Title: Gothic
Author: N. Y. Smith
Category: X-Files
Written: 03/29/1999
Words: 29974
Rating: M
Spoilers: Through season 5, FTF
Rating: R for disturbing content, language.
Category: MSR, Skinner/other
Disclaimer: Okay, you know I didn't create them. I didn't create John Westley Grayson, either, as you folks who watched UNSUB remember. Nor did I create Hannibal Lecter, Will Graham, et al, (thanks Thomas Harris) but I do treat them as real. I did create Skinner's family, among others, and retain the rights to them.

Summary: Scully & Mulder return from exile to help Skinner track an old nemesis.

Credit: The Crime Library was a wonderful resource for information about serial killers (I promise I didn't enjoy it; it was research). The Gattas case is also true, amazingly enough.

Gothic

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 Recall
Chapter 2 Return
Chapter 3 Revenant
Chapter 4 Anamnesis
Chapter 5 Parallax
Chapter 6 Redress
Chapter 7 Collimation
Chapter 8 Ennui
Chapter 9 Helter Skelter
Chapter 10 Road Weary
Chapter 11 Rockabye
Chapter 12 Acedia
Chapter 13 Dinner at Eight
Chapter 14 Driven
Chapter 15 Chicken Bones and Tea Leaves
Chapter 16 Optative
Chapter 17 Esperance


Chapter 1 Recall

"Get your butts back to DC, ASAP!" Mulder recognized the reedy, recorded voice of AD Kersh despite the static on the wind-tossed phone lines. The wind blew constantly in Montana, carrying with it a fine dust that infiltrated the tiniest openings in the decrepit telephone booth. He pulled his coat together, less to ward off the biting breeze than to fend off even a small amount of dust. He sighed--vowing to somehow acquire a satellite cell phone that would actually work across these wild mountains-- and scribbled something unintelligible below another unintelligible line before joining Scully in the dusty gray sedan.

With her right hand, she proffered a large foam cup just the like the one her left hand held to her mouth. "Your banana split milk shake," she wrinkled her nose. "One more ingredient and the waitress would have had to get a chemical handler's certificate."

He grunted and pulled a long drink through the thick straw. "A little Montana humor, Scully?" he said sourly.

"When in Rome . . . " she answered quietly. "What's wrong?"

"There was a summons from our fearless leader on the answering machine." He seldom referred to AD Kersh by name.

"Now what?" She searched her brain for some infraction that might have led to this summons. "I thought they sent us to Montana to keep us out of trouble."

"Gee, Scully, and all this time I thought we were protecting America from terrorists--or fertilizer salesmen."

"Drive, Mulder, or we won't have time to stop by home and pack."

"Yes, ma'am," he mock-saluted and pointed the sedan toward a small cabin outside Miles City.


The lights of the District glittered like diamonds on black velvet. Many times he had seen it as they returned from cases that ranged from the mundane to the arcane. But this time was different. These were no longer the lights of home. These were the lights of a place that had become strange, foreign. Scully stirred slightly as he reached over and pushed the button that returned her seat to its upright position. But she still dozed -- her head resting on his shoulder. "Hey," he whispered in a lover's voice, "we're almost there."

She moaned disappointment before opening her eyes tentatively. "Happy, happy, joy, joy," she said sourly and rubbed her eyes.

"You think they're preparing the fatted calf for us?"

"Not unless Fowley and Spender have already managed to kill the new Director's dog." She sat up. "More likely a firing squad--figuratively speaking."

"Here's to literary devices--" Mulder grinned and brushed her cheek. She nodded and found his hand with hers, fingers intertwining, ready to face the landing--and whatever came after that.


It wasn't until he was walking down the jetway that it hit him--a terrible sense of impending doom. Scully's taut expression revealed that she felt it, too. This was it--Kersh had called them back to DC to ask for their badges. This was probably their last night in the employ of the people of the United States of America. Mindlessly they followed the line into the gate area before stopping on the concourse.

"Where do you want to stay?" Scully asked.

"Well, it won't be the Harvey," Mulder replied drily. "The least Kersh could have done was canned us before we gave up our apartments."

Scully's mouth curved slightly upward, but it wasn't a smile. "We'll have to stay outside the Beltway. Which means we'll need a rental car . . ."

Mulder shook his head sheepishly. "Kersh is 2 months behind in signing my Requests For Reimbursement. It'll have to be on a Metro stop."

Scully sighed and wished for the days before Kersh had attached her salary to pay for their last trip to the Arctic. They managed to live comfortably, albeit rather simply, on Mulder's salary in Montana. But money didn't go far here. There would be hotel, Metro passes, meals and, finally, air fare back home to Montana. Damn Kersh. "Then let's try Maryland--out near my --"

"Dana! Fox!" A big voice emanated from the tiny body that was hurtling toward them. "I was afraid I'd missed you!" she panted and threw an arm around each of them.

"Mom," Dana protested. "You shouldn't be out this late."

"Of course I should," she dismissed with another hug. "How often does my baby girl come home from the wilds of Montana?" Maggie Scully grasped Mulder's jacket and pulled his face low enough to plant a motherly kiss on his cheek. "Welcome home, Fox."

"Thanks, Mrs. Scully."

"Now, grab your things and we'll be home before you know it."

"Mom, we can find a hotel . . ."

Maggie Scully shook her head. "Nonsense," she replied and handed the car keys to Mulder while wrapping an arm around her daughter.

Scully tossed an appreciative glance at her mother then back at Mulder. Trust Maggie Scully to know what they needed without being told.

It felt odd to Dana Scully--stepping back into her mother's house with a suitcase in her hand and a lover in tow. Lover--that was such an inadequate description of Mulder. What had started between them since their return from the Arctic was exciting and passionate. But it was the least important facet of the entity of them. It was merely a physical manifestation of a much more elemental and soulful joining--of mind and spirit as well as of body. In that joining they found the strength to face the gales of life, both past and future. She hooked her pinky finger through his as they waited while her mother fumbled with the house key.

"There!" Maggie said triumphantly and strode through the open door. "Fox, you can put your things in Melissa's old room and Dana's in hers." She laid her purse and keys on the console in the crook of the stairs. "Dana can help me fix us a snack."

Scully shot a fearful look at Mulder before he mounted the stairs to their separate rooms.

"So, do you like Montana any better than when you first arrived?" Maggie handed Dana tomatoes to slice.

"It's alright," she shrugged.

Maggie carried a plastic container to the table. "Just alright?"

Dana thought a moment. "One of the ladies from the parish brought a pie to the office last week." She smiled. "She said we looked like we could use some meat on our bones."

"Who could use some meat on their bones?" Mulder asked as the door swished behind him.

"Both of you," her mother chided and arranged silver on either side of the plates.

"Mom, we're f--" Scully's voice broke and she stood silent and trembling.

Mulder immediately slipped behind her and crossed his arms just beneath her chin, drawing her close. She surrendered to his embrace, tears coursing down her cheeks. He bent his head down to her ear and murmured more than whispered. But the words repeated by his lips were unmistakable, "I love you and we'll be okay."


He had arisen early after a sleepless night and a long run had done little to take the edge off the apprehension that writhed in his soul. He hoped the hot shower would assuage the fear, but now he stood in the early morning light fussing with a necktie. He looked longingly at the jeans, turtleneck and sports coat that had become his uniform in the months they'd criss-crossed Montana checking out the sales of large quantities of fertilizer. "Damn," he cursed the cravat and Scully's still-reddened eyes peered from her fitful slumber. She moaned disgustedly and rolled over as she did every morning, waiting for him to bring to their bed a cup of that muddy elixir that would jump-start her day.

It was waiting for him in the kitchen. And so was Maggie Scully. "Morning," he greeted as he pulled a large mug from the cabinet.

"Good morning, Fox," she replied over the rim of her coffee mug. "Sleep well last night?" she asked pointedly.

He sighed. It was going to be a bad enough day without starting it off with a fight with Maggie Scully. The sound of the coffee pouring was deafening in the now-silent kitchen. "I'm sorry about the rooms but Sc--Dana--and I have been slee-living-together for some time now and--"

"I know," she interrupted dismissively. "What's wrong?"

He sat at the table and stared into the cup.

"Fox," she placed her hand gently on his. "What's wrong?"

He swallowed hard, failure sticking in his throat. "We, uh, we think they've brought us back in to ask for our badges."

"To fire you?" she asked incredulously. "Why?"

"Would you like the long list or the short list?" he replied resignedly.


Chapter 2 Return

They sat in the anteroom to Assistant Director Kersh's office going over the latest version of the "What I'm Gonna Do After the FBI" list.

"I still have my Dad's house on the Vineyard. Think about it, Scully. We could live there or rent it out during the season."

"That's very tempting, Mulder, but the only thing I want to think about is sleeping for the next 6 months."

"All the better," he agreed lecherously.

She backhanded him playfully as she rose and crossed to the door. Her response to his raised eyebrows was to point down the hall toward the restrooms.

He looked at his watch for what seemed like the hundredth time. Two hours, he thought. We come all the way from Montana and Kersh leaves us cooling our heels for 2 hours. He ignored the ringing phone as he paced around the small room. The bookshelf was the epitome of political correctness. He selected a handsomely bound biography of Jefferson-one of his own favorites and turned to a familiar passage. The spine crackled and the pages stuck together. The book had never been opened. And neither had any of the others. So, Kersh is ambitious, Mulder grinned to himself. You never know when that little piece of insight will come in handy, he thought as he replaced the book in the shelf.

The administrative assistant's desk was nearly empty; Kersh had evidently fired another one. Absently he stirred the papers on the abandoned desk, stopping to read ones that looked interesting. Most were routine "administratrivia," but a few divulged rancor and dissent within Kersh's underlings. The AD's scrawled responses were brusque: most involved disciplinary action for the offending agent. Beneath that mound of vitriol Mulder found something more valuable to him than the Holy Grail: their missing RFRs. They were neatly clipped together with a memo from Kersh to hold until a date that was now another 3 weeks away. "Son of a bitch," he muttered savagely. Skinner never sat on things like this-

"Agent Mulder?"

Mulder jumped even though he recognized the voice without turning around. "Yes, sir?"

"What are you doing in here alone, Agent Mulder?" Skinner's large frame filled the doorway.

Mulder responded to the floor. "Kersh, Assistant Director Kersh, left instructions for me, that is, for Scully and me, to wait here for him."

Skinner quailed at Mulder's uncharacteristically subservient demeanor. Lately, he'd been astonished to realize that he actually missed the times when he and Mulder would stand toe-to-toe while Mulder offered some egregious explanation for his most recent Request For Reimbursement. He'd usually deferred to Mulder's judgement, but the last one, that wild-assed trip to the Antarctic, had gone beyond reason. He'd bounced them both-together-over to Anti-Terrorism and let Kersh worry about it. "Where's your security detail, Agent Mulder?"

Mulder's head lowered even more. It's really true. They're really going to fire us. Then he straightened defiantly and proffered his badge and his weapon. "I'll be damned if I'm gonna turn these over to an ass-kissing, two-faced weasel like Kersh."

Skinner rocked back, face betraying shock and confusion. "Agent Mulder, I don't . . ."

"I know it's more than I deserve after everything I've put you through, but . . ." He laid his badge and gun in Skinner's hand.

Skinner stared incredulously at the items in his hands, then at Mulder's face. After a long moment he asked, "Agent Mulder, did AD Kersh tell you why you and Agent Scully have been recalled to Washington?"

"He didn't have to. The tone of his message was . . ."

Mulder stopped because Skinner's face, from cravat to nape, had turned scarlet, then crimson. He jabbed the contents of his hand into the owner's stomach and marched down the hall.

"Sir?" Mulder tried to follow.

"Shut up, Agent Mulder," Skinner ordered then muttered under his breath, "ass-kissing, two-faced bastard . . ." He spotted Kersh in the break room and barreled toward him, stopping short when he realized that the room was packed with people. Skinner looked around sourly then put on his best "happy boss" face. They had stumbled upon another of the seemingly endless round of baby showers.

Kersh paled when he recognized Skinner's demeanor, but his lips curled into a smirk at the sight of Mulder. "So, Mulder, when did you get in?" he whispered superciliously.

"You know damn well when they got in," Skinner whispered threateningly through his crocodile smile. "Where's the protective detail I assigned to them?"

"I canceled it." His look dared Skinner to defy him. "Experienced agents like them don't need babysitters."

"Maybe not," he glared. "If they know what they're up against."

Kersh snorted. "You coddle them too much, Walt. You always have."

Skinner opened his mouth to argue but burked as he caught sight of Scully timidly approaching the table of opened gifts. The piercing blue eyes misted over as her petite hand hovered shakily over the display of tiny finery. Carefully she picked up diminutive white dress with a lacy bonnet and booties. She stroked the soft lace, swaying as she tried to blink away the tears. But she steadied at an obviously familiar touch in the small of her back. A large, slender hand lifted hers until the tiny dress was once again near her heart. A whisper and a smile passed between them and her eyes were clear again, if slightly reddened. With a nod he tenderly brushed her hand an followed her into the corridor. They had barely cleared the door before the idle party chatter ratcheted up to a gossipy buzz about their return to the Puzzle Palace. Their return- and the slender gold band that each wore-third finger, left hand.

Skinner followed them, keeping a circumspect distance until he was certain they were again in control of their emotions. Only then did he catch Mulder's eye and nod for them to accompany him. They walked beside him, once more the epitome of professional demeanor, and their former boss took the opportunity to reacquaint himself with their appearance. They were both thinner-noticeably so. Scully's navy pantsuit overwhelmed her petite frame; Mulder's navy suit bagged. Their dark clothes only accentuated the dark circles beneath their eyes. Scully's step-once crisp and sure-seemed plodding and uncertain. And Mulder's once-proud, clear gaze was hidden behind eyes that cast downward almost ashamedly. God, he shuddered.

"Why are we here, sir?" Scully asked timorously.

Skinner pulled a key ring from his pocket and twisted one of the keys in a door marked "Conference Room." "A case has come up that requires your expertise."

"I thought Fowley and Spender were handling witch hunts these days," Mulder responded acidly.

"It's not an X-File," Skinner shook his head.

"Don't tell me Jimmy Hoffa's turned up rooming with Elvis," Mulder continued.

"Believe me, Agents, when I confess that I wish fervently that it were something that innocuous." His expression was very foreign to them. It was akin to fear, but darker. Dread. Mulder finally realized.

Skinner swung the door open and recognition brought a foul taste to Mulder's mouth. A Violent Crimes Section war room--Mulder's expression betrayed fear and dread, too. He raised his eyebrows in query.

Skinner led them into the room. "Bill Patterson has escaped."

In a flash he was there--in Mostow's studio. Patterson stood before him, staring at the clay on his own hands. Disgust and pity rose bitterly in Mulder's mouth. And fear. Patterson had almost won--and Mulder had almost lost himself --mired in the morass of madness.

"Agent Mulder?" Skinner's eyes betrayed concern; he hadn't forgotten it either. Nor had Scully who gently touched his arm. He returned the touch then pushed past them both into the "war room."

"Are we the only ones assigned to the investigation?" Mulder asked with concern.

Skinner shook his head. "But God forbid that we should interrupt office social functions to conduct an actual investigation.

Mulder nodded knowingly. "Being a social outcast leaves you so much more time for work," he said laconically. "Especially if you're posted to someplace festive--like Montana."

"Mulder," Scully admonished, but it was only pro forma.

Skinner thumbed through a pile of photographs. "I'm sorry you don't like how things turned out, Agent Mulder, but it was the best deal I could negotiate."

"Negotiate with whom?" Scully asked.

Skinner peered over his glasses at her. "Orders came down to terminate you both and turn the X-Files over to Agents Fowley and Spender."

"And you were, of course, anxious to cooperate," Mulder accused.

Skinner colored. "I thought I had accomplished a great deal by saving your jobs then keeping you together. Even if it was in Montana."

Mulder stuffed his hands in his pants pockets and studied the relationship matrix that was posted on the opposite wall.

"Thank you, sir," Scully said quietly. "I know we're not easy to deal with."

"I'm not looking for 'easy', Agent Scully. I'll settle for 'good'." He looked her straight in the eye. "And you are. Both of you. Don't let Kersh tell you otherwise."

The air conditioner hummed over the uneasy silence.

"Whom do we answer to on this one?" Mulder still stood across the room.

"Me. And the Director."

"And afterwards?" Scully asked.

Skinner averted his eyes. "You go back to Kersh."

Their eyes carried on what appeared to be a lively conversation-argument, actually--before Scully spoke. "And if we refuse the case?"

"We can't," Mulder answered for Skinner. He stepped up beside her. "Patterson has been privy to the mind of every sick, sadistic, serial killer in the last 20 years. We can't leave that on the street."

Scully opened her mouth to argue but was silenced by his hand cupped to her cheek. She closed her eyes and nuzzled his hand for a moment, then sighed deeply. "Where do we start?"

"Staff meeting," their new-old boss tossed a stack of case file folders on the table. "Eleven hundred hours."


Chapter 3 Revenant

Just before eleven investigative team members began staking their claims on particular areas of the table, leaving Scully and Mulder to take seats against the wall. They sat side-by-side-both consumed by the file folders stacked on chairs on either side of them-occasionally exchanging whispers and scribbling in the files. The reaction of the other team members to their presence ranged from indifference to outrage. Most of the other agents had the good manners to greet them in a professional manner, but a few, whose names Skinner noted mentally, veiled their "greetings" between clenched teeth.

But trust Kersh's lapdog Bynum to outdo them all, "Well, if it isn't Spooky and the Ice Queen."

The room fell silent, expecting Mulder's usual reaction to an insult to Scully. Skinner held his breath, hoping Mulder would keep his cool and wishing Mulder could deck the idiot. He could see Mulder tense until Scully's fingertips brushed his hand. He looked up with gray, lifeless eyes. "Agent Bynum," he said and returned to his reading.

Skinner grinned at Bynum's exasperation over being disregarded. "Let's settle down, people. Every minute we waste is one more minute's advantage we give Patterson." The buzz quieted. "It's been 48 hours since Guard Jackson Eller's body was discovered in Bill Patterson's cell at the Maryland State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Our information about his movements since then is very sketchy but some details have surfaced."

Sketchy, Mulder thought, that's the understatement of the year. He fingered the slim folder marked "Patterson escape." We don't know shit. He opened the folder to pictures of Patterson's cell. We don't know shit and he knows everything. The pictures flittered in his trembling fingers as he brought them closer to his squinting eyes. He rubbed his eyes and wished he hadn't left his glasses back in Montana. A pair of glasses floated into view, supported by Scully's diminutive hand. He peered through them at the photographs, desperately trying to picture the scene. Patterson's cell was light and bright. But every time he blinked he saw Nemhauser's face, frozen in death's thrall, emerging from its clay shroud in Mostow's crypt-like studio. At first glance the look on Jackson Eller's face appeared peaceful, but closer inspection of the autopsy photographs revealed a grimace. Scully passed him a crime scene photo that showed lines drawn on the victim's uniform in black marker. He studied it a moment before his face turned ashy gray and he shuddered, sending both his file, and the file that had been perched on Scully's knees, to the floor. They both collapsed to their knees and gathered up the files, faces scarlet. All eyes turned toward them and the pathologist who'd been giving a report stopped in mid-sentence.

For his part, Bynum rolled his eyes and muttered something about a "lunatic" under his breath. Skinner shot a withering look at Bynum and stemmed that font of vituperation. He motioned for the pathologist to continue while raising an eyebrow in their direction. Mulder's eyes darted to the floor and Skinner's heart panged again for the agent. The pathologist finally droned to a stop and the profiling team began their report. Or, more accurately, their lack of a report. The agent giving the report-VCU founder Westy Grayson's son, Mulder whispered and Scully nodded absently--looked like he wasn't old enough to shave.

"Victim Eller was most likely selected on the basis of convenience," young Grayson continued. "While the markings and number on the clothing are obviously significant to Patterson, we've not been able to take any meaning from them."

Mulder surveyed the rest of the team as he returned to his chair; they weren't much older than Grayson. He recalled ruefully that Nemhauser's murder and Patterson's illness had caused most of the senior analysts to re-evaluate their career options outside the Bureau. Smart bastards, Mulder thought. At least they were smart enough to jump ship before they had to sit here and listen to some Junior-G-Man getting everything wrong. He snorted involuntarily. Scully responded with a very voluntary elbow to his ribs.

"You have something to add, Agent Mulder?" Skinner gestured with his Mont Blanc.

Mulder's eyes met Skinner's momentarily before, once again, darting groundward.

"Come on, Spooky," Bynum taunted. "You're supposed to be the crackerjack profiler."

Mulder had been eyeing the door as an avenue of escape-until Bynum's taunt. He responded by leaning his head against the wall-eyes closed.

A subdued but steady voice broke the silence. "Sir," Grayson said earnestly, "It's no secret that recent retirements have left my unit with a dearth of experience. I, for one, feel this investigation would benefit greatly from the observations of someone as proficient, and experienced, as Agent Mulder." The younger agent's steely blue eyes betrayed a determination and wisdom that far exceeded his experience.

Mulder exhaled slowly. "Jackson Eller was far from convenient for Patterson," his eyes remained closed as if recalling a nightmare. "He was not even assigned to the ward that housed Patterson." He could hear frantic page-rustling, "It's on the victim information work-up. Page 4." Then he heard soft whistles of amazement. "Jackson Eller's father was a DEA agent killed in the line of duty. Had he survived, he would have been about Patterson's age. So it's within the realm of possibility that Eller might have felt some sympathy for Patterson."

"Which Patterson repaid by murdering him," Grayson continued.

"Which Patterson repaid by killing him quickly and nearly painlessly," Mulder explained.

"It's true," Scully corroborated. "According to the autopsy the cause of death was hypotension precipitated by a transection of the renal vein. Eller would have felt little more than a pinprick and death would have occurred within a minute."

"How considerate of him," Bynum said caustically. "So what about the artwork?"

Mulder rested his chin on his chest and cast his eyes upward to meet Skinner's. He held the gaze for a long moment before casting them downward again.

Skinner made a show of glancing at his watch. "It's nearly lunch time," he announced. "Why don't we all grab a bite and reconvene here at 1330?"

Bynum's head-shaking and eye-rolling was typical of the expressions of the other agents as they left the room-with the exception of Grayson, who paused at the door, surveying the scene one more time before exiting.

"Okay, Mulder, what's the big secret?" Skinner asked when the door had clicked shut.

Mulder paced in front of the whiteboard.

"Mulder?" Scully prompted.

Mulder paced more before answering. "When I first joined the Bureau, Bill Patterson and Westy Grayson were still duking it out for control of VCS. Grayson had gained the upper hand so I was assigned to him when I came on board." He stopped and studied a marker from the chalk rail. "The caseload was unbelievable, but that was good-because you didn't have time to become attached to cases and take victims to heart. At least, that's what we told ourselves. It worked pretty well until bodies started turning up in the bay side district in Baltimore-bodies that had been systematically butchered." Mulder stopped walking and talking. "Virtually nothing remained but skull and viscera."

Skinner's face showed disgust. "Avery Johnson."

Mulder nodded wordlessly.

"Avery Johnson?" Scully asked.

Skinner watched Mulder as he answered. "Johnson owned a butcher shop in Baltimore. When the price of meat rose too high, he found another source for his shop's inventory."

It was Scully's turn to look disgusted.

"So," Skinner continued, "the Director sealed the file and slapped a gag order on everyone involved with the case."

"No sense in the good people of Baltimore losing sleep wondering which of their neighbors they'd had for lunch," Mulder said drily.

"So, what are we looking at, Mulder?" asked Scully. "Recreations of Patterson's greatest cases?"

"Actually," Skinner corrected, "Westy Grayson was the lead investigator."

"But, true to form, Patterson managed to take credit for the profile that finally caught Johnson," Mulder said.

"So, what will it be?" she asked. "The VCS hit parade or something entirely new?"

Skinner rubbed his forehead. "Whatever it is, I can guarantee you we won't like it."

Mulder sniffed assent.

A knock preceded John Grayson's tow-head in the doorway. "Sir, the asylum wants to know if we're done working up Patterson's cell."

Mulder looked from Skinner to Scully then squeezed out the door ahead of Scully then Skinner.

"I guess that's a no," Grayson said to the chairs.


Chapter 4 Anamnesis

The Maryland State Hospital for the Criminally Insane looked exactly like it should-a hybrid of a prison and the loony bin.

"Wonder what Ken Kesey would have called this place?" Mulder chattered nervously. He paused at the door to an empty room, a room where the wrist restraints hung limply from the bed rails. He closed his eyes and held his breath, alternately abraded each wrist in the other hand-as if trying to restore the circulation.

Skinner held back slightly, flushing at the memory of having had Mulder taken off for psychiatric observation. Mulder was the type of person who didn't need his own ghosts; his memories haunted him well enough.

Scully stepped in front of her partner and took each wrist in her own hands. She looked directly into his downcast eyes and smiled warmly. He grinned sheepishly in Skinner's direction then resumed his pace down the hall to Patterson's cell.

John Grayson merely stood back and observed. The relationship of "Spooky" and "The Ice Queen" had long been fodder for the very active rumor mill at the Bureau. His father had told him enough about Fox Mulder to realize that the "Spooky" nickname had been born of invidia. He also knew that Mulder's "gifts" exacted a terrible drayage on the carrier.

That burden weighed heavily on Mulder as he stood at the door to Patterson's cell. He hesitated for only a moment before striding into the tiny room. It was, surprisingly, very neat. "Who worked the crime scene?" he asked quietly.

"Bynum," Grayson replied.

Mulder responded with a grimace.

"Look, Mulder, I know he's a jerk but he's damn good on crime scenes," Skinner defended.

Mulder shot him a sharp look. "So good you had to drag Scully and me back from Montana?"

Scully watched as Skinner's long fuse, which had been smoldering since their return, finally ran out. He strode quietly into the cell and closed the door.

Walter Skinner may have been an inch or two shorter than Fox Mulder but his menacing presence overcame any height deficiency. "What is your problem, Agent Mulder?" he asked in a pointed whisper. "You have been trying to bust my balls since you got here and we don't have time for it. Spill it so we can get back to work."

Mulder cast a sidelong glance at him before his eyes returned to the floor.

"Come on, Spooky. You can bet Patterson's not wasting his time."

Mulder closed his eyes wearily. "I can't do it," he said in a hoarse whisper.

Skinner tilted his head, "Excuse me?"

"I can't do it anymore."

"Do what, Mulder?"

"This," Mulder smiled maniacally. "I can't crawl around inside these sick sons of bitches and . . ." he stopped abruptly.

"And expect to crawl out again?" Skinner asked quietly.

Mulder nodded, finally. "Look what Lector did to Will Graham and the Preacher to Westy Grayson. They almost didn't make it back." He dragged his hand down his face. "And Patterson . . ."

Skinner nodded, "I know." He swallowed hard. "But."

"But there is no one else, is there? I caught him before and you're counting on me to do it again."

"Yes, we are. You know he won't stop, Mulder. He won't stop until we stop him."

Mulder exhaled resignedly. "I almost didn't make it out last time. I don't think I can do it again."

"You will," Skinner reassured.

"How can you be so sure?" Mulder asked incredulously, a tear coursing down his reddened face.

The older man smiled. "Because Scully and I will be there to help you."

"I hope you're right."

"Me, too," he pulled a clean handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to the younger man. "Now," his voice broke and he tried again. "Now," he said, opening the door again, "you had some questions about the crime scene workup, Agent Mulder?"

A drawerless table functioned as a desk, magazines stacked neatly across the back. Mulder picked up the top one from each stack. Scully, Skinner and Grayson observed from the hall. "Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Journal of Forensic Psychiatry, and . . ." he turned and displayed the last periodical, "the Law Enforcement Bulletin. Someone want to tell me how a sadistic serial killer stays on the subscription list to the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin?"

They watched in bemused silence as Mulder continued his inspection of the cell. Occasionally he muttered to himself. More often he rifled through Bynum's crime scene report. Scully finally broke the silence, "Are you finding anything?"

He leaned heavily against the door facing and shook his head.

"What, exactly, are you looking for?" young Grayson asked.

"I'll know it when I find it," Mulder replied vaguely.

Finally, he stepped into the hall.

"Anything?" Skinner asked hopefully.

Mulder merely shook his head. "Bill's gonna make us work for this one." His foot steps fell heavily on the tile floor.

Grayson shook his head. "It's gotta be there."

"What's that, Grayson?" Skinner asked.

"The signature." Grayson thought for a moment. "The neatness of the scene, maybe?"

Mulder shook his head. "Patterson's always been a neat freak. Patterns like that don't change."

"What about the gargoyle?" Scully asked. "He used that before."

"I didn't see one. Neither did Bynum."

"It's gotta be there," Mulder sputtered. Suddenly he leafed madly through the folder in his hand.

"What, Mulder?" Skinner asked.

"Luminol. Did you treat the scene with luminol?"

"No," Grayson answered. "The victim bled to death internally. All the blood was accounted for."

"All of the victim's blood," Mulder explained cryptically and looked to his temporary boss for permission.

"Do it," Skinner ordered.

They had sprayed all four walls then illuminated with the ultraviolet lamp to no avail. Grayson grew restless. "There's nothing here, Mulder."

The bed, still bearing the victim's taped outline, had been pushed against the back wall to make more room in the cubicle. Mulder stared at the cot. "Was the victim found face-up or face-down?"

"Supine," Scully read from a folder.

Mulder pointed up and the technician sprayed the entire ceiling. A flick of the light switch plunged them into an ultraviolet blue darkness. Scully gasped. Hundreds of eyes, cold and lifeless, stared down from the ceiling at them from the drawn faces of grotesque gargoyles.

"Sweet Jesus," Skinner muttered.

"Old habits die hard." Mulder peered into the corner directly above the bed.

"What's that?" Scully asked.

"Letters," Grayson replied.

"A message?" Skinner asked.

"Honey, I'm home," Mulder read the message, perplexed.

Skinner, too, looked confused before recognition darkened his face. "Shit!" he cursed and madly punched numbers into his cell phone. "I need an address and a phone number for Patterson's ex-wife," he barked into the instrument. He repeated the information and Scully copied it down. "We're 30 minutes away from there; respond locals but have them keep it quiet." He nearly sprinted down the hall.

"Could we get so lucky as to catch him like this?" Grayson wondered.

"I hope so," Scully replied, her heels clicking on the asphalt parking lot.

Skinner had dialed again and was listening intently. He shook his head in response to Mulder's arched eyebrow. "No answer," he said ominously and slammed the car door behind him.


Chapter 5 Parallax

A uniformed Patrolman met them on the sidewalk in front of the modest brownstone in Chevy Chase. "He was here, alright," the officer reported. "Been gone about 12 hours, according to the wife."

Mulder cursed underneath his breath but followed Scully who followed Skinner inside the house. It was simply furnished, but immaculate. Mary Patterson cowered on the white sofa in her white bathrobe, backlit by the late-afternoon sun streaming through the window behind her, her golden hair an aureole befitting an Orthodox icon. But her expression, rather than beatific, was anguished.

"Sir?" Scully's voice interrupted Skinner's reverie and he realized, cheeks warming, that he'd been gazing at Patterson's wife for quite some time. Scully proffered a plastic bag that contained a uniform shirt and a nameplate belonging to Jackson Eller. "He was here."

"And her?" Skinner nodded toward the light.

"She told the officers that he showered, shaved and changed clothes while he was here."

"Where?"

Scully led him through the master bedroom to the adjacent bathroom where Mulder was staring into an empty cardboard box. Despite the dust the label was still readable-"Bill's clothes."

Mulder swatted at it in frustration with a rubber-gloved hand. "Divorced for nearly 3 years and still she keeps a box with his clothes in it."

"Some people are extremely loyal," Grayson contributed from the doorway of the walk-in closet. "She said she didn't file until after he was institutionalized. It's not like he had a chance to pack things neatly for himself."

"I didn't know you were that well acquainted with Patterson, Agent Grayson," Scully inquired.

"I wasn't, really, but my dad knew Mary when she worked over at Justice, before she married Bill." He leaned against the door facing. "She was -- is-- a nice lady."

"So, where's the message?" Skinner asked impatiently.

Both Grayson and Mulder shrugged.

"Well-spoken," a sarcastic voice approached from the door. "Just what you'd expect from the Bureau's best and brightest."

"What do you want, Bynum?"

"I want to find a witness who saw Patterson come or go from this place." He leaned against the door facing. "We've canvassed every house within a 2 block radius and not a soul has seen him. I'm beginning to wonder if he was here at all."

"He was here, Agent Bynum," Scully waved a stack of smudged cards at him. "His prints are all over the place."

"Those prints could have been made yesterday or 3 years ago," Bynum snorted. "There's no way to tell."

"Be that as it may, Agent Bynum," Scully rebutted, "it is unreasonable to think they've been here that long."

Bynum puffed derisively and wheeled around.

"Bill never lived here," Mary Patterson's petite form shuddered in the door frame. "I moved here after he," she hesitated, "went away."

All eyes pinned her and her eyes darted floorward.

Bynum swallowed nervously. "Ma'am, I'm sorry; I didn't mean . . ."

"He was here when I came home yesterday and he left early this morning." She swayed slightly. "While he was here he showered, shaved and packed a suitcase."

"Was there anything else in the box? Papers, anything?" Grayson asked.

"There were some papers, but I have no idea what they were."

"You didn't read them when you packed?" Scully asked.

Mary Patterson shook her head. "When Bill was caught, I threw everything of his into this box and sealed it up."

Mulder's head perked up. "You say he showered?" He walked toward the bathing area. "Here?"

She nodded and he pointed the luminol technician toward the shower. A flick of the UV light revealed only . . . a shower stall.

Mulder harumphed.

But Grayson grabbed the bewildered technician. "And shaved?"

She nodded again and the technician sprayed the sink area.

"And the mirror," Grayson directed.

A flick of a switch displayed the eyes of gargoyles staring malevolently at them. Malefic eyes covered the mirror. Except for the place where the message was written.

Catch me if you can. Helter skelter.


Chapter 6 Redress

"Charles Manson is generally considered to have committed, or have ordered, ten murders. Five at the Tate house, two at the LaBianca home, two possible witnesses and the attorney of a co-defendant." John Westley Grayson recited. "When they were starting up the VCS in the 70s, my dad and Patterson interviewed Manson. His purported motive for the murders was the acceleration of the what he viewed as a coming race war."

"Helter Skelter," Scully contributed.

Grayson nodded. "But when they pressed him about the individual murders, a much more prosaic motive emerged."

"Revenge," Mulder said quietly, his eyes closed. "Manson functioned as the archangel in an order of avenging angels which he commanded with impunity."

"Except," Skinner interrupted, "in the cases of Hinman and the LaBiancas." All eyes turned to him and he was painfully aware that he was the only one in the room old enough to remember the original investigation and trial. "In those cases the avenging angels were little more than savage thieves."

"Even an avenging angel needs pocket change," Bynum commented mirthlessly.

A sharp knock on the door preceded Skinner's administrative assistant, Kimberly, who was toting a box full of food.

Agents began scrambling for their wallets while Skinner relieved her of her heavy burden. She efficiently distributed the orders and collected the payments. The Assistant Director was about to spear a lettuce heart when he noticed Scully and Mulder, who were seated directly across the table from him, sharing one sandwich and one drink. "Kimberly," he summoned quietly, "were all of the orders correct?" He shot a furtive glance across the table.

Kimberly turned her back to the table, "Yes, sir." Her eyes reflected the puzzlement he felt. "Thank you, Kimberly. I'll see you in the morning."

She nodded and closed the door silently.

Skinner stirred his salad thoughtfully. He knew for a fact they had worked through lunch. Mulder's colossal appetite was legendary. But here he was, sharing a single sandwich. The Assistant Director played a hunch and sliced the lid from the foam container with his pocket knife and dumped over half of his salad into it. "Man," he said, "I had no idea this thing would be this big. You think you could help me out, Scully? You like salads, don't you?"

Scully froze momentarily, not unlike the proverbial deer in the headlight, before hesitantly accepting the container. "Well," she said falteringly, "if you don't want it . . ." She delicately forked a few shreds into her mouth before the hunger overtook her and she ate ravenously. For his part, Mulder seemingly inhaled the entire sandwich.

Skinner watched furtively while stirring the remainder of his salad, his appetite dulled by the suspicion that this wasn't the first time his agents-Kersh's agents -- had gone hungry. He barely listened as Grayson resumed the briefing, mentally offsetting Mulder and Scully's salaries against what he imagined their expenses to be. Even taking into account the expenses for their Antarctica junket, they should have plenty left over to live on. Unless . . . He jotted the letters RFR on the margin of his notepad and turned his attention back to the briefing.

"Given that you guys were such buddies," Tony Bynum waved his sandwich toward Grayson and Mulder, "of Patterson what's he gonna do? Put together a family and recreate all ten murders?"

"Eleven," Scully corrected. "The unborn infant, Paul Richard Polanski, was murdered along with his mother."

"Eleven," Bynum's sad concession broke a thorny silence. "What's he gonna do?"

Mulder dragged a bony hand over his haggard face and exchanged a cryptic look with Grayson who exhaled forcefully.

"Agents?" Skinner's raised eyebrows mirrored his confusion.

Again Grayson and Mulder exchanged looks with Mulder's nod indicating that Grayson reply.

Grayson shot Mulder a "Chicken" look. "It depends upon his goal for the crime."

"His goal?" Skinner asked disgustedly. "Isn't he doing all this just because he can and he likes it?"

"Partially," Grayson admitted. "But we'd have to consider Patterson a sophisticated killer and the murder has to fit within his logical groundwork."

"Logic?" Bynum scoffed. "How logical is it to kill everyone you come in contact with?"

"But he didn't," Scully disagreed. "He spent a considerable amount of time in his ex-wife's home, apparently without harming her because . . ."

"Because harming her didn't fit into his plan," Mulder added.

"At that time," Skinner contributed. "But that doesn't mean she's safe from him . . ."

"Which is why we have her in protective custody." Mulder studied Skinner's distressed look while he applied the paper napkin to a mayonnaise blob at the corner of his mouth.

Bynum sputtered. "Well, then, what is his plan?"

Mulder shrugged and shook his head while Grayson admitted, "I have no idea."

"You're shittin' me," Bynum exclaimed. "You guys are the Bureau's premier whiz-kid profilers, both of whom know the suspect personally, and you have no idea?"

Mulder smiled sheepishly. "It's the Kobiashe Maru scenario."

"The what?" Bynum challenged.

"You know, on the old Star Trek series," Grayson paused when Bynum's expression alerted him to how "geeky" he must sound. "Captain Kirk was legendary at Starfleet Academy because he'd defeated the supposedly unbeatable battle simulation Kobiashe Maru."

"It wasn't until years later," Mulder had long ago lost his fear of being labeled a geek, "that he revealed that he hadn't outwitted the program; he'd reprogrammed the sim. He'd changed the parameters to his advantage."

"How does this relate to Patterson?" Skinner looked really befuddled.

"Patterson is like Kirk," Grayson explained. "He wrote the book on profiling so he can change the 'rules' anytime he wants to win the game."

Mulder nodded.

Skinner thought a moment. "You don't think we can catch him, do you?"

Grayson stared at his half-eaten sandwich, leaving Mulder to field the question. "I remember when someone asked Will Graham if he could catch the Red Dragon. Will told him that the Red Dragon would kill until he got sloppy or the authorities got lucky."

"And Patterson won't get sloppy," Grayson stated matter-of-factly.

The pall of failure descended upon the group until the Marine in Skinner defied it. "Then we'll have to make our own luck. Patterson gave us a lead and we'll have to work it out." He started scribbling on his pad. "Grayson, your team will take victim selection. Scully, you will head the forensic team studying killer's methodology. Bynum, you'll take site selection. And Mulder, I want you to concentrate on the killer's signature."

"Do we approach from the revenge angle or is Patterson just killing for the hell of it?" Bynum asked.

Skinner pondered for a moment. "Neither. Don't limit yourself by making assumptions," he ordered. "When we know as much about the Manson case as Patterson knows, I've got to believe we'll come to understand his reason for selecting this case."

Folders slid back and forth across the table as teams gathered up the necessary information.

Scully thumbed through a folder. "Sir, what's our budget on this investigation?"

"The Attorney General has granted us carte blanche on in-house and DOJ charges. All other expenditures," he looked at Mulder, "must come through me. Any questions about assignments?" He checked his watch. "I'll expect your reports at a team meeting at," he squinted, "eight tomorrow morning." The door whooshed shut behind him.

Almost in unison, the agents checked their own watches then breathed a collective sigh.

It's going to be a late night, Mulder thought.

"We're meeting in the lab on the third floor," Scully murmured as she stood and stretched as best she could with an arm load of file folders.

Reflexively, Mulder placed his left hand on her left shoulder and kneaded the small of her back with his right fist. He whispered something that looked like, "Better?" and she momentarily covered his left hand with hers before following the forensics team into the hall.

Bynum smirked as he passed Mulder on the way to his office. Grayson nodded as he led the other agents from the VCS past Mulder to the Library. Mulder stood, alone for an instant, gathering the nerve to go where he knew he had to go. He footsteps faltered and his finger trembled as he pressed the elevator button, down.

Skinner hoped, prayed, this management strategy would work: get the best people then leave them alone to do their jobs. Besides, he had a little "black bag" job to do in the Accounting files. Well, it really wasn't improper for him to look at the files. As Assistant Director, he had access to the "Request for Reimbursement" (RFR-96-10) filed by his agents. After all, Scully and Mulder had been his agents and he had access when they were his agents so what could it hurt for him to investigate now? That'll sound really great at an OPR hearing if they catch you, he mused. He pecked in Scully's name and requested reimbursements for the last 12 months. Even at this hour, the system was annoyingly slow in displaying such a short record. Nothing since they transferred to Anti-Terrorism? he asked himself and tapped in the same request for Mulder's records. He received the same result. Where are the moving expenses? Per diem requests? Gasoline receipts? Cellular phone bills? He mentally listed all the regular items that were missing. "Son of a . . ." he muttered, stomping down the hall.

Kersh's office door was, of course, locked. He considered, for an instant, planting his size-12 just inside the knob but immediately discarded the notion when he noticed the light from the anteroom next door. The secretary's desk was a mess-littered in papers of all sorts, tossed in heaps rather than piles. He sniffed disgustedly and started to leave before realizing that the papers on top were RFRs. Mulder and Scully's RFRs, among others. He turned crimson when he saw the sticky note. But an evil grin brightened his face as he walked down the stairs and deposited the papers, including the sticky note, in the Accounting Director's personal IN basket. It was difficult to refrain from self-satisfied whistling as he returned to his own office. But he had one more task to accomplish and punched in the extension of the Officer of the Day.

Dana Scully's eyes felt like sandpaper. Everyone else on her team had gone home while she put the finishing touches on their report. She yielded to a yawn when she noticed the time in the corner of her computer screen: 11:21 PM. It had been a long time since she'd been up this late working on a case-not since they'd gone to Montana. She stood and loaded computer and file folders into her bulging briefcase before stepping into the hall. Her finger shook as she pressed the "down" arrow and stepped inside the vacant elevator car. Her steps echoed morosely in the basement hallway. She was, for a moment, shocked when the knob didn't turn-shocked until she saw the name "Spender" on the door.

"Whatsa matter, Scully? You lost?"

She wheeled toward the voice on the stair, breathing hard. "No, Mulder," she panted. "Are you?"

"I was until you came along," he grinned and motioned for her to sit beside him on the steps. He rolled his head wearily. "Are you done?"

"Yeah." She scooted up a step and kneaded his shoulders. "What about you?"

He snorted. "It's like trying to write a description of a chameleon on a kaleidoscope. You know when you're writing it's already obsolete."

"Even Patterson's a creature of habit, Mulder." She ran her thumbs up the sides of his neck. "He'll return to profile eventually. And then we'll get lucky."

"Promise?"

She patted his back with an "I'm done" gesture. "Are you sure we can't take a cab? I really don't want to ride the Metro at this hour."

"To Annapolis? I don't even want to think how many banana split milk shakes that cab ride would equate to." He stood and offered her a hand up. "Come on, Scully, march," he mock-ordered.

She turned to return up the steps to street-level but a familiar shadow loomed above them, its owner blocking the stairs.

"It's a long way to Annapolis," the deep voice declared, tossing something that jingled at Mulder. "Drive safely."

Before they could say thanks the shadow vanished.


Chapter 7 Collimation

"Whatsa matter, Mulder? Forget to bring your tea leaves with you?" Bynum taunted. "Or do you prefer analyzing the specks on chicken-shit?"

"Bynum," Skinner cautioned.

Mulder tensed to reply but immediately checked himself. He should be accustomed to things like this. Many in Law Enforcement, including the FBI, considered profiling a "black art" somewhere below voodoo in the realm of legerdemain. Bynum obviously was a vocal member of that contingent. But he had a point and he pressed it. "Look, sir, we've all busted our butts to prepare these reports overnight. Then Houdini comes in here and allows as how the perp will select the next victims either on the basis of revenge or for monetary gain. Hell, we knew that last night."

John Grayson rose to his defense. "Profiling is not an exact science, Bynum, it's . . ."

"He's right," Mulder stated flatly. "You've all worked very hard gathering and organizing all this information and I can offer you nothing."

Fear rose in Skinner's throat. "Are you saying that's all you will be able to offer us, Agent Mulder?"

Mulder frowned and rubbed his chin. "Possibly."

The stunned silence was stifling. The obvious insecurity Mulder had revealed belied his prima donna reputation.

"I don't believe that," Scully said evenly. "None of us do."

The expressions around the table had morphed from irritation to shock to, surprisingly, empathy.

"What do you need from me?" Bynum, of all the people, asked sincerely.

Mulder seemed buoyed somewhat. "Nothing; it's great." He scanned the faces in the room. "You've all done great. I," he spoke slowly, reflectively, "think I need to know more."

"About what?" Skinner asked.

Mulder swallowed back the terrifying memories and whispered, "Patterson."

He longed for the level of clinical detachment he would have been able to maintain, or at least begin with, on any other case. But that was not possible. He'd known Patterson. And he'd despised him. He wondered if his opinion were shared. "How well did you know him, Patterson, I mean?"

Walter Skinner adjusted his glasses. "He was a couple of years older than I but our paths seemed to cross pretty often. Too often, actually." The Assistant Director thought for a moment. "Truth is I thought he was a manipulative, power-hungry SOB."

In the back seat, Scully nearly choked on her soft drink. "Don't hold back, sir; tell us what you really think."

The older man flushed but regained his composure. "What do I have to lose? You guys are the ones we send to investigate UFOs, werewolves and man-eating retroviruses."

Scully smiled for a moment until Mulder spoke, "Were." He gripped the steering wheel tightly and stared straight ahead. "And how are the new ghostbusters?"

"Mulder," Scully chided.

Skinner smiled. He'd missed their give-and-take. "Well, Spender has all the imagination of a government bureaucrat and it shows in his investigations."

A grin flickered across Mulder's face.

"And Fowley," he caught Scully's grimace in the mirror on the sun visor, "is so far out there she makes even Mulder look normal. It's become a joke."

They rode in silence for a few hundred yards before Mulder asked, "Then why do you . . . "

"It's not my choice, Agent Mulder."

"Nor mine," Mulder retorted.

Skinner let it lie for a mile or so. "So what did you think of Patterson?"

"Well, on his own, he just seems like your garden-variety prick. But when you stand him next to somebody like Westy Grayson . . ."

Scully pretended to read a file but the pages were ruffling too rapidly.

"How do you guys do it, Mulder? How do you guys crawl so deep inside the minds of these monsters and make it out again?"

Mulder thought for a moment. "Most people are born with a sort of mental guardrail that prevents them from falling into the abyss. For some like Will Graham, Westy Grayson and me that guardrail is pretty rickety and we rely upon the strength of our friends," his eyes met Scully's in the rear-view mirror, "to bring us back from the brink."

Skinner respected the intimacy of the moment for a beat. "Which explains all the rope and pitons on Scully's expense reports." He could only maintain his gruff demeanor for an instant before breaking into a grin.

Scully chuckled at Mulder's embarrassment. Mulder mock-grimaced at the genial jab. He looked over at his temporary boss and realized what he missed most about the man was Skinner's humanity. Beneath the gruff, detached government-servant exterior was an honorable man deeply committed to doing the honorable thing. Our knight in armor, Mulder mused ruefully.

Another check of the mirrors revealed that they had not been followed to the safe house where Mary Patterson remained in protective custody. It was actually a vine-choked carriage house, but only the multitude of surveillance cameras betrayed its secret purpose. The overgrown landscaping lent a gloomy pall even at the sun's zenith. A chilly early autumn gust made the crisp leaves rattle ominously.

"My kind of place," Mulder step crunched dry leaves underfoot. He affected his best "Jim Carrey as the Mask" voice, "Spooky."

Scully rolled her eyes at him then followed Skinner up the stairs, pleased to hear familiar stomps on the stairs behind her.

The living quarters were not opulent, but comfortable and reasonably fashionable. Skinner had already engaged himself in a whispered consultation with one of the US Marshals.

"See, Scully, I told you the Marshals were the quietest," Mulder lobbed another volley in their long-standing discussion of the "quietest" Federal law-enforcement officers: Marshals or Secret Service. Scully, of course, took the opposing position.

"Inconclusive evidence," she whispered back as a door opened and Mary Patterson emerged from one of the bedrooms.

The incandescent glow made her look considerably less "angelic" than the sunlight in her own home but Skinner seemed equally enchanted by her visage. "We're sorry to disturb you but Mulder here, actually all of us, feel the need to ask more questions about Patt-Bill-if you're up to it, that is," the AD stammered.

Mulder blinked. Skinner stammered? He elbowed Scully who'd already noticed their companion's reddening face.

"Of course," Mary Patterson replied, her Texas drawl coated with honey. "Anything you need," her eyes met Skinner's for a moment, then darted floorward. She waved at the sofa, "May I get you anything? Coffee, soft drink, tea?" Despite her attempt at hospitality her composure was, obviously, quite fragile.

Mulder was about to ask for tea when Skinner replied for them all, "No, thank you. We're imposing on you enough as it is."

It didn't escape Mulder that Skinner's normally non-existent Texas accent had thickened considerably.

It didn't escape Scully that Skinner's whole demeanor had changed from all-business to, well, courtly. She smiled at this fresh glimpse into the man they thought they knew.

Mulder pondered the results of their road trip on the drive back to DC. Mary Patterson had answered their questions quite candidly from the solitary chair she had chosen next to the crackling fireplace and across the room from the sofa. But she gave them nothing new about Patterson or his motivations. The interview did provide volumes of information about Skinner, though. He had been very gentle with Patterson's ex-wife, supportive and comforting when she seemed uncomfortable. Sometime during the interview she had become upset, crying at the recollection of Patterson's manipulations. Skinner had taken a small hassock and moved it to a place at her knee. His large frame folded onto the tiny stool, he chastely brushed his hand across hers until she calmed.

And at the end, standing at the top of the stair, he'd folded both of her tiny hands inside his large paws. "I'll check on you again tomorrow," he'd promised. "But you can call me anytime for anything."

She'd nodded, then bowed her head, but he'd gently lifted her chin until her eyes met his. "When this is over I look forward to seeing a smile light up your face again." A ghost of a smile flickered across her face as the US Marshal closed the door behind him. He'd been silent since, staring out the window into the darkened cityscape. He barely noticed when they slid into the parking lane in front of his Crystal City apartment.

"Sir?" Scully prompted.

He blinked rapidly then gathered his coat and briefcase. "Good night," he said simply while holding the door for Scully to move from the back to the front seat.

"Good night, sir," they chorused and pointed the car toward Annapolis and Maggie Scully's.


Chapter 8 Ennui

The contents of the Starbucks cup, recently steamy and frothy and inviting, sloshed sadly, tiny curds bobbing in a muddy pond. Fox Mulder set the cup down with a quiet raspberry that was muted by the fabric walls of the cubicle. He bent over his files again trying to find once more that exact combination of angle, distance and squinting that made his missing glasses nearly unnecessary. But a muscle in his neck protested actively and he sat bolt upright, trying to knead relief into the knotted muscle with his free hand.

"Your doctor could have another pair of glasses ready in an hour," his favorite voice chided from behind. "I'm sure Skinner would advance . . ."

He shook his head stiffly, moaning in pain.

She kicked off her heels and began kneading the knotted muscles with strong, sure fingers, "You mean to tell me you're going to choose your pride over your eyesight?"

"Um-hm," he replied dreamily.

"Do you even remember where you left them?"

"Of course," he admonished. "I left them on the bleachers at the community center when we played basketball."

"In other words, Rabbi Edelsohn found them."

"Yup," he took a deep cleansing breath. "He was supposed to have mailed them yesterday, 2nd day air."

"So, until tomorrow . . ."

"Until tomorrow I'll be my usual suave, debonair . . ."

" . . . Myopic . . ."

He mock-frowned, " . . .self."

A footstep sounded around the corner and Scully retrieved her shoes and took up a professional posture in the chair in front of the desk.

"Agent Scully, Agent Mulder, I'm glad I found you," Assistant Director Kersh was a lousy liar.

"And we're glad to be found," Mulder mocked but Kersh seemingly ignored the remark.

"I found a pile of your RFRs, among many other things, in a stack of papers my last assistant left undone when I fired her." He puffed up his chest. "So I took them over to Accounting and insisted that they process them immediately. They tell me your cash deposits should post tonight and your credit card and cell phone payments in a few days." He held out an envelope for each of them.

"Thanks," Mulder said pointedly.

Kersh rocked back and forth for a moment. "So, having any luck with Patterson?"

"Some," Scully replied, guardedly.

"Well, I hope so. Walt has a lot riding on this case. Last chance, you might say." He rocked some more. "Anyway, sorry to take so long with the RFRs." He disappeared around the corner.

"I gotta get an unlisted cubicle," Mulder and Scully exchanged confused looks before ripping open the envelopes.

"I see your RFRs turned up," Skinner filled the entrance to the cell, draping his arms over the adjacent walls.

"Like magic," Mulder replied acidly.

"Houdini, I presume?" Scully raised her eyebrows at Skinner.

"Abracadabra," he grinned.

"Was Kersh telling the truth, Sir, about this case being your last chance?" Scully said softly.

"Hell, if I can't catch Patterson with you and Mulder, Grayson and Bynum, I should be considering other career options."

"It's true, then," Mulder stated.

Skinner wrinkled his nose and tapped the top of the cubicle wall. "What's the worst they can do to me? Make me take retirement so I have to go back to Texas and raise horses? My brothers have been on me for years to come home." He stood tall and straightened his necktie. "But that's not gonna happen because we're gonna catch Patterson. Believe it." His footsteps faded down the hall.

"I almost do," Mulder murmured.

Fox Mulder pushed his glasses back up to their rightful perch on his nose, just as he had for the 4 days since they'd arrived.

"You should have ordered a new pair," Scully scolded from the other side of Maggie Scully's kitchen table. "I think the Rabbi may have sat on them to get back at you for missing the basketball game this week," she teased.

"For all we're accomplishing I could have gone," he said wearily. "I think I know more about the Manson case than Vincent Bugliosi."

"You and me, both," Scully agreed.

Maggie Scully shuffled in and measured grounds into the coffee maker before setting the timer. "Are you still working?"

"Not for long, Mom," Dana promised.

Maggie Scully nodded approvingly. "Sweet dreams, kitten," she planted a kiss on her daughter's cheek. "And you, Fox," she admonished, "please try to get some rest."

"I will, Mrs. Scully. " He snatched the ringing phone and um-hmmed a few times into the receiver while peering at his watch through the maladjusted spectacles.

"Patterson?" Scully asked when he'd replaced the receiver on the hook.

Mulder nodded grimly as he gathered the files. "Skinner's commandeered a LearJet for us. We leave Quantico for Los Angeles in one hour."


Chapter 9 Helter Skelter

"Been watching 'Profiler' on TV again, boss?" Bynum plopped into one of the luxurious leather seats and fastened the seatbelt. "Where did that Bailey Malone get that LearJet?"

"DEA has the best toys," Grayson offered up from the sofa. "Or the IRS."

Mulder smiled slightly from the table and pushed a folder to Scully, who was sitting next to him.

The Assistant Director poked his head through the curtains to the cockpit and, just as he found his seat at the desk, the engines roared and they were airborne. "The crime scene is in the canyon area of LA county. The Sheriff's department had already put out an alert on Patterson to transportation terminals on receipt of our action request when Bill first escaped."

"What do we have on this one?" Mulder asked.

Skinner shook his head. "Not much. The bodies were still warm when they were discovered at 11:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight time."

"How'd we get the call so quick?" Grayson looked puzzled.

Skinner grinned. "One of the Sheriff's Detectives had just finished a paper on the Manson murders for a Psych class and called us."

"Here's to higher education," Bynum said wryly.

"So we have nothing from the crime scene?" Scully worried with the tab of an already-worn folder.

"They're saving it for us." Skinner dangled his glasses by the earpiece while he rubbed his eyes. "Tomorrow's gonna be a very long day, people. I suggest you take advantage of the time and get as much rest as possible." He turned off his desk lamp and overhead light. Eyes closed, he leaned back in his chair, occasionally peeping through heavy lids to see who was still up. Bynum had given up first and was snoring lightly. Grayson had fallen asleep shortly after that. Still, Mulder and Scully held on, papers ruffling lightly as they turned pages. Skinner himself napped briefly, and almost reprimanded the two agents until he noticed that neither of them was stirring. Mulder had leaned his head against the back of the banquette and Scully's head rested on his chest, her right hand curled in front of her face and the left hand meshed with his. I really should make them move, he thought. Mulder stirred and gold flashed from his left hand. Skinner chuckled at his own prudishness. You're just envious of them, a little voice accused. I am, he conceded, trying to imagine just what Mary Patterson might be doing.

The sun was barely peeping over the mountains when they set down at John Wayne Airport. By the time they'd picked up 3 cars the Los Angeles office had left for them and made their way into the canyons, it was mid-morning.

Walter Skinner heard Alice Cooper growl "Welcome to my nightmare" in his head as he walked past the bloody inscription, "PIGS," on the bottom panel of the front door. He stepped tentatively, his large ropers rustling the plastic the forensic team had laid down over bloody sops that virtually covered the white carpet that matched the walls which matched the sofa. Sun streamed through a window-wall that showcased a small water-garden-a rare treat in Southern California. The white walls were linked with dark Spanish oak beams that traversed the room below the vault of the ceiling. A wrought-iron chandelier with crazed-glass hurricanes hung from the middle of the center-most beam.

A rope over 2 beams transected the garden view with a taut right-side-up "V." At one of the rope, back to the door half-sitting and half-standing, was the body of a man. He was tall and lanky, late thirties, with dark hair just showing tinges of white. He wore only black sweat pants which gleamed a sickly red. Puddles of red surrounded him and the word "WAR" had been carved into his abdomen. Even death had failed to release from the slim face the agonized expression of rage and fear, body frozen like a victim of Pompeii, outstretched arms grasping for his beloved.

Beloved, too, had been savaged, her ripe belly sliced open. The life-giving tether between her and their child trailed out of the gaping wound into a crimson pool that surrounded the severed end. Every muscle in her tiny body still strained toward that spot and red hair framed a death's mask of grief.

Walter Skinner could not restrain a gasp. Mulder swallowed hard and turned away. Scully stared, horribly transfixed, "Where's the baby?"

"Gone," whispered a sickened officer. "Gone when we got here."

She blanched and her breathing accelerated to a ragged panting. She swayed slightly before her partner grabbed her elbow and dragged her toward the door.

Distant , as if in a dream, the Assistant Director heard Bynum retching in the garden, saw Grayson backed against the nearest clean wall, his head between his knees. Walter Skinner bowed his head in the midst of the carnage, ashamed of his own lack of horror.

But the horror, ending the horror, was the reason they were here, so he set about helping his team members collect themselves. Bynum sat in the garden, dragging a handkerchief across his wet lips. "I sure hope Crime Scene has worked up the garden," he said contritely.

"I'm sure they do, too," his boss tossed him a mint. "Are you ready to get back to work?" It wasn't really a question.

Bynum scrambled to his feet and Skinner continued his roll call. Grayson had moved from the wall to the bathroom and was splashing water on his face with gloved hands.

"Crime Scene said they were done in here. I, uh, usually work from pictures," he explained. "It's been a long time since I've been to a fresh crime scene."

Skinner nodded silently.

"I see Bynum's on his feet again," Grayson observed. "How about Mulder and Scully?"

"My next stop."

He found them back at the car. Scully sat in the back seat, both doors flung open, eyes closed and her head tilted against the back of the seat. Mulder sat on the trunk, heels propped on the bumper, and smoke curled from the cigarette in his trembling hand. His head was propped on the other arm whose elbow rested on a shaking knee. He smiled sheepishly when his superior's boots entered his range of view.

"I bet Bynum had some flattering remark to make . . ." Mulder took a long ragged drag at the cigarette.

"Bynum was too busy puking his guts to say anything," Skinner glanced back into the car at Scully, who remained motionless.

Mulder half-smiled then stared at the cigarette disgustedly before flicking it into the street. "I can't do this. Not this one. It's like he's looking into one of my nightmares in there."

Skinner leaned against the trunk, next to Mulder, and stared at the tiny plume of smoke wafting in the light breeze. "Not long after Sharon and I married I started having terrible dreams-like the ones you're talking about. I had one once while we were visiting my family. My dad heard the commotion and came to see about me." He rattled the change in his pocket. "My dad, who was a Texas Ranger, was a giant to me and my brothers, ten-feet-tall and bulletproof. So you can imagine my surprise when he started telling me about his nightmares." He coughed. "It's just fear, Mulder. It's just the fear you feel when you finally have something, or someone," he nodded toward the back seat, "worth keeping."

"It's not just fear," Mulder protested. "Innocent people are dead because they look like Scully and me."

"Not because of you, because of Patterson." The older man's voice rose. "It's the oldest trick in the world, Mulder: scare you shitless so you don't recognize you're being manipulated. If you give in to the fear, you give Patterson the control."

"So, who's the profiler here?" Scully's quiet voice startled them both. She entwined her shaking fingers with her partner's and together both seemed steadied.

"Assistant Director Skinner was just reminding me," he smiled sheepishly, "that grown men face their fears rather than flee them."

She nodded. "So, let's go, Mulder."

"Go where?"

"Go and do our jobs," she tugged and he slid off the car trunk. Their hands remained conjoined until the doorstep where she waited for his comforting touch in the small of her back as she stepped across the threshold.

Skinner encountered an uneasy silence when he returned to the scene just behind Mulder. He was mentally composing the old "team spirit" speech when Bynum's head popped up from the notepad on which he was scribbling madly.

"So, Mr. Assistant Director, Sir," Bynum began defiantly, "are road trips with you always this much fun?" His sneer spread into a grin.

Skinner heard relieved snickers all around him. "No, Agent Bynum, we arranged this one especially for you."

"Next time, don't do me no favors," he requested. "I don't think I'll ever be able to eat strawberry syrup again."

It took 2 ticks of the hall clock for it to sink in that Bynum really had said what they thought he'd said before they responded with the masculine of equivalent of Scully's, "Ew . . ."

"Back to work, people," Skinner prodded. He turned his face toward the window and allowed himself some hope that they might pull it together and catch Patterson after all.

Chapter 10 Road Weary

The passing car kicked up a brown cloud that dimmed the orange glow of the waning sun. Fox Mulder clutched the take-out bags closer. While the Assistant Director had registered for all of them, he'd been dispatched to the convenience store across from the motel to purchase "supper," as Skinner had called it-fried chicken, roasted and mashed potatoes, green beans and iced tea. Scully would not approve, he thought as he returned to the quaint Canyon Inn. The AD had selected the motel on the basis of proximity to the crime scene, then cost, then cleanliness, in that order. Although it was a mom-and-pop operation, it certainly was several notches above many of the places he and Scully had endured during their travels.

"Hey, Mulder," he followed the voice to an open door, where the Assistant Director leaned against the door jamb in jeans, t-shirt and white socks, telephone against his ear. With his free hand he gestured at the table in the pool area and Mulder fumbled with the chain-link gate until it popped open. Boots in hand, Skinner tip-toed across the hot concrete and deposited himself in the nearest chair. He peered at Mulder from beneath the bill of a cap that read "Blanco County Sheriff's Department, Blanco, Texas."

"Scoping out your next job?" Mulder quipped.

Skinner looked puzzled before rolling his eyes toward the bill of his cap and replying, "No, Mulder. My younger brother's the Sheriff back home."

"A brother who's County Sheriff and a dad who is . . ."

"Was . . ."

"Was a Texas Ranger. Sounds like ranching isn't the only family business," Mulder said.

Skinner stretched, "My older brother's a Colonel in the Rangers, his oldest son is a Sergeant in the Rangers, the next one's ex-FBI and the third one's a priest," he savored a sip of the amber tea.

"Black sheep, huh?"

"Yeah," Skinner choked and poked his lemon with the red-striped straw.

"You look comfortable," Mulder said expectantly.

"Oh," Skinner leaned forward and tossed Mulder a room key he'd pulled from his back pocket. "I'm in 101, you're in 102, Grayson's in 103, and Bynum's in 104."

Mulder stared at the key in his hand.

"Is there a problem, Agent Mulder?" He picked through the chicken barrel.

"No, sir," Mulder said over his shoulder. The room was dark and cool. He looked all the way around the room before he spotted his luggage just inside the door. Next to Scully's.

"You're welcome," Skinner, still sock-footed, tossed a duplicate key onto the dresser before leaning against the door jamb.

"Thank you," Mulder said quietly. "How, uh, when, did you, uh . . ."

Skinner rolled his eyes. "Look, Mulder. Any hope you two had of keeping a low profile vanished the second you walked through the lobby wearing those rings."

Mulder glanced at his left hand and grimaced.

The senior agent pushed his cap back, "Personally, I'd like nothing better than to pin your wedding announcement on the bulletin board so everybody can quit gossiping and get back to work."

The young man flushed and chuckled. A car, Grayson and Bynum's pulled into the space behind Skinner and Mulder's face turned serious. "What about the others?"

"Screw 'em," he said bluntly. "Figuratively speaking, of course."

"Of course," Mulder replied.

To the casual observer their little "pool party" must have looked like a pleasant little sunset gathering of four buddies. That thought even crossed Scully's mind as she drove into the paved lot. But first on her mind was shower, change, eat, in that order. Mulder lobbed her the room key from pool side and she accomplished her first two objectives speedily. She stuffed the room key in the pocket of her sweat pants and set out to conquer the third.

"Agent Scully," Skinner greeted, half-standing.

While the others also stood in greeting, Mulder moved over so she could sit in the chair between him and Skinner. Disdainfully she stirred the greasy half-empty barrel with just the tip of her finger. With a triumphant flourish Mulder produced an unopened foam container and placed it before her.

"It's not more chicken, is it?" she eyed the container suspiciously.

"You'll like it. Trust me."

Mulder waggled his eyebrows and she muttered, "Oh, brother," under her breath.

Reluctantly she poked the tab and peeked under the lid. Her face lit up and she flung the lid wide open, grabbing a spork and spearing lettuce hearts with gusto. She sighed, savoring the bite and the thoughtfulness.

"Good?" he asked and she nodded wordlessly, stuffing another spork full into her mouth.

All of this prompted Bynum to elbow Grayson who eyed Skinner whose casual indifference belayed any comment from the peanut gallery.

Skinner downed a bite of the thigh he'd been gnawing, "What about the autopsy?"

Scully nodded her head while she swallowed, "Nothing unexpected. Cause of death for both was exsanguination but oxygen levels in the brain tissues seem to indicate they were probably unconscious when they died."

"Do you think that was intentional?" Bynum asked.

Grayson nodded but Mulder answered, "I think it is safe to assume a high level of craft," he wrinkled his nose at his own choice of word, "in the method of the killing, don't you, Scully?"

Scully nodded. "The precision of the incisions, the placement of the ligature all indicates a high level of medical knowledge or . . ."

"Or a high level of preparation," Grayson finished while chewing on a roasted potato.

"But how did he prepare for something like this?" Bynum punctuated his speech with a leg bone. "He's been out of the loony hatch for 7 days-2 of which we assume he spent in the DC area. In the remaining time he travels cross-country to a city of 3 million people and selects both victim and site, mind you, from an area roughly the size of the state of Rhode Island. This is one efficient fella."

"So which is the selection key, site or victim?" Skinner asked.

"There's nothing special about the house," Bynum mumbled through a mouthful of mashed potatoes. "No past crimes, Indian burial grounds, nothing. It is secluded and had a beamed ceiling. That, and the way the victims' positions mimicked Manson victims Tate and Sebring, seem to support the reconstruction theory."

"But the word WAR carved into the victim's abdomen was from the LaBianca murder," Grayson commented.

"Don't forget the missing twenty-five thousand dollars the victim was known to keep in the bedroom closet," Bynum supplied.

"So Patterson combined elements of both the Tate and the LaBianca murders . . ." Mulder condensed.

"But this wasn't a straight reconstruction. In the original case," Scully dug through the stack of files. "Susan Atkins told Ronnie Howard that she wanted to remove Sharon Tate's baby but that she didn't have time."

"And Patterson did," Grayson observed. "Why? For the terror?"

Mulder thought a moment, "Maybe. But maybe to show he could finish the job, do it right."

"Great," Skinner muttered.

"Which he accomplished because the house was secluded," Bynum continued.

"And because of the quiet lifestyles of the victims," Grayson added.

"If their lifestyle was so quiet, how did Patterson manage to find them in less than a week?" Scully asked.

"They may have lived quietly but they weren't recluses," Grayson explained. "Amir Hosseinzadeh's family emigrated from Iran just before the Shah fell. They were able to bring their money with them and moved to L.A. and began what would become a chain of supermarkets. Amir grew up in Los Angeles and joined the family business after graduating from Wharton." He took a long drink before continuing. "Four years ago he married Kathleen Connelly. Their first baby was due . . well, you know."

"Any churches, social clubs?" Bynum asked.

"He was a member of the Sunnite mosque in Brentwood, where his parents attend."

"And the wife?" asked Mulder.

"She didn't convert and was a communicant of Our Lady of the Desert about 3 miles from their home."

"Conflicts from religious differences?" Skinner accented his question with a toothpick.

"None noted."

"I'd have to agree, sir," Scully confirmed. "I had occasion to observe the families together this afternoon and they seemed extremely respectful of each others' wishes and needs."

Mulder had been sitting with his eyes closed, seemingly ignoring the conversation, "Did you release the body?"

"No," Scully winced and curled her toes. "It would be in the best interest of the investigation if we maintain control of the evidence as long as possible."

Mulder reached down and pulled her feet onto his lap, massaging each while he spoke, "Doesn't Islamic custom dictate that the body be buried before the next sunset?"

"Unless you receive a dispensation from an imam," she "um"-ed at the pressure on the balls of her feet.

"And were you successful?" he accused. She grinned shyly. "Softy," he chided.

"Hey, Mulder, I got a couple of bunions you can work on . . ." Bynum interrupted.

"Sorry, Bynum, I'd never cheat on Scully's feet."

The dark circles that had developed under Skinner's eyes accentuated his annoyance, "We need to focus, people. My brain thinks it's after midnight and I still haven't heard if you think the key is site or victim selection."

"Victim," Bynum said firmly.

"Victim," Scully cast her vote.

"I agree," Mulder said.

Grayson hesitated.

"Agent Grayson?" Skinner prompted.

"I think," he glanced a Scully and Mulder, "I think Amir and Kathleen Hosseinzadeh were selected for many reasons. The facts that they lived in a secluded home in the Los Angeles area are two good ones." He folded down 2 fingers. "He was a grocer, like Leno LaBianca. That's 3." He took a deep breath. "But I think we've all avoided talking about the primary reason they were chosen."

Mulder's fingers worked Scully's feet more slowly. "They were chosen," he said sadly, "based on their resemblance to 2 other people-Scully and me."

Grayson sat up straight. "True enough. But that's not the big question."

"How did he find them?" Bynum asked.

"Bingo," Grayson confirmed. "You gotta admit short, smart and red-headed and tall, dark and goofy," Mulder smiled slightly, "is not your usual combination even in lotus-land."

"So how did he find them?" Bynum repeated.

Grayson shrugged. "That's the $64,000 question."

"How did you find out about them?" Mulder queried.

"Found a scrapbook in the wife's hope chest. Ticket stubs, love letters, press clippings, the works."

"What kinds of press clippings?" Skinner leaned forward heavily. "I thought you said they lived quietly."

"Little stuff, really. Things cut out from the Grocers' Association Newsletter, from publications of the Iranian-American associations he belonged to."

Bynum opened his mouth to ask a question but Grayson held up his hand. "I already checked. The library at the State Hospital never even heard of these publications."

Bynum sat back glumly, "I don't suppose these places have web sites . . ."

"It doesn't matter; Patterson didn't have access to . . ." Grayson shot Mulder a sick look.

"It wasn't mentioned in the file," he replied as he reached for his recently reactivated cell phone.

"Mulder, what are you doing?" Scully asked. "It's after midnight in Maryland."

"Call them." Skinner ordered, folding his arms wearily across his chest, mentally calculating how many horses he'd have to sell each year to make ends meet.

After several minutes, Mulder snapped his phone shut disgustedly. "Web access, no email."

Skinner held his glasses by the earpiece and rubbed his eyes. "One day we'll make sure that the keepers are smarter than the inmates."

"Did they keep a record of what sites he accessed?" Grayson asked.

"Maybe," Mulder replied pointedly. "They're gonna put whatever they have on email by morning."

"Which will come all too soon," Skinner peered at his wristwatch while he stood. "It's been a long day, people. I suggest we all get some rest."

Chapter 11 Rockabye

Scully sat in the upholstered chair, sleeking back her wet hair with a comb. "So, how did you con Skinner into letting us room together?" Her simple cotton pyjamas clung to spots she'd neglected to dry.

"I didn't," Mulder stepped out of the steaming bathroom, towel over his head forming a sort of burnous over the Knicks sweat pants. He ruffled his hair with the towel then draped it over his neck.

"Then how did he know?"

"He reminded me we forgot to remove something when we got back to Washington," he flopped in the middle of the king-size bed and started thumbing the TV remote control.

Scully cocked her head quizzically. Mulder waved the back of his left hand at her and she scrunched her eyes shut. "Shit," she said softly.

"Gee, thanks."

"Do you think Kersh noticed?"

"If he didn't then he's the only one," he continued channel-surfing. His tone was measured, "I'm sorry."

"For what?"

"For letting everyone think you're my wife."

She slid under the covers and laid her head on his shoulder. "And you regret that?"

"No," he answered hastily. "Hell, no. I would think the general consensus would be it's the only smart thing I've ever done.

"Yeah, right. Spooky and the Ice Queen."

"Sour grapes from jerks you were smart enough to reject."

"If you say so, Mulder." She rolled on her side and switched off the lamp.

He turned the sound on the TV to a hushed murmur and wrapped himself around her. "I know so."

Still shaking off sun-soaked dreams he swatted at the alarm clock before he awakened enough to realize that bleeping noise was the bleeping phone.

"Mulder." He listened for an instant then nudged Scully, who was peering at him questioningly. "We'll be ready in 15 minutes." He replaced the receiver in the cradle. "A baby, they think it's the baby, was left at the Sunnite mosque in Brentwood about 10 o'clock this evening."

"Why do they think it's the Hosseinzadehs' baby?"

He shrugged. "There was a note on the baby's clothing."

In ten minutes they were standing in Skinner's room along with Bynum and Grayson. "Because there's a possibility that Patterson's still in the neighborhood, LAPD has issued an APB based on our bulletin. Grayson, I want you to co-ordinate with them just in case they screw up and find Patterson. Bynum, I want you to work the scene at the mosque; make sure they maintain the quality of the crime scene." He scowled at the can as he swallowed some soft drink. "I'll question the imam. Mulder and Scully will examine the baby at UCLA." He picked up his briefcase. "Bynum, you're with me."

The pediatric resident looked stunned, "So you can imagine our surprise when they baby comes in here and doesn't have a scratch on him. Well-dressed, well-fed, well-taken-care-of. Why didn't he just kill the baby like he did the parents?"

"Why, indeed?" A question emanated from the man approaching. He stuck out his hand, "Thompson Mbeya, LA County Homicide," he said although the card clipped to his lapel announced the same thing.

"Fox Mulder," Mulder pumped the detective's hand.

"Dana Scully," she exchanged a handshake with the detective.

"Kid still okay?" the detective apparently didn't need an introduction to the doctor.

"Great," the doctor acknowledged .

"Doctor," she peered at his nametag, "Isaacson, I'd like to examine the child . . ."

The doctor nodded and opened the door to the nursery with a flourish.

Scully smiled at Mulder as his hand lightly brushed her arm before following the doctor.

Mulder waved at the door, "Lay on, MacDuff."

"So what made you connect this case to Patterson?" Mulder asked a few moments into their drive. "Don't tell me an LA Sheriff's Department Homicide Detective has time to read every FBI Bulletin that comes down the pike . . ."

The detective smiled, "No, but a guy like Patterson deserves special attention."

Mulder raised an eyebrow and Mbeya continued, "I guess every cop knows he's capable of horrific things given the right circumstances. So when a high-profile guy like the FBI's chief profiler goes round-the-bend, it makes the little guys like me wonder what caused it."

"And this relates to the case . . ."

"The gargoyles," Mbeya said decisively. "The gargoyles were part of Mostow's signature which Patterson took over."

Mulder had begun shaking his head after the word "signature." "The gargoyles were part of the MO, not the signature," he said professorially. "Mostow's signature was the transformation of a regular human into the gargoyle."

Mbeya looked confused. "Well, anyway, the gargoyles drawn in blood on the bathroom mirror at the Hosseinzadehs' seemed an obvious link."

Mulder nodded silently, marveling at the amount of traffic at this hour of the night. "I thought New York was the city that never sleeps."

Mbeya smiled. "Out in the canyons things slow down some after midnight but here, in town, it's 24/7." He angled into a parking space. "The Sheriff has assigned the Chief of Scientific Services to manage the forensics in this case," he explained. "She may not be too thrilled about being here after pulling an all-nighter last night but that won't detract from the job she'll do."

Mulder nodded. He'd been on a plane just 24 hours ago. Mbeya led him down brightly lit halls that smelled heavily of chemicals through a door that was propped open.

A lone woman sat in front of a computer, shoulders rounded from weariness or habit, Mulder couldn't discern which.

"Dr. Aguilar?" Mbeya called gently.

Her head jerked, flushing in the realization she'd dozed off. "Yeah." She shook her head and turned, stiffly rotating her neck. "Detective Mbeya," she greeted. "And Agent?" she proffered her hand.

Mulder smiled at her formal manner-so much like Scully's. It seemed to be a common trait among women who'd excelled in a male-dominated field. "Mulder," he returned the handshake. "Have you found anything useful yet?"

"There's not much to find." She pulled a few zipper-lock plastic bags from a storage box. "The baby was wearing a stretch terry footed sleeper. I used to buy them by the dozen for my kids," she smiled. "Anyway the manufacturer ships them to all the major department and discount store chains. No way to trace this particular one. Ditto on the receiving blanket." She pulled another bag from the box. "The disposable diaper was a national brand as well."

"From the house?" Mulder asked.

Mbeya shook his head, "Everything seems to be accounted for; no opened packages."

"Preparation is the hallmark of a professional," Mulder observed wryly.

"What about prints?" Mbeya asked.

"Not enough to match on the snaps on the sleeper but," she grinned, "a full palm and 4 fingers on the seat of the diaper. 12-point match on Patterson."

Mulder sighed. "What about trace evidence? Hair, fibers?"

Aguilar held up a plastic bag at eye level. "Two hairs, human, still working them up for DNA. Not that we need it."

"Anything that might help us find a location?" Mulder rubbed his eyes.

"Nada. There was a navy blue worsted fiber that I'm betting came from a suit. We swabbed the poor kid's nostrils and esophagus . . ."

"I'll bet he loved that . . ." Mbeya opined.

She nodded, " . . . but didn't find any pollen or unique dust types or anything."

Mulder looked puzzled.

"Something wrong, Agent Mulder?"

"No," he shook his head. "It's just rare that I deal with locals who are so thorough."

"Well, thank you," she said sincerely.

"Was that it?" Mbeya asked.

Aguilar smiled and pulled the last envelope from the box, "And now, the moment we've all been waiting for. Full thumb and index, 12 point match on Patterson."

Mulder nearly snatched the bag from her hands. It contained an note card engraved "Hosseinzadeh." A brief note was scrawled inside,

Dinner at eight. Bring fava beans and a nice Chianti.

"Shit," Mulder breathed.

"Uh-huh," Aguilar agreed.

But Mbeya's eyebrows had raised so far as to become part of his hairline, "What does it mean?"

Aguilar nodded at Mulder, who answered, "It means Patterson's next role will be Hannibal Lecter."

"Shit," Mbeya breathed.

"Uh-huh," Mulder agreed.

Mulder had spent some time with the evidence, looking at it, feeling it, before they returned to UCLA. Mbeya was fascinated; he'd never seen a real "profiler" before. But he held his questions and allowed the Federal agent to work in peace. They retraced their earlier route down Santa Monica Boulevard, the horizon just beginning to lighten in the rear view mirror. Thompson Mbeya took the opportunity afforded by Mulder's silence to pick his brain. "What did you hope to find out about Patterson from the evidence found on the baby?"

Mulder closed his eyes, head falling back to the head rest. "Other than what we're told by the trace evidence, it is sometimes possible to make inferences about a killer from what may seem like inconsequential choices he makes. Take the color of the sleeper, for example."

The Sheriff's detective turned onto Wilshire, traffic already slowing.

Mulder lifted his head and looked straight ahead. "They're a pretty unisex item, color being the only differentiating feature."

"Okay . . ."

"It was yellow. Not blue or pink, but yellow. Discarding the possibility of a random selection, what might you infer from his choice of color?"

The detective thought for a moment, "That he didn't know which color to get."

"Which means?"

"Which means that he bought it before the baby was born."

"Which means?"

"Which means . . ." the detective turned up his hand in surrender.

"Which means he planned all along to take the baby with him."

"But how did he know about the baby?"

"Any idea as to how he found them?"

"Internet, we think. Social and professional organization web pages. The address was easy after that."

"You mean to tell me they let a psycho like him have web access?"

"Yeah. Go figure."

The detective merely shook his head before following the agent back into the hospital. They remained silent on the elevator, Mbeya marveling at the kinds of mental tools it must take to consolidate disparate bits of data into a rational investigation. And still keep your sanity, he warned himself.

Mulder's purposeful gait had taken him to the window of the baby nursery, next to Skinner who acknowledged his presence with a nod. He was staring into the nursery toward the back. Mulder followed his boss' line of sight and caught his breath at the sight of Scully, smiling and cradling what he assumed was the unfortunate infant. She lowered herself into a rocker and nuzzled the baby's lips with the nipple of the feeder she'd accepted from one of the nurses. The child fussed for a moment before taking in the nipple and eating with gusto.

Mbeya took his leave. "She'll make a beautiful mother," he nodded into the nursery and jogged the catch the open elevator car.

"Yes, she did," Mulder sighed roughly.

The Assistant Director stood silent, searching his soul for some words of comfort that he knew did not exist. Instead he stood steady, unembarrassed by the younger agent's obvious emotion. Resignation flashed across Mulder's face and Skinner questioned whether the grief over the loss of Emily was Scully's alone.

"What," Mulder turned his back to the glass and cleared his throat, "what did you find at the mosque?"

Skinner shook his head. "It's a quiet neighborhood. Nobody saw anything, heard anything, no discernible trace evidence."

Mulder scowled and accepted the cup of black coffee that appeared in front of him.

"Ole Bill's up to his tricks again, disappearing into the night without a trace," Bynum slurped noisily from a steaming paper cup. A door closed behind them and Scully stepped up, adjusting her suit jacket.

"Well, the baby's perfect," she said. "It looks like Patterson tried to take very good care of him."

"But why? After the parents . . ." Bynum wondered aloud.

"You can bet it wasn't out of the goodness of his heart," Skinner said acidly.

The elevator doors whooshed open and Grayson practically skipped down the hall.

"You found him," Bynum said hopefully.

"Yes and no," said Grayson. "I don't know where he is but I know a little bit about where he's been." He brandished a video tape triumphantly. "At 5:53 p.m. he made a purchase at the Wal-Mart close to the murder scene. Wearing a dark suit and what looks like an FBI ID tag."

"The Hosseinzadehs just let him in."

"Yup." He held up a hand. "And before you ask, the Sheriff's Department is running plates on every vehicle that appears around that time on the outside camera. Nothing yet."

"Great," Skinner griped. "If we want to catch him it would be helpful to know either where he is or where he's going. And we don't have either."

"Maybe we do," Mulder handed his coffee to Scully, who enjoyed a large swallow. He pulled out a plastic bag containing a piece of paper. "He left this with the baby."

Skinner paled as he inspected the item. "Do you think this is on the up-and-up?" He passed the bag to Grayson who held it for Scully, too.

Mulder shrugged.

"It really doesn't matter, does it?" Grayson asked. "It's all we have to go on."

"Yeah," Skinner sniffed as he stared down the hall.

The other agents passed a weary look among them.

He thought just a moment more before turning his face back to them. "Baltimore it is."


Chapter 12 Acedia

The contents of the crazed coffee cup, inviting earlier for its warmth and caffeine content, sloshed sadly, bitter and tepid. Fox Mulder set the cup down with a quiet raspberry that was amplified by the paneled walls of the conference room. He bent over another of the stack of files before him trying to find once more that exact combination of head tilt, angle and distance that made his maladjusted spectacles stay put. The door at his back creaked.

"You could have your glasses adjusted in an hour," his favorite voice chided from behind.

"And ruin this Robin Williams' Flubber look I'm going for?"

She plopped down in the seat beside him and deposited her shoeless feet in his lap.

He laid his glasses on top of a file and began kneading an instep. "You could wear lower heels in the office; your feet would appreciate it."

"When I grow another six inches . . ."

"You could tease your hair like Marge Simpson," he offered helpfully.

"Don't go there, Mulder," she warned. "How'd your visit with Lecter go?"

"After 3 days of going over his files? Lovely," he said sarcastically.

"Was he of any help?"

Mulder shook his head, "He was too busy trying to mess with my head to be of any help."

She stood and slipped her feet back into her shoes, "It's late and I'm beat, Mulder. Let's go home." He sputtered a lame protest, but she persisted, "Even Skinner's called it a day."

He made a show of arranging the scattered manila folders in stacks before ushering his partner out the door and directly into Diana Fowley. As luck would have it, Agent Spender was hot on her heels.

Both women glared at each other for a moment before Fowley spoke, "Hello, Fox, Dana."

Mulder could feel Scully's blood pressure rise 10 points when Fowley called them by their first names. "Diana, Agent Spender," he replied.

"I hear you're back working the Patterson case," she said tentatively. "How is it going?"

"As well as it can," Scully replied flatly. An uneasy silence ensued.

"I understand congratulations are in order," Spender said clumsily.

"So it would seem," Scully replied.

"I thought you'd sworn off marriage, Fox. At least that's what you told me," Fowley sniped.

"I didn't swear off the institution, Diana," he pushed Scully past them, "just the partner."

Scully waited until they were well down the hall before reacting, "It's not a good idea to burn bridges, Mulder . . ."

He rubbed his thumb up and down her spine as they walked, "That's one bridge well-burned."

Scully clucked disapprovingly. She slowed when she noticed the light in Skinner's office and stopped when she heard the tone of voice of its occupant. She tiptoed into the secretary's office while Mulder leaned against the hall door.

"You are responsible for protecting her!" Skinner shouted. "I don't care how clever she was, you should have prevented it!" The telephone receiver landed in the cradle noisily and, before she could react, the Assistant Director had nearly bowled over the diminutive agent. "Good, you're here," he said before they had the chance to speak. "Come with me."

Skinner had stewed silently all the way to the hospital but managed to keep his temper from boiling over when he saw the Marshal seated outside an examining room. The officer did not speak; he merely stepped aside. Skinner paused a moment before opening the door and motioning for them to follow.

The room was nearly dark; the only light was a short flourescent tube that illuminated a counter top. The examining table was in the middle of the room, and Mary Patterson was curled into a tiny little ball. "Go away," she wept softly.

Mulder leaned against the door while Scully leafed through the chart. Skinner pulled a rolling stool next to the bed. "Mary," he said softly. "What on earth . . ."

"I wasn't trying to kill myself," she sobbed. "I don't know what happened. I just felt so dirty and ugly ever since he," she sniffled, "wouldn't stop. . . and I washed and washed and never could get clean. Then I dropped the razor and I felt so ugly and I should look as ugly as I feel and then there was so much blood. But I wasn't trying to kill myself; I just felt, I just am, so ugly."

Skinner had listened, quietly inspecting the heavily bandaged wrist. Washed and washed and never could get clean. His temper rose. Washed and washed and never could get clean. He swallowed back the bitter disgust. Washed and washed and never could get clean. He measured his words carefully. "You're safe now, Mary." He brushed his thick fingers across her pale forehead, tilting her head so he could look into her eyes. "Bill will never hurt you again. I promise." He smiled and grasped both hands. "Now I'm going to step outside and make arrangements to take you to a safe place. Will you be alright?"

She nodded shakily and released his hands. They all squinted in the bright light of the hallway. He had dialed his cell phone before their eyes adjusted, "Next flight to San Antonio, Texas. Four." He shook his hand impatiently. "Yes. Fox Mulder, Dana Scully, Walter Skinner and Mary Patterson." He punched more numbers into the wireless device. "Tommy, I need your help. Meet me in the pickup lane at the airport in San Antonio at midnight." He listened for a moment. "Yeah, I'll explain it all when we get there."

Mulder and Scully could do nothing but look bewildered. "Don't just stand there," he admonished. "We've got a plane to catch."

They had been able to nap on the flight and again on the drive from the airport to a large stone ranch house, tin roof gleaming in the moonlight. Upon arrival, after brief introductions, Mary Patterson had been settled into an upstairs bedroom and they had been assigned a room just off the kitchen. Individual showers had followed in the bathroom down the hall and now they lounged in borrowed clothes while their washables agitated in the machine that was humming in the back of the house. Mulder's t-shirt and sweat pants shouted AGGIES FOOTBALL while Scully's declared immodestly 1991 Texas State Champion Blanco County Longhorn Cheerleaders. The discussion going on in the kitchen became heated enough that they could hear it through the almost-closed bedroom door.

"What in God's name possessed you to drag that poor woman all the way down here?" Walter Skinner's older brother whispered intensely.

"She needs a safe, friendly place to stay, Tommy. Obviously I was mistaken in thinking this might be that place."

"Walt, she is a Federal witness. If the prosecutor finds out that you've, uh, been with her he'll have your badge and your pension."

"That's not the way it is, Tommy." A chair scraped the tile and they could hear slow, pacing footsteps on the floor. "Her ex-husband, the serial killer we're after, raped," his voice caught on the word, "her after his escape." Silence. "Last night, while under the protection of US Marshals, she cut her wrist." The pacing stopped. "You and your Mary healed me when I was hurt and hopeless, Tommy." The volume dropped to a whisper, "Please, please, help her."

"You know we will. Now get some rest."

The show over, the eavesdroppers behind the almost-closed door pulled each other closer and drifted off to sleep.

Whistles and quiet whoops woke Mulder just before dawn. He stumbled to the window and peered between the broadcloth panels just in time to see AD Skinner jump down from a jug-headed caramel-colored horse. Following close behind him was his brother, Tom, a teenaged boy they called "James" and bearded younger man. Their heavy footsteps on the porch preceded the screech-bang of the screen door. Mulder suddenly became aware of the aroma of coffee and left Scully in bed, blinking stuporously, to fetch her first dose of caffeine.

"Good morning," drawled the strawberry blond whose face wore, unashamedly, a life-time's worth of 'laugh lines.' "Can I get you some coffee?"

Mulder nodded shyly, "Good morning, Dr. Skinner."

The teenager sidled behind the blond woman and squeezed her tightly while she patted his face, "Morning, Mama."

The taller of the Skinner brothers tapped his son's shoulder and 'cut in' on his wife, "Morning, baby," planting a kiss that was a little too earnest to be just for show.

"Sleep well, Agent Mulder?" AD Skinner passed a steaming mug to the groggy agent.

"I'll let you know when I wake up," the agent closed the door behind him.

By the time they had dressed the enormous table was laden with food and crowded with diners. Tommy and Walter had discarded their denim work clothes in favor of suits and ties and the teenager had donned khakis and worn ropers. He was teasing a younger teenaged girl, who looked just like him. The teenaged girl was ignoring the boy in favor of teasing a new arrival, a young man leaning heavily on a cane whose long dark hair was gathered into a leather thong. From the head of the table, Tom Skinner waved the new diners to a pair of chairs by the sun-streaked window next to their boss. Sitting beside him, at a discreet distance, was Mary Patterson. She'd said nothing, just smiled shyly at the genial bustle. Tom Skinner banged a spoon against his coffee cup.

"First thing, I'd like to welcome the guests we have at our table this morning. Now that balding fellow who looks vaguely familiar is Walter Skinner. I know you all remember him even though he's not been around in a long time." Everyone giggled while Walter Skinner blushed. "And he's brought Agent Mulder," he pointed at the lanky agent, "Agent Scully and, at his left, Mary Patterson. Mary is a Federal witness who'll be visiting with us for a while." He waved at the strawberry blonde, who stood next to him. "Now this is my wife of 34 years, Mary." He squeezed her hand. "And the two resident heathens," indicating the teenagers, "are our seventh son, James, and our third daughter, Jahna."

"Dad," Jahna dragged the name into at least 4 syllables.

"The fellow who needs a shave is our third son, John. And the one in need of a barber, there, is our second son, Wyatt."

"How many are there?" Mary Patterson asked incredulously.

"Ten," Mary Skinner responded breezily dumping a large spoonful of fried potatoes on Mulder's plate. "Seven boys and three girls."

Scully elbowed Mulder causing him to swallow a mouthful of potatoes without chewing.

But Mary Patterson looked fascinated, "That must make holidays really fun . . ."

"Well," Tom leaned back in his chair, "by the time you take our ten and add . . ."

"My brother, Will, his wife, Mary, and their eight," Walter continued.

"And spouses," John said.

"And grandchildren," Wyatt added.

"And boyfriends," James teased.

"And girlfriends," Jahna stuck out her tongue at her brother.

" . . . We feed about 40 for Christmas dinner," Tom feigned irritation at the "interruptions."

Mary Skinner laughed. "And Thanksgiving. And Fourth of July."

Tom nodded and turned his attention to his breakfast.

Mulder nudged Scully and directed her line of sight with a fork. Mary Patterson, for the first time since they'd met her, seemed happy. A smile lit up her face which was backlit by sunshine. And the AD, who had finished his breakfast, had pushed back from the table slightly and drank from the coffee mug in his right hand, his left hand curled around the knob at the top of Mary Patterson's ladder-back chair. There was an openness to his expression they'd never seen before. The smile he gave Mary Patterson was broad and warm. His posture was relaxed, easy. Only his business suit belied the impression that he was the prodigal returned.

"What time's your flight?" Mary Skinner cleared away his plate.

"Ten."

Mary Patterson's expression darkened slightly, which made Walter Skinner's brighten a bit. "I thought you might stay a while, too," she said meekly.

"I can't; not right now," he said regretfully. "But I'll call; I promise." He covered her tiny hand with his. "I promise."

The chirping of a cell phone sent the entire room scrambling, but it was Walter Skinner who barked into the mouthpiece. His expression soured before he snapped the cover.

"Sir?" Scully asked.

"Is it him?" Mulder prompted.

Skinner nodded. "He played us for fools. It was Milwaukee."

"Dahmer," Mulder mused, then flushed when he realized he was sitting at breakfast with civilians.

Tom Skinner wiped his face with his napkin, "I'll get the car."

Mary Patterson had turned quite pale.

"I promise I'll call, Mary," Walter Skinner kneeled next to her chair.

She nodded weakly then clutched his arm. "Be careful," she pleaded.


Chapter 13 Dinner at Eight

After a bumpy flight from San Antonio to Chicago, they met the Lear Jet on the tarmac at O'Hare and were immediately in the air.

Skinner was pissed. "Okay, ladies and gentlemen, remind me again why we decided to concentrate on Baltimore."

Grayson and Mulder glanced at each other and shifted uncomfortably. Mulder swallowed hard. "Given the pattern he established in the Los Angeles murders, it was my opinion . . ."

"And I concurred," Grayson interjected.

" . . . that Patterson would chose a path that would provide the most obvious affirmation of his intellectual superiority. We expected him to show us again that he could give us the maximum information about the crime and still outsmart us."

"But instead," Grayson continued, "he changed the gambit entirely. He feinted Baltimore and thrust Milwaukee."

"As a failsafe, however," Mulder explained, "we issued bulletins to all major offices with special emphasis on cities that had had incidents of serial cannibalism."

"Including Milwaukee?" Skinner asked.

"I talked to Moe Bocks myself," Mulder affirmed.

"So what do we have on this murder?" Scully asked.

Bynum opened an already-bent-up manila folder, "Victim's name was Jeffrey Dellinger, age 30. Blonde hair, blue eyes, medium height, slight build. Worked for Schwartzwald Chocolatiers since he was 18. Last seen at a downtown bar drinking away the sorrow of breaking up with a long-time," he wiggled two fingers on each hand to indicate a set of quotation marks, "companion. The remains were discovered about 7:30 this a.m. by a co-worker who went to check up on him after he didn't show up for work this morning. The usual artwork was on the bathroom mirror."

The Assistant Director rubbed his eyes wearily.

"Sir?" Scully inquired but he shook his head.

"This will be a different situation than in Los Angeles. If I know SAC Bocks, he'll put his entire office at our disposal, as well as any local law enforcement he can beg." He marked on a pad. "Spend the rest of the flight compiling a detailed to-do list for each of your teams.

Each task should be prioritized and classifying according to level of personnel capable of doing the job. Co-ordinate your inter-team tasks so that we're all on the same page. Understood?" Everyone nodded, scribbling or typing madly.

Their little caravan slid to a halt in front of a neat apartment building on Jefferson. The number over the door was 199.

Skinner flashed his badge the and the uniformed officer lifted the yellow tape while they passed beneath and into the stone building. Mulder paused before entering. The neighborhood was decaying but this building and the one next to it-213, Dahmer's building- was neat and well-kept. Scully brushed his arm and he followed her up the stairs. From the hall, the apartment appeared quite orderly. Usually, a crime scene like this would be awash in law enforcement personnel, but the front room looked to be unoccupied.

"We kept it fresh for you, Walt," a small, swarthy man pumped the Assistant Director's hand vigorously.

"Thanks, Moe," Skinner replied genuinely, "I knew we could count on you. I suppose you remember Agents Scully and Mulder?" He leaned his briefcase against the wall and donned the paper shoe covers the Milwaukee SAC had proffered. "I don't think you've met Agents Bynum and Grayson."

Bocks passed around the handshakes before pausing with Grayson. "Westy's boy?" The blonde agent nodded and Bocks shook his head muttering something about being "too old."

The apartment was tastefully, if sparsely, furnished. Bocks pointed out various items of interest, such as the distinct lack of blood and places where Patterson's fingerprints were concentrated. The first stop was the bathroom. As expected, angry eyes stared at them along with the customary inscription which Grayson wrote down:

poor pretty Polly

"The towel was still damp when we got here so we sprayed the whole bathroom with luminol," he switched on an ultraviolet light and the shower walls and tub glowed. "We think he may have washed up afterward."

"Did you find any clothing?" Mulder asked.

"No, but there was gray hair in the lint in the dryer filter. We've already sent it to DC for a match."

"The shower rod's bent," Bynum observed.

"Yeah," Bocks confirmed. "He hung the corpse so the blood would run down the drain."

"How do you know?" Grayson asked.

A young agent retrieved a photo album and opened it to the first page, "A picture's worth a thousand words."

"What about the camera?" Scully asked, swallowing back the bile.

Bocks shook his head. "Must have taken it with him. Along with a few souvenir shots."

"Yeah," Mulder looked up from the album, "there are numbers missing from the sequence."

"So, where's the body?" Bynum asked hesitantly.

Wordlessly, Bocks walked to the immaculate kitchen and opened the freezer door. Plastic-wrapped packed filled the tiny compartment. Strips of masking tape served as labels-

rump, shank, flank.

"What's in the refrigerator? Scully asked and Bocks backed away, sweeping his hand in an "after you" gesture. Pausing a moment to steel herself, she pulled on the handle and they found themselves staring into the lifeless eyes of the victim. His head sat in a pool of congealed blood inside a clear plastic bag on the top shelf. Bynum turned away. Skinner popped a mint into his mouth and passed one to Bynum. Grayson swallowed hard and Mulder dragged a weary hand across his face.

Scully leaned in for a closer look. "Time of death may be difficult to determine from this." She spoke over her shoulder to Bocks, "Have you found the rest?"

He nodded grimly toward a sealed blue plastic barrel sitting in the corner. "There's a bloody shower curtain in the dumpster outside, wrapped trash bags. I'll have them moved to the morgue for you."

Scully nodded absently.

"What's in the jar?" Bynum asked about a jar marked "Kosher Dills" on the shelf next to the victim.

Mulder leaned in, "Is that what I think it is?"

"Genitalia," Scully confirmed. "Cooked, sliced and, it would appear, pickled."

Bynum wheeled and walked heavily toward the open hall door.

"There's a note stuck to the jar," Skinner pointed out coldly.

"What does it say?" Grayson asked.

"Enjoy," Mulder read.

Scully lifted the lid on a casserole on a lower shelf, "Pot roast with carrots and potatoes."

"What?" Mulder asked. "No fava beans and Chianti?"

Skinner popped another mint and laid one in Grayson's upturned palm.

"And so ends the grand tour," Bocks said disgustedly. "What can we do to help you catch this sick creep?"

Skinner took a deep breath. "Bynum could use some man power flashing Patterson's picture around the neighborhood. Grayson will need some people to help him follow the victim's last known movements."

"Done and done," Bocks agreed. "Whatever you need."

"Great," Skinner said appreciatively and Grayson left to start his search. "As soon as Scully's ready, the rest of the remains can be removed to . . ."

"The county coroner's office," Bocks supplied.

"I'm ready whenever they are, sir."

Skinner nodded. "If you don't mind, Agent Bocks, I'd like you to leave some of your people here with Mulder while se return to your office to prepare for a staff meeting at, say, 6 this evening?"

Bocks looked relieved. "Anything to get out of here." He barked a few orders before leading Skinner out the door.

"Alone at last," Mulder quipped.

"You bring me to the most interesting places, Mulder." She stood quietly. "Will you be okay?"

He put on his bravest face. "Oh yeah," he looked around for spying eyes before squeezing her hand reassuringly "See you at six."

Moe Bocks scooted two chairs around so that they faced each other, then he slumped in one and deposited his feet in the other, his plate balanced on his chest. He savored a huge bite of a fully-dressed salami on black rye.

"Quite a spread, Moe," Skinner set a heavily laden plastic plate on the table next to the SAC.

He glanced around the conference room at the weary agents. "Well, I thought we'd all work better on a full stomach." He chewed thoughtfully on another bite. "What do you want to accomplish tonight?"

Skinner swallowed roughly, "After the teams report, we'll hammer out our next moves."

"Would be nice if we could find where he's stayed. Might give us a clue about where he's going."

Skinner grunted disgustedly. "We don't have a clue about where he's been, much less where he's going."

"Even Mulder doesn't know?" Bocks waved a fork toward the lanky agent who'd just interrupted picking at his food to greet a tardy Scully.

"Even Mulder," the AD confirmed. "He can't seem to get a handle on this one. And that's what worries me."

"What, you think he's distracted," Bocks glanced slyly at his boss, "by all the changes in his personal life?"

Skinner shook his head in amazement.

"When you're in the hinterlands," the Milwaukee SAC explained, "it pays to stay on the good side of the people who really run the Bureau."

"The secretaries."

"Exactly. You get all the news that's fit to whisper . . ." He said over a mouthful of potato salad. "And they're really whispering about them."

"They should mind their own business." He stood up, "Alright, people, let's get started. First, I want to thank all of you here in the Milwaukee office for your hard work today."

Fox Mulder stretched his long legs in front of the padded wooden chair whose style seemed to be a mainstay in the mid-western offices. He leaned back and closed his eyes, occasionally peering at the speakers from behind tented fingers. Patterson was everywhere and nowhere. Bynum reported that Patterson had been seen at several gay bars with the victim. He'd been spotted entering the apartment building with the victim. Grayson recounted that the victim had not been an habitue of those types of establishments until a long-term relationship ended recently. No, the ex-boyfriend had never seen Patterson. Most of the meeting participants had finished eating by the time Scully began her report. The remains in the freezer had not really thawed sufficiently for examination and the remains in the barrel had been badly decomposed by an acid mixture. Serum analysis of the bed sheets indicated recent sexual activity. Preliminary typing on the samples matched both the victim and Patterson.

Mulder breathed deeply. Once again, we have nothing, he thought. The word nothing repeated in his head like the flapping tread on a flattened tire.

Bynum winced as Scully took a large bite from a dill pickle. "Analysis of the shower curtain indicates that Patterson did use it as a drop cloth while dismembering the body. Preliminary analysis of semen found on the shower curtain matches Patterson. The DNA should confirm."

Mulder's eyes had popped open and he grabbed for the folder containing her report. "On top of or mixed in?" he asked.

She looked puzzled for a moment before replying, "On top of some dried blood."

The remainder of the room remained puzzled with the exception of Grayson, "This is the first time, right?"

Mulder nodded gravely.

"What?" Bocks demanded.

"Until now," Mulder explained in a schoolmaster's voice, "Patterson would have been classified as a serial murderer whose motivation could have been any of a million things. But now . . ."

Grayson continued, "He's escalated into sexual sadism. If you buy into Freud, that means he won't stop, he can't stop . . ."

"Because he's driven by a primal urge," Mulder picked up again. "And he's escalating. It will take more and more to satisfy him."

"You're telling me it's gonna get worse?" Bynum croaked.

Both Grayson and Mulder nodded.

"If the message on the mirror means anything, our next victim will be a teenage girl who will have been savaged beyond imagination," Grayson warned.

"But his previous clue was a red herring of sorts, directing us to another cannibalistic serial killer so we could be looking at any of thousands of cases of stranger-child kidnaping over that last 20 years," Mulder said downheartedly.

Silence mocked the occupants of the room.

"We have to find him, ladies and gentlemen," Skinner instructed. "We have to find where he's been so we can know where he's going and, hopefully, prevent any more bloodshed." He threw down his pen. "Bynum, you've been tracking his movements; what would you suggest?"

Agent Bynum shifted uncomfortably, "Well, sir, I'd probably put maximum manpower showing his picture in every hotel, motel and apartment complex in town."

"Milwaukee PD Fugitive Squad should have a list," Bocks suggested.

"Good. Each team gets one-fourth." The AD closed his portfolio and looked into each of the weary faces. "Our window of opportunity is very small, people. Let's make the most of it."

They had embarked wearily, but enthusiastically, on their quest, faces golden in the setting sun and they returned when the sun had journeyed well past its zenith. The collective disposition of the group had sunk to its nadir.

"Okay, people, let's settle down," the Assistant Director sat at the head of the conference table, waiting for the chatter to subside. "First, I want to thank you for your extraordinary dedication to this case. While yesterday's search may not have found Patterson, we have a learned a great deal about where he isn't. That kind of information will pay off in the long run." He was issuing platitudes and everyone know it.

"It's like he's a damn ghost," Bynum complained. "We only see him when he wants us to, and the rest of the time he's invisible."

"Well, he's not invisible," Mulder replied testily. "We just haven't looked in the right place yet."

"I'm open to suggestions," Bynum retorted. "Or do you need to consult your psychic?"

"That's enough, Agents," Skinner rebuked. "We have to concentrate on what we do have. Agent Bocks has divided the Milwaukee staff into four teams. Agent Bynum will work with the Site Selection team. Agent Grayson will work with the Victim Selection team. Agent Scully will work with the Forensics team. Agent Mulder will work on refining the profile. Agent Bocks?"

Moe Bocks perched his reading glasses on his nose and read off the assignments.

"What kind of time pressure do you think we're under, Agent Mulder?"

Mulder jerked his head, surprised by the question. "Patterson seems to be working on a 7-day cycle . . ." he glanced unsurely at Grayson who nodded. "It's been approximately 3 days since Dellinger's murder so that leaves us 3 to 4 days to determine where he'll strike next."

"We're under the gun, people," Skinner glanced at his watch. "I think we're all in need of some rest. Let's meet back here at 7 tomorrow morning when our minds are a bit fresher. Agent Bocks?"

Moe Bocks straightened slightly, "Officer of the Day report to station. All other investigative personnel are dismissed until 7 am."

Scraping chairs and heavy footsteps almost drowned out the Assistant Director's voice, "Bynum, Mulder, a moment?" It wasn't really a request.

Skinner loaded files into his briefcase while the room cleared. "I know you're tired and frustrated, Agents," he said to the two other occupants of the room. "Do not again embarrass yourselves, me or the Bureau by engaging in a public pissing contest while we are in the field."

Neither was foolish enough to say anything other than, "Yes, sir."

The OD had arranged for cars back to their hotel but Mulder opted to walk the 2 blocks back to the Wyndham. Scully glanced down at the 2-inch heels she wore and jumped into a car with Grayson. Skinner tossed his briefcase into the car and followed after Mulder, catching him in a few long steps. They walked silently for nearly a city block.

The younger man's shoulders were stooped again, his eyes cast downward. "I'm sorry. About, um. I'm sorry."

The older man looked over the younger man's haggard face; dark circles surrounded the lifeless eyes. He was, if anything, even thinner than when he'd first returned to Washington. "I don't want an apology, Agent Mulder. I want Bill Patterson behind bars or in the ground; I don't much care which. We have little enough chance without team members bickering."

A resigned grimace barely curled Mulder's lips. "I told you before I didn't think I could do it."

"I don't think you can, either. Not alone. That's why we have a team."

Each kept his own thoughts as they passed through the glowing brass entrance to the hotel and strode across the gleaming lobby. The only voice on the elevator ride digitally announced the floor numbers. Wordlessly they plodded to adjacent doors.

"Get some rest, Agent Mulder."

The younger man nodded and the door snicked shut behind him. The hot shower provided an ablution of sorts, cleansing a small amount of the guilt-soaked alluvium time had deposited in his soul. Despite his efforts he tumbled heavily into the already-warm bed, disturbing the source of that warmth.

She cooed a sleepy, "Hi," and curled around him, her head resting against his chest.

He lifted his head and planted a kiss at the crown of those fiery tresses. "Sweet dreams," he wished. For himself, he wished Morpheus would grant him no dreams at all.

But Morpheus was not kind. Patterson's victims paraded before him, bloodied and defiled. Their lifeless eyes stung him with the truth-truth that his own incompetence had been the real cause of their deaths. And, finally, Patterson himself, grinning darkly through sticky daubs of red, pronounced judgement. "Guilty," he pointed to Jackson Eller's lifeless form. "Guilty," he pointed to Amir Hosseinzadeh's blood-soaked body. "Guilty," he pointed to Kathleen Hosseinzadeh's empty womb. "Guilty," he pointed to the disembodied head of Jeffrey Dellinger. "Guilty," he bellowed, repeating it again and again while other voices joined in a heinous chorus-Tooms, Roche, Melissa, Samantha, his father, Deep Throat-all thundering, "Guilty, guilty, guilty!"

He sat bolt upright, shaking, heart pounding, breathless and sweat-soaked. Scully's warm hand clasped his clammy wrist, "Are you okay?"

"Yeah," he panted. She stroked his hand for a moment before sleep overtook her again. The clock glowed 1:00. He lay still, listening to Scully's rhythmic breathing until he could no longer feel the pulse pounding in his ears. He folded himself around her tiny form, comforted by her soft warmth. Soon his respirations matched hers and he followed her into the Realm of Hypnos.


Chapter 14 Driven

Hypnos was kind but Fate was not for he allowed the phone to ring as the clock glowed 3:17. Both sleepers scrambled to answer but Mulder's long arm reached it first. He growled his name into the mouthpiece then sank back into the hard hotel bed, a long, mournful sough rumbling in his chest. She propped herself on one elbow and gazed a quizzical look. "Petaluma," he croaked. Eyes closed, he listened for her footfall first on the carpet, then on the bathroom tile. The shower made clouds of steam that wafted from the open bathroom door.

Silently he gathered his folders, propping the crime scene photographs against the bathroom mirror while he scraped the stubble from his chin with a slightly dulled razor. He rinsed the foam from the blade and exchanged places with his partner. This time the water afforded him no comfort so he washed quickly, dressed silently and, lugging both of their travel bags, followed her to the waiting car on the deserted street below.

"God," Bynum exclaimed over the rising roar of the jet engine. "You look as bad as I feel."

"Thanks," Mulder replied drily and seated himself at the banquette. He selected a foam cup of black coffee and spread photographs of Patterson's cell on the melamine tabletop. In between steaming gulps he arranged and rearranged the pictures, straining to spy some detail that might reveal anything new about the cell's former occupant. The room was neat, orderly-a place for everything and everything in its place. Including, Mulder thought ruefully, gargoyle faces. He leaned back against the bolster, staring at the images through the steam rising from his cup. What were you thinking, Bill? What were you thinking as you lay there, staring at them, night after night? Staring at the faces of your tormentors? Or were they your guides?

"So who did you offend to get this gig?" Bynum's coffee sloshed as he sat heavily in the opposite chair.

Mulder stared strangely for a moment, as if wakened from an intense dream, before his eyes focused and he responded, "Do you want it alphabetically or by department?"

Skinner chuckled from his seat.

"So, who did you aggravate, Bynum?" Grayson asked.

Bynum's long face curled into a rueful smile. "Kersh," he replied. "I was lucky enough to find a better job with better pay, better hours, better benefits, better life expectancy. I was stupid enough to give him a month's notice when I resigned. And here I am." He wrapped his hands around his cup. "That's why I've been such a jerk. That and," he paused, "my wife. She's finally pregnant after years of trying and now she's afraid I'm gonna get killed before I can get out."

From the sofa, Scully shot Mulder a knowing look. No wonder the Hosseinzadeh crime scene hit him so hard.

"All I can think about is catching this bastard as quickly as possible and getting home in one piece," he finished.

"I think that's what we all want," Scully soothed.

Bynum nodded and downed the dregs of his cup. "Yeah," he returned to his seat.

"We need to be careful," the Assistant Director said when the coffee in his cup leveled off. "Most of the agents in the Santa Rosa office participated in the Klaas case and that will weigh heavily on them. Their first priority will be to find the victim so it may be difficult for them to maintain objectivity. We have to."

Despite their efforts the drone of the engine soon lulled the cabin's occupants to sleep. The rising sun sent lemon-colored tendrils over the mountains as they rode in the Suburban to the victim's home. It was a neatly kept bungalow with a fenced yard.

Special Agent in Charge Dale Jacobs conducted the tour. "The victim was, is, Stacy Edwards, age 13. Her younger sister, Emily, who sleeps in the same room, was awakened by a noise around eleven last night. She saw a man, matching the suspect's description, carrying Stacy from the room." He stepped down the hall. "Emily screamed and woke the parents who were asleep across the hall." He pointed to an open door. "The father ran out the door just in time to see a van speed away."

"Did he give you a description or license?" Bynum asked.

Jacobs shook his head. "All he could see was that the van was black."

"Neighbors?" Grayson asked.

"They pretty well roll the sidewalks up at 10 around here."

Scully sighed and let her eyes scan through the family pictures on the wall of the corridor. She gasped and lifted her hand to one picture, not quite touching it.

Mulder wheeled, searching for the cause of her alarm. His eyes followed hers to a color school picture in an inexpensive frame gold frame.

Angel face, bobbed red hair, light blue eyes . . .

"Oh, that's Stacy, the victim," Jacobs identified the picture.

Skinner grimaced. Even from the poor photograph in the case file, the resemblance to Scully's Emily was obvious. Mulder, too, seemed shaken and assumed a position that shielded her face from Grayson and Bynum.

But Dana Scully's expression remained inscrutable. Only a slight tremor in her voice betrayed her, "What have you done to find her?"

"Forensically, we have very little. Fingerprints in the bedroom and on the door and traces of chloroform on the pillow."

"That's it?" Bynum asked incredulously.

Jacobs nodded solemnly. "No dirt, no sand, no hair, no fiber, no oil stains, no tire tracks, nothing. If the sister hadn't seen him, you'd swear Stacy ran away."

"But what have you done to find her?" Scully insisted.

Jacobs leaned wearily against the door facing. "We instituted a house-to-house as soon as we got here radiating out from this location. So far, it's come up dry."

"So, what can we do to help you, Agent Jacobs?" Skinner asked.

"A crystal ball would be nice," he replied wryly. "Tell me what he's going to do so we can get her back before he does it."

Mulder bowed his head, stealing a glance at Grayson, who'd done the same.

"That's why we're here," assured the Assistant Director who wished he felt as confident as he sounded.

Bynum joined the search parties, scouring first the original scenes from the Klaas case, then places that looked like scenes from the original case and eventually locations that Grayson and Mulder suggested might have appealed to the original murderer, Davis. Scully covered the forensics, checking and re-checking each minute detail, hoping to discover some previously-missed detail that might give them a clue about Stacy's whereabouts. This task caused her to be in contact of the victim's parents, and more than once, Mulder had noticed, she returned from the house gaunt and red-eyed. Grayson and Mulder were left to develop the profile-which meant getting to know Richard Davis. It was a disgusting task. The two created and discarded what seemed like a thousand theories. After working 48 hours on little more than caffeine and catnaps, Grayson staggered back to the hotel and surrendered to sleep. Mulder stayed on, turning the evidence over and over in his mind and in his head until dawn glared in his weary eyes. He staggered back to the hotel, stopping long enough in the lobby to abscond with a pot of coffee for Scully. As he stood at his door, fumbling with files, cup, carafe, and key he heard Skinner's voice through the opened door of the next room.

". . . Sounds like you and Mary Tom had a busy day yesterday," he said. "No, I'm just a little tired." Mulder recognized the metallic scrape against leather of a service weapon sliding into a holster. "It's good to hear you sounding so well, Mary," he said gently. "I'll call you." The receiver thumped into place and immediately Skinner's face appeared in his doorway. "Agent Mulder," he greeted.

Mulder colored when he realized he'd actually been eavesdropping. "Sir," he responded and scurried into his room, setting the hot pot on the table before collapsing in the warm bed that still smelled of her to the sound of a running shower.

The increasing darkness matched the growing gloom that pervaded the searchers. Scully welcomed the signal to stop and trudged back toward the cars. This was the third field they'd searched today-the third one that had resembled the field where Davis had dumped Polly Klaas.

Mulder had joined them about noon-leaving his files and evidence with a plea, "Give me work." He had taken his place in the line they used to sweep across the field efficiently, his mind evaluating endless combinations and possibilities. He'd walked between Grayson and Scully and could sense they were doing the same thing. And, obviously, coming up with the same result.

"It's been 3 days, Mulder," she said, angrily. "All we'll find is a corpse." Sorrow welled in her eyes.

He reached for his partner, wanting, needing, to fold her in his arms, but she wrested free and escaped across the harvested field. He was left leaning against the hood of the government-issue sedan wiping dust, and tears, from his eyes.

Skinner sidled up, filling a paper cup from the water jug on the hood of the car. "How's she holding up?"

The younger man dragged his sleeves over his face, "What do you mean, sir?"

The older man drained the water from the cup . "I'm aware of the victim's resemblance to Emily," he explained quietly.

Mulder's gaze followed his partner. "Funny how, just when you think you're coping, something comes along to remind you that you'll never get over it." He blushed. "Scully, I mean," he stammered. "Emily was Scully's, I mean she wasn't my . . ." The blush turned crimson.

The Assistant Director fixed a thousand-yard-stare across the grassy stubble. "Biology means little in matters of the heart, Agent Mulder."

The younger man's head dropped nearly to his chest. "No, sir, it doesn't," he confessed, then joined his partner.

Skinner doffed his cap and slapped it against his denim-clad leg, dust poofing from the impact.

"That was always his problem, you know," Grayson held a cup under the spigot of the water jug. "He takes these cases to heart."

Skinner shot him a knowing look.

"I know, I know," the profiler admitted, "A Grayson's the last one to criticize someone for getting too wrapped up in a case."

Bynum brushed his hand across his sleeves, disturbed some of the dust that had settled there. He took the cup his boss offered him. "I don't know how you VCS guys do it, trying to make sense out of the bullshit in some sick wacko's mind."

Grayson laughed ruefully, "That's me. Bullshit connoisseur extraordinaire."

"Well, everybody's got to be good at something," Bynum toasted his comrades with an half-empty cup. "What's up with them?" he nodded at the partners talking quietly some distance away.

Skinner investigated his empty cup. "This case holds some," he searched for the proper word, "resonances for them both."

Bynum stood silent for a moment. "One more week," he said with false cheerfulness. "One more week and I am adios, amigo." He drained his cup. "It can't come quick enough."

Both men nodded with more than a little envy.

The staff meeting had been a somber affair, redolent of failure. They had separated back into their teams, prepared to work late into the night. After several hours, Mulder tried to clear his addled brain with a walkabout-- his footsteps reverberating through Petaluma's marbled City Halls magnified by reflection off the hard surfaces. He found himself back at the conference room, staring at his boss while he leaned against the door jamb. He even slouches at attention, he shook his head in amazement.

"You needed something, Agent Mulder?" the older man said gruffly and rubbed his eyes.

"Cups," he scurried to the credenza and snatched up a stack of white styrofoam cups. "You look tired, sir. You really should get some rest."

"When will you rest, Mulder?"

The younger man smiled, "When Stacy comes home."

Skinner nodded agreement, "As will I." He scooted the next chair away from the conference table, "Do you believe Patterson was born or made, Mulder?"

"Well, sir," he slouched in the chair, "the fundamental tenets of the whole nature versus nurture debate all bear . . ."

Skinner cut him off, "What do you think?"

"I think," Mulder was too tired for diplomacy, "Patterson was made by his choices. He had the average childhood, experiences comparable to his contemporaries, but chose to follow the darker potentialities that I think are present in each of us. Who knows when it started?"

Skinner pondered Mulder's words, his eyes filling.

"Mulder, Grayson's been looking . . ." Scully stopped short when Skinner spun his chair to face the back wall. Mulder gestured she closed the door and crossed the room, leaning heavily on the credenza near the other two agents.

After a few moments, the Assistant Director turned to face them, physically and emotionally. His eyes were still moist. "Mary's pregnant," he said with a sigh resting his chin on a fist. "Patterson," he answered the inquiring looks.

"What's she going to do?" Scully asked.

"She's Catholic."

"Sir, she doesn't . . ."

"I know," he cut her off. "She knows her options. But she wants it, him, her. Hell," he sputtered, "I'll be 70 when he graduates from college. This is what I get for falling in love at first sight."

Scully and Mulder exchanged giggles, actual giggles, at the concept of their stern, self-sufficient boss actually admitting his tender feelings.

"You shouldn't feel so superior, Agents. By all reports it took you little more than a week."

"And six years to act on it," Scully reminded.

"Six years too many," Mulder stated, nudging her toe with his.

Skinner marveled at how their closeness manifested itself in the smallest of gestures-looks, light touches, gentle nudges, secret smiles. Suddenly he felt very cold and alone and longed to bask in the warmth of Mary's smile. Mary. And growing inside of her was the child of a killer. How do you explain that to a child? He leaned forward, elbows propped on his knees. He knew he was intruding on their sorrow. "What would you have told Emily? About her past, I mean? About where she came from?"

"I don't know," Scully answered, finally. "I guess I would hope that she would know that I loved her so much that her origins were irrelevant."

"We," Mulder corrected. "A wise man once told me that biology means little in matters of the heart. I hope he takes his own advice."

"Did you get lost?" John Grayson said from the now-opened door. "The other files are here . . ."

"I'll be right there," Mulder dismissed him.

"What's up at . . ." Scully squinted at the clock, "5 o'clock on Sunday morning?"

"Come see," her partner, hands stuffed in pockets, held an elbow akimbo and she slipped her hand through it.

Grayson looked up from his files with a shocked expression. "I thought we weren't ready for a show-and-tell," he protested.

Scully and Skinner found empty chairs and sat heavily.

"We're not," Mulder agreed. "But I think we could use some extra brain-power. I don't know about you but my lightbulb's not glowing so bright."

"I always knew you were a dim bulb, Mulder. I just never thought you'd admit it," Bynum teased from the door with a weary, genial grin. He plopped down in a chair. "So, what's the reason for this little slumber party? Ghost stories? Do we get to roast marshmallows? What?"

They all shook their heads at Bynum's nervous energy. "Here, Bynum, have some coffee," Grayson held out a steaming cup, "you seem to have slowed down a little," he said slyly.

Bynum winced at the first sip. "Okay, boys and girls, give me good news 'cause I ain't found shit."

"We think we may know why," Mulder began while glancing at Grayson. "We think we've been profiling the wrong guy."

"Excuse me?" Skinner leaned forward sharply.

Grayson wiggled the spoon in his cup. "We've been profiling Davis. It seemed reasonable because we assumed that Patterson would be mirroring Davis' actions."

"Which he has, so far," Scully said.

"Not exactly," her partner contradicted. "Davis took Polly Klaas violently from her home."

Grayson drank before speaking, "Patterson chloroformed her and took her by stealth. Why deviate?"

"He needed the lead time?" Bynum postulated.

"He didn't gain any," Skinner explained thoughtfully. "So, you're saying the motivation was different?"

Both profilers nodded. "And if the motivation was different, we may be following the wrong scenario."

"Kobiashe Maru again," Scully said to nods from the profilers.

"That's awful thin," Bynum warned.

"Yeah, it is," Mulder confirmed.

"But there's more," Grayson opened a manila folder. "We've been beating the bushes looking for Stacy. But Eller was killed indoors, and the Hosseinzadehs, and Dellinger."

"And so was Nemhauser," Mulder expanded.

"But," Scully wondered, "what about the artists' model? Wasn't he assaulted on a Baltimore street?"

Both Grayson and Mulder slumped, deflated. Morosely, they stirred through files.

Skinner, however, brightened a little. "The model," he explained, "was killed before Patterson was incarcerated, right?"

Grayson and Mulder nodded.

Bynum sat up as jumped on board, "Wasn't he continuing Mostow's signature at that point?"

Mulder thought a moment, "Yeah," he confirmed reluctantly.

"Why?" Skinner asked simply.

Grayson looked puzzled but Mulder's face lit up a little, "Because that's what he'd been working on for years; that's what he knew."

"And since then?" Skinner led them like a schoolmaster.

"He's had several years to study," Scully noted.

"Like the old artists' apprentices," Mulder explained. "They learned by copying their master's work. But we can tell the difference because they couldn't avoid putting their own style into the work."

"So, is this kidnaping Patterson's style?" Bynum asked.

Grayson shook his head. "It's still copywork."

"But it's not Davis he's copying," Mulder added. "That clue was a red herring."

"Okay," Skinner leaned forward alertly, "how do we find out who he's copying?"

Both Mulder and Grayson pointed to a stack of file folders, which prompted grimaces from the others.

Skinner's large paw scooped up a half-dozen folders with a bleary-eyed sigh, then passed a similar quantity to each of the others. He'd barely sat back in his chair when his chirping phone interrupted them.

"We'll be right there," he stood and drained the last tepid drops from his cup. "They found Stacy," he said simply, and led the parade out the door.

Sun streamed, seemingly joyously, through the stained glass windows in the sanctuary of the Petaluma Community Church. SAC Jacobs' mood reflected the setting. "She's fine. Would you believe it? She's fine," he appeared near tears.

"Where was she?" Bynum asked urgently.

Jacobs crooked a finger and they followed him up narrow stairs. "Back when this church was built in the 30s the sexton lived in this apartment beside the organ bays." He stopped in the windowless room. "Since then, the youth have used it as a sort of place where they could talk informally, have social gatherings, so on. There's a sofa, fridge, bathroom, stove, everything but a phone."

"He kept her in here?" Scully wondered.

"Yeah," Jacobs answered. "Close as she can remember, he brought her here on Wednesday."

"Why weren't they discovered that night at services?" Grayson asked.

"There were no services here," Mulder answered before Jacobs. "There was a community prayer vigil at the Catholic Church on Wednesday night."

Skinner flipped through a book on the table, "What's this?"

Jacobs grinned and pointed to a worn backpack with the name Stacy written in correction fluid, "He made her do her homework. He told her she shouldn't fall behind."

"Excuse me?" Bynum shook his head.

"Yeah," Jacobs couldn't stop grinning, "go figure. Anyway she says he locked her in here on Wednesday night with food and water and instructions to do her homework."

"Who found her?" Skinner looked down the stairs.

"Pastor," Jacobs explained. "He likes to come in early on Sunday mornings to pray. Heard her beating on the door."

"And she's okay? Really okay?" Skinner asked pointedly, glancing at Mulder then Scully.

"Yeah, just scared."

"He just left her here?" Grayson asked. "No message?"

Jacobs took a large plastic bag from one of the forensic technicians and handed it to Grayson. Mulder peeked over his shoulder. "Looks to be written in blood, gargoyles, too."

"What is it?" Scully moved closer and Bynum and Skinner gathered behind her.

"A poem," Grayson answered and began to read:

I give the fight up: let there be an end,

A privacy, an obscure nook for me.

I want to be forgotten even by God.

Robert Browning 1812-1889, Paracelsus 1835, pt. V

"What does it mean?" Jacobs asked confusedly.

"It could mean he likes screwing with our heads," Bynum said dejectedly.

"Agents?" Skinner prompted his profilers.

They conferred silently before Mulder spoke. "It would seem to mean he's trying to stop."

Bynum paced, "You're kidding me. You're trying to tell me this guy's suddenly grown remorse after butchering 4 people? On the basis of some poetry he quotes?"

"And the fact that he didn't kill the girl," Grayson said.

"What about that?" Skinner asked. "Did he change his mind after he took the girl?"

The profilers thought for a moment before Mulder shook his head. "There was a case," he began, "in Memphis."

Grayson tapped his foot impatiently trying to remember. "Gattas."

"Yeah, Gattas. The girl was taken from her home and stashed in the crawlspace of one of the biggest churches in the city. Months he kept her hidden there, fed her, took her down to the restroom at night, before the church members noticed little notes she would drop through the ceiling."

"They thought they were a hoax," Grayson pointed out.

"Until they found her, months later."

"Would Patterson have been familiar with the case?" Skinner asked.

Mulder shrugged, "He wrote the profile."

"That may explain this one, but what next?" Bynum said impatiently. "Is he just going to crawl off into the desert and die?"

"That would seem to be out of character for him," Skinner observed.

Mulder turned over the note, "A privacy, an obscure nook," he read.

"Where did he go when he wanted privacy before?" Grayson's question prompted Scully to shudder.

She exchanged a sorrowful look with her partner before he responded with curious detachment, "Baltimore. Mostow's studio."


Chapter 15 Chicken Bones and Tea Leaves

"Well, it's back to chicken bones and tea leaves," Bynum commented when the leader of the armored search party shrugged as he walked past their vehicle.

"Quiet, Bynum," Skinner hissed.

"He should have been here," Mulder said, staring vacantly at the gloomy warehouse.

"Maybe he did just crawl off into the desert . . ." Grayson speculated.

Scully shook her head. "Not Patterson."

"They could have missed something," Mulder loped across the parking lot toward the warehouse.

"Mulder, wait!" Scully stood for a moment, posture betraying exasperation, then scurried after her partner.

"QRT cleared the building, Mulder. There's nothing- hell!" The Assistant Director swore before leading Grayson and Bynum into the building.

The interior of the warehouse looked like a Tim Burton movie at twilight. Twisted metal bent ominously over them. Large machines loomed like giants. Their steps made an eerie echo that resounded off the metal walls. Skinner's party followed the footsteps in front of them to a tiny room that had been the scene of piteous horror for Agent Nemhauser. Mulder stood in the center of the room, turning and looking distraught.

"You were expecting to find gargoyles again?" Grayson asked incredulously.

"Maybe," he murmured sheepishly.

Scully planted herself in front of her partner. "He's not here, Mulder."

"We've been had, friend," Bynum consoled. "Miscue and misdirection."

"He should be here," Mulder dragged his long fingers across his long face. "I just don't know anymore."

Skinner stepped up beside his agent. "We've been going nearly 72 hours straight." He tugged the distraught agent toward the door. "It'll make more sense when we've have some rest."

Their heavy footsteps rang dully as they almost staggered toward the exit.

"My, my, my. Giving up so soon?" A familiar voice boomed from a nearby speaker horn.

Each of them drew his weapon and wheeled around, searching frantically for the source of the voice.

"Show yourself, Bill." Skinner ordered. "We've come for you, just like you wanted."

A chuckle echoed. "Yes, you have."

A figure stepped across the floor, silhouetted in the doorway about 50 yards away. Each of the agents wheeled and fixed him in their sights.

"Come on, Bill." Grayson shouted. "It's time to go."

The silhouette shook its head. "Not yet. There's something I have to do first."

"What's that, Bill?" Mulder called.

"Confess," he said simply.

"Confess what, Bill?"

"You were right, Mulder. You don't have to become the monster to know him. I was wrong to teach you that."

"You didn't know any better," Mulder consoled falsely.

"Maybe." The voice boomed. "There's no getting rid of the monsters, you know. Once you let them in, there's only one way to get rid of them." The silhouette raised its hands skyward. "I won't have you suffer the way I have."

Mulder's mind raced. I won't have you suffer . . . there's only one way to get rid of them. "Run!" he shouted but the sound was obliterated by the concussion wave that sent him hurtling against Scully and into darkness.

Beep . . . beep . . . beep. Oh, hell, he thought thickly, I know that sound. I'm in the . . . "Scully!" he croaked, grasping frantically for his partner.

A massive hand grasped his wrist. "Be still, Agent Mulder."

He knew the voice, Skinner, it was Skinner. "Scully!" he keened weakly.

"Relax," the AD ordered. "She's gonna be fine." He held a cup while Mulder sipped from a straw.

"Where is she?" Mulder's throat scratched horribly.

Skinner stowed the curtain that shielded the other bed in the room.

Mulder blinked until his eyes focused enough to recognize her. "What's wrong with her?"

"Just a bump on the head," Skinner moved to Scully's bedside. "You'll both have a headache for quite a while, though."

Mulder reached for the place where his head pounded, but Skinner grabbed his wrist again.

"You've a knot the size of a quail egg under an nasty abrasion. Between that, and some cuts and bruises, you're both remarkably well."

Mulder looked at his boss, blinking until he came into focus. A heavily-padded bandage covered the crest of his shoulder. "What's that?"

Skinner tried to shrug but winced. "Shrapnel."

"What about the others?"

"Grayson has a broken arm. Bynum," the older man adjusted his arm, "may lose an eye. Shrapnel."

"Bomb," Mulder realized.

Skinner nodded.

"Patterson?"

"We're testing human remains found in the rubble. Preliminary reports indicate it was Patterson."

Mulder nodded thickly, darkness descending again, this time without the fire.

Dana Scully's head pounded in time with the beeping machines. Somehow, over the beeping, she heard voices, arguing, then the door whooshing shut. Only then did she dare to peep open eyes toward her partner who was peeping at her from the other bed.

"Okay, you two, you can stop pretending to be asleep," the deep voice intoned with feigned annoyance.

"Did we miss anything?" Mulder grinned.

Skinner snorted. "As you might have guessed, AD Kersh is somewhat miffed at being the last to be informed of your marital status."

"His concern for our health and welfare is underwhelming," Scully said dryly.

"As usual," Mulder added.

"Regardless, he's expecting Personal Update forms from both of you before you return to Montana." He tucked a blanket around Scully's feet. "I had Kimberly prepare the forms; all you have to do is fill in the date, place and signature."

Scully blushed and stole a glance at Mulder who returned both before speaking. "Sir, we're not . . ." he faltered.

"We haven't . . ." Scully stammered.

"I doubt that you haven't, but I know that you aren't," the AD said dryly. "Neither of you has registered for a marriage license in any state. Your religious backgrounds make a church wedding unlikely. I can't imagine any civil authority that you would consider appropriate to register the union. So that leaves the Ir-Reverend Melvin Frohike, who pleads innocent." Each paled. "If Kersh found out he'd have the two of you in opposite hemispheres, if possible." He let them stew a minute more while he grinned at their obvious discomfort. "Do the citizens of Miles City think you're married?"

They both nodded.

"And your mother?"

They nodded again.

"And my family in Texas?"

They nodded more.

"And everyone in the Hoover Building?"

"Yes!" they exclaimed simultaneously.

"Agents, do you know what the states of Texas and Montana and the District of Columbia have in common?"

Both looked clueless.

"Oh, come now," he prodded but they shook their heads. "Texas, Montana and the District of Columbia are among the few remaining jurisdictions that recognize putative marriages." Seldom was he able to gain advantage over the pair so he relished their confusion a moment longer. "So," he summed up, "you're as married as you care to be in 3 different jurisdictions." He picked up his coat and tugged on the door handle. "And Kersh has no real cause to separate Resident Agents who are married, regardless of how pissed off he is." He grinned victoriously at them. "So," he affected a 'little old lady' voice, "that 'nice young FBI couple from Miles City' will just have to make out the best they can. Sweet dreams."

The whoosh of the door was no match for the sighs of relief.


Chapter 16 Optative

Warning: Strong content; adult themes.

The late November wind had turned chilly and whipped around the cabin, sending cold wisps through the rattling panes. Scully pulled the blankets up to her chin, initiating a brief tugging match with her grinning partner which she won by distracting him by applying her icy toes to his thighs. He pulled her close. "I'd almost forgotten how good our own bed feels," he murmured sleepily.

"'Night, Mulder."

He snored his reply. She tried to sleep but snapshots of crime scenes danced before her when she closed her eyes. She rolled over roughly and a pain stabbed her left abdomen just inside the point of the hip. It was a familiar pain. Please, God, not the cancer again, please. When, Dana? When did you last feel it? In Washington, Annapolis really, while they were at her mother's house before Milwaukee. That was, when? It had been 4 weeks. Are you sure this is the same, Dana? It feels the same, but it's different. Wait, last time it was on the other side. She palpated both locations. One side-the left-- was tender and swollen. Four weeks, she figured. And two weeks until- She held her breath. Please, God, please let it be what I think it is. She rolled over gently and planted kisses on his chest.

Mulder moaned and pulled her closer. "Still awake?" he asked dreamily, planting a kiss that delayed her answer.

She was silent a long time after their lips parted. "What you said, in the hall, before Antarctica, did you mean it?"

"Mean what?" He nuzzled her forehead.

"About us."

He searched her face for the source of the doubts. "Every word," he said earnestly, "and one more."

"What?" she whispered.

"Forever." With one word he breathed back into her something she'd lost since Skyland Mountain. Hope.

She dreamed of long, lanky red-haired sons and daughters with peach-faces chasing each other through sunlit surf. She smiled and stroked the arms that surrounded her. She felt happy, golden. Then she heard a noise behind Mulder and a dark shadow flashed at her visual periphery. "Mulder!" she gasped and her eyes popped open in the darkness of their bedroom.

His chest thumped against her as his back arched and his cry of "Scully!" was weak, wet and breathless.

"Mulder?" she rolled to face him but a hand grabbed her arm and fetid breath warmed her face.

"Don't go, Agent Scully. We haven't had any fun yet."

"Patterson!" Mulder's choked between gasps. His arm flailed desperately at the intruder but he moved no closer.

"Mulder, you're hurt," Scully finally realized. "What did you do to him, Patterson?" she raged.

"Oh, nothing fatal," Patterson grinned vilely. "Just something to slow him down for the rest of his life." His yellowed teeth shone in the moonlight. "To give him the time to remember every detail of the horrible thing about to happen before his eyes that he was helpless to stop."

Scully struggled to escape the intruder's grip. "We watched you die, Patterson," she thrashed. "The DNA confirmed it."

"Did it?" Patterson leered. "97% is hardly a perfect match, boys and girls. That's what you'd expect to find from parents or . . ."

"Or siblings," Mulder panted.

"Oh, not just siblings, Mulder." He dragged Scully to the edge of the bed out of the reach of Mulder's thrashing. "Twins." Patterson deposited Scully's head on her own pillow. "One who was normal and one who had the intelligence of a 6-year-old."

"You took your own brother's life," Scully accused.

Patterson smiled. "My brother had been institutionalized since he was 3. I didn't take his life; I gave him death."

"And what about the others?" Mulder rasped, failing in trying to pull himself across the bed.

"Tools," Patterson answered coldly.

"For what?" Scully managed to free a hand that clawed at Patterson's face.

Patterson easily deflected the strike and grasped both tiny wrists in one hand. "Tools for prying away those protective layers of that very odd oyster that is Mulder."

"Is that all you wanted?" Mulder asked, every labored breath inducing a sick slurping sound. "I've been accessible all along, Patterson. You didn't have to kill 5 people to get to me."

"No, I didn't," Patterson smirked. "But it was so much fun watching all of you running around, trying to profile me."

"Let us go, Patterson," Scully flailed again.

He laughed and straddled Scully on the bed, just out of Mulder's reach.

"Bill," Mulder begged breathlessly. "It's me you want. Kill me and leave her alone."

"Still the martyr, eh, Mulder?" he sneered.

"You hurt him and I'll . . ." Scully hissed.

"You'll what?" Patterson slid the flat side of a chef's knife across Scully's throat.

"Patterson!" Mulder's voice was fading but his eyes fairly burned in the darkness.

"Oh, don't worry, Scully. I won't kill Mulder. That would be too merciful." He held the knife to her throat. "I want him to know what it's like to watch something awful unfold at your fingertips while you are powerless to stop it."

Mulder clutched wildly at the sheets, unable to pull himself within striking distance.

Scully bucked but Patterson merely leaned forward and leered, "I want you to spend the next thirty years remembering the sight of me defiling and dismembering the woman you cherish while you lay beside her-useless and helpless." He pressed his forearm across her throat while deftly slicing the buttons from her pajamas.

"Touch her and I'll kill you, you son of a bitch," Mulder railed. "Do you hear me, Patterson? I'll kill you!"

Patterson laughed humorlessly and raised up to cage Scully between his legs. "I hope it's as good for you as it will be for me, Agent Scully," he growled roughly and set his teeth into her bared shoulder.

She yelped and bucked and Mulder's hands finally found hold and he lunged numbly at the attacker. Their combined efforts toppled him into the floor. He was stunned only instantly, but long enough for Dana Scully to grab her weapon from the night stand and pull the trigger once, twice, three times. Patterson's face grayed and he collapsed forward, hands grasping at the bed clothes. She fired again, scorching the sheet before shattering his cranium. He hit the floor with a dull thud and twitched only twice while the blood pooled around him.

Scully stood ready until the attacker was still before climbing to the floor to verify that he-the monster-was dead.

"Scully?" Mulder strangled.

She ran to his side of the bed and fumbled with the lamp until it finally turned on. His white sleep shirt was crimson and the blood bubbled at a gash exactly in the middle of his back. Exactly. She gasped.

His hand reached back to grasp hers. "I can't feel my legs," he said fearfully.

A tear rolled down her face and her fingers trembled while she pulled back the sodden cloth of his t-shirt from around the ugly wound. "It's nothing, Mulder," she lied. "Patterson stabbed you and you're just in shock." She punched the emergency phone numbers with her free hand.

He nodded weakly and squeezed her hand. "Love you," he breathed as the darkness overtook him.


Chapter 17 Esperance

Walter Skinner was sick of hospitals. He was even sicker of visiting Agent Fox Mulder in hospitals. This wasn't even his responsibility; Scully and Mulder still worked for Kersh. SOB, he silently cursed their uncaring boss, just as he had when he'd discovered the unsealed interoffice envelope he now ferried. Things like this you do in person. You just do. He paused to gather himself for a moment before rapping on the door.

"Come in. We're almost ready," a woman's voice, Scully's, beckoned.

He stepped inside.

"You can put the flowers and luggage on the cart . . ." she instructed.

"Okay." He set his briefcase next to the door. "Where do I find the cart?"

"Sir?" Scully wheeled around. "I thought you were the orderly," she stammered and flushed.

"Sometimes I think that would be a promotion," he replied wryly.

"Scully?" Mulder leaned against the door jamb of the lavatory, clad in a black wind suit and shaving foam still clinging to his jaw. "Oh. Sir," he greeted suspiciously.

"You're looking well, Agent Mulder."

"So they tell me." He tossed the towel and fitted metal crutches under his arms. They made an awful snick-swing-snick-swing as he hobbled across the room. "Another six months of therapy and I can probably trade these things in for a cane. So they tell me."

Scully hung her head wearily.

"Better than wheels, Agent Mulder." He met the younger man's defiant gaze and held it steadfastly.

The hazel eyes softened and Mulder nodded wordlessly.

"So, when are they cutting you loose?" the older man finally interrupted the uneasy silence.

"Today," Scully replied softly. "And I have a million papers to sign in Accounting. Sir, will you be here a moment?"

Skinner nodded and tried not to notice the younger man's embarrassment. Scully gently lightly brushed her lips across her partner's after he leaned wearily against the side of the bed.

"Back in a few minutes," she promised.

The door closed behind her and silence lay between the two men.

"Thanks for the flowers. They were, uh, Scully really, uh . . ."

"You're welcome."

"So, what brings you here? In the neighborhood? Just passing by?" Mulder asked sarcastically.

Skinner ignored the anger. "No, Agent Mulder. I came to see you." He retrieved the envelope from his briefcase and proffered it to the younger agent. "News like this deserves something more personal than interoffice mail."

Papers rattled as they were pulled from the envelope. The young man's breathing quickened and his brow furrowed deeply. Tears formed in his eyes and he tried to blink them back.

"Are you alright, Mulder?"

"Yeah," he strangled then coughed. "Yeah. It's just a little scary when you see it in print."

"See what?" Skinner leaned closer. He knew what it was and he knew Mulder needed to say it aloud.

"75 % disabled," he replied quietly.

Skinner sat carefully beside the young agent. "Yes, it is."

"What does it mean?" Mulder rifled through the papers.

"If you take the disability you get 75% of your salary."

"Or?"

"Or you can work administrative assignments." Skinner stared at the door.

"A desk."

The older man nodded.

Mulder sighed raggedly. "Can I . . . may I keep my badge and gun?"

"It would be unusual," Skinner stopped when the younger man sagged noticeably. "But I imagine that can be arranged."

The young man sighed hopelessly.

"Of course, it's not unheard of for agents assigned to administrative duties to ride along with active agents," the AD said slyly. The sagging shoulders straightened slightly. "As long as they're aware of their limitations and don't needlessly endanger other agents." He cut a sidelong glance at Mulder who returned the look with a growing grin.

"Thank you," he whispered.

"My pleasure." He stood and offered the young man a hand up. "Besides, I've seen your paperwork. You'll drive Kersh crazy."

"Maybe some good will come of this after all," the younger man smiled and leaned on his crutches.

"Maybe," Skinner laughed.

Scully whooshed through the door waving a thick sheaf of papers. "Well, partner, are you ready to blow this pop stand?"

They watched him slip the papers into the envelope and zip his suitcase shut. He stood tall for the first time in a long time. His reply revealed the glimmer of hope that had surfaced again in his soul. "Ready."

The End


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