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Omens

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HORIZON, MONTANA
July 21, 1997 - 1:18 AM

The night was furious.

The dome of the firmament churned above the woman in the field, the clouds heavy and ripe as a bruise. The wind was fierce and bitter, and the woman’s nightgown whipped around her quaking body, clinging to her skin, the rain soaking through the white cotton.

She didn’t know how she got out here, with the wheat waist-high and thrashing around her. Wet hair flew into her mouth, into her eyes. The air tasted like tarnished silver, like old iron. Behind her, the door to the farmhouse swung madly on its hinges, hurling itself against the clapboards. She couldn’t make her limbs obey her, couldn’t seem to force herself to turn back to the house, back to safety.

A roar of thunder rolled through the earth, vibrating in her skull. And then she saw it, a black stain against the wide and angry sky.

Raw, primal fear pierced the pit of her stomach when the first crow began to circle, one cold, reptilian eye trained on her as he swooped and cawed and cackled. She watched the metallic glint of his beak as he dove around her, the oily, lustrous spread of his wing, and thought, hopelessly, that he was beautiful.

The bird dipped, and then beat his wings against the air and rose higher, and then another appeared to unfold itself, impossibly, from the space the first had evacuated. A living shadow, an echo, a copy. Again, then again and again, until they were countless. They whirled around her in a cacophonous feathery cyclone, spinning, their bodies blacking out the tumultuous sky.

Even before they touched her, Anna understood. She sobbed a silent prayer, repenting, begging forgiveness. Mercy, she knew, was not forthcoming. For one sweet moment, she became keenly aware of her heartbeat, of the warmth of her blood, of the life in her breath.

And then, in a heavy sweep of wings, the birds descended.

They tore at her nightgown, at her hair, at her face, at the soft, milky fat of her breasts. They ripped muscle and sinew away from the bone, plucked her eyes and tongue from her body, shred her skin to pale, fluttering ribbons. Indescribable pain wailed through her, but she couldn’t move, couldn’t raise her arms to defend herself, couldn’t fight back. She couldn’t even scream. She could only collapse, and die in the rain.

As her blood seeped, steaming, into the soft earth around her, Anna’s last thoughts clung desperately to Marion, to Rhiannon, and to the precious secret she was dragging down with her into the fathomless dark of the grave.

FBI HEADQUARTERS
WASHINGTON, DC
JULY 21 - 9:04 AM

Scully hip-checked the half-open door to the basement office, clutching a large paper cup of takeout coffee in each of her hands. Mulder was already settled at his desk, bent over a haphazard stack of files, glasses sliding down his nose and the warm summer light illuminating his shoulders.

He glanced up, as if he was surprised to see her, and smiled distractedly as he finished writing his sentence. “Morning, sunshiiine…,” he drawled, tapping his pencil eraser against the report on the desk a few times and leaning back in his chair.

Despite an inclination towards insomnia and shamelessly flouting Bureau protocol, Scully couldn’t remember a single time Mulder had been late to work. Some mornings he’d have tired eyes and rough cheeks, and his sleeves would already be pushed to his elbows by the time she arrived. But this morning, she noted with a vaguely maternal satisfaction, he looked well-rested: clean-shaven and bright eyed, the knot of his loud tie still neat beneath his Adam’s apple.

“Morning. Order up.” She handed him his coffee, and his long fingers swept against her knuckles as he hummed and took it from her. He pried the plastic lid from the cup, sipped at the rim, and immediately made a face.

“Ugh, I think I got yours.”

Scully tossed her shoulder bag to the counter and lowered herself into her favourite chair, crossing her legs in a swoosh of nylon and cradling her own cup protectively in both hands. “No, that one’s definitely yours.”

“Two cream, three sugar?”

“It’s with milk today, Mulder, and honey. I can’t in good conscience continue to enable your addiction to processed sugar.”

He leered at her over the rim of his glasses before taking them off and flinging them carelessly across the desk. “Calling me honey isn’t gonna save your ass if this is decaf.”

Scully cocked an eyebrow, smirking. “Decaf? I’d never betray you that gravely.”

Something flickered across Mulder’s face, but it left as quickly as it had arrived. “Well,” he said, “actual and potential stimulant-based betrayals aside, we’ve got a little mystery on our hands.”

She sighed and settled more deeply into her chair, leaning an elbow on one of the armrests. “Honey is good for you, Mulder. It has enzymes. Microbial cultures. And can you at least let me finish my coffee first?”

“No can do, G-woman. Duty calls.” Mulder stood up and picked his way through a dragon’s hoard of overstuffed banker’s boxes and over to the projector.

This was good, she thought. Light. Friendly. Professional.

Scully took stock as he flicked the switch on the console. The projector whirred to life, casting the room in a pallid glow. Mulder looked at home in their little den, amongst the shadows and the lived-in clutter; the neat stack of back issues of JAMA and JCP in a wire basket next to one of his college basketball trophies, corkboard galleries of newspaper clippings, precarious towers of books, an apothecary cabinet stocked with sundry esoterica. A mug Melissa had given her, washed out and upside down beside the sink: THE UNIVERSE IS MADE UP OF PROTONS, NEUTRONS, ELECTRONS, AND MORONS.

She tried not to think of the nameplate wedged between a cracked microscope and an abandoned carousel of slides, shoved in a drawer in what Mulder had once called “her area.” DANA SCULLY, MD. A gift, after Philadelphia. For someone who was widely purported to be an almost supernaturally insightful profiler, the man sure could be stupid.

Mulder fiddled with the projector a little, and then the first slide clicked into place.

A photograph of a pale horse, dead on his side, his noble, muscular head submerged in a narrow prairie river. The long, white hairs of the horse’s mane trailed away, carried by the dark water, and his ghostly eyes were open, staring into nothingness. Mulder lowered his voice to the scholarly timbre he saved for slideshows, road trip monologues, and late-night phone calls, and began.

“Horizon, Montana. A small town near the Canadian border, home of 249 people. Mostly wheat farmers and cattle ranchers. Isolated from civilization—the only other people for miles, besides our aforementioned two-four-nine, either hail from the Mennonite colony an hour away, or the nearby Blackfoot reservation. Enter one Hugh Daly, and his wife, Anna…”

Whirr. Click.

The second slide was a candid photograph of a couple, a man who Scully estimated to be in his mid-thirties beside a younger woman. The man was strikingly handsome, a flannel-clad Errol Flynn with unruly black hair, towering over the girl, who was blonde and rosy-cheeked, curvy in a modest floral dress. She was every inch the farmwife fantasy.

They looked happy enough, Scully thought. Hugh’s hand was anchored to the small of Anna’s waist, pulling her close, and Anna’s face was turned up to his, laughing at some long-forgotten joke.

“It seems that Hugh’s been experiencing a series of escalating tragedies. First, his horse mysteriously drowns. As I’m sure you’ve noted.” Mulder flicked back to the first slide again. “Now, just from this photograph, do you see any evidence of broken bones, Dr. Scully? Lesions? Signs of struggle? Anything at all that would indicate that this horse, like we might expect of all healthy biological entities, endeavoured to prevent his own demise?”

Scully stood up to examine the photograph more closely, bringing her coffee with her. Mulder loomed behind her, and she self-consciously sidestepped away from him. He’d been gratuitously gentle and touchy with her since the diagnosis, and she was coming to resent any reminder of their pronounced dimorphism.

“Well, Mulder,” she ventured, viscerally aware of his eyes on her mouth as she spoke, “I don’t see much, but has rabies been ruled out? Or another illness that may have caused this horse to act strangely? Perhaps it just… happened to collapse in that particular spot. Maybe it just dropped dead. Cardiac arrest? Maybe it didn’t drown at all.”

Mulder, delighted, tapped the side of his nose with a long finger. “Ah, but Scully, poor Ghost here received a full post-mortem examination from the town veterinarian-slash-doctor, Rhiannon Bishop, and she claims that he was in perfect health, other than the fact that his lungs were full of river water. She says that it’s as if he just… kneeled down of his own accord, submerged his head, and inhaled.”

“Veterinarian-slash-doctor?” Scully replied, incredulous. She sipped at her cup, testing the temperature, and burned the tip of her tongue.

“Did I mention that there are only 249 people living in Horizon?” Mulder clicked past the photo of Hugh and Anna to a third slide. Another photograph—the burnt shell of what Scully thought might have at one point been a row of grain silos, but was now a black crumble of ruin against a stormy sky.

“Shortly afterwards, the silos on his property burned to the ground. Nowhere to store this year’s harvest.”

Scully scraped her raw tongue over the ridge of her teeth. “It could have been arson. Maybe a grass fire. Lighting? Prairie regions are highly susceptible to violent storm systems, after all,” she offered.

“Well, it’s been a wet summer so far, but a lightning strike seems to have been ruled out. No grass fires have been reported in the area this season, and besides, Hugh says he’s taken every precaution against fire that any responsible farmer would. The local PD claims that there were no accelerants found at the scene, nothing at all to indicate arson.”

He clicked over to the next slide, and the image was so brutal and shocking that she had to look away from a moment to compose herself.

“And either late last night or very early this morning, Hugh woke up to find Anna missing from their bed. He discovered her body out in the fields, torn apart, he’s sure of it, by a flock of homicidal corvids. Gives a new meaning to a murder of crows, doesn’t it?”

Scully steeled herself, slipping into practiced clinical detachment, and turned back to the slide. The woman in the earlier photograph was barely recognizable, gutted and ravaged and splayed in her own gore. The sheer devastation to her body was bone-chilling.

“Thing is,” Mulder said, gently this time, “there were no feathers found at the scene. Not a one.”

“That’s because this woman was murdered, Mulder, not torn apart by birds. God, she looks like a Ripper victim.” He looked at her expectantly, clearly waiting for her to initiate their traditional exchange.

“Okay. Out with it. This is an X-File because…?”

“Because each of these events was preceded by an omen.”

“An omen.” She arched her brow, tried her coffee again. Still too hot.

Mulder began flicking through the slides again, one by one. “Animal omens. A wild black mare crossed Hugh Daly’s path the morning before Ghost’s death.”

Whirr. Click.

“The day before the silos burned, he was paid a visitation by the spectre of a hound on the horizon.”

Whirr. Click.

“Anna’s death? Crows followed him around for three days prior to the incident, harassing him wherever he went.”

“Oh, come on, Mulder. Not even you could buy that crap,” she said, without meaning it. Of course he believed it; his mind was a beautiful, frustrating jumble of half-truths and speculative axioms.

“It doesn’t matter whether I do or not,” he responded charitably, “but Daly certainly does. He fears for his life, rightfully so, I think, and the local PD is stumped. Sheriff Theo Gladstone called the FBI early this morning to request assistance. You know it’s just him and a deputy out there? A two-person police force.”

“You and I are a two-person department too, you know, and we do just fine. It’s not so absurd.” A two-person department, even if there was only one desk.

“Never said it was.” He grinned his wolfy grin, shutting the projector off and slapping a palm against it cheerfully. “Our flight’s at seven tomorrow morning, I’ll pick you up at five? And we’ll have to drive a few hours once we’re out there, too, so you might wanna bring the Mad Libs. In the meantime, there’s a really interesting case involving omens from 1958 that I want you to familiarize yourself with, lemme find it —”. He loped over to the cabinets and began to rummage noisily.

Scully slumped back down into her seat, furrowing her brow. The image of Anna Daly, guts sprawled in the field, flickered in her mind’s eye. It was nauseating, outrageous. Omens or not, that poor woman deserved justice.

She thought about the cancerous mass wedged against her own superior concha, crouching in her body, a predator in wait. She wouldn’t be able to work for much longer. She’d already been struggling against the effects of the chemo—the nausea, the exhaustion, the wet rats of auburn hair clogging her bathtub drain. Soon, the tumor would push into her brain, and she’d be dead.

This was a chance, perhaps one of the last ones afforded to her, to do a little good in this world. To do what she’d joined the FBI to do in the first place, before she could have ever imagined this life of conspiracy and lies, of implants and extraterrestrials, of hopeless, painful devotion.  

Hugh Daly. The husband. She had an uneasy feeling about him. Men that looked like that spent their entire lives getting, and getting away with, everything they wanted.

A surge of resolve filled her as Mulder tossed her the file he’d been looking for.

I’m going to get the truth out of you, Daly, she thought. I’m going to do right by that girl.

RURAL MONTANA
JULY 22 - 3:09 PM

When it came down to it, Mulder almost always drove. He’d teased Scully once, in a fit of planetary-fuelled irritation, about how he didn’t think her little feet could reach the pedals, but really, he just liked the ritual of it. Gas, brake, signal, turn. While the surface levels of his conscious brain were occupied with the mundane tasks of driving, it was easier to settle into his thoughts, to make intuitive leaps. He’d done some of his best thinking in requisitioned Oldsmobiles, with Scully, of course, offering her sagacious perspective from the passenger seat.

Scully was at the heart of the whole process, if he was in the mood to be honest with himself. He liked holding the door open for her, watching the spiced sheath of her hair swing underneath him as she tucked herself neatly into the vehicle, accepting his habitual chivalry without protest. He liked that she didn’t feel belittled by it, like Diana used to. He liked doing small, kind things for her. He liked that she let him.

He also liked negotiating with her over the radio station, learning where their tastes met and diverged. She barely tolerated his love for Prince, and he found the Clash a little abrasive. They both liked classical, but he was the sweeping Star-Warsian drama of Holst, and she was the dignity and precision of Bach. Most of all, though, he liked it when the radio was turned off, the low roar of the highway insulating them while Scully slept. He liked the warm animal heap of her body, her angular face like a grouchy little fox.

She was out cold now, too, and maybe he’d meant for this to happen. Maybe he’d booked the earliest flight he could find in anticipation of her sweet head on his shoulder after her takeoff jitters subsided, the steady, secret rhythm of her breath keeping time beside him on the road.

He reached into the bag in the cup holder and popped another sunflower seed into his mouth, massaging the salt off the shell with his tongue. Cracked it between his teeth, plundered the meat and chewed it, eased the window open an inch, and spat out the husk. The earthy smell of canola and sun-baked wheat poured into the car on the wind.

Scully murmured, dreaming, and there was something so intensely intimate about the sound that it made Mulder’s eyes burn.

He remembered the dim fluorescent hallway of the oncology ward, her slippered feet, her birdlike frame drowning in overworn terry cloth. Her measured poeticism, her elegant blue-ink handwriting in a notebook he wasn’t meant to see. The perversity of it all—this giant of his imagination, his gunmetal Minerva, his pedestal-dwelling warrior goddess made small and fragile and achingly, vividly human.

I’m not gonna let this thing beat me, she’d said, and in response, he’d almost kissed her.

Almost.

But for once in his pathetic life, he didn’t want to make it all about him. About what he wanted. Scully didn’t need a lover. She needed a friend, a partner, someone to ride into battle beside her. And it was enough to be those things. It had to be.

He thought of the woman who’d first walked into his office, what he’d seen in her even then. Her strength, her fire, her integrity. He was haunted by all the things that her life could have been without him.

He swallowed the flood of protective rage that rose like bile in his throat, took a deep, steadying breath, and tried to turn his concentration back to the road.

No wonder they called it Horizon. The earth here was flat and endless and golden, halved by an eternal sky. Cattle dotted the fields, their mottled bellies and placid faces inspiring a throe of carnivore’s guilt. There was nothing to distract him out here but the occasional cluster of horses, or a single rotting, wind-battered barn. Distant farmhouses, tidy rows of rusting silos. The vastness of it all made him feel lighter. Younger, even. It was though the space between each of his ribs expanded with every mile.

Scully shifted a little in her sleep, and he stole a glance at her. Her lips were dewy, slightly parted, the roadmap open in her lap on top of a manila folder full of photographs and police reports. As he gazed at her, the car rumbled over a Texas gate, and the vibrations jostled her awake. Mulder kicked himself for driving too fast, for waking her up, but the way she stirred and sighed and blinked up at him made his heart swell painfully.

“Hey there, Rip. Welcome back to the land of the living. The year,” he narrated, trying to make her laugh, “is 2078, and I’ve gotta say, you’re lookin’ mighty fine for 114. What’s your secret?”

“Mmm.” No laugh, but a sheepish little smile as she buried her chin into her shoulder, and that was almost as good. “Sorry,” she yawned, “Didn’t get much sleep last night before you picked me up. And by the way, it’s rude to mention a woman’s age.” She side-eyed him.

“You up thinking about the case?”

“…Yeah. Yeah, about Hugh Daly. I’m just… I don’t buy it, Mulder.” Her voice was thick with sleep. “That horse… that fire. These are things that happen. Something very real, someone very real, murdered Anna Daly. If… if anything, these events just strike me as a particularly elaborate cover-up.” She yawned again into the back of her hand, and began to fold the map in her lap, reinforcing the creases with precise fingers.

“Well, even if we’re looking at plain old murder and arson, how do you explain the omens Daly’s been seeing?”, he replied. “Maybe… maybe he has some sort of sight, some sort of precognitive aptitude. We’ve seen cases like this before, right? Albert Hosteen saw omens, and—and last month, even—Harold Spuller, remember? You… you yourself saw—”

“—I just think we should look for more obvious, rational solutions before jumping headlong into the supernatural.,” she said testily. “Let’s say Hugh Daly isn’t guilty of concocting this whole ordeal to try to get away with murder—even if he really thinks he’s been seeing omens, he could be interpreting these so-called signs in retrospect. Crows aren’t exactly uncommon around here. ‘Men may construe things after their fashion, clean from the purpose of the things themselves -’”

“That from Julius Caesar, Scully? Impressive.”

Scully pursed her lips, pleased with herself and trying to hide it. Mulder tapped his fingers absentmindedly on the steering wheel. “So what I’m hearing is that you don’t believe in omens.”

“Oh, come on, Mulder, of course not.”

“You know, omens have a rich historical precedent. Mankind has been seeing signs for millennia, in the form of animal medicine, dreams, visions, signs from God…”

“And I suppose you’ve seen one, then.”

“Well, there was that mean little red squirrel that was causing havoc around my apartment building for a week before you first waltzed into my basement armed with your big girl shoulderpads and your bad attitude.”

She snorted at that, slapping him with the folded map. “Oh, shut up.” He looked at her, grinning stupidly, and they locked eyes for one blissful moment, laughing together. God, she was such a babe. Delphic, autumnal, all black velvet and brickdust. A Waterhouse Boudicca. Mulder felt a flush creep up his neck, and Scully turned back to the road.

“MULDER!!” She gasped violently, throwing her left arm across his chest.

He instinctively braked, even before he could register what he was seeing. They lurched forward in their seats as the car skidded to a stop, Scully’s arm still reaching protectively over him, the thick polyester edge of the seatbelt scraping against his neck.

A mare in the road. Muscular, terrible, huge. Dark, so dark that her body seemed to swallow the light, so dark that the air seemed to ripple around her. She pawed the asphalt in an agitated dance, half-rearing. Her flank gleamed like polished onyx in the sun. She threw her head back and shook her mane, pinning him with her wildfire eyes—and then she was gone, running hard, disappearing into the tall golden sea of wheat.

Mulder flung his seatbelt off and wrenched open the door, spilling out into the road with stiff legs. He stumbled across the highway, searching the horizon for any sign of her, his heart pounding in his chest. Scully appeared at his elbow. As they stared, dumbfounded, into the distance, a heavy sense of foreboding melted into Mulder’s skin. A black mare. Out of nowhere, and right back into it.

An omen.

“Well, Scully,” he mumbled, rubbing the place on his neck where the seatbelt had gnawed him. “There’s still time enough to change your answer.”

Chapter Text

DALY FARMS
HORIZON, MONTANA
JULY 22 - 6:17 PM

The Daly farmhouse rose from the flat of the landscape like a mirage. It was simple and rustic, two stories of old wood crowned with a gabled roof, a rusted weathervane in the shape of a rooster creaking on the apex. It needed a new coat of paint, and the front door was damaged, but otherwise, it was well-kept and clearly well-loved. Rosemary and sage grew in clusters around the porch, and the herbaceous perfume of it formed a fragrant curtain at the threshold. Other than the crumbling silos a little ways in the distance, it was a lovely, idyllic place, and Scully had a hard time imagining that something so fearsome could have happened here.

But it did, she reminded herself. It did. Bone, dirt, blood in the wheat—but no feathers, not a one.

The five of them sat at the barnwood kitchen table, one stout chair conspicuously empty. A seat for the dead, Scully’s mind suggested, echoes of Naval messdecks jangling like churchbells in her memory.

Across from her, Sheriff Gladstone cleared his throat in a bellowing harrumph. He was in his mid-forties, Scully estimated, and was sunburnt and barrel-chested, with kind eyes sparkling under a heavy blonde brow that would have made any early hominid proud to call him brother. Earlier, at the station, he’d insisted they call him Theo. He’d also insisted on calling them Fox and Dana, despite Mulder’s numerous protestations. “We’re not in Washington anymore, kids,” he’d chuckled, unmoved. “Round here, we’re all family. Better get used to it.”

Marion Three Calf sat to the right, her spine rigid. She cut a striking figure. Barely in her twenties, she was tall and copper-skinned, her glossy black hair pulled into a no-nonsense knot at the nape of her neck. She’d endeared herself to Scully immediately with her strong, warm handshake, and had bonded with Mulder good-naturedly over living with animal names.

And between the pillars of Horizon’s two-person police force, the bereaved.

Photographs did not do Hugh Daly justice. He slouched over the table in a haze of afternoon sun, muscular forearms bracketing a mug of steaming coffee that Marion had taken it upon herself to brew in the aged percolator on the counter.

Hugh was Irish, with wild, dark hair curling over his forehead, poetic seaglass eyes, and a long, mournful face that evoked all of the Heathcliffs and Rochesters of Scully’s teenage fantasies. She shifted uncomfortably in her seat. Something in the tortured intensity of his presence reminded her of someone, but she couldn’t put her finger on it.

“Thank you for agreeing to speak candidly with us, Mr. Daly,” Mulder said, settling into a sympathetic posture, mirroring Hugh’s body language. Scully recognized the strategy. There was a reason Mulder usually took the lead during interviews—he was good at this. Very good.

Briefly, and not for the first time, she wondered who else he could have been, with his talent and passion and beautiful mind. How far he could have gone. But then she’d have to share him, and that was unthinkable.

“Can you tell us about the events leading up to Anna’s death?” he continued.

Hugh looked up for the first time since they’d entered his house, but instead of answering Mulder, his focus settled on Scully.

She met the richness of his eyes, a surreal subterranean pool under thick, black lashes, and in a flash of recognition, she realized who it was he resembled.

Ed. He reminded her of Ed Jerse.

Hugh turned his gaze to Mulder. “Fox Mulder.” His voice was soft, low and lilting, turning consonants languidly over his tongue. “Fox. That’s a name, innit?”

Mulder didn’t rise to the challenge, but waited patiently, silently, for the other man to continue.

“And Dana Scully,” Hugh said, flicking his eyes back to her. “That’s an Irish name. Knew a few Scullys back home. Mind, none quite as lovely as yourself.” The corner of his mouth twitched into a subtle curl. The gesture felt illicit, delicious, like they shared a secret. But then she remembered Anna, and turned cold. Mulder stiffened, and gently touched her knee under the table, an overly protective gesture that drove her immediately up the wall. She swatted his hand away. She’d killed, for crying out loud.

“Mr. Daly, we’re not here to make small talk,” Scully said. “We’re here to find out what happened to your wife. We can’t do that without your cooperation.”

He nodded bitterly, lifting a hand in acknowledgement. “My apologies. There was no harm meant, Ms. Scully. And please, it’s just Hugh.” He held her eyes with his. “Besides, I know what happened to her.” His voice wavered then, but he didn’t look away. “It was the crows. I know it sounds mad. But it was the crows.”

Marion released a deep and shuddering breath beside him. “So you’ve claimed,” Scully continued, breaking eye contact to look over at her. She was chewing her lip, staring hard into the chipped ceramic mug of coffee in front of her, fists finger-down and white-knuckled on the table.

“I don’t know what else to tell you,” Hugh said. “I’d never do anything to hurt Anna. To hurt anyone.” He glanced quickly over at Marion. “I love her. Loved her. I wasn’t nearly as good to her as she deserved, but I loved her.”

“Can you think of anyone who would want to hurt her? Or you, for that matter?”

Though it had been Mulder who asked the question, Hugh’s eyes remained on Scully. “Everyone loved her. Everyone. Nobody in Horizon would want to see any harm visited upon her. Ehm… though… her brother hated me something fierce.” He leaned back in his seat, rubbing at the back of his neck.

“Anna grew up at the Mennonite colony,” Theo interrupted. “Her brother Abel and that wife of his weren’t too pleased about her movin’ out here. Still aren’t, though it’s been quite a few years.”

“He’s, uh. Been coming around here, waving his fists in the air and all that. Abel’s a cunt, but no, he couldn’t… he’s not… Jesus. Like I told Theo, was the bloody birds that did her. It’s the only thing that makes any sort of sense, with all that’s been happening.”  

Scully’s frustration clawed to the surface. “Mr. Daly, you must realize how—”

“—She was ripped apart, woman!” Hugh hissed, slamming a palm into the table, making Marion jump and prompting Theo to clear his throat into his fist. Mulder quickly leaned between them. “Yes. I expect you to believe it. Because it’s the godforsaken truth.” Scully stared him down. Hugh’s eyes were wide, shining with barely-contained tears. She touched Mulder’s arm, gently, and he looked back at her briefly before retreating.

“I-I’m sorry,” Hugh said, his tone low and fractured, slumping back in his chair. “Christ. It wasn’t Abel. I thought it could be him, with the fire, with Ghost… but not… not Anna. No. There are dark forces at work here. Unnatural. I just want it to stop, damn it all.” He caged his forehead in the heels of his palms. “I suppose Theo told you about the signs.”

Mulder shifted, honing in. “Yes. Omens.”

“And I suppose you don’t believe me about that, then, either.”

“Actually, Mr. Daly, Agent Scully and I specialize in these sorts of cases. Cases that are a little harder to explain from a scientific standpoint.”

“Well, I say someone’s been sending me warnings. Tormenting me. And I don’t even know what I did to call their wrath upon myself. Upon poor Anna.”

Marion suddenly sucked in a sob and covered her mouth. A moment of pain moved over Hugh’s face, and he reached over to her, but she recoiled from him, stumbled out of her chair, and fled the room. Theo called after her, half rising from his seat.

“Marion and Anna were… ehm. Quite close,” Hugh murmured darkly.

Scully excused herself to follow, glad for the chance to be away from him, scraping back her chair and throwing Mulder a meaningful glance. She found Marion on the porch, breathing deeply, one hand spread wide across her belly. The woody smell of rosemary hung heavy in the air.

“Marion? Are you alright?” Scully asked, reaching to place a hand on her shoulder. “I’m a medical doctor, if you need—” Marion shook her head sharply, a tear slipping down her cheek.

“I’m sorry, Dana. It’s still fresh. I… what was done to Anna… I can’t imagine. It’s… nothing like this has ever happened here. I keep thinking she’s gonna call… I can’t… help but think of how scared she must have been, how much pain she must have felt… oh, god.” She gulped in air.

“You two were friends.”

“I… yes. We were friends.” Marion swallowed, steadying herself on the porch railing. Scully studied the curvilinear landscape of her face.

“Marion, I couldn’t help but notice your reaction when Hugh tried to touch you.”

Marion looked behind her at the door, and then, satisfied with their relative privacy, gripped Scully’s arm and lowered her voice.

“Dana, I may not know you very well, but I know you’re not a fool. Just promise me… promise me you won’t… fall into Hugh’s orbit.” Scully felt her stomach drop, a flush of confused embarrassment in her cheeks. What the hell was Marion talking about? What was she suggesting?

“I, um—”

“No, I get it, I do. He has… I don’t know what it is about him. But he’s bad news, Dana. It won’t end well.”

Scully believed her, felt the sour truth of it in her bones. Hugh Daly had looks, charm, presence. But he also had something else, something she’d seen before. Something she’d feel foolish trying to explain.

“I can assure you that I am not, in any way, interested in Hugh Daly beyond his role in this investigation. I’m here to do a job. To find out what happened to Anna, and to prevent it from happening to anyone else.”

Marion offered a small, strained smile, and released her grip, her fingers lingering apologetically on Scully’s skin. “Of course. Jesus, I’m not being very professional, am I? I’m so sorry.” She sniffed, took a deep breath. “You must think I’m a total nutjob.”

Scully smiled back and patted Marion’s hand, her initial indignation fading. “It’s okay, really. You’ve been through a lot. And I understand your concern. And if it’s any reassurance, I’m not… really in the market for that sort of thing.”

Marion’s eyes widened in understanding. “Oh… you and Fox. I wondered.”

Scully blanched. “N-no, no—we’re close, but we’re not… no. We’re partners. Friends. Good friends.”

“Oh, fuck, I’m sorry—just the way he…”

“It’s okay, Marion, you’re… not the first person to make that mistake.” Not even the hundredth.

“Women, then?” She asked. “You know, that was actually my first guess, but then I saw how Fox —” She clapped a hand over her mouth, horrified. “Jesus, I can’t seem to shut up today, Dana, I’m so sorry—”

Scully couldn’t help but duck her chin and press her lips together in amusement. Marion’s shoulders relaxed as she exhaled, but before she could continue, Mulder and Theo joined them on the porch.

She felt Mulder’s hand search for the small of her back over her blazer, the familiar weight of his presence a comfort after the jolt she’d felt with Hugh. She suddenly wished she hadn’t brushed him away earlier.

“I don’t think we’re going to get anything else out of the charming Mr. Daly today,” Mulder said, his free hand anchored on his hip. “Nice place, though. Always liked these old farmhouses. I think this kind of life would agree with me. Work the fields. Get buff. Get a tan.”

“Big talk for a man with those soft hands of yours,” Marion said, without any real malice. Mulder threw a wounded look down to Scully, who shrugged and smirked in agreement.

“You okay, kid?” Theo cupped Marion’s face in his hands, clearly bothered. She placed her fingers on his wrists and nodded, looking very young. “Alright.” He patted her cheek and released her. “Piece of fuckin’ work, that Hugh. Let’s get you kids settled at Rhiannon’s,” he rumbled.

“Rhiannon Bishop? The veterinarian?” Scully asked him.

“One and the same. She runs a bed and breakfast out of that old house of hers, too, although she doesn’t get many visitors. Anyway, s’the only place to stay in town. We don’t have no hotel.”

Mulder bent close and mumbled into Scully’s ear as they walked down the steps. “A woman of many talents, it would seem.” His breath was hot and coffee-scented on her neck, spilling over her shoulder.

She shook off a chill and took in the endless wheat fields around her, and thought of torn flesh, of blonde hair sticky with blood, of black mares, of green eyes, of “promise me”, of omens. The wind picked up, and in the distance, summer stormclouds began to brew.

Chapter Text

KICKING HORSE B&B
JULY 22 - 7:38 PM

Mulder tailed the beat-up rear end of Theo’s cruiser along the otherwise empty roads for fifteen minutes, the monstrous skies swiftly turning a menacing navy over their heads. Scully, grave and small beside him, was silent, the darts of her eyebrows having a private conversation with one another over the bridge of her nose.

Gas, brake, turn.

He chewed over Daly, let him squat like a toad in the stewpot of his brain, let him brew and boil until the warty flesh began to slough away from the bones.

The man was angry, hopeless, humiliated, but that was to be expected. Volatile, but again, that could be purely situational. The grief was there, and authentic, he sensed, but something about Daly still struck him as strange. He had an undeniable charisma, a vulnerability and a danger to him, like an injured wolf at the door begging for scraps. He drew you in, but put you on edge at the same time. And the way he’d looked at Scully…

He hadn’t missed it, the way she’d bristled under Daly’s rapt attention, all of her edges puffed out like the fur of a cornered cat. Her stern, stiff little form beside him, brushing his hand away, determined, as always, to face down every threat by herself.

A large gate arched in the distance, ‘KICKING HORSE B&B & VETERINARY SERVICES’ scrawled on the beam in chipped, sun-pale paint. A lanky white dog paced underneath it, with a long, bizarre snout, like a spectral escort at the mouth of Hades. Scully perked up beside him. “That’s a borzoi. One of Jack’s neighbours had one.”

Jack Willis. The name always sent Mulder’s imagination into a self-indulgent tailspin—he knew that Scully’s sexual history was littered with professors and psychopaths, and it made him a little crazy to think about, especially when he allowed himself the suspicion that he frequently edged into both archetypes himself. But hell, he had his own unsavoury history of graveyard fucks and secret six-week-long marriages to wrestle with, so it hardly seemed appropriate to speculate.

The creature ran alongside the cruiser in front of them, leaping in excitement. “It’s so weird that you’re a dog person, Scully,” he said, trying to cut through the peculiar tension in the car.

“It’s so weird that you’re not. Everyone likes dogs, Mulder. Even Eugene Tooms liked dogs.”

He pulled a face as they rumbled to a stop at the end of the unpaved driveway. “Liking dogs and posing as a dogcatcher while you’re busy munching on human livers are two entirely different things. And I thought we agreed to never bring up Tooms again. Yeuk.” He stuck out his tongue, gagging theatrically.

Marion clambered out of the passenger seat in front of them, and the dog heaved itself upwards, landing a dirty paw on each of her shoulders and licking her frantically. She laughed and staggered a little from the dog’s weight, patting the creature’s ribs.

A woman swayed down the driveway towards them, hugging her elbows against the rapidly souring weather. She looked to be in her mid-forties, a thick, hand-knit oatmeal coloured sweater pulled over a long, dark dress, unruly curls escaping a reddish braid hanging over one shoulder. Mulder put the car into park and popped the trunk for their bags. As he rose from the driver’s seat, the dog released Marion and loped up to him, curious. Although it was thin, it was huge, with a thick chest and a long, deadly maw. He tried not to recoil, conscious of Scully’s eyes on him from across the roof of the car.

“Evening, agents,” the woman called, just as the dog nosed Mulder squarely in the crotch.

“Hypatia, leave the poor man alone.” She clicked her fingers, and the beast obediently returned to her side.

“That’s a strange name for a dog,” Scully ventured, and Mulder watched her walk over and bend to scratch it behind the ear. It licked at her hand, thwumping its tail in the dust. “It’s wonderful, though. Hypatia… the mathematician, right?”

“That’s right! But she was also a philosopher and astronomer. They burned her as a witch, you know. Marion thinks it’s macabre, but I don’t have any children to name, so I’ve got to honour my heroes in my own little ways.” She winked at Marion, who grinned sadly and kicked at the dirt. “Dana and Fox, is that right? I’m Rhiannon.”

“I, uh, actually prefer Mulder,” he offered, but Rhiannon fixed him with an amused look. “Nonsense. This isn’t a spy movie. Fox is a perfectly charming name.”

“Nice to meet you, Rhiannon. And you, Hypatia,” Scully cooed down at the creature, patting its snout. “I, um. Had a dog named Queequeg, so you’re in sympathetic company.” Rhiannon’s shoulders relaxed, perhaps relishing the arrival of another redheaded corpse whisperer with a predilection for overdramatic naming conventions.

Scully had such a way with other women sometimes, an easy camaraderie that made Mulder feel like he didn’t know the password to the tree-fort. He was good with people, he knew—he could charm and manipulate and empathize and even, on occasion, find a real connection with someone, but it was never long before he managed to scare them away. He did best with mollies and Gunmen, their colourful, ornamental presence, their utter lack of need.

He gazed past the cluster of heads to the house behind them. It had character. A looming white Victorian strangled with thick summer-green ivy, with a steeply pitched roof and a wraparound porch. A voluptuous curve of conservatory glass nudged into view from the side, nearly bursting with plant life, and, best of all, there was a bonafide tower. There was a stable out back, empty, as far as he could tell, and a lake glittered in the distance. Mulder admired the curlicue woodwork of the house, the audacious, stubborn sophistication of it in this wild, open place.

Rhiannon’s voice stirred him from his trance. “It’s going to rain,” she said to the group, gesturing at the sky. “Why don’t you all come in? Theo, Marion, I’ve made enough supper for all of us, if you’d like to stay.”

Theo hummed in delight. “Ah, you shouldn’t have, Rhi. Good of you.” He bent to kiss her enthusiastically on the cheek, then looked over his shoulder to Mulder. “Rhiannon’s the best goddamn cook in the county.”

“Well, I’m not so sure about that,” she demurred, gently elbowing Theo, “but in this house, flattery will get you everywhere.”

The group shuffled to the doorway, Hypatia eagerly tangling herself between the thicket of legs and nosing at Mulder’s hands. Theo insisted on carrying Scully’s bags for her, to her great exasperation.

The house was just as charming inside as it was out - cozy and dark and full of interest, with narrow hallways populated by sepia faces in elaborate frames, shelves full of leather-bound books and fading paperbacks, and a winding staircase leading from the foyer to the second level. It was a house that begged to be explored. A house that promised secrets. And the smell: roasting meat and candle wax, warm bread, the sweet tang of mulled wine. Mulder’s stomach clenched in anticipation, suddenly ravenous.

“Theo, why don’t you take the agents’ things upstairs, earn your supper?” From the tilt of his chin, Theo didn’t much like the idea of lugging baggage up to the second floor, but Mulder got the impression that Rhiannon was not a woman you complained to. She had a sort of motherly soulfulness to her, stern and tender, and Mulder was momentarily reminded of Maggie Scully. “Dana’s room is on the left, Theo, closer to the bathroom, okay? Fox’s on the right.” She patted Hypatia’s bony skull as Theo trudged upstairs. “You know, I think this might be the very first time that both rooms have been occupied at the same time since the girls lived here.”

“The girls?” Mulder asked.

“Marion didn’t mention? She and Anna lived here for a while when they were teenagers.” She looked inquisitively at Marion, who shrugged.

“Didn’t come up. We were talking to Hugh,” she said in defense.

“Ah,” Rhiannon nodded, and exhaled, turning back to Scully “Well, come into the dining room, won’t you? Supper’s ready, and I’m sure you must be hungry, with all the way you’ve come.”

“That’s very kind of you, Rhiannon. You really didn’t have to,” Scully said warmly.

Rhiannon sighed, pursing her lips. “It’s… really the least I can do. You’re here to bring our poor Anna some justice. You’re here to put her spirit to rest. That’s a sacred task, and well deserving of a good meal.”

“Now, Rhiannon, how did Anna come to live with you?” Mulder prodded, hoping for an in.

“Now’s not the time, I think. Let’s talk after supper,” Rhiannon said, and Scully’s small hand on his elbow told him to leave it be for the moment.

Marion pushed past them with purpose. “I’ll help you in the kitchen, Rhi.”

11:16 PM

Candlelight, hearthfire, thunderstorm season. Five around the table, and four of them drunk. One chair empty for the dead, thought Mulder, borrowing one of his favourite Scullyisms.

He didn’t usually drink, and neither did Scully, as far as he knew. But Rhiannon had set out a juicy roast heaped with horseradish that reminded him of Sundays in Martha’s Vineyard, crisp new potatoes crusted in salt and herbs, and dense, buttery bread studded with sunflower seeds. Roasted asparagus, a favourite of Scully’s, and beets and oranges drizzled with balsamic vinegar. Several glasses of mulled wine that for some reason, could never quite quench his thirst and seemed refill themselves. And then it was thick wedges of shortbread and coffee with homemade Irish cream, and then it was whiskey, straight from the bottle, passed around the table like they were teenagers at a house party. Mulder was full and warm and had a hazy, distant craving for something he couldn’t quite put his finger on.

Only Marion abstained from the revelry, designating herself the driver, with the assertion that Rhiannon didn’t have enough room to bunk all of them, and that she was not going to make Fox share a bedroom with Theo’s legendary gas and scare him away from town forever.

They were all laughing wildly about something, which seemed dimly taboo in Mulder’s mind. Shouldn’t they be working? Wasn’t a woman dead? But he was drunk and happy and Scully was so pretty in the warm candlelight with the colour high on her cheeks, and the rain outside was tapping melodiously on the roof, and Scully had eaten, and fuck, she was so thin lately, barely able to keep anything down, and the crumb-dusted plate in front of her made him want to make a scene, weep in relief, kiss her full on that clever, clever mouth.

Theo was almost scarlet with drink and warmth and mirth when he slapped Mulder on the back and boomed, “So, how long you kids been together?”

“For fuck’s sake, Theo,” Mulder hiccuped, “You’ve barely got a decade on me.”

“Oh, he calls everyone kid. Always has,” Rhiannon beamed at him, an intimate, knowing gaze that he threw right back at her, and the true nature of their relationship suddenly dawned on Mulder. He felt a bittersweet twinge in his throat.

“When was it, Scully, March ‘93?” He reached across the table and tapped the back of her hand with two fingers. “Time becomes rather, uh, slippery, when you’re in our line of work.” Scully turned her palm up, and her woadpaint eyes swam in front of him as he poked at the middle of it, briefly contemplating the miracle of the stigmata. He liked drunk Scully. She got all soft and sulky and receptive.

“Noooo,” Theo slurred. “I mean together together. You don’t get sick of each other, workin’ together and all that?”

Scully interjected before Mulder could. “We’re just friends. We’re not romantically involved.” The irritation in her voice pricked at him gently, like a mosquito’s beak hitting a nerve ending.

“Oh, sorry, I just assumed… you know, with the way…”

“Shut it, Theo, fuck,” Marion laughed.

“You both single then? I don’t see no rings,” Theo continued drunkenly, taking a swig from the communal bottle.

“Unless Scully’s living a secret life she doesn’t tell me about,” Mulder regarded her squarely from across the table, pressing his fingers more deeply into the curve of her palm, successfully soliciting an indulgent smile. And then it all came rushing out of him, and it was as if he was above himself, listening in helpless horror as the words left his mouth. “But uh… I - I know how much you like Daly’s type. And the way he was looking at you. Like he wanted to take a bite.”

Fuck. He should just crawl under the deck and die.

Scully’s palm tensed under his fingers, and through his drunken panic, Mulder almost didn’t notice Marion and Rhiannon exchange a heavy glance.

Rhiannon rescued the conversation, gazing down at their hands. “You know, if you’d like, Dana, I can read your palm. Tell you about where your love life’s headed.” Scully withdrew her hand from Mulder’s, and grasped instead at the neck of the whiskey bottle, sucking at the mouth of it for two Mississippis without flinching. Mulder admired her through his embarrassment. Tough little sailor’s whelp. “Thanks, Rhiannon,” Scully replied, throat husky, banging the bottle back down onto the table. “But I don’t think so.”

“Fox?” Rhiannon eyed Mulder.

Oh, why the hell not. Anything to make him forget what a fucking asshole he was. “Don’t tell me when I’m gonna die,” he quipped, offering his hand across the table. “I want it to be a surprise.” Fuck you, Bruckman. Rhiannon’s thin, cold fingers plied him open, tracing the lines of his palm. She tucked a cinnamon curl behind her ear, bending close to him, her face scrunching in concern. “Oh, Fox, what a life you’ve had.” You have no idea, lady. A roll of thunder shook the roof.

“So much heartbreak. I’ve never seen so many breaks in a life line… but there are moments of joy, too. Look at how your heart line curves here—you’re a passionate man, maybe with a temper?” She peered up at him, smirking. “But you’re strong, too. A crusader. Idealistic.” She traced another line with her index finger. “And lucky in love.”

Mulder barked a laugh, and Hypatia raised her head and whimpered in the corner at the sound. “I don’t think so. The last time I got laid, the girl set herself on fire the next morning. She might have been a vampire.” The table roared with laughter, but Scully, hip to the facts, glared at him intemperately. Filling her in on that particular case had been very, very stupid of him.

Rhiannon continued, letting her laughter die down to a kindly smile. “Well, regardless, I can see you’re destined for a great love, a real soulmate kind of connection. When you give your heart, you give it completely, even though you’ve experienced so much pain. That’s a beautiful thing, Fox. And here, turn your hand a little… yes, you’ve got a child in your future, too. See how short and deep this little line here is? A daughter.”

Mulder tucked that into the back of his mind. That might be nice, someday. Drunkenly, without meaning to, he conjured the kid in his head—an unruly mop of dark hair, big blue eyes, poking at a dead, tomcat-ravaged bluebird with detached scientific interest.

Theo stood up, clumsily, almost knocking the chair over backwards. “I need a smoke. Either of you smoke? Marion just quit, and smokin’ alone’s no fun.”

To Mulder’s alarm, Scully placed her hands on the table and pushed herself up. He absolutely hated it when she smoked. “I could use some fresh air if you don’t mind the company. I quit a long time ago, though,” she said.

As she followed Theo outside, she turned back, fixing him with an unreadable glare.

1:05 AM

The night crept onward, until they were the only ones left in the world.

Theo fumbled two dirty plates in the kitchen, leaving them in shards on the oiled pine of the floor. After a valiant struggle to keep Hypatia away from the wreckage, Marion hauled Theo out into the stormy night and into the passenger seat of the cruiser, giggling at his impassioned, drunken apologies. Rhiannon had acted as if they’d murdered Anna themselves when they’d offered to help with the washing up, but she’d swiftly abandoned the project, slouching off to bed. Hypatia drooped after her after one last lavish from Scully. Scully missed having a dog, tucking her cold toes under their warm weight, their tortilla chip-scented paws limbed out and kicking through dreams in the corner of the couch.

Scully sat cross-legged and warm against a nest of soft pillows in the ancient sleigh bed, barefoot, comfortably drowning in her oversized cotton pajamas. This was certainly a nice change from the string of musty, inexplicably sticky motel rooms that they usually found themselves in. The room was small, but pretty, with a sloped roof and an old metal radiator under the rain-pelted window, the fringed lamp on the bedside table flickering gently in the dark of the night.

Mulder was leaning against the doorframe, toothbrush planted firmly in his cheek, looking rumpled in fading plaid pajama pants and a gray t-shirt. She was usually a very well-behaved drunk, but there was something in the air tonight that made her feel saturnine, fleshy, undeniable. And Mulder looked delicious in the way that men did when they were in their mid-30s, and in peak physical condition, and completely forbidden to you, and when you knew they carried a secret Walther PPK in an ankle holster under their suit pants and a big old ridiculous brain in their skulls.

She would bet he had a nice, handsome skull under all that skin and hair. She wanted to see it. Hold it in her hands, test the weight, like some sort of Edwardian armchair anthropologist. Maybe if she could examine it, if she could trace the sutures and examine the eyeteeth, she could start to make sense of him.

Spooky Mulder. Magus Mulderii.

She’d gone out to the porch with Theo, contemplating distant flashes of lightning as he smoked three cigarettes in quick succession. She bummed one, making Theo swear his confidence. Hell, she was a dead woman anyway. Might as well enjoy herself. She relished the sharp burn of smoke in her lungs. The toasty, dirty smell of it reminded her of long nights in med school. Afterwards, wracked with guilt, she scrubbed her hands raw in the kitchen sink and gargled leftover wine to mask the olfactory evidence. Mulder absolutely hated it when she smoked, and even after that asshole comment about Daly, she couldn’t bear to disappoint him.

Her blood buzzed with sheepish, soporific pleasure. The cigarette had been a fruitful endeavor. People always talked when you got them alone, especially if they were drunk.

“Didja get a look at the portraits in the hall?” Mulder mumbled around his toothbrush. Every inch of the upstairs hallway was taken up by them, a mishmash of gold-wrought ovals and old black wood. She’d spent a good ten minutes romanced by the portraits, moody tintypes and sepia prints, oil paintings, charcoal sketches.

The photographs were beautiful, remarkably preserved. A studio portrait of a woman with the saucy pin-curled hair of the 1920s, her hand lost in the wiley, scrappy coat of a blurry wolfhound. A mother-daughter set from the 1870s or 80s, she guessed from the ruffles, a stout terrier planted like a fern between them. They all had Rhiannon’s rebellious hair, slight variations of her hawkish nose. There was one photograph in particular that Scully had quite liked. It was from the late 50s: Rhiannon’s mother, or an aunt perhaps, with a cropped beatnik mop and a black turtleneck. She carried a collie on her hip like a baby, quirking a cornball grin for the mysterious photographer. Scully wished she had family photos of such high quality. Her own collection consisted of two photographs of her dour great-grandmother on her father’s side, who, rather unfortunately, resembled Bill when he was carrying a little extra weight.

“They all looked quite a bit like Rhiannon,” she replied lightly, picking at a thread on the hem of her sleeve. Old photographs always disarmed her. These people had been real, at one time. They’d been just as alive as she was now. How strange it was that they now only existed in pictures, whole souls reduced to hollow arrangements of light and shadow. It was almost unfathomable to think that they’d had childhoods, personalities, tastes, joys, sorrows. That they’d loved and been loved. “Must be nice to have such a well-documented account of one’s ancestors,” she said, trying to shake the ghosts from her head.

“Ancestresses, Scully. There isn’t a single man in those photographs.” That was a little strange, she silently conceded, but most likely Rhiannon had chosen to do that on purpose. She shrugged loosely, and Mulder changed the subject. “Did you get anything good out of Theo?”

Her moment. She liked having knowledge that Mulder didn’t have. He was always so infuriatingly ahead of the curve. She leaned forward, easing a stretch into her hips, meeting his eyes, making him wait a few heartbeats. “Theo… seems to think that Marion and Hugh are sleeping together.”

Mulder stopped brushing. Her favourite quizzical dent in his forehead appeared.

“Or were,” she continued. “I doubt they are now, with the way Marion reacted to him earlier at his house. But Theo apparently caught them in an, um, intimate moment at the police station when she was supposed to be taking his statement after the silos burned down.”

“Huh.” Mulder scratched at the stubble sprouting in the divet of his chin, and ducked into the hallway bathroom to rinse his toothbrush and inevitably swallow his toothpaste, returning a second later. “I must be losing my touch. Does Marion seem like the type to jump into the sack with a friend’s husband to you?”

“I’m not sure if there’s a type, Mulder. Besides, maybe she’s in love with him. Love makes you do stupid things,” Scully mused.

“That it does,” he agreed. They looked at each other evenly.

“In any case, she certainly doesn’t want anything to do with him anymore,” Scully continued. “I think she’s scared of him, Mulder. When I spoke with her at Daly’s, she made it sound like it’s almost… impossible to resist his will.” She remembered the weight of his gaze, his hypnotic voice, and chewed her lip bashfully. “You know… it’s the strangest thing, but the man does seem to have… a certain pull to him, a certain energy…” a blush threatened the tips of her ears as she recalled the strong arc of Hugh’s aquiline nose.

Mulder grimaced. “…Seriously, Scully? A pull? Don’t tell me you—”

“ —Don’t be like that,” she interrupted, not wanting to know where the rest of that sentence was going. “You have to admit he’s charismatic. All I mean to say is that he probably has a very easy time manipulating whoever he wants, especially younger women like Marion.”

Mulder seemed to consider this.

“You know,” she said, “Back at Daly’s, she warned me against… falling into his orbit, whatever that means.”

“Maybe she was jealous. He was making it pretty clear what he thought of you. Less than 72 hours after the death of his wife, I’m inclined to point out.” He chewed his cheek in disgust for a moment, and then strode over to flop onto the bed beside her, his back against the old oak headboard, legs stretched out in front of him. The mattress was soft, and she sunk involuntarily into his weight, pressing her crossed knee into his thigh.

“No… no, I don’t think she was jealous,” Scully replied, pausing to hiccup. “She seemed sincere… like she was trying to protect me. Like she knew something.”

“Do you think she believes Daly murdered Anna?”

“… I don’t know.” Somehow, despite her initial suspicion back in D.C., she couldn’t imagine it. It didn’t seem right, now that she’d met him in person. She’d seen the cold face of true evil. Pfaster. Tooms. And despite the disquieting singe of Hugh’s eyes, she felt, somewhere in the depths of her heart, that he couldn’t be capable of murder. “What about the brother? The one Hugh mentioned? I mean, murder and arson aren’t exactly what the Mennonites are known for, but psychopaths are born into every religious persuasion. Maybe he’s our guy.” She pressed her knee more firmly into his thigh, as if to convince him.

“Hey now, Scully, wait just a second here, you’re completely discounting the omens. Remember? The omens, the whole reason it’s us out here? You really think this is a cut-and-dry murder case?”

“Mulder!” She exclaimed, twisting her head up to stare at him in sudden frustration. Shit. That was really loud. She slapped a palm over her mouth and failed to swallow an embarrassed giggle. Her fingers smelled like cigarettes and lavender soap.

“Scully!” Mulder’s voice crackled in irritated amusement. “You saw that black mare!” He shifted to face her, and Scully suddenly realized how close they were, how she could feel his heat.

“So we saw a horse, in the middle of ranch country. There must be thousands of horses out there—”

“She appeared out of nowhere. She was an omen.” His voice was low, insistent, and damnably persuasive.

He leaned almost imperceptibly forward, vibrating with tension, and his fingers brushed the side of her knee. It could have been accidental. The whiskey swimming in her bloodstream stubbornly pinned her in place.

“Mulder, you can’t be serious. Who, or what, could possibly have the power to direct these creatures and orchestrate these events? You can’t possibly think that these so-called omens are visions from God, the only thing, may I remind you, that you don’t believe in and refuse to consider—so what, then? A supernatural manifestation of predestiny?”

Mulder shifted closer again and eyed her mouth thoughtfully, almost smiling, but didn’t interject.

“And… and if that’s the case, what would even be the point in warning someone, if these events are predestined and impossible to prevent? And if we take these likely random occurrences as omens, how on earth are we supposed to predict or trace their trail? How will they help us solve Anna’s murder? I mean, this is all assuming we believe Hugh, who, for all we know, could be mentally ill—he’s certainly emotionally compromised, so I frankly believe that we should take anything he says on these omens with a grain of salt—scratch that—a whole rock of salt.”

Oh God, she was rambling, she was incoherent, but she couldn’t seem to make herself stop, not even when Mulder’s fingers brushed her knee again, this time unmistakably on purpose—

“This whole omen thing, Mulder—it’s absurd, honestly, and you’re reaching for something that isn’t there and has absolutely no basis in science. This is a murder case, plain and simple, regardless of whether Daly’s been seeing visions or not - maybe someone is orchestrating these events to make sure he thinks he’s been seeing omens, possibly Anna’s brother, to convolute this whole mess so he can get away with murdering his sister. But hey, if you want to write a report for Skinner citing omens and predestiny and all other sorts of malarky, be my guest.”

Scully took a deep breath. They looked at each other for a long moment, a mysterious glimmer dark in Mulder’s eyes.

“Hey, Scully?” He purred.

“What?!” she snapped in self-conscious frustration, almost laughing.

“You’re a fun drunk.”

A grin tugged at a corner of those provocative lips of his. Time seemed to slow down around them.

“Shut up, Mulder.” It seemed the safest thing to say.

“You’re the one motormouthing here,” he chuckled, swirling his knuckles around her kneecap. Scully’s breath floated in her lungs. Mulder was in her bed, warm and big and so, so real, and how had that not fully registered? A flame of breathtaking arousal roared to life in her belly.

Mulder gently broke the silence. “I’m, uh… I’m sorry about that comment at dinner. I don’t know what came over me. Totally inappropriate.”

“You? Inappropriate?”

He smiled at that, and removed his hand quickly, as if he’d suddenly realized where it had been.

“I, uh, forgot to tell you—while you’re doing your autopsy tomorrow, Marion’s gonna drive me up to the Mennonite settlement and we’re gonna have a talk with Abel Stoesz and his wife. Hopefully.”

She swallowed and wet her lips with her tongue, willing her blood to cool. “Okay.”

“We, um. We should get some sleep.” He heaved himself off the bed, and paused again to lean in the doorway, all long limbs and tawny, mammal warmth. She felt his absence like a wound.

“Night, Scully.”

Stay.

“Goodnight, Mulder.”

He lingered for a moment longer, chewing his bottom lip, and then he was gone.

3:00 AM

His face above her, sweat glimmering, gorgeous in the moonlight. Heat and movement, the muscles shifting in his back, his humid breath. How long she had silently wanted this, waited for this… the familiar, comforting smell of him all around her, salt and earth and life, his kiss like a mouthful of golden oil, the grim knot of her heart unraveling after years and years of tight control. Soft, deep eyes, dark as olives… shifting and changing with the shadows… until he was someone else…

His face above her, angular, ribald and brazen, a wet jasper stare, and even inside of her he was different, sweet and sharp as a knife. He was larger than the first… colder, harder, wilder, like a sea god, proud and abounding. The shadows flickered again, and again the face changed…

Her face above her, black hair rippling in a thick and cedar-scented curtain around them, small breasts soft as they pushed up against her own, a tongue like a snake’s, fluid and young, and then the shadows, and then another change…

Her face above her, pale, haunted, her flaxen hair made slick and black with blood. Skin gashed and ruined and falling from the flesh, falling from the bone, eyes blind-blue and weeping pus, mouth opening too far, too far, too far… jaw unhinging in a terrible, bone-chilling shriek….

Her own face above her. Colourless. Lifeless. Dead.

Scully lurched into wakefulness with a horrified, anguished yelp, sweating, tears streaking down her cheeks. Rain was pounding hard against the window, the whole house groaning and whining against the powerful wind. She thrashed against the covers, wrestling for freedom.

A knock at the door came a moment later, and a low, muffled voice. “Scully? You okay in there?” She tried to steady her breath, temper her galloping heartbeat. “I’m fine,” she managed.

The door opened a crack, and Mulder’s dark form stepped half-inside of the room, disheveled from sleep. “You don’t sound fine. Fuck, you don’t look fine. Scully… ”

“It was just a nightmare.” She wiped furiously at the tears on her cheeks, hoping he hadn’t noticed them. “Just… just a nightmare.”

He licked his lips nervously and looked her over. “Okay. Um. You just… you call me if you need me, okay?”

“In what possible circumstance would I need you here, Mulder?” she snapped, embarrassed, recalling the first part of her dream. She could taste the bite of copper in the back of her throat, and the hurt that flashed across Mulder’s face only made her angrier.

“Fine,” he said, closing the door with a snick.

She curled back into the heavy duvet, shivering, and willed herself back into a restless sleep.

Chapter Text

KICKING HORSE B&B
JULY 23 - 6:23 AM

Pale sunlight streamed into the room, warming Scully’s cheek, a peaceful change from last night’s storm. She grumbled and stretched underneath the covers, rotating a sore ankle on a cool patch of sheets before letting her eyes flutter open. No one could accuse her of being anything resembling a morning person, but she’d never had the ability to sleep in after a night of drinking.

She surveyed the room in the lavender dawn, sober now, and made mental notes for her own apartment before remembering that there wasn’t much point in redecorating when you had a rapidly approaching expiry date. Her nightmare bled back into her memory in snippets, skin and blood and sweetness and dread, tears and panic, Mulder at the door.

She winced and eased herself up on her elbows, and then the headache hit her, a bolt of pain behind her eyes. Oh, fuck. Jesus. Oh. She needed water, and coffee, stat. She hoped Rhiannon was up.

She fingered her wristwatch on the bedside table, squinting to look at the time. Early, but not so early that it was impolite to be up and about in the house. Gingerly, she rolled out of bed and felt around the footboard for her robe. She slipped it around her shoulders, and stiffly padded out into the hall. Her mouth tasted awful, so she dipped into the bathroom to brush her teeth and finger-comb her hair, and then felt inspired to check in on Mulder.

She shouldn’t have been so harsh with him last night. He was only making sure she was okay. But that dream…

The door to his room was slightly open, and she could hear the steady, muffled sway of his snore. She peered inside, careful not to make a sound. He was completely buried in blankets, save for one long, bare foot sticking off of the edge of the mattress, toes twitching. A swell of guilty affection washed over her, and she had the urge to creep over and run her fingernails down the curve of his arch, see if he was ticklish.

Instead, she turned and moved down the hall, descending the stairs as the Bishop women and their dogs looked on. The wood creaked under her feet, and the sound summoned Hypatia, probably the only creature in the house unafflicted with a hangover. She met Scully a few steps up, whimpering in pleasure, slapping her with her tail and blocking the way downstairs. “Hey, sweet girl…” Scully massaged one of the dog’s fleecy ears between her thumb and fingertips, and maneuvered her way around her massive wriggling body and into the kitchen.

There was no evidence of yesterday’s dinner to be found. The kitchen practically sparkled, and something enticingly yeasty scented the air. A large pot of coffee was percolating, black and seductive, on the tiled counter, and the room was suffused in sunrise, beaming in from the attached conservatory.

A bittersweet hum trickled through the air, a melody that Scully recognized. The water is wide, I cannot get o’er, she thought, and heard ghostly strains of her father’s tuneless Navy warble. The memory tugged at her ribs. She followed the sound and found Rhiannon in the lushness of the conservatory, her frizzy corkscrew hair loose around her waist, lovingly plucking mint leaves one by one from a large potted bush propped up on a wooden bench. The conservatory was packed full of plant life—ficuses and string-of-pearls, roses and tomatoes, and an assortment of herbs that would rival an 18th-century apothecary.

“My father used to sing that song to my sister and I when he was home from sea,” Scully said in greeting.

Rhiannon looked up and smiled. “Oh, good morning, Dana. I hope I didn’t wake you.” An embroidered velvet robe in faded garnet hung off of Rhiannon’s shoulders. With the halo of sunlight around her, the scene resembled a Mucha panel, especially when Hypatia left Scully’s side to wrap herself around Rhiannon’s hips. Her hair was so long that a tendril caught in the crimpy fur of Hypatia’s backbone, dragging in an alluring loop.

“No, no, you didn’t wake me,” Scully said, a little entranced. She wondered if she’d ever seen such a pretty scene in her life.

“I’ve got biscuits in the oven, care to join me in the kitchen? How are you feeling?”

“You know, I’d love a cup of coffee.”

Rhiannon chuckled softly at that, pressing a few more mint leaves into the handful she’d collected. “Perhaps the whiskey wasn’t the brightest idea. But the bottle invited itself to the table, and that’s the story I’m sticking to.”

“It was a wonderful dinner, Rhiannon. Thank you. I really wish you’d have let me help you clean up, though.”

“Oh, hush,” Rhiannon said, as she traipsed neatly across the tile past Scully and into the kitchen, depositing the mint leaves into a copper pot on the stovetop. She rattled four mismatched mugs down from the hutch in the corner, picked up the coffee pot, and tilted it over the largest one, the black stream of steaming liquid making Scully’s mouth water. “Now, Dana, how do you take your coffee? Cream, sugar? Or if you’d like, I can make it my way.”

Hell, why not. “Well, usually I just have a little soy milk, but when in Rome…” Scully smiled politely, leaning up against the counter and trying to ignore the pulse in her temple. She watched as Rhiannon caught a curled shard of cinnamon from a corked ceramic jar, and grated a nugget of nutmeg over it into a rough stone mortar. She added a swift dash of some mysterious blend from another jar, and ground it all together, rotating the pestle and humming lightly as she worked. A mound of butter was produced from the old-fashioned icebox, and she slid a generous pat of it onto a knife and into the mug, adding a fat pinch of the powdered spices, catching Scully’s slight grimace and imploring her not to knock it until she tried it.

“Here,” Rhiannon handed her the resulting brew, and Scully dutifully took a sip. A flood of heat and life immediately moved through her head, through her chest, down into her belly. It was delicious. It might have been the best cup of coffee she’d ever had.

“Oh my God, this is incredible,” she gushed over the rim of the mug, amazed, taking another sip. “… I really might never go back to soy.” Rhiannon laughed, busying herself with making another cup. “You’re quite the cook, Rhiannon. You’ve never thought of doing it professionally?”

“No,” she said, at work at the mortar. “No, I love what I do. I’ve always felt so connected with animals. Cooking’s just a hobby of mine, that’s all. An obsessive hobby, I’ll admit, but a hobby.”

“You’re, um. A medical doctor as well as a veterinarian, is that correct?” Scully asked.

“Well, I’m only certified in veterinary medicine, but my mother was a healer of sorts, so I learned a lot from her. I can handle the basic first-aid stuff—when a kid from town needs stitches, when there’s an uncomplicated homebirth over at the settlement and they need assistance, that sort of thing - and I find a lot of concepts and practical applications carry forward. Medicine is such an instinctual practice anyway.”

“Hmm.” Scully cringed internally, but fought back the urge to argue with her. “Rhiannon, you know that you can’t legally practice medicine without a license.”

Rhiannon shrugged. “Is helping a neighbour out in a pinch the same as practicing medicine? Nobody’s going to sue me, Dana. Horizon isn’t New York.”

“That it is not,” Scully agreed. When they’d driven in to the police station the previous afternoon, they’d found it nestled in the middle of all of seven interlocking streets. The rest of the town, in name, was a scattering of isolated farmhouses and homesteads. She took another sip of her coffee. “Mulder mentioned that you performed an autopsy on Hugh Daly’s horse?”

“I looked him over…” Rhiannon said carefully, stirring spices into her own cup. “It was strange… it was as if Ghost just… laid his head down in the river. There aren’t many examples of suicidal behaviour in animals, unless you’re counting that bridge in Scotland where all those dogs are always jumping to their deaths. He was such a beautiful horse, wasn’t he?”

“Mmm,” Scully agreed.

“Hugh, um. Hugh bought that horse for Anna as a wedding gift. Oh, you should have seen her, Dana. She was like a fairy. She rode up to the church bareback, and she… she wasn’t wearing any shoes, and you know, it’s funny… that day… all I can really remember clearly are the soles of her feet, how dirty they were…” Her eyes misted over, unexpectedly, and she blinked up at the ceiling.

“I’m sorry,” she said, pressing her face into one of her wide sleeves and trying to compose herself. Her grief suddenly filled the room like smoke, and Scully couldn’t help but ache for her.

“I never liked that man,” Rhiannon said. “He was trouble from the start.” Scully furrowed her brows, uncomfortable. “You’re, um…You’re taking a look at Anna today, is that right?”

“Yes,” Scully replied softly. Theo’d arranged for a cleared-out room in the police station and had borrowed the requested materials and tools from Rhiannon’s supplies. Better than a bathroom, she supposed, thinking of Home, but if the photographs were any indication, Anna’s body was so thoroughly wrecked that she wasn’t sure there was much she could determine from it.

“I was the one who… who identified her body. Out in that field. Hugh was raving, out of his mind, he wouldn’t even look at her, wouldn’t even come close. God, I don’t think I’ll ever get over seeing her like that… Theo let Marion see her too, that stupid, thoughtless man. He shouldn’t have done that.” She gripped the counter ledge, coffee abandoned, her eyes still swimming.

Scully reached out and touched her arm. “I’m so sorry for your loss, Rhiannon. I don’t know if I said it last night.”

“Those girls, Dana… they’re my daughters.” Rhiannon dashed a tear from her cheek. “And I failed. I failed to protect them.”

“This is not your fault,” Scully said. “You can’t take that on. But what you can do is tell us everything you know. About Anna, about Hugh, about anyone who might have wanted to hurt her. Beginning with how she came to live with you in the first place.”

Rhiannon sniffed, considering this. “It was that brother of hers. She had to get away.” Abel Stoesz, again. “Abel is… he’s controlling, he’s possessive… even after she made it clear she wasn’t ever going to go back to the colony, he’d come here, screaming at her from the driveway…” Rhiannon ran water from the sink into a blue-tinted Ball jar, and sipped at it, regaining her composure. “He’s been especially persistent with her since she married Hugh, though. It’s a good thing Fox is going to talk to him today, although I wish Marion wouldn’t go with him and subject herself to that. Sometimes I wonder why on earth she went into law enforcement. She’s such a sensitive spirit. But anything to impress Theo, I suppose. She worships the ground that man walks on.”

Scully turned this over in her mind. “If it’s any consolation… Mulder, he’s sensitive too, and it doesn’t negate his strength or his capability. I may not always agree with him, but he has this… incredible ability to get to the heart of an issue, to understand perspectives and motivations that other people might not consider. His compassion makes all the difference in our work. I’m sure it’ll prove to be the same with Marion as well.” She left out Mulder’s desperation, his obsessive nature, how wholly and intensely he took on the pain of the people left behind. How every unsolved case was a new gaping wound that would never scar over.

Rhiannon assessed her for a few moments as she sipped at the jar, leaning back on the wooden island across from her. “You two must be very close.”

“We’re partners,” Scully said. “We’ve been through a lot together.” Suddenly self-conscious, she drew deeply from her mug, draining it, willing her cheeks to cool. A timer sounded, and Rhiannon turned her attention to the oven, opening the ceramic door to reveal a tray of fluffy biscuits. The smell was incredible. Scully hadn’t had an appetite in months, but there was something about Rhiannon’s cooking that was just… different. It was nourishing, appealing in a way that her usual diner fare and dry green salads just weren’t.

Rhiannon retrieved a jar of preserves—“Last year’s serviceberries were so prolific that I made fifty jars, can you believe that? And I’m pretty sure that Theo’s eaten forty of those”—and plunked it on the worn kitchen table. She plucked the steaming biscuits from the tray and piled them onto a chipped blue china serving platter, setting it down on the table next to a bowl of oranges. Hypatia paced, looking for a handout.

Just as Scully was working up the energy to ask Rhiannon for a second cup of coffee, the front door was unlocked from the outside, and Marion, stately and clean in a freshly pressed uniform, strolled into the kitchen. “Morning, Dana,” she smiled at Scully, and gave Rhiannon a kiss on the cheek. Scully’s mind lingered on last night’s dream, the scent of cedar, the woman’s bow-shaped lips poised above her own, and she blinked down at the tile.

Rhiannon asked Marion if she’d like a cup of coffee, and Marion declined. “You’re on a real health kick lately, Mare,” Rhiannon complained, but Marion just shrugged and took a jam jar of water to the table.

Just then, Mulder bounded down the stairs in his running shoes and a Knicks tank, rattling the walls, his hair sticking up in every direction. “Morning, womenfolk,” he said, squinting in the sun. Scully pressed coffee-warm fingers to her pounding temple, and wondered how on earth it was possible for him to run with a hangover. Where did he get all of that energy? Hypatia whined excitedly at the sight of him and rushed to his legs, but he sidestepped her, patting her awkwardly on the head after a moment of hesitation, and made for the sink. He turned on the tap and stuck his mouth under the running water, sucking at the stream obscenely. “Mulder—” Scully scolded him, embarrassed, but the other women just smirked.

Mulder leaned against the counter and wiped his mouth with the hem of his shirt. Scully found herself looking at the lines of his hipbones disappearing into his sweats, and ripped her eyes away, but Rhiannon caught her and smiled knowingly.

“I’m seriously outnumbered here without Theo,” he quipped. “Marion, you okay if I go for a run before we leave?”

“Of course. Take your time. I’m still waking up, and it’s not like they’re expecting us.” Marion scuffled her nails on the tabletop, eyeing him openly.

“Fox, do you mind taking Hypatia with you? She doesn’t need a leash. There’s a lake a little way along the path out back, she’ll take you right to it and bring you back,” Rhiannon said, clearly not expecting him to refuse. Scully glanced at Mulder and caught him looking at her, defeated.

“Save some breakfast for me, Scully,” Mulder squeezed her shoulder on his way past her, last night’s tense exchange wordlessly forgiven. He begrudgingly held the screen door open for the dog, who trotted happily past him and down into the front yard.

“Uh, yum, Dana,” Marion laughed, once he was out of earshot. “Fox is a hunk under all that trenchcoat. I think I was too distracted by that awful tie of his to notice last night.”

Scully felt a grin tug at her lips, despite her best intentions. She suddenly realized how much she missed having female friends; Ellen’s cupboard full of cheap, secret wine, her college roommate Andrea’s fresh flower habit. Melissa, of course, with her incense and her crystals and the way she insisted on carefully studying the full astrological chart of every person Scully slept with.

She leaned towards Marion conspiratorially, nostalgia thrumming. “You should see him in glasses.”

8:04 AM

Mulder’s feet pounded mercilessly into the wet, mulchy grass at a counter-rhythm to the ferocious throb in his head. The trail to the pond was a worn, crushed valley through a field of knee-high wilderness. Wildflowers bloomed, silvery wolfwillow spicing the air with a sour, soaked-fur smell. The dog ran gracefully in front of him, darting off into the distance before returning to circle around his feet, panting joyously. Mulder had the distinct impression she was making fun of him.

“You’ve got four legs and I’ve only got two, you foul hellbeast—” he called to her on her next rocket away. “This whole thing is rigged!” She barked happily in response, and reared onto her hind legs before jolting back to him for another relay.

His thoughts turned to Scully. God, sitting in that bed with her… he’d gotten dangerously close to doing something he’d certainly regret. Whiskey always made him dumb as shit, impulsive.

And her nightmare. He’d only been dozing, and her scream through the wall had been like a wave of ice water over him. How he’d wanted to run in there, wrap her in his arms, chase the shadows away. But she was right. She didn’t need him. Not like that.

He smelled the lake before he saw it, a moist earthy fetor tossed over the land like a wet blanket. As he came upon the glittering water, spooking a few mallards into flight, he noticed a rotting boat in the reeds on the far bank, turquoise paint flaking off in sheets. Just for something to do, he circled the lake at a sprint until he was closer to it. The dog trotted behind him, nose to the ground.

“Don’t eat anything weird,” he warned her, almost tripping as he drummed his heels to a stop. He wiped the sweat from his forehead and his stinging eyes. The morning sun shattered off of the surface of the lake and warmed the back of his neck, and he took a moment to kick out his legs a little as he caught his breath, bending to massage his aching right knee. The dog began to whimper irritably, a low growl that crescendoed into a keening whine. She threaded her long snout under his elbow.

“Hey—stop it—” He brushed her nose away, and returned to pressing his fingers around his oft-tortured patella. Scully’d been trying to get him to wear a knee brace lately, but he didn’t think he was ready to admit that he needed one. Maybe he should just swallow his ego before he did permanent damage, and had to resort to pumping on the elliptical with the government trophy wives at the Planet Fitness down the street from his apartment.

The dog moaned low, insistent, and let loose a stream of discontented yips. He looked up at her to find her crouching, her ears plastered backwards on her skull. “What the hell is wrong with you?” He chuffed a knuckle on her muzzle, and when she didn’t look up at him, he followed her eyeline.

The bottom of the boat was pooled with lakewater and blood.

A dead fox was curled in the murk, his toothy maw twisted into a grimace, as if in pain. The kohl tips of his ears were ragged. His eyes were closed. The dog yowled and whimpered behind him, pacing.

The sweet, mushroomy smell of death furled up from the corpse as Mulder leaned over it, looking for a wound. A few flies buzzed in circles around the eyes, nose, and mouth of the creature. As he got closer, he noticed the wriggling white body of a maggot crawl from the fox’s black-rimmed lip. A cold chill pierced Mulder’s stomach, and he retched into the grass beside him as he whirled away from the scene, losing what was left of last night’s dinner. The dog wailed.

He spat, and looked back up in horror.

“Fucking Jesus fuck,” he swore, scrunching his eyes and scrubbing his face with his palms. The dog’s crouching body was a coil of tension behind him. He backed away, but she wouldn’t follow.

“C’mere, dog,” he called, his voice rusty with bile. “Get away from that.”

The dog dainted a wide berth around the boat, starting and stopping, and Mulder called her again. “C’mon girl. Let’s go. C’mon.” She finally worked up the courage to pass it, throwing back a fierce growl as she skittered along. Mulder spat again, wishing for some water, and launched into a punishing pace back to Kicking Horse.

The sense of unease swirled around him. The dog ran in front this time, leaving him in the dust, eager to get home to her mistress. The fox in the boat couldn’t be a coincidence. Not with his name. Not with Scully’s vulpine head of hair.

Two omens in two days. Shit. And this one was personal.

Chapter Text

HORIZON MENNONITE COLONY
JULY 23 - 12:06 PM

Abel Stoesz was cabled with stringy muscle, a sparse yellow beard struggling to assert itself under phlegmy, peacock-blue eyes. He had the brutish, loose-jawed look of someone who was willfully stupid, and Mulder, still on edge from the dead fox in the boat, was already itching to break his nose. 

Salome, his wife, was a waif of a woman; tiny, shorter even than Scully, and so agonizingly underweight that you could see the architecture of her skull beneath her face. Perched beside Abel on the stiff loveseat, she rested her bird-bone hands on the gentle, rounded swell of her belly, and a raisin-coloured bruise, smattered with green, framed one eye. Most of her was buttoned up in one of the ubiquitous puff-sleeved frocks of the religiously sequestered, but Mulder would bet that the bruise had a few cousins underneath the powder-blue polyester. They were a few days fresh, he estimated, probably about as old as the news of Anna’s death. 

Mulder longed for the opportunity to set Abel up with a few matching welts of his own, but settled for hating him privately in the interest of avoiding an assault charge and one of Skinner’s arduous ass-chewings. He consoled himself by grinding his molars together. 

Outside, white bungalows and red barns squatted in clusters on the flat expanse of land. A black storm battled the sun for dominance, and the glass panes of the windows, loose in their tracks, rattled against the wind. The other members of the colony, bonneted and behatted, milled politely about their business. 

He and Marion had been invited to stay for lunch by the community elders the moment they arrived. They’d been ferried along to the dining hall, but then Abel had emerged from the throng and snapped them away from the friendly masses, yelling for Salome, who scurried after them and into the dark of their tiny home. 

The air stank of hyssop detergent. No one offered coffee or tea. Marion refused to sit down, and Salome eyed the gun on her hip uneasily. 

Abel spoke first, and spoke plainly. “I didn’t murder my sister.” 

“It’s interesting you say that, Mr. Stoesz,” Mulder countered, struggling to hide the contempt in his voice. “Why do you assume that Anna was murdered?” 

“Why else would you people be here?” Abel glared at Marion, who was standing sentinel near the empty wall, arms crossed. Mulder half expected steam to billow from her nostrils. 

“Your sister’s husband mentioned that you’re not too fond of him,” Mulder said. “Would you say that’s accurate?”

“Hugh Daly is a scourge on this earth, and every day I pray for his retribution,” Abel sneered, spittle frothing in the corners of his mouth.

“Wouldn’t it be more Christlike to pray for mercy on his soul, instead of divine punishment?” Marion asked, her face ruddy with indignation. She stared Abel down with fiery determination, and Abel stared right back, the loose skin around his eyes twitching, not deigning to respond. The wind knocked against the windows like it wanted to pick a fight.

“What has he done to warrant retribution?” Mulder asked, and Abel turned back to him. 

“Anna always had a… disobedient streak. That’s why she left. But that man… he seduced her, corrupted her. Ruined her. Before he came sniffing around, before he made her his whore, Anna could have still come home. She could have returned to her people, to her rightful place.”

“Her rightful place?” Mulder prodded.

“It was my duty to bring her back. To correct her. She was my sister. My responsibility.” 

Mulder leaned back in his seat, hands firmly flattened on his knees so they wouldn’t accidentally crash into Abel’s ugly mug. He let his eyes pass over Salome’s battered, bitter face, and wondered what, exactly, constituted this man’s idea of responsibility. 

“You know, Mr. Stoesz,” he began, slowly, easing into a new strategy. “I… do admire your conviction. It takes a strong hand to correct a wayward woman, and so few men these days have the stomach for it.” 

Abel was visibly heartened, his mouth twisting into an agreeable, self-righteous frown. This is too easy, Mulder thought to himself. Men like Abel thrived on validation. If he could effectively convince him that he was on his side, he was sure Abel would, intentionally or otherwise, let the cat out of the bag. Or, maybe, in this case, the crow. 

Mulder could feel Marion staring at the back of his head, but thankfully, she didn’t say anything. He hoped she could trust that he knew what he was doing.

“I have a sister too,” he half-lied. “I understand. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do to protect her. To bring her home if she was… lost.” His mind conjured a few versions of Samantha at various ages, abducted, cloned, ripped to a bloody pulp in the wheat. His chest contracted in a familiar pain, and he directed the images to the raw hollow in the back of his brain where he kept most of his thoughts about her, promising to return to them later for self-flagellation. 

Abel nodded fervidly, evidently gathering his thoughts. 

Anna was the devil’s slut—” Salome hissed in a high, thin squall, apparently unable to contain herself any longer. “Witch—”, then Abel violently gripped her arm, and she gasped and shut her mouth, glowering at her belly and skating a claw around it discontentedly. 

“She was still my kin,” Abel growled. 

Mulder, sensing an opening, leapt in for the kill. “Mr. Stoesz, have you ever experienced anything you couldn’t explain? Or suspected that you have the ability to make things… happen? To affect the world around you without necessarily taking direct action?” 

Abel looked at Mulder stupidly, his neanderthal mind stonemilling the words, trying to decide if he was accusing him of something or not. But before he could answer, Salome spoke again. 

“Hugh Daly is facing retribution for his sins. Whatever misfortunes befall him, whether they are acts of God, man, or Satan himself, he is deserving of.” She trembled with conviction, her bony jaw shaking. 

“And Anna, Mrs. Stoesz? What about her?” Marion said tersely, from over at the wall. 

“Perhaps she has also received her judgement,” said Salome, and Abel looked at her quickly, working, Mulder noticed, to keep his expression neutral. 

Mulder’s cell chirped in his pocket. “Excuse me,” he muttered, and removed himself to the porch, carelessly letting the screen door slam shut behind him. He jabbed the worn rubber of the call button and put the phone to his ear, squinting at the gathering storm. “Mulder.” 

“Mulder, it’s me…” Scully sounded breathless, resigned. He didn’t like it one bit. “Hey, you okay? What did the autopsy turn up?” He picked at a shard of peeling paint on the railing, wary of the sadness in her voice. 

“Anna Daly was pregnant.” 

“… Are you sure? How can you tell?”

“I found… remnants. Of the fetus.” 

Mulder flinched. “From what I can gather based on the apparent level of skeletal development, I’d estimate she was eighteen to twenty weeks along.” 

He sucked air through his teeth. “Jesus. You think Daly knew?” 

“I’m going to call him up to the station here and find out.” 

“You okay?” His stomach clenched with the brief flickering memory of her ova in a vial. Not now, he thought. She doesn’t need to know right now. Maybe not ever. 

She hesitated momentarily before answering him. “I’m fine, Mulder.” 

“You sure?” Scully’s voice took on an exasperated edge. “Yes.” 

“Because if you’re not, it’s…” “What do you want me to say? That it was fun?” She said, sharply. “Scully, that’s not—”

“—Listen, I have to get back. We’ll discuss it tonight.”

“…Okay,” he said, doing little to disguise the irritation in his tone. 

Held hostage by some unspoken, unacknowledged superstition, neither of them said goodbye. Mulder hung up the phone, took a stabilizing breath, refocused himself, and walked back inside. He settled back into a stiff-cushioned chair across from the Stoeszs. “I just got a call from my partner,” he said. “Mr. Stoesz, are you aware that Anna was pregnant at the time of her death?”  

Abel looked like Mulder had punched him in the gut, which was almost as good as actually doing it. 

“Are you serious?” Marion whispered behind him, and when he glanced over his shoulder at her, her eyes were saucer-wide. 

And then Abel leapt up in a sudden rage, prompting Salome to flee the loveseat like a frightened, emaciated rabbit. 

“Get out of my house,” he seethed, taking a few lunging steps towards Marion. She stumbled backwards, palming her gun over the holster. 

“Mrs. Stoesz, if you’d like, you’re free to come with us.” Mulder swiftly maneuvered himself so that he was between her and Abel, and reached out an upturned hand, but she gave him such a sharp, hateful look that his balls practically shrivelled, even as his heart went out to her. 

“You heard my husband,” she hissed. “Get out.” 

Just another person he couldn’t save. Add it to the scoreboard, boys. 

He stomped out of the house behind Marion’s flustered stride, the cool wind catching the edge of his trench coat and sending it flapping behind him. A few plaid-clad teenage boys waved excitedly at them from the flat of a wooden cart as they hoofed it back to the truck. 

Marion released a creative string of curses and condemnations concerning Abel’s personal attributes, including the diminutive size of his dick. “You drive,” she finished, tossing Mulder the keys in disgust. “I’m gonna end up killing us if I do. Fuck, that man riles me.” 

“You’ve got experience with him? Mulder asked, as he hoisted himself into the cracked leather driver’s seat of Marion’s cherry Chevy Scottsdale. A felted green air freshener in the shape of a pine tree swung from the rearview mirror. He started the engine, and Harvest swelled to life from the tape deck. 

“Kind of.” Marion said, slumping into the passenger seat. “Met him a few times. Mostly at Rhiannon’s, back when me and Anna lived there. He used to show up a lot. Rhiannon usually wouldn’t let him past the front door, so him ‘n Anna’d be arguing in the driveway… God, was she really pregnant?” 

“Yeah. Sc - uh, Dana found, um. She found evidence to that fact.” 

“Fuck. Goddamnit.” Marion was pale. 

Mulder pulled into the road and eased the needle on the speedometer upwards. The truck gasped and sputtered like it was having an asthma attack. The sky above had turned dark and threatening, but the sun pushed a few tenacious arms through the thunderclouds to illuminate the lonely stretch of highway. It was eerie as hell. 

“So… while we’re at it, can you tell me how you came to live at Rhiannon’s?”

“Why do you need to know?” 

“C’mon. Just help me out a little here.” 

Marion picked at a hangnail, sullen and slouching. “Um… I, um, left the res when I was 16. I wasn’t planning on staying in Horizon or anything, but Theo picked me up and kinda took care of me and set me up at Rhiannon’s. She took Anna in, too, when she ran away from the colony.”

“Did Anna ever say anything about why she ran away?” 

“Oh, gee, I dunno, she was probably tired of getting pummeled to shit by her brother,” she said bitterly, as if he was an idiot. She gripped the console and swallowed. “Fox, slow down a little.” 

“Oh—” he eased off the gas pedal. “The… colony elders didn’t do anything about it? What about their parents?”

“Her parents have been dead for years. Highway accident. And the elders…it was none of their business, not their concern. You saw how Salome looked. They’re fucking heartless up there.” 

Mulder nodded, thinking. “So… do you think that Abel would be capable of all the things that have been happening? Setting the silos on fire? Drowning the horse? …Anna?” 

“No,” Marion said flatly. “I don’t.” She took a deep breath and let it stream out of her nose. 

“I’d love to know your thoughts on this, Marion.” 

“And I’d love to know what the fuck you were going on about in there. Affecting things without trying to. What does that even mean?” 

He eased into it as naturally as he could, cautious of her mood. “Well… in my particular line of work, I’ve seen people who… experience such a strong emotion that it can affect the physical world around them. Daly claims he’s been seeing omens, right? And I saw something strange myself this morning. A dead fox in a boat out at the lake.” She turned to him at that, quickly, with a sharp look in her eye. “That seems pretty on the nose, don’t you think?” he continued. “Perhaps Abel’s anger towards Daly is manifesting in these visions, or somehow these events are a result of—” 

“—Stop the car. Oh, God, stop the car. Stop the car.” Mulder glanced at her, and upon seeing the look on her face, immediately pulled over to the side of the highway, lurching over the rumble strip. Even before they’d rolled to a stop, Marion was heaving herself out of the passenger seat and vomiting noisily into the ditch, clutching her stomach. 

Mulder had to look away to keep from losing the rest of his breakfast. Jesus, first this morning, and now Marion… this was entirely too much upchuck for one day. He hadn’t even been going that fast. 

He hunted around the back seat for the bottle of water he’d spotted earlier. He replayed a few fresh, brutal memories of Scully’s poorly-hidden chemo nausea, her deathly pallor, her heart-wrenching heaves behind closed motel bathroom doors. He burned anew with guilt.

Mulder swung himself out of the truck when the retching stopped, toting the bottle. Marion was kneeling on the side of the road, arms wrapped around herself, weeping. He crouched down and placed a palm on her back, trying not to balk at the caustic smell of her. 

“Marion, have some water, okay?” He held the bottle out to her, and she looked up at him, teeth bared, her earth-dark eyes bottomless with desperation. “We’ll find out what happened to Anna. I promise. We’ll keep you safe. From Abel, from Hugh—” 

“Oh, you stupid, stupid—” she sobbed. “Abel has nothing to do with it. You can’t stop it, Fox. You can’t. You need to leave this place. You need to get out.” 

An investigatory thrill chilled the back of his neck, and a distant flash of lightning silently illuminated a fumey cluster of clouds. “What can’t I stop, Marion? Why do we need to leave?” 

Marion groaned in tandem with a low roll of thunder, her tears splattering onto the asphalt, a prelude of the coming storm.

“You can’t stop what’s happening.” Her throat was thick with fear. “No one can.” 

Chapter Text

HORIZON POLICE STATION
3:20 PM

Hugh sat with his elbows on the desk across from Scully, fingers interlocked in front of his mouth, his brows knit in pensive, tortured reflection.

They were alone in the dim, chilly police station, and the rain outside had begun again in earnest, all the more livid for having given up this morning’s skytime to the sun. The station had been a schoolhouse in a previous incarnation, and green chalkboards still lined one wall, a faded, dusty black-and-white photograph of Truman lurking crooked above them. Theo was off somewhere, chasing down a rogue preteen who’d gotten ahold of a can of spray paint, leaving Scully with a set of keys and instructions for the finicky coffee maker. Not that she needed it with all the caffeine swimming in her blood already, or the jolt of pissy adrenaline that bickering with Mulder always gave her.

Scully hugged her elbows against the cold, letting the revelation settle between them.

“You’re sure?” Hugh’s voice was soft, unsteady. “You’re sure she was pregnant?”

“Yes. I’m sorry.” Scully said soberly. Anna’s body, or what was left of it, was still in the next room, piled like compost into a biohazard bag in the fridge. Maybe it was because of the nightmare, or because this might very well be her last case… but it had affected her more than she would have expected. The absolute carnage of it, the impossible task of trying to arrange the raw-hamburger heap of torn flesh and skin into something readable, something that might give her any insight into what happened that night.

From what little she could ascertain, the characteristics of Anna’s remains would, hypothetically, match the tearing patterns of beaks and talons. But she still wasn’t ready to admit that crows could have done this. It was too sensational, too extraordinary to believe.

She thought of Anna’s pale face, marred almost beyond recognition, cold and lifeless below her on a surgical table that had previously only ever seen ailing family dogs and diseased sheep.

Anna’s pale face, above her in the night, screaming, tortured, falling apart.

In the painstaking process of sifting through the meat, she’d almost missed the cluster of soft, tiny bones, a small ribcage, the shards of a miniature skull. Anna had to have known.

She shivered, willing the image away.  

“Mr. Daly…” The man was frozen, blank, completely unresponsive. Scully looked him over—his hunched shoulders, his three-day beard, the dark circles under his eyes—and her heart went out to him. It was almost inconceivable that she’d found him so unnerving at their last encounter. She reached out and gently touched his arm. “Hugh…”

He shook her away, a muffled sob rising from his throat, and cast his eyes downward. “Please don’t make me look at her. I can’t bear to see her,” he said, and the utter defeat and devastation in his voice humbled Scully further.

As she watched him try to pull himself together, try to wrestle with the demon of his grief, something expanded and softened within her. She couldn’t help it. She’d never been able to; something about growing up with her father’s stoic, expressionless mein meant that she could hardly bear it when grown men cried.

“Hugh… there’s no need to look at Anna’s body. You don’t have to see her. Theo, Rhiannon, Marion… they’ve already given us a positive identification.” He sucked in a breath, then let it loose. “But if you can think of any reason, any reason at all, why Anna might not have shared the news that she was pregnant with you… we need to know. I need to know.”

“Ehm…” he shook his head slowly. “I don’t know why Anna would have kept this from me. I really don’t. We weren’t… actively trying to become pregnant or anything, but there were no… I mean, we were married. There were no… precautions taken, either.

He wiped at his eyes and placed his hands face-down on the table, breathing deeply. “Miss Scully… Agent Scully. Back at the farm… yesterday. I am such an ass. Such an intolerable ass. I’ve been an utter mess since Anna…” He shook his head. “Forgive me. I beg of you.”

She pulled her lip between her teeth. “You’ve been under a lot of stress.”

“I should have never spoken to you in such a disrespectful way… I’m so sorry. You’re here to help me.”

Scully, almost unconsciously, let one of her hands fall lightly next to Hugh’s. They were farmer’s hands, scarred and calloused and square, and she found herself appreciating the sheer masculinity of them. “It’s okay,” she said after a moment, and meant it.

“Have you ever… lost somebody? I mean, like this? Unexpectedly? Tragically?”

Scully looked at her hands, then back up to his face.

Hugh’s red-rimmed eyes remained on hers, bright with spent tears and deep with acknowledgement. “What happened?” he asked.  

“It’s a long story,” she said, quietly. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure of that,” he said, under his breath. “I’ve seen my fair share of unbelievable things, Miss Scully…”

She took him in, all of his unsophisticated honesty, the unpretentious poetry of his voice, like a peasant prince in a fairy tale. “It’s, um… it’s Dana,” she said mildly. “Call me Dana.”

“Dana,” he said. “Please. I can’t be here. Not with… not with her in the next room. And I’m in dire need of a coffee. The Half-Moon’s just fifteen minutes north, can I buy you a cup? It’s the very least I could do.”

Just then, her phone shrieked from her pocket, shrill and unpleasant and demanding. She slid her hand from beside Hugh’s, fumbled around for the wailing hunk of plastic, looked back at the man across from her… and ended the call.

“Sure. I could use one too.”

KICKING HORSE B&B
3:30 PM

The rest of the drive back to Rhiannon’s was silent, save for Neil Young’s nasal crooning and a few distant, ominous rolls of thunder. Mulder’s mind was doing somersaults. He tried to worm his way into Marion with a few tentative questions, but she was quiet and resolute, determined to keep him in the dark, and he knew better than to push her until precisely the right moment.

Kicking Horse stood tall and proud over the wheat and wildflowers, the lake like a silver coin in the distance. Mulder eased the truck up the driveway and killed the engine. Immediately, Marion reached over and yanked the keys from the ignition, throwing the passenger door open and clambering out. He followed her up to the porch, where she unlocked the front door with shaking hands, mumbled a goodbye, and practically sprinted back to the truck. Before Mulder had a chance to organize his thoughts, the truck growled back to life, and she was already driving away.

He watched her disappear into the fields, and then opened the front door.

The house was dark with the coming storm, the watery afternoon light stretching shadows across the walls. “Hello?” he called, shrugging off his trench and hooking it onto the old brass coat tree. At the sound of his voice, Hypatia’s long white face appeared from the top of the stairs, and she barreled down to greet him with a low whine. She writhed in excitement, mouthing at his hands as he knelt to unlace his shoes. “Get outta here,” he scolded, brushing her away.

As he stood up and toed his shoes off, leaving them in a muddy jumble at the entrance, he noticed a slip of paper on the hall table, bright against the dark wood. He picked it up. An old receipt for fertilizer, a note scribbled onto the back. The handwriting was an unfamiliar loopy scrawl, barely legible.

Fox, Dana -
If I’m not back before you, please make yourselves at home.
R

Mulder crumpled the note and stuffed it into the inside pocket of his suit jacket, fishing out his cell in the process. He thumbed star one on the speed dial, and stood, gnawing his lip, anticipating the soft, staticky bleed of Scully’s voice over the line.

One ring, two, and then it disconnected abruptly. She must still be at the station.

He didn’t like it, any of it—the fox, Abel Stoesz, Marion’s tear-stained, panicked words on the highway. Scully, clearly affected by the results of the autopsy, likely in the middle of questioning a man who made her uncomfortable. A man who, despite the lack of evidence pointing towards him, Mulder was beginning to think of as a suspect.

Get a grip, he admonished the part of himself that wanted to run to her, find her, make sure she was okay. She was the most capable woman he had ever known, and cancer didn’t negate that.

He checked his watch, and decided he should probably eat something. Hypatia trotted after him as he moved into the kitchen and plucked an orange from the bowl on the countertop. He dug a fingernail into the rind and peeled it off in one go, unsuccessfully searching for a garbage bin before tossing it into the sink. The dog stared at him.

“What?” he asked, and she turned tail and paced off into the conservatory. He figured he didn’t have anything better to do until he could get ahold of Scully, so he followed her.

The conservatory was quiet, save for a few lyrical pings of rain against the curved glass. The air was rich and heavy and alive, sweet and spiced with the scent of nectar and herbs. Mulder pulled in a deep and cleansing breath, and padded along the cool tile in his socked feet, munching sections of his orange, surveying the greenery. Next to a potted rose bush, a thick vine of near-ripe tomatoes climbed up a rickety trellis. A box of rosemary sat next to a planter of sage.

As he leaned in to better inhale the green fragrance of it, he received a sudden, unbidden image of his father’s mother in the garden in Quonochontaug, her knees caked with dirt, her wide-brimmed hat casting her face into shadow. Samantha running towards her, braids whipping in the wind, half-bloomed peonies tucked into the breast of her overalls.

He was lost in the memory, turning it over and smiling sadly to himself, when something caught the edge of his attention.

The barest wisp of movement from the kitchen, barely discernible out of the corner of his eye. He turned sharply, but there was nobody there. His nerves tingled. The dog stared up at him with warm, steady eyes.

A deafening crash of thunder overhead startled him, and then a moment later, a gentle rush of rainfall obscured the sky. Mulder shook himself out of it. He finished his orange, sucking his fingers clean, and returned to the kitchen.

The dog followed, watching.

He walked past the island and into the dining room, trailing his fingers along the worn surface of the table. The fireplace yawned in front of him with a mouth that was cold and black and empty. Without Rhiannon, the house seemed to take on an energy all its own, and Mulder found himself with the unshakeable sensation of being watched. Of being noticed.

The sitting room was dark and crowded with mismatched furniture. There was an overstuffed floral couch bearing a cluster of beaded pillows, a wooden rocking chair wedged into a corner and piled with quilts, a Victorian loveseat squatting under a lace-curtained window. Mulder located a vintage glass-bellied lamp and switched it on, making his way over to the wall of books.

He lingered over the contents, wary of Hypatia’s stare from her chosen perch on the couch. Outdated veterinary texts were wedged in between leather-bound photo albums and volumes of poetry. The collected works of Shakespeare were arranged in a tidy row, sandwiched between Interview With the Vampire and The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem. 1984, The Story of O, Jane Eyre. Mulder narrowed his eyes, trying to make sense of Rhiannon’s scattered reading habits.

He eased a fat photo album from its place on the shelf and let it fall open, balancing it in the crook of his elbow. The pages were black, old-fashioned, the photographs held in place by small, ornate brass corners. His eyes fell on a faded snapshot of a little girl, around 9, freckled and smiling in the sun. Her hair formed a boisterous marmalade cloud around her cherubic face, and she was missing a front tooth. The photograph beside it showed a woman swooping in to scoop her up, and Mulder realized from the striking resemblance that this must be Rhiannon and her mother. He thumbed through the pages, watching Rhiannon grow.

Rhiannon as a gangly teenager, sitting on the porch railing, her skinny legs dangling. Rhiannon astride a horse, hands knit into his mane, bareback and barefoot. Rhiannon in taffeta on her way to the prom, with a young, blond, beaming man hooked by the elbow. The first man, in fact, that Mulder had seen in the album at all. He looked familiar, and as Mulder studied his face, he realized it was Theo, football-thick beside Rhiannon’s thin frame. Mulder recalled the look they’d shared at dinner the night before.

On and off, maybe? Divorced? Hopelessly and painfully in love, but never managed to sack up and just make it work?

Mulder closed the album with a grimace and slid it back into its spot, tipping out the next one. The first page featured a yellowed clipping of an obituary.

Morgana Elizabeth Bishop
Morgana Elizabeth Bishop, 53, of
Horizon, Montana, departed this
earth suddenly on Thursday at her
home. A practicing midwife for 30
years, she was well-loved and
well-regarded by the citizens of
Glacier County, many of whom
she helped to bring into the world.
Born in 1932 to the late Agnes Bishop,
Morgana spent her life in service
to the community of Horizon.
Morgana is survived by her
daughter, Rhiannon Bishop. Funeral
services will be held at 7 p.m. on
Sunday at the historic Kicking
Horse homestead.

The photograph above it featured a woman that looked like an older version of Rhiannon, with a few more lines around her eyes and a sallow, sunken look to her cheeks. 1932… 53… the obit must have been from sometime in 1985. Rhiannon most likely would have been in her 30s. Mulder turned the page, and was surprised to see a jump in time.

Marion peered up at him from the cusp of 16, already tall, her arms crossed on the porch of Kicking Horse. Her smile was tight and wary. “1991” was looped in white chalk beneath the photograph. Mulder fingered the corner of the page, intrigued, and continued.

Hypatia as a puppy, her nose hooked over Marion’s shoulder as Marion pressed a kiss to her ear. Marion’s long braid reaching the small of her back. A candid shot of Marion and Theo washing dishes in the sink. A rueful-looking Rhiannon opening a present at Christmas, a pine lit up behind her.

And then Anna appeared. She posed on the porch with the half-grown dog, teenage-chubby and extensively freckled. Anna and Marion in the barn. Anna and Marion laughing and posing in front of Marion’s Chevy. Anna in the grass, sleeping, a book tented over her face, with Hypatia curled beside her, snout resting on her thigh.

Mulder turned another page, and found it blank. No photos of Marion graduating from the police academy, or in her uniform, like you might expect any proud foster parent to display. None from Hugh and Anna’s wedding. None of Hugh at all. A good third of the album remained empty.

The wind knocked against the window, and a chill ran down his spine.

He realized with some confusion that he’d been humming something, and stopped himself.

The water is…

But then he heard it again—a small, thin voice, shifting in and out of his periphery. But no, he wasn’t exactly hearing it… but he could sense it, could almost even make out a tune.

… cannot get o’er….

He shook his head to break the spell. It was probably the rain, the thunder, the winds. Turning his attention back to the album, he studied the last photo of Anna, looking for shadows of turmoil, hints of anything.

There was a flicker of light in the corner of his vision, and his eyes jolted upwards. He went still, suddenly aware of his heartbeat, of the hairs on his forearms. On the couch, Hypatia flattened her ears and whined. Nobody was there. He willed himself to calm down. He was just getting spooked. It was just his imagination.

Or was it?

“…Anna?” he tried out loud, his voice cracking. He ran through the lore in his mind, looking carefully around him, holding his breath, his stomach twisting itself into a fist. Places could hold memories, energetic signatures. Spirits repeating their earthly paths, walking hallways and doing the dishes. Spirits reaching out for help, for closure.

He glanced down at the photograph one more time, and then he saw it again, in the corner of the room. Not quite a shadow, not quite a light, not quite a shimmer, but something that somehow contained all three. If he looked at it straight on, it disappeared. Hypatia keened. The surface of his skin prickled.

He slowly replaced the photo album, and moved towards where the glimmer had been. “Anna, are you here?” A glimpse of movement in the hall, drawing him onwards, drawing him upwards. He pursued it, the floor creaking under his footsteps.

The rain picked up outside, falling harder, faster. His heartbeat followed suit.

He tiptoed up the stairs, slowly, the faces of the Bishop women following him from their frames. Brotherless, fatherless, sonless. He was beginning to suspect that it wasn’t necessarily a design choice.

In his periphery, the glimmer seemed to slip into Scully’s room. He followed it in, his hand resting instinctively on his sidearm. The bed where they’d laughed the night before was still rumpled, which struck him as strange. Scully was usually tidy to the point of absurdity. No matter how seedy the motel, she’d unpack completely, hang her clothes up, make the bed before the maid could get to it.

Hypatia whined uneasily behind him, and he turned to her. She pawed at the threshold of the door, but would not follow him in. Her ears lay flat and quivering against her head.

Mulder looked once again around the room. With a swell of guilty curiosity, he slid the top drawer of the bedside table open. Scully’s folded pajamas, a pair of stockings still in their packaging, a makeup bag, a black journal, an extra clip. He touched the journal lightly, as if he could absorb her thoughts through osmosis.

And there it was again, that wisp of something in the corner of his eye. He slid the drawer shut and followed it out, moving slowly, carefully through the hallway. Past the tiny bathroom, past the faces of the dead, all the way to the base of the spiral staircase that led to the tower. He hesitated, just for a moment, and then began the climb, an unexplainable sense of dread burning hotter and hotter in his chest.

Hypatia was at his heels, trying to get in his way, blocking his path, whimpering. And then, without warning, her demeanor changed, and she began a low, persistent growl. Mulder glanced back at her. Her lips were peeled back to bare her long, white teeth, her body locked in a tense crouch. He stared at her a moment, palmed his gun, and continued.

There was a door at the top of the stairs. Mulder jiggled the handle with his free hand. Locked. Hypatia snarled and yipped, but didn’t advance. Mulder dug in his pocket for his lock pick. Just as he was about to withdraw it, there was a voice from the bottom of the staircase.

“Fox.”

Mulder jerked in surprise, almost drawing his gun up. Rhiannon stood, arms crossed, at the base of the staircase. The dog cowered behind her.

“That door is locked for a reason,” she said, frost edging her voice. Shame and suspicion crept up his neck. “This is my house. Please respect my boundaries.”

Mulder nodded and pressed his lips together in a small smile. “Bad habit. Sorry.”

Rhiannon retreated and he returned to his room, immediately trying Scully’s cell again. The call was cut short. He flung the phone hard down onto the bed, and dug into his duffel bag for his laptop.

Something wasn’t right.

Chapter Text

HALF-MOON DINER
4:00 PM

The Half-Moon Diner was a relic from the 60s, with cracked cream tile and flaking red leather stools lined up at the counter. Strains of tinny bluegrass harmonies scrolled forth from an old antenna radio behind the bar, filling the air with a lament about whatever happened down by the banks of the Ohio.

Even under the weak fluorescent lights, Hugh was a presence. In the grimy throng of farmers scarfing down gelatinous heaps of scrambled eggs and reheated strawberry pie, he appeared to Scully as a beacon, lit from the inside by the glow of tragedy. She sat across from him in a corner booth, her shoulder pressed up against the window. Sheets of rain melted her reflection into the glass, blurring a ghost of her into the dark sky outside.

She felt warm and sullen, cupping a chipped china mug of tar-black coffee between her palms. People stared at them, caught themselves, turned away, glanced back for more. The young, pretty waitress in her lemon-yellow uniform had been polishing the same plate for ten minutes, gawping at them from over the bar.

If Hugh noticed, he didn’t seem to care. He hunched over the table, the very picture of tortured, contained passion.

“Hugh,” Scully began, conscious of their audience. His hand, splayed on the Formica, was brown and dusted with sun-bleached hair.

“How’s this. I’ll tell you everything… anything you need to know, Dana,” he said quietly. “Anything that’ll help. Ask away. I’m yours.”

Scully looked up from the table and found him gazing intently at her. Under the beam of his spirited eyes, she found herself somewhat at a loss for words, for strategy. “Um. Well I suppose you can start by telling me about your wife. About your marriage.”

A sad smile pulled at the corner of his lips. “I guess that would be the place to start, now, eh?” He picked up his cup and sucked down a mouthful of coffee, appearing to gather his thoughts. “Em. Well. I bought the farm in ‘94. Met Anna the same year. Met her here, in fact. She was a waitress.” His voice faltered, and he looked over at the bar, as if he could still see her there. The girl cleaning dishes blanched, and seemed to remember something pressing to attend to in the kitchen. “Nineteen. Loveliest thing I’d ever set my eyes upon,” he continued. “Sweet as the sunrise.”

Scully blinked and pulled her bottom lip between her teeth. “And why Horizon? Why leave your home behind for such a faraway and isolated place?” She imagined the lack of anonymity, nowhere to run or hide, and suppressed a shiver of revulsion.

“You’ll think I’m a langer,” he offered, chuckling self-consciously and scrubbing his chin with his hand. “Ehm. I, eh, I guess I watched The Hangin’ Tree a few times too many. Staying in Ireland just wasn’t as… romantic of a concept as the call of the mythical Old West.”

Scully couldn’t help but smile a little. “If it’s any consolation, I think Gary Cooper had that effect on a lot of people.”

Hugh grinned at that, full-on, a disarming flash of brilliance that he swiftly pulled back into submission. “God, I love that bastard. Anna loved him, too. She, ehm, she grew up in that religious colony, without television, you know, so films were quite a thrill for her. The novelty, I suppose.”

She nodded, sipping her coffee. It was burned and bitter, and it coated the roof of her mouth.

“Now… now I know what you must be thinkin’, because everyone was thinkin’ it, but she and I really did have a lot in common, despite… the age difference. When you’re… when you’re not with your family, even if it’s by your own doing… well, there’s a loneliness there that I’m not sure can be described. It’s something you don’t understand until you’ve experienced it. I left a lot of people behind to come here. Not all of them were supportive of it. Of me.”

Scully thought of Bill in San Diego, of Charlie in Canada, of her father scattered in the sea, of her sister in the cold ground. “But Anna had Rhiannon, didn’t she?” She said. “And Marion, too. I’ve been given the impression that the three of them were quite close.”

At the mention of Marion’s name, Hugh clenched his jaw. “Ah. Well. Don’t let folks lead to you believe that it was all sunshine and rainbows up at Kicking Horse. That Rhiannon is a strange and fiery woman, and certainly no great admirer of mine. And Marion… well, if you happen to have sisters, I’m sure you can imagine how it could be. Especially when it became clear that Anna and I were of a mind to be married.”

Melissa at fourteen leapt to her mind, her eyes brown as pondwater and lined with crumbly black. Her scalp tingled with the memory of her hair in her sister’s fists. She didn’t even remember what the argument had been about. She pushed the image down, and continued. “And when did you begin your affair with Marion? After the wedding, or before?”

Hugh exhaled sharply and looked away, out the window, staring down the soaked smudge of his reflection. A fork of lightning darted down into the fields in the distance. “Jesus,” he muttered. “Did Marion tell you that?”

“In as many words,” Scully replied.

He turned his palms up in a gesture of helplessness, and then dropped them again. “I mean, what on earth could I ever say to defend myself? It was never supposed to go that far. Anna had these moods, and she’d been so distant, and Marion was always around, always had a listening ear to lend, that girl, and I—we—just got wrapped up in the… in the forbidden excitement of it all, I guess. The hiding. The secrets. The passion. But I ended it as soon as it begun. It was nothing more than a few weeks of foolishness.”

Scully looked him over, trying to gauge the honesty of his words. She found herself wishing for Mulder’s powers of insight. “When, Hugh?”

He swallowed. “This is going to look bad. But it was a few months ago. Shortly before… well, when the omens began. But you mustn’t think that… I mean, who could… I still loved Anna, I wanted to make it work, and Marion loved her as a sister; we didn’t want to hurt her, neither of us could ever…” He stared hard into her, releasing a shaking sigh. “You have to believe me. About this, about the signs…”

The shrill cry of Scully’s cell phone cut into the air. She dug it out of the rumple of her coat and shut it off.

“Dana… you don’t believe me about the omens.” It was a statement, not a question.

“My partner does,” she replied with a sigh. The bell over the front door of the diner tinkled.

Hugh nodded, chewing his bottom lip. “This town… Horizon… it’s a strange place. Was strange long before I put down my roots.” He was getting worked up, a tremor easing into his voice, his eyes beginning to glisten. “This is a fucking nightmare. Whatever is here killed my wife. Killed our child. Killed her goddamned horse. It’s not done. I’m next. I know it.”

“Hugh,” she said softly, and reached over to cover his hand with her own, just to soothe him, just to draw him back into calm, clear conversation. Marion’s words of warning leapt to her mind, but now that she’d heard the full story, she was less inclined to take her seriously. She remembered sneaking around with Daniel, how she felt as though she was helpless to resist him, too.

Hugh took a breath and closed his eyes, sliding his other hand over hers. His skin was rough and warm, and it sent a flush of sweetness through her.

“And just what’s goin’ on here?”

Scully turned to see the thick slab of Theo’s chest. Above them, his eyes were indignant, bright with suspicion. Behind him, a dozen faces turned to follow the drama. Scully ripped her hand away from Hugh’s.

“Sherriff Gladstone,” she said, arranging her face into a practiced professional scowl.

“Dana was just asking me a few questions, Theo,” Hugh said in a bristly tone, as she gathered her coat. This was ridiculous, she’d done nothing wrong. So why did she feel so exposed?

She stood and shouldered past Theo. “We’re all done here, Mr. Daly. Thank you for your candour. Theo, I’ll send you those autopsy notes once I go over them with my partner,” she said, wrapping herself in her overcoat, and without a goodbye to either of them, she marched out of the diner and into the cold downpour of rain.

KICKING HORSE B&B
6:23 PM

The bed was littered with crime scene photos.

Mulder squinted into the bright laptop screen at the rolltop desk in the dim of his room. The connection was crummy, and the going was agonizingly slow. There was little public information about Horizon, even less about the Bishops or the colony or even the reservation. Nothing about homicidal behaviour in crows, mythological or otherwise. He lingered around thoughts of ghosts, of signs, of family, of loss, trying to find a path.

He hoped there were records in town, old newspapers, anything that would help him discern a pattern. He had a few ideas, but he needed Scully’s perspective, needed her to eliminate the mess of avenues he laid out for her until they came to an agreeable trail to follow. He needed her to disagree with him, to make him work for it, so that he could gauge the depth of conviction he carried about the hunches he was nursing.

He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, slamming the screen closed. Where the hell was she, anyway?

He was just about to reach for his cell to try her again when he heard footsteps on the stairs. At first, he thought it was Rhiannon, armed with either a peace offering or another scolding, but then he heard the door of the next room shut.

He stood, briefly stretching his arms behind his back, and followed the sound.

“Scully?” he asked, with a gentle knock.

There was no answer but the sound of her movements inside—a shuffling of clothing, a muffled sniff. He rapped his knuckle against the wood again. “Hey, Scully, you okay in there?” He placed a hand on the door, trying to sense her inside of the room.

It swung open abruptly.

Scully’s hair was wet with rain, and she’d changed into her robe. There were black smudges of mascara clinging to her eyelids, and she looked so small and vulnerable that he had a sudden, dire urge to scream at her.

“Where were you?” He asked tersely.

She walked over to her briefcase and flung it open on the bed, gathering loose papers and Polaroids and thrusting them towards him. “Here are your initial autopsy notes,” she said. “I’ll transcribe the rest tonight.”

Mulder stared. She shook the papers a little when he didn’t take them, then tossed them back to the bed.

“You can’t just not answer your phone,” he pressed, lodging his hands on his hips. “We’re on a case.”

She turned to look at him, expression neutral, but she couldn’t hide the redness at the tops of her ears, the stiffness in her shoulders. “And what about all the times you’ve ignored my calls, Mulder?”

Silence yawned between them, punctuated only by the slap of rain against the windowpane.

“… Scully, look—” he continued, trying to diffuse the situation. “You’re right. I’m sorry. I was just concerned, okay? You sounded upset earlier, and I just—I know that Daly makes you uncomfortable.”

She blew a huff of air from her nose, and turned away.

He forged ahead. “I, uh, had an interesting day.” He was expecting her to take the bait, but she remained quiet, clearly distracted. “I don’t think Abel Stoesz is involved… he’s a nasty piece of work, but I can’t see it coming down to him. But Scully, Marion knows something. We need to talk to her. When she’s cooled off a bit.”

She nodded.

“…Uh, any luck with Daly?”

Scully fidgeted with her fingers, twining them together and rubbing at her thumbnail. “Mulder,” she said, and the pit of his stomach dropped. “I don’t want you hearing this from anyone but me.”

Taken aback, he waited, searching her face.

“After our initial interview, Hugh and I decided to continue our conversation in town.” She paused, bracing him with her eyes, daring him to say something. His lips were suddenly very dry, and he darted out his tongue to wet them.

“And?”

“Well, the fact is… to onlookers, we may have appeared a little… familiar. Our demeanor may have been construed as inappropriate.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Mulder, it was nothing.”

Something sour and vile filled his chest. “If it was nothing, why the little confessional here?”

“I was comforting him, that was all. I don’t want Theo putting ideas into your head.”

An itching heat prickled over him. Scully was slipping away from him, literally and figuratively, wasting away, fucking murderous psychopaths and getting inked in sleazy Russian tattoo parlours and getting all cozy with sketchy farmers while they were supposed to be conducting a goddamn investigation.

“Oh, like how you comforted Ed Jerse? What, you got a bucket list number you need to fill or something?”

She looked as though he’d slapped her. “What is your problem?” she asked through her teeth, her voice low and deadly as a viper.

“My problem is that your decision making skills have been severely compromised since your diagnosis, Scully. You can’t even keep a professional distance from a good looking suspect?”

“Hugh Daly is a victim, not a suspect.”

“Did you happen to conveniently forget about Marion’s warning? Scully, listen to me here, she knows something!”

“Marion is twenty two years old, Mulder, and highly emotional, and she and Hugh—”

“Scully, I need you with me on this, not having tea parties with— ”

“—If you’re going to crucify me every time I show a shred of human decency to someone—”

“—Oh, come on! That’s not what you were doing, and you know it.”

She snatched up the papers again, and shoved them towards him. “Mulder, take the damn notes and get out. Just leave me alone.”

Alone. She always wanted to be alone. But only when it came to him.

He ripped the papers out of her hands, fixed her with one last searing gaze, and left.

1:33 AM

Darkness. True darkness, and then a swift, startling awareness unfurled through her body.

The inky miasma of the room pressed into her, trapping her, locking her down. She tried to move her hands, but found that she couldn’t. Things were strange, and wrong, and the only thing she was sure of was that she wasn’t supposed to be here. There was a tingling buzz in the back of her head, growing, getting louder, becoming more and more insistent… and then perfect, eerie quiet.

A presence.

There was a figure at the end of her bed. She couldn’t quite see it, couldn’t quite focus on it, but she felt it, as real as gravity, and it was singing, in a voice so thin that it sounded more like a thought passing through her mind.

I cannot get o’er…. and neither have… I wings to fly…

Her heart seized in terror. She knew that she was dreaming. She had to be. She struggled against the oppressive gauze of sleep, fighting for air, and then she was there, and it was real, and she was sucking breath into her lungs, chest heaving and chilled with sweat. As she struggled and failed to move her limbs, she realized she still felt someone, something, there with her, and became suddenly and painfully alert. She mentally located her gun on the nightstand. Feeling gradually bled back to her, and she carefully wiggled her fingers, staring at the ceiling, willing there to be nobody there when she looked.

She took a deep breath, counted the punches of her heartbeats, and glanced down. Nothing.

Of course there wasn’t, she reprimanded herself. She was just having another nightmare. The case was just wearing on her. Anna’s body, Mulder’s accusations. Hugh.

Her pulse began to settle. The rain had cleared, and as she glanced over to the window, she could see a freckled arc of stars through the glass. She took a few more steadying breaths, struggling to sit up, thrusting her hands through her sweat-damp hair. She tuned an ear to listen for Mulder’s snores, but there was no sound.

She wanted to get up, to go to him, to make things right between them. But her mind went blank when she thought of what that might entail. What it could lead to, here in the dark in the middle of nowhere.

Instead, she kicked off the fluffy summer comforter with still-shaky legs, and went over to the window. A gentle breath floated up from the radiator. It wasn’t too hot to lean against, so she did, luxuriating in the comforting flood of warmth through her pajamas.

Her reflection stared back at her from the window glass, and she reached out to trail her fingers along the surface. For months, she’d avoided the thin, tired, sombre woman in the mirror, that horrible, consumptive apparition of herself. She remembered last night’s dream, her own face poised above her, pale and waxy in death.

Soon, she thought. I’ll be dead soon.

She passed the word through her mind over and over again, like fingering a strand of prayer beads, one for each of the countless cadavers she’d cut open in the course of her work. Sometimes they’d just been part of her day, barely human, interesting arrangements of flesh on a slab, and she a 20th-century haruspex, reading entrails.

But it had to be that way. It wasn’t that she was unfeeling—she just preferred to keep her own emotions locked away, muzzled and collared like dangerous, mythical animals. Despite the popular opinion of the grunts in the bullpen, she wasn’t cold. No, she burned too hot for comfort. Melissa had been the same, but she’d embraced that heat. Harnessed it, rode it into battle. Made it work for her. In this and in so many other ways, Melissa had been the stronger one of them, the one that knew how to listen to her heart, to her gut. The one that knew what bravery was.

Did she see the gun, the hand in the dark? Did time slow to a crawl? Did Missy know, did she suspect, even for a second, that she was going to die?

Scully hoped not. To be aware of your own mortality was strange, too strange for her to fully grasp. There were other lives she’d wanted to lead, other paths she might have taken. She wanted to be a doctor. She wanted to be a mother. None of that would ever happen—this was it for her. And what was the legacy she would leave behind? A few files in Mulder’s cabinet labelled with Scully, D.? A family torn apart, both of her mother’s daughters dead in the name of her work? A trail of unavenged victims and half-solved cases that no court of law could begin to prosecute?

Grief and helplessness rose like water in her throat, drowning her from within. Was this really God’s plan for her? What good had she ever really done with this life? What would Missy think? What would her father have to say?

And Mulder… Oh, Mulder. There was just too much there to contemplate. She wondered if she would ever have the courage to even begin to tell him what he meant to her. She wondered if, even worse, he already knew.

She clipped the latch of the window and shoved it open, forcing her breath to slow and deepen before the tears spilled over.

Fresh air met her skin with a gentle kiss, a whisper of wind pushing its fingers through the wheat outside. The clean country air was thin and rejuvenating. She closed her eyes against it, inhaling, sending a filament of prayer to whoever would listen, a prayer of peace for Mulder, peace for her mother.

And then she heard it again. Warm breath in her ear.

Both shall row… my love and I…

A shock of fear electrified her, and she flung her shoulders around. And then she heard a heavy swoosh, like a baseball bat cutting through the air.

Blood rushed into her ears, and she felt a razor-sharp heat open the skin of her shoulder.

She staggered backwards, instinctively covering her face, the pain and surprise of it trapped in her chest, so that she couldn’t cry out. The bird screamed at her as it ripped, a shrill harpy caw filling the room. She tasted blood in her mouth, felt the creature’s beak scraping and tearing viciously at her back as she stumbled away—

CRACK—

The door nearly splintered with the force of Mulder’s kick, and then Scully did cry out, in the terror and rage of it all. She expected to hear a gunshot, but none came—just the heaving thump of Mulder’s body on hers, tackling her, rolling on the floor so that he was above her, shielding her. Black wings beat around his face as he reached up and grabbed the comforter from the bed, lunging at the dark and screaming bird, trapping it against the floor with his body.

Scully whipped her eyes around the room—the crow appeared to be alone in its attack. She scrambled up and slammed the window shut, shaking fingers working the latch closed. Mulder was hunched over the struggling, squawking, blanketed lump on the floor. He fumbled around it as she ran back to him, and with sure, angry hands, he gained purchase on what he’d been searching for.

He grasped and twisted, and there was a sick, muffled crack. Flinging the dead bundle away from himself, he knelt in front of Scully, who had fallen back against the footboard. He ghosted his fingers down her cheek, looking deeply into her eyes as she struggled to gain control of her breath. “Scully, you okay?” She touched his wrist, trying to speak, taking in the scratches on his face, the blood beading along a deep cut across the tendon of his neck. “Had to tackle you. Couldn’t get a clear shot, you okay? Did I hurt you?”

She was beginning to feel the hot, white pain of it, blood trickling down the back of her pajamas. “My back,” she said.

“Let me see.” He tugged at one of her shoulders, and she swiveled obediently, pulling at the neck of her shirt. “…Shit, Scully, you’re all torn up.”

“Go get Rhiannon,” she breathed, every moment becoming more and more cognizant of the pain. Mulder scrambled up to a crouch, grabbing his gun from the floor and placing it in her hands, cupping her face. “Don’t move, okay? I’ll be right back. Don’t move.” He grounded her with his battle-worn monotone, the planes of his face blue in the night.

Scully closed her eyes and nodded, willing her heart rate to go down. Blood streamed from her, plastering her pajamas to her back. She was dizzy, raw-nerved. She heard Mulder’s movements downstairs, his voice bellowing for Rhiannon, the creaking and slamming of doors, the rattling of cupboards in the kitchen. She breathed through her mouth, settling into the pain, eyeing the bulge under the blanket.

When Mulder entered the room again, he had a large white metal first aid kit under his arm and a serious look on his face.

“Where’s…?” Scully asked.

“She’s gone. Her truck is gone. The dog is gone. I found a field kit, but Scully, from what I can tell, you’re going to need professional medical attention. You’re bleeding. A lot. Rhiannon’s gone. The closest hospital is hours away. Talk me through this, here. What do we do?”

“Get me to the bathroom,” she rasped. He ducked out to toss the kit with a clang into the bathroom, and returned for her. She reached for him, and he gently helped her up. They staggered clumsily together across the hall, Mulder careful not to touch her ruined back, the eyes of the Bishop women on the wall following them.

Mulder flicked on the wall switch. The wan, metallic light flickered to life above them, the buzzing from it echoing off the bathroom walls. The bathroom was longer than it was wide, and housed a clawfoot bathtub, no shower, a tiny black square of window, and a kilim rug rough under her bare feet. The ceiling was slanted, and so low that Mulder had to stoop his head.

Scully caught sight of herself in the pockmarked mirror. She was pale, her hair wild, and dark splotches of blood were soaking through her robe. Mulder loomed above her, looking guilty. “Scully. What do I do? Tell me what to do. Tell me what you need.”

“I need to get this shirt off.”

Mulder exhaled unsteadily as she peeled her robe off and tried to lift her tank. The fabric stuck painfully to her lacerated skin. “A little help here?” She managed to ask. Mulder visibly swallowed and helped her lift her shirt, averting his eyes politely as she brought the tattered, sticky fabric around to cover her bare chest.

The bathroom was cold against her skin and the heat of her blood. She glanced over her shoulder to survey the damage. Her naked back was lashed and streaked, and there was one deep, seeping cut that ran three or four inches from the inner curve of her shoulder blade to the base of her neck. Mulder’s face in the mirror was drawn as he surveyed the damage as well. The gash on his neck was bleeding into the collar of his shirt.

“Scully, fuck. Okay. it’s gonna be okay. What do I do? What do you need?”

“I can’t reach. These need to be cleaned. Water. Clean towel,” she managed, beginning to feel faint.

Mulder sprang into action, rooting around the squat wooden armoire for fresh towels. Scully slumped onto the fuzzy cover of the toilet seat, clutching her bloody shirt to her breasts. The rug was already spotted with her blood. She flashed on the photograph of Anna in the field, her intestines curled in the dirt.

Mulder, jaw set, rinsed the towels in warm water from the sink. He dropped to his knees in front of her—“Here, can you turn a little?”—and scraped the towel over her back.

She sucked air over her teeth. “Mulder, gentle…”

The towel was uncomfortably rough as he cleaned her, murmuring comforting nothings that would usually infuriate and humiliate her, were she not sick and scared and half-naked in a stranger’s bathroom.

“Scully…,” he said, “this one is bleeding pretty seriously. It looks bad.” Fuck.

“It… needs pressure. Clean towel. 15 minutes,” she breathed.

He discarded the wet, bloody towel and rummaged around for a clean one, pressing it into her back and shoulder with a comforting, firm hand. His other hand rested on her arm, caressing her almost unconsciously, sending tiny shivers up to her neck. The slanted walls of the bathroom seemed to crowd in on them, pressing them closer together.

After a few minutes, when the sharp edge of shock had worn down, Scully spoke, her voice shaking and tenuous. “It was a crow. Dammit, Mulder, it was a crow.” He nodded, chewing the inside of his lip.

“Good thing you weren’t out taking a midnight stroll in the wheat.”

“Don’t joke about that,” she said, haunted by Anna’s shredded face. He had the good sense to look vaguely ashamed.

“Scully… this can’t be a coincidence. What’s the common denominator here? Hugh Daly gets you alone, maybe shows a bit of interest in you, and bam, birdfeed.”

“Maybe there’s… maybe there’s a disease here. Maybe that’s why the animals are acting strange, attacking people. That might explain Hugh’s horse, not to mention the one on the highway… and, and Anna. And the crow that flew into my window tonight.”

“Then why haven’t we seen other animals affected? There are literally thousands of cows and horses in Horizon, don’t you think Rhiannon would have noticed something, would have mentioned something?”

“Well, she’s grieving, maybe she hasn’t thought to…”

“And where is she? What is she doing out in the middle of the night?”

“Maybe there was an emergency.”

“Well, these walls are pretty thin, and I didn’t hear a phone ring or anybody knock on the door, did you?”

They fell into another uneasy silence. Scully was weak with residual fear, the pulse of her blood hot on her back, the pain clarifying her thoughts. “Mulder…”

“Yeah?” He answered, his voice just above a whisper. He was so, so close, the scent of his skin all around her.

“Um… check if it’s… stopped bleeding.”

He peeled back the towel, gently stroking the skin next to the cut. “Oh, Scully,” he breathed.

“Do you see any white? Any muscle tissue, subcutaneous fat?”

“Ugh… um. Maybe.”

“Let me look…” she said, turning and placing a hand on his shoulder, using him for balance as she pushed herself up. His hands went to her elbow, to her hip, and he followed. She went to the mirror and turned her back to it, squinting at the cut. It wept fresh blood. “Mulder… I’m going to need stitches. I can’t reach to do them myself.” She looked over her shoulder and regarded him with as much sternness as she could muster. Comprehension and horror overtook his face.

“No. No, Scully. Wait for Rhiannon.”

“And what if she’s not back soon? Or ever? This needs to be closed up, ideally within the next six hours, and it’s a simple process. One you’re fully capable of performing with my instructions.”

“…Can’t we just wait?”

“Mulder,” she said, growing frustrated. “Buck up. I just want it over and done with.”

“Scully! No, Jesus, what if I—?”

“Shut up and get that first aid kit. I need to see what’s in there.”

He blinked at her helplessly, then resigned himself and leaned over for the white tin, bringing it back and opening it. Luckily, it was well-stocked, something Rhiannon might bring with her on a call.

Scully rifled through the case one-handed, unearthing thread, a curved needle that resembled a fish hook, a roll of gauze, and a bottle of iodine.

“Should I.. do you need ice? I can go get ice,” Mulder ventured.

“That might be a good idea,” she conceded in a strained voice, the pain radiating hot and sharp across her back.

He blinked up at her, his eyebrows slanted in concern. “Okay. I’ll be right back. You stay here. You scream if anything happens. Loudly. And stay away from the window.” Scully nodded and watched him as he disappeared through the doorway, closing it swiftly behind him.

The moment he was gone, she sank back onto the toilet seat, and let loose one single, silent, wretched sob, clutching at her tattered shirt so hard that her nails bit into her palms through the fabric. She hated herself for it. For her weakness, her fear. Hated herself for needing him. Hated that he might be right.

She pulled herself together quickly, biting her tongue hard, blinking back tears. Minutes slurred onwards, and soon, Mulder’s voice sounded beyond the door. “Scully, it’s just me,” he warned, before rattling the door knob and letting himself back into the bathroom. He cradled a dusty bottle of Glenfiddich under his arm, and toted a few handfuls of ice tied into a kitchen cloth, already melting into his shirt.

“Thought this might help too,” he said, liberating the bottle from the crook of his elbow with his free hand and sloshing it around a little. She looked up at him as he unscrewed the cap and handed it to her.

Oh, Mulder.

She adjusted the arm that was holding her shirt to her chest, took the bottle from him, and pulled deeply. Liquid fire swished down into her chest, into her sinuses. As she drank, she met Mulder’s eyes, and found something in them that was suspiciously close to admiration.

“Alright, Anne Bonny,” he said, taking the bottle back and taking a short, scowling swig himself before screwing the cap back on and clanging it down next to the base column of the sink. He kneeled in front of her again, helped her turn around, and brought the dripping ice pack to her back. After the initial jolt of it, numbness swept through her slowly, both from the drink and the cloth. Rivulets of melt trickled down her back, sweetening the rhythmic throb of fading pain.

“I’m ready,” she said, once the bite of the ice had faded into a blunt gnaw.

Listening carefully to her instructions, Mulder washed his hands and clumsily sanitized the needle, threading it with some difficulty. He soaked a cotton pad in iodine, and guided it slowly over her skin in strokes so soft and careful that they could have been mistaken for a lover’s touch.

“Scully, I can’t do this,” he pleaded, when everything was prepared.

“Mulder,” she countered patiently. “You know how to sew, right?”

“I mean, I can do a button, but… this isn’t the Indian Guides.”

“Please… I trust you. Just do it.”

“I don’t want to hurt you,” he said.

“I need this. I need your help.” She looked over her shoulder at him, and saw determination return to his face.

“God, Scully. Okay. You let me know if you need to… if you need a break, or if something feels wrong, or…”

“Make sure you catch enough of the flesh, okay? Pull it open a little. It’s a rotation, remember, not a stab. Just keep your hand steady.”

He sucked in a breath, and then she felt the first pinch of the needle invading her skin, the slow, tense curve of of it, then the tug of the thread as it slid through her, the tight pull as he knotted her skin back together.

“One down,” he murmured in concentration, and then he entered her again. She gasped quietly.

“Am I hurting you?” He asked with infinite tenderness. “Am I going too fast?”

“It’s fine, you’re… it’s fine,” she said.

“We can take a break if it’s too much. You’re the boss.” His hot palm swiped over her shoulder, and she glanced down at her knees.

“No, it’s… it’s not that.” She realized she didn’t know quite what it was. “You’re doing fine. Thank you, Mulder,” she added as an afterthought.

“S‘okay,” he said, and continued, but even more slowly, more gently than before. 

“I’m going to need antibiotics as soon as possible,” Scully said, more to herself than to him. “And the swelling—did you see any Motrin in the tin?”

“No, but I’m sure Rhiannon has some kicking around,” he replied softly. “You sure that was a normal crow, though, Scully? I feel like an exorcism is more the order of the day than antibiotics.” He said this with flat humour in his voice, but she didn’t think it was very funny.

Six stitches, and then there was gauze and tape, and then it was done.

He swiped a warm, wet cloth over her back one more time, avoiding the dressed wound. His hand continued downwards, knuckles bumping over the ridge of her spine, and the pads of his fingers came to rest on her tattoo.

“I’ve only seen it in snapshots. The red is really…”

Scully pulled her bottom lip between her teeth and leaned forward, just a little, a silent invitation for a closer look. Mulder bent down further, tracing it with his fingers. She could feel his breath on her skin.

His voice was coarse and close. “It’s nice.” His fingers brushed in a spiral over the snake, sending chills up her spine, heat rising between her hips.

“Mulder—”

His hand leapt off of her skin, as if the snake had bitten him. “Sorry.”

“No, it’s okay—I just… let me look at you.” She swiveled, holding her shirt to her breasts with one arm and bringing her hand to his face with the other. He was far better off than she was, just a few scratches across his cheek framing his rocky nose. She tilted his chin in her hand, and examined the cut along his neck. It had stopped bleeding on its own, but left a trail of rusty red down into the scooped gray collar of his shirt.

Their eyes locked together and held, and a stroke of energy went through her, something undeniably foundational, something as deep as love. But then the light in his eyes shifted.

She felt a hot trickle of blood spill from her nose and pool between her lips. Self-consciously, she brought the back of her hand to her face to catch it, and turned away.

“Scully…” Mulder gently grasped her wrist and tugged her hand away, turning her face to his, tenderly dabbing the blood away with a clean corner of the towel.

“I’m fine, Mul—”

—STOP that,” he seethed, suddenly intense, inches away from her face. “Stop it with that, Dana, you are not okay. I’m sick of this shit. Stop it. It’s me, for fuck’s sake. It’s me.”

She tongued the corner of her mouth, tasting blood, and felt the hot sting of tears forming behind her eyes again, the twist of humiliation and anger in her belly. Mulder sighed deeply, his shoulders heaving.

“You’ve got to trust me, Scully. You’ve got to let me in. I’m right here with you. You’re not… you’re not fighting this thing alone.”

Despite her efforts to keep it at bay, a tear welled, crested, and rolled down her cheek. Mulder seemed to hesitate momentarily, then leaned forward and pressed his lips against it, sweetly, lingering. He pulled back, and then, as if surprised by his own audacity, he launched himself up, his bum knee cracking. “I’m… uh, do you have anything to sleep in? I’m gonna…” He disappeared without finishing his sentence, and reappeared a moment later with a clean t-shirt, which he tossed in her direction before leaving again.

Scully closed her eyes, willing them to dry. She dabbed at the sticky blood that had transferred from the shirt to her chest, and careful of her injuries, she slid the shirt over her head. It was soft, smelling of Mulder and laundry soap.

“Scully?” Mulder appeared in the doorway again, wide-eyed, his voice urgent, gun in hand. “Scully—the crow is gone.”

“What do you mean the crow is gone? I thought you killed it!”

“I did, but it’s gone.”

“How can that be possible?” She stood, bracing herself against the sink.

“I have a few ideas,” he said darkly. “But… I don’t want you in that room tonight. I think you should come to mine so I can keep watch.”

“Mulder, I’m—”

DON’T—start with that again. I’m gonna get cleaned up, and you’re coming to my room.” Something about his tone of voice reminded her of her father, and she found herself unable to protest. She followed his orders, watching him strip his shirt off and dab at his chest with a wet cloth, and then following him to his room. It was a mirror of hers, with the same sloping roof. “Take the bed,” he said, closing the door behind him.

“Where are you going to sleep?”

He nodded towards the small armchair in the corner.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Mulder. The bed is big enough for the both of us.”

He seemed to consider this, chewing his lip, hands on his hips. “Okay, but I’m taking the side closest to the window. Just in case.”

Scully curled into the cool sheets in the dark of the room, favouring her good side. The sleepy smell of him rose to meet her from the pillow, a scent that was dark with dreams. Mulder was pacing, checking the locks, peering out of the window, the floor creaking under his feet.

She watched him quietly as he slowed and then finally stopped.

“I, um. I think your room was Anna’s,” he sighed, leaning his forehead against the window glass.

“I think it was, too,” she said, and was grateful that he didn’t ask her to elaborate.

He turned, his long, lithe silhouette approaching the bed, the moonlight glancing off of the curve of his shoulder. Carefully, he crawled in beside her. The grandfather clock in the corner ticked contentedly on. Scully felt as shy as a teenage girl; she was careful not to touch him, but she yearned to all the same.

Mulder tentatively reached over to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear, and rested his palm on her cheek, thumbing just below a scratch.

“Why is it always me?” she whispered, indulging in a fit of uncharacteristic self-pity.

He scooched towards her without a word, his knees knocking her shins, and kissed her sweetly between the eyes as he threaded his arm under her neck. She rested her cheek on his chest, sucking her tongue nervously, submerging herself in his heavy, warm aura. He nosed her hairline.

“You’ll be fine,” he murmured. “We’ll figure this out. All of it. You’ll be fine.”

Chapter Text

KICKING HORSE B&B
JULY 23 - 10:15 AM

Mulder slipped into wakefulness to find Scully’s smooth legs tangled in his, her small body curled into him, her head tucked under his chin. He was momentarily overcome with elated confusion before the night came back to him—the sound of the crow screaming through the wall separating their bedrooms, the sight of Scully under a flurry of black wings, her torn back, her tattoo, the salt of her single tear on his tongue.

He craned his neck, careful not to disturb her, fingering open the neck of the shirt he’d given her and checking to see if she’d bled through her bandages. They looked clean, so he assumed the stitches had held. He flicked his eyes up towards the clock, internally groaning at time. He listened for Rhiannon downstairs, but couldn’t hear anything.

He let Scully sleep a short while longer, savouring the autumn sunburst of her head underneath him, the scent of her warm hair, her dried blood. She fit into him perfectly. He watched her breathe, both awestruck and heartsick. As he shifted to unknot himself from her, she moaned in her sleep. The sound squeezed at his throat, but after the intimate events of last night, he knew she’d be more comfortable waking up with her own space.

He let his feet swing over the edge of the bed and onto the chilled hardwood.

She sniffed and gathered the covers to herself, and he looked back at her. Her small, bundled body reminded him of the dead crow. He’d felt the creature’s neck snap under his hands—he was certain it was dead—so where had it gone?

There seemed to be only one answer.

As he opened the door to the hallway, pulling on a fresh t-shirt, he almost tripped over the dog. She was lapping up a drop of stray blood from the floor, and she looked up at him with guilty eyes and she turned tail and trotted downstairs.

Mulder ducked into the bathroom and cleaned it up the best he could, careful not to make too much noise. He scrubbed out the sink, half-heartedly wiped at the floor, and piled the bloody towels in the bathtub.

As he returned to the bedroom, he found Scully stirring awake.

“Morning,” he said quietly, easing down on the bed beside her and placing a hand on the curve of her hip. She mumbled discontentedly. “C’mon, Scully, it’s almost 10:30.”

“Oh my God,” she said, delirious. She shook herself out of the blankets and sat up, then sharply inhaled, clearly forgetting about her injury. “Oh… Jesus,” she growled, palming at the bandages.

She looked up at him, impossibly girlish, impossibly gorgeous. The pillow had marked her cheek with a charming little landscape of wrinkles, and her eyes were swollen with sleep. She averted her gaze, ran her pink tongue between her lips.

“Rhiannon’s home,” he said, trying to save them from a post-mortem. “Go get changed and meet me downstairs. I’m gonna have her look at your stitches and get those antibiotics. And then I think she’s got a few questions she needs to answer.”

-

The smell of coffee lifted through the air, but he didn’t hear any activity. He moved carefully through the dim hall and down the creaking stairs, making a point to avoid looking at any of the faces staring out from the photographs. “Rhiannon?” he said to the quiet house as he descended, but there was no answer.

He poked his head into the kitchen. The breakfast table was set for three, and the coffee pot was full, but Rhiannon was nowhere to be found, He moved into the dining room, and then through to the living room, and that’s when he spotted her.

She was fast asleep under a patchwork blanket, curled into a tight ball on an armchair with her hair coiled and piled on top of her head. Hypatia had returned to her feet, her muzzle tinted pink with Scully’s blood.

“Rhiannon,” he said, but she didn’t stir. He approached her cautiously and laid a hand on her shoulder.

She was cold.

He recoiled, but just as he was about to call for Scully, movement returned to her, and she opened her eyes. “…Fox?”

Mulder had little time to react before she was up, her icy hands reaching for his face. “Oh my god, what happened to you?!” she gasped.

“We had a little visitor last night. Of the avian variety,” he offered, barely bothering to keep the hostility out of his voice as he pushed her arms away. “Where were you?”

“Fox, let me- let me- let me- look at those,” she stammered. “Oh my god, a crow? Oh my god… where’s Dana? Is she okay?”

“Agent Scully is fine, but I want you to look her over. She required stitches and they may need re-doing. And antibiotics, too, if you have them.” Rhiannon put her hands to her cheeks. Mulder asked again. “Where were you last night?”

“I… It was Salome Stoesz. Premature labour. The baby… the baby didn’t make it. Theo came with me.”

“And if I were to call him right now, would he tell me the same thing?” Mulder asked. Rhiannon paused and looked at him, one eyebrow cautiously lifted.

“Of course he would.” Her face was contorted with panic. She knew something. Mulder was sure of it.

What the hell was in that locked tower?

Scully appeared at the doorway, still in his t-shirt, her hair pulled back from her freshly-washed face, looking so young that Mulder had to steady himself so as not to get sucked into a fresh riptide of protective rage. Rhiannon took one look at her and made a noise of despair. “Dana, oh my god…”

Mulder watched as Scully hung back silently, letting Rhiannon approach her, tilting her head and pulling the collar of his shirt back to give her a better look.

“Come with me,” Rhiannon said, and led Scully to the kitchen, where she peeled off Mulder’s bandages and prodded around, hunching over Scully’s torn shoulder. “You did a fine job with the stitches, Fox…I won’t need to redo them.” Quivering, she sank against the counter, her face in her hands.

“Rhiannon,” Mulder said, warming a little to her in the face of her clear distress. “If you know anything… anything at all, that might shed some light on this… no matter how strange it might sound, you need to tell us. Before something else happens.” Rhiannon just shook her head, speaking through her hands.

“You think I wouldn’t do everything in my power to try to make this right? You think I wouldn’t give anything to have my daughter back?” Scully glanced at Mulder, lips pursed, stern disquiet in her features.

Rhiannon dropped her hands.“I promise you, on Anna, on everything I’ve ever loved… that I can’t help you.”

12:33 PM

She was finally alone.

From the living room window, she watched the agents disappear down the road, tires kicking up mud, uprooting the grass. She’d cleaned up Dana the best she could, helped her wash her hair in the sink, shot both her and Fox up with a dose of antibiotics.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. None of this should have ever happened.

Rhiannon walked through the narrow hallways of her home, trailing her fingers along the walls, tracing shapes between the portraits. She came to the small desk in the foyer where she stored her mail and her mother’s old rotary phone.

She picked up the receiver, and dialed.

“They came for Dana last night,” she said, as calmly as she could. “We have to stop them. I don’t know if we can… but we have to try. If not…”

“Rhi…” Marion said. “I have something to tell you.”

HORIZON POLICE STATION
2:40 PM

Scully sat, straight-backed, behind a hulking, outdated computer, cut off from the world by a pair of oversized headphones. Apparently, she’d never gotten around to transcribing her autopsy notes the night before, and she’d spent the last hour and a half dutifully typing away, avoiding Mulder’s gaze. The quick patter of her fingers on the keyboard and the constipated gurgle of the coffee maker were the only sounds in the station. A corner of her fresh bandaging peeked out from under the collar of her shirt, and she looked pale and drawn, probably gritting her teeth through one of her more and more frequent dizzy spells.

Mulder watched her from his chosen desk, half-hidden behind a stack of yellowed newspapers, chewing on a pencil and leaning back in his chair. His neck itched and burned where the crow shredded his skin. Balancing his glasses on his nose, he scanned the papers lazily for any mention of the Bishops, of Hugh, of Kicking Horse—but he couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t shake the distracting image of Scully bleeding breathlessly against the footboard, or the memory of waking to her warm, tempting scent. He frequently caught himself reading the same sentence for the third or fourth time in a row.

Theo yawned noisily behind him. If his own account was to be trusted, Rhiannon had been telling the truth, and they’d spent a long night together at the colony tending to Salome and restraining a furious, distraught Abel. Salome was currently being ferried by a troupe of her numerous brothers to the nearest hospital in Cut Bank for observation, and Theo was looking into what he could do about Abel’s clear abuse.

Mulder thought Theo had seemed genuinely shaken when they’d arrived, both by the whole Salome situation and by the claw marks that marred both he and Scully’s faces. He hadn’t asked many questions as to the hows or whys of it all, but had taken it seriously, warning them to keep a close eye on one another. But despite his initial concern, Theo edged on the cold side towards Scully, throwing her suspicious, questioning glances as they worked. Mulder couldn’t help but wonder what he’d witnessed at that diner. Couldn’t help but wonder what the hell Scully had been talking about. I don’t want Theo putting ideas into your head…

What was most notable about the scene, Mulder thought to himself, was that Marion was nowhere to be found, and Theo didn’t seem to care, or even to notice.

Mulder shook out the aged newspaper he was holding and then refolded it carelessly, tossing it back into the pile.

“No luck?” Theo said from behind his desk in the corner. Mulder looked over his shoulder and raised his eyebrows in acknowledgement.

“Well, I know a hell of a lot more about annual weather patterns and the fluctuating price of fertilizer than I ever cared to. You don’t have any genealogical records available? No old gossipy biddy who’s appointed herself the town historian?”

“Why? Whadya need to know, kid?”

“Well, I’m curious as to whether Horizon has experienced this kind of phenomena before, even if the only surviving evidence of it is a fish tale or rumour. And, uh, I’m interested in learning a bit more about Kicking Horse. The Bishops, too.”

“The Bishops?” Theo stiffened, furrowing his impressive brow.

“Do they have a longstanding legacy here? In Horizon, I mean.”

“The Bishops have always lived here,” Theo said, dipping his head, clearly trying to figure out what Mulder was getting at. “At least since that house was built. Eighteen-something or other…”

“Do you know where they came from before then?”

Theo heaved himself up from his desk, and walked slowly over to Mulder. He leaned over him, his hands on his hips. “Now, Fox, just what exactly is this?”

Scully looked up at them from her screen, and slid her headphones off of her ears.

“Don’t waste your time nosin’ around an innocent woman,” Theo said, scowling. “Rhiannon’s done nothing but take in two lost and lonely girls that needed a home and somebody to love ‘em.”

“You two seem to be… close,” Mulder continued, testing the boundaries, noting with interest the flush crawling up the bulkier man’s neck. “I’m curious about Rhiannon’s father. Has she ever mentioned him?”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“And while we’re at it, where’s Marion today?”

The red reached Theo’s face, and he became visibly flustered. “What— why— It’s none of your damn business,” he said. “She’s takin’ a personal day! And, and, you can’t just waltz in from the city and think you have the right to go digging into everyone’s personal lives—you, you should be lookin’ at Hugh Daly, is what you should be doing, instead of wasting your time on Rhiannon, of all the damn people.”

“Theo, I’m just following a hunch here, there’s no need to get worked up.”

“Mulder… I’m inclined to agree,” Scully said from behind him. “Hugh likely has more information for us than what I was able to find out from our… initial conversations.”

Theo glanced over at her. “Oh, your conversations, huh?” Scully’s chest rose under her blazer, but her face remained carefully, gracefully arranged. “Like that sweet-lookin’ chat you were enjoyin’ at the Half Moon?”

“Hey,” Mulder said, moving to stand, but then Scully stopped him with a pointed glance.  

“Listen, Theo,” she said, moving her eyes back to him. “I know emotions are running high right now, but you need to let Agent Mulder and I do our jobs, and that includes letting us follow our instincts. I can assure you that we are only pursuing the avenues that have presented themselves as worthy of our attention. We are not accusing Rhiannon of anything right now. And if we were, we would expect your full cooperation, regardless of your personal relationship with her. Is that clear?”

Mulder found himself grappling with a strange sense of pride. Oh, his Scully. A pro ‘til the end.

“Hey now,” Theo started, raising his voice, but then the station phone rang, interrupting them and dampening the tension in the room. Theo grumbled incoherently before lumbering back to his desk to pick it up. “Horizon Police Department,” he said.

Mulder tried to catch Scully’s eye, tried to telegraph his gratefulness to her, but her focus remained firmly on Theo. In the silence of the station, he could hear a woman’s garbled voice on the other end of the line, but couldn’t make out what she was saying.

“Uh huh,” Theo grunted, and then held out the receiver. “Agent Mulder, it’s for you.”

HALF-MOON DINER
4:22 PM

Mulder pushed open the door to the diner and ducked under the bright, unexpected rattle of the bell. The place was nearly empty, other than a couple of denim-clad old timers in trucker hats, nursing their coffees and bickering over the daily crossword. Rich light from outside soaked through the windows, decadent as champagne fizz, gilding the drying mud on the checkerboard tile.

He eased down onto an empty stool, and the leather creaked unhappily underneath him. The diner was warm, and smelled of overspent deep-fry grease and the bitterness of old coffee. He slipped his suit jacket down his shoulders and folded it carefully on the stool beside him, busying himself with rolling up his sleeves and loosening his tie. He scratched irritably at his cuts.

Hank Williams crooned from the staticky radio, and Mulder found himself vaguely embarrassed of his expensive socks and his smooth palms. He cleared his throat, and surveyed the booths.

His mind played back ridiculous, self-indulgent fantasies of Scully sitting across from Hugh, her tiny stockinged feet slipping from their pumps and inching up the inseam of his Levi’s under the table. Or of Scully curled in Hugh’s lap in the corner booth, her nimble fingers threaded through his black hair, her eyes low and a soft, suggestive smile on her lips. He inhaled and tried to shake the images from his head. She’d never, of course. Never.

But then again, she had. Hadn’t she? Gotten all nice and cozy and boozy and one-night-standy with Edward Peter Jerse, 36, blood type A pos—

“You that guy from the FBI? Mister Miller?” He was rescued from his thoughts by the waitress. She was young, 22 or 23 at the most, and a little too thin for her height. Her hair was the colour of carob, swept off her neck and twisted into a limp nest at the top of her head. She wiped her hands down the front of her outdated, citrusy uniform, and smiled politely.

“Yeah,” Mulder said, fumbling in his discarded jacket for his badge. He flashed it at her, watched her scrutinize it. “Heather?” he asked, answering his own question by looking at her nametag.

“Yeah. That lady didn’t come with you, did she? Your partner, or whatever?”

“No, she’s… it’s just me. Like you asked. And it’s Mulder, not Miller.” After the events of the previous night, he was deeply uncomfortable with the fact that he’d had to leave Scully behind. Especially with her plans for the afternoon unfixed, and her earlier assertion that she’d like to speak more with Daly.

“‘Kay. Mister Mulder. Good. You, uh, you wanna coffee or something? On the house,” Heather said. She was pretty, now that he was really looking at her; charming in an all-American sort of way.

“Yeah, sure. Thanks.”

“Pie?”

He glanced over at the baking display stand next to the register. The plastic dome was sweating, and the blueberries had a gooey, greyish tint to them.

“No thanks. I’m good. ”

Heather scoffed a laugh. “Probably for the best. Rog makes terrible pie,” she said, gesturing to the kitchen with her chin. “Like, I don’t even know how he gets it so bad. It’s kinda hard to mess up pie. Or they wouldn’t have that saying, you know? Easy as pie?” Heather plonked a thick glass mug down in front of him and poured him coffee from a brown-stained glass pot. Steam curled up into the air. “Hey, what happened to your face?” She asked, watching the liquid rise.

“Don’t worry about it,” Mulder said.

She raised an eyebrow at him, returned the pot to its home on a double heater, and set a ceramic plateful of cream pods and sugar packets down in front of him. She leaned over the bar, framing her tanned cleavage with her elbows. Mulder tried not to let his eyes sink downwards.

Heather studied him as he mixed his coffee, blinking coquettishly, waiting for him to ask. She clearly liked being Little Miss Informant ‘97. He could tell she felt special.

“So, Heather, why did you call me down here?” he said, bringing the coffee to his lips. A thin film of grease floated on top of it, but at least it wasn’t soy and honey.

“I think you oughta know about some things. About Anna. She used to work here, you know. We were friends, kind of.”

“Is that so?”

“Yeah. And you know what, Mister Mulder? I think that husband of hers might have killed her.” She leaned back with a satisfied grin, and crossed her arms.

“And why’s that?”

“Everyone knows about him and Marion. I think he wanted to get rid of Anna so that he could like, publicly be with her.”

“Why not just separate, get a divorce?” He asked.

“I mean, that’s the thing, right? Why not just get a divorce? So I’m thinking that like, maybe divorce wasn’t really an option, you know? Because of the way that Anna was. And even the way that Hugh is.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, Anna wasn’t really like other people. And Hugh… he’s just kind of one of those guys who gets whatever he wants,” she said, “I mean, even that lady, your partner? That’s why I didn’t want her to come. I can tell that she likes him, that she wouldn’t listen to me. They were talking about movies, Mister Mulder. Movies. When all the whole town can talk about is poor Anna.”

A snake twisted and flipped in Mulder’s stomach. He tried to drown it with a long, scalding guzzle of coffee.

“Alright,” he said, “That’s enough talk about my partner. How, exactly, was Anna different than other people?”

Heather tried and failed to hide a self-satisfied smile, and wiped her hands on her apron. She turned and yelled to the kitchen, “Rog, I’m taking my break.”

Rog peeked his wrinkled, bald head out of the back. He closely resembled a tortoise. “Kay sweetheart. Be good,” he said, and sent them off with a wink.

“C’mon, Mister Mulder,” Heather said, swinging a ratty blue knit sweater off of a coat hook just inside the kitchen and wrapping it around herself. “I need a smoke.”

Mulder gathered up his jacket and slung it over his arm, abandoning his coffee to follow her out. Heather walked around the building, swinging her lean hips, leading him to the dumpsters. The prairie stretched out behind her for miles and miles.

She drew a rumpled pack of cigarettes from her sweater pocket, and lipped one out before tilting the open box towards Mulder.

“No thanks,” he said, “I quit in ‘92.” He watched as she struggled with a match and lit her cigarette. In the natural light, she looked softer, younger. “Cancer’s a bitch, Heather.”

“Who are you, my dad?” She said, tired mirth in her feline eyes. “That trip to the corner store sure took a long time. 15 years? 16? Did you forget the milk, have to go back?”

Mulder, resigned, sighed and pressed his lips together. “Yeah, okay. So. Anna.”

Heather sucked in a deep drag, her fingers floating on either side of her cigarette. She looked over to him at a slant, and kicked at the dirt. “Well, she was from that colony, right?”

Mulder nodded.

“So I guess her brother was like, this huge abusive asshole. So she runs away, comes up here to town, and Rhiannon takes her in. And well, you know, Rhiannon’s a little bit… witchy. A lot witchy, actually. Which I dig, don’t get me wrong.” She held up her hands in defense, and a crumble of burning ash fell to her sweater. Mulder reached over and swiped it away, ignoring her small-town succubus smile. “But anyway, it’s kind of like, this open secret about her that everybody knows. She can just do stuff.”

Here it was. “Stuff?”

Heather leaned in, and looked up at him with a playful flutter of her eyelashes. “You wanna hear a story, Mister Mulder?”

“Always.”

“So when my mom was pregnant with Jessie, that’s my little sister, Rhiannon and her mom both came over to like, help with the birth or whatever. God, they looked the exact same, too, like twins. But anyway, Jessie was born, and she wasn’t breathing, no heartbeat, and she was all blue and stuff. I was sort of hiding in the hallway, but Rhiannon’s mom rushed by me, and I saw Jessie’s face. And I swear to God, she was dead. But Rhiannon’s mom took her out into the rain, and put her on the ground all naked and limp, and said some words—and this whole time my mom is like, crying and freaking out, and my dad had already fucked off to go get drunk somewhere. But there’s this crazy lightning crack, and I’m blinded, right? So I couldn’t see anything for a few seconds. And then the thunder was rolling, and by the end of it, I could hear Jessie crying. Rhiannon’s mom comes back into the house, carrying Jessie all bundled up now, and she’s alive. Shrieking like a pterodactyl. She brought her back to life.”

“Wow,” said Mulder, a little enchanted. He could hear Scully’s voice in the back of his head—Cyanosis, Mulder, the baby was never dead. And childhood memories are so rarely reliable, especially with the human tendency to mythologize meaningful experiences. But he remembered Rhiannon’s strange coldness, the quiet, persistent glimmer leading him up to the tower, the wall of faces, all with the same nose. “So have you ever seen Rhiannon do anything… like that… herself?”

“Well, not exactly. But Anna… I mean, she had to learn it from somewhere, didn’t she?”

“Learn what?” C’mon, Heather, he thought, chewing his lip impatiently, get to the good stuff…

“Well, honestly, I don’t know if she was weird before she got to Rhiannon’s, or if she started the weirdness because of Rhiannon. I was older than her, so we didn’t go to school together. But she started working here after she graduated, and lemme tell ya, as soon as she got here, some strange stuff started happening. This guy that used to come in, Gene? Real piece of work. Always grabbing at us and stuff. And a few weeks after Anna started, he just wouldn’t come in anymore. He’d park outside and like, stare, and look confused, but he’d never get out of the car, never come into the diner. And so, like, her brother started showing up too, right? And even though Rog would chase him off at first, after a while, he didn’t need to. The same thing would happen. He’d just sit there, in his car, and then drive away. Oh, and tips like, tripled.”

“Did you ever ask her about this? Did she ever give any indication that she might be responsible?” Mulder said.

Heather took one more drag and then stubbed out her smoke on the side of the building, smudging the brick with char. She tossed the butt into the dumpster behind her. “Not really. But whenever I’d talk to her about it, she’d get this weird smile, like she knew something that I didn’t.”

“So what about Hugh Daly?”

“Right. Okay. So then Hugh moved to town, and started spending a ridiculous amount of time here, and Anna was like, immediately on him. You know, I actually thought he was sweet on me at first, but then… well. I guess he changed his mind. Seems to do that a lot.” She looked at him pointedly. “You need to tell that partner of yours to be careful. He’s hot, yeah, but I really don’t think he’s safe to be around.”

“I’ll be sure to mention it,” Mulder said to his shoes.

“But um. Anyway. Anna had this really moody side to her. She was a sweet chick and all, but you really didn’t wanna get on her bad side, and not only because she could do stuff to you, you know? She would just get all quiet and cry a lot for no reason and wouldn’t let you go near her. I used to have to cover for her for a lot of shifts and stuff. I’m not sure how she kept this job. Anyway, I’m thinking Hugh didn’t like her moods too much, and that’s why he took up with Marion. Couldn’t make Anna happy, no matter what he did. That’s gotta be frustrating, you know? So anyway, that’s why I think he did it. Maybe he just snapped or something, got tired of dealing with her.”

“Her moods were severe enough that they’d drive him to kill her?”

Heather pouted. “Well, when you put it like that, it sounds so harsh.”

“Murder is a pretty harsh accusation, Heather. Are you aware of the state that Anna’s body was found in?”

Heather looked uncertain. “Well, maybe not, then. I don’t know. I just know that there was something weird going on with that girl, and that she and Hugh weren’t happy together.”

Something occurred to Mulder, something so obvious he was surprised he didn’t think of it before. “Now, you mentioned that you believe that Anna could make things happen. Do you believe the same thing of Marion?”

Heather shrugged. “I dunno. Maybe. I didn’t hang out with Marion much. Sometimes she’d pick Anna up from work. But like, if Rhiannon was teaching them stuff, I’m sure Marion would know it all too. Whoah, hey, maybe it was Marion! Do you have any leads or anything? Who do you think did it?”

“We’re pursuing a few different avenues of investigation.”

“Well I still think Hugh should be number one on that list. I just get skeeved out by that guy. I just gotta bad feeling,” she said with a resolute tone, looking into the distance. “Anyway, I hafta get back.” She tilted her head towards the door.

“Wait,” he said, “Heather, are you familiar with omens?”

“I mean, kind of. Like big black dogs and stuff, right? Supposed to tell you you’re gonna die?”

Mulder shook his head. “Nevermind.”

“Alright, Mister Mulder. You gonna come in and finish your coffee?”

“Nah, I gotta run. Thanks, though.” His fingers twitched towards his cell phone. He really should touch base with Scully.

Heather reached over and touched his tie with a chipped strawberry fingernail. “How long you gonna be in town?” Mulder reflexively grabbed her wrist and held her still. She met his eyes, and a corner of her mouth curled.

“As long as it takes,” he replied.

“Well, you know,” Heather said softly, “There’s not much to do around here, but if you find yourself needing a little break or something…” She swayed a little, pulling her bottom lip between her teeth with a smile. “You might be able to convince me to show you around.”

“Thanks,” he said again, releasing her. “I’ll be in touch if I need anything.”

“But you don’t have my number!” She protested as he turned towards the parking lot.

He didn’t turn around. “I’ll stop by if I need to.”

Chapter Text

DALY FARMS
5:07 PM

The house huddled low on the prairie, and the worn moon-coloured clapboard reflected light into Scully’s eyes as she eased the borrowed police car up the driveway.

She knew she shouldn’t be doing this without Mulder, especially after last night. It felt like a rebellion, somehow. A betrayal of trust.

But she and Hugh had built a foundation in that diner, and no matter what Mulder or Theo or that bored goddamned waitress on the phone thought of her, it was one she intended to exploit. As long as she returned with valuable information, or armed with some new insight, Mulder couldn’t rightfully be angry with her.

He couldn’t. She was just doing her job, and if she was quick, she could be back at Kicking Horse before him, before he even noticed that she was missing.

Besides, it wasn’t as though he hadn’t ditched her first.

She pressed her stockinged toes against the brake pedal and killed the engine. The soles of her pumps were cool from the air conditioning as she slipped them on, and she wriggled out of her jacket, almost tossing it to the passenger seat before changing her mind and shrugging it back over her shoulders. The rearview mirror tempted her with a coruscating glint of copper, but she stubbornly avoided her reflection.

Scully slid from the car into the sweet, wild smell of open country, and approached the house. Just as she reached the porch, she heard a sharp and distant clang. Palming the butt of her gun, more out of habit than out of any real sense of danger, she followed the sound around to the back.

A pair of denim-clad legs were splayed out from underneath the belly of a rusting mint-toned Studebaker.

“Hugh?” She called out, and he startled, his knees jumping as he frantically shuffled out from underneath the truck. His tank top was blemished with motor oil, and his sun-brown skin gleamed with sweat. He was absurdly alluring, like a gritty hero from the cover of one of her mother’s poorly-hidden stash of Harlequins.

“Dana!” He said, a lock of slick hair falling over his eye as he leapt up to meet her. He shoved it back impatiently, smiling, but then his grin swiftly disappeared when he got a good look at her.

The naked dread in his stormy eyes made Scully feel small, weak, and slightly ashamed. “I’m fine,” she insisted.

Hugh strode over to her with resolve, whipping a worn handkerchief from his pocket and furiously wiping at his hands. He brought up his scrubbed fingers to faintly trace the lacerations on her cheek. “Oh, darling, no… no, you’re not. God almighty, it wasn’t…?”

“I don’t know what it was, exactly,” she lied. “I’m fine, though, really.”

Hugh blinked softly and shook his head, looking away from her and into the horizon. The tendons of his neck rippled as he worked his jaw. “Damn it,” he said softly, and then in a burst of movement, whipped the handkerchief to the ground, hard, and stalked away from her.

“Hugh…”

He paused, hands at his hips, looking off into the distance. “Goddamnit, Dana, I can’t bear to think that you’ve been hurt in any way because of any association you have with me.”

She recalled Mulder’s long fingers pressing into her back, his body tucked around hers in a stranger’s bed, and bit the inside of her cheek. “I can take care of myself.”

“I reckon you can, but…”

She finished for him. “But I need to know more, Hugh. I must confess that I’m at a loss. I don’t know where to begin with this. I need to understand what you believe. I need to… to see what you’ve seen. I just need more.”

Hugh blinked down at his empty hands, flexed his fingers, and sighed. “I… I can show you, if that’s what you want.”

As his eyes lifted to meet hers again, Scully nodded, unsure of what exactly she was agreeing to. Some latent self-protective part of her screamed in protest, flung images of Marion and Mulder at her like fistfuls of mud, but nothing hit her, nothing stuck. Hugh looked her up and down. “You can’t ride in that,” he said, gesturing at her suit.

“Ride?”

“Well, we can’t be drivin’ through the fields, now, can we. We’ll saddle the horses up. S’that agreeable?”

Scully took a deep breath and ran her tongue over her lips. “Um. Sure.”

“But first we need to get you changed. You’re a mite smaller than Anna was… but if you don’t mind wearin’…” He paused, steadying himself. “She’s got, ehm… there are jeans and shirts up in the bedroom. I trust you can find your way there.” He tipped his chin towards the house.

Oh, no. No, she couldn’t. There was something she found perverse about wearing a dead woman’s clothing, something flippant, something disrespectful.

Missy, in her 1930s house dresses and thrift-store ankle boots, had always made fun of her for her refusal to buy second-hand. Once, she’d even scolded her for being so superstitious. Maybe she was, deep down. Maybe it was time to start admitting that sort of thing, if only to herself, if only in private moments.

But nevertheless, at Hugh’s silent invitation, she found herself returning to the front of the house, floating up the porch stairs as if in a trance, and letting herself inside.

The inside of the house was cottony-quiet, as still as midnight.

In the narrow hall, she moved slowly past the sun-drenched kitchen where she’d first interviewed Hugh, then past the musty sitting room. Her eyes fell on a disheveled couch harbouring a collection of crushed pillows and a patchwork quilt spilling onto the floor. Hugh had been sleeping there, she realized, and something about the sight of it took her off guard, pinched at her heart.

The floorboards groaned under her feet. She climbed the stairs, sliding her hand along the wooden railing. It warmed under her palm like a living thing.

At the end of the hall, past the small bathroom, she found the bedroom.

The bed in its wrought-iron frame was rumpled, missing its pillows. Two antique scrollwork picture frames were laying face-down on the dresser, and a pair of scuffed boots edged out from underneath it. She considered her pumps, then bent to pull the boots up by their laces, catching a glimpse of a suitcase handle as she did. Before she let herself think too much of it, she tossed the boots on the bed, toed her shoes off, and kicked them to the side.

Feeling guilty, she eased the middle drawer open. Top drawers were for intimates, and she didn’t think she could bear seeing a single scrap of cotton or lace. Her guess was a good one, and she was met by several neatly-folded stacks of shirts, jeans, and slacks. She rifled through them as gingerly as she could, discovering hidden satchels of rose petals and lavender tucked between flannels and camisoles, and selected a pair of well-loved, frayed Levi’s and a soft denim button-down.

As she wriggled out of the remainder of her suit, she eyed the face-down photographs on the dresser.

Anna’s shirt and jeans both hung off of her, draping from her bones, and she ended up having to search for a belt to cinch herself in. As she yanked the tongue of worn leather around her hips, she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and grimaced. God, she was thin. She couldn’t deny it. She looked too pale, too wide-eyed, too haunted. She pursed her lips and untucked her hair from behind her ears.

The photo frames caught her eye again, and this time, the temptation was too much to bear. She tipped one edge of a photograph up. It was Hugh, younger and more willowy than he was now, leaning against a hand-hewn fence in a landscape of emerald hills, his arms around two identical black-haired teenage girls that flanked him on either side. They had his disarming gaze, his aristocratic cheekbones. His sisters, if she had to guess.

The other was the photograph that she’d seen of him back in the office. Anna tucked into his side, her halcyon smile shining only for him. A fracture of glass bisected the frame; it had been slammed down, or dropped.

Scully shivered, thinking of Anna’s body in the field. She picked the photograph up and traced the lines of Anna’s face, meditating on her particular corn-fed brand of beauty, her horrific, lonely end.

Then… there it was again… that strange suck of energy.

From the corner of her eye, a faint glimmer, a shadow, a feeling…

No. She was being ridiculous. She put the photograph back where she’d found it, staunchly refusing to look around. Instead, she folded her clothes and placed them neatly on the bed, sat down on the mattress, and began lacing herself into Anna’s boots.

As she pulled the ankles tight, she looked out the window, and across the slope of the verandah roof, she caught a glimpse of Hugh. He was wetting his head upside-down with the garden hose, flinging water everywhere and scouring his face with his free hand. A red checkerboard flannel hung beside him on the porch railing, draped over the rosemary and sage. He picked it up and slid it over his muscular arms, rolling up the sleeves.

The feeling persisted. Scully stood, retrieved her gun, and tucked it against the small of her back.

-

“You find everything okay?” Hugh asked, meeting her at the porch. A droplet of water liberated itself from a curl over his forehead. He shook his head and ran his hand through his hair, slicking it back into place.

“Yes, thank you,” she said. The tension melted from her shoulders, and she inhaled. It was good to be back outside. She didn’t feel so… watched.

“Well, c’mon then,” Hugh said, stalking off towards the barn in the next field. “I’ll introduce yeh to the horses.”

Christ almighty, what was she getting herself into?

Scully followed him around to the barn, which badly needed a paint job. Hugh led her through the open doors, and sunlight spilled across the straw. There was a snort, an excited little whicker, the sound of shuffling. “There, there,” Hugh soothed, approaching a large brown horse in a stall. A smaller one, dappled with white, flicked her tail from behind them.

Scully followed after Hugh, her eyes adjusting. The creature in front of them was beautiful, with a thick arched neck and a shining chestnut mane. Hugh turned to Scully. “They don’t like bein’ cooped up so much. Poor darlings. But since Ghost died… I don’t like lettin ‘em out as often. Not until things calm down.” He turned back to the horse, who was stamping his hooves and snorting, and cupped his velvety chin in his hands. “I know, yeh big whiner.” The horse tossed his head and huffed in response.

Scully felt distinctly out of place. The straw rustled under her feet as she shifted her weight, hugging her elbows.

“This here’s Eachann,” Hugh said.

“Gesundheit,” Scully said flatly.

Hugh caught her eyes with his, flashed a hint of that brilliant smile, and chuckled. “It’s Irish, woman. Shame on yeh. C’mere, come meet him proper. That’s a good boy, Eachann,” he said, patting the horse’s muzzle.

Scully approached the horse, a little nervously at first, but calmed as she gazed into his dark and placid eyes. She reached out and placed her hand beside Hugh’s on the horse’s nose. It was soft and bony under her hand, and disarmingly large, the hair both coarse and silken at the same time. He lifted his nose and she let him lip curiously at her hand.

“Eachann. What does it mean?” She asked.

Hugh looked at her sidelong, mischief in his eyes. “Brown horse.” Scully smirked, and his crow’s feet crinkled up at her reaction. “Little too big for ye, I think. But Rosie’ll do you just fine,” he continued, walking over to the back of the barn. “That means rose. Like the flower. Yeh know, the one with the thorns.”

“Thanks,” Scully said sarcastically, and Hugh grinned at her from over his shoulder. Together, they approached the next stall, where the smaller horse waited. Her fine brown head swayed down to a creamy, speckled rump, and she knickered proudly down at them.

“She’s a little feisty,” Hugh said, “but nothing you can’t handle, I reckon. You ever ridden before?”

“I, um. I took a turn on the pony at my cousin’s seventh birthday party,” Scully said. She reached out to touch Rosie’s nose, but the horse flung it away from her.

Hugh clucked and hushed and patted Rosie’s neck. “Ah, no worries. Riding’s as easy as anything. I’ll get her saddled up. ”

He opened the stall and slipped inside, gesturing for Scully to do the same. “Just let ‘er get used to yeh.” He seemed positively giddy at the prospect of riding, and Scully found herself contemplating if this was who he was under all of the tragedy and confusion of his present circumstances.

Charming, boyish, enthusiastic, clever.

“I haven’t been out since… well, you know. But I’m usually out every day. And Rosie here needs a bit more action… once we got Ghost, Anna was ridin’ her less and less in favour of him. They never got along, those two. Ghost and Rosie, I mean. Though… sometimes Marion would take her for a spin. And she looked right pretty with her black hair loose in the wind…”

Scully slipped her hand over the horse’s neck. “Hi, Rosie,” she said, almost sheepishly. Rosie shook her head at her, blew steamy air from her nose.

Hugh ran a wooden brush over Rosie’s broad flank, draped a thick blanket over her back, and then reached behind her to heft the saddle from the wall. Scully watched him work, admiring his ropey forearms, his attentive gaze.

“I wonder if they know she’s gone,” he said quietly.

Hugh stepped past her with the bridle, touching her hip to shift her over as he passed. Scully flushed. Nobody touched her like that but Mulder—and when it was someone else doing it, she suddenly realized how intimate of a gesture it really was. If Hugh noticed her tense up, he didn’t give any indication.

He cooed at Rosie. “C’mon, be good for our friend, love.” He turned to Scully. “Shoulda brought a few apples out to sweeten her up. Wasn’t thinkin’. Stay here, make friends, hey?” he said, as he slipped the bridle over her nose and handed the lead to Scully.

He returned to Eachann’s stall, and strung his bridle.

“Just take hold of her and bring her out,” he called. Scully tugged on the lead nervously, and Rosie immediately resisted, flattening her ears. But then she caught sight of Eachann and Hugh leaving her behind, and she shoved past, jerking Scully along.

Outside, the sun softened lower and lower into the horizon, warming the sky.

Hugh dropped Eachann’s reins and walked back over to Scully. “Left foot in the stirrup,” he commanded. Scully did as she was told, then he bent and his hands were at her thighs, sure and strong. His scent surrounded her—the sharp salt of sweat, the fading flourish of rosemary and sage. Her breath caught. Her stomach tensed.

“Alright,” he said, his voice a low rumble. “Now you’re gonna launch yourself up; I’m gonna lace my fingers under your knee and help you get your leg over Rosie’s back. I’ve got you. You won’t fall.”

Scully swallowed and nodded. His fingers flexed against her, and she steadied her foot in the stirrup, vaulted up, and with Hugh’s support, swung her leg over the back of the horse. Rosie dipped her neck to the ground, lurching sideways, and Eachann lumbered over, dipping his head in curiosity.

“Whoah,” Hugh purred, one warm, firm hand sliding down to rest on Scully’s thigh, the other on the horse’s neck. “Alright, Dana, now just keep upright, and you’ll be fine. Rosie’ll follow us, won’t you, girl? If you want to stop, just pull back on the reins. Not too hard,” he said, patting her knee as he broke away.

Hugh strode over to Eachann, gripped his mane in a fist, planted his foot on the nearby fence, and flung himself up and over the horse’s bare back. “Alright, now,” he said, steering Eachann towards the silos in the distance. “Let’s get the tour started.”

Scully flushed. In the novelty of the last ten minutes, she’d almost forgotten why she’d come.

They set off at a slow pace, but Rosie was restless and eager to be beside Eachann, getting as close as possible, practically crushing Scully’s calf between them before Hugh clicked his tongue at her.

Scully took a deep breath and tried to relax. Before long, they settled into a rhythm, riding to the silos without conversation.

Rosie’s supple, elegant body thrummed with life beneath her. She glanced at Hugh, watching the wind ruffle his hair, and thought that it must be an incredible pleasure to ride bareback, to really sink into that connection, to feel that wildness and grace, that power between your thighs.

The landscape stretched on, and then a jumble of twisted, charred metal sprawled out before them, greasy with soot. Seven squat structures lay in ruin, and the old, empty farmhouse they’d been connected to was nothing more than a heap of black wood. Although none of them had survived, the fire looked like it had been easily contained. The neat corona of black grass crumbled to dust as the horses plodded forward, filling the air with the ghost of old smoke. The grass beyond was a perfect, untouched green.

“That’s an unusually contained burn,” Scully said. “I’m surprised that your fields didn’t catch fire. You don’t have any ideas as to how it could have started?”

Hugh shook his head. “Not a one.”

“I’m sorry that I have to ask this Hugh, but did you take out any insurance on the farm? Life insurance on Anna?” Scully asked. “And don’t lie to me, because I’m going to find out one way or another.”

“I wouldn’t ever dream of lyin’ to yeh, Dana.” He paused, thinking, his brow crumpled. When he spoke again, his tone was caustic. “With all due respect, I moved out here on a romantic whim, leaving all my kin behind, and then immediately took up with two beautiful women practically half my age. Look at my house. Hell, Look at my life! I’m a romantic fool. Do I seem like the type of man to carry out a brutal murder just to fatten my pockets?”

He did have a point.

“I didn’t mean to accuse you of anything, Hugh. I’m just covering my bases.”

“I’m just… everyone seems to be lookin’ at me. As if I’d… as if I’d be capable of something like that. Our marriage wasn’t perfect, but I could never…,“ he trailed off.

“Well, in any case, I’d like to know more about Anna’s depression,” Scully asked quietly, threading her fingers through Rosie’s thick mane, letting the rough hair slide between her knuckles. “How did that affect your relationship?”

Hugh closed his eyes, working his jaw, gathering his thoughts. “Anna… Anna could be so sweet, so bright… such a joy. But she could also be… cruel, and closed off. She would… she’d curl in on herself, not speak or eat for days. She’d just sleep, and in her waking hours, it was as if she hated me. She said awful things, terrible things. She’d say things that would scare me.”

Scully nodded, drawing her bottom lip into her mouth.

“I know… I know it wasn’t her fault,” he continued. “Her raisin’ up, her brother… I’m not sure she ever recovered from it. If that’s something you ever recover from.”

Hugh seemed more sombre now, and he turned Eachann away without another word. Scully tugged gently at Rosie’s reins, squeezed her with her knees, and followed.

“I’m an idiot, Dana,” he said, when Rosie caught up to him. “I should have taken better care of her. I was bored, I was frustrated. I didn’t know what to do. And Marion was always there, always steady, always herself. I got swept up.”

“I think we’ve all made decisions out of… out of a desire to escape our current situation, even temporarily,” Scully offered, thinking of red Philadelphia neon, of Ed slamming into her from behind on a cold, cold floor. Afterwards, she’d felt filthy, sinful, as though she’d cheated on Mulder. Which she recognized was utterly asinine, because they weren’t involved, no matter what everyone else thought.

“Yes, I suppose we have,” Hugh said in response. For a while, there was no sound but the hush of wind in the grain and the hot chuff of horsebreath. Hugh guided them across the prairie, where the horses plodded along a thin path carved into wheat as tall as their hips. The sun was fading fast, the sky tinted a soft, pale ochre.

Hugh turned to her, and spoke seemingly mid-thought. “Of course, I’m not confident that Rhiannon’s was the best place for her to be. Rhiannon loved her, to be sure, but…,”

“Yes?”

“I’m hesitant to tell yeh this, bein’ that it sounds so absurd, but that Rhiannon… she’s not quite normal.”

“What do you mean?”

Hugh sighed, reached forward and ran one of his hands over Eachann’s ear. “The thing about Horizon… there’s a history here. Rhiannon’s a part of it, and so is Anna, and Marion. You could say that it’s just superstitious nonsense and witchery, but it’s more than that. It’s deeper.”

Scully studied his face carefully before responding. “Well, witchcraft is a fairly common religious practice, so I’m not sure that—”

“—No, yeh don’t understand,” Hugh said, shortly, sharply, not looking at her. “Rhiannon’s the real thing.”

Scully sighed before she could stop herself, and Hugh caught her in it.

“You wanted to know what I believed,” he persisted. “If you had seen the things I’ve seen… you’d believe too. She taught Anna the ways of it, and Marion, too. It’s why Anna was always running back to Rhiannon’s when we had a row, why she and Marion were always whispering, always up in the dark of the night. It’s why her brother couldn’t get more than 30 feet up the driveway.”

“Hugh…”

“I don’t think Rhiannon has anything to do with this, if that’s what you’re after. She didn’t like that I stole away one of her apprentices, or both, I suppose, but she’s a good woman. She wouldn’t hurt Anna. At least… not on purpose.”

The wheat brushed against Scully’s knees, and the sky spilled out to the horizon. She wasn’t sure what to make of all this. Rosie shivered beneath her, her muscles rippling. She could hear a river nearby, but it was obscured from her sight by the wheat.

“So what do you think happened? And why?”

“I think something went wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong. I think something… a spirit… a demon… a force… something was called up, and for whatever reason, fixed itself on me. On everything I love. But I don’t know what it is. And I don’t know how to stop it.”

The river rose to meet them, snaking through the field and out of sight, the water almost black against the dark, rich soil, the smell metallic in the air. It burbled pleasantly, and Scully sucked in a deep breath, closing her eyes against the unexpected and not altogether appropriate rush of contentment she felt.

Hugh was quiet, staring off into the distance, but then he softly spoke. “This is the place where Ghost… it’s where we found him.”

Scully swept her gaze over the landscape. She didn’t know what she’d expected to see, what she’d expected to hear. Why she’d really come.

“Anna was devastated when he died. Just gutted,” Hugh continued, wincing a little when his choice of words hit him. He turned his face to hers. “Ehm… I could use a breather, if that’s agreeable.”

Scully nodded as she watched Hugh swing his leg wide over Eachann’s back and gracefully slip off.

“Come now,” he said, offering his hand. She took it, and it was warm and rough and large around her own. Rosie lipped at the ground as Hugh helped Scully off of the horse’s back, catching her around the ribs as she nearly fell to the grass. The wheat was almost taller than she was, and she felt cocooned, hidden, nearly lost in the gold. She became aware again of her gun pressing into the small of her back, the barrel warm from her skin.

“We don’t need to tie ‘em up. They won’t go far,” Hugh said. “How are yeh feeling?”

“I like riding,” Scully offered. “If that’s what you meant.”

“I knew yeh’d be a natural,” Hugh said with a little grin, which pleased her more than she was willing to admit.

They stood in silence, watching the river, while Rosie ambled over to Eachann, dipping her stately head to his. Hugh squatted down to untie his boots, peeling off his socks and flinging them aside. He rolled up his jeans, and slipped his feet into the water with a small groan. Scully sat down beside him, crossing her legs, unsure of what to do with her hands. The river was shallow, and Hugh’s feet looked pale in the slate-dark water. She watched as a cluster of tiny fish darted past his toes.

“You know,” Hugh said, breaking the quiet, “I, ehm. Chose Ghost for Anna for a reason. The white horse is a powerful symbol in the village where I’m from. In the rituals of our ancestors, kings were said to mate with them before they ascended the throne. They’d kill the mare and eat the horseflesh afterwards. It was a marriage… the king gives himself to the mare, gives her his flesh, then takes her back inside of himself, binding their spirits together forever.”

Scully felt a smile hook itself onto the corner of her mouth. “Interesting,” she said.

“They say that burying the skull of a white horse beneath the floorboards gives the house life, gives the words we speak resonance, amplifies the sounds of music and dancing. Without ‘em, a house doesn’t have a soul.” He sighed, swirled a foot in the water. “They’re good luck, horse skulls, because horses… can see the spirits of the dead. They’re creatures that can walk the space between this world and the next. They tug the sun across the sky. And they deliver us our dreams, too.”

“Our dreams,” Scully countered, “are caused by the lowered organizational efficiency of our prefrontal cortex during REM sleep. Dreams are simply… the result of random neurological functions scrambling the thought patterns we have during the day. They don’t mean anything.”

Hugh raised his eyes to hers. “Don’t they?”

Scully blinked and turned away, and for several minutes, they sat in silence, watching the sun dip lower and lower.

“You mentioned… you mentioned back at the station that you’ve lost somebody. Tragically, suddenly,” Hugh said in a low, intimate voice. “Who was it?”

Scully slid her fingers over the rough weave of Anna’s jeans. She and Hugh could be the last people on earth; there wasn’t a soul to overhear her. And despite the discomfort she’d initially felt with him, he’d consistently proven himself to be gentle and kind, worthy of her trust.

The sky was wide and honest. There was nowhere to hide, even if she wanted to.

“My sister. Melissa,” she said quietly. Hugh turned at looked at her. The sky was swiftly turning molten, coating his rough, angular face in honey. He waited for her to continue.

“She was murdered. In my apartment. They thought she was me.”

Hugh’s eyebrows came together. “…They?”

“They,” Scully said. Hugh didn’t press, but reached over and took her hand lightly, almost hesitantly, in his. She tensed a little, but then relaxed when she recognized it as a mirror of her own behaviour in the diner. He was just trying to comfort her. Just trying to be a friend. After a few breaths, Scully continued. “They shot her in the head, point-blank, and left the gun… and the Bureau abandoned the case. No matter how much I hounded them.”

“I’m so sorry,” Hugh said, “Truly.” His thumb traced tiny circles into the hollow of her palm.

Scully darted her tongue out to wet her lips. “Thank you.”

“But, ehm… I can’t say that fills me with much hope when it comes to resolving Anna’s death,” he said grimly. “It’s not exactly a vote of confidence for the Bureau, especially comin’ from an inside source.”

“There were… there were extenuating circumstances, Hugh. Personal circumstances. I can assure you,” Scully promised, “that I will be doing everything in my power to make sure that Anna’s case doesn’t meet the same fate as Melissa’s.”

Hugh leaned closer, brushed her hair over her shoulder, and touched her neck where the crow had opened her up. A shiver trickled down her spine. “You sure you’re okay, Dana?”

“I’m fine,” she insisted, but her voice cracked as she said it, and she could feel the walls beginning to crumble around her. Hugh was close, close enough that she could feel his breath on her cheek, close enough that she could smell him again, could feel the heat from his body. “I’m not, actually,” she said simply. “I’m dying.”

Hugh pulled his chin back in confusion. “No, love, you’ll be—you stopped—”

“I have an exceptionally rare form of cancer, Hugh. It’s untreatable.”

“Oh, Dana…” Hugh breathed, tightening his hands around hers. “Oh…” He reached up and tenderly traced her jaw. “What a waste,” he whispered. “What a shame.”

“Hugh…”

“I can’t help but wonder. If I’d met you… before, before it all. I don’t mean to…” He took a deep breath. “I just wanted to… to thank you, for being on my side. For listening to me.” Hugh touched her bandages again, his eyes searching her face. “This curse… whatever it is… wherever it originated, whether it was Rhiannon, or… I think it touched you because of… because of the connection we have.”

“The connection?” Scully said, quietly.

“Don’t pretend you didn’t feel it the first time we set eyes on each other. There’s something sweet there, Dana. Something true. And the attacks seem to come down upon things that I… I mean, my livelihood, with the silos. And Ghost, and my beloved Anna, of course…”

“And now me.”

“And now you. Just… please be careful. I’m not anticipating… I’m beyond hope… but it would do me good to know that you were safe. Even if it means leaving this place, letting the curse run its course. Even if it means letting it finish me. Lord knows I deserve it.”

“I’m not leaving. Not until we find justice for Anna.”

She laid their clasped hands on the grass between them, and they watched as the sun bled and dipped into the horizon, staining the sky with pomegranate.

-

The wind was soaked with it.

It was the scent of the hunt, of the chase, of a twitching rabbit between his teeth. Of the lush and vital sweetness of blood in his throat. It coated his teeth in thick, stringy saliva, made his hind legs tense, made his tongue heavy with want.

One of the figures turned its flat white face towards him, and though the distance was great, he knew that it saw him. He flicked his ears backwards, a warning, a question, and the creature broke its eyes away, turning back to its smaller mate.

The coyote sniffed the air one last time, letting his mouth hang open. He watched the four figures as they came together and moved away. Though his belly was empty, he did not follow.

They stank of death. They belonged to someone else.

Chapter Text

KICKING HORSE B&B
5:07 PM

Mulder slumped on the second step of the porch, scanning the empty horizon. His fingers twitched for the comfort of a basketball, of an uncracked seed, something to keep his hands busy while he waited for Scully to return. His calls were unanswered and unreturned; the signal must have been bad, or her phone must have been turned off. He’d attempted to jack off in the upstairs bathroom, and he’d gotten himself half-hard thinking of Sigourney Weaver’s tiny white panties in Alien before spotting a stray lick of Scully’s blood on the floor and losing it. And he couldn’t go for a run, because what if she came back?

He was hot under the collar. He couldn’t keep his leg from bouncing. He desperately needed something to take the edge off.

He tapped his bare foot over a streak of worn brown in the white paint. Mosquitoes droned around him, and he swatted them away with the flat of his hand. The air was warm, the skies were clear, and he was miserable.

Just as he was about to pull out his phone and try Scully again, the screen door creaked and whined behind him. Rhiannon emerged from within the house, bearing mismatched ceramic plates, and nudged his hip with her foot. He shuffled over to make room for her.

“Eat something,” she said, sitting down beside him. Each plate she carried featured a heap of rhubarb crumble, smelling sour and folksy and fresh, pierced with an upright fork like Arthur’s sword.

Mulder reluctantly accepted the offering. Rhiannon’s fingers, when they knocked against his, were deathly winter-cold.  “I just spoke to Theo,” she said around a bite of her crumble, staring off into the distance. “Dana’s okay. I know you’re worried. She went to Daly Farms.”

He realized that he’d already made that assumption. He’d known it all along. Of course she was at Daly Farms. The guy was a suspect, after all… or if not a suspect, at least a person of interest. But she shouldn’t be out there alone.

Not after last night.

There was a rattling scratch at the screen door, and Rhiannon leaned back and tugged it open, letting Hypatia out. The dog trotted out, sniffed around the porch noisily, and then returned to them. She sat with her back to Mulder’s, flipped her head over, and slurped at his ear. He tried to lean away, but there was no escape.

“She likes you,” Rhiannon said with a warm, motherly smile.

“Wish she wouldn’t,” Mulder grumbled, but he let his hand fall and lightly clasp the dog’s tail anyway. It was crimped and soft, bony underneath.

Rhiannon pointed with her chin to his untouched crumble. “Eat, Fox. It’s not poisoned,” she said, flicking her tongue to capture a wayward crumb at the corner of her mouth.

“Not hungry.”

“…It’s not enchanted, either.”

Mulder’s head jerked up.

“Just plain old rhubarb,” she continued. “Though I think I put a little too much cinnamon in it.”

Mulder regarded her with renewed interest, taking in her handsome vulture-hook nose, the lines that radiated like sunburst from the corners of her eyes.

“Theo mentioned… that you had some questions,” she said. “About my family. He’d rather I not tell you, but I have nothing to hide. He’s just being overprotective.”

Mulder’s nerves sang with anxious excitement, and he carefully set his plate down by his feet. Hypatia pushed past his arm and sniffed at it, but Rhiannon shooed her away with an impatient cluck. “And I can tell… by what you’ve shown of your character, by what I’ve read on your hand… I know you’ll believe me.”

“I’m listening,” Mulder said.

Rhiannon shoveled another bite of crumble into her mouth, chewed thoughtfully, and drew her legs up so that she was sitting cross-legged, clasping her ankles like a teenager. “Why don’t you ask me what you’d like to know?”  

Mulder mulled this over, taking his time, stroking Hypatia’s tail. “Why is it that you only have photographs of women in your house?”

Rhiannon blinked slowly, and a beguiling, benign smile rumpled her face. “We Bishop women… we’ve never had much use for men.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that we don’t have sons. That we don’t have fathers. It’s just us gals.”

Mulder swallowed. “So… what happens to them? Do you abort male fetuses? Give them away? Do the fathers of your children even know that they’re fathers?”

“I don’t think you’re hearing me, Fox. The Bishop women don’t need men. We never have. For anything.”

Comprehension began to dawn, and he felt a thrill at the back of his neck.

“You all look the same. Are you and your mother… somehow… the same person? Are you… copies of some sort? Clones?” He frantically flicked through mental images of Kurt Crawford, of algae-colored tanks, of five tall, cold-hearted Samanthas in lab coats.

Rhiannon laughed out loud at that, looking sadly away towards the lake. “No, Fox. My mother and I were most certainly not the same person. I don’t know how it works, why the Bishops before me had their daughters. They just always did. Until me. I never had a child. And I believe I’m past my bearing years.”

“So you… have no idea why you never conceived?”

“Oh, I have my ideas, you can be sure of that. We all pay the price for the crimes we commit.”

He lowered his voice. “And have you committed a crime, Rhiannon?”

“In the eyes of the mothers, yes.” She smoothed the tent of her dress across her knees. “So the Bishop line ends with me,” she said. “Or at least… I believed it would. Until my girls came to me. Came home.”

“And you taught them.”

Rhiannon smiled. “Marion and Anna carry far more inside of themselves than I do within me. I thought that the mothers wouldn’t see fit to bestow them with… I thought the ability might split, somehow, but it didn’t. It doubled.”

“Ability?”

“Anna was less responsible than Marion,” Rhiannon sighed. “Marion comes from a culture and a community that takes these sort of things a little more seriously. But the Mennonites…. Anna was intoxicated by the power she suddenly had, by the autonomy it gave her.”

“Especially after growing up with the brother she has,” Mulder suggested, his mind tumbling over old reference materials, folklore, anything he might have read or seen or heard that matched this. He had to regulate his breath, had to force himself to not pelt her with questions. She was letting him into her secret world, and he would not let himself fuck this one up.

“Yes. Especially after surviving Abel,” she agreed. “She made it impossible for him to come into this house, to come into the diner where she worked. He could come up to the driveway, but that was as far as he would make it.”

Mulder nodded breathlessly, tried to organize his thoughts. “…Rhiann—”

“—She’s sick, isn’t she?” Rhiannon asked.

He blinked at her.

“I could feel it, when I washed her hair this morning. I could feel it within her.”

Mulder was overcome with a sudden swell of desperate, frantic hope. “Can you… can you do anything? Can you help her?”

“I’m afraid not. I’m sorry.”

“Heather… at the diner… told me a story about a baby that—”

“I am not my mother.”

“And is that because of your… how did you put it, your crime?”

She opened her mouth, then seemed to change her mind, and closed it again. “Fox,” she said after a heavy pause, her gaze tracing the fading sun. “I believe I know what is happening, and why, and I believe I know how to stop it. But you must let me, do you understand? I can’t have any interference.”

“I don’t know if I can do that, Rhiannon,” he replied. “I’ve got responsibilities, protocol to follow, a partner to answer to.”

“If you want to ensure Dana’s safety, you don’t have much of a choice.” Rhiannon unfurled her knees, liberating Mulder from his still-full plate, and stood. “Stay close to Kicking Horse. She’ll be safer here.”

A plume of dust swirled up on the distant road, announcing Scully’s return. Even from the house, he could see the vivid flame of her hair through the window.

“Here she comes,” Rhiannon said. “And Fox?”

He glanced up. The sunlight streamed around her like a halo of water.

“Stay away from my tower.”

8:57 PM

Scully trailed her fingers through the warm, silky surface of the water, inhaling steam, letting her eyes drift closed. The gash on her trapezius pulsed in time with her heartbeat, and she adjusted her weight, careful not to let it slip down into the bathwater. The cast iron curve of the tub’s lip was hot where she cradled it with the arch of her foot.

She turned her thoughts over again and again, rearranging facts and perspectives and possibilities like shards of coloured glass inside of a kaleidoscope. None of it made any sense. She was lost. As much as she hated to admit it, she struggled to make the connections that would be obvious and instinctual to Mulder. She worked best with something she could shoot at, slice up, or stare down. She needed him to take that necessary leap into the unknown.

But first she’d have to get him to talk to her.

When she pulled up the driveway, he’d been on the porch, and he’d met her eyes with a look so cold that the hair on her arms prickled and stood. He disappeared into the house before she was even out of the car.

After a rushed, cursory hello to Rhiannon, she’d tracked him upstairs and into their shared room. He’d been quiet and short with her, and a spat was the last thing she was in the mood for, so she’d dipped into her suitcase for her emergency stash of lavender oil and escaped to draw herself a bath.

She took another deep breath, and the scent of warm oil brought her back to Hugh. His sweat, his muscular forearms, the intelligent glint in his eyes. His hands on her face, his long feet in the river. How the moment seemed divinely ordained, somehow designed to break her down, to seduce her, to sweep her away.

She was not a woman accustomed to letting things sweep her away.

Now, sobered by time and distance, she felt vaguely ill about it all. She’d rooted around in a dead woman’s guts, and then she’d worn her clothing, ridden her horse. She’d watched the sunset with her widower, relished the scrape of his rough hands against her neck, would have kissed him if he’d tried it.

She’d left Mulder, without guilt, without second thought. Mulder, who had once worn her crucifix against his skin for months. Jesus Christ, what was wrong with her? 

Her fingertips were tight with wrinkles when she was finally ready to face him. She pulled the drain stopper loose, and stepped dripping onto the kilim rug, trying not to look for evidence from the previous night’s impromptu emergency room. She briefly lamented the demise of her robe and pajamas; all she had to change into was the t-shirt she’d borrowed from Mulder and a pair of black cotton panties. She could still wear her pajama shorts, she supposed, but they were bloodstained and filthy with fear-sweat, and she didn’t much feel like doing laundry in the sink.

When she returned bare-legged to the room, she found Mulder hammering away on his laptop at the desk. The screen was angled away from her, and she couldn’t see what he was working on. She closed the door behind her, leaning into it so as to muffle the sound of the latch.

“Hey, Mulder,” she said quietly, trying to convey a truce. “I, um. Can you do me a favour? I just need you to dress these stitches again for the night. I don’t want to bother Rhiannon.”

He pulled in a breath, finished whatever he was typing, and looked up at her. Something in his gaze softened when his eyes landed on hers, and he blinked dazedly. “Uh, yeah. Okay.”

Scully lowered herself onto the unmade bed, hugging her knees, and watched him retrieve the first aid kit from the armchair, where he’d thrown it the previous night. “Does it still hurt?” He asked, fingering through the contents and grabbing what he needed. He sank down into the mattress behind her. His hand was at the back of her neck before she could answer, tenderly brushing stray wet curls out of the way.

“It’s okay,” she said softly. His fingers were cool against her bath-warm skin, and she held back a hum of guilty pleasure. “It’s more annoying than it is painful.”

“Good,” he replied, tugging at the collar of her shirt. “I, uh, I think I can get it from here. You won’t have to, uh… you know.”

Scully nodded, and they sat in silence as Mulder gently cleaned her skin and slathered on a thumbful of Vaseline.

“So, uh,” he ventured, clumsily taping a swath of gauze over her wound. “I want you to stay here again tonight.”

She tucked her chin into the ball of her shoulder, and gazed back at him. “Okay,” she said. “Um. Thanks, by the way. For looking out for me. I don’t know if I said it.”

They shared a long, heated look, and Mulder lifted his hand to faintly trace the back of her arm with a knuckle.

“Scully,” he ventured, “you disappeared on me today.”

She turned to face him fully, and let loose a shaky sigh. “I was pursuing a lead, Mulder. We both agree that Hugh is a person of interest, whether you believe he’s guilty or not.”

“I understand why you went,” he said, tilting his head down to look at her from under his eyelashes. “But Scully—”

“I have an established relationship with Hugh Daly that you do not. I had to go alone.”

A tendon jumped in his jaw. “Something could have happened to you. Both of us know… both of us agree that being alone with Hugh could be dangerous. At least I thought we did. What changed?”

Heat blossomed through her chest. “I am a federal agent,” she reminded him. “I have passed all the same physical and psychological tests that you have. I am more than capable of—”

He groaned, leaning back and rolling his eyes. “Oh, come on, I wasn’t trying to call your capability into question—”

“—Besides, Mulder, it was the middle of the afternoon, and all of the reported attacks and events have happened at night.”

“Did you at least learn anything?” he asked, but she only pursed her lips in response, unsure of what to say.

“Exactly,” he continued, flinging up his hand. “That’s exactly what I thought.”

Scully stiffened. “I learned a lot more about his relationships, and his history, and about who he is as a person.”

Mulder stood up and paced to the window, where he turned back to her with his hands on his hips. “Who he is as a person. You know, I can’t say I’m surprised, really. Heather from the diner mentioned that you and Daly sure enjoyed each other’s company yesterday.”

Scully stared at him. “What is this really about, Mulder?”

“This is about you! Your safety! You were attacked last night!” He pointed to his slashed neck. “I was attacked! And we both know it has something to do with Daly! I should have been there with you—”

“I am fully capable of handling myself, thank you very—”

“NO!” He shouted, startling her, but his eyes were soft, his jaw slack. “You’re not! The fact is, whether you want to acknowledge it or not, you are sick. You are physically compromised. You’re thin as hell, Scully, you’re barely eating, you’re sleeping all the time… and you’re clearly emotionally compromised too, because you have some sort of, sort of, thing going on with Daly, I’m not an idiot, and this is the second time since your diagnosis that you’ve become involved with someone who—”

Cold fire licked at her from within. “This has nothing to do with Ed.”

“It has fucking everything to do with Ed,” he spat.

She gaped at him.

As she stared, the fight seemed to leave his eyes. She was suddenly exhausted, too; exhausted by the case, by Mulder, by Hugh, by the enormity of all that was trapped inside of her.

“You go to bed,” he said weakly, turning from her. “You need your rest. I’ve got work to do.”

He yanked out the chair from the desk and sat down, pulling back into himself until Scully was utterly, unmistakably alone.

1:02 AM

“Hey. It’s me.”

The sudden presence of his voice pulled her through the soft brume of a light sleep.

Scully’s back was flattened against the wall, her knees curled up to her chest. She grumbled, discreetly wiping away a dribble of spit at the corner of her mouth with the back of her hand.

“Didn’t want to startle you,” Mulder continued, sliding into bed beside her. “Did my typing keep you up?”

“No, it’s, um,” she cleared her throat. “It was kind of soothing, actually. I didn’t mind.”

“Can we talk?”

She cowered at the vulnerability in his voice, at the intimacy of it here in the dark, here together in bed.

“No,” she whispered, terrified.

She shifted her hips and turned away from him, even though it put an uncomfortable weight on her injured shoulder. Behind her, he breathed, sent off heat, took up too much of her space. He stirred, and his knee brushed against the back of her thigh.

Scully slid her leg away, opening a dark ocean between them.

Chapter Text

KICKING HORSE B&B
3:03 AM

The whine of hinges, the door sweeping open, and then he was no longer alone.

She was naked, flushed and plump and pink from the bath, rogue locks of hair snaking wetly down from her forehead. Her grapefruit-pink tongue was clamped between her teeth in a minxy smile, and in the doorframe, she looked ripe as an August peach, bleeding sweetness from every pore.

Before he could speak, she moved to him and settled her steamy, naked body into his lap. Those thick country thighs squirmed against his rising erection, and her pert, pretty nipples poked at his chest. This close, she smelled of lavender, of sage, of old blood.

He wanted to kiss her, he realized—no, he had to kiss her, had to unlock that mouth, had to swallow the secrets she was keeping there—but when he smoothed his hands down into the warm dell of her back, she pulled away, giggling, and stood up. She threaded her fingers playfully through his, and tugged at him, and he followed her through the haze to the dark, crowded hall.

The Bishop women in full spectral pallor stood shoulder to shoulder, blocking their way, but Anna swept onward, and as she brushed past them, they swayed like wind-blown wheat, parting to let them through. Mulder looked back in bewilderment as he passed them, and their eyes sank, expressionless, into his.

The tower. That’s where they were going, he realized. The tower.

Anna paused at the base of the stairs, brought their joined hands to her belly, and flattened his palm to her navel. Life sang and squirmed within her. He wanted to kiss her again then, wanted to enter her, to conquer her, to live inside of her, so keenly and desperately that it felt like anger. He pressed himself into her, clutching at the lush flesh of her hips, but she only laughed in a tinkling cascade of echoes, twisted away from him gracefully, and began to climb.

He followed, hungry for her.

She reached the door, and looked back at him. He nodded darkly, encouraging her. Get her inside, he thought, get her against the wall, or on the ground…  

Anna laughed again, and opened the door to Scully’s apartment.

The candles were lit, casting flickering shadows over her, and as the light danced, she and Scully were one woman, one body, one soul.

Anna laughed, and laughed, and then she screamed, and so did Scully. As he watched, helpless as a pillar of salt, skin flew from her in wet streaks, muscle and fat tore away from the bone in meaty chunks. She screamed at him in Scully’s voice, calling his name, and he couldn’t move, couldn’t save her, couldn’t, couldn’t, he was helpless, he was drowning in a tide of her blood—

Mulder woke with a yelp of horror, grasping at the sheets, drenched in a cold sweat. “Scully—,” he gasped, gulping air, his heart kicking at his ribs. Oh, fuck, just a dream. Just a nightmare.

He worked to slow his breathing, reminding himself to count to seven on the inhale. But by the time he reached three, he realized that he was alone. He flung his hand over to Scully’s side of the bed.

The sheets were cool.

A fuzz began in the back of his head, and before he knew what he was doing, his firearm was off of the side table and in his hands and he was up, back against the wall next to the closed door, straining to hear something, anything at all. The cool air stroked his bare chest, and a sharp spatter of goosebumps prickled over his arms and neck.

Something told him not to call out for her, but he held her name in his mouth just the same. Scully.

He reached down and turned the handle, slowly, trying to make as little noise as possible and cringing when the hinges creaked. Slipping through the door, he stalked down the hall, resolutely ignoring the framed faces of the Bishop women. He couldn’t handle their eyes right now, couldn’t handle their judgement, their waiting.

He held his breath as he reached the open door of the other bedroom, forcing his eyes to remain on the floor, almost expecting to see a dark pool of her precious, precious lifeblood spreading towards his feet.

She wasn’t there. The room was empty, the window was closed, there were no signs of struggle. Mulder pulled his bottom lip in between his teeth, biting hard. Where was she? What had they done to her?

The tower, he thought, but then remembered Rhiannon’s words of warning. She wouldn’t be there. He had a suspicion that despite his dream, it might be the only safe place in Horizon.

Back out into the hall, and down the stairs, one by one, quietly, quietly. The house was a silent watcher, still and cold, and he recalled discovering Rhiannon in her chair, corpse-like in sleep. His pulse roared in his ears as he moved forward into the kitchen, as steadily as he could, keeping his back to the wall and his gun at the ready.

He glanced at the front door, thinking of Anna’s skin violently unraveling in Scully’s apartment, and was gratified to find that it remained firmly shut, locked from the inside, too, by the overextended position of the deadbolt.

He moved into the kitchen, scanning the darkened windows, the floor, searching for signs of her. Nothing was out of place, but the quality of the air was different, somehow. His awareness sharpened, his breath became lighter. The pads of his feet stuck to the chilled tile, and they made little sucking sounds as he pulled them up, moving slowly, gun-first.

He wasn’t alone. There was something here. Someone. He could sense it. The buzzing in his head continued to build. And then—

“Mulder?”

He swung around, nerves alight, his gun pointed directly at the source of the sound.

Scully, whole and tiny in his t-shirt, stood before him, the night-black greenery of the conservatory wrapping her in shadows.

“Jesus Christ, Scully,” Mulder hissed. He lowered his gun, remembering at the last moment to click the safety back into place, and abandoned it on the kitchen island. He rubbed at his cheeks, struggling to regain his composure.

Scully raised a sympathetic eyebrow.  

“You weren’t in bed,” he said, by way of explanation.

“I couldn’t sleep,” she replied weakly, stepping towards him, and that’s when he noticed the shine in her eyes, her swollen lips, the flush in her cheeks. She’d been crying.

His gut dropped, and he immediately closed the gap between them, gathering her up under his chin. The way her small, slim body folded into his reminded him of hospitals, of almost-kisses. It reminded him that despite her strength, her capability, despite her genius and her pride, she could be stolen away from him at any moment.

“Hey,” he whispered, aching. “Hey, it’s okay. I’ve got you. I’m sorry for earlier. I’m so sorry.” She locked her arms around his waist, let him rock her slowly.

“Mulder,” she said into his shirt with a sniff. He pulled back to look down at her. “You have to start wearing a knee brace.”

He loosened his hold, almost smiling. “What?”

Her hands remained on him, one on his arm, one on his chest. “And you need to get your prostate checked yearly when you reach 45, okay? It’s a bit earlier than recommended, but I want you to go. For me.”

“What are you talking about?” Dread began to settle around him like ash, filling the air, making his skin feel cottony.

“And get a bed. Please. You can have mine, okay?”

Scully,” he begged, realizing what she was trying to say, to do. “Scully, stop.” He retrieved her hand from where it lay on his chest, brought it to his mouth, and pressed his lips to the heel of her palm. Her hand was chilled and limp, and he held it to his face, trying to warm her.

“You were right, earlier. Upstairs. I’m not…” she let the statement trail off. “And… I want you to take care of yourself. I want you to be happy.”

“Don’t talk like that,” he said, his voice catching. He pulled her back into his arms and crushed a long, firm kiss into her hairline.

She pressed on, clinging to his shirt. “Mulder, please, listen to me. Listen. You have so much… so much life inside of you. I don’t want you to squander it on some fruitless quest for vengeance when I’m gone.”

“Stop,” he insisted. “You’re going to be fine.” He pulled back, framed her face in his hands and forced her to look at him, stroking her cheek with his thumb. God, she was beautiful—her lips plush and quivering, her eyes wide and wet. Beautiful and utterly singular, animated from within by the most substantial soul he’d ever encountered. Losing her was not an option. Not now, not ever.

He kissed the corner of her tearful eye, the bridge of her perfect, queenly nose. She exhaled in a shivering sigh, and her sweet, wet breath washed over his skin.

“No. I’m not,” she said. “I’m going to die.”

He couldn’t hear it. He wouldn’t. So desperately, lavishly, he took her mouth with his and shut her up.

It wasn’t roses or wildfire or anything else he’d ever let himself imagine in countless lonely, indulgent moments. It was shadows in the basement, smudged newsprint, gas station coffee. It was Washington rain and her 2 a.m. laughter over the phone line. It was every darkness they’d slipped into and out of, every scrap of wonder they’d ever shared. It was Scully, his Scully, ever-new but as familiar as his own reflection. It was coming home, and finding that you’d been there all along.

She kissed him back. God, she kissed him back for one perfect minute, making heavenly little noises in the back of her throat, her kittenish nails scrabbling at his chest. But then she pulled away, tearing herself from him with a gasp.

He dove after her, backing her up against a plant-strewn workbench, unwilling to let her escape. He took her mouth again, faster than any protest she might muster, and found it soft and sweet and welcoming. It all raged inside of him, years and years of it—fuck, it burned—and kissing her was like drinking cool water, quenching a desert-earned thirst. He was swallowed into the crisp fragrance of greenery, the wet musk of nourished, fertile dirt, the warm smell of woman. It was as though he’d rediscovered Eden.

“Please,” she sobbed against his mouth, her lips mashed against his in grief. “Please, Mulder, you have to promise me.”

He thrust his tongue against hers a response, and she clamped it possessively between her teeth, sending hot darts of pleasure into his sacrum. His hands found the proud, bony flare of her ribs, and in one clumsy motion, he lifted her onto the bench in a clatter of terra cotta. A pot tumbled and cracked noisily against the tile, spilling cool earth onto his bare feet. But Scully wrapped her legs around his hips, trapped him between her thighs, and kissed him back, kissed him back, kissed him back.

Her hands in his hair, her hands at his hips, and then her hands were at his chest, pushing him away. “Stop,” she pleaded, in a voice rough with emotion, but he couldn’t. Couldn’t let her slip away. Couldn’t let her go on for one more second not understanding in the very marrow of her bones that he needed her.

He dragged her closer and tried to kiss her again, but she turned her face and pulled him into her shoulder instead. He threaded his fingers into the hair at the nape of her neck, tugging desperately, his lips at her pulse point.

“Let me love you,” he demanded, enslaved by raw emotion.

She gripped his shirt, pulled him even closer, squeezed him with her moonlit thighs. “I can’t, God, I can’t,” she chanted.

He gripped her silky hair, scraping his teeth experimentally against her skin. “Why them, then? Why Jerse, why Daly?”

“They aren’t you,” she protested fiercely.

He melted, nosing her cheek to turn her face and kiss her again. She let him, opening her mouth to him, stealing his air. One of his hands slipped under her shirt and and pressed against her ouroboros, bringing her so tight against him that he rubbed up against the scorching crease of her, obliterating any doubt in his mind that she wanted him back, and badly, and now.

She moaned sweetly as he ground himself into her heat, but in the next breath, twisted away from him.

“Dana—,” he pleaded, but she slid off of the table, out of his arms.

“Stop. God, please, Mulder, you need to stop. This needs to stop,” she said, pacing away, leaving him breathless and rumpled and hard and heartbroken.

She turned back to face him, a pale spectre in the shadowy jungle of the greenhouse. “With you… I have to think about tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that, until the day that I… I can’t do that to you. To myself. I can’t. I’m not brave enough.”

The watery glint in her night-dark eyes sobered him. What was he supposed to tell her? That it was too late? That his work, his life, his future would be meaningless without her?

“Scully…,” he began, but she slumped forward again, back into his arms.

“I can’t,” she said.

Mulder pulled back into himself, trying to summon the courage not to push her. “Okay,” he said, rocking her gently, softening against her belly. “Okay.”

He held her for a long time, the tile chilling his feet, her head tucked under his chin. At some undetermined point, he took her small hand in his and led her back upstairs.

They slept twined together, his hand resting over the steady, rhythmic countdown of her heart.

Chapter Text

KICKING HORSE B&B
9:20 AM

Scully drifted into wakefulness, slowly registering the unfamiliar newness of him—the legs rough with hair that entangled with hers, the gentle flux of his snore ruffling the stray hairs near her forehead, the light sweat that adhered a patch of her bare stomach to his.

It all came back to her in a slow melt of sensation. The smell of earth and green, his tongue in her mouth. The rock of his hips into hers, and how he was hot and hard as sparked flint against her.

A sharp pang of shame forced her eyes open. At first she believed that it was still night, but then the roll of rain against the dark gray square of the window faded into her consciousness.

She blinked the sleep from her eyes, nuzzling her face into Mulder’s shirt, savouring the illicit sweetness of it. Outside, thunder thrummed through the sky.

From the corner of her vision, she could see the face of the grandfather clock. It was just before eight. If she was careful, if she controlled her breath, suppressed her desire to fidget, she could still steal some time with him.

She lifted her chin, just slightly, to look at his face. She’d watched him sleep before, sneaking glances while he dozed in the passenger seats of rental cars, or letting her eyes rest on his face as he dreamed, fingers twitching, in the aisle seats on red eye flights. But this was different, because right now, her knee was slung over his thigh, and she could feel the rise and fall of his belly underneath her elbow. It was different, because he’d kissed her, and because even if it was out of desperation, she recognized that there was something sombre and keen within him that meant it.

Mulder looked peaceful, the flimsy morning light softening the lines that rivered from the corners of his eyes. She reached up and traced her fingers over his lips, feeling his breath, considering his boyish overbite, the little forests of hair in his nostrils.

God, she was weak. But more than that, she was tired of this hopeless fight, and further entanglement might make life too sweet, too precious to leave quietly. Why begin something when you already knew the inevitable end of it?

There was no grace in a death like that. No purpose.  

She suppressed a sigh, and shifted upwards to better appreciate the sculptural line of Mulder’s nose. Then his silent hand was at her wrist, and he brought the pads of her fingers to his lips. His eyes remained closed. She let him tug her along as he trailed sleepy kisses to the inside of her wrist, the translucent underside of her elbow.

He opened his eyes. “Cara Mia,” he grumbled, a terrible Gomez impression in a voice still grogged with night. She couldn’t help but pout in amusement, basking in his wondrous light. How could this be so easy for him, so simple?

She leaned on her elbow overtop of him, drunk on sleep and the lazy elegance of his body under hers. He brushed a lock of hair from her face, regarding her seriously with those summer-coloured eyes. “Scully…” he said seriously, tenderly.

The moment shattered with the bright squall of Scully’s cellphone.

Startled, feeling caught, she rolled out of Mulder’s arms to retrieve it, gritting her teeth at the uncomfortable stretch of her stitches. The cold air of the room rubbed up against her bare arms. She rooted around in her jacket for the source of the sound, then jammed the answer button, tucking it under her chin so that she could cradle her elbows against the chill.

“Scully,” she said, clearing her throat and glancing back at Mulder. He watched her openly.

“Agent Scully—”

Skinner—,” she mouthed to Mulder, who blinked slowly back at her, like a cat. “Good morning, sir,” she said into the receiver.

“I haven’t received any updates as to your investigation. Care to share why?”

“Ah,” she said, putting on her best Special Agent voice. “We’ve got a few leads we’re pursuing, but no primary suspect as of yet. There’s been nothing of note to report.”

Skinner sighed. “Well, wrap it up, you two. Stop screwing around and get me some results.”

“Yes, sir,” Scully said, chewing her lips and glancing out the window to the endless fields of wheat, the torrential rain.

Skinner’s voice took on a gentler tone. “If you’re not well enough to work, nobody will think any less of you. I hope you know that. Take care of yourself, Dana.”

“I will, sir,” she replied. She closed her eyes, and released a short, silent sigh. “Thank you.” She ended the call, and frowned down at the receiver.  

Mulder was sitting at the side of the bed when she turned back, his elbows on his knees.

“What did Skinman want?” he asked.

“The usual,” she sighed. “Results.”

“At least the guy’s consistent.”

“He’s right, though,” she countered, squeezing the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger. Images of Anna on the slab whirled through her mind, chased by the black flurry of crows and the algae green of Hugh’s eyes. “We’re getting nowhere here, Mulder. We’re running in circles.”

A muscle tensed in Mulder’s jaw, and he seemed to be carefully formulating his response. But then there was a gentle knock at the door, followed by Rhiannon’s soft voice from the other side: “Good morning, Dana, Fox—there’s breakfast downstairs. We should chat. I’ll be waiting.”

Dim, stormy light cast the kitchen in mottled shades of gray. The table was set for three, and crowded with oranges, black bread, and half-empty jars of preserves. Steam rose like restless ghosts from ceramic mugs of spiced coffee.

“Come, eat,” Rhiannon urged, as Scully, unshowered but costumed in fresh slacks and a rumpled white button-down, eased herself into a chair. Rhiannon looked tired, distracted, ten years older than she was. Her hair was mad-scientist-wild, unbraided and curling up and away from her ashen face as she chewed distractedly at a bit of dry toast.

Hypatia paced slowly around them, her head bowed, white as a breaking wave.

“Rhiannon,” Scully began, ignoring the food. “Agent Mulder and I—”

“—Oh, hush,” she replied impatiently with a wave of her hand. “I don’t care what you two get up to in your personal time. Though I wouldn’t mind your help reseeding that lemon balm.” She tilted her head towards the greenhouse, where shards of terra cotta pierced through mounds of spilled dirt on the tile. Scully felt a wicked flush rise in her cheeks. “How are your cuts?” Rhiannon asked through a mouthful of bread. “Any pain? Swelling?”

“I’m fine,” Scully insisted, trying to cover her mortification by digging her thumbnail into an orange peel, tearing it from the flesh. Rhiannon nodded her approval.

Behind them, Mulder padded down the stairs in jeans and the t-shirt she’d slept in. Hypatia perked up, her rump wiggling, but he ignored her as she followed him devotedly to the table. Scully picked up her mug and sipped at it, letting the steam veil her face, trying not to meet his eyes.

Mulder sat, and Hypatia sidled up close to him and rested her tapered head across his thigh, grousing softly for his attention. He patted her snowy brow like she might bite him at any moment, and, mustering his warmest Vineyard manners, thanked Rhiannon for breakfast.

They ate in silence while the rain pelted the roof. “Rhiannon,” Scully tried, once she’d downed half of her coffee and felt awake enough to face it all. “I know it can be… difficult to talk about these things. But we need your full compliance and assistance. Typically, the more time an investigation takes… the less likely of a chance we have to bring justice to the victim. To Anna. For once and for all, we need to know everything you know. We need to protect the other individuals who may be at risk. Marion, for one.”

Across the table, Rhiannon and Mulder exchanged a loaded look.

“Dana,” Rhiannon replied, leaning forward with her hands knotted together on the table.  “I need you to do me a favour. I need you to stay here today, to stay close.”

Mulder dipped his chin in humble agreement. “Rhiannon and I both think it’s a good idea.”

Scully eyed him, a prickle of rage crackling up her spine. They’d talked about this. Decided this. Without her.

Rhiannon continued. “Despite the… the incident two nights ago, I believe that Kicking Horse is the safest place you can be. There are forces at work here that you just don’t understand—”

Scully bit back a retort, then scraped back her chair and stood. “Excuse me,” she said, and with one last scorching look at Mulder, stalked away toward the living room. She heard a soft, discontented yowl from Hypatia, a telltale scuffle, and then Mulder’s heavy, sock-muffled footfalls behind her.

When they reached the privacy of the living room, Mulder gripped her elbow and whirled her around to face him. “Scully—”

“—Has everyone in this town lost their minds?” She snapped, jerking her arm from his hand. “‘The forces at work?’ This is folklore, Mulder, it’s fiction!”

“But doesn’t the very nature of folklore demand that it be rooted in reality? You can’t deny that there’s something unique about Rhiannon,” he argued, urgency lowering his voice. “You can’t. Everyone in town knows it, I know it, hell, you know it, if you’d just let yourself trust your intuition. Even Daly—”

“Daly?” She spat back. “Since when have you respected a single word he’s said? Rumour and sensationalism, that’s all this is! She’s not a witch, Mulder!”

“Have you touched her? She’s cold as ice. And the pictures in the hall? The Bishop women? There isn’t a single documented male contribution to her entire family line. She even said so herself! We’ve seen things like this before, Scully. We know it’s a possibility. There’s something she has, a power, a knowledge. You have to have felt it.”

“Mulder, you can’t be serious! This is absolutely absurd. Immaculate conception is—”

“In the Bible, isn’t it? Is this really that difficult for you to believe?”

“That’s mythology! Theology! This is real life, this is right now!”

“But what people believe is important, Scully, can’t you see? Whether or not she has these powers, people believe that she does, and belief is a powerful thing. I believe her,” he said quietly, leaning close to her, diving down into her eyes. “I believe what these people believe, because I have to.”

Oh, that damn face. That goddamned face. She felt her ire begin to dissolve, but pulled herself together, and spoke to him quietly, in that private tone that only they shared. “I understand Mulder, I do. But you are feeding into the delusions of a grieving woman. This is not productive, and nor is it right. And frankly, my own beliefs have nothing to do with this investigation, and you using them to prove your point is offensive and unfair.”

Mulder lodged his hands on his hips, casting his gaze about the room before settling it back on her. “Hear me out. Rhiannon can do things, influence things. Not as effectively as her mother, or the women before her, but she still carries their power within her. When she was young, she did something… something to anger her mothers. Something to make her lose the full powers and privileges of her lineage, including her ability to bear a daughter. But she took in Anna and Marion, and she… initiated them into the line, somehow. She found a way. But now Anna is dead. It has something to do with Hugh, and maybe even Marion. But I think it’s something that Rhiannon alone needs to take a whack at. She says she knows what’s going on, and how to stop it, and I think it would be foolish to deny her the opportunity. I think she needs our trust.”

He reached out and traced the limp line of her arm, down to her hand, finally weaving his fingers into hers. “Just stay here, Scully. Please. Just for one day. If by the end of today, there’s no progress, then the rest of this case is your call. I’ll do anything you want.” He searched her eyes, found their frequency, settled in. “You have to trust me on this. I need you to trust me.”

She closed her eyes against his enchantment and let her head fall back, cursing him silently.  

“One day, Mulder,” she conceded. “That’s it. And then we look for Marion.”

He squeezed her fingers in gratitude, then slipped swiftly back into the kitchen to confer with Rhiannon. He belonged with the witches, she thought, with the ghastlies and the ghoulies, and she would forever be the woman on the outside.

Scully sighed, turning her gaze towards the window. The wheat stretched over the land, flattened by the rain into rippled knolls of faded gold. She watched the furl of iron-coloured clouds through the sky, and let the sound of nearby thunder vibrate through her chest, close as the voice of God.

As she watched, there was a quivering through the grain, and then an inky splotch swooped into her line of sight. The crow landed on the road and shook out his obsidian wings, proud and cold.

A chill trickled down the back of Scully’s neck. She retreated into the belly of the house, determined not to look over her shoulder.

4 PM

The day seeped onward, the rain unrelenting.

Scully sat cross-legged in the overstuffed armchair in the corner of the living room, her laptop balanced across her knees, swearing intermittently under her breath at the internet connection. Mulder watched her from his spot in the wicker peacock chair, this small, purposeful woman disappearing into the cushions, her sculpted face pale in the thin light from the window.

She sighed and lifted her gaze toward the world outside, a line of concentration between her eyebrows. He tried to sense the cancer there, the miniature parcel of killer cells that dared to try to take her from him, as though she were a mere mortal, and not Scully.  

For several minutes, he allowed himself to stare, cataloguing the fine details of her Klimty face. Either she didn’t notice, or was determined not to. Somehow, he withstood the thrashing thing within him that ached for her, that tore at him, that demanded he go to her, smooth the creases from her brow, tame the wild hairs escaping from her college-girl ponytail. He knew that this was hard for her—the waiting, the blind trust. She was a woman of action. She bent the world to her will. She got shit done. He knew that if anyone else had asked her to stay, she wouldn’t have done it. Her trust in him, in his instincts, was endlessly humbling.

He tucked his toes under the wooly persimmon rug, chewing on his thumbnail as he replayed the sensation of her toned white thighs around his hips, of her petal-soft lips and siren-sharp teeth. How perfectly she seemed to lock into him, and he into her, how natural and obvious it all felt. How unnatural it seemed now, to be so far from her, the greenhouse hour unacknowledged, the shirt he wore still smelling of her lavender bath oil.

Scully flicked her gaze over to him, just for a moment, catching him staring. Her face was unreadable, but the honest blue of her eyes all but broke his heart. He looked away, wrestling with the weight of his desire, the depth of his shame.

He wouldn’t lose control again. She was right. It wasn’t fair.

Trying to distract himself, he honed his attention towards Rhiannon in the tower, attuning his skin and breath and instinct, trying to pick up any glimmer of magic she might be weaving through the walls of the house. He imagined the tower as the brain of Kicking Horse, that it watched them all through the eyes of the Bishop women, both dead and alive.

Witchy paraphernalia arranged itself in his mind’s eye. A ritual athame sparking against bluestone, circuitous sigils drawn with lines of spilled Morton salt, bison teeth wrapped in rose petals and tossed into the river on the night of the full moon. Beeswax candles, gravedirt, crusty old books with crackling spines. Many young women dabbled in witchcraft, he knew—hell, even Phoebe had a phase at Oxford—but somehow, he didn’t think Rhiannon’s craft, whatever it consisted of, looked anything like what he might otherwise expect. Hers was an ancestral practice, a family half-secret, not something you could learn about in a Cunningham paperback at the occult bookshop on University Avenue.

Something itched at Mulder. Rhiannon had said that she’d lost the full power of her ancestors, that she’d done something they didn’t approve of, something so serious that they’d taken themselves out of the evolutionary running. It didn’t make sense—Scully had said it herself, about Ghost—every creature endeavors to prevent its own demise. What was so deeply unforgivable as to justify ending an entire genetic line, and one so rare and remarkable at that?

He pushed himself up from the chair, and stalked over to the bookshelf. The photo albums were right where he’d left them. He tipped one out impatiently and began to flip through.

“Mulder?” Scully asked in a mildly reproachful tone. “What’s that?”

“C’mere, Scully, take a look at this,” he replied. She clicked her laptop shut and tucked it upright between the chair and side table, then struggled to free herself from the cushions. A bellow of thunder rolled across the sky, and the rain rushed anew against the roof.

“No men on the walls,” Mulder reminded her as she sidled up next to him, touching the corner of the book with a graceful hand. “And no men in here, either.” He maneuvered himself so that she could see a bit better, bumping his arm against her shoulder. She took the liberty of flipping through the pages while he held the book, covertly inhaling the terrene aroma of her unwashed hair.

She turned another page, revealing the prom photo. “…Until Theo,” she murmured, quirking her head.

“Total beefcake, huh?”

She raised a carefully amused eyebrow at him.

“And look at this,” Mulder continued, flipping to the photos of Theo washing dishes, of Rhiannon at Christmas.

“They look like a family,” Scully said. There was an edge of wistfulness in her tone that curdled in his stomach. He was reminded, painfully, that Scully would never have the chance to create a family of her own.

“That’s what’s different about Rhiannon, I think,” he said, swallowing the thought and tapping the album with two fingers.

“You mean other than your theory that she’s the Good Witch of the North?”

“C’mon, Scully, he’s the only guy in here. He’s a clear and undeniable deviation from the norm.”

Scully pursed her lips. “You’re right,” she said. “I had wondered, you know, but I didn’t think it was of any significance to the investigation. The way they looked at one another over dinner the other night… how swiftly he jumped to defend her at the station… it’s obvious. They’re in love.”

“Have been for a while, if we’re going by the photographs.”

“I’m not sure why that’s significant, other than the fact that they don’t live together anymore.”

“I’m not sure they ever lived together,” Mulder mused. “But from what I can piece together with the information Rhiannon’s given me, her ancestors have pretty strong opinions about the place of men in their lives. Maybe that’s how she angered them. She fell in love.”

“And so did Anna,” Scully said, turning her head to look up at him. He nodded down at her.

“So did Anna,” he agreed. “But Anna acted on it, at least to a greater degree than Rhiannon did with Theo. Even if she wasn’t genetically a Bishop, Rhiannon is the only mother she’s ever really known. The girl at the diner said she could do strange things—if she was initiated as a Bishop heir, she’d be subject to the same rules as Rhiannon, right?”

“It makes sense in context of your theory, Mulder, but the whole concept is absurd! Who or what is enforcing these mysterious rules? Crows? And why are… why are these events centered around Hugh, if it’s Anna they’re punishing?”

“That’s something I haven’t quite figured out yet,” he said, furrowing his brow.

She looked up at him in response, her face open, waiting for something. Waiting for him. For his opinion, his theory, for whatever he might pull out of his ass next. Even if she grumbled, even if she picked every one of his thoughts and decisions apart along the way, she would follow him anywhere.

Struck by the enormity of this, Mulder was swept out of focus and into the wind-whipped loch of her eyes. Almost unconsciously, he lifted a hand to her face and brushed back a stray wisp of hair. “Scully…” he began.

He was interrupted by a wet sputter as the light in the room went out. Scully jerked from him in surprise.

“There goes the power,” she said under her breath.

“Listen, Scully,” Mulder insisted, gripping her elbow. “I… I overstepped a boundary last night. I should have never put you in that position. I should have controlled myself, I should have—”

“—Stop,” she demanded. In the new dark, she looked phantasmal, incorporeal, her skin aglow. “Mulder, it’s… it’s not as though it’s not something I’ve… you must know how I… how I’ve felt about you.” Her voice wavered. “You’ve been the most significant person of my life.”

Mulder struggled to find his breath. Before he could even fully process the magnitude of what she was saying to him, another crash of thunder burst over the skies, so resounding that he could feel it in the soles of his feet. As the rumble of it faded into the clouds, another, more urgent crash of sound followed.

But this time, it was coming from within the house.

Scully sprang to action, following the sound. Mulder tossed the photo album onto the couch and raced after her. His gun was upstairs in the bedroom, but he didn’t dare leave Scully alone to run and retrieve it.

They burst into the hall in formation, war-ready, but no omen or monster stood at the threshold—it was Theo, soaked through and streaked with ash, red-faced from the chill.

“Fox. Dana,” he grunted in greeting, stomping his boots against the welcome mat and slopping his leather gloves off. “Power’s out here too, eh? Was jus’ stoppin’ by to talk to Rhi. She around?”

Mulder anchored himself to Scully, lightly touching the small of her back. “She’s upstairs,” he said carefully. “In the tower.”

Theo inhaled and tipped his head back. “Ah. Best not be disturbing her in that case. Not if I value my balls. Actually, I need to talk to you kids, too.” His expression darkened, and he wrung his gloves between his massive hands. “Just uh, got back from Daly Farms.”

“Oh my god, Hugh,” Scully breathed, turning to Mulder. “He shouldn’t have been left unprotected!”

“He’s alive, he’s okay,” Theo continued. “Can’t say the same for the house, though. Seems that it was… uh, struck by lightning, I suppose. It’s gone. Burned down in less than half an hour. Never seen somethin’ like that.”

“The horses?” Scully asked, in a girlish voice that Mulder had never heard before. Since when was she so acquainted with Hugh Daly’s goddamned horses?

Theo seemed to have the same thought, and raised an eyebrow at her. “The horses are fine, Dana, just a little spooked. The fire didn’t reach the barn. Andrew over at Wildrose Farm is takin’ ‘em for a while, til we can get this sorted out.”

“Why didn’t you call us?” Mulder asked, irritated.

“Shit, Fox, I just found out thirty-odd minutes ago! What were you thinkin’ you were gonna do, shoot at the fire?”

“And what does Rhiannon have to do with this? Why are you here to talk to her?”

Theo blanched. “Now stop that. I was just tryna get her to come take a look at the horses, make sure they didn’t hurt themselves in the panic.”

“I’m going,” said Scully resolutely, interrupting them. As she swept past him, Mulder caught hold of her arm.

“Scully!” he hissed, but she ignored him, turning back to Theo.

“Is he still at the house?” She asked.

“I reckon so,” said Theo, eyeing them. “What’s left of it. I couldn’t convince him to come to the station. He’s, uh. Pretty upset. Maybe you’ll have more luck with him. Seein’ as you, uh…”

Scully didn’t wait to hear the end of his thought. She pulled herself free from Mulder’s grasp, and dashed up the stairs.

“Theo,” Mulder insisted, “just what in the hell is going on here? Where’s Marion?”

“I told you, she’s fine.”

“Why can’t we speak to Rhiannon?”

Theo clenched his jaw, squared his shoulders. “Now you just leave Rhiannon the hell out of this.”

Mulder took a step forward. “You’re aware of the consequences of obstruction of justice in a federal case, aren’t you, Sherriff Gladstone?”

“Jesus Christ, kid—”

“Is Rhiannon responsible for the fire?” Theo reddened rapidly as Mulder continued. “Is she responsible for Marion’s disappearance? Did she send something—a force, her mothers, the animals themselves—to kill Anna for her betrayal of the Bishop ways?”

Theo lunged forward, grabbing Mulder’s collar with a meaty fist, yanking him close to his square, primeval face. “You listen here, you little shit,” he growled. “Rhiannon is a good woman. She’d rather scoop her own eyeballs out with a teaspoon than lay a single finger on our Anna. Whatever she’s doing up there is for the good of us all. She’s tryin’ to protect us, damn it.”

“Let me remind you that you called us,” Mulder said, shoving him off. “You wanted our help.”

Just then, Scully reappeared, flying down the stairs and entangling herself in her jacket, her gun strapped to her hip. Mulder captured her by the shoulders as she tried to push past.

“Mulder,” she warned icily. He released her.

Theo used the momentary distraction to tramp back outside. He got into his cruiser and revved the engine, tearing away in a spray of black mud. Mulder watched him leave as Scully double-checked her clip, letting the magazine fall into her palm before shoving it back into her gun.

“I have to see him,” she insisted.

“Scully, we have to stay here. This is where you’re protected, this is where you’re safe—”

She yanked open her shirt collar in response, displaying the gauze and tape covering her crow-marred skin. “Is it?”

“At least let me go with you,” he conceded, noting the determined arch of her brow.

“No. I have to do this alone. Stay here. He trusts me, Mulder. He’s the key to it all. I know he is. I have my gun.”

“And what the hell is a gun going to do against a flock of fucking birds?” He wanted to scream at her, shake her, hold her down. Instead, he broke, exasperated. “Scully, I can’t—you have to let me come with you. I need to make sure you’re okay.”

“No. You don’t understand, Mulder,” she said. “I promised her, I promised her back in the office. I promised her I would bring her justice. I’m not doing this for me.” She finished battling with her coat, and slipped into her flat work boots without lacing them up. She fixed him with her wet, righteous stare, sure and sublime as Joan of Arc.  

“I’m doing this for Anna.”  

Chapter Text

DALY FARMS
6:43 PM

Mud sucked at the tires of the rental car as Scully pulled up to the blackened husk of the Daly farmhouse. A mass of heavy, thick smoke smudged the air with charcoal, and the ominous stink of it choked her, made her nostrils itch and burn.

The skeleton of the farmhouse lay on the land like a curse. The roof had collapsed into a pile of spindly rubbish, and the one wall still standing was smeared with black. Dread gripped her heart.

She killed the engine and slid from the driver’s seat. By the time she reached the ruin, the rain had soaked her through. She pushed wet hair away from her eyes, squinted against the smoke and the downpour, tried to breathe only through her mouth.

No rosemary or sage, no white-painted porch. No hand-sewn sachets tucked between shirts. It was all gone.

She stalked the perimeter of the debris, searching for Hugh, and it occurred to a small, Quantico-keen part of her that he might have started it himself. God, she’d been foolish.

Some of the house still smouldered, tenacious licks of flame tonguing the remaining wood. Scully picked her way through the wreckage, looking for signs of life. As she gingerly stepped up onto the foundation of the house and rounded the surviving wall, she found what she’d been searching for.

Hugh stood still in the pouring rain, surrounded by the remains of the life he’d built, arms limp at his side, jeans and shirt soaked and plastered to his skin.

“Hugh—,” Scully called, her voice nearly lost in the roar of rain. He didn’t turn around.

She stumbled over the rubble, sinking her unlaced boot into a disconcertingly warm puddle, and laid a hand on his arm. He turned to her unsteadily, water sluicing from his hair and over the rough earth of his face. She nearly withdrew her touch when she saw the intensity in his eyes, the fury there, the hopelessness. It was the same look she’d seen in him the first time they’d met.

“Hugh,” she tried again, sliding her hand up to his shoulder, trying to steady him.

Something seemed to awaken him then, and he heaved into life, seizing her arms, clutching so hard that it hurt. He bent so that his face was level with hers, half a threat, half an entreaty.

“Get. Away. From me,” he commanded, in a voice that sounded nothing like him, nothing at all. Scully could only stare back, and then, in another surge of energy, he began to shake her violently, began to yell.

“GET THE HELL AWAY FROM ME, WOMAN—” He thrust her backwards, and she stumbled, falling hard on her palm and her hip, fragments of charred wood cracking beneath her. She bit her lip against the pain and scrambled up again, keeping her distance.

The air hurtled around them, whipping her coat behind her, sending specks of freezing water clawing down her skin. “HUGH!” She yelled, her voice barely cutting through the rain, through the tempest of his rage. “What did you do? What did you do to anger her?”

He lunged.

For a moment, Scully was actually frightened. She reached for her gun, but before she could yank it out of its holster, he stopped short and flung his arm out, pointing into the distance.

“LEAVE THIS PLACE!” He screamed, a wretched sob in his throat. “OR THOSE FUCKING BITCHES WILL KILL YEH TOO!”

“Hugh,” she said, forcing a steady tone, determined to reach him. She lifted her arm, bloodied palm outstretched, like she was courting an abused dog.

He grabbed her wrist, hard, pulling her tight and flush against him. His other arm locked around her, and he fisted the hair at the back of her head. He panted roughly, tightening his grip in her hair until it stung and tingled, until she was forced to tip her face up to his, until she had no choice but to let herself melt into his demanding, chimerical eyes, his hard and unyielding strength.

“Dana,” he lamented, viciously, like a man already condemned to hell. He understands, she thought, searching his face. He’s waiting for death to come calling, too.

Hugh’s tortured gaze dropped to her lips. Scully inhaled smoke and ruin, the tang of storm air, the bitterness of his sorrow.

And then, beyond his shoulder, she saw her.

Marion stood tall in the black, fractured wood, her sleek midnight hair clinging to her high cheekbones, to her proud, bare shoulders. The air seemed to crackle around her, to bend and warp to accommodate her form. As Scully gaped, Marion was thrown briefly into silhouette by a blinding jolt of lightning in the distance.

Scully, for the first time, felt Marion’s power. She appeared as a Valkyrie, as an ancient. As a witch.

Scully wrestled free from Hugh, unable to tear her eyes away from her. Marion’s face was pained, determined, and when she brought a hand to the barely perceptible arc of her belly, where the cotton of her tank had begun to wetly cling, Scully knew.

“Get away from him, Dana!” Marion called. “Get back to Kicking Horse! Now!”

In any other situation, at any other time, Scully might have stood her ground, pulled her gun, taken them both into custody. But there was something in the tone of Marion’s voice that struck her through with fear, with trust, with terror, and she found that she could do nothing but obey.

Hugh stared hard at Marion, frozen with clear disbelief.

Marion continued. “I’m not going to hurt him, Dana. And he’s not going to hurt me. Go.”

Scully believed her. She clambered around the ruins of what used to be the sun-filled kitchen, stumbling down from the foundations and into the scorched mud. She turned back briefly to watch.

Marion disappeared into the ravaged remnants of Daly Farms, cloaked in a mantle of rain and grace, striding toward the father of her child.

-

The air in the car was too heavy.

Dizziness lapped at the front of her skull, threatening to overtake her, but Scully drove on, mashing her toes into the gas pedal. Past the rain-lashed windshield, the sky was black and roiling, the fields drowning, the road slick. Marion’s words formed a mantra—get back, get back, get back.

She sucked in oxygen, forced it back out. Swiped at her nose and ignored the hand that came back bloody.

As she squinted at the horizon, counting the seconds until Kicking Horse would appear, there was a sickly mechanical wheeze, and then a crunch. The engine sputtered and slowed, and the car rolled to a stop.

“No, no, no,” she protested, slamming the steering wheel with her palms. “Fuck—”  

She rooted in her coat pocket for her cell, tried to steady her hand, and deliberately, carefully dialed Mulder’s cellphone.

The customer you are calling is unavailable. Please try again later.

She tried again.

The customer you are calling is unavailable. Please try again later.

Maybe it was the reception.

She pulled her coat collar over her head, and kicked the car door open, stalking to the other side of the road. The rain beat into her back.

The customer you are calling is unavailable. Please try again later.

The customer you are calling is unavail—

The custom—

“FUCK!” She yelled, resisting the urge to slam her phone into the asphalt.

She whirled around and stormed back to the car, but stopped short. The driver’s side door, although she’d left it open, had closed behind her. She closed the rest of the distance and yanked at the handle twice, three times, cursing at the keys that still hung from the ignition.

Her stomach turned to ice. Just the rain, she thought. I’m just spooked from seeing the house, from seeing Marion. That’s all.

She tried the other doors unsuccessfully, circling the vehicle, commanding herself to remain calm. Someone would come. Horizon was small, but it wasn’t empty. She peered over the landscape, her teeth chattering. At the edge of her vision, a ridge of the bowed wheat rippled and shook.

She spun towards the movement. Nothing. It was just the rain. It had to be.

But as she turned back to the car, the grain shook and shivered again.

Scully froze as the creature emerged.

Two eyes, bright as fire. A long snout, a red tongue, yellowed teeth. Black-streaked fur soaked to the bone. The coyote sniffed the air, ducked his head towards her, and began to approach.

Scully, heart pounding, slowly reached for her gun, feeling for its cold metal assurance. She drew it out, anchoring her fear to the weight of it, grounding herself.

There were two coyotes, not one. Scully could have sworn that she hadn’t lowered her gaze for a split second. Just a trick of the eyes, she told herself. The second was always there. I just didn’t notice him.

They continued towards her, saliva-slick lips pulling up from their teeth, ears flat to their skulls. Lean, sinewy muscle under dank, matted fur. Deadly, yellowed claws scraping against the road.

“Stay back!” Scully threatened, trying to make herself as large and loud as possible. The rain muffled her voice, swallowing her desperation.

Scully stole a glance behind herself, looking for an escape route. Two more coyotes crouched low, padding towards her with vicious intent. She ripped her eyes back to the first two, and found, instead, that there were five.

Panic bled through her body.

Slowly, ever so slowly, she ticked the safety off of her gun and raised it to the air. She tucked her ear to her shoulder, shielding it from the impending blast. Finger on the trigger, the cold, familiar curve of it. Steady, steady.

Squeeze.

Nothing came. Her gun was jammed. She tried again, again, brought the gun down with trembling hands and fumbled with it, trying to see what was wrong. This couldn’t be happening. It couldn’t. The coyotes drew closer, circling her like a hangman’s noose. She could feel their hungry breath, taste their killer instinct.

The only way out was up. She hastily tucked her gun back into its holster, and backed onto the nose of the car, scrambling against the slippery aluminum, kicking herself up. The coyotes drew closer, snapping and snarling, tense with bloodlust. Ropes of saliva. Wild, shining eyes. Keen, sharp yips.

Anna’s guts, torn and coiled in the wheat.

She whipped her coat off and flung it to the road—it was too large, something they could snag with their teeth, something they could pull her down with. The metal of the car was freezing under her palms, the glass of the windshield dangerously slick.

Her father’s ghost in uniform.

She frantically considered her options. Without her gun, her kick was her best weapon. She should have taken the thirty fucking seconds to tie her boots when she left—the coyotes could pull them off of her, or they could become dislodged with a single zealous flail.

Melissa bleeding out at her door, her life staining the carpet.

Her ears roared. Her pulse pounded. The first coyote gnashed hungrily and leapt at the car, but slid back. He yowled in fury, and his brothers wailed in return in a liquid, otherworldly chorus. He tried again, this time getting further, carving silvery clawmarks into the hood.

Mulder at the lightbox, assessing her from over his shoulder. Mulder spilling her crucifix, warm from his skin, back into her hand at her hospital bedside. Mulder’s heartbeat, sweet and sleep-steady under her cheek.

BANG—

The coyotes jerked and cowered, baring their teeth.

BANG—

The second gunshot reverberated through the air, scattering the animals. They raged against the sound, yipping and baying furiously, and then disbanded to dart from the road and back into the protection of the wheat. Before Scully could process what was happening, a strong hand reached out and grasped her own, tugging her down from the roof of the car. She slid over the window, landing hard on her heels.

Without looking, she knew who’d come. Marion steadied her, carrying an aged hunting rifle in her free hand, and a storm within her earth-toned eyes.

“C’mon, Dana, get in the truck,” she urged, pulling Scully forward to where it idled at a mad skew across the highway.

Scully stared in awe at Marion. Why hadn’t she heard her? Why hadn’t she seen her?

Scully hauled herself into the passenger seat, adrenaline surging, while Marion tossed the rifle into the back. As she climbed into the driver’s seat, Scully couldn’t help but let her eyes fall to the tiny, taut swell of her belly. Marion caught her looking.

“Yup,” she said, fierce as only a mother could be. She jolted the truck into drive, and took off at a stomach-churning hurtle down the highway.

“How long have you known?” Scully asked, struggling to gain control over her shaking hands long enough to fasten her seatbelt.

“‘Bout a week and a half,” Marion said. “Found out right before Anna died.”

“And that’s why—”

“—Listen, I had to go to Cut Bank and get some tests done,” she interrupted. “Timing was shit, obviously, but the kid seems to be whole and healthy.” She looked at Scully sideways, glowing with vicious determination. “I’ve gotta make sure it stays that way.”

The easy warmth that had endeared her to Scully had blossomed into a wildfire. Gone was the nervous, frightened girl she’d comforted on the porch of Daly Farms. This was a woman. Scully couldn’t help but feel a twinge of admiration.

“Marion, what the hell just happened to me? What was that? The car, my gun—”

“-I told you to stay away from Hugh,” she admonished, staring hard into the road.

Scully blanched. “Nothing—nothing happened between us,” she said, wondering why it felt like a lie.

Marion jerked the steering wheel and swerved to avoid a pothole, sending Scully’s shoulder smashing into the door. “Jesus!” Scully hissed.

“C’mon, Dana! This isn’t some jealous bullshit! He’s at the center of this! He’s dangerous, damn it!”

Scully rubbed her shoulder. She was starting to get pissed. “You can’t rightly expect me to stay away from a key figure in a murder investigation!”

“This was never a murder investigation! Theo knows that! He shouldn’t have called you up here!”

“Then why did he?” Scully snapped.

Marion let out a sigh, working her jaw. “He… Maybe he wanted to punish Hugh. I know he wanted him gone. Maybe he wanted to lock him up, to lay the blame on him, to make him look like a fucking lunatic. For hurting Anna. For not being there when she needed him. For taking her away from us, from Rhiannon.”

The relentless blitz of rain against the windshield slurried the landscape outside, trapping Scully in the damp, dark shell of the cab of the truck. Thunder triumphed in the black and roiling sky, and a thought, a realization, began to dawn on her.

“Marion…,” Scully said, slowly, deliberately, her heart in her throat. “Who killed Anna?”

There was a moment of ripe, uneasy silence between them, the rain pummelling the windshield. Marion grimaced at the road.

“Who? Who was it? Tell me who it was.”

“The mothers,” she said quietly. “Rhiannon called down the mothers.”

Scully blinked at her. “What does that mean?”

“It’s not Rhiannon’s fault. She’s trying to stop them.” She glanced at Scully from the corner of her eye. “Look, there are some things that you’ll never understand about—”

“Then help me understand, Marion! How can I help you if I don’t understand what’s going on?”

Marion scrunched her face in frustration. “The rumours are true, okay? I know how crazy it sounds, but… we’re not like everybody else. Anna wasn’t. I’m not. Rhiannon… she’s the last of the Bishop line.”

Scully stared at her, uncomprehending.

“Okay,” Marion said, picking up on her confusion. “I guess that doesn’t mean anything to you. Okay. So, the first mother… the first Bishop witch was this woman in the 1600s, right? Mary. And I guess she had… what you might call powers. She could draw boundaries in the air. She could control where other people could and couldn’t go. And she had this lover, this guy that she was totally head over heels in love with. Mary gets pregnant, but this guy won’t marry her. He’d still sleep with her, sure, but marriage? No way. So anyway, after a while he goes and marries the preacher’s daughter instead of Mary, even though Mary’s daughter is obviously his and the whole town knows it. Mary was mad as hell. Humiliated. Betrayed. So she makes his life miserable. Follows him around town. Makes it so that he can’t go near his wife. So… I mean, it’s the 1600s. He accuses her of witchcraft. Obviously, the rest of the town jumps on it, too, and she’s sentenced to death.

“So the story goes that just when she was about to be hanged, she blessed her daughter. Or cursed her. However you want to look at it. She’d never have to rely on a man for anything, including having a child. But if her daughter ever fell in love, if she ever allowed a man—or hell, a woman too—to touch her in love or in lust, she’d lose her powers. Not completely, mind you, but they’d be weakened. She’d also lose her ability to have a child. And for generations, the Bishops were good with that.”

“Until Rhiannon and Theo…,” Scully said.

“Yeah. Until Rhiannon and Theo. They fell in love. They were just kids, high school seniors. Rhiannon was willing to give it all up for him, and even though her mom was pretty open to it, their relationship was unforgivable in the eyes of the mothers. But Rhi and Theo tried it for a little bit. A year, maybe two. But when her powers started to dwindle, Rhiannon changed her mind. Saw the error of her ways, moved back home to be with her mom. So she and Theo have been in love for decades, and can’t do anything about it because she’s so hung up on what she calls ‘living her greater purpose’. She doesn’t want to lose her abilities.”

“Her abilities?”

“The mothers… each of the Bishop women had their own special proficiency. Rhiannon’s is animals. She’s a legend with the farmers. Her mom was a midwife, could help women in labour, could help babies.”

“Do you have a… a proficiency? Did Anna?”

Marion’s mouth quirked, almost forming a smile. “Yeah.”

“But you’re not Bishop women.”

“When I came to live with Rhiannon, I was… sworn in, I guess, is the best way to put it. The mothers accepted me as one of their own. I was a virgin, and they liked that. They gave me… they brought out the latent thing, the latent talent, I was carrying within me. It was the same for Anna.”

“But then Hugh…”

“Hugh came along, and Anna just completely lost her head over him, and she… she abandoned us. The thing you have to understand is that Anna could… direct people, influence them, in order to protect herself. She was like Mary. She could draw boundaries. And Rhiannon didn’t want Anna to lose her ability to protect herself, especially because of her fucking abusive asshole of a brother.” Marion sighed. “It was a mistake, Dana. She didn’t mean to. She didn’t think it would… I mean, it wasn’t under her control, in the end. All she was trying to do was call down the protection of the mothers, but they’re fixed on destroying Hugh. Just like Mary was with her lover. It’s that same hatred. But there are more of them now, not just Mary, so everything is bigger, stronger. Everything that Hugh has ever loved, has ever created, has ever touched is in danger. They’re bent on wiping out every last trace of him and his influence, and torturing him along the way, and Rhiannon too, probably, for allowing it to happen. Anna was killed because she was pregnant with his child. I’m sure of it.” She spread a hand protectively over her belly. “Which means that I’m in danger, too. Fucking Hugh and his fucking super-sperm. And you’re screwed, too, if you think Hugh has any attraction to you, any feelings for you.”

Scully furrowed her brow. “But I don’t have anything to do with this situation.”

“Will you fucking listen to me? Listen. Hugh has his own power. He’s just so… I mean, I fell for him too, didn’t I? I slept with my best friend’s husband—my sister’s husband—out of jealousy. Boredom. This… this desperate need to see what it was like, what I was missing out on.”

Scully huffed, an image of Ed’s twisty smile leaping to her mind unbidden. Marion mistook the sound for a condemnation.

She whirled on her, the truck wobbling and sputtering. “What kind of life is a life without the freedom to love, Dana? What kind of fucking life is that?”

Scully met her eyes. They shone with barely-restrained tears, with an honest, all-too-familiar loneliness. “It’s no life at all,” she replied softly.

Marion looked back to the road. “Rhi needs my help. I can’t run from this. I’ve gotta protect my baby. This is why you have to let Rhiannon and I do this, Dana. You can’t help. I’m sorry that you got dragged into it, I really am. You need to stay at Kicking Horse tonight, where it’s safe, where it’s protected. I’m going up into Rhiannon’s tower, and she and I are going to stop this once and for all.”

Maybe it was the scorched carcass of Daly Farms, or the gash that itched across her neck. Maybe it was the tiny collection of bones nestled in the mess of Anna’s remains, or the coyotes, the car, the rain. Maybe it was Mulder’s earnest eyes as he begged her to stay close, or the fact that when she’d believed she was a dead woman, it was his face that filled her mind.

Whatever it was, for once, Scully let herself believe.

Chapter Text

KICKING HORSE B&B
9:25 PM

Marion revved the truck through the sea of dark mud surrounding Kicking Horse. In the rage of the storm, the once-elegant house took on a veil of ghostliness, its stately lines smeared white against the blackening sky. The only light from within leaked out from the tower, and it flickered hysterically, casting strange, incomprehensible shadows that danced and bled together and then disappeared, only to leap back to life again in shreds of brilliant orange. The other windows, in contrast, were empty and cold, as flat as the eyes of the dead.

As the house came into clearer view, so did Mulder’s silhouette, pacing barefoot and coatless on the porch. The sight of him scraped at Scully’s heart. Had he been out here since she’d left, scanning the horizon, waiting for her return?

They passed through the painted arch that marked the beginning of the driveway, and Marion gave the truck one last valiant surge of gas. When they were a stone’s throw away from the porch, she killed the engine.

Mulder leaned on the railing. His usually impassive face was rumpled in concern, but he didn’t move. Scully briefly met his gaze, but then the rain sluiced over the windshield and smudged him into nothingness.

A heaviness settled over the cab of the truck. Marion slouched into her seat, took a deep breath, and reached over to squeeze Scully’s wrist. Scully turned her hand over, threaded her fingers through Marion’s, and squeezed back.

“Marion,” she said, as they broke apart. “You said… you said that everyone, all of the Bishop women, had a natural… proficiency.” Marion nodded. “What’s yours?”

A sad, ironic little smile tugged at the corner of her lips, and she gestured vaguely at the sky. “I’ve got a thing with the weather,” she said, shoving open her door. Before Scully could respond, she was gone.

Scully sat for a moment, listening to the rain on the roof of the truck, watching the streaked shadow that was Marion move past Mulder and into the house. She opened the door to the storm, and jumped down into the mud. As she climbed the porch steps, Mulder hurried towards her, his hands outstretched.

“Scully, you’re bleeding,” he said flatly, his voice cutting through the cacophony of the rain. He placed his hands on both of her shoulders. “God, you’re shivering. Where’s your coat? Where did you find Marion?”

“She found me, actually,” Scully replied. Mulder flexed his fingers against her, looking for more, but all she could do was look up at him, hoping that he could read her, hoping that he could understand.

He drew closer, leveling his face to her own, inviting her back into their secret, subtle dimension. “Scully…,” he pressed.

She opened her mouth, but the words evaded her. He smoothed a hank of wet hair from her forehead, searching her face. “Let’s dry you off,” he said, ushering her into the dark maw of the house, a guiding hand planted firmly against the small of her back.

He led her through the murky halls, up the stairs, past the ever-present audience of Bishop stares. She couldn’t help but look at their faces as she passed–each one of these women an echo of the one that came before her, bound by singularity. How did they contend with the promise of that loneliness, with the knowledge that they must always be their heart’s own keeper?

Mulder steered them past Anna’s closed door, and back into the room she’d shared with him for the last two nights. It was draped in velvet dark, illuminated only by the blue of the storm and thin shards of firelight leaking down through the tower window outside. She reached out her hand, felt for the bed, allowed Mulder to help her sit down.

“We can’t interfere,” Scully said, dazed, looking out towards the tower. “We can’t go up there, Mulder.”

He squatted in front of her and nodded solemnly, licking his thumb and swiping it across her cheek, clearing a path through the residue of a nosebleed she hadn’t noticed. “I know,” he soothed. “Don’t worry about that right now. All that matters is that we get you warm and dry, okay? We’ll stay here and let them do their thing. It’ll be okay.”

She nodded, shivering and bewildered, nearly on the verge of laughter at the absurdity of it all. She was grateful, she realized, for his gentleness, his concern, his utter lack of pride. No matter the rigours he subjected her worldview to, no matter how startling the myriad of revelations she’d experienced in their work together, he’d never once resorted to I told you so. With Mulder, it was never about winning. It was always and only about revealing the truth.

He bent with a grunt to remove her mud-caked boots one by one, peeling her socks off before taking each of her feet in turn, warming them between his palms like they were newborn whelps. The enormity of his tenderness stirred something soft and vulnerable within her, made her humble, made her feel limp and warm.

“Here,” Mulder said, releasing her foot after one last firm squeeze. “You can wear something of mine.” He spun away from her to ransack his open bag at the foot of the bed frame.

“Believe it or not, I did bring some clothes of my own,” she replied.

“I know,” he said, but continued to search. He unearthed a sweatshirt, and even in the dark, Scully recognized it as his favourite, a slightly tatty remnant from his days in Oxford Athletics. He tossed it to her, then turned his back to allow her to change.

She rubbed the well-loved fabric between her fingers and thumb, pouting softly in appreciation, then peeled herself out of her soaked shirt and bra, weakly lobbing them to the other side of the room. Her pants were next. She briefly considered losing her underwear, too, but in the end, couldn’t commit. The sweatshirt was so large that it hit her mid-thigh. As she slid it on and let it fall, the worn cotton caressed her pebbled nipples, drawing them tight and stiff and sending a flourish of shivers over her ribs. It smelled of him, of his favourite Rosemont laundromat and a hint of his stubborn sweat, and she breathed it in, brooding as she hugged her elbows.

“I’m decent,” she managed, sitting again on the edge of the bed. Mulder set right back to work, wringing the rain from her hair into a dirty t-shirt he’d produced, reaching into the collar of the sweatshirt to gently strip the sopping bandages away from her cut. She let him fuss.

Once he was satisfied, he finished by reaching around her for the comforter and draping it over her shoulders, rubbing her arms through the batting. She mustered a small smile of thanks.

“What happened out there?” he asked, dragging the desk chair over to sit knee-to-knee with her. She pulled the comforter more closely around her arms, silently replaying crashes of lightning and a cacophony of gnashing teeth, and found that she couldn’t find a satisfactory answer.

“You saw something,” he prompted. In the flickering dark, the strange dissonant structure of his face seemed miraculous, like a Rodin through a kaleidoscope, and she reached out to trace her fingers along the sandpapery flat of his cheek. He brought his hand up to her wrist, stroking her pulse point. “What is it Scully? What did you see?”

She looked at him, at his origami lips, his glimmering dark eyes. Mulder, who was capable of such sweetness, such violence. Mulder, whose merciless curiosity had cracked open the firmament and sent the secrets of the universe spilling out over the both of them like holy wine, amrita, ambrosia.

“Scully?” he whispered, but it was all there in his eyes.

He knew.

Slowly, with the clearest of intent, she leaned forward and brushed her lips over his.

A drugged warmth spread through her, blooming from where they touched: his smooth, heated hand on her rain-chilled knee, his nose pressing into her cheek. She lost herself in the tender ache of it all, in the dark and secret world where they met, the crush of his lips against hers. She parted her lips, pulling back without quite breaking contact, encouraging him to chase her, to claim her, to make her his.

But instead of following her, he fell away, leaving her empty and cold.

Her stomach turned sour for one terrible, panicky moment, but then, to her great relief, he reached up and threaded his fingers through her hair, cupping the base of her skull. “What do you want?” he asked her, letting his forehead fall forward against hers.

She stroked his curved jaw, nudging the tip of his nose with her own. What did she want? She wanted redemption, wanted justice, wanted peace. She wanted picket fences in the sun, wanted the thrill of midnight chases and gunpowder residue on her palms. She wanted Missy back, and the Farmer’s Market on Sunday, and for God to forgive her. She wanted the cold, quiet sanctuary of the Quantico morgue, the dark, dusty comfort of their Hoover basement.  She wanted to run away. She wanted to crawl inside of him and live in the safety of his ribcage forever.

“I want to live.”

“Oh, Scully,” he said in a strangled voice, and a vindictive part of her was glad to have hurt him. Rain roared against the window, and in a rush of determination, she moved into him again.

This time, he surrendered into her kiss, deepening it, sweeping her back up into a slow, maddening throb. They kissed until they were panting, sharing breath, sharing hunger, sharing the sweet humiliation of want.

“Are you sure?” he asked against her lips, one warm hand resting on her bare thigh. “I need you to be okay.” In response, she fisted his t-shirt, nipped at his bottom lip.

“Scully,” he insisted. “Last night—”

“—Oh, fuck last night,” she pleaded, clutching at him. She pulled him down hard from the chair so that he fell before her, kneeling between her thighs. He groaned his compliance as he dove forward, dipping his tongue into the hollow at the base of her neck, dragging it across her collarbone as she lavished kisses into the thick, fragrant silk of his hair. The comforter fell from her shoulders, as if to encourage them.

She squirmed closer as he sucked at an earlobe, tonguing the small pearl stud she wore. She was pressed up so tightly against him that she swore she could feel his heartbeat, noble and strong, keeping time against her belly. The heat bloomed through her, but made her realize that something was missing, something was wrong.

God, she used to get so wet just thinking of him, flushed and needy and swollen in rental car passenger seats and mouldering motel showers. But the cancer had stolen that from her, too. Whimpering in abject frustration, she willed her body to respond, focusing on the way her blood felt magnetized to his, the way her nipples strained and ached against him, the ferocity of her determination to finally have him.

Slowly, Mulder smoothed his hands up and over her hips, up underneath the sweatshirt she still wore, flexing his fingers where they bracketed the small of her waist. “You’re still so cold,” he said into her neck, nuzzling her softly.

“Then warm me up,” she said, digging her knees into his sides.

Under the sweatshirt, he found the soft, sensitive weight of her breasts, and uttered a reverent sound that arced through her sacrum like an old, secret magic. She pushed herself forward, and he grew bolder, clutching, squeezing, dipping down to latch onto a stiff nipple with his beautiful mouth and sucking it through the worn cotton. Her nerves sparked and fizzed, cold champagne on bare skin, but still she felt no welcoming swell, no hot liquid rush.

It wasn’t fair, damn it. When was the last time someone had touched her like this, with this much feeling, this much honesty? When was the last time she’d wanted somebody with such a grave and furious need?

Overcome, she released his hair and grabbed at his face, slouching, kissing him hard, sucking at his tongue and sighing into his mouth. She pulled at his shirt, and he ripped it over his head, tossed it aside. His muscular chest was cast in Aegean shadows, supple as clay and specked with a star-map of moles and fawn-coloured freckles. Darts of distant firelight from the window slid from his shoulders as he gazed up at her, utterly moonstruck, utterly at her mercy.

“Scully…,” he breathed, tracing his fingers along her stomach, down to the elastic of her underwear. Despite her certainty, her clarity, her breath caught in her throat.

He paused. “Hey,” he ventured, searching her face. “You okay?”

She flushed with shame, and hated herself for it. “It’s just that… it’s harder for me to… be ready. It’s a residual side effect from the chemo. I’m not as… I’m usually… I just don’t want you to think… because I do,” she said. “God, Mulder, I really do.”

His face softened. “Oh, Scully, it’s okay,” he promised, sealing his lips to a childhood scar on her patella. “It’s okay.” He nestled into her lap, his stubble grating decadently over her skin, his breath warm as a wild mountain spring. “Will you trust me?” he continued, his voice low, conspiratorial. “Let me take care of you.” He kissed a wet path from the inside of her knee up the line of her inner thigh, daring to venture higher, closer. “Let me,” he said against her skin, making her muscles quiver. “I want to. I dream of this.”

He dreams of this, she thought. He dreams of me.

She hummed a helpless note of consent, and he exhaled excitedly, rolling his jaw against her thigh. He moved closer, dragging his tongue, slowly rooting his way between her legs. A sharp, sweet pang pierced her gut when he nosed the hem of her underwear at the crease of her thigh, when he inhaled deeply and failed to stifle a drunken groan of approval. The heat rose in Scully’s cheeks, but she couldn’t help but lift her hips, couldn’t help but let her knees fall open just a fraction wider. She anchored her feet to the tops of his thighs, scrunching her toes against the rough of his jeans. He was there, right there, nothing between them but department store cotton.

Over the fabric, he traced the seam of her with his nose, with his tongue, twisting to lightly graze his teeth over the soft swells of her labia. He looped his hands under her knees and gripped her hips, yanking her closer, tilting her hard into his plush and Bacchanalian mouth. And finally, finally, with his rough cheek pressed to her thigh and his expressive tongue tracing the boundary of her bare skin, her body began to respond in a slow, liquid tide.

Scully whined in relief, in anticipation, her belly twisting with the satisfaction of watching him work to coax and please her, watching him work to make her wet and plump and ready for him. He released his grip on her hips and found the waistband of her panties, curling his fingers over the elastic. This time, she let him drag them down. He slid them slowly over her ass, down her thighs, over her feet.

She pulled her knees together, weak with nerves and desire, a little shy, but he smoothed his hands over her legs, warming her, opening her, gazing up at her as though she was Venus, Voluptas, his very best girl. His hands brushed the backs of her knees, and she let him lift her legs, draping them over his shoulders one after the other. Her breath fluttered as she inhaled, riding a furl of low, wet need, and he cradled her hips in his hands, drawing her forward, pressing her open. He spilled hot, open-mouthed kisses up the inside of her thigh, prying, spreading, until she was as open to him as an oleander, quivering and ripe.

“Gorgeous,” he exhaled, staring, running his fingers over her labia with a whisper-soft touch. “Unbelievable.”

Despite herself, despite her pride, Scully glowed with the pleasure of receiving his praise, of being the focus of his wonder. He bowed to her, and at the first cool touch of his tongue, she gasped, another well of wetness rising to meet him. He licked her from her swelling, pulsing core to the peak of her clitoris, a low and ravenous sound rumbling in his throat.

Jesus Christ.

Again he stroked her, but harder this time, his tongue flattening and his fingernails biting into the flesh of her hips. But just as he reached her clitoris, he lifted off, barely grazing it, making her writhe and whine and pant, making her wild. He soothed her with a reassuring, self-satisfied hum, and continued to lap at her, slow and sweet and perfectly evil.

Scully closed her eyes and let her head fall back, trying to lose herself, but he nipped at her sharply, demanding her full attention. Chastised, incredibly turned on, she obeyed, watching him as he sucked at her clit, as he twisted and rolled his tongue. Fuck, this is what she’d been so nobly resisting? This?

The rain thundered against the roof and rattled the window in its frame, and a sudden surge of panic filled her chest—she needed him inside of her now, before it was too late, before the Fates discovered this breach in reality. She tugged at his hair, unhooking her legs from her shoulders, and he began to suck at her fiercely, determined to make her come.

“Mulder—,” she begged, wriggling. “Please—”

He lamented into her cunt, dragging his tongue over her again with a weak growl, but followed her as she pulled him up and over her body. As he rose from kneeling, there was a crack, and he let out a sparse, sharp breath. Scully paused in concern.

“My knee,” Mulder explained, chuckling bashfully, shaking it out as he bent over her on one hand. She pouted in amused sympathy, shifting back further onto the bed to make room for him. God, it really was Mulder, she thought, admiring his sheepish grin. It really was them, here, together.

He brushed back a lock of her hair as he loomed over her, and she dragged him down for one languid, complicated kiss, savouring the trace of her own oceanic flavour on his lips.

“I want you,” she confessed.

“You have me,” he whispered back. “You’ve always had me.”

With a sharp surge of need, she reached down and began to fumble with the fly of his jeans, her fingers trembling as they grazed the confined ridge of his erection. She couldn’t get a grip, her fingers slipping over the metal button, so he reached down with one hand to help her. He exhaled hotly into her neck as he worked the zipper open, kicked himself free of his jeans and underwear, and settled himself carefully between her legs.

Propped up on one elbow, his naked thigh slid against hers, and then, with a subtle shift of his hips, his cock made contact with her lower belly. It was smooth as buckskin, hard and hot and thick, and her pulse raced in a joyous, fretful cadence as she took it in hand and squeezed. Mulder growled, thrusting into her palm, and she ground up desperately against his hips. God, she needed it, needed him, now, now, now.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” he murmured.

“You won’t, you won’t,” she urged, burning with frustration, and to prove it, she pushed him off of her, gripped him with her calves, rolled him over, and straddled his hips.

Trapped below her, taken delightfully aback, he half-smiled, one slightly crooked eyetooth catching the light. He melted his hands over her thighs, over her hips, up under her sweatshirt, becoming greedy.

In the low light, she caught her breath and settled into his eyes, mooring herself in their murky glimmer, losing herself in his hunger, his worship. A thought swung madly into her head that this was what she’d been created for, what her spirit had been cast earthside to do: to love him, to be loved by him, and to love the strange, sublime universe into wholeness together.

The thunder howled viciously, victoriously in the sky. She let the sound pass through her, let it charge her nerves, let it shatter her guilt and her grief, leaving something pure and keen as starlight in its place.

Mulder lifted the hem of her sweatshirt, and she helped him without self-consciousness, easing it over her shoulders with her good arm and letting it fall to the bed behind her, goosebumps blooming over her skin at the touch of the cool storm air. Between her thighs, he released a pained and shaky exhale, eyes glazing with lust as his palms traveled over the gentle crimp of her ribs. He traced his fingers down the sides of her breasts, and her nipples puckered and strained in response.

Underneath her, he was beautiful, his hair tousled across the pillow like a shadowy halo, his lips swollen from kissing her. She leaned down and pushed her fingers through the sparse patch of coarse hair on his chest, luxuriating in how the life within him thrummed under her touch.

With careful restraint, she lowered her hips, swiveling so that she met the ridge of his cock where it burned against his belly, and God, he was so stiff and hot that it made her light-headed. She slid over him with the swollen, spit-anointed groove of her cunt, grinding her clit against his spongy head, and he jerked, gasped, dug his fingers into her waist and urged her down harder.

“Fuck,” he swore, reaching up to fondle one of her breasts and searching her face for a reaction. She let him see it all; how good it felt to touch him and be touched by him, pulling her bottom lip into her mouth and whining softly as he rolled a nipple between thumb and forefinger. She canted her hips forward again, gliding along his length, loving the torture of it, loving the violence it wrought within him, how it made him tense and curse and writhe.

With a shiver of pleasure, she fell forward fully so that her breasts pressed against his chest, her face hovering just above his. She needed to feel his breath, needed to share in his life force, his prana, his spirit. Hungrily, she lapped at the divet in his bottom lip, and he lifted his head, catching her in a dizzying kiss, clutching her ass to force her down harder onto his cock.

At least there was this. Even if she’d been rendered powerless, even if her future had been stolen from her, at least there was this. At least she could still make this singular, strange man want her, could wrench those sweet, despairing sounds from his throat, could conjure this thunderous, convulsive need within him.

When the lightning hurled down close outside, illuminating the room in brilliant white for one ghostly, shocking moment, she didn’t jump, but rode out the wave of thunder that followed, relishing the slick drag of his body against hers.

No more words, she thought, her stomach clenching in anticipation as they spun towards the inevitable. No words now, because it would make this impossible, would rip it back into reality, would make it a topic for discussion, for dissection, for analysis and argument. Sure and steady, she rose and reached between them, lifting his cock to where she wanted it.

He flexed his thumbs against her hipbones, gaping at the spot where they met. She drew breath. And then, oh, then…

She sank down onto him, sighing as he forced her open, as he filled her up. And oh, Christ, it was good, and it hurt, and it was everything.

She met his eyes, saw her amazement mirrored. He reached up and cupped her cheek, and she leaned into his palm for support. Gently, gently, she lifted herself back off, nuzzling into his hand, running her tongue over the heel of his palm. She lowered herself again, thighs already tight with the effort of it, and he was even more perfect than before, heavy and thick and hotter than her core. He moaned, pulsing inside of her.

“Fuck, Scully,” he said, as she lifted herself again, rocking forward, swaying back, finding a rhythm. He traced his hand from her cheek to cradle her neck, her breast. She covered his hand with her own, urging him to knead and to pinch, to give her more, to treat her like she deserved. “Is this happening?” he asked dazedly, almost to himself. In response, she seated herself fully, clenching around him. He whined and lifted his hips to meet her, and though there was nowhere left for him to go, he continued to surge up into her hard, as though he could fuse her to him forever with only the force of his will.

She couldn’t control her hands, and they were everywhere, exploring the limber, vibrant animal of his body. God, it was good. He was so good. This man, this moment, this life was hers.

With a surge of power, she quickened her pace, taking him into her again and again. He tensed between her knees, open-mouthed in awe below her, and the adoration in his gaze billowed through her chest like holy incense. She bent to take his mouth, to slip her tongue over his, to taste that dark place inside of him. She drank her fill as he tangled his hands in her hair, and then, swifter than a prairie storm, a different need overtook her.

She slowed, dragging herself up, easing herself down, and the tension within him immediately melted to tenderness. “You okay?” he breathed, stroking her back, searching her eyes.

“Mulder?”

He stilled his hands.

“Fuck me,” she said. A glimmer of confusion crossed his face, and he pulled her back down for a soft kiss.

“Is that… not what we’re…,” he began, the shadow of a smile on his lips.

“No,” she interrupted, speaking into his mouth, tasting the heat of his breath. “Fuck me like I’m not sick.”

He stared at her for a moment, trying to gauge her resolve, and a familiar determination crossed his face. Without warning, his arms were around her waist, and she was flying, falling, losing her breath as his cock slid out from inside her, and he flipped her over onto the mattress. She landed on her cut and hissed through the jolt of fire that seared through her shoulder, but gasped in pleasure when she realized he’d taken her seriously.

He seethed with lust as he loomed over her, breathing hard. Yes, she thought, Yes, this, thank God—and he shoved her thighs up and apart, lunged into her with one merciless punch of his hips, and fell over her, ravaging the good side of her neck. She yelped with the thrill of the way he filled her, the way he reshaped her body, her mind, to make himself fit.

He fucked her, hard, for what felt like a swirling eternity, or maybe it was only seconds—brutal and sweet and so relentless that she thought she might lose her mind forever, might witness her own brain spill from her ears, sizzling, staining the floral sheets. The madness within her sharpened, grew desperate and pulsing and urgent. Just a little more and she’d be there, just a little more…

He lifted himself off of her. She nearly cried out at the betrayal, clawing at his arms, but he ignored her, sitting up on his knees and yanking one of her legs over his shoulder. He clutched her thigh with one hand and found her clit with the other, smearing his thumb through her heat.

Oh, fuck, but it was good this way, too, where she could see all of him, his beautiful, scarred chest, his pained expression; where she could see how his eyes raked over her body, could feel his gaze like touch, ravishing her belly, her breasts.

He turned his face and bit into her ankle where it tensed against his shoulder, hard enough to leave a mark. She jerked in surprise, and he smiled a gloriously wicked smile, kissing it better, synchronizing his thumb on her clit with his tongue against her skin. God, how easily he could hurt her. How easily she’d forgive him for it.

She fought to keep her eyes open against the assault of sensation, but it was impossible not to be swept away. His soft grunts, the sound of them meeting again and again, the feeling of him inside of her—it was all too much. She surrendered, letting herself escape inward, but then Mulder dove back down at her, scooping her up and lifting her so that she was nestled in his lap, his face close to hers.

“No,” he rasped, clearly near the edge. “Look at me.”

She shivered, but complied, letting her eyes fall into his. He cupped her ass and dragged her hips against his, and together, they found a rhythm that was clumsy and heartfelt, wholly sublime.

“Christ, you’re perfect,” he said, his forehead against hers. His tone matched the darkness in his eyes, something dangerous, something dire fermenting within. “So beautiful. So fucking good…”

And it was his voice and his praise that brought her there, to that unreal, mystical release, that dark and starry place. She shuddered and tensed, and through the haze of her orgasm, she could hear his proud, frantic sounds of appreciation, his senseless stream of half-formed encouragements.

After what seemed like forever, she came down weak and boneless and dizzy, and he caught her, supporting her spent body as she draped herself over him. He laboured on, chasing his own pleasure, his muscles quivering below her as he forced himself up into her again and again.

“Oh, fuck, Scully, I’m gonna…” he warned.

Some primal creature spoke for her. “Inside of me. Inside…,” she whined into the hollow of his neck, tasting his pulse, the salt of his sweat.

As soon as the words left her lips, he stiffened, became silent, and thrust into her ferociously, stopping so deep that she swore she could feel the liquid surge of him pulsing into the deepest parts of her. He fisted the hair at the back of her head and dragged her face back up so that her forehead was against his, so that she was forced to bear witness to his euphoria.

I did this to him, she thought triumphantly, drinking in the pained twist of his expression. He drew back slightly as she held fast to him, and moaned as he pushed back in once, twice, never breaking his gaze.

He finally stilled, and they panted in each other’s arms for a long moment, the storm roaring wrathful outside. Without closing his eyes, he tilted his head to slide his lips across hers, to take her mouth in a kiss that was somehow both lazy and overwhelming, soaked through with afterglow.

Slowly, he laid her down, never leaving her heat, and in the dancing shadows, his face transformed, became softer, almost boyish, almost scared. Her heart ached with it. She wondered if she looked the same. She caught her breath as the night seeped back into reality, and he kissed her again, slipping wetly from her body with a sigh. He drew her close into his arms, rubbing her back, clinging like a wet cat.

She breathed into his chest, his hair tickling her nose. Surely the panic would set in now, the regret. Surely she would begin to rationalize this, blame it on the case or the cancer or the undeniable maudlin sway of a thunderstorm or even on Hugh, on that tragic magnetism that pulled her in and pushed her away, pushed her all the way into Mulder’s arms, his bed, his heart.

But it felt right. She couldn’t deny it. It felt natural, comfortable, to be here with him, with her nose tracing his collarbone, with his come inside of her, with her body wrapped safely in his while the skies rioted outside.

She looked up at him, and he brushed a stray hair from her forehead, inhaling deliriously, his eyes soft.

“Wow,” he said, the corner of his mouth easing into a hesitant smile.

“Yeah,” she whispered, suddenly struggling to hold back an unexpected swell of relieved, exhausted tears. “Wow.”  

She reached up to trace the curve of his jaw, but then—

BANG—

The sound was muffled by the rain, but it still brought both of them back to consciousness, their eyes sharpening in the dark. Scully leaned up on one elbow.

“What was that?” she said, quietly.

They listened a moment longer. Nothing.

“‘S probably the storm,” Mulder assured her. She smoothed hair from her cheek nervously, and he reached up to comfort her, stroking her arm. “Just the storm, Scully. I’m sure it’s nothing.”

BANG—

This time, the sound was accompanied with a distant, almost otherworldly wail. Scully’s blood piqued, her senses whipped into high alert. “That’s not nothing,” she said, and began to frantically search for her shirt and slacks, her chest tightening in panic.

“That’s a gun.”

Chapter Text

Scully had her back against the wall, drowning in his t-shirt, her gun drawn and her sex-mussed hair snarled around her cheeks. Shadows spilled and rushed through the hallway in a feverish gust, splashing over her, casting her in a pale glow. The Bishop women watched from their frames, the shifting light racing over their faces, nearly dragging them back into the realm of the living. Mulder curled his fingers around the grip of his own gun, feeling a little foolish in just his jeans.

His body purred with the remnants of his orgasm. Scully was bare-legged and battle-ready, and he cursed the universe for denying him the time to luxuriate in what they’d just done, for stealing away the rapture of holding her while the hard scientific evidence of it leaked from her sweet, lithe, compact little body.

Fuck, she was beyond perfect, beyond anything he’d ever imagined.

But there was a dark thrill that ran through him, the thrill of a different kind of culmination, the thrill of danger, of discovery. He met Scully’s eyes, and they silently oriented themselves with one another, formulating an unspoken plan to ascend the stairs to to Rhiannon’s forbidden tower.

But before they could make their move, the door to the tower clattered open, fiery light escaping down the twisted stairwell. Marion appeared, her usually slick hair whipping wildly around her shoulders, and Hypatia slipped past all of them in a dash of ghastly, milky white. Marion’s eyes were wide and dark, her tank soaked in sweat.

“He’s here,” she gasped, scrambling down the stairs to clutch at Scully’s arm. “He’s outside. He… he can’t cross the threshold right now, but God, I’m not as good as Anna was, I don’t know how much longer I can hold him back.”

“We heard gunshots,” Scully said.

“He’s shooting at the house, the fucking bastard,” Marion spat, trembling, “Theo’s on his way, but, but—”

Scully twisted out of Marion’s grip and dashed down the stairs, gun-first. Mulder’s stomach dropped at the sight, and he wrenched himself into action, chasing her down.

Scully!” he called, but she didn’t turn back, didn’t look at him. He caught up with her at the front door, where Hypatia paced and whined, and grabbed her elbow. She turned to him with a growl of desperation, bright-eyed and burning.

“Scully—”

“I can talk to him! Let me talk to him!” she demanded breathlessly, looking past his shoulder to where Marion remained on the stairs. It was her permission she was seeking, he realized. Not his. He turned to look at her.

Marion swayed with pleading eyes, a hand splayed over her belly and the other clutching the railing for balance. Where she stood, Mulder saw not the straight-backed green deputy or the powerful witch, but the girl, the girl whom he suddenly understood was pregnant, the girl who was scared and grieving and trying to protect the only real mother, the only real home she’d ever known.

“Dana,” Marion pleaded, but it was too late. Scully threw open the door and surged out onto the porch. Mulder cast one look back at Marion. “Get upstairs, and get your firearm, Deputy,” he commanded. Marion, painted in shadows, obeyed.

An earth-shaking thrust of thunder punched through the sky and made his shoulders tense. He took a steadying breath, then followed Scully out onto the porch, gun at the ready, the handle slick with sweat.

The sky was a smear of sickly black. Torrential rain obscured his vision, allowing him nothing but the smudge of a truck and Hugh’s blurred figure lurching forward in the mud, rifle pointed at the tower window.

Hypatia, frantic, unearthly, paced the deck, her tongue lolling from her mouth, her intelligent eyes glazed over in a primal frenzy. Scully, barefoot, already soaked through, was halfway down the porch steps, her gun trained on Hugh.

“HUGH!” She yelled, her voice small and hollow over the roar of the rain. “HUGH, PUT THE GUN DOWN!”

He turned to her. So did his rifle.

Mulder saw red. A bellow of protest blared between his ears, and then he was in front of Scully, gun raised and cocked, before he knew what he was doing.

“JUST TRY IT, YOU SON OF A BITCH!” he shouted, before noticing that Scully’s hand was on his arm, her sharp little nails digging into his skin.

She stepped in front of him. He didn’t lower his gun. The rain hammered into his bare shoulders.

“HUGH!”

“THAT FUCKING CUNT, DANA!! SHE’S THE ONE!!,” Hugh screamed, sobbing, waving his rifle in the air. He was walleyed with rage, with vindication, hurling spit with every word. “THAT EVIL HAG! SHE KILLED HER!!”

“I KNOW,” Scully tried, and to Mulder’s horror, she bent and dropped her gun in the mud, reaching her hands out to Hugh in a peace offering.

“SCULLAY!” he called, but she ignored him. Her hair was plastered to her skull, t-shirt clinging to her bones, and she looked so small that it sent a burst of pitiful anger through him. How dare she. How dare she put herself in danger like this when he loved her so hopelessly.

He flicked wet hair from his eyes, trying to clear his vision. Theo’s police cruiser bled into sight, forging recklessly through the mud. Hugh and Scully didn’t move, didn’t break their eye contact. The car swerved and lurched to a stop in a wet spray when it reached the house, and Theo, red-faced and disheveled, toppled out from the driver’s seat. Without a word, he glanced at Mulder and drew his own firearm, crouching behind the open driver’s side door.

“DROP IT, HUGH!” he barked.

“MY BABY!” Hugh screamed, undeterred, his voice breaking. “MARION’S WITH MY CHILD!!”

Scully took a slow, careful step forward.

“THAT FUCKING BITCH CURSED ME!! SHE WON’T STOP UNTIL EVERY TRACE OF ME IS WIPED FROM THE EARTH!! I HAVE TO DO THIS!! DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND?! I HAVE TO SAVE MY CHILD!! ”

The wind picked up.

Hypatia, behind them, threw a wild, haunted wail into the sky. The sound crept over Mulder’s skin like spreading ice, raising the hairs on the back of his arms, turning his stomach. 

Something was wrong. Something was very, very wrong.

Mulder didn’t wait to see what it was. He lunged forward and grabbed Scully by the back of her shirt, yanking her into his arms, scrambling to get her as far away from Hugh as possible. Overhead, the blackness churned.

In one terrible, deafening crash, the sky exploded with light.

A thick arm of untamed electricity plunged down to the earth, down into Hugh, seizing him, throttling him, lighting him up from within. His skin crackled as fierce blue fire feasted upon his limbs, his wide eyes rolling in his skull before melting down his cheeks. Shockwaves travelled through the mud like some vast subterranean creature. Scully screamed, burying her face into Mulder’s chest.

When the light was gone, there was nothing left of Hugh but a burnt and twisted husk, the remnants of his rifle clenched in one ruined hand.

Across from them, Theo fell to his knees and vomited.

Mulder tightened his grip on Scully, who was trying to turn, to see more. “He’s gone,” he said to her, ducking his chin to her forehead. “He’s gone, Scully, we can’t help him—”

He was interrupted by a blood-curdling shriek. Marion was on the deck, hands at her neck, staring at the blackened lump that was once her lover. Hypatia circled her, yipping and whining.

“Oh God,” Scully said into his chest, “It’s over, it’s over, if he’s dead, it’s all over—the curse, it’s over, Mulder—”

They stood in the rain, catching their breath, Marion’s wails cutting through the downpour. Over Scully’s head, Mulder watched Theo lumber up from the ground and hurry towards the girl that was, in all but blood, his daughter. He took her in his arms, petting her hair as she wept.

And then Mulder saw something else.

In the distance, a flicker of obsidian, like a small incision in the sky. As he watched, his heart pounding, his eyes widening, the flicker became two, became three, became crows with gleaming, rain-dashed wings. He heard them, then, too—a cackling, a hoarse warble—and knew that it was an incantation for blood.

He grabbed Scully’s hand and ran for the deck, ignoring her yelp of surprise, pulling her along as fast as he could.

“MARION!” He called hoarsely, flinging his arm out in the direction of the crows. She tore herself away from Theo to follow Mulder’s stare. Theo and Scully did the same.

Marion paled, but she furrowed her brows and set her jaw. As Mulder and Scully fled up the porch stairs, Marion reached out and grabbed Scully by the shoulders. Her eyes were glistening, her jaw quivering. 

“I know what we need to do. We need you, Dana,” Marion begged breathlessly. “They’re here to kill me, to kill my baby. The curse… the curse hasn’t finished its job.” Scully flicked her eyes from Marion back to Mulder. There was rainwater pearling on her flushed cheeks, and she looked drained, exhausted, too thin—but in her eyes burned a warrior’s fire, blue as azurite. She wanted to go. Needed to. And though it pained him to be separated from her, though it shoved a rancid seed of fear into the core of his heart, he nodded.

“Tell me what to do,” Scully said, her voice steady and sure. Marion took her hand and pulled her back into the house. Hypatia followed, whimpering in a sharp crescendo.

Theo turned to Mulder. “Tower should be safe from the outside,” he reassured him, “but hell, we gotta keep those damn crows out of the rest of the house. If the barrier falters, even for one second… there’s… there’s boards and nails in the old barn, we can shut up the windows, shove the chairs against the doors.” He fixed him with a wet stare, his tough-guy facade crumbling. “Damn it, those are my girls in there, Fox.”

“I know,” Mulder replied. Theo nodded and exhaled, a waft of his bile-sour breath cutting through the scent of the rain-strewn earth. He set off at a determined pace, gesturing for him to follow.

“Theo?” Mulder said, marching behind him as he barrelled down the stairs and around to the barn. Theo grunted and turned his head without slowing.

“My girl’s in there, too.”

-

“We need three,” Marion insisted quietly, almost to herself, as she pulled Scully towards the eerie, twisting stairs, up towards that forbidden tower, towards the last remaining source of light. “One to make a curse, and three to break it, I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before…”

Under the scrutiny of the Bishop women peering out from their frames on the walls, they began the ascent. Marion became near-frantic, taking the steps by two, her grip on Scully’s hand cold and wet and painful. She almost tripped, but the sheer force of Marion’s determination kept her steady.

There it was. The door.

It flung open on its own accord, welcoming them with a dull thud as it hit the wall. Despite the force of the swing, it didn’t ricochet back, but stayed where it was, flush to the fading wallpaper.

A cold pearl of fear rolled over Scully’s spine. Hypatia slipped past her, sated, quiet as a wisp of silk.

Inside the tower, past the shield of Marion’s broad shoulders, fire burned. But the flames were… there was nothing feeding them, there was nothing grounding them. Each lick of fire was suspended in the air, six feet off from the floor, illuminating the room, slowly rotating in a wide circle. On every wall, floor to ceiling, were dresses. Victorian frocks, flapper sheaths, wartime wool. They were pinned with the arms outstretched to either side, like they were enclosing the room in some unnatural embrace.

Rhiannon was at the center of it all.

She stood with her eyes closed, her hands open at her sides in a gesture of receiving, of meditation, of humility, her hair ember-bright and lifting, floating, around her shoulders. Her thin white nightgown fluttered around her thin frame, moved by some unperceivable wind, and her chest heaved with effort, glistened with sweat. And she was humming. Richly, melodically, in a haunted cadence that tore at Scully’s heart.

At her feet lay a circle of wilting cuttings from the greenhouse, spirals of spilled salt, a silver blade—more a sword than a knife—and an ancient, yellowed book, open to what looked, to Scully, like a blank page… but something inside of her knew that it wasn’t blank… just… unseen. Unseeable. She reminded herself to keep breathing.

Hypatia crept to her mistress, and curled her long, strange body around Rhiannon’s hips in a crescent moon.

The door slammed behind them, shaking the walls, rustling the dresses, but Scully was the only one to startle at the sound.  

Marion padded forward slowly, as if in a trance, and slipped her hand into Rhiannon’s. Rhiannon didn’t move, didn’t open her eyes, but her fingers curled around Marion’s, and there was the slightest furrow of her brow, something so insignificant that it could have been a trick of the light. Marion held her other hand out to Scully, inviting her to complete the circle with a silent nod.

The flames rippled above them. Scully took an uncertain step forward, crushing a sprig of rosemary under her heel. The earthy, woody scent it gave up threw her back to Daly Farms, to Anna’s porch, and she inhaled it, somehow entranced, somehow sick with grief. She threaded her fingers into Marion’s, searching her face for an explanation that she knew would not come.

So instead, she let her eyes fall upon the witch.

Up close, Rhiannon looked ghastly, but beautiful, somehow, too. Scully took in her striking nose, the parchment skin under her eyes, the pulse that nudged at a bluish vein in her neck. The sea of weightless hair, red as love, red as blood.

“Take her hand, Dana,” Marion said gently. “Take her hand.”

Scully nervously wet her lips with her tongue, but reached out, and traced the graceful line of Rhiannon’s pale arm, finally fitting her palm against hers. Rhiannon’s hand was cold as death.

Suddenly, she felt foolish. How could she possibly insert herself into this bizarre and incomprehensible world, this impossible reality? What was she doing here? They’d got it all wrong, they’d chosen the wrong person, surely she could—

Light.

Light surged through her, around her, within her. Electricity, euphoria, orgasm, wonder. Light everywhere, strong and hale as a baby’s first breath, sweet and pure as an old woman’s last. Ecstasy, and agony too, the unbearable agony of living, but above all, connection, to something deeper and wider than her own small, single soul.

She cried out, looking to Rhiannon. What she saw stole away the rest of her breath.

The Bishop women. Rhiannon was… Rhiannon was all of the Bishop women at once, each somehow starkly distinct, but somehow all contained within her, crowded into her spirit, her energy, like a mirror reflecting into the depths of itself. Light carried them, surrounded them, gave them life. She was one with them. They were one with her.

And Scully was one with Rhiannon and Marion, too.

As the light penetrated and surrounded her, she understood everything, understood their hearts, their souls, their fear, their joy, their pain.

Anna’s betrayal, the willingness to sacrifice her power, her uniqueness, for love. The fear that Rhiannon felt—that deep and wretched mother-fear—when Anna’s abilities indeed began to fade. The fear that Abel Stoesz might reach her, might hurt her. The fear that drove her to call up the Mothers, the Mothers that lay dormant within the walls of the house but now swirled within her, wreaking havoc on the world. She’d only wanted to protect Anna. She’d truly, whole-heartedly, wanted to keep her first girl, her sweet, romantic, impulsive Anna, safe from harm.

But there’d been a grain of resentment, there, too, a grain that had started rough and wild and small, but over time, had been polished into something as smooth as glass, as heavy as stone. Rhiannon had chosen differently. She’d abandoned her own love, her own Theo, to preserve her gifts. 

And the mothers knew. 

They took that stone and they swallowed it whole and what was intended to be a gift became a curse, a curse focused on the one who stole Anna away, the one who enchanted the enchantress. And through the threads of Bishop initiates still living, the mothers worked their curse, perverting Rhiannon’s gift of communing with all living creatures, Marion’s gift of stormcraft, to rip apart the false idol, to suck out the poison, to eliminate every trace of him, even if it meant taking Anna, too. Everything Hugh Daly ever loved, everything that touched his heart, even the red-haired woman, even her.

But the world still wasn’t clean of him. He lived on through the outsider growing in Marion’s womb, in their womb; he lived on through the red-haired woman, through her heart, through the still-burning wick of her compassion.

Let us take you

Let us take you

“NO!!–” Marion shrieked, or maybe thought, because Scully felt herself saying it, too. “He’s gone, you’re done! This baby is MINE! This baby is a BISHOP!”

Let us take you

“I WON’T! I WON’T LET YOU HURT MY BABY!”

The mothers wailed, the doors and windows rattled. Black wings at the glass, thunder overhead. Then, under the chaos, under the torment, a thought, hot with amazement, threaded its way into the collective consciousness.

I am the tether. I keep them earthbound.

Rhiannon’s eyes flew open, and she glanced from Scully to Marion quickly, gripping their hands hard.

Without me, without my body, my blood, they have no power to draw upon.

Swift as a hunting crow, Rhiannon released their hands and plunged to the floor, and the light, that glorious light, fizzled into nothingness. Scully, dazed and overwhelmed, found that she couldn’t move her limbs to stop her.

“NO!” Marion shrieked, chasing Rhiannon down, trying to wrest something from her hands.

But it was too late.

A flash of silver, a rasping gust of breath.

A throaty, outraged scream.

Scully’s faculties returned to her, and she fell to her knees, joining the two women on the floor, pushing a fevered Hypatia out of her way.

Underneath the charcoal curtain of Marion’s hair, Rhiannon lay on the floor, her blade thrust, sure and true, into the core of her heart. Her life seeped out around the silver of the knife, staining her nightdress, soaking it. Blood bubbled at the corners of her mouth, but her eyes were open, and fixed on her daughter. Scully frantically tried to staunch the blood around the wound, but she knew. She knew it was hopeless. She let Marion gather Rhiannon up, cradling her like a child, sobbing into her neck, rocking her helplessly. Hypatia nosed her way into the clutch, and rested her head on Rhiannon’s belly, whining a despondent lament.

Mare,” Rhiannon rasped, attempting a weak, red-toothed smile. Her slim, pale hand, shaking and bloody, found rest on Marion’s cheek for one precious moment, and then slipped and fell to the floor. Scully gently lifted her hand up again, bringing it to Hypatia’s bony forehead, scooching forward to help Marion support her weight.

When she looked up, trying to contain her tears, she saw her.

The spectre of Anna, flush and plump and whole, kneeling to embrace her mother, to welcome her home.

Scully wept. The flames flickered and faded, dying in the night.

And all was quiet.