|In the Dark
by Kellie Matthews & Julia Kosatka
WARNING! THIS STORY IS NC-17 Rated!
This version of "In the Dark" contains SEX, written in loving detail. If that bothers you, either do NOT read this story, or go hunt down the PG-13 version, which is available from the HL-Fiction archive. If you're underage, get parental permission to read it. Don't flame us if you're silly enough to go ahead and read it after we warned you, and then get offended by it. This version was written after we got enough complaints that the first version didn't have any sex it it. :-) Note that only the second half (the futuristic section) has changed from the original version.
The X-Files is a trademark of Fox Television, characters not used by permission.
Highlander is a trademark of Rysher Entertainment, characters not used by permission.
Star Trek: The Next Generation is a trademark of Paramount, Inc., characters not used by permission.
(Whew! That's a lot of disclaiming!)
In the Dark was written during the summer of 1995, between Season 2 & 3 of The X-Files, and Seasons 3 & 4 of Highlander. Anything which occurs in future episodes of these programs may substantially impact the continuity of this story, unfortunately, there's not a thing we can do about it.
NOTE: This is a story in two parts... or perhaps more properly it is two stories connected by a couple of common threads. After we finished it and ran it through our "beta test" audience, we had several comments on the difference in pacing between the two sections. We scratched our heads and thought about what the problem might be, until we realized that there was no problem, there was just a difference. The major drawback to writing crossovers isn't meshing universes, that's fairly simple. The hard part is blending styles. The X-Files, and Highlander, for example, are heavily plot-driven. TNG, on the other hand, was often completely character- driven, with plot taking a backseat. Neither is better or worse by definition, merely different. At any rate, we feel that we've succeeded in dealing with those differences and hope that you do as well.
Joe Dawson wiped the long wooden surface of the bar, trying unobtrusively to observe the woman who had come in with the sax player. She was a black woman of moderate height and curvaceous build, not stunningly beautiful, but rather compelling in a way. She wore her hair in a myriad of long, narrow braids that were too neat to be dreadlocks. Her voice was low and throaty, and held a mischievous tone. When she laughed it was full-bodied and without reservation. She looked to be in her early thirties, but he knew from long experience that looks could be deceiving. The maddening thing was that he recognized her... almost. He knew he'd seen her somewhere before, but he couldn't for the life of him remember where. Almost as if she sensed his gaze, she turned and looked at him, then stood and walked toward the counter. He let his gaze range past her to the band and didn't return his attention to her until she was leaning against the bar.
"Can I help you?" he asked, businesslike.
"Would I be here if you couldn't?" she queried in an amused voice. "What can you make me that I've never had before?"
He focused on her more fully. "Now that's an interesting question."
Her generous mouth curved in a Mona-Lisa smile. "I like to challenge my bartenders."
"I'd say so." Joe surveyed his stock of liquor critically, then snapped his fingers. "Got it! How high is your tolerance for alcohol?"
"Higher than yours, I'd wager."
He chuckled. "You'd be right, I'm a cheap drunk. Have you got someone who can drive you home, just in case?"
Taking a selection of little-used bottles from the back of the bar and some more common ones from the front, he proceeded to create a drink he hadn't made in twenty years. It took two tries, and nearly fifteen minutes before he got it right. Finally, he turned and set the glass in front of her.
She studied it carefully, checking off each layer from bottom to top. Red, orange, yellow, green, a dark blue, then a layer that was almost violet; she looked up, one almost non-existent eyebrow raised.
"Impressive. What's it called?"
"That, my friend, is a `Killer Rainbow.'"
"Appropriate name, but is it drinkable?"
"I'll let you be the judge of that."
"Am I supposed to mix them together?"
He shook his head and handed her a thin straw. "Nope. Your job is to try to get the straw into the glass without disturbing the layers, and then to drink it one layer at a time."
She took the straw, and stood for a moment, obviously analyzing the best route to take. Finally she put the straw into the first layer, slowly easing it down until the end of the straw rested against the bottom of the glass. She looked up, triumphantly. He smiled encouragingly, and she settled herself onto a barstool and leaned over the counter, elbows resting on either side of the glass, looking for all the world like a kid at a soda fountain. She steadied the straw in her fingers, and started to drink. The bottom layer slowly disappeared, then she stopped to catch her breath. Joe waited a moment, then spoke.
"Now you have to tell me what's in each layer."
"Whaaat?" She sputtered indignantly. "Now, wait just a minute, that wasn't part of the deal!"
"If you can tell me what's in it, it's free," Joe said, coaxingly.
That seemed to mollify her. She sat back, studied the drink, and nodded. "Okay, you're on! The red layer was cherry heering."
"Very good. Go on, but no looking at the bottles!"
She leaned forward and drew on the straw again until the next layer had disappeared. "Hmmm... could be Grand Marnier, but I don't think so... it's too dark... I know! Mandarin Napoleon!"
"You're two for two. Keep going."
She worked her way through Benedictine and Midori, got hung up for a few minutes on the Blue Curacao, only to be completely baffled by the last layer.
"Mister, I thought I knew every liqueur on the planet, but I gotta admit, this one's got me stumped The damned stuff tastes like flowers smell. How much do I owe you?"
She looked puzzled. "The purple stuff is called joe?"
He chuckled. "No, I'm Joe, Joe Dawson, not `mister.'" He held out his hand. She shook it firmly, without hesitation.
He waited a moment, but when no second name was forthcoming, he nodded. "Nice to meet you, Guinan. Now, I guess I should fess up that this wasn't an entirely fair contest."
"Oh? Why is that?"
"Because, you wouldn't know that last one unless you were friends with a friend of mine. He has it specially made from an old family recipe, and the only reason I have it here at all is because he occasionally likes a shot. It's called Violette, and he swears it really is made from violets. And the drink is on the house, I haven't had this much fun in ages."
Guinan looked at him skeptically, one corner of her mouth lifting in a quirky smile. "You should get out more."
Joe laughed out loud, and nodded. "Touche!"
Guinan looked over her shoulder suddenly, and stood up. "Danny's looking for me. I'll catch you later."
"I hope so." Joe said, with utter sincerity. As she walked away, he wondered again why she was so damned familiar. It was going to drive him crazy until he remembered.
He watched her rejoin her musician friend, and was surprised a moment later when she ascended the stage with them. The band launched into "My Funny Valentine" and she began to sing, her voice warm and intimate, doing a more than creditable job on the song. She was clearly untrained, but her style suited the song and the band. He let his relief bartender take over and settled down at one of the tables to listen, feeling a bit relieved as he realized that was probably why she seemed familiar. He must have seen or heard of her before.
"Beautiful, isn't it? It shines like a living thing."
"But deadly, as well."
"Are you enjoying that?"
"Enjoy? No! How could I? You never said I had to!"
"It's not necessary, but it adds a certain... something."
"I can't believe they never told us it was possible!"
"They were afraid that if they told you, too many would seize the chance. Better to let you think we are born, not made."
"But they shouldn't have kept it from us. It's not fair that some know, and others don't!"
"Why do you think I came to you? I felt you should know."
"Thank you. When do we do the next ones?"
"It must be so, for the power to fix."
Though the bar had been closed for an hour, Joe was wide-awake from an ill-advised midnight mug of coffee. He sat at his computer, not tallying the night's receipts, but accessing the day's activity reports from other Watchers. Originally he had thought Methos' creation of an electronic mail system for Watchers was a bad idea, but he had to admit, it was damned convenient. And with Methos playing sysadmin and watching the security like a hawk, he was less afraid of its potential misuse than he had once been. After the fiasco in Paris, he was sure Methos was being scrupulously careful.
As the roster of familiar names scrolled by on his screen, along with location notes, he suddenly stopped and backed up. Two days earlier Tanner Dane had been spotted in northern California. Automatically Joe reached for the phone, then stopped, shaking his head. It was kind of hard to use the phone when the modem was engaged. Anyway, it was three in the morning, and though he was sure that Duncan would want to know Dane might be in the area, he was equally sure that he wouldn't want to be woken up to hear about it.
He finished looking at the reports and logged off, then unlocked the bookcase that held the Chronicles and pulled out the most recent volume on Tanner Dane. Normally Joe relied on his own remarkable memory for details regarding Immortals, but Dane wasn't someone he normally dealt with, and it wouldn't hurt to read up on him if he was heading this way. He sat down in the old armchair he favored, got comfortable, and started to read. Engrossed in the revolting tales of Dane's exploits, he turned a page and sucked in a breath, momentarily stunned. There was a reproduction of a newspaper page from the late 1800's, carrying a story about a beheaded corpse. Dane's Watcher at that time had annotated the page, stating that the victim had been an Immortal named Wen Chiu, and that Dane had taken his head. Little fuss had been made over the death, even one so unusual, of an Asian national in turn-of-the-century San Francisco. That wasn't what held Joe's attention, though. Sharing the page was a cameo-like photograph of a woman in the elaborate dress of the times.
He stared at it, stunned, knowing he had faced that same woman across a bar tonight. This was where he'd seen her before! I had been well over a year since he'd last pulled Dane's chronicle, but his mind had retained the image. He even remembered why. He'd thought it unusual to find a socially prominent Black woman mentioned in a turn of the century paper. He read the caption and his consternation grew. "Madame Guinan to Host Literary Reception."
Guinan. The same name, the same face, more than a hundred years ago? Impossible! How could she be an Immortal, without the Watchers knowing of her? There were only seven female Immortals, other than those newly-Become, whose faces yet eluded the Watchers. He knew their descriptions by heart. Three were Caucasian, one Asian, two Hispanic, one Native American. None of them were Black, and Guinan would never be mistaken for anything else. He put in the database disk and tried a search on all the known Black female Immortals, thinking he might have forgotten someone. That search proved equally fruitless. None of the photographs he found even vaguely resembled Guinan.
He shut down the system and stared at the blank screen, unseeing, disturbed by what he'd found... or not found. Could they have managed to miss someone entirely? Could their efforts be that slipshod? Surely she had trained under someone known, had taken heads... no Immortal could live over a hundred years without doing so, could they? He thought of those rare Immortals who lived their lives on Sacred Ground to avoid having to kill. It was possible, just not probable, and unheard of in one who was not cloistered in some way. Whoever she was, she didn't seem a threat to Duncan or Richie, though it would be a good idea to tell them about her anyway.
He had another reason to call Duncan now, to see if he knew her. It had been Joe's experience that there were few Immortal women Duncan didn't know... especially in the biblical sense. He tried picturing them together, and failed. Duncan didn't usually go for the earthy types... or was he just sour grapesing? He chuckled, admitting a twinge of jealousy at his friend's admittedly impressive track-record with women. Of course, he'd had a lot of lifetimes to perfect his technique. He looked at his watch. It was almost five. Three more hours, and he could safely call Duncan. He settled back down with the Chronicle and began to read again.
"Mulder, I think you need to take a look at this."
Fox Mulder looked up from the file he was perusing, and found his petite, red-headed partner standing in front of his desk holding out a folder. He took it, eyebrows lifted.
"What is it, Scully?"
"Something that looks like it might be up our alley."
"Which alley would that be?"
"A back one, of course. Just take a look, and tell me what you think."
"You know, this is almost a first."
"You bringing me a case. This is only the second time that I can remember."
"Well, maybe that means you'll read it sometime today?" she asked archly.
He grinned and settled back, opening the file, eyes narrowing as he paged through the documents in the folder. When he came to the photographs, he sat forward suddenly, his attention firmly caught. Finally he looked up.
"Some sort of ritual murders? Cult slayings?"
"That was my thought, though as you know, that's extremely rare. Still, you have fifteen corpses scattered across seven states, all beheaded with some sort of sharp metal object. Half the victims have identical tattoos on the left wrist-- that can't be coincidence."
"No, it can't. Any records of that tattoo in the cult files?"
"Not that any investigation has turned up so far. So, are you interested?"
Mulder looked at her as if she'd suggested they strip and make love on the desk. "Is the Pope Catholic? Do we have background files on all the victims?"
"Not on all of them, but on several, yes. The oddest thing is, they all seem to be just ordinary people, with a few notable similarities."
"They all were self-employed, traveled a great deal, and had income greater than their jobs would seem to warrant."
"Interesting. Any connections to organized crime?"
She frowned. "I don't know... I hadn't thought of that angle."
"We can look into it ourselves. Do you have any idea what the murder weapon was? Axe? Chain-saw?"
She repressed a smile, almost. "Nothing's been positively identified, though at least one coroner thinks a sword was used."
He did a double-take. "A sword? Maybe it's the ghost of Errol Flynn, taking revenge for colorization... were any of the victims employed by Turner Broadcasting?"
Scully didn't even grant him a dirty look. "That's not the only thing that's odd about this case. According to three of the reports, there is evidence of intense electrical activity around some of the corpses."
"Electrical activity? Like what?"
"Light fixtures blown out, windows shattered, electrical burns on walls and floors. Very weird stuff."
"Hang on, this is starting to sound familiar..." Mulder went to the file drawers and began to dig. It took him a few minutes, but finally he found what he was looking for.
"Here it is. 1985, New York City. Several homicides, all beheadings accompanied by signs of intense electrical activity, just like you just said. The police investigated a man named Russell Nash, a well-to-do antique dealer, but were never able to gather enough evidence to file charges. Shortly after that, he dropped out of sight, though someone fitting his description was seen not long afterward in Scotland. He has not returned to the U.S., at least not under the same name. Hmmm..." Mulder flipped through the file, then again, more slowly. "Interesting."
He dug a box of push-pins out of the desk drawer and retrieved foamcore-mounted map from between two file cabinets. A stippling of holes across its surface showed that it had been used for similar purposes in the past. Balancing it across his knees, he handed the folder to Scully.
"I need the names of the cities where the bodies were found, starting with the earliest known incident."
Scully nodded. "First incident, Miami, Florida."
Mulder placed a pin. "Next?"
He placed a second pin, and looked up expectantly.
When all the pins had been placed, there was a clear progression of killings moving across the US from the south-east coast toward west coast, then turning north. The last report was from Reno, Nevada.
"Interesting. We should alert law-enforcement in Oregon and Washington.
He looked up from the map. "Just a hunch. He's been moving toward the West coast, and seems to be going north now. That leaves Oregon and Washington as his most likely next destinations."
"He?" Dana questioned him, eyebrows lifted.
"Almost all serial killers are male. I wonder what the significance of killing in pairs is, and why he deviated from his pattern in California? Were the victims romantically involved? Married, or otherwise?"
"I don't think so. Most of them were same-sex, and then there's that trio in California."
"Neither of which means they weren't involved."
"True, but the reports would probably have mentioned alternate lifestyles."
"If it were known. That's something else we need to check on."
"Do you think it's this Nash person?"
"It could be. The last known sighting of Nash was in Scotland, Miami has a large international airport with several flights daily from the UK. Nash was also wealthy, and our killer apparently has money, he can afford to fly to find his victims.
"Why do you say that?"
"Because of the timing. The first and second killings took place only eight hours apart but the killer couldn't have driven from Miami to Atlanta in that short a time, ergo, he flew. Same with the time elapsed between the second and third killing. Also, you may have noticed that most of the killings took place in cities with large airports. We should also check Interpol reports for similar killings." He looked at her, frowning slightly. "Scully, is this our case? Did you clear this with Skinner?"
"It's no one's case yet, but I had planned to ask Skinner if he would assign us to it."
"Would you? He's a lot more likely to okay a case request from you than he is from me. I'll go up to Travel Accounting and get tickets to Reno. If we're lucky, we can use my frequent flyer upgrades."
Scully nodded and left the room, folder in hand. Mulder looked at the map a moment longer, and sighed.
"What does it say about me that I can get into these people's heads?" he asked the room at large, not expecting an answer.
The phone rang, startling Joe awake. He sat up, and the Chronicle he'd been reading fell off his lap onto the floor. He grabbed the phone as he leaned over and picked up the book.
"Dawson," he said, squinting at the clock. It was eleven in the morning. So much for calling Duncan first thing.
The voice on the other end was teary and female. It took him a moment to place it.
"Kaarin? Is that you?"
"Yes... Joe, I can't think of how else to tell you this... Tim's dead... it's just awful! Someone took his head, like he was one of Them! I can't believe anyone would do that to him, he never hurt anyone!"
He felt as if he'd just fallen through ice into freezing water. "God... no! Kaarin, when did this happen?"
"The police say it happened a week ago, but I just now found out. It took them this long to find me, I'd moved since he last put me on any of his `notification' lists, and they hadn't wanted to release the name to the press. I'd read about the killings... but I thought it was Them, it never occurred to me it could be Tim! My God, Joe... why would anyone kill one of us like that? It doesn't make any sense!"
Joe shook his head. "I don't know Kaarin, maybe it's just a coincidence... maybe it doesn't mean anything..."
"That's hard to believe."
"I know. Kaarin, I'm sorry... I know you and Tim were close..."
"We were talking about getting married."
Joe flinched, knowing that particular pain. "I wish there were something I could say that would help, Kaarin, but we both know there isn't, not now. Wait, you said killings, plural. There was more than one?"
"Yes, another man... they haven't released his name either, and didn't tell me."
"Who was Tim Watching?"
Joe thought for a moment, the Immortal concerned was not one he would have considered dangerous to a Watcher, even if Tim had slipped up and been discovered. Kaarin's assignment was a different matter. "What about Rachael Myers? Are you still assigned to her?"
"Yes, but it wasn't her. She hasn't left her house in a week now."
"But she's there? You've seen her?"
"I... no, I haven't. Not for a couple of days. But I saw her go in a week ago, and according to the surveillance logs she's not been out since. She has a long history of periodic seclusion, I didn't think there was any need to worry about her."
"You may want to see if you can get a look, but Kaarin, be careful. If it's her, you could be in danger, and you're not... well, you're upset."
There was a long silence, then Kaarin finally replied. "Don't worry Joe, I'm not suicidal."
"I didn't mean..."
"I know. Thank you for caring. I'll let you know what I find out."
She hung up before he could say anything else. He sat there for a moment, staring at the phone in his hand, listening to the disconnect tone, then finally he hung it up and ran his hands through his hair. His back ached and he still felt muzzy with sleep. Beneath that his emotions roiled; anger, pain, sorrow balling up inside him like a fist in the belly. He almost reached for his guitar, wanting to play out his pain, but shook his head and instead stood and limped into the kitchen and put coffee on to brew. He had things to do before he could indulge himself.
While he waited for the coffee, he splashed water on his face at the sink, drying off with a dishtowel, then poured a cup of coffee. Sipping it, he returned to his computer to see if Kaarin had reported Tim Byers' death. He opened the file and started searching for the standard message header used to alert the network to a Watcher or Immortal's death. He found one halfway through the entries and accessed it.
"What the hell?" Joe snapped as he read, his voice sounding loud in the silence. Though the details were almost the same, the notification was about Marget Lin, not Tim Byers. She had been killed in the same way as Byers, as if she were an Immortal. In Marget's case, her Immortal, Natalia Tsilkovski, had also been killed, they had been found together. No one knew who had done it, which Immortal had gained the quickening from it, nor did they know why anyone would have killed Marget along with Natalia.
Feeling uneasy, he scrolled down a page and saw another DECEASED notification in the subject line. That was Tim, no doubt. He selected that message and started to read, only to stop, his breath tight in his chest as he read. Marek Costas this time, and his Watcher, Allan Furman. Kaarin had said there two bodies were found... he wondered if one of them was Carlson. There was a pattern developing. Who was doing this, and why? It wasn't unusual to lose two or three Immortals in a week's time, but their Watchers had never been at risk before! Scowling, he created a file and began to type an alert to the Watcher network at large. By now others would probably have noticed the unusual deaths, and be reacting, but he wanted everyone warned. Once he finished that, it was time for a phone call to Duncan.
Even though it had become a familiar smell over the years, Mulder never quite managed to suppress his initial surge of discomfort at the eau-de-formaldehyde-and-decay of a morgue. Though it looked pristine, tile walls and floors spotless, steel tables and equipment gleaming, there was still that underlying scent of rot that made him shiver a little. He could look dispassionately on a body, but somehow the smell affected a more primal part of him.
He watched Scully and the coroner as they examined the body. From where he was, he could see the edges of the severed neck. It was clean... astonishingly so. It looked more like something a Hollywood special-effects crew would have created than an actual wound.
"The corpse was like this when you found it?" Scully's voice was slightly muffled by her mask.
The other woman nodded. "Almost exactly. And it had been there for at least a day."
"Indoors or out?"
"Indoors, in an old warehouse, but there was no air conditioning, and a lot of broken windows."
"What about the other one?"
"Both bodies were found in the warehouse, but the other one is normal."
"Interesting. What all did you look for?"
"The usual stuff, staphylococcus, s. silbus, s. auresu, s. saprophyticus, the micrococci, and on, and on. There should've been all kinds of bugs on this guy, but there weren't. Not only that, but there were no viri in the blood samples!"
"What about the internal organs?"
"You may want to look at those yourself... it's pretty amazing in there. I've never seen organs like this in anyone over the age of six."
"What do you mean?"
"They're perfect, textbook perfect, almost. There are a couple of abnormalities... see here?" Rosall lifted one of the corpse's arms and peeled back a flap of skin in the underarm area.
"Are those lymph nodes?" Scully sounded amazed. "But they're huge... and so many of them!"
"Exactly! Ever see anything like that before? I haven't. The neck shows similar development, and look at this," Rosall did something in the body cavity. "Here, see the spleen?"
"It seems to be enlarged."
"I thought so at first, but look inside."
Scully leaned down and examined the body more closely. "My god... that's odd! It's packed with white pulp!"
"You should see it under the 'scope! I also found some rather unusual nerve development when I was doing slides as well. This guy is just bizarre."
"You said he had no bacteria or viruses in his system... what about cancer?"
"Nope, not a sign of it."
"What's up Scully?" Mulder asked, tired of not knowing what they were talking about.
She stepped away from the body and pulled her mask down a bit.
"Aside from a complete lack of any kind of inimical bacteria or viruses, this guy also had some very peculiar physiology. Usually you find all kinds of bacteria on a body, some of it beneficial, like intestinal flora, but a lot of other stuff too. However, according to Dr. Rosall's lab reports, there is a complete absence of normal pathogens in this body."
"Meaning that this person is in unnaturally good health."
"Aside from the minor problem of being dead?" Mulder asked dryly.
Dr. Rosall let out a soft laugh, and he mentally marked his scorecard. It wasn't every day you got a coroner to laugh.
"What made you test for the presence of normal bacteria? It doesn't seem like a `standard procedure' sort of thing."
"It's not," she said, nodding approvingly at his question. "I began testing after noticing that the corpse had a substantively atypical pattern of necrosis."
"Can I have a translation of that from Coroner-ese?"
"It wasn't rotting properly."
"Too much junk food?" Mulder asked, only half joking.
Rosall shook her head. "Actually, preservatives in the diet can have an effect on decay, but not like this. I've saved the best for last, though," She walked over to the lightbox and turned it on. "Take a look a these babies."
There were several x-rays on the box. Scully walked over to where she could see them clearly, Mulder followed, though he didn't expect to be able to make heads of tails of whatever the films showed. Scully studied them for a moment, then a soft gasp broke from her lips and she stepped closer. After a moment she shot a look of disbelief at her fellow pathologist.
"That's impossible! No one could have survived that!"
"That's what I thought. Amazing isn't it?"
"What is?" Mulder asked, staring at the shadowy images on the film, wondering what was so exciting about them.
"It looks as if he fell from a great height, or was beaten horrifically... crushed somehow. I don't know. It's weird."
"Maybe he was a skydiver and his chute didn't open?" Mulder speculated blandly, still not seeing the problem.
You don't understand, Mulder. These healed breaks appear to be approximately the same age, which means that at some time in his life just about every bone in this man's body was broken, but they healed! I've never heard of anyone living through damage of this nature! It's simply not possible!"
"Scully, after all this time working with me, I'd think you would have dropped that phrase from your vocabulary. Show me what you're looking at."
Scully pointed out the healed fracture marks, sometimes two or three to any given bone. He had to admit that it was pretty spectacular, especially considering that some of the worst fractures seemed to have been in the skull and neck area.
"Even granting the possibility of someone surviving this sort of trauma, the victim would probably have been paralysed, and probably severely brain-damaged," Scully said, shaking her head.
"Maybe he was. What do we know about him?"
Rosall stripped off her gloves and put them in a container marked prominently with the biohazard emblem, then began scrubbing her hands as she spoke.
"Very little, actually. He was a visitor, probably here to gamble, like most people who come here. He was staying at the Hilton. No one remembers anything unusual about him. His ID tells us his name was Frederick Corben, of Baltimore, Maryland. He was thirty-four years old, and his business cards indicate that he was an art dealer. People who spoke to him said he appeared perfectly normal, and I found no signs of muscular atrophy consist with paralysis."
Scully had wandered back over to the body and was examining it, lifting the arms, turning them this way and that. Mulder wondered what she was looking for. She glanced up when Rosall stopped speaking.
"He was thirty-four?"
"That's what his records say."
"Was he born in the United States?"
"Yes, Houston, Texas."
"But he doesn't have a smallpox vaccination scar." Scully ran a latex-sheathed finger over the corpse's upper arm. "I checked both arms."
"A lot of people don't any more."
"Not people this age, born in the US. They didn't stop giving vaccinations to babies until the late sixties, as I recall."
"So you don't think he was born in the US?"
"No, I don't. And I'll bet those papers are faked. Mulder, have someone check that out, would you?"
"Already on it, Scully."
She looked up. He had his cell-phone out and was dialing.
It was eight in the evening. Joe was behind the bar, fretting, having not been able to contact Duncan other than to leave repeated messages on his machine. Someone touched his shoulder and he turned quickly, almost losing his balance.
"What?" he snapped, his voice rough and harsh. He regretted it a second later. "Guinan! I'm sorr..." he began, but she lifted a hand and shook her head.
"No need. I can see you're upset... and so can your customers. Let Dave mind the bar and come talk to me."
Not quite knowing why, he followed her to a table in the back, where the light was dim and the band not quite so overwhelming. She sat down, and indicated a place across from her.
"So, tell me what's bothering you."
Something about her voice and manner invited confidence. For a moment he was tempted, but then he shook his head.
"I can't talk about it."
"Can't, or won't?"
"Can't. It would be betraying a confidence."
She inclined her head, indicating understanding. They sat silent for a moment, then finally she spoke again.
"What happened to your legs?"
He was stunned silent for a moment. No one ever commented on that, they just pretended not to notice.
"I ah... ah..." he stammered.
"I've offended you," Guinan stated, looking regretful. "I'm sorry."
"No, it's not that! Actually, it's kind of nice for someone to just come out and ask, rather than pretending not to notice. I lost both legs in a car accident, fifteen years ago." He didn't mention what else he'd lost in that accident. That was too personal a thing to talk about with a virtual stranger, no matter how much you liked them. Besides, what woman wanted to hear about a man's lost loves?
"You're very stubborn, aren't you?" she said, her head cocked slightly to one side.
He chuckled. "What makes you think that?"
"A lot of people would be content with a wheelchair. You're not."
"You're damned right I'm not! If that makes me stubborn, then yes, I am."
"I can see that. What do you do, besides tend bar?"
"I'd like to hear you."
"Stick around awhile, you will. It's how I blow off steam when I get like this."
"You know, you said it yourself. Scary to the customers." He growled for emphasis. She laughed. "You don't scare me. Your bark is a lot worse than your bite."
He bared his teeth. "How do you know, little girl?"
She studied him for a moment, a tiny smile on her face, and he had the feeling he was about to regret having said that. Before she could speak movement caught his eye and he looked up to see Duncan striding toward the table, his leather trenchcoat swirling around his calves. A feeling of unutterable relief washed through him. Duncan was all right. Though Joe knew quite well that it was against Watcher policy to get `involved' with the Immortals you were supposed to watch, he had become good friends with Duncan MacLeod. It would hurt like hell to lose him.
Joe stood as Duncan came to the table. He saw no trace of the wariness Duncan usually displayed in the presence of another Immortal, though that did not necessarily mean he hadn't felt Recognition. If Duncan had sensed Guinan before Joe had noticed him, he might not have seen it. Guinan's face showed nothing other than curiosity, and a bit of the same slightly `dazed' expression women often displayed in Duncan's presence.
"Joe, what's wrong?" Duncan's voice was concerned, his attention focused. "I got home and found eight messages from you on my machine!"
Joe turned to Guinan. "I'm sorry, will you excuse me for a few moments? I need to speak to my friend in private."
Guinan nodded. "Go ahead. I'll wait. I'm good at waiting."
Duncan shot a curious glance at Guinan, and nodded at her politely, but his attention returned almost immediately to Joe as he followed him into the back room.
Guinan watched Joe lead his friend out of sight, her curiosity more piqued than it had been in years. Joe was earthy, real, and warm, his mental signature simultaneously soothing and stimulating. But his friend... there was some indefinable difference about him, and it had nothing to do with his extraordinary good looks, though those certainly didn't put her off at all. What really drew her was the core of his personality, so much stronger than any of the others in the room that to her Othersenses he almost glowed. Even though she was young and her empathic skills only beginning to develop, she could sense a powerful difference about the newcomer.
She was intrigued. What made him different? What set him apart? She'd never met a Terran who felt quite like him before, though some of her own people had similar auras, her father, for instance. He had once told her that sort of intense personality developed with age... which couldn't possibly be the case here. Humans were too short-lived to develop that sort of depth and brilliance. Perhaps they were occasionally born with such intensity? She would have to study that possibility.
She wondered what they were to each other. She almost hadn't needed her budding empathy to sense the intensity of relief Joe had felt when the other man came into the bar. It had been written all over his face. Were they lovers, perhaps? No, she didn't think that felt quite right. It was a complex sort of feeling... with oddly mixed paternal and filial overtones, openness and secrecy, rivalry and friendship... very strange. She was fascinated. Humans were so interesting! She couldn't understand why her father was always pestering her to give up her studies on Earth. If there was any other species in known space that held more potential, she hadn't found it. Musing on that, she went to the bar for a coffee and returned to her seat, waiting. Perhaps Joe would introduce her to his intriguing friend when he returned.
"What?" Duncan demanded, shaken. "Watchers too? But that doesn't make sense! There's no reason..."
"I know that, but it is happening. Another pair were reported since I first realized what was going on this morning."
"Your guess is as good as mine. All I can say is that whoever it is, is a sadistic son of a bitch. Our people aren't trained to fight! They wouldn't stand a chance!"
Duncan nodded. "You're right about that."
Joe was silent for a moment, then finally he looked up at Duncan, his face set. "Mac, you know I'm not supposed to do this, but I felt you should know. Tanner Dane may be heading our way.
Duncan's shoulders tensed, but he kept his face expressionless.
Joe nodded. "I thought you might like to know."
Duncan's thoughts were chaotic... memories surfaced, terrible ones. It had happened nearly three hundred years ago, but even that distance wasn't enough to dull the pain of it.
His attention snapped back to the present, and he saw Joe watching him with concerned eyes.
"You were thinking of Thalassa Demetrious, weren't you?"
Duncan nodded, swallowing down the nausea that still surged.
"Doesn't it strike you as odd that Dane should turn up now?"
Joe nodded. "It did, I just wondered if you would agree. I'm trying to contact his Watcher to find out where he's been, but with Dane on the road Evan hasn't had a chance to check in. At least, I hope that's the only reason. He could be dead, too, if it's Dane, though how he would have learned about us, I don't know."
Duncan shook his head. "Dane's not stupid. Sometimes you Watchers get careless. Remember, I found you... Kalas found you... it's not that hard."
Joe flinched, but had to acknowledge the truth of Duncan's words.
"It's a perennial problem, since we're primarily volunteer and only minimally trained. I'll see if we can match Dane to the vicinity of any of the killings. If we can just find out who's doing it, maybe we can warn people."
"My people or yours?" Duncan asked, quietly.
Joe looked at him, and there was guilt in his eyes. "Duncan..."
Duncan shook his head. "I'm sorry, Joe. I shouldn't have said that. Thanks for the information. Even that's more than you should have told me."
"If I could do more, I would."
"I know." He had to change the subject, get away from the pain. He cast around desperately for a topic, and found one. "So... who's your friend? I haven't seen her around before, have I?"
Joe looked surprised. "You mean you don't know her?"
Duncan looked at him, frowning slightly as he tried to remember having met her before. "No, should I?"
"I thought she was one of yours."
"One of my what?" Duncan asked, intrigued.
Duncan focused on him, intent. "Why would you think that?"
"Look at this..." Joe opened his desk and took out a book. Duncan recognized the Watcher sigil on the cover, and knew it must be a Chronicle. Joe opened it, and handed the open book to him. He studied the page, a photocopy of a newspaper from the 1800's. For a moment he wasn't sure why Joe had given it to him, then he really looked at the face in the photograph. His eyebrows lifted.
"Astonishing resemblance," he said, studying the page.
"But it's not her?"
Duncan shook his head. "No, she's no Immortal."
"I think I would have noticed." Duncan said, drily.
Joe chuckled. "I suppose that's true. The resemblance just was so uncanny... I had to ask."
"You'd be surprised how many people look like their ancestors. If I had a dime for every time I've thought I saw a face from my past in a crowd, I'd be a rich man."
"Duncan, you are a rich man."
Duncan grinned. "That's beside the point."
They both chuckled.
"So, are you going to introduce me?"
"On one condition."
"Try not to be so damned charming, okay?"
Duncan's eyebrows shot up. "Blows the wind from that quarter?"
Joe looked a touch embarrassed. "I didn't mean..."
"Say no more. I'll do my best boor imitation."
"Oh God, no!" Joe moaned theatrically, his head in his hands. "Anything but that!"
There he was. Guinan sensed him getting closer, that seductively powerful aura like a torch in the room full of muddy, drunken souls. She looked up and found Joe and his friend approaching the table. Whatever Joe's problem had been, the meeting must have mitigated it. His surly expression was gone and she could sense that though he was still concerned, he wasn't frantic with worry as he had been earlier. As they approached, she was forcibly reminded of a pair of wolves; one grizzled and a bit the worse for wear, but still hell in a fight, the other younger, stronger, but perhaps more impulsive.
She smiled privately at the comparison, and reminded herself that wolves hunt in packs. The younger man turned his chair around backward and straddled it, the already-taut denim of his jeans stretching to the point where she wondered why a seam didn't give. She pretended not to have been looking anyplace where she would have noticed. As he flipped his heavy coat out behind him, she flashed back to trying to sit down in a hoopskirt, and understood why he was sitting in the chair the wrong way. Joe waved a hand at his companion.
"Guinan, I'd like to you meet a friend of mine, Duncan MacLeod, Duncan, Guinan. She sings with the band."
"Only when they want to thin the crowd a bit." Guinan said, with a grin. "I'm pleased to meet you Mr. MacLeod."
"Call me Duncan, please. Being called `mister' makes me feel ancient."
Joe shot an amused glance at his friend, who shrugged, one corner of his mouth quirking upward. Guinan wondered what that was all about, but refrained from asking.
"All right, Duncan it is, then. I see you've managed to help Joe out of that nasty mood he was in earlier. Let me guess... you owed him money and you just paid up?"
That drew a laugh from Joe, who shook his head. "I'm more likely to owe Duncan money than he is me. No, it was nothing like that, I just had some important information I needed to relay to him."
She sensed undertones of protectiveness beneath his words. Whatever the information had been, Joe had felt his friend endangered by not knowing it. Now that he had passed it on, he was still not completely at ease, but far more so than earlier.
"Well then, I guess you don't need me to keep you away from the bar any more." she pushed her chair back, and stood.
"Hold on, where are you going?"
"I thought you'd want to talk with your friend."
"I can talk with him any time. You, I've just met, so sit down."
She grinned and sat, as Duncan stuck his lip out in an exaggerated pout. "Well, what am I? Chopped liver?"
"Not quite," Joe said, grinning. "Go get us a beer."
"From chopped liver to errand boy! I can tell when I'm not wanted!"
Duncan put his nose haughtily in the air and stood up. His coat caught the chair behind him and knocked it over with a resounding crash. Looking sheepish he straightened it and fought his way out of the coat.
"Damned thing's a hazard." he muttered, draping it over the back of a chair. Guinan admired the way his sweater emphasized his chest and shoulders, and wished it weren't quite so long as he walked off to get the drinks. The track lighting gleamed on his hair, a sable cloak across his shoulders. So often long hair on men seemed affected, but his did not. It looked utterly appropriate. A second later Joe sighed, and she turned her attention back to him, to find him gazing at her with a rather resigned expression.
"He's done it again, hasn't he?"
"Done what?" Guinan asked, puzzled.
She hated it when people did that. "I won't `never mind!' What?"
"It's just that Duncan seems to have this... effect... on women."
"Oh, that," she said, matter-of-factly. "He does, doesn't he? It probably annoys you."
"It's petty, I know."
"It's normal. It's a guy thing."
Joe cringed. "God... what an awful thought!"
"Well, take heart, I noticed you first."
Joe lifted an eyebrow. "But would you have if we'd both been here last night?"
She chuckled. "Good question. Unfortunately, we'll never know the answer. Besides, if you can honestly tell me you don't notice good-looking women, then you can bitch about me noticing good-looking men. I saw you checking out that blonde at the bar last night."
"I did not!"
"Yes you did."
"It was a nice diamond necklace she was wearing, wasn't it?"
Joe frowned thoughtfully. "She wasn't wearing a necklace."
Guinan snorted. "I rest my case."
Joe opened his mouth to protest, then shut it again without speaking, looking as sheepish as Duncan had a few moments earlier.
Duncan made his way back thought the crowd to the table, balancing a tray of drinks like a professional waiter.
"I wasn't sure what to get, so I went with three draft Wickeds. I asked Jerry what the lady was drinking, and he said coffee, so I brought one of those too, just in case."
Guinan sighed. "Isn't he sweet?"
Joe snorted. "Give it a rest, Duncan."
Guinan waved a hand at him. "Oh hush, Joe. The boy can't help it! Besides, you might learn something."
"Boy?" Duncan echoed, incredulous. "I'm not calling you a girl, now am I?"
"I'm older than I look." Guinan said.
"So am I." Duncan returned.
They stared at each other, narrow-eyed, for a moment, like a pair of cats circling before a fight, then Joe started laughing, which set them all off. Duncan almost dropped the tray, but managed to rescue it, with only minor spillage. He set it down and distributed the drinks.
Scully sat back with a sigh, tossing her glasses onto the table as she rubbed her eyes and yawned.
"You know, Mulder, I had no idea how popular decapitation was as a modus operandi. This is truly astonishing. Some of these occurred on the same day, close to the same time, but in different countries. Unless our killer can bilocate, they can't all have been done by the same person."
Mulder looked up from where he sat on the bed, surrounded by stacks of paper, just as she was.
"When I requested information from Interpol on unsolved murders involving decapitation, I expected a handful of reports, not hundreds! This is not making life any easier!"
He yawned too, trying to hide it behind his hand. "Now you've got me doing it!" he said accusingly. "You know better than to yawn, it starts a chain reaction!"
She grinned. "The fact that it's after midnight couldn't have anything to do with it, now could it?"
"Not a thing." He dropped the stack of reports he'd been looking at and picked up a different one. "Maybe the U.S. ones will be more helpful... at least there are fewer of them." He started paging through the collection, then suddenly slowed, and started over, pulling out several sheets.
"What is it, Mulder?" Scully asked, watching him with interest.
"I think I may have something here, Scully! Remember how the pattern indicated the killer was heading for the Northwest coast? It looks like he's either been there before, or maybe he lives there. Here are seven unsolved reports of decapitations, all in or around the Seattle area. This is interesting, some guy named MacLeod turns up in four of these reports. He was investigated in connection with the murders, but released for lack of evidence. Get this, he's an antique dealer!"
Scully made the connection instantly. "Like Nash! It could be him, using an assumed name!"
"It could be. There's only one way to find out, though. We're going to Seattle." Mulder grabbed the phone and started dialing.
"So much for sleep," Scully said, her mouth tightening in a moment of self-pity as she thought of her hotel room, and its unused bed.
He looked at her sympathetically. "It's..." he started, then his attention was diverted to the phone. "Yes, you can. I need two one-ways from Reno to Seattle on the next flight out. What? Yeah, I can hold." He returned his gaze to her. "Sorry, Scully, but isn't it worth a few hours sleep?"
She nodded. "If we can keep him from killing again, I'd stay up for a week. I'll get the file on Nash and fax a photograph to the police there. We'll see if it matches this MacLeod guy."
Duncan sat staring into space, feeling a distant sadness. It had been a wonderful evening, no mistake. He and Joe and Guinan had laughed and talked until nearly closing; but now he was alone, and remembering. Gods above, but sometimes he wished there were a way to turn memories off. What he wanted to remember often eluded him, and what he most wanted to forget slipped like fog from all the dark nooks and crannies of his mind. He'd tried various ways of forgetting over the years, alcohol, prayer, women, meditation, exercise. Some succeeded better than others, but all of them were, in the end, only temporary.
So now he sat on the low concrete wall that bounded the parking lot down the street from Joe's bar, and waited for the alcohol haze to clear from his mind so he wasn't a menace behind the wheel. A few hundred years experience had taught him how to tell when he was safe from when he wasn't. Right now, he wasn't safe, but he was remembering all too well.
Sixteen-ninety-four. Greece. Thalassa. A small woman with a ready laugh and warm heart. Her hair had been thick, and curling, black as a raven's wing, her mouth as full and red as a cup of bordeaux. She too had been an Immortal, and they had found some comfort in the friendship of another like soul. They had been friends and sometime lovers for close-on a year then. He had, with reluctance, left for three weeks to help a friend with some business dealings, and had returned to find she had vanished from the small house they shared in a village on the Mediterranean coast.
The overturned and broken furnishings, and deep metallic gouges in the walls made him suspect she had met another Immortal and fought there. Because she was gone, he was fairly certain she must have lost the battle, though he had thought her skills improving from their sparring partnership. Whoever she had fought must have disposed of the body. As he sat on the stoop, unseeing, unable to even grieve yet, the boy who lived across the way came out and touched his arm. Duncan had looked up to find the child looking frightened and sad.
"What is it?"
Duncan looked around, wondering if someone had been bothering the boy, needing a battle, and more than willing to take one on for the sake of a child.
"Where? Has someone hurt you?"
Niko shook his head solemnly. "Took her. I saw him."
"Her?" Duncan felt a flash of hope. "You mean Thalassa?" He sat up, head clearing. "Took her? She was alive?"
"Where did he take her?" Duncan asked intently.
Niko pointed toward the foothills the village backed onto. "There."
Niko frowned, concentrating, then his expression cleared and he smiled triumphantly. "Wash day!"
For a moment Duncan was puzzled, then he understood. Every Monday the village women did laundry together. If she'd been taken on Monday, that meant Thalassa had been gone four days. He almost despaired, the trail would be stone cold by now... but he had to try. Thanking the boy, he had gone into the hills, searching for any sign of her, and almost immediately had found one of Thalassa's ribbons caught in a tree. A bit further on, he found one of her rings. He consistently found small signs, almost as if he had been left a trail. WHen he had found *her*, he realized that was exactly what had happened. The man who had taken Thalassa had meant for Duncan to find her. At a hundred and two years of age, he had thought himself inured to horror, but he found he still had the capacity for it.
Dane had tortured her. If a normal human were tortured that way, they would simply die, and that would be the end; but an Immortal kept returning, to be tormented again and again. What had been left of Thalassa was a gibbering wreck, pleading for the true Death, with just enough mind left to tell him who had done it to her, and to convince him to deliver the coup de grace. After it was done, he had been sick. To gain a Quickening at the expense of a loved one was the worst thing he could imagine. He had never felt guilt like that before, not only because in a sense he had benefitted by killing her, but because he knew Dane had tortured her in retribution for his own interference in his affairs a decade earlier. Knowing that Dane was so vicious that he had foregone a Quickening just to leave Thalassa for Duncan to find hadn't made the pain any easier to bear.
"Hey there..." The voice in the darkness was soft.
Startled, he leaped to his feet, his sword ringing as it left its sheath. For a moment didn't see the speaker, then he caught the gleam of streetlight on sable skin, and the curve of a broad cheekbone.
She nodded and stepped forward into the pool of light cast by the lamp. He felt a bit sick at how close he had come to harming her.
"Damn it! Don't you know better than to sneak up on someone in the middle of the night?" Cold sober from the rush of adrenalin, he sheathed the katana, slipping it back into place much more quietly than it had emerged, but too late to keep her from seeing it.
"You seemed sad," she said quietly.
He was momentarily taken aback, having expected her to be ask why he carried a sword, not about his state of mind. It took him a few seconds to gather his wits, and he replied honestly. "Just memories, that's all."
"Memories can hurt just as much as the original incident, sometimes more."
He nodded, and they stood in silence for a moment. Finally he looked at her again. "You shouldn't be out here by yourself so late."
She smiled slightly. "Neither should you."
He shrugged. "I can take care of myself."
"So can I."
"I never doubted it," Duncan said gravely, sensing that it was something she felt strongly about. "I thought you went home."
"I did, but I realized I'd lost something, and came back to find it."
"What was it?"
"A pin. It must have fallen off somewhere. I hoped it was in the bar."
"No, not really. The bar's closed, though. I'll have to look for it tomorrow."
He nodded. Silence fell again for a time. It was an oddly comfortable silence. After awhile, Guinan spoke.
"Do you want to talk?"
"Memories. I'm a good listener. I come from a long line of good listeners."
Duncan shook his head. "No. I don't need to talk about it. I came to terms with it a long time ago."
"Then why do you still feel guilty?"
Her quiet words struck with the keen precision of a blade, sliding past his defenses, straight to the heart. He closed his eyes, not looking at her.
"I don't," he lied.
"You do. It's in your eyes, your voice, your body... come on. Surely there's a greasy spoon around here somewhere. Buy me coffee and we'll talk, you need it."
He had to swallow before he could speak. There was an obstruction in his throat, and his vision was blurred. Neither had anything to do with alcohol.
"I'm not sure I can," he whispered.
"Then we'll sit in silence. You shouldn't be alone."
That was the truth. He felt a sudden odd kinship with the woman at his side, a strong desire to turn her face to his and find out if her lips were as soft as they looked, to find out what her mask of serenity hid. But... there was Joe. He stepped back.
"You wouldn't want the coffee at Mel's Place. That stuff'll kill you. How about you come to my place and I'll make coffee?"
She cocked her head to one side and eyed him speculatively. "Step into my parlor?"
He spread his hands. "Honest, I'm a gentleman."
She gazed at him a moment, and nodded. "I know."
He felt complimented. With a sweeping bow, he gestured toward the black Thunderbird in the lot behind them.
"Your chariot awaits, milady."
She laughed. "You do that so naturally."
He shrugged. "I'm a bit of an anachronism."
She paused, looking up into the darkness at stars she couldn't see, then shook her head and started for the car. "So am I."
MacLeod's apartment was as interesting as his aura. An eclectic mixture of Eastern and Western influences, antique elegance, and modern comfort. She moved around the open loft examining various of his treasures as he busied himself in the kitchen. The paintings on the walls were all originals, the rugs on the floor hand-knotted. A black silk yukata hung starkly against a white brick wall, an artifact in itself. Photographs graced another wall, again originals, from the early days of photography. On a shelf a scattering of small objects caught her eye and she stopped to look at them. It was a collection of carved fetish figures.
One in particular seemed to call out to her and she picked it up. It was a turtle fetish, a beautiful thing that gleamed wth the translucent gold of amber and had inlaid turquoise eyes. Another fetish beckoned, and she touched it reverently. A frog, carved of some dark green stone. The style was distinctly different, she thought it might be Asian, rather than Native American. Both pieces were gorgeous. None of the others captured her interest quite as much. She looked up to find him watching her, and smiled, walking over to join him in the kitchen. There again, he was an odd mix of modern and archaic. The coffee maker was the yuppie sort that made everything from espresso to drip, and probably had a setting where it would wax the floor, but he was grinding the beans in an old-fashioned hand-crank grinder. She watched in bemused interest as he operated it, fascinated by the unconscious grace of his movements. As he set the coffee to brew, she finally spoke.
"Is that a gym, downstairs?"
"It's called a dojo; a school for martial arts. I own it. Sometimes I teach."
"Ah, that explains it, then."
"The way you move."
He turned from the refrigerator, a carton of cream in his hand. "What do you mean?"
"You move beautifully, like a dancer."
He chuckled, shaking his head, and rubbed the side of his nose. He seemed to do that when he was embarrassed.
"I... ah... thanks."
"For what? Stating the obvious?"
He grinned. "Go on with you, what do you want?"
"Do I have to want something?"
"In my experience, most flatterers do."
"I don't. No, I lied. Actually, I do. I want to know where you're from. Your accent slips in and out, and every time I think I've got it pegged, it changes."
"I was born in Scotland, but I've lived all over the world. I guess I've picked up little bits and pieces from everywhere. Anything else you want to know?"
"Are you any good?"
His eyebrows lifted, his mouth curved. "At what?" he asked, his voice silky, and rich with innuendo.
She returned his smile, her own voice just as seductive. "Swordsmanship, of course."
She half expected him to make a double-entendre out of his reply, but instead he nodded, seriously. "I'm very good."
"Why a sword?" she questioned.
"Wouldn't a gun be a lot easier to carry? I'm sure Freud would have some interesting things to say about your choice of weapon."
That drew quick grin. "I'm quite comfortable with the size of my genitalia, thank you. Besides, when it comes right down to it, Freud would have had interesting things to say about any weapon. I carry a sword because it's honorable. You have to look a man in the eyes before you strike. With a gun it's too easy to forget who you face."
She thought about that for a moment. "Interesting philosophy. Is swordsmanship one the things you teach?"
"I can. My repertoire includes many weapons, many styles, many disciplines."
"I've always wanted to learn to fence."
"If you're as good with a sword as you are with words, you could be a master."
She grinned. "Now who's flattering whom?"
The coffee maker hissed steamily as it finished the brewing cycle, and MacLeod took two mugs from a cupboard. "Coffee's ready."
He poured coffee into two mugs, handed her one, and picked up the other one himself. She added cream and sugar to her own, took a sip, and nodded happily.
"So... we were talking about memories."
"Some time back. I asked if you wanted to talk, you said you didn't think you could. I think you can, you just don't want to."
He studied her for a moment, sipping his coffee. "It's not a pleasant tale. I don't think most people would really want to hear it."
"I'm not most people. Tell me."
He walked away and stood, staring out the window into the darkness for several long, quiet minutes. After awhile, he began to speak. Guinan listened. Though there were odd hesitations here and there, and gaps in the story that she would have liked filled, it quickly became clear that she was listening to a man whose life had held more violence and sorrow than she could possibly have imagined. Who would have thought so young a man might have such things in his past? Was this what had shaped that brilliant soul? Was pain what brought out the promise inherent in this species? She shuddered at the thought.
"Duncan, you can't blame yourself. From what you've told me about this man, he would have done it whether or not you had known Thalassa. She was a convenient target, and it was in his nature. You said yourself he had a reputation for torture, especially of women, and your having saved someone from him earlier was more than admirable, it was heroic."
Duncan made a derisive sound. "Look what it got me."
"Would you have been able to live with yourself if you hadn't?"
There was a long silence, then the figure at the window moved minutely, his hand going out to flatten against the glass.
"No," he whispered. "But to take her life..."
"Would she have wanted to live as he had left her? Would she have lived more than a few days, at best, after what he'd done to her? You freed her. The soul holds only temporary residence in any body... she only needed your help moving on."
"Do we have souls?" he asked bleakly.
"Yes." she stated, firmly, unequivocally.
"Don't. You do."
He turned and walked to the counter, set down his cup very carefully, as if it were eggshell thin and he were afraid of crushing it. "Maybe most do, but myself, I doubt."
"Why should you be any different?"
He smiled, but it held no humor. "Why indeed?"
She moved to stand behind him. "Duncan, do you ever cry?"
He turned, surprised. "I..." he stopped, and frowned. "Almost never."
"I don't know. I used to, when I was..." he stopped again. "A long time ago."
"Why did you stop?"
"Because, it doesn't help."
"Yes it does. It's an admission of pain, of need, of humanity."
"But I'm not human," he said bleakly. "Not any more."
Guinan shivered, knowing he didn't mean that like her, he was not of Earth.
"You are human, Duncan. No matter what you've done, no matter what you think you've become, you're still human. You are a child of Earth, and your heart will always be human."
He stared down almost blindly at his hands where they were braced against the countertop. "You don't know what I am."
"I know more than you think."
He looked up, eyes narrowing. "What do you mean?"
She shook her head. "You'll think I'm crazy."
"No. I won't. I've seen too much in my life. Nothing's crazy any more."
She studied him a moment, then nodded acceptance. "Fair enough. Well, I can sense things about people, things most people can't sense. You are... different. Very different, but still human. You feel pain, you feel love, you feel anger, hope, joy and sorrow... all the things that make humanity what it is. I don't know what makes you different, but I do know what makes you the same."
She put one of her hands over one of his, and almost gasped as his `presence' flared into her. No wonder Joe was so fiercely protective of him, he probably drew people to him like moths to flame. Even without the aid of non-human senses, this man must shine like a beacon. He lifted her hand with his, and put his lips against her fingers for a moment. It sent a shock through her, a wave of desire. Still holding her hand, he spoke again, his lips so close to her skin that she could feel his breath with each word.
"`I've seen sae mony changefu' years, on earth I am a stranger grown; I wander in the ways o' men, alike unknowing and unknown.'"
Oh, Great Ladies! A man who wasn't afraid to admit to knowing poetry! She wanted to melt against him, but knew better. He was so young, so human, so tempting... so against the rules. She pulled back.
"As long as we're quoting maudlin Scots, perhaps a different one from Auld Robbie might be more appropriate; `O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us, to see oursel's as others see us!'"
She sensed the change in his mood before he even smiled.
"Ye've no' quite got the inflection there, but aye, you're right. Most times we have only our own eyes to see through, and our own perceptions can go awry. Ye hae the Gift, don't ye?" His accent was broad now, pure Scot, as if he had burned away all the other voices he'd acquired over the years.
"You could call it that."
"I've known others with it. 'Tis a singular talent."
"A fairly useless one, most days. But not today, I think."
He shook his head. "No, not today." He stared at her suddenly, his eyes narrowing. "There was no lost pin, was there?"
She shook her head slowly, smiling a little. "No, just a lost soul."
He shook his head, as if in disbelief, then looked to the window, and gestured to it. She saw the sky beginning to lighten with dawn.
"Thank you, Guinan, for seeing me through 'til morning."
"It was my pleasure."
He grinned. "I would all women were so easily pleased. More coffee?"
It was foggy and raining as Mulder stepped off the plane at Sea-Tac. He felt right at home. As they walked out of the gate, Scully nodded toward a tall, well-dressed Black man who held a sign with their names on it. Having not expected to be met, Mulder was curious, but cautious. Scully apparently had no qualms, since she stopped in front of the man and waved a hand toward Mulder.
"I'm Dana Scully, this is Fox Mulder. You are?"
The man took a leather case from his pocket and opened it to reveal a badge and identification which he left open long enough for them to study.
"Reed Bennett, homicide. I asked if I could come down and meet you after they showed me that fax you sent. You're the FBI agents working on that recent string of decapitations, right?"
Mulder glanced around and satisfied himself that they weren't being listened to.
"We are, though we'd prefer it not get bandied around. If the press picks up on it, we may lose our edge... if we even have one. You said you got the fax?"
"Yeah, they showed it to me because a couple of the cases you were asking about were my cases. Unfortunately, I have to disappoint you. Your suspect doesn't look a thing like Duncan MacLeod."
Bennett opened the portfolio he carried and took out a photograph which he handed to Scully. She took it, and her eyes widened slightly. Mulder tried not to be too obvious about looking over her shoulder, but even after she handed it to him he couldn't see what had elicited her reaction. It was a grainy black and white of some long-haired guy in a t-shirt and jeans, standing next to a younger man on a motorcycle. Neither subject bore the slightest resemblance to the photo they had of Russell Nash. He clenched his teeth against the disappointment, and cast around for an alternate explanation.
"He could have had plastic surgery and dyed his hair."
Scully looked at him and shook her head. "Not unless you know a plastic surgeon who can change someone's basic body structure. Look at this guy-- Nash is long and lanky, like you. MacLeod is compact and muscular. You could possibly change part of that with weight training, but not to this extent."
"Damn!" Mulder swore softly, shaking his head. "I was sure we were onto something when I saw that both suspects were antique dealers."
Bennett looked puzzled for a moment. "Antiques? Oh, yeah. I'd almost forgotten. MacLeod got out of the antique business about two years ago, after his lady-friend was killed in a robbery. Now he runs a martial arts studio."
Mulder looked up. "Martial arts? So this guy knows weapons and hand-to-hand combat techniques?"
"Yes, to both questions. If you'd like to see my files on him you're welcome to, but I don't think he's your man. Actually, to tell the truth I was kind of relieved to see that MacLeod and Nash were obviously not the same person. In the course of my investigations, I've discovered he's a nice guy."
"Remember, sociopaths can be extremely charming," Mulder pointed out, still not quite willing to let go of his only theory.
Bennett studied him for a moment, a touch of annoyance creeping into his expression. "I'm well aware of that, Agent Mulder."
Before Mulder could reply, Scully stepped into the conversation.
"It's very generous of you to offer to share your files, Mr. Bennett. You'd be surprised how rarely local authorities extend such cooperation voluntarily."
Bennett turned his attention to her, chuckling ruefully. "I know the feeling. Some sheriff's departments can be pretty territorial, too. It makes it damned hard to get anything done. Would you like to go down to headquarters, or would you rather check into a hotel first?"
"We'd like to get started, so if you don't mind taking us to your office, that would be fine. Perhaps later you can recommend a place for us to stay, something suitable for a government expense account?"
Bennett nodded sympathetically. "You mean someplace cheap, but without roaches or drunks? I think we can find something that fits the bill. Did either of you check luggage?"
Mulder shook his head, holding out his suit-bag and carryall, as did Scully. Bennett nodded.
"I kinda figured that. Come on, my car's this way."
"I still think we should watch him." Mulder said, mulishly.
"Mulder, we have no logical reason to suspect this guy!" Scully returned. "We've gone through Bennett's files on MacLeod and found nothing there to incriminate him. Not only that, but he gives to charities like a madman, his martial arts school initiated a program to help keep local youth off the streets, he's an art patron. He just doesn't fit the profile! And according to Bennett, he hasn't even been out of town for the past month."
"That we know of." Mulder corrected her. "In some ways he doesn't fit the profile, in others, he does. He's got money, he does a lot of overseas travel, he knows bladed weapons and how to use them. He wouldn't be the first killer in history to appear to be a fine, upstanding member of the community. Besides, with those points of similarity, even if he's not the killer, he still might know something that could be useful."
Scully sighed. "Okay, I'll give you that. Besides... we haven't got any other suspects." She threaded her fingers into her hair and massaged her scalp. "I've got a headache, I need food, what I really need is sleep, but I know I'm not going to get that anytime soon. Can we call the local Bureau office and have them put someone on him so we can at least get food and an hour off?"
Mulder nodded. "That's reasonable. I could use food too... maybe a shower. I always feel more awake after a shower."
Scully closed her eyes and sighed. "A shower sounds like heaven right now. I'll go find Bennett and ask him for the name of that motel, you call the office. See if you can get us a car and a map from the motor pool, while you're at it. We'll need transportation."
"I could use a walk to stretch my legs, why don't I find Bennett and you can call the office?"
"Because you've antagonized him enough for one day. Honestly, Mulder, for once we get cooperation and you have to make the guy out to be a moron!"
"I did not!"
"What about when you lectured him about sociopaths?"
Mulder looked a bit embarrassed. "Oh. I, um... guess I should say something?"
"No, let it drop, just don't do it again, okay?"
He nodded. "Okay. I guess I've got phone duty again. Hand me that phonebook, will you?"
She handed it to him, and left to hunt up Bennett.
When she returned a few minutes later Mulder was standing up, coat in hand.
"All set. We can pick up the car whenever we need it. Meanwhile, there's a place within walking distance that I've heard is interesting. Come on, it'll do us both good to get some fresh air."
She hesitated for a moment, then shrugged and pulled on her own coat.
"I just hope it's stopped raining."
It hadn't, but it had turned to more of a fine mist than true rain. Scully didn't mind walking in it, in fact, the cool moisture actually felt good on her face, and helped dispel her sleepiness. As they walked, she studied the area, and thought it looked rather industrial. It didn't look like an area where one would expect to find a restaurant, particularly a well-known one. That got her thinking about how Mulder would have heard of it... and she started to have second thoughts. Mulder was not known for his gourmet leanings. Why would he have heard of a restaurant in Seattle, when he barely knew any in DC?
Mulder stopped in front of a building whose gray concrete exterior and frosted glass-block windows made her think of various prisons she'd visited. Her feeling of trepidation grew at the sight of the neon sign which glowed on the side of the building. She was not encouraged by the single word, "Joe's", but gamely followed Mulder into a small, dimly lit... bar. There was no mistaking it for anything else. The lack of food on any of the occupied tables confirmed it. She pulled up short.
"Mulder, this is a bar. I thought we were getting something to eat!"
"Ah, c'mon Scully, they're bound to have peanuts or something."
Mulder headed for the bar where a worn-looking man in his late forties was carrying on an animated conversation with a customer. Scully followed, seething quietly. As they approached, the man broke off his conversation and smiled at them. Seen at closer range, he still looked weathered, but was also quite striking. The silvering in his dark hair and beard made him look rather distinguished, and his eyes were bright with humor and intelligence.
"Can I help you folks?"
If he'd been a woman she would have described him as `whiskey- voiced', but somehow that seemed too feminine a description for his pleasantly husky voice.
"Coffee." Mulder said, then looked back at Scully expectantly.
The thought of another cup of coffee turned her stomach, so she tried desperately to think of something a bar might serve that was even remotely food-like. It came to her.
"I'd like a Virgin Mary, please."
The man nodded, and picked up a cane she hadn't noticed earlier, then made his way around to the rear of the bar and began to fill their order. Scully guessed he was a double amputee by the way he walked. Turning aside so as not to seem like she was staring, she studied the room instead. The space was spare, almost as industrial as the building's exterior. The ceiling had been acoustically baffled, though, and a small stage at the front of the room hinted that it was a live-music venue on occasion, though at the moment the stage was unoccupied and the smoky blues playing on the sound- system were pre-recorded. A few tables were occupied, but the place was only half-full. At three in the afternoon, that was hardly surprising.
"Here you go." The bartender set their drinks on the counter. Scully's stomach growled at the sight of the celery stalk that garnished her glass. She felt herself color as the man grinned, reached beneath the counter and came up with a basket of pretzels.
"Sounds like you could use these."
She smiled and took it. "Thanks. He promised me food."
Both the bartender and the guy he'd been talking with laughed at that. Feeling somewhat vindicated Scully took her drink and the pretzels and sat down at a table a few yards from the bar, leaving Mulder to settle the bill. When he joined her a moment later, he reached for the pretzels. She pulled the bowl out of reach and shook her head.
"Uh-unh. Mine. Get your own."
He shrugged and sipped his coffee, practicing brooding.
"So, spill it. Why are we here, Mulder?"
As he opened his mouth to answer, a young man with close-cropped, curly red hair barrelled noisily into the room.
"Hey, Joe! Did Mac leave my keys with you?" he called to the bartender from halfway across the room.
The man in question rolled his eyes and opened the cash drawer, extracting a set of keys which he tossed to the newcomer.
"Yes, he did. Now get out of here before they close me down for letting in minors."
It was obvious that he was teasing the kid, because though he did look young, he was clearly over sixteen.
The red-head stiffened indignantly. "I am not..." He realized, belatedly, that he was being baited and grinned. "Not nice, Joe! I'll get you for that!" With that good-natured threat he turned and dashed back up the stairs.
Scully turned to Mulder, eyes narrowed. "That was the guy in the photograph with MacLeod!" she hissed.
Mulder nodded. "This place was mentioned in Bennett's files as one of MacLeod's hangouts. I thought it wouldn't hurt to check it out."
Scully took a vicious bite out of her celery stalk and chewed it with great vigor.
"I hope that's not me you're visualizing there," Mulder said, looking like he'd rather be somewhere else.
She smiled saccharinely. "Whatever gave you that idea?"
He winced. "I ah... should have told you. I'm sorry."
"For God's sake, Mulder! You should know better than to pull this kind of crap! We're partners! You remember how that works, right? You tell me what you're planning, and I do the same! Get your head out, will you?"
He nodded, avoiding her gaze. "I don't know what it is about this case Scully. I feel like I'm stumbling around in the dark. I just can't seem to get a line on it, can't make a connection. It's driving me crazy! I feel like I'm missing something incredibly obvious!" He drained his cup and sat staring at it disconsolately.
Scully felt some of her anger ebb. She knew that feeling all too well.
"I wish we had something more to go on. It's really frustrating to see part of the pattern, but not know where it started or where it leads."
"Exactly," Mulder sighed. "I'm going to get a refill. Want another one of those?"
She shook her head and watched him walk over to the bar and extend his cup to `Joe', who took it and turned away to fill the cup. She saw Mulder straighten suddenly, and his face became intent. When `Joe' turned back and handed Mulder the cup, they spoke for a moment, and the bartender shook his head. Mulder shrugged, and returned to the table.
"What was that all about?"
"He wouldn't let me pay for the refill."
"That's all? It seemed like you were awfully interested in something over there."
"Damn, and here I thought I was so subtle. You're absolutely right. Our friendly neighborhood barkeep has a tattoo on the inside of his left wrist. I noticed it when he took my cup. Care to guess what it looks like?"
It took a lot of willpower not to turn and look at the man behind the bar, but somehow she managed it.
"A ring containing a kind of y-shaped bar across the lower quarter?" she asked quietly.
"Bingo! You're good at guessing games. We should play charades sometime."
"Potential victim, then?"
"Who knows? Maybe they're all part of some secret society. In any case, considering the link between this place and MacLeod, it seems like maybe I wasn't wrong about him being a suspect."
"Or another potential victim, maybe. Remember, pairs. One with a tattoo, one without."
Mulder's head came up and he stared at her. "That's it! Scully, that's it! We need to find out if all the non-tattooed victims had the same sort of abnormal decay patterns as the one in Reno! If so, maybe what we have is a group of test and control subjects!"
Scully stared back. "What sort of experiment would we be talking about here?"
"I don't know. You said the guy in Reno showed abnormal lymph and spleen development. What would that affect?"
Scully thought about it for a moment, frowning. "Well, commonly there would be two reasons to find lymph nodes and spleen displaying the sort of characteristics we saw there. First would be if the person was fighting off a massive infection, second would be if they had cancer. However, since neither of those things were the case, I am left positing that in Mr. Corben, the resting state of those organs was somehow enhanced, so that if a stress were to come along, his immune system would be better able to deal with it."
"Immune system enhancement? I wonder if that's what it is? In this age of AIDS, it might be worth experimenting with."
"I keep up with the literature, Mulder. I would have read about it if the FDA had approved any sort of experimental therapy on human beings."
"Only if they were approved. Maybe someone's eliminating the evidence of unauthorized human trials."
Scully shook her head. "That doesn't make any sense! If they were doing that, they'd do it in a way that wouldn't attract attention. Something that looked like natural causes, not a series of clear-cut murders!"
Mulder sighed. "You're right. Damn. I really thought I had something there."