Author: Jessica Harris
Title: The Secrets Of Mulder Mansion, Chapter 1

NOTES: *!!WARNING!!* This is an utterly silly, shallow, and self-indulgent exercise, but as it's my birthday tomorrow - I'll be 28 on the 29th - I allowed myself the silliness. Ages ago, a friend sent me a challenge someone had posted about writing a classic genre romance as slash, and in answer I posted an early version of this, a chapter of an XF slash gothic novel. This version has been re-worked and expanded. It's nothing as clever as a spoof or a parody, just a slightly mocking but genuinely affectionate tribute to the genre. There may be other chapters someday, but that depends on whether anyone else is actually interested in reading such a creature. Let me know...

Rating: M/K, 1/1, PG13
Disclaimer: Mulder and Krycek are not mine. Not even as a birthday present.
Feedback: Please! lumpj@hotmail.com


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The Secrets of Mulder Mansion
Chapter One
====================================

The car emerged suddenly from the last of the trees, their bare winter branches casting complex shadows in the light of the setting sun, and Fox Mulder's pulse quickened nervously. The view that opened up before them showed a steep and rocky hill, and the massive house that squatted forbiddingly at its crest cast a long shadow down over the drive. Mulder opened the window a little, shivering at the cold damp air that entered, and peered out towards the house where his father had grown up. A strange rhythmic noise filled the air.

"What's that sound?" he asked the surly chauffeur who had met him at the train.

"The sea," replied the man shortly.

"The sea?" said Mulder. "But I thought we were a good half-mile from - "

"Lost half the hill-side in storms over the last few years," said the chauffeur brusquely. "House is right at the edge now. And there's caves, down by the shore - you're hearing the echoes of the waves."

Mulder shivered again, and closed the window. He wondered if he'd been foolish to come.

The call had come a week ago. His great uncle had died, the lawyer had said, and left a rather unusual will, stipulating that all surviving Mulders come to the old house to hear it read. Should any one of them fail to appear, the entire estate would be left to charity. Curious about the family he had never met, Mulder had decided to ignore his late father's dark warnings about his great-uncle, and had booked a ticket to the small New England town where the old house lay.

None of the photos in the family album had done it justice. Oh, they had shown the gray stone and shingle, the long winding drive, the narrow windows. They had detailed the sprawl of mis-matched architecture that had been added over the years, the motley conglomeration of wings and towers and porches that swelled the house to its current ungainly size. But the photographs hadn't captured its oppressive weight, the arrogant way it dominated the landscape.

He'd his doubts about coming here, but better this than his echoingly empty apartment, the week of holiday that seemed to stretch endlessly before him without the comfort of that warm body he'd grown so used to waking beside.

The car pulled up the drive with a crunch of gravel and oyster-shell, and Mulder saw that the hill behind the house dropped away in a steep cliff, a sharp sudden drop to the ocean below. When the car stopped he climbed out quickly, turning his collar up and squaring his shoulders as he stared up at the mostly-darkened windows. The ground beneath his feet seemed to shake with the booming of the waves.

"Your luggage," said the chauffeur behind him, and when he turned the man was holding out his single suitcase disdainfully. "I have to put the car away. Ring the bell, and my wife will show you to your room."

Steeling himself, Mulder moved to the great front doors and pulled the old-fashioned bell.

The housekeeper that answered was thin and wrinkled and horse-faced, wearing a severe gray dress that looked as if it were holding her mercilessly upright. "Fox Mulder," he introduced himself.

"I know," she said disapprovingly, and after a hard stare moved grudgingly aside to let him enter. "You're in the blue room at the head of the stairs" she snapped at him. " It's not quite ready. I'll take your luggage up. Living room's through to your left." And with that she turned and stalked away.

Mulder looked curiously around the hall. It held a strange mixture of luxury and decay; expensive carpets worn threadbare, a chandelier that was lovingly polished but with crystals cracked or missing, and various items of furniture draped with white sheets standing randomly on the elaborate parquet floor. The staircase had an elegantly carved banister and swept grandly upwards into the yellowish light of low-wattage bulbs. He shivered again, and followed the flickering light of a fire through the door to his left.

Lounging indolently in one of the great chairs before the fireplace was a young woman so starved, plucked, permed and powdered to mannequin-like perfection that Mulder wanted to pinch her to see if she were real. She looked him slowly up and down and pouted her full lower lip at him. "You must be Fox" she said. "Everyone else is here already. I'm your cousin Lucinda. I do hope you're entertaining. I'm dreadfully bored, and could absolutely kill for a drink." She sighed, and then, apparently addressing an empty corner of the room, said "Where *has* that man gone? I shudder to think what the week will be like if it takes this long to find a bottle of gin around here!"

"Shut up, Lucinda," came a voice from what Mulder had thought was another sheet-draped chair. "He's uncle's secretary, not a butler, you know. And you could have easily asked Mrs. Mellors for a drink yourself." A large form in a voluminous white dress glided towards him, extending a hand whose pudgy fingers were weighted down with chunky silver rings. "I'm your cousin Gertrude, Fox," she said. She had bushy graying brown hair and intelligent hazel eyes that blinked at him from behind glasses that magnified them to the size of chestnuts.

Lucinda pouted again, less prettily this time. "Mrs. Mellors is *mean*. And I want *Alex* to bring me a drink."

"Here's Alex. And here's your drink," said a husky voice from behind Fox. He turned quickly, caught by surprise.

The man in the doorway was tall and muscular, with fair skin made even paler by the black suit he wore. He had a boyish face dominated by a pair of green eyes whose expression was incongruously world-weary, and his thick dark hair shone mahogany in the glow of the fire.

He turned to Mulder and unsmilingly said, "You must be the missing cousin. Dinner's in half an hour, if you want to change. Nothing formal, but the dining room is rather drafty."

The words were innocuous enough, but the green eyes caught his with something that looked like challenge, and Mulder felt himself squaring his jaw to meet it. Then the man moved on, handed the drink to Lucy, and disappeared out the other door, leaving Mulder with his heart beating strangely fast.

"Wh- who was that?" he asked Gertrude.

"Uncle's secretary, Alex Krycek. The will requires that he stay for the reading as well."

"Well, I wish he'd stay in one place long enough to talk to," complained Lucy, sipping her drink petulantly. "I don't understand why we all had to come back here, and I'm so *bored*!"

"Enjoy it while you can," said Gertrude grimly, and Mulder looked at her in surprise. "I have a bad feeling about this week," she went on. "I fear this will be a time of great darkness for us all. This family has a lot to answer for. I suspect that boredom will prove to be the least of your worries, Lucy."

"You and your damn *feelings* said Lucy, rolling her eyes.

But Gertrude was looking soberly out of the darkened window, toward the sea that beat invisibly at the foot of the rock below, and Mulder, watching her, felt his own unease deepen.

* * *

When the dinner gong rang Mulder surveyed himself one last time in the mirror. He had lost weight over the past month, and his dark-green sweater hung loosely on him. He looked tired, he thought, tired and worn. He sighed. He didn't know why he was worrying about it in any case. His appearance was of no importance here. In fact, it had been weeks since he had looked in a mirror and seen anything but a man who had failed to hang on to the dearest thing in his life. Who was he trying to impress tonight?

Then the gong rang again, and he turned his back on his reflection and walked briskly down the stairs.

* * *

The dining room was huge, dim, and even draftier than he had imagined, the candle flames flickering in the cool streams of air that wound through the room. Getrude and Lucy were installed at one end of the table, continuing their quiet bickering across the slightly yellowed linen table-cloth. A woman in a high-necked dark blouse and a large crucifix, who brusquely introduced herself as Alice, sat at the other end, pointedly ignoring the other women. Mulder sat down next to Gertrude, across from one of the other empty chairs. He wondered if his uncle's secretary would be joining them, or if he ate with the staff.

When heavy masculine foot-steps sounded behind him he looked up quickly, feeling inexplicably disappointed at the sight of a handsome taffy-haired man who looked vaguely familiar.

"Jonathan!" snapped Lucy. "Where have you been? I've been looking for you all day! Come sit next to me."

"Sorry, Cousin Luce," said the man, and sat, as directed, in the chair across from Mulder. "I've been exploring. The old place has really gone downhill since we were all here last. I can't imagine what uncle was thinking." He looked over at Mulder, and smiled a remarkably charming smile. "Fox! Haven't seen you since we were both seven. I think I tied you to a tree, playing cops and robbers. How have you been?"

"Well, I did manage to escape the tree," said Mulder, and extended his hand towards the man. He remembered the day vaguely, playing in the woods around his parent's cottage. Jonathan shook his hand firmly, fingers stroking lightly across Mulder's palm as he let go, and Mulder jumped a little at the sensation.

At that moment there was a giggle from the doorway, and Mulder looked over to see a slight blond man smirk at him. Then he blinked, for a second blond head, wearing an identical smirk, appeared over the first one's shoulder. "Hello," said two reedy voices in unison, and the two of them moved together into the dining room and sat beside each other, next to Jonathan. "Hello, twins," said Lucinda, still sounding bored.

The twins ignored her. This close Mulder could see that they were not as young as their size made them appear - there were lines in the skin around the slightly protuberant brown eyes, and peevish grooves bracketed their thin-lipped mouths. "So you showed up after all," said the first one to Mulder, the second chiming in "not as stubborn as your father was, are you?"

"Shut up, twins," said Gertrude oppressively, and they subsided, muttering nearly inaudibly to each other in a particularly nasty way.

Out of the corner of his eye Mulder spotted a blur of dark movement, and turned his head to watch Alex Krycek move noiselessly to the last remaining spot, the empty chair beside him. He was followed by the house-keeper with a tureen of soup. Krycek looked over at Mulder, and once again Mulder thought he saw in those deep green eyes a flash of hostility, challenge. What, he wondered, was going on? What had he done to this quiet striking man to deserve that look?

* * *

Mulder woke swiftly and suddenly in the middle of the night, with the conviction that someone was in the room with him. He lunged for the bed-side lamp and switched it on to discover himself alone, nothing disturbing the stillness of the room but the deep hollow boom of the sea below. He rubbed his eyes. He must have been dreaming.

Sleep would be beyond his reach now, though. He was far too wide awake. He shrugged into his heavy white wool dressing-gown, glad now that he had brought it with him, and decided to descend the great stairs in search of a drink.

He wasn't the only one who couldn't sleep. Firelight shone from the living-room, and as he peered through the door-way a low, laughing voice called out "Cousin Fox! Come join me - I hate to drink alone."

Jonathan sat on the red velvet sofa beside the fire-place, resplendent in a deep red satin dressing gown. Solitude didn't seem to have kept him from the brandy. His colour was high and his eyes glassy, and Mulder was certain that the cut-glass tumbler in his hand didn't hold his first drink, or even his second.

Mulder poured himself a small measure of the smooth old spirit and settled himself next to his cousin, who made room for him, a warm knee jostling his own. Jonathan smiled his charming smile and said "This place gives me the creeps. Always has, all the years we've been coming here. All those empty rooms, and the wind, and that cliff falling away a little bit more every year. I keep thinking I'll wake up to find the house sliding into the ocean. Never can sleep properly here."

"Empty rooms?" asked Fox, sipping his drink. "How much of the house in use?"

Jonathan studied him for a moment. "No, you wouldn't know, would you? You never did get stranded here for Christmas and holidays like the rest of us. Well, basically only the central wing is in use now. Uncle , that whey-faced toady of his, and the two old trolls who keep the house and grounds live here year-round, and there are about ten rooms altogether on the second and third floors, where we get bunked. The rest of the house is rarely used, and some parts are closed right up. This part was the original house, you know -but there was a fire about 120 years ago and when they rebuilt they expanded around the original frame. Did you ever meet uncle at all?"

Mulder shook his head. "No, never. Never been to the house, never met Uncle, in fact I hardly remember meeting any of you. I'm not even sure why - my father simply stopped talking about the rest of the family." Except when he was drunk, he added silently to himself. When he warned me away from all of you.

But now Jonathan drained his glass in a single long swallow that made Mulder wince, and rose to his feet, a mischievous grin on his face. "Come on then! I'll give you the grand tour!" and he seized Fox's hands to pull him up from the couch.

What followed was a strange wild exploration, less tour than magic carpet ride on the tails of Jonathan's red dressing-gown. His cousin seemed to be seized by a near-manic burst of exhilaration at this adventure, and Fox, warmed by the brandy and drawn in by the other man's handsome high spirits, felt powerless to resist. Jonathan's flashlight danced dizzyingly through the rooms they explored, never staying long enough in one spot for Mulder to get a real sense of what he was looking at.

And what rooms they were. The house was a maze, and he never knew what the next dancing circle of light would illuminate. They passed through the rooms he might have expected - a cozy library with wing-chairs and the rich smell of old leather and pipe-smoke, a delicate peach-coloured parlour where a lady-like escritoire sat under a think layer of dust, the kitchen whose cavernous reaches were meant to accommodate three times the guests and staff they had now. As they left the central wing, though, the rooms got stranger and more unsettling.

They passed through a bare chamber, walls rough plaster as though construction had never been finished, a massive crucifix and a prie-dieu of heavy dark wood in one corner. A low-ceilinged, flag-stoned corridor spilled them out into a huge and echoing ball-room, the light picking out damp-stained curtains and crumbling plaster rosettes, a noise from above that sounded suspiciously like the squeaking of bats. They paused for a moment in a small solarium, panes of glass cracked, covered by wood, or simply gone, where a single chair sat by a rusted bird-cage and a cold wind whistled through the broken glass, shaking the skeletons of dead plants and sending leaves skittering with a dry whisper around their ankles. A bed-room with dark painted walls held a canopied bed onto which Jonathan threw himself, tugging Mulder down next to him. "Look up!" he said in Mulder's ear, swallowing what sounded like a giggle, and he shone his light up at the underside of the canopy to reveal a painting of such rampant carnality that Mulder had to look away, shocked.

Then he started to giggle too, and Jonathan dragged him off the bed and up a wooden staircase so narrow that their shoulders brushed the walls on either side. There were small rooms at the top of the stair-case, with narrow iron bed-steads in them. 'Servants rooms," said Jonathan 'I lost my virginity up here, in the days when there were more staff." He grinned, and shone his light out the window, where it lit a blurred circle on gray stone. "Uncle's old study was up there in the tower. I always thought it was more than coincidence that it looked into the maid's bedrooms."

Then up and down more stairs, the rooms growing barer and more dilapidated as they reached the west wing of the house, closest too the sea. "I don't understand," Mulder said "I thought uncle had money."

"Pots of it," said Jonathan "But recently it seemed he stopped spending it. Uncle was - complicated about that."

Then he pulled Mulder into a small round room with nothing but a window and another door in one wall. "The staircase to the tower," he said. "Krycek still keeps it locked."

Mulder stared out the widow into the darkness, and Jonathan moved to stand behind him.

"See how close we are to the cliff edge?"

He was close enough that Mulder could feel his words as warm breath against his cheek, close enough that he could smell the not-unpleasant scent of brandy and fading cologne coming from him.

"This part of the house could go any day now if the cliff gave way."

The wind rattled the window in its casement, and Mulder involuntarily backed away, closer to Jonathan's warm and solid form. Jonathan didn't move away, stayed with his chest pressed against Mulder's back, and Mulder felt a sudden wash of heat through his body. Jonathan laid a warm hand on his shoulder, said

"Well, Cousin Fox?" His voice seemed to be inviting more than an opinion of the house.

The pressure on Fox's shoulder was slowly turning him to face his cousin, and he could feel his limbs weakening, his lips beginning to part as his body stirred for the first time since... his mind spun away from the thought and he was about to fall into the oblivion of Jonathan's embrace when suddenly a voice from the doorway demanded "What the hell are you doing in this part of the house? You know it's not safe!

Krycek stood in the doorway, wrapped in a deep blue robe, holding a large flashlight.

"I might ask you the same thing, Krycek!" snarled Jonathan. "Sneaking around after me as usual?"

"Jonathan!" said Mulder in protest, amazed at the venom in his affable cousin's voice.

Krycek shot him a small puzzled glance, then looked coldly at Jonathan. "I heard someone moving around, and came down to check it out. I heard your voice and saw the brandy was out, so I followed you - we don't want a repeat of that Christmas, do we, when you fell down the stairs and broke your ankle and lay there grizzling all night?"

Jonathan glared at him then turned and stomped away on a flash of red dressing-gown, leaving Mulder still standing by the window, suddenly cold and tired and inexplicably sick at heart. Krycek watched Jonathan go, lips tight and eyes hard, then looked at Fox. "Are you all right?" he asked brusquely, as he saw him sway slightly "It's quite true, this part of the house can be dangerous."

Mulder nodded. "I'm fine, thanks. Something woke me up, so I came downstairs, and then Jonathan..." his voice died away. Krycek was frowning, but it was a puzzled frown, not a hostile one, and he found that fact strangely comforting.

"You're in the Blue Room, right?" asked Krycek. "I wonder..." His frown deepened, then he seemed to catch himself and his face smoothed once more to inscrutability. "I'll take you back to the main wing. You'll never find it after one of Jonathan's wild rides."

Mulder flushed at the words, and they walked in silence back through winding corridors. When they reached the main stairs Krycek abruptly said "Good night," and headed for the hallway beyond the living room.

"Wait!" said Mulder, and awkwardly held his hand out. "I wanted to say -thank you." He wasn't sure exactly what he was thanking him for, but it felt important to do so. A brief hesitation, and Krycek took his hand awkwardly and shook it. Then he frowned again, without releasing Fox's hand, and said

"Are you sure you're all right? You're bleeding!"

"No I'm not," said Mulder, then looked in surprise at the back of his hand as Krycek shone his light at it. The edge of his cuff and the back of his knuckles were smeared with the unmistakable red of fresh blood.

 


 

Title: THE SECRETS OF MULDER MANSION, Chapter 2
NOTES: The adventure continues to unfold...
Rating: M/K, 1/1, PG13
Disclaimer: Mulder and Krycek are not mine.
Feedback: Please! lumpj@hotmail.com


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The Secrets of Mulder Mansion, Chapter 2
Jessica Harris
12/29/00
==============================

They both stared at his hand for a suspended moment, the red of the blood dark in the light of Krycek's torch. Then Krycek tucked the flashlight under his arm, pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and carefully wiped the blood from Mulder's knuckles, revealing unharmed flesh beneath. Mulder flexed his hand experimentally, then met the other man's intense green eyes with a sudden thrill of fear and said "But if *I'm* not bleeding..."

"Jonathan?!" Krycek exclaimed, then dropped Mulder's hand and took off up the stairs. Mulder followed the sound of his rapid foot-steps, but before he could catch up a door by the head of the stairs opened in his path and Gertrude's large sleepy face looked out. "What's going on?" she asked. "I heard running."

"I don't really know," said Mulder, looking over her shoulder to see where Krycek had gone. "Jonathan was showing me the house, and we ended up over in the West wing, and then Krycek - "

"Jonathan's fine," interrupted Krycek's low voice as he reappeared from the end of the hallway, his pace more sedate this time, "except for the splitting headache I suspect he'll have tomorrow. Looks like he took the brandy to bed with him." His lips narrowed in disapproval. "He's out cold, snoring like a rhinoceros."

"And why wouldn't Jonathan be all right?" asked Gertrude patiently, pulling back her bushy hair.

"He was at the brandy again," said Krycek, rubbing his forehead, "and he dragged Fox off into the west wing, then stomped away in a huff when I told him he was being stupid. And then when we got back here, we found blood on Fox's sleeve, and I thought - " he sighed tiredly. "Well, you remember that Christmas when he fell down the stairs, right? And - " he stopped himself, shook his head. " - it was just my first thought, that's all. Stupid, really. It must have been a mouse the cats caught, or something of the sort."

But Gertrude was looking seriously at the smudge on Mulder's sleeve, her brow furrowed. "Maybe," she said. "But still, I think we'd better check on everyone." And with that, she swept away, a large white shape in the gloom.

Mulder stood in silence beside Krycek. The dark-haired man leaned against the newel-post at the top of the stairs, looking oddly shaken, his face pale and drawn, hair falling untidily over his forehead. As Mulder watched, he shut his eyes for a moment, and swayed a little, leaning precariously towards the stairs.

"Careful!" said Mulder, and caught his arm. "Are you sure that *you're* all right?"

Krycek's eyes snapped open, and Mulder let go of his arm at the strange mix of feelings he saw in them. They held challenge still, but it was edged now with that same puzzlement the man had shown earlier in the evening when Mulder had protested Jonathan's venom. Krycek stared at him, then drew breath as if to speak, but just at that moment Gertrude returned, face grave. "I think we'd better gather everyone. The twins are missing."

* * *

Mulder sat in the living room, watching the others make their way downstairs. They formed a strange procession. Gertrude's night-dress was hardly distinguishable from her day-time garb, and the metres of white fabric swirled around her ankles as she herded the sulking Lucinda before her. Lucinda herself was bizarrely transformed, her hair coiled and twisted and pinned in strange protrusions on her head, her face coated with something glistening and faintly green, her thin arched eyebrows vanished entirely. "Stop *pushing* me," she was complaining over her shoulder to Gertrude, "I just wanted *one* minute to wash my *face*!"

Krycek followed behind them, with a dishevelled Jonathan in tow. Jonathan was puffy-eyed, staggering, and clearly unhappy. He kept yanking his arm from Krycek's grip, only to grab at him again as he stumbled over his own feet. When he saw Mulder he looked suddenly shame-faced, and ceased fighting, making an effort to stand straighter and smooth his hair. Last came Alice, shrugging into a dark dressing-gown, and Mulder noted with surprise that beneath it she was wearing a pink satin night-gown that revealed an unexpectedly lush and voluptuous body.

"I'll get the Mellors," said Krycek as he delivered Jonathan to the bottom of the stairs. The cousins milled about, settling themselves around the room, all of them avoiding the small love-seat near the fire where the twins had sat after dinner.

Mulder looked at the empty seat and shivered. Repelled by the blood on his sleeve, he'd taken off his dressing gown and put it on the coffee table, sleeve displayed for the others to see. Now the drafts of the room cut effortlessly through his thin cotton pyjamas.

A heavy sweater was suddenly dropped in his lap, and he looked up to see Krycek nod at him impassively before moving away and taking a seat in a heavy straight-backed chair. Shivering again, Mulder pulled it on, half grateful and half irritated at the man's silent gesture.

"I think we should search for the twins," announced Gertrude loudly once the Mellors were seated.

"I don't know why you got us out of bed for *that*, said Lucinda petulantly. "They're probably off somewhere setting up one of their nasty jokes, and - "

"Precisely," interrupted Krycek. "If they're up to their old tricks again, they could very well be hurt. That blood had to come from *somewhere* in the house."

"What do you mean 'nasty jokes'?" asked Mulder, and they all turned to look at him.

"The twins had an unfortunate penchant for rather involved practical jokes," Gertrude finally said, when it became clear that no one else would answer. "They could be rather ... cruel, really. But ingenious, and elaborate."

There was silence again, and finally Jonathan said grudgingly "well, I suppose we'd better retrace our steps, Fox, and see what we can find."

* * *

The wind had picked up as they talked, and now, as Jonathan unsteadily led them through the house, they could hear it howling around the roof-tops and rattling the windows in their casements. The bats in the ball-room chittered in agitation as they passed through, and in the decrepit solarium a pane of glass blew in with a crash, making Lucy scream shrilly. And beneath it all came the constant booming of the sea in the caves below, louder and louder the closer they came to the deserted west wing.

Eventually they came again to the room with the canopied bed and obscene painting. Krycek flicked on a dusty overhead light as they came through the door, and its sudden illumination revealed what Jonathan's torch had not: a puddle of blood that sat dark and sticky on the floor at the head of the bed. The skirts of the bed were soaked with it, heavy and stained.

They all stared in frightened silence. The scene looked strangely theatrical and unreal in the harsh overhead light, the darkening blood nearly the same shade of burgundy as the room's painted walls and the bed's brocade coverlet. "It's just a trick, " Mulder heard Lucy murmur to herself, "only one of their tricks."

Hesitantly Krycek moved to the bed, sweat gleaming on his forehead. Carefully avoiding the blood, he bent and, lifting the bedskirts with the handle of his flashlight, peered beneath the bed.

And almost instantly recoiled. "Ohgod," he said in a choked voice, "someone call the police!"

Mulder stepped forward and looked where Krycek was staring. There, just behind the bedskirt, lay a thin white arm in a pool of congealing blood, its hand extended towards them as if reaching for help from the deeper shadows beneath the bed.

"What is it?" asked a voice, and the cousins started to surge forward into the room.

"Get back!" snapped Krycek. But suddenly Lucy was beside him, kneeling down and reaching under the bed. "All right, twinnies," she said, "it isn't funny any more. You made Alex get us all out of bed." Before they could stop her she grabbed the arm and pulled.

"Lucy, stop!" Krycek shouted, but she tugged once more and suddenly the torso of one of the twins jerked out from under the bed, its head dragging behind it at a grotesque angle as a deep wound in the throat gaped horribly open. A handcuff gleamed metallic around the other wrist, where it was bound to an identical thin white arm.

Lucinda screamed and fainted, and Mulder heard Jonathan retch violently in the hallway. "Get *out* of here!" yelled Krycek at the others. "Fox, help me get Lucy out of here. Gertrude, you deal with Jonathan. Mellors, try and get hold of the authorities!"

* * *

"Police won't be here 'till tomorrow afternoon at the earliest," reported Mellors gruffly once they had all gathered back in the living room, pale and shaken and avoiding each others' eyes.

"What?!" exclaimed Mulder. None of the others seemed surprised.

"There's a storm moving up the coast, and there's already been some flooding. Half the county is down there helping shore up the seawall, and the roads up this way aren't safe to travel."

"This is ridiculous!" said Lucinda shrilly. She was wrapped in a blanket in one of the easy chairs, a large glass of brandy clutched in her shaking hands. "That means we're stuck here with a *murderer*! There's some madman with a knife hiding in the house and he'll murder us all in our beds and - "

"Hush, Lucinda!" said Gertrude sharply.

"I'm sure we'll all be fine," said Krycek. "As long as we all stay together tonight - "

"Huh!" snorted Jonathan loudly, and they all turned to look at him where he sat hunched in an easy chair, still greenish and pale. "So you're saying you think it was one of us? That we should all stay together and keep and *eye* on each other?"

"That's not what I said -" began Krycek, but Jonathan made a contemptuous gesture at him.

"No, but it's what you *meant*, isn't it? But before you start trying to turn us all against each other, I'd like to know what *you* were doing skulking around earlier. You said you'd heard noises, but there's no way you could have heard us talking from your room!"

The venom Mulder had heard in Jonathan's voice earlier this night was back, and Mulder cringed at the sound of it, shivering. Even with the sweater Krycek had given him, he was suddenly cold, his hands shaking.

"I did hear something," said Krycek tightly, "and what I was doing was looking out for *your* safety, Jonathan! With the amount of brandy gone from the decanter, it couldn't have been anyone but you who was about, and we all know what happened to you - "

"Looking out for my safety, were you?" snapped Jonathan. "Well, we all know how well members of the Mulder clan fare under *your* protection!"

"Jonathan!" said Gertrude sharply, and Mulder was suddenly aware that they were all staring at him, strange expressions on their faces. Confused, he looked away from them, turning his eyes to the coffee table in front of him, his heart starting to speed in his chest. The tension and the angry blaming voices in the room made him want to cover his ears, or run, get out of there somehow, but he couldn't with all their eyes watching him, and now he couldn't tear his own gaze from the bloodied cuff of his dressing-gown where it lay across the coffee table, and he couldn't stop the vision that spun behind his eyes... the grisly sight beneath the canopied bed.

The memory made his stomach lurch queasily... so much blood. Would his memory ever be free of blood again? And all the things he was trying to forget crowded in on him again, the memory of Walter sprawled on the ground, his moans as Mulder had tried to staunch the bleeding from hole the bullet had torn through him, the blood that had soaked through his clean white shirt staining it like the sleeve before him... like the bandages, later at the hospital.

"Right shoulder permanently damaged," he could hear the doctor say inside his head, "future fieldwork an impossibility."

And Walter had looked at him like he hated him. "You'd better go, Mulder," he'd said, "Just go."

"Fox?" he seemed to hear another voice saying distantly, "Fox, are you alright? Jesus, Jonathan, look what you've done now!".

Then everything went black.

* * *

When he awoke a pale, watery light was shining in through the windows and he was lying on the couch, a blanket spread over him. A chair had been placed by his feet, and Jonathan was sitting sideways in it, his knees pulled up to his chest, staring pensively out the window.

"What happened?" asked Mulder hoarsely, and Jonathan made a startled noise and turned around to face him. His eyes were bloodshot this morning, the skin beneath them puffy and dark, all his easy charm and laughter vanished.

"You fainted," he said gravely. Then the small ghost of a smile flitted across his face. "Lucy nearly had a fit. Started screaming that the brandy was poisoned . . ." the hint of a smile vanished, and he rubbed his eyes. "Though she should have known better, since *I* was still standing. Look, Fox, I - " he drew a deep breath, "I want to apologise for my behaviour. For all our behaviour, for that matter. It's this house, it brings out the worst in us. You must think we're all awful."

Mulder opened his mouth to answer, but Jonathan held up a hand. "No, don't say anything. We *are* awful. If we had any guts at all none of us would have come back here - we'd have let the old man's money go to the home for unmarried cats or whichever crackpot charity he chose, rather than letting him pull our strings again."

"Why did you come, then?" asked Mulder.

Jonathan looked out the windows again, at the strange grey light. "I need the money. As you might have noticed, I drink. I also play cards. Badly, I'm afraid. I'm broke, and I owe money I can't afford to pay back...." He sighed. "But I'm still sorry. I'm sorry we had to meet this way. "

Someone cleared their throat softly in the doorway, making them both jump. When Mulder looked over he saw Krycek, holding a tray with coffee on it, and he steeled himself, waiting for Jonathan's reaction. To his surprise, though, Jonathan scrambled up from his chair and nervously said, "Let me help you with that." And when the hands he held out shook so badly it was clear he'd be of no help whatsoever, Krycek just said gently, "Thanks, but I've got it - it's a one-person job, really."

Krycek set the tray down, and looked at Mulder with an odd, tight, nervously expectant expression. Nonplussed, Mulder looked to his cousin, but Jonathan was staring down at the carpet, his shaking hands twined together in his lap. The silence stretched on awkwardly, and finally Mulder said

"Well - have we heard anything from the police yet?"

Krycek blinked. "They won't be able to get here until tonight at the earliest - the valley road is flooded out."

"Christ!" said Jonathan violently, making them both jump. "So we're just going to have to - the twins are just going to lie there until - " abruptly he stood up, and looked at Mulder, his face pale. "We were right there. Right there on top of them. And I didn't even know..." then he looked away, and walked swiftly to the liquor cabinet in the corner.

"Jonathan, don't," said Krycek. But Jonathan selected a bottle and shut the door with a bang. "Leave me alone," he said. "Please, the both of you. Just leave me alone."

And Krycek left, face hard again. Mulder lingered for a few moments, but Jonathan stubbornly kept his back turned, and with a sigh Mulder exited as well.

Krycek had vanished from the hallway by the time Mulder left, and, feeling sleep-stale and rumpled, he slowly made his way up the stairs towards his room. As he reached the top of the stairs, however, he found Krycek hovering at the door to the twins' room, key in his hand.

"Hey!" said Mulder, more sharply than he had intended, "You can't go in there - the police will want to examine it, and you could contaminate evidence. It's official procedure to disturb as little as possible."

Krycek spun to look at him, pale cheeks a little red. "I wasn't -" he said, then frowned a little. "'Official procedure?' I thought you were a psychologist."

"I am, but I work as a consultant for the police sometimes," said Mulder. "Or at least I used to. And you really shouldn't go in there."

Krycek looked at him thoughtfully. "I really wasn't going to disturb anything. But I thought I heard someone moving around in there, and I have the only master-key. If you went inside with me, maybe you could witness that I didn't tamper with anything?"

"Well" said Mulder, "I suppose we should at least open the door and look to see if someone's been in."

He moved to the other man's side, and Krycek unlocked the door and swung it open. Inside was a dim brown room furnished with a massive old sleigh-bed and a couple of heavy wooden chests of drawers. The surface of the bed and the floor were covered with a scatter of glossy paper which, upon closer examination, turned out to be photos. Some were shredded and torn, but in the few that remained whole, Mulder could clearly see the twins, some years younger, naked, and posed on what looked like this very bed in a series of embraces that were clearly more than fraternal.

Mulders' mouth went dry as he looked at them, and he felt his stomach heave. When he looked up, Krycek's face was a mask of dismay as well, but there was something in his expression...

Mulder looked around the room again, took in the two suitcases and one bed. "You knew?" he said incredulously, "you all knew that they were - what the hell is going on here? Who took these photos? Just what kind of a family is this, anyway!?" He spun towards the door, but Krycek caught at his arm, saying, "No, Fox, wait -"

Mulder shook off the touch frantically and ducked through the door, striding as fast as he could towards his own room. He was almost there when Krycek caught up and ducked in front of him, blocking his door. "Wait," he said again, "I *didn't* know, OK? They've always stayed in that room, ever since they were children, and whatever I might have suspected..." he paused.

"Let me by," said Mulder stubbornly. Krycek was looking straight into his eyes, and Mulder couldn't help but notice again how green the other man's eyes were, not brown-flecked like most green eyes but a pure, deep, almost unearthly shade like jade.

"Look," Krycek said urgently, "I think we may have gotten off on the wrong foot here. When you showed up after all these years, I just assumed you were here to confront me. But maybe we can start over. I probably know this family better than you do at this stage. And I understand that you must have a lot of questions for me, so please believe me when I say I'll answer them as best I can."

"Questions for you?" said Mulder, confused. "Questions about what, exactly?"

No Krycek looked confused as well. "About what? Well, about - about your sister. And her accident."

Mulder felt something squeeze tight inside his chest, and his voice sounded thin and young when he spoke. "Sister?" he said. "I don't know what you're talking about. I never had a sister!"