never possess.

A hard truth to learn. This intimate knowledge that there are some things that are just not meant to be.

A depressing fact of life that nonetheless demands attention. A lesson searingly branded with a stilted sorrow upon the souls of those less fortunate. For most, dejected but not destroyed, they will simply turn away, and seek that which is available from within the sphere of their own influence.

Harshly and coldly denied the sun, yet still they flourish. Because even without the warmth of the sun there’s always the moon. The stars. The sky.

And for those left earth-bound there is the sea and the sand. The wind. The storm. Satisfaction is relative, but to all who are willing to breathe the subjective breath that is life; the choices afforded are serendipitous and infinite. Limited only by the ability to reach beyond the grasp. To settle when necessary. To care always. And to dream when the opportunity allows.

A deceptively simple recipe for internal peace. But this is the way.

And so life proceeds onward without comment.

…..in a perfect world.

But elsewhere civilized rules are reserved only for the relative comfort of the light. The sanctified sanity that is the day. And most especially they are only for those who consciously choose to adhere to them. For what exists just beyond the comforting light and sanity is the birthplace of darkness and pain. And there, aberration is the one and only constant of nature. And it is no less true of the balances that exists between misery and joy, sorrow and peace, life and death. In this place for all those who are content within the limits of the moon and stars, there lives another.

The one who brazenly takes what can’t be earned. Who forces what will not come willingly. The one who lives only for the decadence of grotesquely reshaping the world to fit within the ravings of a maniacal and misguided vision of his own making. He is to be pitied.

He is to be avoided. But most of all he is to be feared.

For he is the predator. The one that steals the spirit from the still breathing corpse and feeds upon the soul.

The patient and industrious spider that spins the silken web of despair and death. Its placebo composed of a deceptively tantalizing, but falsely iridescent beauty that is the web. A dangerous decoy that taunts and catches the hapless and unsuspecting prey.

And once caught the game is never over, but only beginning.

Because there follows the inevitable interlude. The one that is the teasing prelude to a soulful agony. The eternal struggle.

A bittersweet last glimmer hope to return to what was once known and treasured. The ever beckoning safety of sanity.

But even now…as she pulls back desperately upon the ironbanded gossamer wisps of the web, seeking escape…the spider comes.

It comes.

It was the night of the third day.

“Dana”, he called to her softly.

His voice still not enough of a constant presence in her world to be accepted without the first instinctual impulse of fear. He didn’t want to startle her out of sleep. So keeping his voice purposely low, his tone even, he called her again. When she still didn’t respond he reached out, lifting one of her eyelids carefully.

He wasn’t surprised to find it was unresponsive. It would take awhile before he would be able to accurately gauge the dosage of the drugs he was giving her. At present it was just an educated guess. There were so many variants to be taken into consideration. The first being that she was expending most of her strength and energy on her attempts to free herself. And whatever was left over was being depleted slowly by the fact that she was refusing to eat. The truth was, she was thrusting herself towards a complete exhaustion breakdown. He frowned. He would probably have to either give her nutrients directly by I.V., or force fed her. Perhaps both, if this continued much longer

He sensed a part of her was thinking he could be fooled into feeling sorry for her enough to relax his guard. But he was taking nothing for granted. This whole thing had been too long in the making. He knew he must never once forget how intelligent she was. If there was a way out, despite all his careful planning, he was confident she would find it. He had made detailed preparations, trying to foresee every possible scenario in his mind. Going over and over everything again until he felt confident he would be able to anticipate her reactions before she had even time to process the information.

He sat back now against the far wall and just watched her for a moment. She was restless, turning slightly in her sleep. Moaning. He was a patient man, he would wait for her to wake. There was no real hurry anyway. It was after midnight and the night belonged to him. And soon, very soon he hoped, it would belong to both of them.

This was the first item on his agenda. She would have to become accustomed to sleeping through the day and remaining awake at night. He was using the drugs initially to force this change in her internal clock. Setting up the drip before leaving each morning so that a carefully timed release of medication would leave her completely sedated for the entire day. A calculated sleep. But eventually she would get into the rhythm without the medication. Soon he hoped.

He didn’t want to risk causing her to become addicted.

Especially given the fact that she had cancer.

He would, of course, have to oversee her treatment on that front as well. He didn’t normally like to chance mixing medications. So the sooner this sleep obstacle was surpassed the better. For both of them. But aware of her stubborn nature, he knew she would continue to fight him every step of the way. It was a price he was more than willing to pay.

Especially if it garnered him the reward he was so fervently hoping for.

Watching over her sleep now, he was once again captivated by her beauty. It affected him here today with every ounce of passion, just as it had the first time he’d seen her. It never ceased to amaze him. She was everything he had ever hoped to find. And it wasn’t just the physical beauty that had attracted him either. He didn’t consider himself a shallow man. He wasn’t one of those people who only judges by the cover without giving credence to the value of the pages that rest in between the binding. He was intuitive. Insightful.

A people reader. A people watcher actually being a more apt definition.

And from the first, she had proven to be more than worthy of the adoration he bestowed upon her. First off, her obvious intellect and skills. A doctor and an FBI agent. Beauty and brains. She also had a kind heart. A genuine interest in other people. Their welfare and well-being. And even though he was anything but approving of her cavalier behavior as of late, he still loved her more than life itself. He could forgive her for the mistakes she had made recently. He was magnanimous enough to at least empathize with her motivations. The ones that had led to these less than stellar actions.

She had changed perceptively over the four years he had known her. And he had witnessed each and every transformation. As she went from a wide-eyed and life-loving woman, to a sullen, angry, and jaded shell of her former self. He, of course, could still see the glimmer of her former personality. That spark that was buried deep inside. The one that shone through only for him. Because he knew precisely where to look. Still he had started to become increasingly more worried that she was beginning to lose track of who she once used to be. And it was this development which had caused him to step up his initial plans.

He couldn’t bear to witness her suffering anymore. She was forever pushing herself beyond the boundaries of reason.

She had to start taking care of herself. And if she wouldn’t, then he must. One of them had to be focused enough to carry the strength for them both. It was his self-proclaimed duty to protect her. Even if that protection involved an extended coverage, one that would encompass saving her from herself.

A slight movement from over on the cot where Dana lay caught his attention and brought him immediately back to the present. He moved quickly over to her side. As her eyes fluttered open he took note of the progression of emotions that filtered across her face. First, the sluggish apathy that was the result of her body trying to fight its way back into consciousness from the numbing effects of the narcotic he had given her.

Followed by an expression of confusion as she blinked rapidly, trying to bring some semblance of understanding to the still unfamiliar surroundings she found herself in. Then finally fear, as she jerked back on the cot upon seeing him there next to her. This last reaction still brought a momentary twinge of ache to his heart.

That she should fear him, when he loved her so. But time. Yes time. The universal healer. She would come to know and appreciate the sacrifices he had made for her well being.

“Dana”, he said softly, talking to her in a soothing, placating tone. He reached up and for emphasis jiggled the handcuffs that were attached to each of her wrists keeping her confined to the bed. Her hands raised up and over high on each side of her head. Each arm attached on either side to the steel frame of the cot.

Her wrists wrapped protectively with gauze to prevent chafing. He had indeed thought of everything.

“I’m going to unlock the handcuffs now, after which I want you to stand and pick up the backpack that is sitting on the floor next to you. Then I will once again put the handcuffs on, but your hands will be in front of you. Don’t try anything Dana. I don’t want to, but I will sedate you again if necessary. With this last sentence he produced a tightly capped syringe from the jacket pocket of his coat. Showing her his words would always carry the weight of absolute truth. He would never lie to her. He wasn’t that sort. She would come to see this in time. The speech he had just issued was the same one he used each time. He still thought it prudent to explain the rules. Miscommunication can only lead to sorrow.

She glared back at him with undisguised hatred. Her eyes darting back and forth between his face and the hand that held the threatening needle. After a moment she nodded slightly. He produced the keys and carefully unlocked both sets of handcuffs. She brought herself to a sitting position in small painful increments. Being locked into the same position for the length of a day was taking its toll on her muscles. They were sore from non-use. He sighed softly. It was necessary right now.

An unavoidable step. But as time passed, as soon as she began to show him that she could be trusted, he would allow her certain freedoms and liberties.

She stood, stretching her back fully. Her eyes closing momentarily as she worked out the kinks of her aching limbs. He gave her a few moments to do this. And as always he waited for the look. It would come. It always followed at this point. He wasn’t even sure she was aware of doing it. Probably as much an involuntary response as breathing is to life. He waited, and within seconds his precognitive thought was realized. It started at the corner of her eyes. A sad, wistful longing. A glimmer of hope that she kept safe and secure deep within her own heart. An almost loving downward sweep of her eyes. And for just the merest fraction of a second they would linger there. On the floor beneath her feet. Trying to reach beneath the barrier of the concrete and metal supports that separated her from the place she most wished to be. But it was more than a place she was so desperately wishing for. It was also a desire for him. For Mulder. Even after all that had transpired between them, she still stood here now displaying a look that was the very essence of need.

This was something that he would never be able to come to terms with. Not after the things he had heard that last night. The words that had flown between them like rapid fire artillery. Wounding and hurting with an intensity that was nothing short of a practiced intent. And yet she was even now yearning for him like he was the last drop of moisture in a acrid dry desert land. It hurt him down to the marrow of his bones to see her this way. Knowing she was pining for the company of another man. Someday. No matter the cost to him. To her. Someday, she would display that look for him alone.

He called her name again, bringing her out of her reverie.

She reached down and picked up the backpack, just as he had requested. And he moved forward with the handcuffs. They were starting to fall into a routine now. The first time she had tried to attack him. They had both fallen to the floor, struggling for domain. She had used every ounce of her strength and internal fury to try and escape from him.

She was a skillful fighter. Her stature and size masquerading a powerful force. She almost succeeded too. But he had managed to extract the needle that he never was without, from his pocket. Flipping the cap he had rammed it into her hip, depressing the plunger all in one fluid motion. Her eyes had gotten impossibly huge as she registered the pain for what it was. Her sudden rage and power forgotten as her mind was instantly clouded over from the effects of the drug he had injected into her. A plaintive, suffering wail had escaped her lips as she fell into a heap next to him. It was the sound that an animal would make when caught in a trap from which there was no escape possible.

With one last longful glance at the place that marked the position of his desk below them, she moved forward into the shaft. She took the lead. Knowing the way by heart by now.

He kept a careful and measured pace behind her, out of the reach of her legs, should she try to kick him. Yes, she had tried that ploy as well. He again reminded himself never to underestimate her abilities.

They emerged from out of a loosened ventilation grate. From there they entered a woman’s public restroom. He knew the night security schedule by heart. He knew exactly how many guards patrolled the building. Who was on what floor. At what time.

He knew the positioning of every security camera. This nightly ritual was as planned and detailed as the Brink’s robbery. She went to the first stall and used it. And he checked it after her, looking over the walls and disposal chutes to see if she had tried to leave another message. Initially she had removed a spring from the toilet paper holder and had been in the process of scratching a call for help upon the walls. She hadn’t gotten far, only a word or two. Probably hoping to finish the message on each progressive night. He made her scratch it out in front of him.

Next she proceeded to the sink. Opening the back pack she removed a tooth brush and paste. Hair brush. Soap. A hand towel. He saw her hesitate as she came across an item that had never before been there. She furrowed her brow with a questioning expression.

“Do it”, he commanded, with an almost harsh tone. She looked over at him standing at the door. One of his hands thrust inside his jacket pocket, along with the outline of a gun. He only carried it when they ventured out at night.

“No”, she spoke quietly. Determined. Refusing. She knew what was his intent with this development. He was trying to steal her identity.

It was all she had left to hold onto right now. She wouldn’t give in without a fight. It was too important. At least to her.

He walked over and stood near her at the sink. But still purposely out of reach. He regarded the fire that shone from her eyes with pause. Her determination was palpable. But where the immovable met the irresistible, they were more than evenly matched in spirit.

And he held the cards of power right now.

“Do it Dana, or I’ll cuff you to the sink, and tie your legs and do it myself.” His tone left nothing to chance. There was no mistaking the believability behind the words.

After another moment’s hesitation she began to comply.

An hour later she looked into the mirror with the sting of tears not far from escaping the well of pain that was herself. He moved behind her, joining her reflection in perusal.

Her hair was still wet, as there was no blow dryer for her to use.

But she could see the difference even through the wetness. Her once red hair had now been colored a dark brown, almost black. The face that looked back at her now was familiar, but it was framed by a halo of hair that was foreign to her. She could barely recognize herself.

He moved into her personal space, and she flinched at the contact.

Keeping the gun pressed against her back he reached around and cupped her chin lightly. She looked in the mirror as their images stared back at her. Mocking her.

“Dana is dead now”, he whispered with a hot exhale of breath next to her ear.

“As of today, your name is Teresa”, this last said with all the reverence of a fervent prayer for absolution.

“Teresa”, she mouthed silently back at the ghost image of her former self.

And this time she allowed the tears that threatened to fall.

WALKING THE CAGE – Chapter 3

Two people. A man. A woman. Brought together by chance and fate. Kept together by the strengthening bonds of commonality; a history of precious moments and shared pain.

And a simple need throughout; a need for each other. The compliment of their union. The trust that is their connection. Warring and loving, the emotions of each sometimes too strongly expressed and convoluted over time, until it becomes difficult to separate them into terms which can be understood. Even by the two themselves.

Some would call them fools for staying. Some would call them blessed for being. All would call them lucky for possessing. The others, with passing eyes full of envy, and yearning hearts of unfulfilled passion, as they watch their progress. They are studied in depth. Their actions.

Their words. The touches. The looks. Each considered and categorized for signs of the depths that lay just beyond the facade of a public masquerade.

But love is a deceptive illusion. Its allure resides in the belief that we have a measure of control over the events which shape our present. And our future. But we are just the pawns. Moved from space to space upon the game board, by an unseen hand. Checked, and mated. Sometimes winning. Often losing. Forever locked within the confinement of the rules. Rules that most are never even made privy to. And for every game piece that is sacrificed, another comes to take its place.

In this way, love is the greatest humbling experience.

Giving yourself to another, opening your heart, and letting someone in, is an intimacy that has no equal. It is the most vulnerable state life can offer. But if the circumstances proclaim, and the heavens align, it has the potential to be the most rewarding of all. Still, there are no guarantees to promise that this precious gift given, will not be returned unopened. Never tasted. Never tried. Or worse yet, used without attachment, and then thrown away without regard. It isn’t easy, this first opening of the heart.

Yet there is even another level. One that brings an enduring pain that is beyond even that of never knowing. You can desire profoundly, but you can not claim to miss, what you have never sampled. And once known, it will capture a place in your soul, rooting and taking hold in your heart. It will feed on your needs. It will live in your dreams. And when this love given is returned, it will reward you with contentment and joy. But it is the hurt that comes from loving and then losing that has the power to destroy.

Love is the birth. The coming of age in between is the life.

Loss is the death. Having tasted the sweetness that is the promise of what is possible, and then being denied from ever knowing it again; this is the blueprint for sorrow. This is the dwelling place of bitterness.

One space above she turns with a wretched fever pitch by the restrictive throes of a nightmare. A nightmare brought about not by her musings of fears unrealized. But of fears known.

Of a kind being lived and experienced. Concurrently and never-ending. She calls for him. Through the drugged haze that is now her home. But he can not hear. Her hands pulled taunt against the bedpost by the shackles of uncaring steel.

They reach out in a desperate want for release. But they only capture air, never the intoxicating freedom she so fervently desires, and in frustration they go slack with futility and despair. She looks for him, but is unable to find him.

One space below he walks the cage of his own misery. Pacing the expanse of his captive box. Even without having the bonds of steel that she even now endures, symbolically he is kept a prisoner just the same. The unknown is a keyless cage.

For them both. He pulls upon the bars of his internal jail, fighting their weight and substance in hopelessness, as their rod-like shadows chill the emptiness that has become his heart.

He calls for her. But she can not answer. Through the questioning doubts that have become his fears, he searches; but is unable to find her.

In her sleep, she instinctively twists her body towards the very edge of the bed, as far to the limit as is allowed her.

Straining the contours of her form, downwards towards the floor, seeking the comfort and hope that she no longer possesses.

In his consciousness, he raises his eyes. Upwards towards the heavens, looking for a glimmer of hope, that will be given only along with a costly price. He freely offers his world and all within for an answer, but there is none to be had.

And both; she and he, separated only by the width of a layer of cold and forbidding materials. Impersonal barriers. They are purposely kept apart. Yet, still so close together. Because they strongly feel each other’s presence. Only blinded by their inability to see through the subterfuge that is the game.

Hidden in plain sight….she listens for the spider to return to the web. The nagging question, the one that fills her with horror each time, is whether it returns to tease or to consume.

And insanity lays in the waiting.

It was the night of the tenth day.

‘Teresa’ Scully kept repeating the name over and over in her mind. ‘As of today, your name is Teresa’, he had said. Just like that. Effectively dismissing her life before. As if he had happened upon her as an infant. Abandoned and unloved.

Reborn, the day he had elected to steal her life from her. He even acted as if she should be grateful for the unwanted attention he bestowed upon her by force.

That he was deranged, was without question. But he was even more than that, because he was also extremely intelligent.

Cunning. A most dangerous combination without the added hindrance of having a conniving agenda.

“Teresa”, she rolled the name with silent venom through tightly pursed lips. In normal circumstances it would be only what it was, just a name. A common name at that. She had even known a few ‘Teresa’s’ in her life. Each one now filtered across her mind with barely remembered, softly lingering connections from her youth and lifetime.

‘Teresa’s’ in normal circumstances would not give her much pause. But here? No, here the syllables leapt off her tongue with a vile contempt.

She hated this ‘Teresa’ he was trying to mold her into here.

Which was exactly his intent. To first break her down, and then build her back up from scratch. Peeling away her layers and identity, until there was nothing left for her to recognize.

She would be remade, but in his creative image. It was ‘Teresa’

who was the captive here. ‘Teresa’, was the one, who even with all the vast knowledge and experience afforded her via Scully’s medical and FBI background, still could not find a way out of this predicament.

And God, sweet God, it was so achingly hard to be this close to all that she wanted to return to. Her life before. It was the cruelest of jokes. She wondered if he laughed openly at his own genius when she could not hear. She was consumed with an almost ghost-echo of her former life. Twice the irony, because it was only now that it was gone that she gave it the respect it had so rightfully deserved before. She had indeed taken for granted all that she had once possessed. She made the same bargains now that most do when they find themselves in that rock and hard place hell. ‘If only’s…’I promise’s…I’ll never’s… and all the other preemptive pledges of redemption that the desperate of heart subscribe to; she was no different.

She was no less human. She was no less terrified.

But everything that she craved, was so tantalizingly out of reach. It was like a hunger that could never be thoroughly satisfied. A thirst that was never completely quenched.

He would come and release her each night. And she would stand, stretching the muscles that felt like atrophied driftwood after the immobile length of an entire day locked into a drug-induced, but forever unrestful sleep. It was at this point that she only wished to drop to the floor, on bended knees, and caress lovingly the barrier that kept her apart from her real world.

Wanting to fall through the cracks of the wood. Shatter the cold concrete. Twist the reinforced metal. She could almost touch it. That elusive freedom. Taste it. That feeling of normalcy. Of control. These feelings that before she would use and toss away without thinking. Never knowing that around the bend of the next curve loomed the taker of all she had held dear.

And he continued to take. Each day. More and more of who she was. Taking, and then trying to fill in the spaces left behind with his own vision of herself. It felt to her, like she was slowly being erased. The chalkboard still carrying the faint markings of her former existence. But it wasn’t as easy to read as it had once been. Even for her. The letters and strokes disappearing and fading before her very eyes. A frightening thought in and of itself, but there was more.

Because she could feel her resistance waning. It was becoming increasingly more difficult for her not to allow him to fill in the void of all that was lost to her in this place.

It had started when he had made her change the color of her hair. Then her name. She was beginning to have difficulty keeping the lines between Scully and ‘Teresa’ separate.

There were times when she thought ‘Teresa’ was stronger than she was. And that was sobering. And so very sad.

Her will was weakening. Followed closely by her mind. And standing behind these, but not too far, was her body. The drugs he forced into her each day were having an effect.

She would awaken earlier than he wished now. And he would compensate by increasing the dosage. Despite her breathless and fruitless entreaties for him to reconsider this madness.

To stop. Just leave her be. But he wouldn’t. He wouldn’t.

Plunging the needle, with an almost abstract detachment, into the rubber tube that led to the I.V. which dangled above her head. And she could only watch. And wait.

For hours she would stare at that bag, through the fog of her delirium. Hating it. Focusing all her emotions on the symbolism of it. Unable to reach it. Unable to pull the offending, trickling tube out of her arm. It was the last thing she saw each morning. The first thing she saw each night. The parallels to her own situation not escaping her either. As the fluids flowed into her veins, while the spirit flowed out of her being, in almost equal portions.

He refused to be engaged either. Neither answering questions, nor giving reasons. He even refused to give her the satisfaction of anger. Oh, and how she wanted his anger. She wanted him to express it. Rage. Fury. She wanted it all. She needed to see it. It was beginning to border on obsession. She wanted a match to her own internal confusion. Her own hate.

A foil to pounce upon and tear apart, in an effort to release the inferno that was boiling within her. The consuming fire that was engulfing her alive and whole.

She baited him. Provoked him. At every opportunity. But he was so maddeningly passive in his voice. His movements slow and measured. His remarks calculated and spoken in that infuriatingly gentle tone he reserved for her alone. Like a protective, but condescending care-giver, who never said it, but still inferred that all he did was for her own good. Patting the child’s head with patience, even while she gave way to the torrent of the tantrum that was her plight. It was a slow and agonizing path to insanity. And she was becoming too familiar with the path that led up to it.

It had been eleven days. Eleven days since she had disappeared.

And yesterday had been the first time he had been able to come back into the office. He still hesitated, even now, his key wavering slightly in his hands. It was too much like returning to the scene of the crime. Because this was the place where he had last seen her. That night. When she had left in anger, and he had let her go with equal fury. Steeling his back and courage now, he turned the key and entered.

It opened around him like an encrypted tomb. Overwhelming him with lingering echoes and scents of her essence. He half expected her to brush past him now, coffee cup in hand, a file opened. Asking what would be the focus of their next case.

Ready to offer a quick, but always clinical, argument to most any theory he might propose.

Closing the door behind him, he turned on the light and moved over to his desk. He was the quintessential poster-child of a broken man. The fluorescent lights playing off and highlighting the deep hollows underneath his eyes. The dark contours of his cheekbones, hollowed-out and caved-in. Too much weight lost in too quick a time, made the shoulders of his jacket sag loosely against his lanky frame. He shrugged it off and draped it half-hazardly over the back of his chair. The shirt beneath was wrinkled. A top button missing. The tie askew and stained. He had only played at getting dressed this morning it seemed. His heart not in the actual effort.

In truth, he didn’t care. About anything anymore. Except trying to find out what had happened to Scully. She filled his thoughts, morning, noon and night. And then continued to haunt his dreams. There wasn’t a passing moment when he didn’t feel her there. And within his heart.

He had started the search, as soon as it had surfaced that something was very wrong. The continued unanswered phone calls. The vacant apartment. The car parked out in front of her residence. His first thought that she was punishing him for the heated content and rapid escalation of their fight, and the break that followed. But too soon he realized that was not the case. She would never carry it to this extent.

Worrying family, and friends. And him. Wherever it was that he now fell within the categories of her relationships.

After that last night, he would not have been surprised if he had been crossed off all together on her list of important people.

But no, this was not something that Scully would do. He was the one that disappeared without word, leaving those behind to pick up the emotional pieces of hurt and pain. But not her. And he knew positively, she would never put her family through this without first informing them of her intentions.

Mrs. Scully continued to call him daily, hoping for some news.

God, it was so much like before.

The time she had disappeared for months. He sighed loudly.

He could not begin to think of facing that horror again.

And the more depressing thought, the one he kept pushing back down, that maybe she would never make it back at all this time. From whatever or whoever she had fallen in with. He had followed all the clues. What few there were. But nobody had seen her. Nobody had heard her. She had walked from his life that night it seems, straight into an invisible oblivion.

After a few days of dead-end searching, he could almost tangibly feel when the focus of the search had shifted towards himself. Afterall, he had been the last one to see her.

And when he had been interviewed by the police later, he had truthfully told them that he had spent the remainder of that night at home in a drunken stupor. A missing woman, after a heated argument, followed by a night of swilling whiskey until he had passed out. Not the most iron-clad of alibi’s. It certainly did nothing to polish the dust off his already tarnished reputation within the Bureau.

Skinner believed him, of course, or professed to anyway. But Mulder could hear the hushed whispered tones as he passed by this morning on his way to the basement office. ‘There he goes, ‘Spooky’ Mulder. Did you know something terrible happened to his partner? She disappeared. I’ll bet he had something to do with it. They were always fighting. Such a shame.’ He tuned them out, just like he did all the other irritations of his life.

Like he had done that night, with Scully.

‘Regrets’, as the song goes, he’d had a few. And this was one. He would give anything to be able to go back and stop the events of that night from proceeding into the nightmare that turned out to be the next day. And all the days that had followed since.

There was just no connection for him to make on this one.

He’d tapped all his sources. Called in all the favors.

Threatened his enemies. Alienated his friends. All in the hopes of finding some answers. But there was nothing. There was no buzzing rumors of conspiracies seeping in with halfhidden riddles for him to unfurl. She was just gone.

Vanished.

Without a trace.

He walked across the floor carefully. As a cat would silently sneak up on a bird. He didn’t normally come here during the day. It was too dangerous with the building open and people coming and going. But he had a special gift for her and he wanted to leave it so that she would see when she awoke this evening.

He sat down next to her on the bed. Touching her hair lightly.

The color was just about perfect. He had gone to extra pains comparing the boxes. Matching them to the photo. And to his own memory. Yes, just about perfect. He frowned. Of course, the length was still a little long. He made a mental note to bring his scissors tonight. The style was simple enough, just a few snips here and there and it would be done.

She moaned softly and he reached his fingers out, pressing them lightly against her cheek. It was soft to his touch, and filled him with a warm promise. She was so much like he remembered. At first, he hadn’t seen it. But when he finally saw the truth behind the disguise. Who she really was. It all suddenly made perfect sense. She had never really left him after all. She had only been lost. And now that he had found her again, he would never let her go.

Coming out of his reverie, he stood quickly, placing the small bag he carried next to her on the bed. He smiled to himself as he left.

Strawberries. He had passed a roadside vendor and had stopped and gotten them on the spur of the moment.

‘Strawberries, they had always been Teresa’s favorite.’

WALKING THE CAGE – Chapter 4

Memory is a subjective thing. As are dreams. Unique only to the individual who is in possession of them. From these treasured seeds, if properly cared for, grow wonder and belief. Thought and emotion. Love and hate. The essence of the soul and the strength of heart. It is easy to remain strong and centered while left to fend and grow in a world that allows you the courtesy of considering your place in the matter of things.

All are born an empty vessel. Only waiting to be filled with the individual imprint that will begin the journey of one. The first step taken, which leads to the next, and finally no longer requiring nurturing, the fledgling one departs unto its own singular path. And all paths started lead to another. No two journeys ever identical. None traveled twice in the exact same way. Some lead to revelations and discoveries. Some are traveled without incident or notice. While others are destined to cross with misfortune and sorrow. The very control of the journey no longer even their own.

Even now she loses her balance upon the invisible tightrope that is suspended between reality and doubt. As all that she once held close and protective is now open and exposed.

Withering and dying.

The prey wearies of its plaintive struggle, as it remains firmly encased in the soul-encapturing cocoon. It watches with resigned detachment as the spider draws near. Its pincers raised and glistening, dripping wetly with the paralyzing poison.

It readies itself with hopelessness for the sting.

It was the night of the twentieth day.

Scully had known in the back of her mind that she had seen him somewhere. She just couldn’t place it. He possessed one of those faces that blended in with the crowd. Seen once, twice, maybe even fifty times, but the kind that never stayed in the memory for long. His hairline was thinning. He was of an average build. Brown eyes. Early 40’s. Decidedly normal. An outward misleading package for the lurking mystery that lay inside. There was absolutely nothing unusual about his appearance. He had no immediate connection with her life though, she was sure of this. But she had seen him before. And it had served to nearly drive her crazy trying to figure it out. He would never answer her questions, or give any clues to his identity. Until today.

He sat down on the bed next to her, ignoring her first initial flinch as he came into contact with her skin, slowly removing her handcuffs as he began his tale. It was time for her to know the truth, he stated softly. And he began.

His name was Thomas. Thomas Henchell.

The first time he had laid eyes on her was four years ago.

The very day she had arrived at the FBI building to start her new assignment with the X-Files division. Her first stop, a hush-hush meeting with one of the head honchos. Her initial briefing. She had walked through his work area leading to the executive offices with a stride that just alluded confidence. So young. So sure of herself. Her life just beginning, and full of promise. All of this conveyed to him in the graceful swing of her arms. The up-tilted chin. The unblinking eye contact. The professional leather of the satchel slung over her shoulder. The cut of her gray pantsuit. Everything about her had reeked of intelligence and confidence. She demanded attention, and he was all too willing to provide it.

He had seen her from across the room, making her way through the maze of government-issue third-hand metal desks. All arranged in half-hazard fashion across the open workspace.

She was small in stature, almost overshadowed in the sea of bobbing, chest-high I.D. badges that all the employees were required to wear. There was a lot of background noise.

Talking. Phones ringing. Papers shuffling. She took it all in stride and continued on her journey. He had almost done a double-take as she had neared his own desk, which was buried under a mound of paperwork. She was so much like his Teresa.

It was uncanny. He had just been thinking of his wife. As he glanced at the vase of bright yellow buttercups that sat upon the corner of his desk. They had always been Teresa’s favorites, and he had developed a liking for them as well.

Their fragrant smell served to remind him of her. Because of this he always put out a fresh bouquet every week. Without fail. His silent memorial to her absence. And his testament of his pledge to find her and bring her back.

He had sat back in his chair for a moment as she passed in front of him. In fact he had stared. Outright. She had favored him with a quick brilliant smile. The kind that reaches up and grazes the eyes. Sent from the center and then spreading out with warmth. It was then he had known for sure. She was special. There was just something about her that spoke directly, and only, to him. All this information he gathered and stored within his mind in the micro-minute space of time it had taken her to pass by and leave his field of vision.

That had been the first time, and he had been obsessed with her ever since. Following the course of her career. The up’s and almost overwhelming down’s she had amassed with the turbulent connections she held with the X-Files and Special Agent Fox Mulder.

At first it had been just an attraction. An admirer from afar.

He was discreet. He kept his distance. Afterall they worked in different departments. He was just a glorified paper pusher.

One of many. And there were a lot of employees. A lot of turnover. Employees came. Employees left. Even the ones that had been there for years could never know the face of everyone that worked there. The FBI was just too big an agency. It wasn’t hard to be ignored if that was the desired result.

Which it was most certainly with him.

But somewhere, even he wasn’t sure, his simple infatuation had taken a dangerous turn. To a coveted outright possession.

He made his plans. Marked his time. Watched. Listened.

Hid. And waited. Then finally, that fateful night, he had put everything into motion.

‘Yes’, he had repeated to her now. ‘He was Thomas Henchell, and she, Scully, was in actuality his missing wife – Teresa’.

It had taken awhile for him to realize this. To see through her disguise. He had been searching for her for so many years, and all this time she had been right under his nose. And now that he had found her, he made it clear that he forgave her for leaving him in the first place. All that pain was in the past now. All was well. He bore no grudges.

And Scully had laughed. Outright. First in an incredulous disbelief, but slowing finally and tapering out to an extremely nervous twitter. He was serious, she realized. He truly believed that she was his wife. At this revelation her laughter died completely, replaced with a more familiar emotion. Fear.

She would find little to laugh at again in the coming weeks.

It was the night of the thirty-fifth day.

The lines were less clear now. The ones she had drawn between her reality and his warped sense of one. They were merging and changing even as she fought to keep a careful distance.

Trying to retain some sense of herself. Of who she once was.

Not who he was making her out to be. But it was becoming harder and harder each day. For every step she retreated, he would advance two. Dictating the confines of her world, from the food she ate, to the clothes she wore. There were no decisions for her to make anymore that would serve to give her a definition of individuality. She had no choices.

No freedoms. Or hopes. She was slowly metamorphosing into the very thing she had fought so hard to avoid.

She could actually feel the transition, as ‘Scully’ retreated, and ‘Teresa’ came forward. Her thoughts would shift gears, and almost unnoticed it seemed, from one to the other.

Back and forth. With ever more increasing moments where ‘Teresa’ would be, and ‘Scully’ would not. He called her ‘Teresa’ at every opportunity. Correcting her gently when she wouldn’t answer the name, or vehemently stated that wasn’t her name. But he was relentless in his plans.

Reinforcing the lies. Building the wall. The one that stood between his lies and her truth. And it was becoming almost impossible for her to decipher the difference.

He would tell her in excruciating detail, who ‘Teresa’ was, and how she was supposed to act and feel. She had reached the point where the name no longer bothered her. She accepted it, really lost the strength to refuse it after awhile. It seemed to her to be a small concession. But it marked the beginning of her transformation. At first she was able to see his words for what they were, only a ploy to try and make her believe she was this person. The one he wanted her to be. Initially, she was immobile in her stance, with proud defiance. But after all this time he was beginning to wear her down.

And as the days passed, the time marching on endlessly without her, she began to forget the reasons for fighting.

Her world no longer revolved around the things, the people, she had once fully believed she could never live without. He could see her beginning apathy, the crack in the veneer that he had been waiting for. And circling, he moved in for the kill, hovering above her like a hunting bird of prey. Whispering the lies into her ears. Giving her all the minute details of a life she was finding it easier to believe had once been her own. Until she began confusing her own past, intersecting and mixing the two lives. Teresa and Scully. Scully and Teresa. Becoming one and the same.

He was a most convincing liar. Skilled in the art. And she was the sole captive recipient of these lies. For all she knew the world outside this place no longer even existed. It seemed that way, more and more everyday.

And for all it really mattered, she could have been a thousand miles away from that world, instead of only a matter of feet and walls. And he used this too. Telling her that the people whom she had mistakenly believed were her friends no longer even cared about her. She had been forgotten. She was invisible. She did not matter, of no importance to them anymore. They were not even looking for her, which he professed was the tangible proof of what he was telling her. They had stopped looking for ‘Scully’, but he had never given up in his quest to find ‘Teresa’.

He was the only one that really cared about her, that’s what he said. His devotion to her a sign of the truth of what he was telling her.

And after a time, being given no other perspective, no other balancing reason, save the one he carefully provided for her….she began to doubt.

Only little twinges at first, but becoming stronger each day. Some of the things he was saying made sense, if taken out of context, which was the way he presented them to her. Logic, but in a turned-about sort of way. She started to understand, or so she thought she did anyway.

Eventually, even the once so vivid reasons for her hatred of him were starting to become harder and harder to bring to mind. And with the reason gone, the hate diminished.

And with them, also the memories, the emotions, and the will to persevere as well. All either gone completely, or fading fast. She was drowning in his lies. And he offered the only way to survive.

He was the one who cared for her. So he would point out to her again and again. Wasn’t he the one who gave her food to eat. Water to drink. Made sure she was never too warm or too cold. Considered her health. And he was so gentle with her. So patient. And she listened.

When he judged her finally ready. Receptive. Accepting.

Then, he spoke of Mulder. Only then.

Relating to her in astonishing detail the events of all that had transpired that last night. The angry voices and hurtful words they had thrown at each other. The way they had stood across the room, divided in all possible ways, parrying and thrusting the verbal jabs.

Wounding and weakening, and then finally severing what had once been their shared and sacred bonds. They did all this with such practiced aim. Thomas was a most expressive narrator, able to bring life to the words he presented her. He copied the tones, and voice inflections with perfection. It felt, to her, like she was back there.

Feeling the same unbearable pain she had that night.

Leaving the office, leaving Mulder, with the absolute certainty that they would never again be able to repair the damage they had layed upon each other. He knew it all. Their past. Their words. Their emotions.

And when he had finished his recitation. He began again.

And again.

It was the morning of the forty-second day.

“Teresa, wake up”, Thomas leaned over the cot, whispering softly into her ear.

She had only been asleep for a couple of hours. Her lids were heavy and tired. It took her a moment to raise them fully. Another to make them stay that way. And even then her vision blurred in and out of focus. He had changed her medication. Again. And as always, it played havoc with her system as it tried to accustom itself to this new invasion of foreign substances being spilled into her veins.

“What?”, she mumbled, slurring the word badly, still halfasleep, and fully drugged.

He placed a hand on her shoulder, patting it lightly.

Soothingly. “I’ve been thinking. I want to make sure you are left without any lingering doubts about the truth of your identity. As much as I love you, I don’t want to force you to stay against your will.” He reached over and with a firm grasping tug, removed the I.V. needle from her arm. She closed her eyes momentarily with a grunt of pain, and then quickly opened them again, trying to fight the drowsiness.

“Teresa, I don’t want you to hate me for trying to save you.

So, I’m letting you go.”

“Go?”, she repeated, trying hard to understand. “You’re letting me go?”

He nodded solemnly, as he inserted the tiny key into the locks of the handcuffs that kept her bound. “If that is what you truly want, then so be it. My only concern is your well-being”, he said as he helped her obtain a sitting position by guiding her legs over the side of the cot.

Her head was swimming. Her stomach churning. She shivered, fighting the nausea. This new drug wasn’t setting well with her body. A body who’s system was already oversaturated with chemicals. He had told her the name of it when she had asked, but she couldn’t think right now. She couldn’t remember the name. She was back to sleeping way too much, and what waking hours she had left were spent feeling listless and tired.

“I called his apartment Teresa, and I only got the answering machine. I know his schedule. He’s on his way over here right now.”

She ran her hand over her face slowly. Lowering her head and cradling it in her hands, she passed her tongue over cracked lips. Her mouth felt cottony dry and scratchy.

“He?”, she questioned, unable to follow his words. Seeming to jump into the conversation only after a lapsed delay of several seconds.

He knelt down in front of her, taking her hands into his, running his thumbs over the backs of them. “Yes, Teresa, him. Mulder. You want Mulder to come take you home now, don’t you?”

Scully furrowed her brows, trying to clear her thoughts.

She was so confused by the surrealness and the effects of the drugs. “Mulder is coming?”, she repeated. “He’s going to….I’m going home?”

“Yes, but we have to hurry now or we might miss him altogether.”

She leaned against the wall, waiting, trying to remain awake.

It had taken most of her remaining energy just to make the trip through the shafts and then through the maze of corridors that lead to the lobby of the FBI building. Funny, she couldn’t help but think now, she had never realized how huge the building was. How busy and noisy it was. Filled with people coming and going. She actually saw very little of it other than the basement view. She watched the people arriving and departing as she struggled to keep her eyes open. ‘She was going home’, she kept repeating to herself. ‘Home’. And Mulder was going to take her there. She heard these thoughts pass through her mind. And knew she should have been rejoicing. Jubilant. But in fact, the only thing she was capable of feeling right now was numb.

She saw Thomas straighten his stance and knew that Mulder must have just arrived. She turned her head towards the door and her heart immediately jumped within her chest. He was the same as when she had seen him last. Perhaps a little thinner, a few strands of gray in his hair that hadn’t been there before. A grimace looking as if it was permanently marked in place on his face. She torn her eyes away from him just long enough to look at Thomas. He smiled at her reassuringly and flicked his hand lightly indicating that she should go. She smiled back at him feebly. Strange feelings mixing and blending as she was both angry and grateful to him at the same time.

She pushed herself off the wall carefully and started a slow gaping walk towards him. And he moved towards her as well. Her drugged state made her steps awkward and off-balance. When she had narrowed the distance between them to only a matter of feet she lifted her hands outward, as if wanting to envelop him in a hug. He moved closer. Ten feet. Five. And then he there.

Right next to her. So close if she outstretched her arms she would have touched him. She felt the tears spring to her eyes.

The relief. The feelings of finally being safe and secure again in the embrace of familiar things. Of him. His shoulder brushed lightly against hers for just a split second. She smiled broadly at him. A smile filling her face with joy.

And then he was gone.

Walking right past her and continuing on to the elevators.

She turned around after a moment. Completely stunned. She watched him make his way. His back turned, retreating quickly.

Turned away from her. Turned against her. Walking away.

Leaving her behind. Again.

She could barely remain standing on her feet. She felt like collapsing right there. She felt like she was suffocating, after being tempted with a life-giving breath. But once taken into her airless soul it would serve no help, but instead increase her inability to breathe by volumes. The true sadness though was she had not only lost the ability to breath but the desire as well. Freedom had been so elusive for her for so long. And now that she had held it in her hand, it was just an illusion. For there can be no quest for freedom without something to return to that marks the difference between captivity and choice.

And her something to return to had just walked away.

Thomas smiled. He had taken a big chance. And come away a winner for his efforts. She didn’t realize how different she looked. Her own mother wouldn’t have recognized her now. Dark hair, cut short. Tinted glasses, he had insisted she wear due to the strong light coming in from the panoramic windows. Light she wasn’t used to after being inside for so long. The glasses covered a good portion of her face.

And also hid her dazed-over eyes, heavy with medication.

She had lost weight, and her complexion was sallow. She was dressed in baggy sweat pants and a heavy sweatshirt.

Far removed from the tailored suits and dresses she usually wore. Tennis shoes instead of heels. He had even changed her scent – everything from shampoo, to soap, to toothpaste.

It was no wonder he hadn’t recognized her. And that, of course, was his plan all along. She would come back to him willingly now. He was sure of it. She had no place else to go.

Satisfied, he walked over to pick up the pieces.

WALKING THE CAGE – Chapter 5

When choices are purposely limited, so too are the possibilities of growth. Choice is the focal point of creativity and thought. Without it, the parameters of existence and freedom are narrowed accordingly. The absence of it signals the dire construction of a selfmade box. Coffin-size. Fit for one. A box that will lock away forever imagination and individuality, and all the other myriad options that exist hand in hand with them. Choice. Never knowing it, is a moral shame.

Taking it from another is a mortal sin. Justifying the theft through slanted reasoning, is akin to total armageddon.

She makes hers now. On a less than truthful weighing of faulty circumstances and tipped scales. Not in her favor.

She is distracted by the mesmerizing sifting of sand through the hourglass. So caught up in the falling of individual grains, she fails to take advantage of what is waiting for her just outside the transparent glass. And in that second’s hesitation, her world, seen only through blinders not of her making, is about to change. Again.

The spider is well seasoned in the art of torture. As it retracts the once threatening poisonous pincers from the prey’s reach. Today, there is only the teasing dance of death. A strutting display of power and domination.

The ever slow breaking of the will.

It is only illusion. This reprieve.

The prey is too easily fooled. It takes its comfort with greedy gulps, when and where it can find it. But there is no sanctuary to be found in the web. A soul-shattering, life changing lesson that unfortunately can only be learned once.

The second time learned…..is death.

It was still the morning of the forty-second day.

Scully watched as Mulder walked away. Leaving her behind.

Now, when she had needed him probably more than any other time in her life. The elevator doors, with him inside, closed with finality. He was gone. He had simply passed her by. Never once looking her way. Never once seeing her.

It wasn’t the first time, not by far. But it hurt like that. So deep. That initial, sickening, lurching pitch she felt, starting from the hollow of her stomach, radiating up hotly towards her heart. And once there, settling in for a duration, with full squatter’s rights. A new home found. Her numbed and exhausted mind tried to sort out the facts and objective details, unfortunately they also carried with them the abrasive feelings of abandonment. Because that’s what it was in her mind. And most certainly in her heart. These feelings and thoughts now wrapped together symbiotically with a knot-tightened string that refused to let go, nor even loosen its strangled hold. Nevertheless, she still worked hard to separate emotion from intellect. But, it was a losing battle.

Just like it had been the first time. And as with all the others that had followed. It was no different now.

As the addicted promises never again to be tempted by the object of his desire, so too would he promise not to repeat his hurt. But he is no less weak in will than the addict. With the first time now cast in stone, the coming second was only inevitable.

When the second time had come, much too soon, she had developed some scar tissue; a gift from the first, to cover the initial flare-up of the now familiar upheaval within her. It was easier the second time to pretend it didn’t bother her as much. She realized only later that perhaps that might have been an error in judgment on her part. In some ways viewed by him as giving her unwitting consent for him to continue his hurtful tactics. These had been her thoughts the second time.

The third time had been explosive. Anger, pure and simple. Outright. Justified. A long time in coming.

She had lashed out at him, but in her own way. A controlled ranting. Dignified. Subdued. This was her style. And in this case, her downfall as well, because he had expected it. Afterall even Saints have limits, and he had long passed the saintly margin of error. In his preparedness though she had lost her edge, her one and only advantage. As even righteous fury loses its impact over changing time and turning circumstance.

Added in with it, a mixture of relief and thankfulness that came from the moment of realizing they had both once more, and against all odds, emerged for the most part unscathed. Indignation in the long run pales in comparison to this. Anger and relief, she had felt those the third time.

By the fourth time she really couldn’t feel the full force shock value anymore. The news given and received, she had simply nodded her head in acknowledgement and acquiesce. Immune to the worried and puzzled countenance of the messenger of woe. She had simply returned to her life, already in progress. Uninterrupted. It would seen to be just another day. From the first she had been given no consideration in the matter. What more was there left to do? You can only beat your head against a stone wall in protest for so long before coming to the realization that you are the only one suffering for your efforts.

Not compromise, but a close relative – resignation.

This, she had felt the fourth time.

The fifth time marked her total separation from feeling anything at all. A complete placental abruption from the pain. And after that she had stopped counting altogether.

Until now.

She would have to count this time. It was too important not to. This time had been the one that hurt the most. Cut the deepest. This time would be the one that would have the most impact on her soul, and there would be a visible hole left as evidence. This time she had stood before him, face to face, and in a sense without words, begged him not to go. And if he must, than at least take her with him.

And she had been shunned. Pushed aside. He had indeed left her behind again, but not in shadow. Not in secret. Not even by the cryptic phone message, or hasty hang-up, cutting off her words of entreaty.

He had in a essence slapped her smartly in the face with this one. Which brought new perspectives to all the times that had come before. They were just the precursor to this time it seemed now. Only slight shaking tremors before the devastating and collapsing quake. Yes, she would have to count this time. This one. Because it would be the last time. There would be no more. As he could not leave her behind in any more permanent a fashion than he had just done today.

She only realized suddenly, that she had tuned out everything happening around her with the harsh returning cacophony of noise. All that was a federal government building lobby, on a normal busy working day. It was assaulting to her ears, this avalanche of sound. Her hearing had become so finely attuned to complete silence. Her entire body felt like it was a giant exposed nerve. Waiting, like an open wound for the stinging salt to further rub it raw. She even was silently yearning now for the safety of sleep and the unknowing oblivion that had been her existence for these many weeks. As she ironically sought the very shackles that had been her binding prison.

What had started this morning as a hopeful first step towards freedom and home, had now ended with only loss of hope and defeat. She was lost. Now literally as well as figuratively. As here she was cast adrift in what felt to her to be the middle of a seeming chaos.

Alone.

A forlorn figure marching slow tight-fisted circles around herself, looking for some guiding lighthouse beacon to shine bright upon the crashing waves of her bewilderment, and sorrow.

She had become the invisible. There in body, but yet strangely not seen by most. Disguised and unrecognized, in her own home away from home. She was out of place in everything from dress to demeanor. Slowed quite measurably by drugs and muddled thoughts, she was afforded no less than total disregard. Sad, but true; what is not immediately categorized and understood is usually either disdained or ignored. She was jostled and bumped. Her shoulders tugged from side to side by self-thought important people with schedules keep and meetings to adhere to. They separated neatly around her lagging, unmoving stance. A miracle parting of the sea of suits.

Thomas Henchell, keeping ever a watchful eye, waited, letting her flounder there. In the mire of her own despair. Just long enough for her to recognize firmly, when it came, this rescue he would make. The one he had always planned it to be. The return to the fold of his wayward lamb. He had cast her out upon the cruelties of life’s callousness, and now he would offer her the only way out. In truth, the way back in. A return to the only semblance of familiarity and sanity that she could expect anymore.

To the one who is freezing to death, even hell’s scorching fire can seem a desirable place. Everything in context to its surrounding. Everything presented in his order of importance. The world according to Thomas. She was the sputtering drowning victim, and he was making ready to offer her the oar. The gifted life-saving oar that would in actuality, be the anvil around her neck.

But, the true tragedy lay in her acceptance of it.

Mulder closed his eyes tightly. Trying to stave off the faint pounding that promised to develop into another devastating headache. He had endured a lot of these lately. He leaned back against the shinny metal surface of the elevator. Letting the coolness sink in through the material of his jacket. He was on his way to a morning meeting with Skinner. A summons. To discuss his work performance as of late. Or the total lack thereof. He was used to these types of brow-beating meetings. The ones that harped on his single-minded obsession. His blinding passion in the search. The words would be the same, it was only the goal now that had shifted. As had the center of his universe. The X-Files, Samantha, the conspiracy, even the truth.

He barely gave them thought. These all fell far behind the pack now.

Dammit, where the hell was she?

Scully. She was the only reason he had to wake up in the morning anymore. How easy it had been to slip back into the constant ‘on’ mode that he had lived when she had disappeared before. It was almost as if there had been no breather in between. His life now seemed liked it had always been missing something. Without her, he was even hard pressed to call what he had a life. Sans the meaning that she brought to it, what was there? He kept up the pretenses though. Went to work. Tried to perform what was asked of him. Made appearances. Jumped the hoops.

But every waking thought. Every daydream. Every nightmare. They all were centered around her. He had even taken over the lease on her apartment. Paid the rent and utilities. Most nights he slept there. She would be pleasantly surprised to know that he was actually very learned in the day-to-day domestic skills. Every surface was cleaned and scrubbed. Dusted and vacuumed. The sheets changed every week without fail. When the milk curdled, or the bread would mold, he would buy fresh groceries so that she would have something to eat. The plants were watered. He even talked to them. He didn’t really know whether she did that or not, but he liked the idea of her doing that, so he did. The dishes were washed and put away. He was very thorough. But he was careful as well, not to disturb the contents too much. He left everything for the most part, just as she had on that last day. So that when she returned she would be returning to a home, and not just an empty apartment.

The elevator rang out a plaintive siren, startling him out of his reverie, as it signaled the arrival of the next floor. Not his. He shifted mindlessly with the other occupants. So that some could leave. Making room for the ones that entered. The doors closed, and silence reigned again. The occasional nervous cough the only sound. As is the normal protocol all eyes were faced front, save the occasional lift of the head to mark the slow passing of floors, monitored on the lighted readout above.

As is the customary elevator etiquette he lowered his eyes to neutral territory. Neither staring at anything in particular nor blatantly ignoring either.

But then his attention took a turn of its own. He fought against it. Knew the futility of its destination, but he could no more look away, then stop his next breath.

It always started with a jolt. His heart’s way of garnering his attention post haste. It didn’t take much. The same height. Same frame. Even quicker if it was the same color of hair. The object of today’s unknown perusal was standing quite innocently next to the doors. There was actually a lot of similarities with this one. She was short in stature, slim, and had auburn hair. Just like Scully. She carried the standard attache case of a professional. The business suit she wore was a little more feminine than was Scully’s usual taste, but if he stretched his imagination than it could fit. The truth was he wanted it to fit. This insane desire to just come upon her by accident. That this woman, who he knew down in his heart wasn’t actually Scully, would turn to him and start a normal conversation. Picking up their lives and continuing on as if nothing out of the ordinary had ever occurred.

And just like that, this nightmare would be over.

The elevator came to a smooth stop, and the woman exited, turning in profile; just as he was about to make a most ungraceful rush for the door in an attempt to follow her.

Just in case.

But seeing her face kept him in place. It wasn’t her.

Again. He relaxed once more against the wall, trying to slow his suddenly accelerating heart. He had to stop this. He had to stop seeing her in every similar face that passed his way. He had to stop following these poor women, who had the misfortune to resemble Scully. He would see her everywhere.

In the cars that he glimpsed in fast food drive-throughs, and car washes. In lines at the grocery stores, and banks. The DMV, and sometimes even here in this building.

Like just now, when he had entered the building and was walking through the lobby. He had to fight that one tooth and nail. And after the fact, now that he had given it careful thought, she hadn’t even really look like her at all. They couldn’t have been more different. That woman possessed a different hair color and clothes. She was thinner, emaciated even, and she had been wearing glasses. Everything about her had screamed different, yet still his mind had superimposed its own wishful thinking over reality. Just like it had been doing with so many others. He had to stop this. Stop scaring these women with his dangerous obsession to find Scully. The only woman that mattered to him anymore. She was the only truth he sought these days. And this truth was as elusive as all the others in his life.

WALKING THE CAGE – Chapter 6

It is the gradual acceptance of a single possibility, however slim, that produces the spark of hope. In ways, like the single match, seeming hardly formidable; but when sacrificed to its full potential, has the power to fell a forest. It grows, this faith. This dream that there can be, even in sorrow, a promise of sweet things to come. As does the strength that is sometimes overshadowed by the illusions of false pretenses.

She finds her spark and keeps the light burning. The belief alive and well even in her own darkness.

The spider’s power is pivotal upon the wrenching fear it inspires in its victim. So too, does the prey’s strength lay in its outward perception of helplessness. But if underestimated, even the master can be bested by the novice.

The spider now makes its first grievous error in judgment.

As it holds a vain assumption that threats alone have the ability to discourage the prey from further struggle.

But until a winner is conceded on both sides, the game is never called.

This is the prey’s true saving grace.

It was the morning of the sixty-first day….

Today was their anniversary. But instead of celebration, the marking of this event only evoked mourning. She had been missing for two months.

Mulder paused the tape mid-movement. His thumb pad depressing heavily on the remote control button. Only one step away from leaving a permanent indenture mark upon the hard plastic, as the fuzzy black and white figure on the screen before him, stopped. Frozen. The image indistinct and wavering shakily.

The jerky, grainy quality of the tape giving it a half-life breath of its own. After a moment’s careful perusal, he resumed the tape’s play once more.

The frozen image came back to life. His eyes followed her progress with an almost naked hunger. A voyeur after the fact. He counted out the seconds quietly. Carefully.

Automatically. One…Two…Three…There…and as if she had been waiting for his silent cue, she halted in her mirror tracks, bending at the knees. As she reached for the object she had dropped. He paused the play again, leaning closer to the screen. He could never discern exactly what it was that she had lost. Her keys? A pencil?

Some spare change? In truth he admitted that it probably didn’t really mean anything anyway, his knowledge of this elusive article. But he was afraid of overlooking even the obvious, of missing the slightest detail. The merest hint of a clue. He could take no chances. Afford no mistakes.

He settled back into his chair, as he absently clicked the rewind button. In the back of his mind he registered and dismissed the soft whining noise this function made. Taking off his glasses, he pinched the area between his eyes. He leaned forward, resting his forehead for a moment against his palms. A weary man supporting a too heavy burden.

Such is the weight of a guilty conscience.

Something had happened to her. Somewhere between the time she had left the building, and the drive back to her apartment, she had disappeared. A span of distance that in relative terms didn’t amount to much, but still had the black hole capability to swallow whole, one armed, selfdefense trained woman. In the middle of the night. Without leaving signs of a struggle. This bothered him most of all.

This absence of a skirmish. He knew. Without a doubt.

She would have struggled. She would have drawn her gun.

She would have dispatched, without qualms, whatever selfpreservation force she deemed necessary to save her life.

She would have gone down fighting. Unless. Unless she had been taken by complete surprise. Unless she knew the person, and didn’t see the coming danger. Unless she had been killed immediately.

He shook his head, refusing to accept this last possible outcome. He sat up straight, beginning the FBI lobby security surveillance tape once more. The scenario repeated its performance for him, just as it had hundred’s of times before this latest. Repeating the last events of that last night. The date and time superimposed with finality up in the upper right hand corner, clicking off her last known seconds and minutes.

A mockery of normalcy before the storm.

He would always draw a deep involuntary breath when he first saw her appear. Scully would come into the camera’s view, exiting alone from the elevators. Her jacket slung haphazardly over her shoulder. Her arms laden with bulky files. She walked briskly. With purpose. Her head slightly lowered. It was obvious, her intention. To him most certainly. She wanted to leave. Get out. Go home. Forgot him and shed all their shared pain behind. The picture was too unclear for him to absolutely make out her expression, even with the enlargements he had ordered. But knowing the somber mood of their parting, he was pretty sure what had been going on in her mind. Her thoughts. Her anguish.

Despite the turmoil of her inner feelings, her face would have been carefully controlled and composed. Control, the prayer altar of the eternal skeptic. Anyone seeing her would have been fooled by this mask she wore. The one she created for such occasions. But it would never fool him. Because he was practiced in the reading of her other signs. The kind that are only shared and categorized by two people within the intensity of a close relationship. One forged over time.

And effort. Within sorrow. And joy. These signs are subtle to the objective eye, but are so glaring to the subjective heart. He saw them now in the bittersweet ghost image of her on the screen. The one that haunted him so.

There was the slight hunch of her shoulders. An indication that her back muscles were knotted, beginning to tire and spasm. Stress-induced. They had been going at it for hours that night before she had finally had her fill and left.

They had already been exhausted. Overworked. Certainly much too volatile a combination to start the arguement that had ensued. But this realization came far too late to stop the events from unfolding. He could now see other signs as well. The deep dip of her chin, close, but not quite touching her chest. He’d seen that one before as well, not often, but enough to discern its importance and significance.

If he could see her eyes, as they had been that night, he would have taken bets that they had been brimming with rivers of unshed pain. She would have been trying to hold back the dam. She would have been battling the onslaught of tears. Fighting to stay the flood of emotions until she could reach the safe territory of her apartment. Behind closed doors. Where she could cry alone. Away from prying eyes, and personal questions she didn’t have the answers to.

Away from him. He, the cause of her sorrow.

With a hesitant, trembling hand he reached out, with a gentle soft touch, tracing the paths of her image. Outlining her form in careful strokes upon the screen. Touching her in the only way available to him now. Willing her effigy to release to him the secrets of that night. They were here.

They had be. There was no place left to search. He made his wish. Said his prayers. So that he might be given the chance to correct the mistake of one tragic wrong.

He slammed his fist suddenly down with a savage fury upon the desk. His coffee cup, upset by the ensuing vibration, spilled out and over the piles of papers strewn across his blotter. He didn’t notice. Not even moving his hand when the burning hot liquid flowed around his clenched fingers. He didn’t care. Just absorbed and added this physical pain to his deepening pit of anger and frustration. He could feel nothing. See nothing, except her face. Only her face. As it had been that last moment.

Just before he had turned his back on her and she had walked out.

Only now knowing with such a torrid ironic regret that he would not see her again. It killed him. Inside.

His heart. His soul. Not only the fact that she was gone. But the way they had parted. It had been too final a goodbye. Each broken in pieces, that had lifted to the winds on totally separate journeys. He would give his life to change that night. To be given the gift of precognitive advance notice that it was to be their last. He would take back the words. Erase the hurt. Express the depths of his true feelings for her. The ones he masked behind the bravado and indifference. Bring her needed comfort. So that together they might begin to forget the shackles of the past. Maybe even start a future. With each other.

All of this and more. If only.

If only.

He grabbed the remote from the mess before him, shaking the now tepid, brown coffee liquid off its surface.

Pressing the rewind button, he started again. At the beginning.

He looked at the beginning….as he searched for an end.

Scully herself had almost succumbed that day. To the darkness which kept pushing relentlessly inwards on the boundaries of her world. When Mulder had turned away from her that day in the lobby, it had felt like all the times before combined into one heavy, covering blanket. A blanket that suffocated, and prevented her from breathing. She had never felt that empty before.

That alone. That lost and invisible. She had been surrounded by people. Yet no one saw her. No one came to her aid. No one heard her cries. It had felt like a walking, waking death. She had been left so tired, completely defeated, ready to drop right where she stood.

There in the middle of the lobby of the FBI building, amid the early morning rush of pedestrian traffic that surrounded her. Her body so laden with the mind-confusing drugs. Her mind whirling from the impact of Mulder’s rebuff. It ate upon her very soul. She was ready to let go. Give up. And she most certainly would have.

Except….

From out of nowhere, his timing so carefully calculated, Thomas had appeared magically at her side. He had opened his arms to her. Cooing his apologetic and supportive words into her receptive ears. At a time when she had been the most needy of them. The most vulnerable.

And almost without hesitation, certainly without any thought of consequence, she had walked straight into his outstretched arms. And he had enveloped her. He had lifted her up when she had almost collapsed. He had carried her. Symbolically. In all ways. Physically, by supporting her shuffling gait as he turned her slowly back towards the direction they had emerged from. And mentally, as he offered her his seemingly heart-lined, but always false-lipped empathy for the cruelty of Mulder’s dismissal of her. Assuring her that he, Thomas, would never betray her the way Mulder had just done. The way he had always done where she was concerned. In Thomas’ eyes she would never again be taken for granted. Never left behind. Never once to be traded in importance, just for the possibility of a brass ring that would forever be so tantalizingly out of reach of an obsessive grasping hand.

The life he was offering her now would consist of meeting her needs only. Her comfort. And so, he had given her a choice. Between the two. Or so it had seemed to her at the time. In truth, it had only been a one-sided choice. The outcome already decided in his mind. But to her it was something to buffet and explain what had just happened.

So she had accepted.

But then he had held no doubt that she would. Everything had been planned and arranged for just that outcome. No other. And even though she didn’t realize it at the time, even if she had declined, she would still be where she was now. Back in the room.

The space. The one that existed over the office of Fox Mulder. She was back at the beginning.

He had guided them, hiding and sneaking through the corridors of his maze. Their appearance cloaked in shadow, always carefully kept on schedule and planned.

Followed then by the confining crawl. Where he had almost been required to pull her through every inch of the way. She had been that exhausted after their enlightening excursion. That ready to be led. That ready to give in.

And then without even being truly aware of them reaching their destination, she found herself back on the cot. With Thomas standing over her, with a caring countenance, as he covered her with the blanket. Tempting her with the promise of sleep.

That sleep, then it had seemed almost like the most important thing to her. Her only wish. How she had wanted it. To erase the dimming thoughts, which were not fading fast enough. To cure the stinging feelings.

She had not even taken notice of his reinserting the I.V. Preparing the injection.

She had welcomed the soft numbness when it came.

And she had slept. A long time.

But she never did obtain the respite she had so sorely craved. Her sleep was restless, alternating between disturbing nightmares and conflicting half-expressed thoughts. She would see herself, Scully, along with Teresa. Apart. Sometimes both together, merged into one being as they fought for control of one life.

Through the long endless sleep, she fought the duality of herself. In the battlefield of her mind. A fight to the death. For one of them. There were two souls inside her now. But only one would emerge to see the coming dawn.

When Thomas returned the next evening, he called for her. By name. For Teresa. Teresa had answered him too, but in Scully’s voice. In Scully’s body. But not in her thoughts anymore. Because although he could not know, Teresa was forever dead. Scully had killed her.

She had made her final choice during the night. The one that was in truth only hers to decide. And she had chosen Scully. She had been able to maintain the hold on her own identity throughout the embittered struggle.

Now she played his game, but with her rules. On the outside, in his presence, she wore the mask he desired.

Answered to the name, bided her time, watched for a weakness. Worked intently to gain his trust. But on the inside, from that night forward, she remained Scully.

Always. He would never again regain the tight-reined grip he had managed before to obtain on her sanity.

After a period, seeing her compliance, he had started decreasing the medication. One day the I.V. had disappeared all together. Replaced by pills, but these would be much easier to manipulate than the I.V. At first he would inspect her mouth, her hands, the cot, thoroughly to ensure that she had swallowed what was given her. And in the beginning she had. Then even these rituals began to lessen. His searches less thorough and complete. One night she risked palming one of the tablets, while swallowing the rest obediently. He searched, but never found. Nor seemed at all wise to her deception. The next evening when he released her for the trip to the bathroom she carried and then flushed the tablet away. This became her nightly ritual. One night there were two tablets to flush.

She could feel herself becoming stronger physically again.

Even though she continued to feign weakness and a lethargic listlessness in his company. Indicative of the drugs, which she was actually taking less of each day. She would awaken sooner now, but needing to gather all her strength before attempting an escape, she would remain still. Eyes closed.

Just in case he would arrive unexpectedly early. Only when she felt him reach with the keys to open the handcuffs would she move, as if she was just now coming around. She would listen quietly as he voiced plans for their future together.

Nodding her assent when a break in his soliloquy seemed to require her participation. All the while in the safety of her own mind she made plans, waited for the right moment.

Willing her body to mend itself, her thoughts to remain focused and alert.

A short time later she instituted the next phase of her plan. While left alone for the short minutes in the stall of the bathroom, she would quietly pull out the squares of the toilet paper. He had from the beginning kept her wrists wrapped in gauze so that the handcuffs would not chaff her tender skin. She used the tissue to add additional padding to this gauze. Wrapping it around her wrists under the tape. Each night she would add just a bit more. When the time was right she would remove the tissue, which would leave additional space between her hands and the cuffs.

She hoped that it would be enough so that she could work her hands through the steel bracelets.

She was getting stronger each day. Her mind beginning to clear from the drugs. Her thoughts more focused and alert. Physically, she was gaining strength and stamina.

Now all she needed to do was wait for the most opportune time.

Mulder had spent many days such as this, watching the tape.

For hours at a time, without a break. But this time, and only this time, did it catch his eye. Once he had seen it, he couldn’t believe he had ever missed it in the first place. Maybe it was because he had been focusing too intently on Scully. Her movements. Her demeanor. How many steps she took. And all this time, he literally couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

He rewound the tape once more, his fingers drumming with impatience. Finally finished, he started it again. This time looking at it from a fresh perspective. Scully came into view. Exiting the elevators, she started walking towards the exit. Halfway there, she dropped something, bent to pick it up. He froze the tape at this point, inwardly cursing himself for spending so much time concentrating on what she was doing. Instead of what was happening around her. He advanced it now, in extreme slow motion. Frame by frame. In an almost strobe-light flashing she began to straighten up in excruciating slowness. Finally, she reached an erect posture, and ….there. There. He took it back a few frames, and then forwarded it again. Over and over. Until he was absolutely sure. Totally positive.

It had been a thoroughly professional job, there could be no doubt about that. Even the time and date constantly displayed in the upper corner matched. Second for second.

But there it was.

The tape had been spliced. A section removed, and another put into its place. He brought the tape once again to the crucial moment. She dropped something, bent to pick it up. But that wasn’t of importance. What he hadn’t registered before was the barest, faintest trace of a shadow on the floor behind her. A man’s shadow. When she was completely straight again, having picked up the object, the shadow was still there. But as she took her first step it had miraculously vanished. And as she continued her journey to the exit, he now noticed other things as well. Her arms were full of files, but the stack wasn’t quite the same, perhaps one file too many.

Her hair. It was just a tiny fraction shorter. It was close. So very close. But not exact.

Definitely a professional job. Either a duplicate piece of tape had been filmed with a fake Scully. Or a prior FBI video of her leaving the office some night in that same suit had been used. Either way, he wasn’t really concerned how it had been done. What disturbed him was the ‘why?’.

In that space of time after she had exited the elevator and dropped…whatever…that had to have been when she was approached and taken. The skirmish that he had been looking for must have been filmed, and then later cut.

But he knew something now that he didn’t know before.

It had happened inside. Inside the FBI building.

She had never made it out.

WALKING THE CAGE – Chapter 7

How simple it is to point the finger of blame. To utter the words of hurt without benefit of forethought. And then to walk away, leaving behind the threads of the past. While ignoring any possibility of a future. Words spoken in anger and haste have a habit of building in stature over time.

Especially when seen only in retrospect and reflection, along with the deceptive influence of memory and time. If left alone to fester, it can build to such extreme proportions, that it dwarfs even the original wound. Condemning the original combatants to a sentence of loneliness and bitterness for their crimes inflicted against each other. Until there is left no hope of rebuilding what was lost in the ensuing storm. These destructive arrows having the power such as any other weapon aimed with an intent to damage. Sometimes it seems, dispatched much more with those we claim to love the most.

This intimacy that is shared between people brought together by a single destiny is an open pathway. Allowing for the most tender sharing of emotions and feelings. But also with it can come the bitter exchange of heated moments and things said, that would have been left better never expressed. Such is the remorseful prayer of those left in the aftermath of such an exchange.

In truth we should consider the words that are spoken today with those we love. And always consider them to be the last.

As we may not be so lucky, to be given that second chance.

For them, they will always consider the words that were spoken that day, as they now realize them to be their last. And now they can only pray fervently to be given that second chance.

There comes a time when the decision is made. To continue the hurt. Or start fresh, with new slates. Wiped clean of past transgressions. Waiting only for the first touch of hope.

No longer content to leave its fate to the whims of the spider, the prey resumes its struggle. With a renewed vigor and purpose it pulls once more upon the bonds of its captivity.

The spider is only out of sight, but never far from home. As it feels and interprets the vibrations of the web. Reading through the silky strands the message that it carries.

It is the signal of the eternal game….begun again.

It was the afternoon of the seventy-fifth day

Scully was already much too far into the process to stop; before she had even realized the magnitude of her mistake.

She was running out of time. One hand was loose now, frantically tugging on the other. The stinging sweat beading in rivulets off of her forehead, dripping down the sides of her face. She kept feeling an almost irrational need to stop and listen, so sure she had heard something. So positive each time that it was him. His approach. She fought this impulse, her heart beating wildly, because that would just take more time. Something of which she definitely didn’t have too much to spare right now.

The sheets and pillowcase were spotted red. With her blood.

And more followed. The first hand had been the hardest.

Because of the restricted angle she had to work from, laying prone on the cot, looking up, her arms far apart, cuffed at each wrist to a bed post.

First, she had pushed her left hand upwards through the circled band of the handcuff, until her gauze-taped wrist was above it. Then she had used the edge of the cuff itself to work at sliding the gauze and the tissue underneath up and away. The tissue she had so diligently been adding to pad her wrists with over a period of time. Without the extra layers of padding and gauze, there was now extra room between her hand and the cuff itself. When she had accomplished this, then she had started pulling. Curling her hand tightly in on itself, trying to make it as small as possible, as she pulled.

And pulled. And pulled.

It had been much harder than she could have ever imagined.

After only about one half of an hour her hand was slick, covered with her own sweat and blood. The tight steel digging deeply into her flesh. She refused to be beaten by this, instead using it to her advantage, as a lubricant.

The skin around her wrist, bright-red, a combination of the heated friction between skin and metal and blood. Her entire hand was throbbing hotly from the pain. Her arms aching tiredly from the pressure. But there was no going back now, as she could never erase the evidence of this obvious attempt to escape. It was indeed now or never.

But it was taking too much time. This coupled with her own miscalculations, was causing her to wonder whether she would make it after all. All her careful planning, and she had been in the end outwitted by time itself.

She had been forced to move up her schedule. She didn’t really feel strong enough yet, but now knew she had no other options left. Over the last weeks, she had managed to continue her deception, and was only ingesting half of the medication he was giving her each day. The other half palmed and then later flushed away. She couldn’t risk trying to get rid of it all. If he found the pills on her, she was sure he would revert back to using the I.V.

But that still meant she was half-drugged. Sluggish.

Even now. She had wanted to be much stronger physically than she felt at present. She had wanted her mind completely clear as well, before making her bid for freedom. But the final decision had ultimately been taken out of her hands. It had been the things he said last night that caused her haste now. The look in his eyes.

He truly believed her to be ‘Teresa’, his wife. And finally, only as a last resort in order to gain his confidence, Scully had been playing the role. But last night things had changed, moving events along much too quickly. His delusions about her identity were increasing, along with his demands. He had always been in the habit of talking to her each night, after she had been given her medication. She would pretend to be falling deeply under the influence of the drugs.

And she was indeed drugged, but just not to the extent that he believed. She would let her eyes flutter slightly, and then close. Settling her breathing into a slow and relaxed rhythm, mimicking the normal lethargic reactions of a tranquilizer.

Carefully portraying the effects to satisfy his expectations.

Last night, as he had done so many times before, he sat down on the floor next to her cot. And talked.

Just talked. Mostly to himself, as was his normal ritual. He would tend mostly to ramble incessantly.

Mixing events of the past and present together.

Shuffling the deck, and then dealing out the cards of his dream world from the bottom of his own stacked deck. Related to her in detail, his interpretations of this unreal life. A life that was supposedly hers as well, as Teresa.

Sometimes she couldn’t help but wonder if there had actually ever been a Teresa. She had no doubt that the woman in the photo he was constantly staring at was in fact real. But she had a feeling that this poor soul in the picture had just had the misfortune of becoming the initial object of Thomas’

twisted obsession. Just as she was now. She shuddered to think of the possibility of any others that might have come in between.

As he would talk, her mind would begin to stray.

Sometimes she would concentrate on math problems, focusing on seeing the numbers in her head. Working on building her mental awareness, as she solved the equation. It helped, these little mind games, giving her an intellectual work-out as well as taking away the realities of her situation. Blocking out his voice. If only for a short period. There was in truth, little else for her to do. As much as the details of her escape plan were always at the

forefront of her thoughts, it required no more planning on her part. The thinking was over. But the waiting it seemed, had just begun. Waiting for her strength to return. For her mind to

reinforce its growing resistance against the drugs.

And of course for the right time. All these things, she waited for. Until the events of last night signaled the end of her waiting vigil. Not

actually by her design, but by necessity.

When in the middle of his usual foray into his own imagination she had suddenly realized after a

moment that he had fallen strangely silent. She resisted the urge to open her eyes. But she remained alert. Expectant. The silence was finally broken by a soft rustling sound near her face. And that’s when she had felt it. The hot, clammy heat of his palm resting tentatively against her cheek, and then sliding slowly down her neck and back again. Her first natural instinct was to flinch. Brush his hand away. Voice her repulsion. The very thought of his hand on her made her violently ill. But she summoned her courage and managed to remain still.

Willing her heart to slow. Concentrated instead on regulating her breathing. In and out. Slow. Easy.

After what seemed like forever he finally removed his hand, sitting back down beside her cot. Picking up his speech mid-stream, as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. She paid close attention to his words now. He was talking about children. How much he had always wanted them. Children. Her children. Their children. Three, he had said. That was his ideal number. Three children. And they would all live happily ever after in the country, away from the city and all its temptations. Just him and her, and their three children to be.

An involuntary half-sob had escaped her lips, before she could stop it. A result of an overwhelming tidal wave of intense fear that had invaded her mind suddenly over this new development. She waited, her eyes still closed, as he grew silent again. Knowing he was watching her closely. Studying her for further reactions. After awhile he lost interest in her and started talking again. But she had heard enough, she didn’t need to hear anymore. She knew what was important now.

Whether she felt truly ready, physically or mentally, she would have to make her escape attempt the next day. She just could not risk what this new threat implied, that of becoming the object of his obviously emerging sexual fantasies. Her remaining time had just completely run out.

She had awoke the next day with anticipation, intent on carrying through with her resolve. But something wasn’t right. She could feel it. Smell it. Finally she was able to put her finger on the reason for her discomfort.

She had no real sense of time. No watch to consult.

No window to the world to mark the rise of the sun, or the set of the moon. Yet she had found other ways to compensate for this loss. She had one day realized that the shadows that passed along the floor and walls had stories to tell. It took awhile to learn, this language of shadows, but she was a patient study. A student with lots of time to devote to the practice. She surmised that the shadows originated from a combination of the illumination coming from the vents, and various cracks in the structure of the building itself. Through these vents and cracks, filtered light passed through. Not really a natural light, but more an artificial one.

The kind that is riddled throughout a large office building where lights are set on timers for optimum efficiency and cost saving measures.

The first flickering shadow band would appear at what she estimated to be 7:00 A.M., and it would deepen and move faintly across the floor and walls as the day progressed. The artificial fluorescent mixing in with some of the actual sunlight reflecting from the many windows that are the norm in a building of this size.

This was her theory anyway, but however it came to be, it served her purpose. After a time she was able to chart its course with an amazing accuracy. Ironically, she realized later, there was a bitter sweetness about gaining this time-tracking ability. Yes, it allowed her more control over anticipating Thomas’ return, but it also forced her to count the days of her captivity.

And each day marked off was as painful as the first.

The initial morning shadow would signify the building opening for the day. The light timer set to activate roughly half an hour before the actual appearance of any employees or public. The mark halfway between the wall and her cot indicated noon approximately.

Lunch time. She was sure of this one, as sometimes, but not often, Thomas would surprise her with an unscheduled visit. During which she would once again feign a deep sleep until he departed. The final marking band was the one that actually drifted across her cot, until it disappeared completely. This meant it had to be after 6:00 P.M. at least. By then all those workers who religiously adhered to normal workday schedules would be gone. There were a select few, her and Mulder among them, who were allowed pretty much unlimited access. It wasn’t actually on the books as such, but Skinner had long ago turned a blind eye to their strange working habits; including the frequent all-nighters they would pull at the office. Such as the one they had been on that last night. The day that had started like any other, but had ended on such a tragic note.

So long ago. Thinking of that night, which she did often, always gave her an aching pause of melancholy.

Even now. If she could change one thing…..She sometimes thought of that question now and again, but especially here in this new realm, given her circumstances….If she could change one thing….that would be it. That night. The anger. The words. She would stop them from ever transpiring. She would turn back.

Go back. To Mulder. Swallow her foolish pride, and return to him. Say the words that had been in her heart instead of the ones that had come across her lips. And maybe there was still a chance left for them, but first she had to get away.

She shook her head slightly, realizing her thoughts had strayed from the problem at hand. She concentrated intently on the shadow bands across the floor, as this was the focus of her sudden unease. They were more than halfway over, nearer to her cot than to the wall.

That must mean that it was sometime in the late afternoon. She had been waking earlier lately, always before noon. Except when….He must have given her a new medication last night. Changed it again. Each time she would build a tolerance for one, he would switch to another. That would explain her extended sleep.

She wanted to scream in frustration. Because this meant that she wouldn’t have as much time as she had originally thought to work her way out of the cuffs.

Increasing the threat of Thomas coming back and finding her before she had gotten free. Now she had to make a choice, either to stay another day, or risk continuing with her plan.

After only a moment’s hesitation she had made her decision. No, this was it. Today. No turning back.

And now at least two hours later, one hand free, she was working fervently on the second cuff. The physical exertion was extreme, her breathing labored. But she refused to stop, even as the sticky blood welled in places over her wrist, running in a thin line down her arm.

Out of the corner of her eye she kept sight of the ominous shadow band as it advanced ever onward. Ever closer to her.

Reaching up. To catch her. Trap her. Bringing the promise of the coming night along with it.

And Thomas’ impending arrival.

Mulder had fallen into an exhausted sleep in the middle of the day. As always cursing the time his body required of him to renew itself. Time that took him away from the search at a point when he was so close to the final answer.

He knew she had been taken from the inside of the building.

But by whom, and where had she been taken? As always each answer just led to more questions. And he had reached the point where his mind refused to obey his direct orders. He gave into the sleep unwillingly, fighting it. Not knowing that it would provide the final piece to the very puzzle he wished to solve.

Mulder first saw her in a dream. The real her. The threads of connection always there, but buried just below the surface of his conscious mind. Like the tape, he had been so intent on the subject that he had missed the surroundings. The same could be said of this. But it was there. Only waiting for the components of thought and careful observation, combined with the subjective influence of the dream state to lift the final barriers from his memory.

Of course this wasn’t the first time he had dreamed of Scully.

Certainly not. Even before she had disappeared, Scully had been the focus of many of his dreams. And even in his sleep, this realization brought a sharp pang of sadness, causing his brow to wrinkle with regret. A regret that he had never taken the time to tell her about his dreams of her. While he still had the chance.

He turned restlessly, the sheets twisting and tangling over and around his sweat-drenched body. He slept now in her apartment. In her bed. But without her. The ironic twist of this never failing to escape him. Sleeping there, sometimes blindly reaching out for her, but coming away only with empty arms, had a habit of making him feel lonelier than he had ever thought it possible to feel. But at the same time, it was the only way he could feel close to her anymore.

No, it wasn’t the first time she had been the center of his dreams. But there was a difference, because the woman he saw in his dream looked nothing like her. Everything was different. The hair color, not her fiery auburn, but a dark brown. The clothes, not her tailored sophisticated style, but casual and loose. Her eyes hidden behind heavy framed glasses, not the brilliant shine of Scully’s eyes. She was thinner. Everything was different. Yet still one part of him warred now with another. One claiming this stranger he saw in his dream, coming towards him in the lobby of the FBI building, was her. The other adamantly arguing that it was an impossibility. He himself, stood somewhere in between. Trying to look objectively from afar, weighing the validity of both sides. Until finally the decision was reached.

Sitting up suddenly in bed, still in the throes of the halfdream, half-nightmare, he was sure. Positive. And he stood grabbing the first thing that came into focus. The lamp on the bedside table. Once in his hands he wrenched the cord from the socket, and threw the lamp across the room with a gale-wind force. It shattered into tiny pieces that littered the floor, in a sweeping arc. He fell to his knees beside the bed, clutching his stomach which was suddenly spasmed in anguish.

It had been her. Scully. It had been her. In the lobby of the same building from which she had disappeared. Coming to him. His cursed memory now bringing up the picture in full clarity to taunt him. He could see the smile that had lit her face. A face he hadn’t even recognized. She had a look of wonderment in her face. Mixed in with a slowness of perception. Her walk was weak and unsteady. Her arms, that had lifted, he realized now, towards him. She had been reaching for him. Trying to come back to him. And he had just walked away. Left her behind. Again.

He jumped suddenly to his feet. If she was there then, on a day so long after her disappearance, than she must be there now. He had looked everywhere but right underneath his own nose. He was halfway out the door, before completing the thought.

She was still there. She had to be. In the building.

Somewhere.

WALKING THE CAGE – Chapter 8

NC-17

Forgiveness is the only gift that can be given and never returned. It takes one of strong heart and an inner peace to allow the past to remain there. There is no honor in hate and revenge. For those that can find their way pass the human errors of life and see through to the core of the soul, they will always find something worth saving.

Most certainly worth forgiving.

Two hearts stricken down and torn apart by a mistake of their own making. But they have learned the error of their ways, as tonight they search for their other half. For one without the other, is no life. No reason. No hope.

The prey makes a desperate bid for freedom, as it loosens itself from the constriction of the cocoon. The spider gives chase, with an intent to kill. And in the ensuing confusion, both miss the vibrations of another as it enters the web.

This game will allow only one winner.

It was the night of the seventy-fifth day

Scully crawled on her hands and knees, following the too familiar path of the ventilation shaft. Her hands were burning with an agonizing pain, especially at the bend of her wrists, as she placed them one in front of the other.

The thin line of blood coming from her wounds leaving a bread crumb trail in her wake, as she progressed through the narrow box-like confines. The knees of her sweat pants picking up this blood and smearing it over the material wetly. She could feel it soaking through to her skin underneath. She paused for a moment to catch her breath. She had expended so much energy getting out of the handcuffs that she was close to exhaustion now.

Her harsh breaths echoing off the silver walls, traveling ahead and then rebounding back to mock her with her own fear. Running only on a pure rush of adrenaline. The twists and turns of the shaft were serving to increase her paranoia about running into Thomas, coming to see her on his usual nightly visitation. It was dark. Too dark to see more than a few inches in front of her.

She took another moment to wipe her brow of the sweat that was dripping down her face. It was hot. And she was tired. She had to make faster time. As much as she needed it, this was no time to rest.

Steeling herself against the first spasm of pain, as she placed her palms flat once more on the surface in front of her, she started moving again. Her ears straining for tell-tale noise. Her heart hammering painfully in her chest. She wasn’t conscious of doing it, but her lips were moving. Silently voicing her own inner prayers. “Just a little more”, the words formed and then expelled with a soft quiet breath.

“I can make it.”

Mulder was doing 80 mph. But despite the speed, his mind wasn’t on the road. He was frowning deeply, cursing under his breath. Kicking himself mentally for his stupidity. How, he kept admonishing himself, could he have missed the connection? She had been right there in front of him. The curse of a near-perfect memory now a double-edged sword, as it allowed him to realize that they had been so close in proximity that day, as to brush shoulders in actual physical contact. He closed his eyes for a second, hoping the image would fade. But it didn’t. It was branded forever on his memory.

Snapping his eyes open, he swerved the car suddenly with a sharp squealing of tires to avoid a collision with another car, as he sailed through a red light without even slowing down. The sound of the other driver’s angry blaring horn following him for a few seconds, and then fading away. One of his hands dropped from the steering wheel to reach for the cell phone in his jacket pocket. He brought it up to rest on the edge of the steering wheel, as he began to punch in Skinner’s home number. His finger hovered over the send button for a second, and then he snapped the off switch instead, tossing the phone over on the passenger’s seat before the call could be completed. He just couldn’t take the chance. Not even of contacting Skinner for help, or any assistance for that matter.

The fact that he was now absolutely positive that she was being held in the FBI building itself was a strong indication that the whole thing was an inside job.

One of their own. If it got back somehow to the kidnapper that the subterfuge had been figured out, then Scully could conceivably be killed in order to cover the tracks. The FBI was a huge building, and she could be anywhere on its eleven floors.

In any of the hundred’s of rooms. He would need a comforting cushion of time in order to search it all.

At first, he had given thought to it being someone who might have gotten past the security from the outside. The most logical access entry port would be through the daily FBI general public tours. The day after watching the tape, and realizing that it had been doctored, he had taken one of those tours in a heavy disguise. He watched. And listened.

Not so much to the progression of the tour itself, but the people around him. The security measures that were used when the public first entered the lobby. Whether the guide kept track of the group, or if they were ever given the opportunity to

separate and go exploring on their own. What

divisions they were given access to. Whether the ‘visitor’ badges were checked and accounted for at the tour’s completion.

He considered each question that was broached along the way to their guide. Whether it was indeed just idle curiosity or an attempt to garner information about the FBI’s security procedures. He hung back, bringing up the rear, as they made their way.

Through exhibits explaining the history of the FBI, the behind the scenes details of some of their more well-known cases from the past. The infamous ‘Ten Most Wanted List’ and how it originated. They were then taken through the FBI Laboratory, but kept at a discreet distance. At the end there was a firearms demonstration, detailing the intensity of the training of agents in weaponry and FBI philosophy and practice. His eyes continued to scan the crowd around him. As he also looked and listened for other things.

Other people. He searched the gathered crowd for a now dark-haired, casually dressed, too slim woman with heavy glasses. He looked for Scully. It was irrational he knew, she had probably managed to escape that day and then was recaptured due to his blindness.

But he couldn’t help but look. It was like a lingering illness. This regret over a mistake, as well as the one that had initiated the whole thing that night.

It was a burden of overwhelming proportions. His peace of mind buckled under the weighing pressure.

When the tour had ended, Mulder had come away only more frustrated. There wasn’t even a slight possibility of a layperson being able to work their way around the tight security of the FBI building. Not without getting caught. Certainly not long enough to be able to pull off this kind of mastermind disappearance of an FBI employee for this exceedingly long period of time.

Once again he was back to his first initial assumption.

It was an inside job. It had to be. And he just couldn’t take the chance of contacting anyone for help. He would not risk her life further.

He was just too close to the truth on this one.

Scully had reached the grill of the ventilation shaft.

The one that was on the same floor as Mulder’s office.

The basement. The one that Thomas had been taking her through on their journey to the bathroom each night. She knew what to do, as she had always proceeded him through the shaft. So that he could watch her progress and defray any escape attempts she might be considering. She knew where to apply the pressure so that the grate would pop open. It was hinged on the side. She pushed against it now with her shoulder, as the grate opened and swung out to the right. She leaned back, pulling her legs in front of her to dangle over the edge of the opening. Ducking, she brought her head out from inside the shaft, balancing herself with a hand holding onto the top of the grill. She pushed off, and jumped. Landing with a groan on the floor, her hands out in front of her to brace her fall.

She winced at the flare-up in pain again, coming from the reddened and tender skin of her hands and wrists.

She stood quickly, reaching up on tip-toes to close the grate behind her. She had barely gotten it closed when she heard the unmistakable sound of hurried footsteps descending the stairs. She froze for a second, her eyes widening in horror. It was Thomas. He was coming. Looking down the hall she could see the formation of a shadow on the wall of the staircase. The gray shadow bobbing up and down, and increasing in size as it continued its progress down, just ahead of its owner.

Scully looked around wildly for a place to hide.

Only now noticing that her own blood was smeared across the outside edges of the grate, where she had just placed her hand to close it. He would notice. Know without even making the trip through the shaft, that she had escaped. She was trapped.

Again. She moved quickly, turning around a corner just before he appeared on the landing above. She could hear him. Moving fast. His steps coming down heavy, as if he was taking two at a time.

She held her breath, pressing herself flat against the wall. Trying to slow the strained exhale of her breath, lest he hear her. She was trembling slightly. She waited for his approach. Waited.

But he didn’t stop at the grate as she had expected.

Her mind raced. Had he seen her? Did he know she was here even now? The steps came closer, without hesitation. Her way.

And then passed, as he hurried down the hall. She looked at his retreating back. Stunned. It wasn’t Thomas.

It was Mulder.

Mulder. She swallowed heavily. Her mouth suddenly dry. Her mind working desperately to signal her mouth. Say something it screamed at her now. She was paralyzed. In shock. But finally she found her voice.

“Mulder”, she cried out.

He stopped in his tracks without turning. She pushed herself off the wall, moving slowly in his direction.

“Mulder”, she called again, feeling the tears spring to her eyes in relief. He turned in place. His mouth slightly open. His eyes drinking in her image in an almost carnivorous hunger. It was as if he couldn’t quite believe the proof that was standing only a few feet away from him. It was too surreal. A mirage.

A vision. The temptation of a cruel joke, that would disappear if he dared to reach for her.

They both stood there for a moment, silent, just staring at each other from a distance. The emotion raging within the mix of their combined surprise.

“Mulder”, she said for a third time. Softly. Gently.

Like a verbal caress sent to soothe the ache of a broken heart. A slight smile worked its way up along the corners of her mouth. He seemed to suddenly snap out of his shock, as he came to her, almost at a run.

She moved towards him as well, managing only a few steps before he had already reached her. He grabbed her up into his arms, crushing her to his chest, lifting her feet from the floor in his enthusiasm.

She buried her head into the crook of his neck. Her arms around his neck tight. “Scully”, he whispered next to her ear. His voice cracking and breaking on a strangled sob. She nodded vigorously against the side of his face. Not trusting the strength of her voice right now. He lowered her gently to the floor, as he pushed her out to arms length to see her face.

His eyes were filled with the same tears that now over-flowed from her own. Falling onto her cheeks.

Then suddenly she could see his face cloud over and darken. His expression registering a desperate fear.

Before she could even question this look, she felt herself being hoisted up into his arms. He carried her to the nearby bathroom, shouldering them through the door. The same one she and Thomas always used each night. He deposited her gingerly on her feet, and then began to roam his hands along her body.

First her arms, up the length from her elbow to a shoulder. And then again on the other side.

“Mulder”, she asked him, unsure of his obvious distress, “what is it? What are you looking for?”

He had gone down on bended knee, as he inspected her legs, lifting the cuff of her sweatpants. He stood up, the concern etched deeply into his face.

“The blood Scully. You’re covered in blood. Where?…”, he pulled her against his chest, looking over her shoulders at her back, “Where are you hurt?”

“Mulder”, she smiled now, “it’s just my hands.” She held them up in front of him. “I had to pull them through the handcuffs so that I could escape.”

He took her hands into his, with a gentle touch.

Looking at them closely. “God”, he whispered, as he turned her in his arms to face the sink. He stood behind her, reaching to turn on the cold water. He lowered her hands into the water’s cascade, as he reached for some of the liquid soap. She winced at the first sting of abrasive soap on tender skin.

Then quieted, as he covered her hands with his own, working the lather into her skin with a soft pressure designed to clean the wound while causing her the least amount of pain. She watched the blood drain down into the flowing water, first bright red, and then fading to pink as he continued to remove the stains from her hands. They stood this way in absolute silence for many minutes. The only sound, the water.

She could feel the change when it happened.

The invisible barriers between them falling away forever. The ones that had always prevented them from acting on impulse. On needs. Or feelings.

She lifted her eyes slowly to the mirror and looked at him. At her. At them. Together. She wasn’t surprised to see he was watching her closely as well.

His eyes glazed over, and heavy with a sudden desire.

As were hers. He moved closer to her from behind, pressing himself tight against her back. She leaned back into him, trying to mold herself to his form.

The sound of the water was now competing with the heaving breaths leaving their bodies.

One of his hands was moving now, away from her hands and the water, traveling with a slow ease up the length of her arm. To her shoulder. She shivered slightly at the sensation of the coldness of the water competing with the heat of her aroused skin.

The world around them receded in thought and perception as he turned her around in his arms. The water turned off on its own as she came to face him.

Looking up into his eyes with a mixture of anticipation and nervousness. He reached up and placed his palm against her cheek, rubbing his thumb up and down, brushing the stray tears that still remained away.

He moved his face closer, at a downward angle towards her waiting lips. Just before they touched, she parted her own, and closed her eyes. His kiss was sweet, a brushing pressure that just barely caught her own, reminding her of dripping honey, with a painful wait of longing for the next drop. Her arms encircled his neck as she pressed her mouth tighter against his.

Demanding a thorough kiss.

His mouth sealed around hers now, reveling in her unspoken approval and encouragement to continue.

Parting her lips with his own he took her breath into his body, and gave her back his own in return. They shared the essence of life for a moment, around the intimacy of their first kiss. They finally parted, gasping. Amazement etched in their faces. And smiles of wonder. Relief. And need. Such need.

He reached down, lifting her up to sit on the edge of the sink counter. He placed his hands on her thighs, separating her knees, and then moved forward to take up residence there. She was breathing so hard she thought her heart might stop from the excitement, as she pulled him towards her by the collar of his T-shirt.

Then took the bottom of it to pull it up and over his head. When he came into contact with her next, she moved her hands greedily over his firm chest, teasing his nipples with her fingernails. He bent his head back in satisfaction at her touch. Then he snaked his hands underneath her T-shirt. Feeling the exquisite softness of her sweet skin, breasts devoid of bra.

He cupped one of her breasts within his palm, as the nipple hardened and tightened with an intense reaction of pleasure. She moaned, arching into his hand to further the pressure against his fingers. She leaned over and brought her head down to nuzzle his earlobe in her mouth, while her hands dropped to the cheeks of his butt, kneading the flesh between her fingers.

He shivered in response to her actions, pressing his groin against her so that she could feel the hardness of his erection. His hands tickled the sensitive area of her stomach, as he trailed his fingers around her waist, coming to rest on the top of her sweat pants.

He began to pull them down, and she shifted to allow him to move them over her hips, until they lay in a heap down on the floor under her feet. Then he reached up and almost tore her top at the seams in his haste to pull it over her head.

She smiled with amusement at his urgency, as she raised her arms high to help him. And then once free she returned her mouth to his earlobe, dropping lower as she placed kisses along his neck, meeting at his mouth as they came together in a passionate kiss. When they parted once more he lowered his mouth to her breast, his tongue rolling over in lazy circles on the tip of her nipple. She shuddered violently, her hands grabbing his arms for support. He continued his attention to her breasts, switching to the other side, as she lowered her hand inside his sweatpants, feeling the hard length of his penis.

She could feel him stiffen against her chest, trying to control himself as she moved her hand along his member.

Back and forth across the silkiness, in a constant rhythm. He pulsed hotly against her hand, growing even harder from her ministrations. Her own sex throbbing in a staccato beat, matching his. She was desperate to have him inside her now. Too ready and excited to continue much longer with foreplay. They had waited much too long for this to be any other way for their first time.

Both of them seemed to reach this thought at the same time. As he reached for the elastic band of her panties, and she reached for the top of his sweat pants.

She got there first, as she yanked, carefully lifting out and over his erection as she brought them down as far as she could reach, and he kicked them off the rest of the way. She followed the same movements with his boxers. Until he stood before her completely naked. His erection strong and hard, telegraphing to her his desperate desire to make love to her. He leaned against her, pressing himself along her body until she could feel him straining against her hip.

While he hooked his fingers around the elastic of her panties and pulled them away roughly, her hips rocking to each side to ease their journey off of her body.

Once this last piece of clothing was gone, his hands moved up along her thighs slowly, spreading her legs further apart, as his fingers opened her folds and entered her. Sliding in with ease against the slickness of her want and readiness. She gasped deeply at the feeling and pressure of his fingers as they moved in and out of her. She was alternating between moans and gasps as she felt her orgasm build. Starting with an intense warmth in the center of her abdomen and moving in a thousand directions at once. She pushed against his hand, encouraging his hand to move faster, as her own covered his, helping him to take her to completion.

The intense pleasure overtook her all at once as she closed her eyes tightly, and threw her head back.

She contracted hard against his fingers, her internal muscles tightening with insurmountable pleasure.

It seemed to take forever for her to come down from the experience, as she lowered her head finally, meeting his eyes as they devoured her whole. He smiled at her, an almost awed expression covering his face. She brought her hand up to caress his face in a silent answer. They stood this way for a moment, sharing themselves without speaking.

And then, their eyes never leaving each other’s face, he moved forward slightly and entered her body with his own, slowly. She brought her arms around his waist. He reached around and grabbed her hips tightly. Once he was completely inside her, they both were still for a moment. Feeling the body of the other, as they merged into one. She felt every inch of him. Filling her. Completing. Giving her back today, her life. And all that had been lost to her for these long months. She had come home.

He felt her body pulse around him, hot and tight.

Covering him. Completing. Giving him back today, his life. And all that had been lost to him for these long months. She was back home.

Together they gave each other a reason to live.

He began to move slowly at first. Pulling out and then returning to her warmth. Repeating. Sliding in and out of her with ease against her heat and moistness. He thrust deep and hard. The pleasure building unbearably fast, aided by their own urgency and emotions. She began to gasp softly at each thrust as he increased the speed and force. The control being taken from him, battling his own needs, as he became powerless to slow the frenzy. They were both so caught up in the moment, and the amazement of finally allowing this act of lovemaking to become a reality.

It was the combination of their past. Of every wish unwished. Every dream undreamed. Every fantasy unfulfilled. Until now.

There was hardly a noticeable pause anymore between his frantic thrusts. Her body pounded against his, meeting his strokes. She was collapsing physically underneath the crushing wave of her building orgasm.

She leaned her upper body back, one hand braced against the wall, the other holding unto the faucet. Her legs reaching around his back, and anchoring her body to his with crossed ankles. She came with an astonishing violence. Her body shuddering so hard she could barely breathe, as she closed her eyes tightly, and lifted her body high. She groaned loudly as the pleasure reverberated through her being.

He felt her contract around him, tightening. He gave two more deep thrusts and then joined her, as he released himself hotly deep inside her. The muscles of his body straining. His face contorting in effort.

His head thrown back as he lived the unbelievable sensations of pleasure that only the joining of two bodies in the act of love can bring. All the more sacred because the two people, the two bodies, were theirs.

His hands slipped underneath her back, supporting her, as she raised her head to look at him. They had just shared an intimacy that was breath-taking, but as they gazed into each other’s face now. Somehow reading each other’s thoughts. They both knew it went beyond that.

They had just made a journey tonight, not just physical.

More than just a crossing over in their relationship from platonic to romantic. It transcended even that.

Because their journey had started four years ago. And had almost ended on a dark and deadly night nearly three months ago.

They had come so close to losing it all. Their friendship. Their trust of each other. Their lives. Everything. And now, by some miracle they had been given a second chance. They would never again take for granted what they had nearly lost that night. This, they now said to each other, all this, without words. And it was right. This absence of words. Because what had been said that night. Those hateful words. The anger behind them. The barrier they had built. It had all started with the words. Words that would never again be spoken of from this time forward. That night, and all the pain that they had inflicted on each other, was gone. They would never speak of it again. They began here. Tonight. Together. There would be no cause for regrets anymore.

They fell into each other’s arms, their breathing just now beginning to ease, as they slowly descended from the high of their lovemaking. They rocked together slowly, just holding each other.

But then they were suddenly plunged into a complete darkness. Pitch black. Scully’s eyes snapped open as she pulled Mulder closer, whispering urgently into his ear.

“Oh God, Mulder”, she hissed, “it’s Thomas.”

WALKING THE CAGE – Chapter 9

Their reality hinged on fate. Perhaps belief. In measure, their combined dedication. It could also have been partly a random coincidence. Or all of these. Maybe. But whatever guiding hand followed the course of their often perilous journey, it showed itself to be not totally without mercy.

It had allowed them a magical moment of respite before the approaching tempest storm would fall, heavy with the dark and ominous thunder clouds.

Reunited once more, they would now face their most formidable test of strength and courage. But together again, fighting as one, they have the power of faith on their side. They always had. Most especially during the times when they themselves doubted its existence with certainty.

The spider roars in fury over the subterfuge of the prey.

The balance of power upset with the addition of another.

The prey’s chances of freedom now rest in a unity against the one. The spider’s power is its hate, and a concrete belief in its own superiority. It advances now, without fear, and has nothing left to lose.

A most dangerous combination in any species.

And it knows the territory. The web, a design of its own creation. The prey can only make assumptions. This final battle soon to be fought between them, will be played out in the darkness, upon a game board of death.

The winner shall reap. The loser must weep.

But as in all misery….the tears cried belonged exclusively to the damned.

It was still the seventy-fifth day

Thomas Henchell was not in a good mood. His day had started bad. And from there it had only gotten worse.

His actions would trigger a domino effect this day, which would end on a dark collision course between design and desperation.

He was by nature, a loner. He held only a grudging tolerance for his job, because it allowed him to stay in the background. Where he thrived for the most part.

He could hide under the paperwork. Disappear almost completely within the nine to five shuffle. He was extremely good at what he did. Knew the job inside and out. Could accomplish in only three hours what would take most others three days.

He had been there so long, that over the years people had learned to leave him alone. He worked better that way anyway. Why mess with something that didn’t appear to be broken? Only grotesquely bent out of its proper shape.

He pretty much wrote his own schedule. As long as he produced, his boss was happy enough to look the other way.

Turning a blind eye if he took a too long lunch on occasion. Or showed up late, while going home early.

Stats. That’s all the upper management was concerned with anyway. It was how it operated with the outside business work force, and for the most part, it was the same with the government. He worked in Communications.

Information Systems. Computers. Phones. Anything electrical. All things relating to those always awe-inspiring, but sometimes frustrating, new-fangled technological wonders. The kind that litter the business world today. He knew them all. You name it.

He was the one you summoned when that annoying error message kept displaying on your computer terminal screen.

Mocking you unmercifully with your own mechanical ineptitude. The one you waited for with bated breath, while your production grinds to a screeching halt in the interim. The miracle keyboard resurrector. They called Thomas for that stuff. He would come too, pompously scoffing under his breath at your glaring lack of technical know-how of things he considered to be mundane. Talking at you in a language of ‘bytes’ and ‘domains’ which might as well have been Latin for all your understanding of it.

Then he would have it fixed in no time flat. He had learned long ago that most people didn’t want to be bothered with the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of technology. They just wanted it to work when the power came on. He had lucked out and gotten into the field when it was still relatively new, and he was always expanding his knowledge. Keeping up with each new and improved model that would replace the last in record time. This gave him an almost guaranteed job security. For the most part. But there was no denying that he was in great demand for his services.

His services, yes. But his personal relationships were another thing altogether. He really had no friends. And didn’t try to make any at the office. He wasn’t a people person. Not by far. He shunned the usual lunch cliques, or coffee break gossip tables. In truth, he was a tabloid target of a lot of it. He knew it too. But it didn’t bother him. He considered other people to be beneath him anyway. And he made no secret of it. He believed most to be below his level of intelligence and perception.

None of them were in his league. Or so he thought.

He wasn’t concerned with the image he projected. But he observed others. Had an opinion on everything. And he watched. Learned. Took note. His reserves of knowledge were astonishing. His career with the FBI and his subsequent delving into communications was only an afterthought. He was a jack-of-all-trades. He had taken just about every class in every subject that was available.

He had started out in law, with intentions of becoming a lawyer. Went to law school. Shined for awhile there.

And then lost interest, when it became clear he wasn’t Ivy League material. So he quit. Actually left voluntarily, before he would have been expelled. Next, he tried medical school. He loved medicine. Took to it right away. He could list and spout off every known course of treatment and drug prescribed at the drop of a hat. He still kept up with the medical journals even now. And he had sources and contacts at the biggest and best hospitals. These days, black-market drugs were easier to obtain than driver’s licenses.

But the medical world also found fault with Thomas, and soon enough he no longer was welcome there either. This was his modus operandi. Join, learn all he could, wear out his welcome, and then leave. Usually by request.

Always just before expulsion. But nothing ever made it to the official records. Most institutions don’t want a blemish on their good name and reputation. Not for one bad seed. He left, and once gone they were satisfied enough to drop the matter forever. So when he later applied with the FBI there was nothing to trigger suspicion during the background investigation which all potential employees much submit to before consideration of employment. He was wily. Crafty. And he was indeed super-intelligent. Gifted. And cursed.

Because although he did possess a great intellect; it was skewed half-hazarded on a faulty foundation. He lacked all things necessary in relation to any personal matters or interactions. There was no ground base in reality to play off that mind of his. And it had hurt him. Not being able to participate comfortably in the people game. The eternal jitterbug dance of politics. It had cost him. He was constantly being passed-over for the promotions. The behind closed doors reasons given him for this were always focused on his lack of people skills, and his general public display of disdain for authority in general.

He would nod his understanding of this reasoning on the outside, while seething intensely on the inside. The anger building and growing. Burning hotly. Rising to dangerous degrees more each passing day. He blamed his manager. The government. The hierarchy in general. The world on principle. Anything and everything, but the true reason. Himself. He was the source of his own detrimental destruction. But he refused to see this.

Preferring to lay responsibility and blame at the feet of the ever elusive ‘They’. ‘They’ kept him down, he would bemoan inwardly. He just knew this. Was positive.

‘They’, were responsible for him missing yet another foothold on that sacred ladder of success. Until this phantom ‘They’ had built to such grand proportions that even he could not remember the exact composition of ‘They’. Not that it would have mattered. But it just became easier to blame everyone. A package deal.

In his twisted mind he was just the solitary beleaguered voice of reason, striving to bring enlightenment to the rest of the misguided masses. It was his mission in life. Self-proclaimed. And he took his duty very seriously. Very seriously indeed.

When he arrived at work this morning, his customary thirty minutes late, there was a message on his desk.

The ‘You Were Visited By’ box checked off on the canary-yellow page of the pad with an exaggerated check mark. As well as the ever popular ‘Need To Talk’, and ‘Urgent!’ squares. The time the message had been left was circled at the bottom for emphasis.

8:50 A.M. it read in bold black ink, so hard pressed there was a slight rip where the pen had scratched through the pad to the next page. With this, he realized, there was a small detail he had missed.

It was time for his mid-year counseling session.

Another one of those pro-active approaches to

creative management. Meant to keep employees

abreast of where it was their supervisor viewed their progress at the halfway point before the final annual appraisal. In truth, just a way of saying one of two things; either the coveted ‘you’re doing fine’, or the dreaded ‘this is a warning, shape up or ship out’. Thomas had been scheduled for his this morning at 8:30.

He had forgotten. Too many other pressing matters of importance had been the cause of his omitting this little tidbit from his usually extremely

organized mind. He dropped his briefcase on his desk with a sharp bang. Opening a side drawer, looking for a pen, he kicked it shut with a savage fury. This drew several curious stares from his fellow workers. But they quickly turned back to their own work, realizing it was just another of Thomas’ tirades. He was known for having an

explosive temper, even on good days. On bad days it rivaled an eruption from Mt. St. Helen’s. His co-workers had learned to read the bad weather warning signs, and stayed out of his way on days such as this one was shaping up to be.

He stormed, with an air of impudence, into the supervisor’s office. The secretary was in there with him, going over some monthly reports. But upon looking up and seeing who it was that had just entered, beat a rather hasty retreat. He stood next to the door, arms crossed in front of him, fingers drumming impatiently against the

message slip he still held in his hand. Toes

tapping. He was a busy man, his time equal in his weight to gold. All this telegraphed in a carefully orchestrated symphony of the unspoken word. So too was his boss a busy man, and he was in charge here. A one upmanship. This conveyed with just as much attention paid to the music

sheets. Clearly shown by the indifferent flick of his hand, summoning Thomas to close the door

for privacy. Thomas could see the eyes of the curious as he turned and closed the door. Nothing brings more attention than the erection of walls.

He waited, while his supervisor’s eyes never once left their scrutiny of the reports in front of him, nor acknowledging Thomas’ presence officially.

There were rules here. Checks and balances.

Points of office etiquette foreplay to be

adhered to. These not always subtle exchanges between supervisors and underlings, all geared towards the goal of a work place harmony nirvana.

Usually flexible, except in extreme cases. Such as Henchell’s. For the most part Thomas was a known instigator of conflict. With anyone.

Over anything. At anytime. A politically

incorrect, but astutely labeled – trouble-maker.

The first to throttle the tried and true with his own vision of how things should be done.

He flaunted his contempt and disregard of rules and regulations. Always opting to cut the red tape, bypass the line-by-line procedures that

was the beating heart of every branch of the

government’s existence. The thing was, he was too good at what he did to risk using his

unorthodox behavior as a reason for discipline against him. So good that up until now his

eccentricities were tolerated. Genius can be

temperamental. It can also be used. He was

considered an asset, so his faults were overlooked.

Which was always a constant source of irritation for other employees who were expected to tow the line and follow the rules. All without crossing the coloring book lines, which Thomas thumbed

his nose at diffidently.

Because of his unique skills, he was given special treatment. Sad but true, such is the inner workings of most work places. A dog eat dog world in more ways than just figuratively. And Thomas knew all this. Too well. But things had changed over the last couple of months. His days of special

favoritism were coming to an end. He was slipping.

Becoming too confident and cocky in his omnipotence.

Enough to bring the unwanted scrutiny of the higher-ups.

What he didn’t know was that his work had been under close observation as of late. Every ‘T’

checked to see whether it had been crossed or not.

Every form in triplicate and filed properly with a strict compliance to the procedures.

They were looking for reasons now to dump him. He had finally gone over the invisible line. More than that. He had erased it behind him. His out-put had dropped dramatically. His insubordination doubled.

Late every day. Leaving long before his tour of duty had ended. He would disappear for extended periods during the working day without excuse or permission. He failed to turn in reports. Missed meetings. Such as the one that had been scheduled for this morning. He had been systematically digging his own grave. The clods of dirt falling in heavy clumps around him. And now he was about to be given the eulogy to go along with it.

After a painful silence elapsed, pivotal in the power play, his boss finally deigned to look up at him.

“Sit down Thomas”, he said, gesturing towards the hot seat that faced his desk. Thomas walked over and plopped down, folding his arms across his chest. His boss leaned back into his chair, elbows resting on the sides, fingers steepled underneath his chin. It was the deadly universal opening remark posture of bad news about to be delivered.

“Thomas, it’s unfortunate that things have escalated to this point. I’m truly sorry. Now I must advise you before continuing that you have the right to have your union representative present at this proceeding.”

Thomas sneered. “I don’t belong to the union.” The union, in his opinion, was only another bureaucratic disguise to undermine the minions.

“You’re still entitled to representation”, his boss offered generously.

“Let’s just get on with this shall we?”, Thomas said with an obvious tone of sarcasm.

His boss cleared his throat, and then brought his chair up to meet the desk, as he picked up a folder sitting on the edge of the blotter. “Very well”, he said, and began.

Twenty minutes later, Thomas left his supervisor’s office with his first official ‘reprimand letter’ ever.

This didn’t bode well with him either, as he returned to his work station, tearing the paper into two and tossing it in the waste can. He was seething. The first ‘doc’ he’d ever received. Documentation. Something solid and officially in writing that management could use as ammunition in future evaluations. If an employee was given a less than stellar rating on an appraisal, there had better be plenty of ‘docs’ to back up the claim. Especially if the union became involved during the appeal process. Thomas could read the writing on the walls, though he still assigned the words his own interpretation. ‘They’ were still out to get him. Just like always.

This was how his day had started, and from there it had just degenerated further. His supervisor rode him all day long. Asking for written status updates on all his current projects. It became quite obvious very quickly how far behind Thomas had gotten in his work. He spent the day chained to his desk, playing the paper chase catch-up. Trying to make heads or tails of masses of accumulated information that should have been analyzed and processed long before things had reached this point. He hated spending so much time at his desk. He was a communications expert extraordinaire. His talents were wasted locked within the confines of his cubicle. He was never meant to be tied down by the day to day operations. He was used to moving from department to department, his services so precise and sought after that there was actually a waiting list for his time. He was the ‘golden boy’ of the federal communication highway.

But that was the past, and his glory days were coming to an end. Now the balance he had tightrope walked between genius and ‘pain-in-the-ass’ had shifted.

In the ‘ass’ favor. He had over-stayed his welcome, and ‘They’ were making it clear his services would soon no longer be required. This time his paranoia was justified, as ‘They’ were indeed after him. For good reason. But his lack of emotional maturity, as well as a total disregard for humanity, besides himself, blinded him to his own short-comings. And even if his eyes were opened, he would still refuse to see.

His boss stayed late that night, purposely. Demanding Thomas stay as well if he expected to salvage what was left of his rapidly declining position in this organization. If this had been one of so many other prior jobs or schools he had been a part of, by this time Thomas would have just walked out. Quit the situation before the situation quit him. But this time it was different. If he left, he would no longer have free access to the building again. And how would Teresa survive without him to take care of her? He was a man of principle, and he had responsibilities.

A wife to consider. Calling for monumental sacrifices on his part. For her. So he swallowed his pride, and did the work that was being forced on him. For Teresa.

Only for her sake. Picturing her in his mind, he used these thoughts of her to get him through the humiliation of all that had transpired this day. She was his reason for living. Her devotion to him. Her love. There were few constants in life. Fewer for him. Teresa was his one and only absolute. Thinking of being with her later tonight even managed to bring a smile to his face once or twice. Or at least a facsimile thereof.

She would never betray him. Never.

WALKING THE CAGE – Chapter 10

Nightmares have the power to enfold the elements of our deepest fears, and give them life. Not always confined so neatly to the playground recesses of sleep either. They have a nasty habit of sometimes escaping into the realms of our waking world. When we least expect them. When we are at our most vulnerable. There is a reason for the need of the unconscious mind to shout this warning to the soul. Through the portals of our dream state. Danger is near, it whispers. Listen closely. There is a story to be told. A dire message. A last safety catch before the final rude awakening to the true horror that awaits. In this way, fright can serve a useful purpose. At times.

It reminds us of the fragility of our mortal coils. The spark of life that courses through the veins is only shadow chasing shadow. A temporary foundation. One that can be taken out from under us, without a moment’s notice.

The spider lowers itself down over the unsuspecting prey.

Slowly. And with intent. It draws nearer and nearer.

The slide of the silken strand allows no noise to signal its deadly descent. There are still surprises left to be found in the web. It knows them all.

Th prey huddles together. Waiting. Thinking they can outwit the spider with only the weapons of their skill and a desperate desire for release.

But the spider is a masterful player of the game. And it never follows the rules.

It was the night of the seventy-fifth day

The beginning of the final hours

Thomas took the stairs at a dangerous pace. He was late.

Reaching the bottom, he walked quickly towards the ventilation vent. In a hurry. Knowing that Teresa was more than likely awake now. Probably worried about him.

Wondering where he was, if he was all right. He didn’t like to cause her unnecessary concern. The last thing she needed was anymore burdens to deal with, as if the cancer wasn’t already enough. He had been encouraged though of late, as she seemed to be responding more. He had noticed that she had regained most of the strength she had lost over these last months. And she had stopped fighting his efforts so much. There was a return of the fire in her eyes that had dimmed noticeably for the longest time. For awhile there he wondered if she would ever return to him completely.

But then she was a strong woman. She had a reserve of inner power that would see through most anything. He had always known that. That was part of why he loved her. Had always loved her. Even during the times when she hadn’t deserved this love. She was stubborn. She didn’t always know what path to follow in her own best interest. She sometimes needed to be shown the way.

Of course, a lot of it wasn’t her own choosing. Such as being assigned to the X-Files division. Everyone knew that hadn’t been her choice. He couldn’t blame her for that. Even if it was the cause of most of her current problems. She was head-strong. Didn’t know when to back out of a no-win situation.

Thomas had known from the beginning that she would never come willingly. Not at first. She didn’t seem to remember the past as vividly as he did. Their past. At least she had given no outward perception of it. That’s when he had realized that before there could ever be a chance of them being together once more, he would have to break her from this spell of lies she was living. She didn’t deserve that kind of life. She wasn’t the kind of woman to play second fiddle to anyone or anything. Especially when the primary competition was only an abstract and phantom ideal. And someone else’s at that. She should be showered with attention. That’s what she deserved most of all. To be the sole recipient of someone’s all-consuming love. He held that kind of love for her. They shared a bond of the past. He would make her remember it.

They had it all once, and now that he had found her once more, they would have it all again. Teresa, was his life. And now Teresa was getting stronger everyday, and beginning to understand that everything he was doing, was for her own good. It

wouldn’t be much longer before they could leave this temporary home forever, and start to build one of their own together. Away from the people and jobs that were slowly corrupting them both. Soon.

Just the two of them. As it had once been. As it had always been meant to be.

These were the thoughts that had sustained him through the trying ordeal of a horrible day. Now he was coming home to Teresa, and she would make him forget everything. He smiled, thinking this, as he stopped in front of the vent.

Then frowned slightly. It was the color that first caught his eye. Rust. That’s what it looked like anyway. Smudges of rust over the grill of the ventilation shaft. Flaking in places. He looked up, studying it. Reaching and running his hand over it firmly. The pads of his fingers came away smeared, parts of it slightly damp. He brought it up to his face. Smelled it. Blood. And now that he looked at the shape of the stain more closely, he could see that the impression was of a hand. A small hand.

A woman’s hand. Which had been covered in blood.

And had, at some point, come in contact with the outside of the grill. The outside.

He turned around quickly, looking up and down the deserted corridors. Not really knowing what he had expected to see. His hand still held out in front of him, as if it was abhorrent to him. His mind tried to process, and then reprocess this information so that he could somehow come up with an answer different from the first one that had popped into his brain. But all avenues of thought reached the same conclusion. Teresa. She….but how?

Why? She couldn’t. She wouldn’t….betray him. Not her. Not now. Not after all this time. When they were finally so close to having it all.

He walked over and grabbed a chair that was nearby, propped against the wall. Pushing it under the vent, and then standing on it and opening the grill. He hoisted himself into the vent, closing the grate behind him. Crawling at breakneck speed to reach the area where Teresa would be waiting for him. She would be waiting for him, he kept telling himself.

She would. Coming out of the shaft, he propelled himself through the opening. Standing, he was met only with an empty cot. He crossed over and lit the kerosene lamp that was sitting on top of a small overturned crate. The matches next to it. Once it was bright enough, he went over to the cot.

He could see the blood. Spotting the sheets and pillowcase. The steel circle rings of both sets of handcuffs hanging limply against the bedposts. The cuffs still closed on both ends of each one. Somehow she had managed to get her hands through the bands of the handcuffs, which would explain the blood. It reminded him of what he had heard of animals caught in a trap going to extreme lengths, even self-mutilation to escape. But it didn’t make any sense. Not to him. Teresa hadn’t been caught in a trap. If anything, it was the complete opposite. He had been the one to set her free. From the lies she had been living. The mistaken choices she was making that were putting her health and life in constant danger.

He had been the one to save her from herself. He had gone to all this trouble to give her back her true identity, and this was the way she repaid him for his efforts. For his love. By betrayal?

He dropped angrily on the cot, taking the ends of both cuffs into his hands. Rattling them. Shaking them savagely against the metal of the posts.

Imagining her there. Still there. He would have crushed her tender skin within his hands if she had been there, underneath him. Just as he now did with his fingers as they convulsed tightly in a death-grip around the metal. Furious and spent he finally stood, ripping the tangled, bloody sheets and throwing them to the floor. He would find her again. Teresa. And she would be punished. She would pay for her transgressions.

He moved towards the direction of the vent, bending his body and entering it. Raging. His mind

whirling, trying to sort through the confusion and haze of emotions swirling through amid his disjointed thoughts. He moved through the passage, by route, without realization of his journey. His body geared upon the familiar path, seeming to know the way on its own. Just before he reached the opening, he stopped suddenly. Distracted.

He listened carefully. And then heard it again. It sounded muffled, like a soft noise. Like a whisper.

A hushed voice. It echoed quietly through the vent, from one of the T-branches that transverse the ventilation shaft. Repeating, almost at timed intervals. Joined sometimes by another, that overlapped it. Melding together, and becoming one.

He turned towards the sound, leaning up against the cramped wall, as he maneuvered his body around in the direction it was originating from. He started crawling, following the sound map as it beckoned him. Turning a corner. Then another. Until he had figured out where it was originating from. The bathroom.

As he neared, he lowered himself to his stomach, sliding his body silently along the cold metal floor of the shaft. He came to a stop just before the tiny grid grate that looked down into the bathroom itself. Pulling himself up unto his elbows, hands splayed out on either side. He looked down through the small mesh screen. And saw them. Together.

Teresa and Mulder.

The sound of running water was the only one that was issuing forth anymore. They stood in front of the sink. Both of them facing the mirror, their hands joined together under the water, with Mulder standing close behind Teresa. They were so still.

So quiet. Almost reverent. As if caught within the magic of some spell. Thomas’ heart started to race watching them. But he was powerless to break his observation of them, caught under the same spell it seemed.

After a moment they broke from their frozen stances, as Mulder moved his hand up along Teresa’s arm. Then she was turning around to face him. Thomas’ eyes widened in outrage as they came together in a kiss.

Then another. Deeper this time. Mulder lifted her unto the counter, and then she grabbed the bottom of his shirt, pulling it off of him. Thomas closed his eyes tightly for a moment. Shaking with the intense fury that wracked his body. When he opened them again, Mulder was working on lowering Teresa’s sweat pants from her body. And she was helping him. The vent was now filled with the muted sounds of their shared excitement. Labored breaths, and half-gasps. Moans of pleasure.

Thomas couldn’t watch anymore. He turned away finally, moving quietly from the grate. Unable to witness his wife, his Teresa, complete this final act of ultimate betrayal against him. He started crawling away, trying to block out the sounds that followed him. He wanted to kill them. Both of them. They would die together.

This would be the first and last they would ever know together. Nothing else mattered. He was tired of everything. He was tired of the world constantly beating him down. Taking away everything from him that had ever mattered in his life. His career was finished, based on the events of this afternoon. His boss had made it quite clear that his days were now numbered. And now Teresa. She had just killed all the rest that counted for anything. Her and Mulder.

He shook his head, still unbelieving. He had heard the gossip about them. The bets wagered about just how close their partnership really went. But Thomas had been there from the beginning. From the first day Teresa had walked into the FBI building, under the clever disguise of Agent Dana Scully. A disguise she hadn’t even been aware she was wearing. But he had known it. He had followed her life and work ever since. Both of them. Being a communications expert, and working in the same building, it had been almost too easy. They were gone from the office more than they were present. And he was used to having pretty much free access, going from department to department spreading his communication knowledge and skill.

The hidden microphones. The tapes. The videos. He had used them all. He had been watching them both for a long time. Studying them. Learning. Biding his time. Yet before this night, he would have said with absolute certainty that they were just close friends. He had never been jealous of Mulder. She obviously wasn’t interested in him romantically or any other man. Had no boyfriend. Another reason for his continuing belief that she was his Teresa, just waiting for him to take her back home, and remind her of who she really was. Everything had just fallen into place.

Until tonight. When everything had fallen apart.

He moved quickly now, with purpose. Following the labyrinth of the ventilation shaft until he arrived at the other end of the floor. Where there was another room, much like the one that Teresa had been living in. Except this one was his. He had stumbled onto these little spaces by accident. Happened to get a look at the schematics of the entire building when renovations where being made to several of the floors a few years back. Any thoughts of upgrading office space involved close contact with someone of Thomas’ skills. Before the construction began, each department had to be planned and outlined with the proper wiring necessary for all those age of technology wonders, computers and faxes and such. He had seen the redundant space on the plans. Not much, but enough to suit his purposes. He had added this bit of information to his ever expanding store of knowledge.

One night, he had made his first trip into the ventilation shaft to check it out. Thinking he might use it to set-up an elaborate wire-tapping system over Mulder’s office. While doing that he had realized exactly the gold mine he had stumbled onto. So, he began to set up shop. Piece by piece, he brought more and more things into them. Building himself a home. Then he worked on the final plans to bring Teresa here someday. They would never think to look for her right under their own noses. And it would give him the time he needed to convince her of her real identity. Plus the benefit of having her so close by during the day. It comforted him. Like a secret joy.

He had heard their argument that night. The angry way they had parted. Something just told him this was the right time. And without thinking twice he started the ball rolling. The tape, removing the evidence of their struggle that night in the lobby, had been a risk. But he had managed to get it covered in time.

Once Teresa was safely tucked away, he pretty much stopped going home anymore. At first out of a necessity needing to check her medication and condition. He would just take cat naps in his own little space.

Just down the hall. It was pretty comfortable actually.

And it had everything he could ever need. He preferred it to his own home. Having Teresa so near, most especially. 24 hours a day. He had been a very happy man during this period. Until now. Until tonight.

Now, he had nothing left to lose. No wife. No career.

Only an overwhelming desire for revenge. And death.

Theirs. And then his own.

They had been holding each other quietly. Recovering.

Scully still perched on the counter. Mulder leaning heavily against her body. Wrapped tightly within each other’s embrace. Their skin touching at every point possible. As if they could not get enough of each other.

Not ready to let go. Maybe never. Her chin laying on his shoulder, next to his cheek. Both of them, still unable to say anything. They were both trembling slightly.

From the startling realization of what it was they had just done, and where. As well as the intense feelings that were still overwhelming them both. The fact that they were finally able to touch each other now, after being kept apart for so very long.

The intensity with which they had come together. The way that they had desperately needed to touch each other.

Make love. Assure each other that this was a truth, and not just another layered lie. It had been a need.

A need such as she had never possessed before. She couldn’t recall ever feeling that out of control in her entire life. Not her. Not Scully. Sensible Scully.

Not even with everything that had happened with Ed Jerse.

All that madness that she had thought at the time had meant so much. That had been child’s play compared to this.

Now she couldn’t help but wonder if she had really felt anything to its fullest potential at all before meeting Fox Mulder. She could almost believe now that she had never even breathed until four years ago. And if she had, well, she had never truly appreciated it until today. She could feel the quick beating of his heart now as it echoed the thundering pace of her own. He was moving his hands up and down over her back. Rubbing her skin lightly. Caressing. Sighing softly against her ear. She knew he was still trying to reconcile himself to the fact that she was once again here with him. That she had just been with him.

She could feel a slight involuntary blush creeping into her face, and down the length of her body. She wondered if he was looking at the tattoo right now. She almost wanted to laugh, that she should blush now, over a tattoo, after what they had just done. She couldn’t believe that they had both lost control like that.

Not that she was sorry that they had made love, because she wasn’t, and would never be. But the way it had happened. Like a dream. A beautiful dream. And it had felt so right. Nothing else had mattered. Nothing.

She could have no more stopped it from happening…here …now…than she could hope to still the rapid beat of his heart, that was pounding so strongly against her chest.

It hadn’t been smart or appropriate, of course. Most certainly. And dangerous too, knowing what was still out there waiting for them. All this she knew. But it had been necessary. For them. Yet they were not going to be able to stop and enjoy this moment they had just had, or begin the building of what would come next. There was no time. As always there were outside forces that they must deal with first before they could rest. Or think. Or forgive. Or love each other fully.

Would that ever change?

She pulled back from him slightly, wanting to see his face. Remind him about the threat that they still faced.

It was then the lights had gone out. Plunging them into a complete darkness. She had pulled him closer to her. Tight. As if she was afraid for a moment they would be pried apart once more in the blackness that surrounded them. She leaned next to his ear, her breath escaping in warm puffs.

“Oh God, Mulder”, she hissed, “it’s Thomas.”

Their time had just run out. Completely. They separated quickly, and for just a moment it seemed as if they had lost something. It felt like that. To both of them.

He bent down to the floor, reaching out in a half circle trying to search for their clothes. He kept one hand on her knee, as if afraid they would somehow lose contact in the dark, if they didn’t keep each other in close proximity. She felt her sweatpants being bunched into her hands. Then her panties and shirt. She slid off the counter and began to pull them on. Mulder’s voice drifted over to her from close-by.

“Tell me what you know Scully”, he whispered, his voice slightly muffled as he pulled his shirt over his head.

“He’s an FBI employee. He works in communications. He believes I’m his missing wife Teresa. He’s deranged, but he’s intelligent Mulder, and he knows this building inside and out. I’ve been here the whole time. Just hidden.”

“Is he armed?”, he asked her.

His voice had come from the floor where Mulder was pulling on his tennis shoes. Scully had no shoes. Unconsciously, she lowered her head towards the floor where he was seated, even though she couldn’t see him. “He has my gun. And even though I’ve never seen any others, I think he may have other weapons. He always carries a syringe too Mulder.

I got away once and he injected me with one. He’s kept me pretty much completely drugged this whole time. He’s never without it. Do you have your gun?”, she asked him.

“It’s in the office. I was on my way there when….”, he trailed off, as they both remembered the emotion of their earlier reunion. She gave a short gasp as she suddenly felt his arm encircle her waist in the dark, pulling her up against his chest. He held her for a moment, as her arms came up around his neck. “Scully, we’ll get out of here. He’s just one person. All we need to do is make it to a phone, call the security guard, or the police.

It’s a big building.”

She shook her head, he could feel the vibration of her face as it grazed his own. “A big dark building Mulder, one he knows like the back of his hand. Even in the dark. Also, we one, have no weapons, and two, don’t know for sure where he is. This place is like a labyrinth to him. He creeps in and out of the crawlspaces and vents. Where do you think I’ve been all this time? If he can hide me this long, without anyone even suspecting, what’s to keep him from getting the drop on us now? In the dark like this we’re just sitting ducks. We’re…..”, she suddenly stopped talking.

Mulder tightened his hold on her waist instinctively.

“What is it Scully?”, he asked her in a hushed whisper.

“Mulder, the only way he could have cut the power to the entire basement floor, without the emergency back-ups automatically coming on, is via the main floor communications room. It houses the master power relays for this entire building. Every floor. Every room.”

“So?”, he wondered.

“So, he’s probably still there now. Taking out the phone systems. Computers. The security systems. Everything that we could possibly use to get a call out for assistance.

It will take a little time at the very least for him to complete those cuts. We need to take advantage of his own intelligence. This whole thing has been a game for him. Hiding me in plain sight. In the last place anyone would think of looking for me.”

“What are you saying Scully?”

“I think we should turn the tables on him. We should go into the vents. Back to where he’s been keeping me all this time. At the very least it might give us some time until we can think of a better plan.”

“Scully, you’re talking about going straight back into the lair of the very beast we’re trying to escape from.”

“Hide in plain sight Mulder. I think it’s the best chance we have to beat him at his own game.”

WALKING THE CAGE – Chapter 11

It’s considered to be the oldest of the time-dishonored conflicts. And sadly, the one most repeated over the course of history. Good against evil. Reason against insanity. Tonight, it teases the wind with the sure promise of blood about to be spilled. Draped against the darkness of night and fear. One runs, while the other gives chase. At times the order reversed, and the players interchangeable. To survive in his world, they must resort to desperate levels in order to persevere.

As they are maneuvered through their paces, step by step, led by their boneless limbs, of the sawdust marionettes they have been reduced to. The invisible controlling strings attached in strategic places to their helpless pliable doll bodies. Held by ones on high, who only laugh at their anguish and misery, as they move frantically through the maze.

Pulling. And pushing. Away from all that they know.

Towards all that is madness. The whispered shrieks of suffering. The unredemptive pain of the cursed. To a place where there is no comfort to be found in the belief that what waits for them outside, just beyond its reach, will stay there. It doesn’t. Because it no longer cares for the niceties of order. It never did, only illusion.

It ignores the carefully drawn lines between heaven and hell.

This nightmare. It is loose among the lambs, and it hungers for the flesh.

The web is still. Deserted. The hair-thin ropes only tremble and shake, almost imperceptibly, with an anticipation of the mysteries of night. No perceptible movement. No heard sound. No spider. No prey. Just the darkness. The quiet though is only deception. As all the players are in place.

They hide. They seek. Each from the other. Inside the boundaries of the web, as all crave resolution to the final game. One way or another. It has come.

Despite the complexities of thought and reason, the belief we have in the foundations of our civilization, it still comes down to the very simplest equation.

The need to kill, struggling for a last domain over the will to survive.

It was the night of the seventy-fifth day

Approaching the midnight hour

Thomas looked down objectively at the man he had just killed.

Without the shackles of feelings or remorse. Without giving thought to the life connections he had just severed, along with the jugular. This man whose lifeblood was spilling out at an alarming rate, had once had a family. Thoughts of the past. Dreams for a future. A loving wife, his high school sweetheart; they had been married on her 18th birthday.

Children, who would never again excitedly hear the approach of their father’s car coming home from a hard night’s work.

He would never again pick up his son and daughter as they ran to meet him, squealing out in delight as he tickled them relentlessly in his arms. A father who would never be allowed the honor of walking his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day. Or to see either of them embark on the decisions of their career choices, their lives just beginning. To be able to enjoy the final earned fruits of a lifetime of responsibilities and labors, as he and his wife would finally begin to live a life of leisure upon their retirement. These things would never be his, or his family’s. No more.

He had only been thirty-two, but now there would never be another birthday to mark with its passing. Just another unfortunate victim of Thomas Henchell’s delusions. One circle colliding with another. Fate. In the wrong place at the wrong time. His life, from the first day, spinning out on a perilous track with one man’s dementia. Thomas knelt down next to the security guard’s body. He had tried to interfere with his plans. Reason enough for murder in his mind. Although in truth, no reason was needed at this point. He had questioned his need to have to gain access to the Communications Room at this hour. Without a written work order, or prior verbal approval having made its way down the chain of command to his station. He was just an honorable man, trying to do his job. A low-paying, often unrecognized one at that. But this was the proper procedure he had been trying to explain to Thomas. And procedures had to be followed, despite the fact that Thomas was a frequently known night worker, burning the midnight oil on many occasions. His face recognized on sight by the entire ever-changing security staff. Seen, but not really known.

He wasn’t the kind of person that took the time to chitchat with the night guard on duty, as some did. Not even a polite ‘hello’ or ‘goodbye’, as he passed during his frequent comings and goings. Usually just a glaring look, and a mumbled sneer as he walked by. Despite all this, the guard had approached him in a civilized manner.

Never once raising his voice above a reasoning tone. Even while Thomas ranted and raved in ever-growing volumes.

His face changing hues, becoming red and angry. Flushed and sweaty. His words declining into obscenities, the order of them making no sense whatsoever. He kept talking about betrayal, and a final justice for all the humiliations that had been inflicted upon him. He had a right to take this recourse. Thomas had continued shouting, his eyes growing out of focus and glazed. This needed decision reached, he proclaimed, because of their transgressions.

All of this spouted with an obvious hate and insanity that was now as visible to the guard as was his growing unease.

The situation was quickly working to sound-off the alarms bells of his survival instinct and training. But just a moment too late.

He had reached for his holstered gun just one second after Thomas had pulled his knife. Just one second too late to save his own life.

Now Thomas lifted the edge of the guard’s jacket. Wiping the blood off the knife in slow, steady up and down strokes.

It came off in crimson ribbons, staining across the material.

He considered his handiwork. Absently. Recognizing his actions, but standing apart from them. Steel through flesh.

It hadn’t been as unyielding a barrier as he would have ever thought. And there had been more blood than he would have imagined was possible, but that was okay. He didn’t mind blood. Just like hate, blood served its purpose. He took the guard’s master keys, and gun. Smashing the walkietalkie’s usefulness underneath the heels of his shoes. He considered moving the guard’s body to a less conspicuous place, but in the end decided that it really didn’t matter.

No one would arrive until morning. By then, those left inside the FBI building would be dead. Including himself.

Why expend his energy on a meaningless endeavor? Not when there was still so much left to be done.

With a final acquiesce to his own brilliance, bowing to the wisdom of his justifications, he moved towards the Communications Room to execute his plans. Once inside, he was greeted warmly with the omnipresent hum and flickering lights of red and green that spoke to him in a language he understood. Finally, reason amid chaos. This was a world that made sense to him, that never failed to deliver on its promises. One which was without the threat of betrayals. He was never disappointed in technology.

It worked when it was supposed to, or failed when necessary.

No in betweens here. It didn’t turn on the whims of emotion or chance, the way humans did. He ran a caressing hand lovingly over cool metal, and sterilized machinery. The heart of the building lay here. Beating. For now, at least.

For as long as he deigned to give it life. It went unnoticed mostly by the occupants, until there was a problem. And then he would come, the God of Order, to lay upon his hands and heal. He possessed that power. That knowledge. And tonight he would use every trick in his kingdom to bring Teresa and Mulder down to their very knees.

He moved towards the power conduits that controlled the lights and emergency back-ups. One meant to fill in for the other in the event of an emergency. But all this was on the principle that the threat would come from outside. Not from within. Not from one of their own. The fools. He began the applications that would deactivate them both. He smiled smugly as he went about his work, thinking only of the exquisite moment of capture. Once he had them in the sight-range of his virtually computerized rifle, he would make them pay before they died. They owed him the screams of suffering he would tear from their throats before the night was over. Just before he watched them die.

One floor below, Mulder and Scully had exited the bathroom cautiously. Moving slowly. Quietly. Without the added benefit of their sense of sight. Even after their eyes had become adjusted to the dark, they could barely make out their hands in front of their faces.

They inched along the wall, flattened against its surface, heading in the direction of Mulder’s office.

Touching fingertips lightly, in order to keep the other within range.

The building had never seemed more ominous, or quiet and still. The loss felt of normal sounds that would usually only be taken for granted. Such as the soft whir of the centralized air, circulating throughout the building.

Or the covering white noise used in a lot of modern buildings in order to divert attention from the usual distractions of office machinery and voices in motion.

All gone. And so conspicuous in their absence. The lack of circulated air also serving to bring a beginning uncomfortable heat for them to bear as well. This time of year, even the nights failed to bring much respite from the staggering humidity of D.C. Once they had made the move into the vents, this heat would triple in force.

The air felt heavy around them. From the heat, as well as from the feeling of tension knowing that in the dark somewhere, there loomed a madman. Unseen. They had decided to risk going for Mulder’s gun before entering the vents. They were trying to move quickly in the dark, knowing time was of the essence, but it was difficult to move any faster than the slow walk they had settled on.

Finally, reaching the door, Mulder removed his keys from the pockets of his sweat pants. Scully ears followed his movements, the tinkling of key on key as they moved over the ring. While at the same time, straining to pick up any sound that would alert them to Thomas’ approach.

She could hear Mulder’s actions, searching for the feel of the right key that would fit the lock. After a moment, when his repeated attempts would each end only on a frustrated muted curse, he finally spoke. Breaking the unnatural silence.

“Scully, he’s broken something off in the keyhole. I can feel it with my finger. Some kind of metal. The key won’t go into the door”, he said, his voice edged with anger. Scully nodded her head in the darkness. She wasn’t surprised.

“I told you he was intelligent Mulder. He knew we’d probably come here first once the lights had been turned off.”

Mulder’s hand came down in a brushing contact with her shoulder, sliding down to grasp her hand. She squeezed back in a gesture of comforting solidarity.

“We need to move into the vents Mulder. Now.”

“What about the elevators? Maybe we could hide from him on one of the upper floors. Stall for time.”

“No, I don’t think that’s a good idea. If he hasn’t already sabotaged the elevator system, I don’t want to risk being caught in one of them when he does. He can monitor the movement of the elevators from the Communications Room. And besides that, the doors would all be locked. We’d only be able to move about in the corridors of whatever floor we would end up on.” She hesitated a moment before going on. “What worries me the most is that he’s already gotten into the Communications Room, and managed to turn off the lights. He couldn’t have gotten past the security guard without detection. I think Thomas has reached his final break with reality. He has nothing left to lose. Especially since he’s realized I’ve escaped. He’s capable of murder Mulder, I have no doubt of this.” She moved out from the wall, pulling on his hand to follow her. “The vents Mulder, it’s now or never. He’ll be here soon.”

Mulder moved in her direction, but then veered off, letting go of her hand in the dark. It filled her with a sudden unexpected feeling of being totally alone.

Abandoned. Again. Followed closely by anger.

“Mulder”, she called out softly, “dammit, where are you?”

She could hear a soft scraping noise, along the opposite wall in the darkness that surrounded her. Her eyes straining to follow the sounds in the pitch blackness.

It sounded like metal on metal, and the soft shatter of breaking glass, and then more metal noises. She moved forward, her arms straight in front of her, waving in ungainly arcs, trying to find the solid barrier of the opposite wall. This, or the feel of a human body. She bumped up against him suddenly, returning to her. They both gasped in surprise, as he held unto her shoulders for balance. She reached out, grabbing the collar of his shirt, wrapping a piece around the fingers of her hand.

“Mulder, dammit, this isn’t the time to start ditching me again. I’m exhausted, still partly drugged, and running on empty. I’ve been locked up for months in a one-room hell, run by a demented prick who thinks I’m his significant other. The only highlight of this nightmare has been some incredible sex in a bathroom with a partner I could right now strangle for his asinine fault of always leaving me behind when it counts the most. I don’t have the time or the inclination to baby-sit your wild goose chases in the dark tonight.

This one is going down together, or not at all. Is that clearly understood?”, her voice was lowered throughout her speech, laced with her ever present control, but it was edged with an unmistakable threat.

There was silence for a moment before she felt his cheek brushing up next to hers, the stubble scratching some, but filling her overwhelmingly with the warmth of his scent. Pulling her close, almost crushing her hand between them which still held unto a fistful of material from his T-shirt.

“Did I tell you how wonderful it is to have you back Scully?”, he whispered into her ear.

She wanted to kick him, but instead found herself returning his embrace. “That’s the sex talking Mulder. You’re still an asshole”, she murmured.

She could feel his mouth turning up into a smile against the side of her face.

“It was incredible, wasn’t it Scully?”, he said, without giving her time to reply before continuing.

“I was pulling the fire alarm switch. I thought maybe….”, he faltered, “….but it seems as if Thomas has thought of everything. Lead on Scully, you’re in charge. I won’t walk away again. I’ve learned my lesson”.

Although it wasn’t spelled out as such, they both knew he was talking about more than just the events of this night.

They felt almost as if they were being burned alive. It was the equivalent of crawling in an open oven. The heat had been building its intensity ever since Thomas had cutoff the power from the air circulation and conditioning.

The silver metal walls that encapsulated them on all sides, as well as the confined space, were serving to conduct the heat to ever more stifling proportions. They had barely gone more than a few yards into the vent’s gaping mouth before they were both breathing heavily, and sweat was pouring off of their bodies in rivulets.

The darkness was almost alive. The slightest sound, coupled with two imaginations set on the very edge of sensitivity, caused them to jump at every creak and groan in the structure itself. Scully had taken the lead, followed close on her heels by Mulder. They had seen the light glowing faintly from the far end of the first juncture they had come upon. That was the area she had been held in all this time she had explained to Mulder, pointing over towards the light. The area above his office. The faint beam of light gave her a flickering view of his face, at it registered for the first time just how very close she had actually been all this time. A combination of guilt and a self-given sense of stupidity for not having figured out the answer long before now crossed his features. She could still read him like a book. She smiled slightly, placing her hand next to his cheek, forcing his gaze away from the room and towards her. “Mulder”, she said. It was all she needed to say. He nodded. They had always been able to communicate without the necessity of words. Sometimes words had even been responsible for their greatest misunderstandings.

They moved on, deciding to leave the kerosene lamp in the room. The benefit of using it to guide their way, would be double-edged. Thomas, if he should return to the vents, would be alerted immediately by the absence of light where it should be, and would use it to follow their trail too easily.

Scully’s heart was doing a double beat. They had passed the area of her knowledge as far as what lay ahead. Thomas had kept her limited to the path which led from the room to the grate that opened unto the hall leading to the bathroom. But she knew he had other carefully mapped routes in here.

She had gotten used to using her other senses to their utmost benefits. Her ears, always straining, while her body remained locked in place. Following the sounds of his sliding knees as they came down, one after the other. After a time she could tell exactly when he reached the T-juncture. The slight hesitation that always followed. And then the minuscule differentiation of the muffled rebounding echoes, telling her whether he had gone to the right or left.

The right meant he was going to the grate she was familiar with. The left meant something else

altogether. But she was sure of one thing with these observations. He had to be going somewhere when he turned to the left. There had to be

another way out of here. Other rooms possibly too, where he might be storing his weapons. She was convinced that their safety lay in finding one or the other. Plus the fact that Thomas

wouldn’t be expecting them to return to the vent itself. But despite her own bravado, voiced so emphatically to Mulder earlier, it was hell for her to be back inside these walls. The claustrophobia threatening full force, the fear of being restrained once more. But they were so close.

So very close. She hadn’t felt this much hope in a long time. She refused to give up now and just wait for Thomas to find them. They were

together again, always their greatest weapon.

They had faced worse than this human monster,

and they would beat him at his own game.

They continued moving forward, leaving the glow of the kerosene lamp behind them, fading finally into a tiny dot on a distant horizon. Then gone.

Only a complete blackness once again. It was

almost palpable, surrounding them and filling in the spaces. They had agreed to keep words down to a minimum. In the event they should miss the approach of Thomas. She felt Mulder tug slightly at her foot, the signal to stop for a moment. She leaned back against the wall, breathing hard, trying to catch her breath. Brushing her hand across her face, dripping with sweat. It was like crawling in an inferno. A hell. So hot. It was even

getting difficult to breathe at all.

She felt Mulder’s shoulder’s leaning against her own on the wall. The ragged lifting of his chest up and down, as he too tried to catch his breath.

Scully leaned in close to him, whispering low.

“We need to keep going in this direction. The other way is your office. It’s at the end of the floor.

It dead ends there. We have to move towards the other side of the building.”

“I agree, when we get to the next T-junction, we should stay to the right for now”, he answered her.

With an unspoken agreement, they both pushed off the wall at the same time, and began to move once more.

Thomas slowly made his way down the staircase.

Confident that he would not run into either Teresa or Mulder on the steps as he descended. The doors opening out from the other floors were only accessible from the outside. Once inside the staircase, the doors closed behind you, they were automatically locked.

And he alone now possessed the keys. He also had a flashlight, taken from the security guard, but he didn’t use it now. Not yet. This pathway was too familiar, he could transverse it in the dark quite easily. And he didn’t want to alert them. Not just yet.

They would have gone to Mulder’s office first. He smiled at his own cleverness, and finding it

inaccessible, would have had to make another choice.

The elevators? He had taken care of them. Keyed them so that they were inoperable, sitting now like extinct dinosaurs on the lobby floor. Their mouths standing wide open and useless. He had waited awhile before doing this, hoping they would make a break for them, as it would have been so easy to take them then. Both of them locked into a primitive box, like rabbits caught with the old-fashioned crate, stick, and tempting carrot. The pull-string triggered behind them as they entered. Never seeing the lid close so quickly on their own coffins. That would have been sweet. But they hadn’t. What next? They could still be in the bathroom. Not likely, but he couldn’t chance not investigating.

He moved cautiously. Feeling like a big game hunter on safari. He smiled at the comparison. Shouldering his way quietly into the bathroom, letting the door close behind him softly under its own power. His gun raised in front of him, the other hand clicking on the flashlight for the first time. He checked each stall carefully. First underneath, and then pushing the doors open, one by one. This done, and confident that they weren’t inside, he exited. Moving onto the neighboring bathroom, and repeating his actions. They weren’t here.

He stopped, considering their options. Trying to get into their minds. He turned for a moment, catching his reflection in the mirror. And then seeing superimposed over this, the ghost images of Teresa and Mulder in the throes of passion and betrayal. The jezebel act he had witnessed with his own eyes. He could feel the outrage resurfacing once more. The need for revenge. Re-energized with these thoughts, he was about to turn and leave, when he heard a noise.

Soft. Almost lost, but he was quite positive he had heard it. Then another. Repeating. He lifted his head slowly. Upwards. Towards the ceiling. And heard it again. He practically laughed. Oh, they were brazen, these two, he thought. In his vents.

Not as easy as it would have been had they gone to the elevators, but this new development was certainly ripe with possibilities.

Scully was the first to feel it. The knees of her sweat pants almost thread-bare from the many trips she had taken through the vents with Thomas each night. It was more than just a warmth she felt coming through the material now. From the confines of the unventilated shaft. This was a heat. A concentrated heat. She stopped for a moment.

Mulder bumping into her unceremoniously from

behind as she came to a sudden halt. She laid her hands down carefully on the metal surface underneath her. Willing her heart to slow, trying to objectively work through her first initial panic. It was hot.

Too hot. And it was getting hotter by the second.

She turned quickly, her hands splaying out frantically on the side walls, and then the ceiling. Confirming her dire suspicions in full. They were all hot.

“God Mulder, he’s turned on the heat. We have to get out of here. Now!”

He had reached the same conclusions. As one they both turned back in the direction they had just come from.

Mulder in the lead now. It was their only recourse.

If they went any further into the shaft, not knowing where the tunnels led, they could become hopelessly lost. Their only hope was to try and get back to the grate from which they had entered, before the heat became unbearable. Moving with desperate speed now, thoughts of being quiet and keeping a careful pace forgotten as they sped through the tunnel. Trying to outrun insanity.

Thomas watched the monitor in front of him carefully, the numbers marked off in Celsius. Growing higher and higher. Mounting. Going past levels ever meant to be used in connection with the comfort of the employees it housed in this building. Within its computerized embrace. He keyed in the strokes, one by one, overriding each safety warning as it was displayed. Blinking, red, and in large capital letters. He erased them, barely giving time for them to be read at all. He knew what they were saying, warning him of the long-term implications of continuing on with these strange commands. His fingers flew across the keyboard, as he laughed out loud.

They had reached the grate. Mulder pulled his feet up, and then punched them out savagely against it.

It didn’t budge. He tried again. Harder. Nothing.

Scully came up beside him, leaning against the pressure point that should have popped the hinge.

It wouldn’t open.

“He’s blocked it.”

They were past being just uncomfortable. Their skin was reddened at the points where it came into direct contact with the metal of the vent. It was hurting.

They both were shifting constantly now, trying to remove one appendage from contact before becoming too painful to bear, and then replacing it with another.

Soon, even this would be folly. They were being roasted alive.

Mulder brushed past her, grabbing her arm. Moving back, away from the grate, back the way they had just come. She followed him blindly. Completely in the dark, both literally and figuratively. He didn’t turn at the opening that would have taken them to the room over his office. This was a logic she agreed with. Yes, it would temporarily take them out of the danger of the burning heat. But once again, they would be sitting ducks. No way out. Thomas could pick them off at his leisure.

She wanted to ask Mulder where he was heading towards.

But there wasn’t time. And she had no better ideas at the moment anyway.

He stopped finally, wincing at the intense heat searing his hands where he had used them to crawl forward. There were over a small vent. Above the bathroom. They had passed it earlier. He ripped his T-shirt over his head, wrapping it around his hands, he began to beat against the vent. Smashing his fists down with such a force she was afraid he might break the bones in his hands. Seeing his intent, she wriggled around, bringing her legs out in front of her, and began kicking at the vent from her side. Helping him to break it open. Her back, wedged against the side wall for leverage. Burning agonizingly through to her skin underneath her shirt. She gritted her teeth, whimpering softly from the pain. But ignoring it, and only pushing against it harder. They were making a lot of noise. And it seemed little progress.

When suddenly, Mulder’s hand broke through at one corner. He stumbled forward, and then quickly pulled back. With this little encouragement, they both worked together, on the same spot, concentrating on widening the small opening further.

“Oh shit!”, Mulder yelled, unable to stand the burning underneath his legs any longer. He hadn’t moved from that same spot since they had begun. His legs were on fire, the skin almost to the point of blistering.

Scully’s eyes were filling with hazy tears, and clogging sweat was stinging her face. Her lungs, as well as Mulder’s, were working double-time, trying to give them air through the intense physical activity, and the restrictive closure of their throats. Gagging now with the oppressive heat.

There was a loud cracking noise that reverberated throughout the entire shaft. Oblivious, they just kept pounding. Kicking. Desperate to escape the hell fire and intense pain. In one moment, their combined weight, coupled with their efforts to break through, came together. Too much. The expanse of the metal vent they were in gave way. Falling away from the ceiling with them still inside. The noise was deafening.

Metal scraping. Concrete crumbling. Supports bending.

They fell to the floor below, in a massive cloud of expanding dust.

WALKING THE CAGE – Chapter 12

One life offered, unselfishly, for another. One heart left perhaps to live a day longer, while another may lose its beat forever. This one soul now lost and left behind, to exist once more in the not always gilded trappings of its earth-bound existence. Until its final time is wagered, as it waits the last moments to be reunited with its mate.

There is no finer duty to be tested than this, in what is surely the deepest devotion of a pure love.

These sacrifices, made in the true and ultimate ‘Gift of the Magi’ traditions. But the losses are different. Played for keeps, in a grown-up world.

But not always with grown-up rules. Or sporting chances.

Not hair, but breath. Not a watch, but life. Though still monumental in the same abstract way, but only when these sacrifices are made willingly, without strings or motives, straight from the caring heart.

Only out of the intimate absolution that there is no purpose of life, certainly no substance, when judged by the one who must go on without the touch of the other.

In that context, of the lonely and bereft, there is no meaning now left, not to anything, unless it can be shared between the two.

All adversities suffered, all roads taken, all misfortunes given, all these forays into past and future, only made bearable because of the other. The telling day they are made to part forever, will be the day each will discover that there is nothing of value left to fight for anymore, in this noble crusade they carried so valiantly. The truth be damned. It is but falseness.

It only beats with the blood of a substitute life, in the coldness of the dark, and in the company of lies.

There is no power or force that outweighs the heart in such matters. Its sovereign right has never been usurped.

Nor will it ever. As it carries the crowning glory of faith as its banner.

Now come full circle. The battle returns to its roots.

Its beginnings. They stand now, alone, on the game board.

The spider and the prey. Once more shrouded within the darkness of the night, the purgatory of the web. They wrestle each other on this final race for survival.

There will be blood shed tonight. And only the one left standing will see the coming dawn of this new day.

It was the first hours of the seventy-sixth day An end to the long night

There was a heaviness to the air. Enough so that is could even be felt and touched. It was weighted down with concrete shavings and dust particles, which now scratched their windpipes and got into their eyes. If there had been any visible light, they would see that the world around them had suddenly been colored a muddied gray. Complete with a slowly dwindling misting rain shower of dust and grit, which covered every surface like a blanket. Without their sight to guide them, they could only hope to rely on their other senses to gauge the seriousness of structural and physical damage that had been inflicted.

There was a gaping hole in the ceiling. Mammoth.

With thick coil support wires bent out of shape hanging everywhere, like sign-less posts peppered along a deserted road. They followed a double row path along the area where the section of the

ventilation shaft used to be. Mimicking the space it had once occupied before it had collapsed, falling to the floor below. The long rectangular piece of silver metal shaft which had previously surrounded them, now rested at a lopsided angle in the middle of the bathroom it had been overlooking. One end propped precariously, up high, laying against the counter. It had shattered the mirror upon impact, littering the floor with sharp slivers of unseen glass. The other end dipped low, resting on the floor. The entire thing resembling a stationary and unbalanced teeter-totter.

The middle portions of it were dented and buckled in places, from the impact of some of the heavier pieces of the leftover shaft, which had landed on top of it, after the initial break from the ceiling.

Somewhere in the bathroom a water main had been ruptured.

Not completely severed, but there was still a constant sound of running water, gushing out near one of the walls in a steady flow. Scully moaned softly, as she crawled out of the shaft, emerging from the lowered end. Her head pounding from where it had slammed into the top of the metal when it had hit the floor. Her body shoved unceremoniously up against the boundaries of the vent by the force of the fall itself, and then thrown back to the bottom upon landing. She moved gingerly forward on hands and knees. Going from one darkness into another. The metal of the vent was still warm in the places where it stayed in contact with her skin, but nowhere near the agony of the intense burning heat they had been exposed to earlier. So much so that they had been left with no other choice than to try and punch their way out of the shaft, as the only escape grate had been blocked from the outside.

The flesh on her back felt strangely tight and throbbed slightly, as she stretched the muscles in her shoulders while moving. It was similar to the sensitive discomfort of a very bad sunburn. She didn’t want to venture a guess on exactly how high the temperature had risen before they had broken through. But to have caused the measured sensitivity in the burns she was feeling now, in so short a time of exposure, it had to have been extreme. Thomas had been literally trying to burn them alive. Her eyes were stinging, but she resisted the urge to rub them, knowing there were probably small particles imbedded there. It would only make it worse. Instead she tried to use the lubricating tears that were forming to blink always most of the irritation. Her hands came into contact with one of the stalls, and she used her palms to walk up its side until she was standing shakily, leaning against it for support.

“Mulder?”, she called out, immediately ending the one word around a ragged fit of coughing, as she tried to expel the dust trapped in her lungs. She couldn’t see anything. It was completely dark. She strained her ears, trying to pick up any movements in the room. Either Mulder, or Thomas, who would be coming soon to check up on the aftermath of his handiwork. He had to have heard the crashing noise when the shaft had fallen. But the only sounds she could pick up were that of running water, and the occasional shifting drops of smaller metal and concrete debris, still falling from the ceiling above.

“Mulder?”, she called again. Louder. With a tinge of fear and worry creeping into her voice. Finally, there was an answering gagging cough, emitting from an elevated level off to her left.

“I’m here Scully”, he said, followed by another choking cough. Scully sighed deeply, relieved, noticing some of the knotted tension leaving her body in a rush. Feeling like a nervous new mother who constantly checked on her newborn to see if it was still breathing, yet would only be satisfied that it was upon hearing the child’s cries.

“Where?”, she asked him. She could hear muffled sounds as he began running his hands over his current environment, trying to get a sense of his location. The relative quiet was interrupted by a loud sound of breaking glass, along with his muted curses.

“I’m still in the shaft, near the counter”, he told her.

She moved in that direction, letting her hands follow the form of the shaft upwards towards the sounds. Reading the bent metal and jagged edges underneath her fingertips like Braille. She made slow progress, due to the fact that the pieces of concrete and broken glass dug painfully into the soles of her bare feet. Wincing quietly whenever a tiny coarse sliver happened to penetrate the tender skin.

Her hip bumped solidly against the sink counter, as her hands remained on the metal of the shaft, lifted approximately two feet above her head.

“Mulder”, she called again, letting him know she had made it over to him. She felt his hand brush downwards searchingly, moving over hers in the dark. Then tracing back, as he closed his fingers around hers.

“This reminds me of that dinosaur movie, where the car falls into the tree, and after all they go through, they only end up back at the bottom of the tree inside the car again. Here we are, back in the bathroom again”, he said in typical Mulder fashion, trying to make light of a tensionfraught situation.

“Yeah, well, don’t think you’re going to get lucky twice”, she ribbed him back, wishing she could see the comfort of his smile in the dark. She knew he was too. Even now.

Smiling.

The light moment disappeared all too quickly though.

“Are you hurt?”, he asked her, as he squeezed her hand.

“No, I’m fine. Just a headache. What about you?” There was a brief silence as he made a quick assessment of his condition.

“I seem to be all right. A few cuts and bruises, and a headache I’d match against yours any day, but….”, he trailed off, as if distracted, shifting his position to the left and then to the right. She could feel the vibrations of his movements echoed back underneath her hands still resting on the metal.

“What’s wrong”, she asked him after a moment.

“My foot….I can’t….it’s stuck”, he answered her, with a note of exasperation. “I can’t get it loose”.

“Let me try”, she said, feeling a well of panic beginning to form in the pit of her stomach. She made a move to hoist herself up unto the counter next to the place where the shaft was resting. Hoping she would be able to gain access to the top of the shaft itself, from where Mulder was currently trapped, half-in and half-out of the opening.

“No Scully, the counter might break if there’s anymore weight added to it”. They both paused for a second, saying nothing, knowing this wasn’t the only reason for his objections. He followed shortly with his true apprehensions for not wanting to risk her assistance.

“Scully, you have to go. Now. Run. Hide. He’ll be here any minute”.

She could hear the desperation and fear he felt for her safety in his voice. He was begging her to leave. She shook her head in the dark. He should know better, she thought sadly. She could never just go. Not without him. But he had to keep trying to convince her.

“You wouldn’t be able to reach down far enough anyway”, he added quietly.

“Mulder, I’m not leaving you”, she said, stating the facts, leaving no room for further arguments. “Maybe I can crawl up to you from the other end, and free your foot that way”.

“Scully”, he called after her, but was ignored. She began moving back again in the direction she had just come from, towards the other end of the shaft. Following the path of her hands on the metal once more, until she had made it back. She moved around to the opening, crawling into its open mouth. She had barely gotten very far inside when there came a loud noise penetrating through from outside the shaft. Her heart jumped, as she froze in place. She could hear Mulder suddenly halt his movements of trying to free his foot from the other end as well.

For just a split second time seem to stand completely still. No breaths taken. No hearts beating. Fear, the only constant in this universe. And the steady approach of imminent death.

The bathroom door was opening. Slowly. And with some difficulty, as it was blocked from any easy access from a small hill of miscellaneous fallen building materials that was scattered in front of it. After a lot of forced shouldering and pushing, the door finally gave way, sweeping open in a half-arc that left a fan-like clear spot amid all the piles of dust around it. Thomas appeared in the doorway, illuminated only as a dark shadow form issuing from behind the beam of the flashlight he held in front of him. His other hand sporting a gun, his fingers twitching with an anticipatory hunger on the trigger. He had already gotten his first taste of blood today, and despite all the dire warnings about its hazards, he had found it to be a rare delicacy. And now he wanted more.

Revenge as well, it would all be his.

Mulder had bent his knees as far back as was possible so that he would be able to duck his head once more into the top vent of the shaft itself. This, the only option he had for protection and cover. He craned his head, looking up, through the opening. Seeing a flickering moving illumination being reflected back from the small pieces of the mirror that were still attached to the frame in odd places. Thomas was advancing towards their shaft, as it lay on the floor like some stranded and dying beached whale. Mulder was startled slightly when there followed a sudden loud banging clamor.

“I know you’re in there”, Thomas called out, repeating his motions of using the flashlight to knock hard upon the shaft’s metal, somewhere in the middle. “Teresa”, he said next.

Mulder nearly catapulted himself out of the shaft, stuck foot or not, thinking Thomas had already stumbled upon Scully at the other end. But he could hear him walking again now, the fragments crunching underneath his shoes, making noise even over the continuous water sounds.

“Where are you Teresa?” He was calling for her. Looking for her. And he was headed in the right direction. “You can’t hide from me forever, you should know that by now”.

Mulder reached up, curling his fingers around the edges, pulling himself back out of the shaft as far as he could, quietly and slowly. He could see Thomas from the back, the flashlight beam pointed down, towards the bottom of the shaft. In another second he would see her. There could be no doubt. Mulder twisted his body frantically, his fingers straining towards the many piles of debris laying on the counter itself. He managed to get his hand closed around what felt like a sizable chunk of concrete.

He turned back and with one fluid motion hurled it towards the far wall. It fell inside one of the stalls. Thomas pivoted towards the sound. Turning away. Moving now towards this new development. One of the oldest tricks, but one which still had its merits. ‘Now, Scully’, Mulder thought desperately. ‘Go. Run.’

As if receiving his silent message on cue, Mulder could feel the tight vibrations through the shaft as she made her break. It was impossible not to make any noise, so she concentrated instead on speed and surprise. Which was hampered by the fact that her feet were bare and she had to cross a field of glass, crumbled stone, and twisted metal. She simply ignored the pain, her survival instincts kicking in to override the sensations.

Thomas had been part of the way inside the stall he had been investigating, his back turned, when he heard the commotion. Spinning quickly, he emerged just as Scully moved forward, and then past him.

Mulder immediately made his presence known, shouting and banging on the sides of the shaft with his hands, hoping Thomas would come after him instead. For just a moment he hesitated, looking up at Mulder, sticking incongruously out of the metal shaft. Seeming to realize his total helplessness in this situation. And relishing it. Deciding it seemed, that the bird in the bush was more tempting than the one he held now in his hand, Thomas turned away, intent only on his pursuit of Scully.

She disappeared through the still open door, with Thomas close behind her.

Mulder’s world went completely black once more, as Thomas’ flashlight left the room with him.

“Scully!”, Mulder called out, trapped in a dark unknown, left with only an agonizing futility over his own inability to come to her aid.

For a terrifying moment Scully thought maybe she had been wrong. When Mulder started shouting, trying to draw Thomas’ attention away from her flight, she had almost turned around and gone back in to ensure that he would follow her. This had been her plan. To run. Then to have Thomas follow her.

Damn him. Damn Mulder.

Always trying to protect her. But not this time.

She needed to protect him. She wouldn’t have tried running if she hadn’t felt so positive that Thomas would come after her. It was a gamble, but she didn’t know what else to do. They had reached an impasse in this insanity. Nowhere left to run. Nowhere left to hide.

She had spent months cooped up with this guy. She knew him. Knew his obsessions. And what he was most obsessed with was her. He was more interested now in killing her than Mulder. She knew this. Always had. In his mind, she was his wife, his delusions of her betrayal would cut the deepest. But he would kill Mulder as well, no question, especially if she wasn’t around to tempt him away from it first.

Mulder was stuck, he couldn’t escape. Couldn’t help, except to get himself killed. And he was just too vulnerable in this capacity now. A hindrance. She had to make sure he was taken out of the picture entirely. Make the game once more just between her and Thomas. Alone. She knew Mulder would eventually try and draw fire away from her, as soon as she realized his predicament. Sacrificing himself for her. She wouldn’t let him. Refused to allow it. He would not die a martyr on her behalf. She had made a show of running, been blatant about it. So completely positive Thomas would come after her. There hadn’t been any other options left, for either one of them. Even if she knew Mulder would have never agreed with her.

As she exited the door, she quickly moved along the wall, until she was underneath the nearby ventilation shaft grate. Reaching down with her hands, searching, until she found what she was looking for. The chair.

The one he had always used to hoist them up into the vent, each time they had returned to it. The one she knew would have to be there. Especially given the fact that he had recently blocked the grate from the outside, so they wouldn’t be able to escape the heat.

She lifted it high over her head, and inched back along the wall until she could feel herself near the bathroom door once more.

Mulder was calling out her name desperately. Trying to warn her. A sweet relief to her, knowing that her plan had worked, and Thomas was going for the bait. Herself. Thomas was leaving Mulder behind to deal with later. Trapped, he offered no immediate threat. Now he was concentrating on the real object of his twisted desires. She could feel Mulder’s terror for her in his voice. She was feeling it herself as well. Used it to keep alert. There was no shame in having fear where it was warranted. It served its purpose. Her arms were shaking violently, partly from the muscle strain of continuing to hold the chair above her head. Partly from stress. Mostly from a simple exhausted fatigue. She tried to slow her breathing down. Her heart. Concentrating.

But everything was moving too fast. In her body.

Her mind. Most especially in this strange darkened world she found herself apart of now.

Everything except this moment, which seemed to be years in duration. Waiting for him to appear.

Wanting this all to end finally. The dark closing in around her, seeming to expand and retract with the palpitations of her own fright, and the building tension. Which had a life of its own. Breathing.

Alive and sentient. Waiting. Just like her.

Waiting.

Her body went suddenly rigid. On guard. As there finally appeared a beam of light protruding from the open bathroom door. He was coming. She watched it. The light. Moving up and down in the dark, as if by invisible wires. Closer. Then suddenly it flashed past her in a confusing blur. Hurtling across to the other side of the corridor. And too late she realized her own mistake, as her eyes automatically followed the beam of their own accord.

Missing the critical movements that came behind it.

He had thrown the flashlight. A diversion. Not even original, just like Mulder’s before. A trick.

Because he was still there. Right beside her. And she had just fallen for his ploy.

The flashlight hit the wall soundly, breaking the cheap plastic apart, and scattering the sections to the four winds. It was useless now. There was only the dark once more. Moving in. It flowed quickly, filling in the last spaces, hungrily

snatching the final death-throe rattle pinpoint of light. Claiming it. But this time at least it would be dark for both of them. A shared hell. So apropos. He had first entered her life in the dark of night, taking her away, and now it only seemed fitting that it would end there as well.

Between her and him. And the darkness.

The struggle had come full circle.

Mulder began redoubling his efforts to extract his foot from the twisted metal of the vent, as soon as Thomas began heading for the door. Going after Scully. Pulling, with every muscle in his body.

Using his hands on the sides of the vent itself for leverage. Straining. Grunting. Sweat, pouring off his face and body from the tense effort.

Coursing down his cheeks, mixing in with the grime, leaving dripping, gritty streaks behind. Filling his eyes. Stinging. He pulled to the point where the bones in his foot felt as though they were separating from the skin. Nothing was hurt or broken, just stuck. But it wouldn’t budge. Not an inch.

And at this angle, he couldn’t reach down far

enough to work at it with any real chance of

success.

There was too much blockage from the debris

around his ankle. He could feel it. He reassessed his situation quickly, and then began to rock his body from side to side within the confines of the shaft. Back and forth. Working to shift the

entire elongated piece of metal. Wanting it to fall the rest of the way to the floor. Feeling the creaking fault lines of the counter, which had been heavily damaged when the massive weight of the shaft had fallen directly unto it. It was only hanging on by a literal thread. He had been truthful when he had told Scully that any added weight might cause it to collapse. He had judged the unstableness of the counter when he had first realized this was where it had landed. It was already severely weakened by the weight alone.

It wouldn’t take much to get it to fall now.

He used these slowly expanding imperfections

and cracks now, as he tried to force the shaft towards the ground. Hopefully, the further impact would help to dislodge whatever metal support was currently keeping his foot in place. At first, he made little progress. But with the addition of his own determination and will, the bathroom was

quickly filled with the loud creaks and groans of screeching metal, and falling concrete. The rocking motions he was making began building

momentum. It was moving. Slowly. But it was definitely moving.

Scully brought the chair down with amazing force and speed. She felt it contact with Thomas’ body, but knew she had only managed a glancing blow.

He had been ready, had seen her just before the flashlight had broken. He bellowed in pain and anger. The sound coming from low on the floor.

He must have dropped down. She started to back up.

Trying to avoid the treacherous waters, knowing there was a shark loose somewhere out there. In the dark. But it was too late.

Suddenly, her feet were pulled out from underneath her. As he grabbed her by both of her ankles.

She hit the floor hard. On her back. The chair she still held, fell off to the side. Useless.

Thomas was now crawling up her prone body,

straddling her hips. His weight was crushing her.

Forcing the breath from her lungs in painful gulps.

Then she heard it. Her ears having become so finely attuned to it over the months. The slight pop of a plastic top being flicked away. From a needle. He reached down. Grabbing her arm.

“No!”, she yelled out.

Jerking. Frantic. Knowing that if he managed to inject her, it would all be over. Completely.

Right here. Not only for herself, but for Mulder as well. She bucked her body upwards. High. With every ounce of strength she still possessed. Mixed in with her desperation, it was enough to throw him off-balance. But the needle still managed to graze her arm, and break the skin, as she felt him roll off to the side. She knew. Some of the medication had gotten into her bloodstream. She could only hope it was a small enough amount to not completely incapacitate her.

Thomas recovered quickly. She had only made it to her knees when she felt his arms wrap around her from behind. Tight. Effectively pinning her own arms to her sides. The needle was back again, in his hands, in front of her. She could feel him trying to maneuver it around in order to inject her, while she continued to struggle. She covered his hands with her own. Followed the syringe up its length from the plastic base, and then broke the needle off completely. He wouldn’t be able to use it now.

He cursed her loudly, holding his arms even more securely around her body. He was trying to drag her to her feet. She leaned against him solidly, hoping to upset his hold with her dead weight.

While at the same time, jabbing both of her elbows back hard into his mid-section. He let go suddenly.

Falling back. Breathing hard. Hitting the ground, and then moaning loudly. Next to her, somewhere in the dark. Judging by the slight noise and his obvious pain, she realized he had fallen onto the overturned chair.

She had heard something else fall to the floor as well. It sounded like keys. A lot of keys.

She turned around on her hands and knees.

Sweeping the floor around her with her hands.

Searching for them. Knowing they must be the

guard’s keys. Who, she was guessing, was probably dead. And then Thomas must have taken his keys.

It was the only way he could have gained access to the Communications Room. The controls to

the heating. As well as to the doors leading to the other floors along the staircase. With them, it offered her the only way out. The only way to summon help. Her fingers brushed up against the keys, and she grabbed them.

She rose to her feet quickly. But was overcome with a wave of dizziness. The drug. Taking

effect. ‘Shit!’, she wanted to scream, as she tried to steady her equilibrium. She hadn’t

gotten a lot of it in her system, but in her

already exhausted state, it could be more than enough. She couldn’t afford to be slowed down now. The lids of her eyes felt heavy. It was difficult to keep them open. Her limbs seemed like they were halfasleep. It was definitely getting harder to concentrate.

There were strange noises filling the air around her. Confusing her further. Loud. Scraping.

Knocking. Coming from the bathroom. ‘Mulder’, the thought coming to her as if from a great

distance. She stumbled slightly. Bumping up

against the wall. She held the keys in her fist in a death-grip. Afraid she might drop them

otherwise. She shook her head, trying to clear the fuzziness that was working to invade her mind.

And then her world was pulled out from under her once again. She couldn’t see him, but Thomas had been crawling in her direction, following her

sounds. Recovering from having the air knocked out of him. He had grabbed her legs once again, pulling them down towards him. She felt herself slipping down along the wall. She tried to hold on, but couldn’t find any edge to grab. She fell completely, on her stomach. But she was finally able to connect with the open door of the bathroom.

Putting the ring of the keys into her mouth, she curled her fingers around the doorjamb edge.

Hanging unto it with every fiber in her body.

Thomas was panting hard, his breath not completely regained. She pulled one of her legs free from his attempts to hold her. Twisting her body

around, she brought her knee up into her chest.

Then she shot her leg out strongly, with a deadly force. Connecting solidly with his face.

She felt a facial bone crack somewhere near his cheek. He screamed. Letting go. Rolling away from her. She got to her feet quickly, and began stumbling blindly towards what she hoped was the direction of the staircase.

Mulder had his hands braced flat against the inside of the vent. Alternating the shifting weight of his body on each side as it rocked back and forth.

The room had once again become filled with falling debris and dust. Coming from the original site of the destruction overhead, which he was disturbing with his attempts to move the shaft.

He had heard the sounds of a struggle going on just outside the door. Thomas and Scully. Fighting. At one point he had heard Scully yell out ‘No!’. Mulder had nearly lost his concentration upon hearing her cries. So near, and yet he was powerless to help her.

He felt so damn frustrated and angry. The muscles in his arms were on fire. Burning with the intense efforts of trying to move hundred’s of pounds of steel and concrete. The dust and grit around him continued to fly. Stirred up. It was making it twice as hard to breathe as it should have been.

And in the back of his mind, over the noise he was generating, he registered that someone was screaming.

Scully clung onto the railing as she made her way up the staircase. She was feeling decidedly light-headed.

There was one benefit to not being able to see anything she realized. Had she been able to gauge each step, it probably would have only increased her dizziness and vertigo. She reached the first landing, and curled her way around to the next set of stairs. And began climbing again. Slowly. She clutched the keys to her chest in one hand. If she lost them now, she risked them tumbling down a flight of stairs. She would never be able to find them again. She was fighting to stay alert. Knowing she had to stave off the drug if she hoped to survive.

Thomas had stopped screaming about a minute ago. She preferred the noise. At least she knew exactly where he was. Now, he could be anywhere. Right next to her.

And she wouldn’t know until he decided to make his presence known. She had reached the top of the landing.

She moved to the right, until she could feel the doorknob, and then kneeled in front it. Swaying slightly.

Feeling for the keyhole with her finger, she began inserting keys. One by one. Moving each key to the other side of the key ring when it didn’t fit. Then going onto the next. There were at least thirty keys on the ring.

She was only on key number six when the shot was fired.

Thomas stood at the bottom of the staircase. Looking up in the darkness as if he had the gift of second sight.

His face was swollen and hurt more than he had thought possible. Teresa had broken his cheek bone. Fractured it, he was positive. He had been willing to forgive her sins and forego his plans to kill her. Take her back even. But she had fought him. Even broken the needle off of the syringe when he had tried to sedate her. And now this. This last straw. This could not be forgiven.

Somehow he had been mistaken. He thought he had seen something in her that could be corrected. But she was corrupted. A jezebel. His Teresa. He truly thought he could save her. But now, he would have to kill her after all. If only to save her from herself. And then he would follow. Maybe in death they could both find peace at last. This was his solemn duty.

He reached around his back, to the waist band of his trousers and removed the gun. Her gun. That seemed right somehow. Fate dealing out justice wrapped in irony. He felt the solid weight in his hands. He had considered using the knife. But there really wasn’t time. This would be quicker. The time for hesitation was over. He began climbing the steps. As he did, he considered the gun in his hands. Turning it. Feeling it. Becoming a part of it. The power. The very essence of death. A death he would administer. With his very own hands. He had that right.

He had reached the top of the first landing, without even realizing it. He stood there for a moment.

Hearing the sharp tinkling clank of the keys. Moving one on top of other, as she tried to get them to work their magic. It made him feel omnipotent. Standing there in the dark. Knowing she didn’t yet realize he was there. He forgot the pain in his cheek, as he pointed the gun in the dark. Upwards. Towards the sounds emanating in the dark.

And then he pulled the trigger.

The noise was almost deafening to Mulder. Reverberated through the tube of the severed shaft like a huge, but simplistic bull horn. The echo chamber that the room had become, taking the sounds and repeating them. Building on them. Until he could no longer tell where one was ending and another beginning. The momentum he had created had now taken on a life of its own. The events put into play by his actions were no longer remotely controllable by him.

He could only watch as the deadly domino effect now ran its course.

The shaft itself was slipping, turning, burning and screeching where metal met metal. Sparks flaring in some places, where heated steel rubbed in irritation against itself. There was a layer of water, perhaps an inch deep, covering the floor. From where one of the mains had ruptured initially. Still spewing forth its leakage. The amassed pool now splashed inconsistently as it caught the flow of falling debris. Concrete that was all around the vent’s makeshift body, crumbled and then caved under its crushing weight. The lowered end of the shaft, which had been resting on the floor, now slipped forward. Just a few feet, and then it met the barrier of the stalls and stopped. The upper end, still sliding along the precarious base of the counter, that had held it in place, now began following its other half.

Like its dubious counterpart, the misnomer ‘unsinkable’

Titanic, it was upending and going under for the final count.

This important shift in weight displacement worked to finally give Mulder what he had been laboring so hard for ever since Thomas had left in pursuit of Scully.

The counter dropped an entire foot in one jump. Bending downward at a most unnatural angle. Then it snapped suddenly. Breaking away finally. A thunderous resounding cracking noise like that of a tree being broken in half. The mottled marble-like counter dropped completely off from the wall. Falling from its once sturdy anchor in one entire piece. And then smashing into hundreds of large and small pieces upon impact with the concrete floor. This earth-shattering disturbance being only the teasing precursor to the collapse of the shaft itself, which was following it.

Mulder could only hope to ride the metal beast to its final resting place. Helpless to do anything otherwise.

At the last moment before contact, moving his body as far back into the inside of the shaft opening as he was able for protection. Feeling his stomach drop most uncomfortably about a foot from the rapid descent of the fall. Holding his arms protectively over his head. His elbows kept close to his ears against the roaring noise.

A final excruciating, bellowing screech of torn metals and breaking foundations.

And then silence. A complete silence.

Disturbed only by the familiar and steady sound of water once more.

Scully had immediately fallen away from the door when she had heard the shot recoil. A move that was purely instinctual. Primal. Dropping flat. She had felt the brushing red-hot passage of the bullet. Just missing her. Barely an inch from her head. Even only having sound as a target, he was good with a gun, this was obvious. She kept down, low to the ground. On her hands and knees now. Crawling towards the landing of the stairs leading to the next level. Hoping to make it before Thomas fired again. She quieted the keys, still held in her hands. Covering them with her fingers so they wouldn’t make any noise. Noise which would alert him to her exact position. Which was kind of funny she realized in an almost detached way. There was a lot of noise now. A lot. But she couldn’t really make the connection as to where it was coming from. Somewhere below. But it didn’t really matter. The only thing that held importance for her now, was getting up the stairs.

The only thing that held importance for Thomas, was killing her. The dark, once her deadly enemy, had now become her one hope. She reached the first step and rose up unto it slowly.

“Teresa.”

He was there. Somewhere. Close. Stalking her.

She flinched involuntarily. Feeling the flesh crawl over her body. A combination of hearing the name again. So near. As well as the seductive malevolent tone he used with the word. As if he had a right to it. A right to her. The word itself, his voice, it had seemed to come out of thin air. Behind her. In front.

All around. All places. Everywhere. She was disoriented.

Hard to think. The drug was confusing her more and more.

Mechanically, coming from her will to live, she kept climbing. One hand raising up, and then a knee, alternating. Repeating. She kept going. She couldn’t stop. She mustn’t stop.

“Teresa.”

The name was abhorrent to her now. Disgusting. And so vile. That name. That man. Always after her. Never leaving her alone. Taking. Always taking. First her freedom. Her identity. Mulder. And now he wouldn’t be satisfied until he had her life as well. She hated him.

She felt the anger. The hate. Churning. Building.

Growing. She fed it further. Stoked it. Internalized it. Used it now to keep going. She reached the top and continued on. To the next flight. Not sure of where it was exactly she was going. She just needed to keep moving.

Stay alert. One hand up on the step. Then the next, and a knee. The other. Climbing. Have to.

Have to.

“Teresa”.

Mulder had blacked-out for a minute. He opened his eyes once again to complete darkness. Feeling a moisture around his head. Water, coming in from outside the shaft. He moved tentatively, his head splitting. Aching from where it had bumped up against the top of the shaft when it had finally fallen to the floor. He immediately remembered the reasoning behind trying to get the shaft to fall, and began pulling on his trapped foot. There was still resistance, but it wasn’t as complete. And the water seeping in was actually helping. Moving the concrete dust, reducing it to silt, which became pliable and moveable. Completely flat now, he was able to add the element of his other foot to help clear what was left of the blockage. He concentrated.

Worked intently on getting it free.

“Teresa”.

She had reached the fifth floor. He seemed in no real hurry now to move in for the kill. She kept going. He kept following. He just continued to call out the name.

Taunting her. Letting her know he was there, and wasn’t going to go away. He kept playing with the way he said the word. Sometimes mockingly. Sometimes like a parent scolding a child. Sometimes angrily. Never with remorse or regret.

Always with determination and a misguided belief in what he was planning to do.

When she reached the sixth floor landing, something changed.

Inside her. Her heart. Her mind. ‘No more’, she silently breathed to herself. She stopped. As a strange sense of peace filled her. She would not go down by his rules. No more playing his game. Whatever the outcome, she would not die crawling on her hands and knees away from something she feared. She would face him now. One way or another, this was going to end. With this in mind, she felt her way over to the door. She brought up the keys and began to try them one by one. Just like she had been doing floors below when he had appeared. Calmly. Moving one to the side when it didn’t fit. Taking the next. Inserting it. Moving it over.

“Teresa”.

He was only steps away now. She was counting silently, without even realizing it. Counting the keys that missed the mark, and then turning each over to the other side. Like a pool room cue ball scorekeeper. Ticking off the numbers, one by one. Eleven.

“Teresa”.

He was behind her now. Directly. The warmth of his body, wafting over her, not even overshadowed by the coldness of his heart. It should have been. That would have made sense. None of this did. Something should. She continued with her work.

Taking the next key. Putting it into the lock. Turning.

Pulling it out. Moving it over. Twelve.

“Teresa, it’s time to go now”. It wasn’t a request.

Thirteen. ‘Yes’, she thought, ‘it’s time to go. I want to go home’. She moved the key over to the other side. Inserted the next one. Fourteen. Thomas reached down, placed his hands on her shoulder.

He screamed when the out-swinging door caught him squarely in the face.

Lucky number fourteen.

Thomas’ hands flew to his face. It was on fire. Burning.

The broken cheekbone pain flaring up with an agonizing intensity.

He stumbled back. Scully jumped up quickly, pressing her advantage. She ran at him, following his screams, pushing him up against the railing. Knocking the gun out of his hands. She could hear it falling. Bouncing off metal and concrete along the sides, until it reached the ground. Thudding dully. Thomas suddenly stopped his cries of pain. Taking no notice now of the blows she was raining on him. It seemed almost, as if he was impervious to pain. Or simply didn’t care at this point.

“I always win Teresa”, he said calmly. Too calmly. Too coldly.

Her body stiffened at his tone. Her blood chilling in her veins.

She realized what it was he was doing. He had her gripped by her shoulders. Hung onto her. Then he stepped over the railing. One leg at a time. She tried desperately to pull away from him. Move back from his intentions. His fingers were like talons, clinging to meat. He slid his hands down from her shoulders until he held one of her hands in both of his. The fingernails digging into her flesh. So tight, it was cutting off her circulation. Then he simply leaned back, at a ninety degree angle. Only his feet still touched the landing. His body hanging out over the railing, tethered only by her arm. He was going to jump, and take her with him.

“Let go!”, she cried out. Her body slamming against the railing under the pull of his weight. Her ribs digging painfully against the metal. Her free hand, bunched into a fist, pounded against his arm. Tried to pry his fingers loose. But he wouldn’t let go.

He removed one of his anchoring feet from the landing. She gasped, feeling the additional pull of even more added weight. She curled her knee around the railing, trying to gain some leverage. It wasn’t enough. She was being pulled over. She could feel herself losing ground. When he removed his other foot, the pull on her arm increased a hundred-fold. Her arm felt as if it were being wrenched from the socket. She screamed. From the pain, and from knowing that she wouldn’t be able to keep herself from going over now. Her feet lifted from the floor. Her upper body leaned way out over the railing. Into the darkness, and the death waiting below.

Then she felt another pair of arms joining her own. Mulder. His body wrapped around hers. Adding his weight to hers to keep her grounded. Holding her tightly around the waist with one hand.

His legs entwining with her own. He leaned over her, following her arm down to where it was attached to both of Thomas’ hands.

He worked at prying each of his fingers from hers. Slapping back Thomas’ efforts to regain each of the finger holds that Mulder was removing. Scully was sandwiched between them. Pressed up so tight against the railing she was having trouble breathing.

Her arm only one continuous sensation of pain.

Finally, he managed to break the last connection hold between Scully’s and Thomas’ bodies. The sudden lack of resisting force caused each to fall back in their own directions. Mulder and Scully were thrown away from the railing, towards the door.

Falling in a heap on the floor. Thomas, no longer in contact with the landing, fell. Falling six floor to the bottom. Never making a noise on the way down. The only sound, the echoing sickening contact of body meeting concrete, when he reached the bottom. He was dead.

On the landing, Mulder and Scully held each other tightly, leaning up against the door. Rocking slowly. Quietly. Peacefully.

In the dark. This time, a soothing dark. A healing dark.

WALKING THE CAGE – Chapter 13

NC-17

Contrary to what is a widely held belief, there can indeed be a beginning to a circle. A point of entry. Or exit.

Healing is a process that starts in such a way. To heal there has to come a time when the person stops the journey of pain. And turns. Away from the hurt towards home.

Erasing behind them the lines that marked the way. It must be a conscious choice. Borne of a strength of spirit and a trust in self. Although it is never an easy one to make.

If it were then happiness would not be the fleeting elusive prize that too many will never achieve. The moment that initiates this miracle of the building repair of a heart that has been battered, starts innocently with this choice.

Finding the key that fits the lock of solitude, and walking away from the cage of torment. The bars of regret.

Easy in words, much too simple. But never so in practice.

She has struggled to find hers, as she opens the cage with the key she has forged from inside herself. The only place where these type of keys are manufactured. She starts her circle journey now with careful steps. Walking towards what is waiting there for her. It does wait there. She knows.

As she follows the curve around its inner arc. Hesitantly.

A hesitancy and knowledge that has been developed from an experience that borders on intimate revelation. Her steps grow with determination and resolve as she moves. It is not divine intervention. Nothing quite so profound. Only taking inventory of the wealth she has always possessed.

Even while it was hidden away, as was she herself. The comfort comes from knowing that hers is a circle shared.

Joined. She is not alone.

On the horizon, around the next bend she sees him.

Following her path. Which is his own. Sometimes in front of her. Sometimes in back. But always together.

One always there for the other. Now their journeys merge.

The lines meet, converge, and seal. The circle at last complete.

The web is left tattered and in ruin. Upon the ground. The winner has been acknowledged in this game. The spider is left behind, only a carcass. A shell that once carried the powerful essence of evil and torment. It lays now alone. Abandoned.

Mummified and dust-ridden. Never to inflict its malevolence again. A monument to nothing.

The prey leaves the game board silently. Not jubilant. Or gloating. Only relieved to have been granted this small moment of victory. It would not be wise to become too self confident. Because it will not last. True, the spider is dead.

But there will always be the others.

The hawk. The wolf. The serpent. The beast. Waiting in line for their day in the sun. They will always be outnumbered. Always pursued. There will come another day.

Another web. The next battle.

And too soon. Much too soon.

It was the night of the twenty-first day after Thomas’ death.

Even three weeks later it was still hard. To readjust themselves to life. To the fact that they had survived. That she was back. And they were together once more. There was still so much anger to deal with. Thomas had taken away her life that night. Not only a theft from her, but from him as well.

They had most of it back now, but some pieces were forever irretrievable. Most especially time. A luxury they both knew she didn’t have any to spare. Three months the first time. Now this. More months she would never regain.

The physical outward signs of trauma had disappeared almost completely. With rest and comfort. But other scars were there. Hidden. Invisible to the naked eye. Yet there, and aching tauntingly with a ghost pain similar to an amputee with a missing limb. An itch just out of reach. There was nothing to do in order to try and bring about some resolution to this phantom hurt. No revenge that could purge her pain.

Or satisfy her hunger for completion. Thomas was already dead. There was no justice to be extracted there. Except the satisfaction she garnered from knowing he would never again be able to inflict his twisted visions on another hapless victim. There would be no more ‘Teresa’s’ for him to take and use to fulfill his delusions. It was a small victory. But sometimes it was enough to get her through the night. Not always. Like tonight.

The dark night followed her. As the corridors of her mind and imagination turned against her. Bringing back the memories she was not allowed to run from. The fear. So vivid. So fresh. Too real. All that time spent locked within the realm of a nightmare that she could not wake from. So close and yet so far away. This the most killing edge of all. To her, as well as to him. Reminding them of the endless minutes. Turning into hours. Turning into days. Turning into months. All of them spent in solitude.

And pain. Physical. Mental. Emotional. Her wrists still tingled, and twinged. Sometimes. But her heart, always. There were even times when she could feel the trappings of the cold steel loops. Tightening against her skin. Expanding its territory to cover her entire body.

Squeezing her from the inside out. Until it was impossible to breathe. Even more so to think. Or hope to move on.

She couldn’t react without first panicking that she would wake only to find that the escape had been the dream.

The unreality. She fought final consciousness whenever it escalated to this extreme point. Afraid to leave sleep only to find she was indeed still trapped. Another illusion.

Her senses were hyper-sensitive, as they had been back there.

She could hear him, moving through the vents. Coming. The material that covered his legs and knees rasping along the metal, skidding softly, with a singular sound she had come to associate only with him. Echoing. Like a whisper. The loudest whisper. Making her eardrums throb with its impact.

Knowing always what was to follow.

“Teresa”.

He would call out to her. His voice a torture in and of itself. She would shake her head vehemently. Back and forth forcefully. Mirrored back through the connections of sleep to her body, as she thrashed within the sheets in her other world. Wanting so desperately to tell him that wasn’t her name. Once again. He had no right to call her that.

Then, and most especially now. He was dead.

But he would only smile. A mocking leer that was the sole invention and paten of the damned. Used in weapon fashion.

And just as deadly. Like a secret handshake known only among the legions of evil.

“I always win, Teresa”, he would tell her again and again.

Just like that last moment. She hated to concede him anything, but he was right. He had indeed still found a way to win. She had given it to him herself. As long as he was able to invade her thoughts. Her dreams. Her peace of mind. As long as she allowed him to stay alive in her memory. Even if it was a repugnant memory. It was still a form of victory for him. Maybe in truth, all he really wanted all along. Remembrance. A place in her life. He had won in that respect. She cursed her own inability to exorcise him completely from her soul. She gave him his residence. She knew this. But knowing it and stopping it were two things altogether. As in her own organized mind, her dream state followed an order. A detailed agenda that took her nightly through the paces, one by one. From beginning to end. Each night she would relive the game.

From start to finish. Rushing cruelly towards the final moment. Him and her. Alone. In the dark. Wrestling for control. Her goal – life. His goal – death. Linked by more than hands as they teetered unbalanced over the gaping precipice. The agonized straining pull on her arm remembered too clearly. As the pain rode up her limb like a brush fire.

Searing. Burning. Taking.

And always just at the point where she could no longer anchor herself, she would find she was not alone in the battle. He would come. Not a rescue. Not a damsel in distress. Their abilities complimented one another when joined. His and hers. His strength and hers working together to fight the forces that tried so hard to bring them down. She could feel his arm slipping around her waist, just as she was about to plunge over that fine line between their world and the hell that waited below. And like an immense weight lifting from her as she felt the final moment of release. The exquisite freedom of being severed from Thomas forever. It was a moment she savored.

Her restless throes of distress would quiet and she would clam. Her breathing would slow and become steady. Her heart returning to its normal pace. Her mind filled only with the certain knowledge that Thomas was truly dead.

And she was safe once more. Her eyes would flutter open.

She was home. In her own bed. Her own world. But not alone. She would feel his arm slipping around her waist, this time for real. Laying beside her. Another flesh and blood testament to the truth that they had both indeed survived the ordeal. He would always awaken at her cries and watch over her, but he never woke her. Knowing that she needed to work her way through the nightmare herself.

He could not help her on this particular journey. But he was confident that she would find her way back, as she had done in reality. And he would be waiting for her. Just as he had been every night since it had finally ended.

Looking at him, her breathing suddenly became labored again. But not from fear. From desire. So intense. She reached for him, needing him close. Sitting up and crossing her arms in front in order to remove her nightshirt quickly. She wanted him. The nightmare always made her anxious. To feel the comfort of his body against hers.

He sat up with her, trying to slow her urgent haste, as he followed her movements. Stilling her hands, as he took over the job she was trying to accomplish. Sliding his palms up and underneath, along the path of her nightshirt.

Against her skin. Skin that was still warm and moist from the sweat of a lingering fear that clung to her. He wanted to remove all the traces of that fear for her. For this night and any others that would follow.

Bunching the shirt up around her waist. Feeling the curves and contours of her body along the way. She was shaking.

Trembling from his touch. As if electrified by each of his fingers as they passed. His hands cupped and shaped themselves over her planes and valleys. The curvature of her hips. The flatness of her stomach. The sharp raised slats of her rib cage. The rounded mounds of her breasts.

The slight indenture of the hollow between her neck and shoulder. Finally reaching the top and carrying the shirt up slowly, until it fell from her body completely.

She rose up on her knees immediately, leaning over him.

Allowing him full access to her breasts, as he suckled and teased them to intense points of pleasure. She moved against him insistently as he caressed her. Moaning.

Pressing her body into his. Her hips rotating. Unable to stay still. She wrapped her arms around his neck, separating and spreading her legs around him. She pulled his T-shirt up from behind. Her head against his, looking down over his shoulder. Her fingernails raking deeply up the length of his back as she gathered the material greedily hand over hand, until she wrenched it over his head and off.

Their skin and touch separated momentarily from this action. But once completed, they moved back together as soon as possible. Like magnets drawn together by an irresistible attraction. Fitting their bodies into known grooves, tightly to one another. She could feel his arousal, pulsing and hot against her. Knew he could feel her wetness, as his hands moved up her back slowly.

Grasping her shoulders and pulling them back gently until he could see the outline of her face in the dark. He slid his hands from her shoulders upward, never breaking contact with her skin, tracing along her neck and jaw. The side of her cheeks. Finally, cupping her face. Lowering his to hers firmly. They kissed.

No longer the gentle honey sweetness of the first. Now they were hungry and demanding. Pressing fully against each other. Mouths open, tongues meeting. Breathing, all but forgotten. Her hand came between their bodies, resting against his chest. Sliding open palmed across the solid muscle, and then lower. Until she reached her destination. Holding him through the thin material of his boxers. Clenching and releasing her fingers.

Alternating the pressure, mimicking the functions of her own body, until he wheezed suddenly and pulled out of their kiss. Too distracted by her actions to continue.

He pushed her back suddenly, supporting her as she lowered.

Until she felt the softness of the mattress underneath her.

She pulled her legs out from under her, bent and lifted her knees to help him as he guided her panties off her hips.

She reached out in the dark, stretching, thinking he would be right there. But he wasn’t. Instead she felt his hands pressed against her inner thighs, spreading them wide apart.

She gasped, her back arching, and her hands pulling against the sheets as she felt the moistness of his breath expelling next to her sex. This time his fingers and tongue mimicking the functions of his body for her. She writhed fitfully.

Bucking up strongly towards his mouth as he continued to lick and taste her relentlessly. She whimpered, moaning his name over and over. Until her body convulsed and shuddered violently. He stayed connected to her through the gyrations of her body, as she rode out the pleasure, sharing the orgasm with her. Only taking his mouth away when she finally stilled.

He moved up and over her then. Removing his boxers quickly before coming into contact with her once more. As he began to settle over her, positioning himself, she marveled at the feeling of warmth that issued from his body. Taking away the chill of her own. A chill she hadn’t even been conscious of until it was abated. Like them, their lovemaking, a need she hadn’t even been aware she held, until it had been experienced and satisfied. Now it was as necessary to her as air. Her arms reached out, tugging at his hips.

Needing him now to warm her last place of want, as she felt him pressed up against her opening. She was so ready for him that he filled her suddenly. A smooth forward sliding surge inside her body that took them both by surprise. Each groaning out loud at the sudden intense feeling and pressure, as he buried himself fully within her in one forceful stroke.

Unconsciously she sighed heavily. Blissfully. A sigh of contentment and happiness. Knowing that the last remnant of the nightmare was now banished for this moment. Mulder could do that for her. Only him. Take away the pain.

Make her forget. And leave behind what she most desired.

Just like that last night in the building, the two of them were the only ones left in the dark now. No more ghosts to haunt her. She smiled, as she wrapped her arms around him, leaning up to kiss his neck, as he began to rock against her. It wouldn’t be long now before the nightmares would disappear completely. And Thomas would be forever resigned to the depths of hell, where he rightfully belonged. The only remorse she would carry was that she had been unable to find the real Teresa. And probably never would. If she indeed had ever even existed. But in Scully’s mind at least, Teresa, whether she had been real or just a result of one man’s twisted delusion, would finally be granted the peace she so richly deserved. And Scully as well, having found her own.

Her hands moved deliciously across his back, feeling the light sheen of perspiration that had broken out from his exertions. Her own body found a rhythm to match his pace, meeting him. Lifting herself to accept each of his thrusts.

Which were strong and steady. Deep and filling. He never gave her less than one hundred percent of himself. And she gave herself as completely to him. She felt the knots of intense pleasure building and growing. Closing her eyes.

Lightly, knowing the intensity of the eruption that was moving through her. It was always this way with him. She could hold back nothing from him. She didn’t want to. She clutched desperately, clinging to him tightly as she came.

Calling out loudly. As if nothing else mattered. And while she was still in the middle of her release, his followed. As he tensed above her, still moving within her. Filling her with yet another warmth. Finally, both of them exhausted they collapsed, rolling sideways without ever letting go or even breaking their union. She closed her eyes, as he pulled her close. There was nothing to fear in the dark anymore. She would never be alone there again. Never.

Anger can be a dangerous emotion. One that beckons change.

They knew this now. But sometimes change can be for the better. When it is tempered with the realization that there are things more important than the destructive effects of anger’s wake, and the hurting words it can evoke. The paths and events it can unknowingly set into motion. But they had work to finish. And they knew they must go on, now wiser for their experiences. Certainly grateful for what it had brought them in return.

There would be other long nights. Sometimes spent once again in the not so apropos setting of a darkened and deserted government office building. The harried and over worked occupants past tired. Yet no longer beyond caring. Two people set adrift in a sea of lies, who must continue to search for the truth. Searching for miracles. Searching for answers.

One who believes there is a magical cure waiting out there somewhere to be found. One who does not, but feels that the truth can bring justice. Different applications towards the same goal. Some things never change. But their community and ties lay in the culmination of their combined dedication.

To the work. Most certainly to each other. They are much stronger for this union. Souls and spirits. Hearts and minds.

They have just returned from a journey four years in the making. A lifetime in the cards. And they will never be the same. But they had survived. Against the odds, they have decided to go on. But there will always be someone watching. Hidden. Waiting.

And so the die has been cast.

As somewhere the dice are thrown again. Flawless ivory cubes, spotted with ebony ink. As all the desperate eyes forever cursed follow the teasing course of their journey. Tumbling and rolling. Lofty power camouflaged behind a shield of innocence. They wait for the fates to decide. Win or lose?

Love or hate? Live or die?

All bets off. Another game has begun.

THE END


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