Title: The Children's Circle
Author: RaEnright
Disclaimer: As usual, Mulder and Scully are property CC, FBS, and 1013 ect, characters lovingly borrowed without copyright infringement intended. However, the story concept and the rest of the characters, Mika and Addy Graham, Carl and Drea Hopkins, and Neil and James Osgood, are mine.

Summary: Fox and Samantha sneak out November 24, 1973

Author's Note: Hello again, welcome to the twisted mind of RaEnright! This story is based on an experience described in the book "Transformation" by Whitley Streiber (Recommended reading, along with Communion, for any die-hard Phile.). It popped out of the page at me because of the frightening implications of it, and for some reason scared the crap out of me. Then this sort of...came out. Enjoy!

November 24, 1973 Sometime after midnight

The entire exchange was done in whispers. "C'mon!" <giggle> "Shh. You guys, hurry up!" <More giggles>

The boy looked down at his sister and scowled. She cuffed his arm. "Lighten up." "We might get caught!"

But no sooner had the boy finished his scolding than he looked up at the two children climbing out the window and laughed himself. The pair was hanging from a rope ladder made out of sheets.

"Couldn't you guys be a little more original?"

"Getting out of a second story window is not the easiest thing in the world, Fox."

"Yeah, animal boy."

"Shut up! What if your parents hear?"

"You said *They'd* take care of it!"

"They will! Don't they always? But you can't be too careful." The children were all on the ground now, and stood in a small group. They were soon joined by another group of four, from the nearby town.

"You're the eldest, Fox, you lead the way," the girl next to him said.

"Okay, Sam." He turned to go, but one of the town boys grabbed his arm. "Yo, Fox, they'll take care of our parents?"

"That's what they said. You know they have before. They'll even drop you back when they're done, remember?" He hesitated. "You all know how much I hate this."

"It's not your fault. You're controlled by them, just like we are."

"Doesn't mean I like it."

He turned and began to walk, into the vinyard nearby. They all followed, Samantha first after him, then Mika and Addy, James and Neil, and finally 'Drea and Carl. He was stiff and silent as he walked, hating what would come next.

Finally they made it to an old, bare patch, and he could tell this was where they stop. Still silent, he sat in the warm earth, and the others did the same. The voices came.

<You know what to do.>

Eight pairs of hands popped out. Each felt a sharp pinprick and then numbness, which didn't last long. One of the boys, Carl, stood and started to gasp silently. They looked on, uninterested. Fox railed against it mentally.

<We don't want to hurt you.>

*Then don't!*

<Are we hurting him?>


<We will stop.>

The boy gasped one last time and fell limp to the earth next to his sister.

*Thank you.*

<Tonight is special. Send the others away.>

He heaved a sigh of relief. This was as it should be, he should take the pain for the others. He was the eldest. He waved for the others to go to the pickup point, where they would be taken home.

*Thank you for letting them go.*

<We have no wish to hurt you. We are sorry.>

*I don't understand.*

<We must take one of you. Soon. We will leave the others, but one must come.> he had the overwhelming feeling that when they took this one, it would be for a long time. He gulped.

*Take me, then.*

<Not you. That is not your destiny.>

*Then who?*

<The one that is as you are. Sam...antha?>

*You...you won't hurt her, will you?*

<We would never hurt any of you on purpose. We believe we understand pain well enough.>

*I won't remember this, will I?*

<Not until the time is right. You are a brave child, Fox. You will become a...your father says, a fine man?>

*And you _will_ return her?*

<She will be safe and we will take care of her.>

The boy stood slowly.

*Are you sure you don't want me? I'm the eldest.*

<You have another destiny. Yours will be a great future.>

*Can you see it?*

<We can see enough. Now, you must go. None of you need come again. None of you will remember.>

*Tell Sammy I love her.*

<What is love?>

*I'll go now. Do you mean it? No more circles?*

<No more. We will send for one of you, if we need you.>

The boy felt the rush of air around him, and the familiar sense of fear that followed. But he was content, knowing this was the last time. Even if it meant they would take her...he was powerless against them. But someday, someday he would find them and he would have the power.

He awoke the next morning in his bed, calmly and peacefully.

November 27, 1973 Ten a.m.

"You know, Judith, I've noticed, Fox and Sam don't seem to be sleeping well."

"Dear, Michelle's Mikala had the same problem, and Addy too."

"Maybe it's just a phase."

"Must be. Are you and Bill still on for bridge tonight?"

"I hope they'll be all right alone."

"They'll be fine. I just wish that I had some little ones for them to play with."

"Well, Fox is a good boy. I'm sure they'll work out."

Washington DC, present day Around one pm

Agent Dana Scully found her partner, after lunch, standing in the middle of the room in shock. He was clenching an open folder in his hands, an angry look on his face. *Oh jeez, I go out to lunch for half and hour and the whole place falls apart.* she dropped into her chair. "Hey Mulder, what's going on?"

He didn't respond. She stood back up.


She walked around the desk. "*Mulder!*" she waved a hand across the page. He winced, and snapped the folder shut.

"Sorry, Scully." He shook his head, as if to clear it.

"What wrong?" she examined the crumpled folder still held in his hands. He handed it to her. "Nothing, just spaced out for a minute."

Opening the folder, Scully skimmed the case. She found the nasty note at the bottom. "This bud's for you, Spookmeister."

"Some wiseass sent it down from missing persons. Said it had *alien* written all over it." "Mikala Graham, age thirty two. Austin, Texas. Vanished, her boyfriend claims, in a flash of blue light. Sounds like he killed her and made this up."

"I thought so too, until I read the name again. I ran a background check on her. Mikala Graham, nicknamed Mika, born September 28, 1962, at Chilmark General hospital." "Chilmark?" "She was one of my neighbors," he said quietly. "I grew up with her." "I'm sorry, Mulder." "Me too." He tensed, leaned over his computer. "That's why I was a little disturbed when you came back. I've tried to reach her sister, Adriana, but so far, nothing. Her current listed line is disconnected." "You think this and Samantha may be connected?" "I don't know. She's the one I told you about a while ago...my friend whose house burned down?" "Your best friend was a girl?" "Some of us start earlier than others, Scully." "Funny." "Scully..." he changed tones, "You ever get a weird feeling of destiny? Like....Oh, of course not. Stupid me." "No, but I have the feeling you do." "Sometimes I just feel like it should have been me, instead of-...But I get this weird sensation that even if I'd offered, they wouldn't want me. Make much sense?" "Mulder, since when have you started making sense?" "Good point." He settled back in his chair. "I've claimed it, and it's waiting for Skinner's stamp. In the meantime...I think it's about time ET phoned home."


"Ms. Graham, this is Fox Mulder, I'm with the FBI-"

"There's only one Fox Mulder on this earth. Little Fox? Bill's son?"

"That's me. I'm afraid I'm calling on business this time, though. I...heard about Mika...I'm sorry."

"Thank you for calling, Fox. It's so wonderful to hear from you. You and her were such good friends...even when you were young, you all had your little crowd, you even included Addy-" she broke off in what sounded over the telephone like a sob.

"I know how you feel, Ms. Graham. I'd like you to know I'm taking the case, and I'll need some help. I need to talk to Addy."

"Addy's in California, at college. What is there to investigate? That Richard...he must have killed her. I don't believe in aliens, never have, never will."

"Ms. Graham, do you remember Samantha?"


"I have to investigate every possibility, you see. Can I get Addy's telephone number?"

"Thank you for helping us, Fox. No one ever forgets family. Here's her number, but she hardly ever answers the phone..."

Adriana Graham was lying on the recliner, lethargically reflecting on why fate would want to take her older sister, when the telephone rang. Kaley yelled. "Addy, you expecting someone to call?"

"Nope. You might pick it up anyway."

"Could be a guy." Her roommate picked it up. "Mad house."

"Can I speak to Adriana, please?"

She cupped her hand over the receiver. "Oooo, Addy, it's for you! It's a guy!"

"So give!" she took the phone. "Addy here."

"Adriana Graham?"

"Think we defined that. Care to tell me who this is?"

"Addy. It's Fox Mulder." "Fox?" she sat bolt upright. "I haven't seen you in years! Where are you calling from?" "DC, sorry. I wanted to call to give my regrets about Mika." "Oh. You heard?" "That's one way to put it. I'm with the FBI now, and I found her case." "So you're gonna nail Rich, right?" There was a pause. She clenched the phone tighter. "You don't have enough on him, do you?" "I don't think he did it." "You *what?*" "Addy, in the last two years I've investigated about two hundred individual alien abductions. The signs were all there. She'd been acting paranoid, talking about experiments in her sleep..." "Good god, I don't believe this." "Look, Addy, I need to know what you remember about November 1973." "I was six. What is there to remember?" "That was about the time that Sam left. I'm trying to see if there's a connection." "Look, Fox, I remember how much Sam's disappearance shook you. Hell, it got to me too. We used to play all the time together. But it's been twenty-odd years. I just want justice for my sister." "Me too."

There was a dial tone, and she swore. "Bastard really flipped, didn't he."

"That was fun." Mulder laid his head tiredly on the desk. "I just love being yelled at by my little sister's best friend."

"Dead end?"

"You could say that, Scully, yeah." He shrugged. "From here on it's instinct."

"You sure you're okay?"

"Would you be?" he looked at her.

"I suppose not. Why don't you go home early, get some sleep. I'll call you if anything else comes in."

"Thanks." He picked up his coat. "Maybe I'll get some inspiration from watching my fish."

"Don't knock it till you've tried it."

"I've tried it. Maybe there's a point I've overlooked." He turned back to his desk. Scully let out an exasperated sigh. "Go. Home. And. Sleep."


"Am I going to have to drag you there?"

"Fine, I'm going."

He muttered under his breath on the way out. "They got Mika. They got Sam. Who's next?"

The fish didn't help. They swam in circles. Just like his mind. *There's got to be a connection. Two girls from the same small town disappear...maybe the guy did kill her...still a damned big coincidence...it can't be one, there's got to be a connection...*

Finally he gave up and sat down on his couch. The late day sun filtered in through his window and he leaned into it. It felt warm, like the earth on those long nights-

"What the hell?" he suddenly sat bolt upright. Warm earth on long nights? Where had that come from?

He remembered seeing Samantha, and Addy, Mika and a few other children he didn't recognize, in the dark. They must have gone camping sometime. This was really making him paranoid. *It's just a memory of a family camping trip. You're getting really bad.*

Still, he couldn't shake the feeling that there was some reason he'd called up that particular memory.

"Maybe I should go check up on dad."

"Scully, you don't want to come. Believe me."

"When have I *ever* believed you?" Scully crossed her arms and stood in front of the airport window. "Besides, I've already bought the plane ticket."

"This is not something-"

"I'm your partner. This is a Federal investigation. I'm coming."

The flight to Massachusetts was uneventful, save for the fact that Mulder was alternately aggressive and sulky. "Look, this is just a hunch. I've been wrong before, as you're always quick to remind me."

"It's a little late now. Enjoy the ride."

They touched down a little after four in the morning. Their bags touched down a little after eight. Mulder grumbled. Their FBI credit wasn't working, so they had to rent a car on his. Mulder complained. Scully thought that he was probably covering up for the fact that he was scared witless inside of the whole business. Not to mention the memories this town must bring back.

The car was a mess. Mulder swore.

They finally made it out to the motel, which fortunately did take their bureau credit. She was afraid of what Mulder might do if it didn't.

He made the call to Ms. Graham, they were in the area and could they stop by? Just him and his partner, thanks. Of course, he was still looking into the case, and he had talked to Addy, thanks, goodbye.

The ride out to the Graham house was longer than Scully had thought. She watched the vineyards go by and wondered how anyone could live surrounded by mile after mile of these things. *Give me the seafront, any day.*

Finally the car stopped, and they both climbed out. Mulder knocked politely, and a short woman with gray hair and large rings under her eyes opened the door. She squinted for a minute, and a huge smile broke across her face.

"Fox. Come in, Hon, come in. And this is your partner?"

"Dana Scully." He introduced. "Scully, this is Ms. Graham."

"Pleased to meet you." Scully extended her hand.

The interview was a dead end from the start. She really didn't know anything they didn't already. And from the way she looked at them, he could tell that there would be some new rumors, about little Fox and that redheaded woman, going around town.

He kicked up dust as they walked back to the car. "This was a bad idea, Scully."

"Where do we go now?"

"It's a small town. If dad finds out I was up here and didn't stop by, I'd be in for it."

"You want me to come?"

"No. Thanks for offering, but I think you'd better stay in the car."

His dad was formal, and that was fine by him. It was easier that way. For both of them. He didn't stay long, just enough time for them to run out of things to talk about. Which wasn't long at all.

He turned to step off the porch, when something caught his eye. From here, he could barely make out Mika's house, on the far side of the neighbors. The bedroom window was open, and there was laundry hanging on it. Almost like that funny time they tied the sheets together...

It was happening again. He remembered Mika and Addy, clinging to sheets in the night. There must be something he was forgetting...oh, right. They story circle.

The memory of the circle brought back waves of nostalgia. Creeping out on Friday nights and meeting in the vineyards, of course that was why he remembered the warm dirt, and telling stories with the other kids.

*You're the eldest, Fox, you lead the way*

He remembered sitting on the ground telling stories and hearing them. Even Sam, normally quiet, would tell one once in a while.

He got back in the car. Scully was listening to the radio, some flash about a hysterical woman and some guy who'd disappeared-

"The strange case has officials bewildered, and family members certainly frightened. What we know so far is that in front of three reliable witnesses, a Mr. James Osgood vanished apparently into thin air-" he grabbed the dial and turned the volume up. "James Osgood?" he reached for the ignition. "Scully, did they say where this happened?"

"Just that it's in a residential area."

"That's enough." He pulled out of the driveway, the wheels spinning clouds of red dust into the air. He started going about forty miles an hour down the road. Scully stared at him as if he'd gone insane. "Mulder?"

"Jimmy Osgood. He was one of us, too."

"What do you mean?"

"Not right now, Scully." He kept his eyes on the town he was approaching. "There." He pointed to a police van right outside a low, split level house. He slammed on the brakes as they pulled past the house, and was out of the car, badge in hand, before Scully could ask him if he'd decided to go insane or merely piss her off.

"I'm Fox Mulder, I'm with the Federal Bureau of Investigation." He just about yelled at the policemen at the scene. "What's going on?"

From inside the house there was the sound of an argument, a woman yelling something about them believing her, and Jimmy was gone...

"I'm telling you, they took him! No, I'm not insane! Why won't anyone believe me?"

Mulder did a double take. "Who is that?"

"Mr. Osgood's wife, Andrea Osgood."

" 'Drea." He ran up the steps to the house. Scully had finally recovered from surprise long enough to get out of the car, and she followed him inside. A tall, thin woman, in tears, was pacing the floor. Two police officers were trying to calm her down.

"Why won't you believe me?"

"Ma'am, we're just trying to keep you from hurting yourself-"

"Hurting myself? *HURTING MYSELF*? What about Jimmy?"


"I'll handle this." Mulder showed them his badge. One of them shrugged. "Take her. Be careful, she's a bitch."

" 'Drea." Mulder lowered his voice. She turned.

" Who the hell are you? Are you going to try to calm me down too?"

" 'Drea, it's me. Fox, remember?" Scully came up behind him.

"Fox?" her face showed her uncertainty. "Fox Mulder?"

"I'm here to help find Jimmy."

"You won't believe me either, will you? WELL?" she started to yell again. He waved for Scully to back off.

"I believe you, 'Drea. You someone took him, don't you?"

"Y-yes." She broke down. "How did you know?"

"They took Mika."


"Yes." He stepped forward. "I don't know why, 'Drea. I need your help. What did you see?"

"He just...the blue lights. Do you remember the blue lights, Fox? Do you remember it? The Story Circle?"

"That was from the flashlights, Andrea. I need you here now, in the present. Did the blue lights come when Jimmy left?"

"They came, and they took him, Jimmy..." she collapsed. Scully almost stepped forward, until she realized Mulder was holding her back, slowly advancing on her himself. "Andrea? 'Drea, can you hear me?"

She had fainted. He scooped her up, put her in the living room. "Scully, do you know where I can get some sedatives? She's going to need to be kept calm for a while."

"I'll see what I can do." She walked out to the police cars. Maybe one of them had some sort of medikit in the glove compartment.

"Fox, they took him." Drea mumbled, half lucid. "They didn't like our stories, Fox."

Before he could respond, Scully was back. "I found some Dristanine. Not very powerful, but they should keep her calm if we can get the officers to make sure she gets one every two hours or so."

"Great." Mulder's tone was flat.

The drive back to the motel was quiet. Scully was absorbed in her own thoughts, and from the set of Mulder's jaw she could tell he wasn't willing to share his. But curiosity overcame caution, and she had to ask.

"Mulder, she said something about a story circle...do you know what that is?"


"Do you think it may be involved?"

"I don't know."

"Are you going to tell me what it is?"

"Do you want to know?"

"Do you want me to?"

He sighed. "Our conversation seems to be running in loops, Scully. You may as well know." He took a deep breath, eyes still on the road. "When I was about nine, I got the bright idea to start a secret club. You know, the kind of thing kids do. So I got a group of friends, god knows how we met, and we made this club. The Story circle."


"Who knows? We'd sneak out of the house after our parents were asleep, usually on Friday nights, and meet in the vineyards. I guess it was about two years after Mika's parents rebuilt their house. We'd tell stories. At first, it was just the oldest kids, Mika, a kid named Carl, Jimmy's older brother Neil, and me. Then we started bringing the younger kids. Addy, Drea, Jimmy, and...Sam. then, when Sam was taken we just...stopped."

"And you never thought about how odd it was?"

"Not really. Remember, this was the early sixties, in a small town. We were as safe there as we would have been at home. And now...it seems like nobody's safe." He pulled into the motel parking lot. "I wonder what the hell's going on?"

"That's right, Carl Hopkins. No, I don't want to hold. Tell him his sister needs him. No-"

Mulder heard the hold button click and grunted in frustration. He hadn't realized that little Carl was the CEO of SonTech, one of the top producers of computer 'brand-name clones'. Which meant that day or night, he was virtually 'unavailable'. Maybe if he heard that his sister was in trouble, he'd-

"All right, who the hell is this?" an aggressive voice interrupted his thoughts.

"Good to hear from you Carl. You sound well," Mulder said sarcastically.

"Listen, whoever the hell you are, if you're threatening Andrea then-"

"Calm down, Carl. This is Fox Mulder, with the FB-"

"Fox?" the voice sounded shocked.

"That's right. Remember, from Chilmark?"

"Gawd, why didn't you say so? I mean-"

"I was having much too much fun playing phone tag with your secretary. Listen, I think you'd better haul ass up here. I'm in Chilmark now, and 'Drea's not doing so well."

"What's wrong? She isn't sick, is she?" his voice was instantly worried.

"No, she's just upset. Jimmy's disappeared."

"You mean he left her?"

"Not exactly. She keeps saying he was taken, by blue lights. Carl, have you heard about Mika?"

"Mikala Graham?"

"She was taken too. This is serious, Carl. How soon can you be here?"

"I can get the company jet up there in about four hours."

"That's good. Do you think you could make some stops on the way?"


"Detours. I want everyone up here, pronto. All the old circle members. I've managed to get a hold of Addy and Neil. Think you could pick them up?"

"I haven't seen them in years."

"You will. I've got 'Drea in protective custody, so she's safe...I hope."

"I'm on my way, Fox."

"Here." Mulder stood in the center of a field, vine arbors stretching away in all directions. "Somewhere in this area."

"Are you sure?" Scully brushed at her hair, which was being destroyed by the wind. He looked back at her.

"I think so. I was always the leader...if anyone would remember, it would be me." He took a grape off the vine. "Not quite ripe yet. A few more weeks and they'll be ready."

"Your friends are coming?"

"As soon as they can. I just hope nothing happens between now and then."

"What could happen?"

"I don't know." He faced the wind, let it ruffle his own hair. "I just don't know." He knelt and ran a hand over the damp dirt. "I've been wondering what this circle had to do with the abductions since we talked to Mika's mother. James just confirmed it. Something's going on."

She noticed how tired he looked, and realized that this was more painful for him than anything they'd seen so far. This wasn't going to be fun.

"Mulder, I know you want to believe these deaths are connected. But do you think it could be something else? A serial killer?"

"No one else knew about it." He turned a glare on her.

"I'm not saying it was an outsider."

He whirled on her. "You think one of *us* may have done it? How could you...oh hell, it's not like I haven't considered it." He kicked the boards of the arbor planters.

"We both know that when Samantha was taken, it traumatized you deeply. And it's fair to say it affected the others, too. Mulder, you know yourself that *your* psychological profile isn't exactly stable. What about the others?"

"I considered it, Scully. Adriana was hurt by it too. She was a good friend. They all were. But it just doesn't make sense! The lights and the locations...it doesn't add up."

He stood, turned around, and began to weave through the vines back to the car.

The private airport was small, nothing more than a few trailers and the airstrip. Scully held her ears as the jet touched down.

Four people disembarked, soon joined by a fifth as the pilot jumped out. Mulder walked forward and greeted them soberly. "Addy. Carl. Neil."

The small, blond girl turned to the fourth person. "Fox, this is Kaley, my roommate. You don't mind, do you?"

"No." He shook Kaley's hand. "But we have work to do."

"Who's that?" Carl, a short, pudgy man, pointed rudely at Scully.

"I'm sorry. This is my partner in the Bureau, Dana Scully. Scully, this is Carl Hopkins, Andrea's brother, Neil Osgood, James' brother, and Adriana Graham, Mika's sister. Kaley, her roommate-"

"And Peters, my pilot." Carl grabbed the man's arm.

"Pleased to meet you." Scully shook hands all around.

"Now, Fox, what's this all about?" Carl took charge.

"It's complicated. You know both Mika and Jimmy disappeared in the last week. Drea's been in shock, and she's made references to the circle."

Neil sucked in his breath. "You think it might be connected somehow?" Addy gripped his arm. "Fox, why did they take Mika?"

"I don't know. Yet. I think we need to go out there."

"Back to the vineyards?"

"We've lost three members already. Something is doing this."


Mulder glared at Carl. "Remember?"

"Oh...right. I'm sorry, Fox, I-"

"It's okay. Come on, we've got to get out there." He walked back towards the three cars that were waiting. Everyone followed, the pilot and Kaley shaking their heads in confusion. "We've got to stop for Drea on the way."

Drea was still quiet, on the dosages of sedatives every two hours. By the time they coaxed her out and into the car, darkness had fallen.

*Perfect.* Mulder thought. *It's a Friday night, even.*

When they arrived at the yard, Addy unconsciously turned to him. "You're the eldest, Fox, you lead the way."

He shuddered, but straightened his shoulders and began to walk. Scully stayed behind, with Kaley and Peters. This was something they had to do alone. Carl supported Drea on his arm.

Mulder began to talk as he led them out through the rows of vines. "Carl, do you remember when we started the circle?"

"I think so."

"Doesn't it seem odd...we never really talked about it, we just did it?"

"About as odd as the fact that I can't even remember the stories we told." Addy picked a grape off the vine.

"Anyone else remember? I thought not. And we never specified time, either...we just..."

"Did it." Neil finished, surprised at himself. "And it didn't make sense, the way we went. Us town kids had to hike all the way out there. It would have been easier to meet near town, at the midpoint."

"We suddenly included the younger kids. The ones we'd try to get as far away from as possible during the day," Mulder said to him. "Neil, Jimmy never found out until we told him, did he?"

"I...I don't know. Seems like he just showed up one time, and we never said anything."

"Where is this leading, Fox?" Carl tripped, and righted himself.

"I'm not sure yet. But I think we did more than tell stories." He mused. Suddenly he stopped, Addy and Carl plowing into him. Drea stood aside, finally gaining power to stand on her own.

"Here!" he moved forward. They formed a circle. Automatically, five pairs of hands shot straight out. They slowly withdrew, embarrassed. He didn't need to say it; *Weirdness.*

But nothing happened. They began to get nervous, the dark was pressing in on them. It was going to happen, but not yet. Something was missing.

Scully had watched them go with barely contained apprehension. She saw the fear unmasked in Drea Osgood's eyes, and the hidden fear in the others. They all suddenly looked childlike; even Mulder looked as though he might be shedding years as they went.

They slowly melted into the night until they were little more than shadows; Idly she reflected that if they were children, they wouldn't be seen at all. And whatever they did wouldn't be seen, either.

*Some Story Circle.* ________________________

"Something's missing." Drea said, startling them. "Some*one's* missing. Jimmy and Mika and Sammy aren't here. Fox, you're the eldest, bring them back!"

"I'm trying, Drea."

"No, they won't come back until the circle is full!"

"Carl, do you know what she's talking about?"

"I'm as confused as you are. I think she wants to fill up the circle."

Mulder grimaced. "And we just happened to bring three other people along. Anyone want to lay odds on that happening?"

"I'll go back for them." Neil volunteered. He faced the dark and sighed. "I hope this works, Fox."

"Not half as much as I do, Neil."

When Scully saw a tall form emerge from the fields she shivered again. "Mulder?"

"No, it's Neil. I...Fox and Drea want you to come. All of you." He looked nervous.

"All right. Kaley? Mr. Peters?"

"Coming." Kaley shut the door to the car.

They returned to the circle. Scully could feel the static energy in the air. *Nonsense, there's no such thing.* but she felt it, just the same.

"Of course!" Drea laughed childishly. It made them all jump. "You, black-haired girl, you stand there and be Mika. And the man can stand in for James."

"And I'll pretend I'm Samantha," Scully said quietly.

Once the three outsiders had taken their places in the circle, five pairs of hands shot out again. Still, nothing happened. For about three minutes, everything was still. ________________________

Mulder lifted his face to the stars. "Screens. That's all it was."


"Screen memories. There wasn't any story circle. It was a screen memory to cover for what really happened."

Neil swallowed audibly. "And what happened?"

"Just think about it."

He could tell by the four gasps that they had. He kept watching the sky.

*I'm here, you bastards. It was us you wanted, wasn't it?*

<What are 'bastards'?>

He staggered. *You give them back!*

<We can't do that yet. We need them.>

*Like hell you do. We're going to take them by force if we have to.*

<How?> the voice asked whimsically. <We control you.>

*You control nothing.*

A rushing began. Scully and the others looked around confusedly. It was as if they were standing on a huge air vent. Mulder kept his gaze on the sky. *YOU CONTROL NOTHING!*

The air increased, blowing their hair into their eyes and their coats away from their backs. A blue light started in the center of the circle.

<We don't want to hurt you.>

*LIARS! IT"S TOO LATE FOR THAT!* even Scully could hear the conversation. The others were staring.

<We want you to go.>

*We don't want to!*

<You have no choice.> the voice betrayed surprise. Mulder caught it. *We are our own. You can't control us. How does it feel? To face real humans instead of a bunch of frightened kids?*

The rush ended, and Mulder was gone.

He groaned, and was surprised to hear a boy's voice groan in response. He opened his eyes and stared up at the night stars. Sitting up, he felt...smaller.

"Oh my god..." he was a little boy again. They could control him...

*NO! I WON'T LET YOU!* he screamed silently.

<You have no choice> the voices continued, inexorably.

They think they can control me by making me a boy again?

*Can't face an adult human, can you? Can't stand up to someone who has a mind of their own. You just prey on little kids. Like Samantha.*

<We took the ones you call Mika and Jimmy.>

*Because they were weak, they didn't expect it. But I'm not weak. I survived. And I can prove it.*

<We shall see.>

They each faced the column of light. Scully tried to turn her head to see where Mulder had gone, but it wouldn't turn. And in the light was horror-

A man she loved more than life itself, torn from her, screaming...

Drea watched as they took her child, the light surrounding her baby girl...

Neil wanted to scream when he saw his father coming towards him, belt in hand...

Addy relived the night of terror three years ago, when *he'd* forced himself on her...

Carl was shocked as his empire crumbled before him...

And none of them could scream.

<Can you face the ultimate terror, Fox? Can you look it in the eye and not succumb?>

*If that will free my friends. I've already faced it. Can you send me a more frightening image than Samantha's abduction? You've already put me through it. But why?*

<We need the data. Your friends have already given us much. We punish those who defy us.>


<We said we didn't want to. And that they would be safe.>

He grunted in frustration. *So scare me. Frighten me out of my _fucking mind_!*

He stood impassively as they showed him Samatha being pulled from him. He had relived the nightmare of fire too many times to be scared. He even watched as his father beat him when he was older.

*I've seen it before. You can't win, you goddamned-*

All the air was sucked out of him. He stood spellbound as Duane Barry hauled a limp body up a hill. *Ohmygodohmygodohmygod...NOOOOOOOO!!!!*

The light was getting brighter, and something was flickering. Looking to his left, Neil could see the Scully woman fading in and out, her body replaced by one much younger. A girl with hazel eyes and long brown hair...he saw the girl named Kaley begin to fade, and a stout girl he saw as Mika take her place. He couldn't see the pilot, Peters.

Between nauseating shifts, Scully caught glimpses of the pilot Peters, who seemed to be vanishing. A small boy she didn't know was there in his stead. But the space to her right was still empty-she fought for identity when the little girl came to replace her, feeling as if she would split in two. Some of the others appeared to be doing just that.

A final wave of illness came over her, and she was falling in the blackness.

*It's all an illusion. It's all false.*

<But it happened. It's your worst fear, isn't it? That we'll come for her again and there will be nothing you can do> the voice was smug. <What are your reactions?>

*My reactions are neutral.* he realized the game they played. *You cannot affect me with something that may never happen. You cannot control me.*

<WE CAN!> he felt the frustration in their voices.

*You can't. I've grown up. You can't manipulate me anymore.*

He waited for a reply, but none was forthcoming. He turned his back on the scene of horror.

Scully groaned and tried to lift her head. It hurt.

She tired to sit up, only to realize that she *was*, something bracing her beneath her knees and her back. She tired to move again and the braces tightened.

"Don't talk, don't think, above all don't try to move." A voice grated into her ear. "Relax, it's easier to carry you that way."

She was being jounced up and down, almost like she was on a train...she opened her eyes but everything was dark-

A flash of light to one side illuminated Mulder's face for a brief second before she fell from his arms to the ground.

Carl struggled across the dirt road, Peters half-slung over his shoulder. Neil followed behind him, carrying Kaley across his arm effortlessly. Pain clouded his vision, but it looked as though Addy was being held up by Mika(!) and James(!!) as they emerged from the field. Drea lay flat on her back in the dust nearby. The primal urge to get away from the circle had been too strong to ignore, even in their fear. At least they'd all made it...

One more figure wove into view as the white lights exploded in the vineyards. There was a faint cry when the woman he identified as Scully fell to the ground and Fox's tall silhouette receded.

"Take...go...explosion...find her, fire-" was all Neil heard of Fox's instructions as he helped the agent to her feet.

"Fox, no-" he called.

The vineyards were aflame, heat and smoke rising in the pale moonlight.

Mulder ran straight towards it.

*I hate fire I hate fire I hate fire Mika I hate fire* he thought, panicking when he neared. The columns of light were gone. "Samantha! SAMANTHA!" he called into the smoke, choking. "<*_SAMANTHA_*>!"

Every flame held an image of her, every puff of smoke. The heat pounded on his face and hands. There she was, in the ring of fire...

He jumped through the heat, rolling on the ground to put out the fire on his clothes. He stood wildly, unsteadily. She'd vanished.

"You *bastards!*" he raised his fists to the sky. "YOU BASTARDS!"

<What is a bastard?>


<We can't do that, Fox. We need her. We gave you the others. We didn't need them for long.>


*and we will have more. Goodbye, Fox.*

Flames flared higher around him and he dropped to the dirt again to put them out.


Something cool on his back, which meant he must be lying on his stomach. Of course, that's why he was smothering. He tried to roll over and found his arms were stiff.

"I wouldn't do that, Mulder." Scully's voice sounded far away.

*Why not, I'm smothering.* was what he wanted to say, but it came out "whnt? Msmtrn."

"You've got second degree burns all over your back. Your arms as well." It sounded like Mika's voice.


"I think he asked if it was Mika."

"It's me, Fox. And Jimmy's here too," she said. Other voices showed up suddenly.

"How is he?" Carl.

"He's talking!" Drea. "Fox, do you want us to take the pillow away? I can put a chin brace in."

"YsYsYs!" he nodded and immediately regretted the action. "W."

"Yes yes yes and ow." Scully translated. The pillow slid out and something hard was placed under his chin. He adjusted his jaw and tried speaking again. "Where am I?"

"Chilmark General."

"Is everyone safe?"

"Everyone's fine. We were wondering about you, for a while."

"What happened?"

"Your guess is as good as mine," she said.

"Scully, what's your worst fear?"


"They've got him on Morphine for the pain." Drea put in. "He must be delirious."

"No, no, I know what I'm talking about. Someone, Neil, tell them."

He heard Neil swallow nervously. "I don't know about you, but they did it to me...they showed me the thing I was most afraid of."

"Me too." Carl said quietly. "And it made me think."

"I saw it. They challenged me to face it and survive." Mulder rubbed his chin on the brace. "How many...how many got out?"

"All of us. Neil, Carl, Andrea, James, Adreana, Mikala, Peters, Kaley, and-"


Silence. He thought he heard Drea mutter something else about morphine. Scully cleared her throat. "Rest, Mulder. Your arms should be relatively healed by tomorrow."

"I did it, Scully. I led them on...Mika, please forgive me-"

"Nothing to forgive, Fox." A hand rested on the back of his head. He suspected it was the only place she could put it without irritating the burns. "Sleep."

"But I did it all..." he began to mutter as a sedative shot took effect.

Four days later, Mulder stood for the first time since the fire and examined himself in the mirror. His ribs above the tattered jeans he wore were swathed in bandages that held the pads to his back. His arms were red but no longer painful. He turned as Scully came in. "Are you feeling better?"



"Did you see what I saw? Do you remember what I remember? I don't think so. The whole circle-It was all a farce. I led them to the visitors like they were some sort of sacrifice."

"What do you mean?"

"The others haven't told you?"

Scully cocked her head slightly to one side. "They don't remember much. Snatches and bits."

"The better for them." He turned back to the mirror.

"What happened out there, Mulder?"

"I...they contacted me. They made me bring the others to them...they *told* me they were going to take her, they *told* me, dammit!" He slammed his hands on the counter. "They told me and all I did was nod. And I led them there." He lowered his head.

"I understand the guilt you must be feeling, Mulder, but-"

"No you don't, Scully. You can't even imagine. Just...just leave me alone."

Scully turned to look at Mika, standing in the doorway, and asked a question with her eyes. Mika shook her head.

"I'll be back later with your medication." She touched his unburnt shoulder and left.

"Fox." Mika spoke softly. He hadn't noticed her.

"Go away, Mika."

"I'm not going to leave, Fox."

"You're right, I don't deserve to forget." He turned and began to press every detail into his memory. "So tell me, what did they do to you?" he asked with clinical detachment.

"What they did to me is my problem. And what they did to you is yours. But at least I had the sense to talk about it a little bit."

"So talk."

"You're still stubborn."

"Thanks," he said in a flat tone.

"Why can't you accept the fact that you weren't responsible for what happened?"

"Because I *was*! I led you there, I let them hurt you..."

"Think about it. Did you have a choice?"

"There must have been some way I could have stopped it."

"Why? Because you're Fox Mulder, and therefore unbiased and immune?" he felt the scorn in her voice. "We're all human, Fox, with very real weaknesses and vulnerabilities. They played on those and they used a nine-year-old boy. Who do you think was really wrong?"

"They had no right," he said softly to the counter. "None at all."

"Exactly. They didn't give you a choice. So who should feel guilty?"

"I'm sorry, Mika. It's not something I can forget."

"None of us can. But we can put it behind us and move on with our lives." She put a hand on his bare arm. "Let it go, Fox. Keep looking, but let it go."

"Thank you, Mika."

The end

It moves us all through despair and hope, through faith and love till we find our place, on the path unwinding in the circle, the circle of life.

Hey, I'd love to continue this. Anyone out there got suggestions? Or comments? Email me!!! I'm open to ideas and speculation(I WANT TO BELIEVE!). Seeya next time! RaEnright@aol.com "Em an neter tesef anuk Ra"

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