Shadowdancer the Third

by gwendolyn_flight

This is a re-write of Shadowdance by Robin Wayne Bailey, although, if you've read the book, be warned that this version doesn't turn out the same. In case you're curious, Mr Bailey seems to prefer simple sentences and minimal description interspersed with vivid imagery, while I run to complex sentences, and believe that if one descriptor is good, then two or three must be better. :)

Everyone got recast, so here's a quick run-down on ages:
Mulder: 18(1st half) 23(2nd half)
Krycek: 24(2nd half)
Spender: 28(1st half) 33(2nd half)
CSM: 46(1st half) 51(2nd half)
The Witch of Shanalane: 18(1st half) 23(2nd half)
Skinner: 38(1st half) 43(2nd half)
Teena: 35(1st half)
William: 43(1st half) 48(2nd half)
Diana: 13(1st half) 18(2nd half)
Scully: 24(1st half) 29(2nd half)

On this chapter, I'm not sure that the NC-17 is required, but better safe than sorry, I suppose. Warnings for non-con and incest.

Chapter Three

MULDER STAYED IN bed all day. His father brought him food, but he couldn't eat. Skinner came to visit and sat with him, but he was clearly puzzled by Mulder's unexplained paralysis and sullen silence. Scully hovered, obviously feeling helpless even with all her potions and science. Mulder refused to talk to any of them. He wanted only to be left alone, and when he was alone he cried slow, soundless tears and rubbed his unfeeling legs.

Beyond the open window, the sky segued from sweet autumn blue to somber twilight. A quiet wind blew into the room, touching him with the cool softness of a ghost's breath. He bit his lip and turned his face to the pillow. William entered and worriedly brushed a hand along Mulder's cheek. When Mulder didn't respond, the old man lit a candle, set it on a bedside table, and left. Out side, darkness inundated the world.

With a sob, the first sound he had made all day, Mulder clutched his coverlet and drew himself into a miserable ball.

A moment later, with a mingled sense of shock and excitement, he opened his eyes hesitantly and looked at his knees where they lay clutched between his arms. He drew a sharp breath, then pressed his eyes together, his teeth worrying his lower lip. His heart pounded. He lay utterly still, afraid to move, afraid it was only a dream, and in that moment he prayed to every god he knew.

He straightened his right leg, sliding it slowly upon the smooth sheets, and knew he was not dreaming. He straightened the other. Carefully, he sat up. The soles of his feet touched the carpet. The sensation of the cool, plush weave on his skin reassured him, and he wriggled his toes experimentally. Every muscle in his body tensed as he pushed himself off the bed and stood erect. He squeezed his eyes shut again, expecting to fall, and peeled them open when his limbs proved steady.

He moved cautiously toward the window, shuffling his feet, fearing to lift them too high. Something beyond the window called him. What was it? He leaned his hands on the sill and breathed deeply. Once more, the wind came to him out of the darkness like a chill, invisible serpent that twined over every part of his naked body. He felt it crawl over his face and chest, over his legs. He was alive again!

A gasp and a clatter sounded from behind him. He turned. William stared, ashen-faced, his jaw open and working as though he would speak. At his feet, a silver tray lay turned upside down on the carpet. A few scraps of meat showed under the edge, and a cracked goblet rocked beside it in a spreading pool of water. His father took two steps toward him, then stopped uncertainly, staring with fear-widened eyes.

"It's the night," Mulder said with barely controlled awe. He turned from William and gazed past the sill again, out into the unknowable dark. No star burned in the heavens, and no moon. There was only the void. "I don't think the Witch knows. But her god knows."

"What are you talking about?" William whispered. Fear thickened the old man's voice, and Mulder felt the distance between them like a wall. "What evil--"

Mulder cut him off. "It's not evil, Father." He hugged himself as the wind fluttered over him. "It's the night. I understand now. The daytime is my enemy. Sunlight steals my legs from me. It makes them useless. But the nighttime is mine. I can walk from sundown until dawn. That is the gift of the Witch's god."

The carpet rustled as William took another step and stopped again. He managed to utter, "A child of darkness? Is that what you've become?" His voice had begun to grow angry, and Mulder whirled from his perch at the window to face him.

"I'm no child, father. I'm tall as you, if not as strong. I've seen eighteen springs, and I'm no longer so helpless that I have to quietly suffer being called child. I am a man." He clenched his fists and turned away from his guardian to stare back through the window. It was another world out there, a world unlike his cottage prison, unlike this room in Whisperstone, totally different from the world of the daytime. "At least, I'm a man at night." He closed his eyes and opened them, then walked past his father into the outer chamber and toward the door.

"Where are you going?" his father called, hurrying after him. He caught Mulder's arm and spun him around.

Mulder started to snap, but stopped himself and sighed. "For a walk," he said finally, laying a gentle hand on the old man's shoulder, willing him to understand. "I've never gone for a walk by myself, before."

William managed a weak grimace of a smile; his face was lined with worry. "Well, you'd better put something on," he said. He turned toward the table, which, the night before, had been laden with food. Someone had placed a small pile of folded garments there. His guardian lifted a pale blue chiton from the top, shook it once, and held it out to him. "This isn't our home, and you can't run naked around a grand place like this."

The fabric was an incredibly fine weave. Mulder had never seen its like. William handed him another cloth of equal softness to wrap about his loins. Then he draped the chiton over Mulder's body, leaving the left shoulder bare, and fastened a small silver brooch that closed the right shoulder. The hem touched the middle of Mulder's thigh, but when he added a leather belt and laced it tight around his waist, it rose a bit higher.

"Look," William said, crossing to the other, smaller table where the water basin sat with an oinochoe jug. In his haste the night before, Mulder had not noticed the large copper mirror behind the basin. He stared at his own image.

He had seen his face as a water reflection when William had carried him to bathe in the stream near the cottage, but never had he seen himself standing erect. He turned slowly, viewing himself from every angle. It was not his image, but the reflection of his movement that fascinated him. He noted with wonder how the muscles in his side rippled if he leaned a certain way, how tilting his head back exposed the veins in his neck. His chest was too narrow, he quickly decided, and his arms too thin, yet there was a grace in his body that surprised and delighted him.

"You'll become vain, boy," William said from the center of the room. "You have the beauty for it."

Mulder didn't turn, but their gazes met in the polished metal. "The power of movement is a magic all its own," he answered. "I see that now. You've had that magic all your life, so you don't appreciate it. You don't see what a miracle it is to lift your foot from here," he pointed his toe and lifted that leg gracefully. "and put it here. And this is an even greater miracle." He rose onto the ball of his left foot, pirouetted with perfect control, and faced himself in the mirror once more. "But it's a magic utterly new to me, father, and it makes me feel . . ." He hesitated, looked sad for a moment, then pirouetted again. "I don't know. I'm almost glad that I could never walk until now."

"It's the Witch's power you feel," William said darkly. "And nobody gives something for nothing."

At that, Mulder faced the old man. "Don't they, father? You raised me and loved me. What do you want in return?"

The hurt showed visibly in the old woodcutter's eyes, but he said nothing, only stared back silently.

"I'm sorry," Mulder said, relenting. "Just don't speak ill of the Witch."

William shook his head, a stubbornness twisting his lips. "Not if it upsets you," he said quietly. "But remember she is a witch," he continued, his voice rising with the words. "You know nothing about her, not even a name to call her by."

"No one knows her name," Mulder countered. "But I owe her no less, and somehow I intend to find her." He swallowed as he tugged at the hem of the chiton and adjusted his belt. "Now I'm going for a walk. Coming?"

William smiled wryly and looked askance at Mulder's lips, twitching as they were in a slight smile. "I thought you wanted to go alone," he said. "You've never taken a walk by yourself, remember?"

"I've never taken a walk with you, either," Mulder reminded him, smiling softly. "Not without being carried, anyway." He took a step past his father and opened the door. "Coming?"

After a long moment, William nodded.

They went into the corridor together, and William pointed to the left. "That way leads back toward the Great Hall," he said, and that was enough for Mulder. The stone floor was cold against his bare feet, so he set a brisk pace. His father, though, had no trouble keeping up. As he had noted before, Whisperstone was a maze, and they were quickly lost. He wished momentarily that he'd waited to invite Scully to join them, or perhaps even Skinner himself. But he was in no hurry. It was only just nightfall. He had until dawn to explore.

Many of the corridors were dark, but some of them were lit with lanterns hanging on pegs, or by oil lamps suspended by small chains from beams in the ceilings. Mulder thought about simply appropriating one of the lanterns, but after all, this wasn't their home, and their host might take it unkindly. Instead, they made their way carefully from one pool of light to the next.

When they passed an occasional window, they stopped. Most were shuttered tight, but one or two were slender, open embrasures barely wide enough to stand in sideways. Mulder squeezed into one and looked out. On the wall far below, he could just discern the watchfires of the sentries. He wondered if they were Skinner's men or if Jeffrey was still at Whisperstone as well. Except for his father and Scully and, briefly, Skinner, he'd seen no one all day. Where was everyone? Were they still hunting the Witch?

A chill wind blew suddenly out of the east. Gooseflesh rose on his skin; he shivered, ducking back inside.

They continued on, up and down staircases, through corridors both narrow and wide, lit and unlit, and at last found themselves in the entrance hall before Whisperstone's great door. There, lamps blazed in mirrored niches, casting a rich, warm glow. Mulder considered the several passages that branched from the entrance hall and chose the one he thought he'd walked with Skinner the night before. It occurred to him that he might find his benefactor if he retraced the steps they had taken together.

But as he started that way, a few stray notes of music touched his ears. He stopped, and the music stopped. He'd heard that ethereal piping before, and he remembered the girl at Jeffrey's feet. Another flurry of notes played on the air, and faded. Mulder listened expectantly to the silence.

"It's beautiful," William said when it started and stopped again. "Can you tell where it's coming from?"

Mulder shook his head, listening, hoping for more. "No, but I'm sure I met the piper last night. She's as pretty as her song."

A cascade of music suddenly filled the hall. Mulder looked at his father, and the old man's face lit up. It didn't stop so quickly this time, either. The sound flowed around them in a joyous rush. "Beautiful," William repeated, his voice a reverent whisper.

"This way," Mulder said, choosing the passage from which the music seemed to originate. He could feel it on his skin like a warm voice. His step lightened as he went; he could barely keep from dancing. The Witch had told him he had to dance to walk. But he held himself back, resisting each insistent note. When he found the piper, then he would dance.

After a series of turns, the passage led them to a half-opened door. A cool breeze blew inside, carrying the music with it. Just beyond, they found an inner courtyard filled to rustling with fruit trees and the occasional slender ash that framed a flagstoned central square. Grass that would shine emerald with the sun had been clipped neatly. Ivy clung in trellised rows to the walls of Whisperstone; the walls rose up on all sides, but the stars shone brightly overhead in a narrow patch of sky.

The piper sat in a small gazebo in the courtyard's center. Wrapped in a white feathered cloak, she held her instrument to her lips and played, oblivious to everything as she swayed in time to her pipings. In the flickering light of the gazebo's two hanging lamps, Mulder thought for a moment that he saw the very notes as they fluttered like tiny butterflies through the air. He blinked, and they were gone, just another odd hallucination inspired by her music.

It was the same girl he'd seen the night before at Spender's feet, but he still didn't know her name. She was lovely, though, and he guessed her age to be about thirteen. He watched as she played with her eyes slightly closed. Two lamps, suspended on thin chains, swayed lightly in the breeze and cast a wonderful play of orange and red upon her features and upon her ivory fingers as she worked the stops of her pipe. Tresses of dark hair spilled from under her ample hood. She was small and slender and as Mulder looked at her cloak of feathers, he could not help but think of her as a delicate bird.

Suddenly, she opened her eyes and spied them out. The music stopped, though the pipe remained frozen at her lips. Slowly, she lowered it to her lap and turned her gaze shyly downward.

Her mouth, even in the lamplight, was a dark flower that gleamed with sweet dew.

"Our apologies," William said, bowing. "We didn't mean to interrupt, but we heard you playing . . ."

She said nothing, but Mulder saw the smile that so subtly parted her lips.

He walked closer and leaned on the gazebo's ornate wooden latticework. A leafy vine brushed his face, and he pushed it aside. The girl kept her attention fixed on her pipe and refused to look at him. Nervously, she turned her instrument over and over in her hands, then, realizing that she did it, stopped and gripped it tightly.

Mulder felt his lips curl into a nervous smile. "Some scholars say the world was created by music." He hesitated. She was beautiful, this child. "If so," he continued, "Then I think you were surely that musician."

She looked up slowly. Her lips formed the tiny hint of a smile as she regarded him from the corners of her eyes. "Do I look so old to you?" It was only a whisper, but her voice was as pure as her music and as sweet.

"The tune you play is the breath of the world," Mulder answered, his smile firming with his confidence. He knew this game. "Stop playing, and we die."

William hit him in the arm. "Ispor's gods, boy, where did you ever learn this kind of talk?" To the girl, he said apologetically, "It's not my fault, that's for sure." He leaned closer to Mulder again and muttered, "It's a different kind of spell you're under now . . ."

Mulder didn't look at his father, but inconspicuously stepped out of the range of those large hands. "Forgive him," Mulder said, giving his attention to the girl again. "He's only an old man."

"That's unkind," she answered, her voice stronger than before. "He's no older than my father or Lord Skinner." She turned her smile on William. "I think he's very handsome, and obviously quite strong. I've never seen such arms before."

William blushed and bowed very low.

"Recipe for a woodcutter," Mulder mumbled. "Two strong arms, one weak mind."

"Recipe for a Mulder," William countered, straightening. "One mouth, two broken sticks."

Mulder whirled, heat rushing into his face. Then, remembering they were not alone, he calmed himself. He didn't want to make a fool of himself in front of her, and he's asked for that, after all. Back in the cottage, he and William had always poked and jibed at each other. Mouth games, they'd called it. To their rare visitor it had sounded pretty vicious sometimes. But it had just been their way with each other, no holds ever barred and no harm ever meant.

Still, that one had stung him.

The girl glanced away again and rose to her feet. "I should go," she said.

Was that regret in her voice? "Stay," Mulder said. "Please."

She looked at the pipe in her hands, then at last met his gaze. Her eyes were large and dark, and they sparkled with reflected lamplight.

"What's your name?" he asked.

She lowered her gaze again as she answered. "Diana."

"Diana," he repeated. "Beautiful, my goddess."

William made a strangled noise, then covered his mouth and feigned a coughing fit.

"Your name is Fox," she said. "I overheard Skinner and Scully talking today. They said you were ill." She looked up once more.

He loved her eyes. "A passing thing," he answered. "I'm better now. In fact, I feel like dancing. Would you play for me?"


Her face went pale in a shock of fled blood. Mulder spun around. Then he stiffened. William shot a glance at him, his brow furrowing in question and confusion, and Mulder reminded himself that his father had not yet met Jeffrey of Spender. Ispor's new king marched across the courtyard toward them, his narrow face full of rage. He thrust a finger at Diana. "Get to your room, girl!"

Diana fled, her feathered cloak rustling, the hood slipping from her head and her dark hair flying as she hurried over the smooth paving stones, through the door and into the depths of Whisperstone. Mulder watched her go, resentment flaring in his breast.

"You are Skinner's guests," Jeffrey said with barely controlled menace. "But stay away from my daughter. You may have fooled my Uncle, but I know your kind. I know what you want." He gripped the hilt of his sword and exposed a portion of its bronze length. The lamplight and moonlight tore a ripple down it's length. "If you touch her, if you even talk to her again, I'll cut off your hands."

William stepped between them, his hands clenching into huge fists, but Mulder caught his shoulder and tried to pull him back as the two men regarded each other, William breathing rapidly, Jeffrey's eyes burning with anger and challenge.

Finally, Jeffrey sheathed his blade, though the anger did not leave his pale eyes. He backed off a step. "Your son has saved your life," he said arrogantly.

"My son," William sneered, "has saved your teeth."

"Father, stop it!" Mulder tugged at his father until the old man stepped away, and then positioned himself between the two men. To Jeffrey, he said, "I didn't know she was your daughter. I heard her playing, that's all, and we exchanged a greeting. I meant no offense."

Jeffrey's gaze burned into him. "Make sure you understand me, then. Stay away from her. She is uncorrupted, and I mean to keep her that way." He looked at William, then back to Mulder. "This time I'll forgive his insult. It wouldn't be polite to sully my uncle's fine courtyard with common blood for so little reason."

He retreated a few more steps before he turned his back to them and set after his daughter.

William gripped Mulder's shoulder. "You should have let me bend his spine a little, boy. Not too much, mind you, just enough to make him squeal."

Mulder embraced his father, knowing full well that William could have carried out such a threat. But he loved his father. It didn't escape his notice that William had stepped between him and Jeffrey. And now that he thought of it, he had done the same thing when Jeffrey turned on William. He could never have done that before when his legs were useless twigs. Now, though, he could walk, and he could stand beside his friends. He had the Witch of Shanalane to thank for that.

That reminded him. `To walk,' she had said, `you must dance.' He had not yet danced, and the night was passing.

"You would have bent his spine, would you?" Mulder said with a wry grin. "You'd have knocked out his teeth?" He clapped William on the shoulder and made a show of straightening the woodcutter's tunic. "You'd have done that to Jeffrey, your king, king of Ispor?" His hand lingered on his father's arm, and he grinned a little. "I didn't know how much you cared for me."

William pushed his son back. "Jeffrey?" he growled, his face clouding with shock at Mulder's words. "What do you mean, calling him king of Ispor? What happened to Cassandra? What of our queen?"

Mulder bit his lip, gnawing at it as he thought. Cassandra was dead, but how could he tell William that without also explaining that the Witch of Shanalane was accused of her murder? William wouldn't understand; he was already too upset about their meeting and what her magic had done for him. Yet he didn't want to lie to his father, either. He hated lying.

William waited impatiently for an answer, and at last, Mulder made his choice. "Cassandra is dead, that's all I know." He turned away and stared at the empty chair in the gazebo where Diana had sat. "I'm only a woodcutter's waif. They don't tell me state secrets."

"But how did you find out?" William pressed.

Mulder shrugged. "Skinner told me on the ride here. You were still sick and unconscious."

The wind blew down into the courtyard, making a low susurrus as it swept along the walls and over the paring stones. The gazebo breathed musically under the gentle force, and the green vines that embraced it rustled.

Mulder listened, then raised one arm gracefully. He leaned to the side and extended into a lunge. He stepped quickly through and drew himself erect as he raised his other arm and repeated the same phrase of movement.

"What are you doing?" William asked uneasily, his voice roughening into sternness.

Mulder closed his eyes. "Dancing," he whispered.

William grunted, and Mulder heard the old man's steps on the stones as he moved out of the way. "I don't know any dance like that," William commented.

Mulder didn't miss the strange edge in William's voice, but he ignored his father. The wind was with him now and from somewhere came an echo of Diana's pipe. That was impossible, yet he heard it. The rush of the wind and the sound of her music filled his head. And there was the Witch's storm. The memory of thunder made a wild timpani that drove him. He spun and whirled as the pipe ascended an impossible scale, straining for notes undreamt of. He leaped, and the wind seemed almost to lift and buoy him. His muscles throbbed with energy, stretching in ways they never had before. Sweat quickly beaded on his skin, flushed in the night air, until the chiton was soaked and clung to him like a rag.

Around the gazebo he moved, tossing back his head with every turn of his body to expose the vulnerable arch of his throat, stopping before William. He jumped, and his right leg described a perfect arc above his father's head. He pivoted three times on the ball of his left foot, stopped and clapped his hands together twice under the old woodcutter's nose just to watch the startlement flicker in fading eyes. He whirled and stopped, leaped and turned and stopped. Each time he stopped, it seemed the world dizzily lurched to a stop with him, and reeled into dance when he did.

He lifted one leg out before him and moved it to the side, a slow, perfectly controlled motion. The thigh muscle bulged with the effort. Sweat glistened there, catching the lamplight as he held it high. The muscle began to quiver, a delicious strain, and he lifted the leg higher still, pointing his toe, extending his line as far as possible.

Suddenly, another movement caught his eyes. With the lamps at his back, his shadow loomed on the far wall. It extended its leg just as he did, but that dark limb seemed to go on forever, reaching around the courtyard. He moved an arm, and his shadow moved, too, with an elongated, sinuous grace, imitating his every motion. He lunged, and it lunged, covering more distance, filling more space, mocking him with its scope and form.

But Mulder would not be mocked, not by his own shadow. He challenged it instead, moving with a wild tempestuous frenzy, daring it to follow. It whirled as he whirled, leaped as he did. He couldn't defeat it, he realized. It was not a competition, but a partner. They danced, his shadow and he, each the equal of the other, one black and ominous and insubstantial, the other in the light, gleaming with sweat-sheen.

He flung his head back between his shoulders and threw out his arms like a bow and stared at the small patch of sky visible above Whisperstone. Suddenly the stars were not stars at all, but the hosts of heaven, dancing as he danced, until his heart was close to bursting.

He leaped and touched the ground, crouched like an animal, ready to spring again. He snapped his head to the side sharply. One hand shot upward, fingers splayed as if to grasp those stars. And froze. The last burst of thunder shivered and rolled away. The last flurry of pipesong diminished and faded. The wind receded. Mulder sustained his effort until the final quivering notes melted away into the night.

Then the silence closed in upon him. A small cry escaped his lips as he sprawled upon the cold stones and gasped for breath. He lay there for a moment, prostrate with exhaustion, too weak to move. Gradually, his heartbeat slowed, and the trembling left his limbs. He raised himself onto his elbows.

"What did you think?" he asked William, his chest still heaving as he struggled to get out the words.

William didn't answer. He stood mutely, hiding his face his broad, scarred hands. His heavily muscled body was shaking, a fine tremolo that had taken his entire frame. Mulder clambered to his feet and hurried to his father's side. He gently touched one hand to William's trembling shoulder. "William, what is it?" he asked in a hushed tone. "What is it, father?"

At his words, William took his hands from his face and stared wildly at Mulder as though he were a stranger. He turned his eyes to Mulder's hand, and stepped back from the touch. Mulder let his arm fall, staring at his father as the old man backed away, meeting Mulder's gaze with eyes full of fear. Mulder felt an inquisitive smile curl his lips, and he stepped forward tentatively, his fingers reaching for the front of the old man's tunic.

But William wouldn't let him near. He knocked away Mulder's outstretched hand, backing quickly toward the door. "No!" he whispered. "Stay away!" The old man caught Mulder in a last stare, then turned and staggered into the keep, his shadow weaving drunkenly before him.

Mulder let him go. Alone, confused, he wandered back to the gazebo and sat down in the only chair and tried to think. He didn't know what to make of the old man's reaction. William had been afraid of him. William, who had killed a wolf with his bare hands one winter when it attacked him at the woodpile. Mulder had seen worry on that rough, weathered face before. He'd seen desperation, and rage. But not fear. And the fear in his father's faded black eyes had been strange, cut with something else, something Mulder didn't understand.

He suddenly jumped up and ran across the courtyard. He had to find William. The Witch had only healed his legs, that was all. That was nothing to fear. It was a gift, a blessing, even if he could only walk at night. William had to see that. He had to.

He raced into the keep, back down the long corridor and into the main hall. A sweeping stone staircase ascended to the upper levels, and he took the steps three at a time in desperate lunges. The passages snaked and split without logic or reason. Sometimes lamplight illumined his way. Sometimes he ran in flickering darkness. He began to fear that he was lost, until at last he entered a familiar corridor.

He stopped just outside the door to his quarters and waited for his breathing to calm. Then he pushed it open quietly. The bare shimmer of his reflection met his searching gaze, but nothing else. Mulder found his father standing before the opened windows in the second room, staring outward, biting the knuckles of one hand.

"Don't come in," William said flatly. "Go away." Blood ran thick down his arm, glimmering in the moonlight.

"William, I had to dance," Mulder tried to explain, caught in the archway by the still back, the glisten of blood. "The music was so powerful . . ."

The woodcutter refused to look at him. "There wasn't any music!" he ground out, driving a fist against the stone was with a splatter of crimson.

"I heard it," Mulder offered quickly, stepping forward into the room, his eyes fixed on the bleeding fist. "The wind and Diana's pipe and the thunder. Maybe it was in my head, I don't know. It had to be, the sky was so clear. The stars! I don't understand everything, but . . . Why are you angry with me?"

William turned slowly. In the shadow it was impossible to see his face. Mulder wished uselessly that he had lit a candle or grabbed the lamp from the outer room. His father came toward him with outstretched arms. "Angry? No, child." Before he reached Mulder, he stopped and clutched his hands to his chest as though his heart pained him, smearing scarlet across his breast. There was still half the room between them. "I couldn't be angry with you. I couldn't." Suddenly, he covered his eyes and rubbed his fists in the sockets. "But what I saw!" His hands fell, and he stared at Mulder from eyes ringed crimson. "You were beautiful," he whispered. "It made me . . . You made me want . . ."

Mulder moved swiftly, reaching his father and catching his shoulders in narrow, long-fingered hands. "What, William? What did you want, father? What?"

"Don't touch me!" William shouted, pushing him back with a force that sent him sprawling to the floor. "Gods, help me!" he sobbed. "I never would have. I never meant to!"

Mulder rose slowly, uncertainly, as William took a step toward him. In the dim light that seeped from the other room, he saw his father's face, twisted into a grimace of anguished pain. But there was more, too, and worse. William's eyes burned with a dark desire.

"I never would have hurt you," William whispered, walking forward on stilting legs, bending down. Mulder scrambled back until his shoulders hit the wall, his breaths coming in painful gasps. "I never would have. I promise I won't." The old man shook his head from side to side like a bull pestered by flies, but his gaze never left Mulder. "You shine like the moon, boy. You know that? So beautiful!"

William's huge hands caught Mulder around the waist and lifted him as if he were no more than a doll.

Mulder pushed uselessly at his father, fear surging through his breast as William's powerful arms tightened across his back. "William!" he gasped, clawing his nails across the broad shoulders until the skin broke and ran scarlet. The woodcutter didn't say anything, didn't flinch, but carried Mulder across the room. "Father," Mulder cried once more. "Please, stop!"

"I can't!" William hissed, his breath hard and ragged. He laid Mulder on the bed, pinning him there with one hand splayed flat on his breastbone, and lifted the blue hem of his chiton with the other. His fingers brushed the fine skin of Mulder's thigh, and Mulder flinched, an unknowing fear clawing up from his belly. William smiled, an odd, disconnected expression like a leering doll, and leaned down and placed a kiss on the boy's cheek.

"William!" Mulder screamed hoarsely, writhing desperately away from William's hold, back arching against the calloused hand. But a hand crushed down on his mouth, pinning him to the pillow, preventing any more cries. The old man loomed over him like a big cat, and Mulder knew then that he was the mouse. He couldn't get free!

"Be quiet," William urged with a terrible, certain calm. "I won't hurt you, child. But your dance! Oh, when I saw you dance." He spoke with a dreadful serenity as he unfastened Mulder's garments. Mulder squeezed his eyes shut, barely able to breathe for the hand over his face. He kicked and flailed a little as the chiton was ripped away, but William ignored his blows, and he stopped, too quickly exhausted after the fury of his dance. A slight wind brushed over his naked flesh, and a hot, rough hand began to massage his lower belly. "Dance for me, Fox!" William moaned softly, shifting to pin Mulder's restless legs with his thighs. "Dance for me now."

William bent down and kissed him as though he meant to devour his very soul, working Mulder's lips apart with his own and taking him roughly with broad sweeps of his tongue. Mulder's head swam, and tears spilled from his eyes. The old man's hands carded through his hair, the broad palms cupping his skull as tenderly as any vixen her kits, the kisses softening into a slick glide of lips and tongue and a thumb pressed into his jaw to keep it open. He moaned, the fear rising in a low, hurt sound that was swallowed by his father's searching mouth.

William's hands stroked again through his hair, down his sides, and caressed his quiet sex until it stirred, those hands creating fire wherever they touched, strange heatless fire that grew and spread all through him. He'd never felt this before, never knew that his cock could stir and throb and send jolts like lightning up his arching spine, down to his curling toes, never felt this before the Witch gave him his legs, he'd never known . . . His head tossed back, his spine arching, arching away from the feeling, trying to make it greater, an instinctual writhing as he fixed his eyes on the blank ceiling. He burned with a terrible, dark fear and an awful pleasure as William's broad fingers fumbled at his anus, the newness of the sensation numbing his legs as surely as the daylight, even through the pain.

His eyes fluttered closed; he couldn't bear it, it was all too much and so new, newer than the dancing and the wind and the freedom of running on his own two feet, just all of it new . . . And terrifying. He turned his face to the pillow and hid his eyes beneath one arm. When William entered him, he bit through his lip, not daring to scream even though he felt sure that he would be torn into pieces by his father, this was his father and gods! What had happened, what had he done, why was this happening? The bed beneath him seemed to disappear as William drew out again, slowly, then began to thrust; Mulder melted into endless darkness, floated to a confusion of sensations, all beyond joy of pain, lost in a cruelly consuming tenderness.

He awoke later with the taste of William still in his mouth and a foreign sensation of warmth and pain between his legs, a subtle tickling like the flow of water over his skin. The pain had faded to a sort of dull ache, like a broken limb, deeper than skin, so deep that he felt it in the walls of his belly, sparking with each breath into lightning once more. From the floor beside the bed came a low, pitiful sobbing. Mulder listened for a time, staring at the blank ceiling and gnawing on his bloodied lip until he was sure of who it was. Then, he turned carefully on his side to peer cautiously over the edge of the bed. The woodcutter was huddled on the carpets, clutching the edge of the bedsheet in one hand as tears streamed down his face. He looked up at Mulder.

"I'm sorry!" he said. "I couldn't stop myself. Mulder, I never would have hurt you!" William got to his knees. His elbows pressed on the bed, and Mulder flinched, cowering away. "Forgive me," William begged. "I don't know what possessed me. Forgive me, Mulder!"

But Mulder slunk further back, his throat dry, his body trembling all over.

"Mulder!" William stared at him, horror and shame filling his eyes. He extended one hand toward the boy while the fingers of the other clawed in the bedclothes. Abruptly, he let go a cry of pure anguish and leaped to his feet.

"I've got to get away," William said in a stricken whisper. He shot a look wildly around the room, as a trapped animal might. "Far away from you before it's too late." He looked once more at Mulder, then fled, crying, "I'm sorry! Sorry!"

Mulder heard the door wrench open, and William's panicked footsteps echoed loudly in the outer corridor until they gradually faded.

He rolled onto his back, shut his eyes, and wept. Out of the darkness came the memory of William's wide, pleading eyes to haunt and terrify him. Slowly, he curled into a ball and hugged himself. He burned all over with strange sensations, the deep ache, the brighter pain of torn skin, and the new awareness of his own sex, yet he felt hollow. His tears fell on the sheets, which were already damp with sweat. No matter how he tried, he couldn't stop them.

`Alone.' The thought entered his mind with a greater pain than he'd ever felt before. Worse than the lightning. `Utterly alone.' It had always been his greatest fear.

He turned onto his back again, opened his eyes, and looked to the sky beyond the window. He waited for the sun to rise, and he waited for the life to drain from his legs. He waited for William to return, and knew he would not.


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