Title - A Parenthesis
Author - Aris "TGD" Merquoni
Written: 2001
Rating - PG
Category - CH
Spoilers - Tooms, sorta
Keywords - None

Summary - Demona tries to summon Cthulhu. Mulder and Scully travel out to the back-end of nowhere to try and stop her. Sequel to "Life Sucks, Bite Me", "Ruby", and "She's a Diamond." Highly spastic.

Occasionally, for posterity, I want to list the reasons that I feel a great idea really *is* a great idea, not a mediocre one. And so, having had the brilliant idea to name this story "A Parenthesis", I decided to come up with a list of reasons so you may all bow to me. BOW TO ME!!

... sure. Whatever.

Anyway. Let me go over the reasons for the title...

Parentheses, by their very nature, contain things. This is a story about containing things.

'A Parenthesis' is also the name of a section in Victor Hugo's book Les Miserables, where he goes and rants about convents and how useless they are. I don't know why this is relevant to the story, because it's not about convents, but I thought I'd stick it in anyway.

The third and final reason - okay, I guess there weren't many reasons why this is such a brilliant idea. But it is a brilliant idea, I swear it! It really is!

Well, anyway, the third reason - really the first, but enh - was a conversation that I had with White Star 2 while attempting to describe this story's plot. Actually, I was describing *another* story's plot, and mentioned that I had to set it after that thing with "Colton and Demona summoning Cthulhu."

She *immediately* responded with rabid interest. I noticed my error, grimaced, and said, "No, wait, I meant with (Colton) and (Demona summoning Cthulhu), not (Colton and Demona) summoning Cthulhu."

After clearing this up, I decided that the English language needs parentheses. This is one. At least, it's titled one. And that's all you'll get from me.

** Begin **

Demona put a hand to her head, and scowled.

It was not as impressive a scowl as it would have been in her natural form, but though the human form she wore by day was repulsive to her, it was useful when conducting meetings with her subordinates and other humans she conned into working for her. But it was *not* suited for the magical workings she was attempting to create.

She sighed and drummed her fingers on her desk in frustration. It was too true that the universe protected the status quo. Especially when someone was working to upset it.

She knew, intellectually, that any mage in the area would be able to feel the Forces that gathered when she began setting up the ritual she was interested in. She also knew that there would be at least a few of them that would recognize what she was trying to do - which was why she'd attempted the ritual out *there*, not in New York. At least the clan would miss the Ripple that came with every move she made to get closer to her goal.

But this! Bad enough that it had taken months to get her supplies at full readiness, but these... druids!

She did not need some pseudo-religious group of chanters going around meddling with her spells. Not now. Not when she could finally-

No, best not to think in 'finally's yet. The last time she thought she would 'finally' wipe out the human race, the clan had stopped her at the last minute. And the last time she'd come up with a reasonable plan, her pet biochemist had been... liberated.

That made her sick.

She had, at least, been able to retain her contact in the FBI. The contact who was waiting outside her door, generally restless. Let him pace. It had been a tiring flight from the West Coast to Washington DC, and she needed another few moments to refine her expression, to refresh again what she was to tell him.

Not the truth, of course. Though that would be amusing... She could just imagine the human's face going blank with surprise as she said, "I want you to eliminate a group of mages that are interfering with my plans to Wake the Dreamer and eliminate your species from this mudball."

Finally, though, she could stall no longer. She paged her secretary with a quick, "Send Agent Colton in, please."

As the door opened, Demona leaned back in her chair, put a professional yet concerned smile on her face, and prepared to enlist the government's help with destroying the human race. Life was good.

Mulder didn't notice the thoughtful look on his partner's face for a good ten minutes after she'd checked in. He was already deep in his own research by the time she got in, but that was normal. She pulled up a chair opposite him and was quiet for a while.

"Did you see Tom Colton today?" she asked as he finally realized neither of them had said anything past 'hello.'

He blinked, the name failing to register at first, then shook his head. "Colton? You mean that guy who brought up Tooms' case?" When she nodded, he shook his head again. "No, not that I know of. Why?"

"Oh, he just stopped me in the hallway today, looking like the cat that ate the canary." Her mouth twitched in an amused half-smile. "Apparently he's got his teeth into a new case that he *doesn't* want you touching."

Mulder stared at her for a moment before bursting out laughing. "Scully, that was *years* ago," he finally said.

"I know that and you know that, but Colton's perception of reality is obviously a little different," she said, twirling her finger in the air. "Apparently this new case is right up your alley, too, which is why he wants you to have no part in it."

"You *did* tell him that loudly griping about my affinity for whatever case he's now on is the best way to get me interested in it?" he said, attempting to smother a chuckle.

"I tried." She rolled her eyes. "He got all huffy, told me in no uncertain terms that this is *his* case, and I shouldn't mention it to you." Her eyes glittered with suppressed laughter. "Oops."

"Hmmmm." He grinned at her. "Maybe I should go down to his desk and ask what this so-secret project is, hmm?"

"Oh, God, not now. He'll come after me for telling you."

"So I should give it what, a week?"

"Mulder!" Scully couldn't keep from laughing. "Can't you just leave it alone?"

"Scully," he looked wounded, "I thought you knew me better than that."

"Fine. But don't mention my name, or I'll fricassee you."

"How *is* that going, by the way?"

Scully looked down at her hands. "Not well. I just don't *understand* all of it. It's hard to even say 'magic.'" She made a face. "But at least I know what I'm doing, now. Sort of."

"Good." He looked at her wistfully. "I guess there's no chance-"

"Mulder, you are not writing up a paper on neo-psychic and magical powers of your partner. Ever. Okay?"

He held up his hands, then went back to his research. After a futile few minutes shuffling papers, he looked up again. "Did Colton say what that case was about?"


"Come on, Scully. It's either something I'll be fanatically interested in, or it won't be."

She crossed her arms and stared at him with an unreadable expression on her face for a few moments. Then she said, "I don't know. You'll have to ask Colton."

"Good. I'll do that."


"What?" He looked innocent at her. She glared. "It might be something *you're* interested in, you know."

"It's Colton's case."

"Well, maybe he could use some help."

Scully's glare took on an entire new level of malice. Finally, she said, "You are *not* to mention my name."

"Would I do that?"


He stood up and smiled placidly at her. "Well, I won't mention your name. Okay?"

Scully shook her head as he passed her on the way out. "Watch your step."

Two days later, Scully was beginning to wish she'd never mentioned Colton's name to her partner. Not on the Tooms case, and most certainly not on this one.

"We didn't *have* to come out here," she said for the fifth or sixth time. "Colton didn't ask for your support."

"No, but I have a feeling there's a little more going on here than just some cult interfering with a business' activities." He pointed out the window. "I mean, does this look like a haven for a devil-worshipping cult?"

Considering that they'd just flown into San Jose International Airport and were waiting in the biggest post-flight traffic jam she'd ever been in, Scully wasn't about to draw any conclusions. She tapped her fingers on the armrest of their rental car and stared into traffic.

The author then remembered that this was 1997, and there was less traffic back then.

They finally made their way from San Jose(ha), northeastward along the Valley floor, until they reached Milpitas and the ass-end of nowhere motel they were staying in.

"Okay, Mulder," Scully said after throwing her luggage into her room and crossing the hall to confront her partner, "Why are we doing this?"

He hesitated a moment before answering, as if caught between a plausible lie and what he really thought was going on. Scully crossed her arms and waited for him to spit out the truth. He knew, and she knew he knew, that if he tried to lie to her she was perfectly capable of inflicting severe mental anguish on him.

"Something was bothering me about the case," he finally said.

Scully waited a couple seconds before going, "Aaaaand?"

He shrugged. "Colton apparently went out and talked with the owner of this company. When I tried to get in touch with her, all lines were busy. So I looked into the company. And you know what? Waking Dreams Limited appeared out of nowhere this summer, and it apparently doesn't actually *do* anything."

"Mulder, this is the Silicon Valley. That describes about 80% of the businesses here."

He gave her a measuring stare. "Yes, but most of those actually make a pretense of being dotcommish. This place doesn't even have a web site."

Scully opened her mouth, closed it, then gave her partner an odd look. "'Dotcommish'?"

"Well..." He gestured frantically at the air around them. "The whole wave of the future spiel. E-business, B-toB, internet, wireless, comminicatory, all the millions of buzzwords. Waking Dreams doesn't have *any* of it."

"So just because they don't have a web site, you don't think they really exist."

Mulder shook his head. "I didn't say that. I said that this whole thing feels wrong somehow."

She didn't answer. He sighed. "Well, get some sleep. We'll be busy tomorrow. Milk the time difference for all you can."

The next day found them outside one of the more eastward corporate complexes, a small yet stately building of steel gray with a scattering of cars in the parking lot and a "Waking Dreams Ltd." concrete sign sunk into the grass surrounding the little complex. Mulder was staring at the conglomeration of cars with an unreadable expression on his face.

Scully checked her watch. It was five in the morning. The sun was peeking over the trees behind the complex, scattering small pools of light over the asphalt.

"Do these people work the night shift or something?" Mulder muttered.

Scully squinted at the mass of cars. Come to think of it, that was weird.

Not to mention that this whole place made her feel... uneasy. She put the feeling off as PMS and tried to glean details about the building from the surroundings.

"So are we just going to walk in and ask to see the CEO?" Scully asked after a few moments.

"That was the plan," he said. "But there seems to be a hitch?"

She waited, got nothing. "Okay, Mulder, what hitch?"

He gestured at the empty parking lot. "Nobody to impress with our badges."

Scully raised an eyebrow and looked over the cars again. "Are you suggesting that nobody owns those cars?"


"So... what, a bunch of people just left them here?"

Mulder took the easy way out and completely ignored her question. "Where's Colton? Did he say?"

"He's in town, looking up records on the people they've identified in this cult," Scully said, crossing her arms and glaring at her partner in irritation. "And he's perfectly able to do that on his own. Why are we even here?"

"Haven't you felt anything weird around here?" He gestured at the building again. "A lot of things aren't adding up, here. The company, and**HEY!"

The last was directed at a man in a long coat who was heading toward the building. The man turned to face them**to face Mulder, rather, who was jogging across the parking lot with his badge held out. The man hung an expression of bored patience on his face and waited for the two FBI agents to catch up with him.

"Agent Mulder, FBI," Mulder said. "Do you work here? We'd like a word with your CEO."

"Jeffrey Hains, and no, I don't work here," the man said, giving Mulder's badge a quick once-over. He was of medium height, brown hair thinning at the brow and the sides, and a build that indicated he hadn't let whatever 24-hour-fitness package he'd subscribed to go to waste. "I was just looking around. I..."

Jeffrey finally looked up from the badge, squinted at Mulder, and then glanced over at Scully and let out a yelp of surprise. He actually flinched. "You..." he gasped, giving Mulder and Scully a chance to exchange a startled look.

"I..," she said while Hains got himself under control.

"You need *training*, woman! Agent. Sorry. It's just, you... that *power*, and..." He shook himself and visibly got under control again. "I'm sorry. I didn't even catch your name."

"Agent Scully," she said, realization dawning on her. "You're..."

"I'm our group's best sensitive. That's why I'm out here. We think that they**of course, that's what you're looking into, isn't it?"

"Is there anywhere we can talk?" Mulder asked.

Jeffrey's brow furrowed, and he pointed back at the freeway. "There's a Borders bookstore back off Dixon Landing. It has a coffee shop, and I think they open at six... that all right?"

"Sounds fine," Mulder said.

"Wait a minute," Scully said.

They turned to look at her, patiently waiting.

She took a moment, then sighed. "Right, fine, we'll get all the questions out of the way at this bookstore. What are we waiting for?"

The bookstore was only a couple minutes away in the sparse 5:30 traffic. They drove around in circles a few times before they figured out the freeway exits, and found the place just as it was opening. Then they got to sit at a table and wait while the highly confused barista warmed up the coffee-making apparatus.

"So," Scully said while the sounds of espresso-machine-testing filled the air, "Why don't you start from the beginning?"

"Sure." Jeffrey leaned back and took on a casual storyteller's pose. "Well, what we've sensed, anyway, is that someone has been conducting several preliminary rituals in this area. From the disturbances, we've been able to center them on that building we were just at."

Scully held up a hand. "What kind of preliminary rituals?"

"Rituals for summoning Cthulhu," Jeffrey said.

Mulder and Scully blinked. "What?" they exclaimed.

Jeffrey looked slightly surprised. "Don't tell me you just thought the name 'Waking Dreams' was a coincidence."

"Why don't you start from the *very* beginning," Mulder said.

Jeffrey shrugged, looking bemused. "Well, we *think* that Destine is trying to summon Cthulhu, which is why we've been**"

"WAIT," Scully said, beating her partner out by half a breath. "Destine? Dominique Destine?"

"Well, yes," Jeffrey said. "She's the CEO of Waking Dreams. She just came out to form it a month ago, which is when the disturbances started."

Mulder frowned. "What does she look like?"

Jeffrey closed his eyes. "Well, this is secondhand," he said, "But she's supposedly a tall redhead... good-looking, but kinda... Tim described her as 'feral.'"

Mulder traded another significant glance with Scully. "There's your motive," he said.

Jeffrey blinked at them. "Huh?"

"Demona wants to destroy the human race," Scully explained. "Could this Cu... Ku-thoo..."

"Cthulhu would destroy the human race, yes," Jeffrey said. "Demona?"

"Someone who wants the human race destroyed. Dominique Destine," Mulder said. "So you're trying to stop her?"

"Our group, yes," Jeffrey said, voice suddenly turning glum. "But I don't know how effective we'll be. Someone tipped the FBI off to our channel, who was growing marijuana in his backyard, and..."

"Colton," Scully said.

"Demona must have..." Mulder mused, coming in hard on her train of thought.

"If she has contacts at the FBI..."

"That would explain Vaughnan's case being dug up after**"

"Hey!" Jeffrey stood up, eyes bright. "I just figured it out! Why your aura's strange!"

The FBI agents broke off to stare in bemused interest at the Californian. So did the barista, for that matter.

Jeffrey sank back into his chair and sent a sheepish grin at the barista, who gave him a funny look but went back to getting the machines set up. Then he turned to the still-bemused FBI agents. "You're a channel," he said excitedly, staring at Mulder. "It's not something you can learn, it's something you have to be born with, and you are!"

"Uh," Mulder said intelligently.

"I was hoping to find something when I was looking around there. We don't have much time. The new moon is tomorrow night."

Mulder was staring blankly at Jeffrey. Scully glanced back and forth between her partner and this... this random Californian, who obviously at least knew something about magic. "What do you need me to do?" Mulder finally asked.

"Well," Jeffrey said, pulling a palm pilot out of a jacket pocket, "First off, you need to meet the rest of the group. Both of you. As soon as possible."

"And your deadline is tomorrow?" Scully asked.

Jeffrey nodded. "Everything seems to be adding up to the final count happening then. We *need* a channel." He sent a pleading gaze in Mulder's direction. "If we don't have a channel, we can't focus the energies from the ritual properly. If we can't do that, we can't stop the summoning. And if we can't do that..."

"Then the human race gets destroyed." Scully didn't like the sound of this.

Jeffrey nodded. "Exactly."

"One second," Mulder said, holding up a hand. "What exactly does a channel do?"

"Well," Jeffrey muttered, chewing on his lower lip, "I'm not really the one to ask. You *should* talk to Dave, but he got picked up by the**I mean..." He grimaced. "Anyway, yeah, talk with Danae."

Both Mulder and Scully blinked at approximately the same moment. "Danae?"

"Priestess for this month. Our coven." He hesitated. "We're Druids. I thought... well." He shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

"I'm sorry," Scully said after a moment. "It's been a very long week. Druids? That's the 'cult' Colton was babbling about?"

Hains nodded. "We aren't a cult," he said defensively. "We're a lawful religion. Just because we're not Christian doesn't mean we're evil."

Scully held up a hand. "We believe you," she said.

"Yeah," Mulder added. "When you stack druids against all we've seen recently, it hardly makes a dent."

"..." Jeffrey said coherently, then squinted at them. "I'm not sure if I've just been insulted or not."

Scully laughed. "No. So we meet with your... coven tonight?"

He nodded. "I'll get everyone together. Is there a place I could reach you?"

Mulder nodded, then at Hains' indication scrawled the hotel phone number and cellphone number on the palm pilot. They acquired a bookmark from the bemused barista and Jeffrey scrawled his own phone numbers on the back.

"Don't you feel... I don't know, a *little* uncomfortable with breaking that much protocol in half an hour?" Scully asked as they got into their car and headed back to their hotel.

"Not at all," Mulder replied blandly.

Scully shook her head. "That's not what I mean. I mean, we know nothing about this guy. He could be working for Demona, for all we know. He could be a fraud."

"He figured you out quick."

"Right." Scully took a deep breath. "I don't like it, Mulder."

"Neither do I, actually," Mulder said. "That's why I'm dialing into the NCIC as soon as we get back to find out exactly who he is."

Scully blinked at him. "Oh." A pause. "Sorry."

He shot her a blinding grin. "Underestimating your partner, again?"

She chuckled weakly. "I should know better."

"So. What do you want to do the rest of the morning?"

Scully shrugged. "Catch up on reading, practice cantrips, maybe call Colton and figure out what he's up to. What were you thinking of, besides name lookups?"

Mulder grinned and pointed off the freeway. "I was thinking we could stop by Great America."

It took Scully a couple seconds before she recognized the name of the local theme park. "Mulder..."

"Come on, Scully, it'll be fun. Roller coasters."

"Mulder, the world's scheduled to end tomorrow night. I'd think we should be a little concerned about this."

Mulder said something, but Scully stopped paying attention as the world turned inside out.

A rippling wave of dark energy swirled past the car, churning and flowing through the car, making Scully's eyes swim and her ears ring. Then it was gone, past, and she was sitting in the sunlight with her partner snapping his fingers in front of her face.

"Uh?" she said semi-coherently.

"Are you okay? You spaced out for a moment there. I thought that was my department."

"Not while you're driving, please," Scully muttered, rubbing her eyes. "That... what was that?"

"What was what?"

"You didn't feel that?"

"Feel *what?*" Scully sighed. "That's what I'm trying to figure out. It was a..." She shook her head. "I can't explain it. It was bad, though."

Mulder was quiet for a few moments. "Could it have something to do with what Hains was talking about?"

"I... don't know." A chill settled in her stomach, augmented by the car's air conditioning. "It might have been. It was heading in the right direction, if Demona's raising energy back there..."

Mulder reached out a hand and rested it on her shoulder comfortingly. "We'll get to the bottom of this," he said.

Time passed.

"Well, according to the best sources our government has, Hains is an ordinary guy with no more than two speeding tickets to his name."

"Impressive, Mulder, but what about the rest of them?"

"I guess we'll find out this afternoon."

So, a few hours later, they found themselves in an apartment dominated by plants, cats, and pagans. A tall, gray-haired woman, whom they learned later was Danae, looked them up and down and pronounced, "Well, you're the first trustworthy FBI agents I've seen."

That was apparently the signal for everyone to relax and dig out the marijuana. Mulder traded a glance with Scully before a young blonde grabbed his arm and dragged him into a conference of three other people, saying, "Jeffrey said you were a channel?" and leaving Scully in the foyer, somewhat bewildered.

"Hey," someone said at her elbow. Pleasant tenor voice, and, as she turned, a stereotypical surfer build. He grinned at her from under a forest of spiky black hair. "So, Jeff said you need training?"

"Ummmmm..." Scully said, not completely sure what had just happened to her, her partner, or her sense of reason.

"Hey, don't worry about it." Surferboy held up his hands. "I'm Jerrad. I trained him."

She stared. "In magic?"

"Yeah." Scully was rewarded with a flash of teeth like a dentist's wet dream. "I hear**and to be honest, I sense the vibe**that you're just barely getting started with the technique, but you have plenty power to spare. Right?"

Scully's eyes were getting tired of staring, but Jerrad wasn't letting up on the non sequitors. "You 'feel my vibe', huh?"

That actually caused him to laugh. "Sorry, yeah, I know I sound like a stereotype. It's all image, though. And it's fun to watch the tourists." He rolled his eyes. "Not that there are many back here. Anyway. Training, right?"

That was how she found herself on a couch in front of a TV tray, staring into the deepest blue surfer eyes she'd ever seen. Jerrad placed some wooden rods on the tray, then mixed some incense in a bowl and sprinkled it over lit charcoal. "Okay," he said when he was done sprinkling, "Ground and center. Let's go over fundamentals."

Scully grimaced and tried to calm down. She'd read all the books she'd bought from the local metaphysical bookstore, but she hadn't been able to get a clear understanding of... well, anything. Mostly the books had been written for skeptics, people with little to no magical talent, in order that they could scrape together dregs of power to learn with. Talk of life-force of the universe didn't help one Dana Scully much, but it was the best she could find.

Apparently, it wasn't good enough. Jerrad looked her up and down, made a little "Hmm" noise, and sprinkled more incense on the embers. "Okay. Let's take this from the top. Pretend you're a tree."

Okay, they were back to the staring again. "What?"

"Really, I mean it. Want a toke?" He produced a joint from somewhere.

Scully eyed it warily. "Not since college."

"Okay." Jerrad lit the joint on the incense embers, took a drag, then pointed the glowing end at her. "Now. Pretend you're a tree."

"All right." Dana pushed her hair behind her ears, closed her eyes, and thought tree thoughts. "I'm pretending."

"No you're not. You're pretending to pretend to be a tree because you think it'll humor me and stop me from asking you to do stupid things. It won't."

Scully opened her eyes and gave Jerrad a long look. "Just so you know, I'm Catholic."

"Yeah? And I've got ADD. Tree."

"All right. Tree." She took a deep breath, and really tried to imagine what it would be like to be a tree. She'd have roots, for one thing, and branches, and leaves... feel the sunlight, drifting on the fringes of her leaves, the pulse of the earth through her veins, connected to the everlasting...

"See, *now* you're grounded and centered."

Blink. "Huh?"

"Feel that? That's what you're supposed to feel when you ground and center. See?"

It felt like a lightbulb had been switched on somewhere, corny as the old line was. Suddenly, a lot of the things she had been reading made a lot more sense. "Ohhhhhh."

"Cool? Okay. Let me see if I can teach you some more things before Danae gets done with your partner, there."

A few hours later, she finally got a chance to talk with Mulder again. The meeting had degenerated into some kind of mixer, with at least five of the coven members clustered around the TV playing on a Dreamcast, another on the computer, and a few more sharing a bowl of cashews and a bowl of pot.

"Well?" she asked.

Mulder sighed, stared off into space for a moment, then looked her in the eyes. "Well, in two words, it'll suck. But I'm going to do it, because it'll suck less than the alternative."

Scully nodded. "Somehow, I knew you'd say something like that."

He smiled weakly. "Yeah. Well, we're going to meet in a warehouse back near Demona's building. Did you learn anything?"

The change of subject took her by surprise, but she nodded. "Yes, actually. You don't need to worry about me blowing anything up accidentally anymore."

"Good, good." He yawned. "Look, pretending to ignore all the dilated pupils around here has put a strain on my head. How does sleep sound to you?"

"Right. Back to the hotel." Scully sighed. "And what do you want to bet Colton calls with accusations of 'consorting with the enemy' once we walk in the door?"

Colton didn't call that night. He called the next morning.

Scully was faintly aware of her cellphone ringing as she tried to decipher the numbers on her clock. Whatever they were, they were too small for her liking.

Then she remembered that they had to stop an elder god from destroying the human race that evening. *That* little piece of information woke her up fast, just in time to get the full force of her cellphone's next ring straight between her ears.

She grabbed it and turned it on before it could ring again. "Agent Scully."

"Dana, what the hell do you think you're doing?"

"Good morning, Colton."

"You were talking with those terrorists. Dammit, Dana**"

"Oh, they're terrorists, now?" Dana rubbed her eyes. "I thought they were just a religious group."

"A religious group? You're talking as if they're the local Presbyterian youth choir!"

Scully frowned. "Are you Presbyterian?"

The non sequitor set him back for a moment. "No, but... but dammit, Dana, these people are dangerous!"

"And how much evidence have you gathered?"

There was a long pause on the other end of the line. "Dana, this was supposed to be my case."

Scully buried her head in her hands. "Not the guilt trip, Colton..."

"It was going to be *my* case. And then you, and... and *Mulder* had to screw it up!"

She sighed. "Colton, this isn't about**"

"No, this is about you and Mulder conspiring with a nest of crazies to tear down a major corporation."

"Okay, Colton, maybe you can answer the question of what this 'major corporation' does."

"Telecommunications," he answered quickly. "And they're interfering with the company's operations."

Scully pinched the bridge of her nose. "Look, why did you even get involved with this?" And for that matter, why did *we* get involved with this? Wait, never mind. "Why didn't you leave this to the police? Or for the agents stationed out here?"

"Look, I don't have time to answer all of your questions. Ms. Destine knows me from a while back. That's all. She did me some favors, and I'm returning them. That's all."

"Does the fact that she's a genocidal immortal plotting to destroy the human race change your perception of her, any?"

Well, it might have been stealing a page from Mulder's book, Scully thought as the dial tone buzzed in her ear, but it worked.

That's about when the next pulse of Cthulhu-summoning energy washed over her. Scully gritted her teeth and reflected that this was shaping up to be a rather horrible day.

Scully finally acceded to Mulder's persistence and spent a few hours with him at Great America. Their afternoon need not be recorded, save that Scully learned it is difficult, but not impossible, to ground and center while upside-down on a roller coaster.

"My head is spinning," she informed her partner later, as he maneuvered their car back onto the freeway.

"Come on, you enjoyed it."

"You do know that the only reason I'm not physically harming you for the last few hours is that you need to save the world, right?"


"... God only knows where you get all that energy."

"Thermal power. I lined the inside of my skull with tinfoil to collect excess radiation from the Illuminati's orbital mind-control lasers."

Scully gave Mulder a long, measuring look. "Now that's something I'd expect your buddies the Lone Gunmen to say."

He grinned at her. "Maybe I stole it from**you okay?"

She was not okay, actually. "No. Can we hurry up and save the world? The sooner we smite Demona, the sooner these waves of power stop smacking me in the face."

Mulder nodded and drove faster.

They got to the warehouse in plenty of time, plenty of time being defined as midnight being still a few hours away. Midnight because midnight was *always* the time that things of this nature happened. Personally, Scully thought as they made their way into the prepared space, if she was going to destroy the world, she'd do it at Four pm Thursday afternoon and spare everyone rush hour.

"So, what, I just sit lotus-style and let everyone channel energy through me?" Mulder was asking Danae. They were standing in the approximate center of the room, in the exact center of a large chalk circle that the rest of the coven was detailing in symbols and patterns.

"Well..." Danae said, in a hesitant voice all at odds with her character.

"Well?" Mulder echoed. "That's pretty much how you explained it to me back at the meeting yesterday."

"Well, I was only qualified to give you the metaphysical side of things. I didn't mention the physical preparations."

Scully noticed, for the first time since entering the room, that the center of the circle was actually a wooden platform, sunk into the concrete until it was level with the rest of the floor. Painted onto the wood, or maybe inlaid, was a pentagram. A large pentagram. Just about big enough to hold her partner, in fact, if he lay down and spread his arms out like so...

"What are these 'physical preparations'?"

"Well, we have to tie your body to the physical plane," Danae explained, looking more and more embarrassed as the seconds under Mulder's stare wore on. "And to do that, we need... um, an anchor."

"What *kind* of anchor?"

Danae held up a handful of long, straight metal objects. It took Scully a moment to recognize them as acupuncture needles. Then the priestess pointed down, at the pentagram.

It took Mulder less time than Scully had to come to the correct conclusion. "Oh, no."

"This is for the continued survival of the human race," Danae reminded him.

Mulder winced. "I didn't say I wouldn't do it. I just said 'oh, no.' This is going to suck, isn't it."

"I'm a fully trained acupuncturist. It's not going to suck."

"Auugh. Scully, you've got a place in my will if this doesn't work out."

"Thanks, Mulder, but I don't think I'd want your video collection even if I wasn't being devoured messily by an Old One."

"Head that way," Danae said. "Arms out**good, like that. Now keep your head still." Danae produced something that looked like a stolen Frankenstien laboratory bench headband, or a flat metal omega. She placed the band over Mulder's forehead, then pinned the flat parts into the floor with two of her acupuncture needles.

She then moved down to Mulder's right ankle. "Okay. If you move, this *will* hurt."

"Gotcha," he said, then "Ow! That hurt anyway!"

"That's because you moved. Keep still." Danae stood up and walked to his left wrist, placing her next needle in between his ulna and radius. "Ready?"

"Don't *tell* me when you're going to do it. I flinch."

"Sure thing," she said agreeably, and stuck the needle through his arm.

"Dammit," Mulder said. "All right. Just finish this, okay? I need to get home in time to watch the Twilight Zone reruns."

Scully knelt down by his head and put a comforting hand on his shoulder. He grinned weakly up at her. "I'll be okay, partner," he said.

"I'll tape the Twilight Zone for you."

He smiled, then furrowed his brow in confusion. "You're not going to be part of the whole... er..."

"Working?" She shook her head. "No way. I'm undisciplined. I'd do more harm than good."

"Hey, isn't that what I'm here for? To take all of this various random energy and turn it into something these guys can use?"

"Actually, no," Danae said, having finished stapling his other limbs to the ground. "We're just going to point you at Demona and let 'er rip."

"Ah," Mulder said as Danae tapped the forehead restraint a few times with her last remaining needle. Then he frowned. "Uh, Danae? Why can't I feel my arms and legs?"

The priestess smiled. "That's for your own protection. Believe me, you'll want it." Then she turned and left for the outside of the circle.

Mulder was quiet for a long time. Then, "Scully?"


"Why do people *say* things like that?"

"Pure sadism would be my guess." Scully gave him one last encouraging pat on the shoulder, then stood up again. "I need to get out of the circle before they finish the chalking. See you in a couple hours if this works."

"It better," Mulder grumbled, as she turned and left.

Scully had never been a person to pace, but she could understand why people quickly picked up the habit. It was a long couple hours before the circle was completed and the coven took up their places around the perimeter. She wished she could have stayed to talk with Mulder a little longer.

Then again, she'd been personally assured by Jerrad that if she stayed in the circle while they were raising energy, things would start to suck rather immediately. Scully decided to take a break from the overuse of the word 'suck' and practice grounding and centering in the corner, away from the action.

Finally, the time came. Five minutes to midnight, and the lights were dimmed. The twelve coven members took their places, closing their eyes and breathing in unison.

Four minutes to midnight. They started humming, snatches of melodies, sometimes out of synch with each other, sometimes coming into evocative harmonies.

Three minutes and thirty seconds. The humming had already coalesced into a single song, with many melodies. A glow was starting from somewhere, seeping through the floor of the room and covering the floor with faint light.

Three minutes. The song had become an OM. The glow was brighter, now, forming auras around each coven member. Danae reached her arms over her head, and the light traveled upward, into her palms.

Two minutes. The glow was forming a circle above the circle, a shimmering hoop of light suspended above the heads of the druids. It fluctuated and pulsed every time someone took a breath to continue the OM.

One minute. Sound and light built steadily toward a climax. Scully closed her eyes.

Thirty seconds. Sound, fury, and signifying**

Midnight. The dam broke. The light poured forth from the coven, streaming into the center of the circle**

everything went *in*, then *out*

**somewhere, Mulder was screaming. Scully knew that something very important had just happened, but couldn't for the life of her remember what.

She looked around. The members of the coven were in various states of unavailability, most of them in the 'unconscious' phase. All of them were slumped on the floor, and looked as though they weren't eager to change that.

The chalk circle was gone. Scully checked the druids nearest her, confirmed that they were whole, if blacked out, then hurried to her partner.

"Ugh," he said as she leaned over him.

Well, that was better than screaming. "Mulder, can you hear me?"

"Yeah. Don't talk so loud."

"Sorry," she murmured. "What can I do?"

"You can explain just what the fuck happened here, that's what!" an altogether too familiar voice demanded.

Scully closed her eyes. "Colton. What are you doing here?"

"Checking up on what Ms. Destine asked me to. What are *you* doing here?"

"Saving the universe." She finally opened her eyes. Colton had strode straight past the unconscious druids and come to rest staring down at Mulder's splayed form, hands on hips and face contorted in a disbelieving scowl.

Mulder groaned. "Tell me that isn't who I think it is."

"Sorry," Scully said.

"Then at least undo this nonsense so I can move again?"

"What did they do to you?" Colton asked, before stooping down to grab the pin in Mulder's left arm. "Did**AUGH!"

The 'augh' was followed by Colton collapsing on his rear, staring at his hand as though it was on fire. "That *hurt!*"

Mulder rolled his eyes, or as well as he could while not being able to move his head. "And how do you think it felt from *this* end, asshole?"

Scully put a hand on Mulder's shoulder. "How do I get you out of this?"

"I don't know. There must be a sequence or something." He sighed. "We could always wait for Danae to wake up."

"We might have to." Scully sighed. Then she recalled the order that Danae had applied the acupuncture needles in. "Wait a minute..."

"What? Think you have something?"

"I might. Hold on." She moved to his right leg, held her hand over the pin there. "If this hurts, it's my fault."

"Stop with the anticipation already, okay?"

"Okay." She grabbed the needle.

She was expecting electrical shock, or maybe a wave of that nauseating energy that had been hitting her all day, but neither happened. Sighing in relief, she pulled the needle out of Mulder's ankle. There wasn't any blood, which made her feel better and slightly nauseous at the same time.

"So how come she can do it and I can't?" Colton whined.

"Because I know how to de-invoke a pentagram," Scully said. "Now quiet, and let me remember."

Invoking starts at the top, goes down left, up right. De-invoking starts at the bottom left, goes up right. Scully moved to Mulder's left wrist and grabbed the needle there. It came out smoothly.

"Can you move anything yet?"

"Just my head, and not much. Can you hurry? I've got this itch on my nose that I haven't been able to scratch for an hour."

Mulder was joking, but exhausted. Scully stepped over him and grabbed the needle in his other arm. Two more to go, three if you counted both sides of the headband.

"I'm going to have to arrest everyone in this room for willful... willful..."

Scully looked up at Colton and glared. "How about you do something slightly more useful and call for an ambulance? I think half the people in here are in shock."

That got Colton out of the way, for as long as it took him to go outside and place the call. Scully finally got the last couple pins out of the headband and pulled it off. "Can you move now?"

Mulder lifted his left arm, let it drop again. "Ugh. Scully, I need... a vacation."

She smiled. "I think you'll get one. We just saved the world."

"Mmm." Mulder closed his eyes. "You know, she was right. That did suck. But I'm glad I did it." He grimaced. "I got to see what Demona was trying to summon."

It took until nearly three am before Demona was alive again.

She looked toward the summoning circle inscribed on the floor of the building. It had been forcibly torn open on one side. Not just the circle, but the floor. Demona was no longer on the side closest to the rend, but had been before she'd been... injured.

It was probably a good thing that she'd blacked out halfway through.

Shuddering, Demona rose to her feet. No more summoning Old Ones. They were cranky when you woke them from their naps.

What had hit her? She reached for the residual energy in the room. The blast had come from those druids, she knew it had. Her pet FBI agent hadn't been able to do anything right. She'd have to do something about that one.

Funny, the magic didn't have the flavor it usually did when coming from a coven. It felt more like one person. A channel, then. And she wouldn't be able to trace the signatures back to the coven.

Well, at least she'd be able to find the channel again. And then, there would be pain.

"Can you *blame* me for being excited, 'Shell? I've never been to San Francisco before. And this is the perfect excuse to head up there."

Michelle shook her head and stared out the window. "Liar. And I can blame you for being excited, because you're *not* interested in 'Frisco. You just want to see that FBI agent again."

"Pfft. He's going to be bedridden."

"Yeah? Lie to me again, come on. Tell me that the thought of Agent Mulder strapped to a bed and relying on your dutiful service *doesn't* make you happy."

Jim scowled and shot Michelle a glare. "Hey, I'm not *that* bad."

"Eyes on the road."

"I can drive fine. I'm a terrific driver. I've got better nightvision than most of the saps on the road." He waved a hand at the oncoming headlights in the adjacent lane. "Okay, where was this place again?"

"Agent Scully said they'd checked him out of the hospital yesterday, so we're supposed to meet them at the priestess' house. Danae somethingorother."

"Helpful, 'Shell. Very helpful."

"Uhh..." Michelle looked out the window again. "Next exit after this one."

"Gotcha. See? I knew you had it in you."

She rolled her eyes. "Don't make me tempted to bite your head off. Not while you're driving."

They found their way to the house without too much trouble. Agent Scully answered the door, looked from one to the other, and raised an eyebrow. "So you two are it?"

Jim looked offended. Michelle snorted. "We're the only two people there without pressing obligations. You thought you were the only people trying to keep the doorway between realities closed?"

Scully looked chagrined. "You know, I didn't even think about that. Come on in."

"Thanks." Jim stepped inside, looked around. "Nice place."

"Danae's place. She insisted. Said that our hotel rooms had 'bad vibes.'" Scully shook her head. "You know, every once in a while I feel like I've stepped into a bad surfer movie out here. Then someone tries to summon an Old One and I just feel out of my element."

Jim stooped to pick up a large tabby cat, who immediately closed his eyes and started purring. Michelle rubbed her nose and followed Scully, trying to ignore the cat. She wasn't very successful. Jim noticed her discomfort and grinned, showing off the fangs.

"Guess who came to visit?" Scully asked. Michelle looked in to see Agent Mulder taking up most of a couch, propped up on pillows and reading a hardback copy of _Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance._

He looked up, saw, Jim, and groaned. "Hi."

Jim looked injured. "Hey, I'm here to help."

"That's what I'm afraid of. Hi, Michelle."

"Hey." She gave into temptation and poked the cat on its muzzle, and got a claws-out swipe for her trouble. "You certainly got the worst job of the bunch."

"Enh." He rubbed at his eyes with the back of his hand. "So you guys are here to... what?"

"Give you an accurate reading of exactly how much that feed actually harmed you, and how much is just residual pain," Jim said. "That's what I'm here for. Michelle just**"

"Michelle's just here to protect you from him," Michelle finished, and grinned at the murderous look she received.

Jim sighed, then bent down to let the cat scamper off to another part of its feline domain. "Okay. So I'll just assume you've got headaches, right?"


"Been taking anything for them?"

Mulder shook his head, gingerly. "I don't like painkillers."

"Okay." Jim looked around the room. Most of the furniture had been pushed into a corner, and the coffee table set up with a few books and a small TV/VCR. Jim reached over to the pile of furniture, grabbed a chair, and dragged it over. "On a scale of one to ten**"

"Seven point five."

"Hmmm." Jim stared off into space for a moment. "Are you seeing spots? Light patterns? Auras?"

"Nope. Just the headaches, and my head feels like someone took a red-hot ice cream scoop to it."

"Well, that's normal." Jim rubbed his eyes. "Sorry**I've been driving all night. Can I get something to drink?"

"Sure," Scully said. Jim flashed her a grin, then headed out to get the cooler from the car.

Mulder watched the vampire leave, then sighed and turned back to his book. Michelle took the chair Jim had just vacated. "Hey, don't be too hard on him. He really does like you, enough so he won't bother you about it."

"He's seventeen," Mulder said irritably. "It's just not right."

Michelle snorted, then started chuckling. Mulder looked back at her. "What?"

"Agent Mulder," she said, swallowing her laughter, "Jim's been seventeen for longer than you've been alive."

He stared at her. She grinned. "His parents found him orphaned after the 1906 earthquake, and took him in. What, you thought that the stork brought him?"

The two FBI agents traded a glance. Michelle snorted. "Normals."

The front door opened again, and Jim returned, bearing a cooler full of unmarked 20-oz bottles. He pulled one out and opened it.

"Can I have some of that?" Agent Scully asked.

There was a long pause, where everyone in the room turned to look curiously at the person who just spoke. "Um, I thought that Louis had..." Michelle found herself saying.

Scully buried her head in her hands. "I don't know. This is all too weird."

Jim made sympathetic faces at her and handed her the bottle. She took a drink, then handed it back to him. "Thanks. I think I needed that."

"No problem." Jim finished off half of the remainder in one swallow. "Okay. Anyway, I still need to scan you."

Mulder gave him a long look. Jim held up his hands. "Psychically. Just to see if there's any real damage, or if you just need to take it easy for a few weeks. Okay?"

"Fine." Mulder lay back and closed his eyes. "Go ahead."

Jim leaned back in his chair, tilted his head back, and studied Mulder through lowered eyelids. After a couple seconds, he started humming.

"Well, doc?" Mulder asked when Jim had stopped humming. "What's the verdict?"

"You'll live," Jim said.

"I want a second opinion."

Jim snorted. "Well, you don't seem to be suffering any permanent effects. You should get over this within a month, as long as you don't do anything incredibly stupid."

Mulder opened his eyes and squinted at Jim. "Define 'incredibly stupid.'"

"How should I know? I don't work for the government."

Mulder groaned. "Touche."

"Right," Jim said. "So bed rest is really all you need. Sheesh, and I thought this would be work."

"Will it be okay to fly home?" Scully asked.

Jim stood, shrugged. "Should be. Altitude won't change the fact that he has a headache." He smiled and turned back to Mulder. "And I recommend naproxen, if you decide to change your mind about painkillers."

"Well, sorry to ask you to drive up here for nothing," Scully said as she escorted them out."

"Not nothing," Jim said. "I probably would have had to do some emergency psychic surgery if everything hadn't been okay. Messy."

"Thank God it's all right, then," Scully said. They reached the front door. "Thanks for coming up."

"No problem," Jim said. "Call any time you have some sort of wacky magickal problem."

"Yeah, it's nice to get out of the house," Michelle said. "Hope your partner recovers soon."

"Thanks again," Scully said, and waved goodbye.

Jim stowed the cooler as Michelle buckled herself in. When they'd both settled back into their car seats, he turned to her and grinned. "Great America."


"C'mon! It'll be fun!"

"Jim, they're closed."

"So we stick around for another day..."

... and time, as we know it, went on.

** End **


White Star 2, you know why.

The IRC folk, for many and varied reasons.

Shad especially, for being patient while I worked on this and not meb4.

Patrick, for encouraging me, and for laughing at all the stupid jokes contained in this text. Thanks a million.

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