Saturday, 25 April 2020

Now & Then

December 12th 2011
Richmond, Virginia. 
9:36 p.m.

Kyle Barrett cracked open another beer, tossing the bottle cap onto the littered coffee table.  He was already wasted but he figured he deserved a little treat.  After all, he’d put in nearly three hours at the gym today.  Working in an office didn’t mean he had to let himself go.  He hauled himself off the couch and went to the mirror above the mantle.  He took another swig of beer and appraised his reflection.  He smiled, satisfied.  Getting pretty buff for a guy who worked in Accounts.  Not that Amy seemed to notice.  The hot little secretary had a great rack and an ass that wouldn’t quit, but apparently Kyle was invisible to her.
   Whatever.  Word around the office was she always hooked up with a co-worker at the Christmas parties.  Maybe he was in with a shot this year.  Amy would get it.  She would get it hard.  He sighed with frustration and glanced at the two bags of trash sitting by his front door.  Yesterday he’d cleared the apartment of all the pizza boxes and general crud that had accumulated.  His sister would accuse him of still living like a college student.  Well, not everyone could marry a rich architect and then look down on their little brother.  Besides, Kyle had a decent job and his own apartment.  So what if he had to live downtown?
   “Bitch,” he muttered to himself. 
   He pulled on his jacket and snatched up the bags of trash.  As he left his building the cold night air bit his cheek and whipped inside his jacket.  It was a chore, having to go round into the alley every time he needed to take out the garbage.  He peered into the mouth of the passage next to his building.  The security-lamp at the far end was busted again, turning the narrow space into a total creep-show.  He cursed under his breath and trudged into the near-darkness.  Fantasy images of a naked Amy played in his mind; naked Amy in a Santa hat and nothing else.  He chuckled at the image, and stumbled against some broken stones near his feet.  He dropped one of the bags and thrust a hand against the bricks to stop his fall.  A moment later the alley wall beneath his palm seemed to shudder and ripple like liquid.  He snatched his hand away in shocked confusion.
   “What the f–”
   Something clattered and crashed over by the dumpsters.  A beat of panic went through him.  He squinted in the darkness, still clutching one of the garbage bags.  There was someone behind the dumpsters.  A hunched, dark figure.  Kyle didn’t want to admit he was afraid.  Images of being mugged at knife-point flashed in his mind.  Despite himself he took a few steps forward.
   “I can see you, asshole…”
   The figure lunged from behind the dumpsters, and for a moment Kyle thought he was about to get stabbed.  But the figure stopped short.  Kyle dropped the bag and made a made a move to block them.  His heart was slamming in his chest now. He couldn’t see their face but he registered a slender female silhouette. A flood of relief swept through him.  The woman tried to dart left, then right, like a cornered animal.
   “What the hell were you doing back there?” he barked at her, angry that a woman had managed to freak him out.  Maybe she was some crazy homeless chick.  Maybe she thought he was going to rape her.
   “Sweetheart…” he began, but the woman cut him off.
   “Don’t touch me,” she hissed, with a strange guttural depth in her voice.  “Stay away from me.”
   Kyle took a few angry steps forward.  “Listen, bitch, I was trying to help you…”
   “I don’t need your help!  Don’t you dare touch me!” 
   The sheer violence in her odd, growling voice should have stopped him, but his pride was bruised.  He shot forward and snatched her wrist.  “Listen, honey…”
   A burst of pain shot through his hand and rushed up his forearm.  His breath caught in his throat as he stumbled away from her.  It was like someone had shoved his entire arm into an ice-bath.  His stomach knotted as he peered down at his own hand.  Even in the semidarkness he could see the colour of his skin draining to an ashen white, as frost and little ribbons of ice began to form.  He couldn’t process what was happening, and then the freezing coldness was inside his hand, his arm, creeping up and over his shoulder.  Suddenly it was agony.  Kyle’s mind went blank and a ragged scream burst from his lips.
   The woman took a few paces forward.  He saw her face, but he couldn’t understand it.  Stringy black hair with glassy little chunks in it.  Eyes that were sheer white, without irises.  A ghost-white face covered with frost and veins of ice.  Kyle realized he was still screaming.  There was ice in his blood, in his bones, creeping into his heart.  He didn’t want to die.  He didn’t want to die like this.  Not like this.  He tried to stagger away from the nightmare woman but his feet were rooted to the spot.  His screaming became a high-pitched wail as blind panic subsumed his consciousness.  Kyle Barrett’s last thought was the realization that he was literally about to die.
   The woman in the alleyway with him just watched impassively as the colour drained from his face, as the ice formed, as his eyes became twin orbs of white frost.
   The ice-sculpture’s mouth was open in a rictus of uncomprehending horror.
   “I warned you,” she hissed, and kicked its knees.  The knees shattered and the sculpture toppled, crumbling into icy shards as it fell.  Brittle chunks of human anatomy scattered and bounced and rolled across the ground.  For a moment the woman stared blankly at the frozen carnage spread at her feet.  Then she broke into a run, racing towards the mouth of the alley.        


Rural West Virginia 
2:19 a.m.

The old farmhouse sat alone in a cold expanse of white beneath a black sky.  The snow was falling lightly, not as dense or as frequent as it could sometimes be for the beginnings of a Virginian winter.  Inside the old house it was warm.  The lounge was cast in lamplight as Fox Mulder and Dana Scully sat together on the couch, watching an old black & white movie.  Scully took another sip from her bottle of beer and nuzzled close to her partner.  He put his arm around her.  On the television screen Orson Welles as Charles Foster Kane stumbled madly through Xanadu, trashing priceless artifacts from his own personal empire.
   Mulder couldn’t believe that Scully had never seen the film in its entirety.  As though reading his mind she said, “Good choice, Mulder.  This film is pretty intense.  I’m impressed.”
   He nodded as he peered at the screen.  “It’s an American classic, Scully.  Possibly the American classic.  I’m not all about B-movies, you know.”  He glanced at her, a faint smile on his lips.  “Plus, it beats watching How Stella Got Her Groove Back.”
   Scully smirked and nudged him playfully.  “Never.”
   Mulder could tell she was already drunk, and she was only on her third beer.  He guessed it had been a particularly long day at work.  She might fall asleep in a cuddle and he’d have to carry her to bed.  He smiled and planted a kiss on her temple. 
   “Mmm.  Four consults and two surgeries.”
   “Super Scully.”
   She chuckled.  “Well, I am the main breadwinner now.”
   Mulder was about to make a quip about being an excellent house-husband, but stopped himself.  They weren’t married, even though they lived in this place like man and wife.  He wondered for a moment if Scully still worried that they were just playing house, playing until the world came crashing back in with full force.
   Maybe that was part of the reason why she was taking on so much responsibility at the hospital – to stave off the crash for as long as possible.  He could understand it, and his heart went out to her.  Mulder realized that something in the back of his mind was niggling him, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.
   Instead he said, “Ok, I’ve waited long enough.  Can I say the thing now?”
   Scully smiled.  “Say the thing, Mulder.”
   He peered at her with mock-seriousness and intoned, “Rosebuuuud!”
   She rolled her eyes but the little smile was genuine.  “I’m glad you got it out of your system.”  She yawned and sat upright on the couch, rubbing her eyes.  “Can we watch the rest tomorrow night?  I’m exhausted.”
   “Sure.”  He jabbed the remote at the DVD player to stop the movie.
   “Staying up for a while?” she asked, and downed the last of her beer.
   Mulder waited until she looked at him.  He put some mischief in his eyes and raised his eyebrows suggestively.
   “I was hoping…you know.”
   She smiled at him.  “You’re insatiable, Mulder.”
   He adopted his best ‘redneck’ voice.  “Damn straight, woman.”
   “C’mon, Mulder.  I’m too tired for nookie.  Sorry.”
   He smirked at her.  “Morning nookie?”
   There was amusement in her eyes.  He’d nailed it.  “It’s a deal.”
   Mulder grinned and triumphantly thrust his beer bottle into the air.  “I’ll hold you to that, FBI.”
   Scully laughed, kissed his cheek and rose to her feet.  “Goodnight, crazy.”
   She smiled at him again before making her way upstairs.  Mulder sat alone on the couch, sipping his beer in the lamplight.  He didn’t want to dwell on the odd feeling in the back of his mind, the sense that his intuition was trying to make him aware of something.  He was a little too drunk for that.  Instead he would read for an hour or so in the study, before climbing gratefully into bed beside the gorgeous redhead.

Scully was undressing in the dark bedroom.  She really was exhausted, and she could feel the alcohol dulling her thoughts.  She was a lightweight these days, but tonight had been fun.  She would have a few hours to spare before work tomorrow.  A little special time with Mulder, then a shower, then some breakfast.  Regardless of what time Mulder came to bed, he would probably be awake and up before she was.  Sometimes she wondered how he could survive on such little sleep.  She usually woke to find hot coffee in the machine, sometimes breakfast already prepared as Mulder ran laps around the old farm.  For a guy who had recently turned fifty, he was in excellent shape.  That was simply her medical opinion, obviously.  She smiled as she pulled on her pyjama bottoms.  The thought of morning nookie wasn’t all that bad, now was it?  They were both getting older, but Scully would stick to the gymnasium.  She’d never really understood jogging anyway.
   As she buttoned her pyjama top she caught a flash of light through the bedroom window. Something was moving high out over the trees.  She rushed over. 
   A point of brilliant white light was growing, moving towards the house.
   For the briefest moment, thoughts of Duane Barry and alien ships and abductees tumbled together in her mind.  But she could already hear the relentless throb of a helicopter’s engines.  She could even feel it growing in the floor beneath her bare feet.  The chopper was banking over the trees just beyond the property.  The downwash of its rotors was blasting leaves from branches and kicking up little flurries of snow.
   “Scully!” she heard Mulder call from downstairs.
   “Yeah, I see it!” she yelled back.
   She hurried from the room and down the stairs to find Mulder already pulling on his boots and coat. 
   “It’s an FBI chopper, Scully.”
   They shared a dour, knowing look before Scully resigned herself to doing the same thing as Mulder.  She shoved her feet into her shoes and pulled a long coat from a peg by the door.  She stole another glance at her partner.  Mulder’s expression was dark, the old intensity in his eyes again.
   “It’s got to be bad, Scully, for them to come all the way out here.  The last time they did that, Dr Frankenstein was kidnapping federal agents and carving up young women.”
   Scully already felt the dread in the pit of her stomach.  Mulder threw open the door and the two of them hurried from the house.  The spotlight on the helicopter angled towards the ground.  It touched down only fifty feet away, throwing up a swirling mist of snowflakes.  Now Scully could clearly see the letters FBI stencilled in orange on the chopper’s side.  The spotlight went dark.  Two figures jumped down from the cabin and began trudging towards them.  Scully glanced at Mulder when the figures got close enough to recognize.
   Walter Skinner and Monica Reyes.
   Scully felt angry and afraid, standing there in a cashmere coat and pyjamas.  She watched the bald Assistant Director glowering at them as he approached.  Beside him Monica Reyes stared wide-eyed, an embarrassed smile on her face.  When the two agents got close enough to be heard over the chopper’s idling engines, Skinner threw his hands up in frustration.
   “You switched off your cells and took your landline off the hook!”
   Mulder just tilted his head at their former boss.  “And a Merry Christmas to you too, Walter.”
   “Nobody’s looking for you anymore, Mulder – why did you switch your damn phones off?”
   Mulder glanced at Scully, then Monica, then peered back at Skinner.  “Actually, we were watching Citizen Kane.”
   Scully’s anger got the better of her.  “It’s the middle of the night, for God’s sake!  We don’t work for the FBI, Skinner.  We’re not answerable to them, or you.  This is our home, remember?  You’ve got no right to just swing by whenever you feel like you need some help solving a problem!”
   Monica just stood there, looking awkward, but Skinner didn’t seem too chastised. 
   “Scully, we wouldn’t be here unless we had to.”
   Mulder peered at him.  “Spit it out, Walter.”
   Skinner sighed and nodded.  “There’s a really bad crime scene down in Richmond.  Seventeen dead.  And Mulder, your name came up in connection with this mess.  Agent Reyes called me, told me the details, emailed me the photos – and I got on a plane.”
   Skinner glanced at Monica, as if urging her to pipe up.  Monica took her cue and nodded earnestly.  “I’m sorry, I know it’s the middle of the night.  But it was a complete fluke that I was in Virginia.  I was visiting a friend down at Quantico.  She got a call from her partner at Richmond Field Division.  I was standing right there when she got the call…”
   Monica seemed so nervous and apologetic that Scully felt herself soften slightly.           
   “…anyway, when she mentioned your name, Mulder, I said ‘But I know this guy.  He used to be one of us.’ And suddenly the whole thing felt very, very strange.  It was like I was supposed to be in Virginia this week.  Like it was –”
   “Fate,” Mulder finished gravely.
   Monica just nodded and peered down at the snow.  Mulder turned and stared at Scully.  The dread in her stomach wasn’t going away.
   Mulder looked back at Skinner and said, “There’s no X Files unit anymore, so are you really here just because my name gets mentioned at a crime scene?”
   Skinner frowned.  “When Agent Reyes called me…I had a feeling.  A hunch.  You remember those, right?  Mulder, if this isn’t an X File I don’t know what is.  At first they thought it was some kind of contagion or chemical weapon, but apparently the air is clean.  The photos, Mulder.  It’s awful.”
   Mulder just shook his head and turned to face Scully again.  His eyes were fierce.
   “I can be back before tomorrow night,” he told her.  But Scully could see that he wasn’t sure of that.
   Gritting her teeth against anger and the cold she said, “You’re not some freelance consultant they can just pull out whenever they need you, Mulder.”
   But his eyes told her that he’d already set his mind to go with them.  And despite herself, she understood why.  She wasn’t going to battle him this time.
   They had tried running once before, and the darkness had found them anyway.
   Scully swallowed and peered at Monica, into her soulful eyes.  There was more to this.  Monica was holding something back for some reason.  She hadn’t seen the tall, dark-haired agent since the night she and Doggett helped to break Mulder out of military custody.  Monica had helped to save Mulder from being executed on a pathetic trump charge.  Scully had written to Monica and Doggett more than once from an anonymous P.O. Box, but she owed them more than that.
   As though intuiting her thoughts Monica said, “It’s been a long time, Dana.  I honestly wouldn’t intrude in your life unless I felt like I had no other option.  I’m sorry.”
   Scully glanced warily at Mulder.  “Fine.  Just let me shower and get dressed.  I could use a day away from the hospital.”


Richmond, Virginia
5: 53 a.m.

They were coming in over the city now.  The sky was beginning to break into low bands of dawn.  The city’s lights glimmered down below.  It was pointless trying to have an extended conversation over the throbbing roar of the chopper’s engines.  Mulder just sat peering from the cabin window, at the city passing beneath them.  Scully put her hand in his and he squeezed it reassuringly.  She knew he was afraid of something.  She knew the wheels in his incredible mind were already turning.  She didn’t like the look on his face but she remembered how spectacular her partner could be.  If they gave him enough rope he’d end up ten steps ahead of most of the agents around him.  Scully felt a flash of pride, remembering how powerful it had once felt to step through dark doors with Fox Mulder.  She didn’t want those dark doors in her life again, but she couldn’t deny that she recalled the thrill.
   As the chopper banked over a particular street Scully could see police and FBI agents clustered at multiple cordons.  The helicopter came to rest in the middle of the road and a group of agents ducked low and hurried forward to meet it.
   When the chopper’s occupants stepped down from the cabin a tall, well-built man with steel grey hair came forward and shook Skinner’s hand.  Mulder glanced at Scully and raised his eyebrows in a ‘well, here we go’ expression.  The group hurried out from under radius of the chopper’s rotors as the pilot powered down.
   The guy that shook Skinner’s hand peered at Mulder.  “You Fox Mulder?”
   “Yeah. Unfortunately.”
   The guy offered his hand.  Mulder took it.  “Daniel Therrier.  I’m the ASAC for Richmond Division.”
   Mulder frowned.  “You’re not letting the Response Team handle this.  You came here yourself.  Must be bad.”
   The ASAC just nodded gravely.  “Come on, I’ll show you.”
   As he guided them through another cordon and deeper into the street, Mulder glanced at Scully, trying to judge her feelings.  She just looked tired and worried.  Skinner hadn’t told them much about what they would find at the crime scene.  He obviously wanted Mulder to process it raw, first-hand.
   Mulder caught Monica’s gaze and she looked away immediately.  Why was she so cagey?  What hadn’t she told them?  Maybe it was something she didn’t want to mention while Skinner was around.  Mulder looked at Scully as they walked, caught her attention, then glanced pointedly at Monica.  Scully picked up on it and nodded slightly.  They both recognized that Monica knew something she was hesitant to divulge.
   “So, you used to work the X Files unit, huh?”
   Mulder glanced at ASAC Therrier.  “Yeah.  Both of us.”  He gestured at Scully.
   “I heard rumours about that unit.  Unofficial, right?  Crazy stuff, so I’ve heard. Kind of hush-hush.”
   Mulder smiled humourlessly and said, “That unit was dissolved a long time ago.”
   The ASAC just nodded.  “Still.  Spooky.”
   Mulder tensed at the mention of the word spooky; his former nickname back at the academy – a compliment at first, then later a term of ridicule.  He wasn’t sure if Therrier was making a little joke.  If he was, Mulder didn’t find it funny.
   “Just show me where the bodies are.”
   What the ASAC led them to made Mulder stop in his tracks.  A car had flipped onto its side in the middle of the street, but about thirty feet behind it were a string of what Mulder first assumed were statues randomly lining the sidewalk.  But it only took him a moment to realize they were people - standing corpses, frozen in place.  Lots of them.  Each one was encrusted with frost and ice; mouths open in agony.  From a distance it looked like some kind of morbid street theatre.  They were all halted in various positions, three of them on their hands and knees, silently screaming. 
   “Jesus,” muttered Mulder.  He looked round at Scully.  Her eyes were wide with awful disbelief.  Monica and Skinner stared on with similar expressions.  Obviously the photos hadn’t done it justice.  Mulder snapped his attention back to the ASAC.
   “Skinner said seventeen victims.  I only count fifteen.”
   Therrier jabbed a thumb at the overturned car.  “We’ve got a body in the driver seat.  And what’s left of one in the alley behind you.”
   Mulder glanced at the alleyway.  “What’s left?”
   “Pieces.  Just frozen pieces.  Like he fell apart.”
   Mulder swept past the ASAC and approached the nearest standing corpse.  A man, peering down at his own hands, his mouth agape.  A few feet behind him a woman stood clutching her own throat, the same silent scream on her lips. And on it went for at least forty feet.  Mulder could see their frost-white eyes and the skeins of ice covering their bluish skin.  He didn’t know what had caused this, but his intuition told him that it wasn’t any orthodox biochemical weapon.
   He looked back at Therrier.  “You had CDC out here?”
   The ASAC nodded.  “They didn’t find a thing.  No radioactivity, no airborne toxins.  Nothing.”
   Mulder looked again at the alleyway and traced the path along the sidewalk of flash-frozen bodies.  “A person did this.  They were running.  I think they made physical contact with each of the victims as they ran.  Whatever this was, it was communicated by touch.”
   Therrier frowned.  “That’s exactly what the witness says happened.”
   Mulder shared an exasperated glance with Scully.  “Listen, Agent Therrier, what does this have to do with me?  Did your witness give my name to your Response Team?”
   “No.  The suspect was calling your name, apparently.”
   The ASAC led them away from the crime scene, back the way they had come.  Sitting in the back of an open police van was a young officer, no older than twenty-five.  He was clearly still in shock.  Angered, Mulder turned to Therrier. 
   “If this officer was a witness to this, he really doesn’t need to still be here.  Why are you keeping him at the crime scene?”
   “He insisted.  He said he wouldn’t leave until you got here.  He’s been sitting here all night.”
   At that, the young cop looked up and finally realized they were all standing there.
   He locked gazes with Mulder.  “Special Agent Fox Mulder?”
   Mulder took a long breath and nodded.  “Once upon a time.”
   The officer jolted to his feet so fast that Mulder flinched.  “Everyone she touched turned to ice!”  Mulder took a step back in case the guy did something crazy.  “In seconds!  I watched them freeze…I…she came racing out of the alley, slammed into the side of that car.  It crashed and flipped.  And she just ran, shoving through people.  And then…then they just froze where they were standing.”  The officer grabbed Mulder’s wrist and Mulder forced himself not to pull away.
   “But the whole time she’s screaming your name in this awful growling voice: ‘Fox Mulder, Fox Mulder, Special Agent Fox Mulder!’”
   The officer stared with pleading eyes, as though asking for it to all be explained to him.  Softly, the young cop added, “She was a monster…I saw a monster.”
   Mulder looked over at Scully, who pressed a fist to her lips in disbelief.


FBI Richmond Field Division 
8:25 a.m.

ASAC Therrier had other responsibilities and so a younger agent led them through the building and into a small conference room.  On the way, native agents at their desks curiously eyed the new faces.  By this point Scully was exhausted and just wanted to sleep, yet the gruesome crime scene they had just witnessed had kicked up her adrenaline.
   Once inside the conference room the younger agent said, “The ASAC will be with you again as soon as possible.”  He offered them a curt nod and was gone.
   Alone now, Mulder, Scully, Monica and Skinner exchanged glances.  Skinner was the first to pipe up.  “So, Mulder – what do you think?”
   Mulder glanced at Scully, who gave a bewildered shrug.  “I’m working on it.”
   But in truth, Mulder was stumped.  Perhaps he’d been in ‘retirement’ for too long and had lost his edge, but he couldn’t get past the sheer awfulness of the crime scene.
   “Did you ever come across anything like this in the X Files?” asked Skinner.
   “I don’t know, Walter.  It’s been nearly ten years.  You tell me.  You were our A.D., you read every report that we wrote.”
   Scully frowned at Mulder’s aggressive tone.
   “Just trying to help,” Skinner muttered.
   Monica sighed and sat down at the conference table.  She looked up at Scully, then Mulder.
     “Listen, guys.  There’s something I didn’t mention to Skinner when I told him about the crime scene.”  She glanced at Skinner and tried for a disarming smile.  “I didn’t want you to think I was completely flaky.”
   Skinner just raised his eyebrows in irritation.  “I’ve always respected your capability as an agent.  And believe it or not, I’m a lot more open-minded than you might think.”  He gestured at Mulder and Scully.  “It’s something I learned from these two.”
   Monica nodded thoughtfully.  “Ok, well, a few days ago I had a dream.  A nightmare, really.  Or a vision.  Something…came up from the underworld.  A demon.”  Monica laughed at her own words.  “A demon made of ice and rage.  She belonged in the underworld, but somehow she broke free and found a way into our reality.”
   Nobody said anything.  Monica’s words hung heavy in the air.
   “When I found out about the crime scene…it was obvious it was connected to this dream.”  She peered sheepishly at Mulder.  “I’m officially crazy, right?”
   Mulder shook his head, saying nothing.
   “Unfortunately, I don’t think you’re crazy,” said Skinner.
   “Me neither,” added Scully, glancing at Mulder’s focused expression.
   Monica smiled, comforted a little.  “The thing is – the dream, the crime scene – I just knew it was connected directly to the two of you.”
   Scully looked again at Mulder, seeing the intensity gathering behind his eyes.  “What’re you thinking?” she asked him.
   “I’m thinking that something has shifted.  Something in the air is different.”  He focused his full attention on Scully.  “To be honest, I’ve been feeling strange for a couple of weeks now.  I thought it was just the usual cabin fever, but…”
   Scully sighed and nodded, knowing that most of the time her partner’s intuition was unparalleled.
   “It feels like a door has been opened,” Monica said quietly.
   “Yeah,” said Mulder.  “That’s exactly what it feels like.”
   Skinner glanced among them as they pondered.  “You guys are giving me the creeps.”
   Finally, Scully went over to Monica and kneeled beside her at the conference table.  “Monica, can we talk privately, just us girls?  I could use a very strong coffee, somewhere outside this building.  It would mean a lot to me.  I never got a chance to thank you in person for helping Mulder and me.”
   Mulder and Skinner shared a glance.  Monica pressed her lips together and smiled.  Scully looked over at her partner.  “If you learn anything useful from the ASAC, call me.”
   Mulder nodded silently.

High Grounds Coffee-House
Richmond, 9:40 a.m. 
Scully placed the two espressos on the table, sat in the booth and smiled at Monica.  The attractive, dark-haired agent had aged really well since Scully had last seen her.  The same lithe physique, the same soulful eyes and warm smile.  Now that they were alone, Scully realized how much she’d missed her.
   “Monica, I’m sorry I had to cut off all contact like that.  When Mulder went into hiding, and I was alone with William…you were a good friend to me.  I needed somebody and you were there for me.”
   Monica’s awkward smile made Scully reach out and touch the back of her hand.
   “Dana, I completely understand.  You were on the run.  I got your letters, I wrote back.  I was just glad that the two of you were safe.  Me and John, we both were.”
   Scully gently took her hand away.  “Have you seen Doggett recently?  In his last letter he said he was thinking about moving back to New York.”
   “Yeah, he moved there last year.  I saw him a few months ago.  He took me out to the movies; we ate hot dogs and got drunk together.  I’m still in D.C. so…it was good to see him.”
   Scully sipped her coffee, thinking there was more sadness in Monica than she remembered.
   “Your last letter was nearly two years ago.  Are you seeing anyone?”
   Monica gave another awkward smile and peered into her coffee.  “Yeah.  It’s been about six months.  But it’s kind of a long-distance relationship.  We meet up when we can but…it’s all very new and weird.”
   Scully studied her face.  Monica didn’t want to look at her.  “Is it a woman?”
   Monica chuckled and nodded.  Finally she looked up at Scully.  “Yes.”
   Scully gave her a warm smile.  “That’s big.”
   Monica grinned, seeming relieved.  “Yeah.  But it’s still kind of weird to think of myself that way.  To admit those things to myself.  I feel completely out of my depth.”
   For a few moments they sipped their coffees and shared an easy silence. 
   “Do you think you might be serious about this person?”
   Monica nodded.  “Actually, she’s the one I came to see this week at Quantico.  She’s FBI.  She works at Richmond Division.”
   Scully wondered if she had passed this woman in the corridors earlier.  “I really hope it works out, Monica.”
   “Me too.  It’s strange, but not as strange as I thought it might be.”
   Scully could sense that Monica felt unburdened and didn’t really want to say any more about it.  “So, this dream.  This demon from the underworld…what do you think it means?  How is it connected to me and Mulder?”
   Monica frowned.  “I don’t know, Dana.  I wish I could tell you something concrete.  While I was having it, I understood that she was delivering some kind of message to our reality.  Like a harbinger.  I knew that you and Mulder were directly linked to it.  I’ve been trying to figure it out since it happened.  When Sasha told me about the crime scene, shivers went down my spine.”
   Scully glanced through the windows at the early-morning Richmond traffic.  “You said this demon…she was made of ice and rage?”
   “Yeah.  I know how crazy it sounds.  I can still sense things like I used to, but I haven’t had an actual premonition in a long time.  Not one so specific.”
   There was another silence between them, this one a little heavier than the last.
   Finally, Scully said, “I missed you, Agent Reyes.”
   Monica looked up at her and smiled.  “Me too.”


FBI Richmond Field Division 
10: 23 a.m.

When ASAC Therrier finally entered the conference room, Mulder and Skinner were sitting at the table.  They had been catching up on each other’s lives, leavened with a little mild teasing from both men.  Therrier looked annoyed, and slumped into a chair.
   “Any news?” asked Skinner.
   “Well, they’re saying it’s some kind of cryonic compound…but they also said there are huge traces of human DNA spliced with the compound.  It’s like nothing they’ve ever seen.  Extremely sophisticated stuff.  Basically, they told me the technology to create something like that doesn’t exist.”
   The words, “Not yet, anyway” rolled off Mulder’s tongue without him even consciously realizing.  When he recognized what he’d said a flash of awareness pierced his fatigue and confusion.  A chill skittered across his shoulders and he sat upright in the chair.
   “How could I not remember…?  Whoa.”  He stared at Skinner, his mind now buzzing with intuition and potentials and memories.
   “What?” said Skinner, staring intently at Mulder.
   “Do you remember an X File we investigated where a cryogenic compound was used to flash-freeze a victim?  I can’t believe I didn’t remember that.”
   Skinner frowned.  “I read hundreds of reports, Mulder.  You’ll have to jog my memory.”
   Mulder pressed his eyes shut, willing himself to recall the details. “Jason…Jason Nichols.  He was a post-doctorate at MIT.  That old man…that old man was Jason Nichols…”
   ASAC Therrier glanced with confusion at Skinner.
   Skinner said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about, Mulder.”
   Mulder bolted up from his chair and glanced at the two men.  “I’m talking about time-travel.”
   The ASAC laughed.  “Excuse me?”
   Mulder just turned away and said, “I need to talk to Scully.”  He hurried from the conference room and out into the corridor.  He pulled his cell from his jacket pocket, glanced to his left and saw Scully approaching.  There was a look of concern on her face.
   “Are you ok?”
   Mulder shoved his phone back into his pocket.  “I was just about to call you.  Where’s Monica?”
   Scully frowned.  “She had to go.  Said she’d be back in a few hours.  Talk to me, Mulder.”
   He glanced at a few agents eying them at the end of the corridor by the elevators.  He pulled Scully to one side and moved close to her.  “I think I’m starting to understand what’s happening, Scully.  Do you remember an X File where an old man we interviewed was able know things before they happened?  He was injecting people with a cryogenic compound.  They seemed dead but they were in some kind of stasis.  Don’t you remember?  An oriental man burst into flames on the operating table because we brought his body temperature up too quickly.”
   Scully stared uncomprehendingly at him.  “What’re you saying?”
   “I told you that I believed that old man was from the future.  That he was an older version of one of our suspects; Jason Nichols, a physics doctorate at MIT.  I told you that I thought he was an actual, genuine time-traveller…and that he was somehow using this cryogenic compound on himself to make that trip possible.”
   Scully scrunched up her face in irritation.  “Jesus, Mulder.  Time-travel?  Are you serious?”
   Mulder suppressed a flare of annoyance.  It felt like they were right back in his office basement, playing out their dialectic.  “Scully, I think I’m right about this.  This new suspect, freezing people through touch, what if she’s some kind of more advanced –”
   Scully raised a hand to cut him off.  “If you’re saying that all those people were killed by a time-travelling monster that can freeze people with a single touch…then I don’t buy it.  She’s looking for you, right?  She was screaming your name.  So where the hell is she?”
   Mulder looked away in frustration, glancing down the corridor.  The elevator doors opened and Monica Reyes stepped out...along with another Dana Scully.  The pit of Mulder’s stomach fell away.  In an instant he understood.  He snapped his gaze back round, but the Scully he’d just been talking to was already lunging through the stairwell door and racing down the steps.  In shock, Mulder glanced back at Monica and the other Scully.  They were peering at him with wide eyes.  They had both seen her too. 
   At that moment Mulder came to his senses and bolted through the stairwell door after the lookalike.  He leapt the first few steps and nearly slipped, slamming hard against the wall.  He raced down after the fleeing figure as the sound of their footfalls echoed around him.  His heart was already thudding in his chest, more from disbelief and adrenaline than exertion. 
   He realized what he was chasing.  The thing wearing Scully’s form was something they had encountered more than once before.  Mulder couldn’t really believe this was happening.  He pounded down after the false Scully, catching a glimpse of red hair just before she turned each corner.  Damn, the thing was fast.  He’d forgotten how fast.  Mulder was racing down the steps at full pelt.  If he tried to go any faster he would trip and fall, putting more distance between himself and his quarry.  He didn’t know why the entity was here, or why it had taken Scully’s shape…but it had to be big.  Suddenly he acknowledged the sound of two other people racing down the stairwell a few flights above him.  He knew it would be Monica and Scully, the real Scully – his Scully.
   A flight below him the lookalike turned and threw open the door to the ground floor, and as she shot through it Mulder knew the chase was over.  He ploughed on anyway and came to a stumbling halt in the ground-floor hallway.  Agents moved back and forth, some of them peering curiously at the sweaty, out of breath stranger in their midst.  No sign of the Scully lookalike, of course.  Mulder grimaced, spun round and slammed his palms against the wall.
   “Damn it!”
   A few seconds later Monica and the real Scully came rushing out of the stairwell, coming to an unsteady stop when they saw Mulder standing there.  “Too late, Scully,” he heaved.  “I was too slow.”  All his early morning jogging, all his training.  He tried to suppress the feeling of complete failure.
   Scully and Monica glanced wildly around, as if still trying to catch sight of the imposter.  Mulder knew it would do no good.  The bounty hunter was gone.


12: 33 p.m.

Mulder, Scully, Skinner and Monica were sitting in the office of ASAC Therrier.  The Assistant Special Agent in Charge looked exasperated.
   “I’m sorry, but I can’t go to my boss with this.  I want to find out who killed those people as much as everyone here…but time-travel and shapeshifters?  You sound completely insane, Mr Mulder.”
   Mulder got up from the chair, sighed and began pacing.
   Monica stared at the ASAC and said, “Sir, Scully and I both saw this imposter.  We’ve encountered things like this before in the X Files.”
   “That’s right,” Scully said darkly.
   Therrier rolled his eyes.  “Right, the X Files – an unofficial unit that wastes taxpayer money by looking for ghosts and goblins.  Give me a break.  I have seventeen dead civilians in the division I’m responsible for.  And trust me, they are dead.  We’ve got no idea how they died, and you want to sit here and talk to me about aliens?”
   Mulder continued pacing and said sharply, “Did you not hear that three people in this room saw that thing?”
   Therrier glanced at Scully and Monica.  “You saw a woman with red hair, for like a second.”
   “I was standing right next to her, looking into her eyes!” Mulder barked.
   Skinner leaned forward.  “Daniel, with all due respect…you know me.  And I’d advise that you take their story very seriously.  I’ve encountered what they’re talking about first-hand.”
   Therrier laughed and threw up his hands in disbelief.  “Oh, so you’ve met an alien creature that can adopt the form of anyone it wants?  You kept that pretty hush-hush back in D.C. didn’t you, Walter?”
   Skinner just grimaced.
   Mulder stalked over to Therrier’s desk and put his fists on its surface.  “Just go and check the security footage.”  
   Therrier stood up from his desk.  “I already did that.  The footage has been erased.”
   Mulder was confused.  He backed away from the desk.  “Then…you’ve obviously got a mole…or…”
   The realisation hit him and he looked at Scully.  She got up from her chair and nodded.  “…or this bounty hunter is the one who erased your cameras,” she finished.
   Mulder took a deep breath.  “He’s still in the building.”  He focused his attention on Therrier again.  “Are you listening?  This non-existent shapeshifter is still inside your division.”
   Skinner and Monica looked worried now.  Scully frowned at Mulder.  “Why would he be here?  Why would he impersonate me just to talk to you?”
   Mulder pressed his eyes shut, trying to will some clarity.  “Because…he’s looking for our suspect.  And she’s looking for me.”
   Scully suddenly realized what that meant.  “She’s going to hand herself into the FBI.  Somehow she knows you’re here.  Mulder…”
   He nodded and looked at Therrier.  “Scully’s right.  She’s going to come here.  And if she can do what we think she can better tell your men to batten down the hatches.”
   The ASAC just stared uncomprehendingly at Mulder.  A few moments later an alarm began sounding, and then the phone on the desk started ringing.
   Mulder, Scully, Monica and Skinner exchanged worried glances.  “Sounds like she might already be here,” muttered Monica.
   With a glare of uncertainty Therrier snatched up the phone.  “What?” he barked.  The group watched his face fall as his eyes became haunted.  “Ok. We’re on our way.”  He peered up at Mulder with a look of horror.  “Our suspect is downstairs at reception.  Two security guards are down…and four others have guns on her.  She’s asking to speak with Special Agent Fox Mulder...”
   Mulder turned and locked gazes with Scully.  Therrier bolted around the table and cried, “Come on!”  He was already out of the door when the group came to their senses and sprinted after the ASAC.

In the glass-panelled reception of the FBI field office, a stand-off was occurring. When Mulder rounded the corner and saw her he literally gasped.   There by the entrance the nightmarish woman was waiting, with a security guard lying frozen a few feet away.  Another guard was on his knees in front of her.  The woman had her hand around his throat.  But he was still alive, eyes bulging in terror. 
   Her mess of long black hair framed a deathly pale face covered in frost and ribbons of ice.  Her hands were the same.  Her eyes were sheer white, like she was blind. Four guards had their weapons trained on her, two near the desk and two near the elevators.  Mulder could feel the tension in the air.  The guards were just itching to put several holes in her, and he could understand.  She’d wandered into their place of work and had just murdered some of their own.
   One of the guards shouted unprofessionally, “ASAC, let me shoot this freaky bitch!”
   From behind Mulder, Therrier barked, “No!  Hold your position!”
   “Sam is lying dead at the front gate! She just killed two of us!”  The guard’s aim was trembling, and Mulder had the feeling this was going to end badly.  He was about to lunge into the fray when Scully beat him to it.  She took several paces towards the woman.
   “Not you, bitch!” the woman screamed, with an impossible growl in her throat.  “Just him!  Just Mulder!  Or I’ll kill this man!”
   The guy on his knees tried to speak, but the woman’s hand seemed clamped firmly around his throat.  She was obviously far stronger than she appeared – and whatever strange ability allowed her mere touch to freeze people, she could control it.  The guy on his knees was still alive, for the moment.
   Mulder raised his hands to show her that he didn’t have a weapon, and began moving towards her. 
   “You don’t know what you did,” she hissed.  “You stupid son of a bitch, you don’t know what you did.  You were supposed to save us.  You weren’t supposed to give up…”
   “I’m sorry,” said Mulder, continuing his approach.  “I don’t know what you want, but I am willing to listen to you.  I’m willing to hear what you tell me.”
   She screamed, “December 22nd 2012!”
   Mulder glanced back at Scully, who stared at the woman in horror. 
   “Don’t you look at her!” the woman shrieked.  “You look at me!  Look at what I had to become to get here!”
   Mulder gave her his full attention.  “I apologize.  You can let the guard go.  Take me as a hostage instead.”
   “Mulder, no!” Scully protested from behind him.
   For a moment the woman just peered at him with her unearthly eyes.  Then she shoved aside the terrified guard, who scrambled away across the polished floor.  Mulder made sure to step into the line of fire.  If one of the guards took their chance and shot her, they would have no idea why any of this was happening.
   “Tell me about December 22nd 2012,” said Mulder, in an attempt to soothe her.  She snatched his wrist, and for a moment Mulder expected a piercing coldness to rush through him.  Her grip was cold, but no more so than a corpse.  Mulder inhaled sharply, realizing the woman was letting him live.  Looking into her eyes, he was afraid.  This woman’s appearance was so unearthly that he couldn’t judge her age.  She could’ve been eighteen or eighty.
   “They took the sound away.  From everywhere.  Just silence.  You couldn’t hear a thing.  Then they took away the power.  It was the eeriest feeling.  Oh God...”
   “I hear you,” said Mulder, but she only tightened her grip on his wrist and peered at him with white eyes.
   “Then the ships came.  I couldn’t hear a thing, not even my own breathing, but I saw those things…descending through the overcast and the rain. They just glided silently down.  Some were small, some were huge.  Dark shapes, some like saucers…some like huge, flat triangles.  Just hovering there.  I remember the look on people’s faces in the street.  It didn’t feel like we’d gone deaf…it felt like those things in the sky had sucked all the sound from the world.  I remember the look on my Mom’s face.  It was like we were all standing in the same strange dream.  I was only three years old, but I remember it like it was yesterday.  Then the military men came and took us to the nuclear bunker in North Dakota.  That’s where the project is based.”   
   Mulder tried to absorb what this murderer was telling him.  “What’s your name?”
   “Imogen Ianelli.”  She peered at him with those cold white eyes.  “Lisa Ianelli was my mother.  Jason Nichols; the first to come back…he was my father.  I was an in-vitro baby.  My Mom worked with cryonics.  That’s why the NSA recruited her.  Her compound changed everything.  But my father hid things from my Mom when he travelled here…the invasion…the colonisation.  He just wanted to destroy the project, but the project is the only thing we have left.  But now my father never was.  And I have to live without him now.”
   Mulder’s mind was reeling, buzzing with associations and implications.  He struggled to cross-reference his memories of the old case with what she was telling him.
   She gestured at the men pointing guns in their direction.  “Are they going to kill me now?”
   Mulder tried to hold her awful gaze.  “No, Imogen.  We just want to understand.  Why did you come back?”
   A thin smile curved her mouth.  “For you, Fox.”
   “Because you were supposed to be a hero.  You could’ve stopped it all.  But you tried to pretend that your destiny was a lie.  And the whole world burned.” 
   Suddenly she let go of his wrist, still peering at him with that thin smile on her lips.  Mulder felt himself tense.
   “I’m fifty-three years old.  Do you know what it’s like to live underground for fifty years?  Up on the surface…it was nothing but ruins and blood and fire.”
   At the sound of her words, a dream-image surfaced in Mulder’s mind.  Lying in a bed while the Cigarette Smoking Man stood at a window.  Mulder was sure he glimpsed fire beyond the glass.  A chill skittered down his spine and he knew suddenly that Monica had been right.  A door had opened. 
   “You stupid son of a bitch,” Imogen hissed.  “The shame…the shame is going to devour me because of you…”
   Her eyes suddenly rolled up into the back of her head and she let out a tortured moan.  The frost and skeins of ice on her skin melted away.  She shuddered, convulsed…and her deathly pale skin blushed into healthy flesh-tones.  She slumped forward and Mulder instinctively reached out to grab her.  She was like dead weight in his arms.  Cradling the unconscious woman he snapped his head round and barked, “We need an ambulance!” 
   Scully, Skinner, Monica and the rest of them peered on disbelievingly.  The armed security guards didn’t lower their weapons at first.  Mulder’s pulse was pounding in his ears.


St Mary’s Hospital
Richmond, 7: 46 p.m.

Mulder stood with Skinner and ASAC Therrier, outside the room where ‘Imogen Ianelli’ was being monitored.  Two armed guards stood on either side of the door.  Exhausted, Mulder listened to the aggression and fear in Therrier’s voice.
   Finally getting a chance to speak, Mulder said, “You can’t honestly blame me and Scully for what happened today.  We tried to warn you.  And weren’t you the one who signed off on dragging me out here?”
   But Therrier was barely listening.  “This psychotic, mutant bitch strolls right into our division, into the FBI, and murders two of our guards in cold-blood!  The SAC is on his way here right now.  What the hell am I supposed to tell him?”
   “The truth,” Mulder said simply.
   “The truth?” Therrier growled.  “That this woman has killed nineteen people in the past twenty-four hours, two of which worked for my division?  That she killed them all through physical contact?”
   Skinner finally spoke.  “If Mulder hadn’t intervened you’d have three of your men dead instead of two.”
   Therrier just peered at Mulder with wild, frightened eyes.  “That thing in there doesn’t deserve to still be breathing!  You should’ve let them take their shot!”
   Mulder realized at this point Therrier was no longer thinking like a senior FBI agent.  He was full of shock and anger and powerlessness.
   “I know you’re scared.  What happened today frightened everybody, but –”
   “Scared?” Therrier hissed.  “I’m not scared, I’m horrified!  What are we supposed to tell the families of those two guards?”
   Skinner frowned and glanced at Mulder.  “We just have to remain professional, as professional as we can be.”
   Therrier squeezed his eyes shut, placed his hands on his hips and took a long, tremulous breath.
   “If your SAC is on his way here, you need to report the truth,” said Mulder.  “The truth, as you understand it…as clearly and concisely as possible.”
   Therrier finally opened his eyes, peered at Mulder and nodded.  “Jesus Christ.  I’ve never experienced anything like this before.”
   Mulder nodded sympathetically, glancing at Skinner.  “You’ve apprehended your suspect.  She can’t hurt anybody else.  You tell that to your Special Agent in Charge.”
   Therrier tried to smile but it was more of a grimace.
   Mulder left him in the corridor with Skinner.  He nodded at the armed guards on either side of the door and went back into the room.
   Imogen Ianelli was lying unconscious in the hospital bed, hooked to various machines.  Scully and Monica were sitting on either side of her.  They glanced up when he came in.
   “Everything ok?” asked Monica.  “We heard the shouting.”
   Mulder shrugged.  “Just playing a round of the blame game.  How’s our Ice Queen doing?”
   Scully looked at him.  “Perfectly, Mulder.  No abnormal brain function, no irregularities in heartbeat – nothing to suggest her previous extreme hypothermic state.”
   Mulder went over to the bed and squatted beside Scully.  “Hypothermic?  It was a whole lot more than that.”
   “I know, but it’s the best medical term I can come up with.”
   Mulder stared at the apparently normal woman in the bed.  She’d told him she was fifty-three years old, but in her current state she didn’t look a day over thirty.
   Scully said, “So this is our demon from the underworld.”
   Monica glanced between them and got up from her chair.  “I think I should give you two some privacy.”
   Scully winced.  “Monica, I didn’t mean that the way it sounded…”
   Monica raised a hand to placate her.  “It’s ok, Dana.  I was the one who got Skinner to speak to Therrier and drag you out here.  I dumped all this dream stuff on you.  I didn’t expect any of this.  I’ll give you two some time.”
   Scully tried for a smile as Monica left the room.  Mulder glanced at the living X File lying in the bed beside them.  Alone now, Scully turned her full attention to Mulder.
   He frowned and nodded.  In a hushed voice he said, “She told me about colonisation.  She said she’d been living with military personnel in a nuclear bunker for fifty years.  Somewhere in North Dakota.  I think we’ve been there before, Scully.  She talked to me about destiny.  That we were supposed to stop what’s coming.”
   Softly, darkly, Scully said, “You, Mulder.  Not us.  Not me.”
   Mulder felt his stomach clutch slightly at her words.  He could feel her anger and her despair.  “I think Monica was right.  I think a door has been opened…”
   Through gritted teeth Scully said, “I know…I know.  But we lost so much because of this.”
   Scully tensed at his use of her first name.  “Don’t, Mulder…”
   Mulder could see the tears forming in his beloved’s eyes, but she held them at bay.  He understood that she’d hoped and prayed that they were finally free of all the shadows and pain.
   “Scully, I love you.  More than life, or truth.  And no matter what happens I’ll be right beside you.”
   Scully reached over and hugged him fiercely, pressing her face into the curve of his neck.  “I’m not a skeptic anymore…that’s why this frightens me.  I know what’s out there.  The X Files took everything away from us.”
   Mulder didn’t know what to say to that.  It was true, after all.  He just held her, peering over at the unconscious woman in the hospital bed.
   “I need more coffee, Mulder, or I’m gonna pass out.”
   Mulder chuckled, pulled away and looked into her eyes.  “Partners?” he asked softly.
   She offered him a little heart-breaking smile.  “Always.”
   He kissed her, quickly but deeply.  God, she felt good.  Like home.
   “One extra-strong coffee coming up.”

Mulder noticed Monica was already asleep on one of the chairs in the waiting area.  Her jacket was draped around her like a blanket.  At the end of the hall, Skinner and ASAC Therrier were talking with an older, stern-faced man that Mulder assumed was the Richmond SAC.  Better leave them to it, he thought.  He eventually found the coffee machine at the end of the second hallway.  He fished in his jeans pockets for change.  He sighed as he began feeding them into the machine.  He and Scully hadn’t slept in over twenty-four hours.
   “Hello, Ace.”  The voice from behind him was horribly familiar.  Mulder spun round instantly.  Alex Krycek was standing a few feet away.  Looking as solid and real as the day Skinner put a bullet in his head.
   Mulder went cold at the assassin’s piercing stare.  He still remembered it clearly.
   “I’m imagining this,” Mulder blurted, unconvinced of his own words.
   A half-smile played on Krycek’s lips.  “Like before, huh?  Just shut up and listen, Mulder.  It’s still gonna happen.  I know you can feel it.”
   The dead man’s presence was impossible, yet there he was.  The old anger flooded back through Mulder so easily; anger at this apparition of the man who murdered his father.
   “Feel what?” he spat.
   Krycek let the half-smile play on his lips again.  “Colonisation.  The technology that our government used to create supersoldiers…alien technology, Mulder – they used the same technology on her.” 
   Mulder couldn’t take his eyes off the apparition.  This had happened once before.  Was the son of a bitch really there, or was he losing his mind?
   Krycek continued, “They combined that technology with the ice-compound, fused it to her DNA.  She can survive, consciously, at a temperature of absolute zero.  That’s why she can travel.  She’s dangerous, more than you think.  You’re running out of time, Mulder.  Take Scully and get as far away from her as possible.”   
   Mulder glared silently at the dead man.
   “Go!” screamed Krycek.
   And Mulder finally came to his senses.  He turned on his heels and sprinted down the hallway without looking back.  His stomach was in knots, his pulse kicked up as he recognized the realness of the danger.  As he bolted round the second corner he saw that the two guards on either side of the door were gone.  It was a bad sign.  He threw open the door and rushed into the room, stopping dead in his tracks.
   Imogen Ianelli was out of the bed, standing in the middle of the room with Scully in front of her, a hand around her throat.  Mulder’s heart plummeted when he saw the look of mortal terror in Scully’s eyes.  Imogen still looked human, but she hissed, “Take another step and I’ll kill her.  I’ll put ice in her veins.” 
   “Please,” Mulder began, spreading his palms in a gesture of submission.  “Don’t hurt her.  Just tell me what you want.”
   Scully’s throat was gripped so tightly that she couldn’t even beg for mercy.
   “It’s a little late for that. My father tried to change the past.  He sacrificed his own life…and all he ended up doing was helping the future along.”
   “Leave her alone,” growled Mulder.
   “Do you have any idea what you’ve done, Fox?  The Earth is dark.  The world burns because of you. My husband is dead because of you.” 
   Skinner suddenly burst into the room, gun pointed.  “Let her go!”
   Mulder realized tears had begun rolling silently down his face.  “If you hurt her…”
   He realized Skinner was unable to take his shot without risking Scully’s life.  Mulder’s heart was now pounding like the drum of an interior tribe. 
   Behind Skinner, a young nurse walked brazenly into the room and shut the door behind her.  Mulder glanced fearfully at the nurse.  When she turned away from the door she peered intently at Imogen.  The nurse walked calmly up to the woman and her hostage.  Scully stared with choking incomprehension. 
   The nurse looked Imogen in the eyes.  “I cannot let you do this.  Let her go.  Let her go and I won’t tell my people what you did. It’ll be easier for you.”
   With an expression full of hate, Imogen said, “This world isn’t yours to occupy.”
   The nurse took another step forward.  “This world was ours before humans even learned to dream.” 
   Mulder understood a moment before it happened.  The young nurse’s flesh and clothes suddenly shifted like an optical illusion, and a tall, muscular man in a black flight-suit was standing in her place.  The bounty hunter stared with dark, impassive eyes.
   Enraged at seeing the transformation, Imogen suddenly hurled Scully aside.  She went crashing into the wall and slumped to the floor. 
   Mulder screamed, “Scully!”  Skinner squeezed twice on the trigger of the gun in his hands.  The bullets slammed into the shapeshifter’s shoulder.  Mulder lunged instinctively at Imogen, but the bounty hunter pivoted at the waist and shoved Mulder away like a mere nuisance.  In the next moment Skinner was tossed aside before he could re-aim and fire.  Mulder slammed backwards into the closed door, and fell gasping to his knees.  Skinner went tumbling painfully over the corner of the hospital bed.  When Mulder managed to look up he saw Imogen was again covered with frost and ribbons of ice, peering blindly at the bounty hunter.  The shapeshifter stood his ground, unconcerned by her demonic appearance.
   Imogen turned her gaze to Mulder on the floor of the hospital room.  He could feel the rage coming off her.  It was palpable.  With an impossible growl she cried, “This is for William, you bastard!”
   She lunged at Mulder.  Skinner thrust an arm around the edge of the hospital bed and fired three times, but the bounty hunter had already stepped into his line of sight.  The gunshots slammed into his broad back as he threw his arms around Imogen.  
   A piercing white light blasted through the windows and instantly filled the room.  Mulder’s eyes were forced closed immediately. 
   When the light finally faded behind his eyelids, Mulder willed his eyes open.  Imogen Ianelli and the bounty hunter were gone.  Skinner was still lying beside the bed, the gun in his outstretched hand. Scully was still lying on the floor on the other side of the room.  Mulder scrambled over on his hands and knees and took her into his arms.  Scully was conscious and sobbing almost silently, peering up at Mulder with haunted eyes.  It felt as though a fist closed around Mulder’s heart as he held her.  She buried her face in his chest and then Mulder could hear her cries…a low, muffled moaning.  Mulder kissed her; the top of her head, her hair, over and over, rocking her gently.  When he could finally bring himself to do it, he peered blankly at Skinner who hauled himself into a cross-legged sitting position.  The bald Assistant Director just shook his head, tossed the gun away and put his face in his hands. 
   The door burst open.  Monica and ASAC Therrier rushed into the room, weapons drawn, peering wildly at the three figures on the floor of the hospital room.  The two guards that were supposed to be stationed outside followed them in a moment later, but it was too little too late.  Mulder closed his eyes and held Scully, listening to the muffled sound of her cries.  


December 14th 
Rural West Virginia
10:26 a.m.

They were finally driving home.  The crisp morning light cast a glare on the endless snow around them.  Scully was sitting silently in the passenger seat of the rental car.  As Mulder drove he wished he could think of something truly comforting to say, but he could feel the heaviness that had descended since the events of last night.  He felt kind of nauseous, as though something oily and malevolent had gotten into the pit of his stomach.  He had dragged the woman he loved back into hell.  How could he possibly make her feel better about that?  Mulder realized he was afraid to even look at her for too long.  He wanted to erase the last thirty-six hours.  He wanted to be back on their couch, watching Citizen Kane and drinking beer with the most incredible woman he’d ever known.  But he couldn’t go back.  Neither of them could.  The door was open now.  He knew it…he felt it. 
   And Mulder knew that Scully could feel it too. 
   “You ok, Scully?” he managed.
   Without looking at him she said, “William.  That woman said our son’s name.  ‘This is for William’.  She was talking about our son.”  There was an edge in Scully’s voice that unsettled Mulder, a kind of cold calmness.  It usually meant that she was exceptionally determined about something, but there was also a quality to her voice that Mulder had never heard before.  Something had shifted inside her, he realized.
   Mulder took a long, slow breath as they pulled up in front of the gate to the old farmhouse.  The car rolled to a halt.
   “The darkness, Mulder, it’s found us again.”
   Mulder peered at the gate.  Their home no longer felt like a sanctuary. 
   “It’s going to keep coming, Mulder.  All of it.  We tried to run, but it found us.  I gave up our son…and it still…it still found us.  And I think…I think it finds him too.  It wants to take our son.  It wants to take the Earth.”  Finally, Scully turned and looked at him with an expression of stone.  “We can’t let them, Mulder.  I’ll die first.  We’ll die first.”
     An awful mixture of anger, terror and excitement was swirling in Mulder’s gut.  He peered at his lover, his partner, and nodded.  “I know.”