March 15, 1971.


The moon was hanging high in the sky, casting long eerie shadows over the jungle. Corporal Skinner was still young enough and naive enough to stop and stare up at it, thinking how beautiful it looked, hanging there in space.


“Fool. It lights us up, makes us easier targets.”


The Lieutenant’s thoughts echoed in his mind, and Corporal Skinner grinned at his C.O., finding the man’s camouflage streaked face several paces ahead.


“It’s beautiful though.”


“So’s that whore in Saigon that Casey’s been screwing, but she’s just as deadly.”


Casey’s whore? You mean the ‘Claptrap’?”


“I heard that!” Casey’s indignant thought broke through into their private conversation.


The whole platoon, silently, and as a man, broke into broad grins, and cast amused glances in Casey’s direction.


Skinner closed his eyes and kept on walking, seeing the world from Lieutenant Logan’s eyes, feeling a branch slap against his face, walking a few steps, then brushing into the same branch a few seconds after his C.O. It had taken considerable practice to perfect this, but now he could walk with his eyes closed for hours without stumbling. Skinner sent his mind out along the link between his comrades, testing the flow of energy between them, enjoying the perfect synergy, the sense of harmony and completion. Nothing in his young life had ever captivated him so much, nothing brought him as much joy as this. He reveled in their thoughts, their feelings, and their strength.


“Gonna come, Walt?” Stevens leered, turning to wink at him. “Getting off again?”


Skinner blushed. It was true that he found the energy that linked them so physical a sensation that, when channeled through his wildly hormonal eighteen-year-old brain, it had an almost erotic intensity. The rest of the platoon teased him about that unmercifully. Not that he minded – they were, to all intents and purposes, an extension of himself, and he knew the minds and hearts of each of them.


Skinner allowed his mind to drown in the link, absorbed a direction from Lieutenant Logan that they should head West and relayed an image of water and rest from Casey back to the Lieutenant. He listened idly to J.A.’s constant internal monologue of guilt about the number of times he’d jerked off this week and how many Hail Mary’s that would earn him, blocked out Murray’s incessant desire to pee, and absently scratched Juke’s itchy stubble on his own as yet beardless chin.


The moon disappeared behind a cloud, and the jungle was suddenly plunged into darkness. Skinner felt the tension rise a notch or two, and he fought to stop a dozen men’s feelings from overwhelming him.


“Careful.” Logan. “We don’t want to run into anything just because we were careless. Left.”


As a man, the whole group turned to their left, silently, stealthily moving through the jungle, completely in tune with each other. They made a deadly fighting force. Their prowess in battle was legendary, their synchronized movements and wordless communication giving them a crucial edge on their enemy.


There was no warning, of that Skinner was sure, just as he had no idea how they could have been seen or heard. The moon had been obscured, and he knew they had made no noise. It didn’t make sense. Suddenly the jungle exploded in a flash of gunshot fire, illuminating dark faces and bodies.


“Fuck!” Casey screamed, falling to the ground silently, gracefully, a bullet through his brain.


“Help me! Help me! Shit, shit…hurts…”


“Murray? Murray???? Where are you?” Skinner’s mind was alive with the agony of a dozen deaths, with the screams of his dying friends, and the pain in his own body, which faltered beneath him, his legs no longer working, blood pumping out of a wound in his chest, turning the world red. The ground rushed up to meet him, and the next thing he knew he was staring at the sky, his eyes open and unblinking. His mind was full of cries for help, and he could do nothing to aid his stricken comrades. There was only confusion – the link a mass of pulsing, flickering, seething, and fatally disrupted energy.


“Ambush, fucking ambush…fucking VC’s…fucking got us at last…” were Murray’s last thoughts.


“Hail Mary, mother of god…” The words were repeated over and over again, until they gradually faded out of his mind, becoming a whisper, and then disappeared altogether.


“Failed you…sorry…led you into a goddamn trap. Thought we were so damn good…wish I’d told you all…” Logan died in a bitter agony of self recrimination.


Skinner lay on the ground, seeing their attackers dimly on the periphery of his vision, moving among the bodies, checking pulses, delivering last minute bullets to the brains of any survivors. One by the one, the voices in his mind became silent. Skinner felt a wrenching, dislocating jolt in the link between them, as each voice, each mind, each being, left his consciousness forever, leaving him at last alone, soundless, for the first time in eight months.


“NO!” The pain of each loss hurt more than the pain in his body. Skinner’s mind screamed out in agony, over and over again. “NO.” In a tumult of numbness, he felt himself rise up, his consciousness slipping between the boundaries of life and death, ascending towards a bright light, to a place without pain. He lay there in that restful limbo for a lifetime, seeking respite from his great loss. It took him maybe an eon, or a micro-second, to hear the voice that was speaking to him softly.


“It’s not your time, Jace.”




“Forgive me. Walter.” A laugh. “When I knew you last…never mind. It isn’t time yet.”


“Where are we?”


“Everywhere. Nowhere.”


“They’re gone. All gone.” For a moment, Skinner wanted to feel something. He remembered the pain of their passing, the agony of his wounds, but here, in this void, there was nothing.


“Yes. They’ve passed on.”


“I…miss them.”


“Yes.” Not unsympathetic, and yet somehow stern, uncompromising. “You must go back.”


“I’m dead!” he protested.


“I know.”


“Then how can I go back?”


“They will help. All their life force returns to source. You are the source, little one. Sweet one.” Something that could have been a gentle kiss on his forehead, a breeze against his brow. “Here.” He felt a sudden rush of something in his mind, a clatter of voices, a clamoring sound that was intensely, blessedly familiar.


“Toss you for it…keep at it like that and it’ll drop off, J.A…begging for it… Why’d you call me that?…I said move it, dickhead…Mom baked them…J Arthur Rank – you work it out…on a farm, I was good with horses…Man, yeah! That was a great movie…Picture yourself in a boat on a river, with tangerine trees and marmalade skies…”


The sound welled up to a crescendo and then balled into something small, glowing with an intense white heat. Skinner felt the incandescent globe flood him with its light, and then it was gone.


“Bye, Walt…g’luck…see’ya soon…Walt, baby! So long. Soon…bye, Walter…” The voices faded, and he tried to run after them, to go with them, wherever they might be going, but his way was blocked.


“No, Walter. You can’t follow them. You have a different path to follow.”


“I want to go with them!”


“You can’t.”


Somewhere in the distance, he could see a dark tunnel.


“NO.” He cried, trying to twist and turn away from the tunnel, yet somehow it moved inexorably closer. “It hurts there…it hurts…”


“Hush. It’s okay. I know it hurts, but you have something to do. Something very important.” The voice soothed him.


“What?” His whimpering faded. He was reminded of his mom telling him to watch his brother. “It’s important, Walter. I won’t be long.” He was five years old and his dad was lying outside on the farm, injured. “You watch Joe. I’ll get help.” She ran towards the truck. Walter stood beside his brother’s crib and watched the sleeping baby. Outside his father was moaning, but his mom had told him to stay here, not to move. The baby started to cry. Five year old Walter stood there, uncertainly. She’d said to watch the baby, but should he touch him? He wasn’t usually allowed to touch Joe unless Mom or Dad were there. Outside, his father started to sob.


“I can’t tell you what it is, but it is something that you must do.”


“How will I know?” Five year old Walter dithered, torn between his father’s cries, and those of his baby brother. He felt useless, small.


“You’re not useless. You’ll know when the time comes. You’ll do what you have to, in accordance with what you are. And however it turns out, for good or ill, that is all we can ask of you.”


“Why me?” He knew he sounded petulant, childish, but he didn’t want this. A laugh sounded in his mind.


“Because you’re the right person. Don’t worry. You have time, little one. Time to grow up, to love and laugh and cry some more. Time to learn so many things. Time to live.”


“But I don’t want…I want…” He just wanted peace, he wanted to have his comrades back, to feel that link once more.


“One day. Maybe. Come now…”


The dark tunnel came closer and closer, and he cried out as he hurtled through it, then out the other side. Skinner looked down in horror and saw the body of a boy lying on the ground. The boy’s eyes were wide open, his uniform torn by bullets, blood pouring from a dozen or more wounds all over his body, soaking the ground beneath. He gazed into the boy’s sightless brown eyes, saw the shock in them, and a staring intensity that scared him. Skinner gazed down for a long time, recognizing himself, aware that he was being watched, as he was watching his own death, and then he heard the voice again.


“Little one. I’m here.” He had a sensation of being lifted, and clung like a child to the strong arms that held him, burying his face in a wrinkled neck, and coarse, white hair. “Hush…trust me…” the voice whispered. He felt lips press against his hair, and had a sudden sensation of overwhelming affection. The blinding white light receded, and the world grew darker, noisier, filled with pain and confusion. He looked down, saw those dead eyes again and cried out one last time. He was close, too close. He felt himself settle inside the body, and took a gurgling, agonized gasp of air. Vision flooded into his open eyes, and for one brief second he saw an old woman, smiling at him tenderly, her eyes aglow with love.


“Farewell, Jace. Soon,” she promised, and he screamed silently, wanting her to come back, wanting her to take him back, to let him continue on his journey with his dead comrades. Sensation returned to his stricken body, and a wave of such intense agony ripped through him that he lost consciousness. A single tear escaped through dark lashes as his eyes finally closed.


The man wandered into the clearing, and paused, flicking the hand of a corpse out of his path with a contemptuous flourish of his boot. He wasn’t wearing a uniform, yet somehow it was clear from the natural authority inherent in his posture, that he was in charge. He was tall, and his body had a languid, cat-like grace that implied danger. He pulled a packet of cigarettes out of his pocket, and lit one, taking a long, slow drag and then blew the smoke out into the jungle. A man, clad in black, his face obscured by a ski-mask, ran up to the smoker, and jumped to attention in front of him.


“Well? Are they dead?” The smoker asked.


“Yes, sir.”


“All of them?” The smoker looked at his subordinate keenly.


“Yes, sir. I checked each of them myself. We finished off the ones who survived the initial ambush.”


“Good. You’ve done well, Sheed.” The smoker did not even allow himself the luxury of a small smile. Instead, he gazed at Sheed for a long time, with a cool, assessing stare. “You’re wondering why,” he murmured, taking another lungful of smoke.


“Well…yes.” The other man admitted. “I mean they were the best. There’s never been a unit like them, and that was all as a result of your work…you know, the drugs, the experiments…So why are you destroying all your hard work when you’ve achieved so much?”


“Yes, in many ways, this experiment was my proudest achievement. It’s destruction is…unfortunate, of course, but the project requires sacrifices of us all.” The smoker pulled a file out from under his combat jacket and gazed at it for a second, as if in regret, or contemplation. “The Nexus Project, subgroup 5c – Delta Company, 1st BN, 12th Marines.”


“The best. They had a reputation for being invincible.” Sheed said, shaking his head sadly.


“Nobody’s invincible.” The smoker smiled. “And you should never believe your own reputation.” He threw the file onto the ground and lit a match. “Experiment…terminated.” He lit the flame to the file, and both men watched in silence as it went up in smoke.


A single gunshot rang out, and the smoker took another long draw on his cigarette, then threw it down next to the smoldering ashes of the fire. “Terminated,” he murmured, grinding the cigarette under his heel. He turned and stepped over Sheed’s body, and then left the clearing without looking back.




Crystal City, VA.


January 6, 1999.


Skinner awoke, the scream dying on his lips, his heart thudding loudly in his chest. He took a deep, shaky breath, trying to banish the nightmare, feeling the sweat cool on his skin. He was in his own bedroom. The clock on his night stand told him it was 3:05. Everything was fine. Everything was familiar.


Breathing a sigh of relief, he closed his eyes, and the vision returned, as clear as if his eyes were open, and he was actually witnessing the sight. He was standing in a room – a familiar room. He could smell the odor of unwashed socks, and the garlicky remains of a pizza dinner. In front of him, on the floor, was a body. At first, he resisted going to investigate, too scared of what he might find, a great sense of dread enveloping him. He stood there, beside the coffee table, listening to a clock ticking. Finally, after several long minutes had passed, he knew that he couldn’t stand still any longer. Slowly, hesitantly, he moved towards the body, dreading what he might find. The man was lying face down in a pool of his own blood that was caked around his head, pouring from his ears. Skinner reached one quivering hand down to the body, turned it…please, no, please, no, not again…please, no… his voice rose and fell inside his head, whispering the litany. In front of him, lying on the floor, his eyes wide open and sightless, his hair stained dark red with his own blood, was Fox Mulder.


Skinner’s eyes snapped open again.


“No,” he whispered, banishing the vision from his mind. He got up and stumbled to his bathroom, picked up a glass with shaking hands, and ran himself some water. He gulped it down, still feeling the sweat as it pricked his skin and cooled on his naked back. He finished the water and looked up into the bathroom mirror…and dropped the glass into the basin. Behind him, stood a young man, his dark hair tousled and dirty. He was wearing a torn uniform, riddled with bullet-holes.


“Who are…?” Skinner whirled around to confront the apparition, but found only empty shadows.


Skinner clenched his fists, turning back to the mirror, but he was alone. He stood there for a moment, his hands resting on the basin, watching himself with distrustful dark eyes sunk deep in a deathly pale face.


“I won’t go back,” he murmured fiercely. “If that’s what you’re asking. I won’t go back. I don’t want this again.” There was no reply, but when Skinner closed his eyes, he saw Mulder’s body lying on the floor of his apartment, his hazel eyes staring at nothing, and as he moved closer, Skinner saw another young man, and another body lying sightless on the ground, a lifetime ago. He shuddered, and opened his eyes again, finding no peace in the silence. In front of him, shards of glass lay shattered in the basin, a single red streak of his own blood marking the white ceramic surface. Skinner stared at it for several long minutes, and then suddenly turned and ran back into the bedroom, pulling on sweats and sneakers, not bothering with socks. Within seconds, he was running down to the elevator, disheveled and fighting a rising tide of panic. When the elevator didn’t respond instantly to his summons, he pounded his fist against the wall.


“Come on…come on…” he snarled, then gave up and ran down the 17 flights of stairs, and into the garage beneath the building without pausing for breath.


After fifteen minutes of crazy, reckless driving, which would have had him arrested if he’d encountered the local PD on his journey, Skinner drew up outside Mulder’s apartment. He eschewed the elevator once more, and ran up the stairs, and then hesitated outside the door. If he was wrong, please god, let me be wrong, if he was wrong, then Mulder would think he was deranged, coming here like this, banging on his door in the middle of the night. Skinner shrugged, and knocked on the door anyway, not having a clue what he would tell the other man if he opened it. Please let him open it. There was no reply. Skinner felt as though an ice-cold fist had clasped freezing fingers around his heart. He pounded on the door frantically, and when there was still no reply, he heaved his shoulder into it, and broke the lock, falling into the room.


He stood there for a moment, the hair on the back of his neck rising. He was in his dream. There was discarded clothing on the floor, and the remains of a pizza on the coffee table…and, behind the coffee table, he could see one arm, crooked and lifeless. Skinner took a deep breath and edged closer, drawing his gun and glancing around the apartment as he walked. There was no sign of an intruder, no sign of a disturbance…He stopped, closing his eyes and struggling for breath. There, lying on the floor in front of him, in a pool of his own blood, was Mulder.


Skinner knelt down beside the injured man, and moved him gently onto his back. Mulder’s eyes were wide and sightless. His heart pounding, Skinner checked for a pulse in Mulder’s neck, and was relieved to find one, although Mulder was clearly, to all intents and purposes, not there, and his flesh was cold and clammy to the touch. Skinner reached into his pocket for his cell phone, and called for an ambulance. Then he grabbed a blanket from the couch, and wrapped Mulder in it, taking the other man in his arms, and cradling his body against his chest to keep him warm, rocking him backwards and forwards.


“Not again,” he whispered. “I won’t let it happen again.”


On the other side of the room, a young man in a torn, blood-stained uniform placed his head on one side, and fixed Skinner with a quizzical look, a faint smile on his lips.


“Go away.” Skinner said, without looking up.




George Washington University Medical Center. 


January 6, 1999.


“Sir, what happened?” Scully charged into Mulder’s hospital room, and stared down into Mulder’s open, sightless eyes in horror. “What happened to him?” she demanded.


“We don’t know.” Skinner shrugged. Scully stared at him in surprise. She had never seen him like this – not just the disheveled state of his clothing, and his unshaven jaw, but the haunted look in his eyes, and the pallor of his face.


“What’s his prognosis?” Scully reached for the chart at the bottom of the bed.


“They don’t know. They don’t have any idea what’s wrong with him. He was just bleeding from his ears, and in this…coma.”


Scully took Mulder’s hand in her own, and stood beside the bed.


“We’re going to find out what’s wrong with you, Mulder,” she said firmly. “We’re going to make you better. I promise.” She squeezed his hand tightly. “Hearing is often the last sense to go.” She looked up at Skinner. “He might be able to hear us.”


“Yes. Maybe.” Skinner didn’t sound convinced.


“There were no clues about how his injuries were caused?” Scully asked him, her eyes still fixed on Mulder.


“No. He was just found…like this.” Skinner gestured brokenly to Mulder.


“Found?” Scully’s head jerked up. “By whom?”


“Me.” Skinner rubbed a weary hand over his eyes.


“He called you? Or are you in the habit of dropping by his place in the early hours of the morning?” Worry had made Scully more brusque than she normally was. Skinner stared at her for a moment, as if he wasn’t seeing her clearly.


“No. I had a dream. I dreamed he was hurt. I went over there. I found him.” Skinner turned back to Mulder, placed a hand on the other man’s shoulder and tried to find something in those sightless eyes. It was a while before he noticed the silence, then he turned back to Scully and saw the expression on her face. “What’s wrong with that?” he demanded in a low growl. “People have pre-cognitive dreams. In your line of work you should know that, Agent Scully.”


“Yes.” Scully bit her lip.


“What’s the matter? You’re thinking, ‘yes, but not you‘, aren’t you? Not Skinner. He wouldn’t have dreams like this. He’s too…what? Sensible, rational?” Skinner sneered. Scully took a step back at his tone, disturbed by the change in her usually controlled superior.


“I’m sorry.” He raised his hands in apology, his eyes streaked with guilt at having alarmed her. “It’s just that I do have strange dreams, Agent Scully. I always have, for a long time now.” He stared glumly at her, and her heart went out to him. He looked so…lost. “There have been times when I’ve dreaded going to bed…going to sleep. The months before Sharon died were the worst. Dreams every night…disturbing images…”


“That was when you went to the sleep disorder clinic?” Scully asked him. He nodded, burying his face wearily in his hands.


“It didn’t work. I didn’t expect it to.” He looked up. “They go in phases. After Sharon’s death, they dropped off altogether for a long time. Until recently.” He glanced down at Mulder, and gently freed a strand of the younger man’s hair that was stuck to his forehead with blood. Scully witnessed the gesture with barely concealed surprise. He seemed so worried…so involved…so tender. This wasn’t the man she was used to seeing, and to working with. Normally he hid behind a front that he presented to the world, a façade that she and Mulder had only had sporadic luck in penetrating. There had been moments – such as when they had been waiting in hospital corridors for news of Mulder on various occasions. Skinner had been solicitous, kind, bringing her cups of coffee. There had been another unguarded moment when he had visited her, as she recovered from cancer, the faintest, shy smile on his lips as he entered the room. He had left too quickly, embarrassed by her closeness to her family, by the small talk. In fact, she remembered that he had hardly spoken, but he had never taken his eyes off her, the entire time he stood in the room, and she had been unable to read the expression in them. Back at work though, he had been punctiliously correct, the consummate professional, hardly ever allowing her behind the screen.


“What was Mulder working on?” Skinner asked, clearly relieved to change the subject.


“Well, I don’t remember any particular case, but then again, there’s nothing memorable about our cases now. Lately, Kersh has been sending us out on manure patrol, but…” she paused, and looked up at her former boss, wondering if she could trust him.


“But, Mulder being Mulder, he had some other project he was involved in didn’t he?” Skinner guessed accurately.


“Yes.” Scully nodded.


“An X file project?” Skinner questioned.


“Yes. At least I think so. He wouldn’t tell me about it, and I have no idea where he got the file. I just know there was something he was looking into.”


“We have to find out what,” Skinner said, suddenly energized by the thought of being useful.


“Yes, but…AD Kersh…” Scully began.


“Don’t worry about Kersh. I’ll take care of him,” Skinner said. “Don’t talk to anyone about this, except me. As soon as you’ve finished here, go to Mulder’s apartment to find out if there’s any clue there, then be at my apartment at…” Skinner glanced at his watch. “9 am.”


“All right.” Scully nodded. “I want to have a word with Mulder’s doctors before I leave him though, and someone should call his mom.”


“I already have.” Skinner shrugged. “I’ve done it so often that I know the number by heart.”


“Is she coming to…?” Scully began, but her eyes met Skinner’s, and read the look of bemused anger accurately enough.


“Does she ever?” Skinner replied brusquely.


No. Scully thought sadly. Never.


The people who paced anxiously outside Mulder’s hospital room were always the same – she and Skinner. Every time. They were, to all intents and purposes, his next of kin. It suddenly struck Scully how she had never noticed Skinner’s consistent presence before, or if she had, she had never found it strange or touching. She had just taken it for granted – his concern over one of his agents – but now it seemed like more than that. She suddenly knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that she and Mulder were the only agents he spent long hours waiting in hospital corridors to hear news about. She did not doubt that he visited other agents wounded in the line of duty – he would view that as part of his job – but this devotion, the long hours, the restless, pacing worry, he reserved only for Mulder and Scully. Seeing him with new eyes, she caught the distracted look on his face, as he focused on something just beyond her right shoulder. She turned to look, but couldn’t see whatever it was that had his rapt attention.


“Sir? What will you do?” She asked, as he brushed past her, moving purposefully towards the door.


“I…need to see someone,” Skinner replied, and then he was gone. Scully stared after him, then glanced down at Mulder. His sightless eyes gave her the heebie jeebies. She smoothed his hair, and squeezed his hand again, trying to ignore them.


“Mulder, wherever you are, you need to get back here soon,” she whispered. “Skinner’s gone nuts.”




“Fox…this is Senator Matheson…”


“Fox… Help me!”




“Fox, your mother and I have something to tell you.”


“Is it about Sam?”


“We’re getting a divorce.”


“Senator Matheson?”


“Sam! Samantha?”


Mulder quivered, placing his arms over his ears so that he wouldn’t have to hear. He curled his body into a fetal position, and began to moan softly as the voices faded into a background whisper. He didn’t know how long he laid there, but he was grateful for the darkness that enveloped him like a blanket, soothing him. After an eon, he cautiously raised his head and looked around. He was in a cell. There were shadows on the far wall, and bars on the one tiny window, far above his head. Three tiny fingers of light shone in, dust particles shimmering in their beam. Mulder ran his hands along the wall behind him. It was made of pure stone – yet curiously it didn’t feel cold beneath his touch, and was perfectly smooth, despite its appearance. Mulder got to his feet, unsteadily, still hearing the whispers in the corridor outside. He walked furtively around the cell until he came to a door. He knew without trying it that it was locked.


“Fox…” the voice was right beside him. Mulder jumped.


“Dad?” He whirled around, but there was no sign of his father.


“Fox?” The voice was right outside his cell door. “I’m leaving.”


“Dad. Wait for me. Please…” Mulder struggled with the cell door, trying desperately to open it.


“Fox. I’m going now.”


“No! Wait. Please wait.” Mulder tugged and tugged on the door, but it remained resolutely locked.


“There’s another way out. Come this way.”


Mulder jumped. The voice had spoken from right behind him. He turned and saw his father, standing with his hand held out. Bill Mulder was dressed in jeans and an old sweater. He looked so young – not much older than Mulder himself.


“Dad!” he cried in relief, running towards the other man, then stopping short. Bill Mulder smiled at him, his customary distant, distracted smile, but didn’t offer up the hug that Mulder had never stopped craving all his life.


“Come with me, son. I can get you out of here,” his father said. He gestured with his hand again, impatiently.


“I don’t know.” Mulder licked his lips, glancing around the walls of the cell. It was dark in here, but it was…safe.


“Come on, Fox.” Bill Mulder said tersely. “For god’s sake don’t dawdle. Make your mind up!” Mulder hesitated, and then reached out and took his father’s hand.


“Fox…this is Senator Matheson.” Mulder blinked. He was in the living room of his old house in Chilmark. In front of him stood an impossibly imposing man – in his late thirties, tanned, with thick blond hair. His eyes were a piercing blue. Mulder stared at him sulkily. “I told the Senator you’d help him with his re-election campaign,” his father was stating in his usual implacable way. “You have a few months to kill before you go to Oxford.”


“Ah yes – Oxford. You’re quite the rising young star. I’ve heard all about you.” The senator grinned, his white teeth absurdly straight in his wide, amused mouth. Mulder resisted an urge to knock them out with his fist. He blushed and stared at his feet.


“I don’t think you want me on your campaign, sir…” he muttered.


“Of course he does.” His father slammed his hand into the small of Mulder’s back. “It’ll be a great experience for you, son.”


“I don’t want to!” Mulder snapped mutinously.


“Excuse us, Senator.” Bill Mulder took hold of Mulder’s arm, and hauled him into the cloakroom, away from the other guests milling around. Mulder leaned back, inhaling the musty scent of damp coats.


“What the hell is all this about?” His father demanded.


“I told you I don’t want to help him in his dumb campaign. I don’t even agree with what he stands for!” Mulder yelled, unable to meet his father’s eye.


“Oh you don’t ‘agree’.” Bill Mulder mocked. “You’re too young to have an opinion, Fox. And I don’t want you moping around the house for the next three months. You’ll help him with his campaign. I had to pull a lot of strings to engineer this opportunity for you, you ungrateful little shit.”


“I won’t.” Mulder stared obstinately at the ground.


“Yes. You will.” Bill Mulder moved forward and grasped his son’s shoulders. “Now, get back in there and apologize to him.”


“No.” Mulder held his ground, but he could feel the tears forming in his eyes. “You always do this to me, Dad, always make my decisions for me. Well I’ve had enough! I’m old enough to make my own decisions!”


“While you live under my roof…” his father began.


“You’ll do as I say…yeah, I know. Change the record, old man.” Mulder didn’t bother to duck the expected cuff. He bit his lip as the blow landed on the side of his face, and tried to hold back the tears. His father was standing so close that Mulder could smell his aftershave and the scent of whisky.


“Don’t you dare sass me!” Bill Mulder hissed. “I’ve had enough of your constant sulks, your tantrums. You’ve worn your mother out with the way you run off without telling anyone, your behavior at school…”


“I get the grades don’t I?” Mulder muttered sulkily.


“That’s not in question. Your attitude is. I will not have you hanging around the house brooding for the next few months, especially knowing your propensity for getting into trouble. Your mother and I have enough to deal with…” His father stopped. Mulder looked up for the first time, and saw the troubled expression in his father’s eyes.


I love you, Mulder thought suddenly, silently. Why didn’t I notice this before? How come I never saw how hard it was for you and mom when you were breaking up? What an arrogant little shit I must have been to live with. He stepped outside time, and watched as his father hauled his 18-year-old self back into the living room, and over to the senator.


“Ah, our hot headed young friend.” The senator smiled, and Mulder found himself settling back inside the body of his younger self. He felt as if he had been slugged in the gut, as he was forced to make the humiliating apology that his father demanded of him.


“I’m sorry, sir,” he mumbled. “I’d be…” he glanced at his father, “honored to help you in your campaign.”


“Good.” The senator held out his hand, and pumped Mulder’s vigorously. “I’m glad to have you onboard, son. The young ones always have the best ideas, don’t they, Bill?”


Bill Mulder glanced at his son coolly.


“Yes, Richard. I believe they do,” he murmured, without conviction.




George Washington University Medical Center.


January 6, 1999.


Skinner ran along the hospital corridor, his eyes fixed on the figure just a little way in front. It was the boy dressed in the bullet-ridden, bloodstained uniform. The boy who had been in his bedroom earlier, in Mulder’s apartment. The boy who had shown up a moment ago in Mulder’s hospital room, his dark eyes mocking. The boy who held the answers to this. The boy knew what had happened to Mulder, and Skinner had get those answers from him.


“Stop…” Skinner caught up, put a hand on the boy’s shoulder, swung him around…and found himself looking into the puzzled blue eyes of a medical student, wearing a white coat.


“Sir?” The young man asked. “Are you all right, sir?” His eyes flickered over Skinner’s unshaven jaw and disheveled clothing.


“I’m fine…” Skinner muttered, releasing the man, and walking off, his expression dazed.


He didn’t remember the journey home, but he got there somehow, took a shower, shaved, got dressed, and made himself a cup of coffee.


“Feeling better now?” He jumped. In the corner of the room, watching him with those dark, amused eyes, was the boy.


“What the hell is going on? What’s happening to me?” Skinner demanded, slamming the coffee cup down.


“You’re losing them. That’s what’s happening.” The boy smirked, and reached up an absent finger to one of the bullet holes in his arm, fingering the torn fabric of his uniform. “Just like you lost Sharon, and all the others. What is it with you, Walter?”


“Fuck you!” Skinner snarled, advancing on the boy.


“Don’t be an idiot. You can’t hurt me.” The boy laughed, and Skinner stopped dead in his tracks. “What did you think you were going to do? Kill me again?”


“Shut. Up.”


“I’ve been dead once already, and I’ll die again before this is through.”


“Why are you here?” Skinner whispered, gazing into the youth’s mocking eyes.


“To help you.” The boy said, his face becoming solemn. “Shit.” He shook his dark head, and gazed around the apartment. “I never knew it’d come to this. I never knew you’d come to this.”


“And if you had?” Skinner asked.


“I think I’d have stayed dead.” The boy replied.




“So how’s it going, Fox?” The Senator slapped Mulder on the shoulder, and the teenager looked up, unable to keep the adoration from his eyes. It hadn’t taken him long to fall under Matheson’s spell. Hell, everyone fell under Matheson’s spell. There wasn’t anybody in his campaign team who wouldn’t bend over backwards to help the Senator. People stayed late, sometimes all night as well as all day, and the team had fallen into an easy repartee and camaraderie, influenced by the laid back style of the man they were working for.


“Fine. I got that information you were asking for. You know…” Mulder glanced around the room furtively. “The stuff on Mitchell’s bank account.”


Mitchell was Matheson’s chief rival, and they had all been looking for ways to tarnish the other man’s reputation. Mulder thought he had come up with just that.


“Great.” Matheson’s smile didn’t falter, but his tone dropped to a whisper. “Bring it up to my room later this evening, Fox. Don’t tell anyone. I have a feeling that this could be it!” His hand massaged the back of Mulder’s neck for a second, and Mulder felt the electric sparks run up and down his spine. He would have walked into a tidal wave for this man.


Matheson disappeared into a crowd of mini-skirted girls, all giggling and simpering, holding onto his every word. The senator played to the crowd, making jokes, patting a few pert behinds, but his hands never strayed any further. Mulder watched him, awe-struck.


“I wish all that pussy would pant after me like that, ” Wayne Hunter remarked, glancing over at Matheson.


“Yeah. Me too,” Mulder grinned, his eyes going back to the little cluster of women, seeking out Matheson, unable to take his eyes off the senator.


“At least Matheson can keep his dick away from all those cunts,” Hunter remarked. “That’s what lost Azares the last election. All his goddamn women on the side.”


“Yeah. No scandals around our guy.” Mulder said as he watched as the senator made his way towards the door. “Squeaky clean.”


Mulder was surprised when Hunter laughed out loud.


“Is that what you think?” he roared.


“Yeah. What do you mean?” Mulder turned back to stare at his friend, frowning.


“I mean, that what to you and I is pussy heaven, isn’t much temptation to the senator!” Hunter whispered, with a knowing wink.


“I don’t get.” Mulder gazed back blankly.


“It’s easy to resist something you don’t want.” Hunter winked again. “Let’s just say that the senator has…other interests.”


Mulder just sat there, still frowning. “Oh. I see,” he said, but he didn’t.




George Washington University Medical Center.


January 6, 1999.


Scully came away from the doctor with very few facts. Mulder’s eardrums had been ruptured, possibly by a loud noise. Thankfully, the damage wasn’t serious, wouldn’t affect his hearing if he regained consciousness, and had nothing to do with his present state of catatonia – as far as anybody could tell. Scully left his bedside reluctantly, having told the doctor that she was to be informed, immediately, if there was any change in his condition. Then she left.


She went straight to Mulder’s apartment, and let herself in. It wasn’t hard – the door hadn’t just been pushed open – it was hanging off its hinges. She was just surprised that Skinner hadn’t done himself an injury crashing through it like this. She pushed that thought to the back of her mind. Now was not the time to start worrying about her ex-boss’s strange behavior. She had Mulder to think about. She screwed up her nose as she scouted around her partner’s apartment.


“Mulder, why must you always leave everything in such a mess!” she scolded absently, picking up one malodorous sock and holding it at arm’s length. “That is so disgusting!” she berated. She sat down at Mulder’s desk, and switched on his computer, then turned to the pile of papers on the floor, sorting through them to see what her partner had been working on.


An hour or so later, Scully found what she had been looking for. She glanced at her watch. 7.19. Good. That meant she had enough time to go home and get washed and changed before her meeting with Skinner. As she got up to leave, Scully paused, and dropped some flakes of food into the fish tank.


“He might be gone for a little while,” she told them sadly.




“Sir?” Mulder pushed the door open when there was no reply to his knock. He could hear the sound of a shower running and stood, nervously, in Matheson’s hotel room, wondering whether he should go away, and come back later. Then the shower stopped, and a few seconds later Matheson walked into the room in his dressing gown. He was still wet, his blond hair combed back off his face, and sticking to his head in a way that Mulder found curiously transfixing.


“I’m sorry, sir…you said to come up here with…” Mulder hesitated, pointing at the sensitive file and looking anxiously towards the door.


“That’s all right, Fox. Come in. Shut the door behind you.” Matheson smiled that easy smile. Mulder had never known such overwhelming charm. The senator rarely ever lost his cool, even under the utmost pressure, and god knows there had been enough of that in the past few weeks. For Mulder, used to his father’s silences, moods, and occasional alcoholic rages, it was a revelation, and he looked at Matheson with nothing less than hero worship. The other man fulfilled the role of father figure, big brother, role model and friend without difficulty, aware of Mulder’s crush on him, but never teasing him about it. Mulder handed the senator the file, and a droplet of water from the other man’s wet hair fell on Mulder’s arm, like a tear. Mulder watched as it trickled down his fingers, without moving to wipe it away.


“Take a seat.” Matheson waved his hand at a chair, and Mulder sat, nervously, swallowing as he watched Matheson pace around the room. He found himself crossing his fingers, hoping against hope that he had done well, that Matheson would smile, that he could bask in the sunshine of this man’s praise for one small moment of time.


At long last, Matheson stopped pacing and looked up. The frown that had been creasing his forehead disappeared.


“You know, Fox…” he murmured. “I think that we just won an election!”


Mulder sat there for a moment, trying to understand what the senator meant, and then the realization sank in.


“You think it’s enough?”


“Enough? It’s a brilliant piece of investigative work! Nobody could have done better!” Matheson touched Mulder’s shoulder, and squeezed softly. Mulder looked up and felt himself drowning in that steady blue gaze. “You really do have a brilliant future ahead of you, Fox.” Matheson said, just before his lips touched those of his young protégé.


Mulder sat on the chair, his mouth open, dumbfounded.


“Did you like that?” Matheson laughed at him, as he finished the kiss.


“I…don’t…yes…” Mulder whispered.


“Fox, have you ever had a girlfriend?” Matheson asked, his fingers tracing hot patterns on Mulder’s cotton shirt.


“No.” Mulder stared at his bitten fingernails, flushing at this shameful admission.


“It’s all right.” Matheson put a finger under Mulder’s chin and raised it up so that Mulder was looking at him. “You’ve wanted one though, yes?”


“Yes, of course. I never know what to say.”


“Hey – with eyes like those, and lips like these…” Matheson went back for another soft, tender kiss, “…you shouldn’t have to say anything!”




“It’s okay.” Matheson pulled Mulder to his feet, and held him for a moment, in his strong arms. Mulder felt the tension flow out of his body. This felt so right. “You won’t say anything to anyone about this will you, Fox?” the senator asked, his fingers caressing Mulder’s hair.


“No. I wouldn’t betray you. Never!” Mulder insisted.


“Good boy. Come here then.”


Matheson led Mulder over to the bed, pushed him down.


“It’s okay, Fox.” He held Mulder’s face between his hands, and kissed him deeply. Mulder opened up his mouth to that searching tongue, wanting it, needing it. He was aware of Matheson’s hands on his shirt, undoing it, pushing it from his shoulders. “You know…you really are so very beautiful…” Matheson’s fingers were on his nipples, caressing his bare flesh, and Mulder lay back with a groan. He watched, through long, dark eyelashes, as Matheson opened his robe, to reveal his pulsing erection. He felt that he should be disturbed, repulsed by it, but he wasn’t. He just wanted the Senator to touch him, and he wanted to touch the Senator. Matheson covered Mulder’s body with his own, pressing his hard cock into Mulder’s thigh, kissing Mulder’s chest, his neck, his face.


“You’ve never done this before, have you?” Matheson chuckled. Mulder opened his mouth to speak but Matheson closed it with a kiss. “It’s all right. I’ll be gentle.” He pulled Mulder close, undoing his jeans, reaching inside to find Mulder’s hard cock. Mulder spurted out almost immediately upon the other man’s touch, and Matheson laughed. Mulder flushed and pulled away.


“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I can never hold on.”


“You’re young. It’s normal.” Matheson licked a kiss along Mulder’s neck. “It doesn’t matter. Here.” He tugged Mulder’s jeans off, and then his stained underwear, and threw them on the floor along with the youth’s socks and sneakers. Then he got rid of his own robe, and pulled Mulder’s naked body against his own. His fingers massaged their way down to Mulder’s buttocks and caressed him there, then slipped inside him. Mulder tensed.


“Ssh…hush baby…” Matheson stroked softly. “I’ll make you nice and ready…we can go slow. We have all the time in the world…you don’t need to worry…everyone has to have a first time…”


Mulder lay still on his side, lost in the most pleasurable sensations he’d ever had in his young life. Matheson wanted him! He never in a million years could have dreamed that his idol would want him like this. He allowed his legs to relax, thrusting back onto Matheson’s fingers, whimpering with unexpected desire, feeling a stirring in his own cock again. Something cool and slick being pushed inside him made him jump.


“It’s all right…only some lube…” Matheson whispered.


“Lube?” He repeated dumbly.


“Lubricant. You’ll need it, or it’ll hurt. It might hurt a little bit anyway, but I hope not. I’ll be careful.”


Mulder disappeared into that strange dream-like state once more, as Matheson played with his buttocks, stroked his balls, gently pushed two, then three fingers inside him, stretching and relaxing him. Then Matheson shifted, pushing Mulder’s leg forwards, pressing his body closer to Mulder’s, and from some distance Mulder felt aware that something was about to happen. He started to whimper before he even felt the tip of Matheson’s cock as it nudged the rim of his anus, and then his buttocks were stretched apart, and he felt the hard length slip inside him, making him gasp.


“Okay, baby? Okay?” Matheson pulled Mulder’s hips close towards him, his hand lightly caressing Mulder’s cock until Mulder was hard again. “Kids! Matheson laughed out loud at the speed with which Mulder had achieved his erection. “You’re amazing.” He nuzzled his face against Mulder’s cheek, and Mulder squirmed, wishing more than anything else that Matheson would withdraw, sure that his ass would be ripped apart, but instead Matheson began a slow, steady thrusting, his hand on Mulder’s cock moving in time to the rhythmic motions of his hips. “Okay, baby?” Matheson crooned again, and Mulder nodded, biting down on his lip. “Hey, relax…” Matheson paused for a moment, running his fingers over Mulder’s thighs, stroking him as if he were a fine pedigree stallion, gentling and calming him, and Mulder found himself relaxing. Matheson’s thrusting picked up pace and for a moment Mulder thought he would cry out in pain – and then a blinding flash of something exquisite flooded his senses, and he gasped.


“What the hell…?”


“Ah, looks like we’ve found your g-spot.” Matheson laughed in his ear, thrusting against the spot again, and making Mulder moan in ecstasy.


“G…G spot?” Mulder stammered when the flashing white light cleared from behind his eyes.


“Yeah – it’s not only women that have those, sweetheart. Guys have them too. You just need to know where to look.” Matheson thrust again, with a long, slow stroke and Mulder thought he would pass out. Instead he came, making Matheson laugh. “Hell, you’re going to have come five times before I’ve even come once at this rate,” he teased. “I can stay hard for quite a while. You okay with that, baby? Might hurt some in the morning, but it means I can keep doing this…” he thrust again and Mulder whimpered, this time with pleasure. The thrusting became urgent, and now Mulder felt more soreness than pleasure, but he didn’t begrudge this man anything. When Matheson finally climaxed, Mulder could feel his come flooding inside him, warm, and somehow comforting. Matheson withdrew carefully, and enveloped Mulder in his arms, kissing the back of his neck.


“You were great, baby,” he nuzzled. “Fantastic.”


“So were you,” Mulder murmured, turning around and kissing his new lover fiercely on the lips. Matheson smiled, and held Mulder’s naked body close against his own. Mulder drifted off into a dream world, happily sated by sex and rejoicing in the loss of his virginity to this wonderful, charismatic man. “I love you…” he whispered before he fell asleep in his lover’s arms.


Matheson looked down on Mulder’s innocent, sleeping face, and gave a little chuckle, softly caressing Mulder’s dark hair.


“Sleeping beauty,” he whispered. “You are a stunner, Fox Mulder.” He kissed Mulder’s forehead softly. “But let’s not talk about love, kid,” he murmured. “This is the real world. You’ll grow up.”


After a while, he nudged Mulder over to the other side of the bed, and got up, taking another shower, and returning to the report Mulder had brought him. Sex was fun…but politics…that was something else. That was in his blood, and nothing, and nobody – Matheson cast a glance over at his sleeping young lover – was more important than his ambitions. He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror and grinned. “Seducing young innocents,” he murmured at himself, making a face. “Oh well, everybody needs a hobby, and that cherry was so sweet.” He smacked his lips together. “Let’s just hope there isn’t a picture of you in some attic somewhere, Dorian!” he mocked, admiring his thick head of hair and handsome features.


Mulder watched sadly, as if from a great distance. He felt strange, dislocated, at once inside his own body, and yet outside it too, both watching and participating.


“Mulder!” somebody called, but he didn’t have the strength to turn around.




George Washington University Medical Center.


January 6, 1999.


“Mulder!” Skinner stood helplessly, watching for a sign of life on Mulder’s expressionless face, but saw nothing. He had returned to the hospital before his meeting with Scully, hoping against hope that Mulder would somehow have made a dramatic recovery in the few hours since he had left, but there was no change.


“Mulder, if you can hear me…Scully said hearing is the last sense to go…I just wanted to say…” Skinner paused, and gazed helplessly at the other man. “Nothing,” he growled at last. As he left the hospital room, he was aware of a mocking laugh following him, and a silent footstep walking at his side.


Crystal City. VA.
January 6, 1999.


“Come in, Agent Scully.”


Scully paused in the doorway to Skinner’s apartment. Her boss – ex boss – looked like a different man from the one she had seen at the hospital earlier. With his work clothing, he had also donned that familiar guarded persona, not letting anyone get close, or see what lay underneath. Scully had her suspicions about what was there though – on the occasions she had asked for his help, he had provided it, despite his initial protestations, and usually at some personal cost to himself. Sensing her gaze upon him, he looked at her, questioningly, gesturing her to a seat.


“Did you find anything?” he asked, his eyes burning with an eager kind of hope as he sat down on the couch.


“I think so.” She pulled out the folder. “Have you ever seen the film ‘Awakenings’ sir? It had Robert De Niro and Robin Williams in it.”


“I don’t think so.” Skinner shook his head, his expression clearly showing that he wondered where this was leading.


“It portrayed people suffering from a rare form of sleeping sickness. A kind of narcolepsy…”


“And you think that’s what Mulder has?” Skinner cut in, before she could continue.


“No. I don’t. But I think that’s what he was investigating.”


“Mulder was investigating a disease?” Skinner frowned, trying to understand. “Why?”


“Because the case he was investigating was suspicious, and I don’t think that Mulder thought it was a disease. I suspect that he thought it was a weapon.”


“Explain.” Skinner leaned forward, and took the pictures that Scully was handing to him.


“A few days ago, five people in Thurmont, MD, were struck down by the same illness. They all suffered bleeding from the ears, and they all subsequently went into a profound catatonic state…from which none of them have yet emerged.”


Skinner’s head jerked up, the faint light of hope fading from his eyes.


“Mulder thought it was suspicious that so many people went down with this illness in one small town?” he asked Scully. She nodded.


“He went down there, and asked a few questions. I don’t think he got the answers he wanted. A couple of nights ago he was caught trying to break into an armaments factory…”


“Why would he want to break in there?” Skinner frowned, silently berating Mulder for his methods.


“Because all the people affected by the illness worked in the factory,” Scully told him.


“I suppose we must presume that good old fashioned knocking on the door, and asking for their co-operation didn’t work? He must have felt they were covering something up.”


“I suppose so.” Scully shrugged. “He didn’t tell me about any of this, sir. I dug it out of his notes, and made a few ‘phone calls. He was working on this alone.”


“Why? Why didn’t he tell you?” Skinner’s dark eyes bored into Scully’s soul making her heart ache. How could she explain it to him? How could she explain the distance that had sprung up between her and Mulder, the way he perceived her to have betrayed him?


“I…don’t know,” she lied with a shrug. For a moment she felt as if he could take the answers from her soul just by looking at her with those intense dark eyes. She had a sensation of being sucked into a vortex, walking down a path towards a distant light. A faint whisper touched against her mind, and she blinked, drawing back.


“I’m sorry,” Skinner said, apropos of nothing. “So – did he find anything at this factory?”


“Not that I can tell.” Scully shook her head. “I think he was apprehended before he got very far.” As usual, she thought to herself. He chuckled in agreement. It was only later that it occurred to her that she hadn’t voiced the thought.


“Well I don’t think we have any choice.” Skinner got to his feet, and pulled on his jacket.


“We’re going to Thurmont?”


“Yes.” Skinner nodded grimly. “I’ll meet you in the parking garage downstairs in an hour, Agent Scully. I think we need to check out both the other victims, and that factory, for ourselves.”


“Sir? Why the delay? We could leave now.” Scully suggested.


“An hour,” he repeated brusquely. “I need to get some…supplies.”




This was very probably heaven, Mulder thought to himself, as he lay in his lover’s arms on the hillside. It was dark, and the lights of the city twinkled beneath them.


“Happy?” Matheson whispered.


“Yes…very.” Mulder leaned his head back on the senator’s shoulder. They had a rare evening off from campaigning, and Matheson had brought him out here to lie under the stars. The car door was open behind them, and a tape was playing on the stereo. Something soothing, and melancholy, and beautiful – something classical.


“Do you know what this piece is?” Matheson asked.


“Bach?” Mulder hazarded, his knowledge of classical music being exceedingly limited.


“No!” Matheson laughed, hugging him tight. “This is Mozart – more specifically “The Marriage of Figaro.” Do you know what the significance of this piece is?”


“Well, recalling music appreciation with Professor Gantz, Mozart…” Mulder began. It was their private in-joke. Whenever Matheson introduced him to one of his favorite composers, he would ask Mulder the same questions, and Mulder always gave him the same answers. It was a kind of lover’s ritual.


“Don’t quote the good professor at me!” Matheson interrupted with a wry chuckle. “You must learn to listen with your heart, Fox, not with your head.” They lay still for a moment, listening to the music. “This is Voi Che Sapete, and Cherubino is singing about the most beautiful kind of love in the world – first love. Listen, Fox.” Mulder lay back, and allowed the music to wash over him. It was beautiful, but maybe it was only beautiful because he was lying out here, beneath the stars, in the arms of the man he loved. He glanced up at his lover, and was surprised to see one, solitary tear wind its way down Matheson’s cheek.


“Hey…” he brushed it away with his finger.


“It’s all right. This song always does this to me.” Matheson smiled.


“You know…” Mulder looked up at the sky. “Whenever I lie under the stars like this, I always think of Sam.”


“Your little sister? Why?” Matheson asked.


“I just think that maybe somewhere, she’s lying under the same sky, thinking of me. It’s sort of comforting.”


“Yes. I can see that it would be.” Matheson’s lips brushed his young lover’s hair. “Do you know what I see?”


“Tell me.”


“I see a million suns, maybe more, all of which might be circled by planets, just like Earth, and some of those might be capable of supporting life.”


“You think so?” Mulder twisted in Matheson’s arms, a look of amazement in his eyes.


“Yes. One day I hope to find such life – out there, in the galaxy. The greatest day of my life was when I was only a few years older than you are now, Fox, and I watched man first landing on the moon. As Neil Armstrong stepped out onto that rocky surface, and said those immortal lines, I knew that I too, wanted that kind of immortality.” Mulder caught the fierce glow in his lover’s eyes. “Oh, I’m no astronaut,” Matheson shook his head, “but I want to find what’s out there. The first person who discovers an alien civilization will have his name go down in history.” Matheson smiled down on his lover. “I want to play a part in making it happen – an important part. It’s my dream, Fox. I hope to make it come true one day.”


“I hope you will too.” Mulder reached up, and kissed his lover’s lips.




Thurmont Inn, MD.


January 6, 1999.


They stopped at a motel in the center of Thurmont, and Scully followed Skinner into the lobby, dimly noting that he carried an overnight bag, which he kept in his car, just as she and Mulder did. Somehow that idea seemed strange. Surely he rarely had occasion to be out in the field? Then she remembered the number of occasions to her knowledge when he had worked all through the night, and she conceded that it wasn’t so strange after all. It brought home to her how little she really knew this strange, brooding man, with his intense dark eyes, and deeply private soul.


“We’ll leave our things here, and then head out to the hospital,” he told her, and she nodded, wishing for a moment that it was Mulder who was here, with his comforting, familiar ways, annoying though he could often be. Skinner seemed to catch the thought, and gave her a sad, strained smile that twisted her heart. Why did he care so much whether Mulder lived or died? she wondered as she went to her room, and then she berated herself for having such a mean thought. Skinner had shown that he cared on numerous occasions previously. Only this time…this time it was more than that. She had never seen him like this – as if he was fighting some inner battle, haunted by some demons she could not guess at. No, wait – she had seen him like this before – during that incident with the call girl. He had seemed lost then as well. Were the dreams the common link? Scully dismissed this thought to the back of her mind as she joined him back in the car. Now wasn’t the time to psychoanalyze her boss, however strangely he appeared to be behaving. She had to think about Mulder, about getting Mulder back. Damn you for running off, and doing this alone, Mulder! she cursed. Damn you for not trusting me any more! Her anger soon dissipated though, as she remembered his pale face, lying on that hospital bed, his eyes wide open and staring into space. Miss you, Mulder…Miss you… she chanted in her head, over and over again. Beside her, Skinner’s jaw was clenched so tight you could have bounced rocks off it. Scully turned her face away from the grim faced man beside her and stared, glumly, out of the car window. Miss you…




“Who is she?” Mulder asked, his breathing come in shallow gasps. He felt as if he had been physically hit.


“Her name is Vanessa.” Matheson said softly, his blue eyes never leaving his young lover’s face.


“Vanessa?” Mulder flailed wildly, trying to remember a Vanessa on the campaign team.


“You don’t know her.” Matheson took a sip of wine, and reached out a hand to gently caress his lover’s hair. Mulder knocked it away, getting to his feet, pacing wildly.


“You said you loved me!” he protested. “I don’t understand this! Is it me? Did I do something wrong?”


“No. Of course not,” Matheson said gently. “You’re a wonderful young man, Fox. I love you very much. But this…” He waved his hand around the room, gesturing towards the rumpled bed where they had recently made love. “Well it couldn’t last forever. You knew that. You’re going to Oxford in a few days…”


“I wasn’t going to go!” Mulder wailed. “I was going to stay here, with you.”


“Don’t be a fool. You have a life to get on with, a glittering career ahead of you. You have new people to meet, and to fall in love with.” Matheson smiled. “Trust me. I believe in you, Fox.”


“I don’t want you to believe in me!” Mulder cried. “I want you to love me. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”


“I do. I always will, but it’s a grown up kind of love, Fox. You’ll understand. One day.”


“So now you love her more? Is that it?” Mulder could feel the tears rising in his eyes, and couldn’t stop them spilling out, flowing down his cheeks unchecked.


“No, of course not. I don’t love her at all. She knows that. This is a marriage of convenience.”


“Convenience…?” Mulder echoed, unbelieving. “What about love?”


“I’m a politician.” Matheson shrugged. “Some things are more important than love.”


“NO!” Mulder felt as if he would be physically ill.


“Vanessa won’t expect me to perform any…conjugal duties.” Matheson reached out, and pulled Mulder into his arms, kissed his head softly. “She’s made other arrangements in that department, I believe. Discreet ones. People were beginning to talk, Fox. It was time for me to settle down. My married status, or lack of it, was making me a target for rumor and hearsay.”


“I could still stay. If you and Vanessa aren’t…” Mulder looked up, hopefully, allowing Matheson to stroke his body, responding to his touch as he always did.


“No, sweetheart,” Matheson murmured. “You must go – get on with your life. I’ll always be here for you, I promise. If you ever need any help in your career…”


“My career? What career?” Mulder broke the embrace, his heart breaking. “The truth is that you just don’t want me around any more do you? You want to move onto the next young, eager little cock-sucker that you can find, don’t you, Senator? And why is it that you never allowed me to use your first name? Huh? What kind of a power trip have you been on, Richard?”


“You’re being hysterical now, Fox.” Matheson said coolly, pouring himself another glass of wine. “I told you – it wasn’t wise for you to get used to using my first name. Sooner or later, the bedroom would spill over out there…” he pointed at the door. “And then people would start to guess.”


“But I love you.” Mulder stared brokenly at his feet. “I really love you.”


“You’ll get over it,” Matheson said, not unkindly. He pulled Mulder close to him again, kissed his wide, full lips. “And in the meantime, we still have a few days before you have to go…” His hand snaked lower, dipped into Mulder’s boxer shorts.


“No.” Mulder pulled back. “You don’t need me any more. Best to end it now, so that you can find the next boy. I wouldn’t want to cramp your style.” He ran out of the room, slamming the door behind him, running and running without knowing where he was or how to stop. When he finally came to a halt, he crouched on the ground, the tears flooding out of him as if they would go on forever, and he was unable to stop them, barely tasting the salt water as it flowed down his cheeks.






Carroll Co. General Hospital, MD.


January 6, 1999.


Skinner gazed at another comatose face, another set of blank, staring eyes and sighed.


“Any answers?” He glanced at Scully, as she flicked through some medical notes.


“Not yet. I’ll take these back to the motel, and read them more closely this evening, but basically these people seem to be in exactly the same condition as Mulder.”


“Which case was reported first?” Skinner asked, staring at the row of silent victims in front of him.


“Mark Tyler.” Scully pointed to a young man in his early twenties. “He was found by his mother a few days ago, bleeding from his ears…”


“What time of day?”


“Morning. She wondered why he hadn’t come downstairs for his breakfast.” Scully read through the notes.


“I want to talk to her.” Skinner started to move towards the door.


“Wait.” Scully called him back. “Here’s something interesting. The next four victims were all affected at the same time, while they were actually at work.”


“In the factory?”


“Yes.” Scully nodded.


“Let’s go there.” Skinner said in a low, grim tone.




LP Manufacturing, Inc.


January 6, 1999.


The factory manager didn’t seem surprised to be visited by FBI agents.


“All my paperwork, licenses, everything is in order.” He handed Skinner a bulging file. “As I told the other guy you sent here a few days ago.”


“Mulder?” Scully asked. The man nodded.


“Yeah. Mulder. That’s his name. Security picked him up breaking in here without a warrant later that night.”


“Why do you suppose he tried to do that, Mr. Pelman?” Skinner asked, flicking through the file without any expectation of finding anything.


“I dunno. Why don’t you ask him?” Pelman said, defensively.


“Because he’s in a coma.” Skinner snapped back tersely. Pelman’s eyes widened in surprise.


“Like some of our guys?” he asked.


“Yes.” Skinner moved suddenly, swiftly, into the other man’s personal space. “So if you know anything, anything at all, I suggest that you tell us.” Scully stared at Skinner, startled by the barely controlled anger in his stance, and the desperation in his body language.


“I don’t know anything,” Pelman stammered, paling and moving away from Skinner’s large, threatening body. “Look, you can go through all the files, take a look around the whole place. I don’t have anything to hide.”


“Do you believe him?” Scully got into the car beside Skinner an hour later, after they had completed their inspection of the factory, and watched as he rested his forehead wearily on the steering wheel.


“I don’t know,” Skinner sighed. “He seemed genuinely surprised by the news that Mulder’s in the same coma as his workers.”


“I agree.”


“And he seems genuinely concerned about their welfare.”


“Yes. And yet…why was he so defensive? If he had nothing to hide?”


“I can’t answer that,” Skinner shrugged, “but he did allow us to look all around his factory. Did you see anything suspicious?”


“I don’t think so.” Scully mused. “How about you?”


“I’m not sure.” Skinner thought about it for a moment. “Let’s re-cap here. We have six people who have come down with this sickness, or whatever it is. Four of them seem to have been infected at exactly the same time.


“Yes – one minute they’re working, next they’re out cold, just like Mulder, and nobody sees anything, or hears anything.” Scully repeated back the information they had already gleaned while Skinner started the car and drove them back towards the motel. They gathered up all the casework between them, and dumped it on Scully’s bed, and then started to read through it.


“I’ll order some dinner for both of us.” Scully reached for the phone. Skinner glanced up, absently.




“Dinner?” she repeated.


“Oh. Yes.” He resumed his study of the files.


Scully watched him as she made the call. He was absorbed, engrossed in his reading, but not in the way Mulder was when he became involved in a case. Mulder was all nervous energy – he would throw the files around, talking his theories through, making wild connections. Skinner was quiet. He read quickly, although that didn’t surprise her when she considered the large number of reports that he had to deal with on a daily basis, and as he read, his finger rubbed against his jaw, over and over again, in an endlessly repeating motion. Scully turned away, abruptly. Why was it, when to all intents and purposes it was her partner, Mulder, who was missing, that she found herself feeling more and more, that it was Skinner who was actually lost?




Mulder spent the next few days just wandering around from place to place, crying, until he was exhausted. When he had finally returned home, his mother had stared at him listlessly, seeming not to care where he had been, or what had happened to him. Usually he could at least have relied on his father to yell at him about it, but not this time. This time, he had just shaken his head, poured himself another glass of whisky, and allowed Mulder to disappear up to his room without the usual lecture.


He looked up as his father entered his room, without knocking, his mother following close behind.


“Fox? Are you packed?” His father asked.


“I suppose.” Mulder shrugged, knowing his attitude irritated his father, but unable to stop himself. His rucksack lay against his bed, waiting for him to take it to a new life, somewhere a long way away.


“I, uh, that is…your mother and I have something to say to you.”


“Oh?” Mulder barely glanced up as he stuffed another pair of socks down the side of his rucksack. Out of the corner of his eye he caught a glimpse of his mother, her face pale and drawn.


“We…we’re getting a divorce.”


Mulder stared at the rucksack, at his own hands, at the socks, feeling as if time had stopped still in its tracks.


“Did you hear me? I said we’re getting a divorce.” His father repeated.


“I heard you.” Mulder continued pushing the socks down the side of his rucksack until they were at the bottom.


“Well? Don’t you have anything to say?” his father asked.


“Not really.” Mulder shrugged, turning his back on his father and going towards the open door of his closet.


“You must.” His father reached out, and grabbed his arm.


“Let me go.” Mulder turned, his body stiff with misery. “Just go, Dad. Walk out of here. Walk the hell out of my life; disappear into the air like Sam. Go on. Everyone does!”


“I’m not disappearing.” His father’s eyes were sad. “Please, Fox. I’ll still be here…”


“No!” Mulder yelled. “Go to hell, Dad, because you’ve never been here. Neither of you have. Not since Sam went.” He glared at his mother, and she stifled a sudden sob and ran from the room. “Just go, Dad,” he shouted, “because do you know what? I won’t even notice any difference.” He spat the words, ugly words, and saw them wound, the way he had intended. He wanted to take them back, wanted that hug, the one he had always wanted, but it was too late. His father drew back.


“Well if that’s the way you feel…”


“It is.”


“I’m not leaving just yet. I’ll still be here tomorrow. I’ll take you to the airport,” his father whispered. Mulder shrugged, turned his back, and continued with his packing. “We waited until…we thought it wouldn’t matter so much once you’d left home.”


“That must be why you couldn’t wait to get rid of me.” Mulder felt the tears pricking at the back of his eyes, eyes that he had thought were all cried out. He wanted his father to go, to leave him, before he saw the tears.


“It’s not like that. Your mother and I haven’t been getting along for a long while. You know that…”


“Just go.” Mulder whispered, holding onto the closet, his fists white with tension. “Please. Go.”


Mulder heard the footsteps as his father left the room, and went down stairs, then the familiar sounds of arguing.


“If you’d been a little more sensitive…”


“’Sensitive’? What crazy books have you been reading, woman?”


“He’s upset…”


“He’ll cope. We all have to. Maybe it’ll help him grow up.”


“Maybe he’s had to grow up too fast.”


“What’s that supposed to mean?”


“You know what. We haven’t given him a childhood since he was twelve years old…”


“Oh for god’s sake. You always pander to the boy. You always have…”


“Don’t start that again. I just don’t care any more.”


“I haven’t had the feeling that you’ve cared for a long time, Teena.”


“Maybe I haven’t. I don’t care now. I just want you gone. I want to be on my own, without you, without him…without any of you. I’ve had enough!”


Upstairs, sitting on his bed, staring listlessly at his rucksack, Mulder flinched at her words.


From somewhere far away, he sat and watched himself, and felt a silent numbness inside. Pity, not just for himself, but for them as well, a family torn apart, unable to do more than to keep on hurting each other. Yet, it was easy to see now, from this perspective, how much they both had loved him. He hadn’t seen it then, sunk in his own misery, still reeling from the pain of his first love affair. He had been too close to see that his father’s drinking was a symptom of his anguish, that his mother’s distance had been her way of protecting herself from loving anyone too much after the disappearance of her daughter. His own self destructive behavior – running off, his school reports, his general attitude – all those had been his reactions to the crisis within the family. They had all been trapped in a bitter cycle of self-destruction, and none of them had been able to break it, or even to offer comfort to those they loved best. In the end, anger and recrimination were the only recourse against the pain. More than anything else, Mulder wished he could have a second chance, and go back and tell them that he loved them.


Instead, he found himself finishing his packing, then hunkering down in his bed for a few hours sleep. He woke early, left a short note on the kitchen table, and then set off for the airport, without saying goodbye.






Thurmont Inn, MD.


January 6, 1999.


“So. Fact…” Skinner wrote the number ‘1’ in the margin of his pad. “All the people affected by this illness work at the factory.”


“Fact.” Scully nodded, making a similar list on her laptop. “Except Mulder.”


“Of course, Mulder,” Skinner noted down, “but he did break in there.”


“Yes, but he didn’t come down with the illness until he was back in DC. Hmm, maybe there’s an incubation period,” Scully mused.


“Right.” Skinner nodded in agreement. “Or he was infected here, and then taken back to his apartment. Is that possible, Doctor?” Skinner glanced at Scully where she sat opposite him, on the side of the bed.


“Long shot.” She typed it in anyway. “Tyler was the first to be infected – Mulder the last.”


“That we know of,” Skinner pointed out. She nodded.


“In between, four other workers at the factory were affected at exactly the same time…”


Soon the pad and laptop were both respectively filled with notes. Scully was amazed at how quickly they worked together. She would never have expected to have this sort of rapport with the Assistant Director, but they both used the same working methods, and she was stunned by how easy their partnership was. They just seemed to be on the same wavelength.


“So, it’s very likely either some sort of virus in the factory itself…” Skinner mused.


“Or something to do with the weaponry currently being tested there,” Scully finished, wishing it was this easy with Mulder. He’d have theorized a demon that lived off brain energy, or something equally outlandish by now.


“Precisely.” Skinner crossed something off on his pad. “Those are the only logical explanations.”


“Yes. Logical. ” Scully nodded, finishing the list on her laptop. They nodded to themselves, and then looked up at the same time, bursting out laughing.


“We’re going about this the wrong way, aren’t we?” Skinner sighed.


“Yes.” Scully shook her head. “If we want to find out what happened to Mulder down here, then we need to come to the same conclusions as Mulder, and that means…”


“Thinking like Mulder.” Skinner said glumly, staring at his pad, and then putting a big, thick, black line through everything he’d written.


“So. Which of us is going to be Mulder?” She got out a coin, and flipped it. “Toss you for it?”


“No. I’ll be Mulder,” he said with a weary sigh. “You’re used to bouncing ideas off him.”


“I also know him better than you do. I might find it easier to think like him,” Scully pointed out.


Skinner stared into space for a moment. “No,” he murmured at last. “I, uh, might find it easier to get into his head than you think.”


Scully was intrigued, but she didn’t have time to respond to this strange comment, because Skinner had gotten up, and was grabbing his coat.


“What are you doing?” she asked, astonished.


“I’m behaving like Mulder,” he told her with a wolfish grin. “I’m ditching you.”




“Are you Mulder?” The girl stopped on the stairs as he tried to push past her, his gaze fixed firmly on his shoes.


“Yeah,” he growled morosely, moving on up the stairs.


“There’s a letter for you. It arrived a few days ago – before you got here – and it’s been waiting on the hall table. What does the F stand for?”


Mulder looked up into the greenest eyes he’d ever seen, set in flawless alabaster skin which covered two perfectly sculpted cheekbones to dazzling perfection.


“Uh…Fox…” he whispered.


“Fox? No! Really?” she laughed at him. “You must have Jason’s old room.”


“He’s the Motorhead fan?” Mulder has spent his first day in his new digs taking down all the posters.


“Yeah. What’re you into?”


“I dunno.” Mulder shrugged, finding it difficult to breathe with those exotic, almond shaped eyes fixed on him. The girl suddenly, and abruptly disappeared down the stairs and he cursed himself over and over again for his stupidity. “I dunno,” he mocked himself, stomping up the stairs to his room, and throwing himself down on the bed. He was surprised to hear the knock on the door a few seconds later.


“Fox?” The girl stuck her head around the door. She giggled suddenly. “Fox,” she said again. “Wow! What a weird name.”


“Hmm.” He wasn’t sure if she was laughing at him, or not. She bit on her lip in an exaggerated little-girl apology.


“Sorry. It’s kind of cool too. Here.” She handed him an envelope, but instead of leaving him she sat herself down on the bed, and bounced up and down. “You’ll be comfy here,” she said throatily. He gazed at her, his Adam’s Apple bobbing up and down convulsively. “Well – aren’t you going to open it?” she laughed.


“What? Oh. Yeah.” Mulder looked down at the envelope and froze. He recognized the neat handwriting, and the elaborately looped ‘F’s and ‘M’s.


“Who’s it from? An old girlfriend?” The girl gave him a sly, knowing glance.


“Kind’a.” Mulder shrugged, running his index finger under the envelope flap to open his letter.


“My dear Fox, I do hope you have settled in at Oxford, and are already conquering the local populace with your beauty and brilliance. I’m sorry for the way our last meeting ended – I never intended to cause you pain. I hope that if you ever need my help in your chosen career, you do not hesitate to contact me. I have, and will always have, the fondest of memories of our time together and will do everything in my power to aid you. I know you well enough, I think, to rely on your discretion in respect to our fleeting, but fantastic few months together. All my love, RM.”


Mulder read and re-read the letter, barely aware of the girl’s curious green eyes fixed upon him. He wasn’t stupid – the Senator was clearly buying him off. That last meeting hadn’t gone the way he’d intended. He had expected that he would have been able to control Mulder just by taking him to bed. When that had failed, he had become worried that Mulder might do something to jeopardize his career, and he was heading him off before it came to that. I’m not your fucking whore to be paid off with offers of help with my goddamn career, Senator!. Mulder wanted to wad up the letter, and throw it away, but something stopped him. “All my love…all my love…” Instead, he folded the letter up carefully, and placed it under his pillow.


“She dumped you?” The girl asked, seeing his expression, and laying a sympathetic hand on his arm.


“Something like that.” He shrugged.


“Good.” The girl gave a tinkling laugh, and he looked up, outraged by her comment. Those green eyes held a promise that stilled his protest. “I suppose this means you’re available then?” The girl laid her long, lean body next to him on the bed, and ran her fingers lightly along his arm. “My name’s Phoebe,” she whispered.




Thurmont Inn, MD.


January 6, 1999.


“Skinner.” The voice hissed tersely down the ‘phone.


“Sir?” Scully barely recognized his voice. It had been three hours since he had disappeared mysteriously into the night, and she had hesitated before calling him on his cell phone, but this was important. “Why are you whispering? Where are you?”


“Never mind. What is it, Scully?”


“I have some news. It’s about one of the victims – Mark Tyler.”


“The first person to fall into the coma?”


“Yes.” Scully paused. This wasn’t the sort of news she wanted to give over the telephone, not while Skinner was behaving so strangely.




“I’m afraid he just died, sir.”


There was a long silence on the other end of the line.


“Sir?” Scully pulled her coat on. “I’m going over to the hospital now, sir.”


“Yes. Of course. Scully?”


“Yes?” She picked up her purse and keys, and opened the door.


“How long…uh…?” Skinner cleared his throat.


“He was in a catatonic condition for four days, sir.”


“I see. I’ll meet you at the hospital in half an hour.”




“I don’t want to go on.” Mulder hovered on the ceiling, watching as Phoebe started undressing him. He saw himself, his eager fingers clumsily undoing her blouse, desperately fumbling with her bra, until he had access to her beautiful, golden breasts. He paused, hardly daring to touch the silky skin. Finally, she took his hand in her own and brought it up to one darkly pink nipple, arching her back as she pressed his fingers against it. With a choking moan, he leaned forward, and took it gently into his mouth, reveling in the feel of her breasts cupped in his hands, the taste of her salty skin. She was so…different, so exciting. Matheson had at least taught him how to control his ejaculation, and he managed to hang on, long enough at least not to give the impression that he was a gauche schoolboy. He loved the feel of her soft flesh beneath his fingertips. With her dark hair, and her curvaceous flesh, she was a world away from Richard’s blond good looks and hard muscles, and he couldn’t wait to investigate further, to totally explore her body, and press his eager flesh into her.


“I want it to stop,” Mulder said. “It’s just…I remember how it ends,” he murmured sadly, closing his eyes. When he opened them again, he was lying in the cell where he had first woken up. It was dark, and outside he could hear those whispering sounds, like the rising and falling of a tide, whispers being washed up the seashore. There was something malevolent about them. They wanted him. They wanted to consume him. He opened his mouth, and screamed.




Carroll Co. General Hospital, MD.


January 6, 1999.


“He was twenty three.” Skinner watched as they pulled a sheet over Mark Tyler’s dead, staring eyes. He had a sudden vision of it being Mulder’s body beneath that sheet, Mulder going to be autopsied.


“Sir?” Scully led him away from the bed. “Sir, we don’t have much time.”


“Three days.” Skinner told her.


“Yes. If we can extrapolate from this that all the victims will die after the same period of time. That might not be the case.”


“No, but we have to proceed as if it is.”


“Yes. I’ll get onto the autopsy right away…” she began, but Skinner grabbed her arm.


“No. That can wait. I don’t think you’re going to find out anything that we don’t know already. They ran every test under the sun on that boy.”


“What then?” Scully glanced down at her arm. Skinner’s fingers were digging in, hurting her. “Sir?” she whispered gently, putting her hand over his. He realized with a start that she was in pain, and his eyes were full of apology.


“God, I’m sorry.” He drew back, turned away and gazed broodingly at the rows of silent, staring, victims.


“Sir?” Scully stood beside him, speaking softly. “Do you know something? Something about them?”


“No.” Skinner shrugged.


“But you’ve seen something like this before, haven’t you?” She pressed. He hesitated, glanced at her, his eyes betraying his anguish.


“Yes, Agent Scully.”


“I thought…Mulder looked as if he was…missing. His body was there, but he wasn’t in it,” Scully said gently. “Is that what you think too?”


“I don’t know.” Skinner shrugged, and strode out of the hospital, his long coat flapping around his ankles as he walked. Scully had to struggle to keep up.


“Sir, what you said, about having seen something like this before? When was that?” she asked, holding her breath, knowing this was something he did not want to talk about, hoping that he would anyway. “Please, sir.” She caught up with him by the car. “It could be important. Anything you can remember…”


“It wasn’t like this,” he said brusquely. “Or at least, not precisely. The person I saw looked like Mulder looked, and those other poor bastards in there,” he nodded his head in the direction of the hospital. “He had the same…intensity of expression, as if he was seeing something – something else, somewhere else.”


“What happened to him?” Scully asked, wondering why he would not look her in the eye.


“He died.” Skinner said brusquely, opening the car door for her.


“Died?” Scully grabbed his arm before he could move away. He shifted uncomfortably under her searching, blue-eyed gaze. “Like Mark Tyler? Who was he?”


He stared at her for a long, long time, and she felt caught up in the maelstrom of emotions that reflected in those kaleidoscopic dark eyes.


“He…was me.” Skinner said at last. Then he removed his arm from her stunned, nerveless grasp, and wordlessly got into the car.




“Fox? Hey, Fox?”


He kept his hands over his ears, barely heard her voice.


“Go away!”


“Fox, please. You’re scaring me. Don’t scare me.”


“Samantha?” Her voice, so barely remembered, finally penetrated his consciousness. He looked up. “Samantha!” It was her, dressed in jeans, and a pink tee shirt with a bright yellow flower on it. Her long dark braids hung down the side of her face. “Is it you? Is it really you?” He knelt down beside her. She was so tiny!


“It’s me!” she grinned, allowing him to lift her up into his arms, to hug her. “Don’t swing me, Fox! Put me down!” She thumped his back.


“You like me swinging you.” He grinned, tucking her under one arm, turning her upside down until her braids touched the floor.


“I don’t!” she shrieked, but she was giggling as well. Mulder blinked. It was bright sunshine. The sky was blue. They were in a park. He glanced down at his clothing – jeans, tee shirt, sneakers. He was small, smaller than he could ever remember being.


“Fox! Put her down!” He looked up, and saw his mother, smiling at them both. He couldn’t believe how young she looked – or how happy. “Come and eat the picnic!” she called.


“Race you.” He dumped his sister down on her backside on the grass, and then set off.


“That is not fair! Fox, you come back!” she whined after him, as he made the most of his head start to get there first.


“Cheat!” She pouted at him as she threw herself onto the blanket and grabbed a sandwich.


“Slowcoach.” He grinned back.


“Is this better?” she asked. “We can go further back if you like, Fox. Much further.” He saw a darkness, opening up like a rift in the blue sky, and an image of himself, being held in someone’s arms, looking down into a crib which housed a tiny, beautiful, newborn sister.


“No. I’m fine here.” Mulder lay back and looked up at the blue sky. “We can stay here forever, can’t we?”


“If you like.” Samantha shrugged.




Thurmont, MD.


January 6, 1999.


“Where are we going?” Scully asked as Skinner pulled away from the hospital. Something told her that she should definitely not ask him any more questions about the startling news he had just given her.


“Back to the motel,” Skinner said. “I need to prepare for…Agent Scully, I’m going to commit a felony tonight. I have no right to ask you…”


“Count me in,” she told him firmly. “It’s the factory isn’t it? We’re going to break in.”


“Yes.” Skinner told her, giving her the faintest shadow of a smile. “I think the answers are there, and I don’t think we’re going to get them by playing by the rules, and asking questions. We don’t have time to wait for a judge to give us a warrant. We need those answers now, so, I went back there earlier to check it out, and figure out a way to break in.”


“Mulder would be proud of you,” she grinned at him.


“Mulder would have just broken in, without bothering to check it out first,” Skinner said grimly. “Which is almost certainly why he got caught. You and I are not going to make the same mistake.” He paused, smiled again. “There may be moments when you can take acting like Mulder too far,” he told her wryly. “I’ll do the Mulder method in the Skinner way.”


“You know,” Scully murmured, “that sounds much safer.”


Skinner took a huge black sports bag from the trunk of the car when they pulled up at the motel. Scully watched in amazement as he unpacked the contents of it on the floor of her room.


“I requisitioned some supplies before we set out.” Skinner told her, catching the look on her face.


“I can see that.” Scully picked up a long, sleek knife in a black leather sheath. “This looks like something out of a movie. Could you…I mean would you, uh, actually use it?”


Skinner looked up, his eyes dark. “Yes, Agent Scully. I could and I would,” he told her, pulling a black sweater out of the bag. He threw it to her.


“This is for me?” she asked, aghast, as she caught it.


“Yes. Planning.” He shrugged. She was even more amazed by the black combat pants and black sneakers.


“These will fit me?” she questioned.


“Yes.” He replied firmly, and she knew without a shadow of doubt that they would, although she had no idea how he knew what size to bring. He went next door to change, and to allow her the privacy to do the same. When he returned to her room, clad from head to foot in black, Scully couldn’t stop herself staring at him. He looked so…different. The sweater defined the contours of his broad chest and shoulders, which were normally hidden beneath those crisp white shirts. His waist was flat and his hips lean and slender, his legs impossibly long. He had the appearance of a pirate, or a smuggler. She had to fight back a fit of giggles, imagining him decorating the front of some bodice-ripping novel with tales of derring-do. Skinner gave a startled gasp, and did a double take at her so she supposed that her expression must have betrayed what she was thinking.


He knelt on the floor, and picked up a couple of shoulder holsters. He handed one to her, and she buckled it on while he did the same. Then he passed her a thigh holster. This one was complicated – designed to carry both a knife and a gun. Scully fumbled with the straps, trying to figure out how it fastened. Skinner saw her confusion and knelt down in front of her, adjusting the straps with blunt, capable fingers. Scully held her breath as he touched the inside of her thigh. If this had been Mulder, he’d have made some stupid sexual comment to lighten the tension, but it wasn’t Mulder, it was Skinner. He seemed unaware of the intimacy of the moment as his fingers traveled the full length of the strap, making minute alterations, until he was sure that it was correct. Then she noticed that the tips of his ears were burning a bright red and she guessed that maybe he wasn’t as unaware as she thought. He stood up, and began checking the shoulder holster as well. She felt like screaming at him that she had worn one of these on dozens of occasions, but before she could mention it, he glanced at her and murmured:


“You can wear this more comfortably – and more efficiently – if you adjust it like this.” He pulled the strap tighter, smoothing the harness backwards and altering the fit.


She had to admit that it felt better this way. She was however, uncomfortably aware of those firm, gentle fingers on her arm, by her breast. Her nipples hardened involuntarily, and she tried desperately to think about something else – such as the several guns and knives that her seemingly pen-pushing, bureaucratic superior was so confident he could handle. She had a sudden image of him as Rambo, storming through the jungle, his face streaked with camouflage paint, knives, and machine guns clutched in his hands. He stopped what he was doing for a second, and glanced up at her, a quizzical look on his face, before resuming his task. She could have sworn that as he turned away to pick up another holster, he murmured “Sylvester Stallone?” under his breath, in a tone of disbelief.


Finally, after several agonizing minutes, she passed his inspection, but not before he had pushed up her pant leg, pulled down her sock, and strapped another holster around her ankle. Into this he pushed a tiny gun and a small knife.


“Do you think all this will be necessary?” she asked him, as his fingers tickled against her ankle.


“I have no idea, but in my experience, it’s best to be prepared,” he replied grimly. “I think Mulder would still be with us if he hadn’t been caught breaking into the factory.”


“How…ow…unh…” Scully dissolved into a fit of giggles and rested her hands on his back to stop herself toppling over.


“Agent Scully?” He looked up in surprise, his fingers neatly folding her sock over the new weaponry he had deposited in it.


“Uh, that whole area around my feet is really ticklish,” Scully admitted, shamefaced, as he finished with her sock and stood up.


“Sorry. I’ll remember that,” he murmured, as if it was at all likely that the circumstance of him touching her feet would ever happen again. Scully couldn’t help it – the image just rose unbidden to her mind. Her, sitting in his office, her naked feet on his desk, while he leaned forward, took her big toe in his mouth, and sucked on it. Skinner paused in the middle of checking one of his guns, and glanced at her in surprise, his face flaming bright red as if in embarrassment.


“Um, …time to be moving,” he muttered, heading for the door, and still blushing furiously. “Put your best foot forward, Agent Scully.” They paused for a moment, their eyes meeting, and Scully bit on her lip, trying to hold back the choking laughter at his unfortunate choice of words. As she followed, she could have sworn that she saw his shoulders shake as he struggled to do the same.




“So – who are you supposed to be, young man?”


Mulder glared up at his father’s friend through a cloud of smoke. He was wearing a blue sweatshirt with a starfleet insignia sewn on over the left breast, and had a pair of pointed false ears stuck over his own. Wasn’t it obvious?


“Mr. Spock.” He rolled his eyes and made a face.


“Who?” The man glanced down at him languidly, an amused frown on his face.


“From Star Trek!” Mulder stomped over to the corner of the room and got out some Play-Doh.


“Bright kid.” The smoker turned back to Bill Mulder and accepted a proffered drink. “How old is he now? Eight?”


“Nine.” Bill Mulder grunted.


“And the little girl?” The smoker swilled the drink around in the glass, his eyes fixed upon his friend.




“Lovely children,” the smoker commented. Bill Mulder shuddered slightly, and poured himself another glass of whisky. “You should cut back on that,” the smoker told him.


“So should you.” Bill Mulder glanced pointedly at his friend’s cigarette. “But you’re not here to discuss our mutual bad habits. Tell me about your most recent experiment. Did it work?”


“No.” The smoker leaned back in his chair. “By and large, the results were…disappointing.”


“Damn. I thought that project stood a chance. I liked the idea of it. Mankind, working together, minds linked, to fight the enemy.”


“You always did have a streak of sentimentality,” the smoker commented. “I thought of its more practical applications – such as having units of disposable, highly skilled, linked colonies of soldiers doing our dirty work for us. Like worker ants,” he smiled. “We can learn a lot from the insect kingdom,” he murmured, pleased by the analogy.


“So what went wrong?” Bill Mulder swilled back his drink.


“The links were unstable. They didn’t work in quite the way we had anticipated. Instead of the link flowing freely between the soldiers, it became a muddle – a confusion.” The smoker stubbed out a cigarette, and pulled another one from the packet lying on the table. “It required one of the members of the link to channel it, direct the link, and focus the energy. Unfortunately, none of our subjects proved very skilled at this, and in all but one case, the links broke down amid considerable confusion. It was possible that we could have salvaged something from the mess, but we were running out of time. Our studies show that it’s doubtful that humankind contains many individuals powerful enough to control and focus the link. We certainly don’t have either the time or resources to find and recruit such exceedingly rare individuals.”


“But there was one?” Bill Mulder asked. “Wasn’t that enough to build on?”


“No. We must breed some more…specially adapted children. Children with very…particular skills.” The smoker glanced at Fox as the boy lay on the carpet, rolling some Play-Doh to form false eyebrows, and placing them on his forehead in straight lines, at 45 degree angles from his own eyebrows, making his sister giggle. “And that takes time.”


“I see.” Bill Mulder frowned. “What happened to this project?”


“It was terminated,” the smoker replied. “Last week.”


“What about the one individual you found…?”


“Like I said. Terminated.” The smoker tipped some ash from his cigarette onto the carpet. “You know how I hate loose ends.”


“All the same, that could prove to be a costly mistake. If such people are rare…” Bill Mulder’s eyes flickered with a malicious glee, pleased to be able to point out some flaw in his colleague’s methods.


“We don’t like to leave evidence,” the smoker snapped. “It wouldn’t be wise. You know who we’re dealing with. Besides, he wasn’t easily controlled. He was stubborn, and he lacked the ruthlessness to terminate some of the individuals in the link on our orders. He could have done it, but he refused. Imagine having the power of life and death in your mind, not to even have to make a move…no need for guns, weaponry of any sort…one flick of a mental switch and you can kill.” The smoker’s face was flushed, as if he had just experienced a moment of orgasmic pleasure. The moment passed, and his expression darkened. “He refused. He was of no use to us if he wouldn’t follow orders, and he was too powerful to keep alive. Children will be more…malleable”


Seated on the floor, cross legged, frowning in concentration, Mulder made his sister her own set of Mr. Spock eyebrows, and stuck them fast to her forehead with his thumb, before dragging her into the kitchen to make his mother admire his handiwork. At that moment the ‘phone rang, and he ran back into the other room to answer it.


“I’ll get it, I’ll get it, I’ll get it!” he shouted, picking up the receiver before the two adults could stop him. “Oh.” He turned back to the smoking man, and held it out to him. “It’s for you,” he said.




LP Manufacturing Inc, MD.


January 7, 1999.


“Agent Scully – there are a few things I’d like to get straight before we go in there.” Skinner pulled the car up outside the factory, and turned to face her. “First of all, I need you to obey me implicitly. I mean that. Do what I say immediately. Do you understand?”


“Yes, sir.” Scully told him, feeling a shiver of anticipation pass through her at his grim tone.


“Good. Here – take this.” He handed her a black ski mask, and she put it on, feeling faintly ridiculous – and nervous.


“If we get caught…” Skinner stopped, shrugged. “Well, you can say you were just following orders.”


“That wouldn’t be true.” Scully stared at him in the darkness, watching as he pulled on his own mask.


“Who cares? The truth, as Mulder would say, is out there.” He nodded his head towards the factory. “At least, the only truth we need concern ourselves with for the next couple of hours is. Just worry about finding the information we require, and staying alive. Understood?”


“Yes, sir.” She nodded, and followed him out of the car.


“Stay here.” He held up his hands, and then melted into the shadows. She lost sight of him within seconds. His dark clothing obscured him from sight, and he moved far too silently for such a big man for her to track him by listening to his footsteps. She looking around anxiously – where the hell had he disappeared to?


“Scully.” He appeared behind her, making her jump. “We need to go through there.” He pointed at a large steel door.


“How are we going to get in?” It looked pretty solid.


“With the key.” Skinner held it up, and she stared at it in astonishment. Peering over his shoulder, she could just make out a body lying beside the steel door. He must have knocked the security guard out and stolen the key – soundlessly – during the two minutes he had been missing. Scully was seriously impressed.


Skinner opened the door, and they tiptoed along a corridor she recognized from their earlier visit. In the distance, Scully heard the sound of a dog barking, and the footsteps of one of the security guards. She followed Skinner as he walked soundlessly along the corridor, wondering how on earth he managed it. Her own footsteps sounded loud to her ears, even with the rubber- soled sneakers. They found the Manager’s office, but Skinner passed it by.


“Sir?” she whispered. “The information we require…?”


“Won’t be in there,” he replied in a low tone that made less noise than her whisper. “Follow me. I have a hunch.”


They passed another set of offices, and then he paused outside what looked like a broom closet. Scully raised a disbelieving eyebrow.


“We passed this earlier today,” Skinner told her. “Why does a cleaner’s closet require two deadlocks?” He pointed to them, and she saw what he meant.


“How will we…?” she began.


He put a finger over his lips and pulled out a small device, inserting it into one of the locks. Thirty seconds later it snapped open. He turned his attention to the other one, as Scully watched him in awed disbelief. Really, the man was turning out to be full of surprises – Walter Skinner, desk-bound, bureaucratic pen pusher, and, uh, professional burglar?


“I’m not even going to ask you where you picked up that little trick, sir,” she whispered as the door swung open beneath his expert fingers.


“Wise move, Scully,” he grinned, his teeth a startling white in the darkness of his ski-mask. “You’re better off not knowing about my mis-spent youth.” She gave him an astonished look. There was no way on this earth, that Walter Skinner had ever been a juvenile delinquent. “Don’t you believe it,” he grinned again, ushering her carefully and silently into the closet and pulling the door shut behind them. Then he drew out his flashlight and turned on the beam to reveal…a closet full of brushes and buckets.


“Oh.” Scully murmured. “Well, maybe they’re very valuable brushes,” she said. If she’d made that comment to Mulder, it would have sounded sarcastic, but somehow with Skinner it came out more as if she were trying to soothe his bruised ego.


“Over here.” He ignored her, gesturing to the far wall. She carefully picked her way over the buckets, and saw what he was pointing at. “This wall is about four feet too far in,” he told her, tapping it to reveal a hollow sound. He shone the flashlight around and finally found the edge of a door, which was painted the same color as the wall. He pushed it open, and stepped inside. They were in a tiny office, without windows, containing 2 filing cabinets. Skinner raised an eyebrow at Scully, and she nodded, going over to one of the filing cabinets while he concentrated on the other.


It didn’t take them long to find out what they were looking for.


“I’ve found something,” Scully whispered, five minutes later.


“So have I.” He held up a file. “There was an accident here three days ago which wasn’t mentioned in that health and safety report that Pelman showed us. “


“What happened?”


“Some of the equipment being manufactured malfunctioned…” Skinner read from the file. “And guess who happened to be on the factory floor at the time?”


“The people in the coma?”


“Yes.” Skinner nodded. “What have you found?”


“This file describes the development of what appears to be a biological weapon for the military base nearby. Sir!” She looked up, her eyes startled. “This base…Mulder’s talked about it before. He suspected them of using alien technology to help build new military aircraft.”


“What?” Skinner stared at her. “Do you believe that, Agent Scully?”


“I didn’t know what to believe.” Scully shrugged, flicking through the file. “I’m not an expert in this field, sir, but…” she stopped, studied the file intently.


“What? What have you found?”


“I’m not quite sure. A mapping of some sort of…Sir! It’s branched DNA.” She closed her eyes briefly, remembering the branched DNA sequences in her own blood that had appeared after her abduction.


“What does that mean?” Skinner asked.


“I don’t know.” She shook her head.


“Damn. I wish I could run these specs by the FBI lab, but I can’t tell them where I got this from.” Skinner gestured at the file, then ran a despairing hand over his masked head.


“The Lone Gunmen might be able to help.” Scully said suddenly.


“Those guys Mulder hangs out with?” Skinner looked skeptical.


“It’s worth a try.” She shrugged.


“Yes, of course.” He nodded. “What do you want to bet that the accident involving those workers occurred when they were working on this top secret project?” Scully’s eyes met his.


“I’d stake my life on this weapon being what induced the catatonic state of those workers, except for one thing.”


“Which is?” Skinner asked, cocking his head.


“What about Mark Tyler, and Mulder? They weren’t here when that accident happened.”


“No. I don’t know about Tyler, but Mulder was caught breaking in here. Someone might very well have wanted to shut him up.”


“Do you realize what you’re saying, sir?” Scully’s eyes widened. “We are talking about a military contractor manufacturing a weapon that can somehow induce a comatose state in its victims without leaving a mark upon them, and then they’re, what, experimenting on people?” The military? Experiments? Scully had a sense of déjà vu. This was just like being on a case with Mulder, and yet it was Skinner standing here!


“I can’t see any other explanation for it.” Skinner told her tersely.


“Do you know who are we dealing with here, sir, and how far up the chain of command that this would have to go?”


“I have no idea, but I intend to find out, and leave with enough evidence to.” Skinner said grimly. He fished a tiny camera out of his pocket, and began taking photographs of the relevant files.


Great, Scully thought to herself. First we have Commando Skinner, then Burglar Skinner. Now we have Spy Skinner, and all of them incredibly proficient in their various skills. What else am I gonna find out about this man?


Skinner cleared his throat, giving Scully a small, apologetic smile. “Time to go.” He put the camera away, then returned the files neatly to their cabinets.




“Mom said you had to be in bed by 8.” Mulder told his little sister.


“Who’s gonna make me?” She grinned, sticking her tongue out at him.


“I am.” He folded his arms, and gave her a stern look. “She left me in charge.”


Samantha ran shrieking into the other room. “Catch me!” she giggled, speeding up the stairs.


“Sam!” he ran after her, feeling a desperate worry gnaw inside him. “Sam, stop this. Sam, come back here. Sam!” He stood in the middle of the lounge, the world closing in around him. Something bad was going to happen soon. Something very bad. Something he couldn’t endure. “Samantha, please. I don’t like it. I’m scared. I want it to stop.” He saw himself, standing there, alone on the rug in the lounge. Time was moving inexorably moving forwards, taking him to a place he didn’t want to go to. He watched as a twelve year old Fox and an eight year old Samantha sat down. They were playing a game. The television was on. Time speeded up. There was a noise outside, and a bright light in the doorway. He saw himself run to find his father’s gun, saw his sister lifted up into the air…heard himself scream…


“NO!” Mulder cried over and over again. It was dark. He lifted his head, finding himself back in his cell. The whispering outside was louder than ever. “Please…no!” He wept, covering his face with his hands, curled, once more, into a tight, fetal ball.




Thurmont Manufacturing Inc, MD.


January 7, 1999.


They were half way down the corridor when the alarm sounded. Scully nearly jumped out of her skin. Skinner took hold of her arm and started to run.


“Looks like our little break in has been discovered” His voice echoed in her mind, and she did a double take as she struggled to keep up with his long strides. Two security guards suddenly swung around the corner in front of them.


“This way.” Scully found herself turning to the left at his unspoken command, along another corridor, down some stairs, her breath catching in her throat.


“There are 10 security guards on duty here in all.” His voice echoed inside her skull, but their situation was too desperate for her to question how or why. “I took care of one of them outside. They might have found him, or he might have woken up, although I did hit him pretty hard. Left again.”


Scully moved instantly at his unspoken command. Behind her, she heard the sounds of clattering boots, and a shout. A bullet bounced off the wall to the side of her, making her jump.


“How do you know which way?” She asked, before realizing that she hadn’t even opened her mouth. She didn’t have the breath for running and talking.


“I pulled up the specs for the layout of this place when I came out here earlier,” he replied.


She had a sudden, vivid image of him sitting in the car with a laptop and a cell phone, accessing the FBI database to get the information he required, while visually checking out the numbers of the security guards, their dogs, and their usual pattern of activity. She knew, without question, that he was sharing the image with her – it was not something she was just dreaming up in her imagination.


“If we keep going down here, we’ll get to the basement. There are four exits from there. Listen to me carefully, Dana. I’m going to show you where they are.”




A sudden image of a set of plans appeared in her mind. She stumbled, confused by looking both at where she was placing her feet, and trying to make sense of the map at the same time. His big hand reached out and caught her.


“Sorry. This takes practice. You don’t have time for that. Close your eyes. Stop thinking about running. I’ll do that for you.”


She had no idea what he was talking about. How the hell could she run if she had her eyes closed?


“DO IT!” he commanded.


He used such a forceful tone, that she immediately closed her eyes, expecting to fall over at any second. The image appeared again, instantly, and his arm remained on her elbow. She felt a curious sensation – like a flow of energy slamming into her head, and then she lost contact with her body altogether. She knew, instinctively, that she was still running and breathing, but all she could see was the map that he was showing her.


“All right. There are two behind us, and we can expect more downstairs. It’ll make it harder for them if we separate.” He caught her wave of panic, the sudden flash of worry at being abandoned in this rabbit warren of a building, being chased by men with guns and dogs. “I’ll be with you. Keep your mind open. I want you take this exit.” One of the exits on the map suddenly flashed up in front of her. “I’ll take this one. I’ll meet you outside. Go right at the next staircase. I’ll draw the guards away from you.”


“All right” She felt herself nodding mentally, and then the map disappeared, and she found herself back in her body, still running. The energy rose from inside her and left abruptly, and she felt a sudden sense of desperate loss.


“NOW!” She found her feet turning right, and then she was flying down some stairs, heading towards the exit he had pointed out to her. Above her, she heard gunshots, and felt a sudden sharp pain in her shoulder. She knew, without understanding how, that it wasn’t her shoulder that had been hit.


“Are you okay?” she asked frantically, stopping, turning on her heel, and starting to run back to where she had left him.


“I’m fine. TURN BACK!” his voice shouted inside her head, and she stopped, hesitating. “I’m fine. I’ve lost them. It’s only a nick. Go to the exit I showed you. I’ll meet you outside,” he said insistently.


A wave of worry swept through her. “I don’t want to lose you. I don’t want to lose this.” Her mind radiated the emotion before she could stop herself, and she knew that he had heard her. She felt an answering wave of such affection that she could hardly breathe, followed by something else, a fear of loss so tangible and raw that it made her gasp. No, not a fear, she corrected herself, a memory.


“Go.” He told her, and she began to run back the way he had directed her to go.


She was half way down a set of stairs, when she saw the man below. She stopped, and started to turn, when she realized another security guard was pursuing her from above. She decided to keep going, reaching the bottom of the stairs before the man below, running at top speed along the corridor, around a corner, and into a huge storage area. She crouched down, and hid behind a crate, waiting.


One of the guards followed her into the storage area, panting heavily. He slowed down to a walk, his gun poised, his head cocked on one side as he tried to pick up any sound of her. She tried to breathe silently, ignoring the stitch in her side, trying to gulp soundlessly for air. The guard walked past her crate, down to the end of the storage facility, turned, and walked back up again. He kicked aside a few crates, expectantly, then, apparently satisfied that she wasn’t there; he turned to go.


Scully breathed a sigh of relief, and then let out a cry of shocked surprise as a hand came down over the top of the crate, and grasped her by the neck.


“Game’s up,” a voice rasped in her ear, one hand tightening around her throat, while the other ripped off her mask. The guard stared at her in surprise, clearly not expecting to find a woman, and then an ugly grin spread across his face, and he slapped her hard. “Who are you? Why are you here?” he demanded, his eyes glinting with a surge of evil enjoyment at hurting her. She opened her mouth, but his hand was pressing on her larynx and she couldn’t answer him. He slapped her again, hard, across the jaw, and she started to choke.


Her mind was suddenly taken over by a sense of such total, outraged anger that Scully’s consciousness reeled from the force of it, and she blacked out momentarily. When she came to, she heard a roaring sound, so loud and absolute that it filled her senses, although the world around her was silent. She could still see the guard – he was shaking her, slapping her again, and asking her a question. She struggled to kick him, to free herself, but she could barely breathe with the pressure he was exerting on her windpipe.


The angry roar reverberating in her mind coalesced into physical reality as a huge, dark shadow in a ski mask appeared from nowhere, slammed into the guard, and picked him up as if he weighed nothing, shaking him violently. Scully fell to the floor, clutching her throat, struggling for breath. Her mind was filled with a fury – a raw, primal, raging sense of protectiveness. She watched in stunned surprise as Skinner backhanded the guard over and over again, until the man lost consciousness – and didn’t stop even then.


“It’s all right. I’m all right…stop…stop…” she pleaded silently. Skinner’s angry punching slowed to a halt, and she felt the rage dissipate. He stood for a moment, looking confused, and then he dropped the guard’s limp body to the floor and was at her side. She thought at first that he was going to grab her, and she flinched, scared of him. He stopped as if he had been hit, and took a deep breath, his hands balling into fists at his side.


“What…the…hell…was…that?!” she demanded fiercely, still reeling from the emotions that had flooded into her. He looked at her, and she saw herself suddenly, gazed down upon herself from a greater height than she was used to, seeing with his eyes. She looked small and vulnerable, a large red bruise spreading across her neck.




This time, she didn’t so much hear his thoughts as felt what he was feeling. “His. Hurt. She was his, dammit! She was part of him. And she had been hurt. He hadn’t been able to stop it. Should have been able to stop it. Shouldn’t have brought her here. Couldn’t live with the pain that someone had dared to hurt her, dared to harm someone who was his, someone he loved.”


Scully felt a jolt of surprise at that sensation. A sudden vision of Mulder lying comatose on that hospital bed rose in her mind. “Couldn’t stop him being hurt either, or the others.” The raw tide of jumbled thoughts and feelings continued to overwhelm her. “Mine, all of them mine, and lost. Lost…” Scully felt a wave of total despair, and she flinched as an image of corpses flooded her mind. Young men, lying amid foliage, bullets riddling their broken bodies, blood everywhere. A sense of total loss and desolation wrenched her, and she found herself scrambling to her feet, enveloping her erstwhile boss in her arms, clinging to him, trying desperately to soothe and comfort him.


“It’s all right. It’s over. I’m okay. I’m okay…” Her hands ran over his masked face, drew him close, held onto his broad, shaking shoulders, whispering to him over and over again, silently. “Mulder will be okay too. We’ll get him back. We’ll both be fine. Please…please…I’m fine…I’m all right…Just a bruise…”


The shaking in his body gradually ceased, the taut muscles trembling as he fought for control. He drew back, his dark eyes meeting her blue ones, his fingers gently brushing over her bruised neck. Her own fingers found the torn fabric of his sweater, the blood that oozed from the bullet wound. For a moment, she experienced the dull pain that he was feeling in his shoulder, and she sensed him share the pain of her bruised larynx. The sharing seemed to lessen the physical discomfort for both of them, and at last she felt his sanity return, like a layer of calm washing through them both.


“Quickly! The other guards will find us soon.” He took hold of her hand and they ran towards the door.


“We won’t separate again?” she asked him fearfully.


“NO!” His hand squeezed hers tightly. “Come on. This way. I’ve taken care of five of them now, so with any luck we won’t run into any more between here and the exit.”


“Commando Skinner is back,” she thought to herself, comforted by the idea. He turned and grinned at her, and a moment later he sent an image to her, of him, rampaging through the undergrowth, his face streaked with camouflage paint, a knife between his teeth, and a machine gun in his hands, his muscles bulging absurdly. She giggled.


“Rambo?!” he teased.


“That was private!” she protested.


“Then you shouldn’t broadcast it.”


“How was I to know you were…what…?” she struggled with the concept. “Listening?”


“Sorry. I don’t normally eavesdrop, but you just kept throwing those images at me.” She felt his overwhelming sense of guilt at having intruded into her private headspace, and knew that his apology was genuine.


“Oh god!” She suddenly remembered the toe-sucking image, and the way he had gone bright red.


“Yes, Cinderella. I caught that one, too.” His mind laughed inside her own. It was a nice sound. She wasn’t sure she’d ever heard him laugh out loud. “So you’re a closet foot fetishist?”


“NO!” She exclaimed. “It was just what you said. I couldn’t help myself.”


“So, do all women have such lascivious thoughts in response to the most innocent of comments, or is it just you, Dana Scully?”


She didn’t have a chance to respond, because at that moment they turned a corner and found the fire exit, exactly where it had been marked on the map. Skinner pushed the bar open, and Scully ducked past him. They were silent, aware that there might be danger outside, but the journey back to the car was swift and uneventful.


They drove back to the motel wordlessly, each wrapped up in their own thoughts. Now that they were out of danger, Scully found that she had a 101 things she wanted to ask him, but as soon as she formulated a question in her mind, she found that the ability to talk to him telepathically had gone. Vanished. She no longer felt the touch of his mind, or that extraordinary rush of energy, the flow of it between them that she had enjoyed so much. It felt like a loss, and she opened up her mind, searching for him, wanting some answers, hoping even to feel his emotions, the way she had done back in the storage area, but it was as if he had shut down the link, turning it off altogether.


“Why won’t you let me in?” she asked. “Please!” She felt as if she were a character from an old movie, a woman in a long flowing dress, standing on a doorstep, pounding her fists against a strong, dark door. “I know you can hear me,” she insisted, but there was no reply. The door remained resolutely closed. She turned to him, as he sat beside her in the car.


“What….?” She began. It felt strange to talk out loud. Dislocated, distant. Less familiar.


“Agent Scully, it’s late,” he interrupted her. “I think we both need to get some sleep. Tomorrow morning I’ll interview Mark Tyler’s next of kin while you conduct the autopsy. Maybe we’ll come up with some answers. I’ll also get those friends of Mulder’s to run over the specs of that weapon that was being manufactured back there. We don’t have much time.”


“I’m aware of that, sir,” she answered, a flash of anger in her tone. “But I want to know what the hell went on back in that factory.”


“We got the information we required…” he began.


“What happened between us?” she asked him desperately. “The telepathic link between us – where the hell did that come from?”


“Agent Scully it was a long, tiring mission. It’s possible that you, uh, misinterpreted… Let’s just get back, get some rest.”


“What?” she gasped. “Are you trying to deny that there was anything unusual about what went on back there?”


He turned his dark eyes on her, and she found them expressionless.


“We were both under stress,” was all he said.


Scully glowered at him in the darkness. “I said I didn’t want to lose you. To lose it,” she sent reproachfully. The thought seemed to bounce off steel walls, and back into her mind.






He felt a hand on his head, softly stroking his hair. The stroking went on for a long time, soothing him, until at last his sobs became gulps, and then stopped altogether. He raised his head and looked up at his comforter. She was an old woman, with long white hair and a kind face. “All right, little one.” She smiled at him, crooning, still stroking him.


“Who are you?” He lay still, feeling safer than he had in a long, long time. Outside, he could hear the whispers recede until they were just a low hum, unthreatening.


“A friend of a friend,” she told him, still smiling.


“Who?” he asked.


“Jace.” Her voice was warm and tender. He felt as if he could snuggle into it. Instead, he found himself snuggling his head onto her ample lap instead. The cell seemed to glow a warm red, calming him, like being enveloped in a womb.


“I don’t know anybody called Jace,” he murmured drowsily. She laughed out loud.


“Well, you did once, and you will again,” she said, hugging him to her. “Poor baby. Poor sweet child.”


“Is Jace a man or a woman?” he asked, feeling distant, heavy and confused…and yet, so safe, savoring the sensation of her warmth against his face.


“Both. In various times.” She stroked his tear stained hair away from his eyes. “Jace wants me to watch over you,” she whispered. Mulder felt himself drifting off to sleep, but she nudged him awake. “You can’t sleep now, Fox,” she told him.


“Why not? You’ll keep me safe, won’t you?” He surrendered himself up to the warmth and haziness again.


“I can comfort you, sweetheart, but I can’t keep you safe. That isn’t in my power,” she told him sadly. “While I watch over you, I cannot watch over Jace, and he needs me too. His situation is as perilous as yours, and he is my first concern. You must go back out there again.”


“No.” Mulder screwed up his face, seeing the bright lights, his sister’s body, the confusion of sounds, and images and old, painful memories. “I won’t go.”


“You can’t stay here. If you stay here you’ll die. You have to find a way back.”


“I can’t.” Mulder felt the tears flowing down his face once more. “It hurts too much.”


“Yes. I know.” The old woman sighed. “That’s what Jace said. He had even less choice than you do.”


“I can’t face the memories. Not alone.” Mulder told her.


“Then ask Jace to help you,” she whispered.


“How? I don’t know this Jace person.” Mulder muttered sulkily.


“Yes, you do. You and he are close, closer than you yet know.”


Mulder tried to think. Close?


“A man? Richard?” He was unable to think of any other man who had meant as much to him as the Senator had.


“No. Jace has a true heart. He would never hurt you the way Richard did.” She hugged him tightly. “Contact him, Fox. Ask Jace for help.”




“Just think about the man you trust most…the one you know will listen to you, and help you.”


“I’ll try…” Mulder closed his eyes again.






Thurmont Inn, MD.


January 7, 1999.


They drove to the motel in silence, got out of the car in silence. Scully felt battered, more from the loss of what they had shared than from the physical mauling she had received. She stopped him from going into his own room, placing a hand on his arm.


“Wait a minute. I want to examine your shoulder,” she told him. She opened the door to her room, turned on the light, and found her medical bag.


“It’s fine…” he began. She turned and fixed him with a frosty glare.


“Who’s the doctor here?” she demanded, surprised by the uncompromising strength of her tone. Something had changed between them this evening. She no longer viewed him as just her superior; she had seen into his heart and soul, shared something with him, known him in a way she had never known anybody else. She felt that definitely gave her some rights.


“You are,” he sighed.


“Well then. I’ll be the one to say whether it’s fine, or not,” she snapped. “Come here.”


“Yes, Ma’am.” He grinned, trying to lighten the atmosphere, but Scully was too wound up to respond. She pointed to the bed, and he sat down, removing his mask.


“Take your sweater off,” she ordered. She went to the bathroom and filled a bowl with water. By the time she returned, he had complied meekly with her instructions.


Scully bit down hard on her immediate mental response when confronted with his naked torso. This was because her immediate mental response went something like “Shit, you’re gorgeous,” and involved drooling. She most certainly didn’t want him to sense what she was thinking – the foot thing had been bad enough. Instead, she closed her mind completely to anything but the medical task ahead of her. He was right – the bullet had only nicked the flesh, but all the same, it was a nasty little wound. She cleaned it up, maintaining a cool, professional demeanor throughout, and then placed a dressing on it.


“It’s causing you pain,” she told him matter of factly. “I’ll give you something for that.” She fished in her bag for some painkillers.


“It doesn’t hurt,” he replied quickly, pulling his sweater back on.


“We both know that it does.” She confronted him, remembering the way they had shared their pain back in that storage area. It did hurt. It throbbed. If she was quiet for a moment she could still feel it. He flushed, clearly remembering the same thing.


“I’ll live with it.” He shrugged.


“Take the painkillers.” She held them out, but he shook his head.


“I…hate medication…drugs…of any sort,” he murmured.


“Why?” her mind asked, sensing something here that she would have missed before they had shared that mental link. A fleeting image brushed against her consciousness, and she struggled to understand it. She caught glimpses of a young man, tied to a hospital bed, then white coats, bright lights, an injection – a scream. Strange shapes tumbled into her mind, invading her consciousness…The image snapped off suddenly, and she blinked, staring at him.


“Will you be all right?” He stepped forward, gesturing at the bruise on her neck, his fingers lightly brushing against it. “Maybe you should get someone to look at that.”


“I’ll be fine.” She clutched at his hand, startled by the warmth of his touch, and the jolt of energy that it sent through her. “I want you back,” she sent again, wearily. “I want to understand. What was done to you? Let me in. I want to help.” She remembered the feel of him shaking in her arms, re-living a nightmare that she could not understand, and that terrible sense of desolation and loss. “Please.” She wanted to be there for him again. There was a vulnerability in him that she would never have guessed, and a terrible secret that he held close to his heart. He gave no sign that he had heard her, gently disengaging his fingers from hers.


“It’s nearly 2 a.m. We need to get some sleep.” He gave her an apologetic smile.


“Yes.” She pulled away abruptly, turned her back on him, and heard him leave the room, pulling the door shut softly behind him. “Sleep?” She gave a hollow laugh once she was alone. “After what happened tonight how the hell am I going to manage that?”


Skinner sat down on his bed, then ran a hand wearily over his face.


“I thought you’d be here.” He glanced over to the corner of the room, where the boy sat in his armchair.


“Well of course.” The boy grinned.


“Don’t say it.” Skinner held his hand up.


“I have to. That’s what I’m here for.” The boy smirked. “So, you finally gave in.”


“It was necessary.” Skinner shrugged.


“And you think you can turn it off again now that you’ve turned it on?”


“Yes.” Skinner said firmly. “I can. It flows from me. I can stop it if I want to.”


“Hmm.” The boy grinned infuriatingly. “She doesn’t seem all that happy about you ‘stopping’ it.”


“It’s better for her this way,” Skinner sighed tiredly. “It’s not fair to her. I didn’t give her a choice.”


“You didn’t have a choice either, as I recall,” the boy commented.


“That’s different. I won’t perpetuate the wrong.” Skinner pulled off his sweater, and undid his pants.


“You love her don’t you?” The boy’s tone wasn’t mocking. Skinner slid his pants off, padded into the bathroom, and cleaned his teeth. “Well?” The boy asked him from the mirror.




“And Mulder?”


“Yes.” Skinner finished brushing his teeth, walked back into the other room and slid under the sheets.


“You started making the link with them a long time ago, didn’t you?” The boy sat down on the bed. Skinner stared up at the ceiling, fighting the guilt.


“Yes. I know I shouldn’t have. After Sharon…They were the only ones I was close to. It just…happened. They kept needing my help. In order to find them, sometimes I’d…I worried about them.” He closed his eyes. “I just wanted to make sure they were all right – when they were out in the field. Is there anything wrong with that?” he asked defensively. The boy didn’t reply. “I didn’t mean it to happen,” Skinner confessed. “I just sent out little thoughts at first – to find out where they were, what they were doing, to see that they were safe. They didn’t know. It didn’t hurt them.”


“But it was the first link in the chain.” The boy said.


“Yes, and with every subsequent crisis, it grew stronger. I was scared they’d know – that they’d find out, and resent me.” Skinner rolled over onto his side, turning his back on the boy. “I tried to shut it down, I really did try, but it never went away completely. Then today…”


“Today you opened a channel with Dana.”




“It felt good, didn’t it?”


“Yes.” Skinner’s gut churned with remorse. It had felt so good to feel the energy flowing again, to be close to another person in such a unique way, not to have to hide, or cut himself off and keep himself separate for fear of them knowing too much, or sensing that he was different. “I didn’t finish making the link though, I pushed it back, shut it off. It won’t happen again,” he said firmly.


“You said you didn’t want to go back,” the boy whispered softly.


“I know.” Skinner remembered the bodies of his comrades, the wrenching loss as each of their minds left him. “I don’t want to go through that again. I won’t go back,” he said firmly, closing his eyes, and longing for the peace of sleep.


“Did you ever think that it might already be too late?” The boy asked. Skinner’s eyes snapped back open.


“Yes,” he whispered.


Scully got ready for bed and lay down, closing her eyes, but she couldn’t switch off her mind. She was desperately worried about Mulder – and confused about these new feelings that she had for Skinner. She knew that she loved Mulder, had for a long time now, although she was never sure whether it was a love that she should allow herself to feel in a physical sense. She was also never sure that was what Mulder wanted either, although she didn’t doubt that he loved her. He was so driven, so consumed by his quest, that he made no room for anything else. Scully knew that she didn’t want to play second fiddle to that all her life. She wanted someone calmer, someone who didn’t need to be taken care of the whole time…someone like Skinner. She bit back that thought. Skinner…Mulder…Me…We complement each other.Scully flinched from the memory of tangled limbs, and two fair heads smiling at her, kissing her…She punched her pillow fiercely, suppressing the memory, but unable to suppress her anxiety. What would happen if Mulder died, or if she was unable to “find” Skinner again? What was the weapon that had done this to Mulder? Why was Skinner so haunted, so vulnerable, and scared? Why, why, why…?




“You have to help me. Help me.” The voice echoed. “Please…I’m afraid. I’m lost…”


“Mulder? Where are you?” Skinner whirled around, trying to see through the mist.


“Help me. Please.” Mulder repeated. “They want to take me away. They’re waiting for me…eating me alive…”


“Who does? Who are they?” Skinner turned in a circle, but there was no sign of Mulder.


“The whisperers. Please help me.” The voice was fading, and it took all Skinner’s concentration to hear it.


“I will. How? Tell me how.” Skinner stood still, watching as the mist swirled around and around. He felt lost, lonely, confused but knew they were Mulder’s feelings he was experiencing, not his own.


“I can’t…I…” Mulder’s voice broke off, and was replaced by an image instead. Skinner found himself standing in Mulder’s apartment, staring at Mulder’s bookcase.


“What is it that you want me to find?” Skinner scanned the room, turned back to the bookcase. One of the books fell out onto the floor beside his feet. He picked it up.


“Mulder? MULDER?” He roared, but there was no reply, and seconds later the mist claimed him again.




Thurmont Inn, MD.


January 7, 1999.


“Sir? SIR! Wake up!” Skinner’s eyes snapped open. He was sitting up in bed, covered in sweat. Scully was sitting beside him, holding his shoulders, shaking him.


“You were having a bad dream. You kept yelling,” she explained, bringing him a glass of water. He downed it in one gulp.


“Mulder…” he whispered, remembering.


“He’s all right?” Scully felt a cold fist grab at her heart. “You didn’t dream that he was dead?”


“No, but he’s very scared. He’s lost. He wants me to help him.”


“How?” Scully asked. “I mean we’re trying to help him, aren’t we?”


“Not in the right way, obviously.” Skinner closed his eyes, trying to remember more, then suddenly leapt into action, throwing off the sheets, and grabbing his pants and sweater.


“Where are you going? Sir?” Scully stared at him in alarm.


“To Mulder’s apartment. He couldn’t tell me what he wanted me to do, but he showed me a book. The answer must be in there.” Skinner tied up his sneakers, grabbed his jacket and car keys, and ran for the door.


“Sir, it’s the middle of the night. You’ve been wounded…how can you be sure this was really a message from Mulder, and not just a perfectly normal dream?” Scully followed him out to the car.


Skinner turned to her. “I’m sure.” He said firmly.


She felt a chill run down her spine at his tone.


“Get some more sleep, Scully. I’ll call you later. Autopsy Mark Tyler tomorrow – we need some answers. While I’m in DC I’ll run those specs for that weapon past the Lone Gunmen, and get any information I can on it.”


Scully watched as he slammed the car door shut, then shivered as she realized that she was standing outside barefoot, clad only in her pajamas. She hopped back into her room, and closed her eyes, wishing that he was still here. Somehow, his presence in the next room had been comforting. She suddenly felt very alone. Mulder was missing, and Skinner had disappeared into the night. She wanted them both back beside her.




“Did you find him?” The old woman asked. Mulder thought how very beautiful she was. She had a beauty that came from the soul. He didn’t doubt though, that she could also be stern and scary. He could sense a streak of tempered steel running through her core.


“Jace? Yes. He was very worried.” Mulder tried to think about the entity he had known was ‘Jace’. Jace’s voice, his soul, had been familiar – Mulder was sure that he knew him.


“Did you ask him to help you?” The old woman asked, still holding Mulder on her lap. He nodded.


“Yes. I didn’t have time…I couldn’t…” Mulder broke off. “I tried my best to explain it. I can’t get back alone. I can’t go out there again.” He nodded his head towards the cell window, with its three fingers of light shining in steadily.


“If you stay here, you’ll die,” the old woman told him. “Nobody can stay here. You go back, or you move on. You have to do one or the other eventually, Fox.”


“I will. Jace will find me. He’ll help me find the way back home.” Mulder said confidently.




Hegel Place, Alexandria.


January 7, 1999.


Skinner stood in Mulder’s apartment, trying to forget the circumstances under which he had last been here. Had that really been less than 30 hours ago? That visit had also followed one of these gut-wrenching dreams. It was nearly 6 a.m., and daylight was just starting to filter under the blinds in Mulder’s apartment. He turned on the light, and went to the bookcase, scanning it. He half expected one of the books to fall out at his feet as it had in his dream, but that didn’t happen. He tried to remember what the book had looked like, closing his eyes, and pinching the bridge of his nose wearily. How long had it been since he slept, really slept – two nights, three? He forced back the tiredness, and tried to think. An image of a book, hand-covered with a brown dust jacket, flashed into his mind. Skinner opened his eyes again, and ran his fingers along the bookshelf, finally locating a book covered in brown paper. He knew as soon as his fingers closed around the spine that he had found the right one, and pulled it out, eagerly.


“’A Golden Treasury of Fairy Stories’?” He gazed at it incredulously. “Mulder – if this is some sort of joke,” he growled, flicking the book open. He wasn’t sure what he had been expecting but it sure as hell wasn’t this. “A nice tome entitled ‘Rescuing People From Catatonia’ would have been better, Mulder,” he berated, under his breath.


On the inside of the book was a hand-written message. ‘To my dear Fox. Happy Birthday. All our love, Mom and Dad. October 1966.’


“Okay.” Skinner took a deep breath, and tucked the book into his pocket. “If that’s the way you want it, Mulder. I’ll read the damn thing, although how the hell this is supposed to help you, I do not know. “




George Washington University Medical Center.


January 7, 1999.


Skinner walked along the white corridors and into Mulder’s hospital room. He had placed one guard outside the room, in case Mulder’s catatonia had been deliberately induced, but the man reported that there had been no attempts on Mulder’s life while Skinner had been away. The Assistant Director’s heart lurched as he looked into Mulder’s staring eyes, and saw his pale face.


“Has his condition changed?” he asked the doctor, knowing what the reply would be.


“No. Exactly the same.” The doctor told him sympathetically, leaving him alone with the patient.


Skinner sighed and took his coat off, draping it over the back of the chair. He dragged the chair close to the bed, and sat down.


He took Mulder’s lifeless hand in his own. “It’s uh…” he cleared his throat, embarrassed, “easier if I’m in physical contact…” He warmed Mulder’s hand gently between his fingers. “You’re cold, Mulder,” he murmured.


Skinner closed his eyes, tried to relax, and then sent his mind out along the link that he had forged, piece by guilty piece, over the past few years. “Mulder?” He knew the pattern of Mulder’s mind – that tumult of color, vibrancy, and energy, edged always by dark, swirling clouds of sadness, as unique as any fingerprint. “Mulder?” Nothing. He felt none of the usual rush of sensations, the bright shining brilliance that was Mulder’s mind. “Mulder?” He surged forwards, trying to find something, anything, along the link. He had a sudden image of a dark cell, a man lying on the floor, being cradled by someone familiar, someone he knew.




Then it was gone. Skinner opened his eyes, and felt Mulder’s fingers warming up between his own.


“All right,” he sighed, getting out the book and opening it, sitting back in his chair, one hand still holding Mulder’s, loosely. “Have it your own way, but this had better not just be some ploy to get me in touch with my inner child,” he growled at his silent companion, then he turned his attention back to the book, and began to read.


“Once upon a time…”




“Fox?” The old woman nudged him. Mulder stirred. “Jace is with us,” she whispered.


“Yes.” Mulder smiled. “I know.”


She took his hand, and gently massaged his long, slender fingers between her own gnarled ones.




George Washington University Medical Center.


January 7, 1999.


“Scully? It’s Skinner. I’ve been trying to contact you for hours.”


“Sorry. I forgot to take my cell phone into the morgue with me.” Scully replied, opening the door to the motel room. She sank down on the bed with a sigh. It had been a long day.


“I was worried.”


“Well, you do have other ways of contacting me. If you were really worried, I’m sure that you could have found a way to reach me,” Scully said meaningfully, making a face at the ‘phone. “Unless there’s some sort of range limitation to it. Is there?” she asked. He ignored her.


“Have you discovered anything?” he asked.


“Yes, as a matter of fact I have. The autopsy didn’t show up anything. Tyler just…stopped being alive. There doesn’t seem to be a reason, but I went to visit his mother.”


“And?” Skinner glanced over at Mulder’s lifeless body.


“I think I can explain why Tyler went into a coma over 24 hours before the accident at the factory.” Scully removed her shoes and wiggled her toes around, grateful to release her feet from their prison. “I think Tyler was stealing from the factory. It’s possible…” Scully paused, thinking, “that he was some sort of industrial spy, stealing prototypes to sell to competitors. If he stole a prototype of that weapon we saw the specs for…”


“He could have attempted to use it – to discover how it worked.” Skinner finished for her.


“Yes, and that’s why he was affected; however that’s just supposition. I didn’t find the weapon at Mrs. Tyler’s, and she was acting pretty strangely. It’s possible that whoever the weapon belonged to, realized what had happened when Tyler first fell unconscious, and went to claim back their property.”


“That sounds likely,” Skinner nodded.


“How’s Mulder?” Scully asked, unable to keep the worry out of her voice.


“The same.” Skinner shrugged. “I took those specs over to the Lone Gunmen.” Skinner shook his head, remembering what a farce that had been. It had taken him fifteen minutes just to persuade them to open the door, and a further half an hour of talking before he was able to convince them to help him. Even then, he was sure that they had decided to do so more because they had run their own checks, and discovered that Mulder was in a comatose state in the hospital as he had said, rather than because of any of his forcefully presented arguments. “They can’t make head nor tail of the weapon specs either. What they do know is that the weapon is constructed to emit some sort of noise on a very high frequency. My own theory – and I ran this past them, and they all agreed that it was possible – is that this weapon somehow, uh…” Skinner ran his hand over his head nervously, knowing that she wasn’t going to like this. “Somehow separates a person’s consciousness from their body.”


There was a long silence at the other end of the ‘phone.


“Sir, when I said you should start thinking like Mulder I didn’t mean you to take it this far,” Scully remarked. “You’re postulating that all these people are having some sort of out of body experience?”


“Yes,” he said firmly.


“Sir, there is no proof that OBE’s are true phenomena. The sensation could be caused by lack of oxygen, leading to…”


“I know the medical explanation Scully,” he snapped. “I’ve read all about it.” Hundreds of times, he added silently, remembering his recuperation after the ambush in Vietnam, and how he had read everything about Out of Body Experiences that he could lay his hands on.


“But you choose to ignore it?” she asked. Even from hundreds of miles away he just knew she was raising a disbelieving eyebrow at him. “Despite the lack of empirical evidence…”


“I have evidence, Scully,” he interrupted her.


“What sort of evidence?” He could sense that she was gearing up for an intellectual battle.


“Personal evidence. It happened to me,” he told her. There was another silence.


“Right.” He could hear the uncertainty in her voice.


“I found the book,” he said, relieved to be changing the subject.


“What is it?” she asked, equally relieved.


“’A Golden Treasury of Fairy Stories’.” He held the ‘phone away from his head, and listened while she burst into a fit of loud and hysterical giggles.


“Sorry. That is so typically Mulder!” she exclaimed at last. “Have you read it?”


“I’m in the middle of it. He doesn’t seem to be reacting to any of it.”


“You’re reading it out loud? In the hospital?” Scully savored the image of big, stern, macho Assistant Director Skinner, sitting next to Mulder’s hospital bed, reading him fairy tales.


“It seemed the logical thing to do,” Skinner replied stiffly. “He’s the one who told me to read the damn thing. He must know what the hell it is he expects me to find in it.”


“Sir, he’s unconscious,” Scully reminded him gently.


“Yes – but you said hearing was the last sense to go,” Skinner reminded her back.


“That’s true…” Scully mused.


“Anyway, I’m going to carry on reading until I finish the damn book, and then, if there’s no response, I’m coming straight back.”


“Back here?” Scully asked. “Sir, it’s getting late. Have you had any sleep today?”


“No.” Skinner suppressed a yawn.


“Then you shouldn’t drive.”


“I’m coming back,” Skinner told her firmly. “I’m not leaving you down there on your own.”


“I can take care of myself,” Scully replied tartly. “I didn’t need anyone to…” She stopped in mid-sentence, remembering the way he had responded when that guard had attacked her last night. Her safety, and Mulder’s, was obviously a touchy subject with him right now. “I don’t have any say in this do I?” she asked.


“No,” he grunted. “I’ll be down there in a few hours, then we can talk about what we should do next.”


He severed the connection, and stretched, listening to his bones crack. Scully was right. He should sleep. His body ached, and he was so tired, but he didn’t have time – Mulder didn’t have the time – for him to start taking naps. He sat back down in the armchair, and opened the book again with a sigh.


“At the edge of a big forest there lived a poor woodcutter with his wife and two children; the little boy’s name was Hansel, and the girl’s was Gretel…”


Thurmont Inn, MD.
January 7, 1999.


Scully ordered a pizza and ate it ravenously, mulling over Skinner and the day’s events. Honestly, first it was pre-cognitive dreams, then telepathy, and now out of body experiences. She was no longer surprised that Skinner had signed off on the X Files cases all these years. She was more surprised that he hadn’t insisted on tagging along with her and Mulder went they went out investigating.


Mulder would be thrilled if he knew, she thought. All this time, another believer right under your very nose, Mulder, and our Assistant Director is an X File in himself, a walking X File. She felt a warm glow calling him “our” Assistant Director.Dana, you’re losing it, girl, she grinned. Her smile faded, as an image intruded into her mind. She was in a car, her vision was blurring…she heard the sounds of car horns, then her vision cleared, the road ahead sweeping into focus as the car swerved back into lane. She felt incredibly weary, bone tired, and her eyelids began to droop…


“SIR! Wake up!” she yelled, jerking herself awake. She felt an answering confusion inside her own mind.




“You’re in the car aren’t you? You were falling asleep at the wheel. I warned you about that!” she admonished, getting up and pacing anxiously around the room. “Where are you?”


“About 50 miles from you. I’ll be there soon.”


“You’ll be dead on arrival if you keep on driving in your present condition. Turn off at the next service area, and take a nap.”


She heard a jumbled protest, but cut him off before he could form a coherent thought.


“DO IT! NOW!” She smothered a grin, and sent him an image of the previous night when he had sent similar commands to her, replacing Rambo!Skinner with Kickass!Rambo!Scully. “My turn to give orders now!” she told him, reveling in the communication, the warm flowing energy of the link.


“Okay, okay…” his mind grumbled at her. “Just a nap though. I won’t be long.”


Scully smiled to herself as the communication faded. So that was it, was it? When he was tired, he couldn’t stop little thoughts from leaking through. He didn’t have the strength and control to keep her out when he was this weary. Well, good! She went into the bathroom, and washed her hands to get rid of the smell of pizza. With the water running, she didn’t hear the sound of the door to her room being opened.


Skinner parked the car and turned off the engine, leaning back in his seat and closing his eyes. He was asleep within seconds.


He was walking through a forest, whistling. He had an ax over his shoulder, and was wearing a long flowing white shirt, and…what the hell were these? Britches? He glanced down at himself, and then around, and groaned out loud. Damn you, Mulder, and your stupid, goddamn fairy stories. I am not a woodcutter! He walked through the trees, and saw a little cottage with smoke billowing merrily from its chimney. It was very familiar. It featured in a lot of fairy stories. With a sigh, Skinner followed the dainty, winding path, past a merrily chirruping brook, towards the cottage. Everything seemed very bright. Absurdly cheerful roses, grass that was impossibly green, ridiculously colored birds wittering away to themselves.Oh, goddamn it! Skinner waved the ax threateningly at a passing fawn, but it just blinked at him, fluttering its absurdly long eyelashes and then, kicking its hooves merrily into the air, it scampered away. Skinner suppressed the growl that was rising in his throat. If we ever get you back, Mulder, I am gonna kick your butt for making me read that stupid book. Those stories have even gotten into my dreams. And another thing… He glowered at a passing fluffy bunny rabbit, …what exactly is a tinderbox?


He came to a sudden halt. The door to the cottage was open. He thought about it for a moment. Either a silly little girl in a red hood is going to come skipping out, or the cottage is going to turn out to be made of gingerbread, or it’ll contain bowls of porridge that I’m not supposed to eat…or… Skinner suppressed a shudder, hoping that he wasn’t going to be really unlucky and bump into seven singing dwarves. He edged forward, and pushed the door open cautiously. He was standing in a room. He frowned. It was familiar. It didn’t look like the inside of a cottage. It looked like…a motel.


“Hello!” He called, edging in, ax at the ready. Wolves dressed as grandmothers… he reminded himself. Or trolls. Or 3 little piggies. God, this is worse than being stuck in a horror novel…Not even Stephen King would think up stuff this sick…And people read these stories to their kids. There was nobody in the room. He could smell the remains of a pizza dinner, and it filled him with a sense of foreboding. He remembered this smell – last time he had smelled it…Mulder! An image of Mulder lying on the floor of his apartment assaulted him but this wasn’t Mulder’s apartment, and it wasn’t a repeat of that dream. All the same, it wasn’t an ordinary dream.


Skinner felt a gut wrenching sensation in his stomach. The cottage fell into darkness, as if somebody had blocked out the sun, and outside wolves began howling in the forest. He heard running water, and started to walk towards the bathroom, his mind screaming that he didn’t want to, he didn’t want to go there. Something terrible was waiting for him there…something that would hurt him. Yet his feet moved, inexorably onwards of their own volition, closer and closer to that sound, which was unnaturally loud, like a waterfall. He couldn’t stop himself. Slowly, but surely, he walked, pushing the bathroom door open with a shaking hand. Something small – a bundle of red and white was lying on the floor. He moved closer, fear gripping his heart…reached out a hand, touched a warm, body, rolled it over…Scully! She was lying in a pool of her own blood, her eyes staring at him sightlessly.


The sound of the hoarse shout dying in his throat, woke him. Skinner sat up, instantly awake. He turned the engine on, and started driving, crazily, too fast. No, please no, please… he repeated over and over again. He made it to the motel in half the time it should have taken, jumped out of the car, burst through the unlocked door to her motel room, threw himself towards the bathroom…then stopped. She was lying on the floor, as he had known she would be. Water was running into the basin – the faucet had been left on – and she was just lying there, on the floor, looking so small, and bleeding, her eyes staring into space.


“Scully…” he whispered brokenly. “Not you too.”


He went to her and swung her up in his arms, gazed at the ceiling, at nothing, as he walked around in a circle, not knowing what he was doing.


“Give her back…please…give them both back!” he cried, his face upturned.


There was no reply. He pushed his mind desperately into hers, tried to find the link, to find some trace of her, but she was gone, and he was alone once more.


He was lying in the jungle, his body writhing, as one by one his friends minds winked out and were gone forever. He was crouching in Mulder’s apartment, cradling the other man’s body against his own to give him warmth. He was standing here with Dana, without Dana, without any of them. He clutched her empty body to his chest and sat down, broken, in the middle of the room, his hands listlessly stroking her blood-stained hair as he rocked her backwards and forwards in an endlessly repeating motion.





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