TITLE: Under the Rose
AUTHOR: bugs
WRITTEN: 2001
DISTRIBUTION: I'll do Gossamer and Spookys. Anyone else, please ask.
RATING: NC-17 for violent, disturbing imagery and sexual situations.
CLASSIFICATION: X, A, M/S
SPOILERS: Story is set in early season 2. A familiarity with old episodes will definitely help make this story more interesting. I've tried to place the characters within that timeline, and also fill in some development. Some events are my creativity but others are plucked from episodes.
CONTENT WARNING: This storyline may offend Catholics and others with religious beliefs. And vampires.

SUMMARY: The Christmas holidays are always so stressful. 1994
is even more so for Dana Scully, bringing painful memories, a perplexing Mulder, and vampires.


But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat. Genesis 9:4


Chapter 1: Sanguivoria

The music pounds. Our shuffling feet follow the rhythm. Under the flickering red flames of whirling lights, we are slaves to its beat.

Bodies sway like bullrushes, following Isis' breath. Closed eyes signify their isolation, even as the mass of bodies move as one. I sway with them, but my attention is not driven to that interior world.

I'm watching her. She came looking for me, but I haven't tried to flee. I've been waiting for her.

Her eyes, deep with the flashing light, come to rest on me. The bloom of her mouth gasps for breath. Her black dress wraps around her small body, pulling her into the shadows. My gaze falls on her bare neck trying to hide in a bramble of red curls. She's among us unprotected.

I have to smile in triumph. They've gotten to her. I saw her, so careful at the bar, getting only a bottled water. But we have our ways. Her pupils have swallowed her pale irises and I can see my reflection in them as I gaze down at her.

Jehu, his rapid, moist breath at my ear, his body leaning against my back, mutters a thousand perverse suggestions. I bat his touch away. I don't need any persuasion tonight.

Blanca stands behind her, her white bird-claws lifting the woman's breasts for me, offering up the lotus-petal flesh spilling out of the woman's tight bodice. Captive, she wants to struggle. I see the fear under my reflected image. This is what excites me.

I shake my head at Blanca. My target is throbbing in the stem of the woman's neck
the jump of her terrified pulse.

My breath quickens, and I run my tongue over my blood-stained teeth. I've already fed tonight, but I now want to banish that bitter rust flavor from my mouth.

I want the blush under her fair cheeks, the rush through a fine vein at her temple, the drum beat under her ear. My love is a red, red, rose.


December 21st, 1994
, two days earlier
Washington DC, Columbia Heights

The yellow tape snaps in the sharp morning breeze, cutting through the monochrome dawn. Slipping past the patrol cars and clusters of dark-garbed cops, I duck under it easily.

The first body lies in the gutter. It's covered with a blue tarp, held down by a garbage can on one edge and a bored cop's large foot on the other.

The wind lifts the tarp to reveal an arm and dirty hand, upturned and half-clenched. All I have to do is ask, and the tarp will be removed for me. But something makes me prefer this view.

"Ma'am?" A gray-haired policeman is at my shoulder.

I glance at him and rummage for my I.D. "Special Agent Dana Scully with the FBI. I was called."

He still looks worried. He's too old to ever accept someone like me in law enforcement.

Ignoring his tension, I shift my gaze to the second tarp-covered body. It's up on the steps of the shabby church
I squint to read the letters etched in the stained stone facade
St. Stephen and the Incarnation.

I've already begun to make mental notes: questions that I'll need to answer. My fingers are fumbling for latex gloves when a plain- clothed detective hurries up to me. He's a small man with receding curly black hair and large, bulging, dark eyes. Incongruously, he's chewing on a Slim Jim and he's too alert for this early hour.

"Agent Scully?" Leaving the jerky like a dark cigarette between his lips, he grabs my hand and gives it a strong squeeze. "Detective Santos. Thanks for coming."

"You were the one who contacted me?" I ask as we move towards the first body. I'd been awakened a little after 7 AM. Certain it was Mulder finally coming out of whatever hole he'd crawled into, I'd snatched it up before the second ring.

"Yes. Well, I tried to get a hold of your partner first. No luck." He shakes his head.

I let the now familiar twinge of worry return. I've been unable to contact Mulder in four days. Even assuming he was avoiding me, I'd been certain he'd come out for a case. Glancing around again, I see he's nowhere to be found, not even poking through the garbage cans along the side of the church. I fight the urge to try to reach him immediately.

"Agent Scully?" The detective has been talking.

I blink, clearing my thoughts. "Yes." I pull the latex gloves on. The tarp is flipped back for us.

"What's the story?"

Santos' jerky stick quivers with excitement. "I've heard about your work. That is, the work of your division." He crouches by the body. "This one looks like a dumping."

Young male victim. Approximately 20 years old. Thin build, closely-shaved scalp, pale skin. Dressed completely in black, from heavy laced up boots to a turtleneck and leather jacket. Edges of tattoos peeks out from his sleeve and neckline. His expression is frozen in pain, pale eyes open. His lips are curled back to reveal yellow teeth. His face has been battered and his left arm hangs over his waist at an unnatural angle, suggesting it's broken. His back is wedged in between the curb and street surface. The torso is twisted, leaving his legs up on the sidewalk. He does look as though someone tossed him out of a car like an empty bottle.

"What time were they found?" I ask as I get down on my hands and knees to peer behind his right ear. An indentation in the skull makes it look like blunt trauma
resulting in death: my familiar friend.

Looking embarrassed, he admits, "A little before 6 AM. When the priest showed up."

That earns him a double take. "This body shows the beginnings of livor mortis. It must have been here four hours already." I check my watch again. 8:14 A.M.

He nods, his face unhappy. "It's not the sort of neighborhood where people are willing to draw attention to themselves. I wouldn't be surprised if folks just stepped over the body on the way to the bus."

I motion to the street. "Didn't any passing police vehicles or delivery trucks see this body?"

He says with regret, "The streetlight's out. I don't think it would be noticed until the sun came up." Waving his arm up to the other tarp-covered body, he adds, "And that one just looks like she's asleep."

"Let's go take a look."

As we hurry towards the other shrouded form, he goes on. "This one is why I called. I've heard about the X-files section for years." Swallowing the last bite of his 'breakfast,' he flashes me a quick grin. "I've kept an eye out for a case for you guys. Out of curiosity."

I quirk an eyebrow at him.

He shrugs. "I've always had an interest in the paranormal. Remnants of a childhood spent in the Catholic church."

Irritation hits me. What does he mean by that? There's no one more critical of the Church than its own members, my mother says.

He jerks his head towards a waiting cop who stoops to lift the tarp over this body. "This one has all the classic signs of a ritual killing. If you ask me," he finishes uncertainly.

Another young person, this one female. Seems to be the same age with a similar appearance and dress. Black boots, long black dress. Her hair is shaved close on the left side of her head, but is breast length on the right side, dyed deep, unnatural red.

He's right. This is no hurried dumping of a murder victim. She was arranged flat on her back, lying on a step part way up the staircase. Her ankles are primly crossed and her hands clasped. A red tattoo of rose-covered thorny vines, vivid against her death- pale skin, twists around her thin right arm.

Crouching beside me, he points out crimson rose petals scattered over and around the body. "Was she a sacrifice? And where does the other body fit in?"

"Have the photos been done?" I ask, ignoring his enthusiasm. It's too damned early in the morning and I haven't had my coffee.

He seems properly chastened. "Yes, ma'am."

I nod as I straighten up. "Good."

I catch sight of a set of slumped shoulders out of the corner of my eye.

Mulder. He's here.

He's passing the first body with barely a glance. He joins us at the female victim. "Mulder?"

I pluck at the crease on his trench coat's sleeve. He turns his head achingly slowly, then lowers his eyes to meet mine. His eyelids seem heavy, cloaking dark eyes. He looks pale and tired.

"Good morning, Scully. What do we have here?"

He might as well have said, 'Fuck you, bitch,' for all the pain I feel at that moment.

It's been four days and nine hours since he walked out of my bedroom, still pulling on his clothes. He didn't look back. He hasn't called me. I haven't been able to get in touch with him. There's been no answer on his phones or to rapping on his door. One night, I dared to use the key to open the door, but the rooms were empty.

He hasn't been to his office. I've been sitting in mine, trying not to stare at the dull, dark red light that would signal an incoming call, and forcing myself not to pick up the receiver to call him. All I could imagine was that he was with another woman. Fury would overcome me; I'd yank my eyes away, but within the hour, I'd be back to staring at it.

And now, here he is, acting like nothing happened.

He's right. Nothing did happen.

I drop my gaze to the body. "Detective Santos thought we'd be interested in this case." I force myself to speak normally. "Santos, Agent Mulder."

Mulder drags his hand from his pocket, offering it to the policeman. Santos doesn't notice Mulder's lackluster manner and pumps his hand. Perhaps he senses a comrade in arms. "Pleased to meet you." His face becomes contrite. "Despite the circumstances."

Mulder waves off the detective's sense of propriety. "Have your men gathered statements?"

"Nobody saw nothin'." The smaller man says.

Mulder hasn't looked at me again. His eyes slide up the facade of the church and I join him in an inspection. It's small and old, with a crumbling stone exterior clinging to the edge of a single belltower, topped by a sharp, mean spire. The portal is gloomy and the surrounding carvings, worn and nearly unidentifiable, are various saints. The door is dark and sour-solid.

"The priest? He found the bodies?" "Apparently." Santos seems unsure. "He's the one who placed the call. But he wasn't definite about how the bodies were discovered."

Without glancing at me, Mulder says, "Let's go talk to him."

Assuming he was speaking to me, I push the heavy door open and slip into the gloomy interior of the church.

Shadows envelop the pews and arcades. There are no large stained glass windows in this neighborhood. Narrow, clear lancets, screened in wire against tossed rocks, scatter sharp shards of the weak morning light down the aisle ahead of me.

A simple white cloth covers the altar. When I reach it, I turn, straining to find anyone in the darkness. I've lost Mulder again. I hear a flapping of soft wings, and gaze upward, wondering how birds could have found their way in. "May I help you?" A voice, rich and deep, heavily Spanish- accented, comes from my behind me. The priest has slipped out from behind the altar screen in the ambulatory.

I dig for my badge while looking him over. He seems to be waiting patiently for me to finish my examination, hands clasped together, eyes downcast.

He's a little under six feet tall, making him tall for a Latin immigrant, with wide shoulders over a slim build. Although his features could have been lifted from a piece of Pre-Columbian art, his skin is very pale, with an ivory sheen. When his eyes finally flick up to briefly meet mine after glancing at my ID, I see they are pale green with long, black eyelashes. Glossy black curls coil around his skull.

I feel that familiar, forbidden twinge of lust for a man of the cloth, followed by the lethargy of an after-glow, and have to stifle a self-deprecating laugh. I'm getting too old for that sort of schoolgirl reaction.

"I'm Special Agent Dana Scully from the FBI, Father..."

"Father Joaquin," is all he says.

This is going to be a tough interview. I hate to admit it, but Mulder might have better luck with a priest. I glance around the shadowed space. He's still missing. Irritation mixes with concern.

I start questioning the Father. "We're investigating your report."

His face remains impassive.

Carefully, I continue. "The young woman. In front of the church. You discovered the body?"

His bright red tongue flicks out, moisture glistening in the candlelight, to lick his full lips. Momentarily mesmerized again, I shake my head slightly to break the spell. "Yes." The way he says the word, it almost sounds like a question.

I grind onward. "At what time, sir?"

He glances at his wrist. I follow his gaze. He wears no watch. "Sir?" I keep prodding.

"I leave my apartment at 5 o'clock."

"Do you live on the church grounds?"

He seems to consider the question. My irritation is beating like a heart. "No, ma'am."

"Do you walk or drive to the church?"

"I walk."

"How long does it usually take you to walk?"

He thinks some more. "Around five minutes, I would say." I let out a loud breath. "Good. Do you come by the front of the church?"

"No, ma'am."

He answers that question pretty damn quick. I lean back against the prayer railing. "Which entrance do you use?"

"There is a door in the back. I have an office over the chapel. I go to my office and check my schedule. Then I come down and check around the church. Prepare things." He raises a limp hand and waves it around.

"When do you open the door?"

"I try to have the front door unlocked by 5:30." "That's when you discovered the bodies?"

He's clamming up again. I don't think he's trying to mislead me. He seems to want to make sure he doesn't say anything without counting the risks. That fact will be of more importance to me than the string of events he's recounting.

"I unlocked the door, but did not open it. Then I checked the water level in the font. The old ladies, they come in early. They are upset if the water is not there."

His jade eyes look for understanding. I nod.

"Then I returned to the door. I also check the steps for the sleeping people. If they are there, I remind then that the soup kitchen will be open soon and they will want to be first in line. The old ladies, they do not like the sleeping people either." He's sad. Whether for the nagging old women or the homeless, I'm not sure.

I prompt him. "And there was a body on the step?"

"Yes."

The urge to slap him is nearly overwhelming. Instead, I ask, "Can you describe the body?"

He looks shocked. "It was a young woman, I believe. In a dress."

It's my turn to be obtuse. "And?"

He's beginning to sweat. "She was dead."

"Why didn't you assume she was asleep?"

"What?" He could raise his voice at last.

"I need to know if you touched the body, sir. Did you attempt to awake her? Shake her?" I keep my features blank.

"No. I saw the girl just as a parishioner came up the stairs. Then I called the police."

I affect a slightly bored air. "Thank you, sir."

He licks his lips again, this time much faster.

"Did you see the other body?"

He asks with the affected lilt of a bad actor, "There is another body?"

"Yes, sir. In the gutter."

He crosses himself. Nice touch.

Mulder chooses that moment to reappear, startling the priest before he can get to the Holy Ghost.

My partner repeats my statement. "Yes, sir. In the gutter," then presses on aggressively. "You didn't see the body?"

Father Joaquin, suddenly not so reserved, can look him in the eye. "No, sir. It was dark."

"And the young man was wearing black."

The priest doesn't fall into the trap. I'm surprised Mulder thought he would.

"I did not see," the man says stubbornly.

Mulder seems bored. "Thank you, sir. Do you have a contact number? We may have more questions for you at a later time."

With his now expected reluctance, the priest gives us the phone numbers.

Outside on the steps, the young woman's body has been removed.

"He's hiding something," Mulder states the obvious.

My automatic perversity swings into action. "His manner could simply be a result of persecution from an oppressive government in his home country."

He merely nods and says, "Let's run a background check. Find out where the good Father is from and the situation."

After what happened between us, I expected shame or its inverse, anger. Instead, he's developed a smooth surface, polished to a high sheen. This frightens me. Mulder should let his emotions show.

He's in the doorway of the church. Turning back, he asks, "Are you coming?"

"Yes," I reply.


The doctors had released me from the hospital four days after I came out of my coma. Mom decided to stay over at my place to look after me. She set up camp on my too short couch and started fussing. All I wanted to do was take long walks, perhaps jog, do some weight lifting, but she insisted on keeping me in pajamas and cooking cream of tomato soup.

I suppose I was expected to revel in this extended sick day home from school and revert back to some infantile state. I did, but to a sulking little girl with hot, tear-stained cheeks.

I finally managed to escape her on the third day. She left for the store when I faked sleep. As soon as she was gone, I started pulling on a pair of sweat pants and pullover.

The fall air was crisp, with the promise of moisture. I wanted it to rain. My skin felt too dry, as though I'd been stored in cotton batting for three months. No amount of moisturizer could take away that sensation.

Letting my stride swing out, I headed in no particular direction. I just wanted to feel the breeze pick up my hair from my neck. But someone was watching me. I wasn't very nervous
I was on a crowded public street
but I didn't like being unsettled. I was sick of that feeling.

Rather than speeding up, I slowed. I could feel my pursuer closing in. I stopped and spun to face him.

"Mulder!"

He looked shocked; then his gaze shifted away to watch passing traffic.

"What are you doing?"

He took a step closer until he was well within my space. I fought the urge to step back.

"I was following you." I was surprised at his honesty, but his face looked open with exhaustion. "What are you doing out?"

Immediately irritated, I replied, "I can go out. I need to go out."

He stepped so close my chest brushed his leather jacket.

"I know you do."

Not giving him a chance, I asked, "How did you know I'd be here? Were you coming by to see me?"

More honesty. "No. I've been watching your apartment. I saw you leave."

Flabbergasted, I burst out, "What? Mulder! Why?"

He doesn't return my imploring gaze. Instead, his eyes are focused on my mouth. I had an odd urge to suck my lips into my mouth to keep them from his vision.

"What if someone tries to take you."

I finally take that step back. "I think you should go home, Mulder. I'll see you at work on Monday."

He protested, "Scully, you need more time to recover."

Firmly, I said, "No, I'm doing very well. I'll be ready for duty on Monday morning."

He looked lost. I was immediately contrite. Stepping forward, I reached out and briefly grasped his arm. "Mulder, please. Go home. If I need you, I'll call."

His eyes were on my mouth again. His gaze slid across my lips slowly
it was a warm kiss.

Without waiting for his response, afraid of my urge to rise up on my toes and return the kiss, I turned and walked off down the street. He didn't follow.

He heeded my instructions. He didn't call or come by. Ignoring my mother's fretting, I went on more walks.

I worked on my strength and endurance. Ate well. Slept. And thought about that time I had returned his kiss.

I hadn't felt as though we had anything to lose. Mulder had finished his last case, complete with guilt surrounding the Vietnam veteran's shooting death. His new partner, Alex Krycek, had slithered back into the bowels of the Bureau. The X-files had been shut down. My superiors were vague about my next teaching assignment at Quantico. Our futures were unclear.

We had been trying to say goodbye to each other among towers of cardboard boxes in the basement. Flickering fluorescent lights added to our jumpiness.

Neither of us wanted to go but we couldn't risk being caught together. Perhaps it was that sense of the forbidden that made our mouths to join.

Mulder had looked so lost when he'd passed on his informant's warning. "He said that closing down the X-files was just the beginning. That we've never been in greater danger."

When I'd asked, "Do you trust him?" his response had been that single kiss.

Frantic.

We had been frantic.

The inside of his mouth was hot. It was like absentmindedly touching the stove, only to jump in shock. His body was heavy. I shouldn't have been surprised at that, I could accurately gauge his weight, but there was a difference between trying to drag his semi-conscious body across a room, and having it press me against a stack of boxes. His hands tried to find my breasts under my heavy camel coat, but only managed to impotently grasp at my curves.

I thought I'd felt weak and close to relenting that night with him so near. But knowing he was now lurking outside my apartment...all I'd have to do is go to my window and signal him...I became grateful for my mother's presence. She helped me keep my professional resolve, and I had returned to work on Monday as promised.


Chapter 2: Confessio

FBI Building
December 21st
10:36 AM

I start my examinations with the female because she intrigues me the most. In all other places in my life I save the best for last
the largest strawberry in the basket, the biggest roller coaster in the park. I leave the cherry on the saucer as I eat the sundae, but in the autopsy bay, I allow myself to be decadent.

Her body's been stripped, and without her Goth costume armor, it's slightly forlorn. It's clean
there are no signs of trauma or violence
beyond the cosmetic self-mutilations of piercing and marking. Clicking on the tape recorder, I begin travelling up and down her body with a magnifying glass, but find nothing more than a couple of bunions.

The sole tattoo turns out to be the long rose-covered vine that wraps three times around her right arm, bracketing her elbow. I'm surprised. People who have tattoos this extensive don't usually stop at one.

It's time to go inside.

Without any sign of blunt trauma, I decide I must check carefully for evidence of poisoning. The stomach and bowel are empty.

Examination of the lungs proves intriguing. Thick tar lines all the tissues. I've seen lungs of elderly life-long smokers that appear healthier, but her fingertips are not even nicotine- stained. Suffocation? I collect slide samples.

Her remaining organs appear normal from a surface examination, but I store them for further tests, collecting all the necessary tissue samples and shipping them off to Toxicology.

After sliding her back into her drawer, I start on the male. One tattoo is on the back of his neck: a rose dripping blood from its petals. It seems as violent as a gunshot wound against his pale skin.

Both wrists have bracelets that resemble shackles and twisting chains. A shudder passes through me at the sight.

I make a note of the fact that his body is very clean. Individuals who dress in his manner
ripped, dirty jeans, heavy ankle boots, black shirt and leather jacket
are often living on the street or nearly so, with poor hygiene. I find it interesting that both victims appeared clean and well-fed, belying their apparent lifestyle.

My observations of his injuries at the scene concur with my examination now. The back of his skull has a long, narrow depression, pushing the bone into the brain. He'd been worked over pretty well, with long, straight bruises on his chest and back, suggesting a pipe or bat was used.

His stomach contains traces of a dark red liquid. As though on cue, just as I flop aside this victim's equally tar- stained lungs, Mulder peeks in.

"Found anything?"

I'm still annoyed with him. "Yes. Mystery solved. They both had knives protruding from their hearts."

"Really?" He almost appears animated for a moment.

"No, Mulder. There's not a mark on the woman that could have caused death and it looks like the male met the wrong side of a steel pipe. Found anything on your end?"

"Fingerprints brought up nothing. Missing Persons drew a blank. I'm having the media run the descriptions. I'm thinking the victims haven't been missing that long. They went out last night and just haven't come back."

He looks down with dismay at the male victim's small, thin, eviscerated body. "They look like the sort prone to late nights."

The tension in the air suddenly expands at his words. He's given me an opening. Forcing as much casualness as I can into my voice, I ask, "By the way, Mulder, I've been trying to get a hold of you for the past couple of days. I was getting worried." I don't have the guts to ask him where he's been. I can only give out that weak, half-accusing statement.

He seems to be fascinated by the body in front of him. "We must have just kept missing each other. I felt like I needed some more rest after the quarantine and stayed around my apartment. Didn't answer my phone."

He's got me there. I suppose he could have been out the one time I checked his place and I didn't leave any messages on his machine. What would I say? I wanted to judge his mood before displaying mine. And now I see it. Nothing happened. Everything's back to normal. Well, I can do that.

"Just so long as you weren't ill..." I say lamely.

"No. Getting some rest, that's all."

"So..." I press my lips together in frustration. I've started this uncomfortable discussion, but don't know where to lead it.

He grabs that weak word. "So, I guess we wait. You seem to have plenty of tests to run."

There are so many things wrong with this situation that I don't know where to start. I sputter, "There was blood in his stomach."

"Cause of death?" At last, he's perking up.

"No, I don't believe so. Surface examine didn't reveal any perforations to the stomach or esophagus. No, I'm thinking he drank it." He tips his head in a mocking gesture. I power on. "He does appear to have consumed a substantial quality."

Mulder tries to smile. "The newest bar drink?"

I have to be the one to lead the way? "How about a vampire?" That was hard to say. I hear myself qualifying the statement. "Or someone who thought he was a vampire."

At last, he seems interested. "What about the woman?"

"Here." Quickly, I yank the female victim's drawer open. "No blood, but why don't you take a look."

He leans over the body, his large nose nearly brushing her skin. He concentrates on the arms. His long fingers twitch on the cold edge of the steel tray. I hand him some gloves and he slides them on.

"What's this?" he breathes.

I lean in too. Lost in the fine red lines of her tattoo, I can make out thin cuts. Obviously done with a surgical blade. I'd missed them.

His mouth is at my ear. "She's the bleeder."

I turn my head and stare at the petal of his lower lip. "And that makes him the feeder?"

"Uh huh."


November 13th, 1994
, 6:49 PM Fairfield Air Force Base, Spokane, Washington

The door had closed behind us with a hiss. We were to be quarantined for thirty days following our exposure to the fungal spores.

Mulder immediately came to my side. "Are you all right?"

My eyes were on the closest chair. The room was set up like a living room, but with all the personality of a hotel room. The chair was overstuffed, upholstered in a dark green corduroy fabric. Very comfortable. I sank into its depths.

"Scully?"

"Yes, I'm just tired."

He hurried to perch on the arm of the chair. "Of course." His fingers coursed through the hair at the base of my skull.

I couldn't resist and leaned into the pressure.

"Do you want to take a nap?"

I glanced around the room, noting the three open doorways leading to two bedrooms and a bathroom. A small table with two chairs was in the corner. On the wall next to the furniture was a dumbwaiter hatch, ready to bring us our meals. In the middle of the table sat a small red vase with two single daisies in it. For some reason, this arrangement caused tears to come to my eyes.

"Hey, you really need to take a nap," Mulder urged.

I shook my head like a fitful child. "We have a whole month to do nothing but sleep."

He tried to humor me. "Well, then, what do want to do? Play Twister?"

I felt a flash of the pain: my arm had twisted on the end of the handcuffs as Jesse O'Neil jerked in the throes of death on the other side of the door.

"No." My voice sounded hollow.

"Scully."

"Maybe I will take a nap."

As if I was walking through clotheslines of white sheets, the wind wrapping them round me, the days blended one into another. I knew time passed because of the routine of medical check ups and meals, but I couldn't say how many days had slipped away.

I alternated between hours spent in near sleep or napping and muscle-wearying exercise. I was determined to get back in shape. I'd felt weak and tired while on the last case. But I also felt as though I hadn't slept in months, even though I had no memory of the events during my abduction.

Mulder stayed sprawled on the couch, reading a lot of books. Most of the time, he didn't seem aware of my presence. But I knew it was an act.

As I'd walk by the couch, his arm would reach out and a finger would draw lightly across my arm. He always seemed to be only an arm's reach away like that. If I wanted him, he was there, ready.

I could feel his eyes following the motions of my body as I bent over the weights in the exercise area. Only when I turned to meet him, his gaze was intent on his shoes.

The attention didn't bother me and I wondered why. It felt like a warm blanket. And I'd been cold for a long time.


He never turned the television on. I didn't want to watch anything, but it surprised me. The stack of books he was reading, or had read, grew. I suppose I could have counted them like rings on a tree if I wanted to know how long we'd been here.

Whenever I tried to read for extended periods, exhaustion would overcome me, and my focus would slip, even with glasses on. I didn't want to tell him that, so I just took another nap, leaving the book draped over my lap.

But his intense study finally drew me in.

"What are you reading, Mulder?"

He shook his head, as though pulling himself from a spell. "What? Oh. William Blake."

I asked, "Have I read him?"

"Everyone had to read a few of his poems in school. But he was a essayist, painter, many things..." His smile was rueful. "And he went mad."

I nodded but felt the prick of slight irritation with someone who was able to pull on his classical education like a worn sweater and was surprised when others didn't have one too.

"Okay," I said, lifting my own book, a rundown of past pathology cases, but my vision immediately swam.

He asked, "Do you want me to read to you?"

I quickly glanced over at him. He must have noticed my problem. But his gaze was bland.

"All right. I'm feeling lazy, go ahead."

He gave me a pleased smile and lifted his book to read.

As the pages turned, I built a psychological profile of Blake. Obviously manic, prone to fits of delusion. Even Mulder must have noticed the often depressing edge to the writings and would stop to ask, "You want me to find something else to read?"

I was entranced. "No, go on."

He read me poems, slips of songs, essays. He read me religious tracts. He stopped for dinner and then afterwards, read some more.

He sounded particularly melodious when he read, "Her whole life is an epigram, smack-smooth and neatly penned, platted quite neat to catch applause
with a sliding noose at the end."

Looking pained, he closed the book, using his finger as a bookmarker. He opened his mouth and closed it again.

"Are you tired of reading?" I asked him.

"No."

"Then, please keep reading. I'm enjoying it," I said.

It was late when he got to, "Tyger, tyger, burning bright, in the forests of the night; what immortal hand or eye, could frame thy fearful symmetry?"

Oh, God, I remember that poem...

"Yes?"

I started. "Sorry, Mulder, I didn't realize I spoke aloud."

"It's okay. When did you hear the poem?"

It was eleventh grade. I sat near the front of the room, but if I cocked my body in my chair, I could see Darrell Walker. He sat slumped at the back of the room the room and I could feel the occasional heat of his eyes.

Mrs. Cletter's voice didn't do the words justice but I heard the meaning: the intertwining of religious imagery and sexual passion. Perfectly suitable for Catholic high school. I'd had to stifle a giggle at that thought.

As the teacher droned through the poem, I carefully shifted around to see Darrell.

"When the stars threw down their spears and water'd heaven with their tears: did he smile his work to see?"

Darrell was playing some sort of game with his friend, Carl, exchanging sly grins. I stared, willing him to look up and understand.

"Dana Scully."

I had turned back, that awful red blush rising.

"Perhaps you'd like to read the next poem, since you already know Blake so well."

"Yes, Mrs. Cletter," I'd whispered.

Mulder smiled as I recounted the story. "What did she make you read?"

I shook my head. "It was awful. And yet I can remember it to this day. I wonder why?"

"How does it go?"

Finding myself using a sing-song little girl's voice, I recited, "O my Luve's like a red, red rose, that's newly sprung in June..."

When I finished, Mulder was quiet for a minute. "I think it's a lovely poem. Very suitable for a teenage girl. Blake may have been a little intense for you."

For some reason, that remark infuriated me. I spit out, "I'll always hate that poem. While I was up reading, I could see the whole classroom. And that Darrell wasn't just exchanging glances with me. He had at least two other girls he was smiling at and he wanted me to see it. And I had to watch, miserable, going on with that poem. Alice McHenry, who was tall, and didn't have red hair and braces, and Carol Thomas, who did have braces, but also had a 36 C bra already."

"I'm sorry, Scully." He sounded like he meant it.

"If you were to ask me what my lifelong regret was, out of everything that's happened to me, I'd say it was not kicking Darrell's ass in front of that whole class. I felt violated and weak, just letting him humiliate me by watching him."

Unnoticed by me, Mulder had come to my side. I glanced up and met his gaze as he dropped down onto the arm of the chair.

"God, Scully, I'm so fucking sorry."

I shook my head, as though trying to shake cobwebs loose. It was over and done. I don't know why I reacted so strongly.

"Do you have any regrets, Mulder?" I asked for some stupid reason.

His hands shook as he reached to capture my head. I wasn't afraid.

"Yeah, I do. I regret that I let you talk me into stopping our kissing that night and to just go home alone. I regretted that every day you were gone. I'd lie on my couch and just...think...about how I would have made love to you." He babbled on, "I started with the simple, singular thought and let it expand to every act I would have performed on and for you. How you would have felt and how my body would react. It felt so real. It's hard for me now." I realized his fingertips had been dancing over my arm, shoulder, cheek, every inch he could reach, with the flickering of a breeze. "
to believe we weren't already lovers. You were gone and I was so close to you. I want to be that close again, Scully..."

I was engulfed in this wave of flame. It hurt. It seared my skin. There was a snake in the fire and its gold eyes mesmerized me as he bent down to kiss me.

Our kiss was clumsy and frantic, just as it had been that night in the basement among the cardboard boxes.

This time, he had to painfully bend his neck to get at my mouth and he wavered on the arm of the chair, like a great boulder about to fall on me.

And we kept kissing.

He did fall, managing to fit beside me on the large seat, before pulling me out and up onto his lap. I turned to straddle him and his hands immediately found their way under the waistband of my sweatpants, grabbing both cheeks of my ass and giving them a strong squeeze. I'd be marked tomorrow.

And we kept kissing.

I worked my hands under his tee shirt and scraped my nails over his chest, then smoothed the marks with palms before repeating the motion. He whimpered into my mouth, but didn't stop me.

When I settled down on his lap and felt his erection, I was surprised, God knows why. But it was the jolt I needed to break the spell.

I pulled my mouth free, sitting up to escape his following, seeking lips. "Mulder," I implored.

There was equal tension in his tone. "Scully."

My gaze darted to the closed door to our apartment. Our 'keepers' would only knock once and then fling the door open, night and day, when they wanted to enter. Apparently they didn't imagine that a man and a woman, locked up together for a month, might, at some point, find themselves in the very position Mulder and I were in at that moment.

Or perhaps they did. They'd given me my birth control pills and there was a box of condoms in the medicine chest in the bathroom. But I still didn't relish knowing an entry on our report would read. 'Agents were discovered fucking
'

His hands were under my shirt now, running up and down my back. "Do you want me, Scully?"

I turned back to look down at him. His eyes were pleading and somehow, his hair had gotten disheveled.

Sounding like I was being forced into a bargain, I had to admit, "You know I do."

He was sincere when he said, "I'm glad." His hands were at my ribcage now. My nipples immediately hardened. Soon, soon, he would be touching my breasts.

I grabbed his hands and his face was covered with regret. "Mulder...It doesn't matter. You're still not going to get laid."

He laughed out loud, and the jostling made his hard-on press against my lower belly. Damn him.


Our beds were both against the wall, in effect, side by side in the two bedrooms. My sleep pattern was still disrupted. I would go wide-awake at 3 AM and would just lie there, listening to Mulder's nocturnal grumbling and snuffling. The walls were that thin.

This night was going to be hard. My skin protested the prickle of cotton pajamas and sheets. It had been expecting to become slick with sweat and to feel the slide of his skin and hair across it.

I was breathing too hard. I was wide-awake. But I didn't dare stay out in the living room.

Any other woman would be thrilled to have a man say the things Mulder had just said to me and see that sort of lust and need in his eyes. But I felt the pressure of being trapped in a diving bell with the air slowly being used up.

I heard the creak of Mulder's bed as he got in it. When I held my breath, I could hear his deep, rapid breathing through the wall.

Then he said, "O my Luve's like a red, red rose, that's newly sprung in June..."

I reached out to touch the wall so I wouldn't touch my body, but I couldn't stop my thighs from shifting restlessly together.

His voice rumbled through the wall and I wondered if his lips were touching it. "O my Luve's like the melodie that's sweetly played in tune."

My fists curled, grasping handfuls of sheets. Forget Darrell. I'd never felt so much sexual need and frustration in my life.

When Mulder sighed, "As fair art thou, my bonnie lass, so deep in luve am I." I knew exactly where his hands were and what they were doing.

The image was complete and rich in my mind. I merely called up the memory of undressing him after the hotel fire. I'd allowed my gaze to linger, when, removing his pants, I'd accidentally pulled down his boxers. He had been delirious, mumbling and wiggling on the bed, and his penis had gone half-erect. I'd seen the possibilities.

Now the wall was gone. I could see him lying on his side, his boxers shoved down to mid-thigh
his fist wrapped around his thickening erection, slowly sliding up and down

"And I will luve thee still, my dear, till a' the seas gang dry."

I had to roll onto my stomach, and child-like, covered my ears. But I couldn't stop listening, and loosened my grip.

"Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear, and the rocks melt wi' the sun."

I could see his thumb slipping around the head of his penis, spreading pre-cum, then tracing the throbbing vein down to the base...then suddenly yanking back up, again and again, as his tone lowered, sounding guttural.

I had to bite my arm, over and over, to keep from crying out. It felt good, my hot saliva-slickened skin becoming his tongue, his chest, his cock

I listened to my heartbeats. I listened to his frantic gasps between the stanzas. I listened to anything but his words.

His whisper was just a rasp, "And I will come again, my luve, though it were ten thousand mile."

The heartbeats were loud, drowning him out, then I realized the pounding was my palm, beating on the wall, returning the beats it felt coming from Mulder's side.

I rolled onto my back, gasping to catch my breath and return to earth. I could hear his breathing, matching mine, through the wall.

Finally, I fumbled for a tissue to wipe my hands and face. Somewhere in there, I'd cried.

I surprised when I heard, "Goodnight, Scully."

I returned, "Goodnight, Mulder."


Chapter 3: Hemicycle

Georgetown University
December 22nd
9:16 AM

Waiting for Mulder, I glance at my watch. It's been an hour since I called him and told him to meet me at Mulledy Hall.

Finally, his shadow appears in the hallway.

"What's going on?" he calls out as he shambles up.

I found Professor Whittle in your Rolodex," I tell him.

He blinks.

I continue, "Under Vampires-Specialists."

"Okay." He blinks again. "So you're still thinking vampires?"

I control my temper and the urge to tell him to drink ten cups of coffee
now. "Yes. Tests show the blood in the male victim's stomach was from the female victim. I found signs of recurring, purposeful cutting, deep enough to bleed freely." I can't stop from being sarcastic. "How would you interpret that data?"

He gives me a slow smile that shows all his teeth. "If you say they were vampires, I guess we should look into it. I haven't actually met Professor Whittle."

I knock on the door as he says, "I've only consulted with her once or twice on the phone." Diverted, I'm surprised as the door is yanked open, causing me to fall into the protruding chest of a very tall woman.

Or at least I assume Professor Whittle is a woman. She has those male physical characteristics that always cause a moment of doubt. The bones of her face are heavy and broad, sheathed in pancake makeup-covered coarse skin. Sandy hair is pulled back in an untidy bun at the base of her thick neck.

As her wide-palmed hand reaches out to shake my entire arm, snapping my wrist up and down, her blathering greetings raining down on me from above, I raise my eyes to meet her gaze. Her right iris is half yellow, making it appear green. The left one is a very pale blue, almost translucent.

I cut in, "Professor Whittle, thank you for seeing us." Motioning to Mulder, I add, "This is my partner, Special Agent Mulder."

Those strange eyes dart back and forth between us. "No problem, no problem. I thought you were a doctor, though, looking for a consultation."

"In a way, I am," I say as I herd her back into her office. The furniture is worn, dark wood and black leather.

Mulder sinks into a deep armchair next to the doorway. I take a straight-backed wood chair in front of the professor's desk. Slowly maneuvering her large frame, she shuffles around the desk and settles in her chair. It creaks loudly in the stuffy room.

Her odd gaze fastens on me, but I have this feeling she's able to watch me with the blue eye while the yellow eye stays on Mulder. Women staring at Mulder while on a case are not a new occurrence, but I can hear the leather of his chair squeak as he shifts, crossing and uncrossing his legs. I suppress the desire to try to keep one eye on him too.

I'm not used to being first chair in the interrogation of paranormal experts. I decide to treat her like any legitimate witness. "I am a forensic scientist. We are investigating two deaths."

"You suspect vampires? I'll have you know that true HLVs do not kill their victims." She gives a horrible smirk, twisting her thick, heavily painted lips. "You've been watching too many movies."

Lost already, I ask, "H-L-Vs?"

She makes a steeple of her fingertips. "Human living vampires. As I was saying, many people confuse the mythical, paranormal vampire's practices with real, living human beings who happen to require the energy of another creature to exist."

My skin crawls.

Mulder interjects, "You don't believe in the paranormal, Professor Whittle?"

Her chuckle rumbles out of her stiffly bound chest. "Goodness, no. I'm an educated woman."

"Education has little to do with explaining the unexplained," Mulder protests.

Incredulous, she asks, "Do you believe in such things, Agent Mulder?"

I push in. "It's true." I give Mulder a quelling glance over my shoulder and he sinks back into his seat. "Our victims were not exsanguinated. However, they did show signs of vampiric practices."

She challenges me. "Such as?"

Mulder keeps his voice low and bored. "Cuts. Blood in the digestive tract."

She somehow manages to purse her wide mouth, creating a brussels sprout of lips. Words hiss out. "Drinking blood doesn't mean someone is a true HLV."

Pursuing, I say, "We need to follow all leads, Ma'am. I'm sure you can understand. We're interested in local activities. What the scene is, and of course, where."

She suddenly relaxes, leaning back. Late afternoon sunlight comes through the dusty window behind the chair, framing her in an orange halo. Spreading her arms wide in a sick parody of crucifixion, she becomes expansive. "Oh, yes. Some people simply like the scene. I'm sure that's what your unfortunate victims were part of. Young people today, these Goths, grasping for something in their lives."

The leather of Mulder's chair moans in despair as he catches her slip. She pauses, then anticipates our next remarks. "I saw the TV reports."

"We did not have them report the blood letting." he says.

"There were two dead young people. Now you're here. I'm able to put two and two together," she blusters.

They're both off track. "What sort of activities are these HLVs involved in, Professor Whittle?" It's my turn to be a smart-ass. "If they aren't running around in black capes and biting necks."

Her yellow eye settles on me. "People feel an urge, a desire, for the energy that is derived from another human being. Some manifest that urge in a blood craving. Those individuals may claim secondary symptoms that you would also associate with vampires, such as a sensitivity to sunlight."

"And what about the others?" Mulder asks. He seems to have summoned some interest, even without the promise of being able to drive a stake through a heart at some point in the investigation.

She says, "Those are aura vampires. They can feed on the energy of others merely by being present. Their targets report exhaustion and disorientation, as though they've lost their free will."

This time Mulder's chair seems to giggle when I dryly comment, "I think I've been a victim a time or two."

She suggests, "Perhaps it's a more practical choice over blood. In this day and age."

My jaw locks at the memory of the glint of the foil package in Mulder's fingers. "Yes, I could see that." Then I ask her, "Do blood vampires do anything to ensure safe...feeding, or is the risk a part of the ritual?"

She nods vigorously. "Oh, yes, there are precautions. The vampire may have only one source. It's a symbiotic relationship. Everything is very clean. Very sterile. AIDS tests."

My gaze settles on her dry, chapped hands. "Our victims seem to fit this profile. One exhibits cuts, the other had consumed her blood."

Mulder points out, "Which would suggest they were more than hanger-ons."

She shrugs her massive shoulders. "Perhaps. But there are always wanna-bes. And new communities rise and fall all the time."

I force a coaxing tone into my voice. "And some new ones would be?"

"There's word of a new 'tribe' that's different. It's tightly organized. With a theology and treatises."

Why did she suddenly get business-like? Her cat's gaze is holding me down and I feel a subtle shift in the room.

"Does it have a name? A leader?" Mulder asks from behind me. He seems to have moved closer but I know he's still in his chair.

She slips back behind her curtain. "I've heard there's a man at the head. Someone called Jude...something like that."

I can tell Mulder's interest has been sparked at last. He continues to question. "What sort of organization does this...tribe...have?"

"From what I've seen, it's taken on elements of traditional aura and blood feeding but intertwines them with Christian beliefs."

I interrupt. "How is that possible?"

She glances down at my cross. "Blood of Christ."

Mulder's cell phone rings and his low tones are in the background as I insist, "But feeding on actual blood would be a distortion of that practice."

She's losing patience with me. "I don't know. I haven't been able to talk to any of the members yet."

"But you're planning on trying?" I ask.

"Yes," she replies, suddenly looking worried.

Mulder finishes his call and rises from his chair. He must have decided the interview's gone on long enough. "Please contact us if they have any information about our victims. We may consult you again as new evidence comes up."

She seems relieved. "Of course, of course. I have your card."

As soon as our backs are through the door, she's slamming it behind us. Mulder's hand finds the small of my back, but I hurry ahead of him to avoid contact.

"Well?" I challenge him.

"Our male victim has been I.D'd. An Andrew Coe, of Silver Spring. Turns out he had one juvenile arrest for marijuana possession. Tossed out without going to trial."

We walk out of the dark hall and both of us blink in the bright winter light. "Has his family been notified?"

He shook his head. "No answer at his residence."

I suggest, "Let's head over."


Another middle-aged, tall blonde opens the front door of the condominium. I can tell it's going to one of those days I'm going to end up with a sore neck.

This one is slender, with great legs and a smooth platinum helmet over finely chiseled features, marred only by a too-wide mouth.

She's on a cell phone and snaps out, "What?"

I decide to let Mulder lead this one. Sometimes a pretty face opens many doors.

Low, he mumbles, "We're looking for Andrew Coe." He fumbles for and finds his badge. "Special Agent Fox Mulder, FBI."

I have my hand on my badge and quickly flip it open as he begins to turn to introduce me. "Special Agent Dana Scully. Is this the residence of Andrew Coe?"

Her carefully plucked eyebrows draw together. After a deep sigh, she says into the phone. "I'll have to call you back in a minute. There's some sort of police here."

Mulder makes a weak smile.

She gives him longer look, starting at his Italian loafers and moving slowly up. She doesn't bother to examine me.

She pulls the door open wider, backing into the large, beige-toned living room. She tosses the phone onto a glass-topped coffee table, flops down into a white over-stuffed chair and makes an unwelcoming gesture towards the couch. "What do you want with Andrew?" She crosses those great legs and I notice a small tattoo that appears to be a red rose on her ankle under her pantyhose.

I stay silent.

Mulder asks, "And you are?"

She appears offended, then says, "Miriam Barnes. I'm Andrew's mother."

We had received little information from his records on the drive over. Coe had been arrested five years ago at fourteen for possession. Apparently, he hadn't been arrested since. No one had answered when we'd called his home, but the set of matching luggage carelessly dropped by the door gave us a possible explanation.

I join in. "When did you last see your son?"

Rummaging through her large Coach bag, she pulls out a pack of cigarettes. "What do you want with him? Should I get my lawyer?"

I say bluntly, "Mrs. Barnes, I'm sorry to tell you, but your son is dead."

She almost convinces me when she states, "No he isn't."

"Mrs. Barnes, we've identified the body from fingerprints."

She stubs out her cigarette without lighting it.

"No."

Mulder and I say nothing. There's nothing to say. I hate this part of the job.

We are all still for a moment. Miriam Barnes grasps her hands tightly together until the pale fingers turn pure white, then pale blue. She stares at the window to the left of us. The beige linen curtains are closed.

Mulder tries, "Mrs. Barnes."

"Ms.," she corrects.

"Ms. Barnes, when did you see your son last?"

"I've been out of town for three days. I saw him the morning I left town. He..." She stumbles. "He came out of his room right as I was leaving. He asked me for fifty dollars."

"Did Andrew have a job?" I might as well start at one end and see if we can get somewhere useful.

She shakes her head. She still hasn't looked at us. I can see that the rims of her eyes are turning red, but she hasn't cried yet.

"He attends college."

Mulder has drawn out a notepad. "Where?"

She finally looks at us. "How did he die?"

"He was beaten to death," I have to tell her.

"He was murdered?" The shining whites of her eyes remind me of a crazed horse.

I say, "I'm afraid so. However, it's where and how his body was found that's leading our investigation right now."

She doesn't ask any more questions.

I press on. "His body was moved after death. Do you have any idea why your son's body would be found in Columbia Heights last night?"

Ms. Barnes' nose twitches like a rabbit's. It's not grief; it's the unconscious habit of a cocaine abuser. This interview is going to go nowhere fast.

"Do you have any idea who may have seen, or been with Andrew, last night?" Mulder asks.

She seems confused.

I continue, "Who were Andrew's close friends? Did he have a girlfriend?"

"Andrew? God no!" She shows true animation for the first time since we've entered her home.

"Friends or girlfriend?" Mulder queries.

There's venom in her glare. "Andrew was very sensitive. He had ADD and several learning disabilities. He had to work very hard in school. He didn't have a lot of time for socializing."

If she is going to be an obstinate, so am I. "What about his father?"

Her face closes off. "What about him?"

Mulder takes over. "Could Andrew have had contact with him in the three days you were gone?"

Shaking her head, she mutters, "No. He's never had contact with him."

Mulder stands. "May we search his room?"

He's already moving towards the hall when she answers, "No."

We're both surprised.

Her spirit renewed, she goes on. "Get a search warrant. Now, if you don't mind, I need to make some calls."

Mulder turns back and we exchange a perplexed look.

She fumbles for her phone. "Where can I pick up my son's body?" she asks me.

"I'm sorry, Ma'am, but this is an ongoing investigation. As soon as it's resolved, he'll be available to you. You may view the body."

Elegant, she rises from her chair. "Then you should go."

Mulder moves to her phone. "May I use your phone? My battery is dead." He remembers to turn on the charm.

She doesn't seem happy, but she gives him a curt nod.

He lifts the receiver and I see him hit the redial button. After a couple of rings, I hear someone identify themselves.

"Mrs. Simi? This is Special Agent Fox Mulder with the FBI. I'm tracing a young man named Andrew Coe. Do you know him?"

Ms. Barnes gasps impotently.

"He's 5' 9", about 145 pounds, very short brown hair."

I hear more mumbles from the receiver. Mulder's face remains impassive even as he makes a leap. "Could he be a friend of your daughter's?" A brief squawk of a reply and I'm starting to writhe with curiosity.

"Where do you live, Ma'am?" Another pause. "I'll be sending a couple of police officers over to show you some pictures for confirmation."

He hangs up the phone and gives Miriam Barnes a triumphant look.

As I get up from the couch, I say, "Thank you for your help, Ms. Barnes. We're sorry for your loss."

We leave without a backward glance. She doesn't rise or speak, but the last thing I hear as I pull the door shut behind us is her cell phone beeping to life.

Mulder is hurrying down the walkway ahead of me. I call after him, "That was a good guess, Mulder."

He casts a grin over his shoulder. "It worked, didn't it?"

"That's not the point." I bluster.

He goes on, "I can't face another distraught parent right now. I'm going to send a couple of cops over to make sure the Simi's daughter is our female victim. Let's get some lunch."

I stop by the door marked 'Manager' at the front entrance to the condo development. "First." I ring the bell.

An efficient looking 30-something woman, with short red hair and darting eyes, opens the door. "Yes?"

We go through our introductions again and I ask her, "How is the garbage disposed of at this development?"

She looks curious, but says, "A dumpster. Out back."

Seeing my line of questioning, Mulder asks, "Pick-up day?"

The woman nods, "Six days from now, the day after Christmas," then queries, "Who's this about?"

I answer with a question of my own. "Any trouble with Andrew Coe or his mother?"

She gives that quick triumphant nod of her head that signals she'd guessed our subject. "Nothing bad...per se. He's creepy though. Mother's gone all the time. He's a lazy shit. Right before she comes home, he rushes all the garbage out. Didn't see him do it this morning though."

"Did he have a lot of visitors?"

"No." She's emphatic. "Just occasionally, and they were strange looking kids."

"A girl with long red hair on one side of her head?" I cut in.

She nods again. "Yes, that's the one I saw all the time. Although the hair was new. This week, I think. Some mothers..." She looks disgusted. "The drapes were always drawn, all day long. He's as white as death, thin as a rail. When will she get a clue?"

Mulder and I remain silent but she's a sharp one. "Now, huh?"

We thank her, and Mulder calls into Headquarters. First, he has a detail assigned to watching the dumpster and Ms. Barnes. He also gets the wheels turning on the search warrant, along with sending some officers over to the Simi's with the pictures of Andrew and our female victim.

"Chinese or diner?" he asks as he snaps his phone off.

I'm still steaming from being looked down at from a long, thin nose. "Let's hope she doesn't flush her coke. I want to have something to squeeze her with."

He flashes one of those dreamy unconscious smiles of his. He suggests, "Maybe she'll save us the trouble and throw all of Andrew's things out."

I give her curtained windows one more glance as we climb into the car. "Yeah. Maybe she'll finally help her son in death since she obviously did nothing for him while he was alive."


I can't stop myself from ordering a cheeseburger with chili fries on the side. Mulder raises an eyebrow and I give him a 'fuck you' return. Already, I'm eyeing a slice of chocolate pie spinning slowing in the revolving pastry case behind him. If my period doesn't start soon, I'm going to have to break out the acne medication.

I lick the cheese sauce off my fingertips, then ask, "Where are we at?"

He carefully wipes his hands clean on the thin paper napkin. "We have kids, playing around at vampire. The girl probably OD'd on something, their friends panicked. He was beaten to death. Someone dumped the bodies." He peers at me over his soda glass. "Nothing paranormal."

I'm sure he's just needling me with his calm disregard, mirroring my performance many a time. But it's pissing me off too. "I never said there was. But dead young people, possibly involved in some group that is using the paranormal to draw them in and could kill again."

He looks astonished. "I'm still thinking it's run of the mill murder. You're being driven by curiosity more than anything else."

"Then why don't you just go the hell home and take a damned nap." I stop myself, take a deep breath and a long gulp of my soda. "I'm sorry, Mulder. I'm allowing personal problems to interfere."

He gets only calmer. "And we wouldn't want that to happen."

"If that's what your resistance is about, two things have to be decided. Can we still work together." I can't believe I said that aloud. After so many times fearing this moment."And if you should be working this case if you're not committed to it."

My breath is coming fast and shallow. Mulder leans back in the red vinyl booth, his gaze firmly focused outside the large window behind me.

Carefully, he says, "I know we can count on you to remain in complete control." I'm suddenly ill and push my plate away."And I'll try harder to be equally in control. I'm sorry. I'm committed to finding out who hurt these young people and finding the answers you want." There is a sense of finality and doom to his remarks and I gain no feeling of victory.

He looks at me and his eyes are as bland as they've been since he reappeared yesterday.


Chapter 4: Mandorla

December 22nd
2:15 PM

Mulder and I travel to the Simi residence in a heavy silence. It presses my lunch down until the chili festers to indigestion.

As we settle into our side by side configuration on their couch, I decide the last thing I want to do right now is face a grief-stricken family. The couple across the living room from us is everything I feared.

Flora Simi is a round woman, tightly packaged in her dark maroon dress. Her hair's been dyed a solid black but her heavy make-up is now streaked from crying. A slight accent suggests she's emigrated from Latin America.

Her husband, Bob, is one of those bland, sandy men I pass in government halls every day. His short-sleeved dress shirt and pocket protector indicate some mid-level engineer and his report that he works for Shell Petroleum confirms it.

As Mulder gathers the basic details, I glance around the house to collect data. A nice, mid-$300,000 range house. Mr. Simi has been with the company thirty-five years and is well rewarded.

The interior is spotless. Miriam Barnes' home had just been uncluttered, but a layer of dust had been on all the surfaces. Mrs. Simi's home appears to have been polished only an hour ago.

Holiday decorations have that impersonal quality of grown children and going through the motions. A white flocked tree is covered with blue balls, topped by a silver star. On the sideboard, an advent arrangement, four candles surrounded by greenery, reminds me I still need to set mine up. It's easier than a tree and makes me feel like I've made some effort.

There's no evidence of taste for interior decorating or art. The Simi's walls are covered with studio photographs of stiff, posed, family groupings. Gloria
we now know our female victim's name was Gloria
was the last of seven children: the baby. That would explain her appearance, considering the strict household she seemed to be a part of. The older children all seemed to be toeing the line in their photographs, with equally dull appearance and expression.

Gloria was easy to spot in the pictures. In equal turns animated and spoiled, hogging the camera or sulking. As she moved into teen years, the sullen expression took over her features.

"Your daughter attended college?" Mulder asks.

Mrs. Simi has managed to keep sobbing while speaking and sniffles out, "Yes...but...she was taking the semester off."

I pull a fresh Kleenex out of the box on the side table beside me and hand it to her. I've always wondered if I got into forensic medicine to avoid seeing patients in pain. I really find these sorts of scenes difficult. All I want to do is hug this shattered woman and make ridiculous promises that her life isn't over. Instead, I have to keep pecking at her like a crow.

"What college?" Mulder and I meet eyes, and we're both thinking it will be the same school as Andrew Coe. It is.

"Did you know the young man in the photograph, Mrs. Simi?" She hadn't known Coe's name when Mulder had asked earlier, but we hope she at least met him.

"Oh, no. Gloria didn't date."

Mr. Simi is finally moved to nod. "Hell, she knows...knew...I would have thrown that little twerp out onto the sidewalk. She understood what kind of men I expect my girls to go for," he bellows.

I glance back to the photographs on the walls. Yes, the three wedding pictures show grooms with square, large heads and steel- framed glasses. No pocket protectors on their tuxedos, but they're not Andrew Coe, either.

Mrs. Simi looks distressed. After all, her husband is speaking ill of the dead. "Gloria didn't have a lot of friends. When she graduated high school, most of her circle went away to college or got married. She was still...finding her path."

Mr. Simi snorts at that comment, and then, inexplicably, begins to cry loudly.

Mulder and I wait. It's only going to get worse from here.

When the large man seems to have collected himself, I carefully ask, "Your daughter's dress and hair...would suggest...she was involved with..."

Mrs. Simi bursts in. "Oh, she loved vintage clothes! She went through my old things
I was quite the fashion plate in my day
wore the latest styles. That's what she was really interested in, fashion."

Mulder murmurs, "The hair."

She actually tickles a laugh out. "Oh, yes. Glory came home last week
I thought Bob was going to have a heart attack!"

Mr. Simi nods in agreement.

Mulder coaxes, "and..."

"She told us she'd had her hair dyed, it turned out badly, then she had a fight with the woman, and this crazy woman cut her hair off!" the woman puffs out.

Mulder and I exchange incredulous looks. I'd always been amazed at the stories Charlie spun and my parents believed, but I'd decided it was because they'd lost their edge by child number four. Obviously, by child number seven, this couple was completely oblivious.

I go on. "And the tattoo?"

They glance at each other in confusion.

I dig out a photograph of the tattoo. "On her right arm."

The couple lean forward in unison and stare at it.

Mr. Simi gasps, "That's not Gloria. She wouldn't have done such a disgusting thing."

I pull the photograph back. Feeling like I've shown a pornographic image to them, I slide it back into the folder.

"When did you see her bare arm last?" Mulder queries.

Mr. Simi looks at him as though he'd asked when was the last time he'd had sex with her. "Why would I need to see my daughter's arms?"

We've finally come up against some resistance. I try the girl's mother. "Mrs. Simi?"

She casts her eyes downward and shakes her head. "I respect my daughter's modesty. I had no reason to look at her naked."

Mulder and I exchange glances and shrugs. Defeated, he asks, "So, it's been a while since you saw her arms."

"Yes," Mrs. Simi says. "She used to swim in the pool after school. But last year, she said was concerned about the risk of skin cancer. I've not seen her arms bare in quite a while, no." I can see the situation beginning to dawn on the woman, and then she begins to cry in earnest again.

Mulder stands. "May we see Gloria's room?" I give the guy credit. He keeps trying.

These parents are more agreeable. "Yes, of course," Mr. Simi says. "Let's get to the bottom of this."

The girl's room was crowded with furniture and fussy with decorations. Dried dark roses hang from the ceiling, the drapes are purple velvet, the wallpaper silver-flocked, and the thick shag carpet 1970's gold. It's hard to choose somewhere to start in the jumble.

My attention is drawn to a cluster of holy cards on the vanity. They're all in gold painted cardboard frames. I pick up one depicting the Virgin Mary. She's surrounded by twining thorny vines.

Mrs. Simi comes up behind me. "Mary of the Thorns."

Glancing over the cards, I notice they're all the Virgin Mary in different incarnations.

I pull the first card out of its frame and turn it over.

The back is covered with a frantic handwriting done by a black, felt pen.

'Blessed is Our Virgin, Holy One, Sacred In my heart. May I be Strong, To Be As Strong as Her, She who is my Holy Mother. To Whom I Give My Blood. I Shed my Sacred Blood for the Souls Whom the Virgin Deems Worthy of Redemption. My Blood Must Flow To Feed those Pitiful Souls. Let Me Give Strength To the Weak Men as My Mother, the Holy Virgin, gave Life to Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.'

Feeling slightly ill, I show Mrs. Simi the card. "Is this your daughter's handwriting?"

She can't even speak after glancing at it. She shakes her head no, and backs out of the room.

Mulder notices, and comes over. "What is it?"

"What was Professor Whittle saying about a cult? This certainly has that jumbled senseless tone to it."

He nods in agreement.

The police arrive and begin to bag up everything in Gloria's room. Fleeing the oppression of grief, we leave her parents huddled together on their brocaded couch.

Mulder drives me back to my car at the university. The morning seems very long ago.

Even as I unlock my door, I remember something. I find Mulder still sitting in his parking place. His hands are gripping the steering wheel tightly and he's staring out the windshield when I tap on his window.

As he rolls it down, I say, "I'm going to take home the notes and see if anything catches my eye. Hopefully, the toxicology tests will be finished tomorrow."

"Yes," he cuts in. He starts to roll the window up. "See you later."

I find myself waiting until his taillights have become pinpricks on the street before getting in my car.

I don't hurry the drive through rush hour and holiday traffic. Nothing waits for me in my rooms. It's always difficult to work a case while staying at home. Somehow, the isolation of some dingy motel room is conducive to concentration. I'm too easily distracted while in familiar surroundings. And my apartment now contains fresh, painful memories.

I'd thought Mulder had forgotten our Christmas Eve encounter. We'd walked out of the quarantine, gone to the Bureau for one more debriefing and I was in my office, checking on the mail that had stacked up while I was gone.

He had come in, perched on the edge of my desk and casually said, "So."

I glanced up from the latest murder stats. I had to blink rapidly to shift my focus and I must have looked like a surprised rabbit to him because he smiled.

"Huh?" was the best I could do.

"So...can I come over tonight?" It would have come off as cocky if he wasn't straightening a stack of already straight file folders on my desk.

He hadn't forgotten. Wetting my lips and then blushing when his eyes avidly followed the motion, I said, "I'm sorry, Mulder. We're going to have to hold off a bit."

His face closed off and I rushed to clarify. "I have to go to the doctor."

That made things worse. He leapt off the desk and moved towards me in concern.

Holding up a hand as I glanced out the still open door for passers-by, I said, "Nothing's wrong. It's just." I would have preferred feeling this man's cock on my cervix, to discussing its clinical details with him, but I've never been lucky with men.

I rushed on. "My period's been erratic since I was returned. It's logical, and understandable, but I just want to have it checked out before engaging in sexual activity." Then I really blushed. Sometimes the doctor in me takes over and nothing seems to kill a mood more with some guys...but Mulder grinned like a little boy promised two cherries on his hot fudge sundae, so I assumed he wasn't one of them.

He tapped the back of my hand with one long finger. "I want you to feel comfortable. I can wait." I liked the way he said 'wait.' The word had a nice lingering quality that caused heat to slide down my body to pool between my legs.

I smiled back, keeping that little fact to myself. "Good. I have an appointment tomorrow afternoon and if the doctor says everything is fine."

His whole hand came to rest, covering my smaller one. Breathing much too rapidly, I finished. "I'll call you. Right away."

He was so close now, he was blocking out the light and I had an irrational urge to lie down and take a nap. "Good," he whispered, right before he carefully kissed the corner of my mouth.

I couldn't help the small groan that escaped and he had to smile one more time. "Goodnight, Scully," he murmured.

"Gooo." I couldn't get the rest out before he left. I'm afraid my mind was leaping ahead, over hill and dale, and into my bed.

After my appointment, I had gone home, changed into some sweat pants and a flannel shirt, got a glass of red wine and sat, staring at my phone. I should call him. I let another hour slip by as I sipped halfway through the bottle. I needed to call him, even if it was to postpone our...engagement...until another day. It would have been the mature thing to do.

My gynecologist had found nothing abnormal, but also couldn't explain my symptoms. But she had given me the green light to begin having sex. Now all I had to do was call Mulder. I lifted my hand to pick up the receiver, but then the limb returned to my lap.

The alcohol didn't settle the butterflies in my stomach, only turned their flight into a barnstormer's twirling routine. I wanted this man so damn much. I hated feeling that sort of want, hated giving over my emotions that way without choice
The phone ringing almost made me piss my pants.

"Hello," I practically yelled into it.

"Scully." His slurring voice sounded as though he'd been doing some drinking too.

"Mulder."

"You're home."

"Yes."

I paced the room.

"Can I come over?"

"Mulder."

"I'm cold. Can I come in?"

My eyes darted to the window. "Where are you?" I really don't like the feeling of being unknowingly observed. Eyes peering through the panes

"Outside."

I moved to the door and checked the peephole. He was leaned against the opposite wall, phone to his ear, his body oddly distorted by the lens.

"Mulder?"

"Can I come in?"

I opened the door, clicking off my phone.

He moved out of the shadows and brushed past me. He was right. He was cold. The chill wafted from his stiff leather jacket. He turned, opening his mouth to speak, but I cut him off by grabbing his hands and rubbing them together, trying to give him warmth.

He must have taken that as a signal and his mouth swooped down to kiss me. His lips were ice but his tongue was blistering hot. I pulled him close, trying to warm every inch I could, wrapping my arms around his torso and rubbing my body against his.

I can't remember how we got into the bedroom. Or how our clothes got off. The air was too cool, turning the sweat that kept rising from my pores to a chilly film.

I can hear his voice so clearly

"Scully, fuck, I just." He was crouched on the floor beside my bed. I was turned away from him, on my knees, balancing on the edge of the mattress. His mouth was on the small of my back.

"That time...when I was supposed to be just looking at the mosquito bites."

I gasped, "I know. The moment I felt your touch, I knew I'd been unprofessional..."

His tongued traced a circle, around and around, dipping into the crevice of my spine. He whispered, "No, no. You gave me something that night
I wanted you from that moment. Sometimes, it's all I can concentrate on."

I tried to focus but my hands could only catch my breasts, stopping their sway. "No, it was wrong. I shouldn't have."

He chuckled against my skin. "If it turns you on to feel naughty..."

How dare he... My eyes drifted shut as I pinched my nipples, hard. In response, my clit swelled.

He's still talking. "I've been waiting so long for you. But I would have accepted to just do this. Just this," he moaned right before he gently nipped a circle on my flesh.

I squealed, startling both of us. My cry seemed to escalate things. He pushed me over as his mouth traveled down to my ass, biting and licking, heating me at last.

Face down on my thick comforter, I couldn't help but giggle. This is all I want, I thought, as he crawled on top of me and I was covered with his warmth, tickled everywhere by his light body hair. His erection probed at my thighs, my back, my arm, like an insistent little boy wanting attention.

His hands cradled my head, brushing aside my hair to kiss the back of my neck and I felt suddenly exposed. I turned under him, welcoming him into the cradle of my arms and thighs.

Grabbing his cock unceremoniously, I pulled at it until he bit at my neck to mark me. "Scully, dammit. Fuck."

"Yeah," I agreed breathlessly. He was long and thick and hot and

I wanted to stop thinking and just do it. My hips started following my prey. His hand wormed down to stop my guiding.

Laughing, he said, "Hold on, Scully."

I could stroke my vulva along his length, catching my clit, teasing it, and it was like a hot knife through butter. I felt the tingle of orgasm waiting at the tips of my toes and fingers. With my free hand, I pinched a fold of skin on my ass, hard, trying to distract myself. It only caused the orgasm to peak, hovering on top of the cliff, waiting for that push. "Fuck me, Mulder." I tossed my head back in shame. Where the hell did that voice come from?

His left arm was flailing around on the floor beside the bed, rummaging through his discarded clothing.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

Triumphant, he held up the small, square, flat object. He rose up to rock back on his heels. "Just another second, Scully." He looked down at me hungrily as he tried to rip into it with his teeth. He failed. Frustrated, he held it out to me. "Scully, could you open this?"

I pushed the package away, reaching for his cock again. I could see it plainly then, in the cool glow from the streetlight outside my window. I knew I'd feel true heat soon."We don't need that. I'm on the pill."

His eyelids dropped. He started chewing on the wrapper again. "Just to be sure."

I was confused, but could feel embarrassment and humiliation beginning to creep through my veins towards my heart. "I was checked out when I was returned. Every test. Believe me, I'm clean. And I know neither of us has been with anyone for at least a year." I forced out a laugh as I mentally counted back to Phoebe Green's visit.

He'd finally gotten the foil open and was carefully removing the condom. He still hadn't met my eyes. "Scully, don't worry about it."

I pulled my legs up to my chest and pushed myself up against the headboard. I wanted my clothes, but I'd have to pass him to get them.

"The only time I wasn't near you was when I was gone."

Violently, he tossed the condom across the room and sat down on his haunches. The light chiseled his muscles and bowed head into sharp relief. He was a fallen warrior.

I started thinking rapidly. I could feel each turn of the rusty wheels as they tore at my brain. "But that doesn't make sense. You said you were the only one who believed I was alive. Only you."

"Yes, Scully, I believed," he agreed tonelessly.

I attacked. "But, if you believed I was alive, that I was coming back, why would you have sex with another woman? Who was she?"

He shook his head. "It doesn't matter."

"Was it someone at the Bureau? Someone I know?" I needed to throw up, but again, I didn't want to pass him on the way to the bathroom.

He finally looked at me and his eyes were blank. "Scully, it was no one. It was nothing."

"You had sex with another woman. You just said you wanted only me since we met. You were waiting for me. Why? If you thought I was dead, I could see." Foolish to the end, I tried to give him an out.

"No, Scully, I knew you were alive," he said passionately, moving towards me. I pulled my limbs in tighter, making myself a hard ball.

Falling back to his heels, his words dropped out, "I was dead. She was dead. That's why it didn't matter."

He didn't wait for my response. He leapt from the bed, grabbed his clothes, and was pulling them on as he hurried from the room. I didn't follow.

I did throw up, well after I'd heard my front door slam. Then I went through my ritual of checking the locks on all the doors and windows before showering in scalding water, washing his smell from my skin.

But lying in bed later, I could still feel the beat of desire in my clit. I couldn't understand that. I was ill from passion. The thought of Mulder, of having his contaminated dick slide into me, was revolting. But I could count my heartbeats in its throb. I refused to touch myself and finally slept as dawn crept into the room.


Chapter 5: Trefoil

December 22nd
5:20 PM

I kick off my shoes and unbutton my slacks. Along with the spotting and cramping, I've also been bloated. It's a nearly constant pressure. I feel like I'm waiting for something to burst.

I pull the case notes out of my briefcase, spreading them across the coffee table as I sink to the couch. I won't try to sleep yet tonight. I'll use the time constructively, drink some herbal tea, and then I'm sure sleep will come.

I've had trouble falling asleep since that encounter with Mulder, but the hot anger has dissipated. It felt so pure that night, as though it would never go away. Time does bring clarity, once I can get my temper under control. Perhaps it was for the best that Mulder disappeared for a couple of days. Besides the occasional flashes of memory, now I feel I'm becoming comfortable working with him again.

When we were first partners, I'd remained distant despite our physical attraction; concerned our working relationship could never survive a move to intimacy. This incident served to affirm those fears. I learned we were two different people, incompatible for a romantic relationship. Now we slowly need to rebuild a working one.

I flip open the list of evidence from Gloria's bedroom but the page goes blank.

...I've discovered he's not able to remain monogamous, which doesn't surprise me considering his broken family...

I try to reread the list again. Nothing is sinking in. Tossing the file aside, I decide to make that first cup of tea.

I wash a few dishes while I wait for the water to boil. When I open the cupboard to find the tea bags, I see the breakfast cereal I'd bought. It's Mulder's favorite kind. I'd been prepared to serve him breakfast.

The kettle whistles as I'm throwing the box away. Then the phone joins in.

"Scully."

"Agent Scully, this is Officer Santos. From the case this morning?"

"Yes, Officer. What's up?"

"Another body, ma'am." He can barely contain his excitement.

"What's the link?" I'm already searching the room for my shoes, keys and coat.

All business, he starts ticking off the details as I toe into my pumps. "Young white female, approximately twenty-five years old. Dressed all in black, like the other one. Same kinda freaky look. Rose tattoo, too. Only this one's strangled but arranged the same way."

"That takes the mystery out of the cause of death. Where are you?"

"Three blocks south of the church. In front of a club called 'Dis' on 14th, near Park."

I'm looking for my keys. "Sounds nice. Have you called Mulder?" They're in my coat pocket. I'm at the door, ready to go.

He chuckles. "Nope. Thought you might have a private line."

I shrug, then realize he can't see me. "I'll get him. We'll be there in an hour."


6:05 PM

Past caring, I drive to Mulder's place without calling. He doesn't answer the door at first, not until I start scraping at the lock with my key. I've lost patience with him.

He pulls the door open. "What, Scully?" He looks tired and glances down the hall behind me, edgy. He's still in his suit, hasn't even removed his jacket, but his clothes are terribly wrinkled.

"Another body. Come on." I turn to go.

He grabs my arm. "Scully, I told you. There's no X-file."

I glance back at him. The shadows under his eyes are purple and I could swear I catch a whiff of pot coming from his apartment. My patience snaps. "And I thought we'd decided it was a case worth pursuing. Do you think the DC PD is going to be able to give this case more than twenty minutes a day? Meanwhile, two FBI agents, with the Bureau's resources at their disposal, waste their time trying to ascertain if the moon is indeed made of green cheese."

He's in my face. "Is that what you think? That our work is shit?"

Hands on my hips, not giving a damn anymore, I shoot back, "Truth? Sometimes, yes. Sometimes we are wasting the taxpayers' money."

He has one hand on his door and one hand on the doorjamb. I assume he's going to slam the door in my face. Instead, he turns. "Let me get my overcoat."

I can't stop myself from poking at him, even as he's relented. "You want to find vampires, right, Mulder? I'm finding you some. What more do you need?"

He glances down at me as he pushes by through the doorway. "Some fucking peace."

Falling into step behind him, I mutter, "Don't we all."


7:10 PM

Santos has yellow-taped off the steps leading down to the basement of a dark, brick building. It must be too early for the customers to be out. The neon sign is unlit and the entryway still filled with trash.

He has the Slim Jim between his lips again, and I resist the urge to ask him how many of those things he eats on a shift. Wriggling it to the corner of his mouth, he says, "Evening, Agents. I hate to call you out again."

We both say, "That's fine."

He leads us to where the blue-tarped body is balanced on the top step. Rain is threatening and the beat cop standing by the lump of a body looks at us gloomily, as though he knows he's going to be not just cold, but wet, before we're done here.

"Anyone at the club?" Mulder asks, his eyes darting up and down the slick sidewalk.

"Nope," the officer says before Santos can answer. "Nobody home at the cave."

"Do you know the place?" I inquire.

He shakes his head. "As far as clubs go, it's pretty quiet. This isn't really a club neighborhood. More like community dances at the Center where everyone gets drunk and someone gets stabbed. This place has only been here a few months. The patrons." he rolls his eyes at his own word choice, "seem to be like this chick. Not from the neighborhood."

He dramatically whips the tarp back after that buildup and makes just another pathetic dead body seem all the more important. I realize there's a consummate showman hidden under the guise of a street cop.

Somewhere along the line, I decided no one looks good dead. Some are just more pitiful than others. She may have been pretty in life. Now her soft features are puffy and her light eyes have filmed over. The painted lips are parted, but taut in distress. Her brown hair has gone limp and dry.

Her body has been arranged as Gloria's was, flat on her back, with her hands folded at the waist, ankles crossed. I still assume she was moved after death.

"Oh, fuck," Mulder says as he looks at her. His face is deeply distressed.

He leans against the wall, staring out into the street. Passing cars' headlights flick across his face: black - white - black - white.

Santos agrees, shaking his head, making his Slim Jim nod in solemn benediction. "A terrible sight. Beautiful young girl. I get sick of it, I tell you."

The beat cop removes his hat.

I'm the only one who kneels down to look closely at her. Sure enough, when I carefully pull back the loose sleeve on her dress, a large rose blossom is tattooed on her upper right arm. Dropping petals in the design become drops of blood, tracing a trail down to her elbow.

Pulling out my flashlight, I examine the skin there as best I can in the dark. I see the scars of cuts at the brachial artery on the crook of her inner arm. "She's another one, all right." Standing, I ask, "Any I.D?"

The two policemen shake their heads.

Mulder says to me, "Now what?"

I can plainly see the bruises on her neck from manual strangulation. "Have her sent to the lab. I want to check her lungs to see if there are the same signs of tar as the other two victims." Without much hope, I add, "Any witnesses to this?"

The two men shake their heads again.

Defeated, I turn to Mulder. He's staring down the street. Following his gaze, I see the illuminated bell tower of St. Stephen's.

"Interesting," I note and he nods in agreement.

"Do you think it's a serial killer?" Santos asks. At least he's returning to a logical explanation and has abandoned the ritualistic theory.

Mulder answers, "I guess we can rule out suicide or accidental death in this one."

"Yes, your panicking friends theory seems to have lost steam," I agree.

He shoots me an aggravated look, but it's tinged with amusement. Maybe we can get back to a safe harbor.

"Anyone in the club yet?" I wave to the doorway.

The cop responds, "Nope. Maybe in another hour or so."

"Should we stick around?" I ask Mulder.

He turns up the collar on his trench. The rain has started. "Let's get some dinner and come back by."

Yes, I'm seeing glimmers of my old Mulder. "All right," I agree.

Mulder is driving and we're about four blocks from the scene. I tug on his sleeve. "Pull over, Mulder."

He slams on the brakes. "What?"

I point out the rain-spotted windshield. "Park. We need to go in here."

'Sacred Heart Tattoo,' read the flickering letters within a flaming heart-shaped red neon sign. The 'Open' sign is also lit.

"Huh?"

"I was going through some of the paper contents of Gloria's bedroom..." I rummage through my briefcase. I'd tossed everything in and had brought it along. "Here."

After pulling the car to the sidewalk, he flips on the interior light to see what I've found.

It's a small card with the shop's logo and name on one side. On the other are instructions for the care of new tattoo.

"Her parents' testimony made it sound as though she'd gotten the tattoo recently," Mulder notes.

I nod. "Yes. And so far, all three victims have had a tattoo with a rose. Tattoo artists tend to work in themes and motifs and their work has a specific look to it."

I can read Mulder's bemusement, even in the dark car interior. "Oh?"

Stiffly, I reply, "I *am* a sailor's daughter." But then I let a chuckle escape, joining his laugh. Yes, we are getting back to normal.

The tattoo shop has a bell on the door that tinkles as we go through it. It's slightly incongruous and I'm distracted.

I jump when a voice from the shadows says, "May I help you?"

Mulder mumbles through our introductions while I inspect our latest interesting interview subject. The owner, Kikki, is tall and lithe, with a shell of form-fitting pale blue Lycra shirt and pants. His short-cropped hair, tight on his scalp over a white, bony face, is dyed a very light blue, making his head appear chromed. His eyes are light hazel, seeming gold. Interestingly, no tattoos are visible on his sharply muscled arms.

I flip open a notepad. "Do you have a last name?"

He smiles at me warmly, as though I'm a long-lost friend but his eyes are roaming over an uncomfortable Mulder. Sometimes it's not just women who like to give Mulder a second look. "No, I do not." His accent is slight and vaguely European, but with the false edge of a Bond villain.

I pull out the close-up photographs of our three victims' tattoos. "Is this your work?"

He lays them down on the counter top and begins inspecting them. The display case is full of piercing ornaments. Mulder's peering over my shoulder, craning his neck as he stares into the case. I can tell he's trying to figure out what body part that one stainless steel sharp-pointed C-ring is used on.

Kikki causes us both to jump as he announces, "Yes, all three."

"Do you remember the customers?" I ask.

"Canvases," he corrects. My raised eyebrow questions.

Smoothly, he goes on. "Individuals are canvases of my art."

"So you design the tattoos yourself? Or does the...canvas ask for a particular theme?"

He sits down on a high stool behind the counter and narrows his cat eyes. I assume he's trying to guess the correct answer.

Finally, he says, "Together. An individual would say, I like roses, and I make this." He motioned to the photographs.

Mulder intercedes. "Do you remember the people who got these tattoos?"

Jumping off his stool, Kikki moves to a curtained doorway. "I will check my records. I do not want to say anything without double- checking."

Mulder nods as though he's satisfied, but I'm not. This guy could send us out on any number of dead leads.

I lean my back against the counter, my gaze roaming around the room. This isn't a normal tattoo parlor. The walls aren't covered with samples, but rather, large, framed artworks. They are thematic collages of strange figures, entwined with vines, leaves, trees and blossoms. There are roses in several of the vivid pictures. But it's the humans that fascinate me. They are fantasy figures, androgynous, smooth limbed and wide-eyed. Some of the figures have glowing auras, reminding me of nimbuses.

Popping back out from behind the curtain, Kikki startles me again. "Here are the names." He hands over three index cards.

The first is a Joanne Campbell. The tattoo was begun on August 23rd. It took three sessions and there were no complications. Kikki had photographed the tattoo and connected a small copy to the card. I hand the card to Mulder. "Write the address down."

I ask Kikki, "Do you think this is her real name?"

He appears confused.

"Do your cust
canvases tend to give their real names and addresses?" My check of the other two cards shows Gloria and Andrew, both using his address and phone number.

"Yes, sometimes it is necessary that I call them to reschedule. They must be truthful if they want the art finished."

We're done for now. I hold out a hand for him to shake, just to see if his palm will be as damp and clammy as I assume. "Thank you, Mr...Kikki. We'll be in touch if we need any more information."

He shakes my hand. I was right about the dampness. Mulder has spun on his heel and is out the door as Kikki stretches a hand out for him.

As we get back in the car, I suggest driving past the club to see if anyone's there yet. When Mulder slows, the body and officers are gone, and a sliver of silver light comes up the stairs.

The neon sign is still dark. We hustle down the stairs. The door is ajar and we walk in, blinking in the bright lights.

A nightclub under full light always reminds me of a nude, dead body; all the flaws are exposed. This one appears particularly dingy. A long, scratched-up bar runs down one side of a big, black-walled room. Listless, the dull silver disco ball slowly whirls above the floor.

A woman is putting away clean glasses behind the bar. She raises her head as we approach and I note an expression of distrust and resignation fill her face when she sees us fumbling for our badges. This is someone who's used to smelling law enforcement in a dark suit.

She's a little older than she's trying to look, perhaps forty- five. Her bright yellow hair might be attempting blonde. Her bright, fresh makeup has the sharp contrast of a clown's markings under the lights. A tight red top is failing to support her unholstered, sagging breasts.

She pulls her lips back to reveal tobacco-stained teeth. I think she's trying to smile. She places her large hands on the black- lacquered bar and leans on them.

"Officers."

Mulder jumps over her introduction. "Special Agents Mulder and," he nods towards me, "Scully. FBI. There was a dead body on your stairs tonight."

She shrugs like this is a normal occurrence. It probably is. "What does it have to do with my place?"

I pull out a snapshot of our latest victim that Santos gave me. "Do you know her?"

She peers at it closely. She probably needs glasses. "Yeah. She's been in here. A time or two."

In other words; nightly. "Do you know her name?"

The look she shoots me is incredulous. "We don't have time for formal introductions. Maybe..." She furrows her brow and some concealer on her forehead cracks, falling to the dark bar top. "Joy. I think I've heard some people call her Joy."

"Do you know where to find any of these friends of hers?" Mulder sounds as defeated as I feel.

The bartender pushes back from the bar and squints at him. A sly smile plays on her mouth. Someone else who figures he's worth a second look.

She seems to consider and we both hold our breaths. Then she shrugs. "No."

I try a different tact. "May we have your name?"

"Jane Brown."

"Are you the owner?"

"No."

I place both hands on the edge of the bar, and lean forward, letting myself fall into the well of her heavy musk perfume. "Who is?"

I can feel Mulder has moved closer behind me, like a cloak. He doesn't speak.

She doesn't back down. "I'd have to check the records. My paycheck comes from a cooperation. You know how that goes. A banker hired me."

Her bright red lips seal tight after her long speech. That's all we're going to get from her. I say, "Thank you, ma'am. The police will need your contact numbers for future questioning."

I'm satisfied to see her smug facade slip a bit at that comment.

As Mulder and I mount the sidewalk from the stairwell, we pause to button our coats against the cold. "Mulder, let's come back tonight and see if any of the patrons recognize our victims. I have the feeling Gloria and Andrew enjoyed coming here too."

"I don't think so. I have some other leads I want to follow up on." He moves off.

I walk double-time to keep up with him, but when we reach the car, I try again. "Why don't you check out Joanne Campbell's address, and I'll do her autopsy. We can come back to the club when we're finished."

His mouth opens and shuts a few times. Then he says, "Okay."

He's silent on the way back to the Bureau.

In the parking garage, I climb out of the car. I tell him, "I should be finished around ten."

He nods, putting the car in reverse.

I watch his retreating vehicle, forcing my mouth shut, and all the nagging questions that want to fly out, back down my throat.


Chapter 6: Reliquary

FBI Building
December 22nd
9:24 PM

My exam of the possible Joanne Campbell shows that her lung tissue exhibits the same damage as the first two victims. I count eight tiny, deep cuts on her inner right arm, most hidden in her tattoo. Aside from her damaged throat, her body appears healthy. I can see she had been a pretty girl in a soft, vulnerable way, once the makeup is wiped away.

Frustrated, I strip off my latex gloves and toss them across the autopsy bay to hit the trash can square on. Two points. Speaking of which...I pull out my cell phone.

"Mulder?"

"Yeah?"

"Do you have any information?" I shove the body into its drawer with my hip.

"Yes, I'll be there shortly. I'm in my office." He sounds distracted.

Tense, I say, "No, I'll come there."

His door is ajar and he's at his desk, putting files in his briefcase. His head pops up and he smoothes his hair back with a nervous gesture. "Come in, Scully."

Surprised by his change of manner, I enter and drop into the chair. "What've you got?"

"Proof, Scully. Some hard, solid, proof." He's digging through a file folder.

I lean forward to see the photograph he's pulled out. It's a grainy image that appears to be a tangle of bushes. "What is it?" I have to ask.

His finger points to a darker blob among all the other blobs. "There. Do you see it?"

Losing patience, I say again, "What?"

He's turning back to pull something more out of his briefcase. "I'll need Chuck to blow this up and enhance the image, but I think it's evidence strong enough to take us to Florida. Here's your ticket, Scully. Our flight leaves at 8:31 tomorrow morning."

"What's in Florida?" I'm at a loss.

He gives me a look of confusion. "The Florida Skunk Ape."

"What?" I explode out of the chair. "What the hell are you talking about?"

Calming myself, I add, "We already have a case, Mulder. And chasing Bigfoot isn't quite in the same league as three young dead people."

He appears wounded. "It's not Bigfoot, it's the Florida Skunk Ape."

"So it's a Bigfoot with a tan and body odor?"

He pulls himself up to his full height. "No, it's perhaps our only opportunity to prove a connection between subversive government activities and substantial proof of the existence of a life form outside the accepted parameters of evolution."

The exhaust from his hot air knocks me back into the chair. I can only babble, "How..."

Happy that he has my attention, he settles on the corner of his desk. "Errol Rackle was taking an early evening constitutional after dinner, walking along a dirt road in Okaloosa Country, two miles north of Highway 85."

Nodding towards the discarded photo, I ask, "With his camera?"

"Yes, he's a birdwatcher."

"Of course." I've slumped in the chair and am staring at Mulder's right foot swinging back and forth, bumping the desk.

Ignoring my sulking, he goes on. "He heard a rustling in the bushes, and hoping it was a rare bird, prepped his camera." He taps a fingertip on the photo. "And was able to get this snapshot before the creature disappeared. But not without it giving out the telltale call of the Skunk Ape; a high, woman-like scream."

Close to screaming myself, I have to inquire, "And the government?"

He leans forward, his breath warm on my face. I avert my eyes to focus on his poster. "This sighting took place just across the fence from Eglin Air Force Base reservation. You know what that can mean."

"I'm going to be expected to spend a long, cold night staring out a car window, waiting for dancing lights?"

He's finally realized I'm not taking him seriously. "Scully."

I hop out of the chair. "Mulder, dammit, what the hell are you doing? What about Joanne Campbell?"

He starts stuffing files in his briefcase again. "I've told you. The DC PD can take care of those cases. They're simple open and shut murder investigations."

"Open and shut?" I interject. "Than why haven't the perpetrators been identified? I think we bring specialized skills necessary for this case."

"Our specialized skills are needed in Florida on a case that will have much more far reaching implications than some messing around by sub-culture hanger-ons." He snaps the lid shut on the briefcase and turns his back to me as he pulls his jacket off the hook by the door.

At the door, he looks back at me. "So, should I pick you up or will you meet me at the airport?"

Swirling uncertainty clouds my vision for a moment and I have to shake my head to clear it.

"Scully?"

"Why don't you go on ahead to Florida without me. I don't think you need me there." I choke out.

A quick smile flits on and off his mouth. "If that's what you want to do, fine. I'll call you when I get back in town."

For some reason, he closes the door behind him and I'm left alone in his office.


6a. 12:15 AM

Standing in front of my closet, I stare at my clothes. Most of them haven't been out for a spin in over two years. I was going to 'Dis' as an agent, but now I've decided to dress for the part to blend in. I don't think I'll ever be able to 'blend in' as well as Gloria did, but I might as well make an attempt.

I finally decide tight, short and black works for all occasions, especially when balanced on a pair of 3 inch 'fuck me' heels. I'll just have to hope I won't have to do a foot pursuit.

Standing in front of my mirror in garters, hose and panties, I'm trying to secure my second weapon - a 9mm pistol - in a thigh holster. Tucked under the curve of my ass, it should remain hidden by the swirl of my skirt.

After pulling the dress over my head and yanking it into place, I don't notice any bulge of the gun. I haven't done anything with my hair, just letting it air dry after showering.

I slap on three times my normal makeup and slip the shoes on. Giving myself one last look in the mirror, I pause.

Slowly, I take off my cross. It doesn't seem like the sort of thing a woman on the prowl would wear to a dance club.

Pulling on a coat, I shake my head. How the hell long has it been since I did this? Two years...four months...since Melissa, her friend Sherry and I did four bars, two dance clubs and an after hours dive in one night...I hope I can go through the motions correctly.

On the drive over to Columbia Heights, I try not to notice how empty the passenger side of the car seems. After parking, and walking down the dark, deserted street, I'm grateful for my gun, close and warm on the back of my leg.

The club interior looks different now. The lights are out and only a few pools of colored light give the room illumination. A relentless dance beat, booming down from a DJ booth, vibrates through the bodies crushing around me. The disco ball now whirls madly, showering the sweaty dancers with petals of light. I wonder at the sight of so many people, only a few days before Christmas, spending their time in this sort of pursuit.

Most of the patrons are dressed in the black clothing and stark makeup worn by our victims. They hop up and down in place to the beat of the music. Most appear drugged. I'll have to seek refreshment with care.

As I move towards the bar, a flash of light to the right catches my eye. It's Kikki, now resplendent in silver lame from head to clunky-heeled boots. He's dancing with a slightly built dark- skinned man, intent on his companion. Nevertheless, I move down the bar, trying to get some distance between us.

The female bartender is gone, replaced by a tall, wide-shouldered, vacuous-faced blond man. "Drink?" he asks.

"Water, please," I say. "In the bottle. Unopened."

He raises the right side of his exaggerated, single black eyebrow. "Fine. No problem." Reaching under the bar, he pulls a bottle of water from an ice chest. Rivulets of condensation runs down the plastic bottle and my salivary glands react. Cracking the top open, I take a deep, undignified swig. The heat of the bodies and room has had an effect on me already.

I keep sliding along the bar, scanning the room. I want to set myself up in a corner, and try to get a sense of this scene. Perhaps something will happen that can pull some of the threads together. I hope to be unappealing enough to avoid dancing.

Twenty minutes later, my bottle is empty, I've refused eight offers to dance
from both men and women
and am feeling light- headed from the heat, wafts of pot smoke and the relentless, thumping beat of the music.

Perhaps I need some fresh air. I'm working my way towards the door when a voice at my ear says, "Hi."

I turn and see breasts
very large breasts at my eye level. Forcing my head back, I meet the speaker's gaze. It's a cat.

No, it's a woman with cat's eyes. Literally. She's wearing contacts that give her the slit golden-irised pupils of a feline. Her hair is obviously a wig, an unnatural shade of light blonde, straight and swinging like a cape to her waist.

Her makeup is so thick it could be a mask. For that matter, this could be a man. I try to sneak a look at her feet to judge the size and heel height, but my eyes are burning and the effort seems too much.

She says, "You need to come in the back. It's quieter there and you can get some rest."

I can only nod. She's probably right. If I could just sit down for a moment...

She's steering me towards the far wall behind the bar. There's a door, painted the same matte black as the wall. I hadn't noticed it before.

The woman confidently opens the door and pushes me through.

If anything, the music is louder in this room and the red walls ripple with a deep beat. Creatures frighten me, child-like, with their twisted masks. They inhale from gold-bespeckled hookahs. The smoke escapes around from their gaping mouths, swirling in green coils towards the ceiling. But the room does seem smaller and more intimate, lit by hundreds of smoking candles, and the warm, sex smell of melting wax mingles with the smoggy pot smoke. "Would you like something to drink?" the cat asks, her hot mouth very close to my ear.

I consider her offer. I can't seem to string two thoughts together. I couldn't have been drugged, I assumed, from a sealed bottle. Now I'm not sure...but I'm also so thirsty...

I stumble over my words. "I don't know."

I do know I want to sit down
in a dark corner, where no one can see me. I feel as though all the bright eyes in the room are on me, leering, sneering, smirking to reveal sharp teeth...

She's talking again. "Are you tired?"

"Yes," I whisper.

The DJ is at the center of the room. His dark skin is glossed with sweat and glows blue in the light. Bare to the waist, his arms are a blur as he works the turntables balanced on what appears to be a baptismal font.

He stops the music. Everyone stills. Then a low, moaning choral refrain starts
and stops. Over the speakers, a woman's voice, a whisper, winds among the folds of my brain. Intimate words ."Come into my heart"
float around as synthesizer notes stop and start.

The dancers crush together and begin to sway in one motion.

From the shadows, one man is watching me. The crowd surrounds me and I'm carried on the swell of their wave...

The woman's voice, now beating inside my heart, pleads, "Bleed into me."

She touches me, caresses me, as she asks to me to surrender.

I blink, trying to focus. I know the man. Tall. Dark hair caps his head. Black, high-collared shirt. Green eyes. The familiar, forbidden desire in me...

I roll my head back with great effort and a grin covers his handsome face. His teeth are stained with blood.

"Mulder."

"I've been waiting for you," he replies, seeming happy for the first time in days.

The pace of the music has quickened
coursing through my muscles, shattering my thoughts
as the beat increases. The dancers are thrashing to follow, frantic.

I'm frantic too. He reaches out and takes my hand. "Come on," he mumbles. I have to get away from these people. I have to be with Mulder.

I follow.

He opens another dark door and leads me into a small maroon- swathed room, closing the door once I pass through. Glancing around, I see a low bed covered with a pile of dark velvet pillows. Exhausted, I have to drop into them
I've lost Mulder...no. He's crouching in the corner, facing me with his head low. His back curls forward, the vertebrae protruding like spines from a lizard's back under his tight shirt.

His eyes are shadowed, but his mouth, gaping as he breathes heavily, glows out of the darkness like a red cave.

He breaks my inspection. "Let me."

"What?" I ask.

"Let me."

I try to look at the door but my eyes are too heavy.

His head twitches to follow my gaze. "It's locked. They won't bother us."

"Uh, huh."

I'm hot. The crimson light bathes the room with heat. My clothing itches.

Restlessly, I twist on the cushions, trying to find some relief from the irritation. A pressure has settled between my legs. I can't do anything about that in front of Mulder.

The heat concentrates there. His gaze follows the flames.

"Mulder."

His eyes hold rebellion. "I'm hot," he echoes my thoughts.

Pulling it off over his head, he removes his shirt with one graceful move. He rises. Kicking off his shoes, he then peels his pants and underwear down.

The tip of my thumb has found its way into my mouth and I chew at it as I watch him. He begins to pace. Blood is filling his penis. It looks heavy, thickening and lengthening under my gaze.

He returns to the corner, sinking back into the shadow.

His sleek hands hang limp, propped up on his wide-spread bent knees. His mouth closed, now the cave is between his thighs, dark.

Biting hard on the knuckle of my abused thumb, I watch the hot head of his penis bob in the darkness with every breath he takes.

The cushions hold me like a fly strip. The flow between my legs is slow-moving lava. I want to leave.

I finally attempt to struggle to my feet.

He leaps, pinning me, and we sink into the velvet heat of the pillows.

The rapid breaths from his nose cools my flaming cheeks as our mouths twist and plunge in their dark seas. Spreading my legs, I tear at his skin to force his body on top of me. Grunting, he begins to thrust his cock across the slick fabric that covers my belly.

The heat is unbearable. I need water. All I find is salt when I begin to lap at his neck and chest in desperation.

A flash of white
his hands
grabbing at the bodice of my dress. A yank and my breasts are revealed to the cool air. Arching my back, I moan in relief.

The hands cover them, squeezing hard. We both watch my nipples, captured in the bars of his fingers, tighten and redden.

His tongue has been darting across his teeth as he watches. I'm afraid. But when his mouth swoops down, it is a delicate tongue tip that I feel, not the sharp edges of teeth. I press upward, trying to get more of my breast into his mouth. He pushes me back down into the cushions, causing our hips to grind together harder and harder.

I reach down to yank my skirt up and vainly pull at my panties. His cock comes in contact with my stomach
a path burns across my skin.

His hands come free from my breasts and his mouth finally settles on the right one, covering it, swallowing me into the darkness. He tears my panties at the hipbones, the ripping fabric loud in the padded chamber of the room.

The sound seems to break a spell. Pushing off of me, he rocks back on his heels to crouch again.

Our eyes meet. His dilated pupils make him a beast. I can't read the shifts between green, gold, and gray. That Mulder is gone.

I lean back into the cushions, raising my knees in an obvious invitation. After a moment, when he hasn't come back to me, I glance back at him. He's staring between my legs. One of his hands is cradling his balls. The other is stroking his cock.

Furious, I push my skirt down. I'm not one of his jerk-off magazines.

He speaks. "I don't want to hurt you."

I roll over on my side, pressing my legs together. "You won't," I insist as I stare a crack in the plaster traveling down the wall like a python.

"I haven't gotten my final test results back."

That.

Her.

I spit, "Can I go home now, or do you need to finish jacking off first?"

His fist tightens around the base of his penis, holding his orgasm back. His face twists in self-hatred. Something tells me his face looks like that a lot when he masturbates.

His breathing slows and he carefully releases his penis. His arms fall to his sides and our eyes meet again. His expression smoothes. His voice is low. "You'll get to leave when I'm done. I still need to." He stops and his tongue slips around his lips, moistening them.

The room is soundproof but I can feel the vibration of the deep bass through the walls. The red light flickers in time
blood pulses around the room.

Mulder rises, smoothing his hair back across his skull with his hands. He looms over me. His bright tongue flicks out again, sliding across his shining teeth. Again. His gaze is a stroking hand, touching my cheek, slipping along my jaw line. I roll my head back to expose my neck. My pulse thumps upward to escape my tissues.

His eyes move on, covering my exposed breasts with a flush before dropping.

"Scully," he commands.

I frantically pull my skirt back up. His hands are there, pushing my legs apart. On his knees between them, he stops touching me. The tip of his tongue worries at the point of his left canine tooth.

I'm barely conscious. I can't find enough air in my lungs. The room has grown dark, all but the white of his eyes and the ruby of his mouth, then they sink from view.

His teeth bite at my thighs, hard enough to mark me. I squirm and writhe to give him more fresh skin. Each bite tingles and dances.

As he moves back and forth between my thighs, his hair and nose brush at my vulva, now beating as frantically as my heart. I'm terrified he'll hurt me, break my skin and make me bleed. But my voice keeps begging, "Please, Mulder."

I need to bleed. The pressure in my vagina and vulva is now overwhelmingly painful. Grabbing his roving head, I force it down with a groan of agony.

His ragged breath touches me first. Then, the lightest grazing of his tongue. I instantly relax.

His lips grab my clitoris, pulling it up
pulling me apart into atoms. There was no warning, no build, only an explosion. As I shatter, teeth replace his lips and those sharp edges finally tear me open.

Red
Red
Red
the walls contract and expand to push my blood out, filling the room.

Black
Red
White
I rise up, pushing him back on his haunches to grab his penis. His hands are already there. Our sweat-dripping hands work in unison to relieve his pain as well.

Eyes screwed shut, he chants, "Scully, Scully, Scully."

He's waited too long. His cock and balls seem painfully hard. Straddling his hips, keeping one hand just below the tip of his penis, I yank his head back by his hair.

His eyes flash in the light like a frightened animal, but I ignore them. His jugular vein leaps, and I bite down hard. He cries out, the sound rumbling up between us on the crest of his ejaculation. My mouth can't get to his blood, but I'm splattered with his stream. We rub out bodies together, smearing the stickiness as though it will adhere us to each other.

The darkness threatens to engulf us
it's sand - dry and harsh - filling my mouth. I will die without water.

I can barely whimper, but Mulder hears my distress. He crawls away...

He's back, and suddenly, I'm cool...he's splashing me with water
I struggle upright, my mouth seeking the flow, gasping, gasping, gasping...he fills my mouth again and again.

Finally, I sink back, sated. He crouches over me, pouring water from a bottle into his mouth, the excess dribbling around his lips.

Waterfalls rippling down the planes of muscle...my fingertips play in them...and night settles over us...


Chapter 7: Ecclesia

December 23rd

I'm cold. My left hipbone hurts. Someone is breathing heavily in my ear, causing my hair to tickle my cheek. My swatting hand scrapes a stubbled cheek.

I force my eyes open. Blue: my couch, my end table, my curtains fluttering with a cold breeze
I'm in my own apartment. On the floor.

A long body, barely warmer than the floor, is behind mine.

I jerk upright, trying to get my stiff limbs to escape this person.

The body rolls over on its back when I scramble to curl up against the back of the couch.

It's Mulder. His breathing becomes even more labored. Purple shadows are under his closed eyes. His hair is flattened on the left side of his head. He's been lying there all night too.

Not all night.

I look down at myself. I'm back in my black dress but my panties and hose are gone. I can't stop the shaking of concern from rippling through my limbs. One shoe is on
one lies by Mulder's leg.

Then I see my torn underwear lying discarded by the door, as though they fell out of someone's pocket. I'll have to bag them for evidence.

Mulder is in a pair of black leather pants and black, tight shirt. Both our bodies smell of stale, fermented sex.

The beat of music still rings in my ears.

My tongue feels swollen and dry.

Mulder's mouth and tongue had tugged and pushed at mine. His hands...I stare down at his fingers, upturned and curled slightly closed
his hands touched my body. I can't remember past his fingers gripping my breasts
squeezing my eyes shut briefly, I stop myself from searching for the memories.

Eyes on me. Other people were in the club, but I can't summon a clear face.

"Fuck," I mutter. Then louder, "Fuck!" as I grasp at the holster fastened around my thigh. My gun is gone.

That rouses him.

"Mmmph," he grumbles.

I'm crawling around on my hands and knees, futilely hoping to find my gun discarded like my underwear. "Mulder."

His eyes snap open. His gaze stays on the ceiling. I'm about to get up and fetch some water to throw on him when he finally turns his head.

"Scully?"

"What the hell happened, Mulder?" I paw through my desk drawers, opening and shutting the safety box, on the slight chance that I put my second weapon away without remembering. My service piece is there, in its holster, but the 9mm is nowhere to be found.

"Dammit!" I burst out as Mulder seems to be trying to find enough salvia in his mouth to speak.

"Scully," he moans weakly.

My answer is to slam the drawer shut. Vertigo whips through my vision and I have to grip the desk's edge to remain upright. "Mulder, what did they give us?"

He's scrubbing his eyes with his palms. "Why did you go, Scully?"

That's a good question. "I was looking for the killer, Mulder."

My words hang in the air.

Finally, he says, "I didn't kill Joy, Scully." And then, "Or the others."

"I didn't think you did." Not until I say that, do I realize I'd been drawn to the club by my perception of his deceit.

He's pulled himself upright, and is sitting with elbows on knees, his head cradled in his hands.

"I have only one question, Mulder."

He glances up to meet my eyes for the first time. The pupils resemble pebbles, with rough surfaces and shifting colors.

Steadying my voice, I say, "Why?"

His laugh is rough. "You won't believe me."

"Try."

He attempts to rise and then drops back to the floor, giving up. "I'm a vampire," he says simply.

It's my turn to laugh but the ringing phone cuts me off.

We both stare at it. I answer it one ring shy of the machine picking up. "Scully."

It's Detective Santos. "Agent Scully, I wanted to check in with you. First, did you find anything last night?"

"What?"

"I decided to drive around the murder scenes a bit last night. Stake out that club. That's when I saw you go in."

"Oh." Thank God he can't see my face. Mulder is finally standing and is beside me, causing even more anxiety with his odor of sex and sweat.

Grasping, I say, "I decided to take a look around, see if anyone knew the victims."

"So, nothing?"

I hedge, "No...not really..."

He makes an exasperated sound. "Damn. And your partner?"

I feel like I'm going to drop the sweaty phone receiver. Weak, I answer, "He's working on another case."

Santos replies, "Okay. Two things. I took the liberty of sending an inquiry to Guatemala about the priest at St. Stephen's. He made me twitch. Then, you were right. Last night, Miriam Barnes took four Hefty bags of garbage to the dumpster. We've picked them up and brought them down to the station. It's being catalogued by Evidence."

All my other worries dissipate for a moment, and I allow a satisfied, "Good to hear."

He grunts in agreement, and adds, "But I'm beat. I was going to head home."

Rushing, I say, "I'll be happy to check over the evidence, Detective. We'll also go to Joanne Campbell's apartment." I turn and give Mulder a steady look. He returns it without flinching. "And don't worry. This case will be wrapped up very soon."

The detective makes happy sounds, mumbles about solving cases before the holidays, his voice winding down with the drowsy tones of a night worker who knows he's finally going to go to bed.

Mulder steps closer as I set the receiver down. "Well?"

I shrug. "We're fine. For now. Mulder."

Is he listening? His fingertip is rubbing the bruises and scratches that dot my bare arms, his brow furrowed in concern.

"Mulder, what were you saying about being a vampire?"

He smiles, but it's sad. "You don't believe me."

"Mulder."

He stops me with, "That woman. The one I had sex with while you were gone. That's not all I did with her."

The coil of anger and disgust unfurls again in my gut.

"She was a vampire."

"Of course."

"Scully." he implores.

I grab his hand and squeeze it between my palms until he winces. I have his attention now. "Mulder, I can see what happened now. I was gone. You were alone. You were vulnerable."

He shakes his head. "No, Scully, she was a vampire."

I have to remain calm. "All right, she was a vampire. But you aren't!"

His gaze is on his shoes, intense concentration puckering his forehead.

"Mulder."

He whispers, "I am. I drain the life from everyone around me. I destroy with a touch."

I grasp his other hand. "No, Mulder." Taking his right hand, I lay it on my shoulder. "No."

His shaking fingers tips my chin back and he looks down at me. I'm afraid he's going to try to kiss me.

"I left your place...that night. I went straight to a bar. I can't even tell you where. And I met Joy. She said she was going to a club. Did I want to go? And there...there I found people that were familiar to me
had a way of seeing things that made sense."

Firmly, I repeat, "No, Mulder. You aren't a vampire. You found people as alone as you were. You found some answers when you were confused."

He lets another small smile escape, but it disappears when I say, "I can't lie, Mulder. I can't cover up a crime to save us."

He nods. "No, I can't ask you to do that, and I can't do it myself. I knew you'd find out my secret eventually."

"Were you trying to lead me to you?" I cannot fathom such a self- destructive action, even from Mulder.

"I wasn't thinking that far ahead." He gives out a rusty chuckle. "I had hoped to keep you out of this. Keep my problems from tainting you." I can only gasp in exasperation. "But I wasn't going to stand in the way of justice either."

He turns, looking around for his coat. "Let's get it over with. Maybe we can catch Santos before he leaves."

Grabbing his arm, I protest, "We don't have to do that. Yet. We could use your infiltration of the group to solve the case." Grimly, I have to admit, "But they probably have the weapon I was carrying last night. They may be contacting us before we find them. We'll use that, if necessary, to catch the killers."

I drag him to the couch, and we both collapse into the cushions. "We've gotten nowhere so far. I have the feeling that these people can and will disappear into the night if they sense we're about to send the troops in. Can you remember who your other...friends were?"

He seems despondent, his head falling back as he stares at the ceiling. "That's another thing, Scully."

"The drugs. What have you been using? How much?"

He shrugs. "Dope. Joy gave me some stuff that gave me this incredible buzz. Loose, but everything was vivid. I loved it. It was a sensation without pain. I used a lot of pot in high school and college. Maybe too much. As soon as I started again, I remembered when I enjoyed it so much. The oblivion. But this stuff." He gets frustrated. "I can't remember details. I only remember those sensations, or a single experience."

"Do you think the water was drugged? I can't remember anything specific after entering the club." Unconsciously, I push down my short skirt, but Mulder's gaze follows the motion.

He turns gray, then green. "Scully, did I hurt you?" His pitch rises. "Scully? Oh god, I can't."

I concentrate. "No, I don't think we had intercourse. I don't *feel* like it. But I guess we can go do a swab test to make sure." I cringe at the thought, but he looks more settled. Remembering the swirl of leering faces again, I decide it will make me feel better as well. Patting the back of his hand, I note, "I don't believe you would harm me, even under the influence of...whatever."

Leaping up, I pull him from the couch too. "Come on. Let me get some clothes and we'll go down to the lab. I want to find out what we were given."


7a. Mulder's pacing the white sterile room when I come out from washing and changing into the clean things I'd brought along. It was torture to remain in the soiled garments for another hour until we got to Quantico, but it was necessary. He's wearing some old sweats of Ethan's I still had in my dresser.

He'd looked ill when I pulled them for him, but I enjoyed that brief moment.

I'd bagged his leather jacket at the apartment so he'd shivered on the way to my car, discovered parked in my usual spot. We'd found the jacket flung over a chair back and I hope it has some prints we can lift.

Mulder stops circling and steps towards me, his features twisted in concern. "When will we know anything?"

I sink onto a stool. "I'm going to check the samples now." Steeling myself, I say, "But first, some more questions. What could you have exposed yourself to?"

He looks confused. I have to say it out loud. "How many of those people did you have sex with?"

He rushes out with, "None. That's not what it's about."

Dryly, I point out, "There was a room with a bed in it."

He's by my side, imploring me to understand. "For resting. Sometimes people would become overwhelmed."

"Okay, but you said you don't remember a lot of details."

He seems fairly confident when he says, "I'm sure I would have know I'd had sex. Even with the memory blackouts," and I want to believe him.

Then the weight of the situation crashes down on me. "Mulder, we're now embroiled in the middle of a case. By not reporting last night's activities
my gun
immediately, we're jeopardizing any arrests we may make."

"Scully, we can go to AD Skinner right now. You don't have to protect me."

Automatically, I say, "Yes, I do."

For some reason, those words seem to hang in the air and neither of us speak.

Finally, I push myself out of the chair and head into the lab to begin the tests.

An hour later, we're both feeling relieved. There're no traces of semen from the swabs of my vagina.

Our blood and urine samples are less reassuring. They show high levels of GHB. Mulder asks, "What's that?"

Anger boiling up, I reply, "The newest party drug. A tasteless, odorless substance that causes euphoria and reduced inhibitions," his face falls
No, Mulder, I don't usually go into private rooms at dance clubs with men and do...God knows what with them ."And can cause memory blackout. Bingo."

I flip to another page. "You're also showing marijuana use, which we knew." I furrow my brow as I check the readings. "But also more hallucinogenics. Chemical Compound: LSD."

He stares off into space, seeming to be concentrating. "So, even if I think I remember something, it could be inaccurate."

He's right. "Dammit," I mutter.

Stating the obvious, he says, "We're screwed."

"No, we need to get on the ball." I glance at him and with uncertainty shaking my voice, say, "Now that we're working together on this..."

His smile is filled with relief. "Yeah, Scully. We're together on this."


10:45 AM

We go to Joanne Campbell's apartment and her roommate opens the door, her relieved explanation, "Dammit, Joy, where have you been?" dying as soon as she sees our dark suits and somber expressions.

After delivering the bad news, we're invited in. It's a small student apartment, crammed with mismatched furniture and anything that's cool to a woman under thirty. Pillar candles
incense cones in soapstone dishes
Santeria cards tucked among the leaves of a ficus tree
bowls of dried rose petals
Druids on art prints
Celtic knots winding around photo frames
primitive Mexican figurines clustered on the end tables
Russian icons on the walls: it's all a blur as my gaze roams the tiny living room.

Mulder and I crouch on a saggy red velvet couch that smells of cat urine. The perpetrator, a black longhair, slowly blinks his yellow eyes from the top of a mahogany wardrobe. Noelle Lo, Joanne's roommate, perching on the edge of a rattan chair, lifts her thick glasses to wipe her eyes with a tissue. "I knew something was wrong. I just knew it."

"Joy seemed worried that she was in danger?" I ask.

Noelle shakes her head, causing her straight black hair to spill across her face. "No. Joy never worried about anything." The young woman sounds both defeated and envious of that observation. "She'd go out nearly every night, but she wouldn't stay out all night. Then she rushed out of here yesterday afternoon, so excited."

Intrigued, I query, "Did she say who she was meeting? What it was about?"

I see concern tighten the young woman's shoulders. She admits, "No..." then rushes to point out, "I was busy editing a paper I had due the next day and making lunch. She just said she'd be back later. It was more of a feeling I got from her."

Glancing up at us with her owl eyes, she adds, "But when she didn't come back that night, or last night, I thought something must have finally happened to her. I had convinced myself not to call the police
that I was being silly."

I try to keep her from getting carried away by emotion. "What time was this? Did she get a call?"

"I'm not sure. Early Afternoon. I lose track of time when I'm studying." Her expression is apologetic. "The phone may have rang."

Mulder's a better actor than I'll ever be. Casual, he asks, "Did she have a guy? A boyfriend?"

Clearing her throat as though she's given herself a mental shake, she says, "No. Believe it or not, Joy was very shy. She needed a crowd to feel brave. And she didn't seem to be interested in having a boyfriend."

He leans out of our red nest. "She found that crowd." It's a statement, not a question.

She glances back and forth between us, then begins with circumlocution. "I'm a graduate student in Folklore and Mythology at Georgetown. I don't have a lot of the hang-ups towards alternative lifestyles." There's no judgment in her voice, but I still can't stop a rueful smile. "Joy was a good person. Sweet. Considerate. But others would judge things that she did as wrong or the product of mental illness."

Sincerity drips from every papilla on Mulder's tongue. "That's not our role. Our job is to find her killer. You want us to do that, don't you?"

Even before she speaks, I can tell, for the first time on this case, we've run into someone honest, with some helpful information.

Noelle says, "All right." Waving an arm around the clutter in the room, she continues. "Joy was very interested in...everything. She took classes at George Washington, but didn't want to limit herself to a course of study. She just loved life."

"But." Mulder coaxes.

She concedes his point with a nod. "Finally, about four months ago, she seemed to have found something that gave her some answers. And really appealed to her feminism."

This interests me. I lean forward, joining Mulder in our buzzard imitation.

"She'd found a group that preached a matriarchal dialectic."

Mulder breaks in. "And drank blood."

Her round shoulders slump, "Yes," but then she hurries on. "It was merely ceremonial. The practice was meant to represent the man receiving the strength from the woman. Only a very small amount was ingested."

Even though I know the answer, I ask, "And Joy allowed herself to be cut and her blood to be consumed?"

Noelle shakes her head vigorously, then shoving her glasses back in place. "She wasn't being forced to do anything. She wanted to do it. It was an honor in this group, apparently."

Mulder says, as he rises from the couch, "You never attended any meetings?"

"No. She invited me, and I was interested in seeing the way the group worked." The young woman shoots me an apologetic expression. "I'm doing my Ph.D. thesis on female deity worship. It seemed like an unusual source. An active and growing movement."

Mulder drifts towards the arched doorway. "But?"

"Joy asked him and came back. The group was private, he said."

"Can we see Joy's room while we talk?" Mulder asks.

"Oh, certainly." She hops up from her chair. "I hope you can find something in her things."

I follow her down the dark hallway. "He?"

Noelle bobs her head. "Yes, I found that a bit strange myself. Generally, women start these modern movements. However, I think that's what attracted Joy."

She opens a door with a small holy card tacked to it. It's the sort found in Latin markets, with a stylized Virgin Mary on it. "Apparently this guy reveres women. Believes salvation of the soul lies within their blood." She leads us in.

Joy's bedroom is small, also crammed with furniture and decoration. Mulder heads to the vanity, which seems to play the part of an informal shrine. More cards border the mirror, and there's a plaster statue of the Madonna, ringed by votive candles, many of them gutted.

"Are those the words she used?" I ask.

She reflects, then responds, "Yes, now that you say it, those were her words. It's a group looking for salvation."

Moving the bad taste around in my mouth, I join Mulder. He's peering at a cardboard advent calendar he picked up from the vanity top. The picture is a gold-flocked church nestled in a snowbank under a full moon, and each door a window in the structure. Twenty-one doors, one for each day of the month of December, are opened, ending on the day of her death. Some of the revealed pictures are cryptic: a flaming heart, a skull, a goat. The last window reveals a red rose.

We exchange interested glances. I know there was such a calendar in Gloria's things, but I hadn't examined it closely, assuming it was simply holiday decoration. I also want to check the evidence from Andrew's.

Then I remember something else. "Noelle," I start as I turn to her. "Did I see an advent candle display in the front room?"

Smiling sheepishly, she nods. "I've always liked the candles."

"What's the significance?" Mulder asks.

I answer, "Each week in the month of December, on Sunday, a different candle is lit. The final candle is lit on Christmas."

"Which will be a Sunday this year," he says slowly.

I get a sense of many small bits of paper floating on the surface of water clouded by questions of Mulder's involvement. I need to figure out their significance before they sink into that darkness.

Mulder is still poking around among Joanne's things. I require standing still to contemplate, but he seems to think in motion, like a hamster on its wheel.

Aimless, brooding, I say, "Find anything?"

Equally aimless, he shakes his head.

"Noelle, may we send over the police to bag all these things up? And anything else you may think will be helpful?" I ask.

She says, "Oh, certainly. It will distract me..." She finally loses her calm exterior and her chin quivers as she continues, "Tomorrow is my birthday."

I can only pat her arm in sympathy. I don't dare look at Mulder right now. There are still too many questions to ask this day.


Chapter 8: Orant

December 23rd
11:05 AM

Mulder and I head back to our warren at the Bureau. The police have sent over the new evidence from Andrew's dumpster. I also want to dig out Gloria's advent calendar.


We balance on stools, surrounded by labeled piles of sorted belongings from the victims. I check the evidence collected at the Simi home, and find Gloria's calendar. It appears the same as Joanne's, with a rose revealed on the estimated day of her death. As I peel back the unopened doors, I ask Mulder, "Found it yet?" The remaining days are all blank.

His latex-white fingers dance through a stack of papers at the end of the table. "It looks as though our fair Miriam did some housecleaning, straight into those Hefty bags."

Glancing over, I shake my head at the emptying of her son's room.

Delicately, his pale pincers pull out another calendar. This time, the last open window, from the day of Andrew's death, shows the infant Jesus in his manger.

Mulder sucks his lips into his mouth and chews on them for a while. Releasing them with a pop, he says, "The gender differences in the calendars corroborate the evidence from the bodies."

"Yes. And that also would back up what Noelle told us. The rose is assigned to the donor: the female. The male is always the feeder." I reopen the door revealing the red rose. "When Joanne saw this, she must have rushed out. To her death?" I ask but expect no answer.

I'm right. Mulder doesn't respond, apparently engrossed on his search through the evidence.

Clearing my throat first, I ask, "Did you consume blood?"

"Yes," he mutters.

"How often?"

"I dunno..." He stumbles. "A couple of times, I think."

Stiff, I say, "Yes." Then, "When did you last go to a feeding?"

"I haven't been to a ceremony...since the before first bodies were found. If I had, perhaps I could've stopped Joy from being killed."

Does he blame me for the girl's death? "What about last night?" I protest.

He taps the calendar. "These ceremonies are different from the dance club. Feedings take place, but there's no ritual involved."

I know he's only telling me as much as he feels is necessary for me to know. There's no way I will get more from him unless he wants to give it.

I need a drink of water. I excuse myself, go to the hall fountain, and drink mouthful after cold mouthful.

When I return, Mulder, still perches on his stool, slump- shouldered, the evidence materials untouched.

"I think I only drank blood two or three times," he repeats as soon as I clear the door. "Everyone is carefully screened. The blood is a source of psychic energy. Nothing more."

I don't want to talk about him anymore, and begin to sort through a stack of Andrew's papers. It has nothing I'm looking for, but the repetitive action feels soothing.

Silent, we sift through the boy's possessions until the phone rings.

It's Stuart, the Tox Guy, with the reports on the victims' blood and tissue samples. Gloria died of a GHB overdose. Also, he confirms the tar from Andrew and Gloria's lungs contained a combination of marijuana and LSD.

He's jolly. "And I can narrow it down to stuff from south of the border. Central America, I'd say. '93. It was a wet growing season. Heavy buds."

I cut off the old frat boy's rhapsody. "Thank you."

Leaving Mulder at his task, I head down to my office, planning to pull out his drug screens to see if Stuart can make a match. It might cross one more 't' on that report we may or may not be filing.

When finished, I go to the cafeteria for some late lunch, not bothering to fetch my partner. Chewing on a dry sandwich and limp, wet salad, I check the wall clock. It's two already, and despite the few new leads, I feel the case slipping away. I return to my office. When I try to push the door open, there's something stuck under it. I pry a large, thick mailing envelope free. The outside notation says it was sent over from Detective Santos, received by the front desk at 1 PM. My heart lurches, then settles as I see it's pages of bleary faxes. Rechecking the outside of the envelope, I notice Santos' dark scrawl and squint to read it.

'Agent Scully - I'd requested this info from Guatemala. Will have copy forwarded to you after translation. I'll read when I get up this afternoon. Santos.'

I begin scanning quickly.

The reports were compiled by the national and local authorities.

Father Joaquin was never Father Joaquin. He matches the description of Cristo Reyes Cabreras of San Francisco El Alto. Cabreras was being sought as a suspect in the murder of his mother when his body was found in a small hotel room near the airport in Guatemala City. That same day, Urlando Joaquin, a fellow student of Cabreras at the Seminario de las Llagas Sagradas, left the city for his new assignment as a priest at St. Stephen's Church in Washington D.C.

First, I read the background on our imposter.

Cristo was the youngest of twelve children; a pampered toy for his aging society mother who lost her husband soon after the baby was born.

However, her son could never be good enough for her. From birth, Sophia Reyes Cabreras deemed his skin too dark, saying he was a punishment for her youthful sins. The local police had numerous difficulties with him over the next twenty years. They found pot plants on the family's coffee plantation several times. The family always swore it wasn't Cristo, and the authorities didn't want to cross them.

When Cristo entered a seminary in Chichicastenango, the investigations were dropped. His mother was extremely pleased, telling everyone that with a priest for a son, she would get into heaven for sure.

He was soon in trouble at his school. Caught with marijuana, he claimed he used the drug to bring religious visions, based on his Mayan ancestors' practices. His defense was dismissed as an attempt to cover for his drug use.

His next claim was to have been visited by the Virgin Mary.

I flip to the report from his bishop, reading it over carefully.

Cristo said the Virgin came to him in his cell, on the night of December 1, 1993, dressed in a white robe. She held her arms out to him. Blood was dripping off the tips of her fingers. He asserted that she told him that she was walking the earth in the body of another.

Adamant, he insisted he was foreseeing the way to the second coming of Christ. This living Mary would be able to transform a mortal man into the next Messiah. However, a quantity of marijuana was found again, and he was expelled.

Sent home in shame, conflict quickly resumed with his mother. On May 14th, 1994, Senora Reyes Cabreras was found in her bedroom. She'd been strangled. Her brachial artery had been cut after death.

An immediate search began for Cristo.

On the 17th, in Guatemala City, Cristo Cabreras was found in a small hotel room. His skull and face were caved in; he was identified by his papers and luggage. No connection was made between Cabreras and Father Joaquin until Santos had requested information about the new priest at St. Stephen's.

Slapping the final pages down, I snatch up the phone. No answer at Santos' home or desk. I check my voicemail, and hear his voice.

"Agent Scully, I've just gotten up and read my copy of the report from Guatemala. I think I'll go over and see what our pretty little priest has to say for himself. It's...2:20...I'll call you when I've got him at the house."

"Dammit!" I slam down the phone. If it's not one high-tailing man, it's another

Calling up to the evidence room only gets me a constant ring of the phone. I head there, just to double check, and try Mulder's cell phone from mine, getting nothing but the voicemail. Then I remember Santos' hero worship of Mulder and realize the detective probably called him first.

The room is empty, but a stack of sorted holy cards is on the edge of a table. I snatch them up, stuffing them into my trench pocket as I head out the door.

I pass Stuart in the hall, and ask him about Mulder.

His round face brightens and he tells me, "I caught him on the phone while looking for you. He said he was headed out to follow up on a lead."

Without calling me, Mulder is chasing after Santos.

As I spin on my heel, Stuart says, "I found something interesting on that new victim's tox besides the expected drugs."

"Yeah?" I ask absentmindedly, glancing at my watch. They have an hour head start on me.

I'm already heading to the parking garage when he calls after me, "She was carrying the rabies virus." I toss that bit of information on the pile with all the other pieces that make no sense.


Columbia Heights
4:45 PM

The sky is winter dim. The coal lump buildings confuse me, and I have to drive slowly to find the church.

There is a line of patrol cars out front. I hurry up to the first cop I can find, flashing my badge.

"Scully, FBI. What's going on?"

On his face of sharp contrasts
white skin, heavy five o'clock shadow, shiny black hair
the young cop's lips are bright red. They're trembling, and finally part. "Detective Santos."

Brutal, I cut in. "Where?"

He motions towards the front door of the church, and I hustle up the steps.

Within the gloomy interior, yellow police tape catches the lame light from a few spotlights that illuminate the altar. A body is under a tarp, encircled by a yellow ring of 'Don't Cross'.

More uniforms mill around and I bully my way in. "Who can tell me what happened?"

A pudgy sergeant, squinting like a pig, peels away from the crowd. "Who you?"

I give him a peek at my badge and a dirty look, and he starts talking, his words garbled by his bad teeth and potato-fat lips. I strain to understand. He basically says, "Santos had about three of us come on down here with him. He wanna pick up the Father, he say. He wasn't sure if the guy'd be in here, or at his place, so me and Carlton went over here. He and Weir take this place. Weir is checking the offices, and Santos is down here. Then, Weir comes down."

Dramatically, the cop waves his stout arm at the tarped body. "
and finds this. The detective's been popped."

Sorting through his narrative, I move forward. "Didn't Detective Santos tell you the suspect was dangerous?"

He protests, "It coulda been a accident. We don't even know if he got popped on purpose."

Delicately, I slide the covering from the body to be confronted with the back of a curly-haired head. There's a significant impact wound, doubtless resulting in death. A piece of masonry, complete with rough, blood-stained edge, lies by the crumpled body.

The cop is waving his arm up towards the choir loft. "It coulda juss fallen."

Santos deserves better than this crap. I snap upright. "Have you found the priest?"

All the men look ashamed. "Nope," says the one with the nametag that identifies him as Weir. "When I called the guys, they came running. We sent someone over about ten minutes ago, but there's no sign of him in the apartment."

"Have you seen another Federal agent? An Agent Mulder?" I'm afraid of the answer.

They all shake their heads and I try to decide what is worse, his absence or his presence.

"I want to see this priest's office and home. Do you have men there?" Again, they all nod.

The office is neat, with a catacomb dust odor. There's absolutely nothing personal or revealing anywhere.

When I start my walk over to the priest's apartment, the night is black and frost white. The spinning red sirens dance on the dark mirror exteriors, and I hurry to leave that behind.

The crunch of my steps echoes on the frozen sidewalk, and my objective, another set of lit-up patrol cars, is at the end of the street. Then, as I pass a shadowed alley, a flick of white catches my eye. I open my mouth to call out for help, but stop. It could be Mulder. I duck down into the dark well.

The alley narrows, and dumpsters bracket the walls, narrowing it even further. My breath comes in great, freezing white puffs, but my gun, nestled in my palm, is still warm from my side.

Just as I reach the edge of a dumpster, there's a creak of ice. I stop, jerking backwards, and my assailant falls at my feet.

A white stork on a dark night; long, pale legs askew, sharp-edged shoes clawing for purchase, short skirt girdles its thighs, long white wings covering the head and shoulders. It's a wig, I discover, when I grab a handful to haul this person up.

"I'm a Federal Agent! I'm armed!"

The gangling limbs get under the body and propel the tall frame upward to loom over me. Yellow lizard eyes momentarily catch me off guard, pinning me with their strange gaze. A flailing arm knocks me against the dumpster.

Kicking out, I manage to bring the person down to join me on the cold ground by tangling our ankles together. I scramble to keep from ending up on the bottom of the pile. Our low grunts sound very loud in the still night.

I'm on my knees. Triumphant, I press a kneecap into the person's neck and try one more time. "I'm a Federal Agent!"

I push the wig off to get a look at the face. White make-up has smeared, marring the dark pavement. Red lips are sneering or grimacing. Her one visible eyeball is focused on a crack two inches from her nose. Her contact has fallen out in the scuffle, revealing a blob of yellow color on the pale iris.

"You were in the club." Also, "You're Polly Whittle."

She says nothing.

"Get up."

She pulls herself into an accordion shape, her knees under her chin. She's probably cold. I rest against the icy dumpster, pointing my weapon at her and trying to catch my breath.

I'm surprised that my first question is, "Where's Mulder?"

"I haven't seen him tonight."

"Where's Joaquin?
or Cristo Reyes Cabreras."

Now she looks perplexed. "Who?"

"The priest."

Her one naked eye shifts but her remaining contact is still. "I don't know."

"But you saw him tonight."

"Earlier," she admits.

"Did you see him kill Detective Santos?"

"Who?" This time she's much less convincing.

I remain silent.

She's shaking with cold. "Your boyfriend's in some trouble."

I want to deny both presumptions but say nothing.

"But I can help."

"Oh?" I encourage.

"We both have a problem and the solution is the same: Jehu gone."

"How is he a problem for you?"

Her waxen features suddenly alive with bitterness, she starts in. "The community began with the best of intentions. I thought I'd found my place at last, within a matriarch-based tribe that understood the superior power of a woman's blood."

The cold and worry makes me snide. "But something went terribly wrong?"

She makes me feel like shit for my flippancy. "Four dead people is wrong. It's not what the group was about." When she shakes her head, the tightly encased bun at the base of her neck comes loose, and her ashen hair tumbles down. "I thought he was using the framework of the Catholic Church to give order and sense to our rituals. But he was serious!" She's enraged again.

Despite having some theories, I ask, "What is he trying to do?"

Her one live eye seems frightened. "He believes he can find a woman whose blood holds the power
will cause him to be reborn."

I can barely contain my disgust. "As?"

"Jesus Christ. And he has only one more day left. He's desperate. This will be your chance to catch him at it."

"Tell me where he is, and I'll arrest him for the murders."

"No!" She struggles to her feet, her knees popping sharply in the cold. I force myself up as well, and raise my weapon. "You have no proof against him for the killings."

"He's wanted for murders in Guatemala too," I point out.

She snorts. "I've been to Central America. Do they have witnesses? Without them, he'll be able to buy his way out of it. He's been making an awful lot of money selling his premium pot."

"Well there's another crime."

"Goddammit, you stick of a bureaucrat! Aren't you seeing this!? So, fucking what? You catch him with a kilo of pot! Those kids were murdered by that sicko because he's starting to get desperate. But if the cops are brought in, that guy of yours would go down, and my group would be rounded up, held up for public ridicule
when we're not doing a damn thing illegal. I want my community back, and you want your killer. Are we going to work together on this, or not?"

So that's it. Some *man* pushed big Polly out of her ivory tower.

"Why did he kill them?"

She leans back against the wall. "I don't have any proof he did, in case that's your next question. We had the priest's ceremony. Andrew fed from Gloria. Jehu said they didn't show the aura."

"Excuse me?"

Exasperated, she explains, "Jehu doesn't drink. Not until *the* one is found. He's an aura vampire."

Remembering her vampire lesson of several days ago, I nod.

"The ritual takes place in the church, then we go to the club. Andrew and Gloria were pretty stoned
hell, we all were. Gloria was disappointed, but whatever. I came back from the club about three, to pick up some things I'd left behind, and I found them both dead. The bodies were stacked by the door. They were still warm." She shudders, and this time I know it isn't the cold. "I'm sure Jehu had gone to try to find a vehicle. He needed to dump the bodies. I placed Gloria on the steps, but I was trying to decide how to position Andrew when I saw a car coming. I just dropped him in the gutter and decided to split. I knew that fool priest wouldn't see them right out front."

I ask, "Any idea why he killed them?"

"I just saw that Gloria looked untouched, but Andrew was beaten to death."

"And the priest was selling pot?"

She nods, so I theorize, "Andrew has a record for distributing. Perhaps he was skimming some off the top."

"But what happened to Gloria?" she queries.

Uneasy to be sharing information with a suspect, I confide, "She overdosed on GHB."

Polly shrugs. "It's hard to gauge the dose on that shit. And I can see Andrew panicking and fetching Jehu. But that bastard would have been furious. If Gloria's body was found, she could be traced to Andrew, and then to all of us. He's not going to let anyone stop him from his goal."

I prompt, "And Joanne Campbell?"

She twists her bright lips. "By putting those two on the steps, I'd hoped to lead you guys to Jehu, but you didn't bite."

"I've been trying."

She continues, "Joy's ceremony was supposed to be that night. He must have lured her to him before then. We just assumed she'd chickened out. And my manager was too scared to tell me a body was found at the club. I didn't find about it until I saw the report in the paper. I think Jehu was nervous about Joy's connection to Fox, first, and also wanted to repay the favor by leading you to my club."

Defiant, she proclaims, "The club is mine. Before getting mixed up with him, that was my scene."

I'm getting tired of her pissing contest and need to wrap the questioning up. "Why hasn't he gotten rid of Agent Mulder if he knows he's a federal agent?"

Now the lips form a horrible smile, backed with yellow teeth. "He's useful insurance. Can't you see that?"

"Why doesn't Jehu get rid of you, Polly?"

She doesn't frighten easily. "Jehu and I are playing cat and mouse right now. I don't want to lose my tribe, so I'm hoping to just have him go away. He needs one more ceremony, tomorrow night, but he doesn't want the disruption of a confrontation with me."

"I can't help you," I state.

Contempt fills her coarse features.

"I have to find my partner," I say and walk away.

The priest's apartment reveals no clues, just like his office. It seems too austere, even for a man of the cloth, and I decide he'd emptied anything incriminating earlier. The officers lounging around the building haven't seen Mulder either.

Out of places to search, and feeling my mind beginning a frantic whirl, I decide to go wait at his apartment. I'll give him until midnight to show up. Then I'm calling the authorities in.


Chapter 9: Pyx

December 24th
12:56 AM

The front door opening jerks me awake. I can't believe I fell asleep on Mulder's couch. I'd been so filled with worry that sleep seemed impossible.

I call out, even as I fumble for my weapon, "Mulder?"

"Scully." He sounds defeated.

All the anger and betrayal floods back, and I attack before he can clear the doorway. "Where the fuck have you been?"

He's pale, and turning to hang up his coat, refuses to meet my eye.

"You've been with those people, haven't you?" I realize Polly had omitted one little fact. Of course there would have been a ceremony last night.

"Scully, you've got to keep out of this." he starts.

"No, you have to keep out of it."

He doesn't respond.

I pull myself to my feet, shaking the sleep from my brain. "Mulder, that man killed those young people. You know that, don't you?"

"We don't have any evidence. I have to get close enough to find proof."

Suddenly, I see what he's been doing, and a new fury overcomes me. "You'll risk your life and career for this?"

He shrugs as he heads towards his fish tank. Fumbling with the fish food container, he finally gets the lid off.

I raise the ante. "And now he's killed Santos."

Mulder's eyes flicker with pain, but then he just shakes his head.

"You truly don't care about yourself, do you? Well, I do. And you're working on this without me." I move forward to grab his arm, squeezing the stiff limb. "We're partners."

"Not on this. You have to stay out of this," he insists. "Look what's happened during the last cases. I don't want to see you hurt again." He turns to face me at last. "What if something happened to you again?"

Stillness settles on my heart. "What I have to do is start doing my job. I'm going home now, and I will fill out a report, with *all* of the details previously omitted in our other reports. I will file it with the Grand Jury this morning, and both our careers be damned. Other, impartial agents can sort out it out, and find this Cabreras person." I storm away from him, snatching up my coat.

He calls after me, "No, Scully, I can't let you do that."

Right before I slam the door, I toss over my shoulder, "Why should I do anything you ask? You haven't trusted me enough to let me help you."


10:32 AM

He doesn't contact me. My anger battles with worry, and then wins out. Instead of trying to track him down, I spend the morning typing up the report.

I drive by the district court to drop it off, but am told no filings will be accepted until the 26th.

Sitting in my car, the rejected file lying beside me in the empty passenger seat, I stare out the windshield, unfocused. A freeze has descended. Tiny frost veins begin to creep up the glass as the car cools.

My ringing phone jolts me.

I can barely find breath. "Scully."

"Dana, it's Mom."

I notice the garish decorations on the lampposts stretching down the street
the harsh clang from the Salvation Army bellringer
it's the day before Christmas.

"Hi, Mom. I'm sorry I haven't called."

Her voice suggests she's gone beyond worry to resignation. "I understand, dear. Have you been busy?"

"Yes, Mom. What are you doing today?" Last year, I'd made an effort, putting on a meal for her and Dad to show them I was doing all right in my new assignment. What a difference a year makes.

I hear her settle into a chair. "Since Melissa decided to go to Mexico, and both Bill and Charlie are on tours, I thought I'd make a small dinner. Like we had last Christmas with just the three of us." She has to stop herself.

Guilty tears rise. "Mom, I'm downtown right now. I thought I was going to be tied up with a case all day, but the judge I need to speak to is taking the day off."

"I should hope so." She has plenty of spark with her objective in sight.

"I'll be there in two hours. Will you wait on lunch for me?"

"Of course, Dana. See you soon."

I barely hear her. My mind is racing already. I'll swing by my place and pick up some things to spend the night. I've got a present for her. I'd selected and wrapped it the day I got out of quarantine.


At my apartment, I ignore the blinking light on my machine. I'm sure it's Mulder and I don't need to talk to him now. I pack an overnight bag and go to meet my mother.


Through lunch, and my mother's gentle prattle, I find it hard to concentrate. I feel as though my deactivated cellphone is a block of ice in my purse, radiating cold.

Mom's gaze becomes knowing, and the probing begins. "What's the case you're working on?"

I shake my head. "You don't want to hear about it. It's Christmas."

"You father wouldn't tell me about his work either. Sometimes now." She sips her tea. "Sometimes I think the stress was bad for his heart."

I mold my face to an expression of concern, and nod, not allowing that comment to sink beneath my surface.

We spend the rest of the afternoon window shopping until dusk falls, our arms interlocked against the cold. Normally, this sort of mindless pursuit appeals to me when I'm trying to drive something away, but in the dim winter light, every shiny windowpane shows me my features. I don't like the strain and fear I see there. And my mother's face mirrors that expression, doubling my torment.

I'm relieved when she suggests we head to her house so she can put the ham in the oven. The first thing I notice there is her Advent candle display, arranged on the console table backed to the couch.

Nodding at the arrangement, she says, "I can't forget to light the white candle for Christmas day. Perhaps when we get back from midnight mass tonight."

I'm fumbling through my coat pockets, having dropped my keys in one, and wanting to put them on the table so I can find them later. My fingers touch the forgotten holy cards. "I'm going to make a call, Mom. Can you handle starting dinner alone for a few minutes?"

She laughs and assures me she can.

I turn on my cell phone. There are no voicemail messages. I try Mulder's apartment and the phone rings three times. I hang up before the machine picks up.

I'm through the front door, calling out, "I've got to go. It's important. I wouldn't leave unless it was important." She appears at the kitchen doorway, sputtering, and I pause. "I will come back, Mom. You won't be alone on Christmas. But tonight...tonight, something came up."

I see her defeated expression before I pull the door shut behind me to block it out.

I drive towards Mulder's apartment. I'll start there.


11:12 PM
Mulder's Apartment

No one answers my 'hello?' as I push the door open.

A glint of gold catches my eye. An advent calendar lies on his desk. The last window is open and it reveals the infant Jesus in a manger.

"Dammit." I glance around the room for more clues, even as I pluck the calendar up and toss it aside.

The answering machine light is a steady red, but I decide to try something. After I rewind and play, I hear Polly Whittle. "Be here by eleven. Same place as last night. Be careful. You're on tonight, so come early and get ready. Come in through the door on the east side."

Louder this time: "Dammit!" Spinning on my heel, I head out into the night.


Even though I know the local police are watching St. Stephen's, I drive by. Light leaks out through the open portal doors, fighting the cold and dark. I stop my car, peering through the windshield.

A slow trickle of well-bundled parishioners is making their way up the stairs for midnight mass. I wonder who's leading the services, and then assume someone was found to step in. The show must go on.

It would seem every Catholic church would be having a service tonight. Where were Mulder and the others? Suddenly inspired, I pulled away from the curb.


11:45 PM
Georgetown University

The streets had been empty. Everyone had somewhere to be, and someone to be with, on this night.

The campus is vacant and still. I don't see a security guard anywhere as I make my way from the parking lot. I'm playing a hunch, connecting Polly and the group's need for a church. I should have called a backup, but I didn't want to have to explain what I was looking for if I didn't find anyone. There is a cluster of autos in the lot, so I may be right.

I hurry across the large square between the study halls. The frozen lawn crunches under my shoes. Out of my sight, chunks of ice on the Potomac groan and grind against each other. The cold night settles on me.

Dahlgren Chapel is on the far side of the square, its serrated spire cutting into the gunpowder sky. Cloud cover has moved in. It may snow for Christmas. In a deep shadow on the back of the building, I find what I hope is the correct door, and with gun drawn, slip through it into the dark room.

By the light of candles, between long drags of a hand-rolled cigarette, Polly is mumbling to a stoned-appearing young woman. The woman is propped up in a chair, her large, light eyes glazed and her dingy hair rumpled. Both women wear flowing white robes. Long sleeves make it difficult for them to pass the joint back and forth. They laugh drunkenly.

Polly notices me, and without warning, strikes her companion on the neck. The woman's eyes roll back, fall shut, and then she drops over. I'm momentarily impressed even as I'm shocked. I've never seen that work outside of movies.

Brisk, Polly says, "So you've come. Hurry and get out of that coat. We don't have much time."

I lift my gun into position. "Please raise your hands where I can see them."

She looks surprised. "What are you doing?"

"I'm arresting you. Please raise your hands."

"Now, Agent Scully, let's not be so hasty." She steps over the woman's body and approaches me. I cock my weapon.

She hisses, "There's the matter of Agent Mulder." Jerking her head towards a door on the inner wall, she says, "He's in there. If you arrest me, you have to arrest them, including him."

"Is Cristo there too?"

"Who?"

I force out the pilfered title. "The priest."

"Yes," she promises. "But as I said before, all I want is my group back. Tonight is the last night that Jehu needs us. Go in there and get Mulder. Afterwards, you can follow the priest and arrest him."

My thoughts are diverted by a scratching noise from a large box in the shadows. I swing my gun around to face it.

"Don't harm them!" Polly cries out.

I draw near to the low, coffin-sized container. "Who's in there?"

"What is in there," she corrects me. "Our servants, waiting for their turn," she says with a sickening mirth.

Air holes in the box tip me off, and I remember Stuart's discovery of the rabies virus in Joy's body. Incredulous, I ask, "Bats?"

Happy with my guess, Polly says, "Yes!"

Turning back, I force myself to be nonchalant. "What are they for?"

"Failures are left to God's lower creatures."

Before I can absorb her latest insanity, a low litany begins in the next room. I can't make out the words, but it must mean something to Polly. "Hurry!" she urges. "We're out of time! Are you in, or not?"

I must make one more attempt to save Mulder.

My decision made, I shed my coat, protesting, "This will never work," even as I find myself stripping down to my blouse and slacks. Am I telling this dangerous woman or myself?

"It will. You wear this." She drapes another floor-length white gown over my shoulders, then pulls the cowl up to cover my head, jerking it down low on my forehead. "Walk in with eyes modestly downcast. Mulder will be in the circle. It'll be dark. Just go around back and signal him. You can slip out and no one will notice." I nod and start to shuffle forward. She rushes around me to pull the door open. I blink in the blaze of candlelight surrounding an elevated altar.

There is a small group forming a semi-circle just back in the shadows. I glance up once. They're all narrow slip figures with white faces. Mulder stands at the forefront. He's staring at his feet, but his companions murmur and lean forward. When their gazes fall on me, their expressions enliven. They want
they yearn
they seek.

The imposter priest calls down from behind the altar, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord!" and I have to quickly look up at him. His hair is covered with a tight white hood. His face is also painted white, making his eyes plastic bright and his gums and tongue glow red.

Polly has grabbed my arms from behind with her strong grip. I start to struggle, and she hisses in my ear, "Stop! Do you want to get Agent Mulder killed?"

"And the Word was made Flesh! And dwelt among us!"

Polly pushes me into the center of the circle under the altar. Her hands are crushing my arms. She has one huge foot poised between my feet, ready to trip and bring me down if I protest again. I can't escape, and I'm certain she's not making idle threats: calling out for help now will get me and Mulder killed.

Sickeningly, the group drones, "Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed are thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen."

This must be a signal. Mulder steps forward to stand beside me. I dare not raise my eyes to look at him, but I can hear his breathing, rapid and moist-sounding. Everyone recites, "Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts; that, we to whom the Incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an Angel, may by His Passion and Cross, be brought to the glory of His Resurrection. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen." Mulder's voice has joined in and his words vibrate through me. I can't believe he's participating in these perverted services. The reality frightens me.

Polly grips my wrist and slides the sleeves up. My arm shines white under the overhead light. I still resist her grasp, and watch the veins pop out from the exertion. I force myself to relax. Perhaps we can get through the ceremony and escape without detection.

A rubber tourniquet reduces the flow to my arm, and the blood begins to pulse with pressure.

Mulder keeps his eyes down, staring at my arm.

A woman appears at his side, carrying a tray containing a fine surgical blade. Mulder lifts it, holding it at the end of his fingertips. I can hear my own breathing, now with the harsh cadence of a trapped animal.

He leans forward to make the incision, and then glances up at the last moment. Recognizing me, he's shocked. I nod slightly, and he drops his gaze to the prominent brachial vein.

His hand is shaking and I'm suddenly afraid. He gulps and then must force himself to steady.

The cut doesn't hurt at all. Together, we watch a droplet of blood rise to the surface, swell, and glisten in the candlelight. His head is dropping towards it.

Polly says something about catching the blood in a bowl, but his mouth is on my skin already. His lips grip my arm, and he inhales, drawing up the blood, encouraging the flow.

Now only Jehu is heard. He speaks quiet, like a lover. "Soul of Christ, make me holy. Body of Christ, save me. Blood of Christ, fill me with love. Water from Christ's side, wash me. Passion of Christ, strengthen me. Good Jesus, hear me. Within your wounds, hide me."

I watch my other hand rise to cradle Mulder's head, finding his skull beneath his hair to grip it. He's nursing at my arm and I go light-headed.

"Mulder," I murmur as low as possible, but I'm drowned out by the priest's excitement.

"The light...I see their aura..."

Mulder's palm cups my elbow, holding my arm to him. His other hand in on my hip, digging into the flesh. All my bones have gone weak, and I feel as though I'm going to be drawn inside Mulder's mouth.

"We have found our Mother!" Jehu cries. "She has given life to this wretched man!"

The crowd mumble to themselves, pressing forward until I can hear their breathing close at hand.

Suddenly, they part, and I know Jehu has come down from behind the altar. He's close. Drawn against my will, I lift my head to meet his eyes.

He is a white jaguar. His slick cranium frames heavy-boned features. His pale lips pull back to reveal sharp teeth and crimson gums. A flick of his bright tongue and then it's gone. The creature's eyes are black with fervor.

The passion fades from his gaze, and I know he's recognized me. I dig my nails into Mulder's scalp, breaking the spell, and swing my free hand as hard as I can at the animal's head. When my fist makes contact, I can feel some of my hand's fine bones buckle and creak, but I don't bother with an exclamation of pain. Terror is filling me as the milling group closes in.

The priest staggers, taken by surprise, then gives a feline hiss as he lunges at us.

Mulder's wrapped his arms around me, pulling me back against him. His gun flashes into my peripheral vision. "Stop, everyone. FBI. You're under arrest."

Sinking back on flexed hip joints, Jehu stills, waiting.

I want to stop Mulder. There's no evidence of a crime. We've witnessed nothing that will aid a murder prosecution. But he must feel the force of the crowd's agitation.

He's backing us slowly towards the door, and then suddenly slumps against me, beginning to slide down my back. As I turn, I see Polly, armed with a candlestick. The weapon falls towards my head before darkness swarms over me.


Chapter 10: Finial

I'm in a rose garden. The air is heavy with scent, and the blossoms float in darkness...

I try to jerk my head upright, but I'm immobilized.

Tattoo-laced arms hold me down on a table before the altar, pulling my head to the side, exposing my throat.

Fighting overwhelming panic, I roll my eyes to see what's happening. Pale faces dance in the swirls of incense and chanting vibrates the air. The priest stands at my shoulder. He reaches out and strokes my jugular vein with a fingertip. The candlelight glances off the wide knife blade in his hand.

It dips close and his bright tongue licks his whitened lips. He pronounces, "Immaculate Virgin, Mother of Jesus and our Mother, we believe in your triumphant assumption into heaven where the angels and saints acclaim you as Queen."

Polly looms over his shoulder, her face intent with hate.

A scream swells in my throat, then explodes out, startling everyone. Jehu jerks upright and meets Polly's descending fist blow.

He sags against the side of the table and slides to the floor, stunned. In the momentary confusion, I struggle off the table, even as hands still grasp at me. A glint catches my eye. I yank Mulder's gun from the priest's waistband, firing once above the group's heads towards the back of the church. I'm immediately released from my captors' grip.

Jehu's hand curls around my ankle. "Maria," he whispers.

I glance down to him and meet his imploring gaze. I feel as though I'm staring off a cliff to swirling waters below. There're no answers for me in his eyes: no signs of madness or hatred and anger. Only need.

He calls to me again. "Maria."

I'm tired. I need to rest. The gun is heavy in my limp grasp. I lean against the altar. The wood is warm from the candle's glow.

"No," I reply.

Other voices join his from the shadows. "Notre madre."

The warmth wraps around me, flowing down my body. The gun slips to the tips of my fingers. I look down at the weapon to will it back into my palm.

Blood flows out from the white sleeve, sliding over my shaking hand, and drips to the floor. My fresh cut throbs.

"Madre," the priest croons.

I focus on him. He's crouched on all fours; his broad back hunched over, ready to spring. His white teeth flash at me.

My pulse quickens, searching for that opening to leave my body. My "No," is weak and thready.

I manage to shift the gun to my left hand and try to lift my right arm to stop the flow. My gaze drops, but I can hear harsh breathing. The cat is close now.

One the floor, the trickle of my blood is flowing towards him. His long fingers reach out to dip in. His tongue flicks out and drinks from the tips.

The pale faces, floating blooms in the shadows, bob forward. "Madre," they moan.

Jehu has rocked back on his heels. I raise my gun, and slowly cock it.

His thick-edged features soften and melt. Bewildered, broken, he begins to moan from somewhere low within his body. "Madre, madre..."

"Where's Mulder?" I ask.

Polly, who's been advancing on the priest, jerks her mongrel dog eyes towards the door to the preparation chamber. As soon as I turn my back on the group, I can feel the wave of bodies moving to follow.

Slipping through the door, I slam it behind me. The candles have been snuffed and the room is dark. Faint light, filtering down from a high window, lies on the floor, pointing to Mulder. Bound and gagged, he's wedged in a corner. His sleeve's been sliced open, and a wound cut into his arm. Blood pools under his elbow.

I slide the door's bolt shut. Immediately, scraping starts on the other side and muffled pleading joins in.

I say, "Hold on, Mulder," as I stumble to the pile of clothes. Rummaging through my coat pockets, I find my flashlight, flip it on, and make my way to the outer door. I check that it's bolted as well. Slightly reassured that we're secure, I look to Mulder.

His eyes are wide with terror
something is in the dark with us. A scratching on the cold floor alerts me.

At first it seems to be a flickering shadow, then I see the glint of its open mouth and the light is swallowed in its leathery black wings. A vampire bat is walking with a hitching gait, using its claw-tipped wings like canes. He's intent on Mulder's blood.

Something flies by my head, stroking my face with its thick wing. Soft flutters fill the air. How many are in the dark?

Mulder catches my attention with a stifled groan and I try to make out details in the darkness. The bat is at his elbow, reaching up with its claws to get a grip on his arm. I point my weapon at it. Mulder's head jerks in dismay. Clicking the safety on my gun, I creep up behind the animal. Reaching out, I grasp one wing, swinging the creature away from my partner, up in the air, and down to smack its head on the floor.

The first blow stuns it, and I risk stomping my foot down on its back. Its strong body struggles and nausea rises in my throat. The skull gives way with a blow from the weapon's handle, and I jump back to avoid contamination from its blood.

After kicking the animal's body away, I undo Mulder's bindings, tearing the tape from his mouth, earning his gasp of pain. In the flashlight beam, I see Mulder's eyes and realize he's been drugged.

"Mulder, how do you feel?"

"Fine," he moans.

I slide down the wall to sit by him. Bunching up the sleeve on my gown, I press it down on his injury, stemming the blood flow. Another bat swoops over our heads. Hunkering lower, I ask, "Mulder, do you know what they gave you?"

"They forced me to drink something."

Pounding has begun on the door. I swing the flashlight over to check it. It's shaking under the blows, but the latch remains in place. I just have to hope Polly doesn't have the key.

"Scully?"

"Yeah?"

"I'm glad you're here." His voice is warm and sincere.

I put on my 'humor the drunk' voice. "I'm glad I found you, Mulder."

"I need you, Scully."

I press down harder on his arm, wishing I were applying the fabric to his mouth.

"I'm scared, Scully," he whispers.

"I am too, Mulder."

He sounds definite when he says, "No you aren't. You're concerned. You're worried. But you don't get paralyzed, terrified, scared shitless like I do." He sighs as though the effort exhausted him.

I decide not to argue with him any more but he goes on. "I'm a coward, Scully."

"Mulder."

Another bat flies down close enough to brush my hair, forcing me to duck.

He begins to blab, "I am. I froze when they took Samantha. I froze in Puerto Rico when I had a chance to find out the truth about extraterrestrials. And I lost you...this time, this time I'd tried to fix this mess I got myself into and I fucked it up."

"Mulder, the drugs they've given you are making you feel vulnerable. You are brave. You take risks that I'd never dream of taking."

"That's not bravery, Scully. That's because I have nothing to lose."

Our argument will have to wait. Realizing the pounding has stopped, I decide we need to risk escape. Pulling myself up, I grab his hand. "Come on, Mulder. Let's go."

Sounding even more defeated, he says, "Okay," as he scrambles up, wavering on his feet.

I open the outer door cautiously, peering around the corner. The courtyard is empty. We move out into the cold. Mulder rasps, "There's a security phone here somewhere..."

At some point while we were inside, a light dusting of snow covered the black lawns and paths. The blue light atop a telephone pole catches my eye. A security phone is on it.

Campus security answers promptly. As I'm hanging up, Mulder grabs my arm.

Pointing upward, to the roofline of the church, he calls out, "Look. There they are."

Jehu and Polly are visible in their light robes, flapping white crows against the black sky. Their screeching curses rain down on us
age-old admonishments of men and women. 'You took what's mine. You hold me back. You piss me off.' Somehow they're ridiculous in the context of death and deception. Some of their followers have slipped out from under the dark trees, gathering behind us to watch.

"Scully." Mulder's hand finds mine, grabbing it and pulling me back as they fall, suddenly silent. Their hands claw at each other, even as they descend in a slow arch. Then, the impact is close and violent: a great whoosh of the air forced from their bodies and the crack of bone.

A surprised moan rises out of the crowd surrounding us.

Knowing it's useless, I approach the bodies. The white forms are outlined in blood on the snow. Even in death, the crushed faces sneer at each other.

Turning, I meet Mulder's eyes.

"Are you okay?" he asks, his voice still hoarse.

I can only nod, and find myself moving away from him. Sirens cut into the silence as the security cars tear across the grass towards us.

I greet the hustling officers. "Agent Dana Scully, FBI." I motion with my arm, but don't look back. "And my partner, Agent Fox Mulder."

Will he still be there? Or is he in the crowd being rounded up by the security?

His words come close behind me. "Here."


I find my clothes and change, bagging up the gown as evidence. Mulder's waiting outside, leaning against the wall. No words are exchanged as we made our way through the boiling masses of police, investigators, a few hardy reporters, and bleating pseudo-vampires.

The local authorities accept my brief account of our 'undercover' operation. We were left standing in the dark and cold, watching the cop ants swarming in the blue pools of light.

"I need to take you to the hospital, Mulder." I head to my car.

He smiles and my heart sinks.

I don't speak during the drive, fiddling with the heat controls instead. His momentary happiness seeps away, until he's huddled against his door, arms tightly wound around his torso over the seatbelt.

I stop in front of the emergency entrance. "Here we are."

"Come in with me, Scully," he requests, his voice strained and sharp.

"I can't, Mulder." I haven't turned off the engine and the heater is roaring. "I left my mother at her house. I'd promised to go to midnight mass with her, and now I've missed that."

He interrupts, "We need to talk."

I stifle a protest, and regroup. "We can talk here." I turn on my emergency flashers.

He unfurls his arms and settles his palms onto his thighs. "All right," he says cautiously.

We sit in silence and I watch other cars crawl down the icy street, their tires crunching as they turn.

I start, "We must plan our report to Skinner on Monday. We can't avoid the inevitable forever."

"That's not what I want to talk about. We should discuss what happened between us."

Panic rises. "Mulder, you need to go in and be treated."

"It can wait."

I get out and go around to open his door. "Come on, Mulder, you must go inside. We can talk later."

After a long pause, he relents. He rises out of the seat. "Later?"

"Yes." I hear the lack of conviction in my voice.

His expression is conflicted, but doesn't stop me from getting back into the car.

"Later," he repeats. His face, obscured by the fogged window, is as white as Jehu's.

I say, "Merry Christmas," even though I don't think he hears me.


December 29th, 1994
FBI Building
9:45 AM

I wait outside the office of Dr. Andrea Miles, the therapist in charge of evaluating Mulder for duty. For the eighth time, I check the files I brought along. The door opens and my partner comes out.

"It will be a moment," he tells me.

I nod and stay seated. He stands in front of me.

"I'd hoped you'd call. Thought we'd be able to talk."

Quickly, I say, "Since Christmas, I've been working to finalize all the reports on this case. I finished up some exams on the bodies and other evidence. Everything must be shipshape."

He purses his lips. "Yes. I understand that."

"How have you been, Mulder?" I sound overly bright.

"I'm not on drugs. That's all over, Scully." There's a heavy weight in his tone.

I quickly glance at the closed door. I lower my voice. "I'm sure. It was an anomalous situation."

He barks a laugh, twisting his body to look back at the door. "Yeah, that's for certain." He assures me, "It won't be a problem again."

I interrupt him. "Good. I wanted to give you time to work things out for yourself. I care."

"Do you, Scully?" He stares at a point behind my left ear.

His hand hangs at my eye level. I reach out a grasp his pinkie, squeezing it once. All I can find it say is, "I wouldn't want to lose you," but his unchanged expression tells me he doesn't understand what I mean.

Just then, the door reopens, and a tall woman of about forty, with one of those 'trust me' warm faces, peeks out. Dropping my hand back into my lap, I begin counting each breath, making them slow down. The end is in sight.

Rising, I say, "I'll see you at the office tomorrow, Agent Mulder."

He pulls his trench from the coat rack. "Yes, Agent Scully. Bright and early."

The doctor notes, "We'll see, Agent Mulder. Let's not get to far ahead of ourselves."

He smiles at her with charming sincerity. "Of course, Dr. Miles."

Without a backward glance, I follow the therapist into her office. After shaking my hand, and settling into her chair, she leafs through her files.

I wait.

"Agent Scully, I'm glad you came today," she starts.

"Why wouldn't I?"

She looks surprised. Perhaps that did sound defensive.

"I see from your file that you've been through a very traumatic past couple of months."

Off balance because she's talking about me, not Mulder, I fight the urge to challenge her. "Yes." Then I see an opening. "Agent Mulder has also been under a great deal of strain because of my experiences. He feels responsible. You can understand how this situation could arise."

She nods. "The Bureau realizes Agent Mulder has not broken the law with his activities."

Alert, I grip my file folders. What story had he given about his drug use?

"We are more concerned that these activities may be a sign of..." She seems to search for the right word. "Disturbance."

"What is your opinion?"

She gives me a careful smile. "Agent Mulder has been very cooperative. As a trained psychologist himself, he makes a fascinating and helpful patient."

I'm encouraged that Mulder has been smart in his dealings with the doctor.

Then she worries me with her next turn. "What are your thoughts about the aura vampires, Agent Scully?"

"I don't believe in their existence, if that what you mean."

Suddenly interested, she leans forward across the desk. "But I've read your reports, Agent. The things you saw
that happened to you personally
have you considered the possibility?"

Now I see Mulder has been a tad too persuasive with the doctor. "I weighed the evidence, yes, Ma'am. Whenever these 'aura' occurrences happened, we were under the influence of drugs, or weakened from blood loss. This could easily lead to the impression that Cristo had unusual powers."

"And what about Agent Mulder?"

Frustrated, I ask, "Ma'am?"

"He seems to believe he may have powers to steal other peoples' energy."

"I'm convinced this is a result of the stress he's been under, coupled with the depressive nature of the drugs."

Seemingly deflated, she leans back. "Yes. True. Still, it's an interesting theory."

Wondering if this is how Polly Whittle got started into her dark world, I ask, "What is my partner's status?" even as I'm trying to read her papers upside down.

She shuffles them, making me momentarily dizzy. "It's my opinion that Agent Mulder was profoundly depressed, as you said. Drugs were introduced into his system without his knowledge, which certainly would result in abnormal behavior."

I say nothing. I believe Mulder's assurance that he no longer uses drugs. There's no gain to correcting her on that one point.

"He appears to be making remarkable progress with our sessions, and I'm ready to clear him for duty. That's why you're here."

"Oh?"

"After everything you've been through, your AD doesn't want you with a partner you don't have faith in."

Her suggestion is incomprehensible to me. "Doctor, I trust him implicitly. With my life. I feel he is fit for duty."

"You have no reservations, Agent Scully?" She's watching me closely.

"None whatsoever." I put all my force into my words.

She nods and scribbles some notes as I wet my lips.

She glances up. "That will be all, Agent Scully," but there's warmth in her tone. I let out a long sigh. It would appear Mulder's slipped through a cracked door once again.


Epilogue

January 3rd, 1995

My bags are packed, ready for wet, cold weather. We're about to leave for a case in Wisconsin. Mulder had made it through his slide show presentation with his usual blend of confidence and infuriating theories, giving me confidence our work relationship is back on track. Unsure about our personal relationship, he seems to have joined me in my wait and see attitude.

As I approach the door, suitcase and briefcase in hand, coat draped over my arm, the doorbell rings. It's the manager, delivering a package.

"I was on my way to the roof and thought I'd drop this off."

I thank him, even as I'm checking the labels. No return address, and my name and address in bold, black lettering. It's a small, but heavy box.

Under the packing paper, Christmas wrap is revealed. I check the posting date on the outer wrap. The Saturday before Christmas, but sent surface mail. It would never have made it to me in time.

Still dubious, I slip the tape open on the ends, then lift the lid off the box.

My missing gun. I check. It's unfired.

A card in the box reads, "Merry Christmas," and is signed, "Blanca."

Tossing the box aside, I realize Polly managed to have the last word with Jehu.

The phone's ringing.

"Scully."

Mulder's cool voice: "It's me, Scully. I'm out at the curb. Ready?"

"Yes, Mulder, I'll be right out."

I lock up the gun in its safety box, pick up my bags, and go out to meet him.

~~*~~End~~*~~

FINAL AUTHOR'S NOTES:

*readers are peering under the keyboard for a happy ending*

Sorry, folks, it's not there.

This story grew out of the question: after the events in '3', could Mulder be a vampire? I've also always been intrigued by the Abduction Arc, and liked the idea of toying around in those episodes.

The only problem is the characterization that I felt was necessary to get this story to work. I wanted the events to fit logically into season 2, and lead up to the 'Irresistible' and the Rift of season 3. But I had to put the writing aside again and again because I just didn't like the Scully and Mulder I created. (And the HLVs depressed me.)

Now that I'm finished, I have to say I honestly that I'm *still* not comfortable with them. I feel they're characterizations I've seen in occasional episodes
EmotionallyRepressed!Scully and Self-Destructive!Mulder
but *I* wouldn't want to read this story because of them. LOL! Oh, well. Feel free to share your thoughts with me. Obviously, I won't be upset!

I got a lot of great help on this project. These souls suffered right along with me. Kari, syntax, and Branwell banged ideas around, then picked, nitted, and picked some more. Jenna and Ambress joined in the great title hunt. Ambress helped me dig myself out of one of the many plot holes. Shawne and Sharon gave me moral support through all those setting-asides.

Thanks for reading and drop me a line if you'd like: bugs1231@my-deja.com

 


 

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