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The Mercy Seat

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THE MERCY SEAT

 

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

125 PLUM STREET
CAPE CHARLES, VIRGINIA
OCTOBER 21
5:32 a.m.

 

Close to dawn, Pam Dillard stood at the sink looking out over the
street, the skillet still warm in her hands as she ran it under the
water, filling it and emptying it. She kept her eyes on the sun as it
struggled to brighten the night, the stars still out like watchfires.
Her orange and white cat, Celie, stood beside her, too close, the
cat's side brushing against her calf.

Upstairs she could hear the sound of broken glass, Brian done with
his breakfast and up cleaning the mess in the bedroom. She had not
wanted to touch the shards herself. She'd risen with the alarm,
already awake, and walked around the pieces as though they weren't
there. Brian had seemed to do the same. He'd slid from the bed in his
pajama bottoms, his socks protecting his feet from the cold hardwood
floor.

"I'll make breakfast," he'd said, the implication clear that he
wanted her to deal with the mess.

"No," she had responded quickly. "I'll do it." And she'd headed
downstairs, grabbing her robe from behind the door as she fled the
room, the slivers of mirror reflecting lamplight.

They'd eaten together in silence.

Now she stood listening, not washing the skillet at all, just
feeling the water move over her hands, a warm caress, soothing her.
She could not quite shake the image of the child from her mind, the
smile on his face knowing, telling.

She knew that if the dead could smile, they would look that way.

Only Brian's heavy footsteps on the stairs struck the picture from
her mind, the sound of the glass tinkling inside a trashbag. She
heard him go out the front door, the racket of the bag hitting the
bottom of the trashcan. Then he was back, and she felt his presence
in the doorway behind her. She put the skillet down in the sink,
turned to him, her eyes pleading, though the feeling did not touch
her face. He stared back, his black hair still mussed from sleep, his
chest heaving beneath his polo shirt.

"Brian --"

He put a hand up. "I don't want to talk about it," he said softly.
"Let's just not talk about it."

She looked down, her cheeks reddening.

"But it's...different this time," she said, the words hesitant, her
eyes still focused on Celie, who looked up at her, mewling softly,
her eyes darting, nervous.

"It doesn't seem any different to me," Brian said quietly. "Seems
like the same damn thing. Just took a little break, that's all."

"But I could see it this time," she rushed in. "It was a--"

"Let's not talk about it, Pam," Brian cut in, his voice sounding
tired already. "Please."

She bit her lip, nodded, turned back toward the sink.

After a moment, he came up behind her, his arms curled around her
waist, his chin over her shoulder. He kissed her cheek softly, a
peace offering. She took it, gripped his wrist with one wet hand,
felt him press his body against her back.

"That store's not going to open on its own," she murmured after a
moment, though she was reluctant to say it. It was the first time
she'd felt safe since she'd awoke.

He hesitated for a long moment.

"Okay," he said at last, kissed her again, and she let him go.

She didn't turn as he made his way to the front of the house and out
the door. She heard his pickup cough to life, and watched the
battered brown Ford head off down the street.

At her feet, Celie continued to whine softly and Pam looked down at
the cat as she put the skillet in the drainer, wiped her hands on her
robe. She reached down and touched Celie's soft mottled head, feeling
the animal's skittish tension.

The cat was afraid. Whether from picking up on her own fear or from
something else, she couldn't say.

She stopped and listened to the house. Everything was still,
ordered. Canisters on the countertops, the ceiling fan spinning slow
and silent and lazy, a ceramic blue heart hanging from its center.

The only sound was the tap of water in the sink. Nothing else there.

Finally she shook her head, shaking the feeling of dread away.

"Come on," she said to the cat, who was still looking up, her eyes
the color of moss. "Let's get to work."

 

***********

FBI ACADEMY
QUANTICO, VIRGINIA
9:16 a.m.

 

Scully pulled the thick twine through the flaps of skin, neatly
closing the Y-incision on the woman's body, which shone almost blue
in the silver overhead light. The bag that contained the woman's
organs protruded slightly from her belly, and Scully was forced to
tuck it back in as she continued drawing the black string down past
the woman's navel and toward her pelvis below.

When she reached the bottom, she tied the knot off with a flick of
her wrist, an action she'd done so many times she didn't even have to
think about it anymore. It was like writing her signature, the motion
rote and concise.

She reached up and flipped off the microphone over the body, since
she'd finished dictating her notes into the attached recorder some
time ago. Now she stripped off her gloves, tossing them in the
biohazard bin and removed her blood-covered smock, clean scrubs
underneath.

Then, for some reason, she stopped, looking down into the woman's
face. She was young, younger than Scully. A few leaves still clung to
her hair, which flowed down over the headrest and onto the table like
black water.

The only sound in the room was the steady drip of blood and fluids
that trickled out of the bottom of the table into a drain in the
floor. The room echoed hollow like a cave.

She looked into the woman's face and saw her as she was alive,
picturing a smile there, the shape of her mouth when she laughed. In
the confines of the room, Scully could swear she could hear some
faint whisper of it, of the sound of laughter.

She sighed, put a hand on her forehead and leaned the other hand
carefully on the edge of the table. She'd been doing this a lot
lately -- looking at the dead as living, seeing them alive -- and the
new impulse bothered her on some level she couldn't quite understand.
She'd always had an extreme level of detachment in the past, often
not even seeing the bodies as people but more as puzzles that needed
solving, question marks that she was sent in to put answers after.

It had started on her return from the desert all those months ago.
Almost 18 months now since she and Mulder had come in from being on
the run. But it had been gradually growing worse, this loss of
distance.

Two weeks ago, someone had asked her to re-autopsy a three-year-old
child found in the woods. And she had found a way out of doing it,
begging off and suggesting a colleague at D.C.'s city morgue instead.

She regretted that decision about the child, carried a nagging
disappointment in herself about it. She didn't know what was causing
this, and she needed to find a way to stop it before she lost her
objectivity completely.

She had told Mulder nothing.

But how could she explain this to him? The intrusion of it? It was
as impossible to discuss as some of the nightmares she had, images
too real in their unreality to truly convey to him. She didn't even
understand them herself. How could she make him understand?

She chewed her lip now, looking down at the woman again, taking in
the pale features, the single bullet hole on the shaved side of her
head.

Once again, that whisper of a voice in her mind, the imagined lilt
of the woman's voice.

It frightened her, this sound in her mind. She shook her head, stood
straight, and reached for a sheet, neatly folded on the tray next to
her. She drew it over the woman's body with haste and flicked off the
light, shutting the sounds, the sights, out.

These fits of imagination were worse after nights of the dreaming.
Maybe that was all this was, she told herself. The dream she'd had
the night before -- the one before Mulder had come in, joining in her
the bed and chasing it away with his mouth, his body -- it had shaken
her terribly. She closed her eyes against the dark image of the woman
in the bed, the metallic taste of the faceless woman's terror.

And then the eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll's, but a thousand times
colder than that. Something evil in them.

"Stop," she said to herself, and went to the counter where the
report she'd started before the autopsy lay. She immediately busied
herself with writing down her findings, her jaw clenched hard, her
eyes focussed on only what was before her, what she could touch and
what was real.

She anchored herself to it.

Then a tapping on the door, and Mulder's face in the small window,
slashed through with a wire grate. She gave him a tight, small smile
and nodded for him to come in.

"Hey," he said softly. Something must have been still showing on her
face because his brow creased down when he looked at her.

"Hey yourself," she replied, trying to lighten things immediately.

Mulder nodded toward the body on the table, the bumps of it beneath
the pale blue sheet. "What did you find?"

"Well," she began, taking off her protective glasses and laying them
beside the clipboard. "I think Paul's right. He's got a serial killer
on his hands."

Mulder nodded. "I'd assumed there would be more than one incident,
based on what he showed me yesterday."

Scully nodded. Mulder had told her of his meeting with Granger that
morning over a quick breakfast of a piece of buttered toast passed
back and forth between them, cups of coffee. They'd been running
late.

"The physical evidence on this body is the same as the other woman
from the previous killing. Same evidence of rape, both pre- and post-
mortem. The same ballistics on the handgun, same location of the
shot. The bullets are still being tested, but I'm sure they'll both
carry the same signature marks. And there's a lack of semen in both
bodies. No DNA to test on that front, and no blood but hers and the
other victim's." She said it all monotone.

"Careful sonofabitch," Mulder muttered, and she nodded, returned to
her report. He was silent for a long moment. She nearly forgot he was
there as she focussed in on the report, blocking everything else out
once again.

"Are you all right?" he asked finally.

She looked up, surprised. "Yes, I'm fine," she replied, and mustered
a little laugh. "Why do you ask?"

He shrugged. "You seem distracted. Last night, too."

She shook her head. Yes, she'd been a little distant during their
initial lovemaking, then later suddenly desperate. She knew she'd
left faint crescents of fingernails in his back.

"No, I'm all right. Just not sleeping well the past few nights.
Probably because you weren't with me." She teased him with the last
part, forced a wan smile in an attempt to reassure him. She could
tell from the look on his face that he didn't take the bait she
offered.

"I think it's time you saw someone about that, Scully," he said
gently.

"I don't need pills, Mulder," she said, her expression determined.
"I just need more time."

He shifted toward her slightly, his hands going to his hips beneath
his dark suit jacket.

"I think you might need both," he replied, matching her firm tone.

"And I don't need a psychologist," she said, looking down at her
report and scribbling down a note.

"That's debateable, too," he replied instantly. She heard him heave
out a sigh. "Scully, you only went through three months of mandatory
counseling when we got back. I'm starting to wonder if that was
enough. Maybe you should go see Karen Kossoff again."

"It's not the rape, Mulder," she said, and now she just sounded
tired as she looked up at him. "I'm okay with that. Really."

"Then you *do* know what it is," he said, softening.

"I didn't say that," she replied. "I just know it's not that."

She had exorcised that demon in the desert with Albert Hosteen's
help, left it behind there beside a campfire outside Two Grey Hills.
Before she'd come back to Mulder, found him again after finding
herself.

"Look," she said, and put down the pen. "It's just bad dreams. It's
bound to happen with some of the things we've seen and been through.
You've had nightmares your whole life, too, Mulder. Everyone does
from time to time."

"Not like these, Scully," he said, his voice still soft.

"I'm all right," she replied, rubbing her eyes. Then she looked up
at him, resigned. "I'll think about it, okay? Let's leave it at that.
I don't want to argue with you. Ever again if I can help it."

She heard him chuckle slightly at that, take the few steps needed to
close the space between them. He reached out and put a hand on the
place where her neck met her shoulder.

"That'll be the day," he replied, smiling. "Okay. Just think about
it."

She smiled back, turned her face and touched his thumb with her
lips. Just a brush. Then she stepped away, mindful of where she was
once again.

"You ready to go?" he asked, breaking the mood between them, now all
business.

She nodded. "Just let me call the orderlies and get my tape, sign
off on a few things. Then I'll get changed and meet you out front."

He nodded. "All right. I'm looking over some new cases that came in.
Some of them are...interesting, to say the least." His eyes gleamed.

She rolled hers. "I can't wait," she said dryly, and picked up her
clipboard. He laughed and left her alone, the door tapping closed
behind him.

The silence was such a stark contrast to his voice in the sterile
room. She turned, looked at the body again. The room seemed too cold
to her, and she shivered.

She picked up her tape from the recorder and left in a hurry. She
would call the orderlies from the dressing area, she decided, going
quickly down the concrete hallway, away from the darkness behind her.

There was a light at the end of the corridor, a small window right
next to the entrance to the changing area. She went toward it.

 

***********

 

125 PLUM STREET
CAPE CHARLES, VIRGINIA
10:01 a.m.

 

This was Pam's favorite time, the sun coming through the windows of
the shed in the backyard, the wheel spinning between her knees and
her hands pulling clay between them, making it rise, thinning it as
she went. She loved the grooves her fingers made in the white of it,
white as milk or bread but smelling rich as earth.

Celie lay in the doorway, which was open to let the cool autumn
breeze into the shed, the cat on her back, the long hair of her belly
absorbing the light.

Pam wore faded jeans, one of Brian's sweatshirts, both spattered
with white. Her light brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail, out
of the way as she worked.

Around her, on top of the cabinets Brian had built into the shed's
sides, her pieces were gathered, fresh from the kiln, their blue,
green and yellow glazes shining. She smiled to them, feeling an ease
at seeing so much work done. The shop that sold her work -- small
bowls, vases, their sides thin as skin -- would have a whole new set
of things to display for her.

It would be good for them to have some extra money coming in. They
were new here, just moved in a few months ago, but already her work
was becoming well-known. Still, it wasn't the tourist season anymore,
and business at the hardware store where Brian worked had been slow.
There were still the occasional visitors from across the Bay Bridge-
Tunnel and from down the Eastern Shore, people who liked to stop in
the small gallery at the heart of town and look for local work. She
liked to have a full array of her things always ready to sell.

She gave the clay another pull, sending it spiraling higher toward
her chest. The vase's shape was clear now, emerging between her
hands. She watched it, a small smile on her face at the magic of it.
Two crows shouted from the oak tree in the backyard.

She remembered the birds then, the ones from when she was a child
who would sit on her window sill, the ones that would land lightly on
her arms as she stood in the pasture in the farm. She would hold
their small bodies -- the brown sparrows, the yellow finches -- and
smile with the trust they had in her, though it made her parents
afraid.

Only the crows frightened her, their claws sharp against her arms.
Only they would send her into the house to her mother, who would dab
at the blood and scold her, making her ashamed.

There in the shed, a gust of wind came in the open doorway, somehow
warm and smelling faintly of something familiar like cinnamon. She
inhaled it, wondering at its source. As far as she could remember,
she'd never smelled anything cooking from the Hanson's, and
definitely never from Old Man Packard on the other side.

It was almost as if the smell was coming from her own house, ten
yards away. She could see the back door from the entrance to the
shed, the wooden door open, only the screen door guarding the doorway
into the house.

Celie pulled herself up from where she'd lain sprawled in a triangle
of sunlight, mewed softly, facing the house.

Another breath of wind and the smell changed -- rancid, like fish
and trash, then deeper, heavier. A milk and urine stench.

Pam reached down and pulled up her sweatshirt, pressed it to her
nose, a gag coming as the smell flooded the shed.

Between her knees, the vase sagged, curling in on itself, turning to
folds, spinning unevenly. She looked down at in surprise, pulled her
foot off the pedal and let the wheel spin itself into stillness.

That was when Celie leapt up, a high cry coming from her as though
she'd been struck, her small body jerking to the side.

Pam bolted from her stool, went to the cat where she'd huddled,
stepping in front of Celie instinctively, her eyes wide and on the
house, on its brown shingles and slate roof the color of storms. It
was as if, at that moment, the house had absorbed the morning
sunlight and turned it into darkness.

The smell drifted, weakening, just as Pam's eyes began to tear.

The back door slammed shut, nearly hard enough to break the windows
in it.

She looked down at the cat, who was still crushing herself beneath
one of the cabinets. She looked at the ruined vase on the wheel,
breathing hard.

"That's it," she murmured to herself. She and Brian couldn't do this
again. Not on their own. Not this time. She didn't care what he had
said.

It was time for some help. For something.

She left the cat in the shed as she headed, wary, toward the house.

 

**

11:32 a.m.

 

The drive across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel always soothed
Pam. Sometimes she and Brian would pay the $20 toll just for the sake
of the drive, a half an hour suspended or ducking beneath the dark
water of the Bay, a 29-mile stretch of bridges and tunnels that
extended all the way from the Eastern Shore of Virginia and Maryland
across to Virginia Beach.

As she drove along, her Outback all alone on the stretch of bridge
she was on, she watched the tankers come in from the Atlantic on her
left, the huge hulks of their bodies drifting over the tunnels ahead
of her on their way up through the mouth of the Bay.

On her right, a flock of pelicans flew in formation, all dark wings
and long bills, riding the updrafts along the bridge. Occasionally,
she would have to straddle the ruined carcass of a seagull, caught by
one of the dozens of 18-wheelers that made their way across the
bridge daily, ferrying supplies up and down the coasts.

Finally she reached the other shore, having descended through the
two tunnels, passed the tourist restaurant at the pier. When she
reached the shore of Virginia Beach, it was like touching down on
civilization once again, the Eastern Shore and Cape Charles seeming
more like throw-backs to another time. There was nothing there to
speak of. No malls. Only a few fast-food restaurants. That's one of
the reasons she and Brian had chosen Cape Charles to live in. Cheap.
Quiet. A place where they hopefully wouldn't attract too much
attention.

But here, it was the 21st century, and she had to sit up straighter
in her seat and adjust her attention to accommodate the new flood of
traffic, the new pace.

She reached over and checked the map, noting the circle she'd placed
on it before she'd left the house. The big Virginia Beach library was
off the Boulevard, the map showed. She maneuvered the car onto
Independence and headed that way.

 

***********

 

FBI HEADQUARTERS
WASHINGTON, D.C.
2:30 p.m.

 

"Mulder, no."

"Come on, Scully, this is a good one."

The slide projector clicked for emphasis, throwing the room into
darkness for a moment, then brightening it with the photo of a
decapitated cow surrounded by burned ground.

"That is so clearly staged it's not worth bothering with, Mulder,"
Scully tried again. She rose from her chair at her desk and went to
the screen, pointing to a long line of ruined ground behind the cow
that could be seen in this wide-angle shot. "Look here. You can tell
the ground was scorched first and then the cow was dragged onto the
spot. See?"

"You don't know that's what those are," he said from where he sat on
the other side of her desk, his tie slightly loosened and the top
button of his shirt undone.

She could tell, though, that his heart wasn't in the rebuttal
really. It was their familiar game when trying to decide which case
to pursue next. She usually managed to talk him out the ones that had
the least chance of panning out, the ones that would be a waste of
time.

"It's not aliens, Mulder," she said, returning to her seat. "Most of
the cattle mutilations we investigate end up having perfectly logical
explanations. Animals. Feuds between cattle farmers."

"Some of them we don't find 'perfectly logical explanations' for,
though, Scully," he said, and she saw him lean back, clicking the
slide again, leaving a large square of white on the screen. He
sighed. "I just can't get you interested in any of these today, can
I?"

She looked down, her chin in her hand. He was right. He couldn't.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I don't mean to be recalcitrant. I just
don't want another wild goose chase, Mulder. I want to do something
that's going to matter, that's going to really help someone, you
know?"

"Like what we did last week?" he offered, looking at her from across
the space between them.

She returned his gaze. "Yes," she said. "What we did last week
mattered. We stopped a criminal. We protected women from being
harmed."

"But it turned out not being an X-File at all, Scully," Mulder
protested mildly. "Nothing unexplained. Is that what you're losing
your taste for? The cases that defy explanation?"

She hesitated then, looked away. Yes, she was losing her taste for
them. She seemed to be dealing with unexplained things all the time
now, these nightmares that plagued her, these strange thoughts. They
were hard enough to deal with. She didn't want to go sniffing it out
in her outside life.

"I don't know what I've lost my taste for, Mulder," was what she
said aloud. "I'm just...tired. And going on a cow hunt isn't my idea
of a good time."

She heard him tapping on the desk lightly, pausing, knew he was
about to say something careful.

"Maybe we need to take some time off," he said at last. "Come back
at these in a week or so. They might look better to you then. Three
or four of these look promising to me. Maybe with some distance, they
will to you, too."

She started to shake her head, though a part of her leapt at the
idea. A Bed and Breakfast somewhere. Just her and Mulder. No cases.
No distractions. Maybe the nightmares wouldn't even follow her there.

She sighed as she realized how unlikely that last part would be.

"I'm sorry," she said softly.

"It's okay," he replied. "I know you're tired. But you'll bounce
back. Like you said this morning -- you just need some time."

With that, he rose, went to the wall and flicked on the light. "Why
don't you hang out here for a few minutes, look these over again and
make sure there's nothing you want to look into. I'll take our report
from last week up to Skinner, leave it with Kimberly."

He came around the desk, put his hands on her shoulders, kneading
softly. "I'll be right back."

She nodded, leaned back into him for a few seconds, closing her
eyes, then moved forward as he lifted his hands from her shoulders.
Everyone at the FBI knew about them now, but they still tried to keep
their physical contact to a minimum at the office.

She heard him pick up a few folders from his desk, and then he was
out the door.

She sat in the silence for a few minutes, watching the blank white
of the screen, trying to clear her head. She was disappointing him.
She knew that. And she felt badly about it. It made her feel even
more tired, beaten back.

Then the phone on Mulder's desk began to ring. She turned and looked
at it, rose slowly and went to his desk, sinking down in his chair.
She picked up the phone.

"Special Agent Dana Scully," she said, sounding bored with her own
name.

A pause. "Oh...I'm sorry," came a woman's voice. Slight Southern
accent. "I was looking for Fox Mulder."

"Are you looking for Agent Mulder personally, or for the X-Files
Division?" Scully replied.

"Well...I guess for the X-Files Division. I read an article in a
magazine about Agent Mulder, and I thought...well, I thought he might
be the one to speak to."

Oh yes, Scully thought. The article in "Psychology Today" that
Mulder had done on the paranormal. It had brought the termites out of
the woodpile, as it were. Phone calls had gone up by at least 20%.

"Is this Agent Scully?" the woman asked.

Mulder had been kind enough to mention her name as his partner on
the X-Files in the article. She was still irked at him for that.

"Yes, this is Agent Scully. How can I help you, miss...?"

"Dillard. Pam Dillard. I'm calling from Virginia. I'm having..."

A long pause. Scully waited.

"...Problems," the woman finished noncommitedly.

This was at least different, Scully thought. Most of the people who
called were ranting, talking about lights in the sky or being
abducted or the devil being after them. This woman might actually
have her wits about her.

"What sort of problems, Ms. Dillard?" Scully replied, reaching for a
pad of paper and a pen.

"My husband and I..." the woman began, and stopped again. "We,
um...keep having to move. You see, strange things keep happening to
us, and they seem to follow us wherever we go. We've moved four times
this year alone. And these things...they're starting to happen
again."

"What sorts of strange things?" Scully asked patiently. She wrote
"Pam Dillard" on the legal pad, and the word "Virginia" after it.

"Well, I know it sounds crazy...but there are things breaking
constantly. Things being moved. Smells. I've been struck in the past,
but not this time yet. But this morning something attacked my cat."

"Have you seen anything out of the ordinary, like an entity or a
presence of some sort?" Scully asked by rote. She was asking the
usual questions, but there was something earnest about this woman on
the other end of the line that made Scully want to listen to her. The
woman was calm. Rational. It was a good place to start.

Again the woman hesitated for a long beat. "I saw something last
night. It's the first time I've seen something."

"What did you see?" Scully asked. She was scribbling down the
phenomena the woman had experienced in a bulleted list beneath her
name.

Suddenly the woman started to cry, a hitch in her breathing giving
it away first, shaky breaths. "I'm sorry..." the woman said softly.
"I'm..."

Scully leaned forward in the chair slightly, closer to the phone.
"It's all right, Ms. Dillard. It's all right. Just tell me what you
saw."

The woman sniffed, shifted the phone before she finally spoke. "It
was a child," she said at last. "A little boy. Black hair and black
eyes..."

Something went cold in Scully and she froze, her breathing stopping
for a beat. "Where..." She cleared her throat. "Where did you see
him?"

"I know how this sounds, but...he was in my mirror. In my bedroom."

Scully got to her feet before she'd realized she'd stood. She
dropped the pen.

"Hello?" Dillard called.

Scully cleared her throat again, pulling herself together. One word
kept echoing in her mind.

How...?

She pulled her composure around herself. She was overreacting. It
had to be some wild coincidence. That was all it was.

"Yes, I'm here, Ms. Dillard," Scully said. "I'm sorry...I got
distracted by something. I'm here now. A child, you say?"

"Yes," Dillard replied. "I've never seen him before. I don't know
why I'm seeing him now. But things are more...violent this time.
They've been strange before, but..." The woman sniffed again. "I'm
starting to get frightened now."

Scully remembered the taste of the woman's fear the night before,
how it had hung in a cloud around her as she'd tried to sleep in
Mulder's arms.

"I don't have any money to pay you to help me," Dillard continued
into the silence. "I know you must be expensive, but I didn't know
where else to turn. Agent Mulder seemed so kind in the article...I
thought--"

"There's no charge for our services, Ms. Dillard," Scully said,
regaining herself now, dismissing it all. "The Bureau pays us to
investigate unexplained phenomena such as yours."

"Does that mean you'll...you'll help me?" The woman was crying
again, trying to hold it back in her relief.

Scully thought about it for a moment. Mulder returned, looked at her
behind his desk, raised his eyebrows in question. She raised a finger
to him, and he paused, his hands going in his pockets.

Scully remembered his offer of time off, how tempting that had been.
But then the nightmare from the night before came back to her.

She had to understand this. There had to be a way to explain it
away. Maybe once she found that explanation, it would all go away...

"Yes, Ms. Dillard," she said at last. "Give me your contact
information. We'll be down on...Thursday." It was Monday, and she
needed time to finish up the consulting she was doing for Granger.

Mulder's eyebrows had climbed higher toward his hairline on hearing
her agree to a case.

"I don't know how to thank you," the woman replied, and Scully could
almost feel her relief.

"There's no need to thank me," Scully said formally. "It's our job.
Now where can we find you?"

She busied herself writing the information that Dillard relayed to
her, said goodbye, and hung up the phone. She looked up at Mulder,
and she knew she must be a bit pale from how he looked at her.

"So where we going, Chief?" Mulder said, trying to lighten the
heaviness that had settled over the room, over Scully.

"Cape Charles, Virginia," Scully replied, and handed him the pad.

 

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

 

END OF CHAPTER 1. CONTINUED IN CHAPTER 2.

Disclaimer in Chapter 0. This is Chapter 2.

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

ROUTE 13
NEAR MAPPSVILLE, VIRGINIA
EASTERN SHORE
OCTOBER 24
11:32 a.m.

 

"Proud Mary" was playing on the radio in the black Bureau sedan, the
driver's side window was cracked open to let in the autumn air, and
Mulder was tapping his fingers against the steering wheel in time to
the music. He alternated his gaze from the road to the scenery
streaming by -- the ragged pines, tall and thin as black bones -- and
then to Scully, who was dozing in the seat beside him.

Her brow was knitted, a troubled look on her face. It seemed that
even when she attempted to nap, the thoughts and dreams troubled her.
It had been this way for months, he knew, but something about it was
different now. She'd stopped talking about it with him the way she'd
done when they first returned from the Southwest. The dreams were
like secrets now, caught in her throat.

And now her strange decision to take this case...

He gnawed on his lip as his eyes returned to the nearly deserted
road, the only vehicles in sight all pulling boats with fishing rods
jutting from holders in their sterns. The fields that lined the roads
on occasion, mostly abandoned farms, were overgrown, broken only by
the occasional spread of brittle brown corn, spreads of chocolate
brown plants tufted with cotton, and battered pickups parked on the
highway's sides selling pumpkins and fresh-caught crab and shrimp.

His mind played over the notes she'd shown him about the case, a
half-a-page of bulletted words in her neat handwriting. Words like
"smells," "things breaking." It all seemed very thin to him. The
cases that they'd been going over before he left to go to Skinner's
office had been a lot more compelling than this one, backed by a lot
more of the empirical evidence that Scully was so fond of.

So what were they doing driving down the nearly deserted, throw-back
Eastern Shore of Virginia, headed for a town that one only heard of
when there were hurricane alerts and its lighthouse was used as a
marker for a boundary of an area of warning?

Maybe she'd just taken the case to placate him, since he'd been
unable to get her interested in the others. Maybe it was something
about this woman she'd spoken to on the phone, something Scully'd
felt interested in in some way.

He glanced over at her again, and her head turned slightly toward
him, as though she were aware he was looking at her.

Maybe she was just resigned, and Cape Charles was close by enough
that it wouldn't be too much of a problem for them to investigate.
All the other cases would have required flights, miles and days away
from home.

He sighed, returned his eyes to the road.

She was hiding something from him. He didn't know what or why, but
he didn't like it one bit.

Out of the corner of his eye, he noted her pulling herself
completely awake with a start, saw her shift in her seat,
straightening her black suit and trench.

"Where are we?" she asked, looking out the window.

"We're in Virginia," he replied. "Just crossed over a little while
ago. Just another hour or so."

She made a vague, affirmative noise, still looking out the window.
He expected silence, some diversionary tactic on her part, expected
her to take out the scant notes or the map.

He did not expect what she did, however.

She reached down and unbuckled her seatbelt and then edged across
the seat, lifting the armrest and moving until their hips were
touching. Then she leaned her head against his shoulder, curled an
arm into his side, her palm flat on his chest near her face. He
lifted his arm to put around her, leaned his face down so he could
kiss her hairline.

"You okay?" he murmured, his eyes reluctantly on the road. He
changed lanes to get around a semi, moved easily back.

"Yes," she said softly after a moment, as though the answer had
required some thought. He waited for her to elaborate. She didn't.

"You want to tell me what you were dreaming just then?" he asked,
his voice just above a whisper and gentle.

She shook her head against him once, but her fingers curled on the
lapel of his trench, belying...something from her.

"Scully, not talking about them is only going to make them worse,"
he said, his voice without rebuke.

"Talking about them won't help, either."

"You don't know that," he replied softly. "It's been so long since
you did. Why don't you give it a try?"

He could feel her warring with herself, with her instinct to keep
things private, to not want to worry him. Finally she took in a deep
breath and began to speak, her voice tired.

"I was running," she said. "Through some woods."

He nodded. "Okay. Running from something or toward something?"

"Toward something," she replied. "I was trying to find you. I was
desperate to find you. I was afraid."

His arm tightened around her. "What else?"

"It was night," she said faintly. "The moon was out. All I could
hear were my own footsteps as I ran. I couldn't find you anywhere.
But I knew I had to."

"Why? Was something wrong with me?"

"Yes," she said, and her voice shook a little. "I don't know what,
but something was terribly wrong. I could still hear you screaming in
my mind as I was running."

He nodded, kissed her hairline again, settled his cheek against her
forehead. When he glanced down at her face, it was blank. No tears.

"Is this the first time you've had this dream?" he asked.

She shook her head. "I've had snatches of it now and then. Sometimes
while I'm awake. I had it last night...before..." She trailed off.

Before they'd made love, he finished in his mind. He'd known
something was bothering her, saw the crease of something in her
features as she straddled his hips, her hands squeezing his hard as
she moved. The way she's thrown her head back, her eyes clenched, her
lower lip trembling as she panted out breaths. How she'd held him so
tightly afterwards, her body covering his, her arms around his neck.

Their lovemaking had been strange lately. Tender, but somehow
urgent. As though she were trying to lose herself in it, to forget.

"I'm all right, Scully," he murmured. "I'm not going anywhere. I
know they scare you, but they're just dreams. They can't hurt you. Or
me."

She said nothing. Not even a nod. As though she didn't believe him.

He stroked her arm gently. Again that feeling that there was
something she wasn't telling him. It gnawed at him.

They entered the town of Nelsonia, with a turnoff there for Modest
Town and someplace called Assawoman Island. He wished things were
easier between them. There was a joke he would have liked to have
made.

Instead, he passed it by, kept driving, the smell of thick salt air
coming in the windows on the crisp breeze. They drove on in silence
for a long time but stayed folded together, her hand sliding over and
covering his heart.

 

***********

 

FBI HEADQUARTERS
WASHINGTON, D.C.
12:23 p.m.

 

"Just what in the HELL did you think you were doing?"

Skinner hissed this at Granger's back as Granger walked briskly down
the hallway toward the Violent Crimes Unit. He was in his best black
suit with a red tie and a shirt with enough starch in it to rub the
skin off his neck and wrists, and felt like he was on his way to
funeral. Were it not for the AD on his tail, he might have been able
to believe that was true.

"Goddamnit, Granger, I want some answers!" Skinner said as they
entered Granger's office, Granger putting some space between the two
of them by standing behind his desk. He pretended to shuffle through
some files there, not meeting Skinner's gaze.

"I'm just doing my job, sir," Granger said firmly. "Just like I've
always done."

"Bullshit like you've always done," Skinner spat. "Do you know what
you just *did*?"

Now Granger did look up at him, stilled. "Yes," he said softly. "I
know exactly what I just did."

And he did know. He knew precisely what he intended to do before he
even went into the press conference, the one for the serial murders
he was currently heading up the investigation of. He'd given the
media a little background on the killer, his most basic profile,
answered a few questions. Then, at the end, he'd looked straight into
the camera and said something that an investigator wasn't supposed to
say, and he knew it.

He said: "We're very close to finding you. And I'm watching you. I'm
going to find you. This is between you and me now."

"Granger, you made it *personal,*" Skinner was saying, his hands on
his hips. "You tried to intimidate the guy and now--"

"Yes," Granger interrupted. "I did try to intimidate him. He's going
to kill again. I'm certain of it. And this time maybe he'll want to
prove something to me that will make him leave something behind, be
careless. Or maybe he'll contact me directly in some way."

At Skinner's shake of the head, Granger continued quickly before
Skinner got a chance for a rebuttal.

"I know the risks," he said, meeting Skinner's dark eyes with his
own. "But I think the situation warrants it. And there are factors
involved that will make it unlikely that he would move against me
personally."

"Like what?" Skinner said. "The fact that you're black? You think
that's going to protect you *that* much?"

Granger shook his head. "No, I don't think it's going to completely
protect me, but it will help. And he's not really after men, anyway.
He's after women. The men are incidental."

Behind Skinner, a figure appeared in the doorway, entered the office
without knocking, Skinner turning to face the newcomer.

Granger straightened to find Deputy Director Jack Rosen suddenly in
front of him like that, and he swallowed.

This was it, he thought. If he was going to be pulled off the case,
it was going to happen right now.

"Mr. Granger," Rosen said, sinking his hands into his pockets
beneath his gray suit jacket. His tone was unreadable.

"Sir," Granger replied cautiously.

"You know why I'm here?" Rosen continued in his thick New York
accent, and Skinner turned back to face Granger, his expression grim
now, like a man standing behind the glass at an execution.

"Yes, sir, I know why you're here," Granger replied.

Rosen said nothing, turned and wandered to the corner of the office,
looking up at Granger's diploma from Johns Hopkins, the impressive
bookshelves filled with books on profiling and psychology standing in
rows on the shelves. He pulled one out, Turvey's book on profiling,
flipped it open, perusing the photos.

Granger waited. Skinner waited, looking down at the floor.

Rosen spoke precisely when he was ready, not when people expected
him to. They'd all grown accustomed to this from "The Godfather," as
the agents called him behind his back. Granger had to admit, though,
that this habit of Rosen's still made him a bit intimidated and
nervous.

"Tell me one thing, Mr. Granger," Rosen said at last, turning a bit
toward Granger, though he didn't look up from the book. "Can you
stand here and tell me you're 100% certain of what you're doing on
this case?"

Granger pulled in a breath, steeling himself. "Yes, sir," he said.

Rosen glanced up now, as though he were looking over invisible
glasses. "One hundred percent?"

Granger nodded, met Rosen's eyes. "Yes, sir," he said again.

Rosen looked back down at the book, closed it almost silently and
pushed it back onto the shelf but kept his hand there, again leaving
the room in a dense silence.

Someone walked by the office, intending to come in -- Lewis, one of
Granger's colleagues in Violent Crimes -- and when he saw Rosen he
recoiled as if there were a cobra in the room. Granger nodded to him
and Lewis raised a hand, mouthed "I'll come back," and disappeared.

Finally Rosen spoke again. "I'm going to trust you on this, Mr.
Granger," he said, and turned, returning his hands to his pockets and
rocking back on his heels slightly. "I'm taking a little bit of heat
already for you, but I can take some heat. I just don't want to end
up with trouble on my hands from you getting trouble on yours."

"I understand," Granger said simply. "I know what I'm doing, sir.
And I appreciate your trust." He looked at Skinner.

Rosen glanced at Skinner, as well, whose jaw was working as he met
his superior's eyes. He looked at Granger then, then finally nodded.

"I'm willing to give you some leash," Skinner said. "If the Deputy
Director is willing to agree."

Rosen nodded. "All right, Mr. Skinner. We'll sit out on the limb
together." Then Rosen went toward the door, pausing at the entrance.

"Let's see what pans out from this, Mr. Granger," he said.

Granger nodded. "Thank you, sir. I'll do my best work. I promise."

Rosen looked at him, his lips pursed. Then he drifted away, quiet as
smoke.

Skinner cleared his throat. "You know how closely you're going to be
watched on this thing from now on, don't you?" he asked. "And I'm not
talking about by me, though I'm going to have to keep on top of you
to cover my own ass at this point, since I've agreed with Rosen and
Rosen is trusting me."

The younger man nodded. "Yes, I know. I'll stay on top of things.
This guy is going to screw up this next time. I can feel it. We'll
catch him."

Skinner nodded. "I hope you're right," he said, and headed for the
door himself. He looked back. "And the next time you want to pull a
Mulder on me, try to warn me ahead of time, will you?"

Granger smirked, looked down. "I'll try," he said softly.

Skinner nodded again. "Be careful, Granger."

"I will be," Granger replied, and Skinner was out the door.

Now Granger sagged behind his desk, sitting down hard in his chair,
leather squeaking in protest.

He knew he was right with what he'd done. And he knew the risks to
it, as well. He just hoped his strategy would work before those risks
caught up with him.

"Shit," he mumbled to himself, looking down at the files. Then he
buckled down and got back to work.

 

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

OUTSIDE CAPE CHARLES, VIRGINIA
1:35 p.m.

The entrance to the town was a double-lane highway that cut a
straight line along a series of plowed-under fields and a few tiny
houses advertising crafts on one side, and a battered set of train
tracks on the other.

Then, Scully saw what appeared to be a lighthouse in the distance,
and she wondered how close they were to the shoreline of the
Chesapeake. She had the window cracked a bit and she could smell salt
air, but she had almost all the way down the Shore.

Then, when they got closer, she realized the lighthouse was simply
the town's water tower, painted to look like a lighthouse, with fake
windows and everything.

"Cute," Mulder commented, and drove on.

The slowed as they entered the town proper, crawling along at 25. A
retirement home for the poor, from the looks of it. A grocery store
called "Meat Land" that looked like the last place on earth anyone
would want to buy meat. Then a bump over the first intersection and
they were on Randolph Avenue, which Scully found on the map as they
passed the sign.

"God, will you look at this place?" Mulder said, and Scully glanced
up from the map. Every other house was condemned, empty and boarded
up. The ones that weren't were in serious states of disrepair, their
white asbestos siding faded to grey. A man in a wheelchair outside
one looked at them curiously as they passed.

"Oh, nice," Mulder continued in his assessment of view. He gestured
and Scully saw what he was looking at -- a house with a huge
satellite dish in the front yard just beneath a flag pole with two
flags on it -- the American and the Confederate.

The Confederate was on top.

"'Let's do the time warp agaaaain...'" Mulder sang, and Scully
smirked, returned her gaze to the map.

"Plum is the fifth cross street," she said. "I think we go right."

"All right," Mulder replied.

A few blocks and the houses began to change. Some nice Victorians,
newly renovated and done well. Expensive cars in the driveways and on
the street. Then a few more dilapidated houses and then a few more
renovated, the renovated older houses beginning to take a firmer hold
as they drove on.

And in front of many of the condemned-looking houses, "For Sale"
signs. Dozens of them.

"Looks like the place is being 'gentrified.'" Scully commented.

"And not a moment too soon, either," Mulder rejoined. "Some of these
places look like they're about to fall over."

"Someone's making money off them," she replied, looking down the
street to where it dead-ended into some dunes and a white sky. "I
wonder why?"

Mulder shrugged, took the turn onto Plum. This was a better street,
more brightly colored, fresh-painted houses. They followed the
numbers down to 125, stopped the car on the street across from it.

It was a massive house, two stories and an attic with dormers. It
was adorned with chocolate-brown cedar shingles, the windows a crisp
white. There was a porch with columns, a wrap-around with a wooden
swing suspended from the porch's roof. The door was white with an
ornate knocker. Nice car out front.

All and all, a lovely place. Scully smiled up at it as Mulder put
the car in park and they unfastened their seat belts.

She was standing outside the car, gathering up the file, she noticed
something moving in one of the upstairs dormer windows, just a faint
shift of movement. Then the light that was on up there went out.

"Looks like someone's home," she said, and Mulder looked at the
house and nodded, though she knew he hadn't seen the figure in the
attic.

At the front door, Mulder opened the screen door and rapped with the
knocker. It was a ram's head, curving down to a C-shape of brass.
Very old from the looks of it. It hung a little loose on its hinge.

The door opened almost immediately, a youngish woman standing there.
Her hair was long, and light brown, the color Scully's would be if it
weren't tinged so red. Her eyes were dark, the color of chocolate,
the pupils almost lost in their darkness. But her smile was kind, if
a bit nervous, and she looked at the two of them. She wore jeans and
a sweatshirt splattered with something white like pain, her face
dotted with it. As the woman opened the door, Scully expected to
smell paint; instead she smelled clay.

"Agents Mulder and Scully?" the woman asked, reaching out a hand.
"I'm Pam Dillard. Won't you come in?"

"Thank you," Scully replied, and Mulder held the screen door for
both of them as Dillard backed into the house.

They entered into a large foyer, a staircase with a monkey-tail
railing in front of them. A formal dining room was off to their left,
a spacious if darkened living room to the right. There was a sunroom
on the far side of the house, visible from the foyer, and a short
hallway that led to what must have been the kitchen just to the left
of the staircase.

"Come in," Dillard said, her smile a bit less nervous now. "I'll
make some coffee?" There was something almost like relief in
Dillard's voice, Scully noted, as they were ushered into the living
room, where a couch and three chairs sat facing off in the room.

"That would be fine, thank you," Mulder replied, and peeled out of
his trench coat. Dillard took it from him, looking up at him shyly.
Scully wanted to smile seeing Dillard's reaction to Mulder -- it
*had* been a very flattering article in Psychology Today. Scully felt
almost guilty for breaking the spell when she handed Dillard her own
coat.

"I'll be right back. Just make yourselves comfortable."

And so they did, both of them settling in the chairs that faced the
couch. Almost immediately, an orange and white long-haired cat came
simpering into the room, approaching in a few steps, then stopping,
its tail up and quivering. It took a few more steps toward Scully,
who reached a hand down toward it, rubbing her fingers together. The
cat came forward dutifully, shivered under Scully's hand.

She saw Mulder taking in the living room. One entire wall and a part
of another were taken up with a library wall, completely packed with
books. There was a sliding ladder that went along the longest wall,
running on a rail that would have been at about Mulder's eye level.
The Dillard's were clearly book lovers, that much was certain. A
fireplace was set into the wall closest to Scully, and smelled
faintly of embers from a recent fire.

The drapes were cracked open on the windows, but let in little
light. Overall, the room was cavernous and dim, the sconces set into
the wall -- shaped like candles -- giving the room little brightness.

Scully looked at Mulder in antique rocker, and he looked back. He
didn't like the feel of the room, either.

"Here you go," Dillard replied as she entered with a silver serving
set, the pot of coffee steaming from its spout. She set it down on
the coffee table in front of them, poured two cups and asked them how
they took their coffee. Once she'd prepared them to the agents'
satisfaction, she poured herself a cup, black, and sat on the couch,
staring into the cup, clearly uncomfortable suddenly now that her
hostess duties were finished.

"Why don't you begin by telling us when these events started?"
Mulder said, pulling a pad out of his inner jacket pocket and
clicking his pen. Scully sipped her coffee as she watched Dillard
smile faintly at the question.

Behind Dillard a fluttering, wings against glass. Two doves there,
clambering against the pane.

The sudden memory of barn owls, soft bodies thumping, talons
shrieking against the apartment's glass....

Scully shook the image off like a hand on her elbow. Dillard didn't
look back at the window at all, which was in itself significant.

"All my life," Dillard said at last.

Mulder didn't write that down, but instead looked up at her. Scully
watched the doves, a low cooing in their throats like minor notes.

"You've seen this apparition you described to Agent Scully your
whole life?" he clarified.

Dillard was struck out of her memory. "No, no...this week was the
first time I've seen him. I meant that I've had...problems...of one
kind or another all my life." She set her coffee cup down and stood,
going to the window. She tapped the glass to frighten the birds away,
then closed the drapes, retook her seat.

Scully exchanged a look with Mulder again.

"You mean you've had problems with paranormal experiences your whole
life," Mulder stated.

Dillard nodded. "To varying degrees," she replied, running her
finger over the rim of her coffee cup. "It's gotten worse as I've
gotten older. It started out small. Small things when I was young.
Things going missing. Things moving on their own. That sort of thing."

"And the birds," Mulder said, and Dillard looked down as though
caught.

"Yes. The birds, too," she said softly. "But now it's grown violent.
We keep having to move. I...read somewhere that hauntings were
associated with places, not with people, so we've kept going, kept
moving. But it follows us everywhere we go."

"It sounds like a poltergeist phenomena rather than a haunting
then," Mulder said, still scribbling in the pad.

"I don't know anything but the little bit that I've read," Dillard
replied. "I've tried...to pretend none of it is really happening, you
know? To just go on. And sometimes it doesn't happen at all. But then
it comes up, and we have to go."

"Have you noticed any pattern to the visitations by this...entity?"
Scully asked. The vision of the child was in her mind, the oily eyes
and that smile...a drowned smile.

The other woman shook her head. "No, no pattern. It just seems to
come and go and--"

The front door opened and a man walked in -- black hair, shorter
than Mulder. He was handsome, his face darkened with the shadow of
stubble. He looked very surprised to see Mulder and Scully sitting
there, and Scully noticed that Dillard was immediately nervous.

Pam stood. "Brian, these are Agents Mulder and Scully. They're with
the FBI." She turned to Mulder and Scully. "This is my husband,
Brian." She looked down as she said it.

"Has something happened?" Brian asked, concerned.

"No, no," Pam hurried to reply. "I...I called them."

The man's face turned to stone.

"Pam," Brian started, his voice pitched angry and dangerous. "What
are you doing?"

Mulder stood at the man's tone, Scully along with him. The cat
bolted off.

"I'm...getting us some help, Brian," Dillard said, and her voice
shook.

"We don't need any help," the man said, jamming his hands in his
pockets. "There's nothing wrong here. Nothing wrong at all. And we
certainly don't need the FBI."

"Agent Scully and I are assigned to a division of the Bureau that
investigates unexplained phenomena," Mulder said. "That's why we're
here. To look into these things your wife has told us about." Mulder
cocked his head. "What about that makes you so threatened, Mr.
Dillard?"

The other man regained a calmer tone of voice seeing the agents'
reaction to him. "I'm not threatened at all, Agent Mulder," he said,
and Scully could see the two men squaring off, sizing each other up.

There was a tense moment of silence. Then Dillard backed down first.

"I'm sorry, you all just surprised me," he said, though Scully --
and she assumed Mulder -- wasn't buying it.

"Why don't you take us on a tour of the house, Mrs. Dillard?" Mulder
said, still looking at Brian. "Let us know where it is you've seen
these things and where these things have happened to the two of you?"

Scully put her coffee cup down, reached over and took Mulder's,
setting them both down.

"All right," Pam said, coming around the coffee table. A new
fluttering of wings on the windows in the front of the house. This
time cardinals, blood red shot with black across their faces,
hovering against the glass.

Brian Dillard stepped into the living room and pulled the drapes
closed tight.

"I just came home for some lunch," he mumbled, looked down. "I'll
see to that while Pam gives you your...*tour.*"

He turned then and went down the hallway toward the kitchen.

"Follow me," Pam said, her voice still shaking a little. Scully felt
sorry for her. The tension between her and her husband was thick as
wool.

They climbed the stairs, the steps creaking as they went up.

"There's been something in almost every room in the house, and even
outside," Dillard was saying, regaining herself a bit. "The one where
I saw the little boy, was here in the bedroom..."

They turned left at the top of the stairs and entered the master
bedroom, painted a warm terra cotta. The bed was big as a boat, a
dresser on the facing wall. A frame for a stand-up mirror stood in
one corner, all the glass missing from it.

"This is where I saw him," Dillard said softly. "When Brian woke
up...the glass shattered."

"Are you sure you weren't dreaming, Mr. Dillard?" Scully asked, and
reached out to tentatively touch the frame. "The cat could have
knocked this over--"

"You can call me Pam," Dillard said. "And no, I wasn't dreaming. The
mirror wasn't knocked over. It just broke."

"All right, Pam," Scully said.

Yes, she knew Pam hadn't been dreaming. She knew that. So why was
she asking?

Mulder didn't seem to notice. It was, after all, exactly what he
expected her to say. It was what she expected herself to say. And she
needed that right now. Because the room was laid out exactly as it
has been in her dream. The same pictures on the walls. The bottles of
perfume on the dresser. Down to every detail.

She closed her eyes, her hand on the frame....

What was happening to her?

"Hey, you okay?" Mulder asked softly, touching her shoulder. Scully
opened her eyes and realized Dillard had left the room, was talking
about something that happened in the office down the long hallway.

"Yes," she replied hurriedly, straightening her suit. "Yes. I'll be
right there. Sorry."

Mulder eyed her for a beat, then nodded and followed Dillard out of
the room.

Scully stood there in the bedroom for a long moment, listening.

Just a room. Just a house. She smiled at herself, at her own
trepidation. Her own fanciful ideas. There was an explanation for
this, she asserted to herself. There had to be.

The doves were cooing on the window sill, a mournful song.

Then a sound. Faint. Like the room itself had taken in a lungful of
air. Scully looked around, toward the fireplace. Perhaps wind had
come down the flu...

Suddenly Scully's head snapped back, her body following with it.

Blood poured from her nose as she tumbled against the mirror, ended
up on her side as the mirror frame hit the wall with a crash.

"Scully!"

She heard footsteps, up the stairs, down the hallway. She blinked
past the pain in her face, her hand going to cup the blood from her
nose. Mulder was beside her on one knee instantly, his hand on the
back of her neck.

"Are you okay?" he asked quickly, wiping at the blood on her lips.
"What happened?"

Brian Dillard was in the doorway, Pam Dillard behind Mulder, her
hand covering her mouth.

"I'm so sorry," Pam said softly, and there were tears starting in
her eyes.

"Goddamnit, Pam," Brian Dillard said underneath his breath.

Scully nodded to Mulder. "I'm all right," she mumbled, though she
wondered if her nose were broken. It hurt that much. And her head was
light. Swimming.

Mulder's face was a portrait of anger, concern. He turned and looked
back at Pam.

"Could you recommend a motel where we can stay?" he asked, and
Scully saw him aim his glare at Brian Dillard. "It looks like we'll
be staying for a while."

Scully leaned her head back against Mulder's hand and turned her
face toward him, fighting as the world did its best to fade to black.

 

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

 

END OF CHAPTER 2. CONTINUED IN CHAPTER 3.

Disclaimer in Chapter 0. This is Chapter 3.

********

THE PEACOCK MOTEL
ROUTE 13
OUTSIDE CAPE CHARLES, VIRGINIA
OCTOBER 25
9:43 a.m.

 

Two pools of headlights across a swatch of brown grass, a creek
running just out of sight but bubbling into the darkness. The sound
of footsteps, and dragging over hard earth, both heavy sounds,
something passing through the light.

Then the view shifts, a bulb of moon in the night sky and
silhouetted against it, a man, dangling by his ankles, his body stark
against the brightness behind him. Someone's panting, breath gauzy
clouds in what must be cold air. On the ground again, the view is now
something shadowed, then peeking into the light, the ragged trail of
a person's hair, the face lost in blackness. A hand edging into the
headlights on the ground, glint of a silver ring and then it, too, is
gone.

A beach then, no waves, only the lapping of water against the thin
lip of shore. And out in the water, a woman, hair like that in the
headlights, water up to her shoulders, which are bare. Behind her,
off in the deeper water, a ship, its sails unfurling, many people on
the deck.

The woman begins sinking slowly, and her eyes are wide and blank,
the eyes of the dead beneath the silver lamplight of the autopsy bay.

The view shifts to the side. A man there. An old man in a
wheelchair. He holds his hand out, palm up.

"Come," he says. "Come with me."

 

Scully's eyes opened as she pulled in a long breath. She blinked
against the swelling beneath her eyes, turned her head toward the
motel room's window, saw rain spattering the pane, pulling down the
glass in the crack of the heavy bland drapes. She put her hand on her
forehead, and beneath it her head throbbed with the slow beating of
her heart.

She sat up in the bed slowly, cradling her face in her palm. She
could still smell the faint iron of blood in her nose and touched it
gingerly. It wasn't broken, the doctor had pronounced yesterday, and
she felt extremely lucky for that fact, though it felt like it was.
She knew when she looked in the mirror when she rose that her eyes
would be tinged with black.

For the hundredth time she puzzled over what had happened to her the
day before, what had struck her with such force. She could come up
with nothing to explain it, and it frustrated her.

Despite what she had seen in the nightmare all those nights ago, she
did not believe it. A coincidence, and nothing more, the child a
figment of her imagination. When any other explanation seeped into
her mind, she pushed it away hard.

She sighed, rubbed gently at her eyes, willing the ache in her head,
all of it, away.

She was still sitting there in the quiet when there was a soft knock
at the door, then the sound of a key being scraped into the lock.
Mulder, letting himself in with the extra key they'd gathered at the
desk when they'd checked in yesterday afternoon.

The door opened a crack, and the pattering of rain greeted her along
with his tentative, concerned face. His black trench was dotted with
darker spots and his hair shone slightly in the morning light from
the doorway. She saw him fumble the key into his pocket with one
hand, a cup of coffee and a bag in the other, then he picked up a
second cup from the window sill.

"Hey," he said, and came all the way in the room. "You're awake."

She nodded as he closed the door behind him, and she leaned over
slowly and flicked on the cheap lamp on the table beside the bed.

"How you feeling?" he asked, coming forward and settling on the edge
of the bed.

"I'm fine," she said automatically. "Just a little bit of a
headache."

He smiled faintly at her. "And some shiners starting that you'll be
proud of," he said, handed her a cup of coffee. She took it, the
coffee steaming out of the hole in the lid, but she couldn't smell it
very well.

He reached out and pushed a strand of her hair behind her ear
gently. "Did you sleep? No bad dreams?"

"No bad dreams," she said, and she was only partially lying. The
dream had disturbed her, but not terrified her like so many of them
did. It had a strange quality to it, like a memory more than a dream.

"That's good," he said, and looked down into his cup for a long
moment.

She waited. He was going to say something he was worried about how
she'd take. She could see it in his face.

"You know," he began finally. "I was thinking...maybe you should let
me go back to the house by myself this morning. Let you get some more
rest and get rid of that headache."

"You're not being overprotective again, are you?" she said, the
slight tease dulled by the tired crack in her voice.

"No, I'm being careful," he replied. "The doctor seemed to think you
needed a little time to shake this off, and I'm just agreeing with
her. Plus, if this entity has targeted you already, it might be
better for you not to go back into the house right away."

"Mulder..."

"Don't tell me you don't believe there was something there," he
interrupted, looking at her seriously. "Because I've got a mirror
that says otherwise."

She heaved out a sigh. "It's not that," she began. "Well, it *is*
that, yes..."

He shook his head. "Scully, whatever's in that house went after you
specifically. Not me. I think it might be good for you to stay away
for the day. I'll talk to Pam by myself while you rest up a little
more."

She took a sip of her coffee, composing herself. "Fine," she said.
"I won't go to the house; I'll go talk to Brian Dillard this
afternoon instead. I think it might be better to have them separate
while we talk to them. He intimidates her so much about this, and
besides, you and he aren't exactly off to a good start."

He smiled. "Was it that noticeable?" he asked innocently.

Her lips curled. "Yes, it was," she replied. "You do sometimes have
a...unique...way with people."

Mulder grew serious. "He's trying to bury this," he said. "Pretend
like it's not happening, when all you have to do is take one look at
his wife and you can tell something's going on."

"Something's going on, yes." Scully looked toward the window. "The
question is what."

"No," Mulder said softly. "The question is why."

She wasn't up for arguing with him, not when he was clearly already
so certain about what they'd found. The attack on her was his proof,
she knew.

It wasn't for her, though. She wouldn't let it be. Because to do so
would mean having to accept other things, things for which she could,
as yet, find no proof.

And perhaps never would.

"I'll let you rest," he said in response to her silence, and he rose
with his coffee, setting the bag on the nightstand on that side of
the bed. "I brought you a bagel and some cream cheese from the
grocery store up the road."

"Thank you," she said, accepting the careful kiss he leaned down to
offer. Just a touch.

"I'll meet you back here later," he said. "Call me when you get
finished."

"I will."

And then he was out the door, closing it gently behind him.

She sat looking at the door for a long moment, listening to the
rain. Then, setting her coffee down on the night table beneath the
lamp, she lay back down and willed herself toward a light, dreamless
sleep.

 

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

 

125 PLUM STREET
CAPE CHARLES, VIRGINIA
10:16 a.m.

 

The ram's head knocker squeaked on its hinge as Mulder dropped it,
sending a hollow rapping into the house. He waited for a long moment
then knocked again, stepping to the side to peer in the windows on
either side of the door. The porch with its white columns protected
him from the rain, which had begun to fall harder. When he breathed
out a sigh, he could see his breath in the cool wet air.

There was no one in the house he could see, though Dillard had said
she would be home all day. He grew concerned, a gnawing in his chest,
that something might have happened to her.

It was this feeling that sent him down the front steps, his speckled
blue tie flapping over his shoulder in a sudden gust of wind. There
was a small stone path leading around the side of the immense house,
and he took it. Old brick greeted him as he followed it around to the
gate of a privacy fence.

From inside it, he could hear a low humming over the rain. He pulled
the tired gate open and let himself into the yard.

He could see Pam Dillard from where he stood, bent over a potter's
wheel inside a small outbuilding, her long hair up in a ponytail, the
same orange and white cat just inside the doorway and out of the way
of the weather.

"Mrs. Dillard?" he called, and she looked up from the bowl she was
making, startled, her eyes wide as she looked at him. He raised a
hand in a friendly, calming gesture, forced a small smile. She put a
hand on the center of her chest and breathed out, laughing at
herself, then gestured him forward.

"It's Pam," she said as Mulder stood in the doorway to the studio.
"Good morning, Agent Mulder. Come on in so you don't get any wetter."

He complied, stepping over the cat, who did not stir from the ball
it had folded itself into, its chin on its sizable tail.

"Good morning, Pam," Mulder replied, going to the side of the room
where a counter reached up to his waist. It went all the way around
the walls of the building, a wide space covered with pieces in
various stages of completion in what he thought were lovely, muted
colors of teal and blue and yellow. He hadn't seen the building
yesterday, the tour of the house cut short by the assault on Scully.

"These are really beautiful," he said in an admiring tone, reaching
down and lifting an elegant, thin-lipped teacup from the counter. It
was forest green with cracks in the glaze.

"Thank you," Pam said, and he looked up at her just in time to see
her face go down, a flush rising on her cheeks. She immediately
busied herself with the bowl, pressing the pedal down on the wheel to
send it spinning again, wetting her hands before she took the edge
between her fingers and drew them out from the center, pulling the
bowl up and out with them.

He smiled faintly at her reaction. So shy.

"Surely that's not the first time someone's complimented you on
these," he said, his voice teasing gently.

"No...it's not," she replied quietly, and stole a glance up at him,
then returned her gaze to her work. "But it never gets easier for me
to hear."

Mulder set the cup back down in the row it was in, a perfect service
for four with a teapot in the center, all the same rich green.

"You should have more confidence in these," he said. "I mean, I
don't profess to know anything about pottery, but I know what I've
seen people buy."

He leaned back against the counter and crossed his arms across his
chest, watched her shake her head. It was cold in the studio. There
was only a space heater in the room, and that aimed directly at Pam's
feet. A chuckle escaped her, low and clearly self-deprecating.

"What's funny?" He cocked his head, curious.

She shook her head again. "Nothing. I'm sorry. It's just that if I
had a dollar for every time someone has told me I should have more
confidence in something, Brian would never have to work again."

Mulder nodded, and Pam glanced up at him. He waited a few seconds,
thinking. He was in delicate territory and didn't intend to be, not
this soon. But since he was already there...

He shifted on the counter, reached over and ran his finger along the
rim of a bowl. It was thin as paper and smooth as varnish. "I guess
growing up the way you did would make you doubt yourself," he
ventured, his voice gentle.

"Growing up how?" she said, her voice sounding young, far away. He
was encouraged that she hadn't struck back defensively, closed down.
He could, in fact, feel her opening slightly with her soft tone and
downcast eyes.

The bowl continued to form in her hands, ridged but smoothing out, a
perfect white.

"Why don't you tell me," he began quietly, "about your parents and
how they reacted to your abilities?"

He waited into the quiet that followed, the low hum of the wheel.
The rain seemed to pick up, or perhaps it was just the wind. A few
wet leaves fell into the doorway. He watched the cat open its eyes at
the sound and close them again.

"It was mostly just my mother and me," she said. "My father was a
engineer. You know, a real one. For trains. He was away a lot."

Mulder nodded. "Where was home?"

"Surry. Off the James River here in Virginia."

Mulder placed it in his mind. "That's pretty rural, isn't it?" he
asked.

"Yes," Pam replied. "It was a farm. Soybeans. Some horses and milk
cows."

Mulder smiled again. "Sounds like a nice place for a little girl."

She nodded. "It was nice," she said faintly, hiding a curl in her
lips at what he supposed she must have taken as a compliment. Then
she glanced at him again, the color high on her cheeks again.

"That article I read on you," she began, and trailed off.

"What about it?" he asked patiently, wondering at the change of
subject, considering she'd seemed so pleased with his response to it.

She shook her head. "Nothing...it's nothing," she replied, and he
saw her swallow. "I just...you're like I thought you would be, that's
all."

That same shy tone. Getting more so.

He paused hearing it, recognizing its source now, wondering why he
hadn't sooner.

Attraction. Or something close kin to it.

Feeling guilty, he removed his hand from the bowl, returned to
crossing his arms over his chest.

"That's good," he said, and then cleared his throat. "Tell me...your
mother. She didn't deal well with the things that happened to you,
did she?"

Pam hesitated, wet her hands again. "No, she didn't," she said after
a beat. "It's all been a great source of shame for most of my life.
Of course, how would you feel if you had a daughter who had a hard
time playing outside? Who carried around these all the time for
everyone to see?"

She held her arms out then, fists side by side, her palms toward the
ceiling, her forearms bare from where the sleeves of her sweatshirt
were pushed up. He looked closely at them, saw the marks. A criss-
cross of faint scars torn into her arms.

"Where did those come from?" he asked, and she met his eyes as she
spoke the single word in response.

"Crows."

It was his turn to swallow.

"Did it happen all the time, Pam?" he asked. The wind pushed against
the walls, creaking them.

She put her arms down, picked up a tiny sponge from a bowl on the
stool beside her, a natural sponge from the sea the size of a silver
dollar. She squeezed it out, began drawing it up from the center of
the bowl toward the edges, smoothing the surface of ridges as she
went, but faintly roughening it. Mulder watched her work, waited
again, not pressing. Being careful.

She looked up at him then as she lifted the sponge away, wet it,
squeezed it out. There was something in her eyes for an instant. A
need. A plea. Mulder felt it like a hand touching him.

Help me, it said. *You* help me.

She turned her eyes down, breathed out a long breath. Her face set,
hardening.

"Not all the time," she said, and something had shifted in her voice
now. She pushed him back with it.

Beside her, a wire coiled by the bowl, a thick wire between two
wooden pegs. She picked it up by the pegs -- Mulder recognized them
as little handles now -- and she spread the wire in front of her, her
foot coming off the pedal. Leaning a knee against the wheel to halt
it, she moved forward, put the wire at the base of the bowl.

She drew it toward her, neatly severing the bowl from the wheel, the
bottom perfect and flat.

"Do you want some coffee, Agent Mulder?" she said, not looking at
him, and pushed herself to her feet, the bowl held on her palm. She
moved to the counter behind her to a collection of unfired work, all
covered with plastic. She lifted the tucked covering, set the bowl
down, retucked it.

He didn't know what to say. He was trying to figure out where he'd
misstepped, or if he had at all.

When she turned to him, she could only glance at his face before her
hands knotted nervously in front of her.

"I'll make some coffee," she said, and hurried past him.

He could do nothing but follow her toward the dark shape of the
house, which shone with the now-misting rain.

 

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

 

FBI HEADQUARTERS
WASHINGTON, D.C.
12:36 p.m.

 

The cars pushed themselves along the streets below Granger as he
watched from the window on the third floor of the Hoover Building,
the veggie burger and extra large order of fries he'd fetched from
the Hard Rock Cafe around the corner all but forgotten on the desk
behind him.

He could hear people passing in the hallway, though he had closed
the door when he'd come back in. He'd spent the whole morning
glancing up as people passed and seeing most of their eyes on him,
though they'd looked away hurriedly as he met their gazes.

He was starting to understand what Mulder must feel like at the FBI.
He was getting a little taste of that kind of attention, and he asked
himself, for the hundredth time that morning, how Mulder dealt with
this all the time.

Even Boland, his supervisor in Violent Crimes, was giving him a wide
berth since his announcement at the press conference. His challenge
to the killer that it was between him and Granger now. Since Granger
had made it personal.

Sighing, he reached up and took off his glasses and began cleaning
them on his tie. His mind drifted to Robin, how quiet she'd been as
they'd cooked dinner the night before, her back to him at the stove
as he'd set the table.

"Talk to me," he implored finally, standing beside the cherry table,
his hands on his jeans-clad hips. She hadn't turned as she'd replied.

"What do you want me to say, Paul?" Her voice was still soft and
rich, but tinged with tiredness and something else. He barely
recognized it as anger -- he hadn't seen that from her yet. Not like
this.

"I don't know," he'd pressed, reaching for the bottle of wine she'd
set on the counter top. "Just say something. Anything. I've been
getting this from almost everyone today and I can't take it from you,
too."

She tapped the wooden spoon on the edge of the pot a little too
hard, set it across the width of the pot. Then she did turn to him.

"People are treating you this way because what you did today was
reckless," she said, her chocolate eyes almost black in the dim light
of the stove light. His whole apartment was dimly lit, one lamp on in
the living room, candles on the table. It was as though he were
hiding in the darkness, even from her.

"Robin, I--"

"I know what you're going to say," she said, holding up her hand to
halt him. "You thought it was a necessary risk to take."

"Yes," he'd replied, pleased she understood at least that. He
reached for the corkscrew, cut the foil top from the bottle of red.

She leaned back against the counter, pushed up the sleeves of the
sweater she wore as though she were preparing for a fight. He was
almost relieved when she crossed her arms over her chest.

He sunk the corkscrew into the soft cork, turned it, the bottle
squeaking in protest, then jerked it with a "pop," the sound
satisfying to his frustration.

"Paul, how do you expect me to react when you willingly put yourself
in danger like this?" she said, and there was something pleading in
her eyes, her voice, now. "What am I supposed to do? Be glad that
you're willing to do that for the sake of a case? Be glad that you'll
pick solving a *case* over yourself?"

"This is important, Robin," he'd rushed to reply, his jaw setting.
"You don't understand how important it is--"

"I know it's important," she replied, her eyes glinting with anger.
"I do work at the FBI, in case you'd forgotten. I may just work in
DNA Testing, but I know a few things."

He relented, cringed. He set the bottle and the opener down on the
table.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean for it to sound like that."

"I know you want to impress everyone on the VCU," she said, waving
her hand at him, her voice rising. "Paul Granger the wunderkind from
the CIA--"

"Now wait just a minute," he'd interrupted, his hands going to his
hips again. It was his turn to be angry now. "I'm trying to catch a
person who's killing innocent people and you make this sound like
some kind of notch I'm trying to put in my bedpost. Is that what you
think, really?"

She'd heaved out a breath then, looked down. "No, I don't think
that's really the reason. I know your first thoughts are for saving
people's lives. But you're lying to yourself and to me if you say
that's not part of it."

He'd started to protest, but then he couldn't bring his voice to do
it. He knew, if he was truly honest with himself, that it was part of
it. This was his first case as Chief Profiler. He wanted to solve it.
Fast. Clean. With as few crime scenes as possible to use as evidence.
To preserve lives, yes, but...

God, he'd thought, watching her pull her long braids into a ponytail
at the base of her neck, tying one braid around the base of it to
hold her hair back from her face.

Was he really that desperate to prove himself?

She nodded at his silence, looking up at him with sad eyes. "Yes,"
she said softly, finishing the knot. "We're on the same page now, I
see."

He shook his head, and it was his turn to look down. "I'm sorry," he
said.

She'd come forward then, stood in front of him. Then she reached
down and took his hands from his hips, holding them in front of her.
He'd met her gaze again, though he found it hard to do.

"You don't have to say you're sorry to me," she said. "I just want
you to be clear about what you're doing and why you're doing it. I
don't want you to do something for the wrong reasons. I don't want
you in harm's way at all, but especially not for a reason that you'll
come to regret."

He nodded. "I still think I did the right thing," he said. "Even if
some of the reasoning may have been off."

She nodded in return, let go of his hands, curled her arms around
his neck. "I know you do. I trust that you believe that. And I'll
believe that you did the right thing, too. But none of that stops it
from scaring me."

"I know it scares you." He put his arms around her waist, pulled her
against him, struck with how lovely she looked in the candlelight. "I
know. But it's all right. It's going to be all right."

She looked at him and he could see her trying to push it away. He
didn't know what else to say to make her believe.

So what he couldn't say, he showed her, and dinner went cold.

There in the office, he replaced his glasses, sunlight glinting in
the window.

There was a knock at the door, and he turned toward it.

"Come," he called, and the door opened. Walter Skinner stood there,
a file in his hand. Granger didn't like the expression in his face at
all.

"What is it, sir?" Granger asked, going behind his desk again.
Skinner came forward to the other side.

"I thought you should see this right away," he said, and proffered
the file. "This just came by courier from West Virginia."

Granger looked at the file, then at Skinner's grim face.

"Another murder." Granger said it as a statement.

Skinner nodded. "And there's something else," he said quietly,
nodded toward the file.

Granger's gaze hung on his face for a few more seconds as he
wondered what could have rattled his superior, made him this
concerned. Finally he looked down at the folder, opened it.

Crime scene photos, as he'd expected. One of a woman, sprawled on
the grass, her hands covering her breasts in a grotesque erotic pose.
A far-away shot of the crime scene, a man hanging from a tree, his
arms stretched down toward the woman below him. Then a close up of
the man, a telephoto lens.

Naked, as before. But something different, yes. Granger swallowed.

The man's face was painted black.

 

***********

END OF CHAPTER 3. CONTINUED IN CHAPTER 4.

Disclaimer in Chapter 0. This is Chapter 4.

 

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

RANDOLPH AVENUE
CAPE CHARLES, VIRGINIA
3:35 p.m.

 

"...And this one here, well, I'll admit to you now that it don't
look like much, but I betcha if you was to put eighty to a hundred
thousand into it, you could turn it around for four or five times
what you paid for it once the golf course opens up..."

Scully sighed. "Yes, I'm sure it would be lovely, Mr. Sanderson,"
she said patiently. "But you don't seem to understand. I'm not here
to buy real estate. I just need you to take me to the hardware store."

They were headed west down the street in the battered old checkered
cab, the open expanse of the Chesapeake just beyond the gazebo at the
edge of the dunes. Scully looked at the house in question, a sign out
front for "Pelican Watch Realty." There was one in front of every
house the driver had taken her by.

She looked at Sanderson's reflection in the rear view mirror, his
eye on her.

"So how long have you owned Pelican Watch Realty, Mr. Sanderson?"
she asked blithely.

"Now how did you know that?" he asked, and his smile was a bit
embarrassed now .

Scully leaned back in the seat, her head throbbing. "Just a wild
guess," she replied, the headache making her slightly peevish. "I
called for a cab ride, sir. That's all I wanted. And I think you've
taken me far out of my way already."

"The cab is the other business," Sanderson replied smoothly. "Though
I don't get much call for that around here. Most folks walk from
where they're coming from or drive in themselves."

It was true, she knew. There had been one listing for taxi service
in Cape Charles, and the phone, when it had been picked up, was at
Sanderson's own house.

She looked around the cab, an old fashioned New York checkered with
no meter, the back seat bouncy as her grandmother's bed. Sanderson,
in his mid-fifties with a long beard and a fisherman's cap on what
she was sure was a bald head, hummed along with the bluegrass on the
scratchy-sounding radio.

They rounded the curve onto the long road that fronted the beach,
getting further from where she knew the heart of town was. "I thank
you for the 'tour,' Mr. Sanderson, but I really --"

"Oh don't you worry, ma'am, there's no charge for the look around.
It's a flat buck from anywhere to anywhere in the Cape." She saw him
smile again.

Scully held her frustration barely in check. "That's not the point,"
she began.

"You going to talk to that Brian Dillard," Sanderson said, and that
stopped her.

"I have business with Mr. Dillard, yes," she said cryptically.

"Something about his wife, I reckon," Sanderson continued, glancing
back again in the mirror with his hazel eyes.

Scully returned his gaze. "I'm not sure that's your concern, Mr.
Sanderson," she said.

"Strange things happen around his wife," he ventured, looking out
the window. He flicked on the wipers as the rain, which had been
falling off and on all morning, kicked up again.

"Strange things?" she repeated, pretending nonchalance.

"Yep," Sanderson said. "Not so much here, but I've got some friends
up in Accomac who knew them up that ways, Mr. and Mrs. Dillard, and
he told me a thing or two."

Scully waited, knowing he would continue without her prompting. He
did.

"You know one morning every single window in their house was broke?
Just like that. One minute fine and then the next, not a pane of
glass left. And I'm sure you know about the birds. Sometimes other
animals, too. Word has it that her neighbor's horses wouldn't go
nowhere around the fence on the side of the property near their
house. Spooked 'em."

He took a turn onto Tazewell, heading back toward the center of town.

"And she would turn up now and again all banged up. People thought
it was him for the longest time, but it weren't. Things finally got
so bad they picked up and moved down here, him moving his hardware
store down onto Mason."

"The one I'm trying to get to," Scully added, but she said it with
only a hint of annoyance.

Sanderson smiled that same easy smile. "The very one," he said. They
turned onto Mason. "Mrs. Dillard makes them pots and cups and such. A
little too arty for me, but the misses likes them. I just like a
*dish* myself." He held up a Redskin's travel mug for emphasis, took
a sip. He was silent for a beat.

"What do people think of the Dillards here, Mr. Sanderson?" Scully
asked into the quiet.

"When they do at all?" Sanderson replied, glancing over his
shoulder. "Well...the Dillards, they ain't God-fearing people, and
most people here are. Taking that into account, people ain't
surprised that things might get to following those two around, if you
take my drift."

Scully looked out the window into the rain, filing this away with
everything else Sanderson had said.

Finally the sign for Dillard's Hardware appeared, a large store
right there on the main street. Sanderson pulled the cab up to the
curb, stopped.

"There you go," he said cheerfully, throwing the car into park.
"That's a dollar."

Scully looted around in her purse, brought out three crisp one
dollar bills. "Thank you, Mr. Sanderson," she said. "Despite the fact
that I didn't want it, the drive was nice." Now she did smile faintly
at him as he turned to look at her.

"You just see to that face of yours, ma'am," he said, nodding
towards her eyes, which she'd almost forgotten were slightly black.
She touched them self-consciously as she climbed out of the cab.

"And if you think about any of them houses we looked at," Sanderson
called, "if you and that feller you're with change your minds, you've
got my number." And he winked.

Scully smiled again. "I'll do that," she said, and closed the door.
The cab pulled away into the pouring rain.

The sidewalk outside the store was lined with wheelbarrows, rakes,
bags of mulch piled five-high beneath the shop windows, all beneath a
dripping green awning. There was also a row of ten or so bicycles,
all different colors and dotted with rain, a sign on the nearest one
that said: "For Rent, Day or Hour."

An old-fashioned bell jingled as Scully entered the store, the place
smelling faintly of sawdust and fertilizer. It was a fairly large
store, but it looked smaller because it was so filled with things,
the aisle she went down toward the desk in the center lined on one
side with drawers of nails, hammers hanging by their necks, plungers,
wrenches, all crowded in a cluster of wood and metal.

On her left, the store opened up to a full selection of fishing
tackle and hunting supplies, including a wall of shotguns and deer
rifles. A rack of camoflauge coveralls was closest to the counter,
which was edged on one side with a clear case that contained a small
selection of handguns.

Brian Dillard, dressed in rust-colored cords and white dress shirt,
was helping a customer, his back turned toward her. When he finished
the sale and turned to her, he nearly jumped with surprise, his eyes
widening.

"Agent Scully," he said, glancing around to see if anyone else was
nearby. The closest people were two aisles away, fingering through a
drawer of washers.

"Hello, Mr. Dillard," Scully said softly, in deference to his
anxiety over being overheard.

"I'm sorry, but...what are you doing here?" It didn't come out too
unkindly, which surprised her, considering his reaction.

"I thought we might have a chance to talk," Scully replied. "Is
there somewhere where we could go for a few moments?"

Dillard looked around again, nodded toward the far wall. "My office
is back that way," he said hurriedly, and looked around, catching a
man's eye who was helping a woman several rows to the right with
paint swatches.

"Pete, can you cover up here for me?" he called.

"Sure thing," the man replied, looking at Scully pointedly, then
back at Dillard.

Noting this, Dillard came around the counter now, ushering Scully
forward. He followed her down the aisle toward a door that said
"Private" on it. He pushed the door opened and Scully entered the
small office with him close behind. He shut the door, and did not
offer to take her coat.

"Won't you sit down?" he said, and she could hear a tautness in his
voice. He was a far cry from the man she'd seen at the house the day
before. He seemed terribly on edge, not the haughty man he'd been
with his wife the day before.

"I'm sorry if I've made you uncomfortable, Mr. Dillard," she said,
stripping out of her wet trench. Her black turtleneck was damp from
the misty air she'd stood in while waiting for the cab at the motel.

"It's fine," he said, his tone indicating it was anything but. He
went behind his desk, putting the large wooden hulk of it between
them. "It's just...well, people talk here. About everything. And a
woman coming in to talk to me with two black eyes is just the kind of
thing that will get around, and in the worst possible way."

"I could show my badge next time if you think that would help keep
the talk down," she replied mildly, and sat in the chair across from
him, also without being asked.

His smile was stiff, but then she imagined most of his were. "No,"
he said, and sat down himself. "Somehow I don't think that would
help." He picked up a pen from on top of the battered blotter on the
desk, pushed at a paperclip there as he glanced up at her. "How are
you feeling, anyway? Are you all right?"

Scully nodded. "Yes," she said formally. "I'm fine."

"I'm sorry that happened to you," he said. "I know I wasn't exactly
friendly yesterday about it, but I am sorry about your face."

"No, you weren't exactly friendly yesterday," Scully replied. "You
were quite hard on your wife, in fact, for calling Agent Mulder and
me in on this case. And you seemed to blame her for what happened to
me, as well."

Now Dillard looked down, his dark brow furrowing. "I don't mean to
come across that way. I love my wife, Agent Scully. Very much."

The disclosure, said so openly, raised her own brows. "I see. But
you *do* blame her for the things that are happening to the two of
you."

He said nothing, but rather kept pushing the paperclip around the
blotter, his eyes down.

"How long have these things been going on, Mr. Dillard?" she asked,
trying a different tact.

"They're nothing," he said quietly. "There's nothing to any of this.
You're wasting your time."

Scully looked at him with sympathy. "I know how much you want to
believe that. But I'm afraid there's already evidence against what
you're saying."

"How can you even be here?" he blurted, tossing the pen down. "I
mean, the *FBI*? Why aren't you people investigating legitimate cases
or something?"

Scully drew in a breath, refusing to take the bait. "For the X-Files
Division, what's happening to you and your wife *is* a legitimate
case. Agent Mulder and I investigate unexplained phenomena, and that
is clearly what is going on here."

"It's just a bunch of coincidences," he said. "That's all it is."

"Mr. Dillard, I am as dubious of these phenomena as you are," she
said. "And you may be right. These may just be a strange series of
totally explainable, random events. And if that's the case, Agent
Mulder and I will be on our way and you can go back to your life."

"That's all I want," Dillard replied firmly, fingering the pen again.

"Really, Mr. Dillard?" Scully said, leaning forward slightly. "Let's
look at that life. How many times do you want to have to move? How
much destruction can you and your wife continue to handle? How many
more people around you need to be hurt because of whatever this is
that's following you?"

When he said nothing, she tilted her head, studying him. "Don't you
even want to know what these things are and why they're happening?"

He looked at her. "No, I don't," he said. "I don't care. I just want
them to stop. I want all of this to stop. I just want my wife and my
home and my work."

Scully leaned back. "Well, then perhaps you could look at Agent
Mulder and my involvement as a way for you to get those things back,
instead of seeing us as a something that's going to take those things
away from you. We're here for answers. We're here to help you solve
this."

Dillard looked at her, and she could see something like hope glimmer
in his eyes for an instant, there beneath his anger at his lack of
control, his defensiveness.

He looked at her for a long moment. She nodded to him, reassuring
him with her eyes.

"All right," he said, sighing. "Tell me what you want."

 

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

 

STINGRAY'S RESTAURANT
OUTSIDE CAPE CHARLES, VIRGINIA
6:32 p.m.

 

Scully sat at the mismatched table in the dining area of the
restaurant, Mulder off behind her at the counter, waiting for their
food. It was a fairly shabby place, part travel store and part Exxon
station, but the motel manager had told them it served the best
seafood on the Eastern Shore.

It should, she thought, for $18 a plate.

She looked up at the wall beside her, glancing at the yellowed
newspaper clippings of the restaurant's opening in the 1950s, the
cheap paintings of lighthouses, a collection of sailor's knots set
behind a glass. And in the center of the wall, a taxidermist's
stingray with a wingspan of five feet, its surface marred with age,
its long tail whipped out against the wall. It gleamed like plastic
in the flourescent lights.

She was in her jeans now, a brown turtleneck sweater, and she
blended in well with the crowd in the restaurant. As the manager had
warned them, the place was packed, a long line curling from the
counter out into the main area of the store that sold nautical
trinkets and t-shirts. Scully had spotted the table as they were
standing there, Mulder shifting on his feet impatiently.

"Go ahead and sit down," he'd said, touching the small of her back
and urging her toward it. "I know your head has to still be hurting."

"Crab Imperial," she'd said, and taken the seat at the small table,
which was covered with a plastic red-checkered table cloth.

She looked back, saw Mulder leaned against the counter, his arms
splayed wide, talking amiably to one of the people working there.
Then her eyes wandered over the crowd eating around them again.
Mostly locals, from the looks of them. A lot of baseball caps and a
lot of denim. Cigarette smoke hung in the air, and she was reminded
once again that they were visiting a tobacco-producing state.

Across the aisle, she caught sight of two men mumbling to one
another and looking at her. One was wiry, a thin moustache, a denim
jacket. The other was an older man with a few day's stubble, chewing
on a pipe. He had a baseball cap on with an American flag on the
front of it, suspenders stretched wide over his gut, which was
encased in blue checked flannel.

"Can I help you?" she asked, her eyebrow arching. It made the bridge
of her nose ache to do it.

The heavier man pointed a sausage finger at Mulder. "He do that to
your face?" the man grunted, and he sounded angry already.

Scully forced a smile now, relaxing a touch. "No, no," she said. "He
didn't. Just an accident."

"It's a good damn thing," the thin man said in his nasally voice,
then picked up a coffee mug and took a sip.

"Why's that?"

"Because I had a rubber hose with his name on it out in the trunk,"
the man with the pipe replied. "Pretty little thing like you..." He
trailed off.

Ah, the South, Scully thought, feeling her cheeks redden slightly.
Where chivalry, vigilantism and sexism weren't dead.

Thank God Mulder had his gun tucked beneath the back of his leather
jacket, she thought, and turned away from the men just as Mulder came
forward with the tray piled with food.

"Here we go," he said, taking the chair opposite her and settling in.

He began moving the plates off the tray, setting the worn heavy
dishes in front of them both. Scully was amazed at the sheer amount
of food. The Crab Imperial overflowed from the shell, a baked potato
dripping with golden butter, two side dishes of green beans and corn.
Mulder had gotten a huge filet of flounder nearly the size of the
plate, deep fried, surrounded by not one but two pieces of corn on
the cob and a bowl of applesauce. Two tall glasses of iced tea with
thick wedges of lemon in them completed the meal.

"Wow," she said, wondering if she were up for the task of eating all
this.

"Yeah, I know," Mulder replied, unrolling his silverware from the
paper napkin. "Looks good, though, doesn't it?"

"It does," she agreed. "But I may not have to eat the rest of the
time we're here."

"Are you kidding?" Mulder said. "Wait until you hear about their
breakfast."

He looked to his left, where the two men were still staring at him,
as though they weren't convinced by what Scully had said.

"Hi," he said, smiled broadly, then returned his attention to his
meal.

Scully watched the two men get up and leave, and stifled a smile as
she began to eat.

"Tell me what you found out from Brian Dillard today," Mulder said,
cutting into his fish. "Did you get anything out of him at all?"

They hadn't had much chance to talk. The pills she took for her
headache knocked her out, and she'd been napping most of the day.
Mulder had taken the opportunity to scout around the area some,
having finished with Pam Dillard around one while Scully was still
asleep from her morning rest.

"I got a few things out of him," Scully replied. "He told me about
how he and Pam met, that sort of thing."

"When did they meet?"

"They met in Richmond, apparently. They were both in college there --
she was studying Fine Arts and he was in English. They met their
junior years and started dating, then got married after graduation
and moved to Chincoteague. They're both from pretty rural areas --
he's from up in the mountains around Blacksburg -- so they wanted to
get away from the city as fast as they could."

Mulder took a bite of his corn on the cob, and Scully smiled as she
looked at him. You really had to be in love with someone to be able
to enjoy watching them eat corn on the cob, she thought, then
continued.

"He always wanted to have his own store, so he started in the family
business. His father owned a hardware store in Blacksburg and he just
started another. He's managed to open a store everywhere they've
moved, which has been often from the sounds of things. There's family
money on his side, I gathered, though he made it sound like not quite
as much as there used to be. I take it the constant moving has really
taken a bite out of what they have."

"Yeah, that's the impression I got, too," Mulder said, and wiped his
mouth.

"They leave when they get too much of a reputation to stay," Scully
said softly. '"He gets to the point that people won't come into his
store, so they pick up and go."

Mulder nodded. "What did he say about the strange things that have
happened to them?"

Scully took a bite of her food before she continued. "They've always
happened to some extent. He's never been able to find a pattern to
them that he can see. He tries to chalk a lot of it up to
coincidence, strange chance. But I think he's even getting to the
point where he can't explain it away. It's gotten progressively more
destructive over the years. It's only been the past year or so that
they've been injured themselves. Before it was much more innocuous.
Things being moved or missing. And, of course, the problems with
animals."

She told him what the cabbie had said about the windows in the house
in Accomac. Mulder simply nodded, not seeming surprised.

"Small town," he marveled. "When the cab driver can tell a total
stranger everyone's business." He paused, considering. "It's a wonder
Dillard's stayed with her, considering his reaction yesterday."

"He loves her a lot," Scully replied, looking at him seriously. "I
just get the impression that he's tried to ignore all this for all
these years, found ways to deal with it *because* he loves her so
much. I think he just wants a normal life so much, and these things
have gotten so out of control and are threatening that so directly
now, that it's making him panic, and that's coming out as this anger
we saw yesterday."

"Yes, she is desperately trying to carry on a 'typical' life despite
it, too," Mulder said. "She's deeply ashamed of all of this, blames
herself for all of it."

"Well, it *does* center around her," Scully said, picking at her
corn. "At least that's what Dillard told me."

Mulder looked down at his plate. "Some of it does, yes. I mean, yes,
I think she's the center of it. But the escalation....something's
causing that. Something that may not be all her."

"What do you think it is?" Scully asked. She recognized the far-away
look on his face, his face when he was thinking, pulling out things
and comparing them and putting them away again.

He shook his head, took a bite of his applesauce. "I don't know," he
said as he swallowed. "But something has changed. Something's
happened that's caused what we're seeing now. We just have to figure
out what that change is."

"I don't think Dillard knows," Scully said. "He seems genuinely
bewildered by this whole thing."

"I don't think either one of them knows," Mulder said. "Before she
shut me out today, I got the impression that Pam doesn't have the
slightest idea why these things happen to her, and that she has no
control over them. My first thought in all this was some sort of
psychokinetic projection. But I don't think that's what we've got
here at all now."

"So we're looking at a haunting of some kind." She said it
seriously, definitively, as she took another bite of her food, not
looking at him. She had pledged, months ago, to try to be more open
to his beliefs. But it was still hard for her. After all, she wasn't
100% sure that Pam Dillard wasn't doing these things herself.

Only the strange attack on her herself made her entertain thoughts
to the contrary.

"I'm not so sure," Mulder replied after a beat. "But I love it that
you think so."

He was grinning as she looked up. She smiled back, and found a laugh
fluttering in her chest.

"You're so easy to please," she teased.

"You have no idea," he replied, and waggled his eyebrows at her. She
laughed again.

"Hey," he said conspiratorily, reaching his foot out beneath the
table and touching hers.

"Mulder..." she said softly.

"What?" he replied, all innocence. "I was just going to say that I
bet there's a movie on tonight we could watch before I get banished
down to my room because of Rosen's 'not-in-the-field' rule."

"That was *our* rule before it was Rosen's. No one to blame but
ourselves at this point." She smiled at him.

"Don't remind me," he said, finishing up the piece of flounder.
She'd eaten all that she could of her own dinner, as well, and put
down her fork, took a long drink of her tea.

"Where do we go from here?" she said. "With the Dillard's, I mean."

He leaned back. "I'm not sure," he said, his leather jacket
creaking. "I think there's more to find out from both of them,
especially from her. And I think whatever this is, this thing that's
following them...I think it's just getting started."

Scully sighed. "I hope you're wrong," she said. "For both of their
sakes."

"I do, too," he replied. "But I'm not."

She reached up and rubbed gently at her eyes again, closing them.

"Come on," he said gently, tossing his napkin onto his plate.
"You're looking tired again. Let's get back to the motel and make it
an early night."

She nodded, the space behind her eyes aching. "All right," she said
softly, and rose with him, following him out through the crowded
restaurant and into the night.

 

**********

 

125 PLUM STREET
CAPE CHARLES, VIRGINIA
OCTOBER 26
2:16 a.m.

 

A sound.

Pam sat up in her bed, the covers pulled up to her chest, which was
bare from her and Brian's lovemaking hours before. She looked down at
him instinctively, saw him laying askew on the bed, his arms thrown
over his head and the moonlight cutting slits into his body through
the blinds.

Perhaps she had imagined it, whatever the faint noise had been. But
then something had awoken her. She'd been sleeping soundly. No
dreams. Just a heavy sleep and then...something. Something pulling
her out of it.

She sat there, utterly still, barely breathing, listening to the
house.

Celie lay curled at the foot of the bed, and she raised her head,
her eyes going red in the moonlight, like tiny spotlights. She
blinked at Pam, then looked toward the doorway.

Silence. Not even wind.

Then she heard it. Coming from the backyard. A muffled sound of
something breaking.

Her pottery. God, her pottery.

"Brian!" she called, shaking him suddenly. He bolted upright in the
bed, instantly awake.

"What? What is it?" he said. It came out as all one word.

Another sound of something shattering in the backyard.

"Someone's in the shed!" Pam exclaimed. "My work...not my work..."

Brian threw his bare legs over the side of the bed, reached onto the
floor for his sweatpants, which lay crumpled there. He pulled them
on, standing in a hurry. Another crash. Pam began to scramble for her
clothes, but Brian put a hand out.

"No," he snapped. "Stay here."

He reached into the drawer on the nighttable, pulled out a Ruger 9mm
bought from the shop, pulled back the hammer and flicked the safety
off.

"Brian, be careful," she whispered, her breathing coming fast as he
slid on his shoes and headed out of the bedroom, going quietly down
the stairs.

Celie watched him go, tensed, looked back at Pam, who sat stone-
still, clutching the blanket against her breasts, her chest rising
and falling. Another shatter. She jumped as though the blow had
struck her. She heard the back door open and the screen door creak
shut as Brian headed into the backyard.

The only sound for a long moment, her breathing.

Then Celie moved, crouching closer to the blankets, her eyes on the
doorway. Pam could see her hair prickle up around her neck.

A door opening. Upstairs. The attic door.

"Brian..." she whispered. She'd meant to scream it, but there was no
voice in her to come out. "B..."

Celie growled, backed up a step. She hissed, another growl rising
from her.

A laugh. A child's laugh, the coo of an infant, but too loud.
Impossibly loud. She didn't know how Brian couldn't have heard it.
How anyone couldn't have.

A patter of footsteps on the ceiling above her, fast. The laugh
again. This time an older child, a single word at the end of it.

"YES."

"Brian..." Pam whispered again. She was shaking all over. Footsteps
on the stairs and the laughter again, footsteps coming down. She
looked around frantically, saw the phone.

Agent Mulder. He'd left his card. It was creased beneath her keys
next to the phone, fresh from her jeans pocket. She leaned over and
picked up the phone, fumbled the card and shakily began to dial.

Celie's growl grew louder as the attic door creaked open wider. Bare
feet on the floor, the sound of running footsteps down the hall.

Then he was there. The boy. Naked in the doorway, his hand on the
frame, as though he meant to enter the room, but the doorway stopped
him. He opened his mouth and a sound came out. A hissing laugh.

"Mulder..." Pam heard from beside her ear. The phone was slumped
against her shoulder, her hand having lost the ability to hold it up
against her head. Her eyes were locked with the boy's. His pupils
seemed to glow like moonlight.

"Hello?" the voice came again. She barely registered it.

"Brian," she choked out as tears flooded her eyes. "Please..."

"Pam?" Mulder's voice came to her again. "Pam, what's wrong?"

The boy opened his mouth again and another laugh came. Now it was
the sound of a grown man, a throaty, belly laugh. He threw his head
back and let it roll from him, the sound like someone laughing
through a pool of oil, loud, echoing off the walls.

"What the hell was that? Pam, talk to me!"

Celie bolted from the bed with a high cry, disappeared beneath it.

One hand on either side of the door frame, and the boy stepped into
the moonlight, his body vaguely blue, shot with veins. He made a
choking sound, his mouth opening wider.

She looked at his mouth and saw something moving inside it, reaching
around his lips.

Legs. Thousands of legs. Then the bodies began to spill out, going
over the creamy blue chest, falling onto the floor with taps like
raindrops.

Spiders. Thousands of them. Flooding the floor like water, moving
toward the bed.

Pam whimpered, frozen in place. "No..." she breathed.

"We're coming! Just hang on!"

Pam dropped the phone, the spiders making their way up the bedpost
and onto the white spread, overtaking her legs, moving up towards her
arms and chest.

She found her voice at last. She screamed. And she didn't stop.

 

***********

 

END OF CHAPTER 4. CONTINUED IN CHAPTER 5.

Disclaimer in Chapter 0. This is Chapter 5.

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

3:02 a.m.

 

Mulder tried to ignore the sound of the broom that the Sheriff's
Deputy was running across the floor upstairs, the sound of shoes
stomping every now and again. He tried to ignore the image of the
bedroom in his mind, the one of the entire rug and bed moving, bodies
over bodies and Pam in the middle of it all, standing at the head of
the bed with the sheet pulled around her, her back pressed against
the wall, sobbing.

Instead, he concentrated on Scully, who was examining Pam at the
kitchen table, where Pam sat like a puppet whose strings had been
cut, still except for the trembling. Brian stood beside her, one hand
on her shoulder. Every time he heard a foot come down upstairs, he
looked up at the ceiling. He would not look at Mulder.

Pam had yet to say a word.

"She's in mild shock," Scully pronounced, her hand on Pam's
forehead, which Mulder could see was pale and clammy with sweat.

"Will she be okay?" Brian asked.

Scully looked up at him, then back at Pam. "She will be. You might
want to get her a blanket and some other clothes. This robe --" She
indicated the satiny dark blue robe Pam wore, " isn't doing much to
keep her warm."

"All right," Brian said, and gave Pam's shoulder a slight squeeze.
"I'll be right back," he murmured, then he disappeared through the
door to the foyer.

Mulder watched Scully lean into Pam's line of vision where Pam was
staring at the floor, unblinking. "Pam, do you want something warm to
drink?"

Pam said nothing, just kept staring at the same spot on the floor.

"Pam?" Scully asked again softly, gripping the other woman's forearm
lightly. Finally, she turned to Mulder.

Mulder nodded, understanding, and came forward from where he'd been
leaning against the kitchen counter. Scully moved out of the way to
give him room in front of Pam.

He went down on one knee. looked up into her face. "Pam," he said
softly.

It took a few seconds, but her eyes finally shifted, moving from the
floor to his face.

"Agent Mulder," she whispered. She said it as though his name were a
revelation of some kind.

Mulder nodded. "How about some tea?" he asked.

Pam paused, and fresh tears began in her eyes, trailing silent down
her cheeks. Then she reached out, put a hand on Mulder's shoulder as
though she meant to steady herself.

Mulder looked down at her hand, then back into her face. Behind him,
he could hear Scully going for the kettle on the stove, filling it
with water at the sink. Pam's hand trembled against the leather of
his jacket, creaking it.

"Tea," she said faintly.

"Yes," Mulder said. "Where do you keep it? We'll get it for you."

Pam nodded toward the cabinet above the stove. "It's...up there.
There's only one kind...Darjeeling...I'm sorry..."

Scully and Mulder exchanged a glance at Pam's confusion that the tea
was for them.

"Whatever you have will be fine," Mulder soothed, and Scully went
for the lavender box.

"What did you see, Pam?" he asked, his voice just above a whisper.

Pam's eyes darted to an evidence vial that lay on the table, the
body of one of the spiders in it. Then she looked back at his face,
her head tilting to the side and her lips trembling. "Spiders," she
said in the same volume as his.

Mulder nodded. "Yes," he said. "I saw them, too. Lots of spiders.
But where did they come from?"

Scully had grown still behind him, having gotten a mug out of the
cabinet on the other side of the sink. Pam was glancing at her now,
then back at Mulder's face, as though she were afraid of saying
something in front of Scully.

"It's okay, Pam," Mulder murmured.

Pam's eyes fell, her hand coming off Mulder's shoulder and knotting
with the other one in her lap.

"It was the boy again," she said softly, and her voice shook.

"The boy brought the spiders?" Mulder asked.

Pam nodded. "They came...out of his mouth...he was laughing...and
then they came out of his mouth. All over the floor. You heard the
laugh...didn't you?"

Mulder nodded. "Yes," he said, somber. "I heard a laugh."

Brian returned and Mulder saw her stiffen, glancing up at her
husband as he lay a sweatshirt and a pair of sweatpants on the table
next to her. He also had an plaid throw with him, which he draped
gently over her shoulders.

The kettle sputtered and then began to scream. Scully reached for it
quickly, shutting off the burner behind him. Mulder could hear her
pouring.

"I'm just..." Pam began, reaching for the clothes. "I'm going to get
changed." And she rose quickly and retreated into the hallway.

Mulder stood now, looked at Brian, who was struggling to look back.

"How goes the cleanup?" Mulder asked easily, going for something
neutral.

Brian nodded. "Most of them are dead now, at least. Kyle and Jerry
have a couple of leaf bags full of them. The rest we'll be able to
vacuum up, I think."

Mulder nodded. "That's good," he said.

"Yeah, they're good to help out so I can see to Pam. But I just hate
that they're out here at all," Brian said, and his familiar
peevishness entered his voice.

"Someone hears things breaking in your backyard and your wife
screaming at two o'clock in the morning, they're bound to call the
police," Scully answered for Mulder, setting the mug of tea on the
table beside the chair where Pam had been sitting.

She'd placed herself between the two men for a few seconds,
interrupting the impending standoff, and Mulder knew she'd done it on
purpose. Then she returned to the counters behind him.

"Damndest thing I've ever seen," Brian said, shaking his head and
forcing a little laugh. "That many spiders. And at this time of
year."

"That's because there was another force at work, Mr. Dillard,"
Mulder said evenly. "I think you know that."

The forced smile melted off Dillard's face. "All I know," he said
firmly, "is that someone must have gotten to my wife's studio and
broken some of her work. That's what you should be investigating."

"The things were broken in the studio to get you out of the
bedroom," Mulder said, and his voice rose a little with his
frustration with the man's pigheadedness. "Whatever this thing is,
it's not interested in terrorizing you. It needs you out of the way
so that it can get to your wife."

Dillard looked from Mulder to Scully. "Are you buying this?" he
snapped. Mulder turned to look at Scully where she'd poised herself
against the sink.

"I'm not sure what I'm buying at this point," Scully replied. "But
the fact remains that the entity has chosen two times when you were
not conscious or present to make its appearance to your wife. So
Agent Mulder's assumption that the vandalism in the studio was to
remove you from the bedroom *does* seem to make sense."

Pam returned then, interrupting any further discussion. She was
wearing the warm clothes and draped in the throw. She picked up the
mug of tea, bobbed the tea bag a few times. "Thank you, Agent
Scully," she said.

"You're welcome, Pam," Scully said gently.

"I want to go out and see..." Pam swallowed. "...see what's been
done to my work."

"Honey, you don't need to look at that now--" Brian tried, but Pam
shook her head.

"I want to see," she insisted, and she set the mug down and was
already heading toward the back door, picking up a set of keys that
hung on a nail by the door. The other three looked at each other,
then fell in behind her.

The backyard was well lit by a spotlight that shone on the small
outbuilding. Pam was at the door already as the others caught up with
her, fumbling with a key on the ring with her shaking hands.

"How was the door opened when you got out here?" Mulder asked Brian.
"I don't see any damage to the door or any of the windows."

Dillard seemed to struggle with himself for a few seconds, then blew
out a frustrated breath of vapory air. "The door wasn't open," he
said quickly, as though saying it fast would slide it by everyone.

"The door wasn't open?" Scully repeated, and reached out to take the
keys from Pam, who had the right one out but couldn't get the thing
in the lock because of her trembling.

Dillard shook his head. "No, they must have locked it on their way
out somehow."

Mulder chuffed. "Yeah, that's what all vandals take the time to do,"
he said. "I don't know what else you need to see, Mr. Dillard--"

"Look, I don't know what's going on here," Dillard spat. "But I'm
not going to start believing in ghosts, for Christ's sake. I'm not
going to do it. Don't ask me to."

Mulder started to say something else, but Scully shot him a look and
he relented. Dillard wasn't ready to believe any of this, and nothing
Mulder was going to say was going to change that.

After all, if anyone knew the place Dillard was in, it was Scully,
he told himself.

Plus, the fighting would only upset Pam more, and he didn't want that.

Scully slid the key in the lock and pushed the door open, and Pam
entered the small building, throwing on the light switch. The others
peered in the doorway.

The floor was covered with multi-colored shards of porcelain and
clay. Only the unfinished work and a few pieces near the back of the
shed were intact. The delicate green tea set Mulder had looked at the
day before was shattered on the floor at Pam's feet.

Pam covered her mouth, a cry caught in her throat.

"It's okay, baby," Brian said, and reached out to put a hand on her
shoulder. "It's okay. You can make it all again and it'll be twice as
beautiful."

Mulder was touched by that -- it was a side of Dillard with his wife
he hadn't seen. It was the kind of thing he would have said to Scully
in a similar circumstance, and was the first moment of any sort of
commonality he felt with the man.

"Hey Brian?" came a call from the back door. It was pitched low, but
still seemed terribly loud in the quiet of the night. It was one of
the Sheriff's Deputies.

"Yeah, Jerry?" Brian called back, stepping back away from Pam.

"We've done all we can here. We've got another call. So I'll leave
you to it."

Brian nodded. "All right then," he said. "Thank you so much for your
help. And for not filing anything on this."

"Not a problem," Jerry said. "You don't want a report, we don't make
one. Goodnight now." And he was gone.

Scully turned to Mulder, and he could see how tired she looked. He
nodded, what she wanted passing unspoken between them.

"We're going to call it a night, too," Mulder said, and Pam turned,
looking at both him and Scully, her face panicked.

"We'll be back in the morning," he soothed. "Or should I say after
it gets light."

Pam looked down and nodded, but Mulder knew she would be getting no
sleep. "All right," she said.

She turned off the light to the studio, locked it up, and headed
back toward the house, Brian walking with his arm around her. They
disappeared inside the kitchen.

Mulder and Scully hung back beside the studio. Scully was glancing
around the darkness around them nervously.

"You okay?" he asked, and smoothed back her hair on one side now
that no one was around to see them.

She nodded. "Yes," she murmured, leaned into his hand. "The
headache's returned, that's all. Let's just go to bed. Get a fresh
start in the morning with where to go with this."

Mulder nodded. "All right," he said, and placed a hand on the small
of her back, ushering her toward the house.

**

Behind the studio, a hand crept around the edge of the building, a
bare shoulder following, then a face, black eyes shining.

The boy watched the two agents. He watched the man -- tall,
handsome, so ready to believe. And then the hand on the small of the
woman's back, like a lover. He watched the man hold the door for her
as they re-entered the house. He felt the woman's fatigue and fear
coming off her like a wave.

He felt the love between them drifting like incense around the space
where'd they'd stood a moment before.

He watched and felt it all, drinking it in like warm milk mixed with
sugar.

And then, he smiled.

 

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

13 DUNKIRK AVENUE
VIENNA, VIRGINIA
7:26 a.m.

 

Granger loved the place where Robin's neck met her shoulder more
than he loved life itself.

Well, not really, he mused, but it was close.

That's where his mouth was, on the soft skin exposed when he'd
pushed her braids to the side on waking, the skin the color of cocoa
and just as sweet.

"Hmm....what time is it?" she asked, on her side facing away from
him. He was pushed up against her back, spooned against her as close
as he could get.

"Too late," he said with regret.

"You ever heard of flex-time, Mr. Granger?" she replied, and he
could see the curl on her lips, though her eyes were still closed.

"Time couldn't flex enough, Ms. Brock." He pulled her tighter
against him.

"Then you better let me up," she said, the smile still on her face
as her eyes opened. "Or I'm going to make sure we're both late. And
I'm sure that's just what Rosen would like to see from you at this
point."

He chuckled. "You got me there," he said, and he did let her go,
though she turned her face so they could kiss once, twice. Then she
was sitting, her bare back greeting him with its smooth expanse. She
reached to the floor and picked up her robe, stood, and slipped into
it.

"I'll put the coffee on," she said.

"Do I get eggs, too?" he asked, sitting up on his elbows, his bare
chest cool in the morning chill.

"Yes, you'll get eggs, too, this morning. But don't go getting used
to it."

"Yes, ma'am," he said, and she shot him one of her sly looks that he
loved so much as she made her way to the kitchen.

He lay there in the quiet for a moment, enjoying the ease of waking
with her, the familiar bump of someone else in the kitchen. There
wasn't a more comforting sound in the world to him.

Then the doorbell rang.

He glanced at the clock, perplexed, and threw his legs over the side
of the bed, stepping into his sweatpants and reaching for a t-shirt
and his glasses. He could hear Robin talking to someone.

"Paul?" she called, and he was already on his way to her at the
front door as she said it. There was concern in her voice, he could
tell.

At the front door, Jim Bigelow, his neighbor.

"Morning, Jim," Granger said, his brow creased. "Is something wrong?"

Bigelow, gray-haired in his 60s and a suit, looked worried. "That's
your Jetta, right? The black one?"

Granger's heart sank. "Yes, that's mine. What's happened to it?"

"You better go down and have a look. I noticed it when I was getting
ready to go to work."

"All right," Granger said. "I will. Thank you, Jim."

"I'm sorry," Bigelow said, and then he was gone.

Granger reached for his jacket hanging there. He slipped his
sneakers on, also camped by the door where he'd toed them off after
last night's run.

Robin stood with her arms crossed over her chest as she watched him.

"I'll be right back," he said, and gave her a quick kiss. Her
expression was grim, but she nodded and said nothing.

He took the stairs, not waiting for the elevator. Out in the parking
lot, the crisp October sunlight shone on the rows of cars. He made
his way down the sidewalk toward his car.

The hood had been coated in some sort of acid, burned clear through
in some places, the glass clouded with it. He stood and stared at it
in disgust as Jim Bigelow got into his car, looking at him with
sympathy.

"Son-of-a-bitch," Granger swore.

**

Across the parking lot, in a nondescript Chevy pickup, a man watched
this transpire, watched Granger stand there with his hands on his
hips.

Then Granger stopped, looked around carefully, his eyes moving over
the parking lot. Seeing this, the man hunkered down lower into the
seat until he could just barely watch the other man on the sidewalk
over the side of the door.

Granger looked around for a long moment. Slowly. Methodically. His
eyes fell on the pickup, then moved on to the next car, then the next.

Finally, shaking his head, Granger reached into his coat pocket and
drew out his cell phone, dialing.

The man waited until Granger had finished his phone call to the
police and then went back inside the building to wait for them to
come.

The man smiled.

He nosed the pickup out of the spot it had occupied, heading out
onto the main road that led west.

 

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

 

THE PEACOCK MOTEL
OUTSIDE CAPE CHARLES, VIRGINIA
9:35 a.m.

 

Scully was just coming out of the shower when she heard the familiar
scrape of the key in the lock. Someone was letting themselves into
the motel room. She stood in the tiny bathroom with the tiny towel
and dried off as best she could, using the other towel as a turban
for her hair.

"I hope that's you," she called, and was rewarded by a chuckle.

"Yes, it's me," Mulder replied. "And I bring coffee and bagels, so
don't shoot."

She came out now, the towel barely covering the territory. Mulder
noticed immediately and she smiled.

"Did you talk to anyone over at the university?" Mulder asked, and
took a sip of his coffee.

"Yes," she replied, going to her suitcase, open on its rack. She
began looting through it for underthings. "I talked to a Dr. Singh,
an entomologist over in the Biology Department at Old Dominion
University. He said he would meet me as soon as I could get over
there and analyze that spider."

"That's good," he replied. "So you think you'll be back by early
afternoon?"

"Most likely," she said, dropping the towel and slipping into her
bra and panties. Then she went to the small closet area by the
bathroom and pulled down a suit -- her standby black with the white
dress shirt.

Mulder watched her with clear interest, she could tell, but to his
credit, he said nothing. He busied himself with his coffee and with
putting cream cheese on a bagel as he sat on the edge of her unmade
bed.

"You can take the car," Scully said, slipping into her shirt. "I've
already arranged for a ride over the bridge."

"That cab driver you told me about yesterday?" Mulder asked, and she
nodded.

"Yes," she replied. "He's already figured out that we're FBI and
he's willing to do anything he can to aid in the investigation, he
said. For a flat rate of $20 plus the price of the toll across the
water, of course. A bargain considering how far it is, apparently. I
think there's more to find out from him, so I'm going to take
advantage of the time." She pulled on her pants, buttoned and zipped
them.

He finished putting cream cheese on his bagel. "All right," he said.
"If you're sure. I don't mind having him drive me in."

"No, this way you two will have some freedom to go somewhere if the
need should arise." She sat on the edge of the bed, took out a pair
of knee high hose from the suitcase and began pulling them on.

"Where would we go?" Mulder asked, perplexed. He took a bite.

"Oh, I don't know," Scully said, and smiled slightly. "There just
might be somewhere she'd like to show you."

"Why would she do that?" he asked after he'd chewed and swallowed.
He seemed suddenly uncomfortable.

She turned to him. "That's what women do when they've got a crush,
Mulder," she said. "They try to involve the person in aspects of
their lives, even small ones."

Mulder flushed crimson. "It's that obvious?"

She smiled faintly. "It is to me. I don't think Brian Dillard has
picked up on it yet. But I can tell she has feelings for you. I think
she has since she read that article on you. And, well..."

"Well what?" he prompted, taking another bite of his bagel as if to
prove nonchalance. He was still red.

"Well, I might be a bit biased, but...the real thing is pretty
impressive, too," she teased, and gave him an appraising look.

"Quit it," he said, and tossed an small creamer container at her
from across the bed. She laughed.

"I thought you might be pissed," he admitted, looked down.

"Why would I be?" she asked, standing again and taking the towel
from her hair, shaking it out. "It's clear it's not coming from you."

He smiled as he looked at her, something pained in it. "Because if
it was the other way around...if someone had feelings for you...I
think I'd be pissed."

She laughed again. "I don't think either of us has anything to worry
about in that department, Mulder," she said. "Though I do appreciate
the testosterone display, as always."

That got her another creamer tossed at her and he stood, going to
where she was standing in front of the mirror in the bathroom,
combing her hair. He went up behind her, and without her heels on,
almost his entire head was visible above hers. His arms went around
her waist and he pulled her against him.

"We get out of here, I'll show you a testosterone display..." he
said, and she smiled at his reflection in the mirror, then leaned her
head back so she could kiss him on the mouth. They lingered there,
their mouths moving over each others. His hands began to come up,
cupping her ribs now, inching higher.

When he touched the underside of her breasts, she pulled her face
away, her hands going to cover his. He turned his head until his
cheek rested against her head. He sighed.

"Believe me, there's nothing I would like better than to crawl into
that bed and stay with you all morning," she soothed. "But..."

"I know, I know..." He gave her hands a squeeze, then stood back,
going back to the bed and picking up his coffee from the bedside
table.

"I'm gonna go before I get completely depressed," he quipped, and
she smiled at him in the mirror's reflection, still working on her
hair. "Call me when you find anything out."

"All right," she said. "Good luck this morning."

"Thanks. You, too."

She was sad as she watched him leave.

If she thought about it hard enough, she could still feel his hands
around her ribs. It made her ache inside.

Sighing, she reached for the hair dryer, and pushed the feeling away.

 

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

OLD DOMINION UNIVERSITY
MILLS-GODWIN LIFE SCIENCES BUILDING
NORFOLK, VIRGINIA
11:34 a.m.

 

Scully stood off to one side in the large laboratory. The side
counters were lined with terrariums -- tarantulas, snakes on their
heating rocks, lizards and toads and every manner of insect she could
think of in glass enclosures all around her. She wasn't usually
afraid of insects or any sort of animal, for that matter, but the
place had a stale, metallic smell and the fact that everything around
her was moving gave her a slight case of the heebie-jeebies.

In the center of it all, Doctor Parth Singh sat with his eyes on a
dissecting microscope, his glasses pushed up above the eye pieces to
allow him a better look into the lens. His cheap tie was thrown over
his shoulder to keep it out of the way, the elbow patches on his
tweed blazer showing signs of wear.

"Where did you get this again?" Singh asked.

"It's part of an on-going investigation I'm involved with over on
the Eastern Shore, Doctor," she replied, stepping closer. His tone
had been a bit awed.

"Fascinating," he said, looking over at her with his black eyes.
"You know what this is?"

Scully shook her head. "No, I don't know my spiders, past a Brown
Recluse, which I've seen my fair share of. And I know what a Black
Widow looks like, vaguely."

"It's a Tegenaria agrestis," he hurried to reply. "You know, a Hobo
Spider. Almost as common as a Brown Recluse, though people are less
familiar with them."

"If it's so common," Scully ventured, "then why are you so impressed
with it?"

"Because this spider is like nothing I've ever seen before," Singh
said, looking back into the lens and prodding at the spider's corpse
with a small instrument.

Scully took a step closer. "What's so special about it?" she asked.

"Well, for starters, this spider is completely genderless," Singh
replied.

"'Genderless'? How can that be?"

Singh looked at her again, that same excited look on his face. "I
have no idea. I've never seen anything like it. No genitalia at all.
No palps. Nothing of the kind."

Scully turned this over in her mind. "What else did you find about
it?"

"It also has no fangs, which it should. The Hobo Spider actually
causes more bites than a Brown Recluse does, but the Brown Recluse is
ordinarily blamed for the bites. But this one," He pointed to the
spider, turning it over, "this one has no fangs. In fact, I don't see
any sort of mouth structure at all."

"So let me get this straight," Scully said, crossing her arms over
her chest. "I've brought you a sexless spider with no mouth?"

Singh nodded excitedly, grinning. "Yes, isn't it wonderful, too?" he
said, his voice rising.

"I'm sure it is," Scully replied, amused. "But what you're saying is
impossible, Doctor. That's an adult spider. How could it have
survived into adulthood with no way to take in food?"

Singh shook his head. "I have no idea. It's the most bizarre thing
I've ever seen, these mutations. It's almost like a spider cut-out."

Scully considered this for a moment. "It's almost as if someone had
seen one of these spiders from a distance and recreated it, but
didn't know enough about it to make it a complete spider. Like it's a
substitute for a real spider."

"Yes, exactly," Singh said. "I know you said this was for an
investigation, but could I have this when you're finished with it for
the case? I'd love to dissect it, get a look at its insides. See what
else is missing."

Scully was still thinking of her theory about the spider's genesis,
turning it over in her mind. "Yes," she said finally, snapping out of
it. "You can actually have it now. I won't be needing it anymore."

And if she did, she thought, there were two giant lawn-and-leaf bags
full of them at the Dillard's house for her to pick from.

"Excellent!" Singh said, and Scully reached out to shake his hand.

"Thank you, Dr. Singh," she said, smiled faintly. "You've been a
great help."

Singh shook her hand. "No, thank YOU, Dr. Scully," he replied. "This
is the most exciting thing I've seen in a long while. A very long
while."

Then his eyes were back on the microscope, as though she'd already
left.

"I'll leave you two alone then," she said, bemused, and left the lab.

 

***********

CHESAPEAKE BAY BRIDGE-TUNNEL
BETWEEN VIRGINIA BEACH AND THE EASTERN SHORE
12:35 p.m.

 

The view from the bridge was spectacular, Scully thought, such a
wide expanse of water, the shore on either side not visible from this
point on the bridge, nothing but water catching the brilliant fall
sunlight and shimmering the surface like diamonds. Up ahead, over the
place where one of the tunnels dipped down below the water, one of
the big aircraft carriers was going out to sea, looking impossibly
huge.

"There goes the Teddy Roosevelt," Sanderson said, pointing. "Must be
going out for their Med Cruise, or maybe just for exercises out and
about."

"It's amazing to me that something that huge can go over the
tunnels," Scully said, and the thought made her shiver.

"There's only about 10 foot of clearance when it goes over the
tunnel. How about that to make you sleep the sleep of angels?"
Sanderson cackled. "Not to worry, though. There ain't never been a
run-in with the tunnel since it was built. And the Navy uses this as
the way in and out of the base. Has for years.

"Plus," he added with a gleam in his eye in the rear view mirror.
"It'll be over the tunnel by the time we get there."

She laughed at that. "That does comfort me," she said.

They were silent for a long moment, Scully watching the view stream
by, Sanderson singing along faintly to the music on the radio, some
religious group singing about "He said: 'If you love me, feed my
sheep.'"

Then Sanderson broke the silence between them.

"Group's called 'The Primitive Quartet,'" he said. "You like 'em?"

"They're very nice," Scully replied politely.

Another beat of silence. Scully could sense something coming.

"You get that spider looked at?" Sanderson asked at last.

"Now how did you know I had a spider with me?" Scully asked, amused
and vaguely annoyed at the same time.

"Old Man Packard and me was talking on the phone this morning," he
said easily. "Said Jerry Twining, the Sheriff's Deputy, said
something to him at the Meat Land about a whole mess of spiders in
the Dillard's bedroom."

Scully sighed. "Yes, I got the spider looked at," she replied. "I'm
not at liberty to discuss what I've found, of course."

That was a laugh, she thought. The man didn't understand much of
anything about the privacy of anyone, she imagined, particularly the
Dillards, who were new to town and thus the object of my scrutiny as
it was.

"Of course, of course," Sanderson hurried to reply.

Another beat of silence, save for the radio. They reached the
tunnel, the bridge narrowing to one lane as they descended into the
relative darkness. Scully's ears popped as the radio cut out.

"You know, I was thinking whilst I was waiting for you back there at
the college," he said.

"What were you thinking about, Mr. Sanderson?"

"I was thinking that if I was an FBI agent like yourself, and I
wanted to know something about Pam Dillard, I'd take myself up to
Accomac and go talk to that Melba Book."

"Melba Book?" Scully repeated.

"Yep," Sanderson replied. "She was the woman who lived next door on
the OTHER side of the Dillard's up there. Not the ones with the
horses -- the ones on the other side. Word had it from my friend up
there that Pam and Melba got fairly close. As close as Pam gets to
anyone. So I was sitting here in the cab waiting on you and thinking
that if I was an FBI agent studying up on someone I'd take myself up
to Accomac and talk to Melba about Pam."

"That's an interesting investigative avenue, Mr. Sanderson," she
said, considering this. "I suppose you know how to contact this Melba
Book?"

Sanderson's smile gleamed in the rear view mirror as they exited the
tunnel and out into the blinding sunlight. The radio crackled back to
life. "Got her number back at the house. I went ahead and got it from
my buddy up in Accomac."

"That's very helpful of you, sir," Scully said, and now she did get
a bit more irritated. "But you do understand that the Dillards have
done nothing wrong. My partner and I are not here to investigate them
on any criminal charges or of any wrong-doing at all."

"What are you down here for then, if you don't mind me asking?"
Sanderson asked, and Scully balked.

Finally she said: "I'm not sure what we're looking for, Mr.
Sanderson. But I'm sure you'll be the first to know when we figure it
out."

He laughed. "Ah-yep," he said. "I betcha I will."

 

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