Byline

By Nomad
June 2002

Spoilers: I guess the whole nine yards - nine years? Whatever.
Disclaimer: I don't own them. But you know, their previous owner just released them to roam free, and they were looking kinda lost, so...

"Thank you, Mr. Mullansky, and I hope you enjoyed your stay at the Riverview Hotel."

He signed the guestbook with an unnecessary flourish, and smiled back. "Yeah, thanks."

She waited until they were outside to elbow him in the side.

"Mullansky?"

"What?" he laughed with a shrug. Scully shook her head and looked at the sky.

"Next time, I'm picking the names."

Mulder pulled a face. "I'm not gonna end up as a Neville again, am I?"

She arched her brows in reply. "I'm sure I'll think of something that suits you."

It was strange to walk along hand in hand; strange, and strangely familiar. This was all new to them, and yet all part of the old routine. It was just all part of being them.

"Nice fields. Very... green," he observed.

She snorted. "You have no idea where we are, do you?"

"Maine... it is still Maine, right?" She nodded. "One of your smaller states," he said confidently. "Give me a half hour with a road atlas, I'm sure I could find us."

"Sure you could," she agreed, and laid her head against his shoulder as they walked.

"I've been thinking," he said, after a moment.

"Should I adopt crash positions?" she asked wryly. He smirked at her.

"I've been thinking," he repeated. "We should get a dog."

She raised her eyebrows at him. "A dog?"

"Yeah."

"You hated Queequag," she reminded him.

"That wasn't a dog, it was a... powderpuff on legs."

"They won't let us have a dog in our hotel room, Mulder."

"A hamster, then. We could get it one of those little balls, it could run along after the car..."

They were interrupted by a loud shriek from an alley between two buildings, and both of them grabbed for guns that weren't there any more. They exchanged a wry look, and then started to run.

"Hey!" Mulder yelled after the figure scurrying away down the alleyway. They caught a glimpse of a startled teenage face and blond hair, and then the girl was off like a frightened rabbit. "Stop! F-" He bit the words off, remembering that they were no longer true.

She kept running, and realising the futility of chasing, he exchanged an exasperated look with Scully. "You know, 'stop - unemployed guy' just doesn't have quite the same ring to it."

Scully flashed him a quick grin, and then knelt to examine the floor of the alley. "Mulder, look at this."

He paused for a moment, and smiled. "Ooh, chills," he told her, and bent down as he had so often done at the scene of some unlikely crime or other. "What've you got for me, Scully?"

"Some kind of ritual symbol." She indicated the chalked design.

"Witchcraft?"

"Kids," she countered. He stood to look after where the girl had gone.

"Well, that was one girl who didn't want to play."

"It's probably nothing, Mulder," she said, almost a little regretfully.

"Then why did she scream?"

"Maybe she saw a rat."

"So why would she run away?"

"Because the scary man was shouting at her?" Scully suggested. He gave her a look.

"You wound me, Scully."

"I have it on good authority you're a menace to society," she informed him. "Wanted for crimes against the state..."

"Not the State of Maine, I'm not."

"Oh, I'm sure you've done something."

"Well, I did bag a packet of peanuts back at the hotel." She looked at him. "I took the soap, too. And a couple packets of sugar."

"I can't take you anywhere."

They both lingered, reluctant to leave what felt like a little vestige of their old life. A case... even though both of them were not just off the X-Files now, but out of the FBI completely. They were free agents. Scully smiled a little at the unintentional pun.

Mulder frowned at the ground. "You know, I'm sure I've seen this symbol somewhere before."

"I'm sure you have." Scully rolled her eyes. "Mulder, we should-"

"Let me just get a picture of it." He produced a snapshot camera from the inside of his trenchcoat, and she snorted at him in disbelief.

"Mulder..." She shook her head in surrender.

"You never know when you're gonna run across a Kodak moment, Scully," he chided her, and grinned as he snapped pictures. "This'll go beautifully beside the one of you asleep with ice-cream on your nose."

Scully gave him a sharp look.

"Hey, it was too cute," he defended himself, smirking.

"Are we done here?"

"I think this alley has told us everything it has to tell us," he agreed, and cracked a grin. "Time to visit the local bookstore."

"Mulder." She trailed after him in exasperation as he strode off.

"Which way to town; left or right? I can't remember."

She pointed him in the right direction and gave him a shove. "You can't afford to buy reference books, Mulder," she reminded him, "let alone the problems inherent in storing and transporting the things."

He smirked at her over his shoulder. "Then I'll just have to read really quick, won't I?"

* * *

Mulder set the thick book on the table at the back of the bookstore. "I'm gonna tell you a story, Scully, strange as it might seem."

"About zombie voodoo gris-gris, and the Witch Queen of New Orleans?"

"Witch Queen of Maine, maybe." He spread the pages of the book.

"Don't crack the spine, Mulder, you haven't paid for it," Scully chided him.

"What can I say? I'm a rebel without a library card." He showed her a photograph of the same chalked symbol they'd seen in the alley. "It's a restraining symbol, Scully, placed in haunted places to bind the spirits of the unquiet dead." He raised a single eyebrow. "Still think it's kids?"

"Kids who picked up the same book you did, maybe."

"Good to know the grand old tradition of reading for pleasure isn't dead. If they picked it randomly from a book, why this particular symbol?" Mulder demanded earnestly. "Why use a symbol to try and cage wandering spirits in the middle of an alley?"

Scully shrugged. "Maybe they thought it looked cool."

He shook his head. "Somebody died in that alley, Scully - somebody whose associates have good reason to believe is not going quietly into that good night."

She looked at the ceiling and sighed. "I know what this means."

He didn't disappoint. "Newspaper archives, Scully!" he said gleefully, and rushed off.

Scully leaned back against the wall and shook her head. "Come with me, he says. We'll see the great American countryside together, he says." She picked up his discarded book, closed it and reshelved it, and then followed him out of the shop.

* * *

"I found our guy, Scully."

"Oh, whoop-te-do," she groaned. He gave her a look.

"You could show a little more enthusiasm there, Scully," he suggested pointedly.

"Couldn't you get a different hobby? Like bowling?"

"This is not a hobby, it's a vocation."

"And here I thought this was a vacation."

"Now, now. Business before pleasure, Scully," Mulder chided.

"How is it business when you're unemployed?"

"I may be a drifting burden on society, Scully, but still I yearn for the truth."

Scully closed her eyes. "Yeah? Well I yearn for a big comfortable chair in the sun, a classical music collection, maybe a bubblebath..."

"When we get our dreamhouse, Scully," Mulder said, with a sad smile.

"When we're rich, right?" she completed the unlikely fantasy.

"I figure the crappy luck we've had, the universe owes us a couple of state lotteries, right?"

"Didn't your parents ever warn you about the evils of gambling, Mulder?"

He smiled and shrugged. "I've been gambling all my life. Sometimes I get lucky." He showed her the newspaper article he'd found. "Daniel Karenson, seventeen. Used to live in one of the houses down the end of that alley. He disappeared a couple of years ago, and no one ever found him."

"Mulder, teenagers disappear all the time. And some of them never come back. You think it's too big a coincidence? It would be a bigger coincidence if he did die there."

"Okay," Mulder nodded amiably.

"Okay?"

"Yeah."

She sighed. "We're going back to the alley, aren't we?"

"Yup."

* * *

"Just what exactly are you hoping to find, Mulder?"

"Something," he said, bending down to re-examine the chalked symbol.

"An X-File? The truth? Mulder, it's just a bit of a chalk on the sidewalk."

"Then I won't matter if I do this, will it?" He swiped his shirt sleeve through the design, obliterating it.

"You know the Bureau aren't paying for your laundry any more," she reminded him.

Suddenly everything exploded into motion. "Whoa!" Mulder ducked as the lid of a trashcan went spiralling over his head. He pulled Scully down to shelter against the sudden whirlwind from nowhere. "Just kids?" he asked pointedly.

"Freak storm," she shot back.

He hugged her impulsively. "I missed you."

"Danny!"

They both looked up to see the blond girl from before come dashing into the alley. "Danny, stop it!" she yelled.

The whirlwind of flying trash began to slowly subside, and then stopped altogether. Mulder and Scully cautiously stood up, and the girl saw them and gave a cry. She turned to run again, but this time Mulder was ready for her. He grabbed her by the arm, but let go when she turned as if to hammer at him with her fists.

"Whoa! Easy there. We don't want to hurt you."

"Did you know Danny Karenson?" Scully asked, coming up to join them.

"He was my cousin," she said defensively, smoothing down the sleeve of her shirt and glaring at Mulder. "Who the hell are you?"

Mulder and Scully exchanged a glance, remembering they could no longer just whip out their badges to command respect. "We're... investigators," said Mulder.

"Investigating what?"

"Why your cousin Danny doesn't seem too happy about resting easy in the afterlife." The girl's eyes widened as she saw that Mulder was quite serious in what he was saying. He took advantage of it. "Come on. Let us buy you a burger or something, and you can tell us about Danny."

* * *

"He disappeared when I was twelve," said the girl, who'd told them her name was Kristie. "Or they say he disappeared, anyway," she said darkly.

"What really happened?" Scully prodded gently.

Kristie scowled. "Everybody knows Steve did something to him."

"Steve?" asked Mulder.

"His stepdad. My aunt's new husband. They were always fighting. My aunt died when I was little, and my mom and dad wanted to adopt Danny, but Steve wouldn't let them. I don't even know why - he hated Danny. I guess he was just, like, I don't want him but I'm not letting you have him."

"Did the police investigate Steve when Danny disappeared?" asked Scully.

Kristie snorted. "Investigate? More like turn up, ask him if he thought Danny ran away, and go away again. I know he finally flipped out and hurt Danny too bad to cover up. Danny never disappeared - he was murdered."

Scully bit her lip. Restless spirits or not, this certainly looked like a bungled excuse for a missing persons inquiry. If Danny really had been killed by his stepfather... "Does your uncle Steve still live here?"

"Like he'd dare?" scoffed Kristie. "He wouldn't have had the guts to face my dad. No, he did a runner. He tried to sell the house, did it all up and everything, but nobody'd buy it."

"The house is still empty?" Mulder asked, and she nodded, taking a sip of her cola.

"Yeah. Who'd want to move here? This is a totally scummy neighbourhood."

Mulder looked across at Scully speculatively. "The question is, why would Danny continue to haunt the place of his death if the man who wronged him's long out of reach?"

The question is, why are you stringing this poor girl along when you know damn well we have no authority to help her any more?

"I don't know!" said Kristie plaintively. "I tried to help him, I tried to tell him he's gotta move on, but he won't go! I even tried to do all that magic stuff to force him to leave, but it only made him mad at me when it wore off."

Mulder stood up. "Come on. Let's go have a look at this empty house."

* * *

Ah, breaking and entering - just like old times. Scully rolled her eyes as Mulder expertly forced the lock on the back door. "Have you been in here since Danny disappeared?" he asked.

"No," said Kristie, wide-eyed. "My mom always taught me not to, you know, smash people's doors and break into their houses."

Scully shot Mulder a look. "At least somebody round here knows how to behave themself."

"Live a little dangerously, Scully," he suggested with a sly grin. "We make our own rules now."

"There was ever a time when we didn't?" she asked wryly.

They went in.

"I haven't been in here since my aunt was still alive," said Kristie, looking around at the dusty, empty hall. "Steve didn't want Danny to ever have any visitors."

"Mulder, what are we looking for?" Scully demanded, as he tested a door handle.

"Evidence."

"Of what?"

He shrugged. "Anything."

Kristie led the way. "This was Danny's room, I remember." They filed into the empty square room, and she frowned. "Or I think, anyway. I'm sure..."

"What?" Mulder prompted. She frowned at the wall in puzzlement.

"There used to be like a closet? Over... here, somewhere? Built into the wall." She wrinkled her brow. "I don't know, I don't really remember. Maybe this is the wrong room."

"Or maybe it's not." Mulder moved across to the wall and knocked against it, walking in a line and tapping at regular intervals. At one of them, the sound changed, and he raised his eyebrows pointedly. "You hear that, Scully?"

"I heard it," she admitted cautiously.

Mulder looked at the wall for a moment. Then he produced a multi-bladed knife from his pocket, picked one, and set it against the wallpaper.

"What are you doing?" yelped Kristie, as he cut the paper to flap free with a quick slash.

"Looking," he said with a quick shrug. He tore off a big length of paper. "Look at this, Scully. Wooden boards under the wallpaper? Interesting design choice."

He tore more paper off, to expose all four corners of the board. Now they could all plainly see that the boards had been fitted inside the doorway of what looked very much like a closet.

Kristie took a few steps backward. "Okay, I'm not sure I wanna-"

Scully took her comfortingly by the shoulder. "You want to stand outside and let us look?"

She hesitated, but shook her head determinedly. "No. Open it."

Mulder thumped repeatedly against the corner of the board. It gave a little, but wouldn't shift. "I'm not sure what he's got it stuck in here with..." He cast around the empty room, and his eyes fell on the window. The wooden ledge beneath it had begun to rot; he moved over and tugged at it, but couldn't get it to come free.

"Scully, if you could just help me get this-"

Mulder yelled in surprise and scrambled backwards as something invisible suddenly took hold of the windowledge. With a crack of splintering wood it pulled free. It flew across the room and thumped against the board. Once. Twice. Three times. The board was beginning to buckle under the assault.

Mulder bent his head down to Scully's ear. "Looks like Danny's in kind of a hurry to leave."

With a final crunch, the board at last came free, and the splintered chunk of windowledge fell to the ground. Kristie jumped. Mulder very carefully edged forward, and pulled at the corner of the board. It all came tumbling down with a violent crash.

In the cobwebby space inside, seated on a chair as if it had been waiting for them, sat a skeleton in jeans and a Nike baseball cap. Mulder looked at Scully.

"I think we've found our missing boy."

* * *

"Well, that was... interesting," Scully observed with a sigh as they finally escaped from the police station.

"Turns out there are people local law enforcement distrust even more than big shot FBI agents."

"Who'd've thunk it?" she said dryly. "Mulder, we've gotta get out of here."

"Yeah." The old, familiar feel of working on a mystery together had lured them into using their real names in front of strangers - and now that those names were featured in a police incident report, they couldn't afford to stick around.

"There's a store still open over there." Mulder nodded towards it. "Let's go browse the road maps, see if we can find anything interesting."

"Okay." Scully sighed a little. It had been strangely comforting to be investigating again, working on a case like old times. Now the mystery was solved, and they were back to their new existence - moving from town to town, never staying under their real names, carrying only what they could fit in the succession second-hand cars they were continually buying and replacing.

They drifted into the store. "Well... where to next?" she asked, a little sadly.

"Let's go check the tourist guides, see what sounds nice," Mulder suggested. He grinned. "Maybe we could go to Disneyworld."

She gave him a look. "Mulder."

"Hey, like they'd think to look for us there?" he defended himself.

"I'd rather save that for when we- you know." Scully couldn't bring herself to complete the thought.

"Yeah." For a moment they were quiet, both contemplating the baby son they'd been forced to leave behind. Would they ever have the chance to recover him and raise him as their own? And if they did, what kind of life would it be for him, on the run like they were?

Mulder's face suddenly brightened. "Ooh!" He dashed across the aisle to pick up a magazine. Scully glimpsed the title; Weird World: The Daily Unexplained.

She rolled her eyes. "Mulder."

He just shrugged her off. Then he paused, and slowly looked up from the magazine. "You know what, Scully? I just had an idea."

* * *

"Gavin, you should really take a look at this."

Gavin Shortcroft rolled his eyes in disbelief. "C'mon, Joe, we're taking submissions from guys who walk in off the street now?"

"It's good, Gavin. It's really good," Joe insisted, poking the sheets of paper at him. He took it with a snort, and casually skimmed over the article.

"Honestly, Joe, I've got an article to edit on swamp monsters, I've got UFOs over Vermont and no damn reporters willing to go look for them, I've got-" He broke off, the educated, professional sounding style of the prose beginning to sink in.

Joe bounced up and down eagerly. "You see it, Gavin?"

He saw it. The thing read like some kind of police report, taking a small-town ghost story that you'd heard a billion times before and setting it out so professionally you believed it. And the style intrigued him - two accounts, by different writers; one laying out all manner of paranormal possibilities, the other coolly and calmly suggesting rational explanations. It should all be hopelessly self-contradictory - and yet, somehow, it worked.

He glanced at the names at the bottom of the sheet. M.F. Luder and D.L.S. Lucy. Interesting names. Professional sounding names.

Luder and Lucy investigate...

Something twitched in the back of his editor's brain.

"You say the guy just walked in off the street and gave this to you?" Joe nodded. "Is he still there?"

"Yeah."

Gavin looked at the article again, and began to smile. "Joe? Set aside two pages in next month's issue, would you?" He paused for a long moment. "Oh, and Joe? Go find this Mr. Luder guy. And ask him how he and his partner'd feel about travelling to Vermont."

Luder and Lucy Investigate? Oh, yes. He could see something in that. He could definitely see something in that.

End


Byline n. 1 a line in a newspaper etc. naming the writer of an article. 2 a secondary line of work.