Title: The Wolf Never Sleeps - The Collector's Edition
Summary: A dead FBI Agent, a clairvoyant with a secret, a mad vampire and a God-fearing werewolf. (With a cast like this it should be funny, but it isn't.) This occurs somewhere between "One Breath" and "Anasazi".
Notes: This is my first posting. Please be kind - when I started writing it a year ago it was for my own amusement, and I never thought it might end up on the Net, so it got a bit large and complicated. Consequently, it's split up a little unevenly in places, so I'm hoping to post most of it in one go. Let me know if something goes wrong and I'll try to fix it! <Crosses fingers nervously> Also, it's been pointed out to me that Agent Pendrell didn't appear until Season 3. Since I don't want to hack him out of this story, I'm going to make the assumption that Mulder and Scully already knew him prior to his first on-screen appearance - after all, I've watched and re- watched that episode and there's nothing that actually precludes the possibility. Besides, it's such fun to torment him.
Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Danielle Culverson for reading and listening and being really encouraging. Couldn't have done it without you! Also to Holly Alexander, for offering friendly advice when I first started surfing.
Here goes ....
The noises coming from Mulder's office were so unprecedented that Dana Scully was almost tempted to wonder if she'd taken a wrong turning. Too little sleep last night, perhaps, coupled with being waylaid by the Assistant Director's secretary on the way in and diverted into his office to be handed - most reluctantly - the file now tucked under her arm. But, peering around the door cautiously, she reminded herself of how unlikely such a thought was.
No one else was buried this far down in the F.B.I. building, after all.
And no one else worked in quite such uncontrolled chaos, although admittedly at this moment it was in a more-than- ordinary state of entropy. Scully knew what this meant; Mulder was having one of his rare "tidying" sessions. A thought more tempting than the wrong turning - namely, to make herself scarce before she could be pressed into the nightmare job of assisting - flashed through her mind, but not quickly enough. Mulder had already caught sight of her and was waving emphatically with one hand, while rummaging through a file cabinet drawer with the other. Speech was impossible; he was holding one file in his teeth.
Scully resigned herself to the inevitable and eased her way into the room, narrowly avoiding falling over a box full of old U.F.O. magazines. There was paper everywhere.
"Morning, Mulder," she said as brightly as possible. "Having a clean-up?"
Mulder took the file out of his mouth and inserted it very precisely into a drawer full of dozens just like it. Then he shut the drawer with a bang which narrowly avoided shaking a desperate-looking plant off the top of the cabinet.
"Yeah, well, I thought I'd maybe rearrange stuff a little," he replied. "I've nearly finished."
The bemused thought - He has? - was followed by How can he tell? before Scully finally came to the conclusion: He's bored . The last couple of cases had been pedestrian in the extreme, and Mulder was getting restless.
Scully had a cure tucked under her arm. "Can you spare a moment to look at this?" she asked, waving the file Skinner had given her under his nose.
Mulder didn't react. "What is it? Another grandmother in the Mid West seeing little green men at the bottom of the garden?"
"Grey," Scully corrected absently - then caught herself and flashed a look of combined embarrassment and humour at her suddenly grinning partner. God, she was getting just like him. She moved a pile of grainy black and white photos off a chair and sat down. "Skinner handed me this one on the way in this morning."
Mulder's brows rose in surprise and sudden interest. "That good?" He held out his hand for the file, but Scully kept it firmly in her lap. "So what's the catch?"
She fixed him with a Look. "You have to behave yourself on this one."
"Skinner said that?"
"Not in so many words. But the phrase "tact and discretion" was used, with considerable emphasis."
He gave her a pained look. "When am I anything else?"
"Okay, okay. What gives?"
Scully flipped the file open on the desk between them. "One month ago, an agent in the Violent Crimes Section went missing. She was at work one day, then the next - nothing. Her apartment was untouched, her car still in the parking lot, no messages, no apparent reason for her disappearance. The investigation drew a blank."
Mulder picked up a photo on the top of the file; it was of a tall dark woman of about Scully's own age, quite pretty but nothing remarkable. "I don't recognise her - who is she?"
"Marie-Monique Trioche. She joined the VCS six months ago, straight out of Quantico. A good agent, methodical, hard- working, and the others in the VCS liked her. She had no apparent enemies, no problems, no worries so far as anyone knew."
"So why did we get handed it?"
"Because two days ago, Agent Trioche was found dead in her apartment, by her partner. She'd been decapitated. And here's the bit that made it our case." Scully pulled out an autopsy report and handed it to Mulder, who scrutinised it for several minutes before turning wide eyes on his partner.
"She's been dead for three months?"
Agent Martyn Klein was upset. He was also nervous, but Mulder suspected the latter had something to do with the fact that his direct superior, Agent Colton, was glaring at the trio from the other side of the room. Time had not sweetened Colton's feelings for Mulder; nor had the re-assignment of Agent Trioche's case, and there was a tangible atmosphere of antagonism hanging over the Violent Crimes Section when Mulder and Scully walked in to interview Trioche's partner.
Klein, however, gave the impression of not caring who investigated the case, so long as it was resolved satisfactorily, and Mulder tried to subtly encourage this attitude. They needed more information, and Klein was likely to be the only source; Agent Trioche had no family living in the U.S.
"Her parents were French-Canadian," he was telling Scully. "I think she maybe has a brother living, but what family she has is in Quebec."
"What about friends?" she asked. "Did she have much of a social life?"
"I'm not sure. She might have mentioned going to clubs, but I don't know which ones. I didn't know her that well; we didn't see each other at all outside work."
"Did you get along?" Mulder asked curiously. It was rare for a partnership not to prosper enough for the agents to talk to each other.
But Klein was nodding. "Sure, we got along fine. Marie- Monique was easy to get along with; she was just private, that's all."
"The notes say you reported her missing," Scully observed. "What happened?"
"She didn't turn up that morning. It wasn't like her, I never knew her to be ill or late; so I waited until midday, then I phoned her apartment. The machine was off, so I called around there and found her car still in the lot. The janitor said he hadn't seen her come in the night before, so he got the guy from Security to open her door. She wasn't there, but all her stuff was - her car and apartment keys were on the table, her purse and I.D, and her weapon, and the jacket she'd worn the day before was hung up. Everything was there except Monica. It was really weird - she was on the security cameras going in, but not coming out."
Scully pursed her lips and looked thoughtfully at her partner, who returned the look with raised brows. She turned back to Klein, who was staring at his hands morosely. "And you found her body?"
"I found the body," he corrected. "I didn't realise it was her at first. I hoped ...." His voice trailed off and he shuddered.
"Why did you go back there after all that time?" Mulder wanted to know.
Klein hesitated almost imperceptibly. "I was looking for some stuff relating to the case we'd been working on." His eyes didn't meet Mulder's; rather, he shot a very quick glance across at Colton, and looked down at his hands again.
"What were you working on?"
Klein hesitated again, and Scully stepped in quickly on a different tack. "Do you think it could have had anything to do with Agent Trioche's disappearance?"
"No - no, I don't think so. We were working on a series of murders, that's all."
Klein was so nervous now that Scully almost wished she had a sedative on her. She wondered what on earth he was so twitchy about, finding it hard to believe that even Tom Colton's distant presence could be so unnerving for a long-standing member of the VCS team.
Mulder was looking around, his gaze running over the neat little corner of the office that housed Klein's desk and, opposite, Trioche's. Looking at the dead agent's desk, his eye fell on the two cardboard boxes that were it's only adornment. "You've cleared her desk already," he commented.
"Yeah," Klein said sadly. He looked up at Mulder, for the first time meeting his eyes. "Agent Colton said to do that before you arrived."
Mulder smiled wryly. "No kidding?"
"Do you think he was lying?" Scully asked, in the car fifteen minutes later. They were on their way to Trioche's apartment, to take a look around.
"I don't know - just about everything. The only thing he seemed willing to talk about was her original disappearance."
"I don't think he was lying," Mulder replied. "I think he was trying to avoid telling us too much."
"Even about when he went back to her apartment?"
"Maybe. I'd like to know more about what they were working on."
Scully half-smiled. "Somehow I don't think Tom Colton is going to give you open access to their reports and files - not without someone holding a gun to his head, anyway."
"I don't think we can afford to take one agent's word that the cases weren't related. It's the first question I'd be asking myself."
"I notice you didn't ask the question."
Mulder shot a look at her. "Which is?"
"The first question I asked myself when I heard Trioche had been dead for three months rather than just the one she'd been missing - if it was really her who'd been working with Klein for those other two months."
Mulder's expression became mock-incredulous. "Scully, you surprise me! The man had been partnered with her for six months - don't you think he'd know if it was an imposter sat at the desk opposite?"
"It wouldn't be the first time we encountered something like that," Scully admitted reluctantly.
Mulder smiled. He drove on in silence for several minutes, before finally saying, "Even the best - replacement - would have some behavioural differences, something Klein might pick up on, even if he didn't make much of it at the time. But he claims there was nothing wrong with Trioche before her disappearance."
"And you're willing to trust that?" she asked, surprised.
Mulder pulled the car into the parking lot, and switched the engine off before turning to look at Scully. "I haven't decided yet," he admitted. "I want to know more about her first."
"That makes two of us."
Walking into the apartment was an eerie feeling. Despite the thorough examination the Bureau's forensics team had made, it still felt as though the owner had nipped out for a moment and would be back any second. Her jacket was still hanging by the door, her shoulder holster and bag were lying on a small table by sofa draped in Navajo-patterned throws.
The file on Marie-Monique Trioche, and the comments made by her partner, had been dry, conveying little about the personality of the dead agent. The reality was that she appeared to have been a colourful and artistic individual; the walls of the little apartment were festooned with bright hangings, and odd ornaments were scattered here and there. Mulder had to duck to avoid a set of windchimes hanging in the doorway of the tiny kitchen, and wondered as he did so why she had put them there; for Trioche's file had mentioned that she stood at six feet tall, only an inch shorter than himself.
"Mulder, come look at this."
He narrowly avoided the chimes a second time and crossed the little sitting room to where Scully was stood by the window. "What am I looking for?"
Scully pointed. "The lock."
Mulder followed her finger - and his gaze was arrested by a bizarre sight. "There's a lock on the outside?" He slipped the catch on the frame and swung the window open to get a closer look. "Curiouser and curiouser, Alice."
"It's new, installed within the last couple of weeks by the look of it," Scully observed. "Why on earth would anyone want a lock on the outside?"
"We're on - what? - the tenth floor?" Mulder pushed the window open further and leaned right out, taking a good look around. "Hmmm." He pulled his head back inside. "Nothing to see ... except some nice-looking rough stonework and a very handy downpipe to one side." He looked at Scully, quite serious, and saw her expression. "I know that look."
Scully was giving him that familiar yeah, right look, her arms folded uncompromisingly. "Mulder, why would anyone want to climb in or out of their apartment by the window?"
"Why would anyone want a lock on the outside of their window?" he countered. "Klein said that on the evening before Trioche disappeared she was seen entering the building on the CCTV, but not leaving. And she hasn't been seen entering or leaving the building since, despite the fact that her body turned up here two days ago. And presumably no one suspicious or unusual was seen coming here either, or the VCS would have jumped all over them by now and the case wouldn't be ours."
"So you think she suddenly developed a taste for assailing?"
Mulder gave her a bland look. "I wondered if maybe she wanted to foster the impression that she was missing, when in reality she was here all the time."
"She must have been insane if she was willing to climb ten floors, unassisted, to do it!" Scully retorted.
"That possibility springs to mind, too," he agreed. "You take a look - that window's easily big enough for me to climb in and out of, so she could have done it. And Trioche was on record as being athletic." He waited, but when Scully made no reply, he walked off to take a look in the bedroom.
Scully, meanwhile, reluctantly opened the window and took a look out herself.
The bedroom was a continuation of the theme in the sitting room, only here the walls were mostly covered with shelves. They had asked for more information about Agent Trioche, and it was here that her whole personality was laid bare for examination. Books, books and more books were lined up on the walls, followed by a gargantuan collection of tapes and CDs.
Mulder scanned the accumulated titles and was surprised to find that Trioche had apparently been a science fiction and fantasy freak. Sci-fi classics like Citizen of the Galaxy, Fahrenheit 400 and Dune were neatly lined up beside Dragonflight, Lord of the Rings and The Belgariad. There was a huge collection of Star Trek novels, and a scant handful of horror. The dead agent's taste was anything but limited, however; further down the shelves, Brother Cadfael shared space with Sherlock Homes and Kay Scarpetta, while to Mulder's amusement a beautifully bound copy of the Bible was sat next to The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail. There was a large collection of books relating to Celtic myths, and several volumes of poetry - Omar Khayyam, Longfellow, W. H. Auden - lined up beside Chaucer, Shakespeare and Jane Austen.
Her taste in music was even more eclectic. Everything from rock, to folk, to the latest dance music, to heavy metal was neatly racked in boxes of little drawers. Some of the titles were utterly unknown to Mulder, but he decided after very little reflection that he didn't particularly want to know what music entitled Journeys Out Of Body sounded like, especially not when he discovered that the musicians responsible called themselves Upper Astral. Although he was strongly tempted to put one tape - Songs In The Key Of X - in his pocket for later; it sounded like his kind of thing.
Turning his back on the shelves, he looked around the bedroom, his eyes passing over a rather wildly patterned quilt on the tubular bed to yet another woven hanging over the headboard. The hanging itself didn't interest him, but it appeared to be slightly askew. Easing himself around the bedside table, Mulder lifted one corner and was interested to see that the textile was hung over a framed picture.
It was a portrait of Trioche herself, but stylised to make her look rather like a character out of an anarchic comic. Mulder spent several awkward moments taking the picture down for further study.
It was an original pen-and-ink drawing, about the size of a large atlas, executed in crude primary colours, and appeared to be intentionally dark and moody. Trioche was drawn in biker's leathers, and was stood beneath a nightclub sign saying "Masquerade". A caption underneath said simply "Diva", and in the bottom right-hand corner was the artist's name in very tiny letters.
The picture reminded Mulder of something he had seen once, several years before at a friend's party. He laid it down on the bed and went back to the bookcase, searching through a rack of larger books on the shelf nearest the floor until he found a couple of outsized books he had half-expected would be there.
Laying them on the bed, Mulder took another look around the room, then crossed to the closet. Opening it, he found the usual 'uniform' suits common to FBI agents, a selection of jeans, T-shirts, sweaters and so on, and at one end of the closet a set of gear that confirmed that Agent Trioche had occasionally indulged the Gothic in her soul - heavy black and wine-coloured velvet dresses and skirts. Mulder shut the closet door again.
Taking the books and the picture, he walked back into the sitting room, where he found Scully putting something into a clear plastic evidence bag, with a very unsettled look on her face.
Her expression when she looked at him was disturbed. "I think you're right."
Mulder's brows shot up. "What've you found?"
She held up the evidence bag so that he could see the contents - what looked like several tangled strands of very long black hair. "Marie-Monique Trioche had very long, dark hair."
Mulder stared at the sample in fascination. "Where did you find it?"
"It was caught in the fittings of that downpipe by the window." Scully stowed the sample carefully in her bag. "I'll get it checked later, but I don't think there's much doubt it's hers." She looked at his collection curiously. "What's that?"
"Possible clues to Trioche's friends and associates outside the Bureau. Take a look around and see if you can find an address book anywhere."
She shook her head. "If there is one, the VCS will have it, won't they? They seem to have gone over the place pretty thoroughly - I couldn't find much in the way of personal papers."
"Probably." Mulder looked around, wondering if he'd missed anything. "Have you seen everything you want to?"
Scully nodded. "For now. We can always come back."
"Preliminary analysis suggests the hair was probably Agent Trioche's," Scully said, settling in her chair a couple of hours later and sipping a bitter cup of coffee. "The full analysis should be back by tomorrow, though."
Mulder nodded absently - the issue had never been in doubt for him - when suddenly something occurred to him. He gave Scully a sharp look. "You said that hair was caught in the downpipe fittings?"
Mulder looked at his partner in a combination of surprise, amusement and concern. "Scully, that pipe was a good arm's length out of reach of the window - "
She glared back at him. "Have you only just realised that?"
He raised a brow. "You were the one who said it was insane to climb in and out of the window."
Scully refused to be drawn. "So how are these a clue to her friends?" she said, changing the subject and tapping a finger on the books lying in front of her partner.
Mulder held up the picture. "This gave me the clue - it was hidden under a hanging above Trioche's bed."
Scully studied it with interest. "Somebody who knew her drew that, I assume."
"The relevant bit is the sign."
Mulder put the picture down and handed Scully one of the books. "Trioche was a role-player. "Masquerade" is short for "Vampire: The Masquerade", an adult role-playing game. I only recognised it because a guy I was with at Quantico was into that kind of stuff and tried to get me involved."
Scully began to flip through the book. "I've heard of Dungeons and Dragons," she commented. "It always seemed to involve too many rules and endless books, and to be played by people who didn't have a life."
"But I don't play it," Mulder remarked, with deliberate blandness, and received a cool look in return that made him grin. "This is a little more serious. It's along the same principles though - several people, usually a group of four or five, take the personas of characters on opposing sides and act out a kind of war. In this case, the characters are vampires."
"Humans against vampires, presumably?"
"*Vampires against vampires. The humans are mostly insignificant."
Scully put the book down and leaned back in her chair. "Okay. Trioche liked to imagine she was a vampire in an urban war game. So what's the relevance?
"The relevance is that several people played this game, Scully, and they were probably friends of Trioche's. They might have seen her before she died. Thanks to this picture - " he tapped it with a finger, " - we have an idea of who at least one of them was. And if we can get hold of her address book, we may find some of the others."
Scully knew when to take a hint; and besides, with Mulder out of the way, she might be able to persuade Colton to give her more information than just Trioche's address book. "In that case, I'll go down to the VCS in the morning and see what I can find out."
He nodded. "And I'll run this guy's name - " he squinted at the picture, " - Ryan Beeches, through the computer and see if it comes up with anything."
Scully spent the early part of the evening typing up a few notes about the new case; then debated the rival merits of watching any of a number of dubious TV shows with taking an early and leisurely bath.
The bath won hands down; but she had barely laid a hand on the taps when there was a hasty knock at her front door.
She sighed; so much for a relaxing evening. "Who is it?" It might even be Mulder, consumed with that horrifying excitement that accompanied theories of alien abduction. Scully wondered if it was too late to pretend she was someone else.
"Agent Scully, it's Martyn Klein. Can I come in?"
Scully's eyes widened thoughtfully. She checked through the spy-hole, and recognised the nervy young agent at once; he still looked nervy, but he was carrying an armful of files and papers.
"Hold on - " She quickly unchained the door and let him in. "What can I do for you, Klein?"
He shook his head. "It's more what I can do for you, Agent Scully."
The three of them sat around Scully's kitchen table; Scully still in 'uniform' although she had removed her jacket much earlier and disposed of her shoulder holster; Mulder looking rumpled and hastily dressed, his hair sticking up at the front and his shirt inside-out; and Klein, also still in 'uniform', but with his sleeves rolled up and dark smudges of fatigue under his eyes.
"I couldn't speak to you earlier because of Colton," Klein was saying, restlessly toying with a blank-covered file, "but the cases Marie-Monique and I were working on weren't a straight-forward murder charges. I stayed late tonight and copied as much of the stuff as I could for you, but I daren't lift the real files, not without orders from higher up. But this is the basic line." He handed a file to Mulder and watched as the other agent read it. "Colton was furious when they handed Marie-Monique's case over to you."
Scully watched Mulder too, and was disturbed to see a very familiar 'rigid' look come over his face.
At length, Mulder handed the file to her, and looked at Klein. "Why wasn't this passed to us in the first place?" he asked grimly.
Klein snorted humourlessly. "Do you really need me to answer that? After the Eugene Tooms case?"
"Dammit, this should have been an "X" file! I've handled a case like this before - "
"Vampires?" Scully broke in, incredulous, staring at the reports. The file catalogued seven deaths, all of the victims dying of extreme blood loss. The autopsies had brought to light tiny puncture wounds and bruising over various major arteries; marks had suggested a combination of human and canine teeth. And all of the victims had been involved in role- playing "Vampire: The Masquerade" at some time. "Klein, did Trioche really believe this was vampires?"
"No, of course not. We thought it was someone in the role- play group who was having difficulty separating truth from fiction." Klein groaned and rubbed his face with both hands. "She joined the group to see if she could lure him out into the open. Initially we felt sure it was this guy - John Lucas - but then he vanished too and turned up dead ... and then Marie- Monique disappeared."
"Mulder," Scully said, disturbed, "did you read all of Trioche's autopsy report?"
"I haven't had time," he admitted. "Why?"
"Analysis showed that she was chronically anaemic at the time of death," Klein nodded, anticipating her. "Which doesn't make any sense, because she was as healthy as a cat, always. She never had a day sick right from joining the Bureau."
"Doesn't stop her being anaemic," Mulder pointed out.
"With anaemia like this she would have been hospitalised and on transfusions," Scully told him. "Long before that, she'd have been passing out all the time, sleeping compulsively, and she certainly would never have passed her physical, even with a significantly higher level of red blood cells. At the time of death she was two or three pints short at the very least, and she was missing other blood products besides red cells."
"That rules out somebody with a taste for blood," Mulder sighed, rubbing his face with one hand wearily. "Nobody, not even a vampire fetish, could drain that much through biting alone."
"There were no bite marks anyway - in fact she was the only victim who died by anything other than blood loss."
Mulder nodded absently, and tried to force the memory of Trioche's corpse from his mind. The photos had been horribly graphic, revealing - through the unpleasant effects of three months' decomposition - that Trioche had been decapitated. "But she would have been very weak, if we take the anaemia into account, and unable to fight off her attacker. She was lying on the bed - "
"Which was covered by a plastic sheet, for some reason," Scully put in.
" - and may even have been unconscious. Unless she was killed elsewhere and carried to the apartment on the sheet, which may explain its presence."
"No sign of anyone entering the building or leaving," Klein reminded him. "Someone would have noticed a - a corpse being carried in, or it would have been on the video camera at least." Mulder flickered an eyelid at Scully in warning, before saying casually to Klein, "That's one of the other mysteries. Did you guys come up with an explanation for her not being seen entering or leaving?"
Klein shook his head. "Colton even had us check the airducts - though that's crazy, no one could ever get through them, especially not Marie-Monique. She was too big. But he said to check and fingerprint them anyway."
Mulder managed to suppress a laugh, but the look he exchanged with Scully spoke volumes. "Did he fingerprint the sheet?"
"Yes - nothing there either."
"Okay, so we're back to checking out the other Masqueraders. Did you guys find an address book? Scully looked for one - "
"We took most of her papers," Klein said, and began to sort through a shallow box containing a number of personal items. "One address book, one filofax, and an electronic organiser." He pushed a couple of clear plastic wallets over to Mulder too. "That's some of the personals from the last couple of victims. That was how we initially traced them."
Mulder carefully extracted a couple of cream-coloured business cards from two of the wallets. "What's this - Marta Sljenka, Palm Reader and Clairvoyant ?"
"We checked her out. She was a member of the group for a while, but got out just after Marie-Monique vanished. She claims she got scared."
Scully gave Klein a sharp look. "Sounds like you don't believe her."
He snorted. "Too right I don't. She's the only member of the group alive now and besides, she was too cool, too calm about it. I mean, she only got scared after Marie-Monique vanished? How many of them did it take to freak her? She's our prime suspect, although there's no evidence as yet."
"What about Ryan Beeches?" Mulder asked casually, continuing to sort through the personal effects.
Mulder looked up and saw that Klein's face was blank, genuinely bewildered.
"Which means the picture must have been put there after the forensics team went over the place," Mulder concluded the next morning. "Klein remembers them lifting the hanging and putting it back, and there was nothing there. Although that doesn't explain why Trioche never mentioned Beeches to Klein."
"I'm having it checked for prints now," Scully said. "It could be possible she didn't know him - no, she must have, or he could never have drawn her. I suppose he was a member of the group? Why put the picture back after Forensics had been in? And how could anyone get into that apartment after it was sealed as a crime scene anyway?"
"At a rough guess?"
"Don't tell me - through the window. I already guessed that one for myself."
"It's logical," he pointed out. "After all, it wasn't locked when we looked out. But they shouldn't have been able to get in anyway." Mulder shook his head disbelievingly. "You know, Forensics and the VCS should be shot for not noticing the window."
"Never mind that now. The full hair analysis should be back by midday, and before then I've got an appointment with a clairvoyant."
Mulder saw her grimace and raised a teasing brow. "What's up, Scully? Afraid she'll tell you something about yourself you don't want to know?"
"That'll be the day, according to Klein. He says she's tighter-mouthed than a deaf-mute." Scully picked up her bag and stood up to go. "Where are you going to be?"
Mulder waved a scrap of paper. "Checking out the last known whereabouts of an elusive artist named Ryan Beeches. The computer came up with three possibles in DC, who could even all be the same guy. Hopefully one of them will be his current location."
"Always supposing he's still alive," Scully sighed.
"Oh yeah, him. He was the previous tenant here."
Mulder, who had begun to think that Ryan Beeches had dropped off the edge of the earth, pricked his ears up at once. So far, the first address had been a non-starter, the new residents giving him blank looks and headshakes, and the second had been a Ryan Beach, no connection. The third door had been answered by a short man in his early forties, with thinning red hair and plaster cast on one leg. He was nodding thoughtfully.
"I remember because I got a lot of mail for him that had to be redirected. That would be - what, three months ago, nearer four."
"Do you have a forwarding address for him?" Mulder asked, trying not to pounce in his eagerness.
"I think I've still got it here somewhere - come in."
Mulder waited in the sitting room while the man rummaged in the bedroom. Looking around, he was surprised at how bare it was; there were significant gaps in the furnishings. "What happened to your leg?" he called, listening to the rummaging noises.
"Burglars," was the reply. "Two guys broke in here a few weeks ago and trashed the place." The man's face appeared briefly around the bedroom door, looking sour. "I made the mistake of trying to defend my property - taught me a lesson, I'll get a gun as soon as the cast's off." His head vanished again.
Eventually, he came back into the main room with a piece of card with an address, and a cardboard box. "Here, this is it." He handed the card over and, to Mulder's surprise, gave him the box too. It was full of bric-a-brac. "If you find him," the man said wryly, "you can give him that. I've written to him twice asking him to come and pick it up, but I never got a reply, and I'm sick of moving it from one side of the room to the other."
Back in the car, Mulder studied the card. Beeches' new address was care of someone called S. Freeman. Mulder sighed, and started the car up, wondering as he did so how Scully was getting on with the clairvoyant.
A small tinkling bell rang as Scully opened the shop door, but that was the only sound to be heard, and when the door swung gently shut again, the little New Age store became a haven of peace and quiet from the street outside. She stood inside the door for a minute or two, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the relative gloom, and trying to get a snap impression of her surroundings.
Scully had been inside such shops before, usually in her sister Melissa's company, so she was familiar with the general set up. Therefore, the first difference which struck her was the lack of a smell. Most New Age stores seemed to feel the need to burn excessive quantities of scented oil and incense, which gave them all a uniform sickly sweet smell, easily identified before she ever walked through the door.
No smell. It was quite refreshing.
The second difference was the silence. No barely audible music playing, with insidious 'subliminal' messages. Just silence. And no wind-chimes hung in the one place where you were most guaranteed to hit your head on them. Scully looked around for them, and was pleased to see them displayed in a corner with a collection of wooden and ceramic mobiles, where they couldn't annoy anyone.
Other than that, this shop was just like any other New Age store. Against one wall, there was a long bookcase, neatly stacked with the usual titles. Next to it was a display stand with audio cassettes and CDs racked. There were shelves with neat piles of woven throws and rugs; tables with selections of magazines; carousel stands of greetings cards; a rotating glass cabinet with small figurines, fetishes, jewellery, chunks of crystal; on the wall there were prints, dream-catchers, and flyers for events. Finally, on the third wall was a counter and till. The counter itself was a glass topped cabinet containing all the incense, scented oils and joss sticks, while on top was a miniature display of tarot cards and bookmarks. The oil-burners, candles, firepots and so on were displayed on a low table to Scully's left.
Scully slowly walked further into the shop, absently admiring a remarkable rug on the floor. It was black with map of the world outlined on it in gold, and a circle of celestial figures around edges. Still no one had appeared to serve her; Scully shrugged inwardly and went to look at the tarot cards.
Psi Cards, Rune Cards, the traditional Rider-Waite deck, the circular Motherpeace set, the Tarot of the Cat People, the Voyager deck, the Celtic Tarot, the Arthurian Tarot, the Egyptian Tarot, the Norse Tarot .... Scully stared, bemused. She hadn't realised there was such a choice. Two decks in particular caught her eye, however. The first, a handsome set with bold outlines, bore the legend The Sljenka Tarot, and had a picture of a dark, gypsy-ish woman on the back of the box. The second, drawn more in a cartoon style with harsh primary colours, was titled The Masquerade Tarot and at the bottom said "Artwork by Ryan Beeches".
"Can I help you?"
Scully jumped. She hadn't heard anyone arrive, but behind the counter stood a very tiny, dainty woman who bore an unmistakable resemblance to the woman on the tarot card pack. She was watching Scully with a small smile, apparently quite aware of how she had startled her, and not displeased with the result.
"Are you Martia Sljenka?" Scully asked after a moment.
The woman inclined her head, the smile widening a fraction. "I am. You are Dana Scully?" She had a faint trace of an accent, vaguely reminiscent of Eastern Europe.
"Yes - "
"Good. I apologise for keeping you waiting, but I had some business to deal with." The woman stepped out from behind the counter, and went to the door, locking it and turning over the 'open' sign. "There - that will prevent us from being interrupted. Please come this way." She led Scully through a door at the back of the shop, and into a small airy room. There was another remarkable rug on the floor, this time with a representation of Da Vinci's Universal Man on it, and on top of that was a low circular table. There were no chairs, only a number of large cushions scattered about the room.
"Please - make yourself comfortable."
Scully looked over the cushions, then shrugged inwardly and settled on a couple by the table. "You realise I'm not here for a reading?" she carefully, watching Sljenka take a seat opposite.
The woman uncovered a large crystal ball. "You are FBI," she said calmly.
"Yes - I'm here about - "
"Marie-Monique Trioche and John Lucas. I have been questioned about them already, you realise." Sljenka looked up. "May I hold your watch? It helps me to focus."
"I'm not here for a reading," Scully reminded her.
"Nevertheless, you booked my time. We can talk as well."
Resistence seemed pointless. Scully unstrapped her watch and handed it over, watching with interest as Sljenka bent over the ball, cupping her hands around it and peering into the depths. "You should be talking to my partner," she said, after several moments of silence. "He'd find this fascinating."
"He is the tall, dark man with hair that sticks up a little at the front?"
Scully blinked, and tried to repress a smile. "That could describe a lot of people."
Sljenka glanced up at her, one brow raised. "But you recognised the description. He is very driven - and very clearly a strong presence in your life. A man with a mission, and he sweeps you along with his enthusiasm. He gets into trouble and you find yourself defending him to others, especially when he is right but no one else, including yourself, can see it." She caught sight of Scully's expression and smiled apologetically. "But this makes you uncomfortable - let us try something else for a while." She bent her attention back to the ball. "I see a man in your life who has passed to the other side. Another strong presence - your father perhaps? - a naval man, a man of integrity. You loved him, you miss him."
Scully's mouth dried up. "My father?"
"As I said, a great presence. Our father often is." There was an unaccountable note of dryness to that last statement, but Sljenka was still focussed on the ball. After a moment, she added, "There was much grief between you, choices made and paths taken he did not agree with, arguments between you, but in the end it did not matter." The clairvoyant stared for several minutes longer, then straightened up and offered the watch back to Scully. "I cannot find much with this - you have not owned it long, I think."
Scully strapped it back on. "It was a present this year - "
"Perhaps if I could hold something you wear often, have worn for a long time?"
At any other time, Scully would have seized on this as an opportunity to get back to business, but the mention of her father had left her feeling vulnerable. "Maybe my necklace ...." She unhooked the little gold cross her mother had given to her, and gave it to Sljenka.
Almost at once, the woman twitched. "This, this is much stronger." She leaned over the ball again. "There has been much grief in your life over the last few years, and things have happened to you that you do not understand, or cannot remember." She looked up suddenly, confused. "Was this crucifix out of your possession for a time?"
"Why?" Scully demanded, unnerved.
"It vibrates with someone else's energy. Your partner again, the dark man. There is great grief and rage and - and other strong emotions, and they are not yours, but his."
Abruptly, Sljenka sat up and thrust the cross back at Scully, her eyes wide. "It is too much - take it back! Ask me your questions now, while I allow what I have seen to make itself known to me."
"But - "
"No! No questions yet! Ask of me what you came to discover. I may be able to tell you more of yourself later."
Mulder was beginning to wonder if Ryan Beeches was a figment of his imagination. He had a very vivid imagination, after all, but somehow it didn't include dreaming up an anonymous artist who played adult role-play games, who lived with another anonymous individual in a house that had the blinds up during the day.
"You won't find either of them," a watchful neighbour finally told him, after watching the agent circling the house, knocking and ringing doorbells. "The owner works nights, and the other guy keeps the same schedule. They never answer the door or phone during the day - there could be a goddam earthquake, and you wouldn't get them out."
"You know the owner?" Mulder asked. He dug out his ID, and the other man's eyes seemed to brighten.
"What's he done?"
Ghoul , Mulder thought tiredly. "Nothing, so far as I know. Do you know him?"
"Scott Freeman? Sure. Oh - not well! But I've run across him a couple of times - and his guys," he added darkly. Then he shrugged. "He's not a bad neighbour, though. No noise or disturbance, which is more than you can say for the other side." He jerked his head at his other neighbour, a gesture that scornfully encompassed a rotting hulk of a vehicle in the driveway, marring an otherwise neat and tidy neighbourhood. "Nah - the little Australian guy moved in a few months ago, and it's been quiet ever since. Guess he must be settling down."
Australian guy ? But Beeches was English .... "That would be Ryan Beeches?"
The neighbour nodded genially. "Yeah, that's him. Small, dark, with the accent."
Light dawned, and Mulder fought a grin. He had made a similar mistake himself once while at college in England, to his immense embarrassment and the great amusement of his friends. "You're sure he's not just British - a Cockney?"
A pause, while the man considered. "Maybe," he agreed cautiously, after a moment or two.
"So what does Freeman do? Does he have a work address I could maybe contact him at?"
"He works for some nightclub - he's a bouncer or something like that. Beeches works with him, I think; they both go out together, anyway."
Eureka . "Do you know the name of this club?" Mulder asked.
"So tell me about Ryan Beeches," Scully said to Martia Sljenka, and the other woman leaned back against her cushions tiredly. "How did you know about him?"
"We found his name among Monica's papers, and it suggested he was connected with the Masqueraders."
"I thought I had covered his tracks better than that. He was the other one who escaped - of a fashion." Sljenka sighed. "He is an artist - very talented. He joined them for the same reason I did; to make friends. But it was a terrible mistake." She looked at Scully nervously. "Agent Scully, the things I have seen about you and your partner - he is a believer, yes? He can accept things that others would consider superstition."
"You could put it that way," Scully said cautiously. "Why?"
"Because I am going to tell you something you will find very hard to believe."
"Those people - including Marie-Monique - they were not killed by a man, not as you know it."
Scully braced herself. "So what did kill them?"
Martia Sljenka looked her right in the eye. "Vampires."
Mulder looked across his desk at Scully in consternation. "From your tone of voice, I take it you didn't believe her?"
She gave him a decidedly old-fashioned look. "Mulder, it's basically the same story she's been feeding Klein!"
"But she admitted to knowing Beeches."
"Reluctantly. She didn't tell me much about him, but she gave me a contact address where you might be able to find him - it's a nightclub - "
" - Called "The Tergoviste"," Mulder finished for her. "It caters for Goths, or used to."
Scully blinked. "How did you find that out?"
"Beeches is living with a guy called Freeman who works at the club. A neighbour gave me the address, since they both work the night shift and apparently never surface during the hours of daylight. Certainly I couldn't get any response."
"She mentioned Freeman as the guy we should talk to, but warned us to stay away from the owner. Freeman's the manager."
"I dug around and dredged up the name of Le Vallon as the owner - he owns several clubs in the area."
Scully raised her brows. "Well, Martia Sljenka certainly seemed scared of him. The Tergoviste Club is where the Masqueraders last met, though. What do you want to do? It doesn't open until 9.00 pm, and when I tried phoning, there was no reply."
Mulder considered for several minutes, and when he looked up, Scully felt a twinge of alarm. The look on his face was pure mischief. "How do you feel about slipping on the crushed velvet and hitting the town tonight, Scully?"
"Let me get this straight," Melissa Scully said, even as she helped her sister zip up the back of a long wine-coloured velvet frock. "My restrained, stay-at-home, FBI agent of a baby sister is going out to a Goth club tonight?"
"Yes," Scully gritted, knowing where this line of questioning was heading, but resigned to having to deal with it if she wanted to borrow her elder sister's things for the evening.
"So what is this? You have a date for once?" Melissa stepped back and folded her arms, regarding Dana sceptically.
"It's a party."
"No. Missy, it's work." Scully began to fight with her hair.
"So Fox is going too?"
"*Mulder . And yes, he is."
Melissa's eyes narrowed. "You are dressing like this to go to a nightclub with Fox. Okay, if you have a date with Fox, that's cool with me. It's about time, for pity's sake."
Scully let her hair flop, and turned to glare at her sister. "Missy, when will you get it? He's my partner . That means off limits ." She seized her hair with one hand and a pin with the other, and began to struggle again. "Besides," she added after a moment, "I'm not interested in him that way, and he sure as hell isn't interested in me. This is work."
"Okay. If you say so."
"I do say so."
"Besides, I'm not his type."
"I believe you, Dana, really."
Scully eyed her suspiciously, and began to lose control over the pin. "Good."
Melissa gave her a look of combined exasperation and amusement. "Here, let me do that." She seized a brush and set about taming Dana's wild locks. Her own hair never gave her a moment of trouble, but right from childhood, Dana's was always standing on end or working its way free of pins and clasps. It took industrial strength hair spray to keep it in place at work all day. "You want it up in a pleat?"
"Find yourself a lipstick while I'm doing this."
There was a comfortable silence for a moment or two, then Melissa decided it was time to go on the attack again. "You know, I don't understand you two."
"Too right," Scully agreed amiably.
"I mean, he's a great looking guy - "
"Missy - "
" - and I'm not saying I love him, because I don't. For a man who's supposedly so open to extreme ideas, he has such a closed mind - "
Scully snorted a laugh in spite of herself.
" - and what did that clairvoyant say about the two of you anyway?" The sudden change of subject caught Scully unawares, leaving her spluttering, and Melissa shot her a triumphant look in the dressing table mirror. "I knew it! I knew she said something about the two of you!"
"Missy, she was guessing! She's just a fraud with a crystal ball," Scully protested.
But Melissa was shaking her head. "Uh huh. Martia Sljenka? She's for real - her accuracy rate is well-known. If she said you and Fox - "
"She did not - "
"Liar. If she said it, then I'd better be telling Mom to start airing her wedding dress."
By the time Scully met Mulder outside her sister's apartment block, she was ready to bite. Fortunately, when she slid into the passenger seat of the car, Mulder seemed to realise something of her feelings, and tactfully said nothing; which was just as well, for the conversation had reminded Scully only too well of some of the things Martia Sljenka had told her that afternoon.
I don't believe in clairvoyancy , she told herself firmly. She was making it up, she made a few lucky guesses about my family and I was stupid enough to feed her everything else she needed, that's all.
You're a terrible liar, Dana Scully. What about the stuff she told you about Mulder?
Well, if I was stupid enough to confirm what she said about him, it's not surprising that she seemed to know so much. All she had to do was read my body language!
Oh, yes - your body language. And what did it tell her when she said -
I'm not going to think about that!
You'd better think about it. He's giving you some very funny looks already - get your head sorted out, or he's going to ask you what's wrong and you'll say something stupid.
Look, she was betting on averages. There's always an outside chance when two agents of - of the opposite sex work together in close proximity for a long time, that something will ... happen. But that's not the case with Mulder and I! We're just friends, despite what Missy thinks. Besides, it's against Bureau regulations. Skinner would have a cat.
The thought of Skinner worked a charm. Scully was suddenly assailed by a vision of having to account for improper and unprofessional conduct before the humourless person of the assistant director. The very idea made her blood run cold. So far she had escaped any of the bitter confrontations that marked Mulder's uneasy relationship with Skinner, but she was under no illusions about him.
"You okay?" Mulder asked, breaking in on her reverie.
"Sure," she lied. "I was just wondering what Skinner will say when we present him with a profile of a six hundred year old Transylvanian called Vlad who has an unusual taste for human blood."
Mulder grinned, but the expression was - for him - almost uneasy Scully belatedly realised that he wasn't as cool and confident about this as he had made out. "Something wrong?" she asked.
"Tell you later, maybe. Looks like this is the place."
The street around it was surprisingly quiet, but there was no mistaking the club itself. Neon lighting around the door outlined an exaggerated appearance of a castle door and an equally garish neon red sign said "The Tergoviste". It had double doors, but both were shut, and access could only be gained by a small wicket gate. This had a barred window in it.
"Uh-oh," Mulder muttered. "Looks like we could have problems - did Sljenka give you a password, by any chance?"
"Then bang go our chances of entering incognito."
They approached the door and Mulder knocked. After a moment, a face appeared at the window. The wicket gate opened a fraction, and the bouncer behind gave them an unsmiling look.
"We want to talk to the manager," Scully said coolly. "I believe his name's Scott Freeman?"
"Who's asking?" the man demanded.
Mulder reluctantly fished out his ID and held it up.
"You'd better wait." The door shut.
"I wonder which of the Masqueraders was a member of this club," Scully observed softly.
Mulder smiled faintly. "It would be revealing, wouldn't it? What odds Freeman tells us though?"
The door suddenly opened, revealing the bouncer, with a sour look on his face. He waved them inside silently, and then gestured for them to walk down a short passage.
It was very dark in the club, and noisy; some modern band was playing with a heavy techno beat, and what lighting there was was minimal. Someone was waiting for the two agents in the main doorway, and as they approached, he stepped forward under one of the small red striplights. He was tall, easily Mulder's height, slightly heavier in build than the agent, with short blond hair and a square, humourous face. His smile seemed genuinely welcoming, and Scully was alarmed to catch herself actually relaxing under it, as if he was an old friend.
"Agents Mulder and Scully? I'm Scott Freeman." He offered his hand, and his grip was firm - an honest grip, Scully thought wryly. "Tell you what - come through to the coffee room. It's too loud out here." He led them through the main club, past the bar and dance floor, into a small room at the back which was obviously soundproofed, for the noise was significantly deadened as soon as he shut the door. "Take a seat. Can I offer you a drink?" He grinned. "Non alcoholic if you're on duty."
Mulder raised his brows at Scully. "Coffee?"
Freeman nodded. He put his head around the door and beckoned to someone. "Ryan? Three coffees, please."
Neither agent twitched at the name, but Scully's eyes briefly flicked to Mulder's before Freeman turned back to them. The light in here was better, and Scully saw that he had light hazel eyes - Not unlike Mulder's a treacherous inner voice insinuated, but she thrust the thought hastily away - and a curiously intense gaze. "Now, how can I help you good people? By the way, I appreciate that you came in theme - " and he grinned amiably, gesturing to Scully's frock and Mulder's black silk shirt and jeans. "People get antsy when the FBI turn up, and let's face it - you guys are pretty unmistakable."
"You've had the Bureau here before?" Mulder asked, surprised. The intense hazel gaze was turned on him, and Scully was astonished to see Mulder suddenly turn a noticeable crimson. Freeman smiled. "No, it was just an observation. How can I help you? You'll appreciate that I'm a busy man ...."
"Actually, we wanted to talk to your lodger," Scully said, diverting his attention from her discomfitted partner. "Ryan Beeches. Is that possible? We believe he works here."
The gaze was switched to her, and Scully understood what had made Mulder blush. Freeman gave you his complete attention, so much so that it was impossible to drag your eyes away from his; and there was a quality in that gaze which made Scully suddenly wish she was wearing something less low-cut. The appreciativeness in his expression which was both pleasing and uncomfortable.
And he had turned this look on both of them?
He hadn't answered her question either.
"Mr. Freeman?" Scully prompted gently. For once she was glad she was a woman and had learned the life-lesson of dealing with men who tried to use their attractions to distract you.
And something in Freeman's gaze seemed to subtly alter. He smiled again at her, and Scully was surprised to see a touch of ruefulness in it, as if he was acknowledging a well-earned rebuke. "Sure, Ryan works here. But do you have to speak to him right now? We're kind of busy, but if you'll wait, he'll be free in half an hour or so."
"Okay," Mulder said quietly. "Maybe we can ask you a few questions in the meantime." He had not missed that exchange been Freeman and Scully, and wasn't sure what to make of it.
The intense gaze flicked back to him. "Go ahead, Agent Mulder."
"We're investigating the death of a young woman," Scully intercepted smoothly. "Information in our possession has linked her with a group of individuals who we believe met at the Tergoviste regularly, to role-play a game called "Vampire". Perhaps you could tell us more about them?"
Freeman leaned back in his chair, perfectly at ease. "I know the guys you mean. They stopped coming here - must be nearly two months ago. They booked one of the back rooms regularly, but after a while one or two of them stopped showing, and eventually the booking was cancelled."
"That's hardly surprising," Scully said dryly. "Only two of the original members are still alive."
The manager's brows rose in surprise - real or feigned, she couldn't decide. "Really? How so?"
Mulder sidestepped the question, and instead fished out a photograph of Agent Trioche and held it up in front of Freeman. "Recognise her?"
The other man nodded. "She had a tag-name - Diva, I think. Most of them did."
"Were you aware that Ryan Beeches was one of the group?"
"Of course. But he hasn't done anything - "
There was a knock at the door, and the object of their conversation sidled in, carrying a tray with cups, cafetierre and cream jug. He was a small, slightly built young man with longish dark hair and dark eyes. He nervously slid the tray carefully onto the table in front of them, and made as if to shoot out of the door again before anyone could speak.
Freeman was faster though, and snagged him by the wrist. "Ryan, don't go. Shut the door, will you, and take a seat?"
Ryan did not look happy about it, but he wasn't in much of a position to object. He slid reluctantly onto a chair and sat on the edge of it, looking for all the world as if he were facing a firing squad.
Looking at him carefully, Mulder estimated him to be in his early twenties at the outside; late teens seemed more likely. His complexion was surprisingly pale, even under the dim lights, and his eyes were faintly bloodshot. He didn't look healthy.
"The lady and gentleman are FBI agents," Freeman was saying. "They're asking about that group of role-players you hung out with."
The statement did not appear to put him at ease; in fact, if anything he became tenser, wide eyes flicking from Scully to Mulder and back again. "I didn't do anything," he blurted out, unexpectedly.
Scully raised a brow. "Nobody said you did. Have you got something on your conscience, Mr. Beeches?"
"No, but - "
"Ryan," Freeman said gently, "relax."
For a moment the two men stared at each other; then Beeches took a deep, shaky breath and forced himself to sit back in the chair and look calm. It wasn't a convincing act, but it was better than before.
Mulder held out the photograph again. "Do you recognise her?"
Beeches nodded. "Th-that's Diva."
"Were you aware that she's dead?"
"Yeah. I heard."
Scully glanced at Mulder, a brow raised. "How?" she asked Ryan.
"Tarot told me - I wasn't surprised. The other guys are dead too, aren't they?"
"'Tarot'?" Mulder asked.
"I - I don't know her real name. She's a palm-reader."
"Eastern European?" Scully interjected.
"Yeah - yeah, I think she's Polish or something like that." Ryan looked at the both anxiously. "Look, I don't know nothing! You need to talk to Tarot - when the others started being killed, she helped me out, got Scott to take me in. I didn't hardly know any of the others! I didn't even know their real names."
Mulder looked a Freeman with sudden interest. "You know this 'Tarot'?"
Freeman nodded, quite unfazed. "Her real name's Martia Sljenka, she made all the bookings here for the group. I didn't know about the deaths, though. She came here one evening and asked if I could keep Ryan somewhere safe for a while, and cancelled the booking at the same time. I'd known her long enough to trust her - she has connections with the owner of The Tergoviste - so I didn't ask too many questions." He smiled faintly. "To be honest, I thought it was something to do with Ryan's visa, but I haven't had any trouble .... I don't ask questions, Agent Mulder."
Mulder nodded, turning it all over in his mind. "Would the owner be available to speak to?"
"Not tonight," Freeman said at once. "He has a lot of - other interests - but I'll speak to him and see if something can be arranged, if you want."
Scully dug in her pocket and pulled out a card, which she passed to him. "We can be contacted on either of those numbers - and we would like to speak to Mr. Le Vallon. Sooner rather than later."
Freeman nodded. "If that's all, then ...?"
He showed them back out. It had been noisy when they arrived; now the sound was reaching astronomical levels. Mulder glanced around at the dim bar area and dance floor. The club was heaving with patrons. "You seem to do good business," he shouted in Freeman's ear.
The manager grinned. "Agent Mulder, this is a slow night - you should be here on Saturdays."
"He can be here any night, if he likes," a female voice purred into Scully's ear. Scully jumped, and half-turned to see a tiny figure standing half in the shadows behind her. The overall impression was of pale, pale skin, wickedly sparkling dark eyes and floods of long dark curls, but it was difficult to see clearly in the murky light.
Freeman had apparently overheard her somehow, for he leaned forward and gave the tiny woman a glare. "Vladia, don't you have business elsewhere?" he enquired frostily.
The woman made no reply. She cast Mulder a look that was positively saucy, and slowly walked away into the crowd, hips swaying provocatively in a short garment that barely warranted the title 'skirt'.
More than a little surprised, Mulder caught sight of Scully's face and quickly pasted a nonchalant expression on his own, before turning back to Freeman. "Tell Ryan Beeches not to go out of town for a while, Mr. Freeman," he said. "And that applies to you too. We may need to talk to the two of you again."
Freeman shrugged; he had obviously expected this. "I'll be in touch about the other matter," he nodded, escorting them to the club's entrance. "Oh - and Agent Mulder - "
Mulder looked back questioningly.
Freeman gave him a slow smile. "As Vladia said - you can come here any night, if you want. And Agent Scully too, of course."
Back in the car, Mulder paused with one hand on the ignition and looked at Scully with a tiny grin, trying to hide his obvious discomfort at Freeman's last comment. "'Vladia'?" he prodded, waiting for her reaction.
She gave him a cool look. "I guess it's in theme, Mulder."
"With everything else in this case, including that club."
"Yeah - but Vladia ?"
"Just drive, Mulder."
He laughed softly, and started the engine.
Half an hour later, Scully faced Mulder over her kitchen table. "Look," she said, pouring the coffee, "what's biting you about this case? You were on the twitch all the time we were in that club."
"What, other than the fact that the guy was hitting on both of us?" he joked, but he looked uncomfortable. Scully gave him a look, and he raised one hand apologetically. "Okay, okay. You'd better read this ...." He rummaged in the stack of files piled on one end of the kitchen table, and pulled an "X" file out. "Do you recall the so-called "Trinity" murders?"
Scully paused, frowning slightly. "Didn't we start working on that one just before we were split up? And then - "
Mulder nodded quickly. "I worked on it - while you were missing. Read the file. I was never a really satisfied with the conclusion; it was a matter of time before something like this appeared again, but I never expected it in DC."
Scully took the file and spent the next quarter of an hour reading carefully through it, acutely conscious all the time of Mulder's uncomfortable expression. Finally, she closed the folder and looked at him. "About Kristen Kilar - "
"I don't know why that happened," he muttered, looking at the table-top.
"It doesn't matter - "
"Yes, it does, Scully."
Acute discomfort began to crawl in Scully's stomach. "Mulder - "
He looked up, and the expression on his face unnerved her even more. Something of her feelings must have shown, though, because he leaned back in his chair and made an effort to look casual. "I'm not the only who's twitchy. What's the matter, Scully? You were tighter than a wire when I picked you up from your mom's place."
Scully wasn't sure she was any happier with the change of subject, but without realising it, he had offered her an unexceptional excuse for her earlier behaviour. "Missy was giving me some grief, that's all."
Mulder studied her face for several moments before leaning forward again, and reaching across to gently touch her wrist. "That's not it. You were jumpy when you came back from that clairvoyant's. What did she say to you, Scully, to upset you like this?"
Scully looked down at his hand on her arm, and knew feeble excuses about her sister were not going to work. Worse, it was dishonest, and she was never dishonest with him.
She leaned her other elbow on the table and rested her forehead briefly on her hand.
"Dana? What is it?"
Dana. He never calls me Dana. She looked up at him, and saw concern written all over his face. Also, something that looked like it might be an inkling of what was on her mind. "You don't want to hear it, Mulder," she told him uncomfortably.
His fingers tightened on her wrist. "So tell me anyway."
"She said that - that you and I - " She couldn't go any further, but Mulder had got the idea, and when she managed to look up again, his expression was more bemused than anything else.
"Well - I guess Skinner won't like it," he managed finally.
The echo of her thoughts from earlier was so apt that in spite of herself, Scully gave a little choke of half-hysterical laughter. "At the very least," she managed after a moment's struggle.
Mulder smiled, but his expression was oddly intent. "Does the idea bother you?" he asked seriously.
Scully tried to pull herself together. "Mulder, she was just making it up. I was stupid enough to react to a couple of things she said and - "
His grip on her wrist tightened almost painfully. "No, Scully, stop trying to be rational for once. Whatever she said was enough to make you think seriously about it. Does it bother you?"
"Not enough to make a difference to us working together."
Mulder gave an impatient exclamation. "That's not what I meant, and you know it."
Scully looked down at the table, feeling very vulnerable. "Mulder ... you know what would happen if - if we did, and we were caught. Bureau regulations ...." Mulder said nothing, and when Scully looked up at him, she was astonished to see a look of wry amusement on his face. "What?" she demanded.
Mulder leaned his free arm on the table and put his chin in his hand. "Scully, do you listen to gossip?"
She bristled slightly. "No - "
"Scully ... rumour in the Bureau for the last couple of years says that we're sleeping together. There's been an unofficial pool running since last Christmas."
There was a brief silence as Scully sought in vain for words to express her feelings, and Mulder was unable to repress a grin at her outraged expression.
"Where did you get this stuff?" she demanded finally.
"Typing Pool and Records. They're the only people in the Bureau that don't treat me like I'm certifiable - present company excepted, of course. And naturally, they hear all the best gossip there, so .... Did you know that Agent Chester in Serious Fraud Section is having an affair with Congressman Willis's sister-in-law?"
Scully stared at him. "Mulder, you have to be kidding me."
"Hell, no! I've got it on the best authority that they were caught red-handed by his partner."
"No, I mean ... I thought that you just spent all that time in Records because of the brunette with the - "
"Scully!" Mulder gave her an affronted look. "You wound me! I'm not like that. Besides, she's seeing Colton." A thought suddenly occurred to him. "Hey, maybe that's why he still gets on my case!"
"But Mulder ... you don't seriously mean to say that the women down there think you and I - "
"They don't think it, Scully. They know ! Protestations of my decent and virtuous intentions raise a bigger laugh than Agent Drury's toupee."
"Oh my God!"
"And if the Typing Pool knows then the whole Bureau knows." Mulder gave her a sympathetic smile. "Well, you already knew people were calling you Mrs. Spooky, didn't you?"
She gave him a disgusted look. "Colton told me that one at the beginning of the Tooms case. He offered it as a good reason for working with the VCS for a while."
Mulder's expression became a familiar one of annoyance mixed with resignation. "I always knew he was a real nice guy."
Silence. Then a nightmarish thought occurred to Scully. "Mulder ... do you think Skinner has heard this rumour?"
The wry smile re-surfaced. "Let's put it this way - I don't think there's much he doesn't hear."
She groaned and buried her head in her hands. What a ludicrous situation. Of course, she had known, at least on a subconscious level, that people talked, but ....
Then she realised that, in the most unexceptional way, Mulder had succeeded once more in turning what had looked like being a serious discussion of how they felt about each other into a joke.
<If there's an iced tea in that bag, it could be love.>
<Must be fate, Mulder - root beer.>
Oh no you don't! Not again! Scully gave way to a totally irrational impulse, and determinedly went back to the original subject. "So the idea doesn't bother you ?" she asked, raising a cool brow at him, daring him to be flippant.
He sat back in his chair and actually appeared to give the question some serious thought. "Well ... from a purely professional point of view it's a bad idea," he said finally. "You know how the Bureau views personal relationships between partners. And strictly speaking, I'm your SAC, which is a double no-no."
"Would you let that stop you?" Scully asked. She strove to keep her voice level ... light and curious. Nothing personal in it.
"Would you?" Mulder shot back quickly.
"I didn't ," she pointed out. "Jack was my instructor at the Academy - that's doubly frowned on."
"So probably not," he conceded reluctantly. "It's not like I haven't broken other, more serious rules before now."
With the angle he was sitting at, with his chair tilted back slightly, his face was in a shadow; Scully couldn't see his eyes. She wanted to see his eyes, to see what he was really thinking. "But you have personal reasons that would stop you," she pushed, wondering even as she did so whether she was insane to keep on about it.
The phone in her living room rang.
One half of her mentally cursing, the other half heaving a huge sigh of relief, Scully got up and went to answer it.
"Oh - hi, Missy ...."
While she was occupied, Mulder seized the case files again, and by the time Scully returned his professional face was back on.
"Scully, we really need to check out Martia Sljenka's background .... "
Mulder was already in the office when Scully arrived the next day, and the quantity of sunflower seed shells around his chair suggested he'd been there a while.
"I ran a check on Martia Sljenka as soon as I got in," he said, by way of greeting. "There's nothing on the woman herself, but look at this - " He handed her a thick file of fax copies.
Scully dumped her coat and bag, and began to riffle through the pile. "Where did this come from?"
Scully's brows rose as she took in the first couple of pages. "Tomas Sljenka?"
"Her father," Mulder nodded. "The guy used to be a well- known irritant to the local PD. Take a closer look."
Scully sat down and began to study the papers more closely. "He was arrested on six different occasions for harassing one Neil Le Vallon - " She looked up at Mulder, wide-eyed. "Spare me some time - why?"
Mulder leaned back in his chair, his eyes beginning to dance with a familiar look of combined mischief and excitement. "Tomas Sljenka is - or was - a vampire hunter."
Scully put the file down on her desk and sat back, folding her hands in her lap. "Great," she muttered to the poster behind Mulder's head. "A latter-day Van Helsing - that's all this case was lacking."
"No, listen Scully. Sljenka had a crazy vendetta against Le Vallon - he swore blind the guy was a vampire and had killed his wife and son in London twenty years ago. When the Washington PD wouldn't listen to him, he started running stories in a local paper, trying to get support to push Le Vallon out of business. Didn't work - all it did was give Le Vallon some free publicity and set his business booming. So then Sljenka went crazy and tried to knife him."
Scully blinked, and sorted through the file again. "Says here that charges were never pressed," she said in surprise.
Mulder shook his head. "Le Vallon wasn't interested - he came out with all this stuff about Sljenka being insane and needing treatment, not a jail sentence. Then Sljenka did get treatment - but not the kind Le Vallon suggested."
"He fell out of a fifth floor window and broke his back. He's been confined to a wheelchair ever since, and he just seemed to - give up."
"And that was an accident?" Scully asked, disbelievingly.
Mulder shrugged. "Who knows? Sljenka swore Le Vallon pushed him out the window, that he was dragged up there by a gang of the guy's friends and thrown out. The police investigated it, but found no evidence to back the story up. Le Vallon had twenty witnesses who said he was somewhere else at the time. But they never explained how Sljenka came to be in the building in the first place."
Scully considered for a while. "So how does Martia Sljenka fit in?" she asked finally. "And what does she have to do with Le Vallon? Freeman said last night that she had some kind of connection with him."
"I was wondering about that, especially considering her dealings with Ryan Beeches." Mulder stood up and grabbed his jacket. "I say we go have another chat with her."
The phone on Scully's desk rang. She picked up the receiver, listened for a few seconds, then acknowledged the caller and slammed it down again. "We'll have to put the visit to Martia Sljenka on hold," she told Mulder, her eyes bright. "That was Agent Pendrell. He's finished the hair analysis from Trioche's apartment and wants us up there."
"I'll bring an extinguisher in case he gets overcome with lust," Mulder offered with a grin - and gasped as Scully thumped him in the middle with the Sljenka file.
Pendrell was holding himself together, although probably only through a combination of will-power and genuine excitement at what he had discovered.
"When I did the DNA analysis, I discovered that we actually had three totally different individuals," he explained to the two Agents. He whipped out three charts. "This one - " he held up the first, "was Agent Trioche. It matched the Bureau records of blood and tissue samples from her first physical. The second we assumed was another woman, due to the length and condition of the hair. But the third - this one was really interesting."
Scully took the second and third charts and held them up to the light to study, but Mulder was more impatient.
"Don't keep us in suspense, Pendrell - in what way was it interesting?"
"Well, we had a hard time extracting any DNA from it - the hair itself was breaking down, almost disintegrating, as we watched."
Mulder's brows almost hit his hairline. "Disintegrating?"
Scully looked up from the charts. "There are notable similarities between this structure and the other unidentified source," she said in surprise.
Pendrell nodded. "We think that can be explained by the fact that they both probably came from a similar racial background. But I'll get to that in a minute." He tapped the chart with a forefinger. "When we looked at the hair structure for number three, we discovered that it was showing signs of ageing - the kind of thing you would expect to find with, say, a body that had been preserved or mummified for a significant period. I actually had to borrow some specialised equipment from Georgetown University's Archaeology Department to examine it."
"You're saying this came from someone dead," Mulder said finally.
"Not just dead, Agent Mulder. Very dead."
"How dead is very dead?"
Pendrell cast a nervous look at a frowning Scully and licked his lips. "At a rough guess - three to four hundred years dead?" he offered.
Mulder began to get that mischief-and-excitement look again. Scully's expression was merely frozen with exasperation and disapproval.
"But you want to know the really weird thing?" Pendrell added, a little desperately.
Mulder choked back a laugh. "What's the really weird thing, Pendrell?"
"It had been treated recently with a modern shampoo. We found traces of detergent and Pro-Vitamin B5."
Mulder shot one quick look at Scully's face, and the laugh refused to be contained any longer. He couldn't help it - this case was getting weirder by the hour.
Not that he would have it any other way.
Scully cast him a look of mingled disgust and disdain, and turned back to poor Pendrell, who was wearing the whipped-dog look that Mulder occasionally used to such effect. She held up the charts. "You said you could explain the similarities in these?"
Pendrell brightened. "Oh yeah! Well, given certain factors, including the blood groupings, we determined that those two women may well have come from Eastern Europe - somewhere like Romania. They may even have gypsy ancestry, although that's speculation of course-"
Mulder had stopped laughing, and was giving Scully a very meaningful look. "Martia Sljenka?"
"I think that's evidence enough to justify bringing her in for questioning," Scully nodded.
But the Martia Sljenka who sat in front of the two agents in an interview room at the local police precinct was markedly different from the woman Scully had met the day before. Looking at her, Scully found it hard to believe that this wan and frail-looking creature possessed the strength in her body to be able to climb ten storeys up a drainpipe as the evidence suggested - she was barely able to hold herself upright in her chair.
Mulder didn't need to be told that something had happened to Martia Sljenka since Scully had met her. But he still had questions, and he was having a hard time getting any answers to them.
"Miss Sljenka - Martia? We have reason to believe you lied to Agent Scully yesterday when she questioned you about the death of Agent Trioche and disappearance of Ryan Beeches."
Martia Sljenka blinked at Mulder dully over the table. "Lie?" she said confusedly. "No - I did not lie - she did not ask - "
"At the very least, you misled me, Martia," Scully said, from where she was stood by the door. "You suggested that someone else, or something supernatural, was responsible for Agent Trioche's death."
"I did not lie - "
"Martia, we have physical evidence that suggests that at some point you entered or left Marie-Monique Trioche's apartment by the window and climbed up or down the drainpipe. Do you deny that?" Mulder asked.
She shook her head. "No - I was there - "
"You must understand how that looks to us," he persisted gently.
"Would you be prepared to give us a sample of your hair for DNA analysis?" Scully asked.
"Martia? Martia, did you understand what I said?"
The woman started. "I - yes. Take what you wish. I do not deny it."
Mulder glanced at Scully, concerned. He wasn't sure what he had been expecting when Martia Sljenka was brought in, but this wasn't it. There was something not right here.
"What don't you deny, Martia?" he asked.
She gave him a wide-eyed, dazed look. "Killing Agent Trioche. That is what you want to know, is it not? I killed her. I do not deny it."
"Are you confessing to her murder?" Scully demanded.
"I - yes - please, I do not feel well - "
Mulder got up quickly from his seat and went to crouch by Martia's side. "Martia, do you realise what you just said?"
She stared at him without replying, and he was alarmed to see that the pupils of her eyes were reduced to tiny pinpoints.
"Martia?" He shook her shoulder gently. "Scully, I think she's doped up on something. Martia, what have you taken?"
She blinked and suddenly smiled, a tiny weak thing, but the first real expression she had shown so far. "You are him," she said dreamily, "the dark one I saw when she came to the shop yesterday, the Crusader. The Crusader must have his truth - "
She slumped sideways, and Mulder barely prevented her from falling.
She was already out of the door and shouting for assistance, then running back to help him.
"She must have OD'd on something - " she was saying, as she began to roll Sljenka's sleeve up to examine her arm for needle marks.
"I don't think it's that, Scully. Look at her face - she's as white as a sheet."
"Oh my God - ! Mulder, look at this." Scully turned horrified eyes towards her partner, to see a similar sick look in his own eyes.
Martia Sljenka's wrist and the crook of her elbow were dark and swollen with fresh bruises, and peppered with bites. Swallowing hard, Mulder shifted his grasp on the tiny woman to free up a hand, and pushed her hair back from her throat.
There was a similar bite over her carotid artery.
Mulder hated hospitals; he always seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time in them either being treated for something life-threatening or watching Scully being treated for something life-threatening. Stood outside the Emergency Room while doctors worked on Martia Sljenka wasn't much better.
He wondered what it must be like to be an ordinary person who only came entered hospitals when a close friend was being treated for gallstones. Something normal ....
He had never been normal in that way, even before Samantha had been abducted and his life had slow somersault down into hell. Somehow his family had always been different, although he couldn't put his finger on exactly what had made them that way.
Then he sourly reminded himself that 'normal' was relative. The only person he knew with a 'normal' family was Scully - or it had been normal until he had become involved ....
"Mulder, I told you to go back to the office. You know hospitals only depress you."
Mulder jumped, and stared at Scully's exasperated face. "How do you do that?" he demanded.
"Mulder," she sighed, "it's no great trick. It's written all over your face."
"She'll be all right. She missing about four pints of blood, though, so they're transfusing now."
"Has she come around at all? Can we talk to her?"
Scully rested her hands on her hips and stared at the floor for a moment, then looked back up at him. "I should probably say "no", but I knew you'd want to so I checked which her doctor. We can have five minutes with her before she's moved onto a ward, provided you don't excite her. I think she wants to speak to you anyway."
Martia was looking terribly frail and washed out when Mulder and Scully were allowed in to see her. She was attached to a monitor on one side and two IV's on the other, but she was conscious and looked relieved when Mulder drew a chair up beside her. Revealed by the short-sleeved hospital gown, the marks on her arms were brutally livid. Mulder gently reached out and brushed his fingers over one wrist. "Martia, who did this to you?"
No hesitation. "Le Vallon," she whispered weakly.
"Neil Le Vallon is a vampire?"
She nodded. "You must understand - it is my payment. I feed him so that he spares my father's life in return. It is a long- standing bargain. He honours it in his fashion."
Scully raised one brow sceptically, but Mulder was seeing some pieces falling in place. "Does your father know about this?"
Martia shook her head. "I do not think so."
"You confessed to killing Agent Trioche," Scully interjected. "Do you still stand by that?"
The woman nodded. "Yes - if you go to our home, you will find the knife hidden behind the freezer in the kitchen."
"Why did you do it?"
Martia seem to shrink back into the pillows. "Le Vallon - he made me do it. She was so close to the truth, and he threatened to hurt my father - or worse, to kill me. My father is so old and frail, he has suffered so much, and I thought what would happen to him if Le Vallon were to kill me, and there would be no one to look after him. So I took the knife to the last meeting, and when she left I followed her home."
Mulder sat back and chewed a knuckle thoughtfully. Was it that simple? He looked at Scully, and saw that she wasn't buying it.
But at this point, it was all they had.
Right on cue, a nurse appeared to shoo them out. But as Mulder got up to leave, Martia Sljenka reached out one hand and held onto his wrist. Her eyes were urgent. "You must talk to my father," she whispered. "He can help you - he knows more than I do. You must stop Neil Le Vallon."
And that much, Mulder could see from her eyes, was true.
"Mulder, please tell me you don't believe that story about her 'feeding' a vampire," Scully said, as they headed out of the building.
"How do you explain the marks on her arms and the blood loss?" he demanded. "Scully, it fits - "
"No, Mulder, it doesn't. What it does fit is her mutilating herself in an attempt to gain attention."
"Attention - " Mulder stopped dead in his tracks and stared at her in disbelief. "Why would she need to gain attention? Do you honestly think she'd put herself at risk of a fatal collapse by bleeding herself?"
"Yes," Scully said bluntly. "Mulder, when I was at medical school, a fellow student passed out cold during anatomy class one day. When we picked her up, we found she actually had a shunt inserted in the crook of her left elbow to make the bloodletting easier! She was doing it because she felt pressured, because she had never wanted to study medicine but her parents wanted her to be a doctor. She felt that by bleeding herself she had some control over her life, and because eventually she knew someone would find out and have to take notice of her."
"It's hardly the same, Scully - "
Scully flapped her arms in a combined helplessness and frustration. "Yes it is, Mulder! You're the psychologist. You tell me why Martia's doing this to herself! But I don't think it takes a genius to work out that when your mother and brother are murdered when you're a child, and your father is a cripple who's notorious for chasing vampires, you might eventually want a little attention for yourself ... whatever way it takes to get it. She certainly can't be very stable. I don't think I would be under those circumstances."
They stared at each other for a couple of tense moments, neither willing to back down. Finally, Mulder's shoulders sagged in resignation.
"Okay, okay. Maybe you're right. But maybe - just maybe - we should go talk to Tomas Sljenka and see what he has to say."
"And maybe we should talk to Neil Le Vallon and get his side of the story," Scully pushed.
"Agreed. But we can't do that until Scott Freeman contacts us with an appointment."
Scully relaxed and gave him a tiny half-smile. "Okay, what are we waiting for? Let's go see Van Helsing."
She was interrupted by a high-pitched trill emanating from Mulder's coat pocket. He fished out his cell phone.
"Mulder." He listened for a few seconds, then nodded. "Okay, we're on our way."
Scully raised her brows at him.
"Skinner," he explained. "He wants us in his office half an hour ago."
"Sounds like it."
The Assistant Director's office was looking almost crowded when Mulder and Scully arrived. Besides the man himself, there were three people stood before his desk; two Security Guards and an agent named Carlton whom Scully recognised as working for Forensics. They were all looking extremely unhappy, but none more than Skinner, who looked ready to fire the lot of them on the spot.
"Somebody signed those papers," he was saying in a menacing tone, "and somebody gave that woman clearance. What I want to know is who , because that same person signally failed to notice that her identification was a forgery!"
Mulder coughed delicately to get his superior's attention. "You wanted to see us, Sir?" he said.
Skinner's eyes swivelled around to pin him, and Mulder - not for the first time - knew what a rabbit must feel like in the headlights of a car.
"Mulder, Scully - come in, please. I'm afraid we have a potentially embarrassing situation."
Scully heaved an inner sigh of relief. By the tone of Skinner's voice, at least it wasn't their fault.
That made a change.
"What's happened?" Mulder wanted to know, taking in the pale faces of the three other men.
"An hour ago, I received a call from Agent Trioche's next of kin in Canada, a woman called Adrienne Vaumaron," Skinner said tightly. "She was enquiring about when Agent Trioche's body would be released to the family for burial. Unfortunately, Agent Carlton informs me that Agent Trioche's body was already released, yesterday - to a woman identifying herself as Adrienne Vaumaron."
"Somebody has stolen Agent Trioche's body?" Scully exclaimed, sickened.
"I've issued an alert to all agents and the local PD with a description of the woman concerned, and we hope to have a clear picture of her from the security videos, but obviously the main concern is recovering Agent Trioche's ... remains," Skinner continued grimly. "I managed to stall the real Adrienne Vaumaron, but I don't need to tell anyone here what could happen if we don't find Agent Trioche, and quickly."
Scully glanced at Mulder and was disturbed to see a curiously intent look on his smooth face. Fortunately, however, he showed rare discretion and kept whatever he was thinking to himself; for which she was grateful, because she honestly didn't think Skinner was in the mood to hear vampire theories.
Skinner, meanwhile, finished chewing out Agent Carlton and the two Security men without regard to the audience, and dismissed them, waving Scully and Mulder into the two seats in front of his desk. Then he took his glasses off and threw them on the blotter in front of him, and pinched the bridge of his nose wearily.
"Now while the rest of the Bureau are running around like headless chickens, perhaps the two of you would do me the favour of telling me just what the hell is going on with this case," he said.
Scully shot a questioning look at Mulder, but he silently deferred to her, so she took a deep breath and launched in with an cautiously edited version of what they had been doing, including the visit to the "Tergoviste" and Agent Pendrell's discoveries. It took several minutes, and finishing up, she said: "We questioned Martia Sljenka this morning, and she actually confessed to murdering Agent Trioche at the instigation of the nightclub owner, but unfortunately she collapsed almost immediately and is now in hospital receiving treatment for acute anaemia. The Washington PD are keeping a watch on her."
Skinner gave Scully a sharp look. "Do you believe her?"
Scully hesitated, and Mulder stepped into the gap. "I believe she believes she did it," he said quietly.
"But unfortunately there are also good reasons to believe that Martia Sljenka is lying," Scully added quickly, "or delusional. In her current state, either is equally possible."
Mulder did not disagree. "With that in mind, we have one or two other leads we intend to follow up, Sir, including talking to her father, Tomas Sljenka, and checking up on the backgrounds of the three men at the club."
Skinner grunted. "I'm probably going to regret asking this, but - have you any theories as to why Agent Trioche's body was so badly decomposed when it was found? If - when - we retrieve it, we're going to have to concoct some plausible story for the family as to why they can't see it."
Scully drew a deep breath and resisted the urge to look at Mulder. "Sir, nothing showed up in the autopsy other than indications that Agent Trioche was severely anaemic. While that seems to tie in with details of the deaths she and Agent Klein were investigating, and with Martia Sljenka - somehow - it doesn't explain the condition of the body. As a pathologist, frankly I'm at a loss to offer an explanation."
"I think we'll know more when we find her again," Mulder put in unexpectedly.
"Meaning?" Skinner demanded.
Mulder hesitated, then shook his head. "I've got an idea which might explain the body, Sir, but until we actually find her, I'd rather not say more. It's a little nebulous right now."
"That's never stopped you before," Scully observed quizzically, once they were out of the AD's office, and heading for the elevators.
He grinned reluctantly. "Let's just say I took pity on him, okay? He's having a bad day."
"Okay - well, suppose you let your loyal sidekick in on the theory instead."
Mulder gave her a startled look. "Is that how you see yourself?" he asked.
Scully raised a questioning brow at him, surprised at the unexpectedly sharp tone.
"As Tonto to the Lone Ranger," he elaborated.
She opened her mouth to deny it - and shut it again. No, why tell a lie? "That's how it feels sometimes, Mulder," she admitted. "Especially when you fly off at a tangent, and forget to leave a set of directions behind you for the support team."
There were times when Scully wished for telepathy, and this was one of them. There was something in Mulder's face, some expression crossing his eyes at that moment, which she would have given a small fortune to be able to decipher.
And for one second there in front of the elevators, she thought he might actually articulate it. He opened his mouth to say something -
They both turned to see Kimberley, Skinner's PA, out of breath from chasing them down the corridor.
"Agent Mulder, I just got a call from the front desk in the lobby," she puffed. "Security says there's a young woman down there asking for you, and would you please hurry because she's causing a disturbance."
Mulder's brows shot up. At the same time, there was a ting and the elevator doors slid open, disgorging a large number of other agents. "We're on our way," he nodded to her.
"Doesn't sound like there's anything wrong," Scully observed, when the elevator had deposited them on the ground floor.
The lobby was full of the usual bustle associated with the FBI headquarters, with people coming and going and a guide showing a large group of tourists around.
When they walked around to the front desk, however, the problem became apparent.
Mulder stopped dead in his tracks. "Please, God, tell me that's not who I think it is," he said the general air.
A young woman was leaning over the desk, apparently teasing the two guards sat behind it. It was not so much her posture that was the problem - although that was brazen enough - but her clothing. Or, rather, the lack of significant parts of it, combined with cheap flashy jewellery, lots of shiny PVC, and a skirt that would be better described as a belt. From the top of her overblown hairstyle to the five-inch heels of her boots, she looked what she probably was; a prostitute.
It was Vladia, the woman from the Tergoviste Club, and coming out in broad daylight was not one of her better ideas.
She had seen the two agents approaching, and left off teasing the guards for better prey. "There you are!" she called, and Mulder winced at the strident tone, which was causing a number of heads to turn.
Worse was yet to come.
Vladia pushed herself away from the desk, and began slowly walking to meet Mulder, hips swaying and a playful little smile hovering on her lips. "You're a very naughty boy!" she crooned wickedly, her eyes dancing. Her Slavic accent was pronounced, far more so than Martia Sljenka's. "I've been looking everywhere for you!"
Scully drew a sharp breath, and tried desperately to stifle the laugh that was fighting its way up her throat. He would never forgive her for laughing - but this was priceless. The security video of this confrontation was going to be one for the Christmas party.
Mulder felt the tips of his ears beginning to burn with embarrassment. Naturally, Vladia had not lowered her voice, and he was getting some pretty peculiar looks from around the lobby, not least from the guards - although he fancied there might be a touch of sympathy from the two at the desk. No wonder, if she had been behaving like this all the time she had been waiting.
He struggled to keep his calm mask on and his voice steady. "How can I help you, Vladia?"
She let out a gurgle of laughter, but made no reply. Instead, she walked right up to him and taking hold of his tie, pulled his head down until it was level with hers.
It occurred to Scully, watching from a few feet away, that this was perhaps not an entirely unreasonable thing for her to do; even with the five-inch spike heels, the tiny woman was still nearly a foot shorter than Mulder.
Mulder didn't see it quite that way. He was acutely conscious of all the eyes on them, and nearly choking on a thick cloud of Tendre Poison that enveloped Vladia.
Then she started speaking quietly into his left ear, and he forgot his discomfort.
"Smile, Agent Mulder. Scott Freeman sends me to tell you that Neil Le Vallon bids you come to the Tergoviste tonight at midnight - alone."
Mulder knew what Scully - and probably Skinner too - would have to say to that, especially in light of what they had heard about Neil Le Vallon recently. "Uh-huh. My partner - "
"Stays behind," Vladia interrupted. "Neil Le Vallon, he don't like women. You take the pretty lady, he won't talk to you. See? You come alone, like a good boy, and maybe he'll have something to say to you that you'll want to hear."
Mulder didn't need to think about it. "Okay ...."
Vladia let out a delighted laugh. "You're so cute!" she said out loud. "Maybe one night I'll take you home with me!" She brushed her lips against his cheek, leaving a bright red stain behind, and released his tie. For a second Mulder almost seemed to lose his balance, grabbing her shoulder. Then he just as quickly let go of her, straightening up.
"Don't forget!" she warned, stepping away from him. "Midnight -" And she turned quickly away and sashayed to the main entrance, waving a careless hand to the guards in passing.
She was gone.
Mulder turned back to Scully, who had successfully swallowed the laugh and was giving him her customary cool Look. The smear of lipstick gave him a very rakish look, though, and she was unable to help just one little poke at him.
"You'd make such a well-matched couple."
"Ha ha. When you've finished with the humour, Scully, maybe you'd consider getting Security to break out the video tapes and see if they can get a clear shot of "Vladia". I want to know who she really is."
"What did she want?" Scully demanded.
"To tell me Le Vallon had agreed to meet me - midnight tonight at the Tergoviste."
Scully didn't miss the singular. "You're going alone?"
Mulder nodded, heading back towards the elevators. "He won't see me otherwise."
She gave him a concerned look. "If what Martia Sljenka says is true, that's a little risky, isn't it?"
He gave her a quirky little smile. "I thought you didn't believe what Martia said?"
"I don't believe in taking unnecessary risks, Mulder. Once you're in there, you're options for getting out again in a hurry are limited."
The elevator doors opened and they stepped in. Mulder pushed the button for the third floor. "What do you suggest, Scully? Going in with a wire?"
"It's an idea," she persisted. "At least that way, if you have problems you'll get back-up."
"Skinner would never authorise it - there's nothing to warrant an operation like that!"
That was true, but Scully couldn't shake a very uneasy feeling about the whole thing. "I don't like it," she said quietly.
"Okay," he said unexpectedly. "If I could arrange for you to monitor what was happening, would that make you happy?"
Scully's eyes flew to his face in amazement. Had he just backed down for once?
But Mulder was smiling a little sheepishly.
"Actually," he confessed, "knowing what I think I know about Neil Le Vallon, I'm not keen on going in there without some sort of cover myself."
Scully's sudden smile was brilliant. In his own obscure way, Mulder had just admitted that he needed her.
The elevator doors opened and Mulder stepped out. "See what you can do about that video tape," he said.
Scully hit the "hold" button. "Okay, but where are you going?"
Mulder grinned and held out his left hand. Tangled in his fingers were a couple of long, curling black hairs. "Just out of curiosity, I thought I'd see what Pendrell makes of these."
Pendrell was more than happy to analyse the hairs Mulder gingerly handed over, but warned it would probably take him a couple of hours to establish a match with any of the three previous samples.
Which suited Mulder. "Okay, I'll be back later. Look, do me a favour, Pendrell - get a message to Scully telling her I've nipped out to arrange a certain matter we were talking about in the elevator earlier."
It didn't occur to him how this would sound until he caught sight of Pendrell's face. The younger agent's expression was a wild combination of embarrassment, disappointment and a laughable attempt to look nonchalant, all at once. Mulder managed to swallow a grin, and wondered briefly if it was worth messing with his head just a little. Then it occurred to him that Scully would probably remove valuable parts of his anatomy if he did, and he beat down the impulse.
He settled for a cheerful "See you later, Pendrell", and headed for the door.
Mulder swung back, giving him a questioning look. Pendrell gulped and fished a large white handkerchief out of his pocket. He offered it to Mulder, gesturing to his face. "Y-you might want to get rid of that."
"Get rid of what?"
Pendrell managed to blush and look crestfallen at the same time. "You've got lipstick on your face."
"Huh?" Mulder looked around him and grabbed the first reflective object he could find. "Yeuch! Thanks for telling me." He scrubbed at the mark for a moment or two, and turned to face Pendrell. "All gone?"
"That'll have to do." He gave the handkerchief back, and saw Pendrell's averted eyes. Suddenly his behaviour at the earlier remark made more sense.
This was too much like torturing a hamster.
Mulder leaned towards Pendrell. "It isn't Scully's, you know," he said confidentially. Pendrell spluttered and managed to get out a couple of disjointed sentences about not having considered such a thing in the first place. Mulder snorted derisively, and slapped him on the shoulder.
"I'll be back later, Pendrell. Don't forget to give Scully my message."
Scully felt sure that if it hadn't been for her presence in the room, the security tape of Mulder's encounter with Vladia would have raised a great deal more comment from its audience; as it was, she was acutely aware of the smirks and meaningful looks, but chose to ignore them.
"Spooky" Mulder had set the rumour mill turning again. It occurred to her that her own stony expression would probably only serve to fuel it even more - Spooky and Mrs. Spooky having a tiff over a prostitute - but she was damned if she would encourage gossip by making a joke of it. It probably didn't matter what she did anyway; there would still be talk.
Scully's earlier cheerful mood was beginning to sour.
"Agent Scully, this looks like the clearest shot we're going to get of her."
She leaned over the guard's shoulder and looked at the little viewing screen. The whole encounter with Mulder had shown up on the tape beautifully, but the only full-face shot of Vladia came from earlier, when she first arrived and was teasing the guards on the front desk. At this one point now on the screen, she had looked up directly into the lens and smiled ... almost as if she had wanted to be seen and identified.
Now that was a strange thing, Scully thought. "Get me a copy of that, blown up a couple of times, would you, Craythorpe?"
"Oh, and did you guys have any luck getting a picture of the woman who came to claim Agent Trioche's body?"
"Done and done," one of the other men said, and handed Scully a print.
The woman in it was about Scully's height, of slender build and fashionably dressed. She had blonde hair pulled up into a neat French twist at the back, and a pair of dark shades were dangling from one hand. She didn't seem to be in the slightest bit concerned, despite the criminal act she was in the process of committing; nor did she seem to be particularly grief- stricken for the death of her relative.
"Can I take this?" Scully asked.
"Thanks." She gathered up the blow-ups of Vladia, and nodded to the two men, leaving them to speculate about Mulder's supposed peccadilloes on their own.
Back in the basement office, she found a note pinned to the door from Pendrell, explaining Mulder's absence and leaving an envelope with the results of the hair analysis. Scully let out an exasperated sigh over the note. She slapped the envelope and two photos down on his desk and booted up the computer.
It looked like she was going to have to do all the background searches again.
"Mulder, it's a damn good thing I like you, or I'd probably end up killing you," she muttered. And she tried not to self- analyse the statement too closely.
Mulder, meanwhile, had completed his arrangements for the evening - although not without some difficulty - and was following up a hunch.
He had told Skinner that he believed Martia Sljenka believed she had killed Marie-Monique Trioche, and he did - but when he had heard that the dead agent's body had been purloined, it had raised an incredible idea in his mind, one which would perhaps explain a great deal about this case. But there were still more than a few points he wanted cleared up before he laid his theory in front of Scully, which was why he was back at Marie- Monique's apartment.
He knew what he was primarily looking for.
Agent Trioche's shoulder bag was lying on the coffee table where Scully had left it after looking at it the last time they had been here. Mulder grabbed it and rummaged around, then finally tipped it up onto the coffee table. Keys, pens, a tiny notebook, a set of worry-beads, lipstick, perfume, tissues - and a compact.
He picked it up and flipped it open - and had a sudden flashback to another case.
<Another dark woman in a dark club, pretty, pale, with stark make-up and a starker soul. She opened a compact without a mirror in it ....>
The mirror in Marie-Monique Trioche's compact was also missing, with nothing but a rough smear of dried adhesive to show where it had been. Mulder dropped it onto the table and headed for the bathroom.
<Another bathroom - he was trying to shave, but the mirror above the basin was missing, so the woman helped him. There was a slight nick, and she wanted to taste his blood - he wouldn't let her ....>
There was no mirror in Agent Trioche's bathroom either, but four screw holes and a shadow on the plaster showed where it had once been. Mulder went into the bedroom and looked around. He searched the dressing table and drawers - no mirrors of any kind anywhere.
Suddenly very tired, he slumped down on the edge of the bed. It felt like it had been a very long day - and it wasn't over yet. His eye fell on the bookcase opposite. One title was sticking out slightly; he pulled it out and scanned the cover.
The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
It looked as if it had been well-read. There was a bookmark, so he opened it at the marked page; it was an edition where each page held one stanza, with an illustration opposite.
Up from the Earth's Centre through the Seventh Gate I rose, and on the throne of Saturn sate, And many Knots unravel'd by the Road, But not the Knot of Human Death and Fate.
Mulder closed the book again and rested his chin on the spine for a moment. I can't work out the knot of your death and fate, Marie-Monique, but I do think I know at least a little of what happened to you.
He put the book back on the shelf, and walked back through the apartment to the door. And at the last minute, something caught his eye, making him turn back to look.
The windchimes in the kitchen doorway, which he had hit his head on during his previous visit, were gone. Mulder walked slowly into the kitchen and looked around.
They were hanging in the corner now, by the sink.
Walking back into the living room, he looked around, scanning for anything else that was out of place.
Nothing. He went through to the bedroom again, and on impulse opened the closet. All the work suits were still there, but a vividly coloured velvet skirt he remembered seeing before was missing.
Mulder shut the closet again quickly, and rushed back into the living room. He tried the catch on the window, the one Scully had pointed out. It was locked - from the outside.
Wide-eyed, Mulder quickly went and cleared up the mess of personal belongings he had made when he first arrived and scooped them back into Agent Trioche's shoulder bag. Then he headed for the door again.
Suddenly he didn't want to be caught there ....
Scully's stiffly averted back and sharp tap-tapping on the keyboard alerted Mulder to her annoyance, when he returned.
Oops. He'd gone off without her again. Okay, so it was only for a couple of hours and he hadn't ended up half-dead, but the principle was apparently still the same.
"Sorry, Scully," he offered.
"Really?" Her tone was brittle.
"I had a couple of things I had to do."
It didn't sound okay to Mulder. He wondered uneasily what was going on with Scully lately; the conversation in her kitchen the night before was suddenly foremost in his mind, but he was at a loss to know what to do or say. It wasn't the first time she had raised the touchy question of their relationship, but this was the first time she had been so pressing.
And Mulder didn't think he was ready to answer her questions.
The weariness he had felt in Agent Trioche's apartment was returning with a vengeance. He sat on the edge of his desk, staring at Scully's rigid back, and wondered what to do about her - him - them -
No. Now was not the time. Maybe later.
"Any word from Pendrell about Vladia's hair?"
Scully turned reluctantly and slid the envelope toward him. "He left that earlier."
"What about the surveillance pictures?"
She handed them over too. "I've run some basic checks. There's nothing on the woman who claimed Trioche's body, but I did get a possible ID on Vladia."
Mulder's brows shot up with sudden interest. "And?"
"She could be a woman named Katerina Mircek, who came to the US from Romania. The pictures seem to match. But there's one problem."
"Katerina Mircek was thirty-four years old when she emigrated; and that was nearly fifteen years ago," Scully explained. "Frankly, Mulder, I don't believe Vladia is nearly fifty years old."
Mulder grinned in spite of himself. "So she's looking good for her age - you're not jealous, are you, Scully?"
"Very funny. I ran some background checks on Ryan Beeches and Scott Freeman, too. Beeches is who he says he is - a British art student who came over on a scholarship. His visa ran out a couple of months ago, but that's the most we have on him. Freeman is another matter; I can't find anything on him except what we already know - address, current occupation etc. He appears to be clean, though."
"Did you try Neil Le Vallon?"
"Nothing much on him, either, except with reference to the trouble he had with Tomas Sljenka. There was a minor liquor licensing offence about six years ago, but other than that - nothing."
"Almost too clean," Mulder observed. He picked up Pendrell's envelope and scanned the contents. And smiled. "Well, Scully - if you think fifty is a little unlikely for Vladia's age, look at this." He handed her Pendrell's note and a copy of the DNA analysis on Vladia's hair.
Scully stared. "Mulder, this is crazy - "
"I'm beginning to think 'crazy' is our business," he observed wryly.
"If what Pendrell says is true, then Vladia's hair matches the four-hundred-year-old sample - there's got to be some mistake."
"Maybe, maybe not."
Scully began to get seriously annoyed. "Mulder, she's hardly four centuries old, and while she certainly embalmed herself in whatever perfume she favoured, you can't call her mummified either!"
Mulder gave her a sober look. "I think it's something simpler than that, Scully."
She glared at him. "Enlighten me."
"Maybe she is a vampire."
Scully threw up her hands in disgust. "For God's sake, Mulder, you'll accept any hair-brained theory rather than admit there's been a screw up in the evidence ...."
In for a penny, in for a pound, he thought. "And I don't think we're going to find Agent Trioche's body either," he told her.
She looked at him, suddenly brought up short by the apparent non sequitur. "What?"
"I went to her apartment this afternoon. Something bothered me when Skinner said her body had been stolen, especially after what Martia Sljenka told us." Mulder felt a sudden cold lump forming in the pit of his stomach as he remembered. "Scully ...." He hesitated, also remembering the previous night's conversation again, but forged ahead. "Did you read all the file on the Trinity murders?"
Scully's eyes became curiously gentle. "Yes."
"Then you'll know about the mirrors in - in Kristin Kilar's house."
"Yes. Go on - what's the relevance?"
"It never occurred to me when we first searched Trioche's apartment, but when I looked this afternoon ... well, there wasn't a mirror in the place."
There was a pause in which Mulder looked at anything rather than Scully. Then her voice said very carefully: "Mulder, all that proves is that Marie-Monique had somehow got herself into the same abnormal game-playing that Kristin did. It doesn't make her a vampire."
"She was dead, Mulder, very dead. I saw her body, remember? While I don't know what caused the accelerated decomposition, she was still probably dead for at least a month before Agent Klein found her. And she was kept in the Bureau morgue for nearly a week before her body was stolen. If what you put in your report was true, John came back to life within twenty-four hours. Marie-Monique very obviously didn't. She's dead all right."
"Okaaaay." Mulder took a shaky breath. "That doesn't explain Vladia."
Scully sighed. "Even supposing this DNA analysis were accurate - and I don't accept that it is - then please explain to me how a four-hundred-year-old vampiress managed to walk into the Hoover building and out again in broad daylight. Excuse me, but isn't destruction by daylight the way you found John out?"
That was true. Mulder rubbed his chin, trying to work that out, but his head was beginning to ache. "I can't explain it," he admitted finally
Scully smiled wryly. "Neither can I, so let's not try. Instead, why don't you go home and try to get a couple of hours sleep? We've got a busy night tonight - that is, if you're still letting me tag along, Kimusabe."
"Where would the Lone Ranger be without Tonto?" he asked flippantly.
Scully gave him her usual Look. "Maybe in this day and age, it's more appropriate to ask where Tonto would be without the Lone Ranger," she pointed out darkly.
Mulder grinned. At last, she was beginning to sound more like herself - even if the Lone Ranger digs weren't a sharp reminder of their conversation in the elevator earlier.
We ARE going to have to have a serious talk sometime, he told himself. Maybe not tonight, but pretty soon. There's too much going on here for my mental health.
One last thing occurred to him as he was going out of the door, though. "You want to know what was really weird in that apartment today, Scully?"
She raised a brow.
Mulder shook his head, staring into the distance. "It was strange - but I could have sworn someone was in there with me ...."
"Mulder," Scully said gently, "you're tired. How could there have been anyone there without you seeing them?"
Mulder thought of the windchimes, but looked at Scully's calm face - and decided not to say anything more.
"I need my head examining."
"It was all your idea."
"Well, you agreed to it. And you arranged it."
"Remember, I'm the one having the interview with the vampire."
"But I'm the one who's going to have sit in that van with Pervert Frohike - does he even have a first name? - and his eavesdropping friends, while you get to talk paranoia and superstition with a man who may or may not have a serious blood- habit!"
"Scully, I'm impressed. You managed that all in one breath."
"Shut up, Mulder. Now, where are they?"
Silence. Scully flicked the beam of her flashlight onto her partner's face and got a bland smile back. "Mulder?"
"You told me to shut up," he pointed out.
Scully got a grip on her temper with an effort. "Drop it, Mulder! Where are they?"
"Relax. They're behind that freezer truck over there."
Scully eyed the battered old green van dubiously. "That's it?"
"Never judge anything by appearances, Scully." Mulder rapped on the door of the van in a complicated sequence, and after moment it opened a crack.
Langly was peering suspiciously around the edge of the door, his eyes huge behind thick pebble glasses. "That you, Mulder?"
Mulder glanced at Scully, and they both rolled their eyes. "Why, you expecting someone else?"
The door opened wider, enough that they could both squeeze inside, and Langly quickly pulled it shut again behind them.
"You realise we wouldn't do this for everyone," he said earnestly.
"Crap," Mulder returned amiably. "You guys just want the story."
"That, and the lovely Agent Scully's company for a couple of hours," Frohike's voice said from behind a stack of electronic equipment.
Scully glowered at Mulder. "What did you give him this time, Mulder?"
He spread his hands, looking hurt. "You wound me, Scully. All I said was they could have the story if they wanted it - names deleted, naturally."
Frohike peered around the equipment. "When he said you'd be joining us for the evening, we offered to do it for free."
"*He offered to do it for free," Langly corrected hastily, his eyes bugging out at Scully's expression.
"Look, guys, much as I'd love to stay and swap witty repartee all evening, I have an appointment," Mulder cut in, before Scully could say anything he'd regret.
For the next fifteen minutes, Scully took a back seat as Langly and Frohike fitted Mulder with a hidden microphone. The process had ceased to have any interest for her, having seen it so many times under more orthodox circumstances, so she took the opportunity to examine her surroundings.
Where they got their equipment from, she couldn't imagine, but it's origins were, in many cases, blatantly obvious. Scully was mildly shocked to see CIA and FBI markings on some of the surveillance equipment. Other more obscure items, some apparently originating with NASA, she didn't recognise but had a mild sense of foreboding about. What the Hell did they use all this stuff for? She knew about their paranoia, and had more than a passing acquaintance with their two publications, but surely all this wasn't necessary -
She jumped, and looked around guiltily. For a wonder, neither Langly or Frohike seemed particularly bothered by her investigations ... she wondered if she should be flattered by this apparent evidence of trust from the Great Untrusting.
"Scully, I'm about ready for take-off," Mulder was saying. "Frohike's going to monitor and tape everything - you should be able to hear every word."
"Presumably we'll be near enough that I can come in and get you if anything goes wrong," she observed.
Mulder grinned at the way she phrased that. Anyone would think, from her tone, that he was incapacitated and in need of rescue on a regular basis.
Well actually, he was .
"We scouted out the area earlier in the day," a quiet voice said from the front of the van. Byers poked his head through from the driver's compartment. "There's a side alley about fifty yards from the club entrance. We'll give Mulder a head start of five minutes, then park up and tune in. Is that all right, Agent Scully?"
As if she had much say in the matter. But Scully appreciated the courtesy that always seemed to make Byers the misfit among misfits. "Should be okay, so long as I can get in there if there's any trouble."
"I'll be on my way," Mulder said, relieved.
"Be careful, Mulder," she warned.
"We'll take good care of Agent Scully," Frohike added.
Mulder looked at Scully and grinned at her sour expression. "You be careful, Frohike, or she may just take good care of you ," he warned, and ducked out of the door.
The Tergoviste was heaving with people again when Mulder arrived. The bouncer evidently had his orders; he was admitted without comment, and Scott Freeman was waiting for him at the bar.
The all-embracing smile was back, to Mulder's acute discomfort. "You came," Freeman observed, "and alone. I didn't think you would." He pulled a seat forward for Mulder, and signalled to the bartender.
"I would have appreciated a more discreet messenger."
Freeman seemed to find this amusing. "You don't like Vladia?" "She's more colourful than the Bureau Security's accustomed to," Mulder replied dryly.
"That's one way of describing her, I guess," was the even drier response.
There was an uncomfortable pause in which the bartender put two glasses of red wine in front of them. Mulder felt his stomach clench at the sight.
<I don't. How do you?>
<All I know is - normal is not how I feel.>
He pushed the glass gently away. "I don't drink," he said to Freeman, by way of apology.
The manager's hazel eyes were dancing in amusement. "Oh, you don't? That's not what I heard." He took a sip from his own glass, watching Mulder over the rim.
The agent's brows rose sharply. "Pardon me?"
"You're forgiven. Drink up - that's from Monseigneur Le Vallon's own cellar."
Mulder felt a twinge of annoyance. "What do you mean, "that's not what you heard"?" he persisted.
Freeman put his glass down on the bar top and smiled at it for a moment or two. When he raised his eyes to Mulder's again, there was a rueful look in them. "I've got a confession to make, Agent Mulder - " He paused and wrinkled his nose. "That's so formal." He leaned forward and put his hand on Mulder's knee. "Can I call you Fox?"
Mulder's vague sense of discomfort was suddenly increased tenfold, to a pitch where it was only a couple of points below mild panic. He tried to move his knee away in a manner which was both discouraging and inoffensive, but Freeman had a surprising grip on him.
"Ah - n-no," he stuttered, shifting in his seat. "It's Mulder - everyone calls me Mulder."
"Damn!" Scully muttered. "I forgot about that ..." "What?" Langly asked, his eyes huge behind his glasses.
"Freeman," she muttered distractedly. "He was hitting on Mulder and me the other evening."
"*Both of you?" Frohike said, torn between listening to Scully and what was happening on the other end of the microphone. He let out a chortle at Mulder's agitated tone. "Sounds like he's putting some serious moves on him now. Don't fight it, Mulder - "
"Great!" Scully snapped, annoyed out of all proportion. "But where the Hell is Le Vallon? Mulder's not in there to pull jumped-up bartenders!"
Her unexpected vehemence drew three pairs of interested eyes to her face.
"I don't think Mulder appreciates the situation," Byers offered, as tactfully as possible.
Frohike's attempt was more disastrous. "You know, I would never have pegged Mulder for that kind of guy," he consoled her.
"So what's your confession?" Mulder asked uneasily, hoping the question wouldn't be construed as a come-on. He had managed to extricate his knee, but Freeman was still leaning uncomfortably close.
"I already knew about you before you came here the other day."
Mulder stiffened imperceptibly. "How so?"
"You met a woman named Kristen Kilar in Los Angeles," Freeman stated, smiling. His tone was knowing, and Mulder felt a flush beginning to work its way up his neck.
What the - ? "I knew her. How did you know?" he demanded.
"She used to be a regular here." Freeman picked up his glass and took a long swallow, his eyes still fixed on the agent. "She, and some others who were with her," he amended. "We see a lot of their kind."
"What kind?" Mulder managed. He was beginning to sweat; the club suddenly seemed overbearingly hot. His eyes fell on his untouched glass of wine, and without thinking he grabbed it and took a couple of quick swallows. It was smooth and cold, but it didn't seem to help much. "What kind?" he repeated.
"Blood fetishists - and others," Freeman replied, staring at him intently as though trying to convey some kind of message. "There's a kind of network, you know?"
The intense hazel eyes were beginning to shimmer in front of Mulder. He blinked, feeling light-headed. He had drunk that wine too quickly, it was stronger than he had thought. "What are you saying?" he asked, trying to stay focussed. "What does that have to do with Agent Trioche's death?"
"Are you all right, Mulder?" Freeman was leaning forward, his hand was on Mulder's shoulder. Mulder was transfixed by his eyes which seemed to be only inches from his own.
The noise of the club began to fade away.
The room suddenly zoomed back into focus, noise and frenetic patrons and all. Mulder blinked groggily, the beginnings of a fine headache tapping behind his eyes, and looked up to see Freeman sat back in his seat as if nothing had happened.
What had happened?
Beside him stood another, older man, with his hand on the manager's shoulder. He was looking at Mulder with some concern.
"Agent Mulder, are you quite well?"
He had a deep, rich voice with an unmistakable cut-glass English accent which put Mulder irresistibly in mind of the actor George Sanders. Sher Khan, he thought, and wondered why the analogy seemed so apt. Definitely his brain was not firing on all thrusters.
"I'm fine," Mulder said, dragging up Scully's favourite answer in lieu of anything more inventive. "I think I drank my wine too quickly - it's stronger than I thought."
"I believe you wanted to see me," the man said coolly. "I'm Neil Le Vallon. Are you up to this conversation, or would you prefer to wait for another evening?"
"I'm fine," Mulder repeated, and stood up straight to prove it. "And I really don't have time for more postponements, sir."
Le Vallon nodded. "Very well, let's get on with it. Scott, close up the club early tonight. We don't need any distractions."
"As you wish, Monseigneur."
Le Vallon inclined his head towards Mulder. "Perhaps you would care to join me in one of the back rooms while the crowd clears, Agent Mulder?"
"At last," Scully murmured. She glanced at Frohike, who was frowning into the mike next to her. "Are you taping this?"
"Every word," he assured her.
"What's going on here?" Langly asked uneasily in the background.
"I don't know," she replied, wishing Freeman had said more before Le Vallon arrived. Even if he had known Kristen Kilar, that still didn't explain how he knew about Mulder's involvement with her. And she wanted to know more about the 'network' he'd mentioned. "I don't know," she repeated, "but hopefully we're about to find out."
The back room was a comfortable, sound-proofed area which Mulder guessed was usually used for playing cards. There was a round table with six comfortable padded chairs and a central lamp above which only cast light onto the table.
Le Vallon waved him into a chair and took a seat opposite. "Would you like a coffee?" he offered. "You still look a little pale."
"No - thank you." Mulder had had enough of the club's refreshments for one evening. He took the opportunity to study his host and was a little surprised; this was not what he had been expecting.
Neil Le Vallon was a tall, lean man, perhaps 5' 11", with short, greying dark hair and a distinguished air. He looked to be in his early fifties, and was every inch the elegant businessman; he wore a dark, tailored suit, white shirt, conservative tie, and - curiously - a waistcoat with an old-fashioned watch and chain. The waistcoat was the only patch of colour about him, being wildly patterned in embroidery that shimmered in the odd light.
He was studying Mulder back, and the agent was suddenly struck by his eyes - they were pale grey, almost colourless, and were bloodshot with an old, world-weary look in them.
There was something not quite right about those eyes, but Mulder couldn't work out what it was.
The door opened, and Scott Freeman walked in, accompanied by another man of about the same age, but shorter and very dark, almost Mediterranean in his appearance.
"Good evening, Jerome," Le Vallon acknowledge him.
"Good evening, Monseigneur," the man replied, inclining his head slightly. His eyes were fixed on Mulder, though, with a curious intensity that almost - but not quite - bordered on hostility.
"Jerome is Scott's co-manager of the Tergoviste," Le Vallon explained casually. "I thought he should be present at this meeting. I hope you don't object?"
"Not at all," Mulder shrugged. "This is just an informal meeting for now, sir."
"Very well. Perhaps we could get on with it, then. Do you mind if I smoke?"
"It's your club and your lungs," Mulder half-smiled.
"How true." Le Vallon drew out a small case of cigars. "Not a vice you share, I assume?"
"Not since highschool, when I nearly coughed up my lungs permanently," he said wryly. "Kind of put me off."
"And you claim not to drink?"
How does he know that? "Not usually."
"Then I can't tempt you to try something a little different. Scott, would you - ?"
"Of course, Monseigneur." For a split second, Mulder felt sure he saw a look of distaste cross Freeman's smooth features, but it passed too quickly for him to be certain. The manager stepped outside the door and gave a low-voiced instruction to someone.
"Now, Agent Mulder, how can I help you?"
"Has Mr. Freeman told you that my partner and I are investigating the death of a fellow agent, one Marie-Monique Trioche?"
Le Vallon raised a brow. "He did say something about it, yes. I believe she used to come here with a group of friends to play some kind of game?"
"She was undercover, investigating a number of deaths that had occurred among a group of individuals who got together to play a role-play game called "Vampire: The Masquerade"," Mulder explained.
"A month ago she went missing, and her body turned up in her apartment a week ago. She was decapitated."
"Good God!" Le Vallon gave Mulder a hard look. "You suspect someone here of murdering her?"
"Someone has already confessed," Mulder said cautiously, "but in doing so, you yourself were implicated, sir. I was wondering what you thought about that."
"Naturally, I'm shocked," Le Vallon said calmly, "but I can hardly offer an opinion, Agent Mulder, unless you identify my accuser."
"Are you acquainted with a woman named Martia Sljenka, Mr. Le Vallon?"
Le Vallon drew a deep breath, and his face seemed to harden. "I see. How distressing it is to be on the receiving end of so much ingratitude."
"Sir?" Mulder queried.
"I assume you know something of Miss Sljenka's background, Agent Mulder."
"Her father had a vendetta against you," Mulder nodded. "He seemed to think you murdered his wife and son."
"Were you aware that he accused me of being a vampire?"
"Martia seems to be of the same opinion," Mulder observed quietly, watching the older man's face. "She said that she had some kind of bargain with you, whereby she let you feed on her in return for you leaving her father alone."
Le Vallon gave snort of humourless laughter. "As I said, it's so distressing to be on the receiving end of such ingratitude. And doubly distressing to discover that she has inherited her father's ... instability. Agent Mulder, I'm not an inhumane man. When Miss Sljenka's misguided father attempted to knife me outside this very club, I bore in mind the poor girl's awkward situation and forbore to press charges. When he later suffered his accident, I befriended her and lent her money to pay for his treatments and care. And this is how she repays me!"
"Can you provide evidence of this financial support?" Mulder asked.
"Certainly. You're welcome to speak with my financial advisors at any time - I'll give you their address before you go."
"And you don't know anything about her connection with the Masquerader group?"
"Scott told me about the booking, but I didn't think anything of it," Le Vallon replied. "Except that I was glad to hear she had made some friends and was getting out a little. She's her father's full time carer, you know."
"Unfortunately, all but one of those friends is now dead," Mulder told him dryly, "and the one survivor is currently living with Mr. Freeman, apparently at Miss Sljenka's suggestion. What can you tell me about Ryan Beeches, sir? I assume you know him."
"Ryan - ? Oh! He's serving on the bar, isn't he, Scott?"
"That's so, Monseigneur," Freeman said quietly. "He needed a job, and there was a vacancy, so - "
"Quite so. Other than that, I can't tell you anything about him, Agent Mulder."
They had reached a dead end, and Mulder was at a loss to know where to go next. Le Vallon gave every appearance of being what he appeared to be - a respectable businessman.
"Let it go, Mulder," Scully was saying softly, as she listened to the conversation. "He's clean - it's Scott Freeman you really need to talk to."
"Talking isn't all he'll be doing with that guy," Frohike snickered, and was blasted by Scully's glare. "Just kidding - really!" he muttered contritely.
"I think that's everything then, Mr. Le Vallon," Mulder said reluctantly. "I'm sorry for wasting your time - "
"Not at all," Le Vallon replied pleasantly. "I'm always happy to cooperate with the Law Enforcement agencies - I'm just sorry that Miss Sljenka has apparently wasted your" time."
There was a soft tap at the door, and Jerome went to open it. Ryan Beeches entered, carefully carrying a large tray with a bottle, glass, a long oddly-shaped silver spoon and a small box. He put the tray on the table and bowed to Neil Le Vallon, before quickly backing out of the room again.
"Ah!" Le Vallon raised his brows at Mulder. "A pity you don't drink, Agent Mulder, or I would try to persuade you to join me. I can guarantee that this would be something quite outside your previous experience."
"Really?" Mulder stared at the paraphernalia curiously, especially the bottle which looked old and rough, as if the contents were homemade, and the spoon, which had a long hooked handle and a perforated bowl.
"Oh yes. It used to be quite popular, but sadly it's become something of a rarity these days." Le Vallon hooked the spoon over the edge of the glass and, opening the box, extracted a sugar cube and put it in the bowl. Then he uncorked the bottle and poured a generous measure of the contents slowly over the sugar.
Mulder stared in astonishment and disbelief. The liquor was green and a had a faint and bitter odour of aniseed.
"Scott, I believe you were going to show Agent Mulder out," Le Vallon said coolly. He raised a brow at Mulder. "I do believe you were finished?"
Mulder nodded wordlessly. Something had just clicked inside his brain.
Freeman showed Mulder to the main exit in silence. Mulder was too surprised by what he had just seen to say much, but as the cool air outside hit him, he suddenly recalled something Freeman had said earlier, before Le Vallon had arrived.
"Do I recall you mentioning something about a network of blood fetishists?" he asked, turning to look at the other man.
"About time, Mulder," Scully muttered.
"Did I?" Freeman asked, smiling. His eyes were fixed on Mulder's intently and he was leaning closer again, invading the agent's personal space.
Mulder caught the hazel shimmer of those eyes again, and fought off a sudden wave of dizziness. "Yeah - yeah, you did," he said desperately. "I asked you - if it had anything to do with - with Agent Trioche, and you said - you said - "
Freeman leaned in closer. "You know, Mulder, I think you're too obsessed with your job. You should relax a little."
"You've got to hand it to this guy, he really doesn't miss an opportunity," Frohike observed.
Scully was less impressed. "Come on, Mulder - stop flirting with bartenders and get some answers from the guy!"
Freeman was definitely getting too close for Mulder's comfort. He tried to step backwards, but the dizziness surged up and he stumbled on the steps, almost falling. At once, Freeman was there, catching him and steadying him against the wall.
And suddenly he was pressing up against him, pinning against the wall both with his body and his intense gaze.
Blackness swirled in Mulder's vision until all he could see were those eyes, but he retained enough instinct to know that whatever Freeman was about to do was something he wanted no part of.
"What - No - !"
"Whoa!" Frohike exclaimed. "Maybe this is a good time to switch off the mike - "
But Scully had heard that desperate plea. "There's something wrong!" she said sharply. She checked for her gun in the small of her back, and headed for the door.
Byers snagged her arm in passing, his expression uncomfortable. "Agent Scully, do you think - "
She shot him a glare, and pulled free. "There's something wrong - I'm going to take a look," she told him in a voice that brooked no interference, and she hurried out of the van.
The alley was pitch black, but there was enough light from the street lamps ahead for Scully to cautiously pick her way to the entrance. Drawing her gun, she peered around the corner -
- and was stunned at what she saw.
Freeman had Mulder pinned to the wall outside the club's entrance; Mulder was offering no resistence whatsoever, and for one incredible moment she thought Freeman was kissing his neck. Then she heard a muffled cry of pain, and realised that it was something far more sinister ....
There was no time to wonder what, though.
"Freeze!" she cried. "I'm an armed agent - put your hands in the air!"
Freeman dropped Mulder like a sack, and whirled to face her, snarling.
No, I can't be seeing this -
There was blood running down his chin, and his face had the most bestial expression she had ever seen. Stunned, Scully hesitated, and Freeman launched himself at her.
Scully managed to fire one shot but surprise, and an incredibly fast-moving target, made her miss. The next thing she knew, Freeman was barrelling into her and she was crashing to the ground under his weight. She smacked the back of her head on the ground, which momentarily stunned her, and her gun went flying.
Helpless from the blow, she was unable to prevent him pinning her to the ground, and when her vision cleared, it was to a sight which struck a sharp, primal terror into her.
Freeman's eyes were livid, like a wild animal's, but Scully was transfixed by the sight of his two upper incisor teeth lengthening and extending. His mouth was already bloodstained; befuddled as she was, Scully abruptly realised what was going to happen next, and began to struggle.
It was a futile effort. He was as inhumanly strong as he was fast; and Scully began to lose herself to panic.
And just as suddenly, the weight on her was gone. Freeman was jerked up and backwards off her by his collar, and dragged out of her line of sight. Scully heard a dull thud; she dragged herself slowly to her knees, her vision blurry, and saw Freeman lying in a heap on the opposite side of the street.
What - ?
A hand grabbed her shoulder. Scully yelled in fright, and lashed out.
"No, no, Agent Scully, it's me!"
"Frohike?" Scully wanted to weep with ridiculous relief - she never thought she'd be so grateful to see his squat figure. "What happened? Did you - ?" She waved a shaking hand at Freeman's limp form.
"Not me. I think I saw someone running off, though." He helped her to her feet and gave her her gun back.
"Help me with Mulder."
Mulder still lay where Freeman had dropped him, sagged against the wall by the club entrance. He was frighteningly pale, and out for the count.
"He don't look too good," Frohike grunted, and surprised Scully by easily hoisting the taller man over his shoulder in a fireman's lift. "Come on, let's get back to the van and get out of here before someone comes looking for that other guy."
They got Mulder into the van and laid out on the floor. Scully checked him over; his pulse was fast and thready, and his breathing shallow, and when she turned his head to examine his neck, there was a nasty bite over the jugular. For a wonder, however, there was no bleeding or tearing, just a couple of tiny pinprick punctures over the vein and a lot of bruising.
This was apparently too much for Langly. He was a computer man, not an action hero. "Byers says to hold on tight," he gulped, and retreated. "I'll be out front with him if you need me."
Frohike muttered a number of sour things about lily livers under his breath, which Scully ignored. "Tell Byers to head for my sister's place," she called after him, "and don't tell me you don't know where it is!"
The van took off at an alarming speed.
"Why your sister?" Frohike wanted to know.
It had occurred to Scully that Melissa, with her New Age convictions and beliefs in mythology, might have some idea of how to combat the horrors she had seen this evening; but as the agent didn't want to examine her own rationale on this too closely, let alone explain it to Frohike, she tried to come up with a more logical explanation.
"They could be watching my place or Mulder's."
Scully stared down at Mulder's pale face. "Why isn't he waking up?" she muttered worriedly.
"Maybe we should be taking him to hospital," Frohike suggested reluctantly. Hospitals were a little too public for his liking; he would force himself to go there in extreme cases, such as when Scully had been returned from her abduction, but by and large he preferred to keep his distance.
"I hate to say this, but I don't want to have to try and explain his injuries in emergency," Scully admitted, "especially since this operation wasn't sanctioned by our boss." The van was slowing down. "What's happening?" she asked.
"Probably a red light," he reassured her, listening to the engine idling.
As they listened, the sound began to pick up again in readiness to continue - and at the same time, something hit the van door hard and wrenched it open.
Byers must have heard something of what happened, for he hit the gas and took off like an Indy driver. The force of the maneouver made the door swing out wildly with whoever it was hanging on, but as they swerved around a corner, the reverse force swung the door shut again violently, and a small figure was catapulted onto the floor beside Mulder.
Trapped against a stack of surveillance equipment, Scully fought against the swaying of the vehicle and tried to pull her gun.
Frohike was faster. Pinned back against the wall, he fell into a defensive semi-crouch, gripping a bayonet in his right hand, and squared off against -
It took Scully a couple of seconds to realise it was her, for the hooker guise was gone. Looking younger than ever, the tiny woman had her long black curls pulled back in a single braid, had her face free of make-up, and was dressed in functional black leggings, turtleneck and low boots. She was unarmed, but there was something undeniably ferocious in the way she faced off against Frohike.
Vladia spoke first, her voice sharp and impatient. "Fool, put it away! Who do you think dealt with Scott Freeman?"
"What do you want, Vladia?" Scully demanded, her voice high and shaking despite her best efforts to keep it level.
"Let me see him - Mulder," she said, her dark eyes turning to Scully warily. "Did Scott bite him?"
"You know he did - "
"I suspected he would try, so I stayed close to the club tonight, but I was too late - I did not dare be there when Neil Le Vallon was," the little woman said.
To Scully's surprise, that almost sounded like an apology. "What do you mean?"
Vladia knelt beside Mulder, studying him with obvious concern. "Scott is Scott," she said to Scully, ignoring Frohike's nervous twitching in the background. "He sees your friend - he likes - he has a need beyond usual proportions. I saw that. Of course he would take advantage." She examined the bite on Mulder's neck carefully. "This is not as bad as it could be," she said, obviously relieved. "There was no shared blood, I think."
Scully tried not to think to much about this. "Why isn't he waking up?" she demanded.
Vladia sat back on her heels. "He will."
"But why is he like this?" Scully persisted, frustrated.
Vladia's eyes studied her thoughtfully. They were oddly old for such a young face. "Scott Freeman is not what you think him," she observed. "He has a strong will, stronger than Mulder. He will awake in a while, and when he does, I will speak with him."
Mulder drifted slowly awake to find himself lying in a strange bed. There was a dim light to one side, and the furnishings that met his bleary gaze were feminine but unknown to him. He shifted a little, and a woven comforter smelling faintly of incense slid from under his chin.
"It's about time you woke up," a husky, familiar female voice observed, to one side of him.
He squinted and tried to focus on the speaker. Red hair - dark velvet frock - crystal pendant ... Mulder groaned. His head hurt.
"It's good to see you again too, Fox," Melissa Scully said dryly.
"Mulder," he corrected dully. "Where am I?"
"In my bedroom. Don't get used to it."
"Trust me, that's the last thing I'd do. Why am I here?"
She made a sour sound in her throat, and rose gracefully from the Shaker rocking-chair she was curled up in. "I'll get Dana."
Mulder zoned out again for a moment or two, only to be woken by Scully putting a cool hand on his forehead. "Mulder? How are you feeling?"
"Dead," he groaned, blinking up at her.
She smiled, and he was surprised at how luminous and relieved the expression was. The last time she smiled at him like that, he'd been half-frozen. "Almost, but not quite," she told him.
"I thought he was always like that," Melissa muttered in the background.
Mulder ignored her. "What happened?" he asked.
"You had a close encounter with Scott Freeman. Don't you remember?"
"Not much," he admitted.
"Vladia says she thinks he wasn't really serious."
"Story of my life." With Scully's help, he managed to sit up and swing his legs over the side of the bed. Then it registered what she'd said and he stared. " Vladia ?"
Scully nodded. "She's in the kitchen, freaking Langly out over the coffee pot. She says she wants to talk to you."
"He's not the only one who's freaked," Melissa said acidly. "That woman has the weirdest aura. And what kind of a name is "Vladia" anyway?"
Mulder and Scully exchanged glances, and he tried to stand up. "I'd better come talk to her."
"Take it easy for a while, Mulder," Scully said, concerned. "You lost some blood back there."
A dim recollection of the evening's events began to dawn on him, and he touched his neck gingerly. There was a thick gauze dressing over his jugular, and it felt sore. Mulder met Scully's eyes in alarm. "He bit me?"
"Looks that way," she admitted, trying not to think of Freeman's sharp incisors decending on her own throat. "You'll have the hickey of a lifetime in the morning," she added, striving for a little lightness.
"Not quite the way I wanted to get one," he retorted.
"Some people have no gratitude," Melissa observed. "You'll win the office pool with that hickey."
"What office pool?" he demanded reflexively, and was astonished to see Scully's face turn scarlet.
Melissa's smile was ever-so-slightly malicious. "And Dana says you're the one who hears all the gossip." She turned and walked out of the room.
"Huh?" Mulder stared at his partner, but she was avoiding his eye. "Come on, Mulder - the guys are getting jumpy, but they won't leave until they know you're okay, and Missy wants them - and Vladia - out of here."
The scene in the kitchen would have been mildly comical, if Mulder hadn't felt the situation to be so grim. Vladia was perched calmly on a stool on one side of the table, sipping a cup of revoltingly creamy coffee, while the Gunmen and Melissa were keeping a wary distance opposite.
Scully's sister had evidently decided that Washington's three premier paranoiacs were the lesser of two evils. And all five of them looked relieved when he and Scully walked in.
"Ah, you are much better now!" Vladia observed chirpily, nodding and smiling at him. "You should eat, though."
"Agreed," Scully put in. "Mulder, whatever blood you've lost you need to replace."
"I could kill for a pizza," he admitted.
"I'll go order," Melissa muttered, looking relieved for an excuse to get out of the kitchen.
"Pepperoni and extra onions," he called after her.
"Plenty of meat," Vladia approved.
"And garlic," Frohike suggested, eying her warily.
She smiled at him sweetly. "Garlic is good for you. I love garlic." "Does your friend Freeman love it too?" Mulder asked, dragging up a chair.
"I don't know," she replied amiably. "Probably. You should know that not all old legends are true, Agent Mulder. Just because the vampire don't like mirrors, don't mean he can't be seen in them."
Mulder remembered one particular vampire telling him that he couldn't be seen in mirrors - and catching him out. "That's true," he acknowledged. "But sunlight does destroy them, doesn't it?"
Vladia smiled. "Not for long. Did Neil Le Vallon tell you what you want to know?"
"Not really. He seems to be clean."
She nodded. "He would."
"What did Scott Freeman mean by a 'network' of fetishists, Vladia?" Scully asked.
The little woman ignored the question. "So what do you think of Le Vallon?" she asked Mulder.
He looked at her thoughtfully. "He seems to be an ordinary businessman."
She hissed. "I thought you smarter than that!"
"Guess I'm not." Mulder leaned an elbow on the table, and rested his chin on his hand, watching Vladia curiously. He could feel Scully's puzzled eyes boring into his back, but he was working on a hunch - that somehow, for some bizarre reason, Vladia was trying to help them out, but didn't want to be seen to be doing so. "Are you a vampire, Vladia?" he asked.
She snorted a laugh. "You've seen me in daylight, FBI man, what do you think?"
"I think you're not what you appear to be, but I'm willing to pass on that if you're uncomfortable with it." She shot him a suspicious look, which he returned with a bland stare. "I'm even willing to pass on your real identity for now."
"What do you want from me?"
"Tell me about Neil Le Vallon. And Martia Sljenka. And your friend Freeman."
"I don't want to talk about Le Vallon," she said uneasily. "You've met him - it's enough."
"Okay," Mulder agreed. "So tell me about Martia and Scott."
"You know about Martia," she pointed out. "I know she told you, and I know you know about her father, Tomas. There's nothing else."
"I think there is," Mulder said quietly.
"Maybe. But you'll have to work it out yourself, smart man!"
"So what about Freeman?" Scully persisted.
Vladia seemed more comfortable with that. "He's one of Le Vallon's right-hand men," she told them. "Has been, for a long time. You see Jerome there?" Mulder nodded. "He's the other. Le Vallon took them in after the change, gave them work and new identities when they needed it. They take care of his businesses for him, so he can - pursue other interests."
"And where do you fit into this?" Scully asked.
Vladia gave her a tired smile. "I don't. Le Vallon, he don't like women, like I told you. But I've known him for a very long time, and he knows me. We - don't cross each other."
"Why not?" Mulder asked softly.
She gave him a long, very sober look. "There's rules, FBI man. I know his weakness, and he knows mine. But Le Vallon, he has - contacts, people who don't like him, don't trust him, but owe him favours. Vladia ... doesn't." There was something oddly desolate and lonely about that statement. "I can't afford to break the rules. Not any more."
"You're afraid of him?" That was Frohike, his voice incredulous.
She shot him a sharp look. "I better be. I don't want to meet one of his friends in an alley one night, and get a gut full of silver!"
"You really aren't a vampire, are you?" Mulder said, his eyes widening slightly. "You're - a werewolf?"
She hissed, wrinkling her nose in distaste. "Like some hairy thing out of a cheap movie, howling at the moon? I don't think so!"
"Then what are you?"
"A lycanthrope - there is a difference," she added defensively.
Mulder nodded, fascinated. "You can change at will, not just during certain phases of the moon like the folktales say." She nodded, still wary of any implied scorn. "And silver is poisonous to you?"
She looked down at her forgotton cup of coffee, and traced the rim with one finger. "The older I become, the more dangerous it is to me," she admitted.
"And you're pretty old, if Agent Pendrell's hair analysis is right," Scully observed. Mulder gave her look of mocking surprise, and she smiled faintly. "Put it down to exhaustion, Mulder - at this time of night, I'd probably believe in goblins if you tried hard enough to convince me."
He smiled and turned back to Vladia. She was looking at Scully, though. "Hair analysis?" she questioned.
"Mulder snitched a little of your hair this morning, to compare to some samples we found at Agent Trioche's apartment. You were there sometime, weren't you?"
Vladia was beginning to look more and more uncomfortable. "Maybe. But I didn't do anything to her."
"No, I don't think you did," Mulder agreed, to her surprise. She gave him another suspicious look, but he didn't pursue the subject. He leaned forward intensely, staring into her eyes. "Vladia, all we want to know is what happened to Marie-Monique and the other role-players. If Le Vallon had something to do with it, we need evidence, or else Martia Sljenka will go down for their murders. And I've got a gut feeling you don't want that to happen."
Vladia drew away from him, her face closing up. "You got evidence, FBI man. You saw Le Vallon tonight. If you didn't see what you need to know, then I can't do no more for you."
"Vladia, I know it's hard - " Scully began, but Vladia leapt up from her stool angrily.
"No! No, you don't know! You don't know what he can do to me, what it's like to be one of them but always on the outside - "
"Yes, I do," Mulder said softly, but she wasn't listening.
"You think you know how old I am? How would you know? For every day, I live, there is a night - I live two lifetimes, because I can never rest." Tears began to stream down Vladia's face. "I wish I was one of them! I wish I was a strigoi , for at least they have no day, at least they can sleep between dawn and dusk! I haven't slept in nearly four hundred years - "
She wiped a hand across her face and headed for the door, but paused at the last minute, with her back to them. "My people say it is our purgatory - " She said something in another language, then translated: "'The wolf, it dares not sleep'. I don't want to die yet, for God has damned my soul and I will go to Hell. So I can't help you."
She pulled the door open and fled into the night.
There was a long silence, broken by Byers. "Now what?"
Mulder looked up at him. "I'm grateful for your help tonight, guys, but I think you should go home now." He gave the bearded man a small grin. "That is, if you have homes to go to."
"And what are we going to do?" Scully asked, when the three men were finally gone. There had been a minor squabble about the tape and publishing the story, but by and large, the Gunmen had seemed relieved to put the night's work behind. Strange as it seemed, the evening's events had possibly been too freaky even for them.
"I think we get something to eat, get some sleep, and in the morning we go see Tomas Sljenka," Mulder suggested. "If Vladia isn't willing to tell us more about Neil Le Vallon, then we maybe need to talk to someone who knows him."
"You seriously think he's going to have anything worthwhile on Le Vallon?" Scully asked dubiously. "You said yourself that the guy's clean."
Mulder hesitated. "I don't know, Scully. But I do know that Martia Sljenka's scared of Le Vallon, Vladia's scared of him, and I've got a gut feeling - based on what I saw tonight - that so is Ryan Beeches and possibly even Scott Freeman."
Scully raised a slender auburn brow at him. "Seriously?"
"I don't know for certain, but - Scully, when you checked on Le Vallon's background, did you say he had a liquor licensing misdemeanour?"
"I think so. Why?"
"What do you know about Absinthe?"
Both brows nearly hit her hairline. "The drink? It's a highly proof liqueur made with wormwood and anise, similar to Pernod and Pastis. The real thing's illegal in most countries because the wormwood makes it poisonous - there's a condition known as Absinthism, where the sufferer has hallucinations, depressive moods and sometimes experiences violent episodes."
Mulder nodded. "That's what I thought. But unless I'm much mistaken, Neil Le Vallon was drinking Absinthe tonight."
Scully was half-dressed the next morning, and hastily gulping down a glass of orange juice, when there was a sharp rapping on her door.
She groaned inwardly; she'd been late to bed, hadn't slept well, and then had missed the alarm. On top of that, she had a bruise on the back of her head, from where Freeman had knocked her to the ground, which was giving her a headache; and she'd had to endure a lecture from Melissa after Mulder had left them which had very nearly ended in a quarrel.
The latter was what bothered her the most.
To Scully's intense annoyance and discomfort, Melissa had had a great deal to say - not about bringing three weirdos and a werewolf back to her apartment, but about Mulder, the nature of the partners' relationship, and how Dana's life was going to Hell in handcart as a result.
Scully had intended to spend the night with her, but after that she called a taxi and went home to take a painkiller. And then she proceeded to spend what was left of the night alternately staring up at the ceiling wondering where her life was going, and dreaming about Mulder growing fangs and attacking her.
So she wasn't particularly overjoyed to look out of her peephole and discover that it was Mulder at her door. She groaned again, threw back the latch and let him in.
He was looking a little the worse for wear after the previous night, but was filled with excitement. "Scully, why aren't you ready yet? Come on, we've got to get downtown - "
The rest of what he was going to say was abruptly cut off as Scully slapped a hand over his mouth.
"Mulder," she said firmly to the middle of his chest, "shut up for a moment. I'm half-dressed, my hair is a mess and I don't have any make-up on yet. I didn't sleep properly last night, I feel like hell because I got into a fight with some guy who thinks he's a vampire, and on top of that I very nearly had to shoot my sister. So just shut up - sit down - have some juice and a bagel - and maybe in a minute, when I've finished dressing, I'll be ready to talk. Okay?" She took her hand off his mouth.
Mulder opened it to protest - and she pointed a finger at him sharply, daring him to defy her. He meekly swallowed what he had been going to say. "Okay."
"Good. Bagels are on the table, juice is in the fridge. Help yourself." She went back to her bedroom to finish dressing, and when she returned, everything in its usual pristine place, he was halfway through a toasted bagel and reading her newspaper.
"Okay," Scully said, tossing another bagel in her toaster, "what's up?"
Mulder was eying her in some bemusement. "You know, you looked okay to me before," he told her.
She glared at him indignantly. "Great. Now I know you like your women to have petrified hair."
He grinned. "Like I can say anything about anyone's hair," and he self-consciously tweaked the stray bit of his own that was always either hanging in his eyes or sticking up like a signal.
Scully smiled in spite of herself. She would never tell him, of course, but she actually found that uncontrollable lock rather endearing - and from comments she'd occasionally overheard around the Bureau, she guessed she wasn't the only one. "Back to the original subject, Mulder - what brought you here in a lather, that couldn't wait until I reached the office?"
"Oh, that! I got a call from Washington PD this morning - they think they've found Agent Trioche's casket."
She paused in the act of buttering her bagel, and stared. "Have they opened it?"
Mulder nodded, and swallowed a mouthful of juice. "Yep."
His eyes sparkled. "It was empty!"
Scully quickly sat down. "Oh no - that's all we need, a body- snatcher."
"Hmmm - maybe not."
She gave him a weary look. "Mulder, I'm not ready to hear all that stuff about Marie-Monique being a vampire, again."
"Maybe she isn't," Mulder argued. "After talking to Vladia - "
"Vladia is probably delusional - "
"Like Martia Sljenka? Come on, Scully - you believed it last night!"
"Last night I'd had a blow to the head and I was sleep- deprived," Scully grumbled, "not to mention having spent several hours cooped up with Frohike."
"That was probably the highlight of his life." Mulder finished his bagel in a couple of bites, and dusted his hands off. "Eat up. We'll go take a look at the casket anyway, just to make sure it really is hers, then we'll see what the great vampire hunter has to say."
"Oh, I can't wait."
The casket definitely was Agent Trioche's - aside from fitting the description circulated, there were still a few long dark hairs clinging to the lining, along with one or two stains that Mulder tried not to examine too closely. It had been found abandoned in a parking lot, and the hunt was now on to find the missing contents.
Much to Scully's disgust, the local police were apparently running a pool on whether the dead Agent's remains would be found whole or not, and in what condition - Mulder was quick to hustle her away before she could kick up too much of a fuss.
"How can they do something like that?" she demanded, as she reluctantly bucked herself into the passenger seat. "She was a respected member of a fellow law enforcement agency - "
"It's not a matter of disrespect, Scully," Mulder sighed. "It's a matter of dealing with the fact that they're looking for a seriously decomposed corpse. It's just their way of handling with it. You're a pathologist - you're not going to tell me that some of your colleagues don't deal with working with bodies all the time by making a joke of them."
That was painfully true, although Scully had never dealt with it that way herself. She preferred to show some respect for the dead in their last and most undignified moments.
She was silent throughout the journey to Martia Sljenka's little shop.
The Sljenka's lived in a small two-bedroomed apartment behind the shop. Ringing the bell, Scully wondered suddenly who had been looking after Tomas Sljenka while Martia was in hospital - according to what she had heard Neil Le Vallon say the night before, it seemed the man was severely dependent upon her. But after several long minutes, the door was opened a crack and she saw a small, wizened old man in a wheelchair peering at her.
"Tomas Sljenka?" Mulder asked, fumbling in his pocket for his ID.
"Yes - who asks?" the man demanded suspiciously. His accent was similar to his daughter's, but considerably stronger.
Scully held out her badge for him to examine. "We're with the FBI, Mr. Sljenka - can we have a word with you?"
He sighed. "What happens now?" he asked in a quavering voice. "First they come and take my Martia away. Then they come and say she is sick and in hospital. And now - the FBI come here. Once no one would listen to me, and now no one will leave me alone."
"I want to listen to you, Mr. Sljenka," Mulder said gently. "In fact, I need your help."
Sljenka stared at him. "You see me, young one. I am help to no one now!"
"On the contrary, you may have information we need," Scully told him.
"Of what kind, this information?"
Mulder took a deep breath. "Sir, what do you know about Neil Le Vallon?"
Tomas Sljenka's bedroom was an archive dedicated - like Mulder's X-Files - to his personal search for the truth. His focus was merely narrower - the pursuit and understanding of vampires - and looking around her as the old man talked, Scully felt that Sljenka and Mulder had a great deal in common. The difference was that Sljenka had finally given up, his spirit broken at the same time as his back.
His family, he told them, was indeed Polish as Ryan Beeches had suggested. His wife Mara, however, had also been Jewish and they had escaped Poland shortly before the German invasion in 1939. For a long time they lived in England, initially among a small group of other Polish refugees in the south west, and then in London, where their children had been born. Sljenka himself was a teacher of Eastern European languages, and worked for a while as a translator.
Then in 1978 they had met Neil Le Vallon at a function at the Polish embassy. What he had been doing there, Sljenka no longer remembered, but four months later, having befriended him and welcomed him into their home, Mara and the couple's only son Kristian were dead.
Initially, Le Vallon was the prime suspect, but when insufficient evidence was found to support the allegations, especially given the peculiar details of the deaths, he was released and immediately fled to the United States.
Tomas Sljenka had been raised upon a diet of the old legends, and guessed what Le Vallon was and what he had done. Knowing that he needed evidence, and that Le Vallon would certainly be continuing his activities in America, the mild-mannered professor packed his belongings and took himself and his daughter across the Atlantic.
The rest - his fight to somehow bring about Le Vallon's conviction or demise - they knew ... except for one curious fact that both the police and the newspapers had failed to note.
"Understand me, I do not seek the destruction of all vampires," he told Mulder earnestly. "Consider two things - firstly, that despite its dark nature, the vampire is a tragic creature roaming the night, fearful of daylight, fearful of discovery, able to exist only on the lifeblood of others. Think of the difficulty of its existence in the modern world. Secondly, consider that mankind has no other natural predator, and therefore there is a place in the natural order for such a being. Indeed, no creature on earth exists against God's Will. And besides," a small smile crossed the old man's face, "I am one man. It would take the combined forces of your country's fine army to destroy every vampire living in North America."
Mulder chuckled at that, but Scully was less amused. "Mr. Sljenka, you surely can't condone a horde of these beings going around murdering people for their blood!"
He gave her a shocked look. "Of course not! If that were the case, the matter would be otherwise - but I can assure you that it is not so, Miss Scully. A vampire would tell you that it is against their own rules to take life unnecessarily."
Mulder was suddenly reminded of something Vladia had said. There's rules, FBI man.
"You're talking as if they have some kind of organised society," he observed. "What do you mean by 'rules'?"
"In a manner of speaking, they have got an organised society," Sljenka nodded. "All vampires have a leader, one who is older and more experienced than the others. The leaders form a network among themselves, organising such things as new identities, providing work for the others, ensuring that those unfortunates who somehow become one of their number are taken care of. Neil Le Vallon is just such a leader."
So that was the 'network' Scott Freeman had hinted at! But Mulder had a sneaking feeling that it was considerably more than Tomas Sljenka knew. The mention of fetishists being involved alone suggested that. "And they have rules?" he prompted.
Sljenka nodded. "The main rule - take no human life. Killings risk detection, so vampires usually have several 'hosts', or willing individuals who feed them. You would be surprised at the persons who are willing. The second rule - take no vampire life. A creature of the night, I discovered some time ago, can only be destroyed by one of its own kind. However, they also rely on each other for their existence and continued concealment, and so a vampire who kills its own kind cannot be trusted - in the same way that a politician who lies about his extramarital affairs cannot be trusted with affairs of state ... do you see?"
Mulder nodded slowly. "I think so. But what would happen to a vampire who broke those rules?"
Sljenka considered for a moment. "Initially?" he said finally. "I believe he would be ostracised, left to fend for himself. If he became a great enough threat, however - perhaps they would take the decision to execute him. I don't know. I do know that many other vampires are wary of Le Vallon and look askance upon some of his behaviour. They have not moved against him, I feel, because he is almost certainly the oldest of their number."
Scully leaned back in her chair, wondering how much of this stuff could be considered remotely credible. Two days before, she would have said not a word. After last night, however, she was less certain. "So how old do you believe he is?" she asked.
Sljenka wheeled himself over to his bookshelves and selected a box file, which he handed to the two agents. "You understand that most of the information in there is unsubstantiated," he said, his eyes bright, "but I believe that Neil Le Vallon - or Nicholas de Valiere le Vallon, as he was called - is, perhaps, two hundred and fifty, or even three hundred years old. There is evidence to suggest he may even have been a contemporary of de Sade."
"As in the Marquis de Sade?" Scully asked sceptically.
Sljenka shrugged. "You must believe what you will. After all, his background hardly matters - it is what he does today which is the main concern."
Mulder was leafing quickly through the file; it was composed of page after page of handwritten notes, copies of official documents - some decades old - from various authorities and even one or two European countries. At least four of the latter were death certificates. "This guy's had more lives than the proverbial cat," he commented to Scully, "but look at this!"
The most recent documents were from the Immigration
Scully's eyes widened and she took the file from her partner, leafing through it herself.
Mulder turned back to Sljenka. "What about the people who work for him?" he asked. "I met two last night - Scott Freeman and a guy called Jerome. Can you tell us anything about them?"
The old man smiled, and went back to his shelves, dragging out another file. "Jerome Costellero is a relative newcomer - he joined Le Vallon perhaps ten years ago, after a previous lieutenant - Karl Bhaer - left him. I don't know Jerome well, but I believe he may be loyal. Scott Freeman, however, I know well, I made a point of tracing his background when I first tracked Le Vallon down in 1980." He rummaged in the file and pulled out a paper which he passed to Mulder.
It was a copy of a birth certificate for Scott Richard Freeman, dated August 12th 1891, from the City of New York.
"He's looking good for a guy who's nearly a hundred and five years old," Mulder observed wryly.
"Le Vallon took him in when the change occurred and gave him work. In return Freeman gave him loyalty, but ...."
"But?" Scully questioned, looking up from the file and raising a brow.
"*But I think he is very aware of Le Vallon's failings," Sljenka said cautiously. "Understand me, I don't want to give you the idea that he might turn against Le Vallon. Then again - in the past, it was not unknown for him to offer me information on his whereabouts and activities. And Scott ... was not present when I was thrown from that building, although Jerome and some of the younger ones were."
Trying to help, but unwilling to admit it, Mulder thought. Another Vladia. That gave him an idea; he pulled the surveillance pictures of Vladia, and the other woman who had taken Agent Trioche's body, out of his pocket and showed them to Sljenka. "Sir, do you recognise either of these women?" Sljenka tapped a finger on the picture of Vladia at once. "This one, yes. She has been associated with the vampires in this city for a long time."
"She calls herself Vladia," Scully observed, "but we made a possible ID on her as Katerina Mircek."
He nodded. "She called herself that when I first met her, but I believe she has also been known as Elisabeta Borodzoi. From what I can deduce, she may once have been Romanian or perhaps Bulgarian - it is possible even she does not remember. But she is not a vampire - "
"No," Mulder agreed, "she's a lycanthrope - she told us that herself."
Sljenka's brows rose at that, but he made no comment, turning back to the pictures. "This other woman," he said thoughtfully, "I am not sure, but I believe she may be another of that kind, a female called Helena. I saw her perhaps once or twice in company with Karl Bhaer, but more than that I cannot tell you. I have not seen her since he left Le Vallon's company."
"What makes a creature like that?" Mulder asked curiously, "and what's the connection between werewolves and vampires?"
Sljenka rubbed his eyes wearily. "To create a werewolf, it is said among my people that the human must consume corrupted human flesh - in the old days that meant the flesh of another werewolf, or that of one who died unshriven or excommunicate. Since I cannot imagine how a woman such as Katerina Mircek could have come to do such a thing, however, I am ... dubious as to her origins. If she is willing to talk to you, perhaps you can discover the truth. As to the connection, it is said that there was a time when one creature could not exist without the other - the vampires feeding on the living blood, and the werewolves consuming what remained. I do not know. But perhaps that is why, despite their obvious disdain for one another, Katerina and Le Vallon are still together - in their own strange way."
Scully was glad to step outside into broad daylight once again; it was a relief to touch base with normality, given the strange morning they'd been having.
"All right, Mulder," she said, as they got back in the car. "How much of what he said do you believe?"
He smiled. "Guess."
Scully couldn't help but smile. "I might have known. But what use is it to us, ultimately?"
"Scully, you're a scientist - surely you're aware that no knowledge is ever worthless?" he teased.
"But will it help us find Agent Trioche's killer?" she pointed out.
Mulder sobered at that. "I think we probably already have, Scully. It's just a matter of working out how to catch him."
Scully became exasperated. "If you're referring to Neil Le Vallon, explain to me how he did it. Explain his motives. And explain why Martia Sljenka is determined to take the blame, when telling the true story might get him off her back forever."
"Do you really want to hear what I think?" he demanded.
Scully braced herself. "Go on, shock me, Mulder."
"Okay. Okay! Firstly, I don't think Marie-Monique is really dead, not as we use the term."
"We've already been over this - "
"No, listen to me! I think she is a vampire, but I think change occurred earlier than we thought."
Mulder chose to ignore this interruption. "We were wondering why the body was so corrupted, weren't we? But Scully, Trioche had been undercover for some time before she went missing, and most of that time must have been at night. I think she was changed early on - maybe right at the beginning - but managed to hide it, even from Klein."
"So you're saying that Neil Le Vallon changed her?"
"I think so."
Scully's brow furrowed. "But if that's the case, Mulder, what happened to the other role-players who died? Why didn't he do that to all of them?"
Mulder considered. "Let's take this back to the beginning. Sljenka said that vampires have a rule - they don't kill their hosts. But he also said - and Vladia and Martia both hinted - that Le Vallon doesn't necessarily follow that rule anymore. And Le Vallon was using Martia making her do things for him - host for him - as a guarantee that he wouldn't touch her father. Presumably one host isn't enough to feed a vampire safely, so maybe he was using the other role-players."
"They did all die of extreme blood loss," Scully said slowly.
"But why has Le Vallon taken to killing anyway, if it's so risky among the other vampires?" Then it dawned on her. "The Absinthe."
Mulder nodded, his eyes glowing. "It's causing behavioural problems - maybe has for a long time, depending on how long and how frequently he's been drinking it. Hell, we don't even know how it would affect a vampire!"
"But why was Marie-Monique different? Why turn her into a vampire? And for that matter, why is Ryan Beeches still alive?"
"He isn't," Mulder said, after a pause. "I'll bet you anything you like that he's a vampire too. It makes sense, and explains why Scott Freeman took him in. As for Marie-Monique, I don't think that was intentional. She's a trained FBI agent, Scully - maybe she struggled and somehow there was an exchange of blood. Anyway, I think someone, maybe Le Vallon or maybe someone else, tried to get Martia Sljenka to clean up by disposing of her. But it didn't work."
"If only another vampire could kill her, then Le Vallon would know sending Martia wouldn't work," Scully objected.
That was true. Mulder chewed it over for a while, then shook his head. "I don't know how that happened, but in any case, someone had a go and failed. I think Klein found her body, probably during daylight hours when she couldn't ... re-animate, and maybe shoving her in the chiller slowed the process down. Then someone else - or perhaps even the same person - got her out of the morgue later. And now she's either been disposed of properly - or she's back again.
"Either way, Le Vallon's cover has been blown sky-high this time. This isn't just a crazy old man with a grudge, this is the death of an FBI agent, and I think his time just ran out. I think we were allowed to find out about all this, in the hope that we would stop him."
Scully gave Mulder a very sober look. "And just how are we supposed to do that , partner?"
He returned the look equally gravely. "You know what they say, Scully - to catch a thief ...."
She raised a brow. "Vladia?"
Mulder started the car. "You got a better idea?"
"And how are you intending to find her?"
He steered out into the traffic flow. "Actually, I'm banking on Vladia finding us."
In the event, that happened faster than even Mulder could have hoped for - Vladia was waiting for them in the Bureau lobby, her face frantic.
"Did you tell him?" she demanded, seizing Mulder by the lapels when they approached her. "Did you tell Le Vallon about her?"
"Tell him what?" Mulder demanded, trying to detach her from his jacket without success. "Vladia, calm down - "
"Did you tell him that Martia had confessed to you?" Vladia all but shrieked, uncaring of the bustle going on around them.
Mulder's eyes were wide. "I might have mentioned it. Why?"
Vladia let go of him suddenly and took a couple of steps back. "They released her from the hospital today, and he will go after her. You must know that he will! He is not sane!"
The two agents exchanged glances, and Mulder grabbed the little woman's arm, steering her towards the elevators. "Come on, we have to talk."
"No, there is no time for talk - "
"If what you say is true, we have until sundown. Come on , Vladia - we have to phone around and find out where Martia is. And then you are going to tell us how to deal with Neil Le Vallon once and for all."
Vladia and Mulder sat in tense silence in the basement office, listening to Scully talking to the hospital over the phone.
"So when was she released?" she was saying. There was a long pause. "Do you know if the police officers watching her took her into custody? - No, no, it's not a problem - I'll give them a call. Yes - yes, of course .... Thank you." She hung up, and turned angry eyes to Mulder. "Washington PD called off the watch yesterday evening - she was discharged this morning, and the hospital has no idea where she went."
"Call the PD and find out what happened," Mulder advised her, reaching for his own telephone. "I'll call her father and see if she's gone home."
Vladia began to get restless, her brow furrowing with anxiety, but she bit her lip and said nothing.
Ten minutes later, it was evident that if Martia had gone anywhere, it wasn't home. Meanwhile, Scully was fighting to contain her anger as she slammed the receiver down again. "I don't believe those guys!" she fumed. "They called off the watch because their chief decided there wasn't enough evidence against Martia to hold her, let alone bring a charge. They told her not to leave town in case we needed to see her again!"
"Great," Mulder muttered. "Vladia, you know Martia better than us - where would she go?"
But Vladia shook her head. "I don't know her that well. But she'll know if Le Vallon is after her - Martia has the gift."
"That won't save her if he's determined to get some kind of revenge," Scully said sourly. "Now what?"
Mulder ran a hand roughly over his hair and looked at Vladia. "I guess we'd better get to Le Vallon before he gets to Martia. He must hole up somewhere during the day - have you got any idea where?"
She shook her head. "Most vampires, they just hang heavy curtains, cover the light sources, barricade the doors, and sleep through the day. But Le Vallon is one of the old kind; careful, suspicious. He'll have somewhere secure, preferably underground, but he's always careful not to let anyone know where. That's how he survived so long. And he wouldn't tell me, of all people. Anyway, if you knew where he was, you couldn't do nothing. You could do what you like, but by nightfall he'd be back again."
"But another vampire could destroy him," Mulder said quietly.
She twitched. "Another vampire wouldn't ! I told you, FBI, we have rules. We don't kill our own."
"Even when he's putting you all at risk?" Scully demanded. "Vladia, that's insane! What's the point of all the secrecy if someone like Le Vallon goes around blatantly killing people? What happens when he breaks the rules?"
Vladia bowed over her hands, shaking her head. "This never happened before," she said miserably. "In the old days it was different, easier to escape, easier not to be seen. The rules weren't made then, and they were, they weren't meant for to deal with madmen. I don't know what to do, no one does."
"One of you has to take a stand," Mulder told her softly. "That's the price of living free. It's no good dropping hints to us and hoping we'll somehow, by some miracle, find a way of dealing with him. One of you is going to have to do it."
Vladia put her head in her hands. "They won't help you, they won't . They're all too scared of what the others will do."
"Then it's going to have to be you."
She gave him a stricken look. "No ...."
Mulder's hand shot out and gripped her arm. "Yes! Vladia, what have you got to lose? You told us last night that you're always on the outside - they can't exile you more than you already are, and if you destroy Le Vallon, he can't send anyone after you. For God's sake, help us put an end to him!"
"God has left me outside the pale!" she spat back. "God left me when I became what I am - "
"What did you do, Vladia?" Scully asked suddenly, scenting the real issue at stake for this strange creature. "What made you what you are?"
Vladia pulled her arm away from Mulder, and huddled in on herself. "I consumed the forbidden," she said cryptically.
The tiny woman's eyes flashed. "There was plague! They sealed the town, and left us to die - there was no food for us anywhere. Those who survived the Black Death were starving, it was winter, we ate anything we could find - rats, bats, anything .... And in the end, we were so hungry, we didn't care anymore, and we fell on the dead and ate them too. So when they opened the gates again in the spring, they found nothing but wolves there ...."
Scully drew a breath. Don't think about the cannibalism, don't think about the fantastic story - "Vladia," she said carefully, "if you were starving to death, no one could blame you for what happened. It was terrible, yes, but not your fault!" Vladia turned her head away. "No, Vladia, listen to me! I was raised a Catholic, I know eating human flesh is considered a sin. But I was also taught that God is merciful, that the truly repentant are forgiven. I don't think that just because of what you are, you'll be any different.
"You told us last night that we didn't know what it was like, that you hadn't slept in nearly four hundred years. Well maybe the only sleep left for you is the final sleep. And if that's the case, I don't think you've got anything to be afraid of." Scully crouched down by Vladia's chair and clasped her hand, pitching her voice persuasively. "Do it, Vladia; help us help Martia Sljenka. Do it for your immortal soul."
For several minutes the issue seemed to hang in the balance; then Vladia drew a shaky breath and returned Scully's gaze.
"There is a place he sometimes goes, an abandoned church of the edge of the city. He keeps his books and his still there; it's where he takes his hosts sometimes."
"That's a starting place," Mulder said, relieved.
Vladia shook her head. "He don't sleep there - I've looked. But I know he goes there when he's mad. It's where he took your agent - Diva - and if he was going to do anything to Martia Sljenka, I think he'd take her there too. There's a chance he'll be there tonight, and probably alone. Scott and Jerome will be at the Tergoviste."
"Okay," Scully said, nodding. "Then I guess that's where we'll go. Can you kill him?"
The other woman looked doubtful. "I'm strong, but he's stronger. And it's better to behead him ...."
"If Scully and I can distract him, could you do it?" Mulder suggested.
She straightened her shoulders resolutely. "I guess I have to."
It was a tiny little Catholic church, looking abandoned and a little forlorn, sat on the edges of one of the capital's rougher districts. At some point, whatever priest had been in charge had given up and left; the windows and doors had been boarded up, but vandals had broken in and set light to it - the building was still present but it had been gutted by fire and sprayed with graffiti.
Taking a cautious survey in the afternoon, the two agents had forced their way inside and discovered that someone had also committed more than an ordinary act of desecration. On what remained of the stone altar were the stubs of candles and charred bones of a cat - a Black Mass had been performed. It gave Scully a terrible sense of sadness.
Vladia had shown them Le Vallon's lair; he had taken up residence in a cellar accessed through a trap-door in the former vestry, and had taken great care to keep it hidden. Inside they had found just what she had described; books, an Absinthe still, and a few other personal items. She had smashed the still herself.
Then they sealed it up, covering the trap-door with the heaviest items of wreckage they could find, and retreated outside to the car, to wait at a discreet distance for sunset.
The wait was a long one, and they were short on conversation.
Finally, Mulder remembered a couple of things that had been bothering him. "Vladia - you never told us about Ryan Beeches. And you never explained how you came to be in Agent Trioche's apartment, either."
The voice that came from the back seat was blackly amused. "Haven't you worked it out yet, FBI? Ryan wasn't changed by Neil Le Vallon - it was Diva."
Mulder exchanged startled looks with Scully, and turned to look at the little woman. "Explain."
Vladia sighed. "When the change first occurs, the new vampire is very hungry, almost insanely so. Most vampires take care of those they change - they feed them themselves until the bite of hunger is gone, and teach them how to survive. But Diva - she wasn't supposed to survive, to become a vampire. So when she escaped Le Vallon, she went to the first friend she knew - and that was Ryan. Fortunately, Martia found Ryan in time and gave him to Scott to care for, but she didn't know what to do about Diva.
"The next thing we knew, the others started turning up dead, and we didn't know if it was Diva or Le Vallon who had done it. So in the end, Martia did the only thing she could think of - she lay in wait for Diva outside her apartment block one night, and when she came home, Martia took her head off with an axe. But then she panicked, didn't know what to do with the body, and came to me. I told her Diva would be back again by the next night and we had to put her somewhere until she came round. It seemed best to put her back in the apartment, but we couldn't risk the security cameras catching us. So in the end, we put her body on a plastic sheet and between the two of us, we managed to carry it up the outside of the building and through the window."
Mulder was speechless; but Scully wasn't. "Why on earth, if you knew she was killing people, didn't you finish the job and make sure she was dead?" she demanded.
Vladia slumped back in the car seat. "You know why."
"The rules," Scully said, disgusted.
"Yeah - you don't have rules, lady?"
"So tell me this," Mulder said hastily. "Who took Agent Trioche's body from the FBI morgue?"
He saw Vladia look at him sharply in the rear-view mirror, and she looked genuinely puzzled. "I thought about that a lot," she said finally, "but I can't think who it was. Diva didn't have no contacts, she didn't have time to make them. I don't know who would do it."
"Tomas Sljenka identified the woman as "Helena"," Mulder suggested.
Vladia's eyes widened. "But she left the city a long time ago!"
"Looks like she's back, then," Scully observed dryly. "Who is she?"
Vladia shrugged. "Helena is like me - I don't know how, but she's younger. She's German I think, maybe it was something to do with the War. There were lots of changelings then."
"You know her well?" Mulder asked.
"No. We didn't - mix. It's like that now. In the old days, we would have stayed together, but it's not safe anymore."
"So how is she involved?"
"I don't know. She used to hang around, but when she got close to Karl Bhaer - you know Karl Bhaer?"
"We've heard about him," Mulder confirmed.
"When she got close to him, Le Vallon didn't like it. I think they even fought." For some reason, Vladia seemed to find this funny. "So Karl left, went out of the city, and Helena went with him." Vladia shook her head. "I don't know why she would even know about Diva."
Mulder wondered about that too.
In the end, it all seemed to happen so fast.
Le Vallon's car drew up just after sundown, and he got out - dragging with him a bound and gagged Martia Sljenka. He glanced around him almost casually, and pulled her inside the building.
"Damn!" Mulder hissed, flinging the car door open. "Vladia, whatever you do, don't try anything until we get Martia free of him -"
"You do your job, FBI man, and I do mine!" she snapped, pulling out the axe she had hidden under the seat.
Silence wasn't the two agents' objective; their aim was to distract the man long enough for Vladia to get at him. Glancing quickly at Scully's cool and collected face, Mulder nodded and they burst into the church.
Le Vallon had just reached the altar, dragging the struggling Martia with him; at the sound of the two agents' entrance, he swung around and pulled her in front of him, holding a knife to her throat.
There was something peculiar about that knife, not only in its curving shape, like a ritual athame, but in the curious dull sheen of the blade.
Later, Mulder was to curse himself for not seeing that and making the connection.
"I might have known I hadn't seen the last of you, Agent Mulder," Le Vallon said in an annoyingly casual voice. "Despite Scott's best efforts at a distraction - and he was so sure he could do it! - something told me that you weren't so easily put off. And this, I suppose, is your partner. Charming, I'm sure."
"I wish I could say the same," Scully retorted, keeping her gun trained steadily on him.
"You might as well put the guns away, you know," he continued, ignoring her. His eyes were bright, manic. "They aren't the slightest bit of use against me; and if you made a wrong move, I might slip and fatally damage my dear Martia here."
"Let her go, Le Vallon," Mulder grated.
"Ah, not yet! Martia and I have some unfinished business together, don't we, my dear?" Even in the dim light of the church, Mulder could see Martia's terrified eyes. "Meanwhile - "
Mulder never knew what alerted Le Vallon to Vladia's presence behind him. Perhaps she made some sound; but he knew - and in that second, he flung Martia away from him at the two agents and whirling, stabbed the knife into Vladia's stomach.
For a moment, it didn't seem to do any damage. Vladia jerked, bringing the axe down on him nonetheless, but her aim was off and it dug into Le Vallon's shoulder in a blow that would have incapacitated any other man. As it was, he staggered, letting go of the knife, and pulled away from her.
Only then did Vladia seem to realise what had happened.
The scream of agony that ripped from her throat was to haunt Mulder's dreams for months to come. The axe fell from her hands, her knees buckled, and Le Vallon laughed, shoving her to the ground.
Mulder fired, but although the round hit the vampire in the damaged shoulder, it never even gave him a pause. Lurching slightly, he tried to run for the back of the church; Mulder fired again, but missed.
Then there was a curious twanging noise, and Le Vallon fell to the floor, a narrow shaft of wood jutting out between his shoulder-blades.
For a second Mulder stared, disbelieving; then he turned, and saw a tall slender figure step out of the shadows by the door carrying a crossbow. It walked into a narrow shaft of moonlight sifting through the broken door, and he saw the face clearly.
It was Marie-Monique Trioche.
They tried to make Vladia as comfortable as they could, but from the amount of blood and her labouring breaths, it was quite obvious that there was nothing to be done.
The knife had been made of silver. Quite possibly it had even been made with Vladia in mind; given what Mulder knew of Le Vallon, he reflected rather bitterly that it probably had been.
Scully wanted to remove it, but Vladia refused to let her. "No," she gasped, very firmly. "It will - make no difference." But her eyes were fixed on Scully's. "Do you think - I will be forgiven - now?" she whispered hopefully.
Tears stung Scully's eyes. "I don't think you needed to do this to be forgiven, Katerina."
A faint smile touched the little woman's lips. "Good. Perhaps - I can now sleep." Her gaze wandered to Mulder, where he bent over her. "I should like very much to sleep - I am - so - tired ...."
And her eyes drifted shut.
"Oh damn ," Mulder whispered bitterly.
Leaving Scully and Martia with Vladia, he got to his feet and went to see what Trioche was doing. She was crouched by the desecrated altar, where Le Vallon had fallen; Vladia's axe was by her side and Mulder saw that she had decapitated the body.
She looked up as he approached, and saw his expression. "I was making sure," she explained, getting to her feet. "It was Karl's suggestion that I use the crossbow, to avoid getting closer to Le Vallon than necessary, but ... it's a funny thing," and she gave him a lop-sided smile. "He wasn't entirely sure that the bolt would do the job, but he thought it might , being wood and, in effect - "
"A stake," Mulder finished for her. He found it hard to return her smile, though, and after a moment, her's was gone too. She gave him a grave look.
"Is Vladia gone?"
"Don't grieve for her," Marie-Monique said gently. "Be happy. Whatever you saw - it wasn't the real her. It was someone she invented, to survive. Just like I'm not the real me anymore. Did she tell you that she couldn't even remember her real name anymore?"
"She was four hundred years old," Mulder replied curtly.
"Maybe. She didn't remember anymore, Agent Mulder - none of them do. And they're proud of not remembering, because they're afraid. I found that out really quickly. They say they can live forever, but living forever is horrifying - watching people grow old and die, living a half life, moving from existence to existence, being afraid of being found out."
She stared at him intensely. "They aren't human anymore. They invent games, elaborate charades, to hide their existence from themselves, because they can't face what they've become. Or they take drugs or drink, like Le Vallon. Vladia ... was more human than any of the others, and she suffered for it. Don't grieve for her. She's at peace now."
"And what about you?" Mulder demanded.
Marie-Monique smiled wryly. "Word has it that my cousin Adrienne is coming south to claim my body."
He nodded. "So what do I tell her, and AD Skinner?"
The smile widened. "You won't have to say anything."
They locked eyes for a moment; and then Mulder nodded slowly, understanding. "So tell me one thing - why did Helena get you out of the morgue?"
Marie-Monique shrugged. "Two reasons, I think. One was that they were afraid I might reanimate there and cause chaos. The other - well, I'm not sure ...."
"They wanted you to get Le Vallon for them."
Her eyes were grimly amused. "You'd never get them to admit that, of course. Always supposing you could ever find them, which I doubt anyhow. You'll be hard put to find any vampire in this city after tonight, Agent Mulder - "
He looked around; Scully was gesturing to him urgently, so he and Marie-Monique hurried over to her.
"Look," Scully said softly.
Where Vladia's body had been was a pathetically small and shrivelled cluster of bones and dust.
"She just - began to corrupt in front of us," Scully explained, with some difficulty. "It's as though she died decades ago - "
"Not decades," Martia interrupted her. "Centuries." She stood up and looked at the other three. "She must be buried. A Christian burial." It wasn't a question.
No one disagreed with her.
It was a very small, quiet funeral, attended only by Tomas and Martia Sljenka, and the two FBI agents. Tomas had known of a Russian Orthodox priest who had been willing to perform the private ceremony that consigned the late Katerina Mircek to the earth at last. There was no date of birth on the small headstone, and no inscriptions; just her name and the date she died, but it was considerably more than Vladia had ever expected of her existence, and the grave under a small flowering cherry tree was peace enough after four hundred years of turmoil.
When the two agents returned to their car, a young man was stood beside it, waiting for them. He was blond and in his early twenties, and he was no one either of them knew.
"Agents Mulder and Scully?" he asked, smiling tentatively. "I'm Luke Harris - Scott Freeman sent me."
Mulder stiffened slightly in surprise. Scott Freeman and Ryan Beeches had vanished after Neil Le Vallon's long-overdue demise, and the Tergoviste club had been closed up. "Where is Mr. Freeman these days?" he asked.
But Harris shook his head. "I don't know. He visited me a couple of nights ago with some stuff he wanted me to pass on to you, and that was the last time I saw him." He smiled a little wistfully. "I was one of his hosts, you see."
Well, that explained something . "What did he want?" Scully asked.
In reply, Harris bent and picked up a large plastic bag which had been sat at his feet. He offered it to her. "He said you should have this - there's a letter inside explaining." When Scully didn't take it, he shrugged and put it on the hood of the car. "It's nothing dangerous - I checked. Anyway, that's all." He waited, but when neither of them said anything, he shrugged again and walked away.
After a moment or two, Mulder gingerly peered inside the bag, and then relaxed. He pulled out a plain white envelope - there was nothing written on the outside, so he tore it open and pulled out a single sheet of paper.
"Dear Fox - "
Mulder grimaced, but forced himself to continue.
" - I thought you should know that under the circumstances, Ryan and I have decided to move on and start again somewhere else. For what it's worth, I feel you should know that no one seems to harbour any resentment against yourself or Agent Scully for what had to be done, but you'll understand if we none of us want to hang around to watch the fall-out either. In the bag are what valuables the late "Vladia" possessed. It fell to me to find her things and dispose of them - as you will see, she didn't own much, but I believe she would have wanted yourself and Agent Scully to have them. The book, from something Diva said, I believe is something you will appreciate; the other items, from what she tells me, I suspect Vladia would wish Agent Scully to have. Finally, I'd like to express my personal gratitude both to yourselves and to Martia Sljenka for arranging her decent burial. I would have liked to have been there - contrary to popular opinion, I held her in quite high regard, despite Mr. Le Vallon's personal sentiments. I don't think we're likely to cross paths again, so I will simply wish you both well."
It was unsigned, but that was irrelevant. Mulder handed the paper to Scully, and investigated the contents of the bag.
There were three items: a small and exquisite gold-ornamented wooden triptych; a little rosewood box containing a delicate silver crucifix; and a leather-bound first edition of "The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam".
Mulder drew out the latter very carefully, running his fingers over the fragile hand-cut pages, before opening it at random.
"Then to the rolling Heav'n itself I cried, Asking, "What Lamp had Destiny to guide Her little Children stumbling in the Dark?" And - "A blind understand- ing! Heaven replied."
Mulder smiled faintly, and shut the book again very gently.
"What's Marie-Monique going to do now?" Scully asked him a while later, when they were back in the office. She was trying to compose a report for Skinner, but was at a loss to know what to say about the Agent Trioche's reappearance.
Mulder paused over his own hand-written first draft, and stared at his pen for a moment. "She told me to let the search go ahead for her body," he said at last, "and I got the impression there would be something found shortly."
Scully gave him a perplexed look, but he volunteered nothing else. She sighed, and went back to her keyboard, wondering just how much of the investigation and its results the Assistant Director would be prepared to swallow.
Probably not much.
Marie-Monique Trioche was sat on the Lincoln Memorial in the early hours of the next morning. She had a bottle of red wine with her which she was drinking from unhurriedly. At one point, she paused to consult her watch, and smiled.
It was nearly time.
And as the first fingertips of dawn light began to appear over Washington DC, she raised the bottle to it in a salute, drained the last mouthful, and sat back comfortably to await the coming sunrise.
The bell above the shop door tinkled softly as the tall, lean, dark-haired man hesitantly pushed it open. He still hadn't entirely convinced himself that he wanted to do this, but the woman who ran this shop had information he needed; and that, as ever, was his overriding concern.
Like someone else before him, he noted the unusual absence of overpowering smells in the little New Age shop; he looked around him, cataloguing the displays of books, tapes and esoteric objects, and admired the unusual rug on the floor - before being startled nearly out his skin by the unexpected appearance of a small, dark-haired woman behind the counter. They stared at each other in a bemused silence for several moments, before the woman tilted her head to one side and gave him a thoughtful smile.
"Agent Mulder. How can I help you?"
For a moment, he didn't know quite what to say; then the log- jam broke, and the words came tumbling out. "My partner - Scully - she came to you at the beginning, and you did a reading on her - "
To her credit, Martia Sljenka didn't laugh at his schoolboy nervousness. It was possible she didn't even feel the urge. "So?"
Mulder took a step forward, looking at her with a combination of wariness and something that bordered on being shy. He was accustomed to demanding answers to awkward questions, no matter how uncomfortable they were; but he didn't like personal stuff. He had a difficult history which had taught him that personal was risky.
This was definitely bordering on the risky side. "What did you say to her?" he managed.
"I told her what she needed to know," Martia replied tranquilly.
"No," Mulder said, beginning to feel a niggle of irritation up his spine, "not about the case. What did you tell her about - "
He glowered at her. "Sure. That's not what she said to me."
"Semantics," Martia explained, unruffled. "I told her nothing about you as such, nothing that she did not already know. About her future and how it involved you ... well, that is a different matter. That was hers to know, her business. I tell my clients only their own stories, Agent Mulder. Your story is your own. But that is why you are here, is it not?"
"I didn't come here to have my cards read!" Mulder snapped. "I came here to find out what you said to Scully that upset her so much -"
"*Is she upset?" Martia asked interestedly.
He hesitated. Maybe "upset" wasn't quite the right word. "Different" would probably be better ... or "edgy". She was definitely edgey these days, with him at least.
"And if she is," the clairvoyant continued, "why must it be my fault?"
And of course, that was the crux of the matter. It wasn't Martia Sljenka's fault. The blame must be laid squarely on Mulder's shoulders, if there was anything wrong.
Martia smiled at the wide range of expressions crossing Mulder's usually smooth and controlled face, and stepped back, pulling a bead curtain back from a door behind the counter. "Perhaps we should discuss this further - would you care to step inside?"
I'm going to regret this, Mulder thought sourly. I am most definitely going to regret this. But he had promised himself a short while ago that he would deal with this uncomfortable situation between himself and Scully, before it drove him to the bottle and her to the transfer forms.
Martia chose a different method of divining Mulder's life history to that she had used with Scully. He was a different character to his partner, an amazingly tangible presence; it wouldn't take much to discover where he was going in life, and she wouldn't need to hold his watch to do it, either.
Mulder winced slightly when the Tarot cards came out, thinking of all the frauds he had encountered over the years, but couldn't suppress the usual tingle of interest in the subject matter. If nothing else, he rationalised, this would prove an interesting experiment to add to the many cases in his files.
Martia unwrapped the pack from a black silk scarf and held them out to him. "Shuffle," she said, in a tone that brooked no nonsense, and Mulder did as he was told, struggling to get a decent grip on the outsized cards even with his larger hands. He wondered how on earth she managed; she was a tiny little doll of a woman, with hands that were smaller even than Scully's dainty mitts.
"You might wish to meditate upon yourself while doing that," Martia added, breaking into his thoughts. "Consider who you are and what you are seeking."
"That might take longer than we have," he pointed out.
She raised a brow. "*I have all day," she replied tranquilly. "Are you in a hurry?" Her expression said that she wasn't impressed by his attempts at humour.
Mulder suppressed a sigh, and handed the cards back. This was going to be a long and painful morning if she was going to be this humourless.
Martia accepted the pack, running her fingers lightly over it with interest. Unusual vibrations he had left in them; almost as though he knew where his life was going, and a large part of him didn't like it. A vague resentment shimmered. She shot a quick glance up at him, and his posture and expression confirmed her thoughts, making part of Martia Sljenka smile. A typical male; he didn't mind where he was going so much, but he resented being hog-tied and dragged there.
She wondered where he had got that idea from. If coercion was what he feared, he was in for a big surprise; nothing she had seen in Agent Scully's future suggested anything but a rocky and tempestuous road ahead for them, and some of the things she had seen had been disturbing to her.
Well, maybe his reading would shed more light on the matter. The clairvoyant began to lay the cards out on the table between them in a simple pattern. This was only the first of several readings she would make.
Mulder watched the cards being overturned and began to grow uneasy. The spread was unfamiliar to him, but he knew more than a little about the cards themselves.
The Magician. The High-Priestess. The King of Swords. The Queen of Wands. The Chariot. Death. The Wheel of Fortune. Judgement. The Two of Cups. The Ace of Wands. The Sun.
A set of cards that seemed to suggest - from his admittedly amateur viewpoint - that someone had a period of violent change heading towards them, followed - if they were lucky - by a period of lasting peace or contentment.
But Mulder had never considered himself a lucky person.
Martia Sljenka bent over the cards, studying them, and her demeanour became cool and distant. "Are you ready to begin?" she asked him tranquilly.
He clasped his hands between his knees, absurdly nervous, and nodded.
To Mulder's relief, the curious atmosphere that had gripped the back room for the last three hours was missing from the shop when they walked out. He didn't know quite what to think about what Martia had told him, and it was easier to condemn the whole experience as charlatanry in broad daylight.
She was aware of what he was thinking, and it amused her. "Your partner told me you were the one who would find what I did interesting," she observed, her lips twitching.
"Oh, I do, I do!" he said hastily, running a hand over his hair nervously. "It's just ...."
"It is not what you wished to hear?"
He shot her a dark look. "Actually, I was thinking that it's amazing how imprecise you people can be."
"We clairvoyants?" Martia shrugged. "Perhaps. But how precise do you wish me to be, my friend? I cannot make your choices for you. You are a man on a quest, and as I see that quest it is a pathway. Like many paths, it forks - you stand at the brink of that fork and must make a choice. I have told you that whichever prong of that fork you take, your quest will - ultimately - end in the same way. There are too many variables to tell you what that end will be. But I can tell you this much - one path leads to disaster for you, and contrary to what you think you saw in the cards, it is not the most obvious route."
Mulder shot her a half-guilty, half-amused look. He had been trying to read the cards for himself - not that it had done him much good. It looked like a hell of a lot of strife to him. So what's new? his cynical alter-ego demanded. Doesn't that just fit perfectly with your current lifestyle?
"That's the first time anyone's used The Magician as my significator card," he said aloud. "In other readings I usually came up as The Fool."
"Yes, there are a great many frauds reading the cards," Martia agreed, deadpan.
Mulder chuckled in spite of himself. He glanced around the shop, and his eye fell on something. "Since I'm here, can I take one of these?"
Martia obligingly helped him select the required article, and wrapped it in bright paper. "She will like it," she observed encouragingly, as she handed back his Mastercard, "especially as you do not buy her presents."
Mulder glowered. "Did she tell you everything about me?"
"No. You did."
He sighed. He obviously wasn't going to win any verbal sparring matches with Martia Sljenka.
Martia smothered a grin. "You should ask her about her own reading, you know," she told him.
"She already told me," he retorted.
"Not everything. She obviously didn't tell you about the children." And the little Polish woman quickly ducked behind the beaded curtain before an indignant Mulder could explode and tell her precisely what he thought of her clairvoyant abilities and her damn sense of humour.
Scully was contemplating a nice long soak in the bath when the doorbell rang, as though the thought of bath oils had conjoured the visitor.
It could be worse, she consoled herself. After all, she could have been in the bath when the interruption occurred. Or worse still, it could have been Mulder phoning her up, which was more likely.
She peered through the spyhole, and groaned. It was even worse than that; Mulder himself was at the door. Just what she needed - another four or five hours of arguing about the long-overdue demise of the late Katerina Mircek, a.k.a. Vladia, the unconfirmed Wolf-Woman of Washington D.C.
Scully sighed, and reluctantly took off the chain and unlocked the door. "Mulder, what do you want? It's Friday night, I'm tired and I really don't want to spend the rest of the evening talking about work."
He stared at her, wide-eyed, for a moment; then produced something from behind his back. "Pax, domina?" It was a bottle - a very large bottle - of decent red wine.
This was so unprecedented that it took Scully's brain a few moments of skittering confusedly around before she registered that he was apparently apologising. Which was even more unprecedented. And it would have helped if she knew exactly what he was apologising for, although that seemed rather less important for the time being.
"You don't drink," she said uncertainly.
Mulder's smile was a bit nervous and lopsided. "I - ah - think I'm probably going to need to," he confessed.
Scully's expression became one gigantic question-mark. "Meaning?"
"Meaning - can I come in?"
She gave him a dubious look, but stood back so he could pass her. He was carrying a large flat parcel in the other hand, which piqued her curiosity. "What's that?" she asked as she shut the door.
"What - ? Oh!" Mulder put the parcel down at the side of the door. "Nothing much."
Scully peered at him warily, and pushed a strand of hair behind one ear in a familiar nervous habit. He wasn't behaving normally, and from experience she knew that generally meant trouble. All the same .... "Mulder, you haven't been drinking already, have you?"
He gave her an indignant look, brows raised, which was reassuringly Mulder-normal. "Scully, you wound me! No, I haven't ... yet."
They stared at each other for a moment, and Scully took a deep breath, wondering what on earth was going on. There was a very guarded look in Mulder's eyes, as though he had something difficult to say and wasn't sure how it would be received.
"Okaaaay," she said finally, and headed for the kitchen to find a couple of glasses.
When she returned to the living room, Mulder had dumped the bottle and his jacket on the coffee table and was stood by her CD player, examining the case of the disk currently playing.
"You like Loreena McKennitt, Mulder?" she asked, a little dryly, and mentally added: Not very likely!
He looked up and shrugged, smiling slightly. "It's not that - it's just, I could have sworn the lyrics were from "The Lady of Shalott"."
"They are. That's why this track is called "The Lady of Shalott"."
"Well I never!"
Scully couldn't help it; she gave a little snort of laughter at that. "Where did you pick that phrase up?"
He grinned. "Friend in England. She used to say it all the time."
Scully's smile slipped slightly. "Phoebe?"
He twitched. "Actually, no. Phoebe did say it, but it didn't have the same Agatha Christie ring as when Mary said it."
Her curiosity was piqued again. "Mary?"
He gave her a sidelong look, and smiled, perhaps a little reminiscently. "Mary Trevithick. I shared a house with her and a couple of other guys for a while - she had a huge collection of Queen singles, and a constant supply of baked beans on toast and coffee for all-night sessions."
"All-night sessions of what? Or shouldn't I ask?"
Mulder grinned. "All nights sessions of anything - cramming for the next morning; listening to music; reading plays and poetry ... Mary was a Tennyson fan too. I think we spent three consecutive evenings taking "In Memoriam" apart and putting it back together."
"After which, I imagine you all had to be forcibly restrained from opening a vein," Scully observed, amused.
"Yeah, it was pretty depressing, although we had a lot of fun with parts of it. Alex - Alex Daimant, he was Australian - was convinced Tennyson was confessing a homosexual affair in it, so we spent one whole evening trying to find evidence to support the theory." Mulder shook his head, laughing a little. "I don't think we did find any direct evidence, but Mary really got into this idea that Tennyson was referring to self-mummification in part five." He reluctantly put the disk box back on the shelf, and turned to face Scully. "Are we going to drink this wine?"
"If you insist." She looked at him thoughtfully. "What's this about, Mulder?"
But the wary, skittish look was back in his eyes almost at once. "Not until I've had at least a glassful," he said firmly.
"Okay. But if you don't drink often, you'll be under the table in no time," she warned him. "And I can't pick you up!"
"That's okay, I've slept in worse places. In fact - " Mulder sat down on floor beside the table, crossed-legged, and gave her a wry little smile.
Scully rolled her eyes and deposited herself on the sofa, pulling her feet up underneath her. She pushed the bottle towards him. "Okay, open it up and let's get started."
There was a pause in which he busied himself easing the cork free.
"How often do you drink, Scully?"
"Probably as often as you do."
"Good, we'll get drunk together." Mulder handed her a glass, and solomnly clinked his own against it. "To verbal ineptitude."
She wrinkled her brow a little at that, but let it pass. "What do you want to talk about?"
"Tennyson's fine until I'm half-cut."
Scully frowned a little. "Why do you have to be drunk, Mulder?"
He shifted uneasily. "Because I don't think it'll come out unless I am."
They stared at each other, and suddenly Scully began to get an inkling of what this was about, from his uncomfortable posture and the way his eyes couldn't hold hers for long. "I'm not a big Tennyson fan, Mulder," she said slowly.
He relaxed a fraction. "You don't like "The Lady of Shalott", Scully?"
"Oh yes! But not because it's Tennyson."
"No." She gave a a level, almost defiant look. "Actually, in some ways it reminds me of me and you."
He blinked. "Really?"
"Hmm." She took a swig of the wine in her glass.
"You see me as Sir Lancelot?"
That gave Scully a pause, especially when she saw the mischievous glint in his eyes as he took a sturdy swallow from his own glass.
"'Cause you don't strike me as the kind of woman who'd sit in a tower and weave all day just because there might be a curse on you."
"No?" she asked, a little weakly.
"No," he said firmly. "I think you'd have looked out of the window long before Lancelot came along, just to see what all the fuss was about. In fact, I don't think you'd have let yourself be shut up in the tower in the first place. But then, you're not really a Lady of Shalott, Scully - you're more of a Morgan Le Fay."
"But she was a witch!" Scully protested, a little injured.
"Yeah," Mulder agreed, adding simply, "but she was much more intelligent than the other women at Camelot."
An hour later saw the bottle finished, and Scully dug out a bottle of white and a half-bottle of Dubonnet she had stashed away for special occasions. Neither of them was drunk yet, but they were definitely more ... relaxed. She had abandoned her upright posture in favour of lying on her stomach along the sofa with her chin resting on one arm, and Mulder was now flat on his back on the floor below her with his wine glass propped precariously in the middle of his chest. Arthurian legend had been shelved after a spirited argument over the respective morals of Guinevere and Morgan Le Fay, and they had passed on to college stories, Mulder confessing to having played Lady Bracknel in "The Importance of Being Earnest" ("There were only two women in the company"), in return for Scully telling him about how the cadaver got in the fountain at Hallowe'en ("It was the Peculiar Punch and Creepy Crackers - don't ask").
And at some point it occurred to Scully that if they never got to the bottom of what Mulder had come to say, she had still gained another small insight into him.
"Mulder," Scully said, after a long thoughtful pause, "can I ask you a personal question?"
He blinked up at her, a little hazy from the wine but by no means drunk. "Sure."
"You don't have to answer if you don't want to."
"Did you want to marry Phoebe?"
There was a long pause; so long, that Scully became worried and peered over the edge of the couch at him. But he didn't appear to be offended; he looked as though he was giving the question some serious thought.
"I don't know," he confessed finally. "I can remember us talking about getting engaged - in fact, we did get engaged, for a whole week, so I guess I did, once."
"A week ?!"
Mulder looked a little pensive. "Looking back, I think she probably wanted the ring. Then she went off with whatsisname - the lawyer." He corrected himself a little bitterly. "Excuse me - the barrister ."
"Didn't she give it back?" Scully asked softly.
He twisted his head a little and squinted, to get a better look at her. "Give back what?"
"No, of course not."
"She should have."
"Why? I gave it to her, it was hers."
Scully frowned. "That's not the point, Mulder - if a girl's going back on her promise, she's supposed to give back the ring."
He looked a bit bemused. "Would you give it back, Scully?"
She flushed slightly. "I did give it back."
He gazed up at her. "You were engaged? You never told me before."
At least he didn't sound surprised, only curious. That fact was an odd balm to her ego; at least he didn't find it strange that she had been on the brink of marriage once. "It didn't last long," she admitted, "but it was longer than a week."
"Who was he?"
She gave him a crooked smile, and told herself very firmly that she was not going to cry about it. "Who do you think? Jack Willis." He registered his surprise with a blink, but said nothing, for which Scully was grateful. "It was a good thing we split up," she added.
"What happened?" His voice was soothingly neutral.
Scully hesitated, twisting the corner tassel on one of her cushions. "I think - that is - We had different ideas about what marriage meant." She paused - and suddenly the rest came out in a rush. "I found that out after the - the miscarriage."
She couldn't look at him; she stared at the cushion instead, pulling on the tassel viciously. So she was startled when he gently touched her cheek.
"I'm sorry," he said gently. "You don't have to talk about it."
Scully smiled a little blindly. She was fine; she was absolutely not going to cry. "It - it's okay. It's just - I never told anyone that before, not even Mom."
For some reason, Mulder wasn't surprised at that. "They say there's truth in wine," he agreed.
"Willis didn't want kids?"
A pathetic little laugh tore itself from Scully's throat. "That's an understatement. He - well - when it happened, he said it was a good thing. And - and he wanted to reconsider getting engaged."
Mulder opened his mouth to comment - and shut it again, reconsidering. Bastard.
"And it was for the best," Scully added firmly. Of that much she was certain, and she had cause to be grateful later that he'd chosen to break things off. She said as much.
Mulder gave her a steady look though. "But that doesn't make what he did any the less hurtful." He took a deep breath. "And ... knowing that Phoebe was incapable of being faithful, knowing that what she did to me was no different to what she did to every other guy she dated, and knowing she'd do the same to that barrister - none of that made a difference either. It hurt like hell."
"And still does," Scully said softly.
Mulder looked up at her quickly, poised to deny it - and met her eyes.
She understood. There was no condemnation, no contempt.
"Yeah," he admitted, "I guess it does still hurt."
Definitely there was truth in wine. But not all of the truth. Not yet.
The Dubonnet was very smooth and sweet after the white wine, and Mulder was discovering a real reluctance to make any kind of movement from where he was lying on the floor. Scully had donated one of her cushions to him, and she was now curled up comfortably on the sofa, one hand curled around her middle, the other carefully cradling the wine glass against her chest.
Not much had been said after the Phoebe and Jack revelations, both of them appreciating the comfortable silence that sprang up between them. Mulder, however, was turning over what had been said in his mind.
"Scully ..." he said hesitantly, at last.
"Did you regret the miscarriage itself? I mean - did you want the baby?"
Although it took her a moment or two, it never occurred to Scully not to answer. "Looking back, I don't," she said slowly. "I regret everything that happened because of it ... and I regret being stupid enough to let it happen. But realistically speaking, it would probably have been disastrous. Jack aside, I don't think I was really ready to be a mother, although I would never have got rid of it deliberately. And it wasn't just because of my career," she added, before he could comment. "I don't think I was ready to take on that kind of responsibility then."
"What about now? Would you want kids?"
Scully grinned and peered at him precariously over the edge of the sofa. "What - right this minute?"
He grinned back. "Is this where you spring it on me that you already have a couple stashed somewhere with foster parents?"
"No - but I had a horrid vision for a moment that you were going to say something like that to me ."
"Nah, not me - I always practice safe sex."
"Yeah, I'd say celibacy's pretty safe."
Scully laughed. "It's not infectious diseases I'm worried about, Mulder - it's all that raw animal passion you keep bottling up, like a volcano ready to blow."
He grinned evilly, but waved his wine glass in front of her nose. "You've uncovered my cunning plot; you'll be safe for tonight at least. I doubt I'll be able to get myself up off the floor - let alone get anything else up."
"Oh. Does that mean I won't be safe tomorrow, then?"
Mulder paused, and squinted up at her again. It almost sounded like she was disappointed.
Cool blue eyes, a little hazy from the wine but entirely conscious and focussed, returned the stare, and one auburn eyebrow arched in challenge.
Uh-oh. Time to face the music.
Mulder got a grip on his panic reflex, and was mildly surprised at how easy it was for once. Well, that was what he'd got drunk for, wasn't it? That, and to ensure his legs weren't capable of taking him anywhere when the panic reflex kicked in.
"Scully, the only thing you'll be at risk from tomorrow is my hangover," he told her.
She rolled over onto her back, and from where he was lying, Mulder couldn't see her face anymore. There was a hand, complete with a glass dangling from it, though. He swiped the glass, setting it unsteadily on the coffee table beside him, and gave the hand a tug. "Hey, are you still with me?"
"Don't pull that too hard, Mulder, or I'll literally be with you - on the floor." She rolled back so that she was peering down at him again.
"I can think of worse fates."
"Not the way I'm feeling right now. It might not be a good idea to upset my stomach."
In spite of himself, and in spite of the serious speech he meant to make, Mulder grinned. And she was always accusing him of being flippant! "Aw, Scully - such a romantic!"
"Was I supposed to be romantic?" she enquired.
Her tone was deadly serious, and Mulder's throat abruptly dried up. He took a quick sip from his glass, and gave her a look of trepidation. "You're not making this very easy, Scully," he told her quietly.
He got a small smile in return. "Why should I? You're the one who turned up on my doorstep with a bottle of wine and said you couldn't talk without getting drunk. That's not exactly flattering, is it?"
"Scully - " He almost visibly groped for words. "I didn't mean it like that - it's just, I can't - "
She grabbed his hand and held it tightly. "I know that, Mulder. I know you find it hard to articulate how you feel, but - but I can't read your mind, however much I might want to. You've got to say something ."
"*Do you want to read my mind, Scully?"
"When? When I ditch you?"
She raised a brow at him. "Guilty conscience, Mulder?"
He smiled, but it was a little forced and bitter. "Guilty as charged, ma'am."
"Well actually, I was thinking of all those times when you start to say something, then seem to think better of it. And all the times you stare at me for no good reason. And - want me to go on?"
Yes, he thought reprehensibly. "No, it's okay, I think I get the picture," he told her.
"So." Scully shifted the cushion under her head a little, so that she could lean on it and still look down at her partner. "Are you going to tell me why you came here tonight and got me drunk?"
He took another steadying breath. "Yeah."
She smiled. "The floor's yours." After a moment, she added, "Take your time."
Not likely! If he took his time, he'd never say it. "Scully - you know that evening after we went to the Tergoviste Club ...."
"I remember," she nodded.
"We were talking and you asked me if I'd let regulations stop me having an relationship with my - No, that's not right." He sighed. "Let's be accurate. You wanted to know if I'd let regulations stop me having a relationship with you . Didn't you?"
"Thanks to Martia Sljenka's crystal ball, it was you and me we were talking about at the time, Mulder. And you said you wouldn't."
"So you asked me if I had personal reasons that would stop me. And I didn't answer you."
"No," she agreed.
Mulder swallowed. "I think you know what the answer is, Scully."
Scully closed her eyes. "Samantha. Yeah, I know."
"*No !" he exclaimed violently. "*Not Samantha. Scully ... finding Samantha wouldn't be the issue. It's just ...." He scrubbed a hand over his hair, trying to find the right words. "It's not that I don't find you attractive, because God knows I do. It's not that I haven't thought about it before, because I have - more often than you can imagine. But ...."
"But what?" she asked, and was pleased to note that her voice didn't crack or quiver on the two words.
Mulder made a small frustrated sound in his throat. "*But - stuff." He pushed his forgotten wine glass onto the coffee table beside hers, and folded his arms tightly over his middle. "Stuff like - how the hell do we keep on working together and manage a relationship."
"Mulder, we could work something out. We're professionals, there's no reason why we can't keep the two things separate - "
She blinked, confused and a little hurt by his curt tone. "No?"
Mulder stared up at her intensely. "No, Scully. Not if you're talking about keeping it secret."
"Mulder, the first thing they'd do is split us up, if they knew," she pointed out reasonably.
"Exactly. But I'm damned if I'm going to snatch a few minutes here and there with you, and pretend nothing's going on. Dammit, Scully! We're single, we're over the age of consent - why the hell should we act like we're doing something we're ashamed of? But that one lousy Bureau regulation could put us in a position where we could be blackmailed - and we're in a risky enough position as it is. Besides, I'm not having us in a situation where every snide remark by an asshole like - like Colton leaves us wondering if the next phone call we get is from Skinner and the OPC. If we start any kind of relationship, then it's going to be out in the open. That way, if the little creep has something to say, I can look him in the eye and say "yeah, but she's MINE, cheese-features!"."
Scully, who had been looking suspiciously misty-eyed during his unexpected speech, gave a little snort of laughter at this last, making him grin reluctantly.
But it faded in a moment. "That's not all," he continued quietly. "There's other stuff. Like - I'm assuming you want to get married at some point."
Scully bit her lip. "I'm beginning to think it's not going to happen," she began tentatively.
"But you'd like to get married, wouldn't you?" Mulder interrupted.
"Yes - "
"So would I."
Scully nearly fell off the sofa. She stared at him, but his expression was perfectly serious.
"I'm not winding you up," he assured her. "Supposing - just supposing - we could sort the situation out at work somehow. If we started a relationship, Scully, I'd hope it would be with the eventual intention of getting married."
She gazed at him, bemused. "I never saw you as the marrying type, Mulder."
His sudden smile was a little self-deprecating. "Well, it's not as if I've been drunk enough to talk about it before. When I'm sober, this all gets locked in a vault somewhere here - " he said, tapping his chest. "Besides, up until a week ago I didn't seriously think you'd want to hear it."
She smiled back. "So, is there more?"
His smile slipped slightly. "Yeah, I was just getting to the difficult bit. Do you want kids?"
"Yes," she admitted reluctantly, after a pause.
"Don't die of shock, but - so do I. At least ... there's a very large part of me that keeps saying I'm missing something important by not having them. Which is weird, because I never used to want kids."
Scully smiled at his bemused tone. "Not only women get baby- blues, Mulder. I'll admit I wasn't expecting that from you, but ... where's the problem?"
He looked away for a second - and when he looked back, there was something very like fear in his eyes. "I've got to ask myself, Scully - would any kids of mine be safe? Would any kids of ours ?"
There was a long silence while Scully absorbed this. "I assume you're referring to the enemies we've both made," she said finally.
"Yeah," Mulder said bitterly.
"I can see where you're coming from," she said quietly, "and I can see why you're afraid. But Mulder - try looking at it this way. Tomorrow morning I could be nipping out early to get some milk. I've still got enough alcohol in my system to qualify as being over the legal limit; and I've got a hangover headache which is distracting me and making me careless. So when I go to cross the road, I'm not looking and - do you get my drift?"
He nodded reluctantly.
"Okay. So stretch that point a little further. Somehow we work out all the problems, get married and have kids. One day we're all out in the car, and a drunk driver plows into us from the opposite direction."
He looked up at her uncomfortably. "You're saying that life's a risk."
"Yeah, but Scully - our lives are a much bigger risk than usual."
"Maybe. But are you willing to let those risks rule your life, Mulder? Maybe in order to have something you really want, you're just going to have to be a lot more careful." A touch of affectionate humour entered her voice. "Although how you could possibly be more paranoid than you already are, is beyond me."
Mulder grinned in spite of himself. "I guess you're right." He stretched wearily, aware that the wine was really beginning to catch up with him. "You know," he said suddenly, the mischievous sparkle reappearing in his eyes, "we just had a serious discussion about us getting married and having kids, without even having gone on a date yet."
Scully laughed, delighted. "Mulder, I've shared so many bad motels and restaurant meals with you, that a real date would probably freak me out." Then she gave him a smiling, but thoughtful look. "Does this mean we're seriously considering this?"
He nodded, then gave her an uncertain look. "Yeah - that is, if you want to?"
The smile became dazzling. "I want to."
Mulder heaved a shaky sigh of relief. "Then all we need to do now is work out a way around Bureau protocols."
"Shouldn't be a problem for two people who chase liver-eating mutants, vampires and werewolves - "
"Lycanthropes," he corrected her primly.
"Pardon me - lycanthropes - for a living."
"And don't forget the flukeworms and volcanic fungi," he reminded her, grinning.
Scully rolled her eyes. "Believe me, I don't forget them , even in my dreams."
That reminded Mulder of something, and he began to struggle to get up. It took more of an effort than he realised - he was beginning to get comfortable on the floor.
"Mulder, what are you doing?"
He made it to his knees, and braced himself for the next stage. "Just remembered - that parcel I brought with me - " He managed to get himself to his feet, which induced a ludicrous sense of achievement. Now all he had to do was get to the door, and back.
Scully sat up - slowly, and very carefully - and swung her feet to the floor. "What about the parcel?"
"Forgot - it's a present."
A wondering smile broke over Scully's face. "For me?"
"Yeah." Somehow, Mulder achieved his goal, seized the package like a prize, and carefully made his way back to her. He presented it rather awkwardly. "I - er - picked it up at Martia Sljenka's."
One slender auburn brow rose. "What were you doing at Martia Sljenka's, Agent Mulder?"
He was more than a little red-faced. "Never mind." He nodded to the package. "Aren't you going to open it?"
Scully tried to remove the colourful paper neatly, but her curiosity was too much; in a matter of seconds, she'd ripped into it and torn the wrappings off.
It was a genuine Navajo dreamcatcher.
"I thought you could use something to help hold on to the good ones," Mulder said, into the astonished silence.
"Mulder - " Scully swallowed and blinked rapidly, taking his hand. "I love it. But your punishment is that you're going to have to come and help me hang it up, because I don't think my legs are going to support me to my room."
Mulder considered making some sort of double entendre on that remark, then changed his mind. Now was entirely the wrong moment. "Come on, then," he said gently, and helped her to her feet.
Scully awoke to the annoying sound of her phone. She cursed it mentally for disturbing her sleep, and was dimly pleased when it was abruptly cut short. She buried her nose under the comforter again, but it was too late; she was already half-awake and uncomfortably aware of both an imminent headache and a scratchy, sticky feeling all over that told her she'd slept in her clothes.
Before she could catalogue these feelings any further, someone gently shook her shoulder. Scully cracked open a reluctant eye. It was Mulder, but what was he - ?
"Hmmmmm?" she asked interrogatively.
Mulder held the handset of the phone out. "It's your sister," he told her. "She wants to know what the hell I'm doing in bed with you."
"Oh no ...."