Title: Carnival Dark, Carnival Light
Author: Susan Esty (AKA Windsinger) Windsinger@aol.com
Completed: 9/30/97
Disclaimer: The same old thing. Thank you CC for your inspiration for this series, for daring to take the time to do it 'right' (most of the time anyway) and for hiring DD and GA who have warmed our nights and brightened our days. All written with the greatest respect.
Rating: NC17 for 'adult' situations even though this story within a story is a 'Fox at 15' tale. Angst, Romance, a couple of bad words and a situation which will probably make mothers of teenage boys go screaming into the night.
Archive: This story may be distributed freely as long as no one makes any money. If you place this on your WEB sites I'd just like to know about it.

Summary: Lying in pain a decontamination unit, Mulder remembers a day which was very special to a certain 15-year-old - a time of a different kind of pain, and anger, and marvelous discovery.

Author's Notes: This story had a very definite beginning. Last summer I took my children to a carnival. As I was waiting for them to finish riding the Himalaya, I noticed a tall but rather surly teenage boy. He was alone. I saw him get on the ride and sit down in one of the cars with a girl he didn't seem to know. They left together. Being bored - a dangerous thing - the wheels in my head started to turn. That's a true story but it's also all I know about these two. Here's more but it's all fiction.

The digital readout on the face of the electronic thermometer glowed blood-red in the dim light. "Too high," Dana murmured under her breath, though she'd seen it higher. And the pulse rate... far too fast. Racing. Extreme pain can do that. Dana gently laid down the rigid, swollen wrist, heard the soft strangled sigh in response. The blood pressure at least was holding its own at the moment. She studied the graph of the readings which had been taken twice an hour for the last two days. Up and down, up and down. She leaned towards the bed, swallowed. She found it took more effort to force the words out than she expected. It was almost as if she was afraid of the answers she might or might not receive.

"You in there?" she asked very softly.

Even in the dimness of Ft. Detrick's 'Decon' ward, she could see that the patient's eyes were shut tight as if even this faint light brought pain. Noise, even the slightest, must hurt, and so she spoke as if she were a child trying not to startle a butterfly.

"Mulder, anybody home?" She had been asking this on and off with growing panic for the last hour.

Finally, a grunt. Clearly a response. He'd come out of the sedatives with some kind of a mind at least.

"Wh - "

His lips had moved. Was that a question or a puff of air?

Dana leaned forward, careful not to touch. Touch was pain.

"Try again..." she urged.

"W-Why...s-stop?" he asked, shivering from the fever, enunciating with agonizing precision from somewhere deep in his laboring chest. "C-Could use... g-good d-drugs."

A sentence... Oh, thank you, God, a complete sentence.

Dana smiled - a brilliant display and quite at odds with the emotion that without warning was burning her eyes and making her chest ache. What was this? Tears for Mulder? If she started now she'd be crying buckets. But there were tears though they would remain as before unshed, tears not of fear or pity but rather of a relief that could never be described in mere. The toxin hadn't passed the blood-brain barrier then after all. No grey matter had been congealed into an homogenous mass of tissue cooked medium well. Hamilton, the senior member of the research team had been correct in his analysis then - the active agent in the noxious cloud had consisted predominantly of a hard tissue endotoxin. Ugly, horrible stuff was biological warfare.

"Mulder," Dana said, trying to speak as distinctly and yet as gently as possible, "I'm so sorry but they need you drug- free. Hamilton, the head alchemist around here, has have started you on a new toxoid cocktail and they have to monitor your reactions." The problem was Dana wasn't so sure that she or anyone in the army's most prestigious level Four containment unit would be able to move fast enough even if something did go wrong. Despite the sensitivity test he'd been given which had come up negative - well, mostly negative - an allergic reaction to the strange concoction was a real possibility and anaphylactic shock could kill within minutes.

A long pause. A deep sigh. "Hardly... wait," her partner managed. Considering the damage to his lungs, which most closely resembled a first degree burn, the effort must have been excruciating.

Not stopping to think, Dana touched the skin of his forehead, running her fingers absently through his hair, soothing the fevered brow. In response his jaw clenched. An all too vivid indicator that even this simple act brought no comfort, only more pain. It was clearly all he could do not to flinch.

Chagrined, Dana jerked her hands away. Only Mulder could make her feel so utterly useless. "You know, Mulder..." she whispered more harshly than she intended, "I think I could live without your rash, impetuous, hero tricks. I really could. Why can't you stay home and read a book for relaxation like everyone else?"

No smile came to his lips as she thought it might. Because they had come too late? Because nearly everything about this particular job had been botched from day one? Because a mother and her three children had died in the fiery altercation?

Four would-be rescuers had also died as they raced towards that accident trying to reach the hazardous materials and the hostages the truck carried before it blew. Even across flat Indiana farm country, the high speed chase had been madness. A momentary loss of control by the driver, a crushed gas tank, a spark from a downed electrical line. That was all it took. Two firemen from the Hazmat team, the first on the scene, were killed instantly from the blast. Their glaring yellow biosafety suit would have saved the two local FBI agents who followed. The agents had survived the explosion, just knocked off their feet, but then the cloud of dripping venom had rolled over them, turning their lung tissue to mush within minutes. Dana saw them brought in. The vitreous humor had leaked out of their corroded eyeballs like huge tears.

Mulder... Mulder had come last of the rescuers. Much as the delay had irked him, he had been that many yards behind only because Dana had screamed to him that any attempt would be suicide. She had clung to his gun arm with her entire weight and refused to let him go until he agreed to wear at least a full face mask. It was the only protection she had available on such short notice. Such masks were at least equipped with level three charcoal air scrubbers. She remembered seeing the red, yellow and blue lights of the police and fire department vehicles strobing across and around the thick transparent plastic of the face shield. Mulder's familiar features had stared out at her - distorted, determined, desperate for her understanding. The seconds it had taken for him to argue about the mask, to put it on, and to peel Dana's iron fingers free from his arm had saved his life.

For this.

Mulder tried to raise an arm and managed only an inch or two. The movement started a subtle undulation of the heated waterbed. The special accommodations had been intended to cushion the injured man and ease his pain. That it did but not nearly enough. One had only to look at the sweat breaking out around his hair line to see that - at least around what was left of his hair line. The toxin had gone through his clothes to absorb through the skin of his arms and legs as if they had used DMSO as a vehicle. Perhaps they had. The chemical had been used by arthritis patients for years for just that reason - to reach almost magically through the skin and attach to the joints. What Mulder would be suffering now if he hadn't been wearing the Kevlar vest Dana didn't want to think about. Within sixty seconds of the death cloud's passing, the remaining firefighters had turned the fire hose on the rescue team though it had been long past too late to save more than one and the one they had practically drowned. Decontamination procedures followed - scrubbing and bleaching and washing till what was left of his hair was brittle and spiky, as stiff and dry as straw and even after all of that they hadn't been able to get all of it. The endotoxin had settled in the joints of his limbs. Poor swollen knees and elbows. His wrists and ankles and his hands weren't any better. His condition resembled the worst flare up of debilitating acute arthritis a doctor was ever likely to see, more like the crippling and agonizing joint bleeds that sickle cell victims and hemophiliacs suffered before modern treatments.

Dana flushed angrily as she became aware of the coolly analytic bent to her thoughts. A doctor's detachment had its place but this was Mulder lying here.

As if he had read her mind, the patient turned his head - not much and the movement paled his flushed skin but enough so that she caught a glimmer from under the closed lids. "T-Tell. Going to buy that... f-farm this time?"

"No need to rewrite your will, Mulder. Not this time. You think you can sneak out of another of Skinner's rantings that easily? He's going to rake your ass after this one."

Instinctively, Dana reached out and nearly touched him again, holding back only at the last minute. Frustrated, she instead turned up the electric blanket's thermostat though she knew she shouldn't. Despite the shivering, he wasn't cold, quite the contrary, but the shock to his system made it seem that way. But death? Not unless the cure was worse than the affliction. What crippling affects might remain after the inflammation went down, however, the experts were still debating.

Mulder's eyes slid closed as if the effort had been just too much. What he wanted was to be far, far, far away from this agony only it was everywhere, with every breath, every twitch. The worst was - he couldn't MOVE. It felt as if his limbs had hardened into blocks of burning iron. Why couldn't they give him the damn drugs! Lots and lots and lots of drugs. That's all he asked for, was that so much?

"Try to think of something pleasant," he heard Dana suggest. Now that was an inane suggestion. He raised an eyebrow that he knew she would notice. Scully saw everything. Immediately she got the message. "All right, I know its lame but there's nothing better I can suggest at the moment. Come, replay something nice. An old memory, a book, a play. The 1985 World Series. I know you can." He knew what she was suggesting. That no one would blame him if he checked out for a bit, unplugged the input connectors to reality for a while. With the way his mind worked he could do that. Drove her nuts when he'd zoned out on her in the past. What she was saying was that he was allowed. He was a hero after all - Wasn't he? - if only because he had managed to survive such a fool stunt.

"P-Pleasant? My life? Hate to disa-p-point you."

"Try," she begged. "The doctors need your physical responses to be unclouded by sedatives," Dana explained again. "Where your mind is is no one's business but your own."

His eyes moved under their lids, the wheels in his brain creaking into motion as he considered. At least the old synapses turned over. At least there was something he could do that didn't hurt.


He forced open leaden lids, not far but enough to catch a blurry, faint image of her face. It was drawn, tired. How many hours had she gone without sleep? How she hated to watch people suffer. Very well, he would try, as much for her sake as his own but ... it was so hard. Not that he feared the employment of his own little brand of self-hypnosis. It was indulging when he was so physically vulnerable that turned his world cold. What if he went under and never came out? But Scully will be there, he told himself. Watching, caring, doing her doctor-thing. She was good at that. Besides, at the moment anything to put distance between himself and this torture could not be all bad. A nurse came in at that moment to take another blood pressure reading. A few dozen expletives surged up in Mulder's mind all grossly inadequate to describe the blast of new agony which followed her tender ministrations.

Frantically, he sorted through the red haze for a memory, any memory. There must be someplace, sometime, when life had been - if not happy - at least better than this. He needed hope. He passed by many a shadowy and weeping hallway before he found one dusty corridor he had not been down for a long - long time. There was not much here worth remembering - those had been bleak and lonely years. Only a very few doors shone with any light at all. Then he saw one which glowed brighter than all the others. Silver masked red and blue and gold and green. Yes! This one. Here was a place to which he would willingly return. Would Dana have called it happy? The day had certainly started off dreadful enough. Perhaps the day stood out because it marked the first time he could remember being glad he was alive since the disaster of Sam's disappearance. He certainly needed to feel that way now just to keep moving forward.

Barely two minutes after she had last seen his eyes open, Dana realized he was gone. It was almost as if his spirit had sunk beneath dark, still waters. Not sleep, nothing like that, just - for Mulder - a kind of vacation.

"Have a good trip," she whispered.

Massachusetts August 1977

"Good morning, Mrs. Mulder. Fox around?"

The prematurely gray, middle-aged woman looked up absently from where she had been down on her knees replanting last year's tulip bulbs. There was a distracted air about her. The anti- depressants did that. To this sixteen-year-old boy standing in her driveway she had the look of someone trying to remember if she even had a son named Fox. In truth she was turning her mind over trying to recall where she had last seen him. He vanished in the early mornings long before she could face dragging her tired body out of bed and she seldom saw him until dinner. She'd find dirty dishes in the sink from time to time or hear the slam of a screen door. Sometimes she heard the radio playing from his room, but that was all. Not much of a son. Not much of a mother. Not much of a family.

It was Friday afternoon and so at least she knew that his summer job at the Seven States store was over for the week. "Try the room over the garage," she suggested.

The boy responded with an ingratiating smile. "Thank you, Mrs. Mulder," he intoned and sauntered down the drive in the direction of the garage which was a separate building in the rear of the Mulder property. Fox's mother went back to her digging. If she had noted the slightly sarcastic, Eddie Haskle- type cadence in the boy's tone she didn't acknowledge it even to herself. Her tall, far-too-quiet son had a visitor. That was what mattered. In the year since her divorce, in the year since she had pulled this gawky boy out of one high school and thrown him into another, fewer than a handful of boys had dropped by and no girls. It was nice to think of keeping Fox to herself for a little longer but even in her drugged haze she knew that wasn't right. As she groped for another bulb, she hoped this one was a friend. God knew, he needed one.

The garage wasn't really a garage for no car was ever stored here. The lawn mower was, however, and snow blower, as well as some power and hand tools for carpentry and many, many boxes - carefully labeled boxes filled with the day to day clothes and toys, school papers and drawings of two abbreviated childhoods for certainly Fox had left behind all that remained of his childhood when Sam lost hers. Above the stack of boxes and reached by a ladder nailed to an outer wall was a retreat fashioned out of the low-ceilinged attic.

The visitor looked around the dusty garage with a bored expression until he spied the ladder. Foot on the lowest rung, he called, "Hey, Fox, you up there?"

There came a rustle from above. The scrape of a chair. A few footsteps. In a moment a dark, tousled head appeared in the square opening in the attic floor where the ladder passed through. "Masters?" The surprise in the soft voice was genuine.

"The one and only," his visitor said. "Well, can I come up or not?"

Bewildered, the room's owner shrugged. "Sure."

The low room had a cluttered order to it. Crude plywood tables lined the walls covered with the accumulated treasures of a restless mind - rocks and bones, discarded collections and experiments, school papers. Block and board shelves were filled with books and comics. A telescope sat by an open window at the far end. The slope of the roof was such that neither boy could stand straight except under the very apex of the roof and in another year or so they would neither be able to do that.

"Hey, nice place," Masters said covetously, throwing himself into an ancient, overstuffed armchair, clearly its owner's pride and joy. How Fox had got it up here was anyone's guess. There was a sagging, narrow day bed so close to the wall that the face of anyone lying down in it would never be more than a few inches from the rafter beams. The hefty boy with the sun-bleached hair eyed the bed as its owner stretched out on his side on the sagging mattress. Fox didn't have a choice, Masters had taken the only chair except for a rickety stool.

"Bet you throw some wild parties here, man."

"Not really," Fox replied. What he really meant was 'not at all' but at nearly sixteen you don't admit to such a austere existence. Only two other schoolmates had ever been here and then only to work on class projects. Rolling onto his back, his hands behind his head, Fox eyed his visitor with wary suspicion. Masters was only slightly better than his run-of-the-mill tormenters at school. There was always such whispering and joking just out of ear shot. Only Fox heard too well. Heard too well just as he did too well on all his tests, just as he remembered too well every fact he had ever absorbed. There were other things he remembered well, too, - every slight, every taunt, every snub, every cruel jest, everything except the events of that one night four years before which had left this great black hole in his life. The same great gaping mystery that none in this clausterphobically close community would ever forget.

Fox's silence didn't deter his visitor. Masters got quickly to the point. "Some of us are going over to the State Fair early tomorrow. Wanta come along?"

Fox's eyes widened. No one ever invited him anywhere. No, that wasn't quite true. When they were siding up for basketball, picking a foursome for a relay team before a big track meet or when they needed someone who could be counted on to do most of the work on some group science project - then he was everyone's pal. Everyone liked winning, after all, and with any of these if you had Fox Mulder at your side you had just improved your chances a hundred or so percent. Although still awkwardly dealing with his latest four inches in height and two more shoe sizes, Mulder was vicious on the court. He played with a grim determination that was guaranteed to put a chill into the opposition. On the track he ran as if the demons from hell were after him. The whispers were that they were. And school? He was as good as a walking computer and yet abhorred the limelight so it was easy for the other members of the group to take far more than their share of the credit.

But social invitations? Forget it. None. Zip. Nada.

And so now, out of the blue, this invitation. Fox was, in truth, more shocked than pleased. He felt like looking around the room to see if there might be anyone else Masters could possibly be talking to. It was all he could do to keep from croaking, "You're asking me?" like some pathetic jerk although, at the moment, that was what he wished he could say. Instead he cleared his throat. "Uh, sure. What time?"

"Eight, Saturday ferry schedules and all. We want the whole day." Masters hesitated. "Shoot..." he swore suddenly to himself.

"What?" Fox asked, instantly feeling a change in the wind. He knew the offer had been too good to be true.

Masters waved a hand absently. "Oh, nothing. I just remembered that the only transport we've got available is my big brother's truck which'll make things a little crowded. I hope Officer Krupkie over at Falmouth won't be counting seat belts too closely tomorrow."

Fox breathed out. Was that all? He had an old green Ford, a conscience-placating gift from his father whom he hardly ever saw since the divorce, not that that was any cause to weep. "I can drive if that will help," he offered.

Masters grinned suddenly as if the offer had solved all his problems. "You don't mind? We'll help with gas of course."

Yeah, sure, Fox thought, not expecting to see a cent but was pleased nevertheless with the offer.

They talked of the summer heat and what other members of their little high school class were doing with the end of the their summers and of the Boston Red Sox. Fox offered the current Chilmark high school football hero a warm coke and they parted in a relatively friendly manner.

Ethan leaned on the rail near the stern of the ferry and watched the grey, cool waters of September pass beneath the wide ship. Ethan? Naw.... Fox stretched, hearing elbow joints pop. He was trying out new names again. Not Ethan. He didn't picture himself a Revolutionary War hero all decked out in white hose and a blue coat with a flint lock pistol at this waist. Well, maybe the pistol. One of these days he would find a name that fit and then bye... bye 'Fox'. What had his parents been thinking of? At least his teachers called him 'Mulder'. He wished he could get the students to do the same but their refusal was absolute except when the coaches were within earshot.

Fox shivered and turned his mind to other matters. Certainly, he had troubles more immediate than the problem of his name. Fear squirmed in his belly and it was not just the unpleasant sensation of being on the ferry. Like his name, he had never been given the choice about living on a damned island. Inlets and harbors he could manage but the open ocean with its long gray, eternally rolling swells? Those he could do without. At least from the stern he could reassure himself with the distance the ferry had covered, rather than the distance it had yet to go. In a few more minutes land would be in sight and then he'd move forward.

Where had Masters and Steve gone? Those two upset his stomach even more than the up and down and the roll and pitch. The anger he felt actually helped the queasiness. Masters had said 'some of us' were going to the State Fair. Mulder had assumed he had meant Masters's crowd who besides Ian Masters and his bully buddy Steve Hicks would have included Jason Arran and probably Peter Jefferson. Mulder knew Jason and Peter from the track team and Mulder got along with them about as well as he got along with anyone. Once Mulder had driven his staid old Ford by to pick up Steve, however, Masters had informed him that that was all.

"All?" Fox had asked dismayed, his hands suddenly slick on the wheel. "Just the three of us?"

"Yeah, that's it. At the last minute the others called and said they couldn't make it. Sorry..." the wide-shouldered Masters threw the apology off as if it was a matter of no consequence. From the back seat Steve giggled, his recently turned voice breaking.

So here he was, on a ferry where he didn't want to be, stuck with going to the State Fair with two guys he really didn't want to be with and who certainly didn't want to be with him.

Fox checked his watch and, hands in pockets, proceeded towards the front of the ship. There was Elephant Rock, a welcome landmark, and the grey hump of the Massachusetts mainland rising through the morning mist only a few hundred yards beyond. Thank goodness this milestone in the day would soon be over. At that moment Masters and Steve came up beside him, Masters slapping him so hard on the back with his big football tackle's hands that Fox felt his shoulder blades grind against his ribs.

"Where you been, Fox ol' boy."

Fox shrugged and huddled in his windbreaker against the damp sea air.

Steve came up on the other side and plopped a coke and a huge cinnamon roll into his startled hands. "Here, we bought this for you. Cheaper here than at the fair."

Pleasantly surprised, Fox found himself looking up and actually thanking this boy who was even thicker and beefier and dumber than Masters. As he ate and swigged the soda and watched the blessed land come more clearly into focus, Fox told himself that maybe the day wouldn't turn out so badly after all.

The day, the morning at least, did not go as badly as Fox thought - it was worse.

After they stopped in Framingham for gas, Masters not only paid for the fill up but offered to drive. He said he could find his way to the fairgrounds blindfolded. Fox felt he could have managed just as easily but decided to let him. No reason why Masters shouldn't drive. He was in a good mood but very definitely cold sober.

They arrived at the fairgrounds at ten, early but then with the last ferry leaving at eight that evening they didn't have a mainlander's luxury of staying until midnight. Still it was so early that the roosters in the agricultural barns were crowing. Now that the haze had burned off, the air was cool and the sun warm. It was going to be a beautiful day. There was just something about mornings, about it being a fresh start, about having an adventure ahead. And so far the company hadn't been so bad. Better than staying home alone in his coffin-sized room over the garage.

Barely inside the gate, Masters and Steve headed directly for the midway which was surprising since none of the attractions opened until noon. They also walked very fast which also didn't make sense. They had no where in particular to go... at least Fox didn't think they had.

It was when the carousel came into view that Fox realized how badly he'd been had. Standing there with their teased hair, fresh red lipstick, thick green eye shadow and short skirts stood the Harrison twins, Emily and Ester. Even if they hadn't been the only two standing around the deserted midway they would have been hard to miss. They were gorgeous. They also had reputations for being easy - easy at least for those they wanted to be easy with. The wetness of their lips and the way they put an arm each around either Steve or Masters's waists, told Fox all he needed to know. There was also the way their eyes sparkled in anticipation as they looked up into the faces of the two jocks that made it perfectly obvious what was going to be going on that day. Not all the riding they'd be doing that day would be taking place on the merry-go-round.

"Well, lookie here! What a surprise," said Masters, anything but surprised as he hugged either Emily or Ester close - Fox could never tell which. He'd never bbeen this close to the two goddesses before.

"'Lo, Fox," one of the girls cooed, though the silkiness of her voice was for the feel of Steve's broad hand on her back.

"Morning... Emily," Fox guessed.

The girl giggled. "Ester," she corrected.

"Ester..." and Fox tried hard to remember for next time he had to address one of them that Ester was wearing the nail polish of a slightly darker shade of neon pink than Emily. That is if there would be a next time. There was an awkward silence among the five except for the giggles and the heavy breathing and the sound of the boys' Chilmark High letter jackets rustling against girls' skimpy outfits.

Emily extracted herself from Steve and walked casually over to take Fox's arm. She kept walking until they were half a dozen yards from the others. She was taller than he expected unless that was the effect of the heeled sandals that made her move rather like a street walker. She leaned her head on his shoulder. This close her perfume was suffocating. He longed for the clean fresh smell of the morning.

"Ah, you know, it's really nice to see you, Fox, and nice of you to come with Ian and Steve and all but we, ah, Ester and Ian and Steve and I, we sort of had this day planned." She wrinkled her nose. She obviously thought the affect irresistible. Fox thought that it just made her look fake and cheap like the rest of her. So why did he find that he could hardly breath much less respond? Maybe it was her perfume which she must have laid on by the cupfuls.

With slow deliberation, Emily opened a little string bag she had tied around her wrist, pulled out a twenty, folded it in quarters - each fold as precise as if she were creating origami - and tapped it gently into the front righht picket of his jeans, her hand lingering teasingly. As shocked and abhorred as he felt by the whole encounter, Fox found it difficult to ignore the shiver that ran up his body.

"Be a good sport, FOX," she whispered in a low, husky alto, her rich tones lingering over his name, "and run off and have a good time. There must be some horses or cows or.... sheep.... with which you'd like to open an acquaintance."

Mind reeling, he stepped away from her as if he'd been slapped. He didn't know why he should take such offense. He had known from the moment he saw the two girls what was going on.

His face must have revealed more than he intended. Betrayal, certainly but with hurt and anger vying closely for second. As Emily returned to Steve, Masters stepped forward, his right hand outstretched. His face was not mocking now but perfectly serious. Fox, however, was in no condition to notice. "Hey look, Fox, I'm sorry. You probably won't believe me but Pete really had planned to come and he really did have to cancel at the last minute. When I found out I asked the girls if they had a friend -"

The look of cold, repressed fury in his victim's eyes was clearly enough to stop even a hard case like Ian Masters. Jaw thrust slightly forward, lower lip protruding, pupils pin points of distain, Fox turned on is heel before he could do or say anything he would regret even more than being alive at that moment.

"Seven o'clock, front gate!" Masters called. He was far away and fading but Fox heard. Flinging back a gesture that indicated far more than that he had heard the reminder, a solitary teenage boy stalked on alone down the empty midway.

Chapter 2 Maryland, 1997

Dana checked the numbers for the fourth time that hour. No better no worse. At least there was no sign of an allergic reaction from the antitoxin. No sign it was doing any good either but she knew it was too early to expect miracles. She stared down into Mulder's still face. The pale skin was stretched tightly over the strong bones. His eyes were lightly closed and a thin sheen of sweat glistened on his brow. In the last few minutes his lips had drawn back as if the pain had turned suddenly worse and a tear, a single tear had risen from the corner of his left eye and rolled with aching slowness down the side of one cheek and onto the white pillow.

"Hey, what are you thinking of, silly?" Dana asked, her voice soft and sad. "I told you to choose a good memory, remember?"

Massachusetts August 1977

"I.. AM... SO... STUPID!" With each word Fox let loose with the terrible anger and self-loathing that had been building ever since he had found himself alone with Masters and Steve. Now he was just alone, a patsy, a tool. They had USED him! "Damn them... Damn Them... DAMN THEM!" Exploding, he hit the dented, gaudy yellow sides of the rickety quonset hut some more. Fist... elbow... foot. They all hurt now. His knuckles and elbow were bruised and bleeding. Maybe he'd broken a toe. Didn't care.

"Bastards!" he shouted out loud, only then realizing by the strain on his throat that he'd been shouting for some time. Masters had only needed his car... that was the only reason he'd been asked. Maybe his brother's truck was on the fritz. He should have just given him the damn car when he realized that it would be just these two going and neither friends of his. He'd leave, that's what he'd do. He go home now! Leave them stranded....

Then he wailed and let out another series of kicks, his fists throbbing too painfully to employ them any more. "Damn, shittin', puce-faced Mutherfuckers!" Masters had driven last and after he parked the car they had all been in such high spirits to get to the gate that Fox had forgotten to take back the keys. No.... he realized now, he had been maneuvered into forgetting. That had been the plan all along. Two guys, two girls needed four comfortable seats for joy riding around town. They especially needed a long back seat. Two necking in front, two doing the 'thing' in the back. They were probably long gone from the park even now.

A last kick, a thrust with his fist and Fox slid down the wall, exhausted and mortified by his own stupidity. His sight was blurry, blinded with tears of embarrassment and fury. The back of one hand savagely wiped at the sweat that dripped into his eyes.

At that moment a rough voice in some Mediterranean accent shouted from fifty yards down the long line of still deserted 'Games of Skill' booths. "Hey, you, kid! You better stop that or they'll have you thrown out. Save that anger for the Heavy Hammer!" Fox's eyes strayed upward above the sun-bleached canvas roof of the game the man was just setting up to fix on the tall brightly painted pillar with the great silver dish of a bell on top. The way he felt right now he actually did have a chance of making that bell ring. Just take the big hammer in his hands, wind up and think of the thick black pad at the base as Masters and Steve's faces, of the faces of all the people who treated him like shit, who never gave him a chance. Then with pure mindless vengeance on his mind he'd let loose and hit it just on the tip for the best rebound, send that metal canister up past Weakling, past Jock, past Strong Man, past Berserker till it hit the bell with a loud triumphant CLANG!.

No, that wasn't true revenge. It wasn't nearly as good as 'socking' it to Steve's cowlike face, but instant gratification was better than nothing. Once he finished high school then he would show them, show them all. He'd make something of himself, something respected and powerful. He'd go far away where no one knew about the one great ignoble and horrible failure of his life. As an adult, people cared about what you knew and what you could do with that knowledge. Not about superficials like which crowd you ran around with, whether you got the touchdown or made the winning basket last week, which girl you were humping, if you were humping any at all. He was a junior this year, just two years to go. If he took courses at the university at night and on weekends he could get out even sooner. If he had started the extra work long ago he would have been out by now. It had been struggle enough just to make it out of the bad years of twelve and thirteen all in one piece and sane. Years when the black dreams plagued him even in the daytime, not just at night like now. Years of scandal and reporters, doctors and shrinks, the sounds of his parents screaming in the night, the divorce, his name never spoken except to question, to demand an explanation. Why?

He pushed himself to his feet and straightened his black T- shirt with the picture of the galaxy and the 'You are here!' pointer. As he walked he licked his wounded knuckles and tried to see what he'd done to his elbow. His foot just gave off a dull ache. He'd find a rest room. Wash up. Ten forty-five now. Eight hours to go, eight hours to fill. Eight hours to kill. He'd find something. He'd killed months and years of lonely, dead hours before this. He was a master and at least there would be something interesting to do here, more arcane and seemingly useless knowledge to pick up like what to look for in a prize winning bull or which of a horse's characteristics make it the best jumper or what was the largest squash one was likely to find in your typical kitchen garden. What medical condition made the Lizard Boy's skin look like that? Was it congenital or teratogenic? Fox didn't laugh, though his school mates would have. Such little brains. You never knew what you would need in the future. Yeah, he was better alone, certainly better alone then trying to fit in by pretending to be some stupid, narrow- minded jock.

He came up from behind the last of the row of booths. There was more activity now. More carnie workers had arrived to join the man who had yelled at him before. The sun was shining, perfect weather. On such a day, he told himself, it must be possible to live through the disgrace of allowing himself to be such a jerk. He'd lived though worse. He could live through this day just like all the others.

His time would come. Later.


Chili dogs were just as greasy as he remembered and when you're fifteen, took about three bites to eat.

Fifteen... what was he doing driving anyway. Maybe they were right, maybe he wasn't mature enough to drive if he let Masters walk off so easily with his keys, but the State of Massachusetts had a very lenient pilot program that allowed just that when you got good grades, finished a school-sponsored Driver's Ed program, and passed an extra strenuous driver's test with flying colors. Stupid idea though.

The last hour and a half had gone by quickly enough but Fox had quickly had all he could stand of neatly laid out plates of fruits and vegetables, stiff-necked goats, squealing piglets, fuzzy balls of rabbit fur, and chicken feathers.

"Now here's one fine Guernsey heifer. What you say there, young man, don't you think so?"

'Sorry,' Fox had not said, 'but looks like the cow off the condensed milk label to me, but then they all do.'

The arts and crafts he'd save for the afternoon. He certainly would have enough time. Feeling peckish even after sampling at least six different pies in the cooking barn - rhubarb/strawberry, boysenberry, cranberry-apple, huckleberry and sweet potato - Fox headed out towards the midway. Better now than later he reasoned. Later in the day, nearer the evening, the high school crowd would be out and he would be more likely to run into someone he knew. This was the time for the young families with their strollers to hit all the kiddie rides. Certainly Masters and his quartet would be off somewhere by now, most likely in his car. He wondered if he would ever be able to get the smell of sweat and sex off the seats.

The second chili dog was down and he was contemplating a funnel cake when he began passing the booths with their games of 'Skill'. Skill? Yeah, sure, the skill being to figure out how each was rigged. Bottles, tennis balls, rings, basketballs.... basketballs? Well, maybe later. What would he do if he won one of those huge over-stuffed animals anyway? He didn't have a girl to give it to. That was rather the point.

Not even a little sister, not any more. Sam would have squealed with delight. The old familiar pain bit low in his stomach. That would be an ulcer one day, he imagined.

Passing quickly along the row of booths, he found himself among the more interesting rides. Dare he? Just to pass the time? If he did, he would definitely be letting it be known to one and all that he was alone. What kind of loser goes to a carnival alone? At least just wandering around this way he could pose and look bored as if he were waiting for someone.

At that moment he turned and in the brightly polished metal panel which was part of the "Guess Your Age - Guess Your Weight" booth he saw his own image. And winced. What a joke. Face too thin - everything too thin. Eyes too dark, mouth too wide - or was that not wide enough? - nose definitely too large, hair like a wild ass's mane, hands huge at the end of thin arms, chest caved in like some scrawny chicken's, feet like boats. These were new shoes and a size and a half larger than the last. 'You'll be having a growth spurt soon,' the sales lady had assured him with a sympathetic smile. ARG!

This was the perfect time for more humiliation and turning Fox got just that. The 'carny' man running the Himalaya ride was everything Fox longed for in a body of his own. The muscles all up and down the man's arms bulged, his T-shirt stretched tight across well-developed pectorals, his flat stomach was ridged like a wash board. The mature, sun-browned man had a powerful neck and hands and legs, and from the rear.... Gawd... The shoulders, the ass. The guy must have to swab the girl drool off the cars after every frenzied spin around this fast, rolling ride. Now Fox knew he had a pretty tight ass, you get that running, and good thighs but that didn't count for much when there's not much flare across the shoulders.

With a sigh, Fox let his head droop. His restless hands reached deep into pockets. Kicking an empty soda cup, he let his shoulders fall against the enclosed side of the ticket booth. He only raised his head when the Himalaya, which had been going slowly, began to pick up speed, lots of speed. It's few passengers were shrieking. The barrage of flashing colored lights assaulted the eyes just as the blasting wall of sound from the oldies rock music pounded unmercifully on the ears. After too short a time the dizzying loop slowed, its direction reversed and then more screaming as it roared up to speed again.

It was when the mechanical shriek of the ride was reaching its loudest and highest pitch that Fox became aware of an itching between his shoulder blades. He was being watched. He was used to being watched, watched and whispered about behind his back, but not here. He turned his head ever so slightly to the left - and saw the girl. A red off-the-shoulder peasant blouse was tucked into a waltz-length, dark tiered skirt. His mind registered small feet, a heart shaped face and mounds of dark, dark wavy hair. Of her face he couldn't see much because she was holding a camera and it was pointed directly at him.

Mortified, he looked away but not before he caught the flash and knew the flash had caught him. Certainly he'd turned his back before she brought the camera down. He felt suddenly naked, vulnerable. How he longed at that moment to be out of here and on his way home. Without thinking he went to the ticket booth, yanked Emily's twenty dollar bill out of the front pocket of his jeans and bought a long strip of tickets. After some hesitation he tore off four and handed them to the carnie man, the one with the nicely developed upper torso.

What did the man think of him coming onto this ride all alone? Loser?


Fox suddenly realized that the ride was surprisingly crowded this time around. Two boys of about ten dodged in front of him on the sloping catwalk, each taking a car to himself. Fox raised his head and traced around the ring. They had taken the last two empty cars. Worse and worse, now he'd have to slink off. Everyone would watch.

"Looking for a seat?" a voice shouted near him over the blaring rock music. Beside him was a car with one occupant. A red blouse, lots of dark hair. A graceful arm ending in a graceful hand indicated the empty seat beside her. She sat on the outside, he'd have to climb over her. He didn't know why but he took the seat, probably just because anything was better then to be found standing around like a dork while everyone waited for the ride to start.

He thought the girl smiled. He wasn't certain because she faced forward immediately as did he for within seconds the ride jerked to a start. After that, centrifugal forces being what they are, it was all he could do not to slide along the seat and crush her. They did touch, he could hardly prevent that - and she was soft but not too soft and smelled of vanilla and honeysuckle. Her hair whipped across his face with a soft pain. And she didn't scream, she laughed. Joyously. He was silent. He just wanted the ride to be over, so he could slink away. He'd find something to read - the Secret Life of the Bull, or something. Maybe he go find a tractor pull and pretend to be watching his Dad and older brother.

For six hours.

The ride slowed, stopped, reversed. During the lull the girl charged positions slightly. Her leg touched his. Fox stared down at the place where their bodies met and involuntarily his eyes traveled up her body. That was when he saw the camera around her neck and that was when he realized where he had seen her before. When he found her laughing eyes turned in his direction, he faced rigidly forward, the chili dogs and pie rolling queasily in his stomach.

As the ride slowed for the final time, he moved away from where his body had been quite solidly up against hers. As it stopped, she got out first and waited for him. At least she didn't try to help him out - that would have been the ultimate disgrace - but he'd have to say something. As they moved down the sloping catwalk towards the exit he apologized. It was all he could think to say. "I hope I didn't crush your dress."

She was messing with her hair the way all girls do. "Not to worry I did not mind." There was this pause as she threw back her heavy mane. "Really, I didn't."

As they stepped off the exit ramp Fox turned left. Realizing he wanted to ask her a question, he turned back hoping she was not out of sight. She wasn't. She was only a few feet way, standing feet apart on the stained and cracked concrete and blowing dust from her camera lens.

"You took my picture," he said.

The perfect heart-shaped face lifted and she gave him a languid smile. "So I did." The blaring rock-n-roll of the carnival music was slightly less loud at the moment so for the first time he caught the hint of an accent. "Does that bother you?" she asked.

He shrugged all too aware of his skinny frame and how poorly he stacked up against the Himalayan's attendant. "I guess not. I just can't imagine why."

She studied him and stepped closer so that they didn't have to talk as loud to be understood. She moved like a dancer. Her wide skirt swayed. "Do you really wish to know?"

Yes, an accent. French maybe, maybe Spanish. Not too thick. More music.

"I'd be interested," he said. With his luck Masters had hired her to take blackmail pictures.

"Then buy us some popcorn and maybe I will." Her smile had taken on a different quality altogether and Fox was aware for the first time that this was no 'girl'. He had been deceived by her exquisite face, her petite build and the energy and grace in her movements. This was a woman somewhere in her twenties. Older than he by maybe as much as ten years.

Fox felt a shivery warmth begin to undulate up and down the length of his body but definitely zeroing in on his groin. This day, this boring loser of a day had just taken a distinct right turn. At least he hoped it was a - right - turn.

They walked slowly with no particular destination in mind. They talked about themselves but only in very general terms. A printout of that first halting conversation would have looked like a census questionnaire. Mostly they talked about the Fair, the carnival section in particular, and about the small domestic dramas they saw unfolding all about them. Was the thirty- something woman in her well tailored suit actually out on a fact-finding mission with her distinguished and considerably older employer? Or was that her father? Or was that her lover? When they were children they would never have been allowed to act the way that six-year-old just did when told he were too big for one of the tot rides. They saw two teens - neither could have been thirteen - kissing in the corner formed by a Coke machine and the shadowed north-facing wall of the 4-H barn. They definitely weren't kissing like thirteen-year-olds.

The sight triggered another of those waves which was almost like dizziness and somewhere between pleasure and pain. Time to buy that popcorn and think of something else.

The popcorn didn't help. The girl - the WOMAN - said she only wanted a little so Fox bought only a single bag and invariably their hands touched either going in or coming out. Before Fox could quite come to grips with the sensations that induced, the girl bought a soda for them both. One.

She sipped first. Her lips were red with natural color, no heavy makeup here. In the right light he realized he could see that tiny sun wrinkles were just beginning around her eyes but he didn't care. She was nice, she was pleasant company.

She was also driving him very nearly mad because at that moment she handed him the soda for him to have a drink. Inclining his head to take a sip, he found himself staring at the very straw she had just had her lips around.

Birch beer had never tasted quite that way before and never would again.

They passed a 'Sink the Basketball' game and he remembered his thoughts from earlier in the day.

"I'll win you a prize," he offered.

She leaned against the booth finishing the last of the soda. Sipping slowly, she watched him watch her. "You don't have to," she said.

"I want to."


"To show that I can. Because that's what I'm supposed to do. Just give me a couple of practice shots to check how this is rigged." Which he preceded to do and with some effort - for the ball had a wicked twist - he was soon the proud owner of a huge pink snake. She carried it for a while laughing and wrapping it around her neck and then his and then she gave it to a young girl whose older brother pushed her in a wheel chair.

"You don't mind?" she asked.

"Not in a million years," and his heart thumped quite a bit more strongly in his chest.

They used up the tickets he had bought and hit a few more of the rides. Somehow they were all centrifugal in nature and he took the outside this time - Octopus, Scrambler, the Himalaya again. She made no attempts to keep from being thrown against him. On the other hand he couldn't... swear... that any of contact had been intentional. That was the worst part - not knowing for sure what was really going on here.

She hurried him up the gangway into one of those fun house trailers. This one was made up to look like a haunted house. An air gun blew up her skirt and coming up the stair behind her he got a good view, a very good view, of a well-turned calf and lots of thigh. Her father worked for the carnival, she had told him and she worked as a fortune teller during the summers. If that was so, shouldn't she know ever inch of this place? Shouldn't she know how to avoid the air jet? It occurred to Fox only slowly that, of course, she should have. It all depended on whether she wanted to.

Further along on the topmost level, as they walked along a tight, dark passage, a jangle bones nearly dropped down on them with a hallow, amplified shriek. Leaping back with a laugh, the girl landed up against his chest - and his stomach and his thighs and his groin. She remained where she was for a long, long moment her face tilted towards his, waiting, its smooth planes illuminated as if by a painter's brush by the red gleam from the skeleton's burning eyes.

As if hypnotized, Fox leaned forward - oh so slowly. A voice inside urged him on, that she was waiting for him and so go ahead and just do it already. Their lips were less than an inch apart when three noisy, vivacious rug rats came bounding and whooping through the tiny passage. They squeezed by and soon were gone but they had shattered the mood.

Fox made a move to go on when he felt the woman hook her elbow through his and begin steering him towards the stark white trunk of a fake willow whose boughs were dripping with spanish moss. By contrast the shadow behind the wire and paper mache structure was of the deepest midnight. Enclosed by that shadow even the recorded wails and moans seemed far away. It was the girl alone who was not far away. She was ever so near and solemnly standing just below his chin. Waiting.... Feeling awkward because he didn't know where he should put his hands and his arms, he bent. He found her lips in time. Before he got the kiss centered correctly, felt her breath like a little puff of laughter pass his cheek.

Not a stellar performance but Fox supposed not the world's worst for a beginner. She patted his shoulder playfully.

"I am truly happy that is over."

At first it hurt, her words, then he realized that coming from her, the words rolling richly about in her beautiful accent, the joke lacked the sting he had expected.

"I was that slow?" he murmured mournfully.

"Let's just say you kept well below the speed limit."

"Will you tell me your name now?" he asked. She had refused before.

"You mean now that we are properly acquainted? What is yours?"

"Yours first."

"Very well." She made a face as if something tasted sour. "Cristabelle. It's horrible."

"I don't think so. Besides I dare say I can beat that."

"That I doubt it. So what is yours?"

He told her, steeling himself for the laugh he knew would come and she did laugh but as before the sound was like a crystal bell, like her name, and brought no pain. "Fox? Oh, you poor boy. If you like, I'll call you something else for the day." Her eyes glittered. "Erol Flynn? Luke Skywalker? Valentino." The way her voice lingered over the 'L' and the 'T' of the last word sent a shiver sliding down his back.

Names just didn't seem to matter any more. "You can call me anything you like."

"Just so I don't call you late for dinner?" She stepped back and then moved him into a better light to consider him properly. He blushed. He felt gawky, geeky, a Frankenstein of mismatched parts. "Hmmm. Speaking of dinner," she mused, "we'd best feed you. A growing man needs his strength."

Heart galloping like a very young and very frightened stallion, Fox asked, "S-Strength? For what?" But she only put a finger to her lips, took his arm and led him away.

Chapter 3 Maryland, 1997

Dana dared to hope. Over the last half hour, Mulder's breathing had eased noticeably. At first that was enough but now it seemed that even the rhythm and strength of his pulse had improved.

Dana limited direct contact with her partner to laying cool cloths on his brow and over the inflamed and swollen knees and elbows. Under the closed eyes the pupils darted busily beneath the lids. A sigh escaped him and not in any way an unhappy sound.

"Now that's better, Mulder," Dana whispered. "Whatever you're doing now, just keep it up."

Massachusetts August 1977

The walk from the Fun House had at first been a quick sprint only settling down to something more sedate as they left the harsh music and smells of grease behind. Fox followed Cristabelle past the rows of livestock barns until they were beyond the main grounds. She aimed out across a rutted field towards a large collection of vehicles parked just on the edge of the site. Most were large flatbeds specially constructed to hold the disassembled carnival rides. Amidst the trucks was a row of small house trailers. Cristabelle trotted up the steps to a battered AirStream pausing only on the top step to reassure herself that he was following.

Fox was. It was only his posture which resembled that of a condemned man. Why did he have the feeling that he was not going to emerge from this place - unchanged? Afterwards, he never could remember mounting those six, skinny little metal steps.

The trailer was small and made Fox feel even more overgrown and awkward than usual. Seeking refuge, he took the first opportunity he could find to sit down which was on the edge of a well-worn couch. Cristabelle was already in the tiny L-shaped kitchen at the end of the room making sandwiches.

He sat nervous and silent for so long that finally he just burst out, "Why did you pick me up?" Only after the words were out did he realize how badly he might have blundered. "You did pick me up didn't you?"

"But certainly." she held up a plate and extended it towards him. Clumsily, he struggled out of the deep cushions. Her eyes were on him as he took the plate - such gentle, concerned eyes. "You are not the first, you know. Does that disturb you?"

Surprisingly it didn't. The last thing Fox wanted was to be singled out, to be any more special than he already was. Still he had been 'selected'.

She read his face. "It does disturb you. I am sorry but perhaps when you understand you will feel better." Understand what? He realized looking down at the sandwich that he was suddenly not very hungry - at least not for ham and cheese.

"Why me?"

Cristabelle returned to the tiny living room to perch on a tall bar stool and nibble on a long slice of carrot. "You were alone and I was alone and you were sad. Is that not enough?"

Just when he thought he could not be humiliated any more for one day - now this. He didn't want her pity. His temper and his pride told him leave. Biology overrode at least long enough for her to add, "I also chose you - for you. Because I liked you. I like your face, I liked your body."

He scowled. "Now you're making fun of me."

She glided to her feet, moving so that she almost blocked the door. Not to prevent him if he really wanted to bolt - which is what every line in his body told her he was ready to do - but just to deter him. "I am sorry," she said and from her voice she really was. Fox had heard 'I'm sorry' probably a thousand times in his life but never once like this, as if someone really meant it. "Oh, that was clumsy. I should have known from your eyes that you would be insulted. You are a person of the spirit, after all, are you not?" She placed two fingers just above the gathered neckline of her well filled peasant blouse. "Worse and worse. I am fumbling. Here, I will begin where I should have from the beginning. I see in your face, in your body, great potential. You were just so unhappy, I thought you should know. I thought it would bring you comfort." She backed away from the door and returned to her seat on the high stool. "There that is better. Now if you want to leave you may leave."

He took a step towards the door, two. Put his hand on the knob. It was cool, odd because the room was so warm. Go! Only he had no desire to go for if he left he was certain that he would be turning his back on something extraordinary. There are times in every man's life when he has to take a risk or two, right?

"What do you mean 'potential'," he asked.

"I told you about the art school. I am an artist. I watch people, I draw people. As I have always done. They fascinate me."

"I fascinate you?"

She laughed that silvery, gentle laugh. "In a way. By the way you stood, by the way you shied from my camera, I guessed that you do not like your face, that you do not feel comfortable in your body."

"You've got that right."

"As I have said, I have a few days of vacation left before I return to Mama and to school to Paris but during the summer I am a kind of a fortune teller with the carnival. It is good money. I tell my father that there must be gypsy blood on his side of the family and he laughs."

"You said you read palms."

"And sometimes the crystal but I am better at other things - I have a talent the general public is noot prepared to appreciate - " she smiled like a contented cat " - or to pay for. Perhaps I should show you." She made that silky movement with her body again and got to her feet. She was a tall woman, only a few inches shorter than his almost six feet. She stretched a hand towards his face, he flinched away involuntarily. In his experience it was not always nice to be touched. She seemed surprised at his reaction but did not retreat, only waited for him to calm himself before trying again.

"I must perform a small examination. Just your face and then my gypsy blood and my artist's eyes will tell you what I see. It won't hurt. You can close your eyes if it disturbs you."

Oh, she did disturb him. The feel of her warm breathe on his skin, the sense of her fingertips traveling over his still- smooth cheeks, his chin, the bones around his closed eyes. Her touch was at once as soft as moth wings and as electric as lightning on a hot summer night. His heart was pounding again as it had in the Haunted House. Certainly she must feel it and his pants were again becoming more than uncomfortably tight across the crotch. When he opened his eyes it was to find her face within inches of his own, her expression extremely intent, her eyes closed in concentration. The pressure became more demanding. She was probing deeply now - under the skin, deep into the bones and muscles - jaw and chin, cheekbones and temples and then over the entire surface of his skull under his hair. He was trembling before she was finished, fear making the fire in his nether regions manageable only so long as he thought about anything else but the fact that he was all alone with a beautiful woman and that she was touching him.

Sighing almost like a sleeper waking, Cristabelle drew away. Absently, she patted his hair back into place or as back into place as it was likely to go. "There that wasn't so bad, was it?"

I'll tell you when I remember how to breathe... "There was a horror story I read once - "his voice was not entirely steady "- about a witch who reformed the face of a man who had rejected her and turned him into a monster. You haven't done that to me have you?" He had meant it as a joke, it hadn't come out that way. She frightened him in a deep way he didn't understand.

Her breath was cool on his bare shoulder but maybe that was because his skin was on fire and growing hotter with every lingering stroke of her fingers.

"What shall I do with you?" she purred, accent deepening to what she must use in her fortune-telling act. "You have learned my secret. Bad boy. What if I said that all the beautiful men in the world were my creation, that as a punishment I could leave you as you are, forever fifteen?" All the while she spoke she circled, hands ever touching and more than his face now.

As if feeling the deep tremble of genuine fear under her hands, she suddenly laughed and placed one soft palm against his sweating cheek. "Oh, I am sorry. Oh, Fox, I was only playing with you. I am simply a lowly craftswoman. I can only picture with the eyes of an artist and a student of the world how the man in you will look." With an abrupt toss of her dark hair she turned away and began the incomprehensibly mundane task of gathering the lunch dishes.

He was still standing near the door, mind whirling, in shock, in lust, in a state somewhere between terror and tears. As the seconds ticked by, however, she did nothing but hum slightly as she worked. Had he been dismissed? Disappointment worse than the fear replaced everything but the animal hunger that she had sown with her voice and her body, her eyes and her touch. He took a step towards the corner kitchen. In this tiny trailer, that was most of the way. "That's it?"

The expression on the perfect face she turned to him was innocence itself. "And what satisfaction could you have tonight?" Shocked, he realized that he recognized the quote. It was from 'Romeo and Juliet' and he was well aware of poor staid Romeo's response. The youth desired only an exchange of vows. Juliet had found that vastly amusing. Well, an exchange of 'vows' was not what he had in mind either. What he wanted, however, he couldn't ask for. It wasn't something anyone COULD ask for.

Instead he said the only thing he could think of besides leaving. "Tell me what you saw when you looked at my face."

Cristabelle returned to stand so close enough that he could smell the clean woman smell of her. She gazed at him playfully from under her lashes, as if she looked upon a stubborn and perhaps slightly backwards child. "The jaw will broaden, the cheek bones, as well. They will both become more pronounced." She shrugged slightly as she seated herself on a high stool with that grace she had. "You may not like the result - it's not what all men would want - but I promise you the women will like it very much. I know I like it." Her nose wriggled a little as she added. "To your dismay, quite a few men will also find it enticing. A beautiful face. Now the eyes... You have been a melancholy child, if you are not careful you will become a melancholy man." She suddenly slipped off her stool, stepping forward to tap him gently on the cheek. "You should smile more. Try it."

That he couldn't do. Fox Mulder didn't smile. Hardly ever.

"Come on. Try it. I have it on good authority that it doesn't hurt."

With hesitation he tried, he really did. He could actually feel the muscles move, it had been so long except for on some of the rides with Cristabelle earlier in the afternoon. Laughing gently, she put a hand over his mouth. "Not bad, but perhaps more gently would be best. Strong emotion flattens your nose - which, I think you will be relieved to hear, will stay as it is. The rest of your face will simply grow into it. My suggestion, if you will take a gypsy's advice, is that you concentrate on learning to smile with your eyes and just a little with your mouth. That mouth is a gift of the gods. Smile on the inside and it will show through and be all the more enchanting."

His mind was whirling. "I don't know what you mean."

"I hope you will learn to understand." She added as if to herself, "Then again, smile or not as you choose. A little melancholia can be very alluring." At that she abruptly returned to her stool. As she crossed her long slender legs and folded her arms, a serious expression came over her face like that of a stern head mistress.

"Since you are interested after all we shall continue. We have studied the face - now - the body." Her eyes widened when he didn't move. He didn't move because he'd lost the ability to breathe again. "You wish to know, do you not? So strip."

His mouth had fallen open. A cold chill washed over him quite effectively killing the warm sensation that had pleasantly reestablished itself in his groin. Inclining raised eyebrows in his direction almost as a challenge, Cristabelle rose and returned to the little kitchen to put away the food and wash the dishes. When she turned back some time later he was standing where she had left him but wore only his briefs. Shoulders hunched, his arms were crossed as if he were indeed cold. In truth he wasn't certain whether he was or not any more though he was definitely shivering.

She put her hands around his waist, letting her open palms run down his hips and buttocks. She pointedly stayed away from the front where, despite his fear, there was quite definitely a bulge. She studied his thighs, his calves. Felt the muscles and the bones beneath. The beating of his heart became bearable. This wasn't so different from the doctor's examination after he'd taken a bad tumble on the ski slope on Mt. Tom one winter. Or at least that was what he tried to tell himself.

When she picked up one bare foot, he was forced to grab her shoulder for balance. She put the first down and picked up the other. He felt stupidly like a horse being shod. She took a long time examining these. "Hmmmm. The feet have about finished growing -" He sighed in obvious relief "-but that means you have nearly reached your final height." She set his left foot down to study his spine and shoulders for a few minutes. When her hands, her fingertips slid over his palms and down his fingers, he was certain that she must be aware of what was going under the one piece of clothing he still wore.

"You have very nice hands," she said, "very sensitive hands. You should be a musician. But then such hands will also be very good for other things." As if unaware that his breath had stopped, Cristabelle dropped into a more clinical tone of voice. "The hands agree with the feet - that you have only at most two more inches to grow. Three at most. Does this make you sad? I know you like your basketball."

Fox realized that he did find it mildly distressing. When he was finished he would be six foot one then - if he was lucky. An admirable height except for a basketball player.

"Will that be enough?" she asked, seeing the shadow on his face.

He shrugged. "It will have to be, won't it?"

From behind, she patted him on the shoulder. "The height will suit you very well. Now for the future of these masculine shoulders." She commenced to measure hand breadths front and back as she talked, always probing deeply into muscle and bone with the seeming distraction of a chiropractor or a masseuse. "From the waist down you are complete - except for a little growing." She took a little pause at that as though she had actually heard his heart skip a beat or three. "You are a runner, yes?"

He nodded, not trusting his dry mouth to get any words out.

"Very nice legs, very nice - butt -" She pinched him unexpectedly and he yelped - " which will only improve with a little more muscle. The shoulders on the other hand are the very last to mature, that and the face and as the running has formed your legs so I think you could do more to help your chest and shoulders to reach their full - what do you say? - potential. What do you do?"

"Weight room in the off season," he managed to force out lamely.

"That is good but you need more. Swim," she said firmly from behind, "swim. You will fill out well without it but with it ... very nice." He felt her nod contentedly as if she liked what she saw with her inner eye. Without warning she roughly pulled his shoulders back. "But you must watch your posture. You are too shy. Heaven forbid that you should spend much time walking with an short woman."

"If that's the worst that will happen to me, I'll manage."

She tapped his bare shoulders one last time and picked up his discarded T-shirt. "So, that is what this gypsy does and, since very few would pay for it, I give it away as I choose." She held out the shirt for him to take as she had offered the sandwich.

"I've heard worse predictions," he said as he stepped forward to retrieve his shirt. As he drew near, she pulled it back slightly so that he was forced to come very close to take it. He felt a little - disappointed. The 'examination' had not been so awful. It had actually been rather nice, in a terrifying sort of way. In fact the most terrible part was how he missed the touch of her hands. She tilted her head towards his as he drew close and he found himself breathing in her own sweet breath.

The shirt was not taken but instead fell without a sound to the floor.

He reached for her. He didn't want this to end. He wanted her to touch him again, he wanted... his mouth came down on hers gently. He was thankful for the trial run in the shadowed hole in the back of the haunted house. Without it this would have been a clumsy disaster. As the kiss intensified his arms came around her slender, strong body and hers after moment went around his.

"You are naked," she whispered. "I am not. We should be the same. Would you like me to dress you or would you like to undress me?"

His body went into full tremble. The anticipation of the great unknown was the sweetest yet the most thunderous pleasure. Was it actually going to happen now? NOW?

"I've never -"

"Shhhh..." She kissed him softly, lips, cheeks, chin, the tip of his nose, his lips again. "I suspected. It would be a great honor for me. You are very nice. You deserve a nice - introduction. Not a clumsy act hurriedly done in the back of a car or in the bushes."

He heard a voice that didn't sound anything like his voice ask stupidly, "What do I do?"

"Nothing. Words cannot explain this kind of beauty. I will lead you through the dance the first time, though I suspect your body knows the steps." She took his hands and guided them to pull down the neck of her blouse to expose the small, bare perfect breasts. "Besides, even if I told you I think you will soon be too absorbed to remember."

His hand touched one breast, one nipple, became fascinated by the softness of the first and irrationally proud of how the second hardened under what he used to think of as his ugly hands. "But you... The books say it's a man's responsibility to make certain the woman..."

She stopped him this time by guiding his head down to her right breast. Her eyes softly closed as she moaned under his hesitant kiss. "Oh, I will do well enough, I assure you. And I will teach you more... much, much more... a little later." With some haste now he clumsily helped her remove her skirt and blouse after which she led him towards the tiny bedroom. The sun shone warm and bright in the tiny room. The big bed was clean and soft and smelled faintly of herbs and flowers.

He would always remember his first time as heaven, a surprising, scary heaven, a paradise where he had no control at all - not over her or her incredible hands or her even more incredible body and certainly not over his own which had taken on a wondrously frightening feral life of its own. Still it had been heaven.

After he had gotten his breath and pulled together the glittering shards of his soul she had led his hands and then his mouth in that slow couple dance across her body. He understood very quickly why she had taken him across first. If she hadn't he wouldn't have been able to stand the tension - it was the rare teenage boy who could, she explained to him with quite loving patience. Even so, when it came to the culmination of this second phase of his training, he found himself nearly torn in two. His mind was just so much dead weight while his body, burned and flamed to be loosed. She had to scream at him to hold on. Screamed and cursed at him, digging her nailing into his back so that the pain would keep him distracted just a little longer.

I am going to die, he thought. Die. He did feel ripped apart. Faster and faster. No slower and slower, she insisted mercilessly, and with more skill. Her face was set with a savage beauty. Her hands gripped his hair in fists, her smooth, strong beautiful legs were wrapped like a vice around his waist even as he knelt over her. Suddenly Cristabelle's voice rose into a kind of triumphant scream, her back arched and he felt something like maddening hands stroking his own burning... But he was... But her hands were... He couldn't hold on, not through this....

"Now, my silly," she moaned at him, her voice transformed into that of some wild, husky goddess. Now? God.... He broke then, he shattered, he died. He must have died. But if this was death he would willing do so again and again and again. There was blackness for a time, then dimly he remembered her laughing oh so gently and holding him, their sweat streaked bodies skin to skin. She was kissing him, she was licking the salt from his face. She cradled him and loved him.

"Did I do alright?" he whispered in a voice suddenly deep.

"Do you have to ask, my darling?" He didn't. He slept.

Chapter 4 Maryland, 1997

A gentle tap brought Dana out of her near doze. She had been resting with her arms on the rail of the hospital bed mesmerized by the regular rise and fall of the sheet above her partner's chest. The tap was that of fingers on glass. Skinner stood outside the sealed room at the window. His hand was raised. His face wore that scowl it almost always wore.

Dana rose and stretched, groggy from not nearly enough sleep. Over by the door she pressed the button which activated the intercom. No way she was going outside. The decontamination procedures she would have to go through to get back in were just too time consuming.

"How is he?" Skinner's voice asked grimly. "They tell me he's better but I'll believe that when I hear it from you."

"They're right, amazingly enough." Dana turned slightly away from the 'comm' panel to sneak another look at the patient. "It's hard to believe anyone could sleep through the pain he must be going through without medication and yet that's exactly what he's doing."

"He'll get another commendation," Skinner announced.

"He won't accept it. The hostages died."

"Wasn't his fault. I know how he tried to stop the locals from that gawd-awful pursuit."

Dana nodded slowly as if none of it made much sense at the moment.

Skinner frowned. "Get some sleep yourself, that's an order."

Dana yawned. Maybe she would. Maybe she could hook into whatever Mulder was getting. He seemed peaceful. Whatever was in HIS dreams clearly did not include listening to the still echoing thunder of the explosion and the screams of the dying.

Massachusetts August 1977

When he woke Fox was still lying across Cristabelle's bed and naked except for a wisp of sheet across his groin. The sweat had dried, the room was in shade, the sun had moved to hide behind the tips of a stand of trees. Cristabelle was sitting in a chair by the bedside dressed only in an over-sized T-shirt. An easel was set up before her. She was drawing, working at the moment in chalk. One hand was full of sticks in various shades of beige and brown and gold. Her expression was intense, her hair a wild dark cloud, her face beautiful.

When she noticed he was awake, she welcomed him with a pleasant, "Good afternoon."

Feeling oddly shy about his nakedness, Fox wrapped the sheet around him as he crawled stiffly off the bed. Someday he may be able to set women's hearts of flutter but for now he was still an underweight fifteen year old stork whose ribs and hip bones and collar bones stuck out like illustrations for an anatomy lesson. Amused, Cristabelle watched him, one eye on the canvas, one on his awkward maneuverings with the sheet. Not knowing what else to say or do he positioned himself to look over her shoulder and see what she was working on.

It was nearly complete. She certainly worked quickly. It was a chalk and ink portrait of a man, a youthful man in the prime of life - brow high, jaw wide and strong, cheekbones to die for. The impression from the neck and shoulders was that the man possessed a lithe but definite strength. The brown hair was a bit awry. What riveted Fox was the expression - serious, alert eyes that yet sparkled with some hidden joke; a wide brow, gently furrowed; nostrils slightly flared with fire; lips curled in just the hint of a wry smile.

He would have swallowed but the lump in his throat wouldn't allow it. He had never seen this man before, never felt such self-assurance which radiated from some inner, mocking relationship with life. "Is that me?"

"Will be," Cristabelle said pleased at his reaction.

He realized that his mouth was hanging limply open and shut it. "But I've never, ever looked like that, I mean never felt like that." Like what? Confident? Internally content within a world that played by HIS rules.

"Oh, but you have - at least I have seen hints of it. When you're most unaware, it's all there in your eyes. And that mouth. Oh, mon ami, as we lay together, as you slept later, it was all I could do to stop wanting to kiss that mouth. You're allowed to be happy, you know, and when you stop thinking about how miserable you are you actually are," she said this as if it might be a great surprise to him. "I won't ask you if you like it. That would be unfair. It is something you will have to grow into." Smoothly, she rose to her feet. "I'd like to take a quick shower." As she passed where he still stood staring at the picture, she ran her lips lightly along his jawbone. "It's really quite wonderful, you know."

She was gone before he realized that she didn't know to what she had been referring. What was so wonderful? The picture? His future? Sex in general or the particular sex they had just had?

Coming from the bathroom a few minutes later, dressed again in skirt and blouse, she found him sitting on the couch in the living room, a large scrap book opened before him on the coffee table. He was still dressed only in the sheet though it was largely forgotten and didn't cover much. He looked up at her, eyes a little shocky, definitely hurt. She knew what he was seeing. On the left side of each page - and there were scores of pages - were photographs of young men. On the right side always a drawing. Some in chalk and ink, some in water color, some just pencil sketches.

"You've done this before," he whispered.

Her hand paused in the act of combing out her long, wet hair. "I told you I had. I told you I studied people. I also told you I was good. How do you think one becomes good without practice? Here..." She indicated a page with three photos on the left hand side. The photos were of the same boy but clearly taken at different times. There was room for more. On the right hand side of the large open book was a mature drawing of the same boy just as she had created for Fox.

"This is Seth. One of the first of my life studies. Here's his photo from the first year we met. He's come each summer for two years since. As you see, he's becoming more and more like the sketch. Don't you think so?"

Fox found her statement frighteningly true. "I understand about the art. It's.... What else do you do?" His knew his voice sounded brittle, wounded, accusing. The picture she had taken of him near the Himalaya would be like Seth's first picture - another lonely boy in a tangle of bone and muscle he hadn't grown into yet.

Knowing that no answer would suffice to ease such hurt, Cristabelle reached out her hand and smoothed his tousled hair. Ashamed, he lowered his head to hide his burning eyes even as his body reacted oh-so-pleasantly to her touch. How could this happen? Just as he never smiled, Fox Mulder never cried and couldn't ever start for fear he would never be able to stop. Yet he felt so - betrayed. But how was that possible and still want her so badly? How...?

"Did you possibly think that I sprung full grown from the ground today just for you, my Fox? And do you think I invite just anyone here? 'I' choose. And, yes, I choose the lonely ones. There are so many who need to know - to be reassured that there is beauty and strength growing within their bodies and that life if full of more such marvels."

He forced his head up. How he wanted to see her face again. With a strange exhilaration struggling up from behind the pain he allowed himself to admit what he had known from the start: That, of course, there had been others and there always would be but also that he was one, that he had been chosen. He belonged at least to something. Belonged - such a foreign concept at least for him. And what if he did come back next year and the year after that and the year after that? Would his second and third and fourth photographs show the same expressions of delighted anticipation as those he saw on the faces of Cristabelle's other 'friends'.

Gently, he shut the thick book. So many pages. So many, many pages.

"Close your eyes," he said turning on the couch so that they were face to face. She did so, calm and totally unafraid. "Close your eyes. Look at me. What do you see?"

"Nothing, of course," she laughed, eyes closed.

"In your mind's eye, with your artist's eye."

Her lips curled in a wicked smile. "Not fair."

"Since when is life fair? Tell me."

"You," she breathed.

"Which me? What do you really see? Me or the man in the picture?" His voice was rough. "You fall in love with the men we aren't yet, not with the way we are."

Her smile faded a little and her eyes opened, those dark, dark eyes that mirrored his image. "Not entirely true. I don't only see your bodies - I see your souls. Is that so wrong? I do not make you up to be some Hercules or some movie star or to suit my pleasure or fancy - or yours. I truly do see you as you are or as time will make you. It is still - you." Aware of his disapproving expression, she obediently closed her eyes once more.

"Try again," he told her.

Her smile was as tolerantly patient as before. "You - and me. I see you and me. There is no one else - and if I do not stop this soon I will be tempted to throw you down on the bed and force you to make love to me all over again." Her eyes opened and she winked wickedly at his expression. "I could do that, you know. The young are so infinitely virile."

Unconsciously, he found himself sliding closer to her on the couch until a strand of her wet hair touched his bare shoulder. "Let's."

She backed away playfully, hands upraised to fend him off. "You aren't afraid that I will damage you?"

"Not a chance," he said with more conviction than he felt. To be perfectly honest, he had come away from the afternoon's exercises with aches and pains in places he didn't know it was possible to have aches and pains.

"Do not tempt me. Besides, there is one thing you should know. My father's shift is over in fifteen minutes."

That did it. A girl's father, even the father of a perfectly mature woman, was a kind of animal Fox was not up to facing just yet. Definitely more potent than a cold shower.

They went back to the carnival. Unashamedly pleased to have such a beautiful woman to cuddle in his arms, Fox took her on the Ferris Wheel and they road around and around endless times while she pointed out places in the Fair and told him amusing stories. When he seemed uncomfortable at her suggestion that they take in the midway freak shows, she took him forcefully by the arm and led him behind the gaudy tents to the break area and introduced him to the lizard boy and the bat girl, to the fat woman and the giant, to the Siamese twins and the dwarf. And all were, underneath their various medical afflictions, just people. Just the extreme ends of the curve that described the infinite variety of humankind.

That sobered him and her expression, as she led him out once more onto the midway, was fondly approving. The pensive, serious crease was still in his brow when he suddenly tugged her towards an all-too-familiar place. The Haunted House. Cristabelle followed but with some reluctance. Once inside he practically ran her through the first two levels. As expected, he pulled her into the ink black cubby behind the willows with their amplified moaning. At first she giggled girlishly - that was until she felt the passion and hunger in his now quite practiced kisses. Nearly breathless, he pulled her to him and in doing so she felt the wild beat of his pulse through the arms that held her just as she felt the evidence of a quite obvious desire pressed against her stomach.

"Fox...." she tried to push him away. "This has to end, you know that."

"I know, I know," he whispered near the soft lobe of her ear, "but please, just once more. It's almost six. I only have an hour. Oh, damn... more than an hour. It's my car. We can take as long as we want. They can wait." He had lessened his hold now that he had spoken. Just as she had never held him against his will, he was making it clear that she could go any time she pleased. Clearly, she didn't want to leave any more than he had earlier. It gave him a breath of hope. "Anywhere... please?" he whispered again.

She said not a word but straightened her clothes and, touching his fingertips, preceded him out into the late afternoon sunshine. They ran again. They ran hand and hand like children for whom youth is fleeting and they know it. But Fox was afraid for he had no idea where they were going. Was she taking him to see some marvel like the sideshow to distract his quite undisciplined ardor - or to someplace quiet, secluded - and safe.

On the edge of the grounds there was a sizeable lake in the center of which was an island. At the lake's edge Cristabelle hailed the attendant at the boat rental shack, a young woman of about her own age, and asked if she could take out one of the canoes. "Sorry to hurry you, we're in a bit of a hurry. We won't be long."

"Go ahead," said the woman, grinning knowingly as she spied her friend's companion, "but only if I can get another Taro reading."

"That would be my pleasure. Merci, mon ami." Cristabelle lowered her voice. "Is my pack still on the hook in the boat house?"

"And where else would it be?" the boatkeeper replied.

As Cristabelle retrieved the pack, the other woman's eyes swept over Fox as he was forced to stand unhappily by the unsteady boat, pretending that he went out alone in canoes with older women every day. Didn't help. The woman might as well have been marking a score card. He found himself suddenly burning with embarrassment, mortified down to the ends of his long toes. The boatkeeper seemed to already know what they had done and what, Fox desperately hoped, they would soon be doing again.

At that moment disappointment melted down over his frayed nerves. Maybe the canoeing would be all there would be to this. Just paddling and talking. In the canoe he would be in a position where he couldn't sit beside her, where, if they both paddled, he wouldn't even be able to see her face. Was this her gentle way of keeping him at arms' length until it was time for him to go?

His hopes soon recovered. Once underway she steered them almost immediately for the island. There was a landing point just around the tip of the island out of sight of the boat house where there were tracks of many feet and places where other canoes had been pulled up. This late in the day the landing was deserted.

Quickly, Cristabelle led him on what were for her well- known paths. He refused to think about why they were so familiar. The heavily forested mound which was all that made up the island was cris-crossed with dozens of such man- and woman- made trails. As he followed, Fox was keenly aware of many small niches behind bushes where one or two or even more could sneak away unobserved for hours.

At a point where Fox thought he would burst with frustration, Cristabelle found the spot she had been looking for. It was obviously a popular place. The grass was well matted down. In some places even the brown earth shown. Most importantly, the level ground was screened on all sides by bushes though not so completely on the eastern side. In that direction one could see the fairgrounds in the distance across the lake. The midway lights were just coming on as dusk began to threaten. He would remember that sight for as long as he lived as if it were a photograph framed within a border of green.

"Beautiful," Cristabelle said.

"Yes," Fox agreed but turning to her found she was not referring to the scene across the water but to an entirely different view. As late as this morning the thought that any woman would ever look at him that way would have made him blush. Now the blood that surged through his veins would be put to entirely different purpose altogether.

From the pack she had retrieved from the boathouse, she pulled two thin blankets, one of which she tossed to Fox. It was obviously meant as a ground cloth. "Do you have to make reservations at peak season?" he wondered helping her spread the blanket on the well-trampled ground.

She laughed at his joke and pulled a few more items out of her pack - the safety equipment which she had also taught him to use. He was glad she had thought of it. He had come on this trip woefully unprepared for such activities. She held a small packet up with the wicked grin on her face. "What do the boy scouts say?"

Feeling exposed, he pulled her down onto the blanket with him. "After today, do you think I could ever forget? The teachers at school could learn a thing or two from you about constructing a lesson plan."

"Ah, but then you'd never get much of anything else done."

"You'd be surprised." He then preceded to demonstrate for her all that he had learned that day, even throwing in a few inventions of his very own for extra credit.

Cristabelle's hand comfortably curled in his, Fox gazed down the aisle between the two Arts and Crafts buildings and towards the front gate. Even from this distance he could make out Emily. She was shouting angrily at Masters. His blond face was a livid shade of red. Ester and Steve sulked yards away from each other. Those four certainly had had a lovely day. As for Fox, he had never felt so - now he knew what the term satiated meant. There was no word like it. Like winning a race - both exhausted and triumphant, consumed and yet the most well he had ever felt in his life.

"Will I see you next year?" she asked in all sincerity.

"Will you be here?"

"We have a ten year contract, just renewed."

"Then I'll come. Next year and the year after that and the year after that."

"Promises... Promises, they make such promises," Cristabelle whispered, her tickling breathe near his ear.

"I keep my promises," he said earnestly and he realized at that moment that the words were true - that he could keep his promise about this and every other promise he would ever make if it were at all within his power to do so. The world had broken its vow of life and security and happiness to him in so many ways. He would not do the same to others. As the other young men came back so would he. To Cristabelle and to taste for a few fleeting hours their future.

"Then I'll look forward to it. Saturday by the Himalaya, twelve-thirty, just like this year." She winked. "And then YOU will show me all you've learned from your lovers over the year." She touched his cheek, "You learn so quickly, my naughty boy. I have great hopes for you."

'At least one person in this world does,' he thought and his smile was bitter sweet. He had decided more than an hour before that he would not go into the truth with her.

That he had kissed only one other girl in his life before Cristabelle. It had been a year before in October, the week he had turned fifteen. The girl was new at the school and not bad looking but dreadfully shy. Lonely to death himself, he made an effort to make friends before the rumors got to her and somehow, magically, they had ended up kissing awkwardly one night under the bleachers during a home football game. Coming out of the shadows, however, they'd been recognized and the next afternoon her older brother and his new friends found him as he cut across the woods on his way home. Another trip to the emergency room, a week of home study, and a new school. Guess ol' Dad wasn't the only one who had a mean right foot and a good back hand.

And so it was unlikely that there would be any opportunity for practice much less experimentation over the next year. His position in the community was fragile enough. Certainly there was no girl he could trust not to talk. Cristabelle, however, knew no one whom he knew, had not even asked for his last name. What they had shared would be between the two of them alone - forever.

Fox saw Steve glare with irritation at this watch. It was seven fifteen. Might as well go. No use prolonging the agony of parting. When he turned to say good bye, however, he found Cristabelle already gone. He had not even felt her hand slip from of his. He saw her at the corner of the last building in the row, her hand raised in parting. How he wanted one last kiss and another and another but decided that she knew best. She was more used to farewells than he. What needed to be done had best be done quickly.

Fox lifted his head and stode off contentedly towards the gate, the gate and Masters and Steve and eventually home.

"Well, where have you been?" Masters snarled as Fox joined the less than happy group and matter-of-factly plucked his car keys from Master's hammy fist.

There was a buzz of voices around him which he barely heard. Would he drop the two girls off at the bus stop, someone asked. They were staying with their older sister.

Sure... sure.

What had he done all day? They had been looking for him since six.

Nothing much.... Picking up a little knowledge here and there.

That was the extent of their conversation - to him anyway. Between themselves the four bickered sharply as they headed into the parking lot. Once in the car they thankfully fell into sullen silence.

As Fox slid behind the wheel he noted that the odometer was higher than even he had expected and that the tank was almost empty. Funny, it didn't bother him in the least. It was more comforting to know that they had not been anywhere near the fairground for most of they day. No one to see. No one to carry back tales.

Masters being taller, Fox had to re-adjust the rear view mirror. As he did so, he caught a glimpse of his reflection. In the stillness that followed he became aware of the beat of his heart. The expression that looked back at him was startlingly like the one in the Cristabelle's drawing. It was just a brow to chin view but there was the smile - the slightly mocking curve of the lips, the sparkle of a well guarded secret in the green of his eyes. There had been more than the curve and that sparkle, however, which he had refused to see - such as shadows from the past and the clinging sadness behind the light.

Epilogue Maryland, 1997

Mulder woke to darkness, to an all too familiar beeping and that hospital smell. Two breaths to check his breathing, some careful stretches to check fingers and toes and he remembered where he was, when he was. With far less effort than he'd needed the last time, he turned his head. The figure he most expected to see was indeed sitting by his bedside, leaning back against one of those high-backed chairs hospital rooms are always equipped with.

"Hi," he managed but not loud enough to wake her if she slept.

Dana jerked upright with a start. If she had been sleeping, it was so light that the rustle of a sheet would have disturbed her. She blinked for a moment, staring into his eyes as if astonished to see them open. Leaning forward, she smiled. "Hi yourself. Have a nice dream?"


"Took long enough," she commented.

"Some things shouldn't be hurried," was all he replied to her blatant hinting about for details. Instead, hazel eyes raised to the ceiling. He was listening to the heart monitor and to the tides of his blood. You got good at that when you spent as much time in the hospital as he did. "How am I?"

"How do you feel?"

"Much better.... I think," he said, adding the last as if he would appreciate confirmation.

That smile came back at him even broader. "Yes, much better. Hamilton's recipe seems to be doing its job."

He raised a hand, an arm, a shoulder. Hurt like hell and stiff but not like before. Not anywhere near like before.

Dana had watched the attempt with pleasure. "It'll be a while yet before you recover your full range of motion. Probably will take a couple weeks of physical therapy."

His lips came together in a taunt line. He knew that song and dance. Stretch and groan was never enough for that brother and sisterhood of sadists. Stretch and scream was all that satisfied them but he knew he would begrudgingly comply and scream as before and probably somewhere was stacking up a tidy sum of brownie points for the afterlife.

"Scully, would you do me a favor?"

Dana's eyes widened. Mulder didn't ask for favors. He just assumed a lot and usually got it anyway. "If I can, you know I will."

"Could you send some flowers to Betty McDonald for me?"

Dana looked confused for a moment then her eyes opened so far that even the whites showed. "Betty McDonald, the artist down at the Bureau who ages all those missing persons?" A slow nod but definite. "Bit kinky aren't you, Mulder. Betty McDonald's sixty if she's a day and has eight grandchildren at last count. If you're going to have fantasies - well, I think you've gone farther around the bend then even I expected."

He licked dry lips and she brought up a cup with a straw for him. The cool water felt good going down. "Not for her," he explained his eyes far away, "but for her profession." He inclined his head and drank a little more. "I have a drawing in my apartment in a portfolio - "

Surprisingly, Dana nodded. "Pen and ink and colored chalk?" she asked. "It's very good."

"You've seen it?" He kept it in a black case behind his couch with the dust bunnies and about a couple of hundred of odds and ends from his past.

"I found it during one of the times when I was tearing your place apart looking for clues after you'd ditched me."

"Like which time?"

"Can't remember, there've been so many."

He gave her one of his looks and she gave him one of hers back.

"Whatever..." he said, dismissing the matter. He didn't have the energy for that kind of play today. "The drawing, can you guess when it was done?"

Dana thought back. As she remembered, it was a striking portrait executed with much skill. Surprisingly, it captured Mulder's whimsical side, a side she saw so seldom in recent years. "Thirty," she guessed, "maybe a little younger."

An eyebrow went up. "So old? Can you believe I was fifteen?"

Dana whistled softly. "That's an extraordinary artist. We could use that kind of talent here."

"She was good, wasn't she... in so many ways." He added the last part almost as a private aside. "I went back to see her when I was sixteen. But they told me she had died earlier than summer."

Actually, he had waited near the carousel starting at noon and waited until two. Then he had tried to find her father's trailer but failed. Finally he had gone to the woman at the lake who rented the boats. It was she who, over a birch beer, told him the story.

"Died?" Dana was asked with sympathy.

"Her father was a carnie worker," Mulder explained. He had to speak slowly, not as up to this as he had thought. "She told fortunes in the summer to work her way through art school. One of her 'clients' tried to rape her. When she resisted...." Mulder let out a long breath and he was again miles and years away. Her father, a bowed and prematurely aging old Carnie man, had wordlessly given the drawing to the stunned sixteen-year-old that night. "'I choose,' she told me. 'I choose.'"

Dana touched his hand, not afraid of hurting him this time. It was clear that he hurt enough already in other ways. "Hey, I told you to find some pleasant memories."

"They were pleasant... most of the time."

Dana gave him another sip of water. "About your friend, I'm so sorry," Dana said as she held the cup and she meant it. "You were very young. It's hard enough to lose the ones we love when we're grown. It must be so much worse when you're young."

"You have no idea how hard." And at that he fumbled for her hand and squeezed it. It wasn't much of a grip yet but the pain at least was not so very bad. Distant like. He would sleep some more now and maybe he would dream the good parts all over again.

The End

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