AUTHOR: Ceilidh Paul (rrooomsy_heckels@h...)
CATEGORY/KEYWORDS: X-File; MSR; AU- Casefile
RATING: R, probably, for violence and occaisionally disturbing descriptions of criminal activity. Warning: Involves violence against children.
SPOILERS: In theory, everything up to "Fight the Future".
DISCLAIMER: I own nothing here, and intend no copyright infringement. All characters and ideas are the property of Chris Carter, 1013, and the FOX network. No profit will be made.
Candlelight and Sun
The man stood in front of the boy, and watched as the golden shadows slid over his body. The candlelight danced sinuously on the walls of the room, and sparkled off the sharp silver metal in the man's hand. The tiny sparkles changed direction as the hand moved towards the boy.
The boy screamed.
The man smiled.
Scully stood up and cheered as the small brown-haired boy, jersey number 10, slid past home plate in a shower of dust. She turned to the man beside her, a broad smile lighting her features. He smiled back as they filed out of the bleachers.
"See?" He said, his voice slightly hoarse from cheering. "I told you that it wasn't going to be boring. And Tyler really appreciated you coming out."
"I was glad to come." She glanced at him sideways, teasing. "But are you sure I'm not just trying to weasel my way into your nephew's affections?" He laughed, and leaned over and dropped a kiss on the top of her head. A disgusted groan sounded from behind them.
"Aw, gross! Why don't I just give you two some privacy."
Rob laughed and grabbed the boy around the shoulders.
"I was just telling off Dana for thinking that baseball is boring." Tyler gaped at her.
"Oh, man! You think baseball is boring? Uncle Rob, what the hell kind of girl did you pick?" Scully threw up her hands, protesting weakly.
"I never said that I thought... I mean... You know, Great American Sport. Go base-" She was cut of by their laughter, and unable to stop a small giggle herself, sighed: "Oh, leave me alone!"
They didn't stop laughing until the parking lot, where the hot Utah sun lit up the dust from the departing minivans. Scully was fumbling with the keys to her sedan as her cell phone began to ring.
"Damn!" She muttered, and dropped her keys in the dust, setting Tyler off again. Rob looked over at her, grinning.
"Dana, you need a hand or something?"
"No, I don't. Goddamn it, where is that phone?"
"Language, Dana!" Tyler shot back mischievously, sticking out his tongue. Finally Scully rescued her phone from the depths of her purse, and, pinning it to her ear with her shoulder, leaned down carefully to retrieve her keys.
"Dana Scully, and this is a bad time." she barked into the phone. "Oh, Assistant Director." Rob smirked. She shushed him crossly. "Yes, sir, I'm familiar with the case, but I don't see-... Yes, sir... No, sir... Are you sure?... Yes, of course, I'll be right in. Thank you, sir. Goodbye." Rob looked at her quietly. Tyler wouldn't meet her eyes. The sun was stifling.
"I-" She started. Rob raised his hand to stop her.
"I get it, it's okay. Yeah. Right, Ty?" Tyler shrugged and looked away.
"Yeah, okay. Whatever. Thanks for coming, Dana. Can we get our cab now?"
Scully slammed the door of her car when she got in.
The Salt Lake City field office was buzzing with activity when Scully pulled open the heavy glass doors of the large office tower. After clearing security, she strode down the hallway, eventually opening the grey door of meeting room 312. The fluorescent bulbs hummed softly overhead, aggravating her already foul mood.
Her partner, Dan Morris, was already inside, leaning up against a filing cabinet. His gun hung in its brown holster at his hip, its strap starkly visible against his white shirt. His jacket lay on the desk in front of him, the silvery lining exposed.
"Hey," he said weakly. "Sorry you had to be dragged away from the kid's ballgame."
She shrugged. "It wasn't the best move I've ever made towards him, that's for sure." She looked down, then up again quickly, her eyes flashing. "Dan, what do have to do with the Choir case? Are we being put on it?"
"Honestly, Dana? I don't know. But something in the AD's tone makes me think so. But, on the upside-"
"There's an upside?" she snapped. He ignored her.
"On the upside, it'll help drag us out of the mess of the last case."
"Or it'll pull is in even deeper! Dan, not one agent has made it out of this case with their career or their sanity intact, you know that."
"It's a tough case, I'm not denying it. But what choice do we really have? We've got a chance to end this, before more kids get hurt." His gaze was stern, resolution clear in his lined features. She sighed, and sat down in the chair opposite him. Someone's shoes squeaked in the hallway. The fluorescent bulb flickered briefly. With a deep gulp, the clock ticked over the minute. Dan coughed quietly.
With a sudden noise the door clicked open, and Assistant Director George Chilton slipped inside. He wore a well-pressed suit, was clean-shaven, and had a subtle tie. His hair was controlled without being slick, the strands in place but not in an improbable helmet above his scalp. Chilton's appearance of cool calm was marred, however, by the faint heated odour around him, and the oily sheen of sweat on his upper lip. He carried five thick dossiers under one arm, an arm just muscled enough to be appropriate for his job, but not so pumped up as to be ridiculous when that arm signed form after form in the mahogany office upstairs. This man was in balanced every inch, a paper-pushing bureaucrat with just enough experience to give him credibility in the field. This man was every inch the FBI.
Chilton strode up to the desk and roughly deposited the files there. All but one were thick enough to require elastic bands to keep them shut, the pinkish strips straining against the stiff, glossy brown paper. Chilton's lip gleamed.
"Agent Scully, Agent Morris, thank you for arriving on such short notice. As you probably know, Special Agent Pembrooke, the former SAC for this case, retired about a month ago. This is the first reason you are here. The second is extremely important, and it is time sensitive." He paused. "Agent Scully, Agent Morris, they've found another boy." Scully hissed a breath through her teeth. "He was in a field in Provo, off the I-15. We're certain it's the same killer, but that is what you and Morris are going to confirm. You're not going to be alone in this. Two experts from NCAVC in Washington are just being rushed through the airport now."
"Are they profilers?" Morris asked quietly. Chilton glanced over.
"Yes, and these guys are good. They'll be here in about half an hour, so in the mean time I want you both to do your best to familiarize yourself with the case file and with the two agents. There's a copy of the case file for both of you, a folder of crime scene photographs back to the first victim, and the personnel file for each of the agents from Headquarters. Get to it." He began to head for the door, but turned around with his hand on the knob. He gazed at them evenly. "I had to pick a pair of agents on the fly for this. I have faith in your abilities, both of you. I trust you to be professional." He looked at Scully for a beat, and then opened the door. His voice floated back to them on the current from the air conditioning. "I trust you to catch this asshole."
Scully forgave him for the sweat.
Dan immediately picked up the case file and began to skip through, but Scully ran her fingers down the spines of the folders, until her fingers found the thick personnel file. She nimbly pulled it out without upsetting the pile, and idly scanned the sticker on the front.
National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime.
Badge Number: JTT047101111
What came next froze her whole body.
Special Agent Fox W. Mulder
Remembrance and Blood
Scully stood on the hot front steps of the Salt Lake City field office. She was watching anxiously for the car that would bring Mulder, and take them to the crime scene. She couldn't think about what it would mean to see him again, to hear his voice again after five years of not speaking. Would he have forgiven her yet? Would she have forgiven him?
She could still remember with perfect clarity the fight in the hallway outside Mulder's apartment. The smell of the carpet cleaner, the peculiar musty smell of the walls, the gleaming brass number 42 on the door. She imagined she could smell the tang of the metal. Maybe she could. She remembered the feelings: her body, tired and drooping, his full of righteous anger and energy. He had urged her to stay, his words almost a physical force, driving her back down their road, down that dank hall to the stifling basement office, so full of the essence of him. She almost choked remembering.
She had resisted finally as his arms slipped around her, his face drawing nearer to hers. A mocking voice had called in her head. `Kiss it and make it better...' That's when things had fallen apart. She had left the next day. She could still hear the drone of the plane's engines in her ears. She hated that sound.
Scully was interrupted in her reverie by Dan Morris brushing her elbow.
"Sorry," he said softly as she started, almost dropping the case file in her hands.
"That's all right." she whispered, eyes still far away. He stared at her for a second, his mouth beginning to ask a question, but she cut him off brusquely.
"Any word on how far away they are?"
"Just coming up State now. About five minutes or so." When she nodded, he glimpsed at the case file clenched in her fist.
"Had a chance to get much of a look at it?" he said, looking up and squinting into the sun. Scully frowned slightly.
"Yes. It's horrible."
Dan grimaced. "The pictures are worse."
"I saw the autopsy reports. They're well done. Was it Farmer who did them?"
"He's good." They were just keeping busy by talking, and they both knew it. Scully could barely make her mouth move. She felt like throwing cold water on herself. She scanned the shining tops of the cars creeping down State St., snaking through rush hour. She made herself think of something else, anything else, so she thought about Rob.
He hadn't been her salvation, as most people had thought. The clich left a bad taste in Scully's mouth. No, Robert Abrams had just come around at the right time for both of them. Scully had dated other men since arriving in Salt Lake City, using each to drive the basement office out of her heart and mind. She had made herself banish the impulse when she met Rob, knowing instinctively she didn't want to him to be someone who drove things away. She wanted him to be someone who helped things stay.
He had had issues of his own. He was very close to his family, and they had all been devoted to his fianc, who had died about a year and a half before he met Scully. What had been shaping up to be his perfect life had been shattered when she was killed, and he was still a broken man when she first encountered him. His hurt had been etched into his face like an engraving, and it had intrigued her, drawn her.
They had been friends first, each sensing the bruise on the heart of the other, not wanting to ruin the undeniable something they both felt. Their outings with their mutual group of friends slowly whittled down to only the closest to them, and to just them. Even after that, it had been weeks before he had softly asked Scully's permission to kiss her after walking her home in the rain.
He always called her Dana.
They had been seeing each other for two years, and Scully was now fully experiencing a life like the one she had left behind in Section Chief Blevins' office ten years ago. Ten years was an eternity gone. Now Mulder was going to come, and everything was going to change. Scully felt a flash of petty anger rise within her, enjoying the flare, feeling it warm her body. Then she let it go, but not without regret. Chilton trusted her to act professionally.
A change in the noise surrounding her awoke Scully's attention, and she took in the sight of the black car in front of her, its windows smoked and enigmatic. She steeled her mind, body, and heart.
And then Fox Mulder stepped out of the car.
Actually seeing him was unlike anything Scully had ever felt before. At first she could have sworn it was a physical blow, the next second she could only describe it as spiritual, the next, like a complete erasure of the mind.
As she cleared enough to properly look, she took in his appearance. He was thinner than when she had left, the almost gaunt look of neglect that used to come over him after a failure. His hair was different as well, fuller and younger than the mop look of before. Black sunglasses shrouded his eyes like a shrine, and his nose showed the evidence of at least one more break.
He wore a creased brown leather jacket over a slightly open blue suit shirt, and jeans with the wallet patches worn out and silver. He looked like a different person, and yet achingly the same.
Mulder lowered his sunglasses slightly, and gazed up the steps towards her. His eyes hit her, catching her breath in her throat. Disturbingly, she could read nothing in them, and the touching vulnerability that usually dwelled within them was gone.
He looked at her like a stranger.
"Well, well, well." He said. "If it isn't Dana Scully."
In the car, the air was chokingly thick. Mulder still had his sunglasses on, and no one would look at each other. Finally the young, dark haired man who was Mulder's partner spoke up.
"Hi," he said, leaning towards Scully slightly. "I'm Alex Paring. I'm so honored to meet you, Agent Scully. You're a legend at the academy."
"Yeah," Mulder said. "You're an advisory, a warning. A textbook case in utter failure by association." His words were like a viper, whiplash quick and poison. Scully felt a cold pit yawn in her stomach. Dan Morris rounded on Mulder and opened his mouth.
"Hold on just a goddamned sec-" he shot out, but Scully put her hand on his knee to stop him. Mulder gazed inscrutably at them. Scully didn't say a word. She couldn't.
The hour had grown late, and the boy had long ago subsided into unconsciousness. The man watched the small rivulets of blood from his body slow down and eventually stop. He felt his heart begin to quicken, his mouth to water, and the man stepped towards the boy. He could feel his own blood rushing and pounding through his body.
He slowly, unbearably slowly, reached his hand toward the boy's back, bringing it back to his mouth with blood on the tips of his fingers. He slipped them into his mouth, feeling the warm metallic tang of the blood on his tongue.
The excitement was too much. The man was usually more controlled, but this one was so vulnerable and innocent. Just a little taste...
The man lowered his head, and kissed the boy full on his young, rose lips.
The sleek black car turned off the I-15 at Geneva Road, leaving behind the suburban sprawl and moving into land that exposed the pale yellow soil. The driver, a local deputy, slid to a stop at the side of the road after less than two minutes away from the interstate, gliding onto the shoulder and stirring up the gravel. He turned around, and spoke for the first time.
"The crime scene's a short hike in from the road, due west. You'll be able to see the tape and the tent. Can't miss it. There's a small team mostly to keep the buzzards off, but they'll leave you alone once you get started. Call out to the station when you're ready to come back, and we'll send a car for you and the body. Good luck, agents. Catch this guy." His mouth was a grim line. Scully turned around as she was about to follow Morris out.
"You aren't coming?" she asked.
He grimaced, and then shook his head. "Once was more than enough for me." The car pulled away, and Scully felt a small rock bounce off her thigh.
They were met with another silent deputy, who handed them surgical masks.
"For the smell," was all he would say. When Mulder parted the thick flaps of the tent door, the cool air rushed out at them. No one wore their mask.
The open canisters of liquid nitrogen had allowed the sheriff's department to keep the body cool enough to wait for the FBI. It was an unheard of opportunity for a profiler to get the body still in the original crime scene. Washington had ordered that the local authorities do their best to keep it well preserved and in the scene until `representatives' arrived. The cold air crept along her skin.
And then Scully saw the boy.
He was propped up grotesquely, a medium sized rock under his chin to hold up his head, his arms flung wide, his legs parted slightly. He was completely naked. The most striking and disturbing feature, though, was his back.
On it were swirls and lines, curves and loops, and they all seemed to resolve themselves into an incredibly ornate set of wings, delicately carved into his back. Suddenly in struck Scully what she was actually looking at: a small boy, maybe nine years old, with wings carved, godamnit carved into his body. The word kept flying around her mind. Carved...
She felt the bile rise in her throat, choking her, stinging her, burning her throat and the back of her mouth. She breathed, slowly and carefully, in and out, knowing it would be easier if she didn't close her eyes, but desperately wanting to. She felt the impulse retreat slightly after a few moments, but it still lurked, low in her throat.
Alex Paring was making small sounds of distress, his eyes bulging, hands over his mouth. Dan was blinking rapidly, compulsively rubbing the lining of his coat. Mulder put his sunglasses in his pocket.
Scully let out a shuddering sigh, and pulled out her latex gloves, snapping them over her wrists, the soft powder settling familiarly around her fingers. She allowed her eyes a moment of respite, feeling them scream in pain against her eyelids the moment they were closed.
Mulder slipped a small tape recorder out of his pocket, and began to speak into it in a steady, professional voice, while he gestured to Paring to get out his camera.
"The body is arranged in what looks like flight, which is supported by the apparent pattern of the mutilation..."
Scully pulled out her own tape recorder, and spoke into it as best she could.
"The victim appears to be about nine or ten years old, blond hair, about four-foot-six. I believe his eyes to be blue, but it's difficult to tell with such extensive haemorrhaging. He weighs probably about 70-75 pounds. Underweight. Extreme starvation before death would then be apparent, as the skin is loose and the bone structure more pronounced then in the average boy his age..." The average boy. This child wasn't much younger than Tyler. In a flash of her mind, he was Tyler, eyes open and red, humiliatingly spread-eagled, mutilated, his inner flesh laid bare for the insects... She felt a hand on her shoulder. It was Dan.
"He's not Tyler, Dana. Believe me, you have to believe me. He is not Tyler." She nodded, clearing her head with deep breaths, working hard not to think about the fact that this boy would never draw a breath again. Scully clicked the record button again.
"Several cuts are post-mortem, but some are obviously pre-mortem, as is evident from the extent of healing. Memo to run a chem test for histamine to determine which are which." Suddenly Mulder cut in.
"The body is spread in an approximation of flight, but what is he? A bird? A fairy?" His voice changed its tone. "When he was alive, he was round faced, blond haired, blue eyed, beautiful. He must have looked like an angel..." Scully whipped her head around towards him.
"An angel..." She whispered. Mulder nodded back, and for a moment nothing was wrong between them, nothing had ever changed. Abruptly, Mulder ducked his head, flicking his eyes away, and the moment was lost. She could almost feel the cold radiate off of him. He turned back to the body, whispering, almost to himself.
"The killer...He made himself an angel."
The ride back to Salt Lake City in the morgue hearse was quiet, but differently quiet then on the way down. Each person was wrapped up in their own head, thoughts, memories and theories chasing each other around their minds. Scully wished, for what seemed the millionth time, that she could see into Mulder's. Did this killer have a face for him yet? Was he right inside that killer right now, imagining everything he did, thought and felt? She knew that he could do it; she had seen what he was capable of, years ago on the Mostow-Patterson case. It frightened and astounded her.
As they filled out papers at the morgue, Scully felt the first wave of exhaustion sweep over her, almost drowning her in its sucking undertow. Suddenly the lights were too bright, the air was too dry, and her thoughts too dense and troubling. She managed to get through the paperwork, accept a ride home with Dan and his wife, and fall into bed.
It was afterwards that the nightmares came. They gripped her in fear, images of every small child she knew lying mutilated and naked in the desert, the arid winds parching their bodies, bleaching their bones, the sand scrubbing away their humanity. She couldn't stop it, and there were more and more children carved and bloody, melting away into the wind, soundless screams echoing for a help she could not give.
As Scully awoke in petrified horror, she could swear she felt herself collapse into sand, and dribble away into nothingness.
The boy was awake now, calling, screaming, writhing as best he could, reopening his fledgling wings, the first feathers newly inscribed in his flesh. He was afraid.
Good. The fear tingled the man's senses, opened his mind to fresh designs. The boy's voice reached down deep within him, calling forth his work.
He was ready to begin again.
Finding the Followers
The man was becoming impatient. He knew he had to remain calm if he wanted the boy to be better then the last, but it was hard. He longed for a fresh canvas.
This boy had to be better then all the others.
This boy was a prelude to his masterpiece.
Scully was woken from her restless dozing by the sharp trill of the phone. She rolled over, eyes gritty, and slid the receiver into her hand. Her body felt shaky from lack of sleep, and her tongue was thick in her mouth.
"Hello?" She managed to blurt.
"Dana?" The voice was concerned and caring, the image of its owner seeming to float down the connection. Scully wrenched herself to attention.
"Yeah, Rob, hi. What time is it?"
"8:30. I wanted to catch you before you went off to work. What's wrong? You sound like crap."
"That's pretty much how I feel."
"Too much to tell now. Can I see you tonight?" Her emotions were hard to get out. She wanted him to know how much she wanted to see him.
"Of course, yeah. My place or yours? Or maybe a restaurant?" She smiled faintly, as much as her stiff mouth would allow.
"Better make it eight. I've got some lab stuff to do today."
"You got it... Rob, you there?"
"Oh, yeah." He sounded distant. She forced herself to think.
"Is something wrong?"
"No, nothing..." Another pause. "I'll see you at eight. I love you."
"I love you too." The dial tone sounded in her ear.
"'Bye." She mumbled into the buzzing receiver. She forced herself out of bed and into a plain blouse and pant set. The cut was sharp, accenting her figure. Damn. She hadn't meant to do that, and there was no time to change now. Scully grabbed an apple on the way out the door. Her mouth was cold inside, and the fruit tasted like dust. She threw it, half eaten, from the window of her car as she passed a grassy island in the road.
200 South was clogged as usual with the stream of commuter traffic into the heart of the city, and it took Scully almost ten minutes to travel the five blocks from there to the intersection of 200 East and 200 South, where the FBI tower loomed on the northeast corner. She was fiercely glad of the grey sticker on her windshield that let her park anywhere she wanted, but today she felt like braving the leering garage attendant. Last week she had had a rather messy incident with melting video rentals, and had made a mental note not to leave her car in the full glare of the blazing Utah sun for seven hours ever again.
She smiled wanly at the greasy man in the ticket booth, who routinely made kissing faces at her as she took the thin slip of paper from his hand each morning. Whenever she confronted him, he claimed not to speak English. Scully knew for a fact that he was born and raised in Philadelphia.
In the cool walk from the car to the elevator, Scully steeled herself for the task to come. Not only was she going to have to work with this disturbing new Mulder, she was going to have to cut open a small boy, a small dead boy. She had taken an antacid before leaving the house, just in case, as she hadn't had to do an autopsy for months, and she had only had to perform the procedure on two children in her career. Her stomach flopped awkwardly.
The smell of the building comforted her as she stepped into the familiar parking elevator, gently pressing the worn round button for the lobby, feeling the elevator softly lurch upward. She flared her nostrils slightly, drawing solace from the scent of order, unconsciously seeking to quiet the chaos the previous day had incited in her.
The calm shattered when the elevator reached the lobby, spitting her out into the bustle of an early morning workday. A large group of tourists were having their cameras confiscated before they could begin their tour, half of them lining up for a backpack search, the other half waiting to be blinded by a camera flash, and to have their pale, slightly gormless looking picture sealed onto a visitor's pass. Scully headed straight for the pale brown arch of the metal detector, passing her two guns through, and then breezing through herself, waving hello to the guard, Michael, as she went. A few of the tourists looked over enviously.
In the elevator, Scully hopped on one foot as she tightened the strap on her ankle holster, something, she remembered with a pang, that she had picked up from Mulder. Only he would be paranoid enough to bring a second gun to work.
She hoped fervently that no-one else would get on the elevator. She imagined their faces as they took in the stoic Agent Scully, hopping up and down, trying to get on a holster for an unnecessary second gun. When she regained her balance, she slipped the sawed-off pistol into the holster, and buckled it down, doing the same for the standard handgun at the back of her hip. Suddenly, the doors slid open, and Scully was more than mildly surprised to find the lobby still in front of her. Then it struck her: she hadn't pushed the button. She smiled thinly to the surprised tourists outside.
She got off at the third floor, which housed some of the labs and the two small autopsy bays. Scully scrubbed in the outer room, adjusted her itchy mask, and snapped on her gloves. Holding her hands in front of her, she braced herself and stepped into the room.
The steady, blue tinted lights illuminated the small body on the metal table, as well as the three men standing around it. Dan Morris was busy setting up the technical equipment in the far corner, while Mulder talked quietly with Agent Paring. Paring had his camera ready, and was fiddling with the flashbulb. Scully could see his hands shaking from the doorway.
Scully walked over to the body, gently pulling back the sheet from him. He was still on his front, the thick blond hair matted with dirt and blood. Rigor mortis had frozen his head in its slightly raised position, and someone had placed a small block under it to lessen the strangeness of the pose. Scully sighed, and pulled down the microphone, flicking the small black switch to turn it on. She cleared her throat.
"This is Special Agent Dana Scully, badge number JTT0331613, performing autopsy on a John Doe, case number G-3809/F. Follow up on crime scene exam. Witnessing are Special Agents F. Mulder, D. Morris and A. Paring. It is now... 9:45:07 am, June 4, 2003. The subject is a minor, approximately nine years old, 55.3 inches in length, and weighs..." Scully checked the preliminary report. "... 68 lbs. Seriously underweight. No single, immediate cause of death is apparent, but there do appear to be ligature marks around the neck and wrists, as well as extensive blood loss from lacerations on the subject's back, which reach from the upper shoulders to the junction of pelvis and spine." Paring looked away as he shot the pictures of the wounds.
The rest of the exam was textbook. Time of death was estimated to be late afternoon on June 2, a day and a half before the discovery of the body. He appeared to have been held for at least four days before that, from the extent of the body's emaciation. The cause of death was strangulation, from the marks on the neck and from the haemorrhaging in the eyes, but serious blood loss was also a major factor.
Scully felt filthy when she finished the exam.
After she had slowly changed out of her scrubs, Scully headed down to the basement. The door of room 312 was slightly ajar, and she slipped through. The sight that met her eyes was sickening. The walls were covered with photographs of the bodies and crime scenes, loosely organized by victim. On the far left wall was a timeline of victims, staggered by date, grisly shots of their bodies on one side of the line, and toothy, grinning school photos on the other. Scully put her hand to her mouth.
Mulder didn't pause in tacking up a photo.
"Get used to it, Agent Scully. This is how we work. If you can't handle it, find your own office."
Scully's eyes flashed with anger. "You know I can handle it."
He glanced over blankly. "Fine. Then give us a hand." He shoved a pile of photos into her hand. "Number six. Goes over there, between five and seven, in case you were confused." She took a deep breath. Be professional.
The pile was topped by a school portrait of a smiling redheaded boy of about ten. The small caption underneath said: `Matthew Carmichael, #G-3806/F'. She gazed at his face, seeing a slight similarity to her brother Charlie, wondering if she was making it up. She felt so tired. Scully hung him on the wall, fighting back tears as she did.
Their work was interrupted as AD Chilton banged into the room. His face bright, he waved a folder in the air.
"We have on ID on the kid! He's Jamie Fredrick Holtz, out of Cranden, Montana. He's still in our jurisdiction, thank god. Been missing since May 29. I've got the fax on him right here." Dan reached for it first. Chilton excused himself, heading back to his office to finish the paperwork on the boy.
Scully quietly rubbed out `John Doe' on the whiteboard they had posted the victim timeline on, slowly writing out his name. Something occurred to her, and she turned around.
"Jamie, that's short for James, right?" Dan, who was holding the file on him, glanced down and nodded.
Scully shook her head slightly. "I'm not sure. Something just... tickled, if that makes sense." Mulder looked over at her sharply. Agent Paring smiled a little.
"That's the feeling I get right before an idea comes clear. It's almost like needing to sneeze, right? Don't push it. It'll clear up." He nodded reassuringly. Scully narrowed her eyes, stepping back to analyse the whiteboard, trying not to see the gruesome images surrounding it. Meanwhile, Mulder turned to the others.
"I know it's all been done before in this case but we need to try and find a pattern in here somewhere, in the locations of the abduction sites, crime scenes, the hometowns of the victims, or even their names."
"Names..." Scully breathed. Mulder ignored her.
"Any little detail might have significance, and-" He was distracted by Scully racing for the bookcase in the far corner of the room, thrusting aside the papers and furiously scanning the titles. Pulling out a thick, cloth-bound edition of the Bible, she flipped through it quickly, arriving after a few moments at the place she sought. Scully read quickly out loud:
" `...And he appointed the twelve, and laid the name Peter on Simon; James son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, and he laid on them the name Boanerges, which is sons of thunder; Andrew and Philip, and Bartholomew and Matthew and Thomas and James son of Alphaeus and Thaddeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who even gave him over...' " She looked around at the men. "That's Mark 3:13-19. It names the Twelve Disciples." She was almost breathless. "Now, look at the names of our nine victims." Her finger danced over the whiteboard. "Thaddeus King, James Mortimer, Bartholomew Olsen, Philip McKenzie, John Redmond, Matthew Carmichael, Peter Laurence, Simon Keene, and our latest, the second James, Jamie Holtz. There isn't one who is not named after a Disciple. That's how he's choosing them."
Mulder raised his eyebrows. "Don't you think that's a bit of a leap?"
Scully smothered a laugh. She felt almost tipsy. Paring was beginning to look excited.
"No, wait, Mulder, I think she's onto something. Think about the back mutilation. We all agreed it was angel wings, and all the victims have it, although they vary in sophistication. This could be a very religious man; it very well could be how he's choosing them! And if it is..." His expression mirrored Scully's. She nodded.
"This might be how we catch him."
The New Canvas
Soft piano tinkled from the corner as Scully walked into the restaurant, the soft lighting aggravating her eyes. The phone call from Rob had come after the initial excitement of her discovery, asking her to meet him at eight at the Piastra restaurant on State St., not far from the FBI building. He sounded happy.
Scully had been at work for the rest of the day, writing up the autopsy report in full, filing it with the others, barely able to keep still until she had written her theory down and placed it on top of the case file. Mulder and Paring had shut themselves in the office, bouncing ideas off of each other, sharing their thoughts, their theories meshing and supplementing each other, spinning off in new directions.
Scully was envious, remembering when it was her, and only her, whom he trusted with his thoughts. She knew she was ridiculous feeling it. Agent Paring was like him, someone trained to do just what they were doing, trained to do something she could not. Still, it hurt more then she would have expected.
She had been glad to get away at seven, her head clouded and her thoughts fuzzy, glad to go home and change for the emergency immersion back into her real life. She had to work at sharpening her gaze, at keeping her mind on the things directly in front of her. She felt like everything was slipping away slowly and quietly, like being too silent at a party and then suddenly realizing that you are alone, that everything had moved on without you.
Scully felt like asking someone to slap her, or shake her, anything to wake her up.
The marble of the restaurant foyer clicked beneath her heel. The headwaiter walked up to her, extending his hand, his expensive cologne wafting over her.
"You must be Dana Scully. I was told by Mr. Abrams to watch for an exquisite lady with equally beautiful red hair. I knew you just had to be she." His voice was oily and slick. Scully worked very hard to smile.
"That's very kind of you to say." She managed to get out. The waiter inclined his head, gesturing grandly with his hand toward the seating area. Scully followed him past the red velvet rope, to a beautifully set table in the back. Rob stood up as she approached.
"Hey, Dana. You look gorgeous." He murmured. Scully reddened slightly, feeling herself relax as she took in his familiar face. She suddenly felt on the verge of tears. She leaned forward to kiss him softly, touching his cheek slowly with the tips of her fingers, and then pressing her whole palm against it, feeling the stubble just beginning, marring the silk of his skin. Through her palm she held him like a lifeline, slowing the wild spinning exit of her thoughts. Gravity seemed to reassert itself on her mind, and it settled back like the talcum from her gloves. She took a deep breath.
Rob looked stunned.
"Wow." He murmured. "I've missed you too."
The car slid quietly into the parking space, the streetlights reflecting in tiny constellations off the roof and sides. Scully shut the passenger door behind her with a gentle thump, staring up at the sky as she waited for Rob. She heard his door shut. The dim orange light in the car faded and died. He took her hand, walking her in silence to the door of her apartment, standing silhouetted with her against the night. His eyes were troubled.
"Dana..." He began, and then changed his mind. "Oh, god. I'm so sorry you have to do this. It's not something anyone should ever have to deal with, not ever. Those poor boys... Their poor parents... Oh, man..." His eyes were glittering. She couldn't stand to see it. He gazed at the doorknob, at the ground, anywhere but her. She slipped her hands over his cheeks, touching the corner of his eye with her thumb. Rob looked up then, and kissed her suddenly, breathlessly, and then hugged her to him.
"Dana," he whispered into her shoulder. "Can we call Tyler?" She understood completely.
Later in the night she watched him sleeping beside her, his arm thrown across the bed, his hand dangling limply off the edge, fingers trailing in the still air. She imagined that he was dead.
Suddenly, he was, his pale, cold flesh hanging off his bones, his eyes, livid red and blank, staring up at her, bruises deep on his neck and wrists. And then the blood, seeping over her white sheets, pouring from his back, glittering dark in the moonlight, running over the bed toward her...
She opened her eyes with a snap, gasping in mute horror, hair streaming over the pillow behind her. The moon shone through the curtains, illuminating only the slight sheen of sweat on the body of the man beside her.
The man stood, resplendent in the candlelight, the same golden shadows sliding over the bare bodies of him and the boy. The boy was empty, his purpose fulfilled, his soul departed, leaving the man with only the used canvas of his body.
It was not enough. It never was. True, the canvas was beautiful, and it was his, but it was not a masterpiece. With each canvas his art improved, but never enough to satisfy him. The wings he saw in his visions never made it perfectly out through his hand, and it only increased his frustration.
The man forced himself to remain calm. Soon he would allow this Work to see the light, and he had already selected his next boycanvas. He just had to remember:
He was one step closer.
There was a message from Alex Paring on Scully's answering machine the next day, Saturday morning, telling her that they didn't need her at the moment, if she wanted the day off. She knew that he was trying to get into her good books. She hadn't been as kind to him as she could have.
Rob used the opportunity to take her to his parents' in Park City. The day was overcast and heavy, matching the shadows under Scully's eyes as they sped along the I-80, the brownish green hills rising on either side of the car. Soon enough the road branched out into flatter land, the hills grey in the distance. They were the only ones on the road.
Scully gazed out the window, watching the sky for hawks like she always did on car trips. It had been a marvel for her to see them so often after moving to Utah, to see them sailing on the thermals rising off the hot scrubland. It felt to her like they meant something, something she couldn't quite grasp, but loved all the same.
Rob smiled at her without taking his eyes off the road, knowing from their years together exactly what she was looking for. He turned on the radio and then took her hand gently in his own, the music floating softly from the speakers on the doors. Scully took her eyes from the sky long enough to smile back, squeezing his hand briefly. She heard him take a deep breath.
"So," he said nonchalantly. "Tell me about Agent Mulder." Scully closed her eyes tightly, acknowledging to herself that they had to have this conversation eventually. She opened her eyes, staring blindly out into the plain.
"What do you want to know?" she made herself ask. He didn't look at her.
She laughed quietly, humourlessly. "No one knows everything about Fox Mulder." She dropped her gaze. "Well, let's see... He was born on Martha's Vin-"
Rob cut in: "I don't care about where he was born or anything like that," he said harshly. "And you know that, Dana." She leaned back against the headrest, closed her eyes again, and opened them slowly.
"You want to know about us." She said flatly. It wasn't a question, and he didn't answer.
"We were very close," She finally began. "Closer than partners, closer than friends. We went through so many things together, so many things that were so unreal that they're hazy in my memory, like dreams. I can't even begin to explain most of those five years on the X-Files, but one thing I do remember is that the only people we could completely trust, the only people who could truly understand, were each other." She swallowed, and then continued.
"Living like that, in this unreal universe in that damn office, had this strange effect, made it seem like that the two of us were the only real people in the whole world. I guess we really had it backwards. Anyway, that sort of thing makes you close to each other in a way that can't be boxed or sorted like any other kind of relationship. We were each other's world... I was his constant, his touchstone..." Her voice trailed off as she remembered. Rob's face was tight.
"Were you lovers?" he asked roughly. She closed her eyes.
"Were you in love with him?"
Scully dug deep into her head, searching for the answer. She knew she had to be honest.
"Maybe... I don't know. I could have been... I might have been." She ran a hand through her hair, realizing the truth. "I think I was."
It felt good to say it.
Rob nodded quietly, slowly. They drove the rest of the way in silence.
The Abrams' house in Park City was a quiet, modest outpost of suburbia. They parked in front of the two and a half story brick house, climbing the worn wooden steps to the wrap-around porch, ringing the doorbell on the cheerful green door, listening to the novelty tune ring out into the house. Chuck Abrams had installed it for the grandchildren.
The door opened quickly, and Rob was enveloped in a warm hug from his mother, Tallulah, and his knees were attacked by several small nieces and nephews. Scully stood awkwardly on the stoop, clutching the fruit salad she had made, completely ignored by everyone around her. Finally she was acknowledged by Mrs. Abrams, who coolly air kissed her and cooed "Oh, you shouldn't have!" to Rob. She swept off into the house, leaving Scully to show herself in. On his way past her, Rob squeezed her hand quickly and smiled, heading in his mother's wake.
Scully stood alone in the front entrance, taking off her shoes slowly, fighting back the palpable resentment in the house. `Dana Scully was not supposed to be here,' she thought sarcastically to herself. `Julia Ramsey was supposed to arrive on the arm of their son, and be loved by the whole family. Well, a drunk driver put a hitch in that plan, and now I'm here instead. Aren't I lucky.' She immediately felt awful, and suddenly, fiercely, missed her own family. Unexpectedly, a voice sounded from the door to the study.
"Hey, sweetheart." Scully looked up. To her relief, it was Rob's father, the only one in the family other than Rob and Tyler who seemed to like her. He treated her almost like a daughter. She smiled tiredly.
"There are some snacks set up in the parlour. You better come quick if you want any. I swear, grandkids are like locusts." She laughed slightly and followed him into the sitting room.
Rob's sister Martha was regaling them with stories of her children, seven-year-old George and five year old Tegan. Scully seated herself politely out of the way, listening attentively, fending off daydreams. Her talk with Rob was tempting her to slip back into her memories, but she knew that if the family thought that she didn't care about their stories, she would stand no chance of ever being accepted by them.
The talking went on for another two hours at least, the time passing by in a haze of bland cookies and mineral water, the stories including everyone but her. She couldn't make herself join in.
Just as they were heading in to the dining room for lunch, Scully's cell phone rang from deep within her bag in the closet. Tallulah pursed her lips. Scully flushed and gestured at the closet.
"I'll... I'll just get that. Don't worry about it, go ahead and start without me." She dashed over and rummaged through the bags, finding her purse and retrieving the phone.
"Dana! We've been trying to reach you for hours, where the hell have you been?"
"I'm at Rob's parents', Dan. What is it?"
"Shit, Dana. Get your butt down here as soon as you can."
"What's happened?" There was only heavy breathing on the other end, and then Dan spoke in a broken voice full of unshed tears.
"Damn it... There's another one."
She felt herself go cold. "Another... Another boy?"
She could hear Dan's voice crack as he answered. "Oh god... Yeah, another boy. Dana, he's messed up real bad."
She was numb. "I'm coming right now. I can be there in about forty five minutes."
She hung up without saying goodbye.
In the dining room, lunch was in full swing. Everyone was cheerful and laughing, oblivious to her absence. Scully cleared her throat and spoke above the noise.
"I have to go. There's an emergency at work. Uh, thank you very much for your hospitality... I have to go." She fled the room, hurriedly pulling on her shoes and grabbing her bag. She could hear Mrs. Abrams through the hallway.
"Typical. Always running off, so superior with her `better things to do'..."
Rob was standing next to her suddenly, his face full of concern.
"Dana? What is it, what's wrong?"
Scully answered without looking up. "They've found another body. I've got to get back right now. I'm sorry." He did his best to smile.
"It's okay. I can catch a ride with Martha or John. Good luck." He handed her his keys.
"Thanks." She kissed him swiftly and slipped out the door, trying not to hear Mrs. Abrams continued tirade.
The car started after three tries, and Scully sped off onto the highway.
Fifty minutes later, she barrelled through the front doors of the FBI building. She raced past the metal detector, the guard on duty waving her through. The elevator spat her out at the third floor, and she ran down the hallway to the tiny morgue, her heart pounding in her ears. She hurled the doors open in front of her, and stood finally in the blue toned room, the sound of her ragged breath ringing of the metal slabs.
It was then that everything seemed to move very slowly. Dan Morris turned to her, his eyes still bright with tears. Mulder turned around at her entrance, and they stared at each other across the room. Scully felt herself begin to slide, her thoughts losing control as her mental gravity disappeared. She walked forward ponderously, her heart thudding in her chest and ears.
And then Dan pulled back the sheet.
She had never seen anything to equal the sheer destruction laid before her eyes. The boy's back was a mess of pulp and sliced flesh, flashes of white bone visible through the overwhelming red mass. His head was thrown back at an impossible angle, the bruises black and livid on his neck. His eyes seemed to almost glow from the scarlet of the haemorrhaging, the pupils tiny black spots in their brilliance.
His eyelids had been cut off.
Scully felt the bile rising in her throat and ran for the bathroom at the far end of the hall. She could hear someone coming after her but she didn't care. The horrible images were still coming to fast and thick, replaying in her mind.
The doors to the bathroom opened with a gust of air freshener, and Scully threw herself over one of the gleaming toilets, her hair swinging in a red curtain across her face. She felt her stomach clench, and then she vomited her disgust and exhaustion, feeling the tile cold under her knees and the tears streaming down her cheeks.
Someone's hand reached across her damp forehead, pulling her hair back from her face, and someone's voice whispered comforting things into her ear. She gave herself over to the fear, unhappiness, exhaustion and sickness of the last few days, and when there was nothing left she rocked back on her heels, and fell into the cradling embrace of Fox Mulder.
Scully lay prone in Mulder's arms until the sobs wracking her body finally slowed to a shuddering halt. She could feel his hand making slow circles on her back, could feel his breath warm against her damp forehead. She relaxed into him, letting her neck loosen and her limbs relax. She breathed deeply, his familiar smell comforting her like nothing else had in years.
"Thank you." She mumbled softly. She could feel his voice rumble in his chest as he answered.
"I couldn't let you be alone." His body shook slightly, and she pulled back, twisting around to look at him. His eyes caught her breath in her throat. They couldn't look away. He leaned forward slightly, his eyes soft. Scully swallowed quietly.
"Wait. No. Mulder..." Quick now, like pulling off a bandage. "I'm with someone." He breathed in sharply through his nose. His eyes flicked away.
"I know. Your partner, Morris, he made sure I knew." He started to get up. Scully put out a hand to stop him.
"Mulder..." He looked at her questioningly, and she realised she had nothing to say to that. "Thank you, again." She finished lamely. He nodded slowly, and then smiled wryly, fleetingly.
"Sure. What are friends for?"
Scully raised an eyebrow slightly. "You definitely haven't been acting like much of a friend until now." He slowly sank to the floor again, sliding his back down the wall of the cubicle to sit beside her on the cold, hard floor.
"Yeah, well. What to say to that? I haven't been." Mulder pulled his hand across his mouth and chin, pulling his lips out and letting them go. His eyes were far away. He ran a hand through his hair. Scully could hear the muted voices of people passing in corridor outside. She couldn't stop watching his hands. Mulder finally opened his mouth and continued.
"When you left... I don't know. It was horrible, and I was angry. When I thought of seeing you again, I didn't know what to do, how to act. When I did... It was like nothing I'd ever felt before." He turned to look at her, eyes dark. "Scully, my anger is the only thing that has kept me alive for the last five years. I didn't know how to let it go." Scully put a hand to her mouth, and managed to squeeze out:
"Oh, Mulder." She leaned her head back against his shoulder, and when the stinging cleared in her eyes, she spoke again, softly. "We've both been so stupid."
They sat like that for a long time.
Hours later, Scully pulled her gloves off wearily. The autopsy of the boy had been unbearably long, and her eyes and heart were sore. She pulled the heavy plastic sheet back over the body, pushed the slab back into refrigeration, and turned out the lights, heading through the swinging metal doors to the scrub room. She tossed the bloodstained garments into the hamper with a sigh.
The results of the autopsy had been the same as that of Jamie Holtz, and all the other boys. The mutilation was more severe, and the starvation had been less prolonged, but that was the only difference. There was the same cause of death, same ligature marks, same staring red eyes, and the same sickeningly beautiful angel wings carved in loops and swirls on his smooth back.
Scully examined her reflection in the mirror. The harsh fluorescent lights did her no favours, and they highlighted the black pouches under her eyes. She had been robbed of her sleep the night before, and regretted it desperately now. Running her fingers through her hair, Scully flipped the steel switch down and stepped out into the hallway. Mulder was waiting outside.
They walked quietly down the hallway, falling into step together as if they had never been apart. The elevator was waiting at the end of the hallway, and they stepped into it, the soft golden glow spilling out into the dim hall. Their shoes clicked on the marble as they crossed to the parking elevators, still without a word. When the parking elevator lurched downward, Scully softly offered Mulder a ride to his hotel. He just as softly declined, and as she drove away in Rob's car, she could see him standing alone in the garage, receding into the darkness.
The next morning, there was a message on Scully's answering machine from Dan asking her to pick up Agent Paring and Mulder. She stood in front of the small brown box, watching the tape whirl around hypnotically. She didn't need to wonder where they were going, or why. They were going to Cranden, Montana, and the family of Jamie Holtz.
Scully got ready quickly, making sure she wasn't dressed too brightly. She put on mascara and brushed her teeth at the same time, staring absently at her reflection, the silence in her apartment pressing down on her eardrums like being underwater. As she spat into the sink and raised her head, her reflected eyes glared back at her, frighteningly close. Scully wiped the toothpaste from the corner of her mouth. The clock ticked heavily in the hall.
The sun was blazing in the street outside, heating the concrete of the stairs as Scully slipped out of her door and locked it smoothly behind her. The golden metal of the doorknob burned beneath her hand, and she let go quickly, striding down the steps to her car, parked a few yards away. As she pulled out onto the street, she plugged her cell phone into the cigarette lighter, absently wanting a smoke for the first time in years.
She hit four on the keypad, the speed dial for Rob. He answered on the fifth ring.
"Hi, Rob. It's Dana."
"I know it's you. So?"
"How did yesterday go."
She shuddered. "It was horrible. This one was really bad, really horrible." He was silent for a moment on the other end.
"God, Dana... I'm so sorry..." His voice was rough, but she tried to sound breezy.
"Well, don't stop yet. I'm headed to Montana."
"Montana? Damn, I remember now. Jamie's family." His familiar use of the boy's name made her pause, almost territorially, but just for moment. She took a deep breath, feeling it shake in her chest on the way out.
"Yeah, pretty much."
"When can I see you?"
"I don't know when I'll be back. Maybe late tonight, maybe tomorrow. As soon as I can."
"I want to see you really badly. You shouldn't have to be alone with this." She could hear the strain in his voice as he replied, but her next words were out of her mouth before she could stop them.
"I'm not alone." The faint buzzing of the phone connection was thick with cold.
"You're with Mulder." It wasn't a question, and she didn't answer. "I see. Well, I..." She could hear him struggling to be reasonable, could feel him fight his anger through the invisible radio signals connecting them. "I'm glad you have someone to help you. Someone a bit more experienced with that sort of stuff than I am. I'm glad." He was forcing his own heart to believe it.
"Rob, I want to talk about it with you, I do-"
"I believe you, hon. See you soon."
She desperately didn't want to leave it at that. "Rob..."
"I love you, too." The connection was dead.
Scully deliberately cut off the driver beside her.
The hotel where Mulder and Paring were staying was a good one, decent and close to downtown. The revolving doors spun as she pulled up in front, and the two agents walked out into the sunlight. Scully's heart gave a small lurch she couldn't suppress when she saw Mulder.
They piled into the car, shutting their doors with quiet thumps, Mulder in the front next to her, Paring in the back. The car slid out onto the busy street, and Mulder checked the road map. They turned north onto the I-15 after leaving downtown, and crossed the State Line into Idaho in about an hour and a half.
The car flew along the deserted highway, and the atmosphere inside was calm. It wasn't until almost lunchtime when Scully began to feel the first flutters of guilt and anxiety. They stopped at a roadside deli for a cheap lunch of wrapped sandwiches and warm, bottled soda. Paring excused himself to stretch his legs, and Scully was left alone with Mulder. They smiled tentatively, and then Mulder took a bite of his sandwich, forcing Scully to begin.
"Mulder, I want to thank you for yesterday. It meant a lot to me that you cared enough to get past your anger-" He cut her off, swallowing noisily.
"Does he know about me?"
"You know who, Scully. Your boyfriend."
"Yes, Rob does know about you." She felt a touch of annoyance creep into her voice.
"Oh, so that's his name. Rob."
"Oh, for god's sake, Mulder. Don't go completely passive-aggressive jerk again." His eyes softened.
"Sorry." He smiled lopsidedly. "It's just that you're a touchy subject for me..." He reached out slowly and put his hand on hers, just a brief touch. Scully's skin tightened, the soft hairs on her hand rising slightly.
Paring walked around the corner, and Scully jumped, pulling her hand away, feeling the slight warmth of his skin still lingering.
It was then that the guilt began to burn her.
Scully spent the rest of the long drive in near silence, alternately stretched out in the backseat scanning for hawks or driving, watching the long highway spiral out before her gaze, listening absently to the intense conversation between the two men as they debated various aspects of the profile they were developing. The Montana State Line passed in a flash of blue, red and yellow, and at about three o'clock the seemingly endless I-15 brought them to the small village of Cranden.
The main street was broad and quiet, the still, hot air barely ruffling the flags and pennants drooping off the streetlamps. A few people glanced toward them as they drove through, at the sleek car and unfamiliar Utah plates. Scully could see the flag still at halfmast above the dusty municipal building.
Paring, who was driving, turned up a shady side street, Oakmount Drive. Scully couldn't see the oaks or the mountains, but could appreciate the apology buried in the name. Her family had once lived on Sugarloaf Lane, at a naval base in Washington State. She remembered her own keen disappointment when it turned out to be just another row of routine housing, homes where you couldn't put anything on the walls, and where you could walk into a neighbor's house by accident, thrown off by its complete uniformity with your own.
The Holtz's home was like a million others in small town America: wide wraparound porch, screen door, toys in the yard, and a flag protruding off the porch. The windows, however, were shut tight against the warm summer air, and the door was a dark presence lurking behind the welcoming screen.
They pulled into the driveway, slamming their car doors in unison, climbing up the steps in their dark suits, a perfect imitation of the dreaded G-men in years past. She felt almost ashamed of their solemn demeanour. How much better would it be if they had coming bearing flowers and hugs, real condolences and real tears, rather than cold professionalism?
Scully rang the doorbell.
It was answered after a few moments by a rather bedraggled looking woman, eyes red and puffy, hair tousled and slightly greasy. She looked them up and down, resignation in her tired gaze.
"You're from the FBI?"
Scully stepped forward. "Mrs. Holtz?"
"Hello, I'm Special Agent Dana Scully, and these are my associates; Agent Fox Mulder and Agent Alexander Paring." The woman blinked slowly, absorbing this information with difficulty. She turned her bleary gaze to Mulder.
"Your name is Fox?" Against her squinting regard, he slid the sunglasses off his nose.
"Yes, ma'am." He said quickly. Mrs. Holtz frowned, then blinked slowly again, shifting her eyes back to Scully.
"I suppose you'd better come in then. Wipe your feet, please." She disappeared into the dim light of the house, calling softly for her husband as she went. Scully wiped her feet on the bristly mat at the door, and stepped through, her vision momentarily overcome by the glowing green light of the transition from the summer sun to the dark house. She shook her head slightly, clearing her eyes, and took stock of the house.
They were standing in a hardwood-floored hallway. She could see the kitchen at the end of it, curtains pulled against the afternoon light poking its way through the glass sliding doors. More toys littered the stairs and hall, and Scully continued on into the living room, walking over to the mantle that loomed over the gas fireplace. A familiar photo stared back at her there, one of a blond haired boy of about nine, grinning at the camera, his hair slicked back, his best tie cinched tightly around his neck, tucked into the collar of a crisp white suit shirt.
She tried not to remember that that was how he had died, from something cinched around his neck just too tightly; she tried not to see his little lips blue and gasping for air, blood running down his back from the wings already carved there. She didn't want to, but the images came unbidden. Someone spoke sharply behind her.
"What are you doing?" Scully jerked her hand back from the glass of the photo.
"I... I'm sorry." She stammered. Mr. Holtz grabbed it off the mantel, clutching the heavy frame in his hand, his knuckles white. Mulder looked over from where he was speaking into his Dictaphone. Mr. Holtz struggled to control his breathing.
"Please," he managed. "Have a seat."
An hour or so later, Mrs. Holtz was struggling to regain her composure.
"I just don't know why anyone would want to hurt Jamie. He is... Oh, gosh, I have to say he `was'... He was such a sweet boy. Never hurt anyone in his life, unless you count Barry Manowitz in third grade, but that one had it coming. Did you know he stole my little Teddy's lunch money a week running, so one day Jamie just stands up and says... He says: `Barry, you big meanie, you just give back my little brother's lunch, and I mean now!', so then Barry starts at him, and Jamie just stands there-"
Mr. Holtz put his hand on her shoulder. She burst into fresh tears. None of them knew what to say. Mulder waited a moment, and then leaned forward slightly.
"Mr. Holtz, are you and your family religious?" He looked up sharply. "Of course. Lutheran, like everyone else in Cranden."
"So you attend church."
"Like a clockwork." The man's gaze sharpened, and Paring took up the questioning, his eyes bright with an idea.
"Did your children attend Sunday School, or Bible Study, something like that?"
"Bible Study. The older ones did, I mean. John and Mary and Jamie. Teddy is in a sing-song type class."
"Would everyone in the church have known Jamie's name?"
"Almost everyone. His teacher certainly would. What are you suggesting?"
"Mr. Holtz, I'm not suggesting anything. It is our belief that the killer knew Jamie's name before he abducted him. We're just looking at options." Holtz's eyes flashed with anger.
"Well don't `look at your options' inside our church. Do you realise how insulting that is? Shouldn't you be out there actually looking for this monster?" Mrs. Holtz looked up at Scully, her eyes shifting with tears.
"It won't help to look at the church. Jamie played Little League and hockey as well, and they have new teachers through all the time. You might as well just go home." Scully sighed, feeling hopelessness settle around her. Mrs. Holtz sniffed. "You might as well go home. It could be anyone who got my Jamie. Anyone in the whole wide world."
The new canvas wriggled and screamed, its pathetic cries ricocheting off the walls, disappearing into the black of the air above them. The candlelight swayed and shifted, throwing grotesque shadows over the man's naked body as he walked toward the boy. The silver blade glittered in his hand as he moved, pleasing him with the tiny constellations of light it reflected onto his thigh. The man loved Art in any form.
The light changed as he moved behind the boy, running his fingers over the smooth, blank Canvas of his back. The blade made tiny red canyons in his flesh as it moved, Art soaring out of the glitteringly dark tip. The man felt excitement course through him, and he resisted the urge to press harder. Doing so would only ruin the Canvas, and, as he had learned, you cannot erase those mistakes.
The man bent his head to the boy's back, and, on an inescapable urge, ran his tongue along the fledgling wings.
Scully banged the screen door of the Holtz's house behind her as she stepped out onto the porch. She leaned back against a column, sighing softly. Mulder was still inside the house, finishing up the questioning, but Scully needed a breath of fresh air. The emotions inside the house were stifling, the air thick with loss, grief and memories. A voice sounded from the front steps.
Scully jumped slightly, and then turned her head to look over. "Agent Paring. What are you doing out here?"
He shrugged. "The same as you, I guess. It's intense in there."
She walked over and sat down next to him on a painted wooden step. "That was a good idea, the Bible Study question. I really think we should look into that."
He frowned. "I don't need you to tell me I'm doing well, Agent Scully. Believe me, I can figure stuff like that out on my own. I'm a big boy." At her expression, he sighed. "I'm sorry. That wasn't directed at you. I'm just really tired and confused, and just kind of, I don't know, sore." He rubbed his hand over the left side of his chest. Scully smiled sadly.
"I know what you mean. Heartsick. It's tiring to feel so much emotion all the time. I understand."
Paring nodded. He pulled a hand across his eyes, and then reached into his pocket, pulling out a cigarette. He lit it and inhaled slowly, settling back against the railing.
"No, Agent Scully, I don't think you have any idea how I feel. I'm the rookie here. Everyone else is so busy doing their thing, and shoving that godawful camera in my hands, and then there are all these bodies..." His voice broke slightly and he paused, drawing a long breath, the cigarette smouldering in his hands. "And then there's you, Agent Scully. You and the astounding effect you have on Mulder."
Scully furrowed her brow. "Sorry?"
Paring leaned back even further. "Let me tell you a story about Mulder, one I'm sure you don't know. Now, Mulder is a legend, a sort of basement gremlin for new recruits. I heard the story of Spooky Mulder within a week of arriving at Quantico, but instead of finding it frightening or laughable, I found it fascinating. All I could think was: what strength of mind, or strength of beliefs, would enable a man to sequester himself away from his peers, to face their scorn every day, and, defying every principle of psychology I knew, to prefer to be completely and utterly alone?
"But then I found out something else, something even more perplexing: Spooky Mulder had not always been alone." Paring took another pull on his cigarette. "It intrigued me, and I worked even harder to get into the NCAVC as soon as possible after graduation.
"Meanwhile, Mulder was going through partners like nothing, dropping them within months, weeks, or even days of being assigned to him. He claimed they were too narrow-minded, too open-minded, too opinionated, too spineless, anything he could think of. And, fortunately for Mulder, his reassignment to the BSU had made him a favorite son of the Bureau once again, a golden boy. He captured some of the most notorious killers of the time, developed some brilliant new profiling methods, and got a couple imprisoned killers who refused say a word to the Bureau previously to confess everything and cry on his shoulder like babies. The Director himself came down to talk with Mulder.
"I don't think Mulder could have cared less. He threw himself into his work like nothing I'd ever seen before, but it was obvious that he was the most desperately unhappy man underneath. After about, I don't know, his ninth partner in four years, I begged the section chief to assign me to him, even though it could ruin my career. Mulder assumed I'd pissed someone off, but for some reason he didn't cast me off like the others. We... we worked together, but I realise now what he's been looking for in all those countless other agents. He's been looking for you." Paring glanced away from her. "I guess I was just the closest fit. It's been a bit of a rude awakening."
He threw the cigarette butt away with sudden vehemence. His eyes were dark and vulnerable, full of some very deep hurt; and then Scully understood in a single bright flash. She leaned forward, her eyes moving over him with the insight of her new awareness.
"Alex... You're in love with him, aren't you?"
He took a deep breath, the ghost of a smile flitting across his features. He locked eyes with her, pain floating to their surface. "Is it that obvious?"
She put her hand on his arm softly. "No. No, it's not. Take it from someone who's been there, you hide it very well." They smiled at each other, understanding warm between them, as the equally warm summer wind slid through their hair, throwing it across their eyes and blinding them.
Scully stood in the afternoon brightness of Jamie Holtz's bedroom, the golden sunlight falling in shafts over the chaotic stillness of the room. Nothing had been touched since his disappearance, his mother had told them. She hadn't been able to even go in.
Now Scully stood in the middle of the floor, surrounded by an ocean of belongings. There were clothes strewn on the floor, and a worn paperback still upside down on the bedside table, the black triangle between the two split masses of pages yawning in the light. His baseball cards were still in uneven piles by the bookshelf, the dusty red album sprawled nearby. One of his drawers was still open, hanging from a pale blue dresser decorated with glow-in-the-dark star stickers. A ragged teddy bear was strategically half hidden under the red summer quilt. The room ached with his presence.
Scully began the search with reluctance, meticulously turning out drawers and shoeboxes full of toys, rifling through stacks of papers and school books, scanning photographs of his family and friends, pulling out the backs of picture frames. She went through the pockets of all his pants, checked under his mattress, and hand checked his pillow. Finally, wedged between his headboard and the wall, she found something. It was a small clothbound book, its pages rippled with writing; it was his journal.
Scully assessed the small pile in front of her on the bed. She had taken anything she thought might be useful. There was a photograph of his Bible Study class, his class photo from school, a small wedge of paper found in his pocket that said Church, 6 pm, and the journal. Scully stared at the pile until her eyes blurred, and then she reached over and picked up a t-shirt that had been bunched up at the end of the bed. She caressed it gently and then put it to her nose. She desperately wanted another smell to associate with Jamie other then the stench of decay and the cold metallic ring of the autopsy bay. His warm, hamsterish boy smell filtered into her head, and Scully let the tears fill her eyes, sitting alone in the dying sunlight.
Later, Mulder sat behind the wheel of the car, his hands gripping at ten and two, knuckles white. Scully was in the passenger seat, Paring in the back, and together they stared at the lonely front of the Holtz's house, all saying their own silent goodbye to Jamie, gazes lingering as Mulder finally pulled out of the driveway and drove away down the darkened street.
Scully lay flat on her bed in her motel room, staring sightlessly up at the ceiling, watching the shuddering shadows cast by the rotating fan. She held the phone receiver in her hand, a tinny dial done emanating softly from it. Rob's phone had been busy for the last hour and a half. She wondered idly if he was keeping it off the hook out of spite.
Sighing, she rolled over and slammed the phone down in the cradle. She looked around the generic motel room, bored and restless. She could remember a thousand other motel rooms like this on a thousand other cases, but the ones that stuck out in her memory were the ones from her years on the X-Files, the ones that buzzed in her mind with tiredness and wonder, fear and comfort, and, most of all, with the warm unconscious knowledge of Mulder's presence in the adjoining room. Of all of those motel rooms, he had been the constant in a shifting recollection of states, towns, and dates.
She remembered the very first one, in Bellefleur, Oregon, when he'd come to the door in his running suit and baseball cap, identifying himself jauntily as `Steven Spielberg'. She laughed softly to herself. She remembered her panic when she found the mosquito bumps on her back, the comforting trail of Mulder's fingers on her skin, and the nave closeness as they had lain in the dark of the thunderstorm, and he had told her about Samantha. Scully could still feel the way she had sent out mental tendrils to him that night, unconsciously building the first tiers of their bizarre connection. She had been so young and sure of herself then. Was it really ten years ago now?
A sharp knock made her jerk upright, eyes immediately locked on the connecting door. To her guilty disappointment, it had come from the front. Scully walked to it and slid back the chain, opening the door quickly. Mulder almost fell right through, and when a he righted himself a sheepish grin spread across his face. He gestured at the peephole, blushing slightly.
"I always forget those damn things are just one-way."
Scully raised her eyebrow, then ushered him in. "Come on in, Mulder. I wasn't doing anything worth the peephole effort."
He smiled. "Scully, you are always worth a peephole effort."
She laughed lightly, guiltily. She had forgotten how easy he was to talk to. Scully returned to the bed and sat cross-legged on the pillows, and Mulder knelt at the foot. He leaned forward slowly, his eyes intense, his lips frighteningly close.
"Scully..." he murmured, voice husky and thick. She couldn't help it; she leaned toward him. He opened his mouth, slightly, licked his lips, and then spoke: "...Truth or Dare?"
Startled, she laughed right out loud. "You... You..." She searched for the right word. "You girl."
Mulder shoved her shoulder lightly. "I know you are, but what am I?"
"Honestly, Mulder, grow up!" she teased. He lowered his head as if ashamed, and when he raised it again, they stuck out their tongues simultaneously.
The Canvas was reduced to crying softly, moaning pathetically for its mother and rattling the chains binding it. The man watched it disinterestedly from behind his table far across the broad floor. Its noises only mildly annoyed him, as absorbed as he was in studying it, studying his Art.
These wings were the greatest he had ever created, but they were still not good enough, and, to add insult to injury, he had to leave for the Outside shortly. He despised the way the Outside took time away from his Art, valuable time that could not be made up. The Canvas' shell would eventually degrade from lack of food and water, and after that there was no point in continuing.
After all, what is the point in a Canvas that cannot serenade you with its screams?
Scully was woken by a buzzing alarm the next morning. She cracked open her eyes to stare at the chinks of light streaming through her curtains, then promptly shut them again. Sighing, she rolled over and struggled out of bed, years of living with a sea captain father permanently imprinted on her sleeping habits.
She dressed quickly, choosing yet another sharply cut, dark toned suit from the soft leather bag. She wondered idly what Chilton would say if she walked into work in the pair of hot pink elephant pants that had practically been her uniform in junior high.
Smiling at the idea, she washed her face and did her makeup at the dingy sink-mirror combination at the back of the room and used the bathroom quickly, then threw her few scattered things into the small overnight bag sitting on the battered armchair across from the bed.
Sighing, she pulled the door of the motel room behind her with a snap. The pavement was shimmering under the sun in the parking lot outside, and Scully was uncomfortably hot as she loaded the trunk of her car. She waved at Mulder and Paring as they left the main building, stale donuts from the `continental breakfast' firmly in hand. They walked quickly down the overhung sidewalk to her, Paring trying desperately not to spill his coffee. She smiled at them as they arrived.
"Good morning," she said, her strange good mood evident in her voice.
Mulder glared at her, bleary-eyed. Paring just blinked, looking vaguely dazed. Smiling, she dangled the car keys from her fingertips.
"I guess this means I'm driving."
Fifteen minutes later, Scully's good mood was fading quickly as they pulled into the parking lot of Our Lord Lutheran Church in the heart of Cranden. The lot was nearly empty, and the heat was oppressive as they crossed to the heavy wooden front doors. Scully opened them, and a gust of air flew out at them, heavy with the smells of church: wooden pews, hot glass windows, sweat, and a soft undertone of leather from the Bibles and prayer books. Scully inhaled the familiar bouquet with a mixture of love and trepidation.
They walked down the aisle, footsteps ringing out in the high, empty room, and knocked on the door of the deacon's office. A smallish, balding man in his fifties opened it, peering out at them curiously from behind reading glasses perched precariously on the end of his nose.
"May I help you?"
Mulder stepped forward. "Dr. Alden? I'm Agent Mulder from the FBI, and these are my associates, Agents Paring and Scully."
The man's eyes clouded. "I suppose you're here about poor Jamie."
"Uh, yes sir, we are. Can we talk with you for a few minutes? We're just trying to find out about Jamie's life, find out what was important to him."
The deacon opened the door and ushered them in, clearing papers off some chairs so they could sit down. "Well, I know you'll find that church was very important in Jamie's life. He was a very pious little boy, rest his soul."
Paring furrowed his brow. "Pious? Why would you say that?"
"What exactly do you mean, Agent... I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name."
"Agent Paring. I mean, sir, what was it that made Jamie more pious than the next boy."
Dr. Alden settled himself down behind the desk. "Well, most boys his age would sit in Bible Study and twiddle their thumbs, fidgeting and whispering, and staring out the window. It wasn't God that was on their minds, it was obvious. But not Jamie. He'd sit square in the middle of the class, little face shining out at me, his eyes radiant with joy. He'd have made Bishop someday, I'm sure of it."
Scully caught an idea. "Dr. Alden, is it fair to say that Jamie would stick out in his class? That he would be noticeable to, say, a substitute teacher at the church?"
"I would most certainly say that. He was hard to miss."
"Did you often have substitutes or assistants in the Catechism classes?"
"Sometimes. Some were straight out of the Lutheran seminary, others were almost... roaming missionaries, who wanted to lend a hand with the children." A current of excitement flashed thought the agents.
Mulder took up the questioning, his eyes bright with a new thought.
"Dr. Alden, what do you teach in these Bible Studies? What would the teacher have to be an expert on?"
"Well, let's see... the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, Holy Baptism, Confession and Absolution, Holy Communion and Morning and Evening Prayers... Oh and of course, how could I forget... the Disciples' Creed."
Scully felt triumph slam through her. The Deacon's words lit a fire in her mind. She knew without question that they had found something, that this was their miracle, their shaft of sunlight through the clouds. This was the road to their prize, the faceless killer a shining El Dorado at its end.
As soon as they had managed their restrained goodbyes to the Deacon and left the church, Scully spoke.
"He was here, it was him. He's a Bible Study teacher, maybe some kind of travelling one, but that's him. It fits perfectly."
Mulder opened the door of the car and let himself into the driver's seat, his movements tense and strained. His body was suppressing the same rampant joy Scully could feel coursing through her whole self.
"I know," he said. "I know, I know, I know." He let out a strangled whoop, his face alight. Paring sprawled in the backseat, his hand over his mouth, whispering softly.
"We got him. Hot damn, have we got him!"
Scully laughed and then reached back and put on her seatbelt as Mulder started to drive, sobering slightly.
"Are we still going to the school?" she asked. Mulder turned around to look at Paring.
"Alex, what do you think? Is it still worth it?" He nodded. "Definitely. We need to get some of the kids he knew to talk to us, to tell us if any of their Bible Study teachers were `creepy', stuff like that."
Scully turned around too. "Should we all go? It might be-" She was interrupted by the bleating ring of her cell phone. She dug her bag out from under the seat, and pulled out the phone.
"Dana? It's Dan. I've got some good news."
"So do we. Just a second, I'm putting you on speakerphone. Okay, go ahead." She heard Dan clear his throat.
"When we were going through the paperwork down here, we came across a missing child report from a town called Morgan, Idaho. It's for a boy who disappeared five days ago, on the second of June. That corresponds with the John Doe kid's body that we've got right now. It wasn't brought to our attention because there hasn't been a single victim in Idaho yet, but get this: the boy's name is Thomas Kent. Thomas. That's one of our missing three Disciple names."
"Oh my god..."
"And that's not all. The boy was reported missing after he failed to come home from a Bible Study class."
Mulder whooped again, then called toward the phone: "Agent Morris, you are a genius."
Dan's confused voice filtered back through the speaker. "I just thought it might be something, you know, because we think he's religious, but why's Mulder so happy?"
Scully smiled. "Dan, now you get our good news. We have pretty good reason to think that the killer is a Bible Study teacher."
Dan's thundering silence greeted their ears. Paring leaned toward the phone.
"Agent Morris, that's exactly how I felt."
Dan laughed. "Okay, well. I think this Thomas is the body we've got here."
Mulder slipped on his sunglasses as they turned a corner, and then he spoke at the phone. "Dan, tell me more about the circumstances of Thomas' kidnapping."
"He was supposed to go to an afternoon Bible class with a bunch of other kids getting ready for their First Communions. He left the house at 3:45 on the day he was taken-"
"Sorry, that would be Tuesday the second, right?" Mulder interrupted.
"Yeah. So he left at 3:45, after his mother gave him a snack. She saw him leave the house, and he didn't come back. She reported him missing at 11:43 pm that night, according to the file. The teacher and the other kids were interviewed, and they all said he never showed up for class, so either he was picked up along the way to it, or..."
Mulder grimaced. "Or he showed up early and the teacher had a little surprise waiting."
"Exactly. The only problem is, the teacher is an establishment in the town. He doesn't have a single day in the last week where he is not accounted for by someone, and the townspeople all said that he hasn't been away or sick for years. Our guy would have had to travel a lot. I'd say he's clean."
"Call the sheriff for Morgan and have him question people specifically for the dates of the kidnappings and body dumps for the last couple of our victims," Scully added. "See if he can be accounted for on those."
Paring leaned forward. "And have the sheriff ask about any substitute Bible teachers that may have come through in the last couple of months, any that would have had the chance to meet Thomas and know his name."
"I'll ask. When are you going to get back here?"
Scully smiled. "As soon as possible. Thanks so much, Dan. We'll see you tonight." She hung up after he did, the dial tone floating through the car.
They allowed themselves another round of celebration.
David Browning, the last friend of Jamie's they had to interview, wiped his nose on the back of his hand. The vice-principal held the other hand tightly in her grasp, her eyes concerned as she gazed down at him.
"Davey, it's okay to stop talking if it's making you too sad,"she said, her voice sickly sweet. "We'd all understand."
He shook his head mutely, the tears that ran down his face sliding with the motion. He angrily shook off her hand, moving his own hand to the arm of the chair, where he gripped it with white knuckles.
Watching him, Scully felt sick. Mulder allowed another few moments and then he leaned towards the boy, his mouth tight.
"Davey, are you okay to answer the last question now? It's a really important one, so I want you to be sure." Davey nodded, his cheeks glistening. "Okay. Davey, in your Bible Study class, the one at church, you got a lot of substitute teachers, right? Why was that?"
"The Deacon said it was a Christian duty to h-help others and to... And to sometimes, uh, receive wisdom from our elders and the more godly among us."
"So the substitute teachers weren't always young, then?"
"No, but mostly they were."
"Which ones weren't?"
"Um... Deacon Keating from Batesville five miles up the road, Father Francis from the Lutheran school in Georgica, and... and... Mr. Monkey."
Mulder's attention focused abruptly. "Mr. Monkey? Who's that?"
Davey blushed slightly. "It's the mean name we made up for Mr.... I don't remember his name, but Jamie said we ought to call him that because it was... it was everything he ain't. Isn't. Sorry sir." Davey flushed, and then tears filled his eyes again.
"What was he then?"
"Um... Quiet, kind of, um, intense, yeah, and a real religious man. Really religious man, sorry. He was always telling us about the beauty in religion, and in God and Jesus, and in the-the poetry of the Bible. He said it was like art. He loved that word, art."
Mulder and Paring exchanged a significant glance. Paring asked the next question.
"What did he teach?"
"Um... Yeah, he taught the Apostle's Creed, mostly. That part was hard. I kept mixing the Disciples up."
"No, never. He was real- really good with the Disciples. Mr. Monkey gave him a gold star this one time, but I got one for my Exodus poem before Easter, so that was okay." Davey sniffled when he said Jamie's name. Mulder picked up the questioning again.
"Did Mr. Monkey and Jamie get along okay?"
"Yeah, pretty good. Jamie got the Living the Gospel Life award from him and Deacon Alden, and he used to go on and on to Jamie about how great it was that he really loved God and Jesus, and the Bible and stuff."
"Did you ever see them go anywhere together, did he ever give Jamie a ride home or something?"
"No, I never saw it." Davey clenched the chair arm again.
"When did he leave your class?"
"After we finished the Apostle's Creed, around the end of April, maybe."
"Did he ever come back?"
"No, sir. I never saw him."
Mulder pushed back his chair with a sigh. "Thank you, Davey. You've helped us out a lot. You're helping us catch the guy who got Jamie, and a lot of other boys too. You might even be a cop someday. Come and be my boss at the FBI when you're grown up, okay Davey?"
The little boy blushed with pride as he wiped his dripping nose across his hand. "Yes, sir."
Mulder shook his hand solemnly, and then that of the VicePrincipal. As they were turning to go, Davey piped up again.
"Oh, Agent Fox? Mr. Monkey said one other thing. It was kind of weird."
"What was it?"
"Well, I don't think I was supposed to hear, but this one time he whispered that, um... `This James has potential.' He said it, if that helps any."
Scully handed him a tissue.
The drive back to Salt Lake City was pulsing with conversation as they threw around ideas and took turns driving the barren stretches of highway. Scully saw nine hawks in all, a road trip record for her.
Mulder was working on an area of the profile as they crossed into Utah, sprawled out across the backseat, his pen in his mouth as he earnestly scanned the typed pages, occasionally scribbling furiously in the margins, sometimes scratching out entire paragraphs. Paring snored softly in the passenger seat, and Scully watched Mulder in the rear-view mirror.
"I just think it's important..." he began, and then trailed off. Scully tilted the mirror to see his face better, her eyes hidden beneath his sunglasses.
"What? Oh, that every boy we talked to mentioned Mr. Monkey in some way, but for all that no one but Davey noticed anything different, or even anything between them. It's as if he was being careful not to link the two of them together in anyone's mind, even months before Jamie was kidnapped. But someone linked them. That's not like him."
Scully frowned. "You can't get away with murdering boys for six years and be sloppy. Maybe we're all jumping to a conclusion." Mulder put a hand over his mouth, and then pinched his lower lip in concentration. "I don't know, maybe, but I don't think so. Take a look at the last couple of days. In the last ten days, ten days, he's killed twice. Before that, he killed eight times in six years. Something's changing; he's getting impatient. Maybe that's making him sloppy now, and maybe that made him sloppy in April, but both times help us. We can only hope he hasn't got another boy already."
The man was having trouble concentrating, an experience new to him. This Canvas was particularly alluring in its unique position, as the last before his masterpiece. It called to him; its muffled bleating cries diffusing inside his head, suffusing his whole body with its essence, a siren call of angel wings beating furiously inside his heart.
He felt his blood begin to race with excitement. He licked his lips, fighting the sensations sweeping through him. He hadn't felt like this since the very first Canvas, so many years ago, the raw power surging, his palms sweating, his fingers twitching with need and passion. He knew with certainty that when he returned to the Canvas tonight, Art like no other he had ever created before would issue forth from his fingertips, rippling the Canvas with tiny red roads of Beauty.
A spasm of joy constricted his chest. He imagined he could still taste the Canvas' blood on his tongue and he swept it through his mouth, feeling as if the warm coppery holiness was pervading his mouth and his soul.
That was too much for him to take. He pushed his chair under the desk to hide his condition, and dismissed the class early.
As he was, he would not accomplish much today.
Scully, Mulder, and Paring arrived in Salt Lake City at about three o'clock in the afternoon, pulling up at the FBI building flushed with tiredness and triumph, but sobered by the amount of work still in front of them. Scully parked the car in the underground garage, and they rode the parking elevator up to the lobby, where Dan was waiting for them.
"Welcome back," he said. "I've found out a bit more since I talked to you the last time. The sheriff in Morgan, Sheriff Perkins, found out that there was a substitute Bible Study teacher through the town some time early last month, but he hasn't got his name yet. He and the minister in the town are going through the employment records right now. They'll call us any minute."
Scully thought for a second. "Last month, that's May. That's not very long after he left Cranden." She glanced over at Mulder as they strode through the lobby. "Maybe you're right, maybe he is in a hurry."
"If he is, that gives us even less time to catch him before he kills again." Paring contributed. Dan squinted into the distance.
"But that's also going to make him sloppy, which could help us out," he offered, and Mulder nodded in agreement. They reached the elevator and went down to the basement, opening the door to room 312. Scully was struck once again by the pictures on the wall, she walked slowly over, lingering over the pictures of Jamie. It was even harder to believe that the mangled body lying in the scrubland was him after seeing his home and meeting his family.
Mulder threw himself into the chair behind the desk and picked up the phone. He dialed quickly and asked for an inside line to Headquarters in Washington. Scully watched with a touch of envy. He still belonged there, and she no longer did.
Mulder straightened as the phone was picked up at the other end.
"Hi, this is Agent Mulder. Can I speak to A.D. Guent, please? Yes, I'll hold." He paused for a second, then Scully could faintly hear the line resuming as a woman picked up. "It's Agent Mulder. Can I speak to the Assistant Director, please. Yes, Barbara, it is me. No, I can't believe it either. Yes, it's been ages. Uh, huh. Is the AD there? Thanks." Mulder rolled his eyes. "It's been nice to talk to you, too. Yes, the desert's beautiful, I'll- Assistant Director, hi. Okay, you can put the phone down now, Barbara. Yes, bye... Sir, it's Mulder, I've got some news..." Scully tuned him out, and joined the others in waiting for the other line to ring. All their hopes were in someone else's hands, and all they could do was wait.
Five hours later, there was still no word. Scully finally activated call forward to her cell phone and invited the others back to her apartment, where at least they could be more comfortable as their stomachs turned inside out from worry and anticipation. As they drove through the city, Scully's hands and feet were cold, her breathing was constricted and shaky, and she struggled to keep her attention on the people around her.
She felt like she had at Dulles Airport five years ago, waiting for the plane to Salt Lake City.
She had sat in the departure lounge in the early hours of the morning, watching the twinkling lights of the runway and listening to the excited chatter of the children. She could still feel the stiffness of her cheeks, the sickness in her gut, and the righteous anger that had kept her in her seat when every other instinct was telling her to run back to Mulder.
She had folded her hands in her lap, each clutching the other in their icy grip, her eyes focused out the window, but not really seeing anything, her mind still firmly back in Mulder's hallway, or maybe in the musty confines of the basement office; it could have been either. She relived every moment of their fight, every action, every gesture, every word. She rejoiced in the flare of anger it created, and desperately tried to push away the gaping pit of sadness that ridiculed her, screaming of her folly in her own voice.
She had half expected Mulder to come barrelling into the gate, frantically calling her name, scanning the crowds for her, his eyes vulnerable and wounded, his voice hoarse. When he finally found her, he would take her in his arms and profess his regret, beg her not to go, not to leave him, and this time she wouldn't pull away.
A burst of anger had cascaded through her then, and she had been appalled at her own spinelessness, her lack of conviction. She had made the right decision, she knew it, and no foolish fantasies would break her down. Just like Mulder, she had survived on that anger for months, and it was the only thing that gave her the strength to get on the plane, to present her ticket, to survive the horror of everyday living, of doing everything without him. It was the only thing that kept her from calling.
The only thing it could not erase was the very real lurch of sickness, the swelling of nausea, that she had felt when she boarded the plane, as she had realised that he was not going to come for her.
The car slid to a stop outside of Scully's apartment, jerking her out of her reverie. She climbed out, faintly hearing the talk of the other agents. As she lead them towards the front porch, Mulder caught up with her.
"So, this is where you hid yourself-" He stopped suddenly. Scully looked up. Rob was standing on the porch.
He smiled tremulously at her. "Dana. Welcome home." He looked at Mulder and his face twisted slightly, but he put his hand. "Agent Mulder, it's nice to meet you at last. I'm Rob Abrams."
Mulder shook Rob's hand, his gaze wary. "Nice to meet you, Mr. Abrams. I've been hearing a lot about you from Scully."
"Please, Mulder, can I call you Mulder? Good. Please, call me Rob. I'd be delighted if you would."
"Rob," Scully began, but he interrupted her.
"So, I've noticed you don't call Dana by her first name. Can I ask about that, becau-" He was cut off by a ringing noise. Dan, who was holding Scully's phone, flipped it open.
"Dan Morris. Okay, send the information through to the secondary address. I'll get back to you in a second." Morris turned to the group of them and took a deep breath. "That was Sheriff Perkins," he said. "And he's got the name."
George Hoffman sat in an interviewing room at the FBI building, quiet and impassive behind the worn wooden desk, idly swivelling in the understated chair. Scully watched him from the narrow room behind the one-way mirror, her jaw set, arms crossed over her chest, her mouth turned down. Mulder stood beside her.
"What do you think, Scully?"
"I don't know yet. I just don't." She sighed. On her other side, Dan leaned forward and put his forehead right to the glass.
"He looks so normal. He didn't make a fuss at all when we brought him in, just seemed confused."
"They always look so normal..." Paring mused. He was sifting through some notes behind them, his brow furrowed in concentration, one eye constantly on the man in the semi-dark room facing toward them. He shook his head, and then changed the subject. "Who's going in first?"
"I have to." Mulder said intensely, his voice barely above a whisper. "If it is him, I have to know if I'm right. I have to meet him."
On an impulse Scully gently reached over and took his hand. He looked down in confusion, his eyes clouded with absorption. She flicked her eyes away from him; a slight guilty churning in her stomach, then spoke quietly.
"I want to go in too." She knew that the raw memory of Jamie's room would not let her do otherwise. It screamed out to her, in a deep, pressing silence like water, like drowning. She gripped Mulder's hand a little more tightly.
They all watched through the mirror for a few moments longer, and then Mulder and Scully left the narrow room, squeezing out through the door and into the glaring, fluorescent brightness of the hallway, and from there into the slitted darkness of the interviewing room.
As they opened the door, Scully found herself fascinated by the narrow beam of early morning light falling on her shoe. As she dragged her eyes up, she saw that the man's face itself was clothed in darkness. The pale sunlight slipped through the slats of the blinds and illuminated only his delicate hands, folded neatly in front of him.
Scully crossed to the desk, Mulder only a few steps behind her, and seated herself across it. She felt suddenly, acutely, aware of the mirror behind her, and she fought the creeping sensation that inched up her spine at the sensation of the eyes on her back. She heard Mulder clear his throat.
The man across from her leaned forward slowly, letting the thin light slide across his face. He was about fifty years old, his hair salt-and-pepper grey, his face strong but lined, his nose almost aquiline. And then he shifted his gaze from Mulder to her.
His eyes shot out at her. They were almost black, deep and penetrating, glittering sharply like dark jewels, gleaming like black pearls. His gaze hit her like a slap, like a knife to the stomach, and she was paralysed, pinned to her seat like a rabbit, like a child. She understood in that moment that he saw everything, and she saw nothing. His eyes were the mirror behind her, a slick, lacquered surface, one-way blind. To her, they were blank, impenetrable; to him, a vantage point from which he could see everything, watching, silent and invisible.
Fear filled her, sweeping and final.
And then he blinked, slowly and softly.
With a jolt Scully was freed, shaking slightly. He was still watching her, but now his eyes were clouded and soft, merely a very dark brown, gentle, almost confused. He smiled slowly. She felt sick.
"Good morning," he said. "I trust you have an explanation for my late night journey here." His voice was quiet, measured, very faintly tinged with a desert lilt.
Mulder seemed shaky too, but he collected himself quickly. "Yes, as a matter of fact I do. Before I go any further, I'd like you to acknowledge on record that you have declined to have lawyer present here."
"I rather hoped I wouldn't need one."
Scully pried her cold fingers apart and pressed the `record' button on the tape recorder sitting on the desk. She drew in a breath, and opened her mouth. It was dry.
"Nevertheless, Mr. Hoffman, we'd like you to state in on record." There. She'd done it; she'd talked to him.
"Very well." He leaned forward, and spoke very close to the speaker on the machine. "I, George Nathaniel Hoffman, have denied the offer of a lawyer while being questioned by the FBI, on this the eighth of June, 2003. I was not coerced in any way." He looked up slowly, his eyes rising lazily to fix Scully in their gaze. "Will that do?"
Mulder frowned. "Mr. Hoffman, you sound as if you've done this before."
Hoffman blinked and looked at him from the corner of his eye, almost coyly. "My ex-wife is a lawyer. You pick up these things."
"So you've never been arrested before?"
He laughed quietly, but there was a steel undertone to it. "I understood that I wasn't being arrested now."
"You're not, Mr. Hoffman. It's just a standard question." Scully managed to say. It was easier this time.
"Of course, Agent..."
"Agent Scully. I just thought you would already have all that information, right there in that nice little file." He raised his eyebrow slightly, but Mulder cut in.
"Mr. Hoffman, have you ever been to a town called Morgan, Idaho?"
"Yes, I believe I have."
"On what business?"
Scully forced herself to ask a question. "What is it exactly that you do, sir?"
"I am a travelling religious teacher."
"Could you elaborate on that?"
"It's almost like a bard for our own century, Agent Scully. I travel to different towns, different parishes, and preach the word of God to the children. I am doing my best to further their education in the Bible, and in the teachings of God."
"Why children, Mr. Hoffman?"
He smiled slightly, his eyes half closing lazily as he looked at her. "Because most adults will not allow themselves to learn anything new," he began. "And most of them gave up on religious education after they reached adulthood. I would very much like to see more adults in my classes, but they never come." He eyed Scully's neck, his gaze sliding down to the small golden cross glittering in the curve of her throat. "I hope you haven't given up, Agent Scully."
Mulder interrupted, his voice pushing into the silence that had followed.
"We are talking about you, Mr. Hoffman, not Agent Scully. Have you ever been to the town of Cranden, Montana?"
"When was that? Why were you there?"
"April of this year. For employment. I worked at a church called `Our Lord' or `Our Lady', maybe. Lutheran, if I remember correctly."
"And when were you in Idaho?"
"The following month. May. There I taught a First Communion Catechism class at an Anglican church."
"Please, Mr. Hoffman, search your memory. Do you remember two boys, one in each town: Jamie Holtz and Thomas Kent?"
"Thomas in Idaho, and James in Montana?" The 'James' shot through Scully like a current. She knew Mulder had noticed it too, although he gave no outward sign.
"That's correct." He said.
"Yes, I do remember them. Both very pious, devoted. I do hope Thomas passed Communion. Why are you asking?"
"Because they're both dead. They were murdered." Mulder's tone was flat. Hoffman's eyes widened. Scully looked away.
"Sweet Mary..." He crossed himself slowly. Scully felt a rush of anger.
"Don't you think that's awfully convenient? You visit both these towns, both these boys die?"
"Agent Scully, you can't be suggesting..."
"Think back, Mr. Hoffman. Scipio, Utah. Polson, Montana. Leamington, Utah. Dillon, Montana." Her voice rose as she continued the list. "Salt Lake City, Monticello, Vernon. Rangley, Colorado. Think, Mr. Hoffman. Do you remember teaching in these places?"
Mulder narrowed his eyes and added. "Because I know that it will only be a matter of time before we find out that you taught in those towns too. I think it would be better if you told us now. What do you think, Mr. Hoffman?"
"I think," he said smoothly. "That I had better take you up on that lawyer."
A few hours later the sun was streaming in through the blinds of the interviewing room, real summer gold, not the pale imitation of earlier. Hoffman was winding up his talk with the government lawyer, and Scully hadn't left the narrow room behind the mirror yet. The door opened with a soft squeal.
"Hey," Mulder said gently. "I've brought you some coffee."
Scully turned and took the steaming cup between her hands, feeling the warmth radiating through the cheap Styrofoam, doing little to dispel the clammy chill of her hands. She took a deep breath, then opened her mouth.
"It's him, Mulder. I know it's him. My god, did you see... did you feel his eyes?"
"That sort of reasoning is supposed to come from me, Scully." His eyes were warm, but clouded with concern. "Things aren't looking so good out there. The lawyer's been out talking with Chilton and some of the SSAs, and they're not very happy at all. They feel we've taken `unsubstantiated leaps'."
She laughed hollowly. "They think this is a leap? Mulder, do they remember who you are?" She turned back to the room, her eyes fixed on the man inside. Mulder shifted uncomfortably.
"I think that they're just happy I haven't reverted to saying aliens did it, a relapse brought on by proximity to you." He was trying to keep his tone light. Scully sighed and shook her head, then rubbed her forehead wearily.
"Mulder, what's happening to me?" Her voice cracked, and she put a hand to her mouth. "Why do I feel so consumed?" She was almost whispering now. "Why do I feel so afraid?"
He was in front of her in an instant, gathering her into his arms, coffee and all, holding her like a child. He held onto her, and she held onto him like a lifeline, drawing comfort from his familiarity. As her eyes fogged up she closed them, resting her head on his shoulder. He tucked his face into her hair, and whispered in her ear:
"Welcome to my world."
She laughed quietly, and then reached up and took his head in her hands, kissing his forehead softly.
"Thank you," she whispered. "I needed that."
Suddenly there was a flurry of activity in the interviewing room, and Scully whirled around to see the lawyer packing up his briefcase and Hoffman putting on his jacket.
"Mulder..." she breathed. He was already halfway to the door, sprinting off down the hallway. The fluorescent light hurt her eyes. She could see Hoffman hovering at the doorway in the opposite room, the golden slits of light falling across his back. After an eternity, Mulder was back, his face flushed, his eyes over bright with anger.
"Shit, Scully, they're letting him go."
"What? How can they..."
"They say we've got evidence, but it's all circumstantial and not enough to keep him here. He's signed an affidavit that he won't leave the county without contacting us or the police, `merely for our peace of mind, of course'." He imitated the cadence of Hoffman's voice. "Chilton told me off the record that the lawyer found a clause that basically invalidates everything we used to bring him in, even though it'll still hold up in court." He slammed his fist down on the little table. "Damn it!"
Scully's heart was pounding, and breath came tightly in her chest. "They can't," she said, and then again, louder: "They can't just let him walk out of here!"
Mulder was grim, restrained fury etched in his face. "There's nothing we can do."
"How can there be nothing?" Scully's tone was almost plaintive. Mulder didn't answer.
Through the mirror, they watched Chilton come to the door of the other room, and hold it open. The lawyer walked through, but Hoffman paused. He turned and gazed straight at them, straight at Scully. She felt herself go cold, fear washing over her in freezing waves. His eyes were sharp again, glittering, glowing black again, piercing her down to her soul, pinning her in place, paralysing her. She couldn't look away.
He tilted his head slightly, half-smiling lazily. He raised his hand and waved slowly, childishly, his gaze fixed on her. He mouthed something, inaudible through the glass, but Scully knew exactly what he had said:
"See you around, Agent Scully."
That afternoon, Scully sat with the others in their basement office. No one had spoken in almost half an hour, each person wrapped up in their own melancholy. They had been so sure that they'd ended it...
The harsh buzzing of the phone interrupted their reverie. Mulder stared at it for a second before picking up.
"Mulder. Yes, sir. Yes, sir, we're on our way." He hung up the phone slowly, and then turned to the others, his eyes shadowed. "That was Chilton. They want us upstairs."
The elevator ride up to the fifth floor, the executive floor, was thick with anticipation, each of the agents shuffling nervously, trying not to look at anyone else. Scully could faintly see her smudged reflection out of the corner of her eye. She wished she couldn't.
They got off at the fifth floor and trooped in silence down the gleaming hallway. Chilton's secretary let them in right away. Mulder's tie was crooked. Their steps were soundless on the thick carpet, and each took a seat in one of the four chairs squeezed in on the far side of Chilton's desk. The Assistant Director himself had his back turned as they entered. He turned around gradually, finally stopping with his hands on the desk, leaning on them as if for support. He began after a moment.
"I'd like an explanation for today. I would have liked an explanation before now, before you brought in a suspect without authorization. Damn it, do you realise how stupid that was? You could have had a chance, but instead you blew it on unsubstantiated leaps and circumstantial evidence. If you'd waited..."
Scully sat forward. "With all due respect, sir, we felt we didn't have any time to wait. If he is the killer, then we didn't have any time to wait-"
"That was not your call!" Chilton thundered. "Agent Scully, I'm disappointed. I thought you had better sense. I thought you were a better agent than this." Scully's ears rang. Mulder opened his mouth, beginning to speak, but Chilton cut him off. "I'm not interested, Agent Mulder. I'm not interested in anything any of you have to say anymore. This happy little Dream Team thing is over. You're all off the case."
"Sir!" Dan cried. "Chilton, you can't be serious!"
"Just watch me."
Mulder shot out: "This isn't right! More boys are allowed to die because of a legal loophole? How can-"
"Enough!" roared Chilton. Mulder's eyes flashed, but Scully gently put her hand on his knee, stopping him.
Paring leaned toward him, eyes pained. "Please, Assistant Director, we're so close. Just a little longer..."
"Correction, Agent Paring. You were so close. You and Agent Mulder will have to answer to your direct superiors. They want you back in Washington right now." The bottom fell out of Scully's world. Washington? Mulder stared at Chilton, speechless. The Assistant Director hardened his stare.
"Give it up, Agents." His voice was as cold as iron. "It's over."
The man was back Inside at last, and the Canvas was attempting to speak with him. He tuned out its pathetic mumblings and collected his materials. All Outside distractions over with, he set himself down to his task: preparing to finish the Canvas.
Already it was weak, and the days without food and water were taking their toll on it. Its skin was soft, malleable, hanging off its feeble skeleton, perfect for new inscription.
He lit the candles and the Canvas began to shriek, realising somewhere in its inner machinery what was to come. The man stripped off his clothing, relishing the feeling of the cloth slipping down him, tantalising his flesh.
He picked up his favorite knife, and, stepping towards the Canvas, he opened himself to his Art, settling the knifepoint into the Canvas, watching the welling black Holiness slip out into the air. He stood in the golden light, as close as he could be to the Canvas, and felt the river of the Holiness flow across his own skin, falling in perfect droplets to the cold, hard floor.
The Canvas was at last expended, its body limp and loose, the Spirit of it departed. He hadn't kept it as long as he would have wished, but it was an irrelevance now. It had ceased to be important the moment he had received his news.
The Masterpiece, his Masterpiece, would soon be here.
Scully stood at the door of Mulder's hotel room, watching heavily as he stuffed some t-shirts into his suitcase.
"Mulder, why aren't you fighting this?" She asked quietly. "There was a time when you never would have let this go."
He continued stuffing the clothes in his bag, crossing back and forth from the tiny closet to the bed. "Because it's not worth it. He'll never change his mind."
Scully watched him intently. He was tightly coiled underneath, almost jumping out of his skin with nervous energy. She was desperately trying to keep her own nervousness and despair from consuming her. The fragile peace she had constructed for herself was falling down around her ears, and it was deafening in its immediacy.
Mulder looked like a caged tiger, his eyes bright, his muscles tensed, strides long and fluid around the room. Despite everything, Scully couldn't take her eyes off him. Suddenly he stopped walking and sat down on his bed, and it bent under him with a creak of disused springs. Scully crossed to the bed and sat down beside him, feeling the warmth of his body spreading up her arm where it touched her. His eyes were soft and vulnerable, and to her alarm they began to fill with tears.
"Oh god, Scully," he whispered. "I just can help feeling like he's right, that I didn't do enough. Have I really done anything to help here at all? I mean, I sweep in here, ruin your life again, throw around theories, stir up dust... and now that it's settled, what's really there? Certainly not the solution. Nothing's clearer then before; there's no triumphant capture, and answer is just as cloaked in shadows as before I started." He heaved a shuddering breath. "It's better if I go. I've done nothing."
"Mulder..." Scully began. "Don't say that. You've done more than any agent has ever done on this case. We found out how he's choosing the victims, we found out what the mutilation was, we found out what he does; damn it, Mulder, we found out who he is!"
Mulder wouldn't look her in the eye. "We, Scully. We. That's the key word there. You didn't need me to find out those things. And not one of them is proven, either. For all we know, we're just grasping at straws as much as before, that we're as lost as Pembrooke was eight years ago."
Scully stood up in frustration, and she began to pace in front of him. After a moment, she stopped and ran a hand over her forehead briefly.
"Stop being so goddamn self-pitying, Mulder," she said finally, her voice tense with restrained anger. "You know you made a difference, you know it! All you have to do is talk to Chilton, or to your AD in Washington. We're so close now. You can't just give up..." She walked back to the bed and resumed her seat softly, her anger cooling, replaced by a growing anxious wave of desperation, threatening to suck her under. "Please, Mulder." She put a hand on his cheek to make him look at her. He was biting his lip gently, eyes swimming. She felt her own begin to sting. "Please don't leave me alone again. I couldn't do it again. I couldn't survive again."
He drew her into his arms and held her close, his heart beating rapidly against her ear. She waited, waited for his answer like she had dreamed of him sweeping in to the departure lounge years before, waiting for him to throw her something to hold on to.
He didn't say a word.
Scully sat in her kitchen, staring despondently at the limp sandwich in front of her. She wasn't hungry. She sighed and ran a hand through her hair, feeling for the soft pain as the strands fell back into place. She was tired, tired of feeling heartsick, of feeling guilty, of feeling frightened, of feeling disgusted, of just feeling so much, all the time. She didn't need this after everything else.
She wasn't ready to let Mulder go again. She couldn't go through that again, she couldn't let him back, and then just expect him to go away. Realistically, she knew things would never be the same with Rob again. She wasn't capable of having a life and having Mulder, as she had discovered very quickly when she had first started on the X-Files. Unfortunately, she knew what choice she was making.
She would call first thing in the morning.
She picked at her sandwich and sighed again. She hadn't quite processed the precise consequences of `off the case' yet. It didn't seem real. Getting shut down by her superiors was something that happened in Washington, in her old life, with Mulder. Maybe, she wondered with a wry grin, Mulder was bringing the rest of it with him.
The phone rang with a sharp buzzing, and she jumped, her heart thundering in her ears, her skin crawling. She frowned at her own idiocy, and reached for the receiver. The dial tone buzzed gratingly in her ear. The line was silent.
The car purred along the interstate toward the airport as the afternoon sun beat down, gleaming hotly off the silver roof. Inside the car it was thick with thundering silence as Scully glared out through the windshield, her hands white-knuckled on the steering wheel. Mulder sat beside her, the physical gulf between them yawning with unspoken argument. Dan Morris and Paring sat in uneasily in the back, unable, for what seemed like the thousandth time, to penetrate the silences that the other two agents created.
"Great view of the mountains along here," Paring said feebly. "We didn't see much of them on the way in."
"Really?" asked Dan, just as hesitantly, as insincerely. "They're beautiful this time of year."
"Hmmm... They really are." Silence stretched from the front. The scrubby suburban land passed outside the window. Paring rolled down the window and lit a cigarette.
The dry, woody smell of the wild grasses lining the ditches filtered in, mingling with the sweet, rubbery tang of the rental car. Scully watched a road sign until it drew near enough to read, then stared at it until they passed it in a pop of displaced air current. She then turned her eyes to the next sign, repeating the process over and over. Repetition helped order her brain.
They passed a decrepit old playground, swings creaking sadly in the breeze, the slide warped and polished. It was just like any other ancient park, aching and lonely, chipped and silent, but suddenly Scully saw something. She swerved the car to the shoulder, screeching to a halt in a protest of crunching gravel, ignoring the curses of the others. She was out of the car in an instant, the key still in the ignition, and she ran across the road, sliding to a stop at the ditch separating it from the playground.
She scanned the blowing grasses for whatever it was that had sent her heart lurching into her throat, pounding like a drum, whatever it was that stopped her breath and slammed her foot onto the brake. Mulder came bounding up behind her, his tie blown back over his shoulder and his sunglasses slightly askew. She glanced at him through a haze of red, through the wind-blown strands of her hair. She pulled a few pieces of it out of her mouth, and said simply:
"I saw something."
Mulder nodded. They walked forward together, feet sifting through the grass in tandem, and Scully could almost feel their razor sharp blades cutting into her legs. An image flashed into her mind unbidden; the razor-slashed back of Jamie Holtz, and with it the imagined horror of his blue lips gasping for air in some unknown dungeon as the life drained out of him. She imagined she could still smell the blood.
Scully's foot slithered slightly on the ground beneath her, and she looked down. The world shook around her and she sprang out in sweat, the cold sweep of fear and the hot sting of bile filling her with sensations so strong she thought she would die.
It was not in her imagination. Snaking out from the stems, vibrant in the sun, was a creeping pool of blood.
Mulder saw it too, and hissed sharply through his teeth. Without a word, the followed the trail of liquid, on through the undulating grasses. After a few moments, the pool was thicker, and still moving sluggishly, and Scully's gaze jumped down to a small, pink irregularity; a small finger, pointing through the stems, curled loosely in the lazy, lethargic manner of someone not long dead. A sudden, stronger breeze whipped around them, circling their heads and whipping their hair into their eyes. It also blew apart the long blades of grass, parting them like a curtain, revealing the small figure within.
It was a boy, naked and sprawled on his front, his head propped up grotesquely on the bottom of the slide, his arms and legs spread wide in a sick imitation of flight. On his back were the most lurchingly horrible and achingly beautiful set of wings, curlicued and whorled, intricate, delicate, soaring and spreading, thrillingly paused in the second before unfurling, full of potential and promise. They were powerful and sickening, frightening and absorbing, like a car crash on the side of the road; you can't look away, even though the guilt and revulsion are rising and making your head buzz, the flashing lights and twisted metal terrible and beautiful all at once.
Behind her, Scully heard Dan reach for his cell phone.
Scully was sitting on the swings as the ambulances left, rocking back and forth slowly, her toes dragging in the packed sand beneath her. The rusty chains squealed as she moved, a comforting noise, even as it set her teeth on edge. Mulder walked up slowly, his shoulders stooped, and leaned against the chipped yellow frame of the swing set, idly tracing one of the bared, gleaming metal patches exposed on the hollow pole.
"I said we'd meet them at the morgue as soon as possible."
Scully pumped a little harder. "Autopsy?" she asked. He nodded.
"You don't have to do it today, if you're too tired."
"I said before he couldn't have died more than four to six hours ago. I want to get to him as soon as possible."
"If we're allowed to."
"We found the body, so it's ours until they tear me away." She glanced up at him. "Unless you still want to get on that plane."
He gazed at her inscrutably, then down at his watch. "I've missed it by now, anyway." He said quietly. He sat down on the swing next to her, and began to stretch his legs out, long in front of him.
The swing rocked forward with a grating squeal, and Mulder stopped. They both stared out into the huge blue sky, and watched the scudding clouds.
Scully tilted the large black microphone towards her, flipping the switch with a small gesture. She liked the soft, deep thud it made, filling the air with sudden low noise, announcing its presence, waiting to be fed your voice.
"This is Special Agent Dana Scully, badge number JTT0331613, performing an autopsy on an unidentified John Doe. It is now 7:17 pm, June 9, 2003. The subject is a minor, approximately ten years old, weighing 76 lbs. Underweight. 59 inches in length. I am beginning with an external exam." She cast her eye over the body, still laid out on his front, the wings blazing out from his back.
"The victim has sustained severe lacerations to the back, stretching from the upper shoulders and lower neck, and extending to the pelvic area. From the precision of the cuts, the weapon was most likely a razor or a scalpel. Many appear to have been sustained before death, as they have partly healed. Histamine tests from this and several previous subjects believed to be related cases showed that many of the lacerations were sustained up to four to ten days before death. On this subject, the earliest appear to be two days before death." She paused to think for a second. This one had been kept only two days. If Hoffman was the killer, had they frightened him into killing this boy sooner then he had intended? Or was this just part of his general escalation? She shook her head and continued.
"As well as the dorsal lacerations, the subject has severe contusions surrounding his throat, wrists and ankles. The contusions on the wrists and ankles have actually broken the skin in places, which leads me to infer that they were caused by struggling against metal chains or manacles. The extensive ligature marks around the throat are suspected to be the cause of death, as they were likely caused by a chain, due to the ring-like pattern. As well, many other signs of death by strangulation are also present, such as the blue color of the lips and the extensive haemorrhaging of the ocular capillaries." She stopped and rubbed her eyes, weariness and sickness overtaking her. Sighing, she took a magnifying glass and began to go over the carved wings, fighting revulsion as she gazed into the sharp red canyons.
Her back and shoulders had just begun to protest their position when something caught her eye, a thin, translucent film over one of the cuts and part of the intact skin. An idea forming in her mind, she reached for the small tube on the wheeled metal tray near her, and flicked on the tiny, humming light. She swept it over the body, nothing appearing until she reached the spot over the substance, where it was illuminated in a bright, neon green-blue. Saliva.
Infinitely cautiously, Scully took a small, moistened swab and swept it over the area, then put the swab in a small vial of liquid, preserving it and labelling it carefully. Her heart was singing. This was the first concrete evidence the case had ever had. DNA evidence. It was almost too good to be true.
Calming herself, Scully settled back into the exam.
An hour and a half later, Scully was wrapping up the report to the others and to Mulder, who was trying not to grin like a small child.
"No only that," she said. "But I also found trace amounts of seminal fluid on the body's lower thigh, but there was no other evidence of actual sexual assault, so it's more likely that it's auto-erotic in origin."
Mulder smiled. "Oh, Scully. You know I like it when you go all scientific on me." She raised her eyebrow, and he fell silent for a moment, thinking hard. He turned to Paring, frowning slightly, all business again. "If he's losing that much control during the mutilations, it could put a new spin on some stuff we've already written."
Paring nodded. "Yeah... It could change what we said about family a bit, and about the stalking pre-crime aspect..." He trailed off and began to scribble some notes on the block of paper in front of him, his face bent close to the page. Dan shifted a bit from where he was leaning against a filing cabinet.
"When I dropped the samples off at the lab," he said. "The technician said they'd be ready in about two hours. I can stick around till then, if the rest of you want to head home." But Scully wasn't really listening. Something was niggling at the back of her mind again. It was something someone had just said, something about family... She turned to Mulder.
"Mulder, what did you theorize about the killer's family?" she asked. He furrowed his brow. "I mean, Alex said you might have to change that, about his family."
"We said we thought that he didn't have much of one, and that he certainly lived alone. He wouldn't be close to his parents, if they were still alive, because they were the source of most of the traumas in his life, and a lot of his anger was focused on them. He wouldn't be able to stay married, although he might have tried once or twice. Why?" There, there it was. A snatch of something Hoffman had said.
My ex-wife is a lawyer...
Scully turned to Paring. "Alex, can you pull up the file on Hoffman, and look for any divorces, or any family law cases he's been involved in, in the past? There was just something funny about the way he said that..."
"What?" asked Mulder.
"About his ex-wife being a lawyer... Alex, have you got it?"
"Thanks." Scully rolled her chair over to the computer, running her eyes down the screen.
May 23, 1994: Marriage certificate issued to George N. Hoffman and Miriam A. Price.
November 4, 1995: Miriam A. Price files for divorce, and is issued a settlement.
May 27, 2003: George Hoffman applies for...
Scully's eyes widened, and a sharp churning began in her stomach as she read on. After she finished, she whipped around, her eyes round and horrified, fear sweeping in waves through her body. The others noticed her expression and stopped.
"...applies for custody." She said out loud. "My god... he was granted it yesterday. He has a nine year old son."
The man pushed the door of the bedroom open, admiring the way the golden light from the hallway spilled out over the bedclothes like fresh blood, illuminating the golden hair of the small thing in the bed.
A car hummed by on the road outside. He could faintly hear the night insects in the scrawny tree outside the window of the boxy little room. It was strange how every sensation was heightened by his anticipatory calm. The thing in the bed, so newly acquired, so... easily acquired, was his long awaited masterpiece. So close.
All that unmarked Canvas, that pulsing, hidden Holiness spewing through its veins... All his.
It stirred, disturbed out of slumber by the spilling golden light. It rubbed its eyes and looked towards him, a dark shape in the doorway, silhouetted against the brilliance.
"Daddy?" It said.
The Twelfth Disciple
Scully stared around the room wildly, her head in turmoil, completely frozen with shock. The room was thick with sudden silence, and as the suspended second passed, they sprang into action. Mulder was at the computer in a second, his eyes scanning the screen hurriedly. He slammed his fist down on the table in a strange gesture, half angry, half triumphant.
"The son's name is Jude. I'm bringing up the birth records now." He typed furiously. "There! His full name's Judas Laurence Hoffman." He turned to them, his lips thin and white. "So it's true... That's his twelfth Disciple."
Dan was pale, his eyes over-bright. "His own son..." he breathed. Scully could see him holding the mental image of his own daughters to his breast like a talisman, protecting against the proof of the unbelievable monstrosity he was hearing.
Paring was still in the position he had frozen in when Scully had first spoken. He looked up at them blankly, unnervingly like a small child. "What do we do?" he whispered.
"We work fast." Scully said. "Dan; we knew that Hoffman owns property. Search the database and find out what and where. Alex; think carefully. Where might he take the boy? Work with Dan on that, so you can narrow it down a bit. Mulder and I will head straight to his house. When you find out where you think he is, call us and then call upstairs to get teams to search everywhere that's a possibility, and to provide emergency back-up for us. We'll be at the primary site, the one that seems most likely. Is that all right?" They stared at her in blank wonderment for a moment, and then began to move. Dan replaced Mulder in the computer chair, and quickly scrawled an address down on a scrap of paper, double-checking it on the monitor.
"This is his house. Good luck." Mulder grabbed his jacket and they began to stride out of the office. Scully heard Paring clear his throat quickly, and then he reached out and put his hand on Mulder's arm, gently, a slight touch, an infinitely intimate farewell. His mouth opened with difficulty.
"Be safe, Mulder." It was all he said, but his voice and his hand conveyed a world of feeling and pain. Scully felt her heart twist. Mulder understood in a sweep of expression, a thousand emotions flickering over his face in a moment. Then he smiled softly, and held Paring's gaze in sympathy.
"I will," he said, and it was enough.
They were out of the office in seconds, sweeping down the hallway to the elevator. Scully could feel her pulse pounding and her mouth dry up as she began to comprehend the reality of the situation. As the elevator doors parted the images flickered before her: the gasping blue lips, the trickling blood, the unfurling wings stark against the sky, a small crooked finger protruding from the dancing grasses. Above them all was the ice-cold memory of glittering black eyes, piercing and watching, reducing her to nothing as the wind blew her away.
The elevator spat them out in the lobby, and then as they passed the tall pillars and the noise of their feet echoed and ricocheted to the ceiling, the second elevator spat them out into the parking garage where they ran to Scully's car, ran as if they were pursued. The tires squealed as the shining top of the car disappeared past the sleepy guard, on into the night.
The man was back in his shelter at last, Inside, into the great studio of his Art. The Shining Thing, his Masterpiece, lay at his feet, twitching and moaning in its rude, animal way. Soon it would sing as his Art bit into its back, flowing from his heart onto the silken white Canvas, creating a miracle of Beauty.
The first stirrings began as it struggled against the rough edges of the ugly chains that bound it, beginning the red marks that would soon begin to leak Holiness as it struggled. It was a pity that they all marred their Canvases like that, but it couldn't be helped.
As he felt the stirrings gain in hunger, he slipped off his clothes and luxuriated in the feel of the warm candlelight. He gazed thoughtfully at the Masterpiece, and, whispering his own prayer, he stepped forward and began to Carve.
The screams were every bit as powerful and as beautiful as he expected, every bit as beautiful as the screams of the choirboys who had been the first Canvases. As the Art had slipped from his hand, from their throats had torn notes they had never hit in practice.
Such was the power of Art.
Scully ran a red light in a heavy roar from the engine, her foot hitting the floor as she ripped the car around a turn onto Victoria Crescent, sliding to a stop on the wrong side of the street. Her neck bobbed sharply as they hit and mounted the curb, and she was out of the car as soon as the engine was silent.
The tall, narrow house facing her was dark and silent, brooding behind the strip of grass and shrub that passed for a front lawn. She and Mulder ran softly across the street and tiptoed up the steps to the front porch. Her throat was throbbing with the strength of her pulse, and her hands shook as she slipped her gun from the holster at her back. Spots were exploding in front of her eyes, luminous as fireworks against the dark. She could see the pale gleam of Mulder's face across the door, and she could see the droplets of sweat lit like will-`o-the-wisps in the faint orange glow from the streetlight.
Mulder raised his hand and held up all five fingers, and after a suspended moment dropped one. Scully nodded, her tongue thick in her mouth. She knew they were both remembering the eyes.
Three. Two. I don't want to die. I feel like I'm drowning. One.
They threw themselves at the door in perfect unison, and they felt it rip and tear away from the frame under the weight of their bodies. They stumbled forward into the blackness, each pivoting in unconscious obedience to their drilled, trained and hardwired brains, rotating on the balls of their feet to find their danger spots.
Corner. Side. Stairs. Opposite room. Other side. Behind. Above.
They looked each other in the eye, and then Scully nodded. In unison, almost back-to-back, they searched the ground floor. In each room, Scully felt her ears sing as they entered, adrenaline pumping through her so fast she felt like she was choking. There was no basement. The first floor was empty. They found themselves back in the foyer, the stairs looming ahead, the most frightening thing in her world. Turning to face the side and front, they marched slowly up the stairs. The tension was ripping her apart. hey repeated the process upstairs, searching room by room, being careful not to disturb any evidence. Mulder gestured to a child's bus ticket sitting on the dresser in the master bedroom. It was from Bountiful, the Salt Lake City suburb.
So Judas had arrived already.
There was only one room on the third floor, a narrow, peaked room running half the width of the floor, the other half a long hallway. A tree scratched against the window as a gust of wind eddied past the house. The room was clear. The house was clear. Why was the skin on her body still stretched so tight that she felt if she moved too fast it would split, spilling her forth from within it, cold and vulnerable? Why-
In the pressing dark, Scully experienced pure terror. The noise spit her skin and she jumped so hard that sweat sprang out all over her body in a cool wave of clammy release. She choked on her lungs as they surged into her mouth in the abrupt convulsion of every muscle in her, a thin thread of bile seeping into the corners of her jaw as she spent every instant trying not to fall apart.
Her cell phone was ringing.
Release from the terror was sweet and sudden, a draining of energy as quickly as it had come. Her hands, white and trembling, gleaming in the dark, scrabbled on the plastic case of the phone as she tried to answer it. Mulder was staring at her with his hand pressing at his heart like a middle-aged man in a badly staged anti-cholesterol commercial. Her thumb slid over the answer button and she pressed it to her ear, hearing the disembodied voice float from the other end.
"Agent Scully? Agent Scully?"
"Yes?" she said. Her voice was shocking to her, the way it boomed out as if completely ignorant of the pressing need for silence and hiding consuming the rest of her body.
"Scully, we found the most likely place for Hoffman to be." It was Paring. "He owns a warehouse downtown that's abandoned. It's supposed to be `awaiting renovations', but no work has been done on it for years." As if noticing her tone for the first time, he said: "Is everything all right over there? He's not there, is he? I assumed that because you answered-"
"Its all right, he's not here. It's just... tense." Her heart was finally beginning to slow. "Okay, give me the address of the warehouse, then call upstairs to AD Chilton. He needs to know where we are, and he needs to send a few more agents just in case."
"I'll do that. The address is 435 Madill. Be careful, Scully."
"We will." She hung up and turned to Mulder, who was still a faint grey color. "We're going back to the car."
The man was enjoying a brief respite from his work as he considered his next design. The wings were already magnificent, trembling and poised, as if they might sweep outward at any moment. He was beyond pleased.
The knife blade was a beautiful glittering silver, but even its honed, deathly beauty could not outshine the jewelled eyes of the man, as dark as the ceiling that was the only witness to the ferocity of his Art.
Excitement pulsed through his body, and he licked his lips as the familiar tingling hunger began in his gut. The Canvas moaned as it awoke, writhing in convoluted patterns on the rough floor of its block that raised it just above the floor. The man prodded it upright, and as the Hunger roared through him he leaned forward and gently bit down, just between its neck and shoulder.
It screamed again, and the man smiled into its skin. This was as good as any signature.
Scully had no time to think about the consequences of what she was doing. She only knew, like Mulder had felt many times before, that this case was hers, this killer was hers, and these boys were hers. She had to be there when it ended, that it had to be here. Nothing else mattered; not the rules, not her safety, not procedure, nothing. She had to bring him down. It helped her understand the dozens of times Mulder had `ditched' her to bring down one of his criminals. It was like a bizarre, violent, twisted, love affair; obsession, intense involvement, jealousy, fear. All the symptoms were there.
All she knew was that it had to be her.
She sped up the car.
The man felt the Art fill his world, flow through him, coupled with, dancing with, ferociously attacking the Hunger that filled his stomach, suffusing him with heat.
It had never been like this before.
This was the power of his Masterpiece.
The car screeched onto the lonely industrial street, and Scully and Mulder were across to the door of 435 in seconds, and with no time for fear they threw themselves at the door. It opened with a crash and squeal of twisting metal, and they spilled into the darkened room.
It was empty.
Something was wrong. Something was intruding on his ecstasy of Art. The warm room was suddenly suffused with rage. The shadows trembled on the square pillars surrounding him.
This wasn't supposed to happen.
Scully shone the broad beam of her flashlight around the huge room.
"Mulder," she hissed. "Something's wrong. This room's too high off the ground. You shouldn't have to climb stairs to get to the ground floor of a warehouse. I think there's-" She stopped. There it was.
A small, heavy steel door, nestled into the cement floor. A basement...
Scully scrabbled at the small ring sunk into the door.
The Intrusion was above him, scratching to get in. How dare it?
A small puff of air hit him where he stood.
The Outside, coming in.
The door lifted free with a puff of air. Scully could see that the latch of the trapdoor had, for whatever reason, not closed completely, and so was not locked. She said a real prayer of thanks for the first time in years.
The air below her was warm and golden with the flickering dance of candles. Scully gazed at Mulder for a long moment. She saw herself reflected back in his eyes in the shifting, otherworldly light.
Something sparked, deep within her.
She mouthed silently that she would go first, and slipped over the edge, Mulder's hand firmly on her arm. Then, with a sudden rush of horrible wind, Scully felt it slip, and she was falling to the hard cement floor below. In the sickening whirl and sharp collision, she heard a deep clang of metal, and, as if from very far away, the simple click of a lock.
And then the lights went out.
The Judas Tree
It took Scully a moment to realize that the lights had not gone out completely. The candles still wavered and danced at the far end of the immense room, where they silhouetted a maze of dark pillars standing in front of her. Between them snaked slivers of gold, flickering and dancing, but still so dark in between them that she couldn't even see her hand clearly.
She stood, still half-crouching in the dark, her breath coming in great heaves, every sense in her body alert. The terror and disorientation were sweeping in waves through her, and her eyes were wide as they sought to drink in the slivers of light and banish the darkness. She could hear Mulder through the trapdoor almost twenty feet above her, and as she acknowledged the distance between them desperation overtook her for a few drowned moments. Her lips parted slightly, and she between to scrape the first few noises of a word from her throat.
And then something moved in the dark.
The sounds died on her lips, and she felt her stomach fold into itself. She broke out into a gasping wave of sweat, feeling it crystallize on her forehead and upper lip, rapidly as cold as her shaking hands in the damp air of the hall. Realization broke over her with the sweat: she was alone, and almost blind. Slowly reaching behind her back, she patted only a joltingly empty holster. Her gun had been in her hand, she remembered. Now it was gone. Sweet Jesus save me...
Something glittered in the dark beside one of the pillars, dark as a black pearl, like a polluted and stained diamond.
A small noise of fear escaping her lips, Scully threw herself against the wall, pressing her back against it like a child, longing for it to reach out and draw her in, warm and safe and protected, curled under the covers in a cocoon of shaken innocence.
Scully heard, slipping and piercing down into her dungeon of fear, a small mewling sound of pain and confusion. Several slivers of light were cut off and changed as something more concrete began to move at the far end of the warehouse. The sound changed to a low muffled sob, and then to a high, keening chant.
"I want Daddy. The man has my Daddy. Daddy!" Then, long and drawn out, ripping and tearing at the fabric of the air: "He-elp..."
Scully felt her mind at briefly catapult into a chaos of interior anarchy, wrenched between coming or going, of exposing herself to the dark and the unknown, to the danger and the fear that clutched at the soul so hard that it was an unshakable plague of sticky, grasping fingers. With a small cry of horror that her body let escape, she launched herself from the wall, spinning out into the black, slipping through shafts of light like warm currents that, for a split second, immersed her in life before her own momentum buried her again. She could almost taste the earth in her cheeks.
She wormed between the pillars in desperate flight, slithering to the light and freedom, the high wail that still echoed through the whorls and eddies of the darkness more constant than the beating of her heart. Suddenly, she was marooned, surrounded by tall rectangles of shadow, and a breeze of movement rustled at her back.
She pivoted wildly, and the whisper of noise slipped past her again. The image of the eyes rose before her, and she felt again, chillingly, horribly, immediately the sensation of watching. He was behind the duck blind, the two-way mirror, he was at the window, he was behind the bars, the sunglasses, he was everywhere and nowhere at once, he was hunting, he was stalking, he was consuming her essence, and he was right behind her.
The softest of whispers swished through the air, through her shirt, and through her. Like a caress, like a silken whiplash, it severed her flesh and sent her breath running in shivers down her spine as her body spasmed its protest. Then the movement was gone as quickly as it had come. A renewal of the wail sent her ears ringing as she felt the graceful delicacy of the small trickle of blood tracing its way along her goose pimpled skin.
She began to stumble forward again; her only thought a desperate, consuming desire to reach the light. Her eyes were screaming for rest against the constant strain. There were moments where she couldn't be sure if they were opened or closed, so deep was the darkness. Only the streams of light brought any sense of sanity back to her.
She was lost in a tangled web of insanity: his, hers, the world's. So much death and fear and pain and release had crept into the very fabric of the hall that it became impossible to tell up from down, and which directions were where, so that it became something tangible, concrete and heavy on the soul.
With a rush of terror and blood, Scully felt, on the edge of her mind, as the whisper of motion swept out of the unknown again and rushed towards her. Before anything but recognition could register, the gentle lash was across her skin again, parting it from itself while her body screamed in protest against the unspeakable, unnatural atrocity that created such shattering physical loneliness.
With gentle precision the splitting caresses came again and again, rage and hurt filling the air like a drug as Scully fell to her knees under the invisible onslaught. She heard her own cries of pain twist and combine with the keening in the echoes of the hall, ricocheting off the roof high above her, joining the unheard voices of so many others.
The murky distance of the ceiling was a hell choir, the ancient screams of the fallen Disciples ringing out in agony, a fluttering chorus of blackened angels.
Something slammed into Scully's knee as she fell, something rounded and metallic, deadly and silent, that bashed the weaker capillaries and began to spread the small torrents of blood beneath her skin.
Something quieted the chorus.
Something brought the light and sanity back into her eyes.
Something was a sawed off pistol, nestled in the soft familiar safety of her lower leg, so familiarly she had forgotten its presence in the horror of the dark. The creased leather was suddenly warm against her skin. Without faltering in her cries, Scully swept her hand under the fabric of her pant leg, flicked open the snap that harnessed the barrel, and rolled over onto her back, her neck straining to hold her head and the gleaming silver of the gun the only light she could see.
Time was held arrested for a moment as she locked eyes with the darkness. The glitter of the stained jewels blazed as they realized the truth, and Scully felt the power of them sear her like a brand, pinning her to the floor, reducing her to nothing as he watched. Watch. All he did was watch her, and she was an ant under the magnifying glass, the condemned, waiting and knowing that the future cannot be fought, she was the hunted, the prey... she was a tiny boy, chained and bleeding, roped like an animal as he gasped for air, feeling his life slip down the chain crushing his throat, and into the man snarling at the other end; the man who has watched him with eyes that peel and expose him to his deepest layers. And all he can do is wait.
The darkness rushes at Scully with its eyes blazing and its knife glittering, its hands deep red with angel wings, and all she can think is: no more waiting.
The pistol shouts, deep and sudden, and the darkness is rendered form, made flesh, and the eyes are shrouded and still.
Scully was sitting in the light, covered in blood, when the trapdoor opened with groan of twisting metal. She cradled in her lap a small boy, both of them cut, blood mingling on the rough concrete slab to which the boy was still shackled. Both were staring fixedly at the naked body of the man lying only feet away, the crimson-stained scalpel still cradled in his fingers.
In the harsh beam of the flashlights, Mulder was through the pillars and piles of boxes and to her side in seconds. He touched her cheeks with trailing fingers as she looked up at him blankly, absorbing the shivers of the boy as the hot flames of the blowtorch melted away his bonds. As soon as the paramedics' team were down the foldout stairs, they wormed their way to the boy, wrapping him tightly in the scratchy grey hypothermia blanket, and they carried him up out of the warehouse and out of her sight.
As he disappeared, Scully became conscious of her body again, returning to it with shocks of sensation and recognition. She had fingers, toes, hands, ears, mouth, hair, muscles and tendons, each one of them fiercely glad to be alive and moving. The world did not, in fact, belong entirely to the ethereal realm of thought and sensation, fear and motion. The world could be touched, and the world was touching her.
She stood up quickly, and Mulder caught her in his arms, pressing her hard to his chest, low, savage sobs wracking his body as he tried to keep them in. She could feel his heart against her ear, could feel the vibration of his breathing running in shivers up her cheek.
The world was touching her...
She lifted her head and met his gaze, his eyes thick with emotion, soft with caring, and utterly clear.
The world could be touched...
She placed her hand flat against his tear marked cheek, searching for her lifeline and finding it already there, waiting for her, finding it so fast that it brought her up short. She leaned in closer, and his eyes searched hers; asking, not watching. Never watching.
"What are you doing?" he whispered, his voice trembling.
Without a word, Scully moved forward and kissed him, her lips meeting his with every emotion in her and more. And the world was touching her.
Scully gently fingered the laminated hospital bracelet as she sat on the edge of her bed, enjoying the way the soft plastic rims flapped against the pads of her fingers when she moved them. She could see warm afternoon sunshine filtering through the slats of the brown Venetian blind on the opposite wall. She had slept almost fifteen hours, judging by the time, and her head swam and her tongue was gummy.
After a moment, she cut the hospital bracelet with a soft click, and left it on the bedside table. She could hear soft voices in the adjoining room, and, wincing from the pain of her back, she shuffled through the doorway. Mulder, Dan, and Paring were sitting on her couch, cold cups of coffee clutched in their hands, speaking in low tones. They all looked up when she came in, and Mulder's gaze came up to meet hers.
He still took her breath away. They held the memory of their kiss like a precious talisman, warm and safe and treasured.
A noise came from the bathroom, and, to her amazement, Rob stepped out. He stopped dead when he saw her, a bright flush creeping up his neck. In a few steps he was over to her, and had swept her up in his arms, cradling her with gentle caring.
"Dana," he murmured. "I was so worried." She felt shame churn in her gut, hot and burning. He must have felt her body tense, and he pulled back slightly, dipping his chin to look at her face. "It's okay," he whispered. "I know what you choose. I'm here to say goodbye." He smiled at her, the smallest glistening of tears in the bottom rim of his eye.
Gratitude swarmed through her, and she hugged him fiercely. He laughed thickly, and took her hand.
"Let's talk," she said. "I want to talk to you, please." Her own eyes were burning now, and her throat was husky. Mulder was tense out of the corner of her eye, stiff and unmoving on the couch. As Rob began to lead her towards the bedroom, he almost catapulted out of his seat, but Scully placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. She met his eyes again, seeking to pour through them everything she felt, to let him know.
He knew. Of course he did. His eyes softened again, and he sat back down with a gentle sigh.
"By the way, Dana," Dan said quickly. "The boy from the playground? His name was Andrew, the last name to complete the set. He found all twelve."
Scully closed the door behind her with a quiet click, and sat down on the edge of the bed, across from Rob. The afternoon light highlighted his features with gold, and he fixed her with a steady gaze. He noticed the hospital bracelet with a change of expression, and his eyes clouded with worry.
"You okay?" he asked anxiously. She nodded.
"I will be. He just sliced me a couple of times across the back before I shot him. The hospital put stitches in, and they'll heal. It's more than I can say for Jude Hoffman. I can't even imagine what he's going through." She was lost for a second, but regained her composure after a beat. "Did you know he still won't believe his father did it? He's convinced it was `another man' who took his daddy, and then him. He'll probably never be okay..." Her voice trailed off. Rob took her hand gently, and absently traced the faint lines that crisscrossed it.
"But he's alive," he added finally. "Which he wouldn't be if you hadn't found him. Who knows if Hoffman would really have stopped after him?"
Scully gazed intently at the bedspread. "What would he have had to live for?" she said after a moment. "Judas was his twelfth Disciple, his master work. What was left for him after that? Nowhere to go but down."
How much like herself, she thought bitterly. Defying protocol, searching without a warrant, killing a man... Where was there to go but down? What else could possibly touch this experience, its depth of emotion, its pits of fear and heights of joy. It was the last stand of a rickety soldier.
As if sensing her train of thought, Rob raised her chin with a firm hand. "Dana," he said. "Dana, listen to me. Because of you, he will never, ever hurt another child again. You have saved people. You've made the world a better place, a safer place. There is one less fear in the darkness, and you lit that match, Dana. For you, there's nowhere to go but up." He smiled shakily. "I'm just a little sorry I won't be there to see it."
"No. Don't say anything. I love you, and that means loving you no matter where you are, or who you're with. I would rather have you be happy with Mulder than miserable with me. I made a lot of people miserable when I lost Julia, because I refused to believe that I could be happy in world without her. When I met you, Dana, I realised that wherever she was, she was free from pain and hurt, and I owed it myself and to her to do my best to have the same. I'll live, I'll be happy, you'll be happy, God knows Mulder'll be happy... I'm willing to let you go without making you feel guilty. But don't..." his voice broke, and a single tear spilled over. "But don't think for one minute that I'm happy right now, or that I'm trying to get rid of you. Like my dad says: if you love them, let them go. I love you."
Speechless, Scully pulled him into an embrace, tears streaming in rivulets down her face. "I love you, too." She choked out. "I'm going to miss you so much."
"You won't have to," he mumbled into her shoulder. "I damn well intend to be in your life, as your friend. If you'll let me..."
She laughed through her tears, and held him for a long time, as the sun slowly set in the world outside.
"So, where to next?" Mulder asked as they sped down the I-15, two days later. "We're on `leave', we're in the desert, and the open highway's in front of us. Where to next?"
Scully laughed, and let the wind pull back her hair as it whipped through the open window. "I know what you really mean. Washington or Salt Lake City, I move or you do, the city or the desert..."
He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively over his sunglasses. "My place or yours?"
Her smile widening, Scully ruffled the hair at the back of his head, admiring him in profile as the dry land sped by outside. "Don't be an idiot."
He looked at her sideways. "Can't deny nature, Agent Scully." With a sudden rush of feeling, Scully turned her head and kissed him, her lips salty with the wind. Her happiness was like a giant bubble rising inside her, choking and delighting her all at once. She could feel his matching emotion run through her in current, almost bringing tears to her eyes. As they gently drifted apart, Scully smiled as whole-heartedly as she ever had in her whole life.
Words struggled to lips, and in a sudden burst she said: "Watch the road, Mulder." To her surprise, he laughed and grinned, and turned back to the front.
"Scully," he said. "I know exactly what you mean."
The motion of the car soothed Scully into sleep as they flew along through the night. She fell into dreams as swiftly as the cliffs and rocks flashed by the window, streaks of silver and moonlight. In her dream she stood once again on the harsh plain of her nightmares, the Eyes two glittering eclipsed suns burning in the sky above. Like a clockwork, as regular as a pulse, the mutilated bodies flashed into being in front of her, dissolved and swept away by the immutable wind. But this time, she did something she had never done before.
She reached out and touched the body as she saw its essence begin to loosen and drift, and at once it was whole again. She saw in a rush that it was Judas; it was herself; it was Rob; it was Mulder; it was Jamie and Thomas and Matthew and the others, all of the dark, broken angels whole again, healed and ascending, their brightness burning away the dark, all-seeing orbs from the sky, letting the light stream down onto Scully's upturned face. Her soul drank it in after so long in the dark.
And Scully knew that whatever happened, she would always be solid, here and standing tall. She would never let herself be borne away again.
The wind slowed to a caressing, loving breeze, and in the humming moonlight of the car, Dana Scully's mouth twisted gently upwards in a delicate smile of bliss.
If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to Ceilidh Paul
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