Title: Blood and Roses
Summary: Four teenagers are dead, and all the clues lead Mulder and Scully to a "love potion" gone awry.
Author's Note: Feedback in the form of constructive criticism is greatly appreciated. I'm fairly sure I know what's "right" with the story, I need to know what's "wrong" with it.
Gemma, Indiana Charlie's Drive In Theater
"That's four dead in as many days, Dave." Sheriff Eggers shook his head, standing over the battered corpse of Lydia Winton. Deputy Montgomery leaned over, and with a whispered prayer, closed the body bag. It's clinical zipping sound reverberated in their ears, an unhappily familiar occurrence of late.
"I just don't understand it," Deputy Montgomery said. "Everyone knows everyone in this town, but kids keep getting beat to death with no leads."
Glancing over the crowd which had formed around the police tape, the sheriff frowned and closed his eyes. "Reckon we're in over our heads, Dave. I don't like doing it, but I'm thinking of calling someone in."
"The state police? They're all up on their high horses in that BATF gun case in South Bend."
With a resigned sigh, the sheriff waved over the ME's assistants waiting to take the body. "I was thinking more of the FBI."
A look of surprise washed over the deputy's face. "People aren't going to like that, Scott."
"No, probably not. But they're bound to like it more than their sons and daughters winding up dead in an empty lot."
"Am I incorrect in believing that there is a field office in Indianapolis that could handle this?"
Scully sighed irritably and forced the file folder into Mulder's hands. "Sometimes we have to justify our existence by taking a regular case, Mulder. The Indianapolis office pawned it off on us. The sheriff in question specifically requested agents with a medical background."
Flipping open the file, Mulder scanned the crime scene photos. Young faces battered almost beyond recognition stared lifelessly back at him. He took particular attention of the latest victim, Lydia Winton. Her face was a mass of bruises and swelling, along with ligature marks on her throat. Blood had crusted in the corners of her eyes and mouth, and in a close shot of her face, he realized she'd been beaten so badly that her teeth had cut through, and now protruded from, her upper lip. Scully waited impatiently for him to say something.
"What about the State Police?"
Closing her eyes, and pursing her mouth sourly, Scully took a deep breath and leaned over his desk. "The State Police are not interested in the case."
Mulder looked up at her. "And I take it you are?"
Uncharacteristically angry at his obstinance, she snatched the file from his hand and started to walk out of the basement office.
"Scully wait!" Mulder half rose from his desk.
She whirled around to stare him down. "What?"
Sheepishly, almost apologetically, Mulder raised his eyebrows. "So when do we leave?"
"I was planning on leaving at nine. The agency requested that we drive. It's only ten hours away, and with the airlines threatening to strike, they preferred we have one of our pool cars rather than the Indianapolis office's." Her voice was stiff, almost brittle.
"Okay," he said, nodding unconsciously, "Nine is good."
"There have been a lot of cattle mutilations reported in this area."
Scully stared over at Mulder, then glued her eyes back on the road. If this was the kind of road trip she could expect on the way home, she had every intention of buying a plane ticket out of her own money. Mulder peered out of the windows, apparently in the effort to spot some of the phenomena by chance.
"As a matter of fact, there's also been a series of disappearances in this stretch of 1-70. Maybe there's a connection between the disappearances and the UFO activity."
A million nasty retorts floated in Scully's head, but she opted for something neutral. "Mind if I turn on the radio? I'd like to hear the traffic report."
She didn't wait for an answer.
"Y'all'd be them FBI agents, right?" A pimple faced girl cracked watermelon bubble gum as she pulled out the registry for the Gem Motel.
"That's right. I'm Agent Scully, and this is Agent Mulder. We have reservations."
Pulling out an ancient credit card bed, she held out her palm. "Yep. The only reservations we ever got here."
Mulder handed her a credit card. "Do you have the Sheriff's phone number?"
With a vicious swipe, the card bed thumped like a loom. She pulled out the receipt and handed it to Mulder to sign. "I do, but really ain't no reason to be calling. Can't sneeze funny in this town without everyone knowing about it a minute later. Ain't no phones in the rooms anyway. The TVs work real good though."
She took the receipt back and wrote the sheriff's phone number on the back. "We don't got no kitchen, but May's down the street is open til nine if you're hungry."
"Thank you," Scully said, her voice strained. She took the keys, and started back outside.
"She ain't much happy, is she?"
Mulder watched Scully open the trunk through the hazy motel windows, then turned back to the girl behind the desk.
"Not one bit."
"Would you like to go down to May's," Mulder asked in his most conciliatory tone. "I'm pretty sick of bologna sandwiches."
Scully unlocked the door to her room. "Not really, Mulder. I'm not hungry, and I want to go over the ME's preliminary report again." Pushing open the door, she frowned to herself, then said, "Just call me when you're ready to go talk to Sheriff Eggers."
As the door closed in his face, Mulder wondered what egregious offence he had committed against Scully, and more importantly, what he could do to fix it.
"We haven't had a murder in this town in over forty years. Suddenly we have four in five days, and not a lick of evidence to be found."
"So there's nothing connecting the victims?" Mulder shifted uncomfortably in the cold metal chair.
"There's everything connecting the victims. This is a small town, Agent Mulder. Our graduating class last year had 32 students in it. We were hoping that an outside party might be able to look at it more objectively. All we have to go on is the medical evidence, that's why I asked for doctors."
Scully pulled one of the autopsy sheets from a case folder. "Is wormwood locally available, Sheriff?"
Sheriff Eggers twisted his hat in his hands. "Wormwood's illegal in Indiana, Agent Scully. Naturally, someone could be growing it, but as for buying it, I never heard of an herb smuggling ring."
Mulder looked over at Scully for an explanation. Catching his eye, she pointed at the listing for stomach contents on the victims.
"Wormwood contains turpene thujone, which causes stimulation of the central nervous system, including, but not limited to hallucinations and psychotic behavior. It was one of the components in Absinthe and other alleged "medical" tinctures, it was outlawed because it can be toxic." She looked up at Sheriff Eggers. "Does Gemma have a high drug use rate?"
Shaking his head, the sheriff smiled wryly. "We got kids putting bowls over cow pies to sniff the fumes, and we've got the occasional home-grown marijuana farm. We even had one kid end up at the clinic with a sick stomach from licking a toad. More than that, it's just not done."
"Where do the teenagers hang out, Sheriff?" Mulder pressed two fingers to his forehead.
"Mostly down at Charlie's. It used to be a drive-in theater, but now it's just a fenced lot." The sheriff drew a quick map on a piece of scratch paper. "As long as they keep it quiet, I pretend they aren't on private property.
Mulder and Scully's appearance at Charlie's did not go unnoticed. There were fifty or so teenagers scattered through the lot, sitting on the hoods of cars, milling about, or swinging on the dilapidated playground, and they all hushed when the dark car with government plates pulled into the gravel drive. Part of the lot was still cordoned off with police tape, but it didn't seem to dampen anyone's mood.
"Looks like we're crashing the party," Mulder said wryly.
"So it would seem."
As soon as Scully cut off the engine, several teen-aged boys loped over to the car. Scully and Mulder stepped out of the car, badges out.
"I'm Special Agent Scully and this is Special Agent Mulder. We'd like to ask everyone a few questions."
A red-haired boy craned his neck to look at Scully's backside. "I sure say you are Special, Agent Scully." His cronies snickered in a grating, pack of hyenas way.
Mulder wedged his hands in his pockets, casually displaying his gun. "You boys mind if we ask a few questions?"
Straightening up in mock military precision, the redhead saluted Scully. "Private Ricky Lybarger at your service ma'am." He turned his head slightly and shot an ugly glance at his entourage. At his look, the others stood a little straighter and tried to wipe the grins from their faces.
"We're investigating the murders of Alan Morgan, Lydia Winton, Michael Williams and Michael Barker."
"I swear I didn't do it, ma'am," Ricky smirked.
"No one said you did it, Ricky. We just have some questions." Mulder bristled.
"Mulder, why don't you go talk to the girls?" Scully looked pointedly at Mulder. " I think I can handle Ricky and his friends here. They wouldn't be anything less than gentlemanly, would you Ricky?"
Ricky shook his head like a dashboard Jesus. Feeling a little put out, Mulder shrugged and started across the lot to the mass of giggling girls herded around the old refreshment stand.
Having exhausted their questions and entertained the teenagers of Gemma, Mulder and Scully were ready to call it a night. They had learned very little about the murder victims themselves, and no one knew what wormwood was, let alone where to buy it.
Unlocking the car door, Scully noticed a rustling in the hedges. When she stared in that direction, she saw a young girl standing in the shadows. She motioned to Mulder, and started to walk over, but the girl turned and ran into the tree line.
"Should we follow?"
Mulder shook his head. "I don't see the point. She's long gone by now."
Slipping behind the driver's seat, Scully stared up at the sky. The stars painted the sky in a silver veil, brighter than possible in the city. Scanning over the constellations, she named the familiar ones to herself. Orion. Cassiopeia. The North Star. Unwittingly, she reached up and touched the bridge of her nose. She drew a thin breath, and tried to squelch her maudlin thoughts. One year. One year. One year.
Mulder reached out a hand and touched Scully on the shoulder. He could see tears starting to well in her eyes, and a pang of guilt shot through his chest. She jumped a little when he touched her, then shoved the key into the ignition.
"Scully, is there. . . have I. . ." He silenced himself, trying to gather his thoughts.
Pulling the car into gear, Scully took a deep breath. "In the autopsy report, there was something I didn't mention earlier."
Mulder both envied and hated the way she could so cleanly change the subject. "What's that?"
"The rest of the stomach contents. Most of it was easily accessible herbs, with the exception wormwood." Scully paused significantly. "However, there were small hair fragments, nail fragments and blood as well."
Raising an eyebrow, Mulder examined Scully's face. "Blood? Hair and nail fragments?"
Scully turned the car down the long road back to the Gem Motel. "More specifically, menstrual blood."
"Why didn't you tell me that?" Mulder scowled, his eyebrows knitting into a furious knot.
"We only have the full results back on the Morgan case. The others are still at the labs, but I'm fairly sure they'll all come back with the same findings. The three boys appear to have died within hours of each other, though one body wasn't found until the next day."
"Is there enough blood to make a match?"
"Unfortunately, no. The sampled degraded too much in the stomach to make them suitable for typing or DNA testing. We're lucky we know as much as we do. The blood took a little longer to degrade than it would have because of the uterine cells in it."
Mulder was quiet for a moment. "Why didn't you mention this before, Scully?
"I don't know."
"What do you mean you don't know? Did you have a reason or not?"
"Yes," she snapped. "I didn't want you running off with some ridiculous voodoo theory, or alien stomach suckers or any one of a million themes you have in your damned x files."
Scully gritted her teeth as Mulder stiffened next to her.
"I see." He closed his eyes slowly, and bowed his head. There was a continent of silence between them. Finally, Mulder spoke.
"Mind if I turn on the radio?"
Mulder stepped out of the shower to the sound of insistent tapping at his door. Pulling a towel around his waist, he walked over the thinning carpet and peered out the window, expecting to see Scully. Instead, it was the girl from the front desk.
Opening the door slightly, he was oblivious to the girl's obvious appreciation of his quasi-nudity.
Popping gum, she held out a sheet of notebook paper folded in half. "Someone left this at the desk for you."
Reaching out for the note, he thanked her. "Who left it?"
The girl shrugged as she started to walk away. "Dunno, it was on the desk when I came back from the bathroom."
Mulder closed the door, and turned the paper over. On the outside was written "FBI Agent Moller" in purple ink. There was Scotch tape holding the note closed. Pulling open the note, he noticed the heavy curling handwriting, and the I's dotted with little circles.
'Dear Agent Moller,
I saw you talking to everybody at Charlie's last night, but I was too afraid to talk to you at the time because everyone was there and they wouldn't want anyone saying anything.
Anyhow, I don't know about that wormwood stuff, but I heard Lydia Winton talking in the girls' room at school last week about a magic love spell she bought from a witch, and she was gonna use it on Robbie Kellar, and it worked, because he didn't know her from nobody then suddenly he was carrying her books and stuff. He started getting all weird though, and I heard Lydia said she was going to buy another spell to make him not like her anymore.
I didn't know if that might be important, and actually, I'm thinking this whole note was a pretty stupid idea, but I felt like I had to tell someone. I couldn't tell Sheriff Eggers because he knows my mom, and he would tell her and stuff.
Thanks for reading this (if you did)
Mulder turned the note over, then folded it again. Scully was going to love this development.
"A magic spell?" Scully glared at Mulder.
"Now wait, this was not my theory. Just hear me out."
Scully sat down on the edge of her bed, folding her arms over her chest.
Mulder held out the note. "A lot of teenagers get interested in magic and spells, especially when there isn't a lot of anything else to do. Some of these spells, especially love spells call for hair or fingernail clippings, or blood to bind the intended to the spell caster." He paused to see if Scully was following him. She was, however tentatively. "These spells call for a variety of herbs, and they can be found in the most basic books on magic."
Scully sighed. "So we have kids casting love spells, Mulder? Did they accidentally reverse it, making the victim hate them enough to murder them?"
"No!" Mulder almost smiled. "I don't think this is an x file at all, I think it's simple biochemistry. You said yourself that wormwood was a slightly hallucinogenic herb. What if these fledgling witches put in too much? Or fed their intendeds too much? Hallucinations. And when hallucinations aren't expected, the result is frequently. . ."
"Violent." Scully finished the sentence for him. "I see where you're going with this. We need to find this Tara Cooper and talk to her. We should also track down Robbie Kellar."
"I thought we could wait until after school let out to talk to Tara. Talk to her at home. She obviously didn't want to be identified." Mulder rubbed his thumbs against the side of his hand. "We'll talk to Kellar after we talk to Cooper. Until then, why don't we find some of the town delinquents and see where we can buy wormwood."
Ricky Lybarger was reclined in the back of his van with his cronies, the stub of a joint hanging from his fingers. They were having a vaguely animated and engrossing conversation about electric fences maiming the nether regions of a urinating man. They were surprised when the van door slid open, casting hot sunlight into their faces.
"Oh god it's an angel," one of the boys said as two shadows fell over them.
"Sorry to disappoint you boys, but it's actually Agents Mulder and Scully."
Scully stepped up into the van. "Pot? This early in the day?"
Ricky tried to hide the remaining roach with very little success. Scully reached over and took it from him, handing it back to Mulder.
"I bet we find more of these if we open the door panels, pull up the carpet. . ." Mulder smirked at Ricky's horrified expression.
Scully half smiled back. "I'm sure Ricky would much rather just answer some questions for us, wouldn't you, Ricky?"
"Listen, I don't know anything about them kids dying, I really don't." Ricky's strained face held a flicker of doubt long enough for Mulder to see it.
"So, Agent Scully, do you know what the mandatory minimum sentence for 'possession with intent to sell' is?"
Ricky glared at Mulder. "All right. I can tell you the rumors I heard, but I swear to god I didn't have anything to do with it."
With a shrug, Scully leaned against the frame of the van. "Then what do you know, Ricky?"
"All right. There's supposed to be some love potion going around. Lyds, Lydia Winton said she bought it from some witch. You were supposed to put hair or fingernails in it, and get the person you liked to drink it." Ricky made a foul face. "I don't know why it worked, but it did. All of a sudden, freshmen were going out with seniors, and they were following each other around like dogs sniffing, you know?"
"Who is this witch? And how many people have a copy of this love spell?"
"I don't know who all has it. As far as I know, everybody got it." Ricky laced his fingers through his hair. "Lydia's dad is a teacher, so she could use the copy machine whenever she wanted."
Scully leaned forward. "If everybody got it, where is your copy?"
A tinge of red crept along Ricky's cheeks and ears. "I don't need no magic spells to get a girl, Agent Scully." Reaching into his back pocket, he pulled out a purple mimeographed sheet. "But I saved one in case Lonnie or somebody wanted it."
Taking the sheet from his hands, Scully skimmed the list of ingredients. Wormwood. Fingernails. Hair. Eucalyptus oil. Ma Huang. Anise. Willow bark. 'Women's blood or Man's seed'. She felt her stomach churn thinking about the combination.
"The witch, Ricky. Who's the witch?"
"She's this weird lady who lives near Cumberland, about fifty miles north of here. She sells magic candles and charms, and palm readings." Ricky looked up at Scully sincerely. "She's just a weird lady. She wouldn't give anyone anything that would hurt them."
Scully inclined her head, and almost whispered, "Well, Ricky, where did they get the wormwood?"
Ricky sighed, frustrated. "I don't know. Yes, sometimes I got pot, but that's it! Are you going to arrest me now?" His whole body slumped in defeat.
"Come on, Mulder." Scully spoke decisively. She and Mulder knew they could never make a drug arrest on Ricky stick, and Scully wasn't inclined to arrest him anyway.
As they walked back to the car, Mulder tilted his head to comment softly to Scully, "You scared the hell out of him, didn't you?"
Scully smirked. "I'm special that way."
Mulder pushed open the blue glass door, and was greeted with the peaceful tinkle of a glass chime. He held the door open for Scully, then shut it quietly behind himself.
The store wasn't much to look at. Books were scattered over shelving units covering most of the walls, and old wire racks held plasticine bags full of assorted herbs. Bottles of essential oils lined the short glass display case, and inside the case were a variety of colored candles and incense burners. The shop was heavily scented with patchouli, and the atmosphere had a lazy, stopped in time air. Scully flipped through the bagged herbs. Anise, cardamom, fennel, fenugreek. . . but no wormwood.
"May I help you?" A strong, maternal voice came from behind a beaded curtain.
Mulder turned to face the direction of the voice. "I'm Agent Fox Mulder, ma'am, and this is Agent Dana Scully. We'd like to talk to you if we could."
Brushing aside the beads, a short, clear eyed woman walked into the light. She had long grey hair which cascaded down her back, and she wore a silver crescent moon pendant around the crown of her head.
"Lady Khyrystyne, I presume?"
The woman smiled and held out her hand. She had silver rings on each finger. "Please, call me Khrys. I suppose this is about those foolish children in Gemma?"
"Yes," Scully said, pursing her lips. "We've heard rumors you sold one of them a potentially fatal love spell."
Shaking her head, Khrys pulled back the beaded curtain. "Would you care to join me for tea, and we can talk? It's only Earl Grey."
"Lydia Winton came to me last week, begging for a love spell. She insisted that she was destined to be with a certain young man, but he hadn't noticed her yet. I tried to explain to her that love through a spell is nothing if not deceitful. She didn't care." Khrys waved her hand angrily. "People don't understand magick, and they don't even try. Since I wouldn't provide her with the information she wanted, she bought a few books. Basic spell casting."
Scully raised the cup to her lips and blew over the hot liquid inside. "And there were love spells in these books?"
"Oh, nothing that would work. Spell casting calls for ritual, and I know of no teenager willing to go through the ordeals of a ritual. I imagine she took the ingredients, added some imagination and whipped something up."
Setting her cup down on the coffee table, Scully pulled out the spell that had been circulating through Gemma. "Could you take a look at this please?"
Khrys took the sheet, and shook her head as she read over it. "This is pure foolishness, and dangerous to boot. It doesn't even say whether this is to be mixed with anything else. Eucalyptus oil can destroy the stomach when taken without dilution." Glancing up at Mulder and Scully, she frowned. "Did you actually find evidence of wormwood?"
"We were hoping you could tell us where they bought it." Mulder tried to keep his veiled accusation as bland as possible.
"Pish, not from me." Khrys shook her head emphatically. "It's dangerous and pointless. It's illegal in Indiana, besides. Perhaps a foreign pen pal?"
"There wouldn't have been time for a letter to get to another country and back with a package of wormwood," Mulder pointed out.
Khrys raised her eyebrows and nodded. "Of course, of course. Well, it could be grown here. . . oh, the Botanical Experiment!"
"What botanical experiment?" Mulder looked skeptically at Scully, then back at Khrys.
"Several scientists from Indiana University got special permissions to grow a variety of composite flowers. It was more a soil experiment than a botanical experiment. They had asters, dandelions. . they probably had wormwood too."
"Where was this experiment housed?" Mulder pulled out a notebook and pen.
"It was showing at the state park early this week. They had a smaller, traveling version. The larger one is at IU, I imagine."
Mulder stood, preparing to leave. "Thank you for your time. If you have anything else to add to your statement, or if you remember anything else, please call us." He fished a card out of his wallet and wrote his cell phone number on the back of it.
Khrys took the card, and smiled softly at Mulder. "Thank you." She looked significantly at Scully, then back at Mulder. "Would you mind terribly if I had a private word with Agent Scully?"
"No, of course not," Mulder said, puzzled. He shook his head slightly, and left the back room. A few moments later the tinkling of the glass chime signaled he'd left the shop.
"Is there something else you want to tell me?" Scully folded her face in consternation.
Khrys smiled enigmatically. "Yes, but it hasn't a thing to do with this case. Excuse me just a moment."
Scully watched as the older woman disappeared into the back room of the store, then reappeared moments later with a tupperware container. Sitting down, across from the confused federal agent, she pulled open the lid. Scully's eyes widened as she looked at its contents; a wide, mottled mushroom of some sort, floating in an inch or so of greyish brown liquid.
"This is a Tabanga mushroom," Khrys explained. "It cannot cure, but it can delay your illness, Agent Scully. I want you to have it."
Scully's mouth opened, then closed. "I don't . . . I mean. . "
"Come now, Agent Scully. The so-called witches found that willow bark cured headaches long before medical doctors understood analgesics. Is it so impossible to believe we can slow the progress of an ugly disease like cancer?"
"How did you know?" Scully's voice was reedy and weak.
Raising a hand, Khrys passed it over Scully's head and her face, stopping at the bridge of her nose. "There is a darkness here, in your soul. I can see it."
"I assure you I am getting the most competent medical care available." Her voice trailed down into a whisper.
Putting the lid back on the container, Khrys smirked. "Slice off a section of the mushroom, and steep it in very hot water. I'm afraid it doesn't taste like most teas, but medicine isn't intended to taste good. Keep the container tightly sealed, and don't draw the water off of it, that's how it survives. Do this once a week, Agent Scully, and your one year will grow to several. . . enough time to find an effective," she paused "Medical treatment."
The old woman pushed the package into Scully's hands, and dismissed her with a single glance. Standing, Scully started to walk away, but turned back.
"Thank you," she said softly.
"In a few months, cut it in half and separate the pieces. Add a little of the water to the new piece and pass it on to someone else who needs it." Khrys said, rising from the table and working her way back into the storeroom.
"I. . . I will," Scully fumbled. She paced slowly through the front of the shop, and out into the bright sunlight. The container seemed extraordinarily heavy in her hands, but it weighed more heavily in her mind.
"Federal Agents! To what do I owe this strange surprise?" Dr. Sloan Gaston brushed his soil stained hands on a towel, and smiled openly.
"We're investigating a series of murders in a small town near here, and we believe that one of the plants you had on display in your botanical experiment might have played a part in it." Scully said dryly, examining Dr. Gaston's face for a reaction. She hadn't needed to look hard; his eyebrows shot up and his eyes widened at the thought.
"Oh my," Dr. Gaston breathed, "What can I do to help you?"
Mulder stepped in. "Did you have wormwood in the traveling portion of your exhibit?"
"Artemisia absinthium," Dr. Gaston said distractedly, "Yes. I didn't want it to be part of the show, it hadn't done very well, and each time we moved, we had to get a new permit to display it."
"Dr. Gaston, " Scully said gently, "Are you missing any wormwood?"
Sucking a breath sharply between his teeth, Dr. Gaston fumbled for a log book. Flipping through the pages, he finally stopped at an entry and held it out to Scully.
"This was our last stop, Brown County State Park. They took an entire plant! Root system and everything." Dr. Gaston scowled. "Not very well, either. Half of the root bundle was still in the ground. Someone also let their dog eat one of my Aster Callistephus bundles!"
"Did you report this?"
Dr. Gaston grumbled. "I reported it to the State Police, but it seems to have better things to do than look for a missing plant. Everyone was so all fired worried about those permits, but the whole thing came up missing, and all they did was take a report."
Scully looked around, blazing flashes of exotic color assaulting her eyes. "Do you still have the wormwood, Dr. Gaston?"
He nodded, and shuffled over to one of the far seed trays followed closely by Mulder and Scully. With a flourish, he pointed out a scraggly plant about a foot and a half tall. The stiff stems of the plant held up deep yellow flowers which swayed gracefully under the greenhouse fan.
"They can get up to four feet tall. As I said, we didn't have a great success with them. It was probably the experimental fertilizing mix." Dr. Sloan stroked the plant's leaves, flicking imagined dust from them.
Mulder leaned close, staring at the sunny bulbs. "Could it be replanted?"
Dr. Sloan chuckled. "Agent Mulder, this plant grows wild on the roadsides out east. If it can survive exhaust fumes, it can survive a replanting."
Sitting in their car, Mulder and Scully watched for Tara Cooper to arrive home from school. Sipping cups of lukewarm coffee from May's, they fiddled with bits of the case as they waited.
"My only question is, how do you lure someone who doesn't like you to drink something as noxious as this potion must be?" Scully looked over the ingredient list again.
"Eucalyptus oil tastes like camphor, somewhat unpleasant in it's self. Wormwood is supposedly very bitter. Add the licorice taste of anise, and the ginger flavor of cardamom, and already it's perfectly horrible. I have no idea what ma huang tastes like, but I bet it can't add to the mix very well."
"New fad? If you steep everything in hot water, you could make a tea out of it." Mulder stared down in his cup of coffee, wondering if it hadn't been tainted with wormwood.
Scully raised an eyebrow. "Do you know any teenagers who drink tea?"
"I don't know any teenagers," Mulder smirked, then perked up. "I bet that's her."
Scully looked out the window to see a young girl walking down the sidewalk with a friend, swinging a backpack in wide circles. She stopped at the walk of the Cooper house, and chatted for a few moments more. The friend pushed her shoulder playfully, then took off running down the street.
They waited until the girl went inside, then put aside their coffee and followed.
Ringing the doorbell, they waited several moments before a woman in her mid thirties opened it. She looked surprised to see strangers at the door.
"Hi there," she said brightly. "Can I help you?"
"Are you Tara Cooper's mother?" Scully asked.
The woman looked confused. "Well yes. Is there something wrong?"
Mulder pulled out his badge. "I'm Agent Mulder. We wanted to ask your daughter some questions."
Mrs. Cooper's eyes narrowed. "My daughter didn't kill anyone, Agent Mulder."
"I know she didn't, ma'am. But we believe she might have some information for us." Mulder pulled the note from his pocket. "Is this your daughter's handwriting?"
Scanning the letter, a look of resignation washed over Mrs. Cooper's face.
"Tara! Get down here, now!" Mrs. Cooper shook her head. "Please, come inside."
Stepping inside, they were met by Tara bounding down the stairs. She came to an abrupt stop when she saw Scully and Mulder. A slight blush rose to her cheeks, and she immediately averted her eyes.
Mrs. Cooper took Tara by the arm. "These people would like to ask you a few questions about this note."
Tara's face reddened further. "I didn't do anything."
"We don't think you did, Tara." Scully was gentle but firm. "But we think you might be able to help us."
"This is just great," Tara fumed. "Now everybody's gonna know I'm a snitch."
"Perhaps you should have thought about that before you got involved in this mess, Tara." Mrs. Cooper glared at her daughter. "The sitting room is right over here, please have a seat."
"I told you everything I know, Agent Moller. . ."
"It's Agent Mulder," he corrected gently. "I just want to know if you've heard any more rumors. Perhaps who was using the potions, maybe how they got them to drink them?"
Tara folded herself into a compact ball on the couch, hugging her knees to her chest. Her blush had drained away to a pallor, and her voice was strained.
"Please don't tell anybody I told you," she pleaded.
"We'll keep your name out of it as much as possible, Tara, but you may have to testify if there is a trial."
With a resigned sigh, Tara shook her head. "My life is over."
There was silence for a moment, and Mulder stole a glance at Scully. Her face was drawn and stony, virtually unreadable.
Tara started to speak, stopped herself, then started over. "All right, this is what I know. Lydia Winton went to a witch and bought the love spell. She and her friends had a slumber party and cooked up the potion. They made up little bottles of it, and were trying to sell it in school for ten dollars each. Nobody wanted to buy it, so she made up dittos with the spell and sold those for two dollars.
"A lot of people bought them, I mean, it was only two dollars, that's only one day's lunch money. Anyway, she and a bunch of her friends had a drinking party out at Charlie's, and she made a big batch of the potion and put it in this weird fruit punch with melon balls in it and stuff.
"They only invited their friends and the people they had crushes on, I guess, and everyone got all weird and stuff, and I don't know exactly what happened, but the day after was when they found Alan Morgan and Mike Barker all beat up and dead." Tara bit her lower lip and sniffled a little.
"Go on," Mulder urged, fearing if she stopped, she'd never start again.
"Then Robbie Kellar started following Lydia around like a dog, and she already decided that she didn't really like him much, but put up with him because she did put a spell on him after all. She said she was gonna give him another potion to make him fall in love with somebody else, she said that the same day Mike Williams' body was found, out in the woods by Charlie's. Then she turned up dead the day after that. That's all I know this time, really."
"Who were Lydia's friends, Tara?" Scully knew she wouldn't be anxious to answer that question, but it had to be asked. Tara withdrew a bit, looking at her mother angrily.
"You tell them everything, Tara," her mother threatened.
"Evie Juillerat, Tina Mitchell and Christine Trosset. They're in this big clique thing, they think they're so hot because their daddies don't work at the quarry." Tara's voice was bitter.
"Do you know where we might find Robbie Kellar?"
"I don't know. Robbie's a bus boy down at May's sometimes."
Driving back to May's Diner, Mulder was in a pensive mood. "Can you imagine liking someone so much you'd try to put a spell on them," he asked, playing with the window handle.
Scully thought about it, and was surprised at her own reaction. "I can understand it."
Mulder looked at her incredulously, waiting for an explanation. When one wasn't forthcoming, he requested it.
Sighing, she tried to explain. "When you're young, and you think you're in love, you're pretty sure the whole world is going to end if they don't love you back. Hell, Mulder, even adults think that way. We don't change much as we grow older."
A brief glimpse of Melissa's body, serene and cold on the floor of the cult compound leaped to Mulder's mind. He felt a sharp pain in his chest, as he willed the image away. Looking over at Scully, he tapped his tongue on the back of his teeth, trying to think of something to say.
"But we know life goes on, Scully. Not loving someone isn't going to kill you." Judging his statement, Mulder decided he had sounded fairly sure of himself.
"Some people die before they have the chance," she said seriously, pulling into May's parking lot. She maneuvered the car into a parking space, and cut the ignition.
A small light of realization crept over Mulder's face. "You're not alone, Scully."
Once again, Scully found herself staring to the abyss of the sky, just now darkening to a deep Prussian, but still tinged in red. "I'm not ready to talk about this, Mulder."
Unbidden, he reached out and brushed the back of his hand against her cheek. Scully wilted away from his touch, unwilling or unable to look him in the eye.
Opening the car door abruptly, she pulled on her usual mask of Dana Scully, Medical Doctor and Special Agent but she didn't feel her feigned detachment and reserve.
Mulder delayed himself in the car for a moment, trying to sort things out. Despite everything he had done when Scully had revealed her illness, he had just now realized its impact. She was dying. In a year or less, he would be leaving roses on her grave instead of needling her about root beer and iced tea. A wave of grief swept over him, tightening in his throat, choking his thoughts.
A tap on his window reminded him that Scully, very much alive at the moment, was waiting for him in the cold night air.
Mulder and Scully walked briskly into the diner, and up to the counter. Scully asked the first waitress she could catch if Robbie Kellar was working that night. The woman nodded in the affirmative, pointing out the door to the dish room.
"Back there stacking glasses," she said, then hurried past them. Scully and Mulder unsnapped the clasps on their service weapons, and went into the back of the restaurant. A young man was catching dishware as it came out of the automatic washer, and he didn't hear them enter over the din of machinery.
"Robbie Kellar?" Scully raised her voice over the noise, pulling out her badge. Robbie whirled around at the sound of his name, terrified. When he recognized who had called his name, he knocked over a pallet of plates and bolted for the back door.
Mulder took off at full pace, Scully only seconds behind him. Dashing around and over the pallets and broken glass, they heard the slam of a metal door. Wending their way through the back hall, they found the rear exit open slightly, damp hand prints on the painted surface.
Bursting through the door, Mulder pulled out his gun, and scanned the back parking lot. Nowhere to be seen, Robbie had apparently disappeared into thin air. Scully drew her weapon, and indicated the half of the parking lot she would survey.
Side walking through the lot, Scully could barely hear over her heart beating. She stared into the bushes and the few cars parked, but no saw no sign of Robbie. Just as she was about to holster her weapon and give this search up for a lost cause, she heard muffled sobbing from a dumpster at the end of the lot.
She caught Mulder's attention with a low hiss, and approached the dumpster cautiously. When she was close enough to be heard, she tapped on the dumpster with the butt of her gun.
"Come out of there with your hands up, I want to be able to see your palms" she commanded. There was movement, then the lid popped open, bouncing once or twice against the back wall of the trash bin. Robbie Kellar rose slowly from inside, tears streaking his face.
"I didn't mean to kill her! I didn't mean to!" His voice broke into a rush of sobs.
Sheriff Eggers walked over to meet Mulder and Scully near the admit desk. He held his hat in his hands, folding its brim up and down.
"We're not going to charge him," the sheriff said softly, glancing down the hall at Robbie's parents. "While drug use isn't a defense, I think poisoning is. His parents are going to admit him to a long term treatment program, I think that's best."
"What about the other girls responsible? Lydia Winton had her accomplices." Mulder spoke flatly, mulling over the confession Robbie had given them. The boy had no idea what had happened to him. After the party at the lot, he'd been following Lydia Winton around like a dog. He thought he was going crazy, and after a few days, she announced she could cure him. Her cure was another dose of the potion. Robbie's hallucinations warped Lydia in his mind, and though he couldn't articulate why he had killed her, he plainly and repeatedly confessed. He also gave up the identity of the other killers- they were the victims themselves.
Alan Morgan and Michael Williams had had more to drink of the love potion punch than anyone else, and when the drugs had started to kick in, Morgan had believed that Williams was trying to kill him. They got in a vicious fight; from Robbie's account, they tore at each other like wild animals. Michael Barker had tried to step in when he saw blood being spilled, and the other boys had turned and attacked him. When he finally broke away, he staggered into the woods, where he eventually laid down and died.
Williams and Morgan, having lost their distraction, went at each other again, this time using the weapons available to them, rocks, forest debris and their fists. Morgan had succumbed first, falling at the abandoned drive in lot. Williams walked away the victor, only to collapse as he walked the long stretch of highway home.
When Mulder had pressed Robbie for details, why no one had intervened, the boy burst into tears once more.
"We didn't know. We were all so. . . messed up. It was funny. We didn't know they were really hurting each other."
Those words echoed in Mulder's mind, and as he snapped out of his thoughts, he realized that the sheriff had been answering his question.
"After talking to the parents of the girls, we decided that counseling, probation and community service would do them best. They didn't know what wormwood could do, they just went along." Sheriff Eggers put on his hat, a look of infinite misery on his face.
"Frankly, none of those kids knew what the consequences could be, and now we've got four dead, four in psychiatric treatment, and a whole town asking themselves how it could have happened." The sheriff sighed and held out his hand to shake Mulder and Scully's. "I want to thank you all for coming out. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a drive-in to tear down."
Scully relaxed in the passenger's seat, staring at the long stretch of road in front of her. She tried to push thoughts of Robbie Kellar and the other teenagers of Gemma from her mind, but wasn't pleased with the alternative. She'd been avoiding thoughts of her mortality, at least consciously.
"You know, Scully, " Mulder ventured. "I've been thinking."
A vague sense of irritation rose in her, fearing another ten hour drive full of alien abduction and cattle mutilation chat. She looked over at Mulder, waiting for him to finish his thought.
Clearing his throat, Mulder pressed on. "I've been thinking about. . . a lot of things, really. You're not alone, Scully. I'm here, I've always been here and I. . ."
"Don't." Scully closed her eyes. "Just please don't."
More unsure of himself than ever, Mulder looked at her sadly. "Scully. . . Dana, I'm not. . .I don't. . .I care about you, it's something more than just. . . "
Reaching over, Scully clasped his free hand. "Listen to me, Mulder. . . I'm not prepared to consider anything beyond the relationship we have now." She paused to consider her next words.
"I've given up almost everything for you; my career path, my interests, my friends. . . and sometimes, I think, my soul. I don't think I can give you anything more without losing myself entirely. I know it sounds selfish, but I'm the one who's dying."
Dying. The word hung heavily in the air between them. They hadn't spoken on it since she'd been in the hospital. It wasn't an open topic.
"I don't want to lose you, Scully."
She squeezed his hand softly. "I don't want to go."
In the trunk, a tupperware container sloshed soundlessly, packed tightly between a pair pants and a Bible.