From Starlight

From-Starlight-(background)

First there were ghosts, but no bodies. Now there are bodies.

*

Jane Keller, thirteen years old, stood in her family’s small and cramped bathroom and attempted to apply mascara without poking her own eye out. She had long dark hair that the boys who used to tug on it at recess had just begun to notice in a different way, and she disagreed wholeheartedly with her mother’s favorite admonition: “too old for toys, too young for boys.”

Her hand slipped slightly, and she blinked involuntarily, the wand painting a long dark smudge under her left eye.

“Shit,” she said, liking the way the word came out of her mouth, knowing she didn’t yet dare swear publicly. She thought she might let a few choice words slip tonight, while at the movies with Tommy. Maybe even slide one of her father’s cigarettes into her jacket pocket. Anything to make her look cooler; older.

“Jane?”

Her mother, at the door.

“Shit,” Jane said again, dabbing at her eye with a damp washcloth.

“Jane, you’ve been in there for an hour!”

“I’ll be right out!” she hollered, swiping miserably at her eye with the cloth, cleaning away some but not all of the smudge.

She glanced back into the mirror, not entirely liking what she saw, but knowing she didn’t have enough time to start over.

“Jane?”

She flung open the door and glared up at her mother with the most withering stare she could muster.

“I *said* I was coming.”

Her mother looked taken aback. “Is that mascara? Jane–”

“No,” she said, brushing past. “I have to go, mom, I told Erica I’d meet her at the movies at seven.”

“Stop right there, young lady.”

Jane stopped, halfway down the stairs, rolling her eyes hard. Then she glanced to her right, at the family photos that were hung in a cheery arrangement on the wall. Her eyes slid over one familiar, smiling face, and she bit her lip. A towheaded toddler in diapers and a Mickey Mouse t-shirt.

Her cousin, Joey. Missing for more than three years now.

She could remember running around at the playground with him, laughing at the way his stubby legs couldn’t keep up with her longer, leaner ones. Giggling as he toddled, chubby fingers grasping, tufts of blond hair waving in the breeze.

“Jane,” her mother said.

Jane whirled around, all pent-up rage and righteous teenage anger. “I thought you were going to take this down. It’s been three years, mom, you know he’s not coming back. It’s fucking morbid.”

She heard herself swear and clamped a hand over her mouth– practicing in front of the mirror was one thing but saying that word, no, *spitting* that word into her mother’s face was something else entirely.

Her mother looked absolutely stricken. “Jane.”

Jane saw her chance and turned away, hurrying the rest of the way down the stairs and out the front door into the approaching dark.

*

Tommy was waiting for her on the street corner, hands shoved awkwardly into his pockets; hair gelled just a little too much.

“Hi,” she said, suddenly shy, face still flushed from the averted confrontation with her mother.

“Did she believe you? That you were meeting Erica at the movies?”

“Yeah,” she smiled and looked down at her feet. “What are we going to see, anyway?”

“We’re not.” He started walking down the street, in the opposite direction of town.

She had to jog to keep up with him. “Where are we going?”

“The park,” he said. “Want a smoke?”

“Yes,” she said without hesitation. He produced a cigarette from his jacket pocket, and she found herself wishing that she’d managed to offer first, knowing he’d have been impressed.

They rounded the corner and came upon the park, all dark waving trees under rapidly advancing suburban moonlight.

Tommy led the way to the swing set, sitting down, the burning tip of his cigarette glowing in the dark.

She sat down on the swing next to him, fighting not to cough, feet kicking at the scuffed ground beneath her.

The night seemed alive with possibilities.

“Did you do your history paper yet?” she asked him after a long pause.

He looked incredulous. “You want to talk about homework?”

“No,” she said quickly, feeling her cheeks flush. “I–”

There was a sound behind them, the sharp crack of a branch breaking. Jane jumped forward, tangling in the chains of the swing and almost falling on her face.
“What was that?”

Tommy stood up as well, moving slowly, all forced bravado and cool. He dropped his cigarette into the dirt and put it out with the heel of his sneaker, squinting in the dark. “Someone out there?”

A low growl came from the shadows directly behind them.

“What is that?” Jane asked, panic creeping into her voice. Her hand found Tommy’s in the dark, but she was too frightened to notice.

“Some kind of animal,” he said. “Maybe.”

“Let’s go,” she said.

Tommy pulled his hand away, digging in his pocket and coming up with his lighter. He flicked it and a flame appeared, a tiny, ineffective spark in the darkness. He stepped forward into the shadows cast by the trees.

“Tommy,” she said, hugging herself, suddenly cold in the warm night air.

“What the hell?” Tommy asked. She hurried forward, not wanting to lose sight of him.

“What is it?”

“It’s a kid,” Tommy said, holding his lighter out, the small, flickering light barely illuminating a pallid, dirt-streaked face. A small child, crouched in the gnarled roots of an elm tree.

Jane stepped forward to get a better look, and the child began growling, a low, horrid, animalistic sound. His eyes looked too bright for the darkness; lit from within.

Like stars, she thought.

“He’s sick or something,” Tommy said.
Jane didn’t answer him, she was too enraptured by the small boy’s face. Lips all pulled back in a fearsome grimace, blond hair matted to his head with dirt and leaves. And yet, that face–

“Joey?” she asked, knowing it couldn’t be true, Joey had disappeared three years ago and if he were alive he’d be older now, different. But this small child looked so much like him as he had on the last day she saw him, laughing and waving his chubby arms on that very playground.

His head whipped towards her at the sound of that name, and he raised his tiny hands towards her, fists clenching and unclenching.

She couldn’t help herself; she moved forward, scooping the tiny boy into her arms. She had a moment to register that something smelled wrong; like he’d been rolling around in something foul; and then he seemed to vibrate in her arms, growling like a feral animal.

“Holy shit!” Tommy said, and she turned to tell him it was all right, it was just her cousin, and he was hurt–

There was a sudden pain, and she looked down in horror to see that the small form in her arms and bitten her. Blood spurted from her arm and he drank greedily, crimson sloshing around his tiny teeth.

She tried to stand up, tried to shove him away, but he moved rapidly, fingers clutching her with surprising strength. Then his teeth found her throat, and she tried to scream, but found it was too late.

*

Mulder was standing in the office when she arrived, looking as though he’d been there for hours. If she didn’t know better, didn’t know for a *fact* that he hadn’t, she’d have sworn he’d slept there.

He was perusing a case file, his face inscrutable, his eyes narrowed. He already looked world-weary.

He glanced up as he heard her heels click on the tile, a small smile brightening his face. He’d nicked himself shaving, she saw. A tiny well of blood hung just in the hollow of his chin.

“Good morning,” he said, as if he hadn’t just left her arms mere hours ago.

“Good morning,” Scully said, tilting her head slightly to one side. “What have you got there?”

He shut the folder and crossed the room to stand directly in front of her, so near that she could have leaned forward and licked the blood away from his chin if she so desired. Instead she crossed her arms and met his steady gaze.

He smiled and leaned in, slowly and deliberately, stretching one long arm over her to flick off the lights.

Then he turned towards the slide projector, gone as quickly as he’d approached, leaving only the intoxicating scent of his aftershave in his wake.

The machine started with a dusty whir, kicking a bright beam of light into the otherwise darkened room. On the screen, a grisly image began to take shape.

“Animal attack?” Scully guessed, studying a vivid image of a bloodied figure, prone on the ground. A dark fan of hair upon blood stained leaves.

“That’s what the Los Angeles Police Department first thought,” Mulder said, his eyebrows raised. He was baiting her, then. Their old give and take. Making her work for the answers.

“If not an animal, what?”

Mulder smiled and flipped to the next slide. A close up of a ruined forearm; ragged chunks of flesh torn away from the bone.

Scully squinted, stepping closer to the screen. “Mulder, those look like human bites.”

“Bingo,” he said, switching the slide again. An even closer shot of torn flesh, a small white object protruding from punctured skin.

“A tooth.”

He merely smiled, enigmatic, holding away the last bits of the mystery.

“Whose tooth?”

“That would be a baby tooth belonging to one Joseph Keller,” the gory limb disappeared in favor of a smiling young boy in diapers.

“That boy did that?” Scully scoffed. “Impossible.”

Mulder held up one finger. “The boy in the picture is Joseph Keller, age two. He disappeared three years ago during a family outing in a nearby park. His cousin, Jane, was the last person to see him alive.”

He flipped to the next slide; a smiling young girl with dark braids, clutching a squirming toddler.

“Jane Keller, then age ten.”

Scully waited, patiently letting his tale unfold. It was obvious he’d spent the better part of his morning preparing it for her.

The slide changed again; back to the body in the dirt. “Jane Keller, age thirteen.”

Her eyes widened, interest piqued. “That’s the cousin?”

“She told her parents she was going to the movies with a girlfriend. Instead, she went to the park with a boy her age. Tommy Gale. Police say he was incoherent when they found him, babbling about how a demon child had come out of the woods and attacked them.”

“So, what, then? Revenge from beyond the grave? Joseph Keller’s corpse returns from the dead to exact vengeance on the girl who was supposed to be watching him?”

Mulder chuckled. “No, no. I think Joseph Keller is very much alive.”

She crossed her arms and stared him down. “If he’s still alive, he’d be five years old. You think a five year old did that?”

“There have been stories about children, abandoned in wilderness areas, who have been raised by wild animals.”

This time it was her turn to laugh, clasping one hand over her mouth. “Mulder, we’re not talking urban legends like the wolf girl, are we?”

“Reports of feral children go back for hundreds of years, Scully.”

“Mulder-”

“In 1991, in the Ukraine, an eight year old child was discovered living amongst a pack of dogs. She exhibited many of their mannerisms: barking, growling, walking on all fours. Some reports say she even developed heightened senses.”

Scully felt a smile tugging at her lips and she gave into it, leaning against the desk and throwing her arms up in the air. “Mulder-”

“In 1990, a child was found in Peru who was said to have been raised by goats for nearly eight years.”

“Are you sure that’s not the origin of the chupacabra?”

He tilted his head at her, conceding a small victory. “I’m only saying that there is a precedent for these kinds of cases.”

“Mulder, these reports come from rural areas. There is no conceivable way a child could wander away in a Los Angeles suburb and spend the next three years of his life being raised by wolves. Or mountain lions. Or goats!”

“I’m hoping Joseph Keller can shed some light on that for us, when we find him. I’ve booked us two tickets to L.A.”

*

They sat with a seat between them on the airplane, maintaining respectable distance. Perhaps even more so than usual. She was aware of his every move. The clink of ice cubes in his plastic up. The rustle of papers as he perused the file for the hundredth time. The gentle whisper of cloth as he shifted in his seat.

He caught her looking, once, and she turned away, flushing slightly. But not before she saw his lips turn up in a smug smile.

She had been in relationships before that others would have considered in poor taste. A brief intellectual flirtation with a med school professor. An open courtship with her former FBI instructor. Frowned upon, but not forbidden.

Daring to turn a successful, oft scrutinized partnership into a relationship was something else entirely.

They were on unsteady, unfamiliar ground with each other. What had started with desperate, tear-soaked clutching the night he found out about his mother’s suicide had slowly developed into something lighter, sweeter. His feelings of relief, of closure after finding out what he believed truly happened to his sister had begun to color his world in a new way. There was room for happiness in his life, now.

The fact that he had chosen to seek that happiness with her pleased her greatly. Their relationship had shifted fluidly; weekend events they partook in occasionally became more frequent. Physical intimacy replaced occasional awkwardness.

But at work, on a case, always professional. Almost overly careful. Second guessing every touch, every breath.

Thrilling in its own way.

He touched her shoulder gently, offering a battered hard copy of a book that could only have come from his own strange collection.

She examined the title. “Feral Children Through the Ages?”

He smiled and nudged the book towards her. She accepted with a begrudging tilt of her head, taking the book into her hands and paging absently through it.

Wild-eyed children, with matted hair and startled stares. Crude sketches of boys with wolfen features.

She glanced up at him and saw him smiling over at her with raised eyebrows. She rolled her eyes for extra effect and shut the book firmly.

*

“Is it true?” Karen Keller asked from her side of the kitchen table, a forgotten cup of tea steaming in front of her. “Did little Joey do that to my baby?”

Her husband sat beside her, one arm draped around the back of her chair. He turned to look at her, face pained. “Karen, you know as well as I do that Joey–”

She turned away from him and faced Mulder and Scully, her tear-stained face beseeching. “You think it’s possible.”

Scully took a deep breath. She glanced over at Mulder, who seemed to be struggling for the right words.

When he spoke, his voice was delicate. “We just want to get a clear picture of what happened to your daughter, Mrs. Keller.”

“She wasn’t right, after what happened with Joey. It marked her. Almost overnight she went from a sunny, happy kid to… to this sullen creature.”

“She started rebelling,” John Keller said. “Small things, at first. Stealing my cigarettes and sneaking off to smoke them. Lying about where she was going.”

“Like that night,” Karen sniffed. “She told me she was going to the movies. But she was wearing makeup. I should have known– I should have–” Her shoulders shook as she began to sob.

“What happened to your nephew, Mrs. Keller?” Scully asked, hoping to draw the woman out of her grief.

Karen wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand. “He, um, he vanished during a family picnic. Three years ago. Jane had been watching him. She said that she just turned around and he was gone.”

“There was never any ransom note?”

“Nothing,” John said. “He just disappeared without a trace. Into thin air. It tore my brother’s family apart.”

“It tore our daughter apart,” Karen said sharply. “We took her to a psychiatrist for a while, after it happened. She was wild with grief. Kept swearing she was seeing things she couldn’t have possibly seen.”

“What kinds of things?” Mulder asked, leaning forward.

Karen laughed, a harsh, bitter sound. “She said that while she was playing with Joey, that he looked dead. Like she was playing with a corpse. And that she turned around to tell someone, and when she looked back, he was gone.”

Scully sucked in her breath through her teeth, and looked over at Mulder. He had leaned back in his chair, face pale.

“The doctor believed she was just trying to work through her grief. Finding a way to accept that her cousin was gone. Likely dead.”

“And now this,” John said. “I don’t understand how this happened to our little girl. The police said that they found Joey’s tooth– that boy that was with her said he saw a child–”

“We’re going to find out what happened to your daughter,” Scully said, standing up, touching Mulder gently on the back. He stood woodenly and followed her towards the door.

*

“Mulder.”

He ignored her; kept walking towards the car.

“Mulder, stop.”

He hesitated, and then turned. She could see a muscle in his cheek twitch as he attempted to rearrange his expression.

“What she said– about what Jane saw– that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Her psychiatrist was probably right.”

“We’ve heard this story before, Scully.”

“Yes, and with a very different outcome.” She crossed her arms, refusing to yield. “You said it yourself. Joseph Keller is likely very much alive.”

He had succeeded in regaining his composure, and stared back at her, his face blank, devoid of all emotion, all readability. She had come to loathe that expression, loathe the anger and unsettled emotions that could seethe under such placid waters. There was no getting through to him when he sealed himself off in such a way.

“And you said that the idea of a feral child in Los Angeles is laughable.” His voice was unnaturally calm. Flat. Angry.

They stood, facing each other; her arms crossed, his limp at his side, no more than a few feet apart. Behind them, a house touched by tragedy. Before them, a divergence in the road.

“I want to see the body,” she said, finally.

“I’d like to go check out the site where she was attacked. I’ll drop you off at the police station on the way.”

*

“These bites are definitely human,” the medical examiner said, white gloves prodding at stiffened, cold skin.

Scully peered through her goggles, her own gloved hands extending to prod at the gash on the young girl’s arm, and then upward to the much more severe neck wound.

“You found the tooth in the neck wound?” she asked.

The medical examiner nodded. “Right here. A fair bit of tissue still attached to the base. That’s how we were able to DNA match to the missing child. Looks like it tore right out of his mouth while she was struggling.”

Scully stared down, the pale face, the dark hair against the steel table, all youth and prettiness gone gray.

“Here’s the weird thing,” the medical examiner said.

She glanced up, “It gets weirder?”

He chuckled. “I measured the bites myself. Nearest I can tell, the bites were made by a human child, approximately age two.”

She shook her head. “Joseph Keller would be five, now.”

He raised his eyebrows. “Told you it was weird.”

She glanced down at the body on the table again, at the fatal wound on the girl’s neck. “You can’t tell me a toddler did that. There’s no way a human child could even generate that much bite power.”

“I will admit it seems improbable,” the examiner agreed.

“Story of my life,” she murmured.

*

Mulder was lying on her motel bed when she returned to the room. She took him in, his features bathed in the late afternoon sunlight as it filtered through the window. He had loosened his tie, and was staring off into nothingness with a perturbed look on his face.

“Did you find anything at the crime scene?” she asked, testing the waters, unsure of his current mood.

“Indisputable evidence that a pack of feral children has been feeding on pedestrians for years.”

Flippant, then.

“Well, they can stop blaming the local coyote population,” she said with a small smile.

He smiled back, albeit a distracted one. Then he sat up, running one hand through his hair. “Something doesn’t add up here, Scully.”

“I know,” she sighed. “I examined the body. According to the medical examiner, those bites were made by a two year old child. Not a five year old.”

“But the tooth–”

“By all accounts, the tooth belongs to Joseph Keller.”

He scowled for a moment, and then stood up. “We have to talk to the boyfriend.”

“Mulder, have you considered the fact that someone– likely the same someone who abducted Joseph Keller three years ago– might have used his remains to commit this crime?”

“Tommy Gale said they were attacked by a demon child.”

“According to the police report, Tommy Gale was near incoherent with fright when they picked him up. He could have said anything.”

“Three years ago, Jane Keller had a vision of her cousin dead. Then he disappeared without a trace, Scully. Just like Amber Lynn LaPierre. Just like Dean Tencate. Just like–”

“Mulder–”

“–just like my sister.”

The words hung between them. How grieved his face looked; weariness creeping back in to settle on his features like an old friend.

Her first instinct was to go to him, to offer comfort in some way. But she could see by his thousand-yard stare that such efforts would be unwanted; not what he needed in the moment. He needed to act, not be soothed. She had, once before, held his stiff, unfeeling frame to her body, aware even while doing it that it was the wrong move at the time, still hurt and bewildered by his lack of response. His mind was already somewhere else; hurtling through gaps in logic that she would never be able to connect– she could only hope that when he went he would take her along for the ride.

“Are you coming?” He asked. He already had his suit jacket on.

She went.

*

“He was small. And he smelled bad. Like he was sick, or something. He was making this godawful noise.” Tommy Gale had a shocked, pale face that peered out through a trendy bleached blond haircut. He smelled of cigarettes and mint gum.

“And Jane approached him?” Scully asked gently.

“She called him Joey,” he ran a hand through his hair, mussing it. “She bent down to pick him up. He was all blue. He looked so cold.”

“What happened then?” Mulder leaned forward in his chair.

“I already told the cops what happened then,” Tommy said. “I… He started making that sound. It was inhuman. His eyes were all lit up like stars. Only they were cold. I don’t know how to describe it. He bit her. He bit her and there was so much blood and I ran away.” He looked up in abject misery. “I ran away and left her dying. I swear he was drinking her blood.”

Mulder was already up and pacing, leaving Scully to find the appropriate words of comfort for the boy in front of her.

She followed him out into the evening, the last embers of a dying sun stretching over the hilltops. Vague imprints of stars were just beginning to appear in the darkening sky.

He already had a phone to his ear. His face was cast in shadow.

“LAPD are doing a sweep of the area,” he said to her, hanging up without saying another word to the person on the other line. “They’re wasting their time.”

“You no longer think there’s a chance that Joey Keller is still alive in the woods?”

“No,” Mulder said, his face stony. “This is something different.”

*

Idaho Women’s State Prison

9:37 PM

Kathy Lee Tencate stood in front of the small washbasin in her cell, brushing her teeth. She had few possessions, and kept her cell painstakingly neat.

She followed a rigid, meticulous routine in the evenings. First, she brushed her teeth. Then she splashed some water on her face and rubbed briskly with the thin, rough towel she had been provided. Then she would lay down on her metal bunk and stared up at the ceiling for exactly fifteen minutes, daydreaming about the sweet, angelic face of her son. He was always smiling in her mind’s eye, enigmatically, knowingly, the way he had that night she’d glimpsed him in the corner of her cell.

When she was done thinking about him, done giving thanks that he’d gone off to a better place, regardless of what had happened to her in his absence, she would roll over and go to sleep.

Her sleep came easy now, and was frequently dreamless. In those first dark years of incarceration she had often awakened in a cold sweat, calling out her son’s name.

“Goodnight, Dean,” she said softly.

A hiss answered her.

She jumped, startled, and dropped her toothbrush into the basin. Then she laughed at her own foolishness.

Hot water in the pipes. Nothing more.

She finished splashing water on her cheeks and then moved over to the bunk, lying down on the drab gray linen.

“Goodnight, Dean,” she said again. She would whisper those words one final time each night, just before dropping off to sleep.

This time, there was no mistaking the answering noise for pipes. There was a terrible, rattling hiss from underneath her bed, and a heavy scuttling sound.

Kathy Lee started to get out of the bunk and then hesitated, not wanting to encounter a rat. She swung her legs back up and sat, cross-legged and nervous.

The hiss came again. Unnatural and inhuman.

“Guard?” she said, tentatively.

There was a rattle and a thump. Her bed frame shook.

“Guard!” She screamed. “Guard! Rats! Rats in my room!”

The bed shuddered again, and she peered down at the floor, eyes widening as a mottled blue arm fanned into view, fingertips scrabbling at the cold floor.

She opened her mouth to scream but found she could make no sound.

The waving blue arm dragged forward a stinking, huddled form. It was filthy; clad in tattered rags. And when it turned to look at her, the light in its eyes was almost too terrible to bear.

“Dean,” she said, and his name hissed through her teeth. The thing before her was her son, but not the smiling, peaceful vision she had seen months ago.

Still, that face. That dear, dear face. Trembling, not even aware of the tears that were streaming down her cheeks, she reached for him.

And he reached back.

*

2:43 AM

“Scully.”

She fumbled for a moment in the dark, struggling to get her bearings. The phone had jarred her out of a strange and discordant dream which had already fled from her conscious memory.

Mulder, she thought. Don’t have done anything rash.

“Agent Scully,” it was Skinner’s deep baritone on the other end.

“Sir?” She flicked on the bedside lamp, bathing the room in weak yellow light.

“I’m sorry to call you at this hour,” he said. “But something has come up.”

“Relating to the Keller case?”

He hesitated. “In a way. Possibly. Kathy Lee Tencate was murdered tonight.”

Petite woman. Short hair. Mousy, nervous demeanor. So serene and peaceful when describing what she felt had happened to her son.

“I’m sorry, sir, I’m not following. She was murdered in prison?”

“In a manner of speaking. Two guards who witnessed the, uh, aftermath, say that she was disemboweled by a child who bore more than a passing resemblance to her deceased son.”

“I’m sorry?” Scully stood up, rubbing her forehead.

“Both guards were near incoherent with fright. They described a demon child with glowing eyes who looked exactly like Dean Tencate. They identified him through photos hung in the mother’s cell.”

“And they were able to capture this child?”

Skinner sighed. “Well, no. They claim he escaped through an air vent after chewing through the wire screen.”

“Dean Tencate disappeared ten years ago, sir. That would make him sixteen years old.”

“The guards described a child. No more than six.”

Scully fell silent. She was exceedingly conscious of the sound of her own heartbeat, of the soft sounds of late-night television coming through the thin motel wall, and of Skinner’s distressed breathing.

“Agent Scully?”

“I’m on it,” she said, and hung up.

Twenty minutes later she stood dressed outside of Mulder’s motel room door, hand poised to knock.

He opened the door before she had a chance to make a sound, and they stood regarding each other across the threshold.

“What is it?” he asked. There was no rudeness in his tone, only a weary resignation.

She hesitated only a moment before stepping inside, brushing past him. His bed was rumpled but still made up, the television glowing with some sort of nature documentary.

“You haven’t slept,” she said. It wasn’t a question.

He glanced at the clock with some impatience. “It’s three o’clock in the morning, Scully. What is it?”

His tone stung, but she resolutely moved past it. “Skinner just called.”

Mulder raised his eyebrows.

“Kathy Lee Tencate was found murdered in her prison cell this evening.”

He twitched as though an invisible jolt had run through his body. “By who?”

“You’re right, Mulder, there is something strange going on, and it’s definitely connected. Guards report the attacker as being a small child who fits the description of Dean Tencate.”

He was already in motion, grabbing for clothes.

“But Mulder, they were adamant that the perpetrator was a child. Dean Tencate would be sixteen years old now if he were still alive.”

“It *was* Dean Tencate, Scully. Just as it was little Joey Keller who killed his cousin.”

“I’ve booked us two tickets to Boise,” she said. “We have to leave now.”

“No,” Mulder said. He paused and looked at her. “No, you go. Tell me what you find.”

“Where are you going to go?” she asked, that old familiar frustration creeping back in.

“There’s something I need to follow up on.”

“Mulder–”

“Scully, I have to do this.”

And just like that, he was out the door, leaving her standing alone with her luggage and the lingering ghost of his presence.

*

She went to Boise. Frustrated, almost to the point of disbelieving that just when he had gotten it together, a case like this had to come around and unravel him again. Aching for him, too, knowing how it must feel to finally be at peace and then have old wounds ripped open again.

She sat by the window on the plane, watching the horizon brighten. Her hands remained balled into fists.

She hoped she wasn’t making a mistake.

He tended to do stupid things when a case hit close to his heart. She knew it, and he knew it. As cautious as he was in regular, every day procedures, he was just as apt to fling himself onto a moving train or jet off to a foreign country with little to no regard for his own well being.

So far, he’d always returned to her. Sometimes in better conditions than others– who could forget finding him near-comatose, his head sawed open? Or his exhausted stagger into a room full of people, blood on his forehead and his dark eyes focused only on her?

But luck could run out. And the thought of him, so tall and lean and full of life, brimming with good humor that he let so few people see; the thought of him being cut down without anyone there to help him, the thought that a glimpse of him all stone-faced and determined could be the last she ever saw of him was almost too much to bear.

It *was* too much to bear.

But she had to trust him to work through his own demons as well. If he thought that children of starlight were returning to earth, he was likely thinking that his sister could be among them. And regardless of how at peace he was with what he believed ultimately happened to her, he would not be able to leave this stone unturned. And it would not be fair of her to expect him to.

So she went to Boise. And she hoped that wherever he was, he was taking care of himself.

*

“The perpetrator exited the building here,” the officer said, shining a flashlight at the small air vent. Wire shielding was twisted and bent away. Bits of blood and gore clung to the sharp edges.

Scully winced and looked away, directing her attention back to the now-empty cell. Bed linens stained crimson. Blood splashed haphazardly on the walls, the floor, everywhere.

“Have you had any luck tracking him?” she asked.

“We’ve had teams out all night. There’s a distinct trail leading away from the prison, and then it just dries up. Frankly, it’s like he disappeared into thin air.”

“And you’re sure it was a child?”

The officer smiled grimly at her. “We’re not sure of anything at this point. But you can talk to the witnesses if you’d like.”

*

“She was yelling about rats,” the guard said. His name was Jim. He had a paunch and was losing his hair. In the harsh florescent light, he looked like he might have lost a bit of his mind as well.

“Rats?” Scully prompted.

“She was never any trouble. Some of them, they give you a hard time. But she was always so polite. When she started screaming, I came running. By the time I got there, he… it… already had her.”

“The child. Dean Tencate.”

He smiled wryly at her. “I know how that sounds. But what I saw wasn’t a child. Not really.”

“Then what was it?”

“You only had to look into its eyes. It was like looking straight into hell,” he shuddered. “It had her intestines in its hands. It was… pulling on them. And laughing.”

She looked into his fearful eyes and saw no deception. Only terror.

“Laughing,” he repeated.

*

On her way down to the morgue she dialed Mulder’s cell, and wasn’t surprised to get his voicemail.

“Mulder,” she said. “I’m heading down to autopsy Kathy Lee Tencate’s body. The attack was… it was unspeakably violent, Mulder. There’s no way a child did this. There has to be something more to the story.”

She paused in the stairwell, leaning against the wall and taking a deep breath. “I know where you think this might be leading. Please–” Please what? Please don’t die? Please don’t let yourself be found in an empty room somewhere, with your insides on the outside and a look of terror the last expression your face will ever wear?

“Be careful,” she said finally, hanging up.

*

Kathy Lee Tencate had died in agony. Fear and pain had stiffened on her face. Eyes wide with shock. Mouth open in a silent scream. Torn open like a victim in a horror movie, with cartoon viscera splashed all around.

Her stomach had been torn open by hand. There was a jagged bit of fingernail jutting out of her skin.

How could a child have done this?

Even now, the bits of flesh left behind on the air grate were being sent off for forensic testing. They would be cross-referenced with the known samples belonging to Dean Tencate.

However illogical that seemed.

She conducted her autopsy, noting nothing remarkable beyond the fact that the woman had been eviscerated by, according to all reports, the demon incarnate of her six-year-old deceased son.

And, two hours later, when she finally finished and dropped her soiled gloves into the garbage, it was all she could do to keep from calling Mulder again.
Instead she dialed Skinner.

“Sir,” she said, when he answered. “I can’t even begin to offer a reasonable explanation for what’s going on, but I think we need to contact other families who have reported similar experiences. The LaPierres. Harold Pillar. These murders are linked, somehow, and I fear they may be in danger.”

She could hear his doubt through the phone. “What do you suggest I tell them?”

“To keep their guard up,” she said. “Their lives might be in danger.”

He hesitated for a moment. “I’ll contact the field offices in their areas. Have them send out an agent.”

“Thank you, sir,” she said, hanging up.

She stood for a moment in the cold corridor, a chill creeping into her bones.

She dialed Mulder.

This time he answered, and her knees nearly went weak from the relief of it.

“Mulder,” she said. “I finished the autopsy on Kathy Lee Tencate.”

“Did you find anything?”

She sighed. “Nothing we didn’t already know from witness accounts. But Mulder… this attack…” She shut her eyes. “What the guards describe seeing defies all logic.”

“Like what Tommy Gale saw in the woods that night.” His voice was distant; strained.

“Skinner is sending field agents out to speak with the LaPierres and Harold Pillar. Given the connections I think it’s reasonable to assume their lives might be in danger too.”

“Yeah,” Mulder said thoughtfully. “That’s a good idea.”

“Mulder, are you all right?” she asked. The distant tone in his voice was worrying her.

There was a pause. Just long enough to amp up her concern.

“I still have a room at the motel in Los Angeles. I’ll see you when you get back.”

He hung up before it occurred to her that he hadn’t really answered her question.

*

She flew back to Los Angeles, her lips set in a tight line. When she landed and checked her voicemail to discover that Harold Pillar had been found torn to pieces in his home and partially devoured, she greeted the news with grim resignation.

The LaPierres had been taken to a safe house. They were under guard and lock and key.

She did not expect Mulder at the airport, and was not surprised when he was not among the sea of faces in the lobby. She took a taxi back to the motel and found herself standing outside his room, knocking gently.

He opened the door, but only a crack. His face was pale, eyes red-rimmed, cheeks stubbled.

“Mulder,” she said, feeling her heart break for him. She pushed against the door, wanting to go in, wanting to pull him to her.

She was surprised by resistance.

“Did you get the forensic results on the tissue samples yet?” he asked, not moving away from the door, not letting her in.

She blinked at him, hurt, surprised. “Not yet. But Mulder, Harold Pillar has been murdered. There were no witnesses this time, but it seems like the same MO as the others.”

He stared impassively at her, as though he had expected this. His shoulders were slumped.

“Mulder,” she said, and she pushed against the door harder. This time he yielded and let her pass.

The smell hit her as she stepped into the darkness, and she turned to face him, realization crashing down like a sledgehammer.

“You didn’t.”

“I had to,” his voice cracked as he moved towards the bathroom door, which was tightly shut. There was a chair propped up against the knob.

“Where?”

“I drove back to Victorville. It occurred to me that if the… perpetrators… were seeking out the people who experienced the original manifestations that it would be the nurse.”

“Arbutus Ray,” Scully murmured. The elderly nurse who, by all accounts, was the last person to have ever seen Samantha Mulder alive.

“I was too late,” he said. “She was dead. You can imagine how.”

Scully shut her eyes, feeling tears leak out onto her cheeks.

“But she was there, Scully. She *waited* for me. She knew, even after all this time, that I would come for her.”

He reached for the knob, moved the chair away, and she put her hand over his, stilling him. “Don’t.”

He met her eyes, his bright, feverish, hers swimming with tears. “It’s her, Scully.”

“No,” she said. “It’s not.” She led him away from the door, towards the bed. She sat down and he came willingly enough, still casting frequent, almost reverent, glances at the bathroom door.

“Mulder, when you told me you saw your sister, when you saw her in starlight, that she was happy. That she was at peace.”

“She was,” he said.

“Why would she come back now? Why like this?”

He shook his head, not wanting to hear.

“I have another theory,” she said, speaking slowly, cautiously. This was his territory, not hers, feeling for the impossible, connecting dots that seemed much too far apart.

He looked at her with such blank hope that she felt her sadness double over on itself.

“When they were taken– those children– they were taken directly from the physical plane to the spiritual, correct? And you do, or did, believe them to be dead?”

He nodded slowly.

“Then I believe,” she said, and she surprised herself by realizing that her words were true. “That they are still there. Still in starlight. Still happy. Still at peace.”

“But–”

“Something else is at work here. Something with its own agenda. And it’s using the bodies they don’t need any more. They’re just vessels, Mulder. Nothing more.”

He looked from her to the door.

Something inside was making noise. A terrible, hissing sound. Inhuman.

“You can’t really believe that’s your sister in there,” she said, desperation creeping into her voice.

He stood up and moved towards the door again, hand outstretched. This time she did not stop him.

It swung open to reveal a small, nondescript room. On the floor, hands and feet bound, huddled what had once been a lovely girl.

Her dark hair was matted and hung in her face, partially obscuring the hungry sneer she wore. Her hands and clothes were spattered with dry blood. But it was her eyes that were haunting, arresting. They glowed with cold light.

Like stars, Scully thought.

“That’s not your sister,” she said, her hand reaching out in the dim light to find his.

The thing on the floor lunged forward, tugging ineffectually at its bindings.

“Scully,” Mulder said, and his voice was no more than a whimper.

She stepped forward, fighting against her own growing horror, and placed two fingers against the girl’s cold throat.

No pulse.

“She’s dead, Mulder,” she said gently.

And then the Samantha-thing on the floor lunged forward again, bringing both bound arms up and over her head in an unnatural swinging motion. Her cold, jagged-nailed fingers found Scully’s hair and jerked, pulling her down onto the floor. Her head hit the side of the sink and she tumbled dizzily to the side. The girl moved rapidly, sinuously, vibrating with that terrible, hungry hum, her eyes glowing as she bit into the ropes binding her hands, tearing them free, bringing them down to claw into the soft of Scully’s stomach–

The gunshot was deafening in the small room.

So was the silence that followed.

*

He had stood, frozen in the doorway for a long moment after firing. And then, just as Scully was pushing her way up off the floor, he dropped to the ground and crawled towards her, pulling her into his arms, holding her tightly, running his hands up and down her arms as though reassuring himself that she was still whole.

His chest was heaving and hitching, and she found herself taking him in her arms instead, pulling him to her, feeling the tears he’d struggled to hold back begin to dampen the shoulder of her suit jacket.

“I’m so sorry,” she murmured, pressing small kisses against the side of his neck. He turned and his lips met hers.

Sweetness tinged with salt. Like the first time. Once again, an embrace born not of desire but of desperate sadness and an overwhelming need to be close, closer, skin against skin.

She pulled back slightly, face flushed, cheeks damp with tears. She was unsure whose.

The light in the eyes of the creature on the floor had gone out. Now it was just a corpse. Just a fourteen year old girl who had disappeared off the earth long before her time.

“Scully,” he choked, tightening his grip.

Somehow, they found their way off the floor and out of the bathroom.

Mulder sat on the edge of the bed, face buried in his hands. How wonderful it had been, so briefly, to have the weight of the world off of him.

Christ, she thought. How much darkness could two people take? Must it always be like this?

She reached for her cell phone, and was aware of him as he stood up and slid past her, moving towards the window. He pulled the drapes, and peered out into the dull pre-dawn sky, the rows of road weary cars in the parking lot.

He turned back to face her, his features briefly illuminated by the headlights of a passing car. “Scully?”

She met his gaze.

“There was nothing of my sister in that room, was there?”

She bit her lip and shook her head.

He turned away, seeming to find it easier to speak to the unwashed window. “If we expect to believe that innocence can live on forever, as pure energy, then it stands that we must be prepared to accept the flip side to that as well.”

She stepped closer to him, side-by-side at the window, shoulders barely touching. “Mulder, that thing in there… it fed on hope. It sought to destroy the very peace that those manifestations fostered.”

“You think it’s over?”

“I think you stopped it,” she said, still staring straight ahead. “Dean Tencate fled from the prison and then vanished without a trace. LAPD found no indication that Joseph Keller was ever in those woods. They didn’t come back from the dead. They just–”

“Walked in?” His lips turned up slightly.

“I think you kept it here long enough to…” She trailed off.

He glanced down at her, a small smile on his lips. “That’s some theory.”

“I’m sticking to it,” she said. And to you, she thought.

“There’s a body, now,” he said softly, and she knew what he meant. He finally had something tangible to mourn. He could finally bury his sister.

She didn’t respond, but instead reached out and gently took his hand. They remained like that, side-by-side, staring out into the parking lot as the sky lightened.

This is how we’re going to make it, she thought. Because there’s always a dawn.
*

End

 

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