Title: The Face of Evil
Author: dlynn
Category: x-file, MSR
Archiving: Exemplary, Spookys, gossamer, yes. Others, yes, but I'd like to know so I might visit. :D
Spoilers: Calusari, Amor Fati
Rating: mild R
Disclaimers: We all know Mulder, Scully and company are not mine. However, the original characters interacting with them are. But, hey, I borrow his; CC, can borrow mine...he just can't make any money off of them...

Summary: I was always intrigued with the ending to Calusari. The face of evil is sometimes closer than you think.

Author's Notes: This is my first 200k plus story. And to say that I'm freaking out about posting this would be the understatement of the year.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Specific acknowledgements can be found after the epilogue along with additional author notes.


"The evil that is here has always been. It has gone by different names through history - Cain, Lucifer, Hitler. It does not care if it kills one boy or a million men.It is over, for now. But you must be careful {Agent Mulder}. It knows you."

~ The Calusari

"The strange case of Charlie Holvey and the deaths that occurred during his possession by a dark and malevolent force are unsolved.The boy, who will celebrate his tenth birthday next month, remains under the watchful care of his mother. And though I believe him innocent of the crimes, I am disturbed by the warnings of the Calusari that neither innocence nor vigilance may be protection against the howling heart of evil. "

~ Special Agent Fox Mulder


Prologue:

Manny Fielding stood at the door of the warehouse, still puzzling as to why he'd be called down here at this godforsaken time of the night. It's not like life would end if this meeting were held in the morning.

Nothing crucial would be decided tonight, anyway.

But, Manny was a good little worker bee. He followed directions, didn't question orders or authority. If someone said, "Jump!", Manny asked, "How high?" Manny had a perfect grasp of priorities. Of what was important in life, or at the very least, what was important to him. And at the top of his list, was money. Lots and lots of money. Whoever said, "Money couldn't buy happiness," was obviously someone who didn't have any. 'Cause as far as Manny was concerned, having money was pure joy and it was amazing the happiness he could buy with a lot of jingle in his pockets.

Manny Fielding was a good showman; he talked a good talk, all about neighborhood revitalization and enterprise zones and putting the spit and polish back on the old neighborhood. In fact, he was so good with his delivery that he got himself elected to the city council under the auspices of "local businessman fights for his own." The underdog heralded in as the rising star of the political arena. He was a man with a lot of moxie, who appeared fearless when taking on the political big wigs. Too bad the general public wasn't privy to the machinations that really put Manny in office.

The average person on the street didn't know about Manny's true strong armed connections, didn't know that their local boy, gone bigtime, was just an errand boy, just a tool used by powerful men, trying to make powerful deals. Strategically placing Manny on the zoning commission was just the ticket for their calculated schemes.

Manny, for his part, couldn't see the conflict of working for the neighborhood and working for himself.

After all, what was good for Manny, could be sold as a 'bill of goods' to the sheep that followed him. The neighborhood needed jobs, couldn't grow without jobs.

Too bad block after city block of small mom and pop stores, the backbone of the neighborhood, would have to go, making room for progress. The kind of progress his friends had in mind would benefit no one but themselves. And of course, Manny, if he kept to his P's and Q's.

Chuckling to himself, Manny eased his way into the warehouse. Having seen no other cars nearby, he figured he must be the first to arrive. He still didn't understand why they couldn't have had this meeting at Cenare's like they'd had all the rest. A little pasta for the soul, while they conducted the business of the wallet. Now that was just his ticket.

Scowling, he flicked the switch for the overhead lighting. Manny reached into his pocket for the little flashlight attached to his key chain. This was ridiculous. How were you expected to conduct business in a drafty old warehouse, in the darkness of night, without a single bit of light? As he shined the small penlight an entire four or five feet distance out from his body, he began to feel a coldness in the air.

It was like someone had just opened a door or window, bringing in with them a gust of frigid air. Tugging the collar of his camel hair overcoat more securely around his neck, Manny yelled into the darkness.

"Minelli, that you?"

"Thomason, Ferrante.. You guys out there?"

Receiving no answer from the darkness, not even the whisper of scurrying rats or the natural creaking inherent to any old building, gave an unnatural eeriness to the surroundings. Manny was acutely aware he was in the middle of a bad section of town, in the wee hours of a night, in an empty building that, quite frankly, was beginning to scare the shit out of him.

"Ok Manny, old man, you were here, they're not. Time to blow this popsicle stand," he murmured, reaching behind him to open the door and head back to his car.

Grasping the door latch, he gave it a quick tug downward. Prepared to slide the metal door sideways, he was surprised when the latch didn't move; the door didn't open. Swinging the light forward to illuminate the large metal door and frame, Manny cursed under his breath.

"Son of a bitch door. What's the matter with you?"

Putting his penlight between his teeth, he grabbed the door handle with both hands and gave it a mighty yank.

Feeling hard resistance to even his most forceful yanking, Manny began to lose his cool. Even though the room was enormous, he was claustrophobic by nature and he was already begin to feel terror closing in on him.

Sweat poured down his forehead and the back of his neck, sweeping into the collar of his $50.00, neatly pressed, dress shirt. Suddenly, there was a cloying, ominous aspect to the room. This was more than feeling "the creeps." He felt a malevolent presence drawing close.

Swinging his head around, Manny swore he heard breathing. Great gulping gasps of breath coming from only a few short yards behind him. Coming closer with each breath, coming closer like every childhood night terror imaginable finally laying claim to the waking hours.

Shadows, large and luminous, tread around him. Each one parried and thrust, skirted and lunged, tasting his flesh with groaning sighs. It was though the specters were a congregation of witnesses, gathered around awaiting retribution.

"Shit!", he screamed, kicking at the door with a mixture of panic and frustration.

"Thomason, if that's you, man, trying to play out one of your freakin ideas of practical joke, this is not funny. If I getta hold of you, I swear.."

Large hands grasped the back of Manny's shoulders, pulling him into a solid chest. The same arms, quickly wrapped themselves around Manny's 5'8'' frame, encircling him like a vice, squeezing just enough to let Manny know who was in control.

Gasping for breath, as he felt his chest compressed, Manny stuttered, "What...what...do you want? You want...money...I got money..."

Hot, humid breath stroked his ear, laying claim on his heart, on his soul. Manny knew this wasn't a simple mugging. He felt the presence of death... It might have been disguised in human form, but death was there.

Then he heard its voice, raspy and low, quoting scripture.

"...I will accept you as fragrant incense, when I bring you from the nations and gather you from the countries where you have scattered, and I will show myself holy among you..There you will remember your conduct and all the actions by which you have defiled yourselves, and you will loathe yourselves for all the evil you have done."

Cold fingers grabbed the side of his head, painfully turning Manny to face the terror behind him. Manny's eyes focused on a face, contorted with anger and anguish.

"You..." Manny whispered.

With that last word came a final inhuman breath, excruciatingly hot, hissing into Manny's ear. He felt Hades' all consuming heat and knew he'd seen the face of evil.

Manny Fielding, a 48-year-old small time hoodlum from DC, burst into flames.



Chapter One:

Tuesday Morning

"Meg, slow down, damn it!"

"Look, Les...lie, if you can't keep up, you need to work on your conditioning. No holding me back, handsome.

I've got places to go, people to see..." Meg trailed off, spinning around a large parked van.

"Places to go, people to see... I'll give you places to go...in fact, I can think of a few places, I'd like to send you...you ungrateful-"

"Tsk, tsk, darling," Meg said, accosting Les as he swung around the same van. "Is that the way you speak to the love of your life?"

Planting a fast, hard kiss on his startled lips, she took off running again. Shouting over her shoulder, she exclaimed, "Stay with me Hon and we'll have that Emmy, this year!"

"Darn it, woman, it doesn't matter how quickly you get there. I got all the camera equipment!" Les yelled, buried beneath two different video cams, cables and camera bags. Hiking the largest bag up, as it slid down his shoulder for only the hundredth time this last 100 yards, Leslie Franklyn sprinted behind the red-headed blur of his wife.

"You married her, you idiot... Accepted her proposal...whatever possessed you...brains God gave a goose...little bitty city girl ran you over like Sherman, burning through Atlanta." Mumbled Les, catching up with his wife, who was stopped short at the yellow line of police tape.

He chuckled as he watched her; arms gesturing wildly, face impassioned and nose to nose with the poor officer who had been tasked with keeping the spectators back from the crime scene. He didn't know it yet, the young cop, but he had met his match in Meg Michaels, investigative reporter extraordinare and a holy terror to any poor shmuck who got in her way. If tenacity described the personality of a bulldog, than Meg was a Bulldog, with a capital B or a major pain in the Ass, with a capital A.

Depended on your perspective.

"Look you don't seem to understand, Officer...Mason. We got a tip that something was going down at this warehouse. I have camera back-up and I plan on doing a live remote from this location, " Meg ranted.

"No, you don't understand... ms. Michaels. I've got my orders and one of them is to keep all spectators, including press outside the police barricade. Now, if you want, you can set up over there," Officer Mason said, pointing in the general direction from where they had just come. "But, that is as close as you're coming."

Turning her back disgustedly, Meg headed back towards Les. Impatiently shoving several curly strands of hair away from her face, Meg glared at her husband. "If they think they're gonna keep us out of there, they don't know me very well."

"Look, Meg, I told you we were never gonna get in through the front door. What did you expect? An engraved invitation... a welcomin' party?... Y'all come in for a spell, take a load off, snap a few pictures," Les whispered, turning Meg so their conversation remained as private as possible.

"I got an idea, Meg, I want you to go back and 'talk' to the nice Officer Mason."

"Les, that's not going to help. That kid's gonna hold his post if Saddam Hussein, himself, storms the gates.

He's not gonna let me sweet talk him."

"No, sweet talkin's not exactly what I was aimin' for here, Miss Pain in the Butt. I was hopin' for more vinegar, than sugar... A little pee and vinegar... what you do so well..."

"You want a distraction?"

"Now... you're with me, Sugar. You keep sweet cheeks occupied and I'll do the rest. I think I see a way in.

at least I'll get us some film. We can edit you in after I grab the pictures."

Grabbing Les by his ears and yanking his head down to hers, Meg proceeded, in front of God and country, to give him a tonsillectomy. Just when he was getting into the swing of things, she pushed him away.

"As much as I'm enjoying your sweet cheeks, dahlin', let's get this show on the road," she retorted, heading back to butt heads with Officer 'You can't come past the yellow tape.' If Les needed a distraction, she could do distraction. Look out Mr. Officer Man, here she comes.

Watching Meg stalk off to do battle with the lion sentinel, Les chuckled, almost wishing he could remain and watch the upcoming show. But, he knew time was precious and it was time to move his Southern ass into position. Dropping most of his equipment into the back of the van, Les placed a small camcorder beneath his jacket. He sauntered over to a large clump of bushes, pulled out a pack of cigarettes, extracting one and lighting up. Exhaling deeply, he tried to appear nonchalant to the increasing volume of Meg's tirade as she went into full attack mode.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his lovely spitfire, purposefully drop her very large briefcase on the poor cop's foot. As the cop bent down to examine the damage, Meg dropped down on her haunches beside him, effectively blocking Officer Mason's view of her husband. With a quick thumb to finger OK signal behind her back, she proceeded to let the 'Shugah' flow. Shoveling it thick, she was all apologetic to poor Officer Mason about her clumsiness and churlish attitude.

Taking advantage of her tour de force performance, Les dropped his cigarette and ducked into the bushes. He'd spotted a section of broken window just behind this clump of bushes. The cover of the foliage should give him just enough protection from prying eyes. Scooting his camcorder over his head, he held it against the opening. Fear of being noticed demanded he keep his head ducked beneath the foliage. Slowly, he blindly panned the camera around the room back and forth, back and forth.

He hoped the murder scene was in this main area of the warehouse. He could hear voices but not the discussion. Maybe he'd get lucky, 'cause if it took place somewhere else, he'd be up a creek without a paddle.

This was his sole shot.

Fearing he might be pressing his luck, Les placed the camcorder back underneath his jacket. Peering through the bushes, he could see a crowd had now gathered around his wife and Officer Mason. Taking advantage of the natural wall they provided, he slipped out of the bushes, ambling back to their van.

Catching Meg's eye, he signaled her over. He wanted to get them and the video out of there before anyone became the wiser.

Watching her walk through the crowd, acknowledging the hellos of several who realized there was a celebrity among them, Les was once again amazed at the adept way Meg handled herself. She was definitely born to be the center of attention. Put that with her "nose for news" and you had a winning combination.

"You got it?"

"Yeah, I think so. Let's get in the van and give it a gander."


Hoover Building, the X-Files basement office
Tuesday Evening
~7:00pm

Scully remained just inside the door to their office, poised at the point of entry, quiet in her contemplation. The light was diffuse, the overhead fluorescent and track lights, unlit. Because of the lateness of the hour, the one small window illuminating their basement cave, was dark. Only thin slivers of warmth from the street lamps above, seeped into the darkness. Most likely the glow escaped peripherally from security lighting surrounding the Hoover Building, weaving its way gently down into their small realm.

The only real illumination in the room was situated in the far-left corner. A small desk lamp provided sharp contrast to the diluted black encompassing most of the office.

There, at the desk, huddled over a montage of pictures, sat her partner, Special Agent Fox Mulder.

The pariah of the bureau, yet also a brilliant analyst and profiler. Her professional partner for the last seven years, her private...what, partner...lover..."pain in the butt", for a mere few months.

A sense of deja vu filled her heart, seeing him like this. His suit coat was thrown haphazardly in the corner, over a stack of papers. White shirt sleeves rolled up, his eyes were intent on what he was examining. Except for the glasses, which should be on his face and not unceremoniously shoved aside, this tableau reminded her of their first formal meeting.

Then, the reading glasses were perched on his face, giving respite to eyes worn weary from contact lenses.

Today, the glasses mocked him from the desk, a testament to time's passage. They were no longer a substitute for contacts, but a necessity for reading.

It was an inevitability Mulder stubbornly refused to embrace.

Seven years ago, his cockiness was sure, his exuberance "catching". Today, he was still audacious, but it was tempered with layers of life changing experiences. Impudence used as a defense mechanism, walling him off from the taunts of others, did not define his life as it once had. With age, and life's journeys, came a maturity and knowledge that the stakes were so much higher than just being considered one of the "FBI's most unwanted."

His aggravating arrogance was still there. His exasperating habit of leapfrogging over people with his theories and logic still prevailed. The quickness of his mind, rarely affording time for others to catch up, expressed itself with unending and unbending regularity. But, if you looked deeply, if you knew him well enough to get past his mask of arrogance - like she and only a handful of others did - then you saw a sad wisdom clouding his eyes. He was concerned for those who weren't privy to all he knew and all he had seen. And, just past the edges of that compassion, there was fear... fear that they wouldn't be able to stem the coming apocalypse.

Watching him, his eyes still glued to one of the pictures clutched in his hand, she saw his other hand sweep through the paper litter trying to snag his glasses. Walking forward a few paces, she reached over his shoulder, grabbed the glasses by the earpiece and gently situated them upon his face.

Crooking his arm around her waist, drawing her in for a momentary hug, Mulder sheepishly acknowledged his vanity. "Thanks, Scully. Don't lecture, I was putting them on. I just forgot."

"Uh...huh... until the little print all kind of washed together, right, Mulder?"

"Actually, if you think about it, Scully, the overall lighting in here does leave a lot to be desired. I'm sure my recent far-sidedness could be attributed to that," he said watching her walk over to the wall by the door, hanging her coat on the hook.

Stretching high to replace a reference text, Mulder admired the line of her leg. Ok. This was the office, those thoughts were strictly verboten, here. but you can't blame a guy when a skirt is stretched taut and elevated just enough to reveal shapely calves. He was her professional partner at work, but he was also a man. And he sure as hell admired her legs before they began sleeping together. Why would a little "non-fraternization at work" rule negate that continued pleasure.

After all, he wasn't touching...yet. Just thinking about it.

Sensing his eyes upon her, Scully voiced over her shoulder.

"Once it's entered your thoughts, the sin's already been committed, Mulder," she said, uncannily reading his desires.

"Scully, I'd accept a few Hail Scully's for this transgression. You sure you wouldn't like to 'lift' the hands-off at work policy, just this once?"

"Mulder, I'd say there's probably enough heavy-lifting going on. I think..."

The ringing of the telephone interrupted Scully's lecture. Mulder snapped up the receiver, just as she slid the last reference text on to the shelf.

Coming up behind Mulder, she watched him grab a notepad from his desk, hurriedly scribbling notes and occasionally making comments like, "yes, Sir... I understand, sir. We'll be there, Sir."

Putting the phone back in its cradle, Mulder said, "Ever watch Channel 9 News, Scully? Or, more specifically, ever seen anything by the investigative reporting team of...uh... Michaels and Franklyn?"

"Yeah. They're good. At least in coming up with the latest and breakingest that D.C. has to offer. I think they broke that whole... Stedman kickback thing a couple of months ago."

"Yep, that's them. They want to talk to us."

"What?"

"They say they're doing a piece on male/female partnerships within various professions. Apparently, they've heard of us, the X-Files, and they have some clout to back them up. So Skinner's been told to have us talk to them. We meet with Skinner first thing tomorrow morning followed by lunch with the reporters."

"Mulder, what is this? We finally move this partnership into a more personal realm and now all of a sudden we're wanted for interviews? This hasn't set your paranoia radar bleeping faster than the speed of light?"

Plopping down in her seat in front of his desk, Scully looked painfully in Mulder's direction. She was still getting used to the idea of having him as a lover; she wasn't ready to promote it for general discussion around the water cooler.

Noting the clouds chasing her eyes, Mulder reached across the desk, grasping her hand. Stroking her fingers as he spoke, he said, "Scully, first of all, just because we've been "discreet" doesn't mean that no one knows..."

"But, suspecting and having it confirmed in glorious Technicolor on the 11:00pm news is not the same thing.

We still don't know what the ramifications of this could be for our professional partnership, for the X-Files...should this became common knowledge."

"No, we don't. But we are being naïve if we don't think that "they" already know. You and I are probably under surveillance most of the time, you know that."

Stilling his touch and grasping his hand firmly, Scully answered, "Yes, I do. And you know the tough time I've had getting past the thought of being someone's personal cinematic feature, Mulder... I ...just question the timing of this, that's all."

Mulder pulled his hand from Scully's, got up from the desk and walked around to where she was seated. Taking her hand once again, he pulled her to her feet.

Placing his arms around her slender form, he pulled her in close. He rested his head on her auburn hair, inhaling the sweet floral smell that still lingered, from the shampoo she'd used earlier that day. The image of his hands stroking the lotion through her hair in the shower that morning came unbidden to his mind's eye.

As he broke from her, grabbing their coats and waiting for her to catch the lights and lock the door, he vowed.

Nothing would come between he and Scully, nothing at all.



Chapter 2:

X-Files Office
Wednesday Morning

Mulder tossed his overcoat onto the hook beside the door, slipped into his desk chair and booted up his computer.

Grabbing a quick and painful gulp of hot coffee, he downloaded his e-mail and checked his watch. Ok he wasn't totally behind schedule. Still had ten minutes to make it to Skinner's office. No problemo. He'd have a whole two minutes to spare, record time as far as he was concerned.

He should have had more. It was all Scully's fault. If she hadn't accosted him in the shower this morning, he wouldn't be scrambling now. However, as his mind drifted to their spontaneous slippery slide beneath her Water Pik shower massager, he figured the extra ass chewing he'd get from Skinner for his tardiness was a very small price to pay. On one proverbial hand he had wet, slippery Scully.

On the other, he had Skinner's morning coffee klatch.

Hardly worth the brain cells wasted debating that.

Swigging one more scalding mouthful for the road, Mulder grabbed his suit jacket, turned off the light and locked his office door. Striding purposefully for the elevator, he pondered the upcoming meeting. Apparently Skinner felt the need to brief them about their afternoon tete a tete with Michaels and Franklyn. He was still wondering about the timing. As much as he'd assured Scully it was purely coincidental, he couldn't help but consider the uncanny coincidence.

Mulder heard the distinctive ping heralding his arrival at Skinner's floor. Walking swiftly from the elevator, he heard a soft cat call whistle from directly behind him.

Not even altering his stride, Mulder ignored his petite partner. It was good to see Scully running behind as well.

His wouldn't be the only posterior receiving Skinner's none too gentle attentions.

Kimberly, Skinner's secretary, looked up from her desk just as Mulder and Scully entered the office.

"He's waiting. Go right in," she said, barely lifting her head from her dictation. As he passed by her desk, Mulder leaned in and murmured just low enough for Kimberly's ears.

"Where's the pool standing now?"

"Betting's 60-40 against the deed."

"Really, that's a swing from last week."

"Yeah, but Roberts in transportation, saw the look she gave you last week," Kim said, glancing up from her paperwork. Seeing his puzzled expression, she elaborated, "The one she gave you when you told her she was going to get a nose bleed wearing those blue, clunky heeled shoes."

"They even knew the color of the shoes?"

"Yep, shoe color and tie design. Anyway, they figure if you've already done the deed, she's tossed you out."

"And, if we haven't?"

"Care to make a poor working girl rich?" Kim chuckled.

"Agent Mulder...Don't let us disturb you."

Skinner's voice boomed through the open door.

"Ouch!" Mulder shrugged. "Sorry ... I'd better get in there."

Getting up from the desk, Mulder dropped a "Jackson" on top Kim's file folders. Searching his face, noting earnest hazel eyes, she pocketed the money ... She'd better stop at the ATM on her lunch hour. She needed to increase her bet.

Mama needed a new pair of shoes, maybe blue and clunky.

Mulder entered Skinner's office, passing Scully already seated in her customary seat. Pulling out his own chair, he looked up to see Skinner sizing him up and down.

"What?" Mulder asked, resisting the urge to check his fly.

"Do you have an objection to doing this interview, Agent Mulder?"

"Sir?"

"Do you have an objection to doing this interview? I took your tardiness in joining Agent Scully and I here just now as a less than enthusiastic response on your part to participating with this interview. I'm asking you if I have misinterpreted your behavior."

"You're serious about our going through with this public relations ploy?" Mulder retorted, his voice just shy of sarcasm.

Skinner's jaw clenched tight.

"Yes, I'm serious, Agent Mulder," Skinner replied, drawing himself up in his chair, into a ramrod straight posture.

"You may feel this is wasted PR but I don't and neither does Director Freeh. Whether you like it or not, you and Agent Scully have been deemed perfect subjects for this story. So, you "will" talk with Michaels and Franklyn and you "will"

behave. Do I make myself perfectly clear?" the AD finished tersely.

"Yes, sir," Scully answered, glaring daggers at her partner.

"Agent Mulder?"

"Yes, sir. I will give this interview my complete attention. Every ounce of merit, it's due," Mulder replied dutifully.

Taking a calming breath, Skinner relaxed his shoulders slightly.

When he spoke again his voice was conciliatory.

"Look, Agent Mulder...for what it's worth you and Agent Scully were picked to give this interview because I volunteered your names. They were looking for outstanding male/female partnerships to spotlight. You and Scully stand out...well at least you do as far as this AD is concerned," Skinner replied, clearing his throat. "A high solve rate coupled with an efficient and well tuned working relationship is a hard thing to pass up, Mulder.

Apparently those above us had the same idea for once. So...

take this as a compliment and run with it," Skinner continued, reaching across his desk for a file. "Don't look for conspiracies when they aren't there," he finished, looking down and opening the file in front of him.

"You saying a rose would still smell sweet?"

"By any other name, Mulder. And sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.."

"Unless your name's Monica Lewinsky, sir," Scully murmured, getting up from her chair to leave the room.

Skinner's much vaunted reserve was almost breached...almost broken...but not quite. A small twitch of his lips and a tiny in drawn breath acknowledged he'd heard Scully's remark as he called Kimberly into the office.

Mulder followed behind Scully, giving his partner an overtly affectionate glance. He had an expression on his face that said "I made that." As they reached the door, Skinner's rumbling voice drew their attention back to him.

"Agent Mulder?" he added, handing a file to Kimberly.

"Yes, sir."

Skinner looked pointedly at both agents.

"That doesn't mean you shouldn't watch your backs."

"Never out of my sight, sir," Mulder said, watching Scully head out the door. "Never out of my sight."


Flagherty's Pub 1:00pm

Flagherty's wasn't "Cheers." Norm didn't sit at the bar nursing suds, Cliff didn't regale the patrons with stupid, nonsense trivia, and Sam Malone, ladies man without equal, was not tending bar.

But Bud Flagherty probably knew your name. If you had been to Flagherty's once and made the smallest attempt at conversation with the barkeep, Bud knew your name. Doesn't mean he'd call you by it. Far from it, Bud was always messin' with the patrons' names. You called yourself "Ray." Bud called you Raymond, just to irk you.

Bud Flagherty was a gentle giant, 6'6', and 275 lbs. He had a head full of unruly curls, and two oversized dimples that refused to stay hidden. Every time he smiled, they made an appearance. And Bud smiled a lot. He dressed more like a lumberjack than a barkeep. A lumberjack with Little Orphan Annie locks.

As Bud slid his rag across the counter, clearing empties and mopping spills, he kept his eyes peeled on the booth in the corner. The couple in that booth was engrossed in hushed conversation. Their posture strained and tense, their faces pinched with worry.

If he hadn't known them each so well, he might have worried a lover's quarrel was beginning. But he knew Meg and Les, and he knew they were two people more in love than any other couple he'd ever met. Something had them on edge, and it wasn't marriage troubles. He'd bet his bar on that.

"Meg, quit fidgeting with your straw."

"Les, I'm not 'fidgeting', Meg answered, looking up into her husband's concerned eyes. "Ok, I'm 'fidgetin'," she acknowledged.

"It's just I can't get past that video from the crime scene. That poor..." Meg paused, groping for the right descriptor.

"Man, Meggy, I think it was a man."

"Yeah, man... You know that's...number four, Les."

"Meggy, I know."

Les reached his leg under the table, wrapping it around his wife's. Across the seat he grabbed her hand, squeezing gently, stilling the restless fingers determined to turn her straw into plastic sculpture.

"Why us, Les? Who's feeding us these tips? I thought the last two were bad, but this one...Les, it was just pure evil." Meg said, training her green eyes on her husband.

"That hideously macabre clown mask."

"I know, there was something about that video that was just...

"...spooky," she said, finishing his sentence.

"That's my name, don't wear it out."

"Mulder!"

Meg and Les looked up from their discussion just in time to see a petite redhead elbow her companion in the ribs.

Smiling sheepishly, Mulder extended his hand, "Hello, I'm Agent Mulder. The woman chastising my boorish behavior is my partner Agent Scully."

"Ah...Spooky Mulder, I get it." Standing, Les firmly grasped Mulder's hand, giving it the obligatory introductory clasp.

Mulder, for his part, filed the "spooky" comment away for future reference. Obviously this man knew more than just name, rank and serial number.

"Ma'am," Les said, tipping his head Scully's direction.

Giving Les a quick perusal, Scully realized he couldn't be any older than she. Hardly seemed to warrant a "ma'am." She wasn't that old.

Meg laughed, seeing the quick calculations in Scully's eyes. "Don't mind him, Agent Scully. Les is Old South, if the person has mammary glands, Les "ma'ams" 'em to death, doesn't matter the age. It's not like up North, where you have to be old and dottering to achieve that instantaneous respect. Chivalrous is Les' middle name."

"I see. Well then, Mr. Franklyn, it's nice to meet you."

"Call me Les, ma... mmm...Agent Scully."

"Please, call me Dana."

"Dana."

Reaching her hand out to Mulder, Meg introduced herself.

"I'm Meg and you must be Fox."

"Only on a bad hair day. Actually I prefer Mulder."

"Fine, Mulder it is."

Meg and Les scooted farther into the booth, allowing Scully and Mulder to join them. Meg and Les sat on one side facing Scully and Mulder, only a table's width between any of them but it might as well have been the Grand Canyon.

At least that's the way it seemed to Bud, sauntering up to the table to take over for Terry, his waitress, while she was on break.

"Les, Meg, introduce me to your friends," Bud said, reaching over, picking up their glasses and refilling them. Looking disgustedly at Meg's mangled straw, Bud whipped a pristine replacement from his pocket and slid it across the table to her.

"Bud, these are Agents Mulder and Scully."

"Agents...FBI or some other variation on the alphabet?" he inquired, obviously intrigued by this revelation.

"FBI," Scully answered, giving him her drink order.

"I'll have an iced tea," Mulder said, steering the conversation back to more mundane things like his ordering lunch. "And a reuben, on rye, lots of thousand isle."

"Gotcha, and you Agent...Scully?"

"I'll have a club sandwich, hold the mayo. Oh, and we'll share an order of fries."

"Back in a flash, anything else for you and Meg, Les?"

Looking at his wife's plate and the food she had barely touched, Les said, "No, that ought to do it for now, Bud.

Thanks."

"Sure thing."

Sizing each other up across the table, Les said, "So, Fox, how long you been sleeping with your partner?"

Without skipping a beat, although he felt Scully's heel lightly kicking his shin, Mulder replied, "About as long, Leslie, as you and Meg have been married."

Scully and Meg simultaneously linked eyes with their respective partners. So much for tiptoeing around issues.

Mulder and Les smiled, each raising his glass to the other in salute. This was no simple interview and they both knew it. Might as well say so up front.

"What the hell was that all about, Les?" Meg griped, gripping her husband's forearm.

"Just...Mul...der and I establishing the ground rules."

"And those would be?" she continued.

"Les and I were just reaching a mutual understanding. We each have things we'd appreciate not becoming common knowledge, food for the gossip mongers, as you will."

"Knowledge of our marriage, would not affect our working relationship, Agent Mulder," Meg explained.

"And knowledge of our relationship, would not affect ours, Meg," chimed in Scully, tired of being left on the sidelines. "There's nothing formal in regulations prohibiting a consensual sexual relationship between partners."

"Although, it would create...complications," Meg said, sizing up her counterpart. "For your work, for you personally, in a male dominated field."

"As would revealing your union, Meg. To your career, to your ratings, to the political climate you work in."

"Circumspection has its benefits," Meg ruefully agreed.

Bud returned to the table with Mulder and Scully's food.

Judging the climate to be a bit close in the booth, he made a hasty retreat back to his bar.

Grabbing the plate of food Mulder passed to her, Scully continued, "Now that we've established we know each other's vital statistics, would someone please explain what's going on?"

"We're not here to enlighten the good reporters about male/female partnerships within the bureau, Scully."

"No kidding, Mulder."

Gesturing to Meg's picked over plate, Mulder said, "I suspect that little gender issue was just a ploy to meet us. They need us for something else, Scully. They need our particular...spooky expertise."

Snatching a french fry from their shared plate and glopping it in catsup, Mulder looked insufferably too smug.

"Care to enlighten us, Les? What's got your wife so upset she can't eat?"

"Fine, Mulder. Cards on the table. You ever heard of the Pagliacci murders?"

"As in the clown in the opera?" Scully asked.

"Yes, some wacko in this town is two bricks shy of a load.

He's been murdering people and then painting their faces up like clowns when he's done."

Mulder and Scully looked at each other. Les noted the silent communication passing between them. Yeah, they've got the gift he thought, looking at his wife who was also catching their non-verbal exchange.

"Before I answer, may I ask why you want to know?" Mulder queried, after silently confirming his suspicions with Scully. These two knew something. The MO of those murders had been kept under strict "need to know basis." Only reason he knew anything, is that violent crimes had passed the file onto him just that morning, telling him as soon as he could wiggle out of his PR stint, Skinner had agreed to his loan to their unit for the duration.

Local PD and the bureau were working in tandem on this one. Serial killings in the nation's capitol were not good for the tourist trade, especially leading into Cherry Blossom season. Can't have Washington being bumped from the tour bus itinerary.

Les looked at Meg, who was now fiddling with her napkin.

This had really bothered her. She was normally such a "take the bull by the horns" kind of gal. But, ever since they saw that video yesterday, she'd been moody, withdrawn, not her normal "in your face" self.

Still looking at her napkin, Meg began talking. "A couple of weeks ago I got a call at the studio. Someone saying I should get a camera and get over to the youth center on J Street. There was a big story going down, and I was being given first crack."

"Meg, is it normal for you to get anonymous tips?" Scully asked, leaning forward to claim the woman's eyes with her own.

"Yes, all the time. In our line of work, informant's come with the territory."

"Something we have in common," Mulder smirked.

"Yeah, well this informant knew his stuff. We hopped in the van and hit the streets. The cops were already there; the street was already blocked off. We couldn't really see anything but... we got close enough and talked with enough people to figure some guy had just got whacked," Les continued, taking over for his wife.

Mulder asked, "When was this?"

"Feb. 14, I remember...well because of the obvious reasons," Les admitted.

"That would have been Mitch Mansfield, the one they found..." Mulder paused, not wanting to reveal vital information.

"...tied with a millstone around his neck, Agent Mulder, submerged in the neighborhood pool."

"How did you come by this information? It wasn't released to the press."

"No it wasn't, we picked some of it up... and...don't give me that look, Mulder. I don't care how buttoned up you think your guys have this case, there's always someone willing to talk."

"Les, I'm not able to confirm or deny your suspicions."

"Walk the party line, Mulder. Fine, you go with that. I'm not asking for confirmation. I just want you to listen."

"We received a note," Meg murmured, looking up from the table, meeting Scully's eyes once again.

"A note," Scully prodded, gently.

"Yeah, that same day, after we got back to the station, I found a note in the morning mail at work. It was addressed to me and it had a Bible verse."

"A Bible verse?" Scully asked. "Do you have the note, or remember which verse?"

Reaching into her purse, she pulled out a plastic bag holding a parchment paper note. She handed it to Scully.

"I'm sorry, I'm sure my finger prints are all over it. I didn't realize what I had at first, but as soon as I did, I put it in the bag."

Scully peered through the plastic, reading the verses out loud for Mulder to hear.

"...Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. So watch yourselves."

Seeing the agents questioning eyes, Les said, "You're wondering why we didn't give these to the police?"

"Actually, we are. How could you sit on evidence like this in a capital murder case, especially when you know this guy's killed again."

"That's it, Agent Mulder. We didn't really know anything until a couple of days ago. Until that time we thought it was just some religious crank. We didn't have enough info on the Mansfield killing to connect it with the note."

"What made the connection for you, Meg?" Scully asked, prodding the woman to continue her story.

"Another note, 4 days ago, right after the Lisa Burton murder."

She handed a second note to Mulder. "I was more careful with this one, I felt something was just not right with these. That they were not just some religious zealot playing head games with me. We still hadn't seen the correlation yet, but we were beginning to suspect."

Mulder read the second Bible verse aloud.

"If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death-the girl because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man's wife. You must purge the evil from among you."

"We know a man was killed with Lisa Burton, we know about their faces painted up like grotesque caricatures of circus clowns, and we know they were both stoned to death, weren't they?"

Mulder and Scully still remained silent, letting Meg continue.

"But the worst came yesterday. We got another tip."

Agent Scully noticed the look passing between Meg and Les.

They were trying to decide how to handle this next part.

How like she and Mulder. A glance, eyes read, a confirmation, a decision made.

Mulder said, "Les, if you were beginning to suspect these notes were coming from a murderer, weren't you concerned about Meg? After all, she's been receiving the notes."

Meg smiled, reaching across the table to grasp her husband's hand, "As my southern gentleman is always saying, Agent Mulder, 'If you can't run with the big dogs, you'd better stay on the porch.' Enjoying Mulder's expression, Meg elaborated, "As you've most likely assumed, Agents, I don't like sitting on the porch."

"You folks need refills," Bud said, coming up to their table. It was getting way to intense for his liking over here. Meg was just not looking herself, kind of pekid. The kid needed some sun; he'd have to talk to Les about taking her on that honeymoon they'd missed. Meg needed out of DC for awhile.

"Thanks, Bud, we're fine," Meg said, searching his concerned eyes. "I'm fine. Don't worry; just a little tired lately. Must be comin' down with something."

"If you're sure, I'll be back at the bar. Just let me know if anything changes."

Waiting for Bud to reach the bar again, Mulder leaned forward resting his arms on the table. "Ok so why call us?

Why this whole PR ploy? Why not just go to the cops with your notes and what you know?"

Grabbing Meg's arm, Scully asked, "You got another note?"

"Yeah, this morning, but we also got something else. We got video. I snuck past the police barricade yesterday and videotaped the crime scene. Remember, until this point we hadn't really seen anything. Only heard, through the streets, suspicions and theories, but no hard facts."

"Til yesterday," Scully reiterated.

"Yeah, I managed to film the crime scene. Look, agents, I'm no snot nosed, wet behind the ears, cub reporter. I've paid my dues. I've seen some pretty horrific stuff but this...well, this is just pure evil and frankly, after seeing this video, Meg and I realized we were way out of our league."

"So, why think of us?" Mulder interrogated. "Why, specifically, Scully and I?"

"Actually, Mulder, that was purely fortune's fate. In all seriousness, we had been asked to do a piece on male/female partnerships. You had been suggested to us.

We researched you and Scully, your unique division, your lengthy partnership, just before this Pagliacci stuff began. Let's face it, in the media and law enforcement circles of this town, you guys are a bit of an enigmatic riddle. But, you've got a phenomenal solve rate and you have a penchant for tackling cases that most sane people would run from. You're not exactly mainstream."

"Hell, Les, mainstream? Compared to these two your Uncle George who wears a dress and answers the door with an Uzi looks positively sane."

Looking at Scully, Mulder smiled, "See, Scully, and here we thought we were just your ordinary ghost busting, mutant chasing, alien nabbing, regular folk."

Reaching across the table, Meg pulled out the last note and a camcorder. "Mulder, have you ever looked at the face of evil? Have you ever felt that it was looking at you, that it knew your name?"

"More times than I'd care to recount, Meg."

"Well I've seen it, in this video. I've been touched by it, with these notes. And frankly, Agent Mulder, I'm scared to death. For some reason, some tickle in the back of my brain, I think I know who is doing this."

Les scooted over closer to his wife, placing his arm around her shoulder he drew her in and held on tight.

They sat there, wrapped in each other, watching Mulder and Scully view the images through the camcorder.

They watched as the agents viewed what was left of Manny Fielding, charred beyond recognition, but with the surreal mask of death painted on his scorched face. A face that was frozen in agony and painted in garish greasepaint, made up to look like a smiling clown.

Scully looked at the Bible verse, visible through its plastic covering. She read.

"They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil.Although they know God's decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them."

Noting that Mulder's hand was casually resting over Scully's shoulder as she read, Les felt their connection.

It was like watching he and Meg. Something bound these two forcefully together. He hoped it was strong because in his gut he knew evil had entered all their lives in a very powerful way.



Chapter 3:

Apartment of Les Franklyn and Meg Michaels
Wednesday Evening

Meg sat curled up on her sofa, an afghan wrapped around her shoulders, a cup of Earl Grey clutched in her hand. She heard Les approaching but it was as though she heard it from a very long distance away. Her body may be firmly planted on a black, leather couch, listening to Nina Simone singing about life and love but her mind was somewhere else. With every fiber of her being, she was positive she knew this killer.

Removing the cup of tea and placing it on the coffee table, Les unfolded the crocheted afghan from Meg's shoulder.

Sitting next to her on the couch, he grabbed her hands within his own. God, they were so cold. Caressing her hands between his own large ones, he massaged warmth gently back into her frozen digits. His ministrations were providing the desired effect; Meg was coming back into herself. Wherever she had been a few moments ago, no longer held her captive.

"Hey there, Meggy, welcome back."

"Les, it's sooo close. I can almost touch it. You know...

like a song title or a name that you know with all your heart but you just can't quite reach it?"

Placing tender kisses on her palm, Les nodded. "You'll think of it, honey. I have faith in you. But you can't keep doing this to yourself. The stress is not good for you or...our...baby."

Shock spilled over Meg's face. Looking at her husband's tender expression, she felt like the biggest heel for having not told him. "How did you know?"

"The mood swings, the fatigue, your appetite being off."

"Les, if that's all that clued you in, I've been pregnant since we met."

"Well, there was also the little matter of a home pregnancy test box that fell behind the trash can under the kitchen sink. I found it a few minutes ago, when I was emptying the garbage," Less said, looking into her beautiful green eyes.

"When were you going to tell me, love?"

Placing her hands protectively over her abdomen, Meg replied, "Oh, Les. I just did the test yesterday morning, before we went out to the scene of the Fielding murder. It's been so crazy since then... and I just wanted to do more than blurt it out over crime scene photos."

"My pitbull's a romantic," Les said, laying his head on top of her stomach, where she began stroking his blond, wavy hair.

"Yeah, romantic.I'm sitting here with the most gorgeous hunk of man ever to be born south of the Mason Dixon, the musical renderings of God's gift to the blues and what am I doing?

Contemplating the thought that someone I've met in the last few years is a homicidal psychopath."

"Well we can fix that. Dance with me."

Looking down at her terry cloth robe and Les dressed in his khakis with long sleeve denim shirt, Meg felt like chuck steak to his filet mignon. Not exactly the image she wanted for her first dance with her baby's father. Shrugging out of her robe, she stood dressed in a long, royal blue, silk negligee. One of Les' Christmas presents. And one of his favorite "Meg" outfits.

"Yum, Meg."

Tracing his finger down her cheek, he pressed her body close to his, wrapping Meg securely in his presence. She felt Les begin to sway in time with the soulful beat, to glide ever so gently around the room. In fact, if truth be told, they were barely moving in terms of covering distance, but their bodies were sliding together in such ways Meg felt as though she and Les had traveled to hot and exotic locales. The heat was delicious, a reverent exploration of their new bond.

Meg felt Les' hands slip between their bodies. His fingers splayed out warmly over her abdomen, delicately stroking that special place where their child grew. His nose and lips nudged the spaghetti strap off her shoulder. First the left, then not to be neglected, the right. Following behind each trace of frabric were his lips, branding her skin with the silky warmth of his breaths.

Bringing his mouth up to her bodice, he nuzzled the small ribbon bow nestled between her breasts. Taking one end of the ribbon strand between his teeth, he seductively pulled, ever so gently, ever so slowly.

Hearing her giggle at his obvious attempt at seduction, Les admonished Meg quietly," Shhh... I'm busy seducing the mother of my child."

Once the bow was reduced to a tangled bit of lacy ribbon, Les moved on to the four buttons lying beneath it. Since his mouth was doing so well, why mess with perfection? With his lips and teeth he tweaked each button from its mooring, opening her nightgown, inch by tantalizing inch.

Opened up, like the sweetest of Christmas presents, Meg's skin received her husband's erotic caresses. His lips tasted and teased, lingered and excited. And when they had nibbled their way from her breasts, up her neck to the delicate, ticklish spot just below her ear lobe, she heard humming. Her senses were assailed with a delicious combination of his tactile caresses and his soothing song.

First it was just little bits of melody, then she realized he was singing lyrics with his beautiful, velvet baritone.

Feathered kisses of breath as he exhaled each word, tickled her ear. She listened to Les and Simone sing the blues.

"You've been acting different...I've been told.

Soothe me. I want some sugar in my bowl...hmm...mm.

I want some...steam...on my clothes."

Les pulled back just enough so that he could look deeply into her eyes. He sang to her inner self, that place only he knew.

"Maybe I can fix things up so they'll go..."

Pressing even more tightly against his body, Meg stilled his hands. Eyes twinkling she placed her finger over his lips, quieting his voice. Then she added her own rich alto to Simone.

"What's the matter... daddy.

Come on save my soul.

I want some...sugar in my bowl."

Removing his hands from Meg's, Les slid them upward. Linking his fingers over the opened edges of her bodice, which was held up by only a whisper and a prayer, he slipped it seductively from her breasts. It gave up the ghost from there, falling quietly, into a vibrant heap, pooling like ocean waves at her feet.

Rubbing herself sinuously against her fully clothed husband, Meg reached up and bit his earlobe. "Come on love of my life.

Let's take this lovin' feeling to the bedroom."

Chuckling, Les followed obediently behind his wife's magnificent bare bottom.

"Yes, Ma'am!" he said, in his most respectful voice.


APARTMENT OF AGENT DANA SCULLY SAME Evening

Mulder sat at Scully's kitchen table. Strewn out in front of him were copies of Meg's notes, their video and the killer's messages. There were files, photos and balled up pieces of paper, his first painfully poor profiling drafts of this killer. He'd been tossing the crumbled balls into a trash can he'd pulled to the end of the table. Wadding up another piece of paper, just because he was at an impasse, Mulder let it rip, tossing it up with a high arch. Instead of the familiar "thump" sound he'd been hearing every time the paper hit the can, he heard nothing. Scully had snagged his perfectly aimed shot. He'd been robbed.

Flinging the wad back in his direction, she came around the table.

"Hey, that was a good one. A three pointer," he griped.

"Just call me Muggsy Bogues, Mulder. Nothing's ever a given when there's a small player in the game."

"Yeah, well if I'd know I was going up against, 'Muggsy Scully', I would have been more on the offensive. Sure we can't call this half time and practice a little one on one?"

"Later, Kareem, later and you know better than to let your guard down," Scully said, taping three by five file cards to a white board she'd set up in her kitchen. She arranged the little cards neatly in rows. Each card had the name of one of the victims, the time, place and mode of death and other various striking characteristics. There were additional file cards, one for each Bible verse.

She walked over to Mulder, placing her hands on his shoulders, gently massaging his tired muscles. After dropping off Meg and her evidence with the bureau, giving Skinner a call to update him on the new developments of their "supposed" PR interview, and grabbing some necessary file copies, Mulder and Scully had retreated to her apartment to begin sifting through the evidence.

It was late, well after midnight; Mulder was working on his profile, she was researching the victim's files, examining each for possible connections to the others. Thus the file cards. Planting a kiss on top Mulder's head, she leaned forward, sliding her hands down his shoulders, down his arms, and forearms to reach for a file laying beneath a stack of spent sunflower seed shells.

Shaking the file off as she lifted it, she walked over to the kitchen counter where she picked up the coffee carafe.

"Refill?" she said, pouring more of the hot stimulant into her empty mug.

"Nah, I'm good, but thanks."

Setting the carafe back down on the stove, she pulled out a chair, sitting down next to Mulder. Sipping her coffee, she stared at the little colored rectangles on the board.

"You're gonna stare a hole in that board, if you keep that up, Scully."

"Hmmmm..."

"I said..."

"Yeah, I heard you. Mulder, there's something there, something I can't quite put my finger on. Can we hash this out again?"

"Then, 'Muggsy', do I get my one on one?" he asked, supplying his patented leer. Just looking at him made her heart beat faster. No one had ever affected her the way he did. His passion, their years of friendship, loyalty and trust, their shared life experiences, all woven together like threads in a complex tapestry.

"I promise, Mulder. I won't even call three second violations or charging as long as you promise to keep the un-sportsmanlike conduct down to a minimum."

"Get dooowwwwn! Gotta love a woman who talks sex using basketball analogies. Wanna remind me again why we waited so long?"

"To have sex or to talk basketball?"

"Both."

"Not if you want to have time for the game, Mulder," Scully said, digging the papers out of the file she'd picked up earlier. "Mulder, other than the obvious crime scene similarities, i.e. the clown faces and the Bible verses, what ties these people together?"

"Well, they've all been killed in particularly gruesome fashion, in accordance with some biblical passage."

Getting up from his chair, Mulder moved her cards around, scribbled on another card and taped it up on the board with hers. He had each victim set up with the method of execution and correlating bible passage.

"Ok, Scully you're the biblical scholar of this partnership.

What do you see when you look at these passages in relationship with these people?"

"I see some pretty judgmental passages taken out of context," she said, placing her elbows on the table and leaning closer to the board.

"We can see he's judging sin, Mulder. Wait a minute. Here's what I noticed earlier."

Scrounging through her notes, she pulled up two files. "Look, this is a background check into Mitch Mansfield, the first victim. The police had him under surveillance for drug running. They suspected he was using the youth from the center where he counseled, as mules and dealers, providing him a pretty lucrative little business out of the community center.

They just didn't have the evidence yet to bring him in."

"Ok. So that ties with the millstone around the neck reference for anyone who draws one of God's children into sin."

"Hmmm...mmm... and here's Manny Fielding's file. He was being looked at by the organized crime unit. His file indicates they suspected he was running with a pretty tough crowd who basically bought him an election. Needed a man inside the political venue to help with their deals."

Moving another card next to Manny, Mulder looked at the scripture associated with him. "Ok. That tracks, in an oblique kind of way. Manny runs with the evildoers, condoning their deeds even though he knows that goes against God's precepts."

"Do you have a file like that on Lisa Burton, too, Scully?

Something else up your sleeve? I'd be willing to look," Mulder smirked, reaching over to grab a quick kiss.

"No, Lisa and the man killed with her are both legally clean as far as we can tell. At least nothing the local PD has on file."

"Well if we stick with the pattern, Scully, the scripture and the details of their murder would predicate some sort of an adulterous relationship between the two of them."

Peering through another file, Scully yelled, "Bingo, Mulder.

Lisa Burton was engaged. What you want to bet that she and Mr. Hammond either were having or have had an affair."

"Those are the kind of odds I'd play in Vegas. We'll check it out. In the meantime, if we assume they were having an affair-"

"...then this is another enacted judgment for a perceived sin."

"Exactly. Someone's playing judge and jury, taking on the role of God, in some warped kind of biblical retribution," Mulder said, peering intently at their neat little rows.

"Hey, Scully, do the victims go to church?"

"Hmmm..let me see, uhh...here it is. Mansfield went to St. Vincent's Parish, mmmm... Lisa Burton, went to...St. Vincent's."

"Want to double your previous bet? Fielding went to St. Vincent's too?" Mulder asked, straddling the chair beside hers.

Yanking his dossier from their mess, Scully smiled. "As they say, never bet against the house. Fielding was a member of St. Vincent's."

"We've got our tie-in, Scully. Somehow the murderer is linked to St. Vincent's."

Jumping up from his seat, Mulder grabbed her cordless phone.

Checking the card in his pocket, he dialed. As he waited for Meg or Les to pick up, he bounced on the balls of his feet, shifting from one foot to the other. He reminded Scully of a boxer before a big match or a runner, with nervous energy before a major race.

"Yes," came Les' sleepy voice through the receiver.

"Les, it's Mulder. I've got a question for your wife."

"'us a minute," Les slurred as he attempted to rouse his slumbering wife.

Mulder covered the receiver with his hand. "I woke 'em up, Scully."

"Yeah, some people actually get to sleep at 2:00am in the morning. What a novel idea."

She stopped talking as she heard Mulder begin. Only being able to hear his end of the conversation, she still was able to understand the gist of what was said.

"Umm... yes, Ms. Michaels? Ok. This is Mulder. I have a couple of questions for you. You said you felt as though you should know the killer...mmm...uh..h...uum. I understand. Memories can be tricky things. I have an idea. Have you ever been to St. Vincent's...right, Catholic Church. You have?"

Mulder motioned Scully over, so that she could hear the conversation as well. Placing their heads together, they shared the receiver.

"Meg, this is Dana. How do you know about St. Vincent's?"

"I'm a member, Dana. St. Vincent's is my parish church."

A cold chill ran up Scully's back. She felt the icy fingers of the proverbial walk across her grave. Mulder felt the shiver running through her small frame, he tightened his hold around her shoulders, stilling her with his nearness.

"Meg, all four victims were members there as well."

"The church is the link. My church... It's someone from my church."

"Not necessarily," Scully started, but Meg began talking over the top of her.

"That's it, Dana. I know it. I remember talking to someone..."

Meg paused, a tremulous hitch in her voice.

"Mulder, this is Les. Yeah, I'll have Meg come to your office in the morning. She needs to get her sleep, she's worn out."

Mulder and Scully could hear muffled sounds coming through the receiver. It was obvious they were not privy to the entire conversation. After a moment's pause, Les came back on the line. "Mulder, she didn't want me to tell you, at least not like this, but my wife can be muleheaded and I feel you need to know this. Meg's pregnant. We just found out. I can't let this stress harm her or the baby. We'll see you in the morning. Goodnight."

Placing the phone in its cradle, Scully walked back into the kitchen and flipped off the overhead lights. "I think we should turn in too, Mulder. At least get a few hours sleep.

There's not a whole lot more we can do tonight."

Walking over to where Scully stood gazing at the white board full of notes, Mulder turned her gently into his arms. Tipping her chin up, he placed a delicate, nibbling kiss just to the side of her jaw. He followed it quickly with more whisper soft brushes of his lips against her chin, her nose, the corner of her mouth.

Reaching behind her Mulder slid his hands up the back of her pajama top where they delighted in the feel of her soft skin.

Pulling her closer into him, he felt the flutter in her throat as his lips suckled warmly over the tiny pulse.

Not content with remaining passive, Scully tugged Mulder's grey t-shirt out of his waistband. Duplicating his caresses, she slid her hands up his back, yanking him in as closely as she could. Mulder's hands traversed down to the edge of her pajama bottoms, smoothing restlessly at the fabric, then dipping beneath the elastic's edge. His hands squirmed beneath the warm, cottony flannel, seductively cupping her buttocks.

All the while, the assault with his mouth continued. Tiny, barely there, kisses rained over her face like the barest droplets of dew on a glorious spring morning. Butterfly kisses, each more erotic, more exquisite than the last. But torturous in their brevity. In their fleeting whimsy.

Scully groaned; she'd had enough. Reaching her hands high, she grasped tightly at Mulder's neck. She cursed the difference in their heights that made such maneuvers more difficult. But Mulder was more than accommodating, bringing his questing mouth back to hers. Pausing once more, his lips hovered over hers, just barely touching, no more than a murmur apart.

Feeling the exhale of her breath against his lips, Mulder heard Scully whisper.

"Mulder, I promise not to call three second violation if you should happen to remain in one spot for awhile."

He stopped, opened his eyes and looked deeply into the impassioned face of his lover.

"You won't give me a technical for unsportsmanlike conduct, if my hands should intimately wander..." He said, sliding his hands farther into her pajama bottoms, bringing them around front to linger at her warm, moist center.

"Just Do It," Scully said, in her best Nike impersonation.

Sliding her pajama bottoms down her legs, as she loosened the belt at his waist, Mulder crushed her lips forcefully against his, ending the overtures, and beginning the exquisite mating of their souls.



Chapter 4:

Hoover Building 11:00am Thursday Morning

Still seething, Scully stormed out of the bureau's parking garage elevator. Reaching for her keys, she felt her hand grabbed. "Uh...uh... not when you're still fuming. I don't want to have to deal with DC's finest today 'cause your foot's a little heavy on the gas."

"Mulder, I'm fine. Give me the keys. I want to drive."

"Nope, no can do. But, I'll wrestle you for 'em. Two out of three, best pin wins," he grinned, steering her towards the passenger side.

"Fine, drive the car, 'Mr. Can't possibly function without a steering wheel between my hands.'"

"Oh, I function just fine with other things between my hands.

Want to see?" Mulder asked, playfully leaning into her space.

Realizing the ridiculousness of this entire conversation, Scully burst into laughter. Opening the passenger door, she scooted into the seat, buckling her seatbelt.

"You're right, Mulder. I've been a bear this morning. I'm just so frustrated that I let Meg get to me. We must have been quite the scene."

"Actually, I thought you were two strong willed women making sure you each had your say. Nothing 'unprofessional' in the least."

"Nice save, partner. Want to hit the Fielding scene first?

Since it's most recent?"

"Yep," Mulder said, looking over his shoulder as he backed the car out. "My thoughts exactly."


Hinkley Youth Center 11:00am

"So, Meg. You want to explain to me again what we're doing here?"

Slamming the gearshift into park and turning off their vehicle, Les pulled the keys from the ignition. He glanced over at his wife, whose tired countenance belied the angry glare she was giving her husband. Her normal curly mop of red hair was even more disheveled this morning; the circles under her eyes were barely concealed with that goop she put on her face. And her attitude, well he didn't even want to go there. If he had thought her a bulldog before, he'd amended that to rabid, snarling bulldog this morning.

After a restless, sleepless night of tossing and turning and trying to make the other believe each was sleeping, neither Meg nor Les were at their finest. The meeting with Mulder and Scully hadn't confirmed much more than last night's phone call. The FBI agents agreed the evidence supported some sort of connection with St. Vincent's. Meg acknowledged that she still felt as though she had met this person but that she couldn't quite place her finger on it.

But, that's where the "agreements" had ended. Mulder and Scully were hesitant to discuss which avenues they or the team would be exploring other than to say they'd personally be checking out each of the crime scenes. Basically, he and Meg were told to go do their normal thing, and stay out of the investigation's way. Well, Les thought he'd seen all the various Meg varieties. He'd been wrong.

Rabid, yeah. The more he thought about it, that was the best descriptor for her demeanor. She was madder than a wet hornet.

However, she may have met her match. Mulder's diminutive partner was no slouch either. Watching the two of them go nose to nose was something. They might be small, like bandy roosters, but God help the person that riled 'em up.

Mulder and he had enjoyed a rare moment of shared religion watching the two of them "discuss" opinions. If he hadn't thought he'd be pummeled, he probably would have started a rousing rendition of "We are the champions."

See, Les needed to worry about his baby's father. And since that happened to be him, he felt keeping his mouth shut was the better part of valor. He figured Meg wouldn't hesitate in making herself a widow and Dana probably would have no trouble requesting a new partner if Mulder slipped up.

Rumor had it she actually had shot him once. He wasn't sure that was one he wanted to confirm or not.

So, the "debate" continued and the end result was Meg agreeing to keep her nose out of the investigation and go to work. She was immediately to turn over all correspondence she might receive from the killer and she was to behave. For her trouble, Meg had succeeded in establishing a compromise on the subject of police protection.

She had refused it.

So much for compromise. Instead she had agreed she would allow Les to stay glued to her like a tick on a dog and she would venture nowhere alone. Therefore, when Meg decided to break the first part of this morning's peace treaty, he was along for the proverbial ride. Because so help him God, she would not be breaking part two.

With her head hanging forward, her chin resting on her chest, Meg looked every bit as tired as he was sure she was feeling. He resisted the urge to comfortingly stroke her exposed neck. She was hanging on to her emotions by a thread, and his solicitous gesture would not help her right now.

As if reaching a decision, she unclasped her seatbelt and opened the passenger door. Stepping out into the youth center parking lot, she peered back into the car.

"You coming or what?"

Yanking his own seatbelt from its anchor, he slammed the driver's seat door open, smacking the unfortunate car that happened to be parked next to his. Noting her barely concealed smile, he grinned. Ok, what was one little paint ding if it lightened the mood?

"Right behind you, McDuff. Lead on," he said, joining Meg at the youth center's entrance.

"As it should be, love of my life. As it should be."

Walking into the Hinkley youth center was educational from the get go. Plastered across the walls were poster after poster of public service announcements. "Be cool. Stay in school." "Just say 'No'!" "Be the life of the party, be a designated driver."

A large glass window greeted them to their right. It was set up like a doctor's office, one of those sliding windows where the office staff always huddled. The only thing missing was the sign up list, the one asking for health insurance info, time arrival, etc. Les knocked on the window, trying to get the attention of the woman hunched over her computer screen. Without removing her eyes from the blinking cursor she reached to her side, grabbed a clipboard and shoved it up through the window.

Ah...There it was. The sign in sheet. The analogy was now complete.

Les began to skim the list of options available to him: reservations for hoop time, racquetball courts, equipment rental, locker rental.. permission slips needed for...counseling appointments.

Meg stepped around her immersed husband and wrapped pointedly on the window again. Either her knock was more authoritative or ms. Gatekeeper had finished her computing task. Either way, Meg actually got a response.

"Oh, can I help you? I thought you were one of the kids."

"Shouldn't they be in school?"

"Mmmmm...oh yeah, some should. But, we try to keep the doors of communication open, at least. We do have some that come in for counseling with one of our social workers or one of the priests. Hey, don't I know you?"

"I'm Meg Michaels and this is my partner, Les Franklyn."

"Right... channel 9 news. I thought you looked familiar. I'm Tara... Tara Summers."

Reaching through the window into the office, Meg clasped the hand Tara extended out to her. Tara was a middle-aged woman, with black, wavy hair. She pulled it back in a ponytail with one of those scrungy things looped up in a haphazard style. Her eyes were warm and welcome and she was obviously beside herself with curiosity.

"You're here about the murder, right?" she said, keeping her voice conspiratorially low.

"Actually, I'd like to see Father Jansen, if he's in the office today," Meg answered.

Les turned her slightly so he could question her in private. "Father Jansen, isn't he your old friend from the parish? What would he be doing here?"

"I know. I'm not sure he is here, but the parish office thought he would be. He was supposed to visit today.

He's listed as the man who ultimately oversees the center.

He's not the director, but the dioceses liaison.

Rubbing her tired eyes, Meg continued, "I remember when he left St. Vincent's, he mentioned he would be working directly with the dioceses in overseeing a variety of the community projects... youth centers, nursing homes...day care centers.

Since we are, or at least were, friends, I was hoping he'd talk to us."

Turning back to ms. Summers, who was trying to appear nonchalant about having celebrities in her waiting room, Meg asked again, "Is Father Jansen here today?"

"Actually he is," came a well-modulated voice from the hallway directly behind them.

Meg paused, turned and bolted across the room.

Picking his jaw off the ground, Les watched his newlywed wife throw herself into the arms of anther man. At the moment, the fact that he was a priest was somehow small consolation.

From the squeeze she received in return, it was apparent this was no ordinary friendship. His wife and Father Jansen were, obviously, very close friends.

Pulling away, Meg grasped the priest's hand, pulling him over to meet her husband. Collar or not, and by

the way where was his collar?, Les sized the priest up the way he would any man his wife knew this comfortably.

Father Jansen was an imposing figure. He stood 6'2'' at least, was broad shouldered, lean and physically fit. His hair was brown, with just a touch of receding hairline. Ok, that's good. The man was not perfect. He was dressed casually, jeans and a Nike t-shirt. At least his attire fit in with the establishment.

Dropping the good Father's hand, Meg reached over and grabbed Les. She brought the two within an uncomfortable spittin' distance of the other. At least as far as Les was concerned, it was uncomfortable. Father Jansen seemed oblivious to any strain.

"You must be Les. I'm Bobby. Bobby Jansen," Father Jansen said, extending his hand to Les.

"Father."

"Please, call him, Bobby, Les," Meg said, giving her husband a gentle squeeze around his waist. "Bobby's an old friend."

"That's right," Father Jansen said, good naturedly ruffling Meg's hair, "Meg and I go a long way back. We used to work together when I was a priest at St. Vincent's."

"The Shepherd Project. Remember, Les, I told you about it?"

"Right, the after school programs for at-risk kids. Yeah, I do remember you mentioning that. So, Bobby, you're the good priest that ran that up?"

"Yep, one of my responsibilities while I was at St. Vincent's.

I think that was why the dioceses looked at me when they needed someone to run their community programs. "

"So, when did you leave the parish?" Les asked, attempting to make pleasant small talk. Before Father Jansen could respond to his question, Les' beeper went off. Reaching down, he pulled the small screen towards him, glancing at the number.

It was work.

"Meggy, it's the desk. I'm gonna look for a phone. You ok with Father Jansen?"

As his back was already turned so he could talk with ms. Summers, Les didn't see the tender look his wife gave Father Jansen. "Sure, I'll be fine. You go see what they want. I won't go anywhere."

Reaching over to Father Jansen, Meg grabbed his hand once again. Looking into his eyes, she remembered the easy familiarity that had once been between them. The long hours and impassioned commitment for the youth had once been a strong bond between the young priest and the fresh faced reporter.

Father Bobby had been her best friend; first, as her confessor, then, as another person deeply troubled by what was going on with the teens in the neighborhood. Their common goal had innocently led to greater time spent together.

Until the night Meg slipped on a patch of ice while walking up to her apartment building. Father Jansen had walked her home after a particularly tedious budget meeting where they had fought for greater funding for the at-risk youths.

Their emotions were already pushed, when they found themselves in the minority, having to defend their ideas to a bunch of shortsighted bean counters who couldn't look at the long term. A small investment today for a larger return tomorrow, wasn't in their realm of thinking.

Meg had been venting her anger and frustration and hadn't been watching where she was going. If Bobby hadn't caught her she would have hit hard. As it were, it would have probably been better that she had. The kiss that she and Bobby had shared had caused her more pain in the long run than any bruised butt ever could.

After coming up for air, Bobby gave her such a look of disgust, like he had just sullied himself with a prostitute.

Pushing her away, he had stalked off into the night, leaving her bewildered and confused. She knew she had just lost her best friend.

Father Jansen had been gone from the parish within two weeks.

He had announced to the congregation that the dioceses had offered him the position of overseeing church development projects within the city. He told them he'd miss each and every one of them, but he felt that this was God's will for his life, a better utilization of his talents.

Meg hadn't spoken with Father Jansen since the night of their kiss. He made it clear that he wanted nothing to do with her, not even a final farewell. She acquiesced to his request, wished him well and threw herself more fully into her work.

Looking down into her green eyes, Father Jansen whispered.

"You're remembering, aren't you, Meg?"

"How could I not, Bobby? You were my best friend and the way you left tore me apart."

"Meg, I'm a priest. My calling is to God. You were way too much temptation. I had to get out."

"I understand that. But we could have dealt with it, talked it over, set new boundaries. You didn't have to sever all ties."

"Yes, I did."

Les picked that particular moment to fall back into the conversation. Having heard the last bit of discussion, he had an uncomfortable feeling. He shouldn't have left her alone with the good Father Jansen. What a watchdog he was turning out to be.

"Meg, that was the office. We're needed back at the barn."

"Right. I guess we'll have to pursue this later, Father Jansen," Meg said, purposefully using his formal title.

Nodding his head in acknowledgement of her abrupt coolness, Father Jansen said, "I'm assuming you wanted to see me about the murder of Mr. Mansfield?"

"Yeah, we did."

"Well I'm sure I can save you the trouble of a return trip, Meg. I really don't know anything. I know the cops were suspicious of his dealings here at the center, but we hadn't gotten wind of that yet. He appeared to be a great guy.

Someone the youth really connected with. It's a shame he let sin become such a part of his life that he corrupted those kids."

Les, noting the good Father's judgmental attitude said, "I thought he was only under suspicion, Father. I didn't think the police had yet determined if he was guilty of any wrong doing. Aren't you condemning the man without all the facts?"

Looking pointedly at Meg as he spoke, Father Jansen answered, "Temptation is always there, Les. It's the choices we make that determine our judgment. Mitch Mansfield made some poor choices."

Father Jansen turned to go. "Meg, it was good seeing you again. Take care. And, Les, you're a lucky man."

Realizing they had just been dismissed, Les turned toward the door. Looking back over his shoulder when he realized his wife was not next to him, he saw Father Jansen give her the most bizarre look, like the good Father felt he was looking at pure temptation himself. Meg appeared oblivious, but Les felt his skin crawl.

As Meg arrived at the double doors, Les held them open for her.

Stepping out into the warm sunshine, neither noticed the host of shadows playing off the hallway walls inside the youth center. It was as though the shadows were alive, mimicking and mocking with their intent. Father Jansen was oblivious, never acknowledging their existence.


CHANNEL 9 NEWS

"Damn it, Meg. I don't know why you can't see it!"

"I don't know why you persist in seeing things that aren't there!"

"He gave me the creeps, Meg. That man looked at you as though you were filet mignon and he hadn't eaten in weeks."

"Now you're just being ridiculous. Ridiculous and jealous."

"Of a priest?"

"Of someone I obviously have a close friendship with."

"Yeah, and what's with that anyway? And what's with his judgmental attitude? What ever happened to a little bit of God's grace."

"He's a priest, Les. Of course he's got a certain take on moral absolutes."

"Moral absolutes? He sounded as though he thought Mansfield only got what he deserved. He'd already convicted the poor son of a bitch based on hearsay and assumption. Meg, I don't see why you persist in being so mule-headed about this.

"Les, don't go there. You know I hate it when you use that analogy."

"Well if the bray fits!"

"I think it would be a good idea if you remove your jealous ass as far away from me as you can right now."

"Meg, no. I don't care if we are fighting. I am not going to leave you alone," Les said, mellowing his tone, realizing this whole thing was inconsequential compared to the protection of his wife.

"Les, I'm in the middle of a busy newsroom," Meg said, looking around and trying to avoid noticing the audience that was doing their level best to appear busy. "No one is going to bother me here."

Acknowledging her logic, Les picked up a file and headed to the elevator. "You don't move from this spot until I get back. Got it?"

Crossing her heart, Meg smiled, "Got it. Now get going.

Samuels needed those changes yesterday. I promise, I'll behave."

Pulling Meg into the little alcove which housed the coffee machine and microwave, Les took advantage of the momentary privacy. Pressing his lips tenderly to hers, he nuzzled them apart until Meg granted him entrance. Reveling in her exquisite taste, Les reluctantly pulled back.

"I'm just worried about you, Meg," he said, placing his hand lightly over her abdomen. "I just want to keep you both safe."

"And you do, and we are," she said, acknowledging his need to protect her. "I'll behave."

"Ok. Now we're cookin' with gas. I'll be back shortly, love of my life."

"I'll be here."



Chapter 5:

Thursday, Later THAT Afternoon

"Scully."

"Agent Scully, this is Les Franklyn. Have you heard from Meg?"

Holding her cell phone in one hand, and turning the steering wheel with the other, Scully answered, "No, Les. We haven't talked with Meg since we left you this morning. I thought the deal was you were to stay glued to her."

Mulder looked up from the passenger seat where he'd been perusing a file. He gave Scully a questioning glance. She shrugged her shoulders in answer. After all, she still wasn't sure what was up.

Holding his cell phone to his ear as he paced back and forth like a caged tiger, Les said, "Look, Agent Scully. Fifteen minutes ago I left Meg at her desk in the middle of a newsroom full of people. She swore she wouldn't move from that spot. And, well I shouldn't have listened. She's gone off on her own."

"What? Is she crazy!?"

That got Mulder's attention. Without even bothering to mute her end of the conversation, Scully turned to Mulder and said, "Meg's disappeared."

"Shit!"

"Yeah, Mulder, that about sums it up."

"Les, do you have any idea where she might have gone?"

"Agent Scully... Wait a minute."

Les turned to look at the intern who had just approached him.

The guy appeared to be a little nervous. "Look, John, I don't have time-"

"Mr. Franklyn. I have a note from ms. Michaels. She said I was to give it to you the minute you got back to the newsroom. -"

"What? Where's the note!?"

"I'm sorry Mr. Franklyn, I walked down the hall for a soda and got waylaid. I didn't realize you'd be back so soon."

"Fine, fine, whatever. Where's the damn note!?"

Thrusting the pink piece of message paper into Les' hands, John high tailed it out of there. Something was going down and it looked like he should get far away from it.

"Oh, my God!"

"Les, what is it? What's wrong?" Scully asked worriedly.

"She's gone to meet Bobby."

"Bobby. Bobby who?"

"This morning we went over to the Hinkley Youth Center-"

"Yeah, we know. We'll have a talk about that later. Who's Bobby?"

"Bobby's ...uh... Father Robert Jansen. Apparently he used to be one of the St. Vincent's parish priests until he left a few years ago to supervise some of the dioceses community projects."

"He was at St. Vincent's... When?"

Pulling another file folder from the stack on the floor, Mulder asked, "Parishioner or staff?"

"Staff," she said. "Father Robert Jansen."

Running his finger down the list, he found Jansen's name. It said he had left under perfectly normal circumstances five years ago to head up the dioceses community projects.

He had an exemplary record. Nothing in the police investigation to give anyone pause.

Les crumpled the note in his hand and started running toward the stairs. The elevators in this building were always too damn slow. Taking the stairs two at a time, he exited into the parking garage below. Realizing he still held a couple of those bubble gum cigars he had picked up earlier this morning in the building gift store, he shoved them in the pocket of his polo shirt.

Jumping into his car, he gunned the engine and sped out of the parking garage. When he got his hands on his wife he was going to throttle her within an inch of her life. Didn't she realize they had a deal? No ditching.

"Look, Agent Scully. I don't know where you are but I'm going over to the construction site for the new soup kitchen on...uh... Oak St. That's where she said she'd be meeting him."

"What does the note say, Les? Verbatim."

Grabbing the note from where he'd thrown it on the passenger seat, Les read,

"Les, I got a call from Bobby. He said he might have something relating to the case. I'm going to meet him at the new soup kitchen they're building over on Oak St. Don't worry. I'll be with Bobby. Everything will be fine, love of my life. Meg."

"Damn it. I told her to stay away from that guy! He gave me the creeps."

"Mulder, Oak St. Which way?"

"Take a left on Melbourne and right on Freeman. I think it crosses Freeman right past... umm... Lockwood."

Punching the accelerator, Scully passed the phone to Mulder.

At the speed she was driving now, she would need both hands on the wheel.

"Look, Les, have you called this in?" Mulder asked.

"I thought that was what I was doing now!" he exclaimed, pulling onto Elm. "Look, I'm there now. You call it in. I'm gonna get to Meg. Like I said, Father Jansen didn't sit right with me. He was so judgmental, so proud in the way he was talking earlier today and I don't like the way he looked at her."

"Les... Les!"

Mulder punched in a string of buttons. "He turned off his cell. Yeah, who is this? Harger...mm.. Ok...Officer Harger, this is Agent Mulder. I want back up at the new soup kitchen building project on Oak.. No, I don't have an address.

But, Oak's not that long a street. We may have something with your Pagliacci killer...Yeah, Scully and I are almost there.

Hey, Harger, tell your men there will be two armed federal agents on the premises, two unarmed civilians and one potential suspect. His name is Father Robert Jansen. Yeah, you heard me right... Father."


NEW SAMARITAN SOUP KITCHEN CONSTRUCTION SITE

Noting Meg's Honda Accord in the parking lot next to a black, dusty Buick, Les slammed on his brakes. Barely taking the time to stop the car, he rushed towards the building. For the most part, there didn't seem to be a lot left to do as far as construction was concerned. Sure, it needed some landscaping. But the structure appeared to be finished.

Running up to the entrance he noted a sign heralding the grand opening to be one week from yesterday.

Where was everybody? Shouldn't there be people working?

Granted it was late afternoon, but well before normal quitting time.

He reached the glass double doors at the

front, giving them a yank. Meeting locked resistance, he began banging on the doors. Getting nowhere fast, he took off scrambling around back, stooping beneath windows as he went, stopping every once in a while to peer in. Nothing. Absolutely nothing!

Seeing one window slightly raised, Les pulled a stack of lumber over to the side of the building. Standing up on the boards, he was able to get his arms up under the window enough to raise it. No doubt it would be a tight fit, but he was getting into that building if he had to squeeze in like a snake.

Using his upper arms to lift himself off the ground, Les vowed to pull the weights back out from his bedroom closet.

His upper arm strength just wasn't what it used to be. Maybe he and Meg would have a boy. Then he'd have someone to take to the gym. Wiggling his way into the window, Les thought "man, you talk sexist crap like that, she's gonna whip your butt." He could hear her now, "Les, who said only little boys need to be physically fit? There's no reason you can't take a daughter to the gym."

Dropping quietly down on the floor of the storage room, Les heard voices. One of them was Meg's, he assumed the other was Father Jansen. Lord, he was sure gonna look the fool if all they were doing was discussing publicity for the center.

That's all right. He'd play the fool.

Cautiously opening the door, Les began to feel a chill in the air, a cold, clammy grip closing tightly around his heart. He might not be a church goin' man, but he knew the presence of evil when he felt it.

Stepping into the hallway, he headed toward the voices. Meg's was escalating, becoming more clearly agitated.

Les' blood ran cold; she was terrified.

As quietly as possible, Les crept down the hall. He could see straight ahead what appeared to be an immense dining area.

Just beyond that was the kitchen with one of those large open serving windows where people could walk by picking up trays of food. Meg was standing inside the smaller room, facing Les's direction. Father Jansen's back was to him. The priest stood before her, effectively blocking Meg's route from the kitchen.

In his hand, gleaming silver bright, was a large carving knife.

Meg's eyes were solely on the knife. Her breathing was labored like she'd been running, her voice was trying to retain a soothing quality, but it was tremulous and fearful.

It was obvious; she was not talking with a friend. Father Jansen was no friend. He was a raving maniac.

"You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery'."

"Bobby, ... Father Jansen. We did not commit adultery. We avoided temptation. You left, Bobby, you left."

Hearing a growl, inhuman in nature, Les crept more forward into the room. He realized he was going to have to cover open space. There was no real place to hide except behind some paint scaffolding about half way out. Hopefully, he could get that far without being detected. He was afraid Meg's life would depend on it.

Glancing anxiously around, he wondered where Mulder and Scully were. Just where in the hell was the cavalry?

Father Jansen continued his recitation, his voice even, piercing with fierceness and dark malevolence. This was not the voice of a man; but of something much more.

His wife stood in that kitchen before the face of evil, itself.

"But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away.

It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell..."

Father Jansen brandished the knife in front of him. The large blade appeared even larger when viewed through Meg's horrified eyes. She tried backing farther away but there was really no place for her to go. She was already backed up against the large oven. Father Jansen was only a few feet in front of her.

Les made a decision.

Stepping out directly into the middle of the cafeteria, he heard Meg's indrawn breath as she saw him. Before Les could speak, Father Jansen said, " Welcome home Uriah. Your wife, Bathsheba awaits you."

"Father Jansen, She is not Bathsheba. I am not Uriah and you are definitely not David. He was a man after God's own heart."

Without turning around, or altering his stance in the least, Father Jansen said, "NO, LES. YOU ARE CORRECT. I AM NOT DAVID."

The wind screamed outside the windows hurtling through the trees with a furor, lashing the branches with abandoned glee.

There was a depraved suffocating atmosphere enveloping them in a smothering darkness. The overhead fluorescent lights flickered off, one by one, until only one light remained, the one illuminating Meg and Father Jansen like surreal actors on a stage.

The afternoon sun slid quickly behind thunderous storm clouds.

The light, streaming through the windows, fell away into dancing macabre shadows. It was as though the room had filled with murky, hazy spectators lingering in the corners and behind the doors, just out of range of the one light remaining. Les felt each shadow moved enticingly closer to the spectacle playing out before him.

They waltzed at the periphery of his vision, taunting him with small hissing noises and unearthly touches of wicked delight.

An audience of doom waiting for the final curtain call.

Les felt beads of sweat gather on his brow, cold and clammy moisture testifying to his fear's escalation. He saw Meg's body tremble as she tried to remain calm. He heard the growling voice from the man who was not fully man, who was no longer priest.

"AND IF YOUR RIGHT HAND CAUSES YOU TO SIN, CUT IT OFF AND THROW IT AWAY..."

Tilting his head in contemplation, the being residing in Father Jansen asked, "SHALL I CUT OFF HER RIGHT OR HER LEFT ARM, LES? YOU SEE, IT REALLY MAKES NO DIFFERENCE TO ME."

You bastard! Stay away from her!" Les said, walking closer to the kitchen as he saw the knife's blade being stroked with undisguised ecstasy. At the edge of his focus, Les thought he heard squealing tires but it was obvious to him, Meg had run out of time.

The cavalry was arriving too late.

The midnight shadows teased and tormented, gleeful with anticipation as they awaited the finale to this scene. Their lust would be satiated because no matter the outcome, they would have a satisfying resolution.

Les felt this certainty deep within his soul. It was as though that "thing" knew the options he was weighing and was giving him full opportunity to respond.

Making a final decision, because there really was no other, Les looked longingly at his wife. With all the love he could muster, he uttered, "Meg, honey. You are the love of my life."

Les, NOOOOO!" she cried, watching her husband vault his body over the serving counter.

Time paused.

The moment lingered with cruel clarity as Les came crashing into the figure of Father Jansen, who with rapture's intent poised the carving blade directly into Les' path.

Les landed with a sick thud, the carving knife piercing his heart.

In only the instant required to take a breath, Les Franklyn ceased to exist.

There were no lingering looks, no last words, no chance to share a final moment between husband and wife. There was Les' sharp, startled intake of breath, Meg's wrenching scream, and the cackle of misery's fortune mingling with the final gasp of a good man's life.

"NOOOoooooo!" Meg sobbed rushing to her husband's fallen body. Beneath her feet squished the remnants of pink bubble gum cigars which had flown from his pocket as he hit the floor. He'd never had the chance to give them to her - to make some stupid joke.

She looked up into the smirking face of Father Jansen. He held in his hand the knife, dripping red with Les' blood.

"SO, URIAH HAS TO DIE AGAIN. TOO BAD, BATHSHEBA. I HAD SO HOPED IT MIGHT END DIFFERENTLY THIS TIME. BUT THAT'S ALL RIGHT. I'LL MINGLE YOUR BLOOD, SACRIFICED TOGETHER FOR ALL ETERNITY. JUDGEMENT WILL BE MINE. AND I'LL PAINT YOUR FACES, THE FOOL AND THE HARLOT."

Father Jansen edged forward with the bloodied knife, moving purposefully in her direction. Meg was too stunned to move, too bewildered to do more than hold the lifeless body of her husband, stroking the soft, blond hair back from his brow. She crooned softly, her voice etched with tears, "...what's the matter, daddy. Come on soothe my soul. I want some...sugar...in my bowl."

She looked up at Jansen's twisted features, fully expecting to die.

"Federal Agent! Stop where you are. I will shoot!" Scully shouted.

Father Jansen continued to advance, resolute with intent.

Agent Scully's admonishment no more than an annoying mosquito buzzing at his ear.

A shot exploded with deafening resound.

For the second time in as many minutes, another body fell to the floor. Father Jansen collapsed in a bloody heap. His chest torn open, blood spurting, but life still there.

The shadows inched back into the corners, huddling together in trepidatious expectation. They were still, watching the act unfold before them on this bloody stage.

Meg looked up to see Scully, gun in hand, advancing into the kitchen, her partner right beside her.

Scully kicked the knife out of reach with her foot, then bent next to Meg and Les. It was obvious there was nothing she could do for him. Les was dead. Her concern must now be for the living. As she reached for Meg, she focused her attention upon the stunned woman, assessing her injuries midst the volumes of blood, trying to determine if the blood were hers or Les'.

There was no way for Scully to see Mulder behind her, touching the priest, trying to staunch the blood with a rag he'd picked up from the floor. She couldn't know of the hideous look on the priest's face, or the shadows inching forward in gleeful anticipation.

What she didn't see, the key element that she missed, the one thing she should have noticed, was the face of evil looking deeply into the soul of Fox Mulder, recognizing the man it dealt with once before.

What escaped her eyes was the malignancy leaving behind the dying body of a priest and silently laying claim to the love of her life.

But Meg saw.

Meg saw it all and she shuddered, meeting Mulder's piercing eyes with her own just before she fainted.

"Mulder, I think she's only fainted. I can help you now," Scully said, laying Meg gently upon the tile floor.

"No need, Scully. He's not going anywhere. He can't hurt anyone ever again."

Without meeting Scully's gaze, Mulder stood, looking out into the darkened cafeteria. With a gleam in his eye, he smiled watching the shadows slither out the windows.

No. Father Jansen would do no more harm.



Chapter 6:

New Samaritan soup kitchen Early Thursday evening

Meg sat on a cold, metal folding chair in the middle of the cafeteria, a scratchy blanket thrown over her shoulders. It was supposed to keep her warm. One of the paramedics had placed it there, something about shock, about taking care of herself and the baby.

She didn't realize it, but she had been unconsciously rubbing her abdomen with small circular strokes, gently trying to soothe a life that was but the barest hint of existence. At this point no more than cells, it was already an undeniably poignant testimony to the love she and Les had shared.

People were coming and going, hurrying and scurrying. There were police, FBI, paramedics, clergy and, of course, the ever present media circus. How apropos, considering that this was the Pagliacci case. The media hounds were being kept outside the soup kitchen but it did nothing to lesson the impact of their presence. Not only was there a hot story inside, but it involved two of their own. No way were they going to leave quietly.

Regaining consciousness just as EMT's were loading her on a gurney, Meg had forcefully rebuffed the notion of a ride to the hospital. She stubbornly refused to leave Les behind. It was bad enough he was laying on a cold linoleum floor, in a pool of blood, while she was "encouraged" to sit out here. But she'd be damned if she were going to put extra miles between them.

Meg felt as though her soul remained in a nightmare's horrific clutches. Seeing the commotion around her she felt as though she was shirking her duty by not grabbing a microphone and reporting on the immediate tragedy. She and Les should be in the throng out front, desperately maneuvering to gain access.

Sitting here swaddled like a baby in a warming blanket was all wrong. But not nearly as depraved as seeing her husband zipped into a black vinyl body bag.

A flash bulb seared her eyes. Jerking her head, Meg saw the intense gaze of one of her fierce competitors as his ass was hauled down from the outside window where he'd been spying.

"Meg."

"Agent Scully," Meg answered, acknowledging her words if not her presence as she continued viewing the escalating argument outside the window. Meg was peripherally aware of shouted obscenities and the words "first amendment" and "rights of the people to know." It was too unfathomable to comprehend that this turmoil existed solely because...she and...Les...

were news.

"Meg."

This time Meg turned her head, focusing her attention on Scully, who was seated on a chair next to hers. Was it actually just three days ago they had first met? She shivered.

A three day descent into hell.

"I really think you should go to the hospital. You're in shock. There's nothing more you can do for Les, but take care of his baby."

"That's dirty pool, Agent Scully."

"Whatever works, Meg," Scully murmured softly.

"What happened here, Agent Scully? What...One minute I'm talking with an old friend, the next, he's a psychotic killer and Les...Les is..." Meg, turned her eyes downward, loathe to fall apart again.

"He's never shown symptoms of mental illness before?"

"Mental illness, no... but he was always judgmental, always very self righteous. It was a weakness of his, but this...this was different."

Her eyes, rimmed red from crying, looked pointedly at Scully. "He was insane. It was as though all his judgmental attitude had been magnified-into this perversion," she said, watching an officer place the stage greasepaint in plastic bags.

"Yes, well psychotic behavior can be insidious...not always acute in nature."

"I don't think that's it at all. I don't think Bobby was mentally ill; I think he was possessed," Meg said, her voice trailing off.

Trying to bring Meg's attention away from the forensics clean-up, Scully said, "You're overwhelmed. You've just witnessed Les's death."

"No. I have no doubt, Agent Scully. I saw his face-It was evil, personified. And...Agent Scully," Meg said, her eyes tracking Agent Mulder as he spoke with an imposing man who had just arrived, "I don't think the evil has left us."

Scully followed the direction Meg's eyes took, landing on Mulder and AD Skinner. Before she could process Meg's cryptic words, Skinner spoke.

"ms. Michaels, I'm Assistant Director Skinner."

Meg pulled her hand out from the warm blanket, extending it to Skinner. She was registering the appropriate words of good manners, Skinner's condolences and Scully's cautious ministrations, but Meg knew she was watching Agent Mulder with undue fascination. She was filled with a disquieting unease. Ever since she regained consciousness, the hair on the back of her arms stood up whenever he came near her. It was a creepy feeling and troublesome in that she felt there was something she was supposed to remember but was just out of reach.

Mulder's eyes were far away; he made no attempt to remain in the conversation. He kept shaking his head from side to side like he was lost in a puzzle he couldn't quite figure out. Twice, Scully had to call his name.

"Agent Mulder, do you have something to add to what's been said?" Skinner asked, his voice gruff with authority.

Pulling himself up and back into the conversation, Mulder replied.

"No, sir. I believe our report will reflect that this is an open and shut case. Father Jansen was the classic example of a typical sociopath personality. In laymen's terms. ..a vicious, raving maniac who handed out his brand of judgment based on his warped perceptions of his victim's sins.

Unfortunately, we didn't arrive in sufficient time to stop this tragedy," he answered, dipping his head in the kitchen's direction.

"Although, Scully quite succinctly-"

"Mulder!" Scully admonished.

"-put an end to his reign of terror."

Skinner's eyebrows shot up, his jaw locked, compressing his lips into a thin line.

Not looking the least bit contrite, Mulder said, "I'm sorry, Scully. I just find it hard to grieve for a monster like Father Jansen, especially knowing the high price paid today for his downfall."

Scully exchanged a look with Skinner. It was plain to her that the AD was unhappy with Mulder's sanctimonious comments. But before their superior could speak his mind, incredibly...Mulder turned heal, walking away from the foursome.

With a mumbled "excuse me," Skinner stepped after him in pursuit.

Scully took the three steps needed to catch her superior, gently touching his arm.

Stopping, Skinner turned to stare at her.

"Sir...please. I think...I think maybe Agent Mulder is more tired than he's letting on. Let me...let me talk to him later.

I know his remarks were un-called for..." she let her voice trail off for a moment.

Seeing Skinner's expectant expression, she began again. "Give him some time, sir. And...I will talk to him," she finished, taking her hand from his sleeve.

Skinner looked away for a second, watching Meg where she sat, dazed, seemingly oblivious to their conversation. Then he turned his attention back to Scully, his jaw still tense but the expression in his eyes, softer.

"All right. But Scully...you'd better talk to him...or I will. Mulder's not some rookie field agent. He knows better than to speak that way in front of a victim," he commanded. Scully nodded and Skinner turned back towards Meg, approaching her and laying a large hand on her shoulder.

"ms. Michaels. If there's anything the bureau can do, you'll let us know," Skinner directed quietly.

"Uh...yes, sir. I just don't know. I'm not sure."

"ms. Michaels. That's all right. I just wanted you to know that we're here to help," Skinner stated, removing his hand. Then not quite knowing what more to say, he added, "Your husband gave his life valiantly."

Reaching in past his trench coat lapel, into his inner suit coat pocket, Skinner pulled out a card, handing it to Meg. "I'd like to give you one of my cards. If you need anything...don't hesitate to call."

Meg took it from his outstretched fingers, letting it drop into her lap. Skinner straightened and stepped back. Meg nodded at him, her face still showing bewildered pain.

"Thank you," she mumbled.

Skinner nodded curtly, clearing his throat.

"Agent Scully, a word with you," Skinner intoned, directing Scully over to the kitchen.

"Yes sir."

Looking at the woman still staring out the window, Scully said, "I'll be back in a moment."

Lost in thought, Meg didn't heard Mulder's return until he'd spoken.

"How are you doing, Meg?"

She was taken aback by his familiarity. He'd always referred to her as ms. Michaels. Somehow it seemed almost too casual considering the recent events.

"Agent Mulder-"

"Call me, Fox," Mulder instructed, leaning in to pick up her trembling, cold hand.

"Fox?" she puzzled, pulling her hand away from his icy grip.

"After all we've been through it seems awkward to stand on such formality," he articulated, raising his eyes to hers.

"Right...I..."

"How's the baby, Meg? Everything ok?" Mulder continued, capturing her eyes with his intense stare. He laid his hand possessively across her abdomen.

Meg jerked violently back, almost toppling the chair in the process. An icy chill triangulated in her womb, spreading through her body like the burn of dry ice.

Looking around the room, as if noticing eyes upon them, Mulder sat back.

"Excuse me, Ms. Michael's, that was out of line," Mulder said, confusion passing briefly over his features.

"Yes, Agent Mulder...It was."

As Agent Mulder walked to the kitchen to join Scully and their boss, Meg placed her hands protectively over her stomach.

She felt again as though she had just looked into the face of evil.


Later Thursday Evening

Slamming the car door, Mulder waited for Scully as she exited the passenger side. Turning, they headed toward the main door of her apartment building.

"I don't agree, Scully. I think Father Jansen was just a man suffering from your garden variety psychotic delusions of godhood. Nothing more, nothing less. He took his calling and perverted it, sitting in judgment like he thought he was the right hand of God."

"Mulder, you were there. Didn't you feel it? Didn't you see his face before I shot him? Feel the cloying, menacing presence in the cafeteria?"

"Are you trying to tell me, you, Ms. Skeptic, think Father Jansen was possessed," Mulder said sarcastically while reaching out to touch Scully's forehead with his hand.

"What are you doing, Mulder?" she asked, slapping his cold fingers away. "Your hands are like ice."

"Just checking for fever. It's the only thing I can attribute this sudden...dare I say it...turn towards 'spooky logic'. Or are you just delusional?"

"I'm not sick, Mulder...or...delusional. And...I'm not sure what I believe. I just know evil does exist, it's an antithesis to good. And you, more than others, know we've run up against this kind of possession before. Remember Charlie Holvey, the Calusari? It's not unheard of; historically, clergy as a whole are susceptible to possession, especially a priest as proud and arrogant as Jansen. Evil would find fertile ground in one so far removed from the spirit."

Looking at his condescending sneer, Scully continued, "In fact, Mulder, why is it that any case we have with the remotest tie to religion is automatically cast aside in your book? You'll scream to the heavens your mantra "I want to believe" until someone mentions God and then it's just a bunch of psychotic, delusional kooks. Mr. 'I want to believe' when it suits his take on the universe."

"And you, St. Scully, the first time someone waves a rosary or invokes the name of God, you want to talk about God's will or spiritual possession."

Wondering how this whole discussion had gotten so harsh, so fast, Scully tried not to take exception to Mulder's attitude.

But it was hard when he was being such an ass.

"Special Agent Dana Scully is attributing a raving maniac's homicidal tendencies to supernatural possession... You've come a long way, baby! Finally, after seven years you're starting to come round to my way of thinking. Our doing the horizontal mambo must have some...intangible benefits," he retorted, his voice a near sneer.

"Mulder...cut me some slack here will you...it's been a long day and I just killed a Priest!" Scully shot back, fuming.

What in heaven's name was wrong with him, she thought, feeling her face heat up again.

Stepping through the brownstone's front door, Scully walked the hallway towards her apartment. She didn't see Mulder clench and unclench his fists, keeping them still at his side, trying to keep control on the darkness within him, the darkness that wanted to wring her pretty neck. Agent Scully was worried about an ambiguous "what if" with regards to evil, not ever realizing she had just brought it intimately home with her.

Scully unlocked her apartment door. Pushing it open, she entered. She dropped her briefcase on the floor, hung her coat on the coat tree, and toed her pumps off in one simultaneous motion. She walked further into the apartment, setting her mail on the end table. Unbuttoning her blouse as she headed down the hall towards her bathroom, Scully spoke.

"I'm going to take a hot bath, relax a little. I'm not really hungry. Want to order a pizza for later?"

Noting Mulder's absence behind her, Scully turned. He was still standing outside her doorway, not moving an inch further.

He was leaning lazily against the door jam, eyeing her with a feral smirk.

Frankly, it gave her the creeps.

"Mulder, what's with you? Come in and shut the door. I have no intention of flashing the world."

"More's the pity, Scully," Mulder said, ambling up behind her and helping her strip the blouse down her shoulders. Smoothing the silk down the length of her arms, he tightened his hold on the sleeves, pulling them tightly behind her. In effect, trapping her arms behind her back.

"Stop it, Mulder. That's not funny. I don't like having my arms held behind me. You know that."

"Scully, I'm just playing. Having a little fun. What's the big deal? You trust me," he said, pulling the shirt tighter, ensnaring her arms even more. He suggestively slid his hand across her breast teasing at her bra clasp, ignoring Scully's struggles against him.

Trust is not the issue. I...said...LET GO!" Scully forcefully kicked her leg back, kicking him in the shin, pushing him backward in the process. Gathering her blouse back up her arms and holding the edges together at her chest, she angrily turned around to face him.

"Scully, I'm sorry...I don't know what's come over me... I just..."

Flicking the light switch in the kitchen, he illuminated the room.

Stepping to the sink, Mulder poured himself a glass of water, trying to slake his thirst.

It didn't work.

Still seething, Scully watched him gulp the water as though he were parched. "Look...Mulder, I think it would be better if you didn't stay here tonight. I don't know what's gotten into you, but frankly...I'm not up to figuring it out.

"You want me to leave?"

"At least for awhile. Didn't you say the guys asked you to play poker tonight? I...think you should go."

"You want me to go hang out with the three stooges?"

"Whatever, Mulder. I just think it would be better if we spent the evening apart. I'm not up to dealing with your eccentricities right now.

Noting the mounting anger in his eyes, Scully didn't want the evening to end on a bad note. She remembered the haunted look on Meg's face, just after her husband died.

"You could come by later."

"You mean after they clean me out?"

"Yeah...sugar daddy," she said, stealing a quick kiss. "Later."

Opening her apartment door, Mulder headed into the hallway. "Keep my side warm, Dana," he casually tossed over his shoulder just before closing the door.

"Dana?" she thought. What's possessed him? A sudden iciness filled her as she ruefully examined her poor choice of words in light of her conversation with Meg.


Lone Gunmen's lair later that same evening

"Dude!"

"Langly."

"So, what brings you out this lovely evening?"

"Frohike said you were having a game; I brought the brew, " Mulder said holding up a couple twelve packs of Heineken.

"Cool! The good stuff."

"Only the best for my buds. You gonna invite me in or am I gonna take my party elsewhere?"

"Mi casa es-"

"-Out of my way jefe, these boxes are heavy."

Mulder walked past Langly into the dim recesses of their lair.

Frohike stood at the stove, stirring some vile concoction. Seeing Mulder's booty, he grabbed a bottle, popping the top on the edge of the counter. He poured the contents into the simmering pot and reached for another.

"Yeah, man, just what this stuff needed."

"Hey, Frohike, lay off the beer. That's for drinkin' not eating, " Mulder griped, grabbing the bottle before Frohike had the chance to drown it in chili powder and Louisiana hot sauce.

Taking a swig, he swallowed lustily.

"So what is that stuff?" Mulder asked, warily eyeing the pot.

Taking one of the bottles from the case, Frohike popped its top, chugging a large mouthful. With a satisfied 'AHH', he placed his bottle down on the counter and turned back to his cooking.

Holding a wooden spoon out, Frohike encouraged Mulder to dare a taste. "It's my mom's secret chili recipe. Guaranteed to grow hair on all your parts, north and south."

"Don't need it. Scully hasn't been complaining. In fact, she's more than sat...is..fied. Yes sir, my man, completely happy with everything I have to offer," Mulder mumbled around the mouth of his beer, ignoring the outstretched spoon.

Sputtering beer from his mouth into the chili, Frohike looked appalled. Mulder never talked in such a cavalier way about his relationship with Scully. In fact, he rarely spoke of it at all.

"What? What did I say? Don't give me that look, Hickey. You've always lusted after Scully. Don't go all pure on me and try and tell me you've never been interested in the gory details."

"You've just never been one to indulge in locker room antics, Mulder, especially with regards to Scully," Frohike said, trying not to take offense at his friend's callous remarks.

"Fine, you're not interested. We'll talk about something else," Mulder said surveying the room.

"Where's Byers? Buying another three piece suit?"

"I heard that," came a voice from behind a stack of monitors.

Byers stood and walked over to the kitchen to join their conversation. He grabbed a beer from the case, popped the top and took a tentative sip. Beer was not one of his favorites.

"Knock yourself out, man. Worried about drinking and net surfin'? I assure you one beer will not impair your reflexes in the least." Mulder sneered, sauntering over to the poker table and scooping up a handful of chips. Placing one of the plastic discs between his fingers he began rolling it back and forth, until tiring of this he flipped it into the air, plopping it smack into Frohike's chili.

"Mulder, watch it!"

"Get a life Hickey. I'm just adding a little fiber to the stew."

Disgustedly scooping the offending chip from his chili pot, Frohike glanced curiously at his friend. Mulder was wandering the room touching everything. He picked things up and put them back down, partnering his actions with looks of patronizing disgust. It was as though he hadn't been there before and everything was new and very much geekish and trite in his eyes.

Catching the look Frohike was bestowing on him, Mulder held their linked gaze for a long pause. Frohike felt his skin crawl; an intense feeling of foreboding filled his soul. And then his intense stare disappeared, replaced by jovial charm. Walking up to the kitchen counter, Mulder reached for a bowl. Placing it in front of Frohike, he said," So you gonna stir that to death or feed me? Let's get this game moving gents."

Grabbing the wooden spoon from Frohike, Mulder took a large, slurping bite. Boxing him on the shoulder, he said," Man, that's really awful, Hickey. But, what's a little more danger in my life. Spoon it up."

Frohike, laughing, placed a heaping spoonful into Mulder's bowl. "If your heart doesn't burn a little as this goes down, it ain't done right. Might as well be eating tomato soup."

Walking to the table with his bowl in one hand and his beer in the other, Mulder straddled one of the chairs. Laying his food down, and shuffling the stack of cards, Mulder said," At least I've got a pretty red haired doctor to fix me up if you poison me. And seeing that she's not opposed to playing doctor, I'd like to get this game in gear."

Byers, scooping his own bowl from the pot, looked over to Frohike. Linking eyes, Frohike shrugged, who knew what was with Mulder tonight. But in any case, he definitely wasn't himself.

It was as though he was purposefully going out of his way to offend.

Langly just made stupid rotating motions with his hand, signifying the universal gesture for describing someone who's gone over the falls without his barrel.

Mulder, with his back still to them, stacking chips in neat little piles, spoke. "I wouldn't be so sensitive guys. What's wrong with a guy just wanting to have a little fun?


3:00am Friday Morning
A no-name ally in DC

The shadows slithered down the street, frolicking in delighted rapture. A shroud of evil permeated the blackness of the night.

With each step the man took, another shadow joined into the background of muffled stealth. With malevolent ease the shadows shimmered out of doorways, under dilapidated, junked old cars and into alleyways. It was an orgy of darkened obfuscation, bewitching and palpably obscure.

As his weary steps propelled him forward, the man stumbled and righted himself, leaning against a broken fire escape ladder.

He pressed his forehead against the cold, rusted metal, wishing he could find something within himself to define who he was.

For a man who lived so comfortably inside his own magnificent intellect, it was eerily frightening to not be able to call upon his own resources. He was stumbling blindly down a darkened ally lost in his own mind.

With each light post the man passed, there was the accompanying pop of tiny transformers as light bulbs shattered, raining shards of glass on the concrete. The darkness enveloped him as the shadows screamed and hissed. Looking at his hand, the man saw tiny rivulets of blood soak his fingers. One of the glass shards had embedded itself in his palm.

Oblivious, to the pain, the man paused, standing in front of a large dumpster. Opening the top, he pulled out several boxes, settling some on the ground, as groundcover, and pulling the rest over his reclining body, to use as a corrugated blanket.

He didn't belong on the streets. This place was foreign to him, frightening to him. He had someplace else he could be, someplace else he should be. But he also feared going there, for he feared what he might do. Fox Mulder feared the evil within that held him captive. He feared the monstrosity he was becoming and he had just enough control left to fight awhile longer. He would not go home tonight.

Mulder would protect Scully for as long as he could from the evil that was he.



Chapter 7:

The X-Files Office
Friday Morning

Scully unlocked the office door, shoving it open with her shoulder. She juggled a stack of files someone had handed her in the elevator, two cups of Barney's coffee, and her briefcase. Pushing the door closed, she dumped her junk, setting the styrofoam cups of hot coffee down on her desk.

Pulling the plastic cover off, she took a tentative swallow, assessing the coffee's temperature.

Perfect.

She hung her black trench coat over the hook by the door, and bent down to examine a snag in her hose. She had caught it on a file cabinet up on the third floor when she'd dropped off her report on the shooting. Another shooting review board, that was just great. At least she knew the ropes. So much for the concept that FBI agents rarely had to draw their weapons.

At least she knew this review was perfunctory, a rubber stamp for the file. No one doubted she had justifiable cause.

Sighing, she booted up her computer, took another swallow of coffee, and looked at her watch. What was up with Mulder?

He was running more late than usual this morning. She smiled in anticipation; she'd missed him last night. Except for those few instances beyond their control, she and Mulder hadn't spent a night apart in weeks. Rolling over in bed last night to find his side empty had been disconcerting but not so troublesome as was his strange behavior.

Scully heard the jangle of keys outside the office door.

Pulling the plastic lid off his cup, she turned expecting to see her partner enter. Instead her ears bore witness to a string of oaths as Mulder dropped his keys and banged his head on the door while retrieving them. Finally realizing the door was already open, Mulder shoved his way in. He stumbled, his momentum carrying him past the doorway into his desk.

Clouting his shin on the desk's edge, he hopped his way into his chair, cursing the whole way.

"Damn! Damn! Damn!"

Stifling a smart comment, she got a closer look at her clumsy partner. Mulder's suit jacket was wrinkled, his tie crooked, pulled loose and off to one side. His collar was unbuttoned.

His hair was out of control, more so than usual; the weed wacker look had been replaced by spiky tufts where his fingers had haphazardly combed. His eyes were blood shot, rimmed red from lack of sleep and something else. If she didn't know better she would say he was struggling with one hell of a hangover.

Wait a minute? Wasn't that the same suit he'd been wearing yesterday?

"Mulder...?"

"Scully, I'd really prefer it if you wouldn't speak so loudly.

I'm right next to you. There's no reason to shout, " Mulder whined, reaching for his cup of coffee.

"What's going on? And what's wrong with your hand?" Scully said, reaching over to get a better look at the hand holding the cup.

Yanking it away from her curious eyes, Mulder stuffed his palm inside his trouser pocket.

Totally confused, Scully took in his disheveled appearance, his unshaven face and unkempt comportment. Leaning back on her heals, she said, "Mulder. You have a hangover."

"No, duh, Scully. What clued you in?"

"What's gotten into you? Getting drunk, during a work week," Scully asked, sitting down across the desk from him. "I thought you were just going to play some poker with the guys. Why are you still in your suit from yesterday? It looks like you slept in it."

"Look. My head hurts, my mouth feels like I've breathed in a Sahara desert sandstorm and large copious quantities have collected in my tear ducts. I'm not in the mood for you to play mother hen. Unless you have some aspirin in your little black bag, Dr. Scully, I'd prefer saving the twenty questions for another time."

Rising from his desk, knocking the trash can over on the way out, Mulder headed for the door. "And, in case you'd like to keep tabs of my whereabouts, you can find me in the men's room.

However, I'd enter with caution. It won't be pretty."

With that, Mulder stalked out, slamming the door behind him.

Scully sat there, transfixed, her eyes on the closed door Mulder had slammed in her face.


Men's room

Mulder shoved the men's room door open. Walking to the sink, he turned on the tap, watching the water swirl down the drain.

After several seconds, he placed his hands beneath the cold liquid, pooling it between his palms and raising it to his face. Thoroughly drenching his clammy skin, he barely noticed the soothing balm the water offered.

Cupping his hands once more, he let the water collect. He opened his fingers slightly and watched, transfixed, as the pool dribbled between his digits. Finally, turning off the tap, he grabbed a paper towel from the dispenser. Mulder lowered the paper towel, crushing it between his fingers. He stared at his mirrored reflection, truly seeing the derelict appearance Scully had noted. Yet, he saw more than that, much more.

He leaned in toward the glass only to suddenly draw back.

He blinked, shaking his head yet unable to dismiss the snapshot image of anguish that had fluttered over his features, a tormented countenance that was quickly cloaked, covered with a mask that

concealed the terror in his eyes and the exhaustion of his spirit.

In that blink of an instant, lucidity had come upon him, and he saw his face replaced once again by the hideous countenance that had taken residence over his features.

In that stolen moment, Mulder knew what he was up against, knew he had become intimately acquainted with the face of evil, a face he now wore.

And in that secreted second, he wasn't sure anything could save him, even Scully's love.


AD Skinner's Office
One hour later

Scully sat primly in the chair in front of Skinner's desk.

She was her normal, professional self, poised and ready. Mulder sat to her right. He had cleaned up somewhat in the last hour.

yet still wore the same suit. He had at least combed his hair she noticed, along with having washed his face. His eyes, thankfully, didn't appear quite so bleary. But...his demeanor hadn't improved.

Mulder's posture coincided with his rotten attitude. He was slouched down in his chair, his body language already showing contempt. It was obvious from Skinner's corresponding body language that he was not in the mood for Mulder's particular brand of insolence. When Skinner finally spoke, he came right to the point.

"Agents, I called this meeting to clarify a few things. I expect...," he began, letting his eyes move from Scully and then to Mulder where he let them rest, "...your full cooperation."

Mulder stared back at him blandly, almost bored. Skinner drew himself up in his chair, straight, stiff, and even less happy.

"Sir? Is anyone expressing doubt as to my judgment about using deadly force?" Scully voiced, slightly leaning forward in her chair. Skinner's head swiveled towards her.

"No, Scully. No one doubts that this was a righteous shooting."

"You're damn right it was righteous," Mulder chimed in from his slumped position in his chair. "That priest would have killed Meg, I mean, Ms. Michaels, if Scully hadn't taken him out."

Skinner's eyes narrowed, almost imperceptibly, before he turned towards Mulder. "Agent Mulder. Is there a...problem here? Do you have some issues with these proceedings? Or are you not feeling well?" Skinner queried curtly, noting Mulder's disheveled appearance.

"Sir?" Mulder asked, raising an eyebrow.

"You seem...less than enthused to be here..." Skinner let his voice trail off slightly and fixed Mulder with an expectant look, waiting for his answer. The air practically sizzled with extra testosterone as the two men stared each other down.

"No, Sir. I'm not feeling well. I think I'm coming down with a touch of something," Mulder lied, sitting up straighter in his chair, daring Scully with his eyes to contradict him.

"Fine. Let's get through this quickly so you can go home."

"I'd appreciate that, Sir."

"Agent Scully, I've read your report. By the way Mulder, your own report should have been on my desk this morning. I'm assuming your recent...illness...is sufficient cause for its tardiness," Skinner stated, glaring from across his desk at Mulder.

"Yes, Sir. It's almost finished."

"Good. I expect it on my desk before you leave today."

"Yes, Sir," Mulder mumbled.

Skinner gave him a brief nod and continued with his questioning.

"Agents, have we been able to determine why there was no one at the soup kitchen site, in the middle of a workday?

Any indication of collusion on the part of the construction workers?"

Scully, realizing her partner was not going to volunteer any information without great incentive, replied. "Apparently the only people on site yesterday were the indoor painting crew.

When Father Jansen arrived, he informed the foreman that the dioceses felt they had been doing such an outstanding job staying ahead of schedule, they could take the rest of the afternoon off."

"And they believed him? What planet did they beam down from?" Mulder scoffed.

Ignoring her partner Scully continued, "Apparently, Father Jansen did have the authority to grant this impromptu time off."

Skinner made some notes on the pad in front of him. Then he looked up again, his pen poised over the paper.

"Anything else you'd like to add, Agent Mulder? Any insight into Jansen's background that might illuminate reasons for his psychotic behavior?" the AD asked, his tone of voice clearly indicating he wanted Mulder to contribute something to the meeting.

Mulder arched an eyebrow and shrugged. Skinner sat up again, placing his thumb over the top end of the pen. Scully watched his thumb muscles flex and unflex in time with his jaw muscles.

"Everything pertinent will be in my report," Mulder replied.

Turning towards Scully, he gave her an oily grin. "Anything in the autopsy, Agent Scully?"

For a moment, Scully stared at him in disbelief, then slightly flustered, began flipping through her notes. "The autopsy shows nothing clinically wrong with Jansen-"

"-other than the obvious fact that you put a bullet in his chest. And as I said...righteous shot it was, too."

In shock, Scully's mouth snapped shut. Skinner slammed his pen down, hitting the pad on his desk with a short, sharp 'twack.' "Agent Mulder...that's enough. I understand you're not feeling well but your...sarcasm is way out of line and unproductive. I'd suggest you either focus on the matter at hand...or go home. Now."

"Yes, Sir," Mulder said, standing up and walking lazily toward the door. "See you at home, Scully?"

Fighting the mortification of knowing her pale complexion had probably just turned several shades of pink, Scully said, "Go home, Mulder. You need some sleep."

"My thoughts exactly," he said sauntering by her chair. Just as Mulder reached the door, pulling the handle to open it, Skinner's large hand slammed it shut. The door rattled with the intensity of his anger.

"Agent Mulder. I'd like a word with you. Alone. Agent Scully, you're dismissed."

"Uh...sir...I-"

Reaching her eyes with a compassionate gaze, Skinner softened his tone but he was nonetheless emphatic.

"You're...dismissed, Agent Scully. Agent Mulder and I need to talk...privately." He tried to convey "trust me" with his eyes. He wasn't sure she read him. And even if she did, he wasn't sure she believed him.

Scully gathered her notes and stood, heading for the door.

"Yes, sir."

Closing the door to Skinner's office, Scully smiled wanly at Kimberly. She headed swiftly for the elevator, ignoring colleagues' stares as she stormed into the basement office.

"So help me God, Mulder, I'm gonna tear-" she spoke aloud, the bitterness and exasperation in her voice breaking into the silence of the empty office. Then she stopped to consider again.

Ok....Maybe he was just not feeling well. Yeah, and maybe colonization was only a term used in defining manifest destiny. Something was seriously wrong. Scully reached for the phone. Dialing, she waited.

"Office of the Lone Gunmen."

"Frohike, it's Scully. We need to talk."

"Ah...the enigmatic Agent Scully. And what can I do for you this fine day?" the grizzled Lone Gunmen replied. Scully listened to the forced pleasantry and a small chill worked its way up the back of her neck.

"This is about-"

"It's about Mulder," Frohike interrupted, his voice abruptly more subdued and serious.

"Yes, Frohike it's about Mulder. I want to know anything you know and I don't want to hear any bull about keeping a friend's confidence."

She heard the intake of breath on the other end of the line followed by a decisive sigh of exhalation.

"Yeah. We...we need to talk. I'll meet you anytime, anyplace. Just name it, and I'm there...Dana."

Noting the hacker's uncharacteristic use of her first name, Scully felt that chill at the back of her neck snake it's first tendrils of dread right into her soul.


AD Skinner's Office
After Scully Leaves

"Agent Mulder, have a seat," Skinner said, directing Mulder to the chair he had just vacated. Skinner moved back behind his desk, preparing to sit down.

"If it's all the same to you, SIR, I'd rather stand."

Skinner stopped his movement and rose, facing Mulder. Removing his glasses from his face and laying them gently on his desk blotter, Skinner walked around his desk to stand a few paces in front of an arrogantly defiant Mulder.

He didn't invade his personal space...yet. No...right at the moment he was resisting the urge to throw Mulder's insubordinate ass through his office door.

Skinner exhaled slowly.

"Mulder, I don't know exactly what's gotten into you the last couple of days...but you'd better get over it. I have to tell you, your unprofessional remarks at the crime scene yesterday didn't go unnoticed by me. The only thing that kept me from calling you on the carpet then was Agent Scully's plea on your behalf. In fact, quite often it's Scully's respect and loyalty to you that keeps me from coming down on you like the wrath of God."

Mulder's face reddened and his eyes narrowed in anger.

"I don't need her to fight my battles for me. I am quite capable of handling things on my own."

"Capable of what? Getting your sorry, insubordinate ass censured? Is that what you want Mulder...another OPR hearing? Because if that's your idea...please...do yourself a favor. Change your tune. If I have to go before OPR with you again...you're going to be twice as sorry. And Agent Scully's lobbying on your behalf isn't going to make a damn bit of difference," Skinner replied, his voice a low rumble.

"Is that right? And when did you become such an expert on Agent Scully, sir? When did you suddenly become the authority on her motivations on my behalf?"

"It's my job to evaluate her performance, Mulder. It's quite easy to see the integrity Agent Scully has. She's an asset to you, always has been even though you have a tendency to treat her as an afterthought."

Skinner paused, trying to decide how to frame his next words.

"As for that remark about your personal relationship...I'll chalk that up to how ill you must be feeling. I know Scully's a consummate professional and-"

"Oh...I sure know what you'd like to be consummating..." Mulder murmured under his breath.

Skinner froze. Slowly he moved forward. Standing toe to toe with Mulder, he stared intently at him. His eyes, without the masking effect of his lenses, were hard, the pupils like two chips of brown rock piercing through Mulder's bravado.

His breathing was harsh; his anger barely restrained.

"What... did... you... say?" he hissed into Mulder's face.

There was silence...silence except for the harsh breathing of two men and the ticking of the clock on Skinner's wall.

Then Mulder's shoulders slightly sagged in apparent submission, his eyes sliding away from the AD's face.

"Nothing, sir. I didn't say anything of consequence or pertinent to this...discussion," he mumbled.

Skinner's face tightened as he struggled to control his anger. He shifted, moving his body even closer and Mulder's eyes snapped back to his face. The AD held Mulder's gaze and then, his voice low and harsh, proceeded to dress him down.

"If I... EVER... hear you speak in such a disrespectful way, to or about, Agent Scully or any other female agent, I will have you out of here so fast your head will spin. And if you continue this insubordinate behavior, I'll place a reprimand in your jacket. As it is, I'm going to give you a break.

I want you to speak with the bureau psychologist, Mulder. I understand the stress of working with VCS and I'm concerned you've reached your limit. I expect you to make an appointment today. In the meantime, consider yourself on administrative leave until I receive a report from the doctor telling me you're fit for duty. Do I make myself clear!?"

"As crystal, sir," Mulder said.

Skinner nodded and stepped back. Mulder was practically vibrating with anger.

"Good. Then you're dismissed, Agent Mulder."

Mulder slammed the door on his way out, leaving the outer office and purposefully striding down the hall to the elevator.


THE Apartment of Les Franklyn and Meg Michaels
Friday Afternoon

"Agent Mulder?"

"Fox. I thought I told you to call me, Fox," Mulder corrected, stepping into Meg's apartment. It was dark. The drapes were pulled tightly; there was only one small lamp on. There wasn't even a fire in the fireplace to warm the room.

"Uh... Fox. Is there something we needed to discuss about the case? Something further...'cause if there's not, this is really not a good time. I'm trying to handle all the arrangements for Les' funeral," Meg sighed, sitting down on the end of her couch. "Les and funeral in the same sentence just sounds too ludicrous."

"I can imagine. You must be in shock," Mulder said, sitting on the couch next to her.

"It's just...it was so sudden. One minute Les was calling me the love of his life, the next minute he was gone. I didn't even get the chance to say...goodbye. I didn't get the chance to tell him how there'll never be anyone else...how I'll never...fee-"

Meg dropped her head to her chest, tears trailing down her face, streaking it with abandon. Her sobs increased with each intake of breath, each more painful than the last. There was nothing cathartic about this onslaught in the least. It was just an open wound, too raw, too overwhelming.

Mulder reached over to her, pulling her trembling form into his. She tensed. But he crooned soft words of empathy, small little "shhh....it'll be alright..." and she began to relax. He embraced her slight body. Placing his hand upon the crown of her head, he began lightly stroking her hair. Meg felt the gentle touch of his hand as he trailed it through her curls, soothing with each stroke.

As her sobs abated, and the emotional storm passed, Mulder reached over her and collected a box of tissues from her coffee table. Pulling one out, he offered it to her.

"I'm truly sorry for your loss, Meg. I know my words cannot make your grief any less but I do want you to know if there's anything...All you need to do is ask."

Using the tissue to wipe her tears, Meg asked, "Agent Mulder, do you normally give such personal attention to crime victims?

Your solicitousness is commendable but it seems above and beyond mere professional courtesy."

"Let's just say I have felt personally responsible for some of your trials, Meg. If Scully and I had worked harder to convince you to accept police protection, Les might still be alive."

Letting Mulder's words flow over her, Meg's eyes pooled again.

"Yeah...well If I hadn't been so mule-hea...ded, I would have accepted that protection or at the very least not have ditched Les and gone off on my own. By putting my life in danger, I forced Les into a situation he was not equipped to handle.

It's all my fault..."

Mulder stared intently at Meg. She met his gaze, and suddenly found herself moving slightly forward...hypnotically...entranced.

She knew he would kiss her, she knew his intent. And, although she knew how terribly wrong it was, she lessened the distance between them.

Without control, as though she were compelled, she accepted his advances. At the first graze of his lips, she trembled, noticing their coldness.

Her eyes closed, their mouths fused together with frenzied lust. Finally, their lips parted, the warmth of her breath mingling with his. They kissed again, their tongues twining together in a frantic dance.

Meg moaned with the pleasure of his touch, succumbing to its delight as his hands followed mouth, touching her face, her neck, the V of her shirt. She was mesmerized. Out of body, tempted in ways that were unfathomable to her...and then...

she was back...

back in the kitchen...in the blood...

crooning her soft goodbye lullaby to Les...'put a little sugar in my bowl'...and she remembered.

Oh,God... SHE REMEMBERED... HIS EYES... MULDER'S EYES...

They had looked at her over the dead body of Father Jansen.

Violently pushing Mulder away, Meg scrambled up from the couch.

"Agent Mulder, I think you should go. I...uh...don't know what came over me, but I am not myself."

She needed to get him out of here before he became suspicious.

Mulder was deadly. She knew that without a shadow of a doubt.

Out of the corner of her eyes, she became aware of the shadows.

The room was crawling with them. Literally. They slithered over the walls, in every nook and cranny. They were alive and they mocked her, taunted her, reminded her of their presence at the soup kitchen.

"Meg, I think I should stay. I don't think you should be alone," Mulder entreated, trying to coax her back with his voice. Reaching out, he tugged on the edge of her oversized sweatshirt, pulling her down towards the couch again.

"Uh...no.. what about Agent Scully? In fact, I had a message from her. I really need to call her back," Meg said, reaching for the phone on the end table.

Mulder grasped her hand. "Somehow I doubt that Meg. I was with Scully most of today and I don't remember her calling you."

Mulder rose from the couch; the shadows swirled faster and faster with frantic glee. He paced the room, like a caged animal, back and forth, repeating the same pattern over and over. Until he stopped directly in front of Meg and said, "No, Meg. I really don't think we need Agent Scully involved in this do you?"

As he reached for her, the doorbell rang startling Mulder, and providing the escape Meg needed. Rushing past him, she opened the door. Flipping on the overhead light, she noticed the shadows vanish. Quickly she heralded in several neighbors carrying casseroles and bundt cakes.

Catching the evil intent in Mulder's eyes, the look of unmitigated rage from having his plans thwarted, Meg fought the urge to turn and run. Instead she watched him leave.

She watched the face of evil walk out her door, into the dwindling afternoon sun.

And she froze inside.

Stroking the life within her, Meg knew, she knew Mulder was possessed with the very same evil which had resided in Father Jansen.

She had to get to Scully; she had to let her know.


In the alleyway outside Meg's apartment, Mulder huddled in a corner. His body shook with gut-wrenching heaves as he threw up.

It was as though he tried to purge bile from his throat, tried to disgorge the putrid essence of what he was becoming. His body trembled as tears overwhelmed him and gasping sobs accompanied dry heaves.



Chapter 8:

Scully drove through the DC streets, one hand on the wheel and her heart in her throat. She told Frohike she'd meet him at the Lincoln Memorial. They both wanted to have this meeting out in the warmth of the winter sun. Neither one liked the idea of meeting indoors. She could tell Frohike was spooked and this knowledge had only increased her own anxiety.

Concentrating on her driving and the meeting that was to come; Scully almost missed the ringing of her cell.

"Scully."

"Agent Scully? This is Meg Michaels."

Scully shifted her cellphone under her ear. "Yes, Meg. What can I do for you?"

Meg's voice was hesitant as she began. "Agent Scully... I need to talk to you, immediately."

"I'm all yours, at least for another 10 minutes or so, I've got a meeting."

"No, Agent Scully. It's imperative I talk with you, in person.

It's about... Agent Mulder."

"Mulder? Meg look I really have to make this meeting. Can I call you back as soon as I finish," Scully said, zigzagging in and out of traffic.

"No, Dana. You're in danger. Agent Mulder just-"

"Meg, did something happen to Mulder?!" Scully asked, cutting Meg off in mid-sentence.

"Yes. I mean...I don't know. Look I have to see you now! Your life depends on it and...I don't know if there's anything we can do for him..."

"Look, Meg. I'm at the Lincoln Memorial. How long would it take you to get here?"

"Actually, I can be there in 10-15 minutes. I'm in the car now. I was heading for your office."

Scully pulled into the parking lot. Realizing there were no vacant spaces, she reached into her glove compartment and pulled out a special permit. Whipping the car into a no parking zone, she cut the engine. "Meg, look there are no parking spaces. I don't care if you have to park illegally, pull in anyway. I'll clear it up later."

"Thanks, Agent Scully. I'll be there soon... and uh...this meeting's not with Mulder is it?"

"No, why?"

"I just think you should stay away from him until we've had a chance to talk," Meg replied cryptically, turning off her phone.

Scully heard a tentative tap on her car window. Turning she saw Frohike peering through the glass, his fingers peeking out through the cut-off tips of his gloves. Unsnapping her seatbelt, she unlocked her door. However, before she could open it, Frohike had already done so. Reaching his hand into the car, he grasped hers in the same kind of chivalrous gesture a gentleman might have used to help a lady down from her carriage. In spite of their dire situation, Scully had to chuckle. Frohike was good to the last drop.

"Agent Scully."

"Frohike," she said as he released her hand. "Let's walk. But I need to keep the parking lot in sight. Meg Michaels, the newscaster whose husband was killed, is meeting us here."

Seeing Frohike's bewildered, hesitant glance, she assured him." She's not here in any professional capacity. It's...about Mulder."

Walking side by side, Scully was struck by the fact that she and Frohike were the same height. She had to admit conversation was easier on the neck when you weren't constantly looking up at the person talking.

"Look, Agent Scully. I debated calling you last night. In fact, I probably should have...it's just that its hard for me to rat out a friend... you know?"

"Frohike, I assure you this is not 'ratting' out Mulder. But something's going on with him and I'm extremely worried. His behavior is..." Scully paused, as if searching for the right word.

""-'Spooky.'" Frohike said with a small flinch. Scully gave him a raised eyebrow. "Sorry...I know that's the 'S' word but...well I think it pretty much sums up what we're both thinking."

Watching tourists roam the grounds near Lincoln's memorial, Scully was reminded how easy it was to forget the rest of the world when your life was one large struggle. Seeing a small, blond-haired child squirm away from his father, running pell-mell into the arms of his mother, brought a smile to her face. Life did go on.

Still staring straight ahead at the young family, Scully asked, "Frohike, what happened at your place last night?"

"Look...Scully. It's not just what he did..." Frohike began, hesitating and looking down at his feet for a moment. Scully studied the grizzled photographer as he gathered his thoughts. "It's the manner in which he did it...Mulder started off just crass and boorish...Comments about your personal life.

...more sexual innuendo than is normal for even him, at least normal where you are concerned."

Scully stood silently, not interrupting, trying not to show how hurt she was by Frohike's words.

Even though it was out of character, Frohike reached up, tucking a strand of blowing hair behind her ear. Hearing a hitch in her breath, he realized his action was probably not the best idea. It couldn't help but remind her of Mulder. Removing his hand, he stepped back, giving her space. He should never have breached that distance. He was startled when he felt her small hand reach down and grasp his. Linking his fingers with hers, he continued.

"Just before he left, Langly brought this small field mouse into the kitchen. He'd caught it in a trap, but only by its tail. It was still alive. He was messing around with it, getting ready to release it outdoors. Well...Mulder grabbed it from him, saying there was only one way to handle disgusting vermin. He walked to the sink, flipped on the garbage disposal switch and tossed the wriggling mouse head first into the blades..."

Pausing Frohike took a deep breath, then resumed his narration.

"The disposal only churned for a few seconds, then it stopped, clogged up with the mouse. Mulder turned off the switch, reached his hand into the drain and pulled out this disgusting, bloodied glob of bones and fur. He held it, dripping in his hand, and dumped it in the chili I'd made..."

Shuddering with the memory, Frohike turned to Scully.

"Mulder said, 'Frohike, that's _my mama's_ secret recipe'." But, Scully, worse than the act, worse than his disgusting behavior was the look in his eyes. They were filled with some kind of sadistic pleasure. Mulder...was enjoying himself. He enjoyed hurting that animal, but even worse than that, he enjoyed our reactions. Scully, his eyes...they burned ...burned with what I can only call...evil. Just plain, pure evil."

Taking a deep breath, Scully met Frohike's eyes, "Frohike. Ever since I got Mulder back...from the insanity caused by that alien artifact..." Frohike's eyebrow raised at her use of the word, alien. "...I've watched him like a hawk. I guess I've been afraid he might somehow regress, somehow...become susceptible again.

"Scully, this behavior is so unlike before. I don't see how it could be the same."

"But couldn't it be a different manifestation? Couldn't the voices he was hearing before, couldn't they have returned? Driving him insane.

I mean, I know he was cleared for duty, the doctors, the psychologists, all ran over him within an inch of his life...but..."

Turning, she looked forlornly at Frohike, making no effort to hide the tears puddling in her blue eyes. "He can't go through that again. I can't watch him go...through it."

Frohike reached deep into his dark blue, woolen coat.

Rummaging through his pocket, he pulled out a crisp, clean white handkerchief. Embroidered on one corner was MF. Handing it to her, he turned his head looking up toward the memorial.

Scully wasn't sure he was turning away so much to give her privacy from her escaping emotions but to buffer her from his.

For one who appeared gruff, and a tad uncouth on the outside, he was actually quite sensitive. She remembered the night they'd thought Mulder dead and he'd come to her apartment, bottle in hand, talking of "redwoods among sprouts."

Hearing steps behind them, Frohike and Scully turned just as Meg said, interrupting them, "Agent Scully, I don't know what problems you are referring to but I can assure you Mulder's problem is of a very immediate nature."

Wiping her tears with Frohike's handkerchief, Scully turned to speak to Meg. "Meg. This is a friend of mine. Meg Michaels...Melvin Frohike. Frohike... Meg Michaels."

"I'm deeply saddened to hear of your loss, Ms. Michaels."

"Thank you, Mr. Frohike."

"Meg, you said you needed to talk to me?"

"Look Agent Scully, there's not a tactful or easy way to say this, at least not one that's expedient. Agent Mulder just left my apartment."

"Your apartment?" Scully replied.

"Yes, and not because he wanted to. Look, I may be stepping on toes here but I don't have time to be subtle. I know you love him I can recognize it," Meg began.

Taken aback by the woman's forthright candor, Scully was momentarily caught off guard. Feeling Frohike grasp her forearm, warning her to be careful, Scully gently shook him off. She stared deeply into Meg's sad eyes, saw no deception, no hidden agenda to make her wary. She took a chance. "Meg, in the words I heard you say to your own husband, 'He is the love of my life'."

"That's...that's what I thought... Les and I, we talked about you two, how you seemed so much like us... it was actually pretty funny," she smiled, lost in a precious memory. She looked up, meeting Scully's gaze again. "Anyway, Mulder was just at my apartment...and he...he kissed me."

To say Scully was stunned would be an understatement, Frohike noticed she hardly breathed. "And frankly, Agent Scully, if my neighbors had not shown up when they did, he would have tried to do a lot more than that."

"No...that's not Mulder. He would never do something like that.

He would never-"

"Agent Scully, I don't think it was Mulder," Meg continued.

Not one to stand on ceremony, Frohike spit out. "You just said it was Mulder. Lady, did he or didn't he?" he asked, glancing at Scully's pensive face.

Realizing she was heading onto shaky ground, Meg decided the best course of action was to get it all out as quickly as possible. "Ok...bear with me for the next few minutes; let me get it all out."

Meg proceeded to fill Scully and Frohike in on everything she knew, from the time she first went to meet Father Jansen to the moment Mulder walked out of her apartment. Leaving nothing out, she waited for them to call a special hospital unit to carry her away, locked in a very strong straightjacket.

"So, let me get this straight. You think Mulder is possessed by the same entity that possessed Father Jansen?" Frohike said, making sure he understood her correctly.

"Yes. And forgive me for asking..."Meg started, staring at Frohike's earnest face and Scully's pensive one. "...but why aren't you two more astounded by this information? I just said I think your lover, Agent Scully, is possessed by a demon. And you two act like I just asked if you preferred vanilla over chocolate."

With a rueful sigh, Scully answered, "I know this may be hard to believe, but that's probably not the most fantastic thing I've ever heard. Although, I do doubt the verity of your assessment."

"Let me get this straight. You don't doubt the idea of demon possession, you just doubt it in relation to your partner?"

Meg asked incredulously.

"Scully...it would explain his behavior...it would account for the differences."

"I know, Frohike, but demon possession? I'm supposed to be the skeptic, you're trying to get me to play Mulder's role. Who's to say it's not medically related to that artifact?"

"Scully, it's not the same and you know it," Frohike said, as Meg's voice trampled over the top of his.

"Agent Scully, you go on and believe that but I'll tell you, I saw his eyes. I saw him communing with these... shadows. Agent Mulder has been possessed by evil and he's not sane. When I was kissing him-"

"What?" Scully murmured.

"Whoa, wait a minute...when you were kissing Mulder? I thought this was something...he did to you. When did this become a two person sport. Aren't you supposed to be the grieving widow," Frohike retorted, his frustration evident.

"Listen, when he looked at me, it was like I had no control over my own body, my own actions, my own...desires," she finished sheepishly. "Agent Scully, until the memory of him at the soup kitchen came back to me, I would have done anything he asked."

"Me-"

Scully's phone trilled in her pocket. Excusing herself, she reached in and pulled it out, activating it.

"Scully."

"Scully, where are you?"

"Mulder?... I'm running an errand. Where are you?"

"Well, I was hoping to take the 'love of my life' out to dinner. You know, the little place we like up on Dupont Circle?"

Scully shivered with Murder's term of endearment. It was too close to her conversation with Meg.

"Uhh...sure Mulder. I'll meet you there. What time?"

"In an hour... I think, Scully, you and I just need a nice quiet dinner alone. Away from work, away from everything."

Scully noticed Mulder sounded perfectly normal. His voice was warm, and loving. Looking at Meg's fearful face and Frohike's concerned features, Scully said, "Sure, Mulder. Sounds good.

I'll be there as soon as I can."

"Great Scully, and maybe afterwards I can invite Muggsy Scully out for anther game of one on one."

Hearing the laughter in his voice, Scully could almost believe things were all right. "I got game, G-man."

"Oooh... Scully, later."

Closing the connection, Scully felt Meg and Frohike's worried looks.

"You can't meet with him, Scully," Frohike said, cautioning Meg as she began to speak. "That is not Mulder."

"Frohike, how can we be sure? Do you realize what we're saying?

Only yesterday, Mulder accused me of seeing demon possession as a plausible option when he felt Father Jansen was just insane.

And, as I seriously consider that, I realize there is no real proof attributing demon possession to him. Even the Catholic Church would require more evidence than we have to begin an investigation into your allegations. Feelings just won't cut it."

Gently touching her arm, Frohike said, "Scully, he kissed her.

Mulder would never do that."

"No, Frohike. Mulder wouldn't. Without a doubt that is the one thing of all this I have faith in


Mulder's love for me. He would not betray that, at least not when he was in his right mind."

Pausing in contemplation, Scully continued, "It's as though he's purposefully doing things to bring attention to himself. Make us question his behavior. The question is, is it demon possession or a cry for help from a man slipping into insanity."

Biting her lip, trying to keep her emotions in check, Scully watched Frohike dig furiously through his pockets. Pulling out a crumpled piece of paper, he handed it to her.

Carefully unwrapping it, she read the words: "Help...me...please..."

"Where did you get this?" she asked, tracing her finger over the handwriting that was painfully familiar.

"This morning, when I was cleaning up, I found it crumpled, thrown in with the dregs of last night's game."

With dogged determination, Frohike refused to give up, "Scully, we need help. You and Mulder both need protection."

"Frohike, Mulder won't hurt me. He'd kill himself before he'd allow himself to hurt me." And then, as if hearing her own words, Scully really thought it through. Mulder needed to be protected from himself.

"Frohike, I can't involve the bureau. I can't go to anyone there with this. Mulder's career would be over, in the toilet, and I'm not sure mine wouldn't be far behind."

"What about Skinner?"

Searching the horizon, Scully considered Frohike's question.

"There was a time when I felt I could put my trust implicitly in Skinner, but lately, Frohike, I'm not sure that would be a wise decision."

Tired of being left on the sidelines, Meg jumped in. "Yeah, well guys, I'm not sure you've got a lot of options here. If Assistant Director Skinner, can help, I say you go for it.

You sure, however, he won't call the psycho ward on you?"

"ms. Michaels, Skinner's been known to be open to... 'extreme possibilities,," Scully said, looking at her watch.

"Listen, Frohike, take my car; find Skinner. Fill him in and get his take. Meg, I need you to drop me at the Smithsonian metro stop. I can get to Dupont Circle faster that way. It's too close to rush hour to take the car."

"Dana, you're still going to meet him?"

"Meg, I'm not sure I buy into your theory but regardless, he is the love of my life. And whatever's going on with him, he's not going to go through it alone."

Scully headed for the car, leaving Frohike and Meg behind, staring after her.

"Mr. Frohike, my husband, Les, always said, "'Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.' Does she have that kind of faith?"

Contemplating his answer, Frohike paused before answering. "ms. Michaels, she has faith in Mulder and what they share. Her faith will see them both through. That is a certainty."


The evening was crisp and cold, a perfect late winter night.

There wasn't a cloud in the sky, the wind was mild and Mulder and Scully had just finished a delightful dinner. Leaving Sebastian's, they began walking toward the Dupont Circle Metro. As it was, Mulder had come by cab, so neither one had a car.

Mulder casually threw his arm across her shoulder, making some wisecrack about how perfectly she fit... for an armrest. There was a bustle on the street as people went in and out of stores, heading into international restaurants, moving towards embassy row or just walking the streets window-shopping. All in all, a fine time to be alive and in love.

From his first passionate kiss, just inside the restaurant door as he caught her blowing on her cold fingers, trying to warm them, to the silly jokes he made all through dinner, Mulder's behavior was right on. If it weren't for surreptitious glances at her, when he was certain she wasn't looking, she might easily have slipped into complacency. It would be easy to see this man as Mulder, but she had seen into his eyes. She...knew within her soul that Mulder...her Mulder was no where to be seen tonight and she was scared, petrified in fact.

Mulder was nuzzling her neck, behind her left earlobe, and whispering delightfully sinful suggestions of what he wanted for dessert. Scully felt her inclination to tense up, every time he came near her. His breath was so cold, his touch like icy fingers of dread. He caught her shivering once, and she'd managed to pass it off on the temperature outside. Thus, his arm over her shoulder.

As they descended the long escalator ride into the Dupont Circle tunnel, heavy discussion was the farthest thing from her mind.

Walking up to the platform, Scully stood in the crowd waiting to hop the red line to the Metro Center exchange, where she and Mulder would grab the orange line to the Smithsonian exit.

On such a lovely evening, the walk from there to the FBI lot would normally be pleasurable.

Tonight, it was just one more step in her journey to keep him safe. She hoped Frohike had gotten to Skinner. Although, what they could do, was still unknown.

Standing at the edge of the track, Scully resisted the urge to look down for the lights. She knew the sidewalk lights would blink signifying the train's arrival but it was like watching the little elevator buttons. Maybe if you watched them hard enough, the elevator would move faster.

Mulder was pressed up closely behind her, his hands on her waist, steadying her as people jostled them from behind. It really was crowded tonight. You would have thought it was still rush hour. Finding herself nudged imperceptibly forward, Scully stumbled. Mulder steadied her with his hands and pulled her close again. Forcing herself to lean back into him, she said, "Thanks. It's crowded tonight."

"Yes it is...wonder what's gotten into everyone." Mulder whispered, breathing into her ear.

Scully felt herself shiver; there was something with his voice.

The large white lights in the floor began slowly blinking. The train was coming. The crowd was uneasy. The overhead lights were dimming on and off, causing the crowd's jitteriness to increase. Shadows were filling the tunnel, flitting about regardless of the crowd's movement. It was as though they didn't stem from any particular object but were independent.

Before she could allow herself the luxury of puzzling it out, there was an unalterable push from behind. The momentum of it shoved her forward, Mulder's arms sliding from her waist as she was propelled directly into the path of the upcoming train.

Scully felt her body fall forward, there was nothing for her to grab, nothing to stop her from heading headfirst into the track. The scream tore from her throat as she heard the roar in her ears of the train...passing...miraculously by. As the wind whipped through her hair, Scully felt the strong arms of someone pulling her back onto the metro platform.

Grasping the person who held her, Scully looked up fully expecting to see Mulder's terrified face. Instead she looked into the terrified face of a stranger, a large heavy set African American man with arms of steel, that trembled as they held her.

"Lady, are you ok?" asked her protector.

"I...think so. Yes... I'm fine," Scully said, gently extricating herself from his arms. She was overwhelmed with the number of people crowding around, asking her if she were all right. She saw them slapping the shy, hulking man on his shoulder. Telling him what a hero he was. How someone should do a story. He was humble with his replies, explaining he just happened to be close enough to do something...Thank the Lord.

Scully turned to him and asked, "What did you just say?"

"I said I'm thankful, ma'am the Lord saw fit to have me where I could help. I figure it was His providence that saved you."

Scully looked down for a second and then back up into the man's flushed face. She smiled, her face plainly showing her gratitude. "Thank you," she whispered, too overcome to say anything else.

"Don't thank me, ma'am. Thank God."

Scully nodded at first incapable of responding to the man's simple faith and a trifle chagrined that she couldn't answer. Then she found her voice.

"Don't worry, I will...I will."

Scully turned, her eyes skimming the crowd looking for Mulder.

Where was he? What had happened? Seeing past the throng she saw his back turned toward the kiosk where the DC metro map was posted. He was hunched over, his shoulders shaking.

Walking hesitantly over to where he stood, she touched his shoulder. Turning him so she could see his face, she was shocked to see him in tears. His eyes were closed tightly, his face screwed up in anguish, it was haunting in its misery.

Placing her hands, one on each side of his cheeks, she stroked the tears away with her fingers.

Mulder gradually opened his eyes. It was as if he didn't recognize her. Like a blind man, tentatively he reached out his fingers, barely grazing her lips, and her cheeks where the tears were streaming down her own face. And then, as though given the gift of sight, his anguished eyes beheld her.

His soul sang.

Crushing her to him, he planted frantic kisses all over her face and hair. He murmured words of love, words of rapture as he held her so tightly she could barely breathe.

"Scully...I'm so sorry... So sorry,...I didn't mean to...I couldn't help it...I tried to stop it."

"Shhh. it's alright. I'm alright. You are not to blame," she whispered, kissing his lips with a fervency that belied her fear, that he really was the culprit for her unfortunate mishap.

Then, as suddenly as it began, he pulled himself back. He disentangled her arms and stepped away. His face froze, immobile, all joy gone. It was replaced by benign indifference.

"Mulder, what happened?"

"I thought you were gone, Scully. I thought you were gone. The crowd surged forward and I lost my grip on you. The next thing I knew you were flying before the train and I couldn't get to you," he said, almost monotone in his delivery.

"Thankfully, that gentleman over there was fast on his feet."

"Yes, thankfully," Mulder repeated, looking angrily in his direction.

"Hey, Scully. Excitement's over let's go home."

"I agree, Mulder let's go, but I want to go up top and hail a cab, if it's all the same to you," Scully murmured, looking back over her shoulder at the track.

"Sure, fine, whatever," Mulder said, heading for the escalator.

Scully started to follow when she felt a tap on her shoulder.

Turning, she looked into the confused eyes of a young, teen-aged girl. From her oversized baggy jeans, to the body piercings too numerous to count, she was the epitome of today's generation.

"Hey, lady. I don't know who he is to you but that guy you were with, just now?..."

"Yes."

"Well, Lady. He's the one who pushed you. I mean I saw him push you onto the track."

"I'm sure you were mistaken... That man's my partner. He was probably trying to pull me back," she said, holding on to fading hope. Shuffling her feet, the girl said, "I don't know about that. But I saw his face, right before he pushed you...it was all scrunched up, like he was fighting with himself. Like he was in pain, you know...and, then, it was like he hated you. That's all I know." Before Scully could formulate a response, the girl had headed to the platform edge, awaiting the next train.

As if paralyzed to that spot, Scully stood and watched her. Just as she entered the train, the girl turned, "Hey...lady. He majorly creeped me out."

Scully felt a chill fill her. She looked over to the escalator where Mulder was just starting up. He was just standing there, staring back at her and the girl. Scully realized he'd seen their conversation, there was harsh resolve in his features. As he detected her eyes upon him, his expression reverted once more to jovial Mulder. He waved at her; she waved back. Her hand heavy laden as she brought it back down. It shook; she shook...with doubt and fear.

There was no illusion, each knew the other knew.

** Chapter 9:

A Hacker Bar Friday Evening

He eyed the tall man before him, from the top of his bald head to the tips of his Nikes, once down and then once, back up.

Sure he had on blue jeans, but that's the only thing he had right.

"You call that dressing to fit in? Who you trying to impress?"

Frohike asked, disgustedly checking out Skinner's casual attire.

"You said to dress down," Skinner replied, grumbling.

"I said... you were going to a hacker bar...dress to blend."

Skinner scowled, looking himself up and down. He didn't see the problem: blue jeans, running shoes, t-shirt. Hardly attire that should stand out.

Frohike, on the other hand, saw pristine Nike's a la Andre Agassi, crisp, dark blue jeans and the capper, a Foo Fighter t-shirt. Reaching up he pulled off a garment size sticker, XL, which Skinner had obviously missed.

"Yeah, you'll fit in," he scoffed.

"Mr. Frohike, give me a break. You didn't give me a lot of notice and it's not like I'm a regular at hacker bars."

"Mr. Frohike? Ok. that's another thing, Mr. Skinner. In here I'm just 'Frohike' or 'Hickey'. Leave the mister's and titles at the office.

"Fine."

"I don't have time to re-dress you. Just stay behind me and don't talk to anyone unless you have to. Remember you're here for fun, Mr. AD. This is not a raid, so just keep your eyes directed to the floor." Looking him over, once more, Frohike said," Yeah...and loosen up man. You walk like you're ready to storm the beaches at Normandy."

Resisting the urge to pound Frohike into the ground like he was some short, squatty nail, Skinner reminded himself why he'd even agreed to this meeting, this meeting that went against his better judgment, no less.

It's for Mulder... Mulder and Scully.

Opening the grungy wooden door, Frohike and Skinner stepped into a room that was more hovel than bar. Sure there were the basics: a large wooden bar behind which were shelves full of gleaming liquor bottles; beer advertisements hanging from the walls; peanut shells scattered on the floor; and secluded, dark booths, but that's where the similarities ended.

There was a dartboard, but not like anything Skinner had ever seen. This one had more bells and whistles, flashing lights and gizmos, than his car. Tables were scattered

throughout, covered with computers and other electronic equipment, and every available space against the walls was packed with video arcade games. There was even a "no drink zone"-probably to keep drunken hands away from precious technology.

And the clientele. They were definitely an eclectic group-a recombinant DNA combination of Byers, Langly and Frohike.

Everything from geeky nerds to nerdy geeks. He wondered if he'd feel any less comfortable as a straight man in a gay bar.

Finding an open booth in the back, Frohike slid in. Skinner joined him as Frohike looked over to the bar, two fingers held in the air signaling the barkeep. Figuring he'd been patient long enough, Skinner said, "Ok... Frohike, out with it.

Why all the cloak and dagger?"

Before Frohike could respond, two frosty mugs appeared at the corner of their table. Skinner looked up and found himself eye level with a very well-endowed chest enclosed in a tight tshirt which read," I don't hug or kiss, I byte."

Ignoring Skinner, flicking her wrist at the drinks, the waitress asked, "Put it on a tab, Hickey?"

"Yeah, Merlene. But the big man's payin'."

Checking Skinner out, Merlene said, laughing as she walked away," Dig the t-shirt...Narc."

With a look of supreme 'I told you so', Frohike began. "I'm gonna cut to the chase here. Mulder's been possessed."

"Wha...Mulder's been what?" Sniffing the air, Skinner asked, "And which weed you been smoking 'Hickey'?"

"Look I don't have time to dot every 'I' or cross every 'T'. Our boy's gone and got himself infused with some very bad karma.

He's dancin' with the spirits and it ain't the hallelujah hop."

Reaching into his jeans, Skinner pulled out his wallet. He peeled out a couple of bills, tossing them on the table.

"Pay the ... lady, Frohike. I got better things to do-"

Reaching across the table Frohike grasped Skinner's arm, none too gently.

"I know sitting on the fence is where you like to be AD. Your comfort zone, right? Just enough on both sides that no one knows where to place you in the game."

His steely eyes squinting, Skinner sat back down.

"You don't know what the hell you're talking about. The world is not black and white. Moral absolutes have a way of getting lost when real life intrudes," Skinner growled, glaring across the table at Frohike.

"Hey, I know all about real life, man. I know all about loyalty and trust. But I think that's something you've misplaced in your attempt to swing both ways. Finding it hard to straddle the fence AD or should I say 'AC/DC'?"

With his jaw clenched tight, Skinner responded, "Frohike, unless you want me to grab your little troll body by its scruffy neck and sail it across this bar into Dolly Parton over there, I suggest you get to the point."

Sighing, Frohike relaxed his shoulders. Pissing off Skinner was going to get him nowhere. Signaling the waitress for a couple more brews, Frohike began his story.

After several minutes of talking, he paused. Skinner brought his thumb and forefinger across his eyes, squeezing tightly and then pinching the bridge of his nose. The tension headache he'd had since Mulder's dress down that morning had increased tenfold.

Knowing Frohike fully expected him to discount everything he said as utter nonsense, Skinner surprised even himself. "You said Mulder kissed Meg?"

"Yeah, well as she tells it ... he had more than swappin' spit in mind."

"This from the man who spent six years with Scully before he made his move? Does she know any of this?" Skinner questioned.

"Agent Scully's been fully briefed, Sir."

Stifling an abrupt retort, Skinner asked, "And her take is...?"

"She's confused, panicked, afraid he might be relapsing from the artifact's influence-" Frohike paused, looking directly at Skinner, daring him to break eye contact.

Finally, Skinner spoke. "Is she giving any credence to your possession theory?"

"Not totally discounting it." Looking piercingly at Skinner, he continued, "She told me to talk to you, even though she made it perfectly clear she doesn't trust you."

Frohike watched the pain gather behind Skinner's eyes before the agent turned his head, looking towards 'Dolly'.

"Yeah, well...like I said, not everything's black and white."

"Be that as it may, she's worried enough about this situation to ask for your involvement. Maybe, even, against her own better judgment."

Continuing to focus on their waitress, who was in deep conversation with a man who looked like a biker bar poster boy, Skinner ground his caps, clenching his jaw. "You really buy into this whole possession theory or do you think Scully's right that Mulder's relapsing."

"Frankly, Skinner, either way's got our boy by the balls. And if truth were told, I think Scully's foot's more in the possession camp than she admits to. She's in denial. At least with a relapse, there's a scientific avenue to pursue - neurologists, psychologists, an alphabet soup of Ph.D's."

"That did us a whole hell of a lot of good the last time, or have you forgotten his weeks in the padded room?" Skinner grumbled, staring at the table before meeting Frohike's gaze.

Surprised that Skinner acknowledged any of that, Frohike smirked.

"Well, what do we do about possession? When did you conduct your last exorcism, Skinner? I don't remember that being in your resume."

"Yeah. I can see me explaining that at the Bureau," Skinner snorted, shaking his head. Unless I want to join him in the basement, we're going to have to handle this delicately."

"We? Does this mean you're in?"

"Shut up, Frohike. Let me think."

"Well, while you figure this all out, Scully's cozied up with bad boy Mulder.

Squaring his shoulders, Skinner's posture demonstrated his resolve. "Frohike, I can't put agents on them. There's no way to explain it away in such a way that it would salvage his career. So we're going to have to cover them ourselves. I'm assuming the rest of your merry band are ready."

"Ready, willing, and able, Sir," Frohike said, offering a mock salute.

"Fine. I'm certain you can handle... surveillance detail, tech support?"

Giving him a look of pure disgust, Frohike replied, "Hell, yes! I could probably equip you, Fibbie."

"Fine. I'm going to make a few calls. I'll see what I can come up with; in the meantime...you line things up on your end. You know where there'll be?"

"Yes...dinner and then back home. That's the way I left it with Scully. In fact, Langly and Byers are setting up surveillance at her place right now. We'll take turns watching the apartment, around the clock, 24/7."

"You were awfully sure I'd buy into this cock-n-bull story."

"No, I was just sure we'd be covering their backs, whichever side you took," Frohike said, daring Skinner, once again, to look away. This time refusing to bite, Skinner got up from the table, once more shoving the pile of bills at Frohike.

"You know my number Frohike, use it if you need help. In the meantime, I've got to find the Calusari."

"Calusari?"

"Yes...some Eastern Orthodox priests from one of their previous case files. Mulder mentioned their involvement in his follow-up report. It was a case Mulder attributed to possession. Maybe they'd know what to do."

As Skinner turned to walk away, Frohike grabbed his jacket from where he'd thrown it on the booth seat. As he stood, shrugging into its warmth, he said, "Are you a prayin' man, Skinner?"

"Yes."

"I hope you've not cashed in all your chips."


Agent Scully's Apartment
Friday Evening
A Couple Of Hours Later

If one could describe tension in the air as palpable, than that described the atmosphere within Scully's apartment. She and Mulder had arrived, without further incident. The faux camaraderie they'd practiced earlier had been replaced by wary silence. Each lost in contemplation. Scully was wondering how Frohike and Skinner might be doing, and looking at Mulder she couldn't even begin to determine where his thoughts were.

It was as though one minute he was on the upslope of manic behavior, the next on the slippery downslope of melancholy. His mood was mercurial, shifting from one extreme to the other. His words and actions, dependent on his mood swings, were making her dizzy just trying to keep up. And, the lingering glances he gave her, every time he thought she wasn't looking, were causing her such pain. For she knew, deep within her soul that he was not Mulder, or at least, the Mulder she knew and loved.

Mulder had finally decided he needed a shower, and headed off to her bathroom. Under normal circumstances, she probably would have been quick to join him. In fact, it was only a few days ago that they'd playfully cavorted beneath the shower spray.

But, not tonight.

Tonight, her only thought was keeping an eye on him, not letting him get out of her sight to do damage to himself or anyone else. The only problem was, she seemed to be the target of his obsession. She had no illusions that her safety wasn't compromised, it was. It didn't matter; she still couldn't leave, couldn't leave him alone.

She didn't notice any tell-tale signs of the boys' visit. At least that afforded her some comfort, to know she was under watchful and protective eyes. But, the waiting was killing her.

She knew they'd agreed Frohike or Skinner would contact her as soon as possible but, she was going stir crazy, feeling impotent with idleness.

"Screw this," she said, opening the refrigerator door and examining the contents. Pulling plastic bowls and cartons from the icebox, she began dumping leftovers in the wastebasket.

Extricating Rubbermaid containers, orange juice cartons and several assorted jars, she lined them up next to the kitchen sink to dump into the drain.

Running the sink full of sudsy water, she began scraping the bowls' contents into the opposite sink. As she reached for another plastic container, she felt Mulder slide up behind her.

pushing his body up close to her, trapping her between him and the sink.

Grinding his hips against her back, he leaned over, pulling her dangling hair back behind her ear.

He whispered, "Scully, what are you doing? I can think of more productive things to do than play the 'Merry Maid'."

Trying to turn so she could look into his eyes, Scully discovered it was impossible. Mulder was holding her tight. She forced her body to relax, to not betray the anxiety she knew was escalating within her. With as light a tone as she could manage, she reached for another container, saying as she dumped it, "I figured I'd do this while you finished your shower. I just haven't had time in the last few days; you know how much it bugs me when things begin to ferment in the fridge."

With forced laughter, she continued, "Why don't you go on into the living room. I'm sure there's a basketball game on you'd be interested in-" Realizing she'd brought up basketball, when he'd alluded earlier to having a game with 'Muggsy' Scully, she instantly regretted her choice of words. She didn't want to remind him of that one on one scenario.

Her hands were deep in the soapy water, ostensibly washing emptied containers, but more as a means to hide her trembling fingers. She knew she was in a very bad position. Mulder shifted his body closer to her, the flannel on his t-shirt bringing no warmth to her cold form. In fact, the closer he came, the more she felt harsh iciness invade her soul. She couldn't believe she'd feel fear being this close to the one she loved more than life itself.

As she reached for the sprayer to rinse off another batch of containers, she felt Mulder's body momentarily shift away. But, not far enough. Hearing the familiar sound of metal rubbing against leather, and feeling the comfortable weight removed from her back, Scully realized Mulder had removed her weapon from its holster. Under normal circumstances she would not have still been wearing it. These circumstances were anything but normal.

"I don't think you'll be needing this anymore this evening, Scully. I've got your back."

Mulder took her firearm and placed it on the counter to her right, still seductively within reach. It was as though he was putting it in temptation's corner, daring her to try and pick it up. When she didn't move to do so, he slid in more closely again.

"Here, let me help you," he breathed seductively in her ear.

Removing his hands from her waist, he slid them down the length of her arms, into the water, covering her hands with his own.

He guided her hand and the washcloth over the hard greasy plastic of the container. Caressing her hands as he enfolded himself around her even more, he nuzzled at her neck, breathing deeply.

Scully trembled, not only at his closeness, but also at the pervading chill. The one light in the hallway flickered, and the one in the living room blinked off, like the light bulb had just decided to stop working. The only light remaining in the apartment was the small one over the stove. As each light flicked out, the room was cast into an eerie darkness. Shadows appeared to be moving excitedly around the room, independent of each other, as though they were stalking.

Pushing against his body, Scully attempted to wiggle free of her imprisonment. "Mulder, I think I'll finish this later. Why don't we both go into the living room and watch TV. It'll be nice to kick back and relax."

"Scully, I know how much you loathe leaving a job before it's completed. Look, there are only a few more containers. Let me help; we'll finish this off in no time."

Without giving an inch, Mulder reached for an unopened receptacle, dumping what appeared to be left over chili into her drain. As he flicked the garbage disposal switch, Scully felt the intensity of the room shift. Not only were the shadows cavorting with abandon, but there were also whispers and groans emanating from everywhere in the apartment. She knew Mulder was remembering his little escapade with the mouse and she was terrified.

"Mulder, let me go...I really need to...go to the bathroom."

"Scully, you can do better than that-" Mulder, said grabbing tightly onto her wrists. With a deepening growl to his voice, all illusion and pretense disappeared. "You are a verb smart woman, Dana. Surely you can come up with something more original than a trip to the little girl's room."

"Mulder, I...said...LET ME GO!"

As she pushed more forcefully against him, he tightened his hold. At 5'3'' she was definitely at the disadvantage against his large frame, especially as she was blocked against the sink, allowing her no room to maneuver.

Tightening his hold on her left wrist, Mulder began to pull her hand from the water. He still held the other snug beneath the tepid pool of greasy suds. "I think, Scully, the time for pretense is over. I think it's time we said 'goodbye'. After all, I know it's only a matter of time before you leave me. Everyone always does. I'm used to abandonment," he sighed, stroking the small bones in her wrist that he tightly held.

"Mulder, I don't know where you got that into your head. I'm not leaving you. Ever. I love you, Mulder. I won't leave-"

"I've heard that before, Scully. But, as we know, truth is illusory, and trust has a way of being misplaced for convenience...'Trust no one', remember...You're trembling, Scully. Are you frightened of me?"

"Mulder...no, I know you'd never hurt me...I just think we need to go sit down in the living room and discuss this. I need to make you understand, I'd never leave you."

"No...you won't because I'm walking away first."

"You're leaving," Scully said, trying not to let hope scream too loudly in her voice.

"Yes...after...I'm finished here."

Mulder grasped the wrist he'd been holding tightly and began to move it over the opposite sink. The loud mechanical grinding of the blades permeated her being. She knew his intent. She knew he had every design in placing her hand down that drain. Mulder was not able to stop evil's desires and there were no bystanders to help her this time.

With hardened resolve she jammed her heel down, attempting to strike his shins as she had done yesterday. Only this time, he was ready for her. He was expecting her to fight; he'd spread his legs apart, still trapping her, but bringing his lower extremities out of reach.

Squirming within his arms, she attempted to loosen both her hands. But it was to no avail. He was too strong for her and she had nothing on which to obtain purchase. She couldn't get away.

"Mulder...no...Mulder, love. You don't want to do this. You've got to fight it Mulder. You can't give in!"

"DANA, IT'S TOO Late...HE'S ALREADY LOST THE BATTLE. HE CAN'T FIGHT ME ANYMORE," came the distorted utterance from behind her ear. "MULDER FORGOT TO BE ON GUARD AGAINST ME..HE LET HIS DEFENSE LAPSE. HE FORGOT I AM ALWAYS ON THE PROWL...AND NOW, YOU, WILL PAY THE PRICE."

"NO!!!" Scully screamed as her arm was forced to the opening of the drain.

"YES...DANA-"

As Scully felt her fingers begin to slip down the drain, there was loud crashing at her apartment door. In the briefest of moments, Mulder was distracted. His grip on her right hand trapped beneath the water slipped, and Scully pulled her hand free. Without hesitation, she grabbed a large meat fork from the cutting board beside her. Grasping it firmly, she jammed the tines deep into his right forearm, causing Mulder to bellow in pain.

Without pausing to consider her actions, she took advantage of his painful distraction. Swiftly turning in the cramped space, she reached out grabbing his crotch through his loose sweat pants. With resolute purpose, she squeezed hard, forcing herself to remember she was fighting for her life.

Screaming in agony, Mulder bent, doubled over. Scully ran for the door, flipping the deadbolt just as Frohike was turning it himself. Rushing into his arms, she looked back at Mulder, laying on the floor, his knees drawn up tight against his chest, his face pale with misery. Pausing, with her first moment of indecision, Scully debated what to do next. She wanted her gun, but the only way to it was through Mulder and that was not even an option.

"Scully...RUN...SCULLY, Oh...please God, run...a church...

sanctuary." Mulder moaned, his features in torment, his eyes pleading with her in that fleeting instant of sanity. And just as quickly, they turned back, his hazel eyes replaced with hard, piercing, glowing orbs of red.

Mulder was gone again and the demon holding him was angry.

"Scully, let's get out of here..." Frohike said, grabbing her arm and pushing her out the door. Just as she was shoved into the hallway the door slammed shut behind her, as if blown closed by a massive wind.

Frohike was trapped inside with Mulder.

Pounding against the door, Scully tried to re-enter. "FROHIKE...

MULDER... LET ME IN!"

Twisting at the doorknob, Scully felt it turn; the lock was not engaged. The door just would not open. It was like some force within her apartment was holding it closed.

The hallway was filled with wailing screams and despondent groans that emanated from her apartment. The hallway lights blinked with a macabre frequency. Shadows filled the corridor, racing up and down, slipping back and forth beneath the apartment door, with increasing frequency. Finally, the door rattled as an object was thrown against it. As she heard a sickening thud, she realized the object was probably a body sliding down the wall to land on the floor.

Scully was torn. She couldn't get into the apartment to help Frohike but she couldn't just leave him either. There weren't many who lived in her apartment building and none of them were visible in the hallway. They were either all hiding terrified behind their own doors or not home for the evening. Her options were dwindling fast.

As she reacted once more, kicking into the door, she heard a voice yelling at her from down the hallway. Turning, she saw Meg running up beside her.

"Agent Scully, you've got to get out of here-"

"Meg...Frohike...he's trapped in there with Mulder. I just can't leave him," Scully said, tears staining her cheeks.

"That is...not...Mulder. Anymore than that thing was Father Jansen. We can't fight that. Not like this... we need to get help for your friend," she said, forcefully yanking Scully down the hall with her.

As they reached the outside door, Scully turned seeing Mulder standing at the other end of the hall, in her apartment's open doorway. His arm dripped blood, his face was in agony, and beside him on the floor was Frohike. She couldn't see the rest of his body lying in her threshold but Frohike's arm extended beyond her apartment out into the hallway.

Mulder glared, breathing heavily, his face contorted in a grotesque grimace.

"SCULLY...FROHIKE'S HURT; HE'S DYING. HE NEEDS YOUR HELP...SCULLY," Mulder taunted, kicking the body on the floor.

Hearing the groan his brutality elicited, Scully took comfort that Frohike was still alive. The bastard hadn't killed him.

"DR. SCULLY...I REALLY CAN'T BE HELD RESPONSIBLE IF HE LOSES TOO MUCH BLOOD."

Torn, knowing she should help Frohike, but logic telling her she would only entrap herself, Scully pushed at the apartment building door.

"AH...FROHIKE...DR. SCULLY'S WORRIED ABOUT HER OWN SKIN...TOO BAD, LITTLE MAN," Mulder said, kicking him in the head. Noting that Frohike no longer groaned, no longer moved at all, she steeled herself against Mulder's taunts.

Fearing that she was losing precious time while Mulder regained his strength, Scully edged closer to the outside door.

Whispering to Meg who was partially hidden in the vestibule alcove, she asked, "Do you still have that card Skinner gave you?"

Meg nodded her head.

"Good, you have your phone?"

Meg nodded yes once more.

"Fine. I want you to call his number and when you get the switchboard, I want you to tell them-" Scully whispered as quietly as possible, giving Meg instructions. With one eye on Mulder and the other on Meg, she relayed the means to contact Skinner, alerting him to their crisis and hopefully, getting quick medical attention for Frohike.

As Meg switched off her phone, Scully heard Frohike moan once more. Mulder, for his part, had a pleased expression on his face. He looked down with sadistic pride, as though empowered by his handiwork.

"TOO BAD, DR. SCULLY. I GAVE YOU YOUR CHANCE." Grabbing Frohike by his feet, he drug him back into the apartment. Hearing an agonized scream, Meg and Scully momentarily froze.

Sensing Scully's desire to help her friend, Meg grabbed her arm.

Looking over at the terror reflected in Meg's eyes, Scully strengthened her resolve.

Loathing what she knew what she must do, Scully turned and ran into the night, Meg following her down the steps.

Turning to Meg outside the apartment, she said, "Give me your car keys."

With panic in her eyes, Meg answered, "I can't; I took a cab."

Without wasting time with further discussion, Scully grabbed Meg's arm and yanked her down the sidewalk. St. Mark's was only two blocks down. She knew they needed to get there.

Sanctuary.

Knowing he was behind them, she and Meg ran as fast as they could. Their head start was slim, at best, and she wasn't even sure she could get into the church. So many of them closed after dark. Her sanctuary might only be a mirage in the distance, if they couldn't find a way in before Mulder arrived.

"RUN...FAST...LADIES...IT'S THE LAST THING YOU'LL EVER DO," came the blazing growl behind them.



Chapter 10:

Friday Late Evening

Scully heard the blood pounding in her ears, felt the sweat pouring down her face. It pooled beneath the collar of her shirt which stuck to her like a second skin. The air outside was frosty cold; she could see the breath before her face as she exhaled in and out. Her chest burned with each harsh, gulping gasp as she ran like the gates of hell had been unleashed behind her.

Glancing at Meg, she saw she wasn't doing any better.

They were both winded, yet propelled by the panicked knowledge that Mulder was likely right on their footsteps. With every punishing breath she took, she expected to feel his grasp upon her.

Racing into the front yard of St. Mark's, Scully noticed banners hanging from the entryway.

"ST. MARK'S ANNUAL SPRING BAZAAR. SATURDAY, MARCH -2000"

It would be held in just a few hours. There were canvas tents set up all over the grounds, dunking booth equipment, and concession stand machines. Up close to the church, there was even a corral full of barnyard animals to be used for a children's petting zoo. As Scully raced up the front sidewalk, past the bazaar trappings, she heard a commotion from the corral.

Apparently, their presence was waking up the animals.

Grabbing the large handles on the old, heavy wooden door, Scully gave it a yank. She fully expected resistance to her pull, and almost fell over when the door swung open revealing the face of a kindly old gentleman.

"Ma'am, the church is closed right now. I was just here checking up on the animals. Do you need to talk to someone? Can I summon a priest?"

Not taking the time to respond, Scully grabbed Meg's hand, and the two of them pushed there way through the door into the narthex catching the older man by complete surprise. Slamming the door shut behind them, she quickly twisted the deadbolt into position.

As she turned to face the white haired man, Scully heard an unearthly scream. It was followed by a reverberating thump as something fell hard against the door.

Noting Meg had gone to a window to peer outside, Scully cautioned her, still unsure of their safety.

"Meg, stay back from the windows. I don't know what he's going to do, what he's capable of doing."

As another loud crash shook the door, Meg moved away. She could see the tree branches blowing frantically, the wind whipping everything into a frenzy. Probably an errant branch had blown against the door, but she couldn't be sure.

"Look...ladies...I don't mean to be gruff, but is this something I need to be calling the police about?"

Before Scully had a chance to answer, the splintering sound of smashing glass was heard and a large branch shot through the broken window. It whipped against the old man's head, knocking him to the tiled floor. Horrified, Scully rushed to his side. Reaching for his pulse, she noticed he was still alive, still breathing steady. He was just unconscious.

"Dana, we can't stay here. He's going to find his way in now that the window's broken. There's nothing to stop him."

Suddenly, a memory surfaced from her subconscious where it had been tickling at her ever since Mulder had told her to run to the church. It had been the x-file Mulder had dubbed "All Soul's".

Once before she had been in a church with evil on the outside clamoring to get in. She had told Mulder it had not been allowed entrance over the threshold. Instead it had tried to get her to come outside.

"Meg, I don't think he can enter. I think that's what Mulder was trying to remind me...this is sanctuary, a safe haven. We're safe here."

"DANA...DANA... TIME TO STOP THIS FOOLISHNESS AND COME OUT NOW. YOU KNOW YOU CAN'T HIDE FROM ME."

Scully went over to the window, peering outside into the blackness. All the streetlights and other lamps located on the grounds had been extinguished. Only one light remained, casting the same eerie shadows she'd seen before. Mulder stood illuminated within that light, staring intently at the closed door, a venomous grimace on his handsome features.

He was angry.

More than that, he was thinking, puzzling out a quandary. And, in a moment of perceptiveness, Mulder spoke.

"DANA, I REALLY THINK YOU SHOULD COME OUT HERE, LOVE."

Watching from the inside, Scully and Meg observed Mulder pulling a gun from the waistband of his sweats. He held the lethal weapon casually in his hands, turning it over, peering down its barrel, totally without concern for his own safety.

"Mulder put the gun down!" Scully shouted from within the church.

"I DON'T THINK SO, DANA. I THINK I WANT YOU TO COME OUTSIDE. FOX NEEDS YOUR HELP. HE NEEDS YOU, SCULLY."

As Scully watched, Mulder raised the gun, not pointing to the church but pointing directly at his own temple. Scully's heart squeezed with unfathomable dread as she watched that monster control Mulder's hand, forcing him to place his life in jeopardy.

Unlike the time with Modell, Scully knew there was no way to reason with Mulder; he just wasn't there.

"I THINK, AGENT SCULLY, THAT IF YOU ARE NOT OUT HERE BY THE COUNT OF Three, YOUR BOY, MULDER, WILL BE IN SOME SERIOUS HURT."

"One..."

Scully tensed. All her senses telling her she needed to go outside the building. Now!

"Two..."

Seeing the determination set in Scully's face, the same final decision she'd seen in Les' eyes before he'd thrown himself at Father Jansen and into that awaiting knife, Meg grabbed her arm. There was no way Scully was getting out that door. She would not be responsible for another death.

"Meg, let me go!" Scully screamed, yanking her arm free and reaching for the deadbolt. Just as she unlatched the door, she heard another voice.

"Agent Mulder, drop the gun!"

Scully and Meg turned simultaneously, their eyes drawn to the window. Skinner stood at a respectful distance behind Mulder, his own weapon at the ready.

Mulder spun around, his quarry inside the church momentarily forgotten.

"WELL IF IT ISN'T DADDY WARBUCKS COME TO PLAY HERO. GONNA SAVE LITTLE ORPHAN SCULLY, BIG MAN. GONNA LIGHT DANA'S FIRE!"

"Agent Mulder, don't question my resolve in this. I will shoot you in order to protect them," Skinner said, noting the gun hanging limply in Mulder's hand, "or to protect you."

"OH...I'M SURE YOU WOULD. TAKE OL' SPOOKY MULDER OUT OF THE GAME. MAKES THINGS A WHOLE LOT EASIER FOR YOU, DOESN'T IT ...ASSISTANT DIRECTOR? DO THAT BLACK LUNGED SON OF A BITCH'S DIRTY WORK... A PERFECT EXCUSE, OL' SPOOKY WAS POSSESSED."

Glaring intently at Skinner, Mulder's eyes pierced with an eerie calm. The wind picked up again, howling in its fervor.

The tree canopy above them swayed with the wind's intensity; tents collapsed, stakes pulled from the ground, canvas sheeting flapped wildly in the air. Signs toppled over and folding chairs slammed across the yard.

Skinner ducked, as a large plywood sign whipped by his head.

His eyes tracked the swirling hurricane of debris as items dislodged from moorings and became flying projectiles hurtling through space. The air was deadly as everything not tied down became a tool for Mulder's brand of terror.

The shadows slid seductively, insidiously against Mulder.

Skinner felt them slither past him, hissing obscenities in his ears, taunting him with increasingly bold touches. It was as though he were poked and prodded by dozens of invisible hands. His eyes beheld the world shaking apart around him, the church lawn had been turned into a battleground.

The question was who would be the victor, good or evil?

Glancing toward the church he caught Scully's eyes begging him to do something, anything. But Skinner had not been able to find the Calusari, his resources had not been good enough.

His sources had not panned out with such time constraints.

So he was here on his own. And heaven help the whole lot of them.

Motioning for Scully to stay where she was, Skinner tried once more to reason with Mulder.

"Mulder, I know you're in there. You've got to fight this thing, Mulder. I know how strong you are. You can do this."

For the flicker of a heartbeat, Skinner could swear he saw the hazel gleam of Mulder's eyes returning, but just as quickly as that pulse, it was gone.

CRACK!

Looking up Skinner saw the branch tear loose from its hold. He barely had enough time to cover his head as the large tree limb came tumbling through the canopy, striking him across his shoulder blades, knocking the gun from his hand as it threw him to the ground.

Sadistic laughter deluged the grounds as Mulder slowly encroached on the dazed Skinner. Raising his weapon once more, Mulder pointed it at Skinner's head, his finger poised on the trigger.

"SCULLY...I THINK IT'S TIME YOU QUIT PLAYING AROUND AND GET YOUR ASS OUT HERE!"

"I'm here, Mulder," came Scully's voice from the front stoop outside the church's open door. "There's no need to shoot him.

I'm coming out. See, I'm right behind you."

Mulder turned, checking to see if she spoke the truth. Scully stood at the top of the steps, her hands open in the traditional sign of surrender, of submission. He couldn't see Meg but he'd worry about her later, right now he had what he wanted.

"COME HERE, SCULLY," Mulder beckoned. "NOW, OR I PUT OL' DADDY WARBUCKS OUT OF HIS MISERY."

Scully hesitantly came down the steps, her gaze split between Mulder and Skinner as she saw Skinner reach behind his back, grabbing something from his waist band. Realizing what he had, Scully needed desperately to hold Mulder's attention.

"Mulder...I'm here. You can leave the others out of this. It's just you and me, Mulder. It's always been just between us," she said soothingly, walking a few paces closer to him.

Seeing something in her eyes, comprehension dawned and Mulder swung around just as Skinner stepped forward, pressing a stun gun against his abdomen. The powerful force of the stun knocked Mulder back onto the ground, his eyes momentarily glazed in pain. Taking advantage of his passing weakness, Skinner reached down with the gun, stunning Mulder once more.

The air resonated with hellish screams of pain as Mulder struggled to get to his feet. Skinner, concerned he might do damage to Mulder's body was hesitant to stun him again but what choice did he have? Mulder would not stay down. With firm intention, Skinner placed the gun once more against his chest.

Mulder screamed in agony, falling once more to the cold winter ground. He convulsed in excruciating anguish. His body twitched uncontrollably, his extremities flailed. His head twisted side to side as he foamed at the mouth. Scully was concerned he might choke.

As she rushed up to help him, Skinner grabbed her arm and forcibly restrained her. "Don't touch him, Scully!" he ordered.

"Sir," her eyes pleaded.

All of a sudden, Mulder's body stilled, the tremors subsided.

He lay quietly, gently taking in soft swallows of air. His body relaxed, his muscles rested in placid repose.

"Sc...ully," he breathed, his voice hesitant and unsure, as though it had been a long time since he'd used it.

"I'm here, Mulder," she said, inching closer.

Skinner grabbed her arm again sensing something was not quite right.

Why would electrical current from a stun gun remove the evil?

Realizing what she'd almost done, Scully stopped.

Assuring Skinner he could release her, she stepped back from Mulder's body.

Mulder pushed himself up on his side. Using his upper body strength, he leveled himself to his knees. From there, he stood. His movements were awkward, his gate unsteady as he tried to regain his stance.

"It's gone, Scully. Whatever that...thing was...it's gone," he said, looking at her with his clear, hazel eyes.

Meg had come down from the church steps as all the commotion had stopped. She stayed far away from the scene enfolding in front of her but she watched it with morbid fascination.

"Assistant Director Skinner, I'm ...sorry for my abominable behavior. I don't know what to say."

"Mulder?" Scully asked, looking from her boss to Mulder's earnest face.

"Scully...I can't believe what I've put you through. Can you ever forgive me?" he said, stepping in her direction.

"Agent Mulder!" Meg shouted from where she stood at the group's periphery.

"Meg. I...There are no words I-"

"-Agent Mulder. Is it typical for you to beat a friend to death? I'm surprised you haven't shown more remorse about poor Mr. Frohike."

Caught off guard, Mulder stopped and stared at Meg's determined face. Turning away he sought out Scully's accepting eyes, knowing he'd find an ally there.

But, instead of love and trust, her eyes bore into his soul, seeing the evil that still resided there. She knew this was still not Mulder. The trickster was once again trying to hide in plain sight. Her own soul wept with frustration.

With a growl of animalistic proportion, Mulder barreled through the group directly towards Scully. Skinner jumping in front of her, slammed the stun gun once more into his chest.

Bellowing in pain, Mulder staggered several paces back where he crashed into the corral fence. Wood splintered as Mulder fell headlong into the pen among the terrified animals.

With the collapse of the fence, animals began to gingerly make their way from the pen. Mulder remained splayed out on the ground. His body was still, not a muscle twitching as the animals one by one stepped over and around him.

Meg watched Skinner and Scully traverse the short distance to the pen, peering inside at Mulder's unconscious body. She felt their concern, she knew Scully's desperation.

Meg watched Scully suddenly bend down in the corral next to the unconscious Mulder. She reached for his legs as though she were about to grab them. Skinner placed a firm hand on her shoulder, stalling her action with his words. "Don't touch him, Scully!"

Shaking his arm off she turned to face her boss. "Look, I remembered something from an old case...it was what Mulder was trying to tell me earlier. Evil can't enter the church. We have to get that out of him. There's no better time than when he's unconscious. Help me drag him into the church."

Noting Skinner's moment of indecision, she appealed once more.

"Please, I can't do it alone."

With a look at her expectant, hopeful face, Skinner thought of all the times he'd been forced to deny her. This would not be one of those times. Handing Scully the stun gun, he bent down and hiked Mulder's lifeless body up over his shoulders in the traditional firefighter's carry. Mulder's extremities dangled loosely.

Stepping over the broken fence, walking through the assorted animals milling absently in the corral and around the yard, Skinner headed for the church. Scully attempted to clear a path for him, shooing animals aside like she was some petite shepherd.

Most of the animals left, wandering off into the various booths and out into the street, but a few straggled behind in the yard.

They were content to follow them towards the sanctuary, bleating excitedly beside them, perhaps thinking they might get food, if they stayed close at hand.

The shadows had grown still when Mulder had been stunned Unconscious. It was as though they had been holding their collective breaths.

Now, they began to stir in frightening intensity. Their screams and howls filled the church yard as they moved closer and closer to Skinner and Scully. Their numbers increased in hideous proportion.

Meg, feeling the violence escalating in the air, ran ahead to the church doors preparing to open them as Skinner and Scully got closer with their burden. Shooing the animals off the stoop, she dodged flying debris as the air circulated once more like a small tornado had landed in their midst. She could see Scully and her boss making their way slowly forward, their steps being impeded not only by restless animals but by the shadows themselves.

No longer content to slide insidiously against Skinner and Scully, it was as though they were actively clawing at the duo.

The shadows pushed and pulled at them, in hopes of keeping them from the door. Meg was ferevently praying that Mulder would remain unconscious long enough for them to enter the church.

Yanking at the heavy doors, Meg was getting nowhere against the push of the wind. She couldn't get them to budge. Scully joined her on the steps, adding her determination into the mix as the two women pulled with everything they had. Just as it looked as though Skinner was going to have to lay Mulder down to help, the door swung open.

The old gray-haired caretaker had pushed on the doors from the inside, giving them the extra strength needed to achieve their goal. Looking pale and confused, his temple swollen from his wound, he stepped back into the narthex as he saw Skinner approaching encumbered with Mulder's body.

Meg stepped back off the stairs, trying to get out of their way.

Scully entered the church just as she heard a hollow moan from behind her. Whipping around she saw Mulder's eyes snap open, the red glow permeating the darkness as his body tensed in Skinner's arms. Knowing they were running out of time, Scully lifted the stun gun and just as quickly lowered it. As long as Skinner held him, she couldn't shock him.

Realizing what was happening, Skinner unceremoniously dropped Mulder on the top of the steps just shy of the church threshold.

Stepping over Mulder's body, Skinner joined Scully with the old man inside the narthex . As their time was limited, they grabbed onto Mulder's legs and began forcefully pulling him inside the church. His screams of anguish churned their stomachs. It was as though they were torturing him with their movements.

"NO...SCULLY...YOU ARE KILLING ME! PLEASE, STOP!"

Stealing themselves against Mulder's pitiful cries for help, they continued to pull, knowing that it wasn't truly Mulder who spoke.

They had to get him inside before the evil had regained its strength and could fight them.

The howling in the church yard intensified. The shadows screamed in rage and Meg was pelted with invisible hands and flying debris. She bent, huddled over trying to protect the baby from the demonic onslaught. She knew Scully could see her plight but was unable to help her as she and Skinner were intent on dragging Mulder's body inside before the evil could gather its strength and stop them.

As Mulder's feet crossed the threshold, he screamed and writhed in incredible agony. His body seized up and a large black shadow oozed out of him, hovering over the part of his body that still remained outside the church. With renewed strength, Skinner and Scully yanked once more on his legs pulling Mulder all the way into the church narthex.

With one final agonizing shriek the shadow burst forth and fled Mulder's body, screeching obscenities into the air and disappearing into the darkness outside. Mulder went still, his body totally quiet as he lay just barely within the church door. Scully gathered him up in her arms, pulling his head into her lap, gently stroking his face as she cried silent tears over him.

Skinner stood, looking out the door at Meg who was still huddled on the ground. The shadows had backed away as though unsure what was happening. They were still visible, gathered around the periphery of the yard but they had stopped their vicious attack on Meg. Hearing the plaintiff bleating of a sheep, Skinner looked down at one small animal that still remained on the steps. This wee one had not been scared away with the rest but had remained, still hopeful that it might get a hand out.

Skinner started out the door in order to help bring Meg inside.

He cast a leery glance around him before looking back at Meg, holding out his hand, beckoning her.

"Meg. Come inside," Skinner shouted over the roaring wind.

As though in a trance, Meg got up from the ground where she'd been curled up. Her eyes fell upon the gun Agent Mulder had dropped when Skinner had stunned him earlier. Finding the compulsion too great to ignore, she reached down and picked it up. The weight and feel were totally foreign in her hand. But, she knew it was where it should be.

With a large blistering exhale, the shadows began to stir; they writhed in delighted anticipation as Meg began hesitant steps toward the church.

Meg looked as though she were listening to the wind's roar.

Her face took on the mask of peaceful resolve. She had made her decision. Looking around at the lingering, insidious shadows of darkness, she knew what she had to do.

Turning she walked to the steps of the sanctuary, her stride purposeful and steady. She raised the gun, steadied it in front of her, aiming it at Skinner.

He froze.

He watched her tighten her grip, lining up the muzzle to aim for his chest.

Without further thought, Skinner reacted with instincts honed from long ago battles. He dove from the steps just as he heard the chamber click in Mulder's weapon.

Meg barely registered the audible gasps of "NO!" emanating from the church as she pulled the trigger on the semi-automatic weapon, sending several rounds...

...into the body of a soft, white, wooly sheep.

The earth resonated with a hideous wail, a sound so piercing they were forced to cover their ears. The sheep, covered in its own blood, staggered, bellowing a last death cry, it's eyes haunted with a corrupting red glow.

The shadows screamed; they twisted in agonized furor as they witnessed evil's vessel destroyed. The buffeting wind localized on the dying sheep. Its fierceness was contained in that small area, swirling like a tornado, pulling the hideous denizens of darkness into the animal's bloody body. The shadows were consumed into the whirlwind, their horrifying screams fading out with death's final whisper.

As the last shadow was engulfed, the sheep fell, its body quaking with small tremors, until with a last gasp, it stopped.

And blissful silence reigned once more.

Dropping the gun, Meg covered her face with her hands, falling to her knees, tremendous sobs wracking her body. Her small frame shook with the uncontrollable fury of her grief.

Skinner getting up from the ground, grabbed the gun from where she had dropped it and flipped the safety back on. His face still tense from his exertions, he tucked the weapon into his waistband. For a moment he watched the sobbing woman as though he wasn't sure he should touch her. But as Meg poured out her tears in gut wrenching moans, his face softened and he gently enfolded Meg's inconsolable body into his own strong arms. As the fury subsided, she began to murmur. "I heard him. I heard him as plain as day...as if he were standing right here, right beside me. He told me to shoot the sheep," she mumbled, looking into the church doors where Scully still cradled Mulder.

"It's alright ms. Michael's. It's over."

"Not for them, Sir. Not for them," she uttered, watching Scully stroking her partner's face, beseeching him with her words to just wake up.


THE EPILOGUE:

ARLINGTON MEMORIAL HOSPITAL

Monday Morning

Mulder sat in an orange, vinyl, straight backed chair next to the hospital bed. He was hunched forward, his hands steepled in front of him across his lap. His head was bent down, almost as though he was praying but in truth Mulder's eyes were closed; he was sound asleep. It wouldn't take but a reasonable breeze to blow the man over, Frohike decided as he studied the placid features of his friend. In fact, he suspected all he'd really have to do was pucker up and blow.

As Frohike contemplated Mulder's state, the door to his room cracked open revealing a smiling Dana Scully carrying a large bouquet of daisies. He silently motioned her in using his good arm, not the one encased in the ugly, fluorescent green plaster cast. Langly had drawn little alien heads all over it with a black sharpie as Frohike had snoozed earlier in the day. He'd hang the longhaired hippie as soon as he was able to maneuver again. As it was, it would still be several days before he was released from the hospital.

Frohike's injuries had been severe, life threatening in fact.

It had been touch and go at first, but Frohike was a fighter.

He'd been a model 'prisoner' the past few days. Peeing on demand, taking his medication like a good boy, even hiding his favorite magazines beneath his pillow when he saw Nurse Ratchet approaching. He was one 'cuckoo' who wanted to fly away from this nest as quickly as possible.

Mulder had been at his bedside from the moment he'd awakened in St. Mark's church. Frohike still didn't have all the details because Mulder was hesitant to talk. His eyes were haunted as though he was still feeling the after effects of every night terror he'd ever had the misfortune to suffer.

He barely spoke, except to apologize. He

hardly smiled even when Frohike pulled out all the stops, telling every dirty joke in his quite extensive arsenal. Mulder was a walking zombie of killjoy. If he didn't lighten up soon, Frohike might pummel 'him' to near death.

After perusing his chart for what seemed to be the hundredth time, Scully stepped to the head of the bed. Bending she gave him a gentle kiss, just at the corner of his mouth. Ok, this was one perk of getting trampled that he liked. Scully had been overtly affectionate.

He could deal with that.

Mulder's head suddenly jerked back. He quickly opened his eyes, scanning the room as though a bit disoriented. Frohike had lost count as to how many times he'd seen Mulder behave this way in the last few days. Although, he had noticed, Mulder was less disoriented each time it happened.

"Scully," Mulder said, running his fingers through his hair.

"Mulder."

Frohike glanced between the two. Something was up. He'd noticed it earlier but had attributed it to Mulder's 'bubbling effervescence'. However, instead of diminishing, the tension between them seemed to be intensifying. He noticed Scully didn't move from her position and Mulder didn't move from his.

They were two immovable forces of nature. In fact, as he thought about it, he realized they were rarely here at the same time and when they were, they never touched.

Something was definitely rotten in Denmark and it wasn't the marigold's Langly had brought. Byers had tried to tell him that you didn't give marigolds as a gift, they weren't a sweet smelling flower. But Langly had insisted, saying they reminded him of Frohike, short and just a tad ripe. Goldilocks was definitely goin' down. Frohike had some shears with his name on them.

"So, Lucy and Desi, how's tricks?" Frohike asked, reaching across to grab his cup of ice water. Mulder, however, was quicker and had the straw up to Frohike's lips before he could grasp the cup.

"Alright...That's it. Scully, outta here. Mulder and I need to have a little talk."

Noting Frohike's determined face, Scully spun on her heels, heading for the door. Maybe Frohike could shake some sense into him because she sure hadn't been able to reach him. Since that first moment of clarity, when Mulder had awakened in her arms in the church's narthex, he had barely spoken to her. He had not been by her apartment. Once he'd been medically cleared, he'd spent most of his time in Frohike's room. He was still on administrative leave until AD Skinner felt he'd had time to heal from his close encounter of the very creepy kind.

Scully looked over at Frohike, frustration lining his bruised and battered features. Seeing his own concern reflected in Scully's eyes, he gave her a small smile, and a slight wink.

He'd see if he could shake some sense into Mulder's hard-ass head.

The door clicked quietly shut as Scully left the room. Mulder momentarily relaxed, realizing she had gone. That was short-lived, however, as Frohike began his interrogation.

"Ok. Mulder. Spill it. What's got your panties in a wad?"

Glaring at the man who had been battered within an inch of his life , Mulder slouched farther down in his seat.

"Frohike, I don't want to talk about it."

"Yeah, I've let you get away with that the last couple of days. I've endured your hovering...geesh Mulder, you'd have made a great mom...and your sullen silence and your "oh woe is me" looks. I've absolved you from your sins at least a dozen times and I'm not even Catholic. Hell, for that matter, neither are you."

"Frohike, I think you should get some rest. I'll come back later," Mulder said, getting up from his chair.

"Leave this room, fair haired boy and I promise to place a listening device in every nook and cranny of your life and broadcast everything from your sexcapades to your exlaxcapades within the very bowels of Hoover. Got that!"

Frohike announced with undisguised pleasure.

In spite of himself, Mulder smiled. "Jesus, Frohike, "my exlaxcapades within the bowels of Hoover." Who writes your lines?"

"Yeah, well I'm improvising here, Mulder. Give me a break."

Sighing, Mulder sat back down. Looking down at his hands which were steepled across his legs again, Mulder began speaking.

"Hickey. I very nearly killed you. I just can't get past that."

"I have, Mulder. You have to understand, man. I saw that thing that attacked me and it wasn't you. It bore no resemblance to you; at no time did I even consider it you. Mulder, I have no trouble making that distinction, why do you?"

"I lived with it inside my head for over two days. I was privy to the most corrupt, hideous thoughts I've ever felt. Even at the worst of profiling, I never went that deep into one of those sick bastard's. This time-"

"-the sick bastard was you."

"Yes," he whispered.

Realizing it would take Mulder some time to get over this, Frohike decided humor might be the best medicine. "Well, all I got to say is if you ever mess with my chili again, boy, I'm going to send the hounds of hell after you, myself. Nobody messes with my chili."

Seeing Frohike's challenge for what it was, a chance to put their relationship back on an even keel, Mulder replied, "Actually, Frohike, I think the rat was a nice touch. I've tasted your chili and even the addition of vermin's an improvement."


"Get some rest. I'll see you tomorrow," Mulder said as he headed into the hospital corridor. Looking at the nurses station, he winked at the woman Frohike had dubbed Nurse Ratchet.

"Oh, and Frohike, it's time for your sponge bath. Be nice to the lady."

"Mulder, no, hey dude, don't leave me. That's no lady, man, that's-"

"Agent Mulder."

Mulder shut Frohike's door and turned to see AD Skinner coming up behind him.

"Sir."

"I'd like a word with you before you go."

"Uh...I've got to go home and change for Les Franklyn's funeral, Sir. Could this wait?"

"I know about the funeral, Mulder. And, no it can't wait."

Skinner motioned Mulder over to the visitor's lounge. They were the only ones there this morning. "How are you doing, Mulder?"

"I'm fine, Sir."

"Isn't that Agent Scully's line?"

"Yeah...well it seems to work for her, thought I'd give it a try."

"I see and how is Agent Scully? I haven't spoken with her in a couple of days."

Mulder looked puzzled by Skinner's words. "Wasn't Scully at work this morning, Sir. I mean I know she was planning on attending the funeral but I assumed she was in the office this morning before she came here to visit Frohike."

"Actually, I suggested she take a few "personal" days. Take some time to re-group. I'm surprised you weren't aware of this," Skinner said, looking Mulder in the eye.

Mulder turned away and looked out the third floor window into the parking lot. There was a drizzling mist; he hoped it would be over before the funeral. "Yeah, well...I haven't really talked with Scully since Saturday, Sir. I guess I just assumed-"

"-for such an intelligent man, Agent Mulder, you should know better than to make assumptions," Skinner said, looking back towards Frohike's closed door. "Well, I thought I'd look in on Mr. Frohike before I head to the funeral."

"Sir, I just want to apologize for anything I might have said.

I assure you I meant no disrespect."

Skinner raised his eyebrow at that. It was a look that said, 'you've got to be joking, right?' "Ok... Maybe I did, at the time, but it was uncalled for and completely out of line. I realize what you did for both Scully and I... Sir, I won't forget it."

"Mulder, do me a favor. Talk to Scully. Don't make any more assumptions that make you look like an ass."

Mulder turned to walk away, then stopped. Looking back he saw the AD begin to enter Frohike's room.

"Assistant Director?"

"Yes, Agent Mulder?"

"I was just wondering...how did you know where to find us?

How did you know to go to the church?"

Nodding his head in Frohike's direction, Skinner answered.

"When I got to Agent Scully's, I found Frohike inside her apartment. He came to for just a moment before losing consciousness again. He said he heard you tell Scully to go to a church, he figured that was where you were. I followed a hunch as to which one. Guess my hunch was correct."

"Glad to see luck was with you," Mulder said quietly as he started to leave.

"Luck, or God's providence. Either way, the job got done."


Monday Afternoon ALL SOUL'S CEMETERY

The sound of car doors slamming vibrated all around her. The mourners had come to pay their respects to Les and had come to grieve with his widow.

Bud had closed up Flaherty's for the afternoon. There was a black wreath hanging on the pub's front door. Les was one of theirs.

Bud had hugged and kissed her, enfolding her like a small child in his giant but gentle arms. Then with a tear trailing down his face, he'd said goodbye and told her not to be a stranger.

Assistant Director Skinner had come, his stance straight and tall, his countenance stoic as he'd shaken her hand offering his condolences once more. She'd raised her eyes into his knowing and compassionate gaze. She felt a bond that comes from having been to hell and back with someone. His handshake had been part of the ritual, the extra squeeze he'd given her cold fingers had been the touch of a friend.

As the last mourners trailed through the receiving line heading back to their cars, Meg was left only with Les' casket draped in flowers, poised and ready to be lowered into the ground.

She looked at the yellow rose she was holding, just like the first flower he had ever given her. Touching the silken petals to her lips, she gently placed the rose amidst the other flowers. With a tearful sigh, she said, "I heard you, love of my life. I heard you."

Turning, Meg stopped. Mulder and Scully stood watching her, their faces composed. She noted the space between them.

She'd seen Mulder push Scully away that fateful morning at the church; she'd seen the anguish in Dana's eyes as he'd barely looked at her. Meg had hoped they'd found a way to start the healing. Obviously, this was not the case.

"Agent Mulder, Agent Scully," she said as she walked over to where they stood. "Thank you both for coming. It was very considerate of you and Assistant Director Skinner to attend."

Scully walked forward, giving Meg a hug. "We had to be here.

For you, for Les-"

"-for closure?" Meg asked, trying to force eye contact with Mulder, who was steadfastly avoiding her eyes.

"Agent Scully, Mulder. Uh...Dana, Fox. After the demon left you did you wonder how I knew which animal to shoot?"

Mulder's eyes took on the barest glimmer of curiosity as he looked at Meg. Scully replied, "Yes, I have wondered."

"After Mulder was knocked unconscious, I felt a terrible compulsion to pick up his gun. It was so strong. I couldn't ignore it. Once the gun was in my hand, I heard my name being called. It was as though it was floating in the wind. At first I ignored it; the shadows were swirling all around. I thought it was another trick," she said ruefully looking at Mulder's somber face.

"But, then I heard Les' voice, the sweet gentle southern twang that he had, the voice I'd woken up hearing every morning for the last several months. He was saying, ...'Meg, honey, love of my life'-"

"Look, Meg you don't have to do this."

"Yes, I do, Dana. You both need to hear this." Grasping Mulder's cold fingers with her own, she held his eyes. "You especially need to hear this."

"Les said, 'Watch out for false prophet's. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.' Over and over he repeated that verse from the Gospel of Matthew. And, when I looked up, there was that solitary sheep at the top of the steps, right outside the church door. It was the closest living thing to the church when Mulder was pulled inside. As I looked into its eyes, I knew, deep in my soul, that the evil was there."

"Look, Mulder, you may not believe what I'm saying. Although, frankly, after what's happened to you, I would think you'd give me the benefit of doubt," she said, noticing the small smile twitching at the corners of his mouth.

"The one thing I know is that Les found a way to protect me and his child. Our love is strong enough to get past the barriers of death."

Looking sharply at Mulder and Scully, Meg continued, "I believe your love has the capacity to get past this. Mulder, before you eat yourself up with guilt, remember you and Dana still have a chance. Don't give the devil this round as well. He's won enough already."

With a serene look on her face, Meg said, "You know at first I was angry at God for the insanity of Les' death. It seemed so meaningless for him to die that way-"

"He saved you from Father Jansen," Scully said.

"He saved her twice, Scully," Mulder said, looking deeply within Meg's eyes, knowing she had seen this as well. "He saved her again at the church...from me."

"Not from you, Mulder. He saved us all from what resided 'in' you. I'm not saying I won't still rail at God for this insanity, but Les' was a hero in my eyes," Meg gently patted her abdomen. "And, he'll be a hero in the eyes of this little one."

"You know he always hated it when I tried to have the last word," Meg chuckled. "Drove him crazy. At the church... after I shot the animal. I heard him one last time before the wind died down. He said, 'Love of my life, now we're cookin' with gas!'"

Chuckling Scully asked, "What will you do now, Meg?"

"Dana, I'll live."

"I may 'sit on the porch for a spell' but eventually I'll get off into the yard and run with the 'big dogs' once more."


Mulder stood in the doorway to Scully's apartment. He was reluctant to enter and revisit what had become a crime scene.

And, not just any crime scene, but one in which he was the perpetrator. From his vantage he could see into the kitchen where his guilt-ridden mind provided every nuance of the horrifying moment he had almost amputated her arm in the garbage disposal.

Tugging him by the hand, Scully pulled him all the way in.

"It's okay, Mulder. Everything has been put back into place just the way it was before."

Mulder survey the apartment, circling the living room. He shook his head in disbelief.

"No, it hasn't, Scully. You can tidy up all you want, and take down the police tape, but the damage is done. And, I'm not talking about a few blood stains on the floor.

"Mulder, I can't tell you how to cope with this," Scully said as she calmly sat down on the couch. "I can tell you I understand what you are going through, but we both know that's not so. You are going to have to come to terms with your feelings of guilt, Mulder, or the evil has not truly left us.

It still has the power to haunt this apartment and...our lives."

"Scully-" Mulder sat down next to her on the couch, hesitantly lifting one of her small hands in his own. When he turned her palm over to twine his fingers through hers, he saw it.

Bruises circling her wrist, ugly reminders of the pain he had inflicted upon her. Flinching, he dropped her hand and started to get up from the couch.

Staying his motion with her firm grasp, Scully whispered, "Don't do this, Mulder. Don't turn away from me, from us."

Pulling away, he agonized out loud, "From the moment that thing took control of me at the soup kitchen, I tried to fight it. I tried to keep from doing what it wanted. As a profiler, I intentionally submerge myself into all the evil this world has to offer. I try to grasp even the remotest glimpse into its insanity. With this, I didn't have to look very far."

"Mulder, I forgive you," Scully said in a soft, certain voice.

Looking into her sincere eyes, he asked, "Do you, Scully? Can you really?"

"Of course I can forgive," Scully whispered, taking back his hand and pressing it against her cheek. "I love you."

"But, can you forget?" Mulder hesitated, pulling back to study her eyes. "Can you look at me without being afraid? With all honesty, can you look me in the eye and tell me that you don't remember what it felt like to have me shove you into the path of an oncoming train?"

"Yes." She proved her point by staring directly into his hazel eyes. "Because what I see doesn't frighten me."

"Maybe you are not looking close enough, Scully. I should frighten you. Evil didn't just seek me out because I was a convenient vessel. There was something else it must have seen."

"It sought revenge, Mulder. Pure and simple, as the Calsuari tried to warn you. It took advantage of an opportunity. It didn't see anything else."

"What do you see, Scully," Mulder whispered.

"Your soul," she murmured softly, leaning in pressing her forehead against his. With burgeoning passion, she began placing gentle kisses over his eyelids, kissing away the tears that slipped unbidden from his lashes.

"Your beautiful, compassionate eyes, Mulder, have always been that window into your soul. You're a man who has seen too much, has taken on too much of the world's burdens and heartache's.

You always feel as though you should have done better, could have done better. I see you better than you see yourself."

"Yeah, well you've been saying I need to have my eyes checked." He smirked with his time honored attempt to laugh off serious issues.

"And, maybe your ears checked too, because you're not listening to what I've been saying," Scully insisted. "Despite the control evil exerted over you, you still managed to find a way to save me, Mulder. It was you who told me to go to the church."

"Scully, I don't doubt you've forgiven me, but you will struggle with forgetting. The first time I lose it while profiling or obsessing over Samantha, you will question my sanity. This, coupled with my response to that artifact, will come back to haunt us. I have no doubt."

Starting to shake her head "no" in response to his declaration, she stopped. Seeing the intensity of his gaze, his unspoken request for only the truth to be spoken, she sighed. "I can't promise not to wonder, Mulder. But, I do promise to be better at talking it out, of not simply saying, 'I'm fine' to cover my fears or insecurities."

Leaning forward Mulder encircled her small frame with his arms, still reveling in the fact that she allowed it after his behavior these past few days. As he pulled back from the embrace, Scully complained. "What's up, partner."

"Nothing, just needing a better angle for this."

Bending forward he captured her lips with his own, sliding his tongue deep within her receptive mouth. They pressed tightly together with the knowledge they had almost had this taken away from them. With a groan Mulder intensified the kiss, mingling their breath as their tongues delighted in reunion.

Sighs, murmurs and the sweet moist sounds of passion filled the room, removing, finally, the haunting sounds of the shadows' wails.

Pushing him off her, Scully stood, tugging him up from the couch to stand beside her. "I believe we have some unfinished business, Mulder. I seem to remember I'd reserved a court for a little one on one."


Mulder lay back in the bed, his eyes nervously watching the shadows that filled Scully's room. The sun had gone down, it was dark now. After their frantic lovemaking, they had collapsed together in restless sleep, both of them haunted by the events of the last few days.

Sighing, he felt Scully burrow in closer to him. Her soft hair tickled his bare chest as she used him for a pillow. Her arms clutching tightly at him as though, even in sleep, she feared he'd be taken from her.

'Oh, Scully,' he thought as he gently stroked her hair. 'What have I done to us now?' Mulder thought of all those times as a child when he'd lain in bed and seen each shadow in his darkened room as a monster just waiting to eat him up. Looking now, he knew that the large black lump in the corner was only her chair. The tall thin one in the other corner was a coat tree, with hanging jackets dangling from it.

His intellect told him these things, the same things his parents and thousands of parents told their children every night. 'Don't worry, honey. There's nothing in the dark that's not already here in the light.' But, that's not true. Evil was always hiding, lurking and watching for its chance. It was the master trickster, always on the prowl trying to find a way to put out the light.

But if you were one of the lucky ones, like Meg and Les, than even the sting of death was not truly enough to separate your love. Meg would mourn her husband, she would rail at the injustice and insanity of it all, but she would persevere. She and her child, Les' legacy, would thrive.

With all that he and Scully had been through together in the last seven years, this was just one more thing that would make them stronger. And, as before, love would survive. Their love would conquer the insidious doubts left behind by the evil.

Nothing would tarnish or blemish what they had.

As he contemplated what miracle had put the two of them together, Mulder heard gentle humming coming from the vicinity of his chest. Scully was tickling him with little melodious exhales of her breath.

She lifted her head from his chest, settling herself more firmly on top of him, laying atop the full length of his body.

She crossed her arms and placed her chin on them, staring intently into his eyes.

"You know what I remembered Mulder?"

"What?" he said as he absently stroked her back with his fingers.

"This little light."

"Hmm..."

"When I was a kid we used to sing this song in Sunday School."

"This little light?"

"Yeah, it was a song about not hiding your light under a bushel basket, keeping your candle burning bright."

"And the significance being?"

"Well, I was thinking of one verse in particular that said to 'not let the devil blow it out'. You're that light, Mulder. Our love is that light and I refuse to let the devil blow it out."

Mulder slid his hands under the covers and up Scully's bare body, where he grabbed on to her hips settling her more firmly over his long torso. Pulling the sheet up over the top of their heads, he joined his partner beneath the covers.

Scully inched up his body, and whispered into his mouth. "Isn't this hiding our light under a bushel basket?"

Intimately stroking the backs of her thighs, he said, "Actually, I looked at this as a precursor to causing it to burn more brightly."

Scully looked puzzled as he began nibbling at her collar bone.

"Mulder, I don't get it."

"It's just your song made me think of one of my own," he said as his lips traveled slowly back up to the corner of her mouth."

Close to forgetting the question, Scully pursued her inquiry.

"And, that song would be, Mulder?"

"Come on, baby, light my fire."


She woke knowing something was wrong. It wasn't a particular sound she heard, more like a feeling. Scully knew without even rolling over that the bed was empty.

Mulder wasn't there.

Getting up, she shrugged into her robe, absently tying the sash as she wandered out of her room into the hallway. As she approached the living room, she slowed her steps. He was there.

She felt it in the same way she had known he was no longer in the bed.

Pausing at the edge of the living room, Scully stopped. Mulder was standing at the window, gazing out into the darkness. He had pulled back the curtains and was staring intently at the street.

The first tendrils of morning sunrise were streaking the sky, giving it a soft mauve hue. The street lamps were beginning to dim; the traffic was picking up as early commuters hit the road.

Scully watched as Mulder let loose of the drapery sheers, letting his hand fall to his side. His body slumped; his head fell forward as his chin came to rest on his chest. Wanting to go to him, she fought the urge, instead remaining silent witness to his contemplation. This was something he was going to have to go through on his own.

Gradually, she noticed the quiet tremors of his shoulders as he began to cry. He hunched over, bending forward at the waist, his hands grasping his knees. His breathing altered as he desperately fought for control.

But, it was a losing battle. His shoulders began to shake more forcefully as his silent tears gave way to heart wrenching sobs.

And, then as though his legs could no longer support the weight of his grief, they collapsed, bringing him to his knees.

She knew he needed to let it out, to let the poison of the last several days drain from his body in cleansing tears. As she debated whether she should allow him his privacy, when all she wanted to do was enclose him in her arms and tell him he was not alone, Mulder answered the question. He stretched his arm out behind his back, palm open, seeking her hand. He knew she was there, he knew her conflict. As clearly as if he had spoken, she heard his words.

'Please, don't go.' Taking several steps forward, Scully got down on her own knees beside him and firmly grasped his hand. His sobs continued, his body shook with the awful emotional burden he was unleashing.

Except for their clasped hands, they didn't touch. He needed to deal with his grief, but she wanted him to know he was not alone. She let him cry; she cried for him.

The emotional storm was abating, his sounds of distress were quieting. Mulder turned and reached for her, gathering her tightly in his embrace. She wrapped her arms firmly around his waist as she snuggled up as closely as she could, practically climbing into his lap.

Scully gently stroked his hair and wiped her fingers across his face, gently massaging the tears away. They still hadn't spoken; there wasn't the need. They just sat, intertwined in each other's arms, watching the sky change from the blackness of night into the golden rose of morning's promise.

THE END


Scripture references:

Ezekial 20:41,43 Luke 17:1-3 Deuteronomy 22:23-24 Romans 1:29-33 Matthew 5:28-29 Matthew 5:30 Matthew 7:15

Author's Notes AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:

I truly hated saving this to the end... but I knew this was going to be long and I didn't want to take up two pages at the beginning of the story...lol. This was my first 200k plus story, my first actual x-file, and I was scared to death about even attempting it. All of the people listed below helped keep me sane over the several weeks it took me to write this. And I would like to offer my heart-felt thanks.

To Paige Caldwell:

Paige is extraordinarily gracious in her encouragement, even when she's telling me I've lost my vision. Thank you so much for your honesty. If this story is better written, it's because you were truthful with me. If I hadn't wanted to know, I wouldn't have asked for your help. It's good having a beta with a gentle touch even while she's pounding you on the head...

lol and having you re-write 3 chapters and part of an epilogue.

To Exley:

Hey, Babe! Ex. gave me thoughtful critique on the very first thing I wrote, Reflections of a Rainy Night, and has been a Godsend ever since. Her beta is unequaled and she's good about telling me what she does and doesn't like. I appreciate her candor. Thankfully, she finished "Jack" in time to put the final spit and polish on this. As she puts it, "now the church scene rocks!." Thank you for letting me borrow Nina too. I hope I did her justice.

To Frogdoggie:

Thanks FroggieD for hashing out the plot and making me work harder. He pushed me to re-write Les' death scene, saying it was good but I could do it better. If it weren't for him, Skinner might sound like your basic middle manager. Even when he was telling me my skinner/frohike characterizations were off, he did it in a thoughtful way. And, since I didn't always listen to him, any characterization errors with Skinner or Frohike are mine. I can be a very stubborn author.

To Tara Avery:

Tara still managed to beta even while writing her own WIP, This Thing of Darkness. That's above and beyond the call of duty.

Sorry about the commas, Tara. They're just in my blood.

To GS:

She allowed me to run this by her as a WIP, finding lots of things I missed along the way. Even when the scenes were painful to read, 'cause she's such a Mulderist, she hung with me.

Just for you, GS, I put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

And to those who encouraged me:

Iona, Carol Sue and Sabine, and several people from Haven's spoiler board, thank you for cheerleading. Your encouragement meant a lot to me, especially when I'd get discouraged about writing.

And last but not least:

I save my biggest thanks for Dilbert, aka my husband, who bounced ideas with me morning, noon and night. He has supported me the whole way not begrudging the time I've spent writing so that I could get this finished in a timely fashion.

And, thanks to my best friend, Carol, who's started watching the X-Files just to figure out who these crazy people are I keep writing about.

And for all of you who've sent me feedback and encouraging words, I appreciate the time you've taken to let me know what you think. You have no idea how much that means to me.

Thank you for taking your time to read this.

(The following song played in the background as I typed the epilogue of this story. Just thought I'd share. :D) Love of my life: Jim Brickman w/ Michael W. Smith I am amazed

When I look at you I see you smiling back at me It's like all my dreams come true. I am afraid If I lost you girl. I'd fall through the cracks And lose my track in this crazy lonely world. Sometimes it is hard to believe When the nights can be so long And faith gave me the strength And kept me holding on.

(chorus)

You are the love of my life And I'm so glad you found me You are the love of my life Baby, put your arms around me. I guess this is how it feels When you finally find something real

My angel in the night You are my love You are the love of my life. Now here you are With midnight closing in You take my hand as our shadows dance With moonlight on your skin. I look in your eyes

I'm lost inside your kiss I think if I'd never met you About all the things I missed....

dlynn, February, 2000

The Face of Evil and my other stories can all be found at http://home.mpinet.net/laster


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