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by Mulder and Feech
Notes: the producers of _The X-Files_ do not discourage non-profit fanfiction. One legal stipulation is that, if you write for _The X-Files_, you not read this piece.
The television series episodes are frequently of very high quality and we appreciate and recommend the show.
In the following piece, we have referred to characters by the same names as are used for them in the series. Many are recurring characters in the show; some have only appeared once so far. Some of the characters mentioned below are introduced in the following episodes: "Ghost in the Machine", "Mind's Eye", "The End", and "3".
"Mom!" Samantha shrieked, tearing over the
rug between living and dining room as if there was
a tiger on her heels. "Mommy! Fox said if I
don't leave his spaceship _Enterprise_ alone he's
gonna _bite_ me and I'll get sick like him and
turn into a monster!" The effort of all the
shrieking had left her near to tears. She crushed
her face and hands against my mother's white skirt
and peeked back at me furiously.
"Mm." I shuffled into the dining room behind my sister. The _Enterprise_ was in two pieces, and she was never designed to endure such stress. Considering the proximity of Klingon vessels and green-skinned humans with convincingly glued-on beards, things looked very bad for the Federation.
"How dare you! Apologize to your sister this instant."
I kept my gaze off her eyes and on the toe of my basketball shoe. "'M sorry Samantha."
Our mother's face tightened as she tried to think of how to reprimand me while not emphasizing how physically abnormal her own son was. "I don't want to hear another word about 'biting' your sister. Samantha, people like Fox can't give other people their diseases just by biting them. That's only in stories. And Fox... You are not a monster. You are a human being and I expect you to behave like one."
"Okay." That was easy enough to agree to. The behavior parameters for the human species always seemed pretty broad, to me.
"Now, Samantha, help me in the kitchen. Fox, put your ship back together and then put your toys away."
I snuck one glance back over my shoulder at my sister. She had one little hand wrapped around my mother's fingers and was waiting for that backward glance-- she stuck her tongue out at me. I snapped at her dramatically, silently, with human teeth.
Samantha knew better than to shriek, but her eyes widened for shocked effect. I didn't feel sorry. I shrugged, proving my superior stoicism, and trotted back to the living room. The aliens would possess all the crew members while I left them unattended, if things continued at this rate.
I remember that afternoon well, I replay it a lot, because there is one thing blessedly different about it from all the other afternoon squabbles.
I did not wish I never had a sister.
As best my parents ever let me fully
comprehend, I came home from my two-years-old
check-up and booster shots with a case of German
lycanthropy. German, I suppose, to differentiate
it from the Russian, naturally-occurring
lycanthropies, but it's pretty clear that people
don't acquire anything but the "German" kind if
they aren't born as werebears or werehares to
There aren't many people who have this condition. It was created in WWII as a means to facilitate spy missions on behalf of the German army, and perhaps as another way in which to experiment with the effects of various stimuli on the human body. I happened to "get" the form of a ferret, of the domesticated version, the kind derived originally from polecats or some other related creature, I guess. I suppose they were considered good choices for missions in which a person must remain as close to unseen as possible. Sometimes the form seems to mesh in appearance with the real, human me, which is tall and black-haired and Irish looking, and sometimes it just looks like some nondescript creature. That's my varying opinion of it, anyway, when I've considered my small paws and spine and tail.
In the time when these things were engineered, it made a good deal of difference which gender or species a person was in terms of apparent innocence and naivety. Conducting reconnaissance missions was easier for a dog or a ferret amongst the technologies of WWII. Today, I find my lycanthropy to be just about useless as far as work goes, and awkward when it comes to society, so I pretty much conceal it. It's not as though I chose it in the first place.
Fowley walks into my office in her best "I
wasn't invited and there's not a thing you're
going to do about it" fashion. I take off my
glasses and bring my eyes back. With the lack of
shifting the past several nights, I've been doing
a lot of catch-up at the office wearing the
prescription I had made for my eyes when they're
half-changed. Fowley's outline sharpens and the
room darkens; the color of her suit goes from a
muted bronze to a much more typical clean tan. I
don't say anything. There's no point-- she didn't
come here for anything I'd begin on my own anyway.
As soon as she stops in front of my desk, Fowley actually appears a bit uncomfortable. She doesn't know how to begin?
"Did it take you that long to figure it out?"
She frowns, classily.
"Well, what did you have to say?"
"I think you're overreacting a little on the bitterness thing..."
"Me?" I can't help but sit up further at that. "I'm overreacting. I'm too bitter. I'm sorry I forgot to set my watch alarm for 'get over it, Mulder'. Was that supposed to be today?"
"Oh stop it. I didn't come to talk about me."
I grab a number two pencil because there isn't anything else to pick at right now. I shift my nails just slightly and begin scraping along it. I just wait for her to continue. There's no point in arguing who's ahead of whom moralistically-emotionally.
She doesn't ask to sit down, but finds a chair and does so anyway. I grit my teeth at the black of her hair. It shouldn't be fair, even _being_ someone naturally who resembles someone else. Scully, petite and red-haired, now she's legal. No one like her I've ever seen.
"I came to impart some information to you."
She bites her lip.
"What is it? Where have you been anyway?"
That seems to give her a beginning she needed. "With... with C.G.B. Spender."
The pencil feels breakable. I raise my upper lip as if I'm chasing something that's in close range, something edible and disgusting like a cockroach.
"Fox he-- doesn't have your sister."
"But he knows where she is."
"No, he doesn't. The versions of her that he's brought to you are clones that have been let live in various populations in this nation. He doesn't get the clones directly."
"Clones? Look..." I know I've seen clones, but still, some of this already isn't making sense, even considering the usual strangeness of talking to Fowley. "How could _she_, the one he brought to meet with me, have known about me, remembered me? She remembered things about us. How could she? This is just another lie, isn't it." I say that almost lazily. After running into Jerry following the latest attack on our assistant director, I have no reason to believe what this woman says to me.
"It's more than a clone, it's a copy of the individual. Certain of the triggered electrical impulses that represent memory have also been replicated in the copies of your sister. He _doesn't have her_ and he _doesn't_ know where she is. It's the rebels. Fox, your sister wasn't abducted--"
I make a sound in my throat.
"Not in the way you think she was. She was _rescued_."
"_If_-- what you say is true, then that would mean that the people who abducted Dana, who created her cancer, who created and _destroyed_ her daughter, are-- not the same people who took my sister."
"Exactly." Fowley keeps emphasizing her points with those cursed liquid dark eyes she has. It's beginning to get on my last nerve.
I think about that... that night. Mom and Dad wouldn't have left us alone if Dad knew what was going to happen. If he _had_ chosen to allow it, he would have taken one of us to the site, not left us unattended while they went next door. On the other hand, who knows what of my memories are correct anymore? Maybe I changed the removing of Samantha to the site in order to feel more comfortable... Maybe I had to have a way to believe I tried to do something about it. Left alone at home with her, in my mind, I could play out a scenario of at least a rescue _attempt_.
"Why would you tell me this truth, now, if that's even what it is? You weren't even protecting Gibson when the sniper nearly killed _you_. You were watching him for the Smoking Man. You _sold_ out to the Smoking Man the same way you did when you faked Jerry's death and _didn't tell me about it_."
"He doesn't know I'm here now."
"Don't bet on it."
Fowley sighs and makes a half-defeated motion with her hands. "So maybe he does. I came of my own volition. You know I'm Jerry, too, now, so it's not as though I have anything to gain personally in deceiving you."
I don't know what to say. She would have to come in here and throw stuff at me about my sister, when I haven't even resolved the issue of my first partner out of the Academy, and what she and the Smoking Man did to me to begin with. I thought this place was for getting some work done. I ought to know that one way or another they'll slow me down. "The Smoking Man knows you're here, count on that. And you may only think you came of your own volition. As for... as for deceiving me, I don't know what you thought you stood to gain to begin with. I just don't understand what you thought you would lose if you told me. _I'm_ a lycanthrope for crying out loud. So what if you and Jerry are the same person? Only you'd rather let me think he was dead..."
"That wasn't my idea," she tells me quickly. "Honestly. It was C.G.B. Spender's. He thought you might get suspicious."
"When I saw him alive I knew. When I saw _you_ alive, in your other form. You could have told me. We... I thought we were friends. I should have known years ago."
"Yeah, well, you know how it goes... In some ways. And in some ways you don't. You were male to begin with. I had to find some way to break the glass ceiling, so I got infected. It's not my fault Jerry's so low on self-esteem."
I lean back. "Oh please. If Scully can do what she's done in the FBI hampered by being _my_ partner, surely you can't tell me you needed to be what you are."
"Don't assume that. You haven't seen it from Scully's side. And I didn't come here to talk about me, Fox."
"Oh yes. You suddenly found it imperative that you 'help me out' by handing me vague information on my sister."
"It's not just about Samantha. It's about you."
I think I remember having this conversation, minus Fowley. The Smoking Man either sent her or they got some bits of the same information. He said Samantha would be returned, but then again he has brought someone he's claimed to be Samantha to me, and taken her away again. And Jerry left me along with Diana Fowley, and showed up again only when paid by the same Smoking Man. I swear it's all the same curse. And the worst of it is that I can almost tell myself I know _why_ he's so interested in my life.
"The senior Spender knows a good deal about you. He hired Alex Krycek specifically because he _is_ a were mountain hare, and the first man a ferret like yourself would turn his back on. He brought me back into the picture when the assassination attempt on Gibson failed, because he knew I would be able to use what Jerry and I learned about you as your friends. He knew you wouldn't be suspicious because you... didn't know that I _am_ Jerry. Then to cover anything I might say that would bring that truth about Jerry too close to the surface, he set up the AI and the security video an-- well, you know."
I flinch twice, once for the mention of the near killing of the boy I have come to think of as almost being my son, and once for the mention of Jerry and friendship. Diana stops detailing the events with that flinch. As to Krycek, I just dismiss that with my usual perturbed and self-reproachful sigh. It's true that I've let that man get away with too much.
Diana goes on. "Spender went to the trouble of acquiring one of the clones because he knew how much he could shake you up with her presence. If he actually had access to the original, to your sister, he'd have dangled that more effectively by now."
I lean forward, testing the bending and breaking potential of my number two pencil with my thumbs and fingers out of a need to move something, and consider the night the adult "Samantha" was placed within my presence for a short while. She visited my mother's place, too...
Could my father have been in on it? Begged the Smoking Man to bring anyone that could pass for my sister to my mother, to alleviate some of the pain? Surely he would have known that it wasn't her. Come to think of it, he spent a lot of the time away from them, on the porch. And the woman... that looked like my sister... didn't stay. She fled on the pretext of having her own life, her own children. If she were my sister, why would she want to keep me away from them? What could I have done to her that was so wrong? Childish teasing aside. I hadn't even seen her since she was eight years old. She certainly left as though she was confused.
And I always thought my soul would leap when I saw her again... There was nervous energy, so I believed that that was all, that the reunion expectations I had were wrong. But what if they weren't? What if I can still feel what I imagined? What if, when I see her, she can feel the same thing?
"Do you see what I've been saying to you?"
I threaten the pencil with permanent breakage, but don't go through with it; I keep it in my fingers and raise my chin.
"If you know so much, then where have they taken her?"
"They... wouldn't necessarily have had to take her anywhere. You know their technology helped pinpoint places in the brain that affect reality. You live it, I live it. She may be as close, and as far, as a pocket reality the likes of which your lycanthropy has triggered your brain to create."
"I know no such thing. The aliens had nothing to do with my lycanthropy. And you _bought_ yours."
"That's right, I did. But you're wrong. Much as they had the models of the Russian shifters to go by in World War Two, the gene mapping would have been next to impossible within their time frames if they hadn't had some form of alien technology. There's no way of telling how far away or close the ships and abductees may be. They could be housed in buildings on our own planet."
The layout of the Pentagon just crosses my mind. I glance at Fowley, probably nearly letting on that I'm almost willing to listen.
"Fox, look. Aliens have everything to do with your lycanthropy. You told me yourself that you came home from a childhood doctor's appointment already infected."
"I told that to _Jerry_."
"_Whatever_. Who do you think did that to you? If it was some physician acting on his own, why did your parents never sue? You--"
"You mean someone infected me on purpose. Me, specifically."
"Of course. And I think you know who it was, too."
I almost choke on nightmare smoke. "You don't realize what you're saying to me."
"I do. Admit it, Fox. He has an interest in your welfare. Your father probably agreed to the procedure. It also would have made it that much easier, later on, for the rebels to target Samantha as the one to rescue. When Samantha was born, it was probably agreed that one had to be sent. You wouldn't be taken anyway... You're not a viable host. That alone would make it worth the risk of injecting you with the pseudovirus. Not to mention the smallpox tests."
"Smallpox? Look, Diana, I'm sure this just gets better and better, but I need to get some stuff done here, it's past my lunch break..."
"I'm serious, Fox."
"Call me Mulder. I make everyone else do it, now."
Fowley tries to bore holes into me with her eyes. I just make a production out of inspecting a half-morphed claw. "Right... After Jerry and I betrayed you and you can never meld personal and business relationships again. I hate to ask whether you even refer to Dana by her first name at home."
"That's none of your business... Of course I do. I call her 'Scully' here. Just tell me about the smallpox. What about it."
"You know one or two things already. That the scars are used for tracking the population."
I nod. "Somewhere in Siberia there's a woodsman with an interesting version of a lucky rabbit's foot."
"What are you talking about?"
"Never mind. Go on. I may as well pretend this isn't all planned to keep me distracted."
"Since you're so predisposed to listen, I will. The scars are just coincidental to the actual use of smallpox. It only works on humans, and you're not fully human."
"And just what _is_ the intended use of smallpox? What about the infected hornets that have been released in suburban areas?"
Fowley glances towards the door in an almost melodramatic furtive glance. "It's for controlled destruction of humans-- _infected_ humans. That's why it's so remarkably fast. It has to work in the least amount of time possible-- ideally within minutes. And it has to work on vaccinated humans. Otherwise the creature may gestate and emerge."
"So..." I put the pencil down, humanize my fingertips and place them against each other. I try to sense how legitimate all of Fowley's words are, but it's hard. I admit my judgment is blurred around her. "Those tests... Are in preparation against alien colonization? But then who's running them?"
Diana now sits back and nods as though she has circled around to a conclusion. "The rebels. The same people who removed your sister."
I realize that my heart rate has changed. To listen now would be more than dangerous. Fowley's making too much sense. I recall the association of the smallpox-carrying insects and clones of my sister. The two do go together... "No one has any reason to tell me this except to get me to stop looking for her. You're lying."
Diana stands up. It's not the reaction I expected. "I wanted to tell you, Fox. I wanted to make something right. I don't think Jerry and I have ever really let it sink in how much all this hurt you. I'm trying, now. I'm trying to make it better."
"Make it better... It's that simple, is it?"
"Evidently not. We've lost you, after all."
"You had nothing to lose."
Fowley stands with her hands on the back of the chair. It's a pose I should have recognized in her multiple times, a similarity with Jerry. It's not like this is something one goes around applying to people, though. And before I had a reason to suspect, Jerry came along again and promptly was seen to die. I get angry. It's not the first time.
"You had nothing to lose, all you had was a broken partnership with me. Everything you said was there, wasn't. You said you respected me, you didn't. If you did, you would have told me."
"We had everything to lose. That's why I didn't tell you... You didn't respect Jerry and you did what you felt you had to do. You broke off the partnership because he was unpredictable and too hard on himself, dangerous traits that you saw before they got too dangerous in combination with you."
"I respected him. I liked him. Diana, he was my only friend. I couldn't have anyone outside of the FBI. The only _reason_ I went into the Academy at all was to make my living searching for people. You know that through him. You know all about me. I didn't even know when I met you that you were him and knew everything. Any job other than this one wouldn't have been right. I wouldn't have been able to justify anything but looking for people-- looking for _her_. And then I make a friend in the Academy and he _asks_ to be assigned with me, what am I supposed to think? I was flattered as hell. How could he think I didn't like him? But he set me up with you-- with _himself_-- as if I couldn't like him if he were a shifter. How can you say _I_ don't respect _him_? Just because his work didn't go along with mine?"
Diana sits down again. She knows what's coming next.
"And then... when I broke off working with him... You disappeared. I lost both of my friends, my only friends, inside of the same week. And to top it off you let me believe, years later, that he's _dead_. For the convenience of a man who would take _everything_ away from me. How could you do that to me? How could you break up with me just because I didn't want to work with Jerry? How could Jerry think I didn't want to socialize with him, when I merely said I didn't think we worked optimally together?"
"Well, like I said..." Diana makes a slight shrug. Now I'm up and gripping the back of my chair, and feeling like all this is wasted breath. It doesn't really help to say it over and over. It just seems necessary, now, to protect me from the other thing. From the possibility of everything being different from what I thought it was... Again. Diana continues. "... You knew Jerry. Always thinking if he wasn't praised for every little thing he did, he must be dirt."
"_Damn_ it." I dent the chair's padding. "Poor Scully comes in gets assigned to me and wonders why I treat her like shit, keep her at arm's length all the time. I should have told her more about _you_."
Fowley puts on a tiny, maddening smirk. "You two don't seem to be doing so badly."
I don't look at my ring. "No thanks to you."
"That's not fair, Fox. Mulder. Whatever. I've told you the Smoking Man doesn't know where your sister is. I've told you what group _does_, and that they have different views of the colonization. I can't pretend I didn't accept money, both to reappear and to let you believe Jerry had died. Spender knew you wouldn't believe it if you didn't see it. I had to agree with him. I knew you at least that well. But I've come here to do something for you and Scully both, to open some questions you've been looking for the answers to."
"You never did intend to tell me, either. I had to run into Jerry myself. How dare you make it seem so trivial."
"It's not as big a deal as you make it out to be either, Fox. You have Scully. Be grateful."
"Right. Sit down, be grateful, relax, don't try too hard to find my sister, she's out of reach and safe and sound."
"I didn't say that. It's up to you. But you need to keep yourself safe, you and Scully and, as best you can, Gibson. Although he is still in danger. He's far too interesting, with the alien traits in the thought processes, to be 'safe' for long. But you could get yourself destroyed looking in exactly the wrong places for your sister. She's not where you think she is."
"Then..." I almost ask for more. But it's too much like the patterns I've come to recognize in the Smoking Man's approaches. It's all calculated to slow me down. I may not always know where I'm going, but at least I'm going _somewhere_... After _something_.
"Concentrate on Scully and Gibson. Put your energy into them, and into those I know you come across in the X-files, the individuals who require you here and now. I'm not trying to stop you. I'm trying to steer you right."
"You've never shown much interest in my well-being, before. It was easy for you to say 'friend' and then deceive. It's easy for you to do it now."
"_Now_, it is dangerous for me to say it. I'm not under his orders for this one, Fox. Take that into account."
Before I can deny that once more, Diana stands quickly, does a token smoothing of the side of her skirt, and hurries out the door. It sounds heavy when it closes.
It's been healthier, been better, for me to
be searching for something. It always has been.
It's part of the balance, it's a definite need.
Another loss, a painful loss-- as if there is any
other kind-- was probably only beneficial in that
it made Dana Scully part of the necessary balance
again. To be told that I must search in a way
foreign to my life's balance cannot be 'right.'
At least, that's what's arguing with itself in my
head as I'm trying to relax and get back into
paperwork now with Fowley gone.
I put my glasses back on and adjust my eyes to read text easily behind the lenses. If Kristen died for no reason... I don't need any more of those. I've come out of that loss as sane as I'll probably ever get, because I had an explanation, a reason her sacrifice did someone else some good. Yet another black-haired girl, yet another request for help. Dana's recent abduction by the colonist conspiracy had left me swimming in some level of perception I can't even clearly recall now; the happenings and memories are all there, but the world I was in seems gone.
All I could believe was that Dana would be the object of yet another twenty-five-year search. She disappeared the same way, and it seemed even more horribly credible since she was someone I cared about. Somehow I think I expected it all; I knew that a woman so honestly different from Samantha, who could define me as something different, must be taken forcibly from me. Diana and Jerry had already abandoned me, Diana for no reason I could see, Jerry in a hurtful quarrel and then apparent death. I still had my search, and Samantha was the topic of the search. She seemed somehow closer than Dana, as though by her longer absence she must be within relatively easier reach.
That I would then come alongside the trio of vampiristic young people, that I would be shown once again that everything I thought I knew was wrong, and that one woman should resemble Samantha and desire my protection seemed inevitable in the world I then inhabited. That she died probably saved lives-- not discounting the soul she thought she might be saving, she made me have to expect that Dana could come home. I had to awaken myself and get back to work searching, because the balance was upset again when Kristen burned herself and her home to the ground. I didn't know it at the time, and honestly probably blamed myself for her death, but into the design that has drawn itself around me the destruction fits perfectly.
If I have no _need_ to actively search for Samantha, then the pattern is not a requirement in the design that is my life. And that would mean Kristen killed herself for no reason.
Before the end of the day, I begin to hear voices... The arguing has come down to a circling sorrow at the sheer numbers of girls lost in cases in the course of the only job my mind ever allowed me to define as responsible on my part. I could allow myself to investigate, to learn, to explore, and particularly to explore that which took or affected anyone in an "unexplainable" way. This way I could turn into a human and put on a suit and go to work every morning without asking myself, 'What are you doing about your sister?'.
The voices aren't coming from anywhere but the lack of a radio in the room and my anxiety's insistence at being noticed... Samantha, Addie, Lucy, Karen... Kristen...
All right, I tell them all, I'll go see one that wasn't lost.
Marty has a somewhat raspy voice, matching
the smoky complexion of her skin and hair. She's
not striking, not even easy on the eyes, but she
feels young to be around and there's a light to
her I can never completely place.
I stand for awhile with my coat over my arm before I sit down across the thick wood table from her. We're silent for a bit, which is customary for our visits.
Marty holds her Mr. Lincoln rose as if it is a child, the stem balanced along the length of her folded left arm.
"Thanks," she says, "It's pretty unusual for anyone to get flowers in prison. You should hear them talk."
"I didn't have any idea they made such an impression."
"Oh yes." There's a sudden impishness to her expression. "I'll bet you didn't know you've got other motives for coming here than just checking up on someone from a previous case."
I bite at a nail, then feel childish doing that and chuckle, "You let them believe I'm not married?"
"Oh no, they're more impressed that you _are_. Besides, it keeps me out of fights. Gossip can take the edge off a fight when nothing else will." She begins laughing. I stand up, startled by the expression of goodwill from her.
"It's good to hear you laugh."
"Yeah, well..." Just my saying that already clammed her up a bit.
I try, "It's just not usual to see you laughing. I think the most I ever got was a smile."
"Yeah... I guess even in a place like this I can get a little different over time."
She doesn't say 'better', just 'different'. I'm still standing, and she's sitting there with her rose, that manages not to clash with the prison uniform. That's the best kind of red rose. It changes everything around it. "I could still get you out of here."
"No." Marty's lip quirks, then she smiles serenely. "Maybe Hell is good for my character."
I almost chuckle, but don't want to seem unsympathetic.
She continues: "Did you know the wall sealant in this place is a tacky color even if you can't see? Just living surrounded by it makes me feel like I clash."
Marty's something of a mind-reader, herself. "I think it's supposed to be a calming color," I offer.
I take my coat off the back of the chair. "I have to be going. They'll complain pretty soon if I overuse my priveleges."
"I wish I could say that I know what you're going through, but I don't. I only stop in for these short times."
"Fox, haven't you been in prison?"
"Sure. Once or twice or... a few times. Mostly for imagined offenses, and mostly for one or two nights. The worst of it was when that _Krycek_ tried to leave me in a Siberian camp. But, no, never like you. I've never had to _stay_."
"That's all right. I just imagine that you empathize."
I touch her cheek. I'm standing, too tall for her to reach me from the heavy wooden visiting chair. "I'd better get going."
"I know." Marty touches my hand instead of my face. "There's more than one kind of prison, you know."
I smile, maybe a bit uncomfortably. "Getting philosophical on me?"
The shrug again. "Maybe. I've been reading."
"I'm glad to hear that, anyway. That you've been reading."
Marty nods. Her guard comes to lazily escort her back to her cell, and I head out for a couple more hours in the office, then home.
"Fox?" Samantha piped, half-whispering,
anxiously cracking the door to my bedroom. "Wake
I grumbled in my small throat. I had been trying to rest with my tail well pressed over my nostrils. It didn't seem otherwise disturbing that some rancid scent managed to filter into my room. I knew logically that no one in our family smoked anything so strong.
"Fox!" Samantha hissed, "Are you a ferret or a boy?"
I blinked, stretched my forepaws, yawned until I squeaked, and took in a sniff of her anxious scent that was overlaid with the laundry detergent used on her nightgown. I began to shift back, tugging on my pajama top and bottoms. "Boy."
"Good." Samantha kept her voice down and crept into my bedroom. A few of my glow-in-the-dark swords and modeling toys faded in the light from the hall. "Your eyes glow red in the dark. Listen. They're talking."
"You came in here to tell me that?"
"Shh! There's a man in the house. I don't know if I know him. I don't like how they're talking. Something about me and you."
"Do my red eyes _scare_ you?"
"Yes, Fox. Stop it! Stay the way you are. Come with and listen. They're saying I'm better than you. At what, Fox?"
I had no idea what they might be talking about. I followed dumbly. Then I had to back into my room, and Samantha into hers, as someone mounted the steps towards my sister's room. I thought it was probably my father, but with the strange man in the house and the heaviness of the footsteps I couldn't be sure. I heard what I knew to be Samantha walked quietly back down the hall, and when she hesitated, my father must have picked her up and carried her downstairs. I followed.
I knew I wasn't supposed to be there, but I was more afraid of shifting and then being seen, in case anyone would know for sure I had been spying. So I tried to stay behind doors. He saw me, however, and breathed a line of smoke that obscured half his face and the wallpaper behind him. My mother had a much more defeated and upset expression on her face than I had ever seen, and the smoking man saw me watching her. I felt more afraid that he didn't seem to be afraid of me. I felt I should be dangerous, to keep them from doing... Something. I didn't know what.
I showed my claws, evenly on both hands. The man's brow furrowed, and he turned away. It was only then that he told my mother I was there, and Samantha looked over from where my father was placing her on the carpet, almost as if to inspect or display her like a doll.
"Go upstairs, Fox," my father said. I felt more frightened than ever, as well as strangely triumphant. The smoking man had looked away when I showed my claws. I could make him stop whatever he was going to do.
But when they came and got her, on another night, there were no people there at all. There was no one, no expression, nothing to aim at, nothing to chase or show my teeth and claws to.
I think that was the first night I ever placed my hands on a gun. Ferrets can't handle guns up to most humans' standards, among other things, so I rarely shift at all while on the job. Perhaps I would have gained more information earlier on with which to help my sister if I had shifted entirely, become the ferret, and snuck downstairs under cover of arguments and smoke. I can still never be certain that the human was right for one evening, and the ferret wrong for the much worse second evening.
Either way, I chose the human. There are times, in the lack of any other hope to dwell on, that I like to think that might have made a difference. There are other times when I see she's still not here and I know it never did. She would have been gone no matter what species I was shaped like... Unless I was never a lycanthrope to begin with. And that's the especially difficult thing: knowing that I don't even have the resources in me to have stopped whatever and whoever it was that took my sister. If I also don't have the resources with which to bring about her return, _within me_, not at someone else's whim, what good have I ever done her?
Once again I'm on Gibson's bed with my knees
up wrapped in my arms, being told what it is I've
"We've got to stop meeting like this."
He chuckles. Then he sobers. "There's no way your therapist at your work could remove the metal tables from your nightmares."
"No... No, probably not."
He puts a finger to his chin, thoughtfully. "What's wrong about being a brother?"
"A brother. What's wrong about just being a brother?"
"As opposed to... As opposed to what, Gibson?"
"Oh, you know..." This boy knows exactly what I know or don't know, but the wording sometimes escapes him as to how to impart it verbally. It crosses my mind that it may be frustrating for him, sometimes, not being able to just think it across without all the translation.
"No, that's all right," he assures me quietly, still distracted with working out how to say what he means. "Brother things... You didn't have to save me to make me like you. Or Dana, either. But you think you had to. You think that's what it is. And Samantha, too. You think you have to save her to be someone to her when she gets back."
I'm uncomfortably silent. He sounds so matter-of-fact about the 'when'. "Maybe we just need to make absolutely certain you fall asleep before I do. Would that help?"
"Mmm... Maybe. When your nightmares aren't too loud, or too much about the metal tables."
"Now you're making _me_ shake when you mention metal tables."
He just looks at me. Gibson is usually silent instead of speaking his apologies, so I don't feel like it's an empty gaze.
"You got another phone call today," he finds from my brain, presenting me with another topic.
"She said-- you tell me what she said."
I don't have to tell you what she said, Gibson. You're the only one around here who knows all that's going on, and somehow we are supposed to be protecting you. I feel woefully inadequate.
"I feel safe. Show me, then, go over it again."
How can I help going over it again? It rewinds and plays over with almost threatening ease.
Phone rings, pick it up, it's Fowley, immediately clench jaw at unwise use of my home phone number.
"She's coming back, Fox."
But... that would mean there's no one to track down, nothing I can do to _make_ an enemy give my sister back her life here. That would mean someone is withholding her from me because they know better than I do when it's safe for her to return.
"You tell me then, Fowley, what do I _do_?"
"Do your job. Be with your family. You know, the stuff I keep blowing for myself because of the very things you encountered in me. There are still people to be contended with. I just wanted to tell you the truth about your sister."
"We've been over this in the office."
"You were too distracted by me to listen."
"Can you blame me?"
"Look... I know you're rightfully uncomfortable about me calling you for a follow-up here. I won't say I won't tell you this again. But I'll let you think whatever you want for now. Good-bye."
Gibson takes hold of my hand, a gesture which almost makes me pull back for a moment. I counter my nearly resistant motion with a squeeze of his hand.
"So," I shrug, "there's that. I don't suppose there's anything else you've found in my thoughts that we should discuss."
There would be plenty to choose from. I can barely keep track, myself. Gibson seems to be considering me carefully. His expression, tinged by a few lines of reflection in his glasses, is more penetrating than usual. Finally I decide it's still my turn to speak.
"Can't decide whether or not to repeat back to me what I'm thinking?"
He nods, solemnly. "You might not be ready to hear what you believe."
I blink several times. I slide off the side of the bed, slowly, and pat the blankets. "All right then. I'll let you try again to get some rest and I'll get mine. You know where to find me."
"Yes." Gibson lies down again under his covers and I fold his glasses for him and place them on the bedside table. Dana is muzzily awake in our bed when I close the door between rooms carefully and climb in with her.
"It's not a problem."
"'kay." She rolls over, red hair glinting slightly when she moves, and seems to drop right off to sleep.
I spread out next to her, feeling clumsy and somehow empty. After what I've been told about my sister, there's still nothing I can see to do, no direct action at this moment to take. I hold Dana's shoulder, conspicuous to myself as I do so with my white human hand. Dana may or may not lean a bit into my palm.
Finally I justify my shifting by rationalizing that Gibson needs his sleep, so I need to once and for all just get some rest. I let myself shift more often on the couch downstairs, but then I don't rest any better for it, because I'm not in bed with my wife.
I remove my hand and shrink down into my t-shirt, hunching up into a furry serpentine form, and crawl out to circle once or twice on my pillow and lay my thin tail across my nose.
I still can't sleep. Aren't beige and black neutral colors, anyway? And humans don't smell in their sleep. Maybe I can get away with this one time. The bed feels so empty any which way I burrow into it. I bend Dana's pillow with one paw, scuffing slightly due to the long claws, but she doesn't seem to do anything but breathe more relaxedly. I pull the rest of my body over and curl up in the nape of her neck.
I begin to feel a blessed comfort take over, but it's not complete before Dana turns over again in her sleep and faces me. Now I'm certain her nose is in my ribcage fur and my tail is tickling the front of her neck and chin.
"Mm," she mutters eloquently, and brushes a hand up against my whiskers. "G'night Fox."