Wing and Prayer by Revely

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Wing and Prayer by Revely

Wing and Prayer cover

Title: Wing and Prayer

Author: Revely

Classification: X, M/S,

Rating: PG-13

Date: 10.3.00

Spoilers: En Ami, primarily. Vague spoilers for Je Souhaite and all things. This takes place before Requiem.

Thanks: Worship and general toe-kissing of Barbara D, Meredith and Jesemie’s Evil Twin can be found in the Author’s notes at end.

Feedback: Makes me a happy camper.

… …

“That which makes miracles can also make great evil.” —CSM – “En Ami”

… …

Part One

News of the miracles would have spread through the camp by morning. Scully realized this as she wound her way by the cabins at midnight and heard the muted whispers though the walls, high and thin like the rustle of birds’ wings. She imagined them inside, all of the girls praying and counting the rosary under their cotton blankets, then sleeping with their fingers crossed just in case. Sister Mary-Kenneth hadn’t wanted them to get wind of the situation yet, she’d explained in her phone call. Still, keeping a secret of this magnitude from teenage girls would have required a holy miracle in and of itself.

The nun led her past cabins marked with names like Lilac, Rosemary, and Bluebell, finally stopping in front of Hawthorne to slide her key into the lock, gesturing for Scully to follow her. The serenade of crickets gave way to the clinical hiss and beep of machinery as they stepped inside. The Sister flicked on a lamp and Scully saw a myriad of construction paper origami figures hanging from the ceiling on dental floss strings, waving in the breeze from the air conditioner.

Seven cots stretched out in front of her, each covered with a thick flowered comforter instead of the usual over-bleached white sheets. Beneath the covers the girls lay as still as stones. The air was tense, full of so much hope and expectancy that Scully wondered if the occupants were holding their breath. When Sister Mary-Kenneth spoke, the figures sagged with disappointment.

“Nice try, ladies,” the nun said. “But I’ve been doing this long enough to know possum players when I see them. Give up.”

Five pairs of eyes peeked out from beneath blankets. A few girls propped themselves up on bony elbows to regard the visitors.

“Hawthorne, this is Doctor Scully,” Sister Mary-Kenneth said. “She’ll be joining the Camp Calico staff and staying here, since you have extra beds. I’m sure you can all get to know one another tomorrow, and in the meantime I expect all the chattering to stop, it’s nearly midnight.”

The nun’s words were authoritative, but her tone indicated gentler feelings. She walked toward the rear of the room and yanked open a hospital curtain, revealing an eighth cot, on which she deposited Scully’s overnight case. “I’ll leave you to get settled, Doctor.” With a smile, Sister Mary-Kenneth handed Scully a stack of manila folders and then turned to leave, letting the door click behind her. Light from the lamp over Scully’s cot glinted off the cold silver of the room’s medical equipment. Two heart monitors blipped, steady as crickets in the quiet room. Scully cleared her throat, well aware that her five roommates were scrutinizing her from under half-closed eyes.

She slid her overnight bag under her bed and pulled the curtain around her cot to dim the light before she walked outside, files tucked under her arm. The night air was cool and thin, with a breeze blowing off the lake that threatened to make her shiver, though she suspected that might have more to do with the situation than anything else. The tree line was dense and dark, and she turned her back on it. Anyone could be watching her. He could be standing just out of sight, smoking, waiting to see what she would do next.

Scully jogged away from the cabin and the trees, down a short incline to the water’s edge before pulling out her cell phone. After the fourth ring there was still no answer.

“Mulder, it’s me,” she said when his voice mail picked up. “I was going to leave a message earlier but I didn’t know… I got a tip. I don’t know from whom.” She paused, unsure of what to say for a moment. “I’m in Milford, Pennsylvania, Mulder. At a girl’s camp off Highway Six a few miles outside of town. Camp Calico. I was going to have you come down here with me, but I didn’t know where you were. I’ll call you later.”

Scully jabbed the end button and tilted her head up toward the sky, regarding the heavens for a moment before settling herself on the edge of the dock and pulling out the files tucked under her arm. She would have preferred to go inside, get out of the open space where He could so easily take her off guard, but she didn’t want to disturb the children. They needed to rest. The moon was nearly bright enough to read by, but Scully flipped on her small flashlight, shining it around the edge of the water before bending over to study the files.

Each folder corresponded to one of the names she’d scribbled down that morning. Her source had spoken quickly: Robin Mayhew, Tiffany Waters, Kalisha Allen, Bethany Trzcinski, Lorin Cooper, Janele Thornton, Angela York. All had been cured of cancer, the woman had said. All were patients at a camp for terminal kids in Milford, Pennsylvania. Then, the source had hung up.

It had taken Scully a full five minutes to calm the slow seethe of dread inside. Not Milford, Pennsylvania. Not again. She’d stared at the scribbled names until her pulse slowed, then picked up the phone to call the camp.

Sister Mary-Kenneth had answered her questions. Yes, there were seven girls with those names who attended the camp. Yes, the FBI would be allowed to come investigate. She’d been quite accommodating, but sounded distant, wary. Scully hadn’t blamed her. She’d heard the harsh tone of disbelief in her own voice.

“And all seven girls are now in remission?” Scully had asked, pacing the area in front of Mulder’s desk like an expectant father.

“No,” the nun said. Her answer brought Scully to a halt in front of the desk, and she’d waited for the woman to continue.

“No,” she said again, “they’re not in remission. They’re cured.”

Scully had sunk into Mulder’s chair and leaned her head in her hand while the Sister talked.

“I know how the medical community feels about that word, but that’s the only accurate way to describe it. We ran every test, and not only is there no sign of cancer, there’s no indication that these girls ever were sick. The only sign that they were unwell is the fact that they are all still so thin. Frankly, if I hadn’t spent the last month with these girls and seen them wasting away, I would believe it was a hoax too.”

“I didn’t say I believed it was a hoax, Sister.”

“No,” the nun had said slowly, “but I get the feeling you don’t buy the idea of a miracle either.”

Scully hadn’t. She didn’t. Now, looking out over the water, alone on this warm summer night, she seemed to feel the weight of the necklace around her neck like an albatross. Sister Mary-Kenneth had raised her eyebrows when she saw it, as though she never would have suspected Scully to be religious. “My partner and I have been investigating ‘miracles’ like this for a long time,” Scully had tried to explain to her when they met for the first time in the Sister’s camp office.

The nun had gazed at her thoughtfully, pursing her thin lips. She was a small woman, a good three inches shorter than Scully herself, but powerfully built. Scully had a feeling the nun ran a tight ship, and it was the familiarity of that fact that brought her some small measure of comfort in the face of the situation.

“Yes, so you mentioned,” Sister Mary-Kenneth said as she led Scully to her cabin. During their phone conversation, Scully had filled her in on some of the particulars of the McPeek case in Virginia, hoping the nun was acquainted with the news reports. She left out the salient details, of course. Tales of the chip and an evil government conspiracy who used innocent children as guinea pigs didn’t seem like the type of thing to mention. In the end, she insinuated that Jason McPeek’s ‘miracle’ might have owed a lot to certain very human factors.

“It’s all a matter of interpretation, Agent Scully,” the nun replied. “Mankind doesn’t stumble onto cures blindly. If humans were involved, they had heavenly guidance.”

The words came back to her now and she shuddered. Heavenly Guidance.

She closed her eyes, disgusted by the idea of Him as an emissary of mercy. When she opened them again, the night seemed thicker, more menacing.

Scully’s feet hung a few inches from the black abyss of water, and the dark sky stretched above her. She hugged the files to her chest and surveyed the forest around her, feeling very much perched between heaven and earth.

… …

The thumping noise woke her at six thirty. In her dream, Mulder’s headboard was beating a rhythm against his wall, and it took her a moment to realize that the sound was coming from somewhere outside herself. By the time she dragged her eyes open two of the girls were out of bed, standing next to the window.

“Hurry up, Robin. Hand me the masking tape,” one of them urged.

A slight, red-haired girl flung her blanket off and joined her roommates at the window. Together their paper-thin bodies didn’t even manage to block the single ray of sunlight thrown across the floor. Scully could see the outline of their hips and shoulders through their nightgowns as she slung her legs over the side of her cot and sat up.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

The thumping continued as she stood, craning her neck to get a better look outside. In the milky morning light, a cardinal was beating himself against the window. With every hit he cried out and flew away only to immediately dive back toward them. A smear of blood darkened the windowpane, and Scully flinched along with the girls when the bird, screaming, hit once more.

“Shoot. Help me here!” The girl’s nightshirt was a diaphanous football jersey that read “Allen.” Kalisha, Scully thought, remembering the folders from the night before – one of the miracle girls. Kalisha’s curly black hair was chopped short, which drew attention to her long frame and severe thinness. Scully could read every bone and tendon in the girl’s hand as she tried to mark the window with a masking tape X.

The red-haired girl turned to Scully. Her glasses were owlish, and swallowed her face.

“This happens all the time,” she said apologetically. “The birds think their reflection is a female or something and they try to get to her. We’ve tried practically everything to stop it.”

In the next instant the thumping ceased.

“Well, that must have worked,” Scully said.

Kalisha heaved a frustrated sigh and then turned to her. “Nope. Actually he just brained himself until he fell. He’s laying under the window right now.”

The girls stared at her expectantly. Scully took a hesitant step forward, wondering if she had a moral obligation to do something for the animal. She was the adult here, after all.

“Better not look,” Kalisha said, holding up a steadying hand as if she were the adult and Scully the child, “it’s really gross and sad. They just sort of writhe around down there until they die. Sometimes it takes days. It’s totally pitiful.”

All three girls stared at her solemnly, waiting for something. Their expectation was written on their faces in the kind of neon-bright expression only fourteen-year-old girls were capable of.

“I’m Doctor Scully. Dana,” she finally managed. Kalisha was the only one to step forward and offer her hand, which Scully tried hard not to squeeze lest she break it.

“Hey, Doc, I’m Kali. That’s Robin,” she said, jerking her thumb toward the red-head who was rummaging around in a box that looked to be full of junk – muddy ribbons, paperclips, broken necklaces. “And that’s Janele.” This one sported a bright pink kerchief tied over her head that matched her camp T-shirt.

Scully nodded, wondering how soon she could get to work, wanting to whirl the girls around and inspect the back of their necks. The quicker she could confirm the presence of the chips, the quicker she could leave. If all went well, she might be home by midnight. She could finish her laundry, make some tea and go back to pretending that she’d never heard of Milford, PA.

None of the girls moved, however, and she didn’t imagine they’d respond well to such a strange request. ‘Turn around, bend your neck and lift up what is left of your hair’ didn’t seem like the best way to introduce herself.

Scully glanced at the two remaining girls in the cabin, both still buried under mounds of blankets, their only tether to the outside world the lines that connected them to their heart monitors.

“And what are their names?”

Kalisha was apparently the spokesperson for the group. She pointed to one lump and then toward the other girl. “Laurel Terry, Prianka Bansal. Leukemia.” This she stated matter-of-factly, and on that note fell silent again.

The three girls headed back toward their cots, sliding under their undisturbed covers like letters sliding into envelopes.

Scully remained standing in the soft light. The masking tape X on the window reminded her she needed to turn on her cell phone again, and she pulled her curtain closed and slipped into a pair of jeans and a cotton shirt before grabbing the phone and files and walking outside. The fresh air was a relief after the stale crackerbox smell of the cabin, a scent she associated with hospital rooms and her own apartment in the dull final days of her cancer. The smell, she always thought, had something to do with despair, or resignation, and she’d had more than enough of both of those emotions.

The morning was clean and cool under the green shade of spruce trees. In the daylight, Scully saw several paths that trailed off into the woods behind Hawthorne, as well as pebbled routes leading to the other cabins and down to the stony shore of the lake. There was no sign of movement in the camp.

Sister Mary-Kenneth had said breakfast was at nine, which seemed to Scully an abnormally late start until she remembered that this camp was not catering to healthy children. There would be no sunrise bugle calls of reveille here. At the height of her cancer, Scully remembered, she had made a point of going to bed at nine p.m., and even a full ten hours of sleep left her exhausted and on the point of collapse by lunchtime.

A honeysuckle bush grew high against the side of her cabin, and Scully moved toward it, tracing a ribbon of a path into the woods. She remembered to glance in the other direction as she passed the rear of the building, not wanting to see the dead cardinal, the smear of blood on the window or the familiar X. The forest was old and thick. There was a sense of dampness, of cold and too much darkness even in the brightening morning. Scully stopped beneath an ash tree and pulled her phone from her pocket. Mulder answered on the first ring, taking her off guard.

“Mulder, it’s me. Where are you?”

“I’m pulling into Milford right now. How do I get to you?”

She thought his choice of words was telling. The slight emphasis on ‘get,’ leaving her to wonder how she would pay for this second foray into the wilds of Pennsylvania.

“You’re about fifteen minutes away. Are you on Highway 39?”

“Yeah. At a stop light next to a BP Station.”

She gave him cursory directions to the gate of the camp and prepared to hang up when she heard him speak again.



“Who gave you the tip?” There was a sharp edge of fear in his voice.

She’d been waiting for the question, but had suspected that he would wait until he saw her to ask it so he could use his suspicious face. His timing was off. Either that or she didn’t have him pegged as well these days as she assumed. Both of these explanations unnerved her.

“It was a woman, Mulder.” That was the important thing, she knew.

It was still no guarantee that it wasn’t the Cancer Man orchestrating the whole situation, and given the location she knew it would be naive to believe otherwise. Nonetheless, the tip had come from the mouth of a woman, and Mulder was going to need to hear that. She felt a flicker of irritation – what about what she needed? What about her fear?

“She called the office after you left yesterday. I tried to get you on your cell but you didn’t answer, so I drove down.” Scully thought she detected a small sigh of relief on the phone, but it might have been the wind through the trees, because all he said was “Oh.”

She arranged to meet him at the camp entrance, which constituted a long walk up the winding gravel driveway, so she set off out of the woods and around the south end of the lake toward the main cabin and the entrance. A few campers were awake now, some of them sprawled in lawn chairs on their porches. A few nuns, in the boxy black skirts and white blouses of modern secular dress, bumbled about between the girls, handing them Dixie cups of water and paper cups of medicine. In front of her cabin, Kali, Robin and Janele, sat like sphinxes on the wooden porch steps. They huddled together for warmth in the lemony rays of sunshine that rained through the trees. Robin and Kali wore shorts, and their knees were so bony it looked painful, as though it must be agony to stand.

Scully saw Sister Mary-Kenneth coming out of the breakfast hall with a tray of meds in her hand. Without stopping, Scully gestured toward the entrance and the sister nodded. Scully had told her about Mulder’s probable arrival and the nun had reluctantly agreed to let him stay. Camp Calico was exclusively a girl’s camp. St. Agnes Hospital in Milford ran it while St. Ignatius in Portertown ran the boys camp. The nun was concerned about how the girls would feel having a man around, but Scully finally prevailed and they agreed he could stay in an abandoned coal shed that was occasionally used to house the maintenance men who traveled in to fix the leaky roofs or shoot marauding raccoons. Scully had tried to picture Mulder capable of either one of those tasks and failed spectacularly, but she assured the sister that he would be happy to be of service in the camp while she was checking out the girls.

Not that she imagined they’d be around that long. Surely it would be a quick enough examination. Seven girls, all cured of cancer. Seven girls who would spend the rest of their lives at the mercy of a handful of unscrupulous men to whom they were nothing more than lab rats. It wasn’t worth it, she thought. She should tell them it wasn’t worth the possibility of never knowing where you might wake up. At least, it hadn’t been for her.

Scully slid her hand into the pocket of her jeans and fingered the tiny vial that she always carried with her now.

Alien Technology, she thought, Never Leave Home Without It.

The decision to remove the chip had been made for her. She’d known it the moment she woke up in clothes she hadn’t put on herself, feeling groggy from drugs or God-knows-what. The back of her neck had felt sore, tampered with. Thought she’d tried valiantly not to, the word molested had come to mind. Whether it was from drugs or the sheer force of her revulsion, she’d thrown up in the bathroom twice before she’d been able to get dressed.

That wasn’t going to happen again, cancer or not.

Later that night, as the Gunmen packed up to leave Mulder’s apartment, seeming to tiptoe around the silence, she’d escaped to the bathroom and cut it out. Mulder had avoided looking at her all evening, and he turned his head as she slipped past him, clutching the bloody chip in her fist.

He knew – she was certain. But there were no words spoken about it. They were not great talkers, and even if they had been, she doubted there was language fit to describe the magnitude of the deed. His aloof manner was the result of terror. She understood that, and didn’t blame him for it. Still, there were times when she felt incapable of dealing with her own fear, much less his, and she staggered under the weight.

They seemed locked in a silent battle of wills. He, to keep her alive, no matter the cost. She to control her own body, despite the possibility of death. All of this went on quietly, under the chatter of their ordinary lives. They remained mute solely on matters of the heart.

Silence, she thought, sometimes seemed like the only thing keeping them together. At other times, it seemed the one thing keeping them apart.

Mulder’s car pulled into the gate as she hiked to the top of the hill. She waved a hand at him and he coasted to a stop beside her, leaning over to unlock her door. Sticking a foot in the car, she surveyed the view. From this height she could see a group of campers converged on the shores of the lake wearing their fuschia camp T-shirts. With their thin legs and bright colors they looked for all the world like a flock of pink flamingos.

… …

All porch conversation stopped as they walked through the camp.

Two miracles, Scully imagined them thinking, magic cures and charming men. He was charming them, she was certain. It was the classic Mulder trait – the ability to make women melt with only a look and a smile. Heaven knew he still had that affect on her, and she should have been immune to it by now. Still, he flashed smiles at the girls, who stared back or shyly looked away. A few of the bolder ones, including Kalisha Allen, gave him grins that seemed to say Hey Cutie, though they didn’t utter a word. What went unsaid always showed up on a teenaged girl’s face, Scully thought. They might as well say it out loud for as much as they were able to hide it.

Sister Mary-Kenneth waited for them on the front porch of the main cabin, holding the key to the coal shed.

“I hope you don’t mind, Agent Mulder,” she greeted them, “but I can’t put you in a room with any of the girls or any of the other sisters.”

Mulder assured her he understood, and they trooped up into the cabin behind her. Inside, girls sat propped up against indoor picnic tables, listlessly spooning cold cereal into their mouths.

A few nudged their seatmates with sharp elbows and a couple of them dared glances in their direction. Sister Mary-Kenneth rattled off the morning activities as she led them through a food line.

“After breakfast we have checkups, then prayers,” she said, handing bowls to the agents. Scully scooped a cup of Raisin Bran into hers and watched as Mulder dumped three scoops of a bright candied cereal into his.

“How many girls are here, Sister?” Mulder asked, once he managed to fold his legs under the table. Scully was relieved to hear him in Agent mode. He hadn’t asked her anything other than a few cursory questions about her source, and that concerned her. The last thing she needed at this point was for her partner to be difficult about this case, and his classic method of showing disapproval was disinterest. He appeared to be making an effort now though.

“It varies,” the nun replied. “Some come and go depending on how well they feel. At the moment we have thirty-one. We had an even thirty-five until late last week. Four of the cured girls went home. The other three, Kali, Robin and Janele stayed on here.”

“Why is that?” Mulder asked.

Scully chewed her cereal thoughtfully, glad to let him handle the line of questioning. All around her, the fifteen or so cancer patients appeared to be trying to muster enough will to eat. One table over, a nun was trying to coerce a fractious girl to swallow “just one eensy bite” of toast. The feeling of empathy she felt for them all left her reeling.

Cachexia, and even anorexia, were common side effects of terminal cancer, Scully knew. She’d known it back when she suffered from her disease, of course, but knowing hadn’t made eating any easier. It was with a sick relief that she left Mulder in the office some afternoons, thankful to return home where she wouldn’t have to open her mouth again until she forced down a piece of fruit under the fierce gaze of her partner at lunch the next day.

Scully pulled herself from her reverie to find that Mulder had somehow wheedled half of his danish into her hands. She glanced up at him, but he was watching Sister Mary-Kenneth.

“Why did they stay?” he asked.

The nun shook her head. “That’s a good question. Kalisha, Robin and Janele met last year in the cancer ward at St. Agnes. Since then they’ve become sort of the three musketeers of the group. Kali’s mom is a nurse here, so I can see why she stayed. Robin is in the foster care system and Janele’s parents are on a ‘grief cruise.’” The Sister’s tone of voice left no doubt as to how she felt about such a thing. “Never mind that their only daughter isn’t actually dying anymore. I had to call them on ship to let them know.”

Mulder and Scully both grimaced at her revelation, and the sister shook her head knowingly at them. “Makes you wonder why parents like that warranted such mercy, doesn’t it?” she said. “Forgive me,” she said, shaking her head.

“So you believe these are miracles?”

Trust Mulder to ask the obvious question of a nun, Scully thought, almost embarrassed.

“Well, I’ll be honest with you, Agent Mulder. When Doctor Scully told me why she wanted to come stay here, I almost didn’t give her permission.”

Scully swallowed the last of her danish with effort and focused on the woman.

“You’re here to try to discount what I view as an unquestionable miracle,” the sister explained. “And part of me doesn’t want to let you do that. In this day and age, the promise of such an act of mercy could infuse our society with some much-needed hope. For that reason I’m not happy about what you’re trying to do.”

Scully opened her mouth to defend herself and Mulder somehow, but the sister put her hand up for silence. Years of Catholic school obedience stopped the words in her throat.

“On the other hand, Doctor Scully seems to believe that this cure is somehow manmade. And if that’s the case, then how can I in good conscience prevent you from finding that cure?”

The nun turned her head to regard the girls in the room, pausing for a moment to take in the chatter and stifled giggles. Brittle light fell on her from behind, reminding Scully of a portrait of some nameless saint that had hung on a library wall in her youth.

The sister directed her attention back toward Scully, looking her straight in the eyes. “If what you find discounts the miracle but can still somehow cure all of my other girls…” she paused, shaking her head. “Well, the Lord works in mysterious ways. It’ll still be a miracle.”

… …

Part Two

From the window of the medical cabin, Scully watched Robin circling the statue of St. Agnes.

From where she stood, leaning up against an examining table, it looked like the child was praying, occasionally reaching out to caress the statue’s foot.

Twenty girls lined the benches along the walls of the medical cabin, waiting for their turn to see one of the two doctors or the three outside nurses who drove in every morning. One of the nurses had brought her baby, wrapped in a blanket decorated with yellow ducks, and the girls were taking turns passing him around, cooing like doves.

The three miracle girls were not exempt from morning checkups, and Scully suspected that all of the nurses and Sister Josephine (who ran the infirmary) were anxious to examine them again. In the meantime the other girls were first priority. Scully snapped on her latex gloves and glanced down at her clipboard, calling the second name.

“Maggie Anderson?”

The girl holding the baby looked up and made a face. “Come on, Magpie, your turn,” said Sister Josephine. “Let someone else hold him while you’re up.” The girl handed the baby over reluctantly and moved toward Scully with her arm already out, as though offering her vein for human sacrifice. Scully tied a rubber tourniquet around the girl’s arm and carefully drew her blood. All the while, she noticed Robin outside, still turning around the wood-carved statue of the saint, staring at her solemnly.

Scully lifted the girl’s shirt to slide the stethoscope against her chest but Maggie balked, pulling her shirt down tightly.

“What’s wrong?” Scully asked.

Maggie’s eyes widened and Scully turned to follow the girl’s gaze to the open door.

Some man, the girl’s face seemed to say.

Some man indeed, Scully thought. Mulder stood frozen in the doorframe. She could see him tense when he realized he was very much out of place. It wouldn’t have been too far from the truth to say that a few mouths were hanging open, Scully noted. Finally Mulder smiled and shook his head. From beside her, Kalisha’s mother, Nurse Allen, broke the silence.

“Must’ve made a wrong turn, honey,” she said, “the boy’s camp is over in Portertown.”

A few of the girls snickered. Scully hid a smile herself.

“Yeah,” Mulder said, “I got that. Actually, I’m just looking for Doctor Scully or Sister Mary-Kenneth.”

The nun poked her head from around one of the examining curtains and took in the awed expressions of her campers.

“Gang, this is Mr. Mulder. He’s a friend of Doctor Scully’s and he offered to be a handyman for us this week, if you don’t mind.”

Mind? Are you nuts? Who would mind him?

“I’m afraid I don’t have anything for you to do at the moment though,” Sister Mary-Kenneth said. Mulder bobbed his head and turned to leave.

“Wait,” Scully called. She glanced at the nun and then motioned out the window toward Robin.

“See if you can find a shovel, and have that girl show you where the dead cardinal is, then send her back here.”

Mulder looked at her quizzically but turned to do as she asked. He moved out of the cabin and Scully watched until she saw him addressing the girl. She went back to checking the campers.

After the last name had been checked off the list and the room was almost empty, Sister Mary-Kenneth ushered the nurses out of the building. Mrs. Allen picked up a red cooler that had the words ‘human blood’ marked across the top and looked curiously at Scully, who stayed behind in the room with Janele, Robin and Kalisha. With a smile she beckoned Janele toward her.

“Guess you three don’t need much of a checkup any more?” She inserted the needle into Janele’s arm and watched as blood eddied up the side of the glass vial.

“Nah, not really.”

Scully held the stethoscope in her hand and moved behind the girl, giving her a gentle push forward with her hand on her back until the bony ridges of the child’s neck were exposed. She put her stethoscope on Janele’s back and whispered, “Breathe normally.”

Janele did as she was asked, but Scully had been addressing herself. She peered in closer and ran a finger over the back of the spotless neck. It was a white expanse of unblemished skin.

No chip.

Scully’s mouth opened and she blinked hard to refocus.

It was the same with Robin and Kali. None of the three showed any sign of the metal implant that Jason McPeek or, for that matter, Scully possessed.

She tried to follow their chattering as she examined them, murmuring vague “mmm”s when they paused in conversation. She briefly registered them mentioning Mulder’s name, but she didn’t bother answering, just shooed them out the door and into the sunshine. Then she leaned against one of the tables and waited for her heart to stop racing.

… …

Scully paused on her way through the camp and diverted into the chapel. It was seldom used, Sister Mary-Kenneth said, because the girls equated it with the funerals of their friends. Inside, the absence of worshipers was almost a presence in itself. Even the light sorrowed through the glass on its knees, not daring to raise its eyes to the pointed ceiling or the small wood-cloaked saints that gathered dust on the wall. It smelled abandoned, mossy and sour with something like the memory of dashed dreams and the fierce cries of mothers as they watched their daughters ripped from life.

Around the perimeter of the wall, bronze plaques of camp contributors were tarnished, but the crude, uneven lettering scratched into the dark pews glowed white and whole. Scully moved to the second row of benches and sat down. Under her left leg “Cathy Callahan 1980 – 1994” and on the lip of the row in front of her “Anne-Marie Driscoll 1982 – 1998” drew her attention away from the small crucifix over the altar.

Her hands, which she placed neatly in her lap, were still trembling. They’d started shaking the moment she saw Janele’s neck, and even now, with her brain whirling excuses and plausible explanations they hadn’t stopped.

It was unthinkable.

It was ridiculous, to say nothing of impractical.

But, God help her, she wanted to believe.

Once, she and Mulder had passed a few long hours on a plane talking about faith and skepticism. His philosophy spilled forth in broad generalizations about religion as the opiate for the masses (which he cloaked as a quote), and other things she was hardly capable of finding responses for. She’d kicked herself later for not being able to better articulate what her faith meant to her, since he hadn’t come anywhere close to the truth, but even lying in a strange motel bed for half the night, she wasn’t able to accurately describe her faith, even to herself.

It was her primary contradiction, Mulder said, one of the character traits that most astounded him. That she, the one who insisted with rock-solid intensity that they have concrete evidence, would be the one to take “spiritual” things on faith. All skeptics, he’d said, were really believers who wanted to have the truth proven to them. They longed for the unexplainable. They wanted to be able to say, with 100 percent accuracy, “It Has No Earthly Explanation.”

She thought about it as she sat staring at the dust motes floating in the air of the chapel. There was fate, she thought, and there was chance, and she did not believe in the latter. This camp was located on the far end of the very lake where CGB Spender had set her up, where he taunted her with a cure for all human disease and, worse still, took advantage of her.

Remembering waking up in her pajamas in that house was enough to make her shudder. She stood and brushed some loose dust from her jeans, as though wiping him away, and stalked out into the daylight.

She saw Mulder carrying the shovel back toward the coal shed, followed by a waddling line of girls. They weren’t speaking to him, but they had on their bright, hopeful faces. If they were ten years older and healthy, Scully thought, they’d be falling over themselves. And him.

You’re, like, really strong, do you work out?

I haven’t seen you around, come here often?

Here’s my number. We should catch a movie sometime.

He caught sight of her and said something to the teenagers that she couldn’t hear. They moved off toward the craft cabin in tandem, giggling. He waited until they went inside before he walked toward her, still hauling the shovel.

“Not done with that bird yet?” she asked.

“You didn’t mention that there’s a dead bird epidemic. Two girls from the Bluebell cabin just said there are a few bodies out behind their place, but I can’t bury them, they’re still alive.”

His tone was affable, but he didn’t smile at her, and he didn’t wait for a response. She stood rooted to the ground and watched his retreating figure until he rounded the corner of a cabin.

Mulder’s ability to make her feel guilty for doing what she felt was right was one of his more exasperating traits. At times it bordered on martyrdom, and every time she felt dually that she would like to both reassure him and slap him. She usually did neither. She’d be the first to admit she had a hard time talking to Mulder about what she was feeling. She was doing better lately, but still nowhere near good enough. There was hardly anything, least of all language, fit to describe how she felt for her partner. There was no way she could think to tell him that he was both her blessing and her curse.

St. Paul, she suddenly remembered, was taken into heaven. Pulled from the earth to see eternity and then put back. What he saw, the nuns had told her as a child, was not possible to be uttered.

There were no earthly words to describe the wonders he had seen. As a kid, and a clever one at that, she had been irritated by the saint’s impreciseness. He at least could have tried, she’d informed her appalled parents. Now she understood.

She had once thought to write Mulder a letter, a sort of thank you note, much like the ones she’d easily composed for her mother and sister when she was returned from death that first time. But his had never come easy to her. She got closest to explaining it when he moved inside her, his breath bursting in her ear and her arms straining to swallow him whole, and even then the language was unrecognizable. She tried to tell him with her hands, her body, her mouth on his.

They spoke in tongues.

Not that they were adept at that language yet either. She’d been to his bed three times and he in hers once, and they had a hard time talking about it in the daylight.

Scully moved from her spot and walked into the forest. Behind Bluebell, Mulder was stooped over, shoveling the birds’ small, gnarled bodies into a mass grave. She stopped beside him and glanced down into the hole. When she squinted they seemed to blur, merging their matted feathers until they formed the contorted corpse of the Cigarette Smoking Man.

“The girls don’t have the implants, Mulder,” she said.

He stopped shoveling and looked up, surprised. When she met his eyes she almost smiled. After all their years together, he was almost as readable as the teenaged girls. Funny that he fancied himself mysterious.

They don’t have the chip?

What she remembered most about her time with cancer was his face.

His carefully arranged face – smoothed and sculpted into a placid mask, as still and unruffled as the waters of the lake. He’d done an admirable job. If she hadn’t known him as well, hadn’t spent years watching him the way the sky heeds the earth, she might have missed it, and even then there would have been the evidence in his eyes. If she wanted to see that look again, which she didn’t, she could call it up by punching him right now. After he straightened she’d see it, the raw look of hurt and confusion, as though she’d taken his heart and split it between her teeth.

“They don’t have the chip?”

Score one for me, she thought.

“No. I haven’t examined the four girls who’ve left, but the three girls here don’t have them.”

He rubbed his eyes wearily with his knuckles before going back to the shovel. She kicked a few of the bigger clots of dirt down into the hole with the toe of her shoe, waiting. His curiosity would get the better of him. When the final bit of soil was dumped, he stopped and spoke.

“What do you think it is, Scully?”

So that’s what she’d been missing all day – the sound of her name from his lips. She hadn’t realized that he hadn’t addressed her yet.

“I wish I knew, Mulder. I just assumed they would have the implant, but…” she trailed, unsure of what kind of explanation she should give.

“What were you going to do if they did?”

The question took her off guard. She hadn’t thought about it. Frankly, she hadn’t assumed there would be anything to do, only that she would have seen for herself. That was important to her. Surely he knew that? She shook her head.

What was going unsaid between them was taking up too much room, she thought. When they worked together their ability to get things accomplished sometimes startled her, as did their handicap when there was something dark between them. If this phenomenon were taking place in any other place than the one CGB Spender had taken her, he would never have asked that kind of question. Fear made him biased.

“I had to know for sure,” she replied as he stared down at her.

Surely it was unfair for him to be so self-righteously upset about this situation. She was doing what he had done a thousand times – following a lead from an unknown and very likely untrustworthy source. The very least he could do would be to back her up. A sliver of Scully’s guilt broke off and was replaced by the slightest flame of anger.

“X-rays,” he said, walking toward the coal shed. She was determined not to follow along behind him this time.

“Stop, Mulder.”

He stopped but did not turn.

“Say what you mean,” she insisted. Finally, he glanced over his shoulder, giving her the full force of his guileless face, which she didn’t believe for a second.

“Some abductees have implants in other places. Maybe they have newer or different ones. I think you should round up the girls and have them X-rayed.”

Then he was off again, moving out of her line of sight around a foreign corner, his shoulders slumped as in defeat.

… …

They wasted five hours in St. Agnes Hospital, Scully shelling out quarters so the girls could get their lunch from vending machines. At four o’clock, Mulder left his sentinel post by a stack of dog-eared Sports Illustrated magazines and escorted Kali and Janele to the cafeteria while Scully waited for Robin to be finished with her examination. Finally, the girl entered the waiting room, looking as exhausted as Scully felt.

“They kept asking me if I was pregnant,” she said petulantly, taking the bag of crushed Doritos that Scully had been holding for her.

“They have to ask that.”

Scully felt like an automaton, her eyes gritty and swollen from an afternoon staring at a white wall, not making conversation with her partner.

“Yeah, but like, forty times? Isn’t one ‘no’ enough?”

She didn’t answer, just marched the girl toward the elevator and punched the down button. Beside her, Robin sighed.

“Sorry. It’s just…that was totally not fun.”

Scully turned to study the girl, taking in the thin red hair, the bruised eye circles, more from sleeplessness now than illness. They could be related, she thought. This girl could be her niece, or, for that matter, her daughter.

“That might be an understatement, Robin. I’m sure it was a miserable day for you. I know it wasn’t a thrill for me, either.”

Robin nodded sagely as the elevator arrived. Inside, Scully pushed the basement number for the cafeteria and watched the girl’s knife blade reflection in the sides of the steel box.

“Robin,” she asked, “this morning, when you were circling the statue of St. Agnes. What was that about?”

The girl shrugged. “Probably nothing, I don’t know. It’s just…last week me and Kali and Janele were helping make the boats for the candle lighting ceremony for our last night, and we got kind of goofy and stuff and walked around the statue, praying.”

Here she stopped and shrugged. “I’m not even Catholic, or anything. But it was a few days later that we found out we were cured.”

“And you were praying again?”

“Not for me though. For the others.”

The elevator stopped and they spilled out into the steamy heat of the cafeteria. It smelled like Jell-O and warm vegetables. In a corner, Kali and Janele were trying to show Mulder how to fold an origami figure. The table was littered with enough napkin animals to fill an ark. As they approached, Mulder stuffed his napkin into his pocket and stood. The girls rose beside him and their happy warbling masked the need for Scully to say a word.

… …

Two miles from the camp entrance she saw it. She was leaning her head against the cool pane of glass and trying to formulate some theory that might explain the miraculous cures if it turned out they had no implants. She’d seen the girls’ blood work, which showed nothing at all out of the ordinary, and she’d had them run a tox screen this afternoon. It occurred to her that there might be no logical explanation after all, and then her attention was diverted when she spotted the roofline.

“Mulder, stop.”

For the second time that day he did as he was told, cruising to a halt while she pointed toward a hidden driveway in the tree line.

“Down there. Take us down there.”

In the backseat the girls had fallen into a stupefied slumber, resting on one another’s bony shoulders in a way that Scully suspected could not be comfortable. They mumbled and shifted as the car bounced down the drive toward the house.

The river flowed into the lake here; she could see it over Mulder’s shoulder as he came to a stop at the end of the drive. He didn’t bother to ask what house this was as she got out of the car, nor did he open his door. Fine, she’d do it without him then.

Scully walked up the stairs by herself, stopping on the wooden steps, unable to go any further.

The house was boarded up, empty. It slouched against the hillside like something out of her nightmares. Seconds ticked by and the tiny flame of disgust within her began to grow as she remembered waking up in the pajamas she hadn’t put on herself. As always, the thought made her almost physically ill, as dizzy as a three-year-old on a carousel. In the late afternoon light she stopped, gathering herself, remembering to breathe evenly, before leaving the house to walk out onto the dock. It undulated gently under her feet, which didn’t help the nausea. She heard the scrape of a shoe behind her and pointed toward the cove on the other shore. Maybe if they discussed this like reasonable human beings, she thought, it would be okay.

“That’s where Cobra was waiting. That’s where we were shot at,” she said, nodding toward a distant cove, remembering the bleak moment of panic as she watched him tip face-forward into the water. Though she hadn’t been the one writing to him, she nevertheless felt responsible for the fate of the man. He’d been just another pawn in the CSM’s game, and his death weighed heavily on her. “He acted like he knew me, Mulder. And then he was shot in the back. All because he wanted to cure people and not sell the cure to the highest bidder.”

There was silence behind her for a long moment, and then he spoke.

“If you’re done with your vacation slide-show, Scully, the rest of us would like to leave.”

The words hung sharp in the air for a moment before she turned around. He was sorry already; she could see it in the surprised look on his face, as though he could hardly believe those words had slipped out. But it was too late. The color drained from her face and her dizziness stopped, replaced by the cleansing white-hot strength of rage. His expression changed from sorrow to wonder as she opened her mouth. When she spoke her voice was hard and low, full of venom.

“What did you say?”

He shook his head and stepped toward her, palms up, ready to justify himself, to tell her exactly the way he saw it, like he always did. She stopped him with her own hand.

“Don’t. Touch. Me.” Each word was clipped, pure in its meaning and articulation. From the car the girls could not hear what they were saying, but if they were awake they’d have no trouble reading the body language.

“Scully, I—”

“How could you say such a contemptuous thing to me?”

She spun on her heel and stalked toward the car. There was barely restrained violence in the way she shut the driver’s side door. Mulder stood on the dock, his body swaying in the wind like a reed on the shore as she waited for him to get in. Finally he did, just as the girls woke up in the backseat, yawning and rubbing their eyes with bony fists.

“Mr. Mulder, are you really going to help us build a campfire tonight? Robin said you’d help us. Do you think the Sisters—”

Kali stopped short as he slid into the seat. The air inside felt electric, and Scully was almost up the hill and onto the highway by the time Mulder got his door shut. There were no more questions on the ride home. Scully kept her lips closed tight, afraid that if she opened her mouth thunder would roll out.

She stopped at the end of the camp drive and the girls clambered out, picking their paper animals up from the floor before hurrying toward the shelter of the arts-and-crafts cabin. They sat on the porch and watched the goings on from the corner of their eyes. Mulder sat motionless beside her and she did not turn off the engine.

“Get out of the car, Mulder.” Her voice was dangerous, icy. It hurt when she spoke, as though her throat knew it was supposed to be screaming this command. She had to work to keep her tone civil.

“Scully, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”

She turned to glare at him and the air in the car seemed to go down a couple of degrees.

“Of all of the hypocritical and asinine things you have said to me over the years, Mulder – and there have been some astounding ones – this takes the cake. I assure you that any and all anger you feel about my little ‘vacation’ with CGB Spender pales in comparison to mine. I’m sick of focusing on how scared you were. I’m the one who was taken advantage of. He toyed with me. He played his mind games with me, Mulder, not you. I’m the one he drugged and undressed and did God-knows-what to—” She didn’t stop, but noticed him blanche. She’d neglected to insert that little detail into her re-telling of the weekend’s happenings, and if not so focused on the knot of anger in her chest she might have slowed her speech down, but it was too late. This was going to be said. “—so I suggest you save your anger for someone who’ll care, because I don’t have time for it.”


He wasn’t able to get a word in. Words spilled so fast she didn’t stop to breathe.

“I told you before that he didn’t give me a choice about letting you know what was happening, Mulder. I knew you’d be scared. Nevertheless, I put my life on the line trying to get the information to you somehow, That’s more than you’ve done when you’ve left me to follow the man over the years. I’m lucky if I get a note that tells me how you’re ‘drawing a line for me’ or some other garbage. If you don’t trust me to make decisions on my own that’s your choice, but don’t play the martyr with me and don’t expect me to stand by and take it. I don’t deserve your contempt. Now, get out of the car.”

He seemed dumbstruck, and she looked away when she noticed how bright his eyes were, but he did as he was told.

Mulder slid out and was ready to shut the door when he noticed that she hadn’t turned off the car. She waited, eyes ahead.

“Scully,” his voice was broken, pleading, “there are a lot of words to describe how I feel toward you. Contempt has never been one of them.”

“Shut the door.”

He did, gently, and she threw up a line of dirt on the gravel as she left. In the rearview mirror she avoided looking at her partner, but she could see the girls. They’d moved to stand next to him, mouths forming tiny ‘o’s and their eyebrows arched like the vaulted ceiling of a cathedral as they glanced nervously at one another, holding silent conversation.

Whoa! What was that about?

Lover’s spat, big time.


… …

Part Three

A hot wind rushed into the car, furiously blowing Scully’s hair as she tested the car’s kick on the deserted highway. She rolled all of the windows down as she left the camp, in need of some air to cool her burning face, but it wasn’t helping. She could see herself in the mirror on the back of the sun visor, flushed, ready to ignite. Her eyes took her off guard and she had to put the visor up so she couldn’t see them, pupils dilated until they were black and feral. No wonder Mulder was scared: she looked like she was capable of anything, which, come to think of it, she might be. She didn’t know where she was going, but she knew enough about her temper to get as far from Mulder as she could, for his sake.

Growing up in a family of red-headed rabble-rousers, Scully had learned to cultivate a lot of patience. Still, hers was the legendary temper in the household. She didn’t get upset often, but when she did the entire family would stop, awed by her displays. Tonight she was feverish and itching for a fight. Part of her wanted to drive right back to Mulder – not drive over him, despite her momentary visualization of the act – and have it out with him once and for all on the pebble-lined driveway. If it weren’t for the nuns and the kids, she might have done it, but she was a sailor’s daughter, and the language scalding the back of her throat would have her doing penance until she was sixty. Although, she thought, if they knew what he’d said they might have him doing the penance.

Scully had a high tolerance for Mulder’s hurtful slip-ups. He said things sometimes that she knew he didn’t mean. Things like, “You’re making this personal,” and other statements so colossaly foolish that she rarely held them against him. After a brief solar-flare of anger, in which she visualized taking out her gun and showing him how personal it could be, she simply got over it, moved on.

Why was this so different?

After she’d returned from her little “vacation” with the cigarette smoking man, he’d been upset, hurt. Most of it, she knew, covered the deeper truth – that he’d been scared out of his mind – and that she understood. What she didn’t understand was why it manifested itself as disapproval, as though she’d betrayed him by falling into the CSM’s trap. She had bought it at the time, feeling guilty in a way that surprised her. Part of the problem was that she’d felt guilty for being a pawn, for believing that CGB Spender was trying to redeem himself. How could she have trusted him?

Her first reaction had been to pacify, to smooth things over until Mulder felt better, despite her faint sense of resentment in his seeming lack of trust. And it had worked. They moved right on, past the hard feelings and mistrust, doing what they did best – sublimating.

Then, literally overnight, their relationship morphed.

They’d had a few, for want of a better word, dates that spring. Nights when he would suddenly shown up on her doorstep, or ask if she wanted to meet him at their favorite bistro for a late-night slab of sweet potato pie. It was subtle, always cloaked in an off-handed ease and affability that looked normal from the outside, but inside she’d been screamingly aware of the change. At first, he brought along files, as though he knew to show up with an excuse, but after two or three such nights he quit bringing them altogether, and they spent the evenings discussing things as erudite as their favorite books and as silly as which state had the best tasting tap water. (Best: Alaska. Worst: Florida.) Sadly, the advent of their sexual relationship changed the ease of things a bit. Coming down from the edges of a confusing weekend, feeling drained and raw she had nonetheless been completely unable to pass the sight of a deliciously dreamy-eyed Mulder without taking a bite. Dozing on his couch, that night, she’d felt tuned out, his voice past the sound of individual words, foreign. Still she felt every atom of her skin spark when his finger traced her cheek. She dreamed off and on for a while, half-listening to the sound of him washing tea cups, booting up his computer, and taking a shower. When she woke, lazy and warm, she’d been aware of him in a fundamental way. He was in his room, awake, waiting, she thought, standing to let the blanket fall on the floor. And when she’d looked, sure enough – he was nearing sleep, drowsy, his gaze intent on the doorway. He’d looked warm and golden in the half-light, and so she’d stepped into the room.

After seven years of weighing options, of calculated analysis of the repercussions of every touch, every look, she gave in. She’d blamed it on the strange weekend, on her mood, on the way his bare leg peeked out of the comforter. But in truth, she hadn’t been thinking at all. See what happens when you let yourself go with feelings, Dana, she’d chastised.

Tragedy. The possibility of ruin.

At least it had had that potential. She had, after all, gotten up in the wee-small hours and left, a decision she regretted the minute she closed her own apartment door behind her. So much so that she’d considered driving back over to his place, at least so he wouldn’t wake thinking she regretted what they’d done. She hadn’t bothered going back to bed, too aware, even from that distance, that he’d woken up and reached for her, finding only the empty pillow. The thought had made her sit down on the cold porcelain lip of the tub when she was in the middle of her shower. She’d tried calling him the minute she got out, but he wasn’t there, though the clock barely read five a.m.

He was at work though. She been able to tell by the way her chest tightened as she walked downstairs toward the office, the pain getting progressively worse as she opened the door until finally it snapped like a rubber band around her heart when she saw the top of his head. He was bent over, already sucking on sunflower seeds, which he usually saved for late in the afternoon when he got restless. He’d been scared – she could read it in the line of his jaw and the false affability of his “Morning.”

Finally, hesitantly, he’d looked up and she was instantly paralyzed by the mental picture of a very naked, very gorgeous, Mulder. The thought had made her flush suddenly, but she’d grinned before looking away in embarrassment, and that had seemed to be the one thing she could do to make it all better. His chuckle was plangent, so rich she’d felt it in her bones, and all was well. All was forgiven.

Still, they were far from comfortable with one another. For some reason, Scully had never been able to imagine what came after sex with Mulder. She’d been picturing that scene in glorious detail since the day she met him, but what came next, that was the real mystery. It wasn’t like they were moving their relationship along quickly. They still hesitated before inviting one another over in the evening. Scully still felt gawky and awkward when he showed up, and there was frankly no other way to describe the whole small-talk-that-led-to-the-bedroom as anything other than mortifying, in her opinion. Mulder didn’t seem as fazed by this as she was. Granted, he wasn’t grabbing her for impassioned good morning kisses or holding her hand, but he did watch her differently, as though picturing her unclothed every time he looked at her. It was thrilling, and it was terrifying. It said something about them that it was possible to have unresolved sexual tension even after the resolution. It said something big, but she didn’t know what.

She’d never bought into the notion that they were complete opposites. The details of their personalities were different, to be sure, but they held the same basic ideals – Truth, Justice, Fairness, Equality. Still, on this point they couldn’t have been more different: Mulder was able to speak about his trust for her, but occasionally had a hard time backing it up with action. She, on the other hand, was all deeds and very few words. Scully drove on, taking in big gulps of air until she found herself back in Milford, in front of St. Agnes. On a whim she decided to check to see if the girl’s X-rays could be hurried through with a little badge-flashing. Playing a bossy doctor always cheered her up, and Lord knew she could use some levity. Sure enough, it worked, more or less. She perched in the same plastic-backed chair for two hours until a technician brought her the results, which she waited until she was outside to read.

She leaned on the hood of the car and held the slips of plastic up to the streetlight to read them. Nothing. Not an implant in any of them.

The news seemed to deflate what was left of her anger. She felt calm again, steady. One of the benefits of a flare temper fit like hers was that it tended to be over quickly, passing like a summer storm.

On the way home, she tried to formulate some possible explanations for the spontaneous remissions, but to no avail. She couldn’t think of a single alternative to the chip. Without the implants, the cures made no logical sense, and yet, they couldn’t be coincidences, not on this lake, in this town. Not when she’d received a mysterious lead from an anonymous source. As much as she’d like to believe it.

The lights in the cabins were mostly out when she returned, even those in the cabins that the sisters stayed in, though it was barely eleven o’clock. A few hundred feet down the lake a bonfire glowed, and the shadows of figures slipped over the sand, holding long sticks. She avoided the group, pausing to slide the X-ray results under the door of Mulder’s shed before heading back to Hawthorne.

Inside, only Laurel was asleep, her hands pressed together under her cheek, as though she’d fallen asleep while praying. Scully grabbed her clothes and shut the door to the tiny bathroom. The room was a far cry from the camp latrines of her childhood, with its clear green tiles and padded toilet seat, but the shower curtain had the tell-tale hard water residue and three bathing suits hung from the towel rack, dripping muddy tears onto the floor.

Scully stood under the shower spray until it turned cold, letting the water beat some of the tension and anger out of her back. When she shut off the shower the room was so clouded with steam she could barely make out her pajamas on the washstand. The negative ions in the air always helped renew her sense of calm. Her anger, she noted, had settled into a manageable melancholy, and she felt exhausted for the first time that day.

When she opened the door she could tell that the girls had returned. They were giggling and stage-whispering to one another, so as not to wake Laurel.

“So totally hot,” Scully heard one say as she flipped off the light. The girls stopped talking when she walked in, and Scully smiled at them. Kali and Robin had their lights on and were sitting up in bed, folding some more of their paper animals.

“Hey, Doctor Scully,” said Kali. “You missed the bonfire you know. We made S’mores.”

“They were awesome,” said Janele. “I forgot how good it is to taste stuff. All the sores in my mouth are finally gone.”

The room got quiet, and Scully could tell she was sorry she’d said something like that in front of Prianka. The other girl didn’t seem to notice, however. She remained oblivious, sifting through her bureau, throwing piles of clothing onto the floor.

Scully yawned and slipped into bed, pulling the covers up under her chin. Out the window she could see the tops of the trees and a few wide-eyed stars blinking at her. The light from Robin’s lamp cast shadow puppets on the wall and the image of a swan seemed to dance in the night.

… …

He is wearing the condescending half-smirk on his mouth when she cocks her gun. She pulls the safety off with a click and watches the smile slide off his weathered face. It brings her a bone-deep joy, that look of fear in his eye, but before she can follow through with her threat a muffled giggle pulls her from sleep.

Scully lay curled on her right side, folded into a tiny ball under her quilt with her arm hanging off the edge of the bed, her hand clenched as though holding a gun. It wasn’t until she heard the giggles again that she realized someone had woken her up. From the other side of her curtain three shadows moved stealthily around the room, their shapes grotesquely long in the moonlight. Though cured now, the girls still bore the marks of terminal illness – their skin as translucent as rice paper, their hair thin and limp. Most of the campers she’d seen so far seemed tethered to earth by a thin string. It wouldn’t take much to move them from this life: a breath from God would blow their souls out of their bodies and into eternity.

“Come on!” one whispered, and the three shadows faded until Scully heard the click of the door. Her watch glowed on her arm and she tilted it up to read. 1:03.

After a moment of silence, Scully slipped from bed and padded toward the front window. As she passed through, she noticed Laurel was the only girl still in the room, lying undisturbed under her blanket. Prianka’s bed had the pillows stuffed under the covers, though nobody could possibly believe that monstrous pile was the girl.

Out the front window the moonlight reflecting off the lake, washing everything in a blue, moody glow. Fog had developed near the shore and between the trees, but that didn’t prevent Scully from catching sight of Mulder standing on the opposite shore. She wiped the condensation from the glass and peered closer. Sure enough, her partner was over there, waiting, watchful.

He’d moved the car away from the nuns’ main cabin and parked it halfway up the drive, where it idled without the lights on. As she watched, out of the mist two other figures appeared, moving toward him on stork legs. She recognized Prianka’s gait and the girl who wouldn’t eat her toast at breakfast. They all climbed into the car, which cruised to the road before flipping on the lights.

What on earth was he doing with those girls at midnight? Suddenly, Scully felt very left out. Not only did she have no explanation for the miracle cures that the girls had experienced, and no idea who had orchestrated her being here, she wasn’t sure what her own partner was up to. There had to be a logical explanation. Maybe he was taking them home, maybe they needed to go to the hospital. But why would that require sneaking out in the middle of the night?

Scully left the window to slide on a pair of jeans and her sneakers, then stalked out of the cabin. The air outside was muggy and stifling, like breathing underwater. In the silence of the camp she could hear trampling coming from the lake shore and she jogged off into the grass, careful to keep a reasonable distance from the sand. In the distance, she saw the sweep of flashlights as the three girls navigated around a flock of sleeping ducks on the beach. Robin waded into the water and stooped to pick up a shiny piece of metal, which she popped into her shoe box before catching up with the others. They moved around a bend in the shore and then the sound of crickets was the only sound in the night.

Scully stood outside for a few long minutes, perplexed. If this had been a normal summer camp she would have sworn the girls were off to meet some members of the boy’s camp, but St. Ignatius was five miles away. And besides, that did nothing to explain what Mulder was doing carting around two other camp members in the middle of the night. Sighing, Scully trudged back to the cabin and pushed open the door.

In the milky glow of moonlight, the silver webs of the girls’ origami figures seemed to shimmer. Scully noticed for the first time that they were decorated. So that’s what all the junk had been for. Each figure was adorned with bits of Robin’s beach-front finds. A dark shoestring for hair, ribbons for skirts, mismatched earrings for eyes. Scully took a minute to admire the obvious amount of work that had gone into the menagerie before slipping out of her shoes and back into bed.

This time, she didn’t bother getting undressed.

… …

“It’s like the movie ‘Groundhog Day’,” groaned Kali as she leapt from bed, flinging her blanket onto the floor. “Every morning is exactly the same.”

Not exactly. This time it was a sparrow, and the air reverberated with the cries and wing beats of the animal.

“Just once I’d like to actually wake up to my alarm clock,” Robin said, coming to join Kali at the window. Scully jumped out of bed and lifted the pane of glass, hoping the lack of a reflection would stop the bird, but instead it just thumped against the screen and the girls shrieked. Slamming the window shut, Scully put her hands on her hips and stood in front of it to get their attention.

“Let’s ignore it. We can be early to breakfast this morning,” she said cheerily, trying not to flinch each time she heard a thump behind her back. The girls stared at her rent-to-own smile as though they surely couldn’t be expected to fall for this kind of optimism, but a few more whacks on the window and they were up and wiggling into their shirts and shorts.

Prianka, Scully noted, had made it back to her cot and was unusually energetic. Scully kept an eye on the girl through breakfast, but she didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. Mulder hadn’t made it to breakfast yet, so Scully didn’t have a chance to question him before she set off for the morning checkups.

She’d laid awake for quite a while the night before trying to imagine how their first conversation of the day would go. She still hadn’t talked to him about the X-ray results, and the thought of approaching him left her nervous and wary. If they were true to form, she thought, neither one would mention the fight again. While it seemed like the more logical scenario, something in Scully hoped that wasn’t the way it turned out, much as she hated the thought of dredging up the issue again.

How were they supposed to get anything accomplished if they kept ignoring it? She wasn’t sure that Mulder was capable of understanding how his lack of trust affected her. Maybe talking about it would never accomplish anything, but now, of all times, she thought they’d better give it a shot.

With the afternoon free, Scully watched the girls leave the medical cabin for their favorite spots. Sister Susannah was offering a calligraphy class in the main cabin, and one of the nurses had been persuaded to spend the day teaching a group of campers how to bake bread. “Very therapeutic,” the nurse was saying as she led them toward the kitchen. Most of the girls, however, headed for the arts and crafts cabin. Scully saw them through the windows in the afternoon, gluing popsicle sticks and molding crooked clay pots. The camp wasn’t an active place, in that way.

The basketball court had weeds growing knee-tall through the cracked asphalt, and the lake was unruffled by swimming lessons or canoes. Several girls took towels onto the lawn chairs and rested in the warm sun, listlessly thumbing through magazines.

The sight of all the illness and sorrow gripped Scully’s heart and she headed off behind the cabin to a trail that meandered through the woods, hoping to clear her head. She felt in her pocket for the vial that held her chip and tried not to think about the possibility of death. As though on cue, a dull throb of headache began between her eyes, and she teared up, suddenly swamped by both terror and anger. A few tears slipped free, and she let them fall onto the ground below. It was coincidence. She was fine.

So far.

Scully hiked until the sun was high overhead, using a thin switch to thrash through the tangle of underbrush. Finally, the muscles in her thighs screamed at her to stop, and she wished she’d brought some water. The sunlight dappled the forest floor, giving it the still, peaceful feel of a high-lit cathedral. Maybe, she thought, she could take a real vacation when they got back. She’d planned to get away from it all on several occasions, but every time something seemed to fall through. When she was being brutally honest with herself she was inclined to admit it was because she was put off by the idea of leaving Mulder. Not that she was incapable of having a good time by herself. She was, after all, quite used to it. But though they spent six nights out of seven alone in their respective apartments, she felt aware of every hour they were apart. She always had.

Scully picked up her pace again, following the thin line of dirt visible through the grass until it seemed to disappear into a knot of raspberry bushes. She had turned to go back when she realized where she was. Ahead, through a clump of trees, was a house – a familiar house. Scully took a few steps forward, staying within the cover of the forest just in case.

“Agent Scully?”

She whirled around. To her left, an elderly woman stood with a pair of clipping shears where she must have been cutting back the giant rhododendron that bordered the tree line. The woman was Marjorie Butters, another of CGB Spender’s charity cases. It took Scully off guard. She’d assumed Ms. Butters lived miles from the lakefront home. With a pang she realized it was yet another of his illusions. He could have driven her around for hours on the Pennsylvania back roads and she’d never have known they were going in circles.

“I never imagined you’d find me,” the woman continued, as though she was sure Scully had been looking for her. “I should have known that you were capable, of course, but I just never imagined. Please, come on out.” She gestured toward her lawn. Her voice was startlingly familiar.

“You’re the person who gave me the tip about the camp.” Scully stepped out of the tree line and into the light as the woman nodded. It was a long moment before she spoke.

“So…I guess you’re wondering why I called you?”

Her jaw set, Scully shrugged, wondering how many feet away the cigarette smoking man was and whether he had his binoculars set on them. At this point, she no longer cared.

“No. CGB Spender put you up to it. So, what happens now?”

The woman looked surprised. “Mr. Spender? Put me up to what? Calling you? Oh, no, I’m afraid you’ve got it all wrong.”

“Then by all means, explain it to me.” Scully’s voice was icy, but something about the gentle-faced woman wouldn’t allow her to be rude outright. She wondered what it said about her that her inner moralist insisted on good manners even in the face of people like this. “Won’t you please come sit down,” Marjorie asked, motioning toward two fold-up lawn chairs under a shade tree. “Get out of this hot sun.”

Scully moved toward a chair and sat, her shoulders so ramrod straight they didn’t even touch the back of the seat. She watched as Marjorie poured out two glasses of lemonade and handed her one. Scully thunked her glass onto the card table.

“What did you want me to explain, exactly, Ms. Scully? Why I called you?”

“All of it,” Scully said. “Why you called, who you are, what you know about these girls. And you can start by telling me how old you really are.”

The woman smiled and nodded enthusiastically. “It’s true. What we told you, I mean. I’m 118 years old.” She leaned forward and put a wrinkled hand on Scully’s leg, taking in Scully’s look of disbelief.

“No, honestly, I am. I was born in Pittsburgh in 1882. ‘Course that was under the name Marjorie Winters. I had to change my last name for obvious reasons.”

“And you’re still alive because of the chip?” Scully asked, hoping to cut through the BS as soon as possible.

Marjorie looked confused and then put her hand up to rub the back of her neck.

“This? Oh, no, the chip isn’t what cured me. The aliens cured me.”

Scully twisted in her chair, nudging the table so hard her lemonade sloshed over the side of her glass. She clenched her jaw to help relieve some of her aggravation and then nodded as if trying to humor a fantasy-prone child – or Mulder for that matter.

“The aliens.”

Marjorie smiled. “Honey, I don’t expect you to believe that off the bat, but I’m telling you the truth. I was taken in 1972, on my way home from my ninetieth birthday party.”

Scully raised her eyebrows. “You weren’t abducted until you were ninety?”

Marjorie laughed. “Nope. Me and Howie were both taken that night.” Here, she stopped, focusing on something that seemed situated above Scully’s shoulder. “Howie wasn’t ever returned.”

“Howie was your husband?”

“No, Howie was my great-grandson. He was sixteen – just got his driver’s license. He said, ‘Grandma, let me show you how I can drive that Lincoln. I promise you an unforgettable ride,’ and I let him.” The woman sighed and the look in her eyes seemed damp and every day over a century as she talked about the boy.

“What about the chip?” Scully asked.

“Mr. Spender came to see me not too awful long after I was returned. I made the mistake of telling my kids and grandkids what had happened, and they all thought I was senile, of course. My daughter Mary was going to put me in a nursing home. The only thing that kept them from doing it right off was that Howie was missing, and they figured something must have happened to us. The Pittsburgh paper even printed that Howie had been kidnapped by guys in gray alien masks, but that’s not what happened at all.”

She stopped again to reminisce, and Scully prompted her. “And then Mr. Spender came…”

“And then he came and offered me a deal. He said he’d keep me out of the nursing home if I’d let them monitor me and give me a medical checkup every once in a while. He was the only one who believed me when I said it was aliens, so I said yes. Wait, hang on a second.”

Marjorie got up and put her hand out, indicating that Scully should stay seated, then she walked into the house. Scully took advantage of the break to gulp down her lemonade and to gather her thoughts. When Marjorie returned she had a photo album with her, which she situated on her lap with reverence.

“This is Mr. Spender and me in 1972.” The photo was grainy and bright, as though taken in a place with too many glaring lights, but sure enough, there she was, standing next to CGB Spender and surrounded by other men. Scully forced a swallow when she noticed Alvin Kurtzweil and Bill Mulder in the background.

“And that’s when they gave you the chip?”

“Well, at first it was much bigger. I had surgery and they put it in my back. It wasn’t until 1988 that I got the smaller chip. It was for monitoring me, they said. So they’d know where I was and if I was okay.”

“And were you abducted again?” Scully asked, curious despite herself. For some reason, she believed this woman, though she would be hard pressed to explain why.

“No, never. Just the one time. Actually, I asked Mr. Spender if we could stop the medical tests about ten years ago, because I’d stopped being afraid of being abducted again, but he said he’d rather keep going, so I did. Now I even sort of look forward to them,” she admitted. “I don’t get a lot of company. I’m not allowed to have contact with my family, and I have to move every fifteen years or so.” Here she sniffed and looked around at her immaculate lawn. “I’ve only got three more years here and then I’ll have to go.”

Marjorie’s sadness was palpable, and Scully felt the sympathy stir in her again. “And why did you call me and not Mr. Spender with the camp news?”

“Because I don’t know how to get in touch with him,” the woman stated simply. “He’s always come to get me, never the other way around. I don’t even know who he works for.” She laughed. “Isn’t that silly? All these years and I don’t know anything about him.”

“Not silly,” Scully muttered.

“I’ve known Sister Mary-Kenneth since I moved here twelve years ago. We’ve gotten to be good friends and I occasionally work at the camp. I was there the day they discovered those seven girls had been cured. Well, naturally I didn’t want to say anything about it, but I thought someone should know. I remembered your name and knew you were a friend of Mr. Spender’s so I called you.”

“Why all the secrecy then, the anonymous message?” Scully asked, ignoring the way her stomach rebelled when Marjorie used the word “friend.”

“I didn’t want you to accidentally drop my name in town,” the woman replied, pouring Scully another glass of lemonade. “For local reasons I don’t want my name tied up with alien abductions and all that. Milford isn’t a big place. Folks get wind of an FBI agent visiting me they’re going to have questions.”

“But these girls haven’t said a thing about abductions,” Scully said, shaking her head. “Not one of them has mentioned it in any way.”

This seemed to shock Marjorie. She let the pitcher drop onto the table. “What do you mean?”

“I mean that not only don’t they claim to have been abducted, there’s no indication whatsoever that they’re even aware of the possibility. They’re fine.”

“Well now, that’s mighty peculiar.” Marjorie stopped and shook her head in bewilderment. “Then I guess there’s only one explanation.”

The silence stretched between them as Scully cooled her hot palms on her lemonade glass.

“What’s that?” she asked, half-knowing the answer.

Marjorie looked at her, staring solemnly into her eyes.

“It must really be a miracle.”

… …

Part Four

She heard Mulder before she saw him – heard the scrape of a shovel against dirt and rock as she wended her way back along the trail toward camp. Sure enough, he was bent over, adding that morning’s corpse to the burgeoning mass grave. A few of the birds were still alive, those he left untouched, lifting them up with his shovel and laying them gently in the grass under a tree.

She had a curious feeling of relief when she caught sight of him. Oddly, all of her anger seemed to have broken up and flown away. She’d never been able to stay mad at him for long. Now all she was interested in was telling him about Marjorie Butters and seeing what he thought about the girls’ X-rays.

“Mulder,” she called, trampling off the path over some large rocks to get to him faster.

His head whipped up and he straightened, watching her nervously while she maneuvered over a fallen tree covered in moss. She was out of breath when she reached him, moving through a dizzy cloud of gnats that she swatted away impatiently.

“Did you see the X-rays?” she asked, ignoring the way he searched her face for signs of storm clouds. He remained silent and she arched an eyebrow and waited for a response. Finally, she smiled her encouragement. Just the slightest lifting of the corners of her mouth. It was not an apology, she thought, but it was recognition that he was forgiven. His relief was obvious, though possibly only to her. The muscles in his neck and shoulders seemed to relax as she watched him.

“Yeah, and I’ve been looking for you. There’s been another miracle.”

His use of the word miracle instead of cure did not go unnoticed by her, but she filed that away for future reference, plowing on to get the details.


“Prianka Bansal,” he said, “A nurse from St. Agnes called. They’ve checked the blood work you sent over this morning three times. She’s just like the others. No sign at all.”

Her pulse was so loud in her head she could feel it like the roar of the sea. Whatever was happening was still going on then, she thought, which meant they had a chance of finding the truth.

Finally, she remembered that she had news for him too.

“Mulder, I know who my source was.”

His manner changed instantly, just the slightest tensing of his jaw, but she recognized it as though he’d shouted. This was an issue he did not want to get into again. It made him nervous, and she took the shovel from his hands and leaned it against a sycamore tree. It was then she noticed the odd sense of quiet over the camp. Though by no means boisterous, there were usually the thin high voices of girls on porches or the sound of feet trampling the dry grass. She walked away from Mulder and out to the front of the cabin. Not a soul was visible.

“They all went into town to see a movie,” he explained, walking up behind her.

There was something heartbreaking about a camp without children, she thought, before turning to look at her partner. She picked up the thread of their conversation as he followed her down to the dock.

“Marjorie Butters,” she said, glancing up at him. In typical Mulder fashion he’d gotten a tan in the day and a half they’d been here. With the sun above him he looked even darker, and all she could see clearly were the lines around his eyes. Too old, she thought. We’re too old to start over with someone else.

“The woman that Spender stopped to see?”

She nodded. “I thought she lived miles from here, but her house is at the top of one of those hills,” she said, waving vaguely behind them. “I found it when I went for a walk.”

They stopped at the end of the dock and settled on the edge, trailing their feet over the side. Mulder had to ditch his shoes so they didn’t get wet, but her feet swung inches above the surface of the water. Scully laid back, folding her hands behind her head, and closed her eyes as she began to tell him about her morning meeting. Occasionally, Mulder made encouraging sounds. Finally, her tale spent, she listened to the soft lap of water against the pilings. Her headache had dulled. She wondered if that had anything to do with her relief at being able to talk to Mulder again. “So,” he said easily, as though the reply were not fraught with implications, “do you believe her?”

He had taken pains to remove any vestiges of his own doubt from his voice. After all this time she had no trouble being able to tell things like that. The thought moved her. He was trying hard now, to take her word for anything. She suspected that was what he thought she wanted – unequivocal acceptance – but he had it wrong. She had no interest in him thinking she was perfect, and she treasured their debates more than almost anything, but the fact that he was willing to take direction was one of her favorite Mulder characteristics, flawed principle or not. See, she thought, he can be taught. Scully smiled at his back, wondering what he would do if she reached out to trace the tensed muscles in his shoulders. She could touch them from here, all she would have to do is reach a hand out…

Mulder jumped when her hand came in contact with him, and his swinging legs, which had been knocking into hers under the dock, stopped. He swallowed and turned his head as if to look back at her. Self-conscious, she pulled her hand away and closed her eyes again. They were closed when he glanced down at her, though she could feel his gaze over her face hotter than the scorch of the sun.

In the months since the advent of their courageous leap into intimacy, they had still never gotten comfortable with touching one another. Mulder, she’d noticed, was even more hesitant about it than he had been in the first weeks of their partnership. It was as though they were both so careful not to take liberties that they’d frozen in a stalled position, like a car left running in neutral.

He scooted closer to her, his thigh brushing hers, sending little sparks of awareness from her toes to her scalp. She opened her eyes.

“Yeah. I do. I can’t explain why.” Scully paused, searching for a reasonable explanation. “She seemed to be telling the truth. But maybe I’m fooling myself – maybe I just want to believe.”

She watched as he looked away, a quirk of his lips in place along with a look of gentle regard.

I want to believe in aliens and you want to believe people are fundamentally honest.

She chuckled beside him, wondering if he knew how easy he was to read. Who needed subtitles when you read Mulderface? Her quiet laugh made his smile broaden and he swung his legs companionably again, letting them brush hers. They sat in silence, soaking up the warmth of the sun and each other’s presence, refilling their supplies of Vitamin D and one another. I have a Vitamin Mulder deficiency, she thought idly. A terminal case.

“Mulder,” she said, suddenly reminded of his late night antics, “where did you take those girls last night?”

He fiddled with the laces on one of his shoes, seeming lost in thought.

“Hmmm?” he asked, yawning. “The two girls. Last night. I saw you drive off with them. Where did you go?”

“Oh,” he seemed to catch on, looking sheepishly down at the lake, trailing one brown foot through the water. “I took them to the Frosty Cheer.”

“You what?” This she could not believe. It was almost enough to make her laugh out loud.

“Frosty Cheer,” he said again, slowly, and with utter seriousness.

“And why did you decide to make a midnight ice-cream run, if you don’t mind me asking?” She tried to hold back a smile, but failed.

He shrugged as though embarrassed and she watched his profile in the sunlight.

“They don’t seem to be able to do ordinary things, Scully. It’s all health food and hospital monitors. Some of the girls mentioned they’d like to do something normal, so I took them. It’s open all night in the summer,” he added, as though that should clear things up.

“Well,” Scully said thoughtfully, “these aren’t ordinary girls, Mulder. They’re…dying. That requires a lot of care and vigilance on the part of the sisters. There’s not much room for mistakes.”

She could see him warming up to the conversation. He turned to look down at her. In the white light his eyes were as green as marsh grass.

“Exactly. And if they’re dying isn’t that even more of a reason to give them the best time while they’re here? I mean, assuming you’re not hurting them?”

She nodded. It was, of course, the typical Mulder philosophy. Not that she disagreed with him, but considering how strict and totalitarian he’d been with her during her cancer, it was funny to hear him advocate the other side. She knew she was the exception to the rule, just as he would be, and it didn’t bother her. Their saving of one another was not the stuff of high drama, but of necessity. She had been ready to die, prepared for it, waiting for the final call into eternity with the patience of the hopeless, but Mulder wouldn’t allow it. She was not awed by this fact. It was too familiar. She had stood by his bed too, and willed him into life.

“Anyway,” he said, “they’re just kids. Girls who probably won’t live to see another summer. If ice-cream and a little swim makes them feel normal, that’s the least I can do.” He paused before continuing. “Fourteen-years-old, Scully. These young women, dying…it’s not fair.” His voice was low and hurt.

And there you had it, she thought. All this time the girls had reminded her of her own sickness and mortality, and Mulder had been seeing them both as stand-ins for Samantha and herself. Funny how you never seemed to get past some things.

She leaned back on her hands and shut her eyes again to keep from having to see the pain etched on his face.

“Did you go to summer camp when you were a kid, Scully?”

“Mmmm,” she hummed, “Camp Cherokee for two summers when I was a teenager. I ran the newspaper.”

He laughed. “Why doesn’t that surprise me? Running the paper was a good idea, you could say you were doing research for a story when you snuck out to meet the boys. I should have thought of that one.”

“I never snuck out.”

“What do you mean? You never snuck out to meet a boy, Scully?”

She squinted up at him, glad to see that the lines around his eyes had smoothed out with this new turn of conversation. She couldn’t handle it when he looked beaten, it tore her up inside.

“I was short, Mulder, freckled and red-haired, and I sunburned on the first day of camp every year without fail. On top of which, I was a bookworm. So, no, I didn’t sneak out much.”

Mulder grinned evilly down at her.

“And I suppose you were the lothario of your summer camp?”

She could picture it. Mulder as the dark-eyed brooding type that every teenage girl swooned over. The kind, come to think of it, who would never have given her the time of day, not that she would have wanted him to. He shrugged and did his best to appear humble.

“Now that you mention it,” he said.

She rolled her eyes, preparing to dress him down, wipe the smirk off his face, but he suddenly twisted to look down at her. “Scully,” he said abruptly. “How many cots are there in your cabin?”

She stared at him for a moment, unsure where the conversation had gotten to.


“And didn’t you say that Prianka and that other girl were new to the cabin?”

Scully nodded, trying to follow his train of thought.

“Laurel. Yeah, they moved in last week.”


She shrugged and fumbled to see if she remembered any explanation given. “I don’t know.”

“Were the other four cured girls in Hawthorne too? Are they all from the same cabin?”

She caught on. If they were all in the same cabin that might have something to do with it. It might not be random.

“I’ll have to find out from Sister Mary-Kenneth,” she said. Almost immediately she caught sight of the pink camp bus as it came jouncing down the drive. Some of the girls stuck their arms out of the windows to wave. She continued to spout out instructions as she stood, excited now, nudging Mulder’s shoes toward him. “If it turns out the other girls were in the cabin, it will at least help narrow down the possibilities. Something environmental, maybe. Something they’ve all eaten?” “So, you don’t believe it could be a miracle?” He looked genuinely surprised by this fact. Granted, she’d shown an uncharacteristic open-mindedness about divine miracles and other spiritual mysteries in the past, but he seemed to be missing the big picture.

She pulled a face. “Mulder, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, this camp is not a mile away from the place where I met the DOD employee. The man, I might add, who claimed to have the cure for all human disease.”

He nodded, “Yeah, but if you’re right, and Marjorie Butters isn’t in on this with CGB Spender, and the girls don’t have the chips, what other explanation could there be?”

She looked at him, shocked. “You’re asking me about other explanations? Are you crazy? You actually think this could be a miracle?”

He didn’t answer, just turned to wave as some of the girls passed the dock, hiding his face from her, but not before she could see the desperate hope in his eyes.

… …

Laurel was not happy with being tested for the second time in a day, not that Scully blamed her. The girl’s arms were blue, bruised from bloodletting, and on her thin skin even the gentlest fingers left their marks. Scully tightened the tourniquet around the child’s bicep, keeping an eye on Mulder through the cabin window as he talked to Sister Mary-Kenneth.

“Are you sure there’s nothing wrong?” Laurel asked, breaking Scully’s concentration. The girl was fidgety, suspicious that her own tests marked a worsening of her condition. Still, she maintained the carefully casual attitude particular to a teenaged girl. Scully read her expression though, the thin hope that seemed to ring her brown eyes.

“No. There’s nothing wrong. I just wanted to be sure.”

Scully slipped the vial of blood into the cooler while Laurel slid off the table and headed for the door, wafting outside without a backward glance.

When Scully turned back to look out the window, Mulder was making his way across camp, his fast pace giving away his excitement. So it’s true, she thought.

“It’s true,” he announced as he walked in the door. “All of the cured girls have resided in the Hawthorne cabin. What does that say to you, Scully?”

Professor Mulder, she thought. From the day she met him, with his smug little smile and his adorable glasses, the day when he posed to her that first pop quiz – “Do you believe in the existence of extraterrestrials?” – she had wanted to alternately punch him or kiss him. But she’d had enough of wanting to punch him, for the time being, and the second option was looking better and better.

“It tells me that this isn’t a miracle after all, Mulder. Not unless an angel of mercy is assigned to that particular cabin.”

Mulder chuckled and drummed his fingers onto the table, looking more eager than he had since he’d arrived.

“So the question becomes, what do these girls have in common? What’s in there?”

Scully nodded, “Or, if there’s only one girl left in the bunk who isn’t cured, what makes her the odd one out?”

Scully tapped the cooler. “I took Laurel’s blood again and I’m taking it to the lab. If Prianka was sick yesterday and well this morning, something might have happened to Laurel this afternoon. At least we’d know to ask where she was and what she did today if that’s the timeframe.”

Mulder agreed, and she walked to the car for her third trip to St. Agnes in forty-eight hours, while her partner went to inspect the cabin.

… …

Part Five

It was nearly midnight when Scully arrived back, tired, sore and disappointed after her long wait. All the lights in the cabins were out, save the few that illuminated the pebbled paths. In the darkness, a spotlight made the statue of St. Agnes glow like a star. Scully let herself into Hawthorne with a sigh, stopping inside the door until her vision adjusted to the wash of moonlight so she could navigate the piles of teenage litter. She stepped over towers of magazines and stacks of clothing on her way to retrieve her pajamas. In the bathroom, she wrung out a bathing suit that was soaking in the sink so she could wash her face.

She heard the first gentle thunk when she flipped off the pink lava lamp that passed for a nightlight in the bathroom. Not another one, she pleaded, stopping to listen. But all was quiet for a long moment and she slipped her shoes off before she heard it again. Another tiny tap against the screen. She peeked around the curtain.

It wasn’t a bird. It was a stone.

He was sitting in the lowest limb of the crab apple tree, which still put him above window-level, and he was grinning. She slid the glass up and whispered toward him.

“You know, you could just knock on the door, Mulder.”

He feigned horror.

“And risk getting caught? Scully, if my head counselor finds out I snuck over here I’m gonna be on KP duty for the rest of the week. I won’t get to go to the weenie roast.”

She couldn’t help the delighted chuckle that rose up in her. God, this is what she loved about the man. No wonder she couldn’t hold a grudge against him.

“Are you asking me to sneak out of my cabin?”

He jumped from the tree branch with the agility of a fifteen-year-old and positioned himself below the window.

“Now or never, Scully. I’ll catch you,” he said.

Suddenly she was not tired. She wasn’t even close to being tired.

Her latent teenager was, frankly, giddy. She made a face at the few feathers still stuck to the screen as she slid it up. Then she picked up her sneakers and tossed them to the ground next to Mulder. He put his arms up like he was expecting her to literally jump at him, though when he stood he could nearly see in the window; it was barely an inch over his head.

Carefully, she slid her legs out, then twisted to face the open window. He grabbed her legs.

“Don’t pull,” she whispered furiously, trying to get the window shut before lowering herself any further. Below her, Mulder chuckled and tightened his grip around her thighs, pressing his face into her spine. She was sure he could feel the way her muscles vibrated as she held in her laughter.

“Sshhh,” she instructed as she closed the window. Mulder began to set her on the ground but she twisted around and gripped him around the neck, wrapping her legs around his.


“Mulder, need I remind you that there are bird guts all over the ground? I don’t have shoes on. Now,” she ordered, “walk me over to the tree.”

His laughter seemed to move directly from his body into hers. She could feel it sparking along her nerve endings as he unhooked her legs from his, setting her bare feet down on top of his boots. It was a nice idea, but bending over to get her shoes from that position was complex, rather too much like a game of twister. By the time they reached the shoes it constituted more full-body contact than they’d had in nearly two weeks.

Finally, he waltzed them toward the crab apple tree, where she pulled herself onto a limb. She slid her shoes on, grinning as Mulder carefully double-knotted them. She jumped down, feeling less ridiculous standing on her own two feet, not that she wasn’t willing to give up a little dignity for some shameless touching. Besides, she assured herself, they were in the dark, nobody could see them. Nonetheless, she avoided the gaze of the virginal St. Agnes as they walked toward the lake shore.

Mulder, she saw, had put a little forethought into his supposedly impromptu slyness. A small fire burned down the beach, and she saw a package of marshmallows sitting against one of the railroad ties that made low benches around the flame.

It was a cloudy evening, cool enough that the fog drifted up into the hills, leaving misty fingerprints on the vegetation. The air had the smell of impending storm, and clouds gathered around the moon. It was warm, and sitting next to a fire was likely to be uncomfortable. They pulled the railroad tie bench a good distance from the flames and speared marshmallows onto sticks in silence.

“Scully, I feel I should warn you that our relationship is about to go through its biggest test.”

She turned her attention away from the fire and glanced up at him nervously. She was enjoying this ease, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to get into serious matters again.

“And that would be…?”

“The marshmallow test,” he said seriously.

“The marshmallow test.”

“Yes,” he said, “it’s very important. How you like your marshmallow says a lot about a person, and it could turn out that we’re completely unsuited for one another.”

She swallowed the smile that itched to appear and focused on his face. Light from the fire bathed one side in a golden glow, and on the other, the moon tinted him in blue.

“Tell me something I don’t know,” she said.

“Me, for example,” he continued, ignoring her, “I like mine barely done. Hot on the outside but firm on the inside. Medium rare, if you will.”

“That is a tragedy,” she said, gesturing toward where his stick was still in the fire, “because yours is burnt to a crisp.”

He quickly pulled his stick and brought the marshmallow up to examine it. The outside was black and he had to blow on it to put the fire out. Scully reeled her own back in and stared at it, shaking her head. “We have a problem, Mulder,” she said.

“Damn.” He was carefully trying to remove the mess of goo from his branch.

“Seems like you got the marshmallow I wanted and I got the one you wanted.”

Mulder looked down at her. She waved her stick in front of him. “Will we pass the test if we rescue each other from our marshmallow emergencies?”

He grinned and opened his mouth. She had to concentrate on putting the candy into his mouth, since she sincerely doubted she’d be able to look him in the eye and do what she needed to do next. As he watched, she lifted his hand from the stick and sucked the marshmallow off his finger. He didn’t move as she chewed, and continued to stare at her after she’d swallowed. She felt herself blush, but didn’t back down. It was high time she learned how to do this.

“See, Mulder. The way I like mine are more fun.”

He cleared his throat. “Well, I’m converted.” The fire grew warmer as the minutes passed, until finally they doused it with sand and watched as it choked out, leaving them under the solemn light of the stars.

Mulder wrapped his arm around her back, tentatively, as though scared of a rebuff. He jerked his head in the direction of the rickety diving platform in the center of the lake.

“Race you to the dock, Scully.”

“You want us to swim out there?”

“Don’t try to tell me you don’t swim. I know better.”

“No,” she said, “of course I swim. But I’m not wearing a bathing suit.”

Mulder snorted. “I can see why you never snuck out of summer camp, Scully. The lack of a suit is the whole point.”

“Mulder, there are nuns here.”

He nodded slowly, as if completely missing the point.

“Nuns and children, Mulder,” she reiterated. “And while I’m sure that with your vivid imagination you can concoct a scenario in which I strip within viewing distance of nuns, I’m going to have to decline.”

“I take it that’s a no?”

“A never, actually. Not going to happen. Sorry, partner.”

They both stared at the dying embers of the fire, which continued to smoke. Mulder grinned and tightened his arm around her back.

“You could sing me that second verse of ‘Jeremiah Was A Bullfrog’, Scully,” he said, “I didn’t get to hear you do that the last time.”

Why did he remember that? Traditional wisdom said he wasn’t supposed to remember the sentimental, random details of their past, but he did. This fact had always amazed her, his purposely bland expression every time she ordered iced-tea, the fact that he never mentioned Oregon without calling it “the plausible state of,” his new-found aversion to bees. She wondered what else he remembered that she was unaware of. She suspected that he was like her, too full of memories at this point to even begin sifting through them.

In the early days of their partnership she collected pieces of him like broken treasures from a shipwreck. They navigated rough waters and she placed her pieces in the deep pockets of her soul.

At some point – she didn’t know when exactly – she realized that her pockets had long since been filled. The spare room in her interior that she had so long cherished was filled with glittering Muldertrinkets. Occasionally this seemed a great tragedy, all the possibility for pain and vulnerability, but most of the time she knew that it was the weight of carrying him around with her that kept her tethered to the earth.

Mulder pulled her a little closer and she leaned into him.

“I don’t wanna wrestle.”

“Hell, I do,” he murmured, moving his hand under the hem of her T-shirt, settling it on her back. Scully’s internal combustion engine began to rev – she was a sucker for this, it was true. She moved in toward his neck. He smelled like burned marshmallows, dark and sweet.

“Nuns and children,” she muttered, hoping to remind herself.

Mulder made a disappointed noise.

“Tough, Scully,” he said, “you’re very tough.”

Yes, I am, she thought, but you’re tough too, Mulder. Scully sobered up a little, recalling their day-long truce. It was easier now to talk about what she’d been meaning to tell him all along. She watched as the smoke from the smothered fire trailed up into the sky. Trust her partner to stage this whole scenario so that she could capture some missed part of her chronically pure youth. Mulder’s brand of devilishness was something she could deal with, hell, even appreciate. At his worst – and he could be abominable – he at least had his fundamental truths right. Unlike some people she could name.

“I fell asleep in the car that night,” she began, noticing the subtle tensing of the muscles in his arm when she spoke. “We’d been driving all day, and he wouldn’t let me know where we were going. I guess I must have fallen asleep, and when I woke up the next morning I was wearing my pajamas.”

She paused to let this sink in, and he ran a hand violently through his hair. His anger wasn’t directed at her, she knew, but she waited for him to settle down before continuing.

“I was so…angry…when I woke up.” This was not the full truth.

She looked up at him, hoping that might make it easier to confess. His jaw was clenched so hard she was afraid he might break a tooth. She pressed her face into his neck and felt him relax. It was all she could do not to stop talking, but she’d promised herself that she wouldn’t back down from this. She blinked once, slowly, and took a deep breath before looking at him again. His eyes were wary; he didn’t want to hear any more bad news.

“I was scared, Mulder.”

His voice was sandpaper rough. “Me too.”

She nodded and he tightened his arm around her back. It was easier to continue when he was not looking at her, and she continued to talk, this time with her cheek on his shoulder.

“I don’t think he did anything to me. Not that way. I still had the recorder in my bra.”

She wondered if he heard the note of hopefulness in her voice. Under her arms, his body seemed to vibrate, like he was gearing up for vengeance.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

His voice was leached of all accusation, but a note of hurt threaded through despite his best intentions.

“I didn’t know what to say,” she answered. “The thought of that man’s hands on me, Mulder—” She stopped, feeling the anger rise up in her again, boiling beneath the surface. The rage felt good. For so many weeks afterward she had felt vaguely ashamed, as though if she’d been a better, more vigilant agent she would have woken up and protected herself.

Mulder must have felt her temper flaring, because true to form he began to calm. His breathing evened under her ear, and he began stroking a soft path down her back. They sat that way for long minutes, until she spoke again.

“I needed…I need you to understand why I went with him. I need you to trust me to do what I think is right.”

“I trust you, Scully,” Mulder murmured. “You know I do.”

“I know you say you do,” she pulled back and looked up into his eyes. “And I know you believe that you do. But you were angry with me when I came back, Mulder. Angry because I’d made a decision you didn’t agree with. And even though I knew I’d done the only thing I could at the time, I still felt guilty about it. I’m done feeling guilty.” She kept her tone soft, but there was a warning behind it that she was sure he picked up on. “I can only do what I think is right.”

He turned and looked down at her. His eyes were dark and deep in the shadows of the night.

“I’m sorry,” he said softly. His eyes never left hers. “Forgive me, Scully.”

She felt tears threatening, and she leaned into him, tightening her arms around his waist, hugging him with all her might.


They sat, bound down in the moment and one another’s presence, for long minutes. Scully thought of the other details she’d neglected to mention. Now was the time for honesty, she thought. Now was the time to break her silence. It took her a moment to push the words past the lump in her throat, and when she spoke, Mulder’s hand stopped its stroke down her back.

“He said I fell asleep and that he carried me into the house,” she whispered. “He said I was exhausted and that’s why I didn’t wake up.”

“Bullshit.” Mulder’s voice was a growl.

She huffed a laugh of relief. She didn’t believe it either, but hearing it from him was the assurance she needed.

“You don’t think?”

“Scully, you wake up when anyone touches you.”

Except me.

“Except me,” he continued. She smiled into his shoulder. “There’s no way he carried you in and undressed you unless you were drugged.”

“Why would he do that, do you think?”

Mulder pulled away to look into her face.

“Scully, the man kidnaps innocent people, gives them a terminal diseases, cures it, and then expects applause. He’s the engineer of a global network of lies and deceit, not to mention murder. It’s not like he’s playing by normal rules. Hell,” he added, “he probably loved the idea of you being vulnerable. In short, he’s a fucked-up old man on a power trip.”

“Well, when you put it like that,” she said dryly.

Mulder shook his head. “And if that’s not the reason, we’ll find out what is.”

Scully sighed and looked over his shoulder toward the cabins.

“He said he was dying.”

Mulder snorted. “Hallelujah. Maybe there’s a higher power after all. If he’s not though, he will be after I get hold of him.”

Vigilante Boy Scout, Scully thought with amusement as Mulder pulled her close again. Bless your sweet, sweet heart.

She drowsed against his shoulder, worn out from the day and warmed by their discussion. Suddenly, Mulder slapped her once, hard, on the back and she jumped up, startled.


He chuckled at her surprise.

“Mosquito, Scully, I swear.”

She yawned and glanced over at her cabin. A few drops of rain were beginning to pepper her arms and the wind was picking up.

“Come to think of it I should have let it bite you,” he continued. “Maybe you’d have come to my room and stripped for me again.”

“Dream on, Mulder.” She pulled him up and they began walking back toward the camp as the sky began to rumble with thunder.

“I know,” he sighed, “nuns and children.”

… …

The sun had scarcely peeked over the hill when the answer dawned on her. She’d been dreaming of Cobra – watching him dive face-first into the water as she ducked fire from shore – and the answer hit her, clicking into her mind and locking on target. She was out of bed and running before her eyes were fully open, tripping over stacks of magazines and Robin’s box of junk. Before the paper animals and a silver CD slid onto the floor she was feeling the prick of the stony path beneath her bare feet. The flushed face of dawn was vague over the hills, and she felt her way through the fog to Mulder by memory more than sight. His door was unlocked and she let herself in quickly, allowing the door to slam behind her so that he jerked awake.

“The lake,” she managed, stopping to catch her breath. “Kali and the others had wet swimsuits in our cabin. They said they’d gone exploring on the lake. And now Prianka is cured, you said you took them to Frosty Cheer and for a swim.”


“The water is what’s curing them, Mulder. All of the cured girls have been swimming in the lake. That’s the link.”

Mulder cast off his sheet and stood up, the drowsiness already clearing from his eyes. He stepped into his jeans and tennis shoes while she leaned against the wall to pick a pebble from between her toes. The room was quiet with something akin to awe, or hope. They regarded one another in the watery light until Mulder grabbed her by the wrist and moved toward the door, his shoes still untied.

“Where are you going?”

He gestured out the open door, keeping a tight grip on her arm.

“Time for a swim, Scully,” he said. His arm was trembling and his eyes burned into hers.

She loosened his hand on her wrist and held his hand in hers.

“Get the girls,” she said, “I’m right behind you.”

Mulder nodded and the raced out the door. She waited until he had run down the path before dropping to her knees. With her face in her hands she at last offered up a silent, desperate prayer.

… …

No one spoke as he gathered them on the shore – thirty girls all sharp-edged and jittery with hope. The air around them was so thick with faith that Scully could hardly bear to watch them as they entered the water, their nightgowns pooling around their waists. Maggie Anderson and another girl had rescued a beaten bluebird from behind their cabin. They held it between them stretched on a pillowcase as they walked in. Scully watched from the dock until they were swallowd by the fog. Suddenly, there was a hand before her. Mulder reached up from the dock, beckoning, his face full of hope and terror.

“Scully,” he said. There was desperation in his voice.

Out in the water, she could hear murmurs as some girls began the rosary. One simply mouthed “please” over and over again. Scully wheeled and walked off the pier, onto the beach, shedding her shoes onto the smooth pebbles and sand before walking into the water.

Mulder waited, waist-deep, keeping one eye on the sicker girls, making sure they could stand in the seethe of bathers, but his hand was stretched out toward her, and she grabbed at his fingers as she walked in past her chest, until she was treading. He clamped his arms around her, and put a hand to the back of her neck, rubbing her scar. Then, with a long, hard look, he took them both under.

Her Mulder baptism.

When they surfaced his heart was beating so hard she could feel it reverberating through her. He shivered and would not let her go, his hand still tracing the back of her neck. Scully tightened her arms around him and put her wet cheek against his. The words choked out in a whisper.

“I’m okay, Mulder.” He pulled in a shuddering breath and held her so tightly it hurt. “I’m okay,” she said against his ear.

They stood that way until he had stopped shaking enough to release her, and she swam back to where she could touch bottom, helping two of the frailer eleven-year-olds dunk under several times. They clutched at her hands as they disappeared below the surface, crushing her fingers. She could only pray that this was indeed the miracle they needed – because if not, the knowledge that she got their hopes up might kill her.

Everyone stilled, watching, when Mulder lifted himself up onto the dock and set off toward the nuns’ cabins, leaving soggy footprints on the wood.

Scully imagined Mulder explaining himself to Sister Mary-Kenneth, and wondered what the woman would think. The morning light was soft, but it glittered off the water and she squinted. Then, they were coming toward her, like a dream sequence, Mulder leading them through the fog. Scully dragged herself onto shore, her clothes heavy and tight, and watched in silence as the sisters shed their slippers onto the sand. Out in the lake, the children bobbed in the water like buoys as the nuns made a slow journey into the waves.

“Just like the miracles at the pool in Bethesda,” Sister Mary-Kenneth muttered as she passed Scully. “The angel of mercy troubled the waters. The first person in the pool was immediately healed. Human intervention or not, Doctor, this is a miracle.”

Scully watched as the sister passed her and moved into the water. Then she wrang out her shirt and turned toward the medical cabin, needing answers. She felt Mulder watching her as she left. She stopped at the porch, dripping, and turned for a final look.

Mulder was herding them all out for testing. The girls burst from the delirious churn of water, their bright angel faces outshining the moon, as the bird rose from the waves and flew into the wakening sky.

… …

Part Six

Sister Mary-Kenneth drove the bus into town and helped Scully usher the girls through the revolving door of St. Agnes. Eager to get their test results, they fit their slender selves into each section so well that it took only a full rotation before they spilled out into the lobby and began striding upstairs to the lab.

Scully checked to make sure her cell phone was on. She’d left Mulder by the lakeside with instructions to call the Gunmen, hoping they’d make it down before the media blitz began. Keeping seven girls a secret was one thing, but if it did turn out that all thirty of the campers had been mysteriously cured of cancer, nothing under heaven was going to keep that lake secluded for long.

Sister Mary-Kenneth took the first fifteen girls up for their blood tests while Scully waited with the others on the ground floor. The elevator dinged and the girls filed in until there wasn’t an inch of space left. Scully waved at them and headed for the stairs, taking them at a run. Her phone rang as she pushed open the staircase door and headed toward the fourth floor waiting room.

He was already speaking when she answered. “I talked to the guys,” he began, before she even said hello, “and they’re on their way. I told them about the lake and they’re bringing all the equipment they can. What’s going on there?” “They’re just starting to be tested. I don’t know how long it’s going to take. Did you talk to Kali and Robin?”

“Yeah,” he said, “and Janele. They said they’d been exploring the lakeshore all along and that they sometimes snuck out for a swim.

“They also said that the four girls who are gone sometimes went with them. Only Prianka and Laurel from your cabin were too nervous to sneak out. I told you there are advantages to breaking curfew, Scully.”

She barreled into the waiting room, murmuring her agreement. The girls lolled across chairs or leaned against the walls. One of the hospital staff called names from a clipboard periodically, but the room was as quiet as a morgue. It all had the feeling of an abstract play. Even Mulder’s chatter from seven miles away seemed more vivid. The girls were carefully nonchalant, almost extravagantly indifferent to the situation, as if waiting to hear their bus being announced. Scully noticed that Mulder was silent, and figured it was her turn to speak.

“What?” she asked.

“I said call when you get the results,” he repeated.

They disconnected the line and Scully perched on the edge of one of the plastic tables and leafed through countless magazines as each girl was called back into the lab and others reemerged. At one point, she quietly slipped into the lab and asked to be tested herself. The nurse gave her a funny look, but drew her blood anyway. When she returned to the waiting room a few girls had clustered in circles on the floor, sitting Indian-style. As the day progressed, they gave one another back rubs and braided each other’s wispy hair. A young volunteer in red stripes finally pushed in a tray of snacks: chips and soda and chocolate, along with a lone apple that rested on a pile of Reader’s Digests.

One packet of M&M’s and two Diet Cokes later, Scully watched the last girl stumble out into the waiting area. Nobody moved. Sister Mary-Kenneth gave Scully a “what do we do now?” face and Scully checked her watch. Four hours. It was almost eleven a.m., and if the Gunmen drove fast, they could be at the lake by now. She nodded toward the hallway and the nun followed her out. Before they could decide whether to leave or stay for the test results, the door to the room flew open and the two lab workers rushed into the hall. Behind them, Scully saw the girls all rise, breathless, almost levitating. One of the lab workers was crying, whether from relief or disappointment Scully didn’t know. She opened her mouth to question the nurse, but was interrupted.

“It’s a miracle,” the nurse said in a choked voice.

Thirty screams erupted in the quiet hospital, and there was no reason to ask.

… …

The boys from St. Ignatius were just as skinny as the St. Agnes girls. They stood, as skittery and sharp-limbed as sand crabs, on the beach when she pulled into camp. If the hullabaloo she left behind her in the hospital was any indication, it wasn’t going to be long before swarms began descending on the lake. She’d left town in a hot-heeled fury, borrowing a car, hoping to beat the masses. Now she saw that her partner had been equally as busy.

Two buses from the boys’ camp in Portertown were parked just outside the open gate to the camp, as though the men felt they couldn’t even drive into the female area. Scully pulled the car into the tree line not far from the road, hoping that when parents began arriving she would be able to maneuver out of the crowd.

She didn’t doubt that there would be a crowd, and soon, for that matter. When she’d left, every phone in the hospital had been occupied by sobbing, hysterical girls, and in a few cases, sobbing nurses and doctors. She’d hurried to her car, picturing the onslaught of media that was surely inevitable and which she sincerely hoped to avoid.

After all, what did they know, really?

Her rational mind, which had seemed to be swamped with emotion for the duration of the morning, had come back to her on the ride back. She wanted water samples and DNA testing before anything else. Something this powerful would surely show up with the equipment that the Gunmen would bring. Her mind whirled away, clicking from one idea to another as she made her way across the camp.

Mulder was still in his jeans, wet from countless trips into the water. He was gesturing toward the lake and the boys were eyeing him suspiciously, but toeing in just the same. Out in the water a few of the girls’ camp nuns still floated. From the shore all Scully could see of them was their toes and noses marring the reflected image of the pine trees on the hills. Mulder noticed her coming toward him and seemed to bound the few steps toward her. His nose was scorched, and she had an urge to chastise him and, alternately, run to fetch some zinc oxide. She did neither, instead just shaded her face from the sun that fell over his shoulder and looked up at him.

“Did you see the guys?” he asked.

They were here already? Scully took a quick look around the lake again and spotted them moving on the far side, further down the shore. She could see Langly’s hair between the tall grasses, and out in the water Byers was taking samples. Frohike waved. He was wearing his fingerless gloves even though it was close to 85 degrees out. She waved back.

“When did they get here?”

“About an hour ago. They’ve been taking water samples since then, but there’s nothing out of place that they can see. I told them they could set up their stuff in the medical cabin.”

“Mmmm,” she agreed, glancing from him to where the boys were beginning to loosen up in the water. Already two of their escorts, tall men with weary and haggard looking faces, were breaking up water fights.

“What made you think to call the boys camp?” she asked.

Mulder shrugged. She kept her eyes on the water, but saw the shoulders of his shadow move.

“If they’re healed we’ll know it must be the water, right? And if not, then we have to look for another answer.”

Scully smiled. He was as leery about accepting the miracle water explanation as she was, but she suspected that it was for another reason. Though she couldn’t fathom why, Mulder seemed very much to want to accept these cures as miracles. Probably on her behalf, she suspected. When this was over she planned to tell him that she appreciated his effort. She planned to tell him that she was beginning to believe that miracles came in all sorts of earthly packages, and as skeptical as she was, she hadn’t quite given up on faith yet. Of course, she doubted seriously she’d be able to actually get those words out in a normal fashion, but she knew some other forms of communication that seemed to work just as well for them.

Mulder moved back to the shore line as Scully headed toward the medical cabin. Inside, the Gunmen had set up quite a lab. She wondered how they’d managed to fit all the stuff in the van. The rays of the sun shifted slowly from over her shoulder to the center of the room as the hours passed. The Gunmen returned with their water samples, and tooled around in the background as she bent over the microscope. At some point, Mulder sent the St. Ignatius boys into town for testing and poked his head in to see if she had found anything. She barely heard him, murmuring something abstract as she and Byers prepared another water sample.

Not long after, the girls returned, accompanied by a caravan of cars that scraped down the gravel road. Thick, teary voices murmured as they passed the medical cabin window, but nobody came inside. Scully imagined they’d had more than enough of hospitals and needles to last them a lifetime, and she was grateful for the solitude.

Mulder and the Gunmen were the only people who came in and out over the course of the afternoon, Mulder more than the rest of them. He hadn’t been out of touch for more than fifteen minutes all day, playing acolyte, moving behind her and bouncing some really odd theories off Frohike for the fun of it. This time, however, he looked serious.

“Father Shannon called from the hospital. Of the twenty-three boys that were in the lake this afternoon, only fourteen of them are cured. The other boys’ tests seem to indicate that the cancer has abated somewhat, but they aren’t in remission, yet.”

He looked apologetically at Scully, as though he were to blame for the fact. “I had them all do the same thing the girls did – get in and splash around, dunk under, even drink a little of the water. What do you make of it?”

Scully leaned her head wearily on her palm, allowing herself a few silent seconds to formulate the theory that had been percolating inside her head since her early-morning dream. Before opening her eyes, she had again re-witnessed Cobra falling face first into the water. Though she had no way of verifying the information, she suspected he might have had the real cure on his person. It was entirely likely he’d never given her the real CD. Of course, that would mean that CGB Spender had honestly given her what he thought was the cure, a fact she’d be willing to believe about the twelfth of never. At the moment, however, that idea was all she had to go on.

She tested her theory out loud, watching the faces of Mulder and the Gunmen as she spoke.

“I suppose it’s possible that if Cobra had the cure that it could have slid into the water,” Byers agreed.

“Yeah,” Langly said, “but if that’s true then all these kids should be A-okay by now.”

They all fell silent, regarding one another hopefully.

“Assuming that is a possibility,” Mulder finally said, “how would a cure like that work in a water source? Wouldn’t the cure for human disease be like your chip, Scully? Wouldn’t it have to be implanted?”

Scully shook her head.

“Actually,” she said slowly, “I hadn’t thought about it that way, but now that you mention it, Mulder, that’s an intriguing theory.” She rubbed the back of her neck absently. “We were looking for a program on the disk that CGB Spender gave us, and that might have been where we went wrong.”

“You mean that it might work like your chip does?” Byers asked. Scully registered the confused looks on the others’ faces, as Byers must have. He began to explain.

“What I think Scully is getting at is that her chip may not contain a program, or any formula that an ordinary computer can read. So what if the CD was the same? What if it looked empty to us but still somehow cured disease?”

“Exactly,” Scully said.

“But that still doesn’t explain how it would work in a lake this size.” Frohike shook his head.

“That’s not so difficult,” Scully fiddled with the focus on his microscope. “I’ve done some thinking about this, as you might imagine,” Scully said, exchanging a look with Mulder. “I’ve wondered if my chip might contain a silicon version of the DNA coding sequences for the genes that we all carry that can kill or suppress tumor cells. If that’s true, then the CD could have contained the same physical coding sequence, not just for cancer, but for programming the immune system to handle everything that came its way.”

“And that is related to the lake how?” Mulder asked.

Scully shrugged. “This is all theory, and it doesn’t explain how the disk got into the water in the first place if Cobra didn’t have it, but if he did, any single-celled organism or even virus in the water could have had its genetic structure altered to carry the information.”

“And the virus could have gotten into the girls when they ingested water?”

“Ingested, or through the nasal passages or tear ducts. In short, yes. And the virus could have transferred the genetic information to the kids, either as an infectious reagent or in an actual recombination with their DNA.”

The room grew silent and they all listened to the sound of people half-laughing, half-crying, that floated in from outside.

“Man, this is out there.” Langly said, shaking his head.

“Not by much,” Byers argued. “This sort of thing actually does happen on a very small and random scale. It’s how new viruses arise.”

“Then why weren’t all the boys cured?” Mulder asked. “Why isn’t the water working for them?”

“It is,” Scully said, thoughtfully, “just not all of them.”

“You think something is happening to the water?” Mulder had an uncanny ability to get right to the point. “How would we test that?”

They were interrupted by a knock at the door, and Sister Mary-Kenneth swept in. She seemed surprised to see the three new men, but didn’t ask to be introduced.

“I’m closing the camp gate,” she said, “The phone in the office is ringing off the hook and I have a feeling there’s going to be quite a crowd here tonight. I’m keeping the girls whose parents aren’t here yet over on this side of the lake. I can’t do much about the public property on the other shore, but I won’t have folks running all over these cabins. Just thought you should know.”

… …

The reeds around the lake were a haven for bugs. Scully could feel her legs being enthusiastically chewed on as she stood with the Gunmen a few hundred yards down shore from the cabins. A little privacy would have been nice, but a troop of girls had followed her. For once, they weren’t hovering around Mulder. Scully suspected that had more to do with what he was up to than any disinterest. They’d abandoned him when he went behind the cabins and began gently shoveling injured birds into a wheelbarrow, where they fluttered and cried in vain, too hurt to escape.

A growing line of birds lay in the soft sand. The sparrows and chickadees faded into their surroundings, drab compared with the bright cardinals and blue jays.

Scully pulled on a pair of latex gloves as she watched the water in front of her. The storm from the previous night had churned up the waves, provoking it to try to push back its borders.

She suspected that might have something to do with the reason the boys hadn’t all been cured. Water from the small river had been emptying into the lake all along, but not at this rate, not with this rush. If the cure had fallen into the water, it was conceivable that it had been washed back into the river. That was something she might never know for sure. In the meantime, however, she could test the potency of the lake. Her satisfaction at being able to validate something scientifically, however, was woefully diminished by how she was going to achieve that.

With a shudder, Scully bent to retrieve one of the injured birds. It flapped wildly as she put her hand around it, and a few of the girls made “oohh” sounds, and turned away. She didn’t blame them – the bird trembled in her light grip, and she had an odd desire to soothe it, like you would a whimpering child.

This is ridiculous, she thought as she stood, hefting the animal in her palm. It’s going to die, anyway. It’s in pain. Even if this doesn’t work, it’s the right thing to do.

Knowing that was true, however, didn’t stop her from holding her breath. She wasn’t cut out for this. Any hurt or wounded animal, from human being down, always seemed to break her heart. She could hardly step on a bug without flinching. This was a hundred times worse. The bird appeared to be shivering, and it wasn’t until she looked down that she noticed she was the one shaking.


Mulder moved toward her, a look of concern in his eyes.

“Do you want me to do it?” he asked.

Scully almost smiled. At times, his generosity took her off guard.

“I’m capable, Mulder.”

“I know,” he said seriously. “But you’re a doctor. First, do no harm, and all that.”

She desperately wanted to let go, let him do it. But the girls were standing behind her, watching the exchange. She wasn’t going to turn this over for the man to do, not with them around.

Instead of answering him, she stepped forward and raised her arm behind her.

Under her fingers, the bird’s heart pounded with fear. Her own beat a matching rhythm. With her eyes closed, she loosened her fingers and gently pitched the animal forward, waiting until she heard it hit the water before opening her eyes. All she saw was one wing, waving weakly.

Scully turned and walked back toward Mulder, shedding her gloves. She felt shaky and worn-out.

“Maybe we could take turns.”

… …

Scully stood with her toes hanging off the edge of the dock. In the fading twilight she made out a young family, all robust and healthy-looking, dabbling in the thin surf on the opposite shore. A few feet away from them, a frail old woman was trying to push her husband’s wheelchair into the water. She used the hillside as a slide, plowing him in until the waves reached his chin.

There were voices all around her, low and quiet, and she tried not to make out specific words, but she read lips without meaning to. From the camp chapel, a vibrant homily leaked into the summer air as the girls and their families tried to reconcile their gift of mercy with their previous fear. Everyone Scully had seen all day looked unprepared. The mothers of these girls were crying as though they had lost their child, and, Scully knew, in some ways they had. The parents had prepared for a storm of grief. They’d set their ballasts and waited for the waves, and now that the sky had cleared they were weak from relief. She knew that look well. She’d seen it on her partner’s face for months after her miracle.

At the end of the dock, twelve-year-old Maggie Anderson seemed to be holding up her father as she lead him toward the chapel. His height was slumped over her like a blanket, and she murmured words of comfort as they moved past the citronella scented torches that had been stabbed into the ground between the cabins.

Scully tucked a bottle of lake water under her arm and turned to scan the shore, hoping to find Mulder amid the crowd on the other side. He’d agreed to help Sister Mary-Kenneth offer a statement to the press, and Scully had been grateful to be excluded. She was still feeling weak from their afternoon tests.

They’d stood, tossing birds into the water, for nearly two hours. Of the twenty birds, only seven had risen from their watery grave. The first four had pulled themselves out of the lake in a matter of minutes. The other three took considerably longer. In the end, only one of the last ten had been cured. And that had been that. For no apparent reason, it appeared the water was losing its potency. They’d finished right as the first visitors began to appear, and as the sun set behind the hills.

Soon, the media had arrived. They crested the hills in their wide vans and advanced with an arsenal of bright lights and cameras that they attempted to wheedle past the gate. Sister Mary-Kenneth had stood firm, and aided by an army of nuns and off-duty nurses, they managed to keep the camp clear of everyone but family and medical personnel until the police arrived. For the moment, the camp side was safe from the prying eyes of reporters and miracle-seekers.

The chapel began to empty, and a few of the girls left their parents behind and moved toward the shore. Scully thought she could almost hear the click of telephoto lenses as photographers on the other side tussled for the best shot. Off in the distance, where the camp-side shore met the forest and bent around a corner, Scully saw Marjorie Butters hovering. She looked as if she’d like to come join them, but she simply cast nervous glances at the cameras and Scully turned her gaze away.

She wondered where Mulder was. It had been an hour since she’d seen him, and come to think of it, where were the Gunmen? They were doubtlessly as nervous of the media as Marjorie Butters, while the people who had the most reason to be wary of their invasion of privacy – the campers – seemed totally unaware that they were being scrutinized.

There was a sudden shift of attention as the bus from St. Ignatius rumbled down the drive on the opposite shore, scattering the miracle-seekers and news people like pigeons. There was some desperate wrangling to hustle the boys off the bus and into the gates without being mauled by reporters, and then they were in, standing around like wallflowers under the statue of St. Agnes, while the girls cast nervous smiles at them and tossed their hair.

Some industrious fathers were busy in the water, patrolling the center of this portion of lake, making sure nobody decided to get ambitious and swim across.

Still, it was only a matter of time. Scully noticed a few nonchalant reporters wandering out of the woods, but they were being relatively unassuming, careful not to walk up to any group that seemed overly emotional.

For a moment, taking in the scene, Scully registered everyone as strangers, her mind on her own clean test result. She didn’t recognize Byers and Langly hauling their equipment from the medical cabin, or Kali and Janele making tentative steps toward a few of the boys.

Everything seemed bathed in a slow-motion anonymity. After a moment though, Mulder came into focus, striding across the camp, looking for her and she snapped out of it. He stopped when he noticed Byers and they had a long, serious conversation. She wanted to tell him about her blood test, but not here, not now. That confession would require solitude. Mulder finished his conversation and the Gunmen headed off again, moving out toward where their van was parked haphazardly inside the gate. Scully looked back out at the water but she could feel the moment Mulder spotted her in the crowd. The fog was beginning to settle low over the hills, as though a great gray bird had tucked the camp under her wing.

“Ready?” she asked.

“You’re ready to leave?” He looked surprised. “Now?”

“Yes. I am.” Scully paused. Why was she so certain there was nothing left to be learned here? It was more a feeling that whatever door might once have been opened had been shut. Not slammed, but gently closed.

“There’s nothing left to find here, Mulder,” she said as they turned to watch the increasing crowd. “The anomaly in the water is disappearing. That’s why only about half of the boys were cured. It’s still possible that a few of that number over there will be, but nothing like what happened to the girls.” She pointed her chin at the other shore. “I can’t finish examining this water with the equipment we have here. Byers and the boys are taking it back to DC with them, and there are at least three dozen scientists over there taking their own samples. Maybe they’ll find something.” She shrugged as though she doubted it.

“And you don’t think we can find the connection between this and Spender?”

She turned to look back up at him. The moon hung over his shoulder, giving him an angelic glow.

“Well, I’m going straight to the lab when we get to DC, of course. I’m not giving up. I simply mean that I’m at a loss to proceed with this basic equipment. As for CGB Spender, he’s not a subtle person, Mulder. If he’d had a hand in this he would be here lording it over our heads by now, claiming this was The Truth, and that the girls were The Ones. I think they must be connected, but it’s…tenuous.”

“A miracle?”

“Yeah,” she agreed.

His face lit up, and then his brows lowered in confusion. “Okay, so explain something to me, Scully. You still think that Old Black Lung had some hand in this, but you think it’s a miracle?”

Turning, Scully watched the girls on the shore. Most were crying, or had been, but there was a fierce happiness in their faces. Janele had initiated a group hug, and their loop took up a wide circle of the sand. With their heads bent, Scully couldn’t hear what they were saying, but it had a tone like goodbye.

“Fifty kids, Mulder,” she said softly. “Fifty kids, a couple of birds and an arthritic nun, all as healthy as can be. That has to be a miracle, doesn’t it? Even if it’s a collateral miracle that Spender never planned on.”

Mulder chuckled and Scully felt her spirit lifting. She remembered what Sister Mary-Kenneth had said.

“Sister Mary-Kenneth has a point. Who’s to say that just because something is man-made, or discovered, that it’s not a miracle?”

“I’d never say that, Scully,” Mulder said quietly.

“I know,” she replied with the same hushed tone. “And it’s certainly one to these people – to these parents. CGB Spender might use this information for evil, but maybe it’s all meant to be working this way.”

Mulder smiled down at her. “You mean maybe dealing with mortality is the whole reason we’re here? And that maybe one man or woman shouldn’t try to circumvent that process with a single cure?” he said, throwing her own words back at her. Scully recognized her lecture and laughed out loud. The sounds caught the attention of the girls, who were breaking from their hug.

“Hey, Dr. Scully,” Kali called, “Mr. Mulder, come get your candles.”

Robin ran into Hawthorne and returned with her box of pink paper swans, which she distributed among her fellow campers. The back of each bird was flat, folded into a box shape that allowed for a single votive candle. Kali handed Scully a pink bird, and from the bottom of the box, Robin produced a blue one for Mulder.

“What’s it for?” he asked.

“Final night tradition,” Kali answered, “We light them and set them into the lake. All the campers do it. It looks so cool.”

“Do we get to sing ‘Candle on the Water?’” Mulder asked dryly.

“Hey, great idea!”

Scully reached her foot out and stepped discreetly on Mulder’s toe.

One of the parents produced a lighter and then went back to stand in the grass, leaving only the girls and the nuns on the shore with them. Robin had folded fifteen white swans as well, for the Sisters, and that produced a laugh. In procession, the girls moved down toward the water, setting their boats to drift.

“Hang on,” Mulder said near her ear, stopping her as she bent down. She watched as he twisted the edges of their swans’ wings together until they held tight to one another. The reflection of the moonlight off the water softened the night and she edged closer, sitting beside him on the soft sand. He launched the boats into the water and seated himself beside her, tucking her hand into his.

The opposite shore stilled, and people moved to the edge of the water, watching the scene before them. Dozens of paper boats, glowing softly, dotted the night. Looking around, Scully guessed there couldn’t be less than three hundred people, and yet the air was quiet, poised for something. Then, quietly, a few girls began to sing. Scully couldn’t remember the last time she’d heard the song, years ago probably, when she was a camper herself. The words couldn’t have held the same meaning they did now. She stopped, listening as the girls sang. “A cold and friendless tide has found you, don’t let the stormy darkness pull you down. I’ll paint a ray of hope around you, circling in the air, lighted by a prayer.”

Some of the swans picked up speed, moving steadily toward life on the distant shore. Their pair, she saw, had taken a dangerous route. Several times she wondered if it would be tangled in the reeds. Mulder’s finger began to gently caress the back of her hand and then, suddenly, she saw them again, moving away from the tall grass and back out into open water, throwing their light up to heaven.

… …


… …

Author’s Notes: Before you say it – I know, I know, this one had more kids in it. I can’t seem to help myself.

General Toe-Kissing:

This casefile was a departure for me. For the first time, I found that I needed some actual science to back up my “miracle.” I’m used to simply chalking things up to magic and leaving it at that. <g> Thankfully, the saintly Barbara D. took my complete stupidity in stride, formulating and postulating and coming up with answers to my inane questions like: “Barbara, what if there was no formula on the disk, but the CD itself was the cure, like Scully’s chip. How would that work?” and “Barbara, how can I make the lake cure people by being immersed in it?” and “Barbara, the virus thingies need to be inactivated now. How do I do that?” Her personal preference for miracle fish notwithstanding, any of this that makes even marginal scientific sense is solely her doing.

I genuflect toward my to my two other betas and Summer ‘00 road-trip partners (TM), Meredith and Jesemie’s Evil Twin. They held my hand while I lurched about, screaming in frustration over the first draft(s), and offered much welcome practical advice. Thanks, ladies, I owe you many sour gummy worms. <vbg>

Hugs to Haphazard Method, for being a darn good sport about surrendering Barbara to me for a while. You’d better get writing, Hap. Don’t make me pick up my pom-poms!

Kudos to Sal for the birds. –> .

Feedback makes me a happy camper!

Constructive criticism almost always gratefully received. <g>



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