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The Subtle Body

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Post Graduate Medical School and Hospital

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Aug. 15, 1893

10 a.m.

 

Keen but frustrated, Dr. Daniel Waterson prowled up and down the surgical theater bay repeatedly scattering and spooking the small herd of interns gathered round like sheep in a field. The grey maned, reportedly brilliant, surgeon and professor scanned the room with his sienna brown eyes and found all wanting. Though he was undoubtedly included in that disappointing host of students, colleagues, and invited guests observing this afternoon’s autopsy of a particularly gruesome suicide, Charles Burks III, found himself suppressing a smirk. Charmed by the turn of his own thoughts, he followed his fancy straight back in time to an afternoon he had spent studying a wolf in Philadelphia’s zoological gardens as a child. Keenly aware yet contemptuous of all the creatures around it, the alpha male seemed to know that aside from the bear that was half a garden away, it was the undisputed top predator of the compound.

This alpha male, however, had a particular prey in his sights – a diminutive young doctor who had dared to disagree with his eloquent and elegantly simple explanation for the death of the individual who was the subject of today’s exercise. Even on short acquaintance with Dr. Waterson, Burks did not need to be told that the man was not accustomed to being contradicted. As the first brain surgeon to be offered a position on the eastern seaboard, indeed the first to be appointed in the whole of the United States, Dr. Waterson’s declarations were usually taken as Holy Scripture in medical circles and for direct divine revelations among his own students.

Until the moment Waterson swiveled his and consequently the entire room’s attention to the sole woman in their midst, Burks had had a fleeting impression of quick hands attached to a compact frame bound up in a shapeless leather smock that fell to the tops of her shoes. At this distance and amid her fellow graduates, she looked but a child playing doctor. The gurney she leaned over to take notes on the body before them came up to just below her bosom. Yet she seemed unaffected by it all – alpha wolf included – pencil flying across rough lined paper every time her gaze landed on another detail as though her eye and hand needed no intermediaries. A cloud of flaming auburn hair perched atop her head and only partially shielded those in the seats farther up the theater from glimpses of the brightest blue eyes Burks had ever seen. Despite having become the focus of all present, her attention was totally taken up with the corpse in front of her – a nameless body whose exposed skin more closely resembled that of a spit-roasted pig than a man. Unfortunately for Burks’ sensitive stomach the smell emanating from the corpse made similar associations. Fortunately his mother’s elaborate summer barbecue picnics were at an end for the year.

“And tell us why, Dr. Scully, do you believe that the subject did not die as the result of the fire set in his kitchen while trying to asphyxiate himself in the oven?” Her title was given her with the barest amount of respect permissible in civilized conversation.

“I do not believe, sir,” she replied in a low, mellow voice Burks had not expected. “I observe that his limbs do not exhibit the degree of extreme flexion common in burning cases.” Everything about her intonation proved that she was reciting an oft-taught lesson back to its teacher. Her professor, however, seemed anything but pleased with his former pupil. “And-“

“Yes, well, the pugilist’s stance is not a universal consequence of exposure to extreme heat,” Waterson talked over her next observation as though she were not in the middle of making it. “You gentlemen may not be aware I have examined several cases of immolation in which—“

“And the subject’s air passages and lungs do not appear to have inhaled smoke enough for that to be the cause of death,” she continued gesturing to the pallid lobes in question in the body cavity before her.

“Then provide us, Dr. Scully, with definitive proof of your observations,” Waterson snapped with all the delicacy of an Army drill sergeant. His gaze bore into the young physician with the clear intent of discomfiting her. Burks, as his mother was fond of pointing out, held more sheepskins than he knew how to usefully employ and was therefore familiar with the vicious ways of academic gatekeepers. But even to him this level of rudeness seemed excessive. She was a doctor after all, not a first year anatomy student. The Jeering Episode as it was known in Philadelphia medical circles was not so far back in the past that its specter could not be resurrected to tarnish the reputation of the city’s most eminent surgeon.

While Burk’s outrage on her behalf grew, the lady herself seemed unfazed. “May I, Dr. Ridley?” she asked politely of the colleague who had exposed the chest cavity at the start of the internal examination. Peering avidly through glasses as thick as the bottoms of beer bottles, the pinch-faced intern had sheered through the ribcage with unprofessional glee. Now with an expression that combined a superior smirk with a flash of unwilling sympathy, the man dropped the scalpel into the instrument tray and stepped aside. With squared shoulders and a bracing deep breath, Dr. Scully took up the instrument, only a slight tremor in the tip of the blade betraying any nerves on her part and made her first cut.

Over the next quarter hour Burks and his fellow observers were treated to as cool and efficient a demonstration of the proper forensic investigation of the human lung under the most hostile scrutiny imaginable. From the pleural membrane to the trachea and all points south at every challenge Waterson threw at her, the young doctor provided clear evidence for her position and once the fluffy pink tissue of the lung’s interior had been exposed on the dissecting tray there seemed little more to be said. The man had not died of smoke inhalation, and appeared to have died before the fire reached his skin. Bafflement reigned in the theater along with the thick atmosphere of unease one experiences while witnessing a family argue in public. The interns were shuffling from foot to foot, determined not to make eye contact with their tarnished mentor or the object of his interrogation. The only two people who didn’t appear nonplussed were Drs. Waterson and Scully: Waterson because he would admit to no fault and Scully because she had already divined the cause of death, Burks was willing to swear to it.

His eyes gleamed as they darted between combatants, for that is what they were at this point. Waterson’s failure to subdue her had done nothing but increase his determination to do so and her temper (Irish, surely with that coloring and that name) was not sufficiently cooled at having proved her point to give him an out to save his face. But how to get her to give up the information without asking for it? Waterson had put his brilliant mind to this question to the exclusion of all others. You could almost see the steam engine powering his brain overheating on the subject and smoke issuing in small wisps from his ears. On his own account, Burks would have gladly watched her eviscerate the brilliant surgeon in front of his students and the visiting company as quickly and as efficiently as she sliced up that lung. But, unaccountably, as she raised her blazing eyes to the good doctor’s dishonest ones Burks began to fear for her. She would not back down and he would not forgive.

“Dr. Scully,” he called half rising from his theater seat, feeling a distinct thrill when those blazing eyes tilted up his way. “What do you suspect? Poison?”

“No, sir,” she replied as though they had been civilly discussing the case all morning. “I see no evidence of poisoning through ingestion, though one would have to conduct a chemical analysis of tissues and fluids to rule that possibility out with certainty.”

“What then? A subcutaneous injection?” Burks posited before Waterson could interrupt, certain now that it would be many months before he was invited back to an autopsy session, if ever.

“Again, a possibility.” He would swear that she was charmed by the idea or perhaps by the artless way he had introduced it, a slight smile teased the corners of her full lips, but was not allowed free rein. “But with the epidermis in this condition finding the injection site would be extremely difficult, particularly if the murderer had the medical knowledge to administer such an injection properly.”

“Murderer…” Waterson huffed.

“Of course! He or she would know how and where to hide it and insure that the area was the most damaged by fire. Well, Dr. Scully, I admit to being quite baffled. Have you discovered the perfect crime? Tell us what you suspect.”

“Yes, Dr. Scully, tell us all what you suspect. And if you please provide us with clear and convincing evidence to back up your suspicions.” Sarcasm could not begin to encompass the sentiment contained in Waterson’s comments. Undaunted, she persisted.

“I am afraid, sir, that I suspect something much more mundane than the scenarios you have suggested. I noticed it when our assistants were laying out the body and the skull refused to stance properly.” Dr. Scully continued to address him rather than her mentor, grateful to be relieved of the weight of professional politics and eager to focus her mind on the facts of the matter.

She edged past Waterson and a stunned fellow intern to reach beneath the black, featureless, and encrusted head and lift it from the block on which it rested. Ignoring the crackle and squish that accompanied these movements she pointed to a depression almost at the base of the skull. “A subdural hematoma killed this man. It was created by a sharp, heavy blow to the back of his head damaging the occipital lobe of his brain. The extent of the damage to the interior of the skull cavity will become clearer once the brain is removed in the last stage of the autopsy. But given the extent that this bone is crushed on the exterior and the placement of the wound….”

“He was taken in a vulnerable moment,” Burks supplied for her.

Here she paused and for the first time emotion colored her voice as her eyes darted to Waterson’s and then quickly away. Burks could not put an exact name to such a complex expression. Grief, anger, regret, pain? “Yes. It’s doubtful he saw the attack coming – he couldn’t defend himself – nor could he have seen who struck him after the fact. Possibly it was someone he…trusted such that he would turn his back to them.” Then her voice and her manner firmed up as she lowered the head carefully back to the block. “With photographs of the crime scene it might be possible to reconstruct the event beyond what the body can tell us. But what is impossible is that after this blow was dealt him this man had the presence of mind or physical ability to build a fire in a cold stove, shove his head in it and self-immolate.” This last was stated so dryly that Burks could swear he heard the dusty, distant ringing of camel bells all the way from Egypt’s western desert.

“Much less write a suicide note….” he whispered in agreement. He could feel his grin extend from one ear to the other. She was perfection of a sort rarely seen. Loose jaws were being quickly shut all over the theater, and all were desperate to move about, clear throats, adjust ties, do anything to make the previous moment pass into memory a little faster. Doubting Thomas interns congregated around the head of their subject to examine the wound themselves and, as a consequence intended or not, placed a wall of bodies around Dr. Scully’s small frame.

Burks abandoned his chair and descended to the floor of the autopsy bay at top speed. “Dr. Waterson,” he boomed extending his hand to the city’s most eminent surgeon and waving him over. Perhaps grateful to have the center of attention back on himself, Waterson complied. “Charles Burks III, I believe we met at one of my mother’s fetes last spring in Bryn Mawr.” Years of experience among Philadelphia elites had taught him that his extensive education was a very fine thing, but if he really wanted to be taken seriously mentioning his widowed mother’s Main Line estate was a sure way to be humored in his eccentricities anywhere.

“Ah yes, Mr. Burks. What can I do for you?” Dr. Waterson seemed to be unbending slightly, though he seemed unable to tear his stony eyes away from Dr. Scully for any length of time. She was deep in conversation with Dr. Ridley and was not returning his looks. Dr. Daniel Waterson, eminent surgeon, criminally obtuse.

“Fascinating discussion today, doctor. Most enlightening. I do realize that this sort of thing falls outside the scope of your normal rounds,” he continued confidentially lowering his voice, as though embarrassed to have to bring up the fact that the good doctor had the victim of a crime lying in his autopsy bay and that, had all his students deferred to him as he clearly wished they would, a vicious and crafty murderer would be resting easy tonight. “Through my late father’s contacts in City Hall I have made several acquaintances in local law enforcement I can inform so that this matter can be dealt with discreetly.”

Waterson seemed a bit taken aback, but grateful nonetheless.

“Ah…hum, most kind of you, sir. I would appreciate that. You have your acquaintances contact my secretary and make the proper arrangements” Waterson produced his card and handed it over as though proffering a coveted ticket to a rare social event before glancing a fourth time in the direction of the petite redhead only to be denied yet again. For a moment his gaze betrayed an almost lupine hunger. None of the sympathy Burks had felt for that captive predator all those years ago resurfaced. That wolf with its keen nose and sharp eyes had not carefully selected his cage and made himself comfortable nor tried to convince others of his kind to share it. “I’ll have my findings written up and delivered to the detective in charge.” Dr. Daniel Waterson, eminent Philadelphia surgeon, husband to heiress Barbara, father to two lovely children on whom their great uncle, the steel magnate, dotes….

Burks decided to let it pass, given that lodging a protest would likely not result in a different outcome. Besides he had an idea. A good one. That is, if Dr. Scully were interested.

 

242 Melville Street

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Sunday, Aug. 20, 1893

2:15 p.m.

 

Fox William Mulder squinted at the common wall between his house and the neighboring twin as he reclined on the long sofa in the front parlor. Rolling his tousled head to the right, he shut one hazel eye and aimed an imaginary pistol at the end of his long arm, wondering idly if a few strategically placed bullets between the portrait of Grandmother Katherine and Samantha’s last watercolor had a chance of permanently silencing the Peacock boys.

“Give it back!”

“NOOOOOOOO!”

“Ma guguh ta me!” That was a rough translation.

“NOOOOOOOO!”

Probably not, even though it sounded as though their mouths were fastened to their side of the wall in just that spot to aid maximum sound penetration. Still…aiming and embedding those bullets through layers of lave, plaster and brick might relieve his nerves, he thought, both eyes now sweeping the room in search of a firearm. One explosive release of tension, since he’d learned that screaming through the wall only encouraged their caterwauling. And the shock alone could possibly quiet the brats next door for a few blessed minutes – he could claim the weapon discharged while he was cleaning it….

That Mulder continued to wade through the probable and improbable outcomes of a spur of the moment impulse while passively searching the chaos of his rooms was proof enough of his exhaustion. By nature he was not a man to weigh all consequences before taking action – thought and deed followed close on each other’s heels in most of his dealings, and not necessarily in that order. Finally, having no luck in spotting a firearm among the books, newspapers, photographs and chemistry apparatus that rose up in tapering piles like stalagmites from a cave floor, he abandoned the inspiration, wryly admitting to himself that any half trained Philly cop would take one look at his house and conclude that cleaning of any sort was not an activity that Fox Mulder engaged in willingly. Anyway, the Peacock’s howling hell spawn would be some other unfortunate neighbor’s problem before very much longer.

These last months’ parade of policemen, informants, photographers, and assorted odd characters – some bearing dead bodies or parts thereof wound in bloody sheets and some not – had finally convinced the woman of the neighboring house that he was an unsavory character and the favorable lease terms he provided did not make up for it.

Hallelujah.

Mr. Montgomery Propps was now howling out his own fruitless incantations from within a prison cell in 11 Street Dock awaiting trial for the vicious ritual murders of six young women and at month’s end Mulder would bid a fond farewell to Mrs. Peacock and her brood. That her charmless, slow witted husband was unable to secure more than a week’s gainful employment in the whole bustling metropolis of Philadelphia might have played a bigger role in the Peacock’s decision to return home than him practicing his unusual profession next door, but the why made little difference to Mulder. He’d refund their damn rent and live on soda crackers and water if it meant they’d vacate a week early.

Mulder wasn’t sleeping. At all. But he had to admit that had more to do with Monty Propps than the Peacock boys.

At last exhaustion or hyperventilation drew this afternoon’s vocal expressions to a close and nothing but faint gibberish could be heard through brick and plaster now. As though suddenly freed from sonic chains, Mulder hoisted himself up from the sofa and began a much more characteristic pacing along a worn path through his belongings.

More accurately, it was Victim Number 6, as the papers called her, who was keeping him awake. Her name was actually Amanda Parker. Her family lived in Baltimore and had yet to be informed of their daughter’s spectacular fate. Amanda Parker, she of the strong face, long brunette tresses ending in unruly curls and grey green eyes, their color dulled from exposure to the late summer heat and dust. He could still see it, frozen on that strong face by the rictus of death – a faint expression of acceptance, of welcome, perhaps even of hope.

“Hope of what?” Mulder asked aloud, running his hand impatiently through his already disheveled hair. Certainly not hope of being reunited with the rest of her body, parts of which even now had not been recovered. She, at least, had had the good sense to vacate the premises long before these varied dislocations had begun. He had to believe that or she would haunt him forever. He knew for a fact Propps liked them quiescent as china dolls while he worked. That’s what the laudanum was for. But he could not escape the thought that Victim Number 6 might still be resident in her wholeness, her faint hope saved for more plausible rewards than a world beyond this world…if only Skinner had called him sooner, if only they had let him see the bodies of Victims Number Four and Five sooner, if only he had seen the details Propps’ was looking at sooner.

Shaking himself all over like a wet dog, Mulder tried to shed the vision. It was over now. He had to let it go. He had to. If he could just put some real sleep between himself and all the things he had witnessed in the last three months. The gruesome realities and the visions that were bloodier still. Some unconscious distance between himself and Victim Number 6.

Amanda, close your eyes…please…

Butting up against his desk, desperate to find his mind a new occupation, he snatched up Chuck Burks’ overly enthusiastic, bossy missive wondering whether he should take this seriously and whether there were any tea biscuits in the house that hadn’t gone stale.

Mulder,

You must meet a new acquaintance of mine, Dr. Dana Scully, a brilliant pathologist with a fine analytical mind and, I believe, the perfect complement to your band of merry criminologists. We’ll be coming out your way for tea this Sunday afternoon. Don’t make us go to mother’s house. You know how talk of science bores her. Do be properly bathed, dressed, combed and at home at four. Don’t try to run us off before we’ve had the chance to talk. See if you can get Iris to dust things up and make a proper tea. You won’t regret it.

Chuck

If his friend thought he was being clever by omitting the feminine pronouns from his missive he was in for a rotten surprise. As soon as the note was delivered Friday afternoon, he’d telephoned Langley in Center City, asking him to find out all he could about Dr. Dana Scully before Sunday. Here two days later he had begun to collect the various bits of information in a file on the good doctor.

On paper she did seem brilliant as Chuck claimed. She’s been trained in physics and medicine with a good dollop of chemistry thrown in, though she did not claim chemistry as one of her fields of expertise. After graduating from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, she’s begun her residency in the maternity ward at the South Philly dispensary though she still seemed keen to gain more experience in surgery and pathology.

Good luck, Dr. Scully, he thought sourly. Surgeon’s appointments were as scarce as hen’s teeth and these days seem to be bestowed only on high profile specialists so that the hospital in question could claim to have the “first” of something. Like that brain surgeon fellow whose name appeared or was placed in the newspaper almost every other day – Waterson. Funny no one seemed eager to appoint the “first female surgeon in the city of Philadelphia” just yet.

Most of her former teachers and fellow students spoke highly of her, none ill, according to Langley’s interviews. Mulder, who had a developed talent for sensing disquiet in the smoothest of waters, found this information troubling. That level of approbation was an alarm bell in a field as cutthroat as the medical profession. It was easily assumed that, as a woman, it would be wise for her to make herself pleasant to those with the power to place obstacles in her already rocky career path. But it takes a lot of effort to please everyone all of the time – to be ever perfect. Possibly there was a strong religious influence, maybe even some military service tradition in her family. Langley hadn’t started investigating her blood connections and as yet had procured no picture of his subject either.

Mulder’s eyes narrowed in concentration. He had never been fond of the military or the ecumenical mindset. Rigidity of either sort would hamper the work.

And frankly he was a little offended that his old friend Chuck believed he needed to be eased into the suggestion that a female medical doctor might be a help to him. He knew they existed, even if he had never met one before. Discovering that this Dr. Scully was female did not mean he would dismiss her abilities out of hand.

“I’ve drawn your bath, Mr. Mulder,” Iris interrupted his indignant musings to direct his attention to the front staircase with one imperious finger, “and laid out a freshly pressed suit on the bed. Now hurry up. You have less than an hour before company comes.”

“Iris, have you been reading my mail again?” His housekeeper Iris Henderson, a middle aged trooper who mothered him more than Teena Mulder ever had, stared back at him with a no nonsense smirk. Scents of vanilla and fresh bread floated around her sturdy frame in faint wisps. She must have just come from shopping, though at the moment she clutched a broom, dustpan and dust rag in one rawhide fist while waving insistently upstairs with the other. Certainly the howling from next door would have covered the movement of an artillery battery, but he would have smelled it long before now if she’d been baking.

“I do when I’m in it,” she replied firmly and disingenuously. “Shame on you for having no hospitality laid on for guests. Mr. Charles may put up with your mess and your moods, but I doubt this lady doctor has any time for them.”

“And my files too, I see,” Mulder continued as though she hadn’t spoken. “Isn’t today your day off? What are you doing here? Don’t you have a family of your own to pester or some house of worship to bend a knee in? Trust Burks to forget that since he’s waited on hand and foot seven days a week. I’ve a mind to—“

“To get upstairs and wash and shave yourself. I’ve kissed my grandchildren and prayed to God today. Now give me room enough to make this rat’s nest of yours halfway respectable.”

“Woman, when I need—“

“When was the last time you ate a hot meal? Or put on a clean shirt? You ran me out of the house near every day for the last two weeks. I feel like I’ve stolen wages.”

Mulder sighed in frustration, briefly rubbing his eyelids with thumb and forefinger. It felt as though he were grinding salt into his corneas. “I hold you blameless. Believe me, Iris, you did not want to know what that monster—“

“I’ll take your plain word for that, Mr. Mulder, watching you bear the burden of it now. But let me help you set things right again. Let me do this.” Caught off guard by the unexpected weight of sincerity in her voice, Mulder backed up then swiftly covered with mock annoyance.

“Alright, alright, have it your way, but don’t touch that pile there – or that one. When I write my report for the court I’ll have use for all of that and in that exact order. Nothing is to be removed from them. Do you hear me?”

“Not even the dust?” she asked blandly. “Is the dust important too?”

“And stay out of those photographs if you value your peace,” he continued, shuffling toward the stairs, reluctant to leave the recent locus of so much speculation and pain.

“Just as you say, sir,” Iris mocked, though Mulder saw her suppress a deep shudder. Clearly Dr. Scully’s file was not the only one she into which she had peeked. And now, like him, Iris had sights she could not un-see. He should buy a safe.

 

Melville Street

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Sunday, Aug. 20, 1893

3:50 p.m.

Glancing at the composed face of the young woman strolling at his side, Burks could not believe how nervous he was as they made the turn onto Melville Street. He felt like an anxious matron launching an untried debutante into Philadelphia society with absolutely no idea whether she knew the proper fork to use with her salad or could dance a passable waltz. And that was on Mulder’s behalf. But despite the strong probability of a major faux pas on the part of his old friend, he still wanted these two to meet.

He already counted it a major victory that Dr. Dana Scully had agreed to travel across the Schuylkill to be introduced to the city’s first practicing criminal psychologist. To be honest, he’d shamelessly dangled the fact that Mulder was responsible for the identification and capture of Monty Propps as bait. That madman’s heinous crimes had been featured in every Philadelphia newspaper since the spring, each rag’s reporters vying month after month to wheedle out more lurid details of each succeeding victim from the police. Every gruesome detail gleaned was presented in broad sheet outrage to an ever more shocked and curious readership. From Mulder, Burks had gathered that the terrorized public did not know the half of it.

Despite the case having got her full attention, Dr. Scully had a middle class child’s natural suspicion of the Ivies, particularly when the person in question practiced a discipline that was barely a decade old on this continent. Burks set himself to persuading her over coffee in a very respectable establishment two days after the very enlightening autopsy session. He’d feared that she wouldn’t remember him, but apparently she had asked the policemen who’d come round to collect the body how they had found out about the case and his name was mentioned.

He made his greeting and his demeanor as avuncular as possible, though it was difficult once he caught of glimpse of her without her butcher’s apron. When she joined him at the ridiculously dainty wrought iron table and seated herself squarely in the spindly chair opposite him she looked a picture. Her lime green jacket and skirt complemented by a pert little hat cocked jauntily on her masses of red curls screamed middle class but her bearing and attitude was pure professional. She wasn’t looking for a romance. Fine.

After reintroductions and his formal compliments on her pathological acumen were made, Burks ordered coffee and biscuits and began some gentle probing about her professional prospects and plans for the future. She met these inquiries with vague generalities and a level regard that urged him to get to the point of his invitation. She seemed genuinely taken aback when he asked whether she would be interested in periodically consulting as a professional pathologist on criminal cases with a friend of his.

“It would not be in a formal capacity with the police, I’m afraid. My friend and colleague is not even ‘officially’ employed by them. He’s more of a…specialized consultant. Someone with a particular talent for finding criminals of this type. He would, however, compensate you for your scientific contributions to his investigations.”

“He’s a private detective?”

“More of a psychological investigator. His approach to his subject is…ahhh…more intuitive than analytical I would say, but he’s very effective,” he tried to explain.

“Intuitive science? How is that accomplished? How are his results checked and reproduced?” She sounded genuinely curious if a little dubious, so he tried to answer her honestly.

“It’s a young discipline. Outside of Penn and Johns Hopkins, I don’t know that there is anyone doing the fieldwork that Mulder does – focusing on criminal cases. Most psychological research is still attempting to explain how the ‘normal’ human mind functions.”

“So he is a pioneer in this field.” She said ‘pioneer’, but Burks heard ‘loose cannon’.

“A very reluctant one. You see, in order to apprehend the suspect Mulder attempts to put himself into the mind of the criminal – see what they see, understand the world on their terms, however perverse and twisted those terms may be.”

She sat back in her chair, her grave expression saying what she would not out of politeness. This was dangerous work. Still, encouraged by the spark of excited interest in her eyes, Burks plowed ahead undaunted.

“His results are checked when the criminal is apprehended. I know that sounds circular, believe me. But at present I wouldn’t say that his results are reproducible in the strictest sense. He takes every case individually. I suppose after a certain number of cases are properly diagnosed one might…begin to build models of behavior based on recurring traits…but since the cases the police so far have invited him to consult on are ones of extreme, violent deviance it’s hard to find comparative… um…material. There aren’t many Monty Propps out there, thank God.”

“But then, how does he do it?” She was beginning to sound frustrated. Not that she didn’t believe him, but she needed a deeper understanding.

Oh, I have her well and truly hooked now, Burks thought, almost giddy with excitement and self-congratulation. He’d known as soon as he realized that the reason she withstood every rude challenge from her mentor was not to survive and conquer yet another professional gauntlet nor to prove her superior abilities yet again among her peers nor even to shut Waterson’s smug mouth, if only momentarily. It was because she would not allow the crime she had perceived done against a featureless stranger to go unpunished.

“Being brilliant helps, I suppose,” Burks said with a chuckle, realizing that he had known Mulder for so long that he had ceased to think about these aspects of his friend that others might find odd or disturbing. “Mulder sees all and forgets nothing. And I don’t mean that figuratively.”

Another dubious look, a gently arched eyebrow, and a challenge in her voice this time. “I’ve read that total recall only occurs in children – that they lose that faculty as they age.”

“Not in Mulder’s case, I’m afraid. He is a natural mnemonist. It is very annoying. Don’t ever play cards with him,” Burks warned with a rueful grin remembering the times he’d ended up handing over half of his monthly allowance to Mulder after a long evening at the poker table.

“Yes, but my understanding is that people who can remember everything have difficulty focusing on anything. They can make lists of facts and recount sequences, but beyond that they aren’t known for their intuitive abilities—“

“Fox Mulder is not some carnival sideshow attraction,” he said more vehemently than he had intended, then gave her a quick smile to soften the rebuff. “He-he has an extraordinary faculty for empathy that…” Burks felt suddenly uncomfortable, that any further attempt to describe Mulder to her or to anyone would force him to venture into territory that the subject of their conversation would find too personal. After all, Mulder hadn’t even met her yet. His spur of the moment inspirations were all well and good when they didn’t involve peoples’ lives, but, Burks reminded himself, they could also be quite wrong. Perhaps a little caution was in order. He was assured of her interest now in any case.

“What?” she pressed, her blue eyes delving into his, as though he were deliberately withholding some detail that would tie the entire puzzle together. He plastered on his most ingratiating smile. She sat back in her chair suspecting that she had been indiscreet and embarrassed by it.

“I’ll let you decide for yourself after you meet him. Then perhaps you can explain Mulder to me.”

“Very well. I am interested to meet your friend. One more question if you’ll permit, Mr. Burks,” she said, employing her own winning smile, which was quite charming on first acquaintance.

“Yes, Dr. Scully?”

“If my services would only be required on an irregular basis as Mr. Mulder only consults with the police on an irregular basis, what is his regular occupation? What does he do?”

Shrewd and doesn’t miss a trick, our Dr. Scully, Burks thought approvingly. The question was legitimate. If Mulder was going to compensate her, how was he going to do it?

“Mr. Mulder is probably the most active man of leisure you will ever meet. He supports himself from the interest on his inheritance. And as for his regular occupation, it is very irregular.”

“More irregular than attempting to enter into the minds of vicious criminals?” The eyebrow had ascended again.

There was no point sugarcoating it. Mulder certainly wouldn’t. Maybe if she had a few days to get used to the idea she wouldn’t find it so objectionable when his friend started spouting off about ghosts and demonology and telepathy and whatnot as soon as introductions were made.

“Yes, Dr. Scully. In addition to being our city’s foremost criminal psychologist, Fox Mulder is also our city’s foremost investigator of paranormal phenomena.”

The eyebrow had almost slipped off her forehead and disappeared into her hairline before she managed the polite query, “Is our city in great need of one of those?”

Yet here she was still. For all the world looking a little apprehensive as they made their way up the sidewalk to 242. Today she was in her black Sunday best, still managing to look sharp and vibrant against the crisp fall air. He was on the point of taking her elbow to guide her up the stairs when a shriek and a howl went up from the front parlor of the neighboring house and two grimy, ill-favored children tumbled out the front door and halfway down the porch steps. One had latched his splayed teeth onto the ear of his opponent while the other appeared engaged in gnawing off his assailant’s arm at the elbow.

“Stop that right now!”

Burks thought his face must be just as shocked as the two boys’. They instantly stopped trying to devour one another to stare at the lovely lady barking orders at them like a stevedore instead.

“Get up those stairs and wash those cuts out.” She still had their attention, but this command was a little too complicated. Neither child, peering out from under their mops of unruly hair and heavy shelf like brows, looked as though “wash” was a concept with which they were familiar.

“Now!” To emphasize her point, Dr. Scully gestured to the front door of their home emphatically. This, they seemed to get the gist of and both boys picked themselves up and shuffled back inside.

Before they disappeared back behind murky windows, Mulder had appeared on his porch dressed, pressed and combed as ordered, but looking a good deal more gaunt and exhausted that when Burks had last seem him – before Propps had been captured. Dark half-moons rested beneath his changeable eyes and his skin had taken on a sallow hue. But a jaunty cowlick escaped his chestnut mane and waved over his forehead at the same untamable angle and Mulder’s irrepressible humor still shown through as he shot a wry, bemused glance between his visitors and the next door twin.

“Dr. Scully, I presume.” he said in a deep mild tone. “I see Chuck has introduced you to my neighboring tenants.”

Without assistance, the young woman gathered her skirt, made her way up the steps, and extended her hand in an almost masculine gesture. “Mr. Mulder, I’m Dana Scully.”

“A pleasure to meet you, doctor.” Mulder took her proffered hand and gave it a few firm shakes while favoring her with a self-consciously direct gaze in a mild parody of the stolid businessman’s etiquette. But as his examination of her face deepened, Mulder retained her small hand, his own face becoming completely unguarded, as though a desperately important question hovered at the tip of his tongue and he would not release her until it was asked.

With a sinking feeling, Burks expected his companion to recoil and pull away, already convinced that Mulder’s oddness outweighed the opportunity. Instead her smooth, unshakable demeanor had been replaced by wide open blue eyes. Her face became a mirror for his, catching and throwing back every expression slightly altered by a native sympathy. Burks felt a frisson not unlike one he experienced as a boy standing too close to the electric dynamo at the Centennial Exposition. He wasn’t sure whether the smile that spread across his face was the result of nervous delight or fear.

“Mulder, old boy, might we go inside before your neighbors make a reappearance?” he asked, raising a guiding hand to Dr. Scully’s elbow and prompting Mulder to release her.

“Of course, but no need to worry, Chuck. Dr. Scully appears quite capable of protecting you,” Mulder teased, ushering them through the door and into the parlor.

“That is undoubtedly true, but I missed my luncheon today and I’m famished. Tell me you persuaded Iris to leave something tasty for us.”

“Better than that, I believe she’s concocting something in the kitchen even as we speak,” he said, offering the best, and cleanest, chair in the room to Dr. Scully. He took the high backed desk chair and as usual Burks was left to fend for himself, finally settling on the low sofa.

“Did I hear you say that you rent the house next door to your neighbors?” she asked, eyes scanning the piles of books and clippings lined up in neat rows next to the desk, then beyond to the shelves packed with books, sections divided with newspaper clippings, pencil sketches, handwritten notes, and the odd photograph. She appeared more intrigued than put off by the barely contained chaos.

“Yes, though not for very much longer,” Mulder said with a gratified sigh.

“I wonder that you did in the first place,” she observed dryly.

“Why is that?” Mulder asked, a faint challenge.

Dana Scully seemed to struggle briefly searching for a polite way to say something impolite, but finally gave out with, “Because it is a bad idea when cousins marry.”

Mulder’s eyes were positively sparkling. Burks felt like a boiler about to blow a valve. But it was Iris’s barely muffled whooping from the dining room that triggered everyone’s laughter. The doctor got herself under control first and offered as a red-faced Iris made her way into the room and began to lay out the tea on the freshly dusted low coffee table, “Forgive me. That was very rude.”

“Not at all,” Mulder said with a brief chuckle. “Quite astute, in fact. I will remember to consult you before I let the space again. Iris, are you—“

“Right as rain, Mr. Mulder,” she answered brusquely throwing a quick assessing glance at Dr. Scully before turning to leave. “Enjoy your tea” sounded more like an order than a wish.

Burks was happy to see that Iris had already poured so it was just for them to doctor the beverage as needed. For all his Boston Brahmin upbringing, Mulder could no more serve tea than he could dance a ballet and Burks didn’t want Dr. Scully put in the position of having to hostess her own visit, assuming she would adopt that role in any case. So he jumped in the breech by snagging the first cup and saucer and handing it to Dr. Scully who added a dash of milk and politely took a small crust-less sandwich from the tray. Mulder collected his own cup, ignoring the food. It was left to Burks to appreciate fully Iris’s culinary skills.

“Mr. Burks has told me a lot about you, Mr. Mulder. The city’s first and only criminal psychologist.” She left the title hanging there as if she expected him to begin expounding on his own brilliance.

“Well, isn’t it nice to be so highly regarded by our Mr. Burks.” he said turning an inquiring almost suspicious look to his friend. “You’ll find on longer acquaintance that, outside of a few offices in the Philadelphia Police Department, few share his opinion.”

“If you'd be interested to hear my credentials—“

“You are a medical doctor with experience in pathology, surgical procedure, and chemistry,” Mulder declared, gulping down the last of his tea. “Currently, you are in residence at the Washington Avenue dispensary, working primarily in maternity services.” Seeing the suspicious glance she threw toward the sofa, he continued, “No, Mr. Burks only provided me with your title.” He shrugged a little self-consciously, setting cup and saucer behind him. “I am an investigator, so I investigated.”

“I see. Is there anything that your investigation did not turn up that you’d like to know?” Her flat refusal to take offense meant she had taken this for yet another gauntlet.

“What interests you about the work that we do?” Mulder asked abruptly. “Most of it is bloody and harrowing. Safely delivering babies would be much easier.”

“Clearly you have never been witness to a live birth, Mr. Mulder,” she returned dryly. “Bloody and harrowing describe it pretty well.”

Another loud snort from the dining room where Iris was conspicuously dusting.

“Iris, would you care to join us for tea?” Mulder shouted at the wall behind him.

“No, thank you, Mr. Mulder. I’ve work enough of my own to do.”

“These sandwiches are a peach, Iris,” Burks contributed through a mouthful.

“Thank you, Mr. Burks. Convince your friend to eat a few before he wastes away to nothing.”

“Thank you, Iris.” Mulder was trying to look and sound annoyed, but something about the barely suppressed smile on Dana Scully’s face was distracting him, Burks thought. Then as the lady returned her own cup and saucer to the tray, Mulder reached behind him and took up a file thick with photographic prints with an almost sorrowful expression. “Would you care to see an example of some of the evidence you might be asked to give your scientific opinion on, Dr. Scully?”

“The Propps case?” she asked. At his nod, she stood, removed the long pin holding her hat in place, and set both aside – clearly a get down to business gesture for her. She approached the desk where Mulder offered her his chair, but preferred to remain standing. Burks, who had already seen more than enough of the business to last him a lifetime, kept his seat and his plate before him, determined to finish his late lunch without stomach upset. Besides, he was more interested to watch the discussants than to see more evidence. They faced off on opposite sides of Mulder’s desk like chess opponents, as his friend laid out the photos in four groups, explaining as he went.

“I was not consulted until the third victim was found and then two days after the fact. I sent Frohike, he is the photographer I have on retainer, to the scene to gather as much visual information as he could but by that point –“

“By then the scene had been too disturbed to be of much use. Those third precinct duffs turn every crime scene into a parade ground,” she muttered bitterly. At Mulder’s surprised look, she gave him a dry smile. “Surely your investigation turned up the fact that I am second generation Irish, Mr. Mulder. I have more relatives in the police department than there are shells on the shore.”

“Very well,” smirking slightly, Mulder pressed on. “So for the first three victims all we had to go on were written descriptions, a few sketch drawings from the coroner’s office, and police reports. The families had already buried the bodies. Frohike was able to get to the fourth and fifth scenes much quicker but again by that time the victims’ bodies or what remained of them had been removed. I didn’t see them myself for another two days.”

“Problems with the coroner?” she asked knowingly.

“It took Police Chief Skinner, pressure from who knows how many city fathers who didn’t like the reputation Philly was garnering as a human slaughterhouse, and a threatened lawsuit from my attorney John Byers to get me access, but we finally got it. Alvin Kersh will be the death of me.” He huffed out a huge breath then gathered himself and pressed on, laying out the remainder of the pictures for each girl. “But at least by this point there were some patterns emerging. Tell me what you see.”

“I cannot say anything about Victim 3 without the body,” she began decisively, shuffling through the photographs and pulling up views of the last three bodies and the scenes and setting them side by side. Only Victim Number 6 was recorded in situ. “There’s something wrong here,” she said slowly. At Mulder’s unamused snort, she persisted. “These wounds were made at the scenes where the bodies were discovered? Are we certain of that?” At Mulder’s slow nod, she paled. “Was he…was he collecting the blood?”

“Very good, Scully. Yes, he was, as he divided them it appears,” Mulder’s didn’t even seem conscious he had dropped the proper title from her name. “There was far too little blood at any of the scenes for it to be otherwise.”

“Pleeeease,” Burks interjected plaintively.

“Sorry, Chuck.”

“Why? Why was he collecting it?” she asked almost fearfully.

“Blood magic,” Mulder said simply.

“Surely you don’t believe–“ she began indignantly.

“It doesn’t matter what I believe. He believes it. That was the need he served by killing. It was his harvest at every new moon.” At her raised eyebrow, Mulder stopped and shook his head dismissively a mask of indifference covering his expression. “I’ll know more at the next new moon when he’s…deprived. I expect he’ll be much more open to interrogation then.”

After staring at his bland face for a long minute and not finding the answers she was seeking, Dr. Scully turned her attention back to the photographs. Less analytical now, but not horrified either. She, like Mulder always had, could look past the gruesome objects into which Propps had tried to make them and saw young women whose lives had been senselessly cut short. She will be good at this, Burks thought, another jolt of self-satisfaction running through him. She picked up a photograph from the last pile.

“Small mercy from such a monster,” she muttered. “But at least they had already died.”

“What? Why do you say that?” Mulder asked sharply. “What makes you say that?”

She seemed a little taken aback at his intensity, but answered him promptly. “They’re too clean. In order to drain them he is making cuts at major arterial junctions. If they’d been alive – their hearts pumping – there would be…spray. On them…on the floor.”

At his plaintive moan, Dr. Scully looked at him for what seemed like the first time in hours. “I’m sorry, Mr. Burks.”

He had just begun to enjoy the sight of her flushed face, bright eyes, mental faculties at the height of their powers, when Mulder slumped forward, his eyes closed, both arms locked, each gripping a corner of the desk, a fine sheen of sweat covered his face. “I say, Mulder, are you alright?” He was ignored.

“Are you absolutely sure, Scully?” he demanded in a low voice. “The laudanum didn’t just depress the heart’s function to a rate that…”

“No, I’m sure of it. Even with a slower heartbeat the pressure in the veins would have forced the serum out at an uncontrollable level. Without special equipment to gather it, he-he would have lost part of his…his harvest,” she finished with a hard swallow.

Mulder stood up, threw his head back and released one long controlled breath. When he looked up again his face was relaxed in a way Burks had not seen in weeks. With a faint bitter smile, he bent down to speak directly to her as though there were no one else present to hear.

“Do you realize that if I had had a trained pathologist on call, Kersh would have had to allow me access to those bodies sooner? That if you had been consulting with me for the past month we might have saved her?” he asked quietly, tapping the last pile of photographs with one slow finger.

“I don’t deal in counterfactuals, Mr. Mulder,” she replied simply, but not unkindly. “The world as it is provides me with fodder for grief enough.”

“Well, then you leave that part of the work to me,” he replied with a smirk. “The job is yours if you want it, Dr. Scully.”

Chapter Text

Jefferson Medical College

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Sept. 11, 1893

12:30 p.m.

 

Dana Scully’s brain chanted the battlefield hospital mantra drilled into her head in her first triage lesson by a grey-haired veteran nurse named Mrs. Eudora Wicks as she made her way up the steps of the august Greek edifice behind which resided Dr. Daniel Waterson’s educational offices. That elderly dame, who openly dipped snuff and had a ready answer for every nervous inquiry from her timorous first years, referred obliquely and darkly to the days spent in the surgical tents after Antietam only on rare occasion, but every hour of it was ingrained in her deeply lined face.

“Clamp it off. Cut it off. Cauterize and move on.” Breathe. “Clamp it off. Cut it off. Cauterize and move on.”

Once, Dana dared ask her instructress about that mad, red-soaked time which gave birth to this seemingly heartless prescription that purposefully left so many young men feeling less than a man, less than a human being. Mrs. Wicks had turned to her with soft grey eyes still capable of hurt and said simply, “A man and a soul can survive without a limb, but you lose the soul and the man if he loses too much blood. He can choose ‘live’ or ‘die’ with no leg or arm to animate, but if I’m slow, he has no choice. There was many a soldier who cursed the doctor – cursed me – for giving him that choice and not letting the Minié ball decide. But how can you call yourself a healer not give it? I’m not God on his throne and neither is the doctor, though many think differently, as you will learn, Miss Scully.”

Dana raised a hand to knock at the frosted glass behind which Daniel waited, hardly cognizant of the journey she’d made to reach that point. He was expecting her. She sensed his impatient, fitful movements just beyond; her brief, business-like note had been delivered. Thank God his personal secretary was away to lunch.

“Clamp it off. Cut it off. Cauterize and move on,” she repeated under her breath. Ahab, if he indeed looked on from heaven, would approve her actions. This she knew in her bones, in her flesh. Forgive me, father…for I have sinned.

She’d lost enough blood, she thought, a bitter grimace twisting her full lips as she waited for the door to open. It was time for this to stop. God had given her a choice and she was making it.

 

 

Moyamensing Prison

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Sept. 11, 1893

12:35 p.m.

 

“Why, Monty? Why take all their blood?” Mulder pressed the question through the bars, sounding calmer than he felt.

Propps was agitated enough as was. No need to work him into more of a frenzy. Mulder’s guess about the murderer’s obsession reaching its peak at the new moon had been depressingly accurate. But, watching Propps hitch up and down his cell in a barely restrained passion, Mulder silently admitted he miscalculated by waiting until the second day of the phase. The inmate might have been more lucid yesterday when the light of the orb was first covered. Now, he appeared in a veritable fever of lust with nothing and no one on which it expend it. Periodically when his muddy eye made contact with Mulder’s he’d stop pacing and, as though unaware of his actions, plow his nails up and down the bare skin of his forearms, licking away the ooze in the wake of his fingers. The stenographer had eased away from Mulder’s side so the cell’s occupant could no longer see him – and vice versa.

“According to its practitioners, those seeking to use magicks need only a small amount of the blood of their…subjects. For a healing…or to work a vengeance,” he paused leaving the possibilities dangling there. He thought it unlikely Propps knew these young women. They were chosen by this man, described by his associates as an all-round unremarkable, mousy cleric, for a particular set of traits, he believed, not randomly from a circle of acquaintances or chance encounters. Still with a court stenographer on hand to catch every word, he did not want to lead his subject, he just wanted to let him know he was dealing with someone who could understand. Understand…

In an instant the whole scene, the dank stink of unwashed skin, seeping mortar, and soured food made more pungent by the oppressive weight of men’s desperation seemed concentrated in the sole person standing opposite this iron cage. His wild hair, gaunt frame and wolf-like snarl were forced on Mulder’s senses as a singular impression without parts to dismantle and analyze or layers to dig through.

Mulder knew it. Monty Propps was dying. And in the deepest shadow nights their cosmos could offer he’d sought to exchange his death for theirs.

 

Jefferson Medical College

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Sept. 11, 1893

12:45 p.m.

 

“Too much has changed since you left this summer…. I-I’ve had to make some decisions. And I've decided we should no longer see each other – at all.”

Dana kept her feet, stayed in motion, and purposefully chose not to use Waterson’s given name. He on the other hand showed no compunction about throwing hers around as soon as she’d entered his office – as though he had claimed her, owned her.

Small mercy, but after his first attempt to corner her failed, he made no others. That was not Daniel’s way. He much preferred her to come penitent to him, child-like, begging forgiveness, admitting her mistake. Weakened.

Daniel leaned on the edge of his desk, arms folded across his chest, and listened to her lay out her case, shaking his head occasionally at points he found failing on logic or short on vital information. The consulting pathologist job she’s been offered by Mr. Mulder earned a dismissive snort and not one scintilla of curiosity, so she did not bother to elaborate. Besides, some part of her wanted to keep that tentative arrangement separate from this horrid mess at all costs. Tempted as she was to bolt as soon as she had finished, Dana waited, knowing from experience that if he were not given his full and fulsome rebuttal time, she would never hear the end of the matter. This counted as clamping off the flow of blood from the artery.

Arguments marshaled, Daniel began his own campaign, not realizing that his battle was already lost. Had he always been this poor at reading her? She had not come here a neglected lover, looking for reassurances of his affection and regard, teasing just a bit of tacit extortion to better her position under his patronage. That he believed all of this of her was proof enough she was making the right choice. Starting from the position of ‘student’ was bad enough, shifted from there to ‘dependent hanger-on’ was a niche she was determined never to fill.

“Dana, I don’t think you’ve thought this through. Leaving the resources of the college means all your hard work will go to waste. Here at least, you might supervise the nursing school, continue to practice at the dispensary. You have no practice to go to. It will mean an end to your career.”

“You’re confusing two separate issues. It is our personal relationship that’s over. My career is my affair. The fact that the two can no longer exist side by side is because you refuse to accept that. I’ve tried over the past month to make this work on a professional level, but you’ve made it…impossible. This has to end now,” she was proud that her voice did not betray her sorrow or anger. Heaven help her if she showed any real feeling.

“After what’s passed between us, Dana, how can you say that? Did it mean nothing to you? Do I mean nothing to you?” His deep, confident voice that which she had found so attractive when she barely knew him, still fanned an ember deep inside her, but no longer of admiration or yearning – now it only fed her banked down anger. That she would forever refuse to tell him its source only made it worse. Someday, someday soon, she would have to find a way to pour that poison out of her or die of it. But not today.

“Far more than you know – now and for the rest of my life. But it’s over now.” This was cutting off the useless limb.

Of course, he heard the first half of what she said, but not the second, taking her admission as some sort of signal she could be cajoled, persuaded – a child-like ninny who could not see the world for what it was or willfully did not care. It was as if intimacy had erased all that he learned through study, through the work. Her lips twisted in a bitter smile. Now that he knew her, he didn’t even know her.

Daniel stood, unfolded his arms and advanced two steps. “Don’t be hasty or foolish, Dana. Darling, come here. I can make this work.” For all his professorial posing, she could see his famously rock steady hands were shaking. Something inside, even if he would not acknowledge it, had realized he had lost what he wanted, what he thought belonged to him.

Evading his embrace, she almost made the mistake of laughing. This morning as she dressed in her small cramped rooms, sat on the trolley, marched up the stairs here she had had almost convinced herself that a fool instead of an honorable woman had made this appointment – a pathetic heartsick fool feeding a last wish to see him. But now that she stood here on trembling knees, her emotions floating just beneath the surface of her skin, so desperate to say the right thing and so fearful of any overeager sycophant bursting in with a half-baked claim on his time before this was resolved, pushing away the day of reckoning yet again, she realized it was something less pitiful and less worthy. She wanted to hurt him just as indelibly as he had her. But what would that solve? What would it heal?

“No. I told you last month I will not come to you again. I can’t help that you refuse to take my word when I’ve never lied to you.” Something in his face broke at the angry indignation in hers. His superior veneer was slipping. “Listen, listen to me. I’m leaving. I’m not changing my mind. That’s all. I’d hoped we could part friends, but you don't even respect me enough to--” This must be cauterization. It hurt so badly.

“How dare you do this to me?” he demanded. “How can you be this cruel, Dana? You’ve never been this willfully stupid--” he ground out between clenched jaws, seizing her wrist and arm in a two-handed vise, halting her march toward the door. “What’s happened? Tell me the truth! Did Barbara’s dear “Father Frick” scare you or buy you off this summer while she conveniently removed me from town? What price did you place on my love?”

Quickly and without fanfare she did just as Jack taught her, bringing her boot heel down solidly on his instep. With a yelp he unclamped his hands and staggered back, half-limping.

“I’m glad you remember her,” she said softly, her voice shaking with suppressed outrage. Then taking a deep breath she returned to the farewell she’d scripted alone in her rooms this morning. “You have a wife and children. Take care of them. Take care of yourself, Daniel. Goodbye.” And this, at last, was moving on.

Shutting his door behind her Dana made good her escape, giving tight-lipped nods to the familiar faces she passed in the hallway and staircases. It was not until she breathed the open air that she tentatively rubbed her wrist where he’d ground her bones together, where she’d broken free of his hold. She didn’t want to believe he’d intended to hurt her, just like she didn’t want to believe she’d intended to hurt him, but whether or no she would feel a phantom pain for some time to come.

 

Moyamensing Prison

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Sept. 11, 1893

12:55 p.m.

 

Mulder just kept his face from twisting in disgust, his bland mask plastered in place, but something in his affect must have shifted enough to alert Propps that his histrionics had found a target. He began to chant – some mishmash of Latin, Greek and just enough English to spook the neighboring inmates – calling upon the Unseen and, in this case, the Unhearing because the door to his cell, the bars on his windows remained firmly in place despite his petitions.

“Are you getting this?” Mulder asked the stenographer who had taken a few more steps back and whose shaking pencil was making signs that were definitely not approved in the Pitman system.

“Y-yes, sir,” the young man answered. “I studied Classics as a boy.”

“Good,” said Mulder, turning reluctantly back to his subject.

“Past, present and future are mine to command,” Propps was declaring with pathetic grandiosity, having apparently run out of suitable black Sabbath invocations. He waved his torn shirtsleeve arms and tossed his unkempt ash blond hair, snapping his sinewy neck from side to side like a man possessed. Soon he would be able to do nothing with him. Mulder drew nearer the bars, his voice low and confidential.

“What was it, Monty? A healing? Were you trying to remove a death? A death foretold?”

That seemed to get Propps’ attention. He stopped his cavorting and propelled himself at the bars and near Mulder’s face, creating a dull clang when his whole body hit the barrier. Refusing to flinch or withdraw, Mulder waited silently.

“I could feel…their pulse at the waning,” he declared breathily. “Getting stronger, fiercer. So full, so alive, pressing in every limb. Wanting to be used up, decanted, drunk.”

“On their natal day…” Mulder posited still in that low intimate tone, not noticing that the stenographer was cutting looks at him with as much trepidation has he had Propps moments ago.

“Yessssss,” he hissed, his dull eyes alight now with an acolyte’s fire. “That should have been foretold too, but the fool did not – could not see it. The death he foretold was not mine.”

Mulder made a mental note to find out who Propps’ physician was and exactly when his diagnosis had been made, but he was guessing it had been early in the New Year, February at the latest. There would have been sufficient time for Propps to fish through all the records on file at the employment agency where he worked to discover those young women with birthdays matching his lunar cycle.

His subject continued without urging, mesmerized by the changing landscape of his companion’s silver grey, now green, now hazel eyes. “The Ides of March did not bring the death foretold, nor any of the ides that followed. I was granted life and they – they were all laid out before me, to select as I pleased. Sacrifices for the master – a life-giving elixir for me. And at the end of the cycle the death would be removed. Morningstar at his most brilliant would be appeased and I would receive my reward.”

“Life eternal on earth…”

“…in his service. You must let me continue,” he panted. “The pattern is set. The cycle only half complete! I know her name and address,” he proclaimed proudly, urgently. “It’s not far from here, but it must be tonight!”

“I think you’ll be joining Morningstar long before he is ascendant,” Mulder said confidentially and in such a mild tone it took Propps a few moments to realize his petition had been rebuffed. “And mercy is not a quality for which he’s known.”

It was fortunate that the stenographer chose that moment to drop his pencil and snatch at Mulder’s sleeve, pulling him to the side, otherwise he was not sure he could have backed away fast enough to evade Propps’ bruised and bloodied hands shooting through the bars to claw at his eyes. As it was he escaped with a single, long, deep scratch.

“Monty,” Mulder tutted disapprovingly, sitting on the filthy floor, dabbing at his left cheekbone with his handkerchief as his subject wailed his frustrations and beat his fists against the bars. “And after all we’ve shared.” The stenographer chuffed out a relieved breath, shook his head, and pried his eyes open wide behind his round wire rimmed spectacles as though trying to wake from a bad dream.

“Thank you.” Mulder turned to the stenographer, unfolding and raising himself from the ground in one lithe movement. “I am much obliged. Fox Mulder,” he said, extending his hand in recognition.

“You’re welcome,” the man replied with a nervous snort, formally shaking Mulder’s hand as though he suspected an elaborate joke were being played on him. “Maximillian Fenig.”

 

242 Melville Street

Sept. 14, 1893

5:24 p.m.

 

Mulder was just immersing himself in the schematics Frohike had dropped off the day before when he felt a hand alight on his shoulder. Hard as he tried to control the impulse, he reared back in his chair and threw his head to the side – only to turn and see Iris giving him her sternest, most worried look.

“Calm yourself, Mr. Mulder, or I’ll begin slipping drams of whiskey into your coffee of a morning and evening.”

“Don’t you dare,” he growled, his tone threatening, but his face relieved. “Can’t stand the stuff. To what do I owe the pleasure? By the way, shouldn’t you be at home by now?”

“I’ve never met a man who wanted less looking after instead of more,” she remarked equably. “You have a respectable lady guest,” she continued jerking her chin toward the closed sliding doors. “So I’m staying. Dr. Scully is in the front parlor. I knew you wouldn’t hear her knock.”

“Why didn’t you say so?” he demanded mildly. “She needs to see this. Show her in and brew up some coffee – tea, whatever she prefers. Just no whiskey!” he called at her retreating back while trying to arrange the plans – room by room – in a logical progression, something he suspected the good doctor would appreciate. He had to admit, hard as it was for someone who was adept at predicting people’s thoughts and actions, that Dr. Scully baffled him on occasion. Though their acquaintance was short he usually didn’t have this much difficulty sussing out what made a person tick. But he also had to admit that he found the puzzle she presented charming, if a little unsettling, until he reminded himself that it was beyond rude to apply the same techniques used in criminal investigations to a colleague.

“Dr. Scully, I am glad you could come on such short notice,” he said rising from his chair briefly in welcome, his eyes still on the drawings. “I’ve reached the point when I knew I should consult a trained…” he stopped mid-sentence upon seeing her carefully composed face, the rigid posture of her body. “Is everything alright?”

She seemed taken aback at his question and shook her head at though he were speaking nonsense. “Yes, of course, Mr. Mulder. I came in answer to your letter, and the telephone message, and the note delivered this afternoon....” she trailed off dryly. “But it sounds to me that what you plan would come at great expense and I wonder whether you have fully considered other options.”

“Are you sure you’re alright? If you feel unwell we can do this at some other—“ He had no idea why he continued babbling in this vein when it was clear from her annoyed expression that she had no intention of admitting the slightest weakness.

“I’m fine, Mr. Mulder. Now would you care to show me what you intend doing?” she asked, stepping fully into the room while removing her hat and setting it aside. She alighted on the very edge of one of the dining room chairs a few place settings away from him as though she might fly at any moment. With an unconvinced shrug and an acquiescent nod in her direction, Mulder dove in.

“Well, as I stated in my letter and note – it might also have been mentioned in passing on the telephone – I intend putting the house next door to a more practical use in the service of my investigations now that the howling wolf pack has vacated the premises—“

“Praise be for that!” Iris interjected sailing into the room with a laden tray which she set down between them. “You should have seen the filthy den they left behind! At least I can hear myself think again. Dr. Scully, those are the cucumber sandwiches you liked so well last time,” she finished, managing somehow to combine a business-like and motherly tone, before sailing back out conspicuously leaving the sliding wooden doors open.

Undistracted, Mulder continued, “—I plan to repurpose the entire first floor for medical consultation and pathological investigation. Under this scheme the front parlor would become the consulting room cum library cum office. The dining room will be the autopsy bay. The kitchen would remain the kitchen since the autoclave really should be more convenient to the autopsy or surgical area. Of course the entire space will have to be furbished with an examination table, instrument storage, possibly a large refrigeration compartment for preserving…specimens before and after examination. I think the walk in pantry could be repurposed for that…just a question of drainage and creating an airtight seal around the door, really. What do you think?”

“I think this will be very expensive,” Dr. Scully replied though her eyes had widened appreciatively at the plans Frohike had proposed for the space and even wider at the equipment list. Mulder refrained from mentioning that he had had Frohike sneak photographs of several facilities in the city before drawing up this design. “Would it not be easier and more economical for me to schedule time at the college's dissection rooms? By this scheme you’ll be losing both lease income and laying out a considerable investment in equipment. Surely the police don’t pay you so well as to cover this kind of expense.”

“Perhaps more economical, but much less convenient,” Mulder remarked.

“But all the…the autoclave listed here, for example. You will have to send to Germany for that. I’ve never even used one!”

“Seems simple enough in principle,” Mulder remarked dryly, deliberately misunderstanding her. “I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it without too much study. You’re not drinking your tea.” Distracted, still reading through his list, she absently sipped at her cup, then slapped it down abruptly again.

“And all the instruments…these have to be hand forged, you know. You can’t pick them up at a local hardware store.”

“You don’t carry a full set of surgical knives and forceps in your reticule, do you? Saws and all?” Mulder asked, amused.

“I have a pocket case I keep in my medical bag,” she replied haughtily, ignoring his widening smile. “My point is, you don’t seem to realize the cost of what you propose is unnecessary. I can manage—“

“What you don’t seem to realize is that I don’t want you to have to ‘manage’. The work we do together must be fully documented because it will be scrutinized by everyone from the police chief downtown to psychological experts and criminologists in Europe. We will be contributing to a body of knowledge that is thus far very small. For that reason and others, our standards must be of the highest. No one should be able to cast doubt on our findings for any petty reason…a break in the chain of evidence, an unrefrigerated specimen or the lack of a single Erlenmeyer flask. They will have to argue from the facts. It’s important.”

She seemed taken aback, blinking at him slowly. “You intend to publish…”

His brows drew together in a puzzled frown. “Of course I intend to publish – with your participation, of course. I can’t speak to your scientific findings. That will be your responsibility. Mine will be to perform the psychological analysis and research. Am I mistaken? I’ve read some of your work.” He nodded toward a bulging folder at the far corner of the table. “I assumed you wouldn’t be averse to sharing your conclusions with the scientific or law enforcement communities.”

“No – no, not at all,” she stammered, the smallest of quavers in her voice, her eyes cast down. “It’s just…I never expected….” After a moment she collected herself. “Still investigating me, Mr. Mulder?” she asked almost sharply, half reaching toward the folder.

“Chuck sent me a copy of your thesis last week.” Now he was the one feeling abashed. “I liked it so I asked for additional examples of your research.” He did not mention that he’d also felt he owed Max Fenig some extra piece work for having braved the Propps situation with so little fuss. It turned out that Max much preferred copying medical monographs to taking down a madman’s rantings word for word. “You write well so I assumed you enjoy it,” he finished lamely.

“I do.” Was that some color at last spreading across the apple of her cheek?

“Well…good then. As for this,” he said waving his hand dismissively over the plans littering the table, “You needn’t concern yourself with outlay. The start of every new venture requires some form of investment, monetary being the least onerous, and if having a modern facility in which to work will remove Mr. Kearsh’s objections to our consultations, it will be money well spent.”

“Very well, if you insist.”

“I do. While we are on the subject,” he began, suddenly feeling that his assumption that, for convenience sake, she would choose to work next door was vastly overstepping her boundaries – boundaries that he was coming to understand were very high, deeply founded and surrounded by wide moats filled with ravenous creatures. “Once the renovations are complete, I would like to offer the house next door as offices for your regular practice. That is…I mean, if you are not already under obligation to another lease…I would be grateful if you would consider it – for the sake of our collaboration.”

“Mr. Mulder,” her mellow voice was doubtful, almost reproving, but at the same time he could not be mistaken about the flare of eagerness in her eyes. Then he realized she was scanning him – that was the only way he knew how to describe it. Scanning him for…what? Whatever it was, it appeared she could not find it. Her fine brows drew together in a puzzled frown and her full mouth had drawn up into a confused grimace, teetering on the edge of laughter, outrage or tears; he couldn’t tell which. “That would not be—“

“Convenient for you, I realize that. Certainly not at first. It’s true the number of patients you would attract out here would not initially outnumber those at your offices on Washington, but your fees from the police work should be enough to offset your losses…”

“Mr. Mulder, are you real?” she asked under her breath with exasperated amusement. Though nothing so frivolous could actually be heard, he sensed laughter was winning out. This was a reaction with which he was familiar.

“In what sense, Dr. Scully?” he asked, returning her reluctant smile. “Surely Chuck was kind enough to warn you. I am an impatient, headstrong man, but not without my reasons.”

“This I have observed, Mr. Mulder,” she responded dryly. “I suppose I was asking whether you are sincere. Forgive me,” she rushed on. “I don’t mean to offend, but you don’t seem to realize that offers this generous between a man and woman who barely know each other are very rare. Or do you?”

Pinned under her blue sky gaze, Mulder shrugged, assuming a casualness he only partially felt. “Were you not just fretting about economy, Dr. Scully? Surely to leave these rooms empty and unused a good portion of the time would be wasting a valuable resource?”

Lips pursed and brows quirked at his evasion she waited for him to elaborate which for some strange reason he felt compelled to do.

“What I propose is a professional partnership, Dr. Scully, nothing more,” he said bluntly. “I realize I am doing so on very short acquaintance – before a trust has been established – but only because the work is urgent. See here, we can stipulate at the outset that should the situation become uncomfortable for either of us, the lease agreement and the partnership can be dissolved in such a way as to give you time to set up your offices elsewhere before vacating these premises. Would that be acceptable? I mean, if you’re worried about the look of the thing,” he continued glancing toward the open doors half expecting his housekeeper to appear at the thought. “I can ask Iris to move in here and –“

He broke off when he noticed the unflappable Dr. Scully blushing extravagantly, wave after wave of color washing over her ivory cheeks, tinting them a delicate pale rose. Oh, what had he done now? He sped through the possibilities. One, she was insulted at his insistence that his offer was purely professional. Phoebe had taught him well enough that no matter what the stage or state of the acquaintance, no woman likes to hear that a man finds her unattractive. Two, he’d suggested a quick legal solution rather than allowing her time and space to get to know him and make up her own mind. Three, she thought he was attempting to coerce her into agreeing by reminding her of the gravity of the work. He wondered if it was too late to ask Chuck back here to interpret.

“No, Mr. Mulder, that won’t be necessary.” Now she sounded as well as appeared completely flustered. “I appreciate your candor and I’m sorry I had to ask, but…. I mean, I see the logic in what you’re suggesting and I’d have to be an idiot to turn down offices so well equipped. It’s…look, I’m not some ninny worried about her reputation. Please don’t think that. It’s not the appearance of the thing that concerns me, but the reality. I want this partnership – this opportunity – but I need to know I can make a change if I have to. Your plan solves that problem. Don’t bother Iris with this, please.”

Mulder’s face slowly cleared and then clouded again as she stumbled through her explanation and it dawned that her concerns had almost nothing to do with him.

‘Stop it,’ he reproved himself silently. ‘It’s none of your business.’

Wisely, Mulder didn’t mention that he’d intended to offer the rooms to her gratis. Instead he quoted her a rent somewhat lower than he had charged the Peacocks. Dr. Scully counter-offered with a rent somewhat higher, pointing out that this would be a place of professional practice, not merely a residence. He in turn highlighted the less than ideal location while she mentioned the convenience of the trolley line. And so they went, each bargaining against his or her self-interest for a few minutes more until they at last agreed on a number that was mere pennies off the Peacock’s lease.

“That’s it then,” he said with a satisfied huff, feeling a relief much stronger than the situation warranted wash from the base of his neck to his belly. “I’ll have Byers draw up an agreement tomorrow.” At her wide-eyed expression, Mulder continued, “That will give you plenty of time to review it and make whatever changes are necessary before the refitting is complete.” Then rushing to get past this latest awkwardness, “I would appreciate it if in the meantime you check in periodically to make sure that the examination room, the fittings and equipment meet best practice standards.” He rose from his chair and moved toward her, extending his hand along with with a tentative smile. “I look forward to our association, doctor.” Then stopped stock still at the horrified expression that came over her face.

“My God, Mulder, what happened to you?” she demanded hoarsely, rising and meeting him halfway.

“What?” he asked nonplussed, realizing seconds later that his position at the far end of the dining table had cast half his face in shadow so she hadn’t yet seen Propps’ parting memento. “Oh, that. It’s nothing.”

“Nothing if you don’t mind carrying a scar,” she reproved raising a hand toward his eye, his cheek. “Has this been treated? Let me see.”

Mulder barely restrained himself from flinching back from her as violently as he had Iris earlier, but the sight of a purple-green thumb print on the underside of her wrist froze him to the spot. At first it looked like a hole in her arm; it was so dark against the pale skin. Then he saw it was accompanied by waning gibbous and crescent moon bruises lined up along the delicate blue vein trailing beneath her sleeve into shadow.

Mulder did not touch her, knowing in his gut that would be an irretrievable mistake. She needed to be resilient, capable, in control because whoever had hurt her was trying to make her fragile and weak. If she could bear through so calmly then the least he could do was be the object of her strength.

Still it was all too much, too soon: Propps’ meticulous calendar of sacrifices, Victim Number 6, the ever present, crushing fear he might always be too late. In that instant Mulder wanted to retreat from everyone and everything almost as much as he wanted to snatch her up and hide her until he had pounded the face of whomever had inflicted this pain to a bloody pulp. But he did neither. He merely nodded his assent, letting out a long shaky breath and dropping into the nearest chair while she sped from the room to retrieve her bag from the parlor. He fixed his gaze to the tops of his shoes even after she had returned and began rummaging through it for some ointment or other, convinced he had seen enough to last him for a good long while.

Then her cool small fingers were under his chin, tilting the left side of his face toward the light while her other hand smoothed down the length of the scratch, assessing it before reaching again into her bag. It all would have been oddly pleasant if in the next moment she wasn’t swabbing out the wound with some liquid causing his cheek to burn like hell fire.

“Ow! Scully!” he exclaimed pulling back. “What is that?”

“Shush. It’s only ethanol. You should approve, a man so eager to send off to Germany for the latest in sterilization equipment. Now hold still.” She swabbed the scratch again with something much cooler and he settled back down under her ministrations. “Dare I ask how you got this?” she asked so softly she sounded as though she were talking to herself.

“Mr. Propps was expressing his disappointment that he was not going to be released from 11 Street Dock on his own recognizance,” he replied blandly, closing his eyes. It was hard to concentrate on anything tangible while her hands were on him.

“Was he? And you were close enough that he could express himself so directly?”

“As it happened, yes.”

“Humph,” she grunted noncommittally. Mulder found himself staring directly into her eyes as she bent down over him, one dainty index finger bearing a dab of yellowish salve she proceeded to press into the wound. Just for a moment, delving into that concerned and chagrined bottomless blue he lost voice. When he found it, it came out sounding much lower and slower than he’d intended, as though he were talking in his sleep.

“Out with it, Scully. This partnership will accomplish nothing without candor.”

“What’s done is done. But next time take me with you so I can stop you doing anything so foolish as taunting a lunatic in his cell. Otherwise you stand to lose an eye or worse.”

“I wasn’t taunting him,” he shot back indignantly, then recalling how the scene unfolded. “…exactly.”

“Um-huh,” she doubted briefly. “Candor, Mr. Mulder, remember? Stop shaving, at least this side of your face, for a few days, you’re only irritating the wound and keeping it from healing.” Now his left cheek which had grown crusty and stiff over the last few days was tender all over again, but different. It felt clean, purified. He didn’t stop to examine the sensation, instead he chose to rediscover that playful gleam he’d detected in the depths of her eyes on the day they met.

“Walk about with a half beard, doctor? But my sartorial elegance is my only charm. At least that’s what the ladies tell me,” he smirked lopsidedly. His reward was a slight twitch at the corner of her mouth and the ascent of a single eyebrow.

“How disappointing for you,” she commiserated dryly. “But to be fair, I can see how they might think so.”

“Well, I’ll have no difficulty following your advice for the next few days, Dr. Scully. Traipsing through the New Jersey Pine Barrens doesn’t require the finest grooming.” He was doing his damnedest not to draw attention to the fact that she was still standing close, fingertips resting lightly on his shoulder, soothing him, grounding him.

“What’s in the Pine Barrens?” she asked, trying to sound casual and failing.

“A bat-winged demon,” Mulder intoned in a mock mysterious voice. “With the head of a bovid and two hoofed feet.”

“You can’t be serious,” she said flatly, as though expecting him to laugh and admit that he was joking.

“What? You’ve never heard of the Leeds Devil?”

“As a story to frighten small children into behaving, yes.” she replied, at last realizing her position and stepping back to a respectable distance.

“The Society for Psychical Research has asked that the recent sightings be verified by a trained investigator. I am a member of the society and their man in this region. I may have neglected to mention that before. Chuck didn’t…?”

“Mr. Burks did, but I didn’t think he was serious,” she said with a reproving frown. “Surely a man such as yourself has better things to do with his time and energy than chase through the woods after creatures from local folklore.”

Mulder shrugged as though indifferent to her scorn. “At least this will keep me out of your way while the lab and bay are being set up. Construction always gives me the jitters. Can’t concentrate.”

“And why is the Society for Psychical Research suddenly so interested in a legend dating back to Benjamin Franklin’s time?” she asked repacking her medical bag with smooth efficiency.

“Dr. Scully,” he breathed with delighted surprise. “For a skeptic you seem remarkably well informed about this particular legend. Did you have to be frightened into behaving as a small child?”

She favored him with a gimlet-eyed stare and ignored the question. “I have an aunt with a subscription to the Library Company. Books, not devils, were my childhood companions, Mr. Mulder. I read about it.”

“I see,” he said, as his unruly imagination began constructing a childhood for her. ‘Stop it,’ he warned himself again. ‘Not enough data.’ Nevertheless his mind’s eye pictured her quite clearly, a fiery-haired Thumbelina tucked up in the corner of a window seat surrounded by oiled leather and paper companions, arming herself with the knowledge that would one day make her size moot. But even now, as well armored as she was, Scully was still curious and Mulder could never resist challenging blindly accepted ‘facts’.

“To answer your question, the society is looking for solid evidence – or solid refutation – of reports of paranormal phenomena. No proof of genuine phenomena will be accepted by the wider scientific community unless hoaxes and frauds are dismissed. Allow one exception – one Cardiff Giant, one phosphorous covered spectral hand rising through a hole in the table, one huckster, or one hysteric -- and the whole enterprise becomes fruitless. All paranormal reports will be tarred with the same brush. That is why a good investigation is required.”

“Your society’s position is unassailable, admirable, and if adhered to will lead to its own demise, if you ask my opinion,” she remarked matter-of-factly, almost sadly. It seemed that something about an organization dedicated to weeding out truth from falsehood appealed to her. Was it possible she might be interested…? “But surely two-legged, bat-winged, goat-headed demons are safely assigned to the hokum bin without great investment of time or energy.” Then again, maybe not.

“Two weeks ago I might have agreed with you, but…excuse me for just a moment, Dr. Scully. I'll be right back,” he said, holding up a finger to pause the conversation, unwilling to give up on the idea just yet. Still holding up his finger Mulder bolted into his office to locate the letter he had received last week and the telegrams he’d received today – one from the society’s office in New York and two from Atlantic City. In the hall he caught Iris peeking into the dining room. “More tea, please, Iris,” he asked hastily. “Hot tea.”

Looking not the least embarrassed at having been caught snooping on their guest, Iris nodded her assent and favored him with a satisfied smile before retreating to the kitchen to put the kettle on. Returning Mulder found Scully seated again at the table, sipping at her cold cup and nibbling at a cucumber sandwich. Color was at last lingering in her cheek and her posture was relaxed in a way he would have thought impossible given her state when she’d first arrived. But most importantly, Dr. Dana Scully did not look annoyed and she did not look bored.

He laid the documentation on the table in front of her like an offering. Of course, he could not wait for her to read the material herself before diving in. “There have been eight reported sightings of something out of the usual way of the native flora and fauna of the Pine Barrens in the past month. Something dark furred or skinned, abnormally large, swift on the ground, and capable of taking flight when surprised. Its call is described as sounding like the cross between a crying infant and a howling wolf.”

“Certainly it was dark. How reliable can the ‘sightings’ be when they all occurred in the middle of the night?” she demanded, rapidly scanning the pages of cramped handwriting in front of her. “Besides, eagles are native to that area and—“

“Are daylight predators,” Mulder countered. “Are they not? And not noted for their ability to run swiftly on land.”

“I was merely giving your witnesses the benefit of the doubt,” Scully said dryly. “What’s much more likely is that…wait.” The second Atlantic City telegram had finally caught her attention. “You didn’t say children had been reported killed by this thing.”

“And one adult male,” Mulder affirmed soberly. “That, I’m afraid, is the reason for urgency in this investigation.”

“I should think so,” Scully said grimly. “We can’t allow someone to murder innocents and then lay the blame on some fantastic beast. No one with an enemy in or near the Barrens would be safe. What do the local authorities say?”

“As little as possible, as you can see from the sheriff’s telegram,” Mulder responded, trying to hide the genuine unbridled thrill he’d felt at her uncoerced ‘we’. Time to see how far curiosity would lead her. “He won’t tell me how thorough the examination of the bodies has been or will be or anything else about the investigations into these deaths so far. Only that no arrests have been made. A professional autopsy of one of the victims, at least, would allow us to rule out animal attack and determine whether a human agent is responsible.”

“That will be a hard line to sell, if we don’t have an invitation from the police or this Sheriff Thompson,” she responded grimly, fingernail flicking contemptuously at the corner of the terse message.

“Fortunately, the letter and that telegram come from the father of one of the children that’s been killed. He’s invited our society to help investigate his daughter’s death.”

“But this is dated…” Scully held up the first page of the letter next to the telegram, her gaze bouncing between them to be sure there was no mistake.

“That’s right,” Mulder affirmed. “His youngest daughter was killed eight days after he reported seeing the Leeds Devil.”

Chapter Text

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Sept, 15, 1893
Courier Post Delivery 11:30 a.m.

Mulder,

Just received your message and now you are not answering your telephone? Bad show, old boy. I find you the perfect pathologist and straight away you set out to ruin her reputation. You cannot take Dr. Scully to Atlantic City unescorted. I won’t stand for it. What’s more important, Mother won’t stand for it. She’s sending Holly to travel with you two on the ferry and train there and back. She’ll be carrying enough money to cover her fares, room and board. I don’t imagine the doctor needs a ladies maid, but if she at least pretends to have a female companion it will diminish the controversy. She can call her a medical assistant, nurse, whatever. Holly is a shy little thing, but a few days’ exposure to you two should toughen her up. Try not to lose her.

Chuck

Courier Post Delivery 4:30 p.m.

Chuck,

Dr. Scully has never had a servant in her life and Holly has never assisted an autopsy. It would be obvious to anyone with eyes that Holly is window dressing, thus promoting scandal, not avoiding it. I appreciate your attempt to boost my storied reputation, old friend, but I think I’ll pass.

If her colleagues (that would be you and me) don’t treat Dr. Scully like a professional, how can we expect the police to respect her or her findings? Ask your mother, the armchair suffragist, that. Besides, do you imagine I’m fool enough to try selling a chaperone to Dr. Scully as common sense? You’d be ignoring your telephone too if I let slip who set up that little charade.

A warning: if Holly appears on the ferry dock tomorrow morning, I’m sending her straight to the United States Hotel, Atlantic City for a well-deserved vacation. You can collect her there. We, on the other hand, have work to do.

I’ll telegraph when we arrive, virtues intact.

Mulder

Camden and Atlantic Railroad Line
Sept 16, 1893

Dana didn’t know whether to be relieved or insulted when Mr. Mulder dropped off to sleep no more than twenty minutes after they had settled in to their seats. Part of her was miffed at being ignored when there was so much about the case that still ought to be discussed. On the other hand her more sensible side told her he must need the rest and she certainly needed time to collect herself after the ugly scene with Bill this morning in the kitchen cum dining room of her mother’s Kensington house.

Upon reflection Dana was willing to admit that as Scully family arguments went this one was fairly tame. She just wasn’t mentally prepared for some of the barbs Bill had thrown her way even though Missy and Charlie were on her side. Mother, cautious as she was with the safety of all her children, saw the reason in Dana’s argument, though, ever the peacemaker, she expressed her support far too mildly. This naturally did not slow Bill down one damn bit as he believed all the laws of God and mankind were on his side. It wasn’t until he claimed the authority of their deceased father that things became heated.

“You take that back,” Missy hissed, interjecting herself between her youngest sister and oldest brother. “You don’t know what Da would have said or not said. He always trusted Dana. You should too!”

“I know he wanted her to stay at the hospital delivering babies like a proper Christian woman – not this other…cutting up the dead! I forbid this.”

“My bags are packed, Bill. I wasn’t asking for permission,” Scully said flatly over Missy’s shoulder, her deadpan delivery belied by the waves of crimson washing over her cheeks. For a moment she actually felt dizzy with anger and shame, a first.

That didn’t stop Charlie from chuckling loudly from his corner of the breakfast table, dabbing a bit more butter on the half biscuit he’d been contemplating for the last five minutes as the fight raged over his head and said in a tone calculated to provoke, “Billy always did forget that Starbuck was Ahab’s first mate – not his cabin boy.” After checking to see that Bill was indeed shaking like a kettle ready to boil over, he turned to Dana and gave her a sly wink.

“What do we know about this Mulder anyway?” Bill demanded from the room at large. “His intentions could be … anything!”

“Well, we know he took a vicious killer off the streets in Monty Propps and others before that.” Dana ticked off on her fingers. “We know the police chief himself calls him when his detectives can’t solve a case. We know he puts his own fortune behind his work. We know he counts Justice Burks’ son among his friends,” she continued tossing her head in Charlie’s direction for support. “Clearly a devious character.”

Much as he appeared to loathe having to ask his baby brother for confirmation, Bill turned to Charlie who nodded and shrugged simultaneously. With the brass buttons of his long policeman’s frock coat unbuttoned and out of that ridiculous hat, Dana thought he looked almost handsome with his mop of auburn curls and bright blue eyes. If he would just get rid of that orange-red moustache sitting in the middle of his face blaring like a siren she might be able to find him a dance partner at the next church social.

“It’s true. Skinner swears by him and at him. Can’t follow direction for a damn, but he has an instinct for sniffing out villains – the madder they are the easier the time he has of it, the chief says. Can get right in their heads and rearrange the furniture. All the dicks at headquarters say he’s spooky that way. If you ask me, they’re just happy he does what he does right quick and doesn’t chat with the journos because he makes them all look like fools every odd month.

“Propps will swing for sure. Mulder got him to confess all his bloody deeds with a court secretary standing right there taking down every word,” Charlie chuffed a small laugh his practiced indifference giving away momentarily to a brief huff of admiration. “Damnedest thing…”

“Charles Ian,” Maggie Scully reproved automatically. “Stop swearing.”

“Has anyone ever asked what must have gone awry in him that he can understand raving lunatics so well?” Bill demanded of his sister. “Does anyone have the sense to worry just the slightest bit about that?” This was spoken to Maggie as much as Dana, a mute appeal for her to throw her authority behind his. But her mother refused to be drawn in. Of all her children, Dana was ever the strongest, most sensible one. With or without a husband to act as final arbiter in family squabbles, she wasn’t going to begin second guessing her now.

“He’s a psychologist, Bill,” Scully answered calmly, plucking her short jacket off the back of a kitchen chair and shrugging into it, ignoring his outraged expression. Apparently he had been planning on winning this argument. “A scientist of the human mind. It’s his job to understand them.” On a similar mission, Melissa had rushed to find Dana’s hat and returned from the front room, set it expertly on her little sister’s head and slipped the long pin through the thickest part of her bun with deadly accuracy and a grin she concealed from her oldest brother behind the brim.

“If you don’t put a foot under you, you’ll miss the next street car to the docks,” Missy added giving her a supportive wink for good measure.

“Damn waste of a good education, you ask me,” Bill mumbled out, ignoring Maggie’s reproof, determined to get his last shots in. “Instead of doing God’s work caring for new life or new mothers, you’re running around chasing human monsters.”

“Two children and a man are dead,” Dana snapped back. “Do you think God cares nothing for them, for their mothers? How many more lives can we save by putting a stop to this?”

At Bill’s mutinous “Humph!” Charlie chimed in.

“Well if you ask me, I say it’s a damn shame to raise up a Scully smart enough to be two different kinds of doctor and not let her practice as she sees fit. With all that good education, Billy, I wager she knows there’s more working parts to folk than the ones that make babies – though you and Tara seem to think different.”

Maggie’s “Charles Ian!” was drowned out by Missy’s whooping laughter and Bill’s outraged bull roar. Dana shook her head, put aside her hope of one day pinning her oldest brother until he confessed he was in the wrong, and kissed her mother on the cheek, speaking directly to her, “I gave him my word that I would go. And so I am going.”

“Here’s hoping I live to see the day when you do your family the same honor,” Bill said to her retreating back as she left for the front hall. He might have achieved the same effect by simply punching her in the gut, Dana thought as she picked up her valise and stepped out the door without a backward glance.

Shaking off the lingering guilt she felt over her role in that cold parting, Dana turned her attention to the man sleeping opposite her. It was a blessing he didn’t snore, at least he hadn’t yet, she thought wryly. She eyed Mr. Mulder clinically without the fetters of modesty or good manners as his dark head lolled against the bolster with the gentle rocking of the train, exposing then hiding his healing wound to sunlight. He certainly did have a heavy beard. His prominent nose and high cheekbones had no difficulty distinguishing themselves amidst the burgeoning stubble, but his shapely, almost feminine mouth, was getting lost in the fray after only two days’ growth. The cleft in his chin had already been obliterated.

His restless energy which seemed to dominate every conscious moment had not switched off. Oh no, it had merely gone underground or under skin to be precise. Soon after falling asleep Mr. Mulder’s dark lashes began softly fluttering against his cheeks like the wings of a trapped moth as his eyes began following a play that only he could see acted rapidly on the back of his lids. From his expression it must be a tragedy. His tapered artist’s hands woven neatly over his flat stomach twitched occasionally with inchoate intent. Before closing his eyes he had considerately folded his long legs and large feet out of the way of conductors and passersby, but as a result had penned her in. There was no way she could move about the car without waking him first. She had the distinct impression that this was no accident.

The longer she stared the more frustrated she became. Dana had matched his face – feature for feature – against a gallery full of portraits in the stores of her memory to no avail. He looked like no one she had ever met before, but that annoying sense of familiarity at the edge of her awareness would not go away. Deliberately withdrawing her gaze, she trained it out the window, staring blindly at the shifting landscape in a vain attempt to clear her head and solve this problem.

Knowing she would eventually tell Missy about this feeling of hers, however illogical it was, Dana was trying to prepare her arguments in advance as a bulwark against the flood of unregulated sentiment and impractical speculation that her older sister delighted in. Missy had a knack for wheedling Dana’s worries out of her and urging her to explain each feeling to its fullest no matter how uncomfortable – the exact opposite of Dana’s natural inclination. It was a longstanding source of friction between them, and did nothing to explain why she still confided all to her big sister.

Missy was in many ways Dana’s opposite. Tall and willowy where Dana was petite and compact. Outspoken and flamboyant where she was reticent and wry. Socially and amorously adept where Dana was, despite her recent disastrous foray into intimacy, still a novice. Yet this summer she had backed Dana despite her stupid blunder, held her hand through the worst of the consequences, and swore she would take her knowledge of the entire affair to the grave. Of course she told Missy everything.

‘Yes,’ she argued with the Missy in her head, ‘He is handsome in a bewildering sort of way, but that was the not the point.’ As illogical as it was, she refused to allow this persistent sensation to be dismissed so simply and easily. There had to be a reason for it. During her training and residency she had been introduced to handsome men before, confident and intelligent men, men better suited to her physical stature and her reserved temperament, and had felt responsible to none of them. Who was this man? And why did she feel she had already failed him? Owed him a debt too great to repay?

Mulder had fully expected the rocking of the train, the ambient noise of passengers’ conversations and conductors’ questions, not to mention the stern regard of his traveling companion to keep him in the light dozing state typical of most of his rest. But even the sunlight strobing through the window was not enough to keep him skating on the surface of consciousness. He went under, sinking deep without a fight.

Propps’ cell, he thought at first, smelling the dank dimness mixed with unwashed human flesh again. Well, this should be horrible, he mused with bracing sarcasm. Blindfolded and bound, or so it seemed, he could hear and smell the substance of his dream but neither see nor touch it. And from the din of noise rushing at his unprotected head, he could distinguish only a single voice forming actual words. But he was not hearing Propps’ fevered ranting, or receiving his infected touch. Mulder’s fresh memories of Moyamensing Prison did not account for the dull clink of iron against stone or the rush of pouring water or the nearby dreadful stench of burning coals and carbonized flesh being vigorously stoked – a whoosh of sparks flying ceilingward. He realized that he was in fact bound, immobilized. It seemed to him that he should be in pain – searing pain – from his soles to his wrists, but the dream had inoculated him from all of that. He was only to witness with his ears. The reasoned but desperate voice of a woman rang out from somewhere near his naked feet, speaking so quickly Mulder had difficulty translating what she was saying, though a part of him with that nonsensical certainty of dream life knew the words well.

“Pater Sancte, Davidus est innocens haeresis. Ipse quaerit veritatem! Deus amat eum pro sua passione.”

She was answered out of the darkness by a man’s stentorian refusal whose exact phrasing he could not catch as though that person were speaking from the bottom of a nearby well. Silence reigned for one long moment as she digested his denial, but she was still there, holding onto him without touch, willing him to stay. Furiously formulating from his own antique store of Latin, Mulder was about to call to her, assure her that he was not in pain, not afraid, not now. But the dam of her own passion had already broken. He could feel her sob in his chest, the crack of her knees as they struck the flagstones beneath them.

“Pater Sancte! Et dimísit eum. Mitte illum in America. Et serviemus tibi. Obsecro, obsecro...”

Then without warning he was flung back from that place on his feet into another. Here he could see and feel, but his senses had been dulled by numbing cold air. A north wind, reenergized by the dawn’s first light and made iridescent with diamond dust, whirled around his uncovered head. His body felt weightier, older, wounded and healed time and again. In his arms he held a tiny woman barely wrapped in a hooded cloak, her cheek a colorless snowfield, her lips ice blue. In the distance the mewling protest of a small child disturbed from her rest woke the camp and competed with the creak and drag of a moored boat against the dock for his attention. But he would not be moved, not yet. Though they were both far from safe or comfortable, Mulder had the distinct and rare impression that all would be well.

A woman’s voice, different from the last, but still perfectly recognizable, vibrated into his sternum, speaking gibberish he had no difficulty understanding.

“Mae'n ddrwg bore, fy arglwydd. Ble wyt ti marchogaeth ar y fath ddiwrnod? A allaf i deithio gyda chi?”

He nodded wordlessly, digging his chin into the top of her head through the rough wool of her hood, anchored at last.

But, of course, it didn’t last. He was flung violently forward, some dim fraction of him conscious of his left leg jerking spasmodically in sleep, though it did not free him from the dream to which suddenly all his senses were focused with terrible clarity. Another dawn behind him, this one chilled and bathed in drizzling rain. He was but one of a line of grey and homespun clad men arrayed down a meandering split rail fence leading to a half regrown coppice of shrubs and young trees. Three hundred yards distant, long lines of dark and light blue marched from the west in perfect formation – Thomas’ men – as neat and relentless today as Sherman’s men had been scattered and relentless at Tunnel Hill the day before. The rising sun would be to their backs – if it ever came out – and the ground here was slightly higher than the advancing force, and the federals had no artillary backing them today, but those were their only advantages. As was the case the day before, there were simply too few of them.

But this was different, this was Sarah’s home. Knowing she lay hidden underground some hundred yards away between their thin line and the advancing federals – literally sitting atop crates of guns and kegs of powder – made his knees tremble and his bowel shake as they had not since he saw his first battle two years ago. No longer a removed observer to the events surrounding him, Mulder felt his heart race, his hands shake with pent up fear, anger, and frustration. Slipping the barrel of his rifle from between the two lowest rails he rose to a half crouch. I must be a young man now, Mulder surmised, as one sweat slick hand clutched the stock of his empty Enfield and the other lay on top of the fence preparing to spring over and onto the open stubbled field before him.

The butt of a rifle administering a sharp rap high to his calves below those trembling knees brought him back to the wet ground with a pained curse before he could attempt it. He turned with a snarl toward the man to his right who had delivered the blow. Hidden by the thick gunpowder fog and the neighboring V-shaped cubbie, his sergeant breathed just as unevenly. Mulder knew without looking that Aidan Sionnach was having none of it.

“God dammit, Sully, get your head down before I shoot you myself! Reload! Now, corporal! Or so help me…”

After two years in the volunteers, Sullivan Biddle scarcely needed to direct his hands as they sought and found the cartridge he bit open and poured down the barrel. Mulder, on the other hand was confused; his understanding of who and what he had been dealing with in these varied dreamscapes up to this point had been sure and unerring. Why did he suddenly feel so adrift, so lost? The bunker, the previous focus of all his energy, suddenly seemed less a goal to be reached more a bizarre feature of a wildly distorted landscape. He watched his hands tamping the powder and the Minié ball down with unnecessary violence, as if they belonged to a stranger.

Sullivan hissed out the side of Mulder’s mouth, “She’s out there, Aidan. I know you heard her as well as I did.” Almost out of the force of habit, he rolled onto his belly and pushed the barrel again through the rails. “That Baptist sonofabitch put the women and children in the bunker.”

“I heard; we all heard ‘em. Why do you think we’re still here? Christ! Not covering the arse end of Bragg’s flank, I can tell you that.” Then raising his voice above the din. “Ready! Aim to thin ‘em out, boys!” Mulder’s head shook in confusion so immense he was almost dizzy with it. Aidan? He knew that voice as well as his own, but it was so badly displaced that Mulder could not credit hearing it from that direction.

“We’ve got to—“ Sullivan protested, taking aim at a distant soldier who was just then leveling his weapon in their direction. To Mulder, his target didn’t look old enough to shave. Boys indeed.

“What? Lead federals right to them – and the guns? Is that your plan? Fire!” Ah, the challenge! This Mulder recognized. This was right. Exhilarated and reenergized, he pulled the trigger. His target fell.

As Mulder and Sullivan obeyed, an organized volley went off from the thirteen men remaining under his sergeant’s command, followed seconds later by the fire of the scattered remnants of other companies – all local men and boys – to their right in the scrubby trees. At the last possible moment Aidan’s barrel swung to the south and his uncanny shot unhorsed some Union colonel who had been calmly smoking a cigar, above the fray, watching the skirmish at what Sullivan was sure he thought was a safe distance four hundred yards out. A defiant cheer when up from the zig-zag fence line as the officer’s body was hauled away on a litter by his aides. Federals on the front line cried out and fell in good order and were replaced by more federals in just as good order who trudged around the fallen and continued across the field. This would never end.

“Lordly sonofabitch…high time you felt the ground under you,” Aidan muttered. “Reload!” he shouted, a man earning his future second by second.

“Aidan....” Both Sullivan and Mulder begged without words, the first for leave to do something insanely reckless and the other for a better understanding of who they were and why they were here. But they had never needed to speak to communicate, not ever.

“You see any cover out there, Sully? Wait, God dammit!” snapped Aidan, sounding as desperate as Mulder felt. “Stay with me. We take out their commanders, we thin their front line. When each man stands alone in the field...no one to shoulder him...no one ordering him...they might break...retreat to rejoin the main force. They might...”

Answering Aidan’s unspoken plea, Mulder’s arm snaked through the wooden barrier separating them, and grasped the blue diamond and chevrons on the sleeve nearest him. Apropos of nothing and probably not loud enough to be heard by anyone but himself, he whispered the only true thing he knew in the here and now, “We will live again.”

Then he was flung so far forward that he thought that they had been wrong about the federals not having artillery support and he had been blown out of position, sent flying from the impact, made lighter by the sudden loss of a limb or two.

Somehow, Mulder landed on two good feet, stomach trembling, arms shaking with mute rage, and hands still full. In one, he gripped Wilhem’s tiny sweaty fist and in the other the sleeve of his father’s coat. Tugging vainly he tried to keep Daniel from charging three SS officers who seemed determined to drag all of them out into the street. But Mulder’s strength had been severed -- between the tears flowing unchecked down his face, this unfamiliar willowy female form he now inhabited, and the sheer horror of seeing her husband Karl, unconscious and limp, dragged between two officers to a waiting truck. Over Daniel’s shoulder, he saw their neighbor Jakob Baerwald slumped on his own stoop, blood pouring from a wound on his bald pate. He was not moving.

“Paula, nimm Wilhem zurück ins Haus,” her father said in his sternest voice. But he fooled no one – not Paula or Mulder – this was not a situation that could be handled with reasoned calm. It was nothing they could control; he was as terrified and angry as she. Yet he radiated a conviction and determination that seemed to have completely deserted her.

And Mulder knew him again, leaning into Daniel’s body for strength as Paula demanded, “Wo bringst du ihn hin?”

“Dachau,” answered a dark, thin faced man with bottle green eyes and expression pulled into a perpetual smirk. “Möchten Sie sich ihn anschließen?” He looked about him for support from his comrades. Two shrugged and laughed and a third simply nodded once while deliberately lighting a cigarette under the short brim of his officer’s cap. And with that Green Eyes grabbed Paula by the collar ripping her hand from her father’s sleeve and yanked her and Wilhem down the front steps almost playfully.

“Fass meine Tochter nicht an! Hände weg von ihnen, du Hurensohn!” With that Mulder felt a strong arm encircle her waist and by brute force hoist both her and the toddler back up the steps and over the threshold of the house dumping them unceremoniously on the foyer rug.

Shocked more than frightened by the sudden violent strength his grandfather displayed Wilhem began to hiccup and wail. Regaining her feet Paula snatched the boy out of the sightline from the street and deposited him on the first landing of their staircase pressing a gentle finger over his distorted mouth to still his crying. Mulder knew this child, so like him and so beloved. At the sound of the truck pulling away, he ran for the door just as the first pistol shot rang out through the soft spring air. Two more followed and he threw himself and Paula back into the darkness.

Daniel lay at the foot of the stoop on his side, a seeping wound in his chest staining his best blue waistcoat crimson. Dimly, Mulder heard Paula scream as he tried to propel them down the steps to her father’s side, but they were both halted by the smoking muzzle of Green Eye’s pistol in her face. Beyond his twitching smirk, on the periphery, the officer was slowly holstering his sidearm while taking a long deep drag on his cigarette. Creeping across his face was a relieved expression that mimicked sexual satisfaction.

But none of that mattered, Mulder realized when he saw that Daniel’s eyes were open and fixed on them. His mouth gasped for air, but his fist curled against the pavement demanding attention. A lift of his eyebrow and his pointed gaze alone issued the sternest warning without a word spoken. ‘Stay inside. Protect yourself and the boy.’ Then a slow, gentle blink bestowed the twin gifts of pride and love.

“Lass mich zu ihm gehen!” Paula begged Green Eyes, then shouted around him. "Papa, warte auf mich!" His lungs pumping as though trying to breathe for two, Mulder wondered why in these tortured dreamscapes he was not granted the power to jump into another body at will. He needed to feel their blood pumping out with Daniel, emptying with him, cooling with him. He should not be alone now. Not ever. But he was. Singly entering the darkness. As Daniel released his last breath, Mulder keened with her but Paula's next question was his. “Warum hast du uns das angetan?”

His smirk now pulled into a moue of disgust for his prey's bad form in dying so quickly, Green Eyes shrugged, tiring of the game, but kept his gun leveled on them. “Es ist deine Schuld,” he reasoned condescendingly. “Du hättest nicht als Jude geboren werden dürfen oder einen Kommunisten geheiratet haben. Jetzt geh ins Haus und schließ die Tür oder deine Sohn ist der Nächste.” He waved the barrel meaningfully at the chubby, tear-streaked face now peering around the door frame at the still form of his opa.

Mulder turned, dragged with Paula back across the threshhold, between the darkness and Wilhem. But his eyes stayed fixed on the night, on their enemies, even as he felt the small warm body of the child press against her chill leg. Paula shot the bolt and peered through the door's small glass pane as Daniel’s body was dragged to a pile of broken men from their street, dumped beside Herr Baerwald. Shaking with reaction, fighting to breathe through tears Paula would periodically lift her aching eyes from her father's tranquil face, to the distant, glinting outline of the Queen of Heaven standing high on her pedestal, a crescent moon pinned beneath her foot, holding a child to her breast as below her the beasts of pestilence, war, and famine were slain.

“Nur nicht heute Abend,” she whispered with bitter sarcasm, her breath hitching painfully, verging on hysteria. Half hysterical himself and entirely gutted, Mulder was no help to Paula at all. His cursed memory merely supplied the other name for the gilded statue of her city that she had once admired: Virgin and Child of the Apocalypse.

Slowly, as one, clutching Wilhem to their chest, they sank to the floor unconscious.

Please, no more, he thought wearily, as he felt another push forward but this time light surrounded him on all sides reminding him of all the anecdotal accounts of people who claim to have died and been revived. The air was clear of sulfurous burn of gunpowder and the coppery tang of blood. All had been bathed in carbolic acid, scrubbed to within an inch of its life. Strange machinery hissed and buzzed and beeped all around him. Despite all that, he could smell death nearby. If this was meant to be Heaven it left much of St. John’s account untouched.

But none of that mattered because through a huge pane glass window directly in front of him he saw her, still lying on her side, fist clenched on clean sheets instead of dirty pavement. Alive. He could scarcely find his feet he has so relieved. Through the glass, her clear blue eyes met his in puzzlement as though this reality was suspect to her and she raised her head to be certain that it was him. He could not suppress a smile any more than he could keep himself from joining her inside her glass walled room. He did not know whose life he inhabited now or when or why. All that was important was that she was here sharing it with him. He could warm her small hand, kiss her cheek, brush the hair from her temple, listen to her voice, and argue with her even now it appeared….

“I-I can’t do that,” he heard himself say with a combination of awe, humility, and denial. What were they discussing?

“Yes, you can,” she pressed forcefully, though her skin was porcelain white and her voice little more than a throaty whisper. What was this tubing on her face? Good God, was it breathing for her?! “…if I can save you, let me. Let me give some meaning to what’s happened to me. ”

No. Absolutely not. Whatever they’d been discussing, whatever judgment awaited him, her words sounded like farewell and he would not be witness to that again. His foundation, his element – whatever its composition – refused this sacrifice she offered, intuiting the bitter half-life he had just left behind. Maybe it was nothing but selfishness; he no longer cared. Counting on the sympathy they shared, that they always shared, he grasped her hand in both his own and pressed it to his lips, willing but one thought to her mind.

‘Stay. Stay with me.’


“Mr. Mulder,” said that voice, different, but always the same, now gentle and determined. “Mr. Mulder, wake up. We’ve arrived.”

“Yes?” he replied, satisfied that he sounded almost lucid as he opened his eyes to see her…again. For a spilt second there were two of her overlapping one another like a photographic print that had been double exposed. Mulder gripped the armrest as a bout of vertigo hit his inner ear like the blow of a tap hammer. He closed his eyes tight again and when he reopened them, the world had righted itself. There was only one of her, leaning forward and looking at him calmly and rather clinically as though she suspected him of needing medical attention. At his quick perfunctory smile Dr. Scully leaned back in her seat and provided him a brief, impersonal smile of her own. Nevertheless she exhaled in relief when he withdrew his legs from her side of the compartment. Upon waking he had found his crossed calves pressed tightly to her skirts, pinning her to the outer wall of the train.

“My apologies. I didn’t intend to wedge you in so,” Mulder said, embarrassed, remembering Chuck's admonitions. “I hope I did not make you too uncomfortable. Next time, just kick me out of the way.”

“You must have been very tired,” she observed politely as the train drew to a slow halt at the station.

“You have no idea.”

Chapter Text

Pine Barrens, New Jersey
May 11, 1699
11:52 p.m.

Sweat trickling into her eyes stung and blurred the expression on Miriam’s face, but the girl’s carmine hands fluttering away from her belly said enough. Wearily, Deborah pulled her legs higher, braced her feet flat against the damp mattress and in vain tried to sense the floor of her pelvis before the next contraction came. But it was numb. All was numb, as though something deep between her hips had been broken beyond healing.

“What, Miriam? What…is it?” she panted, her soaked head falling to the flat, brick hard pillow beneath her yet again as she felt her muscles prepare to gather themselves in a peak of effort, a rolling wave of strain surging toward an agonizing crest. There wasn’t much time – to catch breath, to brace against the pain. “Tell me…what you…see now.” All she could see was the tented fabric of her night shift pulled over her splayed knees and stained with her water and blood. So much blood.

“Ma’am, the baby is breeched,” the girl’s brave face broke. Her freckles stood out on her milk white skin like flecks of black paint across her nose and cheeks. Deborah calculated that just one more difficulty with this birth would send her only helper running off heedless into this black, rain-drenched night in search of Esther, the real midwife, and Miriam was terrified of storms. “Mother taught me you’re not to touch a breech baby – that it will only make it harder on you – and the child. I’m not to try to turn it.”

“Don’t then. Just…watch with me.” Her flailing hand slapped the mattress next to her and Miriam dutifully sat down and knotted their fingers into a single giant fist – half slick and white and half tacky and gory red. Deborah attempted a smile though it felt as though a millstone were pressing down on her stomach. She’d been chiding herself all day for her foolish fears. After all, she’d bought seven healthy babies into this world for Mr. Daniel Leeds. Why should this one be any different? Now she knew why. Did he? “Where is…my husband?”

“Casting,” Miriam spat out in a tone which mixed fear and contempt. “In his study. He said there’s to be a shadow on the moon tonight.” At Deborah’s perplexed glance at the room’s tiny window lashed with storm water, Miriam answered her unspoken question. “It’s to be a long e-clipse,” she said, struggling with the unfamiliar word. “Master said the storm will clear before it passes.”

“Pray God…it passes…ere I do,” Deborah gasped with a twist of her bitten lips, trying to make light of her husband’s indifference. But there was little need for pretense with Miriam. The young woman had worked at Leeds Point long enough to know that while her master doted and bragged on his children, wives were second or third considerations in the household.

We’re all replaceable, Deborah thought wearily of the two Mrs. Leeds who had gone before her; their framed cameos perched on the parlor mantle. Belatedly noticing that Miriam was comforting her own small belly even as she soothed her mistress, she whispered teasingly. “You’ll have no…such vexations, Miri…when your time comes…. You’re young…strong and…and as—as wide as an Ayrshire cow.”

“Mistress…” Deborah found she was not so afraid as she became when she blinked her eyes clear enough so that she could read the girl’s expression – a mixture of suppressed laughter and genuine, deep worry. She opened her mouth to ask whether it was as bad as all that when her next contraction spun through her like a cyclone. Clamping down on their joined hands she screamed, literally screamed, with the pain as she felt the child trying to exit through her belly and rather than her sex.

“Aaaaaahhhh! God, help me!” But God, like Daniel’s eclipse, seemed content to be hidden by the storm. She swooned and still found no relief as she vaguely heard Miriam babbling above her head, at her side, between her knees. Begging her leave to go find Esther. “NO!” she screamed again. “Don’t leave…I may not be here…when you return! Curse this one…he hurts…like the Devil.”

A red mist descended over her eyes blocking out Miriam’s comforting touch and muffling her directions. Just when she thought she could bear no more there was a vague tearing sound and a startled, strangled cry followed by a scream not her own. Her muscles ceased straining for there was nothing for them to strain against. A thick spurt of blood across her breast registered only as something warm and wet, a comfort to her rapidly chilling skin. To her left, the sounds of sodden leather slapping against the plastered wall and thick glass breaking as the room’s small window was smashed, were the last ever to enter her mind. The storm and the night were let in and she had let out into the world something unspeakable to which she could give no name. Doubtless its father would think of something fitting – Samael perhaps….

She did not hear the screech-cry of the newborn creature forcing its way through the fresh opening, the thud of Miriam’s lifeless body slipping from the edge of the bed to the floor or the bedroom door burst open at last to admit a drenched and breathless Esther. The sight of the room and its occupants provoked the scream that finally dislodged Daniel Leeds from his study and propelled him into his wife’s chamber.

The tableau beyond the threshold more closely resembled that of a slaughterhouse than a child’s birth. The bed’s curtains and bed clothes fluttered and twisted in the wind rushing through the window, daubed gory wherever they lighted. Deborah’s soul had departed indeed, from her senseless, staring eyes and arms flung wide above her head as though completely abandoned to and welcoming of her fate. Esther sat on the floor trying in vain the staunch the flow from a gaping wound in her daughter’s throat.

“No, no, no, child. Don’t go. You’ve a babe to look after! Look at me, girl! Miri, look at me!” But her words went unheeded as the young woman’s fear stiffened face gradually relaxed into a nightmare’s troubled slumber.

Leeds, never one to allow the tragedies of others to cloud his focus on his own interest, demanded, “Where is it? Where is the baby?”

“What baby?” Esther spat out, rocking her daughter’s lifeless form in her arms. “There’s no baby here.”

Snorting his disbelief and disgust Leeds stalked around the bed, averting his eyes as much as possible from the sight of his wife’s torn body, searching for an infant. “Talk sense, woman! Where IS he? Where is my son?!”

“The devil you sired has flown, Leeds. If you would visit it -- off to the woods with you! I am done, and so is your wife and…and my poor Miriam. God rest them far from you and this cursed ground!”

As if to punctuate the woman’s words a shriek outside the house pierced the roar of the storm and sent a chill from Leeds’ core to his fingertips, it was a sounding of the depth of the forest by a creature both viciously feral and piteously abandoned. Leeds rushed to the window, gashing his palms on the broken pane as though he thought to follow it into the squall.

“Titan!”

But there was no answer, just the rush of wings and the snapping of tree branches.

“Titan!”

 

Leeds Point, New Jersey
Sept. 6, 1893
6:42 p.m.

Casting a cautious eye to either side of the tree-lined road, Joseph Whitten urged chestnut mare to a cantor in the hopes of reaching home shortly after dusk if not before. The sky to his back seemed to be growing pinker at an alarming pace. Even without the recent “excitement” as his wife dubbed it in her polite ladies’ gatherings there was no need to tempt fate or a desperate soul out of work and out of doors to rob a man so obviously well-heeled.

He could not fathom the vanity of the previous owners of Bateson Village to actually live in the tiny backwater town. In his more uncharitable moments he attributed it to the desire of the Richardsons to emulate the noblesse oblige of English lords residing among their grateful tenants and hangers on. But the prospect of living in the middle of a pine riddled wilderness with none but glass foundry men and their undereducated families to turn to for conversation frankly appalled him. Father might have bought the failing iron plantation as a ready-made laboratory to conduct his little agricultural experiments in, but that by no means made it a home away from home. If it wasn’t for his family’s love of the seaside he would have relegated this onerous chore to a paid manager long ago.

And it was not as though the locals seemed to give a fig that his father was trying to save their little backwater from sliding further into ruin. This devil business was proof enough of that. Surest way to drive off investment was to make the place ripe for chaos or imply the locals were eager to succumb to it. And yet here we were, he thought bitterly, arguing over stories about some hodgepodge of a demon inhabiting these woods, molesting unwary females, and attacking passersby. Idiocy.

Unconsciously, Whitten gave his horse another nudge when her enthusiasm for the cantor seemed to wane. The mare sped up again, but the triple beat strike of her hooves and the increased rush of wind over his ears was not loud enough to drown out the sound of something crashing over the treetops to his left. She snorted, her chest expanding, seeming to have caught wind of something he had not until now noticed. She needed no further urging to keep her pace.

“What is it, gir—?” He stopped at the sudden awkward phwap of leather slapping around the trunk of a tree and then taking to the air in a scrabbling, bark shredding flurry. Eschewing his frustrated pose, he gave the mare a further kick and held on tight as she responded with an unexpectedly enthusiastic transition to a full gallop, throwing him back in the saddle. She’d heard it too he realized, a slow terror taking him over just as he was about to chide himself for his morbid suggestibility. With a panicked snort the mare’s eyes and ears rolled back in his direction reproving him for his foolish pride and she laid on the speed as if riderless. He could do nothing more than hold on or lose his seat and his way home.

‘Where had the damn sun gone?’ he babbled to himself before a buffet of wind at his back and the pinch of a claw landed heavily on his right shoulder, tearing the muscles beneath. Then his left side, equally paralyzed, loosing the reins from his grasp. Somehow Whitten had the presence of mind to shove his feet firmly into the stirrups and clamp his thighs to the sides of his mount with all his might. As the reins fell from his numb fingers, he whipped his head to his right and into a vibrating sheet of leathery membrane enfolding his head, cutting off all light – all air.

The mare, giving voice to her silenced rider, screamed into the gathering dusk and bolted forward. Burdened suddenly with his own weight and that of a creature he could not name, Whitten was flung back over the cantle and from there to the hard ground. His last thought as his lungs filled with fire was that his own wife would never believe him when he told her.