torch, 1998

Disclaimer: I've heard that disclaimers can get you sued, so I'm not writing one. This is just a moderately amusing piece of fluff. Do not archive this story without permission.

Fickle flash

"Look, Scully! There's another one!" The flashlight beam swung dizzily upwards, skittering across the concrete. "The red one."

He didn't have to see her face to know what she looked like as she said, "Graffiti. This is your X-file, Mulder... graffiti? The illiterate outpourings of a bored teenager armed with a spray can?"

Holding the beam steady on the sign painted in red high above their heads on the warehouse wall, he turned his head to look at her. Yep, he'd been right; it was the bit-something-and-I-think-it's-a-lemon expression. God, but she was cute when she did that, he thought irreverently. "This isn't your average tag, Scully," he pointed out. "That's the sign for lead — or the sign of the god Saturn, depending on how you interpret it. Alchemists used it to—"

"Really, Mulder. Probably whoever did this just saw the sign on a CD cover."

Mulder looked back at the wall, then let the flashlight beam slide down, defeated. Then he caught sight of something else. "Look at that!" It was neatly written, sprayed, whatever... written, he thought, with a paint brush, to judge by the way the strokes shifted from thick to thin. "Credo quia impossibile. It's a message for us, Scully."

"I'm going home."

"You're going to claim that a reference to believing the impossible is just another random piece of graffiti?" He looked at her incredulously.

"I'm going to claim that I want my dinner. This is unusual, and it is a misdemeanor, but it isn't a case. What do you want us to do, stay here all night on the off chance that the ghost of Ovid comes by?"

He sighed. The cool, damp night air was already making its way in underneath his collar, up his sleeves, slithering up his legs. Scully was giving him a look that said only an unreasonable idiot would stay.

"I'm staying."

"All right," she sighed, "it's your choice. See you tomorrow." Then she suddenly smiled. "If your perpetrator turns out to be a disgruntled Classics professor, I want to hear the story." She walked away, the rapid, determined sound of her footsteps familiar and comforting in his ears.

Mulder leaned back against the rough concrete wall, preparing himself for a long vigil. He wished he had a book to read. Or at least a stick of chewing gum. After a while it occurred to him that staying right beneath the scribbled words might not be the right thing to do. This could be some kind of weird trap.

He moved away to a dark corner instead, found a dusty box to sit on and tried to make himself comfortable. He had his gun, he had his phone, he was ready for whatever might happen. Mulder pulled his legs up and leaned back against this wall instead. Now all he had to do was wait.

His eyes drifted shut.

The sound that woke him was so soft, he sat for a few moments convinced he'd just dreamed it. Then he heard it again, someone walking in soft-soled shoes. Mulder tensed and looked around. He couldn't see anyone moving in the nearby shadows, but his sense of hearing told him that someone was out there, somewhere. Then his breath caught as he heard another sound, identification coming filtered through Errol Flynn matinees.

Very carefully he started to stretch his legs out, to find that they were both numb and tingling. Mulder heard another set of footsteps in the distance, moving faster and less quietly. He set his feet down and tried to stand up, and slumped against the box he'd been sitting on. He tried to imagine explaining this to Skinner. No, sir, I was unable to get a good look at the proceedings, I had pins-and-needles.

The hushed atmosphere was disrupted by a shout in a language Mulder didn't understand. He did understand the tone, though — angry and challenging. A moment later another voice responded with a spate of equally incomprehensible syllables, spoken far more easily, insouciantly. A quick scuffle of feet, and then the clash and grind of metal on metal.

Mulder got to his feet again and hobbled in the direction of the sounds. People were fighting. With swords. Was this a practice ground for the local SCA group? Did it have anything to do with the mysterious graffiti? What the hell was going on?

Whatever it was, it was fast and furious; the sounds were so evocative he could almost see the sparks as metal edges collided, see dancing shadows move gracefully along a wall. He limped on around a pile of abandoned crates — surely he had to be able to see what was happening now—

The sudden silence shocked him into stopping. Only for a moment, to reorient himself, but before he could start moving again there was a loud crackle and every hair on his body stood on end. The air began to move around him, drawing in towards an unseen center, catching up the dust and grit on the floor and sending it whirling. Mulder grabbed onto the edge of a crate, and somewhere ahead of him, lightning struck.

The flash burned him momentarily blind and he flattened himself against the edge of the nearest crate, trying to get himself out of the way until he could see again. More lightning rent the air, shook the walls, and he felt his heart beat fast with excitement. A lightning storm inside a warehouse. The next great crash was full of a subtle ringing sound as glass shattered. He knew he should be terrified, caught in this freak storm inside a building, but it was too fascinating for him to be afraid.

When his vision started to clear again, the storm, or whatever it was, was dying down. Mulder took a tentative step forward, another, and finally rounded the crates and came out into a larger open space.

Pipes had burst, spraying the floor with water. A body lay crumpled to one side, and by some curious effect of foreshortening it seemed that — no. It really was missing its head; the head lay over there in the shadows. The body was lying half on top of a piece of gleaming metal that had to be a sword.

A man was kneeling in the water, hunched over and supporting himself with his hands on his knees, although one of those hands held a bloody sword, too. In the silence that had fallen Mulder could hear harsh, painful breathing. He fumbled for his gun and got it out, raised it—

—to find that the kneeling man was on his feet, sword raised, facing him across a few feet of water-slick warehouse floor. The man was dark-haired and starkly pale, his face twisted into a ferocious mask, teeth bared. Mulder braced himself against the urge to take a swift step back into the shadows. He kept the gun trained steadily on the man's chest. "Federal agent. Drop your weapon."

A final shudder ran through the man's body, and then his face relaxed. It made him look much younger and practically harmless, except for the way his eyes glinted; they still held lightning. He moved forward, and Mulder tensed, prepared to shoot. The swordsman seemed to divine his intentions and the reason for them, and with what almost looked like a smile he lowered the sword, but did not let go of it. "Let me explain," he said.

"You'll have a lot of time to explain," Mulder said. "A lifetime, probably."

The man looked at him with a curiously arrested expression, and then threw his head back and laughed. "You're frightening me," he wheezed between paroxysms, sounding on the verge of hysteria.

So he was dealing with a nutcase. He'd already known that, really — sane, well-adjusted people rarely went around beheading others in out-of-the-way warehouses. He still wanted to know where that freak storm of lightning had come from. Mulder took a careful step closer, eyes flickering from the man's face, still lit up with unreasonable mirth, to the hand that held the sword. "Drop your weapon," he repeated. "Or I'll shoot."

"That wouldn't be a good idea," the man said, and bent down gracefully to lay his sword on the ground. Then he straightened up and walked towards Mulder, hands held out to emphasize their emptiness. Mulder hesitated. The man didn't look threatening, was clearly unarmed, but he wouldn't stop; he walked past the gun as though it weren't there, stepped in close, leaned against Mulder's body. "Let me explain," he repeated, and his breath smelled of metal and electricity. "It's like this."

When the hell did he come so close? Mulder tried to step away, but there was an arm around his waist suddenly, pressing him to the stranger's hard sweating body. Piercing eyes looked right into his own. "Like what?" he asked, stalling for time, attempting to bring his gun hand up and around. He was pinned against the crates now and the man's hips pressed against his own, and oh shit

"Like this," a strong hand came up to close around his throat, and at the same time cool lips pressed against his, and there was the rippling, ecstatic shock of tongue against tongue and no oxygen and frantic heartbeats—

Then, a lot of darkness.

Mulder came back to consciousness sitting on the wet floor, sprawled against the crates. His pants were soaked through. There was no sign of the dead body, or of the killer. Beyond the shattered windows, dawn was creeping in. He got to his feet and grimaced at the state of his clothing, dug out his cell phone and called Scully.

"Mulder, do you know what time it is?"

"No. My watch has stopped." Looking more closely at it, he saw that it had apparently stopped during the lightning show last night. Mulder perked up. That might be significant. "Listen, can you go past my place and pick up a change of clothes, and meet me here?"

"Where is here, Mulder?" Scully suppressed a yawn. "And do I even want to know why you need clean clothes?"

"I'm still at the warehouse. Hurry or I'll catch pneumonia." He disconnected and looked around, took another step, made another face, and looked down at himself. And paused. That was not a water stain. Not right next to his fly.

Blushing faintly, Mulder pulled his trenchcoat more tightly around himself and went to look for bloodstains. Credo quia... oh, well.

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