Runes, an X Files story by Brenda S. Antrim.
The characters belong to CC and co. and are borrowed with love but not permission. Rune information from Ralph H. Blum's excellent _The Book of Runes_. Special thanks to Chris Carter for his vision and David Duchovny, Nick Lea and Gillian Anderson for their talents and inspiration. This story follows the events of my story The Deal, so you may want to read that to understand the undercurrents. OTOH, Scully doesn't know, either, so you could just wait and find out from her (eventually). Rated PG 13 for language. Not a relationship story -- in fact the only one with the hots for anybody is ... well, Ratboy. And Mulder. Hmmm. Comments sincerely appreciated and flames cheerfully ignored. Enjoy.


*******************************************

"The artifacts are in place, sir."

"Good. Make sure he sees them. All of them. Once contact has been made, retrieve and destroy the evidence."

With a curt nod of dismissal, the slender, gray-headed man with the ever-present cigarette turned his back to his minion, staring out at the darkness of a late night in the city. There were no stars that he could see, they were too close to the seat of power for that, too many city lights drowning out the natural lights from the sky. He preferred it that way. The less he saw, the less he would be distracted. The less he would remember.

He stared at the glowing tip of his cigarette for long moments, wondering if this would be the time, if this information would finally defeat his enemy, his nemesis. His too-valuable-to-kill and too-irritating-to-leave-be wild card. Maybe, this time, Mulder would be stopped.

Somehow, he doubted it. But one could always hope.

******************************************************

The tip had come anonymously. The best ones always did, it seemed.

"Hey, Scully, take a look at this!"

His partner paused in her typing, looking over the tops of her glasses at him. His enthusiasm obviously wasn't contagious this morning.

"What is it, Mulder? Another hot lead from the National Trash-sifter?"

He shot her a mock wounded look, his eyes sparkling with anticipation, something he hadn't been feeling much since the last time Krycek had kidnapped him. His mind shied away from that particular memory and returned to the task at hand.

"No, this comes from our friend in high places." He turned the single sheet of paper over and over in his hands, staring thoughtfully at his partner's fiery red head, bent in concentration over her paperwork. "Maybe you're right. It's probably nothing." Folding it into a compact square and slipping it into his pocket, he continued, "Don't worry about it. I may sniff around a little later and see if there's anything to it."

It worked. With a long-suffering sigh, she hit the save button and swiveled around to face him. He managed not to grin at the mingled curiosity and humor he'd managed to provoke.

"Okay. I'll bite."

"Promise?" he cracked, his face lighting up with a mischievous smile.

"Mulll-der," her eyes threatened him, and he relented.

"Okay, here it is. Just an address, two words and a stone. The words are Tear and View, and the stone has the Viking symbol for Ansuz engraved on it."

She looked at him expectantly. "And?"

"And I think I recognize the address, Scully. It's right here in town. Neal Markham, runs a specialty shop full of esoteric stuff, mixture of science and the arcane. Everything from microscopes to Wiccan supplies. His specialty is exploration and divination."

"Sounds like a load of mumbo jumbo to me, Mulder. Supplying whom? What sort of exploration? Divining what?"

"Supplying information, Scully. Exploring the unknown, using the tools of science and a belief in the unbelievable. Divining the future." He shot her his very best 'Spooky' look. She didn't seem overly impressed, and he sobered. "Besides, he might be able to help us with the Viking word." She quirked a questioning brow at him and he explained, "Ansuz is a Rune symbol, one of a series of letters used in ancient Icelandic divination rituals. This particular rune means 'message', and is associated with the Norse God Loki."

She studied him for a moment. "You mean we're going off on a hunt for the Scandinavian version of Coyote?"

He cocked his head to the side. "You *have* been studying your Native American lore, haven't you?"

She shot him a killer glance and shrugged. "You're the division chief. Or at least that's what I'll tell Skinner." She powered down the computer and reached for her jacket. "And at this point, I'd take just about anything to get away from the autopsy paperwork."

He followed closely on her footsteps as they left the office. "Bored, Scully?"

"Extremely, Mulder."

"Well, we'll see what we can do about that." He grinned at her. She narrowed her eyes at him, glancing up at him over her shoulder.

"Gee. Can't wait."

******************************************************

The interior of the shop was not exactly the dark, dusty candle shop slash junk shop she was expecting. As Mulder shook hands with the proprietor, Scully hung back and took it all in, trying to pin down an overall impression. The store was small but meticulously maintained, bins and shelves full of what looked like a combination of scientific tools and occult paraphernalia. In one corner, magnifying glasses sat cheek by jowl with various colored candles, and bins held an assortment of various minerals and crystals. Several shelves boasted an arrangement of books by subject, Kip Thorne's Black Holes and Time Warps sharing space with Shawna Vogel's Naked Earth, while further on Starhawk's Spiral Dance nudged Silver Ravenwolf's To Ride a Silver Broomstick. She browsed a bit further and picked up a hardcopy edition of Above Top Secret, by Timothy Good, all about how the government was covering up UFO sightings. She could begin to see why Mulder liked this place.

"Ah. A classic." The gentle voice of the owner brought her head up, and she smiled slightly at him.

Markham was a short, gently rounded man with curly mouse brown hair tied back in a bushy little ponytail at the base of his skull, disingenuous blue eyes peering through large framed, round eyeglasses. His neatly pressed shirt and clean, if faded, blue jeans made him look like an overaged college student, at least until you looked into his eyes. They reminded her a little of Mulder's eyes, a deep intelligence tempered by lively curiosity, and something very old lived in them. What her mother would call an old soul. And a kind one, from the way he was regarding her. Apparently, the he and Mulder had been friends for some time, judging by the warmth of their greetings.

"Undoubtedly," she returned with a minimum of sarcasm. They were joined by Mulder, his quick grin as he saw the title of the book she replaced on the shelf causing her to change the subject quickly. "So, do what can you tell us about this Ansuz?"

Neil thought for a moment, then reached for a small gray cloth-bound book from the shelf labeled "Divination Tools." Flipping rapidly through the pages, he nodded satisfaction at confirming his thoughts, and summarized for them.

"Ansuz. That's the Rune for receiving messages, signals, gifts. It warns you to expect the unexpected -- this Rune is the call to a new life. It's the first of the thirteen Runes in the Cycle of Initiation, which focus directly on self-change, and address our need to integrate unconscious motive with conscious intent. It's a signal to explore the depths of life. To look beneath the surface." His concerned eyes darted back and forth between the two partners. "But there's another side to it. If the Rune is reversed, it can mean that a sense of futility may be overwhelming. Ansuz, reversed, means 'consider the uses of adversity'." He stared at Mulder for a moment, then reached out to gently lay a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Is this message involved in your search, somehow?"

"Maybe, Neil." She watched him as he stared off into the middle distance, his mind ticking over the possibilities.

"Thank you, Mr. Markham," Dana finally said, getting tired of waiting for her partner to come back from wherever he had gone. "We appreciate the information."

"Yeah, thanks, Neil." Mulder sounded sincere, if distracted.

The shorter man nodded and smiled at them both, extending a hand to shake Scully's. "It was a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Scully. As for you," he growled softly at Mulder, "Don't be such a stranger!"

Mulder seemed to snap out of his daze for a moment, and grinned abashedly at Markham. "I'll try," he replied, and Markham shook his head resignedly. As they left the store, Scully glanced back at the shopkeeper. He had pulled some small, white, rectangular stones out of a soft felt bag, and was staring at them with an odd look on his face. He almost seemed ... afraid.

****************************************************

A shadow watched as the two agents left the small shop. It moved when they did, staying beyond their range of sight, but never losing track. Their destinies were intertwined, although the two agents might not realize it. The shadow waited, knowing that his best chance at revenge, and at finally walking in the sunlight again, lay with these two he followed.

***************************************************

"Okay, so we have the Ansuz. Now what do we do with it?"

His partner's impatient question finally snapped Mulder out of his reverie. They were sitting at a table in one of their favorite lunch spots, a small diner within walking distance of FBI headquarters. Dana picked determinedly at her salad, while Mulder played with his BLT, absently poking at the ends of the bacon with a french fry.

"While you were checking out the book selection, I asked Neil about the possible meanings he could see behind the combination of words. He didn't seem very comfortable with his conclusions."

"Are you going to share?" she prompted when he fell silent. He dropped the fry in disgust and wiped his hands on his napkin.

"Well, it's a little twisted."

"When is it not?" she asked with a half grin, and he just shook his head at her.

"Neil seems to think that the two words in conjunction with Ansuz could have two meanings, polar opposites. One is that it's a call to action, an invitation to finally find the answers I've been looking for, and more recently, that you've been looking for as well. The information we'll find will be unexpected and may be dangerous, but will shed new light on our search. Also, it will be open to interpretation, and some interpretations may be dangerous. Tear could either be interpreted as a rending, a dissolution, or an indication of loss or grief." He paused, trying to find a way to say this more clearly, and she waited for him, keeping her questions in check until he had finished. "Or, if the Rune is meant in the reverse, it could mean that we may hit a dead end that makes us doubt ourselves, and the way we see things. If we don't keep the channels of communication open, we could end up destroying our partnership somehow."

"So, you're saying that he said that this message could either mean that we're about to find the answers to all our questions, or a big lie that will make us want to give up." Her dry tone didn't fool him. He nodded cautiously. "So, like most prophecies, it could mean everything, or nothing. Hmm. Sounds about right for something you got from Mr. X." She popped the last bite of carrot in her mouth, and slid her fork across her plate. Swallowing delicately, she pushed her chair back. "Well, Mulder, it's been an ... interesting morning. But I have autopsy reports to do. Coming back to the office with me?"

He met her sparkling, unconvinced blue eyes and sighed. Obviously, she would take a bit more convincing. "Sure, Scully." He tossed some bills on the table and joined her as she left the restaurant. Perhaps it was slim, but he had a gut feeling about this one. And for all their nonscientific grounding, his hunches were very seldom wrong.

*******************************************************

The second package arrived on his doorstep the next morning, wrapped in his morning paper. A single small white stone with an odd black marking on it, wrapped in a piece of paper torn from the newspaper and highlighted with a yellow pen.

"Neil Markham, 41, died in an apparent robbery attempt last night at his small store ..." Mulder closed his eyes in pain when he read the snippet, then he bundled the newspaper, stone and torn scrap into a tight ball and retreated into his bedroom to get dressed. He had lost a friend, and he had a horrible feeling it was somehow his fault.

******************************************************

Scully was not surprised to see Mulder working furiously at the computer when she arrived at the office at nine am. She'd seen the small item in the morning paper about Markham's death and knew that Mulder would be blaming himself. She didn't waste her breath trying to convince him that it was undoubtedly a random act of violence, probably by some drug addict looking for money for a fix. Instead, she settled into her chair and addressed her partner.

"What have you found?"

He answered without looking up from the computer screen. "Looks to the cops like a regular burglary. Neil had an anti-theft surveillance camera set up and I viewed the footage this morning." At her slight sound of surprise, he glanced at her momentarily before staring back at the screen. "I pulled a few strings over at Metro. They id'ed the guy as a two time loser with a record half an inch thick."

"But?" She could hear it, implied if not made explicit in his words.

"But the timing sucks, Scully." Finally, he stopped scrolling through the information on his screen and faced her. "And Neil didn't exactly follow his standard routine after we left there yesterday."

"In what way?"

"He closed up shop less than a half hour after we left, and was gone for almost two hours. When he returned, he kept the shop open until almost eight, and he normally closes at six. The robber didn't appear to make any demands, just walked into the store, pulled out a gun, and shot him at close range. Then, almost as if it was an afterthought, he emptied the cash register." His voice sounded tired, and she could tell that he was trying very hard to shelve the grief over the loss of his friend until he could make sense of Markham's death.

"Have you been able to figure out where he went?"

"Not yet." He stood up and shrugged into his suit jacket. "Unless those autopsy reports are calling your name, Scully, I think it's time we did some canvassing."

"And how are we going to justify this to the locals, Mulder?" she asked as she reached for her own coat.

"Ties into an ongoing investigation, Scully," he returned, reaching into his pocket and tossing a small stone to her. As she caught it and turned it over to study the strange marking on the back, he continued, "Seems Ansuz has a friend. And I think Neil got caught in the backwash."

She studied the marking, a single vertical line intersected one third of the way from the top by a shorter line angled downward at about a forty five degree angle, looking rather like a lopsided X standing on one leg. She slipped the stone into her own pocket and followed her partner out the door.

******************************************************

The man sat alone in his small, dark room, flipping a stone across the table in front of him, sliding it into the side of the ashtray. He snorted softly at the imagery behind the symbol on the stone, and smiled when he pictured Mulder's reaction. So far, everything was going exactly as planned. It was about time. He thought of his other small problem, then shrugged it off. There would be time to deal with his prodigal later. First, he would destroy Mulder, quietly, without fuss or fanfare. Then he would deal with ... his other irritant.

*****************************************************

It hadn't been as difficult to reconstruct Markham's final day as Mulder feared it might be. There were witnesses in the neighborhood that were actually willing to talk, and Neil hadn't made much of an effort to cover his tracks.

"So, he met this guy, showed him something that may have been anything from a rock to a Ping-Pong ball depending on whom you question, seemed to plead with him about something, took a package with what looked like extreme reluctance, and returned to his shop, where he seemed distracted all day until a punk walked into his shop, an apparent target of opportunity, and murdered him."

Scully's precise rendering of their findings settled it in Mulder's mind. Time to go search the back room of that store.

"If it was worth killing him over, then it's worth a little B & E." His half-muttered words drew Scully's attention from her notepad, and she looked inquisitively at Mulder. "I need to find that package, Scully." She stared at him, then shoved her pad back in her purse.

"No." He started to protest, and she shook him off. "We do."

****************************************************

Someone had beaten them to the punch. The back room of the store was a shambles, once they had managed to circumvent the now compromised security system and pick the lock on the back door. Whoever had done it hadn't wanted to draw attention to themselves, because they had reset the locks before they left. Mulder looked over the wreckage and cursed under his breath. Someone had *really* wanted to find that package. With a sideways glance at his partner, he took a deep breath and dug in. Maybe, somehow, the previous intruders had missed it.

Two hours, a bruised shin, several curses and a cut finger later, he was willing to believe there wasn't anything left to find. Looking up from a spilled box of aromatic oils that was rapidly giving him a headache, he realized that Scully was no longer in the back room. Leaving the smelly mess behind, he went off to search for her, finally finding her curled up on the floor next to the bookshelves.

"Still fascinated by the book selection, hm, Scully?"

She smiled at his gentle teasing, then drew the stone he had tossed to her earlier out of her pocket. Reaching up to hand it to him, she opened the same small gray book Markham had checked the previous day.

"Listen to this, Mulder." He leaned against the doorjamb and watched her, as she kept her attention focused on the little book. "It's called Nauthiz. Constraint. Necessity." She looked up at him briefly. "Pain." At the darkening in his deep hazel eyes, she looked back down at the page. "It deals with learning to deal with severe constraints. Represents the obstacles we create for ourselves as well as those others put up around us. It's role is to identify our shadow, the dark, repressed side of ourselves, where our growth is stunted, resulting in weakness. Examine whatever it is in our lives that attracts hardship or misfortune." At his suddenly restless movement, she looked up at him. "Stop it, Mulder. Markham's death was not your fault." He looked as though he might argue, then gestured for her to continue. She looked back at the passage she had marked with her finger.

"It urges restraint. Reconsider plans. Persevere. It's a time to restore balance, if not harmony. Rectification, before progress. And get this -- reversed, as part of the Cycle of Initiation, it's considered the great teacher disguised as the one who brings pain and limitation. Only by bringing the greatest darkness can it make us aware of the light within. It talks about something within being disowned and then creating havoc, and that there is a need to undergo the dark side of your passage and bring it to the light. Controlling anger, restraining impulses, keeping your faith firm... You know, Mulder, it almost sounds as though someone was telling you not to give up. And just maybe, to be careful."

"Maybe. I thought you didn't believe in this stuff, Scully."

She closed the book, then slipped it into her pocket. "As a method of determining the future, I don't. However, it would appear that someone is sending you messages. They're your cryptic friends, Mulder. What do you think they're trying to tell you?"

He didn't answer her question, his attention caught be the corner of a small brown package peeking out from under a dust cloth below the physics books. "Maybe they're telling me to keep looking, Scully," he replied as he pulled the small package out into the open. They shared a look over the top of the package, then quietly gathered their things and slipped back out the rear door.

*********************************************************

The shadow watched them as they walked softly down the deserted alley to their car, parked on the street around the corner. He had been in the side room as they had searched, knowing that they would find what had been planted, and hoping that they could lead him to the one responsible for planting it. As he considered the words he'd heard read out in Dana Scully's clear voice, he couldn't help the small chuckle that escaped. "Repressed shadow of himself, hm? That's one way to describe me, I guess." The sound of an engine broke the stillness of the night, and he made his way to his own vehicle. There was no hurry. He knew where they were going. After all, that's what a shadow did, wasn't it? Follow?

****************************************************

Mulder didn't see the resigned shudder his partner gave at the state of his apartment. By now, he would have been used to it. Laying the package on the table next to the window, he froze. She noticed, and came rapidly to his side, eyes sweeping for indications of danger. There was nothing, but another small white stone, with another strange symbol on it. She pulled the book from her pocket, but before she could find the symbol in the display on the front, her partner's hoarse voice stopped her.

"Hagalaz."

"What?" He was staring at the stone as if it was a snake, and his voice sounded curiously dead.

"Elemental disruption. I recognize this one, Scully." Leaving the package on the table, he gingerly picked up the stone and moved to slump onto the couch. "You have the other two?"

Nodding assent, she dug the previously received stones from her pocket and handed them to him. With precise movements, he lay them side by side, in the order that he had been given them.

"It's a forecast, Scully. The past, the present and the future. Ansuz represents the past, the beginning of the change, the surprising directions. Nauthiz stands for what is happening right now, identifying the shadow of myself, dealing with the pain. And Hagalaz points to the future."

When he stared at the stones and didn't continue, she reached for the book again. As she was finding the page to try and figure out what had spooked her partner so badly, he started to speak again.

"Change. Liberation. Freedom. It's the Great Awakener, tearing away all your ideas of who you are. Shaking your foundations. Beyond your control." He paused again, and swallowed heavily. "Radical discontinuity."

"Are you telling me you *believe* in this stuff, Mulder? You won't believe in miracles, even when they're right in front of your face, but you think the stones are talking to you?"

Her tone gradually increased until by the end of her words she was almost yelling at him. Her agitation penetrated his distraction, and he rested his gaze on her wearily.

"I don't know, Scully. I guess, when we open the box, then we'll figure out what they've been trying to tell us. Or at least what the person behind these stones is trying to tell us."

With grim determination he rose and went to the box. Gritting his teeth, unable to explain the dread that was pooling in his stomach, he ripped the paper covering from the outside and pulled the flaps back from the top of the box. After staring at the inside of the box until Scully thought he was never going to remove the contents, he reached in and removed a thick manila envelope. Ripping the side of the envelope out, he gently dumped the contents onto the table top. As the images from the pictures began to make sense to his stunned eyes, he gave a soft moan.

"Samantha." A world of pain in a single whispered word.

Scully pushed at his arm until she could see what he had discovered. Several black and white photographs of a young woman, perhaps sixteen, on what looked like an examination table. Her hair was dark, cut short, feathering against the sides of her head. She was painfully thin, with scars running along her exposed arms and legs, her eyes sunk deeply into their sockets, lines of pain carved deeply into her forehead and bracketing her mouth. Her limbs were bound in some sort of shackle, essentially chaining her to the table. She was, without a doubt, dead. And from the look of terror in her eyes, her death had not been an easy one. Scully shuffled through the horrifying pictures, and bumped a small specimen case that had been buried under the photographs. It was attached to a medical information sheet, and as she scanned the test results, she couldn't hold back her own dismayed gasp.

"What?" His voice sounded rough, and she looked up to see the tracks of tears along his cheeks. His eyes were haunted, but they held hers steadily. She swallowed, her throat hurting, and took a deep breath.

"These are soft tissue test results, Mulder. And the specimen ... is listed as a cross section of a human pancreas. The results show evidence of cancerous growth, to such an extent that all the internal organs were compromised." She swallowed again, her own nightmares coming to the fore, before forcing down her demons and turning to her partner. "This could be a set-up, Mulder. In fact, it undoubtedly is. Someone is trying to get to you-"

"And doing a damned good job of it, Scully." He looked like he was going to throw up. He stared fixedly at the photos, seeing his sister's face, and she reached over to gently touch his arm.

"It's not proof, Mulder. Not until it's tested." With decisive movements, she scooped up the photos and the specimen case, along with the medical sheets, and stuffed them carefully back into the manila envelope. "Come on." He looked at her blankly, and she gestured to the door. "Forensic lab. I want to run some of my own tests, see just what's in this sample case."

"And a DNA test, Scully?" he queried softly.

She checked, then nodded at him, trying to reassure him with her eyes, knowing that was impossible. "And a DNA test, Mulder. If this was from your sister, we'll find out."

****************************************************

They didn't make it to the car before they were jumped. Scully fell under a vicious blow to the side of the head from a swinging pipe, and Mulder managed to shoot one of the assailants before the other knocked his gun away with enough force to break two fingers. As the first assailant raised his pipe to bring it down on Mulder's face, a third man grabbed the envelope and began to run. Before the pipe could connect, another gunshot rang out from the side of Mulder's building. Mulder looked up to see Alex Krycek looking down at him.

"Truce still in effect, I take it," he managed to croak out, and Krycek grinned fiercely at him for a moment before gesturing to his fallen partner.

"Take care of your Scully, Mulder. I have someone to follow."

As he turned to run after the man who had escaped with the envelope, with the photos and the evidence, Mulder rolled to his side and looked after his enemy. "Thanks. You bastard." He whispered the words, then pulled himself painfully upright and leaned over Scully. Time enough to think of the ramifications later. First he had to take care of his partner.

*****************************************************

He had slipped some of the photos into a file on his table, for contingency's sake, but sometime when he was at the hospital getting his fingers taped and checking on Scully's condition, someone had broken into his place and taken them. All of them. Once again, no evidence. But his eidetic memory wouldn't let him forget the images burned into his brain. As he sat in the empty office, absently shuffling a file back and forth on his desk, his mind replayed his latest conversation with Scully, stuck in the hospital with a severe concussion.

"Photos can be faked, Mulder. You have no proof that she was Samantha."

"She looked ... god, Scully, if she wasn't, then she was enough like her to be her twin."

"Or her clone." He looked at her sharply and she shrugged, wincing when it sent a bolt of pain up her skull. "It's happened before."

He stared at the floor. "I guess this means I'm stuck in Nauthiz, still boxing at shadows."

"It'll come, Mulder," she whispered. "Give it time."

He reached over and gently touched her shoulder. "Get some rest, Scully." She arched a brow at him, and he tried to look reassuring. "I'm okay. Really." She didn't look like she believed him, but she also didn't stop him when he walked out of the room.

The discordant sound of the telephone ringing brought him back to the present. Dropping the file, he reached for the receiver.

"Mulder."

There was silence for a moment, then "I lost him."

He settled back into his chair, resting the phone in the crook of his neck, balanced by his shoulder. Fingers moved absently to rub lightly over the lacing of thin white scars on his wrists, courtesy of the man on the other end of the line.

"Is that bad, Krycek?" He couldn't keep the mixed emotions from his voice ... hope, that somehow the evidence might have made it's way back to him, hatred of the man who could have been the one to get it for him, a confusing brew of anger and embarrassment and arousal and disgust that he fought down determinedly. "What would you have done with it, anyway?"

"Traced it to the source, Mulder." There was a heavy silence, then Krycek spoke again. "I want the son of a bitch as much as you do. Maybe even more. He's not actively trying to kill you." Mulder inclined his head, conceding the point with a muffled "true." Alex continued, "How's Scully?"

"She'll live." He didn't want to say this, but he had to. "Thanks. Now tell me why."

"Why what, Mulder?" Krycek could play dumb with the best.

"Why'd you shoot him? If you'd just gone after the third man, you wouldn't have wasted the time to save me, and you might not have lost him."

There was another long moment of tense silence, before he finally got his answer.

"I ... couldn't let him hurt you." Before Mulder could reiterate his 'why?', Krycek cut the connection. Mulder let the receiver drop into his hand, slowly reaching out to cradle it, thinking about the ramifications of Krycek's confession. Balance. Restitution. His shadow.

Rising from his chair to catch up his coat, he put thoughts of the conversation from his mind. He had to go pick up Scully. He couldn't afford to be distracted. He had to find out where the Runes had come from, and where the evidence had gone. But in the corner of his mind, a voice whispered 'radical discontinuity ... your future." He knew he couldn't ignore it for long. But for right now, it had to wait. He had truths to discover. And pain to work through. His shadow would have to wait.

**************************finis************************