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PART FOUR

 

chapter sixteen.

february, 2018

In between all the chaos—firemen arriving, interviews with the police, checking in with neighbors, and confirming multiple times that despite the fact that all of the ruined technology is technically connected to her, the house is not under her name, and yes, she's been subletting it for almost five years with no word from the original owner—Mulder takes Scully to a diner. (Their diner, she thinks in an almost possessive manner. They've been going to it forever, ever since the Tooms case; Mulder took her then to get her out of her apartment while the police finished up. It looks completely different now, painted green instead of blue with an altered menu, but she's not complaining. After all these years, even after good and bad memories in this diner, it still feels like theirs. Now that they're back on the Files, they go all the time.)

They're sitting side by side at the counter, their fingers intertwined and their phones facedown on the table, absently debating about the probability of sentient, vengeful robots, when Scully's phone starts buzzing insistently. She checks the screen quickly and sees that it is the Bethesda police. “I should probably take this,” she says apologetically, and Mulder nods understandingly, squeezes her hand tight.

She sits at the counter as she takes the phone call, Mulder's thumb rubbing against her palm. The gist is this: a good portion of the apartment was actually untouched by the fire, and a great deal of her personals can be recovered. Scully's relieved to hear that the boxes of things she kept from her mother's house were untouched, and that Daggoo is fine since he was staying at a neighbor's last night. (She'd left him at the neighbor's because she'd fully expected to head to Mulder’s last night, but they hadn't talked a lot last night because of a silly, good-natured bet that neither of them could go the whole meal without talking. Insecure from all of the silence, she'd ordered that driverless car halfway through the meal, and had instantly regretted it as the meal dissolved into a giggly rush and odd, adrenaline-induced escape.) But despite that, half of the house is destroyed. It's unliveable, the chief says, and he suggests that she find somewhere else to stay for the time being.

“Bad news?” Mulder asks sympathetically as she hangs up, squeezing her hand again.

Scully shrugs. “Looks like Daggoo and I need to find somewhere to stay.”

He gives her a funny look, tipping his head to the side. “You can stay with me,” he says, as if it should be obvious. “You and the mutt. Of course you can.” There's a degree of hesitance in his voice, like she wouldn't want to—the same way she hesitated. They've been closer lately, they've been together lately, but this degree of hesitance remains. They haven't talked about her moving back since the case in Henrico County. She's spent two Christmases with him, she's spent more nights with him than alone, but they still haven't talked about any of this yet. She thinks a part of her is still scared to move back, to say anything definitive about their relationship.

“Oh, thank you, Mulder,” she says, and leans her head on his shoulder on an impulse. “I just… don't want to impose.”

“Don't be ridiculous,” he says, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. “It'll give me a chance to give you a better birthday dinner.”

She chuckles softly. “This is good,” she murmurs, motioning to the diner counter, and he smushes a kiss to her hair. “As long as the house is drone-free,” she adds.

“Oh, it'd better be,” he says with a chuckle of his own. He rubs the length of her arm, squeezes her elbow. “Want to go pick up your stuff?”

“Yeah, we might as well get some of it,” she says with a sigh, sitting up and taking a last sip of her coffee. “Some clothes. Daggoo. I should go ahead and take him off the neighbor's hands.”

He offers her a small smile, reaching down to take her hand again. “Stay as long as you like,” he murmurs, and she grows warm with the sentiment. She cranes her neck back to kiss him on the mouth, swings his hand a little as they leave the diner together.

---

Ryan is exiting the cafeteria, bumping into his friends as the mass of students file out, when he sees Mrs. Seers, healthy-looking and grinning in the middle of the hallway. The American History teacher hugs her with one arm, a couple students offer her high fives. Ryan, however, stiffens, freezing straight where he is until someone crashes hard into his back and shouts a protest right into his ear.

Ryan mutters an apology and ducks away, closer to the lockers, his neck bent, facing away from her. He's trying to avoid her; he isn't exactly sure if she really is possessed, or if she was possessed but the ghost is gone now (because it's never stayed any longer than a day or so, right, it usually leaves after its work is done), or if she was never possessed in the first place. But whatever the case, he doesn't want to talk to her. He ducks around a cluster of freshman and involuntarily meets her eyes, and that's when he realizes she's moved. Not towards him, but in the direction he's headed, further down the hall.

Ryan turns away, instinctively, and moves further down the hall. But when he looks back over his shoulder, Mrs. Seers is still there, moving a few feet away from him. She is following him, he realizes, and his heart thuds harder. He shoves past a cluster of seniors, probably too hard, and nearly runs into a pencil vending machine in an effort to turn a corner, but she is still there. The hallways are clearing out a bit, and Ryan moves faster, nearly running in an effort to evade her. But there she is, her heels clacking audibly on the tiles. Or—no, he corrects himself, the same way he did in the hospital the last time he saw Mrs. Seers: it's not her. He's almost positive, now, that it's not her.

Ryan ducks into the bathroom as the bell rings, shrilly. It's a feeble attempt—he doubts the ghost cares about sending the woman it has possessed into the boy's bathroom—but it's an attempt worth taking. He goes into a stall and locks the door, leaning hard between the wall and the toilet tank, his overstuffed backpack still on his back. His heart pounding too hard, his breathing too rough, his hands sweaty as he clutches the backpack straps. For a second, it is silent except for the blowing of the air conditioning.

And then he hears the scrape of the door against the tiles, the clacking of those heels.  

He presses harder against the wall, trying to tuck his feet awkwardly behind the toilet, frantically cursing himself for not crouching on the toilet in the first place. The bulk of the textbooks are hard against his back. The heels are growing closer. He can see Mrs. Seers's feet outside the stall. He holds his breath.

She's stopped in front of his stall. She's standing there, facing him. Ryan tries not to breathe, silly as it is; he knows she can probably see his feet. He waits for her to do something, to shake the door of the stall, to break it down, to menacingly warn him that it isn't over. (He knows, he knows it isn't over; he's known for a long time.)

But she doesn't. The ghost doesn't speak or move through the body of Mrs. Seers. It just stands there for what feels like forever, silently. Ryan gives up holding his breath, and tries to breathe quietly. But he doesn't move, and neither does she, until she finally turns, still silent, and clacks right out of the bathroom. The door shuts hard behind her.

---

At the sprawling farmhouse in Farrs Corner, Daggoo makes himself right at home. He's not unfamiliar with the property; Scully usually brings him with her if she's planning to stay more than one night. He hops right up on the couch and falls asleep, curled in the direct center of a cushion with his usual disregard for the space of others.

The house doesn't feel as empty now. That's what Scully keeps noticing, every time she enters: it doesn't feel as empty as it did right before she left. It's just Mulder and sometimes Daggoo there with her, but seeing them there is incredibly relieving. Things have felt different since they found their son. Almost lighter.

In the months since they found their son and lost him again, they've gotten to some strange state of simultaneous hope and acceptance. Acceptance that he is gone, for now, but that he is fine, hope that he will come back someday. They keep the snow globe upstairs in Mulder's room, the DVD of the footage of Scully talking to him right by the television. The photo of William playing baseball as a child pinned up on the fridge. (Mulder had told her that he'd taken it a few days after they'd gotten back from Norfolk, and she hadn't hesitated to put it on the fridge. It was some small reassurance that he'd had a childhood, a life after she gave him up; some reassurance that it hadn't all been pain and fear and visions. Afterwards, she'd felt nearly guilty about it, putting up a photograph of a child that was essentially someone else's, someone else's photo, from someone else's life. But it wasn't too different, she told herself, from the photograph she had tucked away of Emily on her birthday. It was something. Something that they had of their child. So it has stayed on the fridge.) They've spent a lot of time together since those few days in Norfolk, weeks at a time. They've spent a lot of time talking about what happened in Norfolk, what happened with their son. Whether or not they should go after him. They ultimately decided not to, simply because they don't want to scare him off. Scully hasn't been able to see him since, hasn't had any dreams or visions, but she has the vaguest feeling that he's all right. And unless that feeling changes, unless they get some inkling that he isn't all right, they've decided to leave him alone, as much as it may hurt. It's enough to know that he's alive out there, as much as they worry that he's hurt or scared or in danger; it's enough to know things about him, about his life and what he looks like and that he's thought of them all this time. It's enough.

Mulder helps Scully carry her boxes inside from his car, the few things she decided to bring. She already has a lot of things over here, anyways, things she's slowly migrated over, and she's still not sure if this is going to be permanent. They haven't discussed whether or not this is permanent. They haven't talked about it. Scully gets the sense that Mulder is a little hurt that she didn't want to bring all of her things, but he hasn't said a word about it. Neither of them have. He carries her boxes upstairs and helps her unpack and kisses her sweaty forehead in the doorway.

They collapse on the couch downstairs together, Mulder's arm draped over her shoulder. She rests her head on his own shoulder, mumbles, “Thanks for coming to get me last night.” She still can't believe he came. She remembers the wave of relief that accompanied the sight of his face on the other side of the screen, even as fear filled her to the brim. He got her out, he came for her and shielded her with his own body, the way he's done in the past. She doesn't know why it's such a surprise, why it makes her want to cry. She grips the hem of his shirt with a sudden possessiveness.

“Mmm.” He rubs his chin against the top of her head absently. “Who says I came for you?” he jokes. “I was running from the drones, remember?”

She pokes him in the side jokingly, her forehead against his collarbone. “Well, whatever the reason, thank you,” she says dryly.

“You're welcome,” he murmurs, and she can almost feel his smile. He rubs her side warmly with his palm. “I'll always come for you, Scully.”

She smiles, too, hidden against the side of his chest. “Ditto,” she says, and he squeezes her tight. They stay like that for a long time.

---

Later in the day, they are still on the couch. Scully is reading the book she left on the bedside table last weekend, her shoulder pressed to Mulder's. Mulder is flipping TV channels, the mutt curled peacefully in his lap. (He has to say that the dog has grown considerably more likeable in the years since Scully's gotten it. He mellowed with age. Mulder can relate.) It's the peaceful, domestic situation that he's been imagining on and off ever since they started things up again, the type of thing he imagines for when she moves back in. If she ever moves back in. (He's ashamed of it, but as soon as he saw that her house was on fire, he'd halfway hoped she'd ask to move back in after that. But she has given no indication that she wants to make this a permanent thing; she didn't even bring over all her stuff.) But this is enough, he tells himself. It's been enough for a long time. It'll be enough if this is far as it ever goes.

He's mentally wrestling with what to do for dinner tonight—That soup Scully likes? Something fancier? Maybe spaghetti?—when his phone beeps with an email alert. “Who's that?” Scully asks without looking up, turning a page. “Skinner?”

Mulder grins as he reaches for the phone; she recognizes all of his different notifications by now, and it's incredibly endearing. “I doubt it,” he says, scooping up the phone. “Remember, you wrote the report on that werewolf case from last week, and he actually likes your reports.”

“They weren't werewolves, Mulder,” she says absently, scratching Daggoo's head.

He sticks out his tongue and opens the email, raises his eyebrows in surprise when he sees the sender. “Actually, it's from Ryan Caruthers.”

“Seriously?” Scully sets her book down in surprise. “You haven't heard from him in a while, have you?”

“Not since last fall,” he says. The lapse in the Willoughby case had been almost convenient, coinciding with their trip to Norfolk—he doesn't know if digging further into the Willoughby case would've been a good idea, what with all the similarities to their own life. He'd nearly forgotten about the whole thing, embarrassingly enough, but looking at the email now, he wonders if things have gotten bad with the Specter. He suddenly feels guilty for never following up with Ryan, even though it was never really an official case.

“What did he say?” Scully scoots closer, leaning to read over his shoulder.

Mulder scans the email, and something like worry bubbles up in the pit of his gut. “He's scared,” he says, and he feels Scully looking at him in surprise. He passes the phone to her, recounting more of it: “He's afraid the ghost is going to hurt someone else. He says that his house is safe, that it's… protected somehow, but that the ghost can still hurt people he cares about.”

Scully's eyes move across his phone screen as she reads the email, as she looks back up at him. “He thinks that Joy Seers is possessed?” she asks, astonished. “Mulder, I don't think…”

“We discussed the possibility of possession last fall, remember? Ryan believed that his Uncle Jared was possessed when he committed those murders. And it seemed like Jared believed that, too.”

“But I thought that we agreed that there was no way to prove that,” Scully says, not unkindly. “And even if this hypothetical ghost did possess people, why would it target Joy Seers?”

“Could have something to do with the classroom hauntings in 2016,” says Mulder. “Or her car accident… I'd say there's at least a decent possibility.”

“But Ryan doesn't elaborate as to how he knows she's possessed. Or even what he's afraid of. He just says he'd rather explain in person.”

Mulder leans close to look at the email again. “He wants us to come down there,” he says. “He wants our help to make this stop.”

She chews her lower lip. She puts her hand gently over his knee. “Do you think that's a good idea?” she asks softy. “To go down there? We haven't officially investigated in Willoughby since 2016, and there hasn't been a real crime there in the time we've known about it, aside from arson and breaking and entering on the behalf of Ryan Caruthers.”

“You forgot the missing dog,” Mulder says teasingly, covering her hand with his own callused palm.

She shoots him an indulgent look and squeezes his kneecap. “Do you want to go and investigate? Aside from the fact that the police didn't ask us to come down the way they did in 2015, I doubt Skinner would approve us going down there to investigate nothing.”

“We could always just go off the clock for a couple days. Sort of a continuation of our unofficial investigation last fall.” He rubs her knuckles with his thumb. “It's not as if we haven't done that before.”

“That's an understatement,” Scully says dryly.

“Mmm.” He pats her hand gently. “Do you want to go, Scully?” he asks understandingly—he would get it if she didn't. After the dream he had the night before they went to Norfolk—after what he told Scully about the dream—he doesn't blame her. He'll admit that he feels a little bit of apprehension about the whole thing himself. But that's part of the reason he wants to go; after what he went through with his son, the premonition of his faked death, he understands Ryan's fear. He doesn't want anyone else to go through that.

She shrugs. She's chewing her lower lip again, almost nervously. “Oh, I don't know, Mulder.”

He pats her hand again, takes it in his. “You still think it's a waste of time,” he says knowingly.

“Maybe a little bit.” She shrugs again. “But I can see… where your interest in this case comes from.” She speaks awkwardly, but he understands what she means: she's talking about Jackson. She's thinking about their son.

There's a sort of silent understanding between them. Scully's knee bobs up and down a bit, that same nervous energy. Mulder says, “Why don't we go over there for a couple days and check it out? Tomorrow's Sunday, anyway, so we don't have to go into work. And it's not like it's a long drive.”

She's quiet. She says, “Okay.”

He wraps an arm around her and she leans right in. Daggoo, sitting between them on the couch now, clambers up onto her lap and noses at her hand. She smiles a little, stroking his head. Mulder kisses her cheek. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” she says, dropping her book on the coffee table. “It's just been a long day.”

“That's an understatement.” He rubs her arm with his palm. She drops her head to his shoulder. He puts his lips to her hair and murmurs, “Hey, if you'd rather not go to Willoughby…”

“No, no,” she says, shaking her head. “I'm fine, Mulder. Really. If there's nothing worth investigating there, we can come back. But I don't think it's a good idea to ignore this email, not if Ryan Caruthers is really scared he's in danger.” She sighs a little, tucked into his side. “The least we could do is make sure that he's okay.”

---

In the late morning, they drop Daggoo back off in Maryland and leave for Willoughby. It's a quick preparation process, considering that Scully is still packed from the day before; she'd mentally planned to unpack today, had been weighing how much she could unpack, where she could unpack, if she could just skip unpacking completely. She feels as if she's walking a thin line, and she doesn't entirely know which side to land on. Whether she wants to move back in or not, whether or not Mulder even wants her to come back permanently. She really had expected to stay at Mulder's last night, after her impromptu, incredibly strange birthday dinner. (That's the last time you get to pick the restaurant for a while, she'd told him that morning on the way to the diner, and he'd shaken his head ruefully, pulled her hand up to his mouth and kissed her knuckles.) But the longer they'd gone without talking, the longer they kept looking at their phones, the more awkward it had felt. After all this time, she still doesn't know where they stand.

Scully drives. Mulder works the Bluetooth, switching the Pandora stations sporadically and making Scully wrinkle her nose until he finally turns it off and shoots her a grin. She rolls her eyes playfully. “Do you think we should get in touch with the sheriff, Mulder?” she asks. “Let him know we're in town?”

He shrugs. “I don't see why we should, especially if we're only here for a little while. We didn't tell him when we came to investigate at the school, right? Since there's no specific crime we're investigating, I say we hold off.”

“I suppose that makes sense,” says Scully. “I just don't want to create some kind of rift between us and local law enforcement by making it seem like we're hiding things, in the event that some sort of crime does occur. It's not as if that sort of thing has never happened before.”

“That's true. But it just feels silly to involve them now. We're just coming into town to check on Ryan.”

“Have you communicated with Ryan since last night?” she asks.

“Yeah, he wanted us to meet at that Italian place from a couple of years ago,” he says. “He says he has something he wants us to see… some of kind 'proof,’ he said.”

“Proof?” Scully flips on her blinker as they approach the exit. “Proof of what?”

“The Specter, I'm guessing.” He pokes her jokingly in the side.

She rolls her eyes again, swatting at his hand and shooting him a small half-smile. “Proof like those videos that Joy showed us of the classroom? Proof that could be easily doctored?”

“You know those videos weren't doctored, Scully. We saw evidence of the hauntings in in the school on Halloween.”

You saw evidence, Mulder,” she says quietly, trying not to think about all the things she has seen, all the things she's probably imagined. “I didn't see anything. And whatever you saw wasn't necessarily connected to the videos.”

He pokes her in the side again, making a face. “Well, whatever you believe, Scully, I am interested to see what this proof is, whether it's a video or not. But I'm questioning what motivation Ryan would have to lie at this point.”

Scully taps her fingers on the wheel as they come to a stop at a stop light. “Isn't Ryan's uncle due for parole soon?” she asks finally.

His forehead furrows in thought, and he nods. “Yeah, I think he is. I'm not sure how soon, or if it's already happened… Why do you ask?”

“I think it's just interesting,” she says. “That Jared Caruthers getting out of prison is coinciding with Ryan Caruthers being afraid that someone is going to get hurt.”

---

Ryan Caruthers is waiting at the restaurant, as promised, fidgeting in a corner booth with nervous energy. It's only been a couple of months since they've seen the kid, but it feels like an eternity to Mulder, what with everything that's happened. He looks exhausted, dark circles under his eyes, and he doesn't greet them with much more than a tight, polite nod. That seems to solidify the truthfulness of Ryan's fearful email in Mulder's head; he's clearly scared out of his wits and trying like hell to hide it.

He's got a soda, a plate of mozzarella sticks, and a closed laptop on the table, and he's tapping his fingers on the top when they sit. “Hey,” he mutters. “Agent Mulder. Agent Scully.”

“How are you doing, Ryan?” Scully asks, almost surprisingly gentle.

He shrugs, nearly aggressively. “Kind of explained it in the email.”

“You said you thought that Joy Seers was possessed,” says Mulder. “What made you suspect that?”

“All the weird shit she's said or done in the times I've seen her since she woke up,” Ryan says pointedly, tapping the corner of the laptop. “She's been acting really, really weird. When I went to see her in the hospital, she told me that it wasn't over. What the hell does that mean?”

“So… you think it was the ghost telling you that it wasn't over?” Mulder asks. “What do you think it is?” Scully bumps her foot against his under the table, which probably means, This sounds insane, Mulder. He nudges her foot back with his and otherwise ignores her, listening to Ryan.

“This,” says Ryan, waving his hand wildly. “The torment it's been inflicting on me, whatever. I think the ghost wants to hurt me somehow, and it's building up to something big. I…” He swallows anxiously and ducks his head, like they won't believe him. “I saw it possess my Aunt Annie. It was going to make her stab herself with scissors. I can't risk that happening to anyone else.” He wipes his eyes quickly, in a spastic motion that suggests he doesn't want anyone to see it. “It already got my parents,” he says quietly.

Mulder gulps uncomfortably, looking away. Trying not to think of the three body bags they rolled out of the Van de Kamps's house that night, two deaths and one near-death that are probably his fault. The only family his son has ever known, gone.

Beside him, Scully asks gently, “Ryan, does this have anything to do with your uncle getting out of prison?”

“No!” Ryan snaps, immediately. And then he seems to backtrack a bit, reconsidering. “Not in the way you're thinking. He didn't murder my parents, okay? If anything, he's in danger because of me. Not the other way around.”

“You think the ghost is going to target your aunt and uncle,” says Mulder.

“Yeah, or anyone I care about. Me, even. I dunno. I just know it isn't safe.” The kid grits his teeth, works his jaw back and forth. “And I think it might use Joy Seers to do it. The way it used Uncle Jared.”

Scully holds up her hand, as if to say, Stop. “Ryan, it isn't that we don't want to help you,” she says. “It isn't. But I'm just… not sure what we can do. It's not as if there's anyone we can arrest. I'm just not sure… what did you call us here to do, sweetie?”

Ryan looks briefly disgusted, although Mulder isn't sure if it's at the sweetie or Scully's reluctance to help. “Isn't it obvious?” he asks, his voice full of disgust as well. “I want you to get rid of the ghost.”

Scully does look surprised at that, and Mulder has to admit that he is, too. “You want us to, ah… get rid of the ghost?” he says hesitatingly.

“Yeah. Exorcise it or whatever.” Ryan crosses his arms defensively, shoots them a defiant look. “I researched you, you know. I know about all the shit you've dealt with. You've gotta know some way to get rid of a ghost.”

Scully clears her throat, either from uncomfortableness or from stifling a laugh. Maybe from both. Mulder says, “Um, Ryan, I think you might have us confused with exorcists. Or ghost hunters.”

“Well, what are you if you aren't that?”

“We're FBI agents,” Scully says bluntly.

“Who investigate weird, paranormal shit,” Ryan fills in stubbornly. “You have more experience with this stuff than anyone else I can think of! You gotta be able to figure out how to get rid of a ghost.”

“Ryan, even if we could perform some sort of… exorcism or banishment...” Mulder begins delicately, “... I don't know that we could displace a ghost that is this… entrenched in the history of this town. This isn't just a minor poltergeist, or a recently deceased malevolent spirit; this is a well-known legend that has existed for hundreds of years. I wouldn't even begin to know how to…”

“You think I give a shit?” Ryan hisses, so loud that the couple two tables down shoots them a strange look. “The Specter has been tormenting me for my entire life! It wants to hurt me and my family! And my parents died trying to get rid of it.”

Mulder flinches, automatically, even though he already knew that. And he can practically feel Scully's flinch beside him. Ryan's voice softens, his face still and serious. “So I can't do it,” he says quietly. “Just banishing it from my house ended in a sprained ankle and my aunt nearly getting killed.”

Scully exhales slowly beside Mulder. He can feel her tension, can feel her thinking; she's thinking about their son, he knows. Thinking about their son, wherever he is. “Listen,” she starts, gentle again, “Ryan…”

“I have proof, okay? I have proof of how dangerous it is.” He slides the laptop across the table at them insistently. “Back in November, I made a video of a seance I did. I was fooling around with a Ouija board, whatever…. Anyways, I got it on camera, and I tried to send it to you guys back then, but it wouldn't send. So it's saved on here.” He taps the laptop with one finger.

Mulder reaches hesitantly towards the laptop, but Ryan shakes his head insistently. “Watch it in private,” he says. “If you watch it, you'll understand why you've got to get rid of the ghost.”

“You want us to take your laptop?” Scully asks.

“I want you to watch the video,” Ryan says pointedly, motioning to the laptop again. “Please. Please just watch the video.”

Mulder takes the laptop then, pulling it to their side of the table. “We'll take a look, okay?” he says. “We'll try to figure something out. But this might not work. I don't know if we can actually get rid of this ghost.”

The kid crosses his arms, sullenly and stubborn. “Well, I think it's worth a try.”

Scully nudges her foot against his again, which is probably an indication on her part that he shouldn't give false hope. And Mulder doesn't want to give false hope. But he also doesn't want to ignore the possibility, the chance he has at making this stop. This family—this town—has been tormented by this ghost for years. Hell, he's had his own share of torment from this ghost. If he can do something about it, if there's even the slightest possibility that he can help, he's not going to ignore it. “We’ll do the best we can,” he promises.

---

They head to the hotel after their meeting, picking up some takeout on the way and opting for one room, as has been their practice since the case in Henrico County. (Whereas Scully may have been paranoid at another point in their life about disapproval from their superiors, a mark on their record or rumors or getting fired, she doesn't care now. Their marriage record is public domain, and if Skinner or Kersh or anyone higher than them cares, than surely they would've said something already.)

In the room, Scully sits up against the pillows and digs through the takeout box with chopsticks. Mulder crouches at the end of the bed, looking for Ryan's laptop for the video. She sighs, a little affectionately, and says what she's been thinking ever since they left the restaurant: “Mulder, I'm not sure our response to what happened back there was very wise.”

“You mean promising Ryan I'd do my best to get rid of the ghost for him?” Mulder asks wryly, scrolling through a list of files. “You're probably right. But I didn't know what else to do, Scully. That kid wasn't going to let up, and I want to help him out if I can. I think we can both agree that this haunting—phenomena, whatever—needs to stop.”

Scully does find it hard to argue with that. She shifts in place, setting the takeout box on the bedside table and crossing her legs. “I just don't know how we can stop this, Mulder. We're not exorcists. We have no experience in things like this, even if this phenomena is being caused by something we could stop. I just don't understand how—”

“Check it out, Scully, I found it,” Mulder says suddenly, waving at her, and he scoots up on the bed, clicking on a video with a Ouija board taking up most of the frame.

The first thing they see is Ryan's hand, moving what looks like a wedding photo, tucking it under the board. Scully swallows, almost painfully; she's assuming that the people in the photo are Ryan's parents. Ryan swirls the planchette around the board a couple of times, the planchette scraping the board, before inhaling sharply and saying, “If there are spirits here tonight, please make yourself known using the board and only the board.”

But nothing happens. Or at least not anything that Scully can discern as paranormal. She can hear Ryan sigh, and then the planchette starts to move again—she assumes that he is moving it, because it's moving pretty gently. He spells out Mom and moves the planchette to the D before it yanks hard, spelling H-E-L-L-O. Mulder jerks to attention beside her, which she assumes is an indication that he believes the ghost is moving it. They hear Ryan say, “H-hello? Mom, Dad? Is that you?” The planchette moves to YES.

“Mulder, Ryan could very well be faking this,” Scully whispers, just out of caution. As a child, she'd been to plenty of slumber parties where someone moves the planchette and says it's a ghost. (She'll admit, she doesn't know what Ryan's motivation for faking a seance would be, but it's certainly a possibility.)

“I don’t think this is fake, Scully,” says Mulder, and he motions to the screen again. Ryan is whispering something inaudibly, and the planchette begins to move: first to YES, and then spelling out W-E L-O-V-E Y-O-U. Scully gulps.

“I love you, too,” Ryan says softly, his voice quivering. Scully hears the faint rumble of thunder in the background. Ryan clears his throat faintly and says, “Mom, Dad… I need to ask you something. If you remember it.”

Nothing moves on the board. Mulder leans closer to the screen, watching the video carefully. Ryan speaks again, unsteadily. “That night… uh, with Uncle Jared… did he… Did he… did he mean to kill you? O-or was it not him?” Something like lightning flashes in the background. Ryan continues, stammering: “Was it the Specter? Was the Specter using him? D-did the Specter kill you?”

The planchette moves to NO. Scully would tempted to point out this denial to Mulder, since she's never put a lot of stock into the idea that Jared was possessed, but since the source of said denial is a Ouija board, she keeps her mouth shut.

Ryan is protesting the board, asking if Jared really is responsible, and when the planchette slides to YES, he begins to deny it vehemently. The planchette moves more rapidly, hitting the YES again and again, almost violently. Mulder's breath catches in his throat, and he touches Scully's arm in what seems like excitement or anxiousness. He's watching with his eyes practically glued to the screen of the laptop.

“Mulder,” Scully starts gently, “do you think that this is real? I mean, how do we know this isn't all faked? There could be wires… magnets…”

“Scully, look,” he says, nudging her. The planchette is moving more rapidly now, shooting back and forth between letters—spelling a word, Scully assumes. Ryan's hand reaches for the planchette, and it goes flying, off-screen, and lands with a thunk on something that sounds vaguely human. There's a crash of thunder, and then the feed freezes. Just freezes, static slicing across the screen, the new silence almost eerie.

Mulder, tense as a taut wire, mutters, “What the—?” and reaches for the laptop mouse. But before he can touch it, it moves, jerking back violently of its own accord.

Scully jumps, letting out a startled yelp, as the laptop goes flying across the room and hits the wall with an almost sickening crack.