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Cincinnati Field Office
Gopher knocked meekly on the large door, straining to hear an answer from within. When none was forthcoming, he pushed the door open a crack. Nudging it open a bit more, he peered into the dimly lit room, wondering if Mulder was even still in there. He recognized a box from the fast food restaurant of earlier perched on the main table and still containing two legs of chicken. Well, that was a sign.
He finally spotted the profiler in the darkest corner of the room. Mulder was sitting on a folding chair, his feet apart and his forearms resting on his thighs in a hunched over position. In his lap was an empty evidence bag and dangling from his hands was a small white tennis shoe with brown smudges on the toes. Mulder was rubbing his index finger along the sole of the shoe, his eyes half-lidded as he stared down.
Gopher slowly entered, making sure that he wouldn't startle the older man with any sudden noises or movements but still be in the line of sight. He stood motionless once he was fully inside the room, unable to move any farther. Instead, he watched Mulder, something inside telling him that he was witnessing a thing misunderstood by many and feared by most.
He held his position for almost ten minutes, hardly breathing, waiting for Mulder to do something. He almost gasped in surprise when the profiler's head turned to look at the wall he was sitting next to, the one covered with crime scene photos, maps, and other case paraphernalia. His brows furrowed and he drifted back to the shoe, his lower lip trembling. Gopher took this as a signal that he could approach and walked across the room, nervously fingering the packet of papers in his hands. He came to a stop directly in front of the older man, approximately two feet away. "Mulder?"
There was no change in the agent's demeanor. Gopher took a deep breath, looking from side to side. He cleared his throat and tried again. "Um, Mulder?" Still nothing. He lingered, hoping that he would only have to wait until Mulder finished thinking before acknowledging his presence. He held his breath in anticipation and that was when he heard it. A quiet murmuring, so low that it was almost impossible to hear over the sound of one's own body. And it was coming from Mulder.
Then Gopher did something he never imagined himself doing. He turned around and pulled a chair from the table over to a few feet in front of Mulder and sat down. He set the stack of papers in his lap and folded his hands on top of them, leaning forward to listen.
"There are some qualities - some incorporate things,
That have a double life, which thus is made
A type of that twin entity which springs
From matter and light, evinced in solid and shade.
There is a two-fold Silence - sea and shore -
Body and soul. One dwells in lonely places,
Newly with grass o'ergrown; some solemn graces,
Some human memories and tearful lore,
Render him terrorless: his name's "No More."
He is the corporate Silence: dread him not!
No power hath he of evil in himself;
But should some urgent fate (untimely lot!)
Bring thee to meet his shadow (nameless elf,
That haunteth the lone regions where hath trod
No foot of man,) commend thyself to God!"
Scully looked at her watch for the umpteenth time in the last five minutes. Where could they be? She had sent Keith to find Mulder and give him her notes from her meeting with Dr. Walden almost an hour and a half ago. They both knew that there was a briefing at five, so where could they possibly be?
The other agents seated around the table were casting supercilious looks her way, several of them glancing pointedly at their watches. Even Bear was beginning to appear impatient. She was about to get up and go in search of the two men when suddenly the double doors burst open to reveal the agents in question. Mulder looked slightly disheveled, his suit wrinkled and his hair evidencing too many fingers run through it. Keith was out of breath, his tie askew and his arms full of papers.
"Well, it's nice of you two to join us," Bear said, his tone disapproving.
"Sorry, Sir, really, but Agent Mulder and I were following up on a lead that may give us a description of the UNSUB, that is if we can get the drug dealers to tell the truth, though I don't see why they won't since I'm sure we can give them some sort of deal and-"
"Gopher. *Gopher*. Agent Phillips!"
Gopher stopped midsentence, his mouth still open.
Bear couldn't help but grin at the kid's enthusiasm. "Breathe, Gopher. Now, why don't you two sit down and then you can tell me what was so important that you made us all wait."
Mulder sat in one of the open chairs, nodding at his superior in apology. Gopher started passing out the papers that he had been holding. "I'm sorry, Sir. Um, maybe Agent Mulder should, uh, tell you."
"Fine, but somebody do it and do it now."
Mulder sat up straight in his chair and addressed the entire room. "After visiting Georgia Belshe's home and interviewing her family and friends, I may have been able to ascertain which of Poe's works the killer may be trying to emulate. I believe that the next excerpt will be from 'Berenice'.
"'Yet differently we grew - I ill of health and buried in gloom - she agile, graceful, overflowing with energy; hers the ramble on the hill-side - mine the studies of the cloister - I living within my own heart, and addicted body and soul to the most intense and painful meditation - she roaming carelessly through life with no thought of the shadows in her path, or the silent flight of raven-winged hours.'
"Georgia was agile, graceful, and full of energy; a star gymnast and effervescent personality. The woman Berenice becomes sick - 'the spirit of change swept over her, pervading her mind, her habits, and her character, and, in a manner the most subtle and terrible, disturbing even the identity of her person!' Now, what is the first thing you think of when you hear a description like that?"
"Drugs," Vangelis answered instantly.
"Right. How do drugs kill?"
"Overdose," Brenner stated.
"Okay, that means our UNSUB is gonna have to find a supplier," Vangelis reasoned.
"Bingo. But the added bonus is that these drugs must present symptoms similar to epilepsy, which means that they are prescription medication. So I called up the Cincinnati PD and had them give us a list of their known dealers who do business with medical drugs and their locations. Agent Phillips did the same with the Portsmouth PD and the compiled list is what he's passing out to you. Now, I spoke with the commissioner and he said that he didn't have the manpower nor the hours to send more than two patrolmen per precinct out into the neighborhood, so it is up to us to find these men and ask them the right questions."
"You want us all to go out and waste our time talking to drug dealers based on some crazy whim of yours that is not even a guarantee?" Tony sneered.
Mulder's eyes leveled with the other profiler's. "It's a theory, Agent Roberts, and that is what investigation is based on, not whims."
"I don't care what it's called as long as it is a lead. And right now, it's all we've got. So, Tony, since we seem to be working off Mulder's profile, why don't you head up the interview team." Bear gave him a hard stare that brooked no argument. "If it doesn't pan out, you can reevaluate your profile and bring it before us all again.
"Agent Riggs, have you had any luck with the phones?"
"Well, there were several possible matches and I sent some agents to investigate. Nothing turned up though." Riggs' voice reflected his disappointment.
"Keep on it. Brenner, any links between the latest victim and the previous ones?"
Scully tuned the other agent's speech out, focusing on the man to her right. He seemed completely engrossed in the meeting, not even aware of her scrutiny. Mulder actually appeared more animated than she had seen him in the past few days. Most likely it was because he was 'on the scent' as she liked to say. But the adrenaline wouldn't last long, not in the condition he was in. She knew that the dark circles under his eyes were growing darker, the evidence of his ribs against his skin more pronounced, the strain wrinkles at the corners of his mouth more prominent. He was exhausted and running on nothing more than a few cups of coffee and some chicken legs, if even that.
There was something different though. It took her a moment to pinpoint it but she finally figured out what it was. Mulder's eyes were redder and his complexion more pale. Not that this was necessarily out of the ordinary, considering the amount of sleep he had, but the fact that the redness and pale cast had not been so pronounced he last time she saw him bothered her. That meant something had happened while she was meeting with Doctor Walden. Either he had another seizure or his general state of exhausten had worsened. Neither was an encouraging thought.
There was only one way to find out.
"Keith!" Scully hissed.
The young man turned at the sound of his name. "Dana?" He jogged over to where she was at an unpopulated end of the hallway. "Did you need something?"
She flicked her eyes over his shoulder, noting that Mulder was still inside the briefing room talking with Brenner. "I wanted to know what happened while you were with Mulder."
He looked behind him at the open doorway and then back at her. "Why don't you ask him?"
Dana sighed. "Because I know he won't tell it to me straight. He won't lie," she amended when she saw his raised eyebrows, "but he won't tell me the whole truth. He has a tendency to misdirect in order to avoid telling me everything."
"Oh. Well, I went to the room you said he'd be in and at first I wasn't sure if he was there or not because the lights were off. I went in to see if he had left and I saw him sitting in the corner, holding Harper Bingham's shoe. I waited, hoping he'd notice me but he just sat there. So, I called his name. He didn't answer me but he was saying something. I decided to sit with him and listen; he was reciting Poe. We sat there for a good half-hour and suddenly he jumps up, stumbles to the other side of the room and loses his lunch in the trashcan. I didn't know what to do so I didn't do anything. He whirled around and started chanting a line over and over - 'Misery is manifold' or something like that. He walked right up to me and then, as though it was the most natural thing for me to be there, he told me to follow him. If I didn't know any better, I'd say he knew I was there the whole time and was just ignoring me.
"Anyway, we went and made the phone calls to the police departments and you know the rest. I'll tell you, it was the most amazing thing I've ever seen. He just *knew* which quote the UNSUB would use next and now we have something to work with. What I wouldn't give to be able to do that. I-"
"Don't ever say that." Scully's voice was deadly quiet. "Don't ever wish for what Mulder has, trust me. Because it is more than just knowing what the killer wants. It's feeling and understanding the sickness of what the killer wants. It's nightmares and headaches, loss of appetite and sense of reality. It is a plague on Mulder's soul that he never wanted but has dealt with the best he can. So I warn you, don't ever wish for what he has."
"Scully, have I done something to piss you off?"
"No, why do you ask?"
"Well, for starters, you keep looking at me as though I've done something wrong. Plus, you've barely spoken to me for the past three hours, which is a long time considering we're the only two people in this room."
Scully drew in a deep breath. "All right, something *is* bothering me."
"What is it and I'm sorry?"
"Don't apologize before you even know what it is."
She couldn't help a quick grin. It disappeared when she started speaking. "I know that you didn't keep much of your lunch down and it worries me."
"Kid can't keep his mouth shut, can he?" Mulder griped.
"I specifically asked him. You don't actually think he'd be able to resist my charms, do you?"
"Why Agent Scully, did you use your feminine wiles to gain information from an unsuspecting youth? I'm ashamed of you."
Dana batted her eyes innocently. "Little ole me? I would never. And don't try to change the subject."
Mulder sighed. "Okay, okay. My stomach was a bit upset so I didn't eat much of my lunch. Not that it mattered because it came right up a few hours later anyway. I'm fine, don't worry, I'm not sick. I was imagining what Georgia would be going through as she was submitted to overdose amounts of drugs. It wasn't a pretty sight and my already sensitive stomach rebelled. That's all."
"Only fools are positive."
"Yeah and only fools fall in love, so I must be pretty damn stupid." Mulder reached over and pulled Scully's chair closer. Then he placed his hand behind her neck and brought her lips to meet his, kissing her with an intensity that signaled his need to feel her close. Finally he released her and she sat back, breathless. "Scully?"
"You didn't really seduce him, did you?"
An eyebrow quirked. "Why? Jealous?"
"No." He went back to the files he had been reading and she did the same. Several minutes passed in companionable silence until Mulder broke it. "Well, did you?"
She simply smiled down at the papers in front of her and chuckled softly.
"Okay, we've got manicotti for Dana, ravioli for Mulder, and some fettucini for myself. Also, here's a bag of garlic breadsticks," Gopher said as he passed out platters covered in foil. "I managed to get them to sprinkle everything liberally with parmesan cheese before I left."
"Mmmm," Scully intoned, breathing in the mouth-watering aroma. "You are a lifesaver, thanks."
"Yesh, thanks, it's vera goo-" Mulder managed to say around a mouthful of tomato sauce and pasta.
Gopher grinned at the other man's enthusiastic consumption of food. "Feast or famine, huh?"
"How do you think I keep my figure?" Mulder quipped before he took a bite from a piece of garlic bread.
The young agent shook his head and took a seat across from the other two. "So, where'd we leave off?"
Mulder took a sip of ice water from the glass before him. "Well, I've been thinking that the names of the women our UNSUB is referring to has some significance as words themselves. So I've been trying to see if they have some sort of code hidden in them, numerical or otherwise."
Gopher nodded in understanding and motioned to Scully with his fork. "You?"
"Going over all the autopsy reports, looking for any discrepancies, similarities, pretty much anything that catches my eye."
"Anything I can help with?"
"I'm sure Scully's got it covered. Why don't you give me a hand," Mulder suggested firmly.
Dana almost choked on her manicotti as she tried to stifle a laugh. There was no doubt about it, Mulder was jealous.
Both men looked at her quizzically. "Okay, what can I do?" Gopher asked.
"I want you to see if you can find any links between the girls' real names and the names from Poe. We already know that the dump sites were chosen according to Poe's descriptions, I want to see if more than the girls' physical attributes played a role in his choosing them." Mulder handed Gopher ten three by five cards, each with a name written on it.
"All righty then." Gopher took the proffered cards and sat down in the nearest chair, which happened to be next to Dana. He didn't notice Mulder's disapproving look.
It had been almost two hours since they had eaten and still the agents did not feel as though they had made any progress. Gopher was going blind staring at the note cards, Scully was getting a headache from reading the cramped writing of Dr. Walden's reports, and Mulder had begun pacing in front of the wall that held the photos and maps.
Mulder would make a prescribed circuit; scrutinize the first set of photos, walk across the room to look at the last set, turn and go back to the second set, and finish with the third. Then he would start all over again. Occasionally he would stand in front of one set longer than usual, mutter incoherently and move on. Dana knew that he was getting frustrated, that he needed to expend his pent up frustration by pacing, so she paid no heed to his wanderings. Gopher was too absorbed with his own task to be distracted by the fact that it had been almost five minutes since the older man had moved from his spot in front of victim number four's photos, his back to the wall perpendicular to the one decorated with pictures.
All of a sudden Mulder let out a strangled gasp and he fell back against the wall with a loud thud. He tucked one arm around himself, hand in a fist, the other braced on his knee. His eyes were tightly shut, his breaths coming in harsh gulps as he sought to make it through the next few moments.
Gopher was frozen in his chair, his eyes wide as he beheld the profiler deal with the seizure. Scully startled the younger man as she pushed herself out of her chair and went to her partner's side. She crouched down in front of him, placing her right hand over the one on his knee, and looked up into his face. She felt a lump lodge in her throat as she watched her lover experience indescribable pain. It had become a familiar sight to her but the sorrow and helplessness she felt when he had a seizure hadn't lessened as time wore on.
Finally his body relaxed and his eyes slowly opened as he took deep cleansing breaths. He laughed under his breath. "I'd almost forgotten."
"Forgotten what?" she murmured.
"I didn't have a seizure all day and I was so focused on the case that I had almost forgotten that this wasn't just another assignment and I wasn't just a profiler."
"You're right, this isn't just another assignment, it's an important case where little girls are being killed and we have the power to stop the man responsible. And you're not just a profiler; you're a brilliant profiler, excellent investigator, and caring man. Nothing changes that."
They stared into each other's eyes for several moments until a cleared throat brought them back to reality.
"Um, I hate to interrupt, but..." Gopher held up his hands in impotent gesture.
"But what the hell was that?" Mulder finished for him.
The older agent gave Scully's hand a final squeeze and pushed himself off the wall to walk over to Keith. "It's a long story, but to sum it up, I suffer from a non-communicable condition in which I experience seizures of an undocumented nature. They are periods of intense pain that usually pass within a half-minute. They can last up to a minute, but any longer is rare, though not unusual. There is no known treatment and no prescribed methods to deal with the seizures."
Scully's mouth dropped open, recognizing her exact words to Rick Davis just over two weeks before. He cast her a half-smile over his shoulder and turned back to Gopher. "Don't tell me no one in this office knows."
"Well, Agents Roberts had mentioned something, but it didn't sound like what I just saw." Gopher gazed at the floor as though he was ashamed. "He described it a bit more... crudely."
"I'll bet," Mulder growled angrily.
"Mulder," Scully warned, coming up beside him. "You know Roberts feels threatened by your presence, you really didn't expect him *not* to spread rumors, did you?"
"No, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. The man has no right to distribute information that he does not fully understand and has no wish to comprehend. Just because I happen to solve a few more cases than he does should have no bearing on his treatment of me. We are fellow FBI agents and he should simply be grateful that there are fewer evildoers on the street than there were before. We're all fighting for truth, justice, and the American way; can't we all just get along?"
"Uh-oh, he's getting punchy. I think that's a sign for us to call it a night." Dana began to gather her files, placing them neatly in her open briefcase.
Gopher lifted his arms over his head and stretched until he heard a satisfying pop. "Yeah, I could use a bit of shut eye."
Scully noticed Mulder eyeing the wall again. "Don't even think about it, partner. We've done all we can tonight and I'm sure things will be fresher in the morning after a good night's sleep."
Mulder's shoulders sagged in defeat. "Okay, but let me remind you that you have a tendency to snore when you're really tired, so I can't be held responsible if I don't get a good night's sleep."
Dana's mouth once again dropped open and her eyes flicked over to meet Keith's, her face turning red. "Mulderrr," she grumbled.
"It's all right, Dana. I figured out a while ago that you two were more than just partners," Gopher said happily as he collected his own belongings.
"And how, pray tell, did you come to that conclusion?" Scully asked imperiously, embarrassment turning to anger.
"Elementary, my dear Dr. Scully," Gopher drawled in a bad English accent.
Dana tried to stay upset, but she couldn't do it. She began to chuckle and they all left with the sounds of laughter echoing down the halls after them.
Brentanos Plaza Hotel
Almost three hours of uninterrupted sleep. Dana was kidding herself if she thought more than that was possible. Of course, she always had the option of using the other room. They always reserved two rooms, although they slept in one, for more than just appearance. It was easier to get ready in the morning with separate bathrooms, it gave them space in case they needed time alone, and it also provided an extra bed in the event that one of them needed silence to sleep. They rarely used both rooms except in the morning, but Dana had often been tempted to spend an occasional night in a separate bed in order to get some sleep. But then she would think of Mulder waking up from a nightmare to discover that he was alone and she dismissed the thought of leaving him for a night.
She dodged a flailing hand and ducked under the arm it was connected to, resting both her hands against the bare chest of the arm's owner. "Mulder, wake up."
He tossed his head from side to side, his arms pushing at anything that offered resistance. "No, no, not the... the raven... don't... No!" Mulder shot straight up, causing Scully to jump backwards and almost fall off the bed. His eyes were wide open and his breath was coming in great gulps.
Dana cautiously moved closer, waiting for any sign that her partner was fully aware of his surroundings. "Mulder?"
"She's dead, Scully. He killed her." His voice was low and monotone as he delivered his pronouncement, his face still blank. He began to shiver, goosebumps covering his flesh in a reaction to a combination of shock and drying sweat.
Pulling at the covers with one hand, Scully wrapped the blankets around his trembling form, tucking the edges in so that no heat would escape. "It's all right, Mulder, it was just a dream." But she knew that it was more than just a dream. If Mulder had seen the girl die in his nightmare, it was more than likely that she was dead. It was one of Mulder's abilities that forced Dana to occasionally review her belief in psychic power. She reasoned it away as deductive thinking while asleep. Hell, he'd solved a case in his sleep before.
Mulder continued to stare into space, his knees pulled up to his chin underneath the covers. Scully tugged gently on his shoulders to bring him closer. He abruptly went boneless and she was able to cradle him in her lap, slowly rocking back and forth and humming tunelessly. He eventually drifted back into slumber and she soon followed.
Portsmouth County Hospital
Mulder lifted up the yellow crime scene tape for his partner and then ducked under it himself. Vangelis saw them and moved to meet the pair, dodging an overturned trashcan in the middle of the alley. "Our guy has decided to get creative on us, left two notes this time."
Scully paused to talk to the other agent while Mulder went in search of the body. He found her tiny form lying in the corner of the damp alleyway, her clothes gray and muddy. He blond hair was draped across her face, obscuring her vacant eyes. His lips thinned to a tight line and he crouched down to inspect the corpse, his eyes flicking over her as he committed every detail to memory. A survey of the surroundings and he was satisfied that he had everything securely locked in his mind. He drew a pair of latex gloves from his pocket and pulled them on with resounding snaps. Then he carefully removed the two notes pinned to the child's shirt, mindful not to disturb anything more than necessary.
'All is mystery and terror, and a tale which should not be told' was
written on the first scrap, a direct quote from the story titled 'Berenice'.
Mulder didn't give it a second thought and went to the next quote.
'Leave my loneliness unbroken! - quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!'
Mulder chewed on his lip as he reread the excerpt. Well, it was the most obvious of the citations so far, being from Poe's most famous poem, 'The Raven'. "Leave my loneliness unbroken..." he muttered. He extracted an evidence bag from the same pocket he had retrieved the gloves and dropped the notes into the clear pouch. Giving Georgia Belshe one last look, he stood and searched out his partner, who was still talking with Vangelis. He joined them, handing the bag over to the other man. "He's already picked the next girl, he'll take her tonight."
Uly didn't argue, he simply nodded and moved off to oversee his team. Scully laid her hand on Mulder's forearm. "You okay?"
"Fine," he mumbled distractedly. "He left a quote from 'The Raven', a demand to be left alone. He sees the FBI as the Raven, come to stop him from remembering his own personal Lenore. He's going to continue to escalate until we catch him." "That means we don't have much time until the body count rises," Dana predicted, her tone grim. "Unless we get a lead from the dealers or get a call that pans out, there's no way we can stop him from seizing the next girl."
Mulder raised a hand to his face and scrubbed at his tired eyes. "I know, I'm working on it."
Cincinnati Field Office
"You were right, Mulder. She was given overdose amounts of scopolamine then strychnine, destroying her mind first and then causing seizures that killed her in minutes. A bit more intense than epileptic convulsions - she almost snapped her spinal column." Dana flopped down into a chair next to her partner and kicked her high heels off under the table, flexing her toes. "Anything from the drug patrol?"
"Yeah, actually. One of the lesser-known dealers by the name of Kyle Bowen was approached by a man who he had never done business with before and matched the behavior put forth in the profile. We also have three other possibles but now that we have the exact drugs used, we should be able to narrow it down to one. I doubt he used his real name, but it's a good start and we'll have a description of the UNSUB. One thing about drug dealers, they always remember their customers." Mulder yawned mightily and ground the heels of his hands in his eyes.
Dana was about to suggest that he get some sleep when the trilling of a cellular startled them both. Mulder rolled his eyes and reached over the back of his chair, pulling his phone from the coat draped across it. "Mulder."
Scully watched her partner's face intently, trying to discern the other end of the conversation by deciphering Mulder's expressions. His eyes slowly closed and he pinched the bridge of his nose in a gesture of exasperation. Damn, she thought, it certainly wasn't good news.
"Fine, we'll be there in twenty minutes." Mulder pushed the off button and replaced the phone in his coat. He then stood and gathered his files, placing them haphazardly in his briefcase. "That was Vangelis."
Dana understood immediately. "Who?"
"Katherine Bittner, age eleven, was walking home from her friend's house and never made it."
Scully ducked under the table to retrieve her shoes. "You'd think parents would be paranoid about letting their kids out alone when there's a serial killer on the loose."
"Katherine's friend lives four houses down."
Brentanos Plaza Hotel
Dana collapsed onto the bed, her legs dangling off the edge. "I feel like I could sleep for a week."
Mulder grunted noncommittally and drifted over to the table, setting his briefcase down with a thud. He opened it and began to rifle through its contents. Scully rolled over to look at him, her head propped up on her arm. "Did you manage to get something to eat while I was doing the autopsy? Because I could order some room service." She must have decided that his lack of a response was better than a negative one because she picked up the bedside phone and began to order some food. After finishing, she thanked the clerk politely and hung up, announcing that dinner would be there in about fifteen minutes. She then forced herself off the bed and wandered over to the closet, divesting herself of her jacket and blouse as she went. "We should order room service more often. After all, the Bureau picks up the tab and I think we're due for a bit of pampering. I really don't believe they'd question a steak dinner or two and-"
"Scully," Mulder said softly. She continued to ramble on and so he repeated himself more forcefully. "Scully!"
"So I- what?" She paused in the buttoning of her pajamas.
"You don't have to take my mind off of it, I'm okay."
He could see her fingers twitch slightly and then continue to work on the buttons of her top. "I don't know what you mean."
"Scully, don't you think it has been in the back of my mind all this time? Today just brought it to the forefront." He refused to look at her as he spoke. "I'll be fine; tomorrow it will be back in its locked box within my psyche."
Dana gave up on her denial approach and came up behind her partner, wrapping her arms over his shoulders and around his neck. "Mulder, I'm so sorry. I was so worried about you dealing with the profiling aspects of this case that it never occurred to me to worry about how cases involving children would affect you."
He was stiff in her arms. "It doesn't matter, my own personal traumas have no place in this investigation."
With a quick shove, Scully had Mulder's chair turned and was facing him, her features tight with anger. "Bull shit, they belong in this investigation! What happened to you as a child is what makes you the empathetic man you are today and helps you solve these cases."
"Dana, it's not important. I'm-" he tried.
"Mulder, you just came from the scene of a crime where you hared out and were unresponsive for over ten minutes, so don't you dare tell me that you're fine. It was all I could do to keep the parents from panicking." She leaned over and placed her hands on his knees, her nose two inches from his own. "I know you, Mulder. You would never give a victimized family anything less than your utmost concern unless something was really wrong."
He stared into her blue depths. "I saw that picture and I just couldn't move. All I could think of was that I couldn't save her."
"Mulder, that girl isn't Samantha. She may look like her, but she isn't your sister. And you are not a powerless little boy anymore, you *can* save her."
"I'm so tired, Scully, I don't know if I can." His voice broke on the last word.
"Oh Mulder," Scully whispered, drawing him into her arms. "I know you're tired, Sweetheart, I know." She ran her fingers through his hair in a soothing motion, kissing him lightly on the forehead. "Why don't you get some sleep, I'll cancel room service."
Mulder suddenly felt completely exhausted, barely able to perform the simplest task. Dana seemed to understand immediately and moved to his aid. She hauled him out of the chair and led him over to the bed, nudging him gently to get him to fall back on it. She pulled off his shoes one by one and then removed his slacks, leaving his socks on for warmth. Next came his tie and shirt, tossed into the open suitcase that served as Mulder's laundry hamper. Drawing the covers over him, she bent and placed a soft kiss on his lips. "Goodnight, Mulder. I love you."
A smile played at his lips. "Mmm, love you too, Sc'lly." Then he was asleep, snoring quietly.
He could see the girl now, her long brown hair bouncing across her back as she skipped down the street. No one else was around but he knew that someone might pass by at any second. That knowledge gave him the rush of adrenaline he needed to perform his deed. He stepped out from behind the tree and smiled at the child. The girl smiled back and skipped on her way, finally disappearing into a small white house with roses in the front yard. He followed her, walking into the room as though it was perfectly natural to enter a stranger's house unchallenged. The child was sitting on the floor in the living room, playing a board game with red and blue pieces, the television chattering away to her right.
He reached into his pocket and withdrew a length of electrical cord, wrapping each end around his palms for stability. He crept up behind the girl, his heart pounding in his ears and sweat dripping into his eyes. In a flash of movement he had the child pressed up against him, her fingers clawing at the wire cutting into the tender flesh of her neck. He shoved her to the ground, casting the cord aside, replacing it with one of his hands. The other removed a knife from his coat and proceeded to cut a heart into the flowered pajamas of the whimpering girl. Lights began to flash wildly outside, illuminating the entire room with their flickering glow. Furniture began to shake, the sound of glass breaking behind him causing him to drop the knife.
He had to stop this, he had to end it now, before the girl disappeared
and caused her family grief. He encircled her thin neck with his large
hands and began to squeeze.
"Of all who owe thee most, whose gratitude
Nearest resembles worship, - oh remember
The truest, the most fervently devoted,
And think that these weak lines are written by him-
By him, who, as he pens them, thrills to think
His spirit is communing with an angel's."
The child pushed weakly at his arms, gasping ineffectually, her eyes wild with fear. The lights continued to flash and the house shook with a loud humming. And above the humming there was a noise that pulled at his attention. It was a screaming. Someone was calling his name.
He shook his head to rid himself of the uneasiness the voice produced and he looked down at the girl beneath him. Her features began to undulate and shift, her face widening and her eyes turning a crystal blue. Her hair shortened and became a coppery red, her pink floral pajamas transforming into a silken navy blue material. Her small hands metamorphosed into adult hands, tipped with long fingernails. They were pulling at his arms.
This time the strangled cry registered completely and he found himself back in the hotel room, his body covering that of his partner, his hands wrapped around her throat. He released her instantly and threw himself backwards, stumbling into the far wall in his haste. He was shaking with adrenaline and fear, cold tendrils enveloping his heart, his breath coming in hard bursts.
"Nonononononoooo," he ranted, his vision blurring and the world spinning sickeningly. He sank to the floor, pulling his knees to his chest and covering his head with his arms, still chanting. He didn't know what was happening, everything seemed distorted, swirling around him in an overload of his senses. He was so cold, his chest tight and his teeth chattering as he spoke.
But then there was warmth. A tiny spot of warmth on his shoulder that spread heat down his arm. He turned into it, needing it as though he could not live without it. Suddenly the warmth disappeared and he almost cried out at its loss, his fear threatening to overwhelm him. Then it was back, extending into his arms and legs, soothing away his tremors and bringing the pain in his chest to a manageable level. He slowly lifted his head from under the protection of his arms and saw a pair of clear blue eyes staring back at him. With an anguished groan he pulled her into his arms, holding her tightly as he repeated "I'm sorry" again and again.
Some minutes later, he had calmed enough that he was able to recognize what had just happened. He gazed down at the oval shaped face cradled in the crook of his neck and brought his hand up to caress the ivory cheek. His fingers traced across her skin, traveling down to the darkening bruises on her neck, hovering over them as waves of guilt swept through him. Her small hand came up and she laid her palm against the back of his fingers, communicating her understanding with that simple touch.
He swallowed thickly. "I almost killed you."
"No, Mulder, you didn't. You would never hurt me."
"Take a look at yourself in the mirror and you'll see just how capable I am of hurting you."
Dana pushed at his chest so that she could get a better look at him. "Mulder, listen to me. *You* could never hurt me. That wasn't you, it was the man that you are profiling, he's the one responsible."
"It wasn't just him. It was Roche and the aliens and the UNSUB all in one, killing Samantha before she could be abducted and put our family through hell. It was me, identifying with the killer and knowing that if Sam had simply been murdered that night, it would have saved us all a lot of pain and sorrow. He is just trying to save others from the grief he felt when his wife died."
Dana got to her feet and held out her hand to help Mulder up. "His wife?"
"Yes, she died of lung cancer after a long and painful battle. He was devastated; she was the only one he loved. He had to..." he trailed off. Without warning he rushed over to his suitcase, pulling out a T-shirt and a pair of jogging pants.
"What are you doing?" Scully asked in alarm.
"I have to go," he said as he donned the clothing.
Mulder stopped his frenetic movements at the fear he heard in her voice. He stepped over to her and encircled her in his arms. "Oh Dana, I love you so much." He buried his face in her hair, breathing deeply of her scent and reveling in the fact that she was alive and relatively unharmed. "I'm so sorry, I never wanted you to have to go through that. I can't let it happen again, because next time you might not be able to get through to me. I'll do whatever it takes - therapy, drugs, whatever."
Scully held him tightly. "I forgive you, Mulder, though there isn't much to forgive. We'll deal with this together, you aren't alone."
He smiled down at her. "As long as you're in my heart, I'll never be alone." He bent his neck and kissed her deeply, their lips meeting in an intense embrace. He finally freed her and took a step back, his hands still on her shoulders. "Now, I have to go."
"Where?" she asked breathlessly.
"I'm onto something. I don't know what it is, but it's right there on the tip of my brain. I need to run, I need to-"
"Go." She grinned as she moved to open the door for him. "But take it easy and remember to be back by six, the morning briefing is at seven-thirty. I won't be there because the Forensic team is having a separate meeting to go over Georgia's autopsy."
"I'll be careful." A quick peck on the cheek and Mulder was out the door. Dana shut it behind him, the ghost of a smile on her lips. What was she going to do with that man?
Dana leaned forward and lifted her chin, examining her neck. Luckily the bruises Mulder had left were not very dark and the coverup concealed them completely. She hated to think what the other agents would say if they saw black and blue fingerprints circling her throat.
The door burst open, startling Scully as she applied her lipstick, a red line smearing down her chin. Mulder slammed it behind him and rushed to the table, frantically searching through the papers scattered on its surface. "Ah-hah!" he shouted triumphantly when he found what he was looking for. He abandoned the table and sat on the floor, placing five note cards vertically in front of him. He then took a red marking pen and circled something on each card. Sitting back slowly he stared at the cards for a minute. Then a huge grin split his face.
"What is it?" Dana questioned.
He looked up at her, still beaming from ear to ear. "We've got the bastard."
Cincinnati Field Office
"Okay everybody, settle down," Bear ordered. "We have a long day ahead of us and I don't want to make it any longer than needs be. Agent Mulder has informed me that he has made progress in discerning the meaning behind the notes, so we'll begin with him this morning. Agent Mulder."
The profiler nodded his thanks and stood, walking energetically over to the whiteboard in the front of the room. He picked up a pen and turned to address the team members. "I was convinced that the answer was in the names of the women in the poems, an anagram or some such thing. The only problem was that with so many letters, the number of combinations is almost impossible to exhaust. But then I remembered another poem by Poe, titled 'A Valentine', which was a riddle that contained the answer in itself. The first letter of the first line in connection with the second letter of the second line, the third letter of the third line, and so on to the end translated the answer." As he was talking, Mulder scribbled on the board, illustrating his words. He began to write the names of the women in a column.
"Now, apply the same theory to these names and you get MELAN. This might not appear to mean anything at first, but suppose we add an I and an E. MELANIE. The name of our UNSUB's dead wife."
The room erupted into noise as the team members assimilated this information.
"I'll be damned."
"What if he's right"
"Could it be that simple?"
"You call that simple?"
"Spooky did it again."
One voice shouted in order to be heard above the tumult. "You're wrong!"
Everyone quieted as they turned one by one to stare at the speaker.
"You're theory is only applicable if you follow *your* profile, but your profile isn't correct." Roberts was turning red as he stood and berated Mulder. "You think you can waltz in here and feed us this bullshit and expect us to believe you? Come on, it is a huge leap to think that this is a name, pure chance that adding two letters spells out a name."
"Tony, maybe you should give the guy a chance, I mean it *does* make sense," Uly intoned. "I mean, it seems pretty obvious that the UNSUB is obsessed with Poe."
Roberts whirled around and pierced Vangelis with his eyes. "Yeah? Well, obsessed or not, it has nothing to do with little green men, and that's Spooky's area of expertise, isn't it?? What the hell does a UFO hunter know about profiling? What, just because he used to do it almost ten years ago means that he still has what it takes? His brain's been so screwed up by aliens that I doubt he could profile his own mother!"
Everyone sat in shocked silence. It was one thing to joke behind someone's back, but to openly degrade a fellow agent in front of said agent and the entire team - that was unthinkable. Bear was either too stunned to reprimand Tony or was content to let everything play out, choosing not to intervene. Someone shifted uncomfortably and Roberts' heaving chest slowed. As if finally realizing what he had done, he clamped his mouth shut and sat down, glaring around the room, challenging anyone to contradict him.
Mulder was still standing by the whiteboard, pen in hand. He blinked slowly, drawing on his inner strength to face these men. "Agent Roberts, my theory is perfectly applicable to your profile as well. You postulate that he was abused by his mother and from this stems his hatred toward women. The subsequent death of his mother triggered his killing spree. Melanie would then be the name of his mother and we would still go about searching death records for that particular name. Find her and we find him.
"And Agent Roberts, I may have been working on the X-Files for the past six years, but I am still qualified to do profiles. I have a ninety-percent solve rate when it comes to profile accuracy, do you? Bill Patterson himself recruited me directly from the Academy, without the normal three years in the field, were you? I graduated cuma sum laude with a Ph.D. in Criminal Psychology from Oxford, did you? So, you claim that I know nothing about profiling because I used to work in the paranormal? Well, I do know that profiling takes empathy, insight and intellect. What a self-absorbed, arrogant, pig-headed prima donna such as yourself could possibly know about profiling is beyond me. In fact, I think that it could be classified as an X-File."
Silence reigned for a moment, but suddenly the room blossomed with applause and whistles. Roberts was white with rage, but he remained taciturn, his arms folded across his chest.
Once things had quieted down, Mulder continued. "Now, if we could perhaps focus on the *case*, I believe that one other piece of information should be brought to light. I searched through the entire literary works of Edgar Allan Poe and found only one name that would fit into the equation, providing an I as the sixth letter. In a poem titled 'Eulalie'," Mulder paused, a look of concentration on his face, "there is a mention of the moon and..." he trailed off. His brows furrowed and his Adams apple bobbed. "Moon and stars.
"I dwelt alone
In a world of moan,
And my soul was a stagnant tide,
Till the fair and gentle Eulalie became my blushing bride -
Till the yellow-haired young Eulalie became my smiling bride."
He stopped, taking several deep breaths and squeezed his eyes shut for a moment.
"Ah, less - less bright
The stars of the night
Than the eyes of the radiant girl!"
He clenched and unclenched his hands, pushing the words out through gritted teeth. Sweat began to bead on his forehead and his swayed slightly as he stood. Some of the team members cast nervous glances about, wondering what was happening.
"And never a flake
That the vapor can make
With the... moon-tints of purple and pearl,
Can vie with the modest Eulalie's most... unregarded curl-
Can compare with... the bright-eyed Eulalie's... most humble and... careless... curl."
Having succeeded in finishing the poem, Mulder no longer tried to fight the pain that was threatening to overwhelm him. With a guttural groan, he wrapped his arms around his mid-section and dropped to his knees. He was dimly aware of shouting and someone's hands pulling at him. He doubled over as pain spasmed through him, forcing him to collapse onto his side. He rocked slightly, wishing for the agony to stop, kneading his chest and stomach as though it might help. He tried to concentrate on breathing, but the simple effort of filling his lungs was excruciating. All of his nerves were on fire, screaming at his brain for some release.
It was too much.
As the world faded away into darkness, the last thing he remembered was his partner's voice offering words of comfort.
As they watched Mulder stand beside the whiteboard and recite Edgar Allan Poe, looks of confusion graced all faces but one. Gopher knew what was happening, knew that Mulder was holding off a seizure, pushing himself to his limit in order to get the information to the group. He wrung his hands and cast a hopeful look at the doorway, wishing that Dana would walk through it at any moment. Then, as though in slow motion, he watched in horror as Mulder fell to his knees, his long arms encircling his body and his face a mask of pain.
Gopher lurched to his feet and ran to Mulder's side, pulling at the man's arms in order to get him to lie down. "Someone get Agent Scully! Now!!" he shouted, not bothering to see if anyone responded to his order. He turned his attention to the man writhing on the ground. "It's all right, Dana's on her way, she'll make sure you'll be okay." He sucked in his lower lip and chewed on it, unsure as what more to say. He was saved from having to say anything else when Dana arrived and knelt beside him, nodding at him quickly in thanks.
"Mulder, I'm here, it's all right. Listen to my voice, focus on my words." Mulder continued to rock back and forth and she shook her head. "Damn it, he's not responding. Mulder. Mulder, can you hear me? Try to take deep breaths, you can do it."
Suddenly the profiler went limp, the tension in his body disappearing instantly. Scully leaned back on her haunches and looked up at the circle of FBI agents surrounding her. They were all staring down at the pair of Washington agents in shock. Keith reached out and laid a hand on her shoulder. The concern in his eyes appeared to shake her out of her stupor and she sighed as though in resignation. "Would you help me carry him to the couch in Bear's office?"
The young man nodded silently and bent over to secure his arms under Mulder's. With a deft heave, he had the older agent suspended in the air, long legs supported by Dana. Together they manhandled Mulder out into the hallway and several doors down, where Dana kicked open Bear's door and continued to carry her partner in. They deposited him on the couch and Gopher took a step back, waiting to see if there was anything else he could do to help. He watched as Scully sat on the edge of the couch, her hand moving to caress the side of her partner's head. Feeling oddly voyeuristic, Gopher mumbled, "I'll be back to see if you need anything."
Dana glanced up and smiled softly. "Thank you, Keith." Then she turned her attention back to Mulder. Gopher spared them one last look and then left, closing the door quietly behind him. He leaned back against the hard wood and closed his eyes. He felt an indescribable sadness as he thought about the pair of agents inside.
Keith Phillips was a green agent in all senses of the word; he had graduated from the academy just one week before being assigned to Cincinnati and he had barely learned the names of his fellow agents before this case had become their nightmare. It was from this case that he had his first real taste of violence and the blood and sweat that agents put into solving crimes. He had worked hard to keep up with the more seasoned agents, running errands that might appear insignificant but were important in the greater scheme of things, paying attention to their techniques and taking copious notes during the meetings. He had learned a lot in the past weeks, but it wasn't until Mulder and Scully had arrived that he truly learned what it was to be an FBI agent.
He had heard of Spooky Mulder in the academy, along with all of his classmates. It was odd; the name 'Spooky' was whispered in the halls with an curious mixture of reverence and scorn. Reverence for his profiling and analysis skills, scorn for his wasting them on chasing little green men. But Keith cared little for the rumors about the X-Files; he was more interested in the years Mulder spent in the VCS and ISU previous to the X-Files. Having an unparalleled success rate, Mulder's old cases were used as examples and exercises in class, his techniques in investigation were taught as part of the regular curriculum. Fox Mulder was a living legend that Keith had idolized. When he heard that Mulder would be joining them on this case, he had nearly hyperventilated in excitement and fear.
And when Mulder had arrived, he had not disappointed Keith in the least. He had been as focused, determined, and skilled as people claimed. But there was something else that no one had mentioned. There was a sadness that seemed to cling to the profiler, a weariness that spoke of despair at the inhumanity of the killer. And it went deeper than that, hinting at a past filled with pain and sorrow. Keith had watched as this case consumed Mulder, eating away at him as the man became more in touch with the UNSUB, his hold on reality a tenuous one at best during those times when submerged in the killer's psyche.
Keith had always considered Mulder as something of a knight in shining armor, an agent who could come in, solve a case in a few days, and leave again without any indication of having been inside a killer's mind. Spooky Mulder was a profiling machine who could do anything. After seeing Mulder deal with a seizure last night, Keith was even surer that this idea was true, that nothing could stop the man. But after witnessing what he just had, Keith realized that Mulder was just as human as everyone else.
He felt sadness, fear, and pain, just like the rest. He needed sleep and nourishment like a normal person, had a sense of humor and an intellect that went beyond solving crimes. But it was the fact that, despite his physical condition, Mulder continued to work that placed him above the rest. His empathy for the victims and their families as well as his dedication to bringing them peace were what made him an exceptional agent.
Keith opened his eyes and looked down the hallway at various agents rushing about, putting Mulder's theories to the test. Perhaps it took more than brains to solve a crime. It also took heart.
Dana was sincerely starting to worry. Yes, the seriousness of the seizure was definitely a cause for concern, but she had accepted the reality weeks ago that this might happen. What she was worried about was the fact that Mulder had been unconscious for almost three hours now. That hadn't happened since he landed in the hospital when the black cancer symptoms began nearly two months ago. She had chosen not to call for paramedics because of the incapability of medicine to help his situation, but she was beginning to rethink her decision. She could only hope that his unconscious state was due more to exhaustion than the seizure.
Finally a low throaty groan signaled her partner's return to awareness. She lay her palm upon his cheek. "Mulder? How are you feeling?"
His eyelids squeezed tightly together and he turned his head into her hand. She saw his Adams apple bob twice and then his eyes slowly opened. "Scully?"
"Of course, who else would it be?" she answered softly, getting off the couch and moving to a chair.
He sat up cautiously, wincing at the movement. "Where are we?"
"Keith helped me bring you into Bear's office. Do you remember what happened?"
He frowned imperceptibly and sighed. "Yeah, I remember." He grinned sheepishly. "Well, did I give anyone a heart attack?"
She smiled back. "No, I think that the fact that none of them have reached their fifties was the only thing that saved them. Actually, several of them have stopped by to ask how you were doing. I think Keith set the record straight."
"Kid's going to be a good agent," Mulder observed, swinging his legs off the couch and placing them firmly on the ground.
"Yes, he is. He said he'd be back around eleven-thirty to check on us but I doubt we'll see him anytime soon."
He paused in rubbing the back of his neck and quirked an eyebrow at her. "Why not?"
She stepped over and shooed his hand away, replacing it with her own and gently massaging away the tension. "Because everyone is in a frenzy trying to get all the information we need. You really stirred up a hornet's nest, Mulder."
"Have they got anything yet?"
"Not that I'm aware of, but I haven't left this office, so who knows." She patted him apologetically on the back. "Don't feel guilty, Mulder, there's nothing you could have done about it. Besides, there's plenty of people working on it, I would just be in the way."
"You? Never. Most agents can't do half of what you do, give yourself some credit."
Scully smacked him playfully on the shoulder. "Kiss ass."
"Only yours," he shot back.
"Better be. Well, I think I'll head down to the cafeteria and grab something for us to eat. Don't give me that look, you haven't had breakfast and after what just happened I want to make sure you have your strength up. I want you to stay here until I get back and rest a little bit more."
"Not buts about it. Don't make me pull rank on you." She put her hands on her hips and puffed out her chest in exaggerated importance.
"Scully, I outrank you."
She grinned evilly. "Yes, but the doctor can pull rank even on the captain."
Mulder waited until he heard the click of the door as it shut before he let his guard down. He slumped back into the couch and closed his eyes, willing the pain to go away. It didn't work. He tried kneading his temple but that only led to minor assuagement.
What was he going to do? His whole body was aching; pulsing with a pain that had no promise of relief. It was just like before, when he had first discovered that the black cancer was still within him. It had all started as a sort of encompassing ache that gradually became worse until it was debilitating and he was taken to the hospital. Luckily he hadn't reached that level yet, but he was still in constant pain and it was distracting.
And he couldn't tell Scully.
Because, if she knew, she would not let him finish this case. He couldn't let that happen, he had to see this through. It wasn't that he was possessive and considered this *his* case, or that he had something to prove. It was that, if he did not see this case come to an end, he would be forever haunted by it in his nightmares. Resolution was the only thing that could keep the demons of the night away. After more than twenty-five years of non-resolution in his sister's abduction, he knew that it was the only way for him to avoid the downward spiral into a living hell.
He was just going to have to grin and bear it, so to speak. There was no way that he was going to let some extraterrestrial slime worms beat him. Filled with renewed purpose, he jumped up from the couch, prepared to bring in the UNSUB himself if he could. But he had sadly misjudged how ready his body was and he stumbled into Bear's desk, locking his elbows when his hands hit the wooden surface in order to keep himself upright. He crushed his eyes shut and took in deep breaths, waiting for the sparks of pain to lessen to a more manageable level.
"Agent Mulder, are you all right?"
His head jerked to the side and he found Gopher looking at him with concern. "I'm fine, thanks." He pushed himself off the desk and stood up straight, wincing as he did so.
Gopher cocked his head sideways. "If you'll pardon me for saying so, you don't look fine. In fact, you look worse than before."
"Well, I won't pardon you then. Now, are you here just to make obvious diagnoses on my health or do you have something to report." Mulder instantly felt guilty when he saw the contrite look that graced the younger man's face. "Look, Gopher, I'm sorry. I know you're just worried, and I appreciate your concern, but I don't have time for that sort of thing. You remember when I told you that you need to learn when to take breaks?" He waited for the kid to nod. "This is one of those times when you put the good of the victims ahead of everything else."
"I understand. But Mulder, wouldn't Dana prefer-"
Mulder put up a hand to stop the younger agent's speech. "Gopher, listen to me. I want you to promise me that you are not going to tell Scully about any of this. No, hear me out. We both know that if she was aware of my current condition she would forcibly restrain me to keep me from seeing this case through to the end."
Gopher appeared to mull over the decision for a moment. "All right, you have my word. But Mulder?"
"If I can tell that you're in pain, don't you think Dana will be able to as well?"
Mulder stared at the kid in astonishment. "Damn." They both startled at the sound of feet pounding past the room and a grin split his face. "But she's not going to."
"Because we're all going to be so busy that she's not going to have the time to notice."
Gopher's brows scrunched together. "How do you know that?"
"Because Brenner just ran by with a huge smile on his face. Let's go."
The briefing room was in chaos. People were shouting and clapping each other on the back, others hastily making notes on the maps and papers plastered on the wall, some with phone to their ears, free hands blocking out the noise. Mulder walked stiffly into the room, Gopher at his heels. The room got louder, if possible, as people congratulated him for his insight and jabbed him good-naturedly in the ribs as they winked conspiratorially.
"Quiet down!" roared Bear.
It took a moment longer than usual, but soon there was nothing but a twitter or two. "Thank you. Now, I want-" he paused as Dana rounded the corner, dumped a tray of food on the side table and scooted into the empty seat next to Mulder. "I want to thank everyone for pulling together so fast and getting this information in such an expedient manner, well done. So, let's get down to it.
"Our main suspect is James C. Talbain, age forty-seven. He is currently employed with the Portsmouth Gazette and was recently promoted to senior journalist. He lives with his sister Caroline whom he moved back in with after his wife of fifteen years, Melanie Talbain, died of lung cancer two months ago. His driver's license photo matches the description given to us by Kyle Bowen of a man who bought scopolamine and strychnine within the past week. We also had an anonymous phone call from a woman who claimed that her brother was acting strangely, drinking and lashing out angrily. She would not give us her name but we were able to trace it to an area of ten square miles. Caroline and James Talbain live within that region.
"Background on Talbain states that he was an orphan, adopted by Jonathan and Margaret Talbain in 1955. He had a good childhood and did well in school. In 1973 he applied to the Air Force Academy but was rejected for medical reasons. Apparently he is nearly blind in his right eye due to an accident as a child. He ended up going to Ohio State and graduated in 1979 with a degree in journalism. He worked at a few small papers for about five years and was then hired by the Portsmouth Gazette in 1984. We contacted his office and it seems that he called in sick today, the third day in a row, claiming to have the flu that's going around.
"All right, here's the game plan. I want a small task force to go to his house and arrest him. Try and get him to tell us where the girl is, since he won't be holding her at the same residence, and ask the sister for any information that might be helpful. Brenner, you head up the team, choose five agents to accompany you. Mulder, Roberts, I want you two to go along for on-site consulting. Okay people, let's do it."
The response was instantaneous. Agents were moving at a run, getting everything together as fast as possible. Brenner was calling out the names of his task force. Mulder could see the dismay on Dana's face when she wasn't one of the five chosen. "Don't worry, Scully, I'll be fine. I can't go with them into the house, I can only advise over the radio. No field agent status, remember?"
She gave him a half-hearted smile. "I know, you're right. Well, I doubt Brenner is leaving within the next five minutes, so I want you to eat something before you have to go."
"You trying to fatten me up, woman?"
"Oh yeah, you know how the sight of collagen turns me on." She couldn't help but chuckle a bit. "Promise to call me after you pick him up?"
"The chances that Talbain is there are practically nil, but I promise to call you anyway."
"Thank you. Now eat."
He assumed a soldier's stance. "Yes, Sir!"
11175 West Bernardo Drive
Mulder stepped through the doorway, his senses alert, taking in his surroundings and scrutinizing them to the last detail. It was a small house, aging but well taken care of. Decorated with an eclectic yet aesthetic taste, it was a cozy little environment that spoke of a woman's touch. The woman in question was sitting on a black leather couch in the living room, two agents standing above her. She had her face in her hands and was crying softly, her shoulders hitching as she wept. One of the agents turned to him. "She's incoherent, we can't get anything out of her."
Mulder pierced the man with a disgusted glare. The woman was not deaf and she certainly wasn't a suspect, someone who was to be interrogated. He waved the other two away and knelt down in front of her, placing his hand on her knee. "Caroline?"
She lifted tear stained eyes to meet his.
"Caroline, my name is Fox Mulder, I was wondering if I could talk to you. I know that this is all overwhelming and you feel hurt and confused. But we need your help."
"My brother is not an evil man," she said firmly.
"No, no he's not. He is a man whose mind has been clouded by grief. He doesn't know that what he is doing is wrong, he only wants to save others from the heartache he has suffered. Quite a noble goal if you ask me. But he is going about it the wrong way. He is not keeping sorrow from others, he is causing it. The families of those little girls will never be the same, they will have a void that cannot be filled and will have to live the rest of their lives wondering why. Please. Please help us fill one family's void."
During Mulder's speech Caroline had stopped crying and listened intently. She sat up straighter and strength seemed to flow back into her. "You sound like you are speaking from experience."
He looked her straight in the eyes. "I am."
She gave him a kind-hearted smile. "Jim told me that he was going to be home late today after work because he had some errands to run. He didn't say what but he told me not to wait up. He did mention something about the stars but I can't remember exactly what and it didn't make much sense to me. He had been drinking, even that early in the morning, so I dismissed it."
Mulder squeezed her knee. "Thank you." He stood and walked over to Brenner. "Which one is his room?"
The older man glanced up from his notebook where he had been writing down Caroline's statement. "Two doors down, on the left."
Mulder went down the hallway and into the room Brenner had directed. Roberts was there along with two other agents and it was quickly becoming crowded. Roberts had refused to acknowledge the other profiler ever since the meeting earlier, so it was no surprise that the man continued to ignore him. Agent Gordon and Agent Hartburg nodded and proceeded with what they were doing. He went through the same procedure he had in the victims' rooms - try to imagine what kind of person Talbain was, how he lived, what he thought.
He had to figure out where the man had taken Katie, what his next move would be. If they could cut him off at the pass, they might be able to stop him before he harmed the child. But he couldn't think, his mind was muddled with pain, he was unable to focus on any specific thought. He could almost grasp one when it fluttered away, leaving him as clueless as before. He dug his fingernails into his palms and took slow cleansing breaths. For a split second the pain seemed to disappear and he was grateful for the respite. Then it came crashing down on him full force, causing him to stumble into the bed and he grasped blindly for the bedpost. He felt the smooth wood under his hands and he held onto it like a man on a sinking ship clings to a lifesaver.
Anthony Roberts was an insightful man; he had to be in his profession. He considered himself to be excellent at his job, exceeding all those who came before him. Except one. He didn't hate Mulder, he hated what the other profiler stood for - the fact that he, Tony, was not the absolute best. Yes, he knew that he could be considered egotistical, but if that's what someone who knows that they are right because they are more often than not proved correct was called, then he was proud to bear the title.
He had despised the reality that Mulder had been right all this time. Tony had tried his damnedest to get the other agents in the VCS and also the Cincinnati office to see Mulder as he did - an alien-hunting outcast who lost the profiling skills he had so many years ago and those were just gained from thinking too much like a psychopath. In Tony's mind Mulder was nothing more than an insane showoff with good credentials and a knack for not getting caught. He had no idea how Mulder had managed to stay in the Bureau so long without ever being thrown out on grounds of mental instability.
As Tony watched the other profiler move around the room, a haunted look on his face, he realized that the reason he had such a problem with the man was because Mulder had shown that he wasn't insane. It was hard for Tony to come to grips with the fact that Mulder actually was as good as they said and not because he was crazy, but because he was insightful. Just like himself.
So absorbed in his own musings, he was caught by surprise when Mulder gasped and lurched into the end of the bed. The man grabbed onto the bedpost and stayed there as if it was the only thing keeping him from falling to the ground. Tony could see Mulder's muscles shudder and clench as waves of inconceivable pain rolled through him, his breath harsh and ragged. His head dropped to his chest and it seemed as though he might collapse but then, as suddenly as it had come, it was over, leaving the other agents in the room at a loss.
Tony stared as Mulder took several large gulps of air before pushing himself away from the bed to walk stiffly, and what was obviously painfully, out of the room. Gordon turned to Hartburg and said in a stage whisper, "He looks really bad, I wonder if he's gonna make it through this case."
The other agent shrugged noncommittally and they both went about their business, following Mulder out into the hallway. Tony stayed where he was, reflecting on the past few minutes. Gordon's comment had struck a chord inside of him. Was Mulder going to make it through this case? It was evident that the man was in constant discomfort and it was only getting worse. Why was he even working if he was in such bad condition?
Suddenly Tony Roberts had an epiphany. He blinked rapidly and searched for somewhere to sit down. He found a chair in the corner of the room and dropped into it, his thoughts whirling. Mulder wasn't here to prove that he was better, to gloat about being the premier profiler. He wasn't even here because it was his job. Fox Mulder was here because he wanted to save that little girl. He didn't care about how much effort it took, how hard and frustrating it was, or if he got the credit. All Mulder cared about was whether or not one victim came back alive.
He hunched over and stared at his hands limply dangling in-between his knees. For the first time in a long time, Anthony Roberts was ashamed.
"Hartburg, I want you to stay here with Ms. Talbain. He might see her as the enemy now that she's spoken with us and I don't want to take any chances. I doubt he'll want to hurt her, but who knows. Gordon, Basque, set up surveillance outside, I want to know the second the bastard comes back." Brenner finished giving assignments and turned to the rest of his team. "All right, let's get back to the command center and figure out our next move."
Caroline opened the door for the agents, her eyes downcast in sorrow. "Agent Mulder," she called as the men moved out the door, catching his hand as he passed. He turned and raised his brows questioningly. "I hope your void is filled someday."
He smiled sadly down at her and nodded his thanks.
"Moon and stars. Moon and stars, moon and stars, moon n' stars, moon'nstars, moonstars, monstars, monsters..." The words were repeated so fast that they became a garbled one line sentence. Mulder knew it was important, Talbain had mentioned the stars to his sister before he left that morning. He was going to look at the stars. Where did someone go to look at stars? An observatory? No, that didn't feel right. A solarium? Yes, that would be just the place. They weren't often frequented and some closed early in the afternoon. Or he could pose as an employee of wherever the solarium was located, close the place down without raising suspicion and then take his time to do whatever he wanted to the girl. Could it really be that simple?
He had to find out.
Heads turned as Mulder practically ran through the hallways, his coat flapping behind him. He rounded a corner and found himself right where he wanted to be - the computer lab. He picked the nearest agent and told the woman that he needed her to do a search right away.
"Well, SAC Hallowell is having us do a search for Agent Mulder, Sir. I'm afraid you're going to have to wait," the female agent replied.
"I *am* Agent Mulder and I want you to do a new search." He didn't have time to be nice; the need to know was overpowering. He saw her hesitate a moment but she must have decided it wasn't worth a fight because she stopped what she was doing and pulled up a new search page on her screen. "Thank you. All right, I need to know if there are any solariums in Portsmouth. Public parks, hotels, zoos, anyplace that has one is suspect. If one's closed temporarily put it at the top of the list." She was typing as fast as he was speaking and he was glad that he didn't need to repeat anything. She got the results quickly, as there weren't that many solariums in the Portsmouth area. She printed it out and handed it to him, a wispy smile on her face. He gave her one of his best grins and thanked her again, making sure he noted her name. Then he was whirling around and bounding off the way he came. He never heard the lovelorn sigh behind him.
He almost knocked down another agent in his haste to reach Bear's office. He skidded to a halt in front of it and shoved open the door without even a warning knock. Apologizing brusquely to the SAC, he launched into an explanation of where their killer would take the girl.
"Sir, he's going to take her to a solarium, where he can kill her under the stars, which is prominently mentioned in the poem relating to this child and also has connections to Caroline Talbain's statement. I had Agent Brisby print up a list of solariums in Portsmouth and we have a choice of five." Mulder slammed the piece of paper on the desk and grabbed a red pen from the cup next to it. He circled the second set of words decisively, pointing at it with emphasis. "He's there."
Bear leaned over and scrutinized the document before him then looked up at Mulder. "How do you know it's this one?"
"Look at the name," Mulder stated as though it would explain everything.
Bear read it again. Virginia Park Solarium. The SAC shook his head and raised it to meet Mulder's impatient gaze. "It's not saying anything to me, Mulder. What's so important about the name?"
Mulder smiled ferally, like a wolf who had scented his prey. Or a fox. "Virginia, Sir. Virginia was the name of Edgar Allan Poe's wife."
The night was already encroaching on the park, gray shadows growing longer as the setting sun turned the greens of the grass and trees a muted orange. There were a few joggers making their rounds through the grounds, another man bicycling down a well-worn path. A man sitting on a bench reading the paper ducked his head and whispered into his coat, "No sign of the suspect."
In a van stationed at the far end of the park filled with video cameras trained on each of the persons within the park area, the message was received with some disappointment. Scully noticed the tense set of Bear's shoulders and turned to her partner. "Are you sure this is the right one?"
"Yeah, I'm sure." He frowned and leaned closer to one of the monitors. He grabbed a headset and switched a button on the console. "Hicks, are you certain that no one has entered the building?"
The man reading his paper bent his head again. "Negative, no one has gone in."
Mulder chewed on his lip thoughtfully. "Weissburger, make another pass around the building, double check that there's nobody inside."
A jogger who had been stretching next to a tree finished her routine and began to stride towards the solarium at an easy pace. She made a large circle around the building, glancing at it occasionally. "No movement inside," she huffed quietly.
"Janet, wait!" Mulder ordered as he listened to her radio communication. To the woman's credit, she did not jerk to a stop, she slowed down to a halt and bent over, placing her hands on her knees as if to take a breather.
"What?" she hissed into her hidden microphone.
"What's that noise in the background?"
Janet stood straight and looked to her right. "Looks like a press conference at the opening of a new store or something."
Mulder adjusted the camera so that they could see a little past the corner of the solarium. Outside of the park there were reporters gathered around the steps of a large building, all of them focused on the man cutting an enormous ribbon with a pair of scissors. "Okay. Now, do you see a van or car from the Portsmouth Gazette?"
It took a moment for Weissburger to respond. "Yeah, parked next to a bunch of other news vans."
"Damn it!" Mulder exploded. "He's already inside!"
"What??" Bear's expression was one of bottled fury. "How the hell did he get inside?"
"I don't know," Mulder muttered, moving over next to Scully to search through schematics of the building they were surveilling. "What's this?" He stabbed the paper with his index finger.
Bear peered over the edge of the plans. "It's an old access tunnel to the sewer. But it was supposed to have been sealed when the sewer tunnels were refurbished back in 1994."
"Well, apparently they left a hole big enough for our rat to get through."
"Shit, shit, shit," Bear ranted and he paced in the confines of the van. He picked up his headset. "All teams, hold your positions. Suspect is inside." He flipped off a switch and turned to Mulder. "Okay, what do we do? Do we assume the girl's dead and go in there, guns blazing? Or do we negotiate? Is this guy going to talk and what are the chances that the girl's alive? I want to know what Talbain's next move is going to be and you're the man who knows the most about him."
"She's alive, don't send the assault team. He's been here since that press conference started and is waiting underground until the solarium closes at five-thirty. Then he'll bring her up and kill her in there. It has to be under the stars. Our best bet is to announce our presence to him as quietly as possible, keep it low key. He'll be threatened by us, he thinks we're here to take away his 'Lenore', which we are, so he's going to react defensively, not offensively. I suggest you send in a negotiator. Wait until we see movement inside and then send Roberts in."
Tony Roberts had been sitting in the corner of the van, quiet until then. "Me? Why me? You know more about him than I do."
Everyone was too focused on the situation to realize how much that statement cost the older profiler, but Mulder filed it away in his memory for later consideration. "I don't have field agent status, I can't go in there. But I can advise you over the radio."
Roberts nodded as he accepted that there really was no other way. Bear turned away from the two profilers and held the radio closer to his ear. "We've got a visual," he announced. "All teams, the suspect is now inside the building and an agent is being sent in to negotiate. Keep alert and do not, I repeat, do not antagonize the suspect in any way. We want to keep him as calm as possible." Finished with his orders, the SAC reached over and picked up a Kevlar vest, tossing it over to Roberts. "It's time. Suit up."
Everyone watched with their breaths held as Roberts approached the glass doors of the solarium. The dusk was quickly turning into night and the park lights were coming on one by one, reflecting off the glass walls of the building.
Then he was inside and they couldn't see anything, just hear the harsh breathing of the negotiator. "James Talbain?" Roberts said loudly.
Everyone strained their ears at the silence. Then there was a high pitched sound like the whimper of a child and a deep male voice shouted, "Stay away from us!"
"Mr. Talbain, my name is Tony Roberts, I'm with the FBI."
"You can't have her! I've lost her once, I refuse to lose her again!!"
Mulder flinched at the hysterical note in Talbain's voice. "If he's sitting, you should sit down as well, make sure you're not standing over him. And get him to work on a first name basis, bring it to a personal level," he instructed.
They heard a scuffling as Roberts sat down on the concrete floor. "Mr. Talbain, may I call you Jim?" The man must have nodded because Roberts spoke again. "Then why don't you call me Tony. Now, I was hoping that you could show me Katie. We need to know that she's okay."
"You don't care whether or not she's okay, you just want to take her away from me and make me forget about her!"
Mulder sighed and closed his eyes. Talbain actually saw the children as embodiments of his wife Melanie. This was going to take some finagling. He wracked his brain for the right quote that would reach Talbain. He found it momentarily and murmured into the radio, "Tell him there's balm in Gilead."
"What?" was Tony's whispered reply.
"Gilead. Tell him there's balm in Gilead." Mulder stressed each word carefully.
"Jim, there is balm in Gilead," Roberts repeated.
Silence filled the air for a few tense moments. Then Talbain spoke. "There is?"
"Yes, Jim, there is."
"Then tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn, it shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels named Lenore."
Roberts didn't answer, obviously waiting for Mulder's cue. Mulder's mind was racing. "Okay, repeat after me. By that Heaven that bends above us - by that God we both adore - thou shalt clasp a rare and radiant maiden who the angels name Lenore."
They heard Roberts repeating Mulder's lines word for word, his speech slightly halting in his effort to get it all correct. This must have given them away, because Talbain's next words were completely unexpected. "Who are you talking to?"
Tony obviously decided to tell the truth. "To another FBI agent. But that doesn't matter. What matters is that-"
"I want to talk to him."
"I, uh, I'm afraid that..." Roberts paused as he listened to Mulder instruct him to hand the radio over to Talbain. "Well, certainly, Jim. Here, take my radio and you can talk to him yourself."
"No. I want him here, I want to talk to him in person."
"That's not possible, he's..." No one in the van heard the rest of Roberts' explanation, they were occupied with the hopeless task of persuading Mulder not to meet Talbain.
"Mulder, you are not cleared to go into the field, I can't allow it," Bear said, not much authority lacing his voice.
"You and I both know that this may be our only chance of getting the girl out alive. You've got the park crawling with agents and a SWAT team ready to go in on your signal. Give me a chance."
Bear closed his eyes, knowing he only had one choice. "All right."
Mulder was in motion instantly, pulling on a vest and grabbing a radio headset. He turned around, ready to head out the door, when he saw Scully staring at him sadly. He knelt down in front of her and took her hands in his. "Dana, I'm sorry, I have to do this."
"I know." She tried to smile. He kissed her quickly on the cheek and pushed open the van's back doors. "Mulder," Scully called as he was about to exit into the open air. He looked back at her. "Please come back to me."
He smiled, love and trust shining in his eyes, then whirled around and jogged off into the night. He hesitated at the doors of the solarium, stealing himself for the ordeal he knew was about to take place. He took a long deep breath, tamping down on the persistent ache of his body and pushed the doors open.
The solarium was a large glass building in the shape of a half-globe. Flowering plants and trees rimmed the windows and decorative concrete paths lined with more greenery led to the center, where a large circular space was graced with a few benches. It was in this center space that he found the other two men. Roberts had his back to Mulder, sitting on the ground so as to be eye-level with the suspect. Talbain was kneeling approximately fifteen feet away, Katie Bittner sitting next to him, her tiny wrists bound securely behind her. Talbain held a gun point blank at the child, his eyes wide and the hand that held the weapon trembling.
"You Mulder?" the man asked.
Mulder nodded, making brief eye contact with Roberts who had turned around at Talbain's question. "Jim, I'm here now, do you think Tony should go?" He was leaving the ball in Talbain's court, letting him think he had control.
"Yeah, we don't need him." Talbain shrugged as though it was an unimportant issue.
Roberts slowly got to his feet and moved towards the exit. He shot Mulder a look that said 'good luck' and headed on his way. Mulder stayed where he was, not making any unnecessary movements. "Jim, why don't we sit on the benches, make everyone a little more comfortable?"
Mulder was almost certain that Talbain would object but he suddenly stood, pulling the girl up with him and keeping the gun trained on her. He backed up a few feet and sat down on the nearest bench. He used his armed hand to wave Mulder to the bench on his right.
The profiler gratefully sank down onto the hard wood, hoping that Talbain didn't notice the tremors running through his body. He smiled down at Katie, his eyes flicking over her to make sure that she was unharmed. For a brief second his heart fluttered at the sight of the girl. She looked so much like Samantha. But that wasn't important right now, so he shoved the grief away and embraced the impassivity of his job. He wasn't able to discern any visible damage to the child, so he moved on to his next priority. His eyes, glowing green in the light of the solarium, met Talbain's and he knew that his next words would be extremely important.
"Thy God hath lent me - by these angels he hath sent me, to ask that ye repent thee and release this lost Lenore."
Scully was fidgeting in her seat, her heart screaming to her as she listened to Mulder and Talbain converse. They were tossing quotes by Poe back and forth as though it were some sort of foreign language or code understood by only them. And in essence, it was. The only thing that could distract her from the dialogue between the two men was the noisy and abrupt entry of Keith into the van.
The youth was panting, apparently having run all the way from across the park. "Sir, I've got some bad news. The press has somehow found out what's going on and they're on their way."
The string of curses that tumbled from Bear's mouth was enough to make a sailor blush. "How the hell did they get wind of it? Never mind, it's not important. Right now we have to figure out how to keep them as uninvolved as possible. Mulder said to keep this low key and we're going to do our damn best to do just that." He picked up his radio and started issuing new orders to team members, relocating some of them to intercept the press.
Gopher turned to Dana. "Speaking of which, where's Mulder?"
Scully was confused for a moment but then realized that the young man wasn't wearing a headset and was therefore not privy to the information on her partner's whereabouts. "He's inside talking to Talbain."
"In the condition he's in??" Gopher blurted.
Dana's head snapped around and she pierced him with her gaze. "What do you mean, 'the condition he's in'?"
"Um... well," Gopher ducked his head, his face turning crimson. "Mulder hasn't exactly been one hundred percent since his seizure this morning."
Puzzlement formed on Scully's face. She thought back to all the times she had seen her partner since his attack earlier that morning. He seemed focused and determined, his mind completely set on catching Talbain. She thought harder, visualizing every detail. His movements had been stiff and there were lines at the corners of his mouth that usually meant he was in pain but not letting it show. Then, like lightning, it came to her. "Oh God, he's getting worse."
"I'm sorry, Dana, he told me not to tell you because you'd make him get off this case and he couldn't let that happen." Gopher was talking fast in his haste to apologize.
"Not your fault," she said absently. "I should have known that something was wrong."
"I'm sure he'll be fine," Gopher tried to console her.
Scully's eyes were filled with sorrow. "That's what I'm afraid of."
"Lift your soul from out that shadow," Mulder implored.
"I can't!" Talbain shouted. "Don't you understand? I can't just quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore."
"Yes, I do understand, more than you realize. My sister was taken from my family when she was eight. I was twelve and I never forgave myself for letting it happen. It tore my family apart, my mother passing her days in a numbing cloud of Valium and my father drowning his grief in alcohol. I have spent more than twenty-five years trying to find my sister, to make the pain disappear, to fill the hole that was left inside me the night she disappeared. So I have tried to keep others from feeling the same suffering my family and I had to endure, just like you.
"But you're going about it the wrong way. You can't save anyone from heartache by causing heartache for others. Think about the families of those little girls. Their lives are changed forever, a missing piece in their hearts that can never be filled because the piece that filled it is gone forever. Think, Jim. Think of all the people who now feel as you do because their loved ones are dead."
Talbain seemed to be wavering, his expression becoming less angry and his grip on the gun loosening. "But it hurts so much."
Mulder couldn't help but feel sorry for the man beside him. "Yes, it does. It hurts so much that some days you feel like you don't have the strength to get out of bed. You hardly eat or sleep, figuring that if you should die, then all the better because you have no real reason to live. Then you fight the guilt. You fight so hard to prove that there was nothing you could do to prevent it. And Jim, there was no way you could have kept Melanie from dying. She had lung cancer, nothing could have saved her. It is *not* your fault."
"But..." Talbain trailed off, his response lacking surety.
"Did you and Melanie want to have children?"
Talbain looked as though he was surprised at the sudden change in subject. "Yes. We tried for seven years, until she got sick, but it never took." A soft smile lit up his features. "Mellie loved kids."
"And what would she have thought about what you're doing to these girls?"
Silence reigned for several heartbeats. Then Talbain seemed to cave in on himself. His chin dropped to his chest and sobs wracked his thin form. He released his hold on Katie and used his free hand to wipe his face. Mulder shifted in his seat, a mixture of pain and impatience forcing him to move. Talbain's head snapped up and for a second Mulder thought he was going to shoot. But instead the man pushed the girl away from him.
"Go, go back to your family," he said to the frightened child. The girl looked from her captor to Mulder, her eyes wide with fear. Then, before anyone could change their minds, she bolted for the door, leaving ferns bouncing in her wake.
Scully was right outside, waiting for the girl. Katie burst through the doors and tumbled straight into Dana's arms. "Shhh, it's okay, I'm with the FBI." She picked up the crying child and carried her over to the surveillance van. There she set the girl down and did a quick examination as she murmured soothing words. "No damage," she reported to Bear.
"I want the paramedics to check her out anyhow and then we can release her into her parents' custody." The SAC waved the waiting EMTs over and then addressed his agent again. "SWAT informs me that they don't have any clears shots because of all the foliage, so their going to have to go through the ceiling if anything goes wrong."
Despite a sense of foreboding that resided in the pit of her stomach, Dana tried to be positive. "We've got the girl out safe and Mulder should have no problems talking Talbain into surrendering. What could go wrong?"
"Agent Mulder, have you ever loved someone so much that you're incomplete without them?"
"Yes, Jim, I have. In fact, I almost lost her to cancer." Mulder kept his answers short, focusing half his mind on the conversation and the other half on holding the pain at bay.
"Yeah. We were lucky; it went into remission." He paused and took a long breath. "But I remember how much it hurt to watch her wasting away until she was only a shadow... of the woman I knew. And I am grateful every time that I look at her that she is... alive and with me today." He was gritting his teeth now. "Together we've beaten impossible odds and come out of it with hope." He locked gazes with Talbain. "Jim, there *is* balm in Gilead."
Talbain slowly nodded, his eyes brimming with tears. He set his weapon down on the bench next to him. "Then show me."
Mulder was trying his utmost to stay with the conversation, but the pain had grown to such an intense level that he missed Talbain's last words. He shook his head to clear it, his eyes clenched tight and his fists pressed against his thighs. "I..." It was all he got out. The seizure hit with a force that he had never experienced before, his body jerking into a hunched position, his arms encircling his torso automatically.
The movement so surprised Talbain that the man jumped up, knocking the gun onto the floor. The weapon fired, the noise rattling the glass of the solarium and it skidded to a halt next to Mulder, who had collapsed over onto the concrete.
Everyone outside jumped at the sound of gunfire. Bear pressed his radio to his ear, listening to the SWAT team. "Shots fired! Agent down! Move in!!"
They all watched in horror as a helicopter appeared from nowhere and a SWAT member dressed entirely in black jumped out of the chopper. The man was attached to the helicopter by a cable and he swung down to the ceiling of the solarium, shattering the glass as he broke through the top.
Mulder was writhing on the ground, waves of pain coursing through his tortured body. He heard the breaking of glass and managed to force his eyes open. He watched as the world moved in slow motion around him. A black shape had torn through the ceiling and was hurtling towards them.
Talbain, who had been kneeling over Mulder, attempting to help but confused as what to do, saw the black form and panicked. He scrambled forward and grabbed the dropped gun, twisting around to point it at the approaching shape. "No!" he screamed. "Not you! You can't make me forget! Not Nevermore!!"
And then the silhouette coalesced into the figure of a man, an automatic weapon dangling from his shoulder. Mulder tried to shout at him to stop, but he couldn't force the words up through his throat. Then the man was firing and Talbain's body was jerking as bullets ripped through him. He fell back next to Mulder, his head flopping loosely to the side, his face directly opposite Mulder's.
Another surge of pain hit and suddenly. Mulder couldn't see through the black film that was floating across his eyes. But he could hear Talbain's voice, wet with blood.
"In me didst thou exist-."
Then everything - sight, sound, and pain, disappeared.
"No... no, not me, s'not me..."
Dana leaned closer to the sleeping form of her partner. He had moved from unconsciousness to sleep a little after midnight and she had been hoping that it would be restful. Apparently her hopes were in vain. Mulder was tossing his head back and forth, muttering incoherently.
"Shh, it's okay," she cooed as she rubbed her fingers up and down his forearm in a soothing motion. "It's all right, you're safe."
"No!" he cried, his body jerking awake. His eyes flitted about the room until they came to rest on her and her heart constricted at the sight of tears cascading from the corners of his eyes. "Dana?"
"I'm here, Sweetheart." She placed a warm hand on his pale cheek.
He gasped and reached out with both arms, pulling her into an awkward embrace. "I was lost and you were gone, you were gone because I was a murderer and you didn't love me, so you left." He sniffled a bit and ran the back of his hand under his nose in a boyish gesture.
Scully couldn't help the tiny smile that crossed her face. Then she grew serious. "Mulder, I'm not gone, I'm here and I still love you with all my heart." She kissed him gently and pushed back on his chest so that he was lying back down. "How do you feel?"
"Fine. Nothing hurts really, though my right shoulder is a bit sore. I think I bruised it when I hit the ground.
Mulder let out a sigh of sadness mixed with relief. "It wasn't supposed to end that way. He was going to give himself up; no one should have gotten hurt. But I am sort of relieved, because that means that he can't get to me anymore."
"Get to you?" Dana was confused.
"Yeah. In my dreams." His eyes glazed over slightly and his breathing became hitched as he remembered his nightmare.
"Mulder, I'm here," she reassured him. "I want you to take a few deep breaths and tell me what you dreamt."
He did as was told, inhaling long and slow several times. "I killed little girls, just like Talbain, and I couldn't stop myself. Everything else was gone, it was like I was drowning in darkness with voices screaming in my ears."
"Mulder, the case is over; you saved Katie Bittner, Talbain is dead, and Bear even put you in for a commendation."
"I know, but even though he's dead, he's still there, in my mind." He looked at her with a pained expression. "It's what he said to me before he died." Scully raised an eyebrow and Mulder continued, "He said, 'In me didst thou exist.'"
"What does that mean?"
"It's from one of Poe's stories. 'In me didst thou exist and, in my death, see by this image, which is thine own, how utterly thou has murdered thyself.'"
Understanding dawned on her. "Mulder, you are nothing like that man, or any of the other monsters that you have profiled. Do you hear me? You are *not* like them. You are the most caring, compassionate, brilliant, moral, honest, and trustworthy man I have ever known. You could never be even remotely compared to the killers you profile. Understanding is not the same as being."
Mulder eyes turned from black to a golden green and he smiled lightly. He repeated her words to himself, "Understanding is not being."
"I see here that his previous doctor diagnosed paroxysmal tachycardia. Well, it appears to have progressed at an alarming rate. Agent Mulder now suffers from cardiomyopathy. Dilated cardiomyopathy to be exact."
Dana nodded, not really surprised at the news. She knew that Mulder had strained his heart, that nothing could be found as the cause. She thanked the doctor and returned to the small room she had spent the last fifteen or so hours in. Mulder was sitting up in bed talking to Assistant Director Skinner.
"So you see, Talbain thought that the SWAT guy was the raven, swooping down from above to steal away the last remnants of the memory of his wife," Mulder explained.
Skinner was listening intently to his agent's narrative. He noticed Scully standing in the doorway and acknowledged her with an inclination of his head. "What news?" he asked.
Dana heaved a sigh and moved in to drop in the chair by Mulder's bedside. "Doctor Davidovich diagnoses dilated cardiomyopathy."
"Dilated what?" Mulder interrupted.
"Cardiomyopathy. It's when there is a dilation and impaired contraction of the ventricles. The cavity of the heart is enlarged and stretched. This means that the heart is weaker and does not pump blood as efficiently, leading to decreased heart function that affects the lungs, liver, and other body systems." She related it in a clinical voice, trying to distance herself from the hopelessness of the situation.
"I take it the doctors found no sign of the black cancer?" Skinner raised his eyebrows in askance.
"Nothing in the x-rays, ultrasound, blood tests, and everything other examination they performed. Just like before. But cardiomyopathy usually has no known cause and is common in middle aged men, so the doctors are working off of that diagnosis." Scully's tone related the fact that she felt the doctors in this hospital had been less than agreeable when it came to her explanation of her partner's condition.
Skinner's mouth pressed into a thin line. "Well, Mulder, looks like you're on medical leave again."
"Sir, no!" Mulder replied emphatically.
Skinner actually seemed surprised at his agent's tone. "Mulder, you have to realize how serious your condition is."
"It's not so serious that I can't work."
Dana placed a hand on his arm, forestalling his argument. "Mulder, Skinner's right. As the heart begins to fail, blood pressure changes lead to an accumulation of fluid in the chest, making it increasingly difficult to breathe, and thus reducing stamina. Other blood pressure changes may lead to enlargement of the liver and spleen, and the accumulation of fluid in the abdomen. Add to that your having to constantly deal with the seizures and they aren't exactly the best conditions to be working under."
"But I'm not displaying any of those symptoms now, so there's no reason to think that I'm going to drop dead at any second." Dana flinched at his words and he squeezed her hand. "I am not going to spend the rest of my life afraid of what may happen. This thing, whatever it is I have, is not caused by any earthly element and I see no point in assuming that it will act like one. Okay, my heart is a bit weaker than before, we knew that was an eventuality." Mulder turned to the AD. "Sir, didn't you say that you would allow me to work until my condition dictated otherwise?"
Skinner gave a hesitant nod, unsure as to where this line of questioning was going.
"And Scully, did the doctor say that my chances of surviving more than a few months were slim?"
"Then I see no logic in not allowing me to return to work, sans field agent status of course. I feel perfectly fine." He sat back in the bed, folding his arms and looking like he had just stated the most obvious answer in the world.
Skinner looked at Dana, sure that she would be able to pull something out of her hat to convince her partner that he needed to put his health before his work. But she amazed him by doing just the opposite. "I suppose the ISU is as safe a place as any for you to work, as long as you don't have any more excursions into the field like last night."
Mulder held up his right hand, index and middle finger extended toward the sky. "Scout's honor."
"Then it's settled. Sir?" Scully turned to Skinner for approval.
He was too shocked to do anything but agree. "Scully, can I talk to you outside for a moment?"
She stood and leaned over to place a kiss on Mulder's cheek before following the AD out of the room. "Yes?"
He placed his hands on his hips and stared down at the diminutive woman. "What are you doing? Don't you think it would be better for Mulder to take the medical leave?"
Scully bristled at his words. "Of course I think he should take it!"
"Because Mulder would rather die this very instant than spend however long he has stuck at home writing articles for magazines. Forcing him to take medical leave would be a death sentence. And while having him go back to work at the ISU is not an encouraging idea, it is better than watching him waste away at home or in a hospital. You know as well as I do that Mulder never gives up without a fight and this is one fight that we are going to lose."
Investigative Support Unit
Two Weeks Later
"Mulder, we got another e-mail from Keith. It says that he was given recognition for his part in solving another case. He wanted to thank us for teaching him how to be a real agent."
"We didn't do much, he just needed a little coaxing to fully develop his skills," Mulder observed, glancing up from the papers in front of him.
"He works with a good group of agents, I'm sure he has learned something from all of them."
"Well, he certainly didn't get much from Roberts."
"Mulder!" Scully admonished. "Tony Roberts has been nothing but nice to you since we got back, I think you should give him a break."
Mulder pursed his lips in distaste. "I don't know, he's got to be up to something."
"Mmm," Dana answered, busy reading the next message in her in-box. Her face paled and her lip trembled slightly.
"Scully? What's wrong?" Mulder was up and moving to her side.
She simply pointed at the screen:
Agents Mulder and Scully,
We have just been made aware of a procedure that may reverse the effects of the black cancer.
As Agent Mulder is instrumental to the success of the project, we are willing to make a deal.
If you choose to bargain with us, simply reply to this message and further instructions will be
sent. If not, then there is nothing on this planet that can save Agent Mulder. Think carefully.
She turned to him, her eyes brimming with tears. "What if they're telling the truth?"
Mulder pulled at his lower lip in thought. "There's only one way to find out."
Dana blanched at the thought. "I don't know. It's not like they're trustworthy and we haven't exactly had much luck when it comes to making deals with them. We have no guarantee that they'll keep they're word."
"No, but if they wanted me dead, they certainly wouldn't volunteer a cure, so there's no need to worry on that point. I suppose they could always rewire my brain or something, but it's not like they've never had the opportunity. I don't really see how they could renege on their offer."
"I guess it all depends on what they want in return," Scully reasoned.
"We have a bargaining chip at least. If I'm really as important as they say, then they stand to lose if they don't make the deal. Whatever it is they want in return, we'll find a way to turn it to our advantage." Mulder took her hands in his. "As long as we're together, we can find a way."
Dana smiled and squeezed his hands back. "Then let's do it."
Just then there was a knock at the door and the partners jumped at the sound. They turned to find Rick Davis standing in the doorway. "I just stopped by to see how everything was going." The head of the ISU paused and took in the expressions on the two agents' faces. "Are you two all right?"
They grinned at each other and looked at their boss, saying simultaneously, "We're fine."
To Be Continued