Shadowdancer the Sixth

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)

This chapter is a bit short, but there's not a lot I can do about that. Chapter Seven is quite a bit longer, if that helps.

Chapter Six

MULDER LAY AWAKE on his cot as daylight seeped through the thin fabric of the tent, barring the dust-swirled dirt floor in honey-yellow. Like water evaporating slowly under that cursed sun, he felt the life leave his legs. He squeezed his eyes shut, hoping the darkness behind his lids might keep the dawn away a few moments longer. He hated the sun, hated the bright blue sky and the harsh light of day.

Alex sat on the ground beside him, watching him, unable to keep the sorrow from his shadowed green eyes. He reached out and took Mulder's hand and held it, then lay his head down on the side of the cot. His touch was strangely warm-hot, Mulder thought, like a spark on the verge of becoming fire, and he tried to concentrate on that instead of his legs. Already he couldn't move his toes or bend his knees. He could feel the weight of the woolen coverlet, but little by little even that sensation faded, faded away.

"Lexi." He brushed his fingers through the soft sable hair. Alex looked up, and their gazes met. "It's done."

Wordlessly, Alex slipped his hand from Mulder's, got up, and went to his own cot on the other side of the tent. He turned on his side, his face to the wall. Mulder watched him for a long time, watched the swell and sink of his body as he breathed, the shift of an arm to an easier position, the unconscious bending and straightening of a leg. He couldn't tell, though, if Lexi actually slept or if he just strained for a rest that wouldn't come.

Mulder listened for sounds from the outside. Scully's camp was unusually quiet. The shuffle of feet as someone passed by, a pair of muffled voices approaching and receding, a cough from the next tent, that was all he heard. Well, it was only dawn. The soldiers would just be rousing.

He folded his arms under his head, and his thoughts turned back to Modell and the previous night's chaos. He gnawed on his lower lip, recalling the man who had slit his wrists and smiled about it. Mulder squeezed shut his eyes, as though he might banish the vision so easily, but it remained, a parti-colored glory to haunt his every breath. Odd, how that soldier had drawn his sword from its sheath so casually, levered it across his veins, and sank so gracefully down. Almost as if he, too, had been performing a dance.

And he, Mulder, had been the piper. The dead man might have had a family. Maybe he had parents to support. Maybe he'd had just cause for joining an army that opposed Spender. How could Mulder know? His only thoughts had been to save Lexi.

He stared at his friend's back. He'd done the only thing he could do, gods help him. He had never purposely danced to hurt anyone before, and he knew the images from last night would haunt him for a long time to come, perhaps forever. Had he been able at that moment, he might have drawn up into a ball and never come out. Instead, he threw an arm over his eyes. Only in sleep could he hope to hide from his guilt, slim hope though it was. Even his dreams spoke for his conscience.

He woke to the sound of arguing voices. Alex stood at the tent flap, blocking the entrance with a defensive, threatening posture. Mulder couldn't see the figure beyond, but he recognized Scully's barely patient tones. "It's alright, Lexi," Mulder said, rolling to his side. "She knows."

Alex glanced at Mulder over his shoulder, hesitating, anger still simmering in his eyes. Then he shrugged, releasing some of the underlying tension, and went to sit on his cot with his usual, feline grace. His surreptitious gaze never left Scully, though he leaned back on one elbow and drew a foot up onto the edge, adopting a pose of relaxed indifference. But Mulder was not fooled. He knew Lexi too well and could sense the tension that still thrummed just beneath his facade.

Scully stood for an instant at the threshold and regarded them both from cool blue eyes. She had never been easy to read, Mulder realized, and he suspected that too many years as a slave had taught Scully to lock her emotions behind a lot of high walls. Still, she was a good friend, the best. He'd missed her.

"How are you feeling?" Scully asked Mulder.

He slapped his dead right leg and cracked a grin. "I'll be better after sundown."

Scully pursed her lips and sighed, running a hand through sweaty copper hair. "You both have some pretty ugly bruises. If I'd known Modell had you, I'd have ordered the attack sooner."

"You might have gotten us killed," Alex husked sullenly.

Scully cocked an eyebrow and folded her arms. Her open stare was not hostile, but it was plain she was drawing some conclusion about the Osiri.

"They thought we were spies," Mulder explained evenly, attempting to draw Scully's attention back to himself. "We couldn't seem to convince them otherwise."

Scully rolled her eyes, then drew a deep breath and visibly relaxed. For an instant, as she sat down on the edge of Mulder's cot, a heavy weariness showed in the thin perfection of her face, there but for a moment, then gone. "I don't doubt that," she said, staring at him with her heart in her eyes. "Modell is crazy. He burned an entire village three days ago; the bodies were found in their homes, bound hand and foot. He must have captured them and burned them alive. Our Third Army caught up with them yesterday. You said you crossed a battlefield? I was supposed to join up with them before they engaged, but we were delayed by a minor skirmish with yet another bunch of rebels."

Mulder nodded. "Modell said there were small rebellions all over Ispor. Is the younger Spender truly so poor a king?"

"He's no king at all," Scully said, passing a hand over her eyes. "While drought and crop failure plagues Ispor, he can feed off of his people. King? Bandit chieftain is more like it." She sighed, and then leaned back and stared at the tent's ceiling. "But he manages to maintain an uneasy truce with a handful of nobles, though he and Skinner are constantly at each other's throats over one thing or another."

"How is Skinner?" Mulder asked, reclining. In that same moment, he noticed the leather slave's collar was gone from Scully's slender neck. "And how did you come to command an army? I think things must have changed very much since I left."

Scully pursed her lips again, thoughtful. "Skinner is not himself," she said slowly. "The years have weighed heavily on him, Fox. He seems constantly distracted. I don't know by what." She resettled herself, crossed her legs, and stared at Mulder coolly.

"It started just after you left," she continued. "Something occupies his mind, some secret that he shares with no one. When he's not in the capitol fighting with Spender, he paces the halls of Whisperstone like one of your ghosts. When Spender ordered the nobles to raise armies and quiet the various rebellions, Skinner obeyed, but he freed me and put me in command as an affront to the king." She allowed a tiny smile to turn up the corners of her bow-shaped lips. "Fortunately, I've proven quite good at it."

"We were on out way to Whisperstone," Mulder said, glancing at Alex. The Osiri still maintained his posture on the far cot as he picked at a hang nail on one finger. Their gazes brushed for a brief moment, long enough for Mulder to know that despite his seeming indifference, Lexi was listening intently, and evaluating each word.

Scully's weight shifted on the cot. Mulder had to look to realize that she had laid a hand on his knee. He tried to feel something, the smallest sensation, the slightest pressure. But there was nothing, only the evidence of his eyes to tell him he had been touched. "What of the Witch?" Scully asked quietly. "Did you find her?"

Mulder shook his head as he closed his eyes. Her face floated in his memory, shining with a strange light as it had that night she came to him. Her voice whispered on the wind that rustled the thin fabric of the tent. He could hear it now on his small cot, teasing him, tormenting. 'Dance, my Foxling, dance away the world!' Those words reverberated in the dim corners of his soul. They worried at him, gnawed at the edges of his dreams when he slept. With his perfect memory, they tormented him with a disturbing clarity; an echo always haunted him. And from time to time, in the puff of a breeze or the unexpected rustle of a leaf, he would hear her voice as though she spoke within him. 'Dance,' she said.

"I followed every possible clue," Mulder said flatly, almost to himself. "To the borders of Ispor and beyond. I sailed the Tasmian Sea, and wandered as far as Jeriko, but found nothing. Nothing I could hang on to, anyway." He opened his eyes, but it was not the tent he saw, nor Scully, nor even Alex. Rather, he saw shadowed alleyways filled with false prophets, the sun-sparkled columns and walkways of a hundred temples and a hundred gods. He saw the marketplaces of the world, filtered through his search for the truth; blustering crowds, cattle herdsmen, sharply-dressed gamblers, caravans and camel bells, preachers and demagogues, all useless to his search. The beauty of misted mountains and scorched deserts, the simple peace in a ship's rigging, all lost to his quest. But the sounds . . . The herdsmen sang, and the rigging hummed under a high wind. The temples rang with joyous and dolorous noise, depending, and even the card shark had some music about him. 'Dance!' they all urged him. 'Dance!'

He threw an arm over his face, wishing the memories away. "In time," he continued in that dead voice, "I gave up looking for her. I tried, instead, to find her god and to learn more about Him. I visited temples and questioned priests wherever I went. 'What,' I asked them, 'could they tell me of wooden idols and copper nails?'" He uncovered his eyes, looked at Scully, and forced a weak smile. "All I got for my troubles was a collection of dolls."

Scully lifted an eyebrow.

"Now, even those are gone. They were bundled on our pack horse when Modell captured us. Gods know where they are know." Mulder's brows pulled together, and scowled at his memory of Modell. "Damnit, Scully, everything I find disappears!"

A soldier appeared at the tent entrance with a tray, and a rich odor wafted through the close summer air. Behind him came another man with a small field table under one arm. With a nod to Scully, he positioned it in the center of the floor and backed out. The first man set his tray down and prepared to serve. "I'll see to it," Scully said, dismissing him. The soldier offered a short bow and left without a word.

Scully rose and leaned over the table. On the tray were three bowls. Beside each bowl was a steaming cloth. She lifted one cloth, knelt beside the cot, and carefully wiped Mulder's hands one at a time. Mulder had been fully prepared to sulk after the soldiers' appearance had effectively cut short his rant, but the hot moisture felt very soothing. Scully used the cloth to massage Mulder's fingers and knuckles, the bones along the backs of his hands, the palms, and the padded ball of each thumb, even his nails. Scully worked patiently, never lifting her gaze from her task. When she finished, she folded the cloth neatly on the tray and stood.

"Thank you," Mulder said simply.

Scully took a second cloth from the tray and turned to Alex, who sat up and started to reach for the cloth. But Mulder said, "Let her do it. It's our custom. The host washes the hands of his honored guests before eating."

Alex looked dubious, but raised one hand. Scully wrapped it in the warm cloth and worked with the same careful ministrations she had shown Mulder. It was almost funny, Mulder thought, to watch the petulance melt from Lexi's features. "A very pleasant custom," the Osiri confessed as he held up the other hand for cleansing.

Scully finished, folding the cloth with the same ritual care and returning it to the tray. She barely passed the third cloth over her own hands, though, before she laid it aside. "There," she said. "Let's eat." Handing a bowl to each of them, she took her own to the foot of Mulder's bed and began to eat, the wooden spoon clattering pleasantly in the sudden silence. Mulder inhaled the scented steam that rose from the bowl; it was a posset of cooked grains with chunks of pork added, and the smell of the meat turned his stomach. He began to eat anyway, picking gingerly through the grains, well remembering Scully's tendency to fuss.

"It's past time to break camp," Scully said after several moments of silence had passed. She tapped Mulder's knee again with affection and prepared to get up. "I delayed this long to give you time to rest and to give us this chance to talk."

Mulder interrupted, not yet ready to let Scully go. "You've changed, Scully," he said gently. "It seems like everything has changed. You leading Skinner's army, all these rebellions . . . what's going on, Scully?"

"Blame it on the times," Scully answered after a long moment, her blue eyes suddenly weary. "There's been a lot of changes, Mulder. You won't like them all." She said, something bitter creeping into her voice; then she glanced into Mulder's worried hazel eyes, and shrugged. "It's time to get moving." She smiled gently. "I'll escort you to Skinner. With the loss of the Third Army, I have to report for reassignment, anyway."

Alex spoke up suddenly, breaking the intimacy of the moment. "Do you think you can locate our horses? Especially the packhorse with Mulder's things?"

"I'll have some men look," Scully offered, pausing to give Alex a considering look. She smiled again. "We captured most of Modell's stock. He'd most likely have put your animals with his." She crossed to the doorway, then stopped, and spoke without looking back at them. "We'll march within the hour." And then she left them.

Mulder looked over at Alex. His friend had resumed his semi-reclined leg-up position and was seemingly absorbed in the examination of a large bruise on his forearm. He poked and prodded its purpled edge, and ran his fingertips over it as if to test its tenderness.

Despite the growing warmth of the day, Mulder drew his coverlet up to his chest. "Lexi," he said, "what's bothering you?"

Alex sat up suddenly and reached for his sandals. Quickly, he wound the straps around his calves and tied them. "Nothing," he said at last. He stood up. "I'll go find our horses. Your friend won't know which ones are ours. Maybe I can find the packs, too." He paused at the entrance, bit his lip, then turned around. "Fox," he muttered. "That's a good name for you." Then he was gone.

Mulder frowned as he stared at the waving tent flap. Lexi's footprints were crisply visible in the dust at the entrance. Someone else might have thought they belonged to Scully, or her two men. And some of the prints did. But he knew the shape, the outline.

Wearily, he sagged back down on his cot. He hadn't slept enough. Usually, he and Lexi slept the day through and traveled by night. He drew his arm over his eyes again. Gods, how he hated the daylight.

A fly buzzed in his ear, lighted on his arm, flew off, and settled on his chin. He swatted it away. The heat grew inside the tent. The bedclothes, damp with his perspiration, clung to him. He turned onto his side, but with his legs dead beneath him, his back was twisted uncomfortably. He returned to his back, but the fly was waiting for him.

Mulder gripped the sides of the cot and heaved himself to a sitting position. He followed the fly's progress as it circled in the air and finally landed safely away on the other cot. He cursed softly and threw a pillow at it. The fly sprang into brief flight, then settled again on the same pillow, as if to taunt him.

He envied the tiny creature's mobility. So small and insignificant, yet it could not only walk, but fly, while he had to lean forward with his hands and lift each uncooperative leg and drop it over the side of his cot as he twisted the rest of his body around. It was almost enough to make him laugh. How clumsy he was, so clumsy he even managed to ensnare one unfeeling foot in the coverlet and nearly fall off the cot.

His loincloth lay close by on the floor where he'd carelessly discarded it when he and Alex had washed each others' cuts and bruises after their rescue from Modell. He bent forward, being careful not to overbalance, snatched it up, and wound it around his hips and through his thighs. His kilt, too, lay close. He wrapped the short strip of soft blue cloth about his waist and pinned it with a delicate Osiri brooch Alex had given him. Scully had said they'd be leaving within the hour. The least he could do was get dressed and be ready.

His sandals proved a larger problem. He couldn't spot them from his perch. He leaned far enough to see over the head of his cot, then beyond the foot. They weren't there. Nor were they on Alex's side of the tent. Irritably, he levered his hips off the edge and lowered himself to the dirt floor, unaware that he was pouting irresistibly. He might have waited until Alex had returned, but there was a certain pride involved. He let himself fall sideways, twisting as he did, and catching himself on his palms. As he'd suspected, the sandals were under the cot. He drew them out, pushed himself back into a sitting posture, and took a long, steadying breath. Then, with one elbow hooked over the cot's edge, he began to drag himself back up onto his bed.

When Alex appeared in the entrance, Mulder was sitting with hands folded in his lap, sandals laced, ready to depart. Only the dirt streaking one side of his kilt gave any indication of his travels. Alex's gaze flicked to it, then back to meet Mulder's eyes. "I found our horses," he said quietly. "Even the packs with your collection. And our money, too, where we had it hidden in the bottom of our sleeping rolls. I guess Modell hadn't had time to search our things thoroughly." His gaze strayed again to the stain on Mulder's garment, and his shoulders drooped a bit. "I would've dressed you."

"I didn't need your help." Mulder looked down at his hands.

Alex took a waterskin from a small peg set in one of the tent's cornerposts. With his back to Mulder, he unstoppered it, but didn't drink. For what seemed like a long time, he stood with his head hung between his shoulders, the untouched container halfway to his lips. At last, he sat slowly down on the edge of his own cot.

"You danced last night?" Alex said slowly, his green eyes liquid in the soft light. "Is that how we survived?"

"It's the first time I ever hurt anyone with it, deliberately." Mulder's voice was a bare, quiet whisper. He couldn't look at his friend, staring instead at the floor. "I danced and forced them to watch."

"Why?" Alex asked, matching his friend's soft tone. "To save me?" It almost wasn't a question, and Mulder nodded silently, not looking up. He wanted to touch Alex, but the distance between them was too far.

"I unleashed their darkest desires," Mulder continued helplessly, feeling the guilt well up within him. Alex leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, the waterskin dangling from one hand.

"You didn't know what those desires were," Alex said intently, his green eyes fierce. "They might still have killed us. You did what you had to do."

Mulder finally met Lexi's eyes, seeing not his friend, but a vision of his friend's broken, bleeding corpse, and whispered, "I know."

Alex lifted the waterskin and took a drink. "Good," he said firmly. He passed it to Mulder, and their fingers brushed. "But they saw you dance." He hesitated, watching as Mulder lifted the skin and wrapped his lips around the opening, swallowing thirstily. Then, hanging his head, he murmured, "I want to see you, too."

Mulder slammed the stopper back in place. "You can't," he snapped. "I've told you before."

"I know," Alex said, echoing Mulder's words.

"Why do you keep asking me?" Mulder leaned forward, gripping the edge of his cot. His eyes burned; his heart hammered madly in his chest. "Why?" he demanded. "You know the danger. You know what happens. I won't risk it, Lexi!"

Alex looked at his hands. "I'm sorry," he said thickly.

Two soldiers appeared at the entrance. "Captain Scully sent us to break your camp," one of them said as Mulder beckoned both of them inside. Alex rose, and they quickly collapsed his cot.

"We'd better get out of their way," Alex said. "Scully promised to bring the horses around." He bent, gathered Mulder in his arms, and carried him outside.

Mulder clapped a hand over his eyes to shut out the blinding sun. Even the red glare that squeezed between his fingers was painful. He clenched his lids tightly and pressed his face into Alex's shoulder. Little by little, he dared to peek out until his vision adjusted and he could bear the light of day. "I hate the sun," he murmured into Lexi's shoulder. He glanced around. The camp bustled with activity. Most of the tents were already struck. A line of pack animal and supply wagons had begun to form. "I don't see Scully," he said. "Let's go find her."

"Over there," Alex managed to point with Mulder's feet, and Mulder shot a quick glare at his smirking profile. "She's coming our way."

Mulder shielded his eyes from the sun and spied the flamecap of Scully's hair bobbing before three horses. "I'm sorry," he muttered in Lexi's ear.

The Osiri pursed his lips and gave a small nod. He started walking, bearing Mulder's weight easily. Mulder drew a breath, let it out slowly, and sucked in his lower lip. It was not a dignified way to get around, being carried like a child, but he called up as much dignity as he could, as he always did. It was better than crawling in the dirt. He locked his arms about Alex's neck, and studied him in profile. The sun glinted off his sable hair. Light bent around his brow and nose and chin, lending him a beatific radiance. He was handsome, was Lexi, and tall and strong and clever. Mulder thanked the gods for the day he'd found him.

"I believe these are yours," Scully said dryly. She passed the reins of the three animals into Mulder's hand, and gave a curt nod to Alex. Mulder recognized their mounts and the pack horse. All his bundles seemed accounted for, the sleeping rolls with their money bags, the packs with his dolls, and all the little treasures he and Alex had elected to bring with them to Whisperstone. "We were lucky, Lexi," Mulder said appraisingly.

"Let me have a litter brought and hitched behind your horse," Scully offered as her gaze drifted over Mulder's legs. "You'll be comfortable, and you can sleep as we travel."

"No," Alex said before Mulder could speak. "Fox will ride with me."

Mulder glanced at Alex with an expression of surprise. Alex looked back at him and grinned slyly. Mulder let go a long sigh of resignation. Some names just couldn't be lived down, it seemed. His chin sagged to his chest for a moment, and when he looked up, Lexi's grin widened, and the powerful arms that bore him hugged him closer.

"He can't sit on a horse," Scully protested. "He's crippled. There's no feeling in his legs!"

"He's not crippled," Alex answered firmly, his eyes narrowing at that word. "Not while I'm here to be his legs. Now, have someone take him for a moment, and hand him up to me after I've mounted. He'll ride in my arms."

Scully frowned disapprovingly, but she waved one of the passing soldiers over, and the man took Mulder into his arms, an uncertain look crossing his rough features. "Don't you have anything to say about this?" she said to Mulder with some exasperation.

Mulder watched as Alex took his horse's reins and swung one leg high and over. For a moment, his friend lay flat on the animal's bare back, and he remembered that Lexi was still probably sore from the beating Modell had given him, but then he pulled himself erect and reached down with one arm.

Mulder shrugged and gave Scully a wry, self-mocking grin. "I say, hand me up to him when he's mounted," he told his old friend. He winked suddenly and put on a mock-serious face. "I never argue with him."

"I should have him drop you, instead," Scully muttered as the soldier handed Mulder up into Alex's embrace.

For an instant, Mulder sat sideways on the horse's withers, his balance precarious. Then Alex twisted and maneuvered him until one leg slipped over the horse's neck, and he straddled the animal like a proper rider. Finally, one strong arm locked around his waist, and he was settled.

Scully held the horse's bridle strap until Alex had a firm grip on the reins. "Can you manage a lead line one your other two horses?" she asked Mulder, and Mulder nodded. Scully disappeared briefly and returned with a rope, which she passed through the bridles of their other two horses. She handed the line to Mulder.

"Now, I've spared enough attention for the pair of you," Scully said with a grin as she brushed dust from her hands. "I've got an army that needs a little bit of me, too." She turned and pointed to a gathering of mounted soldiers. "Wait with that group forming over there, and I'll join you when we're ready to move out." With that, she left them.

"Ready?" Alex asked.

Mulder settled back, letting Alex take his weight. He rested one arm over the arm around his middle and let the hand holding the lead line dangle over Lexi's thigh. Their flesh quickly stuck together wherever they touched, for the day was hot, and already, he had a fine sweat.

Off to the right, a pair of soldiers stares in their direction and whispered to each other. How, he wondered briefly, had Scully explained him to her soldiers? He had walked into camp last night. Now, he had to be carried. He couldn't even ride his own horse. Had Scully even bothered to explain?

It wasn't important. Let them think what they would. With his free hand, he squeezed the forearm that crossed his belly, feeling the muscle corded beneath the sun-bronzed skin. In response, that arm drew tighter about him.

He lifted his head, and the slightest breeze brushed his face. "Ready," he answered.


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