Summary: This one's for all those who would have liked to get some more answers than CC was willing to give us: A clairvoyant asking for help to prevent her forseen death and a woman claiming to have been abducted by aliens. Sounds like two typical X-Files? Not quite. The clairvoyant is an old love of Skinners, and the alien abductee seems a little too interested in Mulder in Scully's eyes. Then there's our favorite villain Alex Krycek, of course, oh, and: Anybody remember those words? "I know your blood type, your resting heart rate, your childhood fear of clowns. I know the name of your college boyfriend, your true hair color, your ATM pin number, favorite charities, pet peeves. I know you spend too much time alone. And I know that on one lonely night you invited Mulder to your bed."
THANK YOU!!!: ...to Moni for not letting me give up on this story!
Bethesda, Maryland. The house looked old and shabby, dilapidated even. Some of the windows were broken, and the door consisted of a set of assembled boards. It wasn't a place you would call inviting. It wasn't even a place you would think inhabited. But it was.
The large room on the third floor was bathed in a greenish, fluorescent light that gave it an almost ghostly atmosphere. The air was filled with a soft electronic humming and the sound of low voices. It looked like a scene from another world. And in a way it |was| another world here. It was the world of bits and bytes, the world of zeros and ones, the world of total information.
He moved slowly through the rows of computers, watching, checking; making sure his subordinates kept alert. From time to time he stopped to talk to one of the men, but the conversations were never long and his face never moved by any hint of emotion. He was professional and efficient. And he was dedicated to his work. He knew about its importance and was grateful he was allowed to be a part of this.
Having convinced himself that everything was going smoothly, he returned to his workspace and sat down behind his own large computer. The sight he was confronted with on the screen made him raise his eyebrows. This was very unusual even for those two. He'd thought the times of distrust and foul play were over? Well, it would be interesting to find out what his two favorite agents were up to this time...
"You do know Skinner's going to be really pissed at us if he finds out about this, don't you? And I mean |really| pissed."
"Well, if he |found| out, you could just tell him it was my idea."
"It |was| your idea, Mulder."
He flashed her a broad grin, then went back to rummaging through the pile of papers on their superior's desk. Scully watched him silently, arms folded and a very disapproving look on her face. Mulder didn't have to turn round to her to know that the look was there he could |feel| it. "Come on, Scully," he said. "Don't tell me you're not bursting with curiosity."
"I'm not bursting with curiosity," she told him.
Now he |did| turn round to her. He studied her face, her eyes, and just when she was beginning to feel really uncomfortable his mouth twisted into a grin. "Yes, you are," he said, sounding extremely self-satisfied.
Scully let out a little, annoyed sigh. There was no use pretending Mulder had always been able to see straight through her. "All right," she said. "Maybe I |am| a little curious." Mulder's grin broadened. "|But| it's still none of our business."
"Aw, Scully. You're being a spoilsport. What happened to the risk-taking young girl you used to be in school?"
"She came a cropper a little too often and therefore decided to become a reasonable and incredibly smart FBI agent instead," Scully answered him without batting an eyelid.
Mulder looked at her, his eyes sparkling with amusement. "Shannon Pierce," he then said with a thoughtful smile. "My bet is on a tall, slender woman with blonde hair. What do you think?"
"I have no idea, Mulder," Scully replied unenthusiastically. But Mulder didn't even respond to her words. "Yes: tall, slender, blonde," he muttered to himself. "I guess that's it. Hey, did you know that she's older than Skinner? About two years or so."
"No, I didn't know that. But I'm starting to wonder where |you| know all this from."
"Kimberley told me," Mulder said; and Scully raised an eyebrow. "Kimberley?" she repeated. "Mulder, is there something going on between you and Skinner's secretary that I should know about?"
Mulder gave her the once-over, then wiggled his eyebrows. "Jealous, Agent Scully?"
"Yeah, you would love that, wouldn't you?"
"Thanks for coming. This-"
The two agents whirled around at the unexpected sound of a voice from behind. Skinner had stopped dead in the doorway, both his eyebrows lifted to the limit, and Scully was suddenly desperately wishing for some hole in the ground she could disappear in.
"-is something personal," Skinner went on after a few seconds, stepping into the room and closing the door behind himself. "So I'd appreciate it if we could treat this matter as confidential."
Scully cleared her throat, not quite meeting her superior's eye. "Of course," she said remorsefully. Skinner went to sit behind his desk, and Scully glanced up at Mulder who stood beside her, looking like a little boy who has just been caught swiping candy out of the kitchen cupboard.
"It's about an old friend of mine," Skinner said, rummaging through the pile of papers on his desk just like Mulder had done seconds ago. "Her name's Shannon Pierce."
At these words Mulder's expression changed. His eyebrows pushed together in surprise as he exchanged another quick glance with Scully.
"Shannon is...well, she has a special...gift, I guess you could say. She...<sees> things, if you know what I mean." Skinner obviously felt very uncomfortable, and Scully started to feel slightly alarmed.
"She's a clairvoyant," Mulder stated as if this were the most natural thing in the world.
<Oh no, I'm sure she's not,> Scully contradicted silently, leaving it to Skinner to say the words. <Come on, say it. She's not a clairvoyant. Because we both know that clairvoyance is nothing but one great big swindle.>
"I wouldn't exactly call her-" Skinner started off, but then said with a little sigh: "Well, I guess she |is|...some kind of a <clairvoyant>."
<What?!> Scully couldn't believe it.
Mulder nodded. "Okay. So what about her?" he asked.
"She believes she's going to be murdered," Skinner said. "Within the next two days. She says she...saw it."
"She saw her own death." Scully's face was one big frown.
"Well...yes," Skinner said somewhat helplessly.
"And you want us to...--" Mulder made a questioning gesture "-- find the murderer?"
"Actually I'd like you to keep an eye on Shannon; make sure she's alright."
Mulder thought he must have had misheard. "Excuse me, Sir?"
Skinner looked guilty but went on just the same, albeit very tentatively: "And I wanted to ask if Shannon could perhaps stay at your apartment, Agent Scully. It would just be for two nights, and I'm sure..." He stopped at the look on Scully's face and took a deep breath. "Listen, I know this isn't the kind of job you're normally paid for," he said. "And you're of course free to say no. But Shannon is a close friend, and to be honest, I don't know who else to ask."
Scully was silent for a while. "Sir," she finally began tentatively, "don't get me wrong but...if she's such a close friend, why don't you let her stay at |your| apartment?"
Skinner cleared his throat. "That wouldn't be...appropriate," he said. And added after a short pause: "She's married."
"Oh... I understand."
There was an awkward silence and then finally Skinner's voice again: "I told you: You're free to say no..."
"No," Scully said. "I mean, it's okay. She can stay with me."
There was a hopeful flash in Skinner's eyes. "Are you sure? I mean..."
"No, I'm sure. It's okay, really. No problem."
Skinner seemed relieved. "Thank you, Agent Scully," he said. "I really appreciate it."
Scully nodded, a barely recognizable smile on her lips.
"Okay then..." Once again Skinner began to search the pile of papers on his desk, and this time he discovered what he was looking for. "There it is." He handed Scully a file over the desk. "You might want to have a look at this."
Scully took the file, meeting Mulder's eyes for just a second and seeing there the same puzzlement she was sure was also reflected in her own eyes.
"Alright," Skinner said, rising from his chair. "Then I'll send Shannon over to your apartment this evening."
Scully left the office at Mulder's side with the inexplicable but strong feeling that she had just gotten herself into something she wasn't at all prepared for...
"Black," Scully said, and Mulder lifted his head. "What?"
"Her hair's black, not blonde."
"So much for your qualities as a top profiler."
Scully leaned against their desk, leafing through Shannon Pierce's file and trying hard to ignore Mulder's shoulder touching hers as he stood close beside her. "And Kimberley really said that Skinner and Shannon...?" She broke off in mid-sentence, looking at Mulder with a disbelieving expression.
"Well, she said that there had been <something going on between them>. So..." Mulder looked at Scully meaningfully, but she shook her head. "I don't know, Mulder. I mean, Skinner was still married at that time, and I don't think... He's not that kind of person."
"Ah, there's this catholic breeding breaking through once again."
Mulder couldn't help smiling. "Scully, Skinner's a great man. But he's a man after all. And I'm sure you can't have forgotten about that little episode with this prostitute about four years ago."
<Carina Sayles...> No, Scully hadn't forgotten.
"I wonder what she's like," Mulder mused.
"Who?" Scully asked unnecessarily.
"Shannon Pierce. She doesn't look like the classic clairvoyant to me."
Scully raised an eyebrow. "<The classic clairvoyant?>" she repeated mockingly. "Well, she sure's got more attractive legs than Clyde Bruckman."
Mulder looked at Scully, laughter in his eyes. "I'm really anxious to see how you two are going to get along with each other," he said.
"We'll get along just fine," Scully replied firmly. "As long as she's not trying to read my future."
Assistant Director Walter Skinner was a tall man with broad shoulders. Although nearing his fifties he was still thoroughly fit, and women seemed to be attracted to him. He had a well-paid job and a nice apartment. He was a tough ex-Marine, dutiful, reliable and honest.
And very alone.
So she was back. After almost fifteen years she had suddenly returned into his life. Without warning. Just like that. And it had come as a shock to him to discover that the feelings were still there. After all this time.
He'd thought he'd never see her again, that this chapter of his life was closed once and for all. And now she was back, begging him to help her like he had helped her then.
She hadn't changed at all. It was as if time had just forgotten about her. She had been beautiful then, and she was beautiful still. Frighteningly so. And her eyes... He had been fascinated by those eyes from the very first moment he'd seen her. They had held such a fire, such a passion for life. And it was still there. The fire. The passion. After all this time...
He glanced at the telephone before him. He had to call her. To tell her that he had found a way to keep her safe for the next two days.
But somehow he couldn't seem to bring himself to touch the phone.
"Sir?" Kimberley's face appeared in the door. "Agent Arnold's here to see you."
He woke from his numbness with a start and turned his head. "Ah...yes," he said. "Just a second."
Kimberley nodded and closed the door.
He leaned back in his chair again, eyes fixed on the telephone. For seconds he sat motionless, then he took a deep breath and picked up the receiver.
Scully stood in the kitchen, doing the dishes. She had just finished a meager evening meal and was now deeply lost in thoughts. She wished she hadn't agreed to let Shannon Pierce stay with her. It was a mistake; she felt this more clearly every second. Scully guarded her privacy like a precious treasure, and it was hard enough for her to share her apartment with any <normal> person. But to share it with a self-styled clairvoyant, with someone whose so-called <profession> it was to constantly stick their noses into other people's business...- No, it was a mistake, a huge mistake.
But she couldn't have turned down Skinner's request. They owed him so much, both she and Mulder, and this seemed to be really important to him. There was no other choice; she had to get through this somehow.
She winced when she heard the knocking on the door. <Jeez, I can't do this...> She dried her hands, then went to receive her guest. <Okay, I'll be just fine. Everything will be just fine...> She seized the handle, opened the door and "Mulder?!"
He stood before her, a broad smile on his face. "Hi," he said. "I know I'm disturbing, but I just finished this report, and I need your signature-"
"You're not disturbing," Scully said.
"You're not disturbing. She's not here, yet."
"Shannon Pierce. I'm right in the assumption that she's the reason for your visit, am I not?"
"What? No, of course not. I told you I just needed-"
Scully looked at him with that special expression in her eyes, and he fell silent.
"So come on in already." She was smiling now. Not openly, but Mulder knew her long enough to be able to read every line on her face.
"You could have just asked, Mulder," she said as she closed the door behind him. "Don't you ever do things the easy way?"
"I thought this |was| the easy way," he replied innocently, following her into the kitchen.
"Any news from Miss Supermodel?" Scully asked over her shoulder.
"Janine Faulkner, our latest <alien abductee>. Here, catch this. Since you're here anyway you can as well make yourself useful."
Mulder looked at the dishcloth in his hands, frowning. "Housework. Great," he said unenthusiastically. "You really know how to impress a guy." With a sigh he stepped forward and took a wet cup from Scully's hands. "You call her <Miss Supermodel>?" he then asked, returning to their conversation topic.
"Well, she's...kind of pretty. Don't you think?" Scully looked at him expectantly, and he acted excessively indifferently. "Oh, I didn't really look that closely..."
Scully grimaced at him. "Yah. Of course." She turned back to the sink and dipped another cup into the water. "- So |did| you hear from her?"
"No, I didn't," Mulder said. "Why are you asking?"
Scully shrugged her shoulders. "I just think it's strange. I mean, it's been two days now."
"And one should think that in the meantime she should have been able to find another excuse to contact you again."
Mulder raised an eyebrow. "An excuse?" he repeated.
"Yeah. I mean, it's obvious what's going on here."
Scully turned her head to look at her partner. "That woman's got a crush on you, Mulder," she said. "And don't tell me you didn't notice."
There was another knock on the door, and Scully immediately forgot about Miss Supermodel. She paused in the middle of her movement, catching her breath. "Showtime," Mulder commented behind her. <Yeah, showtime....> Scully thought uneasily.
"Don't you wanna go let her in?"
Scully nodded and dried her hands. Again. "Sure," she said. Mulder followed her back into the living room, where she opened the door more than reluctantly as it seemed to him.
"Hi. I'm Shannon."
The woman in the hallway was the woman on the photograph in the file Skinner had given to them, there was no doubt about that. Yet, she seemed somehow different. <It's her eyes,> Mulder realized immediately. They were so...alive. So intense. A photograph could never truly picture such eyes.
"Yes, um, hi. Dana."
Mulder knew how hard it must have been for Scully to offer Shannon to call her by her first name. But this was a question of politeness, and since Shannon had introduced herself as just <Shannon> Scully hadn't had much of a choice.
"Please, come in."
Shannon smiled and stepped into the room.
"Um, this is my partner, Agent Mulder."
"Nice to meet you." Mulder extended his right hand, and Shannon took it with a firm grip. "Nice apartment you got here," she then said, taking a look around.
"Thank you," Scully replied politely.
"No, I thank |you|," Shannon said, her sparkling green eyes suddenly dark and serious. "For all this here. For letting me stay with you. I know this isn't easy for you.-" Mulder thought he saw Scully wince. "-I mean, I'm virtually descending on you, here..."
Scully's features softened a little, but Mulder could still feel her strain. "You're not descending on me," she said. "I'm glad I can help."
"Well, I thank you anyway." Shannon's voice was soft and honest.
"No problem, really," Scully said, turning a little too hastily to the bag in Shannon's hand. "Let me take care of this." She took the bag and made an inviting gesture toward the couch. "Why don't you go have a seat. I'll be right back."
Mulder watched her vanish into the bathroom, then went to sit down on the couch next to Shannon. "So you're an old friend of Skinner's," he said, leaning back into the cushions.
"Yes," Shannon nodded. "A very old friend. It's been years now since we last met. Yet, he immediately offered his help. He's a great man..."
Mulder didn't fail to notice the tinge of melancholy in her voice. "Yes, he is indeed," he confirmed.
Scully returned from the bathroom, her cheeks slightly flushed. "So...can I get you something to drink?" she asked. "A cup of tea, perhaps?"
"No, thank you," Shannon declined.
Scully nodded and then stood irresolute for a few seconds before finally taking a seat in her armchair.
"Walter said you two are responsible for the...slightly <different> cases within the FBI," Shannon said. "I suppose he told you why I'm here?"
"Yes, he did."
Shannon nodded. "Good. I don't like cloak and daggers, you know."
"Skinner said you believe someone's going to try and murder you," Mulder said. "Do you have any idea who that someone might be?"
Shannon shook her head. "No," she said. "Unfortunately the vision is very hazy."
"What about your family?" Scully asked. "Do you believe they could be in danger, too?"
"I don't think so."
"Where's your husband currently?"
"He's on a business trip in Europe."
"Does he know about what's going on here?"
"No, I...didn't want to worry him."
Scully nodded. "What about your children?" she then asked.
"Oh, we don't have children," Shannon said. "Can't have any."
Mulder glanced at Scully and almost missed the smile that suddenly lit up Shannon's face. "You two are very lucky, you know," she said.
"What are you talking about?" Scully asked suspiciously.
"I'm talking about that baby you're going to have. Soon."
Mulder felt a painful knot forming in his stomach; then he heard Scully's strained voice: "Excuse me." She literally jumped out of her armchair and raced toward the kitchen. Instinctively, Mulder wanted to run after her, but he fought his feelings back.
"I'm sorry," Shannon said beside him. "Did I say something wrong?"
Mulder tried to focus on Shannon again which he found wasn't the easiest thing to do. "No," he said. "It's just...She can't have babies, you know."
"Oh yes, she can, Agent Mulder," Shannon contradicted to his surprise. "And she will. |You| will."
For a few seconds Mulder stared at her, open-mouthed. "Um, I'm sorry," he then said quickly and with obvious confusion in his voice. "I'll be right back." With that he rose from the couch and followed Scully into the kitchen.
She stood with her back to him at the sink, head bowed, and for one frightful second he thought she was crying. "Scully?" he said softly.
"Why is she doing this, Mulder?" she asked without turning round to him. "I mean, what gives people like her the right to play with other people's feelings?"
She wasn't crying. Thank God. Mulder hated himself for this, but he just didn't know how to cope with Scully-tears. "I'm sure she didn't mean to hurt you...." he said, realizing at once how lame this one had sounded.
"Oh yeah," Scully replied coolly. "But she did."
There was a long pause and then, finally, Scully's voice again: "I can't do this, Mulder."
"Yeah, you can." He moved closer toward her, forcing her to look him in the eye. "Look, Scully," he began. "She shouldn't have said...that, alright. But I think she's a nice person. I really do. You should at least give her a chance."
Scully shook her head. "I don't know, Mulder..."
"Well, |I| know." His face was now only inches from hers. "Trust me, Scully," he said forcefully. "It'll be fine." He nodded toward the living room. "And now let's go back out there and start over again, what do you say?"
Scully didn't answer immediately. And he let her take her time. "Okay," she said finally, her voice steady and determined. "She'll get her chance. But she had better seize it."
Mulder smiled. "Ooh, I'm seeing troubled times coming up..."
"So, Ahab mistakes the prophecy and as a result, dies," Scully said. "A similar fate happens to MacBeth."
"Still, you're not the least bit curious?" a faceless voice asked out of the dark.
There was a knock on the door, and Scully turned her head. "That must be Mulder," she said. "Time for the midnight shift." She stood and went toward the door but then, abruptly, changed direction and walked back up to the stranger waiting in the darkness. "All right," she said. "So how do I die?"
"You don't," the stranger answered
and Scully woke up. She was sweating, and her heart was racing. "Please," she thought. "Not again..."
This wasn't home...
She knew it before she even remembered. This wasn't home. But she felt safe here. Safer than she had felt in days.
The jarring sound that had woken her had subsided, and she could hear a muffled voice somewhere close: "When did that happen?" <Dana.> She remembered now. She was in Dana's apartment. And something was not right...
Suddenly she was wide awake. "And you're sure it's him?" Dana's voice came from across the room. She froze. <Him? Oh God, please, not him...> "Yes. Yes, I understand. ... Yeah, I will. Thanks for calling me."
Dana hung up and slowly turned around. She looked weary; Shannon supposed she hadn't gotten much sleep the past night. When she saw that her guest was awake, however, her face was lit up by a little smile. "Morning," she said. "Sleep okay?"
Shannon nodded. "Yeah, thank you." She struggled to sit up on the couch, blinking away the sleep in her eyes. "Bad news, huh?"
"Yes," Dana said. Simple and honest Shannon liked this woman more and more by the minute. "It's about Dustin Silver. He broke out of jail last night."
Shannon swallowed. That man still possessed the power to make her tremble. And she hated him for this.
"He won't be able to get near you," Dana said when there was no reply from her guest. "Agent Mulder and I will see to this."
But Shannon barely heard her words. She was overcome by a sudden dizziness, and her eyes squeezed shut in response to an all-too-familiar piercing pain in her head. "Shannon?" Dana's concerned voice seemed to come from very far away. "Shannon, are you okay?"
<Please, no...> The images were back. They washed over her like a tidal wave, and Shannon dug her fingers into the cushions. "Shannon?" Someone touched her shoulder, and she backed away in horror. <No!>
"Easy. It's okay. Noone's gonna hurt you." The voice was soothing. And familiar. <Not him,> she told herself, and she kept repeating it like a silent mantra. <Not him.>
Slowly, very slowly, the images inside her head faded away, and she opened her eyes. Her breath was short and her vision still blurry, but she recognized Dana leaning over her. "Shannon?"
"I'm okay." Shannon forced a feeble smile on her face. "Sorry I scared you."
"'You sure you're all right?" There was still concern in Dana's voice.
"Yeah." Shannon nodded and got up from the couch. "I, um, I'm going to the bathroom," she said. And, realizing that Dana was still wearing her pajamas, she added: "That is, if that's okay with you...?"
"Sure. Take your time."
Shannon crossed the room, feeling Dana's look in her back. <So it's him,> she thought numbly. <He's the one who is going to kill me...>
"No way, Agent Arnold."
"I said NO." Skinner's voice was merciless. And so was the look he gave the younger agent. "This is not an option."
"With all due respect, Sir," Agent Arnold said calmly, "I think it's our |only| option. We're stuck in a dead end. Our only chance is to make a U-turn."
"I won't let you do this. It's too risky."
Agent Arnold shook his head in frustration. "Sir, I have all the insight. I could-"
"I'm not letting you go undercover, Agent Arnold," Skinner said firmly. "That's my last word. Find another way." He fixed his subordinate from behind his large desk, and Agent Arnold seemed to literally shrink under his gaze. "Yes, Sir," he mumbled eventually. Then he left the office.
Skinner let out a heavy sigh and leaned back in his chair. Today was one of those days you woke up and knew instinctively that it was a mistake to get out of bed. The phone call hadn't really surprised him. Somehow he had sensed something like this. Maybe he was starting to develop clairvoyant powers himself... He shoved that thought aside at once. This wasn't funny. This was everything but funny. He was worried, |damn| worried, and he couldn't even really tell why. She was in good hands. Mulder and Scully would protect her with their lives, he knew that.
He had called Agent Scully immediately, and he was fairly sure that he had woken her. But he had just |felt| that there wasn't a single second to lose to tell her the news about Dustin Silver.
<Dustin Silver...> Even just |thinking| that name left a bitter taste on his tongue. He had been extremely hard to catch. If it hadn't been for Shannon they probably wouldn't have caught him at all. And that was why he was now out there, trying to catch |her|. Skinner was sure about it. Dustin Silver wanted revenge, and he would move heaven and earth to get it.
Skinner still remembered every detail of the day he had gotten that case. He had been shocked. Downright shocked. He had been working for the FBI for quite some time already, and he had thought he'd seen it all. But he had been wrong. Dustin Silver was...an animal, some kind of a sick monster who murdered out of pure pleasure. "Because I could," he had answered in court to the question why he had murdered all those people. <Because I could...> The sound of those three words still echoed in Skinner's mind. There had been a strange little smile playing on Silver's face when he had spoken them. A smile that had made Skinner want to jump up and shoot him right there in the courtroom. That fucking little bastard...
Skinner realized that he was trembling, and he took a deep breath in a half-hearted attempt to calm down. He knew he had to remain cool and professional, but that man just...he somehow flipped a switch inside his head, and Skinner wanted nothing else but to completely abandon himself to that burning rage building inside of him. Dustin Silver was a psychopath, definitely one of the most dangerous men Skinner knew, and that was the reason for Skinner's worry. It wasn't Shannnon's <vision> of her alleged death, surely not. Skinner didn't believe in such things. Or at least that was what he was desperately trying to tell himself.
She had known everything about the murders. Every shocking, perverted little detail. Who could blame Bellows and his agents for suspecting her? But Skinner had known from the beginning that she couldn't have done it. Not her. Not this pale and yet so alive looking woman whose beautiful green eyes reflected so much kindness. Bellows had never been more wrong. But then how could she have known? He had asked himself this question over and over again. How could she have known so much about those murders when she hadn't committed them herself? "Thank you for believing me," she had whispered at their parting, and he had felt guilty. Because he hadn't had the strength to really believe her. He just couldn't. Every fiber of his body had struggled against believing.
He wondered how Mulder could do it. How he could so willingly forget about everything he had been taught and open his mind to a completely different world. To a |scary| world. It |scared| Skinner to think that maybe the world wasn't as ordered and explainable as he'd always believed it to be. That there were things beyond the realm of logic, things that contradicted every scientific understanding. Assistant Director Walter Skinner was scared to believe. But he was not going to fail Shannon.
He stood and opened the door connecting his office to the small secretary's office. Kimberley immediately lifted her head at his entering. "Sir?"
"There must be another file on Dustin Silver somewhere," Skinner said. "Could you please go and find it for me?"
"It's urgent." He turned away, and that was when the pain started. It exploded inside his head, completely unannounced, and he had to lean hard against the filing cabinet to his left to keep from collapsing. "Sir?" Kimberley's voice came unclearly to his ears. "Are you alright?"
The pain was overwhelming, and he thought he'd pass out. "I'm fine," he said in a strained voice, avoiding Kimberley's eyes. "Just get me that file, okay?" It sounded harsher than he had intended, but he just didn't have the strength to control his voice right now. He had to get out of here. Fast.
With his last ounce of strength he stumbled back into his office and slammed the door shut. His vision blurry he could barely make out the features of his desk, but he approached it just the same, eventually collapsing over the tabletop. "Krycek, you goddamn sonofabitch," he whispered in agony. "Someday you're gonna pay for this..."
He had received the email just about an hour ago. It was from an old source of his, a very reliable source. There had been UFO-sightings. All over Illinois. It looked like they were throwing one big party down there.
Just like they had done in Ohio, twenty years ago...
Mulder was sitting in his office, his desk decorated with old files. He knew there had been a similar case like this, he just knew it. And he was going to find it. Yes, he was. This was certainly the most exciting news he'd gotten in weeks, and he really |was| excited. - What the hell had Shannon meant by this?! 'Yes, she can, Agent Mulder. And she will. |You| will.' Could she really see Scully's future? |His| future? - |Their| future?
<I guess it was too much to hope for...> Scully's desperate words still echoed in his ear, haunting him in his dreams. She had wanted this so badly they |both| had. But it hadn't worked out. Dr. Parenti had told them so. The insemination had failed, and Scully would never have a baby. That was the brutal truth.
And now there was Shannon, talking about Scully and him and a baby, |their| baby, and he had no idea what to think. Could it really be? Could all those doctors have been wrong? Was there still a chance? <Never give up on a miracle,> he had whispered against Scully's forehead when he had held her in his arms that night. Would there really be a miracle for them?
He felt her presence before he even heard the footsteps in the hallway. "Hey," she said softly when she entered the room. "You forgot this in my apartment last night." There was a sparkle in her eyes when she handed him the report he had claimed to so urgently need her signature on. "Ah. Yes," he said with a sheepish smile. "Thank you." It was only then that he realized that Scully wasn't alone. "Shannon," he greeted the other woman who had remained standing in the door. "'Have a good night?"
"Yes, I did," Shannon answered. "Thanks to your partner here." Her lips were smiling, but her eyes were not. Mulder realized it immediately. He managed to smile back, however, before turning to Scully. <What happened?> he asked her silently.
Scully's eyes searched his for the briefest of moments; then there was this "snap", almost like an electric impulse, that told him she'd understood. Sometimes he wondered if this special connection that seemed to exist between her and him wasn't the true X-File to investigate... "Um...I don't know if Skinner already told you..." Scully began, a little tentatively. "Dustin Silver broke out of jail last night."
"Dustin Silver?" he repeated. "You mean |the| Dustin Silver?" He looked from Scully to Shannon who had gone alarmingly pale. "Do you think it's him?" he asked her calmly.
Shannon wrapped her arms around her body. "I don't know," she said, her voice slightly trembling. "Like I said: The visions are very hazy..."
"But you think it |could| be him?"
There was a brief pause and then Shannon's low voice: "Yes."
Scully was the one to break the following silence just when it was beginning to become awkward. "Skinner arranged an appointment with Silver's psychiatrist for me, this morning," she said. "Shannon asked to accompany me."
"I just can't sit around doing nothing," Shannon explained. "That's driving me crazy."
Mulder nodded, understanding, and then paused to look at a tall figure that had just appeared behind Shannon. She seemed to sense the new presence, too, because she turned her head to look over her left shoulder. "Hi," the figure behind her said, almost shyly. "How're you doin'?"
"I'm okay," Shannon replied, just as shyly.
Skinner nodded, and Mulder noticed that he held Shannon's gaze just the fraction of a second too long before passing her by and entering the office. "Here's the other file I promised to get you, Agent Scully," he said, handing Scully a small pile of papers.
"Thank you, Sir."
"So have you talked to Dr. Raymond already?"
"We're just on our way."
"Okay." Mulder couldn't help noticing that Skinner seemed somewhat irresolute. "So...um, give me an update when you get back."
Skinner was reluctant to leave, there was no doubt about that, but he also seemed to feel uncomfortable in Shannon's presence. <Kimberley was right,> Mulder thought. <There's definitely something going on between them...>
Skinner left the office, glancing one last time at Shannon and offering a small smile that she returned. <What do you think?> Mulder's eyes asked Scully, and she gave him one of her special Scully-looks. <As much as I hate to admit it, but it actually seems that you've been right...>
Shannon turned back to the two agents, breaking the silent connection between them. The look in Mulder's eyes changed as he restored the veil disguising the depth of his soul that only Scully was allowed to see. "So, do you want me to come along?" he asked, already rising from his chair. "I could be your bodyguard."
"Don't you have work to do here?" Scully asked, nodding toward the papers on their desk.
"Oh, that can wait." Mulder smiled, silently acknowledging how much he had missed Scully's presence in their office that morning and looking forward to the prospect of spending the next few hours in her company.
"Um, Agent Mulder...?" Three heads turned at the sound of a tentative, female voice from behind.
"Miss Faulkner?" Mulder's eyebrows pushed together in surprise. "Is something wrong?"
"No," the young woman hurried to assure him. "No. It's just...I remembered some details, and I thought I should let you know."
Mulder's eyes locked with Scully's, asking her what to do. Scully held his gaze for a few seconds, and when she finally answered him, she seemed reluctant to do so. "Well, I guess, Shannon and I can handle this alone. So why don't you just stay here with Miss Faulkner, and we'll meet you later here in the office?"
That wasn't the answer he had hoped for, but he wasn't really surprised. Perhaps a little disappointed. "Um, okay," he said, reluctantly sinking back into his seat "See you later, then."
Scully nodded and left the office, closely followed by Shannon. "Did I pick a bad time?" Miss Faulkner asked, and Mulder had to will his attention back to his guest. "No," he lied. "It's okay. So what details are you remembering?"
"What?" Scully's head leaped up, and she found herself almost surprised to see Shannon sitting next to her in the front-passenger seat.
"You're worrying about this young lady, aren't you?"
Scully tensed. "What do you mean?"
"The woman in your office. You're wondering about the real reason why she came."
"She had a...disturbing experience. Agent Mulder is trying to help her."
There was silence for what seemed like an eternity to Scully, and then, finally, Shannon spoke again, a small smile on her lips. "You think I'm a freak, don't you?"
Scully felt a sting of guilt in her heart. "No," she said, shaking her head a little too vehemently. "No, Shannon, I..." Her voice trailed off, and Shannon said softly: "It's okay. You don't have to apologize. Most people think that I'm a freak."
Scully ran a hand over her face. "Look,...Shannon," she began. "I really don't...I don't think you're a <freak>, honestly. I just...I guess I'm a little..."
Scully, having avoided eye contact for the past few minutes, suddenly found herself staring widely into Shannon's hypnotic green eyes. She must have presented a pretty silly sight, because Shannon's smile broadened. "I'm not a mind reader, Dana," she said, her smile also reflecting in her voice. "I'm just paying attention. There's really nothing paranormal about that."
Scully took several deep breaths, trying to collect her thoughts. "Shannon, I really don't mean to be rude," she finally began. "Or impolite. I just...I like to keep personal matters personal."
"Dana, I'm not trying to invade your privacy."
"Then why are you saying all these things? About Miss Faulkner? And yesterday about..." She stopped in mid-sentence, turning away from Shannon, looking almost terrified.
"About your baby?" Shannon asked softly.
"Don't say this!" Scully almost cried the words, regretting it immediately. "Don't say this," she repeated more calmly. "You said you didn't want to invade my privacy, so don't."
Shannon looked at her for a long time, and Scully had to summon all her strength to hold her gaze. "I'm sorry," Shannon said eventually. And that was all. Two little words that affected Scully more than would have every explanation Shannon could have offered. Suddenly, and for a reason she didn't quite understand, Scully found herself fighting against an obtrusive bad conscience. But she won the fight, and the rest of the drive passed in an uncomfortable silence.
Dr. Raymond's office was impressive, almost intimidating. When they entered the large room Scully could feel Shannon tense next to her. They walked over a thick, dark carpet toward a desk that was at least three times the size of Mulder's and Scully's. Not that Scully gave a damn about that. She had learned to judge people by their words and actions, not by the way their offices looked. That was only the surface, the picture that people liked to draw of themselves, what they wanted the others to see what Scully was really interested in was the real person behind this all-too-often misleading picture.
"Agent Scully?" Dr. Raymond, a tall man is his forties got up from his chair behind the large desk and extended his right hand. Scully stepped closer and shook it. "Dr. Raymond," she said in lieu of a formal greeting and then pointed at the woman beside her. "This is Shannon Pierce."
"Nice to meet you." Dr. Raymond nodded into Shannon's direction. Then, suddenly, a frown formed on his face, and he looked at Shannon more closely. "Wait a minute," he said. "Shannon Pierce? Are you the one who helped catch Dustin Silver?"
"Yes. That's me." Shannon gave a small smile, and Scully was sure that she could see concern in Dr. Raymond's eyes. "Oh, I'm sorry," the psychiatrist said after a few seconds of breathless silence. "Please have a seat."
The two women sat down on two chairs facing Dr. Raymond, and it wasn't long before the psychiatrist said in a serious tone of voice: "I really don't mean to scare you, Ms. Pierce. But I believe that you are in immediate danger."
"That's exactly the reason why we are here," Scully answered, automatically taking on her official Special-Agent-Dana-Scully-You-better-take-me-seriously tone. "Dr. Raymond, you've been treating Dustin Silver for how long now? Three years?"
"Did he ever mention Ms. Pierce's name during your sessions?"
"Actually, he was obsessed with Ms. Pierce. I don't think I should go into details," Dr. Raymond flashed a quick glance at Shannon, - "but it was quite obvious he blamed her for his apprehension."
"Did he perhaps in some subtle way speak of taking revenge on her?"
"Not just in some subtle way." Dr. Raymond managed to look even more concerned. "I can tell you, Dustin Silver wasn't an easy patient. In fact, he was probably the most difficult case I've ever had. I was told you were a medical doctor. Are you familiar with psychology, Agent Scully?"
Scully thought of Mulder, then shook her head no. "Only very superficially, I'm afraid," she said.
"Okay, then I'll try to keep it as simple as possible. Dustin Silver seems to be completely unfeeling. It seems that nothing can really get to him, hurt him, move him, evoke any kind of emotion in him. Well, he is capable of hatred, all right, but it's a different kind of hatred, a cold, calculating hatred. He never seems to lose control of himself. He feels superior to all other people, and the murders he committed he committed out of pure arrogance. He feels no sympathy and no remorse none of the emotions that attribute to this great, indistinct thing we call moral. The paradoxical thing, however, is that he actually |does| seem to have high moral standards, but he applies them in a very twisted, perverted way. Consequently, in his own little world, he is <the good guy>, and Ms. Pierce, for example, is the traitor, the one that needs to be punished for her sins."
"So you think he will try to go after Ms. Pierce."
"I think that's the one thing that kept him going all these years in prison."
Scully nodded slowly. This was more or less what she had expected; it wasn't what she had |hoped| for, though. "Dr. Raymond, do you have any idea where Dustin Silver could have gone to? Were there special places in his life, former hiding places, anything he might have told you about?"
"In all those months I worked with him I didn't even get close to getting through to him, Agent Scully. It's not easy to admit for a psychiatrist who is said to be quite an authority in his field, but Dustin Silver did nothing but play games with me. He wouldn't tell me anything. I'm sorry I can't give you any better news, but I'm afraid there's really nothing I can do for you."
Scully nodded, glancing at Shannon who was sitting very quietly in the chair next to her. "There's one more thing I'd like to ask you for, though," she said, focusing her attention back on Dr. Raymond.
"I believe you videotape your sessions?"
"I'm afraid no. I've got audiotapes, though. I don't think they'll be of much use, but I can ask my secretary to get them for you if you like."
"I'd appreciate it."
"Okay." Dr. Raymond gave a small smile, then pressed a big red button on his intercom. "Bernice? I'd like you to get Mr. Silver's audiotapes for me, please."
Scully leaned back in her chair, looking at Dr. Raymond but seeing straight through him, suddenly thinking of a man she had met years ago and never managed to forget as hard as she had tried. < Can you see your own end?> the sound of her own voice echoed in her mind.
<I see |our| end. We end up in bed together. - I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that. I don't mean to offend you or scare you, but, uh, not here, not this bed. I just mean I... I see us quite clearly in bed together. You're holding my hand, uh... very tenderly and then... you're looking at me with such compassion and I feel... Tears are streaming down my face. I feel so grateful. It's just a... very special moment neither of us will ever forget.>
<Mister Bruckman... there are hits and there are misses. And then there are |misses|.>
In a sudden flashback she saw herself standing before a bed in a nameless, dark apartment, weeping for someone who had touched her soul more deeply than she was even now willing to admit to herself. And she wondered for how long she would continue to mistake hits for misses...
She'd promised to give him an update when they got back, and so she was sitting in his office now, looking at him across his desk. Shannon was seated next to her in what Scully had come to see as <Mulder's chair>, staring down on her hands in her lap. "So he couldn't give you any further information." It was rather a statement than a question.
Scully shook her head. "No, Sir."
Skinner looked strained. "I see," he said slowly. Then, his body stiffened, and he said in his usual firm superior voice: "Okay, then you and Agent Mulder are off this case. I'm having Shannon taken into protective custody."
"What?!" Scully and Shannon exclaimed in unison.
"Shannon, you know better than anyone how dangerous that man is," Skinner said forcefully. "I need to make sure you're safe."
"I couldn't do much for you just based on those visions you told me about. But now I |can| do something. Given the present circumstances, noone's gonna doubt that you need protection. You asked me to help you so let me."
Shannon held his gaze, still ready to contradict but keeping her mouth shut. "Okay," she mumbled eventually. "If you think that's the right thing to do..."
"I definitely think so."
Scully watched her superior watching Shannon, and after a few seconds she began to speak: "Um, Sir, I'm sorry, but you can't just withdraw Agent Mulder and me from this case."
Skinner's attention focused back on her. "And why not, Agent Scully?" he asked, his eyebrows pushing together in annoyance.
"Because I think we can help."
"You just told me that Dr. Raymond couldn't provide you with any useful information. So to me it looks like you've got nothing to start with. I appreciate your commitment, Agent Scully, but this is a job for Agent Davis and his team."
"Sir, Dr. Raymond gave me the audiotapes of his sessions with Silver. Let Agent Mulder and me at least listen to those tapes. Maybe we can dig something up."
The look in Skinner's eyes changed, loosing part of its hardness. "He gave you audiotapes?"
"Yes." Scully nodded. "Agent Mulder and I were planning on going through them tonight."
Skinner was silent for a while, pondering her words. "Alright," he said finally. "See if you can find something on those tapes. And keep me informed."
Scully tried not to let her feelings of triumph show. "I will," she said. "Thank you, Sir." It was in this second that she heard a low moan escaping Shannon's mouth, and she turned her head, frowning. "Shannon?" Oh god, this looked suspiciously like another one of whatever kind of attack this had been that morning... The moaning became louder, and Skinner left the place behind his desk to kneel by Shannon's side. "Shannon?" he said quietly. "Can you hear me?"
"It's gonna be okay. It's almost over. Just hang on."
Scully found herself staring at the two of them. <He's seen this before...> she realized abruptly. And then Skinner looked up at her, and she averted her eyes. This was none of her business. She shouldn't even be here in this room...
Suddenly, Shannon's body stiffened, and the look on her face was one of pure horror as her eyes focused in on Skinner. "It's you," she gasped.
Skinner looked puzzled. "Yes, it's me," he said tentatively. "I'm here. Everything's okay."
"No!" Shannon shook her head wildly and shrank back from Skinner's approaching hand. "It's you. Not him. Why...? Why are you doing this...?"
Skinner looked at Scully, an expression of complete helplessness on his face. Scully just shook her head. She had no idea what Shannon was talking about here.
Skinner turned back to his friend. "Shannon..."
"Don't touch me!" She screamed the words in a shrill, terrified voice, jumping to her feet and stumbling backwards.
Scully watched her with wide eyes. What the hell was going on here?
"Shannon, please...- I just wanna help you."
"You don't want to help me!" It sounded almost hysterical. "I saw you! I saw you killing me!"
For a few seconds the room was filled with a breathless silence. "What?" Skinner managed to breathe eventually. "Shannon, what are you talking about?"
"I saw you do it," she said, her voice calmer now. "It was your face. Not his. Your face, Walter..."
Now that was enough. Scully rose from her chair, facing the older woman. "Shannon, do you realize what you're saying here?"
Shannon held her gaze unblinkingly. "I saw him," she insisted.
Scully took a deep breath while a steep wrinkle appeared on her forehead. "Well, whatever you saw - I think you're in immediate need of medical attention."
"Dana, I'm not sick. And I'm not crazy, either, as much as you might doubt that. I saw what I saw. And that's what's going to happen."
"So you're seriously telling me that Assistant Director Walter Skinner, the man you came here for to ask for protection you're telling me that this man is going to kill you?"
"I know how this might sound..."
"Do you? Do you really?" Scully felt a warm hand on her shoulder and turned her head to look into Skinner's eyes. <Thanks for you help,> they were telling her. <But this is something between her and me.> She nodded slightly and then watched him taking a few tentative steps into Shannon's direction. "Do you really believe this?" he asked her. "Do you really believe I could hurt you?"
Shannon shook her head, barely looking him in the eye. "I don't know. I really don't..."
"Why would I do this? I mean...it just doesn't make any sense."
"Maybe it doesn't. But it will happen."
"No, it won't," he said it with such a force Shannon winced and took another step away from him. "I'm sorry. I'm...-God, Shannon, you know me. You know it can't be true."
"We've been here before, Walter," she said, sounding weary. "You telling me that it <won't happen>; that it <can't be true>. It always came true, Walter. Always. I thought you'd understood that by now..."
It took Skinner some time to recover from those words. "Okay, then tell me, how clear was your vision?" he said eventually. "I mean, can you really be a hundred percent sure that it was me you saw? That it was me who murdered you? Maybe I'm just somehow present without really being involved?"
For the first time Scully thought she could see a flicker of doubt in Shannon's eyes. "I don't know. I..." Her voiced trailed off, and Skinner took another step toward her. "I'm not saying that I don't believe you," he said softly. "I'm just saying that, sometimes, we misinterpret...things. We're perfectly sure about what we believe we saw. But then, when we take another look, it suddenly turns out that we've been wrong."
Shannon looked at him for long seconds, then she exhaled noisily and shook her head. "I gotta get out of here. I'm sorry..." And with that she pushed past him and rushed out of the room.
She left an awkward silence behind. "I think I should go after her," Scully said eventually, avoiding eye contact. "See if she's doing okay."
"Yah." Skinner nodded. And Scully realized with a start that his face had turned ash-gray. "Sir, you're not gonna let this get to you, are you?" she said. "You know that this is never gonna happen?"
He didn't answer her, just silently held her gaze. "Make sure she's okay, will you, Agent Scully?" he said eventually. And Scully understood that this was where their conversation ended. "Yes, Sir," she said.
And with one last concerned look at her superior she left the office.
"Then what did you do?"
"I drowned it."
"You drowned the cat?"
"I don't know because I felt like it? I guess I thought it would be fun."
"And was it?"
"Well, not as much as I'd hoped it would be. But yeah, it was fun."
Scully shifted on the couch next to Mulder. It was past one o'clock in the morning, and they had been listening to those tapes for over five hours now. Without getting any clue whatsoever that could prove to be useful in catching Dustin Silver.
The first time Scully had heard his voice on the audiotape this evening she'd gotten goose bumps all over her body. He sounded so calm, so rational so terrifyingly cold. Dr. Raymond had been right: He really seemed to lack every trace of emotion; and he sure as hell didn't feel any kind of remorse. Scully shivered at the thought that this man was now out there again, roaming the streets...
Scully turned her head to find Mulder watching her. "Yeah, a little," she admitted.
"Well, we can finish those tapes tomorrow, if you like. Go home and get some sleep."
Sleep...hmm...that sounded really tempting... "After we're through with this one, okay?" - <Why the hell am I saying this? I would |love| to go home. Where my own, cosy bed is awaiting me, and where the floor isn't littered with whatever this is Mulder has piled up here...> But the truth was, she didn't care about the litter on the floor, in fact, she'd miss it if it weren't there. It was just so...Mulder. It was part of him. It was what made this apartment |his| apartment. It was why she loved this apartment, why she felt so comfortable here. Why she had just gotten herself another half hour on this shabby old couch when her back was already killing her...<You are so damn stupid, Dana Scully!>
"So you're saying you made this story up?" Dr. Raymond's voice filtered through to Scully's brain again.
"Oh, come on, Doc, you didn't really believe that crap, did you? Now I'm disappointed; I really thought you were smarter than that. Hey, God would never forgive me the murder of an innocent little kitty, would he?"
"So you never drowned that cat. Then why did you tell me this story?"
"Well, I thought it was a nice story. Don't you think? - And it was exactly the kind of story you wanted to hear from me, wasn't it?"
"What makes you believe that?"
"Come on, you psycho docs are just nuts about stories on innocent little kittens being tortured by your psycho patients. It's what psychos do. Torturing innocent little kittens. It just fits the picture."
The phone rang, and Scully exchanged a surprised look with Mulder that swiftly turned into one of alarm. Shannon... He reached over her and grabbed the receiver. "Hello?" he said, his eyes never leaving Scully's.
"Yes." He knew this voice from somewhere. He knew it...
"Tell her I did it for her, will you?"
"What? Who is this?" Scully inched closer toward him, trying to catch the words on the other end of the line.
"Tell her there will be more. Just to make sure she doesn't forget."
And that was when realization hit him like a sledge-hammer. "Dustin?" he asked. "Dustin Silver?"
He never got an answer. There was a soft click, and the line went dead. Mulder slowly put the phone back on the table. "I think there's been a murder tonight," he said flatly.
At some point in this neverending night the shadows had come alive. Or at least that was how it seemed to her. They were surrounding her like wolves waiting for this one, perfect moment to attack. She shivered and closed her eyes to shut them out. But it was no use. She could still |feel| them, like the cold breath of an icy winter storm. They crept under her skin, taking residence in the most secret places of her body and soul. A tear escaped her eye, and she angrily wiped it away. That was not like her at all. She wasn't like that. So weak. So frightened... God, there was a federal agent standing guard in front of this hotel room, and at least five more were patrolling nearby yet, she had never felt more alone in all her life. How could he do this to her? And why? <God, please tell me why...> She had come here to seek his help. This just couldn't be true...
And yet, she kept seeing his face, his eyes, behind the barrel of that gun that was going to kill her. It was him. She was absolutely sure about that. Or wasn't she?
Maybe he was right. Maybe she had just...<misinterpreted> things. Maybe... The vision hadn't come back, it was just that one time she had seen this horror scenario. So perhaps there really was a chance that she was mistaken. That it wasn't him after all.
She wondered why this got her so off course. In the end, one fact was unmistakably clear: She was going to die. What did it matter who pulled the trigger? But it |did| matter! It couldn't be him! It just couldn't be!
She thought about Brian. She had told Dana and her partner that he was on a business trip in Europe; what she |hadn't| told them, though, was that business was only one of two reasons that kept him away from her. They hadn't gotten along very well, lately. Well, actually they hadn't gotten along very well for |years| now; she just had refused to see it. It had been him who had taken the first step. <I don't want you to come with me, Shannon. I think we both need a little time on our own...>
This had felt so unreal. Sometimes she still couldn't believe he had really said those words. <I don't want you to come with me...> She had been so certain of him. She had just taken for granted that he belonged to her and that she belonged to him. But it had been an illusion. You could never be certain of anything, she knew that now. But it was too late.
She wondered what he was doing; right now, at this moment. If he was thinking of her at all. If he missed her. She sure missed |him|. She didn't really know if she still loved him, but she missed his familiar presence.
He wouldn't let her take him to the airport, so they had kind of awkwardly said goodbye in front of their house without even a kiss. He had climbed into the cab, briefly waving at her before driving away. She wondered whether things would have been different had they known then that it would be a goodbye for good...
She glanced at the telephone at her bedside. She didn't even have his phone number. But it would probably be a bad idea to call him, anyway.
It was just that she couldn't bear the thought of letting it end that way...
She turned away from the phone and squeezed her eyes shut, once again. Maybe she was better off just accepting the facts: Brian had left her. And Walter, the one man she had thought could give her hope had just turned out to be her doom. She had been so certain that it was the right choice to turn to him. For protection, but also for comfort. It had felt so good to see him again; it had almost felt like coming home... - You could never be certain of anything...
She wrapped her arms tightly around her body as realization, and acceptance, slowly sank in: She was on her own now.
He lifted the yellow police "Do-not-cross" line, so she could dive under it; then he followed her into the crime scene. Holding out his badge, he approached a dark-haired man who had been busy taking notes but now lifted his head, looking at him suspiciously. "Agents Mulder and Scully with the FBI," Mulder said, pointing at his partner who had already knelt down beside the victim.
"FBI?" the dark-haired man repeated. "Who the hell called you guys?!"
"We believe this murder might be connected with a breakout last night," Mulder explained. "- Did you find anything here so far?"
"You mean beside the body?"
Mulder flashed his vis--vis a toothy grin, acknowledging the sarcasm in the other man's voice. "So what about it?" he then asked again.
The policeman seemed irresolute for a few seconds, but then he answered, a little grumpily: "Well, it seems there are no fingerprints whatsoever; the ground over here is dry, so there are no footprints as well, and on the whole I'd say that we're dealing with a damn carefully operating bastard here."
"You bet you are...." Mulder mumbled.
Mulder shook his head. "Never mind. Thanks for your time." He turned away, taking one moment to deeply inhale the cool night air and look around. This part of the park was lying in almost complete darkness, and even the lights put up by the crime scene investigators couldn't really seem to fight back the blackness. They did, however, establish a bizarre relationship with the surrounding trees, causing them to cast whispering shadows on the ground.
His wandering gaze came to a rest on his partner's petite form still crouching next to the body, and he moved to approach her. She seemed to sense his coming because she stood and turned to face him. "So what do you say?" he asked.
"I'd say this one hits pretty close to the mark," she answered with a tired sigh. "The throat was cut in one single, precise performance; there are no other injuries, no signs of hesitation whatsoever. It was a quick and effective murder. From what I read in the files I'd say that it was him."
Mulder nodded. He hadn't had much doubt about that anyway. Without a word he reached into the pocket of his jacket and pulled out his cell phone. "Yeah, it's me," he said seconds later. "It's him."
"Are you sure?" Skinner asked on the other side of the line.
"Agent Scully just examined the body, and everything seems to fit Silver's pattern."
There was silence on the line for a few seconds, then Skinner spoke again: "Okay. I want you to go home and get some sleep. See you at the office in a few hours."
Mulder nodded, even though his superior couldn't see it, and interrupted the connection.
"What did he say?" Scully asked, stepping closer toward her partner.
"He wants us to go home and get some sleep."
"Doesn't sound too bad to me."
He looked down on the body on the ground. She had been an attractive woman, presumably somewhere in her thirties. Maybe a mother. They didn't know her name, yet; she hadn't carried any credentials. But her photo would be in every newspaper of the town by the break of day, shattering the lives of her loved ones. Then she would be more than some nameless object of investigation, more than just this <body on the ground>.
He looked up at Scully and nodded. "Yeah," he said. "Let's go home."
They were a nice couple. True, she barely reached up to his chin; but somehow they seemed to belong together. He wondered if they were having sex... She was a very attractive woman. With her red hair and her classic features. He sure would have liked to have sex with her...
He kept staring after them as they disappeared in the darkness. His hand was placed on the small of her back, a very possessive gesture, he thought. But she didn't seem to mind.
"Excuse me, Sir? Do you know what's going on over there?"
He turned his head to find a young woman standing next to him. What the hell were all those chicks doing out here in the middle of the night?! Didn't they know how dangerous it was to be out in the dark, all by themselves?
"I think there's been a murder or something," he said.
"Oh my god," she exclaimed, already craning her neck for a better view. "But that's just horrible!"
<Yeah, sure,> he thought. <You are law-abiding citizens out there; but you all want your share of sensation, don't you?> Disgusted, he turned away. And people really thought that |he| was the freak?
He brought the car to a halt at the roadside and turned off the engine. Then he shifted in his seat, so he could look at her. She had fallen asleep during the drive, finally having given in to her tiredness. He loved watching her sleep, although he seriously doubted that |she| loved being watched by him. But still he cherished the rare opportunities he got to see her that way. In an almost unconscious gesture he reached out his hand to gently touch her face. Not so long a time ago he would have hastily pulled back at the actual feel of her soft skin beneath his fingers, terrified by his own courage. But somehow things had changed over the past few months. It had been a gradual change, imperceptible even at the beginning. But it was there; it was happening even now as they were sitting here. He could actually |feel| it - and it felt good...?! It felt good to know and to finally |believe| - that he really was allowed to touch her that way.
She immediately responded to his caress, instinctively burrowing her face deeper into his hand. Then her eyes fluttered open, and he felt his lips curving into a smile. "Hey," he said softly.
She returned his smile, squeezing her eyes shut again for a few seconds. "I'm sorry..."
"No, it's late," he responded. "You should long be in bed already."
"You should be, too." She sparkled at him from the corner of her eyes, and his smile broadened. He held her gaze for another few seconds, then willed himself to break the contact and open the car door. She, too, moved to exit the car. "See you in a few hours, then," she said, already heading for her car that was parked just a couple of yards away.
"It's four o'clock in the morning."
She stopped and turned around, looking at him with a wrinkled brow. "So?"
"Come on, you're hardly able to stand on your feet. Why don't you just stay here? Night's as good as over, anyway."
It took her a while to answer him. "I don't know, Mulder. That's really nice of you, but..."
"You can have my bed," he offered. "No, really, I mean, it doesn't make much sense to go home now, don't you think? Come on, stay, okay?"
She pondered his words for a few seconds, staring at the ground. "Alright," she said eventually. "Thank you." She gave him a shy look, then walked back up to him.
He opened the door for her, letting her walk in first. "Do you think we should tell Shannon?" she asked as the elevator began to move upwards a few moments later.
"What? That you're staying overnight?"
She pulled a face at him, and he chuckled softly.
"You know what I mean."
"You mean should we tell her about the murder?"
"Yeah." Scully nodded. "And about the phone call."
A steep wrinkle appeared on his forehead. "I don't know," he said. "I mean, on the one hand I think that she |should| know, that she would |want| to know. But then again...I don't know if it's a particularly good time right now to tell her. I mean, she's already down on the ground I'm really not sure if it's such a good idea to give her yet another piece of bad news..."
The doors of the elevator slid open, and they stepped out of the cage. "So you're saying we shouldn't tell her?"
"I don't know." Mulder shrugged his shoulders, fumbling with the keys. "What do |you| think?"
Scully leaned against the wall, thoughtfully staring at an imaginary spot on the ground "I think she's a strong woman," she said eventually. "And I think she would want us to tell her."
Mulder had finally succeeded with the keys, but instead of opening the door he paused to look at his partner. "You like her," he stated, sounding pleasantly surprised.
"Well, I never said I didn't. And I don't like her |that| much. So are you going to open that door now or what?"
He grinned, then let her step inside. God, this place was a mess! Why was it that he suddenly realized this now? "Um, I'm gonna go get a shirt for you," he mumbled, heading for the bedroom. He found a nice baseball shirt in his drawer and felt a hot flush picturing her in it. <Don't even |start| to think about that,> he reprimanded himself. Suddenly, he wasn't that sure anymore if it really had been such a good idea to invite her here; his apartment had never seemed smaller to him, and the walls never thinner. He could hear her moving about in the living room he even swore he could hear her breathe... <What the fuck were you thinking, Fox Mulder?! You're gonna have a hell of a night, tonight...>
He found her on the couch when he returned. She had pulled her legs up, and her chin rested atop her knees. She didn't look that tired anymore, he realized. Rather thoughtful. Frowning, he approached her. "What is it, Scully?"
She let a few seconds pass by before she asked: "Do you ever think of Mr. Bruckman, Mulder?"
"You mean |Clyde| Bruckman?"
She nodded, and he slowly lowered himself onto the couch next to her. "Yeah," he said. "Sometimes. Why?"
She didn't answer him, just kept staring at her feet. "Everything okay?" he asked eventually. <Don't say 'I'm fine', I can't take that right now...>
"I guess so."
"Well, something's obviously bothering you. So what is it?"
She finally let go off her knees and leaned back into the cushions. "It's really nothing, just..."
"What?" he asked softly.
"I keep seeing him in my dreams." For the first time since this conversation had started, she openly met his eyes, and the intensity of her gaze almost got him floored. "You keep seeing Clyde Bruckman?" His voice was steady. <Good. Very good. Just keep going...>
"You know, I used to dream quite a lot about him after his death. But it stopped after a few weeks."
"And now you're wondering why the dreams came back?"
Again, she didn't answer him, but he didn't need her to. His fingers kneaded the shirt in his lap. "Well, I think it's pretty clear what made the dreams return," he said after a while. "And I think you already know the reason."
To his surprise, she didn't even try to contradict him. "But why would she make me dream about Clyde Bruckman?" she asked instead.
"I think you know that, too."
"Aw, Mulder, don't give me that psychiatrist crap!" Her voice wasn't as harsh as her words, but still Mulder knew that he was about to piss her off. And for whatever reason he didn't want to piss her off right now. "You're starting to believe, aren't you?" he said softly.
She looked at him suspiciously. "Believe what?"
"That, maybe, she really has those powers. And that Clyde Bruckman had them, too."
"That's ridiculous," she said, but he was sure there was a touch of doubt in her voice. "Is it?" he asked.
She held his gaze silently for a few seconds, then, abruptly, reached out for the baseball shirt in his lap. "Is this the shirt you said to get me?"
He shivered at the unexpected sensation of her touch and felt his throat go dry. "Ah, yes," he croaked, reluctantly loosening his much too tight grip on the soft fabric, so she could take the shirt from his hands.
"I'm going to the bathroom," she said, rising from the couch.
He watched her vanishing into the bedroom and suddenly realized that he had been catching his breath. Exhaling noisily he slumped back into the cushions. God, this had been such a long day; he should be tired to his bones. But instead, every fiber of his body seemed to be more awake, more |alert|, than ever... Abruptly, he got up and headed toward the kitchen. He found a bottle of beer in the fridge and congratulated himself on his wise decision the previous day to go to the supermarket. Bottle in hand, he returned to the couch. Her perfume was still lingering in the cushions; in fact, she came by so often lately that it never really seemed to completely fade away. Maybe that was the reason why he had been preferring to sleep on the couch again for the last couple of weeks... - Jesus, how silly was that...?
He had a sip of his beer while trying to ignore those muffled sounds coming from the bathroom. He could do this. He'd done it before. Thousands of times.
His look fell upon the telephone on the table, and his mind immediately generated a vivid recollection of Silver's voice. <Tell her I did it for her, will you?> Boy, this guy was dangerous. Even if he hadn't had read the files, he would have known it from the very first word Silver had spoken. How many more murders like the one tonight would there be? The FBI had been trying for |years| to catch Silver. Would it take that long a time again? His mind wandered back to the murder victim in the park staring at him with those wide, lifeless eyes... Damn it, there just |had| to be something on those tapes! He reached out for the tape recorder and pushed <play>. Silver would kill again. Soon. There was no time to lose.
"You like cats, Doc?" Silver's voice filled the room. And Mulder was relieved to find that it drowned out the sound of his baseball shirt rustling against Scully's body...
It was still dark outside when he entered his office that morning. He hadn't been able to sleep, so he had figured he could as well go and get some work done. He switched on the lights and almost choked when he saw the dark figure sitting in his chair.
"Good morning, Walter."
His heart started to race, and he felt little drops of sweat forming on his forehead. God, how he hated him for this! How he hated him for controlling his body, even when he didn't push that button on his little toy. "Krycek," he said icily.
"Surprised to see me?"
"Nothing you do can surprise me anymore."
The other man chuckled softly. "You know, I've always liked the way you're acting as if you were in control. Even though, thinking about it, it's sort of pathetic."
"What do you want?" Skinner's eyes were those behind the barrel of a gun shortly before the beginning of the duel.
"Do I need a reason to visit an old friend?"
Skinner looked at him for a few seconds without saying a word. "Rot in hell," he finally whispered through gritted teeth.
The words brought another smile to Krycek's face. "Not yet," he said. "Still got a lot of work to do around here." He stood and circled the desk until he was face to face with Skinner. "I need you to do something for me, Walter."
"Oh, now you've managed to surprise me, after all," Skinner said dryly.
"It's really no big deal," Krycek continued as if Skinner hadn't spoken at all. "And I'm sure you won't have any difficulty granting me that little favor."
"Get out of here." Skinner's voice was barely above a whisper but there was a dangerous edge to it.
"Why, Walter, is this your idea of politeness?" Krycek replied with a smirk.
"This isn't about politeness, you sorry bastard. This is about me throwing you the hell out of my office. Now get out!"
The expression on Krycek's face changed as his features hardened. "Look, I've been really patient with you," he said in a warning tone. "But don't put your luck on the test. Because you'll lose."
Skinner said nothing. He wanted so badly to smash his fist into that hated face before him, but he knew he couldn't; he knew Krycek was right he'd lose... And that was what made him even more angry. "What do you want?" he repeated his former question, his voice trembling with pure hatred.
"I want Agent Arnold off his case," Krycek said. "His work makes some people feel a little...uncomfortable, if you will."
Skinner pricked up his ears but tried not to let his surprise show. "Oh really?" he said instead as casually as he could manage. "Why would that be?"
"I want him off this case by noon. See you around." With one last dirty grin Krycek passed Skinner by and left the office.
Skinner remained motionless, listening to the blood rushing in his ears. His hands were shaking as he clenched them into fists. <I'm gonna kill you,> he thought wildly. <I'm gonna kill you, and it will be my pleasure...> His look fell upon the telephone on his desk, and suddenly his expression became one of grim determination. He approached the desk and picked up the phone. As he dialed Agent Arnold's private number he felt his breath slowly becoming even again.
Agent Arnold answered after five rings. "Hello?" He sounded only half-awake, but Skinner didn't care. "Agent Arnold?" he said. "It's Skinner."
"Sir?" Now the man sounded confused. "What time is it?"
"I give you the permission for your undercover operation," Skinner said. "And I want you to start right away."
Scully awoke tangled in his covers, and the scent of him was so strong that, for a moment, she thought he must be lying next to her. He wasn't, of course, and it shocked her to find that she was disappointed about that.
She blinked and ventured a look at the clock to her left: seven thirty somehow it still felt like the middle of the night to her... With a sigh she peeled herself out of the bed and shuffled toward the bathroom. She more or less automatically washed and dressed, and by the time she had finished she felt that she was slowly reaching full consciousness. There had been no dreams that night, she realized now. At least none about Clyde Bruckman. She dimly remembered Mulder's face somewhere, but she didn't dare to pursue that thought any further.
He was still asleep when she stepped into the living-room; lying on his back, hugging a pillow. The sight made her smile, and she moved to approach him, her eyes fixed on his so dearly familiar features. Eventually, he began to stir under her gaze. "Scully?" he mumbled.
She answered him with yet another smile. Somehow she liked waking up with him. Well, not really |with| him, but still...
"What time is it?"
"Almost eight." She watched him sitting up and running a hand through his tousled hair. He looked so incredibly young...
The tape recorder on the table caught her eye, and she frowned. "Mulder, you didn't finish that tape last night, did you?"
"That and one more," he answered her tiredly.
"Don't be angry, Scully. I just figured that we don't have much time, and I couldn't sleep anyway." He got up to stand beside her. "Good morning, by the way."
Jesus, did he practice that look in front of the mirror or what...? She felt the heat radiating from his body and was surprised to find her voice steady as she said: "People do need sleep, you know."
"Yeah, and I just slept, didn't I?" He flashed her a boyish grin and passed her by to approach the kitchen.
She stared after him for a few seconds, then moved to follow him. "For how long?"
"An hour? Boy I'm developing into a real late riser." He held up an empty cup. "Coffee?"
"Mulder, I'm serious about that. Nobody can permanently do with so little sleep. That's not just foolish, it' s simply dangerous. Long-term sleep deprivation sooner or later causes you to go crazy."
"So that's why!" Mulder exclaimed, grinning broadly. "And I thought it was some kind of an inherited Mulder-family thing."
She pulled a face at him, then sank into one of the chairs, resigning. "Make it a strong coffee, will you?" she said with a sigh.
He smiled and began to fill the coffee-maker with water.
"So did you find anything interesting on those tapes?" Scully asked eventually.
"No, I didn't." All trace of teasing had suddenly vanished from his voice. "And to be honest, I'm not sure if there even |is| anything to find..."
"Would be too good to be true anyway, I guess."
"Yeah, probably." He stared thoughtfully at some spot on the ground before him for a few seconds, then, abruptly, his eyes focused back on Scully, and he said more light-heartedly: "Well, there are still a couple of those tapes left. Maybe we'll be lucky after all."
The coffee-maker completed its work, and Mulder began to fill two cups with hot, steaming coffee. "You know, I'm still waiting for my good-morning kiss," he said as he handed Scully her cup.
"Your good-morning kiss?" Scully repeated, suspiciously raising an eyebrow.
"Yeah, weren't you just going to give me one when I woke up?"
"What makes you believe that?"
"Just a hunch." His eyes sparkled brightly at her, and she barely suppressed a smile. "Rather wishful thinking, I'd say."
"Well, it was worth a try." He gave her another one of his famous boyish grins, then sat down with his cup to face her. "So how was |your| night?" he asked, serious again. "Did you get some sleep?"
"Well, one of us |had| to," she answered him over the rim of her coffee cup. "No, I had a really good night. Thanks again for letting me stay here."
"Anytime." He smiled, and for the next few minutes they just sat there in comfortable silence, sipping their coffee.
"So tell me again about Miss Faulkner," Scully said after a while. "Do you really think she was abducted?"
"Yeah, I do." Mulder nodded. "Actually I recommended her to try hypnosis to get the rest of her memories back."
"This woman knows things, Scully. She just can't really put her finger on it."
"Oh yeah, she knows things, Mulder," Scully said, snorting. "She knows how to manipulate you."
"What are you talking about?" Mulder put his coffee cup aside and looked at Scully with a frown.
"Jesus, don't you see it? She's just trying to capture your attention!"
Mulder seemed a little confused. "Scully, I'm telling you, she |was| abducted. I'm absolutely positive about that."
"But you said it yourself", Scully insisted. "There's no implant, no time loss a lot of things about her story just don't fit the picture."
"Maybe not the picture we know." Mulder leaned in to look his partner in the eye. "Scully, you're a scientist. Isn't science about exploring new ideas and being ready to adjust your beliefs in the face of new convincing evidence?"
"But that's just the point, Mulder: There |is| no evidence let alone |convincing| evidence!"
"Well, maybe you just don't want to see it." Mulder leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms before his chest.
"Why?" Scully asked. "Why wouldn't I want to see it?"
"I don't know. You tell |me|." There was silence for a few seconds as Mulder carefully searched his partner's face. "You don't like her, do you?" he said finally.
"I just don't like the way she's trying to toy with you," Scully replied. "And I can't believe you let her!"
"Scully, is this something personal?"
The question caught her completely off-guard. "What?" she said, feeling a hot flush go to her face.
"Is it?" Mulder's eyes were dark and serious, and Scully found it hard to meet them. "No," she said. "No, of course not. I'm just worried about you, that's all."
"Well, you don't have to be. I know what I'm doing, Scully. And I'm not letting her toy with me." His gaze became even more intense. "Okay?"
Scully looked at him skeptically, but her features became a little softer as she said: "Well, I hope so..."
He smiled at her words, then he put his coffee cup aside and stood up. "I'm gonna go take a shower," he announced. "'You waiting for me, or do you want to go in separate cars?"
"I'd like to take a closer look at our murder victim from last night," Scully said, grateful for the shift in the mood. "So I think I should take my own car."
"Okay." Mulder nodded. "See you in the office, then."
"Yeah." She watched him leave, and a little smile reflected in her eyes as she thought that, somehow, she liked having breakfast with him. It could almost make her forget what day it was today...
The first light of the day caressed his face as he was crouching next to the window, peering into the friendly-lit kitchen of house number 16. He had chosen that number because he'd always had a soft spot for it; sentimental stuff, really but it had led him to this little family here, something he was very pleased about.
She seemed to be in her thirties, and she looked astonishingly beautiful in that old dressing gown she was wearing. But it was not her outward appearance that had gotten him hooked the very first moment, it was the way her eyes shone when she was talking to her husband and how she seemed to somehow glow from within. It was truly amazing.
"You want some more bacon?"
The little boy who was seated at the end of the table nodded eagerly, and she went to fill his plate once more. "Here you go, sweetie." She ruffled his hair as she placed the plate back on the table, and he ducked his head. "Mom..."
She smiled, then turned to her husband. "When you gonna be home tonight?" she asked.
"Around ten, I guess."
"Again?" She let out a little sigh. "Is there a chance things will be back to normal any time soon?"
"One more week at the most," her husband said. "I promise."
"Would be nice to have you around again for more than just a few hours at night."
"Mom, that bacon's cold," the little boy complained, and she turned back to him. "No, it's not, baby," she said patiently. "I just baked it."
"Well, then you baked it too cold."
"Josh, the bus will be here in five minutes. It's either cold bacon or no bacon."
The little boy frowned, pondering his mother's words for a few seconds, before he finally picked up his fork and continued eating.
"Honey, have you seen my tie somewhere?"
"You mean the blue one?"
"On the chair next to the bed."
There was silence for a few seconds, eventually followed by a triumphant: "Okay, got it!"
She smiled at those words, helping her son into his jacket and planting a kiss on his forehead. "I'm gonna pick you up at two, okay?" she said. "And I promise I won't be late this time."
"Yeah, sure," Josh replied, and she repeated, firmly: "I won't. Scout's honor."
Josh took his bag and headed for the door. "See you later!" she called after him as he left the house. "Have fun!"
He rose, staring after the boy but careful not to lose the shelter of the large bush he was hiding behind. "Sarah, could you come up here for a second?" a voice called from inside the house, and his lips curved into a smile. <Sarah...> - He liked that name. He liked that family. It was perfect - |she| was perfect. Still smiling, he made his way back into the woods surrounding the perfect little house.
He lifted his head when she entered the office. "Her name is Colleen Stephens," she said before he even had the chance to open his mouth. "She was thirty-three, single, worked as an accountant. We got a positive ID from her mother this morning." He watched her taking a seat, facing him. She looked weary. "Apparently, she had visited a friend and was on her way home when Silver intercepted her."
"Do we know for sure now that it was him?" Mulder asked.
"Yes." Scully nodded. "I found some hairs, and we ran a DNA analysis. It was Silver." She eyed the mess on their desk, frowning. "So what did |you| do today?"
"I contacted Silver's former psychiatrists."
"All of them?"
"All three, yep. And I can tell you, they weren't exactly happy to hear his name again."
"Could they give you any useful information?"
"No." Mulder shook his head, letting out a frustrated sigh. "I guess our only chance is hope that he'll make a mistake at one point or another."
"He didn't make many in the past," Scully reminded him.
"Yeah, but this time we know him. We know who to look for. Should make it much harder for him to hide. |And|, not to forget, his priorities have changed. The last time his main concern was to go undetected, now it's to get Shannon."
The phone rang, and Mulder reached out to pick up the receiver. "Mulder," he said.
"Hello, Fox," a female voice answered him. He recognized it immediately. "Hi, Mrs Scully." Scully looked up, meeting his eyes, and he gave a slight nod.
"Is Dana with you?"
"Yeah. She just came in." He handed the phone over to Scully and then leaned back to watch her.
"Mom?" Her eyebrows pushed together, and a concerned frown appeared on her face as she listened to her mother's words. "But...No. No, I don't understand," she said. "Mom, you shouldn't be alone tonight. Let me --" She was obviously interrupted and spent another few seconds listening before she spoke again: "If you don't want to come, I won't make you, of course. I just thought-" There was another pause; then: "I just want to make sure that you're okay. Are you okay? I mean, |really|?" She was looking at the ground now, her lips pressed tightly together. "All right, then. -- No, that's fine, really.-- No, I'm not mad at you, Mom. We'll talk later, okay? Bye."
She avoided his eyes as she handed him back the receiver. "Everything okay?" he asked.
He hadn't really expected anything else. He studied her face for a few seconds longer, then nodded and crossed his arms before his chest. "So, where are we now?" he asked.
She looked at him questioningly. "What do you mean?"
"Silver. Are we going to just sit around and wait for him to choose his next victim?"
"We're not just <sitting around>, Mulder. Every policeman in Washington knows his face by now. You said it yourself: This time we know who to look for."
"Yeah," he said, musing. "But somehow I got a feeling that alone won't be enough..."
The young agent began to stare, and Skinner realized that he had been standing here far too long now, doorknob in hand and not moving at all. He closed his eyes for a second, thinking about the last time he had seen her, about that look on her face... She had truly been afraid of him... "Sir?" the agent's voice came from behind, sounding concerned, and with one determined move he opened the door.
She was sitting in an armchair, staring out of the window, but her head turned immediately when she heard him enter. His heart hammered in his throat. "Hi," he said hoarsely. And there it was again: fear flickering in her eyes for just the fraction of a second. "I just wanted to see if you're doing okay."
"Well, you know, it's been a terribly exciting day so far. Did you know that the same view can look totally different if you change the angle from which you're watching just a little bit? Fascinating, really. You should try it some time." She smiled at him a little awkwardly, and a feeling of immense relief came over him. She was still talking to him at least. Gaining fresh heart, he moved closer. "Is everybody treating you okay?" he asked.
"Yes, they're all very nice. We don't really talk much, though."
He nodded and clumsily sat down on the bed.
"Why are you here, Walter?" she asked after a moment of awkward silence.
<Good question,> he thought. He still wasn't sure if it was right to tell her. No, he |was| sure that it was right to tell her, he just didn't really know how to do it. "There was a murder last night," he said finally. And the fear returned to her eyes. "Silver," she said flatly.
"Yes." He felt a sudden urge to take her in his arms and tell her that everything was going to be all right. But he didn't move.
"Who did he... I mean, who was the victim?" Shannon's voice sounded a little shaky.
"It was a young woman. Thirty-three. He waylaid her in a park."
"My god..." She turned away from him, facing the window again.
He gave her a few seconds to take in the news, then prepared himself for his next question. It was not easy for him to ask. "You didn't...<see> anything, did you?"
There seemed to be a slight trace of surprise in her eyes when she looked at him again. "No," she said. "I didn't." She watched him silently for a moment, then added: "He did it because of me, right?"
Skinner knew there was no use pretending, so he just nodded. "Yes, it seems like it. He wants to lure you out from your hiding. And we can't let him." He looked at her forcefully, knowing very well how she was feeling right now. "It's not your fault," he said.
"Yeah, that's easy for you to say..."
"It's easy because it's true."
"Then why do I feel so damn guilty?" Her voice had risen slightly, and he thought he could see something silvery shimmering in her eyes.
"Because that's how you are," he said calmly. "You care for people. You feel responsible for them. It's always been that way. You just can't stand aside watching, but that's exactly what I need you to do right now. Do you hear me? He knows you, and he uses that knowledge to try and manipulate you. You mustn't let him get to you, Shannon."
"And how am I supposed to do that, Walter?" She looked almost furious now. "Someone had to die because of me. How could I not feel guilty at that?"
"Silver's a psychopath," Skinner replied. "He would have killed anyway. You know that, Shannon."
She closed her eyes and turned away from him once again. "Maybe...," she said unwillingly.
"Don't you let him lay the blame on you."
Shannon remained silent, and after a while Skinner began tentatively: "Are you sure we shouldn't tell your husband? We could-"
"No," Shannon interrupted him harshly. "It's fine the way it is."
Skinner was taken aback by the intensity of her reaction, and it took him a second to reply. "Well, I just thought that he would want to know. I mean, |I| would want to know if I were your husband."
"But you're not. So just leave it, okay?" Her eyes bored into his, eventually forcing him to nod. "Alright. It's your decision."
There was a knock on the door, and both their heads turned. "Who is it?" Shannon called.
"It's me, Dana, and Agent Mulder."
Skinner watched Shannon straighten herself. "Come in."
The door opened, and Mulder and Scully entered the room. A look of surprise filled their eyes when they saw their superior sitting on the bed. "Sir," Agent Scully said. "I'm sorry. Are we disturbing?"
"No," Skinner assured her. "I was just about to leave." He got up and turned to Mulder who was standing next to his partner. "Agent Mulder, can I have a word with you, please?"
Skinner turned round to Shannon, knowing that Mulder and Scully would be exchanging glances behind his back, communicating in that special silent language between them, asking themselves what it was he wanted from Mulder. "It's not your fault, Shannon," he said, repeating his former words. "Promise me you will remember that." He kept his eyes fixed upon her until, at last, she gave a slight nod. Then he left the room, followed by one half of his X-Files team.
Scully watched until Mulder had closed the door behind himself, then turned round to face Shannon again. Even though Skinner had denied it she was positively sure that they |had| been disturbing, and she couldn't fight a certain feeling of uneasiness. "Um, I don't know if Skinner already told you-," she began tentatively and was immediately interrupted by Shannon. "He did."
Scully swallowed the rest of her sentence and gave a small nod instead.
"How did you find out?" Shannon asked after a moment of silence. "About the murder, I mean."
"Through Silver. He called Agent Mulder."
Shannon seemed astonishingly unsurprised about that news. "Let me guess," she said dryly. "Silver wanted him to tell me. Right?"
Scully's feeling of uneasiness grew. "Well...yes," she admitted. "We weren't sure whether to do it or not. You know, he's just trying to get you emotionally involved, but the death of that woman-"
"-I know, it's not my fault," Shannon interrupted Scully, once again. "Walter keeps telling me that."
"And he's right," Scully said who hadn't missed the sarcasm in the other woman's voice.
For a few seconds Shannon silently held Scully's gaze. "It's been so many years now," she said eventually, her voice now very calm and shaking ever so slightly, "and I still dream about him almost every night."
Invisible hands seemed to close around her throat, squeezing hard as images of her own night-time companions washed over Scully. "It's hard to chase away the ghosts of your past," she said hoarsely.
"Yes." Shannon nodded, and the tone of her voice changed, once again. "But you're lucky. You know how to do it."
Scully looked at her, surprised. "Oh no, believe me, I don't," she said.
"Yes, you do," Shannon insisted. "You know |exactly|. You're just afraid."
"Afraid of what?" Scully asked, suspiciously raising an eyebrow.
"Of letting go. The ghosts - and yourself; to actually admit that you need someone. Not an easy thing to do, I know."
The invisible hands squeezed even harder, making it impossible for Scully to utter a reply even if she had been able to find the right words to say. Luckily, she was saved by Mulder opening the door. "Hi Shannon," he said. "How're ya doin'?"
"Could be worse, I guess," Shannon replied. "At least I'm still alive. Unlike some other woman I was told about. With greetings from an old friend." The sarcasm was back in her voice, Scully noticed.
"Okay...So you already know," Mulder stated. He exchanged a quick glance with Scully, then sat down on the same spot of the bed they had found Skinner sitting on only a few minutes ago. "Are you all right?" he asked quietly.
"Like I just said: Could be worse."
Mulder nodded slowly, obviously pondering his next words. "Silver wanted you to know about the murder," he said eventually. "This is a show he is pulling off exclusively for you."
"Believe me, I could do without that kind of honor," Shannon said dryly.
"Yeah, but |he| can't. And that might just give us the advantage we need to catch him."
"So you're saying if I just don't pay attention, he'll stop killing?" Shannon sounded almost amused.
"Well, at least he'll get frustrated and thus be more likely to make mistakes."
"And how many more victims will it take until he'll have made |enough| mistakes?" Shannon asked calmly. For long seconds nobody said a word, and when, finally, Mulder was about to open his mouth, he was cut short by Shannon. "It's okay," she said. "I think I got the picture. I try not to feel responsible for the murders, and you try to stop them."
"I know that's not an easy thing to ask of you." There was a sympathetic tone in Mulder's voice. "But we really believe it's the right thing to do."
"Hey, you're the pros."
They said goodbye a few minutes later, and on their way out Scully turned to Mulder. "So what did Skinner want from you?" She had been dying to ask this question, and Mulder knew it. "He asked us to keep an eye on him," he informed her.
"What?" Scully looked at him uncomprehendingly, and he went to specify his words: "Well, you know what Shannon saw in her vision."
"What?!" Scully came to an abrupt halt, forcing Mulder to make an emergency stop to keep from bumping into her. "No. Honestly, Mulder, you're just kidding me here, right?"
He deadpanned at her, and she shook her head, incredulous. "But...He can't possibly be taking this seriously! I mean, what reason should he have to kill Shannon?"
"I don't know," Mulder admitted. "And he doesn't either. He just wants to be on the safe side."
"I don't believe this," Scully muttered. "You're sure you're talking about Skinner? |Walter| Skinner?"
"I admit, I was a little surprised, too. But...-- Skinner seems to know Shannon pretty well. So I guess he'll have his reasons to take her seriously."
"Mulder, Skinner's in love with Shannon."
Mulder wrinkled his brow. "So?"
"Well, it's a common phenomenon that people have an inner urge to share the believes of the person they love."
"So I guess that means you're not in love with me then, huh?"
Her stomach did an unexpected somersault at these words. He sounded like he was only half teasing her, and maybe that was the reason why she chose not to reply. She had to fight a sudden urge to lean over and kiss him on the cheek, though. The risk-taking young girl she used to be in school wouldn't have bothered fighting, she wouldn't even have thought about it. But then, the girl was long gone, and the woman was too afraid of letting go herself.
She was lying peacefully in his arms as he carried her through the dark corridor. Gazing down on her he thought that she almost looked as if she were dead. But he knew she wasn't. Nevertheless, he reached out to check on her pulse. It was weak but steady. She was alive. For now. <I'm gonna pick you up at two, okay? And I promise I won't be late this time. Scout's honor,> he remembered the words she had said to her little son. Again, he looked down on her, shaking his head disapprovingly. You really shouldn't make promises you couldn't keep.
He sat on their desk, chewing sunflower seeds, an expression of deep concentration on his face. Scully who was sitting in the armchair behind him secretly admired his ability to keep his mind focused for such a long time on something that, most likely, would turn out to be completely pointless. She certainly couldn't do it. Her thoughts had begun to wander ages ago, and there seemed to be nothing she could do about it. There was too much going on inside her head; talking to Shannon regularly seemed to have that kind of effect on her... She |wanted| to focus, though. Hell, she was a professional, and she should act accordingly.
"Why did that make you angry?" Dr. Raymond's voice asked.
"Because it's not decent. You just don't do things like that."
"Do you consider yourself a good person, Dustin?"
"Yeah, I guess so."
"Do you think a good person would commit murder?"
"I guess that depends on how you define a good person."
"How do |you| define it?"
"Being honest. Not denying who you are and what you feel inside. Acting on your feelings."
"So, in other words, you're just <acting on your feelings> when you kill, is that what you're saying?"
There was no spoken reply from Silver's part, but Scully could see the smirk on his face in her mind's eye. "What about the bible?" Dr. Raymond continued eventually.
"What about it?"
"Well, a lot of people would turn there for a definition of good and evil."
"Yeah, well, I don't really care much about the bible, you know."
"So you don't believe in God?"
"I believe in the cowardice of the people and in their penchant for self-deception. They are afraid of each other, but mostly of themselves. They won't accept who they are, and that's why they invented God. To protect them from themselves and to give them the illusion that they are something better, something special. You know what, doc? This is starting to get boring. Don't you have anything interesting to ask me? Like <How did it feel killing all those people?> Your colleagues all seemed very interested in that question."
"All right, then. So how |did| it feel?"
"Really good. Better than sex even. Ever had sex, doc?"
"Can you be a little more precise?" Dr. Raymond ignored Silver's last remark. "What exactly did you feel? What were your thoughts?"
"I'm talking about wild, animal sex here," Silver said, in turn ignoring Dr. Raymond's words. "Ever had wild, animal sex, doc?"
"You wanted me to ask the question about your feelings during the murders, Dustin. So why are you evading now?"
"Why are |you| evading?"
"Because we're here to talk about you, not about me.
"You seem to enjoy asking questions much more than answering them."
"It's my job to ask you questions."
"I didn't ask you to do it."
"You did by murdering those people."
"So we're back to that, then," Silver sighed. He sounded extremely bored.
"We'll always get back to that, Dustin. <That> is why you're here. You still don't see the wrongness of your deeds, do you?"
"You're not going to start talking about the bible again, are you? - You know, you started off so well today, doc. I almost enjoyed chatting with you. But now I'm increasingly losing interest. In fact, I think I'll call it quits for today." Silver demonstrated a huge, fake yawn. "This was really exhausting. See you around, doc."
"We're not finished yet, Dustin."
"Yeah, but you know - I don't really care." Again, Scully thought she could see the smirk on Silver's face, and she found herself shaking with antipathy. That man's arrogance was simply unbearable.
Mulder stopped the tape and turned round to her. "You need a pause?" he asked.
"I think I need a coffee," she replied. "A strong one. - And I need to get this sonofabitch back behind bars where he belongs."
"Judging by your uncommon vocabulary I'd say Dustin Silver isn't exactly one of your favorite persons, huh?"
"That man is completely psychopathic..."
"So we're agreed on that one, then." They looked at each other in silence for a few seconds, then Mulder rose to his feet. "I'll get the coffee," he announced. "Like a sandwich, too?"
That earned him a half-smile. "Sounds great."
She watched him leave the room, then let her eyes trail back to the tape recorder in front of her. She just hoped they weren't wasting their time here...
Darkness was beginning to fall when she heard a soft tap on her door. "Ms. Pierce?" She recognized the voice of her personal bodyguard and took a second to wonder what he might be wanting from her. "Come in," she then called, rising from her armchair and facing the door.
When the agent entered the room she was surprised to find him holding out his cellular to her. "I've got your husband on the phone here for you," he said. And her heart skipped a beat. "Brian?" So Walter had informed him after all. She felt her cheeks flush red with anger over that betrayal, but the feeling was almost instantly drowned out by a sudden onset of nervousness. She was going to talk to Brian. Probably for the last time in her life. What in the world was she supposed to say to him?
"Thank you," she croaked, taking the cellular from the agent's hands. The man nodded and left the room in which time suddenly seemed to stand still. She noticed her hands were shaking and tried to still them by taking a deep breath. "Brian?" she whispered into the phone.
She froze. This couldn't be. She had to be dreaming...
She felt as if someone was trying to choke her. When had she unlearned how to draw a breath? "Where did you get that number from?" she finally managed to croak.
"Oh, I've got my sources." The man's voice sounded sweet and innocent. Much too innocent. "So I hear they locked you up," he said. "How do you like the feeling?"
Shannon was still in a state of shock, but her voice was surprisingly steady when she replied: "Listen, if you're calling to tell me about what you did last night "
"Oh, I completely trust Agent Mulder to have delivered my little message," she was interrupted. "No, I'm calling because I'd like you to meet someone."
"Her name's Sarah, and I think she's really keen on talking to you. Aren't you, Sarah? So go on, talk."
Shannon held her breath, and then there was a female voice on the line, frightened, no doubt, but in a way also surprisingly composed. "Hello?"
Shannon's throat went dry as her brain was desperately trying to catch up with what was going on here. <Say something,> a little voice echoed inside her head. <Talk to that woman.> If she could just find the words...
"Um, hi," she finally succeeded. "Sarah, right? Are...are you okay? Did he hurt you?" Fear was taking over now. Fear for the life of that woman she had never met. She knew he would kill her if she didn't find a way to prevent it.
No. He hadn't hurt her. Not yet. So what next? <Thinkthinkthink...> "Do you know where you are?" Okay, she had to give it a try at least, didn't she?
"I was unconscious when he brought me here," the woman replied. But after a short pause she added: "It looks like a vault or something."
"That's enough." He was back on the phone now, and Shannon felt the bitter taste of defeat on her tongue. <Too soon,> she thought desperately. <He interrupted us too soon.> She should have said so much more to the woman, to Sarah. She should have comforted her, told her that she was going to be all right.
But was she?
"She's really nice, what do you think?" It gave her the creeps hearing him chat so casually as if he were talking about the weather. "She's got a little son. Josh. He's...- How old is he, Sarah? Seven? He's seven years old. You don't want him to have to grow up without his mom, do you?"
This one knocked the wind out of her. She had more or less known what was coming, but the way he'd said it... She had to close her eyes to try and regain her composure. So they were finally through with beating about the bush, she realized. Now it was her turn. "What do you want me to do?" she asked flatly.
"I want you to listen very carefully."
<His work makes some people feel a little...uncomfortable, if you will...> As Skinner cleared away the last remaining papers from his desk to get ready to leave he wondered, not for the first time, what exactly Krycek had meant by those words. Who had Agent Arnold made feel uncomfortable and why? He hadn't realized this case had taken on such proportions. They were only seeing the tip of the iceberg as yet, and nobody knew what they would find beneath the surface.
What had he done...?
He'd sent Agent Arnold on a mission that was much too risky considering the more than limited information they had collected so far. He hadn't been objective. He had been driven by anger and vindictiveness, and he was using Agent Arnold for his own personal crusade. Maybe he was even |sacrificing| him.
But then, Krycek's words had proven the importance of that case, and Agent Arnold himself had said that they were stuck in a dead end, that there was no other choice than going undercover.
Excuses, nothing but excuses. Maybe this case was important enough to take the risk, maybe there really was no other choice. But the fact remained that he had failed as a superior. He'd given his orders for the wrong reasons. He had allowed his emotions to take over control, and he was shocked at how |willingly| he had done it. Was it that easy for him to leave all reason behind, to act on impulse? And, most importantly, what was he capable of, acting on impulse? Pulling a trigger? Would he go this far? |Could| he go this far? One day ago even, his answer would have been a straight "no". But now he wasn't so sure anymore...
"I'd have to be crazy to do this," she said after he had finished.
"You probably would."
"So what in the world makes you think I would ever agree to your little <deal>?"
"You have no choice."
"Oh yes, I do. I don't even know this woman."
"Does that make any difference? It's one life you're holding in your hands."
"No. No, |you| are holding this life in your hands. This is none of my business."
"Why, why, could you really have changed so much during my absence? This sure doesn't sound like the woman I knew. So unafraid, so helpful, so goddamn eager to mess with other people's business."
"You seem to know me pretty well considering we never met," Shannon said dryly.
"Oh, I |do| know you," Silver replied. "And I know you want this meeting with me. You need this closure just as much as I do."
<What?> Suddenly, Shannon was at a loss for words. She didn't need any closure, and she sure as hell didn't need a meeting with Dustin Silver. But even while thinking these thoughts she knew she was fooling herself. He was right. She couldn't believe it, |wouldn't| believe it, but he was right...
"Besides, we |did| meet once," Silver continued, and Shannon forced herself to refocus. "I must say I'm a little disappointed you forgot."
"Well, you can hardly call that <meeting>." She had her voice back. Very good.
"Obviously it was enough for you to run me down to the feds."
"You don't still hold that against me, do you?" This one threw him off balance for a second, she could tell. Nevertheless he managed to appear unaffected by her words when he said: "We're waiting for you."
"Nice try," she replied. "But as I told you before, I don't even know this Sarah, or whatever her name is. And I think I'll just hang up now and forget you ever called."
"No, you won't," Silver said calmly. "We both know you can't forget." Then, without warning, the line went dead, and Shannon felt as if someone had cut the ground from under her feet. She was swaying slightly and had to sit down on the bed to keep from collapsing. Pulling off that show in front of Silver, pretending that she didn't care, had taken almost all of her strength, and now she felt empty and hollow and weaker than she ever remembered feeling in her life. It hadn't even been worth it. He had known she was bluffing. He had known she had no choice but to come to him.
She sat there for long minutes, preparing herself for what she knew was inevitable, and when she finally rose again, she was surprised at how calm she suddenly felt. She knew what she had to do, and, more importantly, she |accepted| what she had to do.
There was a small table next to the door with a vase on it. Shannon took the vase and weighed it in her hands for a few seconds. It seemed massive enough. When she placed the vase back on the table she was careful to position it as far to the left side as possible so that it could easily be reached from the door. She took the cell phone then and reached for the door knob without turning it, however. Instead, her eyes fixed on her purse lying on the nightstand. Following a sudden impulse, she stepped over to it and opened it. After a short while of searching she found a nail file which she slipped inside her left shoe. Then she returned to the door, and this time she opened it.
The agent outside turned round immediately. "Um, I'm sorry," Shannon said. "I must have pushed a wrong button somewhere; now there's some really weird stuff here on the display..." She held the cellular out to him, and he took it, frowning. "What does it say?" he asked, already turning slightly away from her and bending over the cell phone to have a closer look. She acted immediately. The fingers of her right hand closed around the vase behind her, and before the agent even knew what was happening she had knocked him down. "I'm sorry." This time she whispered the words. Casting anxious looks to both sides of the hallway, she dragged the man inside her room. Her heart was racing, but she couldn't allow herself to even notice it. She had to keep going.
There was a placemat on the table the vase had been standing on, and she took it to use it as a scarf. She knew the agents outside were keeping a lookout for Silver trying to get in rather than for her trying to get out, but she didn't want to take any risks. Putting on her jacket, she bent down to check on the agent again who was still unconscious. She hoped she hadn't hurt him badly... <Focus,> she reprimanded herself. She had to stay rational now, and there was one more thing she needed from the man. It took her only a second to find what she was looking for: his gun. She suppressed a shudder when she slipped the weapon into her right pocket. This was a first for her. She spotted the cell phone lying on the floor and decided to hold on to it for now. Just in case. It disappeared inside her left pocket, and she was ready to go.
Nobody seemed to notice her when she crossed the lobby, heading for the exit. She was just an ordinary guest, one among many, a nameless face nobody was really interested in. "Excuse me, Miss."
She almost jumped at the unexpected voice from behind. Her heart rate picked up even more speed, and she felt all color leaving her face.
"I think you just lost something."
She turned round at that, very slowly, and found herself face to face with a young man who was holding out a handkerchief to her. A wave of relief flooded her. <No policeman...> "Thank you," she said, a little breathlessly, taking the handkerchief. She didn't even know if it was really hers, but this certainly wasn't something to worry about right now. The young man nodded and turned away. She took a second to calm down, then continued her way toward the exit. She made it without another disturbance, and when she stepped out onto the street she knew there was no turning back now.
Two blocks away she found a silver Ford parked beneath a streetlamp. She approached it and lowered herself down on her knees: There was a key under the right front wheel. Just like he had said there would be. She took the key and inserted it into the lock of the car door. It fit. Well, she had known it would, hadn't she? Without her really being aware of it, her hand slipped inside her right pocket and closed around the gun. This was crazy. It was just crazy... But she had made her decision. Determined, she pulled her hand out again and climbed inside the car.
He stormed through the door, closely followed by Scully. "What the hell happened?!"
Shannon's room was full of agents, but it took Mulder only a second to spot the one he was looking for. He was pressing a cloth against his head, looking extremely uncomfortable. Mulder's eyes fixed on him. "So?" he said expectantly.
"She coldcocked me," the younger man told him, not quite meeting his eyes.
The man seemed to shrink in size. "Her husband called me on my cell phone, and-"
"Wait a minute," Mulder interrupted him. "Mr. Pierce called? Where would he have gotten your number from?"
"Well, I thought you guys had given it to him...?"
Mulder and Scully looked at each other. "Maybe Skinner called him," she offered.
They all turned round to see Assistant Director Skinner standing in the door. He looked very pale, Scully noticed. "She wouldn't let me."
Mulder's face took on a grim expression. "Silver," he said through gritted teeth.
"Silver?" the young agent echoed, incredulous. But Mulder had no time for explanations. His brain was already working at high speed. "Since when is she gone, exactly?" he demanded to know.
"About twenty minutes."
"And you're saying Silver called on your cell phone?"
"Did you let him talk to her?"
"Yes. I mean, I had no idea-"
"Where's your phone now?"
"What?" The agent wasn't the only one in the room looking surprised.
"Where is your phone now?" Mulder repeated. "Did she give it back to you?"
The agent's face became thoughtful. "Well, she attempted to," he said slowly, trying to remember. "But I guess it was just a diversionary tactic so she could...you know..." He was looking uncomfortable again, but Mulder had no appreciation of the man's emotional state right now. "So what happened to the phone?" he pressed.
"Well, I guess she must have taken it with her...." the young man answered and with two long strides Mulder was beside the telephone on the nightstand. "Tell me the number," he demanded.
The agent looked confused. "What?"
"The number of your cell phone," Mulder repeated impatiently. "Give it to me."
"All right, everybody," Scully now turned to the surrounding agents. "I need you to step outside here for a minute, okay?"
The murmur in the room grew louder, and Scully could tell it was only reluctantly that the men began striding toward the door. She didn't care, though, as long as she could get Mulder the privacy he needed right now. She felt him watching her and turned round, locking eyes with him. He nodded by way of thank you, then began punching in the number Shannon's bodyguard finally managed to give him.
They waited in breathless silence. Scully glanced at Skinner and was flooded by a wave of sympathy seeing his contorted face. He thought that it was his fault, that he had failed. He thought that he had lost her... Suddenly, her feeling of sympathy was joined by hot anger. Silver. He was the one responsible for all this. He was the reason Skinner was torturing himself. She had loathed the man before, but now it was true hatred she felt for him. Now it was personal.
"No, it's me. Agent Mulder." Abruptly, Scully turned her head back toward her partner.
"Shannon...- No, please don't hang up!"
Scully held her breath.
"Tell me what Silver did to you. Why did he call you?"
So Shannon hadn't broken the connection, Scully realized with relief. At least not yet... But then, if there was anyone who could get her to talk it was Mulder.
"...a young woman," Shannon's voice suddenly filled the room. Mulder had obviously activated the speaker. "He's going to kill her if I don't come to him."
Mulder exchanged a horrified look with Scully. Shannon was on her way to Silver?! "Shannon, listen to me," he said in this special soothing voice Scully admired him so much for. "Silver is a psychopath who would do anything to get his fingers on you. Whatever he told you-"
"I spoke to that woman," Shannon interrupted him. "He's going to kill her. I know it."
"Shannon, you don't have to go to him. Let |us| handle this."
"No!" She almost cried it. "No FBI. This is something between him and me."
"You're putting the life of that woman in danger, Shannon."
"I would if I allowed you to step in. I need to do this alone, Agent Mulder."
"You don't need to do anything, Shannon. We talked about this before. Whatever Silver did or does is his responsibility, not yours. You don't have anything to do with all this."
"Have you ever been able to say these words to yourself, Agent Mulder, and believe them?"
Scully could answer that one for him. Just knowing about a crime, about any kind of injustice had always been enough for Mulder to feel responsible. He took things personal, even if he had no reason to do so. He suffered with the victims and mourned with their loved ones, and deep in her heart Scully knew that he could understand why Shannon acted the way she did. He would act exactly the same.
"Shannon, please tell me where you are."
"I can't, Agent Mulder. I'm sorry. I gotta go now."
Scully had just enough time to notice that a low, humming noise that had been there before without her really being aware of it the engine of a car? was suddenly gone, before Skinner cried: "Shannon, wait!"
There was silence for the duration of two long heartbeats, then a breathless whisper: "Walter?"
Skinner had stepped forward and was now standing next to the telephone, hands clenched into fists at his sides. "Tell us where you are. Please, Shannon."
"Walter, I'm sorry..."
"Then don't do this to me! Hell, this is suicide, Shannon!"
Suddenly, Scully felt Mulder's breath on her cheek. "Did you hear that?" he whispered into her ear.
She looked at him questioningly. "What?"
But instead of answering he waved her closer toward the phone. Crouching next to it he tilted his head, listening hard. After a second of hesitation Scully did the same, and then she heard it: Someone was shouting in the background. What was it they were saying?
Skinner paused to look at them with a wrinkled brow, and Mulder gestured at him frantically. "Keep her talking," he mouthed.
Scully missed the following part of Skinner's conversation with Shannon; she was concentrating too hard on trying to understand the words in the background. It seemed to be some kind of a slogan that was repeated over and over again in more or less the same way. It took a while before her ears had accomplished the fine-tuning, but then, suddenly, she got it: <Get three for the price of one! Only today and only here at 'Jimmy's Jeanswear'! Come on in, guys, and take a look around! Three for the price of one!>
She jerked her head up just in time to see Mulder doing the same. Their eyes locked, and Mulder gave a small, triumphant nod. "Shannon, no! Wait, please...." Scully heard Skinner's panic-stricken voice before the connection broke. "It's okay, Sir," she said, laying a warm hand on his arm. "I think we know how to find her."
For how long had she been sitting here now? She couldn't really tell; somehow she had lost track of time. Judging by the way her back was killing her it must have been ages. But then again, this bench wasn't exactly a classic example of comfort...
She wasn't alone here, and she guessed that was probably the reason he hadn't shown up, yet. There was a middle-aged woman sitting two rows in front of her. Her head was bowed, and she was obviously lost in prayer. Shannon wondered what she might be praying for, what had brought her here. And she wondered what kind of life she would return to when she left this church. Wasn't it funny how many people you passed by on the street every day without really seeing them? Without ever knowing them? So many lives, so many hopes and fears, and you never knew, you never cared. You never even thought about it.
Suddenly, the woman stood up and approached the altar. Shannon watched her lighting a candle and then look up to the cross above her. Shannon wasn't particularly religious. She believed in God, but she didn't usually attend church, and religious symbols were nothing more to her than accessories: nice to look at but without real meaning. In this moment, however, she was strangely drawn by that figure on the cross. She felt as if He were directly looking at her, |seeing| her her heart, her soul. Her intentions... Did He know?
Suddenly, the gun in her hands seemed to burn her skin, and she loosened her grip. God, what was she doing here? She must have completely lost her mind... Her heart started to race again, and she willed her look away from the cross, away from those knowing eyes.
The woman left, and Shannon was alone. Was it just her mind playing tricks on her, or had the silence around her indeed turned into something physical, into a weight that was growing heavier by the second, threatening to crush her? <Mind playing tricks,> she decided. Only, that realization didn't make it any easier for her to breathe...
She thought of Walter and the panic in his voice when he had realized that she wasn't going to let him hold her back. He had truly been afraid for her. He cared for her, and he didn't want anything to happen to her. She knew this without a doubt. But she also knew that he was the man who was going to kill her, and she just couldn't see how that could be possible... Maybe Walter had been right and he really was just present without being involved?
But she knew this was just wishful thinking. She had seen his eyes, the hatred in them. He had been the one pulling the trigger, and he hadn't done it by mistake. He had wanted to do it, |needed| to do it. But why...?
"Sorry I made you wait."
The voice cut through the air like a knife, and Shannon felt her blood run cold. He was here.
She attempted to turn round, but Silver held her back. "No, don't move," he ordered. "Not yet. I want you to remain seated. Oh, and I want you to put away that gun you're hiding under the bench."
Shannon froze. How could he know about the gun?
"You didn't think I'd let you keep it, did you?" Silver's voice was as sweet as sugar.
Yeah, right, had she really thought that? How stupid could one person be? Had she really thought he wouldn't expect her to bring a gun?
"Now put it down on the ground, slowly, and kick it over into the aisle."
Shannon closed her eyes and did what she had been told. What other choice did she have?
"That's it," Silver commented on her actions. "Good girl."
She felt her shoulders slump in defeat. What was she supposed to do now?
She sat stiff as a poker as she listened to the sound of his now approaching footsteps. They echoed against the walls, and Shannon felt the fine hair in her neck bristle. The footsteps stopped abruptly, and from the corner of her eyes she saw Silver bending down and pick up the gun. She still didn't dare to move. <Hell, this is suicide, Shannon!> she remembered Walter's words, and a fresh wave of fear swept over her. Was he right? Had she passed her own death sentence by coming here? Would Silver kill her like he had killed all those other people?
<No,> she thought. As unbelievable as it was, she knew from her vision that she was save with Silver. She was save with |anyone|, just as long as Walter wasn't around. She could do this. She could save Sarah. And herself for now. She didn't have to be afraid as long as Walter wasn't around, and he didn't know where to find her. So why worry?
Beside her, Silver straightened up, and now, finally, she turned her head to look at him, at this face that had been haunting her for so many years now.
"So," he said with a smirk. "Good to see you again."
"Stop. Over there."
Scully's eyes followed Mulder's pointed finger, and there it was: <Jimmy's Jeanswear>. It hadn't been hard to find. They'd had a radius thanks to their knowledge of Shannon's approximate driving time and they'd had a name. Simple, really. But unfortunately finding <Jimmy's Jeanswear> was nothing more than a first step toward finding Shannon. The hard part was yet to come, and they all knew it. They just had been avoiding saying it out loud so far.
Scully pulled over and brought the car to a halt. Glancing into the rear view mirror she could see Skinner on the backseat, biting his lower lip. He had insisted on coming with them, and even though he'd tried Mulder hadn't been able to talk him out of it. Scully wasn't particularly happy about Skinner coming along either, albeit for different reasons than her partner. Unlike Mulder she didn't believe Skinner might be a danger to Shannon, but she definitely thought Skinner was too emotionally involved in this case. And this could never be good.
Behind them two dark vans came into view their backup - and they exited the car to signal them to stop. It was chilly, and Scully buttoned up her jacket. Then she glanced at her watch: almost nine. She had wanted to have dinner with her mother at that time...
<Stop it,> she ordered herself. She had managed to suppress these thoughts all day why were they surfacing now of all times when she should have so much more important things on her mind?
"Looks like a dead end, what do you say?"
Scully looked up and saw a tall man approaching them. Agent Davis.
"Why?" Mulder asked rather absentmindedly.
"Didn't you say he had a hostage? He wouldn't bring her here, right? With all those people around."
<He's got a point there,> Scully thought. Silver would have to be crazy to hide in the middle of all this hustle and bustle. Crazy or brilliant...
"He's here." Scully's head immediately turned at the tone in her partner's voice a tone she knew all too well: This was one of Mulder's famous <hunches>. <What do you mean?> her eyes asked, but Mulder wasn't looking at her. He was scanning the surroundings, a look of strained concentration on his face.
"I know this is where she called you from," Davis said who seemed a little confused by the younger agent's absentmindedness. "But don't you think it's more likely she just switched cars here?"
"He's here," Mulder insisted, still not looking at his vis--vis. Scully noticed that his eyes were now fixed on one point on the horizon. "What do you see?" she whispered.
"That church over there," Mulder said, finally turning to Agent Davis. "- Do you know it?"
The man looked surprised. "Why...- yes. But Silver can't be there, if that's what you're implying. They hold regular services there. Silver could never go undetected."
"Let's take a look anyway, okay?"
Agent Davis stared at his colleague for a few seconds, unbelieving, then, finally, he said rather coolly: "All right. If you say so. But I still think we're wasting our time here."
Mulder just smiled, and Scully wondered for what seemed like the millionth time how he could do this, how he could take not being seen as the brilliant mind that he was. She waited until Agent Davis was out of earshot, then she asked: "What makes you so sure Silver's in that church?"
"The tapes, Scully," Mulder said. "Remember what Silver said about God? He thinks He's just an illusion, invented by mankind because of their cowardice. But he is not a coward. He doesn't need a god to protect him. He feels superior even to a deity. And how could he prove this better but by committing his crimes directly before the eyes of God?"
"In a church..." Scully said flatly.
Mulder looked at her with glowing eyes. "Come on, Scully."
Sarah had been right: It really looked like a vault here. The air was dusty and smelled of fear Sarah's fear. They had found the young woman crouching in a corner when they had entered the room, hands and feet bound but her eyes still alive and alert. She hadn't let him break her, yet.
"I brought you some company," Silver said cheerfully. "Say hello to Shannon."
Shannon watched the expression in Sarah's eyes turn into stubborn pride. She was fighting him. She was strong. Shannon liked her from the first second. She shook off Silver's hand on her arm and took one step forward toward Sarah. "Hi," she said softly. The younger woman met her eyes, and her features softened. "Hi," she replied.
Silver watched the scene with a pleased smile. "Oh, I knew you'd like each other," he exclaimed. "She reminded me a lot of you, you know? That's why I chose her."
<Just shut up!> Shannon wanted to shout at him. She could have taken harsh words, insults, any kind of humiliation; but this cheerfulness of his just made her sick. Because it |was| sick. Hell, this bastard wanted to kill them, and yet, here he was, making dinner conversation.
Suddenly, Silver held a rope in his hands. "Okay, I need to apologize for this," he said, "but I'm sure you'll understand it's a necessary precaution."
Shannon didn't say a word while he tied her up. The rope cut painfully into her wrists, but she refused to let her pain show. She wouldn't give Silver this satisfaction. Instead, she waited until he had finished, head held high, then she said with a firm voice: "Okay. You got what you wanted. I'm here. You can let her go now."
"Yes, I suppose I could," Silver confirmed. "But I won't."
"She's of no importance to you anymore."
"Oh, on the contrary. I've got very important plans with her." Silver smiled the sweetest smile. "Besides, I'm sure Sarah wouldn't want to miss the opportunity to get to know you better. You know, Sarah, Shannon is something really special. They say she can see the future." He had given his words a mysterious undertone saying that last sentence. "Sounds spooky, doesn't it? Do you believe in spooky things like that, Sarah?"
Sarah just stared at him, her lips pressed tightly together.
"Do you?" he repeated, his voice cold as steel this time.
Sarah answered with disgust and undisguised loathing for her kidnapper: "No."
"That's what I thought." The innocent sweetness was back in Silver's voice. "You know, I admit I'm having some trouble myself believing it. It's just so unbelievable for a simple guy like me. Or maybe I'm just too stupid to understand it? Do you think I'm stupid, Shannon?"
Shannon could see a dangerous flicker in Silver's eyes, but she refused to knuckle under. "I think you're lunatic," she said.
Silver raised an eyebrow. "Do you?" he said, sounding amused.
"You're killing people. What do |you| call that?"
Shannon turned away from him, disgusted. Silver started to chuckle softly. "Don't be mad at me, Shannon," he said. "We want to have a good time here together, don't we?" When Shannon still didn't reply he turned to Sarah: "She's a little rebellious, don't you think? Tell me, Sarah, is this how you imagined a fortune teller to be? I don't know, somehow I expected something else. Something more...spooky. I'm a little disappointed, actually."
"Why don't you just cut that crap and ask me what you really want to know?"
That earned Shannon another amusedly raised eyebrow. "What did I just say, Sarah? Rebellious." Silver smiled broadly. "I like you, Shannon," he said. "I really do. You have guts. All right, so tell me what you think I wanna know."
"You're dying to know how I found you."
"Oh, I |know| how you found me. You saw it in your crystal ball, right?"
Shannon looked at Silver with bottomless contempt. "You don't know anything," she spat out.
"So it wasn't the crystal ball?" Silver said innocently. "Well, maybe coffee grounds? Tea leafs?" Now Silver was actually smiling from ear to ear. "Come on, Shannon, don't keep me guessing."
"What exactly do you want to hear from me, anyway?" Shannon asked shaking with hatred. "You're obviously not willing to hear the truth, so what do you want me to say?"
"Oh come on, you're not seriously telling me that it's true? That you actually found me through this hocus-pocus crap?"
Shannon said nothing, and after a few seconds of silence Silver's face took on an expression of incredulous astonishment. "You are," he realized. And then, after another few seconds: "How does it work?"
"Do you really want to know?"
"I'm |dying| to know," Silver said alluding to Shannon's former words.
Shannon scrutinized him silently for a while. "Okay," she said finally. If he wanted to know it, she'd tell him. "I see it. In my head. It's a bit like dreaming. Only I know that it's real."
Silver's face was unfathomable. "Go on."
"There's not much more to say. I saw you in my visions, I described the scene of the crime to the FBI, they got there before you and caught you in the act."
"That's it." Apart from the countless nights she had woken screaming and trembling. Apart from the countless tears she had cried. Apart from this indescribable fear...
"So the FBI really relies on psychics to solve their cases." Silver's eyes were sparkling with amusement. "I heard about it before, but I always refused to believe it." He shook his head and chuckling turned away. The two women watched him walk over to the far end of the room, then, suddenly, Shannon heard Sarah's quiet voice next to her: "Why did you come?"
Shannon turned her head toward the younger woman. "He said he would kill you if I didn't."
"But you don't even know me. Why do you care what happens to me?"
"You wouldn't be here if it weren't for me."
"Sarah, you heard him. He wants to take revenge on me, and that's why he took you."
"But that still doesn't mean it's your fault."
Shannon was surprised by Sarah's persistence. There was silence for a few seconds, then Sarah said quietly: "You shouldn't have come. It just means that one more innocent person will have to die."
"No one is going to die," Shannon contradicted. "I won't let it happen. Not again."
Sarah didn't ask how Shannon was planning to keep Silver from killing them. She probably sensed that she wouldn't have an answer for her...
So it really was true. They had found him because she'd had visions of him. It was hard to believe... But then again: The more he thought about it, the more it seemed to make sense. In a spooky kind of way. He was sure he hadn't made any mistakes. They couldn't have caught him due to any negligence of his. They had only been able to catch him because of her. So in a way he'd won. He'd beaten the cops. It had taken a psychic to track him down. No ordinary human being could ever have done it. That was what he had needed to know.
He heard the two women talking quietly and smiled. They really seemed to like each other. That was good. He wanted them to like each other. He wanted Shannon to really hurt when he killed Sarah.
Scully wanted to trust Mulder's instincts, she really did. Hell, she wanted to find Shannon just as desperately as he did! But her head kept telling her that Agent Davis had been right: This was a dead end. Silver wasn't here, and neither was Shannon. She wished it were different, but this time Mulder had been wrong.
Mulder... He was still searching doggedly, not willing to give up, as usual. Though God knew what he was hoping to find. There was just this one room, no attic, no cellar. Silver couldn't be here. There was no place for him to hide.
"All right everybody, we're outta here." It was Agent Davis' voice calling through the room, and Mulder's reaction to it was immediate. His head spun around, and his eyes found Davis'. "Wait a minute. We're not leaving, yet."
The older agent seemed unimpressed. "Well, I certainly am," he said. "And my men are, too. We've taken a look, like you wanted, and we found nothing, like I expected. So as far as I'm concerned my job here is done."
"I want you to search the church again."
Now Agent Davis became visibly indignant. "With all due respect, Agent Mulder," he said. "We've searched this church six times. There's nothing here to find. Even you should have realized that by now."
"You're not in the position to stop this investigation."
"No, but AD Skinner is."
This rendered Mulder speechless for a second. "Skinner ordered you to stop?" he finally asked, unbelieving.
"You're not doubting |his| position, are you? And now if you'll excuse me. I've got a serial killer to catch." And with that Agent Davis turned away, leaving Mulder stunned. His look fell upon his superior who was standing a few feet away from him, not quite daring to meet his subordinate's eyes.
"Sir, you can't let them leave!"
Mulder ignored the agony in Skinner's face as his superior approached him; he was too preoccupied with his own feelings of fury and disappointment. They were so close. He knew it. They couldn't leave now!
"Mulder, you did a good job, and I'm grateful for your help, I really am. But it's over."
"Is it true?"
Shannon turned her head. "What?"
"That you can see the future?"
"Does it matter?"
"I'm just curious."
"You said you didn't believe in things like that."
"So if I tell you that it |is| true, you'll think of me as a crackpot."
"You know, that's the funny thing. I mean, I've only known you for a few minutes now, but somehow you don't seem like a crackpot to me."
"And that's scaring you."
"It's surprising me."
Shannon smiled, and a fresh wave of affection for the younger woman flooded her.
"So is it true?"
Shannon's smile faded, and her face became serious. "Yes, it is," she said.
Sarah didn't reply immediately. She frowned and began to chew on her lower lip. "Hard to believe," she said finally.
"I know. It is for me, too, sometimes."
They sat in silence for another few seconds. Shannon glanced over at Silver who was still at the other end of the room. He had his back to them, so she couldn't see what he was doing. But maybe it was better not to know anyway...
"He said you had a little son. Josh, right?"
Sarah nodded. "Yes. I'd promised I'd pick him up after school..."
<But you didn't make it....> Shannon thought as she watched Sarah's eyes cloud with worry. "I'm sure he's okay."
"I hope so..."
Shannon felt the atmosphere shift into a much too negative direction and was suddenly eager to change the subject. "Are you married?" she asked.
"Yes." Sarah's eyes lit up immediately. "His name's Michael. We've known each other since we were kids." She looked at Shannon. "What about you?" she asked. "Are |you| married?"
It still came as a surprise to Shannon how much it hurt to think of Brian. "Yes," she said a little hoarsely.
"We always wanted to have children, but it didn't work out."
"No, it's okay. We've accepted it."
Sarah's face became thoughtful, and then, suddenly, a little smile began to play around her lips. "You know, Michael and I have been talking about maybe having another baby, lately," she said.
"We'd like to have a little girl. Josh wants a brother, though."
"You always think there's still so much time..."
The words cut straight through Shannon's heart, and suddenly, for the first time, she saw the true extent of Silver's deeds. He'd murdered so much more than the people whose throats he'd cut. So much more than even |he| knew. Shannon tried to picture Sarah's daughter: dark curls, big blue eyes sparkling with curiosity. "There will be time," she said, making it a promise.
"So you're just giving up on her?"
Skinner wanted to slap Mulder's face then. How could he think he would ever give up on Shannon? "We're not giving up," he said, trying hard to control his voice. "We're just not wasting any more time looking for her in the wrong place."
Mulder just stared at his superior, speechless for a second. Then his features hardened. "I'm not leaving," he said stubbornly.
That man was truly unbearable sometimes! "Fine," Skinner snapped. "Stay. I don't care. But I'm out of here." And with that he turned away, leaving Mulder behind. "You can call a cab when you're done here," he said, striding toward the exit. "Agent Scully and I are taking the car if you don't mind."
It was then that he realized Scully wasn't following him. She was still standing close to Mulder, unmoving. He stopped and looked at her questioningly. "Agent Scully?"
She was avoiding his eyes, obviously feeling very uncomfortable. "Sir, maybe Mulder's right," she said tentatively. "Maybe we need to search more thoroughly."
Skinner didn't believe his ears. "How more thoroughly can you search this room?!" But he knew he'd lost. Scully wouldn't leave her partner, no matter how lost his cause and no matter how strong her own doubts. How stupid of him to have expected anything else. For one more heartbeat he was caught in a chaos of conflicting emotions, then, finally, he nodded, resigning, and turned away.
It was a bitter walk down the aisle. He felt like a dead man walking, defeated and alone. He'd promised not to let anything happen to her. He'd promised to keep her safe. - How could he have failed her like this...?
He turned his head and saw Scully standing next to him.
"He's just trying to do his best to find her."
Skinner took a deep breath and closed his eyes for a moment. "Just keep an eye on him, okay?" he said.
Scully's eyes were warm and sympathetic as she looked at him. "There's nothing you could have done..."
This time it was his turn to avoid her eyes. He knew she meant well, but he just couldn't talk about that right now. He swallowed hard, then reached for the door. "I'll see you tomorrow," he said hoarsely. He needed to get out of here, needed to find a place where he could breathe again...
Scully's voice and a scratching, grinding noise held him back. Turning his head he could see an opening in the wall next to Mulder where he was sure had been massive stone before.
Mulder's face showed no signs of triumph or satisfaction, just grim determination. "I told you he's here."
No matter how often he looked at them, he was always surprised anew by their exceptional beauty. He guarded these photographs like a precious treasure. They were the most private, intimate thing he owned. God, how he had missed them!
It gave him a grim satisfaction that the feds hadn't been able to take them away from him. They didn't even know they existed. He'd never talked about them. He'd |thought| about them constantly, yes, but he'd never let anyone know. His thoughts were his alone, and no other person had the right to poke around in them. They wouldn't understand them anyway. They would analyze them and interpret them and twist them until they'd turned them into something completely different, unrecognizable even to him. And then they would tell him that he was sick and needed help and that they would be the ones to give him that help. No, thank you. He knew what their so-called <help> looked like. They'd rob him of his identity, of everything that defined him. And in the end he'd be nothing more than an empty shell, a figure of fun formed after their image. Who gave them the right to do this? How high-handed was it of them to just assume that their way to live was the right way? In his eyes, |they| were the ones who needed help. |They| were the ones who hadn't touched the core of their souls, yet, who hadn't discovered who they really were. They were stubbornly holding on to that childish belief that they were good and noble, even though he knew they felt the same burning inside he did every day. They knew about their dark side, but they were too cowardly to show it. Instead, they preferred to keep on denying themselves.
His finger caressed the photograph before him. They would never see the beauty of it. They'd say that it was sick and perverted. But he knew better. You couldn't picture a person more innocently, more pure than in death. It was the ultimate beauty. He'd hidden eighteen photographs here eleven years ago. Now they were nineteen. He glanced over at Shannon and Sarah, smiling. And there would be two more by the end of the day.
They were running out of time. He knew Silver pretty well by now, and there was no doubt in his mind that he wasn't the kind to play around for long. He'd get down to business very soon. And he couldn't let him. He needed to find him before the two women were hurt. He needed to be faster. That seemed to be the only thought left in his head. It was the only thing that mattered right now. <I need to be faster than him. I need to be there in time...>
"I guess that explains how Silver could bring the two women here undetected."
He was almost surprised to hear Scully's voice next to him. He had been focussing so much on finding Silver that, for a second, he had forgotten everything else around him. There had been just himself, the urgent voice inside his head and that corridor he had just found behind the stone walls of that church.
"Where do you think this corridor ends?" Scully asked.
"I'd say someplace where it's not as crowded as it is here."
Suddenly, Skinner took a determined step forward. "Let's go find out," he said.
Somewhere inside Mulder's head an alarm went off, momentarily drowning out the "I-need-to-be-faster-than-him>-mantra. "Sir, I think you should stay here," he said. "Let Agent Scully and me handle this."
Both Scully and Skinner looked at him incredulously. "What?"
"I think you should keep away from Shannon right now - |especially| right now."
The incredulous expression on Skinner's face began to mix with anger. "Shannon needs my help, Agent Mulder," he said coolly. "You don't seriously expect me to just stay here and twiddle my thumbs?!"
"Sir, you wanted me to keep an eye on you, remember? I'm just doing what you asked me for."
"And I appreciate your commitment, Agent Mulder. But this is simply ridiculous. I couldn't hurt Shannon even if I wanted to. Hell, I don't even have a gun!"
"She never said you'd shoot her with your own gun."
Suddenly, all colour drained from Skinner's face, and Mulder knew that he had won. "We'll find her," he said softly. "I promise." He gave Scully a short nod, then the two of them disappeared into the darkness of the corridor, leaving their superior to stare after them.
"What do you think he's doing over there?"
"Doing penance for his sins, I hope," Shannon said dryly.
It really looked as if Silver was praying. But Shannon knew better. That man didn't pray. He didn't even regret. They'd said he'd had a hard childhood, but that couldn't be an excuse. It might be an explanation, yes, but never an excuse. All those lives he had destroyed, all those families he had torn apart. He had caused so much pain, but that pain had never touched his heart. Shannon wondered if he even |had| a heart. She just couldn't see how one could be so cold, so totally indifferent to other people's feelings, to their fear, to their pleas...
Images of visions long ago suddenly came back to her in a rush. She saw faces contorted with mortal fear, heard low, whimpering voices begging for mercy. He hadn't even listened to them...
"He's scaring me..." Sarah's voice was barely above a whisper. "I'm not easily scared, but it's different with him. |He's| different. He's the incorporation of evil..."
The words more or less mirrored her own thoughts, but Shannon wouldn't accept them, |couldn't| accept them. "He's just a human being like you and me," she said, trying her best to make her voice sound firm and fearless. "We must never forget that. Because it means that he can be beaten. And he |will| be beaten."
This time, Sarah didn't leave it at that. This time, she said the word: "How?"
<I wish I knew...> Shannon thought desperately. But she couldn't let her feelings show. She needed to be strong. She couldn't let Sarah give up. She couldn't let herself give up. If they stopped fighting now, Silver had already won. "They're looking for us," she said.
"The FBI. They know Silver contacted me."
"And they let you go to him?"
"Well, let's say I didn't leave them much of a choice."
"You ditched them?"
"More or less."
Sarah raised an eyebrow. "You know, somehow that doesn't exactly strengthen my confidence in them..."
"The Assistant Director in charge is a very good friend of mine. He'll do everything in his power to find us."
Suddenly, there was a twinkle in Sarah's eyes. "A very good friend," she echoed. "I see... Does your husband know about that?"
Even though Shannon knew that Sarah had just been joking she couldn't help wincing at her words. And Sarah couldn't help noticing her reaction. "God. I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't mean to..." She let her voice trail off, and Shannon forced a smile on her face. "No, it's okay. That was a long time ago."
"Back when you helped catch Silver for the first time?"
Shannon usually refused to even think about that chapter of her life, but Sarah's voice was soft, and she really seemed to care. "Yes," she found herself saying to her own surprise. "I wasn't married then."
"Let me guess: But |he| was."
That woman's intuition was truly frightening...
"Am I right?"
Shannon cleared her throat. "I'd say you hit pretty close to the mark."
Sarah smiled a very warm, sympathetic smile. "Sounds like one classic example of missed opportunities."
"It was fate, I guess."
"I don't believe in fate," Sarah said matter-of-factly.
"No. I like to believe that I'm holding my life in my own hands. That I can make a difference, you know."
"I used to believe that, too," Shannon said thoughtfully.
"Then what happened?"
"I had my first vision."
"And that made you stop believing?"
Shannon was silent for a while. Then she began slowly: "At first, I was just scared. Then I told myself: Maybe it's a gift. Maybe you were given those visions to help, to make a difference, like you said. But that's not the way it works." Suddenly her voice sounded bitter. "You know, I see things, but I can't change them. I can't do anything but watch."
"But you helped to save the life of Silver's last victim. Didn't you say the FBI had been able to get to the scene of the crime before him?"
Suddenly, there was a huge lump in Shannon's throat. "Yes," she said in a low voice. "But they caught him too late."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean they couldn't prevent him from killing the girl. She was only nineteen..."
Sarah was clearly shocked. "My God..."
<Only nineteen...> Suddenly, Shannon had to fight back tears. Silver had left her with a lot of horrible images, but that one was the worst. She could still see him looming over the girl. Her face was showing surprise rather than fear. Everything had happened so quickly. "FBI! Hold it!" His face fell at those words. But only for a second. Then his eyes lit up with the brightest, most evil fire, and a broad smile appeared on his face. "Drop the knife!" His smile broadened even more before he cut her throat with one clean, precise movement. She didn't even have the time to scream, but she lived long enough to realize that she was going to die. His eyes never left hers as he savored the moment of her final understanding. When the bullet hit his shoulder it was already too late. He stumbled backwards but never broke the eye contact. He didn't want to miss one single moment. His features were soft, almost tender as he watched the life drain from her. He needed to watch extra-carefully this time, needed to memorize each and every line on her face because he knew his memory would be all he'd have of this moment. There'd be no photograph to look at to help him remember. Not this time. "Shht," he whispered, and then, finally, the light in her eyes died. He was smiling when they handcuffed him. He'd completed his mission.
"I believe that our lives are all predestined," Shannon said quietly. "And that it's impossible for us to intervene in our fates."
It took Sarah a while to process Shannon's words, but then she said: "I don't think it's impossible, I just think it's incredibly hard to change the lives of other people. I mean it's hard enough with your own life. But it can be done. You |can| make a difference. That's my firm conviction."
"But how can you know that? What makes you so sure?"
"Oh, that's easy," Sarah said, smiling. "Once you've stopped believing that you can make a difference, you've stopped living. And I just love life too much to give up on it."
Shannon felt strangely, painfully touched by Sarah's words, but she didn't have time to think about them because, suddenly, Silver stood before them. And he was holding a gun in his hands. |Her| gun. "So how's the mood?" he asked cheerfully.
Shannon's mouth went dry, and she couldn't seem to take her eyes off of the gun. It was as if some higher power forced her to keep her gaze fixed upon it. Was that it? Was that the moment she had feared?
Silver's eyes were also on the weapon. He seemed deeply lost in its sight, as he was weighing it in his hands. "You know, I never actually shot someone," he said thoughtfully. "Wonder how that might feel..." And then, before Shannon's horrified eyes, he pointed the gun at Sarah and pulled the trigger.
When he heard the shot it was as if the world had stopped turning for a moment. He caught his breath, and his eyes became wide. <Silver,> he thought numbly. <Oh God, I'm too late...> Then, suddenly, his heart started beating again, and his numbness was replaced by fear and new determination. He couldn't be too late. He just couldn't be!
The shot had sounded close and it had seemed to come from somewhere beneath him. Frantically, he started searching. There had to be a way to get to her. He was close, he knew it. And then, all of a sudden, he saw it: a trap door, set in the ground. <Let her be alive,> he prayed silently as he reached out his hand. <Please, let her be alive...>
"Sarah! No!" Shannon's voice cracked. She thought she was going crazy. This couldn't have happened. This couldn't be. Oh God, this couldn't be...
The bullet had hit Sarah directly between the eyes. She had slumped, and her head had fallen backwards. Wide, lifeless eyes were staring at the ceiling. Something inside Shannon broke. "You bastard!" she cried. "You fucking, filthy bastard!" She was acting like a madwoman now, she knew, but she didn't care. When she had taken the gun from her bodyguard that evening she had wondered whether she would be capable of using it at all, now she had her answer. She would have killed Silver without batting an eyelid. No mercy. No remorse. Not for him. Yes, she would have killed him. And she |wanted| to kill him. There was a burning inside her that was more powerful than anything she had ever experienced before. <Killhimkillhimkillhim.> Like mad, she tore at her shackles. Her chest felt like it was going to burst. Too many emotions. Too much blind, raging hatred. <Killhimkillhimkillhim.>
Silver watched her with obvious amusement. "Oh come on," he said. "You can't be that shocked. You're a fortune teller. You must have know that was going to happen. Or not?"
"You'll pay for that," she whispered through gritted teeth.
"Maybe I will. But first it's your turn to pay." He was looking at her with cold, merciless eyes now, finally showing his true face. "You shouldn't have messed with me, Shannon."
He saw the knife seconds before Shannon did, and automatically, his hand reached out for his gun. Only to find that there was no gun. Mulder hadn't let him bring it. "Damn it!" His mind was racing. What was he supposed to do now? What |could| he do?
"Why couldn't you have just stayed out of it?" Silver's voice was carried up to him. "Why can't the likes of you ever just mind their own business?" Silver was closing in on Shannon now, and for a moment, Skinner could see his face. <He'll kill her,> he realized, suddenly feeling sick. <He'll kill her, and there's nothing I can do about it...>
Shannon's eyes were really sending out sparks now. "Oh, please spare me your yammering! Let's just get it over with, okay?" Suddenly, she wasn't afraid anymore. Within her there were just hatred and rage and a tremendous sense of pride that made her hold her head up high. She knew that, physically, she was inferior to Silver, but psychically he wouldn't bring her down. Not ever. He might kill her, but he would not break her. He wouldn't get from her what he really wanted. He would lose. And he would know it. And that would be her ultimate victory.
"Oh no," Silver said, shaking his head. "I won't make it that easy for you. I want to see you bleed."
"God, you're so melodramatic it hurts."
"And you're much too arrogant considering the position you're in. You should be careful what you're saying."
"Why? What do I have to lose? You'll kill me anyway, won't you? And you've already made it clear you want it to be a painful death. Sorry, but I'm afraid you've already played all your trump cards."
"You'll lose your arrogance sooner than you think."
"If you're waiting for me to plead for mercy that's never gonna happen."
Silver was shaking his head again. "Ah, ah," he said reproachfully. "Never say never," he paused, and his eyes darkened. "Shannon." And with that he closed the final distance between them. Shannon winced when she felt the cold steel of his knife on her throat, and suddenly, unexpectedly, the fear returned. But she fought it back. <I won't let him win,> she kept telling herself. <I won't let him win.> Defiantly, she lifted her head to meet his eyes: "Fuck you," she whispered through gritted teeth. Silver just smiled, and Shannon closed her eyes.
He had her. After all these years they had finally arrived at that moment he had been longing for so desperately. He could hardly believe it was really true.
She was tougher than he had expected, but she would crack before long. They all did sooner or later. He would make it slow for her. He would make her regret. Oh yes, she would regret. She'd wish she'd never been born. Smiling, he closed his hand more tightly around the hilt of his knife. He was ready.
Silver froze. <No,> he thought. <Not again. Not now...>
"I said drop it!"
The voice sounded even sharper now. Sharper and...- familiar... Slowly, Silver began to turn his head.
"Stop!" the voice behind him barked at once. "Don't move!"
Oh yes, he knew that voice... Silver kept on turning around, slowly but steadily, and then he saw him. "Assistant Director Walter Skinner," he said. "What a pleasant surprise." His eyes came to rest on the other man's empty hands, and his eyebrow rose. "Lost our gun, have we?"
He felt strangely numb standing there. It had been hopeless from the beginning, but he'd had to try. He couldn't have just stayed hidden and watch Silver kill Shannon. He'd had to try...
"Let's see... What's wrong in this scene?" Silver mused. "Ah, I know: I'm the one with the gun. So I should be the one giving orders. Shouldn't I?" His eyes were sparkling now. "So, Mr. Skinner, won't you come over here and join us?" It sounded like a polite invitation, but Skinner knew it was an order. And he knew he had no choice but to obey. Reluctantly, he started moving.
"Two for the price of one. This really seems to be my lucky day today."
Skinner didn't look at Silver. He didn't want to see the dirty grin on his face. But he was also afraid to look at Shannon. What a glorious hero he made... He would have laughed out loud, hadn't it been so damn sad, so damn pitiful. "Walter..." He felt her touch and finally managed to meet her eyes. "Are you okay?" he asked.
She nodded, her eyes not willing to let him go. <Hypnotic green eyes,> he found himself thinking. <How could I ever forget them?>
"Alright. That's enough," Silver interrupted them impatiently. He pointed to Shannon's right side. "See that nice little woman here?" he asked. "That's Sarah. Now, I want you to kneel down and undo her shackles. She won't need them anymore, what do you think?" He was grinning again. "Too bad you weren't here in time to save her. I think Shannon would have appreciated it. She seemed to like her quite a bit."
Suddenly, Skinner was overwhelmed by the urge to close his hands around Silver's throat and squeeze with all his might. But he knew he would be dead long before he'd reached the bastard.
Shaking with hatred, he knelt down next to Sarah. He couldn't look at the woman's face. It wasn't like he hadn't seen such a sight before. God knew he'd seen more than enough of them. It was the fact that Silver had been right with his words. He should have saved her, but he had been too late. And now she was dead, and he couldn't fight the feeling that it was all his fault.
It took him several minutes to undo the shackles. Silver had been very thorough. But finally he managed to free Sarah's body from the ropes that had bound it. "Very good," Silver said. "Now, lie down on the ground, face down."
Skinner had more or less expected that order, still it hit him like a hammer. There was no way he would be able to overwhelm Silver lying flat on his belly. <Think!> he urged himself. <Think fast!>
"Don't keep me waiting, Mr. Skinner."
Slowly, Skinner lowered himself down to the ground. <Thinkthinkthink...> Seconds later, Silver was sitting atop of him, brutally forcing down his head. "You'll never get through with this," Skinner hissed as Silver began to tie up his hands with Sarah's ropes. "My colleagues are upstairs searching for us. They'll be down here any minute."
"Uh," Silver replied in mock fear. "In that case I just hope they're not as heavily armed as you were." He gave the rope around Skinner's hands one last, painful pull, then turned to take care of the feet.
Two minutes later Skinner was slouching next to Shannon trying hard to fight the feeling that he had just missed his last chance - |their| last chance to get out of this alive. "Well, well, Mr. Skinner...." Silver said, an almost melancholic undertone is his voice. "Who would have thought we'd ever meet again? I can't begin to tell you how good it is to see you. It makes this day even more perfect."
Disgusted, Skinner averted his face.
"Yes, it's true," Silver continued, unimpressed. "You know, I even think it wouldn't have worked without you. Not really, anyway. Something would have been missing." For a moment he silently scrutinized Skinner who still refused to look at him. Then, suddenly, his features changed, and his voice was cold and biting when he started to speak again. "You've always loathed me, haven't you? You've always been so high above everything. So perfect. But you did make one mistake after all, you know. You should have killed me when you had the opportunity. That bullet of yours, back then in the park, should have gone to my head instead of to my shoulder. But it wasn't enough for you to just shoot me, was it? You wanted me to go to trial and <pay for my sins>. That's the problem with you perfect guys: You never know when to end the game." Suddenly, the knife was back in his hands. "|I| seize my opportunities, Mr. Skinner," he hissed, leaning in so that Skinner could feel his hot breath on his cheek. "|I| know when to end the game."
The fine streak of blood that ran down Skinner's throat covered his fingers like a warm blanket, and a wave of joy flooded him. Those were the rare moments when he felt at peace, truly at peace, with everything. He hardly heard Shannon's scream next to him. It didn't matter. Nothing mattered except that knife in his hand, and the beautiful warm flesh beneath it.
He hadn't cut deeply. Not yet. He didn't want it to be over too fast. He wanted to savour this moment. He wanted Skinner to make up for that night in the park when he had forced him to rush things. It hadn't been right. Because of Skinner the death of that woman had been an act of crude killing not a celebration like he had planned it. He had loathed himself for what he had had to do. He wasn't a killer. He had nothing in common with those filthy primitives who populated the jails of this country. He was an artist. He saw meaning in the deaths of his victims, saw beyond the mere act. Just like a painter sees beyond the colors of his paintings, like a composer sees beyond the notes of his serenade. Skinner and the likes of him couldn't understand this. Of course not. They were too limited in their sights, too narrow-minded. How he despised them.
He let the blade of his knife trail along Skinner's throat. It was almost like a caress, but he could feel the other man's fear. It went to his head like sweet wine. Then, seemingly of its own accord, the knife came to an abrupt halt. He had found it: the perfect spot to place his next cut. It would be deeper this time. Deeper and much more painful. He felt the palm of his hand begin to sweat in anticipation. But he mustn't let himself get overwhelmed by his emotions. He had to stay calm and controlled to do it right.
Suddenly, unexpectedly, a stinging pain exploded in the back of his neck, and he whirled around.
She had almost forgotten about the nail file in her shoe. When Silver had placed his first cut, however, she had suddenly remembered.
It hadn't been particularly hard to get. Fortunately, her hands weren't tied up behind her back, like Skinner's, so she had some freedom of movement. She had wanted to stab him with full force, but her hands had shaken uncontrollably. She didn't know why. That man deserved to die. She was doing the right thing. But still, somehow, it didn't feel right...
When his hand closed around her wrist, she cried out with pain. Tears shot into her eyes, and, in a reflex action, she let go of the nail file. Silently, it fell to the ground. "You bitch!" Silver roared. "You fucking bitch!"
He was bleeding, but not enough. Not nearly enough. Why had she been so half-hearted? How could she have wasted this chance?
His eyes were glowing with rage and madness as he drew back his fist to punch her face. She closed her eyes awaiting the pain to come. But the pain didn't come. Instead, Silver suddenly went down, and Walter's voice yelled: "Get the gun!"
It took her a few precious seconds to realize what had just happened.
"Shannon, get the gun!"
Frantically, her eyes darted across the room, and then, finally, she saw it: There on the table! Just a few feet away!
She stumbled forward, and her hands reached out for the gun. Almost there. She was almost there. Her fingertips grazed the barrel of the weapon. <Almost there...>
"Don't you dare touch this!"
He was watching with horror as Silver grabbed Shannon's arm and threw her to the ground. She had been so close! If he could have just held Silver down for a little while longer. Just a little while longer...
"So you want me to finish this quickly?" Silver said through gritted teeth. "I can do you that favor." He grabbed the gun and pointed it at Skinner. He saw it with wide eyes, and his mouth went dry. "No!" Shannon cried. Then a shot exploded, and the world turned black.
This time the bullet went to his head. He hadn't seen it coming, and he didn't even have the time to really feel it. When his body touched the ground, he was already dead.
The silence that followed was heavy as lead, and he felt like it was going to crush him. He had stopped breathing the moment he had heard the shot, and now he stood numb, totally overwhelmed by the realization that he was still alive. His eyes were fixed upon Silver who was lying on the ground, dead. - What the hell had just happened here?
It took all the strength he could muster to turn his head, and then he saw him: Mulder, standing below the trap door with his gun in his hand. Their eyes met, and Mulder gave a small nod. His eyes were wide, and he seemed to have stopped breathing, too.
Shannon's low voice finally broke the spell. He walked over to her and took her in his arms. She didn't cry. She just held on to him for dear life. Once again, his look fell upon Silver's dead body. "Game's over," he said flatly. Then he closed his eyes and buried his face in her shoulder.
Finally, all evidence had been secured and all questions answered. And during the whole procedure Agent Davis hadn't even once dared to meet Mulder's eyes, which, Scully knew, probably gave her much more satisfaction than it did Mulder.
She was standing next to their car with Shannon by her side, feeling increasingly tired and cold. Skinner had left with the ambulance quite a while ago. She had made him to even though he had insisted that the cut on his throat was "nothing" and that he felt "just fine".
A few feet away, Mulder shook hands with one of the agents, then started to move toward the two women. "I think we're done here," he said. "Let's go home." Scully nodded at Shannon, and the three of them climbed into the car. Scully could see Mulder's strain as she was watching him buckling up in the driver's seat. She knew it was because of what he'd had to do tonight. He'd killed a man. An evil man, alright, but still... Being responsible for the death of someone was always a heavy burden even for those people who, like Silver, didn't seem to be able to feel it. Instinctively, she wanted to place a comforting hand on his thigh, but then she remembered Shannon in the back seat, and her hand remained unmoved. When Mulder started the car, she turned her eyes to the window, watching the lights outside drift by and wondering why that victory over Silver felt so damn much like a defeat...
He was a little surprised when she turned away. He had felt her eyes upon him and could have sworn she had wanted to touch him. Somehow, he had already expected her touch, and now the spot on his thigh where she usually put her hand felt strangely cold and empty.
They drove in silence because neither of them really felt like talking right now. Yes, they had won. They had stopped Silver. But they had almost been too late. They had lost that young woman, Sarah, and they had almost lost Skinner and Shannon. If he hadn't shot Silver... - Suddenly, he felt a painful lump in this throat, and his hands closed more tightly around the steering wheel. He'd had no choice. It had been Silver or Skinner. He'd had to shoot. Just why the hell did he feel so damn guilty about it? <Because that's the way it should be,> an inner voice answered him. <Killing someone should never be easy, no matter what. And that's the difference between you and him. That's why he's a killer and you're not.> Normally, those words wouldn't have comforted him much, but this time her hand found that spot on his thigh, and somehow that made it easier for him to accept their truth.
They had been driving for about five minutes when his cell phone rang. He frowned and then answered the call without his eyes leaving the road. "Mulder."
"Agent Mulder, it's me, Miss Faulkner." She spoke fast and with an undertone of panic in her voice. "I'm sorry to call you this late, but I need to see you. I'm...- It's all back. I don't know how or why, but suddenly I remember everything. It happened in Illinois. They took me in Illinois. When I was on my way to visit my sister. There was this blinding light, and suddenly the engine of my car went dead. And then they came to take me--"
"Easy," Mulder interrupted her flood of words, realizing that she was close to hyperventilating. "Just try to calm down first, okay?"
"I can't, Agent Mulder. I'm so scared. I know something is going to happen tonight."
"What makes you believe that?"
"I just know. I can't explain this, but suddenly, I just know...things. I know answers to questions I wouldn't even have known how to ask. But they're there. They're in my head. And I have no idea how they got there. Want to know how our universe came into being? I can tell you. Or the meaning of life? Just name the question. I can answer them all." Her voice was trembling uncontrollably now, but Mulder hardly realized it. <Illinois>, <the meaning of life>... Suddenly, it was as if all pieces were finally falling into place. "I'll be with you as soon as I can," he said. Then he broke the connection and brought the car to a halt.
"Mulder, what are you doing?" Scully asked, frowning. "Who was that?"
"Miss Faulkner," Mulder answered, unbuckling his seatbelt.
"What? How did she get your cell phone number?"
"I gave it to her."
"Scully, I need you to look something up for me," Mulder interrupted his partner before she could finish her sentence. Her eyes were wide and unbelieving, and he knew exactly what she had wanted to say. But they didn't have time for a discussion of that kind right now.
"Mulder, you don't seriously want to go to that woman now, do you?"
"She's scared, Scully. I can't leave her alone right now. And I really need to hear what she's got to say."
"Just do me that favor, Scully, okay? It's really important." He looked at her urgingly, pleadingly, and finally her shoulders slumped, and he knew he had won. "Okay," she said with a sigh. "So what do you need me to look up for you?"
Mulder had left them to get a taxi to Miss Faulkner, and so now the two women were alone in the car. In the rear view mirror Scully who had taken the wheel caught a glimpse of Shannon's face that looked alarmingly pale and tired. "I'm gonna drop you off at my apartment," she said. "I'm sure you can use some sleep now."
"Actually, what I really could use is some company," Shannon replied to Scully's surprise. "I don't think I could stand to be alone right now."
"Are you sure?"
"I couldn't sleep anyway."
Scully frowned. "So you wanna come to the Bureau with me?" she asked.
"If that's possible? I mean, only if you don't mind...?"
Scully looked at Shannon, trying to picture what that woman must have gone through tonight, and automatically, her features softened. "I don't mind," she said. "I think I can understand how you feel."
They drove in silence for a while, and all the time Scully was desperately searching for some comforting words to say to Shannon. God, she just wasn't good at these things...
"I know you might not be able to fully appreciate that right now," she finally made a clumsy attempt. "But you survived. The three days are over, and your vision hasn't come true."
"Yeah," Shannon replied thoughtfully. "It's the first time..."
"You're saying all those other visions you've had before they've always come true?"
"Each single one of them."
<I'm talking about that baby you're going to have. Soon...>
The words hit Scully completely unexpected, and her hands began to shake. <Don't go there,> she told herself. <You know it's never going to happen. You know it |can't| happen. This is just another vision that won't come true...>
"Did you forsee that Silver would kill that other woman?" she asked, just to say something.
"You mean Sarah?"
"No. You know, I don't see the whole future. I just see fragments of it. It has always been that way."
"And how does it work? I mean, can you see the future or |fragments| of it of any person?" <I'm talking about that baby you're going to have...>
"At least of any person I've been in contact with in one way or another."
"So how come you could see the future of Dustin Silver?"
"I met him once."
Now that really came as a surprise to Scully. "You met him?"
Shannon's face was unmoved but it seemed to have lost even more color. "It was in a bar," she began to relate. "He was sitting next to me, and I was...well, I thought he was kind of attractive, so I attempted to flirt a little. But when he turned round to me, when I saw his eyes..." She stopped, and Scully asked softly: "What happened when you saw his eyes?"
"There was blood everywhere, and I felt like I couldn't breathe anymore..."
"You had a vision?"
"Yes." Shannon nodded. "Only I didn't know it then. Or rather: I didn't |want| to know it."
Scully frowned. "What do you mean?"
"I was eight years old when I had my first vision," Shannon told her. "My parents were terribly scared and refused to even talk about it. So I didn't talk about it. And one day the visions just stopped. Until that day I met Silver..."
"What did you do?" Scully asked quietly. "After that vision of Silver, I mean."
"I ran away." Shannon gave a small, sad smile. "I tried to tell myself that I was just imagining things, that it wasn't a vision. It worked until I saw the pictures in the news. And even then I was too scared to tell anybody. I didn't want to have anything to do with all that. I didn't want to be looked at again like I had been looked at when I was a kid. I didn't want to be the freak anymore... So I tried to pretend that it was no concern of mine, that this story was over for me. But it wasn't. A few days later, I had another vision. And I began to realize that I couldn't just close my eyes. Not this time."
"Was that when you decided to contact the FBI?"
"Yes. I told them about my visions and I described to them how they would find the next victim. Of course, no one believed me." Again, there was this small, sad smile. "But then Silver killed again, and suddenly the FBI knocked on my door. To arrest me as their prime suspect..."
"No one believed your story?"
"Walter did. Or rather, he didn't think I was guilty. He listened to me. I don't think he really believed me. Well, deep in his heart he must have believed me, but he just couldn't bring himself to admit it. That's just not who he is. He just can't believe in things like that."
"But still he stood by you," Scully said.
"Just like you stand by Agent Mulder. Even though you don't believe." Shannon stopped and lowered her eyes. "I'm sorry," she said. "I'm invading your privacy again."
Scully was silent for a while, then she said: "I may not believe in visions or extraterrestrials, but I believe in Mulder. And Skinner believes in you. Did you know that he asked Mulder and me to keep an eye on him? To make sure he wouldn't be able to hurt you?"
Scully could see Shannon's eyes widen in amazement. "No, I didn't know that."
"He's a good man," Scully said.
Again, Shannon lowered her eyes in order to avoid Scully's gaze. "I know he is," she said quietly. "It's just...- I can't forget what I saw. At least not yet. I don't know if you can understand that?"
"I can understand that some feelings can be hard to overcome."
"You know, I just need some time to sort all this out..." Shannon held Scully's gaze in the rear view mirror for a little while longer, then she turned her face toward the window, staring into the night beyond it. Scully didn't know anything more to say, so she remained silent and tried to concentrate on the road again. It had been a hard night. Tomorrow everything would look brighter. Shannon was alive, and that was what mattered. Surely, tomorrow they would be able to appreciate what they had achieved tonight.
He parked the car in its usual space and cut the engine. The silence that followed was almost overwhelming. At this late hour the FBI parking garage was empty with the exception of only a few cars. Still, strangely enough, he felt immensely relieved to be here. Since Shannon's return the Bureau had become a kind of refuge for him, a place he could flee to when the loneliness of his apartment became too hard to bear. Yes, he had been lonely before, but he had never felt it quite as strongly as he was feeling it now. With Shannon being back. With the vision of a possible different life, a less lonely life, before his eyes.
He couldn't have gone home after he had left the hospital. Every fiber of his body had struggled against it. So, once again, he had found his way to this parking garage with the prospect of yet another night spent working. Pathetic, he knew, but at least it would keep him from thinking about Shannon. He just couldn't think about her now. He couldn't think about how she had been too afraid of him to let him hold her. As soon as the first shock had subsided, as soon as she had been able to think clearly again, she had stiffened in his arms and struggled to get away from him. It had hurt him more than he would ever be able to express, but he had tried not to let it show. He had acted supportive, understanding, the perfect gentleman. Like always. Sometimes he was so sick of always being so controlled, of always keeping his feelings to himself. There were times when he wanted to stand up and just scream out all of his anger and frustration and pain. But of course, he never did it. Not him. Not Assistant Director Walter Skinner.
It wasn't before he exited the car that he heard another car approaching and, turning his head, he recognized Agent Scully in the driver's seat. And there behind her in the back seat his eyes caught a glimpse of another person: Shannon. So much for not thinking about her...
The two women seemed equally surprised to see him. "Sir, what are you doing here?" Agent Scully asked in her concerned and slightly reproachful doctor-tone after having parked and exited the car.
"I could ask you the same question," he replied. "Why aren't you home sleeping? Were there any complications after I left?"
"No complications," Scully said. "Or at least not with the Silver-case."
"So what is it?"
"Agent Mulder asked me to search some old files for parallels to a current case of his."
"In the middle of the night?"
"It seemed to be urgent."
Her tone of voice was carefully neutral like it always was when she was pissed at Mulder but not willing to let it show in front of others. He knew she'd rather rip out her tongue than openly criticize him. Her loyalty to him was truly amazing.
"I see," he said. Then, for just the fraction of a second, his eyes met Shannon's, and suddenly he felt a burning urge to get away from this conversation. "Don't take too long," he croaked before he turned around and fled the parking lot.
Just why the hell was he acting like this? Damn it, she was married anyway. She wasn't free. And besides, she didn't want him. Not anymore. He'd had his chance and he'd thrown it away. For a marriage that had been lost long since. Sometimes he wondered how things would have turned out had he decided differently. Would they've had a chance together, he and Shannon? If he just could turn back time and try again. How different would his life look now?
He watched the doors of the elevator slide closed in front of him and rested his head against the wall of the cage. It was useless to ask those questions. He couldn't turn back time. He couldn't try again. It was over. The sooner he got this into his head, the better.
He arrived at his bureau and reached out for the doorknob. At any other time he probably would have heard the muffled sounds coming from inside. But not tonight. Not with all those thoughts running through his mind. Absentmindedly, he opened the door and stepped inside.
Shannon was standing in the X-Files bureau, staring at the poster in front of her. <I want to believe> was written on it in huge white letters. <I wish I could...> she thought. <I wish I could believe that it's over. I wish I could believe that I was mistaken. That I have nothing to fear from Walter.>
He had looked so hurt, down there in the parking garage, and it had broken her heart. How could she fear a man and at the same time feel so strongly for him? She glanced sideways at Dana who was sitting at her desk, bending low over a pile of papers. Was it true what she had told her? Had Walter really asked her and Agent Mulder to keep him under surveillance so he wouldn't be able to harm her? Could he really have taken the leap and put that much trust in her? She knew he didn't believe in visions. So why would he do such a thing?
<I may not believe in visions or extraterrestrials, but I believe in Mulder. And Skinner believes in you.>
Could it really be? How could you believe in a person but not in his or her beliefs? <You can't,> she answered the question for herself. Believing in a person necessarily meant to also share that person's beliefs. No matter what she said, Dana already believed in visions and extraterrestrials or at least, she believed in the possibility that those things might exist. She just didn't know it, yet. Because she was too afraid to admit it. Even to herself.
Hadn't she said it herself? <Deep in his heart, he must have believed me...> Or why else would he have helped her in the first place?
<Because he was in love with me...>
Of course, she had noticed it. She wasn't stupid. From the beginning, there had been this inexplicable connection between them. But he had been married, and they both had respected this.
All that time she had feared that he had just helped her because of his feelings for her. She hadn't dared to hope that he had truly believed her. But obviously he had. And he did. He truly did believe her. How amazing was that?
"How the hell did he know that?" Dana mumbled beside her, and she squared her shoulders. If Walter could trust her that much, wasn't it time she'd started to trust him back?
He watched her light a cigarette with trembling fingers and inhale deeply. They were sitting side by side on her designer couch which Mulder found extremely uncomfortable. He could already feel his back begin to ache. "I'm so glad you came, Agent Mulder," she said, her voice trembling in unison with her hands. "I don't know what I would have done otherwise."
"You said you believed something was going to happen tonight." Mulder spoke softly, keeping a reassuring eye-contact. "Can you tell me what exactly you're afraid of?"
"I'm afraid they'll try to take me again. I know they will. I can feel them searching for me."
Mulder nodded. Her answer didn't surprise him. In fact, it was exactly what he had expected.
"You're not gonna let them take me, are you, Agent Mulder? I can't go back there again."
"You won't," Mulder said. "I promise. But I'm going to need your help. I need you to tell me everything you remember. Do you think you can do that?"
She looked at him with wide, shiny eyes and gave a slow nod. "I'll try."
He felt his heart rate accelerate in anticipation. It was inappropriate and selfish, he knew. Miss Faulkner was fearing for her life, and all he could think of was that he had finally found it: the truth he had been searching for for so long. He couldn't help it. This was just too huge. All those years of chasing shadows, all those years of always being one step behind, they had finally come to an end. He had finally caught up. That was The Moment, and he could hardly believe it had truly arrived.
"I can't tell you what it means to me that you're here, that you believe me," Miss Faulkner said, and even through his inner turmoil he noticed that her voice had changed. It was slightly lower now. And much more intense.
"You're the only one I can turn to, you know. The only one I can trust."
Automatically, his eyebrows pushed together and his lips formed the initial attempt of a soundless <What...?>. A second later, Miss Faulkner's lips pressed firmly against his, and for a moment he was too stunned to even move, let alone |react|. But then, realizing what was just happening, he finally regained control over his body. Softly but determinedly, he pushed her away from him. "Miss Faulkner..."
"Don't you like being kissed?" she asked with a twinkle in her eyes that only served to disguise the embarrassment behind.
"No. It's just...- I'm already spoken for, you know."
Had he really just said that? He wasn't <spoken for>. He hadn't been for years. But was that really so? The truth was: He |felt| <spoken for>. He realized it with astonishment and amazement. But not with fear. And that probably was the scariest part of the whole thing.
"Oh." Miss Faulkner's mask fell, and the embarrassment Mulder had only been able to sense before was now clearly visible. "I didn't know that. There's no ring on your finger, so I just assumed-" She let her voice trail off, and Mulder surprised himself once again with his own words: "I don't need a ring to know where I belong."
"I'm sorry," Miss Faulkner said. "I didn't mean to throw myself at you..."
He was trying desperately to find something to say when his cell phone rang. Breathing a sigh of relief he fished it out of his pocket and stood. With a hasty "Excuse me" he stepped into the adjoining kitchen and closed the door behind himself. His expression changed at once, and he could feel his strain vanish as he pressed the phone to his ear. "Still pissed at me?" he asked with a grin.
"I'm not pissed at you," she replied.
"Yeah, you are."
She said nothing. It was late, she was tired, and the last thing she was in the mood for now was to play games with Mulder.
"So did you find anything?" he asked.
So back to business, it was. That had been easy. But then, tonight's business was Mulder's favorite topic. "I believe so," she said, glancing down on the files in front of her. "The name of the man you were looking for is Peter Westin. He claimed to have found the <meaning of life> after an alleged alien abduction in 1980. Later that same year he was reported missing in Ohio, as you suspected. And another hit at least sixty-one other people disappeared in that same month, also in Ohio."
"Let me guess: Those other people had also claimed to be alien abductees," Mulder said, not bothering to hide his excitement.
"At least some of them, yes. And their reports were astoundingly similar and precise. Much more precise than you usually find it. With others, there were no indications of any abduction history. However, a conspicuously large number of those people had been undergoing psychiatric treatment, starting about three months before their disappearance."
"What about Illinois?" Mulder asked.
"As much as I hate to say this, but you were right with that one, too," Scully said, shoving aside some of the papers before her in search of the right file. "Since the beginning of your <UFO sightings> an unusually large number of people has been reported missing in Illinois. And in at least eighteen cases I found indications of alleged former alien abductions earlier this year."
"So those people had been taken before. Just like the people in Ohio, twenty years ago."
"Well, at least that's what they claimed."
"Did you find any reports of the victims concerning their former abduction experiences?"
"Yes. And they were as similar and precise as those reports back then in Ohio. So are you finally going to tell me now what this is all about?" Now Scully shoved aside all of the files and sat back in her chair, listening expectantly.
"Miss Faulkner remembered to have been taken in Illinois," Mulder said. "She claims to remember everything now, and she said something about knowing answers to questions she <wouldn't even have known how to ask>. Like the <meaning of life>. I thought I had heard that one before, and obviously I had. It was the same with Peter Westin. Back then in Ohio, twenty years ago, when we had those massive UFO sightings there. Very similar to the situation we're having in Illinois right now."
"So what are you suggesting? That some aliens are coming back to collect former abductees? That's not exactly new, is it? I mean, there are a lot of people claiming to have been abducted repeatedly."
"Yeah, but this is different."
"Ohio was one big call-back campaign, if you will. I had known about the UFO sightings, but I always believed them to be just that: sightings. I never thought to check for abductions in their context. I don't know why I didn't. It seems so obvious to me now. But when Miss Faulkner phoned me earlier in the car I suddenly made the connection. You're right when you're saying it's not an uncommon phenomenon that people are abducted more than one time. But with those people in Ohio and Illinois something must have gone wrong."
"What do you mean?"
"Remember when you said that a lot of things about Miss Faulkner's story just didn't fit the picture? No implant. No time loss. Well, you were right. Those things don't fit the picture because they were a mistake. Miss Faulkner should have had an implant, and she should have felt that time loss. But she didn't. Instead, she started to remember just like the other ones who had been taken along with her. And just like those people back then in Ohio. I think that, for some reason, the usual abduction procedure hadn't been completed when they were returned. Maybe it's the implant or maybe some other device or injection or whatever that usually keeps the abductees from remembering. True, there are still abductees who remember. But never everything. Never the whole story. Because the whole story would endanger the aliens. Obviously, they can't risk us to know everything they do. And they must know a lot. The meaning of life. The creation of our universe... Maybe it's true what you found in Africa. Maybe God really is an alien. Maybe the aliens are God. The true creators of mankind."
"No, Scully, think about it. It makes sense. I don't know what kind of experiments exactly the aliens are performing on their test persons, but it seems like they're involving somehow a transfer of alien knowledge. Maybe it's a kind of intelligence test, I don't know. I just know that, usually, this knowledge transfer has to be reversed before the test persons are returned. Maybe it even is to protect the abductees. We know that there is only a thin line between insanity and genius. People who are extremely intelligent are often destroyed by their own genius. They tend to go mad. Maybe our brain just isn't fit for too much knowledge."
"So you're saying the aliens were in reality trying to |save| those people in Ohio and Illinois by abducting them?" Scully couldn't believe Mulder really wanted to sell this rubbish to her.
"Yes. Maybe they were."
Scully was silent for a moment. Then she said calmly: "You didn't ask me what happened to Peter Westin and the others after their abduction."
Mulder seemed surprised. "Well, what happened to them?"
"Nobody knows," Scully said. "Nobody knows because they never turned up again. They're missing till today. All of them."
That information rendered Mulder speechless for a while. Obviously, that was something he |hadn't| expected. "They were never returned?" he asked finally.
"No. So do you still want to hold on to your saving theory?"
Instead of an answer there was a muffled sound from Mulder followed by a loud clang. The phone had fallen to the ground, Scully realized. Her heart skipped a beat. "Mulder?" she said with a beginning feeling of panic. And then again, more loudly and pressingly: "Mulder?!"
She slammed down the phone and jumped to her feat.
"What is it?" Shannon asked next to her, sounding alarmed.
"Something happened to Mulder," Scully said, barely able to keep control of her voice.
"I gotta get to him. Can I leave you alone here?"
Scully hesitated one more second. She was supposed to take care of Shannon. But then again: Silver was dead. Shannon was save now. There was no reason to worry about her anymore. "Are you sure?" she asked nonetheless.
"I'll be fine," Shannon assured her. "Go get your partner."
This time there was no more hesitation. Within two seconds Scully was out of the room and on her way to Janine Faulkner's apartment.
Shannon watched her leave, hoping ardently that everything would be alright. She hadn't seen anything. There had been no vision of anything happening to Agent Mulder. But then, as she had told Dana earlier, she couldn't see the whole future. Only fragments of it. She had seen that baby, however. So didn't that mean that Agent Mulder had to be okay? She wasn't sure. She wasn't sure of |anything| anymore. She had seen her own death, but the danger seemed to be over and she was still alive. Had she been wrong? Didn't her visions necessarily have to come true? Was she really safe now?
Suddenly, she saw Brian's face before her. He'd said that she had changed, that the fire had left her eyes. He had been right. She really had changed. She had become more and more indifferent to life, to |living|, because nothing she did seemed to make a difference. It had almost broken her. |Her visions| had almost broken her. She had thought she didn't really care about living anymore. But then there had been this vision of her death and suddenly, she had realized that the fire was still there. She didn't want to die. There was still too much life left in her. Too much hunger. She just had forgotten about it. She had buried it deep inside, but it had never completely left her. What was it Sarah had said? <Once you've stopped believing that you can make a difference, you've stopped living. And I just love life too much to give up on it.> Somewhere down the line, she thought, she must have stopped loving: life, Brian, even herself. She had felt like an empty shell, and she hadn't even realized it. Not really, anyway. She just had been too indifferent to think about it. It didn't seem to matter.
But it |did| matter. She knew that now, and, more importantly, she could |feel| it now. For the first time in years she felt truly alive again. And she wanted this feeling to last. She couldn't go on like before. Much too long now her visions had been ruling her life. It was time she'd started to take over the lead again.
Once more, her thoughts wandered back to Walter. She still had feelings for him. She hadn't thought that could be possible, but this special connection between them was still there. They just seemed to be fated to always meet at times when there was no way for them to be together. <Bad timing>. That was the catchword for their relationship. The first time they had met he had been married, and now it was her who wasn't free. - But was that really so? Yes, she was married to Brian. But was her heart really still in this marriage? Suddenly, she saw the answer clearly before her, and, to her surprise, it didn't even scare her. It made her a little sad, but mostly she was just feeling relieved. What she had been refusing to see for years suddenly seemed so easy to accept: There was no future for her and Brian together. Neither of them was really to blame for it. It just hadn't worked out.
She hesitated one more second, then she walked determinedly toward the door. It was time to apologize. And to talk.
The car left the parking garage with screeching tyres. She sat behind the wheel, her hands shaking. <I shouldn't have let him leave,> a small voice inside her head kept repeating. <I should have held him back.> Down inside she knew that he wouldn't have let her hold him back, but that didn't help to make her feel less guilty. <I should at least have come with him. I'm his partner. I'm supposed to cover his back. I should have been with him...>
Mulder had been in danger many times before, and one should think that she should be used to it by now. But instead, it seemed as if her worry for him was becoming worse every time.
She tried not to think about what might have happened to him. She needed to believe that he was okay. He |had| to be okay. Everything else was completely out of the question, completely unimaginable.
She took a deep breath and tightened her grip around the steering wheel. Everything would be okay. Mulder would be fine. He would be fine...
The elevator doors opened, and a sudden feeling of nervousness came over her. What was she going to say? He had risked his life to save her, and she had treated him like shit. How could she have done this? How could she ever have believed he could really hurt her? It was just ridiculous. She should have known that from the beginning.
But still, there was this small voice inside her head that told her not to go to him, not to open that door.
<Nonsense,> her reason argued at once. She had been waiting much too long already. Walter deserved an apology, and he deserved it now. Maybe it was already too late, maybe she had already ruined everything, but she had to try at least. Maybe he would be able to forgive her. And maybe, though she hardly dared to hope for it, he would give her another chance, give |the two of them| another chance. Maybe there would be a happy ending for them, after all...
She found the entrance door open which only served to increase her feeling of panic. Knowing she wouldn't be able to wait so much as one second for the elevator to arrive she immeditately turned to the stairs and began climbing. <Let him be okay,> she prayed silently. <Please, let him be okay...>
Gun drawn, she finally arrived at Miss Faulkner's apartment door. It was open, too.
She closed her eyes for a moment and whispered one last prayer before bursting into the apartment. "Federal Agent!" she shouted. "Freeze!"
But there was no one there to freeze. With the exception of two gold fish swimming in their tank next to the couch the room was completely deserted.
Her heart was hammering so hard now she thought it would burst her chest. Gun still ready to fire she carefully made her way across the room toward yet another open door. From what she could see from her position it looked like the kitchen. "Mulder," she muttered to herself. "Where are you?"
And then she saw him: lying on the kitchen floor, unmoving. Her heart skipped a beat. "Mulder!" With two long strides she was by his side, kneeling down next to him. Her fingers were trembling uncontrollably as she reached out to feel his pulse. <Let him be okay,> she started to pray again. <Please, let him be okay...>
For the second time in this night he was sure he was going to die. His head hurt so terribly it was almost driving him insane. Tears of pain clouded his eyes as he was slouching in his chair, barely able to stay conscious.
"I know this hurts, Walter," a shadowy figure before him said in a sugar-sweet voice. "But I have no choice. You need to be punished for your disobedience, you know that, don't you?"
Another wave of pain surged through his body, and he almost slipped from his chair.
"I really thought I had made myself clear enough when I told you to drop that case. But obviously I was wrong."
The words seemed to come from very far away. He knew he was close to passing out, and it was only due to his raging hatred for that man hiding in the shadows that he was still awake.
"I hope you learned your lesson, Director Skinner. Because I won't teach it to you again. This was my last warning. Next time you're a dead man." With that, Krycek turned to the door, ready to leave. And suddenly, a revolt went through Skinner's body. Half-blind with tears he pulled open the drawer before him and grabbed the gun inside. "No, |you're| a dead man," he croaked, pointing the gun at Krycek.
Then everything happened very fast, |too| fast for his pain-clouded mind: Someone opened the door from outside. Krycek grabbed the entering figure, using her as a human shield. By the time he recognized Shannon it was already too late: The bullet had been fired, and he watched in horror as Shannon was sinking to the ground. <No!> he cried out. But the words were only echoing in his mind while he stood completely paralyzed, unable to move his lips to speak. Fot the duration of two breathless heartbeats Krycek held his gaze, grinning. Then he turned around and walked out of the room.
He began to stir under her touch, and she felt her knees go weak. He was alive. Everything was okay. He was alive.
He opened his eyes, letting out a low moan. "Easy," Scully said soothingly, slipping a supporting hand under his head. Slowly, his eyes began to focus in on her. "Scully," he croaked. "What...?" And then, suddenly, the expression in his eyes changed as realization hit him. "Miss Faulkner!" he exclaimed. "The bounty hunter... They're here to take her. I need to get to her." He struggled to get up, but Scully placed a gentle hand against his chest, stopping him. "It's too late, Mulder," she said calmly. "They've already got her."
He looked at her with wide, disbelieving eyes. "No," he said, his voice that of a stubborn child. "It can't be."
"Mulder, she's gone."
He kept staring at her for two more seconds, then, finally, his shoulders slumped and he turned away his face.
"She trusted me to protect her." The self accusation in his voice almost broke her heart. "There's nothing you could have done," she said somewhat helplessly.
But he shook his head violently. "I wasn't alert enough. I was just thinking about all the things she would be able to tell me. All the answers she would be able to give me."
"Mulder, don't do this to yourself. It's not your fault."
"I didn't even hear him entering," he went on as if she hadn't spoken at all. "How could I not have heard him entering? I only saw him the second before he knocked me down."
"Mulder, stop it," Scully said harshly. "It wouldn't have made a difference if you had heard him entering. You couldn't have stopped him, you know that. We've met this man before, and we never stood a chance against him."
He said nothing, avoiding her eyes.
She let out a little sigh, then switched to doctor mode. "Do you think you can get up?" she asked.
He nodded and, taking her hand, carefully staggered to his feet.
"You feeling dizzy?"
"A little," he admitted, and she immediately began to examine his head.
"I'm okay," he waved her away. "I don't think he hurt me seriously. Let's just go home, okay?"
She let him be and looked at him for a second. Then she gave a small nod and, taking his arm, began to lead him toward the door.
He was crouching beside her lifeless body, clutching his gun. His first impulse had been to put it to his own head and pull the trigger. He had come dangerously close to really doing it. But then, suddenly, he had seen Krycek's grinning face before his eyes, and that had stopped him. He needed to live to make him pay. He swore he would make him pay. He would kill that sonofabitch, if it was the last thing he did. Next time he got the chance he wouldn't hesitate. Krycek didn't know it, yet, but he had already ceased to exist.
<You're not gonna let them take me, are you, Agent Mulder? I can't go back there again.> <You won't. I promise.>
How could he have been so careless, so dielettante? He had acted like a complete amateur, and now she was gone, and it was his fault. Maybe Scully was right. Maybe he wouldn't have been able to stop the bounty hunter from taking her, but he should at least have |tried| to fight him. He should have done something, |anything|.
Rather absentmindedly he noticed that Scully was slowing her pace beside him, fumbling in her pockets and finally producing a handkerchief. "You've got some blood here," she said. "Did you bite your lip?" She brought her hand up to wipe his mouth, but then, abruptly, her face fell and she paused for a second before finishing her movement. He frowned and then, suddenly, he remembered. "Scully...." he started out. But she cut him off: "It's okay, Mulder. I'm sorry. It's none of my business." She was avoiding his eyes now, but he had seen enough. "We both know that's not tue," he said calmly. Funny, those words, too, didn't scare him for one second. But then, he had no reason to be scared. He knew the words were true for both of them. His feelings had told him so a long time ago, but he hadn't dared to trust them. Then, by some miracle, he had been granted the chance to see himself through Scully's eyes, and this had changed everything.
She had never asked if he had been able to read her mind, too, and he knew she never would. She was too afraid of his answer. He had been afraid, too, at first. There were no excuses anymore now, no more telling himself that he was just being delusional thinking she might really care for him the way he cared for her. But then, slowly, he had begun to realize that he didn't need, didn't |want| those excuses anymore, that he was finally ready to leave his fears behind. It still wasn't easy for him, but he tried, and there had been small successes. The kiss on New Year's Eve, for example. Sometimes he still couldn't believe he'd really done it. He'd kissed Scully. And this time she hadn't even slapped him. His eyes lit up with the memory of that night on the Queen Anne, and he suppressed a smile. She had been so tough, so completely Scully-like, although she hadn't been |his| Scully. But for a moment, and he remembered it clearly, for a moment, she had kissed him back. Even then. Even without her knowing him. Yes, that lipstick on his lips |was| her business, and that was exactly the way he wanted it to be.
He could tell that she was affected by his words, and for a second he even thought she was going to reply. But the second passed, and the words remained unspoken once again. Instead, he felt her hand on his arm, warm and dearly familiar. "Let's go, Mulder," she said softly.
She got the news half an hour later. It was a plain message on her answering machine. She had to listen to it half a dozen times before her mind could grasp what had happened. Shannon was dead. Shot by Skinner. It had been a tragic accident. Shannon was dead...
She sank into her couch, barely able to breathe. Everything felt completely unreal, like in some kind of nightmare. How could this have happened? She had been so sure that, with Silver being dead, the danger had been over. She had been so sure Shannon would be save when she had left her.
She had left her...
"My God," she whispered, covering her face with her hands.
"I never could bear to see you cry."
She winced at the unexpected voice and her heart began to race. "Daddy?" she whispered, her voice slightly trembling. Lifting her head she saw her father sitting in the armchair facing her. It was an almost familiar sight by now, a sight she even had expected tonight, but still it scared her.
"People die, Starbuck," he said. "That's the course of life."
She shook her head, refusing to look at him. "I shouldn't have left her alone," she muttered as if to herself.
"It was |her| life," her father said. "And |her| decisions that led to what happened. Not your's. Everyone is responsible for their own lives, Starbuck. Everyone's got the |privilege| to be responsible for their own lives. She did what she thought was right. You need to accept that."
She still didn't look at him.
"Please, Dana. You need to let me go," her father's voice said. Only it wasn't her father's voice anymore. William Scully was gone, and his chair was now occupied by another familiar figure. Scully gasped.
"Remember our talk about those ghosts of our past?" Shannon said. "Please don't let me become one of them."
Scully's heart beat wildly in her chest. This was just too much. This couldn't be. She had to be hallucinating.
"Dana, look at me."
Shannon's voice was soft but forceful, and Scully found herself unable to resist it. Slowly, tentatively, she lifted her head and locked eyes with Shannon. And from that second on, for some reason, her heartbeat began to slow down to normal, and she became still.
"It's not your fault," Shannon said.
But Scully shook her head. "I failed you..."
"No, you didn't. You couldn't have held me back. It was my decision to go to him."
"It wouldn't have had to happen. If I had been there, if I had stayed with you-"
"Dana, there's nothing you could have done, believe me."
"I refuse to believe that!" Scully's voice had risen, and her cheeks were flushed. "I refuse to believe that there's nothing we can do to change the course of our lives. We're the creators of our lives, not merely spectators. It can't be that it's all just a predetermined game. There's always a way for us to intervene. There's |got| to be a way for us to intervene."
"You're right," Shannon said softly, and a little smile began to light up the corners of her mouth. "There |is| a way. But we need to be willing to go it. You can't save a man that doesn't want to be saved."
"But you didn't want to die," Scully said, and suddenly a frown appeared on her forehead. "Or did you?"
"No," Shannon said quietly. "I didn't. But I refused to see the warnings. Deep within I knew I shouldn't go to him, but I went anyway."
"Because I - because |my head| - had decided that it was time. I wanted to apologize."
Scully closed her eyes. <Shannon...>
"You know, what we call <fate> is nothing more than the consequence of the way we live our lives. And we can always change the way we live our lives. The crucial question we need to ask ourselves in the end is not about fate. It's about whether we're able to say that we've taken our chances, that we've done the best we could to be happy and to make other people happy. You're right. We're not merely spectators. We |can| intervene. Only most of the time we don't bother to do it. Or we don't know |how| to do it. Yet, it's so simple. Usually, the answers we need are already there, we're just not aware of them. Because we've unlearned to become still and listen to what's inside us. We put too much trust in our reason and too little in our feelings. That's our problem. That was |my| problem. Don't make the same mistakes that I made, Dana. Promise me to listen to that little voice inside you. Promise me to never forget what you want. And to have the courage to go and get it."
"I don't know if I can," Scully said. "You seem to put more confidence in me than I deserve. You were wrong with that other thing, too, you know. I mean, just look at me: I have no idea how to chase away the ghosts of my past..."
"Oh yes, you have. You just haven't realized it, yet."
"And how do I do it?"
Shannon smiled meaningfully. "Just listen."
In that very second the telephone began to ring, and Scully turned her head. When she looked back at the armchair Shannon was gone.
He had to wait five rings before she picked up the phone. "Scully," she said. Her voice sounded shaky, he realized.
"I guess you already heard it?"
There was a small pause at the other end of the line, and then finally, very quietly, came her answer: "Yes."
Suddenly, he wondered why he had called. He had no idea what to say. There were just no words to express what he was feeling. Hell, he didn't even really |know| what he was feeling! He still couldn't believe it. Maybe he had just wanted her to tell him that all this was nothing but a bad dream. But it wasn't, of course. He knew that, didn't he?
"Listen, Scully...." he began tentatively.
"Mulder? Can you come over here? Please?"
Her words caught him completely off guard. "Yeah," he said, frowning. "Sure... - Scully, is everything okay?"
"Yeah. I just need...to talk."
He nodded, his frown growing even deeper. "I'm on my way."
She'd asked Mulder to come over. She hadn't reflected, she'd just done it. And now she was already wondering whether it had been such a good idea. After all it was late, and what was she going to say to him, anyway? What had she been thinking?
When he knocked on her door fifteen minutes later, she opened him with a strange sense of nervousness. "Hi," she said shyly. "Thanks for coming." She let him step inside and closed the door behind him. "Sorry to make you come here this late..."
"I wouldn't have been able to sleep anyway," he said.
She nodded, her nervousness growing by the second. For a moment neither of them spoke. "Um, why don't you have a seat?" Scully finally said. "I'm gonna get us something to drink."
He nodded and went to sit down on the couch while she headed for the kitchen. Why the hell was her heart pounding like mad? This was Mulder. She could tell him anything. He would understand her, wouldn't he?
When she returned to the living room a minute later he was toying with a pillow he had placed in his lap. Somehow he seemed nervous, too, she noticed. "Here you go," she said, holding out a glass of iced tea to him. He took it, letting go off the pillow. She sat down next to him, careful not to look at the armchair opposite her.
"I can't believe it," he said quietly, and a wave of gratefullness for him speaking first surged through her. "Me neither," she answered, just as quietly.
"Have you spoken to Skinner, yet?"
"No. Have you?"
He shook his head. "I wonder if he'll ever be able to get over this..."
For a moment she thought she could see a memory flare up in his eyes. Her and him in a warehouse. He had pointed his gun at her, ready to shoot, unaware of the woman behind him that was whispering into his ear. <I'm gonna kill you!>
She blinked, and the moment was gone. <Nonsense,> she thought. <I'm not a mind reader, am I?> Her thoughts wandered back to Skinner. "Do you think she knew that he loved her?" she asked, glancing at Mulder.
"I want to believe that she did," he anwered her pensively.
She was silent for a while, then she said quietly: "You know what |I| want to believe?"
He tilted his head and looked at her expectantly.
"I want to believe that the dead are not lost to us. That they speak to us as part of something greater than us. And I want to believe that if we listen to what's speaking, it can give us the power to save ourselves."
She had said those words staring straight ahead, not daring to look him in the eye, too afraid of what she might read there. She sounded crazy even in her own ears...
She felt his gaze upon her and finally managed to turn her head. He didn't look taken aback, like she had feared, but there was a definite note of surprise in his eyes. "Scully, is there something you haven't told me?" he asked.
She took a deep breath and steeled herself for what was to come. There was no turning back now. "I saw her," she said.
Mulder frowned. "Who?"
"Shannon. I saw her tonight, shortly before you called. She was sitting right there in my armchair."
"You saw Shannon?" Mulder's face was one big frown now. "But-"
"- she's dead. I know," Scully said. "I know. But I saw her. And she's not the only one."
"You saw another dead person?" Again, she could see something flare up in his eyes: fear. "Scully, are you trying to tell me...? You're okay, aren't you?" He looked virtually in panic now, and it took her a second to understand why. When she did, it hit her completely unprepared. "Yes," she hurried to assure him. "Yes, I'm fine. This is different than it was with Harold Spuller."
"Are you sure?" he asked, not yet daring to trust her words.
"Yes, I'm sure." She gave him a reassuring smile. "The other person I saw was my father," she then told him. "And it wasn't for the first time. I've seen him since the night he died. Not too often, but always today, always on the anniversary of his death."
"Why didn't you tell me?" Mulder asked calmly.
She shook her head. "I don't know," she said. "I guess I was afraid. Talking about it to another person would have meant to face it. And I just couldn't face it..."
"And now you can?"
She gave him a lopsided smile. "I guess I have no choice. - You know, I always tried to talk myself into thinking that I was arranging those dinners every year for my mother. So she wouldn't have to be alone. But in reality it was me who couldn't stand to be alone on that day. Mom didn't need those dinners. |I| did. I needed them desperately..."
"You still miss him, don't you?" Mulder said softly.
"Yes." Suddenly, there were tears shimmering in her eyes. "But I can't keep holding on to him all my life. I need to let him go. I need to find a way to keep him in my heart but go on with my life. I just have yet to figure out how to do it..."
"But you're already doing it," Mulder said. And Scully looked at him, surprised.
"You're talking to me, aren't you? Well, that's the first step. Actually, it's already the second step. You took the first one when you stopped denying what's happening to you."
She took a moment to take in his words, then she said quietly: "I'm glad you're here."
Instead of an answer he took her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. She closed her eyes and leaned back in the cushions, wondering how it could be that she could draw so much strength from his mere presence. With him by her side it seemed to her that she could face anything. Next to him she felt strong and safe. Next to him she felt...home.
"I should go now," he said softly.
She felt a sting in her heart but nodded, rising from the couch along with him.
"Do you think you can sleep now?"
Again, she gave a small nod. "Yes."
"Okay." He smiled softly. "See you tomorrow then."
She watched him heading for the door, and suddenly Shannon's voice echoed in her mind: <Promise me to never forget what you want. And to have the courage to go and get it.> "Don't go," she said. The words were out before she even knew what she was doing.
He stopped and slowly turned around to her. His eyes were filled with surprise.
"I...." she started out, suddenly afraid of her own courage. "Could you stay with me? Just...for tonight?"
The expression of surprise vanished, and his features became soft. "Of course," he said.
He'd slept on this couch many more times than he could count. But somehow tonight felt different. |They| felt different.
"You got everything?" she asked. And he nodded, shaking up his blanket. "Yeah. I'm fine."
He could feel her nervousness nearly as strongly as he could feel his own.
"Thanks again for staying here."
He smiled. "No problem."
She seemed to hesitate for a moment, then she took a deep breath and smiled back at him. "Goodnight, Mulder."
He stared after her until she had reached the door to her bedroom. He needed to tell her. He couldn't let her walk through that door without her knowing the truth. "Scully?" he said. And just like him before she stopped and turned around, looking at him expectantly.
"I didn't kiss her back."
She hadn't expected that, he could tell. She stood unmoving for a second, then she said shyly: "Mulder, I already told you it's none of my business..."
"And |I| already told you we both know that's not true."
She held his gaze but didn't reply, and he was surprised at the softness in his voice as he said: "I just wanted you to know, okay?"
Still there was no reply from her. Instead she walked back up to him and to his great surprise placed a gentle kiss at the corner of his mouth. It was an innocent, amicable peck, and yet, it was so much more than that. He couldn't tell how or why, but the moment her lips touched his cheek something happened to them. Suddenly, the air seemed charged with electricity, and the next thing he knew was that his arms went around her body, bringing it close to his. She responded by doing the same. He could feel her heart beating wildly against his chest and wondered for a moment whether his heart was equally out of control. It had to be. He was barely able to breathe...
He was looking at her now, and his heart seemed to swell with a mixture of joy and fear. How many times had he wanted to do this? And how many times had he chickened out? Suddenly, it didn't seem to matter. Not anymore. He wouldn't chicken out this time. He |couldn't|, even if he'd wanted to. Slowly, he brought his lips down toward hers. <I'll stop if you want me to,> his eyes were telling her. <But please don't make me...> She replied by bringing her hand to his neck and pulling him closer, until, finally, their lips met.
It wasn't at all like the kiss they had shared on New Year's Eve. It wasn't like |any| kiss he had ever shared with any woman. He'd never known he could become so completely carried away by his emotions. He'd never known he could feel so strongly. It was as if awakening from a long coma. He held her tightly, wondering how he could have existed all those years without her in his arms.
When they finally parted to take a breath he was still not willing to let her go completely. He didn't think he ever would. "I love you, Scully," he said, the words leaving his mouth with no difficulty. There was a silvery shimmer in her eyes as she lifted herself up on tiptoe and kissed him again. Very softly and very tenderly. "I love you, too," she whispered. She glanced sideways for a second and then back up to him. "Are you insisting on sleeping on the couch tonight?" she asked. And he felt his throat go dry. "Not at all," he croaked. "You know, I never told you, but I never particularly liked couches."
She chuckled softly, and he felt a smile spread across his face. He'd never seen her so happy, so radiant. And it was due to |him|. How amazing was that?
He let her take his hand and lead him toward the door. But he stopped her before she could open it. He hated this, but he had to ask: "Are you sure you wanna do this? You know this will probably...complicate things..."
She looked at him then with an expression in her eyes he had never seen before. "That's what my head is telling me, too," she said. "But, you know, I've decided to put a little more trust in my feelings."
He raised an eyebrow in astonishment, but she was obviously not willing to give him any further explaination. He would ask her tomorrow, he decided. Right now he had more important things on his mind.
He gave a low whistle and then switched off the screen. He wasn't a peeping Tom, after all. But this was an interesting development. Yes, definitely. He'd already stopped believing it would ever happen. Although, thinking about it, it had been inevitable in the end. Some things were just meant to be. They had been fated to come together sooner or later. Just like he was fated to meet them face to face one day. He had no doubt in his mind that this day would come. And he could hardly wait to look them in the eyes and tell them the story of their lives.
Smiling, he turned around and walked out of the room, away from the beeping sounds of the remaining monitors.
Nine months later.
"You wanna kill me, Alex, kill me," Mulder said. "Like you killed my father. Just don't insult me trying to make me understand."
He seemed incomprehensibly calm considering the fact that he had a gun pointed at him. But Skinner knew better. He knew it was all just a faade. He knew Mulder was thinking about Scully and their baby and how he would have to leave them alone. Again. And for good, this time. But he wouldn't let it happen. He wouldn't let that man destroy yet another life, another love. It was time to keep a promise he had made a long time ago, in another life, it seemed.
He pulled the trigger and watched Krycek break down, crying out in pain as the bullet hit his arm. A look of surprise filled his eyes when he turned his head and saw Skinner standing a few yards away from him. <You didn't think I'd really get you, did you, you arrogant bastard,> Skinner thought loathingly. He watched calmly as Krycek reached down to pick up the gun he had dropped. Then he fired again.
Another cry of pain escaped Krycek's mouth as he fell to his knees, his right arm now dangling uselessly at his side. Again, he reached out for his weapon but this time with his prosthetic left hand. Skinner's eyes followed his every movement as Krycek weakly pushed the gun toward him. "It's going to take more bullets you can...ever fire to win this game," Krycek said, his voice raw with pain. "But one bullet...and I can give you a thousand lives."
Skinner didn't blink.
And those words finally made him throw overboard his last remaining doubts and scruples. Shoot Mulder? He'd already made him shoot a friend. Did he really think he'd do it again? And on purpose? How sick was that man? He turned his head to look at Mulder who stared back at him, unblinkingly.
It was |her| face he saw when he pulled the trigger one last time, |her| voice that was ringing in his ears. He hoped that she would be able to forgive him for this...
Krycek gasped, his face showing an expression of utter astonishment. Then he fell to the ground, a fine streak of blood oozing from a bullet hole between his eyes. He was dead.
He felt Mulder's eyes upon him but wasn't able to turn his gaze away from Krycek's dead body. <I'm sorry, Shannon,> he thought. <I'm sorry I didn't have the courage to kill him earlier.>
She'd be still alive...
He clutched his gun more tightly, numb with pain. "I'm going to the airport," he heard Mulder's faraway voice. "I need that location from Agent Doggett."
He wanted to move his lips, but couldn't find the strength.
"Skinner, are you with me?"
Now, finally, he regained control over his body. "You just go," he said, surprised at how calm his voice sounded. "I'll get him." From the corner of his eyes he watched Mulder enter his car and drive away. He knew he understood why he had done it, why he'd had no choice. Mulder would have done the same for Scully. Scully... He prayed that Mulder would be able to get to her in time, that she and the baby would be safe. There had been too many bad endings already.
He took one last look at the man he had come to hate more than anything else in the world, then turned and walked away.
Author's NOTES: Scully's reaction to Mulder's words at the end of "The Truth" has always seemed a little strange to me. I mean, Mulder is talking about dead people speaking to him and showing him the way even a non-skeptical Scully should have her problems with a statement like this. Instead, she's saying "Then we believe the same thing." Hello?! Why the hell would she, would |anyone|, believe such a strange thing??? Well, that was my way of explaining this conversation. Hope you liked it? Or not? Let me know!