Title: Family Business Series: 03. Catnipped
Authors: Laurie D. Haynes and Bear
Category: X, A, MSR married
Spoilers: Everything from Season 1-8. It helps to have read the first two stories in this series, but isn't absolutely necessary. Guaranteed to be Doggett-free. Archive: OK to Xemplary, MTA, Mulder in Jeopardy, Ephemeral. No to Gossamer. All others should ask.

Summary: Mulder and Scully are called in to consult on a case in which murder victims have been mauled by a wild animal, yet no one has seen such a thing in the area of the murders. William is 7 years old, now, and Mulder and Scully have their own paranormal investigation agency.

I.R. Kane Corporate Offices Suite
114 Arlington, Virginia
August 15, 2008 4:01 p.m.

The young man glanced nervously around himself in the break room, remembering all too well the problems with having surveillance in the coffee room of all places. Apparently, the company had gotten tired of whole cases of coffee and the fixings going missing. Of course the infamous misadventure long ago of the disgruntled coworker who had mixed, of all things, urine in the coffee (and had understandably been fired) hadn't helped.

Though Peter Grey's approach was decidedly more subtle, his conscience about what *was* mixing into the coffee cup made him very uneasy indeed. Because of the surveillance cameras in the office, he had been careful in his selection of an old Coffee Mate cannister, which he had poured into the trash in the privacy of his apartment (being single *did* have its advantages) and replaced with the poisonous powder known to few, save for himself and a few other practitioners of the occult. All that was needed was just a trace that wouldn't kill Richard "The Bulldog" McKenna but would certainly make him terribly sick, and would dissolve with any hot liquid, leaving no odor or flavor.

It would certainly serve the old bulldog right, Grey thought to himself as he carefully poured the toxic substance into the coffee. He thought back on the promotion Schlesinger had issued McKenna that was rightfully Grey's. The guy only knew how to bluff his way to the top, riding on the coattails of Peter among others, and had an ego that wouldn't quit. Worse, he would have had several charges of sexual harassment against him were it not for the fact that it seemed as though he had dirt on practically every woman he harassed. It was as though he was deliberately singling them out so he could get away with it. In short, Peter was perhaps being a bit *too* kind in his choice not to kill him. Maybe he could simply make McKenna feel badly enough so that he would *want* to kill himself and finish the job in the privacy of his own, Peter thought to himself, desperately fighting a giggle over the private notion.

It was, however, unfortunate that the night before, as Peter was trying to pour the powder into the cannister, that his black cat Mephisto had gotten into the bag -- typical cat curiosity. Peter had been watching the cat like a hawk, since, though, and Mephisto seemed to be acting like his usual mischievous self, having come out completely unscathed. He just hoped a quick trip to the vet over the weekend wouldn't be necessary. The cat did not seem to have swallowed any of the mixture and Peter had been careful to clean it off Mephisto's coat and paws.

"Hey, Richard, here's your coffee," he called to McKenna, who was standing over by the fax machine. So preoccupied was Peter in setting the cup on the desk of the unsuspecting McKenna, that he never noticed the cat hairs mingled with the coffee.

Peter Grey's apartment
Fairfax, Virginia
8:20 p.m.

"Take it! Take it! Take the leg," bellowed Harry, the poor hapless victim on the television screen.

Peter, half-asleep as he stroked Mephisto's back, was hardly aware of the distressed shouting from the movie on TV until they were interrupted by a rather loud, persistent knocking on his door. Having forgotten his little act of mischief at work, he made his way to the door, oblivious of the sudden tensions of the now mysterious hissing of Mephisto from the couch where he had left him. As Mephisto darted quickly to the kitchen, Peter was astonished to find none other than "The Bulldog" at his doorstep. The pale, shivering man standing before him with the shock of graying hair and slightly protruding stomach was quite a stark contrast to the egocentric idiot buffaloing his way to the top at work, but it was nothing unexpected after his deed.

What *was* unexpected, however, were the black, thick hairs that appeared to have grown in very odd places, at least for McKenna, namely the neck and hands.

Ignoring this oddity for the moment, Peter decided it was time to play the role of the innocent. "Richard -- my God, you look awful! Come in, sit down!" Against his better judgment, he led him into the living room, sitting him on the couch. "What happened?"

"That bastard Schlesinger fired me," Richard replied with a far-off expression, almost as though he were in shock. "He said he actually had proof that I went after Catherine after all. The surveillance tapes apparently caught the whole thing. But I didn't. She had spilled Coke on her dress and I was trying to help her dry it up. But she took it the wrong way. Schlesinger said he was giving YOU my job."

Whoa -- Richard *was* going to be fired after all? Jeez, looked like Peter had wasted a nice little prank for nothing after all. But he was extremely excited he was going to get that promotion! His heart was pounding in astonishment as he fought to maintain his facade of caring. "Damn, Richard, I'm so sorry, man! Is there anything I can do? I feel so responsib..."

"DAMNED RIGHT YOU SHOULD!" Richard growled in a voice that barely sounded human. As a startled Peter watched on in horror, the man before him seemed to alter physically as the black hairs began to multiply right before his very eyes, as though whatever was inside of him was feeding on his anger and rage. Peter held up his hands half in a calming gesture, half in a gesture of semi-surrender as he said in a low voice, "Hey, Rich, calm down! you just need some time..."

"You mean YOU need some time!" The growl was becoming more animal-like, and much to Peter's fascination and terror, Richard almost seemed to morph into a springing position. "I've been watching you ever since we came on board at the same time for the company -- we've been after the same positions for quite some time now. Well, it certainly looks like you get what you wanted now -- you no longer have the opposition that's been standing in your way since day one, now, *do* you? As if whatever the hell you snuck into my coffee wasn't enough, you had to..."

Damn, how did *he* know? That stuff must have kicked in faster than Peter had anticipated! "Wait a minute, Rich -- you don't know what you're saying..."

"THE HELL I DON'T! You were in on it -- they probably told you to make sure I was out of the picture one way or another! Well, don't think your actions will go unrewarded, any of you!" It was no longer Rich's growl, but the growl of a vicious cat. And where Richard McKenna had stood now sat...

...a lean, mean, vicious panther, prepared to pounce on its prey.

Which unfortunately, in this case, was the poor, quivering, protesting Peter.

"Hey, wait a minute! Rich, I had *no* idea Schlesinger was gonna...Richard?!" The following cries of help were lost in a bloody death-gurgle and the screams of the hapless man on the television screen as the creature formerly known as Rich sunk his teeth into Peter's neck. Blood squirted onto the screen.

A few minutes later, a slightly disheveled and quivering, but otherwise relatively normal-looking Richard, opened the door of the apartment, letting himself out into the hall, wearing Peter's trench coat over his bloodied shorts and T- shirt. He'd have to be sure and dispose of the clothing after he got home.

He left his victim sprawled out on the couch, a lifeless mauled body, as Mephisto yowled in fear from his hideout beneath the dining room table.

Mulder Residence
Annapolis, Maryland
October 1, 2008 11:57 a.m.

"Really?" Mulder said into the phone. "Yeah, sounds like a possible X-File, all right. Of course we want it! OK, uhh," he glanced at his watch, "1:30 by the tigers? Great. Thanks, Walter."

Scully looked up from her laptop and the report she was writing on the autopsy she had recently performed for the county coroner's office. She rather enjoyed filling in now and then, and the consulting money was good, too. "New case?" she asked, absently pushing her glasses back onto the bridge of her nose.

"I think so. Two people have been killed in the last two weeks -- ripped apart by some beast. But there are no reports of a wild animal being sighted anywhere in the area. No wild animals missing from area zoos. I'm meeting Skinner at the National Zoo and he's gonna slip me a copy of the file."

At the word "zoo," 7-year-old Will, sitting at the computer and doing his schoolwork, was suddenly all ears. "I want to go, Dad! You haven't taken me to the zoo in forever!"

Mulder sighed, but grinned. "We took you back during the summer, if you'll recall. Remember? You wanted to see the new panda cubs."

"Yeah, Tian Tian and Mei Xiang's babies. They were cool. Can we go see them again? That was a long time ago," Will pleaded.

Secretly pleased that Will had inherited his eidetic memory, Mulder agreed. "Scully, you gonna come?"

"No, you boys go on. I need to finish up this report, then Mom and I are going to go to lunch. But Will, you finish that science term paper when you get back. Have you started on it?"

"Well, no. I was just doing some research on different subjects and was trying to decide what to do it on. Can I write about the pandas? I can even take our digital camera and get pictures to illustrate it -- maybe even make a multimedia presentation!" Will seemed to get excited at the prospect. The boy was bright and a good student, but like many kids, he sometimes tried to get out of doing his schoolwork. So, Scully encouraged all enthusiasm he showed for his studies.

"That sounds like it would be interesting and a lot of fun," she told him. "Remember, it's due in two days."

"Thanks, Mom! I won't forget. It's gonna be the best term paper you ever saw!"

"OK, grab a jacket, it's kind of cool out," Scully ordered, hiding a grin.

Will snatched his denim jacket off the couch and slipped it on. Scully noted the sleeves were getting a bit short on him. Maybe she and her mother could do some shopping.

Mulder opened the hall closet and took out his leather jacket.

"Mulder, you're going to be doing some walking, so better take your cane. Are you wearing your brace?"

He'd injured his knee on the last case, a ghost haunting their own home, and the doctor had just taken out the stitches from the surgery three weeks ago. He was fine most of the time, unless he had to walk very long.

"Yeah, I've got an Ace under my pants," he replied with a teasing grin.

Scully looked at him sidewise. "I'll have to check on that later," she answered with an evil smile.

Will looked back and forth between his parents, trying to figure out what this secret communication was. He soon gave up and urged his father to hurry.

Mulder snatched up his cane from the closet.

Smithsonian National Zoo
Great Cats Biopark
Washington, D.C. 1:30 p.m.

Skinner was waiting for them at the tiger exhibit. He watched as a mother tiger played with her two cubs.

Will spotted him and went bounding up to him. "Hi, Uncle Walter!"

Skinner smiled at the boy and ruffled his light brown hair. "Hi, Will. Talked your dad into letting you come along, I see."

Mulder, walking slowly, approached the pair.

"Yeah, I never get to go anywhere fun, so I made him bring me," Will replied. His father pretended to box his ears.

"Ungrateful cur!" Mulder retorted with a grin.

Will giggled. "Just kidding. Hey, Dad, look at the tigers!" He pointed at the mother Sumatran tiger. "That's Soy. Those are her and Rokan's cubs, Kavi and Jade."

"I see you've been doing your research," Skinner commented.

"Yes, sir, I like to watch the tiger cams sometimes on the computer. I wish I could have a pet tiger."

"Your two cats eat as much as a tiger," Mulder joked.

Will snorted and walked up to the railing to watch the magnificent striped beasts.

Ironically, between the two parents, it was always his father who was the harder to persuade into taking in a wanted pet, and it was up to Will to beg with pitiful looks and sighs until his father would finally cave in. Somehow, considering his father's joking complaints about how much room the cats, Fluky and Reticula, and the Border collie Ghostrider took up on the bed, Will decided there was *no* way his father would go for a huge pet like a tiger.

Maybe a fox? His and his father's namesake? Well, maybe with a bit of persuasion...

As Will watched the tigers, engrossed in his thoughts, Skinner pulled a file folder from a leather portfolio case and handed it to Mulder, who leaned his cane against the tiger enclosure barrier and began to thumb through the documents.

While Mulder looked over the file, Skinner joined Will in watching the great cats and discussing them. Skinner had no children of his own. Though he wasn't old enough to be Mulder's father, he nonetheless sometimes felt like it. He was as fond of Will as he was the boy's parents, and doted on the child, often bringing him gifts. Between Skinner and the Lone Gunmen, Scully frequently chided them for spoiling the boy, but she always permitted the presents, knowing the men got as much pleasure from it as Will.

A woman's scream echoed through the biopark and they all looked up, but saw nothing. Then they saw a large black shape streaking along the sidewalk. Mulder reacted first, snatched up Will and lifted him to the branch of a tree a few steps away.

"Climb!" he breathlessly ordered the boy.

Skinner was hurrying a young den mother and her group of Cub Scouts to some nearby restrooms to get them out of range. Mulder tried to pull himself up into the same tree as Will, but the branch wasn't thick enough to bear his weight and it broke off in his hands. He whirled as he heard a growl, and quickly drew his gun. But no sooner had Mulder pulled it from the holster when 150 pounds of pure muscle in the form of a black leopard slammed him onto the concrete. The gun went spinning away.

Mulder screamed in pain as the big cat's claws ripped open his previously-injured leg. Then the cat jerked as a feathered dart flew into its haunch. It abandoned Mulder to move away and try to pull the dart out with its teeth. Thus occupied, the cat failed to notice a pair of zookeepers approaching with nets. They threw the nets over the animal and enraged, it began trying to tear through the restraints. They held onto the attached lines, though, and soon had the leopard completely netted, with the only thing remaining to do, to wait on their tranquilizer dart to take effect.

Will scrambled down the tree and ran to his father. The boy stuffed his camera in his pocket. From his perch he had managed to snap a few shots of the attack, just in case. As his mother was always saying, there was no such thing as too much evidence. Will looked around for Skinner and saw him running in their direction, pulling a cell phone from his jacket.

Mulder was very much awake, grimacing and cursing in pain -- at least as softly as he could in Will's presence, in any event. Skinner immediately took stock of the situation. He thrust the phone at Will and began to remove his own trench coat. "Give me your jacket and call 911."

Skinner tied the boy's denim jacket tightly around Mulder's bleeding leg, trying to staunch the flow of blood. He spread his own light wool trench coat over Mulder to help keep him warm as he began to show signs of shock.

"Hold still, Mulder, the paramedics are on the way." He sighed. "Only you could come to the zoo and get attacked by a runaway panther."

Mulder, pale and trembling, replied, "Excuse me, could I have a little sympathy, here? Scully's already going to kick my a-- uh, rear end."

"Yeah, remember the tape she said she was gonna play if you let it happen again?" Will added in a rather mischievous attempt to lighten the mood, a wicked gleam in his eye.

"Don't get smart with me, young man," Mulder groaned as he heard the beeping of Will's dialing. "Besides, I *still* say your mother was bluffing! She probably just has a recording of a lion or something for 'proof' that I snore under heavy medication!"

"Mulder, I'd hate to be the one to tell you, but I can assure you that I was a brief witness where *that* was concerned," Skinner informed Mulder. "Scully should have her phone, right? Will, call her."

"I'm not gonna tell her, YOU tell her," Will insisted. "Have you ever dealt with my mom when she's mad?" He dialed the number and handed the cell phone back to Skinner.

"As a matter of fact..." replied Skinner, spotting Mulder's gun and scooping it up.

"Uh...I don't suppose there's any way we could break the news to her just a *little* more gently, is there?" Mulder shivered with more than the usual symptoms of shock. There was *definitely* a sense of fear over informing his diminutive wife that his recovering injury was going to be suffering yet *another* setback, thanks to some freak animal attack. If it weren't for Will, a cowardly part of Mulder would have half-wished he could die from his wounds, and preferably *stay* dead rather than enduring the agonizing scoldings of his wife...or the resonating sounds of his slumber.

"Sorry, Mulder," Skinner replied with a note of sympathy in his eyes as he punched in the familiar number. "I'm sure you'll thank us eventually for this when all is said and done."

"Yeah, like when I'm on my death bed," Mulder gasped out in pain as Will watched the animal finally succumb to the tranquilizer. Skinner, meanwhile, hung on for two rings before the familiar female voice answered, obviously mistaking the call for her husband. "God, Mulder, what timing! Could you *please* explain to my mother that boys at the age of seven do *not* go around in sailor suits and..."

"Uh, Scully, no, it's Skinner," the older man stammered out. "I'm...uh...afraid there's been an incident here at the zoo today."

The light yet mildly frustrated tone suddenly became more tense as Scully gripped the phone so tightly her knuckles threatened to bulge out. "What kind of an incident, sir?" At the sudden transformation, her mother peeked out from the middle of a rack of clothing in the children's department of Dillard's as her concerned face voicelessly mouthed the words, "What's wrong?"

"Calm down, Scully, Mulder's here, he'll be fine." At an unreadable sigh from the other end, he continued, "Apparently there was a wild animal attack, and... What's that? OK, here's Will."

The boy took the phone, and without so much as a hello, he blurted into the mouthpiece, "Wow, Mom, you shoulda seen it -- I got pictures of the whole thing...welll, almost the whole thing! You'd be so proud of me!" Hopefully, that would keep his mother from yelling.

"Uh, yeah, Will, I'm sure I would," Scully said tautly into the phone. "William Fox Scully-Mulder, what *exactly* did your father do *this* time?"

Will gulped audibly. As any child would tell you, a parent calling you by your full name is never a promising sign. And as luck would have it, Scully's voice had risen enough decibels for Mulder to hear her even through the pain...and to cause him to wish a hole could magically appear and swallow him before Scully saw him. Fortunately for Mulder, he had a very noble son, from the sound of his response. "Please don't be mad at Dad, Mom -- the panther would have gotten me, so Dad made me climb this tree. He tried to get up here, too, but he couldn't get up fast enough, and..."

"Wait a minute, wait a minute...Will, did you just say the *panther?* Are you trying to tell me that there are WILD ANIMALS on the loose over th--"

"Well not right now -- see, they shot it with the tranquilizer so they could catch it and then put it back in its cage with the rest of the animals before it could hurt anybody else so..."

"I see." Uh-oh -- the moment of truth. "And exactly how *did* the animal hurt your father, William? Don't tell me it was that leg that your father just had the stitches taken out of?"

"Well..." Will's shifting from foot to foot was *not* helping instill confidence in Mulder.


"...it kinda scratched it up a little." At this point, Will shot an apologetic look to his father, mouthing the words, "I tried -- sorry, Dad!"

"Okay, that's what I thought." Even Skinner was beginning to wince a little bit. Heaven only knew what sorts of looks she was getting in the mall by this point. "Will, sweetie, be a good boy and put your father on the phone, will you?"

At Mulder's pleading look, Will decided to put his inherited skill of bluffing to the test -- it *might* come in handy on influencing his father to "adopt" the next animal that came down his path. "Well, Mom, he's kinda looking a little sick right now, you know, like he's gonna pass out? So I don't think he could really stay on the phone that long..."

Mulder closed his eyes in defeat, as did Skinner. They both knew his son meant well, but any indication that he was *that* far gone was *not* going to go over well either way with Scully -- it would either worry her unnecessarily or be a dead giveaway of something that definitely *wasn't* the truth. Just where the he..heck *were* those paramedics, anyway?!?

From the sound of Scully's end, it was pretty much an indication of the latter, and had only served to exacerbate the situation. "Nice try, William. Now, PLEASE give your father the phone or you will NOT be allowed to play ANY more video games for the next two weeks! Have I made myself clear?"

"Yes, ma'am," Will sighed as he handed the phone to a pained (in more ways than one) Mulder. "*Next* time try for a little less drama on behalf of the old man, OK?" he hissed at William.

Reluctantly he put his ear to the phone, nearly risking an injury of an entirely different kind in the process as the barely controlled voice of his wife vibrated through his eardrum. "MULDER, JUST WHAT IN THE HELL DID YOU THINK YOU WERE..."

Thankfully her tirade was cut off by the blare of sirens, as the zookeeper could be heard in the distance yelling "He's over here!" to the paramedics. Mulder involuntarily let out a sigh of relief before a hasty, "Scully, I'd love to fill you in, but I'm a little busy right now! I'll see you in a little while at Northwest Georgetown, OK? I'll explain it all when you get here, I promise! Love you, see you soon!"

Mulder tossed the phone back to Skinner as though it were a hot potato, as the paramedics began the process of strapping him to the gurney. Will crawled eagerly into the ambulance, accompanied by Skinner. The assistant director hastily listed the name of the hospital at which to meet them before apparently reaching a moment of relative satisfaction with Scully before signing off, at which point they were halfway there.

"Boy, talk about being saved by the bell," Skinner sighed as he put away the phone.

"Tell me about it," Mulder grinned from the gurney as his gaze shifted to an excited Will. In the midst of all the hubbub, the boy had found the file and camera and hung onto it for dear life.

That child would make one hell of an investigator if he chose to go that route, that was for sure. He certainly had a knack for preserving evidence. Of course, as much as he saw of the medical profession, he might just end up being a doctor -- or a paramedic.

Northwest Georgetown Hospital Emergency Room
Washington, D.C.
October 1, 2008 3:37 p.m.

Mulder grasped Scully's hand tightly as the ER doctor stitched up the 9-inch long gash on his leg. The doctor had administered a local anesthetic, but Mulder could still feel it to some extent. The whole procedure had been painful, from the cleansing of the wound to the closing.

As the doctor tied off the last and 62nd stitch, he asked Mulder and Scully, "Is the zoo going to check the animal for rabies?"

Scully didn't think it was possible for Mulder to get any paler, but his face went sheet-white.

"R-rabies?" he stammered. "Are you talking shots in the stomach? But it didn't bite me!"

"If the animal was infected with rabies and its saliva was on its claws or dripped from its mouth into the wound, then its possible you could become infected. We probably should go ahead with the vaccine as a precaution. But the vaccine isn't injected in the abdomen any more. We give it in the arm. There have been some reports of rabies-infected raccoons in the area, after all."

"Scully... Tell him I don't need rabies shots. You know how I hate needles." Mulder gave her his best pleading look.

His wife patted his hand reassuringly. "Why don't we wait and let the zoo quarantine the panther and observe it, first, before we make the decision on rabies vaccinations, Doctor?"

"That's fine. I wasn't sure if they had caught it."

"Oh, they caught it all right," Will spoke up. He'd been sitting quietly in the corner, the whole time, watching in fascination as the doctor sewed up his dad's leg. "They shot it with a tranquilizer gun, then threw nets over him. You shoulda seen him! He was snarling and spitting, and then he got sleepy and laid down. It was really cool."

The doctor smiled at the boy as a nurse walked in with a hypodermic and a vial.

Mulder eyed the hypo. "Hey, I thought we agreed to wait!"

"It's an antibiotic. I'm also giving you a prescription for them and I want you to take them until they are completely gone. Fortunately, I see you've had a tetanus shot in the last year, so you won't need another. I'll give you an additional prescription for pain."

The nurse motioned for Mulder to roll over and he did so carefully, trying not to jar his injured leg. She pulled down his jeans a bit, swabbed his hip with an alcohol pad and jabbed him gently with the hypo, injecting its contents. From the slightly lustful look in Scully's eyes, she was certainly enjoying the show, much to Will's annoyance as his own eyes rolled. The 7-year-old recognized that look all too well as the one his mother wore just before she and his father would get all mushy at home. Jeez, didn't this woman *ever* give it a rest? This was a public *hospital*, for crying out loud!

Mulder, of course, was too preoccupied to even notice the show going on behind his back.

"I want you to stay off that leg for three days. Use crutches," the doctor told him.

"We have some in the car," Scully assured the doctor. "I grabbed them as I was leaving."

"Ok, then, you're all set to go," said the doctor, handing Scully the prescriptions. "Nurse, get an orderly with a wheelchair for Mr. Mulder."

Scully helped Mulder sit up and swing his legs over the side of the treatment table. An orderly soon arrived with the wheelchair and they were on their way. Skinner had waited around for a while, but had been called back to the office, promising to check in on them later that evening.

Mulder Residence
Annapolis, Maryland
5:40 p.m.

Following a stop at the pharmacy, they finally pulled up in the driveway of their home. Scully opened the car trunk and took Mulder's crutches to him.

They entered the house and Mulder made a beeline for the sofa, grabbing his bad leg and lifting it gingerly onto the cushions. He leaned his head back gratefully. His stomach rumbled and he realized he had missed lunch in the rush to get to the zoo. He and Will had planned on grabbing hot dogs there after the meeting with Skinner.

Will must have been channeling Mulder, because he hollered, "Mom! What's for dinner? I'm hungry! We never did get lunch." He wandered into the kitchen looking for some cookies or chips.

Scully was in the kitchen and handed the boy some crackers and cheese. "Here, this ought to tide you over until dinner."

She emerged with a glass of water and a couple of pills. She handed them wordlessly to Mulder.

Timidly, he spoke up. "Should I take these on an empty stomach?"

Scully sighed. "Go ahead and take the small capsule, that's the pain pill."

"We can order in pizza, you don't have to cook," Mulder suggested.

"I'll call it in!" Will volunteered.

"I swear, he has your appetite, Mulder."

"He's a growing boy, Mom. C'mon, pizza tonight and when my leg is better, I'll take you out to dinner and we'll let Will stay overnight with your mom or the guys." Mulder reached over and pulled her gently into an embrace. "I'm really sorry about all this. It's not like I meant for it to happen. I'll make it all up to you."

Scully brushed away tears the tears she had barely managed to suppress since Skinner's phone call. "You've got to take better care of yourself, Mulder. I don't want to have to raise Will alone."

"I'll be all right. I'm not hurt that bad. You know I do try to be more careful, but I'm not going to let anyone or anything hurt our son as long as I have a breath in my body," Mulder told her. The firm, loyal look in his eyes defended his story effectively.

She nodded in understanding and gratitude, and they kissed. The moment was interrupted by Will yelling, "What size do we get? I can eat a whole one by myself! I want Meat Lovers. What kind do you guys want?"

"Get the special, Will, a large and a small. Get what you want on the big one and make mine vegetarian," Scully called out, knowing that the large would be enough for both Mulder and son, who both liked their pizza the same way.

As Will hurried into the kitchen to use the phone, Mulder drew Scully's attention back down towards his face. "Now let's see -- where were we?"

"Oh, I think right...about...here..." replied Scully, nibbling gently at his lower lip, as Mulder moaned in pleasure.

From his refuge in the kitchen, all too able to hear the goings-on, Will simply shook his head as he punched in the numbers. "Hi, Pizza Hut?..."

Leopard exhibit Smithsonian National Zoo
Washington, D.C.
October 1, 7:15 p.m.

The black panther became slowly aware of a voice speaking nearby.

"Damned if I know where it came from," a man was saying. "We got him over to the enclosure and both our black leopards were there. Now, we have three! How are we going to explain this to the suits? Huh? Yeah, I'm clocking overtime right now. OK, I'll punch out and go home and we'll figure it out tomorrow."

The panther heard a click and figured the man had hung up the phone. When the footsteps faded away, the cat stood up and looked around him. Four other leopards looked at him curiously as he began to change. They got to their feet when they saw him transform back into a human being. They sniffed the air, but were apparently satisfied with the scent, and laid back down.

Richard walked over to the enclosure wall and examined it. It was clear that he was locked in and this was his only way out. One side effect of his new condition was highly improved night vision -- even in his human form. He could easily make out cracks in the concrete and decided his rock climbing experience was going to come in handy. It didn't take him long to reach the fencing at the top, and he pulled himself over it. Now to find some clothes. His others had been torn apart earlier in his unwilling transformation. The process seemed to be getting out of control and there had certainly been no anticipating the transformation this afternoon. He had merely been ruminating over his firing to the point of rage, leading to a nearly tragic mistake on his part. Fortunately, the zoo was closed, so there should be no one to become alarmed at a naked man walking around. He fished a zoo map out of the trash and found the location of the zookeepers' locker room.

"I *need* to control this thing, wherever the hell it came from, and put it to good use," he muttered as he jogged through the zoo. "There's still that bastard Randy, the FedEx guy -- was always hanging out at the office with Peter, drinking our coffee, going to lunch with him, always whispering behind my back but grinning that plaster-grin at my face just like Peter! One good bastard deserves another..."

By the end of the night, they would be together, in heaven or hell, along with that bitch Mandy's boyfriend (whatever his name was). Richard had been sure Mandy was interested in him, but it turned out she was flirting with all the male customers at the café -- just to get better tips. When he'd asked her out, she had laughed and told him she already had a boyfriend. It was a simple matter just to wait until her boyfriend picked her from work, then follow him and catch him alone.

First, a quick stop at the apartment for some clothes, preferably some shorts or T-shirt that would be fairly easy to change out of if need be -- and hopefully wouldn't risk tearing when the animal made its dreaded appearance. Then off to carry out his deed, and get his revenge on the others responsible for turning him into the hateful misfit he had now become. They would pay. They would all pay.

Mulder Residence
Annapolis, Maryland
October 2, 2008 9:03 a.m.

Poor Skinner stood on the doorstep, desperately fighting an exhaustion-induced headache as he rang the doorbell. He had indeed promised Mulder he'd stop by to update him on the latest developments on the case, which was in effect something of a guise of coming by to check up on his former agent and ease the guilt of somehow being responsible for the poor man's injuries. Skinner had never quite forgiven himself for that little incident eight years ago, when Mulder had disappeared under what should have been his watchful eye. Now, every time the man seemed to be injured in his presence since then, Skinner always took it as a slug to the chin that seriously rivaled that punch his then "under-the-influence" agent had thrown at him so long ago.

As luck would have it, however, there were indeed new developments to go over, and perhaps more to come. Too bad this latest development had to occur at 3 a.m., an hour after he had *finally* managed to get to sleep following the latest in a series of massive guilt-trips. He hoped there was a polite way to ask Scully for as much black coffee as she could possibly spare without depriving herself and Mulder. For that matter, he hoped she was *making* coffee in the first place.

As if in answer to his prayer, at that point the door opened, revealing a Scully who was obviously dressed for the day. The woman almost seemed like something out of a fifties-sitcom: seemingly always dressed as if to receive company, not a hair out of place. "Oh, good, sir, you're here! Have you had breakfast yet? Come right in -- I'll get you some coffee."

"Ah, thanks, Scully, that sounds wonderful," Skinner responded with more gratitude than he had originally intended. On one level, he was rather surprised that the man who essentially was responsible for her husband's latest injury was being treated with such respect and affection. Apparently, Mulder would survive this latest incident, so as a consequence, he would be allowed to survive as well. Okay, one burden down, one to go...

Skinner made his way to the dining room and plopped himself down next to Mulder, who was resting his leg on a conveniently-placed ottoman under the kitchen table -- Dr. Scully's orders, he surmised. Otherwise, there was an uncanny resemblance between father and son, sitting side by side, ignoring the plate of French toast sitting in front of them. Mulder was now deeply into the file, now that the excitement that interrupted his previous perusal was long over. Occasionally he would cast a glance at Will, who seemed mesmerized by the laptop before him as several black leopards and panthers stared at him from the screen. He would occasionally scribble notes onto a nearby Palm Pilot. Notes for his upcoming paper, no doubt, to later be saved to disk, copied and pasted into a report or even a multimedia presentation. It was moments like these where the boy reminded both Mulder *and* Skinner so much of his mother, although the process had obviously come quite a long way from the days where she would scribble down notes from a computer monitor by hand via ball point pen.

Upon Mulder's greeting of "Hey," Skinner quickly grabbed his trademark "Assistant Director Growl" in an attempt to mask his sense of concern and guilt. "I trust you're feeling better now, Mulder? Certainly enough to get back to business?"

Apparently the "gruff boss" facade was belied by a deep look of concern in his eyes, because Mulder shook his head with a grin and said, "For God's sake, Skinner, you've got to cut that crap out! That was *eight years* ago!"

After recovering over the fact that Mulder had somehow been able to read his mind without the aid of that infamous artifact some nine years ago, Skinner lowered his eyes, admitting, "Still, it seems to be a growing coincidence that unfortunate events seem to occur in my presence, wouldn't you say?"

"Sir, where I'm concerned, unfortunate events seem to practically be a way of life! Just ask Scully!" Mulder informed him with a wink as he gently tapped Will on the shoulder. "Hey, buddy, look who's here!"

Will's head shot up. "Oh, hi, Uncle Walter -- sorry, I've got a report due tomorrow, so I'm just getting everything together!"

"Oh, a report, eh? It wouldn't happen to be about panthers and leopards, now, would it?" Walter quizzed the boy with a wink.

"Welllll..." Will may have been his mother on the computer, but the sheepish grin on his face was *definitely* a trait of his father. "Maybe -- you'll just have to wait and see!" Skinner exchanged a chuckle with Mulder over Will's mischievously mysterious nature, reminiscent of his mother, when Will's eyes suddenly lit up. "Hey, I actually got the CD from those pictures from yesterday -- wanna see it? It's okay, I've got them saved to my hard drive, so it's not like you'd have the only copies or anything! But maybe it could help you out on your case! Hang on, I'll go get it!" Without waiting for Skinner's approval or acknowledgment, the child bolted out of his seat and past Scully.

"Will--" Before Scully could stop him, he had shot up the stairs in search of the CD. She sighed and shook her head, adding, "You better get back to work on that paper after you give Uncle Walter that CD, young man! You hear me?" Then she handed Skinner a coffee mug, adding in a low voice, "Besides, how on Earth would those pictures give any evidence regarding the case? I mean, it was *definitely* a wild animal attack -- what could an animal attack at the zoo possibly have to do with a murder that leaves evidence of an animal attack on the victim but nothing else?"

"Still, Scully, you *do* have to admit that it was a very interesting coincidence -- I'm not entirely convinced that the incident was completely unrelated," interjected Mulder, holding up photos of the late Peter Grey and to prove his point. The slashes on the victim certainly *did* bear a nasty resemblance to the gash just sewn up on Mulder's leg, even Scully had to admit.

"Well, as it happens, there's yet another wrinkle to add," Skinner piped up. "It seems that last night it was noted by the zookeeper that there was one extra black panther in the leopard exhibit, presumably the one that attacked you. This morning, however, that one extra panther now appears to be missing. Our profilers seem to think the UNSUB is an animal trainer or a circus worker with access to big cats. Or anyone that has a license to keep a black leopard."

"And they don't know where this...animal came from?" Scully piped up. "Well, Mulder, looks like you may have to have that rabies shot after all."

"Not so fast, Scully," Mulder interjected with a warning look in his eye. The wheels in his mile-a-minute brain appeared to be turning yet again. "Maybe there's a good chance this...thing isn't really a panther in the traditional sense of the word...that it has some way of 'blending in' with society before turning itself into a creature..."

"Like what, a were-panther?" Scully smirked ever so slightly.

A completely serious Mulder shrugged. "Or something similar. My guess would be some sort of curse, perhaps easily found in one of the less familiar legends of history able to somehow transform a man into a catlike beast..."

"Mulder, have you and Will been up late catching up on the 'Cat People' marathon again?" Scully sighed.

"Well, OK, yes, that sort of basic idea has been used quite a bit in fiction, but what if there actually *is* such a legend that many people don't know about? I mean, how else could a panther somehow materialize seemingly out of nowhere among millions of people innocently mingling around a zoo?" At Scully's ever-familiar look, he added, "Well, you have to admit, it does make a heck of a lot more sense than the theory I was tossing around when I first got the file."

Scully heaved yet another sigh. "Do I even want to know?"

Following a look of extreme guilt, like a child who was about to confess to trampling his mother's flower beds, Mulder replied, "That some sort of ancient curse transformed an innocent-looking cat into a vicious, giant panther? I mean, it says here that Mr. Grey *did* own a cat that was found hiding underneath a table at the scene of the crime..." At Scully's look that clearly said "You've got to be kidding me," he admitted in defeat, "Yeah, that's what I thought too. The main problem with that theory is that the killer appears to be on some sort of vendetta if you will. Most of the victims appear to be deliberately selected rather than randomly chosen. Most of them seem to work in the same building -- I think there must be a connection there."

"Maybe it's not a panther, but panther paws," Scully suggested. "Maybe the killer uses stuffed black leopard paws and rips the victims up with the claws."

"But how do you account for the throats being torn out?" Mulder offered as counterpoint.

So intent were both of them in their typically lively discussion of the case that they were oblivious to Skinner's phone ringing, until the AD got off the phone with an abrupt "I'll be right there." He then turned to Mulder and Scully, declaring, "Hate to eat and run here, guys, but it seems there's been another murder."

Mulder shoved his plate aside and grabbed up a notepad. "I'm going with you."

"Mulder, it's an official investigation..."

"So tell them I'm giving you a free consultation," Mulder replied with a grin, gathering up his crutches. "Scully, do you think your mom could come over and watch Will? I'd like for you to take a look at the body."

Scully sighed. "We could drop him off at her house on the way, I guess. Give us the address, Walter, and we'll take our car and join you there." She picked up the phone, called her mother and was assured she would love a visit from her grandson. She hung up the phone and yelled up the stairs, "Will! Grab the things you need for your report and put them in your backpack. You're going to visit grandma for a little while."

Will emerged from his room and ran down the steps. "Where are you going? I want to go!" In his excitement, he barely forgot to hand Skinner the CD, which he hastily did as he passed.

"Not this time, Will. It's a murder scene and an official investigation," his father told him. "Seven-year-olds just aren't allowed. It's pretty bad stuff."

"Awww! How old do I have to be?" The boy pouted, gathering up the laptop and Palm Pilot.

"If you're lucky, you'll never have to see a murdered person, son, unless you follow in your mother's and my footsteps."

"OK, Dad," Will said dejectedly.

"C'mere," Mulder urged him and he went to his father, who gathered him in a hug. "You know we love you, right? And we want what's best for you. I'm sorry to pull the age card on you, but this just isn't something that a child should see."

Will returned the hug and returned to his room to get his knapsack.

Skinner cleared his throat as he shoved the CD away in his coat pocket. "I guess I'd better get going." He handed them the address, which he'd written on the back of one of his business cards. Just show that to the officer at the door and tell them to check with me about letting you in." He paused and stopped briefly at the foot of the steps. "And thanks for the evidence, Will -- I'm sure it'll come in very handy."

Mulder grinned at Scully as Skinner headed out the door, as he could all but see the child's beam from upstairs. For a man who had no children of his own, the AD certainly had a way with them.

Park Shirlington Apartments
Arlington, Virginia
October 2, 10:30 a.m.

The police officer guarding the door at Randy Whittaker's apartment let Mulder and Scully pass once Skinner signaled to let them in.

The crime scene investigation unit had just finished and were about to haul Whittaker's body to the morgue.

Scully pulled on a pair of rubber gloves and kneeled beside the mauled corpse, noting the deep claw marks and the throat ripped out. Mulder stood, looking over her shoulder.

"This was definitely some sort of large animal," she confirmed. "With extremely sharp claws," she added, pointing to the nasty gashes covering the victim. Mulder nodded. She bent closer and examined the clothing. "There are animal hairs on the clothes, did anyone get a sample?"

One of the crime scene investigators handed her a pair of tweezers and a plastic evidence bag. "We saw that, were going to get some samples later."

"They look black," Mulder commented as Scully held up some of the hairs after picking them up with the tweezers. She nodded in agreement. "Would you mind if I took a sample with me to look at in my own lab?"

"No problem. We've got plenty here," said the specialist.

Mulder crossed over to Skinner, who was helping go through the apartment for other types of evidence. "So what's the story on this guy? Any ties with the other victims?"

"Yes. His name is Randy Whittaker. FedEx employee, a delivery man. He was a friend of Peter Grey. No known association with the other victim."

"Have you spoken to their family members yet?" inquired Mulder.

"We've talked to Nancy Grey, Peter's mother. She said her son was single, no girlfriend," Skinner told him. "She wasn't aware of any enemies."

"OK, well, I know you guys have to notify Whittaker's family and talk to them," so why don't we pay a visit to Mrs. Grey?" Mulder suggested. "Got her address and phone number?"

Skinner called his office and retrieved the information from Kimberly, who was still his secretary after all these years, though he knew she'd had other job offers. He smiled dreamily as he remembered their weekend in southern Maryland only six months ago. Then his face snapped briskly back to its familiar brusk features lest his former agents or the present officers dared perceive that there was something going on between him and his secretary.

Mulder took a last look around the victim's apartment and saw a picture of Whittaker and Grey in softball uniforms. The team sponsor was Grey's employer. Mulder made note of it for future reference. Maybe the killer was on an opposing team.

He turned to Scully, who was on the phone.

"OK, then, sweetie, you mind your grandmother and we'll see you later this afternoon," he heard her say. She pressed the END button and stuck the phone in her pocket.

"How's he doing?" Mulder asked.

"He's fine. Working on his science paper. Mom has promised him chicken-fried steak for lunch and is baking a homemade apple pie," Scully replied, smiling. "He asked us to not pick him up until AFTER lunch."

"Hey, you didn't wrangle us a lunch invitation, too? Your mom is a great cook," Mulder said, almost salivating at the thought of Maggie's chicken-fried steak and cream gravy.

"Are you saying that my mom is a better cook than me?" she asked, a threatening look in her eye.

"Oh, no, not at all. You obviously took after her with your culinary skills." Mulder was not a stupid man. He knew better than to insult his wife's cooking.

"Liar!" she retorted, laughing.

"OK, I admit it. I married you for your mother's cooking. Happy now?" Mulder quipped.

She elbowed him in the ribs and he almost lost his balance on the crutches, but she reached out and grabbed his coat and steadied him.

Mulder grinned and followed her out the door.

Nancy Grey's home
Falls Church, Virginia
October 2, 11:47 a.m.

"So Peter never mentioned anyone he was having trouble with?" Scully asked Mrs. Grey.

"He got along well with everyone," the woman replied, dabbing at the corners of her eyes with a tissue. "Peter was doing so well at work, too. He said there was a possibility of a promotion."

"I saw that he played on the company softball team," Mulder said. "Would you say he was a pretty good player, Mrs. Grey?"

Mrs. Grey smiled through her tears. "Peter was quite the athlete. He threw the meanest curve ball on the team."

Mulder smiled encouragingly. Much as he was enjoying this part of the interrogation, now it was time to move in for the kill. Into a less pleasant part of the conversation, at least for Peter's poor mother.

"Did he have any problems with any of the other players? I understand his friend Randy Whittaker was also on the team."

Nancy Grey sighed at the memories. "Peter and Randy played high school sports together. When Peter graduated, he went on to the University of Virginia and got a degree in business. Randy was only an average student, didn't much like school. He went to community college a couple of years, then got a job with Federal Express."

Mulder and Scully exchanged glances, wondering if they should mention Whittaker was dead. Mulder pursed his lips, then nodded to his wife.

"Mrs. Grey, I think you should know that Randy Whittaker was killed sometime last night," Scully said gently. "We have good reason to believe it was the same person that took your son's life."

Nancy Grey's eyes widened, then she began weeping bitterly. "Why? Why would anyone do this?"

"That's what we're trying to find out," Mulder told her. "This is a very unusual case. A third person was murdered in the same way."

"You said you and your wife are private investigators, Mr. Mulder. I want my son's killer found and brought to justice. Frankly, I just don't have much faith in the police and FBI. I would like to engage your services."

"Please understand that we didn't come here soliciting business, Mrs. Grey. We want to help," Scully said.

"Besides, Mrs. Grey, if it makes you feel any better, I can't really say I have much more faith in those sources than you do," Mulder added in a gentle tone that nearly made Scully want to weep in memory of how the FBI had betrayed him.

"I believe you. You just tell me how much you need to start and I'll write you a check right now," Nancy Grey insisted.

"That won't be necessary, ma'am, we'll send you a bill when we solve the case," Mulder told her.

Mrs. Grey thanked them and they all rose to their feet -- though Mulder had to use the crutches.

"One more thing, Mrs. Grey," he said. "Why was Randy on the Kane company team?"

"Oh, they sort of considered him one of them, since he hung around there so much. When Peter went to work there, Randy traded with one of the other delivery men so he could have the route Peter's office was on."

"I see. Do you think we could have a photo of your son? We'll make a copy and return the original," Mulder said.

The woman picked up a picture frame, opened it, and removed a picture of Peter, herself and an older man. She handed it to Scully. "This is the only one I have. It was taken about two years ago when my husband was still alive. I guess he and Peter are together, now. They were always so close."

Maggie Scully's home
Annapolis, Maryland
2 p.m.

Mulder and Scully entered the house, making their way towards the dining room. They could just dimly hear Will saying, "Gee, Grandma, thank you -- it's cute!" in his "polite so as not to hurt Grandma's feelings" voice.

A voice that, quite frankly, filled Dana's heart with dread, remembering the situation in the mall before her moment of excitement with the cell phone. Mulder, meanwhile, lifted an eyebrow in complete puzzlement.

As they approached the dining room, Scully's worst fear was confirmed. Her mother stood beaming as he held a navy blue- and-white sailor suit against poor Will's chest, the latter of whom was forcing a smile but clearly in misery. Mulder, meanwhile, leaned a bit on his crutches as his long fingers did their best to muffle what Scully presumed would have been something of a sympathetic snicker for Will's benefit. Neither Will nor his grandmother seemed aware of the presence of the parents for the moment, and Scully, taking advantage of this, explained to Mulder, "Sorry, Mulder -- I guess this is her way of keeping Dad alive, at least in her heart. She keeps going on and on about how much Will reminds her of Dad."

"That's well and good for your father," Mulder muttered in turn, desperately fighting a giggle, "But how does she plan to resurrect that God-awful *style*?"

Poor Scully found herself at war with the giggles and managed to shush them both just as Will's pleading face turned towards them. "Mom, Dad, you're here! I'm almost done with my science project, and...if there's anything you need me to do, you know, like around the house or anything, I'll do it."

Both parents recognized this puzzling statement for what it was -- a plea in disguise. What he was *really* trying to say was "I'll do *anything* you ask -- just don't make me wear this stupid outfit!"

After exchanging a grin with Mulder, Scully gathered Will for an embrace, close enough to whisper into his ear, "It's all right, Will -- we'll just keep it in the closet and save it for your cousins' birthday parties if they come up here, okay?"

Will silently looked her full in the face, flashing a smile reflecting his appreciation and gratitude at her understanding. He was sure he could manage to outgrow the hideous thing before his cousins happened to visit on their birthdays. Mulder, meanwhile, saw the need for diversion, for Maggie's sake if nothing else. "So, buddy, you got everything all packed up and ready to go home yet?"

"Getting ready to do that -- hang on! It'll only take a minute," Will chirped as he gathered the nearby laptop and Palm Pilot. Maggie, who had disappeared briefly into the kitchen, now emerged with Tupperware containers. "Dana, honey, you know me -- I'm afraid I made way too much food, as always. I thought you'd be able to find some use of it at home for your own dinner."

"Are you trying to tell me something about my cooking, Mom?" Scully piped up with a hint of lightness as she gathered the containers. Mulder of course was too busy with his crutches to even offer.

"Sweetie," Maggie told her with the slightest hint of hurt in her voice, "I'm just trying to help out. I should imagine you wouldn't have time to cook with your schedule, at least not tonight, so I just thought I'd give you a nice alternative to fast food and takeout pizza! Is that so terrible?"

"Mom, I'm sorry." Scully slightly flushed with embarrassment. "I didn't mean it like that, you know that! We really *do* appreciate it."

"That's the truth!" Mulder added at the thought of chicken- fried steak and homemade apple pie for dinner. He remembered that Scully had bought some ice cream not too long ago -- maybe she could make it "a la mode."

"By the way, Dana, you should be *very* proud of Will," Maggie added. "That child has absolutely been slaving away on that computer hammering out that report for you -- reminds me of someone else I know and love!"

Scully blushed and Mulder grinned as Maggie continued. "It looks like he's throwing together a project of some sort on wild cats, or panthers or leopards or something of that nature."

Mulder and Scully exchanged a glance.

"Yes, he loves animals and since Mulder was attacked by that panther, he's been reading everything he can find on them," Scully said.

"That was terrible! They really need to take better precautions. Fox, dear, how is the leg?"

"Oh, it's fine, Maggie, just a scratch."

"A scratch that required 62 stitches to close," Scully noted, refusing to allow Mulder to downplay the injury.

Mulder visibly winced at the memory.

"And you really need to get home and rest it, so we'd better be going. Thanks again, Mom. Will, thank your grandmother for the clothes and for letting you stay."

"Yes, ma'am." Will hugged his grandmother. He collected the palmtop and laptop and proceeded to the door.

But his attempt to leave behind the horrid package didn't work.

"Will, honey, you almost forgot your new clothes," his grandmother said, pressing the sack into his hands.

"Oh, yeah, sorry. How could I forget?" The boy glanced at Scully and saw her giving him a warning look. "Thanks again, Grandma," he added.

Once inside the Explorer and on the road, Scully noted the thoughtful look on her husband's face.

"Okay, Mulder, I can see those wheels turning in your head. What far-fetched theory are you cooking up now?"

"Scully, I'm hurt!" Mulder dead-panned from his seat next to Will. "How could you possibly make the assumption that I could be thinking up *anything* 'far-fetched'?"

"Oh, I don't know," Scully responded in turn. "Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I've known you for a good sixteen years now, and I know that look when I see it! Now, what was it that you were thinking, and did it have anything to do with the case by any chance?"

"Well, if you *must* know," Mulder responded with a mock-air of injury to his voice, "It *was* a theory having to do with the case. I was just thinking about the wolf versus the panther."

Scully paused briefly before replying, "Okay, I'm listening..."

"Yeah, Dad, they're not in the same animal family, for one thing," Will piped up, all too eager to show off his essay- related knowledge. "The wolf comes from the canine family, and the panther comes from the feline family."

The eyebrows of both mother and father shot up with clear parental pride and impression. "That's very good, William," Scully informed him before continuing, "Which is why I'm still interested in hearing how you're going to finish this, Mulder!"

"Oh, *that's* right -- use our only child's superior knowledge to gang up on me!" Mulder shot back lightly before Scully's glare in the rear view mirror informed him that he'd carried this joke of mock insult just a bit too far for her liking. He may have been a bit crazy at times, but certainly not stupid when it came to Scully. Resuming a serious tone, he continued, "Well, considering the legend of the curse of the werewolf, I'm wondering if it's really limited to the wolf family. I'm now wondering if there aren't in fact certain cultures where the victim can actually transform into the likes of a wild *cat* as opposed to a wild *dog*. I mean, just think about it, Scully -- it would have its differences here and there, such as the werewolf curse manifesting itself in the form of a wolf bite..."

"So you're saying that this 'were-cat' or 'were-panther' curse, or whatever the heck you call it, could manifest itself in some way *other* than an animal bite?"

"Possibly," Mulder replied. "I'd just like to do a bit of research online, just to see if there *is* some sort of curse like that."

"Mulder, I'd hate to be the usual voice of skepticism here-- " Mulder briefly turned mischievously to Will and hissed "She's lying -- she does *not* hate it!" in his ear, at which point Scully briefly paused at a rather loud giggle from Will that he just barely managed to stifle, "-- but are you sure you're just not grasping at straws after falling asleep during the late late movie?"

"Well, it certainly couldn't hurt," Mulder replied as they pulled up to the house.

The family piled into the house once Scully got the door open.

Mulder headed for the family computer. "I'm going to do some research," he declared, but then bumped his sore leg on the desk. He plopped into the chair, closing his eyes tightly as he rode out the pain.

Will nudged his mother and nodded at his dad. Giving her son a quick hug, Scully fished Mulder's pills out of her purse and approached him.

"I've got a better idea. Why don't you stretch out on the couch and I'll bring you the laptop and you'll be more comfortable," she insisted.

Surprisingly, Mulder didn't resist her suggestion. It had been a long morning and he was hardly in top form. Gathering his crutches, he made his way to the sofa, where Will was already piling up some pillows.

"Now, just rest for a bit while I microwave the meal Mom sent home with us," Scully said, handing him the pills. A quick signal to Will sent him hurrying into the kitchen for a glass of water for his father.

The boy quickly returned, handed Mulder the liquid then watched him down the medicine. Mulder noted something of a guilty look plastered on Will's face.

"Okay, Mr. Flo Nightingale, what have you been up to?" he accused playfully with a single raised eyebrow.

The boy shifted guiltily from one foot to the next before beginning. "Well, Dad, I already did some research on what you were talking about in the car a minute ago. See, while I was at Grandma's -- and I'd gotten a *lot* done on my paper, by the way -- I did some research myself on werebeasts. I saved all the information in the laptop. It's in Word, under the file name 'were-legends.'

Mulder smiled and nodded his approval. "You're already a pivotal part of our agency. I can just see what it's going to be like when you're older -- if you decide to keep working with us."

Will blushed at the praise. "I can't really see myself doing anything else, but sometimes I think I'd like to be in the FBI like you and Mom were. And sometimes I think I'd like to be a doctor when I grow up."

Mulder beamed at the thought of his son following in their footsteps in such a manner, before allaying whatever fears of the future his child might have. "You have the brains and ability to be whatever you want to be," Mulder told him earnestly. "Your mother and I will support you in whatever career you choose."

The boy beamed. "Let me show you what I found out." He pulled out the laptop, powered it on and set it on his father's lap.

"There are some old Indian legends from many different tribes about shamans who could take the form of animals," Will explained. "It was an inherited power that was activated by magic, or spirit medicine, as they usually called it. Southwestern tribe shamans would use a mixture of peyote and jimson weed to invoke the power. And of course, there are the European legends of the werewolf curse, which would be handed down within families."

Scully walked up with a bed tray bearing a plate of chicken- fried steak and mashed potatoes.

"It's commonly understood," she said, "that the werewolf legend came from people who were unusually hirsute, with thick hair growing all over their bodies."

Father and son merely nodded and continued a discussion of werebeasts.

Scully shook her head and smiled. "OK, you two can continue this in a little while. Ready to eat?" she asked Mulder.

Her husband's stomach growled on cue and he set the computer aside.


All three retired to bed about 10:30, when Scully noted that both Mulder and Will were having trouble keeping their eyes open.

A shrilly-ringing telephone awoke Mulder and Scully almost four hours later.

"'Lo?" Mulder mumbled into the phone. He listened for a moment, then sat up and punched a button to turn on the speaker portion of the phone. It was Skinner calling. "There's been another murder," Mulder explained to Scully, looking questioningly at him.

"--victim's name is Catherine Dwyer, age 31. We don't know all her history at this point, but the M.O. is the same. She was killed in her home by some sort of wild animal, but nobody saw anything like that around. Coroner puts the death at about an hour ago. Boyfriend came home from the night shift and found her murdered. I know it's late, but could you come take a look?"

"Of course," Mulder told him, and jotted down the address that Skinner gave him. He hung up the phone.

"Someone has to stay with Will," Scully reminded her husband. A peal of thunder announced bad weather. "Look, it's going to rain any minute now and you aren't getting around too well, anyway. Why don't I go and collect samples and take pictures and you stay home. I'll call you with whatever I find out."

Mulder sighed, but knew she was right. "And you're the forensic expert in the family. Maybe you can run some comparisons later on the samples from the two murders."

Scully agreed and began dressing. By the time she emerged from the bathroom, Mulder was sound asleep. She bent over and kissed him lightly on the lips. In his sleep, he reached out for her, but she withdrew and quietly headed for the front door.

Richard McKenna's apartment
Arlington, Virginia
October 3, 2:35 a.m.

McKenna trembled as he showered, washing Catherine's blood from his body. His blood-stained and ripped clothes were in garbage bag in the kitchen. He'd only meant to talk to Catherine, to get her to withdraw her sexual harassment charge. He replayed the events of a few hours ago in his mind.

"Please, Catherine, don't do this. You know I was only trying to help you wipe the Coke off your dress!"

"There was no Coke on my butt. And I've heard the secretaries complain about your come-ons to them," Catherine retorted. "Now get out of here before I call the police!"

Richard felt the rage rise within him. "Catherine, I'm telling you, don't do this. Please. You know I'm in love with you."

"I wouldn't have anything to do with you if you were the last man on Earth," she said scornfully.

The dam on McKenna's emotions broke and his form shifted before her eyes. The last thing she saw before the panther leaped upon her was the fury shining in its golden eyes.

The shower water began to turn cold and brought Richard back to the present. He scrubbed his body harder. He hadn't meant to kill her, he never would have hurt her. All this was Peter's fault. It had to be. Peter had put something in the coffee. And Schlesinger -- maybe he had something to do with it, too. McKenna was certain, now, that he had been set up. Catherine had invented the sexual harassment charge and plotted with Peter, Randy and Schlesinger to get him fired. They were all jealous of his superior abilities, his keen mind.

The others had paid. Perhaps it was time Schlesinger paid as well. But first he would give the old man a chance. It would be worth it, if he could get his job back.

I.R. Kane Corporate Offices Suite
114 Arlington, Virginia
October 3, 10 a.m.

"Are you sure you don't need to go home for a quick nap? You've been up all night," Mulder asked his wife as he took advantage of their momentary solitude in their wait for the company manager. Mulder gently massaged her shoulders, knowing they had to be stiff. After gathering evidence at the scene of the crime the night before, including more cat hairs and video surveillance, she'd conducted an autopsy on Catherine. Upon finishing, she had phoned Mulder with the suggestion that he call Mrs. Davis (their "usual" babysitter when they really didn't want to bother Maggie) so they confer briefly and she could show him the evidence. Then they could interview Schlesinger for some insight into the killings. In between, she had downed approximately three or four cups of coffee, and was now downing her fifth or sixth. Nobody had said juggling supernatural crime-fighting, marriage and motherhood was any easy task, and Mulder could see the strain of it on her all too well.

Maybe despite her insistence that he continue to baby his leg, he could somehow talk her into allowing him to drive so she could catch a quick nap, though he wouldn't be able to bet money on it. But it was certainly worth a shot, especially if he pointed out that accidentally straining his leg a bit would be *far* less hazardous to *both* their lives than if she were to fall asleep at the wheel and crash the car.

After a long sip and deep breath, Scully piped up "I'll live, Mulder." If it weren't for the fact that she had traded her usual "I'm fine" for the phrase "I'll live" some time ago, one would assume she had been reading Mulder's thoughts. Her next words confirmed it. "Tell you what -- you be nice yet thorough with Mr. Schlesinger, and I'll let you take the wheel, provided you use your good leg for all the pedals. Deal?"

Mulder grinned in relief. "Deal!"

Now that his main fear had been assuaged, Mulder's thoughts turned to the research he and Will had conducted the night before, and how it linked to the victims. Aside from Randy Whittaker and Gary Parker, all of the victims seemed to tie in to Kane Industries, which certainly had a reputation for excellence where medical equipment was concerned. The label could easily be found on a lot of Scully's own lab equipment. However, Randy *had* been a good friend of the first victim, Peter Grey -- that gave him at *least* one link to the Kane Industries. The true wild card here was Gary Parker, who didn't seem to have any link to the Kane Industries, at least none Mulder was aware of.

Although he *had* noted that Parker had dated a Mandy Harding, a waitress in a nearby restaurant. Someone working with the killer, maybe, or who at least knew the killer somehow? Mulder had stored that seemingly superfluous bit of information into his eidetic memory just in case it contained a link he just couldn't see at the moment.

One thing was certain -- there was something in all that research he and Will had conducted the night before, that was bound to help things add up. Before Mulder could discuss any of his theories with Scully, however, the door opened to reveal a grey-haired but otherwise relatively fit man of about 50 or so. "Mr. and Mrs. Mulder?" As Mulder and Scully nodded in confirmation, the man stuck out his hand in greeting. "Hi, I'm Phil Schlesinger. Sorry to keep you waiting."

The three sat down in Schlesinger's office. "Mr. Schlesinger, Catherine Dwyer is now the fourth victim of this murder spree, the first being Peter Grey, who was apparently very good friends with Mr. Whittaker from what we've heard. But the second victim, Gary Parker, doesn't seem to have a connection. Did you know him by any chance?"

Phil Schlesinger ran his hand tiredly through his greyed head. "Yeah, those three always had lunch together. That Grey kid, I have to admit, had a *lot* of potential, but you know how it goes -- Richard McKenna had more seniority than Grey, and Grey would have plenty of time to get that promotion. But then, the sexual harassment charges started rolling in on McKenna."

"The last one was the latest of many, but was the first one we actually caught on videotape. We recently had the video surveillance system renovated within the past three months, in light of all the problems with stealing coffee and supplies, and we caught McKenna red-handed. Simple as that - - we fired his ass two months ago."

Scully's eyebrows raised in obvious interest. "And the name of the latest sexual harassment victim was..."

"Catherine Dwyer. She was in accounting."

After exchanging a look with Scully, Mulder cleared his throat. "Has McKenna ever shown signs of a violent temper?"

"Not really," replied the manager. "He was devastated when I fired him, but he didn't get violently angry or anything. He protested, said he was innocent, but of course, we had evidence this time. I still can't believe he'd resort to murder. Sexual harassment is one thing, but this... And I always thought he had a crush on Ms. Dwyer."

"If you don't mind, Mr. Schlesinger, may we view the videotape?" Mulder asked.

In response, Schlesinger grabbed the tape, shoving it into the nearby VCR and fast-forwarding it to the scene of a woman with shoulder-length blond hair sipping on a can of cola. They watched as a slightly balding man in his mid-40s entered the room and bumped her harm, doing a poor job of making it look like an accident. The drink spilled down the front of the woman's dress and she jumped to her feet, cursing. The man grabbed a handful of paper towels and started wiping her chest during what appeared to be a rather heated discussion between the two. When the man didn't stop and in fact put his free hand on her derriere, the woman slapped him and stormed out.

"Caught red-handed is right," Scully muttered as she stopped the tape and turned to Schlesinger. "And you're sure Mr. McKenna hasn't been back to his office since his termination?"

Schlesinger shrugged. "No, not since cleaning out his desk."

"And Mr. McKenna had been in competition with Peter Grey as far as advancement in the company is concerned?" Mulder countered.

"Yes, that's correct."

"I see. Thanks for your time, Sir." Mulder and Scully turned to leave, but were stopped by Schlesinger.

In a tight voice, the older man said, "Mr. Mulder, I think you should know I've spoken with Mr. Skinner who advised me that you were the best in your field, and I *do* hope you know how crucial it is to find out who's doing this, whether it's a murder or some weird animal attack. I've been contacted by Mrs. Grey, the first victim's mother, who has informed me that she has hired you to investigate her son's killing. I sincerely hope you can do this as discreetly as possible. The company would like to join Mrs. Grey in employing you in this matter."

Beneath the seriousness of the man, Mulder detected something else -- fear. The one thing that seemed to link most of the victims was that they had all, in one way or another, wronged this Mr. McKenna, and even if Schlesinger didn't suspect McKenna himself to be the perpetrator, he was very much a marked man.

"Certainly, Mr. Schlesinger," he assured the man. "We'll do whatever we can to get to the bottom of this."

Once out in the hallway, Scully said, "There's probably enough evidence to arrest McKenna."

"Yes, but not enough to convict him at this time," replied Mulder. "Let's let Skinner in on what we've got and let them get a search warrant. McKenna has had time to discard physical evidence. But there's always a chance. Besides, I'm convinced that he is able to change his form. Not sure what happens with his clothes, though."

"What exactly are you implying?" Scully asked. "That somehow he was able to feed off of his deepest feelings of latent rage and vengeance and turn into a vicious animal?"

"Well, what other explanation do you have?" Scully paused in defeat as Mulder continued. "I think it's at least worth looking into."

"Werewolves," Scully smirked as Mulder blushed a bit.

"Something like that, yeah. It wouldn't be the first time, Scully."

She looked at him dubiously.

Richard McKenna's apartment
Arlington, Virginia
2:35 p.m.

Skinner stepped outside the apartment to speak with Mulder and Scully. Since the two were not in the FBI, he couldn't bring them in to help with the search. The chain of custody of evidence had to be preserved if anything was found, and they didn't want to give a defense lawyer a technical out.

"So far, nothing," the assistant director told them. "McKenna was here, but left. That coffee was probably made this morning, but he forgot to turn it off. The forensics team is using Luminol, now, to detect any possible traces of blood that we can't see. They should be through pretty soon."

"Of course, if you do find blood evidence, it will have to be compared with that of the victims," Scully noted. "That will take time."

"We've got a warrant to bring in McKenna for questioning. Not enough to arrest him, yet, but I agree that he's the most likely suspect," Skinner said. "Just can't figure out how he rips those people apart."

"I feel pretty sure that he can change his form at will," Mulder said. "But I've got no proof of that, either. One thing, though, I don't think he's finished killing. Three of the victims were associated with I.R. Kane. I think he'll go after his boss, next."

"Schlesinger has hired us, so I imagine he'd give us permission to stake out his house and office," Scully said. "Why don't you put some agents at the office to guard him? We'll stake out the house tonight. In the meantime, I'm going to run some tests on those samples I took from the crime scenes. I'm assuming your lab hasn't run them, yet?"

"OK, sounds like a plan," Skinner agreed. "No, we haven't run the samples, yet. You know what our backlog is like. Let me know what you find out."

"Of course," Scully replied.

Mulder Residence
Annapolis, Maryland
2:45 p.m.

Will put the finishing touches on his science paper and started copying it to the DVD he would turn in to his mother. He chuckled a little as he thought of the words of his father the last time he'd watched him burn a DVD. "We've certainly come a long way since putting the Holy Grail on digital tape." He still didn't really understand quite what his father meant by that, especially since he'd never seen a "digital tape," but it obviously had something to do with the progress of technology.

It was certainly a good excuse to stay squirreled away in his room planted in front of his computer so he wouldn't be bugged by Mrs. Davis, an old grandmotherly type who was, at least in Will's mind, something of a "Grandma Scully Wanna- Be." In other words, while she *did* have her good points and *would* occasionally make such grandmotherly gestures such as bringing over freshly baked snickerdoodles and other goodies, she also had an unfortunate tendency to lecture on all of the evils of too many video games, too much television and, of course, access to the Internet.

On one level, he rather resented Mrs. Davis's overly dictatorial mannerisms toward him, which seemed reserved solely for himself. Towards his parents, it was always the deceptively gentle demeanor of "Oh, don't worry about a thing, everything is under control" with a sweet grin that always made him want to cringe. In his most vindictive moods, he found himself wanting to mention to his parents what she said all the times outside their presence --usually on the phone, when she was unaware her charge was eavesdropping. Will had heard her tell her friend how much his parents neglected him, thanks to their "constantly running around and working on silly cases instead of sticking to the house and tending to their child like they should."

He was about to the point that he wanted them to know her for what she was. The only thing stopping him from doing so was the fear they would put him in private or public school instead of home-schooling him and letting him help out on their cases. And he often got to travel with them. Will figured that putting up with Mrs. Davis was better than the alternative. She was a decent cook and not too difficult to fool when necessary. On another level, he wondered how the heck the woman ever had any fun if she did nothing but cook and clean all day.

But then there were the times when she irritated him with her nagging about his love of computers. She was always going on and on about how he should actually sit down and "read a book with paper pages you can turn in your hand" rather than "that silly Palm-Pilot thing," because she was certain the latter could do serious damage to one's eyesight. Of course, the fact that *her* glasses were quite a bit thicker than both his own parents' occasional reading glasses combined did nothing to deter her opinion on the matter.

As the DVD-writer whirled to a close and he ejected the newly-burned DVD, Will breathed a sigh of relief that he only occasionally had to deal with this woman when his grandmother wasn't available. His grandmother might have *terrible* fashion-sense when it came to giving any clothing-related gift, but at least she understood and didn't give a bunch of goofy lectures on a regular basis. Plus she was a *fabulous* cook to boot!

Putting away the DVD, Will was startled by the galloping of Reticula, Fluky and Ghostrider down the stairs. Ghostrider barked and whined as he headed up what could only be described as something of a processional. Excitedly, he cast a glance out the window. Sure enough, the familiar Explorer was pulling into the driveway, and Will himself excitedly bounded down the stairs, past Mrs. Davis, who was curled up on a couch reading a book. At the stampede, she shot her head up and aimed a glare of sharp disapproval at the foursome. "Is there any reason you and those animals couldn't be a little quieter, William?"

Ugh. *William.* Yet *another* thing that annoyed Will -- only his parents and grandmother could call him "William," though it was usually better when his father referred to him as such, as it was meant in affection most of the time.

Ignoring her, Will proceeded towards the door. "My parents just came home -- I see them!"

"Well, thanks for sparing my feelings!" Mrs. Davis huffed. "We'll just see if you get any of my next batch of toll house cookies the next time I come!"

Ah, so *that* was what was with those cookies -- *bribery*. In Will's case, since it seemed to be the one good aspect of having Mrs. Davis over to babysit, it usually worked.

Now was no different. Will stopped dead in his tracks, eyes to the floor in his most penitent gesture. His mother had often said he had inherited his uncanny acting and bluffing skills from his father. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Davis -- I didn't mean to be rude!"

Suddenly, with a conveniently soft expression, Mrs. Davis replied, "Ah, never mind, dear -- I'm sure you didn't! You just startled me a little, that's all!"

Of course, Mrs. Davis's sudden change in attitude *might* have had something to do with the fact that the door had opened and Will's parents had just walked in. She flashed them a friendly smile and made her way toward the kitchen, no doubt in search of the messages she took. She didn't trust answering machines, but always phrased the offer to take messages in such a manner that his parents simply couldn't refuse her. Plus, she had very good penmanship, at least according to his mother. Neither Will nor his father could agree with her assessment on that subject.

Will, meanwhile, took advantage of her absence to give both of his parents a huge hug, though hugging his father proved a bit difficult, both because of his injury and because of his nearly being knocked down by Ghostrider jumping up on him. "Hey, guess what? I finally got my paper done -- you'll be so proud! So are we gonna play Ghost- Hunters 3000 after dinner tonight or what?" he chirped out with a hopeful look on his face. Thankfully for him, he was oblivious to Mrs. Davis's pointed glare directed at him, although Scully was more perceptive to it than he realized.

"Actually, Will, we're leaving tonight after dinner," Scully replied, a bit of guilt panging at her in anticipation of watching the hope in Will's face crash and burn, just as it had countlessly for every time she had to inform her husband that he'd been let down yet again. "We may have figured out

who the killer is, and we have to make sure that he doesn't kill the person we think he's after next."

"Oh." Will ducked a little so as to camouflage the disappointment that altered it, but both Mulder and Scully knew it was still there. "And you can't take me along this time, right?"

Mulder shook his head. "Sorry, pal. This isn't like a bunch of elves or ghosts -- this is a killer, possibly a wild animal, who can actually *hurt* people! We just don't want to see you get hurt, that's all!"

"Well, I watch *you* get hurt all the time!" pouted Will. "I don't like seeing that. This isn't fair."

Mulder sighed and leaned forward on his crutches the best he could, cupping his son's chin in his hand and forcing him to look into his hazel eyes. "Will, there are *lots* of things that aren't fair, and believe me, when I get hurt, your mother isn't any happier. And I'm sorry you both have to watch it happen, but if *anyone* in this family's going to get hurt, I'd *much* rather that it be me than either of you two. OK?"

Will sighed a bit before replying "OK" and hugging his father, crutches and all. Scully turned to Mrs. Davis and said, "I'm sorry -- we probably should have checked with you earlier, but will you be available to come back around, say, six this evening and spend the evening with Will? You're welcome to the guest room."

"Oh, that shouldn't be a problem, dear -- I had nothing planned!" Mrs. Davis smiled sweetly at Scully.

Sure, to Mrs. Davis his mother was "dear" while he was just ungrateful and spoiled. Will quickly shoved aside the nasty thoughts as his father suggested that they make their way to the couch for a few rounds of Ghost-Hunters 3000 before dinner.

The game was interrupted by a call from Skinner, saying he was assigning some agents to guard Schlesinger's home until midnight. Mulder and Scully would be able to wait until then.

After dinner, Scully took advantage of the time to examine the hair samples taken from the crime scenes and McKenna's apartment. Comparing the slides with those on an online commercial database, she confirmed the hairs were indeed from a black leopard.

Blood samples collected at McKenna's apartment matched the type of Catherine Dwyer. DNA results would take more time. It seemed McKenna had gotten sloppy, though, with the last killing. Still, their case wasn't ironclad, however. She let Skinner know the results of her tests and he put out an APB on McKenna.

Mulder just nodded knowingly when Scully told him about the leopard hairs. "This goes a long way to proving my theory that McKenna is a were-panther, though I have to wonder why there have never been any reports until now in this area of killings like these -- done by a wild cat."

At 10 p.m., they tucked Will into bed, promising to call him the minute they caught McKenna.

"Don't forget to take pictures, Dad! I just gotta see what a were-panther looks like!" The boy was so excited, it was difficult to get him to settle down, but finally, after his parents took turns reading passages from "The Invisible Man," "Twenty-Thousand Leagues under the Sea" and "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," he drifted off to sleep. Naturally, Will was an excellent reader, but he still frequently enjoyed the closeness of having his parents read to him at bedtime. And his dad always cracked him up with the voices he would affect.

Phil Schlesinger home
Arlington, Virginia
October 4, 2008 3:15 a.m.

Schlesinger had gone to bed several hours ago, leaving Mulder and Scully sitting on his living room sofa in the dark. The manager had sent his wife to her sister's home in Bethesda until the danger was over. He himself refused to leave, though. He'd be damned if he was going to let Richard McKenna run him off from his own house. Schlesinger did, however, take out a shotgun from his gun cabinet, load it and put it beside his bed.

Mulder and Scully quietly talked as they sat in the dark. Necking was tempting, but hardly the place, so they held hands and discussed their son.

"Is home schooling him the best thing for him? He does miss something by not having schoolmates to play with and hang out with," Scully said.

"I wonder sometimes myself," admitted Mulder. "There was a lot to be said for playing team sports and having other people my age to talk to. Of course, when Samantha was taken, so much changed. The pity was so thick around me... and then there were those who suspected I had something to do with her disappearance."

"I really do feel like we can give him a better education ourselves," Scully said. "But I'd like to see him have other kids to play with. Why don't you encourage him to join a sports team for his age group? You could even help coach. Surely, there are other fathers who work odd hours or have to travel with their jobs."

Mulder squeezed his wife's hand. "I'll talk to him about it. But he sure does love to travel with us. That might mean missing practice, or missing games. That would be tough. But I do think he'd make a great basketball forward."

"Maybe we could make a point of just taking cases that are in this area when his sports season is going on," Scully suggested.

"Yeah... I think that would work."

They were interrupted by the doorbell ringing.

Both drew their weapons as Schlesinger emerged from the bedroom. Mulder balanced on his good leg on one side of the door, while Scully hid on the other side. The company manager belted his robe and peeked through the spyglass.

"There's no one there..." he reported, puzzled.

About that time, a figure emerged from the kitchen. It was Richard McKenna. "I want my job back," he demanded of Schlesinger. "You know damn well those women were lying. I didn't do anything to them."

Mulder and Scully stepped out of the shadows, guns drawn.

"That's far enough, McKenna," Mulder ordered. "You're not going to kill anyone else."

The man seemed to notice Mulder and Scully for the first time.

"You don't understand! It wasn't me! It was the beast!" McKenna insisted.

"You are the beast," Scully retorted.

"Why did you kill those people, Richard?" asked Schlesinger. "What did they ever do to you?"

McKenna moaned and seemed to be in pain. "Peter poisoned me. Then he stole my job. Randy helped him. The panther killed them, not me." He took another step toward his former boss. "I loved Catherine. I would never have hurt her. But you... you must have been in with Peter and Randy on poisoning my coffee."

"Stop!" Scully ordered.

"You're evil, Phil, you shouldn't be allowed to destroy anyone else," McKenna said, his eyes shining in the low light.

As they watched, McKenna's form shifted into that of a huge black cat and he crouched, preparing to spring.

"No, Mckenna!" Mulder shouted and limped toward the cat, hoping to distract it.

Mulder's plan succeeded and the cat leaped at him... then crashed to the ground as a shot rang out from Scully's gun.

But as soon as Scully and Mulder lowered their pistols, the panther jumped up and ran out the open back door into the night.

"Damn!" Scully cursed. "I know I hit him."

Mulder pointed at the blood on the floor. "You did, but apparently, it wasn't a vital wound."

Schlesinger breathed a sigh of relief. "Well, I certainly owe you two a *huge* thank you for saving my life! Now that we know that thing is McKenna, you can arrest him, right?"

"Wish I could share your confidence, Mr. Schlesinger," Mulder sighed as he reached for the crutches Scully had brought him, "but I'm afraid it may not be that easy. And the actual mystery is far from solved. Just how the hell is McKenna able to *make* the transformation in the first place -- via a chemical concoction or ancient cuurse?"

"You mean to prove whether the 'Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde' theory worked in this particular case? Mulder, the main thing here is to catch McKenna before he can hurt anyone else."

"Scully," Mulder said slowly and gently, his eyes shining with excitement, "if there *is* some sort of curse or chemical means of transformation, wouldn't you like to at *least* find out what it was so we can prevent it from happening again? And what was this he said about being poisoned?"

Scully sighed, knowing full well that, once again, Mulder was absolutely right. Now, Schlesinger was the one shifting uncomfortably on his feet, although his discomfort clearly was far from physical. "Are you implying that I may possibly be a suspect in a crime?" he enquired, half in fear and half in an icy tone of accusation.

Scully looked at him sympathetically. "Well, Mr. Schlesinger, all we have is McKenna's word, but it's something we have to investigate."

Schlesinger sighed. "All right. My company and I will cooperate with the investigation in every manner possible. I am completely innocent in this. I was just doing my damn job, and I know it!"

"Calm down, Mr. Schlesinger," Mulder told him. "You haven't been formally accused of anything as of yet, although I wouldn't be planning any trips to the Bahamas any time soon."

They had decided she'd drop off Mulder at the house where he'd relieve Mrs. Davis and call Maggie if she wasn't too busy (Will would be pleased, Mulder thought, but kept it to himself) before getting permission from Peter Grey's mother to search his apartment. Richard's accusations about poisoning made a search of Peter's home vital. Mulder also felt a twinge of the pain at knowing how hurt Mrs. Grey would be when she found out her son wasn't the sweet young man she believed him to be, and in fact was no less of a monster than McKenna. At least as far as Mulder was concerned.

Peter Grey's apartment
Fairfax, Virginia
October 4, 2008 10:15 a.m.

Another night for Scully late in the lab, running more tests. Mulder vowed to himself that they were going to solve this case as quickly as possible, if for no other reason than to see to it that his wife actually got a decent night's sleep for the first time in two nights -- the exhaustion was really beginning to show too much for his liking in that tired smile. Even Will, after getting over his disappointment that they only had photos of the blood on the carpeting, had noticed. Of course, nearly falling asleep with a piece of toast balancing precariously in mid-air was something of a dead giveaway. Thankfully, that had been about six cups of coffee and, if one could pardon the expression, one catnap in the car ago. Fortunately, she wasn't driving at the time.

Still, Mulder reasoned, that wasn't healthy. Unfortunately for her, however, he *did* have one other idea that didn't exactly entail a great deal of sleep per se, but he was sure she would agree that it was certainly a hell of a lot more fun than yet another autopsy or more hours in the lab. Of course, it went without saying that, despite the crutches Scully insist he lug around for the sake of "playing it safe," his leg was feeling considerably better for him to be planning amorous adventures this far in advance.

Quickly, he turned his gaze away from his wife and forced himself to focus on the situation at hand. Business before pleasure, after all.

The good news was that it wasn't an endeavor for naught -- Scully had indeed found traces of an unknown substance that was presumably natural, since it didn't really seem to match any known chemical criteria in the medical community. Of course, this only supported Mulder's argument that it did indeed have something to do with an ancient curse of some sort. Even a tired-sounding Scully had argued with him over breakfast that it could have simply been an alternative medicine of some sort, that it wouldn't necessarily *have* anything to do with a curse. Even so, as Mulder had successfully countered, wouldn't it be considered safe by the AMA to put on the market if it *didn't* have *some* sort of negative ramification?

In any event, after Maggie had come for Will (and, in the grand tradition of mothers, lectured Scully about how tired she was looking and the dangers of not getting enough sleep), Mulder and Scully had visited Mrs. Grey. They explained about finding the killer and inquiring on the availability of Peter's apartment. As it happened, she had kept up the rent on the apartment in the months preceding his murder, but had not been able to bring herself to clean out a thing. "The apartment is exactly how he left it," she assured them. "Even the dust from the fingerprints is there. The only difference is the cat, which is now being looked after at a neighbor's house."

"Thank you, Mrs. Grey," Scully told her sincerely. "We were hoping that would be the case. There might be a very essential clue explaining what happened to your son in that apartment."

And now, here they were, at the doorstep of his apartment. As Mrs. Grey put the key in the lock, she asked, "I hope this doesn't sound terribly suspicious on my part, but are you thinking that my son had anything at all to do with provoking his own murder? Or is this merely a matter of finding a missing clue the killer might have left?"

"Well, not to alarm you, Mrs. Grey, but we do have reason to believe that there might have been a bit of animosity between your son and Mr. McKenna," Mulder said as gently as he could. "We just want to see if there's a specific motive we may have missed the first time around."

Mrs. Grey nodded thoughtfully as she pushed the door open. Scully noted her brown eyes, dark but slightly-graying bun of hair and olive complexion, thinking back to the deceased gentle yet mysterious Navajo code-talker Albert Hosteen. Vaguely, she wondered if, in Mulder's research of curses, he had run across any ancient Navajo curses of any kind, as she noted some apparent Indian blood in Nancy Grey.

Perhaps the knowledge of that sort of curse could have gotten to Peter somehow?

Once Mrs. Grey had let them into the apartment, Scully excused herself from the emotionally unreadable Mrs. Grey and moved closer to Mulder near the bookshelf, where she knew he was glimpsing for any title pertaining to the Occult in some way. "Mulder," she began in a low voice, "I don't suppose you and Will would have run across any ancient Indian curses in your research, by any chance?"

"As a matter of fact, yes we did," he replied softly in return. "Apparently, the shamans, or the medicine men of some tribes, *did* have what we'd refer to as 'alternative medicine,' which in this case was a potion made to punish a man for any grave injustice. The story goes that the potion, when mixed with the blood or hairs of an animal, the nature of the animal would somehow fuse with the man and feed on the excess of emotion, usually feelings of rage and vengeance."

Scully, much to his surprise, nodded. "Or perhaps the cells of the animals in the hair follicles manifested itself with the animal in question, thereby allowing for the transference."

Mulder turned away from the volumes and smiled with a wicked glint in his eye. "Scully, have I ever told you how much I love it when you manage to inject a scientific theory into an ancient legend?"

"Down, boy!" Scully hissed with a mischievous look in her own eye. "First we finish this case, then we get together to ponder 'the mystery of the horny beast.'"

"Careful, Scully -- that 'horny beast' may make that panther look like Garfield the Cat if we're not careful!" Mulder deliberately ended his evil banter with a slight wink that could easily be mistaken for a twitch, then, having checked the spines of the books, this time set about feeling around the volumes for any object. Anything from the tooth of a wildcat to any other sort of artifact -- of course, he knew from personal experience how deceptively innocent an artifact could be on a person. After awhile, his long fingers came into contact with what felt like a relatively large burlap pouch, hidden behind about five encyclopedias and several books on the occult and Native American legends. "Hey, Scully, you think you could give me a hand with those?" he asked. He'd managed to forgo the crutches this time, but had to lean on the bookshelf the entire time, an activity that would no doubt prove difficult in his attempt to remove the volumes.

Immediately, Scully pried at the volumes, and Mrs. Grey stepped forward apprehensively to assist them in their task. Taking advantage of their situation, Scully asked, "Mrs. Grey, I hope you don't mind my asking, but do you have any Indian lineage in your family?"

Nancy Grey blushed a bit in surprise as she replied, "Yes -- my mother was Navajo. My father was white and worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs before he was transferred from New Mexico to Washington. That's how I came here."

By this point, the volumes had been pulled from the shelf, revealing a large burlap bag sealed with a small rope dangling with a Navajo ornament all three recognized -- an onyx panther fetish.

"My grandfather was a shaman," Mrs. Grey informed them. "He gave that to me and I gave it to Peter."

A further search of the kitchen turned up a cannister of Coffee Mate under the sink -- a seemingly odd place for it. Mulder noticed the label had been partially scratched off. He opened it. The substance was a white powder, but it had some odd black specks in it. He handed it to Scully.

"The 'poison,' I suspect," Mulder said. Scully poured some of it out onto a saucer and they found that the black specks appeared to be animal hairs. "Panther hairs?" Mulder mused.

"Or Mephisto's hairs," Mrs. Grey offered, still not exactly sure what they were after. "Mephisto was Peter's black cat."

"Mephisto? That's the name of Satan's right-hand demon," Mulder said.

"My son was a good Christian boy," Peter's mother said angrily. "He was NOT a Satanist."

"Some forms of black magic call upon Satan and his demons for aid," Mulder said. "Even if the person trying to do the magic is not a Satan worshipper."

"I just can't see Peter doing that," Mrs. Grey insisted.

"I'm sorry, ma'am," Mulder told her, "but McKenna said that Peter had poisoned his coffee, and here we find this strange substance in a Coffee Mate container stuffed under the sink."

"It's possible it was just supposed to be a practical joke," Scully suggested. "We don't know yet what this material is."

Tears began to roll down Mrs. Grey's face. "And this joke got him killed."

*Practical joke or attempted murder,* wondered Mulder, sharing a knowing glance with his wife. "Will you let us take this stuff and some of the books?" he asked the older woman. "We'll return the books later."

"Go ahead. I guess I want to know as much as you do. As for the books, take them away and do with them what you will. I don't want to see them again."

They were interrupted by the voice of a man who had just entered the room. "So he wasn't just a jerk, he was a Satanist, too," murmured McKenna, leaning against the doorframe and holding a gun on all three of them.

Mulder noted there was no sign of any wound on the man.

"I know my wife's shot hit you in your panther form. Why aren't you still hurt?"

McKenna shrugged. "Whenever I change back into a human, my wounds are healed. Too bad you three don't have the same powers. Now, throw your guns over here."

Mulder and Scully did as he ordered, both tossing their Sig Sauers at McKenna's feet. He dropped his own gun and kicked the weapons behind him, then began to change his form.

Unbeknownst to him, Mrs. Grey clasped the panther fetish tightly in her hand and began chanting something under her breath. McKenna screamed as his transformation was halted. Mulder took advantage of his distraction to jump the man. The two of them wrestled, each trying to reach for one of the guns. Richard grinned as he succeeded in snatching up one of the pistols. But Mulder tried to force the barrel away from him, inch by inch. When the gun finally went off, both men slumped. McKenna shoved Mulder off him, then rose to his knees...

...before keeling over.

Scully rushed over to Mulder and helped him to sit up. She could tell he was in a lot of pain, but there didn't seem to be any new wounds.

"I'm OK," he gasped out. "Just... knocked my bad leg around."

Despite Mulder's assurances, Scully pushed his pants leg up to make sure the stitches were all still intact. Satisfied, she called Mrs. Grey over and they helped him to his feet. As soon as Mulder was up, however, the wounded man on the floor reached out desperately and caught his hand. He looked at Richard with apprehension, wondering if this was perhaps one last attempt at retribution. After a minute, Mulder realized that McKenna was struggling to say something, and he and Scully leaned over him in hopes of catching what easily could be his last words.

"Not my fault...they poisoned me." McKenna garbled as blood threatened to spill over and choke his words. Then his eyes glazed over and the hand seizing Mulder's went slack.

The man lay still on the floor, his eyes open, but obviously unseeing. Instinctively she felt his neck for a pulse, then shook her head at Mulder and Mrs. Grey to indicate its absence.

It was then that a slightly perplexed Mulder turned to Mrs. Grey, inquiring, "Mrs. Grey, what happened?" Mulder said. "I heard you chanting something, then suddenly, McKenna couldn't shift his form."

"It just came to me -- something I remembered from a story my grandfather used to tell me," the woman said. "Obviously, it was just what we needed."

"Obviously." Mulder hobbled over to an easy chair and sat down while Scully took photos of the scene and Mrs. Grey called the police.

Mulder Residence
October 6, 2008, 8:05 p.m.

"And that panther-spell thing had pretty much been nixed, huh?" Will was trying desperately to sound matter-of-fact and to hide the fact that all his parents and "Uncle Walter" had were those corpse photos they still felt he was a little too young to deal with. Even his father's insistence that it was the sort of thing that even gave *him* nightmares was hardly convincing, but Will was merely anxiously awaiting that "magic age" when his parents felt he could handle nearly every subject matter without walking on eggshells over the subject.

"Yup," his mother told him. "Apparently, his mother just *happened* to know a little bit more about that spell that had been cast, even though she apparently had forgotten at the time."

"Which means," added his father shaking a long, friendly finger at him as he watched intently, "that there are two very valuable lessons you can learn from this little incident. Number 1, make sure that you're paying attention as *much* as possible -- you just never know when a very valuable piece of information will come in handy. And Number 2 is to be *very* careful what sorts of things you choose to 'experiment' with, and make sure they don't get out of hand. And don't get a huge ego about it either, thinking that you know absolutely everything there is to know. That's how Peter Grey got into trouble -- see, he *thought* that he knew enough to be able to handle the situation, but it got *so* out of control that people began to get killed, starting with Peter himself..."

Mulder's lecture was interrupted by the clearing of Skinner's throat and the pointed stares of both Scully and Skinner. "And of course, you have *never* gotten in over your head in *any* situation where you *thought* you were safe and in control?" Under her breath, Scully could be heard muttering, "Alaska, New Mexico, Dallas, Canada..."

Much to Will's amusement, his father suddenly turned sheepish and whispered, "Well, we can get more into the 'Sins of the Father' when he's old enough to understand, okay? But now, Will, just for your information, I *am* speaking from personal experience. Just learn from the mistakes of the old man and those around us so you don't repeat them, OK?"

Will nodded and embraced his father in acknowledgment, as Scully leaned forward and whispered into his ear, "Nice save there, Mulder."

"Well, for the record, at least I managed to avoid a hospital stay on *this* case -- at *least* give me *that* much credit! And those 62 stitches you told your mother about don't count. And no, not *even* that x-ray you made me get yesterday *just* to be safe!" Mulder retorted, crossing his arms. Skinner just rolled his eyes in the direction of Mrs. Scully, who was emerging with the Devil's Food Cake, a rather fitting homemade dessert following a mix of the occult and an ancient Navajo curse, all things considered. Scully's mother certainly *did* have an interesting sense of humor.

"He *is* right, Dana -- you *should* be thankful! It could have ended *much* worse than it did!" Maggie pointed out as she set the cake down and began to slice it.

"Thank you, Mrs. Scully!" Mulder told her with a satisfied look, as Scully rolled her eyes in such a gesture that it was all Will could do from laughing out loud. Scully, unfortunately, noticed. "Am I going to have to take away that good grade on your term paper presentation, young man?"

"Oh? What presentation? Dana, when were you planning to show me my grandson's handiwork?"

Scully and Mulder exchanged a grin, recognizing the diversionary tactic for what it was -- and realizing that it was indeed a success. "Well, Mrs. Scully," Mulder piped up with paternal pride as Will beamed in turn, "it seems that not only has your grandchild inherited your daughter's great gift for research and thoroughness, but he *also* seems to have some great artistic skills!" He displayed a plastic purple folder containing brightly colored computer printouts of various leopards, tigers and panthers, each containing a thorough description underneath, about two or three paragraphs long, each neatly typed out.

"Oh, my...*very* impressive indeed, Will!" Maggie glanced at the pages and informed Mulder, "Well, I'd hate to be the one to tell you this, Fox, but art is also an inherited Scully trait." Both shot a look at Scully, whose attempt to dig into her slice of cake was unsuccessful in masking her beet-red blush. Mulder grinned as he started to absently sip his iced tea, then stopped, dipping his fingers into the glass. All looked at him, perplexed and alarmed.

"Fox, dear, what's wrong?" Maggie asked with concern.

Mulder fished out the substance, which appeared to be...

...a cat hair. A white one.

Scully peered at it. "Well, Mulder, there may be hope -- I'm pretty sure that's one of Fluky's hairs," she added with a slight smirk.

"So you mean at worst I could just turn into a calico cat?" Mulder asked her with a smirk.

"Or maybe just a harmless flukeworm!" she replied with a smirk of her own.

As if to throw in her own two cents, Fluky, asleep at Mulder's feet, purred and stretched her lean body along his ankles, no doubt shedding more cat hair on his clothing, among other places. Mulder couldn't help but laugh.



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