Title: Salve Mea X Files: VCU 1x03
Author: Humbuggie
Copyright 2003
Disclaimer: Characters not ours.
Archive: Yes. Rating: PG13.
Spoilers/timeframe: Set eighteen months after The Truth.
CATEGORY/Keywords: Post-series, casefile, XFVCU, MT, angst, profiler, MSR and Skinner friendship.
VIRTUAL SERIES SITE: http://xfvcu.deslea.com
Author SITE: http://www.sv-tales.com
Feedback: san@sv-tales.com

Summary: The Green Fairy took them away, into a world where nothing was, as it seemed. Time seemed to stand still, or move slower at least. He couldn't grasp that at first, but then he could. As their feelings became an abyss of emotional rampaging, there was nothing left for him to do but enter the void. To be like them.

Author's Note: since my specialty is writing Mulder/Scully case files, I have put my focus there.


Yeah, can you feel it? When I get deep, wanna hear myself sleep, Not drowning, tumbling around and around in the voices. Like a crowd in my head so loud, I wonder what it's like to be dead I hope it's quiet, noise in my head like a riot any remedy you have for me I'll try it.

I'm going deep, so deep that I can't sleep, the pills ain't cheap but the bills are steep, Put down the drink, try not to think, let it go, fundamental movement below And so, reality is dreaming, just below my skin I'm screaming... **
-- Faithless, Salva Mea


Prologue

They say that you know when it's over. When Death, in whatever form it comes, is ready to pull you out of human life and into the next. The second your body is ready to perish, to give up its mortal existence. The instant the pain endured forces you to capture something else, than the reality you have known up until now.

They say that there are things out there that can help a mortal to reach that point where you almost feel the tethers of death: tools like drugs, alcohol, or anything artificial that crumbles away the boundaries of life, and pushes one towards the edge.

They say so many things and yet, he never chose to believe anyone. He always thought that he would hold onto dear life for what it was worth, and that he'd never give up the sense of reality, the urge to live and breathe. However that morning, as he entered their realm, he knew his hopes and beliefs had never prepared him for anything like this. Soon enough, he found himself ready to cave in, to fixate on that which was always out of reach for him.

It was in the warmth of that room, with its closed windows and bright colors, amidst the paintings that seemed to have taken on a life of their own and the statues that seemed to have become alive, that he decided to go for it. Everything he had ever wanted from life meant nothing anymore in here, and yet he didn't care.

And then there were the mortal anxieties that somehow became senseless - useless even - after he had crossed the sea of no more fear and became the conqueror of monsters. He thought he could maintain the shadow of who he was. After all, he was always the stronger one. But the little nooks and cracks inside his skull became stronger; enlarged and expanded, changing him into entirely another man. Even if he had still been sane, he would not have recognized himself. What he saw now in the mirror was a reflection of himself. The hair stood out, the eyes became wide and wild, the face was distorted. He reached out to himself and could not.

He had always been a sensible, wise man. He had built a company, raised a family and had good friends. He had become rich doing what he loved to do, using his talents. He was well liked, well loved and cherished. He had no enemies. He had a gift. Yet, now all of that no longer seemed to matter. Now, he had only this.

And then it became clear within the luxury of the thought, the fantasies that he so cherished, and the dreams that he'd always wanted to fulfill, that he needed to be here in this room and with these people. He'd never felt so alive before.

With one small step, he was where he had always wanted to be: in heaven. Sheer, utter, pure and perfect bliss leading into the ultimate perfection that he had only dreamed of. It could not get any better than this.

He licked his lips hungrily as he looked up at the ceiling with the large white cracks in them. Then he turned to his side, and looked towards the others who sat in a circle around him. They watched him anxiously. He delivered his biggest smile, opening up his heart to those who wanted him in their midst.

"Perfection," he uttered. "Perfection is bliss." And he offered his glass to receive more of the godly drink.

And more, and more. It did not end there. Always more.

After that, the inspiration came and would not let him go. He became the best of writers, penning down the most brilliant words one could ever have written. He wrote the novels that would change the world, casting magic with words that one could only dream of.

He could hardly remember the rough days, struggling for the publication of that first best-selling novel. Gone were the days of hunger and thirst, or praying that someone would publish his books. Gone were the days of writer's block when the publishing came, but pressure that the next book had to be better. Gone was the pure despair he had so often felt because no one accepted his talent for what it was, and he finally had to give in for the commercialization of his work. Only distant memories remained of the often- frustrated discussions with his agent.

In this world he wanted to do nothing but write: To become the next best big literary legend, and stay in the minds and hearts of people forever. He'd forgotten about his wife and family, his friends and relatives. He no longer cared for the five employees that depended upon him for an income. They were but a nuisance now.

From now on, the good fortune he craved would come. The one he had just brought with his last drop of blood. He would finally become famous. He would finally have all he had ever wanted.

"How do you feel?" they asked, and he smiled feverishly, hardly looking up at them, for they disturbed his eagerness and concentration while his fingers furiously typed at the keyboard, burning up from the inside.

"I never felt better," he groaned through gritted teeth. Then he wrote again, and again, and again.

It was all he could do to encourage the Green Fairy to return to him. Not ignore or leave him, but to support him in his eagerness for more. He sold his soul.

Over and over again.

Until - ultimately - he felt his body collapse. It could no longer withhold the pressure from within him. It crumpled down, unable to respond to the Fairy's powers. Until, ultimately, there was nothing left but the darkness that came to them all, sooner or later.

And as his body consumed by flames, he just laughed, sinking into the blissful darkness and stifling heat. Finally he knew what it was like to welcome death. Life had become unbearable after all.


- 1 -

According to my sources - Skinner's assistant - a certain Assistant Director was not in a particularly good mood when he walked into his office that Monday morning. He was supposed to be in California right now, enjoying three days of beach and surf that had lured him with promising sunny brochures and interesting sights.

I could NOT imagine AD Skinner, the man Scully and I have worked under for so long, as a surfer dude. I mean, I thought we knew him from head to toe. Yet he turned out to be quite a sportive man who didn't want to be laughed at for his choice of activities.

Although deep down we wanted - okay, I wanted to, we didn't laugh.

So, poor Skinner had planned an outing on the beach. Instead, only two days ago, our beloved Deputy Director Kersh had found nothing better to do than to keep his AD at home, forcing him to take the lead into a missing person's case that was "subject to affect the entire Bureau if resolved in a bad manner."

The person missing was Lily McLane, teenage daughter of Senator McLane, one of the Bureau's biggest supporters. And without a doubt, one of the Director's best friends. They were roommates in the Army, or something along those lines.

The Bureau was used to taking the lead in kidnapping cases of course, but this one was so highly profiled that Skinner had no doubt it would backfire into his face, should it go awry. The AD was pissed, and with good reason. Of all the Assistant Directors available, Kersh picked him out. Better yet, he'd asked for his entire department to work on the case, including his favorite agents operating from the cool and refreshing atmosphere from the Bureau's basements. Only, Doggett was unavailable, leaving Reyes alone for the task. And since they happened to have a few homework-consultants left, guess whom they called?

I know that accidents are part of the risks involved in working for the Bureau, but Doggett being bitten in the cajones by a dog, was not exactly what I would call a risk of the job. Serves him right to baby-sit a friend's Rottweiler. Ouch!

I guess, in the past, we were always the main reason why Kersh woke up frustrated in the morning. Why he didn't like board and director's- meetings, and why he drank coffee with no sugar. We were probably also to blame for his lack of good dressing, ugly ties and sour facial expression.

If all of that's in the past now, I can live with it.

When Kersh rang up his AD on Saturday afternoon, in the middle of Skinner's packing, he wouldn't take no for an answer. "Why can't the VCU do this one?" Skinner had grumbled. "This is not an X- File. I don't see what we can do."

"Your agent Reyes seems eager to take it on."

"She doesn't know shit about the case."

"She does now. I informed her. Get your ass in here, Skinner, call your consultants and work with us. I won't take no for an answer."

"So why the hell is it an X-File?" Skinner had grumbled, knowing he had already lost.

"This is not a violent crime yet," came Kersh' cold reply, "and let's hope it does not work out that way."

So, as a result, Reyes came to us and informed us on the case.

Missing girl. Gone a day. Daughter of a senator. Needs to be found quickly because the senator funds the Bureau. Blah Blah. Been there, done that.

"Be sure to use Mulder's capabilities to the fullest," Kersh had said. "Let's just hope you won't be needing Scully's cutting skills though." But this was not an X-File. I couldn't see where the X-File could have been. Neither could Scully.

She turned to Reyes with a sarcastic glare in her eyes. "Are the Feds that desperate, that they need us for this?"

"Just wait and see," Reyes spoke mysteriously. "I'm sure there's more to it than meets the eye. In fact, I'm going to have a look around."

The abduction took place on a Friday night meaning our weekend plans were fucked up. Not that I minded that. Abductors usually choose weekends, because they believe the law enforcement agencies work slower.

Mostly, I resided with Scully at Senator McLane's house, waiting for any sign of contact or communication the kidnappers might give us. In the meanwhile I went through the abduction file over and over again, finding nothing out of the ordinary. Reyes watched me, bemused by my attempts and efforts to find anything X-Filish about it. I couldn't.

Skinner started fearing for the worst, as he spoke to me in private on Sunday morning - after a long, restless night at the house - and asked me to prepare to work on the case for a longer time, probably as investigator and profiler. He confirmed he didn't believe the girl was still alive. The first twenty-four hours are crucial. This time, that had already passed. We all knew the facts: If there was no ransom demand within twenty-four hours, it was usually a very bad sign.

Skinner had a double job on this case: he was the main middleman between the Senator and the Bureau. On the other hand, he had to make sure the Bureau was content with the progress. He was in between a rock and a hard place. The AD knew, of course, that Kersh would not be particularly pleased with the lacking results. So on Sunday afternoon Skinner decided to go the Bureau and report, knowing Kersh was there.

"What are you doing here, Skinner?" The AD was not even in his office when the voice of his direct boss sounded clearly in Kim's reception area. The AD turned around and found Kersh glaring at him.

"I'm working," he grumbled and walked into his own office, throwing his brief case on the table.

"Shouldn't you out in the field?" Kersh demanded to know.

"We've set up camp at the McLane's. That's all we can do for now. My team is working on it. I'm here to request some agents from Assistant Director Laws. We need more manpower."

"Can't your agents handle this one alone?" Kersh sneered.

"We have one short with Doggett in hospital."

"But you have the brilliant mind of Agent Mulder there, don't you?"

"I don't want to be negative here, sir," Skinner answered through clenched teeth as he settled behind his desk, "but we can be fairly certain by now that we might be looking for a body. We have nothing to go on. Lily McLane was taken on her way home from art class on a sunny Saturday afternoon. There is no physical evidence we can build a case on. No one saw anything. No witnesses. The forensics have turned up zilch."

"Then you are not looking hard enough, are you?"

I was actually in a way pleased to know that Kersh has not lost his amazing ability to get two rocks to crush against each other. I also knew that Skinner couldn't care less about that. He had a job to do and he would do it.


- 2 -

"A cup of coffee, Agent Mulder?'"

I could have kissed the woman who offered me that. I was deadbeat when Senator McLane's wife Teri stood before me with the cup of hot, delicious mocha. Despite everything, she'd found the time to prepare this for us, I thought as I accepted the steaming cup in gratitude. The china cup was served on a china plate, delicate and precious like the woman herself.

The entire house had a feminine touch to it, which my apartment in the past always missed. It was gorgeous: decorated with authentic art such as china statues and vases from their governor years in Hong Kong, artwork from their governor years in Czechoslovakia, and beautiful work from Russian artists that they'd picked up for next to nothing on Moscow markets. Tasteful and expensive antiques adorned most of the rooms.

The living area was grand with French windows overlooking beautiful gardens that ran around the house, and more windows dividing a large and sunny veranda from the tiled terrace. Terracotta pots with dozens of plants and flowers stood on the terrace. Teri McLane had green fingers, like her mother had before her. She was the one keeping this house in order, calling it the first home the family had, had in over a decade.

There was a huge living area with large sofa, a massive dining room with seats for ten to twenty people when you opened the French doors, and a large hallway that lead to enormous bedrooms upstairs. A massive master bathroom was also upstairs, while the guests slept downstairs in beautiful en-suite rooms.

Last night I had slept for three to four hours in one of those beautiful country-style guestrooms, while Scully stayed on call. I missed her in my arms. After we changed guards and she retreated into another guestroom prepared for her, I had found myself connecting to our unfortunate hostess.

Teri McLane was levelheaded, unlike her husband Charles, who'd basically freaked out big time when his daughter disappeared. He had always been the practical one, but the idea that someone would actually harm his daughter to hurt him - something he believed from the bottom of his heart - was too much to bear for such a levelheaded man. And so she became the glue keeping the rest of the family together, raising the questions no one else would ask.

She sensed that both Scully and I were levelheaded and rational people who knew what they were doing, but it was me that she chose to connect to. I had told her about my sister's abduction during that night, explaining how I had discovered only a few years back, that she had been dead for nearly my entire adult life. She had listened sympathetically, needing to hear that one could live on, even under such grave circumstances. It was quite natural to want to hear that in times of distress, a human being is stronger than anyone thinks.

I found the abduction a strange matter, as well as Senator McLane's odd behavior. While his wife stayed downstairs with us and hoped that someone would call, he remained upstairs and did not show himself for nearly a day. When he finally came down, he showed signs of false cheeriness, as if he had been taking drugs - which, incidentally, I believed he had. Teri Mclane was embarrassed by her husband's behavior.

Secondly, the McLane's were wealthy, but could not afford to pay millions. Senator McLane apparently had had several gambling problems in the past that Mrs. McLane chose to reveal now, to explain to us why they would not be able to pay too much. Strangely enough, this was common knowledge within certain grey zones of our society.

Professional kidnappers always do thorough research into their victims and their relatives. They would know this by now. And as time passed by, I too came to believe that Lily McLane would never return home. Perhaps her body would never be found, but that was something to consider later. I just did not want to tell this to the family just yet, hoping and praying that we were wrong.

I have to admit that the situation was slowly getting to me. I was not a cop or a crime scene investigator, who could stick around for hours waiting and watching for details. I was an analyst: a field agent who needed to go out there to learn the facts, to create his conclusion and to base his assumptions on that. I would rather have dug into several gardens looking for trails than to stay here and do nothing. It certainly felt like doing nothing anyway. All they'd done was turn the house and backyard upside down, in search of clues.

But Skinner had told us to stick around and wait. Always wait. If any call came, we would be crucial, so he had stated. It sounded like crap to me. It was early morning when she stood before me with that cup of coffee. I had not wanted to rouse Scully just yet, who needed her beauty sleep more than I did. I could live on four-hour- nights. Scully didn't.

"Thank you," I said, gratefully accepting the cup of coffee. She sat down besides me at the large mahogany desk where we had made our temporary office. Teri McLane stared at my laptop. I had a connection to the Internet and had surfed it for most of the night, after going through the regular channels, to dig up profiles of missing teenagers who might have something in common with Lily.

My impatience finally had me going to websites I usually wished to avoid: those of the geeks and nutcases who claimed to be children's murderers and rapists. They were the gory geeks: the ones who prided themselves on being horrible, vicious human beings.

I found nothing that could bring Lily in contact with any of them. She was not the type to trust a stranger either. She was, or is, a normal and everyday clever girl. She had average grades and was extremely good in art. She was a born painter and had been taking art classes for the past ten years, ever since she first took up a brush. She had enough talent to make it to the top galleries, if only she was alive to see another day.

"The rooms in this house are covered with her work," her mother said when she had first shown us around. The paintings from her hand could have been shown in any art gallery. They were excellent. Even amateurs like us could easily spot that.

"Can you imagine all the talent gone to waste if she dies?" her mother had continued as tears sprung in her eyes and she could no longer control herself. Her daughter had been gone a mere six hours then, but it had already sounded as Teri McLane had accepted the worst fate possible.

"It would be such a shame seeing her go," the woman suddenly cried. "She has everything that a girl wants. She should be at home, eating cake with her tea and enjoying a good Saturday night movie. Who knows where she is now."

Now, almost two days after the disappearance, the chances of recovering her quickly were gone. And all we had were the accounts of her friends. Those gathered together, they proved that the girl had vanished between three and three-thirty in the afternoon, as she walked from the bus stop to her house, less than half a mile down the road. Her car had broken down the day before, so she had been forced to take the bus when she returned from art classes. The bus driver was the last one to have seen her. He had waved as he passed her after leaving his stop. She had waved back.

Now, we sat together in silence as Teri McLane pressed her hands around her cup of tea, and stared sadly at me. I wished I could have said something to comfort her, but I could not. What could I say, when I believed strongly we would soon be resolving a murder case?

"Please tell me the truth," she begged of me.

"Yes," I confessed wearily. "I think she is dead."

"Thank you." She placed her hand on mine. "Thank you for your honesty."

Oh, how I wished I weren't there. I know it sounds selfish to say so, but I had gone through this before. More times than I cared to recall, the twisting pain in my gut reminded me. We had resolved missing children's cases before and almost all ended up badly. I wished that Kersh had not asked Skinner to take this on. I really wished we were chasing little green men right now.

I could not stare into that woman's sad eyes and feel my heart sink. I wished I could go after whoever did this and make them pay for what they'd done. I wished I could create miracles. I wished that people would stop killing children.

"I wished you could go out there and find her body for me," Teri McLane softly spoke, as if she could have heard my thoughts.

I blinked my eyelids. "What makes you say that?"

"I can see it in your eyes. You have this eager look to go and find the bad guys. You want revenge. You think she's dead because they didn't ask for ransom money. So they must have raped and killed her."

"As long as I don't see a body, I believe that she is still alive," I spoke weakly, not believing my own words. "I know that sounds crude but it's the truth. There is hope and I won't give up until we find her."

"What do you think happened to her?"

"She ran into the wrong people. No more, no less."

"This is a good neighborhood, Agent Mulder. A safe one. We moved here because we thought it would be good for our family. Now she's been taken here where she should have been all right. How can I ever change that? All this sense of false security has destroyed our family. I had one daughter and now she is gone."

I didn't know what to say. I wished I could have done something else to comfort her but we could not get too close. We weren't allowed to. We needed to go through this in the most professional way, providing help as objectively as we could. But I couldn't help myself as the woman came closer, and practically threw herself in my arms. I reacted. I embraced her and comforted her, telling told her it would be all right.

As I looked up, I saw Scully. She had the same look in her eyes as I had.

A look of anger.

At that moment, Monica Reyes walked back into the house and asked if she could speak with us in private. The look in her eyes betrayed what I had feared for a long time.

We never stood a chance, did we?


- 3 -

Around noon Skinner came back to the house, and I knew it was all over. He told us first and then we had to tell the family.

Senator McLane stood up shaking, staring at us as if we had gone crazy. Teri McLane grabbed my hand for comfort, eager to feel a bit of human sanity that she couldn't find with her husband. I didn't pull back and ignored Skinner's stunned glare.

It was my partner who brought the bad news as Mrs. McLane squashed my hand.

"They found a body," she began.

"No."

"They think it is Lily."

"No!"

"They found her bag and clothes nearby. The body is -"

Scully stopped, glancing at me. I couldn't say it either. Neither could Skinner.

Teri McLane turned away from Scully, throwing herself into my arms. I froze at first, but then comforted her again, as I had done that morning. Her husband just stood there as still as a rock. They had no other relatives to support them, just acquaintances. Not even friends. They only had each other, and he preferred to stuff cocaine up his nose instead of supporting his wife.

I could have killed him too.

I swore right there and then that I would not leave this be.

Never.


- 4 -

"I want this case!" I hissed as I knocked hard on Kersh' desk.

The man, who called himself Deputy Director, responded loudly, eager to tell me off.

"You're not going to get it, Mulder. This is a case for the VCU, now that we have found her body. We hoped you could profile the killer and you didn't deliver. You weren't able to do so."

"There wasn't a killer before today. Just a missing girl. There were no traces, no signs, no anything. How can you expect me to help you when you have nothing to go on? Your people didn't find her either, did they?"

"It's over. We'll find her killer ourselves."

"Then what was the use of calling us in the first place?"

"I was hoping for a miracle."

I laughed sarcastically. "She died the night she was taken. I guess she never had a chance. Some miracle hey?"

To my surprise Skinner never uttered a word, as he balled his hands and clenched his teeth. This was not what we were used to. It felt as if we were on our own again, and wouldn't get what we wanted. However, the subsequent talk with Reyes shed a little light on the case. Now we knew what we were looking for.

I was angry.

"Go back to your Bureau-less life, Mulder," Kersh continued, making my name sound like a curse. "You shouldn't be bothered." I leaned forward with my hands Kersh' desk, sensing I was winning the battle.

"With all due respect, sir, but you gave us this mess in the first place. Now you are going to let me solve it. It's as easy as that."

"Don't tempt me to throw you out, Mulder." Kersh' eyes narrowed. "Why would you feel responsible? Like you said: the girl was long dead."

"She didn't deserve to die like that. I want to know who did this to her and why." I scrambled for an excuse, and found one. "The body was burned to a crisp. Agent Reyes has seen this before, in the Garber case," I said, though I didn't think for a moment they were related. "She believes that there's a cult involved and that means that, as a replacement department head, she has the right to ask for outside help. Meaning: us."

Kersh leaned backwards, surprising us as he suddenly and visibly relaxed.

"If you can use that fighting spirit of yours to a good cause, then go for it. I'll make sure you have access throughout the Bureau."

I didn't know what to say, unable to thank the DD for what he'd just done. I knew I was walking on thin ice but I didn't care at this point. I couldn't forget Teri McLane's devastated expression when she learned of her daughter's death. That hollow look in her eyes needed rectification. Justice.

Scully closed the door behind us and stopped me in the small, empty reception area before Kersh's office. I looked at her sadly, but resolute.

"Mulder, are you sure you want to do this? You're obviously too emotional about this case."

"No, I'm not," I responded calmly. "I'm just very, very angry."

"I know. So am I. But threatening Kersh will not help us. He still runs half the Bureau."

I took a deep, steadying breath, finally admitting my own little theory about this case.

"He knew the girl would turn up dead, Scully," I began slowly. "He knew before we were even assigned."

"What?" She opened and closed her mouth, not understanding.

"Why else would he have assigned us in the first place, Scully? This wasn't an X-File, and by his own admittance, he knew there were plenty of good men out there, who could have done a better job in case of a real kidnapping case. They were equipped to negotiate with potential kidnappers. We're not. That is not our expertise. And let's face it; we just sat there, didn't we? I couldn't make a profile, with nothing to go on, just speculate. I couldn't do anything."

"What are you suggesting then?" she asked in wonder.

"Charles McLane is an old friend of Kersh. What if the father had something to hide and wanted his FBI-pal to solve the problem for him? What if he had something to do with his own daughter's disappearance and panicked? Kersh would have wanted to stall for time until they found the body then."

"Are you implying that McLane might have killed his own daughter?"

"It's been known to happen. He is a coke-addict, Scully, a gambler, and not exactly a good senator. I don't care how much funding he's raised for the FBI so far. We were there as a decoy, waiting for something to happen. Charles McLane knew she was dead. I could see it in his eyes."

"Then why would Kersh agree to sign you on the case now? He would know how eager you are."

"Perhaps he ultimately just wants the truth revealed. He needs us for that."

I rubbed my eyes, tired from two nights with hardly any sleep.

"I don't know, Scully. Maybe I'm just grasping at straws here, but there is something very wrong about this case. We were sitting there for two days in that woman's house while there was hardly any effort going on to really look for the girl. I know that Skinner only executed Kersh's orders. But we could have done more - a lot more."

"Let's ask Skinner then," she proposed, just as our boss left Kersh's office and wandered somber towards us.

"Don't ever piss off Kersh like that again," Skinner suddenly hissed at me. "You've bought yourself three days to solve this. Then you're out again."

"Wait." I stopped our boss by grabbing his sleeve. Skinner glared coldly at me, returning the sudden tension between us.

"Let go of my arm, Agent Mulder," he ordered me.

"Why did you do nothing but wait?' I blurted out, angry at his outburst. Angrier at myself for listening to him in the first place. 'You should have told Kersh to go to hell."

"I did all I could. Are you questioning my orders?" I watched the muscle in his jaw twitch with annoyance.

"Perhaps I am, sir. I'm not used to you sitting on your ass, waiting for instructions."

"I did nothing wrong," Skinner hissed angrily. "If you imply that I didn't do all I could to help that girl, you are mistaken, Agent Mulder. Don't piss me off like you've already done Deputy Director Kersh. It's me you work with on a daily basis, not him. I never want to hear you speak to me like that again. Got it?"

Skinner stalked away from us, leaving me absolutely stunned.

"Now tell me if this is normal," I whispered to my partner.

She just shook her head.


- 5 -

I had never known the VCU to be anything but crowded, noisy and over-busy. A long time ago, I had started my career here, eager to work as a Federal Agent, in desperate need to search for some sort of penance for losing my sister; and to use the resources to try and find her. It was only after that, when i met The Gunmen, that I knew there was more to life than what we could see.

That was the beginning.

It all seemed such a long time ago. So much had happened. Scully and I had shared so much, and we only had him back just now. It was hell being away from him all this time, not watching him grow up. Not seeing his first steps, hearing his first words, seeing what he saw and grasped with his little fists. I have to consider him now, every day, even when away from us, in Maggie's loving care.

In the end, it doesn't even matter. I'm still here. Still a member, somehow. I have not lost my mind, my thoughts and my beliefs. That, in the end, no one has been able to take away from us.

But I missed the Bureau's bustle and clatter.

Here at the VCU, the teams were larger, more organized and working on intense cases that required a lot of manpower. Here they sought out serial killers: rapists and murderers, pedophiles and worse. They dealt with the scum of the Earth. They knew one's profile inside out.

That, I did miss. The profiles I created now were often unusable because of the nature of our cases. Often we deal with scum too, but in an extraordinary manner. The X-Files were of a totally different caliber. Although I would never reconsider my choice, I loved what we had built up, and more than that, I loved Scully. Even after ten years, I still didn't mind the comments made behind my back. I would probably die bearing the Spooky-nickname. Hell, someone would carve it into my tombstone.

"Agent Mulder."

Reyes came towards me. "Come with me," she said. "Where's Scully?"

"Dissecting."

"Lovely. Let me introduce you to Agent Moore. He ran the investigation to the abduction of the girl."

"We met at the house."

"Good to see you again, Agent Mulder. It seems that we need to establish a profile now. But let me first show you a few things that have become clear to us this morning. It seems that the case of Lily McLane was not the first one with similar circumstances."

"I know," I said.

"Oh?" He raised an eyebrow.

"Agent Reyes has explained to me you are thinking in the direction of a cult."

"Yes, even though I'm hoping that we won't have to go that far. Have a seat. Coffee?"

"Thanks."

"Your colleague has informed me that you also have your suspicions regarding Senator McLane?" Moore asked after closing the door. I liked him instantly for his candidness.

"Yes."

"Why?"

"His behaviour. His reactions. The way he responded to his daughter's abduction and subsequent death. He didn't take the time to discuss anything with us. He didn't seem eager to do anything. Like he knew the outcome already."

"A grieving man."

"A coke-sniffing, grieving man."

"Says who?"

"Say the rumors."

"Since when do you base yourself on rumors, Mulder?"

"Since I know they are true. Agent Moore, we know what drug addicts are like and how you can tell the symptoms. I saw it in this man's eyes."

"So what if he sniffs a line now and then? Does that make him a killer?"

"No, it makes him a liability towards his family. What if his daughter was murdered because he couldn't pay off his debts? He is known for that huge hole in his pocket. No doubt he has certain stakes at the Hill to maintain his position there. I'm fairly certain we haven't seen the whole picture here."

"Then what about the cult-theory? The fact that more people have disappeared and been found in the same manner?"

I shrugged. "Perhaps they did a copycat trick."

"Beware of what you say, Agent Mulder. By tomorrow someone will have printed this in the papers. This case is sensitive enough as it is. By tomorrow, the wolves will be at their doors screaming for a resolution. It will be spread like wildfire all over the newspapers."

"I want to learn about your findings," I said firmly. "Then I'll be able to base a profile with them."

"Okay." Moore shifted seats and came back with a file at least an inch thick. I startled.

"Over the course of two years, several severely burned people have turned up, scattered all over the East Coast. Going from Washington to New York, to Boston and around various suburbs and smaller towns, these victims varied in age, gender and race. They had nothing in common save one thing: talent."

"Talent?"

"Yes." Monica replied for Moore. "They were very talented and had their futures in their hands. Lily McLane was a very good painter who could have gone anywhere she wanted with that talent, had she been able to concentrate on anything but her paintings. I'm certain her parents didn't tell you, that she was also a drug addict, and a very difficult young woman. Her paintings are already collector's items as we speak. Within a few years, they will be priceless. Her death already made her a martyr. No one cares about the addiction anymore."

"I thought she was an innocent?"

"Only because her mother didn't know she was an addict. Her father put her up to it. Lovely guy, hey? They hid it for the mother for the past year or so. Senator McLane admitted as much when he was questioned before you came in the picture."

"Are you saying she might have been killed, so her paintings would be worth zillions in a few years?" I asked.

"It could be a possibility. Don't forget that art brings in more money than drugs do. Go to any odd gallery or auction, and you'll find pieces of work that only the richest collectors can afford. Most artwork goes into private collections. Some are purchased by galleries. This trend has become stronger over the past years. Lily McLane had already been named as one of Washington's upcoming talents. Someone might have known that and killed her for it. Perhaps someone owned a number of paintings by her."

"What does this have to do with the other victims?" Mulder asked.

"The problem with the other bodies was that they were scattered all over the East Coast, and were found in a course of the past three years. The connection is difficult to establish, but I believe that it's there. I had background information dug up about them. They were all talented in their own way and upcoming, or already established talents: painters, writers, poets, and sculptors. All of their work has gone into the market for amazing prices after their deaths."

"Honestly, I think we are looking at a organized art cartel who wants to earn quite a bit of money in a very short time," Reyes concluded. "That's what I found out while we were waiting for a result. The moment I learned she was very gifted, I knew she would turn up dead."

"They were all burned to a crisp," I said. "What did previous autopsies reveal?"

"That they burned from the inside."

"We have seen that before. Spontaneous human combustion? Using bodily fluids as an accelerant?"

"That could very well be. I'm sure that Scully's autopsy will reveal something very odd though: the brains will probably and literally have melted away. The eyes will be gone. Which, in regular burn victims, is not normal. The eyes usually stay intact until the last minute. Here, it seems as if they have somehow popped out of the sockets."

"Lovely."

"So, how are we going to go about this?" Moore asked. "All the murders so far have one other thing in common: no one saw or noticed a thing."

"Are you thinking of a specific cult?" I asked Reyes. "You're the expert."

"No. I had no idea about these coincidences until I spoke with Agent Moore. I have requested to take over this case as an X-File and go from there."

Moore nodded. "I agree with that."

I was about to comment when the door flew open and Scully walked in. She seemed excited.

"I found us a lead," she said.


- 6 -

Have you ever heard of absinth?

Unfortunately, I have.

In the old days, not even a hundred years ago, absinth was the forbidden, desired drink for artists and the beau monde. The Green Fairy, they called it because it offered you a look into the world of the weird, the sights that a regular, normal human being would never normally see. It created images, looks, and visions and made you feel good. It was the nineteenth century's cocaine, and now it's back.

"I couldn't extract much blood from the girl's body, but the little that we had to go on, showed that she had substance in her system. You were right, Mulder: she was a sniffler. But she also used much more than that, and absinth was one of them."

"How did you come up with that?" I asked in awe of the woman I love.

"I cross-referenced the blood results with a number of items and came up with absinth. I remember reading an article not so long ago, on how absinth has become very popular amongst the young crowd in our country. It started back in Australia where they sold the liquid under the counter, and it gradually made its way back to Europe and the US. Absinth is illegal here, but it is being sold in many exclusive clubs and high-profiled bars. Unfortunately, the young rich teenagers can also get their hands on it if they have the cash for available. It's exclusive and that means expensive."

"What exactly does it do?" Reyes asked curiously.

"Well, absinth consists of wormwood and a number of other herbs, causing hallucations. The results are different for every user. Some say they are inspired by it to create their best work. Toulouse Lautrec and Van Gogh were some of the most notorious users."

"And the latter cut off his ear," I retorted.

Scully pulled a face. "Anyway, the user might have disturbing dreams, see odd distorted changes in what otherwise is a normal environment, and will be out of it for some time. Some of the heavier dosages of absinth can cause sickness for a couple of days."

I stood up and paced the room. "Could it cause spontaneous combustion?"

"No, Mulder. Hundreds - thousands - of people since the late 1700's, have used absinth. It is considered dangerous as a drug, but not deadly. By the way, I think she was a frequent user. The dosage we found was too high for a one-time usage, and a lot of it had already entered her bloodstream. Since she died within four hours of her abduction, it couldn't have been digested this thoroughly."

"Yet something triggered the victims to die."

"Victims?" Scully asked. "Was there more than one?" Reyes gave her the file and told her about the several other cases scattered over the East Coast.

"I think this is a first step in the right direction. It shouldn't be so hard to find out where they sell absinth in this area to young, rich kids. It's even promoted on the web," Reyes said. "That's a good place to start, don't you think?"

"If she was very gifted and created those paintings under the influence, certain people might have known about it," I agreed. "She might have met someone at the bar. Someone who is out there looking for new blood."

"So, let's find out."


- 7 -

It proved not to be so difficult to retrieve a list of clubs that sold absinth. We were then able to narrow down that list to the clubs that serve liquor to youngsters under the age of eighteen, which is, in itself, illegal in this country. Not that anyone cared really.

"You should know what I've heard and seen in my search for this list," Reyes explained. "I had to practically infiltrate to get there. The only way you'll be getting answers is by pretending to be one of them."

"Hmmm, I've always wanted to know what it feels like," I grinned. "Besides, the advantage of being a consultant is that I don't have to answer to anyone." Her sharp glare could have pierced me. Ah well. "Just kidding, Scully."

"You'd better be."

So we dressed up and got moving. Monica took Follmer to one of the bars on the list. I was glad he wasn't in our vicinity and that we would be on our own. That is, with Skinner backing us up. He insisted on going too, and to be honest, I kind of felt he belonged to one of those very exclusive bars, wearing an expensive leather jacket on top of what was probably quite an exclusive pair of jeans. He looked like a rich man, someone who belonged with the cream of the crop.

Scully and I? Well, actually I tried not to look like an FBI-agent. I chose my favorite black turtleneck sweater, also a leather jacket, dark grey trousers and a new pair of black shoes. Scully looked stunning in a suit I'd never seen her in before. A short grey skirt, grey jacket and black blouse. Very nice. That's why I fell in love with her in the first place. Her poise, grace and clothes sense and the way she looked in them.

Our "stakeout" was called 'The Vintage Bar' and turned out to be a hypermodern place with lots of plastics, steel fittings and flashy colors brightened by more gaudiness like A cross between Austin Powers love shack, and an industrial style dominatrix den. The last time I went to a place like this, was to hunt down vampires as if my life depended on it. That was ten years ago. Boy, I was getting old.

The thundering music - did I recognize Rammstein in there? - made me feel uncomfortable, as did the dark and clammy, claustrophobic room. The bar was filled with all sorts of visitors varying from older drinkers, to quite young. I was fairly certain that there were lots of minors in there, even though the signs outside clearly stated that they wouldn't allow them in.

Skinner sat in the back of the room, pretending not to know us, sipping his drink. We lingered around the bar. I tried to spot the Green Fairy, as absinth is often called. It's a clear green liquid. I saw a couple disappear behind some doors. Outside it had started to rain and thunder. You could hear it beating down on the glass roof.

Strange place, this was.

The moment I saw another couple sidle up next to the counter and talk to the bartender in charge, I knew we were on to it.

"Come on!" I shouted to Scully and pulled her with me. We walked over to the side where the chief bartender overlooked the crowd. "I heard you sell some good absinth," I shouted into his ear over the pounding music. He peered at me with a lifted eyebrow.

"Says who?"

"Some friends who are your regular guests. I want some. I'm willing to pay for the best quality."

He overlooked me. "You a cop?"

I smiled. "No. Cops don't care about absinth."

He smiled back and I knew we were in. "How much have you got on you?"

"As much as you want."

"Come with me."

We were brought through two metal doors into a dark hallway, which held at least four couples playing tonsil hockey and doing much more than that. Embarrassed, Scully shot me a sideways glance, rolling her eyes at me. I grinned.

Then we entered another room and there sat at least ten people, all sipping the Green Fairy. They used the old method to prepare it, with sugar - otherwise it would taste unbearable. I had done my research.

"Wait here."

We stood in the room and looked around. Were any of these people so talented that they would be next on the list of kidnappings? Did they come here for their highs, or did they just want a taste of another life?

We were then lead into yet another room, where a man with very blonde hair and fierce blue eyes stood waiting for us. That deep blue in a person's eye did not exist in nature; he was probably wearing special contacts. He almost looked like an albino. Perhaps he was.

"How much?" I asked.

"Two hundred per glass."

I looked at Scully and dug out my wallet, placing two large bills in the man's hand. "Give it to me."

She grasped my arm and stopped me. I smiled at her. "It'll be okay," I whispered.

We sank back into the pillows of the benches we were asked to sit on, and I saw how they poured one glass for me. "How about the lady?" the albino asked.

"We'll share." I looked at him. "Is it true that this heightens and enhances natural talent?"

He blinked. "Yes."

"I am curious if it will work for me."

"What is your particular talent?"

"Writing."

"Writing what?"

"Books."

"Anything I know?"

"You should." I melted the sugar on the spoon, waiting for the substance to become one with the drink. I was terrified even though I wouldn't say.

He watched us intently. "Give me your name. I might have more for you later."

I handed him a card with my name and phone number on it. "This is my real name, not an alias. I won't give you that." He bowed, smiled and left. His companions were still watching us. I knew we had to take that step forward.

"I'm drinking it," I told Scully.

"No, Mulder!" She hissed and grasped my arm. "You don't know what this will do to you."

"I have to pass the test. Just watch me and stop me if I do anything stupid. I see everyone here drinking it and most of them seem quite normal."

"Didn't you see the hallucinating guy over there? Or that woman screaming on the top of her lungs?"

I shrugged. Scully looked at me beyond worry. But she knew I was right. I drank the liquid: could feel it go right down my throat, through the esophagus and into my stomach where it rested like acid. Please, let that be all, I begged silently.

But then, within a minute, I could feel the absinth's effects. I looked at Scully and her face changed form. Her eyes became two blue pits that I could just sink into. The room tumbled, twisted, turned, changed colours, became a void, and became a grave. My breathing quickened like wildfire.

"Scully."

She grasped my hand and I felt my body fall backwards, onto the pillows. Then, what followed was one huge blur of things and distorted images.

The ceiling smiled at me. Faces formed. Places changed. Absinth grew images within and without me. A cacophony of sounds. Laughter. Joy. Despair. I looked aside and saw a woman's beastly face. She had fangs. Her eyes were a wildcat's. I touched her but she wasn't there. She was far away and all I sensed was the electric air arching around me, sparking up my spine and into my brain stem.

"Mulder?" I heard a distant amplified voice. I looked at Scully. She talked but her words came out in slow motion and from a distance. This was bliss! I could feel pure happiness rush through me. Every thought came a thousand fold. Every movement became exaggerated and out of control. I lifted myself up from the seat, gliding through the room like my feet wouldn't touch the ground, devoid of the sensation of walking. Everyone's a monster. Everyone's a winner. I was here, and yet I was not.

"Mulder!" I shook her off me and went for the door, opening it, pushing myself through into the corridor. A man opened another door and suddenly I stood outside, in the rain.

I heard screams. Loud shouts. I found myself heading towards the noise. I saw the monsters grasping a woman, dragging her. The albino was there.

"Hey!' I shouted and pulled my ankle gun; by then I was running, running, running. I could feel my body moving, but I was not in it. I wasn't even a part of it. I was a monster, like them. They raced off in their car and one man stopped and turned; he was a monster too. Butt ugly.

There were at least two of them, although I only saw one of them: they were no contest for my gun and me. And so I slipped through that alley, almost falling upside down as my shoes struggled to find a decent balance on the wet pavement. It was raining like hell. The monsters came closer to me. Their shadows a hideous montage against the wet alley walls.

"Mulder!" That was Scully behind me, wasn't it? "Stop!"

"Gotta get the monsters, Scully."

Her high-heeled feet made her slower than me as, she came after me. I wasn't about to listen to her. I just about recognized Skinner's baritone voice competing with her desperate shouting, behind me.

The monsters turned and began to flee. I could spot them a mile away. This was what I was good at: chasing the bad guys.

Through the driving rain, I saw the two figures rush through the backdoor into a restaurant, smashing the door almost against my nose. I pulled the damned thing open and rushed after them, following them through the large kitchen of a Chinese restaurant, past the hallway and toilets, into the restaurant itself, where one of them kicked a chair with a child on it, right over in front of me. I picked up the chair with child and all, ignored her bawling, careened after them onto the main street, to the right, into another alley in between another restaurant and a karaoke bar - was that person really trying to imitate Elvis? - past a bag lady, two dogs and a hungry cat, onto garbage cans and clambering over a fence, into another part of the alley with very bad rotten fishy-smelling huge garbage bins. To the left we went, through another restaurant's dirty kitchen, its hallway and main floor, where a waiter had just lost the contents of his dishes on his tray where they split up. The smaller one ran to the left. The other one veered off to the right. I chose the smaller one, who'd always been in his partner's footsteps, and rushed over the main road towards him, yelling "FBI! Stop or I will shoot!" Past bystanders and walkers we almost knocked flying, who yelled and screamed, moved aside as soon as they saw the gun, not realizing what was going down. I raced into another alley that looked very much like all the others, with its dark corners, drifters, dogs, cats and stinking garbage bins. But suddenly, I could no longer see the perp, and the alley turned out to be a dead end, except for one locked door.

I froze and looked around; holding my gun aloft ready to shoot at anything that moved, save for the cats and dogs and drifters. I heard noises behind me. I swung around to see a shocked drifter standing nearby. He'd, been foraging in the bins for scraps. I concentrated on any other sounds I could hear, but there were none. I saw nothing but debris coming from the worn-down buildings; this part of town was more or less a slum and these places looked set to collapse. The alley was very deserted and wet. I was soaked through. Heaving for breath after my mad jaunt through the crap side of town.

Monsters win for now.

And then, even before I heard the crashing sound, I saw a huge cascade of that same building debris coming down in full force on top of me. I felt a whoosh of cement thick air seconds before it struck me. And when it came tumbling down, it struck me hard on the back and shoulders, even though I threw myself against one of the remaining walls, diving into some sort of small artificial cave.


- 8 -

I woke up with the nauseating feeling that something was terribly wrong. I tried to move, only to find myself trapped. I lay sprawled underneath debris: lots and lots of it. I could detect that strange scent of decay that could only come from old, abandoned, buildings. I was still out of my body, still into a place of strange, careless bliss. I had just blown my cover, hadn't I? Some cover. Some stakeout. Pain was still a stranger, or at least I could feel something, but nothing registered in my pain centers.

I felt nothing but numbness. There was no pain, no tender spots, no nothing. My body seemed to be buried alive and I could feel nothing. Was I already dead? I couldn't see anything either, but knew I must have been lying trapped, yet inside some sort of dusty wet cocoon.

Yet I could do nothing: not even think. There was just that darkness, and smell that nauseated me even more with every passing minute. 'Help.' I heard my own, croaky voice. It was all I could muster. Pitiful. Other than that, all I could do was to lie still, the way I had woken up, and pray that someone somehow would find me. And that the rest of the looming decayed buildings would not rein down on my vulnerable position again

I heard something very close to me. It sounded like a dog. I could hear barking and sniffling and more barking. Something wet touched my face. A dog's large raspy tongue. I almost smiled, had it not been for my predicament.

"Good boy," I groaned. "But I'm not food. Get help. Help."

After what seemed hours, I heard voices: lots and lots of them. "Mulder, can you hear us?" the most welcome and familiar of all shouted.

"Yeah," I groaned, but she did not respond. She must not have heard me.

"I told you the dog would find him!" another voice cried out. It sounded like an old man's. "My Pooch finds anything. Even dead chickens and rabbits."

I tried to wonder where in god's name one could find dead chickens in the middle of DC, when suddenly my legs seemed to be freed. I could feel the weight being lifted off me. And a voice shouted. "He's down here!"

They started working around the cocoon of rubble surrounding my head. I blinked against the sudden flashlights, as the bricks and crap were being taken away. My entire body hastily became freed now. But I couldn't move. I felt like I would fall apart if I did.

Scully was by my side. "Point that flashlight towards him but not into his eyes," she ordered as she knelt by me. I was lying on rain soaked concrete - so cold! - my chattering teeth hurt right down to the gums. Covered only by my own warm winter's coat. Thank god for that at least.

"Mulder, it's me. Can you hear me?"

"Yeah," I groaned wearily. "Thank Pooch for me, will you?"

She laughed relieved. "You were awake."

"Sort of. I would like to take a nap though. It's so cold here," I moaned, trying to raise my left hand. Damn it, that hurt! I could hardly move the thing.

"Don't move. We need to take a look at you first."

"Who's we?"

She turned and pointed to at least three police vehicles, an ambulance and a number of FBI- vehicles. Monica and Follmer were there. Oh great. And Skinner was there too. How they did they get here so fast? Oh wait, I must have been out of it for some time. Damn it. I was the center of a sideshow.

"Great," I mumbled, trying to move up. I didn't want to stay on the cold concrete. "Scully, I'm fine."

"You just had half a wall over you. It's a miracle you're still alive. Stay still."

The paramedics were at my side now, while flashlights kept on going over my body and face. I hated their scrutiny.

"Let me go," I groaned.

"Mulder, do you realise what has just happened? You're bleeding all over: your face, your hands, arms. You've obviously broken your wrist. They need to check you out thoroughly: inside and out."

This time I didn't groan, but winced as she touched my sore - and very swollen - wrist. Okay, so I was in pain. And yeah, that wrist probably needed fixing. But like hell was I going to let them patronize me and keep me in some hospital for days, while those guys were still out there doing their thing. No way. Besides, I was still on my high. My god, if one sip of absinth could do this to a person, what would happen with a whole glass. Or bottle? Could one survive that?

"I want to see if the absinth has caused anything else," she spoke quietly, adding her fear to the matter. I no longer argued with her; my heart was pounding out of my chest and I realized with shock, that I might be hurt more badly than I wanted to admit. And to be honest: everything did start to hurt. My legs. My feet. Even my big toes. And my hair follicles ached. Damn it. Why hadn't I been more careful?

Every single move they made caused me agony. Every single step that they took, carrying my injured body, seemed to hurt me even more. This was worse than getting shot. Hell, I would take a bullet to the shoulder at any time now. At least then one could be down for the count. Now I had to endure it all.

"Stay with me, partner," Scully spoke gently, knowing exactly what I was going through. "Just concentrate on my voice and think of more pleasant things. It will get better. We've got you."

I groaned and wanted to tell her for the first time in my life to fuck off. Instead, I just delivered her my best attempt at a smile, ground my teeth and pretended I was in Miami Beach getting a tan.

Yeah, that sounded pretty good right about now.


- 9 -

"The good news is that you haven't broken anything more than your wrist," Doctor Williams came in, preparing me for the worst already. He wasn't smiling however as he went over to read my EKG readouts. I looked at him and waited for him to continue, as the heart monitors picked up every beat in my chest. Why in the world was I attached to these monitors? I was fine, wasn't I? The pain was slowly subsiding, thanks to Mr. Drug. I was feeling great!

"The bad news is that we're going to have to keep you here a few nights."

"Eh? Why in god's name?" I heard myself ask with a shrill voice.

"Your body didn't react well to the absinth. Your heart is still racing, you are overagitated and obviously still under the influence. I want to keep you under close observation. You are a healthy man, but the type of drink you've imbibed was enough to send anyone's metabolism through the roof."

"I just had a sip."

"Good thing you didn't drink the whole glass. Honestly, I don't see how anyone could endure that, unless you were a frequent user."

"Okay," I said. "So give me a good comfortable bed and I'll stay one night. I'll be fine in the morning."

"We'll talk again then."

"Okay."

Scully refused to leave me alone, and spent the night lying restlessly on the huge sofa next to the bed. She declined my offer to spend the night with my - somewhat broken - arm around her, and dozed off quickly.

As for me?

I remembered what it was like to drink absinth, to lose control over everything and to watch the world from afar. Time stood still there. No one cared about anything. No wonder people loved it so much.

I shook the thoughts away and drifted off.

My cell phone rang early morning, waking me up. I was startled by it, and picked it up tiredly, only then realizing I had forgotten to switch it off inside the hospital walls.

"Are you still interested in more?" a voice asked. It was the albino.

"Yeah," I groaned, with Scully's tired eyes fixed on me.

"Meet me at the back entrance of the Grand Caf?. Come alone or you'll get nothing. Don't bring your lady friend."

"She's interested too."

"I'm not interested in her."

A click and he was gone.

I looked at Scully. "It seems that we're in business."

"Mulder, he must know you're FBI. You shouted it for the world to know."

"He'll think I was drugged. By the way, what about that girl he took? We must help her."

"He didn't take a girl. You imagined it."

"I saw it! Hasn't there been another missing person's report?"

"Nothing at all."

"But there are still people with him, I'm certain of it."

"Mulder, you would be his next victim. He would think you have something to offer."

"We just have to figure out where he's staying, and if it's his group that's orchestrating this whole show. I'll be fine," I said.

"I'm coming with you."

"Not a chance."

She knew I would win the argument. I often did. But I was as terrified as she was. I had infiltrated once and it had cost me a broken wrist that still ached when it started to rain, despite the cast that hugged it. What if I left with much more than that busted wrist this next time? I could still feel the rush. It was here, within me, ready to pick up where it left off. I knew that anyone could fall a victim to it. I knew what drugs did to you. I knew what how it could affect me. My heart had calmed over night but I was still hyper. My blood surged in remembrance of the buzz the stuff gave me.

And so I went alone to the Grand Cafe, with the permission of Skinner and Kersh. They all knew about it, and they understood that this could be a way to find the truth. No one else had come up with anything. Reyes and Follmer had seen nothing at their stakeout. No other potential suspect had reacted. And my gut feeling told me it was the albino we needed.


- 11 -

I don't feel at home in posh places, despite my father's high status influences; that status and money could buy any place we wanted in any location. I never cared much for the ostentatiousness of it. I preferred a good homemade pizza and a beer any time. Scully always teased me about that. "When you die, they'll write: He loved his ladies, his ball games and his pizza."

"But he loved his woman and kid more," I added playfully, with a hint of ruefulness. She flushed when I said that. Yes, after all these years, Agent Dana Scully can still blush, thank you very much.

She was in my mind when I walked into the posh Grand Caf?, where about twenty to twenty-five people were enjoying an expensive meal. I walked over to the bar where the albino was waiting. Now I knew that he was one: he wasn't wearing his exotic blue contact lenses today as we looked into each other's eyes.

"You're not a writer," he said instantly.

I didn't wince. "No."

"Then who are you?"

"A man with money who wants the best he can buy."

"Why did you lie? I don't like liars."

I ordered a Martini at the bar and chewed slowly on an olive before replying. "Rumor has it that there is someone feeding the best absinth one can find to stimulate creativity. I've heard that you might be a part of the package."

"You don't know me," he spoke slowly. "How did you find me unless you're a cop? I heard you shout last night. My men did too. You're FBI."

I smiled. "I'm not a cop. I saw hideous monsters. I would have squealed anything."

"That was your first rush?"

"Absinth-wise? Yes. I want more."

He looked me straight in the eyes. "What kind of talent do you have then?"

I leaned forward. "I'm a good judge of character, and I know that you are going to give me what I want and need."

He laughed, bearing a set of perfect white teeth. "I like you, but I don't trust you. If you're coming with me, it'll be on my terms."

"I can live with that."

"Perhaps there is a use for your talents then after all." He patted me on the back. "Let's go."

We left the bar, and moved across the street, into a parking lot where a black van with tinted windows was waiting. Was this the car used for the abductions? Had the senator's daughter been in here? I tried to look around but as soon as the van door opened, I was pushed in. Suddenly my hands were tied with a rope - they were careful with the cast around my wrist - and a blindfold was placed over my eyes, followed by a hood. This did feel awfully and uneasily familiar, and I had to force myself not to start panicking. Oh god, what had I done?

At least they didn't knock me out. The vehicle took off and we left the parking lot - I could hear them slide their ticket through the machine - and drove through the streets. It seemed to take forever. I could never figure out where they were taking me, so I let it happen and tried to relax.

"Hope you got the money for some serious shit," a voice other than the albino, said. I didn't reply.

Finally we seemed to enter some sort of building. The ambient sounds changed and became hollow, as if we were driving further and further down some parking garage. Finally we stopped. The doors opened, and I was helped out, still bound and blindfolded. We walked towards an elevator. Then into a corridor; through a door, then finally another one. Then a humming sound came towards me, and I could hear whispering voices, as if people were chanting something.

The rope was taken off. The cap and blindfold lifted. I had to blink several times to get used to the shady room, lit only with candles that toyed like images of demons on the walls. It all seemed very flower power to me, your regular retro hippy cult. In a minute they would start talking about suicide, I figured. I should feel right at home.

The people in the room were scattered all over. Some sat in the far corners and were totally out of it; some clung to the walls; some sat on the cold broken tiles to the left; some dreamt out loud sitting or lying on tables and chairs; some were downright space monkeys, drooling and twitching on the floor at imaginary foes or nightmares. There were at least fifteen of them, three of which were definitely underage.

Everyone was beautiful. I couldn't use another word for it. They all had perfect faces, perfect features, and probably perfect talents. There was a door leading to a back room with a lock on it. Ten to one the loot lay in there, I thought silently. Scary.

The Green Fairy was everywhere. Bottles lay half- emptied, or empty ones scattered on the floor. Others stood on the table. Several were filled. Glasses were prepared for use. The seedy underground scene. This is how it was: the bohemians coming together to rejoice their talents.

"Who are they?" I asked and the albino smiled. "You should know, since you're FBI."

"I'm not -"

"Don't lie to us, Agent Mulder."

"I was a Fed, I admit it, but they tried to kick me out several times. I was even canned once. Unfortunately I need an income and well - I had no choice, really. But I can say in all honesty I am not highly regarded."

"So your reputation still sticks on you, hey?"

"So you spoke to the Senator, hey?" I dared saying, knowing I had gambled and lost.

He smiled. "Of course. He's a good client. Loved to talk about his daughter whom he had a certain - let's say - special affection for. She was special indeed."

"So absinth kills them?"

The albino paled. "No, it's our extras that kill them. A herbal extract so strong it multiplies the absinth tenfold; bringing it to such heights that it destroys the brain and the body from within. But it's an unfortunate necessity to bring out that special gift they all have."

"So you can sell off their work years after they have died."

"It's my investment for the future. My talent is to pick out those who are special. It's always been my job and a personal hobby, seeing as I was considered 'special' too from the day I was born. I discovered the strength of absinth by chance, as I became a frequent user myself. It's a perfect feeling, Agent Mulder. You felt what regular absinth could do to you already. Now imagine this, times ten. You should try it. It takes you to the most exquisite higher levels and beyond. It creates the perfect world for you to work in, to become the ultimate perfectionist and performer. Perhaps there's an artist hiding away inside you after all. And in worst case scenario, you will just die."

"I think I'll pass."

"Please, I invite you to try it."

I stared at the wine glass filled with special absinth, hoping Scully and co. had at least tried to track the van. God knows there were enough of them out there.

I knew what would come next: the visions, the nightmares and then the ultimate dreams. I would easily get hooked into it, as they all did. If I lived to see another day.

I almost wished I had taken up Scully's insisting offer on being wired, but I had not, knowing they could frisk me at any time. This was too important.

"No thank you," I spoke friendly. "I think I'll pass."

"Drink it. I must insist"

"No."

The albino hardly nodded. I was grabbed from behind by his monkeys, my face was shoved upwards, my mouth unceremoniously prized open. I knew I couldn't do a damn thing. Okay, the cavalry really should show up by now!

The liquid poured down my throat like a thick, greasy fluid. No sugar to hold it down this time, nothing to sweeten its taste. This was the poison I felt going inside of me, burning and choking in my throat.

"It's a rush," the albino whispered nastily, before they let go of me and I dropped to the floor.

I couldn't move anymore. And then the walls came at me, the ceiling swayed and danced and then turned pitch black, whilst the room seemed too small. Inside my head I could feel a desperate struggle ongoing. My brain wanted to explode, to escape its human boundaries, to explore new universes. My body was powerless but my brain, oh god, it was working a zillion miles per hour. Everything I had ever remembered, everything I had ever done came back to me. The memories came and took me to unseen worlds, high above the city and into the blackest night.

Then I fell. Deeply, crashing down onto the pavement of the city, and staying down for the count. I crawled up, staring dazed at the dark ominous streets. Why did I suddenly feel so alone? So endangered?

I wanted to escape these frightening new visions, and return to the rush of happiness I had experienced seconds before. I turned and started drifting away from the alley of my nightmares, and somewhere down the line, I knew what my talent was: Remembrance.

Somebody save me please.

"Hello!" I shouted. "Help me!" Nobody responded. I shook my head, trying to get my mind to wake up. Nothing. "Help me! Help!"

Then the world started to tremble beneath me.

This was not a pleasant place anymore. I was descending into hell. The pavement crumbled underneath me, throwing me into a pitch-black world, then hurling downwards into the freezing void.

Make it stop, someone!

But the most heinous monsters had not come for me yet, but suddenly, there they were. Rushing into me, trapping me, crushing me, taking me, and ripping apart my flesh and bone, leaving nothing in one piece. I screamed.

The albino. I saw him. He smiled.

"Your talent is other people's pain. You get that now."

I could hear doors slam open, voice shattering like glass, followed by the infinite silence I was entering, the room turned upside down, the men taken away. I could do nothing but lie around in a stupor, hurt, wounded, and unseeing.

Until I saw Scully.

"Mulder?" she asked and her face tenderly locked onto mine, her lips speaking words I couldn't understand. I grasped her tight somehow. "What?" she asked gently.

"Empty my stomach," I whispered. "And tie me down. I'm in for a ride."

Then followed a blur of medical activity. While fighting my demons, I was strapped down on a gurney while they put an oxygen mask on my mouth and started an IV. I could feel the effects of the altered absinth go right through me, hitting me in the face with a sledgehammer.

I saw Scully's face constantly change into a mixture of monsterlike humanity. She held my hand, talked about our son and constantly told me to stay alert. I drifted off several times, but every time she brought me back. I was very alert when they put the tube down into my stomach and emptied all its contents, hoping that not all the absinth had been digested already. Then I was treated with medication that I have no idea of what they used. I had the most bizarre dreams, the weirdest nightmares and a lot of anxiety. I heard them talk about heart failure, about problems, about my brain working overtime. I begged and pleaded for the straps to be removed but they wouldn't listen.

And in the end, I guess I survived.


- 12 -

"Why is it that whenever you are involved in a case, it becomes much more dangerous?" Follmer asked wearily, leaning against the desk in Skinner's office. We were all gathered there, finalizing the details on our reports. I looked at him.

"Perhaps I look more closely at places where you should be looking."

Follmer paled but didn't reply. I looked away because I wasn't angry with him. I was angry at myself. I had too many responsibilities now; to take the kind of risks I have taken so often in the past. I had Scully and William to consider, and the life ahead of us.

Two days ago, after spending the most horrid night of my life in hospital, not knowing if I was going to live or die from the aftermaths of the absinth, I had various hallucinations and dreams of Scully and I. But in every dream she was my beacon of light, the one who pulled me through and held me back from the brink, keeping me grounded. That in itself was once again proof, that I should not regret reluctantly having pulled back from the FBI: all that I have received in return is much greater than that. I should keep that in mind.

The case is finally closed.

The albino, AKA Robert Henly, has been placed in custody for a total of eight murders and at least twenty-abductions. We believe there have been many more. We were lucky to have found him so quickly. To have him believe that he stood above the law, protected by his clientele, which not only consisted of the senator, but several highly placed diplomats who are all frequent users. But in the end, he didn't have anyone in the FBI to help save his ass. And I was quite lucky to have found a team that cooperated and tracked down the van, not letting it out of sight for the whole trip through town. It just took them forever to get in there. Monica was shocked at the sight and scale of the disaster.

"So, what now?" I asked. "Back to consultancy, hey?"

Skinner smiled and looked at me. He was nervous. "I know you found my behaviour odd. I -"

"You knew about the senator," I interrupted him. "So did Kersh."

"Yeah, I did. I suspected it." "So why did you act like an asshole?" Scully blurted out. Clearly angry at the non disclosure.

He smiled. "Because I didn't want to get you involved. I thought it would be too risky to do so."

"Yet Kersh insisted on it. You didn't stop me."

"Call it a dilemma."

"So you're happy I was on deck again?"

"Of course I am," Skinner said. "No matter where you're working from, your mind is always here. Just don't think Kersh will ever admit to that."

"I'll remember that, sir."

"Now get the hell out of here so I can finally do some surfing."

"Your computer is right there, sir."

"Funny."

We shook hands and Scully and I left the room after saying goodbye to the others. She held onto me tightly when we left, and I felt comforted by her physical presence. Outside, I stretched my body in the sunlight, letting my vertebrate click satisfyingly and looked at her.

"I love you," she said softly, and I smiled and kissed her.

"I love you too."

"So, let's go home."

"Care for a drink?" I offered instead. "A Pisang Orange? I'm in the mood for something green."

She punched me in the ribs for that, and well, I guess no less than I deserved. But deep inside of me, I still feel that rush. The adrenaline boost lingered on for a long, long time after. And I know now how it feels to be addicted.

Unfortunately, it feels good.

END  


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