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The Subtle Body

Chapter Text

New Jersey Pine Barrens
Sept. 19, 1893
5:37 p.m.

Frank Dempsey swore for the fifth time that day that if he never saw the backside of Fox Mulder again it would be too soon. For the love of God almighty, the man never stopped! Five days ago he’d been assigned to follow the private investigator – Frank refused to grace Mulder with the title ‘detective’ as he considered their professions to be as different as night and day – and in all that time once, just once, had he stayed put in one location for more than five hours straight. And then only because he was locked up in a jail cell.

Trudging through the forest undergrowth as quietly as he could so as not to be detected by anyone not just his target, Frank silently congratulated himself for that much-needed, satisfying interlude, probably the last he would ever know. It was lucky he paused to smile at those brief hours of alcohol-soaked hedonism as he just stopped himself stepping into a hole that would break his leg. That night, all it had taken was a flash of his agency badge and the card of his client for the sheriff to send off a few deputies to collect Mulder after he’d given them directions to the spot. In fact, the sheriff was downright enthusiastic about the idea, not even questioning the battered and bruised appearance of the man from Pinkerton’s in his eagerness to take that ‘nosy New Englander’ down a peg or two.

Thompson probably thought Frank would drop by the next morning to provide him a list of offenses and spurious proof with which to charge Mulder. It wasn’t like he hadn’t done it before. Instead, Frank had gone straight from the jail to a full steak dinner, a full bottle of bourbon, a full-bottomed whore, and a half night’s and half morning’s drunken sleep. This was Atlantic City after all. But none of it had been enough to make him forget what he had done, heard, and seen in the woods that first night or what he continued to see and hear whenever that jackass Mulder slowed down long enough to give him time for a little shut-eye.

Now, here he was in the woods – again. Trying to keep a distant eye on his subject while keeping his other eye peeled for any hairy, bare-assed lunatic looking to cut his way through anything in his path with a stone blade. And, his inner voice added, for whatever the hell it was flew tree-top level in the dark making them godawful sounds that he was grateful not to have seen.

At least it was still light. For now.

Frank Dempsey was not a man who dwelt on the moral ambiguity of his profession. He was known at the agency as a man for getting a job done with as little fanfare as possible, collecting his pay and his bonus if any particularly thorny or legal gray area had to be dealt with, and moving on to the next one. Conscience had no place in his world, which made his services highly prized by his clients. None of that explained why he kept the knife he wrestled away from his attacker. Well, attacker was a strong word. The lunatic had looked more to be escaping deeper into the forest as fast as the terrain and his bare feet would permit. Frank just happened to be in his way.

Switchblade was out and in his hand before he’d fully scoped the strangeness of the person running at him – his deep chest, long arms and wiry build. Frank preferred to think of it as his survivor instinct when he answered the slice of the stone blade through the sleeve of his coat with spring loaded metal blade six inches deep into the man’s gut. But an Atlantic County judge and jury who knew nothing of the mental and physical habits of his kind of detective would likely just call it murder.

His attacker, after issuing a hard, coppery grunt of shock through the curtain of curly hair veiling his face, let go the wooden handle of his knife, pulled Frank’s switchblade from his liver with both hands, and dropped it to the ground, hardly slowing as he ran. Frank would bet good money at any straight or crooked table in Atlantic City that he didn’t get far. But when he heard the phwap of leathery wings beating at the air above, the pressure thus created bearing down, jamming his hat more firmly on his head, he had no desire to find out. He ran in the opposite direction.

No mention of the wild man in the woods made it into his daily report nor did any description of the sound of giant wings rushing overhead in the wake of the wounded man’s escape. In the days following his and Mulder’s misadventure in the woods, Frank kept a close eye on the papers as well as on his subject and the colleen pixie to see if anyone reported finding a naked dead man in the barrens, but when no such report materialized his worries about being brought up on charges began to ease.

Stupid to have left his knife behind. Pinkerton Detective Agency thorny difficulty rule number one was never leave your weapon behind, particularly not one that had your initials engraved into the silver handle. But the Pinkerton Detective Agency rule book writer had never heard what he heard crashing around in those woods that night, never felt the warping of air and space around him, as though he needed more senses than the five he’d been born with to fully scope what was happening. And he’d kept the stone knife, breaking Pinkerton Detective Agency thorny rule number two of leaving behind every bit of evidence that could link you to the deceased. It rode in his coat pocket, slicing the lining and his fingertips if he shoved his hand in there carelessly, occupying the space his switchblade used to. Animal sinew tying it to the wooden handle had been weathered smooth and tough as a metal filament. When he stared at it closely, as he did some nights watching the lights still on in Mulder’s window, he could make out caked blood caught in the binding.

Frank was much less relieved to read stories of a giant winged devil attacking in the barrens and on the edges of the forest, but after a couple of days with no new developments, he became fairly certain that the journos were spinning yarns with nary a thing to back them up but the tales of credulous bumpkins wanting to see their name in the paper. He tried to convince himself that he’d taken Mulder’s notes too seriously, regretting that he’d slipped into the man’s room after the chambermaid to read them. That was not part of his original assignment. And just because Mulder's notes were full of so many details on the Leeds Devil legend, just because he wrote like he believed there might actually be something to these stories did not make it so. But still Frank heard those wings and that screech-cry in his sleep. So loud that one early morning a fitful start found him curled and sweating under his bed frame rather than on it.

Frank Dempsey was not like this. Frank Dempsey did not do this. This case needed to end.

The problem was Mulder. Fecker would not stay out of the damn woods! As soon as that little colleen sprung him from jail, he went right back there, taking her with him this time. Frank bleary and shaking from hangover, had followed only as far as the edge of the forest, like a dog left behind the front gate of his master’s house. The longer he stood listening for sounds of their return, which he didn’t expect to be hard – the two never stopped arguing – the more he convinced himself that eyes were looking out at him from the sun-dappled shade. The next time Mulder and the colleen went back, Frank didn’t even make it as far as the wood’s edge, hanging about the road like a duff for an unconscionably long time waiting for the two to re-appear. Standing there, his skin crawled again with that unmistakable feeling that someone you could not see was watching you -- a feeling he was used to dealing out, not receiving. Frank pondered whether the responsibility for reporting them missing or dead were going to fall to him. It wouldn’t be good for his reputation at the agency if he were the last to find out his subject had been stabbed to death by…what? A naked, ugly Delaware Indian who somehow escaped removal? Or choked by some bat-winged demon? Nothing about this case made sense.

Nearly two and a half hours passed while he sat in the shade of their hired rig and wondered if he had it in him to quit detective work and see if his da would take him back in the family business. He wasn’t even sure if the old man was still around. Packing salt pork barrels was no more his idea of the best way to live out his days now that had been thirty years ago when he was eighteen, anyway.

Frank almost whooped with relief as he ducked out of sight after he spied Mulder and the colleen hot-footing it back out of the woods, straight to their rig, and straight back to the city. Neither was talking and both were pale, which he took to mean they must have seen something like he’d seen and were sensibly scared right down to their drawers. Maybe, prayed Frank, this would be the last of the barrens. Mulder would find a way to wrap this thing up and get himself and the colleen back to Philadelphia next day.

But one day later and here he was -- again. The colleen buggied off in the direction of Bateson Village only a few minutes before Mulder left to visit the Elders. Following his original orders, let the colleen go and stuck to Mulder but he was surprised when Mulder came sprinting out of Elder’s back yard less than an hour later and into the street like his own house was afire. Within minutes he had a rig and was off at top speed. Frank opted for riding horseback for fear of losing him, but it was a sure bet where he was headed. The damn barrens.

He stood for a solid ten minutes looking into the woods after Mulder had disappeared beyond the tree line. There was nothing good in those trees for him. He knew that. But maybe Mulder had figured it out. Maybe he had a plan. Or maybe Mulder already knew what Frank had just now figured out. That he wouldn't be able to live with a version of himself who stood outside the forest looking in, too afraid to move. So Frank followed.

Not fifteen minutes later they had him surrounded. He could hear them, and the one upwind he could definitely smell, but he couldn't entirely see them. They blended in and out of the dusk shadows of the trees like ghosts or tricks your eyes played on you late at night. Frank counted at least three though, closing in from behind, blocking his way back to the road.

The first blow came from out of the dusk to the east -- a flat pebble the size of a silver dollar hard to the temple, knocking his hat clean off. Team hunting, Frank thought blearily, that was smart. Like the duff he’d become since that night he’d heard a devil overhead, he’d expected a direct, face to face fight. But no one walked up to deer to shake hands before getting to business, and he realized now that is what he was, no more than a deer, prey. Staggering to his left, cupping his hand over the depression made by the rock, Frank felt warm blood pulsing out onto his fingertips. It was not meant to be a killing blow, just to slow and disorient him. They could afford to take their time. They had a plan.

But a deer didn’t need to run if it could shoot, Frank reminded himself with a snarl, pulling his pistol from his back holster and holding it out before him.

"C'mon then, you bastards," Frank hissed into the dusk, just as a second, larger pebble arced out of the gloaming and hit him square between the eyes. He fired a shot. He had no idea what or who he was aiming at, but he did get a shot off. If the ping he heard was the bullet striking the trunk of a tree or his own ears ringing, he couldn’t tell.

The sun sat down on an obscured horizon and Frank sank to his knees. A trembling, scarred hand he barely recognized as his own held his gun in front of him like a talisman against growing shadow. Then one of his attackers stepped forward.

He's just a kid, Frank thought, staring at beardless adolescent almost his height wearing not a stitch of clothing. His curly mane was held back in a knot showing his hilly pate and at the end of his long hairy arm he held Frank’s silver-handled knife, blade out. Frank guffawed at the sight of such a modern shiny gadget of a weapon in the hands of a creature that looked like he’d be baffled by a fishhook. After his broad flat nose gave the evening airs a good sniff, the boy’s walnut colored eyes met Frank’s from beneath bushy brows with satisfaction as though he had long awaited this introduction. Not an Indian, Frank decided, trying to wipe the blood out of his eyes with the back of his gun hand. Too ugly to be an Indian.

On a dizzy whim he dropped the pistol he no longer seemed capable of aiming and pulled the stone blade from his pocket. Holding it out wordlessly, offering a trade to this beast child – knife for knife. Walnut eyes flashed in recognition and rage in the gloaming and the kid’s long arm shot out at his throat. Cold steel sank deep, past arteries to spine and Frank Dempsey just had time enough to think ‘Offer accepted’ before he knew no more.

***************


Leeds Circle by M. Frohike 1893


New Jersey Pine Barrens
Sept. 19, 1893
5:45 p.m.

Mulder hadn’t intended to look at Dr. Scully’s telegram before he handed it back to her, but he had.

What that normally meant in the abnormal byways of his brain was that a readily perusable image of it was available to him should he choose to recall it for as long as he should choose to recall it. Images were generally stored for more than a few hours only if he considered them interesting, beautiful, useful in the long term or, more often than not in his profession, painful. A gentleman possessing this odd quirk would have immediately endeavored to forget what he had seen and go on about his genealogical research.

But Mulder, apparently, was no gentleman. As soon as Dr. Scully had decamped for the Traymore and her anthropological studies he wrote down the words he’d seen between the STOPS, grabbed a copy of O’Reilly’s dictionary, and began piecing together the gist of the message. It was from her mother, but nothing so innocuous as a church social was mentioned. In fact, it read like some kind of warning. Fair enough, mothers tended to worry. It came with the motherhood vocation, at least in most cases. But precious few mothers knew specific aspects about their current case without being told first. Forests and circles, friend and foes, all seen in a dream.

Once he thought he had the meaning fairly well sussed out, Mulder returned to his research, impatient now to be finished. His theory of the case was burning a hole in his mental pocket, increasing his eagerness to confront Elder and see if he had deduced correctly. But something about Mrs. Scully’s message echoed in his head, ringing over the maze path leading to Elder and his motives that he had drawn in his mind.

Mulder didn’t know how he knew Dr. Scully had deviated from the timetable they’d discussed, he just did. There was no time to check at the Traymore to see if he was right. If he was wrong she was safe now and no harm done. If he was right…the Indian summer sun was dropping fast. After Samantha, he was never one to question his intuitive leaps, taught so early in life the most painful lesson that he’d rather look a paranoid who succeeded in protecting those he was responsible to than a sensible man who failed them. If Caroline Elder was headed to the barrens knowing that her and her husband’s disastrous balancing act was at an end it was a sure thing that no one had better be near her or her newly acquired avatar. Not Mary Fenton, Marcus Elder, and certainly not Dana Scully. For as lightning quick as Marcus’ temper was, Caroline’s was magma hot and deep, having been forced underground for so long.

Best to remove everyone from the barrens vicinity until a viable strategy for banishing the devil could be devised. Put Mary Fenton up in the Traymore if necessary. He could just imagine Dr. Scully’s exasperated response to such a plan. In fact, he was eager to hear it. Right now, with her sitting shotgun next to him in the carriage on their way back to another late supper in the twilight.

He near ran over his Pinkerton tail on his way out of the stables, whipping the horse from a canter to a near gallop on the road to the pygmy forest. But he was sure the man would be able to figure out where he was headed. He hadn’t seemed to have much difficulty over the past week anyway. Frohike had enjoyed directing his luggage trolley directly at the man in the train station by ‘accident’ to see what he’d do as Mulder was away arranging for a cab to take them to the Traymore. Turned out Pinkerton’s finest was not as graceless as his wrestler’s build suggested, according to Melvin. Mulder had to admit to being more that a little amused at that. But if they didn’t watch themselves, the game would be up and someone who was perhaps more skilled at concealing him/herself would be assigned and that would not do at all. Always better the enemy you know.

It wasn’t that Mulder was accustomed to being followed, but he and his associates had been at the center of enough sensitive cases he could usually tell when someone of power or wealth thought they could best protect their interests by adding extraneous detectives to the investigation who were loyal to them or their pocketbooks rather than the truth or the law. This time the only thing Mulder had not been able to determine about his tail was for whom he was working, though thankfully this one seemed uninterested in tailing Dr. Scully unless he was with her. Which in the end might prove to be unfortunate. He urged the horse to a faster pace.

His biggest gamble was that Sheriff Thompson, in the end, was not a liar. If the locations of the bodies so far discovered had been correctly reported, the devil had killed no one within the stone circle – only outside it. His own experience the first night and his research since seemed to confirm this. He had collapsed inside the circle and the wild man had run out into the forest. The circle protected as well as focused the energies that called the Devil. If he could get everyone at risk inside the circle it might be possible to persuade Caroline to call the beast off. Her grandmother must have passed on the necessary formula to banish the creature. From the episodic nature of the Leeds Devil sightings through the decades it seemed that the Leeds or Clayton women had called the creature to solve immediate problems and then withdrew it until it was needed again. Though judging from the relative wealth and position of the Deborah Leeds vs the Miriam Clayton descendants, the Leeds family women had been making better or more frequent use of the devil than their Clayton counterparts. There had to be some way to send it away. There had to be and Caroline Elder knew what it was.

Inside the tree line all the obstacles and pitfalls Mulder remembered from that first night seemed to have yielded their places, as though the forest were opening, drawing him inside herself like a lover, gently pulling him forward bit by bit to her center. Ignoring the gathering dusk and the quieting of all the life surrounding he pressed on. Even the crickets’ relentless chirping sounding throughout the wood just minutes ago had fallen silent. When he reached the east bank of the creek, he risked a look to the opposite side.

Mary Fenton stood at the circle’s center, a dark goddess as tall as one of the granite sentinels standing between them. Dark red streaked her grey-white apron on either side from the cuts to her wrists and dripped down to spatter the alter stone she stood upon. Head pitched back, hair spilling over her shoulders, she seemed to be praying to the small patch of purpling sky overhead, though Mulder could not make out a single word. He ran down the embankment, slipping into the water, suddenly certain he needed to stop her from completing whatever summons she spoke to the twilight. But even as the cold stream soaked his boots through and he bound up the opposite bank he could feel with each movement of her lips, the air above his head bowing, pressing in close, popping his eardrums inward.

A gravity greater than Earth’s was pushing up rather than pulling down from below, expelling in a mammoth whoosh from a darker realm the beast that materialized in the air above the circle with a great flap of its wings. It reflected no color that he could name and its size seemed to focus, then unfocus depending on whatever “real” object to which it was perceived closest. Next to a tree it was monstrous, near a standing stone it was man-sized. The claws were no doubt there, shiny and razor-tipped. And the smell that surrounded it some sort of unholy combination of sulphur and rosemary. As graceless as Mulder had recalled its collision with the tree on the night he’d first seen it, at that moment it put him in mind of a peregrine’s terrible grace, stooping into a dive at its prey.

Then all hell broke loose.

Ears still aching from the conjuring of the beast, Mulder made out Caroline Elder’s voice ringing out from the small heel stone just outside the circle to the east. She stood much in the same attitude as Mary though the effect was somewhat diminished in that she was every bit as pressed and buttoned in as ever, not a hair out of place, blood securely held in her veins. But he had to amend this opinion when he caught the words of the chant/song she unleased with a high pitched keen that he wagered was never heard in her church choir on Sundays.

Gan adain y Ddraig a chlawdd y Ddraig,
Tynnwch fi o'u golwg.
Hedfan o'm blaen, olau'r Ddraig,
Ac yn ddall fy gelyn â'ch golau
Llosgwch nhw gyda Tân y Ddraig!

Using her three middle fingers she drew a complex series of lines down the center of her brow and in the air before her face as she wailed into the gathering night. The beast did not hesitate, turning its great horned head in his direction with a deep inhalation and a wheeling of its fleshy wings. Like any good keeper of a house, Caroline had decided to clean this matter from top to bottom. No one who could tell of her, her husband’s, or her daughter’s guilt was to be left alive.

Mulder struggled to climb the crumbling embankment to enter the circle he was more than ever convinced promised protection only to be knocked to his knees by a great whoosh of air pressing down from above. Ducking his head he rose up and pressing his upper body close to the vertical wall of soft mud, he just missed the devil’s first feint in his direction by giving it nothing to grab onto. When he felt the creature lift off again he regained his feet and scrambled up the embankment to level ground. Mulder’s heart stalled when he saw the devil had changed tactics, lowering itself to hover between him and the nearest gap in the stones. It’s great tail ruddered back and forth to hold it in position, blocking entry. As he’d learned from the wild man, running in the opposite direction to escape the woods was hopeless. Mulder gambled that if he made to attack in Caroline Elder the beast would follow and so made to dash in her direction. That was enough to dislodge it from its defensive position and back up into the air above him with a frustrated snort. Just as the beast cleared the top of the granite slab it’s been guarding, from across the circle, Mulder saw her.

From the west, Dana Scully bolted into the ring, a red-headed juggernaut medical bag clutched in one fist and his hand torch in the other, seemingly ready and able to put a quick end to these irrational archaic magicks once and for all. He could not but smile at the sight of her and at the fact that she had made it within the circle, safe. At least that is what he thought until she reached the center and Mary Fenton without warning, cuffed her hard across the face.

“Scully!” Mulder screamed as he watched her fall backwards, smacking her head hard on the forest floor. A moment later she had risen to one elbow and thrown Mary a mutinous glare. A relieved sigh whooshed from his lungs just in time for him to realize he should not have taken his eyes off the devil.

******************

New Jersey Pine Barrens
Sept. 19, 1893
6:07 p.m.

Dana's half certainty that she had hit her head on one of the circle stones in her fall and was now dreaming or hallucinating the scene before her evaporated in the moment she heard the creature's wheezing inhalation as Mulder's torso began to disappear between its fleshy wings. A deep shadow closed over his shoulders and head. Now, even now, he stared up in fear and fascination into the visage of the monster.

From some near-distant point her ringing ears heard a voice screaming with fierce authority, "Mulder! Cover your face!" before he disappeared entirely behind a grotesque dark veil, roped in vein and sinew.

She could not tear her eyes from the sight of his body still struggling to fight its way inside the circle, carrying the devil on his shoulders, knees buckling under its weight. Undeterred, the creature's head was tucking down into its monstrous embrace preparing to administer its fiery poison through a deadly kiss.

Mulder’s pistol was out of her bag, in her hand and spraying bullets in the direction of the devil’s head, or so she thought. She could really not be sure as her hands and eyes now seemed to be acting independently of each other. All that she could see was the devil unaffected but Mary Fenton fallen backward when a bullet struck after she raised her arm to deal another blow. All that Dana could feel was her finger pulling the trigger over and over, hammer striking empty chambers now, but the devil not reconsidering its plan in the least.

This wasn’t working. Whether at last overburdened by the weight of the creature on his shoulders or strangling on a poisonous fume, her partner’s forward progress halted.

Mulder fell to his knees but two feet shy of the circle’s edge.

Do not forget your fire.

Dana was up on her knees, one hand scrabbling for Mulder's light and the other rifling blindly through her medical bag as she willed him to hold on.

Stay. Stay with me.

Sweeping aside the collection of chalk symbols and wooden talisman, smearing away Mary's blood offering from the surface of the alter, Dana snatched up a handful of clean leaves and slapped them down onto the center of stone. The bullseye crystal was off Mulder’s lamp and a battery from within freed to lay next to her small pile of leaves in an instant. Scrabbling in her bag for her cleaning kit she had the steel wool out and teased into a small rope long enough to lace from one side of the battery to the other directly atop her kindling.

Birthday wishes, church alters, a solid entreaty for Ahab’s safe return from sea in the form of a candle in the window. Maggie had always called it an old, simple prayer, but even as a child Dana had known then as she knew now, this was more than an appeal to unseen forces holding power to grant wishes – or not – according to their whim. It was a way to take control of those forces and bend them to one’s will.

'Do not forget your fire,' Maggie had said then with a small smile and a great hug. And Dana had not forgotten, she waited for it, her blood screaming for the first sign of fire crawling along the fine tangle of filaments once the two poles had been joined. At last the kindling caught and a small flame appeared and the words returned as though they had been sitting on her tongue the entire day.

Tine san aer, tine sa talamh,
Bainim úsáid as an tine nach féidir a fháil,
Tagann sé ó mo bhéal i mbuille,
Chun anamacha timpeall orm, taispeánfaidh mo thine
Níos gile ná aon tine ó thíos.
Bí imithe!

And with as deep a breath as she could draw, drawing it for herself and for him who could not have inhaled now for whole minutes, Dana blew out the alter flame. With the scattering of leaves and cinders to the forest floor in front of her, the air above and around the circle seemed to compress and pull up to the tree tops, drawing her eardrums out. The devil dropped Mulder and shot up into the air overhead where it seemed to strike an invisible ceiling and fall back to the earth, to the ground, to where Caroline Elder stood. Now useless wings wrapped round its plummeting body the devil issued an eldritch screech that tore the night airs around them from pine top to creek bed. A woman, perhaps two women, screamed in concert with the creature as it struck earth. The impact popped Dana’s strained ears almost beyond their limits and she clenched her eyes shut in anticipation of the final rupture that would break that sense finally and completely.

When she dared open them, Dana could see nothing outside the circle save Mulder lying on his side, blistered hands shielding his eyes, nose, and mouth, still and unmoving. Finding her feet at last, stepped uncaring over Mary Fenton’s sobbing, supine body. The woman was clearly alive though injured and in any case she was no longer Dana’s primary concern. Instead, she ran to him, feeling his throat for a pulse and weeping a little with relief when it surged strong beneath her fingers.

“Mulder?” she demanded only to be answered by a deep, heartfelt groan. She leaned over to speak into his reddened ear. “It’s alright. They’re gone. Rest here, I’ll be right back.”

******************




Epilogue

9th and Arch Museum
Sept. 22, 1893
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
3:02 p.m.

>

"Dr. Scully, I would think that you of all people would want to examine this specimen. The only hard evidence so far provided of the existence of the Leeds Devil," Mulder teased with a tentative smile, easily holding their space amid the throngs of gawkers crowding around and past them in this carnival sideshow which had somehow been graced with the title 'museum' by virtue of the four brick walls around it, he guessed.

A contemptuous roll her eyes was the sole indication that his companion was beginning to ease out of her dark mood. It hadn't been a simple matter getting her to agree to meet him here this afternoon. After disembarking the Camden ferry yesterday she had seemed more than ready to wash her hands of everything to do with the Atlantic City case, including him.

Truth be told they were both angry and out of sorts by day's end. He had no more begun to comfort her over the discovery that the wild man's cave she was so eager to document had been vacated while they dealt with the last of the Leeds case than she had had to console him over Whitten ordering Leeds' stone circle completely dismantled.

Ancestor shrine, whetstone, even the well worn hearth at the cave's entrance had been removed or swept away. Iris could not have done a better job scrubbing the shelter of clean of all signs of its former occupants. They searched, for sure they searched, but there was no hint of where the wild man's companions might have relocated. No corroborating evidence remained with which to compare her partial specimens, and nothing more was left to say. With a frustrated sigh she had curtly refused his invitation to return to the stone circle then announced she was going back to the Traymore and would send a horse and buggy to collect them when she got there.

Even Frohike, one of the more sanguine souls Mulder had ever encountered in his travels, was cranky and out of sorts after all the wonders he was promised to capture with his lens turned out to be disappointing wrecks. By the time he and Mulder had hauled all his equipment from the empty cave site and then to the stone circle, a dozen or so of Bateson Village's stoutest workmen were already uprooting and dragging off select blocks of stone lashed to draft horse teams that were usually tasked with plowing Whitten's sugar beet fields. Those monoliths that were too deeply set in the ground or too large to haul away for re-purposing were simply toppled and pick-axed where they lay. Daniel Leeds' painstakingly surveyed doorway to another realm had most emphatically been closed. Then nailed shut.

There was no protest legal or otherwise that Mulder could issue that could stop or even delay the work. He considered trying it, though, as he watched one of the conglomerate pillars at the 'entrance' to the circle wrapped in chains and then sharply pulled out of place, a sympathetic popping sounding in his ears. But it would be no use. Whitten literally owned the forest and could do in it what he pleased there according to the great state of New Jersey.

At least Whitten's spy had stopped following them, Mulder thought bitterly. Apparently after having conveyed the most important details of Mulder's investigation to his employer to permit in this destruction, Mulder had not seen hide nor hair of him. Though it was strange and rather unprofessional that he had left his hired mount at the forest's edge for anyone to discover.

After a few minutes watching his employer's continued wincing at the dismantling, Frohike exerted some of his low-key, workman's charm to convince Whitten's men to take a thirty-minute break so that he could at least document the location and what was left of the larger granite pillars, for which Mulder was deeply grateful. But as with the wild man's cave, there was really little left to see. The alter stone at the center now bore the only signs of any ritual activity. Mulder had stared at it long and hard while Frohike set up his tripod, but for the life of him could not remember a fire being part of Mary Fenton's summoning ritual as she had placed herself in the middle of the alter stone. Yet here was an unmistakably fresh ashy blackening dead center. When he had regained full consciousness in the darkness that night, he'd found Dr. Scully checking his limbs for breaks and pouring her evil disinfectant concoction directly into the gouges in his shoulders. But there was no excited narrative to accompany the events he'd missed while in the devil's embrace nor was one forthcoming on the ride home in the rig he'd brought. Just quick, competent dealing with the externals of the case, dressing Mary Fenton's wounds and seeing her settled comfortably. Comfortable or uncomfortable it seemed that Mary would not make a reliable witness for quite some time as her reason seemed completely unbalanced by shock. She followed when told and sat when told but would say not a word about what she'd been doing in the circle or witnessed while there. Later in his hotel sitting room, after both she and the hotel doctor had dressed and redressed his wounds, Dr. Scully had silently handed back his revolver, now empty of bullets, and his hand lamp in several pieces as if they would speak for themselves.

Do not forget your fire, the telegram had read.

No sign of Caroline Elder or the Leeds Devil, the real one, was discoverable in or around the circle. Mulder had looked. Marcus Elder was making a great show of demanding search parties and offering rewards, but everyone involved was certain he would never be called upon to pay out one red cent. Those who knew her well speculated that she had at last had enough and had chosen to leave her philandering husband. All were equally certain that after a decent interval had elapsed and Mary Fenton regained her full senses she would be invited to make her home at the Elder mansion. Caroline's disappearance and Marcus' very public distress over it, however, had pushed the Leeds Devil mania to new heights. Newspapers, zoos, and merchants, all looking to capitalize on the feeding frenzy were offering rewards upward of $10,000 for information leading to the monster's discovery or capture. This seedy establishment they now occupied with its poor lighting and even poorer exhibits was the first in Philadelphia to cash in by claiming to have an actual specimen.

"Mr. Mulder," Dr. Scully replied, all marvelous matter-of-factness, "That is a moth-eaten, taxidermied kangaroo that some poor unfortunate soul was ordered to paint green."

"You have to admit using umbrella ribs covered in leather for the wings was an inspiration," he remarked dryly, earning himself the smallest possible half smile in return. He felt partly redeemed.

"Sir, could you move along please? There is quite the crush here and we must make way for those new visitors coming in," asked the proprietor primly, clearly afraid the small island of healthy skepticism they were creating at the center of the throng was in danger of spreading. Doffing his hat politely Mulder turned toward the exit and smiled to himself when Dr. Scully's hand alighted on his arm, indicating that she was with him. His redemption was complete.

Back on the street he took a chance that she was in the mood for a short stroll and steered her around the long line of the credulous waiting their turn with the 'Leeds Devil' and west toward city hall.

"The next time you are at a loss to spend 20 cents reasonably, Mr. Mulder, might I suggest you consider the poor box at St. Johns," she remarked mildly, tilting her head back, seeming to enjoy the crisp fall air. "Was there anything else you wanted to discuss then?"

"Only to tell you that the renovations to the twin are half done. If your rounds permit this week, I would appreciate your taking a look to confirm that all is as it should be. Provided no adjustments need making, I'll order the work to finish while I am out of town." When she appeared a bit taken aback by this statement. "What? It's the autopsy bay that mainly concerns me. It needs to be convenient for you to move gurneys from the lighted area to the cold storage pantry with ease. Shelving, basins, and whatnot will be arranged around whatever works best for you."

"No. I mean, that's not a problem. I'll see to it. But...do you think it wise to take on a new case before you've had time to fully recover from your last one?" she asked, indicating his gloved hands. Beneath the soft kid leather his bandaged hands were healing well. Mulder was almost sorry to see it as he now considered himself the last piece of surviving evidence that the Leeds Devil had existed at all. His beard had been scuttled days ago as the creature's breath had singed most of it away in ugly, smelly patches. For the first time since he was old enough to shave it, Mulder was grateful for the dense growth as it had done such a good job protecting his face. However, his hands had fared worse.

"Better outside than in," had become Iris' new mantra as she reminded him morning and night to change his bandages and smeared Dr. Scully's preferred salve on the blistered skin before mummifying them again in gauze and cotton gloves.

"Can't be helped I'm afraid. Captain Skinner's asked me to aid his friend's investigation in Baltimore. Always wise to stay on Capt. Skinner's good side for the purposes of our work here and there are baffling aspects to this case that they think might require a psychological specialist."

"What's so baffling about these murders that they have to send off to Philadelphia for consultation?" Dr. Scully demanded. Mulder felt himself smiling involuntarily at her blatant curiosity masquerading as outrage.

"The point of entry to the crime scene cannot be determined," Mulder said slowing their pace so as not to speak in front of a group of school boys strolling up the sidewalk in their direction. "In all cases the houses or rooms were well sealed from the inside. And Baltimore police suspect there is a ritualistic feature to the case because, well, the cause of death.... "

"Well, what about it?" she demanded, eyes narrowed.

"The victims were killed by having their livers ripped from their bodies and removed from the scene," he said baldly and in a rush since the boys were almost upon them.

"What?!" Already he could see the wheels of her mind furiously turning over this information from all directions.

"If you're interested, I could--" Mulder began.

"Dana?" said a deep male voice from behind him. "I thought you were working at the dispensary all day today." Before turning to the speaker, Mulder noted her exasperated eye roll and a tightening at the corners of her mouth that did not bode well. The two men were practically at his back looking over his shoulder down at Dr. Scully. It was an effective move, essentially causing him to move out of their way so they stood directly before her. One, from the red hair, blue eyes and similar chin, was definitely a relation. The other, a couple of inches taller than him, with dark curling hair and an intense air was most decidedly not. He looked Scully up and down like a starving man sizing up Delmonico steak dinner.

"Mr. Mulder, my brother Bill Scully and a friend of the family Jack Willis," Scully made introductions dutifully, though he got the distinct impression, very reluctantly.

Mulder should have know better than to offer his hand to either man as both were in competition to see who could do the most thorough job grinding his metacarpals to dust. His burns sang a whole new melody of pain after Willis gave it one last determined shake before releasing him, but Mulder was determined to make no sign. He believed he had succeeded until Dr. Scully with a look that mixed apology and exasperation placed herself firmly between them and demanded to know what had brought them to center city at that time of day.

Small talk ensued. The only salient fact that emerged from it, at least to Mulder's understanding, was that Bill Scully most decidedly did not like the idea of him working with his little sister, though he would not mind at all his buddy Jack marrying her and locking her up at home for life with a passel of kids. Seeing that she was becoming increasingly fed up with lot of them, Mulder decided to win the contest of which man would irritate her least today by taking his leave.

"One last thing, Dr. Scully. My report to the Society is almost finished, but I would very much like to include your final account of the Atlantic City case to make the record as complete as possible, under the circumstances."

Maybe he should have been sorry, seeing the combination of fear and stubbornness that covered her features then, but he was not. For he just now realized that her exasperation and anger over the ancestor's cave was both genuine and a convenient excuse to avoid returning to the circle and reliving what she'd seen and done. It was a bit of a jolt. He thought they knew each other better than that.

With a curt nod that promised nothing, she bid him goodbye and, refusing both her escort's arms, began walking back north. Mulder watched them for a moment until surprised by Frohike calling his name from across the street. Dodging a streetcar and assorted carriages and bicycles Mulder joined him.

"What's Dr. Scully doing with him?" Frohike demanded without preliminaries.

"Good afternoon to you too," Mulder joked. "Well, he is her brother so I assume they have lots to talk about."

"Not him," Frohike said impatiently dismissing the ginger giant pacing their diminutive doctor with a contemptuous wave of his hand. "Him."

"Jack Willis, friend of the family I gather," Mulder said, trying to both look and sound unconcerned.

"Mulder," his friend said as though he should already know. "He's Pinkerton."

"Dammit!" Mulder exclaimed, brain racing back through their every discussion trying to call precisely what he had told her. "Where the hell is Langley?"

Across the street and two blocks away Dana was already ignoring her brother spouting off his first impressions of Fox Mulder. Everything was undergoing critique from his untidy hair to his effeminate gloves. She knew he knew she would not tell him to shut up like he deserved while they were in the presence of company. So she chose to ignore him entirely.

Jack, seeing the little lady's mood souring by the second, finally gave Bill an elbow to the side and broke in, "So Dana, tell me about this trip to Atlantic City. Sounds like quite the lark, from what the papers are saying."

But it turned out Dana was ignoring him too, her thoughts running someplace far away. Until she turned to him with a snap, blue eyes blazing with an intensity he'd only dreamed of seeing there before. But the words that came with the look were the last he'd dreamed of hearing.

"Jack, you need to teach me how to shoot."