Thursday, 7 March 2013

Pieces


June 1st 2012
Willard InterContinental Hotel
Washington D.C.
8:44 a.m.


During the night he’d had an awful dream.  His father had been standing in the aisle of a darkened church, pointing a gun at Dana on her knees, whose mouth was somehow stitched closed so she couldn’t scream.  He begged and pleaded for his father to stop, dread swimming like snakes in his belly.  But a statue of Christ had somehow come to life, and held his arms with immense strength so he had no choice but to watch.  His father glanced silently at him and pulled the trigger, blasting away the left side of Dana’s head in a shower of crimson fragments.  In the dream Mulder had howled and sobbed and shuddered.
     It had felt so powerfully real.
     Now, on the balcony of their hotel room he peered at the early-morning Washington skyline, clad only in grey sweatpants, standing bare-chested as the chill breeze caressed him.  He peered down distastefully at the cigarette in his hand, but took another pull anyway.  The smoke tasted good in his lungs but he hated himself for it.  Second-hand smoke had nearly killed him once, and only by Scully’s medical insight had he survived.  But then, lots of things had almost killed him over the years.  Some of them had succeeded in a way. 
     He took another pull, glancing guiltily back into the hotel room.  Scully was still asleep in the bed.  He peered at the sight of her red hair and her bare shoulders, the rest of her concealed beneath the sheets.  It was crazy that he should feel guilty about having the odd cigarette with everything that was going on with them at the moment, but he couldn’t help it.  Three weeks ago he’d had his first cigarette in over a decade.  It was something he only did when he truly felt at his wits end.  It had been a long time that he’d felt this terrified of the situation between them. 
     He wanted to bridge the awful gap that he sensed growing between them, but he didn’t know how.  The events in Wyoming nearly five weeks ago had traumatised both of them.  He knew his dream last night was somehow related to what had happened out there in the desert. 
     Scully had nearly bled to death in his arms from a gunshot wound – a wound that was miraculously healed by a sentient drone-prototype, an artificial intelligence fuelled by alien technology. 
     Even now the memory seemed bizarre, nightmarish and unreal, but it had happened, and Mulder hadn’t been able to shake the sense of shame.  Basically, he’d failed her, and if it wasn’t for the rogue UAV appearing like a deus ex machina and granting her a stunning reprieve, he would have had to bury her.
     He’d be alone right now, broken.  But they were both still here; still trapped in this liminal realm that felt more like a dark fantasy than reality.  But it was their lives. 
     She had been dying in his arms, and then she was alive again.  He was used to extreme possibilities, as familiar with them as any man could ever be.  But they had experienced so much together – so much sheer mysterious insanity that it was a wonder they were both still alive and sane.  Mulder knew that by all accounts both of them should have died years ago.  He and Scully had stepped through so many dark doors together, had encountered such threat and violence, that he could only chalk up their continued survival to some kind of strange fate. 
     Mulder smiled darkly there on the balcony when it occurred to him that neither one of them was completely sane.  She often teased that he was the crazy one, and he often joked about it himself, but it seemed to him that both of them were driven and persistent in a way that was almost borderline psychotic. 
     Dana Scully was the most stunningly intelligent woman he’d ever met, and fierce in a way that sometimes frightened him, and vulnerable in a way that always made his heart ache.  But she was also a genius, and far too modest to ever really acknowledge that.  Mulder had read her graduate thesis many times.  Einstein’s Twin Paradox – A New Interpretation
     When they first met he’d joked to her that rewriting Einstein was quite the credential, but she’d seen it as a simple tease.  She didn’t get that he seriously meant it – that he was enraptured from the get go.  The girl had almost rewritten modern physics in that paper, though her professors were probably too intimidated to acknowledge it in the way they should have.  Barely into her twenties the girl had composed a thesis that discussed Einstein, Heisenberg, Bell’s Theorem and the EPR paradox in a way that was stunningly lucid, and yet somehow poetic. 
     Mulder remembered it so clearly; that initial reading, foraging for clues to her character and her mind.  He remembered what a turn-on it had been.  But this girl’s comprehension of physics and science in general, despite being clearly remarkable, wasn’t enough for her.  At some point she decided to become a medical doctor.
     And then an FBI agent.
     Where he had fallen hopelessly in love with her, and had proceeded to basically ruin her entire life.  Mulder knew that was perhaps a harsh judgement, but it seemed pretty appropriate right now.   
     He couldn’t get past the fact that what happened out there in Wyoming was his fault.  Even though she lay unharmed in the hotel bed, only a few feet away from him, he couldn’t get the memory out of his mind.  The memory of her dying in his arms in that darkened prairie. 
     It felt like he still had her blood on his hands.
     Scully hadn’t been the same since they had learned of William’s abduction from Michael Oren – the NSA agent who was working a deep-cover assignment within the Labyrinth faction.  And as much as Mulder hated the man, Oren had probably saved Scully’s life that night at the abandoned Corbeau Trading-Post.  He had lain down cover fire when Scully lost it and started blasting away at the mercenaries.  She had taken a hit to the stomach, but without Oren she would’ve surely been killed outright rather than mortally wounded, and the Gabriel prototype wouldn’t have been able to perform its bizarre miracle. 
     Mulder was incredibly grateful for that miracle, but he sighed long and deep as he stood on the hotel balcony.  He tried to focus on the feeling of the breeze playing across his skin.  He reached into the pocket of his sweatpants, removing the little black Zippo and the newly-opened pack of Morley’s.  He lit another cigarette.
     The fact that a top-secret prototype UAV, named after a biblical archangel, had managed to somehow heal Scully…the strangeness of that fact was not lost on Mulder.  He’d pondered it over and over again since that night; its symbolism, resonance and possible context, as well as all of the hard facts.  He’d put everything into their report to the senior Vigil members, his best analysis, to basically no avail.  The drone was still out there somewhere. 
     William was still out there too.
     Mulder felt himself tense at the thought.  He could feel the presence of the rage and desperation that he’d forced into the pit of himself since Wyoming.  And if he was in such agony, what in God’s name was Scully feeling right now?  Christ, he just wished she would actually talk to him. 
     They had been using Vigil’s resources to chase down DOD leads into William’s disappearance for five weeks now, but they were hitting nothing but dead ends. 
     And the entire time Mulder could feel Scully pulling away from him a little more each day.  It made him desperate and queasy just thinking about it.  His natural confidence and ease with her seemed to have crumbled.  He wasn’t sure how to behave anymore.
     If he was honest with himself, it felt like everything that had happened since Imogen Ianelli in Richmond last year had been leading them to this frightening place.  The realization that William was missing, that they had been unable to keep the X Files and its darkness out of their son’s life – that realization was simply just too much for Scully to bear.
     She blamed herself for what had happened.  She hated herself for abandoning him, as she saw it.  But Mulder knew the guilt and blame rested squarely on his own shoulders, not hers. He supposed he was the crazy one, after all.  He was the one who had made the X Files and all the horror that went with it such an unavoidable part of their lives.  There was nobody else to blame, really.
     Sons deserved so much better from their fathers.
     He knew this from painful personal experience, and yet when push came to shove, and his own son needed him the most, he had run away and left William and his mother alone.  With monsters at their door.
     He could never forgive himself.
     He would never forgive himself for that.
     Mulder grimaced and sucked deeply on the cigarette in his hand.  Scully felt like she had to carry the burden of giving William up for adoption; that she was weak, not strong enough to protect him, but it was Mulder who had been weak.  He knew it, and he had told her so.  He could feel it like a worm of shame slowly burrowing its way through his heart.        


*


Vigil Taskforce Headquarters
Washington D.C.
2:36 p.m.


The blonde technician was in his early twenties, with pale blue eyes and a thin face.  The name on the Vigil ID tag that was currently clipped to his shirt-pocket read David Gamble, but that was not his real name.  He’d chosen the name because it was a pun, a play on words that amused him.  This building was filled with men and women who were ex NSA and CIA veterans; people who saw security of information as of the highest priority - yet now a man who did not exist was casually walking the same halls as they were, all because he had a little piece of electronic plastic clipped to his clothing. 
     It was little more than a farce; how even the brightest minds still relied on technology to create the illusion of security, or safety.  The real giants of mind, function and form knew all too well that nothing and no-one was safe.  There were predators everywhere.  Things that wore masks, things that didn’t need to wear masks.
     The blonde technician was sitting calmly before a computer-hub composed of three flat-screen monitors and a touch-screen keyboard set into the work-surface.  He unclipped the ID from his shirt and pressed it to the portal-sensor, immediately activating the work-station.  The hard-drives hummed to life and a trinity of Vigil emblems appeared on the three screens.  The emblems were images of candle-flames wreathed by laurels.  He smiled at the hubris of those images.
     He accessed the main menu and began to familiarise himself with the feel of the interface.  He quickly grasped the way Vigil’s systems were configured; much the same as most intelligence agencies.  There were a few sleek flourishes here and there, but basically it was an obvious, unintuitive system.
     It didn’t take him long to locate the files he was looking for.  On one of the three screens he accessed a video-file that was dated May 12th
     The footage was HD, shot on a fairly decent camera.  In the bright lounge the woman sitting carefully on the couch was a redhead in her forties with haunted eyes and a tired, sad quality to her mouth.  But she was still very attractive.  The emotional pain that the blonde technician saw emanating from her only served to make her more attractive.  She was talking to a dark-haired couple sitting close together on the end of the couch.  The husband had his arm firmly around the wife, trying to be the man despite his clear vulnerability. 
     The blonde technician watched for a few minutes.  Eventually he paused the image on a particular look in the redhead’s eyes; a look of genuine empathy.  He studied that look for a few moments before finally letting the image play again.
     “I’m sorry about the camera, but the taskforce I represent said it was necessary.  Everything is being documented.  I’m…I’m just so sorry…”
     “Is he dead?  Is our little William dead…? Oh God…”
     “No…no, we don’t think so, but we’re doing everything we can to find him.  I promise you.  I promise…”
     “Miss Scully…our boy…he’s different somehow.  You don’t think…you don’t think this is because he’s different, do you?  That somebody wanted to hurt him just because of that…?  Miss Scully?”
     The look in the redhead’s eyes was sheer agony.  She was breaking inside.
     “The real reason I’m here…part of the real reason I’m here…is because I used to be an FBI agent…and…oh God…my son was being hunted by very bad men…and I had no choice…I THOUGHT I HAD NO CHOICE…I gave him up for adoption…so nobody could ever hurt him again…”
    The wife’s tremulous, horrified words:  “Oh dear Lord in Heaven…you’re the birth mother?  I can’t…I can’t believe this is happening to us…”           
     The redhead reached out to the wife, expecting to be struck or shoved away, but the wife just crumpled against her.  A moment later they were both sobbing in each other’s arms, while the husband sat trembling with his own grief and confusion.
     The blonde technician smiled.  He realized then why the redhead hadn’t wanted her partner to travel back to Wyoming with her.  She didn’t want him to see her in such a nakedly tortured state.
     He ended the video file and accessed another, this one dated May 29th .  The redhead was now sitting in an armchair, wearing the same haunted expression.  It wasn’t easily recognisable, that presence of ghosts and death; to a fallible eye it would look like she was coping.  But coping was the last thing she was doing.
     From out of shot came the voice of the psychotherapist.  “You blame him?  You blame Mulder for this?  And in some way you feel you should hate yourself for blaming him?”
     “No…no…I’m angry at him for being so strong, so unstoppable.  And selfless…and stupid and kind…for loving me…for loving someone like me.  Someone who…who could never keep up…never shine like he shines.  I hate that I’m not as strong or as brave as he is...”
     “Tell me, Dana…tell me what you really want to say.”
     “It’s like a story…like a never-ending crazy story…”
     “What do you mean?”
     “Our lives…our lives are madness, like something from a bad dream.  He thrives on it.  But it’s killing me…”
     “Dana, what do you think it will take to forgive yourself about giving up your son for adoption?  It doesn’t matter that I or even Mulder believes that you felt you were forced to make an awful choice; all that matters is what you think it’ll take to forgive yourself, because it seems like you feel you need to be forgiven.”
     The blonde technician watched the redhead’s haunted, steely gaze as she struggled to avoid an outpouring of grief in front of this male psychologist.  She could force herself to speak of her grief and terror, but she wouldn’t let him actually see it.  The technician wondered, did the therapist evoke thoughts of her father?
     “I don’t think I can.  Too much has happened…he’s not mine anymore.  He has another Mom who loved him completely for eleven years because I couldn’t…because I’m weak…”
     “But you’re not weak, Dana…you’re in pain, that’s all.  And pain can be handled if we’re delicate enough and insightful enough.  It’s something we can continue to explore here together.”
     “I don’t care…only God can forgive me.  I just don’t want to live in a horror movie anymore…”
     The blonde technician smiled at her words and the exhausted way she’d said them.


*


Bethesda, Maryland
5:03 p.m.


Mulder realized he’d developed a sore throat from all the smoking out on the balcony this morning.  After Scully had woken up he’d ordered breakfast for her, and suggested they talk, but she rebuffed him.  He tried to reach out to her, to hold her and kiss her, but she wriggled away with dark eyes and said Now isn’t the time, Fox.
     She had said something similar many times in the last five weeks, whenever he tried to bridge the gap with genuine physical contact.  The intimacy between them had plummeted since Wyoming, and although they’d been though cold patches before it had never been anything like this.  This hurt on a far deeper level.  She was openly rejecting him, without even being willing to look him in the eye for too long. 
     The medical team at Our Lady of Sorrows back in Virginia were already halfway through the process of firing her.  She was up for review in three days because her attendance at the hospital had become increasingly erratic.  She was allowed a reduced workload because of her commitments to Vigil, and official documentation provided by the taskforce had made it hard to argue against initially.  But recently she’d been giving them no reasons for her increasing absence despite the hospital’s allowances.  Some of those absences had been spent with him, privately chasing down DOD rumours and potential leads about William, but most of it was due to the fact that she couldn’t bring herself to face that part of her life anymore. She didn’t have the heart to just quit the hospital and her patients, but she just no longer seemed to really care about it. 
     All these things combined to make Mulder more unsettled and frightened than he had felt in a long time.
     He parked the rental car and approached the apartment complex.  A young woman tapping away at her phone was just leaving, and Mulder slipped in as the door was closing behind her.  She was so engrossed in her phone that she didn’t even notice him. 
    Mulder took the elevator to the third floor, found the correct apartment and knocked dutifully on the door.  It was a Saturday and he was hoping he might get lucky.  He knocked a second time.
     Finally, Mulder heard noise from within the apartment and then a voice saying, “I’m coming, I’m coming…”
     The door opened and Mulder peered down into the wide-eyed face of Dr Chuck Burks.  The short, stocky digital-imaging specialist stared dumbfounded for a moment before his lips curled into a delighted smile.
     “Holy Wowzers, the King of Weird returns!  Jeez, Mulder…I did not expect to see you on my doorstep this afternoon!  I haven’t seen you in years, my man!”
     Already Mulder could feel the tension in his guts softening slightly.  He couldn’t help but return the smile.  Chuck had always had that way about him, an infectious enthusiasm and sense of fun.  Mulder needed some of that right now.
     “Six years, Charlie boy.  I missed you, so I thought I’d come knockin’.”
     Chuck actually giggled, nodded and said, “Get your ass in here!  We’ve got stuff to talk about and beers to drink!”
     Mulder grinned and stepped into the apartment.  Immediately he noticed the photos framed on the corridor walls; images of galaxies from the Hubble Telescope.
     “You’re still rocking the starry skies, Chuck?” Mulder asked.
     “Oh, once an astronomy geek always an astronomy geek.”
     “Word.”
     Dr Chuck Burks giggled again like a mischievous teenager as he led Mulder through his computer-cluttered lounge and into the kitchen. 
     “Actually, it’s inspiration for my most recent gig; I’m working on a new fractal-imaging system for NASA and JPL.  Politics and bullshit, obviously, but the work itself is pretty cool.  Pay’s good too.”
     Mulder smiled and nodded.  “Still a master of the craft, I see.”
     Chuck shrugged as he retrieved two beers from his fridge, and handed one to Mulder with a smirk.  “But I’m not a badass FBI agent with a direct line to the Weird.”
     “I do not have a direct line to the Weird.  And I ain’t FBI no more, Chucky.”
     “Uh-huh.  But you’re going to tell me stuff, and I already know it’s going to blow my mind.  So, direct line to the Weird.”
     They clinked beer bottles together in friendship, and Mulder felt grateful that Chuck was actually excited to see him.
     “You’ve lost some weight.  Looking good, man.”  
     Chuck grinned.  “Glad you noticed.  You know, I really want to show you my Fortean encyclopaedia that I’m developing on the sly.  It’s a video database of every paranormal clip I can find that I think is genuine.  We’re talking spirit photography, cryptids, UFOs, Men in Black, Ball Lightning…and miscellaneous.”
     Mulder chuckled.  “Sounds promising.”
     “Yeah, but I want to hear it from the source, straight from the horse’s mouth.”
     “I’m a horse, Chuck?  I thought I was a badass FBI agent, once upon a time?”
     Chuck was clearly enjoying their banter, and grinned.  He ushered Mulder back into the lounge and flopped down on the couch.  Mulder took a seat beside him, and turned to face him directly.
     “You know the thing that always freaked me out the most about what you told me, Mulder?”
     “What?”
     “The shapeshifters.  Blows my mind every time I think about it.  I mean, the ramifications it has for our understanding of biological life, and genetics in general.  Ba-zing…”
     Mulder nodded.  “But it’s true, unfortunately.  Every damn word.”
     Chuck simply nodded earnestly and took another swig of his beer.  “You’re preaching to the choir here, man, you know that.  It just fries my brain as a scientist, but in a good way.”
     Mulder frowned and peered at his old friend, a fellow traveller.  “I encountered them again, Chuck.  Quite recently.  Or some new version of them.”
     “Damn.  What happened?”
     “One of them wandered into Richmond Division just before Christmas, impersonating Scully.  Then we encountered them again out in the desert in Wyoming just over a month ago.  We were recruited into an NSA-CIA taskforce.  It was pretty frightening, actually.  Those shapeshifters nearly killed us.  A lot of other crazy stuff too.”
     “Wow,” Chuck said quietly, thoughtfully.  “Sounds a little too dark for me.  You’re a goddamn soldier, Mulder.  You and Scully.  I would’ve crapped my pants and then died a horrible death.”
      “No way,” Mulder retorted.
     “Seriously.  I’m just an old hippie who’s lucky he’s also pretty good with computers.  I’m not brave like that.  I like my Weird at a distance, you know?  I like to put Google between me and the monsters.”
     For a few moments Mulder was silent, and he knew that Chuck could feel the atmosphere already becoming heavier between them.
     Tentatively, Chuck asked, “What is it, Mulder?”
     Mulder took a breath and said, “Some really bad guys wanted control of a black-budget drone, to use it as a terrorist weapon…but not just any drone, something created using retrieved UFO technology.  This thing could think, Chuck.  It was alive.”
     Chuck nodded wide-eyed and muttered, “Whoa.”
     “There was a gunfight,” Mulder continued.  “Scully was hit, bad.  She was bleeding to death in my arms, Chuck…like for real.  She was practically dead and then this drone appears out of nowhere, and…and somehow it heals her.  No more gunshot wound.  I begged it to save her…and for some reason it did.”
     “Holy shit, Mulder,” Chuck said quietly.  “I don’t really know what to say.  That’s incredible.  I’m…I mean, she’s ok now?”
     “Physically she’s fine.  But mentally…I’m really frightened.  She went up to the Cape this morning, to see her Mom for a few days.  I offered to drive her to the airport, but she ignored me and left.  There’s more though.  You remember about William?”
     Chuck grimaced and nodded, like he already knew that what was coming next would be difficult to hear.
     “Well, they found him.  A DOD security-team were murdered by someone trying to get their hands on him…and they succeeded.  His adoptive parents had to file him as a Missing Person.  Scully’s devastated.  She won’t talk to me.  She can barely even look at me.  We haven’t made love or even really been close since it happened.  I can be in the same room with her and yet it feels like she’s a million miles away.”
     Chuck shook his head, and the look on his face was a kind of sad amazement.  “I’m…I’m just really sorry for you guys, Mulder.  That sounds intense beyond all reason.  After the things you told me about your sister, I get how hard it must be to process.  If there’s anything I can do to help…or, or make it easier somehow, just ask.  I wish there was something better I could say to you right now…”
     Mulder nodded and tried to smile again.  “Thanks, man.”
             
*
    

Vigil Taskforce Headquarters
Washington D.C.
5:42 p.m.


The blonde technician had been sitting uninterrupted in one of the hub-suites for almost three hours now.  Despite the political sensitivity of this taskforce there were only forty-six people who were officially part of the group, including senior members and younger analysts, most of whom had been recruited straight from Langley and Fort Meade.  Even the building itself was only a temporary headquarters; an empty office complex that had been hastily outfitted by elite technology-crews working on behalf of the NSA.  But as the blonde technician’s presence proved, their security was little more than a comforting joke.
     He had been studying the redhead’s recorded therapy sessions for a while now.  He had already grown quite fond of her – her quiet, desperate strength combined with the trembling acuteness of her emotional pain.  Images of people were often more enchanting than the people themselves, at least in his experience.
     “And do you feel that your religious beliefs put even more distance between you and Mulder?  That he can’t understand this belief you hold; that you have sinned against God, as well as your son?”
     “He doesn’t believe in God.  Well, that’s not true.  He doesn’t believe in a Christian concept of God…but he’s become more open-minded to religion over the years.  He used to loathe it.  He saw it largely as a tool of oppression and control.  And history backs him up, I can’t deny that.  But it was always something more than that for me…”
     The blonde technician’s interest was always piqued by any mention of ‘God’.  He smiled as he watched the mixture of exhaustion and little-girl hope in her eyes.  Her faith had been tested in the midst of her grief, but she still wanted to believe.
     “Why is it so difficult to share with him how much you’re hurting, if it isn’t him that you’re angry with?”
     “Dr Lowell, Mulder is almost supernaturally resilient.  He’s the strongest person I’ve ever met.  This situation with William, it won’t break him.  He barely even got to meet him.  I sent him away right after he was born.  Because of me he never got to bond with his son.  He doesn’t really know what he’s missing…”
     “I doubt that very much, Dana.  He’s still the child’s father.  Of course he knows.”
     “Maybe he does…I mean, I know…I know he does.  But Mulder can cope with something like this.  He went through it before with his sister.  He can cope as long as he can understand.  He values the truth above all else.  But, I can barely look at him because I don’t want him to know the truth…”
     “And what’s the truth?”
     “That I wish I was dead, that a part of me actually died out there in Wyoming.  Mulder saved me, but only part of me.  I think…I think maybe I’m losing my mind…”
     She couldn’t hold it back any longer, and the blonde technician watched as she finally crumbled before the male psychologist.  She began sobbing, pressing her face into her hands.  She wept and murmured shakily, “Oh God, I miss my Dad…”

*


Rudy’s Diner, Bethesda
7:13 p.m.


At his friend’s insistence the two of them had walked a few blocks to Chuck’s favourite place to eat.  Now, sitting in a booth by the window, Mulder could see that Chuck was still trying desperately to re-inflate his spirits.
     “I’m telling you, Mulder, this cherry pie must’ve been created by an alchemist because it’s transcendent.  No foolin’.  Just you wait and see.”
     Mulder glanced around at the faux-fifties décor, and nodded.  “I like a good slice of pie.”
     The place was half empty but the waitress was taking a while to bring over their food, so Mulder simply stared at his old friend.  “Chuck?”
     The cautious smile vanished from his face.  “What?”
     “I feel like my heart is breaking.  I feel like I’m losing her.”
     Chuck’s eyes creased with compassion and fear for him.  “No way, man.  You guys are meant to be.  I remember the way she used to look at you.  She loves you.  You’ll get through this.”
     “That’s what you said about you and your ex.”
     Dr Chuck Burks allowed himself a smile.  “My ex was a psychopath.  Well, no, that’s not true, but…”
     Mulder could see that his friend was floundering.  Chuck’s ex-wife had been a wonderful woman, and Chuck knew it.  Some things were just too difficult and painful for even the deepest love to overcome.  Mulder just never imagined the same thing might apply to him and Scully.  All the madness during their time on the X Files unit had bonded them at a fundamental level.  He’d thought that bond was unbreakable, but what if he was wrong?
     The waitress finally appeared with their slices of pie.  She was a brunette in her late thirties, a little overweight but still very attractive.  She had a sparkly, naughty look in her eyes as she approached the table. 
     “There you go, fellas.  So, Charlie, who’s your handsome friend?”
     Chuck smiled in an almost bashful way.  “He’s an old buddy of mine, from back when I used to help out the FBI.  Spoken for though, Miri, so get your sexy paws off him.”
     Miri grinned and winked at Chuck.  “You know my heart belongs to you, Charlie.”
     She exaggeratedly sauntered away from the table.  Chuck stifled a smile.  Mulder could see that he suddenly felt inappropriate, playing around with the waitress when his old friend was clearly in a desperate mood.
     “Sorry,” he said quietly, “Me and Miri like to tease each other.”
     Mulder smiled at him.  “She likes you.”
     Chuck practically blushed.  “A girl that hot?  No, she’s just being nice.”
     Mulder shook his head.  “No she’s not.  She’s fishing but you’re not biting, so she’s settling for teasing you.  But I think she wants you to ask her out.”
     Chuck peered wide-eyed at him.  “Seriously?  How can you tell all that?”
     “Behavioural profiler,” Mulder said simply.
     Chuck nodded and narrowed his eyes.  “Look, Mulder…I really am sorry about you and Scully, but I do think you’ll work it out.  The things you’ve told me over the years, I think you and her are written in the stars.  Maybe there’s a higher power involved…”
     Mulder felt himself bristle at Chuck’s words.  “You mean fate?  God?  She won’t talk to me, Chuck.  She can barely even look at me.  When I touch her she tenses up.  If we’re meant to be…then why is she pulling away from me?  She knows I’d do anything for her.”
     Chuck sighed and shook his head.  “I’m just saying, maybe this is happening for a reason.  Maybe to process what she went through she needs to pull away from you.  And when she reaches for you again you’ll both be stronger for it.  Maybe something bigger than both of you needs you to be as strong as possible…and maybe this is a way towards that.”
     Mulder took a long breath and said, “God, I hope so…”  A moment later he realised his cell phone was ringing.  He fished it from the inside pocket of his leather jacket and peered at the screen.  Margaret Scully was calling.
     A flash of apprehension went through him, like the precognition of something terrible.  He peered worriedly at Chuck and answered the call.
     “Margaret?”
     “Oh, Fox, thank God you answered.  Dana isn’t with you, is she?”
       Mulder felt his stomach tightening.  “No, she’s supposed to be with you, right?  She should have landed by now.”
     “Fox, we didn’t organise anything…but, she just called me…she was babbling.  I’m…I’m really frightened…”
     “What…what did she say?”
     “She was talking about the end of the world, and little William, and lighthouses…I couldn’t make any sense of it.  I’m…I’ve never heard my daughter like that before, Fox.  She sounded crazy.  When I told her I was worried about her she suddenly started screaming at me, accusing me of having an affair behind her father’s back.  It’s ridiculous; I loved that man with all my heart, and she knows it.  I’m…I’m afraid she’s going to do something dangerous.  I tried calling her back immediately but she won’t pick up.”
     For a few moments Mulder was speechless. A strange coldness was spreading through him.  “Margaret, listen to me; I’m gonna try calling her right now.  I’m going to find her, and as soon as I do and I know she’s safe I’ll call you back, ok?”
     Mulder heard tears in the woman’s voice.  “Promise me, Fox?  Oh God, promise me?”
     “I promise.”
     He ended the call and speed-dialled Dana’s number, peering up at Chuck.
     “Oh, man, is it bad?” his friend asked tentatively.
     Mulder didn’t respond.  He just waited for the ring-ring in his ear to end and to hear the sound of her voice.  But she wasn’t picking up.  He let it keep ringing and ringing.  Suddenly, unexpectedly, she answered.
     “Mulder?”  Her voice was terse and blunt, like stone.  Mulder was afraid.
     “Talk to me, Dana.  What’s going on?”
     “Stop calling me Dana.  You always call me Dana or Baby when you’re trying to get me to do something.  I need you to take me seriously for once, Mulder.”
     “I always take you seriously, Scully.  What’s happening?”
     “I’m dead.”
     Mulder felt queasy.  “What…?”
     “I’m dead, Mulder.  I’ve been dead since Wyoming.  Since I gave William away, really.  But Wyoming really put the nail in my coffin.  Do you think William is the reincarnated spirit of our fathers?  Is it weird that we named our son after our fathers?”
     “Scully…”
     “You know, it’s strange.  I finally feel calm, at last.  I’m starting to see the bigger picture.”
     Mulder swallowed his fear and said, “What’s the bigger picture?”
     “That we caused this.  This horror.  It’s because of us.  Maybe if we didn’t exist, maybe the world wouldn’t end.  But I saw it, Mulder.  I saw that vision…of Washington in ruins.  There was fire everywhere.  I saw ships in the sky.  Alien spaceships.  Saw it with my own eyes.  I could feel the heat of the fires, the grit and the ash on my face.”
     “Scully, tell me where you are,” Mulder said quietly.
     “Same place you are.  Bethesda.  I was watching when you went in to see Dr Burks.”
     “What?  Why?”
     “I had to make sure you wouldn’t try to stop me.”
     Mulder couldn’t control the fear in his voice any longer.  “Stop you from doing what?”
     “Making a difference in this world.”
     “Just tell me where you are, Scully, right now.”
     “Don’t you dare take that tone with me, Mulder.  I’m not a child.  Do you really think you have more wisdom than I do?  You might be stronger than I am, and smarter, but that doesn’t make you a goddamn Jedi.  At least I know my limitations.”
     With terror in his voice now, Mulder blurted, “Scully, what the hell are you talking about?  Just tell me where you are, baby, please.  I think you might be getting sick…”
     “And what…you’re going to come to my rescue?”
     “Yes.”
     “Why don’t you just admit that you hate me, Mulder?  That you hate me for sending you underground when William was born, and for the fact that I gave him away?  Instead of playing house with me, letting that hate simmer while you wait for some new monster to fight?”
     “Scully, I do not hate you.  I will never, ever hate you.  I love you.  Please tell me where you are.”
     “I’m in Hell,” she said quietly.
     “I can help you, Scully.  Please let me help you.  Just tell me your location and I’ll help you.  Whatever you need to do, we’ll do it together.  I don’t care what it is.  But it’s obviously something important, and I need to be with you.”
     For a moment there was silence on the line, and then in a voice like a little girl she murmured, “283 Pearson Drive.”
     Immediately the line went dead.  For a split-second he glanced up at Chuck sitting opposite him.  Chuck said simply, “Go.”
     Mulder lunged out of the booth and sprinted for the door.


*


Pearson Drive, Bethesda.
7: 38 p.m.


Mulder was running, dripping with sweat beneath his clothes.  His lungs were burning as he ran full-pelt.  People on the streets peered curiously as he raced past, as he weaved and dodged around them.  He tried desperately to keep up the pace, but he could already feel the recent cigarettes slowing him down.  The rental car was back at Chuck’s place, and after a quick calculation based on his old knowledge of this part of Maryland, he’d decided that it would be quicker on foot. 
     He had hoped to God that his memories were accurate. 
     Now, on the Drive itself he counted the door numbers as he ran.  He realized that he was finally approaching 283.  He didn’t know this house.  It was big and expensive-looking, and the windows were dark.  He slowed down and did a mental check-through of the property; old FBI training that was reasserting itself.  But nothing seemed out of the ordinary or a potential threat in any way.  Still, he approached the house cautiously, his chest heaving.  It was only when he got within a few feet of the house that he realised the front door was slightly ajar.  A flash of dread went through him. What the hell was she doing?
     Slowly, Mulder approached the door and stepped into the house.  The hallway was shrouded in darkness.  He desperately wanted to call out her name, but he resisted.  He didn’t want to put her in danger somehow. 
     Damn, he wished that he was armed. 
     If there was someone inside this house, potentially trying to hurt her, Mulder had no idea how he was going to tackle them.  He realized his heart was pounding.  He should have known weeks ago that something was very wrong with her.  He’d known that something was wrong.  Scully had never been this cold to him before.
     There was an archway to his left that presumably led into the lounge.  With trepidation Mulder went through it.  He tensed when he realized that someone was on their knees in the darkness, in the centre of the lounge.  It wasn’t Scully.  It was a man.  He seemed to be weeping softly.
     Without looking up at Mulder the man said, “Please tell her it’s not me…”
     “It is him, Mulder.”
     Mulder’s eyes went to the corner of the room and he saw Scully standing there, half concealed in shadow.  He realized she was casually holding a gun in her right hand.
     “I’m here, Scully.  Talk to me.”
     He couldn’t see her face in the darkness.  The only illumination came through the blinds from the street lamps outside.
     “I found a monster, Mulder.”
     Mulder took a long, fearful breath.  “What do you mean…?”
    “I’ve been using Vigil’s resources…digging into FBI cold-cases.  Vigil’s servers can access practically anything.  I can’t keep chasing ghosts, like you.  I need something more tangible.”
     “Who is this guy?” Mulder asked quietly.
     “My name is Andrew,” the man said tremulously, in a voice that was close to breaking.
     “SHUT UP!” Scully screamed at him, and suddenly the gun in her hand was pointed at the man on his knees.
     “Whoa, Scully, relax,” Mulder said quickly.  “Just tell me what you found.”
     For a few moments Scully was silent.  Finally she lowered the gun.
     “His name is Andrew Haynes.  He’s fifty-six years old, and he owns a private security company here in Maryland.  And he’s a monster.”
     Mulder struggled to control the dread and confusion that was churning within him.  He realized all too well that he had to get Scully out of here and to a hospital as soon as possible.
     “Why is he a monster?”
     “Oh God, this is insane,” the man on his knees murmured, tears in his voice.
     “I thought she told you to shut the hell up?” Mulder barked at him.  He returned his attention to Scully.  “Just tell me everything, step by step.”
     Scully chuckled in an odd, frightening way.  “Do you remember an old case that ViCAP dubbed ‘Moloch’?”
     Mulder vaguely recalled the name in connection with his time at ISU, but what disturbed him was the fact that Moloch was an ancient pagan deity that was sometimes the subject of child-sacrifice.  Mulder’s blood was running cold now.
     “In the mid-eighties Moloch murdered five children, Mulder.  He broke into their homes while their parents were asleep, and shot them to death in their beds.  In their beds, Mulder.  And the fifth victim…a little ten year old boy…he…he set fire to him in his bed.  He burned that little boy alive.”
     Mulder swallowed at the awfulness of what she was telling him.  “I…I remember the case now.  Bill Patterson always used to talk about it when I was studying with ISU.  It tormented a lot of profilers.  Scully, that case is unsolved.”
     Scully gave another strange chuckle.  “Not anymore.”
     “How do you know this is really the guy?”
     “Do you think I’m stupid, Mulder?”
     “No, Scully, I don’t.”
     “Then don’t talk down to me.”  She turned her attention to the terrified man on his knees.  “Read it,” she ordered sharply.
      “It’s too dark,” he muttered.  “Oh Christ…I can barely make out the words…”
      “I’m sure you know that letter off by heart.  You better give it your best shot, or else I’m going to give you mine…”
     The man on his knees was trembling badly, but held up a piece of paper in front of his eyes and squinted. 
     “To the fine investigators…of the FBI…you must…you must think me a monster….but I assure you my work is with purpose and reason…and burning the last child…was unfortunately a necessity.  He had…to pass through the fire…in order to complete the ritual.  Twenty-nine years from now…the true gods of this domain are returning…to retake their rightful place…as the rulers of this world.  I am…I am just a messenger…a harbinger.  FBI, you must realize…that the universe is far greater…and more mysterious than you can possibly imagine.  There will…there will be no further killings.  I have…I have completed my task…I have cast my magic.  I have delivered the seeds of Holy Judgement.  I only…I only hope that I live to see the day that the whole world burns.”
     The man on his knees let the letter slip from his hands and flutter down onto the floor.  He began sobbing and peered desperately at Mulder. 
     “I didn’t write that.  Oh, Jesus Christ, you have to believe me.   I just design alarms.  That’s all I do.  Please, please don’t hurt me…”
     Mulder peered over at Scully in the darkness.  His heart was still thumping in his chest.
     “Scully, listen to me; how do you know this is really the guy?”
     “Because I did my homework, because I used to be an exceptional agent.  Do you think you’re the only one who can crack a case, Mulder?  This man is Moloch.  He’s avoided justice for nearly thirty years.  But not tonight.”
     “We can’t kill him, Scully.”
     The man on his knees began sobbing even louder.
     “On the phone you said we would do this together.  I knew you were full of shit, Mulder.”
     Mulder took a breath and said carefully, “I don’t think this is the guy, Scully.  He’s terrified.”
     Scully gave a flat, empty chuckle.  “He’s just a very good actor.  He would need to be, to evade detection for so long.”       
     “We cannot kill this man, Scully."
     The man on his knees winced in fear and tried to stifle his tears.
     Mulder couldn't see Scully’s face in the darkness but he sensed she was smiling.  "Yes we can.  This guy isn't even human.  He's a piece of sick garbage...a monster.  And we fight monsters, remember?"
     The terror in Mulder felt more palpable with each passing moment.  She was spiralling away from him.
     "Listen to me, what happened to those children is awful and sad and horrific...but none of those kids are William."
     "But they might as well be," she said quietly.
     "Our son is still out there, Scully.  He needs our help.  Killing this guy, even if you're right - it doesn't help us find William."
     Mulder had the sudden feeling that this dark resolve in her was beginning to falter.
     "Please listen to me, Scully.  He's out there somewhere.  Someone thought he was valuable enough to kill an entire Defence Department security-team just to acquire him.  That means they wanted him alive, that he's too valuable to kill.  And that means, unlike Samantha...or Emily....we have a real shot at getting William back safely."
     There were tears in her voice now.  "We'll never find him, Mulder.  It's a pipe-dream."
     Mulder knew he was reaching her.  "We'll find him, Scully.  I will run myself into the ground, I'll go as far as I need to go....further than ever before.  I WILL find him...but I can't do it on my own."
     "Mulder..." she began desperately.
     "Have I ever given up, Scully?  Have I ever really given up on the truth?"
     "No."
     "William is the truth."
     "Oh God, Mulder..."
     "I need your help, Dana.  Please help me..."
     The gun slipped from her hand and clattered on the hardwood floor.  Scully just stood there, trembling.  Mulder carefully approached her, and embraced her.  And suddenly Scully let out an awful, ragged scream before crumpling against him.  Mulder just held her as she shuddered and moaned and sobbed against his chest.  

*

Suburban Hospital, Bethesda
8:53 p.m.


Scully had been completely silent in the car during the drive to the hospital.  Mulder had tried talking to her; pleading with her, screaming at her, but she just sat hunched over in the passenger seat and peered blankly out of the window.  The look in her eyes was gut-wrenching.  Mulder’s body was still flooded with adrenaline from the frightening situation in the home of the man they had just left behind.
     Now, Mulder sat impatiently in the waiting area, nervously tapping his fingers on the sides of the plastic seat.  He couldn't keep still.  He was terrified, and it seemed to be taking so long.  If something was seriously wrong with her, he would never forgive himself.  He had already called Scully’s mom and gave her a highly censored account of the situation.  He had managed to persuade her not to get on a plane immediately.  He’d told Margaret that her daughter was ok, but that wasn’t the truth.  He glanced up from his swirling thoughts and saw the young black nurse from earlier.
     Mulder lunged up from the seat and stalked towards the nurse.  "Is she ok?  What the hell is wrong with her?"
     "Sir, it's ok; please calm down.  She's ok."
     "Just tell me what's wrong with her," Mulder snapped.
     The nurse frowned, but not unkindly, and nodded.  "Best we can figure your wife is suffering from extremely low blood-sugar and a lack of sleep.  She confessed to one of the other nurses that she hasn't been eating anything for almost a week, and that she actually hasn't slept in over sixty-two hours."
     "What?" Mulder said, astonished.  "But that's crazy.  She…she would’ve collapsed by now.  I sleep right beside her...every night…and I'm always up before she is.  I've watched her sleep."
     The nurse frowned again.  "I guess she was faking.  Your wife is obviously a very strong-willed woman.  But, look, this lack of food combined with insomnia can sometimes provoke a kind of semi-hallucinatory delirium, whereby the patient begins losing touch with reality at an exponential rate.  It can be an extremely dangerous mental state.  It's good that you brought her to us when you did, sir."
     Mulder was dumbfounded, but managed, "Is she ok now?"
     "She seems to be.  We've given her some injections to stabilise her blood-sugar and dampen the delirium.  Other than that, with enough rest and food we think she'll be fine."
     "Christ," Mulder said quietly.  "I thought this might be some weird side effect of brain cancer."
     "Excuse me?"
     "Long story.  Can I see her?"
     "She's resting right now.  Her sleep-state is still very fragile so we don't want anything to rouse her out of it.  You need to let her rest for a while, so her mind and body can find their equilibrium again.  Ok?"
      Mulder swallowed and nodded.  The nurse smiled cordially at him, and left.  Mulder sighed and sat back down on the chair.  
     He should be grateful, really.  Grateful that he had stopped her from making a huge mistake, grateful that her sudden break from reality wasn't a symptom of something more serious.  But he didn't feel grateful right now.  He felt like a complete failure.
     "Fox," he murmured to himself, "can you keep doing this?  If it's destroying her...?"
     Grief had done this to Scully, he was sure of that.  
     Back in Wyoming she had started shooting at the Labyrinth mercenaries, and they had shot back.  She almost bled to death in his arms, until the Gabriel prototype had granted them a miracle – and healed her.  It must have been such a strange, traumatic experience with huge implications for her psyche.  Mulder realized that maybe in some strange way a part of her did actually die out there in the short-grass prairies of Wyoming.  He prayed it wasn't so.  It seemed the drone had healed her flesh, but not her mind.
     Mulder glanced up and saw the familiar tall, dark-haired figure of Monica Reyes approaching through the far entrance of the waiting area.  He got up again to greet her.
     “Is she ok?” Monica asked immediately, her eyes creased with concern.
     Mulder nodded and swallowed.  “Thanks for coming.  She’s ok. Apparently she’s suffering from some kind of delirium brought on by low blood-sugar and lack of sleep.”
     “I don’t underst–”
     “Can I trust you, Monica?” Mulder asked quietly, cutting her off.
     “Of course.”
     “Off the books?  No FBI?”
     “Of course, Mulder.  You know that.  What the hell is going on?”
     In hushed tones he said, “I found her in some guy’s house, threatening to kill him.  She thought he was an unsolved serial; a case that ViCAP dubbed ‘Moloch’.”
     Monica’s eyes widened with astonishment.  “Moloch?  They made me study that case back when I was prepping for New Orleans.  Overtones of satanic symbolism.  He killed five kids, right?  I remember it messed up a lot of good agents.  Everybody wanted to crack it. Scully really thought she found the son of a bitch?”
     Mulder sighed and closed his eyes for a moment.  “Monica, she bluffed her way into this guy’s house and was pointing a gun at him.  I managed to talk her out of it but we just left him there.  I have no idea what he’s going to do.  He might’ve already gone to the police.  He could be pressing charges as we speak.”
     Monica seemed thoughtful.  “It sounds like you don’t think this is the guy.”
     “Dana hasn’t been herself for over a month now.  About five weeks ago we got involved in something.  She almost died.  And we…we found out that someone…someone kidnapped William, right out of federal custody.  His foster parents are devastated.”
     “William?” Monica said disbelievingly.  “Oh God, Mulder, I’m so sorry…”  She took his hand and squeezed it.  Mulder could tell it was the most authentic thing she could think to do.
     “Dana’s grieving like crazy.  She can barely even look at me.  I think it pushed her over the edge.  And this is the result…”
     Mulder saw tears glistening in the tall brunette’s eyes.  “Oh God, poor Dana…”
     “Monica, I need you to run a background check on this guy.  Anything you can dig up.  Andrew Haynes.  283 Pearson Drive.  Here in Bethesda.”
     Monica immediately pulled her iPhone from her jacket pocket and muttered, “I’m on it.  Be back as soon as I can.”  She pressed the phone to her ear before turning and stalking out of the waiting area through the nearest exit.

*


Logan Circle, Washington D.C.
9:16 p.m.


The blonde technician was sitting in his car, parked on a street of tall Row Houses.  The sky was black and the flow of pedestrians had thinned.  He’d enjoyed watching the recordings of the redhead’s therapy sessions – watching her pain and confusion – and he’d wished he could’ve stayed longer.  But his presence within the taskforce headquarters was still a huge risk, despite his skill at passing unnoticed amongst the supposedly eagle-eyed. 
     His laptop was open on the passenger seat.  He was about to place an encrypted video-call, but he was apprehensive.  His employers were ruthless and efficient men; even more ruthless than himself.  They were not fond of semi-rogue assets, and that worried him.
     Still, he had a job to do and he was being paid handsomely for it.  Until a new wrinkle presented itself he had to continue as planned.  He took a breath and tapped the laptop’s mousepad, dialling the call.
     A video-window appeared on the screen as the call was connected.  The man who answered the call was in his late fifties with a full head of neat silvery hair and eyes so piercing that the blonde technician had to glance away.
     “So…?”
     “I viewed the files.”
     “Were you able to copy them to your ID’s flash-drive?”
      The blonde technician felt apprehensive about his answer.  “No.  They had six different layers of next-gen protection.  All I could do was view them in the hub-suite.”
     “That’s not good enough.”
     The technician swallowed his fear and said brazenly, “I can only work with the tools they give me.”
     “You’re not going soft in your absence are you?”
     “No sir.  I told you in advance this would probably be the case.”
     “Did she talk about the boy?”
     “Yes.”
     The man on the screen narrowed his piercing eyes.  “Well?”
     “She’s as in the dark as we are.”
     The caller sneered.  “So, nobody in Washington knows where the hell this kid is? I find that hard to believe.  Well…were you at least able to view Vigil’s field-reports?”
     “Yes.”
     “Good.  Prepare a locked-document with your findings and send it immediately.  Time is of the essence on this thing.  We may have less than a month before the White House decides to enact the Equinox.”
     “I know,” said the blonde technician.  “But sir, with regards to the child – if I could make a suggestion?”
     “What?”
     “If nobody is taking credit for the deaths of the Pentagon team, and none of the walkers have any intel, then it seems like whoever has this boy is protecting him; trying to keep him safe, from us.”
     The man on the laptop chuckled.  “Do you really think that hasn’t already occurred to us?  Labyrinth suffered a huge failure in Wyoming.  We lost Gabriel, and we’ve lost our one chance to acquire the boy.  Desperate times call for desperate measures.”
     “I guess that’s why I’m here,” said the technician.
     On the screen the caller gave a thin smile.  “Don’t flatter yourself.  We would rather you were dead.”
     “But I’m not dead,” the technician replied coldly.
     “They’ll be waiting on your document.  Don’t keep them waiting.”
     The man on the screen ended the video-call.
     The blonde technician quickly shut the laptop, and took a long, tremulous breath.  
 

*

Suburban Hospital, Bethesda
9:28 p.m.


She had been up high, in some strange rarefied space, and now she was crashing.  Now she plummeted through images and memories that tumbled and fused together.  She hadn’t fully been able to comprehend the logic of what was happening to her.  Her mind felt wide open as voices in strange languages whispered awful secrets and compelled her to action.
     Dana Scully lay in the hospital bed, drifting in and out of semi-consciousness.  The small room seemed to blur in and out of focus.  She had almost killed a man in his own home, hadn’t she?  Mulder had been there too somehow.  Was she recalling a dream?  Something had blunted the edge of her reason, as though her mind had been taken apart and put back together all wrong.
      She took a deep breath, widened her eyes and tried to will the room around her into a stable image.  But she was too weak.
     Too weak to protect an innocent, defenceless child.
     She wanted to scream at her own cowardice, but her throat felt far too raw.  She remembered that when Mulder had finally discovered his sister’s fate he’d cried, and was forced to say goodbye to a dead memory.
     Dana knew that a part of herself was dead too.  Something had killed her, out in the desert somewhere…and then she was alive again. She couldn’t fathom the strange logic of it.  She just wanted to sleep now, to sleep for a thousand years, but her mind wouldn’t let her.  She listened to the beep-beep-beep of the cardiograph.  Her arm was itching from where they had stuck an IV needle into her flesh.
     She heard the door open and forced her eyes to the sound.  A male nurse dressed in blue scrubs had entered the room, his image blurring, refocusing and blurring again.
     “Am I…going to be ok?” she asked him hoarsely.
     The male nurse approached the bed, peering down at her.  In the moments when his face was in focus, Dana had the sense that she recognised him.  Suddenly she had the feeling that she should be afraid of this man. She heard the beep-beep-beep of the cardiograph quicken its pace. A chill seemed to roll through her body and her mind.
     “You come into my home,” said the male nurse, “And you shove a gun in my face.  You threaten to kill me.”    
     Dana was afraid now, but her mind was still swimming.  She realized enough to know that she was completely vulnerable.  She clenched her teeth and tried to will the strength back into her body.
     “I want to know, Dr Scully, how you were able to find me when so many others before you have failed.”
     “Because I’m Spooky,” she muttered eventually.
     “Excuse me?”
     Dana laughed involuntarily.  “I’m Mrs Spooky…”
     The male nurse leaned over the bed, only inches from her face.  She could smell something coppery and metallic on his breath.  “You think I’m a monster, don’t you?”
     “Damn straight,” she hissed at him.
     “But I’m just a midwife of sorts.  I helped deliver the Twenty-First Century.”
     Summoning what little strength she had left, she growled, “You’re a murderer of children.  That’s all you are…you sick, twisted son of a bitch.”
     He laughed in her face and then gently stroked her cheek.  Dana wanted to recoil at his touch, but all she could do was lay there.
     “The Light Bearers told me things about you tonight.  You really think you can escape Judgement, Starbuck?”
     Dana winced at his use of her father’s old name for her.  She couldn’t comprehend how this man could know it, and it filled her with renewed fear.
     “Call it what you want, Starbuck,” he whispered.  “Judgement, Apocalypse, Revelation…Colonisation.  It doesn’t matter what name you give it.  Before the end of this year the true gods will make themselves known to humanity.  And this Earth will burn to a cinder.  There will be no Christ to save you.  Only death and fire, and blood.  You’ve seen it in your dreams.  How arrogant of you to think you can stop it.  It’s impossible.”
     Dana grimaced, lying prone and vulnerable before this monster.  Softly she muttered, “Nothing is impossible, asshole.  If you…if you’d lived my life, you’d know that by now.”
     “You arrogant little whore…”    
     Savagely, the male nurse grabbed her by the throat with both hands.   
    
*

Mulder was pacing around the waiting area, getting curious glances from some of the other people.  Finally, Monica came striding back in through the far entrance.
     “Anything?” he called out before she had even reached him.
     She shook her head as she approached.  “Nothing.  Just a few parking tickets.  Never actually been arrested.”
     Frowning, Mulder said, “Tell me his details.”
     Monica sighed.  “Andrew Haynes studied electronic engineering at college.  Worked for a few of the big Boston firms before setting up his own small private-security company here in Maryland.  Never got married, no children.  Not much else to tell, Mulder.”
     “Any information on his parents?”
     “His Mom was a schoolteacher, his father was an engineer for USAF.  Both still alive, apparently…”
     Mulder glanced up sharply at Monica.  “His father was in the Air Force?”
     Monica frowned and nodded.  “Yeah, he helped design aircraft.  How does that mean anything…?”
     Mulder began stalking over to the nurse’s station.  “I don’t know.”
     Monica came up behind him as he said to the woman at the desk, “I need to see Dana Scully, right now.  I know what the other nurse said, but it’s important.”
     The woman behind the counter shook her head.  “I’m sorry, sir, but–”
     Monica brushed past Mulder and flashed the woman her FBI ID.  “This patient might be a witness in a federal investigation, Miss.  I suggest you let us through.”
     A nervous look passed across the woman’s face before she glanced between them and nodded.
     Mulder stalked away from the counter and went through the doors into the patient’s area.  He hurried through the hallway and found a whiteboard with a grid of patient names and room numbers scribbled on it.  With Monica beside him Mulder hurried to the end of the corridor and opened the door to Scully’s room.
     The bed was empty.  An IV tube still hooked to the machine lay discarded on the mattress.
     Dread flared in Mulder’s gut.  Grimacing, he glanced at Monica.  She looked afraid too.   Mulder saw a nurse with a clipboard passing by in the corridor.  Hey!” he yelled at her, “The patient who was supposed to be in this room is gone!  Where the hell is she?”
     The nurse looked flustered and glanced at her clipboard.  Mulder went out into the corridor and Monica followed.  He peered impatiently at the nurse.
     “I…uh, she should be in there…”
     Mulder resisted the urge to swear at her and peered again at Monica.  “Go get security,” he said darkly.
     Monica nodded with fear in her eyes, turned and grabbed the nurse’s arm, forcing the two of them to begin sprinting down the corridor.  For a few moments Mulder just stood there, trying to control his fear.  Eventually he turned and barged back into the room, glancing again at the empty bed, glancing around for some sign of disturbance or struggle.
     There were three spots of blood on the floor next to the bed.  Mulder’s insides went like ice as he went over, kneeled and touched his index finger to one of the blood spots.
     A hand lunged from beneath the hospital bed and snatched his ankle.
     “Help me, Mulder…”
     Startled from the shock, Mulder fell back on his ass and tried to scramble away on his hands and heels, until he saw a glimpse of red hair spilling out from under the bed.  Instantly he lunged for her and carefully dragged her out from her hiding place.  Scully’s eyes were wild and wet with tears, and her left palm had been sliced with a shallow cut that was bleeding gently.  He took her in his arms there on the floor, and cradled her.
     “He was here, Mulder…”  Scully’s breath was shaking.  “He was here.  I thought he was going to kill me…  He cut me, Mulder.  And then he vanished right in front of me…”
     Mulder just swallowed his confusion, waiting for security to arrive, and held her gratefully.


10:13 p.m.    

Monica had stayed with Scully, but had flashed her FBI ID again and ordered one of the guards to take Mulder to the security-suite.  Dread was still swirling within him, but he entered the small, dimly-lit room with the guard and peered at the banks of security monitors.  Another guard was sat before the monitors, sipping Coke and eating a sandwich.  He glanced round when they entered, and frowned.
     “Jim, we got any cameras in room 237?”
     The guard with his sandwich looked flustered.  He set it down and began pressing a few buttons on the console in front of him.  “Uh…actually, yeah.”
     “Bring up the feed and run it back like forty-five minutes.”
     The guard at the monitors glanced nervously at Mulder’s silent, wild-eyed expression, but did as he was told.
     Mulder approached the bank of screens as a high-definition colour image blinked to life on the main monitor.  Taken from high in the corner of the room, Mulder recognised Scully lying in the bed.  Her lips were moving.  She was talking to someone.  But she was the only person in the room.  Mulder felt the dread growing steadily within him. 
     Scully was talking to no-one. 
     Suddenly she began thrashing in the hospital bed, as though someone was hurting her – as though someone was choking her.  Mulder grimaced at the image.  Suddenly she threw back the covers, tore the IV needle from her arm and leapt out of the bed.  She was terrified and disoriented, but then she snatched the IV needle still attached to the machines and began using it to slice across her own palm.  She tossed the needle and tube onto the bed, suddenly glancing around this way and that, before suddenly dropping into a crouch and scrambling under the bed, out of sight.  For almost a minute the security footage showed a seemingly empty room, until Mulder recognised himself and Monica hurrying into frame.
     Mulder swallowed his fear and glanced at the guard sitting beside him.  The guy had a look of concerned confusion on his face.
     “Uh…do you want me to run it again?”
     Without answering him Mulder turned away, stalked past the other guard and left the security-suite.  He hurried through the hospital’s corridors and hallways, taking the stairwell instead of the elevator. 
     When he finally reached the wing where Scully was being kept he saw Monica stepping out of the room, with a sad, hurt expression on her face.  She glanced up and saw Mulder approaching.  When he reached her he glanced into the room and saw Scully sitting up in the bed, the IV reinserted into her arm.  Nurses had dressed the cut on her palm, but her eyes seemed hollow.
     “She won’t talk to me, Fox.  She won’t even look at me…”
     Mulder squeezed Monica’s shoulder and said quietly, “Just keep digging into Andrew Haynes.  I’m gonna try talking to her.”
     Monica peered at him.  “Was he here?”
     Mulder stared back at her for a few moments before answering, “I don’t know.”
     Monica seemed nonplussed by his answer, but didn’t probe any further. Mulder went into the room and closed the door behind him.
     They were alone now.  Immediately he could feel a heaviness in the air; as though she was intentionally trying to ignore his presence.  She peered blankly at the open blinds and the night sky beyond.  He walked over, dragged the armchair closer to the bed and sat down.  He didn’t speak.  He didn’t look at her.  He just sat there, closed his eyes and concentrated on steady breathing; a simple meditation.
     They sat like that for almost twenty minutes.
     Mulder was eventually startled from his meditation by Scully’s voice.
     “What’s the nicest memory you have of your father, Mulder?”
     He straightened in the armchair and peered at her.  She wasn’t holding his gaze.  She was still staring through the blinds.
     Mulder took a long breath.  “I guess…I guess maybe camping and fishing, out on the lake.  And…whenever he complimented me on some achievement – school or whatever.  He…uh…he was never too generous with the compliments.”
     “He was a cold father, wasn’t he?”
     “I guess so. Yeah.”
     There was silence in the room for a while.  Eventually Scully said, “My father was warm.  He never let me forget that he loved me, that I was his Starbuck.  Me and Missy and my brothers, we were very lucky to have that kind of warmth.  I mean, he expected a lot from us, but he was never cold.”
     Mulder felt his breath trembling and peered down at his own hands.
     “I think you would’ve made a great father, Mulder.  William would’ve been lucky to have you in his life.”
     Mulder tried to smile at her words but felt the threat of tears instead.  He sniffed and nodded.  “Thanks.”
     There was more silence between them.  She still wouldn’t look at him. 
     Finally she said, “I have to tell you a secret, Mulder.  Something I’ve never told you before…”
     “I’m listening, baby.”
     It seemed to take a great effort for her to finally begin speaking of it. 
     “Back when I was pregnant, after your abduction…after Doggett and I found you dead in those woods…I felt like I’d slipped into a nightmare.  I had to bury you, Mulder.  I had to face the reality that my best friend…the man I loved…was gone, and that I was alone…pregnant with his child.”
     Mulder held back the tears and listened silently.
     “One night, a few weeks after your funeral, Doggett seemed really worried about me.  He took me to this bar.  It was the only time we got really drunk together, but I got so emotional that I ended up sobbing.  He didn’t know what to do.  He offered to drive me home but I just left.  And when I got back to my apartment…it was like this dark shadow just embraced me.  I’d never felt so…so utterly alone.  I took my gun…and I put it in my mouth…”
     Mulder inhaled deeply and clenched his hands into fists as he listened.
     “Somehow I thought…I thought it would be better for both of us; for me and the child I was carrying…”
     Mulder forced himself to speak.  “But…but you didn’t.  You resisted…”
     “The phone rang at that exact moment, Mulder.  I was so startled I nearly squeezed the trigger.  It was my Mom.  She started telling me that she’d had an awful dream…that I was drowning in a lake of black water.  She…she wanted to know if I was doing ok.  She knew, Mulder…somehow she knew.  And she saved me.”
     “Oh, Christ, baby…”
     “The next morning I was so ashamed.  So ashamed.  I tried to convince myself that I wouldn’t have really pulled the trigger.  That I was blink drunk and being dramatic…but deep down I knew.  But Doggett’s friendship really helped me during those three months.  It was such a dark time.”
     Mulder peered up at her and found that she was finally looking directly at him.  Tears were rolling down her face, but her expression was stern.
     “I think…I think that’s part of the reason I chose to give William away.  I kept going back to that night, trying to understand it.  Trying to understand how I could’ve fallen that far.  I felt like…like that night I’d forfeited my right to take care of that child.”
     Mulder held her gaze and murmured, “I am so sorry, Dana…”
     She nodded and said, “I…I want you to know something.  If you hate me now, because of what I just told you…I’ll understand.  I’ll understand if you never want to see me again.”
     “Baby…”
     “But just know that I love you, Mulder.  I love you more than I ever thought I could love anyone.  I don’t think I can ever forgive myself, but I…I really hope that one day you’ll be able to forgive me…”
     “You don’t need…you don’t need my forgiveness, baby.”
     “Yes I do.  My father would be so ashamed of me. And you’re the only man in my life that I respect and admire as much.”
     Mulder suddenly dragged the armchair closer to the bed and grabbed Scully’s un-injured hand.  She inhaled sharply at his touch, in an almost sexual way.
     “Look at me, Dana…”  The sternness in her face was gone, and she peered meekly into his eyes.
     “I’m proud of you.  You hear me?  I’m proud.  You were a soldier in a war, Dana.  A war for Heaven and Earth, and that war pushed you to breaking point again and again.  But you didn’t break.  You didn’t give up.  Do you realize how incredible that is?  Your father, wherever he is now, he knows about your strength.  It would’ve taken his breath away.”
     Scully’s face twisted and she began to cry.  She grabbed him by the back of his neck and pulled him towards her.  She shuddered and sobbed against him.  Mulder held her, and could feel her heart pounding against him.


*

Twenty-four hours later
Willard InterContinental Hotel
Washington D.C.
June 2nd 2012.  11:21 p.m.


Out on the balcony Mulder peered at the darkened Washington skyline.  He didn’t smoke, although the urge was still there.  The breeze was faintly warm and pleasant, and he closed his eyes as it caressed his face. 
     He and Scully had only got back to the hotel a few hours ago, and the first thing she had requested was a feast down in the dining hall.  Scully had eaten like she was ravenous; stuffing her mouth with cold-cuts and cheeses and pastries.  She had even glanced at him a few times and smiled in embarrassment.  The look in her eyes had warmed him greatly.  The distance between them was melting, finally.  He could see glimpses of the real Dana already starting to surface.  When they finally retreated to their room the first thing she wanted to do was take a long hot shower.
     So Mulder stood out on the balcony and waited, thinking about what she’d told him in that hospital room.  He remembered the heartache and shame in her eyes as she confessed to him.  He saw how deeply she needed his forgiveness and it left him with a feeling of trembling humility.
     Mulder was startled from his thoughts by the sound of his cell phone.  He fished it from his jacket pocket and peered at the screen.  Monica.
     “Hey,” he said quietly, recognising the exhaustion in his own voice.
     “You’re not going to believe this, Mulder…”
     Mulder swallowed and said, “I think maybe I will.”
    “Andrew Haynes just shot himself during a call with a 911 Operator.  He was rambling about light-bearers and ancient gods and black magick…”
     Mulder nodded with the phone pressed to his ear, but couldn’t think of anything to say.
     “Response units are at his home right now.  They found the body.  He didn’t even bother to hang up the phone.  They’re going to take that place apart piece by piece.  AD Skinner just got off the phone with Deputy-Director Harris.  The FBI is reopening the Moloch case.  Scully needs to know, Mulder.  She was right.”
     “I’ll tell her, Monica.  And thanks for everything.”
     “Are you ok?” she asked tentatively.
     “I think…I think maybe now I will be.  Speak to you soon, Agent Reyes.”
     “Ok.  You’ll both be in my thoughts.  Anytime you guys need me, I’m just a phone call away.”
     “Ok.”
     Mulder hung up, slipped the phone back into his pocket and took a long, deep breath.  Eventually he turned and went back into the room, sliding the balcony door closed behind him.  When he glanced up he saw Scully standing naked in the bathroom doorway.  Her body was wet and steaming from the heat of the shower.  Mulder just stood there, peering at her nakedness.  Her eyes were full of intensity and desire.
     Mulder immediately felt himself stirring and aching for her, but he said quietly, “Monica just called.  Andrew Haynes just shot himself. You…you were right, Scully.”
     “I know,” she said plainly.  And then, “Come here, Mulder.”
     He nervously crossed the room and stood before her.  She took his hand and pressed it between her breasts, over her heart.
     “How many times are you going to save me, Spooky?”
     “Every time.”
     She smiled at him and moved his hand to her right breast.  She grabbed his other hand and suddenly pressed it between her thighs.  Mulder could feel her wetness, the heat of her.
     “I want to be partners again,” she whispered breathlessly in his ear.  
     And suddenly, at last, they were kissing and grabbing, and Scully was tearing off his clothes.


****






    


3 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. This story is pretty good. I'll have to read more parts when I get the chance.

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  3. Raj, when are we going to get the rest of this story?

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